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.