Watermelon Margaritas

Watermelon Margarita

Kids are headed back to school and Thanksgiving decorations are already starting to show up in stores, sigh, Labor Day weekend might be your one last shot at summer, so before this fleeting season is over, promise me you’ll make up a batch of these margaritas before it’s too late.

Watermelon Infused Tequila
1 part watermelon
2 parts tequila

Cube watermelon into a lidded container. Cover with tequila, close the lid, and let sit on a cool, dark spot for at least 3 days, 5 is better,

Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the watermelon from infused tequila. Be careful not to crush the watermelon, as the extra liquid will just dilute the tequila and not add a whole lot of flavor. Discard the watermelon. Note that you will end up with more liquid than you started with, so I refilled the tequila bottle and poured the rest into a mason jar (seemed fitting).

Store in the fridge until ready to use.

Math note: I used one of the body-sized 1.75L bottles of Kirkland Silver Tequila. So 1.75L divided by 2 equals .875L, or pretty darned close to a gringo quart of watermelon.

Watermelon Margaritas
2 double old fashion glasses
4 ounces infused tequila, strained
Juice of 1 lime (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup simple syrup (recipe follows)
2 teaspoons orange liqueur
Course salt or Tajín seasoning

Simple Syrup
Bring 2 cups water to a boil. Stir in 2 cups of granulated sugar. Reduce heat to low and stir just until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat and let cool. Pour off into a sealable container (again, I used a mason jar) and store in fridge until ready to use.

Rim the glasses with salt or Tajín (or a bit of both) and fill with ice. Combine tequila, lime juice, syrup, and orange liqueur. Divide into glasses. Enjoy!

Brandied Cherries

I’ve always been a bit leery of those neon horrors they call Maraschino Cherries, so I decided to try making my own version using bing cherries.

1 pound bing cherries, whole with pits and stems
1 cup simple syrup (below)
1/4 kosher salt
1 cup brandy

Make a simple syrup by combining 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 quarts water and 1/4 kosher salt. Bring to a boil and stir until all the salt has dissolved. Add the cherries and blanch for 3 to 5 minutes, until the water turns red and the cherries start to float to the top.

Drain the cherries into a colander and rinse with cold water.

Put the cherries in a quart jar, cover with the simple syrup, then add enough brandy to fill the jar to the rim (usually just a little less than a cup).

Seal the jar, invert it a couple of times to combine the goodies, and let sit in the sink until cool (you do not want this breaking open in the fridge). When cool, stash in the fridge for at least a week, inverting the jar once a day.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
Cherries that taste like cherries – what a revelation! The sugar made them sweeter, and the brandy adds a little kick, but they still taste more like cherries than their glow-in-the dark counterparts do. They make a fine addition to cocktails and would be tasty as a dessert topping too.

At one week old, they were a little harsh and not as sweet as I would like. I’ll give them another couple of weeks to mature and check them again.

One year ago – Honey Hog Barbecue Sauce, v 1.0
Two years ago – Hot Wings

Captain Dave’s Pirate Punch

Reminiscent of the West Indian rum punches we enjoyed in Nevis. Aye, this’ll put a little arrrrgh in ya’.

1 cup lime juice (about 8 limes)
2 cups simple syrup (recipe below)
3 cups golden or spiced rum
3 dashes bitters (Angostura is fine, Fee Brothers is better)

Bring 2 cups water to a boil. Stir in 2 cups of granulated sugar. Reduce heat to low and stir just until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat  and let cool.

While the syrup is cooling, juice the limes (bottled juice is NOT an option here). Combine the lime juice, simple syrup, rum, and bitters in a pitcher. Serve chilled over ice and garnish with a little fresh-grated nutmeg.

Wearing an eye patch is optional.

One year ago – Last Hurrah Ribs
Two years ago – Roasted Chicken with Lemon-Garlic Asparagus

1st Carnitas of the Year

It’s been waaaaay too long since I’ve made up a batch of carnitas. I do love those melty bits of tender pigginess, and they really don’t take that long to make, so I have no excuse for this being the 1st batch of 2012.

