Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Best of 2015: Cocktail Recipes

Here's the last in my Best of 2015 series. We've covered restaurants and food recipes, so that leaves cocktails. Here are 14 favorites (and some variations) from the past year.


Manhattan. Used to be our favorite cocktail was a margarita, then we went through a big gin & tonic phase. Now we're hitting our Manhattan phase, and doing it hardcore. I did a week of posts about the Manhattan in October (see all the recipes in the Ode to the Manhattan post). Of the variations, I like the Black Manhattan and Winter Manhattan a lot. Of course, nothing beats a classic Manhattan (variation #2 is my current preferred formula).

Vieux Carré. The Vieux Carré is a like a "fancy" Manhattan. It has that drink's usual ingredients but then tarts it up with cognac, Benedictine liqueur and Peychaud's bitters (the bitters best-known as an ingredient in the Sazerac).

Negroni. If you haven't gotten to know this summer Italian favorite, made with Gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, I definitely recommend you mix some up next summer. It's a classic that's increasingly popular, so much so that it now enjoys its own "week" (courtesy of Imbibe magazine and the Campari company).

Mai Tai. I explored variations on this favorite tiki drink, including an easy way to make homemade orgeat and version made with pineapple, amaretto and Velvet falernum.

Frozen Margaritas. I shared two variations on this classic--one from Booker & Dax bartender Dave Arnold's Liquid Intelligence book, and the other being what I like to make at the beach.

Cocktails by Others

Division Bell
The Division Bell. One of the drinks we enjoyed at Mayahuel, the Mexican-spirits-focused bar in New York's East Village that was our favorite bar experience of 2015. This vibrant drink combines mezcal, Aperol, maraschino liqueur and lime.

Fail Safe. a Death & Co. riff on the Negroni, which pushes the summery drink in a slightly darker direction; made with gin, sloe gin, Aperol, Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao and Angostura bitters.

Richmond Gimlet. Portland bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler's riff on the classic gimlet uses gin, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and mint. Simple, refreshing and tasty.

My Creations

Deluxe Appletini. Bored of the too-sweet appletini? Shake up this more "adult" version with gin, sour apple liqueur, ginger liqueur, sherry, lemon and celery shrub.

Aunt Beru's Blue Milk Brew
Star Wars Day Cocktail: Aunt Beru's Blue Milk Brew. It's pretty much impossible to avoid Star Wars at this moment--whether you're traveling the walking or online world. But if you're still not satiated, mix together this Blue Milk Brew I created to honor Star Wars and Luke Skywalker's Aunt Beru.

Green Tea and Cucumber Gimlet. A smoother version of the simple gin-and-lime classic with a little bitterness from the tea and the cooling freshness of cucumber.

Glacier Cocktail
Glacier Cocktail. The incredible Mendenhall Glacier we saw (and walked on) during our trip to Alaska inspired this frosty blue drink made with white rye whiskey, blue curaçao, green Chartreuse, orange bitters and nutmeg.

A Sage Old Bourbon. Designed for Thanksgiving, this drink draws its inspiration from the savory and sweet flavors of the season, blending bourbon, sherry, blanc vermouth, maple, celery, sage and cranberry.

Christmas Tree cocktail
Christmas Tree Cocktail. I've been playing around with tree-like flavors using rosemary and/or Clear Creek's Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir brandy. With this bourbon and ginger-flavored "Christmas Tree" cocktail, I hit on a combination I really like that evokes the holiday and the tree itself.

Stocking Your Bar

Lastly, I wanted to mention my three-part series on advice for stocking your home bar, which included posts on bottles, equipment/glassware and books on recipes and techniques.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Best of 2015: Food Recipes

On Monday, I covered the best of Dining Out from 2015, so today, here's the best from Cooking In: 26 of my favorite recipes that I shared on my blog this year.


Crazy Guacamole. A fresh guacamole with a lot of fun mix-ins, inspired by our current favorite New York Mexican restaurant, The Blank Ant.

Salads and Sides

Roasted Celery and Fennel with Peanut Sauce. Celery and fennel are both great with peanuts and taste wonderful roasted together and topped with a spicy Thai-style peanut sauce.

Grilled Caesar Salad. Putting a little fire to this sometimes tired (but totally worthy) classic is a great way to give it new life.

Snap Pea and Bacon Salad with Ricotta and Roasted Chickpeas. I love this salad for its contrasts in flavor and texture.

Manhattan "Chowder" Salad. With this summery recipe, I attempted to reimagine Manhattan chowder but as a salad with fresh tomatoes, salmon and fried-potato "croutons."

Quinoa Salad with Chicken and Vegetables. I frequently share recipes for grain salads or grain bowls. This recipe, inspired by a lunch at Soho New York's Spring Street Natural cafe this year was one of my favorites with its cashews, quick-pickled onion, avocado and fresh mint.

