Cozy Christmas Drinks to Put You in the Holiday Spirit

Cozy Christmas Drinks to Put You in the Holiday Spirit

Get into the cozy Christmas mood with these festive cocktails from Claire (you know how we love a seasonal drink!). Whether you are spending a quiet night in or hosting a holiday party, Claire has you covered in the cocktail department! Let’s get mixing, Claire!

This year seems to have gone by in record time, which is good, because 2016 has been a real stinker and I’m not going to miss it when it’s done. Usually in December, all I want to do is get cozy and Christmassy, but this year I’ve been having a tougher time than I normally do getting festive. Luckily, I have devised a brilliant, alcohol-fueled plan to grease my Christmas spirit wheels, and it all starts today, as I trim my tree.

A cozy Christmas cocktail is the perfect way to fire up the holiday spirit!

As a child of a mixed-religious union, I grew up celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah, though with so many fun activities involved, Christmas always won out as the bigger deal of the two. Our family tradition was to spend Christmas day at our Grandma’s house, so we didn’t always have a tree in our house. Well, I am a strong believer in creating your own holiday traditions, so now that I have my own house, I always have a Christmas tree, no matter where I’ll be on Christmas day. The week after Thanksgiving, Pier and I go out to the tree lot, we pick out a tree, and then he helps me set it up so I can decorate it. Well, this year, Pier has had to work late all week so I went to the tree lot by myself. I tied the tree to my car by myself and then unloaded and stood it up by myself. I knew I was going to need some powerful holiday magic to get me through decorating by myself. What better than hot cocoa? I used to always make Mexican hot chocolate from scratch whenever I got a craving for cocoa, but I found that I actually wanted cocoa more often than I was willing to put the effort into the process. Since then, I have gotten smarter and/or lazier, and I have adapted my own recipe for an instant mix from Alton Brown’s own recipe (so you know it must be good).

Mix together one and a half to two cups of powdered sugar, one cup of unsweetened cocoa powder, two and a half cups of dry milk powder, two teaspoons of cornstarch, and one teaspoon of salt. Add cinnamon and cayenne pepper to suit your taste. I like a lot of heat in mine, so I go a little heavier on the cayenne. Just add hot water, et voilà, you’re in cocoa heaven. This mix can keep for a whole year in an air-tight container, but I doubt it will last longer than a month, especially if you prepare it the way I like it best. Put two spoonfuls of cocoa mix into your mug. Add some coffee if you have some made, or a little bit of instant espresso if you don’t. Pour in hot water, leaving about an inch of space at the top. Stir until everything is dissolved, then fill the space to the top with Irish cream. Top it with marshmallows (obviously) and you are ready to get cozy while you untangle your lights!

Cozy Christmas

Cocoa is nice while I enjoy the Fireplace for Your Home on Netflix, but it can be a little rich for everyday drinking. For something equally warming, I recommend mulled cider. Mulling spices make some of the best smells on the planet, and they go great with the piney smell of the Christmas tree. This will make your home smell like a cozy Christmas cabin. To make mulled cider, just pour some good apple juice or cider into a saucepan. Add a tangerine, either pierced with cloves, or sliced. Also add a couple of whole star anise, a good tablespoon or so of allspice berries, and two or three cinnamon sticks, cracked. I like to add some ginger to my cider as well, because I like the kick. Add a little wine, if you like, and bring the whole pot to a gentle boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, and strain. If you need an extra pick-me-up, bourbon, rum or brandy will all blend beautifully with your cider.

Cozy Christmas

Of course, the Christmas season isn’t just about cuddling. December has only just started, and I already have three parties on my calendar. Hot cider works nicely at a quiet dinner party or a bonfire, but for a traditional Christmas soiree, I’d say that punch is best. It can be made in large batches, so the host doesn’t have to tend bar, and it makes a festive and stylish centerpiece. There are a lot of ways you can go with your punch, but I think it’s nice to keep it simple. For this one, simply pour a whole bottle of sparking white wine (Prosecco, Champagne, whatever!) into your punch bowl. Add a cup of cranberry juice cocktail, half a cup of vodka, and a squeeze of lemon or orange juice to taste. I like to freeze a bag of cranberries and throw them into the bowl, too. They help keep the punch cold, and they add a festive flair. I also recommend setting your punch bowl on top of a bowl of ice or some freezer packs wrapped in a napkin or towel to keep it chilled.

Cozy Christmas

Whatever you’re drinking this holiday season, I hope you are with people who love you, or at least a cat that doesn’t mind sharing the room with you. Happy holidays to you and yours.

California Wine Harvest Celebration

California Wine Harvest Celebration

As if the beautiful weather, colorful trees, and pumpkin recipes weren’t enough to make us love Fall, it is also wine harvest season! Claire gets in on the wine harvest celebration every year, and she’s here to tell us all about it. Grab a glass and join us as Claire takes us on a little wine tasting!

