Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cocktail Night! - Brandy Alexander and Setting up your Home Bar

I'm on some medication right now that has to be taken by injection.  So far it hasn't really been a problem because Marc gives me the shots, and as long as I don't actually witness a needle piercing my skin, I don't have a problem with shots.  Well, I should have known this was coming someday, but Marc had to go out of town this weekend and I therefore had to give myself my own shot.  I practiced for a couple nights before he left so that he could catch me if I passed out, or hold my hair back if my stomach got a bit (ahem) unsettled.  It turned out to be fairly anticlimactic, but I was still terribly proud of myself for conquering that fear.  So on Saturday night when Marc was gone and I had to draw up my own injection and give myself the shot all by little old lonesome, I formulated the following if-then statement:

IF I successfully give myself my own shot, THEN I will have earned the right to eat a chocolate cupcake for dinner.

This is how my brain works.  Even my rewards are food-based.  And you have to admit, this is a pretty damn good prize.

You know what goes great with a decadent chocolate dessert?  Brandy Alexander.  This drink is another classic (circa early 20th century, I believe) that really doesn't need much tweaking because it's really good as-is, but I couldn't help myself from making a couple changes.  Speaking of as-is, the original version contains dark creme de cacao, heavy cream, and either brandy or cognac (which is just brandy made in a specific area of France).  To be honest, I've never tasted cognac and brandy back to back so I have no idea what subtle differences there are in the tastes.  I just keep brandy in my collection, and not even anything particularly top shelf.  I don't use it a whole heck of a lot, so just a cheapy, basic brandy suits me just fine.  I also don't have dark creme de cacao, just light, so that was what I used.  The major change I made was to substitute the heavy cream with ice cream, to make it even more creamy, cold and luscious.  Topped off with the traditional sprinkle of fresh ground nutmeg, it was seriously yummy, and not unlike having a nice cold glass of milk with my rich, chocolate cupcake.

Brandy Alexander

I would highly suggest chilling your cocktail glass in the freezer first, but of course that is optional.  I have one of those little Magic Bullet blenders and it is great for drinks like this where you aren't making a ton of stuff and don't want to get out your big blender.

1 scoop vanilla ice cream
1 oz. brandy or cognac
1 oz. creme de cacao

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until very smooth and creamy.  Pour into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a sprinkling of freshly ground nutmeg.

And now it's time to attend the Alcohol Academy.  Gather round, my cadets, and I shall tell you which things I find to be essential in my bar.  This came about because my good friend, Kriste, is setting up a new house and she asked my opinion about how to put together her home bar.  She suggested maybe I blog the answer so that others who might be wondering the same thing can also be schooled.  So here are some of my favorite items that I use a lot.


There is a plethora of gadgets and tools you can buy for your bar, but I have just a few that I really use a lot.  First off being the shaker.  Ours is Calphalon brand and it works great.  It never leaks, and the holes are big enough that you don't end up with liquid sitting on top of the shaker from the surface tension.  Plus it looks pretty.  You can also buy a Boston shaker, which is the kind with the metal and glass halves that fit into each other for shaking, and the kind I believe real bartenders prefer.  You'll also need a separate strainer in that case.  I prefer my cobbler style shaker because, as we discussed, I am not a real bartender.  Our shaker also came with the jigger you see which measures 3/4 oz on one side and 1 1/2 oz on the other side.  Marc likes to use the jigger but I almost never use it.  I like to use the little measuring glass you see there.  It measures up to 4 oz and also has markings for Tablespoon, teaspoon and mL measurements.  One tool I would never give up is the citrus squeezer.  You just cut your citrus in half, place it cut side down and squeeze.  It lets the juice through while keeping the pulp and seeds contained.  I use it constantly in the kitchen for cooking and cocktails.  You can get ones even bigger than the one in the picture that supposedly fit oranges.  The last essential tools are a sharp knife and a cutting board.  In my opinion, you can get away without having anything else and still make great drinks.


Without a doubt, the glasses we use the most are the old fashioned glasses (small one in the left foreground).  These are short glasses with a big, heavy base and usually around 6 to 8 ounces.  Ours are a little bigger than that, so we just compensate by not quite filling them up all the way when the directions are to "top up."  The second most commonly used glasses in our arsenal are the cocktail glasses (one in the foreground on the right and the background on the right).  These are the ones that people tend to think of as martini glasses.  We tend to use the stemless ones because we think they're cool looking and because they have a good, heavy base.  The tall ones are really fragile, and we've already had one break in our last move, so they don't get used as much as the little ones.  Margarita glasses are easily done without, in my opinion.  They are indeed nice to have if you're drinking margaritas, but it's not like you can't put your margarita in a highball glass.  Speaking of which, the highball is the one in the background left and we use those fairly often as well.  They are typically around 10 or 12 ounces.  Again, ours are a little big but that can be worked around.

Mixers and Garnishes

Lemons and limes are crucial.  I always keep them on hand, and in the cases when I happen to run out, their absence is felt immediately.  Juices are another great thing to keep on hand, particularly cranberry and pineapple.  I like to have oranges occasionally, but I don't use them quite as often as lemons and limes.  As far as sodas (or "pop" as they say around the KC area) I always keep cola and a white soda on hand, and I vastly prefer 7 Up over Sprite and Sierra Mist because it's not as sweet.  Grenadine, cream of coconut and maraschino cherries are nice to have on hand, too, and certainly not that big of an investment.


And now the important part!  If I had a tiny apartment or a tiny budget, my bar would consist of the following: Triple Sec, vodka, rum, gin, tequila, and bourbon or whiskey.  You can make a lot of stuff from this limited selection, and you don't have to spend a lot of money.  Bombay Sapphire and Knob Creek aren't cheap, but you can get something of lesser quality and be fine if you're goal is mixing.  My picture just represents what I have in my collection.  If you want a good sipping bourbon though, the Knob Creek is really good.  I really prefer 100% agave tequila, but just a regular old bottle of gold tequila can work just fine, too.

And there you have it!  I could go on and on, but these are some basics that can get anybody started.  Especially you, Kriste.  :)

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