Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Going Out All Dolled Up...

Before I get into this weeks' cocktailian post, I want to take a moment to get all sentimental on you. As I briefly mentioned in my most recent article, I've noticed something of a (massive) spike in visitor traffic to the humble little blog you now find yourself reading. That so many of you from such wide and varied locales consider my ramblings worth your time is really inspiring, so thank you kindly for stopping by. Similar thanks to the wonderful online communities of cocktailian writers, bloggers and foodies for their generous advice, encouragement, linkage & overall good-will...

Among these wonderful groups is the shiny-new foodie community Foodbuzz.com, which has just recently gone live & whose lovely badge you may have noticed gracing my site. Simply put, it is a veritable hub of inspirational activity - with featured publishers and contributing members churning out brilliant articles and recipes in just about every conceivable area of food & drink. For the official press release & explanation of what Foodbuzz is about, check here. Alternately you can just get a (visually-stunning) glance at some of their finest contributors with their inaugural 24, 24, 24 video. Barring those, just leap right into the fray with a visit to the main site...

Similarly, a huge thanks to our friends at Liqurious.com (formerly the well-missed Tastespotting.com) for showcasing photos of not only my, but dozens of my favorite bloggers' drinks! Especial thanks to the mysterious individual ( ? ) who keeps adding me to the queue there!

A final thanks to Gabriel from Cocktailnerd.com and Rick of Kaiserpenguin.com for their tireless work in establishing the Mixoloseum - a fantastic chat forum where cocktailians from all over might gather to discuss our favorite mixological projects & plans in authentic "nineties-style". This friendly forum (home of the fantastically-entertaining weekly TDN) also plays host to themed panel discussions, often visited by venerable names in the mixological multiverse, where it is a truly-inspirational venue. This was certainly the case during the most recent panel on garnishing cocktails:

Led by Tiare of A Mountain of Crushed Ice & Rick, with a gracious (& insightful) appearance by Jeff "Beachbum" Berry of Exotic/Tiki-drink fame, this discussion was a showcase of some of the most beautiful (& functional) examples of garnish I've ever seen, paired with historical information on the topic by the 'Bum and lots of banter on how to accomplish such artistry at home. As a fitting conclusion to this panel, Tiare has proposed a Garnish Contest open to all. So, as a conclusion to my (not-so-brief) lapse into thankful sentimentality, here are my entries - delicious cocktails both - which showcase the effects a particular garnish can have on a libation's enjoyment (©):

Blood & Brandy
1½ oz. VSOP Brandy (Raynal)
½ oz. Rhum Agricole Blanc (La Favorite)
1 Teaspoon: Campari
1 oz. fresh Blood Orange juice
1 oz. Simple syrup
1x fresh Egg white
2 dashes: Peychaud's bitters
Combine ingredients, except bitters, in a mixing glass and dry shake to incorporate & emulsify. Add ice and shake well before straining into a chilled cocktail glass. Dash bitters on top of foam & swirl into a pattern with a toothpick before adding a flamed twist of Blood Orange.

Sudanese Rose
1½ oz. Rhum Agricole Blanc (La Favorite)
½ oz. Lillet Blonde
2 oz. Karkade (Hibiscus tisane, Jaimaica also works fine)
3-4 dashes: Hibiscus Grenadine
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass & stir well with plenty of ice. Strain into a double-rocks glass, half-filled with ice. Garnish with a twist of Lime, sprig of fresh Peppermint & an organic Rose petal.

