I recently gathered with friends for a farm-to-table feast. We made dishes that highlight the harvest season as we celebrated friendship and the bounty of Northern California.
The farm-to-table concept encourages diners to focus as much on the source of the food as the food itself. In recent years, the idea has gained much traction in everything from wedding themes to fundraising events touting farm-to-fork freshness. Applying the general principle to a dinner party with friends is easy to do, too. We divvied up the menu and served everything family-style around a long table set in a friend’s particularly magical Los Altos back garden.
The menu included the most incredible spinach and ricotta gnocchi bathed in a pistachio-mint pesto. There was a gazpacho made from late-harvest tomatoes and topped with a goat cheese sorbet and Marcona almonds. We had carrots roasted in harissa and maple syrup, beet and orange salad, perfectly grilled steaks, roasted monkfish and a totally to-die-for lemon-infused cheesecake. Someone even made a mountain of white and dark chocolate chip cookies to eat on the go. Oh, what a feast!
For my part, I mixed three created-for-the occasion cocktails. The drinks take a page from the farm-to-fork approach by featuring locally made products and even some items from my parents’ expansive vegetable garden (rhubarb simple syrup is a delight).
Many of us have home bars stocked with bottles we’ve purchased over the years, but the liquor may languish unused. Look at the various bottles you’ve accumulated as opportunities to make your own signature cocktails. Following some basic guidelines of mixology will ensure that your drinks are toast-worthy. Begin by giving the three farm-to-glass cocktails I concocted a try.
Creating cocktails should be a comfortable process for anyone who enjoys cooking – it’s all about good ingredients and balanced flavors. You’ll need some basic bar gear; a jigger for measuring, a Boston shaker, a bar spoon, a mixing glass, a citrus juicer and a strainer will put you in good shape as a great drinks host.
Decide on a base spirit such as vodka, gin or bourbon. Then, think about complementary ingredients.
Vodka is a blank canvas. As such, it works great with a wide spectrum of flavors. What’s more, if you’re mixing vodka with other ingredients, you can economize on the brand as the flavor distinction of expensive vodkas is masked by add-ins.
Gin, a juniper-berry-flavored spirit, tends to have equally passionate devotees and detractors. All should give gin a try in citrusy and herbal drinks, where the liquor really shines.
Bourbon is fantastic simply on its own. I like to use it in fall and winter months, as the spicy and smoky flavors of bourbon go great with a chill in the air.
Christine Moore is a Mountain View resident. For more information and to read her blog, visit sheepishsommelier.blogspot.com.
This drink is based on the Brooklyn bar trend of chasing a shot of whiskey with a shot of pickle juice. This West Coast take on the practice is much like a whiskey sour.
• 1 part bourbon
• 1 part Sonoma Brinery Sizzling Spicy Bread and Butter Pickle juice
• Pickle slices for garnish
• Old Bay seasoning for garnish
Pour equal parts bourbon and pickle juice into a rocks glass filled with ice. Stir gently.
Garnish with slices of pickle and Old Bay seasoning, as desired.
For simple syrup
• 1 cup rhubarb stalks, diced
• 1 cup water
• 1 cup sugar
Add all ingredients to small saucepan and bring to boil. Simmer on low until sugar is dissolved. Chill before straining out rhubarb. Store syrup, refrigerated, for up to a week.
• 2 ounces St. George Botanivore Gin (a locally made spirit)
• 2 ounces rhubarb simple syrup
• 1 ounce fresh lime juice
• Thyme sprig for garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all ingredients. Shake gently until chilled. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with thyme, if desired. Can also be made in mixing glass, stirred not shaken.
• 1/2 ounce vodka (try the local Hangar One)
• 1/2 ounce pomegranate liqueur
• 1/2 ounce elderflower liqueur
• 2-3 dashes blood-orange bitters
• 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
• Edible flower for garnish (optional)
Fill cocktail shaker with ice. Add all ingredients and shake well. Pour into cocktail glass. Garnish with edible flower, if desired.