A Romantic Gesture

With Valentine’s Day approaching, it’s natural to reflect on what constitutes a romantic gesture. For me, a romantic gesture is all in the thought, effort or passion put into making your loved one feel your affection. This is true any time of year and applies to other loved ones in my life, like family and friends. A carefully crafted cocktail or a beautifully presented dessert can truly create a whole experience for someone. For this recipe, I partnered with local Indian sweet-maker Simply Mithai to create a cocktail and dessert pairing to share with the special person or people in your lives.

My inspiration started with chocolate, as Ambreen of Simply Mithai crafts gorgeous hand-painted filled chocolates. I’ve had the most success getting a rich chocolate flavor from cacao nibs, especially after toasting them to release more flavor and aroma. Cacao nibs are just pieces of cacao beans that have been dried, fermented and crushed. They don’t inherently contain any sugar and are packed with fiber, protein and antioxidants.

I love using them for chocolate flavor and a satisfying crunch in baking, but they’re also fantastic for syrups and infusing spirits. In this case, I roasted them in the the oven, then simmered them with water and raw cane sugar to create a deliciously rich syrup. Rather than discarding the used cacao nibs, I threw them into a batch of healthy muffins to enjoy over the work week.

A recipe that starts with chocolate can go many ways, but I really wanted to maintain a fresh, not overly sweet flavor profile. To do so, I chose one of my favorite fruits of the season, Cara Cara oranges, as my next ingredient. If you haven’t already has this epiphany, not all oranges are created equal. They offer a surprising range of colors and flavors and get a lot more interesting than your typical navel orange. Cara Cara oranges are a reddish-pink on the inside and are sweeter and less acidic, with some notes of red berries. Fresh Cara Cara juice paired wonderfully with the cacao nib syrup, adding some tang, freshness and delicate fruitiness.

I wanted a spirit that would play nicely with the chocolate and orange flavors rather than overpowering them, and jumped on my friend Lindsay’s idea to use white whiskey. White whiskey can range in flavor depending on the grain but is typically sweeter, less oaky and has more of a bite. Long Shot White Whiskey by Union Horse Distilling was a fun one to incorporate as it tastes a bit like a smoother unaged tequila and mixes well while retaining its character.

I finished the cocktail with a bar spoon of rose water for a touch of floral flavor and served it in an elegant coupe glass garnished with a Simply Mithai chocolate. If you choose to use a chocolate as a garnish, be sure to first heat your cocktail pick in some hot water so it can pierce the chocolate without breaking it (a shout-out to my crafty husband for having a steady hand to pull this off).

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The resulting cocktail is a vibrant orange color and starts with tang, fruit and a hint of rose on the palate, finishing with the satisfying creaminess of chocolate.

A Romantic Gesture

  • 1.5 oz white whiskey

  • 1.5 oz fresh Cara Cara orange juice

  • 0.75 oz toasted cacao nib syrup*

  • 1 bar spoon rose water

To make cocktail, add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake until chilled and slightly foamy. Double strain into a coupe glass (single strain if you prefer pulp) and garnish with a chocolate. Present to your loved one as a thoughtful, romantic gesture.

*To make syrup, roast 0.5 cup of cacao nibs in the oven at 400 ºF for about 5 minutes, or until aromatic. Remove cacao nibs from oven and add to a small saucepan with 1.5 cups of water and 0.25 cup of raw cane surgar. Simmer for 15 minutes, then strain and allow to cool. Store excess in the fridge for up to 3 weeks and be sure to shake before using as it will separate due to the natural oils.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography, Lindsay for lending me the lovely Pottery Barn Monique Lhuillier coupes and arrow cocktail picks and Simpy Mithai for creating such beautiful chocolates and orange rose cake for the occasion!













Gone Glamping

This past weekend I went camping at one of my favorite spots - Devil's Lake State Park. As always, the hiking was the perfect amount of challenge, the lake was beautifully clear for swimming, and the weather turned out better than any of us could have expected. Of course, we enjoyed S'mores for dessert both nights and had a laugh over everyone's various preparation strategies. I prefer removing the outer skin of a totally flamed marshmallow while my husband surprised me with pre-warming the graham cracker and chocolate on the grill for an extra gooey (and messy) treat. 

To me, S'mores are one of the quintessential enjoyments of summer but I do wish the ingredients could be more natural and less processed. I took the inspiration of the chocolate, charred marshmallow and cinnamon-coated graham cracker components and re-imagined them in purer cocktail form. 

Starting out, I knew I wanted to use a smoky spirit and chocolate balsamic with a homemade cinnamon syrup and an egg white foam. I chose Gran Centenario Añejo Tequila for the base because I love that it has a very approachable amount of smoke. Don't get me wrong, I can enjoy scotch in the right situation but I generally prefer less smoke in my cocktails because it can quickly steal the show. I can be apprehensive around tequila but this one has the smoothness of a good whiskey and a flavor that's balanced enough for easy mixing.

You're probably a bit confused about the chocolate balsamic component. Vinegar opens up a whole other world of possibilities for mixology, and most varieties can be incorporated in a drink if mixed correctly - shrubs, champagne, balsamic (the list goes on). It's a great alternative to citrus for adding acidity and can also help build complexity in non-alcoholic drinks. Balsamic vinegar is especially wonderful because its sweet taste and creamy texture makes it more of a crowd pleaser. Both my and my husband's parents gave us bottles of chocolate balsamic and it blew my mind how well those flavors worked together. I've used it to make brownies in the past but thought it could be perfect in this cocktail for helping the egg white foam, balancing the sweetness, and adding chocolaty depth. 

