Sunday, September 14, 2008

Adventures in Vodka: Crop Organic Tomato Vodka

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Originally uploaded by nikoretro
Yes, yes, I've been slacking and haven't written much for a while. Be it laziness, drunkenness, busyness or the three combined, writing just hasn't been in the cards lately. But I have come to the keyboard today to attempt to redeem myself by introducing the blog world to Crop Organic Tomato Vodka.

Harvest Earth has created a line of certified organic vodkas that are silky smooth and and brilliantly flavored. Vegetable flavored vodkas are on the cutting edge of cocktail culture and these guys are at the top of the curve.

Crop Vodkas are made with USDA certified organically grown corn, distilled and bottled in Minnesota. It is distilled many times to remove impurities and does not require charcoal filtering. The result is good ol' American made artisanal vodka with a vegetarian flair.

Tomato or Cucumber flavored vodka may not sound appealing to you, but to a skilled "bar chef" it sounds like a garden full of possibilities. I was brainstorming about Caprese and gazpacho cocktails soon after tasting these vegan libations.

The tomato flavored vodka smells like tomato soup and tastes like a fresh tomato just snapped off the vine. The cucumber vodka is irresistibly clean and cool and once again, tastes just like the Cucurbitaceae it's made from.

There are many drink recipes on the Crop Vodka website, but here are a few of my own:

Crop Tomato & Tonic (pictured above)
Fill a pint glass with ice
Add 1-1 1/2 oz Crop Organic Tomato Vodka
Fill with tonic, stir and garnish with grape tomatoes

Crop Gazpacho Martini
Peel, seed and freeze enough cucumber and tomato slices to fit in a sandwich size freezer bag.
In a blender add:
4 ice cubs
a bagful of frozen cucumbers and tomatoes
1 1/2 oz Crop Organic Tomato Vodka
1 1/2 oz Crop Organic Cucumber Vodka
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 fresh basil leaves
a little fresh ground pepper
Blend until smooth
fill 2 martini glasses and garnish with a cucumber wheel

I have more recipes milling in the ol noggin but I need to do some more experimenting before I can confidently post more recipes. Do some experimenting of your own and leave your recipes for these veggie voddy's in my comments.

Za Vas!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Belgian Drafts: Lindeman's Pomme Lambic

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Originally uploaded by nikoretro
Every once in a while I have a flash of culinary inspiration. I tasted this apple lambic for the first time a few weeks ago and knew instantly that my husband would enjoy this sweet-tart Belgian beer. He loves anything with a sour apple flavor and this delicious lambic is like a Jolly Rancher for adults.

With it's fresh Granny Smith tartness, I knew it would also be ace for cooking with. My first thought went to salmon since we could use to work more fish into our diet. Then (**inspired!**) I thought this could make a gorgeously tangy broth to steam mussels and clams in. A nip of curry powder for some savory spice and voila! How's that for a slice of steamed gold?

This is what I did:

1 whole fresh salmon fillet equaling 1lb+
1lb fresh, cleaned mussels
1lb fresh, cleaned little neck clams
1 apple, sliced (I used one Granny Smith and one red delicious and had slices left over, but it was wonderfully colorful)
3-4oz apple juice
3-4oz Lindeman's Pomme (apple) Lambic
approx. 1-2 tsp curry powder to taste
pinch of kosher salt
heavy tin foil or 1 large foil baking bag (these work perfectly)
crusty bread for happy broth dipping

Preheat the oven to 450. Skin the salmon if necessary (you may be able to sweet talk the guy behind the fish counter to do it for you if you think you'd muck it up), and cut the fish cross ways into 3-4 oz pieces. You should be able to get 4 to 6 portions out of one side of salmon. Sprinkle a little curry powder on the fish and set aside. Thoroughly rinse the clams and mussels and discard any shellfish with cracked shells or don't close when tapped on. The rule with shellfish: closed shell when alive; open shell when cooked. Your tummy will thank you for obeying that little tip.

