Common Ground Gin: Spirit Review


Gin is kind of one of those who love it or hate it spirits. For some, it’s an introduction to aroma and flavor, for others it’s a reminder of bad times in college with simple rock gut gin and juice combinations. For us, it was probably 2013, our first year at Tales of The Cocktail that really opened up our minds to how amazing gin and gin cocktails can be. Today we’re spreading that love, reviewing Common Ground Gin, launched in 2020 by two coworkers and lifelong friends.


No good brand comes without a story, and Common Ground Spirits are no exception. CG is a black-owned distillery out of Berkeley California, started by two coworkers in tech, turned life long friends. The name comes from the belief that finding a common ground with each other adds substance and meaning to life. Their common ground is the belief that everybody, no matter race, religion, or gender identity should have equal opportunities in all aspects of life. And while we seem to be in some dark times these days politically, we can all agree spirits bring us together. And that’s what CG’s Gin and future bourbon expression are all about. Common Ground Gin comes in two expressions, Gin 01 (basil and elderflower) and Gin 02 (black currant and thyme) and today we’ll be sampling them both;

Tasting Notes

Gin 01

nose: Basil is one of those house hold herbs that’s got a hard to miss scent, and its distinction comes through strong in expression 01. Herbal, with a bit of citrus undertones, softened by the elderflower’s sweet aroma.

Tastes: The nose is mostly basil, but the elderflower takes the lead in the flavour. While there are 8 botanicals in total in this expression (Juniper Berries, Cucumber, Basil, Elderflower, Coriander Seed, Rose Petals, Lime Peel, Lemon Peel), the elderflower really finishes off nicely with a sweet honey like taste. The harsh first sip usually associated with gin, is muted by a soft and sweet finish. This would go well in a gin basil smash; a simple cocktail with only 4 ingredients allowing the gin to really shine (Gin, Basil, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup). The spirit itself is modeled after the Flo & Basy – a cocktail from Coppinger Row in Dublin, Ireland. While we’ve never been there, we can see why they fell in love with the flavor.

Gin 02

nose: Expression two starts out with a much more citrus forward nose, with fruitful undertones and a bit of earthiness. A perfect example of the lemony aroma often associated with thyme followed by the sweet of black currant.

Tastes: What a difference some dried fruit makes. This one has a lot of citrus notes but the flavor profile shouts sweet dried fruits. This combination of botanicals (Black Currant, Thyme, Meyer Lemon peel, Peppercorn, Juniper Berries, Coriander Seed) offers a flavor that in my opinion makes it the perfect gin for your heavy citrus or fruit forward cocktails. Think of a gin paloma or a Blackberry/Raspberry gin rickey.

Price: $39.99

ABV: 45.22%

Final Words: The two expressions we have here couldn’t be more different, a perfect example of how unique the gin category can be. With gin, the only consistency is Juniper, which gives it the earthy/piney scent that comes with love/hate. Besides that, gin is a blank canvas, one that founders Julian & Tory have created to tell their story. Both of these craft gins come in at 45.22% ABV, slightly lower than some of the national brands you may already be familiar with, and are well priced for the category at less than $40. The gin lover can’t go wrong here. So, if you’re in the Bay area, Georgia, or the DMV be sure to check out where can you buy Common Ground Spirits, or visit them and buy directly online from them at

Common Ground Gin


Common Ground Gin: Spirit Review Read More »

How to cook bacon in the microwave

In a YouTube video titled ‘The best ways to cook bacon (and the worst)’, Frank was “going over the typical [method of] Fry bacon, as well as some unconventional techniques like oven baking and using the microwave.

1. Pan-frying

Also known as the “traditional, tried and true method that most people use” to cook bacon, “takes less time than turning on the oven, and it’s probably the best method for five, to six slices of bacon”, Frank said.

He explained the choice of bacon is key for this method of cooking: “Whenever I choose to pan-fry bacon, I’m looking for thick-cut bacon. I think it holds better, the slices are a little sturdier, and I find regular bacon is a little too flimsy.

“I like to use a cast iron pan, if you don’t have a cast iron pan, that’s fine. I let it heat up on medium heat for three to five minutes.

“This might seem counter-intuitive, but I like to start with a little bit of fat – I don’t like putting things into a dry pan, I think it’s a bad habit to get into. I just coat the bottom of my pan with a little bit of oil.”

Frank suggests laying the bacon rashers “flat” in the pan and to begin with the bacon will “touch the sides of the pan, but you’ll notice it’ll start to shrink up and fit inside the pan”.

Now, you want to “leave it alone”. The chef explained: “Most people start fussing with it, don’t fuss, leave it to brown.”

He said he would take “five to ten minutes at least”, and then he flipped the rashers to get them to cook evenly.

