Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mixed Drinks for the Holidays

I always tell people I'm not much of a drinker--and I'm not--but that doesn't keep me from having the occasional glass of wine or champagne or a cocktail. I enjoy them, but on a small scale. So I'm usually resistant to pitches involving cocktails or their ingredients. But my friend Carolyn Kates at Whole Foods Hillcrest insisted I try some products they had in and when I spoke to her colleague, wine specialist Desiree Turchan, who also gave me some recipes, I was sold.

And since I go for chocolate even more than alcohol, I've also included a new find here that you can curl up with in front of a fire.

So, let's get drinking!

To keep up with all the caviar I enjoyed last week, I needed to have friends come over and help me sample. What else to serve with caviar but some bubbly. I pulled out a bottle of prosecco, but instead of just serving it plain, I dropped in some beautiful wild hibiscus flowers in syrup. This is, in fact, what the label on the small jar calls them. Made in Australia, they are, indeed, wild hibiscus flowers marinating in a simple sugar water syrup which unfurl once they hit the liquid.

Be sure to eat the flower once you've drained the champagne flute. They're sweet and crunchy with a floral flavor!

Now, one of my issues currently with drinking much alcohol is that it has a high carb count. So imagine my surprise in learning about a new product called Bon Affair. Created by Solana Beach resident Jayla Siciliano, Bon Affair is a wine spritzer that comes in two varieties Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.

Now why a wine spritzer--and why this one when you can easily create your own? Well, 100 calories and 3 grams of carbs for an 8-ounce serving is a good start. Woo hoo! Let's party! These spritzers are made with California wine, and according to the company contain electrolytes, purified carbonated water, and natural flavors and extracts--no added sugar. And, oh so important, it tastes great. Not sweet; just sparkly and crisp. Here's a glass of the Sauv Blanc with the hibiscus flower in it.

Another flavor we added to our sparkling wines was a new shrub from The Gingered Pear. Shrubs, of course, are blends of flavored vinegar syrup. This Del Mar-based business uses cold pressing to allow the fruit to maintain its true flavor. They're succeeding. Their shrubs were named the best new product at the Hillcrest Whole Foods in 2013.

The flavor I tried was pomegranate ginger. We tasted it in the Bon Affair Sauv Blanc and in the prosecco and it was a hit. The fear was that it would be too sweet and/or overpower the bubbly. It did neither. It was wonderfully tart and acidic, adding a nice punch to the sparkles.

Then there was the bottle of Bar Keep organic bitters. The bitters are a collaboration between Greenbar Collective and U.S. bartenders. Flavors include apple, Chinese, fennel, and lavender. I took home the Marshall Altier (a New York mixologist) apple and a recipe for a fruit salad using the bitters from Desiree. Using these bitters to make a dressing for a simple fruit salad makes complete sense. With the flavors of caramelized apple and baking spices, a few dashes are perfect for a dessert. I riffed on it a bit, including half a pear and a mix of dried fruit instead of currants. But this is a perfectly riffable dish.

Fruit Salad with Apple Bitters
from Desiree Turchan
(printable recipe)

Makes 3 or 4 servings

1 pink lady apple, diced
2 fuyu persimmons, peeled and diced
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon grapeseed oil
5 dashes apple bitters

Dice the fruit and add to bowl. Whisk together the cinnamon, honey, oil, and bitters. Toss dressing with fruit.

Thanks to the apple and cinnamon, it reminds me of a Passover harosets. It's sweet and crunchy and oh so aromatic.

But, of course, you'll want a cocktail recipe, too. I got one from Desiree that uses the Chinese bitters.

Chinese Mule
from Desiree Turchan

2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce apple fennel shrub
6 to 8 dashes Chinese bitters
2 to 4 ounces ginger beer

Mix the first three ingredients together, shake, and strain. Top with ginger beer.

Okay, so how about you adult nondrinkers? Or those adults who just love hot chocolate? A Massachusetts company called Taza has created intriguing chocolate flavors reminiscent of Ibarra Mexican chocolate. They are even molded and packaged in the familiar disc format. The stone-ground, organic chocolate is the brainchild of founder Alex Whitmore, who while traveling through Oaxaca, Mexico, became so inspired by the chocolate and chocolate-making methodology that he decided to open his own factory in Massachusetts. The company practices ethical cacao sourcing and established a third-party Direct Trade Cacao Certification program. But none of this matters unless the flavors are good. And, they are. They make about a dozen flavors. I picked up the Guajillo Chili and Spiked Eggnog packages and made hot cocoa with each.

I'm sold on these two at least. Now these are very sophisticated flavors (others include coffee, ginger, salted almond, orange, and salt and pepper). So they aren't really for young kids. But adults will love this chocolate, which can also be used for baking or just eating out of hand. The site has lots of recipe suggestions.

With so many options for celebrating the holidays, I doubt you'll go thirsty.

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