Dranks! – Aperol Spritz

Let’s go groovy classic. Like, supergroovy-classic. Like, let’s pretend we’re sitting at an outdoor table at a little taverna in Rome, watching sleek locals zip past on Vespas as we unwind after the work week level of classic. That cocktail? Is the Aperol spritz.

The Aperol spritz is made of exactly three ingredients (four if you count the garnish), so choose them well. Aperol is, of course, non-negotiable. It’s the orangey-herbal-bitter aperitif with a spectacular orange hue that turns the spritz into a glass of summer. The mixer in the spritz is primarily Prosecco, and this is where the cocktail can go off-course. We often think that if we’re mixing drinks, individual flavors won’t matter so you can just use whatever. I’m guilty of that too and don’t order top-shelf margaritas for that reason…but the sour mix in any given margarita matters greatly. The mixer is the thing that comprises at least half your drink; of course its flavor profile is important.

Proseccos, even when they’re brut, are fruity and can come off as marginally sweet. This is a desirable component of Prosecco, and in the spritz that quality helps balance Aperol’s inherently bitter flavor profile. Cheap Proseccos can be less brut and more sweet, and this is what can throw the taste of your spritz off, taking it from “refreshing interesting beverage” to “why do I feel like I’m drinking a children’s aspirin?” Look for a Prosecco that delivers the fruity-but-dry flavor. You don’t have to get all oenophile-crazy and look for one with a long nose, since you’ll also be enjoying the nose from the Aperol. In a spritz, it’s the Prosecco’s fruit/dry balance that matters.

The other ingredient (besides the garnish) is club soda. I’ll leave that to you.

Anyway, on to the cocktail. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 oz Aperol
  • 3 oz Prosecco
  • 1 oz club soda
  • Orange slice to garnish
  • Serve in a large snifter or wine glass

Fill your serving glass with ice. Pour in Aperol and Prosecco, and top with club soda. Stir gently, so as to not break too many of the bubbles in the Prosecco. Don’t skip the stir; Aperol is more dense than Prosecco and they won’t mix in the glass without a little help. Add the orange slice to garnish and kick back and enjoy your summer.

Ooh, makes me want to have one right now. I mean, it’s 5:00 somewhere, right? Maybe in Italy?

 

Dranks! – The Classic Daiquiri

For those who don’t know this, I was a bartender for several years. I mostly worked in shot-and-beer joints and I didn’t do a lot of fancy mixing (though I’ve made my fair share of margaritas), so it’s been a real thrill to explore drinks that are thoughtfully crafted and garnishes that have style.

That brings us to the classic daiquiri. Daiquiris, despite modern interpretations as mommy-slushies, are simple and elegant. The stories that surround the creation of the daiquiri are varied and plentiful, but they all agree that this gorgeous rum cocktail was created somewhere near Daiquiri Beach in Cuba and is greater than the sum of its parts. And I was today years old when I learned that July 19 is National Daiquiri Day, so you’ll have plenty of time to have a few trial runs before the big day. 🙂

Anyway. Here’s what you need.

  • 2 oz rum
  • 2 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup* (or more to taste)
  • Coupe or martini glass

Really. Three ingredients. Plus a garnish, but we’ll discuss that in a minute.

Juice your limes. You’ll probably need 1-2 of them for one cocktail. Have you ever heard that trick where you put a lime in the microwave for 10 seconds, to loosen it up so you can get the most juice out of it? And then roll it on the counter right afterwards? That really works. Do it. As for extracting the juice, forget professional electric juicers or whatever. Get one of these hand-held squeezer-juicers and get the work done. Nope, I’m not getting paid for that ad. I just thought that juicer made my life so much easier it was almost ludicrous. Moving on.

Take some ice and put it in your coupe or martini glass, then fill with water. That will chill your glass. Put some more ice in the cocktail mixer, and then add the rum, simple syrup and lime juice. Please note: My husband and I do not like sweet drinks, so we tend to go light on the syrup. Feel free to add more syrup to suit your taste. Cap the cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for at least 10 seconds, until you feel the cold creep up the side of the shaker. Toss the ice and water out of the waiting, chilling glass and down the sink, and pour your daiquiri into your now-frosty glass.

