A spiced spirit I can only dream about

This a curious coincidence.  Last week, I filed a Spirited Traveller post about spice-infused spirits in Mumbai, informed by insight from the high-spirited Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, a blogger, writer, and culinary expert based in Mumbai.

Most of the article is about the growing trend for Mumbai bartenders to infuse spirits — particularly vodka — with Indian and Southeast Asian flavours such as roasted cumin, kaffir lime leaves, or bird’s-eye chiles.

The day the article ran, I recieved an email from Rushina:  “I thought u might want to have a look see,” she wrote.

Indeed – it was a press release for Masala Mar Ke, a new product from U.S. vodka maker Smirnoff, “with the added zing of tangy lemonade and fiery chaat masala.

It’s not sold in the U.S., and probably never will be. And I’m drooling over the prospect of getting my hands on a bottle, made more attractive by its sheer elusiveness.

Why do we always want what we can’t have?  If you’ve had a great bottle (or cocktail) overseas that you can’t get at home, please feel free to commiserate here. Misery loves company!

Adventures in Jalapeno Vodka

photo credit: Raptor Toe

I’ve been enjoying the adventures in jalapeno-infused vodka over at the Raptor Toe blog , and I thought I’d share some of the magic over here. Click on the links to read the posts.

Part 1:  Making Jalapeno-Infused Vodka. “Have I ever mentioned the problem with being a foodie that works for a gourmet food/equipment store? The endless, expensive, inspiration….”
Part 2:  Cocktails using jalapeno-infused vodkaNamely, the Bloody Mary-style “Jalapeno Caesar,” and the rainbow-hued “Jalapeno Sunrise.”  I love the black-salt glass rim on the Caesar.
Part 3:  Things NOT to do with jalapeno vodka.  Just scroll through the pictures. Oh, that poor guy…
Lesson:  Infusing jalapenos for a few hours, or overnight, is usually quite enough, thank you. Leaving chile peppers to infuse for a week or longer is just asking for trouble. That said, I really need to try making a Jalapeno Caesar.

From Saveur: Boozy Hot Sauce

photo credit: Saveur

I was psyched to open the all-chef  edition of Saveur Magazine (Jan/Feb 2011) and spot, in big-ass, all capital letters:  “BOOZY HOT SAUCE,” with the accompanying photo at right.

This item, #25 on the “Saveur 100” list, was contributed by Elizabeth Karmel of Hill Country Barbecue here in NY. She describes this as “homemade hot sauce,” but if you ask me, this is infused tequila. Karmel says:

“I buy a half pint –or sometimes a pint– of the best tequila that the liquor store sells and pour myself a shot or two. That leaves enough room to stuff the bottle with red-hot bird peppers, peppercorns, and just a few pods of cracked smoked black cardamom. I put the top back on, shake it, and let it sit for at least a week before I use it. The longer it sits, the more delicious it gets.”

The  full recipe is posted here, on Saveur’s website.  I say bravo for toasting the spices (note: the recipe says cumin and allspice berries, rather than cardamom pods) before adding them to the tequila, and again — bravo for enjoying a shot of the hooch straight up. But in my opinion, a weeklong steep might be a bit much, even with dried chile peppers.

Just in time for Halloween, the Ghost Pepper Cocktail

At the recent Chile Pepper Fiesta (great write-up & photos here), I was shaking up drinks a few booths over from the Bhut Jolokia folks, who make products using the Bhut Jolokia chile pepper, also fondly known as the Ghost Pepper.

If you’re not already familiar with these bad boys, Bhut Jolokia peppers are waaaayyy up there on the Scoville scale — hotter than Habaneros, hotter than Scotch Bonnets, and allegedly, the hottest known pepper of all. The peppers are widely sold at Kalustyan’s and elsewhere, but the Ghost Pepper guys in Brooklyn were smart enough to package and sell them — and best of all, they make a Spicy Ghost Pepper Watermelon Candy. Oh yes. And it’s inspired me to create a boozy version:  The Ghost Pepper Cocktail.

