Posts Tagged ‘drinks’

The 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, May 6th. It’s the most exciting 2 minutes in racing…especially if you’ve got a great mint julep in your hand!

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. I use the standard ratio of 1 cup of clean, filtered water to 1 cup of sugar, but I use an organic product like Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar. 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, remove the saucepan from the heat, and throw in a handful of freshly picked mint leaves. Stir to make sure the mint gets in there, and then leave the saucepan to cool to room temperature. Once it’s at room temp, strain the simple syrup into a bottle with a tight sealing lid, and place in the refrigerator to cool. It will keep for about a week.

The next step is the tough part: the battle of the bourbons! The recent 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. My suggestion for this is to 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? This is how I came across a fabulous 17-year-old bottle of Eagle Rare, my choice for my Mint Julep, though incredibly difficult to find. So I settle for the 10-year-old Eagle Rare, which at $32.99, is the best bang-for-the-buck bourbon on the market right now.

Of course, hinting to wife and friends that “I’m trying new bourbons” around your birthday or the holidays inevitably gets you a few bottles as well!

Other ingredients for my perfect Mint Julep include 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 a canvas ice bag and bash them to the perfect crushed size.

And 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. You simply need to have one to make the perfect Mint Julep.

 

So here’s my recipe…

 

 

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.

 

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.
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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:
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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.
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 Either way: with Honeybells or with pineapple juice, it’s a great way to celebrate National Margarita Day! Cheers!

Once again this weekend, I’ll be at the annual Providence Art Club Founder’s Day celebration, raising a glass in their honor. The cool thing is that I got to decide what went in the glass!

First, some history…

The Providence Art Club is the third-oldest art club in the United States. The Philadelphia Sketch Club was founded in 1860. New York’s Salmagundi Club, founded in 1871, came next. But they were both founded by an all-male board. The Providence Art Club is the oldest art club in the nation that also included women. And that was back in 1880! That’s especially huge when you see what’s going on in the country even today.

Now through April 22, the Providence Art Club is featuring “Making Her Mark, the Women Artists of the Providence Art Club 1880,” an exposition featuring the works of the women artists that founded the art club over 130 years ago.

 

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My wife is an artist member of the Providence Art Club. That’s how a zhlub like me got in! Several years ago, they asked me to come up with a cocktail for their first Founders Day celebration. One hundred glasses were raised to honor the founding fathers of the Providence Art Club. This year, we’re expecting up to 150 people to be there for the celebration.

Silhouettes of past art club members line the walls of the Providence Art Club, so my wife came up with the name of the cocktail: The Silhouette. I decided to base my cocktail on the Boulevardier, an awesome drink that substitutes bourbon for gin in the classic Negroni.
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2 oz. Eagle Rare 10-year bourbon
1 oz. Antica Formula sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. Campari
2 shakes Regan’s orange bitters

In a cocktail shaker with ice, stir the ingredients and then strain into a rocks glass with one large ice cube.

Garnish with an orange twist.

Cheers!

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!

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)
7Up 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 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. It’s been so long since I bought ice cream, that I didn’t even know that the standard half-gallon size was replaced by a 1.5 quart size!

A word about salmonella: most cases are caused by raw chicken, not raw eggs. Still, many people worry about it. You are adding a lot of booze to the mix. Some recipes tell you to make your eggnog weeks in advance to “sterilize” the drink. I’m not sure that works. Look…if you’re really worried about it, maybe this drink isn’t for you. I use a raw egg in my Caesar salad dressing and in other recipes, so I’m willing to risk it here.

eggnog

 

1.5 quarts vanilla ice cream (I use Breyer’s)
1 pint half and 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 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 fridge 12-24 hours for flavors to blend. Even longer is better.

 

 

It takes a few weeks for this limoncello recipe to be ready, so I usually start up a batch around Thanksgiving to have it ready for Christmas. But even if you start now, you’ll be able to enjoy it around the holidays!

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 legendary Grand Hotel Quisisana, and our incredible meal ended with a glass of the most delicious limoncello I had 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 that limoncello again.

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 every year. Note: the recipe calls for 100-proof vodka. Most vodka is 80-proof, so you’ll need to go to a liquor store with a better selection to find it.

Sampling vintage limoncello and grapefruit-cello, aged 2 years or more

Sampling vintage limoncello and grapefruit-cello, aged 2 years or more

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

 

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

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 at room temperature for a week, swirling the jar around gently once a day.

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 individual bottles, but let it mellow for about a month before drinking.

I keep my limoncello refrigerated.

It’s the peak of the summer season along the coast of the great state of Maine. My friend, Lee, recently bought a second home in Kennebunk, and it was all the excuse I needed to head up there and check out the town I visited with my parents during my childhood. My trip was less about the Lithuanian Franciscan monastery my parents would make a point to visit, and more about hitting every bar and restaurant we could in a 24-hour period.

