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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Earl Grey Tea Vodka

Adding further evidence to my making-fancy-flavor-infused-booze-is-the-easiest-thing-ever theory, I experimented awhile back with infusing vodka with Earl Grey tea in an attempt to re-create a cocktail I had at the Bourgeois Pig in New York called the “Cold Toddy.” The name still doesn’t make sense to me, because Hot Toddies usually have bourbon or whiskey in them, not tea or vodka. In any case, it must have been seasonal, because it’s not on the menu anymore, but you should still definitely go there if you are in New York and want an amazing cocktail.

Right, back to the infusion. Here is how it works: take a 750mL bottle of vodka, pour it into a mason jar (wider mouth makes it easier to get the teabags in), add two bags Earl Grey tea (any brand), let sit for approximately 3 hours (the more time you leave them in, the more intense the tea flavor), strain if there are any loose tea leaves in the liquid, chill, and serve. Seriously, that’s all there is to it. You can drink it on its own over ice, or use it to make Cold Toddies (feel free to rename as you see fit):

2oz Earl Grey tea vodka

juice of one lemon

2 teaspoons honey

soda water

Shake honey, lemon, and vodka in a cocktail shaker, pour over ice, and top with soda water. Honey takes awhile to dissolve, so you’ll have to shake well. Garnish with a lemon twist if you want to get all fancy with it. Happy mixing!

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Wedding Cocktails!

As I mentioned in the previous post, I got recently got married. It was a lot of work, but totally worth it. Me being me, I wouldn’t throw any kind of party without a signature cocktail, or in this case, two. We knew we wanted a bourbon cocktail and a champagne cocktail.

The bourbon cocktail was fairly easy to decide on. After test-driving a couple different recipes, we settled on the Lady Shirley, with some slight modification, because, well, I just can’t ever seem to follow a recipe exactly. The recipe I found online gives you a pretty sweet little cocktail, which might be perfect for some, but here in the Savage-Liszanckie household we like our bourbon cocktails a little stronger. My recipe was more like: 2oz bourbon, 1/2oz grenadine, 1oz lemon juice (or about half a lemon if you’re squeezing them fresh), top with soda water.

We served them in mason jars. They were delicious.

We served them in mason jars. They were delicious.

The champagne cocktail took a little more experimentation to settle upon. Luckily we have plenty of willing guinea-pigs…er, friends, who very patiently drank the cocktails and gave me their opinions. Tough job, I know. What we ended up with was the Feathers McGraw, named after our favorite Wallace and Gromit character. The inspiration for this cocktail came from Martha Stewart, but of course I made a few changes. First, I made a mint-infused simple syrup. For the cocktail recipe, I upped the amount of Campari and Champagne, and lowered the amount of grapefruit juice and simple syrup. What can I say, Martha’s recipe just wasn’t boozy enough for me. Recipe for this one: 1oz Campari, 1/2oz mint simple syrup, fill glass 3/4 full with champagne (approx 4oz), top with a splash or two of grapefruit juice. The result is something like a grapefruit-y mimosa with a boozy Campari kick. Delicious!

The original Feathers McGraw. Ours was just a tasty tribute.

The original Feathers McGraw. Ours was just a tasty tribute.

The great thing about both these cocktails is that you can easily make them by the pitcher for a party…or a wedding. Just keep the proportions the same and increase by the number of cocktails you want to make. I promise, your guests will be impressed. Happy mixing!

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Simple Syrup Infusions

Sooooooo it’s been a really long time since my last post. Lots of life changes between than and now. I quit my job! I got married! Also, I made a lot of cocktails, probably too many to blog about, but I’ll do my best. First up: simple syrup. For those not familiar with it (and believe me, you WANT to be familiar with it, simple syrup is used to sweeten up fruity cocktails. You can buy it pre-made at Bevmo, but where’s the fun in that when you it’s so easy to make at home?  Simple syrup is called “simple” for a reason. Here is the recipe: 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar. Heat the water just below boiling until all the sugar dissolves. See? I told you it was simple.

