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So we’ve been away and busy. That’s life. We’re back now and I’ve got a few things up my sleeve for upcoming posts (#1– we made mustard! It was great and easy!), so please forgive us the absence. Just because we’ve been gone doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing at all, though. I’ve managed to eke out my monthly booze columns for Vue Weekly. You can check out my not-always-expert examination of and cocktail recipes for Fernet Branca (yum!), Pisco, Goldschlager (yuck), shochu (love it), grappa (firewater, but tasty) and Poire William(delicious, delicious pear) over at the Vue site. I also did a feature for the Hot Summer Guide where I got some local bartenders’ input on summer drinks. You can check it out here. Unfortunately, I took pictures of all the drinks and the one they featured on the site looks pretty but tastes… well, just don’t make that recipe. Try any of the others; they’re all great, but “The Bender” is, um… not.

Also, we went to a great meetup yesterday with some other Edmonton bloggers and cooks. It was fun, though very cold. Carlo pointed out that it’s pretty sad when you’re discussing wind chill at the end of June. Such is life. Also, we didn’t bring our camera (delinquent bloggers that we are), so we have no evidence of the event to show. We had a great time talking with Court and Brooke, Sharon, Mack, Chris, Kevin, Maki, Grace, and Béné and Christian (who don’t have a blog yet but absolutely should. Can’t wait to see that!). If you’d like to get a better rundown, check out Sharon or Chris’s blogs. We’re lucky to be in contact with such a great group of people! I can’t wait until meetup #3. If you’re Edmontonian and would like to come to the next one, keep an eye on the wiki.

Hi! How are you? I hope you’re already out at a New Year’s party, or that you’re settling in for a cozy evening in. Carlo and I, we’re staying in. About four hours ago, when we came home from a shopping trip, our door broke, and we were stuck OUTSIDE for an hour and a half (or longer, I’m not sure. My brain froze.), in -22 C (-32 C with the wind chill!) while we waited for a locksmith. We were so happy to get into the apartment, we decided we weren’t leaving it again tonight. So here we are. If you’d told me five years ago that I’d be content, even happy, washing dishes and rearranging my apartment on New Year’s Eve, I’d… well, I’d have done something… laughed, cried, I don’t know. But right now we’re happy, cozy, and warm. And we’ve got a bottle of bubbly chilling in the fridge for later, so don’t feel sorry for us.

If you’ve got some champagne/cava/prosecco/other sparkler laying around that you’re not sure what to do with (besides drinking it the way it is, which is of course nice too), my latest article in Vue Weekly has a couple ideas. Nothing ground-breaking, just some nice, simple cocktails.

Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had a wonderful year.

I promised a grenadine recipe to my food writing class almost a month ago. Here it is, finally. When I first made the promise, I’d never made grenadine before, so I was far from an expert. When I set out to get the formula, I immediately turned a simple recipe into a complex test of techniques and flavours. That’s the history of the Great Grenadine Experiment. The result was five different grenadines, all of which are sitting in my freezer (GGE tip#1- the syrup has a high sugar content, and that along with a dash of vodka for preservation means that it won’t freeze solid in the freezer. It’ll last forever stored this way).

When I started reading about grenadine, I found that most of the syrups you buy in the store are unlikely to contain any pomegranate at all. They’re all corn syrup, artificial flavouring and red dye. A traditional grenadine is made from pomegranate (grenade is pomegranate in French–isn’t that a beautiful word? Then again, so is pomegranate) juice that is combined with sugar to make a thick syrup. I also found a few sources that mentioned cherry juice and orangeflower water as other possible ingredients. I thought I’d play with the cherry flavour, but I didn’t try any grenadine with orangeflower water. Next time. Or if someone gives it a shot (just a dash per 1 cup should do… it’s strong stuff), please  let me know what you think!

