Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday cocktail - cranhattan

When we went to the Border Grill holiday cooking demonstration last year I fell in love with their cranhattan. It's a good strong cocktail and it makes the most of festive cranberries, which I'm a sucker for at this time of year. The prep is going to look a little daunting, because you have to make two components before you even start mixing the drink. Luckily, you can make them ahead of time (this weekend, maybe?) and have them on hand for any holiday guests that drop by.


So, a Manhattan is usually bourbon and vermouth with some bitters. The cranhattan recipe calls for tequila and brandy but I wanted to stick with bourbon so that's what I did. It's great both ways, so you can use whatever you have on hand. I've modified the recipe slightly because I tested it out a few times and decided that I like it less sweet. This is a strong drink. If you normally prefer light, sweet cocktails, you will hate this, there's no way around it. I'd rather you know that now than after you've wasted several cups of cranberries.

For some reason this doesn't really hold up as a pitcher cocktail, which is the one downfall. It's best mixed one or two at a time and served over a couple ice cubes.

Cranhattan (recipe from Border Grill, slightly modified - makes 1 cocktail)
2 oz bourbon (or anejo tequila)
1 oz cranberry puree (for a sweeter cocktail use 1.5 oz)
1/2 oz cranberry liqueur
Ice, for cocktail shaker
3 drunken cranberries 
Mix everything but the cranberries in a cocktail shaker. Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with drunken cranberries. 
 Cranberry puree (makes 3 cups - enough for 24 cocktails, can be frozen in an ice cube tray for later)
1.5 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 orange, zested and juiced
3 cups water
1.5 cups sugar 
Combine everything in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Cook until cranberries break open and begin to break down, about 8 to 10 minutes. Puree (in a blender or with an immersion blender), strain through a doubled up piece of cheesecloth and chill until ready to use. 
* The original recipe makes 6 cups of cranberry puree but that is a TON of it. I cut the recipe in half and froze the leftovers in this ice cube tray that holds 1 oz per cube. *  
 Drunken cranberries and cranberry liqueur (makes 20 - 25 berries and about 1 cup liqueur - enough for 16 cocktails)
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup bourbon (or brandy) 
Combine cranberries, sugar, water and 1/4 cup of the alcohol in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook just until cranberries start to pop and split open, 5 - 8 minutes, swirling the pan to stir and watching carefully. Once a few of the berries split open the rest will follow, so be ready to remove from heat immediately. Allow to cool to room temperature. The berries should remain intact with a single split that allows them to soak up the liquid. Once cooled, add the remaining 1/4 cup alcohol and refrigerate 1 - 2 days before using. 
* I poured the berries and liqueur into a jar and put it in the fridge, shaking it gently a couple times a day - you can make it several days ahead of time and it will hold up perfectly fine. *
I know I've been heavy on the bourbon cocktails the last few months. I'm always partial to it but it's ramped up because we've been getting the Bulleit bourbon in the gigantic bottle from Costco. It's a crazy good deal.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Key lime tart with gingersnap crust

Everyone has their birthday pie. I always pick lemon meringue and D always picks key lime. The first year I ever made a key lime pie for him I put meringue on it and let me just tell you that there are two camps of people - those who put meringue on key lime pie and those that believe nothing except whipped cream is appropriate. It was embarrassing.

I've since reformed but it's taken me years to track down just the right recipe. I tested out fancy recipes that have you make lime curd and strain it through a chinois. I've tested regular crusts and graham cracker crusts and some variations on each. The final winner uses the easiest filling (I swear - homemade curd doesn't taste any better than the tried and true version with sweetened condensed milk) and a crust that's a little out of the ordinary, combining gingersnaps and pecans.

key lime tart
{key lime tart}

Key lime tart with gingersnap crust (serves at least 8, filling recipe from here, crust recipe from here)

For the crust: 
2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (about 9 oz)
1 cup pecans (about 3.5 oz)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger (you can skip if you don't have it)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the filling: (see notes about doubling below)
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Key lime juice (fresh is great, but bottled saves time)
Zest from 2 small limes or 1 large

For the topping:
1 - 1.5 cups chilled heavy cream (depending on how thick you want it)
1 - 2 tablespoons sugar

Make crust: 
Preheat oven to 350F. Grind cookies, pecans, brown sugar and ginger in a food processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and process to blend. Transfer mixture to a 9" tart pan with removable bottom and use your fingers to press filling onto the bottom and around the sides of the pan as evenly as possible. Bake crust 10 minutes, until just set.

Make filling: 
Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl  until combined well. Add juice and zest and whisk until combined well. Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes (filling will set as it cools). Cool pie completely then chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

Make topping: 
Beat cream and sugar with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Spread cream on top of chilled tart with a spatula and smooth it out. Cover and chill until serving, up to several hours ahead. One cup of whipped cream gives you a nice layer on top but I like to go for the full 1.5 cups which makes the whipped cream layer nearly as thick as the filling layer. This is a personal preference, for sure.

