Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Flirting with Flora: Hibiscus

Flowers. To be sure, not an ingredient that many folks think of when the subject of cookery or cocktails comes up, other than as a particularly fancy garnish item perhaps. But the often-refreshing complexities that so many varieties of edible flora can offer when paired with food or spirits can be nearly limitless in their possibilities:

If you fancy tea at all, you've doubtlessly enjoyed a cup of Chamomile now & again. And what would our much-beloved Gin be without its wide array of botanicals - many of which are floral in nature? Or, to a further degree, what of the wonderfully-delicate flavors of Rosewater, Parfait Amour, Creme de Violette, or Elderflower Liqueur? Yet, as the links above should indicate, a great many quality mixologists here on the Interweb have covered these topics quite thoroughly in their past writings, with one peculiar exception: Hibiscus.

This beautiful flower, also known as rosemallow or roselle, is a fairly common addition to many herbal teas and is quite often compounded into a tisane all by itself. It posesses a dry, discernably floral aroma & a bright, clean flavor not entirely dissimilar to an unsweetened Cranberry juice. I was first introduced to a cold Hibiscus tisane, known as Jamaica (sometimes Yamaica) by former co-workers of mine from Oaxaca, where the tart drink - sans alcohol - is quite popular.

Now, Jamaica (pronounced Ya-mai-ca, by the way) is incredibly cheap & simple to prepare (look for it in Hispanic or Caribbean groceries), and makes an excellent mixer, as a certain Flighty mixologist will attest (OK, so I lied, one other person has discussed this stuff). But, this is certainly not the only use Hibiscus, and the floral qualities it imparts, can have in mixology. Enter another topic near & dear to my heart: syrups, in this case the oh-so-rarified Pomegranate Grenadine.

A quintessential mixer in a wide variety of drinks, real Grenadine is an invaluable ingredient for adding a touch of sweetness, color and its own touch of refreshing favor on which other elements of a cocktail may be highlighted. Some great recipes for making it at home abound, but I wondered how I might add something new to this already well-covered matter. Simple - incorporate a touch of Hibiscus to one's Grenadine, like so (©):

Hibiscus Grenadine
2 Cups: white Sugar
1 Cup: Water
¼ Cup: dried Hibiscus flowers
1 whole Pomegranate, seeded
In a saucepan, bring the sugar & water to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the Pomegranate seeds & Hibiscus flowers and simmer on medium heat for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool then strain by preferred method (cheesecloth, strainer, &c.), add an (optional) ounce of vodka as a preservative & bottle.

Enjoy it almost anywhere you would normal Grenadine, or in a (©):

Jacquemot Cocktail
1½ oz. Laird's 100º Bonded Apple Brandy
¾ oz. fresh Lemon juice
¼ oz. fresh Lime juice
1½ Teaspoons: Hibiscus Grenadine
Shake well with cracked ice & strain into a cocktail glass.

As many astute readers will doubtlessly notice, this cocktail is merely a riff on the classic Jack Rose, but between the choice in spirit (a mild Calvados works passably also), the use of both Lemon & Lime (which really smooths out the wrinkles often present in the JR) and the floral notes of the Hibiscus, it becomes a whole different bit of fauna...

Cheers & Enjoy!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Swizzle Solution

So there you are, nice & comfortable, skimming the pages of a dusty cocktail book in print before your parents were born. The author, some Trader fellow named Vic, is going on about all sorts of great-sounding drinks. Lots of one’s you’ve heard of, even a few you’ve made before – Punches, Sours, Fizzes, Swizzles…hang on a ‘tic…a what now? Swizzle..?! In examining the recipes, further details present themselves: “swizzling” appears to be a technique, taking the place of stirring maybe? But wait, our author offers an explanation on the idea:

“[…] a word about swizzling. I think it’s a hell of an idea. You get your drink and stir it with a spoon but you don’t get the proper dilution to make it taste good. With your pet swizzler you work it up and down in the drink between the palms of your hands and you get a good chill on the drink and the proper dilution of any strong drink.” (p 51)

Sounds great! Now where does one get a 'pet swizzle', eh? As it occasionally does, the Internet proves little use, offering up piles of garnish items called stir or swizzle sticks – little kitschy bits of plastic you occasionally get in a drink here or there – but that’s not the animal Vic was talking about.

