Archives for the month of: February, 2010

Written by Chris Benjamin, director of food and beverage at the Essex Resort and Spa

I get asked frequently “Do you come up with all these recipes yourself?” Depending on the person, place and who’s listening, the answer will often vary. The simple answer is: yes and no.

In the culinary world, the invention of a truly new food or drink is the dream of every mixologist and chef, and it’s virtually impossible. The reason it’s difficult is because most recipes are an adaptation of something done before. Sure, alligator shepherd’s pie with artichoke hearts and tomatoes might be an unusual and creative way to serve shepherd’s pie, but it’s still an adaptation of someone else’s creation.

The same goes with cocktails. Bartenders aspire to create a totally new, never-before-seen cocktail. But booze has been around for a long time, and there is a finite amount of flavors that actually work together. So when you’re sipping a cocktail that’s never been seen before, chances are it’s really a spin-off of something else.

Take the screwdriver, for example. The first written account of the screwdriver came from a Time magazine article written Oct. 24, 1949. Supposedly, this cocktail was created by American engineers working in the Middle East, who added vodka to small cans of orange juice. Of course, they had to stir it up so they used screwdrivers to do it.

Now that you know the history of the screwdriver, it’s easy to trace the beginnings of a host of other cocktails derived from this. Take the greyhound, for example. Replace the OJ in a screwdriver with grapefruit juice and you have the greyhound. Take the greyhound and rim the glass with salt, and it’s a salty dog. Want a left-handed screwdriver? Add gin instead of vodka. Or perhaps you prefer something a touch sweeter? Take your screwdriver and add a touch of Galliano — now it’s a Harvey Wallbanger (incidentally, the story here is that a surfer won a major contest and created this drink to celebrate. When he left the bar, he kept running into walls).

Want me to keep going?

Cut out the vodka and add amaretto for a bocce ball, or add sloe gin for a cobra, or even peach schnapps for a fuzzy navel. As you can see, it’s hard to say that any drink is any person’s when you really are deriving it all from one drink that started it all.

So when I’m asked if these cocktails are all created by me, the answer is yes and no. First, I get a lot of help from my talented bar team. Second, we try to create very good cocktails from fresh ingredients, and put an interesting twist on the drink. Take this week’s cocktail, the peach limoncello madras. The madras is a knockoff of, you guessed it, the screwdriver. All you do is cut the OJ in half and add cranberry juice (cut your vodka by a third, and add peach schnapps, and you have a sex on the beach). At The Essex, however, we go the next step beyond. So instead of straight vodka, we use Stoli Peachik and, as a bonus, we throw in a little limoncello. We feel the added acidity and citrus makes a more lively cocktail.

This cocktail is great for not only those of you heading off the slopes, but also for those who just want something light, refreshing and a little tropical. So try one of “our” cocktails. It may not be totally original, but it certainly is delicious.

Peach Limoncello Madras
1 ½ oz. Peachik Stoli Vodka
½ oz. Limencello
Equal parts orange juice and cranberry juice

Combine ingredients over ice. Shake or stir well and garnish with a lime. Enjoy.

Like food? Like movies?

Well, we have a deal (or two) for you, thanks to our new partnership with Essex Cinemas.

Deal #1: Dinner and a Movie – Enjoy any regular-priced dinner entrée and beverage in Butler’s Restaurant & Tavern, and get a movie ticket for just $5. Kids Menu excluded. Not valid for 3D movies.

Deal #2: Free Appetizer – Bring your movie ticket stub to Butler’s Restaurant & Tavern, and receive a free appetizer with the purchase of a dinner entrée. Offer valid within a week of date stamped on movie ticket. Kids Menu excluded.

Hope to see you soon at the movies and in Butler’s!

(And just in case you’re curious, here’s our new, expanded Dinner Menu.)

Written by Chris Benjamin. Benjamin, director of food and beverage at the Essex Resort and Spa.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, when it comes to spice, I’m pretty much a wimp. Now my executive chef, David Coolidge, is a spice connoisseur. He makes the meanest chili I’ve ever tasted, and he’s been asked to judge more chili contests than I have cocktails in my bar book.

When explaining spice to me, he is very clear regarding heat vs. flavor. Believe it or not, there is a big difference. Chef Dave is a big proponent of balance. He likes to have a little sweat on the brow, but it’s also imperative to balance the heat with the flavors of the chilies. Straight heat is a turn off, though it has its place at times. The trick is to enjoy the different levels of heat, to add nuance to the dish without blowing out the flavors and overpowering them.

Making drinks that incorporate spice is just as tricky. While there are establishments out there that crank up the heat just so guests drink or eat more, it’s far more rewarding to create a dish or cocktail that embodies the flavors.

Take your basic Bloody Mary. The essential ingredients in any good one are vodka (the booze), tomato juice and lemon juice (the acid), horseradish, Tabasco and pepper (the spice), salt (for salinity) and Worcestershire sauce (the meatiness and slightly bitter). Ask any chef or mixologist worth his or her salt, and they’ll tell you that balance of these primal tastes is critical for the best tasting dishes.

The best Bloody Marys (and we do have a pretty darn good one here at The Essex) incorporate all of the flavors. Another place worth checking out: Hearth & Candle Restaurant at Smuggler’s Notch in Cambridge. My buddy Chef Shawn Calley, he has created a great culinary restaurant as well as an excellent pepper-infused vodka. Made from five different chilies, Chef Calley calls the shot the Jekyll & Hyde. It’s not for the faint of heart. Whether as a shooter or in his Bloody Mary, it will bring sweat to the brow and a tear to your eye, if you’re not careful. As a shooter, it’s perfectly balanced with freshly squeezed lemon and lime juices. This combination brings out the flavor of the peppers, without crushing you with the heat.

