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?


Two Fun Ways to Celebrate National S’mores Day!

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

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

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


S’mores Pizza!

Oh yes, all the flavors of the campfire classic.

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

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

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

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

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


Ingredients

Whole wheat pizza dough or cookie dough substitute

Nutella or similar chocolate spread

Graham crackers, some crushed, some pieces

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

Miniature marshmallows

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


Instructions


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

The marshmallows got SO puffy during the baking!


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


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

S’mores Martini!

For adult s’mores lovers, only.

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

Kumbaya, y’all.


Ingredients

1.5 oz. vanilla vodka (I used Absolut)

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

Graham crumbs

Mini marshmallows

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


Instructions

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


Sweet Corn Ice Cream with Blueberry-Whiskey Ribbon

We’re halfway through National Ice Cream Month, and though I’ll be sad when it ends, I’m reminded that we can enjoy ice cream anytime we like. Don’t fret, fellow frozen treat lovers, because I have plenty more where all this came from—tried-and-true ice cream flavors as well as some new ones brewing in my culinary mind.

But this one, Sweet Corn Ice Cream with Blueberry-Whiskey Ribbon, is in my bowl today. I’ve confessed already that I seldom make the same recipe twice, but this will be the third time in two years I’ve made this one, so it’s clearly won a special place in my life. It’s creamy and sweet, unmistakably “corn-y,” inspired by the pure sweetness of summer and ever-so-slightly boozy, thanks to the brilliant blueberry-infused small batch whiskey produced by one of our local distilleries.

Two of my favorite things about summer, in one perfectly frozen little bite.

This recipe makes 1 1/2 quarts ice cream. There are two equally important components: the custard and the compote. The custard needs plenty of time to chill before freezing, so we’ll begin here.

Ingredients – the custard

2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 cup organic cane sugar, divided

Pinch of sea salt

4 good-sized ears fresh sweet corn, husk and silk removed*

3 free range egg yolks

1 Tbsp. vodka* (optional, for improved texture)

Blueberry-whiskey compote (recipe and instructions follow)

*Notes

Corn—choose the deepest yellow color corn you can find, for a richer appearance of ice cream. It also helps to have corn picked at its peak level of sweetness. If you have a local farmer’s market, that’s the first place I’d recommend!

Vodka—the alcohol is completely optional in this ice cream. It does not affect the flavor, but can be helpful for the final texture, making the ice cream easier to scoop straight from the freezer. For this batch, I used Tito’s handcrafted vodka, which is made from 100% corn. It seemed appropriate here.

Instructions for the custard

Trim the ends of the corn ears. This will make it easier to cut the kernels off each piece. Standing an ear on end, use your knife to carefully strip the kernels completely off the ear. They will not come off the ear perfectly – some will get smashed or split, and that’s OK. Repeat with all pieces of corn and keep the cobs. Cut the cobs in half crosswise, into chunks about 3 inches long.

Add milk, heavy cream and half of the sugar to a heavy bottomed pot and warm over medium-low heat, stirring constantly to dissolve sugar. Add all of the corn kernels and the cob chunks to the pot. Stir to submerge the cobs, reduce the heat and simmer on low until mixture is just barely bubbling at the edges. Remove cobs from the mixture and allow them to cool enough to handle, then squeeze each cob with your clean hands to extract the flavorful goodness. Discard the cobs, and remove the corn-cream mixture from the heat.

Use the immersion blender* to process the corn-cream mixture, but only for about 15 to 20 seconds. You don’t want to puree the whole batch; we’re just trying to extract another hit of flavor before we strain and discard the corn.

(*Alternatively, use a ladle to scoop about 2 cups of the corn-cream into a regular blender or smoothie blender, and let it cool just enough to blend for a few seconds, then pick up with the recipe from this point.)

Set a large double-mesh strainer over a large glass bowl, and pour the pureed mixture through it to separate the corn solids from the cream. Gently press down on the corn to extract as much liquid as you can; you might even want to do this in batches. Either discard the corn solids, or save it for another use.


Return the strained cream to the heavy-bottomed pot. Gently stir over low heat just until it begins to steam.

In a mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks with remaining sugar on a medium low speed (or by hand) until the mixture is smooth, light-colored and slightly thickened.

Ladle out 1 cup of the hot cream mixture into a measuring cup with a pour spout. While whisking the yolks, pour a slow and steady stream of the cream mixture into them. This is called “tempering.” Do not rush this step, which is essentially emulsifying the mixture so that the egg yolks are incorporated but not scrambled. Do it again with another 1/2 cup of the cream mixture.

Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the pot with the remaining cream, stirring constantly over low heat. Frequently check the back of your spoon – when you can make a visible line on it with your finger, the custard is done.

Remove from heat, pour into a large glass bowl resting in an ice bath, and stir gently until mixture cools. Lay a sheet of heavy plastic wrap directly on the surface, sealing out any air bubbles. Cover the entire bowl with a lid or another layer of plastic wrap and place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.

Next up, make the blueberry-whiskey compote for your ribbon!

Ingredients – the compote

The Smashing Violet is really the standout star of this compote. If you cannot get your hands on it, a smooth whiskey or bourbon will also work, but stick with something in the lower proof range.

1 cup frozen blueberries (I especially love to use “wild” blueberries)

1/2 cup organic cane sugar

1/2 cup blueberry juice (optional; substitute ¼ cup water)

3 oz. Smashing Violet blueberry-infused whiskey*

Generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice

You can’t expect me to use it in my sweet corn ice cream without properly researching it, right?

*This stuff is pretty incredible, but only available in North Carolina, either at the Broad Branch Distillery in Winston-Salem or select North Carolina ABC stores. Substitute a craft bourbon of your choice for similar results, but for sure look for the blueberry juice to make up the difference. While I’m on the subject of Broad Branch, here’s another reason I’m loving them right now.

Instructions for the compote

In a medium saucepan, combine the blueberries, cane sugar and blueberry juice (or water) over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring and smashing berries occasionally, until mixture is reduced and begins to bubble vigorously. This will take longer if you’re using the blueberry juice, somewhere between 15 and 25 minutes.

Stir in Smashing Violet whiskey (or your whiskey/bourbon substitute). It may seem like 3 oz. is a lot of booze—and, well, you’re damn right it is. No apologies here (but c’mon, it’s only 60 proof anyway). Simmer another 5 to 8 minutes, to burn off some of the sharpness of the alcohol while reducing the compote again.

Remove from heat, cool to room temperature, then place plastic wrap directly on top of the compote and chill in refrigerator at least an hour, but preferably overnight. This mixture will thicken up significantly as it cools.


I scream, you scream…

In the morning, set up the ice cream machine and freeze the sweet corn custard according to manufacturer’s instructions. The blueberry ribbon is added later, so only do the custard at this stage.

If you want to experiment with fun ice cream flavors, I highly recommend investment in an ice cream maker.
We use ours several times a year!

Add a layer of custard into insulated container, then alternate layers of blueberry whiskey compote and custard (ending with custard on top) and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours, but overnight is better.


Call a couple friends to come over and hang out in the backyard, and thank God for the sweet blessings of summer.

Ever had cornmeal pancakes with blueberry syrup? It’s like that, only better because it’s ice cream!

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Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Balls

Think of these as very grown-up candies! During the mixing step, it will seem a little bit like you’re making mortar—it’s sooo thick and gooey. But once you have shaped and chilled them, they’ll be wonderful. What I like about this recipe is that it doesn’t involve making ganache, which is an extra step of melting chocolate in heavy cream in a double boiler. Using pantry ingredients keeps it simple, but make no mistake—these itty bitty bites are still impressive. Unlike the ganache-style truffles, these have some texture to them, thanks to the graham crumbs and pecans.

This recipe makes about 24 bourbon truffles. They pack a pretty boozy punch so don’t serve them to children or non-drinkers.

Ingredients

1 cup dry toasted, unsalted pecan pieces

3/4 cup Kentucky bourbon, divided

2 sleeves graham crackers

1/2 cup dark cocoa powder, divided

1/2 cup powdered sugar, divided 1/4 cup Karo corn syrup (light or dark is fine)

Instructions

In a small bowl, pour about half the bourbon over the pecan pieces and let them relax (in a drunken stupor) for about 3 hours.

Break the graham crackers into pieces, pulse in a food processor or blender until they are fine crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a large mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 325° F. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pecans from the bourbon and transfer them to a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Reserve the soaking bourbon. Bake the pecans until they’re dry and lightly toasted, about 12 minutes or up to 15 minutes (be careful not to burn). Cool, then chop finely or pulse in a food processor, but not to the point of powder. They should have a texture similar to panko crumbs.

