Showing posts with label Beverage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Beverage. Show all posts

Friday, May 5, 2017

Cinco de Mayo Round-Up

Happy Cinco de Mayo! However you decide to celebrate, I hope it includes some great food and beverages. And it goes without saying, a really good tequila! One of the great things about the foods typically enjoyed on Cinco de Mayo is they are all great year round. I mean, can you imagine if we waited to eat guacamole and drink margaritas once a year? The mere thought of this is almost unfathomable. So here are some recipes to include in your fiesta as well as in any of your upcoming gatherings.

Amy's Shortbread Cookies - Cinco de Mayo Style

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Mint Mojitos

"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." (Ernest Hemingway) In less than two weeks I am running a 10 mile race. A 'race' distance I had not run in almost fifteen years. After both a much too long hiatus from running (14 years to be exact) and then a year ago this month having a stress fracture in my right leg (with an recovery period that seemed endless), I thought my longest running distances would never be more than 6 miles, 6.2 to be exact. But a combination of factors, including the support and encouragement of my running group friends, caused my running goals to shift. In the past month I have run the distance of 10 miles twice, again returning to the world of double digit runs. The first 10 miler felt like a struggle which had me questioning how realistic my revised running goals actually were. However, the second 10 mile run not only gave me some of the confidence I so desperately needed, but it provided me with the reassurance I could do 'whatever it was I made up my mind to do'. Like some other runners, running for me is as much of a 'head game' as it is a test of physical strength and endurance. On that first 10 mile attempt, I told my small group to go ahead without me at the four and a half mile mark as I wasn't exactly certain my 'head' was in a good place. So much to the worry of some, I went rogue. Meaning I didn't stay on the course we were all supposed to follow. This was less about being fiercely independent (which I can be at times), but more about trying to (re)gain some mental focus (more on my pace and breathing, less on how much further ahead or faster my running partners were). With the support of my running group coach, I went rogue again for the second ten miler. In taking the self-imposed competitiveness with others out of the picture, I actually ran stronger and faster (well faster is a relative term). As much as I have loved and benefitted from the camaraderie of running with a group, when I am pushing myself further than I had gone before or think I am even capable, some time running alone seems to help me keep my 'head in the game'. Who knows what my performance will be on the day of this upcoming 10 mile race as many factors (weather being the biggest) will affect it. However, I have decided I have only one simple goal for this race: to finish feeling happy. Because the return to running was in part to re-experience the joy running had brought to my life. Although I will be downright euphoric if chocolate milk is available on the other side of the finish line. A more potent celebratory drink will have to wait until later in the day.

Not listed in any order of preference, some of my favorite 'alcoholic' beverages are martinis, margaritas, and mojitos. I apparently have an affinity for cocktails beginning with the letter "M" (with the exception of manhattans, intentionally excluded from this list for reasons having nothing to do with their taste but rather a still unforgotten serious state of inebriation decades ago). Fortunately one of Cuba's oldest cocktails was created and exported long before the political wall went up between the US and Cuba. However, it was Ernest Hemingway who was responsible for popularizing the mojito. Made with only a handful of ingredients, has become a signature staple cocktail in both Latin and American cuisine. Lime, mint, sugar, rum (preferably a clear, white and/or silver rum), and ice combine to create a cocktail where its' sweetness is complimented by refreshing citrus and mint. Not a fan of the mojito? Well maybe it's because the ones you had were made by bartenders pretending to be mixologists, who unbeknownst to you, substituted splenda for sugar or the Italian liqueur BrancaMenta for the mint or even over muddled it. All because it wasn't one of their most favorite drinks to make. In other words, please give making your own 'fresh' mojito a try before writing it off.

Like most libations there are a multitude of variations all claiming to be the 'one', the 'best', the most 'authentic'. After looking at dozens and dozens of mojito recipes, there seemed to be most consensus on the use of a clear/white/silver rum; the use of fresh mint leaves; and, the use of freshly squeezed lime juice. When it came to whether to use sugar or a simple syrup made with sugar, there seemed to be less agreement. Just the thought of the mere possibility of a grainy mojito had me jumping on the simple syrup bandwagon. The highly carbonated 'waters' used in the mojito ranged from mineral water, to sparkling water, to seltzer water, to club soda. Club soda seemed to the hands down favorite. I used Schweppes, although someone did a carbonated water and cocktail test and identified "Q" club soda as the 'best' albeit rather on the relatively pricey side, as far as club soda prices go. So until I someday find and splurge on a bottle of "Q" club soda, I am sticking with Schweppes.

