Celebrating a new book with the Redeeming Spirits cocktail

photo credit: Andrea Meyers

photo credit: Andrea Meyers

My always-inspiring friend Monica Bhide has a new book out, The Devil in Us. Although Monica usually writes thoughtful musings about food and her Indian heritage (with good reason, her work frequently is featured in the annual “Best Food Writing” compilations), this is her fiction debut, a collection of short stories.

I was honored when Monica asked me to create a spicy cocktail to celebrate the new book — and here it is, perfect for sipping while you read. There’s a non-alcoholic version too, at Monica’s request. Enjoy!

Redeeming Spirits 

A variation on the classic Moscow Mule, this drink is powered by the heat of pepper-infused vodka. Choose a good commercial brand (I like Oola, from Washington State), or marinate a sliced fresh jalapeno in one cup of unflavored vodka for a couple of hours. Note – a traditional Mule uses ginger beer; here the sweetness of ginger ale should help balance out the jalapeno spice.

1 1/2 ounces chile pepper-infused vodka

1/2 ounce lime juice (about half a lime)

4 ounces ginger ale

Jalapeno slice (to garnish)

In a tall glass, pour in the vodka and squeeze the lime wedges into the glass. Drop the wedges into the glass, and add a scoop of ice. Add ginger ale to fill the glass and stir.



4-6 ounces spicy ginger beer

1/2 ounce lime juice (about half a lime)

In a tall glass, pour in the ginger beer and squeeze the lime wedges into the glass. Drop the wedges into the glass. Scoop in ice and stir to chill.

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.

Spicy Spirits: Hangar 1 Chipotle Vodka

It’s baa-aack!

Hangar One chipotle vodka was one of the first spicy spirits to cross my radar screen a couple of years ago.

And then it disappeared off the shelves.

And now…it’s back, though to me it tastes a little different, which I suppose is to be expected with an artisan bottling. This batch has a golden color, and smells fresh, juicy, and lightly tomato-y, not at all smoky. But one sip, and it’s definitely all kinds of spicy, smoky, very lively and lingering. Like fresh chile peppers, the more you sip, the more the heat builds. It also has a quality that I find hard to explain, but can best describe it this way:  There’s something alive and authentic in the flavor….it tastes like something I just infused myself.

The heat level is a bit much for me straight up (which means chileheads will looooove it) but this seems like instant gold for blazing Bloody Marys, and I could see this doing nicely in a sweeter drink. Tempered with say, pineapple juice and ice, this would impart a lovely glow. 

The bottle arrived with a ziploc baggie of leathery brown chipotle peppers:  “Jalapeno peppers smoked by T-Rex Barbecue in Berkeley, California,” the label says. ” This is the most important pepper used in our Chipotle vodka.” The other peppers are (fresh) green jalapenos, red bells, and “Scoville-scale-scorching habaneros.” – all locally sourced through C&L Produce of Oakland, CA. And it’s produced & bottled in Alameda, CA. They make a point of labeling it as California’s Hangar One, as you can see on the colorful box in which the vodka arrived.

Final verdict:  Chileheads need to run out and buy a bottle. Now. However, if you don’t care for spicy, this one is not for you.

Tuaca’s Shots of Inspired Madness

Usually, I try to avoid writing about spirits brands on this blog. But sometimes, there’s a really compelling reason to do just that. Last week, a compelling reason in a box landed on my doorstep:  a big box from Tuaca.

If you’ve never tried Tuaca before, it’s good stuff – a nice little dessert-y liqueur with a vanilla-orange glow, which goes well in fall and winter drinks. I even mentioned them in my book (p. 147, the “Hot Lips Choco-Tini”). But I’m not writing about my book today. Instead, I’d like to share with you some recipes that arrived in a little booklet supplied by Tuaca.  

But first, a little context. About two years ago, the Washington Post ran this article about the Growing Rage for Jagermeister-style shots of Tuaca. This is something I’ve never witnessed myself, but I don’t hang out in college bars much anymore. I have no proof, but I’m convinced that I can draw a straight line from that article about Tuaca shots to the drinks below. I love these drinks. They surely have an element of madnes, but it’s an inspired madness. The tagline:  “Unique drinks that truly go beyond the usual.” It makes me happy that these drinks exist.

All photos below kindly provided by Tuaca. I haven’t tried out any of these drinks first-hand.

