Cooking with Liqueurs #1

One of the topics I wanted to get to this year was cooking with liqueurs, since that isn't something the Food Network or other food shows spend much time talking about, aside from white wine in risotto or red wine in a pan sauce. I can't decide what to think about Sandra Lee and her cocktails.

So here's a start. Not much of a start, but a start. I'd bought some Johnsonville hot Italian sausages on markdown at WM. You can often get good buys on meat and chicken there if the Sell By date is tomorrow. Plunk, it goes into the freezer so tomorrow never, uh, comes, dies - some metaphor is dying here.

A couple nights ago I took it out to defrost (no, not in the fridge, violating all safe food handling rules, but in the sink, then into the fridge). Last night I went to cook some up for supper.

When did they start putting odd numbers of sausages or whatever in packages? There were 5 in this one. Two for Daddy Bear, two for Momma Bear, and one for Baby Bear? Or is it the Asian odd number is good luck thing? So I went for 2 for Daddy Dog and half to be shared by Baby Dogs. My little monsters aren't starving by any means.

What to cook it with? I had a white onion, so I cut up half of that in a peasant chop and used about half of that. I have a small (7 inch maybe) non-stick skillet that I use a lot, so first I browned the sausages on two sides to give them some color. Then I added the chopped onion, sprinkled a little kosher salt over everything, and finally, poured in a little applejack, about braising depth, if that much. Covered it up and let it simmer away.

Why did I use applejack? Well, I think of sausages going well with apples, so that was one consideration. Second, I wasn't a big fan of applejack when I used it in cocktails, and no point in letting it go to waste. Third, it would be silly to use calvados for this.

I let the applejack pretty much cook off, maybe 10 minutes. I didn't pull out the mustard like I usually do with sausage, but the sausages with the onions were very tasty and didn't need a condiment. I can't say they tasted appley, but everything had a good flavor, and didn't taste like I'd just thrown some sausage in a frying pan.

Rosa, my dachshund-terrier mix and no. 1 fan of my cooking, gave it 2 pricked ears up.

Fernet Branca 1

Since I'm through with my cocktail of the day calendar for 2008 (this year's is green/eco tips - but it doesn't combine weekend days like last year's: how is that green?), I decided to start the year by investigating some of the bottles I'd bought for one, maybe two, recipes in that calendar and are now cluttering my liquor closet.

I'm starting with Fernet Branca, which I'd never heard of before last year. Its mentholy taste intrigued me - not that I liked it much in my first cocktail.

Fernet Branca seems to be in the air and gaining foodie buzz fast. The Wall Street Journal ran an excellent piece on it last Saturday (see here:

The author of that article describes it as a long-time digestif, which makes sense with all its secret herbs and spices. You have to be toting hardened taste buds to take it, and as he writes, few people drink it straight. I thought drinking Campari showed you had hair on your chest (or the female equivalent), but FB sets the bar much higher. Chartreuse as a digestif is a children's for what ails you in comparison.

The WSJ writer observes that FB is best used as a replacement for bitters: where your cocktail recipe calls for a dash of bitters, like in an Old Fashioned or Manhattan, use a dash of FB instead. In general I'd agree with him, although I think FB can be more interesting in a drink than just used as cocktail Tabasco.

In the next few posts I'll be investigating various cocktails made with FB, and I'll let you know which ones have potential. FB isn't always easy to find (I had to order it online), but I think you'll find it a worthwhile addition to your liquor cabinet.

Hair of the Dog

And there's lot of that in our household, especially during akita moulting season.

I haven't drunk much since the first of the year. On New Year's Eve I drank a champagne cocktail - a sugar cube doused in bitters, topped with champagne - and a guiness and champagne, the last recipe in my calendar for 2008. Guiness and champagne are best drunk on their own.

Since then I've had only an occasional bottle of hard cider or ale, drinking my way through the six packs I bought for the wassail recipe a week or so ago.

What's the best remedy the morning after you've drunk a little too much? I've rarely had a hangover, despite more than one night of excess in my life, so this isn't a burning issue for me. But both the New York Times and Men's Health have some suggestions.

