Monday, February 18, 2013

Mixology Monday, February 2013: Inverted

Chill your glass..
A tasty little ditty, with loads more flavor thanks to the rye, plus citrus, spice and pomegranate. Life's too short to drink vodka - the clock just keeps ticking.

You'll want to use just the liquid from the cranberry sauce to ensure the flavor is modified in the correct proportion. For pomegranate liqueurs, PAMA or an aromatic pomegranate juice grenadine would both work well.

Shake all on ice. Double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

This sand's just gone all to my rear..
Biological Clock
2 oz rye whiskey
1 oz Spicy Cosmopolitan Cranberry Sauce
1/2 oz pomegranate liqueur
1 dash Angostura bitters
lime wedge

But now then, if the cranberry sauce is any indication, we're going to invert the Cosmopolitan. This Sex in the City-beloved cocktail normally comes entirely out of bottles, so, that aspect gets chucked in favor of fresh ingredients -- albeit cooked ingredients combining the Cosmo's cranberry, citrus and lime. Also, flavor-packed rye whiskey, the mortal enemy of vodka in cocktailian circles and what you might get from vodka if it weren't so filtered, serves to invert the nature of this drink more. To round out this new mixture, since citrus flavors and acidity are already well-incorporated in the cranberry sauce, pomegranate liqueur balances the flavors just right.

Ok, so the feminine obsession with "super foods" doesn't entirely extricate this new drink from the old's gestalt, but it's what worked in this case.

3. Remove ginger coins (if applicable) and add orange liqueur, orange juice and bitters. Cook until combined and appropriately saucy in thickness.

2. Reduce to a simmer and add all but the orange liqueur, orange juice and bitters. Stir and cook until all the berries have burst and sauce has come together.

1. Heat the cranberries, water, and sweetener in a pot on high heat until the berries start to pop.

Spicy Cosmopolitan Cranberry Sauce
6 oz fresh or frozen cranberries (half a bag)
3/4 c. water
2 1/2 T agave nectar or sugar
finely grated zest from 1/3 lime and 1/8 orange
pulp of a lime wedge, sans pith
3-4 ginger root coins or 1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
small pinch sea salt
2 T orange liqueur
2 T orange juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters

To start, let's have dinner! Let's not just make cranberry sauce, but a Cosmopolitan-flavored cranberry sauce, then load it up with lots of dark spices, just 'cause it's winter and tasty. Granted, this would be better in the aftermath of the holidays if you have an extra half a bag of cranberries, but if you have to pull them out of the freezer, that works too. This cranberry sauce is excellent on chicken or pork, natch.

Wow, Inversion is a serious challenge for thinking up something new on the spot. invert my normal m.o., I think I might have an ace up my sleeve, and it's one I've been sitting on for a few Thanksgivings now. It all has to do with how, much like cachaça opposes cognac, rye is the opposite spirit to vodka. *rubs hands together* Follow along, will you?

When active, this link will send you to the summary post of this month's festivities.
A while ago, while researching Julia Child’s recipes, we noticed that she was well-known for enjoying “upside-down” or “inverted” Martinis. This is a version of the classic cocktail that swaps the ratios of gin and vermouth, turning the Martini into something of a “long drink”… We wondered if we could apply the same “inverted” approach to Mixology Monday and, at first, didn’t think it would work. But then we asked ourselves, what does “inverted” really mean? Well, here is the definition, “To turn inside out or upside down; to reverse the position, order, or condition of.” Hmm…it appears that the definition is pretty broad. It seems that “inverted” really just means something “flipped on its head”. And that can mean almost anything, and leaves plenty of room for creativity… You can invert the ratios of spirits, liqueurs or bitters in a cocktail, but we suggest you go beyond that and “invert” whatever you want. Spirits, name, ingredients, proof, color, geography, garnish and glassware are all fair game.  An apéritif made with Navy-Strength booze? Give it a try. A beer-based cocktail that tastes like champagne? Sure. A clear Manhattan? Worth a shot (and good luck with that). The only thing we expect is the unexpected. Have fun.

