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    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.

    The Curried Favor

    Some exploration in the produce aisle leads to a new drink.

    I am pretty fortunate to live near one of the best produce markets in California – Berkeley Bowl. Basically if something is in season, they have it. One of the ingredients I have spent a lot of time experimenting with is curry leaves. They have a complex smoky nose and a very unusual flavor that is quite difficult to describe. The flavor is very powerful and sticks with the palate for a while. The curry leaf is used in a lot of southern Indian and Sri Lankan cooking, but the word “curry” here might create some false expectations of tastes. Curry powder was created to emulate the flavors of indian cooking but almost never has curry leaf in it, so don’t expect the leaves to taste anything like “curry powder”.

    Like most powerful flavors you often have to mix with other strong flavors to avoid one note overwhelming the drink. After a few attempts I decided on mixing the curry leaves with Meyer lemons, which for anyone who isn’t familiar with them are basically a cross between mandarin oranges and lemons and have a very orange-blossomy nose. The result was a drink I am calling the Curried Favor.

    The Curried Favor
    • 1.5 oz Dark Rum
    • 1 oz Canton Ginger Liqueur
    • 1 oz Meyer Lemon Juice
    • .25 oz Agave Nectar
    • 2 Curry Leaves

    Shake all ingredients with ice and double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a curry leaf for an even more smoky aromatic effect of the curry leaves.

    Under normal circumstances I would say that is a lot of Canton, but there needs to be to keep the drink balanced. So far I have found this drink to be a hit with most people who are shocked at the effect of the curry leaves. So next time you happen past an asian market or a particularly well stocked produce department, grab a few leaves and start experimenting.

    So, It’s Your First Time?

    This month’s Mixology Monday explores how to properly welcome someone to the world of cocktails.

    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 First Time and it is hosted by Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails – Boston. Their basic guidelines were as follows:

    What drink do you suggest for the delicate palate of the cocktail neophyte? Something boozy and balanced, sure – but one wrong suggestion could relegate the newbie to a beer-drinker’s life. To which go-to cocktails do you turn to when faced with the challenge?


    It could be argued that choosing the Margarita as someone’s introduction to cocktails is dangerous as it doesn’t really push people out of their comfort zone; the Margarita just doesn’t seem that sophisticated to most people. However, if done with the right ingredients and presentation it can transcend people’s perception, satisfying even the most jaded Coors drinker.

    The great thing about this drink is how simple and disarming it is to most people. There are no real acquired-taste ingredients like Campari, Fernet or Absinthe, and it’s simplicity means it is something most anyone can create at home, making it a great gateway to an exciting future in mixology!

    Like all classic drinks, the Margarita has a shady history. As David Wondrich has written, “History, written in a bar, is never straight-forward”. There are almost as many origin stories as there are versions of the drink, though interestingly many of them involve lovelorn Mexican bartenders naming the drink after a beautiful showgirl… including Rita Hayworth who was formerly known as Margarita Cansino. Another common story is that the Margarita is really just a Daisy; a class of mixed drink that is basically a sour with a little bit of soda in it, and of course margarita is a Spanish word for daisy. Whatever the story, the one thing that is for sure about the Margarita is that nothing about the Margarita is for sure.

    As a type of drink, The Margarita is second only to The Martini in terms of how often it is bastardized. Nearly every bar has a version that could be said to be dramatically different from one another. Frozen or rocks, salt or no salt, Cointreau or triple sec, mango, strawberry – the list goes on. For us however, there is only one Margarita recipe; 100% agave tequila, lime juice and agave nectar.

    The Margarita
    • 2 oz 100% Agave Reposado Tequila
    • 1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
    • .75 oz Agave Nectar

    Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into an ice filled old fashioned glass.

    As you probably notice, our Margarita is missing two of its most common ingredients; Orange liqueur and Salt. For our money the agave nectar better highlights the spirits natural base than Cointreau, and the salt seems to us just a vestigial throwback to a need to cover up bad tequila. In fact in this San Francisco Chronicle article Tres Agave’s Eric Rubin speculates that the salt was introduced due to the Spanish influenza epidemic in the early 1900s and that Mexican doctors had the citizenry inoculate themselves with lime and salt.

    So the next time you have a cocktail n00b at your bar, take it easy on them and show them that cocktails don’t have to be frou-frou or toxic. The only real danger is that they may never enjoy the bad Margaritas at Chevy’s or Bennigan’s again.

    Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!

    Any drink that commemorates an explosion is OK with me!

    On February 15th 1898, in the dark of night, a blast ripped through the air in Havana. It was a huge explosion on the USS Maine killing 272 men. The blast was blamed on a mine, supposedly planted by the Spanish, that ignited her forward magazines destroying a third of the ship and putting her at the bottom of the harbor. In an event that foreshadowed the Gulf of Tonkin and the Iraq WMD’s, the sinking was used as a Causus Belli to start the Spanish-American War. The actual event is still shrouded in mystery and confusion as to whether or not it was just a convenient accident or an deliberate act of aggression, but aside from the American acquisition of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam, we also got a great cocktail out of the ordeal.

