Tech The Halls: Easy Holiday Cocktails and Treats

posted by Nastassia Lopez

Christmastime with Dave and Nils.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas Holiday in the lab. A thick layer of liquid nitrogen has settled in, our intern Fabulous is canvassing local Christmas tree stands for fallen pine branches, and the drinks are flowing.

Wednesday night Dave and Nils hosted the FCI holiday cocktail demo. They made sure everyone left well sated, and stumbling.

The Douglas Fir Feliz Navidad Cocktail

The best freaky cocktail I’ve had. The creation story: As wee kids on different sides of the world, Dave and Nils liked to chew on the branches of their respective Christmas trees. Fast forward 30 odd years–they jointly craved a drink with that gnawing-on-pine essence. They sent Fabulous down to the local tree stand to gather some Douglas fir boughs. Back at the lab, Dave distilled the branches with Justin Timberlake’s 901 Tequila. They mixed the pined tequila with clarified lime juice (see stupid simple lime juice clarification here), simple syrup, and a bit of salt. The flavor was like being hit in the mouth with a Christmas tree.

Cubing Your Juice

For you home bartenders: Instead of shaking with ice, freeze your mixing liquid in ice cube trays (such as the clarified apple juice in our Apple and Gin Cocktails). It’s much easier to pop a few cubes into the shaker, add the alcohol, and shake until the cubes have fully melted. You will have a perfectly chilled, consistent drink every time. You’ll have to shake a long time, and your hands will get really cold–as one of our attendees pointed out, you can also skip the shaking altogether and throw the cubes and alcohol into a blender.

Before you freeze the juice, measure how many ounces an individual cube in your tray holds; you can count out the ideal amount of cubes per drink and get the same result every time. Easy!
It’ll make all your cocktails better. We spend entire days rotovapping, clarifying, and distilling alcohol, but our drinks–especially drinks with fruit juice–are never finished without a pinch of salt.

French Fries

Hand-cut French fries and chorizo mayonnaise.

I’m particular about my French fries. I like them crispy, but not to the point where they lose that delicious starchy potato center. I also like them really salty. Dave and Nils make them perfectly:

Start with a couple good russet potatoes. Peel them. Cut them into your preferred fry baton thickness (1/4 inch is standard).

Pre-blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes until they are just cooked. Drain. While hot, dry on a baking sheet (with a fan) until they are completely dry. This step is the real secret.

Fry in hot oil (338 degrees F/170 degrees C) until the outside is hard and crisp but the fries are still blonde. Allow the fries to cool. They will turn limp and soggy. Fry a second time at 365-380 F/185-193 C till golden brown and super crispy. Season with salt. We served the fries with a side of mayo blended with chorizo oil.

Smooth-Talking Your Way to Liquid Nitrogen

We like to use a lot of liquid nitrogen to chill glasses, drinks, ice cream etc. Inevitably there are a few curious people at our demos who want to get their hands on some liquid nitrogen for home use. Liquid nitrogen is not illegal, but tragic things can happen when it is handled improperly. Dave is writing a longer post on the safety and handling of liquid nitrogen, so don’t get any till you read it. Once you know the safety drill here’s Dave’s tried-and-true method for the first-time LN purchaser:

Even if you know what you are doing, calling and ordering LN for the first time can be daunting. Pick up the phone, call your local welding supply store, and have a conversation that goes something like this:

“Hi, I need to rent an LS 240 LN dewar.” Translation: LN stands for liquid nitrogen. A dewar is a container to hold liquid nitrogen. LS is the term for the larger liquid storage dewars. 240 is the number of liters it holds. You could also ask for an LS 180 or, less commonly, an LS 160.

Then say something like, “Yeah, I know there is a $2000 deposit. Yeah, I only need it for a couple of days but I know I have to pay the whole month’s rent.” Don’t worry, you’ll get the deposit back. The monthly rental is about $35.

Order fairly early in the day. Finish with, “I’d like it tomorrow at such-and-such address. Oh yeah, I need to rent a take-off hose. I don’t have one lying around.” That’s it. Your LN will show up. The nitrogen will cost you around $100 and will be more than enough for your party. Deliveries from welding supplies are typically Mon-Fri only, so order Thurs for a Sat party.

Don’t say anything like this:

“How do you handle this stuff safely? I’ve never used this before. How do you hook it up? Etc., etc.” This line of questioning is sure to leave you dewarless. And you shouldn’t be ordering anyway if you don’t know the answers.


Dave heating the Glogg with the infamous red-hot poker.

Up in those cold, dark, Nordic countries, people take the holiday edge off by consuming Gl̦gg Рa mulled wine made of port, red wine, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, simple syrup and cloves, finished with aquavit. Nils concocted while Dave red-hot-pokered. The drink is usually finished when the flames get to eyebrow-singe height. Perfect for those cold, snowy nights.

