Holiday Gift Guide: Into the Woods

I don’t know about you, but when I think of “nature”, I think bear attacks and canned beans. If you find yourself stuck in one of those situations, only a good cocktail will help. And also running like hell.

Holiday Gift Guide: Into the Woods // stirandstrain.com

Wilderness doesn’t seem so daunting when a bear’s roaring mouth is helping you crack open a bottle of tonic water (thanks pal!). Or that fox just chilled your drink real nice. Just watch out for the wild turkeys; they might bite.

1. Animal Print Cocktail Napkins 2. Fox Shaker 3. Animal Head Shot Glasses 4. Bear Bottle Opener 5. Giraffe Cocktail Stirrers 6. Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon 8. Zebra Coaster

The El-El After-Dinner Cocktail

El-El Cocktail // stirandstrain.comLet’s jump into this post with a story.

A few weeks ago I received an email from a friend of mine asking if I was available to make some drinks for a Thanksgiving-Hanukkah related dinner party. Not just any dinner party, one hosted by the guys behind The Table Set Podcast. I would be responsible for providing a dessert cocktail to accompany dessert. Naturally I jumped at the chance. And in the end, they let me do TWO drinks. The first one you guys have seen before, the Averna Highball, which proved itself a lovely companion to some Turkey Broth with Thanksgiving “Stuffing” Matzo Ball soup.

Dessert was going to be a new to everyone cocktail. Besides working as an ‘after dinner’ type drink, it also had to pair with the actual dessert (which you can find out more about by listening to the podcast. It’s a doozy! Look for it later this week.). In my mind, after dinner drinks fall into 3 categories: coffee, port and, well, more cocktails. For this drink I decided to dump them all into one cup. One tasty, caffeinated cup.El-El Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Prior to this, I had been considering infusing coffee into a rum to try out for drinks, and low and behold, the opportunity presented itself here. This is a quick infusion folks, so don’t go fretting about having to wait. I mean, it’s not going to be ready in an hour, but at least you’re not waiting a whole week!

The garnish you’re looking at is a nod to the dessert it accompanies, and no, it’s not the dessert you think it is. Since this was at a Thanksgivukkah dinner, originally I had thought of including a gold coin garnish (admittedly I know very little about the holiday, being raised Catholic and all, even we got these coins in our stockings at Christmas), but decided that a gilded pecan would look prettier (it does). Paired with a Luxardo cherry it’s also mighty tasty too.

The dinner itself was great, and I’m still dreaming about the dishes. Also, I learned how to actually play the Dradle game for real; and I won. And if you’re curious, the El-El is not a phonetically Jewish spelling of some sort. I just combined the names of the rum and coffee because I was drawing a blank on what to call it… real imagination here.El-El Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

1-1/2 oz. Intelligentsia El Diablo Dark Roast infused 15 year El Dorado Rum (see recipe below)
1/4 oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
1/2 oz. Yalumba Antique Tawny Port
1/2 oz. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth

Garnish:
Maple Glazed Pecan (see recipe below) dusted with edible gold glitter
Luxardo Cherry

Combine rum, allspice dram, port and sweet vermouth in a mixing glass 2/3 filled with ice. Stir about 20 seconds and strain into a chilled miniature snifter glass. Garnish with a cocktail pick speared with the pecan and cherry.

Rich and decadent are the two words that first popped out of my mouth. Full coffee wafts up on the nose and stays on the palate. A spicy, bittersweet finish pops with each layer of flavor. This is definitely an after-dinner sipper with a lot of complex allspice, ginger and chocolate notes to it. It pairs wonderfully with a vanilla ice cream. So, if you’re looking for something to pair with dessert this holiday season, here you go.

Make It: Intelligentsia El Diablo Dark Roast infused 15 year El Dorado Rum

14 oz. 15 Year El Dorado Rum
1/2 cup Intelligentsia El Diablo Dark Roast

Combine ingredients in an airtight container (I reused my rum bottle). Swirl to cover the beans. Let sit for 2 days. Fine strain to catch any broken coffee beans. Bottle. Use within two years.

