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Archive for Cocktails & Spirits

RECIPE: Grapefruit Basil Cocktail To Chase The Winter Blues

Grapefruit Vodka Cocktail

Orange Peel

Lemon Channel Peeler

Orange Peel Cocktail Garnish

[1] Grapefruit basil cocktail (photo courtesy Tommy Bahama). [2] Create a twist with a channel peeler (photo courtesy Two Tarts). [3] Get yourself a channel peeler (photo courtesy 1 Easylife | Amazon) [4]. You can knot a long strip of peel (photo courtesy Bar Boulud | Boston).

 

Each weekend we try a different cocktail from the many recipes we receive.

This one from Tommy Bahama had previously caught our eye; and when we passed by a bottle of fresh-squeezed red grapefruit juice at our specialty produce store (and February is National Grapefruit Month), we knew it was time to try it.

Tommy Bahama calls this a Grapefruit Basil Martini, but allow us to offer a correction: A Martini is a savory drink, originally just gin and vermouth (here’s the history of the Martini).

You can tweak a Martini recipe while still retaining the savory character of the drink. There are Vodka Martinis, Dirty Martinis, dill martinis and a variety of garnishes, from the classics to the modern (like gherkins or pickled habaneros).

But adding juice and sugar to vodka does not make it a Martini. (Nor would substituting grapefruit juice for the tomato juice create a Grapefruit Bloody Mary, et cetera, et cetera and so forth).

So why do some call anything with vodka a Martini?

Because “Martini” is a familiar name and sells better than other descriptions. We like to keep the record straight (avoid alternative facts, as it were).

RECIPE: GRAPEFRUIT BASIL COCKTAIL

Ingredients Per Drink

  • 2½ parts vodka
  • 1¼ parts fresh red grapefruit juice*
  • ¾ part simple syrup
  • 1 fresh basil leaf
  • Ice cubes
  • Garnish: fresh basil leaves, grapefruit peel
  • ________________

    *You can substitute pink or white juice; but the redder, the better looking the drink.
    ________________
     
    For The Simple Syrup

    You can purchase simple syrup; but it is so easy to make. Why spend $7.00 and up for a bottle?

    For other cocktails, you can infuse the simple syrup with whatever flavor you’d like: ginger, habanero, fruit, lavender, rose, vanilla, etc.

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Optional flavoring: 1 loose cup basil leaves, 2 cups fruit, ¼ cup chopped peeled ginger, etc.
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MAKE the simple syrup. Combine the ingredients in a saucepan, bring to boil and simmer until the sugar is fully dissolved, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool, 20 minutes or more. Strain out the flavoring and keep in the fridge in a lidded jar. The syrup can be made up to two weeks in advance.

    2. PREPARE the cocktail. Muddle a large basil leaf with simple syrup in a mixing glass. Add the remaining ingredients and the ice. Shake well until chilled.

    3. STRAIN into a glass and garnish with a fresh basil leaf and or grapefruit peel.

    HOW TO MAKE A GRAPEFRUIT PEEL TWIST

    This works for any citrus fruit. All you need is a channel peeler.

    1. SCRUB the fruit to remove any pesticides. Using the channel peeler, cut a spiral around the top of the fruit, trying to avoid the bitter white pith.

    TIP: At this point you can take the peel and rub it along the rim of the glass. This touch of citrus oil on the rim is particularly effective for drinks such as the martini or other less fruity cocktails. Thanks to Two Tarts for this tip.

     
    2. WRAP the strip of peel in a tight spiral around your finger or a round kitchen implement (like the handle of a spatula). Hold it for a few seconds; then place it onto your cocktail.
     

    Here are more ways to use the peel.

