Cocktails

First and foremost, I want to assure you guys that is is not the worst cocktail I have ever had.

In fact, it’s super good. A nice heady aroma of curry with a bit of coconut sweetness, and a back of the throat spice from Sriracha.

20140103-123533.jpg

Truth of the matter is, when I got my bottle of Coconut vodka from Ciroc, I groaned. A girl can only drink so many fruity island cocktails. And recently, over Indian food, I realized that coconut doesn’t always have to be sweet. Duh, Steers. The flavor adds a nice base note to dishes, for other tingly flavors to become the star.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 ounces coconut vodka
  • 2 ounces coconut milk
  • ice
  • Sriracha to taste
  • small, sweet pepper for garnish

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1) In an empty shaker, add your powder and liquids. Close the shaker and shake to combine.
2) Open the shaker to add your ice. Re-seal and shake to chill.
3) Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Cut a small slit in your pepper to hang on the edge of your glass for garnish.
4) Garnish with Sriracha for spice.

Enjoy!

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It’s time to partaaaaaaay.

champagne hibiscus jello shots

I remember when I was still producing that wine and spirits radio show, my boss took it upon himself to interview a bartender while on a vacation to Paris. The bartender was very smug, as he was the lead guy in the hottest bar in the city, and was explaining to my boss all the amazing things he’d made at his establishment. A new way to freeze alcohol was one, the other was what he called “solid cocktails.”

Without missing a beat, my 70 year old boss just zinged back, “What? Like freaking Jello shots?”

The bartender had no idea what he was talking about but yes: Jello shots. All the rage in the City of Lights.

Thinking about fun things to do for NYE this year, I wanted to make my own. I have had one Jello shot in my entire life– not being a big partier at any point– and have never made them before. So I zinged around Pinterest to find a few ideas, and then went for it. The Champagne part of this is pulled directly from Erica’s Sweet Tooth.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 16 ounces of sparkling wine (I used a $7 Cava, and this amount is less than a bottle. I’d recommend using leftover bubbly for this on January 1st, too)
  • 4 packets of gelatin (one whole box of Knox!)
  • 1/2 cup Hibiscus syrup
  • 1/2 cup vodka (per usual, I use Tito’s)
  1. This is easily the most important step of the entire recipe: CHILL YOUR BOTTLE OF SPARKLING WINE. Well. I mean, at least three or four hours in the fridge. This has nothing to do with the gelatin setting properly, and has everything to do with you not getting covered in an exploding bottle of wine when you open it. Trust a girl.
  2. Once your bottle is well chilled, open it carefully. Measure out 10 ounces of sparkling wine and add to a saucepan. Dust the top of the wine with three packets of gelatin. Let sit for 2-3 minutes, or until gelatin makes a skin on top of the wine.
  3. On low heat, stir the gelatin into the wine until fully dissolved– i.e., no clumpies. Pour your new gelatin mixture into a square container (I used a small Pyrex dish). Let set for about an hour in the fridge.
  4. Next, measure out 1/2 cup of hibiscus syrup (I found Wild Hibiscus in the Hispanic foods section of my grocery store, which comes with hibiscus flowers floating it it. It’s awesome. I’ll use the flowers for something else), and 1/2 cup of vodka. Add to your saucepan and sprinkle your remaining packet of gelatin on top. Wait two minutes, then on super low heat, mix the gelatin in until blended. Do not stand over the pan, unless you want a nose full of hot vodka to the face. (You live, you learn, kids.)
  5. Let the mixture cool slightly, then slowly pour the hibiscus blend on top of your semi-set champagne Jello. Let set for another 4-6 hours, or overnight.
setting champagne hibiscus jello
To remove the jello from the pan, set it in a bath of warm water, and scrape the jello from the sides of the pan using a butter knife. Take the mold out of the water, dry it off, and then invert onto a cutting board.
I sliced my “shots” into 1″ squares, though I’m not entirely sure how much alcohol that is in each go-round. I got about 24 squares from my mold. I’d recommend not eating more than 3 or 4 of these in a night. We’re not in college anymore, guys.
In case you were wondering, hibiscus flowers + syrup taste kind of like strawberries and rhubarb. They’re very, very sweet and just a bit tangy. The jar wasn’t exactly cheap (about $8) but I can’t imagine that you’ll go through all of its contents in one night.
(Oh, and if you’re already anticipating a bundle of joy in 2014, replace your Champagne with sparkling apple cider, and use either cranberry juice or water in place of the vodka in the hibiscus layer. BOOM! Virgin Jello shots.)

champagne hibiscus jello shots

Happy New Year’s, everyone! Be safe, and I’ll see you tomorrow!
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It’s the last few days of December and that means one thing: New Year’s Eve (the worst holiday of all time), the pressure to have fun and/or “A Night to Remember,” and to also buy a decent bottle of Champagne.

