Halloween how-to: ice spheres with gummy worms, for creepy cocktails

20131013-175434.jpgIf you’re looking for a different way to serve a favorite dram (or a batched cocktail like a bottled Bobby Burns on the rocks) for Halloween, here’s an option: ice spheres with gummy worms. Here’s how to do it:

You’ll need:

1. An ice sphere mold – or multiple molds, for serving multiple guests. Buy them at Muji or specialty bar supply stores like KegWorks. Plan on making 2 ice spheres per guest, if you can.

2. Distilled water. (makes slightly clearer ice vs tap water)

3. Gummy worms. Alternatives: gummy spiders, eyeballs or other candy or trinkets. Just make sure whatever you’re freezing inside is non-toxic.

Open the mold and press the gummy worms into the mold. Loosely layer a couple of more worms on top of that, leaving enough room for water to expand when it freezes.

Pour water into the mold, close and allow to freeze sold – overnight is best.

When you’re ready to serve, release the spheres from the mold. If necessary, run the sphere briefly under running water to smooth off any rough edges – this will also bring some of the “worms” to the surface, a desirably creepy effect. Place in a glass and pour your favorite cocktail or whiskey.

Of course, you can experiment with other options too: a single worm curled within each pocket of a standard ice cube tray, for example. Or a new friend at Salt & Sundry suggested this idea: fill a rubber glove (the kind that comes without powder inside) with juice and gummy worms. Freeze and peel off the glove. Couldn’t you just imagine that one floating in the center of a punch bowl at your next Halloween party?

4 Batching Secrets from the Cocktail Pros

Rounds of peel cut from oranges during prep for Manhattan Cocktail Classic

As of this week, Cocktails for a Crowd is officially out there in the wild!

As I’m gearing up for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic this coming weekend and many of my favorite bartenders are winging their way into town, I’m thinking about one of my favorite parts of working on the book:  gathering advice (and recipes) from bartenders.

By design, this book owes a lot to mixologists. Many of the recipes are bartender originals, of course. But I got a kick out of asking bartenders to spill their secrets about batching (creating large batches of drinks), which often happens behind the scenes at events, cocktail conferences (like MCC) and bars, too.

Here are some of my favorite tips — some of this info is in the book, some not.

You can never have too much ice. That’s not a secret, of course. But Portland bartender Kelley Swenson explained how to figure out how much ice is enough:  for each 750 milliliters (3 1/4 cups) of cocktail (the size of a standard bottle of liquor), allot 7 pounds of ice.   Another useful metric: allot 1 to 1.5 pounds of ice per person. Either way, get what you need and then get some more, because (say it with me!) you can never have too much ice.

Mise en place is your best friend. The French culinary term mise en place means “putting in place.” If you’re throwing a soiree, before your guests arrive, put everything you’re making drinks with in place.  EVERYTHING! Squeeze the citrus, set the glassware where you can reach it, make sure you have all the liquor you need (and all the ice too)! When you go to a bar early in the evening and they’re bustling about even though you’re the only guest at the bar, that’s what they’re up to back there — mise en place. You should do it too.

Control the dilution. Watery drinks suck. This is one reason bartenders consider their ice so carefully. If you can use a large block of ice to chill a punch or even a pitcher of drinks, that’s ideal. It melts more slowly than a handful of ice cube tray ice cubes, which seem to dissolve in record time while your guests are still shrugging off their coats.

Jason Asher, head mixologist at Young’s Market of Arizona, was one of the first to flag for me that for batching purposes, you can add the water yourself, and then chill a drink in the refrigerator or set it on ice. “My rule of thumb is 25% to 30% water comes from dilution” caused by shaking a cocktail, he explained. (I worked with 20% to 25% as my baseline for the drinks in the book.) “For a stirred cocktail, I like to add ice, then stir it, taste it, and when it hits the right amount, then strain the ice out.” You wouldn’t want to do this too far in advance — but a few hours ahead, and it works beautifully.

Learn how to make oleosaccharum. I swear it’s the difference between a good punch and a great punch. Try it and see.  In brief, you muddle citrus peel with sugar, and then the magic ingredient is time. Wine Enthusiast recently published an oleosaccharum primer if you’d like more how-to detail.

Thanks for the advice, barkeep!

The Aviary: 20 kinds of ice, but no bartenders

How many types of ice do you keep on hand for making cocktails?

At The Aviary in Chicago, they have over 20 different kinds of ice. That’s right. TWENTY. Cubes, spheres, crushed, hollow…TWENTY.

I feel like such an ice slacker! Before I wrote this cover story about Aviary’s ice program for Food Arts magazine, I couldn’t have named 20+ types of ice.  Turns out Aviary has its own ice room and a special “ice chef” to make all that ice.

But here’s what Aviary doesn’t have:  bartenders! And when I interviewed Craig Schoettler, who oversees Aviary, I was amazed to learn that he never even bartended before stepping into the role.  To learn, he developed an informal training exchange with craft cocktail whiz Troy Seidel.

