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Bringing Back The Cocktail Hour at Home

Friday, 21 August 2009

This cart is a gift from Lynn who's moving to Berlin. She said, "It fits with your decor..." and I couldn't agree with her more! It's fantastically sublime, and that's why I'm rhyming overtime...

I couldn't help but notice as I was watching Julie & Julia recently that there was an awful lot of cocktail drinking going on in that movie. It wasn't just the food that was making my mouth water. I do believe there's a certain civility to occasionally unwinding and sharing your day over a cocktail or being able to offer one to a guest when they visit your home. What a lovely thing to do.

Having this glam bar cart has inspired me to re-stock my own home bar with some different options besides the standard vodkas and gins. While I was researching my dream bar, I learned that our words for cocktail and nightcap are variations on the European words apertif and digestif. Apertifs are supposed to stimulate your appetite and digestifs, to help with digestion. Most apertifs are slightly dry or bitter with just a hint of sweetness while most digestifs are sweeter and higher in alcohol. Many classic cocktails, sweet vermouths, sherries, Campari, Pastis, Lillet and also dry white wines and champagnes are all considered apertifs.

Some digestifs you might recognize are cognac, brandy, port, whiskey, grappa, amaro and liquers such as Sambuca, Drambuie or Grand Marnier.

My drink is a very dry vodka martini.
I've always preferred Ketel One although I recently tasted a couple new vodkas I really like. One is Tito's - a very smooth, handmade vodka made from corn in Austin, Texas, and North Shore Vodka - small batch, family owned and made just outside of Chicago from Midwestern grain.

I'm not a fruity drink woman. I don't see any Apple Pucker or Midori darkening my door any time in the near future. I also don't like corn-syrup laden mixes - I appreciate scratch drinks made from quality ingredients. Quelle surprise, eh?

In the spirit of cocktail drinking and to salute the near-end of summer, I want to share with you my Margarita recipe. I am incredibly proud to say that over the years I have single-handedly turned many people around from drinking crappy margaritas made from bad tequila and syrupy mixes. The taste of these is far superior and the effects less severe because you're ingesting QUALITY and far less sugar.

You want to buy real tequila - that means it has to say 100% agave on the label - accept nothing less. Tequila has become incredibly expensive in the last few years and you can spend anywhere from $28 to practically gazillions for a good bottle. One of least expensive options and one that's very good is a brand called Cazadores Blanco Tequila which is about $30 at Sam's Wine and Spirits. Other great tequilas that are a bit more expensive are Chinaco Blanco Tequila and El Tesoro Silver. Silver and Blanco mean the same thing -it's tequila that's not been aged, and perfect for mixing.

The other key element is orange liqueur. If you can, use Cointreau - that's ideal but a less expensive and perfectly fine substitute is one made by Patron called Citronge Orange - it's about half the price of Cointreau.

You'll also need a ton of limes. One small lime only yields between one and two tablespoons of juice. Buy many more than you think you'll need and if you can hit a Mexican grocery store or an inexpensive greenmarket like Garden Fresh - that's the ideal place to purchase them cheaply.

Here goes: About 30 minutes before, take martini glasses (I'm not a big fan of the specialty margarita glass, I think they're unnecessary, stick with the basics.) and run them under cold water, shake off most of their moisture and place in the freezer until icy. Make sure you also have lots of ice on hand, kosher salt on a plate and a cocktail shaker.

The recipe is quite simple: mix equal parts fresh squeezed lime juice, tequila and orange liqueur in a pitcher and stir, pour some in a shaker with lots of ice and shake until the shaker becomes frosty in your hands. Take the glasses out of the freezer and for those who want salt, wet the rim with a lime and dip it in the kosher salt, then strain the margarita into the glasses.

One day, I want a baby grand in my living room so I can host piano sing-a-longs. That's what we really need to bring back. Some cocktails, a steady supply of fabulous finger foods such as gougères (french cheese puffs) and canapés and a stockpile of popular sheet music from the last 50 years. I do happen to keep a jazzy vocal repertoire handy in my back pocket for such occasions. Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars...

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