      

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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Casa Noble Tequila & A Tequila-Cheese-Chocolate Tasting

    Casa Noble Blanco Crystal Tequila

    Casa Noble Reposado

    Casa Noble Tequila Carlos Santana

    Casa Noble Alta Belleza

    [1] Casa Noble Crystal Tequila: the best blanco/silver tequila we’ve ever had. [2] Add a bit of age and you get a reposado tequila. [3] The special edition named for company director Carlos Santana: Casa Noble Santana Reserve 5 Years Anejo. [4] The top of the line, Casa Noble Alta Bellezza, is as great as tequila gets. But let us quickly say: They’re all great! (Photos courtesy Casa Noble)

     

    You’ve no doubt seen more ads or advertorials that promise “the finest tequila in the world.”

    We haven’t had a side-by-side comparison tasting of them, but we have tasted most of the , and most recently had have the most exquisite tequila tasting of our long life, with the founder and master distiller of Casa Noble Tequila, Jose “Pepe” Hermosillo.

    Don’t take only my word for it: Musician Carlos Santana preferred Casa Noble to the extent that he joined the board and had a tequila aged for five years (the bottle bears his signature).

    Casa Noble has two more features that will especially interest some consumers: It’s certified organic and certified kosher (by Star-K).
     
    WHAT MAKES THE FINEST TEQUILA?

    The best agave plants from the species Agave tequilana (commonly called blue agave), aged to maturity (10-14 years) before harvesting.

    As with everything, time is money. The most time-intensive production techniques, from roasting the agave piñas (they look like pineapples) to 100% natural fermentation and triple distillation (most tequilas are only distilled twice).

    Yet, the prices are reasonable for such great spirits.

    THE EXPRESSIONS OF TEQUILA

    If you know spirits, you know there are different expressions based on age. In the case of tequila, the expressions are aged according to law:

  • Blanco Tequila (“white”), also called plata (“silver”) or crystal. Clear and transparent, the tequila is bottled or stored immediately after distillation, or aged no more than two months.
  • Joven Tequila (“young”) or oro (“gold”): un-aged tequila blended with rested or aged tequilas. In some lesser brands, caramel coloring, sugar-based syrup, glycerin, and/or oak extract are often added in order to resemble aged tequila. Don’t buy based on color!
  • Reposado Tequila (“rested”): light yellow and translucent. The tequila is aged for at least six months but less than a year. Reposado began to emerge as a new category of tequila in the late 1980s
  • Añejo Tequila (“aged” or “vintage”): brighter yellow, aged at least one year, but less than three years.
  • Extra Añejo Tequila (“extra aged” or “ultra aged”): a golden color, aged at least three years in oak.
  • Older Expressions. These specialty expressions are not age-regulated per se; they can be as old as the distiller likes and designated by age (e.g. 7 Años) or by a proprietary name. For example, the limited edition Casa Noble Santana Reserve 5 Years Anejo (MSRP $549.99; we found it online for $499.99).
  •  
    Different distilleries can create even older expressions, in limited editions. These top-of-the-line offerings are typically housed in an exquisite bottle. While the bottle appeals to everyone, the taste is a connoisseur’s delight. They are priced accordingly (Casa Noble’s Alta Belleza—only 563 bottles available for the world—is $1,200).

    Here’s more about tequila.

    THE JOY OF CASA NOBLE TEQUILA

    First, let us say that we had the privilege of tasting Alta Belleza, the first release of Casa Noble’s Colección del Fundador. It is offeredin extremely limited quantities, priced at $1,200, and for those who don’t concern themselves with price, well worth it. For a spectacular tequila gift, look no further.

    The rest of us can find joy in Casa Noble’s Crystal (the best blanco/silver we’ve ever had) and the other expressions, all of which are affordable to reasonably affordable.

     
    These are the suggested retail prices (which, of course, can vary by retailer):

  • Casa Noble Crystal Tequila, $39.99
  • Casa Noble Joven Tequila, $49.99
  • Casa Noble Reposado Tequila, $59.99
  • Casa Noble Añejo Tequila, $69.99
  • Casa Noble Single Barrel Extra Añejo Tequila, $129.99
  •  
    After having the privilege to enjoy a tasting with Pepe a few months ago, the amazing Crystal (blanco, silver) has become our gift of choice for tequila lovers. Our gift note says: “Don’t make Margaritas with this: It’s meant to be savored straight!”

