Perfecting the Indian Spice Cocktail

Blink your eyes and six months passes  by without a blog post! It’s time for me to start writing again, and today, on a hot weekend Fall day that feels like summer, I’m thinking of a refreshing cocktail recipe I discovered this summer.

While waiting for my lunch order this summer, I decided to browse the gin selection at Barsha Wines in Manhattan Beach. Last year, I discovered St. George’s Gin there, and I wanted to see if there was anything that looked interesting to try.

I noticed this bottle of Indian Summer Gin. I liked the pretty flower on the bottle – because bottle design is always a way to tell if a gin is good, right? The gin being infused with saffron seemed interesting.

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And then I noticed this cocktail recipe attached to the shelf near the bottles. Lemon, mint, ginger beer and gin? Sounds like my kind of cocktail (i.e. not sweet)! I purchased a four-pack of Bundaberg Ginger Beer and headed home to try the drink that night.

Indian Spice cocktail recipe with Indian Summer gin

Indian Spice Cocktail recipe

After converting the metric measurements to ounces, I put everything together.

Indian Summer gin, mint, lemon, ginger beer, club soda

The makings of the Indian Spice Cocktail

Bundaberg Ginger Beer from Australia and fresh lemons

Bundaberg Ginger Beer from Australia and fresh lemons

Fresh mint for Indian Spice gin cocktail

Fresh mint in a cocktail – always a good idea!

Dave and I enjoyed the drink, but felt that the club soda masked the tastes of the other ingredients. The next time I made it, I did not use any of the club soda, and we both agreed it was better without it.

The Indian Spice Cocktail with Indian Summer gin

The Indian Spice Cocktail with Indian Summer gin

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This quickly became our go to summer cocktail. Dave, who is normally content with sparkling water, soon started requesting “that special drink you make,” pretty frequently. So frequently that we polished off this bottle of gin in about a month! A record for us.

After we polished the Bundaberg Ginger Beer, I tried this ginger beer I found in Trader Joe’s. The ginger taste was not as strong, and after a taste test, we decided we liked this beer better for this cocktail. But, if you like a strong ginger taste, Bundaberg might be the one for you.

The Indian Spice cocktail with Trader Joe's Extra Ginger Beer

Trying the cocktail with Trader Joe’s Extra Ginger Beer

Indian Spice cocktail with ginger beer from Trader Joe's and Indian Summer gin

Trying the cocktail with Ginger Beer from Trader Joe’s

One night, when we were low on the Indian Summer gin, I made one drink using Indian Summer and the other with another gin. I gave both drinks to Dave to taste in a blind tasting. Like me, he preferred the drink with the Indian Summer gin. Since then I haven’t tried any other gin with this drink – why fiddle with something that is pretty close to the perfect summer drink?

Indian Summer gin infused with saffron

Indian Summer gin infused with saffron

The Indian Spice Cocktail - our favorite gin summer drink

The Indian Spice Cocktail – our new favorite summer drink

Indian Spice Summer cocktail pinterest

 

 

Cocktails for Fall and Winter

The winter chill in Southern California has subsided for a bit, but cooler temperatures and rain are forecast for this weekend. I often look to the internet to find new cocktail recipes made with the spirits that suit the season. Here are the recipes I discovered and am adding to my cocktails repertoire.

Hot Toddy

While suffering with a miserable cold in December, I searched for Hot Toddy recipes hoping that this hot drink might provide some relief. This recipe posted on Liquor.com by top bartender and mixologist Jacques Bezuidenhout features a video on how to make it. I liked the lemon twist with cloves as it gave the drink some cheerful color.

INGREDIENTS:

PREPARATION:
Fill a mug with boiling water and let stand for a minute or two to warm. Meanwhile, stick the cloves into the lemon twist and set aside. Empty the mug and fill about halfway with fresh boiling water. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the prepared lemon twist and stir. Add the lemon juice and whiskey, and stir again.

Irish Cider

Over Thanksgiving, I was looking for a drink that included whiskey. As I happened to have some apple cider on hand, this Irish cider recipe fit the bill, especially since Jameson Irish Whiskey is one of the key ingredients! It was created by Bill Ward at the Dream Downtown hotel’s Marble Lane bar and restaurant in New York City. The recipe was posted over two years ago in this NY Daily News article on Irish whiskey cocktails for St. Patrick’s Day by Gina Pace; it looks like Marble Lane has since closed.

