50 Shots of America–Rhode Island

Seems to like all Rhode Island ever wanted was to be left alone and they just never stood a chance. An early haven for seekers of religious tolerance it was later the Switzerland of New England during the American Indian wars of 17th Century (even though no one really honored their wish to remain neutral. Strong feelings of independence made it a major player in the American Revolution, hosting the first official bloodshed of the war in Providence.

Read more about the Ocean State and my recipe for hope in a glass over at Sips & Shots.

50 Shots of America: New York

Oh, man, New York, the Cocktail Capital of the World (okay, so the Web tells me that Tokyo is actually the cocktail capital of the world, but Hudson, NY, was the first place that the word cocktail can be c0nfirmed in use, so :P) comes in as the 11th state of the Union having ratified the Constitution on July 26, 1788. No pressure or anything, right?

Suddenly I’m thinking in TMBG lyrics:

just like old New York was once New Amsterdam

Of course we know why they changed it. Though originally settled by the Dutch and French, the Duke of York decided that Long Island just wasn’t enough for him and he took forceful possession of New Amsterdam in 1664.

I’ve been told that there is more to New York than just the island of Manhattan though, since I’ve not actually seen it myself (only been to the island for 2 days a few winters ago), I’ll have to take their word for it. Apparently those areas are great for apple orchards, cherries and a vast wine-producing segment as well as the largest cabbage production of the US. Maybe it should be called the Big Cabbage instead of the Big Apple?

But the Big Apple it is and, try as I might to avoid an apple drink I just couldn’t help myself when the following occurred to me:

Little Big Apple Dumpling

.75 oz Apple Pucker
.5 oz Apple Juice
.5 oz Butterscotch Schnapps
.25 oz Goldschlagger

Combine all in a small cocktail shaker over ice and give it a Bronx salute or two. Strain into a chilled double shot or cordial glass and think glittery apple thoughts.

I’m…  not even going to try and paint a picture of New York’s culinary landscapes. Books, entire websites, have been devoted to the subject, I’m not going to be able to do it justice in 5oo words. What I can do is share the menu I created for my American Regional class in Culinary School. I was assigned New York, obviously, and wanted to do something to highlight some of the more dominant cultures that the area represented. I figured there were 5 boroughs so I’d pick 5 cultures and serve 5 courses. This was our first opportunity to create a menu, play executive chef to our fellow students and actually have guests come to dine. We had to set the table/decorate, time the courses,  introduce and answer questions about each and deal with whatever came up. Crazy but fun is what I remember most from the evening. That and my salad guy not pitting the Kalamata olives for the Greek Salad (my mother had to ask our dean what the etiquette was on removing said pits from one’s mouth–oops!).

Appetizer (Jewish)
Potato Latkes w/Sour Cream & Applesauce
Soup Course (Russian)
Traditional Borscht
Entree (Irish)
Dingle Pie (lamb, parsnips & turnips), Creamed Mushrooms w/Chives
Salad Course (Greek)
Traditional Greek Salad
Dessert & Coffee (American-ish*)
New York Cheesecake

I don’t need to look it up (even though it was 10 years ago)–of course I got an A. I built a paper model of the top of the Chrysler Building for the centerpiece, for crying out loud (and can’t believe I finally threw it out during the last move–what was  I thinking?!). I also happened to have gone first, thankfully, as we lost a lot of students during that module.

*Cheesecake’s origin is technically from Greek cheese pie that was introduced to the rest of Europe by the Romans but bears very little resemblance to the cottage cheese pie immigrants made in early American days. Cheesecake, as we know it, is essentially an American invention with German and Jewish influences and new-world innovations like the graham cracker crust. We’ll just call it the ultimate melting pot dessert and enjoy it 🙂

50 Shots of America–Virginia

Looking over the information available on our 10th state, Virginia, I stumbled upon the list of Food & Wine Festivals that happen throughout the year in the Old Dominion State. There are a LOT of them. But, you know, with a considerable agricultural industry and 130 wineries in the state, I suppose that should be expected.

