Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mixology Monday, April 2013: Drink Your Vegetables

Welcome back to April's Mixology Monday event, the 72nd by Pan-Galactic Reckoning. Rowen of Fogged In Lounge, home of elegant gourmet morsels of cocktail blog reading, is our host for this go-round. The theme? Drink Your Vegetables.
Want to get more vegetables but you’re always eating on the run? Maybe you hate vegetables but feel you should get more of them? Well then, how about a vegetable cocktail? No, not that nice little glass of red stuff Grandma put at each place setting—we’re talking something with a kick in it. You can definitely start with the little glass of red stuff and expand it to a Red Snapper-style drink like a Bloody Mary. Or how about a cucumber-scented cooler like a Pimm’s Cup, or maybe a cocktail featuring a vegetable-based ingredient like Cardamaro or celery bitters? Maybe you’ve been wondering if you can get more mileage out of that juice extractor before consigning it to the garage sale. However you get them in that glass, be prepared for the most fun with vegetables ever.
 When active, this link will send you to the summary post of this month's festivities.

So I'm home late last night, checking on my red cabbage shrub for MxMo: it just doesn't have enough cabbage-y flavor. And as I'm standing there playing with it, removing the now-pickled cabbage to add in fresh plus a little sugar to turn it into a proper shrub, I'm munching on a very late dinner of McNuggets while racking my brain for an alternative in case it doesn't work out.

Huh, well ketchup's a vegetable right? [depends on who you ask]

*explosion* [because added explosions are excellent ways to jazz up re-tellings]

I eyeball my McNugget, covered in thick bright red sauce. I eyeball my berry-bright shrub in its mason jar.

Aside from the salt, ketchup's basically a tomato shrub, right?

You look at the label: tomatoes, vinegar, sugar corn syrup, various spices. It's everything I was doing with my cabbage, albeit I wasn't pureeing that vegetable into the final result.

Ha, well I laugh to myself: but what on earth would you pair it with? Potato vodka? Tequila, in some sort of riff on a Bloody Maria? Mezcal? Nyeeeeah.. I'm not feelin' it, and not just because I'd have to run out and get a bottle of mezcal.

But the Bloody Mary riff doesn't quite lose its grip, and the ketchup visual right in front of me, is, well, blood-like.

Blood and Sand..

Hah, but how would I work that in? Would it sub for the cherry or the orange? ...


I'm not feeling the mezcal, but suddenly there are visions of peaty barbecue in my head and a good weighty blended scotch could definitely hold its own against the dense tomato.

I sleep on this, do a little googling this morning for food pairings and start drifting in a North African direction: if we're playing on some savory elements, let's dig deep.

I Stubbed My Toe on the Way to the Arena
3/4 oz blended scotch
3/4 oz bianco vermouth
3/4 oz orange juice
1/2 oz brandy
1/4 oz ketchup
1/2 tsp fresh crushed coriander
Cherry tomatoes (or bacon) for garnish

Shake the ingredients on ice and double strain into a chilled coupe.

Garnish with skewered cherry tomatoes or perhaps a nice crispy, smokey piece of bacon.

It's very much similar in taste to a Blood and Sand, but for what you gain in body, you lose in subtle nuance via the Cherry Heering to ketchup switch. The ketchup I used, Heinz, you probably get a very salty vinegar-y taste sensation when thinking about it, but when working with it tonight it came off mellow with lactic acid. With any major brand you can probably be guaranteed that the food scientists and statisticians have honed the formula to something intense in flavor, but never-overmuch in any aspect. The saltiness doesn't cause a problem, either: you know how it's recommended to use a pinch of salt in drinks with citrus? Same principle here.

