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.)
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.
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)
For the glass:
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
- 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.
- Combine tequila, orange liqueur, juices, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with four or five cubes of fresh ice.
- Shake 4 – 5 times (not vigorously) to combine and pour into a prepared glass.
- Float a thin round of lime in the glass for garnish.
Recipe: Lime Salt
Zest of one lime
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 250° F.
- 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.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool.
- 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.
- Combine the crushed zest with the kosher salt.
- 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:
Glass or plastic container with lid for storing the syrup
4 ounces sugar
2 ounces water
A few drops of lemon juice
- Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan and place on the stove top.
- Give the ingredients a stir and heat just until the sugar has melted and small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.
- Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
- Refrigerate syrup in a closed container. Store up to three weeks.
February 21, 2015 § 1 Comment
Yep, it’s that time of year again: Sunday, February 22 is Margarita Day. I don’t know about you, but that’s a national holiday in my house! Get yer drinkin’ shoes on and get ready to celebrate the sweet-tart agave-cocktail deliciousness that is The Margarita. Actually, the third weekend in February is National Margarita Weekend. Not sure how we went from Margarita Day to Margarita Weekend (or who decides these things), but I’m not about to argue. A well-crafted margarita is one of life’s joys — especially when you can indulge on a sunny February afternoon with your nearest and dearest (or maybe just some super-fun folks who share your love of this summery drink).
If you’ve been around these parts for a while (650Food, that is), then you know I love my margaritas. Of course, enjoying margaritas comes down to enjoying tequila — and if you don’t, then what’s the point? Sure, a bad Jose Cuervo experience could have put me off the agave spirit for life (not that I know anything about that sort of thing), but learning about the nuances and flavor profiles of tequila has made all the difference. Closest analogy? If you’re a scotch whisky drinker, then you’ll likely appreciate a well-made tequila, particularly an aged tequila, such as a reposado or anejo. As I’ve said before: good ingredients are the starting point of a good cocktail.
Often I’ll find a tequila that just hits all the right flavor notes, and then figure out which additional components — citrus, berry, spice, liqueurs, and syrups — will help it shine through in a cocktail. I’ve written about a few of my home-bar favorites, which incorporate tequilas that have a local or regional connection: a Spicy Cucumber Margarita that uses jalapeno-infused Tres Agaves and a seasonal Blood Orange Margarita that uses Campeon.
But what if you don’t want to DIY when it comes to enjoying margaritas? What if you want to let someone else do the work, while you kick back and enjoy? Don’t worry, 650Food has gotcha covered with hands-on research and a roundup of some of the best places to get ya ‘rita on. Just to keep things even, I assembled a list of “must haves” for a quality margarita experience in the 650:
- Broad selection of tequilas: Natch. Hey, the cocktail experience is just that much nicer when you can choose your favorite brand.
- Variety of margaritas on the menu: Not everyone’s palate is the same, so let’s make sure there’s a little something for everyone. At a minimum, I’d like to see a classic, something sweet or tropical, and something spicy.
- Fresh, hand-made margaritas: No frozen concoctions or jug pours, thanks.
- Snacks: Whether it’s chips and salsa or ahi poke, you’ll want something to nosh while you imbibe.
- Bonus — Outdoor seating: Hello, it’s the 650, and we have great weather! Why not get out and enjoy it with your Margarita?
If you’ve got a favorite margarita spot in the 650 that you want to share, post to the comments below or on the 650Food Facebook page. Happy Margarita Weekend!
Best for Old-School Mexican Restaurant Vibe: La Fiesta (Mountain View)
La Fiesta is a classic; it’s family-owned and has been around since 1977. It’s not fancy, but the service is warm and friendly, and the margaritas are spot-on. The Margarita menu divides La Fiesta’s cocktails in The Classics! (exclamation point included!) and “Have You Been to…” in which cocktails are named after Mexican cities and regions.
Be sure to try Arturito’s Margarita (Cazadores Anjeo, fresh lime, sweet & sour, and triple sec), which is a nicely balanced, tasty cocktail that’s served up in a martini glass.
If you want a more “classic” style margarita, go for the Puebla: Corralejo Reposado, Cointreau, sweet & sour, and fresh lime.
What: La Fiesta
Where: 240 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Hours: Mon–Thu 11am–2pm and 5pm–9pm; Fri 11am–2pm and 5pm–10pm; Sat 11am–10pm; Sun 11am–9pm
Parking: Lot and street
Best for Fun, Contemporary Cocktails: Milagros (Redwood City)
You want variety? You got it! Milagros lists their cocktails by taste, so if you’ve got a hankering for tart, sweet, or spicy, Milagro’s servers and bartenders can point you to the right spot on the menu or offer suggestions. (The only outlier here is “Specialties,” which is a bit of a catch-all.) You like spicy? Then try the Mexican Hipster: El Jimador blanco, jalapeno, muddled cucumbers, lime juice, organic agave and a splash of soda. Balanced and flavorful, you’ll want another round of this one!
