A Bourbon Gal in Utah

cocktails, cookery & occasional domestic badassery

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10 AM Green Drinks

SNAP Dragon A zippy flavor bomb for any time of day.

SNAP Dragon
A zippy flavor bomb for any time of day.

Snap Dragon

2 oz mezcal

1 oz snap pea shrub*

2 dashes lime bitters

0.5 oz chilled white tea

Thai basil garnish

To a shaker filled with ice, add mescal, snap pea shrub, bitters and tea. Shake it like a Polaroid picture. Add a bigass ice cube to the prepared glass, and strain the mezcal mix into the glass, and garnish with a big sprig of Thai basil. I also made this beaut of a bevy with vodka and tequila blanco in place of the mescal with great results.

*Snap pea shrub: to a blender add 6 oz. each whole sugar snap peas, white sugar, and champagne vinegar. Zap it until the mixture is smooth and evenly ground up. Place snap pea slurry into a lidded jar and place in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove solids, and keep refrigerated until ready to use (up to 4 weeks). Shake well before using.

The story behind the drink….

Veggie nachos and a zippy jalapeño margarita at Zest Kitchen & Bar. Check out Instagram with the hashtag #10AMcocktails to see what all of us ate and drank for brunch at Zest! YUM.

Veggie nachos and a zippy jalapeño margarita at Zest Kitchen & Bar. Check out Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #10AMcocktails to see what all of us ate and drank for brunch at Zest! YUM.

I’ve been inspired by some really delightful green cocktails around town lately! The lovely folks at Zest Kitchen and Bar invited a group of local food bloggers (who also happen to be some badass lady-friends) over for brunch, which starts at 10am at Zest with cocktails- something that in Utah only happens that early with a bar license (21+ only). So, leave the kiddos at home and head on over there for some really delicious beverages. You’ll never know the menu is vegetarian and gluten-free! I felt so healthy for the rest of the day, right up until I made pulled pork for dinner.

I included Zest in my Top Six Picks for great sips for my feature in this year’s SL City Weekly Dining Guide “Sip Well” along with favorites Bar X, Under Current Bar, O.P. Rockwell in Park City, Lucky 13 Bar & Grill, and BTG Wine Bar.

Sugar House Slingshot

Sugar House Slingshot: silver rum, charred lemon, honey-thyme syrup, cardamom bitters, and salt.

Sugar House Slingshot: silver rum, charred lemon, honey-thyme syrup, cardamom bitters, and salt.

Sugar House Slingshot

2 oz. silver rum

1 oz. honey-thyme syrup*

1 oz. charred lemon juice**

2 dashes cardamom bitters

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake like crazy. Rub the rim of a highball glass with charred lemon, and dip half the rim into coarse salt (I used Utah-sourced RealSalt). Fill glass with fresh ice, strain drink into glass over ice. Pop a little club soda floater on top, if desired. Garnish with thyme and a slice of charred lemon.

The story behind the drink:

This week I was thrilled to hear that my friends over at Sugar House Distilling got the go-ahead for sales of their latest release, a molasses distilled silver rum. Rum gets me all excited for spring imbibing: tiki drinks, mojitos, anything umbrella embellished and slurped through a straw. Slings are usually short cocktails made with liquor, citrus, sugar, and water, so this is a riff on that theme but using a honey-thyme syrup, instead of sugar.

ImageThis freaky unseasonably warm weather lately means we’ve uncovered the grill for the season—no doubt we should anticipate snow any day as a result of this arrogance—and I always throw on a few extra halved lemons when I’ve got some free space on the grates. The juice of these charred lemons makes a spectacular smoky sour mix, and in this case kicks some serious ass paired with the sweet-spicy notes of cardamom bitters. I’ve been playing around with making homemade cardamom bitters, but until I tweak that to satisfaction, you can find several varieties (like Fee Brothers) at specialty stores.

