Moonshine Layered Jello shots

Moonshine Jello shots.

Moonshine Jello shots.

That’s right y’all: Moonshine Jello shots, layered in patriotic colors and topped with exploding candy. I posted this recipe last July, but have gotten lots of requests for a re-blog and update, so here ya go.

I made the ones photographed here for a July 4th party hosted by Lemon Drop and IPA (a.k.a. Hoss on Hops) last year. They were a freaking HIT. Half I made without alcohol; those were topped with fresh cherries (to make sure the kiddos, pregnant women, recovering alcoholics, and Mormons didn’t get the boozy ones by accident).  Half were made using 80 proof white corn whiskey (moonshine) instead of the frat party favorite Everclear.   I left those unadorned until just before serving, then I scattered about ¼ teaspoon of Pop Rocks (yes! The exploding in your mouth candy!) on each shot. The combination of the whiff of Moonshine with the sweet gumminess of the Jell-O was perfectly balanced by the acoustic and sensory bang of the Pop Rocks. And nobody died from combining Pop Rocks and alcohol, so take that, urban mythologists.

As a basis for this recipe, and for help figuring out how to make the “white” layer, I turned to a Wiki-how tutorial on making Patriots football Jell-o shots.  Of course, you can substitute any colors/flavors you want, and you can always use plain old vodka if you don’t have corn liquor on hand.

This recipe makes about 35 shots, depending upon what kind of containers you use and how full you fill them.

Layered Moonshine Jell-O shots

1 – 3 oz. box blue Jell-O

2 packets plain gelatin

1 can (1 cup) sweetened condensed milk

1 – 3 oz. box red Jell-O

3 cups boiling water (divided use)

2 ½  cups clear relatively flavorless liquor (corn whiskey or vodka)

3-4 packages Cherry or Watermelon (red) Pop Rocks

To assemble your shots:

Place 35 small plastic cups on a large rimmed sheet tray.  Lightly spray all of the cups with flavorless cooking spray to reduce sticking.

Blue layer

Blue layer

For the blue layer:  combine blue Jell-O with 1 cup boiling water; stir until completely dissolved.  Let cool slightly (otherwise your liquor will evaporate from the heat- we don’t want that!!).  Add the liquor, and pour equally into small cups.  Refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until set.

For the white layer:  sprinkle gelatin packets over 1 ½ cups water just off the boil; whisk quickly to dissolve completely.  Keep whisking and add the condensed milk and ½ cup liquor.   After it’s all combined, pour verrrryyy slowly over the blue layer 2/3 the way up the cup.  Refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until set.

White layer

White layer

For the red layer:  combine red Jell-O with 1 cup boiling water; stir until completely dissolved.  Let cool slightly.  Add the liquor, and pour gently equally into small cups.  Add fruit to top at this point, if desired.  Refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until set. Don’t add the Pop Rocks yet. 

For the PopRocks Firecracker finale!  As you are serving the Jell-O shots, have guests sprinkle about ¼ tsp. Pop Rocks on their Jell-O shot right before slurping.

 

Everything was a little blurry by this time, including this shot

Everything was a little blurry by this time, including this shot

High Desert Sage Martini

You know the smell of desert sage after a rainstorm? Yup, that. In a glass.

High Desert Sage Martini

High Desert Sage Martini

High Desert Sage Martini

2 oz. Jack Rabbit Gin

2-3 dashes celery bitters

1 dash dry vermouth [seriously, just a couple of drops]

1 sage leaf, smacked lightly between your palms

Fill a martini or coupe glass with ice, and set aside to chill. To a glass filled with ice, add all ingredients except for the sage. Stir for a full minute with a bar spoon. Dump the ice out of the serving glass, and strain the cocktail into the glass; float a spanked sage leaf on top.

This year the grand total of licensed distilleries in Utah rose to a grand total of five when Beehive Distilling opened up shop here in the SLC. I wrote a piece about it for my other gig at cityhomeCOLLECTIVE, and here’s a link to that story if you want to learn more about their stuff. I’ve heard from the distillers that Jack Rabbit is trickling onto UT state liquor store shelves a few bottles at a time.

Several folks have asked me what’s my favorite cocktail made with their first release, Jack Rabbit Gin, and it’s a tie between a sage and celery bitters dry martini [above], and a cocktail made by a kickass bar man, Rich Romney, at an event I attended last weekend [they called it the “Hachi Hive,” it’s made with honey-sage syrup; “hachi” means “bee” in Japanese]. I’ll work on that recipe this week and post it as a H.O.A.G.Y. [Help Out a Gal/Guy, Yeah?], since a few people at the event with me have been dying to make it at home. It’s that good. I’ll pester my barkeep friend and get back to you, but I know it contains St. Germain elderflower liqueur and wouldn’t it figure, every state monopoly liquor store I’ve been to in the past two weeks was totally sold out. FML. So, for now, there’s the recipe for the sage martini, and I’m also working on getting my paws on some Ransom vermouth from Portland to try out another freaking delicious orange-zapped martini made by Takashi’s hottie barman, Jonny Bonner.

If you are a gin lover who really goes for big bold juniper flavors, this gin may not be your fave, since it’s got a more subtle juniper profile than many on the market. But I don’t understand why some critics out there feel compelled to get all bowed up about what’s the “best” gin. Quite frankly, I think there are enough badass gins out there now that it’s time we start thinking of having a gin repertoire, like many folks already do for whiskey. There are enough significant flavor differences that it’s worth trying a few to figure out what you like, and in what type of drink. And as y’all know, I’m all for R&D!

