The Best Gin and Tonic You’ve Ever Had

•July 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I know it looks a little murky, but trust me. It’s absolutely delicious. Herbal, earthy, bitter, sour and sweet all at the same time, this tonic has it all.  It’s infinitely better than overly sweet, one note tonic you can buy from any grocery store or get in any bar. It’s even better than any of those new premium tonic water’s that have hit the market recently.  Cheaper too. All you have to do is is make your own tonic water.

There are a bunch of ways of doing homemade tonic floating around out there, but all of them have a few basic characteristics. First, they all include cinchona powder, which is the bark of a South American tree. Second, they include citric acid. Both are necessary. The cinchona because it gives tonic it’s characteristic taste (and anti-malarial properties) and the citric acid because you need some serious sourness to balance the bitter of the quinine. Trust me on this. The first time I tried to make tonic I figured I could just up the lemon and lime juice and it would come out ok. It didn’t.

My general recipe is the same as Jeffery Morgenthaler’s. It works great and I’ve never tried anything by Morgenthaler that hasn’t come out fantastic.

Here’s the process.

The basic ingredients for tonic syrup are cinchona bark, citric acid, water, citrus, lemongrass and spices. I used the zest and juice of a lemon, a lime and 2 oranges and coriander. Coriander because I like coriander forward gins and wanted to play nicely with stuff like Hendrick’s.

  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup cinchona bark
  • 1/4 cup citric acid
  • zest and juice of a lemon
  • zest and juice of a lime
  • zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • 1 cup chopped lemongrass
  • 2 teaspoons coriander
  • pinch of salt

Definitely very similar to Morgenthaler’s basic recipe. In other batch’s of tonic I’ve experimented with allspice, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, all to good effect. If you want a spicier tonic definitely go for more spices. One teaspoon is pretty muted, two brings it out a bit more, but if I wanted a tonic to play nicely with something more neutral like vodka or that could stand up to rye in cocktail’s I’d really up the spice level.

The next step is to bring all of the ingredients to a boil and let it simmer along for 20-30 mins. Yes it looks disgusting and the cinchona never really dissolves but trust me, it’s infusing.

After you’ve simmered your concoction and let it cool down a bit it’s time to strain it. This is where it can get tricky. Or, if you don’t do it right, you can descend into madness. Don’t let that scare you off. First, make sure you haven’t read ahead in the recipe and added your sweetener already. No matter what you’re using, simple syrup, agave nectar, or something else, don’t add it yet. It will make it impossible to strain.

I’ve made four batches of tonic now and this is always the worst step. I’ve settled on triple straining my mix. The first time I go through a fine mesh strainer, just to get the solids out. The second time I put it in my French Press and filter it that way. After that I go through either cheesecloth or damp paper towels several times. This will take a while. And no, you can’t just walk away and leave it. It will clog and you’ll come back in an hour to a half strained, thoroughly clogged piece of cheesecloth. You have to sit there and baby it. Swirl it, agitate it with a spatula, whatever. Just keep it moving.

Finally, once you’ve got it reasonably clear, or at least not gritty anymore, it’s time for the final step. You want to mix your tonic base and your sweetener at a 1-.75 ratio. I chose to use simple syrup rather than agave for this batch. It doesn’t make a huge difference, but I’ve found that using simple syrup leads to a cleaner taste in the end and lets your other ingredients shine through a little more. If you want to add a slightly more floral note use agave.

And there you are. Now it’s time for the best part.

Gin, tonic, club soda. That’s what you need. I used Apolinaris here because I had it on hand and was too lazy make up a batch of soda in my siphon. Kind of a waste of good water, as none of it’s mineral content shines through in the final application, but it’s still tasty. I make a gin an tonic like this.

  • 2 oz Gin
  • 1 1/2 oz tonic syrup
  • 4 oz club soda

Ahhhhhhh…Absolutely perfect.

So how much will all this run you? I ended up with a liter of tonic syrup. That will make enough for 24 or so cocktails. Here’s what it cost.

  • 1/4 package of cinchona – $1.50
  • 1/2 container of citric acid – $3
  • Lemon, lime and 2 oranges – $2.50
  • Lemongrass – $2
  • 1 teaspoon coriander and 1 1/2 cups sugar – 80 cents

So for a grand total of a little less than $10 I made enough tonic for 24 gin and tonics. For that many gin and tonic’s you’d need 5 bottle of Schweppes, which will run you a bit more than $10. And that’s if I use the baseline Schweppes. If you went for Q Tonic or some other premium tonic, you’d be out at least $50 to make that many drinks.

Do yourself a favor. If you like gin and tonics give this a try. It really isn’t that hard, it’s cheaper and it’s better. What do you have to lose?

