Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hot Toddy-Or, The Siblinghood of the Traveling Mug

"After a strenuous six months of travel all over these great and glorious United States, I've finally returned home.  And what perfect way to celebrate that homecoming than with a walk to the end of the lake on a damp winter's day and a hot toddy?  Traditional?  Yes.  Easy?  You bet.  But then again, what should the holidays be?  Especially when sipping with family!"

(This post goes out to The Dilettante's sister, C. of One Kiss Creations fame!  *SMOOCHES!*)

Hot Toddy
2 T. honey
1 c. hot water
6 T. bourbon
2 cinnamon sticks

Bring water just to a boil.  Mix with the honey.  Place 3 tablespoons of bourbon and a cinnamon stick in two toddy glasses (or in this case, a traveling mug and another of wintry spirit) and pour half the hot water and honey mixture in each.  Stir and garnish with a strip of lemon peel.  If you'd like a bit more lemon zing, squeeze just a couple drops from the lemon.

Enjoy one or two with someone you love -- and who needs their cockles warmed! 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Drinking Chocolate

Drinking chocolate- spiked or not,
the perfect sippable winter dessert
It's been a busy week in the run-up to Christmas.  While our annual Solstice celebration was pared
down to just a few family and friends, there was a lot of cooking and baking to do.  So no cocktails Friday night.  Yet the Dilettante needs to post something during the fragile opening stages of a return from hiatus.

At this time of year we always tend to think big when it comes to desserts.  Cakes, cookies, pies, and brownies are all just delivery vehicles for over the top gooey, creamy, buttery, sugary.   And I'll admit, I was no exception to this extravagance.  In 6 desserts on the buffet I used 1 1/2 gallons of whole milk, a gallon of heavy cream, 2 pounds of butter, about 2 pounds of sugar, and 2 dozen eggs.  My lord.  Double your Crestor dosage.

But here's an idea.  Instead -- or in addition to fewer of the gooey, creamy, etc.-- why not make dessert drinkable?

As part of the solstice dessert buffet, I included a pot of drinking chocolate along with decanters of cognac and Irish whiskey.  Revelers had a choice of straight chocolate or to spike it according to their tastes.  Simple.  Elegant.  Classy.

Happy solstice, everyone!  There will be one more minute of daylight Monday!  Long live the Oak King!

Drinking Chocolate*
1 vanilla bean
4 1/2 c. milk
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 T. sugar

Slit the vanilla bean lengthwise, put in a saucepan with the milk and bring to a boil.  Course-chop the chocolate into small pieces and put in another saucepan with some of the warm milk to melt.  Remove the bean and scrape the vanilla seeds that are left in the pod with the tip of a knife and add back to the milk.  Stir the chocolate mixture into the hot milk along with the sugar.

At this point you could serve it as is.  But if you want a super silky drink, strain it once or twice.  Drinking chocolate is not very sweet, but it is rich with intense cocoa flavor.

Serve in shooter glasses as is or with cognac to make Russian drinking chocolate or with Irish whiskey for Irish drinking chocolate.

*: Recipe courtesy of The Chocolate Bible, by Christian Teubner, et al.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Coffey Park Swizzle

The pic captures my mood this season.
Ambivalent and washed out when it comes to the holidays.
But the Coffey Park Swizzle is a bright spot of warmth and color.
The Holidays.  Or, the Holla-daze.  I'm finding myself a bit ambivalent about the season of light and gifting now that Thanksgiving is over.  So, I thought a cocktail that tasted like a North American Christmas would help me rally.  Isn't it funny how the flavors of a northern winter are downright Caribbean?  All those warm spices like nutmeg and clove and allspice and ginger.  I don't know whether I want to build an edible house, bake cookies shaped like amorphous little men, or make jerk chicken.

