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Monday, August 31, 2015

Strawberry Balsamic Smash

Strawberry Balsamic Smash

Why is everyone trying to rush into fall? Food bloggers are already putting up apple and squash recipes. Clothing stores are packed with sweaters and jackets. People are drinking pumpkin ales. It's not even September, guys!

Don't get me wrong; autumn is my favorite season. I'm really looking forward to the cool weather and fall colors and my hair not frizzing up within five seconds of leaving the house. But there's an appropriate time for these things, and it's at least a few weeks away. I still haven't done all the summery things I want to do. Fall is just going to have to hold off a bit. And the best way to make that happen is with a few more summery cocktails.

Strawberry Balsamic Smash

A smash is an entire category of cocktails that I talked about a bit when I made the Whiskey Smash. It's technically a type of julep (as in the Mint Julep). While the interpretations of both drinks have changed over time, the one thing that seems constant is the relative attitudes towards the two cocktails. People can be awfully fussy about their Mint Juleps, and this was even more true 100 years ago. In contrast, the smash is a simpler, throw-in-whatever sort of cocktail. Today they often include citrus juice, which juleps generally lack. They can be made with any spirit from brandy to whiskey - in fact, I've got a Mezcal Smash recipe I can't wait to try. So while the julep is a cocktail you want to get carefully right, the smash is a cocktail you want to have fun with.

I thought this combination of strawberries and balsamic vinegar sounded like great fun, and it was. This particular smash is made with gin. The balsamic adds a very subtle hint of rich flavor to the cocktail. The result is summery and refreshing. If you make the smash correctly - with lots of crushed ice mounded up on top - it also makes a beautiful presentation.

History: The Strawberry Balsamic Smash was invented by Damon Boelte of Prime Meats in Brooklyn, NY.

Strawberry Balsamic Smash

Strawberry Balsamic Smash

2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 lime wedges
2 slices cucumber
1 strawberry, hulled

Combine all ingredients but gin in the bottom of a shaker or mixing glass and muddle to release their juices. Add gin and stir. Double-strain into a rocks glass. It won't look like much, but the ice will make up the rest. Fill the glass halfway with crushed ice and stir. Mound more crushed ice on top. Garnish with a halved strawberry, a cucumber slice, and/or a sprig of mint.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party

The roundup post for Mixology Monday 100 is up! This month's theme was a tribute to Paul Clarke of The Cocktail Chronicles, centered around simplicity, elegance, and timelessness. As a result, it's a fantastic list of recipes, and best of all, they're very accessible - I've got the ingredients to make most of them already. Check it out!

My own Mixology Monday submission was the Old Cuban, an existing recipe that I really like. But today I do have an original cocktail that I think is pretty darn good. The idea for it came from one served at Miel in Boston's Intercontinental hotel. It's a really lovely French restaurant right on the Fort Point Channel, but for some reason it seems to be perpetually empty. This was good news for us a couple of years ago when we were trying to make a reservation for a large group during graduation season in Boston - good luck finding a table in May and June. But Miel turned out to be positively lovely, and they served one cocktail using tea-infused vodka that I really liked and wanted to replicate at home. Thus the Boston Tea Party was born.

Boston Tea Party

As I've said before, I'm not big into vodka because I find it pretty tasteless, but that exactly quality makes it a great spirit to use for infusions. I haven't tried very many yet, but this tea-infused vodka is easy and really good. Just leave a teabag in some vodka for a while. How long depends on how much vodka and how strong you want the flavor. I infused about a cup of vodka yesterday, and left the teabag in for roughly six hours. I've done it overnight as well. I always use decaf tea since I'll probably want to be drinking this in the evening.

With tea-infused vodka, honey simple syrup, lemon juice, and a splash of ginger ale or ginger beer, this cocktail tastes exactly like sweet tea. Drinking it reminded me of the big batches of the stuff my grandmother used to make and store in jars in the fridge. It's crazy how dead-on the flavor is. It's an incredibly refreshing cocktail, perfect for the end of summer.

Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party

2 oz. tea-infused vodka*
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. honey simple syrup**
1 oz. ginger ale or ginger beer

Combine infused vodka, lemon juice, and honey simple syrup in a shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and top with ginger ale or ginger beer (lemon-lime soda works nicely too). Garnish with a lemon wheel.

*For tea-infused vodka: pour desired amount of vodka into a cup measure or glass. Add a teabag. Let sit until dark brown in color, four hours to overnight.

**For honey simple syrup: combine equal parts honey and water in a saucepan. Bring to a low simmer and stir until honey is dissolved. Let cool before using.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mint Julep

Mint Julep

The Mint Julep is, of course, the iconic drink of the Kentucky Derby. I had never watched the Kentucky Derby until this year - a great choice, since American Pharoah went on to win the Triple Crown. I didn't realize how short the actual derby is! A derby party involves an awful lot of pre-gaming. Not that I'm complaining. It explains why drinking lots of Mint Juleps is such a big part of the day.

To be honest, this sweet, strong cocktail isn't one of my all-time favorites. I'd prefer some citrus to balance it out, so I'd go for a Whiskey Smash instead. But the Mint Julep is definitely a good one to have in your repertoire. It's a situational sort of drink; when the occasion is just right, it's delicious.

I got this recipe from a friend from Kentucky, who says it's the recipe from the Seelbach Bar in Louisville. He made them during the derby this year. I reduced the amount of simple syrup because I found it too sweet when I made it myself. I also eliminated a splash of water, since the ice seems to melt fast enough (especially when you're trying to take pictures).

Mint Julep

History: The word "julep" comes from the Persian word gulab, julab in Arabic, referring to a sweetened rose-water that was believed to be medicinal. As the drink spread to the Mediterranean, mint was added. From here, things get a little fuzzy. The drink made its way through Europe, and at some unknown point, alcohol was added.

