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Saturday, January 31, 2009

On Limes

I love limes. I never have a Rum and Coke® without either a slice of lime (preferred) or a squeeze of ReaLime® lime juice from the fridge. I like to rub the lime slice around the lip of the glass to give the drink the extra boost of lime flavor that I get from smelling the juice as I drink… heavenly. Limes are essential to countless cocktails either as ingredients or as a decorative garnish; witness the innumerable cocktail photos featuring juicy looking lime wheels. They also make cocktails healthy sources of Vitamin C and anti-oxidants. I always keep some limes on hand (especially if I plan on making Margaritas) and stock up when we’re entertaining.

Always use a sharp knife when cutting limes – even for juicing; dull knives just aren’t safe and can result in messy looking cuts. I always have a small cutting board and a ceramic knife at the bar for slicing limes (or lemons). When making lime wheels or wedges for cocktails, avoid limes with brown or yellow spots – they ruin the look of your drink. Wheels must be thick enough to stand up straight and hold their position on the glass, around 1/8 inch. Cut along one of the segment lines from the center toward the least attractive side of the lime, if there is one. If you’re short on limes, you can always do half-wheels. Use the lime ends for rubbing around the glass rim when salting or sugaring a glass.

Fresh lime juice is best for any cocktail, but especially for Margaritas. You get 1 to 1 ½ oz. per lime, just enough for a Margarita. I bought a Norpro Stainless-Steel Citrus Juice Press a few years ago and love it. A plastic or aluminum juice press is like a faithless lover; they will desert you and leave you crying in the middle of a cocktail party (when the handle breaks). Stick with stainless steel. One thing is counter-intuitive about this type of press: the cut face of the lime goes toward the holes. Squeeze hard and enjoy!

Look for limes that are green and plump. If one lime of two that are the same size feels heavier, choose it – it’s juicier. Avoid limes with brown spots if possible; if you must, the less brown the better. Yellow patches indicate that the lime is beginning to ripen; if a lime gets too yellow, the flavor will ultimately be affected, but a finger-sized yellow section is no big deal. Wash limes and lemons thoroughly when you get them home to remove all trace of pesticides.

I like to stock up on limes when they’re on sale, but the problem is keeping them fresh until you use them. Limes will last for about a week if you store them on the kitchen counter, then the skin hardens or they get brown spots. A method I found on the web years ago is to wash them and put them (wet) into a zip-lock baggie and store them in the vegetable crisper. I used this technique for years to add an extra week to lime freshness until I discovered Debbie Meyer Green Bags. Store limes (dry) in a Green Bag in the crisper and they last a lot longer. I have returned from a week-long trip, remembered that I had an old bag of limes in the fridge, and discovered that they were still good when I thought I would have to throw them out. Amazon reviewers either swear by or swear at Green Bags, but I love them for limes. No matter what storage technique you use, segregate any limes that are going over the hill from the healthier limes and discard them or use them first.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Depression Era Entertaining (or Face to Face Social Networking)

NetFlix just announced a big increase in profits.  Spending at upscale restaurants is down. Spending at McDonald’s and other fast food outlets is up. Due to the recession, rising unemployment, and… you name it, people are going out less these days.  So what to do on those Friday and Saturday nights if you don’t want to spend too much? Dining out?  You could spend several hours dining at an upscale restaurant, and perhaps you used to, but that can be expensive… and it’s hard to spend an entire evening at McDonald’s. Why not have a cocktail party? Of course, you can just drink beer and wine and well drinks at your parties like I used to do, but you’ll be surprised at how much enjoyment well presented and well mixed cocktails can add to your party.

Your first question is probably “how can I afford to throw a cocktail party in these recessionary times?”  Well, a cocktail party doesn’t have to cost that much.  Part of the reason for this blog is to help people socialize more and develop their entertaining skills.  An easy way to get started doing both is by forming a drink-of-the-month club (DOMC). A drink-of-the-month club can be a fun – and inexpensive – way to try new cocktails while getting together with neighbors.  My wife and I formed our first drink-of-the-month club with our neighbors (and good friends), Tim and Melinda, several years ago. The four of us learned a few simple rules that kept our “meetings” safe and enjoyable.

The format of a drink-of-the-month club is simple. Two to four couples (they don’t all have to be couples, but no more than 6-8 people) that are neighbors get together once a month to spend an evening trying new cocktails, munching on appetizers, and sharing good company.  Each couple is responsible for discovering (or developing) a cocktail recipe that is new to the club (this is half the fun), procuring the necessary ingredients, and preparing an appetizer or snack to go with it.  Cocktails can be simple or complex.  If you’re on a tight budget, concentrate on simple cocktails for which you already have all (or most) of the ingredients.

The party is kicked-off at one couple’s place, and moves through everyone’s house or apartment in turn.  You should limit it to one cocktail per location (especially if you have three or more locations).  As an alternative to going from house to house, you can all get together at one location each month.  The disadvantage to doing this is that everyone has to bring their snacks and cocktail fixings to the one location (the advantage is that only one house has to be cleaned up), but both alternatives can result in fun evenings.  The idea is not to get drunk, but to have a few new cocktails and a good time.  Remember, jut because you have a cocktail, doesn't mean you have to finish it.  The reason for having neighbors form a drink-of-the-month club is No Driving Allowed. Alcohol and driving do not mix.

