Agua de Jamaica Mezcal Cocktail

The Buzz Getting Merry with Mezcal

’Tis the Season for Spiked Hibiscus Punch

By Tim Ebner, photography by Raisa Aziz

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The holidays are synonymous with spiked drinks, but this winter season why not skip Uncle Harry’s grog and opt for a much more refined and complex cocktail—a spiked hibiscus tea, served traditionally in Mexico and officially known as agua de jamaica (pronounced AH-gwa de hah-MAHI-cah).

The phrase translates into “water of roselle” and refers specifically to a type of hibiscus plant commonly grown in Oaxaca. Take note because dry, whole-leaf hibiscus should be one of those year-round staples that you keep stored as a kitchen essential, says Robin Miller, a bartender at Espita Mecalaria in DC’s Shaw neighborhood.

He uses hibiscus leaves to make agua de jamaica daily behind the bar, and he encourages patrons try this agua instead of sparking or still.

“It’s one of the most common drinks that you’ll find all across Mexico,” Miller says. “And if you go into anyone’s house, the first thing they’ll do is offer you a glass of agua de jamaica.”

During the winter season, this drink is as easy as boiling a pot of water and letting some hibiscus leaves steep for about 10 minutes. The tea leaf is so popular, Miller says you can find it at some gourmet grocers, pretty much any Mexican grocery store, as well as specialty tea or spice shops, and even online.

“They come in packets and the brighter the color, typically the more flavor the leaf has,” Miller says. “What you get is a tea that’s slightly tart and extremely refreshing. I like to add agave and fresh lime juice for added flavor.”

The ruby-red hue of this drink will give a splash of color to your holiday party, but to really get in the holiday spirit, Miller says spike your agua de jamaica with a shot of mezcal.

This smoky Mexican spirit will keep you warm way beyond December. And if you choose El Buho mezcal (Miller’s preferred mezcal) then you’ll sip happy knowing you’re supporting a small-batch producer in Oaxaca. This fifth-generation, family-owned distillery distributes widely in DC, and it’s one of the many mezcal brands offered at Espita.

“Working here has really helped me to appreciate and value the traditions of Mexican culture,” Miller says. “Mezcal is one of them. It’s a very beautiful thing that we get to share that here because these are brands that are family owned and selling a familial heritage.”

From the Espita family to yours, Miller shares the recipe for making both his nonalcoholic hibiscus punch, and his adult version: a spiked hibiscus cocktail.

Agua de Jamaica

1 quart water

1 cup hibiscus leaves

4 tablespoons agave syrup

4 tablespoons fresh lime juice

El Buho mezcal

To make the hibiscus tea:

Bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Add 1 cup of hibiscus leaves to the water and immediately remove from the heat. Let the mixture steep for 10 minutes and stir occasionally. Strain the tea into a jar. Add 4 tablespoons of agave syrup and 4 tablespoons of fresh lime juice, then stir until it dissolves into the tea.

To make the spiked hibiscus cocktail:

Pour a shot of El Buho mezcal (rum, vodka, or gin are also easy substitutes) into a cocktail glass half-filled with ice. Then top it off with fresh hibiscus tea. Garnish with an orange slice.

 

Voodoo Shrimp Cocktail

By AJ Dronkers, Edible DC. Recipe from Chef Executive chef Joseph Learner of the Marriott Renaissance Dupont Circle Hotel

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We dined recently at the Renaissance Dupont Circle Hotel for their Navigator Table event series - a partnership with noted TV personality, Andrew Zimmern. Executive Chef Joseph Learner hails from the Carolinas and shows off those southern roots with his in-house smoked meats program. But but I was really blown away by his Voodoo Shrimp. It was a fun riff on your typical shrimp cocktail recipe and it is served with a horseradish panna cotta and with a signature voodoo cocktail sauce. Of course I asked if Chef Joseph would share it with our followers for a delicious new twist on a classic holiday appetizer. 