Batavia-Arrack

•July 13, 2010 • 1 Comment

Used under a Creative Commons License from LastCrumb.com

Batavia-Arrack is a unique spirit. Indonesian in origin by way of the Netherlands, it is different than just about anything else on the market.

Last night I had the pleasure of playing around with a bottle of Batavia-Arrack. My co-conspirator on this blog recently picked up a bottle in Boston and last night was the first time we’d really busted it out.

So what does it taste like?

Unlike just about anything I’ve ever tried. It’s definitely a sugar-cane spirit. That much is clear. It’s got that sweetness and sugar cane bite that is characteristic of any rum. But it also definitely isn’t a rum. It’s maltier and deeper than any rum. Closer to a cachaca  than a classic white rum. It’s also identifiably Asian. You can really tell there is rice in it. It has that dryness and slight funk that is more like a sake or shochu or other rice spirit.

So what do you do with Batavia-Arrack?

That wasn’t initially clear. I knew that it is traditionally used in Swedish Punch and in other Punch recipes, but I didn’t really want to go through a big production making a ingredients and doing research, so I basically decided to do twists on some classic rum drinks and see how this funky spirit would play.

Daiquiri

My first try at an Arrack cocktail was a daiquiri.

  • 2 oz Batavia-Arrack
  • 1 oz Lime Juice
  • 3/4 oz Simple Syrup

This work really well. It has all the structure of a classic daiquiri but with a unique twist. It is a little deeper and a little more raw, but the Arrack gives it a very nice bite.

Punch

Arrack cocktail number 2 was a twist on a Caribbean rum punch, prepared according to the classic rhyme.

  • One of sour (Lime Juice)
  • Two of Sweet (Simple Syrup)
  • Three of Strong (Batavia-Arrack)
  • Four of Weak (Water, added in the shaking.)
  • Dash of Angostura Bitters
  • Fresh Nutmeg on top

This sucker worked even better. I can really see why Arrack is a classic in punches. It’s more assertive than classic white rum and so it punches through the sweetness of this ratio better than just rum would. Also, it’s maltier funkiness plays very nicely with the spice notes of the Angostura and nutmeg in this cocktail.

Coming up next with the Batavia-Arrack: Swedish Punsch

A Taste of Summer

•July 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Tomatoes. In summer. There is nothing better.

Except when they’re paired with basil.

That was dinner last night. Homemade pasta with a mortar and pestle pesto and a summer tomato and mozzarella salad. Nothing could be better.

Pesto with homemade Fettuccine

Mmmmm…pesto. A little labor intensive, but absolutely delicious. Start with a clove or two of garlic. Put into the mortar and pestle with a little salt and work it into a paste. Next, add the pinenuts. Start a few at a time and work them into a paste before adding more. Once you have the pine nuts smoothed out start adding your basil. A solid couple of cups worth. Little by little add the basil in and beat it until smooth. The last thing to go in is the parmesan. Add grated cheese until it tastes right. Then work it some more, until it is as smooth as you can get it. Finish it off with a bit of olive oil.

What does this wonderful green elixir go on? Why fresh, homemade pasta of course. I don’t have any pictures of that process for you, but it’s really easy. I used Michael Ruhlman’s ratio. Three parts flour, two parts egg by weight. Crack an egg a person into a bowl, weigh it, then multiply by 1.5 and add that much pasta. Add a bit of salt and some olive oil for flavor and you’re done.

Once the pasta is cooked just add a little bit of the pasta water to the pesto to thin it out and melt the parmesan a little. Then toss it all together with the pasta. Garnish with some fresh parmesan, a basil leaf and some fresh black pepper.

So how is it?

Absolutely delicious. I’d never made a pesto in a mortar and pestle before. It definitely makes a difference. Processing the garlic and pine nuts first results in an incredibly creamy, luscious pesto. The garlic was nice and subtle and the fresh basil really hit you over the head.

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

So what goes best with homemade pesto?

Easy. Tomatoes.

This one couldn’t be simpler. Two fresh, summer tomatoes, procured from the Dupont Circle Sunday Market. Some more of that fresh basil. A ball of fresh mozzarella from Blue Ridge Dairy. Salt and fresh ground pepper. Olive oil. All finished off with just a little 14 year old Balsamic vinegar.

Perfection.

Indian Spiced Fried Green Tomatoes

•July 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Another recent dinner that was inspired by my weekly CSA bag. I had green tomatoes and fennel that I needed to use as well as a bunch of cucumbers, hot peppers and yogurt I had gotten at the Dupont Circle farmers market the previous Sunday.

I knew straight away that I wanted to fry the green tomatoes. Usually I do fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and a spicy red pepper sauce. However, not having any of those ingredients around and needing to use up fennel and cucumber I decided to go a different route and make a fennel and cucumber chutney to top my tomatoes.

