Thai Basil Julep

The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby is mere days away, and after the big deal I made about it last year, I had to issue at least a couple of recipes to keep the momentum of this spring occasion. I’m starting this year with the most obvious offering, a cocktail.

I had hoped that the Derby might be an inaugural outing for my husband, Les, and me—an event that could finally find us in the personal company of friends, without masks or restrictions. Alas, I am only halfway vaccinated, with my second COVID jab scheduled for tomorrow (fingers crossed!), so there won’t be time before Saturday for antibodies to take hold just yet. Nevertheless, we will celebrate, probably with a batch of the Kentucky Hot Brown Dip I created last year, or perhaps the Hearts of Palm Citrus Ceviche, maybe finishing with my Southern Belle Lemon Bars, and most certainly, with a cocktail and a fancy hat.

If you missed the special drinks I whizzed up last year, either for the “preview party,” because the Derby was postponed by COVID, or the actual run for the roses, which happened in September, you’ll want to circle back to check out those fun libations.

Bourbon is a staple on Derby day, being born in Kentucky and all, and in my quest to make good use of all the fresh herbs I am constantly plucking from our countertop Aerogarden, I have come up with a global spin on the drink that is signature to Kentucky Derby—the mint julep. Though I do have some variety of mint (spearmint, maybe?) growing at a very slow pace, I am literally overwhelmed with another herb, Thai basil, and I thought, “why not?” Thai basil is part of the mint family, so it seemed like it might work. It’s decidedly not the same flavor as the Genovese basil that would be on your caprese salad or in your pesto. It is used widely in Thai and Vietnamese food, with subtle notes of basil, of course, but there is a distinct difference that took some time for my taste buds to identify. It’s anise, the same general flavor of fennel or licorice, which is not unlike Peychaud’s bitters, a classic item for any serious cocktail cart. I knew that the Thai basil flavor would work with the bourbon, and to play up the Asian spin, I added the slightest splash of lemongrass-mint white balsamic vinegar, which I picked up in a specialty shop. Strange, you say, to add vinegar? White balsamic is no more tart than a squeeze of citrus (it’s actually sweeter), and the lemongrass is a refreshing complement to the drink.

Turns out, this was a very good call! Paired with the sweetness of the bourbon, this anise-scented herb is a winner. Rather than muddle the Thai basil in the cocktail glass (oh, I can’t stand little bits of things floating in my drink), I have infused a simple syrup with a fat handful of Thai basil, so it is technically a “smash,” rather than a julep. Either way, a half-ounce of this fragrant, slightly exotic syrup flavors a shot of bourbon quite nicely. Mix it up in a cocktail shaker with a splash of the lemongrass-mint white balsamic, strain it over crushed ice, and you are ready for the race. Garnish it with a fresh lemon twist, if you’d like, plus a sprig of the Thai basil, and enjoy!

Ingredients

2 oz. bourbon (I used Elijah Craig Small Batch)

0.5 oz. (1 Tbsp.) Thai basil simple syrup (recipe below)

1 bar spoon (about 1/2 tsp.) lemongrass-mint white balsamic vinegar*

Lemon twist and fresh Thai basil leaves to garnish

Any smooth bourbon is good here, plus the simple syrup, lemongrass-mint white balsamic and garnishes.

*Notes

The lemongrass-mint white balsamic is a specialty ingredient I purchased at a boutique olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop. These stores have popped up everywhere in recent years, and I love being creative with their products. I cannot name a brand because the shops are franchised with various names. But if the shop owner confirms their supplier is “Veronica Foods,” then it is the right stuff! If you can’t find it, leave it out and go for the twist of lemon. Perhaps substitute with a couple drops of bitters. It’s Derby time, so bourbon is the star anyway. 🙂

Instructions

Combine bourbon, syrup and white balsamic in a cocktail mixing glass or shaker. Add about a cup of ice and stir or shake until outside of the container is uncomfortably cold, about 20 seconds.

Strain over crushed ice into a cocktail or julep glass. Garnish with lemon twist or a fresh sprig of Thai basil.

With or without a fancy hat or a horse race, this is a refreshing spring cocktail!

Thai basil simple syrup

1/2 cup filtered water

1/2 cup organic cane sugar

1 handful Thai basil leaves, cleaned and trimmed of heavy stems

The leaves have a warm, aromatic quality that is different from Italian basil varieties. Allow them to steep in the simple syrup until it is cooled, then strain out the leaves and store in the refrigerator.

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to slight boil. Remove from heat, stir in Thai basil leaves and steep until cool. Strain out the leaves. Transfer the syrup to an airtight jar, and store it in the refrigerator for up to one month.

This drink is so refreshing, and it is making good use of all my Thai basil. Cheers from my backyard!


Smoked Maple Old Fashioned

Two weeks from today, I’ll be recovering after my second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19, and I feel like celebrating, though I am a bit apprehensive about how my immune system will take it. Mind you, I am not skeptical about the vaccine, which would be an entirely different conversation. I trust the science and I am astonished at how quickly the research teams collaborated to produce an effective safeguard against this dreadful disease. I was in line for my first dose as soon as I became eligible.

And they gave me a nice, sparkly band-aid!

My unease is related to something else, namely the unpleasant symptoms I expect I may have as result of my body demonstrating its immune response. My first dose was uneventful, save for an achy arm for two days, but there have been many anecdotal reports by some second-dose recipients of nausea, fever, chills, migraines and other not-so-fun experiences. And that has me on high alert, which is also a pretty accurate way to describe my immune system.

