Articles in Cocktails

A proper gin and tonic. Credit: © Seth Joel

It’s 1715 and gin is in! Genever, anglicized from the Dutch as “gin,” was introduced to the British in 1688 by William the III and quickly became known as “Mother’s Ruin” or “Dutch Courage.” The mass production of cheap gin in London had unleashed an epic 50-year street party of drunken debauchery and moral depravity.

Now it’s 2015, and gin is in once again. This time we can avoid the turpitude by taking guidance from Daniel Kent, dean of beverages at the Institute of Domestic Technology in Los Angeles. The institute teaches simple food- and beverage-production techniques, some long forgotten, for do-it-yourself enthusiasts.

A spirited introduction

The workshop is set up around a mammoth pool table in Greystone Mansion, a faux-château set in formal gardens above Beverly Hills. The vaulted billiard room is just off the bowling alley, which many might recognize from the 2007 movie “Let There Be Blood.”

Eschewing cocktails such as the Gin Fizz, the Fluffy Duck and the Hanky Panky, Kent plans to dismantle what the Brits would call a “bog-standard G and T” and rebuild it into a sublime, sophisticated multilayered beverage using craft American gin, homemade tonic syrup and perfectly clear ice.

Joseph Schuldiner, director of the institute, begins the afternoon by asking the 24 students to identify themselves by first name only and to relate a “drinking story.” (This is awkwardly reminiscent of an AA meeting, but judging by the hilarity that follows, no one in this room needs a drink to relax.)

Kent, a former actor, cannot resist a theatrical flourish and starts the class with a reveal: a secret bar hidden behind the oak-paneled walls. This elicits gasps from his audience, as does the statement that gin is just juniper-flavored vodka. He explains the complex process of flavoring neutral spirits with a vapor infusion of juniper berries during the distillation process to produce a subtle and aromatic spirit.

The tasting process

Our tasting starts with a sample of Junipero, made in San Francisco by the Anchor Distilling Company. This 98-proof gin is flavored with dried juniper berries and a secret mix of herbs and spices, described as “exotic” botanicals.

The second gin we try, the Botanist Islay Dry Gin, comes from Bruichladdich, a Scotch distillery that is also using its stills to produce a 92-proof gin flavored with 22 wild plants foraged on Islay Island in the Inner Hebrides. The result tastes less of juniper and more of myrtle, heather and the moss that grows on peat. (As Kent says, it tastes of things that grow close to the ground.)

The third gin sample is Terroir from St. George Spirits. This is a 90-proof aromatic gin “wildcrafted” from California plants including Douglas fir and bay laurel, which provide its distinctive flavor. Kent uses the word “woodsy” to describe it, echoing St. George’s own description: “a forest in your glass.”

Handcrafted tonic

Then we move on to making the tonic syrup. The medicinal qualities of the key ingredient, Peruvian cinchona bark, were observed by Jesuit priests in the 17th century. By the 1860s, it was known that quinine was the active ingredient that suppressed malarial fever, so the British and the Dutch planted cinchona trees in their growing colonies in the East. The officers of the Royal Navy began adding the unpalatable quinine tincture to their daily ration of gin, and the new British cocktail became instantly popular in malaria-free London drawing rooms.

Reminding us there is no quinine in commercial “tonic” water, Kent creates a quinine tincture, steeping powdered cinchona bark in spirits while the class juices and zests limes and grapefruits. (He credits “The Bar Book” by Jeffrey Morgenthaler for the basic recipe but says he has jazzed it up a bit.) We all help by adding the zest and fruit juices to heating water, along with carefully measured coriander, anise and allspice. The mixture is mulled for 20 minutes, then left to cool as the orange water, quinine tincture and sugar are stirred in.

The finishing touches

On to the ice. Daniel explains that good ice is just a matter of physics: Rip the lid off a six-pack Igloo and then fill the cooler with water, and it will freeze from the top down like a lake, pushing air bubbles and impurities to the bottom. Using a block of ice he has already prepped, Kent starts tapping his serrated bread knife gently with a hammer, scoring a line where the clear ice and the cloudy ice meet. Suddenly the block splits into two layers, and Kent triumphantly holds up the top layer, as clear as any self-respecting mixologist could ever want.

When we are ready to mix the new gin and tonic, Kent schools us on technique, putting the ice in last to create extra fizz. The results are interesting. Junipero, with its more traditional flavoring, was a class favorite during the tasting, but when mixed with the fragrant tonic, it seems too complex. The Terroir, with its more balanced blend of botanicals, marries well with the tonic, but scores low because it does not have the kick that we attendees crave. Meanwhile, the Botanist, only moderately popular at the tasting, becomes the crowd favorite in the mixed drink. This cocktail, with its damp, earthy tones, is as far from artificially flavored gin and chemically manufactured tonic water as you can get.

The class ends with an inkling of what’s next for Kent. He is obsessed with pruno. What is that? Let’s just say pruno, a.k.a. jailhouse hooch, is immortalized in a poem by Jarvis Masters that ends with the line “May God have mercy on your soul.” When one of the workshop participants, a judge by profession, reveals his experience with authentic prison-made pruno, Kent blurts out, “Can you get me in?” Really, Daniel? There must be an easier way.

Main photo: A proper gin and tonic. Credit: © Seth Joel 

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Happy New Year. Credit: IvanMikhaylov / iStockphoto

The beauty of New Year’s resolutions is twofold: We make them and, for a few days anyway, we believe them.

If your New Year’s resolution is to eat better, that’s always open to interpretation. At the very least, the resolutions can be kept by checking out just a few of the holiday offerings from Zester Daily. From throwing the right party to getting in the habit of eating something healthy right away, there’s a New Year’s story to help keep any resolution — if only for a few days.

