Monthly Archives: October 2013

TV Night Theme Cocktails

Ok, confession time. I’m really into the ABC Family teen drama, Pretty Little LiarsI’m not alone in my addiction, however. My friends and I have a message thread exclusively devoted to talking about the show. Is it weird that a bunch of grown women spend so much time discussing a TV show about high school students? Possibly. Should we be doing more productive things with that time? Probably. But let’s not focus such trivialities, because group TV watching provides the perfect opportunity to try out new cocktail recipes.

We all started watching the series at slightly different times, well after the first season started, so up until now, our viewings had to happen via Netflix or Hulu somewhat guiltily while our significant others were either out of town or rolling their eyes derisively from the other room. This week was the annual Halloween episode, and just happened to coincide with all of us being caught up, so we could finally watch it all together. Needless to say we were excited. I decided to come up with some themed cocktails based on the four main characters, with some collaborative help from my new friend Kelly. Fun fact: Until last night, Kelly and I had never met in person, but we bonded immediately over email based on our mutual love of PLL, cocktails, and snarky commentary. If you’ve never watched the show, the descriptions of each cocktail might not be as funny, so you should watch all of season 1 as quickly as possible before trying any of these recipes. Or you could just make the cocktails, but you won’t enjoy them quite as much as we did. Here they are in all their glory:

THE HANNA MARIN
handful of mint leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup fresh watermelon
1 1/2 oz rum
juice of half a lime
club soda
muddle watermelon, sugar, lime juice and mint leaves in a tall glass
add ice, rum, and top with club soda
garnish with an umbrella and watermelon slice
Hanna Marin is a fashionista and lover of all things pink. She has a sweet tooth for both desserts and cocktails, but she’s weight conscious, so go easy on the sugar. Hanna thinks drinks taste better with a fancy garnish and a colored umbrella. The Hanna Marin takes longer to make than most cocktails, but Hanna knows she’s worth the wait.

Pink and sweet, kind of like Hanna. Fancy drink umbrella optional.

Pink and sweet, kind of like Hanna. Fancy drink umbrella optional.

 

THE ARIA MONTGOMERY
1/2 an organic grapefruit
7  organic mint leaves
1 teaspoon raw vegan sugar
6 oz champagne (preferably Aria brand)
muddle grapefruit, mint leaves, and sugar
strain into a champagne flute
fill with champagne
garnish with an organic mint leaf
Aria is a vegan. She is also a writer. She likes older men and fancy drinks. Her cocktail is simple, yet elegant, and of course, organic. Aria is also very tiny and doesn’t hold her liquor well. Her cocktail is champagne based, but you can always add a little vodka if you prefer a stronger drink. Aria would approve, as long as you use top-shelf vodka.
Classy and delicate, like Aria. Clandestine relationship optional.

Classy and delicate, like Aria. Clandestine relationship optional.

THE SPENCER HASTINGS
1 1/2 oz coffee liqueur
1 1/2 oz vodka
1 oz espresso
pour ingredients over ice, shake and strain into a martini glass
Spencer is so addicted to caffeine that she puts espresso in her cocktails. Spencer does not have time for frivolous things like muddled fruit or drink umbrellas. Spencer does not have time for more than three ingredients. This cocktail gets shaken vigorously, like Spencer shakes people down for information.
This cocktail, like Spencer, is not messing around. Drinking too many may lead to caffeine jitters.

This cocktail, like Spencer, is not messing around. Drinking too many may lead to caffeine jitters.

The Emily Fields
1 1/2 oz vodka
1 1/2 oz blue curacao
shake ingredients over ice and strain into a martini glass
After a shoulder injury put her on the sidelines, Emily is trying to see herself as more than just a competitive swimmer, but she would like nothing more than to sip a little pool water again.  She likes her drinks strong, so be careful not to wake up next to any open graves after trying her pool water inspired cocktail.  The Emily Fields is prepared by vigorously shaking the liquid ingredients with ice until well blended and cloudy, like Emily’s memory.
**SIDE NOTE: This was the one cocktail we didn’t make, mostly because nobody wanted to commit to buying (or drinking) blue curacao. We came up with a couple of alternatives for Emily’s theme cocktail: 1) Bud Light in a can, because Emily is by far the most boring character on the show. Also, ever since she came out to her parents, her wardrobe seems to consist entirely of sleeveless vests, most of them denim. 2) Bourbon straight from a flask, in homage to the episode where she lost her memory for awhile. If you are easily offended, please refrain from reading the caption in the next picture.
Emily drinking an Emily, complete with rolled up sleeves. Rufies optional. Too soon?