Notice that frothy white crema at the top? That’s a weak emulsion, the result of the sugars and fats and air and liquid being agitated in the shaker (and is basically the same principle behind what makes dalgona coffee happen), and it’s what you should hope to achieve with all that vigorous shaking.

Add your garnish. Mine is a dehydrated lime wheel**, but feel free to use a lime twist, or a lime wedge. Then sit back, put some salsa music on in the background, and enjoy!

*Simple syrup = a 1:1 mix of water and sugar (i.e, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar), heated until the sugar melts. Then allow it to cool. You can even make this in the microwave. Good for about a month.

**Dehydrated lime wheel = I only made these because I was home and it was COVID summer. Heat your oven to 200°F. Slice limes in wheels about 1/4 inch thick, put on an oven-friendly cooling rack, and bake for about 2 hours, or until dry to the touch. Sit the rack on a baking sheet to make it easier to move around. Check after 1 hour and rotate the rack(s). I have a convection oven so the limes took a little less than two hours; I think mine were done in about an hour and a half. Let cool. They will last about a month to six weeks. Or maybe even longer. You can do this with any kind of citrus, so feel free to play around with blood oranges and grapefruit. Add dried flower petals and tell everyone you made your own potpourri, and now I know what everyone is getting for Christmas.

Dranks! – Italian Sparkler

The other day I had a yearning for a cocktail that was a little bit fruity, crisp, and refreshing, but not overly sweet. I’m not really a sweet-drinks person to start with (give me wine that’s dusty dry, please) so I try and find things that have balance. A little sweet if fine, sure, but I also like a little bitter, maybe a touch herbal, with some fizzies thrown in for fun. Plus it’s summer, so something that can go over ice makes it extra-nice. And so, behold! The Italian Sparkler, so named because all the liquors are Italian (serendipitously selected rather than intentionally) and my friend Gigi called it an exquisite Italian drink. Thanks, Gigi!

Here’s what you need:

  • 3-4 blueberries (depending on size; 3 if they’re big fat juicy ones, 4 or even 5 if they’re smaller and seem less productive), plus another few for garnish
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (2 if they’re kind of full-looking with lots of leaves, 3 if they’re more spindly) plus another pretty sprig for garnish
  • 1/2 oz. simple syrup*
  • 1 oz. Limoncello
  • 1 oz. Aperol
  • Prosecco to fill glasses
  • 2 or 3 dashes of orange bitters
  • Rocks glass

Note: This recipe is for one but it can easily be doubled if you’re mixing one for your husband as well so you can both enjoy this drink during your Saturday night cocktail hour. Make them at the same time; put it all in one shaker. Also, if you’re making this for one and thinking, would I really want to open a bottle of Prosecco for this? All I can say is…buy a split pack. I get two cocktails out of one split, and keep the rest in the pantry for future use. Easy-peasy.

Take your three or four blueberries and two thyme sprigs and muddle them in a shaker with the simple syrup. Add ice to the shaker, and then the Limoncello and Aperol. Shake vigorously until the cold creeps up the shaker, 10 seconds or so.

Fill a rocks glass with ice, pausing about half-way through to toss a few more blueberries into the ice for garnish. Strain the shaker into your rocks glass, and fill to the top with Prosecco. Top with bitters. Give the drink a gentle stir (otherwise Prosecco will float on the top) and add the final thyme sprig for a garnish.

Et voilà! Which I know is French but I don’t know how to say the same thing in Italian. This is super-refreshing, citrusy, NOT sweet, sparkly with Prosecco, with notes of thyme and fresh berries. And check out the colors! It’s perfect for 4th of July weekend. I would argue that it’s best enjoyed on the back porch with a gentle breeze ruffling your hair, but that’s me. You do you.

