Fuzzy Navel Sorbet

It was July, 1986. My wardrobe included stirrup pants, big blouses and my favorite pin-striped, high-waisted skinny jeans. The ones with the pleats. My hair was permed and teased out to here, and all the girls were lusting after Tom Cruise in Top Gun. I was restless in my not-so-exciting hometown, and I spent entirely too many weekend nights on the dance floor at a bar called the Rusty Nail, drinking the most sticky-sweet drink that was all the rage that year.

When we were not enjoying our Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers, the “fuzzy navel,” made with orange juice and DeKuyper Peachtree schnapps, was the “cocktail” of choice for me and so many of my friends, whether we were out on the town (which meant we were in the next town over), hanging at home (because our town didn’t have much going on) or gathering for a bridal shower (because getting hitched is what several of my friends were doing that year). Man, we were so cool.

Why did we ever think it was cool to smoke??
But I wish I still had that striped top!

It was an odd time for me, as I turned 21 and I would finally be cleared to order a drink in public. Again. There was a great deal of confusion for my friends and me, as the state of New York had raised the legal drinking age not once, but twice, in a short period of time. First, they raised it from 18 to 19, after I had been legally imbibing for about eight months. Then, when I was 20 and enjoying my fuzzy navels, they upped it to the national standard age of 21. In the next town over, this did not present as much of a problem, because I had a fake ID. Yes, it was bad, but shame on the state for having a no-photo ID that was made of plain old paper. I had used a safety pin to scratch off the bottom part of the 7 and a #2 pencil to reshape it into a 2, giving myself a Feb. 25 birthday! Seriously, it was ridiculous that the powers in Albany did not find a way to “grandfather” in the people who were already considered “of age.”

In my hometown though, everyone knew I was a July baby, so I had to rely on the bottles of DeKuyper Peachtree schnapps I had already purchased (when I was younger, yet “old enough”), and that was what carried me through the final stretch of waiting. Let’s just say that I bought a lot of orange juice during those weird alcohol retrograde months.

A few weeks ago, for nostalgia’s sake, I brought home a bottle of Peachtree schnapps when I spotted it in our local ABC store (that’s what we call our state-run liquor stores in North Carolina), and Lord have mercy, I wish I could have seen my own face when I took a sip! It has a fake fruit flavor and a slight medicinal edge, definitely not what I remembered as being “totally awesome.”

Yes, my taste has changed a great deal (thankfully), but I could not resist finding a fun way to pay homage to the drink of my youth, and this easy sorbet is the result of my effort. I am presenting it during National Ice Cream Month, as an alternative frozen treat for anyone who can’t eat ice cream, and as a nod to my younger self on her 21st birthday. The sorbet is surprisingly refreshing on its own, and I found that it also makes a fun brunch cocktail when topped with prosecco!

Please help me think of a good name for this fuzzy navel brunch cocktail. Mimosa and Bellini are already taken. 🙂

There is a hefty amount of peach schnapps in this sorbet, but fear not—the stuff is only 40-proof, so it isn’t going to wreck you. I pureed a handful of fresh summer peaches to add some freshness and actual peach flavor. The orange juice was a frozen concentrate (which is not as commonly available as in 1986), and I finished the mixture with a light simple syrup of sugar and water.


Ingredients

4 medium peaches, peeled and pitted

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

2 cups water, divided

1/2 cup cane sugar

2 Tbsp. light corn syrup* (see notes)

1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate

1/3 cup DeKuyper Peachtree schnapps

2 Tbsp. vodka, optional for extra kick


*Notes

Corn syrup is not crucial, but I used it to help keep the sugar from forming unpleasant crystals in the frozen sorbet.


Instructions

  1. Cut up the peaches into chunks and transfer them to a regular or bullet blender. Squeeze in the lemon juice and toss lightly to prevent discoloration of the peaches.
  2. Combine 1 cup of the water and all of the sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in corn syrup. Remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool.
  3. Add the orange juice concentrate to the bullet blender, along with the peaches and about 1/2 cup of the simple syrup. Pulse a few times, then blend continuously until the mixture is smooth and uniform.
  4. Strain the puree through a mesh strainer to remove any solids, including the stringy fibers that surround the peach pits.
  5. Combine the pureed mixture, the remaining simple syrup, remaining water and the Peachtree schnapps in a large bowl or pitcher. Stir to blend. Cover with plastic wrap and chill several hours or overnight.
  6. Freeze the fuzzy navel mixture in an ice cream machine for about 25 minutes, until it’s frozen and slushy. Transfer to an insulated container and freeze overnight.