It can be difficult to remember sometimes that nearly everything on our tables comes from a farm somewhere. Most of us buy our groceries from supermarkets, far away from their farms of origin. In a post-agrarian culture like ours which mercifully makes hamburgers possible, but which disconnects us from the rhythm of growing seasons, we can sometimes forget that autumn is also the harvest season. The symbolic cornucopia that graces our Thanksgiving greeting cards has lost its significance for most of us, but for those few who still tend the field or the flock, this is one of the busiest times of year. Agriculture is California’s biggest industry, and though we are the country’s leading producer of fruits and vegetables, I am personally most fond of the vineyards.

Wine

I grew up in a family of alcohol-appreciators, especially when it came to wine.

My parents aren’t exactly snobs, but they’re not too far off. Wine I remember visiting my aunt and uncle in San Francisco with my parents once when I was a kid, and they took us up the Sonoma Valley to taste at Ravenswood and Gundlach Bundschu. I was too young to drink, but I still remember the trip quite clearly. Fast forward something like 20 years, and naturally, the first time my mom came out to visit my home in California, my then-boyfriend and I took her wine tasting. At her request, we visited the Sextant Wines tasting room. An hour later, my boyfriend and I were slightly tipsy, packing up a case of wine and signing our first wine club membership. Being a wine club member affords us some privileges, like discounts on bottles and free tastings, and best of all, discounted tickets to winery events. We joined Sextant in the spring. That fall, we got married at city hall and we celebrated with our closest friends at the annual Sextant lobster boil. Since then, Pier and I have gone to the event for our anniversary dinner every year.

Every October, right in the middle of harvest, the hard working crew at Sextant changes pace for one week. They clean up their working area and turn it into a beautiful outdoor escape, lit with café lights and surrounded by working wine barrels. They invite their members to join in their harvest celebration with fresh lobster and prawns, and they open bottle after bottle of their fall releases to pour for us. We look forward to this event every year, and it never disappoints. I absolutely love lobster, but I love lobster and Chardonnay even more. And I love lobster and Cabernet Sauvignon the most!

We are indeed privileged to be so close to the Wine vineyards here and to have access to the incredible wines that are coming out of this region, but the world is getting smaller and smaller every day. Only 40 years ago, the rest of the world scoffed at the idea of Californians becoming vintners, but now the Sonoma and Napa Valleys are some of the most respected wine regions in the world. What I’m getting at here is that quality wines can come from anywhere, and anyone; even those of us who stock our wine racks at the supermarket can have access to really excellent bottles of wine at nearly any price point. There are hundreds of tasting guides out there, and though I am an enthusiastic drinker of wine, I don’t flatter myself that I can offer any fresh insights that the experts may have missed. All I need to know is that my meal is merrier with a bottle of wine on the table. So what do you look for in a bottle of wine?

La Croix – A Refreshing Drink Alternative

La Croix – A Refreshing Drink Alternative

Like seemingly everyone else in the U.S., I have become fairly obsessed with La Croix, a delightful sparkling water that comes in a variety of flavors. I’ve had to cut myself off recently, as the shame of burning through two flats of it in one week was a bit more than I could handle. So of course Claire is writing about La Croix this week. It’s fine; I can handle a little temptation (no I can’t). I can’t talk about this anymore. I’ll be stocking up at the grocery store if you need me. Claire, refresh us with your sparkling wit (and water)!

When Labor Day was first conceived, the idea of labor unions was still a relatively fresh one, and somewhat controversial. Celebrating the American worker, taking time to remember that the nation runs on the backs of hard working men and women was a revelation. Like most holidays, I think a lot of the original sentiment has disappeared in our remembrance today. What’s left of the holiday is a day off from work, the reason for which that most people aren’t completely sure they understand, but the weather is nice, so what the heck, it’s a three-day weekend. I have to work on Saturday and get my week’s errands done on Sunday, so for me, Labor Day mostly means that I will be sitting through another backyard BBQ with some of my husband’s work friends that I may have met once or twice a few years back. You might assume that I would prefer to drink my way through an event like that, but in fact just the opposite is true. I’m planning to remain fully sober so I can hop into my car and skedaddle as soon as it doesn’t seem impolite.

If I’m not drinking beer or cocktails, I will need to substitute in an alternative beverage. In the face of a hot afternoon among strangers, I am not interested in drinking something sugary and dehydrating like juice or soda. If I stick to water, I’m afraid my boredom will be too obvious to my hosts and someone will try to pour me a drink. I need something fun and refreshing and light in calories to make up for the three hot dogs I plan on inhaling. I need to feel like I’m back in Michigan, floating around the lake on that giant unicorn with a cold drink in my hand.

I need La Croix.

