Weekend Cocktail: Orange Margarita

May 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

College friends of mine get together every summer for an annual birthday party. Well, not just a birthday party. The birthday party is the capper on a week-long reunion at a low-key vacation spot (think: Bend, OR or Cape Cod, MA). What started out as a lobster-and-Freixenet dinner party in a college fraternity house (more than a few) years ago has morphed into a yearly vacation tradition that includes spouses, kids, and friends joining in for a week of hanging out, cooking together, and competitive games of bridge.

The birthday party location varies every year, switching from right coast to left to accommodate East Coasters and West Coasters equally. I attended a few of the West Coast birthday parties in the decade or so after graduating university. In the early years, most of us were just fresh out of school and settling into apartments and careers. Some of us were in serious relationships. Some were not. There were no kids, no bedtimes, and probably more cocktails than cooking. (And wine. Lots of wine.) People slept on the floor. Clothing was lost. Long-running inside jokes were born. And we ate and drank well. The food was always plentiful and fresh, especially the birthday party dinner, which consisted of a spread of seafood (lobster was the star), salad, and sides, and of course: cake.

The guys handled the organization of the event, the cooking, and the beverages. My friend Jon took on bartender duties at more than one of these events. Unfortunately, my favorite cocktail — the margarita — was not his specialty (sorry Jon). Ever the excellent host, he was willing to make it right. “You know what this needs?” he asked enthusiastically, and then without waiting for me to answer: “Orange juice!” No. No, it really didn’t. But to this day it makes me laugh to think about it. One of those small, but memorable moments from a long time ago.

Flash forward to this year’s day of margaritas: Cinco de Mayo. I’ve been thinking about revamping my standard House Margarita to create an organic version using my new favorite tequila (Casa Noble Añejo). The first idea was to replace the Cointreau, which has a heavy alcohol taste, with the organic, lower-alcohol, sweeter Greenbar Distillery Organic Orange liqueur.

Important safety tip: it’s not a one-to-one replacement when it comes to orange liqueurs. Because the Greenbar liqueur is sweeter than Cointreau, I had to adjust the acidity of the cocktail. So, then how to coax out the orange flavor of the liqueur and adjust the acidity without the lime taking over, while letting the chocolate and caramel flavors of the tequila shine through? Good ol’ trial and error.

After a few rounds of testing different amounts of lime juice and adding some rich simple syrup to balance the acidity, something was still missing: more orange flavor. So there I am on Cinco de Mayo thinking how do I add some true orange flavor and sweetness plus some acidity, without making things too lime-y? And then it hit me: You know what this needs? Orange juice. No kidding. (Thanks Jon.)hero-1

Recipe: Orange Margarita
Yield: 1 cocktail
Not your classic margarita, this one brings the orange flavor forward, while downplaying the lime and letting the unique flavor of the tequila shine through on the finish. You can vary the sweetness by increasing or decreasing the amount of rich simple syrup. For an all-organic cocktail, choose organic limes and oranges, if possible.

You’ll need a double old-fashioned or highball glass, cocktail shaker, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, and ice.

Ingredients:

2 ounces Casa Noble Añejo organic tequila
¾ ounce Fruitlab Organic Orange Liqueur
1 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice (Tip: Zest the lime before juicing; set aside zest for Lime Salt)
¼ ounce rich simple syrup (recipe below)

Start your weekend off right: Five ingredients to a fresh Orange Margarita

Start your weekend off right: Five ingredients to a fresh Orange Margarita

For the glass:

Lime wedge
Thin round of lime
Lime salt (recipe below)

Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons:
2 ounces = 4 tablespoons
1 ounce = 2 tablespoons
¾ ounce= 1½ tablespoons
½ ounce = 1 tablespoon

How to:

  1. Prepare the glass.
    Pour the Lime Salt onto a small plate. Run a wedge of lime around the rim of the glass, then turn the glass upside down and dip into the Lime Salt. (You’re trying to get the salt mixture to adhere to the outer rim of the glass). Set aside.
  2. Combine tequila, orange liqueur, juices, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with four or five cubes of fresh ice.
  3. Shake 4 – 5 times (not vigorously) to combine and pour into a prepared glass.
  4. Float a thin round of lime in the glass for garnish.hero-2

Recipe: Lime Salt
Ingredients:

Zest of one lime
¾ teaspoon kosher salt

How To:

  1. Preheat oven to 250° F.
  2. Line a small baking tray with parchment paper. Spread the zest on the baking tray and place into preheated oven to dry for 5-6 minutes, stirring and tossing halfway through to ensure even drying.

    Fresh lime zest, ready for drying

    Fresh lime zest, ready for drying

  3. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  4. When zest is cool, place in a small bowl. Break the zest into smaller pieces, approximately the same size as kosher salt grains, by rubbing it between your thumb and forefinger or crushing with a pestle.
    You want to create something that looks like crushed — but not powdered — zest. 
  5. Combine the crushed zest with the kosher salt.
  6. Set aside until you’re ready to make the cocktail.

Recipe: Rich Simple Syrup
Yield: About 6 ounces syrup
Rich simple syrup has twice as much sugar as water, resulting in a thicker syrup with more sweetening power than regular simple syrup. If you can, use organic, fair-trade sugar as it has a richer flavor than refined white sugar. Adding a few drops of lemon juice to the mixture will minimize crystallization during storage.

What you need:

1-quart saucepan
Rubber spatula
Glass or plastic container with lid for storing the syrup

Ingredients:

4 ounces sugar
2 ounces water
A few drops of lemon juice

How to:

  1. Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan and place on the stove top.
  2. Give the ingredients a stir and heat just until the sugar has melted and small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
  4. Refrigerate syrup in a closed container. Store up to three weeks.

I Got Sunshine: DIY Organic Limoncello

April 11, 2015 § 1 Comment

Ah, limoncello! That little glass of sunshine on a cloudy day (or a sunny day, or… any day). Limoncello is lemony-sweet boozy goodness that you can enjoy as an apertif, a digestif, or anywhere in between. If you’ve got some patience, lemons, clear alcohol of at least 80 proof (vodka, for example), and simple syrup, you can make your own limoncello to enjoy whenever.

Sunshine in a glass

Sunshine in a glass

When I wrote about Lemonpalooza earlier this year, one of the projects on my list was to make a tasty organic limoncello. Maybe not the “it tastes just like the one on had in Italy that one time.” But a flavorful, balanced — not too sweet and not too boozy — indulgence, using good ingredients. Deciding on the right combo of lemons, alcohol and simple syrup meant getting into research-geek mode (definitely part of the fun!). I reviewed a variety of recipes from across the interwebs and dug for deets about alcohol content and aging times for liqueurs.

Thinking about making your own limoncello? Here are some tips to help you along.