The swizzle stick which our esteemed Trader discuses is a fairly common tool throughout the Caribbean islands & other tropical regions. It is really just a stick, grown from the Quaraibea Turbinate plant – which is native to (& only available on) many of the southern islands like Jamaica, Martinique & Grenada. All well & good if you live in that part of the world, but for whatever reason these handy little twigs are not exported beyond their native climates. What's a cocktail geek to do?

Well, as this convoluted narrative was how I came across the whole idea, I should probably stop rambling and share the three solutions I know to exist:

1. Use those frequent flier miles & hit up an island market – but wait, I’m fresh out of those.
2. Use a round-shafted spoon in an approximation of the swizzling technique – but this doesn’t work so well.
3. Use the directions what follow to make your own pet swizzle:

Here’s How:

1. Buy a long-handled wooden kitchen spoon (or ransack the kitchen drawer for one)*.
2. Procure a few short bamboo skewers (they come in a box of about a billion).
3. Trim the spoon end off of the shaft (if you'd like a light muddler on one end of the swizzle, leave a ¼" of the spoon on) with a saw.
4. Trim the skewers down to approximately 1" in length with a saw or clippers.
5. Select a drill bit one size smaller than the skewers you intend to use as the fit has to be very tight**.
6. Center the bit & drill your first hole ⅛" from one end of the handle.
7. Use anything that forms a right angle (t-square, protractor, &c) to line the bit up at a 90º angle to the first hole & drill a second hole about ⅛" from the first one.
8. Carefully tap the skewers into the holes - go slowly & try to make them even on both sides of the handle.
9. Round any edges off the skewers & handle with a file or fine-grit sandpaper.
10. Wash the whole thing in a dishwasher/by hand and coat with mineral oil such as you would a muddler***.
10a. Smile and whip up a:

Queen’s Park Swizzle
3 oz. Demerara Rum (preferably 86º)
2 Teaspoons: Demerara Simple Syrup
Juice of ½ fresh Lime
7-9 fresh Mint leaves
3 heavy dashes Angostura bitters
Clap the mint to release oils & juice the lime.

Combine ingredients (including spent lime shell) in a chimney glass. Fill with crushed ice & swizzle until frost forms on outside of glass. Add more crushed ice if desired, garnish with a fresh mint sprig & serve with a straw.

...and smile again.

A few remarks about the instructions above:
*Don't use dowels from the craft/hardware store as these are generally treated with unsavory chemicals; food-grade wood only.
**Don't use glue or varnish, lest it wear down or dissolve off into a drink.
***Be sure to treat you new pet swizzle with mineral oil just as you would your pet muddler as this will prolong its useful life immensely.

Cheers & Enjoy!

Thursday, May 8, 2008


For as long as the Mixology Mondays event has been around and as much as I've followed the wonderful creations it spawns, I had never thought that I might attempt to add one of my own creations to the queue. Yet, with encouragement (& remarkably patient advice) from the fantastic folks over at Married with Dinner, here goes:

MxMo XXVII: RUM! is, quite appropriately, being hosted this month by the folks over at TraderTiki, a lovely bastion of all things Rum & Tiki. They requested a concoction, preferably original, which creatively utilizes the noble spirit itself and I should like to oblige, alongside a look at the construction of my libation.

We’ll start with three things you may or may not know about yours truly (I am new to this after all):
1. I am quite the rum-hound (The volume of rum-related links on this page should cue you to that).
2. I love spicy stuff (The volume of spices tossed about in recipes here should cue you to that too).
3. I am a big Tom Waits fan (Ok, I’ll ‘splain that one in just a moment).

