Smoked Maple Cranhattan (a holiday signature cocktail)

Holiday preparation is fun for me—all the excitement, decorating and special trimmings gives me an exuberant sense of energy. But the extra fussing can also pile on unwanted stress, and having a “signature” cocktail for the holidays relieves some of the pressure when guests will be joining the fun.

Sure, it’s nice to be able to offer up an open bar, and ours is fully stocked with everything our friends and neighbors might ask for (and a few things they probably wouldn’t—I’m looking at you, absinthe). Imagine what that would look like if I related it to other aspects of our entertaining though; say, the decorations or the table settings. Our guests don’t choose those; we decide based on the occasion. Too many drink options can overwhelm a guest and leave them standing there contemplating, when they’d probably rather just enjoy a well-thought-out adult beverage, and I’d rather be back in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on dinner.

Naturally, a few people may request their own favorite (a beer or glass of white wine, perhaps), but most of our friends enjoy the unique tipple that we put together for them, and I do my best to keep the flavors within the season. Not too strong, not too sweet, always with a special ingredient twist.

This year, I agonized over my signature cocktail, not because I fell short of ideas (as if that would ever happen in my crazy brain), but because my best experiments this year felt too similar to the signature drink last year, the Pom-Pom-Hattan. At first glance, this drink may seem almost the same, given that cranberry has a similar tartness to pomegranate and both drinks are made with bourbon. But friends, this is no ordinary bourbon, and it was pleading with me to become part of my signature drink.

Drop what you’re doing and go get a bottle of THIS.

Before I get carried away, I’d like to emphasize that this distiller is not paying endorsement fees for my shameless raving (and if they did, I’d probably just spend it on more bottles). This is just between us bourbon lovers, and it’s what friends do—share the news about great things we find. The maple notes in this bourbon are very smooth, excellent for sipping neat, and I’ve done my share so far this season. The smokiness is subtle, but present, and a little tang of cranberry (spiked with some spices) is a perfect accompaniment for a cocktail that celebrates the warmth of the holidays.

The spiced cranberry syrup takes a few minutes to make, but it’s easy.
The smoked maple bourbon and red vermouth definitely give this drink a Manhattan feel.

The ingredients are simple, though one required a bit of advance effort. Rather than use a store-bought cranberry juice (which I didn’t even consider, frankly), I made a simple syrup infused with fresh cranberries, cinnamon for warmth and pink peppercorns for depth. Simple syrup is exactly that—simple. Just equal parts by volume of sugar and water, and for this one, I added the flavor infusers long enough to draw out the color of the cranberry. The rest of the drink is very Manhattan-like; a quality brand of red vermouth and a few shakes of bitters, with a premium cocktail cherry as garnish.

At our house, we enjoyed these on Thanksgiving and again on Saturday night with appetizers before our Ultimate Thanksgiving Leftover Pizza. But just as with last year’s Pom-Pom-Hattan, I have no doubt that this smoky-sweet-tangy cocktail will carry us through all the way to New Year’s.

Cheers!

Ingredients (makes two cocktails)

3 oz. Knob Creek smoked maple bourbon

1.5 oz. red (sweet) vermouth

1.0 oz. spiced cranberry simple syrup

2 dashes ginger bitters

Good quality cocktail cherries, such as Luxardo brand


Instructions

Measure bourbon, vermouth, spiced cranberry syrup and bitters into a mixing glass or shaker. Add one cup of ice and stir well for about 20 seconds. Strain into coupe (or martini) cocktail glasses and garnish each with a cherry.

Repeat as desired.


Spiced Cranberry Simple Syrup

My confession is that my first attempt at the simple syrup was not great. Cranberries contain a lot of pectin, and I let them simmer a bit too long, releasing all that thickener. It did not taste bad, but left an odd, almost sticky residue in my drink (serves me right for multi-tasking). Keep a close watch over it, as I did with the second batch, and it will be delicious!

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Heat over medium heat, stirring until sugar is mostly dissolved. Add 1 cup rinsed cranberries, 2 pieces cinnamon stick and 1 rounded teaspoon pink peppercorns. Bring to a slight boil, and then reduce heat to low and allow it to simmer until the cranberries begin to pop and the syrup takes on a pinkish-red color. Remove from heat and let the berries steep for a few minutes before straining into a jar.

