Holiday (scratch that) Super Bowl party!

Sweet and Sour Glazed Chicken Wings

Ginger red wine spritzer

Tequila cranberry cooler

Didn't try the glaze on the Rolos, but it would probably be good

Didn’t try the glaze on the Rolos, but it would probably be good

(What should have been a holiday cocktail party post has conveniently become a Super Bowl party post.  *wipes hands in a self-satisfied fashion*)

So here’s the deal with these three.  We did actually serve them all together.  We also put out mixed nuts.  And we made those lovely cookies.  It was a good day.

The wings were tasty, but kind of a hassle.  I mean, wings are always kind of a hassle, but the hassle of the glaze bears some mention.  When you do the baking step, you should grease the sheet at least a little and/or put down foil to keep them from sticking.  I lost a lot of skin and, frankly, quite a bit of meat just from trying to turn the wings.  The glaze was the real troublemaker, though.  I burned it on the first try.  Badly.  Like black ooze at the bottom of the pan, doors and windows open to clear the smoke and avoid waking the baby with the fire alarm bad.  I think the key is to just be sure you can keep an eye on it.  It goes from way too thin to burned really quickly, especially if you halve the recipe like I did.  Once it’s done and not burned, the glaze is really tasty.  The chili powder adds a lot.  The cayenne mostly just adds heat, but that’s welcome here.  We started rolling some roasted nuts in this glaze.  That was extremely good.  The glaze thickens a bit when it sits, so don’t get upset if it isn’t super goopy right off the range.

Sweet, spicy, sour, hot, awesome

Sweet, spicy, sour, hot, awesome

As for the cocktails, the spritzer was nice, but maybe a little forgettable.  I would rather just have a glass of wine, really.  I couldn’t taste the ginger ale and didn’t really even get a sense of the bubbles.  The kirsch or maraschino does add a little bit of cherry flavor and sweetness.  The maraschino adds a LOT of sweetness, really.  I preferred the drier taste of the kirsch.  We did a taste test with our guests, and we were evenly split between the kirsch kamp and the maraschino maniacs.  (groan…)  If you like something sweeter, pick maraschino. 

Red wine spritzer with those amazing palmiers and the macadamia nut bars.

Red wine spritzer with those amazing palmiers and the macadamia nut bars.

Now, the tequila cran cooler was an unqualified success.  I loved it.  The Campari cut the sweetness of the juices and the sharpness of the tequila.  Frankly, I might consider putting a little campari in margaritas next summer.  Also, the sugared rim was definitely welcome because the other tastes in the drink started to lean toward sour and bitter once the Campari was in there.  I think this would be some good training wheels for Campari.  In other words, B, try this one.  You’ll like it.

Coming to a BBQ near you: Summer 2014

Coming to a BBQ near you: Summer 2014

Go….let’s say Broncos. 

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Guest post: Maple Bourbon Cider

Maple-Bourbon Cider

the ingredients

the ingredients

D here again, handling bar-tending duties.
We’re trying out the recipe for Maple-Bourbon Cider, another of the recipes designed for holiday parties. Bourbon, maple syrup and lemon: this recipe sounded like it had potential to be very tasty.
As it turned out, the key word is “potential”…..
First off, there’s two things about the recipe as-written that are annoying to me. The first is that the measurements are a hodgepodge. Drink recipes are typically written in ounces, but if you’re dealing with a batch recipe, then it’s fine to use traditional kitchen measurements like cups. Anyway, I’ll save you the math if you’re making a batch: 6 ounces of bourbon is 3/4 of a cup.
The second annoying thing is that it is a batch recipe that doesn’t give you the breakdown for a single drink. This is a minor inconvenience.  I can divide.
So I divided this down to a 2 drink test batch so that G and I could both try it. We sampled our drinks first without the optional pinch of cayenne on top, and then we both tried it with the pinch of cayenne.
Underwhelmed. The drink was good but it mostly just tasted like apple cider with a little bit of bourbon in it. The lemon juice and maple syrup flavors were so muted that the drink ended up tasting watery and unsatisfying. But I was not giving up.
I’ve tinkered with enough cocktails in my day that I feel pretty confident in tasting a drink and being able to nail down what needs adjusting within a permutation or two. Back to the kitchen I went….
Version two came out, G sampled, and her assessment was the same as mine: much improved with a pronounced maple flavor, but the drink was too sweet. This is actually what I was going for. I reached into my secret tool kit, and the result (version 3) was so pitch-perfect that G refused to give it back.
So here’s the deal: to get the recipe right, you need to ramp up the lemon juice from the original some, but you need to ramp up the maple syrup even more. Once you make these adjustments, it will give you the right flavor proportions, but then you need to balance out the sweetness.
Hence, bitters. Angostura bitters. Total gamechanger.
Here’s what the recipe should be, for a single drink:
2 ounces apple cider
1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1/2 ounce maple syrup
1/2 ounce lemon juice
2 dashes Angostura or other aromatic bitters.
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake. I could see this drink being fine up, but we went with what the original recipe called for and had ours in a rocks glass. Or “rock” glass – as you can see, I have those fancy ice cube trays that make a single, huge, ice cube for rocks drinks. Because I’m weird like that.
vintage glassware...from 2000