Traditionally, Glögg is served hot. Because Dave and Nils like to toy with tradition (and because they really like bubbles) they also carbonated the Glögg and served it cold. I liked it much better this way. You didn’t get the burn of the spices or that tangy aftertaste that mulled wines leave on your tongue.

Remember that when carbonating alcohol, the psi must be higher than for non-alcoholic drinks. Alcohol absorbs more CO2. We carbonate most mixed drinks to around 40 psi at zero Celsius, and re-carbonate at least 3 times. Let the Glögg (or whatever alcoholic drink you’re carbonating) sit for 3-4 minutes to let the bubbles dissipate before releasing the top and serving.

Gingersnap Sandwiches with Blue Cheese Filling

Ginger snap sandwich with blue cheese filling.

The Glögg was accompanied by another Swedish holiday treat: two gingersnap cookies around a delicious blue cheese filling. If you make one cookie this holiday season, make it these mind-blowingly good ones.



150 grams of butter
400 grams granulated sugar
2 eggs
160 milliliters molasses
20 milliliters vinegar
525 grams white bread flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 cups quality blue cheese
1 cup sour cream

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the molasses and the vinegar slowly to avoid separating the mixture. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture and mix just to combine. Force the dough into a flat rectangle. Wrap and chill the dough until firm. Divide the dough into 50 small, equal portions. Roll the dough into balls. Dredge the balls in sugar. Place the cookies on a parchment lined sheet pan. Bake the cookies at 350 degrees F for 7-10 minutes. They will spread, the sugar crust will begin to firm up in the middle.

For the blue cheese filling, blend blue cheese and sour cream until smooth and creamy. Spread the filling between two cookies, sandwich-style.

Happy Holidays!

14 thoughts on “Tech The Halls: Easy Holiday Cocktails and Treats

  1. Very nice. How does one get invited to this party?

    So the Glögg was pokered and then chilled? What does the burn do to the flavor? And does carbonation give alcohol an acidic tinge the way it does to water?

  2. Re: juice cubes: yes! My wife and I make cinnamon applesauce for the baby by steaming apples in water w/ a cinnamon stick in it. Afterwards, we’ll strain the leftover cinnamon-apple water and freeze it into cubes, and have a bourbon/rye on the rocks with it. We’ll sometimes shake it up first for a bit to partially pre-melt the ice. It’s nice how the drink evolves as the cubes melt.

  3. Hm. Not to rain on anyone’s parade or anything, but, last I checked, most Xmas trees are treated (sprayed) with a polymer to keep them from wilting away an drying up. And maybe some floral preservatives, too. Might not be the best thing to be using for drink preparation, as I bet there aren’t any attempts to use something food safe. I’m just sayin’…

    That said, juniper has a very lovely pine flavor. On the same theme, but wrong time of year, the green cones on white pines can contain a good deal of sugar, and are redolent of something between orange blossom, orange zest, and delicate pine. Not a Christmas tree to the mouth, but very interesting. Alas, only available in summer, if you can find them before the squirrels do.

    Up here in the Continental North, instead of the Scandinavian Glogg, we get Gluhwein, which is much the same, only rum instead of aquavit, and I’m not so sure about the port. Lovely, but, no matter how it’s prepared, it still boils down to headache-in-a-cup. Which doesn’t stop most of us. It is rather dark this time of year, after all…

    Another German variation is the Feuerzangenbowle, which includes a cone of sugar over which burning, 150-proof rum is ladeled, the mixture falling below into a bowl of red wine-spice mixture.

    1. Howdy Kelly,
      I will look into the preservatives. The trees we were using were trucked in from Quebec. I’ll also try to see if the stuff they use would stay in the distillation flask or be transferred to the distillate. I agree the Gluhwein is good stuff. My wife likes it cause she spent four years in Germany and has very fond memories of Weihnachtsmarkt und lebkuchen.

  4. I am struggling big time with french fries at home. They come out limp after the 2nd frying. I think I tracked it down to my Russets being to young. Older rotten ones worked better then what I get at my supermarket but at this point it’s just an assumption. I haven’t been able to reproduce that due to a shortage of rotten russets.

    I thought also that I didn’t chill them enough after the 1st frying, but once I did that didn’t change much in the outcome.

    Another guess is that the temperature drops too much when I put the fries in and doesn’t recover quick enough. I am using a pot and gas stove.

    For the 2 frying steps, how much did the temperature of the oil drop once you put the fries in?