Go Organic and Pesticide-Free
While not certified organic, the lemons I get from my backyard and from my neighbors are pesticide-free. In fact, other than the occasional watering — mostly from the little rainfall we’ve had this year — these lemons are just doing their own thing without the help of other chemicals. If you’re trying to follow a healthy, sustainable diet, why not consider doing same with homemade liqueurs?

Lemons
Limoncello made in Italy typically uses Femminello ‘St. Teresa’ lemons. Larger than our local ‘Eureka’, the Femminello’s zest has more lemon oil, which gives Italian limoncello that oh-so-lemony flavor. (Want to know more about Femminellos? Check out scordo.com.) While some of the specialty citrus growers are starting to cultivate Femminello lemons here in California, the fruit aren’t widely available in the market yet. Given the local abundance of Meyers at this time of year (and their unique sweet-tart flavor), they’re a good choice for a 650-style liqueur. Traditional? No. Delicious? Yes.

Grain Alcohol vs. Vodka
While in research-geek mode, I tracked down at least a dozen recipes from reputable sources. (Incidentally, all of them the best limoncello recipe evah! ) For every best ev-ah! recipe out there, there’s another best ev-ah! that contradicted the previous — particularly when it came to the type of alcohol to use: high-proof grain alcohol vs. 80-proof vodka. Given that I want to know who’s making my consumables, the source of their ingredients, and the distiller’s take on sustainability, I opted for an 80-proof organic vodka that has a clean, neutral finish. Choosing a lower-proof base alcohol also meant that I didn’t have to add as much simple syrup to dilute the alcohol percentage of my finished limoncello.

Simple Syrup and Alcohol Content
The alcohol content of commercially made limoncellos falls in the 26-32% range (that’s 52-64 proof). That percentage is determined by how much simple syrup you add to the lemon-infused alcohol. Sound complicated? It’s not. The more simple syrup you add, the more you dilute the alcohol, thus lowering the percentage. More simple syrup = less boozy and sweeter. Less simple syrup = more boozy and less sweet. Got it?

Taste will rule how much simple syrup you add to your limoncello, but if you want to geek out and make sure you get your limoncello in that 26-32% range for alcohol content, then website LimoncelloQuest can help. The site provides a calculator that quickly figures out for you how much simple syrup to add to your lemon-infused alcohol. Of course, you can skip the calculator and rely completely on your own palate, ‘cos taste-testing is part of the fun of creating your own liqueur.

Aging
If there’s any downside to making limoncello, it’s the waiting. The infusion process takes about four weeks, then there’s a few more days of waiting after you dilute the infusion with simple syrup. That’s right. More waiting. What I’ve learned is that the last part — that additional week of aging — is key. You have to let the simple syrup and lemon-infused alcohol do their thing in the dark for a few days — better yet, a week. During this time the alcohol will mellow a bit, reducing any harshness.

Back in February, I promised that if all went well, I’d post the recipe. <Drumroll> Well, two months later, and half three-quarters of the bottle gone, here it is: DIY Organic Limoncello.

Recipe: DIY Organic Limoncello
Yield: About 1 liter, depending on the amount of dilution and taste testing.
The base alcohol you use matters as much as the lemons, so choose a neutral, smooth vodka that fits your budget and dietary requirements or lifestyle (gluten-free, kosher, grain allergy, etc.). Note that I’ve specified organic cane sugar for this recipe, which produces a richer-flavored and darker-colored simple syrup than you’ll get using refined white sugar.

Use the best quality lemons and vodka for your taste and budget

Use the best quality lemons and vodka for your taste and budget

For the Infusion
What You Need:

1 bottle (750 ml) Tru Organic Vodka
10 organic / pesticide-free Meyer lemons
1-Liter glass jar, clean and dry
1 piece of plastic wrap, to cover the mouth of the jar

How to:

  1. Rinse the lemons to remove any dust or dirt.
    If necessary, use a small brush to scrub away any dirt or insects that don’t come off easily.

    Tip: keep a small scrub brush handy for cleaning citrus skins

    Tip: keep a small scrub brush handy for cleaning citrus skins

  2. Using a fine zester (Microplane or box grater), zest the lemons.
    Reserve naked lemons for other uses.
  3. Combine zest and vodka in the jar.
    Use any jar that has a snuggly fitting lid and a wide-ish opening, such as a mason jar. When the time comes, you’ll have to strain the zest out of the container, and you don’t want to struggle with some narrow opening.
  4. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar. Close the lid tightly and place in a cool, dark spot to infuse for four weeks.
    Put a piece of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar before sealing

    Put a piece of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar before sealing

    Suggestion: Label the jar with today’s date. A piece of masking tape and a Sharpie should do the trick.

  5. Create an alert on your calendar for four weeks from now so that you know when to dilute the infusion.

Simple Syrup
Yield: About 1½ cups

Ingredients:

8 ounces fair-trade, organic sugar
8 ounces filtered water

How to:

  1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover saucepan, and allow syrup to cool to room temperature before using.
  2. If not using immediately, store in a closed container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 weeks.
    Note: Simple syrup made with natural, organic sugar has slight brownish hue to it, which will darken the limoncello. It won’t be quite as day-glo yellow as limoncello made with refined sugar, but I think the flavor is better.

Diluting and Aging
What You’ll Need:

Clean 1-liter jar
Funnel
Several layers of cheesecloth
1½ cups simple syrup (recipe above)

How to:

  1. Line the funnel with several layers of cheesecloth and place it in the mouth of the clean jar.

    Line the funnel with several layers of cheesecloth before straining

    Line the funnel with several layers of cheesecloth before straining

  2. Pour the infused alcohol and zest into the funnel, straining the zest from the liquid.
  3. Squeeze all liquid from the cheesecloth into the jar.

    Make sure to get all of that lemon-infused goodness out of the zest

    Make sure to get all of that lemon-infused goodness out of the zest

  4. Pour 1 cup of the simple syrup into the jar and stir. Taste the mixture.
    It might taste boozy at this point; the alcohol content will be about 30%, or 60 proof. If you think this might be to your taste, close the jar, and put it in a cool, dark place to age for a week. If, after a week, your limoncello is still too boozy or harsh, you can add more simple syrup at that time. Just give it a few more days to age.
    If you think you’d prefer a sweeter limoncello, add more simple syrup, two tablespoons at time. Stir, then taste. FYI, I added the full 12 ounces of simple syrup all at once for 27% alcohol content (54 proof) and ended up with the perfect balance of alcohol and sweetness for my palate. I probably could have gone with just a tablespoon or two less, but it’s so damn good!
  5. Age your final mixture for a week, then transfer to the final storage bottle or container. Store in refrigerator or freezer. Serve chilled.picnic-bottle
    You might notice a “scum” forming at the top of the container. This is a coagulation of the natural lemon oils in the mixture (it’s flav-ah!). Simply stir or shake the container to redistribute the oils.

Have you made limoncello? What’s your best ev-ah recipe?