La Croix

As a Midwestern girl, I have been delighted to see several of my favorite regional beverages hit the national market, including Vernors Ginger Soda, which I love for nostalgic reasons and because I am not a traitor to my home state, but secretly, Vernors will never be my favorite ginger soda. Faygo brand sodas were a staple of my terrible diet in high school, but their reputation has since been tainted by the fanatical devotion of the Insane Clown Posse, so who even cares about Faygo anymore. La Croix’s emergence into America’s consciousness over the last decade has been the most delightful to witness by far. These lightly flavored sparkling waters have fizzed their way into the hearts and homes of consumers across the country, and there is nothing in my California grocery store that thrills me more. Though most stores don’t stock all of the brand’s twenty flavors, the three most important flavors have become fairly available in most grocery stores, and those flavors are of course lime, pamplemousse (grapefruit), and most wondrous of all, coconut, and I’ll fight anyone who says different.

These sparkling waters are perfect La Croix on their own, but they also make fabulous mixers. I have been extending the life of a delicious but too-sweet pineapple Jarritos by adding just a small pour to a tall glass of coconut La Croix. The lime flavored is so gentle and versatile, it’s great for basically all cocktails, but I also like to add just some fresh or frozen fruit to make a pleasant warm-day beverage. The grapefruit flavor is a little more tart than the lime, and it is actually perfect with just a little bit of mint and a splash of gin, but of course, I’m leaving the gin at home this weekend. Honestly, my favorite way to drink La Croix is any flavor poured over ice, and then I like to chew on the little ice bits at the end. I haven’t decided which flavor I’ll bring with me to the BBQ, but no matter which I choose, it will be sublime, because each can I open sends me right back to the lake, where I know I truly belong.

Poptails – Boozy Frozen Pops for Grownups

Poptails – Boozy Frozen Pops for Grownups

Poptails! If you don’t know what that means, Claire is here to explain, and save your face from melting this summer. I can’t believe this never occurred to me. After all, I enjoy booze quite a bit, and I really hate being hot. This is only natural. Let’s join Claire for some grownups-only frozen treats!

Summer has officially begun. The temperatures are reaching record highs, and my air conditioning has been running at full tilt. I could go on about it, but frankly, even I am getting pretty sick of hearing myself talk about the weather. It’s time to accept the seasonal realities of my life here and just thank my lucky stars that I don’t live in Phoenix, where I hear it has reached nearly 120°F. In any case, even though it’s becoming increasingly hard to avoid talking about it, this post is not going to be entirely about the heat, as I have actual things going on in my life this week.

On Friday, my husband Pier underwent a little surgical procedure that has had him laid up for the past week. He can’t lift anything over 8 pounds, so I’ve been helping him settle into a couch nest during the day with a little bed tray table and his lap-top, and distracting the cats from trying to climb into his lap every 20 minutes. He isn’t in a ton of pain, but the Tylenol and bags of frozen peas he’s been using don’t quite cover the discomfort, so I’ve decided to add booze to his regimen. Over the weekend, it was easy; we just drank margaritas and watched movies and played card games. Now that the work week is back on, though, I’m not home during the day, and he’s not quite as comfortable with drinking all day by himself. Luckily, I have concocted a brilliant triple-threat plan to tackle the heat, the pain, and the day-drinking stigma with one solid blow:

Frozen pop cocktails. Or POPTAILS, because who doesn’t like a good portmanteau?

A simple google search will yield dozens of recipes for alcoholic pops, and it can be fun to get a little fancy with it, but in my experience, a recipe isn’t always necessary. The rules to poptails are simple and few. 1) If it tastes great as a cocktail, chances are good that it will taste great as a poptail. 2) If you want a solid pop, your mix cannot exceed 20% alcohol. Not that a boozy slush treat isn’t also good, but it’s not quite the same experience. 3) Frozen pop molds are also fun, but not always necessary. A disposable plastic cup actually makes a great mold, and all it takes is a little push on the bottom to free the poptails from the cups. With these rules in mind, I set out to the grocery store to find things that I thought would taste good with booze in them.

Poptails

I started with fancy-pants juices. Naked and Odwalla and Bolthouse Farms make nice, thick juices that are packed with fruit, so they have a lot of flavor. A little vodka or rum would be easily disguised under the richness of one of those, so I picked out a couple of options. Next, I picked up some sweet tea, because I know my man is a sucker for an Arnold Palmer, and I happen to have a bottle of homemade limoncello in my liquor cabinet. As I headed away from the juice aisle, I caught a whiff of the bulk coffee section, and my next poptail idea hit me. My favorite wake-up drink is coffee heavily spiked with Bailey’s Irish cream, so that was a no-brainer right there. Lastly, a couple of summers ago, I ran across this recipe for creamy margarita pops, and I’ve been dying to try them out ever since, so I grabbed a bag of limes and some plastic cups.