Last, but not least, was the process of making the mojito, of which there seems to be two camps, Shaken and Muddled. Not surprisingly each camp claims their version doesn't over mint the taste of the mojito. This version goes with the sexier, gently muddled approach.

If you were looking for reasons to plant highly invasive mint in your garden, put mojitos on the top of this list. Depending on the day of the week, the availability of the fresh mint found in grocery stores can be sometimes slim to none or even worse, has an appearance you wouldn't even want to mask in a pesto. One should be able to make mojitos on a whim or whenever you have a taste for them! So on your next trip to the farmer's market, garden center, or roadside herb stand and pick up a few mint plants. In a relatively short period of time, you will never need to deny yourself or your friends a mojito on a moments notice again. If you love a great mojito, you won't care too much about your mint's invasive tendencies. Especially after you have had one or two of them.

An ounce of simple syrup (recipe below) and 6-8 fresh mint leaves are gently muddled together. Muddling too hard will "break the little capillaries in the mint leaf and release bitter chlorophyll, essentially ruining your drink". So find another way to take out any of your aggressions and never ever over muddle your mint. Although I am certain there are some aggressive muddlers out there who would disagree. (If your mint leaves are on the large size, use 6. If they are small to medium or a combination of S/M/L, use 8. Once you taste it, you can make your personal preference adjustments.)

After adding a generous handful of ice cubes (crushed ice is optional), pour in two ounces of white rum. Next comes two ounces of club soda, followed by one ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice. After a gentle stir to combine, top with a sprig of fresh mint and wedge/slice of lime. Then sit back and enjoy the spell this refreshing cocktail will have on you.

I know, this sounds like a cocktail made with a lot of precision. Maybe it is. But precision, as in many things, is one of the factors determining whether something is either good or great. And this Mint Mojito is great, really great. How great? Well so great that even those of you on the 'take it or leave it' mojito fence might be tempted to start singing the refreshing Mint Mojitos praises, especially on a hot summer day. 

Mint Mojitos (inspired by multiple sources)

1 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces white rum
2 ounces club soda (recommend Schweppes)
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
6-8 mint leaves
Fresh lime wedge/slice for garnishing
Spring of mint for garnishing
Ice cubes or crushed ice

Note: To make simple syrup, bring one cup of water and one cup of granulated sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. The mixture should look clear with no trace of sugar granules. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Store reserved simple syrup in the refrigerator in a covered jar.

1. Put 6-8 mint leaves in a glass. Add simple syrup and lightly muddle.
2. Add ice, white rum, and club soda.
3. Top with lime juice. Stir gently.
4. Finish with a fresh sprig of mint and lime wedge/slice.
5. Serve immediately and enjoy.

Westport, Massachusetts

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Watermelon Martini

I have always believed, always felt there was something magical about the summer solstice, the longest day of the year marking the first day of astronomical summer. The magic associated with Midsummer's Eve and Midsummer's Day has been a part of Northern European celebrations, folklore, and legends as well as in literature for centuries. Three timeless pieces of literature standing the test of time (A Midsummer's Night Dream, The Tempest, and MacBeth) and written by 16th century poet and playwright Williams Shakespeare all had references to magic occurring on the night of the summer solstice. Yet, in spite of my (barely detectable) Swedish heritage and my exposure to the work of Shakespeare in my impressionable teenage years, I cannot seem to account for how, why or where this belief, these feelings of mine came from. However I find it reassuring to know there have been and continue to be so many summer solstice kindred spirits out there.

And speaking of spirits (the alcoholic in nature kind), what better way to celebrate the beginning of summer than with a Watermelon martini. Is this not what 'summer in a glass' was meant to be?

I love almost all of the fruits and vegetables of summer, but watermelon ranks as one of my favorites. And lately I have been eating more than my fair share of it. For me, watermelon has just the right amount of sweet and is just the right amount of refreshing, particularly on a hot, humid weather day. Botanicially watermelons are considered fruits (and are consumed as fruits), however, scientifically they are a member of the gourd family (which also makes them a vegetable). Hey, you never know when fruit/vegetable trivia may come in handy.

I didn't think it was possible to love this 'summer fruit, summer vegetable' more than I already do. Until the discovery of the juice of a watermelon combined with citron vodka, freshly squeezed lime juice, and Midori liqueur happened.

If watermelon is the ideal health food (it doesn't contain any fat or cholesterol, is high in fiber, Vitamins A and C, and a great source of potassium), should we give consideration to the possibility that the Watermelon Martini is the ideal 'healthy' martini? Okay, maybe it is a stretch to think anything containing alcohol is healthy, but in concept this sounds plausible. Doesn't it?

