The Date Martinez Cocktail

The Date Martinez Cocktail // stirandstrain.comHave you had your fill of pies? No? Me either. But there needs to be a time when you tell yourself to stop. My teeth have been singing from the overindulging of pecan pie and I think I’ve reached that point when I need to put my fork down. I *might* have eaten 5 pieces. Oh my gosh…. the sugar…

The Date Martinez Cocktail // stirandstrain.comNow, I’ll admit it, the whole “alternative sugars” thing was something I wrinkled my nose at. While I won’t touch any of those chemically created sugars (don’t they make you run to the bathroom??), I really couldn’t be bothered with all those other “natural” sweeteners. Agave, date syrup, rice syrup… why couldn’t I just have plain old natural cane sugar? That is until recently, when I realized how you could get some very unique flavors while not using plain old evaporated cane sugar.

It started with some baking, and then, naturally, into my cocktails. I recently started experimenting with date syrup since I had been making my way through 3 of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks and found that instead of dropping some cash on the pre-made stuff, I could make my own (also, we are spending a LOT more time out in the Palm Springs area with family making the move that way. There’s quite a lot of dates out here). Making your own date syrup results in a slightly lighter syrup than the store bought kind and while that wasn’t always what I wanted for my baked goods, the lighter syrup resulted in a nice substitute for simple syrup in a few cocktails. The one I bring to you today, that I originally posted on Serious Eats, is for a Date Martinez.

The Date Martinez Cocktail // stirandstrain.comThe Martinez cocktail is a classic cocktail. Classic as in pre-1900. You can read about its history somewhere else, for right now, let’s get down to its remake.

You have a choice here. You can make your own date syrup, and not only use it for this cocktail, but sweeten up your oatmeal, or bake with it, or I don’t know, make a face scrub. Or if you’re short on time and can pick up store bought, go do that. But keep in mind, you’ll need LESS of the store bought to sweeten the drink. If you do a 1:1 swap this will turn out too sweet.

The Date Martinez Cocktail // stirandstrain.comNote: I found and made my date syrup recipe from Oh, Lady Cakes. Since I didn’t ask her about reprinting her recipe, you can find that link in the recipe below.

1-1/2 ounces amontillado dry sherry, such as Lustau
1-1/2 ounces gin, such as Ford’s
3/4 ounce date syrup, homemade (recipe link here!)
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Orange peel, for garnish

  • Fill a mixing glass 2/3 with ice, then pour in sherry, gin and date syrup. Add the dashes of Peychaud’s and stir 20 seconds to chill. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist orange peel over top of drink to release oils and garnish drink with peel.

The syrup’s rich, deep date flavor pairs wonderfully with a nutty but dry amontillado sherry. Here, my fall-inspired riff on the Martinez mixes the sherry with equal parts gin to dry out the drink and lend some contrasting juniper and pine flavors. The cocktail gets a sweet and spicy kick from a few dashes of Peychaud’s bitter, and is brightened up with a twisted orange peel that doubles as a garnish.

Cranberry-Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail For when you wish you could drink the cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving...

Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail // stirandstrain.comThis space is too lighthearted to get very political or get in-depth about current news events, but with Thanksgiving coming next week, it’s a good reminder to be thankful for whatever you have in your life. And if it’s Thanksgiving, I’m shoving cranberry sauce in my face like no one is watching.Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail //

I’m of the camp that you need a little sweet with the savory. And while I enjoy pretty much all the flavors that grace the holiday table (except maybe you, green bean casserole), you bet that on every forkful of turkey or potatoes or creamed onions, there is a little bit of cranberry sauce. Ok, maybe a LOT of cranberry sauce.

And I’m not picky either. You want to feed me the jello version from the can? Sure, I’ll take it. Or you made a passed down recipe from your great-grandmother that is laced with a little booze? Sure, I’ll take that too. I’ll take them all.Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail //

So why am I not eating it more often so that when Turkey Day comes I’m not feeding myself like a ravenous zombie? Well, I kinda forget about it. I think the ensuing coma from eating resets my brain every year and I spend the rest of the time oblivious until a week or so before Thanksgiving when I see some ad in a magazine and my mouth starts salivating in a Pavlovian response.Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail //

This year it was decided that since I have such a short window of time to enjoy cranberries, I’ll make the most of it and enjoy them by not only eating those berries, but also drinking them! In fact, I figured if I made a shrub with them, I’d get to enjoy them a little bit longer (although, it’s so darn tasty I doubt it will stick around for very long).

