Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Cheer from Cocktail Buzz

A Hard Candy cocktail will lift your holiday spirits.

A few years back, Ars Nova, New York’s premier hub for emerging artists and new work, asked us to come up with a cocktail for their Winter Holiday party. The theme: Candy Land. Remember Candy Land, the colorful board game we played as preschoolers? Of course you don’t, you’ve had too much to drink since then. But reach back, far back into the folds and synapses of yesteryear, and you might just remember marching your gingerbread pawns around the board, picking up sweet treats along the way while aiming for the final destination, the Candy Castle. The real goal of the game was to help children learn their colors. That took about two seconds. All the game really did teach us was to crave a bowl of M&M’s with a Pixy Stix chaser.

So we created a cocktail that tastes like candy canes—high-octane candy canes—and dubbed it “Hard Candy,” the “hard” of course referring to the amount and proof of the spirits involved. It’s definitely a sipper, and we do recommend only one, but if you must have two, make sure you’ve played Candy Land with the kids in your life before venturing onto a second.

Hard Candy
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

2 ounces Jack Daniel’s
1 ounce white crème de cacao
1/2 ounce peppermint schnapps
mini candy cane, as garnish

Stir in a mixing glass half-filled with ice for 30 seconds. Strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice (or up, if you dare). Garnish with a mini candy cane or other peppermint candy.

photo by Steve Schul

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tree-Trimming with Brunch and Cocktails

Our dear friends Monica and Matt have two lovely children, Frances and Cole, and every year we try to host a tree-trimming party where the kids are the center of the holiday festivities. This year we decided on a brunch with bagels (courtesy of our friend Curt) smothered in cream cheese, nova, and little bites of capers and scallion; swiss cheese quiche; and, to keep the Swiss theme in the fore, Zwiebelwähe, a Swiss onion tart that’s thinner than a quiche, but just as tasty (we got the recipe from Saveur magazine). Monica made some incredibly light pumpkin scones, which added nice spice flavors to the buffet table. (A lot of bready, starchy, goodness, yes, but who’s really counting when it’s the holiday season.)

Zwiebelwähe (Swiss Onion tart). Difficult to pronounce. Easy to eat.

The kids were no shrinking violets this year; they knew that the tree-trimming was the focus of the party and they were at the center. Frances, almost 6, acted as tree-decorating ringleader, and Cole, almost 4, followed his big sister’s advice as she evenly placed ornaments from each bough in hopes of producing a beautiful display. Their artistic concentration allowed the adults to focus on toasting with a little holiday cheer, this year in the form of mimosas. Mimosas are a terrific drink for a situation like this: you want to catch a light buzz and feel the gaiety of sharing food and tales with your friends. Making a perfect mimosa, though, is subjective. For a cocktail with only two ingredients, everyone seems to like theirs with a different ratio of orange juice to champagne, as we’re sure you do. For our mimosas this season, we used freshly squeezed Clementine juice (so sweet!) and Sofia blanc de blanc (from a bottle this time). Just make sure you’ve squeezed all those gorgeous little Clementines before your guests arrive or you’ll be mired in a drippy mess as you try to scramble to make the drinks.

Frances contemplates her next move with the concentration of a chess champion.

The weather was cooperating so after the trimming and the noshing, we took a little constitution on the terrace with a round of new cocktails, Ramos Gin Fizzes, a frothy blend of gin, heavy cream, egg white, and some orange flower water. (Instead of shaking shaking shaking until our arms ached, we used a blender—much better for a party.) It’s the orange flower water that gives this drink its characteristic, perfumed flavor, and the gin that gives it its kick, but its the cream and egg white that elevate this drink to the rare status of breakfast cocktail as it leaves a frothy moustache on your upper lip as you sip.

Cole rewards himself for a tree-trimming job well done.

Back inside, after we devoured a flourless chocolate cake, the kids got to open their gift: this year we decided that they could share a DVD of “The Wizard of Oz.” They know the entire story through songs and books, but never had they seen the film until we all sat quietly around the TV and watched as Dorothy Gale does everything in her power to save her little dog from the machinations of Miss Almira Gulch, aka the Wicked Witch of the West. Never have we seen two youngsters so enraptured (and quiet) by movie magic, but we had to remark that it was us, the adults, who were enraptured as well. We all knew the movie frame by frame and couldn’t wait for Dorothy to open the door from her drab, sepia-toned life on the farm in Kansas to the enchanted, brightly colored world of Oz. “The Wizard of Oz” may be 70 years old this year, but it has never failed to cast its spell over the hearts and minds of children and adults all over the world.

(traditional brunch cocktail)

orange juice

Fill a champagne flute a third of the way with chilled freshly squeezed orange juice. Top with chilled champagne, but leave a little room at the top to add more juice or champagne, depending on your preference.

Ramos Gin Fizz
(adapted from Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology)

2 oz. gin
1 ounce cream
1 raw egg white
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce orange flower water
club soda
1/2 cup ice
quarter of an orange wheel, as garnish

In a blender, mix everything except the club soda until frothy. Divide between 2 champagne flutes, and top with a splash of club soda. Drop the garnish atop the froth.

Bagels with Nova and Cream Cheese

bagels, sliced down the middle and in half to make half-sandwiches
Nova (cured and smoked Eastern salmon)
chopped scallions
cream cheese
dried dill

Toast the bagels, smear with some cream cheese, sprinkle with dill, capers, and scallions. Top with slices of Nova.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Inspiration from Thanksgiving Leftovers

This turkey leg looks lonely. It needs a good home. How about ravioli?

