Archive for August 2010

Sugar Spice and all Things Nice

After visiting the The Spice House in Old Town last weekend, I thought to myself, it is no wonder why Christopher Columbus was searching for a direct sea route to China and the Indies in order to import their exotic spices, amongst other riches, when he happened upon the Americas.

Slightly overwhelmed, as the Spice House is more like a museum of spices that I usually only get to enjoy along the shelves of the baking section at my local grocery store, I made my way around the maze of color filled jars from all over the world. I am ashamed to say that the spices in my kitchen are all way passed their prime, and from this single visit, I am convinced that fresh spices make all the difference. After reading labels and descriptions, smelling and tasting my way through the store, I narrowed in on a few of my favorites. The first being Saigon Cassia Cinnamon. I was seduced by the sweet potency of its spiciness and the slight numbing effect it had on the tip of my tongue.

One hour later I emerged from the shop with a small bag of treasures including the Vietnamese Cinnamon, some Himalayan pink salt, dried lavender flowers, and licorice root. Apples are in season and there are multiple varieties available at the farmers market. Inspired by my recent Saigon Cassica Cinnamon purchase, I experimented with an apple simple syrup reminiscent of my grandmothers apple pie.

Saigon Cinnamon Apple Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
The peel and core of 2 apples (red makes pretty)
1 piece of Saigon Cassica Cinnamon bark
Simmer ingredients in pot for 30 minutes. The color from the skin of red apples should make for a nice pink tint. Cool and strain.

Saigon Apple Sidecar
2 oz Calvados or, Cognac
1 oz Saigon Cinnamon Apple Syrup
3/4 oz Lemon
Shake and strain into martini glass. Garnish with apple slice or cinnamon stick.

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Let Them Eat Cake and Drink Cocktails

Thrift shops and second hand stores are a great place to find fancy new stemware because, lets face it, like a great outfit you can't have too many.  Also, mine tend to break quite frequently, so today,  I stumbled upon a pair of coupe glasses.  A popular stemware from the 20th century, the coupe glass is rumored to take its delicate shape from the left breast of Marie Antoinette.  It was originally designed to serve champagne and sparkling wine out of, however, because of the shallowness of it's shape, the bubbles would quickly exhaust themselves causing the wine to go flat.  The tall flute glass has since taken its place.  In the cocktail world, the coupe glass makes a beautiful alternative to the martini glass for fancy up drinks such as a Lavender fizz.

2 oz Hendricks gin
1 oz fresh lemon
1 oz lavender honey syrup
1 egg white

Build in martini shaker.  Shake hard until ice has fully dispersed and strain into coupe glass.  Garnish with Angostura bitters.  Drink with cake.

Steep 1/4 cup dried lavender flowers in 1 cup hot water.  Strain, add 1 cup of favorite honey.  Stir and let cool.  Should keep in refrigerator for 1 week.

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The Kitchn (an off-shoot of apartment therapy) has a lot of good articles regarding summer entertaining. Definitely worth a read as we hang on to Summer's last breath:

How to Batch Cocktails to Serve a Crowd

Summer Entertaining: How to Build a Basic Bar

Summer Cocktails! The Full Roundup

Which got me thinking about what's in season now. Sweet corn.

While I ponder the possibilities here are a couple of inspirations:

Corn n' Oil Cocktail

2 oz Cruzan Black Strap Rum
1/2 oz Falernum (a syrup from Barbados made with almond, ginger, anise, clove and lime)
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Shake and strain into a glass with ice. Serve with lime wedge.

