Thursday, July 28, 2011

Enter the Dragon (Fruit)

The latest exotic fruit taking the culinary world by storm is...dragon fruit!!

After reading this sentence, you probably had one of two reactions:
1. There is a fruit called dragon fruit?
2. There is a such thing as...fruit trends?

Well, yes, and yes. Dragon fruit is so of-the-moment that the New York Times wrote a whole article about how cool it is. And you can hardly blame them - dragon fruit is a really, really cool-looking fruit. On the outside, it's hot pink with wavy green spines. Inside, the flesh is white (or pink, for some varieties) and studded with tiny black seeds.

It's got a great backstory, too - the cacti that the fruit grows on only blooms at night, under a full moon. (In the cacti's native lands, the flowers are pollinated by moths and bats; to grow the fruit in America, California farmers have to go out under the light of the moon and pollinate the flowers by hand.) And who wouldn't get excited about a foodstuff with "dragon" in the name?

Unfortunately, I didn't hear about dragon fruit from the New York Times, or some exalted food publication. I heard about it from watching the Bachelorette. (That's right - this is my second drink in less than a month to be inspired by reality television programming. (Here's the first - and a shameless plug for my snarktastic Bachelorette blog.) In a recent episode, Ashley and one of her would-be paramours are seen sitting on a beach in Thailand, drinking champagne and eating dragon fruit. My curiosity was piqued. So when I ran across some dragon fruit at a local Asian market, I thought, hey - why not give it a try?

Of course the big question with any exotic fruit is: what's it taste like? In this case: not much. Even the NYT admits that despite all the hoopla, dragon fruit doesn't really have much of a flavor. I found the texture to be pleasing, which was a surprise given all those seeds, and the taste to be slightly sweet and very, very mild. A little bit strawberry, a little bit melon, a little bit grassy. But veeery mild.

Then there was the issue of what to pair it with. I thought about tequila. I was worried that it might overwhelm the dragon fruit's delicate flavor - I don't think anyone would describe tequila as "mild" - but I had good luck in the past pairing tequila with another unusual pink fruit that grows on a cacti. So I gave it a try.

Dragon Fruit Margarita
Flesh of 1/4 dragon fruit
1.5 oz silver tequila
1/2 oz triple sec
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Add 5-6 ice cubes. Run the blender, adding ice cubes as needed, until you achieve the desired slushy consistency.

Verdict: My gamble paid off. It's mild, it's sweet, it's refreshing - the tequila is definitely there, but, ever-so-subtly, so is the dragon fruit. In fact, I can almost taste the dragon fruit more in the margarita than I could in the plain old fruit. Maybe it's because dragon fruit and tequila both come from cacti, so they're buddies. Whatever it is: this is good.

Now if anyone needs me, I'll be drinking one of these bad boys on the beach. In Thailand.

More Delicious Margaritas:
The Sweet & Spicy Southwest Margarita
Key Lime Margarita
White Peach and Basil Margarita

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Backyard Bartender in the Kitchn

This week the regular cocktail blogger over at the Kitchn was away, so I filled in with a post about my strawberry basil margaritas. Mosey on over there and check it out. These are seriously some of the easiest cocktails I've ever made - you can throw together a whole pitcher in a few minutes. And they're so popular with my friends that I have to make a pitcher for pretty much every party I have.

Longtime readers may recognize this as a re-do of this earlier post. Longtime attenders of Nancy parties may recognize this as one of their favorite drinks.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Even More Harry Potter Cocktails.

It's that time again, y'all. Time for EVEN MORE Harry Potter cocktails. If you're looking for the big 3 (that would be Harry, Ron, and Hermione), get yourself over to this post and check out the cocktails I made for them. This time around, I selected four more of our favorite fictional persons to be immortalized in liquid form.

The Luna Lovegood

Luna Lovegood: a little strange, a little spacey, and infinitely lovable. Unaged corn whiskey (also known as moonshine) seemed like the perfect expression of Luna's particular brand of home-grown wackiness. It was only after I made the drink that Garret pointed out to me that Luna means moon, which makes it even more perfect.

Luna Lovegood
8 mint leaves
1.5 oz unaged corn whiskey (I used Georgia Moon)
1 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
.75 oz simple syrup

Place the mint and simple syrup in your shaker and muddle. Add the lemon juice and moonshine, fill the shaker with ice, and shake and strain into an ice-filled glass.

The Draco Malfoy

I don't know about you, but when I think of a Draco-esque cocktail, I immediately think of a martini. But it couldn't be just a martini: that's boring. One night, while mixing up a test batch of Lunas for the roommate, I had a brilliant idea: pickle juice. I had a jar of pickle juice tucked away in the back of the fridge, hoping that someday at some party I could convince some of my braver friends to do pickleback shots (shot of bacon-infused bourbon, followed by a shot of pickle juice and a chaser of beer. really). Into the mix the pickle juice went, and out came a cocktail that was just like Draco: smooth, sleek, and a little bit nasty.

Draco Malfoy
2 oz gin (or vodka, if you prefer)
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz pickle juice (I used the juice of a jar of Claussen Kosher Dill sandwich slices, which are, in my opinion, the very best pickles.)