The ketchup flavor doesn't come on strong at these proportions (at 1/2 oz, it would), but it's a subtle savory fruitiness in the background, while the general Blood and Sand dynamics happen. It's hard to overdo the intensity of scotch in the recipe, given what it's up against, so go bold! I find bianco vermouth, though very similar to rosso, to be a bit more aggressive, herbal and savory - in most cases it'll dominate my drinks, but here it holds its own without overdoing. Beyond that, the brandy keeps the overall proof up to expected levels (because a full part of ketchup, er...) and orange juice's brightness offers a sensory respite from the heavy ingredients. The coriander I included to help bridge the ketchup to the more complex ingredients while upping the smokey and savory qualities that much more.

Many thanks to Rowen for hosting with another wonderful challenge, and Fred of Cocktail Virgin Slut for herding us crazy cats for yet another month!

My Favorite Things: Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With Strings

Sometimes these recipes write themselves.

Perhaps one of the best principles for creating a good cocktail is simply asking yourself: what would I want to drink? In this case, I saved this particular recipe name in the My Favorite Things series for my birth month, April. Who wouldn't want presents?! But, with my b-day otherwise occupied with tax-completing, I had to put off my indulgences for a little bit, which was beneficial.

This past week was nerve-wracking enough for anyone in the US, but especially those in Boston -- little did I realize that when I put in a supply order the Friday prior. As we all know now, all's well that ends well in greater things and small: my order, including a bottle of passionfruit syrup, came in -- maybe a little later than initially expected, but still quite timely in light of events -- many thanks to the fine folks at the Boston Shaker.

Now, passionfruit is quite possibly my favorite fruit: exotic and subtle, with hints of vanilla. It's just very soothing and mellow, even when concentrated. What's more, Aprils always seemed to have a monthly color of yellow, all the better for the fruit to fit.

In the meanwhile, my initial thoughts for indulgence trended towards Bourbon, accented with my homemade Vanilla Lace bitters. I haven't done a recipe with the bitters since January, and though I think they work fabulous in almost any recipe, I've wanted to be judicious in using them in recipe posts. Combine the bourbon and bitters with vanilla-hinted passion fruit syrup (and a serious one from B.G. Reynolds at that, much better than I could make at home) and you've got the fixings for a mighty tasty drink.

But something seemed missing. I mentioned before how a Yankee Candle series partially inspired this cocktail series, and here reminisces of lily scents and the very clean orderly notes of brown wrapping paper itself came to the fore: if not lily, perhaps almond to round out the cocktail? Not amaretto-almond, either, but something understated and milky without being thick, lest the nuances of bourbon and bitters be lost. Almond water? Or...or maybe I'll treat myself to a soda carbonating machine and get a bit fancy (nevermind the other plans I have for it later on..). If the ingredients aren't brown themselves, they do indeed come in brown paper packages!

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With Strings
2 oz bourbon
1 tsp passionfruit syrup
3 oz unsweetened almond soda

Stir the first three ingredients dry in a rocks or highball glass, then add ice cubes and almond soda. 
Finish with an extra dash or two of Vanilla Lace bitters.

Somewhat a cross between a Tiki Old Fashioned and a highball. As good as the recipe reads, and even more ethereal.

A few weeks back I was at Whole Foods when I came across Victoria's Kitchen Almond Water. It seemed an interesting cocktail ingredient, so of course I bought it. It's quite delish, but it's difficult to work with because it comes pre-sweetened. So what's a girl to do but attempt to make her own, despite there being a general dearth of online recipes on almond water. (there are Chinese almond tea recipes, however, which is more of a dessert recipe thickened with rice starch)

My general impression on how to make this is: make orgeat, leave out the sugar.

Unsweetened almond soda
100g blanched almonds
3 cups water

rose water

Making almond whey.
In a food processor, finely blend the almonds and water (perhaps as little as a cup if your blender is small, adding the rest of the water post-blending). Let this mixture rest an hour or so, then, as if you were making orgeat, strain through cheesecloth, wringing out the chopped almond. Bring the extracted liquid to a boil on a pot on the stove, then add back in the wrung-out chopped almond to continue extracting almond oil. As soon as you add the almonds back, remove from the heat, cover, and let rest until cool. You want to avoid using the stove to cook the almonds because that results in a starchy cooked-almond flavor.