Our host for this month's Mixology Monday: the Renaissance folks behind food, drinks and gorgeous photography at Putney Farm. Our theme: Inverted Cocktails:

Let's get ready to MxMooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ti(n)sanity!: Me-tea-orite

Disclaimer: this is a non-sponsored post. Also, I'm not looking to do sponsored posts. I just really like this tea, is all, and have a policy of happily and independently buying all my ingredients.

Welcome back to my Ti(n)sanity! series, exploring the many ways one can apply flavor to a cocktail. The Maguffin for the series is Celestial Seasonings' Tension Tamer herbal tea (tisane).

Last time, we began the series with a piping hot tea toddy. Today, we go to the (literal) polar opposite: an ice sphere of strong-brewed tisane. How would you use an ice sphere in a cocktail? Simple: the ur-Cocktail (spirit, sugar, water and bitters), an Old Fashioned. Or, perhaps in this case, an Auld Fashioned.

2 oz single malt scotch
1 tsp mild honey
6-7 drops Bittercube Bolivar bitters
1 Tension Tamer ice sphere
swatch Meyer lemon zest

In a rocks serving glass, mix the honey with a small splash of water (or use 2 tsp 1:1 honey syrup instead) and the bitters. Add the scotch and stir. Add the ice sphere and give it at least a 10 second stir. Garnish with a small swatch Meyer lemon zest, twisted to release the oils over the drink and then added. Best lightly sipped and swirled over time to balance the tea from the ice.

More of a comet, really...

Tension Tamer ice sphere: brew one tea bag in 4 oz boiling water. Let steep until cool. Fill an ice sphere mold with the cooled tea and pop in the freezer until frozen and ready to use.

I originally tested this with Irish whiskey, but as I planned on using that spirit in another drink I looked for alternatives to broaden the scope ('cause Irish whiskey is just so darn agreeable a match with the Tension Tamer tea - maybe almost too much in this case because it faded to the background). Cognac wasn't the most friendly with the honey or herbs, but on realizing that I went for the obvious natural match: single malt scotch (heavier blendeds would work against the tea here). And, before you purists start protectively huffing the vapors from your dram-and-a-drops, this project has 8 planned entries: I'm mini-bottling. Which, in PA means The Glenlivet 12 or The Macallan 12. Fine drams, both, but here, in making a slight modification from originally-used Bushmills, I went with the cereal-noted Glenlivet with that wonderful smoke that hits right around the edge of your tongue. Sherry-fruited Macallan will have to wait for some other recipe.

The honey is a natural fit for the tea (you'll be seeing more of it later on) in addition to the scotch. The Bolivar bitters provide a light-medium aromatic quality to work with the similar tones in the cocktail and enhance around the edges only. And the Meyer lemon zest was a last-minute add, just to elevate the cocktail with some brightness and have a more tangible garnish in the Old Fashioned tradition. Overall, the flavors meld well into one another, but with a wisp of smoke here or a rush of herbs or burst of zest there. A wonderful soothing long-sipper that remains balanced throughout.*

*The hidden ingredient in special ice cocktails: time.

On the name? Catch up on your news and google videos out of Chelyabinsk, Russia from today. Sometimes you're struggling for a name right up until the end, and then it just hits you.

So we've gone from piping hot to ice cold tea. The next recipe promises to be positively tepid! Stay tuned, dear readers, the coming recipes promise greater development and complexity as we get these basic building block recipes out of the way.

Previous Ti(n)sanity recipes:

Introduction and eThéreal Toddy (grappa)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Le VVO (Violet, Vert et Or)

For as little a time as I've gotten serious about cocktails, it's easy to find historical aspects of cocktails that utterly fascinate, such as the triumvirate of classic New Orleans cocktails: the Sazerac, the Vieux Carré, and the Cocktail à la Louisiane. It's a case of a group of ingredients worked and reworked in different formulations which speak to the city's character. There are the basic Manhattan ingredients: rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and aromatic bitters. To these are added rich cognac, graceful Benedictine, exotic and brooding absinthe (or local variant Herbsaint), and soul-of-NOLA Peychaud's bitters.