Poptails

With the exception of the margarita poptails, I didn’t use any recipes, so I just measured out at least one cup of base beverage to one quarter cup of alcohol for each mixture. I ended up mixing strawberry banana juice with tequila, mango juice with vodka, coffee with Bailey’s, and sweet tea with limoncello. The two juice mixtures turned out ok, but next time I try those, I’ll dial the alcohol back a little further, because they did not freeze very well. Even after 24 hours in the freezer, they were still a little soft. The other two flavors froze perfectly, and Pier even texted me at work today to tell me how much he enjoyed the Arnold Palmer-pop. The margarita pops also turned out fabulous, and fully worth the time I spent juicing my 10 limes.

Poptails Done

These treats are super fun to come home to after work, and super fun to eat all day while you sit on the couch playing video games. Ten out of ten, would recommend. I’m already scanning the door of my fridge for more poptions.

 

Hostess Gifting Etiquette

Hostess Gifting Etiquette

Do you often find yourself wondering what to take along for hostess gifts? Well, Sarah has all the answers and then some regarding hostess gifting etiquette, plus lots of ideas for different occasions. Someone invite me to a party so I can use all this new-found knowledge. Sarah, teach us all how to be the best guests!

By this point, we’ve basically mastered the art of throwing a good party. But how do we become the best, most thoughtful guests? Host/hostess gifts are a great way to make a good impression on new acquaintances or show a friend your appreciation for throwing and inviting you to a great party. Parties can be expensive, from elaborately decorated Halloween parties to rare wine tasting get-togethers — between offering food, beverages, and entertainment, the costs can add up! Even if everything is already on-hand, the effort of cleaning and preparing to have people over carries a cost as well, an investment of time and effort into providing a great experience for friends and family.

Today, let’s talk about hostess gifts, and when it’s ok to bring something home with you after the party is over.

I grew up in a tight-knit family that often holds parties, and I noticed that my mom and dad usually had something extra packed in the car to bring to the host as a way to say thanks. An extra bottle of wine, a bar sign for the basement, a stack of printed photos, really anything that could be extended with the words, “I thought you might like this.” I internalized the gesture to the point where I almost always have an extra “something” on-hand when I hit the door of a party.

What to Bring

Hostess gifts can fall into two categories. One is something you bring with the intention to share it with everyone at the party (separate from a dish if you’re attending a potluck). The other type of hostess gift is something you select with your host in mind, something they’ll enjoy but that might not be used at that party. It’s important to know your host while selecting a gift — if he’s not a whiskey aficionado, whiskey stones may not be a perfect choice. I belong to a few subscription box clubs, and when I receive something that’s not to my taste – blush, Dr. Who jewelry – I save it without opening it to be used as a gift in the future. Some of these become hostess gifts.

A great many of my friends enjoy wine, so when I see decorated wine glasses in colors or patterns that make me think of them, I pick those up to be used as hostess gifts. My brother and his fiancé recently brought me a functional Underwood typewriter they had picked up at an antique shop because they know I collect old typewriters. I was delighted at something so thoughtful to show they’d been thinking of me. A guest at a party I recently threw brought a box of Keurig coffee, which I thought was particularly thoughtful. He a) knew I owned a Keurig and b) knew people would be drinking coffee the morning after. Even if we didn’t open his box of coffee, it would help replenish what we provided.

  • If you want to be extra thoughtful, bringing a bottle of Irish whiskey to a St. Patrick’s Day party, or another themed gift is a great idea.
  • Gift ideas for the barflies can be wine glasses, whiskey stones, a new flavor of bitters to experiment with, a bottle of something you think they’d enjoy, fancy cherries, a drinking game with any necessary equipment.
  • Cheese boards makes great hostess gifts for your friends who loves to entertain.
  • Gift ideas for bookworms are new journals, pretty pens, fandom-themed accessories or decorations, a book by an author you know they enjoy.
  • Gift ideas for almost anyone include a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers, fancy candy, a framed photo or new picture frame, scented candles, Girl Scout cookies.

When to Take It Home/What About Consumables?

So you brought your host/hostess a nice, consumable gift and the party is over. What now? There are a few ways to go from here when it comes to the territory of do you take the rest home? I tend to fall on the side of leaving everything I brought besides my own belongings and whatever cookware was used to transport my dish. I know these things belong to me; I selected and brought them with the intention of taking them home again.

Unless pressed by the host, anything that has been opened stays at the party house. Several things are going to be inconvenient to transport back home anyway (ice cream, half a bottle of wine), and the point of a gift is that it’s given for keeps. Anything unopened depends on how well you know your host, and sometimes, the size of the party. If I bring Girl Scout cookies to a dinner with friends and there is half a box left, I’ll insist on leaving them unless my hostess tells me to take them home. If I bring a nice bottle of port to my best friend’s house and we don’t end up opening it, I’m probably going to take it home. If I bring bags of chips to a big house party that don’t end up opened, I’ll leave them there. I’ll also leave leftover beer in the fridge, and the rest of the bottle of wine. I’ll take home the bottle of gin I brought to make myself (and my friends) cocktails.

