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.

Garnishes Up In My Face, and Vamping Up a French 75

Giant Beautiful Garnish

Recently my husband and I took a trip to Vegas for a couple of days. Unfortunately the morning of I had come down with a horrible bout of food poisoning. We ended up canceling all of our dinner plans, but kept the cocktail tastings since that was about all I could take. We visited the bar at Postrio at the Venetian, had a beautiful drink with Hendrick’s Gin and Grapefruit juice (I wish I could tell you all the ingredients; hell, I wish I remembered them so I could make this at home). The garnish was this large section of grapefruit. It really looked… beautiful. But it was pretty clumsy to drink. I love a garnish that adds to the drink, but if you’re concerned with it falling off, or on your face, while you’re trying to drink, then what’s the point? We ran into a similar problem at a Champagne bar at the Palazzo. The lemon twist was HUGE. I had to take it off to drink out of the flute… otherwise it might have come tumbling out. Not to make this a downer post, but the champagne cocktail itself was a one note drink. Which made me think about what I’d want in one. And hence a post about drinks with Champagne (or, Prosecco since that’s all that I have on hand).

 

Well. Damn, I still have that container of orange simple syrup lurking in my fridge. And well, I’d love to riff on the French 75 I had at that champagne bar. How could a drink made with lemon juice and gin.. have no flavor?

 

I have a tiny bit of Citadelle Gin that I should use up. Do you ever have a bottle that has been hanging around for awhile, and not because you don’t like it.. you just have a tiny bit left and cannot throw it out? Welcome to my world. I cannot waste things, like food. I cry if I find a half dead head of lettuce in the fridge and I have to throw it out. And I also have on hand is some brand X prosecco(it’s really not that great of a prosecco here and you would laugh at how much I bought it for. So really, any dry bubbly will work here) that is going into a risotto recipe after this. But on to the drink recipe…

 

2 oz Citadelle Gin (this boasts 19 different ingredients and since it had both orange and lemon peel on this list I figured this would work fine)
1-1/2 ounce Meyer lemon juice
1 oz orange simple syrup
prosecco to top it off with

 

Shake the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup in a shaker filled with ice. Strain into a highball glass. Top it off with prosecco. I would suggest not filling the glass all the way to the top with prosecco as you will drown out the other flavors (and possibly have it fizz all over you and the floor).

 

I upped the lemon juice by a here for some more zing in the drink and to balance out the very dry prosecco. The orange simple syrup added just a hint of sweet orange flavor. The gin is a bit buried in this drink. And honestly, for all its boasting of ingredients I couldn’t really distinguish them all when tasting it by itself, so mixing it in here just added one more level of flavor. Oh, and due to some camera difficulties and white balance, the full glass is not shown here due to it looking like a big ol’ glass of pee. It was starting to go flat and I wasn’t about to waste it.

 

So, comparing this drink with the French 75 I had in Vegas… well, for starters you can taste the citrus, and there is not a hint of bitterness. It is sweet and sour and light. And I think I’ll have another.

Fancy Hombre

Admittedly I really had no idea what St. Germaine was until their clever marketing campaign of old timey postcards of scantily clad women came across my way. A framed woman from the 20’s stands nonchalantly with a croquet bat (bat? Not sure what they are really called at the moment) in the master bath at the house, sans clothes, grandfathered in from my husband’s bachelor days. There is some draw to these photos.. oh but we should be moving on to the drink here. Anyways, I picked up a bottle after trying a cocktail out where they had slipped some in with gin and tonic water. It was just enough to give the G&T an extra layer of flavor without being overwhelmingly sweet (which you can do if you pour too much in. Which I have done and wasted a drink over.). Then came the day when I was out of tonic, and gin, and still had this HUGE BOTTLE of elderflower liquor sitting on the shelf getting dusty. I slightly modified a drink on the St. Germain site and came up with this:

2-1/2 oz Tequila
1 oz St. Germain
Dash of Dry Vermouth

I’ve had it both stirred with ice and strained into a chilled cocktail glass, or just mixed and kept over ice. However if you drink it too slow over ice it dulls the flavors and washes it out a bit. So I would just stir it gently with ice and strain. Or would that be stirred?

Lime Fail

This is going to be a two-parter because I haven’t perfected this drink yet. A couple weeks ago when citrus season started around here.. does anyone else ever feel weirded out that such summery fruit as citrus are in season in the winter? Living in Southern California and it being 75 out today at the beginning of February while my parents are snowed in back in New England should probably make me feel less confused (it sure feels summery around here)… but I find myself surprised when my CSA basket arrives and there are a bunch of oranges rolling around on the bottom. Every year. It always gets me. So anyways, I got my first batch of oranges, and then a second batch and I just was not eating them fast enough so I decided perhaps I’ll use a bunch up in something that I will want to eat a lot of. Like cake. The recipe I followed (which you can read here) had one making what I thought at the time was really a LARGE amount of orange simple syrup. I was candying orange slices in it, but really, 3 cups sugar and 3 cups water is a lot of room for 2 small oranges. Fast forward to when the cake was done and I had to brush on the syrup. I felt I was being more than generous practically pouring it on there, but I was still left over with a tub of orange water with a couple left over slices in it. I thought to myself, well, I could definitely use this in something. And so it sat in my fridge for 3 weeks.

This past week I received a copy of The Grog Log in the mail. Very excited to try something in there, but realizing I am very low on resources on the shelf I looked over the book to try and find the simplest of recipes in there to use with a very nice bottle of rum someone brought as a gift during Christmas to the house. Side note here that I am not a fan of rum as is. I can remember being read a bedtime story and my mom leaving her glass of Rum&Coke by the bed for a second and being totally disgusted by the taste. I pretty much still have the same reaction to the drink now almost 30 years later. So, I like to mellow out the flavor in Tiki drinks by mixing it with about 6 other things. However, this rum was supposed to be far superior to the Puerto Rican stuff in a gallon sized jug that I don’t know what to do with. And that at least warranted mixing it with only a few ingredients. Because I am just not going to drink it plain. The simplest I could find was a combination of rum, lime juice and simple syrup. I switched out the simple syrup with the orange syrup and was pretty sure this would be a nice, refreshing drink on such a lovely day. Celebrations were in order what with it only reaching a high of 65 the previous day (it took a very brief period of time to adjust to living in this climate after living 20+ years in New England, and after 8 years my entire family has practically disowned me due to getting the shivers one November when I came back for Thanksgiving).

Ah, but one thing I didn’t count on was the large organic limes we bought would taste like utter crap. And that was the only fresh lime juice to be had. I also think I need to adjust the syrup to a slightly higher mix. ½ an ounce and you could barely taste the orange at all. It’s a nice delicate flavor, as I used extremely sweet, fragrant oranges that stood up after being simmered with sugar for an hour (this was for the purpose of candying the orange slices, no need to do it this long if you are making a simple syrup). Does anyone know how long a boiled sugar concoction like this lasts?

So this week I will try and pick up some different limes and try this again with the adjustments. Stay tuned.