50 Shots of America–Georgia

Even though I live about a half-hour’s drive from the Florida-Georgia border and even worked in that state (however briefly), I had absolutely no idea that Georgia was one of the original 13 Colonies much less the 4th official state, having ratified the Constitution on January 2, 1788.

(Seriously, we’re getting close to concurrent dates, here–will it happen? I suppose I could peek ahead and see but I like to be surprised. Actually, I don’t, but I’ll make an exception in this instance!)

You know, I bet the Union must have taken it very hard when Georgia seceded is 1861; one of their own betraying them and all. But the Union got their revenge: many battles fought on Georgia clay, General Sherman setting fire to a good portion of the state during his March to the Sea and then it spent the longest time of any of the other Confederate states in Reconstruction. They were the last of the CSA to be readmitted into the Union in 1870. Gee, hold a grudge much?

At any rate, I did know that Georgia was the Peach State and that it also grows a lot of cotton (I’ve passed the fields on my way through that state more times than I can count) and is known for peanut production as well (it’s the state crop). What I didn’t know is that they are #1 in the world for pecan production (though I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me) and are home to the Granite (Ellerton), Poultry (Gainesville) and Carpet (Dalton) Capitals of the World. Pretty impressive stuff.

While many know that Girl Scouts began in Savannah in 1912 and the unfortunate fact that high muckety-mucks in Georgia were responsible for the Trail of Tears in 1838, another thing started in Georgia that might just surprise you: the US Gold Rush! It was not out in California that the first gold was found, but in Dahlonega, Georgia in 1829. You can tour one of those early mines and even pan for gold and gemstones while you’re there!

Golden Peach
1 oz Peach nectar
2 tsp Goldschlager cinnamon liqueur

Combine the nectar and liqueur over ice in a small cocktail shaker and shake it like a miner down to his last pan. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Peach was the obvious choice for a Georgia drink and even though the Goldschlager was, at first, a novely decision based on the bits of gold floating around the bottom of the bottle it made sense the more I thought about it. Peach pie seasoned with cinnamon, anyone? Exactly!

This drink is also deceptively simple. It actually took 3 tries before we found the right balance between cinnamon and peach. I think this would scale up very easily with the addition of vanilla vodka and a brown sugar-graham cracker rim to make a very nice dessert martini.

50 Shots of America–New Jersey

Of all the things that come to mind when I think New Jersey (Miss Congeniality, The Sopranos, the Turnpike and my aunt who lives there to name just a few), light bulbs are not one of them. Seriously, I don’t know where I thought Thomas Edison lived when he was inventing up a storm, but never did I imagine it was New Jersey.

But so it was that the 3rd state of the Union (as of December 18, 1787) was, indeed, the home of the light bulb, the transistor, FM radio, the drive-in movie, the zipper, saltwater taffy and dirigibles. (The list goes on and on, I’m just hitting some highlights, here.) It also seems somewhat… ironic? that the place whose State Dance is the Square Dance is also home to the 2nd largest gambling town, Atlantic City (and, apparently, the city where the board game Monopoly got it’s property names!). Go figure!

When trying to decide on a drink for New Jersey I did my best to steer away from some of the more negative connotations (landfills, various refineries, hints of organized crime…) and, instead, focus on some fun bits. While the presence of the oldest operating nuclear power plant in the US does put one in the mind of a Flaming Moe (from The Simpsons, for those who don’t watch much television)–and the cough syrup ingredient is rather appropriate as I’m a bit under the weather as of this writing–I decided to go with the zipper and another New Jersey creation: cranberry sauce.

Okay, not the sauce, the juice of the same ilk. Let’s not go overboard, right?

So… zipper. Zippy. Zingy. Zesty. What flavor best equates to zippy for me? Horseradish! No, not quite there. Pepper, suggested Todd. Which led to Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces. Not the right direction, I thought. Then it came to me: ginger!

Again, I’m already on cold meds so alcohol isn’t going to be a good mix. So this week’s shot (or little sipper as I prefer to think of them–after all, if they’re so nasty you have to shoot them down just to make them bearable, why bother?) in non-alcoholic.