Here’s the recipe. It may seem a little sweet – but trust me, you need a little extra sugar to help mellow the Bhut Jolokia burn. I dare you to serve this at your Halloween party this year!

Ghost Pepper Cocktail

1/3 cups watermelon puree ( fresh watermelon chunks, seeded and pureed)

3/4 ounce Ghost Pepper simple syrup* (recipe below)

1 1/2 ounce vanilla vodka

Juice of 1 lime

Lemon-lime soda

Pour the watermelon puree, simple syrup, vanilla vodka, and lime juice into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously, and strain into a tall glass. Top up with lemon-lime soda. Serve with a straw (or two).

Ghost-Pepper Simple Syrup (enough for several drinks)

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 dried jolokia chile pepper (aka Ghost Pepper)

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat to a boil, continuously stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once the water starts to boil, lower the heat to a simmer. Add the dried pepper to the simmering liquid.

Allow to simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Remove the dried pepper. Pour the syrup into a container and keep in the refrigerator.

The awesomeness of Firecracker Sake

Last week, I had the honor of hosting Drink.Think, “the first-ever reading series dedicated to celebrating what we drink.” (Photos here)

In addition to the general awesomeness of listening to some of my favorite writers read about booze, wine, coffee, and more, there was still more awesomeness in store after the event. Author Ramin Ganeshram, who read an amazing piece about homemade ginger beer (and shared samples too – thanks!) brought along sustainable food activist and restaurateur Bun Lai. And Bun brought….Firecracker Sake.

It’s delicious – warming, sweet and savory, and faintly fiery in a way that gently builds up to a “holy crap!!” finish. Here’s how Bun describes it on the Miya menu (his sushi restaurant in New Haven, CT):  “aged hot chili pepper & citrus sake. painfully euphoric; contains over a thousand secret flavor components. the perfect sake to sake bomb. not for the meek.”  Painfully euphoric. Love it.

In addition to selling it by the glass and by the bottle (!), he also uses it in cocktails such as the Immigrant Cocktail (chinese firecracker sake, club soda, and Coca-Cola), and Korean Hongkee Punchu (fresh watermelon sake, cerveza (beer), and chinese firecracker sake).  As for me, I’m looking forward to trying it lightly mixed with pineapple juice, and maybe a splash of ginger ale.

I also have to flag the inspiring language in the cocktail description — clearly, this is a menu written with heaping doses of joy and humor….aged ume sake is “like a mouthful of sunstreaked ocean,” while the shinjuku shimmy cocktail is described as “a staple of japanese drag queens in kabuki theatre for centuries….england’s favorite schoolboy beverage since it was popularized in the nineteen eighties by singer boy george.” 

When was the last time a cocktail menu — or any menu — made you laugh out loud?

Ramin and Bun, thank you again for sharing with me the awesomeness of Firecracker Sake.

Spice & Ice virtual cocktail party: still partying on!

What can I say. I thought the Spice & Ice virtual cocktail party was really & truly over. I even wrote a party post-mortem. But no, some partyers are just sooo fabulous, they will only party on their own schedules. Think of this as the exclusive after-after-party, the one that you don’t hear about until 3 days after the event.  But oh, what  a time they had!

Click through to read the full account and and see the photos  – in particular, Selena @ Dizzy Fizz has some gorgeous snaps taken by Lush Life Productions.

