DOTW: Thanksgiving

Posted by Anita on 11.14.08 1:15 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**We’ve already written about a new cocktail this week, so I thought I’d answer a question that arrived this morning. I’m guessing there are others in the same boat:

I’m having a turkey day get-together and wanted an appropriate drink. I’d like something I can serve in a martini glass, fancy shmancy cocktail thing. A guest suggested, um, I can barely type this — pumpkin pie martini — and I immediately had to shoot that down.

- Pumpkin-Averse Party Instigator

Dear PAPI:

What is it with the onslaught of pumpkin drinks this year? I mean, I love me some pumpkin pie, but …gah! Leave the whipped-cream garnish for the dessert table, please.

Thankfully, there are plenty of festive drinks that fit the bill for Thanksgiving that do not involve canned squash. Two of our favorite options from the Drink of the Week archives would be perfect for your holiday bash. They’re both certified crowd-pleasers, full of holiday flavors, and relatively low on the booze — a good idea at parties so casual drinkers don’t end up face down in the cranberry sauce. Best of all, you should be able to find all of the ingredients at your local Beverages & More, or any other well-stocked liquor store.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, and do let us know how it goes!

- Anita & Cameron


Oh, Henry!
- Originally blogged 11/23/07 — click for photos and details

1-1/2 oz bourbon
1-1/2 oz spicy ginger ale (we like Blenheim)
3/4 oz Benedictine

Stir all ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a piece of star anise or an orange twist.

Now, I know a lot of casual drinkers might be wary of the bourbon. But be strong: A cocktail is like a dog — you can show no fear! I had three bourbon-haters begging me for the recipe at the last party we served these at. But do try to find Blenheim or another spicy ginger ale; Canada Dry and its ilk is too chemical-y and even the lovely Fever-Tree is too tame.

Make sure you grab Benedictine and not B&B (which is pre-mixed benedictine & brandy). The bottles look nearly identical and they’re often shelved together.

Falling Leaves
- Originally blogged 10/6/06 — click for photo and details

1 oz Clear Creek pear eau de vie
– or substitute pear vodka; Clear Creek is tricky to find outside of the West Coast
2 oz Trimbach Riesling wine
1/4 oz honey syrup
– equal parts of honey and water, heated together and then cooled
1/2 oz Orange curacao (such as Cointreau)
a dash of bitters, preferrably Peychaud for the rusty color and spice

Measure all ingredients into cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a whole piece of star anise or a sage leaf.

Drink of the Week, drinks, holidays & occasions, recipes


Guess who’s coming…

Posted by Anita on 11.13.08 11:41 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

…to Married with Dinner?

Laura from (not so) Urban Hennery is visiting San Francisco this weekend, and we’re the lucky ones who get to show her around! We’ve got a full schedule of foodie fun planned: Dinner at Range, a trip to the Ferry Plaza farmers market (of course!), even a stop at Mission Pie. And naturally we’ll hit some of the tourist highlights: The view from the top of Twin Peaks, a stroll through some of our favorite neighborhoods, and a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge.

We’ve even managed to stir up some mighty fine weather. Probably not quite as gorgeous as the autumn day in the photo above — that was October of last year — but it is supposed to reach the high 70s over the weekend, which is sure to send poor Laura home to the cold, dark, and rainy Pacific Northwest shaking her head.

As fun as our adventures will be, the part I’m most looking forward to is Saturday night, when we’re planning to cook dinner together with all the fun things we find at the market. We didn’t plan it this way (or maybe Laura did, ’cause she’s a organizer extraordinaire) but Saturday also happens to be the first day of this year’s Dark Days Eat Local Challenge.

Just like last year, we’ll make a point of searching out new local farmers and vendors — we’ll try to do a better job of profiling them, rather than just a quick mention — and cook at least one meal each week from 100% from our 100-mile radius. We’re going to pass on taking any exemptions other than salt and spices this time, since it’s just one meal a week, and we’ve got a pretty good assortment of just about every other class of food.