A seedless watermelon cut into chunks, pureed in a food processor, and then strained yields a most delicious watermelon juice. In the making of this martini, the cloudiness of the watermelon juice is greatly reduced if the pureed/strained juice is allowed to chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before using. I was in too much of hurry to wait (patience was not a virtue today) so these photos show what a watermelon martini looks like without the wait time.

In addition to the watermelon juice, the martini's ingredients include ctiron vodka, Midori liqueur and freshly squeezed lime juice. If you have never had Midori before, it is a sweet, bright-green in color, muskmelon flavored liqueur. Some Watermelon Martini recipes call for the use of simple syrup (for added sweetness), but the Midori Liqueur adds more than a little sweetness, it adds a wonderful melon flavor to the martini. It compliments the flavor of the watermelon perfectly.

A small seedless watermelon will give you more than enough watermelon juice to make a batch of martinis for a small gathering. The basic Watermelon martini recipe calls for 3 ounces of watermelon juice, 2 ounces citron vodka, 1 ounce Midori Liqueur and 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice. All of the ingredients go into a martini shaker filled with ice. The shaken martini is poured into a martini glass rimmed with superfine sugar, then garnished with a wedge of watermelon (the wedge of watermelon is there to help give the impression of a healthy cocktail).

Celebrating the summer solstice was merely a convenient reason to make a Watermelon martini. But something this delicious doesn't need a reason to be made. Happy Summer.

Watermelon Martini

3 ounces strained, chilled watermelon juice (made from a small seedless watermelon)
2 ounces citron vodka (Absolut Citron or Grey Goose Citron)
1 ounce Midori (melon) liqueur 
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
Superfine sugar (for rim)
Slice of watermelon for garnish

1. Puree chunks of a small watermelon in a food processor. Pour mixture into a strainer. Chill watermelon juice for at least one hour before using (the chilling is not a deal breaker, it only changes the finished look of the martini). Discard the pulp left in the strainer.
2. In a martini shaker filled with ice, add 3 ounces watermelon juice, 2 ounces citron vodka, 1 ounce Midori liqueur and 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice. Shake vigorously.
3. Pour martini into a superfine sugar rimmed martini glass. Garnish with a thin slice of watermelon.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mocha White Russian

Several years ago we traveled to Telluride for a family ski trip. In spite of the fact that I was the only non-skier in the group, I was looking forward to spending time taking in views of the beautiful snow capped mountains against the deep blue Colorado sky. While everyone else went skiing on the slopes, I went on a snowshoe hike for the experience and to take photos. Unbeknownst to me the hike turned out to be more physically rigorous than skiing. The wind cutting into your face gondola ride should have been my first clue that this was going to be an adventure.

Having never hiked in snowshoes before as well as having spent less than 24 hours acclimating to the elevation, I thanked my lucky stars I was in a hiking group of one. I genuinely felt sorry for my guide as I made the hike longer (and probably more challenging) by stopping every few minutes to pull out my camera to capture the views. In actuality photographing the mesmerizing mountain images was just the excuse to enable me to catch my breath (I am certain my guide figured this out pretty quickly as this  was probably not the first time he had someone like me in his group) and keep the whining from becoming audible. Why I didn't just stay back, sit by a warm fire and enjoy a beverage or two instead of having what felt like a near death experience is anyone's guess. Every now and then I take a pretty good landscape photo but I am no Ansel Adams.

The White Russian and Blind Russian cocktails are all variations of the Black Russian. While not a Russian in origin cocktail, all versions of the Russian cocktail are made with vodka. If you believe everything you read on Wikipedia (the not written by scholars only internet version of the Encyclopedia Britannica) Vodka either originated in Poland or in Russia. While being primarily of Polish descent, I am happy someone had the wisdom to defer the name of this cocktail to the Russians. Even the Dude in The Big Lebowski may not have been so obsessed with a cocktail by any other name.

A White Russian is made with Vodka, Kahlua and either cream or half and half. It can be hard to resist the taste of cream and this may not be the time to cut out a few calories. Simply by adding a frozen coffee ice cube to the mixture, the White Russian is transformed into a Mocha White Russian.

What better way to use any leftover coffee than to make coffee ice cubes. And hey what better way to use coffee ice cubes than to make a Mocha White Russian. Any ice cube tray will do but these two inch square silicone ice cube trays (I found these at Williams-Sonoma) make the most prefect two-inch square ice cubes.

In an old-fashioned glass, add one coffee ice cube. Pour in 2 ounces of vodka followed by 2 ounces of Kahlua. Top the cocktail with 2 ounces of the cream or half and half. Before stirring this cocktail just take in how beautiful this cocktail looks. It sort of resembles a snowcapped mountain. Once stirred the black and white cocktail becomes one resembling fifty shades of brown.