Being well aware of these elements of my personality already, I got to thinking one day as I sipped a Dark & Stormy, about how the flavors of Cardamom and Ginger – perhaps because of their similarities – play so well together. Another sip brought further consideration on how good a foil Rum can be for the potential heat of such spices – reducing their potency to a pleasantly slow-building overall flavor. Now ginger beer I’ve made before, by both
fermentation & syrup-methods, but in my somewhat-limited homebrewing experience, spices like Cardamom can be tricky to incorporate as a primary flavor element. Syrup method it is…now for the rum:

In this case the dark, molasses-heavy flavor of Gosling’s is perfect against a good Bermuda-style ginger beer – which is lighter both in color & character than its Jamaican cousins. As I developed the new drink, I reasoned that a reversal of these characteristics was in order - heavier on the spice with a milder type of rum for balance. I settled on a comfortable blend of two of my favorites: the 4-year old Rhum Barbancourt & a 5-year old Demerara by El Dorado:

Barbancourt’s youngest aged rhum hails from Haiti, where it is twice-distilled in the manner of Cognac from pressed sugarcane juice and molasses. It is then aged to a mellow brown in limousin oak barrels, which impart a slight hint of vanilla to the 86º, cold-filtered finished product. (Such character is even further enhanced in their other longer-aged products, which makes these better for sipping, rather than mixing.)

Made by the same distillers who produce the venerable Lemon Hart,
El Dorado’s 5-yr Demerara, is distilled in Guyana from pure molasses. It is then aged in used-bourbon & whiskey casks and blended (to 80º) to create a wonderful golden-brown rum, rich with smoky-sweet notes (which, much like Barbancourt, make the longer-aged products even better – for sipping).

Now that sorts out the spirits & spices, so what the hell does Tom Waits have to do with it, you ask? Why he provided the name for (& the music for me to listen to while I prepared) the following riff on the classic Dark & Stormy, of course (©):

Emotional Weather Report
¾ oz. Rhum Barbancourt, 3-star
¾ oz. El Dorado Demerara Rum, 5-yr
½ oz. Pimm’s No. 1 Cup
½ Teaspoon: fresh Lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 oz. homemade Cardamom Ale Syrup
4½ - 5 oz. Club Soda
Combine ingredients in a highball glass over ice, adding Club Soda last. Give a quick stir & garnish with a wedge of fresh Lime.

Cardamom Ale Syrup
1 Cup: Water
½ Cup: Demerara Sugar
½ Cup: white Sugar
1/3 Cup: Cardamom pods, whole
¼ lb. fresh Ginger, julienned
1 Tsp: Red Chili powder
¼ Tsp: Cinnamon
Combine ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan/pot & stir to mix. Bring to a light simmer on low-medium heat for approximately half an hour, stirring occasionally throughout. Strain by preferred method (cheesecloth, coffee filter, &c). Use as a soda syrup - approximately 2 oz. to every 4½ - 5 oz. of soda water.

There are a few adjustments to the recipe listed above which have greatly improved its flavor. I am reminded of this by our friends over at Tiki Time! whose musings (in Dutch) about the formula were pretty spot on. Make the following alterations to the above:

  • Cardamom should be Green (Alternately half Green & half White)
  • Ginger, more simply, should be about a ¼ Cup's worth
  • Reduce Red Chili powder to a generous ¼ Tsp.
  • Toast the dry spices in the pot before adding other ingredients
  • You may like to let the syrup cool before straining...
  • ...the addition of about 2 Tsp. of good Ceylon tea to this cooling period is an excellent suggestion

Happy Monday, Cheers & Enjoy!

A Dash of Flavor: Orgeat &c.

