Grilled Rambutan Cocktail

Grilled Rambutan Cocktail // stirandstrain.comThings I use my grill for:

  1. grilling meat, duh
  2. cooking vegetables
  3. making pizza
  4. grilling up cocktails

Cocktails? Whaaaaa?!

Well, you’re outside on the grill anyways during the summer, might as well put it to some good use in the drink department. And if you’ve been on here before, every summer now I sort through the seasonal (and maybe not so seasonal) fruits and see what happens when you char them up. Like mangoes. And nectarines, limes and cherries. But especially cherries (so much so I made some for Kristin at DineXDesign too). Sometimes though, you run out of fruit to grill, and you unearth something from the depths of your pantry. And then the science experiments start and that’s where you can really have some fun.

Grilled Rambutan Cocktail // stirandstrain.comSo, admittedly, I bought this can before I left my day job which was over a year and a half ago. How long I bought it before I left that job is a total mystery. But every so often I would open my pantry, stick my head in, notice this can of rambutans, squint at it like it’s going to tell me what to do with it, and then leave it there for another day. That is, until a few days ago.Grilled Rambutan Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

I had promised to make a pitcher of cocktails for some friends coming over but in my usual fashion of late, left it to the night before. And because the fruit from the farmer’s market has been so good lately, I had eaten all of it. With a sad, empty fruit bowl staring at me, wagging its imaginary banana finger, I suddenly realized now might be a good time to crack open those rambutans (which, for the record, I can’t help but sing as “bam-a-lam” from that Black Betty song).

I tasted one, a little crunchy with a sweet-tart taste similar to a grape; it could only get better with some grill time. And it did. The richer flavors that developed turned out to be a just the ingredient to pair with some tequila, grapefruit and lime juice. And smoked salt. Always with the smoked salt.

Grilled Rambutan Cocktail // stirandstrain.comIf you’re not in possession of a grill, no worries! You can make this on a grill pan or under the broiler too.

Makes 4 cocktails
12 rambutans, peeled and seed removed if fresh (canned rambutans come ready to eat and are available online here)
6 ounces blanco tequila
2 ounces fresh juice from 1 white grapefruit
2 ounces fresh juice from 2 limes
1 ounce simple syrup
Smoked sea salt and lime juice for rimming

  1. If using the grill: Soak 3 wooden skewers in water for at least 1 hour. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set half the burners on a gas grill to the highest heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place 4 rambutans on each skewer, and grill over high heat until char lines appear and fruit has softened slightly but still holds its shape, about 1 minute per side. Let cool and remove from skewers until ready to use.
  2. If using the broiler: Adjust rack to 4 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Place rambutans on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Broil until softened and lightly charred in spots, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes total. Let cool and remove from skewers.
  3. In the bottom of a small pitcher, muddle the rambutans to release juices and break up the fruit. Add tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and simple syrup. Cover and chill for at least an hour up to overnight.
  4. To serve, add lime juice to a saucer and smoked salt to another. Dip the side of 4 rocks glasses in lime juice and then gently roll the outside edge in smoked salt. Add ice to each glass and strain the cocktail, dividing equally among the glasses.

The slightly nutty flavors pair wonderfully with tequila, while fresh lime and grapefruit juice highlight the floral and tart elements of the rambutan. A touch of simple syrup is not enough to make the whole concoction sweet; instead, it helps round out the flavor and brighten the mix.

***This recipe originally was written for Serious Eats.

{now closed} Cucumber Basil Caesar and a Caesars Cocktail Book Giveaway!

Cucumber Basil Caesar Cocktail and a Giveaway! // stirandstrain.comHappy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers out there! I know you exist (my stats tell me so). Today I honor all of you with your national drink, the Caesar.

However, I’m not excluding all of the rest of the world with this post, because I’m also opening up a contest for all my Canadian and US readers with a cocktail book giveaway on this very drink. For the next week, enter win your own copy of Caesars: The Essential Guide to Your Favourite Cocktail by Clint Pattemore.Cucumber Basil Caesar Cocktail and a Giveaway! // stirandstrain.com

And for everyone across the globe, I’m also giving you a cocktail to try out. Because you’ve read this far.