Here’s a sampling of Zester Daily stories to get the year off to a good start. The notes are directly from the contributors. Click on the links for each story.

Food

Arrive in Style With a Perfect Potluck Presentation by Martha Rose Shulman:  Making dishes for holiday potlucks is usually more pleasurable than transporting them to the occasion. There’s always the fear that things will tip over or spill in the trunk.

Alexander Smalls Brings the World to Harlem by Sylvia Wong Lewis: Alexander Smalls’ New Year’s menu is a tip-off to the breadth of the cuisine that his patrons encounter each day at The Cecil, which recently won Esquire magazine’s coveted Restaurant of the Year for 2014.

Japanese Namasu Brings Good Luck in the New Year by Sonoko Sakai: New Year’s is the most important holiday in Japan, and the centerpiece of the annual celebration is what the Japanese consider to be lucky foods.

Ring in the New Year With Simplicity and Health by Francine Segan: This time of year, most of us make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. To jump-start my own plans, and to help my friends who are all making the same resolution, I host a healthy New Year’s Eve party.

Make-Ahead Menu Lets You Party Like It’s 2015 by Carole Murko: New Year’s Eve can be a splendid holiday to celebrate. What with the optimism of resolutions or mapping out one’s desired feelings, it is indeed a time to embrace all that is new in 2015. 

‘Cut Off’ The Old Year With Japanese Soba Noodles by Hiroko Shimbo: In Japan, New Year’s Eve is as important as Christmas Day in Western countries.

For Good Luck in  the New Year, Think Green and Round by Brooke Jackson: Around the world, foods are eaten on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that are auspicious and thought to bring prosperity for the coming year.

Zombie Pizzas With Real Innards for New Year’s by Clifford A. Wright: Since no one watches zombie movies alone, a New Year’s Eve party is perfect. For food in front of the TV, popcorn is easiest, but here’s a fun idea: zombie pizza.

Cheeses to Intrigue and Entice Holiday Guests by Nicole Gregory: If I must eat cheese — and clearly, I must — then I commit to consuming the best cheese in the world. And this means I need to know how to make mouthwatering cheese boards of my own to share with friends and family.

The Healthy Way to Good Fortune on New Year’s by Harriet Sugar Miller: In the 19th century, many African-Americans brought in the New Year with Hoppin’ John — a dish made with black-eyed peas and collard greens, among other ingredients, and thought to bring prosperity and luck.

Drink

9 Essential Questions About Champagne, Answered By Paul Lukacs: For many consumers, this is just about the only time that they buy and drink this particular type of wine. Not surprisingly, they often find themselves confused.

Toast the New Year With Healthy Kombucha by Tina Caputo: One way to avoid starting off the New Year with a blistering hangover is to steer clear of the offending drinks altogether. Another, some say, is to make healthier cocktails, using kombucha as a mixer.

A Spanish New Year’s Toast: Cava and a Dozen Grapes by Caroline J. Beck: Nochevieja, or old night,” as New Year’s Eve is known in Spain, is a celebration that comes with a bit of insurance.

Skip the Bubbly and Ring in 2015 With Hard Apple Cider by Ramin Ganeshram: For some, Champagnes and sparkling wines are too dry. For others, they are headache inducing, and for yet others, they are too high in alcohol. What, then, to do when asked to raise a glass of cheer to ring in the new year?

Trader Joe’s Has Wine Covered at Every Price by Mira Honeycutt: As the holiday party season winds its way toward New Year’s Eve, sparkling wine or Champagne is on many shopping lists.

Main photo: Happy New Year. Credit: Ivan Mikhaylov / iStockphoto

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The classic Italian Negroni. Credit: Francine Segan

Gin, a crystal-clear distilled grain spirit, dates to at least the 1600s and was initially touted as a medicinal cure for everything from stomachaches to gout. Its predominant flavor comes from juniper berries, a fragrant spice that I think is especially suited to winter tastes.

An ingredient in many classic cocktails, gin is one of those spirits that is much better in mixed drinks. In fact, gin is used in more cocktails than any other spirit. It’s a key ingredient in the martini, gin and tonic, Negroni, Gimlet and dozens more.

This holiday season, try a classic Italian Negroni or one of the signature cocktails curated by celebrity mixologist Kathy Casey and the gintologists at Martin Miller’s Gin.

Negroni

Courtesy: Berkshire Mountain Distillers

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

1 ounce gin

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce sweet vermouth

Orange or lemon twist

Directions

1. Pour gin, Campari and sweet vermouth into a mixing glass. Add ice.

2. Stir well with a bar spoon for 40 to 45 revolutions.

3. Strain into a chilled martini cocktail glass.

4. Garnish with orange or lemon twist.

Snow Drift

Snow Drift is frothy and light. Credit: Martin Miller Gin licate frothiness reminiscent of fresh snow.

Perfect for après-ski, the Snow Drift is light and festive with a delicate frothiness reminiscent of fresh snow. Credit: Martin Miller’s Gin

Courtesy: Martin Miller’s Gin

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 ounces (1/2 cup) gin

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cranberry ginger syrup (recipe follows)

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) pasteurized egg whites

1 cup of ice

Optional garnish: candied ginger and fresh cranberry

Directions

1. Combine the gin, lemon juice, syrup and egg whites in a blender with 1 cup of ice.

2. Blend on high until ice is totally blended and drink is frothy.

3. Pour into coupe glasses. Garnish with candied ginger and a cranberry on a toothpick, if you like.

Cranberry Ginger Syrup

Yield: Makes about 20 ounces or enough for 12 cocktails

Ingredients

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

4 teaspoons finely grated orange zest

4 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger

2 cups sugar

Directions

1. Put the cranberries, orange zest, ginger, sugar and 2 cups of water into a small sauce pan.

2. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat for 1 minute then turn off heat.