There are a couple of “disadvantages of using a pan”. Firstly, “it doesn’t fit a lot of bacon”, secondly, any bacon “not directly over the heat” doesn’t brown as well so you need to “shuffle” the rashers around.

Once the bacon was brown and crispy, he removed the rashes and placed them onto a baking tray which was lined with a paper towel to soak up the excess oil.

2. Baking

“The baking sheet method is by far my favorite method,” Frank remarked. “You can cook bulk amounts of bacon, with less space, there’s no tending to the bacon, it also cooks the bacon more evenly without splatters in your kitchen, and the results are superior in every way.”

For this method, you need a sheet or baking tray and line it with a sheet of parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper, use a wire rack, but Frank doesn’t like using a rack because he’s “lazy and doesn’t want to clean it”.

He also said cooking bacon on parchment paper means the bacon “cooks in its own fat”. He notes he says “drain all the fat off” after cooking, so don’t worry about there being too much fat.

First, take the rashers of bacon, and lie them side by side. The chef said the “yield on the bacon is better” when baking in the oven as you “don’t get as much shrinkage”.

Once all the bacon is lined up, put it in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes.

After the time is up, drain the bacon on a baking tray lined with a paper towel to soak up the excess oil.

“For me, this is the perfect texture,” Frank admits. “A little crunchy, a little chewy. The bacon is evenly baked, a little crispy on the outside.”

3. Microwaves

“As a chef, I have zero problems with the microwave, it’s a great tool,” Frank said. “If you need to get your bacon cooked in minutes, and you only need two-three slices, the microwave is the way to go.”

The chef also said this method requires minimal clean-up. All you need is a few paper towels and a microwave-safe plate.

Take the bacon rashers and place them on the paper towel on the plate. Cover it with two or three more sheets of paper towels to “soak up the excess fat” and “helps steam” the bacon.

Put the plate in the microwave on high for four to six minutes. After five minutes, Frank checked the bacon and it was “super crispy” and “delicious”.

How to cook bacon in the microwave Read More »

Want one of Kentucky’s top chefs to show you how to cook? Come to Versailles.

Ouita Michel has expanded his culinary empire … again. The eight-time James Beard Award nominee already has six restaurants (Holly Hill Inn, Wallace Station, Windy Corner, Honeywood, Smithtown Seafood and Zim’s Café), a bakery (Midway Bakery), a cocktail bar (The Thirsty Fox), a special events division at Fasig Tipton, and a cookbook (“Just a Few Miles South.”)

To that list can now be added a cooking studio. The Holly Hill and Co. Cooking Studio on Main Street in Versailles officially opened July 6 with an informal cooking demonstration for a group of local media.

It will open to the public on July 16, with a listing of classes available through September on their website,, but don’t expect a traditional cooking school.

You won’t find a sterile classroom-style setting with a properly aproned and toqued chef leading students through a series of culinary exercises.

Chef Ouita Michel conducts an interactive cooking experience at Holly Hill &  Co.  Cooking Studio on Main Street in Versailles, Ky., on July 6, 2023, for members of the media.

Chef Ouita Michel conducts an interactive cooking experience at Holly Hill & Co. Cooking Studio on Main Street in Versailles, Ky., on July 6, 2023, for members of the media.

Chef Ouita Michel says the Holly Hill &  Co.  Cooking Studio is a way to connect outside of her restaurants.

Chef Ouita Michel says the Holly Hill & Co. Cooking Studio is a way to connect outside of her restaurants.

Rather, Michel’s studio, filled with plants, local art and Kentucky Proud products, is reminiscent of your grandmother’s (admittedly well-equipped) kitchen.

And like your grandmother, she does the lion’s share of the work, while you sit comfortably – cocktail in hand – and learn from what she says and does.

Chef Ouita Michel will hold classes at the new cooking studio in downtown Versailles.

Chef Ouita Michel will hold classes at the new cooking studio in downtown Versailles.

The class schedule for Holly Hill &  Co.  Cooking Studio will be posted online.

The class schedule for Holly Hill & Co. Cooking Studio will be posted online.

“I like to think of this space as a place for storytelling and bringing people together through food,” says Michel.

Our small media group (the studio only has room for 16 with four tables of four) certainly were brought together in admiration of the menu Michel created for the occasion – Silver Dollar Hoe Cakes with nasturtium salsa verde and lump crab, and a cheese and tomato purslane salad.

Classes will start July 16.

Classes will start July 16.

Chef Ouita Michel prepared tiny shoecakes with a nasturtium salsa verde and lump crab cake.

Chef Ouita Michel prepared tiny shoecakes with a nasturtium salsa verde and lump crab cake.

A few overachievers offered their services in plating the food, while the rest of us were content to sample it.