So whether you are watching the Winter Olympics, sitting by a warm fire, or looking for that great after-dinner or end of the day cocktail, one sip of a Mocha White Russian will have you temporarily forgetting what seems like the most wicked, coldest, snowiest winter ever. And if you happen to be someone enjoying and living in a much warmer, sunnier climate (lucky you), this cocktail will remind you how wise you were for making the decision to live somewhere other than the frozen tundra.

Just the resist the urge to drink this quickly. It is definitely one of those sip slowly and savor cocktails.

Mocha White Russian (inspired by Giada De Laurentiis's Black and White Italian Cocktail)

1 coffee ice cube
2 ounces Vodka
2 ounces Kahlua
2 ounces cream or half and half

1. Place a coffee ice cube in an old fashioned cocktail glass.
2. Add Vodka and Kahlua
3. Pour cream or half and half over. Enjoy the black/white visual before stirring.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

French Margarita

What better temporary relief to the Siberian like weather here than a cocktail. Hot Toddies and Mulled Wine may be cold weather beverages, but margaritas are definitely all-weather ones. Many of us think of margaritas as a Mexican in origin cocktail, particularly since the tequila in them comes from, where else, but Mexico. But what if two thirds of the alcohol in a margarita were French in origin (Grand Marnier and Chambord)? Well maybe we could call it a French Margarita and simultaneously pay homage to both cultures for their contributions to the world of spirits.

I can't believe I am sharing this but I just recently became aware of the ounce to tablespoon conversion. Specifically one fluid ounce equals two tablespoons. Just knowing this conversion suddenly makes mixing cocktails including this French Margarita so much easier. This frame of reference now gives me a way to visualize what an ounce looks like.

If you have a well stocked bar, you have everything you need to make this. Just don't forget to pick up a few fresh limes and some orange juice at the grocery store (I have an aversion to the bottled lime juice they sell). All of the ingredients are poured into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. After shaking, pour into a glass (with or without ice). A garnish of raspberries and/or blackberries is optional. 

Just one sip of the French Margarita and suddenly the weather is the furthest thing from my mind. This cocktail is definitely a most welcome reprieve from the arctic temperatures (although I think it might actually be warmer in the arctic this year).

French Margarita

2 ounces tequila (silver)
1 ounce Grand Marnier
1 ounce Chambord
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce orange juice
1/2 ounce sweet and sour mix
Optional: raspberries and/or blackberries as garnish

1. Fill a shaker with ice.
2. Add all ingredients and shake vigorously.
3. Pour into a glass filled with ice.
4. Garnish with raspberries and/or blackberries.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Rich Hot Chocolate

Starbucks once served a rich thick hot chocolate drink they called Chantico, described as a 'drinkable dessert'. The first time I drank this wickedly delicious, rather decadent concoction was on a warm day in San Antonio (where warm is really warm). We were walking along the Riverwalk and decided to stop at the Starbucks to get something to drink. A cup of hot chocolate wasn't what we going in for but the idea of drinking a hot liquid chocolate was too much to pass up. Seriously, in just one sip I thought I had time traveled back to the time of the Mayans and Aztecs where chocolate (in a hot liquid form) was considered food for the gods. Taking this temporary fantasy a little further, I thought maybe my love for this rich hot chocolate was connecting me to an inner Mayan Princess.

Thank goodness the serving size was small (I think it was only 6 ounces) as had it been any larger it would not be an indulgence but an over the top, almost too much extravagance. Yet ever since having that hot chocolate (it has since been discontinued by Starbucks) nothing I tasted seemed to compare or at least come close to putting me into such a chocolate intoxication, fantasy inducing state. Then one day I came across a recipe for a classic hot chocolate created by Mindy Segal, former pastry chef at MK (one of my most favorite restaurants in Chicago), and now owner of Mindy's Hot Chocolate (an award winning restaurant, dessert bar). Like the Starbuck's Chantico, it is rich, thick and served in small portions. Sometimes a little goes a long way to satisfy a craving, to create a sense of euphoria, or to make you want to scream with pure childlike delight.  Suggesting just a little of something is a good thing might seem a little out of character for me as I have been known be a proponent of the mantra 'more is a good thing'. However, one can't be predictable all of the time.

Milk chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, whipping cream and whole milk are combined to make a hot chocolate to die for (in the figurative sense, although one sip and you might literally feel you have died and gone to heaven). This hot chocolate is so delicious it would be insane to wait for a cold day or night to enjoy it. If you have rules about when you drink hot chocolate, after you taste this, I have a feeling you will break them.