Modification for 10" pan: The original recipe calls for a 9" tart pan but I don't have one. I use a 10" tart pan instead. There is plenty of crust for a 10" pan but the filling ends up being spread thin. Sometimes I just leave it thin and add extra whipped cream but I usually double the filling. The doubled recipe won't all fit in the tart pan, so I pour the little bit of extra into a ramekin and bake it alongside the pie for a quick treat. I use a full 1.5 cups of whipping cream for a thick layer on the 10" tart pan, but you could probably get away with using less. 

Most recipes tell you to whip the cream immediately before serving, but who wants to be in the kitchen right before dessert? I generally whip the cream and spread a thick layer on the tart in the morning and then pop it back in the fridge. I haven't had any issues with this. That last picture was taken with a leftover slice of pie two days later and the whipped cream is a little beat up but still delicious.

birthday pie
{birthday pie}

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The weekend, briefly

smoked glass at mas malo, d's 30th
{smoked glass at màs malo}

pinata smash, d's 30th birthday
{piñata smash}

mas malo mezzanine, d's 30th birthday
{màs malo mezzanine}

d, d's 30th birthday
{birthday boy}

d's 30th birthday
{d's 30th}

party hat from otaat
{grown up party hat! from otaat}

D turned 30 last week. We're both birthday shy and D in particular almost never does anything because this time of year is so crazy. But I couldn't let a milestone pass by without comment, so I ignored both our anxieties and threw the easiest party ever. I reserved the mezzanine for happy hour at one of our favorite downtown restaurants and pre-ordered appetizers for everyone. I resisted the urge to do ANYTHING. No decorations, no details, no attempt to micromanage the playlist. I've never been so hands off and it was initially nerve wracking but I'm so glad we did it. Being surrounded by friends is a good way to usher in a new decade. And if anyone deserves a celebration, it's D. I love this guy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bourbon cocktails with grapefruit and mint

Here is the first of two holiday cocktails that we've been drinking this month. It's also the easy one! I had these ready to go in under 15 minutes.

I would never have voluntarily picked this combo even though I love our grapefruit and habanero tequila cocktail. But we were going to a Christmas party and I didn't have time to go to the store and we happened to have all these things on hand, almost. The gingerbread extravaganza had left me out of white sugar so I used brown instead and (even though I have nothing to compare it to) I think it was the right choice. Brown sugar and bourbon are a natural fit.


Bourbon Punch with Grapefruit and Mint (serves 8 - 10, recipe from here)
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup brown sugar
15 fresh mint sprigs, half set aside
4 cups pink grapefruit juice, ideally unsweetened
2 1/2 cups bourbon (I used Bulleit)
12 dashes angostura bitters
1 cup club soda

:: Make your simple syrup: bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add half the mint. Swirl to wilt the mint. Set aside and allow to cool. Strain before adding to punch.

:: Combine grapefruit juice, bourbon and bitters in a large bowl. Add the strained simple syrup. Mix in the soda and the remaining mint sprigs. Serve cold or over ice.

Because we weren't using a punch bowl I just put the fresh mint sprigs directly in the bottles, poured the punch over them and then topped them off with the sparkling water.

We use these swing top bottles all the time for transporting cocktails and even for serving them at home. So much easier to travel with than a punch bowl and they fit in the fridge nicely if you need to make your punch ahead of time. Also good for storing leftovers, although that almost never happens.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The weekend, briefly

gingerbread spices
{gingerbread spices}

L&B xmas party 2012 - table
{L&B xmas party 2012}

GB party 2012 - circe
{GB party 2012 - Circe}

GB party 2012 - candy canes
{GB party 2012 - candy canes}

GB party 2012 - Daniel's snowman!
{Daniel's snowman!}

We celebrated a family birthday on Saturday and then immediately went over to one of our oldest (in terms of how long we've been friends, not her age) friend's houses for her annual Christmas party. Her table of appetizers was gorgeous and there was an impromptu music session. Amazing.

The gingerbread house party on Sunday wrung me out and now I feel silly for thinking about posting a high and mighty set of instructions for throwing the perfect party. I'll still post it later, but I'll note that sometimes, despite all your planning, things just happen and it isn't perfect and that's fine.

Either my candy thermometer was off or in my somewhat frantic state I did something truly bizarre because ALL THE WINDOWS FAILED TO SET UP. The recipe I use is basically foolproof, or so I'd been led to believe by several years of perfect windows. I ended up having to stick all the pieces in the freezer in order to get them off the aluminum foil and set up enough that we could glue the houses together. Within 15 minutes all the colored sugar oozed out of the window holes. You know I cried but luckily I'd thought to pack my current favorite bourbon for spiking the apple cider and it helped convince me that we would all survive. We did. No one else really cared or they were too polite to say so.