“If you think about it, most of us learned to cook by watching someone else do it, explaining the methods and ingredients as they went along,” says Michel. “This is the best way to bring a recipe to life.”

As for the chef, he admits to a passion for teaching and sharing knowledge, and in doing so, prefers playing to a small audience. If she was an actress, she would probably opt for the intimacy of off-off-Broadway play rather than the grandeur of the Great White Way.

“It’s all about connecting with the audience on a more personal level,” she says.

The cooking studio atmosphere is informal and intimate.

The cooking studio atmosphere is informal and intimate.

The Holly Hill &  Co.  Cooking Studio is the latest addition to chef Ouita Michel's culinary slate.

The Holly Hill & Co. Cooking Studio is the latest addition to chef Ouita Michel’s culinary slate.

Michel does that effortlessly – whether he’s talking about cooking dinner in his own small kitchen for his husband and daughter, or explaining how nasturtium flowers make an excellent flavor enhancer.

“Many of the herbs I use in my own restaurants and here at the cooking studio come from our garden at Holly Hill Inn,” she tells us.

For journalists, chef Ouita Michel prepared and served Silver Dollar Hoe Cakes with nasturtium salsa verde and lump crab, and a cheese and tomato purslane salad.

For journalists, chef Ouita Michel prepared and served Silver Dollar Hoe Cakes with nasturtium salsa verde and lump crab, and a cheese and tomato purslane salad.

The cooking classes will feature different menus of seasonal Kentucky dishes.

The cooking classes will feature different menus of seasonal Kentucky dishes.

If Michel appears effortlessly in front of her studio audience, she says the behind-the-scenes effort was anything but.

“What you are seeing here was two-and-a-half years in the making,” she says, going on to explain how until that time, all her restaurants were operating independently.

“Our first step was to organize them under one umbrella, Holly Hill and Co.,” said Michel, “and our next step was to establish a non-restaurant source of revenue.”

Hence, the opening of the Holly Hill and Co. Cooking Studio

“I am all about community which is the reason I moved back to Kentucky from New York City,” she says. “I have found that community in Lexington and especially, Midway.

“This is a dream come true,” she goes on. “A place apart from the chaos of a restaurant kitchen where we can connect with family and friends and learn about Kentucky culture and cuisine.”

Holly Hill & Co. Cooking Studio

where: 167 S.Main St. in Versailles

On line:

Want one of Kentucky’s top chefs to show you how to cook? Come to Versailles. Read More »

It’s hot, you’re hungry: summertime cooking shortcuts

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My approach to warm-weather cuisine has always been to reduce use of indoor appliances or take the cooking method outside. That became more of a challenge when we moved to a compact rental unit, but new small-space, double-duty appliances make either easier.

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For indoor meals, Ninja has a double oven with two cavities that separately bake, broil, roast, reheat, keep warm, toast, air-fry/roast, and dehydrate.

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The feature has been emerging in conventional ovens for the past few years, but this sized-down version—about 13 inches high and 16 inches wide—saves even more counterspace and energy. Cook-time is trimmed too: its makers say it can produce an entire meal 65 per cent faster than a traditional oven.

Smells from dishes do not cross over. The unit comes with two sheet pans, wire racks, and an air-fry basket.

Even tinier, the Wonder Oven from online retailer Our Place contains air-fry, bake, roast, toast, reheat, and broil functions within about a square foot. A thimble-like water inlet makes steam—extremely excellent for baking crisp breads and moist roasts, or reviving a day-old baguette.

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Quick to preheat, the interior can accommodate a 4.5-pound chicken, while insertable trays allow multi-level cooking from 200° to 400°F. The machine’s rounded silhouette—available in grey, blue, and a limited-edition spicey clay—is pleasingly retro.

For outdoor cooking, Ninja also just launched an electric wood fire outdoor grill, smoker and air fryer. At about 19 inches wide and 33 inches high, it’s well-suited to a backyard, patio, apartment terrace, or recreational vehicle (RV).

The unit is powered by wood pellets, which have fuel grill, smoke and air-fry functions. It takes about ½ cup to get the distinctive aroma, and the unit comes with two blends. It’s sturdy enough, say the makers, that it can stay outdoors for year-round cooking.

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A home-made pizza with fresh tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella—served with a leafy salad and a glass of wine—is a simple and delicious summer meal. But because perfect pizza demands a piping hot oven, it’s not an obvious choice on a sizzling day.

The Ooni Karu 16 multi-fuel oven takes the work outside, reaching 500°C/950°F in about 15 minutes with wood, charcoal, or a compatible gas burner that’s sold separately.