Emily drinking an Emily, complete with rolled up sleeves. Rufies optional. Too soon?

We made three of the four cocktails, and I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but “toot toot,” they were delicious. Much like the Liars themselves they are all very different, so pick your poison and happy mixing!

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Bourbon Infusion #2: Flavors of the Fall

Fall is in the air! Well, actually it’s been 70 degrees here in San Francisco the last couple of days, but hey, a girl can dream. What better way to celebrate fall than with flavors like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and of course, bourbon. There used to be a cocktail lounge in the Bellagio, Las Vegas called the Fontana. It has been replaced with something much trendier, which makes me very very sad. It was very old-school Vegas, had the most amazing cover band with a lady singer who could do Shakira’s “Suerte” in Spanish, and (to get to my point) had a Manhattan on the menu made with Maker’s Mark that they infused in-house with “a secret blend of herbs and spices.” It was delightful, and I’ve been dreaming of recreating it for years. This week, I finally took a crack at it, and in keeping with my new mission of consistency, I wrote down exact amounts of everything I used. I made a big batch, because we still have some people to thank for all their help with the wedding, and what better way to thank people than with booze? If you re-create this recipe for home use, I’d recommend halving all the amounts, unless you throw a lot of cocktail parties. Here’s my recipe:

1.75L bourbon

6 whole vanilla beans (scored lengthwise)

2 large cinnamon sticks

1/2 cup fresh ginger (coarsely chopped)

20 whole cloves

dash nutmeg

teaspoon brown sugar

My ingredients. Aren't they pretty?

My ingredients. Aren’t they pretty?

The infusion process at work.

The infusion process at work.

Put all the ingredients in a 2-quart mason jar with a sealing lid. Then you just let it sit for 2 weeks or so and shake it up a few times a day. Usually I’m nervous about my ingredients overpowering the bourbon, but in the end the flavor turns out to be quite subtle. This time I decided to go bold. In addition to the usual fall spices, I added some ginger for a little bite. I didn’t have any whole nutmeg, so I just put a dash of the ground stuff in…we’ll see how that goes. I also added a little sugar to counteract the bitterness of the cloves and nutmeg, but you could leave that out. It’s got another week of infusing. Check back soon for the results. Happy mixing!

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Local Edition: The Minnesota Mischief

Before I get to the meaning of the title of this post, let’s talk for a minute about Fresca.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, Fresca is a diet grapefruit soda. It only comes in diet. There is no “regular” Fresca. The first time I ever had a Fresca was the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, when I went to a two-month math camp (yes, math camp, we can discuss that later) at my mom’s alma mater, Mt. Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts. What can I say, Fresca was not really a thing in California. The girls in the program from New England and the South were appalled that I had never had one, insisting that it was the BEST soda ever. I liked the grapefruity-ness, but was never all that fond of the fake sugar flavor of diet sodas. This has relevance, I swear.

Ok, so this past weekend we were at a wedding in Minnesota. Apparently the groom is obsessed with Fresca, a fact which I had hitherto been unaware of, but he’s from Boston area, so I guess it makes sense. In any case, there was a lot of it around. They even put cans of it in the welcome gift bags. The rehearsal dinner was at an amazing place called Architectural Antiques in Minneapolis, which you should definitely check out if you’re ever in the area. Aside from the crazy-amazing decor that included a huge ceramic Jesus, an entire wall of antique doorknobs, and a 70s jukebox, one of the great things about the venue is that they let you bring your own food and drinks in. There were four kinds of amazing home-brewed beer (made by the bride’s dad), red and white wine, and non-alcoholic beverages, including…you guessed it.