    1. Howdy JK,
      I don’t think old taters should help but I’ll look into it. Make sure you don’t use refrigerated taters cause they’ll develop sugar and brown too quickly in the fryer, or taters that have been stored in the light and gone green (the green is poison). Presumably, old taters might help if their water content is reduced. Dunno. My oil temp doesn’t drop much; but I’m using a fryer that holds 35 pounds of oil! You should be able to get good results on a stovetop. In any event, let’s troubleshoot:
      What size are your fries? Do you rinse before you blanch in water? How salty is the blanch water? How cooked are the taters when they come out of the blanch water? Are they dried right away? In a thin layer? With forced air (fan or hair dryer) or in a convection oven? What is the temperature of your first fry? What is the color/texture of the surface of the fry immediatedly after removing from the oil (and I do mean immediately). Are they allowed to cool? Are they refigerated or frozen at this point? What is the temperature of the second fry? What is the color/texture after the second fry?
      If you give me these parameters I can troubleshoot. In a nutshell I treat all potatoes the same for fries (although some work better than others. Here is the technique I use at home:
      1. Peel taters. The skins don’t get as crispy in a fry.
      2. Cut into 3/8 inch fries into a container of water
      3. rinse starch from fries
      4. Blanch in salty water (pot can be overloaded, the time it takes to come back to temperature isn’t critical) till the fries are just cooked through. They taste great if they are really cooked, but they are harder to handle. try to strike a good balance. The salt is important for pre-seasoning the fries.
      5. Immediately pour into a thin layer and dry using the high fan of a convection oven, a room fan set on high, or a hair dryer set on high (I like the hair dryer cause the heat helps get rid of surface moisture. Getting rid of the surface moisture is absolutely critical. The fries should feel leathery on the surface.
      6. Fry at 338 F (170 C) till the fries just start to color and the surface is hard when tapped with your finger when it comes out of the oil. If your fries weren’t cooked enough in the blanching step you will need to use a lower fry temp. We can use a high temp cause the fry is already done. We are just developing the crust and further dehydrating the fries.
      7. Let cool. The fries will go limp as moisture migrates to the surface. At this point we have layed the foundation for an excellent fry. You can optionally freeze the fries at this point. If you do fry directly from frozen like the big guys do. This allows you to fry longer and develop a preposterously crunchy crust that lasts a looong time. Freezing also tends to develop “hollow fry” syndrome. I like a frozen fry, Nils doesn’t. Experiment.
      8. Fry a second time at 365-380F (185-193C) till deep golden brown and crunchy.
      9. Shake them like a demon to get the oil off as soon as they are done.
      10. Salt and eat.

      1. Dave you just ruined my kitchen!

        After the fist frying at 170 C, I assumed the second temp rating in your experimental was also Celsius.
        There seems to be no way I can get it the oil up to 365 C, somewhere north of 250 C it self ignited!


        1. Whoops. Schinderhannes caught me! It is one of my strange quirks that I cook meats and eggs in Celcius but fry and bake in Fahrenheit. The only reason the first fry temp is in C is because my fryer at home (which has both C and F) has a major mark at 170 C, and thats where I peg it. I’ll fix the comment!

  5. Woot! Thanks for the script to use with the welding supply joint – but please bring on the critical “how to not anti-griddle your hands/face/dog” info so that I can put it to use. Mwahahahahha! er … uh … I mean, “Yipee!”

    (Also, I would appreciate info on procuring smaller quantities, assuming it would save a few bucks.)
    ((oh, and while I’m thinking about it – if you can, please address issues related to LN dewars+personal autos. I don’t know if you guys mess around with cars there in Manhattan. I assume that the welding supply delivery would be on the back of an open truck – if you pick up a smaller dewar, is this a bad idea? I’m picturing a “rapid release” in your trunk and the car filling with non-oxygen containing gas, making respiration difficult, plus clouds of condensed water vapor making “seeing where you’re going” difficult. Once you’ve used up your tank, are they “trunkable” in size to make return easier than scheduling a pick-up?))

    1. Howdy TomD,
      I am working on that post right now. You raise some issues I wasn’t going to cover so I’ll try to add them in. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for the long answer, I have some cue points now. I have to try the boiling method next weekend. I always thought that just works on thick cut fries, I like the 1/4″ not the 3/8. I forgot to mention that I use the double frying method that is taught at a certain french cooking school in NYC (amateur class). It worked for me back then, so it can only be the potato or my stove. Temp drops sometimes 50 to 75f and takes few minutes to recover. I recall it dropped on the professional stove in class as well, it may have recovered faster though. I use a 6qt fryer with a bit more then half gallon of oil. Welcome to home cooking an 20$ a gallon peanut oil price.

    I report back soon, have to have this figured out by christmas as I want to do a classic NYC style steak dinner.

  7. Thanks a bunch. That french fry recipe worked great.

    I monitored the temperature and it does drop significant on my gas stove when I drop the fries into the oil. First frying 90f, 2nd frying 60f – which is strange even though the fries were chilled (outside). It still worked which surprised me a bit.

    The salty water from the first blanching does ton’s for the flavor and the crispness lasts. It’s worth a dedicated post IMHO even though not many people fry at home.

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