A Proper (and Improper) Mint Julep

Some people have fancy silver Julep cups passed down through many generations.  I have canning jars.

Some people have fancy silver Julep cups passed down through many generations. I have canning jars.

Towards the end of April I start getting all nostalgic about Kentucky Derby’s of my youth, singing (well, warbling) “My Old Kentucky Home,” and the weeks of debauchery Louisville celebrates leading up to the big day.  I’m getting misty eyed just thinking about it, but my friends here in Utah don’t quite get the appeal.  There’s a lot to love about my adopted mountain state, but a tradition of extended whiskey-soaked revelry is just not one of them.  And don’t y’all EVEN tell me Pioneer Day rallies the same hedonistic enthusiasm.  Just stop it.  Now.

Doesn't every 18 year old go through a phase when they want to be a great travel writer?  I read this the summer between high school and college and it blew my mind.  And gave me all sorts of ideas...

Doesn’t every 18 year old go through a phase when they want to be a great travel writer? I read this the summer between high school and college and it blew my mind. And gave me all sorts of ideas…

What’s Derby like?  Well, if you haven’t already, it’s a moral imperative you read Hunter S. Thompson’s 1970 essay, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.”  It’s a marvel of sports reporting and travel journalism wrapped up in complete and utter sublime bullshit that stands the test of time more than forty years later.  And it’s Hunter S. Thompson drinking whiskey for three straight days.  See, nothing like Pioneer Day.

My secret to a fantastic Mint Julep?  Don’t kill your mint!  When I see someone grinding mint with a mortar into the bottom of a glass I just cringe.  It makes the mint bitter, and plus all of those little mint pieces invariably get stuck in your teeth and who wants that when you are wearing bright red lipstick and a fabulous hat?  A pert spank will do, instead, if you make minted simple syrup a day in advance.  You’ll love this stuff:  in addition to making superlative Juleps, minted syrup is perfect in Mojitos, iced tea, lemonade, and Arnold Palmers.

Minted Simple Syrup

In a big bowl or quart glass pyrex measure, add 2 cups boiling water to 2 cups granulated sugar.  Mix with a wooden spoon until sugar is completely dissolved.  Meanwhile, place 4-5 big sprigs of fresh mint in a quart-sized Mason or other lidded glass jar.  Once the sugar syrup is cool enough to touch comfortably with your fingers, pour over the mint.  Cool to room temperature, place the lid on the jar, and set in the refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight.  Remove mint leaves, and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Minted simple syrup.  Boozemongering at it's finest, my friends.  You will use this freakalicious syrup in everything!

Minted simple syrup. Boozemongering at it’s finest, my friends. You will use this freakalicious syrup in everything!

A Proper Mint Julep

2-3 sprigs fresh mint

2 oz. Kentucky Bourbon

2-3 oz. minted simple syrup

“Spank” a sprig of mint between your hands (as if you are clapping), place in the bottom of a chilled silver Julep cup.  Fill the cup to the rim with crushed ice.  Slowly pour over the ice at the same time 2 oz. Kentucky Bourbon and 2-3 oz. minted syrup.  Spank another mint sprig and add as a garnish.  Gently stir the cocktail with a long handled stirrer until combined.

*Julep purists look away now.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you! 

I love making Juleps with Rye whiskey, too.  It gives them a little more bite, and is a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the mint.

How pretty is that?!  The Strawberry Julep is perfect cocktail for a dinner by the grill, backyard bash, or lazy afternoon.

How pretty is that?! The Strawberry Julep is perfect cocktail for a dinner by the grill, backyard bash, or lazy afternoon.

An “Improper” Strawberry Julep

I made this cocktail for my girlfriends who complained that a traditional julep was too strong.  Meaning, they don’t like the taste of bourbon.  Sigh.  Convinced that I could make a bourbon-based cocktail they’d like, I threw this baby together.  Now everybody’s happy.

2 sprigs fresh mint

2 very ripe strawberries (plus an additional one for garnish)

1 ½ oz. bourbon

2 oz. minted simple syrup

Splash of club soda

In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle two small very ripe strawberries until they are smooshy.  Add bourbon and mint syrup, one sprig of mint, and 2-3 cubes of ice.  Shake about 5-6 seconds.  Strain cocktail into a highball glass or Mason jar filled with ice.  Garnish with a sprig of “spanked” mint, a strawberry sliced almost in half to perch on the rim of your glass, and a splash of club soda if desired.


