Monday, October 15, 2012

Mixology Monday, October 2012: Bein' Green

It's that time again: Mixology Monday! Thoroughly back into the swing of things, this month's shindig is hosted by Ed of Wordsmithing Pantagruel with the theme Bein' Green:
With the warm days of summer now fading off into the distance in our rear view mirrors, let's pay one last tribute to the greens of summer before the frosts come and our outdoor herb gardens give up the ghost for the winter. For our theme for this month, I have chosen: (it's not easy) "Bein' Green." (Perchance due in no small part to my predilection for Green Chartreuse.) I'm giving you a wide berth on this one, anything using a green ingredient is fair play. There's not only the aforementioned Chartreuse; how about Absinthe Verte, aka the green fairy. Or Midori, that stuff is pretty damn green. Crème de menthe? Why not? Douglas Fir eau de vie? Bring it! Apple schnapps? is green. I suppose if you want to try to convince me it makes something good you can have at it. But it doesn't have to be the liquor. Limes are green. So is green tea. Don't forget the herb garden: mint, basil, cilantro, you name it - all fair game. There's also the veritable cornucopia from the farmers market: green apples, grapes, peppers, olives, celery, get the idea. Like I said, wide berth. Base, mixer, and or garnish; if it's green it's good. Surprise me. Use at least one, but the more the merrier.
When active, this link will send you to the summary post of this month's festivities.

Oh goodnesses, truly, when the nights are getting down into the 30s and 40s, I'm all about the maize and apples and pumpkins and all I want to do is hibernate (a good thing in my book - we had a lousy fall 'round these parts last year). There's still plenty of greenery around, though, so all is not lost on that front. Autumn may be in full swing and the flavors may be abundant, but there's no reason why we can't invoke a summer form: the tiki cocktail.

And to up the ante: raise your hand, anyone else think "pumpkin spice" has gotten officially overblown this year? I think it's about time we give some other squashes some love. In this case, the Carnival Squash. You heard me right: harvest tiki with squash!

I need to give some big shout-outs. If it weren't for the years of hard work of these fine cocktail bloggers and others, it would be impossible for a complete Tiki novice like myself to do a crash course in the scope of about a week. I still have a ton to learn and try, but I feel like I have a decent grounding now. So, many thanks to Doug at the Pegu Blog, Jordan at Chemistry of the Cocktail, Tiare at A Mountain of Crushed Ice, Matt at RumDood, Mike at Cocktail Democracy for pointing me to PKNY's recipe menu, and particularly this one tiki-breakdown post by Joseph at Measure & Stir that started me down the path.

Fall Carnival
1 oz gold rum (I used Mount Gay Eclipse)
3/4 oz aged rum (I used Appleton Reserve)
3/4 oz pear eau-de-vie (I used Schladerer Williams Birne)
3/4 oz carnival squash syrup (recipe below)
1/2 oz hazelnut orgeat (sub orange blossom water for rose water)
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz pineapple juice
1/4 oz orange juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Urban Moonshine maple bitters

Blend all ingredients with 8 oz ice. Pour into a large glass and garnish with a pineapple-squash Ferris wheel and straw for sipping.

I am very green when it comes to Tiki, so please feel free to experiment with rum choices. Overall, though a less-elegant recipe than, say, a Mai Tai, when fine-blended with ice it comes off creamy and delicate. I think balance has been achieved here as far as each flavor getting its due, though it trends sweet. I toyed around a lot with the ratios, trying to pull out ingredients to simplify or pull them back to let the others shine, but the mix wasn't stomaching much alteration from the above. That said, I'd welcome any thoughts from the Tiki aficionados out there.

On the spirits: I wanted a good low/medium note rum combo to go with the pear's light notes. A dark/blackstrap seemed like too much for some of the more delicate flavors going on, so I opted for something aged - you could go even further aged than the Reserve with better results, my own spirits cabinet is just underdeveloped on rums. The gold rum's medium note holds it all together, Eclipse's dryness is good for balancing the sweet. The pear? Another way to bring in some autumn flavors.

On the syrups: Autumnal tweaks to tiki staples. We swap hazelnut for almond orgeat, and as odd as it sounds the lemon and creamy vanilla notes in the carnival squash syrup aren't too far off from passion fruit.

On the citrus: Lime is the natural match for rum and makes a better sour foundation than lemon. I added the bit of orange to help round the citrus flavors. And pineapple? Pineapple, pineapple, pineapple... This is one ingredient I thought could be cut back, but it turns out that it boosts the carnival squash flavor and gives a nice overall body to the cocktail, despite it being show-offy.