In 2003, I learned that I have an autoimmune disorder, vitiligo, which some consider to be a dermatological issue, but research shows it is most likely related to a dysfunction of the immune system, possibly triggered by an extended overload of the stress hormone known as cortisol. In short, my immune system is always looking for a fight, and sometimes it attacks on my own healthy cells, specifically my skin.

I am also extremely sensitive to common household chemicals, cosmetics, fragrance and even sunshine. As these disorders go, I feel extremely lucky—I could have been hit with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, both of which are serious and more complicated to manage—but I am preparing myself for a bumpy ride after my second dose of “the Fauci ouchie.” Still, the jab and any side effects I feel from it will be far better than what my body would have done with COVID, so I am optimistic, grateful and ready.

It almost seems too good to be true to realize that by the time Memorial Day rolls in, antibodies will be standing guard and we can finally breathe easier and spend face-to-face quality time with friends. I want to hug everyone at once, but the past year of social distancing and general wariness of being close to “others not in my own household” is also creating apprehension. I sure hope I can remember how to relax and be myself when we get there.

Until we do, my fully vaccinated husband, Les, and I will spend Friday night as we have for the past 13 months—at home, alone but together, with homemade pizza and cocktails. The pandemic forced all of us to get more creative with our down time, and as the weeks in lockdown progressed, we have made some epic advances in our game for both of our culinary Friday night rituals. It has been a while since I posted any of our homemade pizzas, but rest assured, we have been making them. Here’s a quick gallery of images to catch you up (and make you hungry), or you can find a recipe for tonight on the Pizza Party page.


The cocktail part of our Friday night has varied widely over the past year, and you can hit the Happy Hour page to see a few of them. As of late, my go-to has been a dry gin martini and Les usually locks in on bourbon, a spirit he barely even knew before he met me (you’re welcome, babe). Of all the cocktail variations we have tried, we always seem to come home to this smoked maple old fashioned. It is classic in that is relies on smooth bourbon and bitters, but slightly unconventional in its substitution of smoked maple syrup for the standard muddled sugar cube. Our usual garnish is a simple Luxardo cherry, which, in my opinion, should win an award for “best cherry ever created.” But we sometimes go all-in with an orange peel twist, too, and I like the fragrance that lends to the edge of the glass with each sip we savor.

Friday night is one of the main things that helped us get through COVID lockdown, and this is what it tastes like at our house. Cheers!

Now, about tonight’s pizza… 🙂

Ingredients (see notes for additional info)

1.5 oz. bourbon

0.5 oz. (1 Tbsp.) smoked maple syrup

0.25 oz. (1 ½ tsp.) amaretto almond liqueur

3 drops orange bitters

Large cocktail ice cube

Luxardo cherry and freshly stripped orange peel (optional) for garnish

This is an all-star lineup!

Notes

We are currently pouring Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon at our house. It is smooth and easy, and works really well in most of our mixed cocktails, but not as pricey as some of the top-shelf brands.

My first taste of smoked maple syrup was in a gourmet shop in Blowing Rock, N.C., and I was pretty excited recently to find it on Amazon. If you like the idea of maple but not the smoke, then by all means, use regular maple syrup, preferably dark—but do not offend your cocktail with any cheap crap from the grocery store. It may be fine to enjoy your old fashioned on the porch of a “log cabin,” but the high fructose junk that sweetens that fake syrup has no place in your glass (or anywhere). Splurge a little; I promise you won’t regret it.

Addition of amaretto is optional, but we love the slightly sweet, nutty nuances it gives to this cocktail. We use Disaronno brand.

Orange bitters is a classic cocktail ingredient, and if you are building a home bar, this is one item to include from the start. Contrary to the name, bitters do not make your drink bitter; they add layers and complexity, and it’s usually what brings a drink together in the glass. A bottle of orange bitters will run you about $10, and it will last a good long time because you only need a few drops per drink.

Speaking of splurge, Luxardo cherries. They are $20 a jar. But trust me, you want them.


Instructions


Combine the bourbon, amaretto and smoked maple syrup in a cocktail mixing glass or shaker. Add drops of bitters and stir to blend. Add about one cup of ice and stir briskly (or shake, if using a shaker) until the outside of the container becomes frosty, which will be about 20 seconds.

Strain the cocktail into a double rocks glass, over a big, fat ice cube.

Drop in the cherry. If desired, squeeze the orange peel to express the natural oils, and rub the outside of the peel along the rim of the glass before dropping it into the drink.

Enjoy. Repeat as desired.


Happy Friday! 😀


Chocolate-Covered Cherry Old Fashioned

The whole world seemed to be holding its breath this time last year, as health officials everywhere began sounding major alarms about the potential dangers of COVID-19. If I had known that Valentine’s Day would be one of the last opportunities for life as we knew it—well, I might have made an exception for my usual “let’s stay at home and celebrate” attitude.

Or maybe not. I’ve never quite appreciated the way the food service industry has dealt with Valentine’s Day—raising prices while simultaneously reducing menu options doesn’t seem terribly romantic, just opportunistic. I put this couple’s night out in the same category as New Year’s Eve. Why in the world would a restaurant place restrictions on a “special” occasion, as if they are not capable of handling a full house with their regular menu? It shouldn’t be much different from a typical busy Saturday night. I don’t get it.

