Saturday, July 2, 2011

Margarita | 29 down 246 to go

Without exaggeration, The Partner and I can say that prior to today, we have not had a Margarita.  I know this may cause some consternation around Lakeview where up to this moment El Tapatio and our friend, M., have held the title for Best Margarita.  This version is of a different caliber.

To be fair, we did not make this Margarita strictly by the book.  It is a bit of an improv – and not getting a baseline, for sure.  While this may seem like I’m getting cocky, let’s look at it as needing to make necessary substitutions when different ingredients are in-house.  We were out of Cointreau so substituted Grand Marnier.  And as mentioned in the previous post, we’re desperately trying to drink down a store of OJ.  So orange juice subbed for lemon juice.  We also prefer ours on the rocks without salt.  All that being said, this version was one of the smoothest and tastiest we’ve ever had.  When out of balance, Margaritas can cut in one or a combination of 3 ways:  Too much booze and it burns the throat.  Too much syrup and it scratches the 
throat.  Too much citrus juice and the acidity burns the tongue & tonsils.  Often, heartburn is the result more than any kind of enjoyable warm fuzzy.  This version perfectly harmonized the 3 components of liquor, sugar, and citrus.  It was smooth, vibrant and refreshing. 

As several guests arrived for a spontaneous roof party, these flowed easily throughout the evening without gumming up the palate with syrupy sweetness.  Several guests remarked at their goodness and one was even surprised that it was a Margarita.  How tragic.  This is what Chi-Chi’s has wrought.

1 ½ oz. tequila
¾ oz. Cointreau
½ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. lime juice

Shake with cracked ice; strain into chilled wine goblet or cocktail glass with kosher salt on the rim; garnish with a lime wheel.

UPDATE:  This recipe continues to yield, hands-down, the best Margarita The Partner and I have ever had (sorry M. :-).  In the original post above, I didn't strictly follow the recipe as written.  But I've since mixed it exclusively as written and it is smooth, citrusy, balanced sweetness, dangerous.  A staple on the roof this summer, especially with guests who tended towards the familiar, all said this was the best Margarita they'd had.  If you haven't taken the opportunity to mix this bad girl up, do it!

Mojito | 28 down 247 to go

Mojitos should be made in a particular order to release
the botanicals in the mint & limes.
The mint in the herb garden has gone all Audrey 2 on us and The Partner has been yearning for mojitos ever since we planted the stuff.  So I figured what better way to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend than with an antes de la revoluciĆ³n Cuban bev allowing me both to hack down the rabid space plant and satisfy The Other Half all at the same time?

The best mojitos I’ve ever had are served up at Nacional 27, here in Chicago.  Rimmed with raw sugar and served with a sugar cane swizzle stick, these are the stuff of legend.  These days, mojitos are everywhere, most of them either too thin and flavorless or too syrupy and sweet.  All in all, most are just plain bad.  I think that’s because muddled anything is labor-intensive for a bartender who doesn’t enjoy crafting.  To be fair, usually one person ordering a mojito leads to everyone ordering a mojito.  So when half the bar orders cocktails requiring a lot of squeezing and muddling, round after round I can kinda understand the irritation in their eyes when you ask for one.  That is if they’re not being poured from a mix.  So they probably make them subpar to discourage consequent rounds and thus more muddling.  But I digress…

There are two keys to making a good mojito and they both have to do with the volatile oils of the key ingredients.  To start, muddle the mint with a little of the simple syrup and a splash of the seltzer.  The sugars and bubbles help draw out the oils in the mint.  Only muddle until you can smell mint wafting up from the glass.  The other trick is to leave the lime hull in the glass so the rind releases the citrus oils, adding to the play of bitter & sweet.  While you’re squeezing the juice of a full lime, you only need half the hull for the proper balance.  When well crafted, a mojito should be light, bright and terribly refreshing on a hot summer day.  Imbibers should be able to enjoy several rounds without experiencing sugary, syrupy overload.

2-3 oz. light rum
1 lime
½ oz. simple syrup
8-10 mint sprigs

Put the mint, simple syrup and a splash of seltzer in a 16 oz. pint glass and muddle until you can smell the mint.  Then squeeze in the lime juice, including half the hull to the glass.  Add the rum, stir, fill with ice.  Top with seltzer and garnish with mint sprigs.

This isn't even a good pic and it's not even as big as it got.  Ah, mint!
UPDATE:  The venerable mojito, like it's cousin, Margarita, was the go-to bev of summer mainly for our guests on the roof.  It was familiar, exotic, and it helped to have had a bumper crop of some of the best mint we've ever grown.  In fact, it's still going strong and I'm going to try to keep it through the winter.  

We got more than a friend or two to their happy place with this tipple.  And the recipe here, like the Marg, often brought claims of being the best the bevver's ever had.   

**Dilettante blushes.**  

**The Partner rolls his eyes.**  

(Not really.  He pretty much beams with pride, but the former maintains the humorous caricature.)   

I now understand why bartenders hate mixing mojitos -- especially when they're busy.  They take forever to craft.  And that's why I've stopped ordering them out.  But, I will admit, when it's only a handful of friends on a warm summer day and no one's in a rush to go anywhere or do anything, all that muddling is worth the effort.  The mojito really isn't that complex, but it does have a big wow factor!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Satan’s Whiskers | 27 down 248 to go

Not an orange to be had so we garnished with lime twist.
How does one kick off Date Nite as the first night of a 3-day weekend?  With Satan’s Whiskers, of course!  After Pride, we had so much leftover OJ we were walking up and down our hall giving jugs of it away to the neighbors.  (Anita Bryant would be so proud.)  Still we had three cartons of it in our own fridge.  That being the case, I thought this sounded like a good way to get rid of some of that liquid sunshine.  But at ½ an ounce a serving, we’d be drinking Satan’s Whiskers well past the weekend and never put a dent in the reserves.

Looking at the ingredients, one would think this would be very orangey.  Believe it or not, it’s not.  It has an interesting effect on the palate in that one can taste each ingredient, yet no one dominates.  That being said, I could see how if a bartender is not meticulous in the pour this could be a mouthful of sweet vermouth which would be decidedly unpleasant.

When considering whiskers, how do you like them, straight or curled?  H & M distinguish between “straight” and “curled” versions of the bev.  Use Grand Marnier for “straight” and Curacao to give them a curl.  Since we were mixing before we were reading, we enjoyed the straight variety as we were out of Curacao and only had Grand Marnier.  They also suggest enjoying the drink curled if it’s light out and straight if it’s dark.  We were a little out of sync on that score too, but both the infusion and the evening were delightful just the same.

While we enjoyed this tipple on a warm summer night, it is rich.  Two was our limit before switching over to something lighter and brighter.  Moscow Mules are becoming our fall-back of choice on that score.  (The Partner loooooves the copper cups.)  Ditto on the Cuba Libre -- especially when you want to keep the party rolling but need a little jolt to keep the eyes open!

Satan’s Whiskers
¾ oz. gin
¾ oz. sweet vermouth
¾ oz. dry vermouth
½ oz. orange juice
½ oz. Grand Marnier
1 dash orange bitters

Shake with cracked ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with an orange twist.