Recipe: Local Salty Dog

April 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

Passover starts this evening at sundown, Lent is coming to an end, and Easter is on Sunday. There will be Seders and Second Seders and brunches (oh my!). In short, it’s a weekend to hang with your nearest and dearest, enjoy their company and indulge a bit — or a lot. Whether you want a cocktail for one or for a crowd, for Seder or Easter brunch, the Salty Dog is the way to go. (And, how can you not love a cocktail called Salty Dog? Yes, I am smirking.)

Trying to please everyone? Give 'em a Salty Dog!

Trying to please everyone? Give ’em a Salty Dog!

For those of you unfamiliar with the Salty Dog, it’s the saltier brother of the Greyhound. Yup, just two simple ingredients: vodka and fresh grapefruit juice, served in a glass with a salted rim. Fresh ruby grapefruit, in season for a short time here in the Bay Area, is the key ingredient that makes this cocktail a standout.

I’ve never really been a grapefruit fan — it was too tart for me — until I tried the ruby grapefruit. I fell in love with this citrus delight last year when I was working on My-my-my-my Paloma! Something about the sweet, slightly tart flavor is craveable and refreshing, and lends itself nicely to easy-drinkin’ warm-weather cocktails.

The Salty Dog is a perfect spring cocktail: light, refreshing, and pretty, without being too girly. Not only is it easy to make, it’s easily adjusted for anyone’s taste — more booze, more juice, whatever you like. Another big win? It’s a good cocktail choice for most diets. Whether you’re keeping kosher or following a gluten-free diet, you can tweak the Salty Dog your way, just by choosing the right vodka. And, if you’re looking for an organic cocktail, then the Salty Dog is a no-brainer. With just two ingredients — grapefruit juice and vodka — it’s easy to choose organic, pesticide-free options for both.

Recipe: Local Salty Dog
Yield: 1 cocktail
When you’ve got only two ingredients, make ’em good. Choose fresh, local or California-grown grapefruit and the best vodka for your budget. There are good, organic vodkas for just about every dietary restriction. I’ve given some suggestions in the ingredients list below. Note that this recipe scales for one, two, or a crowd. To scale up, just multiply the ingredient amounts by the number of cocktails you want to make.

You’ll need a double old-fashioned or highball glass, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, a long-handled spoon, and ice.

Ingredients:

4 oz freshly squeezed organic ruby grapefruit juice
2 – 2½ oz Tru Organic Vodka (Kosher: Square One Organic Vodka, Gluten-Free: Pairie or Rain Organic Vodka)

With only two ingredients, you'd better make 'em good. Choose fresh, organic, and flavorful.

With only two ingredients, choose fresh, organic, and flavorful.

For the glass:

Wedge of grapefruit
3-4  Tbs Kosher salt

Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons,
2 oz = 4 tablespoons, ½ oz = 1 tablespoon

How to:

  1. Salt the rim of the glass. Pour salt on to a saucer. Run a wedge of grapefruit around the rim of the glass, then turn the glass upside down and dip into the salt. (You’re trying to get the salt to adhere to the outer rim of the glass). Set aside.
  2. Optional Waste-less tip: Peel or zest the grapefruit before juicing.
    You can refrigerate the peel for a few days or freeze. Use later for garnishes, zest added to savory dishes, or adding flavor to jams and marmalades. Feeling motivated? You can also save the pith for making citrus pectin. peeled-grapefruit
  3. Juice the grapefruit.
    Recommendation: juice citrus into a small, fine-mesh sieve placed over a measuring cup. Doing so catches any pulp and seeds, while letting you juice exactly the amount you need.
  4. Pour the juice into the cocktail glass and add vodka.
  5. Add 2-3 cubes of ice and, using the long-handled spoon, stir until the glass feels chilled.
  6. Add several more cubes of ice to bring the liquid level near the top of the glass.
  7. Optional: Garnish with a twist of grapefruit peel.salty-dog-no-back

Hello, It’s Me: Christmas Toddy

December 24, 2014 § 3 Comments

Phew! December has been a whirlwind, hasn’t it?! Between end-of-the-year everything (and if you’re a business owner and/or financial type, you definitely know what I mean), not to mention the onslaught of holidays, there’s hardly been time to catch up. And yet, here we are at the tail end of 2014! The Winter Solstice has come and gone, and tonight is Christmas Eve and the last night of Hanukkah. In less than a week we’ll be kissing it all goodbye and saying hello to 2015. 2015 already! I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some downtime. A break in the action. I’m jumping into pajamas and mixing up a Christmas Toddy to sip while wrapping those last few gifts and enjoying a little peace on earth. Or, at least in my living room.

What you need: a Christmas Toddy (and maybe some panettone, too)

What you need: a Christmas Toddy (and maybe some panettone, too)

What’s a toddy, you ask? Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a toddy as “a usually hot drink consisting of liquor (as rum), water, sugar, and spices.” Generally I’m not a fan of hot drinks (the occasional cup of tea is about it for me), but this time of year, sipping a hot toddy just seems so… holiday-like.

My Christmas Toddy has its roots in a hot-buttered rum recipe I found many years ago in a half-price bar book, long-since donated or lost in the debris of packing up and moving. Spices, tea, and rum are the key ingredients here. I like to keep it as local as possible, so I’m using local, raw honey and lemons from my backyard. Captain Morgan’s is my dad’s drink, and it just seemed like the right rum for this cocktail. I think the tea adds a bit of body to the drink and rounds out the flavor profile.

So get yerself one of these, find a peaceful spot, and just relax. Wishing you all a very happy holiday season!

Recipe: Christmas Toddy
Yield: 1 Cocktail
You’ll need a paring knife or channel knife, coffee mug, and shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons.

Ingredients:
Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons,
2 ounces = 4 tablespoons, 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons, ½ ounce = 1 tablespoon

Assam tea: 1 teaspoon loose in a tea ball or 1 teabag
7-8 ounces hot water, just off the boil
4 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick (about 3″ long)
2 teaspoons local honey (or to taste)
2 ounces Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum
Organic lemon (Eureka)
Freshly grated nutmeg

Christmas Toddy ingredients

Christmas Toddy ingredients

How To:

  1. Place the whole cloves, cinnamon stick, and tea ball or teabag in the coffee mug. Fill the mug with hot water.
    The water should be just off the boil: not bubbling, but still very hot.

    Steep the tea and spices for 4 minutes

    Steep the tea and spices for 4 minutes

  2. Let the tea and spices steep for about 4 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the lemon peel garnish: using a paring knife or channel knife, cut a 3-inch piece of lemon peel for the garnish.  Set aside.
  4. After 4 minutes, remove the teabag or ball and add the honey and the rum. Stir the drink using the cinnamon stick.
    Adjust sweetness or rum to taste.
  5. Twist the lemon peel over the the mug and drop it in.
  6. Sprinkle freshly grated nutmeg over the drink.
    from-above
  7. Have a happy holiday!