Mmm-mmm-mmm Mojito Ice Cream

Creamy zesty velvety goodness in 5... 4...3...2..YUM

Creamy zesty velvety goodness in 5… 4…3…2..YUM

Utahns are crazy for sweets, especially ice cream, frozen custard, and frozen yogurt.  I make this treat for my Mormon girlfriends when they’re feeling a bit subversive and rebellious.  It contains two whole tablespoons of rum!  As tempting as it is to add even more (and believe me, I’ve tried) going heavy handed on the liquor in this and most ice cream recipes messes with the freezing point of your concoction and you may end up with a gloppy mess instead of a smooth rich scoop.  Save that extra booze for your cocktail, instead.

mojito_ic_ingredientsMojito Ice Cream (makes 1 quart)

2 large eggs*

¾ cup sugar

2 cups half-and-half

1 cup heavy or whipping cream

½ cup frozen limeade concentrate, thawed

2 Tbs. white rum

2 tsp. peppermint extract

Zest from 1 lime (reserved until the very end)

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until light and fluffy (2 minutes on med-high speed).  Keeping speed constant, whisk in the sugar a little bit at a time, and continue whisking until completely combined and pale yellow (about 1 minute more).  Reduce speed to low, and then slowly pour in the half-and-half and cream.  Whisk to blend, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the lime zest, whisk until thoroughly combined.

Transfer slowly to your ice cream maker.  Freeze and process following the manufacturer’s instructions.  When the ice cream is about done, sprinkle in the lime zest and processes another 1 to 2 minutes to distribute evenly.

Due to the high butterfat content of this ice cream, it benefits from storage in a case freezer if you’ve got one.  The texture

One of our five hens off to work (she has a very determined stride, no?)

One of our five hens off to work (she has a very determined stride, no?)

will be a little softer if it’s stored in your regular kitchen freezer but it will be equally delicious.

*This recipe includes raw eggs, which I have an abundance of from my healthy backyard hens.  You can use

pasteurized eggs from the supermarket if you’re worried about salmonella and other cooties.

Garden Stratigraphy “Cup” cakes

I have a love/hate relationship with Pinterest.  Yup, I’m on it, but I’m a lurker and re-pinner, not a post-er.  After a while, all that glossy perfection starts making me feel more than a little frustrated, insecure, and, well, like a big underachieving loser.  Who has TIME to do half of this stuff, let alone stage, light and professionally photograph it?  Especially since as you’ve probably already noticed, my photographs are strictly amateugarden cupcakesr hour, usually taken with my iPhone so I can also send ‘em right to Instagram or Facebook, or to be used in a completely inappropriate text message to a girlfriend.

My not-so-little anymore guy, Sprite, recently celebrated his 9th birthday, so months in advance he and I were pouring through Pinterest together trying to figure out what to make for his birthday cake (one of the three “B’s”: biscuits, brownies, and birthday cakes; reasons for which I will willingly and without whining, bake).  He didn’t like this, didn’t like that.  This, from a kid who is one of the perhaps 5 children in the United States who doesn’t like cake, but he is picky about what it will LOOK like.  Then, one day flipping through the TV channels he saw The Pioneer Woman making potted plant cakes for her daughter’s birthday.  “We should do that mom,” he said, “but completely different!”

This is what he came up with, no thanks to Pinterest.  He and his friends ate them up and asked for seconds.  So there, glossy perfection.  Take that.   

 Garden stratigraphy “cup” cakes

The boys loved these cakes because they were served in clear plastic cups so you could see all of the gooey crazy gummi goodness all the way to the bottom.  I loved it because it was insanely easy to clean up later; no mess from plates and scooping ice cream, and since 9 year old boys are notoriously difficult to make sit down and do anything for an extended period of time, it was perfect for a backyard party where they could wander around and eat at the same time.  You can use your favorite chocolate cake recipe for the cupcake layer, I used my standard go-to recipe to which I’ve been sworn to secrecy (sorry! I’m not going to burn a girlfriend over cake now matter how much y’all beg!)


