Sunday, December 31, 2017

Pairing the Sidecar with Stuffed Mushrooms

The Sidecar, redolent with the aromas of citrus and cognac, pairs perfectly with our stuffed mushrooms.

The Sidecar, invented in Europe following World War I, and one of David A. Embury’s six basic drinks in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, is considered a classic among cocktailians across the globe. Just bring the glittering amber to your lips and you’ll soon learn why. The aroma alone is intoxicating: lemon and orange, with a familiar mix of cognac, one of the truly amazing members of the spirit world.

Pairing Sidecars isn’t such an easy task. You want to keep the citrus flavors balanced without bringing out too much of the cognac’s strength. That’s why stuffed mushrooms work so well: the richness of the butter in the stuffing is a perfect foil to the cognac, and brings out the flavors of the lemon juice and the orange liqueur without making it too sour. Add a little saffron and Italian herbs to spice things up, and all the flavors seem to just come together in one small bite.

The Sidecar
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

1 1/2 ounces cognac or brandy
1 ounce orange liqueur (we like Combier)
1/2 ounce lemon juice
demerara sugar rim (or turbinado)
lemon twist, as garnish

Rim half a chilled cocktail glass with the sugar (you may need to muddle or grind the sugar if it’s too chunky). In a shaker half-filled with ice, add the cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice. Shake for 15 seconds. Strain into glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Tips & Tricks

Finding the right triple sec can be a daunting prospect. We searched high and low until we found the one we thought mixed perfectly with a variety of brandies and cognacs. If you use one other than Combier, the ratios of the three ingredients may need to be adjusted. When experimenting, you can always use teaspoons instead of ounces to sample ratios before committing to a full cocktail.

Rimming a glass is easy. Just take a lemon wedge and rub the outer rim of your cocktail glass (you also can dip the glass in the liqueur if you prefer). Then dip the edge of the glass into the sugar and rotate, gently bobbing the glass up and down so that the sugar sticks to the rim.


Stuffed Mushrooms

Paul’s mom has made stuffed mushrooms ever since he can remember, and her recipe was the inspiration for this perfect little bite-size accompaniment to the Sidecar. Rosé wine and saffron, with a little Italian herbs, bump up the earthiness of these little treats. Make sure you get small baby bellas from the farmers market or grocery store; that way, your guests can pop them in their mouths without any worry. If you want to halve the recipe (as we do in the video), go ahead. If you end up with some leftover stuffing, it’s perfect as a little side dish for your main meal, or a topping for a turkey sandwich.

12 ounces mushrooms (clean and remove stems, reserve stems)
2 small onions
2 celery stalks (remove ribs)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 tablespoon Italian herbs (oregano, marjoram, basil)
salt and pepper, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon and 1/4 teaspoon, respectively)
2 pinches saffron
1/2 cup rosé wine

Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. In a food processor, chop stems, onions, and celery until almost pulpy. Add mixture to skillet and brown, stirring occasionally (about 6 minutes). Add breadcrumbs, herbs, salt, pepper, and saffron, and mix until all ingredients are incorporated and the breadcrumbs have absorbed all the butter. Add wine and mix thoroughly. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Using a small measuring spoon, scoop out a little mixture and dollop onto underside of mushrooms caps. Press lightly to form a dome (do not overfill). Place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. If the mushrooms are wobbly, you can cut a little off the bottom using a small, thin knife. Bake for 20 minutes, until mushrooms are cooked and the stuffing has browned. Serve warm.

Makes about 3 dozen stuffed mushrooms.

Fun Fact

Did you know that the stems of mushrooms are called stipes?

photos © Steve Schul

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Pairing the French 75 with Shrimp Cocktail

Gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup topped with champagne create a French 75.
Now, doesn’t that sound good? Perfect with some shrimp cocktail.
For such a light and refreshing drink to be named after heavy World War I artillery is incongruous but also poetic. The French 75 has reemerged recently as one of the most popular drinks on bar menus throughout the US. Imagine a Tom Collins topped with your favorite champagne, and you have the French 75. Keep bottles of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, some simple syrup, and gin at your bar, make sure a bottle of champagne (or some Sofia cans) are chilling on ice, and keep the recipe visible. That way your guests can help themselves. All you have to do do is encourage vigorous shaking to get this delicate drink cold. (Just keep a jigger handy to keep out the guesswork.)

French 75
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

1 1/2 ounces gin (preferably one redolent with juniper)
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup*
1 to 2 ounces champagne (depending on your preference; more, if you like)
lemon twist, as garnish
brandied cherry, as garnish
ice (the more champagne, the less ice), optional

Shake gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup for 15 seconds in an ice-filled shaker. Strain into wine goblet or highball glass (with some ice cubes, if you like). Top with champagne. (Add more ice if necessary.) Garnish with lemon twist and cherry.

* Simple Syrup
Over low heat, dissolve 1 cup sugar in 1 cup water (stir occasionally). Remove from heat, cool in container, and refrigerate for up to a month.

Tips & Tricks

For the past few decades, we all think of flutes as the traditional champagne cocktail vessel. We have over a dozen in our sideboard, and we use them quite a bit. But for the French 75, we wanted to try something a little different and chose a wine goblet. You’ll add a little unexpected touch to your cocktail party. But if you want to go traditional and use champagne flutes, then go right ahead. You can cut an extra long lemon twist and let it drape down the outside of the flute.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT GIN is a very important part of the French 75 process. If we want a light drink that doesn’t overpower the lemon, we’ll perhaps choose Bulldog. If we want a more juniper-tasting cocktail, we’ll opt for some Tanqueray. Experiment with what you already have, and grow from there.


Nothing could be easier than shrimp cocktail, and it’s so perfect paired with the French 75. The spiky tang of traditional cocktail sauce (ketchup and horseradish) brightens the lemon juice and whatever herbs and spices inform the gin, making your taste buds very happy. Make this your go-to hors d’oeuvre when you’re in a hurry or tired but still crave something satisfying. Frozen shrimp is great to keep on hand, but we recommend getting the raw shrimp with the shell on. The flavor is deeper, much more complex—with a hint of the sea.

Shrimp Cocktail

A good rule of thumb is that 2 pounds of shrimp in their shells will yield about 11/4 pounds when peeled.

Allow about 3/4 pound headless shrimp in the shell per person; if the shrimp are shelled, about 1/3 to 1/2 pound per person.

Simply boil shrimp for 3 to 5 minutes in salted water. Cook until they turn pink, and then rinse in cold water. Drain and pat dry. Serve with your favorite cocktail sauce.


Tom Collins
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

For a Collins (or tall) glass
2 1/2 ounces gin (try Hendrick’s and then try a London dry and Plymouth to see what works best for you)
1 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
2–3 ounces club soda
orange wheel and cherry, as garnish

Shake in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into ice-filled collins glass. Top with soda. Add garnish, speared, and rest on rim.

For a rocks (or short) glass
1 1/2 ounces gin (we also like G’Vine Floraison)
2/3 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 1/2 ounces club soda
cherry and orange half-moon slice

Shake in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into ice-filled rocks or old-fashioned glass. Top with soda. Add garnish, speared, and rest on rim.

photos © Steve Schul