Fun fact:  A friend asked me if I had a lipstick that matched the drink. I do! Which is kind of a moot point when we’re all wearing masks but SOME DAY, you’ll all see…

I hope you enjoy the cocktail (responsibly)! Thanks for dropping by.

*simple syrup = equal parts sugar and water, heated in a pan just until the sugar melts. Set aside to cool. Will last in the fridge for about a month

Boxty at The Pancake Project

“Boxty in the griddle, boxty in the pan, if you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get your man”.

This underscores the love my Emerald Isle kin feel for the mighty potato bread, boxty. I’m kind of surprised my Irish grandmother didn’t impart this bit of wisdom on me herself, though I am sure if she lived to see me to marrying age, she would have.

Ahhh, boxty. Yummm, boxty! And, for those of us without Irish relatives to sing us jingles reminding us about the precipitous nature of our own marriageability, just what in the heck is boxty, anyway?

A celebration of the humble potato and a product that is greater than the sum of its parts, boxty is a combination of both mashed and grated tater, combined into one glorious foodstuff. And by stuff, I mean stuff-it-in-yo-mouth. It can be savory, it can be sweet, it can be boiled like a dumpling, baked like a loaf or, most popularly, pan- or griddle-fried, like a pancake. Today, we’ll be frying the boxty in a pan. Boxty’s name is derived either from the Gaelic “arán bocht tí”, poor house bread, or “bácús”, bake house. I lean toward the former etymology, since this is clearly peasant food. While making my boxty for this blog, I thought, what if I were a housewife in pre-famine Ireland, reliant on potatoes, with a husband who ate, so say historians, up to 6kg (or, 13 pounds, for those not on the metric system) of potatoes a day? How do you look at a pile of leftovers, think about hungry mouths, and stretch the taters to tomorrow and not let precious food go to waste? By grating the fresh potatoes into the mashed, they become not only something different, but they also become portable. It’s significantly less trouble to wrap pancakes in wax paper and slip them in a lunch pail than it is a pile of mash. Boxty, from the perspective of frugality and ease, is a win/win. And it’s delicious. Win/win/win.

To continue reading, click here to go to The Pancake Project.

Dranks! – Rosewater Old Fashioned

There’s a bit of a mystique to the Old Fashioned. It’s kind of an old man’s drink, and in my mind’s eye the person at the bar asking for an Old Fashioned is a bit greyed, tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows, maybe with a flat, newsboy cap on his head. And he takes it to the small table by the window and sips it while reading the Daily Racing Form. As for you, bartender…you must use a sugar cube. You may only add three drops–THREE DROPS, I SAY!!!–of bitters to the sugar cube, and not a single droplet more. Though you might also use simple syrup. Muddle fruit in a shaker and shake with whiskey, then pour into the glass. Or don’t dare use a shaker. Or don’t use fruit except as a garnish. Or… Or… Or…

The thing is, we all just want a drink that tastes good, right? And like every recipe in the world, even the classic Old Fashioned can be updated. Room can be made at the table, next to the man in the newsy cap, for an Old Fashioned that’s a little less surrounded by myth and a little more playful, one that’s great for sipping on the back porch on a gorgeous summer night.

Hence, the Rosewater Old Fashioned. For this drink, use a whiskey that you don’t mind mixing things with (save the fancy reserves for sipping neat); I used a decent blended whiskey with a nice, sweet top note and a mellow flavor. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 orange slices and 2 maraschino cherries, divided
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup (recipe at the end)
  • 1/8 teaspoon rose water
  • 3 oz whiskey
  • 3 drops Angostura bitters (or more, according to taste)
  • Rocks glass

Take one orange slice and one maraschino cherry and muddle them into the bottom of your rocks glass. Fill the rocks glass with ice.

Put simple syrup and rosewater in a shaker filled with ice. Add whiskey, and shake. Pour the drink into your rocks glass. Top with Angostura bitters. Add the remaining orange slice and cherry as garnishes. Give a stir, and enjoy.