Golden Maple Glazed Pecans

Adapted from Food Network
1 cup pecans
3 tablespoons organic maple syrup
pinch of salt

Dry heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add pecans, maple syrup and salt. Stir to combine and keep stirring until pecans are covered and syrup has evaporated from the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes. Pour out pecans onto a silpat or parchment paper to cool. While still warm, dust edible gold glitter over the pecans. Shake off excess. (This is easier if you spear onto toothpick first.). Tastes best up to a week in an airtight container.

Action shot from dinner.
Action shot from dinner.

Big thanks again to Andy, Greg and Nathan from The Table Set for inviting me over to talk cocktails and for allowing me to serve strangers alcohol.

Also, in case you haven’t see all the tweets, Stir & Strain now has a Facebook page! You can find it over here.

Holiday Gift Guide: The Gold Standard

When something is covered in gold it makes it special, right? Unless you’re Jill Masterson; then you’re an unfortunate casulty of a James Bond love affair. But let’s not get bogged down with my obsession with the James Bond franchise. Let’s talk gifts! Of Gold! For cocktails!

Holiday Gift Guides: Gold // stirandstrain.com

 

I’m sorry if you were expecting a certain gold-flecked liquor, instead I’m opting for some gold-wrapped champagne to top your cocktail. Make sure you mix it up nice with some blindingly beautiful accessories. And when you’re done, that bar cart is sure a nice way to store everything.

1. Southern Hemisphere Double Old Fashioned Glass 2. Brignac Brut Gold Champange 3. Gold Bar Spoon 4. Gold Jigger 5. Polka Dot Coasters 6. 18K Gold Cocktail Shaker 7. Bar Cart 8. Gold Stripe Straws

In Other News

If you’re on Facebook, Stir & Strain now has a page! You can click here to follow along.

Do you know the perfect gift for the cocktail enthusiast in your life? Care to share? Leave a comment so shopping is a little less awful for everyone else this year.

Holiday Gift Guide: Cocktails. On a Boat.

Probably every year about this time I start feeling uneasy and mumble to myself, “I’m not ready yet”. Purity jokes aside, it usually means I’m all a fuss about the upcoming holiday season. I mean, it’s 80 outside. It sure doesn’t feel like Santa is hiding in my chimney, ready to come down and scold me for not baking enough cookies this year.

But just because I’m a bumbling mess doesn’t mean YOU have to be. This year I’m trying to be more proactive and bring you, readers, timely gift guides. Not like those I threw out in March, even though, well, St. Patrick’s Day is also a relative holiday in my field.

Today we’re going to ease into just thinking about fun gifts for those cocktail lovers/enthusiasts/entertainers in your life. Or you can make a list for yourself! Who cares?! I don’t; you should see my “to buy” list, many items of which will actually be appearing here in the next few weeks.

Since it is still pretty balmy out here in Southern California, I’m taking you on a boat trip – with boozy gifts.

You’ll need a good Navy Strength Rum on this boat, and a couple of shatter-resistant glasses (for when it gets rough). Who wants to carry a bunch of full size products when you can have mini bitters on board? Adult ice pops? Yes. Just don’t forget the ice bucket!

Nautical Cocktail Gift Guide // stirandstrain.com

1. Loop Rocks Glasses 2. Vintage Nautical Bar Tools 3. Sailboat Stir Sticks 4. Smith & Cross Rum 5. Sailboat Pops 6. Scrappy’s Bitters Travel Pack 7. Nautical Ice Bucket

A Diwali Cocktail

A Diwali Cocktail // stirandstrain.comAll of you guys are about to get schooled in a holiday I’m pretty sure you had no idea existed. If you are Indian and are reading this, then, well, you know what holiday this is. If you’re not from Indian descent, I’m guessing you are trying to figure out how to pronounce that word. Diwali. The “W” is like a “V”, pretty easy. In case you are wondering, I am not of Indian descent. My heritage crosses most of Europe, stopping way up North with the Nordic culture, and then randomly zig-zags through the continent. My family even has some French Canadian and a probably unlikely history with the Native American community. That being an unconfirmed princess from some tribe that I think is just made up several generations ago.

