Articles in Spirits
The beauty of New Year’s resolutions is twofold: We make them and, for a few days anyway, we believe them.
If your New Year’s resolution is to eat better, that’s always open to interpretation. At the very least, the resolutions can be kept by checking out just a few of the holiday offerings from Zester Daily. From throwing the right party to getting in the habit of eating something healthy right away, there’s a New Year’s story to help keep any resolution — if only for a few days.
Here’s a sampling of Zester Daily stories to get the year off to a good start. The notes are directly from the contributors. Click on the links for each story.
Arrive in Style With a Perfect Potluck Presentation by Martha Rose Shulman: Making dishes for holiday potlucks is usually more pleasurable than transporting them to the occasion. There’s always the fear that things will tip over or spill in the trunk.
Alexander Smalls Brings the World to Harlem by Sylvia Wong Lewis: Alexander Smalls’ New Year’s menu is a tip-off to the breadth of the cuisine that his patrons encounter each day at The Cecil, which recently won Esquire magazine’s coveted Restaurant of the Year for 2014.
Japanese Namasu Brings Good Luck in the New Year by Sonoko Sakai: New Year’s is the most important holiday in Japan, and the centerpiece of the annual celebration is what the Japanese consider to be lucky foods.
Ring in the New Year With Simplicity and Health by Francine Segan: This time of year, most of us make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. To jump-start my own plans, and to help my friends who are all making the same resolution, I host a healthy New Year’s Eve party.
Make-Ahead Menu Lets You Party Like It’s 2015 by Carole Murko: New Year’s Eve can be a splendid holiday to celebrate. What with the optimism of resolutions or mapping out one’s desired feelings, it is indeed a time to embrace all that is new in 2015.
‘Cut Off’ The Old Year With Japanese Soba Noodles by Hiroko Shimbo: In Japan, New Year’s Eve is as important as Christmas Day in Western countries.
For Good Luck in the New Year, Think Green and Round by Brooke Jackson: Around the world, foods are eaten on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that are auspicious and thought to bring prosperity for the coming year.
Zombie Pizzas With Real Innards for New Year’s by Clifford A. Wright: Since no one watches zombie movies alone, a New Year’s Eve party is perfect. For food in front of the TV, popcorn is easiest, but here’s a fun idea: zombie pizza.
Cheeses to Intrigue and Entice Holiday Guests by Nicole Gregory: If I must eat cheese — and clearly, I must — then I commit to consuming the best cheese in the world. And this means I need to know how to make mouthwatering cheese boards of my own to share with friends and family.
The Healthy Way to Good Fortune on New Year’s by Harriet Sugar Miller: In the 19th century, many African-Americans brought in the New Year with Hoppin’ John — a dish made with black-eyed peas and collard greens, among other ingredients, and thought to bring prosperity and luck.
9 Essential Questions About Champagne, Answered By Paul Lukacs: For many consumers, this is just about the only time that they buy and drink this particular type of wine. Not surprisingly, they often find themselves confused.
Toast the New Year With Healthy Kombucha by Tina Caputo: One way to avoid starting off the New Year with a blistering hangover is to steer clear of the offending drinks altogether. Another, some say, is to make healthier cocktails, using kombucha as a mixer.
A Spanish New Year’s Toast: Cava and a Dozen Grapes by Caroline J. Beck: Nochevieja, or “old night,” as New Year’s Eve is known in Spain, is a celebration that comes with a bit of insurance.
Skip the Bubbly and Ring in 2015 With Hard Apple Cider by Ramin Ganeshram: For some, Champagnes and sparkling wines are too dry. For others, they are headache inducing, and for yet others, they are too high in alcohol. What, then, to do when asked to raise a glass of cheer to ring in the new year?
Trader Joe’s Has Wine Covered at Every Price by Mira Honeycutt: As the holiday party season winds its way toward New Year’s Eve, sparkling wine or Champagne is on many shopping lists.
Main photo: Happy New Year. Credit: Ivan Mikhaylov / iStockphoto
There’s something about drinking cocktails on New Year’s Eve that makes the occasion feel extra festive. But on New Year’s Day, there’s often something about those very same cocktails that feels like a big mistake. One way to avoid starting off the New Year with a blistering hangover is to steer clear of the offending drinks altogether. Another, some say, is to make healthier cocktails, using kombucha as a mixer.