Right about now, you’re probably saying, “Wait a minute! This is a cocktail blog, not a beer and wine blog! I am confused. And offended.” Probably that’s not at all what you’re saying to yourself, but there is cocktail recipe coming. The wedding party took turns bartending at this shindig, and at one point when I walked up to the bar, I was asked if I wanted to try some “sangria.” My husband, who had been standing there for a while and seen how the drink was made, shook his head emphatically at me, as if to say, “You really really don’t want it,” so naturally I said, “Sure!” The recipe is very simple:

1 part white wine (preferably something crisp and citrusy, like Sauvignon Blanc)

1 part red wine (something lighter like a Pinot Noir is best)

1 part Fresca (Sprite/7up is a good alternative if you don’t like the diet soda taste)

Bartender Eric pouring "sangria." The home-brew beer menu can be seen in the background.

Bartender Eric pouring “sangria.” The home-brew beer menu can be seen in the background.

Always hold the product you're selling close to your face. I learned that in an acting class.

Always hold the product you’re selling close to your face. I learned that in an acting class.

Surprisingly, it was actually pretty good. It was light and refreshing, but I still don’t love that diet soda taste. I’ll likely swap out the Fresca for Sprite if make this at home…sorry Matt. Since it was a spontaneously created cocktail (I think credit goes both to Eric and Emily), we had to give it a name. It had to include “Minnesota,” as a tribute to the wedding locale, and we liked the idea of alliteration. A number of suggestions were thrown out such as “Minnesota Mayhem,” or “Minnesota Mishap.” That second one was from my husband, who remained unimpressed by the concoction. Eventually we settled on the “Minnesota Mischief.” I think this would make a great punch for parties. You could make it by the pitcher and spruce it up with some fruit slices floated on top. Happy mixing!

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A Good Old-Fashioned Controversy

Today’s post starts with a bit of cocktail history, as in my personal history with cocktails. I first started training to be a bartender when I was 19. I was hostessing at an old-school, Italian family owned seafood joint on the pier in Santa Cruz my sophomore year of college. The hostess stand was right next to the bar, so I ended up talking to the bartenders a lot. There was a bartender named Dave, who was the embodiment of the quintessential bartender: early 50’s, handsome yet a little grizzled, comforting and ready to listen, but didn’t take guff from anyone, could tell you the history of every drink he made while giving you solid life advice. At some point I realized that I wanted to be him when I grew up, and became obsessed with the idea of becoming a bartender. Since I wasn’t 21, technically I wasn’t allowed behind the bar, but Dave decided to take me under his wing. He gave me a couple of books to study at home, and started quizzing me every time an order came in. “What goes in a Singapore Sling, Sarah?” “What kind of garnish do you put on a Mai Tai?” “What’s the difference between a gimlet and a gibson?” He also gave me sage advice about love and encouraged my artistic pursuits. He was pretty much my favorite person at the time.

Fast forward a few years, and with a little fast talking and fudging of my resume, I landed a job bartending at a nightclub. The money was great, but the hours were terrible, and “bartending” really meant pouring beers, shots, and the occasional rum-and-coke. All I wanted in life was to mix fancy shaker drinks. I left that job to wait tables at a high-end restaurant, and after a few months I finally convinced the manager to let me behind the bar. This was the late 90s, the height of Sex and the City fame, so most of what I was making was specialty martinis: Cosmos, Manhattans, 007s, Appletinis. I became very adept with a cocktail shaker. One day, a gentleman came in to the bar and ordered an old-fashioned. I remembered seeing it in the bartender’s guide, but I had never actually made one. Luckily, I was working with another bartender that night, a veteran, but even she shot me a look like “Who orders an old-fashioned anyway?” This is how she made it: Put an orange slice, a maraschino cherry, a sugar cube (or one sugar packet) in a rocks glass, add 7 dashes of bitters, muddle all that together, add ice, and pour 2 oz bourbon over it.

And that’s the way I always made them. Granted, my last professional bartending gig was in 2004, pre-Mad Men, so I can count on one hand the number of old-fashioned cocktails I made in that time, but for some reason the recipe always stuck with me. Then along comes Don Draper and the resurgence of the “craft cocktail,” and suddenly every high-end bar has an old-fashioned on their specialty menu. And you know what? It turns out I’d been making them wrong all these years. Well not wrong, so much as the nouveau bastardized way, rather than the purist way. Apparently, the old-fashioned is somewhat of a controversial cocktail, especially amongst hipster bartenders and curmudgeonly old men who still wax poetic about the days when bread was 10 cents. In their eyes, a real old-fashioned is just sugar, bitters, and bourbon, and maybe an orange or lemon peel for garnish. The orange slice and cherry got added in sometime in the 70s/80s, when things started going from “less is more” to “more is more.” There’s an interesting Slate article written about the controversy, with some great recipes as well.