Men's Health (aka the nice folks at Rodale) first. Their first suggestion is to stay hydrated while you're drinking. So you're supposed to alternate Buds and water? That sounds like a Men's Health suggestion, good for monks or power jocks but not always sensible. Or, they say, drink a bottle or two of Gatorade or something similar at the end of the evening. A comment on the NYT article says that works for them.

Another option is eating saltines to soak up the alcohol. I think my version of this has always helped me feel better the next morning: eat potato chips at the end of drinking. The salt and the grease are what I'm hankering for by this point.

Hair of the dog: they claim it doesn't work and could lead to alcoholism. Bull's eye, aka OJ and a raw egg - well, you might get salmonella! You might get OJ poisoning too. Your skin turns hard and orange, but you're pretty darned juicy.

Aspirin: they say it works, with the usual caveats about possible effects of aspirin on the gastrointestinal tract. Their number one suggestion: exercise. Should we be surprised? The complete list is online at

Now to the real-life, and entertaining, suggestions from the comments to the New York Times article. One poster takes excedrin and a mixture of water and Gatorade. Another takes a multivitamin with his water. Another one sets his alarm an hour before he wants to get up, takes an ibuprofin and water, and goes back to sleep. If you can.

Someone claims that paracodeine is his miracle hangover cure. Of course, it's not available over the counter here in FDA land. Aromatic bitters in club soda and a nice greasy breakfast (see my potato chip suggestion) works for another guy. It sounds like all these commenters are men, but I may be wrong. A big breakfast featuring eggs gets a recommendation from a couple people (gender neutral).

One poster's 88-year-old uncle takes his hair of the dog in the form of a beer with a raw egg and several dashes of Tabasco. But, wait, Men's Health claims that can lead to Tabasco abuse! Last, there are a few reformed drinkers who rail against drinking anything at all. If it works for them, that's great.

I'll stick with my Lay's.

New Year's Eve Party

I decided to co-host a cocktail party on New Year's Eve as part of FoodBuzz's monthly round of dinners and parties all given on the same day. When I signed up for it, for some reason I thought the conditions were it had to be given by the 31st, not that it had to be given on the 31st! Lesson #1 in planning this party is to always make sure you know when you're going to hold a party before you agree to do it.

New Year's Eve isn't a great night to give your first party unless you've been doing it for years and/or have a very large circle of friends. I don't have either, so when I saw what I'd gotten myself into, my friends David and Bonnye Good agreed to co-host it. Two circles of friends are better than one, we thought. As it turned out, maybe not!

David and Bonnye have a great, early 20th-century house here in Seymour, IN, that they bought from the estate of the lady who'd lived there. They're only the 3rd family to live in the house. (I'm only the 3rd family to live in my house, built in 1910 and down the street from them, not counting some short-tenured renters.) They have a little boy, Xander, who's in kindergarten at the local Catholic school, a 12-year-old dalmatian, Charlie Sue (aka Charles), and a cat, Emer.

Seymour is known as the hometown of rocker John Mellencamp - not his "home" as the signs on the way into town claim; he lives over in Bloomington, IN, but his family is still here. Seymour is also known as the site of the first train robbery in U.S. history. And the inventor of Barbasol was born here.

I sent out the invites a little more than 2 weeks before the party, and asked invitees to RSVP to Bonnye. Lesson #2 is to plan on having to follow up with people to see if they're coming. By the end of last week we hadn't had any RSVP's, so Bonnye started calling people.

Now, allow me to get on my soapbox for a minute here. If you receive an invitation from someone, whether or not you're able to go, or want to go, be polite enough to take 60 second to pick up the bloody phone and RSVP! It's just the polite thing to do! I know the excuse for everything these days is that people are more busy than they've been since 10 million BC, but show some basic manners! OK, diatribe over.

One family was going to be gone, a couple others had parties they were already going to (mini-lecture #2: you can always drop in for a few minutes to a party, just make sure your hosts know you're going to do that and have your exit plan ready), a few others said they would try.

At this point I jettisoned the menu I was going to make in the proposal I'd submitted to FoodBuzz. I had been going to try to pair cocktails to my party foods, but it looked like we weren't going to have enough people to make that viable. So lesson learned #3: be ready to adjust your plans and figure out an easy party.

