Whew! Been on break for a couple of months, but not slacking off. We reverted back to the first love – wine – the the last of the cold months this past season.  Many bottles consumed and many discoveries (good and bad) made. Aside from that, there’s a lot going on to occupy us. Scouts for the little ones, irritating issues with the new house for the big ones, trying to get more outdoor activities going, work, blah, blah, blah.

The past few weeks have been occupied digging a deep hole in the back yard to try out and old cooking method. Seemed like something fun to play with over the summer. It is quite a chore, but at this stage in my life I think of it as exercise and actually enjoyed working up the sweat. pitKeeping the proper pace is key. No back issues and much dirt moved over three sessions. If the hole doesn’t flood during the current downpour, we’re going to rediscover true pit barbecuing next weekend. The pit is sized to accommodate a small pig / goat/ lamb carcass. We’ll get some practice during the summer with butts, shoulders and other hunks of meat, then see if we’re up to the whole hog by the fall.

This past weekend was a wet one. Not the best timing as we had a Cub Scout family camping trip. We had intermittent rain, but it didn’t spoil a hike up Hemphill Bald in Catalochee with a return through the edge of the Smokey Mountain Park. Really beautiful and a ringing endorsement for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy who helped the land owners set aside the area. Talk about wild pigs and moonshining came up during the  hike. Both are endemic in the area.  Seemed like one more subtle hint to get back to the blog. Cocktail recipes have been building up in the To Do Box. Time to shake one up.

Eric Felten had what looked like a good one in last week’s Wall Street Journal. A resposado tequila based citrus drink with pepper. I had most of a bottle of the tequila left from Christmas. Another sign that I needed to get busy with the shaker. Ingredients were gathered and the drink assembled tonight.

Pink Panther
from Aisha Sharpe

1-1/2 oz resposado tequila
3/4 oz fresh ruby red grapefruit juice
1/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/4 oz agave syrup
2 dozen pink peppercorns

Muddle half the peppercorns in a shaker together with the lime juice. Add the other liquids, shake with ice, and strain into a stemmed cocktail glass. Float the other pink peppercorns on the drink for garnish.

Definitely a keeper. Mine turned out a little less pink due to a slightly color-anemic grapefruit. I also cheated on the peppercorns and went with the black ones I had here at the house. There is an herbal earthiness to the drink that is pleasant and a bite on the finish from the crush pepper. I skipped the pepper garnish, it seemed like something you’d have to fish out of your mouth. Nice thing about being an amateur – nobody’s looking.

I like. I’m going to have another. Hate to waste the extra grapefruit juice, plus I need something to hold me while I watch the camping gear dry out. Cheers.



Vermouth is something I never would have come across without the cocktail habit. Dry (French) Vermouth for Martinis, Sweet (Italian) Vermouth for Manhattans. I figured you needed some of each to have a well-stocked bar. Fortunately, they come in half bottles (less expensive, less to waste) so I picked some up last year. Never used either one of them. During a trip to Atlanta last year, I came across one liter bottles of dry and sweet vermouth at a Trader Joe’s. They were only $6 a bottle, about what I had paid for one third that much vermouth in the half bottles. It was an impulse buy – I didn’t need them, but the price was so just too good to pass up.

Well, they’ve been sitting around since I got them home. Every now and then I would try to figure out what to do with them. It finally dawn on me that the dry vermouth would work as a cooking wine. It has been pressed into service several times now. The most basic use is in a court bullion – a poaching liquid. It also works well in a white sauce for scallops. I used it most recently to poach a chicken and some rabbit pieces that were going into a Brunswick Stew. After boiling the meat for an hour or so, I strained the liquid, returned it to a pot on the stove to simmer until the volume was reduced by half. This made an aromatic stock that was the base for the addition of the stew components.

Court Bouillon from La Varenne Pratique

  • 1 liter of water
  • 250 ml dry white wine
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • bouquet garni
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 1 tsp salt

Combine and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

The sweet vermouth was more of a challenge until Michael Bitten’s recent column gave a wonderful recipe for an ancient Italian steak marinade. His recipe includes red wine, cloves, ground cinnamon, orange zest and sugar. These are combined, simmered, cooled and then used to marinate a steak for several days (about 350 cc for two ribeyes). I tried it, and it was quite good. The steaks paired well with an Italian red wine. After giving it some thought, I’ve simplified it to this:

  • 1 liter of sweet vermouth
  • zest of one orange
  • 18 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

Add spices to the bottle of vermouth, recap and set aside until needed.

This technique has several advantages – the wine is cheaper, and there are no pots to clean up from the marinade prep. Also, I’ve noticed when making ginger syrup that a cold soak infusion gives more delicate flavors. You’ll probably want to strain out the spices and zest after a few weeks, but from then on your vermouth is ready to go. Might want to store in a cool dark spot and downsize the bottle as you use it up to minimize the air in contact with the liquid.