Spicy Cucumber Margarita:  “The shakers were rattling all night–my friends, whether cocktail buffs or newbies, couldn’t get enough of the pale green rascals…Any fresh-ingredient bar should be offering this cocktail for this time of year–cool, fresh muddled cucumber paired with a slice of jalapeno, your sweetener of choice, lime juice, and your favorite agave spirit–it’s a simple-yet-invigorating drink that you can have all night.” —The Dizzy Fizz

Blackberry-Poblano Margarita:  “This is a super sipper for warm weather relaxation. I actually like my margaritas nice & limey, so in addition to the ingredients in Kara’s recipe below (excerpted from Spice & Ice), I added about ¼ of fresh lime juice. Delicious!” —Natalie Bovis-Nelsen, The Liquid Muse

Afterparty: how we interact with cocktails

As I’m wrapping up the experiment called the “virtual cocktail party,” I’d also like to pause and 1) profusely thank everyone who took the time to participate and 2) look back at the myriad ways everyone interacted with the drinks – to me, the most interesting part of this event.

It was apparent from the get-go that people incorporate drinks into their lives in different ways. For The Busy Hedonist, his-and-hers drinks were a way to relax with the hubby after a long day, baby safely tucked in bed; for Charmian Christie, it was a bubbly toast for her sister’s engagement; and for Judy Bennett, the party crossed the line from “virtual” to “reality,” as she served up Produce Stand drinks to real-life guests at a party to celebrate the opening of the Portland Spa.

Others took delightfully cocktail-geeky joy in analyzing and deconstructing drinks (tweaking drinks, by the way, was encouraged, “based on your taste, ingredient availability, or simply because you know better”). Just look how Cocktail Hacker and Marleigh Riggins Miller drilled down on every ingredient, or Dr Bamboo’s complete transformation of the Dragonfire into the even more fiery “Drago Amaro.”

Still others showcased the visual aspect of drinks, proving that looks count toward our enjoyment.  Diva on a Diet created a sexy orange-peel garnish for the Fall Spice Cordial, and ended up with an absolutely stunning photo; ditto for Cocktail Hacker’s luscious round of blood orange floated atop a martini glass. And “Foodie Princess” Heather Jones added a salt-and-pepper rim to her Red Dawn glass, a zesty touch that left me thinking, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

Seasonal ingredients also played a part – For a week, I found myself checking Twitter daily to follow Rachel Kuptz of Girly-Drinks as she chased down the first of the early-Spring fresh rhubarb. Would she be able to get her hands on some or not? In the end she did, and her result was the prettiest rhubarb-pink “girly drink” of them all.

Thank you again to our fabulous bloggers – and if you missed the party, here’s the full set of links:  click, sip, enjoy!

Spice & Ice Virtual Cocktail Party, part 1

Spice & Ice Virtual Cocktail Party, part 2

Spice & Ice Virtual Cocktail Party, part 3

Spice & Ice Virtual Cocktail Party, part 4

Spice & Ice virtual cocktail party, part 4

Every party – including the virtual variety! – has a few late stragglers, those who arrive fashionably, even fabulously, late.  But I think you’ll agree these divas are worth the wait. Taetopia treats us to a particularly memorable blog entry written from the point of view of the drink, (Oh my. Every time I read this one, it gets a little bit funnier!)  while Big Night In author Domenica Marchetti shows us how to do cocktails at home, Oscar style. Welcome to the party, we’re so glad you’re here!

This is the final installment in the party, as a dynamic group of bloggers, cocktailians, food/drink writers, and authors make drinks from Spice & Ice and “bring it to the party” on their respective blogs, and mine. Please click through to read the full stories behind each drink, and thanks for joining the party!

Blackberry-Poblano Margarita:  “Kara, daaaahling, I’m so sorry I’m late. Yes, yes, I know the party started eons ago, but my dear Felix absolutely insisted I stop by the market to pick up some blackberries for my perfume. The scent drives him wild with passion, and you know I simply can not deny him anything…Your book party is a smashing success, my dear! I haven’t seen so many well-dressed peppers in one place since my cotillion.” —Taetopia

Red Dawn:  “The amount of harissa specified is 1/2 teaspoon, but in the headnote to her recipe, Kara throws down this glove: ‘Masochist alert: double the amount of harissa if you dare!’  Which, of course I did.  The full teaspoon turned out to be just the right amount for this jaded palate; in fact, I may even kick it up a little more next time. The drink was sharp, savory, and yet refreshing.” —Domenica Marchetti, author of Big Night In

Spice & Ice virtual cocktail party, part 3

The party continues, as a dynamic group of bloggers, cocktailians, food/drink writers, and authors make drinks from Spice & Ice and “bring it to the party” on their respective blogs, and mine.  Once again, please click through to read the full stories behind each drink.