Happily though, I love the anticipation of preparing a special dinner at home, and for Valentine’s Day, I pull out all the stops to make decadent dishes for the love of my life. ❤

I have mentioned previously that my husband, Les, is completely crazy over anything that combines chocolate and cherry, as with the triple chocolate-cherry brownie bowls I shared from his birthday last summer, and the entire Valentine’s meal I made for us last year, only a few weeks before I started Comfort du Jour. It was “all about the cherries” for that occasion, and I prepared duck breast with a cherry-pinot noir sauce (it’s what I was making in the “about me” photo in the section at the right, plus chocolate crepes filled with mascarpone and topped with cherry-chocolate sauce, and we began the evening with this candy-inspired cocktail—the Chocolate-Covered Cherry Old Fashioned. Les and I had made fast friends with the classic Old Fashioned, and I knew the cherry and chocolate would give it a perfect twist.

My Valentine’s favorite flavor combination, in a romantic cocktail!

During the holidays this year, we were introduced by his daughter to the most incredible chocolate covered cherries of all time, sold by Trader Joe’s. These sweet little nuggets pack a lot of decadence into one bite, including a rich dark chocolate jacket and a silky, boozy liqueur floating around a candied cherry. It is not unusual for us to choose these little gems for satisfying our post-dinner sweet tooth. We will be bummed when the box is empty, as we will have to wait until next holiday season to get more of them.

This riff on a classic rocks drink replicates the decadent experience of that limited-edition treat, combining the sweetness of cherry and the romance of Valentine’s chocolate with the spirit of bourbon. At our house, we love the accent of almond with cherry and chocolate, so there’s a little splash of amaretto in the cocktail as well. Whether you’re staying home to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a loved one, or simply to enjoy the pleasure of your own company (as you absolutely should), I hope you’ll enjoy this special sweetheart of a cocktail.


Ingredients

Makes one cocktail; simply double ingredients if making for two.

Find the chocolate bitters and cherries in a gourmet shop or online. The Luxardo cherries are, in my opinion, well worth the typical $20.

1.5 oz. bourbon (Elijah Craig Small Batch is on my bar right now)

0.5 oz. (1 Tbsp.) Godiva dark chocolate liqueur

0.5 oz. cherry juice (I used Trader Joe’s, but any brand is fine)

0.25 oz. (1 1/2 tsp.) amaretto

1 bar spoon (about 1/2 tsp.) syrup from Luxardo cocktail cherries* (see notes)

3 drops chocolate bitters*

To garnish:

Cocoa powder (for rimming the glass)

Premium cocktail cherry (such as Luxardo)


*Notes

For the love of cocktails, please put away the artificial maraschino cherries! The Luxardo cherries mentioned here are the Ferrari of all cocktail garnishes, produced in Italy using real Marasca cherries that are macerated in Luxardo maraschino liqueur and packed in the resulting syrup. They are pricey, but completely worth it, and a jar will last a long time. Find these in gourmet shops, the cocktail mixers section of a high-end supermarket or online.

My chocolate bitters are produced by Woodford Reserve (the bourbon maker) and they add depth, not bitterness, to a cocktail. Find them in the cocktail mixers section, perhaps at Total Wine or online.

Instructions

Prepare a double rocks cocktail glass by wetting the rim with a small amount of chocolate liqueur, holding the glass upside-down so that the liqueur doesn’t run down the sides. Then roll only the outside edge of the cocktail glass into a bit of the cocoa powder. This keeps the cocoa outside the drink, giving you an extra hint of chocolate on every sip. Do this a bit ahead of time so that the cocoa rim has time to dry and set up on the glass.


At cocktail time, combine bourbon, chocolate liqueur, amaretto, cherry juice, syrup and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass. Add a cup of ice and stir about 20 seconds to chill down the cocktail mixture. Strain into the cocoa-rimmed glass over a giant ice cube. Garnish with a good cocktail cherry (or take it home by skewering an actual cordial cherry).


If you really want to go crazy with the garnish, gently push your cocktail pick directly through a chocolate covered cherry. Pure decadence!

Want to make this special cocktail?


Buffalo Deviled Eggs with Bleu Cheese

There was more than a little bit of disappointment this year in limiting the number and scale of dishes my husband, Les, and I create for our annual Super Bowl party. Obviously, we didn’t have 25 people in the house this year—that would be ludicrous in these times—but the Super Bowl wasn’t cancelled, and neither was our celebration, even if reduced to just the two of us. The challenge for us was finding new ways to enjoy the flavors we’ve come to expect on this ultimate football occasion.

Deviled eggs are always on our party table and so are Buffalo wings. Why not combine the flavors into one tasty bite?

These little hors d’oeuvres have the big, bold flavor of Frank’s RedHot sauce, which is the only acceptable flavor for Buffalo wings, in this Western New York girl’s humble opinion. Little bits of crunchy celery do their part to mimic the experience, and crumbled bleu cheese is the proverbial icing on the cake.

Deviled eggs are one of my favorite “blank canvas” foods, meaning that you can twist up the flavors to suit the occasion. I made these Buffalo-flavored eggs at the same time as the Dirty Martini Deviled Eggs, which is in keeping with my usual practice of putting more than one flavor on the table. The ingredients and instructions below describe my process for splitting the two flavors, but if you’d prefer to make only the Buffalo deviled eggs, no problem—simply double the ingredients as noted below.