Use the cooked cranberries in another recipe if you wish or discard them.



Long Live the King! (a bourbon cocktail)

This is my version of a cocktail my husband and I enjoyed during our recent whirlwind tour through the tri-state area of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. At the end of the first full day of our road trip, we stopped for a live music show at Hailey’s Harp & Pub in Metuchen, N.J., and the cocktail menu called this drink “Long Live the King!”

We had not intended to order quite so many rounds of drinks that night (we had four apiece over five hours), but it was an easy way to spend the extra time we had, given that we arrived way early for the performance by our musical pals, Glenn and Oria of Blue Americana. These are the friends who ushered us through the chaos of COVID with their weekly “Quarantunes” concerts on Facebook Live, and the honorees of my Tequila & Lime Pie post back in the spring. We thought our 5:30 pm arrival at the pub would be just right, allowing us time to have a drink and a bite to eat before the show. Except for one thing—because it was a rainy, miserable night, what was supposed to be an outdoor 7 pm show was changed to indoors at 8 pm! So we got cozy at a table right in front, and just stayed and enjoyed. The food was delicious, the drinks were great and the company was delightful.

Blue Americana with Glenn and Oria!
We finally met them in person!

Les and I played the role of geeked-out groupies and Glenn and Oria played along—they signed our CDs and even posed with us for a picture. It was such fun meeting them in person after so many months of rocking out with them (virtually) on Friday nights during Quarantunes. And as was true for so many of the adventures we experienced on that end-of-summer vacation, I found something tasty to bring home and enjoy later. With only twelve days left to decide on a Thanksgiving signature cocktail, I’d say this one is a strong contender. It delivers the warmth of bourbon, the freshness of citrus and just a hint of sweetness.

Long Live the King!

I have not been able to figure out a good reason for the name given to this drink by Hailey’s Harp & Pub. It’s made with Bulleit bourbon, red vermouth, blood orange liqueur, orange bitters and a lemon peel garnish. It’s a smashing combination—almost a perfect meet-in-the-middle between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned—but also reminiscent of a Boulevardier without the bitterness of Campari. If I had to give it a name myself, I would call it “One Night in Metuchen,” because I will always remember that fun evening whenever I make it.

Most of the ingredients are easy to find, and I’d encourage you to seek out the Solerno blood orange liqueur. Solerno has a brighter, slightly sweeter flavor than other orange liqueurs, and it is a very nice accompaniment to the bourbon and sweet vermouth. If you cannot find Solerno, I would recommend substituting Cointreau rather than Grand Marnier, which has strong cognac undertones. You want the citrus to shine in this drink.

Cheers!


Ingredients

It’s not quite an Old Fashioned, not quite a Manhattan, and just shy of a Boulevardier.

1.5 oz. Bulleit bourbon
1.0 oz. red (sweet) vermouth
0.5 oz. Solerno blood orange liqueur
2 quick shakes orange bitters
Lemon peel garnish


Instructions

Combine bourbon, vermouth, blood orange liqueur and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass or shaker. Add about one cup of ice and shake or stir vigorously until the outside of the shaker is frosty. Strain over a large ice cube into a double rocks glass. Express the lemon peel over the top of the glass, swipe it around the rim of the glass and drop it into the drink to garnish.

If you prefer, you can strain the cocktail into a chilled coupe glass and garnish the same. That’s the beauty of this drink—it can be served on the rocks or up, depending on how fancy you’re feeling.

I used the spent ice from the rocks version of the drink to chill the coupe glass for the “up” version.

One recipe, but two ways to serve it!


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! 😀


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!



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? 😀


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? 😀


Mr. Bones and the Harvest Moon

Two things will be happening at our house tonight, the first of October. In preparation for Halloween, my husband, Les, will be hanging “Mr. Bones” above our front porch. This is a tradition he began more than 13 years ago, well before he met me. Mr. Bones gives me the creeps, especially for the first few days, when I haven’t yet adjusted to his eerie presence and his musty, dusty gauze cloak. I’ll be minding my own business around the house, only to open the front door to check the mail or something, and there’s this:

He’s just creepy, and he’s ALWAYS watching me.

