The Summertime Smash

The Summertime Smash

Is it summer finally? Are we there yet, Mother Nature?

Up here in the tundra Montreal, the warm weather has been *such* a tease lately. We've had one of those springs where two days of delightful, sun-dappled, sleeve-shedding weather are followed by a near-week of chilly, damp, Debbie Downer-weather.

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The Grasshopper

Grasshopper 1

Have I really never discussed with you peeps my love for mint chocolate chip ice cream? Let me rephrase more accurately -- my looooove, my looovvvvvelurrrrrvemmmmnomonomnomnomohmommymygoddammmnnn for mint chocolate chip ice cream? That's just not possible. Is that possible?

[Point of information, as I've just now bothered to fact-check my own query: It is indeed not possible. I blogged about my mint-chocolate fetish last June when I made up the Alexander the Great, my mint chip-arak concoction. Yum.]

What's really not possible, then, is that it's taken me this long to talk about the Grasshopper.

grasshopper 11

It is no mistake that in his book How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well, my cocktail-historian crush, Eric Felten, chooses to discuss the Grasshopper, an all-liqueur dessert cocktail, immediately following the Pink Lady and preceding the Smith and Curran (aka the electric egg cream). Of those three, actually, the Pink Lady could wipe the floor with the other two, because at least the Pink Lady contains gin (as well as applejack brandy, which is no joke, and raw egg white, which has its certain Rocky connotations even as it does lend a cocktail a cap of frilly froth).

According to Felten, the Grasshopper was "a fad cooked up by marketing johnnies around 1949. The Leroux Liqueurs Company of Philadelphia only made cordials, so what better drink for them to promote than one anchored by a pair of liqueurs... Sweet, creamy and pretty, the Grasshopper quickly became an iconic girly drink."

And then he goes on to cite various postwar scribes who damned the drink with faint praise ("so-called cocktail," "something of learned vulgarity") in a way that reminds me of how current-day critics love to jump on the Girls hate-wagon in what basically amounts to condescending woman-bashing codespeak.

(Yes, dammit, I am making a link between a dessert cocktail and HBO's latest zeitgeist-rattler. My husband is a Ph.D. student, I binged on the first season of Girls as if it were a bag of York Peppermint Patties (which is exactly what the Grasshopper tastes like YES IT TASTES LIKE THE WHOLE BAG) and I dream about cocktails constantly so... yeah.)

Grasshopper 2

When I was watching the PhoBlograpHusband edit these gorg Grasshopper pics he shot, I asked him, "Is that really just cream and creme de menthe and creme de cacao? Is that really all we put in there?" And he looked at me funny and I said, "I just can't believe -- it just doesn't seem like those are three ingredients that would really coalesce together as well as they do. I just can't believe how good this cocktail looks."

Grasshopper 4

See, I internalized the girly-bashing just a bit, when what I really need to internalize is another Grasshopper. In my belly. That's what she said!

The Grasshopper

(A classic; this recipe is based on my own from The Big Book of Martins for Moms)

1 ounce green creme de menthe

1 ounce white creme de cacao

1 to 2 ounces cream

Mint leaves or chocolate shavings, to garnish

Combine the three liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail or martini glass. Top with mint leaves or chocolate shavings.

Tasting Notes

Obviously, the stiffer you like your drink, the closer you want to hold to that 1:1:1 ratio. Add that extra ounce of cream for your cousin who just turned 21.

What kind of cream? Half-and-half will work just fine if that's what you've got. Otherwise it's just what your tastebuds prefer. (Speaking of, I read in the New York Times' recent review of Salt Sugar Fat that there is no known point at which a creamy drink becomes too creamy for the average set of tastebuds. Too sweet is a measurable, reachable endpoint but not too fatty/creamy. Just a little cocktail-party factoid for you... and which I guess you could interpret to mean that your tastebuds would prefer melted butter. Gah. Stick to heavy or whipping cream at most.)

Felten says you can use either light (i.e. clear) or dark creme de cacao. I'd play it safe and stick with the light as I would not want to risk a swampy-hued Grasshopper. Felten, for what it's worth, describes the resulting shade as sage green. Revenge of the Sage Thing!!!

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The Alexander the Great

MmmmmMMMMmmmmm nom nom NOM NOM NOM NOM

Now, I have never started a post with such gustatorial, guttural nonsense. So you must realize, people, me reeeeeally likey this cocktail.

