Thursday, November 25, 2010

Have a Cosmopolitan Thanksgiving

After writing yesterday about how a particular cranberry sauce reminded me of a cosmo, I realized that the same thought must have occurred to someone else....

Happy Thanksgiving,

Barbara and Mary

From Epicurious:

Cosmopolitan Cranberry Sauce

This vibrant condiment takes its inspiration from the popular cocktail the Cosmopolitan. The alcohol heightens the sauce’s flavor, but for kids and nondrinkers, the recipe can easily be made nonalcoholic by substituting orange juice for the water and deleting the vodka and liqueur.

1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup vodka
3 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Triple Sec [or Cointreau]

In a heavy saucepan over moderate heat, combine cranberries, sugar, and ½ cup water. Bring to boil, stirring often to dissolve sugar, then reduce heat to moderately low and simmer, stirring often, until thickened and reduced to about 3 cups, about 15 minutes.

Transfer to medium bowl and cool, stirring often, until tepid, about 30 minutes. Stir in vodka and liqueur. Transfer to serving bowl, cover, and refrigerate until chilled and set, at least 2 hours. (Sauce can be made up to 2 weeks ahead and refrigerated.) Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Karaoke and Cosmos, Texas-Style

Everything is bigger in Texas. How much bigger? When I made cosmos for my sister Laura’s 8th annual karaoke party earlier this month, instead of using a shot glass I used a measuring cup.

Traditionally, Laura only serves beer, wine or soda at these events, but last year she served a pitcher of margaritas to go with the chili that was on menu. I was the bartender and wound up making two or three small pitchers of them, at most. But Laura still liked the idea of a signature cocktail for this year. Because cosmos are alliteratively compatible with karaoke, in addition to being delicious, was the cocktail of choice.

I made up a big batch starting with six cups of vodka. (Even though Laura, like I, prefers gin, we agreed that many people do not, so we went with the traditional recipe.) When I was done, the decanter was too full to add any ice too and would have been to heavy to shake even if I could have, so we stuck it in a giant tub of ice.

That decanter held about 32 drinks, and there were about 32 people coming. Everyone would have one, or some people would have none and others would have two. Either way, we figured we’d have plenty.

What we did not figure on was the need to send someone out for more ingredients.

The cosmos were more popular than Laura’s rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” and that is saying something. Except for the guy who returned his for being not cold enough (which, frankly it wasn’t right then — he got the first one poured), people loved them.

Was it the cosmos or just coincidence that long-established permanent audience members (that is, enthusiastic boosters who never sang) found themselves onstage, microphone in hand, for the very first time? One of those people says she was just holding the microphone and mouthing the words, but it was still something the crowd never thought they’d see.

As great as my trip to Dallas was, there were two cosmo-related low points. The first came when I realized that during the post-party cleanup a quart of cosmos got poured down the sink. (Yes, I do remember dumping half a pitcher of margaritas last year, but this was totally different because those were margaritas and these were COSMOS, two of which I intended to drink when I got back to Laura’s — I was driving and so not drinking during the party.)

The second incident came the night after the party when a group of us went to my favorite barbecue restaurant, Smoke, for the second time in three days. Since I wasn’t driving, I ordered a "Real Deal" Cranberry Cosmo: vodka, Cointreau, fresh lime, cranberry juice and grenadine; I replaced the vodka with gin. Served in a large Tom Collin’s glass, it didn’t look anything like a cosmo, or taste like one either. I didn’t even bother to drink it.

So actually, I didn’t even really get to have a Texas-style cosmo. What would that be, anyway? Maybe it should involve jalapenos? I made a roasted cranberries with jalapenos dish last Thanksgiving that reminded me a little of cosmos. Hmmm. Maybe next year.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make...Gin and Tonics?

The official drink of the group who gets together to watch Project Runway is not cosmos even though Barbara and I are the charter members. It’s gin and tonics, because one really hot night a few summers ago when Barbara came over to watch the premier of the third season, even though it conflicted with Lost. Having a cool cocktail seemed like the thing to do. I filled up a 16-ounce glass with ice, tonic, added a short shot of gin and a slice of lime and called that a gin and tonic, though it was really gin-flavored tonic, which seemed appropriate for a weeknight when there was work or 6 a.m. swimming practice the next day.