In 1783, the first volume of Medical Communications published in London by the Society for Promoting Medical Knowledge mentions the julep several times as a remedy prescribed to patients. One such unfortunate soul was Mrs. P of Orange Street, a 52-year-old woman suffering from stomach pains. Her physician, Dr. Maxwell Garthshore, writes: "I was first consulted, and found her much emaciated, and complaining of indigestion, acidity, and sickness at the stomach, with frequent retching, and, at times, a difficulty swallowing. I then prescribed her an emetic, some opening powders, and a mint julep. The symptoms were alleviated, and she seemed better for a few days."

Unfortunately, Mrs. P's symptoms returned, and when a second julep did not help, Dr. Garthshore turned to other measures. After five months of alarmingly detailed and disgusting ailments, she died. Garthshore was not the only one to prescribe juleps; in this volume alone, it is mentioned five more times.

The julep also made its way to the newly-independent United States, either via Europe or the Caribbean. Mint Juleps became exceptionally popular in the south, particularly Virginia and Kentucky. Drinking them in the morning, booze and all, was considered healthful. In 1787, the magazine American Museum wrote: "An Ordinary Virginian rises about six o'clock. He then drinks a julep made of rum, and sugar but very strong." Early juleps were probably made with a variety of spirits including rum and Cognac. In the 19th century, bourbon became the most common and affordable spirit in the U.S., and it became used instead.

In the early 1800's, Kentucky Senator and Secretary of State Henry Clay supposedly brought the cocktail to Washington D.C., where he would drink them with his colleagues at the Willard Hotel's Round Robin Bar. Its rising popularity there had an important consequence: the invention of the paper drinking straw. A fellow named Marvin C. Stone was drinking a Mint Julep in D.C. through the typical straw of the time: a literal piece of straw, made from rye grass. He thought the taste of the rye was ruining the flavor of his julep and decided to do something about it. He wrapped some paper around a pencil, glued the ends together, slid it off, and the paper straw was born. He later began coating the paper in wax to make it more waterproof and protect the glue from dissolving. He patented his invention in 1888.

Drinking Straw Patent
A figure from Martin C. Stone's drinking straw patent.

But what about the julep cup? A Mint Julep is properly served in a sterling silver tumbler. This cup is meant to be held from the top or the bottom, so that the crushed ice in the drink can make the outside frost over. These cups were awarded as prizes at country fairs pretty early on, and there's an oft-quoted mention in an 1816 issue of the Kentucky Gazette of them being given as prizes for horse races. Why they are so specifically used for Mint Juleps, I'm not sure.

The final piece of the Mint Julep's history is its association with the Kentucky Derby. Mint Juleps were served at Churchill Downs during the derby as they were at many racetracks, but the introduction of souvenir julep cups in 1938, sold for 75 cents, is probably what cemented the Mint Julep's starring role on Derby Day.

Mint Julep

2 oz. bourbon
3/4 oz. mint simple syrup*
Crushed ice

Combine bourbon and simple syrup in a rocks glass or fancy-shmancy julep cup. Fill with crushed ice and garnish with a sprig of mint.

*Mint simple syrup: Combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and simmer until sugar is dissolved. Add a generous handful of mint and stir. Let steep for 15 minutes. Strain and chill in the refrigerator until cool (about 3 hours).

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bar School: Carbonated Waters

Carbonated Water

In the summer time, light and fizzy cocktails really hit the spot. And the most common way to make a fizzy cocktail is with club soda or something similar. I didn't think there was much difference between the myriad of carbonated waters one has to choose from, but I figured I'd better find out. So: is there any difference?

The short answer: yes. But very little.

Little enough that my conclusion is that you can use all fizzy waters interchangeably in your cocktails. Are there purists out there who would disagree? Almost certainly. There are always purists out there. But of all the things to be picky about in your cocktails, I think this is pretty low on the list. Somewhere between toothpick diameter and ice clarity.

But since I really do want to figure out how to make clear ice one day, here you have it: a guide to fizzy water.

Sparkling or Carbonated Water: Both of these are blanket terms that can refer to any of the waters below. They don't mean anything specific about the production or content of that water, just that it's bubbly.

Seltzer: Seltzer is plain water that has been artificially carbonated by dissolving carbon dioxide in it. When carbon dioxide gas dissolves in water, it reacts to form carbonic acid. But it doesn't want to stay dissolved in the water, and will only do so under pressure. So as soon as you open your bottle of seltzer, the fizzing begins and the gas starts to escape. Seltzer confusingly gets its name from the German town of Selters, which had a naturally carbonated mineral spring. Selters bottled and sold their carbonated water, and the name became a generic trademark like kleenex or band-aid, but today it is generally used to describe water that is not naturally carbonated.

Carbonated Water

Club Soda: Club soda is very similar to seltzer, but it has additional potassium and/or sodium salts (sodium bicarbonate, potassium bicarbonate, potassium sulfate, etc.) added. As I mentioned above, artificially carbonating water using carbon dioxide forms acid. The salts added to club soda bring down the pH of the water, supposedly improving the flavor. But I dare you to do a blind test of seltzer and club soda and figure out which one is which. The salts do raise the sodium levels of the water - for example, 12 oz. of Canada Dry club soda contains 115 mg of sodium vs. 0 mg in their sparkling seltzer. So if you're watching your salt intake, pay attention to the amount or go with seltzer.

Soda Water: I assumed that soda water was another name for club soda, but it turns out it's an ambiguous term. It can refer either to club soda or seltzer. It's often specifically used to refer to the carbonated water that comes out of a soda gun in a bar, and that usually doesn't have the added salts.

Sparkling Mineral Water: This is the stuff you get offered at fancy restaurants before awkwardly telling the waiter that good ole tap water is just fine. Examples include San Pellegrino and Perrier. I was really surprised to learn that neither minerals nor carbonation are added to this water - it's naturally carbonated (except San Pellegrino, which adds some). It's also filled with sulphur and minerals from the natural springs it comes from, which can give it a bit of a taste. And finally, it's expensive. Not an obvious choice for a cocktail mixer, but it will certainly work.