*To make honey-thyme syrup: in Mason jar mix ½ cup honey with ¼ cup water just off the boil; stir until honey is dissolved. Drop in a generous sprig of fresh thyme. Cool to room temp, remove thyme. This syrup will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

**Charred lemon juice: Halve a bunch of lemons. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of sugar over each cut surface. Grill, cut side down, over high heat for about 5 minutes, or until lemons are smoking and well charred. Remove from heat and rest at room temperature for an hour or two. Keep several lemons aside for use as garnishes, and juice the remaining charred lemons, straining out seeds and excess pulp. Juice will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

Quick and Easy Irish Soda Bread

Every year I get requests for an Irish Soda Bread recipe, and this is my favorite. It’s a wonderful quick bread I should really make more often. Great slathered with butter and accompanied by a nice dram of Irish Whisky, of course. Enjoy!

A Bourbon Gal in Utah

Image Photo from the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread. These folks are serious.

Every year I make Irish soda bread for St. Patrick’s Day –slathered with butter and served, of course, with corned beef and cabbage—and I think, “Geez, this stuff is so easy to make.  And super tasty.  I should make it more often!”  Then, I drink too many Irish Coffees, run out of buttermilk*, and forget all about this stroke of brilliance until I start seeing corned beef in the cases at Costco in late February.

As many of y’all know, I really only bake under duress (excepting the “3-Bs”: brownies, biscuits, and birthday cakes).  All that measuring, weighing on scales, perfect ratios.  Accounting for altitude.  Ugh.  There’s a wonderful bakery down the street from my house to which my very responsible children Sprite and Tim Collins can go as my representatives and pick up…

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Oh! You Sexy Beets Dirty Martini – a hot & pink cocktail

Hot Pink Dirty Martinis. My kind of Valentine’s cocktail!

A Bourbon Gal in Utah

SexyBeetsDirtyMartini

Why I don’t dine out on Valentine’s Day, and you shouldn’t either.

I avoid dining out on Valentine’s Day.   With few exceptions, restaurants are packed with starry-eyed lovers ordering off of prix fixe menus with cloyingly sweet and often watery cocktail offerings, cheap champagne and the Cosmopolitan being the most egregious of these, in my book.  The servers and kitchen are overtaxed trying to run a fast turn-over service to a bunch of people who are too busy groping each other under the tablecloth to really enjoy the meal.

My  girlfriends Sangiovese and Saketini argue that Valentine’s Day could be considered the epitome of the asshat guy holiday – he can be a complete douche to his girlfriend/wife/partner all year, but shell out some bucks for awful milk chocolates and dinner out and he’s –at least temporarily- redeemed himself.  Why can’t a guy just be nice, generous and considerate all the…

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A Bourbon Gal at PechaKucha

Awesome PechaKucha poster designed by the uber talented Tim Ross Lee.

Awesome PechaKucha poster designed by the uber talented Tim Ross Lee.

PechaKucha [pronounced “peh-CHA-koo-cha”] night is a not-to-be missed experience, y’all! Think of a dozen or so creative folks, each given the opportunity to present 20 images. But each of those images gets automatically advanced every 20 seconds. Presenters have six minutes and forty seconds to talk about whatever they’re currently working on, passionate about, or find interesting. There are PechaKucha groups in major cities all over the world, so look it up wherever you are and get inspired!

The next SLC PechaKucha night is September 28th, and I’ll be presenting my own sassy spin on whiskey history. I’d love to see some friendly faces in the crowd, so follow the link below and reserve your spot(s)! The show sold out within a day of posting, but I heard from the event organizers they’ve started a waiting list for released tickets.  Follow the link here for more info.

Beehive Distilling Launch Party

Super excited for my friends at Beehive Distilling, who are some stellar guys making delicious gin. I’ve been using their Jack Rabbit Gin in lots of summer cocktails, and it is some tasty booze. They’re celebrating their launch at a big par-tay this weekend at The State Room, with drinks and terrific music. It’s gonna be a blast! Hope to see y’all there, Salt Lake locals. Get yer tickets, herebeehive-launch-party

White Wine Sangria with Melon & Mint  

My guys last season. Awwwww

My guys last season. Awwwww

Nothing heralds Spring quite like baseball season in our house. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a completely shallow fan of the game. I’m not super invested in a particular team, don’t follow stats with regularity, and am an inconsistent televised viewer. But I freaking love the experience of live games. When I worked for the National Park Service based out of Boston [this is pre-kids, y’all], I traveled a shit-ton for my job as a museum consultant, and a couple of my co-workers were also big baseball fans. We’d plan our summer evenings around visiting AAA, double-A, and single-A ballparks for games. We’d get there early, buy a hot dog and some peanuts, and drink draft beers which would invariably get warm long before we’d finish them in the humid dank heat of mid-summer in say, Virginia.

