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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hot Cocoaretto a hot, chocolaty cocktail recipe to evoke childhood memories

This will be the last chocolate drink on this blog before Christmas. That’s a promise. The other chocolaty drink recipes have been for chilled cocktails served in a glass, but this recipe is for a hot chocolate cocktail served in a mug like real men drink from... (ignore the glass cup in the photo, make yours in a heavy, chipped china mug). Hot cocoa in December always evokes memories of Christmas Eves of long ago, when slightly scalded hot chocolate, usually with a skin on top, was served in tan melmac cups. As one ages, however, one finds that cocoa can be greatly improved by making minor additions to the recipe, and by not boiling the milk. Hence the Hot Cocoaretto.

Scharffen Berger® is probably my favorite cocoa, so this recipe calls for it, but feel free to substitute your own favorite cocoa powder. Brandy (or cognac) go well with chocolate, so feel free to use either one. If you have vanilla cognac (or brandy) in your bar, feel free to use it and leave out the vanilla extract. The taste of almond from the Amaretto adds a candy-bar-like dimension to the taste, which differs from the hot chocolate d’antan; feel free to vary it to suit your taste. For the garnish, this is another opportunity to use jelly candy rings in a holiday theme (see photo). Here a green jelly ring was selected to echo the memory of a Christmas tree (just use a sharp knife to cut through the ring and perch it on the glass). Potential alternative garnishes are either a large dollop of whipped cream or a candy cane. The candy cane has not been taste tested, so try it out yourself before serving it to your guests. If you do try one, post your thoughts as a response to this post.

Hot Cocoaretto

6 oz Milk

3 level tbsp Scharffen Berger ® unsweetened cocoa powder

1 level tbsp Sugar

½ tsp Vanilla extract

1 oz Brandy

½ oz Amaretto

Spoon the cocoa and sugar into a cup. Put the vanilla extract into a measure; add Brandy to total 1 ounce (or use 1 ounce vanilla cognac or brandy). Add the Amaretto. Pour into the cup and stir until the cocoa and sugar have dissolved into a thin paste. Heat the milk in a microwave for about 90 seconds, or warm to a simmer on the stove, but don’t let it boil. Pour milk into the cup and stir until well mixed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chocolate Covered Cherry – a holiday drink that lives up to its name

There are a lot of recipes for the Chocolate Covered Cherry floating around out there, and all of them are good if you like a sweet drink every now and then. (If you don’t like sweet drinks, quit complaining and mix yourself a Bulleit® Manhattan.) My recipe has the unbeatable combination of Baileys® Original Irish Cream, coconut rum, and Amaretto, and while it’s a little sweet, it’s nowhere near as sweet as a real chocolate covered cherry. You’ll enjoy the mix of almond, coconut, and chocolate with a hidden cherry waiting at the end. You may notice that the Chocolate Covered Cherry has three ounces of liqueurs in it, but don’t worry: it comes out to only about 20% ABV.

The secret to the garnish for this cocktail is to scout out a couple of grocery stores until you find one with jelly candy rings in a holiday theme (see photo). The holiday theme is important because you really want just red, green, and (possibly) white rings. Last year we got some called “Holiday Wreaths” that worked pretty well, but any brand of jelly candy rings should work. Just use a sharp knife to cut through the ring and perch it on the glass. You can also use other jelly candies (Christmas bells?) to garnish your glasses by cutting a slit in them, but do a trial or two to determine the correct angle so they look the way you want them to.

Chocolate Covered Cherry

1 oz Baileys® Original Irish Cream

1 oz Coconut rum

1 oz Amaretto

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker half full of ice. Shake like Jolly Old Saint Nick’s tummy until it feels ice cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a red or green jelly ring, drop in a maraschino cherry and watch it disappear. Now, prepare yourself for a treat and go find the cherry.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Champing at the bit – sparkling wines under $20 for the holiday season

It’s December, time to get ready for the holidays and the champagne occasion of the year: New Year’s Eve. Wine connoisseurs are all aware that real (capital “C”) Champagne comes only from France, as are most card carrying cocktailians. The French discourage others from using the appellation “champagne” on their sparkling wines, and many of the quality wineries (especially those who wish to sell their wines in France) comply, so many sparkling wines (bubbly for short) will not say “champagne” on the bottle, although some do. Unfortunately there are few (none?) legitimate Champagnes available in the under $20 (for 750ml.) price range. If you would like to learn more about Champagne, including the names of the big Champagne houses, check out the New York Times Champagne navigator page.

For those of us on a recessionary (or depressionary) budgets who still want to celebrate with some sparkling wine, the Utah Sate Liquor Store system has obliged us with a great selection of American sparkling wines for under $20 with some pretty good ones for under $10. (Those of you who live in bigger markets should be able to buy all of the wines mentioned here.) Regular readers are doubtless aware of my love for champagne cocktails like the French 75 and the Kir Royale. When cocktail recipes call for champagne, though, it’s usually more economical to use a good sparkling wine. Drink your high quality Champagne (and high quality domestic bubblies) straight so you can appreciate them. For champagne cocktails, there are some very good sparklers under $10 that are ideal for mixing. Readers should always have a bottle or two of better quality champagne around for celebrations and several less expensive bottles for mixing. If you have a spare fridge in the basement, keep it stocked.