Shrub lovin’ (and a Cherry-lime Rickey)

Love That Homemade Shrub

Before we get into how to make your own shrubs, I’m hoping to inspire y’all with a cocktail. I recently made this one for my gal Woodford on the rocks as a long-distance birthday cheers. It’s like an upscale Sonic soda, or a cherry lime rickey. But boozier (I’m not going to say ‘better,” too, but it’s implied).

Cheery Cherry Lime Rye Rickey

Cheery Cherry Lime Rye Rickey

Cherry-Lime Rye Rickey

2 oz. rye whiskey [or bourbon]

1.5 oz. cherry-red wine vinegar shrub [recipe, below]

Juice of ½ lime

2 oz. club soda

Mint, spanked [for garnish]

Add all ingredients to a rocks glass over ice. Stir briefly (and gently) to combine without making the soda foam up. Easy peasy!

Now, y’all have probably seen lots of folks using ‘cleanse’ concoctions containing more or less the following components: water, lemon, cinnamon, some kind of sweetener [honey, agave, sorghum, sugar], and vinegar. You may even be a proponent of this stuff, yourself. The proportions differ, and everybody’s got their own soapbox about why this kind of vinegar or that works best. Or why sugar is poison, so you should only use honey. Unless you are vegan [yikes, sorry] in which case agave is the way to go. Now, if you like drinking this stuff that tastes IMHO like watered-down cat piss on a regular basis in the name of ‘cleansing,’ go right on ahead. Go, you! I doubt if it does much harm guzzling these things, and I could certainly use a bout of fasting every so once in a while. But since I’m neither a nutritionist, nor in any way a medical professional, I’m not going to touch talking ‘bout health benefits with a ten foot pole.

What’s interesting about this craze to me, though, is that it’s a recipe very close to a centuries-old tonic called a “shrub,” which Slow Food USA

Cherry Basil shrub with pink peppercorns and red wine vinegar - terrific with gin cocktails

Cherry Basil shrub with pink peppercorns and red wine vinegar – terrific with gin cocktails

claims on their “Ark of Taste” comes from the Arabic word sharab = to drink. Back in the day, folks made shrubs out of all kinds of past-its-prime shit to preserve fruits and their delicious nutrition-packed juices over the winter. By combining equal parts fruit, sweet, and vinegar [e.g. acid], they were essentially pickling the fruit in syrup form. Straining out the solids after a few days of percolating further extended the shrub’s shelf life. Let it sit out exposed to cool air, and all kinds of friendly bacteria joined the fermenting party, making for an even more flavorful—and some would claim beneficial—brew. Eventually you get a very fruity sweet-tart shelf-stable vinegar. In addition to not being a medical professional, I’m also not a chemist, so I’m going to defer to all those food scientists out there who throw around words like acidulation and acetobactator to explain how all of this works. I am a historian, so this is what I do know: Since this was all before refrigerators [and even before reliable canning], shrubs gave folks a burst of summer fruit flavor to mix up a winter diet filled with root vegetables and dried everything else.

Back in the day, shrubs got mixed in with hot water and brandy or rum to make flavorful toddies in the winter, or with colder equivalents in the summer to make the perfect sweet-tart refresher. Nowadays, you’ll see superbly mustachioed intimidatingly hip bartenders breaking out custom shrubs all over the place. But they’re dead easy to make at home, and following the recipes I’ve used—which are based on weight rather than volume, so you can make as much or as little as you want depending on what you’ve got ready to toss out—you can whip them up pretty quickly. I love ‘em in cocktails, but they also make a freakin’ spectacular NA spritzer when mixed over ice with a few glugs of club soda and a couple of tablespoons of shrub. See, the ‘cleanse’ recipe just got about a million times better. Right?

Mix strawberry-rhubarb shrub with equal parts bourbon and club soda for a pretty and pretty frickin' delicious cooler

Mix strawberry-rhubarb shrub with equal parts bourbon and club soda for a pretty and pretty frickin’ delicious cooler

M’kay, let’s get shrubbin.

The Fruit: Pretty much any “juicy” fruit will work. Strawberries, strawberry-rhubarb combo, berries of any sort, apricots, peaches, cherries, or pomegranates. You can make them with ‘sweet’ veggies like sugar snap peas, carrots, or beets (just juice them and use the juice by weight). These have all made an appearance in Mason jars stashed all over my house. As long as the fruit is clean and free of moldy spots, it can be smushy, ugly, and unpeeled. I don’t even pit the cherries or apricots first. See? Dead. Easy. I’m thinking I’ll experiment with some melon shrubs [for those I’ll have to take the rind off, I reckon] this summer, too, and let you know how it goes.

The Sweet: In colonial times, the most widely available sweeteners came in the form of honey, or raw/unrefined sugars. No doubt somebody’s made shrub with sorghum or molasses, but it seems to me like that would overpower the fruit, which kind of cancels out the desired tart-sweet effect. Most shrub recipes I’ve seen call for regular white sugar, which really does let the fruit flavor sing through all the vinegary syrup with the least amount of interference. Final call? It really depends on what you want the sweet flavor notes to be like, and go from there. Think of pastry combinations that work well as a baseline, for example honey-peach. Whereas cherries flavor up better [IMHO] with sugar.

The Vinegar:  Apple cider vinegar is the base acid for traditional shrubs, but red wine vinegar, light balsamic vinegars [use the cheap stuff, really], white wine vinegars also make terrific shrub. I stay away from regular white vinegar: it’s brash and overpowers the fruit flavor. This is also a terrific time to experiment with random wine-herb vinegars you’ve been hoarding: think tarragon with peaches, or sage with blackberries. YUM.