The great thing about making your own simple syrup is that you can infuse it with almost anything, which is a great way to add extra flavor to your cocktails and impress your friends. “Oh this? It’s just a ginger-infused simple syrup. I made it myself. NBD.” You don’t have to tell them how easy it is, it’ll be our little secret. After the sugar dissolves in the water, turn the heat down as low as it goes, add anything you want for flavoring, stir and taste occasionally until the flavor strength is to your liking. Unlike liquor infusions, with simple syrup it’s best to stick with just one flavor. Some ideas for simple syrup flavors include: ginger, vanilla bean, lavender, mint, lemon zest, jalapeno peppers…feel free to experiment. We all know I’m obsessed with mint, so my latest experiment was a mint-infused simple syrup. Look for an upcoming post where I use the syrup in a cocktail. Happy mixing!

One bunch of fresh mint.

One bunch of fresh mint.

Mint in the sugar-water mixture.

Mint in the sugar-water mixture.

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Tour De New York

The cocktail shaker in our apartment has bee less active this summer due to some extensive traveling (all domestic, rather than exotic I’m afraid). I did manage to finally get my hands on some lavender to make a simple syrup. The recipe and drink suggestions will follow shortly. While in New York last week, my fiance and I were treated to a tour of the Big Apple’s finest cocktail establishments, courtesy of our friend Ryan. As everyone knows, the key to a woman’s heart is a fancy cocktail (or maybe that’s just me), and these places definitely won me over.

First stop was the hotel bar at the Crosby Street Hotel, which had the most artistic decor of the evening, with a wall of lamps made out of telephones.

Hello? Is anybody there?

I had a lemongrass-pear bellini, which was nice enough, but I definitely had drink envy of Sarah’s mojito. Ryan ordered a tequila-based cocktail called “Peppers and Peach,” which looked amazing, but spicy drinks are not my thing. Nor is tequila really.  Too many shots of Jose Cuervo in college, I guess. The most interesting drink in this bar was Justin’s “Kentucky Julius,” which consisted of Buffalo Trace bourbon, Liquor 43, orange juice, egg white, cinnamon simple, Lagunitas IPA, nutmeg, with the Lagunitas IPA served as a shot inside the empty egg shell floating on top of the glass like a little boat. Unfortunately, the egg whites prevented me from trying it, but he assured me it was damn tasty.

Not our actual cocktails. We drank them too fast to get photos.

Next stop was the The Bourgeois Pig, famous for its plushy chaise lounges and champagne punch. I ordered the Bergamont Toddy, which had Earl Grey-infused Lillet Blanc, lemon, and honey. All I can say is that my next infusion will be vodka with Earl Grey tea in an attempt to recreate this cocktail at home. Our friends ordered one of the champagne punch bowls. I think it had blackberries in it? In any case, it was delicious, but dangerous. The menus says it serves 2-4, but if two people finished it off by themselves, it might not be pretty. It arrived in a giant metal bowl with a giant round ice cube floating in the middle and some dainty Victorian crystal mugs with which to scoop the punch out of the bowl.

This is not one of my friends, nor is this our actual punch bowl. The lighting was too dim for photos. Or maybe we just forgot. In any case, ours looked just like this one, if you substitute a smiling redhead for the smiling blonde girl.

Even with four of us helping, we closed down the bar and stumbled out of there. Not content to let the night end, however, because damnit, this is New York! Bars here close at 4am, and it was only a mere 2:30. So what if it was a Wednesday night, there had to be something open. Luckily Ryan was captaining the ship and lead us to a place called Employees Only, which will be reviewed in another post because, well, this one is already too long. I also realized that I skipped one from the beginning of the night. Until next time, dear readers.

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Cocktail Hour at Home

My bourbon infusion was ready to go, so I decided to invite my lovely friend Brynn over for dinner and cocktails. Before we get into the drink recipes, let’s talk about the infusion by itself. How much do I love grapefruit? So much that I would write an ode to it, if I were any good at writing odes. The substitution of grapefruit zest for lemon and orange was a stroke of pure genius. The citrus did kind of overwhelm the vanilla, though, which was barely detectable. Next time I’d go with two vanilla beans instead of one. Still, it was quite nice, and could easily be a stand alone drink, chilled and served up. But where’s the fun in that?

No, my friends, the fun is all in the mixing, so on we go to the cocktails. The first concoction is something I’ve been making in various configurations for a while now, so it deserves a name. I hereby dub thee “The Savage Refresher.” Doesn’t that sound like something you want to drink?

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It consists of: bourbon (this time I used the infusion, but it’s also delicious with regular bourbon), muddled mint, bitters, and freshly squeezed grapefruit. You can add a little sugar or simple syrup if you like your drinks on the sweet side of tart. Muddle a handful of mint, sugar (if you want), 10ish drops of bitters, and a little ice in a shaker. Add 2 oz of bourbon (depending on how strong you like it), half a grapefruit (squeezed), and some more ice. Shake and serve up in a cocktail glass of your choosing.