Fennel, Corn and Cherry Tomato Gratin. From the Ottolenghi cookbook, a wonderful way to appreciate a delicious trio of vegetables.

Butter Flaky Biscuits. Rolling and folding buttery biscuit dough is the trick behind these deliciously flaky biscuits.

Deconstructed Sweet Potato Casserole. Skip the gooey Thanksgiving mess and instead make this version with roasted sweet potatoes, bacon, pecans and a maple-bourbon sauce (yes, there are still marshmallows involved).

Main Dishes

Spaghetti with Tomato-Turkey Ragu. Sort of like what mom used to make, a classic comfort recipe that I never tire of.

Kung Pao Chicken. I've been making Kung Pao Chicken for many years, but I changed my approach this year, cutting back on the sugar and adding a more authentic touch with szechuan peppercorns.

Smoky Bacon Macaroni & Cheese. There are a lot of version of this homey classic on my site, but this wonderful version with bacon and three cheeses (cheddar, gruyere, parmigiano-reggiano) is my new favorite.

Fettuccine with Chicken, Sundried Tomatoes and Pesto Cream Sauce. Part of a series of recipes looking back at the '90s, this classic combination still tastes great.

Mediterranean Chickpea Patties with Tzatziki Sauce. Another longtime favorite in our house are these chickpea patties, which are sort of like falafel and pretty easy to make.

Black Bean and Avocado Tacos. One of this year's vegan recipes, further proof of the wonderful versatility of tacos.

Ancho Chile Chicken and Slaw Tacos (Silent Interlude). Speaking of tacos, here's another recipe and a bit of an experiment to see if I could convey a recipe using only photos. It's inspired by the classic dialogue-free "Silent Interlude" issue of the G.I. Joe comic book.

Broiled Salmon with Sautéed Golden Zucchini. For a quick, simple and delicious midweek meal, it doesn't get any better than this, a simply broiled salmon filet topped with the delicious Cajun-style dry rub from Mangia.

Roasted Tomato Yaki Udon. A little east and west fusion went into making this dish, a sort of "Japanese Spaghetti."

Sautéed Chicken Fajitas. Packing the grill away for the summer doesn't mean you can't still enjoy delectable chicken fajitas at home. This was another recipe I revisited often this year.

Marbella-Brined Roast Turkey Breast. The classic Silver Palate Cookbook recipe for Chicken Marbella inspired this delicious turkey recipe, one of my favorites from Thanksgiving this year.


Homemade Granola. This simple recipe for homemade granola, augmented with pecans and dried cranberries, has become a weekend favorite at our house.

Steak, Egg and Smoked Gouda Breakfast Tacos. One of our favorite discoveries during our trip to Austin, Texas this year: breakfast tacos. This was based on our favorite from Taco Joint.


Tres Leches Cake. For years, we've been big admirers of this wonderful Mexican dessert--cake soaked in evaporated and condensed milk and half-n-half topped with whipped cream. This year I made it for Valentine's Day. Dare I say my husband wasn't the only thing in the dining room I was in love with that night.

Classic 1-2-3-4 Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting. Part of my "Cook in 101" series to help novice cooks get in the kitchen, this recipe is designed to help you ditch the cake mix and make a simple cake from scratch.

Mocha Baked Alaska. One of my favorite desserts, which I made this year in honor of our Alaskan cruise.

Momofuku Milk Bar Blueberry & Cream Cookies. My favorite cookie this year, made with pastry chef Christina Tosi's inventive "milk crumb" and dried blueberries.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Best of 2015: Restaurants and Cocktail Bars

Is the pace of Washington, D.C. restaurant opening ever going to slow down? That's what comes to my mind first when I think back on this year of dining out at home. 

In 2013 and 2014, we watched 14th Street fill up with seemingly weekly openings. As the "hot" neighborhoods proliferate (Shaw seemed to welcome a particular number of promising newcomers this year), now it's like there are multiple interesting openings per week, making us diners very lucky to be have so much selection (while simultaneously feeling like we cannot possibly keep up). One of my first restaurant reviews of next year promises to be a good one--the recently opened Convivial in Shaw, where Mintwood Place chef Cedric Maupillier is cooking some amazing food. 

Big-name chefs continue to show interest in D.C., the biggest of which to open an outpost in our city this year was David Chang, the man behind the Momofuku collective. Judging be the lines outside Momofuku CCDC, I wasn't the only one impatiently waiting to see how his creative Asian-inspired cooking translated to our market. 