That kind of heat makes pizza in about 90 seconds, one that’s tasty enough that international pizza authority Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana certified the Ooni 16 as the first oven they’ve recommended for domestic use. Sized at 33 by 32 by 20 inches, it’s a small-footprint investment in outdoor cooking.

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Homemade sodas
Homemade sodas lets users customize sugar and carbonization levels. Photo by Supplied

For healthy, hydrating summer beverages, consider a Drinkmate OmniFizz soda maker, which carbonates water, juice, iced tea/coffee, wine, cocktails, and non-alcoholic mixes. You can also use it to revive flat beer or soda. It was a top pick for the New York Times’ Wirecutter home tech reviews earlier this year.

My favorite to make are sparkling juices and cold herbal teas—sometimes in combinations like vervain, mint, and camomile—with or without a splash of lemon or a spoonful of honey. While the apple cider on its own is delicious, I’ve heard a splash of bourbon make it even more delightful. I’m not a fan, but I can see how bourbon’s smoky sweetness would work with apples.

Recipes include a refreshing take on orange soda, made from lemon and lime juice, honey and water. There’s even a hand-held portable option that fits in a kitchen drawer, glovebox, or RV drawer.

Remember that any carbonated drink in a container should not be exposed to extreme temperatures for long periods. That means not leaving it in the car on a baking day or deciding to cool one down quickly in the freezer. Because my other summer cooking rule is to avoid sticky—and possibly dangerous—messes to clean up.

For more product reviews, go to

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‘Top Chef’ Season 10 winner named new host of the cooking show

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Kriste Kish, the winner of Season 10 of “Top Chef,” has been named the new host of the cooking show, taking the reins from Padma Lakshmi.

‘Top Chef’ Season 10 winner named new host of the cooking show Read More »

Cierto Tequila: Celebrating National Tequila Day 2024

Have you heard of Cierto Tequila? As if you didn’t need another reason to crack open a bottle, National Tequila Day is right around the corner on July 24th. You may have your favorite spirit handy, but if you’re looking to try something different, we’re sharing a preview of one of our upcoming product reviews;

“Cierto Tequila is made from fully mature, estate-grown agave from the Highlands of Jalisco, which is only one of five places where tequila can be hailed from, and is harvested and distilled by some of the most prominent and most revered agaveros (agave farmers) in the world, Enrique Fonseca and Sergio Mendoza. The Fonseca and Mendoza families have been in the tequila-making business for generations, employing their craft to hone a high-quality liquid like Cierto that represents a unique combination of time-honored and globally inspired distilling techniques. Each expression contains some of the oldest and rarest tequilas in existence, selected by hand and harvested at the precise moment. Cierto Tequila is available in four distinct, award-winning expressions as part of its Private Collection, each embodying the rich complexity of the Highlands’ terroir.”

So we’ll be sure to follow up with our review in the upcoming weeks, but if you have seen this one at your favorite liquor store, give it a try and let us know what you think!

For more information visit their website at and check our some of our previous tequila reviews for some more options to help you celebrate National Tequila Day this year.

Cierto Tequila: Celebrating National Tequila Day 2024 Read More »

The Traditional Cooking Method That Makes Paratha Different From Naan

Naan is inextricably linked with the tandoor ovens, which are large cylindrical clay contraptions that can reach scorching temperatures. Once the naan dough has been prepared, the bakers will slap the rolled-out flatbread against the side of the oven walls until they puff out and have a charred, speckled-brown exterior.

Paratha, meanwhile, is prepared using a different tool and an entirely different cooking method — fried in a tawa. Shaped like a disc, a tawa is a stone or steel frying pan commonly found in Southeast Asian kitchens that is used to make roti and dosa, in addition to this flatbread. The process of using a tawa begins by heating it and adding a good portion of oil or butter, then pan-frying the pre-shaped dough to a similar, char-dotted perfection.

Despite traditional preparations, cooks making these flatbreads at home are forced to rely on the convenience of a laugh or even a skillet or griddle. Since several beyond restaurants and street vendors are likely to have a handy tandoor oven, naan is commonly prepared in a convection oven as well. While some consider this a muddling of traditional preparations, others contend it’s just a modern adaptation and a practical way to eat one’s traditional cuisine.

The Traditional Cooking Method That Makes Paratha Different From Naan Read More »

Why sugar can play an important role in savory cooking

Sugar is among the most talked-about ingredients we use in cooking, right up there with salt. Often, it’s downright contentious.

Over the years I have been publishing recipes, I’ve come to expect questions, comments and criticism about the amount of sugar, the type of sugar and even its very presence. That’s especially true whenever a savory dish calls for sugar.

The reactions range from genuine curiosity — what purpose does it serve? — to hostility, along the lines of: “Why does sugar have to be in everything?!”

