Holiday Champagne Cocktail with Star Anise

In my book it’s always champagne time! I learned this one evening when we met our good friends, Max and Shari, for cocktails at their Texas home.

It was any ordinary evening; just a Saturday going out.  We knocked on their door and they greeted us with a bottle of their favorite champs from the Schramsberg Vineyard in Napa Valley. And this was before you could get it in the liquor stores or before wine of the month was mailed (legally) to any household here in Texas.  So as you might imagine, and in my mind, this was super special.

I said, “Champagne in the late afternoon?” See, I had only had cheap champagne and only on special occassions.  Shari, more surprised than me, responded, “But of course, why not?”

And why not, indeed!  We drained the bottle merrily! 

Now it’s your turn.  This is a super holiday (and remember - anytime) champagne cocktail.  Simple to make, refreshing and a lighter alternative to other boozy cocktails. 

You need only make a simple syrup with star anise and buy a bottle of your favorite champagne. 


6 whole pieces of star anise
1 bottle of champagne


Pour 3 ounces of champagne into a champagne flute. Add 1/2 ounce of star anise simple syrup.  Garnish with one whole star anise.  Serve.

You can add more star anise simple syrup if you want a bigger flavor and more sweetness.

One bottle of champagne will serve up to 6 people.

Spice & Herb Simple Syrups

I love a simple syrup to add to a cocktail or mocktail especially in the summertime! And now we’re almost there; at least down here in Texas. I tried my first, what I’ll call unusual-ingredient-infused, cocktail at Gramercy Tavern in NYC. It came with an essence of Kaffir lime. Well, I was hooked and spent a significant amount of time trying to figure out how they concocted this incredible beverage that captivated my senses; not to mention quite refreshing after a long day walking around the Big Apple. That was several years ago. Guess what? I’ve never be able to replicate that recipe. And you know what, I don’t want to! The memory and experience was so wonderful that I’m OK with keeping it just so.

That said, here is a super simple recipe for infused simple syrup that will not only flavor your summertime beverage but also sweeten it - if that’s what you want!  


1C water
1C granulated sugar
1C fresh herb leaves (with stems) or 1 Tbls of spice seeds  


Combine sugar, water and 1C of basil leaves in a saucepan. Cook over medium high heat until sugar is dissolved. Turn heat down to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Take off heat and let steep for 15 minutes or until cooled.  Separate herb or spice from syrup with a sieve.  Discard herb or spice.  Place into a container that can be tightly sealed and refrigerate.  Refrigerate for up to one month.  Freeze for up to 3 months.

Yields 1 cup.

The two simple syrups you see in the picture are made with fennel seed and mint.

Basil Infused Watermelon Mocktail (for Mother's Day)

It’s official! I’m having a love affair with watermelon.  If you would have caught me a year ago I wouldn’t have even touched the rounded green orb. In fact, I’ve had a life-long aversion to the watemelon. I can’t even tell you why. Now, it seems I can’t get enough of that pink and sometimes yellow sweet flesh. I’m smitten! 

So, here’s the recipe I submitted for the http://www.oxo.com Kitchen Challenge at the http://www.eatwriteretreat.com conference in Washington, DC.  And it even got a honorable mention by none other than Bonnie Benwick, interim Food Editor of http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food  My fabulous cooking team included Kathy Blake (http://www.theexperimentalgourmand.com) Betty Ann Quirino (http://www.queensnotebook.com) and Jennifer Levac (http://www.marvelousmommymeals.com) Whew! That’s quite a list.  Anywho, here is the fabulous recipe and a picture of the mocktail.  With my compliments - ENJOY!!!


2C watermelon juice
3Tbls basil simple syrup (or to taste)
Juice of 1 medium lime
1/2-1C of sparkling water
2 stems basil (for garnish)


Combine watermelon juice, basil simple syrup, lime juice and sparkling water in a small pitcher.  Stir to incorporate.  Chill.  Pour into 4 4-ounce cocktail glasses. Garnish.  Serve.

Watermelon Juice

6C personal watermelon, rough chop (yields 2 cups of juice)

Place watermelon in a blender. Puree watermelon until liquid. Pour watermelon juice through a medium sieve.  Pour first run sieved watermelon juice through a smaller mesh sieve.  Skim foam off top of watermelon juice. Chill.  Can be kept for up to 3-days refrigerated, 1 month frozen.

Basil Simple Syrup

1C simple syrup
1C water
1-2C fresh basil leaves

Combine sugar, water and basil leaves in a saucepan. Cook over medium high heat until sugar is dissolved.  Turn heat down to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Take off heat and let steep for 15 minutes or until cooled. Separate basil and syrup.  Discard basil.  Place into a container and refrigerate.  Can be kept for up to 1 month.

Yields 4 4-ounce servings.

p.s. Don’t forget if you want to go from mock-tail to cocktail just add your favorite spirit like vodka or gin.

*you can always add more simple syrup, lime juice and/or sparkling water to your taste.
*you can use most any herb or spice to make an infusion with the simple syrup - just use the basic recipe above.  also, remember use 1/2 the amount when using dried herbs or spices.
*don’t skip the sieving part of the watermelon juice because the pulp will always separate from the actual juice - you always want the pure juice.  
*alternatively from the recipe above you can always puree your watermelon & leave the juice in the refrigerator overnight.  the pulp will separate from the juice.  the next day you’ll just need to scoop off all the pulp.

A Blond Girls' Pink Paloma Martini

When I was a little girl I remember my daddy taking me for a walk around Lake Benbrook in Fort Worth Texas. He said, “Beth, what is it you want?” My mom-enforced Dorothy Hamill hair self said, “Daddy, I want to have my hair done by a designer. Someone who can make me feel and look beautiful; who can design hair around ME!” I didn’t really know what I meant at the time nor did I know that prophecy would somehow come true when I was in my early 30’s. Having returned to my Texas as a wandering chef, I found myself in an old bakery turned hair salon boutique on South Congress in Austin. My hair was in the hands of a woman name Deborah Mastelotto. With her, the two words that have defined the last 10 years of my previous non-disclosed private pampered hair life are BLOND & PINK.

While a lot can be said about a little girl whose goal in life is to have designer hair, this grown up Texas woman loves her fondness for blondness & the knowledge that Pink does make everything better (well, to me at least)!

This recipe is for my friend Deborah as she launches her new blog Pinkchronicity. Now raise your glass and take a sip!

a blond girls’ pink paloma martini

Juice of one Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit
¼-1/2 C of your favorite resposado tequila
Juice of ½ of a small lime Splash of sparkling water

¼ tsp of sugar (optional)
1 sprig of mint or basil for garnish (optional)
Add ice to the top of two martini glasses & set aside.

In a martini shaker, pour grapefruit juice, tequila, lime juice, sparkling water & sugar (optional). Shake vigorously so you get those lovely ice chips on the top of your drink. Shaking vigorously will also dissolve the sugar ; if you choose to use it. Drop ice cubes from martini glasses into the sink. Pour Paloma mixture into glasses. Garnish with mint and/or basil. Drink immediately with thoughtfulness & abandon.
Tip 1: If you are not a “ta-kil-ya” kind of gal replace with citrus vodka. My fav is Grey Goose Lemon.
Tip 2: If you don’t like the pulp, strain fresh grapefruit juice through a strainer.

Yields: 2 4-5 ounce Paloma Martini’s for you (and a friend –maybe) .