I have to admit it, I didn’t realize that a Caesar was specifically a Canadian invention. Like many drinks with a history, I had a vague idea of its origins. Wasn’t it a cousin to the Bloody Mary, just with clam juice? Well, I consider myself schooled now. The Caesar I still work into the realm of day drinks, or even Sunday morning drinks (or Monday morning if Sunday was rough). And today I’m gussying up the classic with some fresh Persian cucumbers and basil from my garden. It’s seasonal and refreshing and only has a touch of savory flavor to contrast against the bright vegetable flavor.Cucumber Basil Caesar Cocktail and a Giveaway! // stirandstrain.com

Try this, or one of the many (like, over 50) ways to create a Caesar from your own copy of the book. But! You have to enter to win a copy first!

Actually, let’s make a drink first…

Slightly Adapted from the Caesars cocktail book
4 cucumber slices (preferably Persian cucumbers that you don’t have to peel)
4-6 basil leaves
3 dashes hot sauce (I use Tapatio)
freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1-1/2 ounces gin
4 ounces Clamato

1 tbsp smoked salt, 1 tsp pepper, cucumber spears for garnish

Garnish your highball glass (or small goblet) first by rimming the outside of the glass with a cucumber slice then dip in salt and pepper mixture poured into a small bowl. In a mixing glass, muddle together cucumber slices, basil, hot sauce and pepper. Add gin and Clamato. Stir and strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Finish garnishing with a cucumber spear. Straws are always optional!

Enter below for your chance to win a copy of Caesars: The Essential Guide to Your Favourite Cocktail! You can get up to NINE entries to win. Contest runs until midnight PST Wednesday, July 9th, 2014. Please see terms and conditions below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Smoky Beer Sangrita

Smoky Beer Sangrita Cocktail // stirandstrain.comMemorial Day weekend kicks off the official start of grilling season. It also kicks off cut off shorts season and burn until you look like a lobster season. It’s a season of magic.

In my efforts for making your drinking experiences more efficient this summer, I will have a bunch of upcoming recipes that are batched for your convenience. Take 10 minutes the night before, or first thing in the morning, to put together the bases, and then top off as needed day of. Easy.

First up is a drink I made for Serious Eats (guys, drinks is no longer its own site, it’s incorporated into just one big Eats site now, so don’t get confused) where I use BEER as the alcohol base. Yes, yet another beer cocktail on this site for the year. It is the topper for a spicy, smoky sangrita-like base that you can make ahead of time.Smoky Beer Sangrita Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Sangrita-like might be stretching it; it’s really just sangrita made with a bunch of delicious citrus with a dollop of harissa. Not familiar with harissa? If you like spice and smoke you’ll like this peppery paste that has its roots in North African cuisine. It’s not normally used in drinks, but I love the extra level of spice it adds. Also, a little goes a long way, so you can keep it around to experiment with food later.

Usually, sangrita is just the sidekick to a shot of tequila, but I love the rich flavors of tomato and citrus so much I thought it deserved its own spot at the bar (or backyard BBQ) as a cocktail. Since it’s a low alcohol drink, you could easily sip on these all afternoon, playing horseshoes or whatever it is people do outside.

Sangrita Base

1/2 teaspoon harissa, or more to taste
8 ounces tomato juice
6 ounces freshly squeezed juice from about 2 grapefruits
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces freshly squeezed juice from about 2 oranges
1-1/2 ounces freshly squeezed juice from 2 lemons
2 ounces freshly squeezed juice from 2 to 3 limes

For Your Cocktail

Grapefruit wedge
Coarse smoked sea salt
4 ounces Sangrita Base
4 ounces Sculpin IPA, or any hoppy IPA

  • To make the base, in a pitcher, whisk together harissa, black pepper and tomato juice. Add grapefruit juice, orange juice, lemon and lime juice. Stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 8 hours maximum.
  • To make the cocktail, wet the rim of a highball glass with grapefruit wedge, dip moistened edge in smoked sea salt. Add ice and 4 ounces of the sangrita base. Top with 4 ounces of IPA. Garnish with grapefruit wedge and serve.