As I’ve written about baking, the purpose of sugar is not just to make food taste sweet.

Whether you add that pinch of sugar to a savory recipe is up to you, but here’s why you shouldn’t fear it — and why you should strongly consider it.

Sugar can mask unwanted flavors and enhance others

Sweet is one of the five basic tastes, along with salty, sour, bitter and umami. “Sugar has some desirable flavor interactions,” including softening or masking sourness and bitterness, says Paul Wise, an associate member at the Monell chemical senses center.

Sugar can also counteract saltiness, especially if you’ve overseas on your dish, as my colleague Daniela Galarza wrote.

Six baking myths that you shouldn’t believe

Sugar, whether granulated or another form such as honey, maple syrup or molasses, does more than just one-on-one combat with other tastes. “A dash of sugar in savory dishes has a complex, indirect impact on flavor, amping up tastes that might otherwise fade into the background,” Cook’s Illustrated writes.

“A little bit of this and a little bit of that makes a whole lot of something,” says Danielle Reed, associate director at Monell, in describing the X-factor of a dish’s “overall yum.” “One of the unsolved mysteries of taste is what happens when we say something enhances flavor.”

She and Wise offer a few possibilities. One is that because the sweet and umami receptors on the tongue have one part in common, sugar may also partially activate the umami taste, the mouth-filling savory, satisfying sensation often associated with ingredients such as MSG, soy sauce, tomato paste and more . Wise says that sugar may be “tickling secondary mechanisms” in the tongue’s taste cells that mimic mechanisms in the gut, sending additional signals to our brain. There’s also a possibility that even a subtle sweetness can enhance aromas, in part because of the learned association between the way certain foods smell and taste, Wise says.

Sugar can improve mouthfeel

Just as it may enhance flavor, sugar “can impart a nice desirable mouthfeel,” Wise says. How sugar affects the physical sensation food creates in our mouth is as unclear as its overall impact on taste.

These are the 4 types of sugar even the most casual baker should always have on hand

Sugar is effective in even small amounts

If you’re well-practiced in seasoning your food to taste — and you really should be! — you’ll know that whether it’s sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar or whatever, you want to add a little bit at a time until it tastes right to you. At a certain point, that final pinch or splash will make everything click. And it won’t necessarily take a lot.

“The tongue is one of the most amazing chemical detectors on the planet,” Reed says. It is sensitive to the concentration of a micromolar, or one-millionth of a mole per liter. (I could try to explain this with exponents, but trust me, it’s very small.)

Scale and portion size are important for keeping perspective, too. In my Sausage, Spinach and Goat Cheese Lasagna, I call for one teaspoon of granulated sugar (plus more to taste) to take the edge off a sauce made with two 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes. That teaspoon may sound like a lot, but look at the servings: The dish feeds 10 to 12 people, so it’s 1/10 to 1/12 teaspoon of added sugar per serving. If, for example, you are sticking to the American Heart Association’s recommendations on limiting added sugars to no more than 6 percent of daily calories, that amounts to six teaspoons for most American women and nine teaspoons for men.

Sugar assists with flavorful browning

Sugar is a key component in the browning reaction known as Maillard, in which it interacts with the amino acids of proteins, creating a cascade of new flavors and aroma compounds, with several hundred possibilities. Maillard can occur with the natural sugars present in food, but a little sugar added to a spice rub, brine or glaze will enhance the effect, along with equally flavorful caramelization. Check out my colleague Olga Massov’s Grilled Brown Sugar Skirt Steak for an example. Sugar can also speed up the process of caramelizing onions.

Sugar in moderation will not ruin your diet

Our Nourish columnist, Ellie Krieger, a cookbook author and dietitian nutritionist, says it’s better than I ever could: “Whenever I put the tiniest bit of sweetener in a recipe, I get emails asking how I can possibly claim a dish is healthy when it’s contains sugar. …

“When it comes to sugar — or white flour, or bacon or butter, for that matter — while it’s best kept to a minimum, that doesn’t mean a little will ruin the healthfulness of a recipe, or your overall diet. Having such an extreme view of what qualifies as good-for-you is unnecessary, and can ultimately backfire.

“Rather, taking a more flexible approach, eating mostly nutrient-rich foods but feeling free to incorporate less-healthful ingredients in small amounts, using them strategically to maximize the pleasure of eating well, is a more sustainable path to well-being in the long runs.”

Be smart about using sugar

People are sensitive to different levels of taste, including sugar, Wise says. The amount of sugar it takes for something to taste right or veer into cloying varies, which is why it’s helpful to keep an open mind and a willingness to experiment.

Having a light touch is smart from both a health and flavor perspective. “There’s a certain disgust when something tastes sweet that isn’t supposed to,” Reed says. “If you consciously are perceiving the sugar … you’re going to think it’s too sweet.”