Cucumber-Fennel Chutney

After a little bit of research into how to make a proper chutney (this article on about.com proved particularly helpful) I started in on my spice mixture. I toasted about half a teaspoon each of

I ground my spice mixture in a mortar and pestle with some salt and then fried it in hot grapeseed oil. Then I added some minced ginger and two seeded and minced fresh hot chiles. I fried those for a few seconds and then added two small bulbs of diced fennel. Once the fennel was just a bit soft I added 3 small diced cucumbers. I let the mixture cook for 10 minutes or so until everything was nicely softened and combined. After a taste I decided it wasn’t quite spicy enough, so I added another chile, seeds and all. Then I finished the chutney with a quarter cup or so each of sherry vinegar and simple syrup.

Cucumber Mint Raita

The chutney was quite spicy, so I decided I needed a dairy element to cool things off. I took about half a cup of the Blue Ridge Farms yogurt and pureed it with a couple of sprigs of fresh mint. Then I brunoised a cucumber to give the mixture a bit of texture and crunch and set it aside.

Fried Green Tomato

The last thing I needed to put together was the fried green tomato. I took the rest of my spice mixture and added it to some cornmeal to form the base of my breading mixture. I dipped each tomato slice in the cornmeal mixture, an egg wash and finally into panko breadcrumbs. I fried the tomato on each side for 2-3 minutes, until it was nice and golden brown.

To plate I put a slice of fried green tomato down on the plate, topped it with a bit of the chutney and a little bit of raita, then sandwiched on another tomato slice. Originally I was going to stack all three tomato slices on top of one another, but it got too high, so I leaned one slice on the side of my tower. I scattered some chutney around the outside of the plate and drizzled the raita on top of everything. The last little element was chopping up some of the fennel fronds and scattering them over the plate.

So how was it?

Pretty good. The chutney was by far the star of the plate. It was spicy, sweet, sour and savory all at once. The spice mixture gave it a nice, complex flavor that was very Indian and the chiles gave it a great heat. Definitely an idea I’m going to hold on to.

The tomatoes were decent. The crust was great and it was well fried, but it didn’t hold together. The crust came off very easily and didn’t really stick to the tomato at all. Maybe it was because I used cornmeal as my base instead of flour, maybe it was because I didn’t dip the tomato into egg first before the cornmeal, but whatever it wasn’t quite right.

Overall, though it could definitely use some tweaking, this was a successful dish. The chutney was a revelation and is an idea I’m going to use again. The raita was simple, but nice. It added a cooling element to the plate and a tanginess that played well with the chutney. Get the tomatoes right and this is an A+.

Zucchini Carpaccio, Two Ways

•July 8, 2010 • 1 Comment

Fresh summer zucchini is great. Mild and sweet, it provides a great canvas for other flavors. It’s fantastic sautéed or roasted, but it also really shines when raw.

Recently I did zucchini carpaccio back to back nights. The first was a spur of the moment type thing based on the fact that I received some yellow zucchini my CSA and the fact that I had just bought a new mandoline. Basically I just used whatever I had in the fridge to put together a nice little salad. It worked out so well that the next night I refined it a little bit with a twist on the same idea.

Zucchini Carpaccio #1

For my first attempt at this dish I used the zucchini, a Mediterranean feta salad I’d picked up at Whole Foods, fresh mint and chives for some herbs and good olive oil and champagne vinegar for acid. I sliced about 2/3 of the zucchini into rounds and laid them out in a mosaic on the plate. Then I dotted the plate with the feta salad, which had oregano, red pepper, sun dried tomato and other assorted ingredients and sprinkled it with torn mint leaves and chives. I took the rest of the zucchini and shaved it the long way, to create thick rectangular slices I could stand up for plating. I finished it off by drizzling the whole thing with olive oil and vinegar, along with a big of black pepper and salt.

Overall the dish came out quite well. Given that it was basically what I had on hand and was thrown together quickly. The zucchini came through nicely and wasn’t overwhelmed, yet still provided a nice canvas for all the other flavors.

Zucchini Carpaccio #2

The next night I had gone to a grocery store and put together a slightly more refined version of the dish. Obviously, from the picture, the zucchini were prepped the same way, but everything else was a little different. Instead of a store bought feta salad I used a fresh, aged sheep’s milk feta from France. I also added kalamata olives and capers. The herbs were mint, which had been really successful in the first edition, but basil instead of the chives, which got lost the first time around. Fresh lemon juice and some lemon zest replaced the vinegar, for a fresher acidic bite. Lastly, I topped the whole thing with some shaved parmesan which gave it a bit more depth and savoriness.

This version of the carpaccio was a lot more successful. The capers and fresh lemon gave it a much better twang and the basil really stood out with the mint.

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.