The Dilettante sat down with Death & Co. over morning coffee to cruise the text looking for just the right sipper to suit the mood.  (At this point I'm feeling the need to reassure that even though he was looking at a mixology text while enjoying his morning cuppa, the Dilettante does not have a problem.  Well, let's qualify that.  The Dilettante does not have a problem with booze.  Several other categories are up for grabs!)  Leafing through the pages I came across a whole section of swizzles.  Interesting, but not necessarily what one thinks about as a winter beverage since swizzles are typically served in pilsners filled with crushed ice.  Think adult snow cone.  That's summer rooftop, right?  But then Coffey Park Swizzle caught my eye and the taste buds began to imagine.  This could be just the cocktail to jump start my mood for the winter season.  But first I needed to do some shopping and then just a bit of advance prep before Happy Hour!

Such an interesting mix of ingredients -- both familiar and new.  Even as we were taking our first sip, I really didn't know if this was gonna play out.  All the ingredients -- sherry (recalling that classic short story, "The Cask of Amontillado"), French Caribbean rum, lime juice, ginger syrup, the exotic new Falernum, bitters -- each on its own was so good.  But mixed incorrectly, this could easily wind up being a tall cold glass of soap.

There is a lot to sort out in that first sip.  The words "interesting" and "I don't know" immediately followed it.  The Partner and I stood in front of the tree, warily eyeing each other.  We couldn't even sit down, locked in place by that first sip, impish smirks on our faces as we processed what our taste buds were telling us.  I wanted to like it, so, the next sip.  Processing.  By the third, we knew we had a winner.  Cold, wintery, refreshing and spicy.  A little ginger syrup goes a long way.  So much so that our lips were still tingling in the cab on the way to dinner after only one round.  And one round is really all an imbiber should attempt.  A tall, cold aperitif that morphs as the crushed ice melts and nuances the drink's complexity.  In fact, the Coffey Park Swizzle put us very much in mind of the Bourbon Squash which has become one of our summer go-tos.  So summer swizzle, winter swizzle. Coffey Park could be the featured cocktail on the bar until spring.

Coffey Park Swizzle
1 oz. rhum*
1 oz. sherry
1/4 oz. Falernum
3/4 oz. lime juice
3/4 oz. ginger syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Mix the first 5 ingredients in a shaker with only a few pieces of crushed ice and shake just until cool.  Strain into a pilsner filled with crushed ice and swizzle**.  Add the bitters and blend it down through the drink, swizzling and stirring to do so.  Garnish with mint sprig.

*: Rhum or rhum agricole is the French Antilles version of rum, made from cane sugar as opposed to cane molasses.  If you can't find the former, feel confident substituting the latter.

**: The verb swizzle means to stir by spinning a stirring stick between both hands while drawing it up and down in the glass.  The noun swizzle or swizzle stick is not what we think of today as a stir stick.  It's more like a muddler with a set of short spines coming perpendicularly off the bottom.  So when it spins it creates a bit of a vortex to mix.  A regular stir stick will not do this effectively.  If you can't find a swizzle stick, you can get the job done pretty well with a long bar spoon.

Friday, December 12, 2014

New Book Haul

Lillet rouge, Falernum, rhum agricole, ginger syrup,
  and a new strainer, just cuz.
I love getting a new cocktail book.  There's always something in it that's new to me.  New information, new history, or a new spirit -- which means a field trip to Binny's!  Here's a little preview of today's haul and anticipation of the evening's cocktail.

I took advantage of seeing rhum agricole mentioned more than a few times in Death & Co. to pick some up.  It's not part of tonight's cocktail, but now it's on the bar.  Just from the French, I've been assuming it's a more, shall we say, "rustic" version of rum.  In fact, it's rum made from cane juice instead of molasses -- the way they do it in les Antilles (ou, the French West Indies).

I finally picked up some Lillet rouge.  If you're a fan of the Corpse Reviver #2 or the Vesper, then you're already familiar with the blanc variety.  Not in the specs tonight, but can't wait to give it a whirl too!

Falernum will be in tonight's tipple.  It's an Caribbean liqueur infused with island spices.  The ingredients include lime juice, sugar, almond and clove essences and white rum.  Tonight's cocktail also calls for ginger syrup, so I whipped up a batch this afternoon.  This is going to be my new favorite thing on the bar, however it will need to be used sparingly.  It is smoooooth, but spi-cy!  I have a sneaking suspicion The Partner might not take to this.  It is hot.