Plus our own Jose Andres continued to expand his gastronomic empire with the one-two punch of the Peruvian-by-way-of-Asia China Chilcano and the vegetable-centric-fast-casual Beefsteak, which I'm happy to hear will be adding a new location in my neighborhood next year. Also coming to my neighborhood in 2016--a new Italian restaurant from Fabio and Maria Trabocchi--the wonderful talent behind Fiola and Casa Luca. After a hard few years where we lost places like Palena and Dino, even stodgy ol' Upper Northwest seems to be getting back in the game.

Outside of D.C., we had our usual jaunts to New York, where we discovered our new favorite Mexican restaurant. We made do with cruise food, but enjoyed some pretty incredible eats in port. And we indulged our love for barbecue, Tex-Mex and good cocktails in Austin, Texas, which was as much a place to spend a long weekend as we'd hoped. Interestingly, a lot of my favorite dishes this year didn't come from the more expensive or buzzy places we visited, but rather the more casual, less flashy places we stumbled upon.

Here then are the best eats we enjoyed outside the home this year (restaurants named are in Washington, D.C. unless otherwise indicated).

Palak Chaat, Rasika
Best Starter: Palak Chaat (Rasika). Rasika is widely considered to be D.C.'s best restaurant, a pretty cool honor considering that it's Indian, a cuisine too many sneer at to their detrimental. Dinner at Rasika is an amazing experience--even more so after this year's design refresh. While everything we ate there was good, the Palak Chaat, an appetizer of chickpea-battered flash-fried spinach, is absolutely amazing. The kind of thing you'd just have to order a side of even if you promised yourself to try something new. Honorable mentions: Fried Avocado (Tupelo Honey Cafe, Arlington, Virginia), Fried Chicken Skins (The Partisan), Guacamole (The Black Ant, New York), Spicy Cucumbers (Momofuku CCDC), Hush Puppies (Fat Pete's).

Frida Kale, Beefsteak
Best Salad: Make Your Own (Beefsteak). The first thing that struck me upon walking up to the counter at Beefsteak was the amazing variety of fresh vegetables. As it should be for famed D.C. chef Jose Andres's first outing into the fast-casual corner, a beautifully minimalist space that puts all its focus on the one thing we all know we should be eating more of: our vegetables. And what better way to enjoy then to design your own salad here with all the amazing blanched, raw, crunchy, bitter and sweet you can imagine. Honorable mentions: Shredded Cabbage Salad (Tico), Quinoa Salad (China Chilcano), Lettuces and Vegetables (Hearth, New York), Dungeness crab salad (The Rookery, Juneau, Alaska), Pea Tendril Salad (White Street, New York).

Sliced Brisket with Beans and Slaw, Fat Pete's
Best Entree (Meat): Sliced Brisket (Fat Pete's). I've been pretty open about my love of barbecue. It seriously literally (yes, I'm using this correctly) makes my mouth water. Like right now as I write this, thinking about the amazing sliced brisket at Fat Pete's, which is so meaty, smoky and tender. I just love it. And it's within walking distance of my home. Yeah, I know Franklin's in Austin is the best, but really, if I can get barbecued brisket this good close to home, I can forgo Franklin's. Honorable mentions: Brisket Taco (Guero's Taco Bar, Austin, Texas), Black Angus Short Rib (Lamberts, Austin, Texas), cochinita pibil tacos (La Condesa, Austin, Texas), Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder (The Partisan), Meatloaf Tacos (Tupelo Honey Cafe, Arlington, Virginia). 

Corn Ravioli, Ghibellina
Best Entree (Pasta and Grains): Ravioli di Mais Dolci (corn ravioli) (Ghibellina). Graffito used to be the undisputed champion of corn ravioli (or technically agnolotti) in D.C., but with this dish, Ghibellina has emerged as a formidable challenger to that title. The popular 14th Street venue garnishes its ricotta and corn-stuffed pasta pockets with toasted almonds, a delicious idea. Honorable mentions: Beef Noodle Soup (Momofuku CCDC), Aeropuero (China Chilcano).

Halibut Fish & Chips, Alava's Fish & Chowder
Best Entree (Seafood): Halibut Fish & Chips (Alava's Fish & Chowder, Ketchikan, Alaska). You know how people rave about sometimes those ramshackle hole-in-the-wall places have the best food? In this case, it's absolutely true. We're not big seafood eaters, but of all the dishes we enjoyed in Alaska, the best was the halibut fish & chips at Alava's. The fish was incredibly fresh--caught that morning I imagine--and the light breading added just enough crunch. Honorable mention: Slow-Cooked Cod (White StreetNew York), Grilled Salmon (Landing Zone, Icy Strait Point, Alaska).

Breakfast Tacos, Taco Joint
Best Breakfast: Steak and Egg with Smokey Gouda Cheese Taco (Taco Joint, Austin, Texas). Breakfast tacos were one our favorite finds during our trip to Austin, and this taco, from a little taco restaurant just north of the University of Texas campus, was the best of the lot. Honorable mentions: 24 Hash (24 Diner, Austin, Texas), Omelet (The Royal Treat, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware). 