Dating back more than 2,000 years, kombucha is a fermented beverage made by adding a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast to sweetened tea. The resulting drink has a slight effervescence, and a pleasant sweet-tart flavor, but that’s not the main reason people drink it. Because it’s rich in probiotics (“good” bacteria), unpasteurized kombucha is used as a digestive aid that can offer protection from harmful bacteria and boost the immune system.
It also makes a delicious cocktail.
“Kombucha is really complex and interesting, more flavorful than soda, and drier,” said Jasmine Dravis, co-owner of Native Kitchen & Kombucha Bar in Petaluma, California.
It also has less sugar than soda and juices, which, along with kombucha’s gut-health benefits, may help prevent morning-after suffering.
“That’s the thing when people drink traditional alcoholic cocktails,” Dravis said. “Most of the hangover is the result of a battle between the alcohol and the sugar. With sugary cocktails, you’re going to be very out of balance the next morning.”
When Dravis and her husband Joseph, a kombucha brewer, opened Native Kitchen in October, they created a list of sophisticated kombucha cocktails that are not only a pleasure to drink, but potentially healthful.
“We thought, if we came up with a low-sugar way to mix our cocktails with kombucha, which supports your gut health, we’d be bringing some balance to the table,” Dravis said.
“OK, you’re still drinking alcohol, but you’re not going to feel the harsh effects that you normally would,” she continued. “The perfect example is our Ginger Mule. We use fresh ginger and kombucha and some vodka, and I can tell you that when I drink it I feel much better than if I had just consumed a high-sugar cocktail with ginger beer and vodka.”
The bar also serves a kombucha mimosa, which replaces half of the orange juice with fermented tea.
“I can tell you from firsthand experience that when I drink regular mimosas I can get a headache, or I feel low after drinking them,” Dravis said. “There’s definitely going to be a more sustained, balanced feeling when you drink a kombucha mimosa because you don’t get the sugar crash.”
Dravis isn’t the only one who believes kombucha can help prevent hangovers. Eric Childs, founder of Kombucha Brooklyn, claims that drinking kombucha between alcoholic drinks results in “reverse toxmosis,” and that drinking it the morning after can cure a hangover thanks to kombucha’s detoxifying properties.
For those who are already suffering from a hangover, Native Kitchen offers kombucha on draft, along with kombucha elixirs such as the Pommy, a mixture of pomegranate juice, kombucha, local honey, lime juice and bee pollen.
The key to alleviating a hangover, Dravis said, is to reduce acidity in the body, and kombucha can help with that. “When you’re hung over your body is in a state of complete acidity from the excess sugar and the alcohol, so you’re going to want a quick boost of alkalinity,” she said.
Although there’s no solid scientific proof of these claims, they seem to make a fair amount of sense. And when kombucha cocktails are as delicious as Native Kitchen’s, lining up volunteers for further “research” shouldn’t be a problem.
The Ginger Mule
2 ounces vodka
1 ounce honey
Juice of 1/2 lime
3 ounces kombucha
1 ounce ginger juice*
*If you don’t have a juicer, you can use a ginger-flavored kombucha, or muddle a small piece of ginger in the shaker.
1. Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until mixed.
2. Serve over ice in a copper mug or double old fashioned glass, garnished with a lime wheel.
3 ounces pomegranate juice
1 ounce lime juice
1 teaspoon local honey
6 ounces kombucha (any flavor)
Small pinch of bee pollen (available in health food stores)
1. Add all ingredients except the pollen to a shaker with ice and shake until mixed.
2. Strain into a flute glass and sprinkle bee pollen on top.
Main photo: Jasmine Dravis of Native Kitchen & Kombucha Bar shows off a kombucha cocktail. Credit: Tina Caputo
Take it from this staunchly indoorsy Coloradan: You don’t have to ski here to drink as though you do. The following cocktails, all featuring local products, come straight from the bars of some of this state’s most beloved wintertime destinations. Just whip them up, serve them before a crackling fireplace and — voilà — your living room may as well be a resort lodge overlooking the snow-capped Rockies.
