Harriet's Highball

Harriet's Highball

Me: Hey, J. and M. [our favorite married-couple-with-new-baby-in-Montreal friends] invited us over on Mother's Day afternoon for cocktails. J.'s mother and grandmother are in town. J. says her mother and I will get along because we're both drinkers.

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The Rinfrescante Italiano

I want to say two words to you. Just two words. Are you listening?

Aperitifs, digestifs.

There's a great future in aperitifs and digestifs. I don't just mean that in a Benjamin-Braddock-searching-for-meaning-in-the-60s-oh-I-get-it-she's-referencing-The Graduate kind of way. Italian liqueurs are mega-trendy big right now and I say good on it, because they're relatively cheap (~$20 a bottle, less for vermouths), a little goes a long way, they're becoming easily available, they have the best ad posters, they were born to make nice in endless kinds of cocktail recipes, and once you start you'll want to collect them and play with them and come up with neat at-home displays for them like you used to do with your Smurfs.

The Rinfrescante Italiano is the first cocktail we've come up with in house to make use of our new-favorite toy/aperitif, Aperol, which is like a lighter-bodied version of Campari. Like yesterday's Champagne Julep, it's a fizzer. With the Aperol's bittersweetness and the bubbly's carbonation mixed together, Sean's cousin Chris said it tasted like an Italian soda, hence its given nomenclature, "the refreshing Italian."

(Speaking of Chris' toys, I must interrupt myself here to explain what you're seeing in the pic above, a gift he received for Christmas. It is basically a six-sided jigger, with each side recessed to a certain degree, such that each in effect works like a pyramid-shaped liquid measuring cup. It appears from the online homework I've done that Chris' comes from Vat19.com. It blew me away at  first look but disappointed me at first try, mainly because it is very awkward to pour. You know how sometimes have to pour something from a cup into another container and if you don't pour at just the right speed the liquid winds up cascading down the side of your cup and not into its intended receptacle? That's what happened here, unless I poured from the jigger while holding it with two hands, in effect making me feel like a toddler trying to pour her own milk for the first time. Yes, the cube jigger has corners that kinda look like they should work like spouts, 'cept they kinda don't. I'd much rather have me a single, classically designed jigger with several easily visible notches inside.)

Oh! And, back to the Rinfrescante, it has applejack, aka Jersey Lightning, which was my street name in high school is like a super-strong, apple-based brandy. Chris and his cohorts had some lying around, and that's another liquor you're going to hear a lot about in the coming year, and another one I'd been dying to try for a while, 'cept that in Fronche Canada you have to settle for (equally awesome) Calvados.

The Rinfrescante Italiano

1 ounce Laird's applejack brandy

1/2 ounce Aperol

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

About 3 ounces Champagne or sparkling white wine

Lemon twist, to garnish

Pour applejack, Aperol and lemon juice into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into chilled Champagne flute. Top off with Champagne. Garnish with lemon twist.

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The Cranberry Negroni

The Bittman is a source of contention around here. Me, I don't think much about The Bitt one way or the other. I never read The Bitt's Minimalist column with regularity and have never understood the cult of his personality. He's just a goofy white guy who mostly cooks off-book, right? Who can't do that? Buy whatever's wholesome and on sale, go home and Google "easy [something you just bought] recipe," pick the one you can fudge the best and make. (At least, that's what I do.)

(Having said that, my new love is Gojee.com, which lets you search blogged-about recipes by ingredients you have/crave/dislike. And I'm not just saying that because this blog is included in the new Gojee Drinks database!)

Anyway, Sean hates The Bitt. What Sean has to say about The Bitt is, "He's just annoying and he seems like a hack. I don't understand why anybody cares what he has to say. I do not trust his authority. I feel like anyone could be Mark Bittman, he just happens to be the one, probably because he knows somebody or various other social injustices."

Yet I couldn't look away when a recent Bittman headline in the Times touted "A Radical Rethinking of Thanksgiving Leftovers." Just how "radical" were we talking here? Well, The Bitt had me at "pan-fried stuffing  cakes," and so I read until the end, where I was rewarded with the notion of a Cranberry Negroni. Or really, tortured by reading in print that The Bitt had come up with a way to sneak a cocktail into his list of 20 radicalizations, and WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT, DAMMIT?! DAMN THE BITT!! (I'm not the only one who feels this way, either.)

So yes, The Bitt's Cranberry Negroni is pretty wondrous and awesome in its simplicity (erm, minimalism) and I highly recommend it as a way to get rid of your cranberry sauce reserves. Using sauce instead of juice adds a little gritty texture to the cocktail that I found I quite liked until the very end of the drink, when it got to be a bit too much. Also, The Bitt says to mix equal parts cranberry sauce, gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, but when I did this I found that you really couldn't taste the cranberry, so I amped that up.

The Cranberry Negroni

(Adapted with minor additions from the New York Times Dining section)

About an ounce of cranberry sauce

About 1/2 ounce each of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth

Orange peel and/or dried cranberries, to garnish

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously to allow the cranberry sauce to mix well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel, and/or several dried cranberries speared onto a toothpick umbrella.

Tasting Notes

I have to try this with my World's Greatest Cosmopolitan.

