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Mix It Up!

Helpful hints for making better cocktails at home.

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Last month, when I wrote about eschewing top-shelf liquor for "well" brands, several readers asked, "But what about the mixers?" You're right: A drink is only as good as the ingredients that comprise it. And, with citrus season in high gear, there's no better time than the shortened days of mid-winter to rely on freshly squeezed juices to brighten up our cocktails — and our lives.

Published online in 2013, Jeanine Donofrio's Blood Orange and Bourbon cocktail recipe is quickly becoming a national favorite. Donofrio, a food blogger and author of The Love and Lemons Cookbook, combines a half-cup of blood orange juice (pulpy, if that's your thing), a few drops of Angostura bitters, and a jigger of bourbon in a cocktail glass, then tops it off with a splash of sparkling water. She also recommends a variation that is more similar to a Manhattan — simply omit the sparkling water, put the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker, then strain and serve on the rocks in a lowball glass.

I first learned of the Penicillin cocktail via the classic men's mag, Esquire. The base of this drink is two ounces of blended Scotch and one ounce of lemon juice, blended with ginger and honey syrups, and "finished" with a quarter-ounce of Laphroaig Scotch that floats on top. Masterminded by New York bartender Sam Ross in 2005, the Penicillin's praises have been sung in the pages of Imbibe, Saveur, and Time magazines ever since. The heavy dose of fresh lemon juice courses through your system like a ray of sunshine, warming you from the inside out.

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Margarita season might be just a fantasy for Memphians in February, but the Paloma, which combines tequila and grapefruit juice, makes a fine wintertime substitute. Salt the rim of a highball glass, then combine a quarter-cup of fresh grapefruit juice, a teaspoon of sugar, a tablespoon of lime juice, and a quarter-cup of mezcal or tequila. Add ice, and top off the glass with a splash of club soda.

The editors at Punch turned me on to the Danger Zone, which they succinctly describe as "the love child of eggnog and an Orange Julius." The drink calls for a few specialty ingredients, such as Venezuelan rum and Frangelico, but I was able to pick up everything at my neighborhood liquor store on the way home from work. The liquor and the liqueur are shaken with orange juice, lemon juice, simple syrup, and a whole egg, then strained into a Collins glass, topped with seltzer, and garnished with a dash of Angostura. It's a frothy, spicy concoction that dazzled my senses. I drank one, then called it a night.

Whichever of these citrus cocktails you add to your repertoire, please, for the love of liquor, squeeze your own juice. If you're in a hurry, roll the fruit on the countertop or your cutting board before slicing into it to break the membranes so that it releases more juice. Another method is to microwave the fruit for about 10 seconds to "excite" the water molecules contained in the citrus flesh. If you're planning ahead, try freezing the fruit, then microwaving it for 30 to 60 seconds to yield the maximum amount of juice.

Don't waste your money on any fancy kitchen gadgets. Just place a sieve over a bowl in the kitchen sink. Use your hands to wring the juice out of the fruit halves, or use kitchen tongs, held horizontally at both ends, to compress the fruit. Use your freshly squeezed juice within 48 hours, stored in the refrigerator, of course. Or, freeze juice in ice cube trays and store in a Ziploc bag for later.

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