Love blood orange? Make sure to try the Blood Orange Margarita (seasonal)! Made with Espolon Reposado, muddled blood oranges, and cold pressed citrus juices, it hits that fine mark between sweet, juicy orange and tart rind. Want something closer to a classic margarita, but with a twist? Then try the Capella: Cazadores Reposado, Grand Marnier, lime, orange, and red ruby grapefruit juices.
What: Milagros Cantina
Where: 1099 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, CA 94062
Hours: Mon–Fri 11:30am–10pm; Fri 11:30am–10pm; Sat 11:30am–10pm; Sun 11:30am–9pm
Parking: Street or public lots (pay)
Best for Having It Your Way: Fiesta del Mar Too (Mountain View)
Fiesta del Mar Too has an extensive, almost dizzying, list of tequilas (200 or so!) and margarita variations. Just so you know, most of the margaritas that are on Fiesta del Mar Too’s menu are of the “classic” variety. No hipster variations with housemade bitters or St. Germain liqueur here! If you can imagine your favorite combination of tequila, orange liqueur, and lime, Fiesta del Mar’s bartenders can make it.
The house margarita is made with El Jimador Silver and Triple Sec. I opted for The Stallion (yeah, baby!): Corralejo Anejo, Cointreau, and fresh lime. (FYI: the drink is typically made with triple sec, but I upgraded to Cointreau for a dollar extra.) You can’t go wrong with any margarita on the menu, but for tequila lovers and aficianados who want what they want, Fiesta del Mar is the place. Just be aware that some substitutions come with a small upcharge.
What: Fiesta del Mar Too
Where: 735 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Hours: Mon–Thu 11:30am–9pm; Fri 11:30am–10pm; Sat 12pm–10pm; Sun 12pm–9pm
Parking: Lot behind the restaurant and street
Best for San Francisco Style without Leaving the 650: Tacolicious (Palo Alto)
Tacolicious, known for interesting cocktails and fresh, street-food-style tacos in its Mission and Marina locations now has an outpost in Palo Alto. The space is open, contemporary, and bright, with outdoor seating right on Emerson. The cocktail menu skews more to the new/contemporary style. My favorite, hands down, was the Nopal: Don Julio Blanco, prickly pear, citrus, and a touch of agave. You have to try this one!
The drink is perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, while letting the tequila shine through. (Thanks to bartender Noelle for her recommendation!) The classic Margarita de la Casa and tropical Mucho Gusto (Pueblo Viejo Blanco, pineapple, coconut water) are also popular choices, according to the bar staff.
Where: 632 Emerson Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Hours: Sun–Wed 11:30am–10pm; Thu 11:30am–11pm; Fri–Sat 11:30am–midnight; Sun 11:30am–9pm
Parking: Street or public lots
Best for Sitting at the Bar and Watching the Game: The Office Bar & Grill (San Carlos)
It can be a challenge to find a neighorhood sports bar that serves a well-made margarita — a place where you can sit at the bar, watch the game, and enjoy American classics, like Chili Cheese Fries or a BLT. Fortunately, The Office is just that kind of place: a spot where you can enjoy a casual bar experience and indulge in a tasty margarita. The cocktail list isn’t as extensive as, say, Fiesta del Mar Too’s, but The Office covers the basics: spicy (“The Office” Margarita), sweet (The Interview from Hell Margarita), and tropical (Hibiscus Margarita).
I took my bartender’s recommendation for The Office Margarita, a flavorful, spicy mix of Cazadores tequila, muddled jalapeno, cucumber, fresh lime, triple sec, and sweet and sour. While The Office Margarita is spicier than Milagro’s Mexican Hipster on the back palate (the spice lingers), it’s still a balanced, fresh-tasting cocktail. Enjoy this one with an appetizer or sandwich from The Office’s food menu.
What: The Office Bar & Grill
Where: 1748 El Camino Real, San Carlos, Ca 94070
Bar Hours: Mon–Wed 11am–midnight; Thu–Fri 11am–2am; Sat 8:30am–2am; Sun 8:30am–midnight
Parking: Lot or street
August 1, 2014 § 1 Comment
Time for the monthly update on my little back yard garden! As we’re coming into August, nightshades are just about ready for harvest, the sage has taken over the herb box, and I have a garden thief!
First up: that garden thief. Or maybe I should say garden thieves. It all started with chewed-up chives a few weeks ago, and was followed by half-eaten tomatoes, and more recently: brand-new baby lettuce plants chewed down to the roots!
After mentioning the chive thievery during my recent chat with Webb Ranch farmer Deano Lovecchio, I learned that cats like chives — and it’s likely that one of my neighbors’ cats was probably helping itself to my garden. (And I love cats, but DAMN!)
As for the tomatoes and lettuce, I suspect the squirrels. More than once I was excited to pick a pretty, just-ripe tomato from the bush, only to find that, while the front was gorgeous, the back half was gone. So disappointing! What this all means is that between now and next month’s update, I will be getting a pellet gun learning how to install a fence around my garden. (Good thing I’m a DIY kinda girl!) Stay tuned… In the meantime, here’s the rest of the update.