As you can see, this leaves a somewhat grey area. Generally, if you don’t know the host very well, bring absolutely nothing that you have designs on taking home. If you know the host very well, don’t just take your unopened whatever and leave — mention that you’ll bring it back next time, or offer to leave it if you don’t mind parting with it. Having a brief discussion can remove any residual guilt of, should I have taken that home?

Presentation also has a lot to do with what’s ok to take home with you. If you wrap a hostess gift in a bag, or hand it to your hostess upon arrival, it’s officially a gift you’re not taking home. If you bring out a bottle of something in the middle of the party for everyone to share, it leans more toward the area of something you take home at the end of the night. These are social cues, and every circle of friends and family is different. Learn to read the parties you attend, as well as the people you’re partying with, to best navigate these situations in the future. Remember that a thoughtful, fun guest is one who gets invited back!

What are your go-to hostess gifts? What are the most thoughtful hostess gifts you’ve received? Who wouldn’t like whiskey stones, right?

Home Bartending – Basic Bar Gadgets and Classic Cocktails

Home Bartending – Basic Bar Gadgets and Classic Cocktails

Just in time for the weekend, our Cocktail Queen, Sarah, is back! This week she is sharing with us some basic bar gadgets plus how to use them to make three classic cocktails. I own all of these bar gadgets, but I have never used any of them (well, my muddler has been used to break up ice a few times, but I don’t think that counts…), so I think it’s high time I graduate from pouring bourbon and opening beer. Let’s see if Sarah can teach me a thing or two about making real, grown-up cocktails! You can come along for the lesson, too, and we’ll practice our new-found bartending skills together.

So let’s talk classic cocktails. You don’t have to be a film noir star to be able to enjoy an old fashioned, but you will need a few basic bar gadgets to help craft your masterpieces.

I’ve been expanding my own collection of home bar gadgets as of late, and my cocktail game has never been stronger.

The bar gadgets in question today are:

Bar Gadgets

Cocktail Strainer

This should fit perfectly over a pint glass or other shaker, allowing you to strain ice and any other bits you’ve mixed into a fresh glass.

Muddler

We will get into the finer details of proper muddling in a later post, but this is great for crushing ingredients before adding alcohol – we’ll be using it to make old fashioneds really easy to make.

Stirring Spoon

This is surprisingly helpful, especially when you are stirring a cocktail in a tall pint glass. Your average spoon won’t make it all the way down to the bottom, and the slender, spindly handle maneuvers more easily around bulky ingredients (believe me – I was as surprised as you that a FANCY SPOON is a great bar gadget).

Channel Knife

This is the most technical tool we’ll be using today. The best tutorial I’ve ever seen on cutting twists is here. It demonstrates three easy ways to make a fancy-looking garnish. I like the channel knife because I LOVE gadgets, but it’s also handy if you aren’t making a lot of drinks or don’t have a use for fresh-squeezed lemon. Twists cut with a channel knife are also a little more delicate-looking than ones done with a vegetable peeler, making for extra fancy. I found the bulky handle of the channel knife easy to control once I had practiced a bit. Oh, and the bonus citrus zester on this one is nice to have on-hand. Pro tip – have friends over for “practice cocktail night;” it is VERY fun.

So on to actually making these bad boys. Today, we’ll be delving into Negronis, Old Fashioneds, and Cosmopolitans. Negronis are probably the most obscure on that list, but my sources say they’re coming back in a big way as of late. There are a few special ingredients you should have, both to have a nicely stocked home bar, as well as to impress your guests.

The well-stocked bar will contain:

Sweet Vermouth

(the red kind)

Angostura Bitters

(Peychaud’s are also acceptable)

Campari or Aperol

I, personally, have found that the bitterness or orangeness of Campari is not something I prefer to be able to taste in a cocktail, but Aperol is another bitter alcohol that I find palatable. Either of these is going to be a bright orange bottle, giving your cocktail an unmistakable color. One bottle of this will last you quite a while, since it’s rarely called for in drinks, but its presence in your home bar will make you look like an esoteric expert.

Fancy cherries

It might seem silly to spend $20 on a jar of cherries, but these will last you a good long time, and Luxardo is the bartender’s gold standard cherry. I tried several fancy cherries for this post, and the thick syrup of Luxardo helps this guy stand up to a boozy drink. I promise you can taste the quality. Woodford Reserve also makes a decent cherry for slightly fewer dollars.

The drinks!

Bar Gadgets

Old Fashioned

  • 2 sugar cubes
  • Angostura bitters
  • Seltzer or water
  • Bourbon whiskey
  • Orange
  • Cherry

Drop 2 sugar cubes in a heavy-bottomed glass (they’re actually called old fashioned glasses for a reason!) and shake a few dashes of bitters on them.