So sugar and juice– that’s all right, easy to handle. Next step–technique. I found two basic techniques online, one “cold” and one “cooked.” So I tried them both. And I also discovered that some people juice their own pomegranate while others used prebottled juices. So I tried that too. All those techniques equalled the following combinations: pom/cherry juice cooked, pom/cherry juice cold, pom juice cooked, pom juice cold, and finally, fresh pom juice (which I cooked, as I didn’t have enough juice to try the cold… I know, serious scientific method failure).

GREAT GRENADINE EXPERIMENT

Hypothesis: I can make grenadine at home.

Method: The following two recipes, which can easily be doubled or tripled.

Cooked Grenadine

1 cup pomegranate juice (or pomegranate-cherry blend)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vodka (optional)

Bring the juice to a simmer over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Simmer it until it is reduced by half, then mix in the sugar, continuing to cook until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, cool, add vodka, then refrigerate or freeze.

Cold-Method Grenadine

1 cup pomegranate juice (or pom-cherry blend)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vodka (optional)

Combine juice and sugar in a lidded jar, and shake until sugar is dissolved. Let the jar sit for a while, then shake again. Allow to sit once more, then shake again to finish. Honestly, all this shaking may not be necessary. I just really wanted to make sure the syrup was all un-sugar-crystallized. When the sugar is fully dissolved, add a dash of vodka, then refrigerate or freeze.

Conclusions:

Pomegranate/ Cherry juice cooked: This is a dark syrup with a definite cherry flavour. Though the cherry juice was organic with no preservatives, Carlo felt that this had a “preserved” flavour that he didn’t find appealing. I liked the cherry flavour all right, but I felt that the cooked syrup tasted, for lack of a better word, a little musty.

Pomegranate/Cherry juice cold-method: This syrup was thinner and brighter flavoured, but tasted too much of cherries for me. The shaking left a bit of froth at the top of the juice, and the sugar concentration is obviously lower, as the syrup turns to slush in the freezer. I found I needed more of it to add enough flavour to the drink, but I much preferred its flavour to the cooked syrup.

Sub-Conclusion: Pomegranate/Cherry might be okay, but the proportions need to be adjusted so that it’s somewhere more like 3/4 pomegranate and 1/4 cherry juice.

Bottled Pomegranate Juice Cooked: This tastes dark and just slightly tangy. In my taste-testing, however, I found it very unpleasant. Like the cooked pom/cherry, it was musty tasting. It was actually my least favourite.

Bottled Pomegranate Juice Cold-Method: Like the cherry/pom combo, this was bright-tasting, but the lack of cherry made it a little heavier. I’m starting to think that maybe my pomegranate juice was at fault. (GGE hint #2- try a different bottled juice than President’s Choice brand)

FRESH pomegranate, juiced and Cooked: The most beautiful colour of the five, this syrup is candy-pink, thick and smooth, but it has the brighter, sunnier taste of the cold-method syrups. I’m sorry, dear readers, because this is obviously also the most labour-intensive syrup. But it really is the best. And I’ll tell you how I juiced the pomegranate in a separate post. It’s not really THAT hard to do.

FINAL CONCLUSION: Fresh pomegranate juice is the best! What do you think? Have you made grenadine before? What technique did you use?

Just for colour reference, here’s that picture from the top of the post again. It’s just grenadine in soda water. From left to right, the syrups are: cooked pom/cherry, cold pom/cherry, cooked fresh pom, cooked pom, and cold pom.

In which I meet someone who knows a lot, learn interesting things, and then do the Scotch connoisseur’s equivalent of a face-plant. Not literally. Though given the Scotch drinking part, that might also have been a possibility.

A couple weeks ago I posted about tasting a $660 bottle of Scotch with Peter Gordon, the chairman of the company that makes Glenfiddich (William Grant & Sons). That interview was one of the highlights of my November. The article I wrote about the experience of tasting Scotch with an expert just came out and I’m pretty proud of it. If you want to know what I learned about Scotch, or how I totally embarrassed myself at the end of what was mostly a great interview, you can check it out here.

