Drink Local: Where to Celebrate National Margarita Day

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).

Puebla Margarita at La Fiesta in Mountain View

Puebla Margarita at La Fiesta in Mountain View

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.

Arturito's Margarita at La Fiesta in Mountain Vew

Arturito’s Margarita at La Fiesta in Mountain Vew: I don’t know Arturito is, but he makes a damn good margarita!

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.

Details
What: La Fiesta
Where: 240 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Phone: 650-968-1364
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!

Two favorites from Milagros: The Mexican Hipster (spicy) and Blood Orange Margarita (tart)

Two favorites from Milagros: The Mexican Hipster (spicy) and Blood Orange Margarita (tart)

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.

Milagro's Capella: Like a cross between a Margarita and Paloma

Milagro’s Capella: Like a cross between a Margarita and Paloma

Details
What: Milagros Cantina
Where: 1099 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, CA 94062
Phone: 650-369-4730
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.

Oh yes, I did! The Stallion at Fiesta del Mar Too: Corralejo Anejo, Cointreau, fresh lime

Oh yes, I did! The Stallion at Fiesta del Mar Too: Corralejo Anejo, Cointreau, fresh lime

Details
What: Fiesta del Mar Too
Where: 735 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Phone: 650-967-3525
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!

Not just a pretty face, the Nopal is probably Tacolicious' best margarita!

Not just a pretty face, the Nopal is probably Tacolicious’ best margarita!

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.

Details
What: Tacolicious
Where: 632 Emerson Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Phone: 650-838-0500
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).

The Office Margarita: if you like jalapeno and cucumber, this your drink.

The Office Margarita, served on a Bud Light coaster.

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.

Details
What: The Office Bar & Grill
Where: 1748 El Camino Real, San Carlos, Ca 94070
Phone: 650-598-9740
Bar Hours: Mon–Wed 11am–midnight; Thu–Fri 11am–2am; Sat 8:30am–2am; Sun 8:30am–midnight
Parking: Lot or street

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

Grow Local: How Does Your Garden Grow? — Part Trois

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!

Nightshades keep on growin'

Nightshades keep on growin’

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!

Chewed lettuce plants

These were baby lettuce plants. Someone’s been snacking in my garden!

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.

Purple jalapenos

Love my purple jalapenos!

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!

Cut peppers inside the tequila bottle

Cut peppers inside the tequila bottle

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.

Green Jalapeños
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!

Green jalapenos!

Green jalapenos!

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.

Large ancho chiles

Hellooooo, chile rellenos!

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!

Mature ancho chiles drying in the sun

Mature ancho chiles drying in the sun

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.

One pepper starting to mature

One pepper starting to mature

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.

Indigo Apple tomatoes

Indigo Apple tomatoes

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.

Notice the star-shaped imprint from the stem

Notice the star-shaped imprint from the stem and the purple to red coloring

Lettuces
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.

Baby 'Cardinale' lettuce plant

Baby ‘Cardinale’ lettuce plant, with Lettuce Manoa in the background

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.

Herbs
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 ;-).

Mojitos, anyone?!

Mojitos, anyone?! Or maybe I should say “Mojitos for everyone!”

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!

So. Much. Sage.

So. Much. Sage.

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.

Lemon verbena, lavender, and lime

Lemon verbena, lavender, and lime

That’s what I’ve got growing! What’s happening in your garden?

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.

 

My-my-my-my Paloma!*

May 2, 2014 § 3 Comments

Cinco de Mayo, your annual excuse to drink too many margaritas, is coming up on Monday — although some of you over-achievers might be getting a head start this weekend (in that case: rock on witcha bad selves). You know I love my margaritas, but this year I’m celebrating by shaking things up with another classic Mexican cocktail: the Paloma.

Paloma cocktail

Paloma cocktail

What is a Paloma? And Why, might you ask, am I breaking tradition from my beloved hand-made margarita? It’s a story that’s part inspiration and part economic practicality.

As the New York times informed us back in March, there is indeed a lime shortage. If you’ve started shopping for limes for your Cinco de Mayo celebration, you might have noticed that they’re teeny and pricier than usual. NYT writer David Karp broke it down to trio of problems: “[t]he culprits are weather, disease and even Mexican criminals.” The US relies on Mexico for much of its year-round lime supply, so with multiple issues reducing the availability of limes and sending prices higher, the effects have trickled down to our local markets.

During recent trips to Sigona’s and Whole Foods markets, I saw a paltry selection of Mexican limes that were the size of Key limes and almost as expensive. And yet, there’s still an abundance of other citrus varieties grown right here in California, some of it even within 100 miles of the 650 (Meyer lemons and mandarin oranges are just a couple of examples). Among this plethora of pretty citrus are California ruby grapefruits.

