Holiday Recipe, Special Christmas-Eve-Eve Edition: Mulled Wine (Vin Chaud)

Mulled Wine

Having only just recently perfected this recipe, the Bartender has been mulling (pardon the pun) over whether to post this one now, so late in the holiday season, or sit on it for next year.  However, after writing it up in email for one friend, and then spending the next couple of days watching the list of recipients grow longer and longer as more of her friends demand the recipe, it seems wisest to capitulate to obvious demand.  After all, there are still several months of cold days ahead, long after the warm glow of the holidays have faded, when a bit of warm spicy cheer might not go amiss.

Luckily, mulled wine (or Vin Chaud as it’s known in France) is quite easy to make, and very open to interpretation.  Put the wine and spices (and fruit, if you’re using it) into a pot, turn the heat on medium-low, wait for it to just start bubbling, then turn the heat to low and leave it partially covered.  Stir it now and then if you feel inspired.  Half an hour later you’ve got mulled wine.  You can let it simmer longer if you like stronger flavors from the spices.  Needless to say, the product at the end is fairly low in alcohol content, so if you like you can fortify it with brandy, but this is optional.

A point of note:  The secret to this particular combination appears to be the vanilla bean, which is a slightly alien ingredient to many people.  (Pro tip:  they’re usually ridiculously expensive, but Costco has them right now for $15 for ten beans.  Normally they’re more like $15 for one bean.)  All you need to know is that the seeds are tiny and suspended in a sort of gooey texture.  So you cut it down its length with the tip of a paring knife (the bean itself is fibrous and will help you do that), then lay it out flat and scrape the seeds out of the inside with the dull side of the blade.  You can then put the seeds and the pod both in the wine.

Speaking of the wine, the Bartender here breaks with her usual “quality-only” mantra, because the spices and the heat serve to break down any subtle bouquets the original wine might have had.  Break out the three-buck Chuck, with her blessing – especially if you have quality spices!

1 bottle fruity red wine
2 tablespoons honey (more or less to taste, depending on how dry the wine is)
1 vanilla bean, scraped and seeded, with pod
2 cinnamon sticks
11 whole cloves
1 star anise
3 cardamom pods
2 ounces brandy

Strain before drinking.  Irish coffee glasses are great for serving it in, especially over one of the cinnamon sticks.

And for those who want to play around with theirs, here are some ideas for additional/replacement ingredients to get you started:

Blackberry cordial or brandy
Orange slices
Lemon slices
Sliced fresh ginger

Enjoy, friends, and stay warm!

Holiday Recipe: Old-School Egg Nog

A holiday recipe?  Nearly two months before the actual holiday?  Surely the Bartender hasn’t sold out to the ever-increasing, ever-bemoaned commercialization of the winter months?  No, dear reader.  Rather, today’s recipe is of the old-fashioned variety, where aging and anticipation both increase its savor.  But first, the origin story!

ImageThe Rebel Spouse, who has been known to hang out in the Something Awful Forum Goon community, came to the Bartender a few years ago with this recipe.  “We have to try this,” he said, in a tone that brooked no argument.  “The goons call it ‘Fuckin’ Nog’, short for ‘The Best Fucking Eggnog You Will Ever Drink’.”

Looking over the recipe, and mentally calculating the calories (not to mention the booze content) involved, your Bartender’s eyes widened.  “If we drank this all ourselves, we’d be spherical.  Possibly dead and spherical.  Certainly dead drunk.  And spherical.”

“Then we’ll have to have a party,” the Spouse decided.  “We know enough people here to have a Christmas party, don’t we?”  Though at the time we’d just moved to Bisbee, the promise of such alcoholic delight proved a potent lure, and the Rebel Christmas Party was a modest success during the years it was held, in large part due to the eggnog.

Incidentally, this recipe may well be the perfect use for Kirkland Signature Bourbon, as the strength of flavor that makes it so overpowering an experience drunk straight serves it well against the incredible richness of the eggs and cream – and it’s inexpensive, to boot.  Even better, Kirkland has seen fit to add a quite tasty and reasonably-priced spiced rum to its line (review forthcoming!), which also serves well.

