Author: Winekindasseur

Apricot Brandy Drink Lab

Apricot Brandy Drink Lab

It’s time to empty another bottle; one more for Weekend In Review and one less in the liquor cabinet. A bottle of Hiram Walker Apricot Brandy was purchased a few years ago for the purpose of mixing up a party punch. Admittedly it’s the cheap stuff, but we figured there was no sense in diluting the good stuff with a bunch of fruit juices, rum, and seltzer. The one-third bottle that was leftover was put away where, over time, it relocated itself further and further into the nether regions of the liquor cabinet. Now a perfect candidate for the Weekend In Review, the apricot brandy finds its way to drink lab.

Weekend In Review:

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The Mr. Bartender app is helpful in finding drinks with a specific ingredient. You can search drinks by name or by ingredients. The first recipe we’re testing is the Apricot Lady (minus the egg white):

  • 1.5 oz light rum
  • 1 oz apricot brandy
  • 1 tsp triple sec
  • .5 oz lemon juice

Shake over ice and strain into a glass.

Although we’ve followed the recipe except for the egg white, this cocktail has too much tart lemon and not enough apricot flavor. In the second iteration, we swap out the lemon juice for our homemade lemon mixer, reduce the rum, and leave out the triple sec (1 tsp was inconsequential anyhow).

Apricot Lady Streamlined

  • 1 oz rum
  • 1 oz apricot brandy
  • .5 oz lemon mixer

Clean and simple and in our opinion, better.

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A few ounces of the apricot brandy were left for Day 2 of drink lab. This time I decided to try vodka in place of rum. A variety of suggestions from Mr. Bartender include pineapple, orange, and lime juices. I opt for my breakfast standard, OJ.

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A Drink With No Name

  • 1 oz apricot brandy
  • 1 oz vodka
  • .5 oz orange juice

I’ve been through the desert with a drink with no name. It felt good to be out of the rain. In the desert, you can remember your name. And something about feeling no pain.

La, la, la la la la, la la la, la la…La, la, la la la la, la la la, la la…

Horse at bar with martini and bartender

 

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Evacuation

Jeff Parker / Florida Today

From this post’s title and the fact that I’ve already written about my colonoscopy you may be thinking I’m going there again. But this time I’m referring to the evacuation of Floridians due to Hurricane Irma. Having been victimized by New York area traffic jams since I first took the wheel in high school, the media coverage showing miles of traffic trying to move north, while the southbound lanes remain completely empty makes me wince.

My concern over Irma making landfall in Florida is more than simply as a compassionate observer. As sure as migrating birds flee from gray, snowy winters, my sister and her husband retired to the warm and sunny Gulf Coast a couple of years ago. Long before there was any specific weather-related threat, they fortified their new ‘nest’ with hurricane shutters and removed any tall trees that were within striking distance of the roof. As news of Irma in the Caribbean began to disseminate, they planned to “hunker down” (in quotes due to its nauseating overuse in storm coverage.)

Making plans during a hurricane is like trying hit a moving target. Plan A included ordering a camp stove from Amazon (with overnight delivery) and stocking up on Dinty Moore Hearty Meals. My sister and I both tend to be rule-followers, so when the recommendation to evacuate was given, the idea of riding it out was changed to Plan B, an impromptu trip to Atlanta. As my sister went online to book accommodations, options for hotel rooms were disappearing by the minute. But, being the resourceful one, she reserved a room for a somewhat reasonable rate.

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While all-day news coverage of Irma is creating panic over the intensity of the storm and destruction in the Caribbean, the station’s weather reporter stands in a street in Puerto Rico with torrents of rain soaking his waterproof suit and bracing against the wind to keep from being blown away. Scenes like this instill enough fear to develop Plan C: LEAVE NOW! A hotel room at a halfway point is hastily booked and car packed. It’s time to batten down the hatches (AKA hurricane shutters) and go.

