Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Container Gardens and Container Cocktails: It's Summertime and the living is easy

Being essentially a lazy person, I find that container gardening is the only horticulture for me (cue Dorothy Parker quote here). It's a very small amount of effort for a great deal of validation: riotous color in exchange for some dirt and water. Here I proudly pose my red, white and blue gardening just in time for the 4th of July holiday.

Container cocktails are in the same spirit. A small amount of energy is placed into the right pitcher of drinks, and riotous colorful dialogue blooms among the summer barbecue guests.
On the lookout for some summer holiday entertainment ideas, I found a couple recipes in a recent New York Magazine issue.

Of the four highlighted container cocktails, I found that the simplest were the best, and that works out just perfectly because who has time for a 17-ingredient punch? It's summer. The living is supposed to be easy, and the guests will be here any minute.

Pictured above is the Elder Berry Smash developed by London mixologist Charlotte Voisey for the New York City restaurant Kenmare, a Mediterranean restaurant with an Irish name. The super-sized cocktail was very easy to make and a big hit with the guests who long ago have stopped being polite about the way I experiment on them. They would have told me if they didn't like it, in no uncertain terms.

Elder Berry Smash

1 cup of blackberries
9 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur
Lime juice from 3 whole limes
8 oz. Champagne or a sparkling wine
6 sprigs of mint

Muddle blackberries in the bottom of a pitcher. Add St. Germain and lime juice, followed by crushed ice, leaving room for the champagne. Top with Champagne, garnish with mint sprigs. Stir just before pouring and serve in fluted glasses. Serves 6.

The other popular recipe was deemed the Farmer's Friend, but it was really a mojito with a surprise variation - rhubarb. While checking out at the supermarket, the cashier asked me what rhubarb tasted like: "is it like celery?" No. Most definitely not, I responded. People make pies out this - with a lot of sugar! I told her about my beverage plans, and she was enthused. With good reason. The drink was a success. I'd say that the party was split 50-50. Half of the imbibers liked the Smash, the other half liked the Farmer's Friend. All love a good muddle apparently.

The Farmer’s Friend
By Ron Levine, Anfora

2 handfuls of mint leaves, torn
2 cups rhubarb (about 4 stalks), sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
16 oz. white rum
8 oz. simple syrup
4 oz. fresh lime juice
Club soda (approximately 6 oz.)
Muddle mint leaves with rhubarb at the bottom of the pitcher. Add ice, and pour rum, simple syrup, and lime juice over mixture. Stir, and top with club soda. Pour in rocks glasses. Serves 8.

Container gardening is perfect gardening for cocktail hour. A plant here and there, a sip and a sit, and an admiring gaze toward all that hard work.

You don't want any operation of heavy equipment while mixing up pitchers of white sangria for your guests. This version calls for the addition of vodka, a good segue way toward "the Russian spy that lives next door" as a party conversation.

A Vodka Sangria, pictured below, from The Bar:

1 bottle of a dry white wine
6 oz. Vodka
3 oz. Grand Marnier
3 oz. pomegranate juice
3 oz. orange juice
2 oz. white grape juice
3 oz. lemon juice
2 oz. simple syrup
4 raspberries

Simply mix all liquid ingredients in a pitcher and garnish with raspberries and lemon wheels. Couldn't be any more effortless and that's perfect for a hot summer's happy hour. Happy Fourth!

Originally published on blogcritics.org

Monday, July 5, 2010

It's No Sin If There's Gin

Now that we've moved beyond sweater weather and into summer (although here in the Northeast we hardly had what might be called a traditional spring—45 to 90—in Porsche-like acceleration), a Hendrick's Gin martini with a cucumber twist, like the one pictured below from the charming Red Hat Bistro, certainly makes a great warm weather drink.

The beautiful restaurant, housed in what was the factory boiler room of the Lord and Burnham Company, 19th-century manufacturers of greenhouses, is perfectly summer-situated on the Hudson River in Irvington, New York.

That was then:

This is now:

Now doesn't that renovation deserve a toast?

Although a gin martini hardly needs a tweak, being perfection unto itself, lately I've been finding variations (that don't include chocolate, thank you very much) that are intriguing. One of my favorite is the addition of cardamom.

In the ginger family, typically a cold-weather spice, cardamom, an old world flavor, makes a new world cocktail.

There are two types of cardamom, green and black. You are more likely to find green and can certainly use it to make the two recipes discussed here. If you come across the black, try that too. It was a slightly different flavor, more minty for lack of a better term, and certainly appropriate for a summer beverage.

The best way to use cardamom in a cocktail is through an infused simple syrup which we've made before here in The Speakeasy, but now we are going to up the ante. We will "pile on" and make a rich simple syrup which is exactly how it sounds. Whereas simple syrup is one part sugar dissolved in one part water, rich simple syrup is two parts sugar to one part water. Simple and sweet.

When making a cardamom simple syrup, boil one cup of water and 1/4 cup of cardamom seeds (not powder), and dissolve two cups of sugar in the water. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain to remove the seeds.

My first introduction to gin with that touch of cardamom was at the Tribeca Grand Lounge. Their Gin and Sin is a misnomer of a cocktail because there is no sin when there's gin.
Here is a close approximation to the Tribeca's Gin and Sin:

2 oz. gin
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. cardamom simple syrup
1 oz. blood orange juice

The more common navel orange will do almost as well, but always remember to use fresh squeezed fruit juice, whether lemon or orange, in your drinks.

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake 'til a frost forms on the outside. Pour over a cocktail glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange wheel. Very easy and very summery. This is a cocktail you can make by the pitcher for entertaining. Feel free to change the name for the family picnic.

Another, more elaborate and even more flavorful, cardamom cocktail (oh, the alliteration!) is the South Sixth, an Adam Schuman creation, found at Fatty 'Cue, his Brooklyn restaurant. The drink was featured in a recent New York Times slideshow. South Sixth:

2 oz. gin (or vodka)
2 cucumber slices (1/16 in. thick)
2 basil leaves
1 oz. cardamom simple syrup
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. ginger beer
Muddle cucumber, basil and simple syrup in a pint glass.

Add gin and lemon juice. Shake over ice for ten seconds. Double strain into iced highball glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with cucumber wheel. Serve on patio.

This is another cocktail that benefits from sitting around on ice. Make a pitcherful for your guests. There is a lot of herbaceous flavor going on here between the cucumber and the basil. It's as if you wandered into the neighbor's garden. There are gardens in Brooklyn, you know.