This black pepper–spiced cranberry shrub is sweet, savory, and tart. It mixes up quick and with a fruity sparkling wine and citrusy bitters, the drink works wonderfully to lighten a meal packed with sweet potatoes, stuffing, turkey, and more. And if you don’t use up the whole shrub in one go, it will keep in the fridge for at least a month.Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail //

For the Cranberry-Black Pepper Shrub

2 cups (approximately 10 ounces by weight) cranberries
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

In a nonreactive saucepan, combine cranberries, peppercorns, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and water. Stir to combine. Cover and place over medium-high heat. Cook, opening the lid and stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and some of the cranberries begin popping open, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, uncover, and allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Pour entire mixture into an airtight, nonreactive container. Refrigerate at least 8 and up to 12 hours. Strain mixture twice through a fine-mesh strainer, transfer to an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to one month.Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail //

For the Cocktails (yields 12 drinks)

36 ounces chilled sparkling wine (from 2 bottles)
20 dashes orange bitters, Regan’s used here
12 ounces chilled Cranberry-Black Pepper Shrub
Cranberries, for garnish

Slowly pour chilled sparkling wine into a pitcher. Add bitters and chilled cranberry-black pepper shrub. Stir very gently to mix. Serve immediately. Individual glasses can be garnished with cranberries.

Note: For a non-alcoholic alternative, combine 1 ounce of the cranberry-black pepper shrub, 1/4 ounce simple syrup, and 3 ounces club soda (I love Q-Club!) in a wine glass. (Add two dashes of orange bitters, if desired—they contain a tiny amount of alcohol.) Garnish with cranberries and serve.
This recipe originally appeared on Serious Eats

Sparkling Apple Sherry Cocktail What you drink when it finally feels like Fall!

Sparkling Apple Sherry Cocktail // stirandstrain.comFor someone who lives in a climate that doesn’t stray too far in one direction or another, I realize I sure do focus on the weather a lot. But really, it wouldn’t take too much psychoanalysis to realize it’s because I grew up in New England and Fall time is… special. Yes, if you live in a place where there is amazing foliage you do make fun of the tourists coming in just to stare at trees. But when you’re away from it for over a decade, you miss it; you get why the people flock out to be in nature.

Sparkling Apple Sherry Cocktail // stirandstrain.comMore than the trees though I miss the apple orchards. I didn’t realize just how many were squeezed into the tiny state of Rhode Island. I bet there are a few apple orchards somewhere in Southern California, but it’s not the same. My aunt has a small orchard on her property and I remember being a teenage, sulking about in my beat up black leather jacket trying to not look I was enjoying the annual cider press (but secretly I was so into it). The adult me is telling my younger self to stop being such a bitch and just enjoy myself already. God, how much time and effort went into teenage sulking!

Sparkling Apple Sherry Cocktail // stirandstrain.comSo anyways, it’s finally feeling like Fall in Los Angeles. I turned on the heated seats in my car and turned the heat on at home. The first day is always rough on my sinuses as months worth of dust that’s accumulated god-knows-where burns off and makes my entire house smell like something has caught on fire somewhere. But we have apples! And for this cocktail there’s sherry and apple brandy and orange liqueur!

Sparkling Apple Sherry Cocktail // stirandstrain.comOver on the Serious Eats site I wrote an amusing tale about how this cocktail, originally named the “Quasi Apple Cocktail” got its name. Hint: there’s history, a war, Napoléon, the United States and a touch of Spain thrown in for good measure. OH! And pirates! We tossed the name, but there’s still some history there to learn if you’re into that.