In the flavor-alchemy of cocktails, syrups can be the principle modifier which turns an otherwise un-interesting or unbalanced beverage into a quaffable masterpiece. Particularly in basic drinks, they provide needed sweetness or additional flavor elements which are quite often the key to balancing out the sour or acidic characteristics of a libation's other ingredients. The French syrup Orgeat is certainly one of these, with its sweet almond flavor & dry whisper of orange flower complexity, it stands up admirably to other ingredients, rounding out the overall flavor of such diverse drinks as Mai-Tai’s, Fog Cutters or Japanese Cocktails. Despite its complexities, Orgeat is a fairly simple thing to make, as it's merely an emulsion of almond oils in water with a few other ingredients thrown in…

As fellow cocktail blogger
Darcy O'Neil describes, oil emulsions such as (or similar to) Orgeat have been made for centuries, even millennia, primarily because of their textural similarity to milk, yet without any of dairy's inclinations toward spoilage. Historically, the emulsion of choice was barley & water, but numerous other nuts & roots were often used. Religion further complicated matters with the observation of fasting or 'famine' days, wherein the use of animal products (particularly fats) was ostensibly forbidden. As cooking developed into an art, or at least an applied practice, in many cases the rather bland flavor of barley was supplemented by such alternatives as almonds, walnuts, tigernuts and melon seeds as available.

Early examples of this progression can be seen recorded in such historical texts as "The Closet of the Eminently-Learned Sir Kenelm Digby", made available by the wonderful folks at the Gutenberg Project (all of you cordial-makers & homebrewers out there should check out this book asap). Many of the recipes presented therein, in 1669 no less, describe the preparation of an obviously well-known emulsion of barley, with the 'pap' recipe (p.136) describing the addition of mace, nutmeg & almonds, as well the optional addition of rice, oats, or pine nuts for extra flavor. Approximately a hundred years later, the fifth edition of "The Compleat Housewife" lists a 'Fine Syrop of Almonds', while some centuries later cocktailian author Charles Barker notes the first mention of Orgeat (by name) appears on an 1817 reciept.

As Mr. O'Neil has covered the subject of ordinary Orgeat quite extensively & provided a 
wonderful recipe for the stuff, I had thought to focus on a few of the different regional variations on the standard beverage/syrup - many of which make quite the excellent addition to any number of cocktails. It bears mentioning that the first two recipes are not typically made as syrups, rather as drinks in their own right – so I’ve included my method for concocting syrups (which are more shelf-stable and versatile) from them:

Horchata de Melón
The Spanish term for Orgeat, this particular emulsion likely stems from the abundance of melon species found in the agricultural regions of Spain. A great way to use a part of the melon otherwise bound for the trash, I was introduced to this variant in Time-Life’s “
Good Cook: Beverages” book. This incredibly-useful reference was recommended to me by a certain Flighty mixologist and I now heartily recommend it to you, along with this modified recipe:

2 Cups: fresh Melon Seeds
3 Cups: Water, boiling
3/4 Cup: white Sugar
2 Teaspoons: ground Cinnamon (or other spices depending on the Melon used)

Wash the seeds (you can use any variety of melon, from honeydew to cucumber) thoroughly, then grind them fine in a food processor, shells & all. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl & stir well. Cover & refrigerate, stirring occasionally, for 12 hrs. Fine-strain through cheesecloth to remove all solids & bottle.
To produce a syrup for cocktails: Omit the sugar from the basic recipe and proceed as directed. Measure the strained liquid and mix in 1.25x this volume of white Sugar. Stir well to mix & bottle.  
Enjoy it in this cocktail (©):

Melón de Rosa
1 oz. white Rum (I like Brugal here)
½ oz. Grappa (Nonino or Nardini are great)
½ oz. + 1 Teaspoon: Horchata de Melón syrup
½ oz. fresh Watermelon juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake well with ice & strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a spear or fan of fresh Melon.

