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Easy Street

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When the weather gets warm, I like to relax in the back yard with a clear cocktail in one hand and a book or magazine in the other. My favorite drinks are those that are easy to shake up, have fresh produce muddled in and of course whichever liquor I’ve chosen that day. While my first choice for summer drinking are classics like the mojito or margarita, every so often I’ll be creative and put a twist on a vintage drink.

There’s only one rule I have when creating cocktails: use real ingredients. I use juices from real lemons and limes not those little plastic versions. I like classic bitters like Angostura or Peychauds, and simple syrups I’ve made from sugar and water. After all, I believe the best cocktails come from the best ingredients. Sure, it’s easier to buy a mixer and take out all the extra work, but I’ve never been able to find a mixer that tastes good. They’re all too sweet thanks to the abundant amounts of sugar or have weird, fake aftertastes because of the artificial flavoring from ingredients I’ve never heard of. So, I put in the extra time and get great tasting cocktails as a benefit. But thanks to Be Mixed, that’s all about to change.

Be Mixed

See, I recently discovered not one, but three mixers that are unlike any I’ve ever had. Be Mixed is a company that believes in substance rather than flash. They have a margarita mix, a ginger lime and my favorite: their cucumber mint. Drinking the cucumber mint as a mocktail with a little club soda, reminded me of all those infused waters I love sipping when I’m at the pool or lounging in the jacuzzi at the spa. It was actually those subtle cucumber notes that made me want to take it straight to the beach with a lounge chair and umbrella. And if it’s that good on its own, I knew it would be even better with gin or vodka. I was right. But then I decided to take it one step further.

Remember how I said I loved cocktails with muddled produce? Well, I muddled some fresh cucumber and mint with a little simple syrup. Then because sometimes a flavored vodka is better than plain, I added cucumber vodka. See, I knew the cucumber flavoring in the vodka would highlight those same flavors in the mixer and turn what could have been a standard cocktail into a refreshing summer drink.

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But it’s not just Be Mixed flavors that keep me coming back. The fact that these mixers don’t have any weird after taste since they only use real ingredients is a huge plus. It’s also gluten-free since Be Mixed gets its sweetness from monkfruit, a vine-ripened fruit native to Asia, and stevia. What makes it the ideal mixer for summer though, is its size. Sure, you could get a 25 ounce bottle to store in your refrigerator for your own personal use, but those cute little four-ounce bottles make it the obvious choice for day-trips to the beach, an outdoor concert or even your friend’s barbecue.

So this summer, make sure you have a bottle or two of Be Mixed in your travel bar. I’ve already stocked mine and I couldn’t be happier. Between the Easy Streets, Southsides and Moscow Mules, I’d say my summer sipping is going to be fantastic!

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Easy Street

Ingredients:

  • 8 mint leaves, torn
  • 3-4 slices Persian cucumber
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 2 ounces cucumber vodka
  • 2 ounces Be Mixed Cucumber Mint

Directions:

  1. Place the mint leaves and sliced cucumber in a cocktail shaker. Add the simple syrup and lime juice and muddle together.
  2. Add the vodka and Be Mixed Cucumber Mint. Add ice and shake vigorously until chilled, about 15 seconds.
  3. Strain into a chilled collins glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a slice of cucumber and sprig of mint and serve.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. Be Mixed provided me with the mixers for recipe testing. As always, any opinion expressed is my own and is not influenced in any way by the manufacturer/PR firm as I only review products that I have personally tested and endorse.

Green Garlic Crostini

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I’m a huge garlic fan. I use it in just about everything from spaghetti sauce to stews. I even roast it and spread it on toast. But last year I discovered something called green garlic. It’s a younger version of garlic which means it’s not quite as potent. But just because it’s not strong, doesn’t mean you still can’t use it the same way you use its older sibling.

It’s great braised, sautéed, grilled or roasted. You can also use it raw in salads, pestos or dressings. But what I really liked about the green garlic is how fresh it is. I mean, it’s still got the spice you’re used to, but it’s not nearly as overpowering. Actually if I could say spring had a flavor, I’d say it would probably taste a lot like green garlic. It’s fresh and light, but with a sharp tang that really wakes up the senses. Harvested before the bulb has a chance to form, green garlic can often be mistaken for scallions (also known as green onions) but the stalks of the garlic are flat where the stalks for the onions are round.