Two flavors are better than one!

If you are intrigued with the idea of trying new flavors, check out my post from last spring, Egg-stravaganza. I’ll bet you will find a flavor combination that’s right up your alley!

Ingredients

9 large eggs, hard-boiled and peeled

1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. light mayonnaise


Carefully turn out the egg yolks into a medium-sized bowl. Mash thoroughly with a fork until yolks resemble dry crumbs. Add mayonnaise and blend until smooth. Divide yolk mixture by transferring half to a second bowl (unless you intend to make all one flavor). Follow additional instructions below for making the two kinds of deviled eggs I made this particular day.


For the Buffalo flavor (double if making all nine eggs)

All the flavors of Buffalo wings, ready to take over my deviled eggs.

2 or 3 tsp. Frank’s original RedHot sauce (adjust to your heat preference)

2 cloves roasted garlic or 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

Freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. celery, finely chopped (for filling) + small, thin sticks celery (for garnish)

1 1/2 Tbsp. finely crumbled bleu cheese

Frank’s RedHot dry seasoning, to sprinkle on at serving time (or substitute paprika)


Instructions for Buffalo eggs

  1. Add RedHot sauce, roasted garlic and black pepper to one bowl of the yolk mixture. Blend smooth with a fork or spoon. Fold in chopped celery bits.
  2. Place a small zip-top bag into a glass, and use a spatula to scoop the filling mixture into it. Seal up the bag, snip one corner to create a makeshift piping bag, and gently fill half of egg whites. Garnish top of Buffalo eggs with crumbled bleu cheese and mini celery sticks.

For the Dirty Martini flavor (double if making all nine eggs)

No vodka or gin in my dirty martini deviled eggs, but the vermouth and garnishes add all the right flavors.

1 Tbsp. dry vermouth (or use additional olive brine)

2 cocktail olives, finely chopped

1 or 2 cocktail onions, finely chopped (for filling)

1 tsp. olive brine

4 cocktail onions, halved (for garnish)


Instructions for Dirty Martini eggs

  1. Add dry vermouth, chopped olives, onion and brine to yolk mixture. Blend smooth with a fork or spoon.
  2. Place a small zip-top bag into a glass, and use a spatula to scoop the filling mixture into it. Seal up the bag, snip one corner to create a makeshift piping bag, and gently fill half of egg whites. Garnish with cocktail onion halves, skewered on a toothpick if you wish, to mimic the appearance of a martini.


Want to try these deviled egg recipes?


At serving time, I sprinkled the Buffalo eggs with the Frank’s dry seasoning. These deviled eggs made a fine appearance at our Super Bowl party for two! 🙂


Dirty Martini Deviled Eggs

Every Super Bowl party my husband, Les, and I have hosted together has been a little different in terms of food offerings, but you can count on two things—his incredible, thick and meaty chili (one day I promise I’ll squeeze the recipe out of him) and at least a couple of flavors of deviled eggs. This is one of those foods that everybody (except the vegans) goes a little nuts over, and I love making them because the deviled egg is what I call a “blank canvas” food. If you can dream up a flavor, a deviled egg can probably carry it.

When I shared my Egg-stravaganza post last spring, I made mention of my “Bloody Mary” deviled eggs, filled with all the signature savory flavors you’d find in the ubiquitous Sunday brunch cocktail. Today, I’m presenting a non-spicy counterpart in this Dirty Martini version of deviled eggs, which includes the tangy brininess of lemon-stuffed cocktail olives, pickled cocktail onions and a splash of dry white vermouth. This new riff on a classic hors d’oeuvres will undoubtedly make a repeat appearance on our table at some point in the future, and it’s a fun way to enjoy one of my favorite cocktail combinations, too.

Two flavors are better than one!

I made these tasty bites at the same time as my Buffalo Deviled Eggs with Bleu Cheese, and the ingredients and instructions below describe my process for splitting the two flavors. If you’d prefer to make only the dirty martini deviled eggs, no problem—simply double the ingredients as noted below.

Cheers!


Ingredients for base filling

9 large eggs, hard-boiled and peeled

1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. light mayonnaise



Carefully turn out the egg yolks into a medium-sized bowl. Mash thoroughly with a fork until yolks resemble dry crumbs. Add mayonnaise and blend until smooth. Divide yolk mixture by transferring half to a second bowl (unless you intend to make all one flavor). Follow additional instructions below for making the two kinds of deviled eggs I made this particular day.


For the Dirty Martini flavor (double ingredients if making all nine eggs)

No vodka or gin in my dirty martini deviled eggs, but the vermouth and garnishes add all the right flavors.

1 Tbsp. dry vermouth (or use additional olive brine)

2 cocktail olives, finely chopped

1 cocktail onion, finely chopped

1 tsp. olive brine

4 cocktail onions, halved (for garnish)


Instructions for Dirty Martini eggs


  1. Add dry vermouth, chopped olives, onion and brine to yolk mixture. Blend smooth with a form or spoon.
  2. Place a small zip-top bag into a glass, and use a spatula to scoop the filling mixture into it. Seal up the bag, snip one corner to create a makeshift piping bag, and gently fill half of egg whites (See slides for Buffalo deviled eggs for a visual on this technique). Garnish with cocktail onion halves, skewered on a toothpick if you wish, to mimic the appearance of a martini.