On to the mixin' 'n' shakin'!

Ginger Syrup

The hardest part of making this amazing syrup is grating the ginger by hand.  I suppose it could be done in a food processor too and it wouldn't be such a workout (note to self!).

Here's how:
  1. Finely grate about 16-24 oz. of fresh ginger root.
  2. Wrap the grated root in cheese cloth or a clean kitchen towel and squeeze all the juice out of it.  Strain it 2-3 times to get all the little root and peel bits out.
  3. Place 1 cup super fine sugar* in a blender with 1/2 cup of the ginger juice.
  4. Run the blender until all the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is smooth** (about 2 minutes)
Makes about 1.5 cups.

*: Super fine sugar is not confectioners sugar.  It's finely ground sugar -- the kind we all buy by the 5 lb. bag.  If you can't find it in the store, just throw some regular sugar in a food processor and let it spin for about 2-3 minutes.  Voilá!  Super fine sugar.

**: Taste gingerly (***groan***...but I had ta!) for smoothness.  It'll be sweet, but hot!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Death & Co. Double Fill-Up

Ahhh...Here's to homecomings.  It's good to be back and getting into a cocktail groove again.  Something to look forward to in the cold, dark months ahead as winter takes hold of Chicagoland.  Thanks to all who have provided feedback and encouragement during the Dilettante's hiatus.  It's so affirming to hear that people read the blog and have missed it while dormant.

So, why the return now?  Last week, The Partner and I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time.  My folks -- the consummate road-trippers -- drove in from NJ with dear family friends to spend the week with us.  (The Partner's folks were here and it was great stuffing them full of food and drink too; though their road trip was just from the suburbs :-)  As thank you/host gifts, my folks brought two great books.  One is the spark of inspiration to reboot our exploratory cocktailing and blogging.  It's a gorgeous book from the famous NYC bar, Death & Co.  I'm going to enjoy reading it as well as mixing from it.

Friday is, of course, Date Nite.  I chose our pre-dinner tipple as an homage to the gift givers.  Nothing would please dad more than if he never had to stop for gas when on the road.  A double gas tank?  Heaven.  So, Double Fill-Up caught my eye and seemed an appropriate choice.  Reading the ingredients list, I recalled a conversation in the kitchen with mom on Thanksgiving Day.  While I was preparing something she was reading over the recipe for one of the sides I made.

"Pomegranate molasses?  I've never heard of such a thing!"  So again, Double Fill-Up seemed the right choice for our first sip from the new book they gave us.

What good luck to pick a new bev for the Dilettante's return that goes right into Drink it Again, Sam.  Not only does it look like a nice apple cider, it rather tastes like one too.  It's very much about the play between the lemon juice and molasses that gets it there.

Now, what you've all been waiting for, The Partner's reaction:

"Oh.  OOOOH!" as he responded to the initial refreshing tartness and then the slightest teasing sweetness in the finish.  "This is good!  This is really good!"  Three sips later, "I'd do this one again!"  He would repeat this refrain two more times on our way to dinner.  And as you know, if The Partner has a second, it's a good drink and not too citrusy.

So there you have it.  The "inaugural reboot post".  Google pomegranate molasses and find a store near you that carries it.  Not only is it good in a cocktail, it's great in stews and salad dressings, so it will get used.  Bottoms up! 

Double Fill-Up
2 oz. good quality rye
3/4 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1 tsp. pomegranate molasses
3 mint leaves

Shake all ingredients over ice and double strain into a chilled coupe.  Garnish with a mint leaf.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Is this thing on...?





Is this thing on?

Uuh...OH!  It is!  Ok, here we go...

So, let me just get in here...and dust...this...thing...off....  There.  All.  Right.

"Dude!  What's up with the blog?!"

"Are you doing the blog anymore?  I know I never commented, but I read every post.  I miss it!"

"My RSS feed has been empty for over a year.  It's lonely.  I looked forward to my weekly cocktail read."

Well, there's new inspiration just arrived.  Stay tuned.  There will be something freshly shaken, poured, toasted & posted before the weekend is out!