Hot Toddies

So after a ‘not as brief as I would have liked’ hiatus, I’m back! And figured early January is the perfect time to talk about hot toddies.  First, it’s cold, like really, really cold. And it is also cold and flu season, for which hot toddies are medicinal.

The traditional, classic hot toddy consists of hot water, lemon juice, honey and booze. There is debate on whether that booze should be whisky, rum or brandy. I personally favor whisky. And I’ll use any whisky, but find bourbon is my favorite.

If you google hot toddy, you will find many many variations. Some people insist you need to add a tea bag to that hot water and use tea as the backbone. Some feel strongly about adding spices, especially cinnamon or nutmeg, perhaps ginger.  You will also find a few alternate spellings, such as totty and tottie.  However, toddy seems to be the most common spelling

I have fallen in love with a variation of the hot toddy that I read about on Joy the Baker’s blog which substitutes half a fresh squeezed orange for the lemon. (http://joythebaker.com/2013/02/its-cold/) It is ethereal.

So here is the recipe for your (freezing) cold weather enjoyment.

In a mug, squeeze half of an orange.

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Add a hefty dose of bourbon. (I don’t measure, but at least 2 ounces.)

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Get a big spoonful of honey. (Only you know how sweet you like things, and yes, you can always add more!)

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Fill the mug with not quite boiling water and stir with the spoonful of honey.

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What I love about this recipe, like most of the cocktails I make, is that you personalize it. You can put in more or less whisky, honey or hot water. The half of orange, fresh-squeezed is harder to alter, but if necessary, that is what the other half is for!

Enjoy and stay warm!

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.

Basil heaven, otherwise known as a Basil-Gin Smash

So next time you go to the farmer’s market or to your garden, if you are so lucky, grab some extra basil.  Taking a page from the whiskey sours I posted last time, we are going to do something similar but with gin and with the addition of fresh basil leaves.  This is a great indian summer drink and a wonderful way to use up some of that fresh basil you have hanging around.

If you have a favorite gin, then, by all means use it.  I have happened upon Boodles, which is relatively cheap and works for me.  I occasionally buy more expensive gins when I want to experiment and feel a little flush.

As this drink, like the whiskey sour uses simple syrup, I’m going to use this blog as an excuse to talk a little more about simple syrup.  So simple syrups are 1 part white sugar to 1 part water.  You throw them both in a sauce pan and heat to a boil, stirring occasionally.  And then remove from the heat and let cool.  You are basically just dissolving the sugar in the water.  I keep mine in a sterilized, (read: went through the dishwasher) recycled glass peanut butter jar in the refrigerator.  I have found it will last well over a month that way.  If it is clear and smells fine, it is fine.  There are plenty of variations on simple syrups including “rich” simple syrups and flavored/infused simple syrups which I can’t wait to talk to you about soon.

So along with the gin and simple syrup, the other ingredients for our drink today are fresh lemon juice and 5-6 basil leaves per drink.

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Basil-Gin Smash

(recipe kindly shared by the Esquire Tavern of San Antonio)

Partially fill a shaker or clean jar with ice.  Add:

5-6 whole basil leaves*

2 ounces of gin

3/4 ounce of fresh lemon juice

3/4 ounce of simple syrup (see recipe here)

Put lid or top on shaker and shake ingredients hard for 20-30 seconds.  Strain into a chilled coupe/martini/wine glass.

The drink will have a beautiful basil-green hue to it.  Add a garnish of a fresh basil leaf.

* Note that you are not muddling the basil a la a Mojito, it will ruin the drink to do that, let the ice smashing up against the leaves pull the flavor from the basil for you.