Dark Days Eat Local Challenge

Our personal ground rules for the 2008/2009 Dark Days Eat Local Challenge:

  1. We will continue to cook 90-95% local as often as we can, with a challenge baseline of one dinner per week made from 100% local ingredients.
  2. We will write about new pantry items, new farmers we’ve discovered, and recipes for in-season items within our foodshed.
  3. Local for us will be a 100-mile radius. Strong preference will be given to items purchased directly from farmers at market rather than retail. 
  4. For our weekly challenge meal, we’ll try to eliminate processed and prepared foods; We’re making ‘Marco Polo’ exemptions only for salt and seasonings.
  5. We’ll continue with the challenge through March 15, 2009.

Dark Days challenge, other blogs


Still life with groceries

Posted by Anita on 11.12.08 9:42 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**The image above is last weekend’s shopping haul, one of a series of similar photos I’ve been taking each Saturday since early summer. Inspired by my friend Jen’s beautiful shot of her farmers market purchases prettily laid out on a kitchen table in the cool spring light, I’ve started documenting what we’re buying each week. I flatter myself that it’s a fun Flickr set to flip through — overview shots of each week’s purchases all piled together, and a few solo portraits of our favorite finds — and an interesting way to keep track of the seasons. I can imagine referring to it next year (“Did we get corn in June or July?”) as a sort of visual seasonality calendar.

But, more than its mere utility, I’m struck by how beautiful the food we eat can be, especially in its natural state. Conventional wisdom holds that organic food is imperfect by nature, and uglier than the supermarket stuff. But after eating this way for the better part of two years, all I can see is the personality of our purchases. It’s perhaps a little too romantic to say that this aesthetic appeal is the direct result of the care that our farmers give their crops, and yet I do realize a lot of the variation I find so appealing — the huge with the tiny, the bright with the dull, the symmetrical with the misshapen — is part and parcel of the heirloom varieties and less-industrial methods that small-scale farming allows.

The set is a celebration of everyday beauty, the product of my brief meditation each Saturday on the wonders of the market. It makes me inordinately happy to lay out my week’s purchases on the counter, fuss with the arrangement, and set up the shot. Sometimes the light cooperates, and I end up with a subtly shaded image that’s like a Renaissance painting. Other times the spirit eludes me, and I end up with something less artsy and more documentary. Either way, I’m forcing myself to pay closer attention to mundane beauty, to wean myself from the fake perfection of the retail world.

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farmers markets, other stuff


Meeting Eloise

Posted by Anita on 11.11.08 1:19 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**When a chef friend tells you that every dish she tasted at a new restaurant ran from “extraordinary to just great”, you take note. When a second foodie friend exclaims that this same place offered “one of the most enjoyably pleasurable meals I have had in some time”, you start to get excited. And when a big-paper critic fawns that this restaurant “has a soul, evident from head to tail,” you move that place to the top of your must-try list. Restaurant Eloise, the new-ish Sebastopol venture of Ginevra Iverson and Eric Korsh — former sous-chefs at NYC’s much-lauded Prune — clearly has a diverse and well-subscribed fan club.

With this much positive buzz, we were surprised to have our pick of tables, even for a same-day Saturday-night reservation. When we arrived, the dining room was nearly empty, but it glowed with the light of candles on each table, and we were warmly welcomed by the host and our waiters. I knew the setting would be pretty without being precious; Shuna’s gorgeous photos told its story so well. We were charmed by Eloise’s simplicity: Whitewashed walls adorned with mismatched gilt-framed mirrors and botanical prints, and a tiny bud-vase on each table filled with flowering herbs.

As we got settled, we were presented an amuse on a pretty toile-print plate: Crostini topped with a frothy mousse of a “trifecta” (said the waiter) of poultry livers, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with chives. I’m not terribly fond of liver, but if it tasted like this all the time, that would change.

Every starter on the menu was appealing; I settled on an order of fresh local spot prawns, a special offering. Cameron opted for the marrow bones, a dish he can never turn down. A trio of large prawns arrived, roasted and simply dressed with lemon and oil; one of the three was bursting with coral. Though perfectly fresh and firm-textured, the prawns were a little bland, and I wished I’d followed my initial urge to try the truffled mushroom toast instead.

