On the Town: Spring Previews in Los Angeles

This month I’ve been trying all the cocktails and eating all the foods so you only have to try the best.

If you’re planning a trip to Los Angeles this year and want a few recommendations as to where to drink (or eat), leave us a comment below or send an email (or social media, or WHATEVER way works for you).

Here’s our highlights from March.

THE SPARE ROOM

TERRINE

PALM DESERT FOOD AND WINE FESTIVAL PREVIEW

And here’s a few behind the scenes snaps!

Gift Guide: Spring Entertaining Essentials

Forget the picnic basket. Break out your wooden 6 Pack Holder and head outside for Spring Entertaining.

Gift Guide: Spring Entertaining 2016 // stirandstrain.com

Throw out your sad winter blues and put some springy color into your bar and entertaining getup. Purple punch bowls? YES! Unbreakable green tumblers? Double yes. And if we’re packing up to head outside, let’s all agree to leave our heavy metal pineapples at home and sip on some lightweight dayglow ones instead. What’s in mine? Some lemon spiked gin all the way from Italy, and probably some pineapple ice cubes too. Rainy spring day? I’ll be hanging up some punchy booze art until the sun peeks out again. Happy Spring everyone!

1. Pineapple Ice Cube Tray 2. The Bar Cart Print 3. Wooden Six Pack Holder 4. Malfy Gin 5. Somewhere Beyond The Sea Coaster 6. Pineapple Tumbler 7. Purple Punch Bowl Set 8. Facet Acrylic Tumblers

Spring Drinking 2016

Spring Drinking 2016 // stirandstrain.com

It may not feel like Spring where you are, but here in Los Angeles many of us are scratching our heads asking where is this wet, cold weather we were all told was coming. But in just a few weeks it will be Spring, so everyone’s new cocktail menus are going to start rolling out around town. (In fact, they’ve already started and you can peep a few like these above ^^^) Keep your eyes tuned to the Stir and Strain Instagram and Snapchat for the next few weeks as we test drive some menus here (and beyond!).

Rhubarb-Vanilla Beer & Pisco Cocktail whole lotta goodness that tastes like cream soda

Rhubarb-Vanilla Beer and Pisco Cocktail // stirandstrain.comThis week I’m having a hard time pinning down exactly what I’d like to tell you guys about. I think it was a lot easier when there were less eyes on the page and I could ramble on about how using a jigger like a professional bartender just makes me look like an idiot (albeit I’ve improved slightly), or that I tried and failed, again, at growing an herb garden but I’ve got SO   MUCH  ROSEMARY I can’t give it away fast enough.

Rhubarb-Vanilla Beer and Pisco Cocktail // stirandstrain.comThere’s got to be some performance anxiety tied to having the site nominated for any kind of award. So I think now is the time to take a step back and reassess the story I’d like to share with you guys, that may or may not have to do with a cocktail I am making.

Rhubarb-Vanilla Beer and Pisco Cocktail // stirandstrain.comIn the meantime, I’d like to formally state that I’m totally not into this switch on the mac OS where IPhoto has gone away and I’m stuck having to use their new “Photos” program. Mainly I’m whining because it now means I really need to learn Lightroom better. So, if any of you guys out there have a good quick and dirty immersion “how to” so I can stop dragging my feet and just learn it already, I’d appreciate the feedback and suggestions.Rhubarb-Vanilla Beer and Pisco Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Also, I have this delightful cocktail I made for you guys that might seem like a Whoa! but really, it’s pretty easy to assemble and I sweetened my ice teas for the next week with the leftover syrup so it definitely has some stretching power. Plus, it’s rhubarb season and I’m sick of pies already (not really, but I’m sick of MAKING them!).Rhubarb-Vanilla Beer and Pisco Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

For the Rhubarb-Vanilla Syrup:

1 cup sugar
1 cup sliced (1/2-inch) rhubarb
1 cup water
1 Mexican Vanilla bean, cut lengthwise and seeds scraped (reserve pod)

  • Combine sugar, rhubarb, water, and vanilla seeds and pod in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Strain into an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 2 weeks.

For the Cocktail:

1-1/2 ounces Pisco
3/4 ounce Rhubarb-Vanilla Syrup
3 ounces Scottish Ale, such as Ballast Point Piper Down
Vanilla bean, for garnish (optional)

  • In a rocks glass filled with ice, build the drink by adding pisco and rhubarb vanilla syrup. Gently add beer, stirring just to combine. Garnish with vanilla bean and serve immediately.

First off, this tastes like cream soda. Because of the viscosity of the Pisco, the mouthfeel is super creamy. The Scottish Ale provides some toasty, caramel notes that adds a richness to the drink, while the Pisco imparts some citrus and a touch of floral (Tahitian vanilla would tip this drink overboard in the floral direction, so make sure you use Mexican vanilla) along with that lovely viscosity. That small buzz you get afterward however would prove otherwise.