Courtesy of Bachelors Lounge, The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, Beaver Creek, Colo.
The bartenders use bourbon made exclusively for the Ritz by Breckenridge Distillery, but any label will do.
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Prep time: 3 minutes
Total time: 3 minutes
Yield: 1 cocktail
2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce blood-orange liqueur (for example, the Solerno brand)
3 to 4 dashes aromatic bitters
1 sprig rosemary for garnish
2 blackberries for garnish
Add the first three ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Stir and strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with rosemary and blackberries.
Feisty Winter Warmer
Courtesy of The BARLey, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
This one’s for the serious home bartender, as it requires a 3-liter mini-barrel for small-batch aging. You can purchase one online, but be sure to cure it according to the manufacturer’s instructions first. Feisty Rye, made in Fort Collins, may be hard to come by outside of Colorado, so feel free to experiment with brands you like. You can purchase the DRAM bitters used in this recipe on the Silver Plume company’s website.
Prep time: 3 to 4 minutes, plus 3 to 4 weeks for aging
Total time: Less than 5 minutes, once aging is complete
Yield: About 26 servings
2 bottles rye
1 bottle spiced-apple liqueur
2 ounces honey chamomile bitters
1 ounce sage bitters
Cinnamon sticks for garnish
1. Add all the liquid ingredients to your aging barrel and let sit for at least three weeks, sampling the rye mixture daily thereafter to taste. (Kara Kahn, assistant manager at The BARLey, finds that “it’s like dessert” after about four weeks.)
2. Once it has mellowed to your liking, store in a Mason jar. When ready to use, add a large ice cube to a toddy glass, measure in 3 ounces of the cocktail and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
Snow on the Fruits of Fall
Courtesy of Frost at The Sebastian, Vail, Colo. The CapRock Organic Pear Eau-de-Vie used here comes from Peak Spirits in Hotchkiss, Colo., which has some out-of-state distribution. If you can’t find it, though, many substitutes exist.
Prep time: 5 to 6 minutes
Total time: 5 to 6 minutes
Yield: 1 cocktail
4 1/2 ounces apple cider
1 1/4 ounces whipped cream-flavored vodka
1 1/4 ounces spiced rum
1/3 ounce pear eau-de-vie
1/3 ounce butterscotch schnapps
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Whipped cream for garnish
1 thin slice of pear for garnish
1 cinnamon stick for garnish
1. Combine the cider, vodka, rum, eau-de-vie, schnapps and cinnamon in a small saucepan; set it over low heat until warm.
2. Use a small dab of whipped cream to adhere the pear slice to the cinnamon stick. Pour the cider mixture into an Irish coffee glass and carefully place the stick inside the drink so the cream does not touch the liquid (the garnish is more for visual and aromatic effect than flavor). Serve.
Courtesy of Modis, Breckenridge, Colo., which showcases Spring 44 vodka.
Prep time: 3 minutes
Total time: 3 minutes
Yield: 1 cocktail
1 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce Branca Menta
1/2 ounce coffee liqueur
2 dashes chocolate bitters (for example, Fee Brothers, Scrappy’s or The Bitter Truth)
Candy cane for garnish
Combine the first four ingredients in a mixing tin over ice and shake. Pour over ice into a double rocks glass, add a splash of cream and serve with a candy cane for stirring.
Courtesy of St. Regis, Aspen, Colo. The resort has featured wine from Paonia’s Azura Cellars, but your favorite Cabernet will work just as well.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 45 to 50 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
1 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
8 whole allspice berries
1 star anise pod
10 cloves, whole
8 juniper berries
1 1/2 bottles Cabernet Sauvignon
Orange twists for garnish
1. Combine orange juice, sugar, cinnamon sticks, allspice and star anise in a pot with 2 cups water over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower to a mild simmer.
2. Cut the oranges in half and squeeze juice into simmering liquid. Stud the squeezed halves with the cloves and gently place into the pot. Add juniper berries. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the simmering liquid, then place the halves in the pot.
3. Reduce mixture to half of its original volume. Add the wine and heat until just below simmering. Ladle into glass mugs and garnish each with an orange twist.