Fried Apple Pie, The Partisan
Best Dessert: Fried Apple Pie (The Partisan). Sure, it sounds like something you get at McDonald's, but consider that the apple pie is actually most people's second-favorite thing to eat at the Golden Arches. Then take that concept and turn it into something freshly made by a pastry chef, and you're in dessert heaven. Honorable mentions: Dulce de Leche Pudding Cake (La Condesa, Austin, Texas), Key Lime Pie (DBGB Kitchen & Bar)

Best service: Dos Locos (Rehoboth Beach, Delaware). Maybe I'm getting pickier, but service was an area where few restaurants really excelled this year. Service where we ate was fine, for the most part, but rarely was it a memorable aspect of our dining experiences this year. A notable exception was Dos Locos, our favorite restaurant at the beach, where we are always made to feel welcome no matter if we're sitting down for dinner or just pop in for an afternoon margarita. Even when they are crushed under the busy dinner service, our needs for condiments, refills or just the check are always anticipated and never delayed. Honorable mention: China ChilcanoLa Condesa (Austin, Texas).

Lamb Pot Stickers, China Chilcano
Most Visually Striking Dish: Pegao Norteño (Lamb Pot Stickers, China Chilcano). At China Chilcano, a starter of lamb dumplings arrive connected by a lacy layer topped with flowers and gold hovering above a few artful brushstrokes of squash puree, like some sort of beautiful garden that's also quite tasty. Honorable mention: Ponderaciones de Kiwicha (China Chilcano).

Best Cocktail (Restaurant): Maybe a Joyful Noise (The Partisan). I'm breaking cocktails into two parts, since it doesn't seem fair to compare cocktails from cocktail bars (where they do little, if anything, else) to those at restaurants. That said, the Maybe a Joyful Noise from The Partisan is a pretty incredible drink that rivals our favorite tipples from the next section. The mixture of bourbon, bitter-sweet Italian digestif, French digestif and chocolate bitters was a perfectly balanced and heady concoction that I would happily drink again. Honorable mentions: Cool Hand Luke (Tico), Cholotini (China Chilcano), Dennis Coles (Hearth, New York), Colonial (DBGB Kitchen & Bar), Honey & Chamomile G&T (Tupelo Honey Cafe, Arlington, Virginia), Devil in Oaxaca (The Black Ant, New York).
Ready to Depart (left) and Dijahbone (right), Mayahuel
Best Cocktail (Cocktail Bar): Dijahbone (Mayahuel, New York). This was the year we really made an effort to visit cool cocktail bars. We hit up some pretty amazing ones in Austin, and even found a cool one in D.C. But the two best were in New York and they are relatives of sorts (they share some of the same talent): Death & Co., whose book I can't stop raving about, and Mayahuel, its Mexican-spirits-focused offshoot. While we had wonderful experiences in both bars, we found the focus on mezcal, tequila and newcomer (to many Americans at least) sotol, to be particularly intoxicating. The Dijahbone, a blend of sotol, duck fat infused Grand Marnier, carrot juice, lime juice and cumin, was as delicious as it was interesting, a wonderful example of how to blend a number of unusual ingredients into something magical. Honorable mentions: Herb Alpert (Mayahuel, New York), Elijah's Railcar (CU29, Austin, Texas), Sierra Madre (Death & Co., New York), Someday Baby (Garage, Austin, Texas), Devil's Grin (2 Birds, 1 Stone).

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Clove-Studded Honey-Glazed Baked Ham

Clove-Studded Honey-Glazed Baked Ham

There are so many things to be cooked in this world. That may seem like a really obvious statement, but it's true, and sometimes that means that seemingly common dishes don't get made.

For example, I realized recently that, while I eat ham all the time and have all my life, I'd never actually prepared a ham myself. It's always something I get at other people's homes during the holidays or sliced on sandwich. I didn't even know how or what to buy to make a ham.

Turns out, it's really quite simple. Most of the time, hams you buy at the grocery store are already cooked, which makes the cooking you're going to be doing with it really easy. Most hams are cured in brine (the alternative being a dry brine), so they are nice and juicy. The trick then is not heating them in the oven too long, since you don't want to dry them out.

There's also two basic cuts: shank end or rump end (also referred to as "butt" or "sirloin" end). The rump end is leaner, but the usual shape of its bone makes it a little harder to carve, so many people prefer shank. I ended up with rump and frankly I didn't find it that hard to carve. If you can carve a Thanksgiving turkey, you can carve a ham. Of course there's also the sort-of-pre-carved spiral-cut ham, but I was concerned that all those open cuts would make it more likely to dry out.