    Most popularly chronicled by the cocktail writer and gadabout Charles H. Baker Jr., the Remember the Maine is essentially a tuned up Manhattan with the sweetness of Cherry Heering and the herbal zing of Absinthe. I thought of it recently after a trip to Heaven’s Dog, where they feature this drink and many others immortalized by Baker. When I got home I dusted off my copy of Jigger, Beaker and Glass and tracked down the recipe for the Remember the Maine. But I most preferred the recipe from St. John Frizell featured in this months Imbibe Magazine:

    Remember the Maine
    • 2 oz Rye (Sazerac)
    • 3/4 oz Italian Vermouth (Carpano Antica)
    • 2 tsp Cherry Heering
    • .5 tsp Absinthe (St George Absinthe)

    Stir all Ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry, and think of how grateful we are for having Guam.

    The Rosemary Five

    A delicious mix of pear lime and rosemary.

    I had a batch of rosemary syrup I made up over the holidays for some champagne cocktails which turned out to be a hit with the family. Last night I was looking around for some other uses for it and came across the recipe for the Rosemary Five over at Married… with Dinner. (a blog you should be reading by the way, as they consistently please me with their recipes)

    The drink is fantastic; the lime balances out the pear which can be quite overwhelming sometimes. The rosemary is fairly understated and mostly at the front of the palate… partly because of the aromatics from the garnish, but also because the drink is light on the syrup. If you crank up the syrup it starts to taste a little too savory.

    The Rosemary Five
    • 1 oz pear eau de vie
    • .5 oz lime juice
    • .5 oz rosemary syrup
    • 3 dashes angostura bitters
    • dry sparkling wine

    Shake all ingredients except for champagne with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top off glass with sparkling wine and garnish with a rosemary sprig.

    Rosemary Simple Syrup
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary

    Bring sugar and water and rosemary to a boil in a medium sauce pan while stirring. remove from heat when sugar is completely dissolved. Let the mixture cool and strain out the rosemary and store in the refrigerator.

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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.

    What America Needs Now is a Drink!

    Let us soothe our troubles and hoist a drink in celebration of repeal day!

    a prescription for alcohol during prohibition

    One of the most famous phrases in prohibition lore is certainly the best. On December 5th 1933 at 4:31pm President Franklin D. Roosevelt toasted the end of prohibition – American cocktailiana’s darkest 13 years – with the phrase “What America Needs Now is a Drink”. Bear in mind, that this was in one of the deepest parts of the depression, with millions of people out of jobs and the economy in tatters, Americans needed a drink for so many reasons.

    One of the lesser known details of prohibition is what Roosevelt was drinking while toasting the end of the noble experiment. Supposedly he signed the 21st amendment and made his favorite cocktail, the Dirty Martini. I can’t say I am the biggest fan of the dirty martini but in the interest of history here is the recipe.

    Roosevelt’s Dirty Martini

    • 2 oz Plymouth gin
    • 1/3 oz dry vermouth
    • a splash of olive brine
    • 1 green olive
    • 1 twist of lemon

    Shake gin, vermouth and olive brine with ice, rim the glass with twist and strain drink into glass. Garnish with olive.

    The problem is that there is some debate as to weather or not this actually happened. Most accounts (including by his secretary) say so, but like most cocktail history there is always a bit of haze around this. Another story is that his famous quote was accompanied by a toast with Korbel Sec Champagne. Korbel was one of the few American sparkling wine vineyards to survive prohibition and they sent the first post-prohibition case to the White House for the celebration. They claim on the tour at the winery that he did in fact toast the end with a glass of Korbel Sec. Incidentally, I don’t normally recommend Korbel Champagnes, but the Sec is their original recipe from the 19th century and it is only available at the winery or online. I like it quite a bit, in fact it is the champagne we had at our wedding.

    While the Dirty Martini isn’t really my preferred tipple, and I don’t currently have any Korbel Sec available to me without a 2 hour drive, I do have plans to make up a selection of classics as well as some Corpse Reviver #2′s.

    Corpse Reviver #2

    • 3/4 oz Plymouth Gin
    • 3/4 oz Lillet
    • 3/4 oz Cointreau
    • 3/4 oz Lemon Juice
    • 1 dash Absinthe

    Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

    Corpse Reviver 2

    And so here we are 75 years later, cocktaildom is only now really recovering from the effects of prohibition, bartenders have finally rediscovered the drinks, ingredients, rituals and mythologies of the golden age of cocktails. There surely are parallels now to that December 5th 75 years ago, an immensely fragile economy, with many people concerned about the future, a charismatic new president fueled by hope. I can think of nothing more appropriate than his toast that so many people were anxiously awaiting… “What America Needs Now is a Drink!”. So make sure on Friday to celebrate Repeal Day, and raise a glass for your constitutional right to drink!

    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

    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

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

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