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The Campari Old-Fashioned

I have done such a complete 180 on Campari over the last few years... actually, sometimes I fear that it's not so much that I've done a 180 on Campari as I've suffered from a life-long brain-fart conflation between Campari and Pimm's. Because they're both russet-toned and from the other side of the ocean, just like Communists, and my memory really started going to pot when I hit 34. The point is, I will still look at you sideways if you tell me you really love Pimm's Cups and probably ask to see your papers because you're clearly a pond-jumping toffer, but I will toast with you the whole night through if you tell me you love Negronis and Americanos. (Which are from Italy, I realize... logic's not my strong suit today.)

It's clear I've also been on a bit of an old-fashioned kick lately, probably because whiskey drinks on the rocks are inherently winter-appropriate, to my mind, and not terribly elaborate to make. This Campari Old-Fashioned is super-easy to make and gives you a reason to pull the Campari bottle down from the shelf between the months of November and April.

Not much to it? I guess, maybe. I can't hit them all out of the park, people, nor do I necessarily want to. Maybe I've just got a case of the Mondays today, or maybe I'm mixocologically burned out from making my neighbor World's Greatest Cosmoplitans over the weekend. Whatever. C is for Campari, that's good enough for me.

The Campari Old-Fashioned

2 ounces Campari

1/4 ounce simple syrup

1/4 ounce honey syrup

2 dashes Peychuad's Bitters

Orange peel, to garnish

Build drink over ice in highball, stir briskly, garnish with orange peel.

Tasting Notes

Honey syrup is just equal parts honey and water cooked down, the way you'd cook down any simple syrup. Its purpose is mainly to make honey easier to work with since it's sludgy thickness makes it unwieldy.

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The Bathtub Gin(ger)

In my quest for Total World Cocktail Domination, last week I made myself a little spreadsheet of upcoming recipe contests, those expressly for cocktails as well as others where my commendable potations will be up against some lame-ass summer salads or whatever.

First at bat: a grapefruit-and-ginger recipe contest courtesy of a skin-treats company. Winners get paid in grapefruit and ginger-scented bath-product gift baskets!... Wait, I've never mentioned what a slut I am for a nice, relaxing bubble bath? Well, there you go.

Starting from scratch, here's how I manifested The Bathtub Gin(ger). I am writing this all down for you because one day The Museum of the American Cocktail will ask that my brain be donated to their archives, but that won't be possible because I never plan on dying. So you guys can pass this along to them and I bet they'd even give you money for it.

Attempt #1: Take everything I know and/or have at my disposal in the grapefruit and ginger departments, combine with appropriate cutesy wordplay and visual puns, pour into a glass. This means gin, sloe gin, ginger syrup and fresh grapefruit juice, plus some egg white (creating visual pun of frothiness = bubble bath) and a salted and sugared rim (because I like Salty Dogs).

Result: Salt overpowered EVERYTHING. Blergh.

Attempt #2: Nix salt/sugar rim, see what happens when you add in some Luxardo. Why? Because Luxardo's proven itself a stealth facilitator of awesomesauce cocktails before.

Result: All Luxardo, even though I only used half an ounce. Damn.

Attempt #3: Back to drawing board. Try using World's Greatest Cosmopolitan as a template, swapping out cranberry juice for grapefruit and ginger syrup for regular simple syrup. (Oh wait... I don't use simple syrup in the World's Greatest Cosmopolitan.) Keep all other elements of WGC intact: lime juice, triple sec, confectioner's-sugar rim.

Result:  Weirdly lacks a center. What starts out as the right amount of sweetness somehow evaporates into nothing. This is getting frustrating.

Attempt #4: Brainstorm other possible ingredients. Remember the beauty that is grapefruit-Campari sorbet. Graft Campari and a splash of sloe gin onto WGC recipe.

Result: Getting there...

Attempt #5: Spend way too much money on a bottle of Charbay Ruby Red Grapefruit Flavored Vodka, all the while lamenting, "Whither art thou, Domaine de Canton?" Curse the SAQ for putting you in this predicament. Go home, construct a recipe using those elements you like best from attempts 1-4. Decide that the ginger syrup needs help; find ginger ale on sale.

Result: This...

The Bathtub Gin(ger)

2 ounces Bulldog Gin

1 ounce Charbay Ruby Red Grapefruit Flavored Vodka

1/2 ounce Campari

2 ounces freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice

1 ounce ginger syrup

1 raw egg

About 2 ounces ginger ale

Confectioner's sugar, for the rim

Mint sprig, to garnish

Rim a cocktail glass with confectioner's sugar and set aside. Combine gin, vodka, Campari, grapefruit juice, ginger syrup and the white from raw egg in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Before straining contents of shaker into sugar-rimmed cocktail glass, pour about two ounces of ginger ale in the glass first. Garnish with mint sprig.

Tasting Notes

To make ginger syrup: Mix a half-cup of granulated sugar and a half-cup of water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. While waiting for mixture to come to a boil, grate a thumb-sized piece of ginger into the pan. Stir until mixture reaches a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Strain into a container and let cool before using. This will make you more syrup than you need. You can refrigerate or freeze the rest.

As you probably already figured out, I poured the ginger ale into the empty cocktail glass first because I didn't want to shake the carbonation out of it. If you've got Domain de Canton on hand, try it in this recipe (instead of or in addition to ginger ale) and let me know what it tastes like!

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