    Of course, if you want to make Margaritas with it, it’s your palate and your right! The Crystal will give an extra lime lift to the fresh lime juice in the cocktail.

     

    TEQUILA, CHEESE & CHOCOLATE TASTING

    We had our second memorable Casa Noble experience last week, at Murray’s Cheese. There, Adam Goddu, a general manager at Murray’s and a Certified Cheese Professional, joined Pepe Hermosillo to escort a group of food writers through a celestial pairing of great tequilas and memorable cheeses.

    Most of us are so oriented to having cheese with wine or beer, that we don’t think of serving a cheese tasting plate with tequila. But with a glorious tequila like Casa Noble, the pairing is as natural as a Burgundy or a Barolo.

    We asked Adam Goddu to advise all of us on how to put together a pairing of cheese and tequila.

    Then we thought: Add a chocolate pairing and make a terrific party of the four food groups (alcohol, cheese, bread, chocolate).

    In general, what do you look for in a cheese/drink pairing?

    Adam: We look for some magical math: 1 + 1 = 3. You want the items to complement each other but you also want the flavor combination to evolve into something more.

    We go by three basic pairing principles: “Like with Like,” “Opposites Attract” and “What Grows Together, Goes Together.” These work for pairings with crackers, jams and honeys as well as drinks.

    Certain regional pairings (Loire Valley goat’s milk cheeses with a crisp white from that region) are a natural pairing…they’ve been made in the same area for centuries. I personally prefer the opposites approach: if you have a rich, decadent sheep’s milk or triple crème, you want a white with a strong acidic back bone (and perhaps some bubbles!).

    Why do tequila and cheese work well together?

    Adam: I think wine and beer hog the limelight when it comes to traditional cheese pairings; but tequila can be just as versatile and special with the right combination or flavors.

    It can be difficult to pair cheese with high-alcohol beverages because that booziness can overpower many elements. When you have tequila with nuance and charm like Casa Noble’s Single Barrel Añejo, the sky is the limit. A funky washed rind or fudgy, spicy blue cheese pair wonderfully.

    Talk us through some of the more specific pairings of different tequilas.

    Adam: There are general rules you can use with certain styles, but you really need to remember that no two expressions* are exactly alike. Blanco and Joven [the two youngest expressions] are quite boozy [alcoholic] and pack a punch, so you need a cheese strong enough to stand its ground. [Editor’s note: We find Casa Noble tequilas to be so finely crafted, even the youngest are not alcoholic or “hot.”]

    Higher butterfat cheeses do very well overall (sheep’s or water buffalo’s milk cheeses).

    Anejo’s oaky/vanilla notes lean toward Alpine cheeses with caramel and roasted almond flavors dancing beautifully together.

    Blanco tends to have a clarity and subtly with sweet corn and grass coming to the forefront. You don’t want a big brassy cheese to overpower the tequila in this case so sticking with a milder, “sweeter” Brie style is perfect.
     
    What’s your favorite type of tequila to pair with cheese?

    Adam: I like a challenge, so finding the perfect cheese for Joven was a lot of fun.

    As far as straight up tastiness, the barrel-aged tequilas (reposado, añejo) allow a bit more freedom. You can play around with Gruyère, a clothbound Cheddar and a mild blue (Gorgonzola, Stilton) and find that each pairing brings out a different side of the tequila.

    For our tasting of Casa Noble’s Crystal, Joven, Reposado, Añejo and Single Barrel Añejo, Adam created the following pairings, served with honey, Marcona almonds, dried fruits, baguette slices and crackers.