Citrus is an ideal match for a hoppy IPA. The Sculpin IPA from Ballast imparts a lot of grapefruit and lemon in the flavor, as well as in the aroma, which not only compliments the tomato-citrus base, but also adds some needed bitterness to round out the drink. With beer cocktails, the effervescent quality will significantly lift a heavier based drink which can sometimes seem like a challenge to drink. It can also provide a smoother, creamy texture, making the drink feel more like a “cocktail” and less like juice (or in this case Gazpacho). If the Sculpin is not available in your area, look for a beer with this kind of citrus profile. And at the end of the day, if you run out of the base, this beer pairs excellently with barbecue too.

Cocktail Quickie: Aquavit & Dill Bloody Mary

My house is a house that loves a well made Bloody Mary. From home-made tomato water to every bottled version of tomato base under the sun, we’ve tried and tested a great deal of these. Some day I will get around to posting a listing of my top mixes, and those I beg you to stay away from. But it’s far from complete at the moment.

What am I drinking right now? My top favorite Bloody Mary mixes currently are McClure’s Spicy Mix, Lefty O’Doul’s San Francisco Original Mix, and Zing Zang’s Mix. One important factor is trying to find a mix where high fructose corn syrup is not the second ingredient or even exists at all. It’s added sweetener where sweetener need not be. All of these are around this ballpark. McClure’s has a taste all its own. Known for their pickles, this mix is kinda like drinking a spicy tomato pickle brine. I love it, however, it’s definitely not for everyone. It really has a nice bite too, because honestly, when a Bloody Mary mix says spicy, I mostly disagree with that statement. The other two mixes here are good to have around if you have a crowd that varies in levels of ‘heat’ they want in their drink. One can drink them as is, or doctor them up. I prefer these for cocktail making for that reason. They make a great base where the flavor can be taken in sudden and unexpected directions (for a Bloody Mary).

This post is mainly just that. A quick way to ‘doctor up’ if you will a pretty solid base into a more complex drink with just a few touches. Also, why I’m including it into the ‘quickie’ section here.

Your standard Bloody Mary will call for vodka, but if I have a bottle of Aquavit around, I will always substitute that liquor instead. Why? For me, it gives the drink more body, more meat. And there is a subtle caraway flavor that it also imparts on the drink that is a nice match for the briny, tomato base. And hand in hand with this Scandinavian liquor goes dill. I will also stick that in if I’m making the Aquavit version.

Players

One detail that you will see in restaurants and bars that many people will skip at home is rimming the glass with some house devised salt and/or pepper mix. For a satisfying Bloody Mary at home I don’t see the point in missing this. You can get a whole other layer of flavor just by quickly combining some spices and adding that to the glass.

If you think this is the part where I have you add a giant stick of celery to the drink, you’re wrong. Personal preference has me sit that ingredient out. I find the smell of fresh celery simply too overpowering and it ruins the flavors of the drink. However, a stick of cucumber? Oh yeah, throw one in. That flavor is a match with the dill.

I do a lot of eye-balling when I make this for myself, but for consistency I will give measurements here. As always, adjust for your taste, you gotta drink it.

2 oz. Aquavit
4 oz. Bloody Mary Mix
1/2 medium lime
1 sprig of dill
2-3 dashes of hot sauce (Tapatío is my preferred hot sauce)

For Garnishes:
1 tbsp of smoked sea salt flakes
1/2 tsp of fennel seeds
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
cucumber slice
olive
small sprig of dill

Let’s make some garnishes first. For the skewer, peel alternate patches of skin from a cucumber lengthwise for a zebra stripe effect. Cut a round from the cucumber and slice in half for a half round. Cut a spear of cucumber and set aside. Add the half round, a small sprig of dill and an olive to a skewer. Set aside.