A word about rosewater: GO EASY. A little goes a long way. I originally mixed this drink with, no lie, just three drops of it, and feel free to start there and see how your palate reacts. Add more if you want, but since we don’t normally embrace floral flavors in the US it could be a whole new taste sensation for some of us. I didn’t feel that the rosewater came through with such a small amount so I upped it just a tiny bit. And BA-BAM! It was suddenly complex and lovely. The rosewater picked up the fruit flavors and carried them along beautifully. The whiskey had enough muscle to not get overwhelmed by the rose, while the syrup brought out its warm sweetness. And every so often I got a little zing from the bitters. It was a lovely, sippable companion to my evening bird-watching on the back porch, and a great way to start off the evening.

As for simple syrup, it’s really very simple. It is a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water. 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water. 1/2 to 1/2. Seriously, that is all. Heat the syrup long enough for the sugar to melt into it, but just until it melts. It doesn’t have to boil, and you’re not trying to make any sort of caramel. Remove from heat, let it cool, and pour it into a container you can keep in the fridge. I have mine in a squirt bottle. It should last about a month. And what’s the benefit of using simple syrup vs. a sugar cube, you may ask? Or just sugar?

It’s all in the easy mixing, friends. And that’s what I’m ending this on today. Mix easy, have fun, try new things, and enjoy.

Corn Tortillas at The Pancake Project

Hey erryboddy! It’s TACO TUESDAY and that means we survived another Monday. It’s true; even during shutdown, when one day melds into another, I still don’t like Mondays. Thus, watching the back end of Monday toddle off into the sunset means we celebrate! With the noble taco and by default, the corn tortilla.

What is this delicious wrapper, this pliable disc of corny goodness that delivers tacoliciousness unto my plate? The tortilla, which literally means “little cake”, is an ancient food. Excavations have found that corn tortillas were already being made at least as far back as 3000 BCE, and may have been eaten thousands of years earlier. Once agriculture developed and the first villages formed, it didn’t take humans long to start working on corn tortillas and, by extension, tacos.

Corn was central to the Mesoamerican experience. Modern corn is a descendant of the plant teosinte, which can still be found in Mexico. Human interaction changed the crops from a plant with broad leaves but narrow tassels, that look more like modern wheat, into the large-cob, large kernel plants we know and love. If all of this seems rushed, it’s because I’m trying to cram about 7,000 years of agricultural history into a few short paragraphs. I recommend The Story of Corn by Betty Fussell for an in-depth and fascinating look at one of history’s most important crops. […read more…]

The truth is, I always want tacos.

Dranks! – Gin & Bennet

For those of you who don’t know me, I am relentlessly, unapologetically, a Jane Austen fan. I’ve seen the movies, I’ve read the books, I have my running list of favorite actors for various roles (and it’s one of the few times I will stand behind Gwyneth Paltrow, even though I find her trying in pretty much every other aspect of life). I don’t dress up in Regency-era clothing for fancy teas, but that’s mainly because I am crap at sewing and any costume I would try to make would look like Jane Austen’s ghost arose from its grave to mug me. Besides, you can only embody so many affectations before you slip from weird-but-likes-stuff to borderline personality disorder, and my Francophilia takes up a lot of my time.

But I digress.

Thanks to my JA fangirldom, I had to…had to…buy a copy of the cocktail recipe book Gin Austen: 50 Cocktails to Celebrate the Novels of Jane Austen, by Colleen Mullaney.

I read recipe books like CFOs read sales metrics.

It’s a charming book. Nice thick pages, good cover design. Cocktails are generally elegant (no Sex on the Beach, here), are grouped by Austen novel, and that’s kind of fun in itself. Why, for example, is the Stubborn as a Mule dedicated to Marianne Dashwood? Call a few friends, mix up a cocktail, meet on Zoom and discuss! This isn’t only an avenue for fun debate, it’s got the potential to become a brand new drinking game with you and all your nerdy fangirl friends!

OK. It can become a drinking game for ME and all my nerdy… Moving on.

