Archive for the ‘drink recipes’ Category

I love onions! Raw, sautéed, caramelized, yellow, Spanish, Bermuda, Vidalia, Texas Sweets, scallion, pearl, Crimini, Walla Walla…they can do no wrong. In fact, my family gave me the Lithuanian nickname: “Ponas Svogūnas.” (“Mr. Onion.”)

I also love vodka martinis! So if I’m going to buy a top shelf vodka like Stoli Elit or Chopin, I’m not going to ruin it with jarred cocktail onions, brined with cheap vermouth, found in the bar mixers section of my local supermarket. Who knows how long those nasty things have been sitting on the shelf?

No, I’m going to make my own cocktail onions to enjoy a proper Gibson!

The Gibson martini is simply one with onions instead of olives, and the story of its origin is somewhat unclear. According to one story, it was invented by Charles Dana Gibson, who created the popular Gibson Girl illustrations. Supposedly, he challenged Charley Connolly, the bartender of the private club, The Players, in New York City, to improve on a martini. Connolly simply substituted an onion for the olive and named it after Gibson.

Another story claims a man named Gibson dropped an onion in his water-filled martini glass to differentiate between his own drink and that of his colleagues, who were imbibing heavily.

Some stories about the Gibson don’t even mention an onion. (?)

And yet another story, now considered the more probable one, is that the Gibson martini was invented at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco in the 1890’s by Walter D. K. Gibson. There is documentation as early as 1898 to back that up.

Whatever story you want to believe, the Gibson martini was originally made with gin, not vodka, but that’s strictly a personal preference–and I don’t use any vermouth. (I think the biggest injustice you can do to high-quality vodka is ruin it with low-quality vermouth. But that rule applies to any alcohol and any mixer. (It’s only as good as its worst ingredient!)

 

 

My first attempt at homemade cocktail onions was not a success. I bought pearl onions and did what the package instructions said: I dropped them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then moved them to ice water to let them cool. Then a gentle squeeze on one end of the onion would make it pop right out of its skin. Easy, right?

Well, it didn’t work out that way. For one thing, the onions got soft…not what I wanted. I had to cut one end of the bulb with a knife. And even then, when I squeezed the onion, the part that popped out was about half the size of the original onion…there was a lot of waste.

 

 

After brining, they tasted OK, but they never had that crisp bite I wanted. They were mushy. I realized that boiling was not the way to go.

 

A lot of waste.

 

I knew there had to be a better way. Then I discovered already peeled pearl onions at Whole Foods. I have to be honest…I won’t use any other onions now. They’re big, plump, and exactly what I want. Some might say they’re too big…but I don’t have a problem with that.

 

Sure, these are much larger than the onions you find in a jar. But tell me how that’s a problem!

 

1 lb. pearl onions, peeled, ends cut off
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2  cups water
3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado sugar)
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (per quart-sized Mason jar)
2 cloves garlic

Combine the white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and peppercorns in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring it to a boil, making sure the sugar dissolves completely. Remove it from the heat.

 

 

Slice the ends off the onions.

I’ve found that if I allow the brining liquid to get inside the onions, especially these larger ones, they’ll get tastier faster…and who doesn’t want that? So I take a thin metal or bamboo barbecue skewer and push it through the center of the top of the onions, all the way through the center of the bottom of the onions. Now there’s a little “tunnel” for that brine to get in, and it can work its magic from the inside out!

Not skewering the onions simply means it’ll take longer for that brine to seep in…but that’s perfectly fine if you want a not-so-briny onion.

 

 

In a quart-sized Mason jar, add the teaspoon of salt and garlic cloves. Pour a little of the hot vinegar liquid in the Mason jar to dissolve the salt. Add the onions to the jar, as tightly as you can, then fill the jar to the top with the vinegar liquid.

Screw the top of the jar on tightly, and turn it upside-down a couple of times to mix everything together. If it looks like the level of the liquid has gone down a bit, open the jar and top it off with the vinegar liquid, then re-seal it.

Let the jar cool to room temperature, then move it to the fridge. You can use the onions as soon as the craving hits you, but they’ll taste better if you give them a few days to a week.

 

 

Cheers!