I normally hate NYE, because it’s a really charged night of emotions: if you go out, you’re usually in a big group of people where, undoubtedly, there will be a fight or someone crying (you know it’s true); if you’re home, you’ll probably be asleep by 11:30, and then wake up feeling like it was kind of a waste.

I’ve only been to one party in the past few years, that was before I even started dating David. I went to a party where I knew only one person (mistake!), flirted with a very nice boy from college but got no smooch (mistake!), and then drove home in pea-soup fog (mistake! But thankfully didn’t get into a car accident).

I’ll probably end up at a shindig thrown by a friend who lives very close to my apartment or maybe David and I will be old farts and stay in. Regardless of what I do this year, I will be wearing these:

gold glitter heels

They’re like Champagne for your feet.

Speaking of Champagne, I want to give you a rundown of what to look for if you’re buying bubbly for yourself, or a large party.

  1. Champagne (if the label says CHAMPAGNE)by law has to be grown in the Champagne region of France.  In the entire region, farmers only grow a few kinds of grapes– Chardonnay, Pinot Nior, and Pinot Meunier.  You’ll rarely find a “real” Champagne for less than $20; obviously, the sky’s the limit on the price of this stuff.  But a good Brut Champagne should hover around $40-60, and it will be quite drinkable.
    1. Blanc de Blanc Champagne is made exclusively from Chardonnay. This will be somewhere between $60-80.
    2. Blanc de Noir Champagne is usually just Pinot Noir.  Sometimes it’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  You’ll know by the price.  PN-only is going to be a bit pricier, somewhere between $60-85. It’s a big window.
    3. Rose Champagne is made two ways.  The classier way is to ferment the red wine grapes (the pinots) in their skins for a red color.  More often than not, though, just a bit of still pinot is added to a bubbly brew for the pinky color. This, too, will be about $60-80.
    4. “Vintage” means that all of the grapes in that bubbly were grown and harvested the same year.  Good vintages now coming to market are 2002 and 2004.  You’re going to pay a premium for Vintage Champagne– $100-150+.
  2. California Champagne is a complete misnomer, usually made by inferior wine houses who want you to think that their Sprite-like swill is classier than it actually is. California Champagne usually costs less than $10, and is fine if you want to mix it into cocktails. But really, I just try to avoid it on principle.
  3. Méthode Champenoise Sparkling Wine is what you really want. It means that it is sparkling wine made in the Champagne Method. It tastes about as close to real Champagne as you can get. Pay about $25-40 for this stuff and it’s well worth it! One great label is Iron Horse, from Central California, or J Vineyards‘ Cuvee 20 Brut.
  4. Cava is sparkling wine made in Spain from Cava grapes.  It’s drier than Champagne– which usually means you can drink more of it without feeling like you’re going to barf.  You can get really great Cava for about $6.  It’s pretty much the best budget sparkling wine, in my humble opinion.
  5. Asti is Italian sparkling wine, made in the Piedmont region.  It’s also commonly referred to as Asti Spumante (essentially, fizzy Asti).  It’s usually pretty low in alcohol.  Don’t pay a lot for this, though it’s perfectly quaffable.  More than $10 a bottle and you’re being had.

If you’re wondering what “Brut” means, or what level of sweetness you’re looking for, consider these levels of sweetness:

  • Brut means that it has less than 15g of sugar per liter. This is your entry point for sweetness of Champagne, and what you’ll find the most of in stores. Goes great with cheese, a light dinner, and dessert. Most Cava and Asti are also “Brut” in flavor.
  • Extra Brut has less than 6g of sugar per liter. This stuff is SUPER dry, and took some getting used to for me!
  • Sec or Demi-Sec means that the Champagne is sweet. Goes great with dessert, but hard to finish a whole bottle!

Let me know if you have any questions about buying bubbly for your New Year’s Eve! I have tons of resources at my fingertips and am happy to help!