This sorbet can be served as is, or spoon a couple of tablespoons into a flute glass and top with prosecco. It’s a fun little brunch drink, almost as if a mimosa and a Bellini had a baby.


And as for you, young lady—well, you have a lot to learn. But you are awesome just as you are, even with your eyes closed. Don’t ever let anyone tell you different. ❤



Tequila & Lime Pie

As we inch toward some new variety of normalcy in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, my husband, Les, and I have been making an informal list of the top things that helped us get through the past year. Beyond the obvious things, such as face masks and avoiding crowds, we leaned into a few new routines as we fumbled through a year in lockdown.

Last week, I shared one of our favorite rituals—our Friday night menu of homemade pizza and smoked maple old-fashioned cocktails, our “quarantini” of choice. Today, I’m offering up a slice of this easy, no-cooking-involved spring dessert, in honor of the musical duo that has provided the soundtrack for our Friday nights at home for the past year.

My “tequila and lime” pie is obviously a riff on a margarita cocktail. It is bright and citrusy, sweet but tart, with refreshing lime juice plus two shots of tequila and a splash of orange liqueur. The crust, though similar in appearance to a graham cracker cheesecake base, is made from buttery crushed pretzels, a salty accent just like the one you’d expect on the rim of your margarita glass. I’ve made this pie for many years and always called it “margarita pie,” but it shall be known henceforth by its new name, “Tequila and Lime,” which also happens to be the title of a song by our Friday night friends.

The tequila and lime pie is especially good when served frozen!

Nearly every week during lockdown, we have cozied up in front of our big wall-mounted TV for “Quarantunes,” streamed on Facebook Live by Glenn Alexander, an awesome musician and all-around good guy, and his lovely and talented daughter, Oria, who graces us with her phenomenal voice and occasional playing of flute and turkey legs. Yes, I said turkey legs—you must press “play” and see it to understand.

Glenn Alexander and Oria, with Dr. Fauci! 🙂

Together, they are “Blue Americana,” and both Glenn and Oria (pronounced “oh-RYE-uh”) are equal parts gifted and goofy, and their weekly concert, staged from a table in their home kitchen, has helped us maintain humor and a sense of normalcy throughout the turbulence of the past year. We first met Glenn from his role as lead guitarist for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, a Jersey-based bluesy rock band that my husband has followed for about four decades. Not coincidentally, a Southside concert was the first date that Les and I had in 2015, though Les insists it wasn’t a date and maybe it wasn’t for him, but I still remember how he looked in black jeans that night, and how I wondered to myself, “why have I not noticed this before?” But I digress.

When COVID was still making early headlines, Les and I had gone to one of our last live music shows—a “Jukes” concert, just one night earlier than the Little River Band show I wrote about in my previous post, “Reminiscing.” Yep, for two consecutive nights, just ahead of the first COVID surge, we were nuzzled next to strangers in busy music venues. The reality of the virus obviously had not yet hit us. At the start of the Jukes concert, Southside Johnny strolled onto the stage with his shirt untucked and his usual sense of humor, telling the crowd not to get too close, because they had found the first “coronavirus person” in North Carolina, and he pointed to his left, directly at Glenn Alexander, who replied with his own swagger and wit, “I’m more of a Dos Equis person.” And then they rocked the house.

When we learned later that Glenn was streaming Facebook Live shows on Friday nights, it was a no-brainer—of course we would be watching, whenever we didn’t have plans. Which turned out, of course, to be the whole next year. Little did we know that these two—Glenn, with his virtuoso guitar skills and a side shot of tequila and lime, and Oria, with her sultry, soulful voice and adorable, unapologetic silliness, would become part of the family.

Check out Glenn and Oria on Facebook Live!

If you are on Facebook, please check them out this Friday night. Because if Glenn and Oria are in your living room at the same time they are in our living room—well, that’s almost as good as being together. 😊 You can also check out their shows after live-streaming, on Glenn’s YouTube Channel.