For the salt rim: Add smoked sea salt, fennel seeds, black pepper and some of the dill fronds into a mortar (bowl) and using a pestle (or end of a wooden spoon), crush all of the ingredients until they are all roughly around the same size, not quite a powder with some crunchy bits left behind. Pour out the salt mixture onto a saucer and set aside.

Cut the lime in half and use one half to rim a highball glass with the juice. Immediately dip the glass into the salt mixture, turning to coat the entire outside rim of the glass. Many debate whether to actually stick the whole rim into your mixture, or just turn the outside around in the mixture so nothing gets inside the glass. I’ll leave this step up to your discretion. Squeeze both halves into the glass, add dill sprig and muddle both just to combine and break up the dill a bit. Add ice cubes and build the rest of your drink by adding Aquavit, Bloody Mary mix, hot sauce, spear of cucumber and your skewer.

As I mentioned earlier, that salt mixture just adds another level to your drink. It has a nice smoky and sweet smell and tastes the same too. Fennel works well with both caraway and dill, and I find it a better addition than say, celery salt. If you’re going to make yourself a quick drink at home, why not spend a few extra minutes to give it an extra shot of flavor? This may seem like a lot, but it really just takes a couple minutes to put together.

The Bar Keeper Margarita

I’m not usually a big tequila drinker unless there is a plate of tacos and refried beans in front of me. It also helps if a Mariachi Band is playing 10 feet in front of me. This weekend the stars aligned. I had a craving for nachos earlier in the week but didn’t want to go out. So my husband picked up some fixings and chose the most expensive bottle of tequila he could find… at a Ralph’s supermarket. Which, actually, was kind of pricey at $40. So I made us margaritas based on Regan’s recipe and he made giant mounds of nachos.

Fast forward to a Saturday soon after and my bi-weekly visit to Bar Keeper in Silver Lake (if I lived walking distance to this place I’d go broke in a month). With a running list of ‘extras’ for our bar, I try and make one special purchase every time I’m at the shop while stocking up on the usually necessities. This time it was a bottle of Dry Orange Curaçao. I ended up in a conversation with the owner, Joe Keeper, and he begged me to try it just by itself, on ice, and I’d be blown away (which frankly was just fantastically delicious). And then proceeded to give me a rough recipe for a margarita using this Curaçao. The kicker? Atomizing some Vida Mezcal over the finished product. Nice touch, I just happened to have a bottle of that at home.

Immediately upon arriving home I was so smitten with this recipe that I broke out everything and then realized, well, an atomizer I did not have. Not even a spray bottle. The question then was just how much of the Mezcal should make its way into the drink? If one is just spritzing it over the top, then you don’t need that much to go into the drink. My first attempt was a 1/4 ounce, completely killing the drink. All smoke and no other flavors.

So on the next take I tried just rinsing the glass with the Mezcal. Perfection.

Just as described by Mr. Keeper, you first get hit with a smoky aroma from the Mezcal and then that wonderful sweet Curaçao, the tequila and a tangy citrus bite from the lime juice. It was really better than any margarita I’d had out with a Mariachi band and plate of tacos.

This drink I give all the credit to the folks over at Bar Keeper who constantly help fill up my liquor bucket list, and who are always as enthusiastic about cocktails as I am.

1-1/2 oz. Avión Silver Tequila
1 oz. Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao
1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
pinch of smoked sea salt
Vida Mezcal for rinse
lime wedge

Rinse a chilled cocktail coupe with about 1/2 tsp of the Mezcal. Toss remaining liquid. Combine tequila, curaçao, lime juice and salt into a shaker half filled with ice. Shake well to combine and strain into coupe. Garnish with lime wedge.

Why is there no salt rim on this margarita? I find that a small pinch of the smoked sea salt shaken into the drink fulfills my need for salt without feeling like you are crunching on a salt lick, and it keeps the glass nice and clean. Granted, if you like crunching on a salt lick, by all means, rim away!