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.

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.

Non-Alcoholic Cocktails

I remember one visit home as a kid, my cousins and I had a slumber party at our grandparents (okay, one cousin is technically an aunt who’s 5 months younger than me and it was her house, but let’s not sweat the semantics). While some of the grown-ups congregated in the dining room we took over the living room, complete with a treat: Shirley Temples.

Shirley Temple

Ice
Grenadine
Ginger ale
Maraschino cherry

Splash some grenadine over ice and top with a healthy pour of ginger ale (other clear sodas can also be used, depending on what you’ve got in the house) and garnish with a cherry (or two).

Now, adult me kind of wonders about the wisdom in giving children faux-cocktails, is it really the best choice? On the other hand, treating it as a special occasion sort of treat might be just the thing for instilling the right attitude about cocktails.

And it’s not just the underage who drink virgin drinks or, as David Biggs refers to them in his book of the same name, “Mocktails.” Alcohol-free drinks are popular from the pregnant to the designated driver and plenty of folks in between. I mean, every now and then a fruity drink might be nice without the worry of a hangover. Or maybe a tart refresher midweek–or even midday–is a welcome change without the booze.

A lot of non-alcoholic cocktails are sweet, either from the additional of soda (clear for clear alcohol, cola for dark) or increasing the fruit juice to make up the difference. A Virgin Mary (just skip the vodka and maybe a dash more clam juice) is a nice change to the sweet or try this one, a definite throw-back to another era:

Jones Beach Cocktail

This savory drink uses lemon juice to balance the saltiness of the beef consomme. To make consomme, dissolve a beef stock cube in a cup of boiling water. [Or use canned]

Crushed ice
1 c Beef consomme, cooled
Half the quantity of clam juice
Juice of 1/2 a lemon (or lime)
1/2 tsp Horseradish sauce
Couple of [dashes] of Worcestershire sauce
Celery salt
Sprig of parsley

Place a scoop of crushed ice in a cocktail shaker and add all the ingredients until well mixed. Now place two ice cubes in a tall glass and strain the blended drink over them. Serve ungarnished or with a sprig of parsley.

–David Biggs, Mocktails

Fruit[y] Cocktails

I’m not a girl who likes her liquor straight. On the contrary, I prefer mine well-mixered and my favorite class of mixer is fruit juice. Frou-frou umbrellas are not necessary and the blender can usually stay in the cabinet, but a good juice-to-booze ratio makes a happy camper of this cocktail chick.

I went flipping through my mixology books and found a promising “Mocktail” (a non-alcoholic cocktail, from the book of the same name) that I thought had potential. Even better, I had plenty of fresh strawberries and honeydew melon on hand that the recipe called for.

The one criticism I have for the original recipe is that the quantities are not specific. In school my chefs quickly figured out that I was definite a baker (as opposed to a line cook) since I preferred (and always asked for) exact quantities, times and temperatures–everything that’s necessary for proper baking chemistry but more subjective for cooking on a line. How much is a “slice” of honeydew? What, to you, is a “part”? Since one ingredient was pineapple juice and the cans I keep on the bar are 6 oz. I decided that a “part” for this trial would be 3 oz. to prevent waste. (I decided to try the recipe two ways.) Here’s my version of the original:

Fantasia

6 strawberries, hulled and washed (halves are okay if the strawberries are very large)
6 1-inch balls of honeydew melon (I’d just finished a party and had extra melon balls, adjust as necessary)
3 oz orange juice
3 oz pineapple juice
1 c ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. This makes 1 tall smoothie or 2 short ones to share.

—adapted from Mocktails, David Biggs

Now, this was okay. Todd commented that it was all sort of mushed up together–no one flavor dominated. And that’s okay, really, but it doesn’t make the drink stand out. Even with the amount of liquid in this, it’s still very frothy and a bit chewy. If you, as the original recipe suggest, blend everything but the ice and then pour the mixture over crushed ice it may make a difference. I combined them for convenience.

So we have Fantasia, non-alcoholic and, frankly, G-rated. I was in the mood, however, for something with a little more kick and a little more flavor. This is our preferred version of this cocktail, still low-alcohol so safe for Summer consumption without fear of a hangover, but no longer safe for the kiddies:

CHF* Pink Elephants on Parade

6 strawberries, hulled and washed (halves are okay if the berries are large)
6 melon balls (for more kick, soak them in a little Midori)
3 oz orange juice
3 oz pineapple juice
1.5 oz spiced rum
1 c ice

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Makes 1 tall cocktail or 2 shorter ones: make a friend.

The spiced rum in the Pink Elephant version (does anyone else remember that scene from Dumbo? my favorites were the plaid ones) smooths out the flavor, warms it up even for being a blended ice-drink and gives a pleasant aftertaste.

Safe Sipping!

*Cocktail Hour Favorite. There may be only so many ingredients in a drink but there’s many ways to mix them.

Random Appetites: Vampire Punch… with Clots!

Ghoulishly delicious!

At last year’s Pumpkin Party I went with a decidedly more spooky, classic Halloween theme that I usually opt for (the norm being general Fallishness). Along with some spookier food choices, I served this very yummy, if slightly gross, punch. It’s alcohol free, as well, so all y’all non-alky readers can enjoy without impediment:

Vampire Punch with Floating Clots
originally from Today’s Parent

1 Quart Red Grape Juice
2 Cups Orange Juice
2 Cups Pineapple Juice
1 Bottle Gingerale
1 Box frozen Strawberries, semi-defrosted

Chill all ingredients ahead of time to prevent diluting the punch with melting ice later on. Mix together the fruit juices and then, just before serving, add in the Gingerale and the strawberries. This works best in a big punch bowl, of course, so that guests get the real impact of the floating strawberry “clots.”

That’s the punch, nice and simple.

But down here in the South we have this glorious tradition of party punches served up with sherbet in the center–not only does it help to keep the punch cold but it adds sweetness and creaminess. In fact, if you sub the red grape juice for white and ditch the OJ, you’ve got the base of the punch served at almost every wedding I went to as a child. And since sherbet comes in so very many colors, it can match just about any wedding theme!

Back to the party: since I had a close-cousin to party punch anyway and I just couldn’t ignore my raising and had to add sherbet. Now, I could have just hacked up a pint into the punch bowl but that’s not very elegant, now is it? Instead, I found one of those plastic brain molds (though a heart would work wonderfully for this punch as well, either in sherbet or red jello) and filled it with raspberry sherbet a couple of days before the party. To make it easy to remove I lined the mold with plastic wrap which ended up adding some additional texture to the sherbet when unmolded and set adrift in the punchbowl.

Talk about a brain freeze!

Finally, for those wanting a bit more kick to their punch, you could add a few healthy shots of Chambord or Cointreau to the punch bowl and substitute champagne (not Brut! too biting, even for this recipe!) for all or part of the Gingerale for an adult Vampire tipple. Don’t substitute wine for grape-juice, though, unless it’s a very sweet red from Concord grapes or the tannins will likely overpower the rest of the ingredients.

Happy Halloween, folks. Have a safe and fun one!