Maple-Jalapeño Bourbon Cocktail

This drink is a kiss-on-the-cheek hello to summer. The days are already warming up well into the 80s. An afternoon walk leaves my shirt sticking to my back. We spent Sunday morning in the pool.

Might as well welcome the sunny days with a refreshing cocktail. One that reminds me of Miami.

Maple syrup + jalapeño + bourbon + lemon.

I first had a “hot” drink toward the end of a humid summer I spent living in D.C. It was August. It was unbelievably hot and sweaty outside. The drink was called a Fahrenheit 451, and it combined the coolness of cucumber with jalapeño-infused vodka and a bunch of other ingredients.

Jalapeño in a drink probably sounds kinda suspicious. But trust me – it totally works when balanced with something cooler or sweeter. Spurred by a FOOD 52 contest, I started playing around with some combinations. Here, the maple syrup complements the inherent sweetness of bourbon, and that’s what hits you in the first sip. Then, the jalapeño kicks in to temper the drink. A bit of lemon juice balances everything out, and a thin slice in a drink is always alluring and pretty.

I used Maple Grove Farms grade A maple syrup after reading the results of this tasting from America’s Test Kitchen. The sweet stuff was a worthy splurge.

I wouldn’t say the jalapeño makes this drink spicy, but it has heat. Midway through the cocktail my bottom lip began to get a little tingly.

And I wanted another one.

maple-jalapeño bourbon cocktail

makes one drink

  • 1 jalapeño
  • 1/2 ounce grade A maple syrup
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • ice

Cut off the top of a jalapeño, and slice the whole jalapeño in half lengthwise. Use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds, and set aside. Slice three long sticks of the jalapeño to use later for garnish. Slice the remaining two long pieces of jalapeño into half-moons.

In a cocktail shaker, add 7 or 8 of the half-moon slices of jalapeño, and 5 of the seeds. Add a 1/2 ounce of maple syrup. Muddle it 20 times.

Cut a lemon in half. Cut a couple thin slices of one half and set aside. Cut the other half in half again. Take a quarter of the lemon and squeeze the juice into the cocktail shaker.

Add 2 ounces of bourbon to the cocktail shaker. Add four or so ice cubes and stir about 8 times.

Strain the drink into a chilled glass, making sure no seeds get into the drink. Add the three long jalapeño slices, a lemon slice, and ice. Enjoy!

Note: With a bottle of bourbon and a bottle of maple syrup, the rest of the ingredients will give you enough for two cocktails.

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt

The cookie dough for this recipe whips up into something wonderfully light and fluffy. I bet that lightness is what lets the cookies melt in your mouth after a dunk in cold milk.

The sea salt is what can turn these chocolate chip cookies into a fast addiction. Salty and sweet. Love it.

Here’s Lila, my youngest of two sisters (Hi Meli!), enjoying them as an afternoon snack.

This has become my go-to recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Hope you like them, too.

chocolate chip cookies with sea salt

makes at least 3 dozen cookies, depending on how much dough you nibble on in the process, adapted slightly from Real Simple via cupcakes and cashmere

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon. sea salt, plus more for sprinkling on the cookies
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375°F.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla extract for 3 minutes at medium-high speed. Creaming the butter and sugar should end up looking light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until just combined.

In another bowl, mix the flour, salt, and the baking soda. Set the mixer to a low speed, and slowly mix in the flour mixture until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the dough into tablespoon-size balls and place on the baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on each mound of dough.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned at the edges.

Move the cookies off of the pans, and let them cool. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Note: The original recipe uses a 1/2 cup of plain sugar, but I like to use all brown sugar.

Manhattans and Mad Men

Don. Peggy. Joan. Roger. Even Betty.

I’ve missed you all. Especially Don. (Not you, Pete Campbell).

I was late to the game, watching Mad Men way after the rest of the world was already smitten. The first season was slow, but eventually it hooked me in. Getting to the show late meant watching all four seasons on Netflix. Getting my next fill of this heady, whiskey-soaked American life was as easy as clicking play.

Until the last episode. A sad night.

But on Sunday, my wait, our wait is finally over. Mad Men is back!

You could say we’ve been preparing by drinking Manhattans on the regular in the past week. A bartender made us some very generous Manhattans last Friday. We made our own on Sunday. Monday. Again on Wednesday.

Screenshot from AMCtv.com

Maybe I also took a quick quiz on AMC’s site so I could finally know the answer to the all-important question – which Mad Man am I? Turns out I’m Joan Holloway. Sassy, among other things. I’ll take it! I’ve been told that once or twice.

Switching out the bourbon for rye whiskey is a very good idea if you’ve got it around. I sometimes prefer rye for a Manhattan, but I still love bourbon.

So… is it Sunday yet?

manhattan

makes one drink

  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes of bitters
  • ice cubes
  • 1 brandied cherry

Fill a glass with ice cubes and water. Stir a couple of times before putting the glass in the freezer.

Add bourbon, vermouth, and bitters into a cocktail shaker.

Remove the glass from the freezer, and dump the ice and water.

Add a few ice cubes to the cocktail shaker and stir. Strain into chilled glass.

Add 1 brandied cherry to the cocktail.

Baked Eggs with Bacon and Spinach

I burned my thumb while making this for dinner. I can’t even blame the hot-as-hell oven set to broil. It was the toaster. I was trying to pluck the small slices of bread from the toaster instead of bouncing them into the air and risk dropping a slice.

