Americano

When it comes to my favorite type of cocktail, highballs are not at the top of my list . While I do appreciate how easy they are to make, and the bright, bubbly, refreshing quality they usually have, I find them to be a bit simple and somewhat boring. Most of the time, especially in the winter months, I tend to go for something with more character and depth of flavor. When the weather does get warmer, and I am in the mood for something bright and refreshing, I’ll usually go for a light citrus-y sipper rather than a highball. If I want bubbles, I prefer something with bubbly. Not to say I am never in the mood for a highball, it just isn’t often.

The Americano is my exception to all of these rules. It is one of the first drinks I ever made and I still make it to this day. Partly because it has a special place in my heart for starting me down this road I am on now, but mostly because I think it’s a fantastic drink. I would never call the two main ingredients, Capmari and sweet vermouth, simple or boring. They are quite the opposite. They are two of my favorite bottles and I reach for them often. Campari brings a tart bitterness to the table that really is irreplaceable, and sweet vermouth has a great earthy depth of flavor that is unmatched. As great as these two ingredients are on their own, when you put them together, magic happens. The rich citrus bitterness and the deep earthy sweetness go together so well it’s no accident you will see these two ingredients together in a seemingly endless list of recipes. Not to mention the great aperitif effect this drink has, it’s not hard to see why it’s one of my favorites.

Americano
Gaspare Campari, Bass Bar, Turin, Italy

  • 1 1/2oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 1/2oz Campari
  • soda water
  • orange wedge

Add vermouth and Campari to an iced highball glass, top with soda water. Garnish with orange wedge.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

This spread has been an almost daily dinner occurrence around these here parts since the beginning of August.

Assorted tomatoes and herbs from Hamlet Organic Garden, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, Maldon, and cracked black pepper.

A warmed, crusty loaf from Orwashers and some more of that olive oil gussied up with roasted garlic, crushed red pepper, and parmigiano reggiano are always welcomed accompaniments.

Tomato season won’t be around for much longer. I hope you’re enjoying it as much we are.

2012 Blue Point Cask Ales Festival

On April 14th Rachel and I attended the 8th annual Cask Ales Festival, hosted by Blue Point Brewery. The event is held outside in the brewery’s parking lot under some huge tents. This was our second time attending. Our photos from the 2010 event can be found here.  The weather was perfect and everyone seemed to be in a great mood. Everywhere you looked people were smiling.

There were lots of great breweries represented. Most local, some not. As always, one of the highlights were the great beers put out by Long Island’s incredible home brewing scene.

Another highlight of the day was the hosts, Blue Point Brewery, representing with a mind-boggling 20 casks, including a huge cask of Sour Cherry Imperial Stout.

We also got to hang out with our buddies Jay and Mike from Masters of None. It’s always great to see them and we had fun watching them chat with some local celebrities of the Long Island beer scene. On top of that, we were lucky enough to sample their very own beer. You can listen to their live podcast from the festival here.

As the fest started winding down, casks began to kick.

All in all, some great times and great beers were had. It was a blast and we can’t wait for the next one.

Building your home bar. Part 1

Stocking a home bar is one of those things that gets easier as you go. The initial start up can be a little daunting, that’s why I urge people to start slow and keep it simple. After a while, you’ll have a handful of bottles in your bar, a nice collection of glasses and tools, and an ever improving idea of what incidentals you should keep on hand (citrus, juices, etc). Before you know it, when you find a new drink you want to try, you might only need 1 bottle, or as you progress, you’ll already have everything you need.

Here is my suggestion: Pick one drink you would like to make, buy everything you need to make that drink properly, and then make it. What drink? That’s entirely up to you. Maybe you already have a favorite cocktail you’d like to start re-creating at home. Perhaps you have a parent, or relative that always has a specific drink. Whatever it is, it should be something you really think you’ll enjoy making, and drinking.

I say one drink because, again, it’s best to start slow, and there are many more ingredients to a great cocktail besides the booze. I will use a Sazerac recipe from Imbibe Magazine as an example.