What should have been an eight-hour trip, becomes a fifteen-hour ordeal. They arrive safely in Atlanta only to learn that Irma will be following them there in a few days’ time. Having never been to Atlanta, my optimistic sister considered taking in the sights, but worrying about the storm, stoked by media attention, put a damper on having fun. After several days, Irma, now a tropical storm, has passed and they are eager to return home. Wait, not so fast! You must endure the same torturous fifteen-hour traffic-congested road trip because the same million people that evacuated are now trying to get home too!

Tiny yet insidious germs lurk among the hundreds of hotel guests, trying to make you “it” in their game of tag. They sneak up on you, starting with an occasional cough and soreness in the throat. Before you know it, the nose faucet is running full blast accompanied by sneezing, aching, and general malaise. My poor sis brings home colds and infections the way some folks bring home souvenirs. In the throes of head cold misery, she swears that next time, if there is one, they will stay put. In her words, “I’d rather risk death than go through another evacuation.”

When Life Hands You Crappy Wine, Make Sangria!

When Life Hands You Crappy Wine, Make Sangria!

You’re at the wine store and the end of aisle promotional display looms before you. An eye-catching label, a close-out sale price, or an unfamiliar varietal, you find a few new bottles to try. Cocktail hour arrives and it’s time to open one of your much-anticipated acquisitions. Pouring, swirling, sniffing, and sipping culminates with sad disillusionment. The wine isn’t corked, oxidized, or spoiled in any way. It just isn’t great. Sometimes a well-intentioned wine proves to be disappointing. But don’t worry, sangria to the rescue!

Summertime social media is all abuzz about sangria; wines to use, recipes, fruit infusions, ice rings, and fancy serving glasses. The Boozy Lifestyle guide suggests that a good bottle of wine shouldn’t be sacrificed to the gods of sangria. The best wine for sangria is the one that wasn’t quite good enough to drink on its own. By the time you add all the ingredients in this recipe, you’ll hardly taste the wine at all.

Sangria Rum Cocktail

  • 8 oz. wine
  • 4 oz. Triple Sec
  • 2 oz. Bacardi Gold rum
  • 2 oz. orange juice
  • 2 oz. sweetened lemon juice
  • Splash of Myer’s rum

Stir together the first five ingredients. Pour into glasses over ice and float the Myer’s rum on top. Makes about 4 glasses.

More About Rum

We generally prefer rum over brandy in our sangria, and have found that Bacardi Gold is best for our recipe. We’ve tested it with different rums such as Pyrat, Appleton, 10 Cane, Shellback, Myer’s and Captain Morgan, but rums with too much personality of their own don’t perform as well as the Bacardi Gold at harmonizing with the other ingredients. As part of the “which rum for our sangria?” drink lab, we discovered that a Myer’s floater adds a nutty aroma with flavors of toffee and caramel without exposing its medicinal aspect. You see, Myer’s is good for something other than rum cake.

Sangria-Rum

More About Lemon Mixer

Back in the day, we used bottled mixers such as Rose’s and Mr. & Mrs. T’s Sweet and Sour, but the inclusion of high fructose corn syrup became a turn off for reasons of health and taste. Since we like to have a pre-made mixer ready to go, we buy unsweetened lime or lemon juice such as Real Lemon and mix it with simple syrup in a 50/50 ratio. We make a quart at a time and store it in the refrigerator.

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Wine & Warren & The Wind

As I sip my sangria and listen to Warren Zevon’s final album, The Wind, I begin to see the analogous meaning of making lemonade out of lemons as it applied to Zevon. His was the ultimate tragic lemon; a diagnosis of a cancer called pleural mesothelioma and a prognosis of untimely death. His lemonade is an insightful collection of songs expressing his ironic humor, love, anger and frustration over dying, and the desire to be remembered after death.

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As a collaboration of close friends, The Wind comes full circle in bringing together many of the artists who contributed to his self-titled major-label debut album, Warren Zevon. Before asking Alexa, we found ourselves playing ‘Guess the Guest’ performance. The recognizable voices include Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, and Emmylou Harris. Signature instrumentalists such as David Lindley on lap steel and Ry Cooder on guitar are easy to identify. Harder to name are Don Henley and Mick Fleetwood on drums.