One "water" that is most definitely not on this list is tonic water. Though it's called water and is carbonated, it's an entirely different thing. It contains quinine, which gives it a bitter flavor, and also heaps of sugar. It's essentially a soft drink, and is not interchangeable with the other waters mentioned above. (For more on tonic water, check out my post on the Gin & Tonic.)

So crack open a bottle of... whatever... and make yourself a Tom Collins, Mojito, or Campari & Soda. Some folks may be enthusiastically whipping out the pumpkin recipes, but I say it's summer until I need to put on a jacket.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Mixology Monday: Old Cuban

Old Cuban


Today may be Friday, but it's Mixology Monday time again! And this one is very special: MxMo C, the 100th Mixology Monday. I'm very much a newcomer to this online cocktail party, having only participated in three so far, but I love that it's been a way to instantly become a part of a great community of other bloggers who love cocktails. I'm thrilled to be here for the 100th.


This month's theme is Cocktail Chronicles, hosted by Frederic of Cocktail Virgin Slut and fittingly inspired by Mixology Monday founder Paul Clarke. He's been blogging about cocktails longer than most; his blog The Cocktail Chronicles was started 10 years ago, and he's since become a big-name cocktail writer for all sorts of major publications. His book The Cocktail Chronicles: Navigating the Cocktail Renaissance with Jigger, Shaker & Glass just came out last month. So it's really perfect timing that we can celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mixology Monday with a tribute to him.

The challenge, then, is to choose a cocktail that is "timeless (or potentially timeless) and elegant in its simplicity" using Paul's blog and book as inspiration. It's certainly a theme open to interpretation, and I can't wait to see the collection of recipes that fellow bloggers think will continue to stand the test of time. I went to Paul's blog and looked at the recipes he had posted there, and the one I wanted to make jumped right out at me: the Old Cuban.

Old Cuban

Paul actually made the Old Cuban for MxMo III over nine years ago. If you're not familiar with this cocktail, it's basically a Mojito with aged rum and champagne instead of club soda, and a couple of dashes of bitters for good measure. The champagne is what cemented the choice for me. I love champagne cocktails, and when I see the word "elegant" I can't help but think that something with champagne is an obvious choice. The Old Cuban exudes elegance. Another thing Frederic stressed in his announcement post is how Paul thinks that cocktails should remain accessible to everyone, and I think the Old Cuban nails that. The ingredients are simple, and I can't imagine someone not liking it. Still, its combination of flavors and textures is something that I think even a cocktail connoisseur has got to appreciate. What's more, I think it is definitely a drink with staying power. The first place I ever saw it was in Vintage Cocktails, and I assumed it had been around for a while. It's also on the menu at Park in Cambridge, and I've recommended it to numerous friends. I was pretty surprised to find out that it was invented recently, by Audrey Saunders of the Pegu Club in New York. As far as I'm concerned, it's a new classic, and one of my favorites.

The MxMo C round-up post is here!

Old Cuban

Old Cuban

1 1/2 oz. aged rum (I used Folly Cove)
3/4 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
6 mint leaves
Champagne

Combine mint, simple syrup, and lime juice in the bottom of a shaker and muddle. Add rum and bitters. Shake with ice until chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and top with champagne. Garnish with a sprig of mint or a sugar-coated vanilla bean. (For the record, when I have vanilla beans sitting around to be used as cocktail garnishes, I will know I've made it.)

Recipe adapted from The Cocktail Chronicles.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Olive-Rosemary Martini

Olive Rosemary Martini

I am a big fan of gin. Or I suppose I should say that I'm a big fan of gin cocktails. Because unlike whiskey, which I will happily drink straight, I've never been the sort to order a gin martini that has been merely waved at a bottle of vermouth. Because I'm usually mixing gins with other things, I don't always really get a sense for their individual flavor profiles. I bought Tanqueray because it was affordable and I liked it well enough. But I'm making a point to branch out. I've already tried GrandTen's Wire Works gin and I really like it. So I decided to buy a bottle from another brand I've been eyeing, St. George.

As you may already know, I'm a sucker for nice bottles, and St. George has most other gins beat with its beautiful Victorian-style label. I found myself at the liquor store looking at the two bottles of their gin I had to choose between: the Botanivore and the Terroir. I knew that the Terroir had a much more distinctive, unusual flavor, so I took a risk and bought it without ever having tried it. I'm glad I did.

St. George Terroir is a very unique, strongly flavored gin. Heavily inspired by the forests of northern California, its main botanicals are Douglas fir, coastal laurel, and sage. It has a deeply piney, earthy taste, like walking through a forest of evergreens. Is it a good go-to, everyday gin? Absolutely not. But it is uniquely delicious.

Olive Rosemary Martini

The strong flavors of St. George Terroir mean that I'll have to think carefully before using it in any cocktail recipes that don't specifically call for it. But I saw this one and thought it might be perfect. I had bookmarked it a while back, impressed by its simplicity. It's just an ordinary gin martini that uses a sprig of fresh rosemary instead of a toothpick for olives. But I know how strong the scent and flavor of fresh rosemary can be. I smell it on my hands for hours after I water my rosemary in the morning. A simple sprig could have a big impact on a martini. And the flavors of St. George Terroir seemed like they would meld perfectly with a rosemary-scented garnish.

Sure enough, I feel like this is a beautiful cocktail to showcase the flavors of this unique gin. If you like gin and have the opportunity to taste St. George Terroir, I highly recommend it. I got to try the Botanivore this past week, and it's also great - a very smooth and tasty gin for other cocktails. I'd like to do a more formal taste-test of a handful of gins sometime, so I can try to get a better sense for the different flavors in each one. But I'd leave St. George Terroir out of that. It's distinctive enough on its own.

Olive Rosemary Martini

Olive-Rosemary Martini

2 oz. gin (I used St. George Terroir)
2 tsp. dry vermouth
1 sprig rosemary
3 black olives

Combine gin and vermouth in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with the olives speared on the rosemary sprig.

