Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mixology Monday, September 2014: The Unknown

Welcome back, peeps! Mixology Monday has rolled around yet again and it seems like between today's recipe and last week's HAL 9000 Goes South for the Winter in a Pink Tutu, this is the month to Remember the Hell Kitten (you'll see), 2 years from its origin at MxMo 65, the first under the auspices of head kitty wrangler Fred Yarm.

This month our fine host is Chris of A Bar Above, an inexhaustible source for cocktail know-how, with the theme, The Unknown.
(Cue dramatic music)

Ok, ok… It’s not quite as dramatic as I make it out to be.

Basically the idea is to try something new, an ingredient or technique that you’ve never had experience with before and create a cocktail around it.
Here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing:
  • Use a spirit that you’ve never used before. It could be a base spirit, modifier or that Belgian Ale that rings in at 15% alcohol.
  • Use an ingredient that has always captured your imagination in the supermarket. Maybe that weird looking fruit that you always walk by at Whole Foods, or that unusual looking vegetable that you can’t even pronounce.
  • Use a new technique that you’ve never tried, but have always wanted to. Have you been dying to make your own vermouth, amaro, or martini glass made completely out of flavored sugar.
Scamper down the rabbit hole when this link is active to know The Unknown. Don't say I didn't warn you!

Friday night, MoD's lair, planning session

MoD: Ok, my little research buddy, what've you got for me?
Boomer: You need to give me more walnuts. And mulled cider, yeah that's the ticket.
..because it's fall, or..?
Lady, have you taken a look at your ingredients rollcall lately? Have you perhaps considered doing tamer recipes for a year instead of something new and adventurous at every turn? Maybe cut down on the special orders of clitoria from Thailand?
Well I have to learn somehow.... Running into difficulties with ideas?
Let me put it this way: I've compiled a short list of things you haven't done yet.
Ok, this ought to be interesting. Shoot.
Not really a fan of shrooms..
Ok. Mustard.
Ooh, that's one I really wanna do. Just don't know if the idea's there yet.
Vodka?! In this house?!
(have you seen the liquor cabinet?) No, potatoes. Fry us up some!
Let's get serious, babe.
Gefilte fish.
Twitter already ruled that one out for MxMo Preserves.
Dish soap.
Uh, honey..
Just making sure you were paying attention. Marmite and/or Vegemite.
That's more for sandwiches.
You're a fruitcake.
Oh I am!? Isn't that marvellous? Studded with candied fruit they could stop-motion CGI me.. I'd like to thank the academy..
You are indeed, little one.
Ok, the piece de resistance, you know this one would kick tail: fish eyeball!
*facepalm* Morimoto-san has a restaurant right in town, hon. It'd steal his thunder.
Well ok then, here. Try seeing things from my perspective.
Your seed mix? I don't think distilled millet would go over. Oh Boomer..

Sunday night, MoD's returned from the grocery store

Boomer: Any luck at the store?
MoD: Eh, nothing really called out to me. We've got cassoulet ingredients,
but I guess I'll have to come up with something around here.
Dang it. Sounds like an all-nighter. Did you at least re-up on salsa?
Alas, no. Selection was weak and the only thing that sounded interesting was a peach-pineapple salsa.
But you don't like peach.
Right, so I got a pomegranate for a red-fruit contrast and some other things: make it fresh and all.
Ooh, n.......
*eyes meet*
I'll get the shaker.

What's that? Salsa? In a cocktail? Wait, what fresh hell is this?

Pineapple-Pomegranate Salsa (inspired by this recipe)
1 cup fine diced plum or cherry tomatoes
1 cup chopped pineapple
3/4 cup pomegranate arils
1/2 cup small dice green bell pepper
2 T minced red onion
1-2 minced serrano peppers
1 t minced fresh spearmint
1 t minced fresh ginger
1/8 t ground cloves
2 T white balsamic vinegar
1 T lime juice
1/8 t sea salt

Combine all, cover, let rest in the fridge overnight.

Ok, right. But how do you put it in a cocktail? Like this!

Maria Dances to Tito Puente
4 oz (liquid) juiced pomegranate-pineapple salsa
1 oz habanero-infused blanco tequila
1 dash orange bitters (Angostura)

Shake all without ice to combine, then pour into a Collins glass with a few cubes of ice. Garnish wildly with salsa ingredients - mint is especially nice.

Despite the smaller ratio of the tomatoes, you still get a good tomato-ey body and flavor, just with lots of other flavors poking through. Bright pineapple to start, with a tinge of citrus, vegetal green to keep things savory, ginger rounding and a fabulous mint nose with delectable heat on the back of your tongue. You can almost taste the corn chips with which you would scoop the salsa. The bitters also add a savory dimension (kinda like Worcestershire sauce) which helps your palate recognize the drink as being in the Bloody Mary family.

Now granted, you could just skip the salsa step and go straight to juicing the ingredients for a large batch, but it is interesting to taste how a fresh salsa could be transmuted into a Bloody Mary style cocktail.

Boomer: Wait wait wait, so what was the new thing? You've done tomatoes before (even if one was ketchup). The tequila's not new. And you know you've done similar compote-y stuff already.

MoD: Right, but one was cooked and and I never put the fruited guacamole in a drink.

Boomer: But what then?

MoD: Pomegranate, salsa, Bloody Mary style. That should be enough for one night.

G'night everyone! Thanks to Chris for hosting a devious devious theme and to Fred for rounding up all the hellcats and hellchillins - mind the spicy tequila - woo doggy!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

HAL 9000 Goes South for the Winter in a Pink Tutu

Hello Dave.

