• New Years Cocktail: Black Velvet

    The Black Velvet cocktail.

    The Black Velvet cocktail.

    Sometimes it seems like all we do this time of year is visit with friends, eat sweets and enjoy a few cocktails. And then we realize all we are doing is visiting with friends, eating sweets and enjoying a few cocktails. Not bad, not bad at all…Actually, we are doing quite a bit of cooking, but it turns out that blogging about savory dishes in the midst of the holidays is tricky, too little natural light and too many people coming and going for good photos (we are not complaining, more time with friends is always better). Baking and cocktails are a bit easier to plan for, so with New Years coming, how about another cocktail?

    velvet2velvet3And the Black Velvet is a perfect cocktail for New Years. A simple combination of equal parts Guinness stout beer and good champagne or sparkling wine, the Black Velvet packs real flavor and depth, but without a lot of booze. A cocktail, but one that will keep you standing until midnight (or 9pm, we cheat and use east coast time, then we go to bed…we save our “humbug” for New Years). While you might not expect stout and champagne to work together, they are a very surprising match. The stout adds body and some roasted and bitter flavors to the crisp, yeasty and fruity notes of the champagne. You get a sip you can savor from beginning to end.

    velvet4The Black Velvet is also beautiful, and as it turns out, fashionable. Let’s start with the looks. If you first add the Guinness and then slowly add the champagne (a spoon helps here) the drink will form two layers, the top a bit rosy and the bottom black. The layers will meld over time, but the almost-black drink in a champagne flute is stunning. As for the fashion, beer-based cocktails are all the rage in mixology these days and the Black Velvet is a very good introduction. And since part of the fun of cocktails is the conversations they start, if you add the looks with the trend and then the back story, the Black Velvet is a sure conversation starter.

    velvetThe back story? Most histories agree that the Black Velvet was created at the Brooks Club in London in 1861 to “mourn” the death of Prince Albert. Some suggest the cocktail symbolizes the black armbands worn by mourners. Some, like David Wondrich, suggest that (just maybe) the Guinness was a way to mask the drinking of champagne, which would have been very tacky right after the death of the prince. We bet both are right, the only question is the relative order of the explanation. We have our guesses, but either way, we get a good drink out of the deal. And even if the Black Velvet came from an “ending”, it is a lovely cocktail to celebrate the new year. Beautiful and flavorful but light on alcohol and with a great story attached, the Black Velvet is the perfect drink for a long night with friends. Happy New Year!

    The Black Velvet:


    • 1 part stout (Guinness)
    • 1 part champagne or dry sparking wine


    1. Filled a chilled champagne flute or tall Collins glass halfway with the stout. Wait for some of the foam to subside.
    2. Very slowly add the champagne (use a cocktail spoon on the inside of the glass, if you like) until the glass is full. Serve.
  • A Few Christmas Cocktails


    The Back Word Cocktail. Maybe we can add peppercorn “ornaments” next time.

    The big day is almost here, and in the moments between shopping, gift wrapping, partying, pulling your hair out, decorating and cooking we suggest you take the time to have a well-made cocktail with special family and friends. Taking a few minutes to put on some music, pick the recipe, pull out the glasses and mix the drinks will soothe your soul. And you get a tasty drink and good company out of the deal, a very merry Christmas indeed! (And if Hanukkah is your gig, then please try the Bees Knees.)

    backword4So what to drink? It all depends on your taste. We like gin and it is the holiday season. Gin does taste a bit like a Christmas tree (all that juniper), so we may toss in some winter citrus and mix up a classic like the Aviation or a Pegu Club. We also like champagne and spice, so a Seelbach is an almost perfect holiday cocktail, and a good choice for bourbon fans. If you like rye whiskey and deep flavor, then the Sazerac, with it’s bright red color and strong kick will bring out your inner Rudolph (2 or 3 Sazeracs will make you think you’re Rudolph, but you’re not).  Cold? Try a toddy like the Tammany Jack. If you want a lighter, aperitif-style cocktail then a Calla Lily, Chrysanthemum, or our variant, the Flowers For Sonja would be a good choice. And if you just need a cold, hard dose of booze (and sometimes we do), then a dry Martini will always do the trick.