2 oz. rye whiskey
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Absinthe or Herbsaint
Ice cubes
Tools: mixing glass, barspoon, strainer
Glass: cocktail or rocks
Garnish: lemon twist
Give chilled glass an absinthe or Herbsaint rinse and set aside. Stir other ingredients in a mixing glass, strain into the chilled glass and garnish.

Let’s say this is the drink you want to make at home, and examine each piece. Before we dive in, though, I’d like to talk about where to source your tools and bottles. For tools and glassware, you really can’t beat a restaurant supply store. If that isn’t an option for you, then stores that sell bar tools and glassware like Target or Bed, Bath, and Beyond are good options. Also, you can always go online. My favorite site to buy from is The Boston Shaker. As far as bottles go, find a liquor store within a reasonable distance with a great selection. If not, sites like DrinkUpNY are your friend.

2 oz. rye whiskey – Ok, so you need a bottle of rye. Which bottle? That depends on your budget and taste. Learning about spirits is a slow, expensive, but very rewarding journey. Find a bar that stocks a good selection of what you are interested in, and start trying. Alternatively, when it comes time to replace a bottle, get a brand you haven’t had yet. For starters, just keep it simple and try to get a brand you’ve heard of.

1/2 oz. simple syrup – If you are going to make cocktails at home with any level of seriousness, simple syrup should be in your refrigerator at all times. Put equal parts water and sugar in a pot, boil just until all the sugar is dissolved, put it in a storage container, and keep it in the fridge. I keep mine in this:

2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters – Aside from Angostura, this is the most essential bitters bottle you can have in your bar. It might be hard to find locally, but it’s always available online.

Absinthe or Herbsaint – If your liquor store doesn’t stock these 2 items, you might want to find another store. If that’s not an option, again, you can always go online.

Ice cubes – I could write at least one entire post about ice, and probably will at some point. Consideration for ice is really more reserved for serving, rather than for shaking or stirring though, so for now the trays in your freezer will be just fine.

Tools: mixing glass, barspoon, strainer – A Sazerac is a stirred drink. Until you decide to get fancy, you will be doing all of your stirring in a plain old pint glass. There are other options out there, such as mixing pitchers. I actually use a mason jar, but you could live your whole life just stirring in a pint glass and be just fine. You can’t really have a bar without a barspoon. Unlike the spoons in your silverware drawer, it is designed specifically to stir drinks, and you need one. Find one that fits your style. Stirred drinks get strained with a julep strainer, you’ll need one of these as well. These don’t really tend to come in different styles, so price can be your guide here. You’ll also need a jigger to do your measuring. There are lots of different sizes and styles out there. I use this one from OXO and I love it. It has lines for every measurement you’ll need, so you can be accurate with just 1 tool. I have also seen lots of bartenders use this.

Glass: cocktail or rocks – Glassware is another subject I could dedicate at least one post to. The glass a cocktail is served in is an essential part of the drink and deserves a serious amount of thought. While glassware does allow for a certain amount of customization because there are different styles of each type of glass, I also believe there is such a thing as the correct glass for a drink. A cocktail recipe should specify in what glass the drink is intended to be served. This recipe indicates two. I much prefer a rocks or old fashioned glass for this drink, so that’s what I use. Just find a glass you really like the look of and would be proud to serve a drink in. Keep in mind the capacity of a glass as well. Serving a 3oz drink in a 10oz glass looks stupid.

Garnish: lemon twist – Like simple syrup, fresh citrus should always be on hand. How you make your twist is really up to you. Just keep in mind the purpose of a twist is to expel the oil from the skin into the drink, and also look good. I used to use a channel knife to make twists that look like the one on the left. I don’t really like the way those look anymore so I have gotten away from that. Now I just use a small pairing knife to cut peels for my twists. They wind up looking like the one on the right. You can get the same results using a peeler.
Give chilled glass an absinthe or Herbsaint rinse and set aside. Stir other ingredients in a mixing glass, strain into the chilled glass and garnish.- Chilling a glass: If you have room in the freezer, go ahead and keep your glasses in there and they’ll be ready to go. If you’re like me and you don’t have the room, crack a couple of ice cubes into them and fill them with cold water before you start making the drink. By the time you are ready to pour they’ll be nice and cold. Rinsing a glass is simply pouring a small amount of the liquid to be rinsed into the glass, rolling it around the inside of the glass to coat, and pouring out the excess.