Both cocktails make visually-appealing (IMHO) use of aromatic garnishes - ones which contribute primarily to the olfactory aspects of the libations in question. The Peychaud's used in the Blood & Brandy sits delicately atop the foam created by the egg white, while the flamed Blood Orange peel adds both flavor & aroma to said foam (and through it, the liquid slumbering beneath). As the Sudanese Rose is a composition in subtle floral & botanical flavors, the addition of the acidic citrus oil provides a nice contrasting element to these tastes - helping to keep them in line, as it were. The aromas of the peppermint and rose provide a refreshing olfactory experience to match & enhance the tart flavors of the Hibiscus tisane in the cocktail. Neither beverage, like so many other (equally dolled-up) libations would be even remotely the same, were they to go out sans garnish...
Cheers & Thanks again!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Seasonal Produce: Pumpkin

As the autumn season continues & more of my favorite examples of seasonal produce become prevalent, I was reminded of an experiment I had been contemplating for some months. Now before you start frantically searching for the back button (it's on the left), a few brief words. If you've been reading here for a while (or are one of the many new readers who have been trickling in from all corners of the earth - thanks by the way!), you've doubtlessly noted three things in or about my rambling articles:

1. I tend to wax poetic at times...alright all the time.
2. I'm more often than not rambling about (crazy) recipes which are, admittedly, a pain to actually make - no matter how delicious they might be.
3. Coming under the auspices of items 1 & 2, a fairly-lengthy article discussing regional variations on Orgeat syrup.

Well, at least for this little experiment - a continuation of the topics mentioned in #3 - I'll try to avoid the pitfalls of 1 and 2. As it is mid-October, I'm sure many of you are preparing for some manner of Halloween festivities, which will undoubtedly result in hacking up an otherwise-serviceable pumpkin. But what to do with all the insides? Make some pumpkin pie from the flesh of this seasonal delight? Sure (and a bloody fine idea that is), but what about the veritable pile of seeds you'll end up with?

One of the problems I failed to mention when discussing Orgeat variants like Horchata de Melón is that, while absolutely delicious, they tend to be inefficient to make. After all, how many seeds can one expect to extract from a watermelon or worse, a cucumber? In the following recipe, this problem is non-existent - even the smallest of pumpkins is nearly overflowing with seeds. Even better, if you mean to make a jack o'lantern in the next few weeks you'll have more of them on hand than you could shake a stick at. Simple, efficient & absolutely delicious - give this one a try (©):

Pumpkin Horchata
2¼ Cups: fresh Pumpkin seeds
¼ Cup: slivered Almonds
2½ Cups: Water
2¼ Cups: white Sugar
4 Tablespoons: Muscovado/brown Sugar
½ Teaspoon: ground Cinnamon
¼ Teaspoon: ground Nutmeg
¼ Teaspoon: ground Ginger
5x whole Cloves
1 pinch: Cayenne pepper
Pre-heat oven to 375°F. Wash the pumpkin seeds thoroughly in a colander or strainer, then pat dry. Spread seeds and Almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet & toast until fragrant. Process the (still-warm) toasted mixture in a food processor, shells & all until coarsely-ground. Combine this mixture with the spices and Water (reserve the Sugars for later) and refrigerate for approximately 4 hours. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth, pressing to extract as much liquid as possible. Re-combine the solids and liquid and steep again for another 4 hours; strain again. (For the strongest flavor; repeat the process once more.) Combine strained liquid with Sugars in a saucepan & bring to a very gentle simmer over medium-low heat (do not boil) until Sugars are dissolved. Cool, bottle and enjoy in the following libation:

Clever Jack Cocktail
1½ oz. Laird's 100° Bonded Apple Brandy
½ oz. Rye Whiskey (Old Overholt)
¾ oz. Pumpkin Horchata
½ oz. fresh Orange juice
1 Teaspoon fresh Lemon juice
Combine ingredients in a shaker with plenty of ice & shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass & garnish with a flamed twist of Orange.

If you do give this syrup a go, be sure to pass along whatever cocktail recipe(s) you clever folks might come up with. Incidentally, if you mean to substitute this into an existing cocktail what calls for Orgeat, go a little heavier on the pour - its' slightly more delicate in flavor and sweetness that the aforementioned French stuff...

For my part, I'll be carting a bottle over to Jonathan Pogash's Elements of Mixology class tomorrow at the Astor Center in NYC to try & formulate some more uses for this delicious seasonal syrup. Then perhaps a quick jaunt over to Pegu to see what those clever lads can make of it...