The Zipper Berry

1/4-inch coin of fresh Ginger, chopped up a bit
1/4 oz Simple Syrup
1 1/2 oz Cranberry Juice (100% juice blend if possible, no extra sweeteners or substitutes)

Muddle the ginger and syrup together in the bottom of a small cocktail shaker. Add juice and top with ice. Shake like you’re breezing through traffic on the turnpike (a fantasy, sure, but it’s all good!) and strain into a cordial glass.

The chilled concoction is, to me, the very definition of zippy. You get a bit of the sweetened juice and then the ginger zaps the back of your palate like an electrical current. It’s a pretty drink, too, as the muddled ginger clouds the juice ever so slightly as a few of the smaller bits drift down to the bottom of the glass. This would make an excellent brunch beverage or, if made on a larger scale and cut with some ginger ale, a lovely sipper for hot Summer afternoons.

50 Shots of America–Pennsylvania

You’d think (or at least I would) that Pennsylvania would have been the first to ratify the Constitution, seeing as how much time our forefathers spent doing big things in Philadelphia and all during those early colony days. Instead, they signed on a full 5 days after Delaware, on December 12, 1787,* becoming the second official state of the Union.

The site of the first commercially drilled oil well in 1859, oil is not what most think of as being the prime business in the woods (Pennsylvania means Penn’s Wood after the founder, William Penn, and the Latin silva for forest). Some consider Pennsylvania to be the “snack food capital of the world” and with good reason. Not only are the Hershey chocolate factories located in the heart of the state, so are Mars, Wilbur Chocolate Company, Wise Snack Foods and Just Born (the company behind, among other things, Peeps!).

Even though I’ve actually been to Pennsylvania (well, Philadelphia, and only for one partial day–I did some comics about it) and, therefore, actually _can_ find it on the map, I did not get a chance while there to visit that mecca of many: Hershey, PA. No, no pictures with a kiss-shaped street light for me. Not yet at least. I’ve got two sets of people I can stay with should I get a chance to head that far north again and it WILL be on the agenda when that day comes. I did recently read an excellent history of Mr Hershey and his town, though, which makes getting to concoct this next drink extra fun!

(Interesting side note: did you know Hershey found early success not with chocolate but with caramels? It was the success of his caramel business, the recipe for which he learned in Denver, that gave him the opportunity and backing to experiment with making eating chocolate like they did in Europe. I was also fascinated to learn that Hershey’s distinct flavor can be attributed to the slight souring of the milk as it’s processed–apparently the European chocolatiers used milk powder instead of liquid milk in their recipes. But I digress…)

The Sweet Tooth

1/2 oz Vanilla Vodka
1/2 oz Godiva** liqueur, divided
1/4 oz Amaretto liqueur
1/4 oz White Chocolate Irish Cream
1/4 oz Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup

Combine all ingredients except 1/4 oz Godiva in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake it like you’re making a milkshake. Strain into a shot glass and float the remaining Godiva over the top by pouring over the back of a bar spoon.

Now, I’ve read that all-alcohol bevvies aren’t supposed to be shaken. Whatever. If you keep all of your alcohol chilled (I know I don’t have the fridge-space for that!), I suppose you could skip the shaking and just stir it up in a small bar glass before transferring to a shot but I wanted it really cold and, with this many ingredients (probably another no-no for a shot), well mixed so my petite shaker it is!

Incidentally, the state beverage of Pennsylvania is Milk, so if you wanted to mix up a double batch of the Sweet Tooth and stir it into a nice cold glass of milk, I think that’d be just fine, too.

*You know, if the blog-stars align to where I’m writing about a state on the day it became a state, I might just have to play the lottery or something!

**Don’t worry, Godiva’s totally valid here--the North American debut of Godiva chocolates was at Wannamaker’s Department Store in Philadelphia in 1966!

PS–The state tree is Hemlock. Insert classics geek joke here. (Q.What were Socrates’ last words? A. I drank what?)

PPS–From Todd at dinner: “Life is like a shot of chocolate.” To which I, being of a philosophical bent today, added: “Exactly, if you make it yourself you know exactly what you’re gonna get!”

