Category Archives: How-To

Cocktails with Benefits

Everyone loves a good coffee table book, but how many of those books are actually useful? We found one that’ll look just as good displayed on your table as it is essential for your bar cart. 

Cocktails with Benefits, 40 Naughty but Nourishing Drinks by Nicole Herft is cocktail recipe book with four main categories: Fruitylicious, Drink Your Greens, Totally Tropical, and Smokey, Spicy, Sour, Sexy.

Herft uses only natural ingredients in her recipes, giving you a healthier way to consume your “naughty” cocktails. She leaves out the refined sugar and makes use of natural sugars like fruits and vegetables. That said, the drinks lead to less hangovers thanks to the natural ingredients.

I went ahead and tested out a recipe from the Fruitylicious category, the Iced Mixed Berry Sangria.

Iced Mixed Berry Sangria
2 cups fresh mixed berries (1 cup extra for the pitcher)
3 tablespoons agave nectar
Ice cubes
1 (750ml) bottle Rosé Rioja
Equipment needed: Small saucepan, Sieve, Cocktail stirrer, Serving pitcher, and 4 glasses

Place the mixed berries, 3/4 cup water, and agave nectar into a small saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and pass the mixture through a sieve. Press the berries with the back of a spoon to make sure you get all their juices. Leave the mixture to cool.

Half-fill your pitcher with ice cubes. Slice the extra strawberries and halve the blackberries and add these, and the other mixed berries to the pitcher with the berry syrup and then the Rosé Rioja. Stir well and serve.

Cocktails with Benefit:, 40 Naughty but Nourishing Drinks
Author: Nicole Herft
Price: $14.95 online or in store

Cocktails with Benefits by Nicole Herft © 2017 Kyle Books, and the photographs © Nassima Rothacker

Mardi Gras 101

Let’s start here … Mardi Gras isn’t just a big party.  There’s a lot more to the holiday than strong drinks and a good great reason to party on a Tuesday.  Let’s start with some basics …

  • Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French
  • It’s celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday as a last hurrah before Lent begins (this year, that’s February 9)
  • The first Mardi Gras celebration can be traced back to medieval Europe to the House of the Bourbons (I won’t go into all of the history, but if you want to read it all … check it out here.)
  • The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold–purple for justice, gold for power, green for faith.

I have an unexplained love for Mardi Gras. (I think it comes from my dad receiving a King Cake each year from a friend in New Orleans.  Since my dad had a job that took him to New Orleans during the week for a few years, I apparently attended parades before I could walk.)  Each year, I try to bring the spirit of the Big Easy to Dallas in a small way for some friends.  Here’s how I do it …

DRINKS … you can’t miss hurricanes, the quintessential Mardi Gras drink originally created by Pat O’Brien’s in NOLA.  This year I borrowed a recipe from a NOLA-born chef, John Russ of Lüke San Antonio that he demonstrated at his seminar at the SACC this year.  For my group of heavy-hitters, I made the recipe x10.  I also like to add a little pineapple juice and just a bit of cherry juice or grenadine to add a red hue.  They’re quite strong, so make sure to warn your guests and provide something to dilute it a bit like soda or Sprite.  I also use an orange slice and cherry for garnish.

Katrina’s Folly (Recipe from Chef John Russ of Lüke San Antonio)
2 oz Bacardi light
1 oz 151 Bacardi
2 oz Kraken spiced dark rum
2 oz orange juice
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz lime juice
2 oz passion fruit juice
crushed ice

Combine and stir. Serve chilled, preferably in a tall glass or red Solo cup.

Since a party cannot exist on a single drink alone, I laid out a bevy of usual suspects so people could make their own concoctions if desired. To really get the party going, I also offered shots of Pinnacle King Cake Vodka (the best of the king cake vodkas I’ve tried–which is a lot … dedication, y’all) and Abita Beer (brewed an hour from New Orleans in Covington, Louisiana).  The kind cake vodka is surprisingly easy to drink and it has a nice sweetness without being overpowering.  The party shared many a round of shots to toast the night.  I chose two Abita brews–their most popular Purple Haze and their seasonal Mardi Gras Bock.