It’s a little chilly outside today. Sometimes, only comfort food will do: a warm bowl of beef stew or chowder…Shepherds Pie with buttery mashed potatoes…a big bowl of pasta…you get the idea. But the same goes for cocktails. And nothing gets me warm and fuzzy like a classic Scorpion Bowl!
Most of the recipes for a Scorpion Bowl I found on-line don’t match the one that I’ve been using for many years. This recipe comes from a bartender (whose name I can’t remember–too many Scorpion Bowls, I guess) from a long-gone Chinese restaurant, China Garden, that was in Warwick, Rhode Island. A car dealership now stands in that spot. This is the best Scorpion Bowl I’ve ever had…and continue to have!
Make sure to use top shelf booze for this or you’ll be a “Suffering Bastard” the next morning! (A little Chinese restaurant drink humor…)

Look carefully, and you may see the flame coming out of the volcano! Hope I don’t need to tell you not to drink the 151 while it’s lit! And yes, it’s an old photo: Disaronno Originale hasn’t been called Amaretto di Saronno for a long time!

2 oz. light rum (I use Don Q silver)
2 oz. dark rum (I use Mount Gay)
1 oz. gin (I use Bombay Sapphire)
½ oz. brandy (I use E&J)
½ oz. Disaronno Originale
½ oz. Cointreau
6 oz. Pineapple juice
6 oz. Orange juice
½ oz. Bacardi 151 rum for the little cup in the volcano

In a blender half-full of ice, add all the alcohol, except the 151 rum. Add the pineapple juice and the orange juice.  (Use less if you like it stronger.) Give the drink a quick 1-second pulse in the blender, and pour it with all the ice into Scorpion Bowl or a very large glass or bowl. If you do have a Scorpion Bowl with the volcano in it, add the 151 rum to the bowl in the volcano. If not, you can mix the 151 into your drink.

Don’t drive!

This is my version of a holiday drink I was introduced to by my mother-in-law from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

This classic is loaded with sugar. But then…so is everything else around the holidays!

Whiskey slush

9 cups water
2 cups sugar
4 “Constant Comment” tea bags
12 oz. frozen OJ concentrate
12 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate
2 cups whiskey (I use Crown Royal)
7-Up or Sprite

Boil the water and sugar, making sure the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and steep the tea bags in the liquid for 10 minutes. Discard the tea bags.

Add the OJ, lemonade and whiskey. Mix well, then pour it all into a freezeable container with a lid. Freeze.

To serve: Scoop the slush out of the container (it doesn’t freeze solid) and mix in a tall glass with 7-Up.

If you’re concerned about all that sugar, you can use a sugar substitute in the mix, and diet soda at the end. Some stores also carry low-sugar juice concentrates. I haven’t tried any of these substitutions, because when it comes to the holidays, I go big or go home!

