Run for the Roses 2.0

For so many reasons, the arrival of September feels bittersweet this year. This weekend marks the U.S. observance of Labor Day, and although some are whooping “hooray” for a three-day weekend, my heart is heavy for others who are in deep despair for not having employment or for the serious health risks some people face daily as essential workers.

School is back in session, but in a way that is inconvenient at best and terrifying at worst. And while some parents are relieved for a return to normalcy in their schedules, others are stretched beyond reasonable limits—juggling remote learning alongside their own adult life responsibilities.

The pandemic has nudged all of us toward more creative avenues to community and friendship, and this blog has been a saving grace for me in that regard. Thank you for inspiring me and indulging me, as I share the adventures of my hopelessly cluttered kitchen. And though I know the impending change of season will ultimately force us back inside, stripping us of the already-limited social experience of meeting friends for patio dinners and happy hours, I find myself comforted by the promise of long-simmering soups and oven-roasted meats and casseroles. You will be hearing plenty from me in the months to come.

Oddly, summer is ending the same as it began for horse-racing fans. The Kentucky Derby, rescheduled from the first Saturday in May, will be held today—without live spectators. At least this time, there will be horses! The pomp will begin at 2:30 pm ET at Churchill Downs, and by post time at 6:50, you can bet I will have one of these two cocktails in my hand.

I knew back in May, when I posted about The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports, that I would revisit the occasion with a second round of drinks and snacks. Then, I highlighted foods that sang of spring—bright, fresh flavors of citrus and mint. And, of course, I took creative license with a couple of twists on the traditional Derby dish, the Kentucky Hot Brown. If you are new to my blog (welcome!) and missed those treats, you can find links to all of them on the Kentucky Derby Preview Party page.

For this 2.0 event, I have dialed it back to present a simpler offering—two Derby-inspired cocktails and my own twist on southern classic cheese straws that I’m calling Kentucky Bourbon Pecan & Cheese Biscuits. They are buttery and crisp, with two kinds of cheese and flecks of fresh rosemary, crowned with a bourbon-bathed toasted pecan. Despite the flavor complexities and my over-the-top description, these were easy to make from simple ingredients and just a few special touches.

My Smoky Rosemary Old Fashioned is understated, served over a giant ice cube, and in place of the mint that accents a julep, this sophisticated cocktail is highlighted with rosemary and a slight peppery smokiness, delivered by a simple syrup. The combination of flavors smells and tastes like autumn.

The gin drink, on the other hand, is a fancy-schmancy, decidedly “girly” libation—made with Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice and glammed up with rose syrup and a rose sugar rim, the same way a Kentucky Derby lady would be decked out in a fancy hat and pink lipstick. The Midsummer Solstice carries forth the usual essence of cucumber and rose, as classic Hendrick’s is distilled with both. But other botanicals are clearly in full bloom in this small batch version, and the deep pink color is drawn from the leaves of rose’s cousin, the hibiscus. During my (ahem) research and development, also known as “knocking back a bunch of gin drinks,” I tried many things to elicit the true rose color I desired. A quick infusion with a hibiscus tea bag not only delivered on the color, but also contributes a bright, slightly tart note that is truly special. I’m excited to share this with you!

Now, before I give you the recipes and a play-by-play on making these drinks, I want to let you know that I am sometimes astounded by the information I find during my culinary research. I had already laid out my plan for these drinks when I sat down to name them, and it was only at the time of writing this post that I learned something so cool, I have to share it with you.

When we think of a julep, we automatically get a mental image of mint sprigs spilling out the top of a frosty silver mug—because julep implies “mint,” right? But today I learned the origin of the word “julep, and it is derived from a Persian word that means (wait for it)—“rosewater.” As my darling husband often reminds me, there are no coincidences. 🙂

Enjoy!


Subtle hints of smoke and rosemary blend with Four Roses small batch bourbon to send summer off in style.

Smoky Rosemary Old Fashioned

2 oz. Four Roses Small Batch bourbon

0.5 oz. rosemary-smoked pepper syrup (see below)

2 drops orange bitters

Orange peel for garnish (optional)

Combine bourbon, syrup and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass. Add ice and stir vigorously for 20 seconds, then strain over a large ice cube in a double rocks glass. Garnish with orange peel twist, if desired.

Rosemary-Smoked Pepper Syrup

Combine 1/2 cup filtered water and 1/2 cup cane sugar in a saucepan, and place over medium heat just long enough to dissolve the sugar and come to a very slight boil. Turn off heat. Add a small handful of fresh rosemary leaves (rinsed clean) and 1 teaspoon of cracked oak-smoked peppercorns. These are made by McCormick spice company, and available in the spice section of well-stocked supermarkets. Allow the mixture to steep until completely cooled. Pour syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a jar and refrigerate for up to one month.

The rose sugar rim ignites your senses the moment you raise the glass for a sip!

Midsummer Run for the Roses

2 oz. Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice gin (or classic Hendrick’s)

0.5 oz. rose simple syrup* (see notes)

1 fresh lime, cut into quarters

Rose petal sugar* (for rim garnish; see notes)

1 hibiscus tea bag*

20 minutes ahead, sprinkle rose sugar onto a small plate or paper towel. Rub a wedge of lime around the rim of a cocktail glass, and then gently roll the outer edge of the rim in the sugar until the glass is coated all the way around. Place the glass in the refrigerator to chill.

Combine gin and hibiscus tea bag in cocktail shaker and rest for two minutes—only long enough for the hibiscus to stain the gin with its lovely hue. To see the difference, move the slider on the images here:

Remove the tea bag. Add the rose syrup and the juice of the lime wedge. Remove tea bag, add ice and shake vigorously for 20 seconds, until outside of shaker is frosty. Strain into the rose sugar-rimmed glass.

*Notes

Flowers, flowers and more flowers!

I found the rose syrup, which has a delicate and sweet flavor, in the cocktail mixers section at Total Wine and have seen similar products online. The rose petal sugar is available from the Spice & Tea Exchange, either online or at one of their retail locations. The hibiscus tea is made from only dried hibiscus leaves, and it provides the deepest pink color I could have hoped for, plus a tangy tropical note that sent this lovely cocktail straight over the top.


Kentucky Bourbon Pecan & Cheese Biscuits

It’s been a long summer of waiting, but today in Louisville, Kentucky, 20 thoroughbred horses will finally be turned loose in the 146th “Run for the Roses,” the Kentucky Derby.