Both my boys play, and my hubster, The Macallan, has been a little league coach for forever. Sure, I love watching my kids’ games, but there’s nothing quite like seeing the pros [or in the case of our town, the Salt Lake Bees, a AAA farm team for the Angels] knock out nine innings. We plan our family road trips around visiting as many MLB ballparks as we can, since we’ve made a goal of hitting every major league stadium for a game before our youngest graduates from high school.

The Colorado Rockies players were super-friendly with the kids and signed a ton of pre-game autographs. Thanks, guys!

The Colorado Rockies players were super-friendly with the kids and signed a ton of pre-game autographs. Thanks, guys!

A couple of weeks ago, we took a break from the mayhem of shoulder season [in our house, it’s the overlap of the kids still ski racing, and the beginning of little league baseball #FML – hence, taking a month off from blog-writing. Sorry!], and went to a couple of preseason games in Arizona during “Cactus League” Spring training. One of the nicer surprises of the visit was checking out the Rockies/Diamondbacks practice facility Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Those folks know how to run a badass ballpark: gracious and helpful staff, parking was efficient and easy, the practice fields gorgeous, and the Rockies players were genuinely fan-friendly and signed tons of autographs for the kids pregame. There were even complementary sunscreen dispensers located around the ballpark, with free-flow SPF 30. Nice.

32 oz. white sangria at Salt River Fields [at Talking Stick, near Scottsdale, Arizona]

32 oz. white sangria at Salt River Fields [at Talking Stick, near Scottsdale, Arizona]

As you’d imagine, I base a lot of my positive stadium experience on the adult beverage and food selection, and Salt River Fields did not disappoint. Lots of great microbrews on tap, terrific selection of ballpark standard fare as well as local nosh [fantastic street tacos and margaritas the size of your head!], and my favorite: 32 oz. sangrias. Choose red or white, mixed up with as my barely-dressed barmaid described, “wine, brandy, Sprite, and fruit juice.” Not what I’d use, but it’s an efficient and delicious vehicle for dispensing alcoholic refreshment. So, while my guys discretely ogled the halter-clad and short-short sporting drinks slingers, I appreciated the players warming up pre-game, and sipped [okay, guzzled] my humongous sangria. I find these athletes vigor, flexibility, and dedication to fitness as showcase exceptionally well in baseball pants inspiring. Very. Inspiring.

Rockies pre-game warm up. Their athleticism is inspiring. Very. Inspiring.

Rockies pre-game warm up. Their athleticism is inspiring. Very. Inspiring.

Mmmm, baseball. A little something for everyone.*

Here’s my version of white wine sangria, which is more flavor-packed than “authentic.” Mix it up on a scorching day for instant refreshment. Halter tops and tight pants optional.

White Wine Sangria with Melon & Mint  [makes about 6 cups]

1 750-ml bottle dry white wine

½  cup Melon liqueur [like Midori] OR orange liqueur [such as Cointreau]

2 Tbs. [or more, to taste] agave nectar

1 cup honeydew melon, cubed into ½” pieces

1 lemon, sliced

1 cup seedless green grapes, halved

1 10 oz. bottle club soda, chilled

6 stems fresh mint

 

White Wine Sangria with Melon  Mint

White Wine Sangria with Melon & Mint

To a large pitcher, add all ingredients. Stir gently to combine. Fill six tumblers or large wine glasses with ice, and pour sangria over ice. Smack the mint sprigs between your palms [as if clapping], to release fragrance and place a sprig of mint in each glass. Split the fruit equally between the glasses as a garnish and for yummy boozing snacking.