So why India’s most major of holidays? I married into it. From first glance you would have no idea my husband was part Indian. The other half is Polish, and after living in Los Angeles for many years before meeting him, I thought he was Mexican when we first met. No offense to Mexican and South American cultures, I was very buzzed at that first meeting. But since being an active part in his Mother’s culture for almost 7 years now, I’ve started to take on some of these other holidays. Also, at his cousin’s request, relocating back to work in India this year, I owe the cousin and her husband a housewarming drink just in time for this holiday.

If you have been reading this blog for some time, you might recall the not-so-pleasant experience I had visiting that continent last year. However, you would note that an awesome drink DID spring up from that experience, and most notably, that country’s love of Gin. India does a decent Gin and Tonic folks.A Diwali Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

So for this year, on the festival of lights, I decided to tweak a recipe I encountered in the Washington Post on Indian beverages. The ingredients might seem a bit out there, but if you’re interested in new flavors, this would be a great place to start. The flavors of India are perfect for many cocktail creations, as they encompass sweet, salty and savory all at once and taste a lot more complex than cocktails you might be familiar with.

Here’s a warning for this drink, not to scare you off, but one ingredient in here, the black salt, might be a bit too much for some of you out there. When you open your container, you will get hit with a great amount of sulphur. That is a flavor component that this adds. Smelly, smelly sulphur. However, if you eat Indian food, you will find this subtly in the background in many dishes, so you might have already tried it before. Here though, if you are terrified of ruining a decent cocktail, or just simply cannot get your hands on it, leave it out. I won’t tell.A Diwali Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Also, the article suggests adding herbs and whole black peppercorns to your ice cubes the day before. This is optional and mainly a decorative element. When the ice cube starts to melt in the drink, be mindful that the peppercorns may be now floating in your beverage and you might unknowingly almost swallow one. I might have just done that. Twice.

Diwali Cocktail

Adapted from the Washington Post

Yields about 4 drinks

For paste base:
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons amchoor powder
1 teaspoons Indian Black Salt (make sure it is Indian and NOT anything else. No one else will have the same sulphur quality)
pinch kosher salt
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup water

For each serving:
3 to 4 oz. Q Ginger
1-1/2 oz. Old Bombay London Dry Gin

Garnish:
marigolds
lime wedges

  1. In a large mortar dish, add all paste ingredients except water and grind down until a paste forms. Add water and stir to combine. Consistency will be watery.
  2. In a double rocks glass or medium sized snifter, add a tablespoon and a half to the bottom of the glass. Add ice. Pour over gin, Q Ginger and squeeze 2 lime wedges in each glass. Top with marigolds.

At first sip this cocktail is almost shocking. So many flavors are going on in this drink and as you sip they meld together a bit and settle down. Cumin pepper, and the black salt dominate with their earthiness while the ginger, amchoor (which is dried mango powder by the way) and lime have a lovely sharp sweetness. If you would like more sweetness here, you can up the simple syrup or Q Ginger. The mint and cilantro give off some floral aromas as well. And the gin, well, it is sitting way at the back of the class here. It’s in there, but clearly being muscled out by the other spices. The marigolds are edible if you would like to try them although here their presence is symbolic of celebration in Indian culture. For the Hindi ceremony part of our wedding these little guys were EVERYWHERE.

Happy Diwali. If you do venture to make this, please let me know what you think!A Diwali Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Make It: Bourbon Vanilla Caramel Sauce

Vanilla Bourbon Caramel Sauce // stirandstrain.comAbout this time every year I start mentally writing an inventory of things I should start making for Holiday gifts. I have to think about it this early because I usually forget until about a week before Christmas, freak out, and consult the list I made two months ago. This is just how I deal with life and presents.