    martini3But what if you want to experiment? Maybe impress your guests with a secret ingredient? Well, there are plenty of places to look. Fred Yarm’s Cocktail Virgin Slut is one of the leading cocktail blogs with literally hundreds of innovative recipes from the best bars in Boston. He also has a companion book, Drink and Tell. If you get a few good bottles of booze, pick up Drink and Tell and mix away. Other good web references include the Mixology Monday series of themed online cocktails parties, Drinks at Serious Eats, Liquor.com, Saveur and Cocktail Chronicles all have large libraries of new and old cocktails. And CocktailDB has a huge list of classic drinks, just be ready to sort through a lot of recipes!

    dback3Before you start, remember that making cocktails is just like making a good dinner for family and friends, just faster (and slower, if you follow). Look at the booze you have, your fridge and your spice drawer. Maybe you have a few herbs in the garden, or some fresh fruit? Seek out a little inspiration (or a challenge), think of what you and your guests like, and then get going. You will be glad you did.

    Required summer reading.

    Required holiday reading.

    And if you need a little help getting started, here are a few of our favorites that encompass the old and the new, the simple and complex. And we have one new recipe, The Back Word, that we think clearly fits the holiday theme. Have fun and Merry Christmas!

    backword5The Back Word:

    (From Drink and Tell and Backbar in Boston)


    1. 1 and 1/2 oz. dry gin
    2. 3/4 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
    3. 1/2 oz. Lillet Blanc
    4. 1/4 oz. Luxardo cherry jar syrup (or brandied cherry syrup)
    5. Lemon peel, for garnish
    6. Rosemary, for garnish


    1. Combine the liquid ingredients with ice in a cocktail glass or shaker. Stir until very cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe.
    2. Cut a small slit in the middle of the lemon peel and insert a sprig of rosemary in the peel. Float the peel on the top of the drink and serve. Continue reading
  • Weekly Cocktail #33: The Rochelle-Normande

    The Rochelle-Normand Cocktail

    As we drink our way through the seasons (and yes, that sounds both good and bad) we find some cocktail ingredients are easier to work with than others. Citrus is easy, lots of great recipes and combinations. Stone fruits are harder to handle, but are very tasty in all sorts of drinks. Apples? No problem. But now we get to pears, and it gets a bit challenging.

    Pears are one of our most ancient fruits and are popular all over the world, but oddly, are not a common cocktail ingredient. Pears have a soft, sweet flavor and light fragrance that can get lost when mixed with other flavors. And pear brandy (eau-de-vie), while common in France, is a rarity here in the states. More recently new pear liqueurs and vodkas hit the market. And since it is pear season (and we have a few pear trees and a decent crop) we got some Rothman & Winter Orchard Pear liqueur and started to experiment.

    As we noted, there are few “classic” pear cocktails to work from, so we approached this more like a dessert recipe. Firstly, we tasted the pear liqueur and it was sweet with clear pear flavor and a slightly dry finish. A good sip, but more of an attractive flavor accent than a lead note. So what else plays well with pears? Apple and spice came to mind. And we also like sparkling cocktails, as they often show off the aromas of their ingredients (and we had some sparkling wine left over from making Death in the Afternoon cocktails). With that in mind we did some research and found a cocktail called the Daisy Buchanon that combines pear liqueur, apple brandy and Champagne. We then looked to another of our favorite sparklers, the bitters-heavy, spicy Seelbach, for inspiration. And after many experiments, we got the Rochelle-Normande.

    The Rochelle-Normande combines pear liqueur, applejack (or calvados), lemon juice, Bittermen’s Tiki Bitters (substitute Angostura) and champagne. We garnish with a slice of pear and lemon twist. The sip is crisp and dry with both apple and pear flavors and aromas showing through. The lemon juice adds some acidity and the finish shows off the allspice, cinnamon and clove notes of the tiki bitters. A tasty, if somewhat dry, seasonal cocktail for the holidays. (And we like the look of the pear slice in the champagne flute.)