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Like mature garlic or scallions, the green garlic pairs well with just about everything, but goes best with seafood and pasta, as well as cheese, onions and tomatoes. Since I like it best raw, I used it to make these crostinis. That burst of piquant spiciness pairs well with the mild flavors of a nice, soft goat cheese. When stirred together and allowed to set for a bit in the fridge, the flavors meld into a delicious spread that’s great on a nice piece of french bread or cracker.

If you’d like to try it, the next time you’re at the farmers market grab a bunch, but make sure you avoid those that have bruised or wilted stems. The bunches you grab should have dark green leaves, long white, pink, or purple bases and roots that are still intact. Once you’ve picked the right bunch, chop them up and add them to your next summer salad or grill them with your favorite vegetable. How ever you choose to use them, you’ll be thrilled with the flavor and as excited as I am every time spring comes around.

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Green Garlic Crostini (adapted from Blue Kitchen)

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces herbed goat cheese
  • 5 stalks green garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 baguette, sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat a grill to 300°F.
  2. Place the goat cheese in a medium bowl. Mince the green garlic, white and light green parts only. Mix the minced garlic into the goat cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile brush each slice of bread with a little olive oil on both sides and grill for about five minutes or until the bread is toasted and has nice grill marks. Transfer to a platter.
  4. Spread prepared garlic cheese on each baguette slice and serve.

Southside Cocktail

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Now that World Whiskey Day has passed, I can get back to those lighter gin and vodka cocktails that I love to drink during the summer. This one is super easy and you probably have all the ingredients you need right in your kitchen. It’s called a Southside. It’s similar to a Gimlet except this cocktail has sugar and mint to go with the gin and lime juice.

Gin, lime juice and mint? Kinda sounds like a mojito, right? That’s exactly what this classic is, except the rum has been replaced with gin. That gin adds sophistication to this drink, making it more appropriate for a nice summer luncheon with the ladies. As a matter of fact, when I think of this drink, it reminds me of Daisy sitting in that humid hotel in New York trying to get cool. Sure, they were drinking mint juleps in Fitzgerald’s story, but this cocktail would have worked just as well.

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You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about Daisy and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Well, that story took place in 20’s New York and this cocktail was originally imbibed in the 1890’s at Long Island’s Southside Sportsman’s Club where it was created. See, the tale goes that during the late 1800’s rich New York men came to Long Island to fish and hunt, and they would stay at an inn known for its Mint Juleps. Due to its popularity, that inn eventually became the Southside Sportsman Club, and those Juleps evolved into other mint drinks, including the Southside. If Fitzgerald had ever visited the Club, Tom, Daisy, Nick and Gatsby could have been sipping  Southside Cocktails in that famous novel instead of Mint Juleps.

While the Club no longer exists, you can still enjoy the cocktail at plenty a country club and watering hole alike. But if you’re not into hunting or don’t belong to  the local country club, don’t fret. Let the boys go play with the kids this weekend while you have the ladies over for a nice late lunch and sip on a Southside or two.

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Southside

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 8 mint leaves, torn

Directions:

  1. Place the mint and lime juice in a cocktail shaker and muddle together.
  2. Add the simple syrup and gin. Add ice and shake vigorously until chilled, about 15 seconds.
  3. Strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a mint leaf and serve.

Cherry Black Pepper Cake

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Every summer for the past 10 years, we’ve gone up north to Marin County to spend a week on the beach with my family. It’s a nice break from the hustle and bustle and (as long as it’s not fogged in) it’s a beautiful week with plenty of paddle boarding and swimming. Being up north means checking out the San Francisco Chronicle on a regular basis and that means getting a whole new list of recipes that I don’t usually get to see.

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Last year we were up there for my mom’s 70th birthday and while perusing the Chronicle, I spotted a dessert that sounded amazing. It was a Cherry Black Pepper Cake from Nik Sharma. Unfortunately, I had to wait a whole year before I could make it because cherries aren’t in season in Los Angeles in July. Down here, cherries are only around for about a month to six weeks starting in mid-May. And my favorite cherries, those Tartarians I’ve talked about, are around for even less time than that: about three weeks. So, as soon as those cherries showed up at the farmer’s market, I grabbed a basket and got to work.

