Just in time for this weekend's Kentucky Derby, today the maker of Four Roses bourbon will release a unique bourbon bottle and decanter featuring the likeness of the famous Triple Crown winner Secretariat, with its legendary jockey Ron Turcotte aboard.  Unveiled at the Kentucky Derby Museum, only 500 limited-edition, hand-numbered decanters will be produced.

The 750 ml decanter will be fitted with a special Four Roses bourbon, which was hand-selected during a tasting visit to the maker's bottling facility in Cox's Creek, KY by Secretariat owner Penny Chenery,  The decanter honors the 40th anniversary of the Triple Crown win by Secretariat, one of the most popular thoroughbreds in racing history.

The ceramic decanters and bottles were created by the Secretariat team in the style of Seventies' era collectible decanters that became popular among whisky connoisseurs.  The bourbon is poured through a detachable lid in the jockey's head.

In addition to the collectible decanters, Four Roses will produce 3500 commemorative Secretariat bottles containing Chenery's private bourbon selection.  One side will list the horse's unmatched finishing times in the triple Crown races: Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes and Preakness Stakes. The bottle's neck sports a band of blue and white checks, the Meadow Stables' jockey silks.

Proceeds from the sale of the bottles and decanters will be dedicated toward preserving the history of the Kentucky Derby at the Derby Museum, and benefitting equine-related causes within the racing industry through the Secretariat Foundation.
(photo by Janet Macoska)

Barefoot Contessa viewers, are familiar with the signature rhetorical questions peppered throughout her show, such as "How easy was that!" and "How good is that!"

But there was no question as to how "the Contessa" comes across in person...
“Instantly lovable!”   was Michael Ruhlman’s take on fellow New York Times best-selling cookbook author Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa. 

(We were fortunate to host the duo March 12 at my day (and night!) job at the PlayhouseSquare Performing Arts Center in Cleveland. Ten years ago, we couldn't have guessed that chefs would become the new superstars. So now, in addition to stars like Jerry Seinfeld and Tony Bennett, our stages are spotlighting the talents of foodie favorites like Anthony Bourdain, Guy Fieri and Ina.)

With more books to his credit than you can shake a spatula at, Cleveland is proud to claim Michael Ruhlman as one of its own international cooking celebs (along with that other Michael..."Symon"). Michael acted as on-stage host for the evening's “A Conversation with Ina Garten.”

Appearing before a near-capacity audience, Michael was deft at coaxing some revelations from Ina…such as “ I'm not a very confident person,” and “I'm a nervous cook.” (Who’da guessed, as Ina always makes cooking and entertaining appear effortless on TV.)  Oh, and between cooking and gardening…she  actually loves gardening more!  (Do we see a line of Barefoot Contessa gardening books in that crystal ball?)

Ina also shared news that--coming soon to the frozen food cases of your grocery-- she’ll be offering her own line of high-quality frozen Barefoot Contessa Sauté Dinners for Two such as Beef Bourguignon and Shrimp Scampi with Linguini.

Like fans who believe that all famous actors must know all the other famous actors, people backstage at Ina's event were surprised to learn that Ina and Michael had never crossed paths, but the two, along with Michael's lovely wife, Donna, wasted no time in sharing industry conversation until it was showtime.

(If you'd like to check out any of Michael's or Ina's fantastic recipes. visit them at
Ruhlman.com, barefootcontessa.com or foodnetwork.com/Ina-garten/recipes. )

My most interesting wine tasting experience came many years ago courtesy of a Mondavi winery rep who hosted a component tasting.

After explaining the obligatory Wine 101 terms like legs, viscosity, staining, nose and meniscus, he began the component element of the tasting.  It was unpleasant but revelatory. To be able to recognize how tannic or acidic a wine might be, we were asked to swish some nasty chemical-tasting potions around our palate.

Then the wine rep shared this story: A friend dining at the Napa area home of Peter Mondavi raved so much over one of that evening's wines that Peter sent a case home with the guest.  A few days later, Peter asked if he was enjoying the wine.  The guest admitted that the first bottle didn't resemble what they had been served at Peter's so they tried a second bottle, but were also disappointed with that one.

Peter said, "Let me pick up the rest of the case, and I'll replace it with another case of the same wine."  But after sampling the "new" case, the guest once again admitted the wine still had an "off taste."

So Peter began to question him.  "Tell me everything you do when you arrive home before you drink the wine." The guest related that he would change his clothes, check the mail. talk with his wife, brush his teeth then open the wine for a glass before dinner. "That's the culprit," Peter told him.  "Toothpaste will change the way any wine tastes."

But toothpaste isn't the only no-no to avoid to enjoy your wine.  Chewing gum (any flavor), breath mints or certain candies are also foes.  And...eating artichokes before-or-with wine will make any wine taste sweeter than it should.  But by far the über-villain for your wine palate is vinegar.  This is why Europeans serve salads after their entree.

There is, however, a solution to the vinegar dressing problem.  Create your own salad dressings by substituting wine for vinegar in the recipe. (For examples, check out this month's recipes on the homepage.)

"I like my vodka straight...but my friends can go either way!"  That's only one of the amusing ad creations targeted to females by Van Gogh vodka.  Their campaign also included: "...guaranteed to be smoother than most men you meet in bars" and "vodka martinis are like catnip to cougars."