Cocktail cider

Irish Cider – using seasonal snowman glasses!

 

Irish Cider

Created by Bill Ward at Dream Downtown’s Marble Lane

  • 1½ oz. Jameson Irish Whiskey
  • ¾ oz. Blackwell’s Rum
  • ½ oz. apple cider
  • ½ oz. lemon juice
  • ½ oz. agave syrup
  • Ground cinnamon

Combine the cider, lemon juice and agave and simmer until it’s reduced by about one-quarter to one-third. Let cool. Put all ingredients into an iced cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass and top with ground cinnamon.

Blackberry Fizz

Shortly before New Year’s Eve, I read Spencer Spellman‘s post on 7 Easy Champagne Cocktail Recipes. Spencer is frequently posting drool-worthy cocktail photos, and this Blackberry Fizz recipe intrigued me since it included one of my new favorite spirits, gin!

Instead of champagne, I made our fizz’s with Cava and served them on New Year’s Eve while we were enjoying a quiet evening at home with the dogs. I really enjoyed the mix of the gin and cava, and with the blackberry and lime mixed in, I think this would be a perfect celebratory drink for the warmer months as well.

Cocktail blackberry top

Spencer Spellman’s Blackberry Fizz – the blackberries and lime garnish make for a colorful, festive cocktail.

Spencer Spellman’s Blackberry Fizz

Quoting Spencer:

This may just be my favorite champagne cocktail on the list. Alright, so perhaps that’s because it’s one that I came up with. But it’s really so delicious, refreshing, and fruity. Additionally, it’d make a great summer champagne cocktail for making in batches. Because everyone likes champagne, right? You’ll want to first muddle the blackberries in a cocktail shaker good enough to break up the berries and release the juice. Next you’ll add the rest of the ingredients (except for the champagne) with ice to the shaker and shake. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and top with champagne.

  • 2 oz. gin
  • .75 oz. agave
  • .75. oz. lime juice
  • Several blackberries, muddled
  • Champagne
Cocktail blackberry ingredients

Making the Blackberry Fizz with Bombay Sapphire and Cava.

 

Candy Cane-Kahlua Hot Chocolate

Believe it or not, winters in Los Angeles can be chilly. When the temperature dips into the 40s and we turn on the heat, it is a perfect time to make hot chocolate. I wanted to make something a bit more involved than regular hot chocolate, and since we had not had any Kahlua in a while, I searched for hot chocolate and Kahlua recipes and found this by Natalie Migliarini on Delish.com.

I love the addition of the candy cane – perfect for all the candy canes that you receive for Christmas and never end up eating. I served the hot chocolate in my Christmas markets mugs from the Christmas market in Budapest and the Schloss Schönbrunn Christmas market in Vienna. It pairs perfectly with my home made sugar cookies for a decadent dessert.

Cocktail hot chocolate

Candy cane-Kahlua Hot chocolate served in mugs from European Christmas markets.

Candy Cane-Kahlua Hot Chocolate

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. whole milk
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 candy cane
  • 3 tbsp. sipping chocolate
  • 1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 oz. Kahlua
  • whipped cream
  • candy canes

Directions

  1. In a saucepan over low heat, warm whole milk and heavy cream.
  2. Add 1 candy cane and stir until melted.
  3. Stir in sipping chocolate and vanilla extract.
  4. Remove from heat, stir in Kahlua, and pour into glass.
  5. Garnish with whipped cream and candy canes.

Do you have a favorite winter cocktail? Share the recipe or a link in the comments below.

Reflecting on the “Best” of Instagram 2015

Here are my best nine Instagram posts from 2015:

Best Nine

A week or two ago, I noticed people posting a photo collage on Instagram with the hashtag #2015bestnine. I googled and soon learned how to discover your best nine photographs you shared on Instagram that garnered the most likes.

It is quite simple – visit http://2015bestnine.com/, type in your Instagram user name, and the site searches your posts and compiles the top photos in a collage you can post to Instagram, share to Twitter or save as an image. The site also compiles your total number of likes (5,332 for me) and the total posts you shared in 2015 (299 – almost one per day!).

I was surprised to see my results – all the photos are from right here in southern California – and it was fun to remember the story behind each one.

My most liked photo (in the top left of the collage) is from a calligraphy workshop this fall in downtown LA at the Design Love Fest studio. I have followed Lauren Essl’s feed, @BlueEyeBrownEye, for a while, and I was excited to be able to participate in one of her workshops. I took the introduction to calligraphy class, and I learned enough to address all of my Christmas cards this year with calligraphy!