I'd bought some holiday paper plates and napkins on sale the 26th, so we had those already. For beverages, frankly I forgot to buy cups, but I'm a big Solo cup fan, so those came out of the cupboard. Bonnye had a pretty holiday tablecloth.

I used to have a china set with lots of quirky little serving dishes that I'd bought on ebay to match the original dishes I'd been given, but I'd passed that on to my niece. So, lesson #4: improvise. Anything will work for serving dishes. Bonnye had some platters. I had a honey pot from Israel that I used for nuts and a couple other small bowls.

Let me cut to the chase on attendees: we had only Bonnye and David and Xander and Charlie Sue and Emr (who graced us with her presence all night, curled up on the ocuch), me, and my mom, who's a retired nurse. That was it. No one else showed up or called at the last minute to say they couldn't make it. But I'm not bitter! (A tad irritated still, says the perceptive reader.) But we all had a good time and spent a couple hours chatting. It was good for mom to get out on New Year's Eve for probably the first time in many moons, and Xander kept busy coming in to show her things he was doing. Mom's dog Holly knew when she got home that she'd been fooling around with other dogs.

As to the food and drink: when we had to jettison the original menu, we decided to go with a mix of store-bought and homemade. Bonnye joked that she felt like it was a TGI Friday's party, but it really wasn't. For drinks we had various liter bottles of pop (Pepsi, root beer, Sprite). I had a little gin and tonic station set up if anyone felt an urge for one. My local liquor mart had Bombay dry gin on sale, so I'd bought a bottle, along with an 8-pack of mini-bottles of tonic. For ice, I pulled out an old champagne bucket that I'd bought years ago when a bar in Chicago closed.

Then there's the food: Bonnye provided deep fried cheese sticks (actually baked) and roll-up thingees (I forgot to try one, so I can't tell you what they tasted like); these were why she was joking about a TGI Friday party. I brought some mini-pork and vegetable egg rolls that I'd bought from Xander school's Market Day program. They're mostly veggie - I think the pork went through on stilts - but they weren't bad. I ate 2 or 3. (Another couple when I got home.)

I bought a little raw veggie combo at the grocery: tomatoes, celery, carrots, broccoli. For a dip, I did draw on my original proposal and made a dip from Jim Beard's entertaining cookbook:
2 C mayo
1 C sour cream
1/2 C parsley
1/4 C tarragon (my change from his 1/2 C chives)
a handful of freeze-dried shallots, from the Spice House in Evanston, IL
(my change)
1 T tabasco sauce

This turned out to be a great, fresh-tasting dip for the veggies, and certainly better than the little packet of dip that came with them.

I'd also planned to make the smoked salmon pate recipe from Beard's book, but I went out NY Eve afternoon to look for smoked salmon, and there was none to be found! I don't think that means a lot of people here eat it, just that most stores don't carry it. The clerk at WalMart said they'd had it but were sold out. Anyway, here's the recipe I would have made:
1 lb smoked salmon
1 onion diced (I'd bought some red onion pre-diced to save time)
enough sour cream to bind it together (creme fraiche would probably work great)
dill to garnish, though I had some fresh dill and was planning to just mix it in

I was going to serve the pate with some pumpernickel bread that I baked last weekend using this recipe: I skipped the raisins it calls for. The molasses taste turned out a bit stronger than I'm used to in pumpernickel, but it's good bread. The salmon pate would have gone great with it.

I was going to serve warm toasted almonds and thought I had some in the freezer in the basement. When I went to get them, well, every other kind of nut, but no almonds! So lesson - what number am I up to now? - make sure before the day of the party what you have (almonds) and what you'll need (smoked salmon)! Walnuts didn't appeal to me, and I figured I'd be the only one to eat filberts. But I had some raw pistachios from Nuts Online, so I toasted about half pound of those at 350 degrees until I could smell them. Sea salt sprinkled over them, and spooned into my little honey pot, which worked great as a nut bowl.

I also bought a trio of stuffed olives for people to nibble on, or to put in the G&Ts if anyone had wanted one of those: stuffed with almonds, stuffed with blue cheese, and stuffed with chipotle. I had one of the chipotles, and it was really spicy! Both the others were good. (They were better later when I got home and ate some more with cream cheese.)