Glenn and Oria, we love and appreciate you!
Here’s a delicious slice of “vitamin T” for you and Dr. Fauci!

We feel fine, with our tequila and lime!

Ingredients

Crust:

1 stick (8 Tbsp.) salted butter, melted

1 1/4 cups finely crushed salted pretzels* (see notes)

2 Tbsp. coconut sugar (or regular sugar)

Filling:

14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, from about two large limes* (see notes)

Zest of one lime*

2 oz. (1/4 cup) 1800 Silver tequila*

1 oz. (2 Tbsp.) Grand Marnier orange liqueur*

8 oz. heavy cream, whipped

A few drops of green food coloring (optional)

*Notes

The measurement of pretzels is after crushing, so you will probably need to crush about 2 cups of loose pretzels to get this amount. Crumbs should be small and uniform, but not as fine as powder. If you have any leftover crumbs, you can use them to garnish.

Use a microplane to remove the zest of one lime before you juice them, and it’s best to use organic citrus anytime you will be eating a portion of the peel. Here’s a tip for getting the most juice out of your fresh limes: microwave them on high for about 40 seconds. Cool until they are easy to handle, then roll under your hand on the counter before halving and squeezing them.

This time around, I used 1800 Coconut tequila, for a little extra tropical flavor. I have also used Cuervo gold tequila with excellent results, so use whatever brand is your favorite, but remember that with so many mixers in this pie, it is not necessary to use a top-shelf tequila. Save the really good stuff for Quarantunes!

I use Grand Marnier in my margaritas, so I have also used it in my tequila and lime pie. Use a splash of triple sec if you prefer or if it is what you have on hand.

Here we go!


Instructions

  1. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Use a fork to combine pretzel crumbs and coconut sugar into the butter. Press into a 9” freezer-safe pie plate, using the bottom of a small dish to compress the crumbs. Put this into the freezer for at least 20 minutes to firm up the crust while you make the filling.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together condensed milk, lime juice, tequila and triple sec. Stir in green food coloring (if using) and lime zest.
  3. Use a spatula to gently fold in the whipped cream.
  4. Pour mixture (slowly) into the chilled crust and chill or freeze until serving time. For a chilled pie, give it at least two hours in the fridge; for a frozen slice, freeze at least four hours, preferably overnight.

To serve:

Place the pie plate in a shallow skillet filled with about an inch of warm (not hot) water, just a minute or two until the buttery crust is loosened enough to remove.

Top each slice with a dollop of additional whipped cream (spike it with Grand Marnier if you wish), a little lime zest and leftover pretzel crumbs.


Irish Cream Chocolate Cheesecake

The only thing I can think of to make a chocolate cheesecake better is a little bit of booze, and the only thing that can top that is to make it no-bake. Done and done. This easy, no-fuss dessert comes together quickly, and it doesn’t require gelatin or any special measures to set up firmly. Chocolate-flavored graham crackers provide a dark, flavorful base for this cheesecake, and the filling is sweetened cream cheese accented with a ton of chocolate and a wee bit of Irish cream liqueur. I’ve used My Dad’s Homemade Irish Creme, the same as we made at Christmastime, but if you want to make it super easy, make a quick run to the liquor store for a small bottle of Bailey’s.

I used a springform pan for this dessert, but I’ll bet you could also make it in a pie plate with sloped sides for easy serving. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and fresh berries or a little bit of Jameson-spiked whipped cream. Or, do what we did and just dig in.

This is a wonderful, sweet finish to our St. Patrick’s Day celebration!

The filling is smooth, creamy, silky, dreamy. It is reminiscent of a mousse, but richer!

Ingredients

1 sleeve + 3 chocolate graham crackers

4 Tbsp. salted butter, melted

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted (plus a bit extra to grease the pan)

Line the bottom of an 8” springform pan with parchment paper, cut to size. Rub unsalted butter on the parchment and sides of the pan. Break up the graham crackers into a food processor and pulse into rough crumbs. Pour in the melted butter and pulse a few times to combine. The mixture should look like wet sand. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan and up the sides about an inch. Refrigerate the pan for at least an hour to firm up the buttered crumbs.