Sparkling Apple Sherry Cocktail //
1/4 apple, cored and diced
1 1/2 ounces apple brandy, such as Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
3/4 ounce Mandarine Napoléon liqueur
1/2 ounce oloroso sherry, such as Williams & Humbert
4 ounces prosecco sparkling wine
Orange twist, for garnish
Thinly sliced apple, for garnish

  1. Add diced apple to the bottom of a mixing glass and muddle until apples are broken down and have released their juice. Fill the mixing glass 2/3 full with ice and then pour in apple brandy, Mandarine Napoléon liqueur, and oloroso sherry. Stir to chill until mixing glass is very cold, about 20 seconds, then strain into a highball glass filled with ice and top with prosecco.
  2. Twist orange peel over top of drink to release oils, then discard peels. Garnish with a thinly cut round of apple.

Sweet, fresh apples are balanced by the nutty Sherry with a kick of american apple brandy. For body and a touch of richness, Mandarine Napoléon liqueur gives us just a hint of citrus. To finish, the cocktail is topped with prosecco to tie all the ingredients together and give an effervescent pop.Sparkling Apple Sherry Cocktail //

: Super-thin apple slices make gorgeous garnishes. Right now, THIS mandoline from OXO is my favorite. To keep the slices looking crisp and white, remember to soak them in a bowl of water with a small spritz of lemon juice after slicing. Use your favorite kind of apple here; both sweeter, softer varieties and more tart, firm types work well. If you can’t find Mandarine Napoléon liqueur, you can substitute with Grand Marnier or a good dry orange curaçao, such as Pierre Ferrand.Sparkling Apple Sherry Cocktail //

Sparkling Pomegranate and Cocchi Rosa Cocktails for a crowd or yourself

Sparkling Pomegranate and Cocchi Rosa Cocktails // stirandstrain.comMaybe you guys can help me out here. If a neighbor has a fruit tree, let’s say a pomegranate tree, overburdened with fruit, like so much fruit. And it’s just sitting there out on the sidewalk for anyone to pluck a few as they walk by… Is it OK just to pluck a few? You’re not going in their yard. In fact, they are dropping from the branches looking for an excuse to go home with you.

My neighbors don’t know how lucky they are. My mother-in-law’s pomegranate tree gave us a whopping two fruit. TWO?! The tree is being downright lazy this year. So for this cocktail we’ll just turn to the bottled stuff.

Sparkling Pomegranate and Cocchi Rosa Cocktails // stirandstrain.comThank god for bottled pomegranate juice though. I will say that despite this desperation I have of ridding my neighbor’s tree of all their fruit, juicing all those pomegranates is a pain in the ass. And now that it’s officially Fall, and I believe also the start of pomegranate season, it’s time for some transitional cocktails. Because we are still going through our usual high temps in Southern California I just can’t bring myself to make something too Fall-like yet. So today I have a bit of a summery beverage with just a touch of Fall.

Sparkling Pomegranate and Cocchi Rosa Cocktails // stirandstrain.comThis recipe yields enough for about 4 cocktails, but you can also single batch this for yourself. I’ve been enjoying these splits of sparkling wine lately for when I want a sparkling cocktail but don’t want to crack open a big bottle.  Because what usually happens is that I make a cocktail and just drink all the rest of the sparkling wine by itself.

Do you like juicing pomegranates? Feel free to sub in fresh for the bottled if you’d like.

Sparkling Pomegranate and Cocchi Rosa Cocktails // stirandstrain.comFor the Pomegranate Reduction:

1 cup 100% pomegranate juice

  • In a small saucepan, bring pomegranate juice to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook until reduced to 3 ounces (6 tablespoons), 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool. Store in an airtight container up to 1 month.

For the Cocktails:

3 ounces Pomegranate Reduction
4 ounces Cocchi Rosa
2 ounces fresh juice from 2 to 4 limes
16 ounces sparkling wine
4 orange twists, for garnish

  • In a pitcher, add the pomegranate reduction, Cocchi Rosa, and lime juice. Top with sparkling wine and gently stir to combine. To serve, divide between 4 glasses filled with ice. Express orange oil from twists over each drink, then add twists to each glass to garnish.

To temper the pomegranate syrup’s richness and bring in a bit of brightness, I use a sparkling wine for the base. And to offset the syrup’s sweetness, I mix in Cocchi Rosa, an aromatized wine whose subtle bitterness comes from gentian and cinchona bark. A splash of lime keeps it fresh. An orange twist adds a final layer of aroma and brings out the citrus qualities of the Rosa.