Stir (or shake) all ingredients together with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Drink deeply. Think evil thoughts. (Lauren, the roommate, came up with a brilliant idea: rimming the martini glass with salt will really bring out the savory flavors in this drink.)

The Neville Longbottom

Tea-infused gin and Pimm's: a little fussy, quintessentially British, and unexpectedly strong.

Tea-Infused Gin
In an airtight jar, combine 1.5 cups of gin and 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon of loose English Breakfast tea leaves. Seal the jar, shake once, and allow to sit at room temperature for two hours. After two hours, open the jar and strain out the gin.

Neville Longbottom
1.5 oz tea-infused gin
1 oz Pimm's
.75 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
.75 oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Shake and strain into an ice-filled glass.

The Severus Snape

Oh, Snape. Snape is by far my favorite character in the Harry Potter series, played to perfection by Alan Rickman, who is by far my favorite actor. Think about it: in the first book, Snape seems like some generic, greasy, throw-away villain, but then you learn that he's actually this hugely important character upon whom the whole series turns. Remember when you were anxiously awaiting the release of the seventh book, because you had to know whether Snape was good or bad? Well, if you haven't read the books and are waiting for the movie, I won't ruin things for you, but SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER I always knew that Alan Rickman would never betray me like that. And the delicious candy center at the middle of all Snape's turncoatery and snarkery turns out to be...unrequited love, which is one of the most romantic things ever. Snape is J.K.'s true masterpiece.

I held off on making a making a Snape cocktail last time, because how could I ever do him justice? And how could I ever make a cocktail that was an accurate reflection of Snape's personality and actually tasted good? Enter...Fernet Branca. Fernet Branca is a highly bitter, very complicated herbal Italian liqueur, and the very first time I tasted it I knew it was exactly what I need for my Snape. Add to that Blackstrap rum (a very deep, dark, molasses-y dark rum), falernum, and a dash of lavender bitters. Why the lavender? I wanted something floral to remind us of someone else with a floral name who Snape never forgot.

Severus Snape
1.5 oz Cruzan Blackstrap Rum
.5 oz falernum (I used Fee's)
.5 oz Fernet Branca
dash of lavender bitters (I used the Bar Keep Lavender Spice variety.)

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass over ice. Stir for thirty seconds, allow to sit for thirty seconds (I'm warning you - this one is strong), and strain into a cocktail glass.

I'm sad to think that the release of the last movie might be the end of all the Harry Potter madness. It's been a wild ride, and I hate to see it coming to an end. Whatever will we do? Well, I don't know. But have a drink.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cocktailing Chicago: The Matchbox

Chicago's matchbox is the cutest, tiniest little place you will ever get a drink that will knock you on your ass. It has the distinction of being the only bar we visited that actually looks like a bar from the outside, but you might miss it anyway, because it's about eight feet wide. Inside is a long bar with a single row of bar stools - there's about three feet between the first stool and the wall, and it only narrows as you go back.

It's even tinier than it looks.

I know this may sound like somebody's claustrophobic nightmare, but I just loved it. Somehow, squeezing yourself past other patrons to get to the bar, or the bathroom, breeds a bizarre sense of camaraderie. It's a feeling of community born from the shared experience of shoehorning yourself into this itty bitty bar to get a beer on a Sunday night. Maybe it's a trick - my shoulder is touching this person's shoulder, so we must be friends - or maybe I just liked it so much because it reminded me of college, where everyone seems willing to jam themselves into a tiny space with relative strangers as long as there's free food or drink involved. Whatever the reason, I completely fell in love with the feel of this bar - cool and insidery, but in a totally down, unpretentious way. A place can't be fancy if you have to make physical contact with 20 strangers to get to the bathroom.

By some stroke of luck Sarah, Rebekah and I managed to snag three consecutive barstools so we could get down to the business of drinking. The bartender was just the sort of woman you would expect to find behind the bar at a place like this - friendly but no-nonsense, chatting with regulars while slinging cocktails at alarming speed. The drinks were hit or miss. My gin blossom, a combo of gin, lemon, and elderflower liqeuer, was okay, but Sarah's lemon drop just tasted like vodka (okay, I guess, if you want a glass of vodka, but not if you ordered a cocktail), and Rebekah's Manhattan was overly sweet and watered down. My favorite drink I had here was just a plain old margarita, although I should probably qualify that by mentioning that by the time I tried it, I'd already had two other (quite strong) drinks.

The gin blossom.

The great thing, if you can find a drink you like, is that the bartenders don't skimp on quantity - the martini glasses are the same size you'll find at other bars, but with each order they give you the cocktail shaker used to make the drink, which has enough liquid in it to fill your glass over again. So it's really like getting two drinks for the price of one. Of course, they leave the ice in the shaker, so you'll have to drink your original drink first or your leavings will get a little watered down. Beers are bizarrely expensive ($4 for PBR? What?), so if your goal is to get the most buzz for your buck, you're definitely better off with a cocktail.

So: maybe not the greatest place for finely crafted cocktails, but definitely worth checking out. The whole thing just felt so comfortable - like I was always meant to be at this particular bar, with these people, sipping a Fin du Monde and melting into the music, and the atmosphere, and the perfect Sunday night.