On the bitters: Autumnal flavors to help break up and point out all the other flavors going on. You don't get much of them, but they fit in and add a good finish.

I think that's about i... [backstage assistant hands her a card] Oh yeah! The theme! Well, I did use lime.. ...shakin' your head on that one, aren't you? Well, ok. How about..while I was at the farmers market a few weeks ago, poking around to see what interesting things there were, I came across these:

How do you not use these little critters for garnishes?

So...trying to figure out a name and garnish idea, the "carnival" theme seemed appropriate. And with Tiki, you've got to have extravagant garnishes..

...right? I mighta mentioned something about a pineapple-squash Ferris wheel up above.. (consider the squashes as gondolas)

Here, let me get you some other views, I know you're curious:

On the left, you can see, top-down, the pineapple core peg into which the wheels are double-skewered from both directions. The peg nestles securely in the neck of the squash-shaped glass, its woodiness sturdy enough to support the entire structure.

On the right, you can see how the gondolas on single skewers are secured: screw a (hazel)nut on the end!

Needless to say, I have a fair amount of extra pineapple juice on my hands.

So, happy harvest tiki: autumn greens, but still very much reminiscent of summer.

Carnival Squash Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cooked/packed carnival squash*
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger

*¹ To cook squash: halve it from top to bottom. Remove seeds and pith. Lightly coat cut sides with butter, oil or maple syrup. Prick the hull to release steam if desired (not wholly necessary). Place cut sides down on a foil-covered cookie sheet and bake at 350 F for 30-45 minutes or until the hull has softened and squash has caramelized a little at the bottom.
Click to enlarge

² Quick note on Carnival squash: they're rather similar in appearance to Sweet Dumpling squash, but a bit bigger, so make sure to check the label. Carnival is yellow-fleshed with a lemon-vanilla character whereas Sweet Dumpling is orange-fleshed and nutty like Butternut (but less smooth).

Combine squash and water in a blender until smooth (it beats trying to purée just the squash). Add all ingredients to a small sauce pan and stir over medium heat for 5 minutes until sugar is dissolved and mixture comes together. Pull from the stove and fine strain the syrup to remove the fibrous bits you don't want to cook further. Return the syrup to the stove, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, whisking frequently. You'll know the syrup's ready when the thickened sugar begins to collect on the sides of the pan and it's taken on the opaque/glossy appearance of vanilla pudding (but should still be pourable, like a liquid caramel sauce). Remove from heat, let cool. Pour into an air-tight container to refrigerate until ready to use. Feel free to add half an ounce of neutral spirit to fortify if you feel like (emphasis on the neutral - add something like Sailor Jerry and you really will have vanilla pudding on your hands).

In addition to this cocktail, try adding carnival squash syrup to some chai tea!

But MoD? What about all this leftover squash I have, including the purée strained out of the syrup? It's not the standard acorn, butternut or pumpkin, so what should I do with it?

Funny you should ask! Have a nummy (and festive) recipe:

Carnival Squash Mash
Pre-soak 1/2 cup craisins in pomegranate juice (or pomegranate craisins in cranberry juice, or...). Sauté a minced shallot in olive oil until translucent. Add your squash, a bit of fine lemon zest, 1/2 tsp powdered ginger, maybe a little butter if you like. Mix and mash to lumpy potato consistency. Mix in pre-soaked (and drained) craisins and serve topped with basil chiffonade. Goes well with Italian-seasoned chicken/pork and couscous.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Pottery Barn, in case you were wondering.
1 1/2 oz Dad's Hat rye whiskey
1 oz Lillet Rose
1/2 oz walnut liqueur (Nux Alpina or other nocino)
1 barspoon hazelnut orgeat with rose water 
1 dash Urban Moonshine original bitters
3 hazelnuts - garnish

Stir all ingredients on ice.

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and float three roasted hazelnuts.

(in an ideal time- and budget-friendly world, this glass would be the best serving vessel, albeit perhaps wood instead of pewter)

Greeted with roast hazelnut on the nose, the rye first meets your tongue, which fades to Lillet's satin ribbons drawing you down into the combined dark depth of walnut liqueur and subtle rich and warming sweetness of the orgeat, the faintest hint of herbal bitter from liqueur and bitters dusting your tongue at the end. At other times, the rye and amaro-like nocino take up on an adventure, leaving the rose-hinted ladies lounging on pillows back at the ranch.

