Archive for the ‘mixology’ Category

It takes a few weeks for this limoncello recipe to be ready, so plan ahead!

 

It starts with beautiful lemons…

 

Many years ago, my wife and I visited the Amalfi coast, and we spent several nights on the beautiful island of Capri. On our last night, we dined at the historic Grand Hotel Quisisana, and our meal ended with a glass of the most delicious limoncello I ever had.

I asked the waiter if it was possible to get the recipe of the limoncello, and he made a big deal about the recipe being a “secret.” Though disappointed, I understood, and I left Capri thinking that I would never taste it again.

 

Sure, you can buy limoncello from Capri in a bottle, but what fun is that?

 

Two weeks later, now back at home, I was reading the latest issue of Conde Nast Traveler, and there in black and white, was the Quisisana limoncello recipe! WTF?

After making many batches of this limoncello, I started experimenting with other citrus, and the most successful by far was with grapefruit. Now I make a batch of each–lemon and grapefruit–every year. It’s important to use 100-proof vodka in this recipe. Most vodka is 80-proof, so you’ll need to go to a liquor store with a better selection to find it. Absolut makes a good one, as does Stoli.

Four ingredients, easy to make. The toughest part is waiting for it to mellow a bit.

 

4 lbs. of lemons, but you only use the zest!

 

4 lbs. lemons, zest only
2 750-ml bottles 100 proof vodka
5 1/2 cups sugar
6 cups filtered water

Just the zest!

 

Peel the zest off all the lemons, making sure you don’t get any of the white pith that could make the limoncello bitter. Place all the zest in the bottom of a glass jar with a lid that can hold all the vodka.

Pour the vodka on top of the lemon zest pieces, seal the container, and keep it at room temperature for a week, swirling the jar around gently once a day.

 

Vodka and zest.

 

On the sixth day, combine the sugar and water in a pot over medium-high heat, and stir until all the sugar completely dissolves. Remove from the heat, cover, and let it thoroughly cool to room temperature (overnight is best.)

On day seven, strain the lemon zest, pouring the infused vodka into a clean glass jar. Discard the lemon zest.

Pour the sugar/water mixture into the vodka and mix well.

At this point, you can pour the finished product into bottles, but let it mellow for about a month before drinking.

 

I keep my limoncello refrigerated.

This is my version of a holiday drink I was introduced to by my mother-in-law from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I knew I was marrying into the right family after one sip!

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.

Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as healthy eggnog. This recipe kicks ass but is also a heart attack in a glass.

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: Many people are concerned about it, and 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. Look…if you’re really worried about it, maybe this drink isn’t for you. 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 Capt. 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.

 

 

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

I also love my vodka martinis! So if I’m going to buy a top shelf vodka like Stoli Elit or Belvedere, I’m not going to ruin it with cheap vermouth, especially that nasty stuff they use to brine supermarket cocktail onions that come in a jar that’s been sitting on the shelf for about 10 years.

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.

 

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

 

Once that time-saving ingredient was in my possession, I took my own pickled asparagus recipe (https://livethelive.com/2018/05/16/pickled-asparagus-the-new-season-has-begun-4/) and used it with onions. Awesome results!

 

 

 

1 lb. pearl onions, peeled
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2  cups water
3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado cane 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.

In a quart-sized Mason jar, add the teaspoon of salt and garlic cloves.

 

Pour a little of the hot vinegar liquid in the jar to dissolve the salt. Add the onions to the jar, then fill the jar to the top with the vinegar liquid.

Cover the jar tightly and turn it upside-down a couple of times to mix everything together.

 

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 taste better if you give them a few days.

 

 

 

This is a story about something that is near and dear to my heart…and liver.

I’ve been making Krupnikas for over 40 years. (And no, I won’t be posting my secret recipe here.) It’s a honey-based liqueur that is popular in eastern Europe, especially in countries like Lithuania, where my parents were born. Though most of the Krupnikas that I’ve tasted is similar, no two recipes are exactly alike…and that’s where the arguments begin!