* Yes, I realize this is shallow and objectifying the undeniable talent that it takes to mix drinks or play major-league baseball. But this blog is about mixing drinks and enjoying all that life has to offer, not about changing the rules of society. Everybody’s got their thing.

Corny Candy Cocktail

Corny Candy cocktail

Corny Candy cocktail

Now, this is how you make a safety cone orange cocktail, my friends.  One week left until Halloween!  I love this holiday: the weather, the ancient ties to pagan harvest festivals like Samhain, the slutty costumes, the silly-themed food, and especially the outrageous cocktails.  I started a couple of infusions last week in preparation for the festivities.  The one I’m sharing now uses a candy-corn infused vodka that is shockingly hunter-vest orange.  Fabulous!  I’ll post the other one (hint: it’s called The Poison Apple, for my gal Sazerac who is dressing as Snow White) after it premières at her party this weekend.

Corny Candy Cocktail

2 oz. candy corn-infused vodka*

2 oz. blood-orange sparkling soda

Pour both ingredients over ice and stir gently.  Garnish with a couple of candy corns threaded on a toothpick (make sure they are fresh from the bag, if they are dried out they will crack right in half).

*Candy corn vodka:  Fill any sized jar about 1/3 full with candy corns.  Fill the jar up to within ½” of the rim with vodka (use the cheap stuff for this one).  Store in a cool place out of sunlight for 3 days, shaking the jar twice a day or so to encourage the candy disintegration.  After 3 days, strain the vodka through a mesh strainer to remove candy fragments, and decant into a clean glass container.  Shelf stable for about a month, refrigerate for up to one year after that.

I’ve also been writing for SLC’s fabulous City HomeCOLLECTIVE blog recently, and what a freakin’ fun gig that’s been!  To see more on their blog about a fabulous dinner by Pago chefs at Frog Bench Farm, featuring unfiltered totally fab RUTHLewandowski wines, click here.

Jalapeño-Cucumber Gimlet

Paraphrasing my ole’ buddy Cole Porter, It’s Too Damn HOT!

Jalapeño-Cucumber Gimlet

Jalapeño-Cucumber Gimlet

I was chatting with a gal in the produce section of Trader Joe’s the other day, and we were talking about Persian (cocktail) cucumbers – namely about how delicious they are and how nice it is not to have to peel them.  But, it’s also widely know that those temperamental bastards won’t last more than a couple of days in your fridge before they get moldy spots and you’re throwing them into the compost bin.

Sure, they are delightful in salads (especially with a little feta and some melon or tomatoes this time of year).  If you think they are getting borderline funky, you can slow down the decay trajectory by making a quick refrigerator pickle:  slice or sliver your cukes, then add some chopped scallions and about 2 teaspoons vinegar—I like rice wine vinegar or white balsamic—per cucumber ratio; toss to combine and refrigerate.  Add a bit of red or black pepper before serving and a pinch of sea salt.

I also like pulling out a couple to make cocktails, a few of which I’ve talked about here before.

You’ve probably seen the studies quoted that hot foods actually make you feel cooler and have natural antimicrobial qualities.  Hence, spicy food preferences in cultures living in warmer climates.  Right now, Utah’s about as hot as I can take it—and this from a gal who lived in muggy Memphis and the ‘dry’ heat of Arizona for years.  I made this spicy-cool version of a gimlet to at least give me a modicum of gracious respite last night.  It’s cool and bracing at the same time.  I like using vodka instead of gin for this gimlet recipe; it makes the jalapeño taste cleaner and brighter in contrast.  It’s fabulous with half of the martini glass rim coated in a fragrant smoked sea salt.

Jalapeño-Cucumber Gimlet

1 Persian (small cocktail) cucumber, sliced

½ jalapeño, seeded

2 oz. vodka

1 Tbs. agave nectar

Juice of 1 lime

Smoked sea salt

 

Throw the cucumber and jalapeño in a cocktail shaker and muddle the bejesus out of them with a pestle or wooden spoon.   Meanwhile, rub ½ of the rim of a martini glass with half of a cut lime, then dip in smoked sea salt (I used a Durango smoked salt for this, but it’s also great with a black Salish smoked salt).  Add the vodka, agave, and lime juice to the shaker with a few cubes of ice.  Shake like crazy.  Add a few cubes of fresh ice to your pretty cocktail glass, then strain your cocktail over the rocks.  Garnish with cucumber and jalapeño.