3. Let steep for 30 minutes.

4. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Citrus Sparkle

Citrus Sparkle includes clementines or tangerines. Credit: Martin Miller Gin rtin Miller Gin

Rosemary is a lovely addition to the natural juniper and other herbal flavors in gin. Credit: Martin Miller’s Gin

Courtesy: Martin Miller’s Gin

Yield:  1 serving

Ingredients

1/4 clementine, tangerine or mandarin

3 ounces (1/3 cup) Citrus Gin Pre-Mix (recipe follows)

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) brut Champagne or sparkling wine, chilled

Small rosemary sprig as garnish

Directions

1. Squeeze the clementine and put it into a cocktail shaker.

2. Add the Citrus Gin Pre-Mix, fill with ice, and shake vigorously.

3. Strain into a champagne flute.

4. Top with champagne and garnish with a small sprig of rosemary.

Citrus Gin Pre-Mix

Yield: Makes enough for about 10 to 12 cocktails

Ingredients

1/2 cup Cointreau

1/2 cup simple syrup

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Directions

1. Combine the Cointreau, simple syrup and lemon juice.

2. Pour into a sealable bottle or jar and store refrigerated for up to 7 days.

Gin Party Punch

This party punch is made with gin and Orange Pekoe tea. Credit: Martin Miller Gin

This punch is perfect for a large crowd and can be made up to four days in advance. Credit: Martin Miller’s Gin

Courtesy: Martin Miller’s Gin

This punch is perfect for a large crowd and can be made up to four days in advance. For a festive look, serve in a large crystal bowl over an ice mold studded with sliced mandarin oranges and pomegranate seeds.

Yield: About 16 to 20 servings

Ingredients

3 Orange Pekoe tea bags

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 bottle (750 ml) Martin Miller’s Gin

1 cup pomegranate juice

3/4 cups fresh orange juice

3/4 cups pineapple juice

1 cup fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Angostura bitters

Optional garnishes: pomegranate seeds, sliced mandarin, oranges, lemons

Nutmeg

Directions

1. Bring 3 cups water and tea bags to a boil.

2. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve.

3. Remove from heat, let steep 10 minutes, then strain and cool.

4. Add the gin, pomegranate, orange, pineapple and lemon juices, and bitters.

5. Stir and chill until ready to serve.

6. Add sliced mandarins or oranges or lemons and pomegranate seeds before serving, if desired.

7. Serve in ice-filled glasses topped with grated, fresh nutmeg.

Main photo: The classic Italian Negroni is made with gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Credit: Francine Segan

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Winter red cider. Credit: Courtesy of Snowdrift Cider

It’s that time of year when raising a glass of bubbly is de rigeur. What would holiday-time commercials be without happy people clinking flute glasses of delicately hued golden nectar, tiny bubbles making a purposeful beeline to the rim of the glass?

But what about revelers who don’t like Champagne or sparkling wine? While I can hardly believe such folks exist, the fact is they do, and they eschew these carbonated wines for a variety of reasons.

For some, Champagnes and sparkling wines are too dry. For others, they are headache inducing, and for yet others, they are too high in alcohol. What, then, to do when asked to raise a glass of cheer to ring in the new year?

Raise a flute of dry, hard apple cider instead.

A revolutionary drink

In the 18th century, hard cider was the preferred drink of the American everyman. Most often brewed at home, it was drunk at breakfast or in place of water — by men, women and children alike.

“The cider of the 18th century is probably around the same strength as today — typically around 7% (alcohol by volume) — but would be much more sour them modern versions,” said chef Frank Clark, the director of Historic Foodways at Colonial Williamsburg. Clark and his staff have made historic ciders at Williamsburg and have found them to be much more tart than modern versions. “That was because of both the type of apples traditionally used and the lack of sterilization and sanitation used at the time.”

Hard cider went out of fashion in America as beer took over as the everyday alcoholic drink of choice. Up until recently, the little hard cider still made in this country tended to be overly sweet — more reminiscent of soda pop than the ciders of yore.

Clark said that was due to a process called back sweetening, adding sugar after the drink has fermented to give it a much sweeter taste.

Happily, however, a new crop of craft cider makers, following the footsteps of draft beer distillers, are producing drier and more sophisticated ciders that are neither sweet nor syrupy in finish or appearance.

Cider is a renaissance cocktail

Many of the new American hard ciders, particularly those from smaller distillers, come in a variety of packages, alcohol percentages and tartness. Unlike wines, or even beer, don’t judge a cider by its package — some of the best I’ve found have come in cans or wine bottles versus stout beer-type containers.

Like a good Champagne, the more sophisticated hard ciders come from a mix of varietals skillfully put together by a master cider maker.

“In England, for example, there is a rising trend of doing single varietals, but even there most of the cider makers I spoke with preferred to drink a skillfully blended cider,” said Tim Larsen, the owner and cider maker of Snowdrift Cider Co. in Wenatchee Valley, Wash. “Someone who is skillful at blending cider can create a delicious cider that is uniquely different than the ciders that went into it. By carefully marrying flavors and aromas you can multiply the effects of each and produce a cider distinct and better than its components. ”

The alcohol content in hard ciders ranges between 6% and 8.5%. When testing hard ciders to use in place of Champagne or sparkling wine, consider the level of acidity, particularly when pairing them with rich holiday foods or for drinking alone.

“Savory foods, like steaks and burgers, do well with cider,” said Eddie Johnson, co-owner and director of the bar Publik Draft House in Atlanta.  “The acidity of the fruit cuts through the richness. Ciders are also great to cook with — a splash of cider in pies and tarts pushes some of the flavors forward. It is also a great aperitif, as it has similar characteristics [to] Champagne.”