Making almond clotted cream.
Once cool, strain the liquid through cheesecloth and a fine strainer a few more times to get the large particles out. Then, strain the liquid through a coffee filter. "Almond milk" really isn't a misnomer: the liquid tends to separate into curds and whey, the purified whey being what we're after. Let the liquid rest in the fridge until you're ready to use it; if more particles clump, coffee filter strain again (there's no over-straining this almond whey, all the better to carbonate).

Once you've obtained the whey (my batch resulted in a little over 2 cups of liquid when all was said and done), mix as follows to prepare the almond soda.

Per 1 cup of almond whey add 1 cup water, 1/2 tsp rose water and (post-carbonation) 2 tsp Lactart. (Gently!) carbonate using your device of choice; depending, this may go against your warranty, so cocktailer beware.

The soda is ready for use in the cocktail as-is. Add some simple syrup if you'd like to enjoy it by itself.

Also? Happy milestone, Feu de Vie. Post #50 and still going strong!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Kore and Kore-dial

Hail maiden of Spring, plucky girl, ye of the delicate ankles,
You course through meadows whose many buds reach to your delighted hands.
Yet innocent are ye of the Host of Many,
Knowing only the gloomless heights of Olympus, the perfume of blossoms, and the taste of ambrosia.

1 1/2 oz Metaxa 5 Star brandy
3/4 oz Lillet Rose
1/4 oz Skinos Mastiha liqueur
1 small dash rhubarb bitters
rinse crème de violette
half spring of mint for garnish

Shake all on ice and double strain into a chilled and crème de violette-rinsed cocktail coupe.
Garnish with a half sprig of mint. 

Kore comes together far better than I was expecting, harmonizing into a new emergent flavor that is both confident and well-rounded. Here the violette and Skinos' celery and sweet lime notes dance with the mint and botanicals from the Metaxa, or there the apricot leap-frogs to the palate via Lillet's acidity on top of the Metaxa's oak-derived notes.

To break them down individually just a bit:
  • Metaxa: how do you not make a recipe for a Greek goddess without using rose-infused Metaxa 5 Star? The tricky part is that it's a bit on the sweet side, so balancing ingredients become essential.
  • Lillet Rose: and how do you not use ladylike fresh-for-spring Lillet Rose? Lady Lillet is perhaps under-noticed here amid all the other aromatic delights happening, but none of them would be able to take off without this flavor-right lengthener.
  • Apricot-Meyer Lemon Shrub: would you believe, way back when, I concocted this shrub expressly for this particular cocktail? The fruits offer flowery, innocent and girlish aspects, perfect for the theme, which open up in the drink despite the small amount. The original batch still holds up, I should add, especially having had time to rest and meld. You could say this speaks to the essence of Kore herself: soft spring-like flavors preserved through the frigid winter to re-emerge as youthful as ever as the world reawakens.
  • Skinos Mastiha liqueur: the hard part of this drink was how to finish it after starting with the above three ingredients. The wine and shrub took it in a tart direction and I wanted to encourage the apricot notes further, but after some difficulty obtaining a fruit-fly-free apricot liqueur I wound up swinging wildly for the fences by special-ordering this spirit (and for something this unique, how could I not want it in my cabinet?). At 80 proof, it's in roughly the same boat as the Metaxa for being a sweetened-but-not-oversweet liquor -- which is actually just-right here. The shrub couldn't be used overmuch because of its vinegar base, but the Skinos balances it without making things candy-sweet, plus adds an intriguing exotic flavor. Going back to something more conventional after testing with this ingredient was not an option.
  • Rhubarb bitters: these add a nice berry note which compliments everything, especially the Lillet, while taming the apparent sweetness. I would urge no more than a single heavy dash if you like things drier/bitterer, since it's easy to destroy the other flavors while you're at it. Besides, some sweetness is itself thematic.
  • Crème de violette: as difficult as this liqueur can be for some palates, its aromatics enhance the drink's floral aspects while blending in well as a rinse. And, it's a natural for "violet-garlanded Kore."
  • Mint: originally I was planning to use the floral aromatics of Meyer lemon zest, but, with the addition of the Skinos on top of the Metaxa, using mint, a classic Greek herb, seemed both adventurous and fitting. The mint is a bit less overwhelming on the nose and it surprised me for merging so well into the other ingredients. A foreshadowing of who Kore would become.