Using sugar for flavor balance is the easiest in dishes where it can dissolve seamlessly and be adjusted on the fly, often right before serving, though you can taste it throughout cooking as well. At the top of my list would be sauces, stews, soups and salad dressings.

Keep in mind that not all sweeteners are created equal, so adjust accordingly. Honey, maple syrup and agave nectar are sweeter than granulated sugar, while molasses is less.

Why sugar can play an important role in savory cooking Read More »

No-Cook Recipes: Salads, Ice Cream and More

It’s inevitable. At some point this summer, it’s going to be too hot, too humid, too overwhelming to cook.

So don’t.

Don’t turn on the stove. Don’t preheat the oven. Don’t melt or sear or sauté.

The 24 recipes that follow are made for the heat by skipping its application altogether, instead prioritizing fresh produce, prepared proteins, assembling, mixing and chilling. Where an original recipe may have called for some cooking, we’ve offered tips and swaps to make sure you don’t turn on the stove, oven, even the toaster.

Of course, there’s no shame in a meal of chips and salsa or a juicy mango eaten messily over the sink. And while some cold sandy cuts at the beach, tucked into hand, then into mouth, may be memorable, they aren’t exactly Proustian.

So, make some food — and some memories. But definitely don’t cook.

Bring the French seaside to you with this recipe from Kay Chun. Yes, you could blanch the suggested vegetables, but why? Pick up some precooked edamame, and stick to dippers like carrots, cucumbers and pleasantly bitter endives. Then take Kay’s advice and bulk it up with some canned tuna or rotisserie chicken.

Recipes: Grand Green Aioli

Malika Ameen, a Pakistani American cookbook author, has watched her family use all kinds of fruit in this savory salad, but hydrating watermelon, as in this recipe she shared with The Times, is ideal for sustaining you when the mercury rises.

Recipes: Watermelon Chaat

Torn pieces of supermarket rotisserie chicken soup in easy sauce, inspired by the Vietnamese condiment nuoc cham, in this weeknight special from Yewande Komolafe. The mint and basil here outnumber the leafy greens for a salad that’s packed with fresh, herbaceous flavor and ready in five minutes. Crispy shallots, also store-bought for minimal effort, add yet another layer of flavor.

When even thinking about cooking is a slog, Hetty McKinnon’s recipe, inspired by Japanese hiyayakko and Chinese liangban tofu, is the ultimate dish. Silken tofu, lightly chilled from the fridge, swims in a gorgeous soy dressing that’s easily doubled, tripled or even quadrupled. It can sit in your refrigerator for months, ready for whenever that summer kitchen slump inevitably arrives.

Recipes: Silken Tofu With Spicy Soy Dressing

Sue Li’s simple dish is so smart and nuanced: Salting the cucumbers draws out any excess liquid while you whisk together a quick sauce. But its true brilliance lies in how the recipe layers the peanut mixture between sheets of cucumber for a rich texture in every bite. For even more crunch, use chile crisp in place of the oil, or chunky peanut butter instead of creamy.

Recipes: Cucumber Salad With Roasted Peanuts and Chile

This caprese revels in the possibility: If your tomato options are limited, this salad proves you can use whatever stone fruit looks good, then soak it in a mixture of lemon juice, sugar and salt until it tastes “perky and bright — like the greatest stone fruit you’ve eaten,” as the recipe’s developer, Ali Slagle, recommends. Peaches, nectarines, plums or cherries all work well here, topped with a little oil and herbs for a dish that cools and invigorates.

Recipes: Stone Fruit Caprese

Two kinds of peppers — hot and sweet — work together in this Mediterranean-inspired salad from Genevieve Ko. A stint in a salt-and-vinegar dressing pickles them gently and quickly, infusing them with the flavor you prepare the rest of the dish. Take a reader’s suggestion and pair the salad with a crunchy baguette for contrasting texture.

Recipes: Tuna Salad With Hot and Sweet Peppers

Cannellini beans step in for the traditional chickpeas in this hummus, which comes together in the food processor and is ready in mere minutes. Genevieve Ko brilliantly includes a bit of miso for depth and a little saltiness, but it’s just as memorable without.

Melissa Clark’s protein-heavy salad is thrillingly zesty. Cut the preparation time for this recipe in half by using store-bought cooked shrimp (or a shrimp cocktail) and just skip the first step. Then, give it all a spritz of lemon at the end until the flavors are balanced and sharp.

Recipes: Shrimp Salad

Traditional kulfi calls for cooking down milk until concentrated and extra sweet, which is less than ideal when the weather’s hot and the outside is so alluring. This shortcut, straight from Tejal Rao’s mother, calls for combining sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream for a similar effect. It comes together in five minutes and freezes overnight, so prepare it in the morning, and pop it in the freezer so it’s ready by dinner’s end.