But my favorite was "PMS isn't anything a good vodka cocktail and a cupcake can't cure."  With that advice, however, Van Gogh vodkas may have unwittingly and subliminally driven a few gals toward one of their competitors...Cupcake Vodka (where they can have their "cupcake" and drink it too.) Count Devil's Food, Chiffon and Ginger Snap among Cupcake brand's offerings, or choose the most-enjoyable part of the cupcake via their Frosting flavor.

"Vodka" used to conjure up specters of burly Russian men throwing back the iced libation to wash down their beluga and blinis.  The Cosmopolitan Cocktail changed that scene.  Soon an endless array of martini flavors from Apple to Chocolate appealed to women (and many men too, if they're being honest.)  So while European martini drinkers may still expect their classic martini with gin and a whiff of vermouth, American women are preferring their "tinis" be shaken-not-stirred with vodka.

In fact, craft beers and flavored vodkas are over the top in alcoholic market shares as the fastest growing adult beverages.  Flavored tequilas and rums follow suit.  Studying shelf after shelf of the new vodka flavors at my local liquor store, I noticed a hand-written note posted under the Loopy flavored vodka.  The note read, "Mix Loopy and Rum Chata...it tastes like a bowl of fruit loops cereal in milk."  (Rum Chata combines rum with dairy a la Bailey's Irish Cream.)

Add to the mix Skinny Girl's Bare Naked (cucumber); Godiva's Chocolate Vodka, mandarin, passion fruit, root beer, bubble gum, s'mores, sweet tea, espresso and dragon fruit flavors and it's a wonder there are any vodka flavors left to be created. And I wouldn't be surprised to learn that some enterprising barkeep has already combined the Peanut Butter flavor with the Grape flavor to create a PB&J Cocktail.

(But today's flavored vodkas are as at home in the cook's pantry as they are in the liquor cabinet. Think beyond "spaghetti  in vodka sauce" and experiment by adding pepper or cucumber vodka in a gazpacho, or citrus or fruit flavor vodka drizzled over fresh fruit or s'mores flavor added to puddings...stirred, not shaken!.)

My Lunch with Julia…

Enter my kitchen, and you’ll see what we lovingly refer to as “the patron saint of la cuisine (or “kitchen”)… an autographed 8x10 glossy of Julia Child, signed “To Tim & Jeannie, Bon Appetit! Julia Child.” 

America may have given the world the Big Mac, but on cuisine’s upscale side America’s gift to fine food was cooking doyenne Julia Child, who—on August 15th--would have celebrated her 100th birthday.  In 1991, I was fortunate enough to work with Julia, publicizing her speech on “Fear of Food,” and even more fortunate to be one of five to share an intimate lunch with her.

At 78, she had begun to be a bit stooped. but nevertheless, at over six feet tall, Julia was as imposing a figure physically as she was reputation-wise.  During lunch we discussed a variety of culinary and personal topics, including the failing of her husband Paul, who, she sadly told us was battling Alzheimer’s.  She also noted how lucky women are today to enjoy so many avenues to learn cooking, from TV shows, videos, cooking schools and the wealth of recipes books.  Julia explained,  "Fifty years ago when I began to cook, my only references were Gourmet Magazine and Larousse's Gastronomique."

Although she did vocalize her disdain for the popularized “fake” butters and low-cal options that sacrificed flavor for supposed health benefits, Julia was hardly a food snob.  When the subject of “fast food restaurants” arose, Julia surprised us, admitting she DID frequent McDonald’s because—like the rest of us—she’d have a Big Mac attack!

I was a little intimidated to bring up to Julia verification of a story I’d heard a couple years earlier when attending an event at a Pittsburgh cooking school. The owner had just returned from a forum that featured Ms. Child where she was asked “what her favorite lunch would be.”  In his best falsetto Child impersonation, the owner relayed Julia’s answer, “My favorite lunch would beeeeee... a chicken salad sandwich on whole wheat...and a scotch on the rocks…HOLD the chicken salad sandwich!”

(With her great off-camera sense of humor, I can imagine it was probably true.)   

                                  HAPPY 100th JULIA CHILD!


First Post!



The recent celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in Great Britain produced a wealth of collectible and pseudo-collectible items on a spectrum ranging from tasteful to why-would-anyone-buy-THAT?  But retail items that cash in on commemorative events are hardly new.

In fact, one of the most enduring items to result from a royal event is the Crown Royal whisky bottle.  Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI (he of The King’s Speech), and his wife made the first Canadian royal tour by a reigning English monarch in 1939.

As a tribute to the King’s visit, Seagram’s introduced their Crown Royal whisky, bottling it in what would become an iconic vessel…in the shape of St. Edward’s crown.  (This is the crown placed on the head of English monarchs at their coronation ceremony that weighs 41 lbs, 12 oz., is made from solid gold and contains 444 precious stones.) Prior to sale, the bottled Crown Royal was placed in a signature royal purple velvet bag with drawstring and logo embroidered in gold.  Until 1964, it could only be purchased in Canada. 

(Side note: We don’t know if the late comedian Red Skelton was a fan of Crown Royal whisky per se, but, according to a friend, who was one of his former publicists, Skelton used the Crown Royal soft purple pouch in place of a wallet while he was performing on the road.  The absent-minded comedian had a habit of leaving the purple pouch on counters in department stores or wherever he made a purchase. The publicist, who would be shadowing Skelton, was forever retrieving the pouch and it formidable contents of cash!)