Keep it Clean: Just like with home canning, the first rule is to keep it clean. Run any jars/glass containers you’ll be using through the sterilize cycle of the dishwasher right before use, or rinse with a sterilizing solution [like you find at the beer brewing store]. The fruit can be ugly as sin on Sunday, but remove any wormy bits, moldy spots, stems, and leaves. I’d recommend using only a small amount of ingredients the first few times you shrub (about a cup of fruit, etc.) until you find out what flavors you like. Nothing more disappointing than spending a shit-ton of cash on farmer’s market fruit gold, local honey, and artisinal vinegar only to find out you hate the end product.

Measure up: Get out your trusty food scale: it’s the quickest and easiest way to make shrubs with however much fruit you’ve got on hand. You’ll be using the ‘tare’ feature if you’ve got it, or just jot down a little note as you go to remember your weights. Weigh your fruit after cleaning and prep – you’ll be surprised how much a package of berries will vary by weight depending on how dehydrated they got during shipping, and how much fruit is removed in the stemming/hulling process. Let’s say you have 8 oz. of fruit. That means you’ll also need 8 oz. of sweetener and 8 oz. of vinegar for your recipe. Taste as you go and add more acid if you’d like, but never have less acid than fruit/veg or you’ll run into trouble of the bacterial kind.

Hot Shrub: Sounds kind of naughty, hmm? Recipes for hot processing shrubs are more common, which makes sense since by boiling together the ingredients your chances of killing any nasty bacteria in the mix improve. Simple: put all the ingredients [equal parts fruit, sweet, and vinegar, by weight] in a non-reactive pot, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes or so, or until the fruit breaks up and the mix has a syrupy consistency. Cool to room temp, strain through a double layer of cheesecloth or a jelly bag, bottle, and refrigerate. This type of shrub will live contentedly in your fridge for months.

Cold Shrub: This is the method folks used back in the day when they had cool root cellars or spring houses to start their shrubs, but you can duplicate the process in your fridge. Place equal parts fruit and sweet [by weight] in a non-reactive large jar or bowl. Cover loosely with a tea towel—to allow for all that airborne yeast and good bacteria to join the party—and refrigerate for two or three days. Stir it up every twelve hours or so to encourage the sugar to dissolve, or the honey to bond with the fruit juice. Add an equal part vinegar, stir again, and place back in the fridge covered with the tea towel for another day. Strain through a double layer of cheesecloth or a jelly bag, bottle, and refrigerate.

Don’t sue me on this one: I actually keep my shrubs in quart jars in the cellar for up to a year without refrigeration and I haven’t poisoned myself yet. So there. But I’m also the kind of gal who keeps her butter at room temperature and I don’t refrigerate my chicken’s fresh eggs, which drives my husband batshit crazy.

 

Some shrubs, infusions, and bitters working away in the cellar

Some shrubs, infusions, hard ciders, and bitters working away in the cellar

Get started! Here are some basic combinations.

Peach, honey, white balsamic vinegar

White peach, sugar, tarragon white wine vinegar

Cherry, sugar, red wine vinegar

Strawberry-rhubarb, turbinado sugar, apple cider vinegar

Blackberry, a couple of sage leaves, sugar, red wine vinegar

Apricot, one dried med-hot chile [like a guajillo], agave, apple cider vinegar

Sassy Orange Julep

Bourbon-Campari Sassy Orange Julep

Bourbon-Campari Sassy Orange Julep

I’m going to cut straight to the chase on this one–well, as much as I ever do–because it is so good. So refreshing. So few ingredients! Plus, I abso-freaking-LOVE Campari cocktails of any kind, and this is like a classic Boulevardier cocktail, but lighter, fruity-er and served on the rocks. If you still have some of that minted syrup left over from Derby weekend, now, my friend, is the time to use it up or pitch it out because pretty soon you’re going to have that nasty sugar gel bacteria glob baby growing in the middle of your syrup. Nasty.

This is also really good made with plain old simple syrup (equal parts granulated sugar dissolved in very hot water until combined, then cooled) too, but add a bit more mint to your shaker.  No need to muddle the shit out of your mint; you’ll get plenty of flavor by just adding it to the shaker and letting it beat up against all that ice while you shake it like a Polaroid picture.

Now you’ve got that song stuck in your head, too.  You’re welcome. Sh-sh-sh-sh-shake it.

To a cocktail shaker add:

1.5 oz bourbon

0.5 oz Campari

4-5 leaves fresh mint

The juice of ½ fresh orange

1 oz simple syrup (BONUS if you’ve got minted simple syrup)

Enough ice to almost cover your ingredients

Shake it shake it shake it until frothy.

Pour into a pint mason jar or (in this photo) Belgian beer glass.  Pretty!  Add another 1-2 oz. club soda if it’s particularly hot day and you are pacing yourself.

Darby’s Bourbon Pie

Let’s get this straight right from the start: This is NOT a “Derby Pie” [trademarked beyond belief] recipe

This is NOT D#rby Pie. It's got bourbon, and chocolate, and pecans. My kind of pie.

This is NOT D#rby Pie. It’s got bourbon, and chocolate, and sorghum, and pecans. My kind of pie.

This week’s H.O.A.G.Y [Help Out a Gal/Guy, Yeah?] has been a long time coming.  Last year right after the Kentucky Derby, my girlfriend from college Peach Mimosa* wrote to me:

 Hey, Bourbon Gal! Do you have a good ‘Derby Pie’ recipe aka bourbon chocolate pecan pie? We have a new pie store in town & they said they’ve never heard of it — so I want to give them a good recipe for next year.