Horchata de Mexico
A riff on the Old World Horchata(s) which often use nuts (such as Almonds or Tigernuts) exclusively, this Mexican adaptation utilizes rice & almonds as its base. I was first introduced to this delightful, if time-consuming, drink by my Oaxacan coworkers in the kitchen of my first food-service job & years later developed it into a cocktail syrup:

5 Cups: Water, boiling
1½ Cups: white Rice, raw
1 Cup: white Sugar
½ Cup: blanched Almonds
1x Canella Cinnamon stick (~3”)
½ Teaspoon: fresh Lime zest
¼ Teaspoon: Vanilla Extract (optional)
Lightly toast the Rice and Almonds in a pan over medium heat; don't allow the rice to take on too much color, but both ingredients should be fragrant. Place the toasted mixture in a food processor & pulse briefly to break the particles down slightly - don't process to a powder or your final product will be gritty. Combine mixture with remaining ingredients in a covered container & steep for 12-24 hours, stirring occasionally. Fine-strain through several layers of cheesecloth to remove all solids & bottle.
To produce a syrup for cocktails: Omit the sugar from the basic recipe and proceed as directed. Measure the strained liquid and mix in 1.25x this volume of white Sugar (or a mixture of raw and white Sugars). Stir well to mix & bottle.  
Enjoy it in this libation (©), based on the venerable Japanese Cocktail & named for one of my former co-workers:

Fausto Cocktail
2 oz. Quebranta Pisco (I like BarSol in this)
¾ oz. Horchata de Mexico syrup
¼ oz. fresh Lime juice
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash Regan’s Orange #6 or Spiced Lemon #1 bitters
Shake with ice & strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of fresh Lime.

This thick mixture, more of a spicy paste than a syrup, hails from Northern India where it is blended with milk & ice to make a delicious cooling beverage. Both Jaggery (an Indian palm sugar) & bottled versions of this are available at most Indian/Eastern groceries, but why hunt for it when I’ve developed this recipe:

1 Cup: blanched Almonds
3 Tablespoons: fresh Watermelon seeds
2 Tablespoons: fresh Cucumber seeds
1 Tablespoon: dried Pumpkin seeds (unsalted)
1 Tablespoon: dried Sunflower seeds (unsalted)
4 Tablespoons: grated Jaggery (or substitute ½ brown Sugar + ½ white Sugar)

1 Teaspoon: ground Cardamom
½ Teaspoon: ground Galingal (or substitute ½ Ginger + ½ Mace)

¼ Teaspoon: white Pepper (optional, to taste)
2 oz. Water
¾ oz. fresh Lime juice
2½ Teaspoons: Rosewater

Combine dry ingredients in a food processor & blend until powdered. Slowly add liquid ingredients, blending to incorporate (you may need a spatula to incorporate all ingredients). When smooth, remove from processor & store in an airtight container; I find a small squeeze bottle ideal for storage & portioning.
Enjoy in this libation (©), its name (and composition) is a play on the “Japanese” Cocktail – try & figure it out:

Isodo Cocktail
1 oz. Cognac (VS or better)
1 oz. Batavia Arrack
1½ Tablespoons: Thandai
1 Teaspoon: fresh Lime juice
1 Teaspoon: fresh Lemon juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Simple syrup (optional)
Dry shake (without ice) well to mix. Add ice & shake again, then strain into a cocktail saucer & garnish with an edible flower.

Let me know if/how you like them & what libations you can whip out which incorporate any of these syrups.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Tip of the Hat

It’s come to my attention that today was Derby Day, the first Saturday of May on which the Kentucky Derby is run, and more importantly, the day on which over 120,000 Mint Juleps are gleefully consumed. Now the Mint Julep is quite a fine old (very old in fact) libation - brilliant on a hot day – and any decent drink that’s imbibed on so grand a scale surely deserves a tip of the hat. Trouble is, I can’t find a derby hat anywhere (just a battered old pork-pie), I’m fresh out of Bourbon & I happen to like my music with a touch more trumpet than the eight-bar “call to post”. So what’s a fellow to do..?

