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More extra's from today's cover story on bartenders' homemade holiday treats:

post and photo by guest blogger Seanan Forbes

Timothy Lacey, master bartender of the Drawing Room and his wife, Lisa, make plenty of holiday foods and gifts: jams, extracts, ice creams, pies and more.

"We cook way too much food," Lacey admits. "My mother, when I was a kid, would start making Christmas cookies in September, and freeze them. We'd be eating them until March. Going overboard is in our blood."

So is adapting to the needs of guests and friends. One of Lacey's desserts was apple cider ice cream. "My mother-in-law has lactose issues, so we had to do something without dairy," he says.

Thus was born a tradition. "I wanted to do this apple cider granita," Lacey recalls. "I was trying to figure out how to keep it from freezing solid."

Taking advantage of having tight connections with a few of Chicago's best pastry chefs, he sent out an e-mail: "Here's what I'm trying to do. How do I do it?"

Toni Roberts, pastry chef of C-House emailed back. "She suggested adding some vodka to it, to keep it from freezing." Lacey's bartending instincts kicked in. "I decided that applejack would complement the flavors better."

For the main ingredient, he looked to Seedling Fruit. "They've got some great varietal ciders." (You can find Seedling and their ciders at Green City Market.) Lacey was still thinking about cider ice cream. Then he tasted the granita, "and it was actually way better." Does he feel deprived? "No!" Lacey smiles. "In that one instance, no."

Recipe after the jump.

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The bartenders interviewed for today's cover story on their homemade holiday treats gave us way more material than we could use. Here's are some delicious extras:

Post and photo by guest blogger Seanan Forbes

Forget the jokes about hand-me-down fruitcakes. When it comes to making Christmas presents, Sepia's Joshua Pearson tweaks his father's cookie recipes. Pearson's dad, Stephen Pearson, is a professional pastry chef turned bakery manager, which promises something better than a mythical fruitcake doorstop.

A bite of revised heritage: Joshua Pearson's Grand Marnier sugar cookies. "He used to make something very similar," Pearson remembers, "without the glaze." Pearson the Elder's recipe was easy to make. Pearson the Younger's twist is, too. Unsurprisingly, it's also boozy, with liqueur in both dough and glaze.

"A couple of years ago, I was looking for a holiday cookie to make. I had some Grand Marnier, and I love cooking with Grand Marnier," he says. Chuckling, he confesses, "I boozed up his cookies a little bit."

This winter, Pearson's father is up from Australia, enjoying a chilly white Christmas in Chicago. The father's out and about, seeing the town. As to Pearson, he says, "My wife and I are staying in." He's in the kitchen, cooking and baking and keeping things warm.

Has his dad tasted the Grand Marnier version of his cookies? "He hasn't yet. I'm making them for Christmas." They'll appear after dinner. "I always cook a goose. I usually do a bourbon-glazed ham." Pearson's voice drifts off to meals past and dinners yet to come. Sugar cookies, too: spirited ones.

In Australia, the big holiday meal - lunch, there as in Britain - showcases shellfish. The orange cookies would be just as welcome after a hot-season feast.

In whatever weather they're made, the next batch of cookies may have just a little finely shaved dark chocolate in the batter, grated orange in the glaze or (who knows, with Joshua Pearson?) a different spirit altogether. Only three things are certain: The cookies will taste good; they'll pass any top-shelf bar exam, and they'll be shared with friends, family and an abundance of cheer.

Recipe after the jump.

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by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

Doug Frost holds a rare combination of titles. He is one of three people to be both a Master of Wine and Master Sommelier. That's worldwide, thank you very much.

He's also a founding partner of Beverage Alcohol Resource (a killer program for high-end bartenders). Frost has forgotten more about wine, spirits and cocktails than most of us can ever hope to learn.

It's not surprising that he thinks in original terms -- and occasionally lets loose with a phrase nobody else would utter. Consider this recent one on the subject of cocktails: clarity of flavor.

"What is that?"

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by guest blogger Seanan Forbes

Tea in cocktails. It may look like a new trend, but according to Peter Vestinos, now in charge of West Coast sales and marketing for Death's Door Spirits, it has quite a history. "Before we started cocktails in the U.S., there were punches in the UK," he says.

Ask Vestinos about history, and you're in for an education - in linguistics, as well as tradition. Supposedly, the word "punch" is derived from the Hindi word "ponch," which means "five," and punch has five elements: sweet, sour, bitter, weak ("something to water it down," Vestinos says) and spirit. There was always, Vestinos notes, a spice - and "that spice was usually tea." Not new, then. "Tea shows up early in our cocktail history," he says. How early? The 17th century. That's a drink with a lineage.

Rodrick Markus, founder and president of Rare Tea Cellar (the website, www.rareteacellar.com, will go live in a couple of weeks), has worked with more than a dozen Chicago bartenders on the making of tea cocktails. "I'm blown away by how each mixologist handles a blend," Markus says. "It's like a chef."