The marrow bones were generous and tasty, although the quizzical and utterly awkward use of an upended teaspoon handle as serving implement caused some ill-disguised grumbling from the other side of the table. An accompanying St John-style parsley salad was a tad unorthodox — the kitchen flagrantly disregards Fergus Henderson’s dictum regarding the sparing use of capers, but the end result was delicious.

Unfortunately, we didn’t enjoy our main dishes nearly as well. The much-raved-about ricotta-and-chard gnocchi were as decadent as promised, swimming in a pool of sage brown butter. But they were so monotonously rich that I could barely manage more than three or four bites.

Cameron’s veal chop was a good news/bad news story. The accompanying creamed spinach and sorrel was a delicious riff on the steakhouse classic, but the billed “crispy potato” turned out to be a ho-hum hash-brown. The chop itself — ordered medium-rare — came out with a glorious crust but a nearly raw center. Sent back to the kitchen, it returned a little closer to rare, still not as ordered, and messily propped back on the same plate with its now-cold sides. Maybe this quick fix would be OK at a neighborhood joint, but for a $32 entree at a white-tablecloth destination restaurant, it seemed ungracious.

And even though we’d specifically saved room, there was nothing on the dessert list to tempt us. The sweets seemed dropped onto the menu from a great height, with little thought to seasonality or diversity. After 7 days, I can only remember one of them: a baba au rhum.

All in all, Eloise seems like a place with promise, but a little unpolished… especially for a place where you can spend $13 for starters and $30 for mains without batting an eye. It’s likely that the missteps we experienced were an anomaly, given the heaps of praise we’ve heard from others. And the service was lovely enough that we left feeling hopeful, rather than disgruntled. We hope Eloise finds her groove soon.

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Restaurant Eloise
2295 Gravenstein Highway South
Sebastopol, CA 95472

Napa & Sonoma, restaurants
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MxMo: Jacques Rose

Posted by Anita on 11.10.08 12:35 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**We’re no strangers to homemade cocktail ingredients. We’ve been making limoncello (and other citrus liqueurs) for ages, along with nocino, alkermes, plum brandy, and plenty of other infusions. We’ve simmered up our own grenadine, brewed a batch or two of ginger beer, steeped jar after jar of cocktail cherries, and infused more flavored syrups than any reasonable person’s fridge can hold.

Last summer, we hit upon a new favorite: infused brandy using the excess pears from our friends’ tree. Since it’s an infusion, rather than distilled pear cider, our homemade drink is closer to a pear-brandy liqueur — like Belle de Brillet — than to a potent poire william eau de vie or the grappa-style Clear Creek pear brandy. We’ve mostly sipped it neat or mixed into bubbly, with or without a little simple syrup. But there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be a great mixing ingredient… especially as it doesn’t really improve with age, and in fact deteriorates fairly quickly after the initial infusion.

Mixology Monday badgeThere aren’t many cocktails that call for pear spirits, but there are plenty that use calvados and applejack to great effect. One such drink, the Jack Rose, dates to the pre-Prohibition era, and was especially popular in the Northeast where applejack was distilled in great quantity. Many theories abound as to the drink’s name origins, but it seems pretty likely that it’s Jack from booze and Rose from the color, as opposed to any gangster or bartender-nickname references.

The usual recipes for the Jack Rose are split fairly well between lemon and lime juice. When using applejack, I think either option is pleasant, though I will admit a small preference for lime when mixing the stronger Laird’s Bonded. But if you’re making the switch to pear brandy, definitely go with lemons — and Meyer lemons, if you can find them — as the subtler pear flavors are lost amidst lime’s extra tartness.

With a slight change to the more-Frenchified pear brandy, we christen our variation the Jacques Rose. It’s made with all home-made or home-grown ingredients, in honor of Mixology MondayMade From Scratch,” hosted by The Pegu Blog.