Remember that newer hard ciders are generally less aggressively carbonated than some of the versions that have been on the market and often less so than a traditional champagne or prosecco. The carbonation level is most like that of cava. For those who don’t like carbonation at all but want a cleaner-finishing drink with which to toast, there are even some good still versions of hard cider as well.

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Golden State Cider from Devoto Orchards in Sonoma, California. Credit: Courtesy of Devoto Orchards

Here is a primer on available hard ciders as an alternative to Champagne for ringing in the new year.

Devoto Orchards in Sonoma, Calif.: The orchard’s Cidre Noire, 1976 and Golden State Cider truly live up to the spirit of the craft. Dry without a hint of the vinegary aftertaste found in some dry ciders, the surprise star in this line is the Golden State Cider in a can. Effervescent and almost mineral-like, once poured it lives up to any bottled version and is my favorite for toasting. Cidre Noir is best served with fatty foods like cheese or charcuterie, while the 1976 works well with spicy fair.

Eve’s Cidery in Finger Lakes, N.Y.: I’ve long been a fan of Eve’s Cidery Northern Spy, which I first sampled at the New York City restaurant Northern Spy Food Co. It is extremely tart with hints of apple cider vinegar, so it’s not for everyone and is best had with food. The cidery’s Albee Hill Still and Dry is a delicate wine-like cider worth trying for a more subtle cider experience.

Snowdrift Cider in Wenatchee Valley, Wash.: Like winemakers in the region, Snowdrift produces a good and dependable product with little variation and democratically appealing flavor. The Cliffbreaks Blend is tannic enough to stand up to both fatty foods and stand in for sparkling wines for toasting.

Eden Sparkling Cider in Newport, Vt.: This half-sized bottle is one of the most Champagne-like of the hard ciders I sampled. Made with English apples and aged in French oak for a deep golden hue, this product works nicely as a substitute for cocktails that require Champagne as a base.

Farnum Hill Ciders in Lebanon, N.H.: This is a drier line of ciders, and it includes a still version.The green-labeled Extra Dry was most to my liking, but the Red Labeled Semi-Dry is also hardly sweet — and Champagne aficionados will find that, despite the lower alcohol content, even the semi-dry is less sweet than champagnes of the same description.

Sonoma Cider in Healdsburg, Calif.: A fun brand of hard cider that harkens more to commercial varieties like those by Vermont Cider Company, but with a far drier finish. The Hatchet is an apple variety, while the Pitchfork represents pear, and the Anvil has added Bourbon flavor, making these ciders feel like a good, stiff drink. These are good options for beer or harder-liquor drinkers who would like to raise a bubbly glass with body.

Vermont Hard Cider Co. /Woodchuck in Middlebury, Vt.: Vermont Hard Cider Co. is probably best known for reintroducing hard cider to the American market as a bottled drink. Brewers such as Stella Artois have recently followed in the company’s footsteps with products such as Cidre. While the company is most noted for its Woodchuck hard cider, its product line now also extends into seasonal, reserves and fruit ciders such as pear and raspberry. Overall, these products are sweeter than the varieties listed above, but folks who eschew the dryness of traditional sparkling wines or who appreciate sparklers like the sweet Moscato will appreciate this company’s core offerings.

Main photo: Winter red cider. Credit: Courtesy of Snowdrift Cider

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Jasmine Dravis of Native Kitchen & Kombucha Bar shows off a kombucha cocktail. Credit: Tina Caputo

There’s something about drinking cocktails on New Year’s Eve that makes the occasion feel extra festive. But on New Year’s Day, there’s often something about those very same cocktails that feels like a big mistake. One way to avoid starting off the New Year with a blistering hangover is to steer clear of the offending drinks altogether. Another, some say, is to make healthier cocktails, using kombucha as a mixer.

Dating back more than 2,000 years, kombucha is a fermented beverage made by adding a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast to sweetened tea. The resulting drink has a slight effervescence, and a pleasant sweet-tart flavor, but that’s not the main reason people drink it. Because it’s rich in probiotics (“good” bacteria), unpasteurized kombucha is used as a digestive aid that can offer protection from harmful bacteria and boost the immune system.

It also makes a delicious cocktail.

“Kombucha is really complex and interesting, more flavorful than soda, and drier,” said Jasmine Dravis, co-owner of Native Kitchen & Kombucha Bar in Petaluma, California.

It also has less sugar than soda and juices, which, along with kombucha’s gut-health benefits, may help prevent morning-after suffering.

“That’s the thing when people drink traditional alcoholic cocktails,” Dravis said. “Most of the hangover is the result of a battle between the alcohol and the sugar. With sugary cocktails, you’re going to be very out of balance the next morning.”

When Dravis and her husband Joseph, a kombucha brewer, opened Native Kitchen in October, they created a list of sophisticated kombucha cocktails that are not only a pleasure to drink, but potentially healthful.

“We thought, if we came up with a low-sugar way to mix our cocktails with kombucha, which supports your gut health, we’d be bringing some balance to the table,” Dravis said.

“OK, you’re still drinking alcohol, but you’re not going to feel the harsh effects that you normally would,” she continued. “The perfect example is our Ginger Mule. We use fresh ginger and kombucha and some vodka, and I can tell you that when I drink it I feel much better than if I had just consumed a high-sugar cocktail with ginger beer and vodka.”

The bar also serves a kombucha mimosa, which replaces half of the orange juice with fermented tea.

“I can tell you from firsthand experience that when I drink regular mimosas I can get a headache, or I feel low after drinking them,” Dravis said. “There’s definitely going to be a more sustained, balanced feeling when you drink a kombucha mimosa because you don’t get the sugar crash.”