Teriyaki Tuaci

1 1/2 oz. Tuaca

dash of soy sauce

pickled ginger

Shake Tuaca and soy sauce with ice and strain into a shot glass. Sip Tuaca, then take a bite of pickled ginger.

Tuaca Hot Chocolate

1 1/2 oz Tuaca

2 dashes hot sauce

1 bar spoon chocolate syrup

chile pepper

Drizzle chocolate syrup into a shot glass. Shake Tuaca and hot sauce with ice and strain over syrup. Garnish with a chile pepper.

Tuaca Italian Sausage

1 oz Tuaca

smoked sausage

Chill Tuaca and serve with a piece of smoked sausage. For a more adventurous option, cut sausage into sections and hollow out to create a well. Fill with Tuaca. Sip Tuaca and finish with a bite of smoked sausage.

Tuaca Steak Dinner

1 1/2 oz Tuaca

1/2 oz lime juice

lemon wedge

worcestershire sauce

Shake Tuaca and lime juice vigorously with ice and strain nto a shot glass. Sprinkle the lemon wedge with a few drops of worcestershire sauce. Sip Tuaca and bite into lemon.

Hot Stuff: Making Chile-Cello

photo credit: Paul Fontana

I love limoncello, as well as lime-cello and orange-cello, so I thought, why not try the same experiment with chile peppers?

Well….with some modifications. The key to limoncello is to combine high-proof spirits with citrus peel, and then allow it to steep undisturbed for at least a week, often longer. But you can’t do that with chiles, which infuse super-fast. A week-long infusion would be insanely spicy. So here’s my revised version, loosely based on Scott Beattie’s “Hello Cello” recipe from Artisanal Cocktails.


Zest of 4 lemons

Zest of 5 limes

2 jalapeno peppers, sliced lengthwise

1 quart 100-proof vodka

2 cups simple syrup  (2:1 ratio)

Combine citrus zest, jalapenos, and vodka in a large, air-tight container. Allow to sit for 2 hours, then remove pepper pieces (look out for free-floating pepper seeds, too). Cover tightly, and let the mixture rest for at least 1 week in a cool, dark place.

Once infused, strain out the zest and add the simple syrup to the vodka. Seal the container and let the cello rest for 1 more week, refrigerated.

Strain cello into glass bottles and store them in the freezer.

Hot Stuff: Jalapeno Cilantro Sour

This happens to me a lot:  I’m talking with someone about one topic, and they mention the words “spicy” or “jalapeno” and I get totally sidetracked. 

That’s exactly what happened the other day when Seth Hammond, who is chef & GM at Pomegranate restaurant in Redmond, WA., told me he makes his own jalapeno cilantro sour mix, which he uses in a Margarita-like drink called the Invierno Caliente (“Hot Winter”).  I’ve heard of infused spirits and syrups, but infused sour mix is new to me. So at that point I completely forgot the topic at hand, and asked, “you do what WHAT to your sour mix?”

Hammond replied:  “We make a bit of sweet and sour, and add simple syrup. Our bartender infuses red and green jalapenos and cilantro for four days, and then strain it out.”

Me:  “Four days??? Are you crazy? I infuse peppers for two hours and it gets kind of hot. Four DAYS???”

Hammond:  “Well, it’s four gallons, to one jalapeno.”

Me:  “Oh.” (Brief but sheepish silence.) “I’m usually infusing two cups of liquor, with half a jalapeno. OK, I guess four days isn’t so much with those proportions.”

Hammond:  “The acid actually pulls a lot of heat out of the peppers, so it’s not so hot.”

Me:  “So what do you do with the sweet-and-sour-and-spicy mix?”

Hammond: “We make it into a Margarita after that. A touch of tequila, Grand Marnier, and then a lemon-infused sugar for the rim.”

Niiiiiice.  And just in time for Cinco de Drinko, I mean, Cinco de Mayo, too, an innovative new Margarita recipe!

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

Why didn’t I think of these spicy cocktail ideas?

A “pani puri margarita”? Chipotle and Lillet? Blackberry syrup and Tabasco?  Good ideas all, and not a single one mine.

Photo credit: Flickr/A30_Tsiitika

I was psyched to read a write-up of Spice & Ice  (or rather, a write-up of the WaPo’s write-up) in the widely-read Serious Eats blog (Serious Cocktails:  Adding Spice to Your Drinks).  But what really grabbed my attention was the Comments section – one fabulous spicy drink idea after another. Pow, pow, pow!  A quick sampling:

From laetitiae:  a friend makes the most delicious jalapeno lemonade. The spice and tart and sweet all blend together in beautiful, beautiful harmony in that drink.