For the race originally scheduled for the first Saturday in May, I had cooked up a storm for a Kentucky Derby Preview Party. If you missed those recipes, by all means check them out. You’ll get a chance to imagine two twists on the traditional Kentucky Hot Brown, and three fun cocktails that captured the essence and excitement of spring.

Today, I’m keeping it low key, with two special cocktails that celebrate the spirit of Kentucky Derby, with a late summer, headed-into-fall flavor palette. And because no party is complete without snacks, here’s my twist on southern classic cheese straws. These bite-sized biscuits are buttery and crisp, flavored with sharp cheddar (the standard for these down-south favorites) and gruyere, in a nod to the mornay sauce on a Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich. The biscuit is speckled with flecks of fresh rosemary, and crowned with a bourbon-bathed toasted pecan. Despite the flavor complexities and my over-the-top description, these were easy to make from simple ingredients and just a few special touches. They taste southern and look downright fancy, and they’re just the right bite to accompany my Run For the Roses 2.0 cocktails. Let’s make ’em!

Ingredients

About 1 cup pecan halves (approximately 30)

2 oz. bourbon

1 stick butter, softened*

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

8 oz. finely grated cheddar cheese* (see notes)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper*

pinch kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

2 tsp. bourbon

*Notes

Use either salted or unsalted butter for these cookies. The butter should be softened enough to mix, but not room temperature or melted.

Substitute other cheeses as you wish, but stick with a cheese that has similar texture to cheddar. I found a terrific cheddar-gruyere blend at Trader Joe’s, and it immediately took me back to May when I made the Kentucky Hot Brown Benedict. It’s fun to be able to keep a theme when making food for a special occasion.

The cayenne is optional, but it does add a subtle hint of “kick” that is a nice balance to the cheese flavor.


Instructions

  1. Sort the pecan halves to select the best looking pieces. Place pecans in a shallow glass dish, and pour the 2 oz. bourbon to evenly cover. Gently turn and toss the pecans to ensure they are uniformly soaked. Set aside for about one hour.
  2. Drain the bourbon off the pecans, and arrange the nut halves on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 300° F for about 12 minutes, until nuts are dry and just lightly toasted. Allow them to cool completely and store in a covered container until you’re ready to make the biscuit cookies.

For the cookies:

  1. Using a box grater or food processor, grate the entire amount of cheddar cheese. Use the smallest grating holes you have for a very finely textured cheese. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine flour, cayenne, rosemary, salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer or with an electric hand mixer, beat together the softened butter and worcestershire sauce until butter is light and somewhat fluffy.
  4. Add the cheese to the butter mixture and beat to combine. I found that the cheese virtually disappeared into the butter to become a very soft and spreadable consistency.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the cheese mixture all at once, and beat on low speed only until all the flour is incorporated. Do not overmix.
  6. Transfer to the mixture to a covered bowl and refrigerate at least three hours or overnight.
  7. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  8. If cookie dough has chilled overnight, it will be very firm. Remove from the fridge 15 minutes ahead of time before shaping.
  9. Combine brown sugar and 2 tsp. bourbon in a shallow dish. Place the cooled pecans, top side down, into the mixture. Gently shake the dish to ensure mixture gets worked into the nooks of the pecans, but only on one side. Allow them to rest in the bourbon sugar several minutes, about the same amount of time for shaping the cookies.
  10. Shape cheese mixture into 1″ balls and arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet, approximately 1″ apart. Use a fork to slightly flatten the balls into disc shapes, similar to making peanut butter cookies.
  11. Carefully press bourbon halves, top side up, onto the cookies. If cookies have become warm at all, place the tray in the freezer for 15 minutes to firm them.
  12. Bake cookies for 18-20 minutes, until set and lightly crispy at the edges.
  13. Transfer baked cookies to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
Crispy and savory, with an extra kiss of bourbon in the pecans.

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Basil Gin Gimlet

As summer winds down, I am finding myself eager to put behind me the near-disaster that was “Garden 2020.” I described in mid-May my reluctant optimism in planting anything, given the history I’ve had with the neighborhood deer (bless their hearts). Then, in early July, a glimmer of hope when I discovered all those lovely squash blooms. Little did I know (and I didn’t even bother to report to you) that it would be my final harvest of the season, as only days after the post about the ricotta stuffed squash blossoms, I was shocked back to reality with the total decimation of my raised bed plot. The deer ate everything—the blossoms, the growing fruit, the leaves, and even the tops of the hot pepper plants.

CAUTION: Graphic images ahead may be disturbing to some readers.

All of it, gone. Except, of course, the basil. Lord have mercy, do I have basil.

All that pruning was worth it for this amazing basil harvest.

The saying goes that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. In keeping with such age-old wisdom, I shall make basil cocktails! I’m still on my kick of inventing infused simple syrups for martinis, Manhattans and other libations. Might as well make the best of this excessive herbal situation—and as luck would have it, these petite little drinks are flat-out yummy.

It’s cold and refreshing, and tastes like summer!

I had opportunity to share them this week with my friend, Tina, who lives at the top of our neighborhood and is just about the biggest arts and crafts fanatic I’ve met (it takes one to know one). She had casually mentioned recently that she had entered several projects in a local art competition, which perked up my ears, big time. Kind of the way our dog, Nilla, perks up when we mention “cookies.”

Did you say cookies??

“Oh? What kind of art?” I asked.

Turns out, Tina has quite a number of art techniques in her repertoire, including mixed media composition and acrylic pour painting (which absolutely mesmerizes me), and jewelry design. And then she quipped that she believes she is more creative while enjoying an adult beverage. What a coincidence—me too! Naturally, I made a motion for a neighborly get-together, during which we might accomplish both. Tina seconded the motion, and it turned out to be quite an afternoon. She provided the craft supplies (and expert guidance) to make these sweet snowflake earrings.

“We’re going to make these,” she said casually. Say WHAT?

And I provided the craft cocktail supplies to make these basil gin gimlets. If you also have a late harvest of basil coming out your ears, I hope you’ll give them a try.

Gin comes in several different types, and I’ve made this cocktail with a few brands, my favorite being Hendrick’s from Scotland, which is distilled with cucumber and rose—so botanically speaking, it’s a friendly playmate for the basil from my garden.