Voodoo Shrimp Cocktail

Yield 8 servings

Horseradish Panna Cotta  

•  1 cup sour cream 

•  3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

•  2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

•  ½ teaspoon kosher salt 

•   1 3/4 cups half-and-half

•  2 teaspoon gelatin (from a .25-ounce package)

Place the gelatin in a small ramekin, add 3 tablespoons warm water and stir until completely dissolved.

In a medium pot add the half and half, Dijon mustard, prepared horseradish and salt. Bring to a simmer on med/low stirring constantly to avoid breaking the mixture. Shut off heat and add gelatin. Stir until completely combined.

In small to medium-sized glass ramekins, use a 3 ounce ladle to pour the mixture into the each ramekin. The ramekins will not be full. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours. The panna cottas can be kept refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap, up to 2 days. 

Voodoo Cocktail Sauce

•  ¼ cup Texas Pete Sriacha

•  ½ cup honey

•  1 cup diced hot-house tomato 

•  2 cloves garlic 

•   1 ounce butter (unsalted) 

•  2 teaspoon gelatin (from a .25-ounce package)

In small sauce pan place all ingredients in and simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes. With a Vitamix, magic bullet, ninja or other blender – puree until smooth. Place sauce in plastic container and in refrigerator to cool.

Poached Jumbo Shrimp

•  2 pounds medium-medium large shrimp, fresh and shell on

•  ½ gallon water

•  2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning

•  1 tablespoon kosher salt

•  2 lemons juiced (throw lemon carcass in pot too)

•  1 small yellow onion, medium diced

•  2 celery stalks washed, medium diced

In large pot place water, old bay, salt , lemon juice and carcasses , onion and celery and bring to a boil. Add shrimp to boiling liquid for about 4 minutes until it is done. 

While shrimp is boiling get a separate container with ice and fill with water, this will be to rapid chill the shrimp from overcooking.

Once shrimp have turned pink and are done, strain them out of the pot and place them in the ice water to stop cooking. After shrimp have chilled, under running water, peel and devein shrimp but leave the tails on.

Assembly of Voodoo Shrimp Cocktail

Grab a ramekin with horseradish panna cotta and spoon 2 tablespoons of cocktail sauce in the middle, gently place 3 jumbo poached shrimp side by side in ramekin, tail up, and garnish with minced celery hearts or micro greens if available under the overhanging tails.

Holiday Cookies

Holiday Cookies by Cowbell Kitchen full story here. 

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THUMBPRINT COOKIES

This classic thumbprint cookie features jam from Quaker Valley Orchard, one of Cowbell Kitchen’s neighbors at the Dupont Circle farmers market. Make sure to make a deep impression in the dough with your thumb, and don’t overfill the hole with jam, as these cookies will flatten and spread in the oven. Also, be sure to leave plenty of room between the dough balls on the baking sheet. Use a doily as a stencil to dust the confectioners’ sugar in a festive pattern.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup jam, such as raspberry, strawberry or apricot
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Special Equipment:

2 large baking sheets; parchment paper; small pestle

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and a second rack in the lower third then preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar and beat on medium speed, scraping the bowl occasionally, until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated, about 1 minute. With mixer on low, add the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap it in plastic and chill at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and arrange on baking sheets, leaving about 3 inches between cookies. Using your thumb or the round end of a small pestle, make a well in the center of each cookie. Using a teaspoon, fill each well with jam, being careful not to overfill. Bake, switching the sheets between the upper and lower racks about halfway through baking, until golden, about 15 minutes. Cool the cookies on baking sheets for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Continue baking cookies on cooled baking sheets.

DO AHEAD: The cookies can be baked ahead and stored, in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 3 days.

COWBELL OREOS

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

This is the Cowbell Kitchen version of the classic. Wait until you taste what a fresh, homemade Oreo tastes like—this will be an instant hit.

Cookie:

  • 1 pound butter
  • 3¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2½ cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 ½  cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups cocoa
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

Cookie Filling:

  • 1 pound butter
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 8 teaspoons milk

Melt butter and chocolate slowly over very low heat. Add the sugar, and then whisk in the eggs. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl, and whisk together. Stir into the wet, forming a dough.