I originally published this recipe on Serious Eats.

Tropical Rum Peach Frozen Blended Cocktail frozen peach cocktails part two

Frozen Peach, Rum, Coconut Blended Cocktail // stirandstrain.comSee? I told you more ways were coming to use up all of your last summer peaches!

So this weekend would mark the last weekend before Fall official starts and while that’s laughable here in Southern California, what with our week of 100° temps, I do want to start transitioning into Fall flavors. But first, we’ll leave summer with a tropical BANG. A bang with rum and cinnamon and coconut and more peaches.Frozen Peach, Rum, Coconut Blended Cocktail //

And more rum, because we’re calling it tropical.

You know guys, if we’re all thinking ahead. Maybe we should just freeze a bunch of peach slices, and then in a few months when we’re complaining about the cold, we can turn the heat up really high in the house and make a couple of these frozen peach cocktails? That sounds like a plan.

Frozen Peach, Rum, Coconut Blended Cocktail // stirandstrain.comAnd while we’re on the subject of future endeavors, Stir and Strain will be taking a much, much needed vacation in October. A real one, unlike last year’s where I spent countless nights staying up scheduling out content and then still kept working through the break. I have to start convincing myself now that I don’t need to bring my laptop to go look at Fall foliage for two weeks.

But until then, we got a few more recipes and a couple extra special treats coming up! And now onto those cocktails…

Frozen Peach, Rum, Coconut Blended Cocktail // stirandstrain.comServes 4.
6 ounces white rum, such as Caña Brava
4 ounces coconut cream, such as Coco Lopez
2 ounces simple syrup
2-3 ripe peaches, pitted and cubed
8 dashes Angostura bitters
1 ounce dark rum, such as Blackwell, divided (optional)
Ground cinnamon and 4 cinnamon sticks, for garnish

  • Combine rum, coconut cream, simple syrup, and Angostura in a zipper-lock bag or resealable container. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or up to overnight.
  • To serve, transfer the rum mixture to a blender and add 3 cups ice. Blend at high speed until well mixed and thick, about 45 seconds. Pour into 4 highball glasses and top each with 1/4 ounce dark rum (if desired), a dash of cinnamon, and a cinnamon stick.

The fresh, ripe fruit adds a ton of intense flavor in this creamy cocktail. The spice from the Angostura, the slightly sweet coconut and all that rum make for a fresh, tropical cocktail. For an extra boozy punch, float dark rum on top with a dash of cinnamon to enhance the aroma.

Looking for a more savory blended peach cocktail? Check out the Tequila-Suze frozen peach cocktail!

Peach and Tequila Frozen Cocktail frozen peach cocktails part one

Peach and Tequila Frozen Blended Cocktail // stirandstrain.comIt’s September. Target was filled with Halloween decorations about two weeks ago, and I have a fruit basket filled with peaches. They’re not the prettiest peaches mind you, but they’re still sooooo tasty.

Peach and Tequila Frozen Blended Cocktail // stirandstrain.comI do this every year. I overbuy summer produce like I’ll never see it again and when it starts getting close to Fall, I scramble to use it up. As you all know, it kills me to throw food away. This year it’s a little easier with a little one who gobbles up peaches but I’m still staring at this fruit basket scratching my head.

Peach and Tequila Frozen Blended Cocktail // stirandstrain.comAnd then I go, DUH, and drag out the blender.

Peach and Tequila Frozen Blended Cocktail // stirandstrain.comWhere once you only bought a frozen cocktail while on vacation where you both did not care what you were drinking, and you were more than likely not going to remember it anyway, now I insist you make them for yourself and loved ones. I convinced you to make a Frozen Blood and Sand cocktail last month, and let’s not forget that Cucumber and Green Chartreuse number from last year.

This post is part one of emptying that fruit basket of all those peaches.

Peach and Tequila Frozen Blended Cocktail // stirandstrain.comPeaches, meet tequila.