Ridin’ the Storm Out

December 11, 2014 § 1 Comment

It’s here! It’s here! Stormpocalypse has blown in to the Bay Area! I don’t know about you, but I’m hunkered down at home today. The first message on my phone this morning was a flash flood warning from the National Weather Service. Yikes! Well, so far that hasn’t happened, but the warning sealed the deal for staying put today (well, unless I need to get to higher ground, natch). We have been dumped on pretty hard, though. (Drought? Over.) And points north of the 650 have had school closings, flooding, and power outages. It’s ugly out there, folks.

Even with all the buzz, I wasn’t totally buying into the “Storm of the Century” drama (um, didn’t we have one of those a year or two ago?), but I did spend some quality time last night prepping the premises — just in case the tv weather folks weren’t being overly dramatic. Patio furniture was covered, small objects likely to go airborne in high winds were moved to safer locations, and sandbags were filled (booyah!) Despite my best efforts to batten the hatches and strategically place sandbags, the deluge of rain has turned part of my yard into a wading pool. Sigh. So, there I was this morning in the windy rain, clearing (more) leaves out of drains and setting up the backup sump pump before breakfast. Good times.

Once my work here is done, and I’ve made another tour of the backyard waterworks, I’m calling it quits for the day and curling up with a good book and a cocktail. Inspired by the cool rain, I’ll be shaking up my new favorite: vodka martini. Sure, a warm drink might seem like the go-to today, given the weather (and if that’s your thing, enjoy!), but somehow a clear, crisp cocktail is calling me.

What I’m I loving about the vodka martini is its simple elegance: three ingredients, a stylish garnish, a chilled martini glass. The version I’m drinking now steps up the amount of dry vermouth, so the cocktail is more of an aperitif than a chilled vodka shot. It’s a bit of fancy while you’re ridin’ the storm out. Cue REO Speedwagon…

Cocktail hour during Stormpocalypse

Cocktail hour during Stormpocalypse

Recipe: Ridin’ the Storm Out Vodka Martini
Yield: 1 Cocktail
Inspired by Imbibe Magazine
As with any cocktail, quality ingredients make the difference — especially when the ingredient list is short. Choose the best-tasting vodka, dry vermouth, and bitters for your palate and budget. My home bar is geared toward incorporating organic and local ingredients whenever possible. You might be hard-pressed to find an organic dry vermouth (I was), but the vodka choices are plentiful. TRU vodka, which I’ve used for this recipe is all-organic and made in Southern California. Square One organic vodka, produced in the Bay Area, is good local option as well.

You’ll need a paring knife or channel knife, martini glass, shaker, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, and ice.

Ingredients:
Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons,
2 ounces = 4 tablespoons, 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons, ½ ounce = 1 tablespoon

2 ounces TRU Oganic Vodka
1 ounce Dolin Vermouth (Note: vermouth is wine-based and should be kept refrigerated once opened.)
2 drops Urban Moonshine organic citrus bitters (although lemon, grapefruit, or celery bitters would work too!)
Organic lemon (Eureka)

Ridin' the Storm Out Martini, shaken not stirred: Dolin Dry Vermouth, TRU Organic Vodka, citrus bitters, lemon

Ridin’ the Storm Out Martini, shaken not stirred: Dolin Dry Vermouth, TRU Organic Vodka, citrus bitters, lemon

How To:

  1. Chill the martini glass in the freezer for about 10 minutes.
    Retrieve it just as you’re ready to shake the cocktail.
  2. Prepare the lemon twist: using a paring knife or channel knife, cut a 3-inch piece of lemon peel for the garnish.  Set aside.
  3. Combine vodka, vermouth, and bitters in a shaker with a handful of ice.
  4. Shake briefly (I give it three shakes) and strain into the prepared glass.
  5. Twist the lemon peel over the cocktail and drop it into the glass.cocktail-in-kitchen

Drink Local: It’s Another Thanksgiving Sunrise…

November 26, 2014 § 1 Comment

I’ll keep this short because, well, I know you’re slammed with preparations for the Big Day. Maybe you’ve got pies in the oven, turkey brining in the fridge (or already in the smoker)… or you’re just scratching your head trying to figure out where everything and everyone is going to fit. I feel ya!

Come Thanksgiving day, when the hardcore cooking gets underway, you might want to have an adult beverage by your side (just sayin’). How about a little sumpin’-sumpin’ that’s seasonal and tasty — not to mention made with organic ingredients — to keep you company while you’re whipping up some kitchen magic (or just escaping from the usual family holiday cray-cray)?

What you want to be drinking on Thanksgiving day

What you want to be drinking on Thanksgiving day

Inspired by our warmer, late-fall weather — forecast of high 60’s for the 650! — and a bounty of seasonal fruits, I’m going California retro: pairing Satsuma mandarin oranges (available everywhere right now), cranberries, and tequila. Yes, it’s a Thanksgiving Sunrise. (Anyone else hear The Eagles singing in the background?) Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Recipe: Thanksgiving Sunrise
Yield: 1 cocktail
I’ve used all organic ingredients for this recipe (hey, it’s my first all-organic cocktail recipe!), but feel free to use what you have on hand. Oh, and you might just want to wait until the sun is over the yardarm before imbibing. Or not.

You’ll need a double old-fashioned glass, long-handled spoon, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, and ice.

Ingredients:
Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons,
2 ounces = 4 tablespoons, 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons, ½ ounce = 1 tablespoon

3 ounces freshly squeezed organic Satsuma mandarin juice
1½ ounces reposado tequila (I’m loving organic Casa Nobles, but Tres Agaves is a very good option as well)
1½ teaspoons cranberry syrup (see below)
½ – 1 teaspoon grenadine syrup (to taste, if you prefer a slightly sweeter cocktail)

How To:

  1. Combine the tequila and fresh mandarin juice in a double old-fashioned glass (or a large juice glass, if that’s what you have on hand) with several ice cubes. Using a long-handled spoon, stir about 10 seconds until the liquids are combined and chilled.
  2. Add the cranberry syrup (and grenadine, if you’re using it). Stir to combine.
    Sure, that pousse café thing looks cool at first, but your drink will taste better when everything is combined, so give it a decent stir.
  3. Add ice to fill the glass to the top.
  4. Drink. Adjust if necessary. Breathe.ingredients-1

 

Recipe: Cranberry Syrup
Yield: About 3.5 ounces syrup (or about 10 teaspoons)
This syrup adds a seasonal, sweet-tart twist to cocktails or non-alcoholic spritzers (just combine with sparkling water and tangerine juice or apple cider). Feeling adventurous? Try it on waffles or pancakes with whipped cream for a sweet treat or with a little crumbled bacon for something more savory. The leftover “smoosh” from straining the syrup makes a sweet-tart condiment for turkey sandwiches.