Sweet Corn Ice Cream (Nieve de Elote) from Rick Bayless

Makes 1 1/2 quarts
Recipe from Season 6 of Mexico - One Plate at a Time

2 to 3 ears fresh sweet corn
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup evaporated milk
A scant 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican cinnamon
2 tablespoon orange liqueur, preferably Gran Torres
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1. Set up a double boiler.
Set up a 4-quart saucepan, filled halfway with water, into which you can nestle a 3-quart stainless steel bowl. Bring the pot of water to a boil over high heat while you're preparing the custard base.
2. Cook the base. Husk the corn and pull off all the silk. Cut the kernels from the ears and measure 2 cups. Scoop into a blender and add the half-and-half. Blend until smooth. In the 3-quart stainless steel bowl, stir together the egg yolks and sugar until thoroughly combined. Add the corn mixture and whisk to combine thoroughly. Reduce the temperature under the pot of boiling water to maintain a gentle simmer. Set the bowl of custard base over the simmering water and whisk frequently, until the mixture thickens noticeably, about 20 minutes. The custard is sufficiently cooked when it reaches 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (You can also test it by dipping a wooden spoon into the custard, then running your finger through the custard: if the line holds clearly, the custard has thickened sufficiently.) Pour the base through a medium-mesh strainer into another bowl (preferably stainless steel for quick cooling).
3. Cool the base. Fill a large bowl halfway with ice. Nestle the custard into the ice and whisk regularly until completely cool. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
4. Finish the base, freeze the ice cream. Stir the heavy cream, evaporated milk, cinnamon, orange liqueur and lime juice into the base. Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer's directions. Scrape into a freezer container and freeze for several hours to firm

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Orange A'Peel


It is said we eat with our eyes as well as our nose.  The essential oils in orange peels and other citrus fruits is a simple way to add another layer of flavor to your cocktail as well as a little eye candy.  Peeling twists are made easy with special tools such as channel knives, vegetable peelers and paring knives.  Tying fancy knots, twirling pigtail curls, slicing the peel lengthwise, or in one continuous peel around entire orange, cutting wheels, wedges and sections is wonderful way to dress up a cocktail for that special guest.  If you want to play with fire,  there is also the flamed orange disc made popular by the king of mixology, Dale DeGroff.  By heating the essential oils in a disc sliced off the side of an orange and then squeezing it over a flame, the caramelized oils burst into fire and create a surprising final touch and wonderful aroma for a cocktail such as the Negroni.

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It's in the way you do it

I just watched the absurdist comedy "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" by director Luis Bunuel and was struck by one character's tutorial on how to make a martini. It's at the 6 minute-ish mark, if you care to watch the scene.

Upon short investigation I found that Bunuel was quite the aficionado. I love the care and seriousness he puts into his cocktail making. There's really something to the reverence and methodicalness he shows... perhaps the very definition of an artist.

The Perfect Martini by Luis Bunuel

To provoke, or sustain, a reverie in a bar, you have to drink English gin, especially in the form of the dry martini. To be frank, given the primordial role in my life played by the dry martini, I think I really ought to give it at least a page. Like all cocktails, the martini, composed essentially of gin and a few drops of Noilly Prat, seems to have been an American invention. Connoisseurs who like their martinis very dry suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin. At a certain period in America it was said that the making of a dry martini should resemble the Immaculate Conception, for, as Saint Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin's hymen "like a ray of sunlight through a window-leaving it unbroken."

Another crucial recommendation is that the ice be so cold and hard that it won't melt, since nothing's worse than a watery martini. For those who are still with me, let me give you my personal recipe, the fruit of long experimentation and guaranteed to produce perfect results. The day before your guests arrive, put all the ingredients-glasses, gin, and shaker-in the refrigerator. Use a thermometer to make sure the ice is about twenty degrees below zero (centigrade). Don't take anything out until your friends arrive; then pour a few drops of Noilly Prat and half a demitasse spoon of Angostura bitters over the ice. Stir it, then pour it out, keeping only the ice, which retains a faint taste of both. Then pour straight gin over the ice, stir it again, and serve.

(During the 1940s, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York taught me a curious variation. Instead of Angostura, he used a dash of Pernod. Frankly, it seemed heretical to me, but apparently it was only a fad.)

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