Rhubarb-Vanilla Beer and Pisco Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

I originally created this recipe for Serious Eats!

The Pineapple Hop it starts with a pineapple shrub

The Pineapple Hop Cocktail // stirandstrain.comSo how was your week?

I dropped my phone in a toilet. What’s worse was the speed with which I dove in to grab it without even thinking about “is the bowl clean or dirty” (it was clean by the way). And it works still so that’s a plus.

I learned how to vacation with an infant (very different ideas of “vacation” now exist for me). And that spending several days in the wonderful desert heat almost always means for me coming back to Los Angeles and experiencing gray, grey days. It also makes me appreciate the contrasts in climate for this part of the country.

The Pineapple Hop Cocktail // stirandstrain.comAlso, May starts today. Which means it is practically summer and wasn’t everyone everywhere complaining about snowstorms and the like about 5 minutes ago? Maybe it’s the crippling realization that time really does speed up the older you get but man, do I need a cocktail right about now. So let’s think about summer drinks.

If we’re thinking about summer days to come, I’m sure pineapples fit in there somewhere. In my house, I fit them in all the time despite the time of year, but that’s me. For today’s recipe, I’m giving you guys some homework first (OK, ok, a DIY super fun, easy, hands off it practically makes itself project): pineapple shrub.

The Pineapple Hop Cocktail // stirandstrain.comI’m not kidding either. Making a shrub is so easy I’m not sure why more people aren’t batching this in their kitchen all time?! Oh, lack of counter space. And, well, better things to do I guess might prevent that from happening. For the sake of this post I’ll just assume you’re on board with me for this one project. Let’s continue.The Pineapple Hop Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

If we’re thinking about summer, we’re also thinking about refreshing drinks, and for a lot of you guys out there, beer. Beer and BBQ and hotdogs and maybe a few illegal fireworks. So, surprise! I’m putting beer in this cocktail too. Pineapples and beer and RUM.

The Pineapple Hop Cocktail // stirandstrain.comAre you already picturing yourself running through a sprinkler and drinking this cocktail? Me too. Except let’s hold on to that thought and wait two weeks while this shrub brews and then we can get to the galavanting. At least this week is done.

Pineapple Shrub

1 medium pineapple, peeled, and cubed into 1” pieces
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups apple cider vinegar

Place the pineapple cubes in a clean, sterilized container. Cover with the sugar and lightly crush the pineapples (I used a potato masher). Let sit, covered with a tea towel, in the open for 8 hours or overnight. Strain fruit and add apple cider vinegar. Cover and let sit unrefrigerated in a cool, dark place for two weeks. Shake the mixture every other day. In two weeks, filter into an airtight container and refrigerate. Will last up to 6 months. Yields approximately 3 cups.

For the cocktail

1 ounce white rum, SelvaRey used here
1 ounce pineapple shrub (see above)
1/4 ounce orgeat
4 ounces IPA beer, Stone IPA used here

In a mixing glass filled 2/3 with ice, pour in rum, shrub and orgeat. Stir to chill 20 seconds and strain into a highball glass filled with fresh ice. Top with beer.

The biting, tangy nature of the shrub is excellent paired with the beer as it provides a contrast to the bitterness that comes with an IPA. Just a touch of sweetness is needed and the sweet almond orgeat provides that along with the white rum. The shrub can be enjoyed all summer long here in this drink, or by itself with a splash of club soda.

*Looking for a larger batched version of this? I originally made that very version for Serious Eats a little while back.

Sierra Madre Sunrise

Sierra Madre Sunrise Cocktail // stirandstrain.comThere is this very clear memory I have of accompanying my mother to this one liquor store when I was a child. We were probably there to buy wine coolers for her (as was the hip thing for moms to drink in the late 80’s). In my memory the store was gigantic, like a well-lit supermarket, but instead of produce or cereal boxes, it was just aisle after aisle of colorful and exotic liquors that I felt the need to stop and read all the labels of.

I’m sure that it wasn’t that big, but I do remember that this was the first place I ever saw tequila at. You know, the kind with the scorpions at the bottom. I don’t remember how or when I learned that not all tequila requires there to be a scorpion, but there’s a good chance it is much later in life than I am willing to admit to.Sierra Madre Sunrise Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

I wish I could remember the first time I tried mezcal, or even heard of it. Although I’ve tried to rack my brain for that one time, it exists as if I somehow always knew about it. I wish I was that cool. Probably it was sometime over the past 5, maybe 7, years when we collectively started giving other liquors a chance to star in our drinks.Sierra Madre Sunrise Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Now I like to put mezcal in everything. And today’s drink is one from my ongoing “to make” list. Here my notes were: meaty, but refreshing. I’m guessing this was a late night scribbling where I had something particular in mind but what exactly is no longer clear. But I like these challenges. To make things even more interesting, bitters will play a unique supporting role in transforming the drink into two different sips. For a slightly savory cocktail, Angostura will be dashed in. And for a sweeter alternative, chocolate bitters will be used. All versions have Aperol there, an assertive liquor that stands up next to the flavors of mezcal without getting lost.