Sustenance at these parties is key.  This year I offered homemade jambalaya, Zapp’s Potato Chips, hushpuppies, a King Cake, iced sugar cookies from Pokey O’s, and Cafe Du Monde beignets.  Each has some significance …

  • Venison and Chicken Jambalaya – because … yum.  I’ve adapted the recipe so it can be made ahead of time and cooked in a crock pot.  (Send me an email if you’d like the recipe!)
  • Zapp’s Potato Chips – they’re made in Gramercy, Louisiana and are “New Orleans kettle-style chips”. I got individual bags from Potbelly along with their Voodoo flavor (nice and spicy) from Tom Thumb.
  • Hushpuppies – sometimes it’s important to know your limits when hosting a party.  I haven’t ever made hushpuppies … so I left it to the experts and had three dozen delivered by Favor from Dodie’s Reef, complete with remoulade sauce.  I should have gotten four dozen because they were the first thing to run out!
  • King Cake – the aforementioned friend in New Orleans sends my dad a cake–for years they have been shipped to us from Manny Randazzo’s and are always the traditional flavor that tastes just like a cinnamon roll … only 15x better.  This year, my good friend Meryl’s family also sent me cakes from Caluda’s.  Many bakeries in NOLA will ship their cakes, by my favorite has been the maple bacon praline version from Caluda’s (it was a flavor of the week option and isn’t available all the time).
    The tradition says that a small, plastic baby is placed in the cake and the person who gets it in his piece is “King for the Day”.  (It’s also said that he has to bring the cake to the next year’s party.  Like that ever happens.)
  • Pokey O’s Iced Sugar Cookies – because they’re delicious and festive.  (I added the little, plastic babies myself to add a bit more fun.)  Call ahead to make sure they have them or to preorder.
  • Cafe Du Monde Beignets – it has been a goal each year to make beignets for this party and, this year, I finally did it!  The mix that you can get in most stores made it quite easy to throw them together and they were freaking delicious.

Other fun touches I like to add are handing out beads (earned or not) and adding a little fun decor.  (My plaster deer head is always festive at my parties …)  In past years when I’ve lived in apartment complexes, we’d make sure to throw beads from the balcony, but now that I’ve moved we didn’t have anyone to throw them at … but do that, because it’s a blast.

P.S. Upon walking into my living room this morning … I came upon this scene.  It must have been a good party.

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How To: Holiday Spice Syrup

I love a good holiday gifty for friends, neighbor, etc. … in years past I’ve done bacon chocolate, infused liquor, and regular old Christmas cookies, but this year I went with spice syrup.  I’m looking forward to using this in Old Fashioneds at my Christmas Eve family dinner.  (I’m always the bartender at family events … no pressure there.)

This syrup has some serious legs.  It has the essence of a spiced cider without being too overpowering.  (I’m going to avoid the cliche “spice up your cocktail” business here.)

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Spice Syrup (recipe from The Fashionable Cocktail)
1 cup water
2 cups brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 clove
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest (make sure to avoid overzesting)

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until all sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat, allow to cool, then strain.

Taste the syrup and add additional sugar as desired.

I like to use swing-top bottles for my syrups that can be purchased at  SpecialtyBottle.com or Marshall’s/TJ Maxx and add gift tags with recipes like the Spiced Fig & Pear Daiquiris.

Happy Holidays, y’all! Happy gifting.


 

Shout out to Chris from Midnight Rambler for sous chefing on this recipe!  

RECIPE: Apple Pie Bourbon

I got a wild hair about a month ago and decided that this year’s holiday gift would be homemade infusions.  I decided to make jalapeño vodka, lavender gin, and (wait for it) apple pie bourbon.

The bourbon was very easy to make.  I began with Jack Daniels, a middle-of-the-road liquor without any wild flavors in it.  I began with a recipe for small batch infusions and ended with the proportions below.

APPLE PIE BOURBON
1.75L bourbon
3-4 Golden Delicious apples, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 sticks of cinnamon (roughly 3-inch sticks)
roughly 1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup simple syrup

Place apples, cinnamon, and nutmeg in an airtight container.  Pour bourbon over ingredients, ensuring the ingredients are covered by the bourbon.  Seal the container and let sit at room temperature for three days.  Shake or stir periodically to agitate the ingredients.

After three days, take a sip to test your infusion (it’ll be a bit bitter).  Add more ingredients if necessary, and seal for another day.  Test one more time after four days (total).  Some infusions may take up to five days.

When you’ve achieved the desired flavor, strain the solid ingredients out of the bourbon using a colander.   To remove the small sediment, strain the mixture using a cheesecloth.  Add the simple syrup and stir for at least thirty seconds.

Bottle your mixture in an airtight container.  I ordered swing-top bottles from specialtybottle.com and painted them using chalkboard paint.  For gifts, I added a tag with recipes to use the bourbon.  Your apple pie bourbon can be stored for up to two months in the refrigerator.