Sepia's Joshua Pearson, Adam Seger of Nacional 27, Death's Door Spirits' Vestinos and John Kinder each takes a completely different approach to tea and cocktails. Markus is never bored. "I absolutely adore it," he says.

Then again, he absolutely adores tea. Markus' background is in psychology and hypnotherapy. He started importing, and found his way into wine and cigars - and a problem. "Your best clients are abusing the product. It felt like the opposite way to how I wanted to be living," he says.

photos courtesy Rare Tea Cellar

By guest blogger Seanan Forbes

Don't take Bridget Albert's smile for everything. It may look honeyed, but "I'm a savory girl, not a sweet girl," says Albert, author of Market Fresh Mixology and master mixologist at Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois.

"I just really like delicious emotion that you get in your mouth when you bite into a tomato, when it's so tasty - and there's a little bit of acid in there, believe it or not." Her voice brightens as she says, "It just makes your mouth water." Bridget Albert.jpg

As with fruit, so with drinks. "I think the cool thing about savory cocktails is that I can drink more than one, because they're not so sticky and sweet," Albert says, "and they can definitely whet my appetite - and I just think they're really fun."

We all get "sweet" - but what's "savory" when it's in a cocktail shaker? "When you think savory, the first thing that comes to mind is tomatoes," she says. "Cucumbers are in that family, as well, and let's not leave out mushrooms."

Albert's list is not a limited one - not when it comes to flavor or to season. "I pickle everything, in the springtime and in the summertime, and incorporate that into my cocktails in the winter, when nothing is in season in Chicago, and they're usually savory items, like beets," she says.

Albert's happily experimenting with meat infusions. There, too, she plays on the far side of the fence. "We all know that bacon is the new black, and everybody's in love with bacon - but let's not leave out chorizo sausage, when we're doing our meat infusions. It's spicy and savory and delicious."

"There's a whole world ready to explore," Albert says, even while remarking that nothing is new. Meat in cocktails? The Bullshot (vodka and beef bouillon) has been around for ages. Tomatoes? How spicy do you like your Bloody Mary? cucumelons and heirloom tomatoes - SForbes.jpg

"What's old is coming back around, and we're rediscovering things," she says. "We're playing . . . throwing a lot of things against the wall, getting a little crazy with our cocktails, on the savory side and the sweet side, and seeing what works and what doesn't work."

Some foods cross over. Carrots are sweet, but season and roast them, and you add a savory ingredient to your home bar.

The slow food movement has a stirrer in the cocktail glass. "What's caused this resurgence is that people are looking to their farmers markets wanting to use what is local," she says. Look to the spice rack, too. "Let's not forget the different kinds of peppercorns out there. Fresh herbs, like rosemary - basil! Thai basil is delicious. All the different kinds of salts - There are so many different kinds available at your local Whole Foods. There are at least 20 different varieties to have fun with, and they all taste completely different from the next."

Albert teaches a professional mixology course, but she's used to giving advice to people who aren't in the industry. "My family are dancers and mailmen and butchers and just your average Joe, and they are not cocktail aficionados or bartenders," she says fondly. "Here's my word of advice: Don't be afraid. Get in the kitchen. Play with your food. Put your food into the cocktail glass, and the worst you can do is make a bad cocktail."

What if you don't know what you're doing? Don't worry about it. Albert grins and says, "Some beautiful combinations are made by mistake."

Recipe after the jump.


by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

Absinthe has history. It's been labeled a dangerous drug. It's been outrageously popular. It's been banned in the United States and many European countries. Then again, given that the drink's been keeping extreme company (Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Eminem, Marilyn Manson ...), it's bound to have gathered a story or two. Sirene Absinthe Verte Bottle Shot.jpg

Here are a few facts: Absinthe has no added sugar, so it's not a liqueur; it's a spirit. It contains wormwood and a number of aromatic herbs, which may include fennel, anise seed, star anise, hyssop, angelica root, coriander and more. The ingredients are always securely protected by distillers - including one in Chicago.

Ah, yes. That's the most important fact about absinthe: It's back.

In 2007, the ban was lifted and absinthe returned to stores, bars and glasses across America. That was welcome news to many people, including Derek and Sonja Kassebaum of North Shore Distillery. "We've been making [absinthe] since the start," says Sonja Kassebaum, "but we never thought we'd be able to sell it, 'cause it wasn't legal."

They made it because they liked it, and to test their skill. "It's a very complex spirit. It's regarded as a challenge, and difficult for a distiller to make well," she says.

According to master mixologist Charles Joly of the Drawing Room, 937 N. Rush, they're doing everything right. "The flavor's balanced, and I think it's pretty cool that a distillery out of Chicago is making something as good as or better than some of what's coming out of France and Switzerland," Joly says.