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Peach Margarita

Peach Margarita

Some recipes I plan to make ahead of time, but others just happen. These Peach Margaritas just happened. We were making tacos for dinner, and I thought Margaritas would go really nicely with them. Peaches are in season right now, and I've been seeing them everywhere, so I thought adding some would be a nice touch. I started with this recipe from Gimme Some Oven and simplified it by muddling the peach instead of pureeing it.

I was pretty sure these were going to taste good, but what I didn't expect was the texture. It is thick and smooth and just perfect. For a cocktail made on a whim, it is really darn good. So delicious and refreshing. I'd love to do a big batch for a party.

Peach Margarita

Peach Margarita

2 oz. tequila blanco
1 1/2 oz. lime juice
1 oz. triple sec
1/2 oz. agave nectar
1/2 peach

Slice up the half peach and place it at the bottom of a shaker. Add agave nectar and lime juice. Muddle well. Add tequila, triple sec, and ice. Shake until well-chilled. Salt the rim of a rocks glass and fill with ice. Strain the cocktail into the glass. It will be very thick and there will be lots of peach pulp, so this can be a slow process going straight from the shaker. I recommend pouring the entire cocktail out of the shaker and into a sieve over a pitcher or measuring cup, then pouring the strained cocktail into the glass. I know it's a bit messy, but don't worry - you'll thank me.

Recipe adapted from Gimme Some Oven.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

I am so excited about this recipe. I've never even tried stuffed zucchini blossoms before, let alone made them at home. I've seen them on Italian menus before and wanted to taste them, but usually whoever I was having dinner with wasn't on board. Then I saw the big, yellow blossoms that popped open on my potted zucchini plants and I thought... why not?

I fear this will be more a record of the fact that I actually made this than a recipe for an easy, go-to appetizer for your next cocktail party. For one thing, zucchini blossoms are hard to find. If you are lucky enough to come across them at a farmer's market, they need to be used quickly or they go bad. The best way to get zucchini blossoms is to harvest them right off your own plants before you start cooking. And I know that's not an option for everybody.

But if you do manage to get your hands on some zucchini blossoms, and you're wondering what to do with them, I've got a recipe for you.

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

Usually only male zucchini blossoms are eaten, because they can't develop into squash. One male blossom is enough to fertilize a whole plant of female blossoms, so you can snip a few off without any ill effects. To prepare the blossoms, you need to untwist the petals, open them up, and reach down inside the flower to remove the stamen, which will be covered in pollen. It's easy to tear the petals, so you have to be careful. I tore a few and they were still easy to stuff, but then the stuffing leeched out while they were frying. Rinse the blossoms with water and gently pat dry.

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

You can do a lot of different things with squash blossoms, but the most typical recipe is to stuff them with cheese and fry them. I was tempted to try a baked version instead, because deep frying is a lot of hassle and not exactly healthy, but I figured if I was going to do this, I ought to do it right. I picked this recipe at Blogging Over Thyme because I liked the tempura-style batter. Sure enough, it has a light and lovely texture that doesn't overpower the flavors of the blossoms and the stuffing. And the blossoms do have a taste, reminiscent of zucchini but lighter. The stuffing itself is simple, just ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, lemon zest, and basil. I'm tempted to try some goat cheese next time, but I'm glad I stuck with something simple at first so I could taste the flowers. Season the filling with salt and pepper and use a pastry bag to pipe it into the flowers. Then you can twist the petals back closed.

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

The recipe recommends frying the blossoms in safflower oil, which has a higher smoke point than other cooking oils. We had some on hand for just this reason, so that's what I used. You could also substitute vegetable or canola oil.

A quick dip in the batter, a few minutes in hot oil, and voila - cheesy, tender zucchini blossoms. Eat them while they're still warm. This certainly won't be a recipe I'll be coming back to over and over again, but it was really fun to make this once. If my zucchini plants produce enough flowers, I'm definitely going to do it again.

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

3/4 cup ricotta cheese
2 1/2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
3/4 tsp. lemon zest
8-10 basil leaves, sliced thin
salt and pepper, to taste
15-18 zucchini blossoms
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup seltzer (or regular water)
safflower oil, for frying

Remove stamens from blossoms and gently wash and dry them. Mix ricotta, parmesan, lemon zest, and basil in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Slowly add seltzer or water, whisking to combine. The mixture should be roughly the consistency of pancake batter. Using a pastry bag, pipe the ricotta mixture into the blossoms, filling them but leaving enough room to twist the petals closed.

Fill a pan with safflower oil about 1 inch deep. Heat on medium-high to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Gently dip the blossoms in the batter, twisting them in the direction the petals are coiled to coat them evenly. Wipe off excess batter on the side of the bowl, again twisting the flower. Gently place into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown. Cook in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and let drain on a plate covered with a paper towel. Serve warm with basil leaves and lemon wedges.

Recipe adapted from A Beautiful Plate.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Bar School: Rum

Rum

I've been more active on Twitter lately, and it seems like every day is #NationalSomethingDay. I guess it's a fun way to get everybody talking about the same thing, but goodness there are a lot of them. Today is National Vanilla Custard Day. Tomorrow is National Ice Cream Pie Day. And Wednesday, which I'm looking forward to, is National Potato Day. I'm not kidding. Check out this calendar for a full schedule of the madness.

I usually don't recognize these culinary holidays, but yesterday the mysterious High Council of Internet Stuff that decides these things named it National Rum Day, and everybody was tweeting about rum. This was actually pretty timely, because I was planning on talking about rum today anyway.

I've become more curious about rum because of the current obsession with tiki drinks. Every bar I go to has at least a few whimsical cups, and many are prominently featuring tiki cocktails on their menus. Just last week, GarnishGuy and I went to Backbar in Union Square. He started by ordering a Queen's Park Swizzle off the menu, and then asked the bartender to make him something else like it. A few minutes later, he was sipping a Jet Pilot out of a cup shaped like a very bored-looking macaw, and I was thoroughly wowed by its flavor. The obvious appeal of tiki drinks is their exotic ingredients, fun cups, and elaborate garnishes, but what I find most interesting is the focus on specific rums. The Jet Pilot alone used three different rums. I can't think of any other group of drinks where the individual characteristics of the spirit are stressed so highly. I've never seen a recipe that called for two different gins or whiskeys. But since I don't know anything about rum, I feel left out of all the fun.