The No Driving rule is one of the key rules that you must enforce.  As others hear about the great times you’re having at your drink-of-the-month club, they will try to angle invitations.  Be firm!  Send them a link to this blog so they can form their own “chapter” of the DOMC, but do not let people drive to your meetings.  If you choose to ignore this rule, make sure there are designated drivers (preferably confirmed non-drinkers), and that everyone knows who they are and refuses to serve them alcohol.  No kidding.

Rules of the drink-of-the-month club

No Driving.

No under age drinkers – always obey local laws.

Be a good neighbor – no noise, no mess.

Only invite neighbors who live within very short walking distance.

One drink per cocktail recipe (unless only two couples are participating).

Keep it small (6-8 people maximum).

Know your limits, and when to stop drinking

Never urge someone to have another drink when they want to stop.


There will be more about forming and maintaining a drink-of-the-month club in future posts.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Barack Obama Cocktail

Several years ago, I got hooked on shaking and pouring cocktails. Flash forward to January 2009 as the nation prepared for the inauguration of Barack Obama as 44th president of the USA.  We knew we would want to celebrate on January 20, and what better way than with a Barack Obama theme Cocktail?  I did some fast research on Google and found some nice ones, but didn’t find quite what I was looking for, so I developed my own recipe (as you follow this blog, you will see that developing cocktail recipes is a dirty, but necessary, job that I’m always ready to volunteer for).  My long-suffering wife and I tested several variations of the BOC before settling on the one below.  I hope you’re not yet in “Barack overload” and that you can enjoy it for the next eight years…

When I develop a theme cocktail, I always try to make each of the ingredients relate back to the central theme.  For Barack Obama, I selected his rich racial heritage (didn’t you love seeing his extended family?) and his globe-trotting childhood as key aspects and found ingredients that link back to these factors.  For his racial heritage, I selected DeKuyper® Crème de Cacao and cocoa powder to evoke his brown skin, Kahlua® coffee liqueur to represent his black, Kenyan father, and cream to represent his white, American mother.  For geographical factors, I selected Malibu® Cocoanut Rum to evoke his Hawaiian birth (yeah, I know – cocoanut rum isn’t made in Hawaii) and McCormick® Ground Nutmeg for his childhood time in Indonesia. Note: although I specify the brands I’m using, feel free to substitute whatever brand you’re already pouring at home.

Last Saturday we had some old friends (and founding members of our drink-of-the-month club) over for dinner to celebrate the success of their new business.  Since the Barack Obama Cocktail is a sweet enough cocktail to have for dessert, we had decided to pour BOCs after dinner (we had already planned on having Kir Royales with appetizers).  Needless to say, our friends loved it.  As we finished the first round, I turned to my wife and asked if she thought we could handle another, and she said:

“Yes we can!”


The Barack Obama Cocktail

1 ½ oz Malibu® Cocoanut Rum

¾ oz DeKuyper® Crème de Cacao

¾ oz Kahlua®

½ oz Cream

Chocolate rimming sugar or sweetened cocoa

Whipped cream (optional)

McCormick® Ground Nutmeg

Combine ingredients with ice in cocktail shaker. Shake enthusiastically and strain into a cocktail glass rimmed with chocolate rimming sugar or sweetened cocoa.  Top with a dollop of whipped cream (optional, but better presentation – and it tastes good!) and sprinkle with a little ground nutmeg.

Introducing the Utah Mixologist

One of my hobbies is creating new cocktails. I have enjoyed drinking cocktails since my early twenties, when I developed an unfortunate taste for Zombies and Singapore Slings, but I later drifted away from heavy consumption of these drinks in the interest of my health, concentrating instead on more pedestrian drinks like Rum and Coke (always with lime) and beer and wine. Languorous vacations inHawaii gave me a taste for the ubiquitous Mai Tais and Pina Coladas, which were easy to mix in my vacation condo (and when I got back home).  I have to admit, however, that imagination was somewhat lacking when it came to drinking.

Several years ago, my wife and I, along with a small group of friends, went to the theater and stopped at a Martini bar: Bambara in Hotel Monaco.  There, we rediscovered the basic truth that in cocktails, as in food, presentation is essential.  We had such a great time that we decided to have a cocktail party.  We used to have nice parties with beer, wine, and well drinks – nothing fancy, so for our first cocktail party we decided to keep things simple and just do Martinis and Cosmopolitans.  The party was a great success, and I was hooked – not hooked on drinking cocktails (that happened many years ago), but hooked on making them.

Utah is fertile ground for amateur mixologists because the liquor laws are so strict that it’s difficult to get a good, stiff drink in a bar.  Part of the problem is that there are no bars.  Well, there are beer bars, but none for cocktails. To get a cocktail you have to go to a restaurant or a private club; and the bartenders are only allowed to put 1 ¼ oz. of liquor in a drink.  Martinis are often served in unusually thick glasses to make it look like they are bigger than they really are. Bartenders can lose their jobs if they give you too much liquor in a drink. Now the intent of this is to reduce DUI, a worthy goal, but not everyone buying a drink plans on driving.  (Note: the Martini bar mentioned above was in actuality a private club, and back then drinks were allowed to be mixed stronger than they are today.)  The end result is that drinking at home can be more fulfilling and enjoyable.