So that was basically our small, friends and family New Year's Eve party. We all had a nice time chatting for a couple hours. Charlie was allowed to come to the party the last half hour and, typical dalmatian, headed right to the table and was ready to stretch her long, swan-like neck out to grab something. Xander, as you see in one picture, went for the Oreos. After I took mom home, I came back for champagne cocktails (sugar cube, few dashes of bitters, and champagne), which I made.

When you have to change your plans and the last minute and downsize, there's nothing wrong with mix and matching store-bought finger food with a few homemade items. It doesn't stress you out, and what people really are looking for from a party is good conversation anyway (well, at least when you get to a certain age!). Hopefully next year we'll do it again, now that we have the tradition established.

I hope all my readers have a great 2009, and thanks for reading my blog this year.

Summing Up 2008

My goal at the beginning of 2008 was to make every drink in my 2008 cocktail of the day calendar (weekend days are combined on a page), and I started this blog to document my progress, or rake's progress. So how'd I do?

Pretty damn good, thank you. I made every alcoholic drink in the calendar. Some days had 2, and I made all of those. Other days had variations, and I made most if not all of those. About a dozen days had non-alcoholic cocktails; I skipped those. And I mixed recipes from Internet Cocktail Database and elsewhere to further explore recipes or ingredients from my calendar.

Actually, to 'fess up, I did skip 2 punch recipes late this year. My reasons were simple: (1) I didn't have any large gatherings to make them for (one called for 3 bottles of wine) and (2) the punch recipe I made earlier in the fall was so lethal, bordering on toxic, that it's already become the stuff of legend among me and my friends.

So what didn't I like? I wasn't too good with the pousse cafes; I need an expert to show me how to build them. Fernet Branca didn't appeal to me, but I only made one or two drinks with it. I need to give it a second chance. I'm not a big fan of chartreuse, green or yellow. It tastes like you're drinking a meadow. Jagermeister doesn't do it for me either, but I need to give that a second chance too.

Liqueurs I tried for the first tine that I really like: punt e mes, especially for mixing negronis. Campari, which I'd had a few times before, but I really like now. Cachaca, especially in caipirinhas. Licor 43, on ice. Creme de peche (uh, straight out of the bottle if I could). Rangpur gin. Mezcal, which I prefer 100% over tequila. Limoncello: I don't where I've been all these years, but I'd never had it before. Champagne cocktails, especially the French series, and I've never been a big champagne fan.

I plan to continue exploring new liqueurs and recipes in 2009, probably not at the same breakneck pace as in 2008, but a few a week. And I want to investigate using them in cooking, which is a neglected aspect of cookery on the Food Network and elsewhere, apart from using wine to deglaze a pan. So stay tuned. Thanks for reading!

Tom & Jerry

Not the cat and mouse.

According to my calendar, the Tom and Jerry is one of our older cocktails. It was invented in the 1850s at the Planter's House Hotel in St. Louis. This is one of those libations where you can make a basic 'batter' and lubricate large crowds, mixing individual drinks as they're ordered.

Now, this does call for raw eggs, so remember all the usual admonitions about raw eggs.

You whisk together an egg yolk, dark rum (Internet Cocktail Database calls for light rum), and brandy (ICD says to stir this in last).

Then, the hard part, you have to whip an egg white. I bought a Wolfgang Puck stick blender on HSN last summer, which comes with a whisk attachment. (I lost, accidentally threw out, I think, the blade for the chopper bowl attachment about the first time I used it - which is what I'd bought the set for to begin with.) That whipped up the egg white in no time flat (i.e., less than a minute). I'd always shied away from recipes calling for whipped egg whites, but this was really easy and quick. I'll be making souffles before you know it.

My calendar says to mix the sugar, cinnamon, cloves (not too much), and allspice with the white. IDB says to mix the spices and sugar with the yolk and liqueur, which I think might work better.

Fold (aka, a gentle stir) the whites into the yolk and liqueur, and top with hot water.

This is one of my favorite of the hot winter drinks I've made lately (though the Mexican chocolate egg nog was probably the best). It sneaks up on you. I didn't think the first mug had much of a kick, but by the time I finished the second, I was feeling black and blue. This drink sounds complicated, but it comes together in 5 minutes tops. And it's healthy too. (raw egg admonitions repeated, etc.)