I have many friends that make Krupnikas. Some use the leaner-meaner approach (like me)…others go for the everything-in-one-basket approach. I’m not sure that more is necessarily better. Some friends claim that it isn’t real Krupnikas if you don’t use black pepper. But I’ve been to many pubs and restaurants in Lithuania and have never been served Krupnikas with black pepper in it. Other recipes include ginger, turmeric, saffron, and heavy amounts of anise. I prefer a lighter approach.

 

krupnikas

 

If you Google “Krupnikas,” you’ll find many different recipes…some pretty good, some incredibly awful…but none as good as mine! I use grain alcohol…there’s no distilling involved. There were times in the last 40 years when grain alcohol was not readily available to me, and so my Krupnikas production came to a screeching halt for a while. But these days, you can usually find it within a short ride from home just about anywhere you live. (Here in New England, it’s sold in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.) Desperate times without grain alcohol forced me to try vodka instead, but I never liked the way it came out.

Krupnikas uses a variety of unusual spices, none of which have their origins in Lithuania, so it’s interesting to hear how these exotic ingredients made their way via various trade routes to eastern Europe.

The story goes that Krupnikas was created by Benedictine monks in the 1500’s, and that it became popular in both Lithuania and Poland for celebrations like birthdays, weddings, and holidays. But when the Soviets shut down all Krupnikas production, the recipes went “underground,” passed down from generation to generation through closely guarded family recipes. That’s why everyone thinks their family recipe is the best!

 

One pot for honey, one pot for the various spices I use…to be combined later.

 

My own Krupnikas making story started with my uncle, who would make large batches of the stuff in his tiny Richmond Hill, Queens, NY kitchen. Because I am the godfather of my cousin, his son, I received a bottle as a gift from my uncle every Christmas. By New Year’s, that bottle would be gone. It wasn’t long before I got very tired of waiting 51 weeks for another bottle and I asked my uncle if he would share his recipe with me. He never did that exactly, but he did let me sit in on a brewing session and take notes in a cramped corner of his kitchen.

 

My wife, an artist, helped me design my own label.

 

 

I took my notes home from my uncle’s house and tried to decipher what I wrote. Since there was no such thing as the internet back then (what we call “the dark ages,” kids), I drove all over New York City in search of some of the more exotic spices used in making my uncle’s Krupnikas recipe. I became a regular at several Asian and Indian stores, where, at first, they looked at this tall, geeky white dude somewhat suspiciously as I brought my spices to the counter for purchase.

Over the decades, through trial and error, I changed my uncle’s original recipe to the one that I proudly call my own today. You can’t buy it in a store, but if you have tons of money and want to go into business with me, I’m sure we can work something out! Or become my best friend and you’ll get a bottle every Christmas…and then you’ll be the one waiting 51 weeks for another!

 

krup glasses

 

Versions of Krupnikas are available in liquor stores: Old Krupnik is a Polish liqueur, and the German brand Barenjager is another. And many whiskies, like Dewar’s and Jack Daniels, now have honey-flavored spirits as well.

Though quite different from my own recipe, there are two authentic Lithuanian style Krupnikas liqueurs made in the United States by acquaintances of mine.

Based out of Durham, North Carolina, the Brothers Vilgalys Spirits Company (www.brothersvilgalys.com) has a pepperier version that uses local North Carolina wildflower honey. President of the company, Rim Vilgalys, the son of my good childhood friend from New York, has done what I never got around to do: make this fabulous elixir available to the public. You’ll find it at ABC stores throughout the state of North Carolina.

 

bvsco-krupnikas

 

The second brand is made and sold in the New York area and goes by the name of KAS Krupnikas. (www.kasspirits.com)

kas_krupnikas_new

Both are pretty darn good. But are they as good as mine? I think you already know my answer to that question!

Sveiks! (Cheers!)