This time last year, I had just bought my first bottle of Pernod pastis on an eventual quest to add a true absinthe to my cabinet. But I made my first Sazerac, and later a Vieux Carré, and my mind was dazzled at how immediate a sense of place was brought to bear. The Vieux Carré had me envisioning balconies with gilded wrought iron rails looking out over the antique square and fountain, everything draped in Spanish moss and decorated with morning glories, impatiens and other small flowers; the light imbuing the place in the color of pale parchment. The Sazerac rumbled of dripping, broody wood-bedecked back rooms lit through Venetian blinds, and diabolic voices so smoke-husked they could only buzz.

With all that and Mardi Gras dancing through my mind, I lit on an image of jewels of green, purple and gold twinkling in a glass. Was such a cocktail even possible? What could color it? And, if spirits could indeed color the ice, would the ice entirely freeze up with just enough alcohol content to imbue a proper coloring and flavoring?

It turns out that the vision made it to reality, and readily at that. And, with all my fascination for the above triumvirate of cocktails, I felt it only proper to pull in some golden NOLA elements (cognac, Benedictine, pastis) to best situate the drink at home.

Behold, Le Violet, Vert et Or!

Le VVO (Violet, Vert et Or)
2 oz cognac
1/4 oz Benedictine
2 mint bitters ice cubes
2 Crème Yvette ice cubes
rinse of Herbsaint or pastis
long spirally lemon twist

  • Rinse a chilled cocktail glass with the Herbsaint or pastis (discard some but not all of the excess).
  • Add the four ice cubes in a decorative pile.
  • In a mixing glass, stir cognac and Benedictine without ice to blend (better not to chill here, that'll slow down how fast the cubes will melt into the drink and flavor it) and pour over the ice cubes in the cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with a festive ribbon of lemon zest.
  • Wait a few moments. Stir using the zest-rope, letting the green and purple (especially the purple) integrate. 
  • Enjoy.

Ice cubes: Using a 1 inch square ice cube tray (like Tovolo), add and mix the following per cube, and then freeze:
  • Mint bitters: 1 barspoon (3/4 tsp) Fee Bros. Mint bitters and 1 oz water.
  • Crème Yvette: 1/4 oz Crème Yvette and 1 oz water or to top. (use a 1/2 T so as not to overmeasure)

The Crème Yvette isn't as purple-tasting here as it might be, so long as it's integrated. In fact, it's this bit of sweet which saves the drink from being overly-bittered, and it's so busy being sweet it doesn't hit one over the head with violet. It's a careful balance to be sure: the important thing is to manage what melts when, because as soon as the cocktail becomes cold enough, the ice stops melting and you're left with whatever's gone to that point. (also, if you balance the ice so that the mint bitters ice cubes are both on top, melting last, you have a nice minty sipper to end on)

The cognac and the Benedictine and the pastis are largely for those first few sips when everything's still integrating: it's effectively a nice anise-tinged B&B to delight the palate before the big flavors take over (real absinthe might be a bit strong and overly complex here). Beyond that, once the mint bitters ice gets melting, elements of the Stinger emerge, and when the Crème Yvette comes in, the lemon zest helps counterpoint it into a more comfortable palatability - something of a verdant brooding savage garden.

In addition, in a moment of great-minds-think-alike, though I've been noodling the imagery of Le VVO for a year, I imagine taste-wise it's not that great a distance from a recently featured drink over on cocktail virgin slut, the Wells Cocktail.

In all, a pretty little throw-bauble of a cocktail.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ti(n)sanity!: eThéreal Toddy

Disclaimer: this is a non-sponsored post. Also, I'm not looking to do sponsored posts. I just really like this tea, is all, and have a policy of happily and independently buying all my ingredients.

If given a particular flavor, how many different ways could you use it in a cocktail? What about herbs and spices pre-collected in a particular flavor profile? Could you make your own "Benedictine" with herbal tea?

As I began speculating in my Vanilla Lace Bitters recipe, there are tons of ways to add flavors to a cocktail. The question is: if you like a particular flavor, what are the challenges to using it in certain ways? That's what I'm hoping to explore over the next half year or so, in a series of nine (maybe more) posts beginning with this one. My featured common denominator, or Maguffin if you will: Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer herbal tea (or that is to say, tisane).