I was totally that kid that baked for the holidays and passed out cookies and got my teacher a Valentine’s Day gift bag (admittedly only once for that. But she was a great teacher and it was an excuse to buy heart colored tissue paper.) and since starting this blog and just, well, making A LOT of stuff, I’ve been going full force at edible gifts for the Holiday season. Rewind back to a few weeks ago and you will find me wide-eyed in front of a steaming sauce pan of sugar and butter and other deliciousness. Myself and a friend decided to take a caramel making class, the selling point for me was the “Beer and Pretzel” caramels on the list of what we would make. Seriously. Beer reduction and pretzels and caramel living together in one bite-sized wrapper. Oh, but the wrappers. The only aspect I wasn’t prepared for in this class, after spending two or almost three hours making caramels, was the hour long process of individually wrapping each damn caramel I made. After an hour I was kinda done with caramels for the time being and I brought them all in to my office the next day. The beer ones being the surprise hit.

One of the last recipes we tackled that night was not actually a candy, but a sauce: caramel sauce (it was, after all, a caramel class). This sauce made its way into a cake about 3 days later. And now it is making its way here to the site. Why? Because I’ve decided to add some Bourbon and vanilla beans to it and make jars of it for presents this year. Friends, you are welcome. Try not to eat the whole jar in one sitting.

Are you thinking this is going to be too hard? It’s not. I had one hand holding a cell phone trying to pay attention to my mother while she went on about something for 45 minutes and started and finished this whole recipe by the time I got off the phone with her. That includes prep by the way.

Don’t want to give this as a gift? Ok, put it on ice cream, or sandwich it between cookies, or DO YOU REALLY NEED A REASON FOR CARAMEL SAUCE?!bourbon-caramel-3Vanilla Bourbon Caramel Sauce // stirandstrain.com

Caramel is boiling sugar. The recipe moves quickly so get all your ingredients together before you start and please, try not to spill it on yourself, it will hurt like hell.

Adapted recipe from The Gourmandise School
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, Plugra is awesome and used here
1 cup heavy cream, room temp
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1 tsp fleur de sel, Murray River used here
1 oz. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Seeds from one vanilla bean, or 1 tsp of vanilla bean paste

  1. In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, combine sugar, water, vanilla seeds (or paste), and lemon juice. Stir once to combine. On medium high heat, cook until sugar dissolves, brushing the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush if sugar crystals stick to the sides. Bring to a boil, undisturbed (do NOT STIR), until sugar reaches a dark amber color. (This can take anywhere between 10-20 minutes. Whatever you do, don’t leave the pan. It will almost always burn if you step away.)
  2. Carefully add the cream. It will bubble and hiss like crazy, but this is normal. Bring back to a boil, then add in butter, salt and bourbon. Stir to combine and until slightly thickened, about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Let cool and then jar up.

Here’s a few notes:

  • Your sauce is going to look watery at first. Don’t keep cooking it. If you pull a spoon out of the sauce and it leaves a layer, your sauce is thickened. As it cools it will thicken up much more. And once you stick it in the fridge, the next day it’s even more thick.
  • DO NOT STIR IT WHILE IT COOKS. Just don’t, it will create crystals and it will be grainy and gross.
  • The bourbon is added at the end, so you will taste it. That is the point of adding it to the sauce. Don’t like bourbon? You can add an aged rum if you like. Or just leave out the booze too if you have to.
  • Besides the lovely bourbon taste, mainly you are going to get a buttery, salted caramel with hints of vanilla. And you will keep telling yourself, One more spoonful, until there is nothing left.Vanilla Bourbon Caramel Sauce // stirandstrain.com

Bake It: Angostura Bitters & Luxardo Cherry Brownies

Sometimes we do this thing at my house where we’ve decided we want to be healthier and get rid of all the ‘unhealthy’ snacks in the house. So suddenly there is no more processed goodies about. We’re left with a container of unsweetened cocoa powder and a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips shoved in the back of the fridge. All you bakers out there are rolling your eyes and saying ‘yeah, and?‘ right about now. What I’m left with is two main ingredients to make a whole bunch of desserts and unhealthy foods. The challenge though, is to actually make something from scratch.

I love to bake, but I don’t get to do it as much as I used to. Now I’m mainly focused on cocktails. Then I decided to marry the two.