See, she’s originally from Louisiana, but is now living in Ohio—like, far northern Ohio—where they don’t get access to yummy treats from just across the river like their southern Ohio compatriots. Most folks outside of the tri-state area of Kentuck-Oh-Indiana don’t realize just how much cultural back-n-forth goes on across the Ohio River regardless of modern map boundaries. In fact, the Cincinnati [Ohio] airport is actually across the bridge in northern Kentucky, where apparently land was cheaper and people are less sensitive to the noise. Or, just aren’t as many of ‘em with political clout to complain about it.

A 1949 edition of "Out of Kentucky Kitchens," one of my favorite vintage cookbooks.

A 1949 edition of “Out of Kentucky Kitchens,” one of my favorite vintage cookbooks.

But, back to the pie. What Peach Mimosa is asking for is a pie made by the Kearns Family, proprietors of The Melrose Inn in Prospect, Kentucky since the 1950s. Kern’s Kitchen, which registered the name in 1968, has exclusive rights to the name “Derby Pie,” and the recipe, which is about as fiercely guarded as a Mormon teenager’s chastity. It surely contains chocolate, corn syrup, and chopped up walnuts in a pastry crust, according to the inheritors of the trademark and recipe. They have taken on encroachers on the trademark—including Bon Appetit magazine and many a cookbook—in court and won dozens of times. I just read on Wikipedia that,

In May 2013, the Electronic Frontier Foundation inducted Kern’s Kitchen into their “Takedown Hall of Shame”, claiming that “the company behind the most litigious confection in America is going after individual websites that post new recipes for derby pies.

That gorgeous layer of dark chocolate on the bottom of the pie gets all gooey and mixed in with the filling while baking.

That gorgeous layer of dark chocolate on the bottom of the pie gets all gooey and mixed in with the filling while baking.

Holy shit, y’all. I’m reluctant to take on even the remote possibility that my little blog can go balls out on The Man. Friends, what we’re making here is decidedly NOT a frickin’ D#rby Pie. In fact, why don’t we just call it what my recipe is: Dark Chocolate-based Bourbon Pecan Pie—which has lots of things not in the contested recipe, and more things that I like. It’s something I’ve tweaked over the years, using a combination of recipes from two of my favorite southern cookbooks: “Best of the Best from Kentucky,” edited by McKee & Moseley (1993), and “Out of Kentucky Kitchens,” by Marion Flexner (1949). Oh, and last year I started making it with a combination of sorghum and agave syrup, instead of dark corn syrup, at the request of my friend Pink Lady, whose family is all up in my grill about corn syrup in, well, anything.

Here y’all go!

Darby's Bourbon Pie: ready to go in the oven!

Darby’s Bourbon Pie: ready to go in the oven!

Darby’s Bourbon Pie

1 unbaked pie crust

½ cup good quality dark chocolate, chopped

1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cup sugar

3 eggs, beaten

¼ cup agave syrup

½ cup sorghum [or molasses]

½ teaspoon kosher salt

3 Tbs. bourbon

About 1 cup whole large pecan halves

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place unbaked pie shell in a large, deep, pie pan. Spread chocolate in an even layer in the bottom of the pie shell. Cream together butter and sugar. Slowly add eggs and all other ingredients EXCEPT for pecans. Pour batter [it will be runny] slowly into the shell so as not to dislodge the chocolate. Place the pecans gently onto the surface of the pie evenly [I like to make a series of pretty concentric rings starting from the outside, going in]. Bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes. The pie will still be a little jiggly. Let sit at room temperature for at least one hour to set slightly before serving. Traditionally, pecan pies are served with whipped cream. This one is so very sweet that I like it with a little dollop of crème fraîche, instead.

*Yes, cocktail geeks: technically a “peach mimosa” would be a Bellini cocktail. However, this one that reminds me of my friend is made with equal parts orange juice and peach nectar with a splash of peach liqueur. And, I think “peach mimosa” sounds better than “orange Bellini.” So there. Recipe soon…

I just found this sorghum supplier on the internet via Amazon.com Delicious product AND they sent it well packaged, super fast, and with the loveliest thank you note for my business. And no, they didn't pay me to say this, I just think they are wonderful.

I just found this sorghum supplier on the internet via Amazon.com Delicious product AND they sent it well packaged, super fast, and with the loveliest thank you note for my business. And no, they didn’t pay me to say this, I just think they are wonderful.

It doesn't last long in our house. Mmmm.

It doesn’t last long in our house. Mmmm.

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.

Fat Tuesday Finger Food

Three “Big Easy” Appetizers 

Our family is not great about observing Lent, but we LOVE celebrating Mardi Gras. We usually forget about Friday being meat-free [hello, bacon], and cave on our abstentions around week two. When asked why they missed so many days of Sunday School in the winter, our kids told their teachers that “everyone knows you get powder day exemptions” November to March. Don’t know if the Pope’s approved that one, but it works for us. One year, the boys decided to ‘give up’ donuts for Lent, completely undermining the only bribery that had ever worked for getting them to Mass in the first place. They are a couple of clever whippersnappers, those boys. I’m so proud.

My gal Sazerac and her yummy etouffee.

My gal Sazerac and her yummy etouffee.