For best results, measure out your refrigerated ingredients ahead of time and allow them to come to room temperature before you begin.

Cheesecake filling:

10 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

6 oz. milk chocolate chips* (see notes)

8 oz. pkg. plus 1/2 of second pkg. full-fat cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup (superfine) caster sugar

1 1/2 cups heavy cream, room temperature

1/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur*

*Notes

At our house, we really love the flavors of darker chocolate, but blending with milk chocolate is important for texture. Darker chocolate has lesser amounts of cocoa butter, and it can become gritty in recipes. To ensure the creamy, smooth texture that is a signature of cheesecake, it’s best to include some portion of milk chocolate.

Bailey’s Irish cream liqueur is the simplest thing to use in this recipe, but if you have time to make your own (using My Dad’s Homemade Irish Creme recipe), there’s an advantage to doing so. The homemade Irish creme is twice as thick (less watery), so I was able to incorporate two additional tablespoons of that crazy good flavor.

Instructions

Here we go with a visual walk-through, and full written instructions are included at the bottom.

  1. Bring a saucepan of water to a simmer. Place a heatproof bowl over the pan and add the semi-sweet and milk chocolate chips. I used a steamer insert in between, as an extra measure to keep the heating gentle. Do not let water or condensation into the bowl with the chocolate. Heat until chocolate melts, stir it smooth, then let cool slightly. I transferred the melted chocolate to a second bowl to cool it more quickly.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add caster sugar to the cream cheese, scraping down the sides as needed so that sugar is fully blended. The superfine sugar will dissolve pretty quickly.
  3. Lightly whip heavy cream in another bowl until thickened, but not peaked. Stir in Irish cream.
  4. Fold cooled chocolate into cream cheese mixture, then stir in the spiked whipped cream mixture.
  5. Spoon or carefully pour the filling mixture into the springform pan over the chilled chocolate crust. Smooth the top, cover and chill at least two hours, preferably overnight.
  6. To serve, run a hot knife around the edge of the cheesecake filling to separate it from the sides of the pan. Carefully release springform ring and transfer cheesecake to a serving plate. Cut into slices as garnish as desired.

It’ a boozy little slice of Irish heaven.

Want to make it?


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?


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!


Snakes in the Pumking Patch (a beer cocktail for Halloween)

Here’s another grown-up beverage offering for Halloween week, and my series of “spooky” cocktails. I realize that not everyone enjoys the taste of bourbon or other liquors, and I’m just beginning to explore the wide array of cocktails that are made with wine and beer. One that comes up frequently in my Pinterest feed is a “snakebite,” which is a layered cocktail made of hard cider and lager or stout beer.

The color of a “snakebite” drink depends on whether you layer a lager beer or a stout over the hard cider. (image from brooklynbrewshop.com)

It looks cool, like a classic black and tan (or a tan and tan, depending on the type of beer), but the fermented apple base gives it a distinctly tart seasonal flavor, and that’s what I wanted to emphasize for my Halloween drink series. I thought, “what if I take that seasonal aspect to the nth degree by mixing it with my favorite seasonal beer?”

If you missed my earlier post about this brew (Hello, Pumking!) you can revisit that for proper introduction to what is, in my opinion, the BEST pumpkin ale ever, and I’m not just saying that because we were born in the same part of upstate New York. My opinion is shared by enough other people that Pumking’s maker, Southern Tier Brewing, has expanded the brand to include a nitro version, a cold brew version and even a small batch whiskey. The newer offerings aren’t readily available in my part of North Carolina, but I’ll keep loving original Pumking until the shelves go bare. Then I’ll wait patiently until next autumn, the same way Linus stood guard in the pumpkin patch, waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.

For my Halloween version of a snakebite, I’ve layered the Pumking over a hard cider, but I wasn’t satisfied with any old hard cider. Nope, I tripped down the craft aisle until I found one that is also enhanced with pumpkin and spice. I found it, of course, in the pumpkin spice capital of everywhere, Trader Joe’s.

Doc’s Cider hails from another part of upstate New York, and this pumpkin spiced version is delightfully bright and crisp.
My beloved Pumking, of course, is from Southern Tier Brewing Co.