A note on aging:  Though it goes against the usual instant gratification of drink-mixing, the secret to a truly great nog is aging.  Buy a cheap gallon jug of water from the store, empty the jug, fill it with nog, and stick it in the back of the fridge for a month, checking it now and again and shaking it up if it separates.  The leftovers you can keep handy, and try a little bit each weekend until your party.  You’ll likely be amazed at the improvement in mellowness and depth that the nog takes on each week.  (The Bartender has heard tell of folk making theirs a year ahead of time and keeping it in the garage – and it’s true that the booze quantity is likely sufficient to kill anything that might try to grow in the nog! – but that seems slightly overkill.)

Old-School Egg Nog
Adapted from “The Joy of Cooking”, with help from the Something Awful Forum Goons
serves approximately 20, or one Goon

12 eggs, separated
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
3 cups bourbon
2 cups spiced rum
2 quarts whipping cream
pinch of salt
freshly grated nutmeg

Strain the egg yolks through a sieve and beat until light in color. Gradually add the sugar. While continuing to beat, slowly add 2 cups of the bourbon. Cover the mixture and let stand for 1 hour to dispel the “eggy” taste.

Add the rest of the liquor and the cream, beating well. Cover and refrigerate the mixture for 3 hours.

Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold them into the other ingredients. Grate nutmeg to taste into the eggnog and fold it in. Transfer to a jug or pitcher, cover, and let age in the refrigerator for thirty days.

Serve in small cups (the one in the picture is a double-serving), with a sprinkling of fresh nutmeg grated over each pour.

With apologies to Mr. Bond

Have you ever felt intimidated by the constant arguments over “the right way” to prepare a martini?  Wonder no more, thanks to this excellent video by master bartender Ms. Charlotte Voisey.  Not only are the techniques (both practical and presentational) that she describes useful for a number of cocktails, she describes them all in an adorable British accent, and she uses Hendrick’s gin.  Really, how can you go wrong?

Recipe: Adam & Eve Martini

This recipe comes courtesy of the folks who make the Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup, and it nicely showcases both the aesthetic and flavor-related strengths of their product; so far as the Bartender’s cocktail-learning quest is concerned, it also demonstrated the supreme importance of using good-quality spirits when mixing a drink.  In this instance, she initially thought the drink interesting but a little bitter; when a bit of tinkering with the ingredients failed to produce something more palatable, she set the recipe aside.

Revisiting it some time later and with a far greater vodka selection, the Bartender decided to try making it with Kirkland Signature vodka.  And lo and behold – a drink that had previously been mostly a novelty suddenly became extremely tasty.  (For the record, plain Skyy is rapidly losing its place on her liquor shelf, although their citrus offering is still excellent.)

This is also an excellent example of how an unusual ingredient and a fancy garnish can really dress up a drink.  If you ordered one of these in a nice bar, it’d probably come served by a uniformed attendant with a price tag bordering on the obscene.

Adam & Eve Martini

2 ounces good-quality vodka
3 ounces apple puree (stage 1 baby food works best)
1 ounce Wild Hibiscus syrup
1 hibiscus blossom + maraschino cherry for garnish

Take one hibiscus blossom and stuff it with a maraschino cherry.  Shake the rest of the ingredients with ice, then strain into glass.  Spear the flower/cherry garnish with a chopstick and lay across the top of your cocktail glass.

Review: Kirkland Signature Vodka (or, Is It Or Is It Not Grey Goose?)

There’s just no possible way to write a decently comprehensive piece about Kirkland Signature’s bowling-pin-sized vodka offering without addressing the rumor that swirls around it – is it repackaged Grey Goose?  Every Costco representative I’ve talked to about the stuff has at least mentioned the rumor, as have many of the people who have seen one of the bottles near my liquor shelf (usually it’s too tall to go with the rest and demands special display).  Google was no help, as there were no substantiated claims either way, just a lot of arguing back and forth.  The most likely theory the Bartender found was that KS had bought an old Grey Goose distillery and was using water from the same river in France to produce it, but again, it was presented without any evidence.

While taste tests are always going to be somewhat subjective, it seems likely that comparing two products for objective similarities and differences should be far easier to do with accuracy than simply trying a single spirit and giving it a rating.  Additionally, the Bartender cites her above-average depth of experience with vodka-tasting, as well as her lukewarm reaction to Goose from the fancy frosted bottle, as qualifications to make the call.

So, are they the same thing?  Drumroll, please…

No.  No, they are not.  And in the Bartender’s opinion, the Kirkland Signature is superior.