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This week, I got invited to a Cîroc Ultra Premium Vodka Holiday School of Mixology, held at St. Felix in Hollywood. How awesome is that?

ciroc the new year mixology school

It was a mix of bloggers and editorial writers, there to learn about all of Cîroc’s new flavors, and about their initiative to #CîrocTheNewYear. Diddy– the rapper, businessman and all around kinda cool guy– is the worldwide branding chief for Cîroc and came up with this idea.

Every time you tweet the hashtag, $100 will be donated by Cîroc to safe driving initiatives in conjunction with the ridesharing app über, up to one MILLION bucks. Once they hit 10,000 pledges for safe driving, Diddy will tweet out a discount code at midnight EST on the 31st for new über users to redeem for their safe rides.

Pretty badass, especially for those of us who live in cities with little to no public transit. (Though, it’s first-come, first-serve, so if a million East Coasters use their code before it’s midnight in LA… well, we’re SOL.)

Oh, and every tweet that heads out with the hashtag #CirocTheNewYear gets displayed on a billboard in Times Square. That little thing.

Now, in case you don’t know anything about Cîroc, lemme splain. Vodka is a spirit that can be distilled from pretty much anything– wheat, potatoes, etc. Cîroc is distilled from grapes, and that lends the vodka with a super smooth, and a little bit sweet, flavor. David drinks it in martinis, and I like it in… well pretty much anything. Gimlets. Gimlets are great.

We got to sample *seven* different cocktails during our time at St. Felix. (Note: I only sipped mine. No sense in getting drunk at an event that is there to promote safe driving. Duh.) The first one up is the riff on a piña colada:

ciroc pina colada

Cîroc Coquito

  • 1.5 ounces Cîroc Coconut
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 ounce coconut cream
  • 1 ounce milk
  • 1 dash each cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice
  • Coconut flakes
  • (Optional) 1 egg white

Place all the ingredients into a shaker completely filled with ice and shake until well blended. Our bartender made ours a little bit fancier by adding the egg white, so that the drink was super thick and foamy when it came out of the shaker. Garnish with coconut flakes and make it snow!

The spices made this taste almost like an eggnog, which was amazing. I can totally see this being a hit with holiday drinkers. My other favorite thing about this cocktail was the fact that it didn’t require purchasing a ton of other ingredients that you would never use again. Most of Cîroc’s custom cocktails are great examples of drinks you can have in your repertoire that don’t require buying specific liqueurs and ingredients that you will never use again.

The Coquito was served to us at St. Felix’s ancillary bar, The Powder Room. The bar is super cool looking– nearly all white with amazing LED lights, and a wooden back bar, and it is dedicated to serving artisan mixed drinks. Also, the bartender we had was really, really cute. Just sayin’.

My other favorite cocktail at the event was:

ciroc electric midnight

Cîroc Electric Midnight

  • 1 ounce Cîroc Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Aperol
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 ounces Sparkling Wine
  • Grapefruit twist
  1. In a shaker over ice, combine the vodka, Aperol, lemon juice and simple syrup. Shake until well frosted and then strain into a Champagne flute.
  2. Top with Sparkling Wine.
  3. Add the grapefruit twist for garnish!
Because we were sampling the flavored vodkas, many of the drinks were sweet. This one was divine, because the Aperol’s herbiness cut through the sweetness of the sparkling wine. It was seriously yummy.
And finally, Cîroc was introducing a relatively new flavor for their vodka: Amaretto. Amaretto is one of my holiday cocktail secrets: the almondy flavor blends really nicely into most sweet drinks, and often is the strongest aromatic in a multi-layered cocktail. We riffed on a sidecar for one of the Cîroc Amaretto drinks:
Ciroc Sidecar Cider
Cîroc Sidecar Cider
  • 1 3/4 ounces Cîroc Amaretto
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2  ounce Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 4 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 orange wedge
  • Sugar
  1. First, prep your glass. Slit the orange wedge and run it around the rim of your cocktail glass. Then, invert the glass and dip into the granulated sugar in a saucer. Your glass is now rimmed with orange-scented sugar!
  2. In a shaker over ice, combine the Cîroc Amaretto, lemon juice, Grand Marnier, and simple syrup. Shake until well frosted and then strain into your glass.
  3. Top with four dashes of bitters, and garnish with an orange peel!
All in all, I was really tickled to be invited to the Cîroc Holiday School of Mixology*. It was a great refresher course in all of the bartending skills I learned so so many years ago, and it was awesome to get to be “behind the scenes” at St. Felix and The Powder Room! 
What do you do to stay safe on New Year’s Eve?
*I was not compensated (except with a bottle of Cîroc Coconut) for attending this event. All opinions are my own.
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Who loves Champagne? That’s right– everyone with a tongue. Everyone loves Champagne. And I guarantee it, you haven’t even been drinking “the good stuff.”