50 Shots of America–Delaware

Welcome to the 2010 series theme for Sips & Shots: 50 Shots of America! Each week I’ll look at a different state, dig up some (hopefully) interesting facts about it that then leads me to concoct a little libation in it’s honor (for these recipes I’ll be sticking to 2oz or less, so a double shot)! These are not intended to be official by any means, just a fun exercise in cocktail creation. (And, hey, if by the end of this year I can actually identify each state on the map–Bonus!*) Rather than do another alphabetical listing, this time I’m using the date of statehood as my guide so first up is…

Delaware, the first state to ratify the constitution on December 7, 1787, is a fairly tiny state (second only to Rhode Island in area) originally colonized by the Dutch. Apparently the log cabin is of Finnish ingenuity and the Finns brought over the plans with them in the mid-17th century. There’s a preserved log cabin of this sort at the Museum of Agriculture in the state capital, Dover. (Thanks to 50states.com for that bit of intel.) Even though I always will associate Georgia as the peach state, the peach blossom is the state flower of Delaware so it shares that nickname with it’s Southern buddy.

Despite wanting terribly to work the ‘no sales tax’ angle into this week’s cocktail, I decided to go with the log cabin and peaches instead. There’s already a Log Cabin cocktail in the world (actually, 3 different recipes presented themselves during a search) so, using that (those) as the base, I now present to you:

the Delaware Log Cabin

1 oz Peach nectar
1/2 oz Applejack
1/2 oz Whiskey
splash Maple Syrup

Combine all ingredients in a small cocktail shaker over ice and shake like a wave crashing on the Rehoboth Beach dunes. Strain into a double shot or cordial glass.

The whiskey seems very pioneer, log cabin-ish to me and using a corn-based whiskey makes sense as one of Delaware’s main crops is corn (it’s even on the state seal). There’s an Apple Scrapple Festival every year in Bridgeville, hence the use of Applejack and maple syrup seemed like a fitting sweetener instead of the usual sugar syrup, which helps to blunt the whiskey’s edge and let the light peach taste come through.

*The only class I ever failed in High School was Geography and it’s been said more than once that I lack any sort of natural sense of direction. Maybe I just didn’t have the proper incentive, then 😉

Wassail!

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
a happy New Year.

Growing up, I often heard the traditional carol about wassailing sung with caroling in place of the unfamiliar word, leading me to think that wassail was just another word for going around, singing carols to the neighborhood. Makes sense, right? When in actuality, wassail (originally was hál in the Old English) translates to “be in good health/fortunate” and is more like a toast than a song.

Of course, there’s also a drink by that name that has roots in the ancient Roman drink of spiced wine known as hypocras. In the Middle Ages the wine and the spices used in it made it a drink for the elite rather than the masses, until beer and other spirits came into the mix, making it more of an everyman drink. During the revelry of the holidays the practice of sharing a bowl (literally, a large bowl filled with the spiced brew and passed from one person to another with the litany of “wassail” and “drink hail” being repeated all the way around) among the household took the streets much like the carolers and other merry-makers of the time at which the wanders would offer the houses a drink (expecting some small payment in return) or the wanderers being offered one by the home owners. Very convivial, no matter how you look at it.

To make your own wassail, either for Christmas or, as is more correct, New Years Eve, combine the following in a large saucepan (enameled or glass being better for it than a reactive-metal type)

2 qt Lager
5 oz Simple syrup
3 ox Lemon juice
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Ginger
1 qt Dark rum

Heat this mixture until hot but not boiling and pour into a heat-proof punch bowl (unless, of course, you have a pewter or wooden Wassail bowl handy) over thinly sliced apples and lemons. Give it a few stirs and ladle into waiting mugs. This amount should serve about 10 people, depending on how large the mugs are or dry their throats!

Toast to all with a merry Wassail and enjoy the rest of the holiday season!

Since Cocktails Don’t Travel Well…

The Internet and all it’s various uses mean that those on your gifting list may not always been in the same town (or even country) as you. While it’d be great to share a holiday cocktail with friends far and near, sometimes you might have to settle for the next best thing: cocktail-related gifts. And since I’m also an avid reader, books on the subject are a favorite of mine. Here’s a short list of some I’ve plucked from my own shelf that might just strike a cord with someone on your list.