The rumor’s foundation is certainly easy enough to see.  Nearly identical on the nose and tongue (slightly vanilla-y, slightly sweet, very smooth) it’s not until the finish where the two really differentiate themselves.  As previously noted, Goose just sort of fades off into a very mild burn with no real standout flavors.  Kirkland, on the other hand, is far more distinctive:  a slightly more noticeable burn and notes of charcoal and olive that might lend themselves well to a martini.

Impressive as the Kirkland vodka is, however, the best thing about it might be its price – assuming you already have the Costco membership, you can get a 1.75 L handle of it for $27, less than a single 750 mL fifth of Goose costs.  This makes it only a little more expensive than many mid-shelf vodkas, and it completely lacks the bitter finish of those offerings, which makes it simultaneously a fantastic straight vodka and an excellent mixer.  Wrap that up with the fact that the bottle practically doubles as a cricket bat or home-defense weapon, and how can you say no?  A++ with cherries on top

Rebel Bartender Original Recipe: Blood Orange Martini

“Gin, lemon juice, and blood-orange soda?”

“I think it’s good.”

“I don’t know, it just seems like…shouldn’t there be something more?”

“It’s three ingredients.  That makes a cocktail.”

While the Rebel Bartender is not one to generally trust to others’ declarations, in this instance, she decided to assent to her husband’s wisdom.  Because while there may be something impressive about a drink that delicately balances five or six different flavors like a juggler spinning plates, there’s also a lot to be said for simplicity.  And in this instance, simplicity works surprisingly well.

This recipe was actually devised at the request of one of the Bartender’s friends, who tried an advertised “Blood Orange Martini” at a restaurant and found it to be unimpressive.  The Bartender’s original idea for a nonalcoholic base – fresh-squeezed blood orange juice – was stymied by the relative lack of imagination in Arizona produce aisles.  Fortunately, however, she came across some Italian Blood Orange Soda at Trader Joe’s, and it turned out to go surprisingly well with (of all things) Bombay Sapphire gin.  Other gins would probably work, too, but be forewarned that you’ll likely be trading the subtlety of Sapphire for more of a strong juniper flavor.  Which, depending on your tastes, might be what you want.

Blood Orange Martini

1 1/2 ounces Bombay Sapphire
1/4 ounce lemon juice
3 ounces blood orange soda, chilled

Shake the gin and lemon juice with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Gently pour the soda in over the other ingredients, swirling to mix.  Garnish with a lemon twist.

Review: Kirkland Signature Premium Small Batch Bourbon

Once again, it’s time for we Americans to celebrate the independence of our nation.  Across the US, millions of people are indulging in those quintessentially Statesian traditions of outdoor barbeques, explosives, and alcohol consumption.  Admittedly, the wisdom of combining those last two concepts seems questionable at best, but the Bartender lives in an area recently plagued with wildfires, and has forgone the explosives for this year – thus allowing her to partake of libations freely.  And really, what could be more American than inexpensive and readily-available Kentucky bourbon?

For those unfamiliar with the Kirkland Signature line, it’s the house brand for Costco Wholesale‘s chain of warehouse stores.  It’s also a store brand of surprisingly consistent quality; one of Costco’s big draws is that they accept returns on anything, no questions asked – if you buy something and don’t like it, you can bring it back (and thanks to the membership system, they don’t even require a receipt).  Obviously, this creates an incentive to stock products of good quality, and the Bartender was very impressed by their vodka offering.  Therefore, when she discovered they had started carrying bourbon as well, she was extremely interested in trying it, especially as the Rebel Spouse’s stock of 1792 (his preferred brand) was currently gone.  And if it could stand up to the 1792 in quality, it represented a significant potential savings – $20 for a liter as opposed to $28 for a fifth.

Alas, Kirkland’s first impression was not positive.  At 103 proof, the stuff is extremely hot when drunk straight; what few notes come through the alcohol burn are overpoweringly oaky and sour.  Adding a bit of water, or serving it on the rocks, helps some; the flavors open up, allowing some charcoal and molasses notes through and giving it a bit more complexity.  It does, however, still burn significantly on the way down; this is pity party bourbon of the first degree.

