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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mocktail: Strawberry Balsamic Lemonade

Strawberry Balsamic Lemonade

This week's big baby-related activity was stroller shopping. We went to a little boutique baby store in Brookline because we heard they had a good selection of the brands we were interested in. We'd walked about three steps into the store when we were pounced upon by an eager employee looking to help us. As an introvert and cheapskate, I generally prefer to shop by myself rather than having someone hover over me, but since this was a whole new world for us, we reluctantly told this smiling woman - Pattie - what we were looking for.

All I can say is, thank God for Pattie. Strollers and carseats are complicated. There is no way my husband and I would have been able to figure out which strollers were compatible with which carseats, which ones came with toddler seats, which ones needed adapters, etc. You would think that between the two of us, a PhD and an MD, we would be able to at least figure out how to fold a stroller frame, but we were still fumbling with most of them after the third time Pattie showed us how to do it. And let's not even get into carseat installation. There's never been a time in pregnancy when I was more in need of a drink.

Strawberry Balsamic Lemonade

Alas, the hard stuff is still eleven weeks away, but at least I can make a refreshing mocktail to banish a bit of the summer heat and unwind post-stroller shopping. I've been seeing far too many beautiful strawberries around not to have them end up in a glass somehow. This is a pretty simple recipe, but it's quite tasty and the color is stunning. Muddled strawberry and basil brighten up an average cup of lemonade, and a syrup made with balsamic vinegar gives it a beautiful depth and tang. It's a wonderful summer drink.

As for the stroller saga, it's not over yet... this weekend we're headed to Babies 'R' Us to look some more. Pray for me.

Strawberry Balsamic Lemonade

Strawberry Balsamic Lemonade

2 strawberries, sliced
6 basil leaves
1 oz. balsamic syrup*
1 1/2 oz. lemon juice
5 oz. club soda

Combine strawberries, basil, and balsamic syrup in the bottom of a shaker or mixing glass and muddle to bruise the basil and release the juices of the strawberries. Add the lemon juice and a few ice cubes and stir briefly to chill and dilute. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with club soda and stir gently to combine. Garnish with a fanned strawberry and some basil leaves.

*For balsamic syrup, combine equal parts water, sugar, and balsamic vinegar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool completely before using. Also good on salads!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mocktail: Toasted Coconut Iced Chai

Toasted Coconut Iced Chai

They say that if you crave sweets during your pregnancy, you're going to have a girl. Well, me and the little boy I've been lugging around in my belly are here to tell you that this is patently false. If I could eat nothing but cake, muffins, and ice cream until October, I'd be perfectly happy. I've had to stop keeping chocolate chips in the house because I will eat the entire bag long before they end up in any sort of baked goods. I recently discovered Halo Top ice cream, which is incredibly low-calorie, but I'm basically doing my best to negate that by shoveling my way through pints of it. I can't say I've had any real, specific pregnancy "cravings," but I've definitely got a penchant for sweet stuff at the moment. Don't worry, I eat healthy meals the rest of the time, and my weight gain is somehow miraculously on track. But doctors recommend you eat about 300 extra calories a day during pregnancy, and if I'm being honest, mine probably comes mostly from dessert.

Toasted Coconut Iced Chai

So it was only a matter of time before I allowed this penchant for sugar to bleed over into my mocktail creations. I suppose this iced chai isn't technically a mocktail, in that it's not imitating any sort of cocktail, but since it is nonalcoholic I'm going to stick with the nomenclature I've been using. I don't remember exactly where I got the idea, but I think I was fantasizing about toasted coconut and whipped cream and decided that I needed to come up with a drink topped with both. I was going to do hot chocolate, but it's a bit warm for that. So iced chai it was. I experimented with sprinkling the whipped cream with Demerara sugar and flaming it with a crème brûlée torch, which left a sweet and crunchy crust on the top. It's hard to see in the photos under all the toasted coconut, but it was a really delicious addition.

Toasted Coconut Iced Chai

Despite all my talk about sugary desserts, this concoction is surprisingly refreshing and perfectly sweet-but-not-too-sweet. The coconut flavor is fairly subtle, maybe even moreso than I'd like, but it was all so delicious that I decided not to do too much more experimenting. Assembling all the parts is a bit time-consuming but completely worth it. I mean, look at this thing. It is so. good.

Booze it up: Some coconut rum could be really delicious in here! You could also try aged rum or whiskey.

Toasted Coconut Iced Chai

Toasted Coconut Iced Chai

6 oz. cold chai tea (I used Tazo)
1/4 cup milk
2 tbsp. toasted coconut syrup
Coconut whipped cream, demerara sugar, and toasted coconut for topping

For toasted coconut: Heat a skillet over medium heat on the stove and add the desired amount of unsweetened coconut flakes. Stir and flip the coconut continuously - once it starts to brown, it will happen fast. Once the coconut is as toasted as you'd like, transfer it to a bowl.