I should note: there were a lot of earlier permutations as I tried different ways to bring together flavors. One of the more successful ended up being a homemade cordial, or should I say, Kore-dial. Essentially: de-stone and quarter 2 ripe white peaches and add to a mason jar along with the zest of one clementine, covering with Metaxa 5 Star. Shake and let rest in a cool dark place. Remove the zest after 3 hours, the peaches after 3 days. Coffee filter-strain and store in the fridge. Delightful as a sipper.

Yiamas! [pace @BitterBooze]

Ducklings and Mother Duck

Hour 1: Make way for ducklings! Gee, there sure are a lot of you little ones..

Hour 2: You really don't stop, do you? Just one big long line of ducklings as far as the eyes can see..

Hour 5: Any of you guys want some Rice Krispies? Y'know, just hang out for awhile instead of waddling for miles? And really now, where are your mothers?!

Day 8: *a passerby has stopped to marvel at the balsa wood staircases and platforms, directing the endless line of ducklings in almost-Escher-like ways, though ultimately never distracting them long from their course. Miniature red and white umbrellas can be seen discarded at various junctures*

"Did these guys do all that?"

Heh, that would've been nice. I gave up on playing Lemmings when I ran out of materials. Now I'm trying to come up with a Rube Goldberg machine made entirely out of ducklings.

Day 14: *the line of ducklings has slowed. The few continuing on bounce up every now and again as the earth rumbles* *morning stretch* Gooood mornin', chickie-kids. What's the latest? *the sky dims* *looks up* *blink blink*

QUACK.        QUACK.

It's the Mother Load!


Duckling shots
1 part Advocaat
1 part pear soda

Add the (chilled) pear soda to your shot glasses first, followed by the advocaat - this way the advocaat will integrate better and not stick to the glasses as much. Give the shots a stir with a chopstick if you like; the advocaat should suppress loss of fizz. The pear soda gives the shot a refreshing dryness without being too sweet. Pear nectar tends to be sweet overkill, and the soda's fizz matches the aquatic nature of the bird - it makes me think of a duckling ruffling itself and shaking its tail.

Wondering where to find pear soda? I was too, for over a week! I went been to nearly 10 grocery stores, farmers' markets and convenience stores before lucking out. The duck gods must've wanted me to work for it, or maybe they just wanted me to pick up some lingonberry preserves. Yes, that's right, I found my pear soda at, of all places, IKEA (16.9oz cans ready in their food goods refrigerated section). Quite tasty, a developed flavor with some dryness. In case you don't have in IKEA nearby, though, try perhaps a Whole Foods, which typically, most weeks, carries the Kristian Regale brand (also Swedish, which gave me the idea to check IKEA). Beyond that, a local grocery store might carry R.W. Knudsen's Sparkling Pear, or check a store like Home Goods or TJ Maxx to see what indie brands they might have.

It all started with the Fluffy Duck, and the Advocaat/egg-related spring animal ideas inspired by it: baby birds that is, hence shooters. But, there was more space to do regular cocktails beyond the shooters, so it made sense to "mature" the shots into fully-fledged cocktails. To follow the pre-established pattern, apricot was the flavor of choice for Chicks and Mother Hen, so for Ducklings and Mother Duck we have fizzy pear (because, quite frankly, ducks are pear-shaped!).