This year we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving leftovers rather than grumble about them. You see, we usually re-create Thanksgiving dinner four days in a row following the blessed event. Why? Well, usually we make complicated side dishes with esoteric ingredients so to repurpose them would be folly. This year, because we stuck with traditional fare (see last week’s post), we decided that our seemingly perfect meal could use a shakeup. The barbecued turkey sandwiches on challah rolls and Turkey Tetrazzini were great ways to stretch both the light and dark meat, but after a few days, all that was left was dark meat and wing meat (only a few scraps of the once succulent breast were left, and these pieces were slightly dessicated—not really suitable as a main course on their own).

So we cut every last ounce of tender dark meat from the drumstick and thighs and the tiny bits from the wings, and didn’t stop until we had a nice pile of pulled turkey meat.

What to do . . . what to do . . . ?

Have a cocktail, of course. We had some oranges and limes that were ready to be juiced, so, scouring the Internet for an extant drink, we saw several recipes for the Fjord (or Fiord) Cocktail. Fjords are those deep Norwegian inlets that create incredible-looking coastlines from space, and this drink is called a Fjord because it uses a little aquavit, that enticing caraway-infused spirit that’s a Scandinavian tradition. And since tradition was the theme to this year’s Thanksgiving, we thought this cocktail fit nicely into the scheme of things. This is the ratio we thought worked best (it’s from in whetting our appetites for the hot mess we were about to tackle:

Fjord Cocktail
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

1 ounce brandy (we used Asbach)
1/2 ounce aquavit (we used Linie, but also try Krogstad for a less caraway flavor)
1/2 ounce fresh orange juice
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce grenadine (we used Stirrings, but now is the perfect time of year to make your own)

Shake in ice for 15 seconds and strain onto a chilled glass.

The first sip is magnificent: a perfect blend of all the ingredients. The second sip is more complex; you can detect the caraway notes, and this bitterness plays amazingly well with the sweet orange and pomegranate (from the grenadine), and the tangy lime. The brandy brings all these tastes together. This is one cocktail we will be making again an again, and if you’ve never tried aquavit and are unsure how you’re going to like its distinct spice, the Fjord is the perfect starting point. It’s easy to sip and a perfect bridge to the main event, Thanksgiving Ravioli.

Adding the turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing filling to the sheet of pasta dough

We successfully made some ravioli a few weeks back, why not make a new batch. We tossed the turkey in the food processor, but it looked so blah; it needed a friend, so in went a few dollops of the leftover sweet and tangy cranberry sauce. We gave it a whir and watched as the shiny bits of bright red mixed with the mostly dark turkey meat. One taste told us we needed to add something more. We looked in the fridge and Steve said “What about the stuffing?” What about the stuffing, indeed. That savory mix of cornbread, apples, and Italian sausage added moistness and balance to the filling. One more whir and we were ready to start on the pasta.

We followed the pasta recipe we came up with from our last batch to the letter, but noticed that when we were running it through the pasta roller, the dough was too sticky. It was a little damp outside, and this greatly affects the elasticity and moistness of the dough. Adding a bit more flour helped make the process easier, and when the sheets of dough were laid out, we plopped some filling on one of them in evenly spaced mounds, covered it all up with the other sheet, smoothed out the trapped air pockets, and cut it all into neat squares. This time, we mounded the filling higher in each raviolo, but this may not be such a good thing; if the dough is too elastic, it may tear as you try pressing out the air pockets between mounds. Be careful. If you do get a tear, you’ll have to plug up the hole with a scrap piece of dough. This will make that particular raviolo a little chewier, but that’s better than losing your precious filling in the roiling boiling bath you’re about to drop them in.

Time to boil the ravioli

In deciding what kind of sauce would go best with these ravioli, we wanted to keep the Thanksgiving leftover theme in the fore, so we added some chicken stock to the leftover gravy, seasoned it with a little marjoram, salt, and pepper, and let it thicken a little on the stove. The point was not to create something goopy, but rather a broth in which the ravioli would steep, almost the way you would steep Chinese dumplings in a wonton broth. When the ravioli floated to the top of the pot, we cooked them a minute longer, drained them, and laid them gingerly in two shallow bowls. After ladling some of the brothy sauce over them and sprinkling with fresh parsley, we inhaled deeply the aromas that took us back to the moment we tasted our Thanksgiving dinner. Only this time, every flavor was on the fork, in one bite.

Thanksgiving Ravioli, a perfect end to a weekend of leftovers

After a supremely satisfying dinner we realized we had some of the filling left over. That would make its way into the Thanksgiving Sloppy Joes we would have the following night. (We mixed the filling and the sauce together, plopped it some lightly mayonnaised brioche buns, and topped them with a little cranberry sauce, plus lettuce for some crunch. A pear, goat cheese, and toasted walnut salad with a shallot vinaigrette was the perfect side. Simple and delicious once again.) Now all that was left from our original Thanksgiving dinner was a little stuffing and cranberry sauce. The stuffing sadly would end up in the garbage (we mourn throwing away food, but in this instance it was necessary), but the cranberry sauce, about a third of a cup, would end up infusing some Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon Carolina Moonshine. The cranberry sauce is still infusing the Moonshine, but daily taste tests presage delicious cocktails to come. Stay tuned. We’ll keep you posted.

We salute the turkey with our Thanksgiving Sloppy Joes