Add half an orange wheel and a cherry.

Pour a splash of seltzer or water in the glass. Seltzer is going to lighten this drink up in a surprising way if you’ve only ever had these with water before. It’s a nice change of pace that I encourage you to try even once.

Mash gently with your muddler. The sugar cubes should no longer be cube-shaped, and your fruit should have released some of its juice, but don’t pulverize the fruit.

Add ice. The giant fancy ice thing that’s a trend? The reasoning behind it is that the bigger the ice cube, the less surface area it has compared to several smaller ice cubes. So you get the same amount of chill factor with more time to drink before the ice has completely melted or waters down your drink too much.

So add your ice, then 2 parts whiskey. I used my trusty Bulleit Bourbon, which has lately been housed in a fancy schmancy decanter and looking very stylish. Stir it gently and let it sit for a few moments before sipping. Garnish with an orange wheel and a fancy cherry (snacks with drinks are always appreciated by me).

Bar Gadgets

Cosmopolitan

  • Sweetened lime juice
  • Vodka
  • Lemon
  • Triple sec
  • Cranberry juice

In a cocktail shaker, start with ice. Any ice is fine here, since we’re going to shake this guy.

Add 1 part sweetened lime juice.

Add 1 part triple sec.

Pour in 2 parts cranberry juice.

Finish with 3 parts vodka, and shake thoroughly for about twenty seconds – your shaker should be cold to the touch.

Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Bar Gadgets

Negroni

  • Campari or Aperol
  • Gin
  • Orange
  • Sweet Vermouth

In a pint glass or shaker, start with ice.

Add 2 parts gin.

Measure 1.25 parts sweet vermouth and pour it in. (Note to purists – I reversed the proportions of Campari and sweet vermouth to match my own tastes. Traditionally, you’re adding more Campari than sweet vermouth, but I preferred it this way)

Add .75 parts Campari.

Take your long-handled stirring spoon and stir this for about twenty seconds, or long enough that you feel silly stirring. This is going to make sure your drink is cold.

Strain into a glass. This can be served up (no ice) or given some ice cubes to keep it company. Garnish with an orange twist.

Bar Gadgets

Which drinks should I mix up for you next? Do you have an obscure bar gadget that you’ve never used?

Seasonal Rosemary Cocktails

Seasonal Rosemary Cocktails

I don’t know about you, but a nice stiff drink always helps me get through the holidays! Sarah W. (already known for her holiday-appropriate drink pairings) is kind enough to share with us a fabulous recipe for a simple ingredient that will jazz up your seasonal cocktail game. I sure am glad it’s almost 5 o’clock, because these gorgeous cocktails are calling my name. Pour us all a drink, Sarah!

Oh man, guys. It’s officially holiday season. I love gift-giving, I love decorating, I love putting up my Christmas tree well after Thanksgiving… and I love seasonal flavors. I am a sucker for anything cranberry-flavored or festively-named when I go out in the winter. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that when it comes to craft cocktails, this year everyone’s talking rosemary. Which is such a good idea; it pairs with almost any fruit flavor you can think of for winter – apples, cranberry, citrus – and is also a great seasoning for poultry, so your drink goes with your turkey dinner.

But let’s go further than simply garnishing a drink with a cute little Christmas tree-like sprig, and get that amazing (and strong) flavor into our seasonal cocktails. I’m talking simple syrup.

Simple syrup, like bitters, is one of those things that seems like a fancy bar ingredient that would be impossible to make or use properly at home. But, because I’m nothing if not an over-reacher, I wanted to try my hand at crafting some seasonal cocktails with it. I’ve seen bottles of simple syrup go for eight bucks at the grocery or liquor store. Not my style. I did the tiniest bit of research, and wouldn’t you know it, simple syrup is made by boiling equal parts sugar and water. Eight bucks for sugar water! Armed with that knowledge, I decided to steep mine with rosemary for a unique flavor that would hopefully elevate my homemade attempt at seasonal craft cocktails.

Simple syrup only keeps for a few weeks, which can be a concern if you don’t drink very often. So in one of my brightest moments of clarity to date, I’ve devised three seasonalcocktails – whiskey, gin, and vodka – that will almost guarantee you use a whole batch of simple syrup at one party. Rosemary has strong flavor. Each cocktail uses ¼ ounce, and a batch of simple syrup yields about a cup. Eight ounces in a cup, do the math – this syrup should make you 32 drinks, so plan your holiday shindig guest list accordingly! So let’s get to the crafting of these actually pretty easy holiday cocktails.

Rosemary Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 sprigs rosemary

Every recipe using rosemary I saw online told me to smack the sprigs of rosemary against my palm to release the flavor. I felt a little silly, but I did this.

Throw your ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to a boil.