That’s basically it. Now you can make and enjoy a proper Sazerac at home. What drink will you choose next? The beauty of this process is you can repeat it as many times as you want. Maybe you want a bar stocked that will allow you to make 5 drinks, or 500. It’s really up to you.

 

Vinaigrette

Hi there.  I want you to stop buying bottled salad dressing.  I mean it.  You can do this.  I believe in you.  Do you have any idea how much better it is when you make it yourself?  Besides, aren’t those bottles of dressing in your refrigerator past their expiration date?

My Basic Vinaigrette for Two

Components

Acid I like to use two to keep it interesting – citrus and vinegar.  Please always use fresh citrus.  We always have a bowl of lemons and limes along with an orange and a grapefruit hanging around.  This was our bowl of citrus from today. A couple of pieces of orange rind were taken for a cocktail Garret made us a few days before.

And buy good vinegars, don’t skimp.  I love the O vinegars.  Keep a variety of both citrus and vinegar in your arsenal and you’ll have a nearly endless variety of options.
Emulsifier  A blob of mustard, around 1 teaspoon.  I prefer Dijon, but feel free to use your favorite grainy mustard.
Sweetness
  I use local honey from Miss Amy – just a teaspoon to balance the tartness of the citrus and vinegar.  If you’re feeling frisky try maple syrup or agave instead.
Allium
factor  My go-to is half of a small shallot.  Dice it finely so it’ll stick to your lettuce leaves.  Please also consider using scallions or a scoop of roasted garlic.  You keep a container of homemade roasted garlic in your refrigerator, right?  I highly support this.

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste.
Oil Olive oil is my default.  But just like the rest of these items, this is also substitutable.  Try what you like.

Here’s a little graphic I spent way too much time making in GIMP.  Use it as a cheat sheet until you get the hang of how much acid, sweetness, and oil you prefer.

Method

Whisk all but the oil together in a bowl.  I use this little OXO whisk.  I love it so.

Stream the oil into the bowl while whisking until it comes together.

The basic recommendation for a vinaigrette is a 3:1 oil to acid ratio.  I prefer my dressing on the tart side so I use a 2:1 ratio.  Stop once you’ve reached a 2:1 ratio and taste.  If it’s too tart, add a bit more oil.  One of the beauties of making vinaigrette is that you can add more of anything to make it taste the way you want.

Prefer a creamy salad dressing?  Add a tablespoon or so of crème fraîche to the bowl after everything has been mixed together.  It’s delicious!

Assembly

Soak and spin the lettuce leaves of your choice.  Take a large bowl and spoon some of the vinaigrette around the sides and bottom.  You’ll want to add just enough vinaigrette to coat the leaves, not drown them.  Start small and add more, if needed.  Lift the bowl and tilt it to coat the inside.  Throw in the leaves and use a pair of tongs to coat the leaves.  Or use your clean hands if it’s just you and your loved one…I won’t say anything.

Dig in and enjoy!

Cocktail – Far East Side

We first had this drink at the place it originated, Pegu Club. Stopping in for a drink or two during a great day in the city, this cocktail came as a pleasant surprise. Rachel was really into St. Germain at the time (and still is), and wanted a drink where it would be featured. She didn’t order it specifically, it was more of a bartender’s choice. After a bit of back and forth with Kenta about what she was in the mood for, he knew exactly what to make. It was a really fun drink to watch being made, as the ingredient list is very interesting, and kind of all over the place.

A lot of anticipation was built up before the first sip, and it delivered. I can’t really think of many drinks that are more perfectly balanced. Crisp, clean, dry, and really just a pleasure to drink.