Fresh California ruby grapefruit

Fresh California ruby grapefruit

Although we’re nearing the end of the season, rubies are sweeter now than earlier in the season, readily available in the market, and they’re a good value (more fruit per pound and at a better price than the teeny-tiny Mexican limes.) Yes, I love my margaritas, but when life gives you not-limes, you gotta get creative.

So what about that inspiration part I mentioned? Coincidentally, a few weeks ago, I had my first-ever Paloma at One Market Restaurant in San Francisco. According to the bar menu, the ingredients are: Herradura Silver Tequila (as you might recall, my go-to tequila for margaritas), fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, soda, and lime juice. Grapefruit juice?! Not quite the Margarita I was craving, but eh, close enough. Never a fan of grapefruit, I was dubious, but figured why not? And this is why it’s good to try something new: the cocktail was delish — nicely balanced and refreshing! If I didn’t have to drive back to the 650 after dinner, I absolutely would have ordered another.

Flash forward a couple of weeks, and guess what turns up in my CSA box? Grapefruit — two of ’em (er, that would be grapefruits, then). As always, part of the fun of the CSA box is the “what am I going to do with that/those?!” game. But I’d been thinking about that Paloma I’d had at One Market, so the grapefruit question was easily answered: I have tequila, I have lime… hello, Paloma! All I needed was a recipe.

As it turns out, the classic Paloma recipe is basically grapefruit soda and tequila. Seriously. I prefer my cocktails sans bubbles, so this discovery was not making me happy. I was craving the fresh-juice Paloma I had at One Market, but with a few tweaks that would make it my own. The bubbles had to go — no soda, soda water, tonic or mineral water in my Paloma. A small amount of lime juice would add some tartness and balance the grapefruit, so the lime juice would be necessary, but not the star of the show. (Bonus, because, well, I didn’t want to be juicing bags of tiny limes all day long.) Finally, adding a little sweetness in the form of agave syrup would pull the whole drink together, smoothing out the tartness of the citrus. The only unknown was which tequila to use.

In my initial Paloma testing I went with a reposado because I wanted an added layer of flavor and complexity beyond a blanco tequila. But then I’d been thinking about a recent mezcal tasting at Loló Restaurant in the Mission and how that the sweet smokiness of a good mezcal might be an interesting pairing with the grapefruit.

If the word “mezcal” brings to mind something-like-tequila, but with a creepy-looking worm at the bottom, stop. There’s so much more to mezcal than a dead worm in the bottom of the bottle (and by the way, most quality mezcals do not contain a worm). I had my first taste of small-batch mezcal years ago when my friend Monica gave me an unlabelled, hand-painted bottle of the Oaxaca-produced spirit. The mezcal was smoky and sweet with herbal notes and that characteristic mezcal “burn” as it went down. I’ve been a fan ever since.

Mezcal is distilled from the cooked heart — the piña — of the maguey agave plant. It’s the cooking process, which involves fire roasting the piña for several days, that gives mezcal its characteristic smoky flavor. While a quarter of Mexico’s states are allowed to produce mezcal, most mezcal production takes place in Oaxaca. Recent years have seen a rise in the production of artisan/hyper-local versions of mezcal that focus on using agave plants from specific areas (for example, mountain vs. valley) and different methods of cooking the piña (steam roasted vs. fire roasted). Unaged mezcals are called “joven” (juvenile) and, like a blanco tequila, are clear spirits. The amount of smoky flavor in the mezcal will determine whether you want to sip it or use it for cocktails.

After what we like to call “serious research” around here (read: multiple cocktail and mezcal tastings), Mina Real Silver mezcal turned out to be the best choice for my Paloma.

Mina Real Silver Mezcal

Mina Real Silver Mezcal

Rather than the traditional in-ground fire roasting, Mina Real Silver is steam-roasted, which results in less smoke than mezcals produced by fire roasting the piña. On the nose, this mezcal is equal parts smoke, floral notes, and agave sweetness. It’s a nice pairing with the bright citrus combination of ruby grapefruit and lime. This drink is best served martini-style, rather than over ice, to fully enjoy the flavors. Give it a try!drink-side-view

Happy Cinco de Mayo! How are you celebrating this year?

Recipe: My Paloma

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

Ingredients:

2 oz freshly squeezed ruby grapefruit juice
½ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
2 oz Mina Real Mezcal
½ teaspoon agave syrup

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. 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. Combine ingredients 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. Garnish with half a grapefruit wheel.

Tequila version: As I mentioned in an earlier post, I happen to be a fan of San Francisco-based Tres Agaves Tequila. If you want to try a tequila-based Paloma, substitute Tres Agaves Reposado for the Mina Real Silver mezcal.

(*To the tune of “My Sharona,” by The Knack.)

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