So the other day, I asked what people thought of egg white cocktails. I had a lovely recipe I wanted to publish, but I wasn’t sure what its reception would be.

Thanks to your input, I decided that Edmonton was ready for raw egg whites.

Here’s the article, if you want to check it out (recipe included). Please excuse the headline. I didn’t choose it. (Sorry, Mom and Dad).

The other day in my food writing course, we were talking about food trends. I had already told the class that I write about cocktails, so when we got to the cocktail arena, everyone turned to me. I hummed and hawed and worried and said “I don’t know, exactly, but maybe old-fashioned cocktails are making a comeback?” Then I said something about bitter flavours, because I love bitter. So ignore that part, which may or may not be right. But the classic cocktail thing? I just received December’s Bon Appetit, and  take a look at this story. It’s a fun one, with pictures of people in vintage clothes and great cocktail recipes, both drinks and eats. You should check it out because it’s neat, and because I was kind of right. I love it when that happens.

As a side note, SiS just took the plunge into twitter, which, frankly, still confuses me. A week ago, I commented that twitter had a steeper curve than blogging. Niall responded, telling me I’d figure it out in no time. FIVE DAYS LATER I realized that he’d responded. Then I wrote him a nearly nonsensical tweet in response. Clearly I’m still figuring it out. But if you want to follow us, you can do so here.

Today I tasted a $660/bottle Scotch. It was kind of amazing.

I’m saving the details, as I will be writing an article about it, but here’s the big picture. The chairman of Glenfiddich, Peter Gordon, is currently travelling through North America,  making various stops and conducting tastings and making appearances at restaurants that are doing Scotch-pairing menus. Today he came through Edmonton, and my editor at Vue Weekly asked if I’d like to get an interview with him. Um… yes!

So I met him today and I told him I didn’t know anything about tasting whisky, and so he pulled out three different bottles of three different ages and explained them to me and I tasted Scotch with the chairman of Glenfiddich and his publicity lady and it was really, really fun.

Hanne’s written 1-2-3-4 great booze articles for Vue Weekly, all odes to classic cocktails and/or rare spirits. In October, our columnist turned her job into a losing venture by purchasing 1-2-3-4 bottles of rum, three of which are pictured above (Havana Club Anejo Blanco-Appleton Estate V/X-Gosling’s Black Seal) and won’t be subsidized by the weekly. The problem is, I can’t object because she has 1-2-3 more jobs than I do right now. Also, the cocktail recipes Hanne dug up and created in her latest feat of investigative journalism are some of my favourites.

One of these is the Harpo’s Special, which may (or may not) have been invented by (or for) Harpo (probably not Karl) Marx. I like flavours that attack in different ways with different trajectories. The Harpo’s Special has a sour hook of lime, a jab of boozy acid, a slap of bitters and a soft sweet finish. Go to Hanne’s latest Vue article to make this and other rum-based cocktails.

SiS’s Ginger Beat Cocktail

This drink will work you over. It’s a SiS original made by Hanne, a take-off on Gosling’s Dark and Stormy. I’ll call it–and I get to because I’m, like, married to the creator–the Ginger Beat. Think your various tastebuds cymbals, toms, high hats, bass drums and imagine benched behind them the best drummer you can name, say Stewart Copeland or Dave Grohl.

Gulp, sip or do whatever you do. The lime shimmers sour over your tongue and rumbles in your cheeks. The ginger snaps up your palate and burns down your throat. The dark rum breaks in, flattening the flavour with bitter caramel while beating licorice, anise and earthy (peat moss?) notes. Sugar settles the flavour’s throb to a steady beat and is nearly a nod to silly-girly-drink but comes off more sophisticated-lady-or-mister-drink, grounding the bite of the alcohol and ginger and making the drink less brash than composed.