With the announcement that “No Time to Die” is the last film for Daniel Craig as James Bond, I thought it was time to bring back a classic. The story of the Vesper martini is an interesting one. Make yourself one and read all about it. Cheers!
At first, it seemed almost silly to try to make one…but the classic James Bond martini has always fascinated me. I’m not talking about the clichéd Sean Connery “vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.” I’m talking about the real James Bond martini, which appeared in Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel “Casino Royale” and only appeared in the 2006 “Casino Royale” motion picture starring Daniel Craig (the best Bond of all, if you ask me.)
Bondtini
To quote the novel:
‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’ ‘Oui, monsieur.’ ‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s (gin), one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’ ‘Certainly, monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleasant with the idea. ‘Gosh that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter. 
Bond laughed. ‘When I’m … er … concentrating.’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.’ 
He watched carefully as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker. He reached for it and took a long sip. 
‘Excellent,’ he said to the barman, ‘but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.’ 
Bond named this drink the Vesper martini, after the character Vesper Lynd, portrayed by Ursula Andress in the 1967 adaptation, and Eva Green in the 2006 adaptation of “Casino Royale.”
My first homemade version of this classic drink remained true to the measurements of the original, though I changed brands due to personal preference. In the novel, Bond just asks for “vodka.” (Of course, this was back in the 1950’s when we didn’t have hundreds of brands to choose from!) My choice for best-bang-for-the-buck grain vodka is Tito’s, made from corn. But an excellent choice for wheat-based vodka is Grey Goose.
Bond asks for Gordon’s gin. I’m partial to the floral notes of Hendrick’s. Again, in the 50’s, what good British agent wouldn’t drink Gordon’s?
And the original Kina Lillet had its recipe changed in the 1980’s to keep up with the times by reducing the quinine, which made it bitter. (Kina refers to the quinine, so it was removed from the label when the quinine was removed from the formula.) The French aperitif wine, Lillet, is today’s version: a blend of wine grapes, oranges, orange peels and quinine. Lillet is not a vermouth, though you’ll find it in the vermouth section of your favorite liquor store. With the rise in popularity of the Vesper martini, many bartenders and aficionados claim it’s just not the same without the original Kina Lillet formulation, and a search began to find a better substitute, one with a more pronounced quinine assertiveness.
ingredients again
Enter Cocchi Americano, an aromatized wine also found in the vermouth section of many liquor stores. With its quinine-forward recipe, Vesper fans claim it comes closer to the original Kina Lillet. Add a more London-style dry gin to the mix, like Bombay Sapphire, and you just about nail the cocktail Bond created all those years ago.
So…with measurements true to Bond, may I suggest two versions of the same cocktail!
My original, more floral, version…
3 oz. Hendrick’s gin
1 oz. grain-based vodka (like Tito’s or Grey Goose)
1/2 oz. Lillet
Combine these over ice in a cocktail shaker, and shake vigorously. Strain it into a chilled martini glass. I’m happy with a lemon peel or olives with this combination.
Bondtini2
Or…
The version closer to Bond’s original, which is equally wonderful in its own right: crisp and refreshing, a strong drink with a hint of bitterness from the quinine. Dangerously addictive!
3 oz. London dry gin (like Bombay Sapphire)
1 oz. grain-based vodka (like Grey Goose)
1/2 oz. Cocchi Americano
Combine these over ice in a cocktail shaker, and shake vigorously. Strain it into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a large, thin lemon peel.
With the rising popularity of the Vesper martini, and the use of Cocchi Americano instead of Lillet, the makers of Lillet now claim they “never removed” the quinine from their original recipe. Many feel this is an outright lie, (back-pedaling a bit, aren’t we?) because they themselves stated they changed in the formula back in the 80’s. A little too late now for them to re-formulate. Cocchi Americano has become the go-to with many bartenders when recreating this classic cocktail.

Years ago, I gave my self an important research project: Create your own version of the perfect espresso martini.

It took painstaking research, which required drinking many espresso martinis in many a bar on my travels.

My favorite version came from a bartender working at Knave, the lobby bar at the at Parker New York, the former Le Parker Meridien Hotel in Manhattan. It featured Coole Swan, an Irish cream liqueur I had never heard of before. The bartender was nice enough to write down the recipe for me, but I guess I had a little too much to drink…because I lost it! So it was up to me to use those brain cells I didn’t fry and come up with my own combination.

A lot of mixing late into the night, and I came up with what I consider to be my perfect espresso martini. As the marines say: “There are many like it, but this one is mine.”

 

Alz Espresso martini

My espresso martini

 

 

3 oz. good quality vodka, like Belvedere
3 oz. freshly brewed espresso
1.5 oz. Kahlua
1.5 oz. Coole Swan

 

Chill your martini glasses. Pour all the ingredients into a large shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into chilled glasses.

This recipe makes 2 martinis. Let me tell ya…this tasted as good the first time as it did several martinis later! I’ve found that using a high-end vodka really does make a difference in the quality and taste of the martini…as does freshly brewing your espresso just before assembling the drink.

Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as healthy eggnog. This recipe is delicious but is also a heart attack in a glass. I post it every year because my friends just love it.

My buddy, Rick Sammarco, a wicked talented bartender, credits his father, Al, for this eggnog. The original recipe calls for a lot more of everything. I’ve cut it down to a “more reasonable” size.

A word about salmonella: If you’re concerned about it, you need to decide what works for you. Some recipes tell you to make your eggnog weeks in advance to “sterilize” the drink with all the booze you’ve added to it. I’m not sure that really works. As for me, I use raw eggs in my Caesar salad dressing and in other recipes, so I’m willing to risk it here.

If you’re lucky, some stores–(though very few of them, and none near me)–sell pasteurized eggs. They say the taste is a bit funky, but that it does remove the salmonella.

 

eggnog

 

1.5 quarts vanilla ice cream (I use Breyer’s)
1 pint half & half
15 whole eggs (raw)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
At least 3/8 cup of each:
spiced rum (I use Captain Morgan)
whiskey (I use Crown Royal)
brandy (I use E&J)

 

Let the ice cream soften 1 day in the fridge. Mix the ice cream, eggs, vanilla, half-and-half in a blender.

