Whew! Been on break for a couple of months, but not slacking off. We reverted back to the first love – wine – the the last of the cold months this past season.  Many bottles consumed and many discoveries (good and bad) made. Aside from that, there’s a lot going on to occupy us. Scouts for the little ones, irritating issues with the new house for the big ones, trying to get more outdoor activities going, work, blah, blah, blah.

The past few weeks have been occupied digging a deep hole in the back yard to try out and old cooking method. Seemed like something fun to play with over the summer. It is quite a chore, but at this stage in my life I think of it as exercise and actually enjoyed working up the sweat. pitKeeping the proper pace is key. No back issues and much dirt moved over three sessions. If the hole doesn’t flood during the current downpour, we’re going to rediscover true pit barbecuing next weekend. The pit is sized to accommodate a small pig / goat/ lamb carcass. We’ll get some practice during the summer with butts, shoulders and other hunks of meat, then see if we’re up to the whole hog by the fall.

This past weekend was a wet one. Not the best timing as we had a Cub Scout family camping trip. We had intermittent rain, but it didn’t spoil a hike up Hemphill Bald in Catalochee with a return through the edge of the Smokey Mountain Park. Really beautiful and a ringing endorsement for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy who helped the land owners set aside the area. Talk about wild pigs and moonshining came up during the  hike. Both are endemic in the area.  Seemed like one more subtle hint to get back to the blog. Cocktail recipes have been building up in the To Do Box. Time to shake one up.

Eric Felten had what looked like a good one in last week’s Wall Street Journal. A resposado tequila based citrus drink with pepper. I had most of a bottle of the tequila left from Christmas. Another sign that I needed to get busy with the shaker. Ingredients were gathered and the drink assembled tonight.

Pink Panther
from Aisha Sharpe

1-1/2 oz resposado tequila
3/4 oz fresh ruby red grapefruit juice
1/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/4 oz agave syrup
2 dozen pink peppercorns

Muddle half the peppercorns in a shaker together with the lime juice. Add the other liquids, shake with ice, and strain into a stemmed cocktail glass. Float the other pink peppercorns on the drink for garnish.

Definitely a keeper. Mine turned out a little less pink due to a slightly color-anemic grapefruit. I also cheated on the peppercorns and went with the black ones I had here at the house. There is an herbal earthiness to the drink that is pleasant and a bite on the finish from the crush pepper. I skipped the pepper garnish, it seemed like something you’d have to fish out of your mouth. Nice thing about being an amateur – nobody’s looking.

I like. I’m going to have another. Hate to waste the extra grapefruit juice, plus I need something to hold me while I watch the camping gear dry out. Cheers.



Amateur Cocktail Guy got caught a little exposed last night. Several times a month work intrudes into the cocktail hour. We tea-total those nights and always make sure I can get away if called. A combination of last minute events put me in a bind and I had to call the Amateur Cocktail Friends for some help. Always gracious, they came through without flinching. I owe them a big one, so I went to work in the ACG test kitchen.

Not everything that passes these lips makes it to these pages. Last weeks I stirred up a recipe from the latest issue of Imbibe. They offered a collection of cocktail recipes for holiday parties. One caught my eye – a mix of Bourbon and Cherry Herring. I’ve been a little taken with Cherry Heering after I spent some time in Atlanta this summer tracking down a bottle. I’ve enjoyed it in Blood and Sands, and wanted to try some other drinks that included it. I mixed one up last week and enjoyed it – slowly, over an hour or so.

It’s a liquor drink with no added juice or syrups. Stir it with ice to dilute and chill it a bit, then sip. It’s not bad. Tim Stookey of The Presidio Social Club in San Fransisco developed the drink. He calls it “And to All a Good Night…” In the article he indicates that he wanted “spiciness” in the drink. He nailed it. I think it works great as an aperitif.

As I was trying to figure out how to thank the friends, it struck me that this drink could be mixed up ahead in bigger batches and poured as needed. A little math indicated that a quadruple recipe would fill a 375 ml bottle. My ABC stop today was to pick up a bottle of Maker’s Mark. It cleaned up nicely. Next, I mixed 6 oz Bourbon with 3 oz each Cherry Heering and Tequila. Bitters were added, then back into the bottle. I got a little crafty with Photoshop and turned out new labels.

I’ll deliver in the morning, fingers crossed that they’ll enjoy it-

From the flurry of post this week, you might be able to tell that the Amateur Cocktilian is off this week. We’re experiencing a new phenomenon – the staycation: off from work, but going nowhere. It’s actually quite nice. I have a chance to be a regular dad and husband. No early mornings or late nights away from home. We’ve gotten in a couple of good hikes, saw our first movie at the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co.’s Merrimon location (had the Scottish ale, a little watery). Also, I’m taking some time to catch up on a few choirs around the house. My vinegar needed tending to. Wine has been the primary beverage of choice around these parts. It is the go-to liquid most nights. A year or two ago a friend sent me an article from The Art of Eating ( #68, 2004 pp 12-23) about making your own vinegar. I was struck, and started dumping the scraps of unfinished bottles into a 5 gallon carboy I had from my old beer and winemaking days. That plus a vinegar starter culture got me into the vinegar business. There is not much to screw up. Vinegar is the last step for wine gone bad. The carboy slowly fills to about the 4 gallon point every six months or so. I give it an eight week period with no more additions, then I pull off about three gallons, bottle it and start again. The vinegar goes into old wine bottles (reduce, reuse, recycle…) is corked and then foisted onto friends and family. I think I’ve exhausted the good will of all my possible recipients. Now I use good wine corks, put a year on the bottle and “cellar” it. Look for me at the Tailgate Markets in about 20 years with some expensive, vintage red wine vinegar for sale.

All that vinegar activity got me thinking back to a vinegar gastrique I made a few weeks back. I followed a recipe in Jan/Feb 2008 issue of Imbibe magazine from Robert Huegel. It is a simple syrup flavored with orange juice, coriander and white wine vinegar. The vinegar gives at acidity. While I was cooking it, a lot of the acetic acid cooked off and kept my eyes watering. The final product has a beautiful orange color. It seems to be holding up well in the fridge for going on four weeks now.

The syrup is used to make a Margarita. From the proportions, it looks like it is just an addition to the standard recipe (1/2 oz per drink). I made one following the recipe given with the gastrique recipe. The orange color dominates and the orange flavor is prominent. It was a little too sweet for me. Plus, I like rum more than tequila. That lead to this:

  • 2 oz Jamacain rum
  • 3/4 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau (3/4 oz called for in the Margarita)
  • 1/2 oz orange-coriander gastrique

Shake and strain.

Orangey to the point you might be able to skip the Cointreau.

BTW if you see someone dumpster diving for wine bottles in the north Asheville recycling bins, you will have encountered the Amateur Cocktail Guy. Say hello, I might have a a bottle of vinegar for you.