The quality of chocolate matters when making the base for the hot chocolate. (Doesn't quality almost always matter, particularly when making something with chocolate?) I like using Callebaut chocolate for the base (usually available at Whole Foods), however, Scharfenberger, Guittard, Valrhona and even Ghiradelli all make great quality milk and bittersweet chocolates. The milk and bittersweet chocolates are finely chopped, placed on a baking sheet and placed in the freezer for approximately one hour.

Working in two batches, the frozen chopped chocolate is placed in a large food processor and pulsed until fine, even as possible granules. (During one of the batches add a pinch of Kosher salt.) Be careful not to over process as the chocolate could begin to melt from the heat of the food processor. Transfer the chocolate granules to a covered jar or container.

To make a cup of rich hot chocolate, heat 1/3 cup of whipping cream and 1/3 cup of whole milk in a small saucepan to just a boil (you will see a few bubbles). Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup of the chocolate granules. Allow to sit without stirring for 5 minutes.

Whisk the chocolate into the cream/milk mixture until smooth. Return to a low heat to rewarm the hot chocolate, stirring often. I have found that after the chocolate melts in the heated cream/milk mixture and is then whisked, it becomes a little lukewarm.

Pour the reheated hot chocolate into a mug, add an oh so slight pinch of sea salt and top with a homemade marshmallow. Then sit back, enjoy and savor this incredibly decadent, almost dessert like, hot chocolate. 

A Rich Hot Chocolate (an oh so slight adaptation to Mindy Segal's Hot Chocolate recipe)

Hot Chocolate Master Blend
1 1/4 pounds high quality milk chocolate finely chopped
6 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate finely chopped
pinch of Kosher salt

One cup of Rich Hot Chocolate
1/2 cup of the hot chocolate master blend
1/3 cup whipping cream 
1/3 cup whole milk
an oh so slight pinch of sea salt
1 marshmallow (homemade if you can find them or make them)

Hot Chocolate Master Blend
1. Place finely chopped chocolates on a baking sheet and freeze for approximately one hour.
2. In a large food processor, process half of the mixture to fine, even granules. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with remaining mixture. (Do not process too long or chocolate may begin to melt from the heat.)
3. Store Hot Chocolate Master Blend in a tightly covered jar. Use as needed.

One cup of Rich Hot Chocolate
1. Bring 1/3 cup whole milk and 1/3 up whipping cream to just a boil over medium-high heat in a small saucepan. Remove from heat.
2. Add 1/2 cup hot chocolate master blend to hot milk mixture. Let stand for 5 minutes (do not stir).
3. Whisk until smooth. Return to heat on low to rewarm (mixture will cool slightly when taken off the heat). 
4. Pour hot chocolate into mug and add an oh so slight pinch of sea salt. Top with a homemade marshmallow. Sip slowly and enjoy.

The other day I spent almost an entire afternoon wrapping presents. When I shared how I spent part of my day with one of my friends she said 'What the hell did you buy?' It was a rather fair question, but for once there was no relationship between the number of gifts bought and the time spent wrapping them. I tend to fuss over the wrapping of gifts as much as I fuss over picking them out. Like food presented beautifully on a plate or the table, even the simplest of gifts seem to be transformed when beautifully wrapped. It's that little attention to detail that for me says 'you matter' just as much as the gift itself matters.

One year I remember making wrapping paper where everyone's package had their initials stamped on them (those Martha Stewart days are over or on hiatus for awhile). Another year I had found some beautiful antique blue velvet ribbon to use for the packages of gifts of friends (I have become a little more selective over the years over my ribbon choices for gifts after I saw the antique ribbon bunched up in the paper and thrown in the garbage). And then I once found the most beautiful three inch wide thick ivory satin ribbon. It was almost too beautiful to cut (but then why does one buy ribbon if not to cut it?)  So one Christmas I decided to wrap the gifts for my childhood best friend with it. The next Christmas that same piece of ribbon reappeared as it was used to wrap the gifts she had given to me. And for more than ten years, this single piece of ivory satin ribbon went back and forth on our gifts to one another each Christmas. (I may be the one responsible for misplacing that piece of ribbon thus bringing an end to what became a tradition for awhile). But for all of those years that single piece of ribbon made ordinary gifts seem extraordinary. And isn't that how we all want our friends and family to feel when we give them a present? Even a box of coal might go from being thought of as not such a great thing to receive as a gift to a fun, good, maybe even memorable one (or least you would hope so), especially if it is wrapped in pretty paper.