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Drinks and appetizers to take the edge off the summer heat

By Wendell Brock
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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  • Blue Cheese Wafers

    Adapted from “The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook” (UGA Press, $24.95)

    1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

    1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for sprinkling

    1 teaspoon ground black pepper

    4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

    8 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

    1 cup finely chopped pecans

    2 large egg yolks, slightly beaten

    In a small bowl, stir together the flour, salt and black pepper. Use a pastry blender or your fingertips to cut in the butter and cheese until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the pecans and yolks until the mixture forms large clumps. Press and knead the clumps until the dough is well mixed. Divide dough in half, and shape each piece into a 9- to 10-inch log with round or flat sides. (If you make the log with flat sides, it will be easier to slice when ready to bake the wafers.) Wrap the logs in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

    When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Remove plastic wrap. Cut the logs into 1 / 4-inch slices, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle the tops with salt. Allow the wafers to cool completely. Remove from baking sheet. Store in a cookie tin or other airtight container. (You may separate each layer with a sheet of wax paper.)

    Hands on: 10 minutes Total time: 2 hours, 40 minutes (includes 2-hour chilling time) Makes: About 8 dozen

    Per wafer: 30 calories (percent of calories from fat, 64), 1 gram protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 2 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 7 milligrams cholesterol, 53 milligrams sodium.


  • Aperol Orange Soda

    To make simple syrup, in a saucepan, bring one-part sugar and one-part water – say a cup of each – to a boil, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

    1 ounce Aperol

    1/2 ounce (2 tablespoons) simple syrup

    1/2 ounce (2 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice

    Crushed ice

    3 ounces soda water, preferably Italian

    Dash of orange bitters

    Strip of orange peel

    Pour the Aperol, simple syrup and lemon juice in a cocktail glass or other small, 8-ounce tumbler. Mix well. Cover with crushed ice. Top with soda water and dash of orange bitters. Stir briskly. Garnish with orange peel. Serve immediately.

    Hands on: 3 minutes Total time: 3 minutes Makes: 1 drink.

    Per drink: 115 calories (none from fat), trace protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, no fat, no cholesterol, 4 milligrams sodium.


  • Grilled Figs with Pancetta

    If the figs are small, you may want to cut the pancetta into smaller pieces. You may also use Parma or serrano ham or bacon.

    12 to 15 large ripe figs (such as Black Mission)

    2 tablespoons brown sugar

    Juice and zest of 1 lemon

    2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

    2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

    1/2 teaspoon sea salt

    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    1/2 pound pancetta, sliced

    Slice figs in half and place in a large bowl. In a small bowl, place the brown sugar, lemon juice and zest, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, salt and pepper. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour mixture over figs, and toss well to cover. (If you have time, let the figs marinate for 20 minutes or so before cooking.) Cut pancetta slices in half. Wrap each fig half with pancetta, and skewer it with a toothpick or skewer. Place pancetta-wrapped figs on a tray, and drizzle with any remaining marinade. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to grill.

    Place the figs on a hot grill over medium-high heat, and cook until they are quite soft and the pancetta is crispy, about 5 minutes per side. (You may also cook figs under the broiler.) Serve immediately or at room temperature.

    Hands on: 10 minutes Total time: 40 minutes Serves: 6-8.

    Per serving (based on 6): 161 calories (percent of calories from fat, 19), 11 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 3 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 26 milligrams cholesterol, 1,179 milligrams sodium.


  • Herbes de Provence Lemonade

    We used sprigs of rosemary as a garnish, but lemon, mint and lemon balm are other good options.

    1-1/3 cups granulated sugar

    2 heaping teaspoons dried herbes de Provence

    2-1/4 quarts cold water, divided

    1/3 of a whole vanilla bean

    1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

    Crushed ice

    Rosemary sprigs for garnish (optional)

    Place granulated sugar, herbes de Provence and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Split third of vanilla bean and scrape seeds into the water. Toss the bean into the pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring regularly until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 3 to 5 minutes. Cover and allow to steep for 20 to 30 minutes. Strain the syrup into a large pitcher. Add lemon juice and remaining 2 quarts water and stir. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Pour into glasses over plenty of crushed ice, and garnish with a rosemary sprig, if desired.

    Hands on: 10 minutes Total time: 30-40 minutes Serves: 6-8.

    Per serving (based on 6): 182 calories (none from fat), trace protein, 48 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated), no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.



In ancient times, our parents would dissolve a sugar cube with bitters, and add whiskey, ice and a twist of orange zest. That was an Old Fashioned. When in Rome, they did as the Romans did, sipping aperitifs concocted from brightly colored liqueurs and soda.

Today, young moderns are embracing light, spritzy, aperitif-based drinks as pre-dinner pick-me-ups – libations to perk up the palate before the food and wine come around. On a recent scorching afternoon at Stg Trattoria in Buckhead, I held a glass of orange fizzy water in my hand, marveled at the pretty color, took a sip and fell in love.

Thus my new obsession with mixologist David Durnell’s Aperol Orange Soda, so named for the bright-red, bittersweet, Campari-like Italian liqueur that is its main ingredient. Invented by Durnell, bartender at Stg’s sister restaurant, Bocado, the Aperol Orange harks back to the American Old Fashioned. The slight edge of Aperol and orange bitters is tempered by an equal amount of simple syrup and lemon juice – plus a big glug of soda water, preferably Italian. A strip of orange zest finishes it off.

The sparkling water has a natural cooling effect. Hold the drink close to your face and it will mist you. For me, it is summer in a glass.

So is lemonade, iced tea, a mixture of the two, or anything concocted with copious amounts of ice, lemon, lime, sugar and mint. Lately I have discovered that lemonade has an affinity with herbes of Provence, the mixture of dried Mediterranean herbs that usually includes rosemary and lavender. By infusing simple syrup with the perfume of herbs and a hint of vanilla bean, you introduce the classic American sipper to the sunny flavors of France. (Bon jour!) Stir up a pitcher. The kids can drink lemonade, and the adults can spike the drink. Bourbon is my preferred method for hardening lemonade. If you are feeling especially glib, pop in a maraschino cherry. You also could add a shot of vodka or gin or bubble up the lemonade with a splash of soda, prosecco or champagne.

Of course, you cannot serve cocktails or lemonade, hard or soft, without something to nibble. You can open a can of nuts or a bag of chips. But when you want a little something extra special and homemade, try cheese straws.

In the South, cheddar is the classic ingredient. At Atlanta’s Miller Union restaurant, executive chef Steven Satterfield substitutes blue dairy for orange. For his blue cheese wafers, pecans add a little crunch, and a sprinkling of sea salt will make you want another drink.

If Aperol and herbes de Provence put you in a Mediterranean mood, try some sweet summer figs wrapped in salty Italian pancetta. Marinate the figs with a little brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, lemon and rosemary. Pierce them with a skewer, and grill until the figs are oozing and the pancetta is crisp.

Then pour yourself a drink.

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