Let boil 5-8 minutes, then remove from heat.

Fish out your rosemary sprigs. If they’ve fallen apart at all, you can run the syrup through a sieve, but I didn’t have any problems just removing the rosemary and pouring my syrup into a mason jar. You can use a clever little glass bottle, or any number of syrup storage devices. Anything that seals and fits in your fridge. Let cool. Simple syrup can be made ahead of time and stored so it’s not piping hot from the pan while you’re trying to mix cocktails.

Seasonal Cocktails

Thorny Winter Sun

  • 1 ½ oz. Vodka
  • Juice of 2 clementines (about 2 oz.)
  • ½ oz. Lemon juice
  • ¼ oz. Rosemary simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Pour into a new glass, add 2 large ice cubes, and garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Seasonal Cocktails

Cranberry Patch

  • 2 oz. Whiskey  (use good whiskey/bourbon – you can really taste it in this drink)
  • ½ oz. Sweet vermouth (the red bottle)
  • ½ oz. Cranberry juice
  • ¼ oz. Rosemary simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a lowball glass. Stir for about twenty seconds. Add ice if you like it. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Seasonal Cocktails

Rosemary Twinkle

  • 1 ½ oz. Gin
  • ½ oz. Sweetened lime juice
  • ¼ oz. Rosemary simple syrup
  • Club soda to top
  • Brûléed apple slice to garnish*

Combine gin, simple syrup, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Pour into a highball glass and add ice. Top with club soda and give a gentle stir. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary and a slice of brûléed apple.

*Brûlée your apple! I used a honeycrisp apple, Seasonal Cocktails the very best of autumn harvest (in my opinion). Slice your apple and remove seeds and core. I cut a tiny notch into mine to help it grip the lip of the glass. Press cut edges into sugar, then fire with a brûlée torch (or broil for about five minutes). Let cool a few moments so the sugar sets and doesn’t drip, then stick on the edge of your glass. This looks really impressive, tastes really good, and isn’t difficult. If your sugar gets a little bit burned, the sweet and tartness of the apple does a really good job covering it up. This is a garnish you can serve with confidence!

Seasonal Cocktails

I hope these cocktails make your next holiday gathering as legendary as the party I’m throwing in my mind right now. Happy holidays to all, and if you devise any rosemary cocktails of your own, let me know about them!

Printer friendly recipes: Seasonal Rosemary Cocktails

 

Halloween Roundup – Spooky Foods and Superstitions

Halloween Roundup – Spooky Foods and Superstitions

Halloween is more than just costumes and candy – there are tons of spooky foods and stories to share, too! We love trying new recipes and hearing new scary stories, so if you’ve got some to share, send them our way! And, check out our roundup of past Halloween posts, plus a few extra superstitions we’ve come across since last Halloween.

Last Halloween we compiled this fun list of food-related superstitions, and they were so interesting, we decided to dig up some more!

  • Salt sure seems to carry some bad luck. Besides the well-known superstition about spilling salt, in many cultures it is also considered bad luck to pass salt hand-to-hand. So if your dinner guest asks you to pass the salt, make sure you set it on the table in front of them instead of putting it directly in their hand!
  • Chinese legend has it that for every grain of rice left in your bowl, you will get a freckle or mole on your face! I wonder if you can leave one piece strategically behind to get that Marilyn Monroe look.
  • Refrain from eating peanuts at any type of performance – supposedly it gives the performers bad luck. This one has to be completely debunked by now because of circuses, right?
  • Don’t sit at the corner of the dinner table or you will be single FOREVER! Oh, the horror! Too bad the corner seat is the most convenient for sneaking scraps to my cats… (P.S. Today is National Cat Day!)
  • In Italy, if you spill alcohol, you are supposed to dab a bit of the spilled sauce behind your ears to bring good luck. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to keep the booze gods on my side, so I will be adopting this one for sure. Plus, smelling like champagne is never a bad thing.

Speaking of wine, grab a glass of spooky Halloween-themed vino and get ready to carve your pumpkins. We’ve got some handy tips and tricks for making a fabulous jack-o-lantern! Finish off the night with these to-die-for (ooh spooky!) Deep Fried Pumpkin Pie Bites if you’re not too full of candy!

Happy Halloween from all of us at Butcher Block Co.! We hope you have a frightfully good time with many treats and minimal tricks!

Halloween Wines Are Spooky Good!

Halloween Wines Are Spooky Good!

I feel like Halloween is really sneaking up on us this year. Can you believe we’re halfway through October already?! I haven’t given a single thought to decorating, costumes, or candy (yeah right…I love candy!). I’m not going to be prepared, but Sarah W. is here with something that will at least get me into the right frame of mind: Halloween wines! Themed booze just has a way of setting the mood! Sarah, spook us into the Halloween spirit!