Kassebaum describes Sirène as a classic absinthe. "There's a whole bunch of stuff that gets called absinthe that isn't," she says. As to ingredients, she'll divulge this: "Anise, fennel and wormwood are the trinity."

Absinthe is a forward spirit. "It's got a pretty pronounced flavor," Joly says. Classically, absinthe was used to rinse the glass and then thrown out. "It was there as an accompanying note," he says.

Kassebaum agrees. "Just a small amount adds a little something extra, a little depth and complexity." Today, some bartenders put absinthe in small spray bottles - the kind sold in travel kits - and spray it across the tops of cocktails.

If you like the idea of using absinthe at the table, then try rinsing a martini glass with absinthe, pouring out the liquor, then using the glass to serve chocolate gelato or blood orange sorbet.

by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

Junior Merino trains bartenders and mixologists all over the world, but he still has an ability to make bartending accessible to the rest of us.

Merino can take it to extremes. He serves powdered margaritas in capsules. He'll spend weeks making a tincture of Buddha's hand citron. He dehydrates rum. When Merino travels - which he does a lot - he does so with culinary oils, herbs and spices, all of which he's used.

"As long as it's edible," he says, "we have it in a tincture."

He makes bitters from scratch. "Bitters are really just a concentration of herbs, spices, roots," he says. To make them, put your chosen mixture in spirits; high-proof spirit works the best, he says. The higher the proof, the more quickly flavors will be extracted.

For bitters, you use -- of course -- bitter herbs. Merino likes wormwood. "It doesn't really make you hallucinate," he says. Apparently, you'd have to ingest a great deal of the stuff to have that happen -- and nobody drinks bitters in volume.

For his mole bitters, Merino uses four kinds of chile pepper, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg -- more than 40 ingredients are put into high-proof spirits. Pungent spices go into the mix, and the lot is macerated and strained. Then, "we freeze the fat and it leaves the nice flavor," he says. No fat, all flavor. Sounds good, tastes better.

If you're new to tinctures and extractions, then start simply and make herb-infused vodka. According to Merino, you don't need wait-for-weeks patience. Take one bunch of fresh herbs, pick the leaves and discard the stems. Add the herbs to a bottle of vodka. Set it in a cool, dark place for six hours. Strain. Add a touch of citrus -- lemon, lime or orange -- to bring up the aromatics. Sniff. Pour. Sip. It's that simple.

You don't have to use expensive vodka, so there's freedom to play around. As to herbs, try working with whatever's fresh at the Green City Market. Use herbs left over from making dinner. The market's the limit -- just be sure to use things that are fresh and food-grade. (Rose petals from a florist don't count.)

Speaking of roses, Merino's rimming salts -- which include a hibiscus-rose -- are available online at Dainzu Gourmet. The salts are versatile; the saffron blend does nice things on shrimp. Grilled shrimp and homemade basil-infused vodka on the rocks ... there's a meal to bring a smile to any summer's night.

by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

Even while packing for her trip to Peru, where she'll be learning about pisco, Southern Wine & Spirit's Bridget Albert can get excited about farmers markets.

Albert's big on the seasonal. A taste of her cocktails or a browse through the pages of her book, Market-Fresh Mixology , reveals that. When she talks, it's apparent that her enthusiasm is genuine and not just a marketing ploy. If Bridget Albert's sending you anywhere, then it's to the Green City Market.

Now is prime time for shopping at the market. "Living in the Midwest," Albert observes, "our market season is short - it's very different than living in San Francisco, where their markets are open just about all year-round - and so we need to gravitate to them as soon as they open and see what the farmers have to offer, the best of the season."

If you want each farmer's best, then Albert recommends engaging in conversations. "Talk to the farmers," she says. "Talk to the people that run the stand. Get to know what's available and what they'll be bringing out in the following weeks. Become friends with them - and you'll be surprised, once you form those relationships, the types of fruits that they'll either hold for you, or they'll be excited to see you and show you what's new. Build on that and you'll always get the best of the season."

What's drawing Albert to the market? Strawberries, which are "really the most friendly flavor there is." Right now, Albert says, the berries are very sweet, with an enticing color. Mick Klug Farm and Ellis Farms have gorgeous strawberries.

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When you bring those beauties home, Albert says you should put them in a daiquiri. Keep it simple: "a nice silver rum, some fresh lime juice, simple syrup, throw in a couple of strawberries. . . dump it in a glass and mush it up."

Asked about proportions, Albert admits that she likes her daiquiris "a little boozy." To follow her lead, take 2 ounces of silver rum, add equal parts fresh lime juice and simple syrup, chop up 1 or 2 berries and "shake that cocktail to death and strain it." How much lime and syrup you should use is a matter of taste - but finding the perfect balance should be no hardship.

