One Tart Squirrel

The first time we had to stock up for a Tiki Party I was introduced to a whole new world of liqueurs and flavorings that I’d never heard of. One of the those items was Creme de Noyaux. It’s an almond “flavored” liqueur (as far as I know, no actually almonds are used, just pits from apricots) that pops up in a variety of drinks in the tiki world. After we actually started experimenting with it my husband became enamored with it and now we own two large bottles of the stuff. So… I’m trying to think up drinks that will use it up and make some space for other bottles. No need to crowd the shelves with TWO of these guys when a bottle of Stranahans could easily take its place.

Joining my ever growing collection of citrus at the house this week is a bag of tangelos we harvested out of our own backyard. Long thought of as a dead plant that needed to be removed, all the crazy rains Los Angeles received recently ignited the spark of life back into this thing and we have now got a tree heavy with fruit. I’d never tried a tangelo before, so being the cautious type.. I gave a bag of them to a friend as a ‘gift’ and told them to get back to me quickly on how they tasted. The most important thing was that they came back alive the next day and I had not produced a big ol’ tree of poison. The verdict was that they were really sour but very juicy, perfect they told me for marmalade. Well, sour is fantastic for drinks, not on my toast, and then I decided to try and marry this flavor with the Creme de Noyaux.

When I cut my tangelo open the first thing I realized was that my idea of sour and my friend’s idea of sour lived in two separate worlds. These were slightly sweet and slightly sour, and crazy juicy. Cutting one open just poured liquid out. Trying to formulate a drink recipe out of this took a couple turns, and I think that I might even candy some jalapeños next time and add to this, just because I think it could use some heat. But anyways, I think that I was able to make a combination of flavors that was light, refreshing, and used up some Creme de Noyaux (albeit not nearly enough).

2-1/2 oz of light rum
1/2 oz of Creme de Noyaux
4 tangelo slices (cut about 1/4″ thick)
1 tsp of honey (I used some local orange blossom honey)
2 dashes of bitters
1/2 oz of freshly squeezed lime juice

one tangelo wheel for garnish

Muddle together the tangelo slices and the honey. On top of the muddled mixture, fill mixing glass 2/3 way with ice and add rum, Creme de Noyaux, bitters and lime juice. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Run a lighter over both sides of the tangelo wheel and drop into the glass.

I know, RUM. Again! These are all mixed drinks though, not straight rum. I think I need to take one of the Rum education classes at the Cana Rum bar here in L.A. to really get to know and appreciate rum. And why the Squirrel name? Creme de Noyaux drinks I learned are referred to as pink squirrel drinks. I don’t necessarily know if this fits the category, but I like the name so I’ll stick with it.

Cherry Black-Stripe

This is now the third version of this post (although this is new to you all out there). I couldn’t get it right. For background, I had just finished the history chapter of the Joy of Mixology (I have already penciled-up the margins and written down a list of some interesting sounding cocktails). One in particular I thought I’d like to try, possible hot. Then it got really nice and spring-like around here and I put that to bed for a week.

Then I decided I should just try it as is. What struck me initially was the drink’s simplicity. Rum and molasses. I love molasses. One of my favorite things to eat as a child (and occasionally now) was cream of wheat and molasses. No. I did not grow up on the prairie. My mother didn’t allow us many sweets or processed foods. For the longest time starfruit and kiwis were considered top shelf sweets around the house. Until I hit grade school and was introduced to the peanut butter cup.

However there was no recipe for this. The drink, the Black-Stripe, was mentioned in passing as something that was drunk around the 1700s. And out of this loose basis for a cocktail recipe I thought I’d put something together.

The trick to this drink was balance. And then when I still couldn’t get that right, Luxardo cherry syrup. See what I’m doing here? If you’ve bought any of these items then you can reuse them in other drinks. The only molasses I had around the house was unsweetened black strap molasses. It’s a bittersweet flavor at best, very robust and rich but the problem was that along with the rum it wasn’t making the best tasting drink. That’s when I introduced the cherry syrup. That isn’t overwhelmingly sweet either but it added enough to give the drink some kick and flavor.