Greetings from the crypt. It’s getting close to Halloween, which means candy, costumes, and limited edition wines, if you are anything like me. The perfect glass of wine helps me plan my costumes, resist that candy, and hopefully tastes good, too!

Halloween has been a lot of fun my whole life. Growing up, my family lived six houses down from the town square, so there were a lot of houses packed closely together, which made for excellent trick-or-treating. My mom used to go through 20+ bags of candy, turn her light out, wait for my brother and me to get home, and then make us go through our buckets for candy we didn’t want so she could keep handing treats out to kids at our doorstep. The first year in my house, I bought 15 bags of candy and hoped it would be enough – I thought Halloween was always the way it was growing up. I barely got through seven bags, and ended up bringing the rest in for my coworkers the following Monday. Lesson learned! Having some grown-up treats helps pass the time during the lulls. That’s where the wine comes in!

I rounded up three Halloween-themed wines and put them to the test.

Some were more trick than treat, but I’d say these three are a fairly well-rounded bunch, with something for every red wine drinker. I’ve found that Halloween wines tend to most often be available as a red, since that’s, you know, blood and guts and Haloween-ish. If you’re hosting the neighborhood parents, whip up a cheese board so you have something to snack on while you’re waiting for the kids to return with your candy (that’s how that works, right?).

Apothic Dark

Apothic has been coming out with limited editions Halloween Wine regularly now – this is a great thing. Apothic is great at blending wines – the original Apothic Red is the go-to wine for my closest friends and me when we get together for a wine night. It’s guaranteed at least half of us will bring the same bottle. Apothic Dark has a heavy, rich taste that is somehow more muted than the original. There’s a smoky undertone at the finish that is almost bitter. There’s a sweetness that is hard to pinpoint, but some kind of dark fruit flavor is involved. I was strongly reminded of a merlot when drinking this, which isn’t my favorite varietal. But it’s certainly smooth and drinkable, with any dryness coming at the end, almost after you swallow. This one won’t give you heartburn. You want to drink Dark with the middle and back of your palate – bringing this forward in your mouth makes it taste more acrid.

Rating: 3 spooky ghosts

Halloween Candy Pairing: 3 Musketeers Strawberry or Raspberry M&Ms – a fruit/chocolate combo balances this out

Rest in Peace

Halloween Wine This wine is a new one to me, and I was possibly most excited for it since red blends are my favorite. This is the most sour of the three, and although the tasting notes on the bottle mention boysenberry and raspberry jam, I didn’t find this very fruity or jammy. Maybe for a moment as this first hits your palate – there’s definitely a brightness to it that sharpens to a spice as you drink. Leather, cedar, tobacco, pepper, and black tea are also mentioned, and these are the flavors I can definitely taste. The taste of pepper and black tea is more noticeable to me in this wine; it lingers on the back of your palate. The consistency is thin, while the flavor is robust, somehow. I understand the notes on leather and cedar, even if they’re hard to explain. There are definite earthy notes, which is surprising for such an acidic wine. This one grows on you the more you drink it.

Rating: 2-1/2 black cats

Halloween Candy Pairing: Dark chocolate – a midnight Milky Way would mellow this one out

Vampire

This is a Cabernet Sauvignon, not a red blend, Halloween Wine a fact that I noticed when I got home. Vampire has a juiciness to it that is a) extremely appropriate given its name and b) very hard to describe in terms of drinking wine. Maybe it’s best to characterize the juiciness by the absence of smoke, bitterness, or sourness. Tasting notes on the bottle suggest blackberry, dark cherry, and oak. I am not hit over the head with the fruit level, but it’s tangibly there, while the oak doesn’t dry this up to an undrinkable level. This is a wine for storytelling and deep conversations. It’s mellow enough to drink a lot of without noticing how much you’re drinking, with dryness coming right as the wine hits the middle of your mouth. This is another one to taste with the middle and back of your palate. This also finishes with some slight bitterness, but not enough to be off-putting if you’re a regular red wine drinker.

Rating: 5 werewolves

Halloween Candy Pairing: Red Vines licorice

 

Is your house busy with trick-or-treaters on Halloween? What’s your favorite limited edition anything? Should they make more Halloween-themed white wines? I could only find one, and it didn’t look good to me, so I passed.

Cinco de Mayo Recipes

Cinco de Mayo Recipes

Cinco de Mayo is a holiday to celebrate Mexican heritage and culture. And like any celebration it is best with food! Are you ready to celebrate? Head out for some authentic Mexican fare or stay home and whip some up yourself. We’ve got you covered in the food and drink department!

Chow down on this fantastic Shrimp Cocktail while sipping a Simple Margarita.

shrimp

Or, if you’re feeling a little fancy, this Hibiscus Margarita is a real winner!

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a Hibiscus Margarita

Here we have a lovely little salsa that makes a great appetizer. Football Food

What’s your favorite dish to make for Cinco de Mayo?

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