I’m sure you’ve noticed this cake has black pepper in it. I know, black pepper? What’s a teaspoon of black pepper doing in a cake? When I read the recipe I was so confused. I mean, pepper belongs in an appetizer, a side dish, or an entreé. It doesn’t belong in a dessert. But I love cherries and the idea of a cherry cake with a little spice intrigued me. So, I took the plunge. After all I’d been waiting a year to make this cake, it seemed silly to back off now just because I wasn’t used to adding that much heat to a dessert. Sharma’s choice to use the pepper is genius. See, the cherries are so sweet, the pepper adds a nice spice that amplifies that sweet flavor.

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But those sweet and spicy flavors aren’t the only thing that made me want to make this cake. It also uses almond flour which gives the cake a subtle nuttiness that works well with the cherries and pepper. When all these flavors come together you get a cake that’s a perfect end to a nice summer meal or a backyard barbecue. So, while I was bummed I couldn’t make this dessert when I originally read the recipe last July, it was absolutely worth the wait.

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Cherry Black Pepper Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon flour
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon Cherry Heering
  • 2 cups pitted cherries

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, grease a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper.
  2. Sift together the 1-1/4 cups flour, almond flour, baking soda, baking powder, pepper and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together on low speed until combined. Add the eggs one at a time until mixed together.
  4. Mix in half the flour mixture. Mix in the milk and Cherry Heering. Then mix in the remaining flour until combined.
  5. Toss the cherries with the remaining teaspoon of flour. Fold the cherries into the cake.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes, rotating the pan half way through. When ready a toothpick should come out clean when inserted.
  7. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Then remove from the pan and let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Brooklyn Cocktail

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Tomorrow is World Whiskey day, so I thought I’d take a break from gin and vodka and bubbles and go back to what I love best: whiskey. Yes, I’m a huge whiskey girl. But not just any whiskey, I prefer bourbon or rye, which is a good thing because it just so happens that today’s classic cocktail uses rye.

I’ve only been been to New York twice, but both times I stayed in Brooklyn. It’s a great borough that has a ton going for it. There’s Park Slope which is a wonderful little neighborhood, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge and of course Peter Luger Steak House, which just happens to be one of the best steak houses in New York. Everyone talks about Manhattan, which is a wonderful city and I can’t wait to go back, but Brooklyn is definitely worth a visit as well. With all that going for the little borough, it’s no surprise there’s a cocktail named after it.

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If you haven’t heard of the Brooklyn before, that’s not a big surprise. See, there’s another cocktail out there that’s also made with rye. I know you’ve heard of it, you may have even tried it. It’s called the Manhattan. While the Manhattan is the older and more popular rye cocktail, don’t count out the Brooklyn. Where the Manhattan is sweet, the Brooklyn is much drier because the Brooklyn switches out the Manhattan’s sweet vermouth for dry. It’s true the Brooklyn uses Maraschino, but it’s only a quarter ounce. So, that sweet liqueur doesn’t makes the tipple sweet. Instead, it balances the drink out, allowing the rye to really shine.

The Brooklyn predates Prohibition but isn’t quite as old as the Manhattan. Created some time in the early 1900’s, it first showed up in print in J.A. Grohusko’s Jack’s Manual. It was popular for a time and then with Prohibition the drink disappeared. Unlike other pre-Prohibition drinks, the Brooklyn didn’t reappear with the repeal. Instead, it faded into obscurity, partly because one ingredient was so hard to find: Amer Picon. However, with the new cocktail renaissance, bartenders and mixologists are rediscovering old liquors and classic drinks. Amer Picon was one such liquor. Rediscovering Amer Picon meant rediscovering the Brooklyn. While the liquor is still difficult to find (unless you’re scouring the internet) orange or Angostura bitters makes a fine substitute. I still can’t wait to try the original, though.

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Brooklyn Cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce Amer Picon or 3-4 dashes orange bitters

Directions:

  1. Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until chilled.
  2. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and serve.