To gussy up Mama Duck, we have a cocktail with pear eau-de-vie, Aquackvit, and Tuaquack:

For this cocktail, tip duck over
and pour her out.
Mother Duck
1 oz green tea-infused aquavit
1 oz pear eau-de-vie
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1/4 oz Tuaca
1 drop aromatic bitters
1 1/2 oz San Pellegrino
dill sprig

Stir first five ingredients with a couple of ice cubes to dilute and chill, then strain into a sherry copita or cocktail glass.

Top with an ounce and a half of San Pellegrino (the minerality is a good accent here).

Garnish with a dill sprig.

Green tea infused aquavit: 1 teabag green tea, 1/2 cup aquavit, 45 minutes, no shaking. [updated to include]

In all, Mother Duck is drier, more savory, and less ruffled than Mother Hen. The green tea Aquavit adds a mellow substantiveness and combines seemlessly with the pear eau-de-vie, with a sense of smoothness imparted by the Tuaca's vanilla. The flavor reminds me of rustic woodlands and the coloration of Mama Mallard up above, right down to the dill-like clump of algae you might see her nibbling.

The visual of dill in a cocktail drew me to aquavit, in my case to caraway and anise-infused Krogstad based on availability and potential use of dill in its botanicals. Any type of aquavit would probably work well here, not just one with dill: aquavit's savory characteristics are what's important. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my dill-in-cocktails-full-stop inspiration: the beautiful Freeside from Cocktail Democracy, with a wonderful bit on general cocktail inspiration at that.

On the aromatic bitters: since these duck recipes are trending Scandinavian, Swedish bitters would be a nice touch. If you don't have those, Angostura, Urban Moonshine or Fee's Old Fashioned would do in a pinch. Just a little something earthy, dark, and diffuse in flavors to help balance the Tuaca and pear eau-de-vie -- being mindful that the cocktail is somewhat delicate in flavor and too much shows up fast.

That said, I'm not entirely wedded to the dry vermouth lengthener, but availability of dry quinquinas or gentian aperitifs is sparse around these parts. I used Vya Extra Dry, which imparts a nice rustic herbal quality in keeping with theme, though I'd be curious how an aperitif wine like Suze might work (perhaps omit the bitters here?).

In short: this ain't your mother's Taiwan Duck Fart, nuh-uh.

[Stay tuned, dear readers (and when I say that, I mean later this afternoon!). The last two weeks have been a royal whumping both at work and for my recipe schedule here. We're going to try to fix that, starting now and for the rest of the month of April. There's a MxMo coming up and the My Favorite Things and Ti(n)sanity series require their monthly updates, among other items.]

Monday, April 1, 2013

My Favorite Things: Silver White Winters...that Melt into Spring

Besides, how many of you were still getting snow last week?

So....March's entry in the My Favorite Things project is one day late - and this is no April's Fool. I think it was worth it, though, to get the specs right. Again this month, I'm playing with technique, plus rarely-used tea ingredients and one of my favorite ingredients from my cabinet: rhubarb bitters!

Naturally there's one fitting lyric from My Favorite Things which best fits the month of March: Silver White Winters that Melt into Spring.

The name pretty much says it all: you start with Winter, and involve a component that melts, bringing with it notes of Springtime. Fancy ice is something I've been playing with for about half a year now, and this recipe pulls together elements already developed on various drinks: an ice sphere, filled with alcoholic ingredients, and alcoholic ingredients cut with water-based ingredients and then frozen. One realization that I've come to and implemented well with SWWTMIS is the secret to using flavored ice may be to find flavor combinations and ratios which will work at the outset and then at the tail end, that way the ice melt is one long fade between two controlled points.

But now then, let's dive into the recipe!

Silver White Winters that Melt into Spring, what you'll need
dried flower teas (lavender, linden blossom, elder flowers, etc..)
Hendrick's gin
plain vodka
white crème de menthe (for glass rinsing)
rhubarb bitters
edible flower or wild strawberry

Quick note on the spirits: I think Hendrick's especially suits the theme of the recipe, with its downplayed juniper plus rose and mellow cucumber notes. I recommend an eastern European vodka like my personal "house vodka", White Diamond, which is from Latvia. Eastern European vodkas tend to be known for their mineral notes, so it's nice to have something in stock which can bring that element.