Dravis isn’t the only one who believes kombucha can help prevent hangovers. Eric Childs, founder of Kombucha Brooklyn, claims that drinking kombucha between alcoholic drinks results in “reverse toxmosis,” and that drinking it the morning after can cure a hangover thanks to kombucha’s detoxifying properties.

Native Kitchen's kombucha mimosa substitutes kombucha for half the normal amount of orange juice. Credit: Tina Caputo

Native Kitchen’s kombucha mimosa substitutes kombucha for half the normal amount of orange juice. Credit: Tina Caputo

For those who are already suffering from a hangover, Native Kitchen offers kombucha on draft, along with kombucha elixirs such as the Pommy, a mixture of pomegranate juice, kombucha, local honey, lime juice and bee pollen.

The key to alleviating a hangover, Dravis said, is to reduce acidity in the body, and kombucha can help with that. “When you’re hung over your body is in a state of complete acidity from the excess sugar and the alcohol, so you’re going to want a quick boost of alkalinity,” she said.

Although there’s no solid scientific proof of these claims, they seem to make a fair amount of sense. And when kombucha cocktails are as delicious as Native Kitchen’s, lining up volunteers for further “research” shouldn’t be a problem.

The Ginger Mule

Ingredients

2 ounces vodka

1 ounce honey

Juice of 1/2 lime

3 ounces kombucha

1 ounce ginger juice*

*If you don’t have a juicer, you can use a ginger-flavored kombucha, or muddle a small piece of ginger in the shaker.

Directions

1. Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until mixed.

2. Serve over ice in a copper mug or double old fashioned glass, garnished with a lime wheel.

The Pommy

Ingredients

3 ounces pomegranate juice

1 ounce lime juice

1 teaspoon local honey

6 ounces kombucha (any flavor)

Small pinch of bee pollen (available in health food stores)

Directions

1. Add all ingredients except the pollen to a shaker with ice and shake until mixed.

2. Strain into a flute glass and sprinkle bee pollen on top.

Main photo: Jasmine Dravis of Native Kitchen & Kombucha Bar shows off a kombucha cocktail. Credit: Tina Caputo

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Three easy salsas for a New Year's Eve party. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

This time of year, most of us make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. To jump-start my own plans, and to help my friends who are all making the same resolution, I host a healthy New Year’s Eve party.

For advice and inspiration, I consulted the experts at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass., one of the country’s premier spas. I asked Stephen Betti, executive chef of Canyon Ranch, what beverages to serve.

He offered up several yummy Canyon Ranch “mocktails” (recipes below) — nonalcoholic, healthy drinks. All can be made ahead of time and set out in pitchers so guests can help themselves. Among my favorites is Almosjito, with a hint of maple sugar and intense citrus tang that’s so delicious that no one will miss the tequila.

Healthy New Year’s party foods

Next onto food: What to serve that’s delicious, fun to eat and good for you? Again, Betti came to the rescue with a slew of great nibble suggestions, starting with an assortment of homemade salsas, low-calorie and low-fat sauces made with chopped veggies, and even fruits that can be served as a dip for raw veggies, tortilla chips or boiled shrimp.

“Salsas are easy to make,” Betti explained. “They are also easy on the host, as salsa ingredients can be chopped in a food processor using the pulse button.” The yellow pepper salsa is delicious and surprising because it doesn’t use tomatoes, one of the most common salsa ingredients. This is an especially good recipe to enjoy in winter when tomatoes can be rock hard and flavorless. Instead, the yellow pepper salsa calls for jicama, a root vegetable. If you’ve never tasted jicama, you’re in for a treat. Jicama’s white crunchy flesh has a sweet, nutty flavor and is delicious served raw or cooked. Use what’s left of the jicama from the salsa recipe as one of the ingredients in a crudités platter.

In addition to the simple-to-make salsas, Betti shared Canyon Ranch recipes for chicken gyoza and spicy crab cakes (recipes below). Both can be made ahead and kept frozen until the day of the event, then heated in the oven just before serving. Both are easy-to-eat two-bite finger foods perfect for a party.

The gyoza, which are effortlessly prepared with ready-made wonton wrappers, are better than any I’ve tried from a restaurant. I used chicken but also leftover turkey, which I had frozen after Thanksgiving, but both are terrific. You can adjust the seasonings to suit your own taste too. For example, I added more ginger, less wasabi and substituted cilantro for the lemongrass in one batch for excellent results. It is one of those recipes that, no matter how much you tweak, the dish is delicious.

Five party tips

OK so let’s say you cannot host your own healthy feast. What can you do to jump-start your New Year’s resolution? I asked for help in how we can avoid overindulging from Lori Reamer, nutrition director for Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires. She had these five tips for coping with holiday parties:

1. Have a healthy snack an hour before arriving to the party

2. Offer to bring a fabulously delicious but low-cal, healthy dish to the event.

3. Eat from a small plate and drink from a small glass to control portion size and avoid overindulging.

4. Select only the most special dishes. Don’t waste calories on supermarket fare!

5. Don’t focus only on the food. Embrace the entire party experience — the company, decorations, music, conversation. Food is just one small part of the fun!

If you do happen to overindulge in food and drink on New Year’s Eve, all is not lost! You can repair come of the damage on New Year’s Day. According to Canyon Ranch’s Kevin Murray, a naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist, “The best ways to rid your body of last night’s alcohol is by drinking lots of water the next day, eating light and getting plenty of sweat-producing exercise.”

