Category Archives: Cocktails

Hearthside Happy Hour: The Sleigh Ride

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It started with a text message, with a link to a food blog I hadn’t visited before. It continued with a trip to the store where the prime ingredient was on sale for a killer price, and concluded with an impromptu dinner around our little dining room table. The Sleigh Ride was born.

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I’m a cocktail kind of girl, especially in the winter time. Nothing says cozy like a tummy warming mixed drink, especially a hot toddy. Warm adult beverages have the tendency to freak some people out – I’m not sure if it’s because they are usually of the apple cider or hot cocoa based persuasion, or what – but in my family, and in my house, a toddy is the cure for what ails you. And when we’re sick, there’s no cold medicine better than a toddy.

This is a deeply warming drink, just a hint of sweet, and the warm gingery goodness is perfect after dinner when everyone is sitting around the Christmas tree in a holiday haze. This will also make one just sleepy enough to turn in for a long winter’s nap and a great night’s sleep, because who are we fooling here, it’s a healthy dose of booze.

And finally – rye. Bourbon and whiskey drinkers, have you ever had the great pleasure of drinking rye? Rye whiskey is made with mash of at least 51% rye in order to be called such; we are fans of the Bulleit Rye, which is 95% rye. It’s zesty and peppery and delicious, and plays so well with both ginger and lemon. Our band of buddies discovered a deep love of rye a couple of summers ago (where we spent an afternoon mixing it with ginger beer, lime and salt on the rocks and devouring every drop), and haven’t looked back. My first love of brown liquor was and will always be bourbon, but rye is catching up fast.

And so, this evening when you’re done with your chores and baking and shopping and wrapping, make yourself a nice hot Sleigh Ride, and sink into your favorite chair for a spell. I won’t even make you resist the urge to sing yourself a little Christmas carol: Just hear those sleigh bells jingle-ing / Ring ting tingle-ing too / Come on, it’s lovely weather / For a sleigh ride together with you….

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The Sleigh Ride
Makes 1

2-3 thin slices of ginger
1.5 oz. rye whiskey
2 t. honey
a nice lemon wedge (use a Meyer lemon, if you can get your hands on one)

Heat a cup of hot water and the ginger slices in a pan on the stove until boiling (scale this up, will ya – you’re going to want another I promise). While the water heats, combine the rye and the lemon in your favorite cheery mug. Pour hot water over rye and lemon, holding back the ginger. Stir in honey, find your favorite chair, and enjoy.

Hearthside Happy Hour: Sangria

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In typing the title there, I realize that I’m going to have to rename this series of segments someday, as we have no hearth in our new home.

I’m going to be so, so sad about that come Fall. But right now, it’s springtime and sunny. And there’s a festive reason to eat and drink this weekend (though you know me, I don’t need a festive reason to do either of these things).

I got an email from a reader (remind me to teach you guys how to comment soon) asking about a Sangria recipe, as there are many out there and they vary widely in ingredients and additions. Some call for lemon lime soda, some call for orange soda, some call for orange juice, some call for brandy and some don’t, ad nauseum. I’m here to tell you, it’s going to depend on how sweet you want your punch. I personally like to let the fruit and wine do the talking and let the sweetness take a back seat. This is a twofold preference, as the sugar added to the red wine makes for a Wicked hangover if you have too many. And a red wine drunk is bad, but a red wine hangover is awful.

Or so someone told me.