This post will only recommend wines from houses that have had some of their sparkling wines score at least 85 or 90 points by some well known rating service like Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast. Although quality will vary year to year with the vintage, etc., it’s safe to assume that these winemakers know what they are doing and will turn out a good product. That means that while individual wines mentioned here may not have been rated (or not rated high enough to brag about), you will be buying a reliable product and not junk wine.

Under $20

Before we get into the real bargains, lets look at the bubblies that price out closer to $20. Gloria Ferrer makes some excellent sparkling wines that are among my favorites. Although not on sale this month (that’s a shame) their Blanc de Noirs ($18) and Brut ($17) have both been highly rated by multiple rating services. Domaine Chandon is another producer of highly rated bubbly in our price range. Their Brut and their Blanc de Noirs are both on sale this month for $16, and Chandon Riche Extra Dry, while not on sale, is a bargain at $19. Rated only a couple of points lower is Mumm Napa’s Brut, on sale this month for $19. Piper Sonoma doesn’t rate quite as highly, but their Brut is on sale this month for $15 and is worth a try.

Around $10 and less

Korbel used to be the best of the budget bubblies, their Extra Dry has been rated respectably in the mid eighties and is on sale this month ($10.5), as are several other of their sparklers, a Brut and a Chardonnay among them. Now, however, they have some competition in their price range. Domaine Sainte Michelle, also scoring in the mid-eighties, is another bargain bubbly on sale for $11 this month. The real bargains in this price range, however, are some of the sparklers from Barefoot Bubbly. Three Bubblies (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay Brut, and Chardonnay Extra Dry) are all on sale for $8. Wine Enthusiast gave one of their bubblies an 87 rating and a Top 100 Best Values award several years ago. Barefoot Bubblies are a great value; the first time I tasted one I couldn’t believe the price. Barefoot’s sparklers are very drinkable on their own, and are great in any champagne cocktail you might care to try.

There are some even less expensive bubblies on sale this month: André wines are on sale for $3.5 and Cook’s for as low as $4. Needless to say, these are not among my recommendations, and so far as I know they have never been highly rated. They can serve a purpose in punches or in other concoctions where “champagne” is a minority ingredient or is overpowered by the other ingredients, but my recommendation is that you never drink them straight.

If you have an affinity for some other bubbly (domestic or imported) that is available for under $20, please share the information with others by adding a comment to this post. Happy Holidays! In the meantime, if you want to know what you’re looking for when you go to the wine store, view this slideshow for photos of most of the bubblies mentioned in the post, plus a couple of serving suggestions.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Bathtub gin anyone? Gin cocktails for Repeal Day

December 5, 1933: sunrise in America as Prohibition comes to an end, freedom and enlightenment return, and honest people can once again legally drink cocktails. To celebrate Repeal Day, here is a short list of gin cocktails to tickle your taste-buds. Several gin cocktails will be shaken (or stirred) at my house tonight. In case you’re wondering. Gin was selected as a nod to the memory of the bad “bathtub gin” that people had to drink during the dark years of the twenties.

Let’s start with one that’s almost straight gin, albeit on the rocks. Plymouth® is a brand name for a distinctive type of gin. Although you can use London Dry gin, Plymouth gin makes a great Pink Gin, so give it a try. All you need is gin, bitters, and ice.

The Gin and Tonic is another classic gin cocktail that you’re probably familiar with, and it’s not just for summer, either. I had my first Gin and Tonic back in my early twenties and thought it was just OK, never realizing that the problem was the gin. Quality gin, which wasn’t available during Prohibition, is the key to a good Gin and Tonic. I like to use Bombay Sapphire®; sip it slowly and savor the flavor.

During Prohibition, most people didn’t have access to quality cocktail ingredients imported from Europe like Lillet® Blanc, Campari®, and vermouth. The imported liquors they were able to obtain were mostly bootlegged whiskey and rum smuggled into the country from Canada (like Canadian Club®). Their grandchildren are much better off, so let’s have a Martini, a Vesper Martini that is. Gin, vodka, Lillet, and bitters (optional) are all you need to enjoy James Bond’s favorite drink.

The third recommendation is the Twelve Squared, a cocktail containing 144 Botanicals in a single cocktail. For this tasty beauty, you’ll need Lillet Blanc and a bottle of Green Chartreuse®, but the investment you make in these ingredients will pay off in future enjoyment.

If you’re in the mood for something not quite as strong as these gin intensive cocktails, try a French 75 – a reliable champagne (and gin) cocktail that is just what you need. Named after the famous French cannon of World War I, this little beauty has a nice kick and never misfires.