    You might note a lack of overtly sweet ingredients in this cocktail, and we did experiment both with Domaine de Canton to add sweetness and ginger notes and muddled pears. But muddled pears get gritty and the Canton did not play as well with the pears as we expected. In the end, we like the aroma and dry notes from both the pear liqueur and apple brandy and decided to highlight them. And the name? La Rochelle-Normand is an area in Normandy known for growing apples and pears. So while making this cocktail was challenging, finding the name was easy.

    The Rochelle-Normande:


    • 3/4 oz. applejack or Calvados
    • 3/4 oz. pear liqueur (Rothman & Winter Orchard Pear)
    • 1/3 oz. fresh lemon juice
    • 3 dashes Bitterman’s Elemakule Tiki Bitters (or Angostura bitters)
    • 4 oz. Champagne or sparkling wine
    • Pear wedge, for garnish (optional, but nice)
    • Lemon twist, for garnish


    1. Combine the applejack, pear liqueur, lemon juice and bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled flute. Top with the Champagne and then add the pear wedge and lemon twist. Serve.
  • Mixology Monday: Bein’ Green Cocktails

    Death In The Afternoon (Hemingway Champagne)

    Time for another Mixology Monday, the online cocktail party. This month the party is hosted by Wordsmithing Pantagruel (thanks!) and the theme is: (it’s not easy) Bein’ Green. Here is the breakdown:

    With the warm days of summer now fading off into the distance in our rear view mirrors, let’s pay one last tribute to the greens of summer before the frosts come and our outdoor herb gardens give up the ghost for the winter. For our theme for this month, I have chosen: (it’s not easy) “Bein’ Green.” (Perchance due in no small part to my predilection for Green Chartreuse.) I’m giving you a wide berth on this one, anything using a green ingredient is fair play. There’s not only the aforementioned Chartreuse; how about Absinthe Verte, aka the green fairy. Or Midori, that stuff is pretty damn green. Crème de menthe? Why not? Douglas Fir eau de vie? Bring it! Apple schnapps? Uh…well…it is green. I suppose if you want to try to convince me it makes something good you can have at it. But it doesn’t have to be the liquor. Limes are green. So is green tea. Don’t forget the herb garden: mint, basil, cilantro, you name it – all fair game. There’s also the veritable cornucopia from the farmers market: green apples, grapes, peppers, olives, celery, cucumbers…you get the idea. Like I said, wide berth. Base, mixer, and or garnish; if it’s green it’s good. Surprise me. Use at least one, but the more the merrier.

    We certainly like “green” themes here at the farm and had a few drinks in mind, so we decided to do both. The first drink is the Death In The Afternoon (also known as the Hemingway Champagne). It combines Champagne and Absinthe, one of the “greener” cocktail ingredients. The drink itself is a lot like many Hemingway novels, spare in construct, but perhaps a bit indulgent, bombastic and even decadent as a whole. We are Hemingway fans, but recognize that there were a lot of “OK” books along with the classics (Death in the Afternoon may be more in the “OK” category).

    As for the cocktail, there are things to like. The absinthe and champagne to offer a yeasty, anise aroma and the flavor is bright, even bracing. A good drink for a brunch when you are a bit “bleary” (Death Warmed Over might be a better name for the cocktail). If you are a fan of strong flavors, the Death In The Afternoon is certainly worth a try. And Hemingway did create the cocktail (first published in a 1930’s cocktail book with recipes from famous authors), so you do get to experience some of the history and “share” a drink with Hemingway. But we are pretty sure you can “share” many classic cocktails with Hemingway. Say what you will about the man and his work, he was smart enough to enjoy his cocktails…

    The other cocktail we made, The Silent Order, needs no excuses or qualifications, it is a favorite here. And it is the most green cocktail we know of. We are a bit sheepish to include the drink, as it comes from Fred Yarm (Mixology Monday’s Manager) of Cocktail Virgin Slut and his cocktail book “Drink And Tell“. But the Silent Order is so good, we couldn’t resist.