For toasted coconut syrup: Combine 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, and 2 tbsp. toasted coconut in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let simmer on medium-low for five minutes. Let cool, then strain out the coconut.

For coconut whipped cream: Pour 1 cup heavy cream or whipping cream into a bowl. Begin to whip with the whisk attachment of an electric mixer. When the cream begins to thicken, add 2 tbsp. of the coconut syrup. Continue to whip until the cream reached your desired consistency.

To assemble the drink: Combine chai tea and toasted coconut syrup in a mason jar or other tall glass and stir to combine. Add ice and milk. Top with whipped cream. If you want to brulee the top, keep the whipped cream level with the top of the glass and sprinkle it with Demerara sugar. Then briefly flame the sugar using a creme brulee torch, until it is melted and crystallized. White sugar works similarly but will not show; brown sugar tends to burn, so I would avoid it. Whether you brulee the top or not, sprinkle it with toasted coconut and serve with a straw.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mocktail: Fruit Cup

Fruit Cup

When I think of perfect summer cocktails, one of the first things that comes to mind is a Pimm's Cup. (Seriously, look.) This refreshing mixture of Pimm's No. 1, sparkling lemonade or ginger ale, and tons of fresh fruit and herbs is easy to make and perfect for drinking in the heat. It's sort of the sole surviving member of a popular category of cocktails, the fruit cups. While today those two words evoke thoughts of syrupy chunks of pineapple and pear in little plastic tubs, they were once used to describe alcoholic punches made with spirits, spices, and lots of fruit, particularly popular in Britain. Pimm's is essentially a bottled fruit cup mixer, and it has remained popular enough to stand the test of time. But fruit cups can be made with any kind of spirit, and don't have to contain Pimm's at all.

In honor of Wimbledon this week (the #1 excuse to drink a fruit cup - they are to Wimbledon what the Mint Julep is to the Kentucky Derby), Instagrammer and fellow cocktail enthusiast Matt (@theamateurmixologist) has challenged some cocktail Instagrammers to make variations on the classic fruit cup. You can check out their creations by searching the #sippingwimbledon hashtag!

Fruit Cup

While others are sure to get extremely creative with their fruit cups (there was talk of including things like coffee, burnt cinnamon, and Dubonnet), I gave myself a different challenge: to get as close to a classic Pimm's Cup as possible without using Pimm's (or any alcohol, for that matter). This turned out to be an extremely educational exercise. Picking up subtle flavors in liqueurs and spirits can be a challenge, and reconstructing them even moreso. I poured myself a tablespoon of Pimm's for research purposes and got to work.

Fruit Cup

The first thing I notice with Pimm's is the strong scent of bitter citrus, and this carries over into the sip. For this, I thought, a couple of dashes of orange bitters might do, along with some fresh oranges in the cup. Of course, as I've discussed before, bitters do contain alcohol, but they're used in such small amounts that it's not a concern when it comes to most reasons you'd opt for a mocktail (pregnancy, designated driver, etc). Other flavors I get when I sip Pimm's are sweetness, spice, and something a lot like cola, actually. So I brought in some Cocktail & Sons Spiced Demerara Syrup (last seen last week) and a splash of Coke. On the advice of some other non-alcoholic Pimm's Cup recipes, I also added a bit of balsamic vinegar, which somehow seemed to bind all the flavors together.

The result, when combined with the usual ginger ale and a splash of lemon, was surprisingly close to the real thing! Especially once I added the elaborate garnish (cucumber, strawberry, orange, mint, thyme, and rosemary). This is really a perfect mocktail to serve alongside actual Pimm's Cups at your next summer party so that your non-drinking friends don't feel left out. You could even pre-batch the mocktail ingredients so that all you have to do is add ginger ale and lemon, just like you'll be doing for your Pimm's Cups.

Fruit Cup

Since this summer drink is best enjoyed outside, we took our Fruit Cups onto the patio. It was a great excuse to break in* our new GoVino cups - plastic, shatterproof cocktail glasses made for outdoor sipping. They sent me a pack of their whiskey glasses, and they're perfect for drinks on our balcony. Between a slightly wobbly table and an occasionally overzealous little dog at our feet, it's nice to know we're not drinking out of anything breakable!

*In truth, this is the second time we've used the GoVino cups - my husband had some friends up to the balcony for bourbon and cigars after our crawfish boil a few weeks ago, and since they'd already been drinking for much of the day, I thought it prudent to equip them with shatterproof drinking vessels.

Fruit Cup

Fruit Cup

1/2 oz. Cocktail & Sons Spiced Demerara Syrup
1/4 oz. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 dashes orange bitters
1 oz. cola
6 oz. ginger ale
Sliced strawberries, oranges, and cucumber
Fresh herbs such as mint, rosemary, and thyme

Combine Demerara syrup, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, orange bitters, and cola in the bottom of your glass. Swirl or stir briefly to combine. Add a few large ice cubes and top with ginger ale. Give it one more brief stir. Garnish with sliced fruit and herbs - the ones here are just a suggestion, so go nuts!