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.

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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? 😀


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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Black Mountain Chocolate Stout Ice Cream

I’d like to begin this post by declaring I don’t particularly care for chocolate things, unless they are really chocolate. Dark chocolate brownies are good because they are intensely chocolate, but chocolate milk, shakes, even most cakes—nope, not hitting my sweet spot. Milk chocolate? Forget it.

Then, a couple of years ago, at the Big Chill festival in Winston-Salem’s Bailey Park, a genius volunteer ice cream maker had the audacity to introduce a chocolate ice cream made with Guinness beer. “In ice cream?” I thought. Oh yes, in ice cream. It was dark, decadent and rich, without even a hint of beer flavor—only intense, chocolately lusciousness—and it stole my soul.

Then one afternoon when my husband, Les, and I had taken our dog, Nilla, to one of her favorite “dog bars” in our downtown, it hit me. Fiddlin’ Fish Brewing Company had collaborated with neighboring Black Mountain Chocolate to produce a stout beer that is smooth and roasty, with exactly enough underlying chocolate, and I knew in a moment that it needed to become part of this ice cream.

With a little fiddlin’, here it is—the richest, darkest, most luxurious chocolate ice cream I’ve ever tasted. The texture is beyond silky—almost like a cross between pudding and icing, and it’s so rich, you’ll want to add a little bit of alcohol in the final minute of mixing to keep it scoopable when it’s fully frozen. May I suggest Kahlua or Patron XO Café Dark?

My version of stout ice cream has a few special ingredients, but if you love chocolate and ice cream, it’s 100% worth the trouble. As I said, chocolate ice cream has never been my thing. But this one? It’s the be-all, end-all, winner of a chocolate ice cream that might just solve all the world’s problems. Or, at least, all of mine.

Deciding what to put it in was the toughest decision. I almost opted for going straight at it with my spoon.

This recipe is part of a series for National Ice Cream Month. Usually in July, my community celebrates with a fundraiser called “The Big Chill,” an entry-by-donation event offering tastings of exquisitely creative homemade ice creams, live music by local artists and “cold-calling,” during which various community leaders quite literally freeze their buns by sitting on blocks of ice in quest of a fundraising goal. This year, because of our city’s commitment to safety during the coronavirus, the live event has been sidelined and all activities will be virtual instead. The funds raised at The Big Chill are directed to an amazing organization called The Shalom Project. If you find any of my ice cream recipes interesting, creative, pretty, unexpected or intriguing, please consider donating to this life-giving cause. Link (here) for more information or (here) to donate, and thank you!

*The link to donate leads to my Key Lime Pie recipe on the Big Chill page, but your donation will go to the same great cause!

Ingredients

1 cup Fiddlin’ Fish Black Mountain Chocolate Stout beer*

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

2/3 cup fine cane sugar

3 Tbsp. honey or dark corn syrup

3 Tbsp. Double Dutch dark cocoa*

2 tsp. espresso powder*

1 tsp. vanilla extract

4 egg yolks

Pinch of kosher or sea salt

5.5 oz. good quality chocolate, broken into small chunks*

1 oz. vodka or one of the other suggested spirits* (optional)

*Notes

The Black Mountain Chocolate stout beer is available for drinking in the tasting room at Fiddlin’ Fish, but you can also purchase a “crowler” can of it to take home for later. This is how I got it home, and thankfully, since it was 32 oz., I had plenty left over to enjoy while I waited for this ice cream! For my out-of-area followers, consider using a similar dark beer from one of your own local brewing companies!

Double Dutch dark cocoa is a blend of Dutch-processed cocoa and black cocoa, available online from King Arthur Flour (nope, they’re still not paying me to talk up their products—I just happen to love them!) I add some of this to every batch of brownies I make (even store-bought), and Les has used it in his cookies. Never have I ever tasted such intense chocolate flavor. If you can’t get your hands on some, try Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa as a replacement.

The espresso powder is not necessary, but it really enhances the dark chocolate flavor. Don’t substitute ground coffee, but Starbucks Via instant coffee will probably be OK if you choose the darkest roast they have.

Espresso powder is a very finely ground powder of the dark roast coffee. It doesn’t add a coffee flavor to the ice cream, but further intensifies the chocolate. I bought mine in the specialty baking section at Walmart (of all places), but I believe you could also substitute a pouch of Starbucks Via instant French roast. Be sure it dissolves completely in the hot milk mixture so there is no “gritty” texture left behind.

You might be tempted to use an inexpensive bar of baker’s chocolate from the supermarket, but I don’t recommend it. Get thee to the candy aisle of your market. As with any recipe, you will have better end results when you choose the best ingredients you can find, and if it costs a bit extra, I promise you won’t regret it. At the time I developed this recipe, Black Mountain Chocolate was closed for pandemic safety, but I love their products and look forward to making this ice cream again with one of their superb hand-crafted dark chocolates, now that they have re-opened. Something in the 60-70% cacao range is perfect. And with no nuts or other add-ins, just chocolate.

The alcohol suggested for this recipe is optional but recommend for the best texture. Because this ice cream is so rich, it can be a little tricky to scoop straight from the freezer. Vodka or one of the other alcohols suggested above will improve this, so you don’t have to be tortured waiting for a taste.

Instructions

I know you can’t get enough of these ice cream pictures, so have a look at the visual step instructions first, if you’d like.

  1. In a small saucepan, bring stout beer to a light boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer until it reduces to 1/2 cup, which should take about 10 minutes (measure to be sure).
  2. Add the heavy cream, milk, sugar, honey or syrup, cocoa and espresso powder, and whisk until sugar fully dissolves.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and salt.
  4. Ladle out about 1 cup of the hot mixture into a measuring cup with a pour spout.
  5. Slowly stream the cream mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly. This will “temper” the eggs, raising the temperature gradually to cook them without curdling.
  6. Transfer the mixture back to the pot with remaining liquid and cook over medium-low heat until custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
  7. Place the broken chocolate pieces in a large bowl with a mesh strainer over the top. Pour the hot custard mixture through the strainer over the chocolate pieces, and let it rest 2 minutes. Discard any solids that remain in the strainer.
  8. Stir or whisk the custard until the chocolate is completely melted.
  9. Place thick plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard, then cover the bowl with another piece of plastic wrap or a lid. Refrigerate overnight.
  10. Next day, stir custard until smooth, then pour into ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s instructions. In the last minute of churning, add vodka or kahlua.
  11. Transfer the ice cream to an insulated freezer container and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.

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