I think there's a really easy way to avoid this disaster. When the thermometer hits 160 take a spoon and drip a little bit of the sugar syrup on a piece of aluminum foil. It should become hard and glassy almost immediately. If it doesn't, you should cook the syrup longer. I'll be doing this every year from now on.

I have a couple of holiday cocktails to share. I still haven't managed to grab a picture of one of them and while I've considered making one at 8 am when there is actually light in my house I can't quite bring myself to start my day with hard alcohol. And I couldn't just throw it out, obviously. Oh, blogging dilemmas.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Getting ready for the gingerbread house party this weekend ...

cookie cutters
{cookie cutters}

I'll be back with photos (and a long post on the logistics of putting together a gingerbread house party every year). 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The simplest snack

We were very into shishito peppers all summer and I was relieved when they didn't disappear as the weather cooled down.


We just blister them in a pan with a little bit of oil and then try to convince ourselves to let them cool down enough that we don't burn our mouths. They're even better with a pile of bonito flakes on top.

I get them at the Japanese market for pennies. I was there this week and they still had them, fingers crossed they stay all year.

shisito peppers
{shishito peppers}

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Reading, not so lately

I've been on an extremely non-literary reading binge lately so there isn't much to discuss from the last few weeks (polished off Justin Cronin's The Twelve and then followed it up with a massive amount of re-reading from my mystery shelf).

But before that, I read two books back to back and my reactions were so strong that it's taken me a while to get my thoughts down.

{images from publishers}

We the Animals had been heavily hyped but the excerpts I'd heard were so gorgeous I couldn't resist. I'm not sure what I was expecting but it blew me away. Torres whisks you through a childhood that's rough and messy and pierced with moments of intense beauty.

I'm a sucker for stories about childhood but writing about your life is difficult and writing about that time is particularly tricky. There's a tendency to simplify your emotions and, in some cases, to work to solicit sympathy. The book was powerfully lyrical which initially made me nervous. Overly lyrical writing can so easily veer into gimicky territory and it sometimes obscures weaknesses that might otherwise get called out. But here the form furthers the function, allowing Torres to describe the brutality and tenderness of his family without judgement. He doesn't let his parents off the hook but neither does he vilify them and the result is honest and remarkably touching. I devoured the book in one sitting and then immediately wanted to read it again.

It's probably pure bad timing that the next book I read was Joan Didion's Blue Nights. It was a sharp contrast and it suffered by comparison. Both works deal with childhood, although Didion's book has a very different perspective because she is writing about her daughter's childhood in the wake of her death, which really means she's talking about herself as a parent. I'm not sure how to explain how uncomfortable it made me. The pain and loss are evident, but the lyricism of her writing, with short spare sentences and frequent repetition, serves to make the emotions feel at once strangely distant and too close for real reflection. It seemed overwrought and circular. I'm squirming as I write this, but self-indulgent was the word that kept coming to mind. I know critics have praised it as honest, but I felt like I was an observer being held at arm's length throughout.

The frequent name dropping (of people, brands and places) didn't help. Didion, apparently aware of the impact this will have, spends a lot of time trying to refute the implication that her daughter was privileged and that happens to be a pet peeve of mine. Tangent - I don't understand the reluctance to admit privilege. It isn't a crime. Privilege doesn't mean you are guaranteed a charmed life. It does mean that when bad things happen you at least have a few more resources than other people might. The world isn't divided into two categories, privileged or not. There is a vast scale along which we all fall and most of us reading here are already in the upper echelons compared to the majority of the world's population. It doesn't negate your efforts in life to admit that you started from a place of relative advantage and it doesn't mean you can't own your successes. It's just perspective. End rant.

It seems hardhearted to criticize a memoir but it's a published work and Didion is a literary force. I still feel a little squick-y about it, though.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The weekend, briefly

christmas mail
{christmas mail}

tree trimming
{tree trimming}

wedding ornament
{wedding ornament}



Early last week I pulled out our Christmas tablecloth and bought a tiny wreath from Trader Joe's and we had friends over for a long dinner and some eggnog. I got our annual gingerbread house party invitations out a little bit late, but at least they made it. For some reason I can't bring myself to go to email invitations for this particular party.

After all the hosting and a heavy workload over the last couple weeks it was a blissfully quiet weekend, the kind I value even more as we head into a packed month. Saturday I went to Krav Maga (I'm covered in bruises and gleefully excited about it!), ran home, got a massage and then napped. It was AMAZING. We did a little bit of running around on Sunday and I got to visit some of the ceramics Dustin has been working on lately.

As we gear up I'm reminding myself that my "obligations" are really privileges and choices. I love this month but around December 15th I tend to get caught up in a frenzy of (largely self-imposed) expectations and it's unnecessary. I want to enjoy it, both the big parties and the little details. There are so many sweet surprises, like when D's 14 year old brother, who stayed with us for a couple days and is generally in full on teenage mode, was unexpectedly enthusiastic about decorating our tree while listening to Christmas music. You can't plan the best moments anyways.