The home of the Jamestown settlement and birthplace of about 8 presidents, I was always told that the state got it’s name in honor of Elizabeth I, the virgin queen. That’s not necessarily wrong, but I also read that there are a couple of Native American words common to the area that sound similar, so it’s a toss-up who really gets credit, there.

Still, I figure that’s as good a reason as any to offer up a non-alcoholic sipper for the umpteenth state (okay, yes, I know, we’re only up to 10 with this one) to claim milk as a state beverage.

Cheerberry Cooler

2 Blackberries
1 Strawberry, quartered
Peach nectar
Cherry soda

In a low-ball glass, muddle the berries with a healthy splash of the peach nectar until thoroughly crushed. Fill the glass half-full with crushed ice and top with cherry soda. Stir to combine the fruit with the soda and float a bit more peach nectar along the top.

Cheerwine is a very-cherry, very carbonated soda bottled in North Carolina but very popular in Virginia. If you can’t find it or another all-cherry soda, substituting Cherry 7-Up will also work. In large volumes this would make a lovely spring or summer punch and, in the absence of fresh, frozen fruit can be substituted. If served doubled in a tall glass make sure to include a spoon so the fruit doesn’t go to waste.

A Well-Stocked Bar

Cheers! This week I’m at MegaCon in Orlando, Florida, and am away from my home bar. 50 Shots of America will resume next week. Until then, I hope you’ll find the following enlightening–it’s long, but for good reason.

The Basic Spirits

To make a wide variety of drinks, a bar stocked with a bottle each of Gin, Vodka, Rum, Whiskey, Tequila and Brandy. You don’t have to go out and buy all of them at once. If you’re still in the process of building up your stock, choose a particular cocktail to serve at each gathering, and use the opportunity to add another basic to your bar. Scotch isn’t used as much in mixing drinks, but it’s another good one to have on hand.

Once you’ve got the basics covered, you might want to add some variety in your vodkas and rums. Vanilla vodka is exceptionally good in sweet drinks and there are plenty of flavored vodkas on the market–the only problem is picking which ones you think you’ll like! Rums come in white, dark, golden and spiced, each with their own applications. Once you’ve managed to get those basics down, you can also moved into the flavored varieties; coconut and pineapple are especially nice.

Liqueurs

Liquor is only the beginning of a cocktail. A lot of variety can be achieved with just a few liqueurs to add to a vodka or rum base. Used in smaller quantities, these bottles can last a while (as long as you don’t leave the caps off! Alcohol evaporates, after all, and while speed pour tips may look professional they’ll cost you in the long run with the shrinkage of your stock). Triple Sec (an orange liqueur) is one of the first you’re likely to want, though you should consider the more specific Cointreau if your budget allows as the latter is smoother and less overpowering in a cocktail.

Schnapps can be found in many flavors, with peach and butterscotch being two of the more popular–and tasty–options you should lay in as soon as possible. A good chocolate liqueur is nice to have, along with a coffee liqueur and an Irish Cream (not a schnapp–is there a singular for schnapps?–but it goes best here; just buy some!).

Vermouth, a fortified wine (the others are distilled from liquors) is integral to making a classic martini. It comes in both dry and sweet varieties, the former more common these days.

Bitters, also available in several forms, are misnamed. They do not add an unpleasant taste to a drink, instead they smooth out the other flavors. Angostura and Peychaud are two you should look for. It comes in small bottles with an equally small price tag. Since you only use a few drops per drink they will easily last for ages!

Mixers

So we’ve covered hard liquor and liqueurs, the last component to most drinks I make is a good dose of a non-alcoholic mixer. I enjoy the flavors that come from the booze, but I don’t want to be knocked over the head by the fumes or have my mouth burn from an imbalanced drink. Know what I mean?

Of course, since most cocktails are small, opening a 2 liter of soda or half gallon of juice for just a couple of ounces can lead to a lot of waste if you don’t drink those things often (we don’t, most nights we drink water that we keep in the fridge–just refill it when empty and move onto the next cold one, lol) or a very crowded fridge if you like to mix up your drink list frequently.