Tucked inside the chapter dedicated to Pride and Prejudice is this beautiful drink. The Gin & Bennet is mysteriously dedicated to Mrs. Bennet, who is kind of shrill. If I were writing a drink recipe for her it would likely involve tequila shots and fire, and I think the reason this cocktail is for Mrs. B— is because, despite all its frippery floweriness, it will MESS YOU UP.

Here’s what you do. This recipe is for one cocktail, and it’s easily doubled for two.

  • 1 1/2 oz. gin
  • 1/2 oz. creme de violette
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • sparkling wine
  • edible flowers for garnish (though a lemon twist will work nicely if you don’t have flowers handy)

Go out in your yard–as long as you’re not foraging off some crazy lawn chemical lawn–and harvest some violets. They are totally edible and a little peppery. Rinse them off, blot them with a towel and leave them on the towel to dry.

Get a champagne coupe. Fill the glass with ice and a little water to get it nice and chilled.

Put gin, creme de violette and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. Shake for twenty seconds or so, until the outside of the shaker is good and cold. Toss the ice and water out of the coupe and strain the cocktail into your glass. Top with sparkling wine; I used dry rosé because it’s dry and it’s pink and this is possibly the girliest drink in existence (that will mess you up). Float your flowers on top.

If possible, take your drinks out on the veranda, where you can enjoy the patter of a gentle rain as you sip. Brooding and/or pining optional, but encouraged.

Socca (Farinata) with Rosemary, Halloumi, and Fig Jam at The Pancake Project

Today’s world tour of flatbread takes us to…France! Or Italy. Or Turkey. Let’s just go cruise the Mediterranean, yes? And while we’re at it, let’s eat some chickpea flatbread.

Socca (pronounced SOCK-a, not SO-ka) is a wonderfully easy flatbread to make. You just mix it up and bake it, and for the most part…that’s it. It’s adaptable to a range of spices and additions (like sauteed onions? Toss ’em in!) and can serve as an appetizer or dinner. Adjust slice size accordingly.

So what is it? Socca, a French word, is also known as farinata in Italian. It’s a flatbread made entirely of chickpea flour, so it’s got a flavor unlike most of the other flatbreads we have known. It’s gluten-free (because chickpeas), so you celiac folks can dig it. Socca has literally been a food item for a millennia. Origin stories credit its development to Roman soldiers in Nice, France, circa the 1st century BCE. Or as the result of invasion by Turkish forces. Or that it was developed in Sardinia. And so on. Food travels along trade routes as well as the trade, so it’s difficult to determine who made socca first. We’re just glad someone did. Thanks, ancient smart foodie![read more…]

Read more about this at pancake-project.com

Dranks: The Classic Gin & Tonic

Dranks dranks dranks!

I’m just going to jump straight in with this. A few years ago, I would *never* have imagined wanting anything to do with a gin and tonic. My gin receptors only recently switched on in the last several years. If you ask me about the flavor profiles of various gins–what’s more herbal or earthy or evokes the bracing essence of Britain’s coastline or makes you feel like you’re ready to colonize India–I got nothin’. It’s gin. Some taste more appealing to me than others. Other kinds might taste more appealing to you. Try them.

And most tonics make me feel like I’m drinking the waste water runoff from a mercury factory. I’ve literally taken a napkin to my mouth and wiped it clean after having tonic.

So what gives with this cocktail? Weird, right?

Like I said, the gin receptors have switched on, and despite my stated dislike of tonic, I did find one brand of tonic that I truly like. I swear they are not paying me a dime for this, but Fever-Tree tonic has changed me. For the better, I think, since I was forced to challenge long-held assumptions and that’s never a bad thing. And, it allows me to enjoy a classic summer drink.

It was 9,000° yesterday (Fahrenheit, for the record; I mean, Celsius would just be ridiculous) and all I wanted was something crisp and cool and refreshing. Hence…my G&T.

Sebastian looks in wonder at the majesty that is the classic gin & tonic.

Here’s what you need:

2 oz. gin

4 oz. tonic (amounts adjusted as desired)

Lime wedges

Most recipes suggest using a highball glass but this rocks glass is my favorite, and it holds a lot of hooch.