Swell Holiday by Cynthia Rowley and Ilene Rosenzweig

Remember when Target started to carry all their chic home furnishings with a nod to the 50s and 60s (the good parts)? Cynthia and Ilene are the women behind the Swell line of books and products and their Swell Holiday book is a nice slim volume with all sorts of neat tips, ideas and recipes (both food and drinks!) for entertaining during the winter holidays. Some gems include using Rice Krispies treats and marshmallow fluff to built your “gingerbread” dream home, substitute glow sticks for electric lights in the tree and coming up with just about anything other than a basket for a themed basket-like gift!

Good Spirits: Recipes, Revelations, Refreshments, and Romance, Shaken and Served with a Twist by A.J. Rathbun

Since purchasing this book, it’s become the first one I reach for if I start thinking about a drink (or ingredient) and wondering if something like it already exists. Not only does it have plenty of recipes for the home bartender or cocktail enthusiast, almost all of them come with some sort of witty introduction that takes this book from a mere collection of recipes to something you want to curl up on the couch with and read like a novel.

Absolut: Biography of a Bottle by Carl Hamilton

I think it’s safe to say that practically everyone knows the Absolut bottle. In an industry where packaging is generally over the top and exploited for the best possible shelf-recognition, this vodka managed to take something fairly simple and make it into their symbol. More than just the story of the ad campaign, this is the story of a brand building itself and the times it did it in. An interesting read from several standpoints, I picked this up from a bargain bin, I think, and was so glad I did because the story is just amazing.

Merry Kitschmas: The Ultimate Holiday Handbook by Michael D Conway

Traditional Christmas decorations and celebrations got you down? Wanna spice up your holiday or convince those pesky in-laws they don’t ever want to visit again? Following the advice in Merry Kitchsmas can do all that and more besides. My friend gave this to me as more of a joke one year than anything–I’m fairly traditional, after all–but I adore it’s tacky abandon from afar and have considered using some of their techniques in a more subdued fashion more than once.  Featuring all sorts of odd-ball decorations and recipes, many of the cocktails even get the glue gun turned in their direction for the ultimate in deco-gone-wild effects. Even if you never make anything from it, it’s great to have around just for the pictures!

The Official Guide to Christmas in the South: Or, If You Can’t Fry It, Spraypaint It Gold by David C Barnette

While not *technically* a cocktail book, it’s so much fun that I thought I should include it, just to round out the list. Being from the South, I can safely laugh at, confirm and commiserate with some of the anecdotal stories in this book. Featuring great spot illustrations and a definite sense of whimsy (I absolutely love the idea of the “regifting food chain” chart on page 85), it’s a perfect gift for the displaced Southerner on your list.

And, since this IS a cocktial blog, here’s one of the cocktails from Merry Kitchsmas:

The Sugarplum Fairy

2 oz Citrus vodka
1/2 oz Cointreau
1 oz Lemon juice
splash Cranberry juice
Ice
2 tsp sugar (plus extra for rimming the glass)

Blend all ingredients into a “pink icy slush.”

Rim a collins glass with sugar (colored sugar is even better). Pour in the contents of the blender and garnish as decoratively as possible.

The authors suggest hot glueing a ballerina cake pick to a pink swizzle stick and then inserting it into a straw (for stability, I suppose) then wrapping a piece of pink tulle around the bottom third of the glass and securing it with a rubber band to give the glass it’s own tutu.

Creating a Cocktail

That same party that sparked the Menu Planning and Quantity discussions (not to mention reminding me of the fun side of catering) also gave me a chance to try out a new service I’m offering: custom cocktail creation. Because it’s an interesting process (and a yummy drink), I thought I’d share how I went about designing the cocktail to fit the event.

First some background: the party was a Mary Kay Holiday Open House hosted by a trio of consultants, one of which is a good friend from high school, who requested a non-alcoholic drink because people would be coming and going, plus there’d be young ones around. My friend and the other two consultants, lovely ladies all, are fun and bubbly so I had a pretty good feel for their personalities in relation to the type of party they wanted this to be.