Instead, look around the juice and soda aisles for the tiny bottles and cans they carry, and keep these on the bar or in the pantry for whenever you need just a bit of something or another. Right now we have 12 oz (or so) bottles of apple, cranberry and orange juice along with 6 oz cans of pineapple, pink grapefruit, mango, peach and tomato juice. Again, the trick to not breaking the bank is to stock up gradually and then, as items are used, pick up replacements.

Sodas are also a popular mixer and we usually keep a 12-pack of caffeine free Coke classic and Sprite. Since I don’t drink soda often, these 12-packs last AGES and are tucked away on the bottom of a bookcase we have near the bar to hold just this sort of thing (along with extra glasses, liqueur overflow and bar books). Ginger Ale, Tonic Water and Club Soda can be found in both liter bottles (fairly handy) or cans and small bottles. An excellent invention for the really non-soda-drinkers among us are those wee 6-packs of the mini cans. Perfect for a single hi-ball or the like.

Garnishes

This is one thing I don’t often do at home. For parties? Yes. But usually I don’t worry about garnishes when I’m testing a recipe or just mixing up something for me. Still, having bottles of martini olives, onions and maraschino cherries in the fridge can come in handy when you want to go all out. Lemons and Limes (both for muddling and garnishing) should be chosen for their blemish-free rinds and even color. A small, green-skinned lime is much better than a big lime with brown spots on it, no?

So, to sum up this slightly epic (in length, if nothing else) post:

  1. Cover your basic spirits
  2. Add variety and specialty items slowly
  3. Buy mixers in small, non-perishable forms

50 Shots of America–New Hampshire

We’re already up to our ninth state, New Hampshire, which ratified the Constitution on June, 21, 1788. (So much for coincidental dates, I suppose we can save that lotto ticket!)

The Granite State was, of course, one of the original 13 colonies to rise up against British rule and I’m a bit confused as my sources (read as: Wikipedia) claim that our last state, South Carolina, was the first to declare independence from Great Britain and now New Hampshire wants that honor. You know what? Allowing for a certain possibility of error AND the zeitgeist that undoubtedly roosted in the minds of the various colonies, I’m gonna let last week’s statement stand and just go with the fact that they both had the idea at or around the same time.

I never said I was good at history, folks. This is, after all, about cocktails. I’m just looking for something interesting to base a drink around and holy cats are all these original colonies starting to sound alike! Moving on…

One of the salesmen at my office is from New Hampshire and is a very nice man. Based on he and his wife being the only New Hampshireans I know, I’m going to go with the presumption that all from the state are similarly lovely people as well as equally puzzled about the concept of sales tax and it’s various exemptions. Because New Hampshire has no sales tax or personal income tax (with the exception of dividends and interest), which is very cool. But before you start packing up and plan to move, you should probably also know that NH has one of the country’s highest property taxes as a result. It’s all a balancing act.

Just like mixing drinks! (Nice segue, there, doncha think?)

Blackbeard’s Orchard

1.5 oz Apple Juice(1)
.75 oz Spiced Rum(2)
.25 oz Goldschlagger(3)
splash Maple Syrup(4)

Combine all of the ingredients over ice in the mixing vessel of your choice(5). Shake like a leaf on the top of Mount Washington and strain into a chilled cordial or double shot glass.

Apparently Blackbeard the Pirate (2) used the Isle of Shoals (just off Hampton Beach) for, among other things, his honeymoon and it’s rumored that some of his treasure (3) is still buried there. Granted, it’s possible the treasure is on the Maine side of the Shoals but let’s not stop the inspiration train rolling, shall we?

Even though the state fruit of New Hampshire is the pumpkin, they do a considerable amount of agricultural dealings in apples (1). Then there’s the annual spring open houses at the sap houses (4); you’ve got some considerable sweetness going on in that state. And, despite the annual PorcFest (Porcupine Freedom Festival), this drink is rather smooth thanks to the addition of the maple syrup.

Finally, we kitcheny types owe a major debt to Mr. Earl Tupper of Berlin, NH, as he invented the wonder that is Tupperware(5) in 1933. For that reason I would suggest you forgo your usual cocktail shaker (be it the 3-piece or Boston versions) and, instead, mix up a batch of these for your next home party in the Quick Shake for that extra bit of special.