For the rest of September, I’ll be featuring Bourbon cocktails and recipes for National Bourbon Heritage Month!  Email, Facebook (“A Bourbon Gal”), or Instagram (abourbongal) me your requests for the next bourbon-based H.O.A.G.Y. (Help Out a Gal/Guy, Yeah?)  You can also find abourbongal on Twitter, but I suck at it.  #sorrykinda

Ratatouille. Or, How Thomas Keller Made My Life Hell

Ratatouille: The case for Smell-o-vision

Ratatouille: The case for Smell-o-vision

Ratatouille.   Conjured in savory memories, it’s a fragrant eggplant-basil-and-tomato-y meal, served with crusty bread and a big glass of house red wine at a laid-back Montmartre bistro.  It’s 1987, and I’m with my girlfriend Woodford Reserve (on the rocks with a splash of spring water) knocking around Paris.

Me (far right) with my gal Woodford Reserve's parents (Bob & Penny Miller) and their famous friends: Paul Levy, Michael Holroyd, Margaret Drabble, and Georgia Levy. England, summer 1987

Me (far right) with my gal Woodford Reserve’s parents (Bob & Penny Miller) and their famous friends: Paul Levy, Michael Holroyd, Margaret Drabble, and Georgia Levy. England, summer 1987

We were in France and England during the summer between high school and college, and thanks to her parents’ superb restaurant picks, progressive ideas and generous wallet we travelled, and ate, and drank very well on our jaunt.  Well, better than I did for many years to follow, anyway.

Paris, 1987.

Paris, 1987.

Fast forward to 2007.  Over 20 years, I’ve finally (in my humble opinion) mastered a pretty kick-ass ratatouille in my home kitchen, a fact of which I’m inordinately proud.  I revel in finding the perfect glossy eggplant, the juiciest yet firmest plum tomatoes, and most gorgeous zucchini my garden or the market has to offer.   It’s wonderful atop a graceful swirl of pasta or buttery mound of polenta; or served as I remembered it in France, sopped up from a shallow bowl with generous crusts of bread.  For the longest time, my kids thought it was just another chunky pasta sauce; and until Sprite started eating only white food in first grade, both boys ate it all the time without question.

And then along came Thomas Fecking Keller.  Mastermind chef behind the food styling for Disney/Pixar’s 2007 film Ratatouille.

Ratatouille "All Stacked Up" in the movie.

Ratatouille “All Stacked Up” in the movie.

Don’t get me wrong.  I will eat Keller’s food whenever I get the chance.  And, I LOVE this movie.  I love the theme behind it; that “anyone can cook.”  I love the message—even preschoolers get it—that great soul-and-body nourishing food is about balance and flavor and freshness, not about how fast you can get it from a cardboard container into your mouth.  I love that drinking the occasional glass of wine by reasonable adults is neither demonized nor glorified; it’s just part of enjoying a great meal.  I love that the main female character is a culinary badass and has short hair, clogs, keeps her clothes on for the entire movie, and does NOT sing a goddamn peep.

And I loved hearing my children say as the credits rolled, “Mom, let’s make ratatouille!”

I spent all day with them making it: chopping, then individually sautéing each vegetable until just al dente.  We gently folded each perfectly cooked vegetable into an enameled Dutch oven, then covered it with parchment paper and slowly roasted it at a low temperature for most of the afternoon.  My boys took one look at the glorious results and said, “what’s THAT? ”

They were expecting Thomas Fecking Keller’s version:  as they call it “Ratatouille, all stacked up.”  Which I eventually figured out how to make, and it’s also pretty kick-ass.  But now they expect EVERY thing in our tiny kitchen to come out plated as beautifully as a goddamn Bon Appétit feature spread.  When I told this story to my buddy French 75, he said “what did you expect?  You brought this shit down on yourself.”

And I totally did.

