Archive for the ‘Techniques & Tools’ Category

I Likey the Lychee

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Do you know what a lychee is? I sure didn’t. It shows up in cocktail recipes here and there, often listed as “canned lychee,” but my grocery stores had no such thing in the canned fruit/vegetable aisle. I had written those drinks off as too obscure for my feeble cocktailing efforts when I found a container of lychees in the refrigerated fruit section at Trader Joe’s. Well, hello! Not one to resist a new drink ingredient, of course I needed to try them out.

Which presented another problem: How does one prepare or eat a lychee? They have thin but crispy shells that do not appear appetizing.  Once peeled, the fruit looks like an eyeball (and here I made a tactical error by showing my kids this, thereby guaranteeing that no way in hell would they taste it); a juicy, lightly fragrant eyeball, but still. And hidden in the center is a hard nut that looks like a black bean.

Lychee Rum Swizzle

Eventually I decided to just muddle the fruit part and strain out the juice, a pretty easy task. I stirred up this recipe for the Lychee Rum Swizzle, and it made me a lychee lover.

Lychee Rum Swizzle

1 1/2 oz rum
1/2 oz Velvet Falernum
1/2 oz lychee fruit juice (about 3 lychees)
3/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz simple syrup (my addition)
2 dashes Peyschauds bitters

Peel lychee fruit, then tear juicy fruit away from inner nut. Muddle fruit (about 3 lychees) to yield 1/2 oz juice. Add all ingredients to a highball filled with crushed ice, then swizzle with a bar spoon until glass is frosty. Note: I changed the original recipe slightly because I had only fresh lychee fruit and not canned with syrup, so I added the simple syrup to balance the lime juice.

Swizzle drinks hail from Caribbean islands, where bartenders rub the handle of a bar spoon in between their hands – much like a scout starting a fire with sticks – in order to rapidly mix and chill the glass. Velvet Falernum, also hailing from the Caribbean, is a sweet liqueur tasting of cloves and spices. It is also great mixed with club soda and lime for a quick refresher, and non-alcoholic versions of falernum are available.

After doing a little lychee research, I’ve learned they are from China and therefore more common in Asian cooking.  Fresh lychees are not typical around here, so in the future I might have better luck finding canned lychee in the Asian section of the store. If you find some, try out this drink. It is well worth muddling a few eyeballs.

Cheers, ICE


Tips & Tricks: Just Chill

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Learning about cocktail making has me stumbling around a lot. No, not due to my blood-alcohol level, because in looking up recipes or techniques I tend to stumble upon really useful tips and tricks. I plan to share these in an occasional series called…wait for it…Tips & Tricks.

First up is chilling those cocktail glasses.  When a drink is served “up,” meaning without ice, you are counting on the ice in the cocktail shaker to properly chill the drink before serving. To keep it chilled for a reasonable amount of time, you need a cold glass.

Yes, you can put the glasses in the refrigerator or freezer for a few hours if you have the space. I just can’t see my husband being pleased when he reaches in for the orange juice and ends up with an empty (but well chilled) glass. And we don’t have any extra space in there (what with all the infused simple syrups, vermouths and other cocktail elements hogging the place), especially before a party or dinner with friends.

I usually opt for a quicker method: Quick chilling by filling the glasses with water and crushed ice before making the cocktail. The crushed ice is important, because in combination with water it quickly creates a very cold slush. After shaking the drink in the cocktail shaker, dump the cold slush and strain your cocktail into the chilled glass. Your cocktail will be crisp and cold.

Depending on the drink – like for martinis or those rimmed with sugar or salt – you will want to dry the glass first. I don’t feel this is a necessary step for drinks that include juice or simple syrups because you are already adding water in some form to the liquor. 

Not many of us have an endless supply of clean cocktail glasses at home, so this chilling method would be efficient for a party. You can refill and re-chill a guest’s glass without mingling used glasses as you would be by dipping the glasses into an ice bath.  Enjoy your chilly drinks!

Cheers, ICE


Rhubarb Surprise

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Strawberry-Rhubarb syrup ready for straining.

My friend Julia generously brought me some rhubarb from her P-patch when I said I had some recipes to try. In fact, she chopped and delivered it to me mere hours after I mentioned it, which even Amazon Fresh can’t beat.        

It’s possible that I’ve tried rhubarb before, but I’m certain I’ve never actually touched it. Employing my lack-of-cooking skills, I hammered out two different rhubarb syrups and tried them in three drink recipes (one a mocktail). This may be the very first time that others can benefit from my food preparation (and that includes consuming it).     

Contestant #1

First, I went for the Strawberry-Rhubarb Syrup because our friend B.O.B. raves about Plush Pippin’s strawberry-rhubarb pie. Then again, he is the only man I know who visits Mexico and solely eats at Italian restaurants.  This syrup is used in the Josef the Spy cocktail from Food & Wine’s Cocktails 2009 book:        

Josef the Spy
1 oz tequila
½ oz Cointreau or other triple sec (I used Cointreau)
3 oz strawberry-rhubarb syrup (see below)
3 drops balsamic vinegar
1 oz chilled Sprite  
Strawberry-Rhubarb syrup
Trim and chop 4 stalks of rhubarb, then puree in blender with 2 ½ oz (1/2 cup) hulled strawberries and 1 cup simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water boiled until sugar is dissolved) until smooth. Strain the syrup into a jar, cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Makes 14 oz (note: mine made maybe 8 oz once strained). 