Add the spices and liquor. Blend until it’s frothy.

Taste, and add more cinnamon and nutmeg if you like.

After it’s fully blended, let it sit in the fridge, covered, for at least 12-24 hours for the flavors to blend. Even longer is better.

 

 

Sometimes, a refreshing cocktail is just what you need after a long day of yard work. Whether you’ve got cucumbers growing in your garden to not, this one fits the bill!

4 fresh cucumbers, peeled and seeded
Small ice cubes
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons granulated organic cane sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 oz. vodka (I like Tito’s)
1 oz. orange liqueur (I like Cointreau)

Peel and seed the cucumbers. Coarsely chop them and then purée them in a food processor until smooth. Strain them through a fine sieve, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Or, if you have one, use a juicer. Set the extracted cucumber juice aside.

To a large glass pitcher, add the mint leaves, sugar and lime juice. Muddle the ingredients so that the mint leaves release their oils. Add 3/4 cup (at least) of the cucumber juice. Add the vodka and Cointreau. Muddle again briefly.

Fill tall drinking glasses with ice cubes. Strain the cocktail into the glasses. Garnish with a cucumber spear or peel…or mint.

There’s only one thing better than a freshly made mojito when you’re hanging out at home…and that’s a pitcher of freshly made mojitos! Organic raspberries and blueberries are in the markets right now, and my mint plants are taking over the yard! All the ingredients for a great mojito!

Very often, I’ll use raspberries alone, but mojitos are even better when you combine the raspberries with blueberries. I stock up on organic berries, rinsing them and placing them in plastic bags that go in the freezer until I’m ready to make my mojitos. I always go organic with berries. Pesticides should never be a cocktail ingredient!  Pay a little extra and get the good stuff…it makes a difference!

Once you make mojitos by the pitcher, you’ll never have them any other way. (Even if you’re drinking alone!)

 

The ingredients

 

Make ahead of time…
1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed lime juice
1 1/3 cups turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw is a common brand)

Mix both ingredients together, letting it stand at room temperature for a few minutes. I like to combine them in a Mason jar, then shake really hard until the sugar has dissolved. I keep it in the fridge, and it’s good for up to 3 weeks…ready to use any time. Shake it well again before using.

 

mojito pitcher

For the Mojitos…
1 cup sugar/lime mixture
1 cup mint leaves, packed
1/2 pint blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 pint raspberries (fresh or frozen)
3 or 4 cups white rum (I use Don Q Cristal rum)
3 or 4 cups club soda or seltzer

Combine the mint leaves and 1/2 cup of the sugar/lime mixture in bottom of a pitcher. Muddle the mint up very well to release mint oils. Add the blueberries and continue to muddle.

Add the remaining sugar/lime mixture, rum and raspberries. Mix well. Just before serving, add the club soda and ice. Stir. Pour into tall glasses.

Or…for drinks one at a time, I put in a shot of the sugar/lime mixture into a tall glass. I throw in about 8 mint leaves and muddle them for a minute. Then I add 2 shots of rum, and a few raspberries and blueberries. I muddle again.  I add ice, and I top it with the club soda, stirring well. An option is to pour it all into another tall glass. Garnish with a mint leaf.

 

Cheers!

Cheers!

After missing a year due to the pandemic, BOYZ weekend at my house returns this year on Kentucky Derby weekend. Although they ran the Kentucky Derby last fall, it’s nice to see it back on its original first weekend in May. All us boyz have gotten our vaccines, but we’ll still be doing all the necessary social distancing. And, of course, we’ll drink plenty of alcohol to kill all the germs.

The Mint Julep is such a perfect, classic and historic bourbon drink, it seems silly to wait until Derby Day to have one. Of course, as any aficionado of spirits will tell you, there are as many right ways as wrong ways of making one.

The first step in my Mint Julep is making the simple syrup. Learning from one of my old radio buddies, my pal Rick O’B, I infuse mint into my simple syrup to take my cocktail to the next level. I use the standard ratio of 1 cup of clean, filtered water to 1 cup of sugar, using an organic product like Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar. I place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until just boiling. I’ve found that it needs to reach this stage for the sugar to really dissolve. As soon as it starts to boil, I remove the saucepan from the heat, and throw in a handful of freshly picked mint leaves, stirring to make sure the mint gets in there, and then I leave the saucepan to cool to room temperature. Once it’s at room temp, I strain the simple syrup into a bottle with a tight sealing lid, and place it in the refrigerator to cool. It will keep for about a week.