But back to Mardi Gras. I’m writing a piece about The Sazerac—one of my all-time favorite cocktails—for cityhomeCOLLECTIVE , so enlisted a specialized crew of my friends to help me out with an early photo shoot last week. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a little freaky planning my holiday life about three weeks earlier than I’m actually ready for Mardi Gras, but what’s a gal to do? Well, in this case, keep the food as simple and easy to throw together as possible, with a minimum of fuss and clean-up to boot. I’m swimming in backyard eggs from my hens, so making Southern-style deviled eggs with homemade pickled okra garnishes was an easy pick. I also snagged a big ‘ol wedge of Cajun-spiced  goodness crafted by one my favorite Utah cheesemakers, Beehive Cheese, which ended up as part of an addictive filling for mushroom caps finished off in the oven right before the party. I love the savory-sweet combo of traditional Devil’s on Horseback, but changed them up a bit with Southern flavors: dates stuffed with smoked oil-packed jalapeños I put up last fall, watercress goat-cheese filling, and topped with locally-made Creminelli salumi. I’m tellin’ ya: Holy goddamn yum, y’all.

My gal Sazerac [from last Halloween’s Poison Apple party] brought fixins for crayfish etouffee and flash-fried grit cakes. She swears she just Googled “easy etouffee” and “Emeril,” and ended up with the recipe that she used and “tweaked it, maybe a little.” Well, we’re too polite to pry, but I’ll get to the bottom of this secret if I can. Oh, what I do for y’all in the name of research.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Crawfish Etouffee

Crawfish Etouffee

 

Big John’s Cajun Stuffed ‘Shrooms 

Big John's Cajun Stuffed 'Schrooms

Big John’s Cajun Stuffed ‘Shrooms

These were the hands-down hit of the party. Even my man, who never eats mushrooms, scarfed down about five of these bad boys. I’m going to start making them all year ‘round, they are that good.

24 oz. baby portabella mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed

4 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temp

6 oz. Beehive Cheese “Big John Cajun,” finely shredded [divided use]

2 scallions, minced

¼ cup minced fresh red or orange bell pepper

½ tsp. kosher salt

¼ tsp. celery salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Meanwhile, combine cream cheese, 4 oz. of the shredded cheese [save about 2 oz. for topping the mushrooms], veggies, and seasoning in a bowl using a fork to smash or in a food processor using quick on/off pulses. Divide filling between all the mushroom caps evenly, adjusting for size of the mushroom as needed. Sprinkle each cap with a bit of the remaining 2 oz. shredded cheese. Bake on the middle rack in the oven until cheese is slightly browned and filling is bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. Serve warm.

“Big Easy” Stuffed Dates

Dates with smoked preserved jalapenos, goat cheese-watercress filling, and Creminelli's "Campania" salami

Dates with smoked preserved jalapenos, goat cheese-watercress filling, and Creminelli’s “Campania” salami

I usually use some of my home-cured wild goose or antelope andouille to top cheese stuffed dates, but am plum out right now. We are huge fans of locally-made Creminelli artisan salami, and their slightly smoky spiced uncured “Campania” variety married wonderfully with the sweet dates, tart watercress, and creamy goat cheese. The smoked preserved jalapeños [from Hank Shaw’s fantastic blog] are completely optional but highly recommended.

5 oz. goat cheese, room temp

2 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temp

½ bunch fresh watercress [about ½ cup packed]

4 dozen large dates, split down one side to open and pits removed

3-4 oz. Creminelli “Campania” salami

2-3 oz. smoked preserved jalapeños, chopped

To a small food processor add cheeses and watercress, combine until smooth using on/off pulses. To each date, stuff first with a few pieces of smoked jalepeno, add about 1 tsp. [or slightly more, depending on the size of date] cheese filling. Slice salami into thin rounds, then cut each round again into 3-4 strips. Top each date with a strip of salami. Refrigerate for up to 24 hours or serve immediately.

Campania, Goat Cheese & Watercress Stuffed Dates

Campania, Goat Cheese & Watercress Stuffed Dates and Devilish Eggs with spicy okra

Devilish Eggs

Y’all know how to make perfect hard-boiled eggs with no grey ring, right? Place eggs in a shallow pan, cover with water, and bring to just a bare boil. Boil gently for one minute, then immediately turn off the heat and put a lid on the pan. Let eggs sit in the hot water for 12 minutes. Pour out the hot water, then cover eggs with cold running water and a few cubes of ice until cool to touch. Keep refrigerated until ready for use. 

Backyard Chicken Eggs. Good work, ladies!

Backyard chicken eggs make for the most gorgeous yolks!

Keep 'em coming, ladies!

Keep ’em coming, ladies!

6 eggs, hard boiled, peeled, and cut in half [reserve yolks in a separate bowl]

3 heaping Tablespoons mayo

3 heaping teaspoons country Dijon or coarse-grained Cajun mustard

Sliced rounds of pickled okra and red pepper for garnish

A few dashes of Louisiana hot sauce, optional

Smash egg yolks with a fork until fine grained and evenly crumbly. Mix in mayo and mustard, smash to combine well. Fill egg whites equally with yolk mix. Can be covered and refrigerated for up to 12 hours. Just before serving, garnish with pickled okra and pepper rounds, and a couple of dashes of hot sauce.

Devilish Eggs

Devilish Eggs

The Old-Fashioned Way

I wrote this piece for the cityhomeCOLLECTIVE blog last year for their “Cocktails 101” series. See more delicious photos from the party, as shot by Tristan Shepherd, here. Edited by the lovely and talented Amy Tibbals.

Cranberry-Clementine Old Fashioned.  Mid-century style (photo by Tristan Shepherd).

Cranberry-Clementine Old Fashioned. Mid-century style (photo by Tristan Shepherd).

