Dressed to Impress; Mastering Classic Vinaigrette - Pop Quiz! What’s the best way to uncork Champagne?  </br> Michael DeLoach - Hot Buttered Rum - Kids Christmas Cookie Decorating Party - Do the Mashed Potato! -

Dressed to Impress; Mastering Classic Vinaigrette


Growing up, bottled salad dressings were the norm at my parent’s house. Italian and Thousand Island mainly, sometimes French. Who knew how long they’d been in the refrigerator because they always tasted the same with their flavor enhancers, stabilizers and additives. I just poured, swished and consumed. Then as a novice cook learning the five mother sauces, I discovered vinaigrettes. Oh my, salads were never the same again.

Vinaigrette’s  in their simplest form use highest-quality oils and vinegars or freshly squeezed citrus juice with a little salt and pepper before whisked into an emulsion.  More complex versions may include a variety of fresh herbs, garlic, shallots, onions or mustard.

There is no definitive vinaigrette recipe. Classically, one begins with four parts oil and one part vinegar, or a more tart mixture of three parts oil and one part vinegar.

When conjuring vinaigrette, think of yourself as a chemist selecting the perfect components, measuring, whisking, tasting, adjusting—ultimately balancing the flavors and seasonings so that your palate sings. First, what greens are you using? A mild Boston or Bibb lettuce calls for a light dressing while crisp Romaine, red lettuce and stronger greens require a more robust sauce.

A first cold-press extra-virgin olive oil is one your best all-around choices because it blends well with many different vinegars. Hazelnut and walnut oils lend a deep, nutty richness to salads with pears and apples. Flavored oils like lemon and blood orange provide a subtle zing, while flavorless vegetable oils add structure.

Vinegars come in a huge variety of flavors and strengths and can make or break your vinaigrette. Experiment with red wine, Champagne, sherry and apple cider vinegars as well as the fruity varieties like raspberry. Remember one cardinal rule: never buy cheap acidic vinegars, as you will get exactly what you pay for— the puckers.

I love salads every day, especially simple mixed greens with freshly picked herbs, torn not chopped. My vinaigrette of choice is three tablespoons of extra-virgin oil with one tablespoon of Cabernet red wine vinegar. Add a clove of crushed garlic, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a pinch each of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and I’m in alchemist heaven.

Preparing vinaigrette isn’t difficult, but it does require mastery of a technique known as “emulsion”—vigorous whisking to bring oil and vinegar together into a homogeneous blend. Give it a try.

1.Place the base ingredients in the bowl as directed in your recipe.



2.Add the oil in a thin, steady stream while whisking the mixture vigorously.



3.If at any time the emulsion begins to look “broken” or curdled, stop adding the oil and continue to whisk until smooth.



4.Continue adding oil very gradually until finished.


Toss the greens with vinaigrette.


Wash and dry your greens thoroughly before dressing. Excess water will dilute your vinaigrette. Add just enough dressing to lightly coat each leaf.

Vinaigrettes are best made a few minutes before using, but can be stored a day or two and re-whisked. But why? Fresh is best.


Print a copy of my How To Make an Emulsion for your convenience.



Pop Quiz! What’s the best way to uncork Champagne?
Michael DeLoach

How to remove the cork from Champagne.


Removing corks from Champagne and sparkling wines used to scare me silly. Face scrunched, heart beating fast, I worked the cork anticipating the familiar “pop” and celebratory locker room spray as those nearby scattered and ducked. My friend Michael DeLoach, president of the Hook & Ladder winery, took pity on my plight and wrote the following instructions for me on how to remove the cork quietly, safely and saving all that spray in favor of actually drinking the wine. Today I cork like a pro! You can, too.



Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful How to Uncork Champagne and sparkling wines.


Have the bottle as chilled as possible (this keeps the internal pressure lower). With your non-favored arm, hold the bottom of bottle inside the crook of your elbow, firmly against your midsection, with your hand firmly around the neck.
How to uncork a Champagne bottle.


While aiming the bottle at a ceiling corner (just in case), completely remove the foil and wire cage from the bottle (NOTE: the cork is now free to leave the bottle without warning — keep a hand or finger on the  cork AT ALL TIMES).


How to remove the cork from Champagne.


Using a cloth towel, clutch the stopper in an “O” made by the thumb and forefinger of your favored hand. Gently, firmly, slowly and steadily twist the stopper back and forth, about a 1/2 turn at a time. Do not pull; the pressure inside the bottle should start to push the stopper out. Be patient! Jarring motions can break cork stoppers.

CRITICAL AND REQUIRING PRACTICE: As the stopper works its way out, it will steadily begin to accelerate out of the bottle. Your job: hold it in, allowing the compressed CO2 gas inside the bottle to seep out slowly, thus releasing all of the pressure inside the bottle gradually.


How to remove the cork from Champagne.


The stopper should now be out (without the “pop”, and without the spill), and the bottle ready to pour.

You may also enjoy, wine guru Michael DeLoach’s article, Champagne and Sparkling Wine: Stuck in an Expensive Rut? 


Hot Buttered Rum

Baby, it’s cold outside and while the holiday spirit makes me warm and bright, it was the vision of steaming hot buttered rum that kept me trekking through the tree farm in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

From the moment we tied the big, busy tree to the top of the car and began the drive home, I could smell the cinnamon and nutmeg and practically taste the creamy rum. Hot buttered rum—the perfect drink for our tree decorating party later in the evening.