In “Disorder In The House”, performed with Bruce Springsteen, Zevon is both amused and disgusted with his own apathy over a sad state of affairs and “Even the Lhasa Apso seems ashamed.” I can relate.

“It’s the home of the brave and the land of the free

Where the less you know the better off you’ll be”

Knowing that Zevon’s days were numbered is all the more reason to shed a tear when listening to “Keep Me In Your Heart.” The feel of the song is especially intimate, as if we’re listening in on Zevon’s final words to his lover. Concurrently, and in a larger sense, he’s expressing our universal desire to live on through the memories of loved ones and to live a life that mattered.

If your Boozy Lifestyle guide gets a bit philosophical, it must be the sangria talking. But honestly, thank you to the nightly news and those who star in it for forcing me to tune out and rediscover my enjoyment of music.

Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time

My Alexa has a new baby sister and in keeping with the George Foreman tradition of baby naming, she is called Alexa, too (or Alexa II). Just like her big sister, she plays songs and artists you ask her, curated playlists and music channels, Pandora, Spotify, and SiriusXM. The difference is, she is the wireless Tap model and can go anywhere our Wi-Fi will reach. She comes out on the deck with us on a sultry summer night to play cocktail hour music while we sip and nibble. Lately, she’s getting all the attention and I think her older sister is feeling jealous.

While cocktail hour topics of conversation usually cover the mundane work and family news, Alexa helps to enable our far-flung tangents. We’re listening to “Fly Me To The Moon” sung by Tony Bennett, when my drinking buddy asks, “Remember that Tony Bennett special with all the different artists singing his songs?” He’s referring to a special tribute to Tony Bennett on his 90th birthday. The all-star concert at Radio City Music Hall included such great artists as Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga, Diana Krall, and Andrea Bocelli. “I really liked the song that Bob Dylan sang,” he adds. With limited information in our memory banks, it’s time to put Alexa II with Prime Music Unlimited through her paces.

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We first uncover that the song sung by Bob Dylan on the Tony Bennett special is called “Once Upon A Time.” Listening to it again, I understand why it was so memorable. Even back in the sixties, full of the vigor of youth, Dylan was never known as a technically great (or even good?) singer, but he puts a song across with honest emotion and sincerity. The straightforward arrangement of “Once Upon A Time” featuring a pedal steel guitar perfectly complements the lilting melody and nostalgic lyrics sung by Dylan. We especially loved Charlie Sexton’s exquisite guitar playing.

I found it disconcerting that in the Billboard article from Dec. 13, 2016 covering the event, Bob Dylan wasn’t even mentioned. Through the years, I’ve seen some poor performances where he seemed disoriented (stoned or over-medicated?) but Dylan’s performance on the Tony Bennett special was certainly worthy of recognition by Billboard. Regardless of whether they’re a fan, isn’t a 50-something year career in the music business something a music magazine should respect?

We ask Alexa who else sang this beautiful song, “Once Upon A Time,” written by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams? The original was sung by Ray Bolger and Eileen Herlie in the Broadway musical All American in 1962. Bolger, who effortlessly fluttered over the complexities of “If I Only Had A Brain” as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, opted to talk his way through the skillfully crafted contours of “Once Upon A Time”. Taken out of the context of the Broadway show, we weren’t huge fans of this version.

 

The Frank Sinatra version is pure perfection; lush orchestration, silky strings and Frank’s mellow, nuanced crooning. The rendition is so perfect that it makes me love Dylan’s imperfection even more.

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And after all, we did begin this Alexa foray with the Tony Bennett 90th Birthday special so we would be remiss not to listen to the master himself. In Bennett’s arrangement, the jazz ensemble is prominently featured with an orchestral overlay. Jazz guitar comping accompanied by upright bass and snare drum played with brushes give his version a rhythmic feel. Bennett sings “Once Upon A Time” in a higher key than Sinatra, providing more urgency to the haunting nature of the melody. The highlight of this arrangement is an inspired ending featuring a signature Bennett high note followed by a dramatic pause (and omitting the ominous chant “Once upon a time never comes again”).