12 chocolate cup cakes

15 chocolate sandwich cookies, crushed up in a ziplock bag

3 packages Gummi ‘worms’

1 package Gummi ‘mushrooms’

About two-thirds of a ½ gallon container of lime sherbet or mint chocolate chip ice cream

Sprite adding the finishing touches

Sprite adding the finishing touches

1)      Prepare your favorite chocolate cake recipe to make 12 big cupcakes (you’ll have a little bit of batter left over to pour into a small baking pan for ‘bonus cake.’  Mmmm, bonus cake.)

2)      Bake and let cool completely for 4-6 hours or cover overnight.

3)      Set out ½ gallon of lime sherbet (Sprite’s choice) or mint chocolate chip (Tim Collins’ choice) ice cream to soften.

4)      In each of 12 clear plastic cups (we used 9 oz. cups) layer the following from the bottom up:

2 gummi worms

About 2 teaspoons of crushed cookies

1 cupcake, gently smashed down into the cup

2 more gummi worms (around the edge of the cup so you can see them)

2 more 2 teaspoons cookies

About 1/4 to 1/3 cup softened sherbet or ice cream, smoothed to cover the top of the cup

Top with 2-3 gummi mushrooms

5)      Place all of the cakes on a tray or baking sheet and keep in the freezer until ready to serve.  Let sit out about 5-10 minutes before serving to soften up the cake layers.

If you wanted to get all Pinterest-y, these would also look really cool in Mason jars.  Just sayin’.

Date Night: Gorgonzola stuffed dates with Whiskey Salami

My challenge, should I choose to accept it: 

My gal Saketini and her husband Smoked Porter have invited us over for dinner tonight with another couple, our friends IPA and Lemon Drop.    Saketini’s not given us much direction on what she’s making, but has asked Lemon Drop and me to bring appetizers.

What would A Bourbon Gal do?  Damn, I love a good food challenge.

Here are some other considerations before I put the knife to the board:gorgonzola and salami stuffed dates

1)      I didn’t see this text until half of the group conversation had gone by, so I’ve only got 2 hours left to prepare something.  Plus I still need to take a shower and get myself prettified.  Saketini and Lemon Drop always look gorgeous, so this is no small undertaking on my part (No baking or searing, check).

2)      We’re walking through our lovely neighborhood to their house, so my apps need to be backpack portable.  (Nothing fragile, check)

3)      My gal Lemon Drop will probably bring artichoke dip, so my contribution needs to pair well but not appear to be competitively spreadable or dippable.  (Stick to finger food or something skewered, check)

4)      It should go with the undoubtedly fabulous beer selection that Smoked Porter and our buddy IPA—who writes the fantastic beer blog Hoss on Hops—will assemble.  (Strong flavors, check)

Luckily, I sent my budding 11- year old gourmand, Tim Collins, to our neighborhood Emigration Market for some cheese and charcuterie the other day.  He’s a huge Creminelli Salami fan, and brought back one of their delicious uncured salamis and a nice chunk of imported Gorgonzola.  We have a few ounces of salami left and a nub of cheese.  I could totally do a quick nibbles board accompanied by some fruit and crackers, and that would be perfectly lovely if predictable and, quite frankly, sparse.   I’ve also got jars of my own go-to preserves and chutneys, but they’ve all had those a million times, and I’m down to only 3 ounces of gloppy-looking cream cheese to pour them over.  Plus, I’m out of crackers.  And good-looking fresh fruit.  And now, time!

What I need are some perfect little bites to share.  Something sweet and savory to balance Lemon Drop’s dip and crackers, but salty will go great with the beer.  And a bit hearty, too.  We’re feeding a firefighter and a beer blogger here; they need some sustenance!  Damn, this challenge is getting better every minute.  It’s like a real-life version of Chopped!  But without the ugly chef’s coats, sympathetic Ted Allen, lots of yelling “behind,” snarky eye rolling and side-commentary, and the dishy Marcus Samuelsson (sigh).  And I don’t have a blast chiller in sight.

The result?  Here, my friends, is your perfect 4-ingredient, pantry & fridge-scrounged, no baking required, highly durable, and very tasty bite (and I had time to make my hair look fabulous):

 Gorgonzola-stuffed dates with Whiskey salami

 1)      Slice 10-12 extra large dried dates in half length-wise; remove pits.  Place pitted side up on a platter.