Ingredients

6 oz. pumpkin spice hard cider

6 oz. Pumking (or other pumpkin ale, if you must)

Layering a beer drink is easy to do, but it only works if the two ingredients have different specific gravity weight. In the classic drink, it works because Guinness ale is dry and light so it hovers neatly over the sweeter cider. Layering is not really necessary for my version of this drink, given that the cider and Pumking are virtually the same color anyway. Give it a try if you’d like (I’ll show you how in the slideshow), or just pour them in together. Either way, the resulting blend of tart, crisp cider and creamy, spicy ale is something quite special and it goes down very easy, but watch your step—as the name implies, these guys will definitely sneak up on you!

This Halloween-themed beer cocktail is super easy to make in about 30 seconds, and it was a great way to wash down our Sloppy Dogs! Recipe for these yummy treats coming Friday!


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 products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀


Autumn at the Beach Sangria

In my book, the only thing better than autumn is a trip to the beach during autumn. My husband, Les, and I turned fantasy to reality last week, with a long overdue getaway to the North Carolina coast. Our trip was a make-good of sorts, given that our plans to go last year were totally thwarted by a snarky storm named Hurricane Dorian, which showed up just in time to force evacuation.

Being at the beach in October is the best of everything—clear skies, warm water, small crowds—and our weather was spectacular for the five days we spent there. One of the first things we did, of course, was map out a plan for snacks and drinks. I knew that Les would enjoy fruity, tropical drinks, and I planned to make autumn-spiced sangria for myself. What I didn’t expect was discovering a way to merge the two. Lo and behold, with some creative blending that’s exactly what happened with this sangria, and we both loved it.

The tropical notes came from fruit juices (pineapple and mango), plus this dandy summer edition Captain Morgan rum, which tastes like a creamsicle dipped in rum. And I had made a simple syrup using autumn spice herbal tea bags, which infused the whole blend with aromatic cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and vanilla. The resulting sangria was all at once fruity, spicy, tropical, sweet and totally refreshing. We were dipping our toes into the waters of the cooler season, but hanging onto summer for dear life!

Yes, it really was this perfect.

I’m sneaking this sangria into my series of Halloween-inspired cocktails, even though it technically doesn’t have a darn thing to do with the occasion. But it scared away all of our stress and exhaustion, so there’s that. Maybe you could think of it as the drink version of that one trick-or-treater who always shows up on your doorstep without a costume. Just go with it. 😀


Ingredients

We liked this sangria so much, I made another batch when we got home from the beach!

1/2 bottle fruity Spanish red wine (I used a tempranillo blend)

4 oz. Captain Morgan Caribbean rum (orange and vanilla twist flavor)

4 oz. autumn spice simple syrup* (1:1 sugar-water blend, steeped with 4 tea bags)

4 oz. pineapple juice

4 oz. mango juice

1/2 navel orange, cleaned and thinly sliced

1/2 Meyer lemon, cleaned and thinly sliced

1/2 lime, cleaned and thinly sliced

Club soda or flavored seltzer (optional, poured on top at serving)

*Notes

I made a batch of the spiced simple syrup ahead of our trip. We also used it to add pizazz to a bourbon old fashioned, which was pretty awesome, too. Heat 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan to the boiling point. Turn off heat and steep the “Fireside Vanilla Spice” herbal tea bags for about 15 minutes. Remove the tea bags, heat to low boil again and add 1/2 cup sugar. Stir until dissolved, then cool completely and store in a covered jar in the fridge up to one month.


Instructions

Add fruit slices to a pitcher or large bottle, then add wine, rum, syrup and juices. Stir to combine. Steep several hours or overnight to blend. Serve over ice. Top with additional rum float if desired. Enjoy it with someone you love, preferably while watching the ocean.


Rosemary’s Baby (a scary Halloween cocktail)

Around the time of Kentucky Derby 2.0 (the actual running of the horses in September), my husband, Les, challenged me to create a Halloween cocktail and call it Rosemary’s Baby, after the 1968 Roman Polanski film that is, frankly, the most terrifying psychological thriller I’ve ever seen. Les’s suggestion was inspired by the rosemary old-fashioned I’d made for the Derby, and this weirdly addictive mezcal-based cocktail, infused and decorated with rosemary, is my response.