It doesn’t matter which way we hang him on the hook, Mr. Bones is intent on staring me down with those dark, hollow eyes. I suppose he doesn’t like me, and the feeling is mutual. I don’t celebrate Halloween, and thankfully, this weird decoration is as far as Les goes with it. I can deal with it for one month, and Les can bring in the mail until November. It’s mostly election junk anyway (speaking of scary).

The other thing happening tonight, which I’m definitely getting into, is a full moon—and a special one, at that. The Harvest Moon, so named because it’s the closest one to the autumn equinox, is the first of two full moons we will observe during October this year. The second will happen on Halloween, and I’m pretty sure Mr. Bones had something to do with that. But this evening, in honor of the Harvest Moon, we will raise a glass with this beautiful drink that is singing a soul-stirring ode to autumn. It’s my own spin on a classic New York sour, which is typically whiskey, simple syrup, lemon and red wine.

I’ve given this pretty drink autumn flavor to match the colors!

I’ve shaken up the typical (of course, I have!) with Supercollider pear rye, a local small batch rye that is infused with pear (and so, so good), plus smoked maple syrup along with freshly squeezed lemon and a fruity red wine float that is easier to create than you might imagine. The subtleties of this drink’s spice, fruit, smoke and sweetness are so in tune with the season and all its warm earthiness. Supercollider is a product of Broad Branch distillery in my city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. If their name is ringing a bell, you probably also enjoyed my Sweet Corn Ice Cream with Blueberry Whiskey Ribbon, which threw a spotlight on another Broad Branch product, Smashing Violet.

The world of whiskey can be a little overwhelming, and though I kind of “get it” for my own understanding, for Q&A on today’s post, I went straight to the source—Broad Branch Distillery’s Don Jenkins. He and the Broad Branch team are passionate about what they do, and Don was kind to offer expert insight into the spirit of this cocktail, so I could share that knowledge with you. Let’s learn something! 😊


What’s the difference between bourbon and whiskey?

Bourbon must start with a mash bill of at least 51% corn, come off our pot still at less than 160 proof, be barreled in new American oak at 125 proof or less and bottled at no less than 80 proof. If all of these criteria are met, you have bourbon. If any of these criteria are not met, you have whiskey.

And how does bourbon differ from rye?

The difference between bourbon and rye is the mash bill. Typically, a bourbon mash bill consists of corn, rye and barley. The same can be true of a rye. The difference is in percentage. If you have at least 51% corn in the mash you have a bourbon. If you have at least 51% rye in the mash you have a rye.

How does a fruit flavor get infused into a spirit?

In the case of Supercollider pear rye, the pears are co-fermented with the rye. So the rye and juice from the pears are cooked together and undergo fermentation together. The resulting aroma and flavor are integrated so the pear influence is subtle next to the robust rye profile, but present.


That’s a lot of science that goes into a cocktail! Ready to take this newfound knowledge to the glass? C’mon, I’ll show you how to set up for this drink and then we’ll do a quick tutorial on shaking it together and layering a wine float.

Where did my lemon go? Wouldn’t you know, it was still in the fridge when I snapped this photo! But yes, you need a fresh lemon.

The Setup

As with cooking, crafting a cocktail is easier when you have your ingredients and tools lined up and ready. For most whiskey-type drinks, I stir the ingredients together in a cocktail mixing glass. But today, I’m reaching for the shaker because drinks containing syrups or fruit juices blend better when shaken. For best results, you’ll also want a jigger or shot glass to measure your ingredients, and a spoon for adding the red wine layer.

The Components

My spirit of choice for this drink, Broad Branch Supercollider Pear Rye, is a delightful marriage of fruit and spice, and according to the label, it was finished in a brandy barrel. To me, that whole story says, “it’s fall, y’all.” This was a small batch spirit with limited availability (and only in NC), so unless you already have a bottle, you’ll need to substitute another rye. Don tells me that Broad Branch’s Rye Fidelity is a 100% rye, so that would also be an exceptional choice—nice and spicy. And (not to tease), he informs me that the next Supercollider will be blueberry and rye. Be still, my heart!