    The Silent Order Cocktail

    Created by Ben Sandrof in Boston, the Silent Order combines Green Chartreuse, lime juice, sweet basil leaves and water. It is an interesting recipe and there is a detailed breakdown here. But the main thing we like are the flavors. The sweet, herbal (and boozy) Chartreuse and the sour, acidic lime juice are a good combination in a number of drinks. But the extra sweet and anise notes of the basil take this cocktail to another level. Green Chartreuse is a somewhat esoteric cocktail ingredient, but once you get a taste for it, it’s hard to resist. And it is very, very green. Continue reading

  • The Farm At The Beach

    Breathe. Relax. Read a book.

    Well, we are back. Or at least settled. We are now at our “home-away-from-home” on the east end of Long Island. One of our favorite places in the world. I guess you can call it a “home” because we have plenty of friends and family here, and we pretty much know where everything is. That may seem simplistic, but part of being comfortable is familiarity. We cooked in three different kitchens in the last thee days but pretty much knew where everything was. Other people’s kitchens are a tough place to cook, but we know our way around. We can get back to business. But before we cooked, the first business was meeting the two newest members of our extended family. Beautiful babies and happy, if somewhat tired, parents. We can almost field a football team with all the cousins- which is very, very cool. We are so blessed and lucky, and the babies give us a reminder of just how good life is. And they are cute, too.

    Radishes are in season here, and very tasty.

    And we did get back to cooking. In many of our posts, we mention that certain dishes and drinks are good for a crowd. Well, we put a few to the test already. Most meals over the weekend fed groups of 15-20. So far, so good- but we do have a few notes and revisions. And, happily, mostly to the good. As for the actual food, we tend to have simply prepared fish and shellfish as our main courses. Seared ahi tuna, roasted striped bass, sea scallops and steamed clams made it to the table over the weekend, and will be part of almost every dinner this week. Most were caught within the last day or so. The fish is so fresh you don’t need to do much (just don’t screw them up), so we focused on sides that highlight the seafood or feature the local produce.

    The coconut rice goes well with the local fish. A big hit- we will make this throughout the trip.

    Firstly, we had fresh local radishes and served them with butter and salt. Always easy, always good. (My Dad also makes kick-ass guacamole every day, but that is another post). The biggest hit so far is the coconut rice. The rice went very well with the seared, rare ahi tuna (steaks almost 2 inches thick and sooo good). Served with a dash of soy and some cilantro chutney (working on that recipe), it was a perfect fit. A table of 16 were all very happy. One note here, we made the coconut rice with “Light” coconut milk, as the store was out of regular coconut milk. If anything, the light coconut milk gave the dish plenty of flavor, but perhaps a slightly lighter texture. Good to know that we can make a lower-calorie version of the original.

    We added fresh corn kernels to the Red Cat zucchini- it was great.

    Another surprise was how well the coconut rice went with the Red Cat zucchini. The dish comes from here, so everyone enjoyed it (the zucchini was right from the CSA), but as the dish is more Mediterranean, we are surprised how well the flavors meshed. Another note here- we added some fresh corn kernels to the zucchini and they added lovely texture and sweetness. If you have corn, give this a try. The next day we took the leftover coconut rice and combined it with the zucchini and corn. It made a delightful cold summer salad.

    As for the cocktails, we made fresh Tommy’s-style margaritas every day (2 oz. blanco tequila, 1 oz. gave nectar, 1 oz. lime juice). But the big hit was the Lani Honi. As predicted, everyone thought of it as a lemony summer punch with a little extra depth. We served a pitcher alongside the margaritas and the Lani Honi held its own. We had requests for more the next day. Very good.

    As expected, a perfect drink to make for a crowd.

    Lastly we made a punch-sized batch of the Nouvelle Fleur. The drink was a success, but did need some tweaking. In the original recipe we used ruby-red grapefruit and the flavors meshed very well. Out here, we used white grapefruit and the drink was way too sour. Happily, a little extra St. Germain and some agave nectar did the trick and the Nouvelle Fleur was a success, particularly with grapefruit fans. But a quick reminder that it pays to taste your drinks and adjust as necessary.

