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On The Menu

Archive for the ‘Ingredients’ Category

The Original Maraschino Cherry

Bringing cherries and maraschino back to Maraschino Cherries.

Wow, the Farmers Market was suddenly bursting with cherries today, which is very exciting for me since we just ran out of cherries for cocktails.

Traditionally, Maraschino Cherries were made by steeping marasca cherries, from the mountains of Croatia, in Maraschino liqueur, which was made from the very same marasca cherries, along with their leaves and pits. However, like many good things in the world of cocktails, the 20th century’s fusion of progress and bureaucracy conspired to make them into the sucky near plastic concoction that we all know today.

Currently, Maraschino Cherries are officially defined by the Food and Drug Administration as “cherries which have been dyed red, impregnated with sugar and packed in a sugar sirup flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor”. Can’t say I am a fan of eating anything that has been “Impregnated” and “Packed”, but this definition came into usage in the 1940s when the FDA refined many of its rules. The process basically brines the cherries so that they become completely flavorless and colorless and then the flavor and color are added back in with dye, corn syrup and artificial flavoring.

As the cherries became less related to their original ingredients they also lost the thing that made their name make sense, being made from marasca cherries. Most people now pronounce them like mara-SHEE-no, which I guess is kind of appropriate for their sheeny plasticy quality, but since they were made from marasca cherries they are actually pronounced mara-SKEE-no. However be prepared to come off as an insufferable cocktail geek if you correct anyone in mixed company for saying it wrong.

So, back to the near infinite collection of cherries I just brought back from the farmers market, I decided to mix up a batch of traditional maraschino cherries. If you are lazy or can’t find cherries or maraschino liqueur you can actually just buy good cherries pre-made here, but in the department of easy to make cocktail ingredients, this is one of the easiest if you have the ingredients.

You start by pitting a pint of cherries, sour cherries are most like marasca, but a sweeter cherry like a bing or a brooks will do just fine if you use the smaller cherries in the batch. Put the cherries in a bell jar or some sealable container, and then pour warmed maraschino liqueur over them until they are completely covered. You can warm the liqueur in a sauce pan on the stove over low heat for a minute or two so that it is just hot to the touch. Seal the jar up and put it in the refrigerator for a few days and then open and enjoy yourself a Manhattan or a properly made Old Fashioned.

Digestifs Revisited

The exciting conclusion of last months post!

I totally forgot to post how the digestifs turned out after Thanksgiving. Turns out they were delicious as well as effective. In fact after a full thanksgiving meal we were all stuffed and had a round of the meyer lemon, and most of us could happily eat again, our friend Robin was even able to go back for thirds I think.

As you can see the Meyer Lemon was a hit, as was the Mandarin. The Mandarin was very good but it turned out to be a pretty familiar taste, as we have all had orange flavored liqueur before. The Meyer Lemon was fantastic, everything you want out of a “cello” like this, but I think it was especially popular because it was such a novelty of a flavor. The basil was more interesting than good, though that was because it was the first batch I made and it turned out the recipe called for a little too much sugar to my taste and it ended up being too sweet for everyone. I plan on trying it again using less sugar.

Today is the last day you could likely start it if you wanted to get some done for Christmas as they are supposed to macerate for 6 days. The Meyer Lemon recipe calls for 12 days but frankly it works very well after 6 as well.

As for the change in recipe, I just reduced the amount of simple syrup from 1.5 cups to 1 cup in the meyer lemon and mandarin and in the case of the basil, (since it doesn’t have such a citrusy tang to it) I would reduce it to .75 cups of simple syrup.

We like it Spicy!

Mixing up some Indian cocktails for Mixology Monday.

Every month a group of adventurous spirits gathers for an event called Mixology Monday where each participant offers up a blog post featuring a cocktail recipe that fits within the monthly theme. This month’s theme is Spice and it is hosted by Craig at Tiki Drinks and Indigo Firmaments. His basic guidelines were as follows:

Spice should give you plenty of room to play – from the winter warmers of egg nog, wassail and mulled products to the strange and interesting infusions of pepper, ceubub, grains of paradise, nutmeg — what have you! I would like to stretch the traditional meanings of spice (as the bark, seed, nut or flowering part of a plant used for seasoning) to basically anything used for flavoring that isn’t an herb. Salt? Go for it. Paprika? I’d love to see you try. I hear that cardamom is hot right now.