Purple Jalapeños Peppers
This plant has been the star of my garden since Day 1; it’s been flowering regularly, and the peppers are sturdy and ripening on schedule.
If you read the post on Spicy Cucumber Margaritas, then you know that these peppers turn red when mature. The mature peppers have a milder jalapeno heat, combined with a touch of red bell-pepper sweetness. To date I’ve only harvested two mature peppers, which I used to make pepper-infused tequila last month for said margaritas. If you’re looking to upgrade your margarita or tequila-drinking experience, give the recipe a try!
Just this week, half a dozen peppers on the lower half of the plant are starting to change color from black-purple to dark scarlet-red. Because the color is so dark, even through half of the transition, it’s hard to tell that the peppers are maturing until there’s a sudden pop of red amongst the green and purple.
Last month I wrote that “the regular green jalapeños haven’t done as well” and “[h]opefully I’ll be able to report a bounty of green jalapeños in a few weeks.” Well, guess what? Yes, I can! During the past four weeks, this plant has gone gangbusters with fruit!
A major flowering happened at the beginning of July, and yet lots of blossoms dropped, so I wasn’t sure I’d end up with more than a couple of peppers this summer. My, how things have changed. The plant is just full of big, beautiful peppers, that range from 3 – 4 inches long. While the peppers aren’t quite ready for harvest yet, I see a lot of salsas (and maybe another bottle of pepper-infused tequila) in my future!
Ancho Chile Peppers
My other rock star pepper plant! These babies are large (6 – 8 inches long), shiny green, and bee-yoo-tee-ful! As they’ve matured, they’ve grown longer, and the color has gone from a darker to a lighter green.
While many of the blossoms from the last flowering didn’t stick around, the peppers that were already on the plant are fast reaching maturity. I think our random weather — which has ranged from sunny, 90+-degrees to cloudy, 70-something days has delayed the maturity date.
The first two peppers, which started growing back in May, reached maturity, and then started to turn red before I could harvest them. I decided to go ahead and let them turn completely red by leaving them on a sunny windowsill. Eh, I have a few to spare, so let’s see what happens! Yep, I’m “making” dried ancho chiles!
I could string them up, but they get the most sun right on the windowsill. I turn them daily so that the drying process is pretty even.
Sweet Red Peppers
I don’t know what to make the red bell pepper plant. While it really started to flower and produce fruit once I ran a couple of drip lines to it during the first week of July, the growth has been minimal in the past month. In fact, I’m not sure it’s grown at all — unlike the hotter pepper plants, which are about four feet tall. The fruit on this plant is starting to ripen — especially the first (and largest pepper) — but some of the others are looking a bit anemic.
I suspect that this plant needs consistent hot and sunny weather to thrive. With the long maturity time (90 days or so), it looks like a small harvest this year.
Indigo Apple Tomatoes
Despite the loss of my first few ripe tomatoes to the local wildlife (ugh, suburban squirrels… so spoiled!), the plant is doing well. I think.
Some of the leaves are yellowing and drying out, which probably means that I need to adjust the watering plan, but the plant continues to flower and new baby tomatoes are popping up every day. Not only do the ripe tomatoes look cool, but they are delish, by the way — sweet with lots of flavor and low acidity. What I love is that the indigo/purple top doesn’t change color — just the lower half of the fruit, which does turn red when ripe.
Lettuces have turned out to be more challenging that I anticipated, mostly due to our weather. The Black-Seeded Simpson went the way of the Little Gems, bolting just a couple of weeks after I planted them. Sure, lettuces are easy to grow and don’t require much more than sun, water, and good soil, but randomly throw in a week or two of 90+-degree temperatures, and they will throw up a stalk and get all bitter in protest!
Fortunately, with 30 – 40 days to maturity, and a long growing season, I can keep trying! This month’s attempt is “Cardinale,” a sweet, mild lettuce that has medium green leaves with a tinge of red.
Apparently it’s popular with cats… or squirrels… or cats and squirrels. (Again, arrgghhh!) The Lettuce Manoa, which I planted last month, has gotten a little crispy around the edges, but is fighting the good fight, so we’ll see how it’s doing next month.
Not much has changed with the herbs in the past four weeks. They’re continuing to grow, seemingly unaffected by the random weather changes. I’m overdue to harvest and start preserving them for the cooler months, although I’m trying to keep the mint population under control by making mojitos regularly. It’s a tough job, but I’m commited to reducing food waste ;-).
Sage is the big winner in the herb box this month, which is to say that I have a crapload of sage — more than I know what to do with at this point. If you have ideas for preserving sage or recipes or, well, anything, please share!
Last but not least, the residents of the northeast corner of my yard are a lot happier since I installed drip lines there. Lemon verbena and lavender, which I’ve been harvesting for flavored simple syrups and my baby lime bush are all thriving! I don’t expect to see any limes until next year, but you never know.
That’s what I’ve got growing! What’s happening in your garden?