Serves 4.
6 ounces blanco tequila, such as Herradura
2 ripe peaches, pitted and cubed
1/2 cup fresh pineapple chunks
2 ounces fresh pineapple juice
1-1/2 ounces Suze
8 mint leaves
Mint leaves and extra pineapple chunks, for garnish

  • Combine tequila, peaches, pineapple chunks, pineapple juice, Suze, and mint leaves in a zipper-lock bag or resealable jar. Chill at least 8 hours or up to overnight in the refrigerator.
  • To serve, transfer chilled tequila mixture to a blender and add 3 cups ice. Blend at high speed until well mixed and thick, about 45 seconds. Divide between coupe glasses and garnish with a pineapple chunk and mint leaves.

A little on the savory side with earthy notes from the tequila and the herbal, floral, bitter Suze. Your sweet peaches balance out that earthy side, mixed with sweet-tart pineapple and mint for a concoction that’s both refreshing and complex.

**This recipe was originally written for Serious Eats.

The Frozen Blood and Sand Cocktail… is better than a regular Blood and Sand Cocktail

Frozen Blood and Sand Cocktail // stirandstrain.comLike many ideas we take for granted, I was wrong on this one. For the longest time I was under the impression that the Blood and Sand cocktail was, in fact, a tiki cocktail. My assumption was based on the fact that local tiki bar, Tiki Ti, served this bevy up on their regular menu. A drink that elicits shouts of Toro! Toro! Toro! by patrons when ordered had to be born of tiki blood.. right? Wrong.

The Blood and Sand cocktail is actually pre-tiki, although the idea of putting “sand” into your name almost always guarantees it’s of the tropical variety. And all that toreador fanfare at the bar smacks of Tiki’s theatrics. But this drink goes a bit further back in time than the Tiki era, as it takes its name from Valentino’s 1922 bullfighting movie and appears in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book (and not an original name by myself, which for some reason, people were really confused about when I originally offered this recipe up on Serious Eats). And really, what about the Scotch? Scotch seems like such an un-tiki spirit. But every liquor nowadays can star in a tropical libation.Frozen Blood and Sand Cocktail //

And for me, whipping it up into a frozen version makes it even more so.

Which brings me to today’s drink. Let’s all be honest here; the Blood and Sand cocktail is not really good. All that orange juice, ugh. Orange juice as a mixer is like adding a lot of bland, marginally flavored water to your drink. And you usually need A LOT of it to even taste the essence of the orange. So what you usually get when you order a Blood and Sand cocktail is something very unbalanced.

This drink tries to mix that up, adding more flavor and using the original blood orange juice in place of just plain old OJ. And on top of that, a bit of Grand Mariner for extra orange sweetness. There’s some super peaty scotch in here, but if that’s not your bag, sure, I guess go for something a bit more subdued. Keep in mind though that this is a very cold drink, and you need that extra flavor to punch it up. I’ve also batched this for 4 because if you’re having frozen cocktails, you’re having a party. Even if that party is for one.Frozen Blood and Sand Cocktail //

Makes 4 drinks

6 ounces peated Scotch whisky, such as The Peat Monster
4 ounces fresh blood orange juice from about 4 blood oranges
3 ounces sweet vermouth, such as Carpano Antica
2 ounces Luxardo cherry syrup
1 ounce Grand Marnier
4 dashes Angostura bitters
4 blood orange slices and 4 Luxardo cherries, for garnish

  1. Pour Scotch, blood orange juice, sweet vermouth, cherry syrup, Grand Marnier, and Angostura bitters into a resealable freezer-safe container. Seal and freeze for at least 8 and up to 24 hours.
  2. When ready to serve, pour Scotch mixture into a blender with 4 cups ice. Blend until smooth. Divide between four coupe glasses and garnish each glass with an orange slice and Luxardo cherry.

Vanilla-Infused Amaretto Sour with lemon foam!

Vanilla Amaretto Sour Cocktail with Nielsen-Massey Vanilla //
This post is brought to you by Nielsen-Massey. Ideas are my own.