I did some research before creating the cinnamon syrup because I had heard of different cinnamon varieties and was pretty confused about what all of them entailed. Surprisingly, I found that cassia cinnamon, the variety most common in the U.S., can be toxic to your liver and kidneys if consumed on a daily basis. Ceylon cinnamon, the variety native to Sri Lanka, doesn't have the same negative impacts while benefiting metabolism and containing similar antioxidants to green tea. I grabbed it in bulk off of Amazon to get a more reasonable price and was impressed with its softer texture and sweeter flavor profile. It paired wonderfully with the less processed demerara sugar to make a delicious and versatile syrup. The whole sticks are perfect for steeping in syrups and teas and using for garnish but you can also grind them into powder using a regular coffee grinder.

To finish the drink off, I experimented with a brûléed egg white foam. I had never tried a cocktail like this but understood the general theory - after creating an egg white cocktail with a well-formed foam you could sprinkle sugar over the top and then torch that sugar to caramelize it. I found that the key was to keep the torch moving over the surface of the cocktail to prevent the sugar getting burnt. Don't get discouraged when you try this at home - it takes a bit for the sugar to start caramelizing but the process is pretty fast from that point on. 

The resulting drink was booze-forward and decadent without being heavy. It had just the right amount of sweetness and the egg white created an excellent texture to bring all the other ingredients together. It may be more of an involved creation but it's certainly worth the effort!

Gone Glamping

  • 2 oz añejo tequila
  • 0.25 oz chocolate balsamic vinegar
  • 0.75 Ceylon cinnamon syrup*
  • 1 egg white
  • 0.5 tsp white sugar

Dry shake all ingredients other than sugar (without ice) for 10-15 seconds, popping the cap occasionally to release the pressure from the egg white. Add ice and shake until chilled. Double strain into a coupe glass, sprinkle the top evenly with sugar and torch the surface until the sugar has caramelized (turned golden brown). Enjoy as an extremely sophisticated adult substitute for S'mores.

* To make Ceylon cinnamon syrup, heat 1 cup water,  1/4 cup demerara sugar and 3 cinnamon sticks in a small saucepan for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Excess can be stored in the fridge for several weeks but should be shaken before use as some settling may occur. Try adding the leftover syrup to coffee for another delicious treat!

 

 

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the beautiful vintage glasses.

So Fresh and So Stout

More than likely, you've noticed the growing trend to eat seasonal produce. Summer brings a delicious array of berries. Fall offers apples, squash, and all sorts of unidentifiable root vegetables. What about winter and early spring? Though the Midwest is not incredibly plant friendly at this time of year, there is a wealth of amazing produce flourishing farther south. Let me make your winter a little brighter by introducing you to the glorious world of winter citrus (and teaching you how to harness it for cocktail purposes).

I took this opportunity to learn more about the many varieties of one citrus family: oranges. Over the next couple of posts, I will share recipes crafted with navel, blood, and cara cara oranges. Each of the three are surprisingly unique in both flavor and appearance and create beautiful, simple garnishes for finishing your cocktails. Navel oranges are particularly great to mix with as they're wonderfully cheap this time of the year. I know my favorite grocery store may be somewhat of an anomaly, but I just picked up a 3lb bag for 99 cents!

When thinking about how to highlight the vibrant sweetness of navel oranges, my mind drifted to one of my favorite dessert flavor pairings: chocolate and orange. If chocolate bars infused with orange flavor or chocolate covered candied orange slices could work so well, why not fresh squeezed orange juice and chocolate? Luckily, I had picked up a bitters sampler pack on a recent trip to Portland and so had access to some PDX cacao bitters to test my theory. Bitters are an excellent way to add a flavor component to your drink without watering it down or overdoing the sweetness. I chose to use a bit more than usual (5 drops vs my usual 3) because I really wanted the bold taste and aroma of chocolate. 

The only question left to answer was perhaps the most important one of all - what liquor would do this flavor combination justice? I instantly thought of whiskey but had some uncertainty as to which variety would be best. Luckily, I went for a visit to Chicago Distilling Company and quickly got my answer. I had been there for a tour a few years back and enjoyed all of their spirits and cocktail room (if you're local and haven't been, and also if you like learning about science, you really should do the tour).

This time around, I got to taste their newest creations: beer-inspired specialty whiskeys and absinthe. The Stouted Single Malt Whiskey truly blew away in terms of both scent and taste. Let's be honest, I really can't say no to anything with a chocolate/coffee/nut flavor profile. Noah, the very knowledgeable and approachable head of Chicago Distilling's bar program, recommended I mix the Stouted Whiskey with another spirit due to its flavor strength. I tested a couple of options and settled on a 50/50 split with Trader Joe's Kentucky Bourbon (which is such a great value for making cocktails). Using the Stouted Whiskey in combination with another spirit is also a great way to make a small bottle go farther!

I felt that adding some sweetness would make the chocolate flavors of the whiskey and bitters pop, so I rounded the drink off with a bit of dark maple syrup. The resulting cocktail is fresh, unbelievably smooth and decadent without being overly sweet or rich - a treat for whiskey lovers and sceptics alike!

So Fresh and So Stout

  • 0.75 oz Chicago Distilling Company Stouted Single Malt Whiskey
  • 0.75 oz bourbon
  • Juice of 1 navel orange
  • 5 drops cacao bitters
  • 1 tsp dark maple syrup
  • Cacao powder, for garnish

Shake all ingredients other than cacao powder with ice until chilled. Wet rim of a stemmed glass and dip in cacao powder to coat (simple syrup works even better to adhere the powder to the glass, if you have it on hand). Pour chilled mixture into glass and enjoy while listening to some throwback tunes and building up your positive vibes.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the tray and lovely glassware.