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I squeeze the grapefruit by hand, but what I really want is a dedicated grapefruit squeezer like this one. Also, despite our arsenal of bar tools, we still don’t have a muddler at home, which makes me sad. Now you know what to get me for my birthday, right?

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The Savage Refreshers went perfectly with our dinner…I threw some mint in the salad too. Yummy!

Then it was on to post dinner conversation and round two. If you’re as obsessed with Mad Men as I am, you’ve probably had a hankering for an Old Fashioned sometime in the last few months. If you’re a purist, like Don Draper, here is a recipe for the classic Old Fashioned, complements of Esquire magazine. Most bars these days make it with and orange slice and a maraschino cherry, but apparently that’s a recent edition. Fascinating!

Seeing as how I’m all grapefruit obsessed at the moment, I use a grapefruit slice instead of the now-traditional orange slice, a smidge of grenadine, and regular sugar, because really, who has sugar cubes and maraschino cherries at home?

How to make a Grapefruit Old Fashioned: In a cocktail shaker, muddle a large slice of grapefruit, a teaspoon-ish of sugar, a dash or two of grenadine (one cherry’s worth if you can figure that out), and 3-4 dashes of bitters. Once that has been muddled, you add 2 oz or so of bourbon and shake. I like to top it off with another squeeze of grapefruit, but that’s just me. Traditionally, you’d serve this in a rocks glass over ice. What can I say, I’ve never been all that traditional.

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The photo may not look all that impressive, but trust me, they’re delicious. This cocktail makes a frequent appearance in our house. Typically while we’re watching Mad Men. In our fedoras.

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Bourbon Infusion #1

Since this is my first post, I thought I’d start out with an infusion. When you bust out home-made infusions at parties or while hosting guests, it never ceases to amaze people. The oohs and aahs you get are great for the ego. Little do most people know, making the infusion is incredibly easy. The real art lies in coming up with interesting and delicious ingredient combinations. It takes a little experimenting, but it’s pretty tough to come up with something that doesn’t taste good, as long as you start with a liquor you already like to drink.

In my household, we are a bourbon family. We’ve also made a series of delicious, candy-infused vodka, but bourbon is our go-to for cocktails. My recent favorite is Samuel Grant. Why? Because it’s always on sale for cheap at the Safeway across the street. I recently found out that this is because it’s the house brand. Safeway makes its own booze, who knew?

The infusion I made is based on a recipe I found on Culinary Anthropologist, but I used less vanilla, and grapefruit zest instead of lemon and orange, mostly because I had some lovely organic grapefruits from Rainbow Grocery. Grapefruit is also my latest obsession as a cocktail ingredient. Put freshly squeezed grapefruit in any drink, and I defy you not to love it.

I started by putting the bourbon in a large bowl, in order to catch all the oils of grapefruity goodness that splatter with zesting. This proved a bit difficult later on for pouring, so next time I’d go with a wide-mouthed jar or pitcher instead. I cut open a fresh vanilla bean with a knife to expose the seeds, and zested two grapefruits with a vegetable peeler, over the bowl.

                               

Now you might be asking yourself, “Where in the heck do you get whole vanilla beans?” At least that’s what I was asking myself when I first found this recipe. The answer is Xanath , on Valencia St, which also makes dynamite ice cream…though nothing vegan as of yet. If you aren’t lucky enough to live in San Francisco like me, they also operate Saffron, which will ship them to you anywhere in the US.

After everything was in the bowl, I proceeded to pour it all into a mason jar. Mason jars are perfect for infusions, though the process of pouring, as aforementioned, was a bit messy, even with a funnel. Turns out, bowls are not so good for pouring liquid in an organized fashion. Live and learn. Life is all about experimentation! Make sure all the leftover bits of zest make it into the jar.

Once everything was in the jar, I added just a touch of honey, to take away some of the bitterness, in case I wasn’t as careful with the zesting as I should have been, and because of this math equation:  bourbon+honey=deliciousness. Math doesn’t lie people. Once it’s in the jar, you just store it in a dark-ish place, like a pantry, and shake it a couple of times a day for about a week. Mine will be ready on Sunday. The next post will feature whatever concoction I mix it up with. Happy infusing!

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