Here are a handful of tips:

  • Make your sangria at least 4 hours before you’re serving it and stick it in the fridge. This will help with keeping it cold later.
  • If you are heeding my advice and making it hours ahead, add the sparkling water just before serving (and make sure it’s cold before adding).
  • Use an inexpensive red wine, but not an out-and-out cheap wine. I prefer using Yellow Tail over Two Buck Chuck.
  • I personally like my Sangria a little less sweet, and so I use mineral water or club soda in place of the lemon lime soda. You may do as you wish, but in my personal polls most people dig it without the sweet soda. It’s more refresca that way.
  • You can easily sub in white wine for the red if the mood strikes you.
  • For a larger party or open house, I like to make fruit skewers to put into the glasses and serve the punch from a dispenser. And I drizzle my skewers with a little bit of Triple Sec for some added kick.
  • Speaking of fruit, the I list the basics in the recipe. You can add strawberries, blueberries, apple slices and melon cubes to your skewers or serving glasses.
  • And if you are using additional fruit in your dispenser or punch bowl, wash and freeze it prior to adding it to the container. Helps keep your punch cool.
  • If you’re using a beverage dispenser, do yourself a favor and pick the seeds out of the citrus. Nothing slows a party down like having to disassemble the nozzle and pry out a seed. And it’s not as easy as it sounds.
  • And last but not least, adding ice cubes directly to the Sangria if you’re serving it punch bowl or dispenser style will water it down in a hurry. Keep the ice on the side and let people fill their cups with it on their own.

And without further ado, here’s the recipe.

Sangria
Makes 8 servings, and scales up easily

1 750-ml bottle of dry red wine
1 1/2 cups of club soda, mineral water, or lemon-lime soda (regular or diet)
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 lime, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 orange, thinly sliced
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup sugar or honey or agave
2 tablespoons orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau, etc.)

Combine all in a large pitcher and let sit for at least 30 minutes prior to serving. Serve over ice with additional lemon, lime and orange slices, and any other fruits you wish.

Feeling Green?

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One thing I’m not is Irish; my people hail from Italy, Spain and Portugal. Like the rest of America, though, I get my green out and get my Irish on for St. Patrick’s Day every year. I washed my favorite green dress yesterday, bought some Guinness and some whiskey, and made a batch of Irish Cream so we could spike our coffee this morning.

Wikipedia says that – what, no history lesson? Well, for those that are interested to know who St. Patrick actually was, here’s some info. He was an interesting fellow, and is the most widely celebrated saint in the world. And for the rest of you lot, I give you the recipe for Irish Cream.

While this isn’t the exact consistency or sweetness of the little brown bottle on the shelf, it comes pretty close, and I like that it isn’t as thick and that I can adjust the flavors to my liking. I also made the Unemployed House Wife version, as I found myself without any freeze dried coffee, and used about a quarter cup of cold, strong brewed coffee instead. Those little insta-packets that come from America’s Favorite Coffee House work brilliantly in this application, if you have them.

You’ll see that this recipe calls for what amounts to enough whiskey to bring down an elephant. I’ve successfully made it with only 1 cup of the hooch, but hey, if you aren’t driving anywhere or are going to rebottle it to give as gifts, make it as leaded as the recipe says. Your hostess and St. Patrick will thank you.

Get out your blender, and put on a pot of coffee, because by the time the joe is finished your Irish Cream will be too. It does taste best when it’s refrigerated for a bit, if you can stand it, but if not just dive in. I won’t tell.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all! Be safe, wear green, and be merry!

Irish Cream
From Cooks.com 

Makes about 5 cups, which goes surprisingly fast.

1 3/4 c. Irish whiskey
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (NOT EVAPORATED)
1 c. (1/2 pt.) whipping cream or half and half (use the heavy cream, you won’t be sorry)
4 eggs*
2 tbsp. chocolate flavored syrup
2 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
In a blender, combine all ingredients; blend until smooth. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Shake before serving. Makes about 5 cups.
*If you’re worried about egg safety in your area, you can substitute either pasteurized eggs, found near the regular eggs in most markets, or powdered egg substitute, reconstituted according to the package directions.

Liquid Sunshine

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Before it moved to the new house, I picked all 18 (that’s right, 18!) of the Meyer lemons off of my patio tree and tucked them gently into a bowl in the fridge, with dreams of making something tasty. Meyer lemons are not known for their extended shelf life, and are fairly delicate little fruits, so they were handled with care and reserved for something wonderful.

