Posts Tagged ‘basil’

Bending the calendar with fruit shrubs

Friday, October 5th, 2012

It is October, right? Or am I being punked by my calendar, fooled into thinking it’s October when the weather seems more like the end of August? If so, then the joke is also on the blackberries, plums and other late summer fruit still heavy on trees and bushes. But I will have the last laugh when I am enjoying these fruits into 2013.

I won’t freeze them or make jam. Instead, I’ll do as American colonialists did and make shrubs – a combination of fruit, vinegar and sugar.  Shrubs can be used in cocktails or enjoyed splashed into plain club soda or even Diet Coke (try with cherry shrub!). The vinegar lends a tangy taste to produce and serves as a great preservative.

In my cranberry Thanksgiving shrub post, I described how to cook a shrub. For late summer’s softer, juicier fruits, I love the cold-process approach because it is so easy and the ingredients do all the work. But don’t be limited by season: I have found that frozen berries make excellent shrubs with this same technique.

Blackberry shrub

2 c. washed blackberries
1 c. sugar
1 c. champagne vinegar

Combine the blackberries and sugar in a covered jar or bowl and refrigerate for a day or two, until the berries break down and a syrup forms. Fine strain the berry solids out, then add vinegar to the syrup, bottle and refrigerate. For best taste, wait another day or two for the flavors to meld and then enjoy!

I use the recipe above as my template for most shrubs: 2 cups fruit to 1 cup sugar and 1 cup vinegar (usually white wine, champagne or apple cider vinegars). Then I experiment with flavors, using my shrubs as substitutes for citrus juice and muddled fruit in cocktails.

Sometimes an existing cocktail recipe provides the perfect foundation for a shrub tweak. Such was the case with the Bufala Negra, which calls for balsamic vinegar. I can’t compare it to the original recipe, but my version makes a flavorful and refreshing drink to enjoy all year round.  

Bufala Negra Shrubbed

1½ oz bourbon
4 fresh basil leaves (+1 for optional garnish)
3/4 oz shrub
2 oz ginger beer (I used Fentimans)
Brown sugar (optional)

Muddle the shrub and basil. Add bourbon and ice and shake hard. Strain over fresh ice cubes into a glass and top with ginger beer. Garnish with basil leaf. Note: Since shrub sweetness can vary by fruit and time of season, you can add a teaspoon or more of brown sugar when muddling the basil if you like.

Combined, blackberries, bourbon and basil are a tongue twister — and a tongue tingler. Enjoy!


Cheers, ICE

*Bufala Negra is from Imbibe Magazine online


When catnip is not an option

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

My cat is stressed. Or not. Or he is depressed. Or not. All I know is that I’m now giving Nacho Libre a low-dose antidepressant that the vet says should calm the “fight or flight” response making him pee around the garage and wake us up at night. Actually, I’m not really sure what the vet said because I was very busy thinking, “what the bleeeep?!” and executing some massive eye rolling. But even better was when the pharmacist, explaining that the med gel should be applied to Nacho’s ear, presented me with wee little “condoms” for my finger and started to show me how to put them on. No, they do not feature a reservoir tip.

I got Nacho neutered specifically to avoid this awkward conversation.

 I think what Nacho really needs is a kitty kocktail. Something to take the edge off after romping through the yard and arguing with sassy squirrels. But I don’t have any catnip or, frankly, much motivation to pamper the beast right now.  So, I made a new cocktail for myself by repurposing the yummy ginger-habañero syrup from last summer’s post. And I shall name it…P.O.’d. Because I am every time Nacho wakes me up.


 1 ½ oz golden rum
¾ oz lemon juice
¾ oz ginger-habañero syrup
5 basil leaves + 1 for garnish
2 dashes orange bitters
1 oz club soda

Muddle basil in glass, add ice and mix remaining ingredients together. Do not share with your cat. 

The basil lends a nice cooling touch to the spicy syrup and makes me think of chilly evenings cooling down warm days as summer wanes.  Mmmm, much better than catnip!

Hey, paws off -- that’s Nacho liquor!


 Cheers, ICE


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