Mezcal (which I incorrectly assumed was just cheap tequila) is produced from agave hearts that have been roasted and fermented underground in clay ovens. Most mezcal is produced in Oaxaca, in the far southern region of Mexico and some brands are quite sophisticated (and pricey). By local tradition, mezcal would be consumed straight and savored for its unique smoky funk and flavor. But in the U.S., it has seen resurgence in craft cocktails, especially as a substitute for other more “common” spirits, replacing bourbon in old fashioned drinks and gin in negronis.

My spooky libation is a version of the latter, and it is not for the faint of heart. A classic negroni is already an “acquired” taste, with the standard equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Here, I’ve subbed in mezcal for the gin to replicate the fiery, smoky depths of hell that poor Rosemary must have gone through when her selfish husband sacrificed his soul—and her womb—to the devil. Worst husband ever.

Smoky, spicy, bitter and sweet. With spirits from Mexican to Italy to France, this is a complex cocktail situation.

Predictably, the mezcal is smoking up the glass, big time, and the Campari is lending its usual herbal bitterness. Sweet vermouth is keeping it in the Negroni family, and spicy chile syrup surprises you with just enough heat. With a habanero sugar rim, this drink (like that poor little demon baby) is trying to be sweet, but can’t quite linger there because of the intensity of what lurks underneath.

Remember the chilling scene at the end of the movie where Mia Farrow’s character is assured by the creepy devil-worshipping neighbors that her newborn son “has his father’s eyes?” I’m betting he had smoke in them.

That smokiness lingered in the air for a while.

Ingredients

1 oz. mezcal

1 oz. sweet (red) vermouth

1 oz. Campari

a few rosemary leaves for muddling

1 Tbsp. three chiles syrup (available online, but I found it in the mixers section at Total Wine)

Garnish with habanero sugar rim* and smoked rosemary sprig


Feeling brave?

To rim the glass, wet the outer edge of the rim with a lime slice, then roll the outside of the glass into habanero sugar sprinkled on a paper towel. Do this a few minutes ahead to allow time for the sugar rim to harden and set. This embellishment brought quite a bit of additional heat to the drink. If you prefer, skip it or substitute a fine sea salt rim as a tribute to Rosemary’s salty tears.

In a cocktail shaker or mixing glass, muddle the rosemary leaves with a small amount of the campari. Add remaining campari, mezcal, vermouth and simple syrup. Add ice and shake or stir vigorously until the outside of the container is frosty. Strain over a large ice cube into the prepared sugar-rimmed glass. Scorch the rosemary sprig until leaves begin to burn, then drop the sprig into the glass. The smoke will linger as the flame dies away.


My Favorite Candy Bar Cocktail

Halloween is not my thing—let’s just put that out there. I stopped celebrating it years ago, mainly because the world is scary enough without conjuring spirits from the dark beyond (I’m looking at you, 2020). But I do love a theme for parties, dinners and drinks, so I’m making an exception long enough to present a series of themed cocktails in advance of Halloween this weekend. The first drink of the series is a sweet one, and a payback to my grown-up self for something I was robbed of as a kid. Allow me to explain:

When I was younger, I did enjoy the fun side of Halloween with friends. My small, upstate New York town was perfect for trick-or-treating because everyone knew everyone else, so there was an innate sense of safety—for the kids and for the parents. We even had some neighbors who passed out treats such as homemade cookies and colorful candied popcorn balls, and this was deemed perfectly acceptable. My Halloween costumes were also always homemade (not always in a good way), and usually a last-minute effort. There was the year I went as a “gypsy,” which meant I was wearing a mismatched set of my mom’s clothes and jewelry, plus a wig. There was also the year that my dad made my costume, the one I was kind of embarrassed to wear next to my friend who was dressed like a beautifully detailed box of Kellogg’s corn flakes. I was supposed to be a tree.