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Jacques Rose
2-1/2 oz pear brandy (or substitute 1-1/2 oz brandy + 1 oz poire william)
3/4 oz lemon juice
2-3 dashes grenadine

Shake with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

drinks, Mixology Monday, other blogs, preserving & infusing, recipes


The biscuit bible

Posted by Cameron on 11.09.08 11:05 AM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**Knowledgeable guitarists say that tone is in the fingers. In other words, if I were to play Eddie Van Halen’s guitar through his stage rig, I would sound like… Cameron playing Eddie Van Halen’s guitar. I wouldn’t look like him either, even though I can make all the wide-eyed guitar hero faces.

I’m beginning to think the same thing holds true for recipes. I made biscuits and sausage gravy for breakfast this morning, which I do every few weeks. I usually forget which recipe I use, so I spend about ten minutes combing through our cookbooks. I have tried biscuit recipes from the back of mix boxes (long ago), the Internet, and various cookbooks. But while they all have their own idiosyncrasies, when I make them they always taste like… well… my biscuits.

Today, I used the recipe from the Joy of Cooking, and I am here to tell you brothers and sisters that when it comes to basic American staples — particularly breakfast fixin’s like waffles, French toast, and biscuits — that Rombauer gal has got it wired. The Joy recipes are simple, direct, and every bit as tasty as the complicated shenanigans you find elsewhere. Especially from that uptight bastard in the bow tie. I mean my god, Kimball: I am not acidulating milk and using two different types of flour at 9am on a Sunday morning, even if Martha herself is coming for breakfast.

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Rolled Biscuits
adapted from the Joy of Cooking

1-3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour (I don’t bother sifting, and it’s never hurt)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
4 to 6 tablespoons chilled butter
(Joy says that you can use shortening, but… ew. Might try lard, though.)
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl and then cut in the butter. (Doing this by hand is picturesque, but a huge pain in the butt, especially on the first cup of coffee on a Sunday morning. Get smart and get out your food processor and metal blade. Dump in the dry ingredients, pulse them a couple of times, then drop in the chilled butter, which you’ve cut into 6-8 cubes. Pulse again 10 to 15 seconds, or until the mixture looks like crumbs.)

Add the milk and mix (or pulse) until you have wet dough. Turn the dough out on a floured surface, knead very gently 5 to 7 times, then roll out 3/4 inches thick and cut biscuits. Bake on an ungreased pan for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tops are brown.

baking, breakfast, cookbooks, recipes


(Un)grey market day

Posted by Anita on 11.08.08 8:44 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

Not a lot to report — we’ll get back to real posts tomorrow — but I couldn’t help but share a few snaps from the Ferry Plaza market today. It was grey and chilly but sometimes the bright colors of our fall produce seem even prettier when set against a monochrome sky.

We arrived on the (very) late side, so we had to battle against the crowds. But I was like a kid in a candy store playing with my new toy: A Canon G9 camera. It’s a pocket-sized point-and-shoot model, but it comes equipped with lots of photo-geek features. I’m surprised how much fun I’m having using a zoom again, after the fixed lenses on my dSLR camera. One pleasant side effect is that I can take my weekly food still-life shots from overhead, instead of straight on. I’m not sure I’ll stick with that format forever, but it’s nice to have the flexibility.

I haven’t even cracked the manual yet, but I’m hoping the G9 will be swoopy enough that I can (mostly) leave the big camera at home for ‘studio’ work. We’re travelling to London next month, and it would be a pleasure not to have to haul the ‘big gun’ around with me on our daily adventures. People whose opinions I trust seem to love their G-series cameras, so I have high hopes.

farmers markets, geekery


DOTW: The Bramble

Posted by Anita on 11.07.08 7:48 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**In case you’ve wondered why I’m blogging my heart out — especially after such a prolonged drought — I’m semi-covertly participating in National Blog Posting Month (better known as NaBloPoMo), a writing exercise that spun off from National Novel Writing Month.

I haven’t officially signed up, but I’ve challenged myself to post every day this month, both to clear out the backlog of posts and photos lingering in the drafts folder, and to practice a little self-discipline. I figure if I can post seven days a week for 30 days, then the old three-times-a-week schedule will seem like a walk in the park.