Just because you’ve got a garden full of fresh veggies, it doesn’t mean you have to gorge on nothing but salads! Sometimes, a refreshing cocktail is just what you need after a long day of yard work. With a ton of cucumbers crankin’ out of the garden right now, and with this seemingly never-ending heat wave going on in New England, this is the perfect Friday-get-the-weekend-started cocktail!

If you’ve got a juicer that’s sitting in the corner of the kitchen unused because the “juice kick” you were on became tiresome, here’s a great excuse to bring it out again.

 

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
1/2 cup vodka (I like Tito’s)
1 oz. orange liqueur (I like Cointreau)

 

Peel and seed the cucumbers. Juice them to extract the liquid. If you don’t have a juicer, use a food processor. Coarsely chop them and then purée in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. You’ll need at least 3/4 of a cup of juice, so use more cukes if you don’t have enough. Set the 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 glasses. Garnish with a cucumber spear or mint.

My raspberry plants are producing a ton of fruit, and my mint plants are taking over the yard! It’s time to make mojitos!

Very often, I’ll use raspberries alone, but mojitos are even better when you combine the raspberries with blueberries. Though I have a few blueberry bushes in my yard, it seems that the birds get to them before I even get a chance. Fortunately, I have several neighbors that put little farm stands up in front of their homes, selling blueberries, so I stock up on them, rinsing them and placing them in plastic bags that go in the freezer until I’m ready to make my mojitos.

Store-bought frozen fruit works well, too, so if you don’t have a farm stand down the road, don’t feel like you can’t make this fabulous cocktail. Make mojitos by the pitcher and you’ll never have them any other way!

The ingredients

 

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

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

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, don’t add the club soda to the pitcher. Instead, fill a tall glass with ice. Fill it one-third to halfway with club soda, then top with the mojito mix. Garnish it with a mint leaf.

 

Cheers!

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 most recent “Casino Royale” motion picture starring Daniel Craig.
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 version of this classic drink remains true to the original, though I’ve 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 100 brands to choose from!) My choice for best-bang-for-the-buck grain vodka is Tito’s: it has just enough of an edge, which is what this drink needs.
Bond asks for Gordon’s gin. I’m partial to Hendrick’s for this application. Again, in the 50’s, what good British agent wouldn’t drink Gordon’s?
And the original Kina Lillet had its formula changed in the 1980’s to keep up with the times by reducing the quinine, which made it bitter. 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. Some aficionados claim the martini is just not the same without the original Kina Lillet formulation, but I find that the drink works just fine for me.
ingredients again
So…measurements true to Bond:
3 oz. Hendrick’s gin
1 oz. Tito’s vodka
1/2 oz. Lillet
I prefer combining these over ice in a cocktail shaker, and I stir, not shake. I strain it into a chilled martini glass and I skip the lemon peel. I prefer three olives instead…and stuffed with garlic, if my wife is away on a business trip!
Cheers!
Bondtini2
A side note: the correct pronunciation of Lillet is Lih-LAY. Grammatically in French, the double-l would make it sound like Lih-YAY. So to keep that from happening, they spelled it Lilet for a while until the French were used to the correct pronunciation, then they went back to Lillet on the bottle.

For me, no dining experience is complete without a great cocktail. If all they’ve got to offer is a martini straight-up with olives, I’ll drink it alright–but I’ll be disappointed there’s nothing more.

Coppa is a wonderful small enoteca in Boston’s South End, featuring small plates by award-winning chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette. (They’re also the 2 creative forces behind Toro in Boston and NYC.)

The food was incredible, and this drink, called “Hey, Neon,” was inspired. The glass was rimmed with dehydrated and finely chopped kalamata olives. I tried to recreate that at home, and couldn’t get the texture or the size right. And I could never get it to stick to the glass, either! Ultimately, I simply skewered a few kalamatas and placed them on the glass!

The original “Hey Neon” at Coppa.