A girl with an innocent, reedy sweetness and a rough and tumble divinity.

Such is the fortuity of circumstance, I bought Dad's Hat around the time I also stocked Lillet Rose, and after an unsuccessful Manhattan I was searching for a better pairing than sweet vermouth. A drifting What If? flavor association passed through my mind: the rye's tangy wood note was very similar in quality to Lillet Rose. And when put together: what a match! Lillet extends that note and folds it into her bosom, velvetly masking what otherwise might have jutted out, while the rye's overall wood/orchard quality remains.

Now, this was a good start: a partial cocktail somewhere along the lines of a Manhattan with whiskey and aromatized wine. Extensions to that model typically add bitters or splashes of amari or liqueur. I played around with some bitters and some Tia Maria: both the rye and Lillet floated a bit and needed something to bring depth. The Tia Maria wasn't bad, if a bit sweet, maybe a touch too dark, which blunted some of the drink's nuance. Galliano Ristretto (the espresso liqueur) might be a better option if going in a coffee direction - I don't know for sure, PA doesn't carry it, but everything I've read suggests it's drier/bitterer. But something in a general coffee/nut direction made sense.

At this point I pulled back to see if the ingredients could tell me where exactly to go. The woodiness of Dad's Hat and the essential femininity of Lillet Rose were what dominated my mind, and that pulled me to my catch-all source of inspiration: Greek mythology. Specifically, dryads or hamadryads, nymphs that were the spirits of trees. Even more specifically, Karya, hamadryad of walnut/hazelnut trees (the only noted dryad of nut trees at all), sharing the same root as Karyatid.

Worked for me. I had wanted to get a bottle of nocino in for some time: walnut liqueur - how offbeat and undercelebrated an ingredient that could be! Even better: upon further researching its character, reviews indicated a rich, dark, port-like or coffee-like flavor with herbals. Perfect. I was already in that neighborhood and the complexity would be the right addition. (I had also considered Pisa at this juncture, but rejected it because it included pistachio, which, considering the time frame of the mythology, was squarely a Persian and not Greek nut - blasphemy!)

After a wee bit of drama and catching the PLCB on a good day when I could special-order a single bottle (not 5 or 6), the Nux Alpina came in and proved a good choice. The drink was still on the thin side, however, and perhaps needed a touch of sweetness. Frangelico proved too one-note and over-sweet - again with the flavor-blunting. I must've seen a mention of it on Twitter, but hazelnut orgeat (with a touch of rose water that would befriend Lillet Rose) ended up being the last major building block. The hazelnut and walnut merged into one great uber-nut accent while not overwhelming the base flavors - I'd like to think it gets at the point of Karya herself, as the Greeks didn't distinguish between walnuts and hazelnuts.

With the addition of the orgeat, the cocktail took on a rich, robust body, which, with its new sweetness, was a touch much. ...there's a relevant undercurrent to my thought-process here, but it's a little difficult to thoroughly elaborate without turning this post into (more of) an e-book. I had initially wanted to finish this recipe for the month of Virgo: there's an early-autumnal quality to the Dad's Hat with its orchard notes and I associate nuts, particularly the beige hazelnut, with Virgo - beige in general is Virgoan and appropriate to earliest fall when the nuts fall but things have not yet begun darkening. Lillet's mildness also fits well here (you could argue the recipe is best for the cusp between Virgo and Venus-ruled Libra, even). In order to manage the orgeat's richness, I followed that undercurrent and opted for bitters best suited to health-minded Virgo, namely Urban Moonshine. The bitters' no-nonsense astringency dialed back the richness just right, and their flavor fits the Dad's Hat well. Where I've seen Urban Moonshine bitters pop up in cocktail recipes thus far, it's been their maple bitters (a great unique - and autumnal - flavor); I opted for the original because I didn't want to muddle the wood notes already present.

Have I mentioned yet that Virgo is an especially cerebral and exacting zodiac sign? (not my sun sign, although..)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Frau Totenkinder

Well, Oktoberfest 2012 ended this prior weekend, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a fitting tipple as autumn continues to develop (particularly if there are spooky Black Forest overtones - have something different for Halloween!). As you might notice, this is another of my fairy tale-inspired recipes using SNAP (seriously, is it just me that automatically associates gingerbread with Grimm's Fairy Tales?). And nope, no wild and crazy stories today -- Sleeping Beauty's'll last all year and then some.