What you need:

Kitchen scale
1-quart saucepan
Fine-mesh strainer
Small container or bowl to hold the strainer
Rubber spatula
Glass or plastic container with lid for storing the syrup and “smoosh”

Ingredients:

4.5 ounces cranberries (I used organic, thanks to my CSA delivery)
4.5 ounces cane sugar (organic cane sugar complements the fruit without overwhelming it with a supersweet, granulated-sugar flavor)
6.5 ounces of filtered water

Three ingredients for cranberry syrup: cranberries (natch!), cane sugar, and filtered water

Three ingredients for cranberry syrup: cranberries (natch!), cane sugar, and filtered water

How to:

  1. Combine the berries, sugar, and water in the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
    Be sure to lightly cover the pan with a lid, as the berries will pop as they heat up. (I set the lid at a slight angle so that steam can escape.) You don’t want cranberry spray all over your backsplash.

    Cranberries and sugar in the pot

    Cranberries and sugar in the pot

  2. Immediately reduce the heat to low-medium to medium (depending on the power of your burner), keeping the mixture at a low boil/simmer for about 10-12 minutes.
    Make sure you’re stirring the mixture regularly and using the rubber spatula to break up the berries in the pot. I press the spatula against the berries until they pop. After 10-12 minutes, you’ll have what looks like a cranberry compote.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing down just lightly with the spatula to extract the syrup from the compote.
    Strain the cranberry compote through a fine-mesh strainer to extract the syrup

    Strain the cranberry compote through a fine-mesh strainer to extract the syrup

    Don’t press too hard, or you’ll end up with a grainy syrup, which you’ll have to strain a second time. Also, keep in mind that cranberries are high in pectin, so they’ll set up more quickly than other berries (e.g., raspberries or blueberries) if you cook out too much water. If your syrup thickens too much as it cools, you might need to add some water to thin it.

  4. Let the syrup cool a bit (it should still feel warm to the touch, but not boiling hot), then dip a spoon in it to see how thick it is. If you prefer a thinner syrup, stir in 1/2 – 3/4 ounce of boiling water.
  5. Scrape the “smoosh” (cranberry skins, pulp, and seeds) from the strainer into a separate container and store in the refrigerator.
    You can use this compote as condiment for turkey sandwiches, but it will likely need a touch of acid for balance. Adjust it to your taste by adding a touch of balsamic vinegar or freshly squeezed orange juice.
  6. Allow the syrup to cool completely to room temperature. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.syrup-bottle

Field Trip: Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

August 29, 2014 § 4 Comments

Sometimes you just gotta bail… hit the road… get outta Dodge. Take a vay-cay-shun. I love my little corner of the 650, but it’s good to travel and see the rest of the world from time to time. I’d been fantasizing about a trip to Puerto Rico — especially Old San Juan —  since the beginning of the year, and I finally managed to squeeze in a getaway.

One of the narrow callejons off Calle San Francisco, Old San Juan

One of the narrow callejóns off Calle San Francisco, Old San Juan

Given that I spend most of my waking moments thinking, reading, and writing about (what else?) food and drink, exploring local restaurants was definitely at the top of my “must do’s” for Old San Juan! But aside from a thriving food scene with a variety of top-notch restaurants, Old San Juan is packed full of history, culture, and romantic charm! There are museums, national landmarks, and narrow cobblestone streets to explore. The pace is slow (year-round temps of 85ºF and high humidity help with the slowing down), and the everyone I met was friendly.

I am crushing hard on Old San Juan; it’s a gorgeous city with so much to see and experience. To me, the old city is a mashup of French Quarter meets Caribbean, with plenty of Latin influence thrown in. Yet, there are surprises everywhere: a block of Art Deco buildings here, and good ol’ USA commerce — Walgreens and fast food — over there.

There’s history on every block of Old San Juan, so walking is the best way to see the old city. Keep an eye out for plaques, affixed to just about every other building, for even more historical information. (I now know where the first Piña Colada was created!) Yes, the text is in Spanish, but you’ll be able to get the gist, even if you don’t speak the language.

Colorful buildings on the road to the government house, Old San Juan

Colorful buildings on the road to the government house, Old San Juan

My days were spent walking the old city, visiting national historic sites,  such as the Museo de Casa Blanca (home of the Ponce de León family for 250 years) and Castillo San Felipe del Morro (huge, multi-level “castle” that has guarded the city’s entrance for more than 400 years). As each day’s sightseeing wound down, I’d head to the Calle Fortelezza – Calle Tetuan area for a happy-hour cocktail and bar snacks before deciding on dinner. Bliss!

Mojitos are de rigeur at just about every bar. I tried both traditional and contemporary versions (let me just say that Toro Salao’s Rosemary Mojito rocks). One of the tastier, traditional versions that I tried was at Anam Spa & Cocktail Lounge. That’s right, spa and cocktail lounge. I wandered in thinking I’d just grab a happy-hour mojito and be on my way, but it turns out that I was able to relax with my cocktail while getting one of the best foot massages I’ve ever had (thank you, Hayley!!). Yet another opportunity to slow down.

Mojito at Anam's bar

Mojito at Anam’s bar

Anam’s mojito had no measurements — just a handful of mint, muddled with the juice of half a lime, a healthy pour of Don Q limon rum, and a top-off of Sprite. The addition of lemon from the Sprite and the Don Q rum added sweetness, but wasn’t cloying. The cocktail was absolutely delicious, well-balanced, and refreshing!

I’m already missing Old San Juan and thinking about another visit. I’ll be posting more about my trip (and what I ate) in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’m going to mix up a mojito with some backyard garden mint, homemade lemon-lime simple syrup, and Puerto Rican rum.

Recipe: Missing Old San Juan Mojito
Yield: 1 cocktail

You’ll need a highball or pint glass, cocktail shaker, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, a muddler, a long-handled spoon, and ice.

Ingredients:
Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons,
2 ounces = 4 tablespoons, 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons, ½ ounce = 1 tablespoon

Handful of mint leaves (if you must count, let’s say about 2 dozen leaves)
½ lime
2 ounces lemon-lime simple syrup (heat 4 ounces sugar and water to a simmer, stir until sugar is completely dissolved, add the zest and juice of 1/2 lime and 1/2 lemon, then cool and strain)
2¼ – 2½ ounces white rum (I used DonQ Cristal)
4 – 6 ounces sparkling water
Ice

How To:

  1. Juice the ½ lime into a glass.
  2. Add the mint leaves and lemon-lime simple syrup to the glass and muddle.
    I use a press-and-turn motion with the muddler to crush the leaves without shredding them. You’re working to release the mint essence from the leaves and combine it with the simple syrup and lime. Want to know if it’s working? Put your nose in the glass and take a sniff. You should be able to smell a combination of mint and citrus. (Want more details about muddling? Check out my 650 Blackberry Mojito recipe.)
  3. Add the rum.
    Stir once or twice to combine.
  4. Add ice to fill the glass about halfway.
  5. Top with sparkling water.
  6. Give a quick stir to combine everything.my-SJU-mojito
  7. Adjust to your taste, if necessary, by adding more simple syrup or rum.
  8. Garnish with a mint sprig and enjoy!