It turns out that this couldn’t really be better timed for me as I have been obsessed with spices in cocktails recently. About a month ago some friends and I planned to go see Slumdog Millionaire, the new Danny Boyle film about an Indian kid who ends up on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and spends the film reflecting on his past in the slums of Mumbai. We were all getting together before the film and I was asked to come up with some Indian themed cocktails. Well, after a bit of research, it turned out there weren’t really many non-lassi based drinks out there that were Indian themed. This surprised me considering how flavorful indian food is. Scott Beattie had a few recipes that were inspiring in their use of coconut milk and cilantro and pickled hearts of palm but they were all really more southeast asian than Indian, and I wanted something with cumin, and coriander and turmeric.

We only had a short notice to prepare for the party so I took the quick and easy route and made some syrups that would allow me to Indian-up nearly anything with some strong flavors. I made a coriander syrup and a cumin syrup. The cumin syrup turned out amazing and outrageously flavorful and only a small amount was needed to give any drink a hint of the spice route. The coriander syrup was much more subtle but intriguing to mix with as it added a flavor that was at once familiar but mysterious.

The following week though, it was like the Indian-cocktail rosetta stone was recovered. That was when Jonny Raglin introduced his Spice Route cocktail menu at the new southern indian restaurant Dosa in San Francisco. It was like a trip though a new world of cocktail flavors, darjeeling tea cordial, mango gastrique, curry nectar, hell-flower tincture, yogurt. It sounded amazing, and after a visit, I was not disappointed. The next day I took a trip to Berkley bowl, one of the greatest produce markets i have ever been to, and picked up some kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves, celery root, cilantro, sweet limes and fresh tumeric and began experimenting.

Out of that came two drinks that worked pretty well, the first was based loosely on a gimlet recipe using pisco and the coriander syrup. It is called the Dhaniya Nimbu. Dihaniya is Hindi for coriander and nimbu is Hindi for lime. The second drink was inspired very much by the drinks at Dosa, and is called the Cumin Get It, which is admittedly a pretty lame name but I couldn’t avoid such a golden opportunity for a pun.

Dhaniya Nimbu
  • 1.5 oz Pisco
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz coriander nectar
  • 1 sprig cilantro

Directions
shake all ingredients except cilantro and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with cilantro sprig.

Coriander Nectar
  • 1 tbsp Coriander seeds
  • 1 cup water
  • .5 cup sugar

Directions
Heat coriander seeds in a hot skillet for a minute or so to release the aromatics. Add the seeds to a sauce pan and crush them with a muddler. Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. simmer for 5 minutes and add the sugar stirring until it is dissolved. Remove from heat, let cool and strain out the coriander seeds from the mixture, bottle and refrigerate. Mixture should keep for about a week.

Cumin Get It
  • 1.5 oz Gin
  • .75 oz Light coconut milk
  • .75 oz Lime juice
  • .75 oz Cumin syrup
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves

Directions
Place all ingredients except for one of the kaffir lime leaves in a shaker and shake very well as you would a drink with egg white. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with remaining kaffir lime leaf.

Cumin syrup
  • 1 tsp Cumin seeds
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar

Directions
Heat cumin seeds in a hot skillet for a minute or so to release the aromatics. Add the seeds to a sauce pan and add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. simmer for 5 minutes and add the sugar stirring until it is dissolved. Remove from heat, let cool and strain out the cumin seeds from the mixture, bottle and refrigerate. Mixture should keep for about a week.

Cooper’s Cocktail

Finally a delicious use for one of the world’s strangest bitter substances.

I read recently in the Atlantic that of all of the Fernet Branca sold in the US, 25% of it is sold in San Francisco! For a drink that makes so many people gag on their first sample, it is pretty remarkable that so much could be sold in one place. For anyone not experienced with Fernet, it is a super bitter amaro that is made from a bewilderingly large number of spices and herbs including myrrh, chamomile, and saffron, and it tastes a bit like a mixture of toothpaste and cough syrup. Generally speaking most bartenders I know enjoy it. My guess is that dealing with an increasingly cocktail-aware audience of bar patrons, bartenders have to like something pretty weird to stay ahead of the curve. Either way, count me in – I love Fernet. I enjoy pretty much all bitters and amari, but there is always a special place for Fernet with me.

Though try as I might I could never find a cocktail that it would work in. At one point I was feeling like I was homing in with an unnamed combination of honey, fernet and rye but it just wasn’t perfect… the fernet is just so shouty and overpowering nothing else could compete with it. But then one evening while flipping through the 2008 Food & Wine Cocktails book and came across one of what is presumably Jamie Beaudreau’s concoctions called the Cooper’s Cocktail. It is a blend of Fernet, Rye and St Germain, and the St Germain and orange twist really do their job to balance out the Fernet.