For the Buffalo flavor

All the flavors of Buffalo wings, ready to take over my deviled eggs.

2 or 3 tsp. Frank’s original RedHot sauce (adjust to your heat preference)

2 cloves roasted garlic or 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

Freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. celery, finely chopped (for filling) + small, thin sticks celery (for garnish)

1 1/2 Tbsp. finely crumbled bleu cheese

Frank’s RedHot dry seasoning, to sprinkle on at serving (or substitute paprika)


Instructions for Buffalo deviled eggs


  1. Add RedHot sauce, roasted garlic and black pepper to one bowl of the yolk mixture. Blend smooth with a fork or spoon. Fold in chopped celery bits.
  2. Place a small zip-top bag into a glass, and use a spatula to scoop the filling mixture into it. Seal up the bag, snip one corner to create a makeshift piping bag, and gently fill half of egg whites. Garnish top of Buffalo eggs with crumbled bleu cheese and mini celery sticks.

Want to make these deviled eggs?


If you like the fun idea of switching up flavors on your next batch of deviled eggs, have a look at my previous post for Egg-Stravaganza, and see how I made these fun varieties!

(L to R) Bloody Mary, jalapeno pimiento cheese, bacon, egg and cheese.

O, Bring Us a Figgy Bourbon!

Everyone knows the classic English carol, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” But have you wondered, as I did for so long, what the heck is a figgy pudding? In the traditional carol, the singers on the doorstep become more and more demanding of this figgy pudding, first requesting it (O, bring us some figgy pudding), and then threatening for it (we won’t go until we get some), until finally resorting to justification (we all like our figgy pudding). This must be some good stuff!

I always imagined that a figgy pudding was some kind of smashed up prune-like paste that wobbled and jiggled, but I’ve recently learned (thanks to this recipe by British superchef, Jamie Oliver) that it’s quite different from my Americanized vision of “pudding.” Common in the U.K., where my father’s roots are planted, figgy pudding is actually a sweet, dense fruitcake. Not the artificially colored, sickeningly sweet loaf that could serve as a doorstop and is usually the unwanted prize at an American office party gift exchange. Nope, a traditional British figgy pudding contains chopped dried fruits, nuts, golden syrup, citrus peel and spices. It’s steam-baked in a bowl, then inverted to a platter where it is lavishly bathed in booze (brandy, rum, bourbon—you decide) and set ablaze for a presentation that can only be described as spectacular.


No wonder the carolers demand that figgy pudding be brought “right here!” A boozy, sweet holiday treat—I guess my dad’s people really knew how to party.

My figgy bourbon drink is less dramatic, but still swimming in the warm and festive flavors of Christmas, with spice and fruit and bourbon to spare. The bourbon is lightly sweetened with fig simple syrup, accented with hazelnut liqueur and cardamom bitters, then garnished with a sweet and simple-to-make skewer that includes figs, cranberries, crystallized ginger and a generous twist of fresh citrus peel.

Given that figgy pudding may contain any combination of dried fruits, nuts and spices, the possibilities are very open for a cocktail interpretation. I might just as easily have chosen amaretto rather than hazelnut, or fresh cherries rather than cranberries, or cinnamon sticks rather than cardamom bitters. But this is what my imagination (and my bar inventory) gave me on this particular night.


The fig syrup is central to the drink, and easy to make. Because my dried figs are already sweet, I made a “light” simple syrup, which is 1 cup water to 1/2 cup cane sugar. Heat it to a quick low boil, then stir in several cut-up dried figs and let it steep until cooled. Strain out the fig pieces (reserving them, of course, for garnish purposes) and this syrup will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Going light on the sugar allows the fig to shine more than the sweet. If you prefer a sweeter drink, go with equal parts sugar and water.


Making the cocktail was easy, beginning with the garnish:


Making the Cocktail (makes two drinks)

3 oz. favorite bourbon (we are currently pouring Elijah Craig Small Batch)

0.5 oz. hazelnut liqueur (or amaretto, if you prefer almond flavor)

1.5 oz. fig simple syrup (as described above)

1.0 oz. freshly squeezed orange juice (or maybe Meyer lemon)

2 drops cardamom spice bitters* (see notes)

2 drops cherry or cherry-cacao bitters*

*Notes

I have found some really interesting bitters online, but Total Wine and well-stocked supermarkets usually carry a good variety, too. My goal for this drink was spice and fruit (in keeping with the flavors of a figgy pudding), so these could probably be replaced with orange, aromatic or Peychaud’s bitters. Be creative, but don’t go overboard as you’ll lose the essence of the fig and bourbon. 🙂


It’s warming and Christmas-y, lovely for sipping by an open fire, with or without chestnuts. Or, as it will be at our house, in front of the gas logs. 🙂

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!



My Dad’s Homemade Irish Creme

The Christmas season doesn’t feel real in our house until the refrigerator holds a bottle of this luxurious libation. My father has made this homemade version of Irish creme (his spelling) for years, and whenever I visited his house during the holidays, I knew I could count on him to have a beige Tupperware pitcher of it in the fridge. It is rich and decadent, far creamier than the shelf-stable stuff you can buy at the liquor store. When I first asked for his recipe, I was surprised to realize that it has both coffee and chocolate in it—I never tasted either of them in the Irish cream, but when I’ve reduced or omitted either, I found that it just wasn’t the same.