Tip the pork-pie, crank up the
Bad Manners & break out the Pimm’s of course…

A fairly-unique spirit,
Pimm’s No.1 Cup is a mildly-bitter aperitif ‘liqueur’ of sorts, first concocted by James Pimm, a British oyster-bar proprietor, in the early 1840’s. It is quite the odd bird: built on a base of gin, colored reddish-black with caramel, embittered by quinine and flavored with a secret blend of herbs. The beverage which Mr. Pimm devised to advertise his bittered sling, the Pimm’s Cup, is considered one of England’s first true ‘cocktails’ which, history-aside, is quite the delicious brew...

Still popular in the UK, it is estimated that well-over 40,000 Pimm’s Cups were served at Wimbledon (the British event-equivalent to the Kentucky Derby) last year – no Julep but a respectable quantity nevertheless. The recipe is quite simple: a measure of Pimm’s topped by fresh sparkling lemonade (or ginger ale) and is at least as refreshing as the Julep on a hot day. Much like its U.S. counterpart, the Pimm’s Cup overflows with greenery - typically either borage or cucumber – which only adds to its cooling properties. Pimm's can also be used as a creative additon to loads of other drinks - anyone else have a good Pimm's drink?

Incidentally, the French have an equally marvelous (non-alcoholic!) cooling draught, Lemonade d’Orgeat, made with (you guessed it) fresh lemonade & the delicate almond-flavored Orgeat syrup - but more on that in a moment…

Now all this is well and good you say, but isn’t it only early May? And don’t I live in New Jersey – neither of which gives me cause to complain of heat and thereby proffer cures for the same? True on both counts - it was quite rainy & cold today – the remedy for which brings me to the second topic of this post - a tasty, if spicy, bit of food: Curried Baba Ganoush. My slight variation on the classic Middle Eastern appetizer uses a fair quantity of red Curry, white Pepper & Cumin – the combination of which mandates an accompanying tipple with sufficiently-cooling characteristics, like an Almandine Pimm’s Cup. [Many apologies for the photo quality]

Curried Baba Ganoush
1½ lbs. Eggplant (~1x large)
2x cloves: Garlic
⅛ Cup: fresh Parsley
⅛ Cup: blanched Almonds
2 Tablespoons: fresh Lemon juice
2 Tablespoons: Tahini (sesame paste)
1 Tablespoon: E.V. Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon: Red Curry powder
½ Teaspoon: ground white Pepper
½ Teaspoon: ground Cumin
¼ Teaspoon: ground Paprika
¼ Teaspoon: smoked Sea Salt
1. Clean & Grill whole Eggplant for approximately 20 minutes over medium heat until tender with flaky & charred skin (Alternately bake in oven at 400º for 35 mins - I chose to grill mine in the rain). Set aside to cool.
2. Combine remaining ingredients except Olive Oil in food processor. When Eggplant is cool enough to handle safely/comfortably, peel skin and remove ends. Coarsely chop into several pieces & add to the food processor.
3. Process until mostly smooth, adding Oil gradually (you may need to use a spatula to incorporate all ingredients between pulses of processor).
4. Garnish with a light dusting of Red Curry & a drizzle of Olive Oil. Serve with grilled/toasted Pita or Lavash bread & an accompanying tall glass of:

Almandine Pimm’s Cup
1½ oz. Pimm’s No. 1 Cup
1 oz. fresh Lemon juice
¾ oz. Orgeat syrup
¼ oz. Simple Syrup
2 dashes Spiced Lemon bitters #1 (Angostura or Regan’s OB work fine)
Club Soda
Combine ingredients over ice in a highball glass, fill with Club Soda (4-5 oz.) Stir & garnish with a twist of (any) Citrus & a sprig of Mint. Savor.

In commemoration (yes, of my dinner) I dedicate May 4th “Pork-Pie & Pimm’s Day”, henceforth to be observed through the consumption of spicy food & Pimm’s cocktails! Stay tuned for more to do with that curiously-delectable French syrup, Orgeat.
Cheers & Happy Derby Day everyone!