Food, Wine, Good (and Evil) Spirits

cocktail fznlemonade vodkaI am not a big drinker. It’s rare that I finish a glass a wine at dinner and I rarely order a “cocktail”. With that said, when I do invite friends over for dinner, I like to have a little cocktail on hand for those that simply want one.

Seeing a lot of fruit infused vodka on Pinterest sparked my interest to create a red, white, and blue cocktail for the 4th of July. Seeping the blueberries in the vodka for 36 hours, creates the most amazing scent. For lack of a better word, the smell was intoxicating.

When I do indulge in a cocktail (I much prefer to eat my calories), it’s generally something slushy, fruity, and not overly alcoholic. Grabbing the last of the Meyer lemons from my tree, I made a huge batch of Molly’s raw honey lemonade. Making something slushy was what I was craving. Tossing the lemonade and some ice in the blender, this frozen lemonade and blueberry cocktail was created.

I wanted to use the blueberries as garnish, but didn’t want them simply floating in the glass. Grabbing a handful of small wooden sticks, I skewered them and then put them in the freezer for about an hour. After the fact, I thought how yummy these would have been if I would have sugar coated them.

Freezing fresh, organic, summer berries and fruit from the farmers market is my newest obsession. I see many more fruit and vodka combos in my future.

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colatura-bottle-blog.jpgWhen you live, breathe, eat and sleep food, it can sometimes be hard to muster excitement. This doesn’t mean I’ve grown weary of food and all it involves, it just means that it takes a little extra or a tiny bit of sumthin’ sumthin’ to really knock my socks off. Not that they need constant knocking off. They don’t. I’m happy with plain most of the time.

The pleasures of food and discovery happen when you least expect it. I can remember a moment 20 years ago when I had my first Meyer lemon and I thought the earth would swallow itself. My mind was expanding with each taste of that glorious citrus and I knew life would never be the same. The same can be said of having Jamon Iberico de bellota, a proper supplì, even Wisconsin cheese curds for the very first time. I can count those moments on one hand.

Last month in Italy I had another one of those moments at dinner. It was a fish dish with a very simple aioli––or so I thought. It turns out that the aioli was made with Colatura, an extremely flavorful Italian condiment made from fish and salt. My eyes must have given my excitement away as our dinner neighbor Fabio looked at me and said “It’s Colatura. There’s Colatura in here.” He explained how it’s made, telling me fish sauce has been used for thousands of years in Italy.

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buttermeltingLast Sunday evening, in an apartment on the Upper West Side, I turned off the burner, dropped a knob of butter into the pan, and swirled it into the red wine, caramelized shallots, chicken stock, and filet drippings. This is my favorite moment in cooking. It’s called “mounting” (a great technique deserves a great name) and is the final thickening of a sauce by adding butter.

Everything becomes richer at that point. Every taste becomes a million times more delicious. It’s magic. I held my breath as I plated the roasted rosemary potatoes, sugar snap peas/ snow peas/ pea shoots in lemon sauté, beef tenderloin, and spooned the sauce on top. These were new clients I was cooking for and, yes, I still get nervous.

I was suddenly transported back to a client I hadn’t thought of in years. He was some bigwig but not famous producer whose name I don’t recall. It must have been a decade ago in Beverly Hills. I had just made the decision to leave the acting profession and pursue a career in the cooking industry. I had been cooking off and on for years but never really thought of myself as a chef. This was that moment of leaping and hoping a net would appear. I enrolled in a cooking school to make sure I knew what I was talking about and started working professionally about a month after class had begun. Thank you, net.

“He would like for you to come in next Tuesday to cook his dinner. This will be a test run. He’s been through a lot of chefs.” The client’s personal assistant had found my name and number through another chef, Monica, that I worked with in a busy Los Angeles catering company. Monica had tried and failed to satisfy him – a fact which terrified me, as she was much more experienced than I. She had said one thing to me, “He has a very rich appetite. Be prepared for anything.” I didn’t know if that meant he was wealthy or liked fattening things, so I assumed both were true.

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altThe quest for health and wellness continues. Kombucha is an acquired taste. A few years back, I picked some up at my local health food store. I was totally tuned off. This past year, I tasted homemade Kombucha at my friend, Carrie’s. I was hooked.

I loved it so much that when I left her house, I was gifted a little glass jar filled with my very own Kombucha culture. The 93 mile drive home was done with a big smile on my face.

My little jar sat in the passenger seat; I had company. The next day I purchased the few ingredients I needed to concoct my own black tea, fizzy cocktail. I was in business.

After my visit to Carrie’s I made it endlessly.  There was always a batch brewing. I had to ration out the kombucha in the fridge so it would last the entire week. I lost weight, my sweet tooth subsided, and I was addicted.

Then I took a break. You ask why? I cannot answer that.

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From the Huffington Post

holiday-cocktails.jpgThere are bartenders who make a living mixing cocktails, and baristas whose wages are earned behind espresso machines. There are high-concept tea masters, sommeliers, and soda jerks, too. At home we are never expected to be any of these, but when guests arrive for your holiday parties some simple instruction might be helpful. After all, there's a week's worth of celebrating still to be done.

I tend to restrict drinks at my dinner parties to champagne and wine and perhaps one great cocktail. I suggest you try all the ideas here, or create your own, but choose only one as your "house special." "What you don't need," says wine writer Anthony Dias Blue, "is people sidling up to your bar expecting a Singapore Sling or a mai tai," or both!

I know a thing or two about drinks. At age 16, I was a bartender, illegally, at the Olde London Fishery in Queens, New York. I was tall for my age and looked the part. Next, I had the ultimate pleasure of helping create two of New York's most spectacular bars -- the Rainbow Promenade at the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center, where Sleepless in Seattle was shot, and the Greatest Bar on Earth on the 106th floor of the now legendary Windows on the World. A great drink is always remembered.

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