vintage glassware…from 2000

Fun fact: those are Martha Stewart Everyday glasses. I bought them at the local K-Mart when I was going off to college. I felt so grown up.
But really, this drink is all about the bitters. If you don’t have a bottle of Angostura bitters on hand, go get one. This is a perfect training-wheels drink for someone who has never experienced the subtle depth and balance of flavors that bitters can bring to a drink.
Angostura was the only bitters I tried in this drink, and it was pretty much perfect, but I’m not sure that you couldn’t use something else to balance out the sweetness of the cider and the maple syrup. I’m sure Peychaud’s would work nice, but I wouldn’t be afraid to try an orange bitters, especially a spicy one like Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6. What’s that you say, this is a cooking blog? I’ve lost you all? Sorry. I’ll go back to doing my thing. Carry on. Come get me for the next cocktail recipe. I’ll be at the bar.

Guest post: Hot toddies, comin’ through!

Hot Toddies

So simple that you can fit everything in one picture

So simple that you can fit everything in one picture

This is a guest post from my one and only, D.  Please enjoy.  -G

D here, husband to G and resident Cooking the Stripes bar-tender, guest posting for the Hot Toddy recipe from November 2007.

“Make this for your holiday gathering” drink recipes are often problematic, because they only include instructions for how to make a batch for a crowd. This deters experimentation.  A Tom & Jerry might be delicious, but I wouldn’t know because I’ve never happened across 30 people who want a raw-egg drink at the same time.

As party recipes go, the EF Hot Toddy recipe is great, because though the top-line information says it makes 8 drinks, the actual instructions provide the precise measurements for a single, drink, so you can do one or two as easy as a party batch.  A “hot toddy” is one of those things that everyone name-checks but nobody drinks.  So G and I were both excited to see what a real live hot toddy tasted like.

Cutting to the chase, his recipe is fantastically simple and completely delicious and you have to go make one right now (or at least the next time it snows). Aside from Martha’s instructions, here’s what you need to know:

On the ingredients: don’t waste a bunch of cash on good brandy just for this. The cocktail authority over at Esquire, David Wondrich, did a feature on the best cheap booze. Print it out and save it.  These are excellent, affordable recommendations to stock your home bar with. So, based on Mr. Wondrich’s expertise, we used Paul Masson Grande Amber VSOP brandy. It’s about $13 for a bottle but it way better than that price would indicate, and makes a perfect base spirit.

On the proportions: The one adjustment that this recipe needs is to bump up the brandy.  I like my cocktails strong, much stronger than G tends to. It’s not uncommon for me to make a new drink that I really like, and have her choke/cough after her sample sip and say, through watered eyes “tastes like burning.” (If you know G, you know that’s a Simpsons reference). That being said, even she preferred this toddy with 1 1/2 tablespoons of brandy (that would be 3/4 cup if you’re making the 8-serving), instead of the 1 tablespoon it calls for, which was a little weak. I preferred it at 2 tablespoons per mug, though few are likely to be as far at the end of the spectrum as me on this one.

On the technique: here’s a pro tip. Don’t worry about trying to get the honey off the measuring spoon. Just measure your honey last, and leave the measuring spoon in the drink when you pour in your hot water. Then use the measuring spoon to stir the drink, and the honey will dissolve from the heat as you mix. Plus, no swizzle stick to wash.

I really urge you to try this recipe. It’s the cocktail equivalent of an enthusiastic hug from a slightly overweight grandmother: comforting, warming, wonderful.

And yes, we both had seconds. You can’t have just one hug from grandma.

Huevos and another cocktail!

Huevos rancheros

Fiestaware = FTWare

Fiestaware = FTWare

This is a dangerous recipe.  Why?  Because it’s super good and it makes a ton of food that you know won’t be good leftover.  I’d be stupid not to eat 5 eggs by myself, right?  oof.  If you split this meal between two people, you will eat too much.  Guaranteed.

Sure, I can eat 5 eggs...

Sure, I can eat 5 eggs…

Let’s take a look at the recipe.  The sauce itself is delicious and easy.  You puree canned tomatoes, a jalapeno, some onion, and some garlic in the blender, then heat it for a while.  Super easy.  Makes me think I should be putting rancheros sauce on everything.  I do have one small bone to pick here.  The recipe calls for a 14.5 oz can of whole tomatoes.  I have never in my life seen a 14.5 oz can of whole tomatoes.  Whole tomatoes only come in the big cans.  Maybe if you’re buying the fancy, fire-roasted tomatoes, they come in smaller cans, but not for me.  So I used 1/2 of a big can.  Lucky for me, the tex mex chicken and beans in an upcoming November issue (stay tuned) could use 1/2 a can of tomatoes.  You are blending them, so I have a hard time seeing why a 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes wouldn’t do just fine.  Anyhoo, here’s the sauce:

sauce rancheros

sauce rancheros

The whole thing is built on an oven-toasted tortilla.  Mine got a little tough.  Perhaps I overcooked it?  I think maybe a plain unbaked tortilla would be just fine.  For toppings we had avocado, Jack cheese, chopped cilantro, and homemade yogurt instead of sour cream.  That’s a move from my childhood.  We never had sour cream.  My mom always put out non-fat yogurt instead.  It’s all well and good until she puts out the vanilla flavored yogurt.  Vanilla refried beans!  Yum!

