The Main Squeeze

Main Squeeze Cocktail

Yesterday I went to the wedding celebration of my friends Kristina and John. Though, sadly, I somehow managed to come away without any pictures of the beautiful blushing bride and her handsome beau, I did come home with a camera full of pictures of cocktails and food. Go figure. Suffice it to say the event was gobsmackingly beautiful, from the bride herself in her grandmother’s necklace to the garden setting to the wildflowers on each table. And did I mention the cupcakes?? Oh, the cupcakes!

wedding cupcakes

The most gorgeous of the many fabulous cakelets, which were all baked by friends of the bride, were these, which, not surprisingly, were contributed by The Working Cook.

s'more cupcake

It doesn’t take long looking at this cupcake to realize that it’s a s’more cupcake, with brûléed marshmallow and graham cracker. Wow.

But back to the drinks … In addition to beer and wine, the bride and groom wanted to serve a signature cocktail, which I volunteered to make. So, after I made several different drinks for the bride to taste a few months ago, she settled on London Dry Sangria, a pitcher cocktail dreamed up by Duggan McDonnell, a genius of a San Francisco bartender who opened the neo-Latin speakeasy Cantina a handful of years ago. With a bright lemon flavor and bit of sparkle from the ginger beer, it seemed like the perfectly refreshing drink to serve during a cocktail hour that would immediately follow a warm-weather afternoon ceremony.

The recipe for his London Dry Sangria has been published in a few places, both in a book and online, but even after I found it I had a bit of work in front of me.

You see, most recipes are published without mentioning specific brands of food or spirits. Most of the cookbooks I edit—whether for food or for cocktails—specifically discourage mentioning brand names  of ingredients. This is generally for very good reasons. First, you don’t want to discourage a reader from making a recipe if they don’t have access to the specific brand specified in a recipe. And second, recipes that specify brands often seem as if they’re shilling for that brand. If you see a recipe that indicates, for example, Kraft grated Parmesan cheese or Grey Goose vodka, you might guess that the recipe was engineered by the corporate flacks at the respective company rather than crafted by a dispassionate foodie. This is why most recipes you’ll find in cookbooks don’t mention specific brand names except for in a few rare instances (Tabasco sauce and Campari are a few exceptions that come to mind).

I think that this is generally a good policy, but it’s less compelling when applied to cocktails. If I were just throwing together a pitcher of Duggan’s London Dry Sangria for a run-of-the-mill cocktail party, I wouldn’t have been thrown off by his ingredients list, which calls for gin, white wine (actually, he specifies a grüner veltliner), orange bitters, and ginger beer, among other ingredients, without specifying the type. But, when you think about it, there is such a huge amount of variation between those ingredients that it can result in various versions of the drink that are quite different.

Do you use Barritts Ginger Beer (which I hear is Duggan’s go-to ginger beer), which is a fairly sweet drink that contains high-fructose corn syrup? Or do you go with Bundaberg, or the intensely flavored Fever-Tree, loved by cocktail aficionados but considerably more expensive? For the gin do you use Hendrick’s, which is delicate and floral, with more cucumber than juniper, or do you go with Junipero Gin, which smacks you upside the head with its spicy juniper quality? Even the orange bitters in the original recipe are up for interpretation. I started with my go-to orange bitters, Reagan’s Orange Bitters No. 6, my favorite to use in a gin gimlet, before I decided that the drink benefitted from a dose of the beefier and spicier Angostura Orange Bitters.

Since I needed to prepare 176 servings of the drink for the wedding, I really wanted to dial in the right combo of ingredients in the recipe, but I also needed to use ingredients at a reasonable price. This, unfortunately, eliminated using Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin, a delightful 90-proof gin (most gins are about 80 proof) with a strong undercurrent of juniper and citrus that I thought would marry well with the lemon juice. But if I scrimped on the gin, that meant I would have more money to spend on the ginger beer, an important ingredient since the bride had originally suggested a drink that incorporated fresh ginger.

In the end, I decided on this refreshing cocktail, which the bride charmingly called “The Main Squeeze.” So, with several tweaks to Duggan’s original ratios, and the addition of recommended brands, this is what we drank at the wedding …

Main Squeeze cocktail

The Main Squeeze, after Duggan McDonnell’s London Dry Sangria

Makes 8 servings

12 ounces gruner veltliner or other zesty dry white wine, like a sauvignon blanc
7 ounces Tanqueray gin
8 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 ounces simple syrup
10 dashes Angostura orange bitters
10 dashes Reagan’s Orange Bitters
12 ounces Cock & Bull ginger beer
16 thin lemon slices, for garnish

Combine the wine, gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and both bitters in a pitcher and stir to combine. Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Pour into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Top each serving with 1 1/2 ounces of ginger beer and garnish with two thin lemon slices, each pressed against the side of the glass using the handle end of a barspoon or a chopstick. Serve at once.

The drink seemed supremely popular, and I’d drink it any day, but as always there are a dozen different directions you could take this drink in. Use the ingredients I’ve suggested here, or substitute what you have on hand. I’d be curious to hear your results.