It’s kind of a choose your own adventure cocktail.Sierra Madre Sunrise Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Now that I’m remembering that liquor store, I’m realizing that the other reason I liked going over there was that next door there was a Christian store that sold Bible action figures like Samson and Delilah. What a way to get kids thrilled about the Old Testament. When I was Catholic I was all in, until I wasn’t anymore.

Ok, enough about Bible Liquor stores. Let’s get to cocktail making!

1 ounce mezcal, Del Maguey Vida Organic used here
3/4 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
3 ounces club soda
2-3 dashes of either Angostura or Chocolate bitters, like Scrappy’s Chocolate Cocktail Bitters

lemon peel for garnish

  • In a shaker 2/3 filled with ice, add mezcal, Aperol, lemon juice and bitters of your choice. Shake to combine and then strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Top with club soda and garnish with lemon peel.

I’m using the Vida mezcal here because it’s both a wonderful sipping liquor and it mixes well with others. It’s assertive without being aggressive. Aperol is not too bitter and not too sweet. (But it’s just the right amount of both that you don’t need to add another sweetener.) Freshly squeezed lemon juice adds in a touch of tartness, and the whole thing is topped off with a glug of club soda to mellow it out and give some effervescent pep. Angostura adds spice that compliments some of the cinnamon and earthy flavors found in the mezcal. Or you can change that up with a few dashes of chocolate bitters. The sweet, roasted chocolate flavors in the bitters play up the sweet and bitter orange in the Aperol and also some of the vanilla found in the mezcal. This makes the drink excellent for a slightly sweet digestif or a surprisingly refreshing nightcap.

*I originally created this recipe for Serious Eats.

{Now Closed} Giveaway // Spring Liquor and Entertaining Basket from VOM FASS

Giveaway - Spring Vom Fass Basket 2015 // stirandstrain.comYou guys really went wild over that last giveaway with VOM FASS.  So now that we’re moving into slightly warmer temps and the blooms here in Los Angeles are starting to fill the trees, I think we all can start thinking about SPRING Entertaining! For this month’s giveaway I’ve partnered up again with VOM FASS to create a basket brimming with fun ingredients to concoct springy cocktails and flavorful nibbly bits. Check out what’s in store for one lucky winner:

Spirits:
Caipirinha Lime Liqueur
Yahara Bay Vodka
Yahara Bay Gin
Calvados Napoleon, 18 years
“Brothers in Arms” Irish Single Malt Whiskey, 14 years

Balsamics:
Quince Balsamic Vinegar
Apple Balsamic Star
Forest Raspberry Balsamic Star
Mango Balsam

PLUS!:
Calamansi Balsam Pearls
Raspberry Balsam Pearls
Tangerine EVOO
Oil & Vinegar spray set

Giveaway - Spring Vom Fass Basket 2015 // stirandstrain.comIntrigued by the balsamic pearls? Want to swirl some tangerine EVOO into some gin? Just check out the options below to enter and get up to 10 entries to win. You MUST BE 21 and OLDER to enter. Giveaway ends at 11:59pm PST April 1st, 2015. Please see terms and conditions below (some states unfortunately are excluded from shipping liquor to). For more information on VOM FASS products, please visit them at vomfassusa.comGood Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Mother’s Day Cocktail Roundup

Both my mother and mother-in-law are not big drinkers. So imagine this roundup more for those of you who have a booze lovin’ mamma. Or spend an afternoon at the club making the boys fetch you drinks while you never get around to playing tennis. Or better, perhaps, these are for the sons and daughters having to endure hours on Sunday being told you’re not coming around or calling enough. Yes, these drinks are for you.

Burnt Sage & Blackberry Sangria. One for you, one for mom. Or two for you.

sage blackberry sangria // stirandstrain.com

 

Pitcher drinks mean all day drinking. Try this  Apple and Rosé Sangria with Sunday brunch.

Drunken Apple and Rosé Sangria // stirandstrain.com

 

Need something quick but fancy? Try this Sparkling Hibiscus Cocktail, takes but a second but super pretty to look at.

Sparkling Hibiscus #Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

 

Sparkling Wine. Watermelon. Limoncello? What’s more impressive sounding than that? Whip up some Salty Melon Cocktails. They’ll be perfect with your edible fruit basket.

Salty Melon #Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

 

 

Need more pink on Sunday? Electric Pink Fields is ALWAYS a winner.

Electric Pink Fields #Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

 

And if you just need a stiff drink. Have a Smoky Manhattan.