When I realized there was nothing to snack on at the house I went in search for a quick and easy recipe I could throw together with not much effort but be satisfied with the end result. I remembered I’d seen on Shutterbean a pretty straightforward brownie recipe that would accomplish both goals. But I wanted to put my own spin on it. Also, I wanted something my husband would want to eat and that meant throwing some kind of fruit into it and getting the walnuts out (otherwise I’d be staring the pan down with no regrets). Lately he’d been on a cherry kick and as an afterthought, I figured I would stick a couple cherries on top. Then I spotted the bottle of Angostura bitters and I had an idea. My first batch had a 1/2 ounce, but I found I wanted the bitters to be stronger throughout the brownies. Then I threw in a whole ounce and it was magic.

(recipe adapted from Shutterbean.com)

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1-¼ cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 oz. Angostura bitters
1 cup luxardo cherries (syrup drained off as much as possible)

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 8″ square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom and sides of the pan with parchment.

Mix flour, salt, cocoa powder & baking powder together in a bowl. Set aside.

Place butter and chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water; stir frequently, until almost melted. Remove from heat; stir until completely melted.

Whisk in sugar until smooth. Add bitters and stir to combine. Whisk in eggs. Fold in cherries. Gently whisk in flour mixture until smooth (do not overmix).

Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached (they should form a ball when rolled between your fingers), 50 – 55 minutes. Cool completely in pan.

Use parchment paper to lift from pan; peel off and discard. Cut into squares (this is much easier to do with these brownies if you stick them in the freezer after they have cooled slightly for about 20 minutes).

I found that adding the bitters and the cherries made the batter a bit thicker and took more time to bake thoroughly. I would start checking on them at about the 50 minute mark and test every 5 minutes after. The end result is a fudgy brownie that has some super spicy notes from the bitters, and with the cherries, are reminiscent of chocolate covered cherry cordials. I decided to split the chocolate between semisweet and bittersweet to cut a bit back on the richness and try to highlight more of the spice. They really make a great holiday brownie too (I’ve now made this enough times over the past two weeks that I have the recipe memorized and could make them in my sleep).

Make It: Holiday Spice Syrups

The hard ciders and glogg are starting to roll out. It’s Fall- hell, it’s almost Thanksgiving already. For me that means starting to plan for Christmas. My personality is such that I painfully start planning things much too far in advance, forget about them, and freak out at the last minute trying to get these plans into action.

A good chunk of gift giving is pretty easy actually when it comes to my friends. They all like booze. But really, putting a bow on a bottle of Jameson a couple years in a row starts to become too easy and predictable. Yes, you can step it up and maybe shell out for a bottle of Booker’s. However that becomes expensive when you multiply that by just 4 people.

When I started making my own infused syrups at home it occurred to me the potential these had for gift giving. One can make up a batch, pair it with a small bottle of something, and write up a little card with a drink recipe on it. For me, it’s a way of sharing an interest with my friends and getting them tipsy in the process. Win! Even better when you can open it together.

This year I’m expanding my usual arsenal of syrups to include some Fall spices that I want to try out. Adapting the clove syrup recipe from the PDT Cocktail Book, I’ve scaled that down and also worked up a cinnamon syrup too. Bottle these up and give away, or keep for yourself.

For this recipe, I made a master batch of simple syrup and then divided it to steep the cloves and cinnamon separately.

Master Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Combine water and sugar in a sauce pan. Swirl to combine and place over high heat until warmed through and transparent. Do not let it come to a boil. Once sugar is dissolved, remove from heat if using immediately for below or keep over a very low flame- you will need the syrup to be warm to infuse.

Clove Syrup

1/2 cup simple syrup
1/4 oz of cloves (I used a kitchen scale to weigh this out. It’s about 3 tablespoons if I were to eyeball it.)

Combine a half cup of the warm simple syrup with the cloves in a heat-proof container. Let sit for 15 minutes. Strain into a bottle through cheesecloth or a fine sieve. Let the mixture cool and store in the refrigerator.

Cinnamon Syrup

1 cup simple syrup
5 sticks of cinnamon, 2″ to 2-1/2″ in length

Combine a half cup of the warm simple syrup with the cinnamon sticks in a heat-proof container. Let sit for 15 minutes. Strain into a bottle. Let the mixture cool and store in the refrigerator.

Syrups will keep approximately 1 month in the refrigerator (or at least they do in my house).