That may seem a bit exuberant, but I’ve just had 1-2-3 drinks while writing this post. Make it like this:

  • A third of an old fashioned glass of crushed or cracked ice
  • 2 oz Gosling’s Black Seal or other dark rum
  • 1 Tbsp ginger syrup (recipe below)
  • Top glass up with ginger ale

For ginger simple syrup:

Ingredients:

  • 1 inch cube of fresh ginger, sliced thin
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar

Method:

  • Put above in pot, bring to boil, simmer until golden
  • Refrigerate leftovers for seconds
  • Thirds

Sometimes I feel sorry for Carlo. I’m not always easy to deal with. I read a lot (too much), and get intensely interested in whatever I’ve learned. That’s cool, but I’m also impatient. When I learn about something new, I usually need to try it right away. Carlo’s the best. He’s very patient with my whims and hardly scolds me when my obsessions lead me to buy four bottles of rum in the space of a month. Honestly, though, I felt justified. As I was doing research for this, I discovered all kinds of exciting things about rum, and then I had to try all the different kinds. This obsession led me to dark rum, which led me to what we had for dinner this weekend.

Bermuda Fish Chowder has a tomato rather than a milk base, and is rich, sweet, and satisfying, without being unhealthy. Plus, its rich flavour is complemented with a generous glug of rum. I’m not big on fish soup, as I find very fishy flavours unpleasant, so I was pleased that this soup had nice clean flavours, and the fish was tasty instead of overwhelming. I suppose the lightness of the fish was due to the fish I used– basa, snapper, and cod, along with scallops and shrimp. Also, the soup had a good amount of spiciness, thanks to red chili flakes and a jalapeno (the original recipe called for sherry pepper sauce, which I didn’t have, so I improvised with some sherry vinegar and the addition of the peppers).

Bermuda Fish Chowder
Adapted from epicurious.com. See the original here
While this chowder isn’t difficult, it is time-consuming. If you plan to eat it the same day, allow 2-2 1/2 hours total time before eating. And if your husband wants to practice his cooking-course knife skills, make sure you start well in advance (completely uniform veg in this soup IS very pleasant, I must add).

1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 leek (white and pale green parts only), chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup canned, diced tomato or 1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tsp. salt

2 cups bottled clam juice
6 cups water

3 lb mixed white fish fillets such as cod, snapper, and basa, (feel free to improvise), skin and bones removed and cut into large chunks
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole allspice, tied in a cheesecloth bag (I used ground, and added it directly to the pot)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled, or a couple sprigs of fresh thyme
1 jalapeno, diced small(optional)
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, or to taste
3 tablespoons cornstarch stirred together with 3 tablespoons water to make a slurry

1/2 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 lb. scallops
2 to 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup dark rum, or to taste

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, or to taste. (feel free to leave this out, or substitute the real thing– sherry pepper sauce)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the onion, bell pepper, leek, carrots,tomato, and garlic in butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened, about 10 minutes. Toss in red pepper flakes, and salt, cooking for 1 more minute. Stir in clam juice and water and bring to a boil. After the soup is boiling, simmer it briskly, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Stir in the fish, tomato paste, bay leaf, allspice, thyme, jalapeno (if using), hot pepper sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 20 minutes (fish will break up), then add cornstarch slurry (make sure it’s stirred and the cornstarch hasn’t clumped in the bottom) and stir into chowder. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 2 minutes.

Stir in scallops, shrimp, Worcestershire sauce, and rum and gently simmer 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let chowder stand, covered, 1 hour (or better yet, overnight). Return your chowder to a simmer, then add a touch of sherry vinegar (to taste).

Another thing I did this summer: I started writing for the food section of Vue Weekly, a free local paper. It’s pretty much as much fun as I can possibly have, and I can’t wait to do more. The job is this: find something that I think is interesting, then read a lot about it, and then after that, tell people about it. Those of you who know me in real life know that this is pretty much my entire mode of existence, so it’s cool to be paid for it.

So far I’ve been writing about booze, but I’m going to be tackling some other subjects soon. I’ll keep you posted!

Everything I’ve learned about:

Campari

Pimm’s No. 1

Chartreuse

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