They do look a little brown...

They do look a little brown…

The D cocktail recommendation for this meal is the La Paloma.  It’s Squirt and tequila.  Sound like a poor woman’s margarita with bubbles?  It is.  What’s wrong with that?

La Paloma, which is Spanish for....the Paloma

La Paloma, which is Spanish for….the Paloma

Guest post: Citrus Spritzers from D

Citrus Spritzers*

D here, guest writing. I have a longstanding love of cocktails and think that home bartending is just a fun hobby to have, so when the “citrus spritzers” recipe came up here, G asked me to collaborate. The recipe isn’t available online, so here’s it is (if you’ve got a set of The Stripes at home, this is p. 74 of No. 45, though the picture is on p. 72):

Cheers!

Cheers!

*Adapted from Everyday Food, September 2007

-2 cups fresh orange juice (from 6 oranges), strained
-1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons), strained
-1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 2 limes), strained
-2/3 cup superfine sugar
-4 cups seltzer or club soda
-1 ounce vodka per serving (optional)
– Orange, lemon or lime slices, for garnish (optional)

When G and I looked at this recipe we knew were going to make this a boozy version, but vodka seemed like a total copout. I’ve actually had good luck with Martha Stewart’s cocktail recipes in general and the Everyday Food “Happy Hour” section in particular. The Happy Hour is where I first discovered the way to make a proper Lemon Shandy which is kind of a curse, because once you’ve had it you’ll never be able to drink any pre-made “shandy” type beer again. The “Happy Hour” is also where I was introduced to miracle that is Tequila & Tonic. It’s 5,000% better than you’d think it is – trust Martha on this one.  Throwing vodka in this just seemed uninspired, so we decided to have our own tasting to audition the best spirit to add in here.

G made up the mixture and then I set up a flight-style tasting, using the stated proportions to make little tiny cocktails in sake cups for G and I to audition. I was glad we were so methodical, because pairing a spirit with the spritzer base turned out to be much harder than anticipated. Here’s the contenders:

It's a tough job...

It’s a tough job…

The first that we tried is white rum – we used Flor de Cana 4 year old, because that’s what I had on hand. It was serviceable, but the flavor of the rum didn’t really come through, and the whole thing just kind of ended up tasting like a wan beach drink from a TGI Fridays. Since we jettisoned the suggested vodka in search of something more flavorful, this wasn’t what we were hoping for.

Next we tried it with a silver tequila, in this case Leyenda del Milagro (at about $20 a bottle a phenomenal value if you can find it). This was decent, but something was missing. The tequila/lime/orange flavors made it very similar to a classic margarita, but the addition of the lemon and the effervescence of the club soda made the whole thing kind of odd: it ended up tasting like someone had poured 7Up into your margarita. Surprisingly, the white rum was actually better.

Two other things to note before declaring the winner. I drug the bottle of Tanqueray out of the freezer mostly as a lark: huge mistake. Imagine a band doing a cover of the Snoop classic “Gin and Juice” in Spanish, and then imagine resulting song as a cocktail. Horrible. Also falling into the “bad idea” category was mescal (far right). If you know what mescal is and like it, don’t waste your time here – the spritzer base is  too sweet and clashes with the smokiness of the mescal. If you don’t know what mescal is, now is not the time to learn. Move along.

So the winner was a reposado tequila. Tequilas generally fall into three rough categories: 1) silver or “blanco” which are not aged or have been aged only slightly, 2) reposado tequilas, which have been aged between 2 months and a year in oak barrels, and 3) anejo tequilas, those aged over a year.  Like aged whiskies, tequilas take on a woody, smoky character from the wood in the barrels, and the bite of the alcohol tends to mellow.  Anejo tequilas run to the pricey side, and generally should be sipped on their own. But there are excellent reposados available at reasonable prices if you know what you’re looking for, and they can be just what a cocktail calls for. Reposados tend to be much less smoky than a mescal, so they can be easier to mix and more crowd pleasing than a mescal cocktail, which is often an acquired taste (G has yet to acquire this taste for the most part).

Espolon is fairly widely available and their reposado tequila is an inexplicably good value at about $23 a bottle.  I think they just break into other distilleries and steal this stuff or something. Go track it down and mix it into your spritzer (and your margarita the next time you make one). The aged character comes through just enough to give the drink some character, but it doesn’t overwhelm the base: the fresh sweetness and the acidity of the juices still comes nicely into balance. The seltzer gives the whole thing an effervescence that makes these dangerously easy to drink. Even G, whose tolerance for smoky alcohol is about 1/1000th of mine, declared this one the clear winner.

So go get yourself some Espolon Reposado and have a couple of these. We still need a name for this magic elixir, so get drunk and suggest one in the comments.

(Alright, Bear: I contributed. The ball is in your court to write something, or you’re going to look like a slacker!)