Main photo: The Bachelor from Bachelors Lounge in Beaver Creek, Colo. Credit: Courtesy of Bachelors Lounge
Our ancestors knew a thing or two about how to enjoy the festive season without paying the penalty for overindulgence.
It’s no accident that many of the traditional recipes for festive refreshment include cream and eggs. And that’s why three of my favorite midwinter warmers — English, Scottish and Spanish cocktails — double up as hangover cures. It’s two for the price of one!
Lamb’s Wool Wassail
Wassail is an elision of the Saxons’ merry toast, was haile, or “your health,” hence “hale and hearty.” It’s wise, according to the old wives’ tale, to serve it from an apple wood bowl to discourage witches from joining the party. This has something to do with an ancient tradition of going out into the orchard at midnight on Christmas Eve and banging drums or firing guns to scare away evil beasties that might stop the apple trees from fruiting. Sounds reasonable. And anyway, apple trees are host to mistletoe, and everyone knows where a kiss under the mistletoe can lead.
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Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings.
1 cinnamon stick
Small piece of ginger
2 pints mild ale or hard cider
4 to 6 small, hard apples, pricked with a fork
1/4 pint thick cream
2 egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar
1. Set the cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a small cloth that can be tied closed.
2. Put the ale or cider in a pan with the spices and warm very gently.
3. Meanwhile, roast the apples until soft on a baking tray in an oven heated to 400 degrees F (200 C or Gas6). Alternately, you can turn them on a roasting fork in front of a fire until the skin is nicely toasted and the flesh is soft. Keep them warm till you’re ready to serve.
4. Beat the cream with the egg yolks and sugar until smooth and well blended.
5. Increase the heat under the ale or cider pan and remove just before it comes to a boil. Take out the spice-bag and whisk in the cream and egg.
6. Transfer to a warm bowl (apple wood or otherwise) and float the apples on the surface.
7. Finish with a dusting of nutmeg.
Note: If you need to reheat, don’t let it boil or the egg will curdle. If so, blame the witches, scoop out the apple flesh, whiz everything together and pretend it was your intention all along.
This is the traditional Scottish welcome to a first-footer at Hogmanay, or New Year’s Eve. A first-footer is the first visitor to step over your threshold after the stroke of midnight. Fair exchange is a lump of coal for the fire, and you hope that your first-footer is dark-haired and friendly rather than a blond-haired, blue-eyed Viking up for a bit of pillaging. Christmas north o’ the border — the line drawn between Scotland and England, which roughly follows Hadrian’s Wall — is an altogether quieter affair than it is south of the border. Whisky never has an “e” when it’s Scotch. Now you know it all.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 bottle Scotch whisky
12 ounces runny honey
12 ounces thick cream
1 heaped tablespoon porridge oats
1. Mix the whisky with the honey and cream.
2. Stir the oats into a pint of cold water in a pan, bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes to thicken.
3. Whisk the whisky mixture into the oats and serve hot.
Note: Garnish ideas include a little nutmeg sprinkled on top or any extra swirl of cream.
Ponche is a traditional, brandy-based eggnog for which similar recipes are found throughout Europe. The Spanish version is thickened with ground almonds, a traditional Christmas ingredient. Serve it warm on a cold night with something sweet and crisp for dipping.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 pint thick cream
4 ounces ground almonds
2 ounces sugar
4 egg yolks
1/4 pint brandy
1. Combine the cream, ground almonds and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat the mixture till just below boiling.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks until light and fluffy, then beat in the brandy.
3. Pour the hot cream in a thin stream into the yolk mixure, whisking steadily.
4. Serve immediately, or bottle it up, cork securely and store in the fridge — you’ll need to shake it up before you pour.
Main image: Ponche is a traditional, brandy-based eggnog. In the Spanish version, ground almonds are included. Credit: iStockphoto
This year, you can transform your ordinary Thanksgiving dinner into an extraordinary one — not with food, but with drink. Shake up cocktail hour with shochu, a delicious distilled alcoholic beverage from Japan that’s caught the fancy of American bartenders.
Shochu is often wrongly described by Americans as a kind of vodka. Although it comes in a variety of flavors, it is lower in alcohol and calories than vodka or other distilled alcoholic beverages.