Now, like with every other drink I have when we are out, after I taste it, my mind starts working on how to recreate it at home. This one provided some obstacles. Not only was the recipe pretty hard to track down, one of the ingredients, a shiso leaf, isn’t very common. Omitting the leaf is not an option either, it’s essential to the cocktail. I usually like the drinks I make to be on the easy side, but I was willing to do a little extra for this one. After finding the recipe and confirming with my local sushi place that they would give me as many shiso leaves as I wanted (for a price), I was ready.

We had some friends over for sushi one night and I made the cocktail for us all to enjoy while we ate. It went perfectly with the food and was a big hit all around. This drink is great and it is something I will make any time I have shiso leaves in the house.

Far East Side
Kenta Goto, Pegu Club, New York City

  • 2oz sake (Junmai Ginjo)
  • 3/4oz elderflower liqueur
  • 1/2oz blanco tequila
  • 1/4oz lemon juice
  • 1 fresh shiso leaf, plus one for garnish

Muddle the shiso leaf with the elderflower liqueur. Add the rest of the ingredients, shake, double strain. Garnish with second leaf.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery / The Bruery – Faster, Bigger, Better, Bolder (Gradually, Quietly, Steadily)

 

I picked this beer up without knowing anything about it. That’s not a bad thing, not every new beer we try is something I’ve read about beforehand. Most beers, however,  will give you information about what is in the bottle. Aside from the ABV and a brief and very vague write-up on the back, you really don’t know what you’re getting into with this one. It didn’t really matter, the fact that it was a limited Dogfish/Bruery collaboration was enough for me to grab one.

The smell was nice. Lots of yeast and fruit, which instantly made me think Belgian. The taste starts the same way, very yeasty and fruity. To be honest I really don’t know what kumquats taste like but I’m assuming that’s where the fruit flavor comes from. Behind that is a nice subtle pepperiness that gives way to a tart, dry finish. There really isn’t any hop flavor to speak of, so it’s great for the hopaphobe. The carbonation is spot on and nice throughout, with tiny, champagne-like bubbles.

Overall I liked it, but it was good, not great. I doubt I would get it again. I think it would go nicely with some lighter cheeses, especially something tangy, like a goat.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. – Estate Homegrown Ale

The gimmick for this beer is that the hops and barely for it were grown right on the brewery’s property, which sounds like a cool idea to me. Sierra Nevada is calling this an estate-made ale and it seems like they put a lot of effort into making it.

One of the first things I noticed when I tasted it was that it smacked of quality. It has a really great body, the carbonation is just right, and overall it just tastes well-made. Up front it has a nice malty sweetness, followed closely by the hop flavor. This beer is wet hopped, so the hops have a very fresh, green, grassy flavor. In the end, that gives way to a dry, bitter, hoppy, grapefruity finish.

Overall I thought it was very well balanced and fun to drink. I always love it when the end of a sip leaves you wanting the start of another. I had this beer with a spicy cheese steak and it went pretty well with it. It would also go great with a grilled burger, or any meat that’s on the gamey side, like lamb.

Cocktail – Trinidad Sour

Fall is here. This drink is perfect for the colder weather.

The first time I made this drink, I was a little scared. One full ounce of Angostura seemed a little on the crazy side. It was early in my cocktail career, and I had only ever added it in dashes, so the amount raised eyebrows.

I was feeling bold one evening and decided it was time to pull the trigger on making this one. We were both pleasantly surprised by how great it was. The rye and Angostura really add a great spiciness, and the orgeat does the job to balance it out. I am a sucker for any drink sweetened with orgeat, I love that stuff.

I made it again recently, and it really struck me how well it goes with the autumn vibe. From now on I’ll be keeping this drink in mind when it’s brisk outside.

Trinidad Sour
Giuseppe Gonzalez, Clover Club, Brooklyn

  • 1oz Angostura bitters
  • 1oz orgeat
  • 3/4oz lemon juice
  • 1/2oz rye

Shake and strain into a chilled coupe.