    While the pairings were “textbook,” based on flavor profiles, we couldn’t find a mis-match. That’s what happens when all items are the best of their kind.

  • Crystal Tequila (not aged; no vegetal notes but flavors of lime zest and sweet corn) with Camembert (strong bloomy rind, full-flavored Brie style)
  • Joven Tequila (aged 6 weeks for sweet floral and tropical fruit notes) with Cornelia, a house specialty washed rind cheese with a creamy paste
  • Reposado Tequila (aged 364 days in French white oak, just one day short of a legal añejo) with Bianco Sardo, a rich, “wooly” raw sheep’s milk cheese. Tangy yet creamy, with earthy and sweet grass notes.
  • Añejo Tequila(two years in French white oak, beautifully balanced), with Annelies, an Alpine style raw cow’s milk cheese redolent of cooked caramel and nuts.
  • Extra Añejo Single Barrel (aged five years with Colton Bassett Stilton and Greensward (Jasper Hill Farm’s Harrison, washed in-house to create deeper flavors)
  •  
    CHOCOLATE & TEQUILA

    While chocolate was not part of the Murray’s event, we host chocolate pairings a few times a year (here’s what we do with wine, beer).

    Chocolate and tequila are a delicious marriage, whether the groom is young (an unaged blanco), old (a well-aged extra añejo), or any age in-between.

    Plain chocolates are the purest way to merge the flavors. We like:

  • White chocolate with blanco or joven tequila
  • Milk chocolate with joven or reposado tequila
  • Dark chocolate with reposado or añejo tequila
  •  
    What about flavored and filled chocolates?

  • Fruity flavors—fruity ganaches (our favorites: orange, raspberry), chocolate cherries, bars with dried fruit, can pair with all expressions of tequila. They pair even better according to our chocolate-and-expression guide immediately above.
  •  

    Anejo Tequila With Cheese

    Greensward Cheese

    Bianco Sardo Sheep Cheese

    Colston Basset Stilton

    Amedei White Chocolate

    Stack Of Dark Chocolate

    Mexican Chocolate Tiles

    [5] All of Casa Noble’s tequilas are delicious with cheese. Shown here: Greensward and Stilton (photo courtesy Casa Noble). [6] Greensward, We love chocolate with tequila. [6] Bianco Sardo, a Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese. [7] Cossett Bassett, a beloved Stilton (cheese photos courtesy Murray’s Cheese). [8] Casa Noble’s Crystal, with its lilt of lime, is a perfect pairing with white chocolate (photo courtesy Amedei Chocolate). [9] For milk or dark chocolate, head to the aged tequilas (photo courtesy La Chocolate). [10] Aztec” chocolates with chile and other Mexican spices work well with tequila (photo courtesy Bespoke Chocolate).

  • Mint and tequila are also a classic pairing, with the bright, grassy heat of the tequila emphasizing the coolness of the mint.
  • Spices: According to the “universal law of food pairing,” wine and spirits were made to complement the local cuisine. Thus, spicy chocolates with chiles, cinnamon and other warm-to-hot spices like pepper go well tequila. Look for Aztec bars, which typically have all three.
  •  
    And get ready for a great Valentine’s Day (Or Anytime) Party!
     
    MORE PAIRINGS

  • Bubbly & Chocolate Pairings
  • Cheese & Chocolate Pairings
  • Scotch & Chocolate Pairings
  • ________________

    *An expression is a different variation (think recipe) of the distillery’s spirit. The variations can be based on age, single grain/malt vs. blend (whiskey), single barrel/cask, etc. The highest-regarded distilleries can produce limited editions expressions that are aged longer, with other features that appeal to a connoisseur’s palate.

      

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    RECIPE: Spiked Chai Tea

    Just got in for the cold and the rain. Time for a cup of hot tea.

    Make that hot spiced tea, chai.

    Make that spiked spiced tea: chai with a hit of bourbon or rum. If you want to add more, go ahead: You can make this the tea version of Irish Coffee.