By the way, the next time you try something too spicy, you’re better off reaching for a lemon instead of the milk. Acid neutralizes the capsicum spice found in peppers and will cool you down faster than milk, which only “hides” the heat.

I’m including a recipe from Chef Dave for a chili-infused vodka. Try it with a Bloody Mary, your own version of the Jekyll and Hyde, or even try it in cooking. It adds a great kick to chili. Enjoy!

Chili-Infused Vodka
750 ml vodka
1 Serrano pepper, split in half and seeded
1 dried Ancho pepper, left whole
1 dried New Mexican Red pepper
½ lime rind

Macerate for one week. Strain and enjoy (watch out for the heat).

Looking for a little recharge this winter? Come to The Essex Resort & Spa for our ABCs of rejuvenation!

Our exclusive overnight package gives you everything you need to prepare for the spring term.

$299* for 2 guests includes:
A traditional room for one night
Breakfast, piping hot, for two
Chocolate truff les upon arrival
Discounted hands-on cooking classes (2 for 1)
Each person receives a 50-minute Swedish Massage

*Plus tax & service charges – total $350.34. Rate valid Feb. 21 through Mar. 31, 2010. Limited rooms available. Please reference this offer when making reservation. ID required at check-in.

Don’t have enough time for an overnight getaway? Enjoy Spa at The Essex for the day during February break!

Sunday, February 21st through Friday, February 26th, take 40% off one treatment (of $40 or more) or 50% off two or more treatments.

Call 800-727-4295 or email us to book your getaway now.

Written by Chris Benjamin, director of food and beverage at the Essex Resort and Spa.

Amore. Kjærlighet. Amour. Kärlek. Milość.

No matter how you say ‘love’, Valentine’s Day continues to be the holiday where we are prompted to express our delight in each other– those whom we love and care about.

Valentine’s Day will forever have pink, purple, and red as it’s official colors, and with this in mind, I thought you might enjoy drinking the Purple Margarita. Its color is a blend of purple and pink (depending on how much Curacao and cranberry you use), and it’s tasty enough to satisfy men and women alike.

Because this weekend also coincides with the beginning of the Winter Olympics (thus the multiple languages above), I decided to use Sauza Hornitos Reposado, which has a great gold color and an even-better flavor. So whether you’re watching the United States win gold, or just have a heart of gold (or both!), enjoy the Purple Margarita this weekend.

Purple Margarita
2 oz. Sauza Hornitos Reposado
3-4 oz. sours mix
½ oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. Blue Curacao
2-3 splashes cranberry juice
Lime wedge

In a pint glass filled with ice, combine all ingredients but the salt and lime wedge; shake vigorously. Leave mixture in the shaker, take pint glass and rim top with salt. Pour margarita back in the glass, and garnish with lime.

Written by Chris Benjamin. Benjamin, director of food and beverage at the Essex Resort and Spa

The Super Bowl. Besides the Yankees winning the World Series, this has to be my single-favorite sporting event to watch. With the halftime show and the commercials (to say nothing about the game itself), it’s getting impossible to find the right time to use the bathroom or get a drink.

Of course, as your resident expert on liquor, I know you’re expecting me to provide you with a very fair and detailed account of alcohols and cocktails that fans from both teams can create to show their true spirit (pun intended). And seeing how my St. Louis Rams are nowhere near the big game (go ahead and laugh, but they’ll be back some day), I had to do a little research for this one.

Sorry Indianapolis fans, there’s simply not much out there to talk about regarding liquors from your city, so I offer a cocktail that will show off your teams colors (see ’Dreamy Blues’, below).

New Orleans, on the other hand, home of Bourbon Street and some of the rowdiest folks in the States (if not the planet), has plenty of stories, and they lead me to a subject I’ve been wanting to write about for a while: absinthe.

Also called “The Green Fairy” for its unusual green color, absinthe (from the Latin for wormwood, the key ingredient) is known as the drink of poets, writers, and many cultural “bad boys.” Since wormwood is supposedly responsible for creating hallucinations and psychotic episodes, this herbal and potent spirit was popular during the Bohemian era of writers and artists. Outlawed in most of Europe and the United States in the early 20th century, absinthe has made a serious comeback, and it is now legal again.

New Orleans is the home of the absinthe cocktail The Sazerac. First created in the early 1800s by Antoine Peychaud, and named for his favorite brandy, it’s a New Orleans classic. The recipe was altered slightly when American rye whiskey and bourbon became a hit, and then again in 1912 when absinthe was outlawed. To substitute for the absinthe, bartender Leon Lanmoth added a few dashes of Peychaud’s specially-designed bitters.

So, here’s to you, you Saints’ fans. Enjoy the Sazerac. Colts’ fans? Sorry I couldn’t come up with more, ut let’s face it– Manning is going to have a lot more chances to get more rings, so I have some time. Enjoy the Dreamy Blues (It looks cool and tastes even better). A word of warning, though—it takes a few tries to perfect this drink, so don’t get discouraged.

Best of luck to both teams. Enjoy!

Dreamy Blues
¾ oz. chilled white creme de cacao
1 ¼ oz. chilled blue curacao

Add the white crème de cacao to a cocktail glass. Then slowly and gently add the blue curacao, pouring it over the back of a spoon. (This is called layering.)

The Sazerac
3 or 4 dashes absinthe
2 oz. bourbon or american rye whiskey
3 or 4 dashes bitters
Twist of lemon
Sugar cube (optional)
3 or 4 ounces club soda

Combine ingredients in a cocktail glass with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain over ice, or serve neat.