Thursday, February 28, 2008

Exotic-cool Martinis: Shaken, Stirred, & Twisted—Impress Your Friends with Ease

The beloved martini. Everyone has their favorite style and variations. Luckily, we live in a more culinarily experimental world than we used to (when I was coming of age, I'm pretty sure martinis came in either gin or vodka—that was about it for the options). Now even our local Cajun restaurant serves a spicy Cajun martini (The Palace Grill, Santa Barbara), many cafés have their own martini menus, and you could fill an entire store aisle just with vermouth permutations (Have you heard of Vya vermouth? Probably the world's finest, utterly drinkable alone, and it is made in neraby Santa Ynez valley). The world is your martini glass.

Lavender Martini
My hubby and I came up with this jointly. He—with all the advanced degrees in plant science—knew such info as, use culinary lavender seeds and not the purple lavender petals, because the petals are more bitter (even the seeds must be used with restraint). Since then, with a little more reading, I found that other lavender-savvy folks have thought of the lavender martini idea too, and there are actually many variations on it (and probably the petals are fine too).

Culinary lavender, if you haven't tried it, is a fragrant kick in the taste buds. Every foodie's kitchen should contain some (which is dynamite with chicken, lamb, or pork in marinades, and don't get me going on desserts!). Anyway, lavender would not have entered my mind if I did not live in the lavender capital of the U.S.. Not only does it grow abundantly in southern California, but it requires little water, and it always looks fabulous. There is even a Lavender Festival in nearby Ojai, California, where I learned more about culinary lavender and got to meet renowned food writer, Sharon Shipley, author of The Lavender Cookbook.

Where do you buy culinary lavender? Online is the best—that way you can shop for a bargain. If you waltz into your local health food store, you'll likely need a second mortgage to buy bulk lavender. One good source I found is San Francisco Herb Company, which has two different grades of culinary lavender and different quantities too.

You can also find lavender syrup—for the ultimate lavender experience, but I haven't tried it yet—if anyone does, please let me know. It is a sugar-based syrup, so would make your martini sweeter.

Assemble your choice of gin or vodka and vermouth, along with suffient ice in a martini shaker.
Add in one or two drops of lavender essential oil (if you have it—make sure it is edible essential oil—some are not the grade for consumption) per serving. Shake or stir, as desired, and strain into a chilled martini glasses (rimmed with sugar, if you like). Take a few culinary lavender seeds in your fingers and crush them to release their fragrance, then float them on top of the drink. Serve with the embellishment of a lavender flower. Now that's a 'tini sure to win a maiden's heart.


Rose Martini
I invented this, I'm proud to say, so let's call it the "Tumerica Rose Martini," shall we? Is there a patent for drink formulas? Nah? Just share and enjoy.

Assemble your choice of gin or vodka and vermouth, along with suffient ice in a martini shaker. Before shaking, add in a splash of rose water. (What the heck is "rose water"? Rose water is the essense of roses in a water suspension and is sold in Middle Eastern grocers. It's a condiment and is a common addition to many Middle Eastern desserts, as well as being added to lassis, those lovely yoghurt drinks you've probably had before. Rose water keeps forever, so it's great to have around as a staple for exotic occasions.) Strain into martini glasses (sugar-rimmed or not) and serve with a few rose petals floating on top. Beautiful. (Rose petals are edible, by the way—they even make great candy when coated with a sugar mixture. But make sure they are home-grown and not the kind from florists, which might not be wholesome.)


Chocolate Martini
Add half vodka and half chocolate liquer, along with suffient ice in a martini shaker (this is a sweet 'tini). Shake or stir, as desired, and strain into a chilled martini glasses. Serve with the embellishment of dark chocolate shavings (use a potato peeler or a grater to grate the chocolate)—the darker the chocolate, the better (look for 70% plus cacao content). Chocolate martinis are almost a slam-dunk to impress the one you love.


Pom-tini
If you haven't caught on to the pomegranate craze, now is your chance to make up for lost time. Other than the long list of apparent health benefits, pomegranate juice is simply beautiful—a lovely shade of ruby red. You can buy pomegranate juice at any grocers (it costs a bloody fortune, but you use only a small bit here and there—it also lasts practically forever). Now, the Pom Wonderful (the best-selling brand of pomegranate juice) website lists a "pomtini" that is complicated and includes the dreaded sour mix. Here's how I feel about sour mix: ICK. Never accept a drink that contains sour mix. Sour mix is just lemonade or limeade that is reconstituted with water, and it contains all kinds of stuff no one would intentionally put in their body. Just say no to sour mix. When making drinks that call for it, you can substitute fresh lemon or lime juice, water, and sugar. (If it tastes like lemonade or limeade, then you made it right. If you have to heat the sugar in the water to get it to dissolve, that's fine also.)

But back to the drink, my version, which I'll call a pom-tini, calls for equal parts pomegranate juice (which is not very sweet), Grand Marnier or any orange liquer, and vodka. Add in sufficient ice, shake or stir, and then strain into martini glasses. Garnish with an orange or lime twist.

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