It only takes one sucky Old-Fashioned to put you off this drink for life. My first introduction to the Old-Fashioned was the one served for pretty much every holiday gathering with my family. It looked like fruit vomit, and tasted like booze-tinted water. My-relative-who-shall-remain-nameless [he meant well, really] smashed great masses of fruit—orange slices, godawful red maraschino cherries, sometimes some lemon—in the bottom of a glass, stirred in a spoonful of sugar, a spoonful of grenadine, and a dash of Angostura bitters. Then he filled the glass with ice, added a splash of Canadian Club, and quite a few glugs of club soda [ladies, after all, shouldn’t be served full-strength cocktails. Psh.]. I’d smile weakly and say thank you, and then later my brother-in-law and I would scrounge for the bottle of bourbon I gave them the year before at Christmas and make our own drinks. Booze: the gift that keeps on giving.

In defense of my relatives, the aforementioned version of this wayward drink is the one that most post-Prohibition-era Americans drank, and expected to be served if they ordered one at the club. And until Don Draper’s character made it sexy again on Mad Men, nobody without an AARP card would be caught dead ordering one at a hipster bar. It’s the version I’d been taught to make at my first bar gig in the 1990s. And it’s a goddamn shame, too, because in its purest form, the Old-Fashioned is a tasty thing of beauty: just a bit of citrus, sugar, bitters, a large cube of ice, and booze. Barmen in the late 1800s started making drinks by request “the old-fashioned way” in protest against what their patrons saw as unnecessarily elaborate cocktail chicanery of fruit concoctions, fussy garnishing, and flashy shaker work. Ironically, that original Old-Fashioned recipe was hijacked after Prohibition and turned into just the sort of muddled-fruity-watery vulgarity that the 1880s bartenders had been protesting. Cocktail history, my friends, is a fickle bitch.

Many Old-Fashioned's later.... [photos by Tristan Shepherd]

Many Old-Fashioned’s later…. [photos by Tristan Shepherd]

Flash forward to now, people, and keep up, ‘cause this is where it’s going to get tricky. In today’s bourbon-is-sexy-again cocktail-crazed scene, you never know what you’re going to get if you order an Old-Fashioned. You may get a stunning—and short [I’m not gonna lie, 2 oz. of liquid looks pretty puny with only a big ‘ole ice cube keeping company]—Old-Fashioned at a place like Bar X, or as mixed up by the booze slingists of C&S Spirits. They’ll kill it, you’ll love it. Or, you could end up with my in-laws’ version at the golf club. Sucks to be you.

*Solution: start making your own. Try a few out and find what you like. Here’s a few basics to get you get started:

THE BOOZE: It doesn’t have to be the most expensive bottle on your shelf. Bourbon? Classic. Rye whiskey? A nice touch, and historically accurate. Southern Comfort? Um, not what I’d pick, but okay for a 21-yr-old frat boy. Brandy? Way sweet, but it’ll work in a pinch. Tequila? WTF, people. No more experimenting. Bottom line, I prefer a 90 proof or higher bourbon or rye for making Old-Fashioneds; make the booze the star.

THE BITTERS: You can get super ambitious and make your own artisanal bitters, and in a couple of months, if they turn out, you’ll be ready to make a drink. You can buy fancy-schmancy fruit bitters, like Fee Brothers, online, but Angostura bitters are available at most supermarkets and are a classic addition.

THE SWEET: Use white sugar, Demerara or turbinado sugar, hand-harvested by virgins, organic beet sugar, sugar shaved raw from a pressed loaf smuggled through customs from your last Cuban vacation. Sure, why the hell not. Stay away from brown sugars.  

THE FRUIT: Please, for love of all that’s holy, try to keep the fruity additions to a minimum, and make them the background notes to support the flavor of your liquor. Avoid a fruit salad that you have to slurp around to get to your drink.

THE WATER: If there’s one thing you remember when making this drink, it’s to watch your water content; a mere baby splash of club soda or water [less than ½ oz.] will open up the nose of your booze nicely, but a watery Old-Fashioned is just fuckin’ gross. If you’re pulling your rocks from an ice bucket, make sure that they’re cold and hard..not floating sadly in water. Oh, and the bigger your cube, the better. Now, let’s make drinks, shall we?

The Classic Old-Fashioned [by booze historian David Wondrich for Esquire]

Place ½ tsp of loose sugar in the bottom of an Old-Fashioned glass, then add two or three healthy dashes of Angostura bitters and ½ tsp of water. Muddle until the sugar is dissolved. Add three ice cubes to the glass. Stir. Add 2 oz straight rye or bourbon whiskey. Stir again. Twist a thin-cut swatch of lemon or orange peel over the top, add a stirring implement, and let sit for one minute. After that, enjoy thoroughly.

 

Cranberry-Clementine Old-Fashioned [a cross ‘twixt the 1880s classic and a mid-century cocktail, with a sparkly rim for festivities’ sake. I made a cranberry-rum citrus jam to use as the sweetening/fruit element, but you can totally use leftover, cold, cranberry sauce from your holiday dinner and it’ll rock, just the same.]

Rub ½ of the rim of a lowball glass with ¼ of a Clementine wedge; dip the citrus-coated rim of the glass in turbinado sugar to coat. Then, to a short glass add: juice of ¼ Clementine wedge [drop it into the glass, if you want to be like Don Draper’s daughter], three dashes bitters, ½ tsp. cranberry jam [or cranberry sauce], ½ tsp sugar. Stir with a spoon until sugar dissolves. Add 2 oz. bourbon and 3 to 4 cubes of ice, then top with an optional tiny-baby splash of club soda. Stir gently to combine, garnish with 2-3 sugared cranberries, and enter the gates of heaven.