Create a large bag with heavy duty foil by folding a lagre sheet in half and folding the sides over at least 3 times leaving one side open. Or just open a foil baking bag for no fuss steaming. Place the baking bag on a baking sheet with a 1/4 inch lip to catch any drips that may occur while cooking. Dust the inside of the baking bag with a little pinch of four to keep things from sticking to the top or bottom of the bag. Sprinkle a little curry powder in the bottom of the bag. Slice the apple(s) and place one slice on top of each piece of fish, then arrange the rest on the bottom of the bag. Distribute the shellfish around the bottom as flat as possible so you have room for the salmon. Fold a lip at the bottom of the open end of the bag to catch the liquid you are about to pour in and add the apple juice and lambic (I used a shot glass to measure 1oz at a time until it looked like there was enough liquid covering the bottom). Then arrange the salmon on top of the shellfish. Fold to close up the open end of the bag and pop the whole shebang into the oven for 20 to 30 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Don't be afraid to peek in the bag after 15 minutes to check the progress. The shellfish may not be completely ready when the fish is. If all the shells have not opened yet, set the fish aside and pour the contents of the bag into a large covered skillet or pot. Bring sauce to a boil and cover for a moment or two. Uncover and stir the shells around to coat everything in the broth and to check that all the shells are completely open. Discard the few shells that do not open. Turn off stove and sprinkle a pinch of salt in the broth if needed and pour the shellfish into a big serving bowl. Sprinkle a small pinch of salt over the fish and spoon a little broth over each piece. I cooked up a little rice pilaf to go on the plate with the fish but almost any starch can suffice. Scoop shellfish and sauce into bowls, grab a hunk of bread and dig in. Oh, and don't forget to pour yourself a glass of the Pomme Lambic to wash it all down with.

My husband gave me a little nose wrinkle when I told him I was making mussels. He doesn't like them much unless they're in certain sauces, and he couldn't quite wrap his head around how mussels would taste in an apple curry broth. However, he didn't seem to have much trouble wrapping his mouth around it once the food hit the plate.

I have a feeling I will write a little series on the many fruits of Lindeman's lambics. Now that I have tried the pomme, I'm anxious to try the rest, which include: Framboise (raspberry), Kriek (cherry), Pêche (peach), and Cassis (black currant).

But I have gone on far too long to talk more about lambic right now. If you discover a lambic in your local liquor outlet, try it out. If you like a fizzy, fruity alcoholic beverage that's not quite beer and not quite wine, lambics could become a new obsession.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bubbly Bits: Cristalino Cava

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Originally uploaded by nikoretro
I love bubby! French to American, brut to demi-sec, I love it all. Not that every bottle of bubbly out there is wonderful, but there are oh so many that are. Unfortunately, I don't have the budget that affords Champagne every night of the week so I'm always on the hunt for great sparklers under $10. This is one of them.

Cristalino is a Spanish Cava by Jaume Serra. Cava's can be pink or white and come from the Penedès region of Catalonia (Spain). The rocky Penedès lie about 40 km south of Barcelona where only certain grape varieties are grown to make Cava. The Denominación de Origen laws require Cava's to be made from a blend of the following grapes: Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel·lo, Trepat, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Subirat.

Cristalino Brut Rosé is made from 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Trepat, made traditionally with the secondary fermentation in the bottle. The classic Cristalino Brut is made from 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada and 15% Xarel-lo. Both are crisp, clean, fruity and delicious; perfect for your wedding toast or for serving lots of guests on a little budget. They are true crowd pleaser's. And though lovely on their own, you don't feel bad about using the Brut for Mimosas or Champagne cocktails.

So the next time you need a little sparkle in your life, give this beauty a try. It's perfect for those everyday special occasions.

Cristalino Cava Brut: The fine foam supports aromas of fresh bread crust and apple skin which give way to crisp McIntosh apple and light toasty flavors on the palate. Crisp acidity and subtle minerality make this a refreshing summer sparkler.

Cristalino Brut Rosé: Juicy watermelon and fresh berry flavors burst through the bubbles on your palate. The deep pink color suggests it spent some time with the skins which adds a little tannin that allows this sparkler to stand up to many foods. Try it with salmon dishes or Old Bay laced Maryland crab cakes.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Inviting cordial of the week: Patron XO Cafe

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Originally uploaded by nikoretro
I have a real problem with this stuff. The problem is, I can't get enough of it!