So right off the bat I’m thinking pink (I mean, Mary Kay: what else is there?) and possibly cranberry since it’s a fairly popular flavor and a good base for a mocktail but where to go after that? I could do a cranberry-orange mix that’s sorta like a virgin Cosmopolitan, but that wasn’t special enough; this drink needed to be truly unique so a non-alcoholic version of any regular cocktail just seemed like a cop-out to me.

Another thought flitting through my mind is the skin-care  classes the consultants host, so if I could make the drink frothy or milky, reminiscent of a lotion maybe, that would be even better. Being November a smoothie seemed a little much and most frothy cocktails involved egg whites and that’s a tough sell to a stranger even if it is a component of many classic cocktails. I briefly considered experimenting with the powdered pasteurized egg whites but ditched it just as quick. That leaves milk, but with potential diary allergies or intolerance, was that really the best option? And would it even combine nicely with the cranberry juice?

I let this mull over in my mind for a few days when I suddenly had an epiphany: Bubble Tea! For those who’ve not tasted it before, bubble tea is an Asian drink (I’m honestly not sure which culture truly claims it, I’ve seen references to Japanese as well as Vietnamese origins), a sweet combination of tea and milk with, usually, a fruit flavor added and large black tapioca pearls (the bubble part of the equation) in the bottom of the cup. It’s served with a wide straw so that the pearls, which are cooked to a gummy consistency, can be sucked up and enjoyed as well. Now, I’d never seen a cranberry bubble tea and I certainly didn’t want to use the powders (both for the tea and flavorings) that seem to be the norm, but I really liked the idea and thought it had potential.

Thinking Asian got me thinking about another milk alternative: coconut milk. Not coconut cream like you use in a Pina Colada, but the type used in Thai curries. I considered using other dairy alternatives (almond, rice and soy milks) but when I started to do some digging into the health properties of each, coconut milk was the surprising winner. Even though it contains saturated fats (usually a bad thing), the saturated fat of the coconut is unusual in it’s makeup and not harmful like the ones from animal sources. Plus I found out that coconut milk is anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-carcinogenic, anti-bacterial and has been used in studies to lessen the viral load of AIDS patients!

See, I’d already named this drink The Facial, at least as a working title, and thought that if regular facials are good for our skin, a drink named as such should be somewhat good for our bodies. So, as I experimented with the various ingredients (green tea and cranberry juice, both good things!) I tried to keep that in mind. And experiment I did. It took several trials combining different teas (regular green and flavored), the coconut milk, juice and brown sugar syrup to get a drink that was tasty and had the right color and consistency. And, of course, the tapioca pearls I found were the small white kind so as I cooked them I tinted them black with icing paste (both to match the color scheme of the party–pink, black and silver–as well as resemble the micro-beads that are in various scrubs and serums the company sells) and then stored them in the recommended brown sugar syrup.

Here’s the resulting mocktail, renamed The Miracle after the company’s core skin-care set.

The Miracle Mocktail

2.5 oz brewed Cranberry-Pomegranate Green Tea
2.5 oz 100% Juice Cranberry Juice
.5 oz Brown Sugar Syrup*
.5 oz Grenadine (mostly for color, can be omitted)
1 oz Coconut Milk
1 Tbsp Tapioca Pearls, tinted

Place the Tapioca Pearls in the bottom of a sugar-rimmed cocktail glass.

Combine the tea through coconut milk in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake for a good count of 10. Pour over the tapioca pearls and enjoy!

* Brown sugar syrup is made by combining 1 part brown sugar, 1 part white sugar and 2 parts water in a saucepan and heating until the sugars are completely dissolved. Can be made ahead and store in the fridge for more than a month. Also good in rum-based cocktails where regular sugar syrup is called for though it can change the color of a drink.

The drink was a hit, both with the hostess trio and the guests and I had so much fun creating it and playing bartender throughout the evening. I did get asked if it was harder coming up with a non-alcoholic cocktail and I had to admit that, yes, it was a little more challenging to come up with something different enough to justify the effort but it was definitely rewarding and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to create a custom cocktail!