    If you don’t have any chai bags or loose leaves, make your own from Recipe #2 below.

    RECIPE #1: CHAI WITH SPIRIT (BOURBON, RUM, ETC.)

    Ingredients For 3 Tea Cups Or 2 Mugs

  • 3 cups milk
  • 3 teaspoons loose chai tea (or cut open chai tea bags)
  • 2 tablespoons honey or sugar (substitute 1 tablespoon agave)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cinnamon stick or 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Optional: 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • Splash of bourbon or rum (silver, dark, spiced)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. HEAT the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then add the tea, sweetener, vanilla, cinnamon and optional cayenne. Stir and reduce the heat to low, heating for another 2 minutes (keep your eye on the pot). Remove from the heat and allow to steep for 5 minutes.

    2. STRAIN into a liquid measuring cup or small pitcher with a lip. Add the bourbon. If the mixture has cooled a bit, stick it in the microwave for 30 seconds.

    3. POUR into cups and serve.

     
    RECIPE #2: CHAI TEA BLEND

    If you don’t have some of the ingredients, you can make do with what you have.

     

    Hot Chai

    Chai Tea Blend

    [1] On a chilly day, pour some spirits into the chai (photo courtesy Charles Chocolates). [2] No chai at home? Mix it up from your spice shelf (photo courtesy Foodie Underground).

     
    Ingredients For 2 Cups

  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 2-3 cardamom pods
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 black peppercorns
  • 3 teaspoons loose tea
  • Optional: 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • Optional: slice fresh ginger root
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    TIP OF THE DAY: Champagne Gelatin (Not Jell-O) Shots

    Champagne Jell-O Shots

    Champagne Jell-O Shots Recipe

    Champagne Gelatin Shots

    [1] Erica’s Sweet Tooth found fancy picks to decorate her champagne gelatin shots. We could only find these at Ali Express, but we did find others with jewel-like accents and these with faux pearls. Plus, instructions to make your own. [2] Coucou Jolie used a star-shape ice cube mold to make stars. You can stir edible gold glitter stars into the mix before setting, or put them in the mold first, so they’ll create a garnish on top. [3] Got Pop Rocks? They do at Shimmy Shimmy Cake, a custom cakery in Austin, Texas.

     

    For conventional champagne to celebrate a special occasion, check out our recommendations.

    For less expensive but perfectly lovely non-champagne sparkling wines, we like these alternatives—great values, starting at just $10!

    But for a side of champagne gelatin shots, check out the recipes below.

    Point of accuracy: When a recipe is made with unflavored gelatin, not flavored Jell-O, it’s a gelatin shot. Jell-O is a brand that makes only flavored gelatin.

    You can make a red version of the gelatin shots with Lambrusco or other red sparkling wine, and present a platter of both red and white options.

    And you cab make a mocktail version by substituting sparkling cider.
     
    RECIPE #1: CHAMPAGNE JELL-O SHOTS

    Erica of EricasSweetTooth.com adapted the first recipe from Bakers Royale.

    Also check out her Funfetti Cheesecake Ball: It was designed to resemble the Times Square Ball.

    Ingredients For 15 Shots

  • 10 ounces plus 5 ounces Champagne (or better yet, Cava, Prosecco or other reasonably-priced sparkling white wine)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 envelopes Knox plain gelatin
  • Optional garnish: white or other color sparkling sugar
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the sugar and 10 ounces of the champagne in a saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin on top and let it soften for 2 minutes.

    2. PLACE the saucepan over low heat and stir until the gelatin has completely dissolved, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add the remaining 5 ounces of champagne, stirring to combine.

    3. POUR the mixture into a brownie pan or other square/rectangular container and chill for at least an hour.

    4. CUT: First dip the pan into warm water and use a knife along the sides to gently release the Jell-O. Use a sharp knife to cut squares. Before serving, dip the tops in the sparkling sugar and serve with a festive toothpick.
     