From Lauren Essl's Blue Eye Brown Eye introduction to calligraphy workshop at Design Love Fest in Downtown LA

From Lauren Essl’s Blue Eye Brown Eye introduction to calligraphy workshop at Design Love Fest in Downtown LA

The middle column of my photos is from right here at home – almost daily walks along the Strand in Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach are always Instagram worthy. The middle photo is with a Paradise Bowl – delicious acai and pitaya bowls that are perfect after a long walk along the beach! Sometimes it feels redundant to keep posting photos of the beach at sunset, but every time I am there, the scene is so beautiful I have to take another picture!

Below the calligraphy post in the first column are coffee photos, both from Two Guns Espresso in Manhattan Beach (they also serve coffee at the Manhattan Beach Yacht Club at the end of the Manhattan Beach pier). Nothing makes me happier than a delicious espresso, and Two Guns makes the best Flat Whites around! These photos make me miss visiting Caffe Luxxe in Brentwood – my office used to be close to their San Vicente location, and I enjoyed stopping in for a cappuccino (and sharing it on Instagram) before going to the office (n.b. they roast the beans for Two Guns).

The column on the right is food – the top is a chicken sandwich from the Free Range LA food truck. They were in front of Stumptown Coffee in downtown LA, right around the corner from the Design Love Fest studio where I took my calligraphy class! Since Free Range LA says they are #ChickenGawds, I had to try one of their sandwiches. I had the “classic” but they allowed me to customize it by adding some of the “original” slaw. Mmm, mmm, good!

The original sandwich from the Free Range food truck. It was huge - I didn't have dinner that night.

The classic sandwich from the Free Range food truck. It was huge – and oh so good – I didn’t have dinner that night.

The bottom two photos are from a blogger gathering at Gloria’s Restaurant and Bar in Huntington Park. Thanks to Chef Turok (Brian Menendez) for organizing the event and inviting me. The food was delicious, the margaritas yummy (they created three different ones for us to sample), and the mariachi music was fantastic!

2015 was so much more than these nine photos, but it is fun to share things daily and then see what resonates the most. It will be interesting to see what I post this year, and which ones become favorites. Have you discovered your #2015bestnine? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy New Year! Here’s to a great 2016!

A Visit to Black Friars Distillery and the Home of Plymouth Gin

Today, June 13th, is World Gin Day. I had no idea about this important date until I saw my friend Ana’s picture of a Gin and Tonic on Instagram (Ana is also known as Mrs. O Around the World). While traveling in the UK, Spain and Portugal this spring, I tried many different gins and thoroughly enjoyed it. Given that today is a special day for gin, I thought I would highlight one of my recent gin experiences.

While on a tour of Britain in April (Insight Vacations’ “Best of Britain”), our group took a half day trip to Plymouth. Most of the morning was spent on a boat tour of the harbor to provide us a visual history of the importance of this port city. After the harbor tour, we had about an hour to walk around and explore on our own. I stumbled upon the Plymouth Gin distillery and decided to step inside.

Here is a brief history of the Black Friars Distillery, where Plymouth Gin is made, from their website:

The building dates back to the early 1400s, with the most intact part of the distillery, the Refectory Room – a medieval hall with a fine hull-shaped timber roof built in 1431, being one of the oldest buildings in Plymouth. It is thus protected as a national monument and is one of the city’s most precious heritages. The Distillery buildings were formerly a monastery inhabited by the Black Friars. In 1536, at the time of the Reformation and dissolution of the monasteries, the former home of the Black Friars was put to a variety of other uses including being the town’s Marshalsea or debtor’s prison. It was also the first Non-Conformist meeting place and a billet for Huguenot refugees who fled France for Plymouth. The Pilgrim Fathers even spent their last night in England here in 1620. It was from the distillery they made the short walk down to the harbour to set sail on the Mayflower on their epic voyage to start a new life in America, where they founded a new Plymouth. The Mayflower ship forms Plymouth Gin’s trademark label today. Black Friars is indisputably the oldest working gin distillery with records of a ‘mault-house’ on the premises going back to 1697. However, it was in 1793 that Mr Coates joined the established distilling business of Fox & Williamson and the distilling of Plymouth Gin began. Soon the business was to become known as Coates & Co, which it remained until March 2004.

