Margaritas!

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I love margaritas.  I especially love margaritas that aren’t full of all the artificial crap you find in margarita mix.  A classic margarita is both delicious and about 200 calories, which is about the same calorie count as you get when you add tequila to a pre-mixed bottle of margarita mix.

Classic margaritas are based on the 1:1:1 ratio which is the same ratio used in a Side Car and a few other classic cocktails.  It’s a simple one part tequila, one part orange liquor, and one part lime juice.  Now your orange liquor can be triple sec, which is relatively cheap.  My worry about cheap triple sec is that it is likely full of the crap we are trying to avoid in margarita mix, namely artificial flavors.  If you can afford Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Gran Gala or other expensive orange liquors, your margarita will definitely benefit.  However, I’ll be the first to tell you, even with plain old triple sec, these margaritas knock the pre-mixed ones out of the park.  So, let’s get started.

We are going to use a 1.5 oz to 1.5 oz to 1.5 oz measurement today.  (1.5 ounces happen to be the amount of a “jigger”, who knew?).  This makes a nice sized margarita, with 3 ounces of alcohol in it.

Good margaritas really require a bunch of limes and a good lime juicer.

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In general, you will need one and a half limes to get 1.5 ounces of juice, but that depends on the limes.  You will also need a little left over for garnish and salting the rim.

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To get the perfect salt rim, use kosher salt spread on a plate.  Rub the rim of the glass with a wedge of lime and then dip into the salt.  And voila!  A beautiful salted rim!

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Fill your glass with ice.  Add your lime juice, triple sec and tequila to your shaker with some ice.  Shake until the outside of the shaker is frosty, and strain into your prepared cup.  The key to margaritas, as it is with all drinks, is to tweak the recipe to your tastes.  If you are used to pre-mixed margaritas, I recommend upping the triple sec to make this a little sweeter.  If you like them tarter, more lime juice can be added.  And if, you like a stronger margarita, use more tequila.

If you do have a bottle of Grand Marnier sitting around but don’t want to use it up in margaritas, here is a secret to the best tasting margaritas I have made.  I often use relatively cheap tequila, regular old triple sec, fresh lime juice, mix as usual, pour over my rocks, and then pour a “float” of Grand marnier on the top.

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A float is a fancy word for gently pouring a liquor on the top of a drink so that it “floats” on top.  The best way can be to pour it slowly over an upside down spoon held over the drink.   Grand marnier floats causes the margarita transcend its relatively lower end ingredients to become way more than the sum of the parts.

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Manhattans, or why I don’t hate Fall (so much)

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I welcome fall kicking and screaming. I love summer and actually enjoy fall, but I know fall portends of winter. Fall is a season I used to love, but as I get older, the grumpy old lady comes out in me. I hate, in no particular order, the cold (especially when there is a bitter wind when I walk to work), the difficult of driving in snow, and the astronomical amount of money I spend on fuel oil.

The good news of the night’s cooler weather is that it is once again Manhattan time. Now, I know there are people out there who contend that Manhattans, even all cocktails, can be consumed any time. I disagree and would argue that summer calls for sangria, gin and tonics, and icy cold beer. And I am not against all whiskey cocktails in the summer. A good whiskey sour is on my list of all time best summer sippers.

However a Manhattan is a heavier drink with richer, more complex flavors and it is why I don’t hate the colder nights coming on.  It warms you going down and lingers with a strong finish.  If your only experience with Manhattans comes from pre-mixed bottles of it from your youth or from ordering it at your local sports bar, please give it a second chance.  The Manhattan is a drink that really needs quality ingredients to shine.  And a bad one isn’t worth drinking.

A Manhattan is made with three ingredients, either rye or bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters.  The choice between rye or bourbon is a personal one.   And while I wouldn’t use my good sipping $80-a–bottle, Whistlepig rye in a Manhattan, I have used 10 year ryes in my Manhattans, and I will tell you why.  As opposed to whiskey sours in which the lemon juice and simple syrup have such a strong presence and obscure the nuances of a high-end aged whiskey, Manhattans are very balanced with the individual flavors shining through.  Now, that said, use what you have, I mostly make mine with a $25-$30 bottle of rye or bourbon and am very happy.  (For those looking for some advice on where to start, I recommend Redemption or  Rittenhouse rye and Buffalo Trace or Eagle Rare bourbon).  But here is what I will also tell you, my very favorite, top-of-the-line cocktail bars use Old Overholt as their house rye.  It is cheap, but their drinks are amazingly good, so don’t let price keep you from buying a bottle of rye. For well under $20, get Old Overholt for your mixed drinks.

Sweet vermouth, however, I have a very strong opinion about, and for me, it makes or breaks the cocktail.  Antica Carpano is an imported Italian sweet vermouth.  It is definitely WAY more expensive than the cheap ones you will find at your average liquor store.  I am blessed with an amazing liquor store with people who really know cocktails. When I went to buy my first bottle, “Nate” told me Antica Carpano was the only way to go and he promised, at $40 for a liter bottle it would be well worth it.  It is a sweet vermouth that you can also drink as an aperitif while you are cooking dinner, by throwing it in a wine glass with ice, a splash of soda and an orange twist.  An $8 bottle of sweet vermouth would never be drank straight, take my word for it.  The good news is that it will last you for quite a while.

The bitters are where the fun/creative part of Manhattan’s comes in.  Everyone has heard of Angostura bitters, and they are fine in the Manhattan.  But if you want to elevate your Manhattan to an ethereal plane, buy orange bitters.  And even within orange bitters there is variation.  And if you do a side-by-side comparison of Manhattans made with Reagan’s orange bitters to Manhattans made with Fee Brother’s orange bitters, you will definitely note a difference.  Reagan’s has more “bitter” to it, while Fee Brother’s has more orange flavor.  I have read recently about vanilla bitters, and if I can get my hands on some, I promise you, I will test it out and see if it is as delicious with vanilla bitters as it seems it would be.

The last important thing you need is a good sized swath of orange peel for a garnish.  Use a vegetable peeler and peel a good sized wide piece, being sure to avoid as much of the white pith as possible.  Take a sip of your Manhattan before you twist the orange rind over the drink, and then after you have given it a good twist to spray a light layer of orange oil over the top of your drink.

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Okay without further ado/lecturing here is the recipe:

Fill a shaker or jar partway with ice

Add:

2 ounces of rye or bourbon

1 ounce of sweet vermouth

3 dashes of orange bitters

Shake vigorously and strain into a coupe glass, martini glass, (small wine glass, whatever you’ve got!)

Twist a good-sized swath of orange peel over top of the drink and then use as a garnish.