50 Shots of America: South Carolina

Ah, South Carolina, home of Charleston, the grand lady of the South. All sorts of antebellum thoughts start running through my head when I think of the coastal cities of the 8th state of the Union.

But first, some history.

The Carolina colony was one of the original 13, settled in 1670 by English colonists from Barbados and then French Huguenots. Pretty much from the get-go they did a brisk market in slave trading, specifically trading off thousands of Native Americans  which was the cause of the Yamasee War and, ultimately led to the split of the colony into North and South in 1719.

Of course, most know that the Civil War (ahem, the War of Northern Aggression as some prefer to call it) began with the shelling of Ft Sumpter but South Carolina had been stretching it’s independent legs prior to this momentous occasion. They were the first to declare their independence from British Rule and the first to ratify the Articles of Confederation. In 1832 they declared Federal Tariffs unlawful and opted out, only to have to rescind this option in a couple of years.

With all of these firsts, South Carolina seems to have learned it’s lesson and was the next to last state to ratify the 19th Amendment (giving women the right to vote) a full 53 years after it was nationally ratified and it was also the last state to remove the Confederate flag from their statehouse in 2000.

Nonetheless, southern hospitality is still recognized as the state’s stock in trade. Another state known for it’s peaches and having milk as the official state beverage, South Carolina goes one step further to have an official State Hospitality Beverage: Tea. Iced, no doubt, with plenty of sugar, southern sweet tea is practically a food group to it’s citizens. Some may find it one step removed from syrup, but that’s how we like it in the southeast.

Which leads us right into…

Hospitality Suite
(serves 2)

3 oz Brewed Tea, strong
2 oz Peach Schnapps
1 oz Tan Sugar Syrup*
1/2 barspoon Vanilla (the real thing, no imitation extracts!)

Combine over ice in a large shaker and give it a firm handshake to a count of ten. Strain into chilled glasses.

Now, this is a bit more generous that previous shots–by the time the ice melts in the shaker and adds a bit of volume you should end up with 2 4oz cocktails or 4 2oz shots. Never make this for one–you’re gonna want to share this with someone to be in the true spirit of hospitality. In fact, the first batch was so good, we made another after supper.

This slightly spiked take on a sweet peach tea would go great with any of the seafood available along the South Carolina coast or with the official State Snack: Boiled Peanuts–aka Southern Caviar.

*Tan Sugar Syrup is my shorthand for a 1:1 simple syrup made with half white sugar and half brown (hence, tan). The molasses in the brown sugar adds a bit of depth to the syrup and it comes through with a stronger base ingredient like brewed tea. You could also use Demara sugar and achieve a similar result.

50 Shots of America–Maryland

You know, if Maryland was a person, I think they’d be pretty confused.

Take, for example, this scattering of facts:

  • Founded as a haven for English Catholics, Catholicism has been banned at least twice within it’s borders! Still, it boasts the first cathedral in the United States (the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and was home to the founder of the Sisters of Charity who became the first US-born citizen to be canonized, St Elizabeth Ann, 9.14.1975.
  • It’s considered Little America or America in Miniature because it boasts so many different environments in it’s just-over 12,000 square miles–that’s a lot of everything to put in such a small space!
  • Despite being predominantly Democratic, it’s most famous political son was the Republican VP under Nixon, Spiro Agnew. Of course, maybe that should read infamous…
  • It’s technically south of the Mason-Dixon line (since that point of demarcation is it’s northern border) but was coerced into not seceding with it’s southern brethren (of which roughly half the state identified with) because Lincoln pointed cannons at it from DC! Incidentally, the land DC sits on was ceded by Maryland back in 1790.
  • The state sport is jousting, which is rather unique, but it’s tough to actual witness unless you attend the Maryland Renaissance Faire in Crownsville, and it only runs 3 months of the year!
  • And look at the state motto: Manly deeds, womanly words. Would you like to be in the metaphorical room when those two duke it out?

It’s for these reasons I dub the following drink:

Wit’s End

1/2 oz Rye whiskey
1/4 oz Goldschlager
1/2 oz Ginger syrup*
Club soda

Combine the rye, goldschalger and syrup over ice. Shake like a jouster is barrelling towards you with his lance aimed at your shaker. Strain into a cordial glass and top with club soda, giving it a little stir with a swizzle stick to combine.