Summer Check-In: 650 Blackberry Mojito

August 8, 2014 § 4 Comments

According to the calendar, summer is just about half over — which means that there’s still six weeks left to enjoy! (Officially, summer started on June 21 and ends on September 22 this year.) Sure, if the kids are heading back to school in a few weeks, or work starts getting busy again right after Labor Day, it might feel like summer is coming to an end. But don’t call it just yet — especially if you live in the Bay Area! You know that our sunny, warm weather will last well into October. That means you still have time to grow a garden, have a barbecue, or take a road trip. So far, I’ve managed to check two of those three items off my Summer Bucket List, but August has slowed me down a bit.

There’s a certain lull to August that I like. Maybe it’s the calm before the storm of Labor Day weekend — that (supposed) last hurrah of summer. Maybe it’s the long, hot and humid days and warm nights that remind me of growing up in the Midwest (sadly, minus the fireflies). Maybe it’s the sounds of my neighbors’ kids playing along the street in the evening, yelling and laughing and riding bikes until the sun sets over the western hills and their parents call them inside. Somehow, everything just seems slower, more relaxed.

What about you? How’s your summer going? Has it been rush-rush to take trips, get the kids to camp, manage those meaning-to-get-aroundtoit house projects? Have you taken time to just watch a sunset, enjoy music in the park, admire your garden, or get out on the road with Led Zeppelin/Beastie Boys/Kings of Leon blasting and the windows down? With six weeks of summer left, what would you like to do?

Way back on June 1, I decided that I wanted to make the most of my summer this year, hence the Summer Bucket List. I didn’t want another year to go by in which my answer to “What did you do this summer?” was “WORK,” followed by a long list of things I meant to do. I wasn’t looking to do anything big, like climb Mt. Everest or swim the English Channel. I just wanted to recapture the feeling I had as a kid: that summer meant weeks of possibility laid out before me. Did I want to read books (yes, actual books) in the evening until sunset forced me to turn on lamp? Yes! Did I want to get in the car and just go anywhere with the radio blaring? Yes! Did I want to turn my kitchen into a lab for recipe development and experimentation? Yes! All that, and more.

So, how has it gone? Well, this weekend, it’s time to get organized and check in with my Summer Bucket List. What can I check off, and what do I still want to do or try or see before fall starts and the holidays come rushing up? Preserving herbs and vegetables from my garden are at the top of the list, but so is that road trip I’ve been craving for months. Choices, choices! But first, I think I’ll mix up a garden-inspired cocktail, grab my notebook and head to a cozy spot the backyard to think about the possibilities of the rest of the summer.

Recipe: 650 Blackberry Mojito
Yield: 1 cocktail

Local fruits and garden herbs have provided tons of inspiration for summer cocktails this year! I created this recipe with mint from my garden and blackberry syrup made with u-pick blackberries from local Webb Ranch. While the u-picks have come to an end, you might still be able to find regional berries at farmers’ markets, smaller grocery stores, or green markets, such as Sigona’s in Redwood City or Los Altos.

Webb Ranch berries, 650Food mint, lime, simple syrup and a muddler

Webb Ranch berries, 650Food mint, lime, simple syrup and a muddler

You’ll need a double old-fashioned or highball glass, cocktail shaker, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, a muddler, a long-handled spoon, and ice.

Ingredients:
Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons,
2 ounces = 4 tablespoons, 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons, ½ ounce = 1 tablespoon

12 large mint leaves (I used “Best Mint” spearmint from my garden)
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 – 1½ ounces simple syrup (heat equal amounts of sugar and water to a simmer, stir until sugar is completely dissolved, then cool)
1 ounce blackberry syrup
2 ounces white rum
4 – 6 ounces sparkling water

How To:

  1. Add the mint leaves, simple syrup, and lime juice to the glass and muddle.
    I use a press-and-turn motion with the muddler to crush the leaves without shredding them. You’re working to release the mint essence from the leaves and combine it with the simple syrup and lime. Want to know if it’s working? Put your nose in the glass and take a sniff. You should be able to smell a combination of mint and citrus.

    Minimize the cleanup: muddle the mint, simple syrup, and lime juice in the glass

    Minimize the cleanup: muddle the mint, simple syrup,
    and lime juice in the glass

  2. Add the rum, then the blackberry syrup.
    Stir once or twice to combine.

    Beautiful blackberry syrup added

    Beautiful blackberry syrup added

  3. Add ice to fill the glass about halfway.
  4. Top with sparkling water.
  5. Give a quick stir to combine everything
  6. Garnish with a mint sprig and a fresh blackberry or two.

    Find a sunset and enjoy

    Find a sunset and enjoy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spicy Cucumber Margaritas

July 24, 2014 § 6 Comments

While visiting my parents in the midwest earlier this month, I learned three things:

  • The town where I grew up built a new police station directly across the street from my old house. Seriously. Right. Across. The. Street. (Good thing that didn’t happen while I was in high school — just sayin’!)
  • I am lucky, lucky, lucky to have long-time, dear friends in my life, some of whom also happen to share my love of tequila. (Coincidence? I think not!)
  • Spicy cucumber margaritas are delicious and need to be in my cocktail-making repertoire.

    Spicy Cucumber Margarita

    Spicy Cucumber Margarita

During what’s becoming an annual celebration of belated birthdays, catching up, and plain-ole’ day drinking, one of my dearest friends and I enjoyed a couple of rounds of said margaritas on the 4th of July. They’re refreshing and go down a little too easily, but are perfect for a hot summer day — especially if you’re hanging out with good friends.

As it’s National Tequila Day, I’ve come up with my own version of this sweet-spicy, herbal-fresh margarita. Make up a batch and share them with your nearest and dearest! There are three parts to this recipe, which requires just a bit of advance planning:

  1. Spicing up your tequila.
  2. Making the cucumber simple syrup.
  3. Putting it all together and making the cocktail.

I’ve put the cocktail recipe first, just in case you already have your spicy tequila and simple syrup ready to go. If not, you can find these recipes at the end of the post.

Recipe: Spicy Cucumber Margarita
Yield: 1 cocktail

You’ll need a double old-fashioned or highball glass, cocktail shaker, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, and ice.