Let the dough set at room temperature for about an hour to firm up, then roll the dough into logs about 2 inches wide. Wrap them and refrigerate them for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 325°. Slice the logs into cookies that are about ¼ inch thick and bake them 15 minutes, until they are firm to the touch. Let them cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the cookie filling by slowly melting the butter over a low heat. Slowly stir in the powdered sugar, salt and vanilla. The consistency is important; use milk to make a thick icing that make a stable sandwich for the homemade Oreo. Assemble the cookies and store in an airtight container. 

 

GRANDMA BERTHA’S SUGAR COOKIES

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Strasser’s next door neighbor, Bertha, was like a grandmother to her growing up. “She was an amazing baker,” Strasser says. Bertha passed on her recipe for old-school sugar cookies, and Strasser still makes them every year.

  • 2 pounds cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pound butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325°F. Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

Cream softened butter in a deep mixing bowl. Add the sugar, scraping down the bowl as you go. Beat until it is well mixed. Beat the eggs and add to the butter and sugar mix. Incorporate well until the batter is light and fluffy, making sure to scrape down the bowl. Add the extracts, and then add the dry mix until it is incorporated into a smooth cookie dough.

Chill for 1 hour. You can roll out the dough and use a cutter, or make a log and slice it or make drop cookies. Bake at 325° for 6–8 minutes.

 

SOFT GLAZED GINGERBREAD

Strasser is a big fan of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, and this recipe adapted from their cookbook is a favorite. She loves how rolled-on designs give the cookie a German look.

Some notes before you begin: Sift the confectioners’ sugar before combining it with the water to ensure a smooth glaze. If you are using a rolling pin or cookie forms with carved designs, make sure to flour the top of the dough so that it doesn’t stick to the crevices. Look for patterned rolling pins and cookie plaques as springerle molds or pins at kitchen shops or online..

Yields 12–20 cookies, depending on size of cookie cutters.

Cookie Dough:

  • 3¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1¼ teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup blackstrap or other dark molasses
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Glaze:

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water

Stir together flour, cocoa powder, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter on medium-high speed until creamy. Slowly add the sugar and mix on medium speed until the mixture is completely smooth and soft. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the egg and mix well.

Add the molasses and corn syrup and beat until incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture slowly and beat on low speed until a dough forms that pulls away from the sides of the bowl and all the ingredients are well incorporated. Remove the dough from the bowl, flatten it on a large piece of plastic wrap into a rectangle about 1 inch thick, cover the dough with the plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick liner.

Unwrap the dough and place on a floured work surface. If using a design, roll out the dough ⅓ inch thick, lightly dust the top with flour, press cookie molds over the dough and then cut out the shapes with a small knife and place on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Alternatively, using the mold as a guide, cut around it with a small knife, flip the mold over so the design is facing you, and place the dough over it, pressing it into the design. Unmold the shapes onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between them.

If using a patterned rolling pin, lightly dust the lined baking sheet with flour and transfer the dough to the pan. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour and roll it in a rectangle about ⅓ inch thick with a plain pin. Using the patterned pin, roll over the dough with enough pressure to ensure a clear impression of the design. Even the sides by trimming with a small knife. You can cut them into smaller sizes after baking.

Bake the cookies until lightly golden along the sides but still soft to the touch in the centers, 7 to 15 minutes..

While the cookies are baking, prepare the glaze. In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and water until smooth.

When the cookies are ready, remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Then, while the cookies are still warm, using even strokes, brush a light coat of glaze on the top of each cookie, evenly covering it. Let the cookies cool completely. When the glaze dries, it should leave a shiny, opaque finish. If you have used a patterned rolling pin and made a single large plaque, cut into your desired sizes with a very sharp knife. The cookies keep in an airtight container in a cool place for about 2 weeks. (Note that they do not freeze well, as glaze becomes watery when thawed.)