Mocktails

Courtesy of Canyon Ranch Spas

Almosjito

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients
1/2 fresh lime

1/2 fresh orange

4 sprigs fresh mint

1/4 cup white grape juice

1/4 cup sparkling water

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

1/3 cup crushed ice

Directions

Squeeze lime and orange into cocktail shaker. Add mint, white grape juice, water, maple syrup and ice. Shake and strain into glass.

Bloody Mary

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 6

Ingredients

1 tablespoon horseradish

1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

2 teaspoons celery seed

2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Pinch black pepper

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

4 cups low-sodium tomato juice

Directions

Combine all ingredients except for tomato juice in a blender container. Puree briefly. Add tomato juice and blend well. Serve over ice.

Margarita

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 4

Ingredients

1/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups water

2/3 cup lime juice

2/3 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions

Combine sugar and water and allow to dissolve. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve cold or over ice.

Pomatini

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 6

Ingredients

3 cups white grape juice

3/4 cup pomegranate juice

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Pinch sea salt

12 fresh mint leaves

Directions

Combine grape juice, pomegranate juice, lime juice and salt in a large pitcher. For each beverage, add 3/4 cup juice mixture to a shaker with 2 mint leaves and 3 ounces of ice. Shake and pour into a glass.

H2 Tini

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

1 fresh lime wedge

1/2 cup fresh watermelon juice

1/4 cup sparkling pear or apple cider

4 sprigs cilantro

1/3 cup crushed ice

Directions

Squeeze lime into cocktail shaker and add peel. Add remaining ingredients and shake. Pour into martini glass. Garnish with a thin slice of watermelon.

Party Food Recipes

Adapted from “Canyon Ranch Cooks”

Yellow Pepper Salsa

Prep time: 15 minutes

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients

1 large yellow bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup diced jicama

1/2 cup chopped scallions

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 teaspoon minced, canned chipotle pepper

Pinch salt

Pinch pepper

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well.

Pico de Gallo

Prep time: 20 minutes

Yield: 3 cups

Ingredients

4 medium tomatoes, diced

1 1/2 cups canned, diced tomatoes

1/2 cup diced red onion

3 tablespoons chopped scallions

1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper

1 tablespoon diced jalapeño pepper

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Directions

Place all ingredients in a food processor and mix briefly.

Chipotle Salsa

Prep time: 15 minutes

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients

1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained

1/4 cup diced red onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1/4 teaspoon minced chipotle pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

Pinch chili flakes

Directions

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender container and blend until smooth.

Spicy crab cakes make for great party foods. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

Spicy Crab Cakes can be made ahead and kept frozen until the day of the event. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

Spicy Crab Cakes with Tomato Herb Coulis

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Yield: 8

Ingredients

4 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 Roma tomatoes, about 8 ounces, chopped

1 cup diced red onion

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

5 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 pound lump crabmeat

1/2 cup minced shallots

2 tablespoons diced scallions

1/4 cup minced red bell pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 large egg plus 1 egg white, beaten

2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari or soy sauce

1 cup bread crumbs

1 teaspoon canola oil

Directions

1. To make the coulis, sauté garlic with olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat for about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer,and cook about 5 minutes, until tomatoes begin to break apart. Add the red onion, basil, thyme, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, salt and pepper, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

2. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly and transfer to a blender container. Puree the coulis until smooth and reserve.

3. To make the crab cakes, combine the crabmeat, shallots, scallions, red bell pepper, 3 remaining tablespoons of parsley, cayenne pepper, eggs, tamari sauce and bread crumbs in a large bowl and mix well. Make 2-inch patties using about 1/4 cup of mix each.

4. Heat a sauté pan until hot over medium heat. Lightly coat with the canola oil. Place crab cakes in pan and cook until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn and continue to cook to golden brown.

5. Serve crab cakes accompanied with the coulis.

Chicken gyoza are a terrific party good. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

Chicken Gyoza are effortlessly prepared with ready-made wonton wrappers. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

Chicken Gyoza With Wasabi Soy Sauce

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Yield: 24 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 tablespoon diced lemongrass

1 tablespoon low-sodium tamari

1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon wasabi (Japanese horseradish)

1 sliced chicken breast, boned, skinned and defatted

2 tablespoons chopped scallions

1 large egg white

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Pinch salt

2 teaspoons olive oil

24 4-inch wonton skins

Canola oil

Directions

1. To make the wasabi soy sauce, bring 3/4 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons of the ginger and 1 tablespoon of the garlic, reduce heat. and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add the lemongrass and tamari and continue cooking until the liquid reduces to about 1/3 cup. Strain and cool.

3. Blend the sauce in a blender with the rice vinegar, lemon juice and wasabi until well combined. Reserve.

4. In a food processor, chop chicken breast at high speed, until finely minced. Add the remaining tablespoon of ginger and garlic, scallions, egg white, pepper, salt and oil and mix well.

5. Arrange wonton skins on a flat surface. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of chicken mixture in the center of each wonton. Brush edges with water. Fold into half-moons and lightly pinch edges together to ensure a good seal. (May be frozen at this time for future use.)

6. Lightly coat a large sauté pan with canola oil. Arrange wontons in a single layer in sauté pan. Sear bottoms only to a golden brown color. Transfer to steamer and steam for 3 to 5 minutes.

7. Serve the gyoza with the dipping sauce on the side.

Main photo: A trio of salsas — yellow pepper, pico de gallo and chipotle — make for easy, healthy party foods. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

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Candied turmeric provides a gift for friends -- and for yourself. The simple syrup left over from the candied turmeric recipe makes a wonderful flavoring for cocktails. Credit: David Hagerman

By now, you’ve probably heard about turmeric: the yellow-orange rhizome native to South Asia recognized for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The ingredient in Indian and southeast Asian cuisines that colors curries and other dishes gold, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a staple in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines. Studies suggest that the rhizome may be helpful in treating osteoarthritis, viral and bacterial infections, stomach ulcers, cancer and other conditions.