2)      In a small bowl, mash together with a fork 3 oz. softened cream cheese and 4 oz. crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (also terrific with Maytag Blue)

3)      Remove casing from 3-4 oz. of Creminelli Whiskey salami (or other hard dry uncured Italian salami, any will do) and slice on the bias into very thin ovals. Slice ovals in half again to make half-oval strips.

4)      To assemble: scoop up about 1 teaspoon (this is very approximate folks, I don’t know how big your dates are!) of cheese mixture and gently scrape it with the back of a spoon into the center of your date half for the filling.  Top with a salami strip or two.  If you are packing these to travel, place a crumpled sheet of parchment paper between layers and pack gently in glass or plastic lidded containers.

Superlative Slope-side Bloody Mary*:

Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary

Spring brings along with it the dubious refined culture of the mid-day cocktail.  Think mint juleps, Planter’s punch, mojitos, and of course the hangover brunch standards:  Mimosas and Bloody Marys.  In my Memphis-based undergraduate days, we trained during much of the year to get ready for  studied diligently, then barely survived enjoyed a series of late semester parties, culminating in a music festival called “Rites of Spring.”  Awfully pagan for a church affiliated private liberal arts school, hmmm?  Good times.

I’ve moderated my own daytime drinking propensity in the decades years since in response to semi-responsible adulthood: graduate school, keeping a job, parenthood, PTA meetings, those goddamn pesky “empty” alcohol calories that every fascist nutritional resource tells you will haunt you and your belly fat thighs ass liver and muffin top mid-section forever.  And they do, my friends, they do.

But there are certain events in one’s life that call out for the return of day drinking an occasional mid-afternoon cocktail in its inherent subversive naughty splendor:  Super Bowl Sunday.  Mardi Gras.  The Kentucky Derby.   Volunteering at your kids’ school for “Pioneer Week” field trips.  Independence Day.

And, here in my adopted mountain home:  Spring Skiing.

Thanks to Brighton Ski Team for this great photo of the racers!

Thanks to Brighton Ski Team for this great photo of the racers!

Case in point.  Our family unit ventured to Grand Targhee, WY last weekend for an extended ‘Spring Fling’ two-day ski race event in which our older son, Tim Collins, competed.  We met up with about 10 other families from our home mountain and awesome guests.  We arrived at the mountain at 8:30 am each day to get our kids outfitted with their race speed suits, their racing bibs, their surly attitudes, and their appropriately-waxed skis.  Then the parents took turns trudging up the slope to set up a ‘base camp’ at the race finish—a good 200 yards straight uphill.  My man The Macallan valiantly delivered tent poles, coolers, and backpacks.  I mercilessly nagged supervised, and tried to finish my coffee before it cooled.

Waiting at the tent each morning after a couple of runs by noon, were the combined efforts of a few but mighty genius minds:  Gallons (yes, gallons!!) a pitcher of super-peppery homemade Bloody Mary mix,  several quarts of hooch hidden in duffle bags a bottle of Five Wives Vodka (Utah’s own artisan spirit), and some jalapeño-stuffed green olives for garnish.   Served in red Solo cups  non-breakable slope-side beverage containers, this was, my friends, the nectar of the ski gods.  Ullr and Loki were undoubtedly looking after us in their own pagan fashion:  Rites of Spring, now all grown up.  Kinda.

Slope-side Bloody Mary (makes 1, multiply as needed for your crowd) 

When I’m at home, I add a bacon-salt rim to the glass, just ‘cause you can and it’s delicious (Hello?  Bacon + salt !?).  Also great with Old Bay Seasoning.

In a cocktail shaker with 3-4 cubes ice add:

2 oz. vodka

One 5.5 oz. can original V8 juice

½  tsp. fresh lemon juice

¼ tsp. prepared horseradish

2 dashes Worcestershire sauce

2 dashes hot sauce (I like Crystal)

1 tsp. Okra pickle juice or green olive juice

A couple of generous cranks of fresh-ground coarse black peppercorns

A generous shake of bacon salt or Old Bay Seasoning

Shake until combined.  Pour the whole shaker into a heavy glass or red Solo cup.  Garnish with pickled okra and/or several skewered green olives.

Until next ski season, SKOL and Slainté, my friends! 

*Please imbibe responsibly, and for cripes sake watch your sodium levels.  We’re not getting any younger, you know.  Geez.