One of the things I'm struggling with right now in my cocktailing is how to combat flatness from single-note ingredients, all the better to keep recipes simple and elegant but still intriguing for the palate. You have your liquors, which by nature tend to have a certain complexity, a certain weight and depth of flavor, due to aging and/or their distillate base. You have fortified/aromatized wines or herbal/amaro liqueurs, all of which are intentionally quite complex. Some bitters also are good for complexity, but only in an accenting capacity. What can be done to broaden the range of complex flavors available for use?

So I'm sitting, or pacing in thought, around my kitchen, noodling and angsting over these questions, wondering if even vermouths could be broadened with new flavors, when my eyes alight on my stack of tea boxes: there's green tea and black, peppermint and chamomile. Even a couple different varieties of chai (but those tend to be particular in their flavor uses..). And then I spy my box of Tension Tamer tea.

It's helped me stop clenching my teeth at night after "those kinds of days" and it has this delicate vanilla-like flavor with lemon undertones: kind of remarkable given its lack of vanilla. If you taste a little deeper you can pick up the cinnamon, peppermint and licorice notes, but faintly. I also find the combination of peppermint, cinnamon, ginger, and lemon remarkable: you generally don't see peppermint and cinnamon, or cinnamon and lemon pairings in culinary usage, for instance.

And then the Wonder Spark happens.

For the month of February we're going to start gently and not add anything to the tea or the tea to anything: we're going to take it as it is, but play around with temperatures.

First up, tea au naturel, in its intended form: hot.  A Hot Tea Toddy to be precise.

eThéreal Toddy
2 oz grappa
4 oz hot Tension Tamer tea
1 tsp orgeat

In a mug or Irish coffee glass, pour 1/2 cup boiling water over a tea bag. Wait a few minutes until desired strength is reached: since it's a more delicate tea, an intensity approaching double-brew strength would be desirable.

Once the tea is deemed ready, remove/wring out/discard the tea bag. Add the orgeat and stir to dissolve, then add the grappa and stir lightly. Grate a little fresh nutmeg on top and enjoy!

I used Alexander Grappa di Cabernet and I would highly recommend tracking down a bottle for this recipe. I'm no grappa expert, but I do know grappa can run the gamut from delicate and refined to pure firewater. The grape-berry rose-floral notes of this particular grappa balance perfectly with the vanilla-honey-spice of the tea, with the orgeat (homemade, with rose and orange blossom waters) supporting the former and the nutmeg the latter. If not this particular bottle, any silky and refined grappa with floral notes would work well here.

Most proper toddy recipes use the above formula of 2 oz spirit, 3-5 oz hot water or tea, and 1 tsp sweetener (per Rhett from And One More For The Road, pulling from Jerry Thomas in his 1862 tome, "How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant's Companion", and also per Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology). Your mileage and taste may vary, but I have to say, as concerned as I was that the grappa would pack a wallop, it balances perfectly using the recipe above. There's a little heat from the grappa remaining, but it comes off anise-like, another welcome flavor in the cup.

As for the orgeat, its exotic flavor folds right in and probably stands out less than would simple syrup or honey. It's a much different spin than a brown spirit/honey/lemon toddy combination, much more, well, ethereal. This would be good for a chilly day in late February or March when the rain or even snow is coming down, but you can still feel Spring presaging in the air.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

My Favorite Things: Warm Woolen Mittens

So this is apparently Theme Week here at Feu de Vie, as well as "Get Yer Hot Drinks While It's Still Cold Because Punxsutawney Phil Said Spring's Coming" Week. So, to start, we have February's entry in the My Favorite Things project.

But first a little elaboration on the My Favorite Things project, since it first sprung up in the middle of a MxMo post. Already the project is growing well beyond its original scope. I had a specific collection of soft, feminine ingredients that I was noodling to use in subtle different combinations, but with the introduction of a naming scheme the ideas are expanding to best serve the names. Still, being "My Favorite Things", if I can I'm going to work in ingredients that I especially love.

My aim is to do one MVT recipe a month, ending with two in December. Having so many other recipes I want to do in the coming months, it made sense to space this series out and offer some intrigue as to what's next over the course of a year. In addition, most of the names suggest a variety of seasons, so fitting each to a month adds some fun.