To make the cocktail, you’ll first need to create the simple syrup from equal parts filtered water and cane sugar, plus a good handful of cleaned fresh basil leaves. Do this at least a few hours in advance, to allow time for chilling the syrup.

Chill your cocktail glasses, either by filling with ice or placing in the freezer.

Measure the gin and basil syrup, add a squeeze of lime and shake it with ice. Some cocktail purists would argue that you should only stir a cocktail in a mixing glass, and that shaking serves to bruise the gin. I say phooey—shake the shake out of it, because I prefer my cocktails to be icy and refreshing. Choose as you wish, as long as you give it plenty of time to mingle with the ice to be cold and refreshing.

Strain the cocktail into your chilled glasses and savor the sweet flavor of late summer, with or without a jewelry party.


Ingredients & Instructions

Makes 2 cocktails

3 oz. Hendrick’s (or gin of your choice)

1 oz. basil simple syrup (details below)

Juice of 1/2 fresh lime


Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake 20 seconds until the outside of the shaker is frosty. Strain into small, chilled cocktail glasses.


Basil Simple Syrup

In a small saucepan, combine equal parts filtered water and cane sugar (I used 1/2 cup each). Heat over medium only until sugar is dissolved and syrup begins to bubble at the edges. Add in a handful of fresh basil leaves (rinse, shake off excess water, and trim thick stems first). Stir and simmer 1 minute, then turn off heat and allow mixture to cool completely. Use a slotted spoon to remove the basil leaves, and transfer to a jar. Syrup will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

Dear followers, as of this morning, I have discovered that my remaining basil (all those bushy leaves) is completely covered in black spots. For the love of summer, I’m so over it. 🙂


Two Fun Ways to Celebrate National S’mores Day!

Not that there’s anything wrong with just plain s’mores. I love them, personally. The crispy graham cracker, melty gooey chocolate and perfectly toasted (or “accidentally” burnt) marshmallow, all pressed into one delicious little sugar sandwich bite—takes me straight back to 1977 and Allegheny State Park in the middle of summer family camp.

But that was a long time ago, and although I still love the idea of s’mores in my grown-up years, I’m less inclined to imagine making a campfire or even firing up the chimenea on our patio. I mean, it’s the middle of summer, you know? I’d rather crank the oven up to 450° F because inside, I have air conditioning. And why would I do something as simple as s’mores, when I can over-complicate them into something more visually decadent?

Consider instead these two tasty treats, bearing every last detail of s’mores, but without the campfire smell permeating your clothes, without the bugs and without smoke getting in your eyes. First of all…


S’mores Pizza!

Oh yes, all the flavors of the campfire classic.

Warm and gooey, stupidly sweet and completely kid-friendly. If I had kids, I would expect them to want this for sleepover parties, or maybe even in lieu of a birthday cake.

For the crust, I leaned on my pals at King Arthur Baking (did you notice, they changed their name!), and did a quick modification to their recipe for whole wheat pizza crust. Who knew that every kid’s favorite cracker is whole grain? Yes, whole wheat flour is also sometimes called “graham flour,” and it’s the basis for graham crackers, so it also will be the base for my s’mores dessert pizza. I took the King Arthur recipe, cut it in half, converted for sourdough, increased the sugar by four times and swapped in coconut oil.

This crust took a good while, because it’s a slow-ferment yeast bread, and the sourdough conversion and extra sugar slowed it down even more. I was OK with this delay because I’m a bread nerd. If you want something quicker, pick up some whole wheat dough at Trader Joe’s, or go with a basic chocolate chip cookie dough, but use whole wheat flour and save the chocolate chips for a topper. In fact, I want to make my next s’mores pizza that way to appease my husband, who has s’mores apathy. This is not his fault. First of all, he was not a Girl Scout. Secondly, he was raised in NYC, and they didn’t exactly have campfires on the fire escape of his apartment building. But if the s’mores are piled onto a giant cookie? That, I suspect, would be right up his alley. I might even go nuts next time and pile the s’mores toppings onto a brownie base. For crying out loud!

For the toppings here, I got things started with a thin slathering of Nutella. I know, hazelnut is not “traditional” for s’mores, but I haven’t found a spread that is only chocolate, so it’ll have to do. Besides, you barely taste the hazelnut underneath all the other stuff that is traditional for s’mores—the graham crumbs, chocolate bits and (of course) the pillow-y miniature marshmallows.

Want to try it? Check your pantry for these items, or mask up and head to the grocery store to get them.


Ingredients

Whole wheat pizza dough or cookie dough substitute

Nutella or similar chocolate spread

Graham crackers, some crushed, some pieces

Chocolate chips or chocolate chunks (I used semi-sweet for my experiment, but I think milk chocolate would melt better)

Miniature marshmallows

A big glass of cold milk (trust me, you’ll want this after a big sticky slice of s’mores pizza)


Instructions


And then, into a 450° F oven, just long enough for the chocolate to melt and the marshmallows to get toasted. This didn’t take long, maybe 5 more minutes.

The marshmallows got SO puffy during the baking!


This pizza satisfied my once-in-an-adult-blue-moon craving for s’mores, but I will tell you honestly that the end result (by the time I finished taking pictures and slicing it) was a bit on the chewy side, which was oddly addictive for me, but my hubby did not love it and it was a total “no-go” as leftovers. The best thing about real s’mores is that they provide immediate gratification, a fleeting taste of pure and simple decadence.  Once a marshmallow has been toasted then allowed to cool, it becomes overly sticky and loses the gooey deliciousness that makes a simple s’more so ridiculously good. So, if you intend to give this a go, may I suggest you have a few hungry friends nearby (safely distanced, of course) and ready to indulge? Everyone grab a slice and eat it, straight from the oven.


Or, if your properly distanced friends are all members of the over-21 crowd, lean into this adaptation instead:

S’mores Martini!

For adult s’mores lovers, only.

The distinct flavors of your favorite summer camp treat, with vanilla and chocolate spirits, and neatly dispensed in a chilled 4 oz. glass, complete with graham crumb rim and floating a toasted mini marshmallow garnish.

Kumbaya, y’all.


Ingredients

1.5 oz. vanilla vodka (I used Absolut)

1.5 oz. crème de cacao (light or dark, but not creamy)

Graham crumbs

Mini marshmallows

You will also need a petite cocktail glass and a kitchen torch or stick lighter. A cocktail mixing glass or shaker will be helpful, or improvise with a glass measuring cup.