*waits for the collective 72-car pile-up of whiplash to subside*

Yes, here I am with a new recipe and it's not Mixology Monday. I gots me energy back! Woohoo! (Remember kids, get your zinc. Cheeseburgers are good for you and rev your metabolism!)

There's no accounting for cravings. Late last winter/early spring (TwitPic of a later tester version) I had a rough day at work and all I knew was I wanted to throw an impromptu cocktail together that would function as a targeted aerial strike while not thinking too much and maybe getting to throw in a few leftover ingredients to help use them up.

I knew I wanted the rare bite of anise and caraway (and that's how you know something deeper was talking) of Krogstad, the only aquavit I've yet tried. Gin and juniper in this case would be far too mild.

To that -- and this is clearly the craving again -- well, remember the Hell Kitten way back when, with its strawberry and hibiscus ice cubes (each flavor in separate cubes)? A fridge defrost happened between then and previous then, leaving me with refrozen strawberry-hibiscus cubes: all the density and tart-sweetness of homemade strawberry juice with the astringent flavor-rich balancing quality of hibiscus tea.

I suppose (and please pardon the mixed metaphors, my mild synethesia makes me see flavors as colors), as the other ingredients reveal themselves here, you could say that I'm not a fan of easy straight-down-the-line pale-flavored ingredient cocktail recipes. By that I mean those recipes that don't take any chances: white spirits, paired with green tea, a little lemon, cucumber, light herbs, and so on and so forth. Those sorts of recipes just seem sedate, if not downright dour, and leave me cold - the exact opposite remedy for rough days. Ok, so I have a BIG white spirit ingredient and I end up layering that on golden ginger beer: let's make a painting. Potent brown-black down deep, a trickle of green between, all resting on an orange sun. And these soft red ice cubes, fluttering on high off to the right, that round the drink to which they're added? Warms me right up.

But but but...caraway and strawberry? I know, I know. And those do end up being predominant flavors. The rest of the cocktail ends up being a study in bridging elements, starting with the fact that there wasn't nearly enough savory spice in it yet. That led to the clove-heavy bottle of falernum in the fridge and much tinkering into an acceptable degree of drinkability and interest that night, but gee let's just get to the recipe already.

HAL 9000 Goes South for the Winter in a Pink Tutu
1 1/2 oz Krogstad aquavit
3/4 oz Plantation 5 Star rum
3/4 oz falernum*
1/2 oz Benedictine
2 dashes orange bitters (Angostura and Fee's are a good combo)
2 ounce-sized strawberry-hibiscus ice cubes** (plus 2 ounce-sized water ice cubes)
2 oz ginger beer

Ahead of time, add specified ice cubes to your serving glass and set in freezer to chill.

Shake first 5 ingredients on light ice.

Add ginger beer to your serving glass.

Strain shaken drink into your serving glass and stir to get the ingredients combined, the ice beginning to melt and color the cocktail.

Garnish ingrediently and Tiki-ly. For the above garnish: cut the nose off a strawberry and down-skewer it, attaching a thin curlicue of lime zest for arms beneath, then an upside-down hibiscus tutu. Stud strawberry robotically with cloves.

* if like me, you do a Kaiser Penguin-style juiceless falernum, remember to add 1 part fresh lime juice to every 2 parts falernum syrup (so, 1/4 oz lime juice to 1/2 oz falernum syrup for this recipe). Plus, when whipping up the falernum, make sure that your simple syrup is fully cooled before adding to your infusion, lest you nuke the clove notes. Demerara sugar syrup also makes for a great richness if you don't have access to Lemon Hart or similar.

**Strawberry-hibiscus ice cubes: juice a pint of strawberries (give an adequate chance to rest to let air content subside) and combine with an equal amount (liquid-wise) of strong hibiscus tea. Freeze in 1-ounce ice cube molds (Tovolo 1" cube molds work great here).

Give ol' Hal a swirlie to mix the ice. Whee!
(just use a more regular-shaped glass for evenness)
The star anise in the Krogstad facilitates a bridge to the baking spices of the falernum and the cinnamon in the Benedictine, while the caraway finds an unlikely ally in the particular bitter orange note of the Fee bitters (whose barrel-promoted fruity note makes fast friends with the strawberry) and hibiscus' astringency. Plantation 5 Star rum happens to be from Barbados, so it was a natural support element for the Bajan falernum while its big orange note linked up with Benedictine (the latter introduced some subtler spice to help round the profile); the two remain mostly in the background, but they add a smooth body that stops the seesawing between more intense elements and you can still pick up on the liqueur's bright holy note (have a Vieux Carre, see what I mean). The bitters further amplified these orange notes.

I'm not sure the cocktail is about "flavor" or "flavors" per se. It's bracing, biting, bitter, deeply fruity, fizzy-spicy, and refreshing to the bone. Could be that strawberry and ginger/spice is one of my favorite flavor pairings, a theme previously explored in Acrasia's Bower. (and similar recipes herehere, and here, for instance) You could probably break it down to nutritional details and geographical affinities to explain why your body is getting a 1-2-3 punch in a supremely envivening way. But when you have another rough day at work 5 months later and you're craving the exact same crazy recipe, you know there's something to it. (warning: you may get a buzz from this cocktail, but it might actually keep you up at night too. Mayhaps this calls for the right occasion and a lack of caffeine consumption prior to imbibing.)