Ingredients:

2 ounces pepper-infused reposado tequila (recipe below)
½ ounce Cointreau
¾ – 1 ounce cucumber simple syrup (recipe below)
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

For the glass:

1 tablespoon Kosher or freshly ground sea salt
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder
1 lime wedge
Thin slices of cucumber

Ingredients for Spicy Cucumber Margarita

Ingredients: Fresh lime juice, pepper-infused tequila, Cointreau, cucumber simple syrup, spicy salt and garnishes for the glass

Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons,
2 oz = 4 tablespoons, ½ oz = 1 tablespoon

How To:

  1. Combine salt and chili powder in a small bowl, then pour on to a saucer. Run a wedge of lime around the rim of the glass, then turn the glass upside down and dip into the spicy salt. (You’re trying to get the salt to adhere to the outer rim of the glass). Set aside.
  2. Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with four or five cubes of fresh ice.
    When I make this cocktail, I use ¾ ounce of the cucumber simple syrup. If you prefer a sweeter cocktail, by all means, increase the amount to your taste.
  3. Shake 4 – 5 times (not vigorously) to combine and pour into a prepared glass.
  4. Fill glass with ice and garnish with thin slices of cucumber and a lime wedge.

    Spicy cucumber margarita

    Make mine a double: double recipe in a highball glass.
    You know, for photo-styling purposes…

 

Recipe: Pepper-Infused Tequila
There’s not much work involved here: pierce or cut a spicy pepper and pop it into a bottle of your favorite tequila for the infusion. Ideally, start this project when you have a designated driver handy or are hanging out at home for a while, as you’ll need to taste the tequila periodically to test for spiciness.
Important: I strongly recommend wearing gloves while handling spicy peppers. Afterwards, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands, cutting board, knife, and any utensils you used. Don’t touch your eyes, mouth, or other, er, sensitive parts immediately after handling spicy peppers — wash your hands first!

Ingredients

1 – 2 jalapeño peppers, depending on your tolerance for hot peppers
1 bottle reposado tequila (my favorite is Tres Agaves, but choose whatever you like)

How to:

  1. Wash and dry the pepper(s).
    I used mature Purple Jalapeños from my garden. Want to know more about these peppers? Check out this post about my garden.

    Mature purple jalapenos

    Mature Purple Jalapeños (yes, they turn red) from my garden

  2. Take a look at the opening of your tequila bottle.
    a. If you can fit the whole pepper through the opening, then pierce several holes in the pepper using a skewer or sharp paring knife. Push the pepper through the opening and recap the bottle.
    or
    b. If the whole pepper will not fit through the opening, slice the pepper in half vertically. Press the pepper pieces into the bottle and recap it. Some seeds might come away from the pepper. Don’t worry, you can always strain them out later.

    Cut peppers inside the tequila bottle

    Cut peppers inside the tequila bottle

  3. Make sure that the bottle is capped tightly. Holding the bottle upright, give it a quick turn upside down. The pepper (or pieces) should float to the bottom and settle down.
    Depending on how spicy/mature your pepper is, the infusion process can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days.
  4. Grab a shot glass and taste-test the tequila at regular intervals.
    I did my first taste test after two hours of infusion, then two hours later. After eight hours I still wasn’t tasting the level of spice I wanted. Turns out my peppers were really mature, and not as hot as I’d anticipated, so I ended up just leaving them in the bottle.
  5. When your tequila has reached the desired (tolerable?) level of spiciness, remove the pepper and any seeds that might have settled in the bottom of the bottle.
    You can strain the tequila into another bottle for storage, or simply fish out the pepper from the original bottle, whatever works best for you. Make sure that you clearly label the bottle containing the spicy tequila. I also put the date of infusion on the label as well.

Recipe: Cucumber Simple Syrup
Yield: About 8 ounces syrup
Refreshing and tasty, you can also use this simple syrup to make an easy summer spritzer.

What you need:

1-quart saucepan
Fine-mesh strainer
Small container or bowl to hold the strainer
Rubber spatula
Glass or plastic container with lid for storing the syrup

Ingredients:

4 ounces sugar (½ cup)
4 ounces water (½ cup)
½ cup peeled, grated cucumber

How to:

  1. Peel the cucumber and grate it using the large holes on a box grater or food processor attachment.
  2. Combine the cucumber, sugar, and water in a saucepan and place on the stove top.
  3. Give the ingredients a stir and heat just until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
    Give the syrup another stir to make sure that all of the sugar has dissolved.

    Cucumber simple syrup cooling in the pan

    Cucumber simple syrup cooling in the pan

  5. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the cucumber to remove as much liquid as possible.

    Straining the cucumber simple syrup

    Straining the cucumber simple syrup

  6. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

 

Field Trip: Celebrating Summer with CUESA

July 1, 2014 § 4 Comments

It’s summer! Just writing those words brings a smile to my face. (Could you tell that it’s my favorite time of year?) rusty-blade-flowers

How did you mark the official arrival of summer? Did you barbecue at home with the family and neighbors? Take your kids to the park for a picnic? Pass a leisurely afternoon day drinking with friends on the patio of your favorite restaurant? Whatever you did, I’ll bet it included friends or family and food!

I get a little giddy when I think of all the wonderful, fresh food that’s available from our gardens and local farms this time of year — which you could probably figure out from my recent posts about local stone fruit and coastal strawberries. We’re so fortunate to have fine weather and a long growing season here, but also a culture that values growing, making, and  sharing good food.

So how did I mark the official start of summer? With some delicious food and fine cocktails, of course! CUESA’s Summer Celebration at the Ferry Building on June 22 was the perfect summer kickoff party. The event, which benefits CUESA’s educational program, celebrated the bounty of summer produce with small plates and handcrafted cocktails created by some of the city’s best chefs and bartenders. (There were also fresh nonalcoholic libations: juice blends and shrubs.) Each plate or beverage was inspired by one of six categories of summer produce  — or “culinary families,” as CUESA calls them:

  • Alliums
  • Berries
  • Cucurbits
  • Grains and legumes
  • Leaves and flowers
  • Stone fruit

Most of these food families are probably familiar to you — especially berries and stone fruit. Alliums and cucurbits might be less-familiar names, but you’ll recognize their family members. Allium, the latin name for garlic, includes all varieties of garlic and onions, including shallots, leeks, and scallions. But what the heck are cucurbits? (Ok, am I the only person who hears Bill Cosby’s voice saying “Riiiiight. What’s a cucurbit?”). The cucurbit family includes vine-growing produce, which are botanically classified as fruits: squashes, melons, and cucumbers.

More than just a tasting event, CUESA’s Summer Celebration brought together farmers, chefs, beverage crafters, and food lovers of all kinds from around the Bay Area to taste, savor, and learn. While you might know CUESA as the people who put on the Ferry Building farmers’ markets, much of what CUESA does involves educating consumers about sustainable agriculture and local food systems. (Want to know more about their mission? Check out their site.) The Summer Celebration included a variety of fun and creative educational games to teach attendees more about each culinary family. (An added bonus for food geeks!)