An equally important ingredient for a perfect Mint Julep is the ice: specifically, crushed ice from clean, filtered water. Don’t even think of using tap water for any cocktail much less this one. Why ruin an expensive bottle of bourbon by going cheap on the ice? I make my own ice cubes, then put them in an untreated canvas ice bag and bash them with a mallet to the perfect crushed size. Untreated canvas bags for crushing ice can be purchased online from bar supply companies for about $30. I got an untreated canvas tool bag (the exact same shape and size) at Home Depot for 3 bucks.

Da bag.

The next step is a little tougher: which bourbon to choose. The explosion of choices on the bourbon market has made it all but impossible for the average imbiber to know which bourbon is best for their tastes. If you’re a beginner, I suggest you go to a trusted bartender and explain that you’re new to the bourbon world, and could you have the tiniest of tastes and sniffs of what he’s got at his bar. Chances are, you’ll get a sampling of some of the better known brands: Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, perhaps Buffalo Trace or Bulleit, and the standard Jim Beam. This is a very good start. If you have deeper pockets, go to the manager of a trusted higher-end liquor store and explain that you’ve had all the rest, now what does he think is the best? (Also, hinting to wife and friends that “I’m trying new bourbons” around your birthday or Father’s Day inevitably gets you a few bottles as well!)

My go-to bourbon for Mint Juleps is the very affordable Eagle Rare 10-year-old at $32.99 a bottle…and you can never go wrong with the classic Maker’s Mark. It’s always on sale around Derby Day.

Finally, a Mint Julep needs a metal–not glass– Julep cup. Made of pewter or aluminum, it frosts on the outside as you stir your drink, keeping your beverage ice-cold on even the hottest of days.

3 oz. bourbon
1 oz. mint-infused simple syrup
crushed ice
Julep cup
Fresh mint for garnish

Crush the ice and pack it into the Julep cup, even letting it dome slightly over the top. Don’t worry…the alcohol will melt it.

I like to add 1.5 ounces of bourbon, then the ounce of simple syrup, then another 1.5 ounces of bourbon on top. Break off a few mint leaves from the stem and push into the ice. Using a long spoon, stir the drink well. A beautiful layer of frost will form on the outside of the cup. Add more ice, if necessary, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

A nice selection of bourbons. This is an old photo: that Pappy Van Winkle is long gone…but I saved the bottle!

I love cocktails that are full of herbaceousness. (Got that right without spell check!)

So whenever I’m dining in a higher-end restaurant, where I see that mixology matters to them as much as the food, I take advantage of their knowledgeable bartenders and have them create something special for me to try.

Coppa is a favorite restaurant in Boston–Toro is another–and both are part of the Ken Oringer/Jamie Bissonette empire. It’s been years since I visited, but the cocktails I’ve had there have always inspired me. This recipe is from Coppa, named “Hey Neon,” and is a personal favorite that I regularly re-create at home for myself.

Aquavit is a favorite in many a Scandinavian bar. Imagine vodka infused with caraway seeds, and you have a pretty good idea of what it’s all about, though there are other flavored aquavits as well.

Punt e Mes is a sweet vermouth from Italy, from the house of Carpano, the folks that also make the king of all vermouths: Antica Formula.

Cynar is a fascinating artichoke-flavored bitter liqueur from the folks that bring you Campari.

Chartreuse is naturally green in color, and they claim it’s made by Carthusian monks since 1737, from a secret recipe of 130 plants. There’s also a milder yellow Chartreuse.

 

The Coppa finished drink:

 

HEY NEON
1.5 oz. Aalborg aquavit
.75 oz. Punt e Mes
.5 oz. Cynar
.5 oz. green Chartreuse
Finely minced, dehydrated kalamata olives

 

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with some ice. Stir briskly and strain into a rocks glass rimmed with the minced kalamata olives.

 

The home version:

 

 

I tried mincing and dehydrating the kalamata olives, like they do at Coppa. But the oils in the olives kept them from drying out enough, even in a dehydrator. Maybe I was just too impatient for a drink! And I couldn’t get the minced olives to stick to the rim of my glass.

My solution was pretty simple: pour the drink into a martini glass and serve with a skewer of kalamatas. Works for me!