Cheers & Enjoy!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

MxMo XXXII: Guilty Pleasures

This (only nominally) guilt-ridden installment of Mixology Monday is being hosted by Stevi over at Two at the Most. Her chosen theme? Guilty pleasures of course, or those 'cocktails' which are well-loved or enjoyed even though we know, or are just constantly told, are no good for us. This theme, undoubtedly chosen for just such a purpose, will almost assuredly result in no small amount of mockery across any number of cocktailian blogs, to say nothing of the already snarky dialogue peculiar to the Mixoloseum. Bring it on I say & we'll exchange remarks over a round (or five) of Irish Carbombs...

I don't quite know how guilty I am about enjoying this particular beverage, however politically-incorrect or tactless its' name & method of consumption may be. I love a good pint of heavy, as they say, and Guinness is a fine example. Likewise, I enjoy a drop of Whiskey, particularly the Irish varieties. As for the cream liqueur (Bailey's in this case), well maybe I'm a little guilty about that, but nobody's perfect.

The recipe, merely a variation on the venerable boilermaker, is outrageously simple. This, above all else, makes this beverage an especially easy choice when out on the town in an establishment of...questionable virtue. Incidentally, despite its universally Irish components, due to its' name this drink might not be the best thing to order in a "real" Irish bar (much like a "Black & Tan") - a bloody shame since the Guinness is always better in that sort of place:

The Irish Carbomb
½ oz. Jameson's Irish Whiskey
½ oz. Bailey's Irish Cream
12 oz. Guinness Stout
1x (sturdy) Pint Glass
1x (sturdy) Pony shotglass
Pour the Guinness into a chilled pint glass. In the pony, layer the spirits in the order presented. As quickly as you are able, carefully drop the shot into the pint glass - no spilling now! When the pony hits bottom, it's bottoms up - much like a (far more classy) Fizz, a Carbomb does not improve with time.

Best enjoyed with friends - preferably a whole dive bar's worth - with loud punk music (I prefer Rudie Can't Fail or Anarchy in the UK myself) blaring from the jukebox...

Cheers, enjoy & don't be too serious!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Seasonal Produce: Pears

With the looming descent of autumnal weather, a great many of my favorite fresh produces are hitting their peak seasons. Pumpkins, apples, cranberries and pomegranates are all prevalent from September on, but chief among these, in my humble opinion, are Pears. Literally dozens of varieties of this delicious fruit become readily available around this time of year, with new types appearing in your local market (even supermarket) from late September all the way through to February.

Pears have been a relative staple of the human diet the world over (particularly in cooler climates) since the days of antiquity, being known of and cultivated by the ancient Greeks & Romans. The fruit is mentioned several times in Pliny the Elder's 1st century text, Natural History, where he particularly noted their use in producing a variety of wine called Castomoniale. The 4th-century writer Palladius further mentions this beverage, citing in his Opus Agriculturae that Romans preferred it to wine made from apples.

What's more, one of the earliest known cookbooks - the 4th century work Apicus - lists several recipes for preparing the fruit as per the apparent Roman belief that pears were best enjoyed cooked & heavily-spiced (stewed in honey or cooked in a soufflé-like patina) rather than raw. Records similarly indicate that at the time of the Roman conquests of Gaul, the peoples there were already utilizing pears to produce both wine and a variation on hard (apple) cider. This tradition carried through the medieval period, spreading to England during the reign of Henry VIII, where the beverage acquired the name "Perry". Similarly, the spread of distillation around the same period brought about the delicious Eau de Vie de Poire.