Simple syrup is easy to make -- melt a 50-50 blend of sugar and water. Albert has an even more market-friendly option: honey. There are health advantages to using local honey, but the mixologist notes an economically comforting point: Honey is shelf-stable. Before using honey in cocktails, loosen it up with hot water. ("You don't want to have it be like you're working with Crazy Glue," she says.)

To find honey at the market, look for Heritage Prairie Farm or go urban with Chicago Honey Co-op.

According to Albert, honey is adaptable stuff. It plays well with bourbon, rum . . . everything. She likes it in margaritas. If you're having a party, then tell your guests that you're using local honey and fruit in your drinks. It's a great talking point. And that's a perfect concoction: conversation, a long summer evening and a fresh strawberry daiquiri - just what the mixologist ordered.

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(photos courtesy Kate Gross Photography)

By guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes:

Food Deadline Rum Balls.jpg When a top-shelf mixologist moves from the cocktail shaker to the mixing bowl, she brings the bar with her.

The proof isn't in the bottle; it's in the balls. (You know these: traditional rum balls made with crushed cookies and booze.)

The rest of us may be brave enough to change liquors or liqueurs, switching rum for whisky or grabbing that almost-empty bottle of coffee or hazelnut liqueur. That's not enough of a change for Bridget Albert.

Albert is the director of mixology for Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois and the author of Market Fresh Mixology. She makes candies the way she does cocktails. "It's the way I do everything," Albert says, interrupting herself with laughter.

When creating a new drink, she starts with the base spirit "and then builds the flavors on top of that." She crafts what she terms "spirited balls" the same way: from the bottle out.

There are similarities between the glass and the ball. "It's kind of like a little shot," she notes, "because you're not cooking this, so you do get a little kick from these cookies."

Albert has been making spirited balls, every winter, for years. Not surprisingly, given her creativity in life and behind the bar, she wasn't satisfied with making the same thing every time.

She wanted to have fun and play with flavors, but keep it simple. "I started making variations on a holiday classic, keeping the flavors I would incorporate into a cocktail when making these spirited balls. For instance, Grand Marnier - orange - goes wonderfully with ginger." Out went the vanilla wafers and in came gingersnap crumbs.

What else? "I think chocolate and peanut butter could very well be a divine marriage," Albert says, her eyes bright and her voice happy. She makes dessert cocktails with chocolate and peanut butter liqueurs, and Nutter Butters meet chocolate liqueur in her spirit balls.

Does she have a favorite? "I do," Albert says happily. "My favorite is the rum. It's super easy to make and I love coconut - and I have to tell you, living in the Midwest in December, it is cold and miserable, so any time you can mix rum with coconut, whether you're eating it or drinking it, it takes you back to the islands for just a minute." A mouthful of the tropics. "Absolutely."

What do her friends ask her to make? She gets a lot of requests for the original, because it's familiar -- but, Albert adds, "it's fun to surprise your friends. A big favorite is the Grand Marnier and ginger, because ginger is hot right now to drink, and it's seen as something healthy, so when you can throw it in a cookie - boy, it's a natural hit."

Feel free to be playful when you make these. Albert is. She uses bar tools in the kitchen: a big plastic (easy to clean) muddler for mashing the mixture and a bar spoon for measuring. Don't have a bar spoon? Not a problem. Use a tablespoon instead. Albert's balls aren't only spirited. They're adaptable. Proof -- of a different kind -- is in the recipes that follow.

By guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes:

At the James Beard Awards, medallions aren't the only things that shine brightly. After the event (and, if you're lucky enough to meet the right bartender, during), the food and drinks glow. After all, James Beard wasn't about competition; his interest was in good food and drink.

Last night, Bridget Albert showed New York how Chicago makes a cocktail.

Albert has the ingredients of a master of the bar, and that's precisely what she is. She's crafted cocktails for the Art Institute of Chicago, and had more than a stirrer in the drinks at Sepia, Nacional 27 and the Drawing Room.

Now the master mixologist at Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois, Albert is also the Director of the Academy of Spirits and Fine Service - a history program for bartenders - and an author.

That makes life easy if you want to try her drinks at home. Get your hands on a copy of Market-Fresh Mixology: Cocktails for Every Season, and then go to the Green City Market. With regional farms in bloom, you're certain to find ingredients to make any award winner spring-green with envy.

Yesterday evening, tweaking her Chicago-Style Cocktails to balanced perfection, Albert was as smooth and cool as her drinks. Later, with crowds jamming her table, she kept drinks and conversation flowing.

A splash of Grand Marnier Cuvée du Centenaire, some 10 Cane Rum, raspberry-ginger shrub syrup, Goose Island Reserve Matilda Belgian-Style Ale and precisely enough fresh lemon juice to offset the sweetness ... Now, we're talking a winner.

The recipe, after the jump.

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About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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