Even though the state beverage is, indeed, milk the early trials of milk and rye and Old Bay seasoning (in honor of that which seasons the famous Maryland Blue Crabs that are such a treat) fared about what they sound like they would. (Actually, it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t really what I was looking for. Plus, we just did a milk cocktail not too long ago.) Rye whiskey was quite a popular item in Maryland up until Prohibition but since then most distilleries have closed, the last surviving one transplanted to Kentucky. Still, rye and soda can be found in some of the older Marylander establishments for those looking for a taste of the old ways.

Old Bay, back to the seasoning for a bit, is described as a combination of celery salt, bay leaf, mustard seed, black and red peppers, cinnamon and ginger. Yum! And while the first sets of ingredients had me thinking something along the lines of a Bloody Mary, the cinnamon and ginger seemed a nice foil for the rye, which can be quite strong if you’re not all that into whiskey. (Hint: Rye whiskey reminds me more of Scotch than Bourbon.) Also, there was a taste of gold mining going on in the Old Line State but it didn’t last long. Still, it made the Goldschlager an obvious choice.

*To make ginger syrup you can go two ways:

  1. Make a basic 1:1 Simple Syrup with about an inch of fresh cut ginger simmered in. Strain and cool.
  2. Dice and mash an inch of fresh ginger and let steep in pre-made simple syrup for 2 weeks or more.

One last note about Maryland (though, I admit, there’s plenty more to say). During the War of 1812 the British were trying to take the Port of Baltimore and did battle against Fort McHenry. Francis Scott Key is said to have penned the Star Spangled Banner during this onslaught. I find this incredibly synchronistic as, completely unplanned–I couldn’t plan this stuff if I tried!–my topic over at the 64 Arts (my personal blog about living creatively) for Friday is Anthems. Coincidence? I’m not sure there is such a thing!

50 Shots of America: Massachusetts

In 2005 I took my first plane ride ever up to Plymouth, Mass., to learn the new accounting system my company purchased. (Actually, we flew into Boston–late–and drove to Plymouth by way of Rhode Island… whoops!) At any rate, we didn’t get a chance to do much sight-seeing (one of these days I *will* visit Salem) but we did make it into town to see Plymouth Rock.

Or, you know, what’s left of it.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to gaze on this pebble of our Nation’s history (we’re talking about the site of the second permanent English settlement in North America, after all) let me break it down for you:

It’s a rock. In a cage.

After years of being gouged at and dragged around town the powers that be put what was left of the bit of glacial rock (1/3rd of it’s original size, by then) back where it came from, on the beach, surrounded by a promenade and covered by a portico. You walk up and look down. At a rock in a cage (there are gratings–bars–that allow sea water into the enclosure and back out again).

But, you know, it works. At least they don’t charge you to see it, otherwise it’d be like paying a dollar at the fair to see the world’s smallest horse.

Which brings me to this week’s beverage:

Rockin’ Tea Party

1 oz strong-brewed Tea
1 oz Cranberry Juice
.5 oz Gin
1 Sugar Cube

Combine the tea, juice and gin in a shaker over ice and shake vigorously. Place the sugar cube in the bottom of the shot or cordial glass and strain the mixture over it.

In this little sipper we have several facets of Massachusetts represented: Plymouth Rock, of course, by the sugar cube, tea for the 1773 Boston Tea Party–one of many early actions in MA that spurred us into the American Revolution, cranberry juice for it being the 2nd largest cranberry-producing state and gin for it’s part in the temperance movement.

Oh, yes, there’s some irony in creating a cocktail for the state that is directly responsible for Prohibition and, therefore, “bathtub” gin. But all’s well that ends well, and Prohibition definitely didn’t last.