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I you’d like to know more about our cocktail hour musings on “Once Upon A Time”, here are some links. Or, you can just ask Alexa.

Bob Dylan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Bi_B5lRsrM

Ray Bolger: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExXTH7IwtSk

Frank Sinatra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqJOE0SyWnE

Tony Bennett: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmwApZaMNe0

Billboard Magazine article: http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7624353/tony-bennett-90th-birthday-tv-special-recap

Further down the rabbit hole, you’ll find more versions of “Once Upon A Time” by well-known artists Eddie Fisher, Robert Goulet, Bobby Darin, and Perry Como.

Acorn Squash and Crossfork Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Acorn Squash and Crossfork Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Acorn squash usually conjures images of fall’s bounty, the autumn harvest’s cornucopia of pumpkin, butternut, spaghetti squash, and all those hard, bumpy winter squashes that we don’t quite know what to do with. The hard rind makes these squashes long-lasting, hence the term “winter squash” although here in the Northeast, they are usually grown throughout the summer and picked in late September and October.

So how did we acquire a garden-fresh home-grown acorn squash in July? My sister-in-law, who moved to New Orleans last year, had the realization that a southern garden can be planted as early as March, resulting in mature winter squash in the middle of summer. On her most recent visit to the New York area, she managed to pack two large home-grown squashes in her suitcase. She must have had to leave behind half her clothes and shoes so as not to exceed the 50-pound weight limit.

My sister-in-law gave us a terrific tip to speed up the cooking time for hard squash that I haven’t seen on the internet. After cutting them in half and scooping out the seeds, she microwaves the halves for about 5 minutes. Although she likes hers with cinnamon, we opted for the more prevalent butter and brown sugar preparation, followed by baking.

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Cut in half. I did it lengthwise, but either direction will work. Scoop out the seeds and that pithy stuff. My trusty grapefruit spoon comes to the rescue. Microwave the halves for five or six minutes.

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Smear a half tablespoon of soft butter around the hollow. Sprinkle a tablespoon of brown sugar on each half. Bake at 350 degrees until a fork goes through the flesh easily (about 20 minutes)

The acorn squash was an enjoyable accompaniment to baby-back ribs with Brooks sauce. 

The wine of the evening is something new we’re trying, the 2015 Crossfork Creek Cabernet Sauvignon from Sheridan Vineyards in Yakima Valley, Washington. The Yakima Valley AVA, established in 1983, was the first AVA established in Washington State. It’s part of the larger Columbia Valley that garnered AVA status the following year, in 1984. Widely planted varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Syrah. The region is also known for growing Cascade hops, which are very highly regarded and sought after according to my beer-brewing friend.

The nose is fruity towards jammy, with floral notes and hints of green bell pepper and herbs. On the palate plum, cherry, and currants abound with afterthoughts of licorice and tobacco. Many of the Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon wines we’ve tried have been lighter in body than their California counterparts. Not so with Crossfork Creek; it’s squarely down the middle as a medium bodied Cab. The medium-length finish has some bright acidity balanced with oak and light tannins. Overall, Crossfork Creek is well worth the under $20 price.

Grilled Shrimp-Stuffed Portobello Mushroom

Grilled Shrimp-Stuffed Portobello Mushroom

Our roving palates resulted in another recipe mash up and the offspring looks like a stuffed Portobello mushroom and tastes a bit like New Orleans style barbecue shrimp.  This experiment was more the result of a wine-fueled brainstorm motivated by the boredom of our typical Portobello mushroom recipes than the invention of variations simply because we’re missing a few ingredients and are forced to make substitutions. The shrimp and Panko stuffing soaked in the buttery Creole seasonings is the highlight of this recipe.

I use my trusty grapefruit spoon to scoop out the gills.

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Cook the onion and garlic and set aside. Reuse the pan to cook the shrimp.

Heat the oil, butter, Worcestershire, and seasonings. Add Panko, shrimp, and onion. Reuse the pan, less dishes!

Mix with cheese and bacon bits. Stuff into mushrooms and top with cheese (or add cheese halfway through grilling.)