Instructions

  1. Combine the vanilla vodka and crème de cacao in a cocktail mixing glass (or a bowl that is wide enough to dip your glass rim into). Carefully lower the rim of your chilled cocktail glass into the alcohol mixture, then roll the edges into the graham crumbs until coated all around. Put the glass in the fridge or freezer while you prep the marshmallows.
  2. Arrange the mini marshmallows in a heated cast iron skillet, and use a kitchen torch or stick lighter to gently “toast” the edges of the marshmallow. Watch it closely to keep them from burning (unless you like the burned edges, as I do). The goal is to get a nice toasty color on them and help them stick together in a cluster. Use a small spatula to transfer the garnish to a plate or cutting board to cool.
  3. Add ice to the cocktail mixing glass (or pour the alcohol from the bowl into a shaker with ice) and stir (or shake) about 20 seconds, until the outside of the mixing container is frosty. Strain into the cocktail glass. Top with marshmallow garnish.


The Cool Jerk

Just before Christmas last year, my husband and I took a trip to the Washington D.C. area for a concert and a weekend away from home—just a getaway kind of thing. My, how things have changed. During our visit there, we stumbled upon a bourbon cocktail that used a special kind of chocolate bitters, and we couldn’t stop thinking about how to re-create that drink at home (if only we could figure out where in the world to get chocolate bitters). Thanks to our high-speed internet connection and a quick scan of the credit card, I placed an order and our fab cocktail experiment was about to begin. A funny thing happened, though.

Along the way to finding the chocolate bitters, I inadvertently uncovered an entire world of cocktail ingredients that I barely imagined existed. I’m always 100% in favor of trying something new—especially in my glass—and lately my cocktail game is like a game of roulette. With a steady schedule of FaceTime happy hours with friends and family around the globe, we have plenty of opportunities to play with drink recipes. And, to be honest, there’s a bit of vanity in me when it comes to choosing our drink du jour. After the obligatory back-and-forth of “can you guys hear us?” and “how do we make this full-screen?” I live for the moment when we clink glasses at the screen. And in that moment, my Leo nature wants to be asked, “Whoa—whatcha drinkin’?” No, this lioness will not be caught dead with a boring drink.

I’m having my own personal cocktail awakening and finding it crazy fun to tinker with new spirits and mixers—especially infused simple syrups and so many unusual cocktail bitters. Thankfully, my husband, Les, is a willing participant for this journey (well, unless it’s gin). Buckle up for a crash course on what I’ve learned so far.

What are bitters?

Cocktail bitters are a blend of various roots and herbs, usually preserved in a high-proof neutral grain alcohol and sometimes spiked with fruit and spice flavors. They are used in very small amount—a “dash” of bitters is only a quick couple of shakes or drops from the bottle, which has a special top to prevent overpouring. These blends are extremely concentrated, so a little goes a long way. To compare it with something familiar, bitters are kind of like vanilla extract—but with more than one flavor because of all the components in them.

Do bitters make your drink taste bitter?

Not really, but they do bring depth and character to an otherwise predictable drink. Most bitters tend to have an underlying “key” flavor, such as orange or anise, but others may be highly complex—for example, Angostura’s brand of “aromatic” bitters carries notes of juniper berry, cinnamon, orange zest, clove and even cocoa. But you don’t taste all of those things individually. The combination just makes your drink taste more interesting, without losing the character of the spirit ingredient. Kind of like the horn section in a really great song.

What is a simple syrup?

A simple syrup is generally a blend of equal parts sugar and water, boiled just enough to dissolve the sugar and perhaps steeped with other ingredients to add flavors. It’s the easiest way to add a splash of sweet to a cocktail, or even to sweeten up a glass of iced tea because sugar on its own doesn’t blend well in cold liquids. I’ve found it easy to infuse a syrup with just about anything—fresh herbs, hot peppers, citrus peel and even tea bags. It gives me a vehicle to add all kinds of flavor to a cocktail without watering it down. A thin simple syrup would have higher ratio of water to sugar, and a rich simple syrup would be the opposite—more sugar and less water. Don’t feel limited to plain sugar, either—you can make simple syrup from brown or coconut sugar, honey or even maple syrup. Go wild with it!

Are bitters the same as mixers?

No, but some mixers have bitters blended in them. I recently purchased a product called “Proof Syrup,” in a maple bacon flavor (it sounds more incredible than it was), and one of the key components in the syrup was bacon-infused bitters. Mixers are generally used in greater proportion, equal to or slightly less than the spirit ingredient. With bitters alone, easy does it or they overpower the drink.

Where do you buy bitters?

This is the million-dollar question I keep asking myself, and these days, I skip the brick-and-mortar and go directly to online retailers. The garden varieties—aromatic and orange bitters—are widely available in supermarkets in the cocktail mixers section. But if you want to find something exotic or out of the ordinary, such as rhubarb, celery or black walnut bitters, online is the way to go. I’d recommend starting here at AwesomeDrinks.com because they have a good selection from a variety of brands. This is the same site where I bought my Nick and Nora cocktail glasses for the Sassy Comeback cocktail that still visits my dreams.

How many flavors of bitters are there?

Heaven only knows! I spent a good hour narrowing my choices from the online store mentioned above, and I am quite sure I’ll go back for more. Here’s what I purchased most recently:

Fee Brothers’ Cherry Bitters, because Les is wild about cherries. It’s great in bourbon drinks, which is also his new favorite.

I went a little crazy for the selection of Scrappy’s Bitters, purchasing both the cardamom and lavender bitters. The cardamom is intense, but delicious in a most exotic way. I like it with a small batch pear-infused rye produced by one of our local distillers. The lavender? Well, let’s just say I’m still trying to figure out how to further reduce the amount I use because even one drop in a gin drink makes me feel like I just licked a bar of Grandma’s fancy soap. I’m open to suggestions.

Aromaticus bitteris. Now, that’s funny.

Finally, there’s these Bitter End Jamaican Jerk Bitters, because the idea of spices and heat in my drink is pretty much sending me head over heels. Honestly, everything Jamaican jerk is dialing my number right now (perhaps you’ve noticed with these pizzas and this stuffed pepper recipe), so I’ve been working on new ways to get this flavor into my life.

And that brings us full circle to this cocktail, which I’ve named the “Cool Jerk.”