Notwithstanding what I feared were lame costumes, we had a big time in those days, even in the years we had ankle deep snow on Halloween (thanks, “lake effect”), and we were willing to walk as far as it took to fill up our candy bags. For me, the big, fat downside to trick-or-treating was the “inspection” that my father insisted must be done on my bag of candy. I was no dummy, and it was no coincidence that my bag was noticeably lighter after the so-called safety check. Specifically, my “fun-sized” bars of Milky Way and Snickers would be wiped out. Yes, my dad stole my favorite candy bars. Why didn’t I catch on to this trick and hide my treats before handing over the bag? —all I can say is that I was a very compliant kid. My bad.

This year, Les and I have purchased the obligatory bags of candy to pass out to the neighbor kids who ring our bell every year—all three of them. Apparently, we don’t have strong participation in our subdivision, and most of the nearby kids don’t bother looking for porch lights over here. But we will stock up on Snickers, all the same, and we will be generous in handing them out. You know, it’ll be kind of nice to have someone come to the door, and we will take all necessary safety precautions (those long handled grilling tongs will surely come in handy).

If the kids do make a strong showing (who knows what 2020 will bring, right?), we’ll give away all the candy and we will still be able to enjoy the flavors of my favorite candy bar in this cocktail, which is equal parts salted caramel whiskey, peanut butter whiskey and dark chocolate liqueur. A little salted caramel on the rim, a fun-sized Snickers garnish. Yes, it’ll do. 😊

The salted caramel rim makes every sip sweet and sticky.

Ingredients

1 oz. salted caramel whiskey

1 oz. “Skrewball” peanut butter whiskey

1 oz. Godiva dark chocolate liqueur

Salted caramel and fine sea salt (for the rim), small Snickers candy (optional, for garnish)


The only flavor not represented in this cocktail is “nougat,” whatever the heck that is.

Instructions

To rim the cocktail glass, heat a small amount of salted caramel ice cream topping in a small bowl. Sprinkle a small amount of fine sea salt onto a clean paper towel. Use the back of a small spoon to swipe the caramel around the outer edge of the glass rim. Immediately roll the outside edge of the glass on the salted towel. Use a light touch for the perfect amount of saltiness; you don’t want to salt it like a margarita glass! 🙂 Do this a few minutes ahead to give the caramel time to cool and set.

In a cocktail shaker or mixing glass, combine the salted caramel whiskey, peanut butter whiskey and chocolate liqueur. Add ice and stir vigorously until shaker or glass is frosty. Add a large ice cube to your caramel-rimmed glass, and strain the cocktail into the glass. Garnish with a real Snickers bar, just for fun!

No tricks, just a sweet-sippin’ treat!


Cherry Amaretto Upside-down Skillet Cake

A great meal deserves a sweet, delicious ending, and this one showcases the plump and luscious dark red cherries that were everywhere this summer. The cake is moist and flavorful, rich with buttermilk, almond flour, eggs and real butter, and the buttery brown sugar topping is a little on the boozy side, plus the deep, dark sweet cherries. And the whole thing is elegantly draped with a dollop of amaretto-spiked whipped cream.

YUM!

If you aren’t wild about cherries (or maybe you aren’t wild about knocking out the pits), substitute fresh peaches, plums, nectarines, blackberries—well, I think you get the idea. But these cherries!

Fresh and sweet dark cherries

To tackle the unenviable job of pitting the cherries, I purchased a nifty device that gets the job done, six cherries at a time! If you’ve ever tried pitting cherries without a tool, you know that it cannot be done without making a huge mess. In previous attempts, I’ve balanced the cherries—one at a time, of course—on the neck of an empty wine bottle, then held the cherry while shoving the end of a chopstick through it. It left holes in the cherries, the pits inside the bottle, and red juice stains all over everything else in the room, including me. It’s the reason that, for the most part, I’ve relied on frozen cherries whenever I wanted to make a cherry dessert. I adore fresh cherries, but I’d only bought them to snack on, and only when I was flying solo because the whole spitting-out-the-pits part conjured memories of the 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick. There’s just no way to do it gracefully.

Suffice to say, this $15 tool has changed the game for me. After rinsing the cherries and pulling off the stems, I loaded them into the tray and pressed the top down. Boom!

And just like that, the pits are pushed out the bottom and into a receptacle, leaving the cherries intact but devoid of pits. I finished the entire bowlful in about 8 minutes. I’m not prone to give kudos for “uni-task” tools, but this one really took the pain out of what would otherwise make me choose a different dessert. Besides, as I reminded my husband, Les, this will also come in handy when I need to pit whole olives (which I’ve never tried but now I can).