Smoked maple syrup sets the spicy rye off in the right direction for autumn harvest. Spice, sweet, fruit and smoke? Yes, please! This syrup came from the cocktail mixers section of Total Wine. If you cannot find a smoked maple syrup, choose any dark, robust maple syrup.

Fresh lemon juice means exactly that—fresh. For the love of good cocktails, please don’t use the little lemon-shaped bottle. Seriously, just buy a lemon.

Fruity red wine will be the float on top of this gorgeous, autumn-colored drink, and it helps to measure it ahead of time into a cup with a pour spout. I’m using a red blend from Spain, which is primarily tempranillo, but any light fruity red will work. If you’re not sure what makes a red wine “fruity,” here’s a quick tip: search the label description for words like “red fruit” or “berries” or “cherries.” These wines are lighter in structure and will be the best flavor balance for your drink. When in doubt, pick up a pinot noir.

Ice, of course. Cubes (or whatever shape they are) from the icemaker are fine for shaking and mixing the drink, but I’ll strain the mixed drink over a fresh ice sphere that I made with these nifty silicone molds. I have begun hoarding these things in various shapes and sizes, and they have definitely elevated our cocktails.

I recommend transferring the solid ice to a separate, closed container in the freezer. The silicone has tendency to absorb freezer odors during longer storage.

There’s a fussy science behind getting a crystal-clear ice cube, and I usually aim for that, but this cocktail is meant to celebrate the Harvest Moon, so I wanted it to be white like the moon. I added a small amount of lemonade to the water before freezing. Voila! I was surprised how much a difference it made in opacity, and I also found that the ice slipped out of the mold more easily. (Note to self: do this more often.)


Mix the drink already!

These amounts are for one cocktail. I’ll trust you to do the easy math if you’re making more. If you like a little more sour, up the ante on the lemon.

1.5 oz. (one shot glass) rye

0.5 oz. (1 Tbsp.) smoked maple syrup

Squeeze of a fresh lemon half (about 2 tsp.)

1 oz. fruity red wine (or more, if you’d like )

Combine rye, maple syrup and lemon juice in the cocktail shaker. Add regular mixing ice (about one cup) and shake heartily until the outside of the shaker is cold and frosty, which should be about 20 seconds. Strain the cocktail over ice sphere into the glass.

Add the wine float

For pretty (and easy) layering, lightly rest a spoon, back side up, just touching the ice, and slowly pour the wine over it. It helps to use a small cup with a spout, as you will have better control of the wine than you would have pouring it straight from the bottle. Don’t be afraid to try this—and remember, even if the mixture blends together more than you intend, it will still taste delicious.


This cocktail seems appropriate for anytime backyard sipping this fall, and especially this evening as we await the arrival of the Harvest Moon. Keep one eye on the eastern sky tonight and throughout the weekend to experience its beauty, and for musical ambience, may I recommend this mellow number from Neil Young? It’s been playing on repeat in my head all week.


As for you, Mr. Bones, your days are numbered—30 and counting, weird little gauze man.

Nilla doesn’t seem intimidated by Mr. Bones.

Want to print this happy hour recipe?


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? 😀


Run for the Roses 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!


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

Smoky Rosemary Old Fashioned

2 oz. Four Roses Small Batch bourbon

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

2 drops orange bitters

Orange peel for garnish (optional)

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

Rosemary-Smoked Pepper Syrup

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

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

Midsummer Run for the Roses

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

0.5 oz. rose simple syrup* (see notes)

1 fresh lime, cut into quarters

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

1 hibiscus tea bag*

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

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

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

*Notes

Flowers, flowers and more flowers!

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


Basil Gin Gimlet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you say cookies??

“Oh? What kind of art?” I asked.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Ingredients & Instructions

Makes 2 cocktails

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

1 oz. basil simple syrup (details below)

Juice of 1/2 fresh lime


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


Basil Simple Syrup

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

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