Put ice in your glass. Pour in gin. Top with tonic. Add a lime wedge garnish. Done.

I do like a little additional lime so I squeezed an extra wedge into the glass but other than that, this is the drink. Simple, elegant, crisp, delicious. I get it if you’re not a gin fan, but you never know. Tastes change. I’m living proof.

Whatever you choose, enjoy it responsibly!

Nosh: Strawberries Mean Love Shortcake

Here we go, folks.

The weather is getting warmer and here we are, stuck in the endless cycle of staying home and…staying home…as we move deeper into our COVID spring. So what do we do with all this idle time on our hands?

It’s times like this that the term “comfort food” was invented. Because that’s what it is, right? Comfort food is soothing AF, gives you an inner hug, and then (if you’re like me) lingers on your hips for the rest of time to let you know it will always be there for you. And it changes with the season, right? Winter comfort food is mashed potatoes, or mac & cheese. But in the summer, it’s things like corn on the cob slathered in butter. Or, strawberry shortcake.

I remember the first time my mother put a strawberry shortcake in front of me. I was probably eight or so, and suddenly there was this huge frothy mound of berries and cake and whipped cream…what could possibly ever be wrong?

Nothing, friends. The answer is nothing. But then I grew up.

When we buy the ticket to the nostalgia bus we silently acknowledge that childhood loves will fade into sepia-toned memories, and that nothing can stand up to the memory of things past. Ahhh, how winsome and precious, and to think, we’ll never have these things again…

Only, wrong! Not only can you continue to have strawberry shortcake, but you’re an adult now. You can make it even better, and just in time for Memorial Day weekend!

This recipe is super-simple. It’s so simple I won’t even write out an actual “here, print this” recipe, because I’m trusting that you can read a few lines of copy and remember them. What you need is:

1 quart strawberries

2 Tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup vanilla vodka/peach schnapps/Grand Marnier/fruity booze of your choice OR, if you’re not a drinker, balsamic vinegar

Just a few grinds of black pepper, because I put black pepper on everything and think it brings out the floral qualities of the other ingredients

~~~AND~~~

2 Tablespoons rose petals

Yes, folks. Rose petals are totally edible, just find a reliable source (here, I recommend organic) and if you pick them yourself, make sure they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. Which are not totally edible. Mix all of those ingredients together, and let the strawberries macerate for about an hour.

If you’re making your own whipped cream, then use a metal bowl to whip the cream in, and put that bowl in the fridge for at least a half an hour before you start the whip. The cold bowl will help the cream whip more easily; I’ve even seen folks refrigerate the beaters they’re going to whip the cream with. I’ve not gone that far but what the heck, it can’t hurt. You’ll need:

1 pint heavy whipping cream

2 Tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla (or to taste; I tend to OD on vanilla so I have to be careful)

Whip that vanilla until stiff peaks form. Use a mixer if you have one. You can whisk it by hand, too, if you need the workout, but it will take longer and your arm will hate you for it.

As for the cake part…do what you want. Make a vanilla sponge. Buy those pre-made angel food cups like my mom used to get. Make biscuits. You do you. Then put it all together.

Split your biscuit/cake/sponge.

Layer some strawberries on the bottom half of the cake, so the juices from the maceration soak into the cake.

Top with an enormous dollop of whipped cream. Enormous. Don’t apologize about how much whipped cream is on there. Just add more.

Put the top of the biscuit/sponge/cake on the enormous whipped cream pile.

Layer on some more strawberries, and then some more whipped cream.

Et voila!

This fun, boozy spring-to-summer treat is worth all 900,000 calories and will trounce all memories of childhood shortcakes. It’s grown up with the alcohol and a little bit more daring with the rose petals. If they freak you out too much, leave the petals out and if you’re really not feeling it you can leave out the alcohol or vinegar. Don’t skip macerating the strawberries in sugar, though, because that will pay off every time. Who says you can’t go home again? Not only can you go home, but you can make it better than you remember. Enjoy!

Also, bonus points if you get the album reference in the post’s title. Hippie.

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