Patron XO Cafe is a premium coffee cordial made with Patron Silver tequila. I don't know what kind of coffee they use, but regardless, it kicks Kahlua's butt! XO Cafe is rich and sweet with the best coffee flavor I've ever tasted in a coffee liqueur. At 35%, this packs a little more punch than your average coffee cordial but the alcohol is completely in balance with the sweet coffee goodness.

I have come across a few die-hard Kahlua drinkers who think it's too strong, but most people I pour a sip for love it. For that matter, most buy a bottle immediately after they taste this little luxury.

Speaking of luxury, you probably assume that like most Patron products, it's not cheap. Happily, it's one of the least expensive items in their profile. With Patron's tequila's ranging from $50 to $60 per fifth (excluding the pricy Patron Platinum of course), XO Cafe weighs in at a paltry $23-25. And pint's are available for a measly $14.

Many bars and restaurants now serve XO and bartenders are discovering it's mixability. Though it's perfect straight or on the rocks, it's delicious mixed with Baileys (which I call an Irish Mexican) or with half and half. However, it's not so good in coffee. It just tastes like you just put tequila in your coffee. Not exciting. But pour it over chocolate, vanilla or coffee ice cream and prepare to melt. YUM! I have not gotten to play much with the mixology of this lovely liqueur but I'm sure there are a million other concoctions to come up with. If you discover a delicious drink made with XO, drop the recipe in my comments.
Till then...

Keep on Buzzin!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pinot File: Cono Sur Pinot Noir

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Originally uploaded by nikoretro
Sideways caused a craze, but pop-culture or no, I've always loved Pinot Noir. Coincidentally, I've always hated F-ing Merlot.

Honestly, the first time I tasted Pinot I found it to be too dry and have a slightly thin texture that I didn't like. However, it was the first red wine I ever tried. It just wasn't fat and fruity enough for me back in my vino infancy. I tried a glass Kenwood, Jack London Zinfandel after that and it was love at first sip. It took a while for my palate to develop a taste for Pinot, but as I tasted more and learned more about it, I grew more of an appreciation for this fickle little grape and all its delicious subtleties.

If you want to gain some Pinot perspective yourself, this wine is a good step without spending a lot of money on a wine that is not the fruit bomb you're used to.

There are many Pinot Noir's out there for around $10, but most of them don't taste much like Pinot. Many lesser expensive Pinot's are commonly fortified with Syrah, but they don't have to mention that fact unless it contains more than 25%. Adding Syrah will beef up the fruitiness of a Pinot, but more importantly, it beef's up the overall yield so producers can get more bottles out of one harvest.

If this inexpensive Pinot contains any Syrah, it doesn't matter because it still tastes like Pinot Noir.

Vina Cono Sur is located in Chimbarongo, Chile and they strive to produce some of the best Pinot Noir in Chile. Although the bottle I tried is from their "good value" profile, they definitely know what they're doing with Pinot. Burgundian producer Martin Prieur was brought to Chile to choose the best places to plant Pinot grapes and teach them classic Burgundian winemaking techniques.

Though Vina Cono Sur produce very fine and expensive Pinot Noirs, some of that juice undoubtedly goes into this bottle that I got for $11. This Pinot exhibits lovely flavors of pomegranate, bright cherry and black tea. The tannins are as subtle as they should be and there is just enough oak to give it some roundness and a bit of spice. Though the reddish-purple hue and the medium body style suggests that there may indeed be some Syrah in this bottle, it remains an inexpensive and fruit forward introduction to Pinot Noir.

But this is not just an introductory Pinot. It's an easy drinker and great for every day meals or just leisurely sipping. Pinot newbies and Pinot pros alike will love this Chilean beauty. And coming in under $15 makes it all the easier to love.

Brewer of the week: Oskar Blues

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Originally uploaded by nikoretro
Oskar Blues brews are the outdoorsmans best friend. Or at least that's what they designed them to be.

The Lyons, Colorado based brewery creates craft style beers in easily carried-in, carried-out cans. Now I can't say that I am much of a fan of canned beer, but pour one of these powerful malts into a collapsible cup and you'd never know it came out of a can. No filling tingling trace flavors of aluminum to be found.