I’m the sentimental sort with things that I grow – the first of anything inevitably goes bad on the counter or in the fridge while I look for the prefect recipe to showcase this amazing thing that I nurtured into edible loveliness. I really have to quit doing this, what with all of my crowing about growing my own food and not being wasteful. I’m aware of this shortcoming and it’s something I’ll work on this year, starting with the lemons.

I could make lemon bars, lemon loaf, lemon marmalade, lemon curd. And I still might, I juiced every drop out of most of the lemons (there are three still lolling in the vegetable crisper for cocktails to be determined). I wanted something a little more permanent, or at least something that was going to last a little longer than a pan of confections. I also like using all of something when I can, sort of the whole ‘nose to tail’ approach to my food.

Yesterday I whipped out the vegetable peeler and got to work on the lemons, gently peeling the sunny golden peel away from the creamy white pith. My version of nose to tail eating of these precious lemons is going to be limoncello, then candied lemon rinds from the spent peels that made the limoncello, and squeezed the juice from all the lemons and froze it in half cup measures for later batches of baked goods or lemonade. Not bad for a half hour’s work.

The limoncello is already turning the most beautiful shade of marigold, looking like bottled sunshine sitting on the kitchen counter. And this summer, when the mercury hits a hundred degrees (and it will), a bit of this drizzled into a glass of soda water with some ice will make balcony time that much sweeter.

Speaking of sweet, this recipe comes out REALLY sweet. The last time I made it I cut the sugar/water down to 1 1/2 cups of each, and I preferred the less sweet version that was the outcome. Oh, and do what the Italians do: when all is said and done, stick the bottle in the freezer. Ice cold limoncello is the only way to fly!

Limoncello
Recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis

10 lemons (get Meyers if you can)
1 750 ml bottle of vodka (nothing expensive here, folks)
3 1/2 cups of water
2 1/2 cups of sugar

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the lemons in long strips (reserve the lemons for another use). Using a small sharp knife, trim away the white pith from the lemon peels; discard the pith. Place the lemon peels in a 2-quart pitcher. Pour the vodka over the peels and cover with plastic wrap. Steep the lemon peels in the vodka for 4 days at room temperature.

Stir the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. Pour the sugar syrup over the vodka mixture. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight. Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer. Discard the peels. Transfer the limoncello to bottles. Seal the bottles and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours and up to 1 month. (Pssst… it’ll keep longer than a month if you can manage not to drink it. Yes that’s a dare!)

Most festive of holiday beverages

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I broke down last week and bought a container of eggnog at the grocery store. Moreover, I bought a container of light eggnog because I felt like I should be mindful of my calories in the week leading up to Thanksgiving (which as we all know and don’t admit is a 4 day eating extravaganza).

In doing so, I broke two huge rules on my personal “Are You Nuts?” list, those being 1. It’s socially unacceptable to buy eggnog before Thanksgiving, and 2. High Fructose Corn Syrup is evil. The SECOND INGREDIENT on the back of the carton (which I didn’t read until I got home) is HFCS. I refuse to touch the stuff now, and have learned my lesson for trying to sneak one in on my own Don’t You Dare list.

Besides, grocery store eggnog is supremely sub-par if you’ve ever had the delight and pleasure of having homemade eggnog. Laced with nutmeg and spices and plenty of booze, there’s no way to celebrate the holiday weekend. Roaring fire and blustery weather make it even better. The addition of a snowstorm would make it just about perfect.

No snow here in the wine country, though we have some friends that are crazy enough to go camping this weekend. Camping. In November. In a tent. While this isn’t my ideal way to spend a 4 day weekend, visiting for an afternoon around their campfire and having snacks and laughs is a pretty close second. I’ll bring up a prewarmed Ultimate Turkey Sandwich (more on that later) and a double batch of Ultimate Eggnog.