So let's remedy that right now.

Jet Pilot at Backbar
The Jet Pilot (right), served in the appropriate vessel at Backbar.

Rum, by definition, is a distilled spirit made from sugarcane or sugarcane products (usually molasses). Like tequila, it can be consumed without aging, at which point it is a clear liquid, or aged in barrels for various amounts of time, which will turn it a golden color. Most rum is made in the Caribbean.

No one is completely certain where rum got its name, but the most common theory is that it was taken from the end of the word Saccharum, the genus containing sugarcane. Alternatively, it may have come from a British slang term "rum," meaning "great" or "the best;" the Romani word rum meaning "strong" or "potent;" or the Dutch word for a drinking glass, roemer. Whatever its origin, the word is old. By 1654, it is used to refer to an alcoholic beverage in legal documents from the U.S. Colonies.

Rum is usually made from molasses. When sugar cane juice is used to make sugar, it is boiled, causing the sugar to crystallize. Molasses is the liquid by-product of this boiling. To make rum, molasses is fermented with yeast and then distilled. Sometimes the spelling "rhum" is used to indicate a rum that is made from sugarcane juice, but this isn't universal. In fact, not much is universal for rum. It's produced in so many different countries that there isn't really a unified system for categorizing it or standardizing ABV or aging designations. One way to infer some things about various rums is to look at where they are from, as each Caribbean island has its own style. But here are some basics:

Light or White Rums are colorless, unaged rums. They lack the depth of flavor of aged rums, but have a sweet, subtle flavor. Puerto Rico is one of the biggest producers of light rums, and is home to the well-known brand Bacardi.

Gold or Amber Rums get their color from aging in barrels, often charred oak whiskey barrels. They are medium-bodied, not as full in flavor as dark rums. There is no standard for how long a rum must be aged to receive a certain designation.

Dark or Black Rums are, as the name suggests, dark in color. They are also aged longer than other rums, often in charred oak barrels. This extended aging gives them an intense flavor that brings out the notes of molasses and caramel. These rums can be sipped like good scotch, though many are finding their way into cocktails. Major producers include Jamaica, Martinique, Haiti, and Guyana.

Spiced Rums as flavored with added spices such as vanilla, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon. They are often dark or gold rums.

Flavored Rums are flavored with fruits such as banana, mango, pineapple, or coconut. Sometimes spiced rum is considered part of this category.

Overproof Rums are rums that are over 40% ABV (so, basically what you want to use if you want to set your cocktail on fire). Though my mind went immediately to ill-conceived Bacardi 151 cocktails, there are some very good overproof rums that are used in carefully-crafted tiki drinks.

Cacha├ža is a Brazilian spirit made from sugar cane juice that is essentially the same thing as rhum agricole. It technically falls under the category of rum, but is given a special appellation based on its Brazilian origin.

So what about mixing different rums in tiki drinks? Let's go back to the Jet Pilot. I'm not positive what the bartender at Backbar used, but Frederic Yarm of Cocktail Virgin Slut, another Boston bartender, includes Meyer's Dark Rum, Lemon Hart Demerara 151 Rum, and Ron Pampero Aniversario Rum. Meyer's is an aged dark rum from Jamaica that retains a lot of its molasses flavor. Lemon Hart 151 is an aged overproof rum from Guyana that has an intense flavor of burnt caramel and dark fruits. And Ron Pampero Aniversario is also an aged rum, but with a lighter flavor, and comes from Venezuela. I haven't tried any of them individually, but just reading about their flavor profiles I can see how blending all three could yield a very different taste than using just one.

All this is pretty bit intimidating for someone who usually has just two bottles of rum on her shelf. That's why I really appreciated this article from Eater in which Jeff "Beachbum" Berry of New Orleans' Latitude 29 lists the six rums you need to make tiki cocktails. The only six, he claims. I can handle six. (I think. Let's see how much they cost.)

But for now, I'm visiting family in New Orleans and looking forward to a trip to Latitude 29 tonight. I'll let you know how it goes!

See you next week for #NationalWaffleDay!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dillionaire

Dillionaire

I came across the Dillionaire while looking for recipes that used Bittermen's Boston Bittahs. When I saw the ingredients, I knew I had to try it. Any recipe that mixes Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur with fresh dill has got to be interesting. Plus, an adorable name? Sold.

Dill is not something you see in cocktails very often. Or in anything else, for that matter. I've only used it once in my entire life, when I made pickles. But a small packet of dill seeds came with a set of herb seeds I bought, and I figured why not plant them? I'd find a use for a dill, or else just make a bunch more pickles. I didn't expect it to end up in a cocktail, but I'm glad to put my little shrub of dill to good use.

I had to make some substitutions in order to pull this one together. I don't have any tonic syrup and wasn't really ready to spring for a bottle, so I replaced the 1/2 oz. tonic syrup and 3 oz. club soda with 3 1/2 oz. tonic water (Fever Tree). I also don't have Hendricks Gin, so I used Wire Works. Finally, I don't have Cocchi Americano, so I substituted Lillet. I don't think any of these changes affected the final cocktail too grievously.

The Dillionaire has a decidedly savory flavor and aroma. The tonic and dill flavors comes in strong at first, but then give way to sweetness in the middle of your sip. That's when you taste the maraschino liqueur and the chamomile. Then it's all bitterness. A really complex, interesting cocktail. And very refreshing! It's a really unique twist on your average Gin & Tonic.

History: The Dillionaire was invented by Nick Caruana, who writes the awesome cocktail blog The Straight Up - be sure to check it out. I want him to teach me how he takes those awesome cocktail photos.