Bloody Marys 2 Ways: Sriracha Basil Lime & Smoky Cajun Bacon

Thanks to Brighton Ski Team for this great photo of the racers at last year's Grand Targhee race.

Thanks to Brighton Ski Team for this great photo of the racers at last year’s Grand Targhee race.

Last Spring, I wrote about our [mis]adventures at Grand Targhee with my boys’ downhill race team, the Brighton Competition Team, and shared a recipe for a traditional spicy Bloody Mary.The madness has continued yet again this season, with both kids competing in alpine race events all over the place. Usually on different mountains on the same day. #FML. The Macallan has finally embraced Google calendar and we’ve synched up our lives to get the boys where they need to go.

Slope-side selfie

Slope-side selfie

Over President’s Day weekend—one of the busiest weekends at every ski resort, just sayin’ in case you are already making vacation plans for next year—my older son Tim Collins raced slalom and giant slalom at Snowbird. One of my favorite traditions of ski racing, and hell, any outdoor sporting event, is the tailgate party. In the past year, our home mountain team has paired up with Summit Ski Team of Park City and put on a seriously festive tailgating party, that is [dare I say it] the envy of other race teams. Well, at least we have the best bar and loudest cowbells.

Summit Ski Team's fantastic "GrillSki" [patent pending, I'm sure].

Summit Ski Team’s fantastic “GrillSki” [patent pending, I’m sure].

Think of moving everything from your truck ONTO the mountain at whatever resort you are visiting: tents, chairs, tables, grills, coolers, bars. You name it. A parent on the Summit team has even become the envy of pretty much every race dad in the Intermountain Division by mounting a grill on SKIS = the GrillSki. Yes, you can slide your grill to the tailgate spot. Ingenious. It’s up there with the ‘shot ski’ as best re-appropriation of old gear.

On Monday, our family’s contributions to the party were a couple of different kinds of Bloody Mary mix and an XL bottle of vodka. Each of these recipes makes about 1 quart, so increase quantities as needed.  A plastic gallon jug, for instance, is perfect for pouring mixers for a crowd. If we’ve got the space and muscle, I like bringing pint Mason jars to serve the drinks; just put ice and all of your ingredients into the individual jars and they become both the shaker and the glass. Keep all the lids on hand to seal up the jars for mess-free clean up and transport.

Bloody Mary Bar

Bloody Mary Bar

Sriracha-Lime-Thai Basil Bloody Mary Mix

As one race dad said, “This isn’t a cocktail. This is the best freakin’ breakfast I ever had in a glass.” Aw, y’all say the sweetest things.

3 ½ cups [about 28 oz. +/-] tomato juice or original V8 juice

¼ cup Sriracha hot sauce

½ cup packed [about 2 large heads] Thai basil leaves

4 scallions

Juice of 3 fresh limes

Sriracha Bloody Mary with Lime, Thai Basil, and Scallions

Sriracha Bloody Mary with Lime, Thai Basil, and Scallions

To a small food processor [or large-mouthed quart jar so you can use a stick blender] add all ingredients EXCEPT for the tomato juice. Blend thoroughly, until basil and onions are minced but not a gooey slushy mess. Add herb mix to the quart jar along with tomato juice, replace lid, and shake to combine. Add some crushed black pepper and sea salt to taste. Mix up with a ratio of 2 parts Bloody Mary mix to one part vodka. Serve over ice. Garnish with a sprig of Thai basil and a slivered scallion.

Cajun Smoky Bacon Bloody Mary Mix

You can either make your own bacon salt—cook down 3-4 strips of smoked bacon until crispy, drain on paper towels and cool, then add to a food processor with a pinch of smoked paprika and ¼ cup kosher salt and buzz until all minced together—or use a commercially available blend. If you have time, infuse your vodka by adding all those leftover bacon drippings to 2 cups vodka, chill for a couple of days, and then strain through a double layer of cheesecloth before use.

3 ½ cups [about 28 oz. +/-] tomato juice or original V8 juice

¼ cup Crystal [or other Louisiana-type] hot sauce

1 Tbs. smoked paprika

1 Tbs. bacon salt [plus additional for dipping the rim of the cup]

2 tsp. liquid smoke

Juice of 1 large fresh lemon

Cajun Smoky Bacon Bloody Mary. Great slope-side or during your next ski tuning session.

Cajun Smoky Bacon Bloody Mary. Great slope-side or during your next ski tuning session.

Combine all ingredients in a quart Mason jar and shake like crazy. If desired, rub the rim of the cup/glass with a lemon wedge and dip in additional bacon salt. Mix up with a ratio of 2 parts Bloody Mary mix to one part vodka. Serve over ice, and garnish with pickled okra, a strip of bacon, olives, or whatever you’ve got on hand.

Thanks BST for this photo of my racer!

Thanks BST for this photo of my racer!

New York Sour

Classic New York Sour made with rye whiskey and homemade sour mix

Classic New York Sour made with rye whiskey and homemade sour mix

This week’s H.O.A.G.Y. (Help Out a Gal/Guy, Yeah?) comes via the ABG Instagram feed [@abourbongal] from a local cutie, Sparkling Rosé. Here’s her request:

“I’m throwing a birthday party for a friend. I want to have semi-fancy cocktails but I don’t want them to take forever to make; there will be a lot of people at the event and I’m the only bar tender [ABG note:  you go, girl!]. Have you ever made homemade sour mix?! I was thinking a New York Sour would be fun and easy.”