Combine 1/4 cup each of the cocoa and powdered sugar in a small bowl or zip-top bag, and set aside for dusting the finished truffles.

Add the chopped pecans, all remaining bourbon (including the soaking portion), corn syrup, and the remaining cocoa and powdered sugar to the bowl of graham cracker crumbs. Prepare to get messy. Stir these ingredients together until no dry pockets remain. It will be sticky and gooey, but keep going. When the mixture is fully blended, rub your hands with a little dab of butter and roll a heaping tablespoon at a time into a ball. Place the bourbon balls on a parchment-lined tray, cover with plastic and chill for about 2 hours.

When balls are chilled and firm, gently roll them around in the reserved cocoa-sugar mixture until they’re well coated. Cover and chill again until ready to serve. If desired, give them another roll in the cocoa-sugar when you’re ready to present them. I think they’re cute in these little mini-muffin papers, and your guests will be able to pick them up without tongs.

Boozy truffle, anyone?

Elevate your happy, Comfort du Jour style!

I decided to make these Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Truffles even more impressive by rolling them in different types of coatings. Try doing a third of them in the cocoa-powdered sugar blend, a third in super-fine (caster) sugar and a third in finely chopped pecans. One recipe, but three treatments, gives the impression of variety but with very minimal extra effort.

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Mint Julep Sorbet

The quintessential cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep, is a mashup of bourbon, mint and sugar. A typical recipe for making one begins “muddle the mint leaves and sugar in the bottom of the glass,” but then the muddled mess never leaves the drink. I like the flavor of mint, but not the idea of mint shards floating around in my cup. And if it should get stuck on my teeth? No thanks!

We are ending our Kentucky Derby party (preview though it is) with the taste of mint julep on our lips, with an ultra-refreshing sorbet, made of nothing more than mint, thin simple syrup (sugar and water) and bourbon. Yep, just four simple ingredients, and you can make this as much as a week ahead and enjoy it on your schedule.

Note that the simple syrup is a 2:1 ratio, different from the syrup we used in the cocktails. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, don’t despair—I’ve included an alternate method that requires only a freezer-safe container and a fork.

This “dessert” is really more of a palate cleanser, just a small sweet bit of lightly boozy refreshment after the rich foods of the day. Recipe will yield about 6 servings. Enjoy!

Ingredients

Handful of organic fresh mint (about 1 oz.)
2 cups filtered water
1 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup bourbon
Up to 1 cup unflavored seltzer water (or a subtle flavor such as lemon)*
Additional fresh mint for garnish

Gently rinse the fresh mint in cool water, remove heavy stems and set aside on paper towel.

Instructions

Place a small saucepan over medium heat and add the bourbon. As you know, alcohol doesn’t freeze completely, so we are going to evaporate some of the alcohol out of the bourbon, thereby concentrating its flavor. Allow it to come to a very slight boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until it’s reduced by half. You can check this by pouring the reduced bourbon into a glass measuring cup—you should end with 1/4 cup or slightly less. Pour into a large glass jar and cool completely, then put it into the fridge.

Rinse the saucepan and combine water and sugar over medium heat. Bring it to a light boil, then turn off the heat. Add the mint leaves and steep for a couple of hours until completely cooled. Strain and discard mint, add syrup to the jar of reduced bourbon and refrigerate.

To freeze the sorbet in an ice cream machine, combine syrup and seltzer, then add the mixture all at once and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions, which is probably about 20 minutes. Transfer to a freezer-safe covered container and freeze several hours or overnight. It will still be pretty soft when you finish the blending, but the deep freeze will firm it up a bit more.

No ice cream machine? No problem—combine the syrup and seltzer in a freezer-safe container (something wide and shallow works best), cover and freeze about 2 hours. Use a fork to scrape through it and “fluff” it up, then freeze another 2 hours (repeat again as needed until it’s as slushy as you like. Or, wait until it’s fully frozen, scoop mixture into a blender or processor and blend until smooth, then re-freeze until ready to serve. This will allow you to incorporate some air into the sorbet.

*This is a very sweet sorbet recipe. If you prefer a lighter essence, combine frozen sorbet with up to a cup of very cold seltzer water in a food processor and return to the freezer. The bubbles in the seltzer will help incorporate air into the sorbet for even freezing.

To serve, scoop sorbet into a small glass dish or shallow cocktail glass, and garnish with a fresh sprig of mint. This refreshing treat is best enjoyed whilst wearing a fancy hat.

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