I had decided ahead of time that I wanted to layer this drink. Also, I thought it best to keep it on the small side. You can use a cordial glass or over-sized shot glass to make this.

1/2 Tbsp black strap molasses
1 oz 10 Cane Rum
2 tsp Luxardo cherry syrup

Slowly pour into the bottom of a cordial glass the molasses, then the rum. Over the back of a bar spoon slowly pour the syrup down the middle of the glass. The syrup should settle on top of the molasses creating a dark black to blood red stripe in the glass.

Now, as is, you might want to quickly shoot the cocktail to get it all down in one gulp, as the molasses quickly settles to the bottom of the glass and stays there. Otherwise, after you’ve admired the stripe you just created, use a stir stick to quickly mix all the ingredients in the glass together. This is not a light drink. It’s rich and flavorful, and for some might be too flavorful. Proceed with caution.

Springtime Gin Fizz

Admit it. You love smelling your fingers after you’ve gone and picked some herbs.

Ok, well I do. Last year we finally got around to redoing our front ‘yard’ that was admittedly turning into an eyesore for the neighborhood. One tree was dead. There was a bush that was trying to kill itself from lack of water. And tall phallic things were shooting out of some leafy succulents. It was scary looking. With the help of a friend of mine who moonlights doing landscape design, we finally got our shit together. Now the front of our house looks presentable, and is flanked by two lavender bushes and rosemary crawling all over the bottom half of it. It smells lovely walking by it.

We use rosemary a lot since we’ve put those in. And as soon as we planted it last year I went out and made a rosemary gin fizz that was made from the simple syrup in this recipe. At least two of my friends have received this syrup as part of a gift over the last year. And now I’ve come full circle and I’m not about to give the same rosemary syrup as a gift. And as spring approaches I thought I’d add some floral notes to this syrup and then combine it with some bright citrus to tide me over until the weather stops doing things like have the sun out shining for the first couple hours of the day and then have temperatures PLUNGE and clouds come rushing in. Sigh. And I want to move to Portland… Hrmm.

So I tinkered with the rosemary and lavender outside and made them into a simple syrup. Found here. And then decided on making a Springtime Gin Fizz.

2-1/2 oz Gin (I used Hendrick’s to add a touch more floral note to the drink)
1 oz Meyer Lemon Juice
1 oz Rosemary Lavender Simple Syrup
Club Soda

Spring of rosemary for garnish (optional- you may find this too overpowering in your glass. If so, toss it and enjoy the drink as is.)

Fill a Collins glass with ice. Pour gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in. Mix with a bar spoon and top off with club soda. Garnish if you like.

Keep in mind that the simple syrup here is not a typical ratio and will not produce very sweet results. The meyer lemon juice here makes up for that. However, if you are using regular lemons, you will need to taste and adjust according to your desire of sugar. And the lavender? Very subtle. Don’t worry, it’s not going to smell like your Grandmother’s purse. The lavender creates some soft floral nose that I feel works well with the Hendricks. Fizzy springtime in a cup.

 

Make It: Rosemary Lavender Simple Syrup

Rosemary Lavender Simple Syrup for use in the Springtime Gin Fizz.

2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar (I used organic golden sugarcane, but ehhhh… you can use white, it’s just what I had on hand)
4 sprigs of rosemary
1 teaspoon of lavender buds

Wash and dry your herbs. In a saucepan that seems much too large to hold such little liquid, throw in the water, sugar and herbs. Swish to combine. It’s not necessary to thoroughly dissolve the sugar. That will happen soon enough. Bring the mixture to a soft boil (not rolling), then turn down to simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Fine strain your mixture into a glass container. I prefer one with a spout (I usually just pour into a pyrex measuring glass) since I will transfer this into a couple different jars. One for a present, and then one bottle with a pour spout for drinks.