Recipes: Quick Mango Kulfi

Ali Slagle channels the ’80s — the golden age of goat cheese — with this texture-packed, fruit-filled salad. Sweet nectarines go well with the tangy cheese and the crispy smattering of pita chips, but you can use any seasonal stone fruit as long as it’s juicy and ripe.

Recipes: Chicken Salad With Nectarines and Goat Cheese

As pretty as it is delicious, this summery recipe, influenced by Japanese hiyayakko and Italian caprese salad, tucks rosy peaches and bright-red tomatoes alongside silken tofu and drizzles them all in a dressing spiked with balsamic vinegar and sesame oil. Hana Asbrink, who created the recipe, calls the dressing “the best part!” — impressive in a salad with so much to offer.

Recipes: Cold Tofu Salad With Tomatoes and Peaches

You can wing it when it comes to a charcuterie board, or you can use this clever recipe, which builds to suit your taste. Choose whatever spreadable pâtés, cured meats, cheeses, nuts or olives you like, but don’t skip the super-quick whipped ricotta. Both dip and spread, it turns the whole thing into a meal.

Julia Moskin searched high and low for the finest take on this Spanish classic, and she landed on one from Seville, in Andalusia, known for its hot weather. A half cup of olive oil lends its silky weight and tones down the color of this version. (It’s more orange than red.) Make it, then keep some in the fridge for when an urgent hunger strikes. This gazpacho goes a long way.

Recipes: Best Gazpacho

Run through with fresh herbs (and sour pickles!), this one-bowl tuna salad sandwich is full of robust flavors and textures, especially since Naz Deravian layers potato chips under the bun for a salty crunch that gives way to the creamy filling.

Recipes: Tuna Salad Sandwiches

A ceviche without seafood? Impossible, you might say. But Jocelyn Ramirez’s take on the classic applies a mix of lemon and nori sheets (and wakame, if you like) to grated cauliflower, evoking the brininess of the ocean. No, it’s not the real thing, but it’s just as satisfying.

Recipes: Cauliflower Ceviche

One ingredient. One step. One classic New York Times recipe. Bananas are sliced, frozen and then blended until smooth. That’s it! Top it with rich fudge or chocolate shavings, sprinkles or whipped cream and a cherry. Or just serve it straight with the satisfaction that you made a genuine crowd-pleaser.

Recipes: One-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream

A lightly retro chicken salad, this extra crisp take on a chain restaurant and classic buffet — Sweet Tomatoes, anyone? — pairs wonton strips, shredded rotisserie (or leftover) chicken and chopped romaine hearts with a fruity sesame oil-infused dressing. You could make wonton strips, but don’t. Buy them at the supermarket, as Eric Kim, the recipe’s developer, suggests, or simply set aside a packet from your next takeout order specifically for this dish.

“What a sweet little gentle thing this is,” a reader wrote about this recipe, a centerpiece of many Iranian tables, from Naz Deravian. Each element — feta, basil, mint, cucumbers and watermelon, to name a few — is thoughtfully arranged and delightfully cooling. You can soak the walnuts to temper their bitterness, but it’s completely optional. What isn’t optional is tucking a bit of cheese, herbs and walnuts into the flatbread for a loghmeh, the Persian word for a perfect bite.

Recipes: Naan-o Paneer-o Sabzi

It’s rare that a salad feels like a celebration, but this recipe from Alexa Weibel challenges that assumption with glee. A homemade ranch dressing full of lively cilantro, lime and jalapeño gets drizzled over a collection of crunchy vegetables — romaine hearts, corn, radishes. If you can’t readily find Cotija, you can always swap in Parmesan for a similarly salty umami.

Recipes: Chopped Salad With Jalapeño-Ranch Dressing

An olive salad tops five kinds of cured meat and provolone in this New Orleans classic, adapted from Susan Spungen. Letting everything sit for 10 minutes once assembled and before you dig in may be difficult, but it’s for the best: The sandwich melds together, the juices mingle, the anticipation builds. Make it ahead and keep it chilled, ready to feed a hungry crowd at a moment’s notice.

Recipes: Muffuletta

A tart vinaigrette built in Dijon mustard, orange juice and a splash of lemon, lime or grapefruit juice (your call) gives this salad — originally from Von Diaz’s cookbook “Coconuts and Collards” — an edge, while mellow avocado and sweet shrimp keep it from going too far. Don’t worry about poaching the shrimp here: You can easily use precooked shrimp and toss it with the dressing at the end.