I usually make a double batch of carnitas using two pork shoulder roasts (Boston Butt), but I had some really good results last year by switching to a single batch made in my Emile Henry Dutch oven. It just seemed to cook more evenly and had a better ratio of crispy bits to tender chunks.

8 pounds pork shoulder roast
Juice of 3 oranges (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon achiote oil

Set your grill up for a 5 hour cook over indirect heat at 350°F. On the Big Green Egg I used an inverted plate setter with a trivet on it to diffuse the heat and keep the bottom from burning.

While the grill is getting up to temp, cut the roast into 3 to 4-inch chunks, discarding any stringy connective tissue, but keeping all of the fat.

Combine all of the ingredients in a Dutch oven, and stir to combine. Cover the oven with a lid and set it on the grill. Let it simmer for an hour. The orange juice should be bubbly and the fat in the meat should have started to break down.

After the fat has started to render, you need to reduce the liquid and crisp up the meat. Remove the lid and let it simmer for another hour. Keep checking and stirring once an hour until most of the liquid has evaporated and the pork has started to fry in its own fat (about 3 hours total).

Start checking the meat every 15 minutes to make sure the meat is getting crispy, but not becoming dry or burned. Total cook time for this batch was just over 4 hours.

Of course, you need a proper beverage to go with carnitas. My dear wife’s Sangria fit the bill nicely – cool and refreshing and it really complimented the richness of the carnitas.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Oh my, these were gooooooood – crispy and tender and juicy. I’m finding that the more I pare back the ingredient list, the better this dish becomes. Not that this dish needs any more added fat, but the achiote oil added a nice, round earthiness. I might go with lime and orange juice next time to add a little more citrus bite.

The Nutrition:
Carnitas will never be diet food. Four ounces is 5 Weight Watchers Points and 190 calories, so use it sparingly.

ONE YEAR AGO – Belizean Grilled Shrimp



The Manhattan

As classic a cocktail as there ever was – simple in concoction, elegant, yet straight-forward in presentation. This version is a little sweeter and lighter than most, using brandy in place of whiskey and more sweet vermouth. More summer on the deck and less supper club.

2 ounces brandy
Dash of aromatic bitters (Angostura is traditional, but I am sold on Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters)
Sweet vermouth

Fill a low-ball glass about half way full of ice cubes. Add the brandy, bitters, and top with vermouth. Garnish with a maraschino cherry if you must.

Cucumber Margarita

I feel a bit like a traitor posting this. When it comes to cocktails, I’m a purist – booze, ice, maybe some more booze, and just enough mix so that the first drink doesn’t kill you on the spot.

But when my dear wife and I had lunch the other day at our favorite Mexican restaurants, they had a Cucumber Margarita on the menu. It might have been the fact that it was 95°F outside with 150% humidity, but damn, that actually sounded good.

“Really?” My dear wife gave me a look when I ordered it.

“No, it’s good.” The waitress assured me. “They infuse Cuervo 1800 Silver with cucumbers and then mix it with fresh lime and a little simple syrup.”

The drink arrived on the rocks. It had a pale yellow color and smelled a little like honeydew melon. I took my first sip – wow – summer in a glass! It was a real margarita alright, but with a bright, fresh, green taste and smooth finish.

I offered it to my wife. she took one sip and said with a smile, “Well, we got some cucumbers at the farmers’ market, didn’t we?”

I don’t think I had the car in the garage before she was in the kitchen cutting and pouring.  For our test run we went with one sliced pickling-sized cucumber put in a jelly jar filled with Sauza Añejo and stashed in the fridge for 24 hours.

2 double old fashioned glasses, filled with ice
4 ounces infused tequila, strained (reserve a couple slices for garnish)
Juice of 1 lime (about 1/4 cup)
2 ounces simple syrup (recipe follows)
2 teaspoons orange liqueur

Combine tequila, lime juice, syrup, and orange liqueur. Divide into glasses. Top with a cucumber slice and maybe a sprig of fresh mint.

Simple Syrup
Bring 2 cups water to a boil. Stir in 2 cups of granulated sugar. Reduce heat to low and stir just until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat  and let cool.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Were I you, I’d start investing in the cucumber market right now. I think there’s going to be a run on them.