Dillionaire

2 oz. gin (Hendricks recommended)
1/2 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 oz. Cocchi Americano (I used Lillet)
1/2 oz. lime juice
2 droppers Bittermen's Boston Bittahs
3 slices cucumber, 1 reserved for garnish
3 sprigs dill, 1 reserved for garnish
3 1/2 oz. tonic water

Place two cucumber slices and two sprigs of dill in the bottom of a shaker. Add Luxardo and muddle. Add Cocci Americano, gin, one dropper of Bittermen's, lime juice, and ice. Shake until well chilled. Double-strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Add tonic water and the second dropper of Boston Bittahs. Garnish with the remaining cucumber slice and sprig of dill.

Recipe adapted from The Straight Up.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

French Maid

French Maid

I've been on a ginger beer kick lately. One ginger beer cocktail tends to lead to another, especially when you buy it in a large bottle or six-pack. Loathe to let a mixer go to waste, I was flipping through The PDT Cocktail Book and came across the French Maid. I was a bit skeptical about mixing my nice Cognac with a can of Goslings, but I'm glad I did. Herbal and sweet with a hint of spice, this cocktail is delicious and incredibly refreshing. There's something beautiful about the way the flavors work together. I think you need the Cognac to really make it perfect. You could certainly use whiskey or rum and probably still make a darn good drink, but it wouldn't have the delicate sophistication of the French Maid.

I think this is the first cocktail I've written about that uses Velvet Falernum (pronounced fah-LEHR-num, if you were wondering). This is a spiced syrup that is most often used in Caribbean-style cocktails and tiki drinks. It has flavors of almond, citrus, cloves, and other spices. The taste is fairly subtle, especially when mixed with other ingredients, but it really adds an extra depth of flavor to a cocktail. Interestingly, you can buy alcoholic or non-alcoholic versions. The non-alcoholic sort is basically a flavored syrup. Fee Brothers makes one that should be pretty easy to find. But the variety I see used most often is John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum. It's basically a very low-proof rum infused with sugar and spices, made in Barbados.

French Maid

History: Jim Meehan created this cocktail in 2008. It's based on the Kentucky Maid, which uses bourbon and foregoes the Falernum.

French Maid

1.5 oz. Cognac
3/4 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1/4 oz. Velvet Falernum
1 oz. ginger beer
4 cucumber slices, 1 reserved for garnish
4-6 mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish

Muddle cucumber, mint, and simple syrup in the bottom of a shaker. Add Cognac, lime juice, Velvet Falernum, and ice. Shake until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with ginger beer and stir gently. Garnish with a cucumber slice and a sprig of mint.

Recipe adapted from The PDT Cocktail Book.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Gin-Campari Old Fashioned

Gin-Campari Old Fashioned

I'm not crazy about the name of this cocktail. I guess it is technically an Old Fashioned: spirits, sugar, and bitters. But it's so different from the typical Old Fashioned that a unique name wouldn't have gone amiss.

A friend of mine made this cocktail for me after looking for something with gin and Campari to please a Negroni skeptic. It was a perfect choice, as he had also recently bought a bottle of GrandTen's Wire Works Gin and wanted us to taste it. This gin-forward cocktail did a great job of showing it off. One sip and I was converted; the fact that it's made locally in Boston only helped. I've almost gone through an entire bottle since.

The Gin-Campari Old Fashioned is a bit unusual. You begin by muddling a slice of lemon zest with simple syrup, Campari, grapefruit bitters, and salt. Yes, salt - the first time I've seen it used outside of a Margarita rim, but it's just a pinch and it works. Add your gin and ice, stir, and enjoy. The flavor is sweet and bitter citrus. It's a perfect summertime aperitif, and a great warm-weather substitute for an Old Fashioned. It will definitely be influenced by what gin you choose, so give it a try with your favorite.

History: The Gin-Campari Old Fashioned was created by Dave Kwiatkowski at The Sugar House in Detroit.

Gin-Campari Old Fashioned

2 oz. gin
1 tsp. Campari
1 tsp. demerara simple syrup (I used regular)
3 dashes grapefruit bitters
1 scant pinch fine sea salt
1 long strip lemon zest

In an Old Fashioned glass, muddle lemon zest with Campari, simple syrup, grapefruit bitters, and sea salt. Add one or two large pieces of ice and gin. Stir well.

Recipe from Food & Wine.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Coal Miner's Daughter

Coal Miner's Daughter

Full disclosure: I chose this recipe for the lavender garnish. I'm not ashamed to admit it. It's just so pretty. Lately I've really been appreciating how much a fragrant herb garnish can do for a cocktail, and I was eager to find out what lavender would do for this one. And honestly? I think it's pretty transformative. The base of this cocktail - bourbon, honey, and lemon - is basically a Gold Rush. The ginger syrup adds a bit of spice and extra citrus, but it's that whiff of sweet, floral lavender that makes the Coal Miner's Daughter something special.

Incidentally, lavender is something I am not growing on my balcony, so I snatched some from a neighbor's front yard. I know, I know. But they have tons of it. Maybe I should go back over there and offer them a cocktail?

Coal Miner's Daughter

I made this recipe last week, while Food52 was having an Instagram contest for cold cocktails, so I snapped a photo and tagged it. It didn't get much attention at the time, but yesterday they included it in a roundup of 10 photos from the contest! Since I'm still pretty new to this whole cocktail photography thing, I was quite flattered.

History: The Coal Miner's Daughter was invented by Derrick Bass for Willie Jane in Los Angeles. This article talks about Bass' cocktail menu, and made me want to fly to Los Angeles just for a drink.

Coal Miner's Daughter

Coal Miner's Daughter

1 1/2 oz. bourbon
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. honey
1 tsp. ginger simple syrup*
1 sprig lavender

Combine all ingredients except lavender in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled. Strain into an old fashioned glass with one large ice cube. Garnish with a sprig of lavender. Congratulations, you've struck gold.

*For ginger simple syrup, peel and slice a 1-inch piece of fresh ginger and simmer it in equal parts water and sugar for 10-15 minutes. Let cool and strain. It looks like the original recipe may have used macerated ginger, which is a little more complicated. This site has a recipe if you want to try it out.