Back in another decade, when I wore pinstriped jeans and big permed hair, it was “cool” to have a fuzzy navel, Alabama slammer or some sweet frothy rum drink with an umbrella, basically the only drinks I knew how to order. But I’m all grown up now and so is this drink. It’s still fruity and tropical, but there’s complex spice instead of just sweet. Rather, it leans toward the sophisticated side of things, especially in a crystal cut, double rocks glass.

There was never a doubt which spirit I’d use—it had to be Jamaican-born Appleton Estate rum, smooth and lightly sweet, with hints of warm spice. I was fortunate enough to visit Jamaica in the late ‘90s, and a full bottle of this rum smuggled itself into my bag for the plane ride home (remember when we could put more than 4 oz. of liquid in our carry-on)?

Lime is the only citrus juice to use with rum (think daiquiri or mojito), and I’ve used a combination of two simple syrups to bring it back into balance—a jalapeno syrup (which is frankly still rocking my world after the pineapple jalapeno ice cream) and the same lemon-ginger syrup I debuted with the Sassy Comeback drink.

The Jamaican jerk bitters are hitting all the right spice buttons, with nutmeg, quassia (a bitter wood native to the Caribbean and parts of South America), habanero, cinnamon, allspice and thyme. The bitters are labeled “extremely spicy” (and I’m quite sure they would be if we took a swig from the bottle), but the little bit we are putting in the drink is not going to set you ablaze. For us, it feels like a perfect balance, about a 3 on a 1-10 spicy scale.

Feeling adventurous?

To make this drink, you’ll need a cocktail mixing glass and spoon, measuring jigger and some big-as-your-face ice cubes. Garnish it with a slice of lime or, if you’re lucky enough to have some leftover from the Jerk pizzas, a wedge of grilled pineapple. This recipe will make 2 generous cocktails.

“Cheers!”

Ingredients

4 oz. Appleton Estate rum

1.5 oz. lemon-ginger simple syrup (recipe below)

.5 oz. jalapeno simple syrup (also below)

Juice of 1 lime, freshly squeezed*

8 drops Jamaican jerk bitters

*Notes

I hate fussing over the garnish for a drink, so here’s how I saved time on our second round of this one. I cut the lime in half, then stole a slice for garnish from the middle before squeezing the halves into the cocktail mixing glass. Done.

Combine the rum, syrups, lime juice and bitters. Add regular ice cubes and stir for 20 seconds, until the mixing glass looks frosty. Strain over giant cubes into double old-fashioned glasses and garnish with slices of lime.


Lemon-ginger Simple Syrup:

Bring 1 cup water to a light boil, then turn off heat. Steep 4 lemon-ginger herbal tea bags in the hot water for about 2 minutes, then remove and squeeze the tea bags (discard them). Add 1 cup sugar to the hot tea blend, and stir until dissolved (return to heat a few minutes, if necessary). Cool completely, then pour into a covered jar. It will keep in the fridge a couple of weeks. For this syrup, I use Bigelow brand lemon-ginger tea.

Jalapeno Simple Syrup:

Bring 1 cup filtered water and 1 cup sugar to a light boil over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and syrup begins to lightly boil at the edges. Add 2 small chopped jalapeno peppers and stir, cooking about 2 minutes at low heat. Turn off heat, cool completely, strain jalapenos (reserve them for another use, if desired) and keep syrup in a covered jar in the fridge up to 2 weeks.

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Watermelon-Jalapeno Mule

Ah, watermelon. It has always been one of the most refreshing flavors of summer, and versatile as well. I remember being happy to just grab a wedge of freshly sliced, juicy watermelon and dash back outside to play. That was when watermelon still had oodles of black seeds running through it—you know, before genetic engineering was the norm for our food. And as a kid, I always wanted someone to make me one of those watermelon baskets that’s filled up with fruit salad.

As a grown-up, I still love the flavor but I’m more inclined to elevate it to something more special. Last summer, I made a watermelon-basil sorbet that was freaking delicious. Watermelon and feta salad is always welcome on my summer table, and I’m still fantasizing about grilled watermelon gazpacho. For the over-21 crowd, this adaptation of a Moscow Mule will make you appreciate watermelon even more than you did in your carefree childhood years.

All my recipes are adjustable to your comfort zone for heat and flavor, but if I may suggest, don’t omit the jalapeno syrup in this cocktail. On a 1 – 10 spicy scale, this is only hitting at about 2. Without its seeds and membranes, jalapeno has a bright and fruity flavor that isn’t all that spicy (especially in such small amount as this) and it dances a fine little foxtrot with the juicy watermelon. I’ve used vodka in this cocktail, but if you substitute a white tequila, I’m betting it would be reminiscent of a paleta, the delightful summer treat from south of the border. Pick your poison, then amp up the refreshment even further with a touch of fresh muddled mint, if you so desire.

Let’s raise a copper mug to summer!

We’ve made this a summer go-to for casual backyard downtime this summer. Use the ginger beer you like best, or even ginger ale. The recipe below makes 2 cocktails, perfectly refreshing for summer sipping.

Ingredients

3 oz. Vodka

3 oz. Watermelon puree*

1 oz. Jalapeno simple syrup*

Juice of 1/2 lime

Ginger beer* to top off

Crushed ice

Fresh mint (optional) for muddling and garnish


*Notes

The watermelon puree is a breeze to make—literally, just throw some cut-up pieces of it into your blender or food processor and let it spin. I then run it through a mesh strainer to remove some of the pulp but that’s optional, a benefit, I suppose, of the new-and-improved “seedless” varieties.

To make the jalapeno simple syrup, combine 1 cup each filtered water and cane sugar in a saucepan and bring to a light boil. Remove from heat, stir in a chopped jalapeno (seeds or no seeds, depending on your love for heat) and let it steep until the syrup is cooled. Use a mesh strainer or slotted spoon to remove the jalapeno pieces and keep the syrup in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Ginger beer is not “ginger-flavored” beer, and it does not have alcohol. It’s a stronger, zippier version of ginger ale soda, and it is a typical ingredient in a classic Moscow Mule cocktail. You may find it in the soda section of your market—if not, look in the cocktail mixers section where you’d find tonic water and club soda. Fever Tree brand has gained popularity recently, but I favor the Reed’s brand, which is all-natural and sweetened with honey. In particular, I look for the “Extra,” which has a higher concentration of the spicy ginger. If the spice doesn’t sit well with you, use regular ginger beer or try ginger ale.

Instructions

Fill your copper mule mug or 10 oz. glass halfway with crushed ice to get it chillin’.