Just 24 hours of infusing pulled all of the bite out of the tequila and replaced it with mellow hints of melon and mint. Almost like Midori, but not so sweet. Very refreshing. I could see a pitcher of these making a summer day just slide right on by.

For the next batch I’d go with a blanco tequila for a little more bite,  and try a 3 to 5 day soak time. Better start cutting the cukes now.

The Perfect Margarita

I learned to make these margaritas almost a decade ago in a palapa-roofed restaurant on Xcalacoco beach in Mexico. They are the real deal. As I’ve warned many a guest, these are not some fruity, blended Don Pablo’s abomination. No, these are authentic, tasty, tart, and potent pot-you-like-a-houseplant margaritas.

There are only 3 ingredients in the perfect margarita (well, 4 if you count the salt): tequila, orange liquor, and fresh lime juice. As with any recipe, the fewer the ingredients the better those few need to be.

For the tequila, you want 100% Blue Agave. Avoid the mixto tequilas that are blended with those god-knows-what cane or corn-based spirits that tend to be responsible for the growing of horns and the falling off of clothes. You don’t need to shell out for the older Añejo tequilas. Stick with a $20ish dollar a bottle Blanco (white) or Reposado (rested). El Jimador, Hornitos, Herradura, and 3 Amigos are all fine.

For the orange liquor, stay away from the cheap triple-sec. You need something sweet to balance the bite of the tequila and lime, but you don’t need something that’s just liquid diabetes. Go with Cointreau, Patrón Citronage, or Controy (an inexpensive but tasty hecho en México ripoff of Cointreau).

Fresh-squeezed, real lime juice, period. Look for Mexican limes, which are rounder, smaller, and more flavorful than the ones you usually see in the grocery store that look like green lemons.

Once you’ve got your quality ingredients, you need to have them in the perfect ratio. For me, I want a margarita that’s strong, but not harsh. The magic ratio of ingredients is even simpler than the ingredient list – 1 : 1 : 1. So for one drink:

2 ounces tequila
2 ounces orange liquor
Juice of 1 lime, about 1/4 cup
Salt for the rim of the glass

Rim the glass with a just a little coarse salt. Shake all the liquid ingredients with a little ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a glass (I use a double old fashioned) filled with ice. Or add a little more ice to the shaker and serve it “up” in a cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of lime.

For parties, I’ll typically fill a a pitcher with 3 cup : 3 cup : 3 cup mix and stash it in the fridge until it is cold. Then I’ll add a handful of ice and a few lime slices and serve it with glasses full of ice.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
The only thing missing with these margaritas was not having my toes in the sand. Simple and clean – these had plenty of booze, and plenty of ice to cool them cold and not cripplingly strong. The lime nicely cut the sweetness of the orange liquor while letting the orange flavor shine. I used a Reposado tequila and the warm earthiness came through nicely without too much bite.

Dark & Stormy

Dark & Stormy’s are most decidedly a sipping-on-the-deck kind of drink. While summer is over, we’re still having some days that are warm enough to comfortably sit outside, and that’s reason enough to make up a few of these. This national cocktail of Bermuda is traditionally made with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, but I love the more readily available Kraken Black Spiced Rum.

Kraken is as black as a good cup of coffee and needs the lime to cut through through the richness and brighten the drink. The ginger beer compliments its vanilla and spice tones, while the the fizz says “summertime.”

2 ounces Kraken Black Spiced Rum
Reed’s Jamaican Ginger Beer

Fill a highball cocktail glass with ice. Add the rum and fill with ginger beer. Top with a squeeze of lime.

While a couple of these are very enjoyable, any more and you risk the dreaded “bangin’ in de head, mon.”

Hemingway Daiquiri

Don’t let the pink color fool you – this ain’t no sissy umbrella drink – just booze and juice the way Papa liked it.

2 1/2 jiggers white rum
Juice of two limes
Juice of 1/2 ruby grapefruit
Splash of Maraschino liqueur or Maraschino cherry juice
Superfine sugar

Combine everything but the sugar in cocktail shaker. Fill 1/3 full of ice. Shake for 15 – 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with superfine sugar. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge if you must.

A couple of these and you’ll be all set to go chasing bulls, marlins, or German u-boats.

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