However, for use in modern cocktails those crazy Romans may have been onto something with their notion of preparing pears - particularly with the use of spices. Depending on the variety, pears, while perfectly delicious raw, often have the kind of subtle flavor which can be enhanced by (or act as the perfect foil for) all manner of stronger spice flavors. Ginger, Cinnamon, Tarragon, Cardamom, Vanilla, Clove, Nutmeg, Anise, even Juniper and Saffron have all been combined with pears by chefs, both pastry & culinary, for many centuries clear through to the modern day. In keeping with that notion, might I suggest this delicious libation which carefully balances the silky texture and flavors of pear, the spice of ginger, and the botanicals of both Pimm's & Gin rather delightfully (©):

P & G Cocktail
1½ oz. Pimm's No. 1
½ oz. Plymouth Gin
2 oz. organic Pear nectar
¼ fresh d'Anjou Pear
2 dashes: Angostura bitters
Ginger beer
In a mixing glass muddle the fresh Pear with the Gin & bitters. Combine remaining ingredients (except Ginger beer) & shake with plenty of ice. Fine strain into a chimney glass and top with Ginger beer. Stir briefly and garnish with a slice of fresh Pear and a sliver of crystallized Ginger (optional).

Returning to our Roman friends' practice of stewing pears in honey & spices once more, one finds another great use for the fruit in libations. Poached pears, long a potent item in the pastry chef's arsenal, can be used to add sweetness, spice and flavor to any number of drinks which may be well-enhanced by any of those elements. At its most basic, poaching pears (or most any firm fruit) merely requires you to skin & remove the cores from the fruit before simmering for about twenty-five minutes in a 3:1 mixture of water & either sugar or honey. From there the sky is the limit: adding spices, citrus zest, wine, or most any other savory ingredient to the mix can result in some truly marvelous creations.

The great recipe for pears poached in Saffron-Vanilla syrup posted at Figs with Bri, for example, makes a fantastic addition (though a plain honey-poached one works fine too) to the following libation - itself a riff on the classic autumnal Stone Fence. Much like that venerable cocktail, one can use a commercially-available Perry (such as Woodchuck) or the adventurous can ferment their own by leaving a non-pasteurized Pear cider/nectar out in a cool, dark place for 5-6 days (uncovering occasionally to release the accumulated gasses). Either method will endow you with a dry, lightly-alcoholic and very tasty 'cider' which can be used to great effect in (©):

Perry's Mason
1¼ oz. Eau de Vie de Poire (Pear William)
¾ oz. Irish Whiskey (Redbreast or another full-flavored variety)
Perry cider (see above)
2-3 slices: Poached Pear
Combine spirits & poached Pear slices in a Highball glass half-filled with ice. Fill up with Perry, stir briefly and enjoy un-garnished & un-varnished.

Embracing Seasonal Flavors
With the growing popularity of fine-dining establishments, one doesn't need to delve into ancient history or even the kitchen to enjoy the taste of fresh pears in libations or cuisine. Great restaurants & bars all over the world have been embracing a seasonal outlook on fresh produce for quite some time - a concept which really brings some delicious, high-quality drinks and dishes to both bar & table. One such establishment is my favorite 'local: the highly-rated Catherine Lombardi's in downtown New Brunswick, New Jersey. The outspoken principles on fresh, local ingredients of co-owners Francis Schott and Mark Pascal (of Restaurant Guys Radio fame), together with a top-notch bar & kitchen-staff, regularly produce truly fantastic culinary creations, such as Mr. Schott's own (delicious) autumnal cocktail:

The Irish Twin
1½ oz. Jameson's Irish Whiskey
2 oz. organic Pear nectar
½ oz. Honey syrup (1:1 - Honey:Water)
1 dash: ground Cinnamon
1 slice: fresh Pear
Combine liquid ingredients and dash of Cinnamon in a mixing glass with lots of ice & shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass & garnish with the slice of fresh Pear (dusted on one side with a little cinnamon).

If you find yourself in the New Jersey area sometime this Fall, a stop into New Brunswick and the beautiful bar at Lombardi's would not be amiss. Ask for an Irish Twin, perhaps an antipasta or two, and escape autumn's chill with some of the great produce of the season...


PS - For those of you gentle readers with some homebrewing experience who want to have a go at brewing a real Perry, the UK-based Real Cider and Perry Pages contain some excellent reading material on the topic...