For sure, double the recipe, even if there aren’t a lot of folks.

My father’s original recipe suggests using heavy cream and whole milk, but I have fiddled with the recipe and found that light cream and half & half makes it every bit as creamy, without the clumping that sometimes occurs with chilled heavy cream. Increase the Irish whiskey if you like (my dad does), but I think the ratios are perfect just as they are.

This homemade Irish cream is perfect for gift-giving, and it’s so darn easy to make that you’ll find yourself asking “Bailey who?”

Enjoy this straight, on ice or as a decadent flavor addition to your Christmas morning coffee or hot cocoa.

Homemade Irish Cream is a wonderful gift, too!

Ingredients

4 oz. (1/2 cup) light cream* (see notes)

2 tsp. espresso powder (or instant coffee)*

1 Tbsp. chocolate syrup (I use an all-natural brand with no high fructose corn syrup)

1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

8 oz. (1 cup) half & half*

6 oz. (3/4 cup) Irish whiskey

The original recipe calls for heavy cream and whole milk, but I’ve substituted similarly rich products with no clumping.

*Notes

Light cream is 20% milkfat, compared to nearly 40% milkfat in heavy cream. For readers abroad, the term “half & half” may not make sense, given that the European market does not have a product labeled this way. According to this article I found, half & half checks in at 12% milkfat. If you combine equal parts light cream with whole milk, you’ll strike a similar balance to the fat in half & half.

If my suggested ingredients are not available where you are, go with my dad’s original suggestion for 4 oz. heavy cream and 8 oz. whole milk, and perhaps use a blender to mix the Irish cream to help avoid the clumps that occur with cold heavy cream.

Espresso powder is available in the baking aisle of many well-stocked supermarkets or online from King Arthur Baking Company. You may substitute a high-quality instant coffee, such as Starbucks Via brand. I’ve used Starbucks “dark French roast” instant coffee with very good results.


Instructions

  1. Place a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Warm the light cream, espresso powder and chocolate syrup until the mixture steams and the espresso powder is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely.
  2. Use a whisk to blend the coffee-infused cream, condensed milk and half & half.
  3. Stir in Irish whiskey. Give it a taste and adjust any ingredient as desired.
  4. Divide Irish cream into sealable bottles and refrigerate.

Recipe makes about 4 cups.

Enjoy within three weeks. At our house, it is usually gone within three hours. 😉

Now, it feels like Christmas.

Want to make this recipe?


Pom-Pom-Hattan (Thanksgiving Cocktail)

Each year that we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving together, my husband, Les, and I have enjoyed building traditions with friends and family. One tradition that has gained traction is the unveiling of the signature Thanksgiving cocktail. Even though we will have no guests in 2020, we are keeping this tradition alive, and sharing it here for those celebrating in their own pandemic bubbles. You still have time to pick up the ingredients if you’d like to join us.

As hosts, we find the signature cocktail is a fun way to officially welcome guests as they arrive for an afternoon of conversation, laughter, football and what we always hope will be an unforgettable meal. But the secret side benefit of offering a signature drink is that we aren’t all standing around deciding what to drink while so many last-minute preparations are on the front burner. I need my hands and my counter space free, and making one type of drink simplifies the situation rather than trying to pour wine for one guest, mix a vodka drink for another and deal with the inevitable, awkward dilemma that ensues when someone says, “surprise me.”

Seriously, “surprise me” could mean anything at our house.

I put a good bit of thought into the signature cocktail each year, with attention to how well its flavors will fit the season, the hors d’oeuvres and the preferences of our guests. One year we had a pumpkin pie martini, another a spiced pear martini; there was the bourbon-cider drink of a few years ago, and the smoked maple “new-fashioned” drink we sipped just last year (though it seems like ages ago). We are particularly excited about the cocktail we will enjoy this year. So much, in fact, that we’ve “tested” it numerous times over the past few weeks, and again last night, to be sure we have it just right. All in the name of research and development, people. You’re welcome.

This year’s drink is my festive Comfort du Jour twist on a classic Manhattan cocktail, which would traditionally be a bourbon or rye, red vermouth and bitters—stirred with cocktail ice and then strained into a coupe glass with a brandied cherry garnish. But mine takes a few liberties, naturally. If you happen to follow the link above to what appears to be the “official” Manhattan recipe, you’d notice in the comments section a rather testy exchange among various cocktail snobs who all profess to know the actual truth about what should be in a Manhattan. Here’s what I know: those snobs will never be invited to our house for Thanksgiving! I have no fear in spinning a classic and calling it whatever I want.

“Pom-Pom-Hattan”

The Pom-Pom-Hattan is so named because it resembles a classic Manhattan, glammed up in such an elegant glass. The backbone of our drink is Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon, which would rattle the chains of some of those purists who insist that only rye is allowed. If you were at our house this year, you would be sipping Elijah Craig, but friends, please use whatever makes you cheer. Celebration is the point—thus, the pom-pom.

Bourbon, pomegranate liqueur and high quality grenadine are the key ingredients. Accent with a tiny splash of either amaretto or Grand Marnier, if desired.