There are lots of recipes for hot buttered rum—one of the earliest appeared in The Ideal Bartender in 1917—but mine is beyond wonderful! It comes from my friend, Pete Woll, known throughout French Gulch for the best hot buttered rums. The treat is traditionally made from a simple butter batter, aged dark rum and boiling water, but Pete’s combines best-quality vanilla ice cream, butter (not margarine), brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg for an extra rich, fragrant indulgence. Each winter, I whip up a large batch of the batter and freeze it to make quick drinks throughout the season.

This drink is a wonderful Christmas memory from my childhood when Dad made a non-alcoholic version for my brother and me. Today, all our kids love theirs in Santa mugs with a dollop of softened ice cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg.

As family and friends gathered to decorate the tree with treasured ornaments collected over the years, I felt the magic of the season, and realized that while I’m now old enough for rum, I still thrill at drinking from my Santa mug.

Happy holidays!
Print a copy of  Hot Buttered Rum for your convenience.


Kids Christmas Cookie Decorating Party


Sprinkle the kitchen liberally with fairy dust, crank up the rockin’ holiday music and they will come. Lots of them. Every year tiny Christmas elves turn my kitchen into Santa’s workshop as they decorate dozens of holiday sugar cookies and gingerbread people.


Buttercream frosting from Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.


Eyes wide-bright, they ooh and ahh at the site of my long kitchen table laden with yummy pots of brightly colored buttercream frosting, sprinkles, edible glitter, red hearts and whimsical decorations.


Gingerbread people from Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.


Their eyes dart to the sideboard where large trays of delicious cookies wait for their magic. Soon little hands eagerly collect favorite angels, stars, trees, bells and gingerbread mamas, daddies and babies.


Party favors from Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.


As head elf, I pile on the holiday spirit with Santa hats, aprons and festive party favors. Nothing breaks the ice like blinking necklaces of colored lights and silly, flashing Rudolf noses to remind kids of their friends at the North Pole.


3 elves from Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.


These little guys get into the party spirit as Santa, Rudolph and Jango the elf.


Frosting frolic from Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.


Look at that black tongue! This cutie-pie swiped his mini spatula in the black frosting and immediately started eating it. In a flash all the boys joined in, giggling and showing their black tongues to the other kids. Soon all the guests—young and old—got in on the silly fun.


Elves working. Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.


The joy of creativity is infectious. Each year I get a special thrill when the kids tire of the cookies and run off to play, only to be replaced by their moms and dads, eager for a shot at the frosting. My oldest  guest (85 years young!) hung three masterpieces on the kitchen cookie tree.


Santa with kids at Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Cookie Decorating Party.


Beyond Wonderful intern Theo Andersen is my very cool Santa. Dressed in a full Santa suit, he always bursts into the room with a robust, “Ho-ho-ho—Merry Christmas!” He listens to each child’s wish and distributes candy canes to all. This Santa is always hungry and happily accepts cookies!


Paty food. Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.


To keep the elf energy up and prevent a sugar overdose, I set out lots of tasty savory snacks on a low table for easy access. Deli meats like salami and ham are always popular. Add some cheese, bread and crackers with fresh fruit and veggies, a few drinks and you’re set.


Boxed cookies. Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.


After a few hours, the elves of all ages are ready to carry their cookie treasures home. I find that inexpensive, different-sized cardboard gift boxes with tissue paper do the job well. Close each with a festive sticker to make it feel special.


Baby santa. Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.


I am reminded, as always, that kids are magic—especially when surrounded by so much sugar and creativity.


Party guest. Barbara Adams Beyond Wonderful Christmas Cookie Decorating Party.


Take your cue from them, and your own cookie party is sure to be sweet success.

Get printable copies of  Sugar Cookies  and Gingerbread Cookies  for easy reference.

Do the Mashed Potato!

Forget turkey and all the fancy foods. The hands-down favorite dish at my Thanksgiving celebration every year is mashed potatoes—mounds and mounds of them. No one can resist the simple spud dressed to perfection with lots of cream, milk and butter then whipped to sublime fluffiness. Myself included.

Even novice holiday cooks can wow the crowd with this easy-to-prepare dish. All that’s needed is my perfect Classic Mashed Potatoes recipe and a few tips for success.

1.    Select Idaho or Yukon Gold potatoes for best results.

2.    Prepare the mashed potatoes earlier in the day and warm them just before serving. Otherwise, it’s crazy busy when you start peeling, mashing, and mixing while trying to get the rest of the meal on the table.

3.    Use a simple potato ricer for mashing the potatoes. They are inexpensive and available at kitchen stores and select supermarkets. (Stores like Sur le table carry the larger sized ones that make mashing faster.)

4.    Never, never, never mash the potatoes in a food processor or they become gummy. Yummy but gummy.

5.    Heat the cream, milk and butter together until the liquid is hot to the touch and the butter melted. Pour the hot cream mixture over the potatoes and mix thoroughly.

6.    Check the consistency of the potatoes and add more warm milk if needed. They should have a soft, creamy texture. Don’t fret if you have lumps unless smooth is the goal. In that case, scoop all of the mashed potatoes in to the bowl of an electric mixer, set it to medium and whip to your desired consistency.

7.    Re-heat the mashed potatoes in a heavy pot, stirring constantly over a medium heat. Add more liquid as required to restore the original soft texture. Adjust the seasonings and serve.

With this much pleasure on a plate, I ask that you leave your guilt at the door, grab a fork and dig in!

Print a copy of Classic Mashed Potatoes for your convenience.