Santa Cruz’s Dirty Girl Produce had a gorgeous display of alliums and challenged attendees to an allium “sniff test.” Could you tell the difference between onions, leeks, shallots, and scallions with just your sense of smell? Not as easy as you might think! I had a chance to test my berry knowledge by spinning the Wheel of Berries to answer a berry trivia question. My prize? Yum — a tasting of fresh berries! However, one of my favorite games of the evening was “What’s Your Stone Fruit Name?” (I won’t tell you how it works, but there’s not much skill involved).  For the rest of the evening I was “Flavor King,” and my date? “Golden Blaze.” We wrapped up our game-playing at Grains & Legumes Jeopardy, rocking the Grains category, but stumbling on the Legumes. Looks like I need to brush up on my legume facts, but it was fun all the same.

The event was also an opportunity to connect one-on-one with food growers, such as Frog Hollow Farm, Sierra Cascade Organic Blueberry Farm, Star Route Farms, and Dirty Girl Produce. I learned some “Fruity Facts” and talked food waste solutions with the Frog Hollow folks, who grow some of sweetest, most flavorful peaches and apricots in the area. I got the lowdown on how Sierra Cascade’s farmer, John Carlon, created a sustainable farm by understanding and working with the synergy between the blueberries, bumblebees, and gophers. And I experienced edible blossoms and leaves (oh my — Meyer lemon blossoms! Floral, perfumey, sweet, and citrusy, with a bit of crunch.) at Star Route Farms’ beautiful display.

There were so many delicious creations to try, but here’s the short list of favorite tastes from the event.

Alliums
The Sweet Onion and Tasso Ham flatbread from Il Cane Rosso doesn’t look fancy, but it’s so flavorful and craveable. To me it was like a next-level nacho plate. The flavors paired well, as did the contrast between the crispy flatbread and the tasso ham. Even thinking about it now is making me hungry.

Sweet Onion and Tasso Ham Flatbread with Roasted Shallot Cream and Crispy Spring Onions (Lauren Kiino: Il Cane Rosso, Red Dog, and Fearless)

Sweet Onion and Tasso Ham Flatbread with Roasted Shallot Cream and Crispy Spring Onions (Lauren Kiino: Il Cane Rosso, Red Dog, and Fearless)

Berries
Most of the handcrafted cocktails showcased locally produced spirits — and gin seemed to the spirit of choice. I’m not a gin fan, but this cocktail of raspberry, lemon, bitters, and No. 29 gin was a favorite. Plus, it had a super-cool (pardon the pun), large ice cube.

Logan's Run with No. 29 Gin: raspberry, lemon, bitters, gin and one really nifty ice cube (John Gasparini: Rye on the Road)

Logan’s Run with No. 29 Gin: raspberry, lemon, bitters, gin and one really nifty ice cube (John Gasparini: Rye on the Road)

Everyone I talked with listed “the pork belly” as one of their top tastes of the evening. 1760’s tasting spoon paired rich pork belly with a sweet berry compote. A bit of bad planning on my part, as I tasted this one later in the evening, not leaving enough time to round back for seconds… or thirds…

Pork Belly with Berry Composte, Coriander, and Pistachios (Ben Stephans: 1760)

Pork Belly with Berry Compote, Coriander, and Pistachios (Ben Stephans: 1760)

Cucurbits
And this is why I love tasting events: being surprised by something unexpected! I was thinking “yeah, yeah, stuffed squash,” when I saw this plate, but this stuffed squash from Bluestem Brasserie was delicious!

Sausage-Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash with Goat Cheese and Squash Blossom-Pepita Pesto (Francis Hogan: Bluestem Brasserie)

Sausage-Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash with Goat Cheese and Squash Blossom-Pepita Pesto (Francis Hogan: Bluestem Brasserie)

I was holding off tasting most of the desserts until later in the evening, which meant that I missed out on a few — and maybe that worked out for the best. Yigit Pura’s Panna Cotta was worth it, and he has restored my faith that there is well-made, creamy panna cotta in the world. Perfect summer dessert: light, balanced, fruity. Trust me, if I weren’t so full, I would have eaten two more.

Strauss Family Creamery Yogurt Panna Cotta, with Cucumber, Basil, & Gin Gimlet Gelee, and County Line Tuscan Cantalope (Tout Sweet)

Strauss Family Creamery Yogurt Panna Cotta, with Cucumber, Basil, & Gin Gimlet Gelee, and County Line Tuscan Cantalope (Yugit Pura: Tout Sweet)

Grains & Legumes
Andrew Court’s Ancient Grains & Seaweed Salad was another surprise of the evening, which is why there’s no photo of the plated dish. (Sorry, you’ll have to make do with this fancy copper baby bathtub full of the grains and legumes used in the salad.) I pretty much inhaled it once I tasted it. The grains were perfectly cooked, the seaweed added a bit of umami flavor and crunch, and the dressing brought it all together. Deliciously healthy, and yet indulgent at the same time.

Ancient Grain & Seaweed Salad with Wasabi Vinaigrette (Andrew Court: The Fairmont San Francisco)

Ancient Grain & Seaweed Salad with Wasabi Vinaigrette (Andrew Court: The Fairmont San Francisco)

Leaves & Flowers
Here we have the first gin cocktail of the evening, and it might have changed my opinion about gin! This one, made with the 650’s own Rusty Blades Gin, was probably my all-around favorite. Again, not a gin fan, but Rusty Blades reminded me more of an aged whiskey and was really tasty with a bit of sweetness. The cocktail was summery, citrusy, and floral, and garnished with a pretty flower. Loved it!

Rusty Blade Gin's summer celebration cocktail

Rusty Blade Gin’s summer celebration cocktail

Smoked salmon? Yes, please! I thought Gaspar’s English pea and chive blini would be nothing more than a delivery device for the salmon, but I was so wrong! This bite pulled together the sweet flavor and soft, creamy texture of the blini with the smokiness of the fish and the herbal accent of the chives. So good!

Gaspar's English Pea and Chive Blini with Smoked Salmon

Gaspar’s English Pea and Chive Blini with Smoked Salmon

Stone Fruit
If you’ve read past posts, you know that Campo de Ecanto Pisco is regular in my home-bar lineup. Pair that with Frog Hollow Farms apricots for Rye on the Road’s Pisco Apricot Tropical, and wow! Yes, I’ll be doing some major “research” to reverse engineer this one at home.

Pisco Apricot Tropical, made with Campo de Encanto Pisco and Frog Hollow apricots (Greg Linden: Rye on the Road)

Pisco Apricot Tropical, made with Campo de Encanto Pisco and Frog Hollow apricots (Greg Linden: Rye on the Road)

Last, but in no way least, was A16’s Stone Fruit & Roasted Beet Salad. The beets and fruit played perfectly together, while the yogurt and nuts added texture and flavor. The kind of salad you could eat all summer long!

Stone Fruit & Roasted Beet Salad with Sheep's Milk Yogurt, Pistachio & Dragoncello Sauce (A16)

Stone Fruit & Roasted Beet Salad with Sheep’s Milk Yogurt, Pistachio & Dragoncello Sauce (A16)

Did you attend CUESA’s Summer Celebration? What was your favorite drink or small plate?

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