Way the heck back in August, I accepted a very interesting, but very unorthodox freelance assignment. Jean Aw — the brains behind NOTCOT and Liqurious — hired me for a combination recipe development / cocktail photography gig. That alone is pretty out there; most jobs are one or the other. But the angle of the job made it even more bizarre: On a dare, we agreed to come up with three cocktails based on yogurt flavors… although mercifully not containing any actual yogurt. (You can read the incredibly funny story behind it in Jean’s own words.)

The cocktails finally made their debut on NOTCOT last week. Alas, it’s too late in the year to try out my favorite of the three: the Sweet Summer Revival (fresh peach, green-tea-infused vodka, and Grand Marnier), but we’ll bring it back around for a sample in 2009. And already the weather seems a little too dreary for the citrusy Bee Cool (honey, lemon, plum brandy, creme de violette, and lavender soda).

But the third drink in the set seems more seasonally appropriate. The White Flower Bramble takes its inspiration from Rachel’s berry-jasmine flavor called “Glow”. It’s based on a popular English drink that marries blackberry liqueur and gin, but replaces the usual simple syrup with St-Germain liqueur for a floral touch. We’ve still got raspberries at our farmers market, but if they’re gone where you are, fresh cranberries could easily take their place.

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White Flower Bramble
1-1/2 oz No. 209 gin
3/4 oz St-Germain elderflower liqueur
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
berry soda (such as Izze blackberry or Fizzy Lizzy cranberry)
fresh raspberries or cranberries

Shake the gin/vodka, elderflower liqueur, and lemon juice with ice. Strain into an ice-filled highball or cooler glass. Add 2-3 berries, and top with blackberry soda. Garnish with an edible white flower, such as chamomile or lemon verbena.

Drink of the Week, drinks, other blogs
1 Comment »


Mea culpa, SPQR

Posted by Anita on 11.06.08 10:41 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**To say that we were not predisposed to appreciate SPQR would be a bit of an understatement.

We visited A16 — the original Cow Hollow venture from the same restaurateurs — a few months after its white-hot debut, and found nearly everything wanting. Which was probably just as well, because in those days getting a reservation was nearly as difficult as finding a parking spot in this notoriously fussy neighborhood.

So when its sibling SPQR opened up, a little more than a year ago, we rolled our eyes. When the rave reviews came rolling in, we reminded ourselves that the same hype followed A16 for ages; obviously, our tastes were not in line with those of the buzz-makers. And when we heard about their no-reservations policy, that was the final nail in the coffin. I couldn’t imagine schlepping across town just to end up cooling my heels for what were rumored to be multi-hour waits. Nuh-uh, no thanks.

Fast forward to June. I’d left work early and caught the bus to a food event at Fort Mason. As soon as I walked in the door, I realized that there were three times as many guests as there were servings of food, and the claustrophobic crush was unpleasant. I called Cameron and told him not to bother parking, and we sat outside and pondered where to eat on this (to us) foreign side of the City.

“Well…” Cameron ventured tentatively, “There’s SPQR.”

“Oh please,” I sneered. “The food’s going to be terrible, and the line of smooth-haired people will be unbearable.”

But really, we couldn’t think of anywhere better, and we’d developed a serious appetite.

“Let’s just head over that way, and if the line’s too long, we’ll regroup.” (A wise man, this husband of mine.)

We went. We found Doris Day parking. There was no line, but also no open tables — just two seats at the end of the kitchen counter. We pounced.

The all-Italian wine list was a mystery to our California eyes, but with a little help from the staff we found our way to a couple of nice glasses. The decor was right up our alley, all creamy walls and dark-glazed woods and marble countertops, with soaring ceilings and wooden tables. The cooks joked with each other in their close, corral-like space under the watchful gaze of the chef expediting orders at the side of the bar.

I relaxed just a bit, still half-bracing myself for disappointment.

Antipasti — grouped into cold, hot, and fried sections — tempted us. Taking up half the menu, they’re the heart of SPQR’s offerings, and special pricing ($8 each but just $21 for three) encourages you to try a little of a lot. The simple perfection of fresh romano beans sizzled on the griddle with fried chile and breadcrumbs; golden-crisp bocconcini with fresh tomato sauce — a highbrow take on that middle-American favorite, fried mozzarella — and a plate of shaved La Quercia smoked proscuitto and cubes of fragrant melon. Sold!