Some participants from the group took the “virtual cocktail party” even further….hosting real-life parties. Which I totally endorse. Take a look:

The Produce Stand:  “It went perfectly with all the freshly bronzed bodies running around. With fresh basil, cherry tomatoes, and lime, you get a mouthful of summer in every sip.” —Judy Bennett 

Blood Orange-Jalapeno Margarita:  “This is a recipe with a little leeway: Spicy/mellow, tart/sweet – play with it and see what works best for you.  The resulting drink had a robust but balanced mixture of flavors. I could feel the heat of the jalapeño, but even at extra-strength, it wasn’t overpowering and blended nicely with the bright, fresh taste of the citrus juice. It would make a great accompaniment to a meal – with the very first sip, I found myself craving Mexican food.” — Nora Maynard, The Kitchn

Sparkling Ginger Daisy:  “I made this zippy cocktail to start off a Friday night with two close friends, who both loved the mix of ginger and bubbles sparkling together.  It made an ordinary Friday night seem downright festive!” —Sweet Blog o’ Mine 

Spiced Iced Tea:  “I have read the book cover to cover and tried several recipes all of which are a hit in our house. Specifically what I love about them is that Kara has taken utmost care that the drinks taste like drinks and not science experiments! After all the joy of a cocktail is that it should be fun and satisfying and yet have a bit of a surprise in each sip and her drinks fall under that category.” —Monica Bhide, author of Modern Spice 

Spice & Ice virtual cocktail party, part 2

The party continues, as a dynamic group of bloggers, cocktailians, food/drink writers, and authors make drinks from Spice & Ice and “bring it to the party” on their respective blogs, and mine.  Once again, please click through to read the full stories behind each drink.

This group of partyers has more cocktailian leanings than the last. In fact, very few were able to resist the temptation to tinker with the drink recipes –which is fine by me, and frankly, was encouraged!   The photos are a treat too, ranging from luscious to ethereal to downright hilarious (thanks for the drawing, Dr. Bamboo). Let’s see what they’ve brought to the party:

Blood Orange-Jalapeno Margarita:  “To summarize, the Blood Orange-Jalapeno Margarita is damn good.  You can tailor it to fit your heat tolerance and I think it would pair really well with a nice salty snack or some good southwestern food.  This is definitely a recipe I’ll be mixing up again.”  —Cocktail Hacker

Sparkling Ginger Daisy: “The original was good, but I was sure I could take it apart and pull together an all-new remix, so I set about doing just that… Light and refreshing, it is a straight-forward take on the daisy. Mine requires a bit more work, but I think making the two side-by-side is a fun experience—especially with a full bottle of sparkling wine to finish.” —Marleigh Riggins Miller, SLOSHED!

Rhubarb Cooler:  “I received a copy of Kara’s book last week and immediately found the recipe that I wanted to make: The Rhubarb Cooler. Turns out, rhubarb is ridicuously hard to find in the winter. Perhaps that’s why Kara placed this recipe in the “Spring” section of her book, but I was set on making a rhubarb cocktail.

Luckily, I found rhubarb yesterday and promptly set out to make the Rhubarb cooler this morning. I mean afternoon.” — GirlyDrinks

Dragonfire Cocktail/Drago Amaro:  “The first change I made was to swap in some Sriracha for the jalapeno. Documenting my love for Sriracha would require an entire post of its own…What I ended up with is shown below. You can drink it anytime, but given the provenance of its ingredients, it’s probably best enjoyed while watching a Fellini movie. In a Asian restaurant. With Salma Hayek.” —Dr. Bamboo