Combine the watermelon puree, vodka, lime juice, a couple of mint leaves (optional) and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add ice cubes and shake for 20 seconds or until the outside of the shaker is frosty. Strain over the crushed ice into your mugs or glasses and top with ginger beer. Garnish with lime wheel, jalapeno slice or additional mint if you’re feeling fancy.

Cheers, from our backyard to yours!
Which one is sweeter? ❤

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Vanilla

When I set out to develop a recipe to properly acknowledge our nation’s birthday, my instinct was to make something that looked like the flag, because isn’t that what everyone does on the 4th of July?

For my culinary tribute to America, I decided instead to focus on the flavors that make a food distinctly “American.” But a funny thing happened during my research into America’s top flavors—the story behind our No. 1 flavor overran everything else on my mind. It’s a tale that involves other countries, explorers and a 12-year-old Black slave whose scientific discovery is still used in the production of vanilla today.

Here’s the short version:

In the early 1800s, Spanish explorers visiting Mexico returned home with some of the orchid plants used to produce vanilla. Back home, they were disappointed to find the plants never developed the long, slender pods that give us the vanilla bean. It was a pollination problem, and European bees couldn’t solve it.

But Edmond, a 12-year old slave in the French colony of Réunion, not far from Madagascar, figured out a way to intervene in the pollination process—sort of a botanical IVF, if you will—and the rest is history. His process of pollinating by hand, by the way, is still used in vanilla production today.

Like so much of what we love in America, vanilla came from somewhere else. And by way of someone whose contribution far outweighs the recognition he received for it. For much of Edmond’s life, he wasn’t even allowed to have a last name. At the end of the post, check out the link to a more thorough telling of Edmond’s story. 

By the way, how ironic is it that a flavor often used to describe anything plain, bland or uninteresting is the most enduring ingredient in American culinary history? I do so love vanilla, and I am grateful to Edmond Albius, who finally received a last name when his owner also gave him freedom and full credit for the discovery. In honor of Edmond, I’m highlighting the familiar warm, floral notes of vanilla—our country’s top flavor—in a bourbon cocktail. A splash of extract will step in with the cocktail bitters, and America’s No. 2 flavor will make an important appearance as well, in the form of a black pepper simple syrup.

Let’s do this.

Ingredients

2 oz. bourbon

0.5 oz. black pepper simple syrup* (recipe in notes below)

1/8 tsp. real vanilla extract

3 drops bitters of choice* (see notes for suggestions)

Combine ingredients in a cocktail mixing glass, add ice and stir for 20 seconds until the glass looks frosty. Strain over a giant ice cube into a double old-fashioned glass.


Vanilla-Black Pepper Old Fashioned

 *Notes

Simple syrup is exactly what it says—simple. The base is equal parts water and sugar, and you can take it anywhere you like from there by infusing it with other flavors.

1 cup filtered water

1 cup cane sugar

2 tsp. whole black peppercorns

2 tsp. cracked black peppercorns (I used a mortar and pestle, but the coarse setting on a pepper mill would work just as well)

Combine water and sugar over medium heat and bring to a light boil. Add peppercorns and turn off heat. Stir to be sure sugar is completely dissolved, and let the mixture cool completely before straining, then refrigerate in a sealed jar.

My husband and I have different taste, so I tried the drink with two different bitters varieties; chocolate for him and 18-21 “Havana & Hide” for me. Use any bitters you like. They don’t stand out much, but serve more to accentuate what’s already good about the drink. You can even skip the bitters and let the vanilla shine brighter.

If you’re a food history junkie like me, you’ll appreciate this article, which delves further into the inspiring story of Edmond Albius, the boy botanist whose legacy became the most prolific flavor of our nation’s entire history.

Cheers to you, Edmond. Thank you for flavoring our world.


Creamy Crab and Artichoke Dip

Of all the recipes I stashed away in my mind during the time I spent working in a catering kitchen, the hot artichoke dip takes the gold as my most durable. During my two years as a kitchen assistant, I probably made this dip more than 100 times. It was a favorite among clients, and for good reason. It’s easy to make ahead, easy to serve in large quantity and an undeniable crowd pleaser. It also happens to be extremely adaptable to other ingredients, as we learned with the Kentucky Hot Brown Dip a few weeks ago. By keeping the base recipe the same, I’m able to adjust the other ingredients to create whatever impression I wish, and I encourage you to do the same with ingredients that sound good to you.

What I haven’t confessed is that the cream cheese part of the recipe I share today is technically my own adjustment to the original, which (I’m sorry to say) was completely off the charts in fat content. If you spend even a little bit of time in a commercial kitchen, you will quickly come to realize the overwhelming dependence on mayonnaise. I’m not kidding—pro chefs use that stuff for everything—from dips and dressings (which makes sense) to spreading on fish before rolling in bread crumbs (why not eggs or Dijon?) and replacing butter for grilling sandwiches (I’m sorry—what’s wrong with butter?). As crazy as it seems, the solution presented in the catering kitchen to the oiliness that would appear when the artichoke dip was drowning in melted mayonnaise was, “add more bread crumbs.” Yowza. When I decided to make it at home, this recipe got an easy makeover.

For any creamy hot dip, light cream cheese fits the bill as a substitute for so much mayonnaise. It maintains the silky creamy texture, gives better structure and (in my humble opinion) improves the overall experience of the dip because it doesn’t separate or become greasy. I don’t need to create an infographic to describe to you the nutritional comparison. (Spoiler—the cream cheese wins.)

And although the original recipe is for artichoke dip, the base is a neutral canvas for whatever you want in the dip. This time, I kept the marinated artichoke hearts, added cooked crab, swapped out cheddar in favor of cheeses that paired better with the delicate crab, and topped the whole thing with garlic-buttered (not mayonnaise-laden) panko crumbs. We wanted something on the “heavy hors d’oeuvres” side for a backyard happy hour, and this was perfectly transportable and an absolute winner. As you can see, the ingredient list is short and sweet, just like our time spent laughing and relaxing with our friends on a beautiful spring evening. Charlotte was convinced this must be difficult to make—just wait until she sees the simplicity of this recipe! 🙂

Whether you’re gathering safely with friends as we did or hoarding the whole batch for yourself (I’m not judging), I hope you’ll feel free to swap ingredients to suit your palate for your next “happy hour.”

