TANGERINE MARGARITAS

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It’s cocktail time again, and we’re revisiting my forever favorite drink of choice: the margarita. I feel pretty lucky to live in an area where margaritas aren’t confined to the summer months, but a cocktail that can be enjoyed year round despite the seasons. I’ve noticed that when I visit places like Chicago or Portland, Maine, the cocktail menus at restaurants tend to be very whiskey or gin centric, both of which I’m not too crazy about especially since they’re pretty heavy. But margaritas on the other hand… are light, refreshing, and go down easily (a bit too easily) and are everywhere here in California.

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Lately, I had been getting bored with my go-to margaritas that I make for us at home. This includes a classic margarita on-the-rocks with a splash of pineapple as well as a blended frozen strawberry margarita (always a crowd favorite). I really wanted to branch out and try a margarita with in-season fruit that would not only be delicious, but beautiful to look at. Since we’re still in citrus season, I knew that I wanted to use a citrus that was not only a bit more interesting, but also one that could be found year round. After eliminating kumquats (they’re too rare and only around for a short period of time), I landed on tangerines. Even though tangerines are in season from about November to May, there is always the option to buy tangerine juice - Trader Joe’s tangerine juice is quite honestly the best citrus juice there is available.

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Tangerine juice isn’t the only citrus found in this margarita for there is also a bit of lemon and lime juice added. Both of these additions provide a little sourness and sweetness and therefore makes a well-rounded and delicious cocktail. And to really drive home the citrus flavor, there is also orange liqueur added. I recommend using Cointreau, because it really is the best available, but if you don’t have it nor wish to buy it since it’s a bit pricey, triple sec will work just fine.

And if you think that this will have a screwdriver feel to it, aka vodka and orange juice, believe me, it is so much more elevated than that. I had Alex be my taste-tester (he consumed about 4 cocktails within an hour, he’s a champ) and he was completely impressed since he thought it would be such a boring drink. It really is all about the three citrus juices working together that makes it so complex and leaves you wanting more. When Alex stated that he would happily order this cocktail at any bar, I knew that I had succeeded that day.

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Tangerine Margaritas

Yields 1 stiff cocktail

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. tequila, blanco, añejo, or reposado works

  • 2 oz. fresh tangerine juice

  • .5 oz. fresh lemon juice

  • .5 oz. fresh like juice

  • 1 oz. orange liqueur, like Cointreau

  • 2 tsp. agave nectar

Directions

  1. Salt the rim of your desired glass and set aside.

  2. Add all ingredients plus a handful of ice to a cocktail shaker and shake to mix. Strain into your prepared glass and garnish with a lime wedge.

CLASSIC HOT TODDY

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Happy December, everyone! I know I’m not alone in saying that this is my favorite month of the year, because who doesn’t love the holidays, but I think I have a bit more to celebrate than the average person. On top of all the Christmas celebrations and whatnot, my birthday is the day after Christmas AND my anniversary with Alex is on the 22nd. So pretty much for a week straight there’s something to celebrate every single night. Do I sometimes wish that Alex and I met in June or that I was born in August? You bet I do. But in all actuality, it’s kind of fun to be in party overload and I really try to compartmentalize each event and not lump it all together. For example, when Alex and I are celebrating our anniversary, I try not to even think about what I have to bake for the Christmas Eve dinner or, how many presents I have left to wrap.

But before we get to the end of the month, I have some fun Christmas events coming up that I look forward to every year. One of those events is Hospitality Night: when the streets in downtown Laguna Beach are closed off and it’s one big Christmas party including live music, fake snow, and tons of shopping at all the local shops…and FREE wine and desserts! It takes place every year on the first Friday of December, aka tomorrow! When I was going to high school in Laguna, I NEVER wanted to go because I was a typical teen and thought it was lame but now that I’m older, I find myself collecting ornaments and genuinely getting excited over Christmas lights. I love it.

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Lately, it’s been pretty cold - for Southern California standards at least - and we’ve been having a ton of rain. With that, I’ve been craving colder weather-appropriate drinks like wines and today’s recipe: a Hot Toddy. I’ve never been one to enjoy whiskey drinks and although I’ve tried just about every whiskey cocktail that Alex has ever ordered or made at home, I haven’t been able to enjoy it. But when I tried a Hot Toddy for the first time a few year ago at Hospitality Night, I loved it because it was so comforting and cozy that I didn’t even notice the flavor of whiskey. To this day, it continues to be the only whiskey drink that I order.

When we were visiting Maine this last time, we went to a bar called The Snug (featured here in my Portland, Maine City Guide), on a very, very cold night. When I got to the bar and saw someone else drinking a Hot Toddy, I knew I needed to order one for myself. That experience became one of my favorite moments of the trip - warming up with a Hot Toddy while sitting in a private dark booth with friends, on a cold night in Maine. Perfect.