Note: There is so much debate over simple syrups (Cocktail Culture has a nicely compiled list of several arguments), and since I don’t claim to be an expert on any of this I am just using the same recipe I was following for the original recipe. It tastes good and worked for me with no problems. The original recipe says it will last up to one week in the fridge, but again, as with other syrups, I find that the boiling process does some kind of scientific mojo that lets it sit perfectly fine in my fridge for at least a month. However, this mix is going straight into the next drink recipe…here.

Squeeze Those Lemons

For a couple weeks now I have been racking my brain trying to come up with ideas on how to use all these lemons I have. And keep getting. Then the other night while I was cutting open a lemon to use for a drink and having to dirty up a knife, and a cutting board, and my fingers… I thought how much simpler this would be to just have a large amount of the freshly squeezed stuff on hand. Duh.

Bar professional after bar professional keeps stressing how important it is to have fresh squeezed juices on hand for drinks. But really, citrus season lasts only so long. And I do not have a food service truck arriving at my back door daily with crates of produce to use. So for those of us who are more than likely at our house mixing drinks, when it is that time of the year for citrus, squeeze the crap out of those lemons, and limes, and if you want to then some oranges too. Measure them out, pour into ziplock bags and freeze them. Bam. Juice when you need it. Now, I am still for using the alive lemon when on hand. But I like the idea of having a nice big stash on hand too.

I just finished zesting some lemons for the limoncello recipe and was annoyed at the fact that the recipe I had on hand said to wait a couple weeks and use new lemons. Why? Go ahead and juice the lemons you just used, label the bag and stick it in the freezer. Then you just need to defrost the bag maybe the night before you know you will need to use the juice. No waste. I hate wasting food and you should too. 

Make It: Limoncello Part One

I thought I had cut most of the lemons off my mother-in-law’s lemon tree (bush?) a couple weeks ago.. but we were back down to visit and I find myself trekking back from Orange County with two shopping bags full. One can only make so much lemon curd before you’ve gained 10 pounds and your mouth is burning from acid overload.. So I got a jar of them preserving with some salt.. and I thought I’d try my hand at making some Limoncello too. Apparently it takes some time though, so this is definitely a project. With deadlines! (I made some notes on my phone calendar to remind me when to do things like strain and bottle.)  But hopefully by the time this is done I will want lemons again.

Part One:
Slightly adapted from: Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects

1-1/2 Cups 100 Proof Vodka (I am using Stolichnaya here because that is what I found at Bevmo that was a high enough proof vodka. You want a high proof since you will be cutting it later with juice and simple syrup)
Zest of 4-5 Meyer Lemons (save the lemons! juice them up, seal in a ziplock and freeze it!)

First, the recipe specifically calls out not to use Meyer lemons in the book. However since that is all I have I will just have to try it and see what happens. If it produces a mellower, sweeter Limoncello, so be it.

Anyways, throughly clean a jar and tight fitting lid with soap and warm water, dry it, and pour in the vodka. I wasn’t sure if the recipe meant FINE zest of lemons, or large sections of zest of lemons. So I did both. The original recipe points out that you don’t want to have much of the white pith on there and if you use a microplane zester, you probably won’t have that problem. However, if you try to get clever and attempt to zest off large sections of skin with a paring knife, like I first tried, you will probably end up with a considerable amount of pith and a sore wrist. If you are a seasoned professional in the art of zesting and you’re rolling your eyes at my inability to do this, then please proceed with your amazing knife skills. I found it easiest to just zest right over the mouth of the jar and periodically tap the microplane against it releasing any build up of the zest. I also tried the paring knife trick over the jar as well, in case any lemon juice got loose.

Then all you have to do is seal up your jar, swish the vodka around to collect any bits of zest that didn’t make it down to the liquid and wait two weeks. Yes, two weeks. And you need to shake it up every day too. I told you this was a project. Since I’ve been reading the Joy of Mixology one of the tips Gary Regan has in his section on infused liquids is to keep it somewhere you will see it everyday. That way when you walk by it you can shake it up and move on. Oh, and please keep it out of direct sunlight and not in a place that will get too warm.

Look for part two….in two weeks.