Is it too early to start thinking about Fall weather and cozy sweaters? Is it wrong that I may have turned my air conditioning down real low the other day and pretended it was cold outside? Please don’t judge. When Southern California gets its end-of-summer heat waves (that start around mid-August and go through October. Blech.), I start daydreaming pretty hard about being able to turn on my fireplace and snuggle up to it with something equally cozy.Vanilla Amaretto Sour Cocktail with Nielsen-Massey Vanilla //

Amaretto might not scream Autumn to you, in fact, it just might make you scream, but I’m a firm believer that a little amaretto now and then is good for you. Ever since I made myself an Amaretto Sour a few years back (on a quest to find things to do with this giant bottle I had acquired), I realized that I had been missing out on a flavor I really loved, and wouldn’t mind more of: almond. But then I went and had too much of a good thing and realized my go-to sour just wasn’t cutting it. What I needed was a little more warm, Fall flavors, and maybe a heaping helping of the unexpected. So in stepped Nielsen-Massey’s Madagascar Bourbon (my “all purpose”) vanilla beans and pure lemon extract. And a couple of N2O cartridges for good measure.Vanilla Amaretto Sour Cocktail with Nielsen-Massey Vanilla //

I’ve had Nielsen-Massey vanilla beans, pastes, extracts, you name it, in my pantry for over a decade now (thanks in part to my old job where I had access to the best ingredients Los Angeles chefs could get. Read why they’re a great pick here!). Today I’m excited to team up with them to bring you a cocktail using their amazing, hand picked vanilla beans.

Vanilla and almond are a great pair. I stick them in plenty of baked goods, and now I’m sticking them together in a cocktail. I’m also including an egg white, typically found in a sour, but not in your typical way.Vanilla Amaretto Sour Cocktail with Nielsen-Massey Vanilla //

I make no apologies on here about my love of foams in drinks. Besides looking nice, foams provide a way to suspend aromas above the drink, and also are a lovely layer to taste as well. That silky texture is your first sip before you get to the meat of the cocktail. Here, an extra boost of lemon first greets your nose before you get to the rich vanilla flecked amaretto. The foam mixes with the cocktail to cut through that richness to make the usual heavier cocktail a much lighter version.Vanilla Amaretto Sour Cocktail with Nielsen-Massey Vanilla //

So now you have a fun weekend DIY and a whole week to look forward to this delicious cocktail. But… if you can’t wait a week, you can always cheat with a 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste mixed into your amaretto. The flavor is not as deep as the infusion but works in a pinch!Vanilla Amaretto Sour Cocktail with Nielsen-Massey Vanilla //

Vanilla-infused Amaretto

1 cup amaretto
2 Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans, cut into 1” segments

Combine the amaretto and vanilla segments in an airtight container. Shake hard for 10 seconds to release some of the seeds from the pods. Let sit in a cool, dark place for 5 days. Taste test and leave for another day or two if you want an even stronger flavor. When ready, strain pods from the amaretto leaving seeds behind in the liquid. Infusion will keep for 1 year stored in a cool, dark place.

Lemon Foam

4 ounces water
2 ounces egg whites
1 ounce simple syrup
1-1/2 teaspoons Nielsen-Massey lemon extract

In a whip cream canister, add water, egg whites, simple syrup and lemon extract. Seal and charge with one N2O charger. Shake hard and charge with a second charger. Shake again and chill for at least an hour before using.

Click here to purchase the whip cream canister and the N2O chargers!

For the cocktail

2 ounces vanilla-infused amaretto
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
lemon foam
lemon peel for garnish

In a shaker ⅔ filled with ice, add the vanilla-infused amaretto and lemon juice. Shake for 20 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Top with about ½” of the lemon foam. Garnish with the lemon peel.

Vanilla Amaretto Sour Cocktail with Nielsen-Massey Vanilla //

For more information on Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, please visit the Nielsen-Massey website or follow Nielsen-Massey on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Make it: Pickled Watermelon Garnish and a sweet and sour ginger cockail

Pickled Watermelon Rinds and a Sweet and Sour Ginger Cocktail // stirandstrain.comGrowing up, there was a place where my Dad played pool that boasted a large, murky glass jug filled with iridescent white orbs; you might call them pickled eggs. Something about their appearance on a bar top, poorly lit by the fluorescent lighting, made the act of eating them akin to sticking ones hand in fire: you just didn’t do it unless you were drunk and your friend dared you to.