The recipe for a Hot Toddy is extremely easy and requires no skill, unless boiling water is not your thing. Along with your whiskey of choice (whether you prefer blended or bourbon), you’ll add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a bit of honey. To that, you’ll top off the drink with hot water, add a dash of ground nutmeg or cinnamon, and it’s good to go. Also, if you’d like to replace the water with your favorite brewed tea of choice, that is completely allowed. It’ll give the Toddy a bit more flavor and also allows you to mix up the drink based on what tea you use. And a bonus is that Hot Toddies are great for drinking when you have cold or flu symptoms!

P.S. My adorable mugs are from Cost Plus World Market, and I love them. They’re also perfect for hot tea and coffee.

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Classic Hot Toddy

Makes 1 drink

Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz whiskey (blended or bourbon)

  • 1 tbsp. honey

  • Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

  • 6-8 oz. boiling water

  • Pinch of nutmeg, fresh or ground, or ground cinnamon

  • Cinnamon stick, lemon slice, star anise, whole cloves, to rganish (optional)

Directions

  1. To a mug or heatproof glass, add the whiskey, honey and fresh lemon juice.

  2. Carefully add the boiling water to the glass and stir the drink with a spoon. Add a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon.

  3. Garnish with your choice of a cinnamon stick, lemon slice, star anise, or whole cloves. Enjoy while it’s warm.

WATERMELON MOJITOS

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So far on The Vivid Kitchen, I've featured a fruity, refreshing sangria, a spicy margarita with beautiful winter grapefruit, and a bitter-infused Moscow mule by way of Berlin. When my sister generously brought me back a bottle of rum from her honeymoon in Kauai, I knew it was high time that I featured a recipe showcasing the "island" liquor.

Although rum isn't my first choice when it comes to liquor (that award goes to tequila), I can never say no to a great rum cocktail. I'm a sucker for tropical, tiki drinks like traditional piña coladas with all the bells and whistles, and will order just about anything that a tiki bar has to offer. Side note: my favorite tiki bar would definitely have to be Lost Lake in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago - if you ever have a chance to visit Chicago, set aside some time to get a drink or two at this bar! 

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Today, we are focusing on the mojito and because it is summertime, we are enhancing the cocktail by adding fresh watermelon juice. After doing some research, it appears that bartenders actually hate making "traditional" mojitos for patrons due to the mess it makes and how time-consuming the muddling process is (the traditional method involves a step of muddling together lime juice, mint, and sugar). Yes, the process is a bit messy, albeit probably more so due to the added watermelon element, but I don't find it any more time-consuming than making a spicy margarita or an old fashioned. But for those who just can't simply bear the thought of adding any extra time between them and their mojito, there is actually an alternative method to making mojitos that requires zero muddling. In my favorite bar book, you have the option to use the "shaken method" which is pretty self-explanatory: add ingredients to a shaker, shake vigorously with ice, pour everything out into a glass, and top with club soda. Pretty simple. So to make it easy for everyone, I will include both methods, "traditional" and "shaken", today in my directions.

In order to get fresh watermelon juice, all you have to do is cube up some watermelon, add it to a blender and then pour over a fine-mesh strainer. This takes care of getting rid of any seeds or pulp, and leaves you with a perfect, smooth juice. The problem that I ever have with watermelon, and it is actually such a bummer, is when I buy a huge one and take it home only to find that it's not ripe! I always have thought that I am the master of choosing the "right" watermelon (I test to see if it sounds hollow, I look for the 'field patch', etc.), and yet I sometimes bring home an unsweet melon. If you just so happen to bring home a less-than-perfect watermelon, I would try to remedy the problem by adding another teaspoon of sugar to the recipe. What hurt could more sugar do? NOTHING!

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Watermelon Mojitos

Makes 1 cocktail

Recipe adapted from The Ultimate Bar Book by Mittie Hellmich

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. fresh lime juice

  • 2-3 tsp. superfine sugar

  • 6-8 fresh mint leaves

  • 2.5 oz. light rum

  • 3 oz. fresh watermelon juice

  • Splash of soda water

Directions

Make the watermelon juice: Cut half of a small/medium watermelon into cubes. Place in a blender, and blend until puréed. Pour the juice over a fine mesh strainer to rid of any seeds and pulp. This will give you a couple cups of fresh juice, so you will definitely have leftovers for more mojitos. Store leftovers in the fridge.

Traditional Method: In the bottom of a highball glass, or any glass of your choosing, muddle the fresh lime juice, sugar, and mint leaves until the sugar is dissolved. Add the rum and watermelon juice. Top off with ice and soda water. 

Shaken Method: Place the fresh lime juice, sugar, mint leaves, rum, and watermelon juice with a handful of ice in a shaker and shake vigorously for about 10 seconds. Pour out all contents of the shaker (mint, ice, etc.) into a highball glass, or the glass of your choosing, and finish with a splash of soda water.