Sours ARE fun and easy! And really goddam delicious. Several bars in the SLC make delicious New York-style sours, two of my favorites being Whiskey Street and The Copper Onion. A couple of weeks ago we made a Tullahoma Whiskey Sour for my dear friend Strawberry Julep, but that was makin’ one cocktail, not prepping for a crowd. Commercial sour mixes are, IMHO, cloyingly sweet and thick. Some have tons of corn syrup, and lots of preservatives to keep them shelf stable. Once you’ve tasted fresh-made sour mix, you’ll be able to spot the bright notes of just-squeezed citrus quicker than a 75% off sale at H&M and it makes all the difference in the freakin’ world. Except for the run to Costco for your bags of lemons & limes [you’re going anyway, right?], and squeezing all those suckers, making the sour mix is dead simple.

The New York Sour makes for a terrific Valentine’s cocktail** or, in Sparkling Rosé’s case, a festive party drink. Why? Well, it’s got a nice sweet-sour balance point, making it perfect for soirées when you don’t know if you’ll have guests who like super-sweet cocktails or will be serving purists who just want some high-proof bourbon, served neat. The finishing float of red wine makes it super pretty AND festive. As booze historian David Wondrich describes, back in the day [like, the mid and later 1800s] barkeeps claimed all of their New York sours were topped with “the claret ‘snap’” –really any fruity red wine fancily declared ‘claret’ no matter the origin, but a Bordeaux works especially well in this application. It’s a fun bit of drinks history: the ‘sour’ is a fancy single-mixed drink adaptation of the ubiquitous Punch during the Victorian age. It’s kind of a proto-cocktail. The recipe I use is loosely based on the one Wondrich quotes in his cocktails history bible Imbibe! [p. 103], which he found in the 1869 Steward & Barkeeper’s Manual:

One wine glass [2 oz.] of spirits

Half wine glass [1 oz.] of water

One Tablespoonful of sugar

Half of a lemon

Method: “Squeeze a portion of the lemon into the tumbler, which should be a quarter full of ice, and rub the lemon on the rim of the glass. Stir with a spoon…. In the manufacture of fixes and sours a small bar-glass or ordinary tumbler is employed.”

ABG note: wine glasses were really freaking tiny back in the day, right?

So, basically the barkeep was mixing up impromptu simple syrup with just a bit more than equal portion of citrus. And sours can be made with brandy, gin, amaretto, rum, applejack [The New Jersey Sour], just about any liquor, although the New York Sour was traditionally made with rye. In making homemade sour mix, I’ve found that the ratio of simple syrup to citrus is just about right at two parts syrup to three parts citrus. As noted before when making drinks in the ‘sours’ category, a little pinch of salt gives a great tart pinch to cocktails.

 *Homemade Sour Mix: makes about 2 ½  cups [about 20 oz.] of sour mix for 10-12 cocktails.

Here’s my super-basic recipe for homemade sour mix. Really, the ratios depend on what kind of citrus I’ve got on hand, and what I’m mixing with. More lemon goes great with whiskey, more lime with tequila. I’ve made great sour mix using grapefruit and lemon for amaretto sours. I’m sure you know the trick about microwaving citrus for 10+ seconds and rolling it to extract the most juice, ’cause you are a bar god/goddess. Own it!sourMix

Make a simple syrup with 1 cup boiling water mixed with 1 cup sugar. Stir to dissolve, and let cool to room temp. Meanwhile, juice 1 generous cup freshly squeezed lemon juice [4-5 large juicy lemons], and 1/2 cup juice from fresh-squeezed limes [4 limes].  Or, whatever ratio of citrus you like that gets you 2 parts simple syrup to 3 parts citrus juice. Strain the citrus through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds and pulp. Mix citrus and syrup together [I like shaking & storing it in a quart mason jar], and it will keep in the fridge for weeks.

New York Sour

The great thing about mixing drinks at home [especially in Utah], is that you can mix them to YOUR taste, not to the letter o’ the state liquor law. So, fair warning, this drink is a bit stiffer than the one you’ll be served at a bar in the Beehive state. The egg white is totally optional – I’ve got fresh eggs coming out the wahzoo from my backyard hens so I’m not worried about cooties—it just gives the drink a little more velvety body and helps the wine “float.” If I’m making drinks for a crowd I leave the egg out ‘cause it’s a total pain in the ass to crack all of ‘em perfectly and you don’t want ANY yolk ending up in your drink [yellow strings of egg = gross].

2 oz. rye whiskey

1.5 -2.0 oz. homemade sour mix*

0.5 oz. Disaronno [or amaretto liqueur]

1 egg white [optional]

Tiny pinch of sea salt

0.5 oz. rich fruity red wine [like Bordeaux]

New York Sour

New York Sour

Add all ingredients except the wine to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake like crazy. Strain into a highball glass or tumbler filled with fresh ice. Pour wine slowly over the back of a spoon to “float” on top of the cocktail.

 ** In case you are color blind, never go to the ‘seasonal’ aisle in the store, or don’t have a calendar, I’ll remind you that Valentine’s Day is THIS Friday, y’all. It’s hard to believe, but it was just about this time last year that I’d started this here blog [I know! A year!], and posted a rant on why y’all should avoid restaurants for V-day, and might choose to make “Oh, You Sexy Beets!” Dirty Martinis at home, instead. It’s a tougher sell this year, since a Friday or Saturday holiday doesn’t get the middle-of-the-week buy-out. Sucks to be you. I also recently posted a blog over at my other gig at cityhomeCOLLECTIVE about Chocolate-centric stuff you can do all this month in the SLC. Why save the romance for one day?