When I think of flavors I like with ham, two immediately come to mind: honey, which is amazing with ham and clove, the spiky little spice that adds a decorative look to the outside of the ham but also great flavor. This recipe, which I found on the McCormick's spice company's website, was just what I was looking for.

I scored the ham with a traditional criss-cross pattern and also stuck whole cloves in the meat all over. This ham was so tasty: juicy, sweet and a just a bit spicy.

Clove-Studded Honey-Glazed Baked Ham
Adapted from a recipe by McCormick's

8 lb. precooked ham, shank or butt end
Whole cloves (about 40-50)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp water
1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Set ham in a roasting pan lined with aluminum foil. Using a sharp knife, score the ham making straight parallel cuts about 1 1/2-inches apart from one side of the ham to the other. Make another series of parallel cuts that intersection the first set of cuts to make a diamond pattern. Be careful not to make the cuts too deep: they should cut through the skin into the layer of fat below it but not into the meat. Use a thin skewer to poke holes in the center of each diamond and place a clove in each hole. Bake the ham for 1 hour.

3. Combine brown sugar, honey, water and ground cloves in a small bowl. Remove the ham from the oven and pour the sugar-honey-clove mixture over the ham. Continue baking the ham another half hour, basting the ham with the honey mixture every 10 minutes. Transfer the ham to a cutting board and let it rest 15 minutes before carving.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Holiday Cocktails

Christmas Tree Cocktail

Throwing a holiday party for friends this week? Having family over for a Christmas Eve or Day get-together? No matter the occasion, your guests will enjoy themselves even more if they have a good cocktail in hand. Here are five suggestions for drinks that I think will go just right with the holidays.

Christmas Tree Cocktail 
(pictured at top)

My idea for this drink was to create something that evoked the Christmas tree, in a figurative sense. The Clear Creek Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir quite literally evokes a Christmas tree, since fir trees (especially noble firs) make the best Christmas trees. Don't skip the garnishes: the rosemary evokes a fir tree branch and its tree-like scent helps complete the experience as you sip the drink, and the cherry looks a bit like a red ball ornament--and together they are green and red, so they're perfect. Otherwise, the drink's other flavors--bourbon, ginger, cinnamon and spice are meant to evoke seasonal flavors.

1 1/2 oz. Buffalo Trace bourbon
1/2 oz. Clear Creek Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir
1/2 oz. Combier orange liqueur
1/2 oz. Cinnamon syrup (see note)
2 dashes Fee Brothers whiskey barrel-aged bitters
2 oz. ginger beer
Maraschino cherry garnish
Rosemary sprig garnish

Combine bourbon, eau de vie of douglas fir, orange liqueur, cinnamon syrup and bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until very cold. Strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice, top with ginger beer and garnish with the cherry and rosemary sprig.

Note: to make cinnamon syrup, combine 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and 2 cinnamon sticks in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool, discard cinnamon sticks, and store syrup in a container in the refrigerator.

Maple Old Fashioned Cocktail

Maple Old Fashioned 

The Old Fashioned is such a wonderfully simple classic, especially--as has been popular lately--discarding the elaborate garnishes that were later added to the drink and distracted from its simple pleasure. Just an orange peel is the only garnish it needs--you can flame it if you must, but it's perfect fine inflamed. Substituting maple syrup and Free Brothers whiskey barrel-aged bitters push this more towards a winter drink perfect for the holidays. Some people building their old fashioneds in a rock glass, but I prefer to mix them in a cocktail mixing glass so everything is nicely mixed and appropriately diluted. 

2 oz. bourbon
1/4 oz. maple syrup
2 dashes Fee Brothers whiskey barrel aged bitters
Orange peel

Combine bourbon, maple syrup and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until well chilled (at least 30 seconds). Strain into a rocks glass with a single large piece of ice. Squeeze the orange peel (skin-side down) over the drink, then rub it around the rim of the glass before dropping it on top.

Broken Oath Cocktail
Broken Oath
Recipe by Eryn Reece for Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails

I recently acquired a bottle of homemade coffee liqueur that I won at a charity auction. The liqueur is absolutely wonderful--intensely coffee flavored and just sweet enough. I wanted a good cocktail that would show off a touch of coffee flavor, and this Death & Co. drink was just perfect. The mezcal, sherry and sweet vermouth combine to make this an excellent choice for a cocktail that's a bit on the savory side.

1 1/2 oz. mezcal
3/4 oz. amontillado sherry
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth (the original recipe called for Cocci Vermouth di Torino, which I don't have, so I used Carpano Antica)
1/2 oz. coffee liqueur (the original recipe called for Galliano Ristretto, but I used a homemade coffee liqueur)
2 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl mole bitters

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until well-chilled, at least 30 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass. No garnish.