This dip is really, really easy to make with only a handful of ingredients. The crab is already cooked, so it comes together quickly. If you’re pressed for time, it’s OK to use pre-shredded cheese.

Ingredients

8 oz. brick light cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened

1/3 cup canola oil mayonnaise

2 tsp. dried chopped onion (or 1/4 cup sauteed onion)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

A few shakes of Old Bay seasoning (optional, but so good with crab)

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (to save time, I used a pre-shredded blend from Trader Joe’s)*

4 oz. prepared crab meat*

3/4 cup marinated artichoke hearts, chopped into bite-sized pieces

2 Tbsp. salted butter

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

*Notes

I’m eating my words from other posts regarding the use of pre-shredded cheese. Normally, I cringe at their use because of the no-clump coating that generally prevents even mixing or melting. The truth is, I was pressed for time on the day I made this scrumptious dip, because my stylist was able to squeeze me in for my first hair appointment in more than 90 days! As always, my tips are only suggestions. If it comes down to taking a shortcut or missing the opportunity, please always take the shortcut!

Use any cooked crab meat you prefer. In some dishes, fresh is crucial—but in this hot dip, I’ve found that the prepared blue crab available in my supermarket’s seafood section is perfectly suitable.

Instructions

Using either a stand mixer or handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese and mayonnaise together until smooth and creamy. Add the dried onion, plus salt and pepper to taste, and mix to combine. This is the base recipe, and you can use it as a backdrop for any other ingredients you wish, provided you follow the general ratio of added ingredients, and none of them are excessively wet.

To continue with the crab artichoke dip recipe, add the Old Bay seasoning and shredded cheese and stir or mix on low until it’s evenly incorporated. Use a rubber spatula or spoon to gently fold in the crab meat and artichoke hearts. You want these ingredients to keep their shape, so easy does it here.

For serving at home, transfer the mixture to a 9-inch pie plate. Because we were planning to share the dip at a safely-distanced backyard happy hour, I divided it among three smaller oven-safe ramekins—one for us, one for our friends, and a third to leave behind for them to enjoy later in the weekend.

Melt butter in a small skillet and sauté the garlic over medium-low heat. Stir in the panko crumbs and toss them around until all are coated evenly. (Want to save a bit of time here? While the butter is melting, put the panko crumbs in a small Rubbermaid-style bowl. After sautéing the garlic, pour the butter mixture over the crumbs then seal the bowl and shake the heck out of it. It’s one more dish to wash, but you will make quick work of blending the butter with the crumbs more evenly.)

Sprinkle the buttered crumbs evenly over the crab-artichoke mixture, then sprinkle with parmesan and cover with foil and tuck it into the fridge until you’re ready to bake.

Bake at 350° F for 35-40 minutes, or until dip is bubbly and parmesan-crumb mixture is lightly browned. Serve warm with crackers, pita or toasted baguettes. Wouldn’t you know?—we were in a rush to get over to our backyard happy hour, and I was so excited about seeing our friends in person, I forgot to snap a picture of the bubbly dip while it was hot from the oven. I guess I’ll have to make it again, and then I’ll update the post. 🙂

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Les’s Homemade Pimiento Cheese

Every Super Bowl party, every Thanksgiving appetizer hour and several other times throughout the year—you’ll find this quick and simple spread on our table. Though he doesn’t know the exact origin of his pimiento cheese recipe, my husband, Les, recalls that it was shared with him by a colleague at one of his former jobs. And that’s the nature of recipes, isn’t it? We enjoy a food that someone else prepared and we ask for the recipe. Maybe it’s their original recipe or maybe they got it from a cousin or a neighbor or their church potluck cookbook or the back of a soup can. When the recipe tickles your fancy, it doesn’t matter where it came from—just enjoy the fact that someone is willing to share it.

Les has graciously shared this one with me, to be shared with you. I was busy watching and jotting down the amounts of each ingredient he used, so I missed getting pictures along the way. But would you really need them for a recipe this simple? Let’s just go straight to the money shot.

Pimiento cheese is a southern food staple, delicious on a burger or little luncheon sandwiches, or even just spread on a cracker.

Unlike so many southern-style pimiento cheese recipes, this one is easy on the mayonnaise and lets the cheese take center stage. Nothing turns me off, food-wise, more than too much mayonnaise. The addition of diced tomatoes provides a nice touch of acidity to balance the richness of the cheese, and the tiniest splash of an unexpected ingredient adds a savory undertone. This spread is sturdy enough that a delicate cracker will break when you dip it. You need a hefty cracker or crostini, or do as we do and use a serving knife to spread it on your preferred snack canvas.

We enjoyed some of this recently when we had a small, physically distanced gathering with another couple. It was a fabulous backyard happy hour, long-overdue, and complete with snacks and David’s awesome martinis.

Go on, open a box of crackers, and make it a big one—in case you decide to devour the whole batch in one sitting. Nobody would blame you.

Ingredients

2/3 cup mayonnaise (we use an all-canola oil brand)

1/2 can Rotel tomatoes, very well drained*

2 oz. jar of diced pimientos, drained of excess moisture

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce (surprise!)

2 blocks (8 oz. each) cheddar cheese, freshly shredded*

Freshly cracked black pepper

*Notes

Les uses the “hot” version of Rotel, which has habanero pepper but honestly isn’t really that hot. If spicy isn’t your thing, use the original.

Try using a couple different types of cheese, to keep it interesting. This time around, Les used sharp yellow cheddar and extra sharp white cheddar. But if you want to get creative and use smoked cheddar, or mix it up with gouda or another favorite firm cheese—we would both say, “go for it!”

For sure, do not use the pre-shredded cheese in a bag. They coat that stuff with a substance that keeps it from sticking together in the bag, and it adds a weird texture to finished recipes. In our opinion, all cheese is best when you buy it whole and grate it yourself.

Instructions

Stir together the mayonnaise, tomatoes, pimientos and Worcestershire sauce in a large mixing bowl, and season to your liking with black pepper. You won’t need to add salt because the cheese has enough. Add the shredded cheddar cheese and mix until evenly combined. I will note that Les and I differ on how to put together certain types of dishes, this being one of them. He grates the cheese first and then blends in each ingredient after that; my thought is that mixing the wet ingredients first and then blending in the dry makes life far easier. (Coincidentally, our methods differ in the same way for cookies. But that’s another post.) You can serve the spread immediately, but the flavor is best after a few hours in the refrigerator.

