Don’s November Collector’s Series Top Picks

joseph perrier cuvee royale brut champagneThe Collector Series Top Pick this month belongs to Joseph Perrier’s Cuvée Royale Brut Champagne.  Joseph Perrier (not to be confused with the more commercial brand Perrier Jouet), crafts traditional Brut Champagne and ages it to perfection.  While other Champagne houses have cut back on the ageing of their Brut Champagnes and have resorted to homogenizing their blends, Joseph Perrier has stayed the course.  The result is a creamy, sensuous, and eminently drinkable Brut Champagne that embodies both elegance and a host of full, exquisite flavors.  And as the name implies, Cuvée Royale is indeed Champagne fit for kings and queens.  It makes an ideal aperitif but also pairs so well with lobster, crab, salmon, and all kinds of fish and hors d’oeuvres that I have to keep more than a few bottles on hand, lest our glasses run dry.  So let’s celebrate the day with a glass of Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut Champagne and enjoy!


Caramelized Onion and Cranberry Puff Pastry Bites

With the holidays right around the corner, these savory Caramelized Onion and Cranberry Puff Pastry Bites are a perfect hors d’oeuvre for any holiday party or meal!

Makes 24 pieces


  • Caramelized Onion and Cranberry Puff Pastry Bites1 ½ pound sweet yellow onions (about 2 very large), very thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons sweet butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme (lemon thyme is especially good)
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream or crème fraîche
  • 1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted but still cold
  • 24 fresh, whole cranberries
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper


1. In a large skillet, heat the onions, butter, and olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes until the onions begin to shrink down a bit.

2. Lower the heat to medium-low. Stirring every few minutes, caramelize the onions for 30 minutes. Add in the sprigs of thyme and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes, still stirring regularly and lowering the heat as necessary, until the onions reach a uniform toasty brown color. Cooking them slowly over a low heat will help make the onions sweet and evenly browned, so take your time.

3. Remove the onions from the heat. Carefully remove the thyme stems. Stir in the sour cream or crème fraîche.

4. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Directly on a Silpat or on parchement paper, roll out the pastry sheet to about 12 inches by 8 inches. Score the sheet into 2-inch by 2-inch squares. Place the Silpat or parchment on a baking sheet.

5. Top each square with a heaping tablespoon of the caramelized onions. Place a whole cranberry atop each mound of onions.

6. Sprinkle salt and fresh pepper very lightly over the squares. Bake for about 15 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through cooking. The bites are done when the edges of the puff pastry have browned and the cranberries have shrunken.

7. Cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Recipe and photo from

Don’s November Premier Series Top Picks

Valle Secerto 1st Edition Syrah 2010This month’s Premier Series Top Pick highlights the appealing attributes of the Syrah varietal and provides further evidence of the wonderful work Chile continues to do with all kinds of French varietals.  Is there anywhere else on earth where so many fine wines are being produced at such affordable prices?  After numerous visits to the world’s longest, thinnest country, I find it’s hard to beat Chile for quality, value and variety.  And these qualities can all be found in the 2010 Valle Secreto First Edition.

Valle Secreto’s First Edition Syrah garners Top Pick this month because it captures the very essence of Syrah with its striking color, beautiful black fruit aromas that leap from the glass, and seductive deep down flavors that change and unfold and please now, but promise even more.  Intense, but not overbearing, Valle Secreto’s First Edition  Syrah can best be summed up in a quote from one of our panel members,  “This wine kicks me in all the right places, do you think I could have some more?”  Warm, supple, and full of flavor this wine truly rocks.


Pumpkin-Pecan Cheesecake

With Thanksgiving Day right around the corner, this luscious Pumpkin-Pecan Cheesecake will be a hit with everyone as it combines the flavors of three holiday favorites: pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and cheesecake!

Yield: Makes 12 servings
Total: 11 Hours, 32 Minutes

Pumpkin-Pecan Cheesecake


  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 4 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Praline Topping
  • Garnishes: coarsely chopped Pecan Pie-Glazed Pecans, fresh sage leaves


1. Preheat oven to 325°. Stir together first 4 ingredients in a bowl until well blended. Press mixture on bottom and 1 1/2 inches up sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

2. Beat cream cheese and next 2 ingredients at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until blended and smooth. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Add pumpkin and lemon juice, beating until blended. Pour batter into prepared crust. (Pan will be very full.)

3. Bake at 325° for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes or until almost set. Turn oven off. Let cheesecake stand in oven, with door closed, 15 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven, and gently run a knife around outer edge of cheesecake to loosen from sides of pan. (Do not remove sides of pan.) Cool completely on a wire rack (about 1 hour). Cover and chill 8 to 24 hours.

4. Remove sides and bottom of pan, and transfer cheesecake to a serving plate. Prepare Praline Topping; immediately pour slowly over top of cheesecake, spreading to within 1/4 inch of edge. Garnish, if desired.

Try This Twist! Sweet Potato-Pecan Cheesecake: Substitute 1 1/2 cups mashed, cooked sweet potatoes for canned pumpkin. Proceed with recipe as directed, baking 1 hour or until almost set.

Recipe and photo are from:

Slow-Cooker Sausage and Kale Stew With Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes

This no fuss slow-cooker recipe is perfect for those busy fall nights. With it’s rich tomato broth, savory Italian sausage, nutrient-rich kale, and hearty mashed potatoes, this stew is sure to be a hit with everyone!

Serves 6
Hands-On Time: 15m
Total Time: 8hr 30m

Sausage and Kale Stew


  • 1  pound  sweet Italian sausage links, casings removed and broken into pieces
  • 1  large onion, chopped
  • 1  28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2  tablespoons  tomato paste
  • 2  cloves garlic, chopped
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2  large russet potatoes (about 1 pound)
  • 1  small bunch kale, stems discarded and leaves torn (about 7 cups)
  • 1/2  cup  milk
  • 1/2  cup  olive oil, plus more for serving


1. Combine the sausage, onion, tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, garlic, 1 cup water, and ¾ teaspoon each salt and pepper in a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker. Nestle the potatoes in the liquid and top with the kale.

2. Cover and cook until the potatoes are tender, on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours (this will shorten total recipe time). Transfer the potatoes to a medium bowl. Add the milk, oil, and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper to the bowl and mash.

3. Serve the stew topped with the mashed potatoes. Drizzle with more olive oil, if desired.


To make the morning less hectic, prep this the night before: Combine everything but the sausage and kale in the slow cooker and refrigerate, covered. In the morning, just add the sausage, top with the kale, and start stewing.

Recipe and photo from