We were the delighted recipients of two luxurious, liquid gifts this Christmas:  a bottle of Grand Marnier and one of Remy Martin.  When mixed together with a spash of fresh lemon juice, these fine spirits make my very favorite cocktail, the sidecar.  It’s a perfectly balanced drink, rich and warm yet crisp and light, not too sour or too sweet, and silky smooth.

There are two master recipes for the sidecar.  The English version combines two parts brandy with one part orange liquor and one part lemon juice.  The French version — cleaner and fresher to my palate — calls for the same three ingredients in equal measure.

And then there is a third version, my own improvisation, concocted from more the affordable ingredients found a few shelves below the Cognac and Cointreau.  It lacks the depth and grandeur of the sidecar, but has a nicely balanced, refreshing quality all it’s own.  A little like a margarita, but without the sour, bitter edge, it’s a sturdy, easy-drinking cocktail.  We call it a boxcar.

Whether you’re having a top-shelf or bottom-shelf evening tonight, enjoy.  And have a happy new year.

French sidecar

1 oz.  Cognac or Armagnac

1 oz. Cointreau or Grand Marnier

1 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about half a lemon)

Combine Cognac, Cointreau, lemon juice, and a handful of ice cubes in a shaker and mix until chilled.  Strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with a strip of lemon peel, if desired.

Boston boxcar

1 oz. domestic brandy

1 oz. triple sec

1 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about half a lemon)

Combine brandy, triple sec, lemon juice, and a handful of ice cubes in a shaker and mix until chilled.  Strain into a cocktail glass. (If you don’t have a shaker, serving over ice is just fine.)  Garnish with a strip of lemon peel, if desired.


Nothing beats a splash of lemon on a scorching hot day.  Instead of mixing up a whole pitcher, I keep a  jar of lemon syrup in the fridge (combine the sugar syrup and lemon juice, but don’t dilute with extra water).  That way I can make lemonade by the glassful for the kids, mix it with carbonated water for myself, or shake up a quick cocktail after bedtime.

Classic lemonade

Yield:  Serves 4.

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. water (for dissolving sugar)

1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 2 large lemons)

2 to 3 c. cold water

Combine sugar and 1/2 c. water in a small saucepan.  Warm over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is just dissolved.  Allow to cool slightly.  Combine sugar syrup and lemon juice in a small pitcher, then dilute with cold water to taste.  Serve over ice.

I feel a little silly admitting that I love smoothies.  Maybe because in my mind, which has been known to over-compartmentalize on occasion, smoothies are akin to those gigante chocolattes and other achingly sweet, frosty beverages sipped through 18-inch straws whilst texting/chatting and/or walking/driving.

But really, there’s more to smoothies than you can find in a 32-0z. plastic cup.  When you make them at home you can raise the bar a little and whip up something wholesome enough to serve for breakfast (set a glassful– with a bendy straw — in front of your yogurt-guzzling 2 year old and see her eyes go saucer-wide).  Try strawberry (my favorite), blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, mango, pineapple, kiwi, cherry, banana, or any combination thereof (you can freeze fresh fruit — especially extra bananas or any leftovers from picking expeditions — or just buy it frozen from the store).  You may use lowfat or nonfat yogurt instead of whole, but you’ll probably need to increase the honey (the lower the fat content, the more sour the yogurt).  I like thick, creamy, Greek- and French-style yogurts, but the regular kind works just as well.

For a decent frozen yogurt without need of an ice cream maker, freeze your leftovers.  Let stand at room temperature for 10-20 minutes (or transfer to the fridge for a few hours) until soft enough to scoop, then serve.

Fruit and yogurt smoothies

Yield:  Makes 1 quart, serving 4

16 oz. frozen fruit

16 oz. whole milk, plain yogurt

2 tbsp. honey, or more to taste

Whiz fruit in a food processor until finely chopped.  Add yogurt and honey.  Process until smooth.  Or combine everything in a blender and puree.

I like my hot chocolate rich but not too thick, dark but not bitter, silky smooth and slightly sweet.  High-quality ingredients are of the utmost importance here.  I use dutch-processed cocoa, which dissolves easily and has a lovely mahogany color.  If you can find a high fat version, so much the better.  And the chocolate you like best to eat will be the one you want to drink — velvety, mellow Callebaut and El Rey (around 60% cacao)  are my favorites.  If you prefer a fruity, acidic chocolate, try Valrhona or Scharffen Berger.

Perfect Hot Chocolate

Yield:  2 servings

1 1/2 c. whole milk

1 tbsp. granulated sugar (or light brown is nice, too)

1 tbsp. dutch-processed cocoa powder

1 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped

Heat milk in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add sugar and cocoa powder, stirring with a whisk to dissolve.  When hot and steaming, remove pan from heat and whisk in chocolate.

hotchocolate3To make hot chocolate mix, combine 1/2 c. sugar, 1/2 c. cocoa powder, and 8 oz. chopped chocolate in a food processor and pulse until chocolate is very finely chopped and mixture looks fairly uniform.  Be careful not to run to the processor continuously for too long — the heat from the machine can melt the chocolate.    To serve, vigorously whisk a heaping spoonful or two into 6 ounces of hot milk.

Tonic and limes make fine cocktails, but for ushering out the final hours of the Old Year I like to raise the bar a little.  These fruity, simple syrups will keep in the fridge for weeks and are very versatile:  you can mix them with tonic or club soda and the liquor of your choice, or with sparking wine (we like cava, prosecco, and a Portugese wine called vinho verde as affordable alternatives to champagne), or just with seltzer for a festive, non-alcoholic drink.

Blackberry-mint Syrup

1 quart fresh or frozen blackberries

1 1/2 c. sugar

1 c. water

1/4 c. fresh mint leaves (about 12)

Combine sugar, water, and berries in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid is slightly thickened and berries begin to break down.  Remove from heat, stir in mint leaves, and let steep 15 minutes.
Strain mixture through a fine-meshed sieve, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible, then refrigerate.  Serve chilled.

lemonsyrup2Simple Lemon Syrup

Yield: about 2 cups

1 1/2 c. sugar

1 c. water

1 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Bring sugar and water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Strain lemon juice into a heat-proof bowl, pour in sugar syrup, and stir to combine.  Let cool at room temperature, then refrigerate.  Serve chilled.

We have some cranberry-ginger shrub leftover from Christmas that we’ll be serving, too.  Happy New Year!

shrubglassMy friend Sarah gets credit for this ingenious gift idea.  A sweet-tart combination of fruit juice, sugar, and vinegar, the shrub is a versatile drink mix that’s easy to make.  To serve, fill a glass with ice, add a splash of shrub, and top off with carbonated water or club soda.  Add a shot of rum or brandy, if you like.  Or mix the shrub with sparkling wine instead.  Any way you fix it, it’s awfully refreshing.

Cranberry-ginger Shrub

Makes about 1 quart.

1 1/2 c. water

1 1/2 c. sugar

1 quart fresh cranberries

1 thumb-sized knob of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

2 c. cider vinegar

shrubcook3Bring water and sugar to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Add cranberries and ginger, simmer 15 minutes.  Add vinegar, simmer 5 minutes more. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve set over a bowl, pressing on berries to release as much liquid as possible.  Transfer to a glass container and refrigerate up to a month.  Shake or stir before using.