Pleasing Palate Pairings

Mae West said, “Between two evils, I always pick the one I haven’t tried before.” I like to take her advice when it comes to cocktails. Pair them with seasonal hors d’oeuvres, invite over a few friends, and put on some tunes. Here’s to summer in Door County!


My grandfather’s advice:  “Don’t drink martinis until you’re married.” This is a colorful and delicious version of the iconic cocktail.

3 ounces vodka

½-ounce dry vermouth

½-ounce pickled beet juice*

Combine ingredients in a shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a thinly sliced pickled beet and sprig of dill.

*Paul’s Pickled Beets

You can buy pickled beets at the store or make your own. Here’s my hubby’s splendid version.

fresh beets

2 parts white vinegar

2 parts sugar

pickling spice

Peel and slice fresh beets, and pack into jars. Combine vinegar, sugar and pickling spice in a saucepan over medium heat to make brine. Pour brine over beets, seal jars and process in hot water bath for 45 minutes.

Indian Tea Sandwiches

These pretty, savory open-faced sandwiches are my friend Stephanie’s party standby. They always disappear quickly!

1 loaf cocktail rye bread or thinly sliced multigrain bread

1 container hummus

mint-cilantro chutney*

1 cucumber, thinly sliced

ripe tomatoes, diced

red onion, diced

* Mint-Cilantro Chutney

1 cup cilantro

1 cup mint

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup roasted peanuts

2 serrano chilis

1 tablespoon minced ginger

½-teaspoon salt

Purée all chutney ingredients in blender until smooth. To serve, top bread slices with hummus, chutney, and a slice of cucumber. Garnish with diced tomato and red onion.

Len Villano

Photo by Len Villano.

Bourbon Raspberry Fizz

Bourbon, my favorite spirit, is sometimes considered a winter drink. This refreshing cocktail, topped with spicy ginger beer, makes bourbon the perfect antidote to hot weather.

2-3 fresh raspberries

juice of one lime

2 ounces bourbon

½-ounce simple syrup

a couple dashes of Angostura bitters

ginger beer

In a cocktail shaker, muddle fresh raspberries, then add ice, lime juice, bourbon, syrup and bitters. Shake and strain into a tall glass filled with ice, then top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime slice and whole raspberry.

Eggplant Tomato Rounds

My friend Meg is a farmer, and this time of year she has eggplant in excess. The first time I tasted these in her kitchen, I was hooked.

1 medium eggplant, sliced into ½-inch rounds


freshly grated Parmesan cheese

heirloom tomatoes, sliced

fresh mozzarella, fresh ricotta or garlic aioli

basil leaves

Preheat oven to 350˚ F and line a baking sheet with tinfoil (lightly spray the tinfoil with cooking spray to prevent sticking). Spread each slice of eggplant with mayonnaise and coat with Parmesan. Place on baking sheet and bake 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Flip and cook an additional 10-15 minutes.

Place cooked eggplant on a platter and top with tomato slice and piece of mozzarella or a dollop of fresh ricotta or aioli. Garnish with a basil sprig.

Lavender French 75

The effect of this drink is said to be similar to being shelled by the eponymous French 75mm field gun. Poach some fragrant lavender from a neighbor, or grow your own. Above all, don’t use cheap champagne.

1 ounce gin

juice of ¼-lemon

½-ounce lavender simple syrup*

3 ounces champagne

Combine gin, lemon and simple syrup in a shaker glass with ice. Shake and strain into a Collins glass. Top with champagne and garnish with a fresh lavender sprig.

* Lavender Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar

½-cup water

5-6 sprigs lavender

Combine water and sugar in saucepan, cook on medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lavender flowers and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove flowers and store for up to one week.

White Bean and Herb Dip

This creamy dip is a cinch to put together. Use whatever fresh herbs you have on hand.

1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

½ cup Greek yogurt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

juice of ½ lemon

1 small garlic clove, smashed

½ cup chopped herbs of choice: parsley, thyme, dill

kosher salt to taste

Put all ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth. Serve with pita chips and crudités.