The Riccione Cocktail

The Riccione
Adapted from a recipe in Saveur originally from Lincoln in Portland, Oregon

The description on Saveur's website that accompanies this drink describes it as a sort of Manhattan made with sherry and nocino, an Italian walnut liqueur. Given that the Manhattan is my favorite cocktail, I was completely sold on this as another great winter variation on the whiskey-vermouth classic.

1 1/2 oz. bourbon
1/4 oz. Carpano Antica vermouth
1/4 oz. fino sherry
1/4 oz. nocino (Nux Alpina walnut liqueur)
2 dashes orange bitters
Orange peel, garnish

Combine bourbon, vermouth, sherry, nocino and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with the orange peel.

The Pilgrim Cocktail

The Pilgrim
Recipe by Dale DeGroff, The Craft of the Cocktail and King Cocktail

This recipe accompanied Washington Post spirits writer M. Carrie Allan's recent great story about hospitality and bartending. It's a recipe from bartender/cocktail writer Dale DeGroff, author of The Craft of the Cocktail. In the book, DeGroff share how me made a warm batch of this cocktail on Thanksgiving for Associated Press photo editors who worked nearby and had become regulars at the Rainbow Room Promenade Bar when DeGroff worked there. He served it warm; I served mine cold (it's designed to go either way). The original recipe in the book makes 6 servings; the version that appeared in the Post, which also appears on DeGroff's website, was scaled for a single drink and also changed some of the ingredient proportions, which is what I used below. The original recipe also calls for pimento liqueur, which frankly I've never heard of, or demerara simple syrup and pimento bitters--something DeGroff markets himself. I opted for simple and Angostura bitters. 

1 oz. dark rum
1/2 oz. light rum
1/2 oz. Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao
1 1/2 oz. fresh orange juice
1/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/4 oz. simple syrup (DeGroff's recipe calls specifically for demerara sugar)
2 dashes Dale's pimento bitters (I substituted Angostura bitters)

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until very cold. Strain into a cocktail glass and serve with no garnish. (To serve warm, combine the ingredients without ice in a saucepan and gently heat on the stove until warm--do not let it boil. I recommend using a tempered glass if going this route.)

Related (other delicious cocktails for the holidays or just winter in general)

Family Therapy (A My Poor Liver Podcast creation with bourbon, ginger, orange, cherry and cranberry flavors)

Paper Plane (Sam Ross's ode to M.I.A. with bourbon, Italian amaro, lemon and Aperol)

Vanilla Margarita (summer favorite with a winter twist)

Peary Christmas (rye whiskey with ginger, muddled pear and lemon, cinnamon syrup, bitters)

Winter Mojito (dark rum with muddled mint and cranberries)

Oaxaca Old Fashioned (the Death & Co. classic that takes good any time of year)

Prince Edward (Scotch, blanc vermouth, bitters and Drambuie, a Scottish honey-spice liqueur)

Tabard Cocktail (tequila, sherry, Drambuie and bitters)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Dallas Bakeoff: Pam's Emerald Mine Cookies

This recipe also appears this week on Dallas Decoder, representing Pamela Barnes Ewing in the Dallas Decoder Holiday Bakeoff IV: Pam vs. Katherine.

All she wanted was a life where she and Bobby were happy. And she got it, for the most part. But one evening, just as they were reconciling after 2 years apart, Pam had a terrible dream in which Bobby--her lifetime love and former husband--was murdered out of spite by her deranged half-sister Katherine.

You see, Katherine always had a thing for Bobby. She even fabricated a letter from Pam in which Pam said she wanted to end her marriage to Bobby. It was a contributing factor in their divorce.

During the dream, following Bobby's "death," Pam invested in a Colombian emerald mine in Bobby's honor, a decision that sent her on a grand adventure to South America. This dream was so vivid that Pam shared the whole thing with Bobby. Later, she made these cookies for Bobby, sort of as a joke, but in a way, they symbolized her unending love for him--that she would honor him even if he was gone. Of course, Katherine thought the symbolism was rather silly, opting to bake some frosted hats with cheap gumdrops. Pam knows that Bobby likes her cookies best.

Dallas Bakeoff: Pam's Emerald Mine Cookies
Adapted from Chocolate M&M Cookies by Dinners, Dishes and Desserts as adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction

Makes about 24 cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. milk
1 cup green mini M&M's (I bought containers of the red and green Christmas mini M&Ms and separated them, using both the green and red M&Ms in cookies separately--so I guess I also made some "ruby mine" cookies)

1. Combine the butter, sugar and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes (alternatively, combine the ingredients in a large bowl and beat with a hand mixer). Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined.

2. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Add dry ingredients to the bowl with butter and sugar and beat on low speed until combined. Add the milk and stir into the dough with a spatula, then stir in half of the M&Ms. Cover the mixing bowl with the dough with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least a half hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheet with parchment or silicon baking mats.

4. Spoon the dough into golf-ball-size pieces and place 2 inches apart on the baking sheet (you should be able to get 12 onto each sheet). Flatten each mound slightly and place a few additional M&Ms on top of each cookie. Bake the cookies until the edges are done and the center appears slightly underdone, about 9 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minute, then carefully transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Katherine's Frosted Gingerbread Hat Cookies

Dallas Bakeoff: Katherine's Frosted Gingerbread Hat Cookies

This recipe also appears this week on Dallas Decoder, representing Katherine Wentworth in the Dallas Decoder Holiday Bakeoff IV: Pam vs. Katherine.

All she wanted was Bobby. Sure, he married her half-sister Pam (twice) and April, and almost married that dreadful Jenna, but Katherine knows deep in her heart that Bobby loved her best.

She baked these frosted gingerbread hat cookies to remind him of her bold sense of style. Katherine wears a good hat like no other woman on Dallas. The cookies are spicy and sweet, just like Katherine, and way better than Pam's emerald mine cookies, which sound like something that would chip a tooth.

Pam claims her cookies were inspired by a particularly vivid dream in which she invested in an emerald mine after Bobby's death because he'd been interested in emeralds. Can you imagine? Bobby was never interested in emeralds. And Bobby's death?! Need we more proof that sweet darling Pam is absolutely bonkers? Keep dreamin' Pam!

Katherine's Frosted Gingerbread Hat Cookies
Gingerbread recipe adapted from Gingerbread Cookies 101, The Food Network, from a Rick Rodgers recipe

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

12 3/4 oz. (3 cups) all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly milled black pepper
12 tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 large egg
Simple cookie icing (see recipe below)
Red and green food coloring
Red and green gumdrops

1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.

2. Combine butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the molasses and egg. Add the combined dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined to form the dough. Divide the dough into two pieces, flatten into large discs and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 3 hours to chill completely.

3. Preheat oven to 350 F with two racks evenly spaced in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Line three baking sheets with parchment or silicon baking mats (you can re-use one of the sheets if needed, unless you have an oven big enough to accommodate three baking sheets at once).

4. Place one of the dough discs on a floured surface and allow to warm slightly (about 10 minutes). Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and roll out to 1/8-inch thickness. Use a 2 1/2 inch round cookie or biscuit cutter to cut out circles of dough; transfer the circles to the baking sheet, spaced at least 1-inch apart. Re-roll any scraps and cut out additional circles. Repeat with the other chilled dough disc.

5. Bake the cookies until the edges are lightly browned and the dough looks dry on top, about 10-12 minutes (rotate the cookie sheets top-to-bottom and back-to-front halfway through baking). Cool the cookies on the sheets for about 5 minutes, then carefully transfer with a spatula to a wire rack to cool completely (cookies must be completely cooled before frosting).

6. Divide the cookie icing into several bowls, depending on how many colors of hats you want to make (it may depend on what colors of gum drops you have--I made red, green and white hats). Add a few drops of food coloring to each bowl and stir into the icing, adding additional drops as needed until the color of the frosting matches the gumdrops. Using a knife, spread about 1 teaspoon of frosting (maybe a little more) on each gingerbread circle, using the knife to spread an even layer so that the brown of the cookie does not show through and the icing goes to the edge of the circle. Place a matching-color gumdrop in the center of the circle and press down gently. Sprinkle the cookie with matching colored sugar (this helps give the cookie an even texture, since the gumdrop will have a sugar-coated texture, whereas the icing, without sprinkled sugar, will dry smooth). Continue as desired (I frosted some cookies without gumdrops and also left some unfrosted). Store cookies in the refrigerator.

Simple Cookie Icing

3 cups powdered (confectioner's) sugar
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
3 tbsp. milk, plus additional as needed

Combine powdered sugar, corn syrup and milk in medium bowl and stir with a fork until they form an even consistency. Add additional milk (in small increments, about 1 tsp.) as needed to reach a smooth texture similar to thick sour cream. Use immediately, as the icing will harden as it sits out. Multiply the recipe as needed so you enough icing for your cookies.

Dallas Bakeoff: Pam's Emerald Mine Cookies

Monday, December 14, 2015

Gift Ideas for Food and Drink Lovers

There are 11 days until Christmas. In the age of Amazon Prime 2-day free delivery, there's still plenty of time to choose a present for that special someone who loves to eat and drink. Stumped as to what to get them? Here are some ideas.


