Summer Cocktail Series: Vanilla Bean Hibiscus Cooler Recipe

Friends have been getting together at cocktail parties for a long, long time, so just about everyone welcomes a new twist. How about leaving the juice, syrups and flavorings in the cupboard and passing a tray of your very own, homemade Vanilla Bean Hibiscus Coolers.  We learned how from food stylist George Dolese who created this recipe for a recent shoot.


Vanilla Bean Hibiscus Cooler

Serves 4


½ cup dried hibiscus flowers

2 vanilla beans

½ cup vanilla bean syrup 

2 limes, thinly sliced

fresh mint leaves

4 split vanilla beans for garnish

tequila, mescal or rum (optional)


Place the dried hibiscus flowers in a large heatproof bowl. Bring the water to a boil and pour over the flowers. Steep for 20 minutes. Strain into a glass pitcher and sweeten to taste with the vanilla bean syrup. Chill in the refrigerator before serving. Serve over ice, garnished with a few lime slices, mint leaves and a vanilla bean. If desired, spike with a shot of tequila, mescal, or rum.



Vanilla Bean Syrup

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

2 vanilla beans


Add the sugar and water to a small saucepan. Split the vanilla beans down the center and scrape out the black seeds with the tip of a sharp knife. Add the seeds and pods to the saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally until sugar has dissolved completely and mixture has come to a boil, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool before pouring into a sealable glass container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Recipe Courtesy of George Dolese

Chocolate Truffles Recipe

I spent a day in the studio with my friend and colleague Elisabet der Nederlanden, who is a talented baker and candy maker. Below are the results of a delicious day spent shooting lots of chocolate. Elisabet has also provided her recipe for truffles below that I hope you can enjoy in your home, they are delicious.


Makes about 25 truffles

  • 12 oz. bitter sweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups chocolate cake crumbs
  • 3 Tbsp. amaretto liqueur or other liqueur of preference


  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. coconut oil
  • Cocoa powder
  • Pink peppercorns
  • Pistachios, finely chopped
  • Sea salt flakes
  • Edible gold leaf


To make the truffles, heat the cream in a small sauce pan, place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl, then pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Place the cake crumbs in a medium size bowl and drizzle the amaretto liqueur over the crumbs, stir to combine. Now add the chocolate mixture and again stir until all the crumbs are visible coated by chocolate. Transfer the mixture to a glass-baking dish and press the mixture gently into the pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes and until slightly firmed up. Using a small ice cream/cookie dough scoop. Scoop out small balls and roll them as round as you would like them. Now, you can either roll them in cocoa powder or coat them in melted chocolate. (combine chocolate and coconut oil in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high 15 seconds at a time, take out and stir then microwave again until fully melted and smooth.)

Dip each truffle using a fork or wooden skewer and place on a parchment paper covered sheet pan. Sprinkle with desired decoration. If using gold leaf, tear small pieces using tweezers and place on top of the truffle once the chocolate has firmed up a bit.

Best stored in the refrigerator.  

Recipe by Elisabet der Nederlanden

Cast Iron


I did a test shoot with food stylist George Dolese recently and I’m really excited about the experience.  We collaborated on an idea to show shrimp in the shell cooked in a cast iron frying pan resting on top of indigo fabric.  

I like the way the rich colors of the fabric stand up to the black frying pan.  Together, they are a perfect backdrop for the shrimp which contrasts in many ways:  pink vs. black, soft vs. hard, curled, round shape vs hard surface with sharp edges, delicate vs. indestructible. This was the perfect set-up for a a new lighting technique I have been experimenting with using more direct sunlight.

George is very pro-cast iron.  He has a collection of pots and pans, including some from other countries.  Here’s what he has to say:

I do love cooking in cast. Besides being beautiful to look at, they lend themselves to slow cooking which is how I relax. I have all shapes and sizes .... Hand forged pots catch my eye and definitely Japanese cast iron.

After the shoot,  I went home, pulled out our old cast iron frying pan from the back of the cupboard and cooked up a great batch of hash browns!



  • 1 pound medium Louisiana Gulf Shrimp, head on if available

  • 1 Meyer lemon, thinly sliced

  • Sea Salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 3 tablespoons Olive oil



  1. To prepare the shrimp for cooking, cut through the shell along the backside of the prawn and remove the vein by rinsing under water. Leave the shell on the shrimp as it adds flavor when cooked.  Using a paper towel, pat the shrimp dry.

  2. Combine the shrimp in a bowl with the lemon slices and season to taste with the salt and pepper.

  3. Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat until sizzling hot. Add the olive oil to the hot pan and swirl to coat. Cook the shrimp and lemon slices, tossing frequently, until the shrimp are done and the lemon slices begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately directly from the skillet.


Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer.

Recipe courtesy of George Dolese

Split Pea Soup with Ham



  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 smoked ham hock, about 1 1/2 lb.
  • 1 lb. green split peas, picked over and rinsed
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


Cook the soup
In a fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Put the ham hock in the center of a slow cooker and spread the split peas around the ham. Add the onion mixture, the carrots, celery, broth, thyme, salt and pepper. Cover and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions until the peas are very tender, 4 to 5 hours on high or 8 to 10 hours on low.

Finish the soup
Transfer the ham hock to a platter or cutting board and let cool until it can be handled, about 15 minutes. Using your fingers or a knife and fork, remove the meat from the bone, shredding or cutting the meat into bite-size pieces. Stir the meat back into the soup along with the parsley. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast Series, Slow Cooker, by Norman Kolpas (Oxmoor House, 2007).

Recipe Courtesy of Williams-Sonoma

Pasta Alla Carbonara


This Roman pasta dish is traditionally made with guanciale—pork cheek that resembles unsmoked bacon and is cured with salt, pepper and sometimes garlic. Pancetta makes a fine substitute.


  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups finely grated pecorino romano cheese, plus more for serving
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 6 oz. diced guanciale or pancetta
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 lb. dried spaghetti
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste



In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and the 1 1/2 cups cheese. Set aside.

In a 13-inch French skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the guanciale and cook until it is browned and the fat has rendered, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.

Slowly whisk 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water into the egg-cheese mixture.

Return the skillet with the guanciale to medium heat and rewarm. Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water and toss to combine. Remove the pan from the heat, pour in the egg-cheese mixture and toss well to combine. Season generously with pepper. Serve immediately and pass additional cheese alongside. Serves 4.

Recipe courtesy of the Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

Get inspired with these other great pasta tools from Willimas-Sonoma.