I turned to Cameron and busted out laughing: “This is my new favorite restaurant!”

Down the other side of the menu we went, ordering what turned out to be far too much food. From the antipasti grande section — which are really entree-sized portions, minus the sides — we opted for saltimbocca with a garnish of piquant giardinara. A generous bowl of rigatoni Amatriciana followed, perfectly chewy tubes bathed in a funky (in a good way) porky tomato sauce. And as soon as we saw the grill guy press a softball-size hank of pork sausage onto the flat-top, we knew we had to have our own order.

Since that sunny summer evening, we’ve returned to SPQR many more times than we can count. We’ve sat at a table or two, and held up stools at the wine bar. But given our druthers, we’ll always opt for those two end seats at the kitchen counter, right in the heart of the action.

The garnishes have changed with the seasons — corn salad changing to braised fennel, or briny olives swapped for canteloupe — but heart of most dishes persists. As fall rolls in, we’re loving the fried brussels sprouts — especially with their new, more-tart dressing — though they can be overdone and greasy now and then. The tuna conserva salad with garbanzos I would happily eat all on its own for lunch, perhaps with a slice of crusty bread. A rotating choice of griddled mushrooms is paired with enchanting grace notes. (Last night, it was chanterelles with tiny pieces of pancetta and a handful of spinach… swoon!) There’s an every-Tuesday special of a local fried chicken, and some eye-popping seasonal additions.

This week’s newest option was the most over-the-top of all: A triple-pork sandwich made of bacon and ham, draped over a breaded-and-fried patty of pigs trotters, served on a chicken-liver-mustard-smeared potato bun. “The kitchen calls it the Widowmaker” our waiter laughed, as she found us yet another stunning wine pairing. Like all of the restaurant’s genuinely warm (and mostly female) front-of-the-house team, she somehow made us feel like her favorite customers while dealing with eight different, difficult tasks.

Oh, and that no-reservations policy? With the exception of one last-minute visit we made late in the evening, we’ve never had to wait. I don’t know if it’s the economy, our timing, or just the natural ebb and flow of restaurant trendiness, but we count ourselves lucky to be able to call SPQR one of our new old standbys.

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1911 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

Italian, restaurants


The morning after

Posted by Anita on 11.05.08 8:02 AM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**Red state or blue state, I have a funny feeling there will be many folks in a sickly-green state this morning. Democrats were perhaps a little too far into the celebratory Champagne last night, while Republicans were drowning their collective sorrows. (Not, we should hasten to add, that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Thankfully for all of us, the medical community has fairly well established that the best cure for a hangover — campaign-induced or otherwise — is a nip of the same posion that got you in this sorry state. Even if you sleep ’til noon, it probably seems a little too early to pop another bottle of bubbly, or mix up anything complicated. But a Brandy Milk Punch… that you can make with one eye shut and the other just barely open.

It’s a simple enough concoction, and one that you can almost certainly make with ingredients you have around the house. Milk, brandy, simple syrup or sugar in a pinch… we’re not going to be dogmatic here; It’s rough medicine, after all, not a mixology contest. We’ve even been known to keep agave nectar on hand for those times we’re too lazy or hung over to make simple syrup. Anyway… The milk gets a little protein and fat in your system, good enough to tide you over until you’re feeling well enough to crawl outside in search of hash browns.

I know nobody’s in the mood for a history lesson, but in case you need a referral: Most folks trace the Brandy Milk Punch’s roots — or at the very least, its popularity — to New Orleans, a city that certainly knows more than a bit about surviving the morning after.

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Brandy Milk Punch
2 oz brandy
1/2 oz simple sugar (or 1/2 tsp sugar)
whole milk

In a tall glass or double Old Fashioned glass, stir the sugar and brandy together to dissolve. Add ice cubes to fill the glass to the rim, then top with milk. Stir gently to combine, then top with grated nutmeg.

breakfast, drinks, recipes