Before too long, the P-Run group had grown to include Barbara M., another Mary S. plus Sue and Carol. (I always say we need a Linda and Debbie to round out our “born in the 50s” names.) The big-gulp-sized gin and tonics were a big hit. We did taste tests with three different tonics (Schweppes won, with Seagram’s second and Canada Dry last) and later added diet tonic to the menu. As for gin, sometimes the bottle is green, sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it’s clear plastic. We don’t really care.

But we must have limes. If whoever is hosting doesn’t have limes, a panicked email goes out requesting that someone bring one. The result is an abundance of limes, because everyone brings one or two rather than risk doing without. If we didn’t have limes, I don’t think we’d bother with gin and tonics.

Which leads me to Little Bee, by Chris Cleave.* One of the characters is a bit of lush whose drink is gin and tonic with lemon. Lemon? At first I thought it must be a misprint. Bad editing. Then I thought maybe the preference for lemon was an idiosyncrasy of this one British character that would horrify the rest of the people in a country known for their love of gin and tonics.

So I checked and found this in a London newspaper blog: “Only lemon properly complements a gin and tonic.”

That’s the headline of a post at the Telegraph’s site by Gerald Warner, a “author, broadcaster, columnist and polemical commentator who writes about politics, religion, history, culture and society in general.” An excerpt:

“Gin and tonic with a slice of lime, sir? Leave it out! And I really do mean, leave it out. Of all the proliferating evidence that the world has gone to the demnition bow-wows, the most incontrovertible is the pervasive practice of poisoning gin and tonic with slices of lime. Ugh. Is nothing sacred? A proper gin and tonic is served with a slice of LEMON.”**

He goes on to point out that an enforced consumption of lime juice provoked mutiny on the “Bounty,” and says one can see Fletcher Christian’s point.

The letters to the editor about the post are heavily pro-lime, but that could be because the smug pro-lemon contingent finds addressing the issue as distasteful as the lime itself. There is plenty to read in support of both sides, and while I’m inclined to stay with limes, you never know.

P-Run ladies, another taste test is in order. When does season 9 start?

Literary footnotes:

*I loved Little Bee until the end, which was also true of the book I read before it, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and after, One Day. Three in a row where my enthusiasm lasted until the very last pages. For Edgar Sawtelle, that was my own fault – the book has themes out of Hamlet, how did I think it was going to end? – but for the other two I hold the authors responsible.

**“The world has gone to the demnition bow-wows” is apparently a quote from Charles Dickens, who used the word “demnition” a lot. I’ve never heard it before, and it took me a while to find a definition. It means “hot.” The one source I finally found says it’s American, which makes me wonder how the dickens Dickens knew it and I did not.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Searching Like Scientists Search

The Scientific Method is a process for experimentation used to explore observations and answer questions. It follows laws of logic first defined by Aristotle. It was used by Watson and Crick to determine the double-helix structure of DNA. And it was what Barbara and I used to uncover some insights into the cosmos.

Step One: Ask a Question

Since Mary will not get off the Triple Sec train, how can we use Triple Sec to make a cosmo Barbara will like?

Step Two: Background Research

Sweetness is Barbara's issue; we looked into elements of the drink that impart sweetness and thought about how to counterbalance that. We researched what kinds of bottled lime juice would provide the convenience of Rose's without the added sugar and investigated unsweetened cranberry juice. We found unsweeted key lime juice and, as Barbara had previously discovered, a tart Trader Joe's cranberry juice.

Step Three: Construct Hypothesis

If we use no-sugar-added Trader Joe's cranberry juice and either fresh lime juice or unsweetened bottled key lime juice to mitigate the sweetness factor, then we'll have a just-tart-enough version of the classic Rose's-Cointreau version.

Step Four: Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment

We filled one cocktail shaker using a recipe involving two shots of gin, one shot of Triple Sec, a shot of fresh lime and a short shot of unsweetened cranberry juice. At the same time under the same exact conditions we filled another shaker using the same recipe, but replacing fresh lime juice with bottled key lime juice.

Step Five: Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion

The hypothesis was false. The distinctive taste of ReaLemon that makes it an unpleasant substitute for fresh lemon juice is also found in bottled lime juice and was present and overwhelming in the drink. Fresh lime juice was better, but both drinks were mouth-puckering tart almost to the point of being undrinkable. Of course we drank them, in the interest of science.

Step Six: Communicate Your Results

That's what this blog is for.

Clearly more work needs to be done. We are laundering our lab coats and getting ready for the next round.