Fables created/words by Bill Willingham, Pencils by Mark Buckingham,
Inks by Steve Leialoha and Andrew Pepoy.
Page 43 of Fables vol 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) trade paperback,
originally published in Fables #43
Instead, for the "art" portion of this post, I'd like to give a shout-out to one of the enduring pleasures in my life. Who's this Frau Totenkinder, you ask? Ah, grasshopper, we must indoctrinate you in the way of Fables, one of the long-running gems and great works in the world of comics. Fables is very much in the mythic fiction, fairy-tales-updated-to-the-modern-age vein of ABC's Once Upon a Time, but predating that show by about a decade. Its story is a smart tapestry which weaves and dances among a large cast of beloved characters (human, animal, utensil) who change and grow, wending through various genres (whodunit, thriller, epic quest, spy drama, WWII flashback, and many more) and always leaving you hungry for more. You'd do well to pick up the first trade paperback or two and dive in, is what I'm saying. (I should caution here: sex, joy-gaping violence, beautiful use of the English language in a primarily non-vulgar manner. i.e. Fairy tales for grown-ups)

As for the star of this recipe, Frau Totenkinder isn't only the Black Forest witch in the story of Hansel and Gretel as that gingerbread house icon in the picture might imply, she is the Evil Witch. And....well, I don't want to say any more: spoilers, twists, crowning moments of awesome and all. But know: all Fables characters extend well beyond their fairy tale origins, especially so for Totenkinder. Simply put: you don't want to mess with her. Now on with the cocktail!

Hansel, Frau Totenkinder, Gretel

Frau Totenkinder
1 1/2 oz kirschwasser
1 oz SNAP
3/4 oz Schwartzhog
1 barspoon white crème de cacao

Stir all ingredients on ice to dilute and strain into a brandy snifter.
Garnish with skewered brandied cherries and other confections you might find on Frau Totenkinder's gingerbread house. (I also used cut squares of candied ginger, as pictured).

The kirsch serves as the base here - as a spirit it's a bit understated so it needs a larger proportion in order to come through. The more chances I have to taste new spirits, the more I find there's a certain way types of alcohol express themselves, regardless of flavor notes. In the case of kirsch, other fruit eau-de-vies including grape, and cognacs and brandies in addition, when allowed to open up these spirits have a sweet taste that rises in a U-form from the middle of the tongue -- not just a taste but an interaction with space. In essence, the flavor is a bowl for the other ingredients.

German/Pennsylvania Dutch Lebkuchen flavored SNAP makes good use of this bowl: its vanilla, molasses, and spice, especially nutmeg, rollick in a kirsch bath, bringing definition. Undergirding the SNAP's high notes, Schwartzhog of the Black Forest (and yes, clearly I was going for a little Black Forest Cake with this recipe) extends the spice into herbs and a tinge of bitter gentian, with cola and citrus notes that reach out to kirsch's cherry. A German herbal liqueur similar to Jägermeister and Italian amari, and an oddly delicate spirit to mix with, Schwartzhog's herbs hover in the cocktail like vermouth, deepening the experience. As for the cacao, more than anything it imparts a smoothness that ties everything together - it could be my particular brand but there's a cocoa butter creaminess to it, helping the drier ingredients play nice.

Overall, there were so many interesting things happening aromatically that the cocktail cried out to be served in a snifter (and ol' Frau just wouldn't feel right in a dainty princess-like coupe). So, sit back in a darkened room, swirl your witch's cauldron in your hand, let it warm up, and breathe deep of the complex vapors.

And then, as I was mulling whether or not to add a splash of cream to the Frau Totenkinder the other morning, it hit me that I could have my Black Forest Cake and eat it too: break the drink down into shots for Hansel and Gretel, riffing on the Godfather family structure of cocktails: the parent cocktail is what it is, the children cocktails add cream (in a 2:1:1 structure). Since Frau is a little more complex than the Godfather, I took a separate element for each shot while retaining fairytale gingerbread SNAP as the base:

Hansel: 2 parts SNAP, 1 part cherry brandy, 1 part cream. Shake with ice and pour into a shot glass.
Since eau-de-vie kirsch is such a dry spirit, I swapped it out for sweeter cherry brandy, Cherry Heering in this case. Heering's brio does tend to dominate, but it draws out the nutmeg/vanilla aspects of SNAP for a happy marriage with the cream.

Gretel: 2 parts SNAP, 1 part white crème de cacao, 1 part cream. Shake with ice and pour into a shot glass.
The cacao's sweet softens SNAP's spice into something gentle, but with just enough pep left on the tongue to push an old biddy into the oven.