Christmas time is here….

…time for joy & cocktails!

You have waited too long to find gifts for everyone on your list. You could take to the interwebs & satisfy your list in a manner completely devoid of the season’s spirit or you could turn your kitchen into an apothecary for the night & prep libations for friends–or just for yourself, after all, you’ll need them when the family shows up next week.

For Festivus gifts this year, I made a few boozed up garnishes: Maraschino Cherries & Vermouth-Spiked Cocktail Onions.

The simplest way to do this is to find some pearl onions and some sour cherries and soak them in liquor for a few days. But, if you want to get fancy, a few spices and herbs can take it to phase 3, peppering your holiday celebration with spicy, herby, warming drinks to satisfy any lush.

If you had thought really far ahead you could’ve gotten sour cherries when they were in season. But you didn’t. Shame. If you have a Trader Joe’s near-by, however, you can pick up a jar of their Morello Cherries in light syrup. If you can’t find those, I suggest getting sweet cherries & adding lemon juice the solution I’ll reveal below.

For my cherries, I toast a handful of slivered almonds with 2 t whole black peppercorns in  a dry pan. Once the almonds have taken on some color & start to waft with aroma, I pour in 2/3 cup of the jarred syrup (use the rest to make cherry limeades!) combined with 1 1/3 cup Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. If you can’t find Luxardo locally, any Maraschino Liqueur will work, or in a pinch you could use Cherry Brandy. I bring that to a good simmer and then set it aside to steep.

In the meantime, I’ve prepared some canning jars. The ones I used are Quattro Stagioni 5oz, apparently the Ball Jars of Italy. Cute & a little different than a standard American canning jar, they have a great neck with which to tie a ribbon and are available at The Container Store or online (also available in 8.5oz). After sterilizing them, I put in each a sprig of thyme, a ribbon of lemon peel and a half stick of cinnamon. Then, I divide the cherries among each and strain the concoction prepped above over the cherries. If you find that you don’t have enough solution to cover them completely, pour in a little extra liqueur straight. If you want you can then give them a second boil a la proper canning technique. These make a really delicious Manhattan, the cinnamon adding a warm holiday-infused sweetness to every sip.

For the onions, I basically followed this recipe from Saveur, tied each jar with a pretty ribbon and included a recipe for a Dirty Gibson. But after tasting them, I can tell you to make plenty & then use one jar for a quick dinner: simply sear a piece of fish in some olive oil, remove the fish, tent and then pour the contents of one jar in the pan, reduce it and serve with some roasted cauliflower, maybe a squeeze of lemon over the top. Delicious.



unused, but not unloved

So maybe you bought too much cilantro for taco night…

Maybe you haven’t trimmed your garden in a while and suddenly realize your mint runneth over…

Maybe one of your besties went to LA for a month and bestowed upon you all of her unused herbs…

Maybe your refrigerator–like mine–is packed with fresh herbs in dire need of use. If so, do what I did & make an herb paste.

All you do is finely mince all the herbs you have. Seriously–don’t worry about what they are. (Though, you might want to worry about the quantities of strong herbs vs. milder ones.) Here I have rosemary, parsley, cilantro, chives, oregano & mint. Mix it with just enough olive oil to make a paste, a splash of sherry vinegar (or whatever acid you have on hand) and pinch of salt and pepper & then put a dollop on top of anything.

Pork sausage burgers with sweet potato hash browns, pan-seared london broil, pork chops, salmon. The best part is, the protein will warm it up and the juices will mix with your paste and coat the greens you use as base on your plate.

Grass-Fed Burgers with Fennel Lentils & Herb Butter

FYI, if you’re out of good olive oil you can do the same thing with butter or even a semi-soft cheese.
And now, a tip on keeping your herbs longer:

Rinse fresh herbs in tepid water and then shake them off. If they’re really wet, maybe give them a ride in the salad spinner (or lay them out so they dry for a bit). Otherwise, spread evenly on a few paper towels so you have one layer-ish of herbs. Roll up tightly, like a paper towel herb burrito and place in a zip-top bag, making sure to squeeze out the air. Then, keep it in the crisper. Also, reuse said bag for your next herb extravaganza.

Another tip: The Prepara Herb Saver works wonderfully. I’ve had a rosemary bunch in mine for about a month now.