While "Dales Pale Ale" and "Old Chub Scottish Ale" have been around for a while now, the newcomer "Ten FIDY Imperial Stout" was released last year. It's a rich mocha-choc-o-latey, malty stout with the consistency of fine motor oil and enough alcohol content to make the toughest lumberjack tipsy. "Ten FIDY" weighs in at a hefty 10% ABV. But don't let the high alcohol content scare you, all the Oskar Blues cans contain a powerful punch with enough flavor to balance out the bite.

Unfortunately, these cans carry the price tag of craft beer, not crap beer. Most varieties are pushing $9.99 per six pack in these parts. "Ten FIDY" is around $14 for a 4 pack. Is it worth it? I think so, but taste them and decide for yourself. Ask your local liquor store beer geek if they host beer tastings. If so, Oskar Blues distributors are happy to pour samples to change the way you think about canned beers.

So the next time your loading up the Jeep for a weekend in the mountains or a day at the beach, toss some Oskar Blues cans in your cooler. I promise it will be the best can of beer you'll ever crush on your forehead.

Visit: for more info.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Classic Cocktail of the Week: Cachaça

Hello and welcome to my first "of the week" feature. I've decided to highlight one cocktail, wine and beer each week, but this all hinges on how much I've had to drink of said beverage before writing. Expect numerous spelling mistakes and poorly punctuated run on sentences.

Tonight, I have revisited the wonderful land of Brazil and their national drink of choice: Cachaça. Particularly, in the classic cocktail, the

Caipirinha are easier to make than to pronounce. I hope I don't offend my Brazilian friend by saying it is pronounced like, Ky-fe-reen-ya. However you say it, it's the most deliciously refreshing drink ever! All you need is a good Brazilian
Cachaça like 51 (around $20 in many liquor stores), a muddler, fresh limes and some fine or quick dissolve sugar. Raw or Demara sugar can work too. Here's how you make it:

Slice a whole lime in half and place it into 4-8 oz. lowball glass.
Add 2 teaspoons of quick
dissolve sugar and muddle until the lime is juiced and the sugar is mostly dissolved.
Fill the glass with crushed ice and pour in 2 oz. of Cachaça.
Give it a a quick shake in a Boston shaker or give it a good stir.
Then sip and enjoy!

The sweet, sour and slightly smoky combination is a margarita lovers dream. I think many gin and tonic fans may enjoy the Cipirinha too.

If you've been to Brazil and didn't have Caipirinha or some other Cachaça based cocktail, you didn't really experience Brazil. During Carnival, you practically live on Cachaça for 4 nights. The beauty part about Cachaça is that hangovers are rare if you stick to the popular Caipirinha. Must be all the vitamin C in the lime juice. I can personally attest to drinking quite a bit of Cachaça at my friends wedding reception and feeling fine the next day. My friend and his Brazilian wife were over this evening for a cookout and we had a few cold shots of
Cachaça with our beers and I'm feeling fine after 4 shots. I never feel fine after 4 shots of anything! Have I mentioned my puke queen status?

Speaking of 4 shots, I'm about ready to sleep it off so I'll wrap it up.

So the next time you're in a Brazilian restaurant like Fogo De Chao, or a hip cocktail joint, order a Caipirinha. Or check you local liquor store for
Cachaça and make one yourself. You may be able to find minis of some Cachaça brands so you can try it before you drop 20 bucks or more on a fifth of something you don't like.

Either way, keep your eye out for
Cachaça and give it a shot, or 2 or 4. It goes down easy and tends to be easier on you than a night of Jager-bombs.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Bottle One

Hello and welcome to my first booze blog. I'm on my second Capt-n-Coke already so don't expect much ;-)

I guess I should introduce myself before we get too far. Hello, my name is Sheri the Bartemptress. I have been working in bars and restaurants since the law allowed me to consume alcohol. Currently, I'm an assistant manager for a large wine and liquor store in Maryland. I specialize in wine but I live for creative cocktails. Beer is great but I feel the same way about beer as I do about cheese; some things I like and some things I don't, but I'm always ready to try something new. In my line of work, my palate never gets bored. I try up to 60 new wines every week, as well as tasting whatever liquors and beers my distributor reps are toting along. It's a hard job, but someone's gotta do it.

I hope to be a dedicated designated blogger, but there's only so much time in a day. I've been tasting some awesome stuff lately and have had some cocktail epiphany's after tasting some new vodka's that are just hitting the market. But more on that next time my little booze hounds.