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Shochu production in Japan began around the 16th century in certain regions. The famous production areas include the large southern island of Kyushu and the neighboring small islands of Amami, Okinawa and Iki. The warm winter climate in these areas is not well-suited for producing good quality sake, as this rice wine requires very cold winter months for proper fermentation.
Shochu production involves two steps. The first step is to produce alcohol in a way that is very similar to that of sake. Koji, the magic mold that creates flavorful enzymes and sugars from starch, is inoculated into steamed rice to produce a fermentation starter. The starter is mixed with yeast, spring water and the selected and cooked main ingredient: usually rice, barley, sweet potato, potato, buckwheat or sugar cane. It is left to ferment for about 14 days. This is half the fermentation period for sake, and so this brewed batch is very rough and wild in taste, texture and aroma. The second step, distillation, removes all sugars and roughness from the brew, and transforms it into a clean, clear and elegant alcoholic beverage.
Top-quality shochu is distilled only once. This is called Honkaku shochu. Single distillation leaves each shochu with a delightful hint of the distinctive taste and fragrance of its base ingredient. After distillation, the alcohol content approaches 80 proof (40% alcohol). Then, it is diluted to about 50 proof (25% alcohol). Honkaku shochu can be served straight-up or on the rocks in order to enjoy the full flavor of each variety.
Another less expensive type of shochu is usually made from lesser quality ingredients and goes through multiple distillations. The resulting shochu is deprived of the unique and sometimes funky taste and fragrance of the real thing. After multiple distillations, the alcohol content approaches 160 to 180 proof (80% to 90% alcohol). This is then watered down to around 72 proof (36% alcohol). In Japan, it is this less expensive shochu that is used to make cocktails at bars and restaurants.
But craft-conscious bartenders in the United States are taking a different approach. Jesse Falowitz, founder of Nehan Spirits LLC in New York, manages the production of his own award-winning brand of barley-based shochu, Mizunomai, in Japan and imports and markets it in the U.S. For this breed of bartenders, Falowitz says, “it is important to preserve the unique flavor of each spirit. whether it be shochu, whisky, brandy or gin, in the cocktails that they craft.”
For your Thanksgiving gatherings, reach for Honkaku shochu to enjoy the wonderful flavors of high quality shochu alone or in delightful cocktails. Here are the flavor profiles for some types of high quality shochu.
Imo-shochu, made from sweet potato, comes from Kagoshima Prefecture on Kyushu Island, a major sweet potato producing area. When you sip Imo-shochu, you can’t miss the hint of slight funky, sweet potato flavor and fragrance. Once you are hooked, you will love it.
Kokuto-shochu, made from sugar cane, comes from the small Amami Islands south of Kyushu Prefecture toward Okinawa. Kokuto-shochu will remind you of good-quality rum, but on average it is 12 percentage points lower in alcohol. Kokuto-shochu has a round mouth-feel and a subtle sweetness. It also is unique in being slightly alkaline, while all other distilled alcohol has a neutral pH. The sugar cane grown in the Amami Islands’ coral-rich fresh water is responsible for this unusual characteristic.
Kome-shochu, made from rice, comes from Kumamoto Prefecture. Kome-shochu presents a flowery and rich flavor similar to what you find in some sake.
Omugi-shochu, made from barley, may surprise you with a hint of banana, cantaloupe and caramel flavor.
Finally, if you are not a cocktail person, this is how we enjoy Honkaku shochu in Japan.
1. Mix 6 parts shochu with 4 parts cold water. This is called mizu-wari.
2. Mix 6 parts shochu with 4 parts warm water at about 98º degrees F. This is called oyu-wari. Warming shochu in this way allows the fragrant aroma to burst forth.
3. Or, try it simply on the rocks or straight up.
However, I encourage you to get creative with shochu cocktails, such as the following recipes provided by Jesse Falowitz.