Difference between ice shell and frozen filler.

Brew floral tea

Make a pale but fragrant tea from dried flowers. Mix and match varieties, but try to include lavender as an ingredient because it pairs so well with the Hendrick's. I used 1/2 tsp each lavender, linden blossoms*, and elderflower blossoms to 8 oz boiling water. Let steep (preferably in a tea ball or tea strainer) until cool.

*aka lime blossoms, aka tilia flowers.

Mix the filler

For each ice ball, mix 1 1/2 oz Hendrick's gin, 1 1/2 oz cooled floral tea, and 1 dash rhubarb bitters. Store in the refrigerator until ready to fill the ice ball.

Ice ball

In a large ice ball mold, freeze plain water for about two hours or until a quarter to a third inch of ice is formed on the surface. Poke a small hole in the ball to drain the unfrozen water, but leave perhaps a quarter inch of water at the bottom for reinforcement. Place the shell back in the freezer for the reinforcement to freeze up, also adding the container of filler to the freezer -- the colder the filler is, to the point of ice crystals beginning to form, the less likely it will wear away at the ice shell as it's being added.

Why I advocate small fill-holes. Large holes
like this are more difficult to cover over again.
Once the shell is completely frozen and the filler is suitably chilly, it will be safe to fill. Start to fill the sphere by adding the garnish: either an edible and foodsafe spring flower or other small garnish reminiscent of spring (a wild strawberry maybe?). Depending on the garnish you may need to carefully widen/melt-out the hole, but try to avoid making it bigger than necessary: the hole is something you'll need to freeze regular water on top of, lest the flavors of the filler leak out too quickly (and they likely will, because the gin makes it more eager to melt than the plain water shell).

Once the garnish is in, go ahead and add the filler - a small/thin funnel may be useful here. Be mindful of what you touch -- the heat from your skin will enhance melting, and, vice versa, it's easy to get fingersicles fast!

The full 3 oz of the filler should be able to fit inside the sphere. You might want to practice the timing with plain water as a filler until you find the timing for an appropriate ice thickness that works for your freezer -- it'll be worth it for the flavor ratios to work, as well as the cocktail's overall alcohol level. If you've found your sphere has a little extra room after filling (without the filler being spilled on top - a problem for the drink's flavor), just add a little water to top it off.

Once the filler is in, return the ice ball to the freezer in its mold and let it freeze solid, about 4-6 hours (ok, maybe not that long, depending on your appliance, but be generous with the time you allot anyway, since the center has to develop ice crystals in the midst of alcohol).

Once the ice ball appears thoroughly frozen, drip a few drops of water on top of the fill-hole -- as you'll see in the bottom-most image, the ice ball will melt from the fill-hole outwards if not covered. Keep layering drops of water then freezing until the fill-hole is covered over. At this point the sphere is ready to use.

You really don't need me to give you a guide on how to add vodka to the drink, I was just especially pic-happy with this recipe.
Also, pretty.

To serve:

Rinse a chilled double old-fashioned glass with white crème de menthe (discard the remainder). Add your frozen ice ball. Pour one ounce vodka over the ice ball, swirl to start the melting, and sip to savor the emerging flavors.

At first you'll have the minerality of the vodka on your tongue, along with a sparkle of sweet mint. Then, perhaps imperceptibly, you'll find a hint of juniper, and a few moments later, something vaguely floral. The floral taste expands upon itself, sweetening (thanks to the tilia in the mix) with the lavender coming through better, and the wetness of the drink starts to stand out like chilly spring rains. You can tell the center of the ice ball really starts to take over when you taste the rhubarb bitters: spring has sprung! (even if there's still some late snow showers/vodka minerality)

It's not that far off from a Martini (but with more Old Fashioned ratios): you get added herbal and bitter components thanks to the floral tea and bitters, but less sour with slight sweet notes.