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Archive for November, 2012

RECIPE: Mistletoe Margarita, A Christmas & New Year’s Margarita Cocktail

The mistletoe plant has ovoid green leaves with small white berries. Why is it associated with Christmas? Here’s one explanation:

The Druids of Britain (think Stonehenge), circa 100 C.E., thought that mistletoe had magic properties: a cure for disease, a fertility aid, protection from witches and so forth. In a special ceremony held in late December or early January, priests would cut pieces of mistletoe from oak trees* and people would hang them in their homes.

Over the centuries, the custom of hanging mistletoe at home endured, and around 800 C.E. it may have become joined with a Viking legend.

In that legend, the god Balder is killed with a poison made from mistletoe (mistletoe is, in fact, poisonous). He is brought back to life by his mother, the goddess Frigga, who is able to reverse the effects of the poison.

Overjoyed, Frigga then kisses everyone who walks under the hanging mistletoe. Fast forward another 13 centuries: We’re still kissing people under the mistletoe.


Enjoy a Mistletoe Margarita—just don’t use real mistletoe! Photo courtesy Hornitos Tequila.


You can simulate mistletoe in a cocktail with a few mint leaves; but never let real mistletoe anywhere near edibles if you want to avoid acute gastrointestinal problems.

*Mistletoe is a parasitic plant. It grows attached to the branches of a tree or shrub, from which it absorbs nutrients.


Ingredients Per Drink

  • 1-1/2 parts Tequila
  • 2 parts pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 part sour mix (see discussion and recipe below)
  • 1/2 part triple sec
  • 1 squeeze fresh lime
  • Mint or sage leaves for garnish (sage leaves more closely resemble mistletoe)
  • Optional: 1/2 part grenadine for more intense color
  • Optional: sugar and lime wedges for rim
  • Optional garnish: pomegranate arils or two cranberries

    Why buy artificially colored, artificially
    flavored, HFCS- and preservative-laden sour
    mix, when you can make your own from
    simple, honest ingredients?†



    1. COMBINE all ingredients except garnishes and sugar in a pitcher. Chill.

    2. RIM the glass with sugar before pouring in the cocktail: Simply run a lime wedge around the edge of the glass and then dip the rim of the glass in a plate of sugar.

    2. POUR and garnish each glass with 2 mint leaves and/or other garnishes. Serve on the rocks or straight up.
    Find more of our favorite Christmas cocktails.


    That specialty product called sour mix—also called Margarita mix, sweet-and-sour mix and whiskey sour mix—is simply a lemon/lime flavored simple syrup (also called cane sugar syrup), a sweetener that dissolves easily in cold beverages.

    Simple syrup can be flavored. When it is citrus flavored, it is called sour mix or sweet and sour mix—sweet from the sugar, sour from the citrus.

    Commercial products abound; but as with many prepared foods, you can make a better, less expensive version by just using sugar, water and citrus juice.

    In fact, if you mix up your fair share of cocktails, you should always have some simple syrup at the ready. When you need sour mix, just stir in the citrus juice.



  • To make simple syrup, mix one part sugar and one part water, stirring over a low heat until the sugar dissolves, about five minutes. If you like things less sweet, use 2:1 water: sugar instead of 1:1.
  • You can use warm or lukewarm water and shake it in a jar for a “no cook” recipe.
  • Store simple syrup at room temperature in a repurposed jar, wine bottle or other tightly-capped container that is pour-friendly.
  • Add citrus juice to make sour mix: 1 cup of juice per cup of water. Half lemon, half lime is conventional; but if you have a passion for one over the other, you can use it exclusively. If you like to experiment with flavors, make grapefruit or yuzu simple syrup; or experiment with different varieties of lemons and limes.
  • Fresh sour mix will keep in the fridge for two weeks or longer (we’ve kept it for months). Simple sugar doesn’t need refrigeration, but once you add the citrus juice, it needs to be preserved.
  • LOW CARB/SUGAR-FREE OPTION: Juice 6 large lemons and 6 large limes; mix juice with 3 cups Splenda and 6 cups water.

    †You’ve seen the three ingredients of natural sour mix in the recipe above. Here’s what’s in a commercial brand like Mrs. T’s: water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, sodium citrate, sodium hexametaphosphate, gum acacia, potassium sorbate (preservative), polysorbate 60, natural flavor, ester gum, sodium metabisulfite (preservative), calcium disodium EDTA (preservative), calcium lactate, calcium gluconate, yellow color 5, yellow color 6.


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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Holiday Cocktails To Use Up Spirits

    Do you find yourself with bottles of spirits you don’t use often: the Limoncello you bought on impulse, the cachaça you used once to make Caipirinhas, the saké you never get around to drinking with take-out sushi?

    Could you use the space they take up to store something else?

    Look for holiday cocktail recipes that use those ingredients, and clear those bottles from the shelf.

    Jason Oh, Beverage Manager of the Haru Japanese restaurant chain, shared his recipes for some of Haru’s holiday cocktails, including a Cranberry Caipirinha. It’s helping us use up the cachaça, while looking colorful and tasting great.

    Have Limoncello? Here’s a recipe for a Limoncello Cranberry Spritzer.