I found this syrup recipe rather unwieldy. The fibrous rhubarb was a lot for my blender to handle, and was definitely too much for my fine-mesh sieve. It took a couple trips through the sieve, and I felt like I got too little syrup for the effort.   If I’m going to make that effort, I want it to last longer than four days.  Most syrups last for 3-4 weeks refrigerated; so what makes this one so special?     
Did the syrup redeem itself in the cocktail? Sadly, not really.  This recipe particularly intrigued me because of the balsamic vinegar, and I was curious what it could do in a cocktail. Josef the Spy (OK, who named this??) was too sweet for me; Red Hook said it was “good not great” with a strawberry burst that hits later. I added some lime juice to tart it up (like when I’m going out for the night), but it failed to make a dent. If I were to try it again, I would substitute club soda for the Sprite and reduce the strawberry-rhubarb syrup to 2 ounces instead of three.        

On a happy note, my kids loved the syrup mixed with sparkling water. They balked at trying rhubarb, but after being bribed discovered a new form of produce that they like. Even I can’t complain about that. (By the way, I had to google to see what to call rhubarb. Is it a fruit or vegetable? Clearly it is a common question because I only had to type “is rhubarb a” and the answer came right up: it is an ornamental vegetable.) 

Contestant #2

I decided to try the Rhubarb Cooler from Portland restaurant owner Lucy Brennan’s Hip Sips book mostly because I had the fresh rhubarb and was curious how the drinks – and differing rhubarb syrups – would compare. The results surprised me.      

Rhubarb Cooler
1 ½ oz gin (I used plain ol’ Tanqueray)
¼ oz lemon juice
¼ oz lime juice
1 oz rhubarb syrup
Splash of soda water

Fill shaker with ice and add gin, lemon & lime juices and rhubarb syrup. Shake well, then pour into ice-filled Collins glass. Garnish with lime wedge.   

Rhubarb Syrup
6 stalks of rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups sugar
2 cups water

Combine all ingredients into saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 15 minutes, or until rhubarb is very tender and liquid coats the back of the spoon. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 month. 

I made a half recipe of the syrup because I had just three stalks left. This syrup is more like the usual infused simple syrups, where the flavor is steeped into the syrup. It was also much easier to strain than the Strawberry-Rhubarb Syrup because I could spoon out the bulkier solids first. I also liked that it keeps for a month and is a pretty pink color while the other syrup is a bit brownish.        

Here you can see the difference in color between the two rhubarb drinks. The Josef the Spy is in the Collins glass on the left. Although the Rhubarb Cooler calls for a Collins glass, I chose a martini glass without ice.

So, easier, prettier and longer-lasting…and makes a fabulous drink!  I have only recently learned to like some gins and Red Hook is not a fan (he recoiled at the gin smell before tasting), but we both liked this one. The Rhubarb Syrup really complimented the gin, and the cocktail is good enough to go in my “favorites” book. This would be a great choice for a brunch or shower, too. I’ll bet it would also be good with sparkling water, giving a non-alcohol option for guests.     

My verdict

I may try the Josef the Spy again, but I’ll use the Rhubarb Syrup with muddled strawberries or blackberries instead. And I’ll cut the sugar in the syrup down to ¾ cup or so; I can always add in a bit of simple syrup later if it proves too tart.        

It’s always satisfying to find (and share) and winning cocktail. Enjoy!        

Cheers, ICE        

Look, pictures! I’m upping my blog game by adding pictures of my trials. Before you judge, I readily admit that my photography skills are lacking. Even though the drinks weren’t sticking out their tongues, strangling each other or shaking their booties like my usual subjects, getting the right shot was tricky.


If It Weren’t For Those Muddling Kids

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

I don’t think Scooby Doo and the gang were making many cocktails (Shaggy was likely smoking his intoxicants), but they might view muddling as a mystery. Since this is a prominent part of making many cocktails today, let’s get it out there.

Muddling is pressing ingredients with a pestle-shaped muddler in order to release the juices, oils and flavors of fruits, herbs and chile peppers.  If you’ve ever ordered a mojito, you’ve seen this technique in action, as the bartender muddles the mint in the bottom of the glass with sugar before adding the rum, lime juice and club soda. If done well, you get a pretty drink with greenery and a nice mint taste. If the drink mixer has aggression issues, you get a whole lot of leaf pieces shooting up your straw with each sip – where you know they’ll probably lodge between your teeth like you’ve been eating salad. Or, in the case of a frustrating blackberry mojito I had at the Ritz Carlton (where you’d think they’d know better) in Lake Las Vegas, a straw jammed with blackberry seeds.   

But strength of muddling is not the only factor.  Some cocktail pros advocate adding sugar with the item to be muddled – in the case of the mint above, the grains of sugar would help masticate the leaves. Others use simple syrup, which is not granular, in order to mix the flavors before shaking with ice and booze.  And at one site I saw a clip of a bartender slapping the mint in between his hands to release the flavor, but I’ll save that for when my mint has been very, very naughty.

Unlike the mojito, most drinks I make and see recipes for call for muddling in a cocktail shaker and not in the serving glass, so the muddled items are strained out.  No doubt I will learn more (and share it here), but I have found a couple of muddling musts:  First, I don’t smash the fruit or leaves; I press and turn the muddler slightly each time. I also tend to muddle leafy herbs first, then add any fruit and muddle it again. Otherwise it is hard to reach the herbs properly through the thick fruit.  Then I add the ice and remaining ingredients and shake. But – and here’s the second part – I don’t rely on the strainer at the top of my shaker if I’ve muddled soft fruit or that with seeds in it. I put a baby strainer on top of the glass and pour the drink through that. You get a yummy drink and no salad teeth.

Try this spring drink out:

Strawberry-Basil Refresher

6 strawberries
6 basil leaves
2 oz vodka
1 oz simple syrup
1 oz lime juice
2 oz club soda

In a cocktail shaker, first muddle the basil, then add strawberries and muddle. Add ice, vodka, simple syrup and lime juice; shake well. Double-strain into a highball with ice, then add club soda and stir gently.

Cheers, ICE