I entirely support the notion that you eat with your eyes first, and that a beautifully composed plate should be at every meal served at our table.  It really doesn’t take that much longer to orient your vegetables attractively and put a little saucy swirl and some herbs on the plate, and I think in the long run it makes great food more attractive, accessible and approachable for more people.  Especially the shorties.

I just wish I didn’t feel backed into a corner to do so by a little rat named Remy, who’s possessed by a plating genius.  Fecking Keller.

Thomas Keller (left) constructing the ratatouille dished used for the film.

Thomas Keller (left) constructing the ratatouille dished used for the film.

Ratatouille “All Stacked Up”  (serves 4)

Keller’s version is a gorgeous layered casserole, which he then deconstructs for plating.  That’s beautiful and awesome, and is a great way to make this recipe, too.  I use 4” round mini springform pans with removable bases to bake the vegetable layers in, which the kids love to pack themselves for individual flavor preferences.   I also add mozzarella cheese and sometimes a sprinkling of Panko to this dish, even though it’s not at all authentic (hell, nothing about this is authentic, so why stop there?)   It just makes it more gooey, crunchy, and yummy.

4 Tbs olive oil (plus more for drizzling)

3 cloves garlic, sliced

1 medium eggplant

1 medium zucchini

1 medium yellow squash

3-4 plum tomatoes

1 red bell pepper, cored

1 medium onion

2 medium balls fresh mozzarella (or 1 cup shredded mozzarella)

1 small bunch basil leaves (12-16 large leaves)

½ cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs) – optional

Ratatouille towers, ready to go in the oven (I hadn't added the Panko yet).

Ratatouille towers, ready to go in the oven (I hadn’t added the Panko yet).

Slice the eggplant into very thin (as thin as possible) rounds.  Spread in an even layer on a rimmed cookie sheet and sprinkle generously with kosher or sea salt (about 2 tablespoons).  Let sit for about 20 minutes, then turn over the eggplant slices and sprinkle with a bit more salt.  Let rest for another after 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice all of the remaining vegetables cross-wise with a very sharp knife or mandolin, making your rounds as thin as possible.  Sprinkle all of the vegetable slices with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Slice the mozzarella balls into thin rounds (or crumble) if using fresh cheese.

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the eggplant slices from the rimmed cookie sheet, and squeeze gently to remove as much liquid and salt as possible.  Don’t worry about completely removing the salt from the eggplant slices, it will add great flavor to your dish.   Wipe all the excess liquid from the cookie sheet.

In a large cast iron skillet, heat about 2 Tbs. oil over medium heat.  Add garlic slices and stir constantly to avoid burning; when the garlic starts to soften and brown (but not burn!) remove it from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside in a small bowl.   In batches of 3-4 slices of eggplant per time (so as not to crowd your skillet), add eggplant to the oil and cook gently until slightly softened on each side and just starting to brown.  Repeat with remaining eggplant slices, adding more oil if needed.

Slightly oil the rimmed cookie sheet with olive oil.  Place four 4” mini springform pans WITH THE BASES REMOVED on the sheet pan, spacing equally.   Starting with a slice of eggplant on the bottom, fill each pan (or stack) with equal parts of each vegetable type and basil leaves, alternating layers of each type of veggie, and layering about halfway through with half of the cheese.  Put more cheese near the top layer, and press down gently as you go to compress the layers as much as possible.  If using springform pans, really pack those suckers full, the veggies will cook down quite a bit.  Drizzle the top of each tower with about 1 tsp. olive oil, the reserved garlic slivers, and sprinkle on top about 1 tablespoon Panko if you like a little crispy accent.

Place on the center rack of your oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until brown on top and bubbly.  Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes to let layers settle.  To plate, slide a wide spatula underneath the tower (or underneath the edge of the pan), gently wiggling to make sure the eggplant is not stuck to the cookie sheet.  Run a small sharp knife around the inside edge of the springform pan to prevent sticking, then gently slide the spatula-laden tower to your serving plate; pull the spatula free from under the tower, then pull the springform pan straight up to release that baby onto your plate.  Garnish with a drizzle of oil from the pan and a sprig of basil.

Now grab a big glass of wine – you deserve it!

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