  • 2 ounces cachaça
  • 1 ounces cranberry juice
  • 2 dashes cinnamon sugar (half cinnamon, half sugar)
  • 3 teaspoons cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 lime wedges
  • 1 orange slice
  • Cinnamon sticks for garnish

    Christmas is in the air and on the palate with this Cranberry Caipirinha. Photo courtesy Haru Sushi.



    1. MUDDLE limes, cranberries and orange slice in a shaker; mix in brown sugar.

    2. ADD cachaça, cranberry juice and cinnamon sugar. Shake and strain into a rocks glass.

    3. GARNISH with one or two cinnamon sticks.

    Find more of our favorite holiday cocktails.


    If you have more than a few bottles that need to be drunk—and no occasion in sight—simply give them as “party favors” to the people who come over for the Cranberry Caipirinhas.

    Your white elephants are someone else’s celebration!


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    PRODUCT: Bill’s Best BBQ Sauce

    The sauce is delicious, and a percentage of
    sales do some good in the world. Photo
    courtesy Bill’s Best BBQ Sauce.


    Barbecue sauce is the number one product we receive over the transom. Living in an apartment with no outdoor space to barbecue, it’s not a product we used much—until it started to arrive in droves a few years ago.

    The majority of the products we taste are perfectly fine, but not special enough to write about. Most are made from ketchup or tomato paste, vinegar, a sweetener (often high fructose corn syrup—HFCS), salt, onion powder and other spices (including cayenne or other chile), molasses and maybe some mustard.

    Then Bill’s BBQ Sauce showed up.

    Bill Fehon created the “secret family recipe” for what is now Bill’s Best Original Organic BBQ Sauce in the early 1990s. He gave jars to family and friends. The sweet and tangy flavor, combined with a mild kick, says Bill’s family, appealed to everyone.

    Unfortunately, in the fall of 2009, Bill was diagnosed with frontotemporal degeneration and was no longer able to do everyday tasks like making the sauce.


    In his honor, his family now makes it and donates 10% of the profit to the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration. Learn more at

    So if you’re looking for an inexpensive food gift that combines the spirit of generosity, consider this delicious barbecue sauce. Even if there were no story of hope, the sauce stands on its own.

    As an organic product, it’s made with quality ingredients and has no HFCS.

    An 18-ounce bottle is $6.99, with discounts for multiple orders, on

  • Original, which has a gentle kick
  • Spicy
    Find more of our favorite barbecue sauces and recipes.


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    TIP OF THE DAY & GIFT: Kahlúa Midnight Coffee Liqueur

    Some people think of Kahlúa as one single type of coffee liqueur, to be used in Black Russians, White Russians, Espresso Martinis and Mudslides.

    The brand is actually a delicious family of coffee liqueurs, including Kahlúa Especial, Kahlúa French Vanilla, Kahlúa Mocha and Kahlúa Hazelnut, among other flavors.

    There have been limited holiday additions such as Gingerbread Kahlúa and Peppermint Mocha Kahlúa. Last year we loved the debut of Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice, and gave it as holiday gifts.

    This year, Kahlúa Midnight is on our gifts-to-give-to-coffee-lovers list.

    A combination of 70 proof rum and black coffee, Kahlúa Midnight was designed to be served as a chilled shot. But Kahlúa and other liqueurs are much more than a liqueur or cocktail ingredient. We’re been enjoying Kahlúa Midnight:

  • Added to hot and iced coffee.
  • In a “coffee milkshake”—just add to milk, an adult version of the Fox’s U-Bet Coffee Flavored Syrup of our youth (still available).

    New Kahlúa Midnight was designed for shots…but you can also shoot it into a cup of coffee or on top of ice cream. Photo courtesy Kahlúa.

  • As an ice cream topping—either straight or mixed into a jar of chocolate or caramel sauce.
  • As a dessert drizzle, on anything from pound cake to pudding.
  • As a substitute for vanilla extract in many recipes (or just add the liqueur as a new ingredient).
    Last night we finished dinner with the ice cream approach: Kahlúa Midnight over a melange of vanilla, chocolate and coffee ice cream.

    How’s that for a very special—and very easy—dessert!

    Kahlúa Midnight is available at retailers nationwide.

    Find more of our favorite liqueurs in our Cocktails & Spirits Section.


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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Belle Chevre Goat Cheese Cheesecake

    This delicious cheesecake is part goat
    cheese, part cream cheese. Photo by Elvira
    Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    When you review food for a living, you never have to worry about scrambling for gift ideas: The products present themselves all year long.

    So we’re coasting into the holiday season, giving luscious goat cheese cheesecakes to our favorite cheesecake lovers.

    Cheesecake is one of those foods that either excites people or doesn’t interest them in the least. We’re part of the excited group, and are especially excited to have discovered Belle Chevre Goat Cheese Cheesecake.

    A mixture of goat cheese and cream cheese, there’s nothing “goaty” about it: just smooth, creamy cheesecake splendor.

    A six-inch diameter cake is $29.95.

    Cheesecake trivia: Cheesecake isn’t cake: It’s a cheese-flavored custard-like pie.

    Read the full review.

    Find more of our favorite cheesecakes and cheesecake recipes in our Gourmet Cakes Section.



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