However, given a few decades between that memory and now, I probably wouldn’t have to be dared to eat them, and there’s a good chance I’d eat them sober too. My love of pickled food items has grown tremendously over the last 10 years. Partly because I’ve eaten some really, really good pickled items out at restaurants. Another part might have to do with my chunk of Scandinavian heritage. And partly because once you’ve eaten enough food your friends have dared you to eat while drinking, well, at some point you start to like it all.

Pickled Watermelon Rinds and a Sweet and Sour Ginger Cocktail // stirandstrain.comMy introduction to pickled watermelon rinds did not, however, come at the tail-end of a deep Southern drinking spree. I was offered some from a friend, tried them, and liked them. And today, because I’ve been overindulging in the bounty that is summer watermelon, I decided to make up a batch from all those leftover rinds.Pickled Watermelon Rinds and a Sweet and Sour Ginger Cocktail //

I’m also including a complimentary cocktail to go along with your pickled watermelon. It too uses scraps in the form of ginger knobs (My freezer is full of tiny bits of ginger because I can never quite buy the right amount and cannot bring myself to throw away anything.). A tiny bit of the brine goes a long way to perk up the cocktail, so definitely make both!

You’ll find that these tiny sweet and salty, slightly crunchy rinds are also a delicious bar snack to have around for the summer. And I’m sure any guests will appreciate these just a tad more than the jar of pickled eggs.Pickled Watermelon Rinds and a Sweet and Sour Ginger Cocktail //

Pickled Watermelon Rind:

1 small watermelon, about 4 pounds
1-1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
4 tablespoons kosher salt
1 (4-inch) cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
2 cloves, whole
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, whole

  1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove outer green layer of skin from watermelon (if you have a smaller watermelon, cut the bottom and top ends off so you can stand your watermelon up to peel. If it’s larger, cut in half to stand up). Discard skin. Cut rind into 1-inch cubes and reserve pink flesh for another use.
  2. Combine apple cider vinegar, sugar, water, salt, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, bay leaf, chili pepper flakes, cloves, and coriander seeds in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add watermelon rind, return to a boil and boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and carefully place a heatproof plate on top of the rind to keep it submerged as the mixture comes to room temperature.
  3. Once cool, transfer entire mixture to an airtight container and let stand in refrigerator for at least 2 days and up to 2 weeks.

Ginger Infused Vodka:

1 cup peeled fresh ginger root, sliced 1/2-inch thick
2 cups vodka

  • Combine vodka and ginger in an airtight container. Let stand in a cool, dark place for 5 days or to your desired spiciness, up to 14 days total. Strain into an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 6 months.

Pickled Watermelon Rinds and a Sweet and Sour Ginger Cocktail // stirandstrain.comFor each cocktail:

1-1/2 ounces Ginger Infused Vodka
1/4 ounce dry vermouth, such as Dolin
3 ounces chilled Prosecco
Pickled Watermelon Rind, for garnish

  • Combine Ginger Infused Vodka and vermouth in a mixing glass and fill two-thirds full with ice. Stir until well chilled, about 20 seconds. Strain into a small wine glass or coupe. Top with Prosecco and garnish with the pickled watermelon rind.

3..2..1.. Aperol Spritz Break! Indoors or Outdoors, Summer Adventure is Go

Aperol Spritz Break // stirandstrain.comThis post is brought to you by Aperol. Ideas are my own.

Today’s post is a kind of choose your own adventure. Whether you prefer to stay in an air conditioned home bar, or off under a shady tree on a hot summer day, I’m here to help make sure that wherever you do go, you have a pretty sweet bar set up.

I’ve teamed up with Aperol this summer to help kick off your very own Aperol Spritz Break. What’s that you ask? Italy’s favorite spirit, Aperol, has it’s own signature cocktail that’s the perfect reason to stop and take a moment to relax. Where you relax is up to you, so let’s get you set up for your #SpritzBreak.Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure //

The Home Bar

Although you may have a serious case of missing out looking at everyone’s Instagram account that shows off their mid-century bar cart, let me tell you that a decent home bar does not require one. I don’t have one, and look, I have a whole website devoted to cocktails made out of a home bar. This set up just requires you have a small rectangle of space to devote to your seasonal drink.