How interesting to learn that the Pilgrims spent their last night here before departing for America! Unfortunately, there was not enough time for me to take a tour; but if you have the time, there are several options offered, including a Master Distiller’s tour in which you can create and distill your own gin recipe!

The Black Friars Distillery, where Plymouth Gin is made, in Plymouth, England.

The Black Friars Distillery, where Plymouth Gin is made, in Plymouth, England.

When I stepped inside the distillery, I bumped into fellow travelers Laurie and Linda. I convinced them we needed to try some Plymouth Gin, since we were at the source after all! We went upstairs to The Refectory – the bar was beautifully lit, and well stocked with other fine liquors besides Plymouth Gin.

The Refectory bar at Plymouth's Black Friars Distillery

The Refectory bar at Plymouth’s Black Friars Distillery

I decided to try the Plymouth Sloe Gin, as I saw that downstairs in the shop, and it looked interesting – and different from the gin I have previously tried. If you can not read the photo below, this is what it says, “Made to a unique recipe that was discovered in notes made by our Head Distiller in 1883. Traditionally enjoyed as a winter warmer when pursuing country sports, now widely used in cocktails, long drinks and as a great accompaniment to cheese. Try it with… Sharphams Brie Style, Quickes Cheddar, Vulscombe Goats Cheese, Devon Blue.” That sounds right up my alley to try this with cheese!

Plymouth Sloe Gin, according to the bartender, it is only available at the distillery.

Plymouth Sloe Gin, according to the bartender, it is only available at the distillery.

The Plymouth Sloe Gin is made by steeping sloe berries with the gin. It has a reddish-pink color. I asked for Fever Tree Tonic, another recommendation from Ana, and the bartender said that is the only tonic they serve!

My Plymouth Sloe Gin before adding tonic.

My Plymouth Sloe Gin before adding tonic.

I tried the gin on its own at first, before adding the tonic. It had a lovely fruity taste, and I enjoyed it so much I decided to purchase a bottle to bring home – especially since our bartender said she thought it was only available at the distillery! She mentioned that she had been in New York City recently, and she found Plymouth Original Gin regularly available. I have since seen it here in stores in Los Angeles, but not the Sloe Gin.

Enjoying a lunch-time gin and tonic.

Enjoying a lunch-time gin and tonic.

We all enjoyed our drinks, and then rushed back to the coach for our next stop.

Tonight, in honor of World Gin Day, I will make some cocktails before dinner. I think a Sloe Gin Fizz with my Plymouth Sloe Gin, straight from the source, sounds just about right on this chilly, June Gloom day in Southern California.

Cheers!

Let me know your favorite gin drink or if there are other sloe gins I should try!

Tzatziki, Peonies and Gin!

It was a rainy and unusually humid day in Los Angeles today. Luckily I purchased these peonies two days ago, and they are just now starting to open up and brighten up the kitchen despite the clouds outside.

IMG_7565While I gazed at the pretty peonies, I decided it was time to make one of my favorite summer dishes: tzatziki, a greek dressing or dip, that I usually eat with pita chips. When I do not have time to make it on my own, I purchase a container from Trader Joe’s. But I like my homemade version the best. The dip is pretty easy to make as I don’t even have a recipe to follow but just mix a few simple fresh ingredients together.

First, I put a coffee filter over a strainer and a bowl, and then spoon some Greek yogurt into the filter. I let it sit at least a half hour so that the excess water is extracted. When I first read about making tzatziki, some recipes called for using a cheese cloth during this step, but I found that the coffee filter works pretty well too.

While the yogurt is sitting, I prepare the other ingredients: lemon juice, dill and garlic.

Dill, garlic and lemon.

Dill, garlic and lemon. Note the dish is from Portugal – I love making use of items I purchased while traveling.

I chopped a tablespoon or two of dill, minced three to four cloves of garlic, and squeezed the juice out of a half lemon into a bowl. Then I added the yogurt (it becomes even thicker once the water drains), mixed it all together and added salt and pepper to taste. Sometimes I add olive oil too.

I chill the dip in the refrigerator for at least an hour to allow all the flavors to blend together. Just before serving, I chopped up a Persian cucumber to give the dip a crunchy texture.

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Finished tzatziki! I served it in a bowl from Sorrento, another purchase from my travels.

Since I’m in a gin phase, I decided to quickly make some gin and tonics (using my new favorite tonic Fever Tree) and serve them with the dip for a pre-dinner snack.

IMG_7571What is your favorite go-to fresh summer dish?