Gah! It’s alright. The burn doesn’t sting anymore. And baked eggs make for a very satisfying dinner.

Baked eggs with bacon and spinach comes together easily. This may strike you as breakfast food, but I always end up baking eggs for a dinner that’s fast and tasty.

Another thing I like about this is its versatility. I change it up all the time based on what’s already in my kitchen. Fresh herbs are always nicer if you’ve got them. Try thyme, basil or parsley. Oregano’s good. Swap the onions for sauteed garlic or shallots. Use kale instead of spinach, maybe skip the bacon.

It’d be hard to mess this up, though I do have one nonnegotiable. The bread! You need good bread to properly soak up all the yolk mixed with cream. NEED.

baked eggs with bacon and spinach

serves 2, inspired by Barefoot Contessa

  • 3 strips of bacon, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • salt
  • a couple handfuls of fresh spinach
  • butter
  • a small loaf of crusty baguette, sliced and toasted
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary, dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 4 large eggs
  • a couple pinches of  pepper
  • Parmesan cheese

Bring a cast iron skillet to medium heat. Cook 3 strips of bacon for a few minutes or until the color darkens. Flip strips and cook until almost crispy. Use a pair of tongs to remove the bacon and place them on a plate lined with a paper towel. Chop the strips of bacon when cooled.

Bring down the heat a bit on the skillet with the bacon grease, and sauté the onions, stirring frequently at first. Add a pinch of salt.

Turn on the broiler, and set the rack about six inches below the heat.

Add a couple handfuls of spinach to the onions and stir occasionally until the spinach wilts. In the meantime, butter a couple of ramekins and toast slices of bread. Butter the toast and set aside.

Stir the chopped bacon into the skillet with the spinach and onions. Divide and place half of the vegetables and bacon in each ramekin,  leaving some space in the middle. Add 1 tablespoon of heavy whipping cream to each ramekin. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of rosemary over each ramekin and divide 1/2 teaspoon of Herbes de Provence between them.

Crack two eggs into the center of each ramekin. Finely grate some Parmesan cheese over the eggs. Add a dash of pepper to each ramekin.

Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and place it in the oven for about 6 minutes or until the egg whites are set. Keep in mind that they’ll continue to cook and sizzle after you pull them out of the oven.

Serve baked eggs with toast.

Fig and Walnut Biscotti

I’m a morning person, but let me explain what I mean by that. I wake up when the alarm rings and never hit snooze. I’m no grump. But I am not in any rush.

I tend to set alarms earlier than necessary so I can savor the morning with a leisurely breakfast. Read something. Check my email.  Consider different outfits before going back to my first choice.

Sundays make the best kind of mornings. Slow and simple, made for lots of lounging on the couch until the morning becomes your whole afternoon. Sunday morning is not for slipping into gym shorts and making it on time to body pump class.

Sunday means waking up later than usual for a relaxed breakfast. It means staying in your pajamas for most of the day while reading the newspaper, thumbing through magazines, and maybe catching something familiar on TV.

Sure, Friday night is fun with its last-minute decisions to get dressed and go out for a couple Manhattans. Maybe order some fried oysters and share a big platter of cheeses at the bar for dinner. A girl needs that. And more.

Etta James had the right idea with A Sunday Kind of Love.

I’m not alone here, am I?

These biscotti fit right in this Sunday. A happy addition to a breakfast of the world’s best scrambled eggs – thanks to Danny – and some coffee.

I baked these on Saturday and kept the cookies on the small side, which allows for the satisfaction of eating two or three cookies with coffee or tea.

I planned on using hazelnuts until I couldn’t find them at Publix. But figs and walnuts (a common pair) go very well together. Toasting the walnuts is definitely worth the extra step as it enhances the flavor of the entire cookie.

I added cinnamon because I like seeing the tiny flecks in the dough, and I tend to throw it in to so many baked things.

Sweetness is not the first thing that hits you with these biscotti, which I very much appreciate. Fig and walnut is not the conspicuous combination of cranberry and pistachio (another favorite) but the two really do complement each other.

These are easy like Sunday morning. But you can bet they’re good any time.

fig and walnut biscotti

makes about 2 dozen cookies, adapted from “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing baking sheets
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for baking sheets
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped figs (about 8 dried Mission figs)
  • 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (a 6-ounce bag is more than enough)

Heat oven to 375°F.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Make sure each egg is blended in before adding the next one. Add the vanilla extract.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add the flour mix to the dough little by little, beating until just incorporated. Stir in the chopped figs and chopped walnuts.

Butter two baking sheets and dust them with flour. Flip over the sheets and tap them to remove excess flour.

Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a 2-inch-wide log. Put each log on a baking sheet.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or just until the logs are golden and starting to crack on top. Definitely check them before that time to be sure they don’t overcook. Set the logs aside to cool, and lower the oven temperature to 250°F.

Once the logs aren’t too hot to handle, use a serrated knife to cut each diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Put the slices on the baking sheets and back in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once.

Let the cookies cool a bit before enjoying with coffee.

Note: Mark Bittman advises to add a tablespoon of milk or two if you need it to bring the dough together after adding the dry ingredients, but I didn’t have this problem. Biscotti will keep in an airtight container for several days. Next time I’d pull the logs before the 25-minute mark. They were a bit more done than I’d prefer. Also, 1 1/2 cups (or 6 oz.) of whole walnuts is more than enough to give you 1 cup of chopped walnuts.