Other things Massachusetts is responsible for? Check out the short list:

  • the Presidential families of Adams and Kennedy
  • Transcendentalists Thoreau and Emerson
  • the Telephone, 1876
  • Johnny Appleseed and a whole host of cider-apple trees
  • Volleyball, 1895
  • the first Subway system in the US, 1897
  • Birth Control Pill, 1954
  • Vulcanized Rubber, 1839
  • Sewing Machine, 1845

50 Shots of America: Connecticut

Our fifth state, the Constitution State (so-named because they had the very first one), ratified the big Constitution on January 9, 1788, and gets it’s name from the Mohegan word for “place of long tidal river.”

As I researched the state I got the impression that they really aren’t into the wild and wacky, up there (even if they are home to the country’s oldest amusement park, Lake Compounce). Lots of industry, economics (thanks, again, to favorable tax conditions for certain types of businesses; namely hedge funds in Greenwich), and lots and lots of schools from private day and boarding schools to numerous colleges including the uber-ivy league Yale University, home of the first football game (American football, of course).

Scads of famous folks came out of the Provision State: Noah Webster (he of the Dictionary), Eli Whitney, PT Barnum (and, therefore, the Circus as we know it), Harriet Beecher Stowe, the beautiful Katherine Hepburn and America’s first traitor: Benedict Arnold. The “Land of Steady Habits” apparently counted inventions among a habit to pursue, as this state was the birthplace of the Hamburger (1895), the Polaroid camera (1934), the helicopter (1939) and the color television (1948), just to name a few. In fact, 2 years before the Wright Brothers made Kitty Hawk famous, Gustav Whitehead was making aviation history in Bridgeport.

But where does that leave us for the cocktail? Don’t worry, I managed to work something out with what I was given. You see, Connecticut is also known as the Nutmeg state. Not because they produce nutmeg or trade in it or anything, no. The story goes that some peddlers would whittle knobs of wood into a nutmeg shape (which is easy to see how that could happen, it being a brown seed and all) and sell them to unsuspecting customers. That’s one of 3 theories I read for the name but none are 100% certain. Still, it’s interesting enough to make it drink worthy!

the Yankee 78

1 oz Milk
.5 oz Brandy
.5 oz Nutmeg syrup*

Combine all ingredients over ice in a small cocktail shaker and shake until nice and cold. Strain into a pretty cordial glass for maximum effect. You can add a very light dusting of freshly grated nutmeg to the top of the milk foam but, I assure you, it’s not necessary.

As mentioned, the shaken milk produces a great, foamy head that contrasts nicely with the off-white to mocha color of the rest of the drink speckled with bits of nutmeg. (The color depends on how dark your sugar syrup ends up.) As there is a considerable dairy industry in Connecticut and milk punches and brandies always strike me as incredibly Colonial, this seemed the perfect vehicle for the nutmeg flavor without it overpowering the drink.

I made the test drinks with fat free milk because that’s what I drink but I think using 2% would add a nice layer of richness to the drink–if I were making these for a group, I certainly would.

The drink is named after two other bits of information I discovered about the state. One, that the state song is Yankee Doodle and it’s residents are sometimes considered the first Yankees. Two, that there are only 78 hours out of every week that you can purchase beer and liquor from stores (restaurants and bars are allowed broader hours), and less than that to purchase wine if I read the statutes correctly! Stores can only sell alcohol between 8 am and 9 pm Monday through Saturday, not on Sunday and not on certain holidays. If, for instance, Independence Day falls on a Sunday (a dry holiday on a dry day) then the following Monday becomes dry, too!

I guess we’re spoiled down here with our wine and beer in 24-hour supermarkets and late-night liquor stores!

*To make Nutmeg Syrup

.5 c white sugar
1.5 Tbsp ground nutmeg
.5 c water

Combine in a saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves. You may have to guess a bit because the nutmeg has a tendency to float on the top and obscure the view. Avoid breathing in the fumes as the mixture cooks, that nutmeg can be quite potent! Remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain through several layers of cheesecloth (layers given a quarter turn each to trap as much of the ground spice as possible) once. Some nutmeg will pass through the straining but you’ll catch most of it.

The leftover syrup (this barely makes a cup after straining) can be stored in an airtight contained in the fridge for quite some time. Obviously an excellent addition to eggnog, this syrup would go well in Tiki-style drinks and practically anything that called for rum! For an even richer taste, make it with brown sugar instead of white.