A seasonal drink? Yes. Why? Because cluttering up your space with a bunch of bottles is messy and if you have everything picked out ready to go, you look so smart when guests drop in and you can offer them a drink within seconds. It also means you get to switch out the area every season and fill it up with a new recipe and accoutrements; man I love the accoutrements. For the summer I’m enjoying an Aperol Spritz.Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure //

What makes a great space? The details. Your bar set up should be a tiny party waiting to happen. It should look like fun, but it should also be neat and have everything you need.

Like the proper bottles: have all the bottles you need for your seasonal drink ready and full. And then some. I love the small bottles from Q-Club and Fevertree for when I’m having a cocktail or two at home, or if a friend or Christopher is there enjoying one with me. For the larger crowds I use a soda siphon. Special dibs to you if you have a vintage one that works!

Ice: invest in a good ice bucket that will keep your ice cool. I like to break out my bronze pineapple when I have guests, but if it’s couple night at the house, I have a rugged OXO insulated bucket that gets the job done.

Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.comTools & Glassware: for the Aperol Spritz, no shaker is necessary. Just a stir stick to give it a final swirl before serving. For this punchy-colored cocktail I prefer an equal punchy-colored stirrer. These birds came from South America, but you can just go as far as Amazon and find some colorful ones. For serving, I like to have a few different size glasses available since this recipe is so adaptable. A few stemless wine glasses and some larger goblets for when you’re in the mood. And don’t forget a small knife for your fruit.

And speaking of fruit: always have a full bowl of fruit. Always. It’s not like they need to be kept refrigerated, they pretty up the space, and you’ll need lots of orange slices on hand for that Aperol Spritz.

Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.comExtras: It may seem obvious, but have some napkins for you and your guests. I always have paper and cloth napkins at the ready. You know there are just some people you’ll have over that either need a lot of napkins or are going to destroy your nice hand-stamped linen ones: give them paper. Alternatively, there are going to be some folks who scoff at paper. Whether it’s because of the environment or they’re a whole bunch of haughty hoo-haw: give them the cloth. Chances are they know enough not to spit their gum out in it.  This same reasoning goes with straws too. Both napkins and straws are the quickest way to change up the whole theme of your bar area.

And lastly, flowers: I’m a glutton for fresh flowers around the house. If I had my way there would be a constant rotation of flowers and my house would always smell amazing. A little bouquet just perks up the bar area and you don’t have to get super fancy. BONUS: get edible flowers and use them in your drinks.

Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.comThe Outside Bar

Whether you’re moving the party outside to the stoop, out to the park, or over to the beach, sometimes you need to just take it out of the house. Everything you need to have your own Spritz Break party can easily fit into a small insulated bag like this; just stop and get some ice on the way!

Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.comMany of the same requirements for your home bar set up work out in the wild:

  1. Bring only what you need: a bottle of Aperol, a bottle of prosecco, and two small bottles of club soda is enough for you and a small group of friends to have a nice round of drinks.
  2. Have the right tools: napkins, straws, a bottle open, a selfie-stick. Only the essentials.
  3. Glassware: leave the real glass at home. Invest in some nice quality plastic for trips out.
  4. A place to sit: blankets are lovely.

Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.comPlan ahead though too:

  1. Chill your bottles beforehand. That way your ice doesn’t immediately melt as soon as it hits the liquid.
  2. Cut your garnishes at home. Then you don’t have to bring a cutting board, a knife, and attract bees (trust me on the bees).
  3. Bring along some lazy games like playing cards or dominoes. Or Cards Against Humanity. Something that you only need to give a quarter of your attention to so you really do feel like you’re taking a break.

Regardless of where you head this summer, use these tips to make sure you have the best bar set up, and you’re sure to have a relaxing Spritz Break.

Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.comNever had an Aperol Spritz before, or need a recipe refresher? It’s as easy as 3, 2, 1:

3 parts prosecco, Cinzano Prosecco used here
2 parts Aperol
1 part club soda, Q-Club used here

  • Add prosecco, Aperol and club soda to a glass filled with ice. There’s really no cap on the size of each part; I’ve been known to fill a goblet or two. Top your glass off with a slice of orange, maybe a straw or two, and you’re ready for your #SpritzBreak!

For more Aperol Spritz Break ideas, please head on over to!