For the wine lover, the obvious choice is a bottle of wine, but this can be a fairly tricky purchase. You want something special that will appeal to their refined palate. You want something interesting that isn't what you find at the grocery store. You want to spend enough to get something good but not break the bank. Dracaena Wines 2013 Cabernet Franc meets all of these requirements in addition to being a really delicious red wine. Not familiar with cabernet franc? It's one of the "parent" grapes (along with sauvignon blanc) of cabernet sauvignon, that ruby jewel beloved by many as the most popular red wine. Cabernet franc is generally lighter than sauvignon (especially as Chinon, which I discussed as a good Thanksgiving wine) and earthier. It's wonderful as a blending with with cabernet sauvignon--many of the best bottles I've had have 5 to 15 percent cab franc added to them. But it's also delicious on its own.

Dracaena Wines' cab franc is exactly how I like my cab franc to be: on the bigger side with subtly earthy flavors but not that "barnyard" quality of some cab francs. It's the kind of red you can sip by itself or enjoy with food (we had ours with pizza, which was a pretty perfect match). This wine is actually 85 percent cab franc and 15 percent petite sirah, another lesser known but really wonderful red wine. Dracaena Wines owners Lori and Mike Budd are active on Twitter (@dracaenawines) and MangiaTV's Monday night "vamps" (video chats), where I've gotten to know them. You can order Dracaena Wines 2013 Cabernet France directly from their website for $28 per bottle or by the case at a 15% discount.

Spice Rub

Speaking of Mangia, a bag (or more) of their Cajun-style dry rub would make a perfect stocking stuffer. These versatile spice blends--available in hot and sweet versions--are wonderful with meat, fish and vegetables of all kinds (read about how I like to use their rubs here). Mangia's Bob Heffernan hosts a weekly online video chat (most every Monday night at 7:30 p.m. eastern), a wonderful place to chat with like-minded foodies and discuss Bob's perspectives on food, community and fun. Mangia rub is available from the company's website for $6 per bag or $9 per two-pack. Become friends with Bob online  (Twitter: @mangiaTV) and you may discover ways to get occasional discounts too.


My husband always does a nice job of buying me Christmas gifts, but last year, he got extra points for a particularly thoughtful surprise: 4 pounds of bacon. Now, we're not just talking any bacon but my favorite bacon: Benton's Hickory-Smoked Country Bacon. Bacon has been "a thing" for years now, and Benton's thick bacon has been a favorite for its wonderful meaty flavor and intensely smoky aroma--your kitchen will smell like someone has a campfire burning when you're cooking it. You can order Benton's bacon in 4-lb packs (four separately wrapped 1-pound packs) for $30 from the company's website. Also, check out my recipes from this year where I used Benton's bacon, including Cauliflower-Bacon Clam Chowder, Smoky Bacon Macaroni & CheesePunchier Potato-Leek Soup and Three-Peas Farro Risotto with Bacon.


Cocktail lovers can always use new and interesting barware. Arctic Chill has set itself apart as a manufacturer of innovative barware. Last year, I talked about their metal muddler. This year, I enjoyed using their ice sphere trays, which each make four 2-inch spherical ice cubes (two cubes fit nicely into a standard-size rocks glass), and their wine aerator. I'm not always sold on whether aerating is necessary or works well, but I have noticed that this aerator "softens" wines a bit, and it's very easy to use: simply put it in the top of an opened wine bottle and pour. Perhaps best of all, the spout makes wine-pouring a no-mess experience. Arctic Chill's products are available from Amazon, the wine aerator for $9 and the ice molds as a set of two for $12. [Note: Arctic Chill provided the products mentioned in this review.]

Cocktail Bitters

Lots of people have a bottle of Angostura bitters kicking around their home bar, but that's just a start to the wonderful world of cocktail bitters, which come in so many amazing flavors. Last year, I did a series of posts about bitters, which many consider to be the "salt and pepper" of good cocktails. Bitters make a nice gift because they don't require refrigeration and they last indefinitely. Some of my favorites: Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters, which add wintery-cinnamon-and-spice notes to drinks like an Old-Fashioned or a Winter Manhattan ($18 at Amazon); Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters, the spicy Mole-inspired bitters that launched the Bittermens line, which are wonderful in an Improved Tequila Cocktail or Oaxaca Old Fashioned ($21 at Amazon); and Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6, developed by cocktail legend Gary "Gaz" Regan, which are perfect for adding a hint of citrus to drinks like the Barrel-Aged Berlioni ($8 at Amazon, also generally available in most good liquor stores). Not ready to commit to a full bottle? Scrappy's sells two bitters samplers, which each contain four small bottles of bitters. Set 1 has lavender, chocolate, cardamom and grapefruit ($24 at Amazon); set 2 has orange, celery, Orleans and aromatic ($24 at Amazon, get both from Amazon for $40).


I have a lot of books to recommend this year, so head on over to my related post on food and drink book gift ideas.