With the warmer weather, all I want to do is eat fruit and lie on a lawn chair drinking cocktails. Which is probably why this post is late… In case you can’t spend all your time doing that, here’s a cocktail that reminds me of summer block party desserts, relying on a classic combination of nectarines and bourbon.
This recipe comes from a new game I’ll be playing on this site, called Random Number Generator (RNG, Results Not Guaranteed, get it?!). As you know from my previous posts, I have a book called the flavor bible that I’ve been using a lot in my recipe creation to figure out what flavors go together. This book lists ingredients in alphabetical order, and has 374 pages. When I play the RNG game, I will use google to randomly pick one of those pages, and I will have to make up a recipe using at least one main ingredient from that page. This week, the page was 366, and the ingredients were Vinegar and Vodka. Being an overachiever, I decided to do both, using the shrub method that I have recently been experimenting with (Vinegar) to make a Vodka-based cocktail.
The other day I went to a new (to me) bar in my neighborhood called Ward 8, and I really loved it! First, the food was good. Very important. Additionally, at some bars I have a hard time finding even one cocktail that looks good on the menu, but this place had so many choices I almost couldn’t choose! I ended up going with this one, called Healthy Scratch (I’m trying not to think too much about the name origins), because it is not based on either whisky or gin, which are my usual preferences, and because I already had all the ingredients at home if I wanted to recreate it. It was just what I’d hoped, and here’s my version!
You may ask yourself, what is a shrugroni? Well obviously, it’s a Negroni made with a shrub. In this case a watermelon shrub. I’ve been seeing shrubs all over the menus of hip cocktail bars around town; they always seem so mysterious. They often have fruit flavors like blackberry or rhubarb and apparently are not woody plants the way I usually think of shrubs, but what are they?? I bought a cookbook to find out – Michael Dietsch’s Shrubs: An old-fashioned drink for modern times. It turns out, shrubs are just vinegar and fruit (or vegetables). Meaning if you can juice it, you can probably shrub it. Which opens a whole world of cocktail possibilities…
As I try to develop my ability to create my own recipes, I think being able to recreate dishes that I’ve eaten at restaurants is a great step to understanding flavor BALANCE and RATIOS, and to hone my sense of taste. Cocktails are the beginners version of this strategy, because the restaurant usually lists all the ingredients on the menu so I just have to figure out the measurements. I had this particular cocktail (the name of which means “hello nameless” in Italian) at Stoddard’s in Downtown Boston, where a very nice waitress recommended it because I don’t like very sweet drinks. I chose it because I already had all the ingredients so it would be very easy to recreate.
Round 2 of raiding my parents’ kitchen. Now that I know my mom is not doing alcohol at the moment, I went with a mocktail so that she could enjoy it too! She loves fruity drinks and everyone loves pretty drinks, so I went very tropical on this one.
Cocktail time! Please check out my Cocktails – thoughts post for some background on why I’m so into cocktail making. The way this recipe came about is that I was visiting my parents for the weekend and I felt like taking advantage of their pretty well-stocked bar and kitchen. My mom and I have a running joke that we should have a “signature cocktail” for every dinner gathering at their house, even though the gathering usually consists of me, my mom, and my dad, who doesn’t want anything to do with our signature cocktail tradition anyway. On top of that, my mom was doing a “dry month” as part of a New Year’s resolution, so the party consisted of JUST ME. But that’s FINE, because the great thing about cocktails is that you can make one at a time!
I’ve gotten pretty into making cocktails in the last year, since my dad got me a shaker set for Christmas, and since cocktails at bars and restaurants are so ridiculously expensive. Plus, I have this vision of myself hosting 1920s-themed parties with my friends in fancy dress and the bar cart close to hand. The fact that we absolutely will not all fit in my 150 sq ft kitchen/living room is just part of the charm.
As an opportunity for courage in the kitchen, cocktails seem like a relatively easy avenue, because they follow two of my tenets for recipe creation: CONFINE and RATIOS. There are relatively few available ingredients – most drinks are composed of hard alcohol, liquors, juices, sugars, and sodas (I have no idea how dairy and eggs might be incorporated, although I recognize this is a thing. Definitely a challenge for later in the year). I’m hoping that if I stick within this narrow range of ingredients and follow general advice on the basic ratios, I won’t steer far wrong. That said, my familiarity with many of the ingredients is much lower than for other dishes, so my ability to guess what will go together is limited. Luckily, there are (almost) no “raw” cocktail ingredients, so tasting along the way is totally possible (if you have the constitution for it).
Things I’d like to learn about cocktail making:
What are bitters for?
What is the purpose of dairy or eggs?
How to guess how sweet or sour any particular ingredient is.
How to make a perfect twist of lemon peel.