If you’d like to find out how to get your own custom cocktail creation, email me at randomactscomics@gmail.com.

Meet the Reds: Pinot Noir

I saved my favorite for last. Yes, I’ve been on a serious Noir kick for the last few years and, once again, it has nothing to do with a certain wine movie I’ve yet to watch. Although, if that had anything to do with Pinot Noirs being easier to find, then, okay, maybe it has a little something to do with it.

As a grape, Pinot is another farmed in the Burgundy region of France as well as Champagne–according to one source 75% of Champagne is produced by Pinot Noir grapes. It’s grown all over Europe, actually, as well as in the States but it does tend to be a finicky grape, high maintenance in soil requirements and enjoys a later harvest than others so many vintners consider it a difficult grape. I think the rewards far outweight the cost.

My love of Pinot Noir came quite by chance. I was browsing the wine aisles of my local World Market when I saw a fun-looking label featuring the See/Hear/Speak No Evil monkeys, that wine was named Pinot Evil (think about it, maybe say it aloud for the joke to kick in). Now, I know certain wine experts have said that anything with an animal on the label isn’t worth drinking but I found this Pinot Noir to be quite delicious, especially for $6.99. The label describes it as “velvety” and I couldn’t agree more. But, hearkening to other reviews I’ve read, do let it breathe for about an hour or so before drinking it. Goes well with almost anything, in our house.

Another good Pinot, this one from California (Pinot Evil is a French Import), comes from Echelon Vineyards in Napa. Carried by our favorite local steakhouse (and retailing for about $10.99 at World Market), it comes off a little sharper than the Pinot Evil but still with the dry dry red characteristics and a bit of spice. Obviously it goes well with steaks and pork chops, but anything rich and saucy would do well with this pairing.

Meet the Reds: Malbec

Not exactly a new grape, Malbec is one of many grown in the Bordeaux region, usually as a mix-in to (once again) smooth out Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a very popular grape to plant, however, in South America and it’s the Argentina Malbecs that really are something worth looking into.

They range in temperament from soft and fruity to bold and spicy. The latter is my favorite and what I had the pleasure of tasting at a local wine festival. The spice notes were slightly smoky and really developed into a nice finish, tingling in the back of my throat.

An awesome fact about this particular wine is that it’s still under many radars (though gaining in popularity) and some really great bottles can be found for $10 and under. If you like bold, spicy reds, pick one up and give it a try.

Meet the Reds: Merlot

Oh, probably one of the better known reds and, in some circles, the most maligned. Just the word “Merlot” sounds like smoky back rooms and femme fatales making breathy requests of the sommelier. Or something like that. Of course, just as quickly I’m reminded of Selma Blair’s nose-in-the-air reminder to her guests to not forget to “bring your own Merlot” (in Legally Blonde). And I’m told there are some very negative sentiments towards this particular grape in a certain wine-centric movie that I haven’t gotten around to watching myself. (I know, for shame, one of these days…)

The Merlot grape is grown extensively in the Bordeaux region of France as well as in Italy and Switzerland. It’s also one of the most popular grapes cultivated in California as well as a handful of other states. It’s generally considered softer and fruitier than the other Big Red (Cabernet) which is why some prefer it and others do not. To me it’s more a middle-of-the-road red and I prefer my wines more pronounced. It goes well with simpler red meat dishes, nothing too fussy or you might overpower the wine.

As hinted above, I’m not a huge fan of Merlot as a varietal and, to be honest, Cabernet is okay, but it’s not my wine of choice. Given this, I was quite surprised to find that a blend of the two really produces a lovely wine. At a Key Lime Cook-Off a couple of months ago, I tasted the Snoqualmie Vineyards Whistle Stop Red, which is a 70-30 Cabernet-Merlot blend. According to my wine reference, the French have been blending a bit of Merlot into Cabs for ages as it tends to blunt Cabernet’s natural tendency towards astringency while punching up the Merlot’s softer nature. It was an absolute revelation for me, to find that I liked it so much, and I snapped up a couple of bottles before leaving the event. (It also didn’t hurt that the cook-off and a portion of that day’s sales at the host location went to help the Leon County Humane Society.)