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I arrived at lunch time and we went straight to David’s KPT, one of several restaurants owned by chef David Turin, who owns others in nearby Portland. I ate at the original David’s in Portland a few years ago and was not impressed, so it took a little coaxing to get me to come here. David’s KPT menu is simple, basic seafood, and for a restaurant on the water with great views, that’s about all you need. Nothing particularly creative here, just the basics, like fresh oysters but a rather bland lobster salad. Its key location also makes it a tourist trap and they jack the prices up, so some oysters go for $3.50 each! I don’t even pay that in New York City.

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After lunch, we took a ride along the beautiful rugged Maine coast, passing the Bush family compound and the line of cars parked on the road with people taking snaps of the house for their scrapbooks. We stopped In Cape Porpoise, still a part of Kennebunkport, at a funky joint called The Ramp.

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On the water, The Ramp is crowded and noisy, with old posters and souvenirs on the walls and ceiling, ranging from a NYC World Trade Center subway station sign to a “Vote for Marcos” campaign poster from the Philippines. We had to put our names on a list just to sit at the bar. But that was OK…we had a cocktail while waiting. By the time we finished our drinks and were ready to leave, our turn came up at the bar, so we handed our space off to the next person in line and moved on.

Our lovely server at The Ramp. Notice photos of former Presidents behind her.

Our lovely server at The Ramp. Notice photos of former Presidents behind her.

Back on the road, we drove into town, found a rare parking space on the street, and walked over to Tia’s Topside,with their signature giant lobster claws in the front yard.

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The menu was no great shakes, and it was clear the dude working the bar already had his fill of tourists for the season. No eye contact, just a “What do you guys want to drink?” That was a thumbs down in our book.

Walking back to the car, we popped into Ports of Italy for a pop. Looking at the plates of the people next to me at the bar, it seemed like we stumbled into a local version of the Olive Garden. The website makes everything we saw look much better. But we passed on the food. Generic drinks.

Clearly, the amount of drinks we had, and were still going to have, was going to be an issue, and Lee being the driver, was behaving to avoid any trouble with the law. Police are everywhere in Kennebunk, and they are notorious for pulling you over for even the slightest infraction. So we headed back to the condo to park the car and wait for the taxi we hired for the night to take us to dinner and beyond.

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The culinary focus of the trip (I made reservations two months earlier) was Earth at Hidden Pond, a Ken Oringer restaurant in the center of a luxury resort just a short drive out of the center of town, hidden in the woods, surrounded by ridiculously expensive cabins.

Outdoor seating, great atmosphere at night when they light the torches and the fires.

Outdoor seating, great atmosphere at night when they light the torches and the fires.

Oringer is a crazy-talented chef, a Food Network “Iron Chef America” winner with a half-dozen respected restaurants to his name: Toro in Boston (personal favorite) and NYC, Clio in Boston, Coppa (excellent!) in Boston, and Uni in Boston. I was very glad to see that Earth lived up to my expectations.

The well-stocked bar at Earth.

The well-stocked bar at Earth.

Our evening got off to a slow start. It was a Saturday night, yet the main bartenders were nowhere to be found. (We heard that one was out due to a leg injury.) The woman that served us was great to talk to, but she clearly did not have a grasp on the crafting of the more complicated cocktails that Earth was known for. Our first drinks were good, but she literally had to read the recipes off a card to make them. And when I asked for Antica Formula in my Manhattan, she didn’t know what that was.

Enter Josh, a young, energetic bar assistant, who saw this as an opportunity to show off his mixology skills. He jumped right in and offered us a cocktails he created, and we welcomed his refreshing enthusiasm. I can’t even remember the ingredients list he had for each cocktail, but we thoroughly enjoyed them, and he custom-crafted them if we didn’t like a particular ingredient.

Small plates: meatballs, chicken wings with sesame and squid ink, shishito peppers.

Snacks: meatballs, chicken wings with sesame and squid ink, shishito peppers.

We started with a few apps, or snacks as they called them. The meatballs were good, average meatballs. The shishito peppers, roasted and salted, are a Ken Oringer signature dish, also served at his Toro restaurants. Usually 1 out of 10 are hot, but we had more than a few spicy bites on our plate. The chicken wings with squid ink were incredible: sweet, salty, briny. Probably the best wings I’ve ever had, and I’m dying to figure out how I can make them at home. I had a chance to talk to executive chef Justin Walker, and after he explained the process in detail, it was obvious it wouldn’t be easy!

A luxurious plate of seared foie gras followed. Couldn’t have been more perfect.

But after the foie, we had a dilemma: We made plans to have the taxi pick us up from the restaurant at 8:30, giving us 2 1/2 hours to eat dinner. It was after 8 already, and we had to focus on leaving, despite the fact that we didn’t have an entree yet. Our bartender suggested perhaps a dessert, and we decided to order a second plate of chicken wings to end our meal!

I was bummed that we didn’t give ourselves enough time to have a complete dinner. I suppose that meant we were having a good time and not just shoving food down our pie holes. It’s also my excuse to come back to Earth to “do things right” the next time!