Ringo, I Love You
This will be a smash hit for your Thanksgiving party, and for any gathering in deep autumn. This cocktail is characterized by a crisp and refreshing character with a delicate sweetness and hint of spice. Ringo in this case is “apple” in Japanese, not a member of the Beatles.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 serving
1/2 red apple, plus a few thin slices for garnish
2 1/2 ounces Mizunomai shochu or other Honkaku shochu
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce maple syrup
1 dash of cinnamon powder
1. Core and cut the apple with skin into coarse pieces.
2. Add the apple half, shochu, lemon juice and maple syrup into a cocktail shaker or tall glass. Press the apple with a muddler, like the one used for making a mojito, to extract the most juice.
3. When the juice has been pressed out from the apple, close the shaker with the shaker top and shake vigorously.
4. Remove the shaker top and strain the cocktail through a cocktail strainer into a rocks glass in which you have placed a large piece of ice or two.
5. Garnish the cocktail with thin slices of apple. Lightly dust the apple with cinnamon powder and serve.
Neguloni, a Shochu Negroni
This is a Japanese twist on the Italian classic. This satisfying cocktail has smooth texture, a tinge of bitterness, sexy deep-dark red color, and pleasant buttery texture. You can make this cocktail without the grapefruit bitters, but it enhances the flavor of the cocktail, and the inclusion is highly recommended.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 serving
1 1/2 ounces Mizunomai shochu or other Honkaku shochu
3/4 ounces sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Campari
3 drops grapefruit bitters
1 peel of grapefruit skin
1. Pour the shochu, sweet vermouth, Campari and grapefruit bitters into a rocks glass in which you have placed a one large ice cube.
2. Stir the glass with a cocktail spoon for 10 seconds to chill and slightly dilute the alcohol.
3. Remove a long grapefruit zest from the grapefruit with a peeler and lightly squeeze the oils over the cocktail.
4. Garnish the drink with the grapefruit zest twist and enjoy.
Main photo: The Ringo, left, and Neguloni cocktails. Credit: Jesse Falowitz
Now is the season of quinces: Fruit that is delicious in both sweet and savory dishes, is easily preserved, and one that enhances a room with an unmistakable yet delicate fragrance. Just two years ago, quinces seemed to be the forgotten fruit: They were difficult to buy, considered hard to cook, and few people grew the trees. Happily, at least in Britain, this seems to be changing.
Although still not common, quinces are now reasonably easy to buy in season and nurseries are seeing increased interest in the trees. For many hundreds of years in Britain, quinces were more popular than apples because cooked fruit, in general, was regarded as safer to eat. This was because the glut at harvest time led people to overindulge and become ill.
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Quinces may never recover their place at the top of the table, but they do deserve to be more widely used. (This piece’s co-author, Jane McMorland Hunter, co-wrote “Quinces, Growing and Cooking,” just published by Prospect Books.)
The best way to ensure a supply of quinces is to grow your own. The trees are attractive, with beautiful blossoms in spring, and compact enough to fit in most gardens. Failing that, the fruit can be bought from greengrocers, farmers’ markets and even the better supermarkets. Quinces’ appearance can vary wildly, from huge immaculate fruits from the Middle East to small, misshapen and blemished specimens. The latter may not look so appealing, but they will probably have come from a local grower and the flavor could be even better. You should avoid fruit that is obviously bruised, but a few blemishes on the skin rarely matter.
A secret weapon for stewed meats
Quinces usually need to be cooked before they are eaten. The raw fruits tend to be rock solid and sharp tasting, but cooking softens the flesh and gives it a pinkish hue. The natural acidity is easily tempered and is actually an advantage in many dishes.
It counteracts the greasiness found in fatty meats, game in particular; quinces can be served in slices with the meat or as an accompanying sauce. In Britain, quinces were traditionally served with partridge, and in Germany and South Africa, quince sauce is served with pork and mutton instead of apple or mint. The fruit complements Middle Eastern tagines and stews and also goes well with cheese — not just as the well-known combination with Manchego, but blue cheeses and the sharper goat’s cheeses too. Membrillo, or quince paste, is the most widespread preserve, but quince jam, jelly and even curd is delicious.
In puddings or cakes, they can be used to replace or supplement apples or pears in almost any recipe, bringing a deliciously different taste. Equally, if you don’t have enough quinces for a recipe you can always make up the difference with apples. The quince’s sharpness means you can make wonderfully rich desserts with no danger of the sweetness becoming cloying.