    A great punch, but we needed to adjust for more sour white greapefruit.

    Today we are off to the CSA garden and then looking for corn and stone fruits. And just wait until we start talking about the pies…oh my. We have new photos and recipes coming all week! It’s good to be back.

  • Weekly Cocktail #21: The Bellini

    The Bellini.

    It’s Red Haven peach season at Putney Farm, so now we need to use them. We made peach-lavender jam (recipe later today) and will be making peach preserves, peach butter and peach-vanilla ice cream. So we may as well make a cocktail. And if you have peaches, you might as well make Bellinis.

    To be fair, Bellinis typically combine white peach purée and prosecco (think Italian champagne, but sweeter and much less complex). We don’t have white peaches or nectarines (yet), so we are using our Red Haven peaches. But to our tastes, that is a good thing, as yellow peaches have more acidity than white peaches and/or nectarines. And while we like Bellinis with white peach purée, they can be cloying a bit sweet- so using more balanced yellow peaches improves the cocktail and provides a better color. But regardless of the peaches you have, the Bellini is a light, sweet and “long” drink that is good for summer brunch and afternoon parties. And we like cocktails at brunch and afternoon parties.

    Make the peach purée.

    As for the origins of the Bellini, the dates are bit hazy. But we do know that Giuseppe Cipriani, owner of Harry’s Bar in Venice, created the Bellini sometime in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. He named it after Giovanni Bellini, a renowned 15th-century Italian renaissance painter. Bellini’s paintings, as with many works of his era, tended toward darker hues and somewhat bleak subject matter. So the connection to sweet peaches and sparkling wine seems a bit tenuous. At least the name sounds good.

    Muddle your peaches.

    In any event, the Bellini was originally a seasonal cocktail to feature local white peaches, but someone figured out how to preserve peach purée and it became a year-round drink. And the recipe has become somewhat “fungible” over the last 70 years, and not always to the good. At one point the Ciprianis licensed the name and recipe to a company to mass-produce the Bellini and it was so terrible different they bought back the rights. And good for them, some things are only so “fungible”. In the end, if the peaches aren’t good, it might be best to make something else.

    Fine-strain the muddled peaches.

    But if you do have ripe peaches, then making a Bellini is worth the effort, but there are a few extra steps. Firstly, you need to make a peach purée. There are a few ways to do this. If you are making a big batch of Bellinis, you should skin (make an X on the bottom of the peach with a knife and then blanche for 20 seconds), pit and then puree the peaches in the blender. If making just a few, muddling and fine-straining the peaches will be faster (don’t worry about the skins). Then you need to taste your peach puree and your prosecco. If both are sweet, add a scant dash of lemon juice. If both are tart, a dash of simple syrup might be a good idea. And then you need to deal with the bubbles. Peach puree and prosecco create a lot of foam. And we mean a lot. It will take a few minutes to fill the flutes as the foam subsides. You just need to wait it out. Relax, eat a peach, maybe listen to the Allman Brothers.

    A final note, if using champagne (and we don’t recommend it) use extra-dry or demi-sec, both are sweeter than Brut and will work better. But as Prosecco is almost always cheaper than Champagne, it is the right call and is readily available at most supermarkets or liquor stores. And when a Bellini is just right, it is a very tasty sip, and worth making. After all, if you have peaches, you need to use them…why not drink them?

    The Bellini:


    • 2 oz. fresh peach puree
    • 4 oz. Prosecco (or sweeter champagne or sparkling wine)
    • Lemon juice (optional, to taste)
    • Simple syrup (optional, to taste)


    1. To make puree, expect 3 small or 1 large peach per serving. Pit the peaches. Muddle and then fine-strain to extract the puree.
    2. Add the peach puree and a few ice cubes to a cocktail shaker and shake to chill. Strain the puree into a chilled flute. Slowly add the prosecco, letting the foam settle, until full. Serve.