February's Warm Woolen Mittens includes the use of the best hazelnut coffee I've ever had (granted, I'm sure every area has at least one stellar hazelnut coffee, but if you're ever in the Philly area look up The Head Nut, a mixological odds 'n' ends paradise). Also, it affords me the opportunity to play with technique, which seems to be a thing of mine just as much as ingredients, or so it dawned on me with this recipe.

Warm Woolen Mittens
1.5 oz Swiss milk chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup milk
3/4 tablespoon ground hazelnut coffee
1 teaspoon ground anise seed
1 oz wheated bourbon
powdered sugar and peppermint liqueur for rim garnish
1. Optional garnish. Pour separately a few drops of white crème de menthe or peppermint schnapps and a small amount of sifted powdered/confectioner's sugar on a plate or plates. Lightly run the rim of your serving mug or Irish coffee glass through the liqueur then the sugar, and set aside. The purpose of this is to add a little sensory context -- what the mittens are warming against -- while flavoring the drink as marginally as possible.

2. Brew the coffee. Gently bring the milk to a simmer, either on the stove or in the microwave. If using a French press, add the coffee and anise to the press followed by the milk; stir and press down slightly to brew for 5-10 minutes. If not using a French press, add the coffee and anise to your warmed milk, stir, and cover for 10 minutes to steep. Once steeped, strain from the press or through cheesecloth to a pot on the stove.
3. Add the chocolate. Gently bring the milk-coffee to a simmer in a small pot on the stove, stirring to prevent overheating or sticking. Add the finely-chopped chocolate (all the better to melt) and stir constantly until melted and incorporated. I used a third of a 4.4oz bar of Lindt milk chocolate.

4. Stir in the bourbon (I used W.L. Weller Special Reserve), then continue simmering and stirring a minute more to heat and bring it all together.

5. Pour into your serving mug and enjoy!

When thinking of Warm Woolen Mittens, I probably thought first of the brown-grey Yankee Candle I got for my mom for Christmas. But while there's no lily-of-the-valley in this recipe, the color idea and the soft-but-deep mellowness stuck with me. This led to delicate-flavored pale swiss milk chocolate, then complementing flavors anise and hazelnut, and coffee for a mocha quality and whose bitterness well-balanced the sweetness from the other ingredients. For a spirit, easy-going Irish whiskey was an option, but lacked the warmth of a bourbon, so I decided on a gentle un-spicy wheater bourbon; the butteriness of the W.L. Weller line leaped out at me while reading reviews and seemed perfect for this mix - if you can get the 12 Year version at your local store, I imagine that will only add to the overall smoothness of the drink.

All-in-all, a rich, soothing sipper, with hints of all the flavors, but none grabbing the spotlight for themselves. Coziness first.

  • Wow, you want to do a hot chocolate recipe and suddenly you develop a level of expertise thanks to all the research! One thing which becomes evident in reading through the various recipes is the 4 : 1 milk : chocolate ratio in each, so I tried to emulate that here. Using a shot of bourbon in the recipe meant dialing back the ingredients slightly so the final mix would all fit in my 8.5 oz mug, but it still ends up being a generous portion of rich hot chocolate.
  • The milk-brewed coffee is something I can't lay claim to originating - more like shameless theft right down to getting a French press for this one particular recipe - but it's the exact right technique needed. I had started out double-brewing mild coffee with anise seed* for easier cleanup, then adding hazelnut orgeat, but the drink and flavors just didn't come together, literally, probably due to the inclusion of low-on-fat ingredients. Flavoring the milk before melting the chocolate seems to be the best way to build a flavor foundation, and I can only imagine the wild permutations one could do with this in the future.
  • On the coffee itself, the results do depend on the grade of the grind. I did things a little backwards by deciding to get the French press only after I had gotten the coffee ground to regular drip coarseness, so you may want to use a bit more if using the coarser grind especial to French presses. 3/4 T of regular drip grind seems to be the just-right point of balance: 1/2 T is too weak and the hazelnut doesn't come through, 1 T and the coffee's bitterness breaks the drink's mellowness.
*and here's a shout-out to a similar anise-spiced coffee plus a cousin which just happens to be a favorite of mine.