There is a surprising amount of juice in the fruits, and drinks made from quinces range from delicious cordials to potent liqueurs and even wine. You can round off any meal with quince confections. They can be made into delicate, subtle chocolates or rich, gooey sweets.
Finally, a word of warning before you start cooking. Quince seeds, like apple seeds, are poisonous, containing tiny amounts of cyanide. You would need to eat an awful lot to actually do yourself any harm, but you should remove them at some stage in cooking.
Look in almost any reference book and you will find a different definition of ratafia: a spirit infused with almonds or fruit used to toast a deal or bargain, a 19th century English biscuit or a French aperitif made from grape juice and brandy. It frequently appears in Georgette Heyer’s original Regency romance novels, where it is a drink enjoyed by the ladies, but scorned by the gentlemen of the time.
Even the origins of the word are obscure, attributed variously to French Creole or Latin. The definition we like best is that it was the liqueur drunk at the ceremonies ratifying European treaties from the 15th century onward. The name could come from the Latin rata fiat (let the deal be settled). The liqueur usually consisted of fruit juices, kernels or nuts soaked in a sweetened brandy base, with almond flavoring being particularly popular. The recipe below is based on one in “The Modern Cook,” written by Vincent la Chapelle in 1733.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes, plus cooling and steeping time
Yield: 750 milliliters
2 large, ripe quinces (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup caster sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
1 whole clove
1 whole white or black peppercorn
1 1/2 cups brandy
1/2 cup almonds, blanched for 2 minutes and skinned
1. Cut the quinces into quarters or eighths lengthwise, depending on their size, and put through a juicer. The original recipe suggests that you grate the fruit, put it in a cloth and “squeese it with all your Might,” but this is extremely hard work. If you end up with much less, or much more, than 1 1/2 cups of juice, simply adjust the other ingredients in proportion.
2. Put the juice in a pan, bring to the boil and then remove from the heat and allow to cool.
3. Put the sugar, cinnamon, clove and peppercorn into a pan with ¼ cup water and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
4. Pour the juice, brandy and sugar solution into a bowl and stir so that the three combine. Add the almonds, if using. Pour into a jar, seal and leave in a cool, dark place for two to three months.
5. Strain the liquid through a muslin cloth. Do not squeeze the cloth, as you want the liqueur to be as clear as possible. Finally, decant into a bottle and seal; as Vincent la Chapelle puts it, “bottles stopped very close” will keep almost indefinitely.
Main photo: Quinces on a tree. Credit: iStock
Halloween may mean trick or treating for the kids, but as adults we also like to get into the holiday spirit (or spirits, as the case may be). If you are thinking of hosting a fun cocktail party for your friends, how do you really blow them away? With delicious treats and cocktails, of course. Anyone can serve wine, or a simple vodka soda, but these fun and festive drinks will leave a lasting impression on your guests.
The liqueurs below easily pair with a few other ingredients to give your guests a great treat this Halloween.
Owl’s Brew is the first ready-to-pour tea mixer — it is fresh brewed in micro-batches and all three flavors are designed to pair with a wide range of spirits, as well as beer and wine. This “tea crafted for cocktails” is making craft cocktails accessible to the at-home mixologist.
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Pick Your Poison
2 parts Owl’s Brew Pink & Black
1 part white rum
Garnish: Orange slice and strawberry
2 parts Owl’s Brew The Classic
1 part tequila
Shake with jalapeño slices
Spooky Garnish: Green sugar rim
If you are looking to put your mixologist skills to the test and want some nontraditional recipes and new spirits to try, we have pulled together some other interesting recipes. Cachaça is one of the fastest growing spirits in the country, so why not test these recipes during a fun holiday. Everyone will be impressed with your newfound skills this Halloween.
2 ounces cachaça (Cuca Fresca Prata used here)
2½ ounces fresh apple cider
½ ounce elderflower liqueur
½ ounce fresh lime juice
Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker and shake well. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
This amazing cocktail is simple, but definitely a crowd pleaser. It is deliciously light and also very aromatic. Light the tip of the rosemary garnish for extra flare!
