Years ago when Greg and I first moved back to Everett from Georgia, we lived in his dad’s basement for a while. We didn’t have a house, all our stuff was in storage, I had no job, and it was just Dizzy and me hanging out during the week. I spent hours writing every day and in the afternoons I watched cooking shows on the Food Network. One of my favorite’s was the Barefoot Contessa. Her recipes are so easy and delicious and they never go out of style.
During one episode, I watched her make a pitcher of Sidecar cocktails for a party she was throwing. I’d never been into brandy, except to cook with it. To me brandy belonged in old historical romance novels; it was what the men drank while brooding in the library. But watching Ina Garten mix the Cognac with the lemon juice and Cointreau, I was intrigued. Ina can make anything look delicious. I wanted to invite myself to her house in East Hampton for an afternoon get-together with her friends and a pitcher of Sidecars.
I printed out the recipe to save for a later day, and then forgot about it.
A few years later, I was hanging out with Greg and our friends, Shannin and Jason; it was spring and I had a memory of that cocktail recipe. For some reason it felt like the thing to make. The weather was gorgeous and sunny in April, which can be a novelty around here, everything was blooming and sending out delicious, sweet scents into the air and we were celebrating just the simple fact that we managed to get together despite our busy schedules and Puget Sound between us. With a lightly sugared rim, heavy on the lemon, and served over a large ice cube in a rocks glass, a tart and sweet cocktail fit right into our plans.
Turns out brandy is good for more than just a dusty romance hero gazing into the fireplace while the sassy heroine eludes him once again.
I still use brandy for cooking, but my favorite to use in cocktails is Cognac from the Cognac region in western France. I’ve heard the really good ones, labeled XO should be sipped, but since they are way out of my budget and I haven’t acquired a taste for sipping super strong liquors, I lean towards the less expensive, younger ones with the VS on the label.
With layers of flavor, like pears and apples, often orange or lemon, barely-there hints of clove and cinnamon, and maybe even vanilla or a light butterscotch and caramel taste, Cognac adds depth and complexity to drinks.
Last fall, Greg and I were looking for another new, fun cocktail to make to celebrate something; I can’t even remember what exactly, it might have been our anniversary, maybe it was Greg getting back from an awesome work trip to Japan. I wanted something different, special and sparkly. Enter the French 75.
People often make this cocktail with gin, but I like it better with Cognac. Although the gin version is tasty and would be perfect on a really hot summer day, the Cognac one purrs special occasion in a pretty glass.
We made it again for Thanksgiving when we celebrated with our friends, and relatives, Kristyn, Roger and their cutie pie, Deyo. And a month later for Christmas, and again in January for a last-minute dinner with neighbors.
The Sidecar and French 75 are very similar cocktails. I like how the the citrusy, caramely flavors of Cognac pair so well with the lemon, sugar and the orange liqueur of Cointreau, or the fizz of sparkling wine. Both seem to say celebration, whether it’s a holiday, success at your job, or even simply getting together with good friends.
- 1.5 ounces Cognac
- 1.5 ounces Cointreau or Grand Marnier
- 1.5 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus extra lemon juice for sugaring the rims of the glasses
- dash angostura bitters
- Chill rocks glass or any favorite glass you have. If you like a sugared rim on your glass, dip rim of glass into extra lemon juice, then dip rim in sugar. Fill cocktail shaker with ice, add Cognac, Cointreau, lemon juice and bitters. Shake until chilled and strain into rocks glass over large ice cube. Optional: garnish with lemon twist and/or brandied cherries. Or, if you're like me, leave it ungarnished.
- I think the Barefoot Contessa uses Grand Marnier; I like Cointreau better, either will work. I also like my Sidecar extra lemony, like a grown-up lemonade, tart, tart, tart. If you don't like it as lemony, use 3 ounces Cognac, to 1.5 ounces Cointreau and 1.5 ounces lemon juice.
- 1 1/2 ounces Cognac or gin
- 1/2 ounce simple syrup
- 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Sparkling wine
- Twist of lemon
- Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the Cognac, simple syrup and lemon juice and shake well. Strain into coupe or martini glass. Top with sparkling wine, garnish with a lemon twist and serve.