 

Ingredients

  • 2 Portobello mushrooms with stems and gills removed
  • 4-5 large shrimp
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup of Panko
  • 1 shallot or small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon bacon bits
  • 2 teaspoons of Andy Roo’s Louisiana BBQ Shrimp Creole Seasoning
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup shredded mozzarella
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions

  1. Clean the mushrooms and remove the grills with a grapefruit spoon. Baste the outside with olive oil.
  2. In a medium-sized pan, cook the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil. Set aside.
  3. Using the same pan, cook the shrimp is salted water. As soon as they are pink and curled, remove them and cut them into small pieces. Pour the water in the drain.
  4. In the same pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. When the butter is melted, add the Creole seasoning and Worcestershire sauce. Cook on low heat for one minute.
  5. In the pan, stir in the small pieces of shrimp, onion, and Panko. Allow the Panko to absorb the oils.
  6. Meanwhile, beat the egg in a mixing bowl. Add the mixture from the pan to the egg and stir in the Parmesan cheese and bacon bits. If the mixture is too wet, add a little more Panko. Stuff into mushrooms.
  7. Grill mushrooms on medium-high heat, adding the cheese topping about halfway through. Mushrooms are done when they are tender and the cheese is melted, less than 10 minutes.

Variations:

·       Instead of shrimp and bacon bits, use 3 slices of cooked bacon cut into small pieces.

·       Add large slices of tomato under the cheese and top with Italian herbs.

·       Swap out the Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses for Gorgonzola or Blue cheese

Michele Chiarlo Palás Barolo 2010

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Our old Monday through Friday work schedule that I irritably referred to as “up at six, home at six”, deserved to be rewarded with Friday night dinner and drinks at one of our favorite local haunts. Thankfully, our routine is much easier now but the Friday mindset of rewarding ourselves for wrapping up another work week has remained constant. In keeping with the traditions of a Boozy Lifestyle, if we aren’t treating ourselves to a meal at a restaurant, we must at least splurge on a good bottle of wine.

We’re drinking the 2010 vintage of Michele Chiarlo Palás Barolo in 2017. The violet-rimmed ruby color pour that is characteristic of young Nebbiolo has changed to a translucent brick-orange over seven years of aging.

Barolo Palas Michele Chiarlo

Have you ever had a first impression of someone with your nose instead of your eyes? This wine attracts you with a delicious and intriguing scent. With all of its aromatic complexity, I’m having trouble identifying the many facets of its bouquet individually.  Oodles of dried fruits mingle with licorice candy and fresh spring roses. Not to take away from the enjoyment on the palate, but the nose on this Barolo is by far my favorite aspect.

The wine is light-bodied on the palate, tasting of dried apricot, prune and currants. The initial dried fruit flavors are followed by bright acidity with tangy cranberry flavors. On the finish, the brightness lingers along with soft tannins. This northern Italian varietal has some similarities to Pinot Noir in body and mouth-feel.

The winemaker, Michele Chiarlo, began producing wine in 1956 in Piedmont, Italy. Today, he runs the business with his two sons, Stefano and Alberto. “Palás” is a Piedmontese word meaning palace of luxury. After browsing the Michele Chiarlo website, I get the impression that Palás is a fancy label given to one of the wineries more budget-friendly collections. But no matter how you slice it, Barolo is still one of the most prestigious wines of Italy.

An easy way to remember some of Italy’s great wines are the three big B’s: Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello di Montalcino. Barolo and Barbaresco, produced in the Piedmont region in northwest Italy, are made from the Nebbiolo grape. A difficult grape to cultivate, Nebbiolo is most successful in Piedmont’s cool climate, low rainfall, and autumn fog. Brunello, the pride of Tuscany, is made from the Sangiovese grape. The Sangiovese variety that is grown around the village of Montalcino is called Brunello. This area, located south of the Chianti Classico zone, is drier and warmer than Chianti. In this terroir, the Brunello variety of Sangiovese produces deep-color, full-bodied wines with balanced tannins. Whether you prefer the delicate quality of Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco or the robust character of Brunello, you can’t go wrong with any of Italy’s three big B’s.