And how could I not, as it contains the greatest food known to man: Mint. Chocolate. Chip. Ice. Cream. Zomg. (Mark Bittman would argue it's not a "food" at all. Mark Bittman can suck it.) Srsly, I could live on mint chocolate chip ice cream, in either of its two glorious hues: au naturel white or 50s-sci fi green. It's my ambrosia and my manna rolled into one. It's my manbrosia!

So here's the backstory on the Alexander the Great. I'm still working on my weeks-old reader challenge to come up with cocktails suitable for showcasing -- or at least, for palatably drinking down one's stash of -- ouzo, that tricky and troublesome anise-flavored Greek liqueur that's oh-so-hard to get along with when you're any other possible cocktail ingredient. So far I've done up the Greek Tiger, aka the screwdriver of Greece, and a raspberry mint lemonade concoction that manages to throw enough up against ouzo's bomastic licoriceness to tame it nicely.

But I still wasn't done; one of my teacher's-pet neurons did some extra credit work and fired off a message to me: Do an Alexander! A couple winters ago, I'd rolled out an entire week of Alexander posts, reveling in the creamy decadence of this most aristocratic of dessert cocktails. (I say "aristocratic" because the Brandy Alexander, the most well-known Alexander to date, was invented for a royal wedding in the 1920s.) Another historical triv bit I'd mentioned was that the original Alexander, i.e. the one just known as "an Alexander," was made with gin as its base liquor, followed by the all-Alexanders ingredient template of creme de cacao and cream or ice cream.

When I'd blogged that one, I'd gone with a mint-chip gelato, and when I thought about an ouzo-tinged take on an Alexander, it all just came together. I'd learned from the lemonade cocktail that mint's a good sparring partner for ouzo, which could simply be swapped in for the creme de cacao. Gin, mint and ouzo all have that herbaceous thing going that I always love to play with. The cocktail's called an Alexander, and this one's got Greece's national liqueur in it, and Alexander the Great was Greek!

As one of my 1980s primetime heroes would say, I love it when a plan comes together.

The Alexander the Great

1 1/4 ounces Bombay Dry Gin

3/4 ounces Arak Razzouk*

3/4 ounces Haagen-Dazs Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Fennel seeds or ground nutmeg or sesame seeds, to garnish

Combine gin, arak/ouzo, and ice cream in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Strain into a well-chilled cocktail or coupe glass. Garnish as desired.

Tasting Notes

*For those would have just joined us, arak is basically Lebanon's own anise-flavored liqueur and can be used interchangeably with ouzo in whatever recipe. I happen to have a bottle of arak I'm trying to kill of so that's why I used that.

Which garnish to use? Sesame seeds if you want some salty-sweet action going on in your glass. Ground nutmeg if you'd rather play up the straightforward sweet. Fennel if you like the herbal-green flavor of it all.

A mint sprig is always a nice garnish, too.

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The World's Greatest Beer-jito

The following all actually happened.

I was watching TV a few days ago when on came a commercial for the new Bud Light Lime Mojito. My first reaction was to groan, and to recall the cases of Coors Light Iced T that have been stacked near the checkout lines at my local supermarket for weeks; those also make me groan, anew, each time I must sidle by them to pay for my thrice-weekly pint of ice cream habit groceries.

But my second reaction to the mojito beer was, shockingly (shocking I say!), this: That sounds pretty good, actually.

I've tasted the various Miller Chills and other fruit-flavored swills that have hit the market in recent years. The problem is obviously not the citrus-lager pairing; we've all been thumbing lime wedges down our Corona longnecks since we were kids (unless we're Irish, in which case we've been mixing beer and lemonade) and it's still a flavor combo that hits the spot on a sweltering day. The problem is how it tastes when it's not an actual lime being used as a flavor agent; that artificialime nonsense is gag-worthy (that goes for you, too, Diet Coke Lime).

But you think about a mojito, it's just a little light sweetness (rum, spoonful of sugar) playing along with mint and lime. And then you think about a light beer -- it's as barely-there as Bacardi. I wanted to give it a shot.

And what I found is that it was so good (so good, I tell you!) that, more than any other cocktail that's passed my lips during my pregnancy (and yes, I've still got my one-sip rule in place) it was damn near torture to keep myself from sucking down the whole thing. Turns out that all along, a mojito's never realized how much it misses the hoppy-yeasty whateverness of a lager.

