Basil Tom Collins Cocktail – a low-cal summer cocktail

Basil Tom Collins cocktail

Getting dressed for the pool last weekend convinced me that it was time to go back on a diet. What a drag. When I’m watching my weight, giving up alcohol is one of the first things I have to do. It’s not like I drink a lot, but I have to watch the weekly alcohol consumption that tends to creep up – the extra glass of wine with dinner, the beer with my slice of pizza. It’s easier just to ignore alcohol and switch to unsweetened ice tea or water for most of the week. But, after being “good” all week, I want to have my Friday cocktail treat. In order to not go too far off the rails on Fridays, I switch to light, skinny cocktails. One of my favorite low-calorie drinks is the Basil Tom Collins cocktail. 

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Shirred Duck Eggs with Celery Cream

Shirred Duck Egg with chicken sausage

Shirred eggs… as in, eggs cooked gently in an oven inside ramekins placed in a water bath. Shirred duck eggs… as in, I had the chance to buy a half dozen duck eggs from my CSA last week. Shirred duck eggs with a celery cream… as in, I was trying to recreate Atlanta chef Steven Satterfield’s lovely Farm Eggs in Celery Cream that I had last summer at his restaurant, Miller Union.

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Monkey Gland Cocktail – Prohibition-era drink

Monkey Gland Cocktail

The Monkey Gland cocktail wins the prize for the oddest name and the most interesting origin. According to Ted Haigh’s go-to guide, Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, the drink came from the famous Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in the 1920’s, which was the host to famous American ex-pats such as Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Invented by bar owner Harry McElhane, the drink was named after the questionable medical practices of a Russian quack named Serge Voronoff. In Paris during the 1920’s, Voronoff performed implants of monkey testicles into …um…shall we say… well…the corresponding part on a human male. This was supposed to rev up the sex drive. It was very popular with Parisian cafe society.

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Pork Tamales with Chile Verde Sauce

Pork Tamales Wrapped for the Steamer

Making pork tamales at home has been on my kitchen to-do list for a long time. Like every re-blooded American, I make salsa, guacamole, tacos, burritos, churros beans and Mexican rice all the time. Tamales, however, always seemed too difficult and time-consuming to bother making. Confronted recently with a rainy cold weekend, I knew that it was time to stop being lazy.  I had fresh lard in my fridge that needed to be used and I had just bought some corn husks from the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market.  I had also run out of excuses.  I decided to make pork tamales with chile verde sauce.

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Strawberry Mojitos – a Cuban rum cocktail

Strawberry Mojito

Inspired by the fresh mint and new batch of strawberries out of my garden, I’m celebrating the beginning of warm weather with Strawberry Mojitos on my front porch tonight. This also gives me a chance to break out the Centenario Añejo 7 rum that my sister Jan brought back to me from her recent trip to Costa Rica. Lucky me!

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Roasted Okra (and grilled okra) – a Healthy Alternative

okra

Forget Red State vs. Blue State. Okra divides this country as surely as any October college football rivalry. You either “get” okra, or you don’t. And if you live outside of the South, you probably just don’t get it. I know. I know. It’s weird. It’s slimy. It’s green and prickly. Maybe you just have to grow up with it to appreciate it. For me, growing up in East Tennessee, our childhood summer dinners would often just be a plate of fried okra, sliced tomatoes (both from with my Dad’s big vegetable garden) and cornbread. If there is a better summer dinner, I don’t know what it is.

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Aviation Cocktail – Great Gatsby-Inspired Friday

The Aviation Cocktail

With the opening this weekend of Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Great Gatsby’ remake, it seems appropriate to serve up a Prohibition-era cocktail that is visually dazzling – The Aviation Cocktail. This jewel-toned cocktail is made of gin, fresh lemon juice, maraschino liqueur and créme de violette.

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Preserved Lemons for a taste of North Africa

One of my favorite local bakeries, Alon’s, makes one of my all-time favorite sandwiches – the Tunisian Spicy Tuna. It is a combination of quality canned tuna, potato, hard-boiled egg, capers, harissa sauce and, an unusual ingredient, preserved lemon. If you have had Moroccan or North African cuisine, you probably have run into preserved lemons before. You’ll find it as an ingredient in tangines and stews. It is essentially a salty, lemon pickle. 

Preserved lemons are whole lemons, sliced open, put into jars, then covered in salt and lemon juice to cure. I’ve seen jars of preserved lemons in gourmet food shops and catalogs. They are laughably expensive, considering how easy they are to make at home.

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Mint Juleps for Derby Day

It’s only the first week in May but already my garden is overrun with spearmint. It’s not to the point where it’s choking out my carrots or strawberry plants yet, but give it couple of weeks with some steady rain and I’ll be in trouble. Luckily, it’s Kentucky Derby weekend so I can pull some of that mint up and use it in a Mint Julep. 

Mint juleps have been the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs since 1938. Traditionally served in pewter cups, it is a “smash” of simple syrup muddled with fresh spearmint and bourbon, poured over crushed ice. I like to think of it as a grown-up mint/bourbon slushie.

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Gin Tasting for my Book Club crowd

Here in Decatur, we are a social bunch. My girlfriends and I often get together to share a cocktail or two. Like me, they are pretty adventurous with food and drink so they’re usually up for trying any new cocktail that I throw at them. It’s probably why I love them so much. Months ago, I was out with a few of these friends and we were lamenting the decline of our latest book club. It turns out, that one of the women at the table had a book club that gradually turned into a food and cocktail club. They had just met for a gin tasting. She told us that she had learned a lot about gin and that it had been a lot of fun. We all thought that this sounded like a brilliant twist on our usual neighborhood mom get-togethers. Since I’m Miss Cocktail, it was decided that I needed to be the one to host it.

Feeling the weight of responsibility, I began my research into gin. I found out right away that there were five distinctive styles of gin: London Dry, Plymouth, Old Tom, Dutch or Genever and New American or Western style.

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