“On his day off, I’d teach him how to make chicken; on my day off, he’d teach me how to make a Sazerac,” Schoettler recalled.

To read the article (and see the pictures of all those pretty pretty ice shapes!), pick up the September 2011 issue of Food Arts (no link, sorry). By the way, that gorgeous cover photo? It’s the Blueberry cocktail from Aviary. Never before have I had the impulse to LICK the cover of a magazine.

Drinking in Oregon-inspired cocktails

Last night I attended the Oregon Food Fete, held here in NY in a loft space somewhere west of the theater district. Although I don’t often report on such events, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality (and quantity!) of cocktails on offer, tucked in among pleasing nibbles like smokey blue-cheese chocolates, cayenne caramels, and award-winning chipotle cheddar.

At first I was skeptical – after all, food festivals typically trot out the best-of-the-best to represent. But then I thought some more about the thriving, delightfully geeky Portland bartending scene.  And even the IACP will be recognizing the culinary significance of Portland when their national conference is held there just a few short months — and I intend to be there, elbowing my way to the front of the bar (who’s with me?)

But back to the drinks:  First off I sampled two vodkas from Artisan Spirits, which is owned by Wildwood bartender and distiller Ryan Csanky. The first was made from wine, the second from honey. Neither is available here in NY yet, but I think bartenders are going to go bananas over this brand because it has very distinctive aromas and flavors that will blend beautifully into cocktails.

Then I headed over to House Spirits, which is probably best known for the phenomenally successful Aviation gin brand. In addition to Aviation, tBell pepper cocktailhey were showcasing Krogstad Aquavit (a domestic aquavit? not Swedish? that’s new) and the “Apothecary Line” of eau-de-vie-like liqueurs.  The mini bottles are adorable, but the product was just too strong for me to swallow more than a sip. Much more palatable was the bell-pepper cocktail, made with Aquavit, honey, lemon, mint, and muddled bell pepper.

And then the final stop was the Pear Bureau Northwest, which was showcasing pear-based cocktails made by ten-01 mixologist Kelley Swenson. (Disclosure: my Peppered Poire cocktail is a finalist in a cocktail contest sponsored by the PBN, which is why I was at the event in the first place.) Kelley Swenson, mixing things up

Although he was showcasing a recipe called the Autumn Anjou (Anjou pear puree, Aviation gin – naturally, Aperol, pear brandy, and lemon juice), I found a number of cocktails featured in a PBN booklet even more intriguing — featuring cardamom, clove, even black pepper flavors. Here’s one of those:

A Pear of Cloves

Brian O’Neill, Cafe Gray, NYC

1 1/2 oz. pear vodka

1/z oz puree of fresh pear, such as Green Anjou or Comice

1/2 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 oz. clove-infused simple syrup (see recipe below)

3 to 4 thin slices Green Anjou pear, skin on

In a shaker, muddle the pear slices before adding the remaining ingredients. Fill with ice and shake until cold and frothy. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of pear.

Clove-Infused Simple Syrup

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

6 whole cloves

Bring sugar, water and cloves to boil in a small pot. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 20 minutes. Strain and chill.

Spice & stitches

I hear Mercury is still in retrograde. Surely that can be the only excuse for yesterday’s random series of events that landed me in the emergency room for five stitches in my index finger and a tetanus shot.

I’d been very much looking forward to the annual “Celebration of Our Members” event held by the Culinary Historians of New York. In addition to general catching up with friends I hadn’t seen all summer, I wanted to pick up books written by members (Raising Steaks! Grains Greens & Grated Coconuts! Seven Fires!) and hear about Diana Pittet’s round-the-world cheese adventure. And surely a few people would be reporting back from the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery.

This was also meant to be a low-stress preview for Spice & Ice – game plan was to mix up a few shakersful of Poblano-Blackberry Margarita for a friendly audience, and then sit my butt down and listen to other people present their work.

Not so fast.

I keep thinking about all the “what-ifs” that might have allowed me to participate as planned. If only…

…our venue had an ice maker on site, I wouldn’t have dashed out to the corner deli to pick up a bag of ice.

…the ice hadn’t been frozen solid (meaning it was poorly handled – partially melted and then re-frozen) I wouldn’t have needed to bash it to pieces to create usable chunks.

…I’d had the brains to smash it in the sink, not on the floor.

…the cheap-ass bag hadn’t broken, spilling ice cubes all over the floor.

…the janitor had arrived sooner with the mop, the floor might not have been wet.

…I’d been smart enough to go around the other side of the kitchen island, I might not have slipped.

…I hadn’t been carrying a bottle of Cointreau, it wouldn’t have smashed, lacerating my hand.

Of course, it was just an accident, plain and simple. But these are the things that went through my mind as I sat in the ER, dejected at missing all the fun and smelling rather like a distillery. (Self-pity trumps fear!) Renee, a cool-headed friend keeping me company at Lenox Hill, charitably said that the high orange note of the liqueur smelled more like strong perfume.