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Our last stop was back in town at Old Vines, a wine bar that also serves great food. Though we were seated quickly at the bar and got our first drinks, it seemed like forever before we could get the attention of our female bartender who was far more interested in the other females at the bar than us two old guys. Hey, I understand that, but we wanted to order some food. It was only when the owner showed up that we were asked what we’d like to eat and by then we were told the kitchen may be closed. Fortunately, we ordered two cold dishes, so they were easy to prepare: beef carpaccio and a burata salad. Both were excellent.

A cab ride home, and it was time to pass out.

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The next morning, breakfast was back in Cape Porpoise at The Wayfarer, a local favorite for years. Always crowded, we managed to find a couple of seats at the bar. Crowded because the menu offers breakfast favorites with their own twist: a scramble of the day, housemade sausage, and interesting takes on standards, like lobster and pork belly eggs Benedict.

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The creativity of this dish was excellent, the execution not so much. Hey, I love pork fat, but the pork belly wasn’t cooked enough so it was rubbery and the lobster meat was cold–should’ve been warmed through before putting it on top of the eggs.

That’s OK…lots of good coffee and smiling faces were a welcome sight the morning after a big night of drinking!

The ride back to Rhode Island was a bit rough with a hangover. Next time, it’ll be 48 hours in Kennebunkport and I’ll make sure I get some rest!

 

It’s Negroni week! And an aged Negroni is even better.

Used to be that only the big distilleries were able to age their finest spirits in charred oak barrels. But now, there’s a movement goin’ on…and hand-crafted oak barrels are available to aficionados at home.

Companies like Redhead Barrels (http://www.redheadoakbarrels.com) are offering oak barrels for aging that range in size from 1 liter to 20 liters. And that’s where this enthusiast comes in: with a 1-liter barrel, I’m able to age my favorite spirit–vodka, rum, whiskey, bourbon, anything–in just a few weeks, elevating the flavors to levels previously unknown.

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My  1-liter barrel arrived with the spigot and bung separately. Curing the barrel is necessary before using it. You do this by rinsing the barrel out a few times to remove any loose pieces of wood chips or splinters that may still be inside. Hand-turn the spigot into the barrel until it fits snugly and place the barrel in the sink on the included stand. Fill the barrel with very hot water…and watch. Some barrels are totally watertight and will not leak. Others may take literally a few days of repeated fillings with hot water before it thoroughly seeps into the wood, expanding it to seal the barrel.

Once there are no leaks, it’s ready to go. Empty the water out of the barrel and fill it with your favorite spirit. Because there is more wood surface area to less liquid (as compared to the large barrels companies like Jack Daniels use), your alcohol will age faster…in weeks instead of years. Once you’ve aged it as much as you want, you simply pour it into a bottle to stop the aging process. Rinse the barrel out thoroughly, and you are ready to age yet another spirit.

I chose to age a cocktail that I first savored at the Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, Ohio, the brainchild of talented chef Jonathon Sawyer. The call it a Negroski, their take on a Negroni. It features equal parts Campari, Cocchi sweet vermouth, and OYO stone fruit vodka. They make large batches of it and keep it in a barrel until they serve it. So enamoured my wife and I were with this drink, that I begged the bartender to give me the recipe.

Doing the math, equal parts of each ingredient meant 1 1/3 cups of each to make a quart…which fit perfectly in my 1-liter barrel. Once I corked the top with the bung, it was time to let it age.

A slight daily rotation of the barrel gently rocks the liquid inside, exposing it to the barrel’s charred wood interior, giving it more flavor. And at the end of   a week, I was ready for my first tasting: the wood had a subtle influence, rounding out the flavors. I wanted a little more, so I waited another week.: even better, but not quite there. It took a total of three weeks before the drink reached its flavorful peak.

I poured some of the drink into a cocktail shaker with ice, stirred briskly with a spoon, and strained it into a martini glass, garnishing with a twist of blood orange peel. Delicious!

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Just recently, I purchased a 3-liter barrel. After all, 3 times the booze means 3 times the fun!

What a week! Cinco de Mayo and Derby Day within a couple of days of each other! Let’s start it off with my favorite margarita recipe…

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ALGARITA:

3 oz. Patron silver tequila
1 oz. Cointreau orange liqueur
4 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 a fresh lime, squeezed

Add ice to a tall glass and add Patron, Cointreau, pineapple juice and a good squeeze of lime juice from 1/2 a lime. Pour into a margarita glass (salt rim optional) and garnish with a lime wedge.

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, FLOOR!

Recently, studies have found that drinking as little as 2 more cups of coffee a day can reduce cirrhosis of the liver! So why not kill 2 birds with one stone and put coffee in your cocktail?

I love espresso martinis, and my favorite was one that I sampled a years ago at the Le Parker Meridien hotel in New York City. The secret ingredient was an Irish cream liqueur called Coole Swan. Here’s my version of that recipe…

espresso

 

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 ingredients into a large shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Pour into chilled glasses. Makes 2 martinis.