I’ve known of turmeric’s usefulness in treating the common cold since 2008, when I stumbled upon sugar-coated slices of the rhizome at the central market in Hoi An, Vietnam. I’d been nursing a scratchy throat and runny nose for three chilly, drizzly days. When a vendor heard me cough, she pushed a bag of candied turmeric in my direction and motioned toward my throat and red eyes. I ate several slices then and there and intermittently snacked on the turmeric for the rest of the day. By morning, my sore throat was gone. By day two, I felt good as new.

A Not-So-Common Cure for the Common Cold

Over the last few years I’ve incorporated turmeric into my daily diet, usually combined with green tea, ginger and lemongrass in the form of a powerhouse infusion. I drink the refreshing, slightly spicy and astringent elixir iced, as a preventive. I haven’t suffered a cold since late 2011.

So this Christmas, I’m giving friends the gift of good health in the form of jars of candied turmeric slices (and making extra for myself to carry with me on travels). The lovely orange flesh of the rhizome has a slight bitterness that proves a wonderful foil for a coating of white sugar. To increase the snack’s healthfulness, I add black pepper – believed to increase the body’s ability to absorb turmeric’s beneficial ingredient, curcumin to the simple syrup in which I poach thin slices of turmeric.

An Unexpected Extra That You Can Tip Your Glass To

At the end, I’m left with a bonus: a beautiful, astringent-bitter simple syrup that makes a great flavoring for cocktails.

Like ginger, turmeric peels most easily with the edge of a spoon. The rhizome stains anything it touches (wear an apron) and will leave a dark orange, tacky goo on your spoon and knife. To remove it and the color that’s left on your hands, cutting board and other kitchen surfaces, wash with a kitchen cream cleanser.

Look for fresh turmeric at Whole Foods and other specialty grocery stores, gourmet markets and southeast Asian and Indian groceries.

Candied Turmeric

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes to peel and slice the turmeric plus up to 6 hours to dry the turmeric slices.

Cook time: 20 to 25 minutes

Yield: 3/4 to 1 cup candied turmeric slices

Thin slices are paramount here, as is allowing ample time for your turmeric to dry after poaching. Rush this step and you’ll end up with unattractive clumps of sugar and rhizome.

Ingredients

3/4 pound fresh turmeric

1 cup water

3/4 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup for tossing the poached turmeric

Directions

Prepping the turmeric:

1. Break any small knobs off of the main turmeric root and use the edge of a spoon to peel the skin off of all of the rhizome pieces. Use a paring knife to peel away any stubborn bits of skin.

2. Rinse the peeled turmeric and slice it as thinly as possible into coins and strips.

To candy the turmeric: 

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the water. Add 3/4 cup sugar and stir to dissolve.

2. Add the turmeric, stir to submerge all of the pieces and bring the syrup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer briskly until the turmeric slices are tender but not limp, about 25 minutes.

3. Drain the turmeric in a colander or sieve placed over a bowl, then transfer the turmeric slices to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet or piece of foil or parchment paper. (Set the turmeric syrup aside to cool and use to flavor sparkling water and cocktails.) Arrange the turmeric slices on the rack so that they do not overlap and place in a well-ventilated spot (underneath a ceiling fan is ideal). Allow the turmeric to dry until the slices are slightly tacky but no longer wet, at least 3 hours and as many as 6 hours, depending on the temperature and ventilation in the room.

4. Toss the turmeric slices in 1/3 cup of sugar until coated. (Don’t throw away leftover sugar; it’s delicious in tea.) Store the turmeric in a clean, dry jar or other container. If you live in a hot, humid climate you may need to refrigerate it to keep the sugar from dissolving.

The Orangutang

Yield: 1 cocktail

Syrup and orange juice make this pretty and potent bourbon cocktail a little bit sweet. Campari and turmeric add a nice astringent-bitter edge; lemon juice adds a hint of tartness.

Ingredients

2 ounces bourbon

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce orange juice

1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) turmeric simply syrup (see Candied Turmeric recipe, above)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Orange slice, for serving

Directions

Pour all of the ingredients except for the orange slice into a cocktail shaker. Add a handful of ice. Shake and pour the cocktail and ice into a short glass. Garnish the rim of the glass with the orange slice.

Main photo: Candied turmeric provides a gift for friends — and for yourself. The simple syrup left over from the candied turmeric recipe makes a wonderful flavoring for cocktails. Credit: David Hagerman

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Sorel, a hibiscus punch, mixes well with a variety of liquors and tropical juices. Credit: Dreamstime

My father’s home of Trinidad & Tobago is filled with astounding diversity — its ecology, its people and, not least of all, its food. Featuring a cuisine that is a mix of African, East Indian, Chinese, Native Islander, Spanish and Portuguese influences, holidays in the twin-island nation run the gamut of cultures.

At Christmastime, Spanish pasteles made by the dozens by some families are sold by street vendors, and costumed bands sing parang or, really, paranda — that is, Spanish ballads — door to door. A rummy fruitcake descended and evolved from the original made by 18th-century Irish indentures is a must have, as is sorel, a punch made from steeped Roselle hibiscus flowers native to West Africa that came to the Caribbean and Latin America as part of the Atlantic slave trade. Sorel drinks, like peanut punch and a wide canon of Trinidadian recipes, have a strong foundation in the cuisine of West Africans brought as slaves to the island in the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries.