Simple ingredients, simple to make, and delicious!

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Pimiento cheese is practically its own food group in the South. If you have never heard of it (or maybe even pimientos themselves), here’s some background info to bring you up to speed:

What are pimientos?

Also sometimes spelled “pimento,” these are smallish round sweet peppers, about the size of a golf ball, and they are commonly referred to as “cherry peppers” because they have a similar shape. When jarred, the peppers are usually diced quite small. Most likely, you’ve seen pimientos before, stuffed into the inside of pitted green olives. Of course, now I’m craving a martini.

Are pimientos spicy?

Most people would agree that pimientos are not spicy, but sweet in flavor. For reference, they land somewhere about 200 on the Scoville scale, which measures the capsaicin, or heat value, of peppers. To compare, jalapenos are somewhere around 3,000. Having said that, if you decide to grow some pimientos, give them some distance from spicier peppers in your garden, as they have a tendency to take on more heat once they have cross-pollinated.

What else can you do with pimientos?

You can use pimientos the same way you’d use any other sweet pepper—in salads, soups, spreads or omelets. They are nearly bite-sized, so you might also remove the stem and clean out the seeds, then stuff them with herbed cream cheese or tuna salad. If you just have way too much time your hands, I suppose you could buy a bushel, dehydrate them and grind them into a powder. Voilà—homemade paprika.

How can I dress up pimiento cheese?

Adjust the flavor profile by blending in different kinds of cheese—smoked gouda, asiago or bleu cheese would each lend an interesting twist to pimiento cheese. Or add small amounts of other ingredients, such as pickled jalapenos, pickles or even cooked crumbled bacon for variety.

How can I use leftover pimiento cheese?

I’m sorry—I don’t think I understand this question, because we never have leftovers! 🙂 But sometimes, Les makes a double batch so we have enough to use for other things, such as topping a burger, melting over a toasted bagel, slathering inside omelets or elevating our happy in a macaroni and cheese. Go on, make some!


Kentucky Derby Sips

Kentucky Love Child

Like a cross between a Moscow mule and a mojito, but made with real Kentucky bourbon.

1.5 oz. Kentucky bourbon
0.5 oz mint simple syrup (recipe below)
Juice of half a lime
Reed’s extra spicy ginger beer

Combine bourbon, syrup and lime in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake like crazy for 20 seconds. Strain into a “mule” mug half filled with crushed ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with fresh lime.

Sassy Comeback

A Southern spin on NYC’s “witty comeback”—and doesn’t it sound like a champion?

1.5 oz. Bulleit rye (bourbon works, too)
0.5 oz. Aperol (see notes)
0.75 oz. lemon ginger simple syrup (recipe below)
Seltzer or sparkling water (optional)

Combine rye, Aperol and syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add ice cubes and shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled “Nick and Nora” glass (or small champagne glass). Enjoy as is, or top with seltzer. Garnish with a twist of thinly stripped lemon peel.

Sparkly Britches Lemonade

Because not everyone loves bourbon (yet).

1.5 oz. Hendrick’s gin
1 oz. cucumber simple syrup (recipe below)
Juice of half a lemon
Seltzer or sparkling water (optional)

Combine gin, syrup and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice cubes and shake vigorously for 20 seconds, then strain into a chilled champagne flute. Enjoy as is, or make it really sparkle with a splash of seltzer.


What is Aperol?

It’s an Italian-made liqueur, considered to be an aperitif (fancy speak for “pre-dinner drink”), and it has a citrusy, herbal, slightly bitter flavor and a shockingly bright orange color. If you’ve ever tasted Campari (another Italian liqueur), it’s kind of similar, but less bitter and less potent. On the nose, Aperol is kind of a cross between grapefruit, rhubarb and orange lifesavers. In a cocktail, it brings a world of complexity, and is especially refreshing in the warm weather months.

What is a Nick and Nora glass?

It’s a smallish cocktail glass, sort of a cross between a champagne flute and a coupe martini glass. I found these little 4 ounce beauties online, and created the Sassy Comeback specifically for the glass! As I mentioned the glasses to various friends, it seemed nobody knew what they were, so I did a little research to find out why the glass is so named. I like this explanation best:

“It’s named for the boozy, quick-talking couple in Dashiel Hamett’s 1934 novel The Thin Man. They’re the couple we all want to be, always dressed for a night out, always with a quip at the ready, and always—always—with a drink in hand. Their namesake glass appropriately honors their art deco–era swag.”

Adam Rapoport, Bon Appetit

The novel eventually became a series of films, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, which remained popular well into the 1940s. In this clip, you’ll see the same dainty glasses used for their martinis. At the end of the scene, “Nora” embodies the sassy comeback. She’s my kinda gal!

The Simple Syrups

Simple syrups are very easy to make. A regular simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water, simmered until sugar is dissolved, then cooled and chilled. Each of the syrups below has a flavor infusion, and they offer a unique “somethin’ special” to the above mentioned cocktails. Have fun!

Mint Syrup

Simmer 1 cup sugar and 1 cup filtered water, stirring frequently, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm enough to steam. Remove from heat and add a 1 oz. package of fresh organic mint leaves (wash them first and trim the heavy stems), and allow the mint to steep in the syrup until completely cool. Strain out the mint (discard it) and pour the syrup into a covered jar. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Cucumber Syrup

Simmer 1 cup sugar and 1 cup filtered water, stirring frequently, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm enough to steam. Peel 4 Persian cucumbers, and cut them into slices. Remove syrup from the heat, add the cucumber pieces and steep until the mixture is cooled. Discard the cucumber pieces and strain syrup through a mesh strainer to remove any bits or seeds. Pour syrup into a covered jar. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Lemon-Ginger Syrup

Bring 1 cup water to a light boil, then turn off heat. Steep 4 lemon ginger* herbal tea bags in the hot water for about 2 minutes, then remove and squeeze the tea bags (discard them). Add 1 cup sugar to the hot tea blend, and stir until dissolved (return to heat a few minutes, if necessary). Cool completely, then pour into a covered jar. It will keep in the fridge a couple of weeks.

*For this syrup, I used Bigelow brand Lemon Ginger herbal tea. The label lists these ingredients; lemongrass, lemon peel, cinnamon, lemon verbena, rose hips, ginger and licorice root. This is a fantastic way to get a lot of complex flavor into a syrup, and these flavors play very nicely with the rye and Aperol in my Sassy Comeback!

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