Here’s a photo of the morning after the night before. I’m trying to come up with less embarrassing reasons for the bandage than “I slipped.” Knife fight (you should see the other guy…). Trapeze mishap. Daredevil monster truck race. Got any bad-ass ideas I can use?

My war wound

My war wound

The stitches come out in a week. Hopefully by then Mercury will have moved far, far, far out of retrograde.

All about cocktail ice in Food Arts

It’s amazing enough that the September issue of Food Arts is almost entirely devoted to ice — the best ways to freeze, well, everything; liquid nitrogen cocktail experiments; best blast freezers, etc. Fascinating concept issue, though I was sorry the wine column wasn’t devoted to ice wines.

Ice sphere

Ice sphere

But what amazed me the most was the section on (cocktail) ice and ice machines buried within the “Arctic Arts” feature written by David Arnold and Nils Noren. Bartenders really do take ice seriously. Anyone who’s witnessed the obsessive Japanese art of carving ice into perfect spheres by hand knows what I mean.   

Arnold and Noren point out that bartenders “yearn for what they see as the lost age of great ice,” namely the days when pure, perfectly clear ice was harvested from lakes. (Did you know that Boston was the epicenter of the ice trade? I didn’t, though I’ve been to frosty old Boston in wintertime and I shouldn’t be so surprised.) So since no one harvests lake ice any more (is that a new artisan industry I smell?) here are the main solutions that bartenders use for great ice:

Machines:  namely the Scotsman nugget machine, which bartenders like for particular drinks like cobblers; the Kold-Draft, which makes big, 1 1/4-inch squares that melt relatively slowly; Manitowoc, which apparently is known for its quiet operation; Hoshizaki, which produces a special crescent-shaped ice cube that supposedly minimizes splashing when you pour and creates “superior displacement,” making pours look taller than average; and the Ice-O-Matic, which uses the ingredient ionic silver to inhibit bacteria and slime fungus growth (ick!).

Freeze your own ice. Arnold/Noren note that Sasha Petraske’s joints freeze big ice molds in domestic chest freezers, and use them to carve ice spears and use it for “shaking ice.”

Buy good ice. Apparently Richie Boccato at Dutch Kills rejected ice machines altogether and orders 300 pound blocks of ice, which can be used for about 300 drinks. “There’s always a block on display at their ice carving station, which makes for a great show.” The team there was trained for five months on ice prep techniques prior to opening, and they use Japanese wood saws, upholstery hammers, and ice picks to break them down. Yikes!

Liquid Nitrogen:  Possesses only 15% more cooling power than the same amount of ice. But it freezes quickly and makes smaller ice crystals, which imparts a smoother texture in the frozen substance. (and besides, nitro is just so flash these days…yes, Vegas, I’m lookin’ at you.)

And I can’t resist quoting one last comment from Don Lee of Momofuku:  “If sushi is all about the rice, a drink on the rocks is all about the rock.”

p.s. If you still have an appetite to read more about cocktail ice, this thread over at eGullet is for you.

Drink Recipe: Gin & Tonic with Spiced Ice

Technically, it’s still summer for another couple of weeks. So I’m hanging on to that last shred of warm weather-worshipping with this cocktail, the Gin & Tonic with Spiced Ice. Why I like this one:  the ice cubes are striking, and then as they melt the drink takes on a golden tone and a hint of sizzle.

Gin & Tonic with Spiced Ice

Gin & Tonic with Spiced Ice

This cocktail is inspired by saffron-infused cubes served at New York’s Pamplona restaurant, created by chef Alex Urena. I asked him why he infused the ice at all – let alone with saffron.

“It’s about the taste and the color,” he explained. “We chose saffron because it is very Spanish.” And why infuse ice? “Because the liquor doesn’t freeze.” Apparently, you can combine water and liquor together and then it will freeze, “but it won’t be as good as straight liquor.”  At the time, he was also experimenting with fruit-infused ice cubes too, making popsicle-like peach ice cubes to use in peach mojitos.

As usual, I can never have too much of a good thing, so I took his idea to double-dare level by spiking the ice cubes with hot habaneros! 

Gin & Tonic with Spiced Ice

Yield:  1 drink

To make 1 tray of Spiced Ice Cubes: 

1 sliced habanero pepper

3 cups water

3 cups sugar

8 Saffron threads, crumbled

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boiling point. Stir until sugar is dissolved, about five minutes. Allow to cool, then remove the pepper and pour into ice cube tray. Freeze until solid.

To make one drink:

2 ounces gin (I suggest Old Raj, which is infused with saffron; or substitute your favorite gin)

4 ounces tonic

4 Spiced Ice Cubes

Pour gin and tonic over 4 “spiced ice” cubes in a tall glass and stir. Serve with a colorful swizzle stick.

© “Spice & Ice – 60 tongue-tingling cocktails.”  Photo credit:  Antonis Achilleos / Chronicle Books