You see, Champagne (while divine) is a lot like other wines. There are Champagnes that are produced in tiny batches, and Champagnes that are produced hundreds of thousands of bottles at a time. As you can imagine, the smaller-batch stuff gets a lot of TLC, compared to the stuff we’ve all heard of, like Veuve Clicquot and Mumm. I mean, it’s not like those labels are anything to shake a stick at, but wouldn’t you love to have the good stuff at the same price as those “big name” bottlers?

Well, now you can. Enter Henri’s Reserve, a one-of-a-kind e-boutique that sells Boutique Champagnes from France’s finest, privately-owned estates. The ones that make fewer than 10,000 cases of Champagne a year (while the big VC makes over a million. Big difference!).

You can find divine bottles on Henri’s Reserve for as little as $50, or buy full-on Champers tasting kits for $200– with enough bubbly to keep you and a few guests in giggles all night. Sounds like the best New Year’s Eve plans on earth!

For a limited time, you can get $25 off their fantastic “Dinner is Served” tasting box, which includes four amazing Champagnes– two Blanc de Blanc Champagnes (made entirely of chardonnay grapes) to serve as aperitifs, one Rose Champagne (the pink stuff!) to serve with a main course, and one Demi-Sec (a.k.a., semi-sweet) bottle to serve with dessert. With the code BLOGGER, the set is $200– a great bargain for four bottles of fantastic bubbly, which serve 6-8!

Do you speak “Champagne”? What is your favorite way to enjoy bubbly?

 

*ps: I’ve received no compensation for chatting up Henri’s Reserve. I just think that the company is AWESOME.

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Brandy Apple Cider Punch

It’s my favorite day of the week– Cocktail Friday! I haven’t been too project-focused this week (just posting a few guides, like what to get hostesses and a shopping guide that may interest the occasional manfolk that visits the blog), but I couldn’t wait to mix up a new drink this week, focusing on some of my favorite flavors of the Christmas season.

Brandy Apple Cider Punch Ingredients

  • 2 ounces Brandy (for buying tips, click here)
  • 2 ounces spiced apple cider
  • Ginger ale
  • Ice
  • Orange peel
  • 2-4 whole Cloves
  1. In a cocktail shaker over ice, mix together brandy and apple cider. Shake until nice and frothy!
  2. Strain into a Collins glass over ice, and then fill with ginger ale or ginger beer.
  3. Garnish with 2-4 whole cloves (depending on your taste!) and a nice orange peel garnish.
  4. Cheers!
This delightfully spritzy punch brings together every single flavor of the winter season– apple and ginger, cloves, oranges and that little kick of brandy. Like a few other holiday cocktails that I’ve featured, this one can be mixed up in a batch to pour for all of your guests! 
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I’ve been trying to come up with more holiday party cocktails, things that will be familiar to guests but a bit elevated. So here’s a thought: a martini-type drink, but with bourbon.

  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • Vanilla extract
  • 1 ounce bourbon (I use Bulleit)
  • 1/2 ounce maple syrup (I used grade B natural stuff)
  • 2 shakes orange bitters
  • Ice
  • Cinnamon stick for garnish
  1. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar in a cup, and sprinkle onto a plate.
  2. Pour a scant amount of vanilla extract into a saucer, or dampen your fingertip with extract if you’re feeling familiar. Rim your glass with the extract.
  3. Swirl your now-damp glass rim in the cinnamon mixture to create a rim.
  4. In a shaker, shake the bourbon and syrup over ice until nice and melty. Strain carefully into your rimmed glass.
  5. Shake a bit of orange bitters as a float into your drink. 
  6. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and enjoy!

The bourbon’s mellowed significantly by all the sugar in this, but you can really smell the orange. It’s pretty much fantastic, and I’m going to be sipping it in front of the fire* tonight!

*By “fire,” I really mean the recorded Yule Log video. No fireplace. :-(

This really is another one of those cocktails that you can make in a martini pitcher, as long as you keep the ratios the same. Isn’t that great?

Also, did you know that December 5th is Repeal Day? It’s the day we celebrate the repeal of the 18th Amendment, that pesky little bit of legislature that led to Prohibition. Cheers to Repeal Day, everyone!

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