Of course, it does take a few extra f lairs to make a beer-jito the World's Greatest Beer-Jito. It needs a shot-ish of booze, because with beer alone as the source of alcohol, the drink is kickless. It could stand for a tall, handsome sort of glass just to dress/mature it up a bit. And it needs a lager more respectable than an actual Bud Light, because come on, what am I in high school? (I am not in high school.)

The World's Greatest Beer-jito

1 ounce Akvinta Vodka

5 ounces Red Stripe

2 lime wedges

6-8 mint leaves

Pinch of sugar

Lime wedge and/or mint sprig, to garnish

Muddle lime, mint and sugar in the bottom of a Collins glass. Fill glass with ice. Add vodka, then beer. Garnish.

Tasting Notes

Why I use vodka? Why I no use rum? The honest answer is, rum didn't even occur to me (didn't even occur, I say!) and Akvinta was on my mind because a bottle had recently been sent to me. (This my blogger's confession of things I get sent for free, is that sufficient, FCC?) I would slightly hesitate to suggest rum, obvs though it may be, because I wouldn't want to tip over from crisp into saccharine on the overall flavor profile. I also bet tequila rocks in this.

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Lemon Raspberry Mint Ouzo-Ade

Last week:

PhoBlograpHusband: "What do you want to do for our [second] anniversary [on June 5]?"

Blogtender: "Let's, like -- let's go out and see Montreal, some part of the city we keep saying we should see but haven't yet. Not anything too crazy, obvs [because I'm seven months pregnant] but something different."

PhoBlograpHusband: "Yeah, we need to get off our couch this summer."

Two nights ago:

Blogtender: "You know what I really want to do for our anniversary? I want to make cocktails and eat junk food and watch TV. On our couch."

Ah, yes, while I believe the traditional second-anniversary gift is something like clocks or coffee or leather, chez Lorre it was a much more sublime trifecta. Smiley face-shaped chicken tenders and Mad Men (we just subscribed to this season on iTunes, NO SPOILERS LA LA LA LA) and, among other libations, this Lemon Raspberry Mint Ouzo-Ade.

This is my second in what will hopefully turn out to be a long and languid series of posts about what to do with ouzo. I swear, Jesus sneaks into my liquor cabinet when I'm not looking and blesses my ouzo stash, because no matter how much I pour the stuff I can't seem to make a dent in it. And as I've said before, my natural inclination is to not want to make a dent in it. It's not my favorite liqueur.

But I had pulled a recipe from Martha Stewart for Lemon Ouzo-Ade, which necessitated making your own lemon simple syrup (steeping with zest) in addition to freshly squeezed lemon juice. We tried cheating this with an organic lemonade Sean had picked up on sale at the supermarket (it's really good and light and not syrupy; I've been drinking it straight all day), first going with equal parts arak* and lemonade.

Blech. See, this is what I can't stand about ouzo (arak, whatever), it's sooo overpowering. It takes over a glass like nobody's business. It's not necessarily strong in alcohol-y-ness but it's way too much  flavor-wise. Where does ouzo get off?

Luckily, raspberries were also on sale this week, and we're back to buying (hopefully soon growing) mint now that it's summer again. All that in addition to the lemon put up enough of a fight against the ouzo flavor that it finally backed down and agreed to play nice. The resulting ade possessed a nice, rounded coalition of tastes. All the flavors came through on their own, distinct merits while meshing at the same time.

We also got one more thing "accomplished" yesterday: Finished our little happy-hour patio in the backyard. Another traditional second-anniversary gift is his-and-hers green and blue spray paint...

Lemon Raspberry Mint Ouzo-Ade

(Loosely inspired by this Martha Stewart recipe)

2 ounces Arak Razzouk

At least 4 ounces Santa Cruz Organic Lemonade

Small handful of fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish

About 3 large raspberries

Pinch of granulated sugar

Muddle mint and raspberry in the bottom of a Mason jar, first sprinkling sugar on them to act as an abrasive. Fill with ice cubes and add arak (or ouzo; see Tasting Notes); fill with lemonade. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig.

Tasting Notes

*The Ouzo/Arak Refresher Course: Ouzo is a Greek aperitif flavored with anise. Arak is basically the Lebanese name for the same liqueur. I use them interchangeably in cocktail-making. Arak's usually a little cheaper, if harder to find.

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