Monday, September 20, 2010

The Currant Affair

My poor, neglected cocktail blog. Sniff. Since I've been on the jury for the 1st Irish Theatre festival, everything, laundry, cooking, cocktails, everything has been shoved aside for a show and a quick glass of wine at intermission. Two weeks I'll be done. In the meantime, I'm reprinting a column I wrote for the wonderful Lazaro Cooks blog this summer. Check out the site. He whips up pure gold and not just the Yukon puree kind.

The column also made an appearance on the Sweet Southern Prep blog. It's a delightful mix of food and fashion and all in pink and green.

Both sites are very popular with lots of comments. Thank you both for spreading good cheer.

Happy Hour at the Farmer’s Market: A Currant Affair

There are some people whose happy hours are spent at the week-end farmer’s market. And then there are those people whose happiest hours are well past the time the farmers have packed up their goat cheese. The drinking class would do well, however, to rise with the roosters and check out what’s being brought to market for there are infinite possibilities for a summer cocktail at the nearby farmer’s stand. Remember, think globally, drink locally.

A recent trip to a nearby farmer’s market in Bronxville, NY ( a town, farmers take note, that the New York Times reported today, is not suffering from the real estate recession that is affecting the rest of the country) offered lots of inspiration for this article.

To begin with, there’s the ubiquitous cucumbers and fresh basil here in Bronxville as in any Farmer’s Market this time of year. As bartender Adam Schuman, from Brooklyn’s Fatty 'Cue proves, basil and cucumber make for a considerable combination in a cocktail.

The 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.

When shopping, don’t just buy fresh basil. Buy the plant! Help yourself to the fragrant basil leaves with the South Sixth sense calls you. I bought 2 basil plants for $3 at the market, and you just have to admit, that is a bargain. I placed the plants in my container gardens to ward off my black gardening thumb for just a little while longer.

Mr. Schuman, my hero., also came up with a even more refreshing variation on the cucumber theme: muddling cucumber with the cardamom simple syrup, strain over ice, adding St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, grapefruit juice, sparkling wine and club soda to taste.

Moving beyond the cucumbers, I couldn’t pass by the red currants. Basically because I cannot resist bright, shiny objects.

I was wowed by what looked like thousands of dazzling rubies. I didn’t know anything about the berry at the time but bought some in confidence that I could find something to make with them. They were just too beautiful not to be perfect in some sort of beverage or another.

It turns out that for once my overconfidence paid off - red currants make a wonderful cocktail. Fresh, they are tart like a cranberry, and we all know how important cranberry is in today’s mixology.

Here is a variation of a Red Currant Martini recipe that I found online:

2 oz. gin
2 oz. red currant simple syrup
1 oz. limoncello
1/3 oz. fresh lemon juice
Garnish with red currants.

In a cocktail shaker, muddle 1/4 cup of red currants and lemon juice. Add gin and limoncello and fill with ice. Shake til frost forms on the outside of the shaker. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with red currants.

As you can see, the red currant martini, pictured with some of the spoils of the day, a looks much like a cosmopolitan but falls on the sweeter side of a well-made cosmo. It might do better on the rocks as most summer drinks do.

I was unwilling to stop there because I felt that the above martini, while perfectly presentable, did not do justice to these beautiful berries. So I went exploring further in hopes of having something new to offer here as a guest blogger.

It’s amazing what a deadline (and a good Japanese soft drink) will do.

Drum roll. Unveiling.

A Michael Giacchino swell of music.

I bring you a Currant Affair.

3 oz. vodka
2 oz. red currant simple syrup
Unsweetened grapefruit soda.
Red currants for garnish.

To make a red currant simple syrup, dissolve one cup sugar in one cup water over low flame. When the sugar dissolves, add one cup of red currants. Stir and let cool. Pour into an airtight container and the syrup will last for up to four months.

In the Currant Affair, I used Gokurí Grapefruit Soda, a soft drink from the Japanese Beverage Company, Suntory. Gokurí, while difficult to find if you don’t live near a Japanese grocery, is particularly wonderful in cocktails. It was the true key to this cocktail’s succes: Gokurí has real fruit pulp, and it doesn’t hide the grapefruit tartness with sugar. It’s a very sophisticated beverage, and the same effect could be had with grapefruit juice and some club soda. You don’t want to use an American grapefruit soda like Squirt, as good as Squirt is, because it is too sweet and will pile on and overpower your currants.

Next week-end, take a morning walk through the local farmer’s market to see what’s possible for the evening cocktail. Next time, I’m going back to load up on more red currants. I hear that Martha has a great recipe for a red currant puree, one that goes perfectly with champagne. In the meantime, I have a particularly aromatic bunch of lavender that I will work with; I just know it will enhance some happy hour.

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