Christmas time and cocktail time are nearly synonymous, both offering a warm, fuzzy feeling that more often than not leave you wishing for and wanting more.
How fitting, then, that we are in the midst of a cocktail renaissance, which has emerged over the past decade, at least according to several recent news articles:
The Wall Street Journal declares: “That we’re amid a craft cocktail renaissance is without dispute – intriguing new bars and amazing new ingredients surface weekly.”
And the New York Times observes: “We’re living in a Golden Age of creativity for bartenders, many of whom are energetically pushing boundaries in both culinary and scientific ways…”
Indeed, if there has been one thing I have discovered in my reading of the cocktail renaissance, it is just how seriously some people take their cocktail creations.
One such example comes from a neat little cocktail book – Cotton Cocktails* (March 2014)– which offers cocktail recipes with insightful, interesting tidbits of cocktail history, information and anecdotes. In it, authors Peaches and Jeffrey Paige (owners of Cotton Restaurant in the Millyard District of Manchester, NH), narrate the story of a customer who made the waitress cry after she asked him if he preferred his martini with gin or vodka.
“’All Martinis are made of gin with a splash of dry vermouth,’ he responded pulling out his business card on which was written ‘The Exact Way a Martini Should be Made’ on the back, with the saying ‘The Way God Intended’ on the front.”
Liquid Intelligence (November 2014) is another cocktail book we found to be particularly interesting due to its unusual scientific angle. In fact, the book itself – written by prominent food science writer, educator and innovator Dave Arnold – can at times seem like a classroom science textbook, full of great resources on everything from kitchen equipment to books on apples, coffee, cocktails and stores for ingredients.
Mr. Arnold has previously taught at the French Culinary Institute and Harvard University, founded the Museum of Food and Drink in NYC in 2004, and regularly investigates “temperature, carbonation, sugar concentration and acidity in search of ways to invigorate classic cocktails.” In Liquid Intelligence, he writes: “A little dose of science will do you good. Think like a scientist and you will make better drinks.”
And he isn’t kidding. The sheer enthusiasm and passion he conveys in his introduction was enough for us to decide to purchase the book. You’ll see why, after reading the below:
“I approach cocktails like everything I care about in life: persistently and from the ground up. I ask myself what I want to achieve, and then I beat down every path to get there. I want to see what is possible and what I’m capable of. In the initial phases of working through a problem, I don’t much care if what I’m doing is reasonable. I prefer to go to absurd lengths to gain minute increments of improvement. I am okay with spending a week preparing a drink that’s only marginally better than the one that took me five minutes. I’m interested in the margins. That’s where I learn about the drink, about myself, and about the world.
“I am not unhappy, but I am never satisfied. There’s always a better way. Constantly questioning yourself – especially your basic tenets and practices – makes you a better person behind the bar, in front of the stove, or in whatever field you choose.
“I love it when my dearly held beliefs are proved wrong. It means I’m alive and still learning.”
For further inspiration, insight and information on cocktail creations, as well as a guide to some of NYC’s best new bars, please see the links below:
- “The Insider’s Guide to Drinking” (IN New York magazine; November 2014)
- “Nine 007-Inspired Cocktails” (Fox News Magazine; February 2013)
- “10 Things You Need to Know About Bitters” (Huffington Post; August 2013)
- Brad Thomas Parsons’ Bitters (November 2011)
* Interested in trying out some of Cotton’s recipes? See a few of our favorites, below:
Blueberry Basil Mojito
2 sprigs Fresh Basil
2 Lemon Wedges
1 Teaspoon Granulated Sugar
2 ounces Cold River Blueberry Vodka from Maine (made with the famous Wyman’s wild Maine blueberries)
1 ounce Cointreau
2 ounces soda water
Fresh Blueberries, to garnish
In a 10-ounce rocks glass muddle the basil, lemon wedges, and sugar. Fill the glass with ice and add the vodka and Cointreau, then top with soda water. Stir to mix and garnish with fresh blueberries.