After the cherries were pitted, I got busy making the topping, which goes into the skillet first. This part of the recipe felt familiar because I’ve made a similar upside-down skillet cake with peaches. I start by melting butter with brown sugar, then adding amaretto to the mix for a subtle almond flavor that echoes what will be going on later in the cake batter. The cake is easy to make, too—cream together the sugar and butter, add the eggs and flavor enhancers, and then alternate the dry ingredients with buttermilk until it’s ready to spread over the topping. The rest of the delicious magic happens in the oven.

It’s best to invert the cake onto a plate while it’s still warm, but be careful handling the hot skillet!

This cake has a dense, but not heavy texture, and the warm almond flavor permeates every layer while the soft, juicy cherries satisfy the sweet tooth. It keeps well, too, which is always a bonus in our empty nest household. As odd as it may sound, Les and I found that we enjoyed this cake even more a couple days after I baked it—ice-cold, straight from the refrigerator. The cake part remained moist (thank you, buttermilk!), and the cherry flavor was more pronounced.

Leftovers. The cake remained moist in the fridge, and the deep cherry color seeped further into the cake. This is a delicious dessert for late summer!

Ready to make it?


Ingredients

4 Tbsp. butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cane sugar

1.5 oz. amaretto* (see notes)

About 3 cups pitted fresh dark cherries

1 cup all-purpose flour*

3/4 cup almond flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

3/4 cup cane sugar

1 stick unsalted butter, softened but not melted

2 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. almond extract

1 Tbsp. amaretto (optional)*

1 cup buttermilk*

Whipped cream for serving, if desired


*Notes

Amaretto is an Italian, almond-based liqueur. It is lower proof than whiskey or vodka, slightly sweet and plays very nicely with cherries. If you avoid alcohol, you can get close to this flavor with almond extract. Drizzle 1 teaspoon over the cherry mixture and increase to 2 teaspoons in the cake. Real almond extract, by the way, also usually contains alcohol as a suspension for the almond flavor, but the amount will be minimal.

Remember the rule for measuring flour? In baked goods such as this, using the correct amount will really make a difference. Dipping your measuring cup straight into the flour container is a sure-fire way to have a dry and crumbly cake. I trust a kitchen scale for most of my baking, but if you don’t have one, follow the simple “fluff, sprinkle, level” method—fluff the flour with a whisk or fork, sprinkle it over the dry measuring cup to overflowing, level it off with the back of a knife.

Don’t be tempted to substitute regular milk for the buttermilk in this recipe. The acidity in the buttermilk will lend a subtle tanginess to the cake, and it also reacts with the baking powder and soda for leavening.


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Place a 10” cast iron skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter, then add the brown sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved, and the mixture appears lightly foamy.
  3. Pour in the amaretto and swirl gently to evenly distribute throughout the butter and sugar mixture. Remove from heat and arrange the cherries close together over the mixture.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, almond flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon.
  5. In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until it’s evenly combined and fluffy. Add one egg and beat until smooth, repeat with the second egg. Then, beat in vanilla and almond extracts, plus additional amaretto, if desired.
  6. Beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, blending only until dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Beat in half the buttermilk until smooth. Repeat with flour and buttermilk, then the remaining flour.
  7. Pour the batter evenly over the cherries in the skillet. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula to evenly distribute the thick batter.
  8. Slide the skillet into the oven and bake about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Allow cake to cool at least 15 minutes before inverting it to a large serving platter. To do this successfully, first slide a butter knife around the edges of the cake, to loosen any areas where it might be sticking. Center the plate, face-side down, over the skillet, then carefully hold the skillet and plate together and turn them over. I’ve found this to be easy, as long as you don’t allow the cake to cool too long. If it sticks too much to release, turn the pan right side up again and briefly heat it over a low burner. This will melt and soften the butter again for easier release.

Allow the cake to cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream (spike with amaretto, if you wish).

Store leftovers in the fridge, covered with foil or plastic wrap.

This recipe makes about 8 servings, and a dollop of fresh whipped cream is a perfect topper.

Want to print this dessert recipe?