Electric Sidecar

A couple months ago my husband went to this reading an author was giving, and I guess to make things more interesting they also had a white elephant gift exchange (that’s the only reason I could think of for holding one). You all know what a white elephant gift exchange is right? That’s when people bring really stupid gifts and then exchange them.. trying to be ironic, or hip or something. Anyways, he came home with this bottle of liquor that was all in Japanese and what he claimed was “like Jägermeister”. But from Japan. The box looked like something from a 70’s dollar store and that alone kept me from even opening and smelling it for this whole time. Until now. Maybe because it’s become a staple on the shelf in the kitchen that I have found myself warming up to it. Oh good morning weird unknown Japanese liquor. No, I don’t think I will try you today. Maybe tomorrow.

Well now the day has come. But first, obviously, I had to look it up on the internet and figure out what the hell it was first. Oh, it’s called Denki Bran. And this article I found in The Japan Times Online sums it up as a “blend of brandy, gin, wine, vermouth, curacao and herbs”. Dang. That’s a lot of crap in there already.

Seeing that brandy made the first in the list of ingredients… well, this list. And also according to the article, Bran is Japanese for Brandy? (In the 5 minutes I spent looking around the internet I couldn’t confirm this so I’ll just be lazy for now and assume the person is probably correct) I wanted to use this in place of a Brandy base. After looking around for some ideas I landed on the Sidecar. And trying to be really clever with naming a drink, and that denki is Japanese for electricity, I have named this the Electric Sidecar.

1-1/2 oz Denki Bran
3/4 oz of Triple Sec
1 oz of Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice (I used Meyer Lemons since I have bags of them hanging around the house right now)
granulated sugar for sugared-rim garnish

Shake all of the ingredients in a shaker with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass with sugared rim.

This took a couple passes and ultimately I had to decrease the triple sec and up the lemon juice. Perhaps because the meyer lemon juice is sweet as it is, the drink needed to have the sweet of the triple sec toned down. The Denki Bran has some anise flavor, some citrus notes but also at the same time is sharp and woodsy. Maybe because it’s packed with so many ingredients. The biting medicinal taste of the liquor all but disappears when mixed here, adding some savory notes to the intense citrus in the drink.

Alright, my copy of the Joy of Mixology arrived in the mail. I’m going to go bury myself in that for a couple days and come back with some fizzy drinks and a bunch of recipes on how to use up bags of lemons that are crowding your kitchen counters.

Mixology Monday: Some Like It Hot- Hot Buttered Warm Up Drink!

Hot alcoholic drinks bring me back to being sick as a kid and having a dad who was extraordinarily inept when it came to dealing with these things. I guess he was just doing what his mom did to him when he was sick and a kid.. passing down old world traditions of giving hot whiskey and honey to a coughing child. Occasionally I still will mix one up when the temperature in L.A. drops down below 50, which it has been doing lately. Waking up the other morning and looking out to see a palm tree in the foreground and a snow covered mountain in the background made me take a second glance. And then a third. And then I broke out the camera and emailed a photo to my parents back east to prove we do have weather out here. Oh but you came here for a drink recipe! Let’s talk about that!

This post is my entry into this month’s Mixology Monday. It’s my first, which may not be so shocking since there are only a handful of posts on this here site (the blog may be new, but my interest in cocktails goes back a-ways). And it is hosted over at The Backyard Bartender. Hosted virtually. The drink is a Hot Buttered Warm Up. It doesn’t really indicated anything about the drink except there may be some butter in it and it’s hot. Part of the titling is that warm drinks go down easy and after several I can’t remember what they’re really called and default to calling them ‘Warm Ups’. Cause they do that to you.