There’s a double dose of pomegranate flavor in the mix here, first in a shot of Pama pomegranate liqueur, which is the stand-in for red vermouth, and again with a sweet little kiss of authentic grenadine syrup. I was thrilled recently to find a brand of grenadine that has all the right stuff for me (including real pomegranate) and none of the wrong (high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors). This one is made by Luxardo, the same company responsible for maraschino liqueur and real maraschino cocktail cherries. It has a perfectly tart undertone, despite the cane sugar sweetness, and a lovely pomegranate flavor without the painstaking effort of breaking open an actual pomegranate.

Through our various taste-testing sessions (try saying that after couple of nips), we discovered that a tiny splish of amaretto does great things for this drink, and so does a splish of Grand Marnier. In case you’re wondering, a “splish” is approximately 1/3 of a splash; in other words, about a teaspoon. Choose one or the other; we’ve decided we like the amaretto best for its sweet almond-y warmth.

Finally, about the garnish—Les and I recently dialed into a Zoom call that was set up by Elijah Craig and hosted by celebrity chef Richard Blaise. One of his guests was a garnish guru, and I adopted her simple-meets-fancy cinnamon swizzle garnish for my presentation on the pom-pom-hattan. It’s easy to make and I’ll show you how. Raise your glass—it even smells like the holidays, y’all!


Ingredients

1.5 oz. (one shot glass) Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon (or your favorite bourbon or rye)

1 oz. (2 Tbsp.) Pama pomegranate liqueur

0.5 oz. (1 Tbsp.) Luxardo grenadine (or a favorite brand, but look for one that has real pomegranate)

1 tsp. amaretto or Grand Marnier (optional)

2 drops orange bitters (optional, in keeping with an “authentic” Manhattan recipe)

Garnish options: cocktail cherry, orange twist or the fancy-ish cinnamon swizzle

Combine bourbon, Pama, grenadine, liqueur accent and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass or shaker. Add about a cup of ice. Shake or stir for 20 seconds, and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish as desired. And if you happen to have a real pomegranate, feel free to drop a few of the arils into your glass, too.


Ready to make it?


One final thought…

You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or products for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀


Spinach Balls with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Hi, everyone! I’m bustling about this week, putting together plans for Thanksgiving, so my awesome husband is stepping into the Comfort du Jour kitchen to share one of his fabulous appetizer recipes! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. 🙂

Terrie

Water logged, salt bloated, mushy.

I think we can all agree that canned vegetables suck. I grew up on them, though, force fed night after night by my mom, who was trying to make a thin budget stretch enough to feed three hungry kids.

Perhaps my mother was worn down by the time I came around after my two sisters, but mom did let me get away with complete rejection of canned peas and asparagus. I choked down string beans and carrots. Grudgingly. I actually liked two types of canned veggies. Corn and, somewhat inexplicably, spinach.

Maybe it was the Popeye cartoons. You remember how Popeye always was getting whaled on by Bluto until, miraculously, he discovered a can of spinach, opened it with a variety of odd devices he would somehow pull out of thin air and, voila, POW! Bluto was punched off the planet.

Maybe it was the fact I could mix spinach, with a liberal amount of margarine, into the baked potato we had every night. The spinach-potato glop was my favorite—until I discovered frozen creamed spinach in early adulthood in the supermarkets of Southern California, where I moved after college.

It was only a matter of time until I discovered fresh spinach. Tasted good in a salad. Tasted even better sauteed in butter. In short, I discovered the world beyond the can. Years later, I had the good fortune to be invited to a restaurant in Boca Raton, Florida, the Ke’e Grill, where “Spinach Maria” achieved the rank of “best spinach dish ever.” Even more fortunate for me, I have a wife, the inspired, genius founder of Comfort du Jour, who loves the challenge of creating dishes even better than we have out. Hence, I’ve enjoyed Terrie’s Spinach Maria and consider it better than the original. Not unlike her version of New York-style pizza.

But I digress. My point is that tastes change and grow over the years, but I still love spinach, and love using it in dishes that I can do, too. Like spinach balls.

These spinach balls are great as appetizers, or just snacking in general.

I first made these by searching recipes when I was tasked with creating an appetizer dish for an annual holiday potluck at work. First time out of the box, they drew raves, especially from one of the office vegetarians. I guess he enjoyed the savory taste, a blend of seasoned bread crumbs, butter, eggs, cheese and spices. They were clean and neat, easy to just keep popping in your mouth. I’ve been making them, especially around the holidays, ever since, and Terrie has done one of her “elevate” tricks by making use of leftover spinach balls and recasting them as an ingredient, in, say, breakfast waffles. She’s working on a way to incorporate them in some form (Crumbled, sliced? Who knows? That’s the joy of living with a creative kitchen mind) one of her specialty pizzas. I can’t wait.

Enjoy!

Spinach Ball Ingredients

1 10-ounce package of frozen spinach*

2 cups seasoned herb mix*  

2/3 cup grated Italian cheese*

1/2 cup (1 stick) of salted butter, melted and cooled

3 eggs, beaten

2 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

½ tsp. black pepper

*Notes

Some frozen bagged spinach comes in 12-ounce size, and the extra will not harm the final outcome.

I use a combination of Pepperidge Farm herbed turkey stuffing mix (about 2 parts) and panko bread crumbs (1 part).

I also use our blend of grated parmesan and romano cheeses, but regular grated parmesan would also work.


Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350° F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Defrost spinach and dry as thoroughly as possible with paper towels.
  3. Blend dry ingredients, grinding the bread crumbs so they are largely fine in texture. Add spinach, then eggs and butter, mixing until thoroughly blended and dough-like in consistency.
  4. Take 1 to 2 tablespoons worth of the spinach mixture between your palms, pressing it together to help it take an oval form, then gently roll it between your palms to form golf ball-sized bites, spacing each about an inch apart on the cookie sheet. Be careful to ensure the mixture is pressed initially and to roll it gently to avoid crumbling. If the mix itself is too crumbly, add an egg and another tablespoon of butter, remix and start again.
  5. Spinach balls should cook 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the oven. Turn them once midway when one side has a slightly brown coloring.

The red pepper sauce is something new, and it came about quite coincidentally. Except I don’t believe in coincidences. So here’s the story. One Monday, Terrie asked me to make the spinach balls for the coming weekend. The next day, I peeked at my email and there was one of The New York Times’ 12 emails a day (Yes, I have an online subscription. Sue me; I’m a former journalist.) that crowd my inbox. This one said “Giant couscous cake with red pepper sauce.” I didn’t give a hoot about the couscous cake, but “red pepper sauce” caught my attention. I love sauces. Love to try them, love to create my own. I looked at the recipe and immediately thought it would be perfect for the spinach balls, which we typically serve with a marinara. So we tried it. And like Mikey in the old Life cereal ads, “we liked it.”

Pepper Sauce Ingredients

2 medium red bell peppers, quartered and seeds removed

1 medium tomato, halved and seeded

2 full heads of garlic

1 1/2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

4 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper


Instructions

  1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 425° F.
  2. Toss peppers and tomato in 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and the kosher salt and arrange skin side up on the cookie sheet.
  3. Cut off ends of garlic heads, drizzle with olive oil and place in foil either on the same cookie sheet if there is room or alongside.
  4. Place the cookie sheet in the oven to roast. After 35 minutes, the peppers and tomatoes should show a nice brown. Remove them from oven and allow to cool slightly; let the garlic continue to roast another 15 minutes until the individual cloves are deep golden color.
  5. Once slightly cooled, remove skins from peppers and tomato and put in a food processor. Remove garlic and squeeze bulbs into the processor as well, taking care not to drop the garlic paper in.
  6. Add red wine vinegar, a good pinch of salt and solid shake of pepper.
  7. Pulse the processor several times to begin the blend, then leave it on and slowly drizzle in remaining 3 Tbs. of olive oil until mixture is smooth. Additional olive oil can be drizzled on top of the sauce upon serving.
Thanks for letting me share these with you. I hope you enjoy them.

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Once in a Blue Moon (a cocktail for Halloween 2020)

We have reached the end of October 2020 to find it almost the same as it began—with too many political ads, too much strife and worry, and a big fat full moon in the sky. Yep, this month has graced us with two full moons, beginning with the Harvest Moon on Oct. 1 and ending tomorrow with another full moon. This one bears distinction as a “blue moon,” not in reference to its color, but the fact that it is the second full moon in the same month.

A full moon on Halloween is an event that happens about every 19 years, but it isn’t always visible as “full” in every U.S. time zone—this time it is, and the last time that happened was 1944, just shy of the end of World War II. Maybe we are nearing the end of our current madness as well. One can dream. Oh, and there’s this:

Does anybody really know what time it is?

This weekend is also a return to standard time in most of the U.S., so we will have an extra hour to ponder the unusual things that supposedly happen underneath a full moon—you know, more crime, more accidents, more babies being born. Most of those examples are wives’ tales, by the way, myths that are perpetuated by the mere fact that we already believe them, so they must be true (psychologists call this confirmation bias). Except the last one, as there is some data to support the notion that more babies really are born under a full moon. It has something to do with extra gravitational pull.

Science also assures us that the moon affects the ocean tides (I’d give anything to be back at the beach this weekend), and on that note, there’s also whispering among the scientific community suggesting that scores of coral species will be “getting busy” in the Great Barrier Reef this weekend, and that sea turtles also are waiting for the full moon high tide to ride ashore and lay their eggs. Let’s combine that with the good news that sea turtles have already been more active because COVID has reduced human activity at the beaches, and we might have an extended sea turtle baby boom. This makes me so very happy. 😊

Whether you’ll be gazing at the moon this weekend, howling at it, wooing a lover beneath it or maybe just sitting around waiting for trick-or-treaters to ring the doorbell, here’s a special cocktail dedicated to the beauty and brilliance of the moon, which feels to me like a promise that life is continuing, despite all we’ve seen this year.

I’ve tinkered quite a bit with this cocktail to achieve a beautiful look and appealing flavor, and the end result is very nice. Flavored with vanilla vodka and Chambord raspberry liqueur, my blue moon cocktail has a subtle sweetness that doesn’t overwhelm. The smallest spoonful of cocktail cherry juice is a like a kiss on the cheek, and I searched the world over (thank you, internet) to find edible shimmer dust that gives it a special, blue moon-worthy glow. With or without the special effects, I hope you will give it a try, or at least enjoy the idea of it, along with the intonations of the incomparable Billie Holliday.


Ingredients

1.5 oz. vanilla vodka (I used Absolut Vanilia)

1 oz. raspberry liqueur (I used Chambord)

1 tsp. cocktail cherry juice (mine are Woodford Reserve brand)

Large ice sphere or whatever kind of ice you have on hand

Instructions

Cheers!