 

 

“HEY NEON”

1 1/2 oz. Aalborg aquavit
3/4 oz. Punt e Mes
1/2 oz. Cynar
1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse

Add ice to a cocktail shaker and then add the ingredients. Stir well, until very cold. Strain into a martini glass. Add the skewer of kalamata olives.

 

Aalborg is a brand of aquavit (or akvavit), a clear alcohol similar to vodka but usually infused with other flavors, mainly caraway or dill, popular in Scandinavia.

Punt e Mes is a sweet vermouth, the so-called “little brother” of the granddaddy of all sweet vermouths: Carpano Antica Formula.

Cynar is an Italian bitter and digestif made from herbs, plants and artichokes. Strong in flavor, but delicious!

Chartruese is a French liqueur made by Carthusian monks since 1737, using a recipe that dates back to 1605. It contains 130 herbs and plants. It’s also one of the few liqueurs that ages in the bottle, changing over time. Green Chartreuse is 110 proof, and naturally colored from the maceration of its ingredients. Yellow Chartreuse, at 80 proof, is a milder and sweeter version.

My version of the “Hey Neon.”

 

 

Every major city in the United states has a Capital Grille, and it’s a great place to grab a solid dinner if you’re traveling. Although the Capital Grille in my town of Providence, RI has recently moved from its original location, we can still boast that we had the very first one in the USA.

They don’t do crazy-fancy drinks at the Capital Grille. They keep a very well-stocked bar with high-end booze and make solid cocktails. But there is one signature drink you can find there, and that’s the Stoli Doli. A Stoli Doli is simply Stoli vodka that has been infused with fresh pineapple. If you sit at the bar at the Capital Grille, you won’t be able to miss the very large jar of freshly-cut pineapple pieces swimming in vodka. They literally pour it “from the tap,” and serve it straight up, like a martini, or on the rocks. It’s delicious, and I’ve certainly had my share of them over time.

I decided to make my own at home one day, to serve to my friends at an upcoming party. But to my disappointment, I didn’t have any Stoli vodka in the house. I found a bottle of Stoli Vanil, the vanilla-flavored vodka, and it was a real game-changer! I used that instead of regular Stoli and I came up with a sweeter, smoother drink that is legendary among my friends to this day. I called it…

VELVET ELVIS

2 pineapples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1.75ml Stoli Vanil

Find a gallon-sized glass jar with a lid. Peel, core and slice the pineapples and drop the pieces in the jar. Pour the vodka in, mix well, and seal the jar. Keep it at room temperature for a week, giving it a gentle shake every day.

After one week, strain it, squeezing the pineapple pieces to get every bit of liquid out. Keep the Velvet Elvis refrigerated. Serve over ice.

You’d think it would be Cinco de Mayo, but February 22nd is National Margarita Day.
My personal recipe uses no sour mix…just 4 basic ingredients. I still have a small stash of the HoneyBells mentioned here, but the original recipe, below, uses pineapple juice. Cheers!
Every year around January, we get a shipment of Cushman’s HoneyBells. They look like fiery red bell-shaped oranges, but they’re not really oranges at all, and their season is very limited.
 image
HoneyBells are a unique natural hybrid of Dancy Tangerine and Duncan Grapefruit. The plants are grafted to a sour orange root-stock, and when the tree reaches maturity, it looks just like a grapefruit tree…but with oranges growing on it.
I usually make my signature margarita, the Algarita, with pineapple juice. But when I get those HoneyBells in the mail, my recipe takes on a new twist:
 image
 
2 oz. Patron silver tequila (3 oz. is even better!)
1/2 oz. Cointreau orange liqueur
4 oz. pineapple juice (or fresh-squeezed HoneyBell juice, when in season)
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
Fill a cocktail shaker or tall glass with ice and add all the ingredients. Stir vigorously. Pour into a large margarita glass. Garnish with a lime wedge. Salt optional.
 image
 Either way: with HoneyBells or with pineapple juice, it’s a great way to celebrate National Margarita Day! Cheers!