Smoky Manhattan #Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Your Cinco de Mayo Roundup

Time to whip out those tiny velvet sombreros!

Am I really going to introduce a brand new and innovative Margarita recipe today? Nope. Right now you can search any number of food sites and see 60 different ways you can customize your Cinco de Mayo drink. Sometimes it’s hard to feel innovative. However, what I can do for you is make it easy to find all the drinks on THIS site that you might like to have this weekend, since you’re already here.

Let’s just start with last week’s Hibiscus-Tequila Cooler. It’s in a pitcher and no one can tell how many you’ve had until that pitcher is empty.
And then, really, who’s going to say anything?

Hibiscus Lime Cooler Pitcher #Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

 Mangoes and mezcal and chile peppers. Come on. You need this today.

Jewel of Oaxaca #cocktail // stirandstrain.com

If you want to be lazy, just throw a bunch of stuff into a blender. This will work for you.

lazy sunday punch // stirandstrain.com

If you have a lot of time on your hands, get creative with this hibiscus, vanilla-salt, inside-out take on a Margarita.

longmargarita-4

And if you just have to have a regular Margarita, here’s my favorite take on one with smoked salt and mezcal.

barkeepermargarita2

Blueberry Basil Smash or, how I stopped worrying and just made a damn cocktail

Blueberry Basil Lemon Smash (and some notes on blogging) // stirandstrain.comDo you ever look over a cocktail recipe and think to yourself, this is too intimidating? Or maybe, I have no idea what any of these ingredients are! Sorry, I’m sure looking through this site some of you may have had those exact reactions. Although I like to challenge myself, because challenges build character or whatever, sometimes I just want something I can throw together and still think it looks delicious but wasn’t a hassle to make.

Sometimes I need to stop over-thinking these recipes.

This past weekend I challenged myself waaaaaay out of my comfort zone and went away for a few days to a food blogger conference (Big Traveling Potluck). Just so all of you cocktail bloggers know, we are under the vast umbrella that is food blogging (so if you get the chance, GO). Also, when you attend these things, chances are there isn’t another one of you around; you get to feel special in this weird, incestuous, high school-like cliquish group. I may be overstating that sentiment, but it’s close.

After getting over the initial I-don’t-know-anyone-here anxiety, people will just inherently feel pity on you and strike up a conversation. But the following day you can get over yourself and start having real conversations with people who all share the same passion and business questions you do. You can talk about blogging without wondering if the other person thinks you’re a hack or ask questions about CPCs and other acronyms that you’ve already forgotten what they stand for. What struck me as funny, was that there was this underlying anxiety everyone wanted to share: to slow down, give yourself some air to not feel in competition with the THOUSANDS of other people vying for the same internet space; but no one had any kind of answer. Regardless of what you were blogging about, there is always someone else you think you need to beat. Thinking about this sucks the fun out of creating for your site (at least for me…maybe you dig it).

Blueberry Basil Lemon Smash (and some notes on blogging) // stirandstrain.comAfter 3 days there I abruptly felt like I had been given my own answer: get out of your headspace and just make a damn drink. If your content speaks to people, they will read it regardless of whether it’s complicated or not. And if you’re not happy with what you did, don’t publish it. Move on to something else.

This conference may have been a tad more personal than some of the larger ones out there. There was probably way more crying (in public) and more opportunities to talk one-on-one with everyone, but for me, it helped clear out some mental blocks that I had been dealing with lately. I’m not seeking out challenges with any regularity, but I find that conquering one at least every once in awhile gets me motivated again.

Also, I appreciate you guys for visiting this site.

So, onto the drink. Basil and blueberries are not an uncommon flavor duo, and frankly, you could probably do an internet search and find some similar recipes. However, today this is what I felt like sharing with you all and what I wanted to make with ingredients not uncommon, and definitely readily available. I also wanted to make a good-looking garnish; I can never leave well-enough alone.

4-6 basil leaves
small handful of blueberries (like, 10 or so)
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup (more or less to taste)
3 ounces gin, Citadelle Reserve used here*

Garnish: 3 blueberries, 2 basil leaves, lemon zest

  • In the bottom of a double rocks glass, muddle basil, blueberries, lemon juice and simple syrup. Add about an inch of ice, stir, and add gin. Fill glass with more crushed ice. Zest lemon on top of ice and garnish with blueberries and basil leaves on a cocktail pick. Straw is optional.

Basil and lemons florals for the initial aroma. There’s a nice sourness to this that is picked up from the lemon and blueberries. The basil is subtle, but present, adding earthy, vegetal qualities while the gin adds a kick of flavor from the barrel aging. The rich, spicy gin brings the “lightness” of the other ingredients down a bit making the cocktail more robust.

*Items generously given gratis and appear here because I like them. For more info on sponsored products, affiliate links, and gifted booze, please visit the About page.