Recipe from Liquor.com.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bottle Buy: Pimm's No. 1

Pimm's No. 1

Pimm's No. 1 is a very British liqueur. I think I first learned of it from a friend who spent time in London, and everyone I've met since who has been there fondly considers Pimm's a cultural mainstay of the UK. By the time I visited myself, it wasn't all that surprising to see it on menus, because these days it's not hard to find a Pimm's Cup in American bars.

Pimm's is a gin-based liqueur infused with botanicals and spices, and it has a long history. Its inventor was James Tee Pimm, a theologist-turned-shellfish-monger who opened an oyster bar in London in 1823. He quickly became a successful restauranteur. He invented Pimm's as a health tonic and/or a cocktail to accompany his oysters - I've heard both. It was a huge success, and Pimm began bottling and selling it all over the British Empire. He expanded from there, creating the No. 2 Cup (a Scotch base), the No. 3 Cup (a brandy base), and so on up all the way to No. 6 (vodka). Only No. 1 survives, though Pimm's has released versions of the others as special seasonal bottles.

Pimm's will admittedly not be the most versatile thing on your bar, but it's a fun ingredient to experiment with. It does pop up in craft cocktail recipes every now and then. It's the main ingredient in one of my favorite cocktails, the Battle of Trafalgar, which I'll share the recipe for soon.

Pimm's No. 1

Price: $25
Alcohol content: 25%
Popular cocktails: Pimm's Cup

Pimm's Cup

The Pimm's Cup is the quintissential Pimm's cocktail, and there are many variations.  In England, it's made with sparkling lemonade, which is not very common in the United States, so here it's often made with ginger ale or lemon-lime soda. Often those are the only two ingredients, and it may be garnished with just a single cucumber wheel. But the true British version includes cucumber and a variety of fresh fruits. The Pimm's website recommends mint, orange, strawberries, and cucumber. I usually like to follow the most original and authentic recipe, but when I saw this one on Bon Appetit I couldn't pass it up. If nothing else, it was an excuse to use not one, not two, but three of the herbs from my patio garden, and ginger beer seems like a fine alternative for sparkling lemonade. If you're lacking one or two ingredients, it's ok - it is an awful lot of stuff - but the scent of the herbs as you take each sip is what elevates the flavor of this cocktail. It's an amazingly refreshing summer drink, and a particularly good cocktail for guests before a barbecue or dinner outdoors.

Pimm's Cup

History: So far, I can't really separate the origin of the Pimm's Cup cocktail from the origin of Pimm's itself. Did James Tee Pimm serve his liqueur with sparkling lemonade and fruit? Or did that come about later on? I'll keep trying to figure it out. But the liqueur itself is inextricably associated with this one cocktail. Even the names are difficult to tell apart.

The Pimm's Cup is the iconic drink for summer sporting events in England, including Wimbledon and the Henley Royal Regatta. It has also, somewhat surprisingly, become associated with New Orleans, and particularly the Napoleon House bar. Sometime in the 1940's, its proprietor decided that the Pimm's Cup would be an excellent cocktail to serve in the southern heat. And he was right.

Pimm's Cup

Pimm's Cup

3 1/2 inch slices cucumber
3 oz. Pimm's No. 1
1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. simple syrup
3-4 oz. ginger beer
1 sprig mint
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 lemon slice
1 cucumber spear
2 strawberries, halved

Muddle cucumbers in a shaker. Add Pimm's, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Fill shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a Pilsner glass filled with ice. Fill glass with ginger beer and stir gently. Push lemon, strawberries, cucumber, and herbs into glass. Cheers.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Mojito

Mojito

Is there any cocktail as positively refreshing as a Mojito? It's so perfect for a hot summer afternoon. Of course, after I made these, the sky darkened like the apocalypse was beginning and golfball-sized hail began to fall from the sky. I was luckily dry and safe inside, but the Mojito felt a bit incongruous. At least if I had run out of ice, there was plenty collecting on my balcony.

I really developed a taste for Mojitos when some friends of mine made it a tradition to serve them whenever they had a party. They'd either mix up a big batch or just leave the tools and ingredients out along with their recipe. I liked that because I got to find out just how they made them, and I've used their recipe ever since. I've got tons of mint growing on my balcony, and Mojitos seem like a great way to make use of it. Especially when hailstones are pre-muddling it for me.

History: The Mojito was born in Cuba. As with many classic cocktails, there are many possible stories to explain its origin, and the best one is probably not true, but it involves pirates and dysentery, so I have to tell it anyway. In 1586, during the Anglo-Spanish War, Sir Francis Drake captured the Spanish city of Cartagena de Indias in present-day Colombia for the English. His men occupied the city for two months before sailing on towards Havana. On the way, they were stricken with dysentery and scurvy. They had heard that the indigenous tribes of the region had remedies for such sicknesses, so some of the crew went ashore on Cuba to ask the local people for help. They returned with, well, Mojitos: lime, sugarcane juice, mint, and a spirit made from sugarcane called aguardiente de cana. And, sure enough, it helped. It was probably just the lime juice that really did anything, but the rest of the cocktail couldn't have hurt. The drink spread throughout Cuba and beyond, known as El Draque after Drake. Interestingly, Drake is referred to as a pirate by the Spanish and a knight by the English - at first I thought I was confusing two different men.

Another version of this story claims that after Drake's invasion of Havana failed, the El Draque was invented in his honor by one of his crew members, Richard Drake. Richard was a former member of Parliament and possibly a distant relative of Francis. I feel like this version of the story needs more details; I just imagine Francis moping in his cabin, staring at a crumpled map of Cuba, when Richard bursts in and brightly exclaims "I made cocktails!"

Francis and Richard Drake
         "Bummer about Havana. Wanna go invade Florida?"                                      "Not now, dude, I just made Mojitos."