Simple Eggnog (yields approximately 1 ½ cups)
2 egg yolks
1 cup milk
½ cup heavy cream (light cream is just as good)
¼ cup sugar
Pinch of Kosher Salt
¼ cup or less of Brandy (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Mix egg yolk in heavy saucepan and then stir in milk, cream, sugar, salt and brandy (if desired). Cook over medium to medium-low heat, stirring constantly until mixture reaches 160 degrees F (use a simple cooking thermometer) or for about 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour into glass bowl and place bowl in ice water to cool (10 minutes or so). Refrigerate and serve within two days with fresh whipped cream. Note: This eggnog is dessert-like delicious, so creamy and so easy to make, the recipe can be doubled or tripled etc. for a dinner party.
Almond Crusted Turkey Schnitzel With Vermont Cheddar and Bourbon Applesauce (served over mashed potatoes)
Ingredients for the Schnitzel:
2 ½ cups fresh breadcrumbs (Note, fresh breadcrumbs make a difference)
½ cup slivered blanched almonds, roughly chopped
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp black pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, beaten for egg wash
Four 4-5 ounce turkey cutlets (can use chicken cutlets), gently pounded to even thickness
1/3 vegetable oil (we recommend using half olive oil and half butter instead to sauté cutlets)
Four ¾-ounce slices of Vermont cheddar cheese
1 Recipe for Bourbon Applesauce
2 Tbsp. Toasted slivered almonds for garnish
Ingredients for the Bourbon Applesauce:
2 ½ pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
3 tbsp light brown sugar
¾ cup Bourbon
Instructions for Schnitzel:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix breadcrumbs, chopped almonds, salt and pepper and place in shallow bowl. Place flour in another shallow bowl and the beaten eggs in a third shallow bowl. Dredge each cutlet into the flour, then the egg wash, and finally the almond-breadcrumb mixture.
Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Brown the cutlets until golden brown, approximately 3-4 minutes on each side. Transfer to large ovenproof platter or sheet pan and top each cutlet with a slice of cheddar cheese and 2 tbsp. of applesauce. Bake 5-6 min. Sprinkle with toasted almonds on top and serve immediately on top of mashed potatoes.
Instructions for Applesauce:
In a heavy saucepan, combine the diced apples, brown sugar, and bourbon. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often for about 20 min until apples are soft. Stir vigorously to mash apples.
For other delicious holiday treats, we recommend you try:
Christmas Baked Brie (1997 recipe)
1 package puff pastry (Frozen Pepperidge Farm), thaw according to directions
1 wheel of a really good brie (do not remove white rind)
About ¼-½ cup raspberry jam (we recommend: Trappist or Bonne Maman Red Raspberry Preserves)
1 egg and 1 tbsp. water, beaten together
Lay puff pastry flat. Use one or two sheets depending on size of brie wheel. If size requires two, wrap bottom first. Spread jam on top of brie. Fold pastry up and over to seal cheese in. Flip over again. Place on baking sheet or ovenproof dish. Spread egg and water all over pastry. Bake 400 degrees for about 30 minutes – untie golden. Let sit about 30 min. before serving.
Note: We spread a very thin layer of butter on top of brie before spreading the jam on top
Winter Greens Salad with Spicy Walnuts and Cranberry Vinaigrette
2/3 cup fresh cranberries
¼ cup sugar
½ cup cider vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ cup orange juice
¾ cup canola oil
¼ tsp. salt
Fresh cracked black pepper
Instructions for cranberry vinaigrette:
Combine cranberries, sugar and vinegar in saucepan over med. heat until cranberries pop. Remove from heat and let cool. Puree cranberry mixture in blender and pour into bowl and whisk in oil a little at a time. Dressing should become smooth and emulsified. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerateuntil needed.
Ingredients for spicy walnuts
1 ½ tsp. butter (melted)
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tbsp. honey
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Instructions for spicy walnuts:
Combine butter, cayenne, cinnamon, honey, salt and walnuts in a small skillet and toss well to coat. Cook over medium heat until nuts are lightly browned. Remove from heat and let cool stirring to keep nuts from sticking together.
Ingredients for salad:
1 head butter lettuce
4 cups winter greens: romaine, endive
1 crisp red apple, sliced into 1/8-inch wedges
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
Instructions for salad:
To assemble salad: Arrange lettuce leaves on individual salad plates. Combine greens, apple and walnuts in bowl. Toss with enough cranberry vinaigrette to coat lightly. Top with red onion and serve.