1 T of Cardamom, Vanilla, and Muscovado Sugar Compound Butter (recipe is in this post)
1 bay leaf
5 oz of strong black tea (I used PG Tips)
2 oz of bourbon
1/2 oz of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz of amaretto
lemon peel for garnish

Drop the tablespoon of butter mixture into your serving cup (a glass coffee mug, regular coffee mug.. something that can take some heat). Meanwhile, make the tea: pour boiling water over one tea bag and the bay leaf in a separate mug (you could quadruple this recipe and make a whole pot of tea if you were serving for company. It would probably make you feel better than having to waste two coffee mugs on this.). Let sit and brew for 6 minutes. Strain the tea onto your butter mixture, you want to use anywhere between 5 to 6 ounces of tea here (one small coffee mug is about right- but since mugs vary greatly in size and capacity, you might want to measure it all out ahead of time). Add the bourbon and lemon juice. Stir to combine the mixture (and break up the butter a bit if it’s been hanging out in the fridge until now). Float the amaretto on top and garnish with the lemon peel.

Even though you have sugar and vanilla in the butter, it mellows out here and is not very sweet. That said, if you love your drinks sweet I’d adjust the butter mixture to your own tastes. This was perfect for me. Originally I had this without the lemon juice but once I tasted the drink it was screaming for some acid. I particularly wanted to use bourbon in this, but next time I might try it with some dark rum to see where that goes (my never ending quest to become pals with rum). If the temperature stay the same around here you might see some more hot drinks coming soon.

***The inspiration behind this was in part me marrying into a half-Indian family last year and eating much more cardamom. I learned that I like it, and there’s a whole new world of bizarre flavor combinations that I want to make into drinks thanks to them. This is one of them. The other part is that hot whiskey is the only cure I can think of when I look outside and there are palm trees and snow.

Make It: Cardamom, Vanilla, Muscovado Sugar Compound Butter

This is the recipe for the butter base in my Hot Buttered Warm Up drink (which should be the next post after this or links here).

½ cup (4oz) unsalted butter
2 T of muscovado sugar
4 large cardamom pods cracked and seeds ground finely
1 tsp of vanilla bean paste (Vanilla paste can quite pricey and is usually used by a. people who bake things in large quantities and need containers of paste or b. people who find the act of trying to slice open a single vanilla bean and scrape out its contents an utter pain in the ass. I am not a baker. I’m sure you could use vanilla extract here and get the same flavor, but I wanted pretty flecks of seeds in there.)

Cream the butter and the sugar together in a stand mixer. Add in next 2 ingredients, mix to incorporate. Scrape butter mixture into a dish, cover tightly and refrigerate.

Bitters, Stocking Up and a Manhattan

I happen to work at a place that sells a lot of high end supplies and food and bar stuff here in Southern California. I own way more crap in my kitchen than I need due to the employee discount, however, it seems that I am lacking in the bar mixer ingredient department. Since I’ve set out now to become more active in learning about cocktails, I did a big stock up today. Falernum (how was I making Tiki Drinks without this stuff?), Fee Brothers: maraschino syrup, orange bitters, mint bitters, some luxardo cherries. Sweet! Now I have a couple more layers to work with here. Except.. what do I do with the bitters?

Well, I guess one should taste all of their ingredients first.

Unfortunately I tried the luxardo cherries first and decided I’d try the rest later as these were the most amazing things I’ve ever tasted. And I had to try a Manhattan with one of these little jewels resting in the bottom of my glass.

I am not 100% sure on the exact proportions of how much sweet vermouth really should go in here, but the recipe below is what I usually follow.

2 oz Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 Proof
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 Dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters

1 Luxardo Cherry for garnish

Add a the cherry to the bottom of a chilled cocktail glass. Stir ingredients in a mixing glass filled 2/3 way with ice. Strain into the cocktail glass.

This Rye has a lot of sweet nose to it but is surprisingly not as sweet as I expected when straight up. Luxardo cherries also are not as cloyingly rich as you would expect. Even though as you strain one out of that dark, luxurious syrup in the jar, all you can compare it to is those maraschino cherries on your ice cream until you taste it. This is restrained sweetness. I feel like the sweet vermouth is what adds all the …sweetness (really am at a loss for another word here) to the drink. With a bourbon I would use less sweet vermouth, but here the proportions balance out. And at the end you get a nice boozy cherry.