Whether or not Francis and Richard actually got their drink on in Havana, Cubans probably were making something similar to a Mojito around this time, particularly workers and farmers. Early rum didn't taste all that good, and mint, lime, and sugarcane juice were amply available mixers to improve its flavor. The aguardiente de cana was replaced by Bacardi rum in the 1800's, and somebody threw some seltzer in there as well. But it was probably around the time of Prohibition that the Mojito left the realm of rural moonshine and entered the bars and restaurants of Havana. The first reference to the entire recipe comes from a pamphlet of cocktail recipes from Sloppy Joe's Bar in Havana from 1931.

As for the name "Mojito," no one is certain when it got changed or even what it means. It may refer to mojo, a lime seasoning used in Cuba, or it may be a diminutization of the word mojado, meaning wet. I've also heard that it comes from an African word, mojo, meaning "to place a little spell," but that doesn't seem very well supported. Which is a shame, because that's just what a Mojito does.

Mojito

2 oz. white rum
1 half lime, quartered
8-10 mint leaves
3/4 oz. simple syrup or 1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
1/3 cup club soda (2.5-3 oz.)

Put lime quarters, mint leaves, and simple syrup in the bottom of a rocks glass. Muddle well, until mint is bruised and limes are juiced. Add rum. Fill glass with ice and top with club soda. Stir briefly. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

White Bean Hummus

White Bean Hummus

Yes, I have a food recipe for you today, but don't worry - if you were dying for a cocktail, there's a slew of positively awesome recipes over at Feu de Vie's Mixology Monday roundup. I was pretty bummed not to have time to participate in this one (I had that pesky thesis to write), because the theme was Ice, Ice Baby. The idea was to create a cocktail that features a particular usage of ice, and the results are super creative. I particularly want to try the Coconaut Flaming Re-Entry from Nihil Utopia, because it sounds delicious and you get to light it on fire. Pete at Meticulous Mixing also discusses the secret to perfectly clear ice, something I eventually want to try to achieve. Check it out!

In the meantime, I hope you're hungry, because I've got a great a snack recipe for you: white bean hummus. I've always thought hummus was just "ok," but that was before I tried the homemade kind. My husband grew up next door to a woman from Cyprus who makes amazing Greek food, and her hummus positively blew me away. I asked her for the recipe, but she said there wasn't one. Instead, she had me over and showed me how to make it. I took careful notes. But when I tried to make it myself, it wasn't quite the same. I couldn't get it as creamy as hers. I always ended up with hard chunks of chickpea. Maybe I need a better food processor, or softer chickpeas.

White Bean Hummus

Or maybe another bean entirely? I recently wondered if white beans might be more conducive to smooth, creamy hummus. And it turns out the answer is yes. This white bean hummus is everything I could have hoped for, and I didn't even use any tahini. It's easy and quick, and pretty healthy. I'm not usually crazy about counting calories (obviously, given how many cocktails I drink), but it was easy to do the math on this one: 1/4 of of the recipe is about 250 calories (most of that is olive oil). Plus whatever you choose to dip in it, of course. I sprayed a skillet with a little olive oil and heated a couple of flour tortillas until they turned brown. Once they cool they get nice and crunchy. But I also love it with cucumber slices.

White Bean Hummus

White Bean Hummus

1 15.5 oz. can white beans/cannellini
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tbsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until very smooth. Taste and adjust garlic, lemon juice, or spices as needed. Transfer to a bowl and top with paprika, pepper, or another spice and chopped fresh parsley. Serve with veggies or flatbread for dipping.

Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis.

Monday, August 3, 2015

#42

#42

When we first bought our apartment, one of the things I was the most excited about was the balcony. After living in a place with no natural light where every plant I tried to cultivate withered and died, I couldn't wait to grow some herbs and veggies outside. The first warm weekend of the spring, I went out and bought all kinds of herbs and seeds. It started reasonably enough: five little pots of herbs and a rectangular planter of tomato seedlings. When nothing died, I transplanted the herbs into bigger pots and planted some more seeds. Those sprouted, and my tomatoes made fruit. So I added zucchini, eggplant, and some more herbs.

Now I basically have a jungle on my balcony. It has definitely gotten out of hand. Buying pots got expensive, so I started swiping plastic pots out of neighbors' trash cans. It literally takes gallons to water everything. I may have a problem. But I love going right outside for fresh herbs, and it's so exciting seeing new veggies appear. Next year I might try building some planter boxes so the jumble of pots isn't so chaotic.

#42

When I participated in my first Mixology Monday, I invented a cocktail I called the Perfect 10 that included Bittermen's Boston Bittahs, which have flavors of citrus and chamomile. I commented that the best garnish for the cocktail would have been chamomile flowers but, and I quote, "who has those just lying around?"

I'll tell you who: crazy potted plant lady. Days after I wrote that post, I bought some chamomile seeds, and I now have a steady supply of chamomile flowers! I made this recipe specifically for a chance to use them, but boy am I glad I tried it. It is just lovely. A basic gin martini recipe is made unforgettable by the addition of a bit of honey simple syrup and a dash of Boston Bittahs. It's just a little sweet, with beautiful notes of honey and chamomile. It's one of the best new recipes I've tried in a while.

If you don't have a bottle of Boston Bittahs, I think this could be a nice recipe to showcase other flavors as well. For example, orange bitters plus an orange twist.

History: The #42 was invented at the Hungry Mother in Cambridge, MA, which is now closed. But I think the same folks opened State Park, which is a great place.

#42

2.5 oz. gin (Greylock recommended, I used Wire Works)
1/4 oz. dry vermouth
1/4 oz. honey simple syrup*
1 dash Bittermen's Boston Bittahs

Combine ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into a coupe glass. Twist a lemon peel over the cocktail and rub along the sides. Garnish with the lemon twist or discard and garnish with chamomile flowers.

*Honey simple syrup = equal parts honey and water. Heat in a saucepan or in the microwave until honey is dissolved. Let cool before using. Store in the refrigerator.

Recipe adapted from the Hungry Mother via Bittermen's.