Cooper’s Cocktail

  • 2 Oz Rye
  • 3/4 Oz St Germain
  • 1/4 Oz Frenet Branca
  • Orange Peel

Directions
Stir all ingredients except orange peel with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist orange peel over the glass and then drop it into the drink.

Champagne at the Signing of the 21st Amendment

Bubbling Sunshine from Grateful Californians

The very helpful Margie Healy at Korbel sent me this photo today of the very case of champagne that they sent to the White House for the toast of the end of prohibition.

Raspberry Shrub

The classic colonial cooler quenches quickly.

One of the more neglected liquid flavors is vinegar, most people think of it and their mouth puckers up. But while white wine vinegar is quite tart, it also brings out the sweetness in its surrounding flavors, which makes it a very interesting replacement for citrus in cocktails. It just so happens that people figured this out quite some time ago, making a concoction called the Shrub in American Colonial times. It was an excellent way to preserve fruit for long time without refrigeration and it turned out that the mixture of vinegar, fruit and sugar tasted incredible.

Eric Felten’s incredible book “How’s Your Drink?” covers a lot of the background on the drink and has the recipe for both the shrub syrup and the rum shrub cocktail:

Raspberry Shrub
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 2 pints Raspberries
  • 2 cups White Wine Vinegar

Directions
Bring water to a boil and stir in sugar. Reduce the heat and add the raspberries stirring for 10 minutes. Add Vinegar and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Let cool and strain into a bottle, and keep refrigerated.

Rum Shrub
  • 2 oz Dark Rum
  • 1 oz Raspberry Shrub
  • 3 oz Ginger Beer

Directions
Shake the rum and shrub over ice and strain into an ice filled glass. Add ginger ale and lightly stir to mix.

A Lot To Digestif

A little bit of something to look forward to after dinner.

With Thanksgiving and the holidays coming up, there is a lot of eating about to happen. One of the more underrated aspects of drinking is the lost art of the digestif, a slightly sweet drink of herbs steeped in alcohol. Digestifs are considered to help with digestion, something to do with increasing the production of digestive fluids after a large meal. But even if this is just a wives-tale, the ritual of drinking a delicious little something after dinner is a worthwhile process.

Chow recently had one of their great articles on making digestifs. I have made a couple of these before but i liked the idea of making a bunch at once, so I decided to give a few of their recipes a shot.

Basil Digestif
  • 15 Large Basil Leaves
  • 2 cups Everclear 151
  • 1 1/2 cup Simple Syrup

Directions
Place the basil leaves in a 1 quart jar with the Everclear and let it sit for 6 days at room temperature. After 6 days remove the leaves and add the simple syrup and stir. Store in the freezer and serve cold.

Meyer Lemon Digestif
  • 8 Meyer Lemons
  • 2 cups Everclear 151
  • 1 1/2 cup Simple Syrup

Directions
Peel the lemons in wide strips trying to get as little of the white pith as possible. Place the peels and Everclear in a 1 quart jar for 12 days at room temperature. After 12 days remove the peels and add the simple syrup and stir. Store in the freezer and serve cold.

Mandarin Orange Digestif
  • 5 Mandarin Oranges
  • 2 cups Everclear 151
  • 1 1/2 cup Simple Syrup

Directions
Peel the Oranges in wide strips trying to get as little of the white pith as possible. Place the peels and Everclear in a 1 quart jar for 6 days at room temperature. After 6 days remove the peels and add the simple syrup and stir. Store in the freezer and serve cold.

Update:I posted on how they turned out here. One thing I found was that the above recipes were very sweet, sweeter than anyone in my party could enjoy. I reduced the amount of simple syrup from 1.5 cups to 1 cup in the meyer lemon and mandarin and in the case of the basil (since it doesn’t have such a citrusy tang to it) i would reduce it to .75 cups of simple syrup.

Now Open: Cask!

Finally, liquor stores are getting the same attention that wine shops have had.

Holy smokes! I made it over to Cask today, the new liquor store opened by the Bourbon & Branch crew, though calling it a liquor store is kind of a misstatement. They have an incredible selection of spirits that is pretty much unmatched in the bay area, including some special bottlings that are only available at Cask. The back half of the store has an excellent collection of barware and tools, which might be one of the most noteworthy aspects of the store, as there really is no one specializing in selling bar tools in the bay area. They also have a pretty wide selection of books, though there isn’t much here that couldn’t be found on amazon for considerably less. I would love to see them have signed copies or something since they know most of the people that wrote the books.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting these guys getting this place of the ground for nearly a year now, and I have to say that I’m not disappointed. I expect that I will be spending a ridiculous amount of money there on a fairly regular basis.

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