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A pie shake? Who’d have thunk?

lemon-buttermilk pie

Last night I went to Chile Pies & Ice Cream, the cutest little restaurant/dessert cafe I could imagine, where there were about 10 kinds of house-baked pie.

This, however, is what truly blew my mind …

pie shake

This, my friends, is a pie shake. You pick your pie, you pick your ice cream, and then you watch them mash them up with some milk and top it with an outrageous quantity of whipped cream.

You want a slice of green chile apple pie swirled with Strawberry Je Ne Sais Quoi ice cream? That’s your prerogative. Apple chai pie with golden raisins mixed with a scoop of milk coffee? I don’t mind if I do! Just remember that you’re going to have to eat it with a spoon to get at the chunks of crust that are floating in the creamy substrate.

I wasn’t completely sold on the idea, so I asked for an entry-level combo: a slice of chocolate-peanut butter pie mixed with vanilla ice cream. And dang if the Cocktail Host and I didn’t polish it right off.

Proof positive the pros are like the rest of us … only better

the bar at Orson

I’m just home from a fun press dinner at Orson, where Blackboard Eats is offering subscribers a great deal on a special “Hotel California”-themed dinner of cocktail and menu pairings.

Chef Elizabeth Falkner entertained us with some hilarious stories, like about the time she met the actress Abigail Breslin, who enthusiastically snapped on a pair of latex gloves to dig into the big box that chef had constructed out of chocolate and filled with homemade candy treats, like homemade marshmallows and toffee. Each course of the adventurous menu, which included a smoked scallop with a corn puree and an out-there dessert that included ice cream studded with black olives, was paired with a cocktail that complemented the dish.

I’m a sucker for pisco, so the drink called “Your Alibi,” made from pisco, dry vermouth, lemon, sugar, and The Bitter Truth celery bitters, was a favorite …

"Your Alibi" pisco cocktail

But the “Far Away,” a not-too-sweet drink made of bourbon, muddled peach, mint, and just a bit of maple syrup, was a nice counterpoint to the maple-glazed roast pork, a rich and decadent dish that came with lightly pickled peaches.

"Far Away" cocktail

For me, however, the most interesting drink of the evening was  this unnamed cocktail, which came with our amuse bouche of Bloody Mary gazpacho.

In this drink, gin, lemon juice, and sugar were combined with a tomato and watermelon mignonette made from pureed heirloom tomatoes, watermelon, shallot, white wine vinegar, basil, and salt. I give the bar manager, Ian Adams, mad props for successfully combining ingredients I never would have dreamt of serving together in a cocktail. But what I especially love is that it was all done using leftover ingredients that needed to be used up, which is always my best inspiration in the kitchen, and I suspect that of thrifty home cooks everywhere. According to Ian, Elizabeth had made the mignonette for a previous event, where she had frozen it with liquid nitrogen to make a granita that was served with fresh raw oysters. This ingenious repurposing of ingredients inspires me to dig down to the bottom of my fridge and see what inspiration I find there. What should I do the quart of black olives taking over the bottom shelf of my fridge? And would it be possible to do something with all that fresh marinated mozzarella that’s on the cusp of going bad? We’ll see. Whether it’s filed under “cocktail concoctions” or “kitchen misadventures” I won’t hazard to guess.

Lavender and hazelnut granola

lavender and hazelnut granola

A few weeks ago, when I was shopping at Rainbow Grocery, our local whole foods store/hippie mart, I spotted a bag of “gourmet” lavender granola for sale. I immediately loved the idea of incorporating lavender into granola, but I simply could not get past the extortionate price tag of $10 for a measly 10-ounce bag, not least because you can buy organic rolled oats (the main ingredient) a few aisles away for less than $1 a pound.

I regularly make my own granola, and yesterday I finally got around to making it with lavender. You could certainly make a more complicated granola, with flaxseed, coconut flakes, and dried fruit, or you could make a richer one with more butter, but for me this is the Goldilocks of granola, with just enough sweetness and a nice crunch that makes it the perfect match for Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, my favorite way to enjoy it.

granola ingredients

Lavender and hazelnut granola

1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
4 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon organic dried lavender
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 egg whites, lightly beaten (optional)

First, prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.

Coarsely chop the hazelnuts.

chopping hazelnuts

In a large bowl, combine the hazelnuts with the rolled oats and sunflower seeds.

Then, using a mortar and pestle, finely grind the lavender.

grinding fresh lavender

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then stir in the brown sugar, maple syrup, lavender, and salt until the sugar and salt have melted and the mixture comes to simmer.

melter butter and brown sugar

Carefully pour the hot butter mixture over the bowl with the oat mixture and stir to combine.

pouring the melted butter and brown sugar

Stir in the egg whites (these help to make the granola form clumps while cooking, but you can omit them if you like).

pouring the egg white

Spread the oat mixture evenly on the prepared baking sheet.

spreading granola in the pan

Bake for 45 minutes, stirring after each 15 minutes, until dry and toasty-smelling. The granola will continue to crisp up as it cools. The granola will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for at least 2 weeks. But if you have strawberries like these beauties, plus some Greek yogurt, good luck with that.