My Aunt Nancy makes the Best with a Capital B eggnog ever, and while I used to have the recipe, it’s since been lost in one too many reorganizing missions of my recipe folder. This one though has all the makings of hers: raw eggs, plenty of hooch, and enough saturated fat to stop your heart. All of this is OK though, because this is a libation of which you’re only meant to have one (or one and a splash). If you’ve never had the distinct displeasure of drinking too many White Russians then I’ll warn you that one should be very careful when mixing dairy and hard alcohol. Enough said.

Now, if you’re worried about egg safety or just not so sure about raw eggs, I recommend using this recipe instead. It’s not worth taking risks and tempering eggs only takes another minute or two. For those of you lucky enough to have chickens or access to fresh eggs, this is the recipe to showcase them. The bright yellow of a fresh egg yolk adds a distinctly lovely color to this most festive of holiday beverages.

So, whip up a batch of nog this weekend to share with your friends and family. Please note that you should allow it to sit for at least 3 hours, I prefer to let it rest overnight before serving (or at least make it in the morning for that evening’s consumption). It allows the alcohol to temper a bit and all of the flavors to blend and mellow. If you’re used to a more substantial nog, whip your egg whites and your yolks separately, and fold the yolks back in just prior to serving.

The Ultimate Eggnog
From Epicurious

6 large eggs
3/4 cup vanilla sugar (no vanilla sugar? Sub in a teaspoon of good vanilla extract with the 3/4 cup of sugar)
1 quarts half and half (or light cream)
1 cup brandy
2 cups bourbon or dark rum
freshly grated nutmeg

In large bowl, beat eggs until pale yellow and slightly frothy. Add sugar and half and half, and stir until well blended. Add brandy and bourbon (or dark rum) and stir. Transfer to large pitcher and chill until cold, at least 3 hours. Divide between 6 punch cups, garnish each with sprinkle of nutmeg, and serve.

Hearthside Happy Hour

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We’ve chatted a bit about having cocktails at home rather than going out. Not that going out isn’t fun, and we definitely do go out weekly to our favorite pub. The best bars and lounges I’ve been to have cozy little sofas and settees to settle in to, plush carpeting and a fireplace, but they look at you sideways if you put your feet on the furniture and drape yourself all over their space (even though they have the joint dressed up as an extension of your living room).

It’s just so much more pleasant to have drinks at home. The second round is always free and I don’t have to think twice about it, because I don’t have to drive anywhere. If I want a snack or something to nosh on I don’t have to pay $15 for a plate with a half ounce of cheese and 4 nuts on it. If I want to put my feet on the sofa and laugh too loud and change the music I can and no one is going to turn their nose up at me.

You just can’t buy that kind of comfort and ambiance downtown.

And what of those bar snacks? It’s nice to go beyond a bowl of salted nuts, but salty snacks are always welcome with drinks. A friend brought some of these kale chips around a week or two ago at my office and they were amazing. Light, crisp, salty, nutty, and healthy to boot! They are wonderful with a glass of hearty red wine and a friend to share a laugh. And did I mention easy? You can make them ahead if you’d like, or for an impromptu happy hour at home, you can pick up the kale on your way home and they take a mere half hour from start to finish. Not bad for a fancy pants uptown nosh!

These are pretty as written if you use Tuscan/Lacinato/Dino kale, they stand up beautifully in a glass or a vase and make a striking presentation. I’ve also found that they are a little less intimidating (and more readily eaten) if you rib the kale and cut it into smaller, bite-sized pieces. It works equally well with the standard curly kale too (and I think it’s even prettier). My picture is of the curly kale, sprinkled with some sesame seeds for color and texture.

Tuscan Kale Chips

-12 large Tuscan kale leaves, rinsed, dried, cut lengthwise in half, center ribs and stems removed
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-Sea salt, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and/or sesame seeds for sprinkling (any or all of these are awesome)

Preheat oven to 250°F. Toss kale with oil in large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and your seasoning choices. Arrange leaves in single layer on 2 large baking sheets. Bake until crisp, about 30 minutes for flat leaves and up to 33 minutes for wrinkled leaves. Transfer leaves to rack to cool.