From nickiter:  a dash of Tabasco mixed into a glass of Four Roses bourbon. You can’t taste it, but you can feel the warmth of it.

From TravelEatDrink, who also helpfully provided a link to a recipe for this treat:  Doesn’t get better than homemade jalapeno, cucumber, mint infused vodka with soda and a slice of lemon. (http://tinyurl.com/ye35dew)

From MikeK:  Vermilion in Chicago does a “Pani Puri Margarita” that is delicious

From nomenclature: One night a few were in the (communal) kitchen concocting these shots involving vodka, a splash of blackberry syrup and a dash or a few of tabasco. They were surprisingly good. A nice sweetness followed by the burn of the heat.

Of course, this is only a sampling of the ideas – but you can read all of them at the end of the Serious Cocktails blog post.

It’s good to be reminded every now and then that I don’t know everything about spicy cocktails – that there is still so much to learn, that someone out there may be creating something new and fabulous right this very second. Just don’t remind me too often, okay? (I’m kidding about that last part- send along new ideas, anytime!)

Drink Recipe: Heartbreaker Cocktail

we heart chile peppers

Is it too soon to be thinking about Valentine’s Day? It’s only six weeks away, and shop windows are switching over retail merch with alarming speed.

After all, I’ve got a book to promote with a hot-pink cover and the suggestive tag line “Hello, Hot Lips” on the back. If that doesn’t scream “Valentine’s Day impulse buy,” I don’t know what does.

Although I’ve got a “Hot Lips Choco-Tini” in the book, I’m working on creating some other fun V-Day cocktails with lip-tingling flavors and delightfully risque names. Here’s one I’m experimenting with now — I’d love to hear what you think. I’m considering making that last ingredient a pepper-infused simple syrup, and perhaps adding a splash of pomegranate juice for a rosy tint. But again, opinions are welcome.

The Heartbreaker

1 oz. vanilla vodka

1 oz.  pineapple rum

1/2 oz. fresh lime juice

1/2 oz.  tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 oz. simple syrup

2 slices red Anaheim pepper

 Combine all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with small rounds of red chile pepper.

photo credit: Funnychill.com

Spice & Ice cocktail contest winners!

Many thanks to everyone who came out to last night’s Spice & Ice event at Trattoria Cinque (and a special thanks to Devin, bartender extraordinaire)!  One of the highlights was our DIY cocktail contest –  we had two winners, Meryl Rosofsky, with The Hot Scrooge, and the Law Librarians of NYC, with Fred (you’ll understand the cocktail name in a moment). Congrats to both, who each took home a copy of Spice & Ice for their tongue-tingling original creations.

The Hot Scrooge, created by Meryl Rosofsky
A perfect name for the holiday season! Meryl describes this drink as a “hot holiday homage” to the classic Screwdriver cocktail. We didn’t have O.J. on hand, so she cleverly subbed in pineapple juice. And get a load of that garnish! 

The Hot Scrooge

lemon wedge, for rim
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder, for rim
4 jiggers pineapple juice
1 jigger vodka
3-4 dashes Frostbite (a clear hot sauce)
1 slice each jalapeno, poblano, and habanero, skewered on a cocktail straw (alternate green and red colors), for garnish
Rub the lemon wedge around the rim of a glass to moisten it. Roll the edge of the glass in the ancho chile powder to coat; allow to dry.
Combine the pineapple juice, vodka, and hot sauce with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Pour into prepared glass and garnish with hot pepper skewer.  Enjoy!
Fred, created by the Law Librarians of NYC 
This drink was a group effort, created by Vicki Szymczak, Janet Peros, George Prager, Kathy David, and Karen Schneiderman. Since this drink heavily features ginger – both crushed fresh ginger and Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur – this drink started as “Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers.” But in the end, the group opted for the simple, wry “Fred.”  Ginger is implied. Get it?

Team Fred

As for the drink itself – the flavor profile is similarly clean and elegant. It reminded me a bit of a zingy, refreshing ginger-limeade, the kind I only wish I could buy at the store.
2 oz. vodka
1 oz. Domaine de Canton
2-3 Tablespoons crushed fresh ginger
lime juice
club soda
garnish – lime wedge
Muddle fresh ginger in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add vodka, ginger liqueur, and lime juice. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Top with club soda and garnish with lime wedge.