    RECIPE #2: CHAMPAGNE GELATIN SHOTS WITH POP ROCKS

    Shimmy Shimmy Cake offers this variation, topped with Pop Rocks for some holiday “fireworks.”

    Regarding the Pinnacle Whipped Vodka, she says: “This is the absolute best vodka to use when making Jello Shots—just trust me on this one!”

    Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup creme soda
  • 1/2 cup sparkling wine
  • 2 envelops of unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup Pinnacle Whipped Vodka
  • Preparation

    1. COMBINE the soda and sparkling wine in a small sauce pan and stir. Sprinkle the gelatin over the mixture and let it sit for 1 minute.

    2. COOK the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly until the gelatin disolves (about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat and stir inthe vodka.

    3. POUR into a square baking dish (a cake pan is fine). Refrigerate until firmly set set (you can speed up the process by putting the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes). When ready to serve…

    4. CUT and plate, then top with Pop Rocks. Do not plate until ready to because as the Pop Rocks start to melt the gelatin. Also do not refreeze after plating; they will stick to the plate.

     
      

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    HOLIDAY: Egg Nog Recipes For National Egg Nog Day

    National Egg Nog Day is December 24th. But you can enjoy the rich holiday beverage from Thanksgiving through New Year’s.

    While the origins of egg nog are debated, it may have originated from posset, a medieval European beverage made with hot milk and white wine. Americans adapted it but used the New World liquor rum, and later, bourbon (which evolved to its present form in the late 19th century). Cider was also used.

    George Washington was quite a fan of egg nog and devised his own recipe that included rye whiskey, rum and sherry.

    We know that there are eggs in egg nog, but what’s the “nog?” Opinions differ, but it’s an American name.

  • In Colonial America, rum was commonly called “grog,” and the descriptive term for the drink, “egg-and-grog,” may have corrupted to egg‘n’grog and then to egg nog.
  • Other experts insist that the “nog” is short for “noggin,” a small, carved wooden mug used to serve drinks in taverns.
  • It could even be a combination of the two: that an “egg and grog in a noggin” was shortened to egg nog. After having one or two, it’s easy to see why.
  •  
    In the 1800s, egg nog was nearly always made in large quantities and nearly always a party drink. It was noted by an English visitor in 1866, that “Christmas is not properly observed unless you brew egg nog for all comers; everybody calls on everybody else; and each call is celebrated by a solemn egg-nogging…It is made cold and is drunk cold and is to be commended.”

    Here’s more on the history of egg nog.
     
    EGGNOG RECIPES

  • Chocolate Egg Nog Recipe
  • Classic Egg Nog Recipe
  • Coconut Egg Nog
  • Eggnog Martini Recipe
  • Eggnog White Russian Recipe
  • Flaming Egg Nog Recipe
  • Low Calorie Egg Nog Recipes
  •    

    Classic Eggnog

    Chocolate Eggnog

    [1] Classic eggnog (photo courtesy Liquor.com). [2] Chocolate eggnog (photo courtesy Pitch.com).

     

    Eggnog Gingerbread Cheesecakes

    Gingerbread-eggnog mini cheesecakes (photo courtesy Driscoll’s).

      HOLIDAY RECIPES MADE WITH EGGNOG

  • Egg Nog Crumble Bars Recipe
  • Egg Nog Mini Bundt Cakes Recipe
  • Eggnog French Toast Recipe
  • Eggnog Gingerbread Mini Cheesecakes Recipe
  • Eggnog Ice Cream Recipe
  • Eggnog Panettone Ice Cream Cake Recipe
  • Eggnog Panna Cotta Recipe
  • Eggnog Streusel Bars Recipe
  • Eggnog Truffles Recipe
  • Eggnog Whipped Cream Recipe
  • Eggnog Wreath Cookies Recipe
  • White Chocolate Eggnog Fudge Recipe
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