Sorel can be used in alcoholic, nonalcoholic drinks

Sorel is made from the calyxes of Roselle hibiscuses. Naturally tart, the flower mixture is sweetened with sugar and made aromatic with cinnamon and clove. In Trinidad, where it has become popular year-round, bay leaf is also added, while ginger is a common addition in other island nations such as Jamaica.

Sorel is most often made at home during the holiday season, and then rum or gin can be added as desired. In the United States, Jackie Summers, a former publishing executive from Brooklyn, began bottling Sorel, a premixed alcoholic version of the drink, in 2012.

“My first encounter with sorel was around (at) 5 years old at the annual West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn,” said Summers, who often refers to himself as “the Liquortarian.” “There was dancing and floats and steel drum music and beef patties and this delicious tart drink that tasted like nothing I’d ever had.”

As an adult, Summers tinkered with making Sorel in his home kitchen, eventually bottling an alcoholic version of the drink for family and friends.

“I’d been making Sorel at home for friends and family for almost 20 years with no commercial aspirations,” he said. “Then four years ago I had a cancer scare. When I was lucky enough to come out of surgery and found that the tumor on my spine was benign and I found out I was going to live, I knew I couldn’t go back to my old life in corporate America.”

After a promising start in 2012 and then devastation of his Red Hook facilities during Hurricane Sandy later that year, Summers rebuilt what is now an award-winning brand. You can find where Sorel is sold near you using this locator.

Summers’ version of the traditional drink is smooth yet complex, proving itself an ideal mixer for all manner of holiday cocktails. Moroccan Roselle hibiscus is mixed with a pure wheat alcohol that is both certified organic and kosher then spiced with Nigerian ginger, Indonesian nutmeg, cassia and Brazilian clove.

Sorel works particularly well with sparkling wine or in the Crown Heights Negroni (see recipe below), developed by Summers. The liqueur’s rich red color adds vibrancy to yuletide or New Year’s cocktail gatherings.

Whether making sorel at home with the recipe below or buying Summers’ variety, home mixologists will find this sweet-tart ruby elixir an indispensable twist for holiday entertaining.

Homemade Sorel

This traditional version of sorel is nonalcoholic and can be served as a refreshing punch for all or spiked with a little rum, vodka or gin. It is particularly nice mixed in equal parts with sparkling wine. The addition of ginger varies from island to island — it’s always used in Jamaica, for example, but never in Trinidad. Add it or not, according to your tastes. This drink can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: About 30 minutes

Total time: About 35 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

2 cups dried hibiscus flowers (available in Caribbean and Middle Eastern markets) or 4 bags pure hibiscus tea (for example, Yogi)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cinnamon stick

1 whole clove

1 teaspoon grated ginger (optional)

7 cups water, divided

Directions

1. Combine the hibiscus flowers or tea bags, sugar, cinnamon stick, clove, ginger (if using) and 3 cups of water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until reduced by half.

2. Remove from heat and cover the pan. Allow to steep for 1 hour, then strain. Add remaining 4 cups of cold water and let chill.

Sorel-Coconut Vodka Martini

Coconut is mild and naturally sweet, while the sorel is tangy and bright with a gorgeous ruby-red hue. The two flavors combine beautifully in this drink enhanced by the warm spices in the hibiscus tisane.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: 2 cocktails

Ingredients

1/4 cup coconut palm sugar

2 curls of lime rind, about 3 inches long

2 cinnamon sticks

4 ice cubes

4 ounces coconut vodka (for example, Pearl), plus extra for rimming

1 ounce Rose’s lime juice

4 ounces homemade sorel

Directions

1. Place the coconut palm sugar in a shallow bowl or saucer and set aside.

2. Wet a folded, clean paper towel with some of the coconut vodka and wipe around the rims of two large martini glasses.

3. Holding the glasses by the stems, tip the rims into the sugar, twirling to coat evenly.

4. Curl the lime rind loosely around each cinnamon stick and carefully place the cinnamon sticks in the glasses; set aside.

5. Pour the ice cubes, coconut vodka, Rose’s lime juice and sorel into a martini shaker. Shake until the outside of the shaker is cold.

6. Pour the cocktails into the prepared glasses.

Crown Heights Negroni

Crown Heights Negroni. Credit:  Maya Guez

Crown Heights Negroni. Credit: Maya Guez

This gorgeous winter cocktail was created by Jackie Summers, creator and maker of Sorel hibiscus liqueur.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Total time: 5 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

8 ounces gin (for example, Tanqueray Malacca)

2 ounces Sorel

2 ounces sweet vermouth (for example, Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth)

2 ounces Campari

1 cup ice (optional)

4 dehydrated orange slices for garnish (fresh may be used, too)

Directions
1. Combine the gin, Sorel, vermouth and Campari in a pitcher with the ice (if using). Stir.

2. Garnish four martini glasses with an orange slice and divide the mixture evenly among them. Serve.

Hot Buttered Sorel

Brewed with warm spices, sorel is a natural, if surprising, twist on hot buttered rum. This recipe, from Jackie Summers, makes for a cozy drink on a chilly winter’s day.

Prep and cook time: 10 minutes

Yield: 4 cocktails

Ingredients

4 tablespoon butter

8 heaped tablespoons brown sugar

12 ounces Sorel

2 ounces spiced rum

4 thin lemon slices

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

1. Melt the butter over low heat in a medium saucepan, then add the brown sugar. Whisk well and continue to whisk until the sugar melts and begins to caramelize, about 2 minutes.

2. Stir the Sorel into the caramel mixture, whisking well.

3. Divide the mixture among 4 mugs and add an equal amount of the spiced rum to each.

4. Garnish each mug with a lemon slice and a pinch of grated nutmeg and cinnamon. Serve warm.

Main photo: Sorel, a hibiscus punch, mixes well with a variety of liquors and tropical juices. Credit: Dreamstime

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