2 ounces cachaça
2 ounces cranberry juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup (1 part sugar, 1 part water)
Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake well and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a fresh piece of rosemary with a fresh cranberry on the end.
Mama’s Bite Margarita
If you are really interested in kicking it up a notch, this drink is from Mama’s Boy brands. Its tequila not only tastes smooth, but has a nice kick and flavor to it since it’s infused with pineapple, mango and chili peppers.
2 ounces Mama’s Boy tequila
1 teaspoon agave
½ ounce pineapple juice
½ ounce lime juice
Shake and strain over ice with a sweet and spicy chili rim
Main photo: The Jack-o-Potion combines cachaça and cranberry juice. Credit: Owl’s Brew.
Conversations with more than 50 distillers over the last two years have changed me. No, I haven’t had a liver transplant; I’ve undergone an adjective-ectomy.
I’ve spent most of the last 25 years writing and editing, and a little less of that time drinking, so it’s not surprising that a word has taken on outsized importance. It’s a word I would like to see banished from all discussion of spirits. And that word is … “smooth.”
Hold on one stinkin’ minute, I can hear you thinking, isn’t that the (Johnnie Walker) Gold standard? The sine quaff non of distillers everywhere? As a matter of fact, no. And if you’re looking for smoothness in your glass you’ve been sold a bill of goods.
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By James Rodewald
Before embarking on the research for my recently released book on craft distillers, I would not have questioned the assertion that smooth was the height of perfection. Ah, for a simpler time.
Dan Farber, co-owner of the world-class brandy producer Osocalis, in Soquel, Calif., is one of the best makers and agers of brown spirits in the country. As such he’s at the top of a very small group. It’s a group, just by the way, that does not include very many bourbon producers since most are somewhat indifferent to the making.
The big guys use an industrial process, and what ends up in a $20 bottle may well have started out as the very same liquid as, say, a bottle of one of the delicious but overpriced and impossible to find Pappy Van Winkle bourbons. As for the aging, when you’ve got a seven-story high, football-field size warehouse full of bourbon, odds are that a few of those barrels will be sublime. Small producers do not have these luxuries, so they have to take a more careful, hands-on approach.
Farber characterizes smoothness as a “trivial thing” and “entry-level stuff.” What’s he’s going for — and the proof of his success can be found in everything he makes, but particularly his XO brandy — is brown spirits that have “the flavor of the beast that they came from, yet also have all these new things.”
Those new things come from aging. And while we’re on the subject of banishing words and sloppy thinking from the booze world, if someone says they’re able to speed up aging by using small barrels, run the other way. Sure, you can get more wood character more quickly, but why would you want to?
“Smooth” is not just Distilling 101; it’s also the path away from complexity. Milk is smooth. Aged spirits should be complex.
Are Farber’s brandies harsh? By no means. But when they’re in your mouth, and for many minutes after, nerve cells are firing in all directions. I defy anyone to take a sip of any Osocalis product and have nothing more interesting to say about it than “smooth.”
Jake Norris is an original partner in Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, one of the first and best small, independent American whiskey producers. (He left Stranahan’s shortly after Proximo, the owners of Jose Cuervo and other brands, bought the company.) He’s now at Laws Whiskey House, the most promising new whiskey distillery in the country. The fear Norris expressed to me, about a year into production, was that his whiskey was too smooth.
“The danger might be that it’s almost too balanced. In the beginning,” he said, “it was overly smooth and I was afraid it was going to lose character, so I [adjusted the distillation] so you get that slight astringent suck on the tongue. It’s got a little bit of teeth so it can sit in the barrels longer, meaning two to five years. If all of this is done properly, it can go to possibly six or eight years, maybe more. I don’t know if I would try that.”
Not every small, independent spirits producer (and very few of those who make aged brown spirits) is making stuff as good as Osocalis or Laws. Almost none can afford to use large barrels and wait until time and good wood have worked their magic. What every one of them can do is tell you honestly what they’re trying to do and how they’re going about it.
If they say their whiskey is smooth, however, feel free to explain to them that that’s exactly how you like your shaves, babies’ bottoms and gravy. But not what’s in your glass.
Main photo: “American Spirit” author James Rodewald wants to change how we talk about booze. Credit: Marella Consolini