This old fashioned is so pure, they won't even let the orange peel touch the bourbon.

This old-fashioned is so pure, they won’t even let the orange peel touch the bourbon.

Maybe it’s because we’re a bourbon household, or maybe it’s because we watch a lot of Mad Men, but the old-fashioned makes a pretty regular appearance around here. Being a big fan of both experimentation and personalization, I’ve come up with my own old-fashioned recipe, and I’d encourage you to do the same. Here’s mine if you want to try it:

1 slice citrus (orange will make it sweeter, lemon will make it more tart, grapefruit and blood orange are fun too!)

1 sugar cube, sugar packet, or the equivalent amount of white sugar

7 dashes bitters

a few dashes of grenadine syrup (hard to measure, so I just use the cap)

1 1/2-2oz bourbon, depending on how strong you like it (use good bourbon…no cheap stuff!)

Those rocks glasses were a favor from a friend's wedding last year. Adorable and functional!

Those rocks glasses were a favor from a friend’s wedding last year. Adorable and functional!

Muddle the citrus, sugar, bitters, and grenadine in a rocks glass. You can use a wooden spoon if you don’t have a muddler, but really, you should just get a muddler right? Add ice. I highly recommend getting an ice tray that makes those huge cocktail ice cubes. We got ours at Crate and Barrel. Pour bourbon over ice and stir with a spoon. I usually take out the citrus peel, but some people like to leave it in. Simply delicious. Happy mixing!

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A Few Thoughts on Consistency

As most of you know, I have a hard time with recipes. Maybe it’s my theatre training, or maybe it’s just laziness, but I love to improvise. When I cook, I either invent something new based on what’s in the fridge/what looks good at the supermarket, or I start with a vague idea, look up a recipe, and then proceed to change it entirely. I almost never write down amounts of anything I use. I like to think of it as using the force, but I run into problems all the time when I bring something delicious to a pot luck or dinner party, and someone asks me for the recipe.  Errrr…. Usually the best I can do is a list of ingredients and a rough description of the process.

My approach to cocktails is more or less the same. I don’t run into the “can I have the recipe” problem as much with drinks because most people assume that mixing craft cocktails at home is difficult (it’s not), and are happy to drink whatever I happen to make for them at the time. The problem, however occurs when a cocktail turns out really well, or if I want to make another round of whatever I made the first time, but I have a hard time replicating it exactly.

Recently I read an interview of two amazingly talented bartenders. One of them (Lucie Wood)  happens to be the sister of a friend, so maybe I’m biased, but she said two things in the article that were particularly relevant for me as a home mixologist. One was, “Don’t waste money buying expensive mixers. It’s easy to make your own grenadine and infused simple syrups, and it’s way more fun than buying it.” This is pretty much my purpose in creating this blog, so: validation! From an expert!

The second was, “The key to a great cocktail is balance, and the key to a good bar is consistency. There’s nothing worse than ordering a drink from one bartender and enjoying it, then ordering a second one from another bartender and it’s completely different. That’s why we feel it’s vitally important to use measuring tools.” Ok, confession time: I was definitely one of those bartenders who took pride in my eye-balling, free-pouring abilities. I’m not running a bar (at least not currently), but I do want people to consistently enjoy the cocktails I make. And I want people to be able to replicate them at home, whether it’s from a recipe I give them or from reading this blog. So thank you, Lucie Wood. I will do my very best to use measuring tools, and write down my recipes from now on. Pinkie swear.

If you’re interested in the full article, you can find it here. Oh, and there’s even a part two. And if you ever find yourself in Fullerton, you should definitely visit her bar, Steamers.

Coming soon: fall infusions. Look for something spiced up and bourbon-y, and possibly pumpkin pie vodka. Happy mixing!

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