Recipes: Shrimp and Avocado Salad With Citrus Vinaigrette (Camarones a la Vinagreta)

This bright, light but still filling salad from Lidey Heuck loves to tag along — to picnics, potlucks, barbecues, the beach. Take it wherever you think getting hungry is a possibility. It hangs out amenably and welcomes any manner of last-minute additions: canned tuna, olives, herbs. A dream date!

No-Cook Recipes: Salads, Ice Cream and More Read More »

Fire Department Coffee Review: Canadian Maple Whiskey

Fire Department Coffee Review: Canadian Maple Whiskey

Wit Labor Day comes the unofficial transitions from Summer to Fall, and with it the flavors we enjoy in the food and drinks we have. For the most part, it’s about switching from summer fruits, to fall favorites like pumpkin and caramel. For boozers like myself, that means switching from gin and vodka to bourbon and dark rums. We also put down the iced cold sweet tea (A Southern thing) and move on to warm flavorful coffee. In fact, we’re pretty big on our coffee, I think I’ve mentioned more than a few times, being from the birthplace of coffee, it holds a special place in my heart. So when we heard about a brand that was marrying together two of our favorite things (coffee and booze), we just HAD to give it a try.

Today we’re sampling a Canadian Maple Whiskey infused coffee from Fire Department Coffee (FDC). Fire Dept. Coffee is a veteran-owned business based in Rockford, Illinois (Shout out to Illinois from a Chicago kid!) Ran by both active and retired firefighters, FDC is inspired by the bean that helps keep firefighters stay alert and energized on those long shifts. Every order is roasted in Rockford by a team of firefighters, first responders and coffee lovers. And ten percent of net proceeds are donated to help provide essential resources and assistance to first responders who have been injured on the job, mentally or physically, or who are facing other serious health challenges. The uniqueness of their brand comes in the ability to have their own innovative method to infuse the taste and aroma of your favorite spirits with premium quality coffee beans. Essentially, they’ve created the perfect non-alcoholic beverage for both the coffee lover and day-drinker. Now that we know a bit about them, here’s what we thought about their coffee.

First Impressions: Before checking out their website we assumed it was an RTD (ready to drink) blend, but we were pretty excited to see this is the real deal, hand crafted ground coffee in a beautifully packaged take home bag. Each expression including the two we received (Canadian Maple & Coconut Rum) has their branded logo on the front, with brewing instructions on the side. It’s worth noting they have a little something for everyone including light, medium, and dark roast lovers AND bourbon, rum, and tequila fans.

noses: When they say they’ve perfectly infused the aroma of the spirit, they nailed it. Whiskey and maple are perfect complimentary notes for freshly ground coffee and in this case, when you open the package there are strong coffee notes, with sweet undertones of maple syrup and whiskey. Once brewed the aroma profile changes up a bit. The hotter the coffee, the less notes of whiskey we could detect, and the maple is almost nonexistent. That being said, we sniff the bag daily and yes, I admit that’s weird but let’s not judge mmk?

Tastes: Full transparency, I’m a HUGE fan of dark roast, so I was a little hesitant in trying a medium roast that I may be a bit biased and it ruined the experience, but THIS medium roast is fantastic. I’ll just assume it’s the blend of maple whiskey that really makes it work. The actual whiskey and maple flavors are not strong but are apparent which is good or bad depending on your expectations with this. For us, we weren’t expecting a coffee flavored whiskey, but a maple whiskey flavored coffee. Let the coffee do its thing (and it does!) and then enjoy the maple whiskey featured accents. That’s exactly what you get here. Like our experience with the aroma, the flavor too changes depending on the temperature of the coffee, and how you “sweeten” up your coffee. Sugar and sweet creams help to bring out the sweet notes in the coffee I that’s your thing.

Prices: $19.99 / 12oz Bag

Is it worth the price? Considering the going rate for your average coffee brand, and even higher prices for craft brands, this is on par for the course. Double points for being both a premium flavored coffee AND booze infused. With many varieties and sizes, pricing varies on their many expressions.

Final Words: Consider this variety the perfect pumpkin alternative for coffee fans. The beauty of FDC infusions is that you get all the flavors in a non-alcoholic beverage but can make it your own with a splash of your favorite spirit. As we mentioned, we’re dark roast fans, and we’ll be trying one soon, but even so, we were impressed by the flavor and blend in this medium roast expression. I can easily see myself drinking this before work, and after work adding a little “extra” to spike it up. The flavor is spot on, the caffeine kick is refreshing, and since we’ve opened it, we’ve had a cup almost every day of the week. Is this the only infused coffee brand on the market? No. Is it the best we’ve had so far? Yes. Needless to say we’re a fan and we’ll be looking into their subscription service they offer.

For more information on Fire Department Coffee, their brands, and how to purchase their products, visit their website at

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