In all fairness, it’s not without its charms – it mixes up into a perfectly decent whiskey sour, and the strong flavor would probably work very well in bourbon lava cakes.  But I wouldn’t really recommend it straight unless you enjoy the sensation of having your taste buds scalded into submission.  C+

Bisbee Pride Commemorative Recipe: Bisbee Fruit Salad

While technically an original recipe, at least part of the credit for this drink goes to the (sadly unknown) bartender who was working the pool party at Bisbee Pride last weekend.  The poolside bar was surprisingly well-stocked, and upon arrival at the head of the line a bottle of Ketel One Oranje caught your Bartender’s eye.  Asking the attendant what she recommended to go with it, she gave it a moment’s thought and said, “Cranberry juice and 7up.”  And really, given that context, what kind of even halfway-adventuresome person would say no to a little experimentation?

Admittedly, the end result you see here is rather different from that first trial.  For one thing, the version she poured was nearly half vodka, and tasted like it; for another, it was a bit oversweet, and lacked a certain complexity that the Bartender appreciates in a drink.  However, it had potential, and looking around at the bevy of fruity types around at that moment, it seemed appropriate that the Bartender find some way to commemorate the occasion in the way its participants would most appreciate:  in drink.

Bisbee Fruit Salad

1 ounce Ketel One Oranje
3/4 ounce melon liqueur
Cranberry juice
Seltzer Water

Pour orange vodka and melon liqueur over ice in rocks glass.  Fill until three-quarters full with cranberry juice; top with seltzer water.  Garnish with fresh raspberries and a sprig of mint.

Note:  This recipe can easily be adapted for a tall glass as well; however, you may wish to increase the proportions of the alcoholic ingredients to maintain the balance of flavors.

Review: Ketel One Oranje

Back when the Rebel Bartender was a teenager growing up with a teetotaling mother, her few experiences with alcohol came entirely from what she could filch from the kitchen.  Teetotaler her mother may have been, but she was also a fine cook, and a moral stance against alcohol was no reason to compromise the quality of a bourbon cake with imitation spirits (hello, Jim Beam!). And of those experiences, the one that stands out most vividly was trying pure orange extract – largely because the stuff was nearly 80% alcohol (hello, scalded sinuses!).

Ketel One Oranje reminds the Bartender quite a bit of that experience, although fortunately without the deleterious effects on mucous membranes.  The nose is almost completely sweet orange, with a bit of alcohol vapor in the back of the throat; the taste is an odd but pleasant sweet-bitter combination of orange juice and orange peel.  And really, that’s all there is to it.

It may come as a surprise to the newly rebellious, but orange is a tricky flavor in mixology.  Straight orange juice tends to overpower everything else in the drink with some alacrity – there’s a reason you rarely see it outside of screwdrivers.  Triple sec, on the other hand, is usually used as an accent, and therefore tends to be fairly weak.  Ketel One Oranje, whatever it lacks in complexity, does fill that middle ground nicely – you can use it to add a distinct orange note without steamrollering the other flavors.  And if you happen to be making chocolate-chip cookies or a buttercream frosting, might the Bartender recommend tossing an ounce or two of this in the mix?  A-

Recipe: Mango Daiquiri

A friend of the Bartender’s once commented that the joy of food-for-food’s-sake seems to rapidly be getting drowned out in the rush to find food-that-is-also-medicine; to wit, the hypermarketing of pomegranate, açaí, and various other foods as “superfoods”.  The corresponding ridiculousness of many associated claims notwithstanding (cherry 7up is healthy now because it has antioxidants?  Really?), the Bartender figures that any excuse to consume fruit-and-ice based drinks in the middle of the hottest part of the summer is a good one.  And mangos are supposed to be super-healthy, right?

Daiquiris, in addition to being delicious and cold, also provide some fun opportunities for experimentation.  White rum is the classic choice, but the flavor of spiced rum actually compliments mangoes fairly well.  You can also vary the amount of fruit, depending on how thick you want it, and the amount of syrup – if you have especially-ripe mangoes, for instance, you may want to use less.

One last point of note:  for people unused to them, mangos can be a bit tricky to cut up.  The Bartender and the scar on her left index finger recommend especial care with the first few – the juice will rapidly make everything slippery.

Mango Daiquiri (makes 2 drinks)

2 medium ripe mangoes
3 ounces rum (white or spiced, depending on the flavor you want)
1 ounce triple sec
2 ounces syrup
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 cups ice

Blend ingredients together, adjusting syrup to taste.  Pour into two frosted hurricane glasses; garnish with a mint sprig, a paper umbrella, and a straw.

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