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

With the birth of the year, comes the beginning of a new decade as well. In the past decade, the trends in the beverages and liquor included micro-mixology (the beverage side of micro-gastronomy), pomegranate and other exotic fruit liqueurs, and the rebirth of classic cocktails such as the Sloe Gin Fizz, Sidecar, and Brandy Alexander. This coming decade will prove to be, I think, a continuation of these themes.

We also will see significantly different cocktails that explore flavors as they relate to texture and mouth feel. The classics will continue to be replicated and improved upon with different twists. And we know that the abundance of flavors found in the world will only increase — perhaps a smoked salmon vodka served with Frangelico and Bailey’s to duplicate the classic bagel and lox? (Although I sincerely hope no one tries to do this!)

Whatever the future holds for us, I hope we will continue to rely on the classic cocktails that bring full circle the tradition and memories we enjoy. In addition to Bloody Mary, one of the most classic cocktails served on New Year’s Day is the mimosa. The name is derived from the mimosa plant, whose flowers are very yellow and appear frothy at a distance.

The standard mimosa, of course, is served with one part champagne or sparkling wine and two parts orange juice. But, as you know, I enjoy putting a little twist on things. There are many different classic ways to improve the mimosa, and all involve a little help from the spirit land. Try adding a floater of Grand Marnier, which ratchets up the alcohol content, flavor, and texture of the mimosa. Or try making a Kir, which classically is done by adding some Chambord to the top of the drink. Or you can try another rendition of the mimosa (and some say the original that was later plagiarized) called the Buck Fizz — add a little grenadine for a slight cherry flavor and a lot of color.

Or you can go completely different and prepare the following recipe, the St. Germaine Sparkling Cocktail, which I have recently fell in love with. It goes great with Sunday brunch (we recently started serving these at The Essex, and they’re a hit).

So have a safe and happy holiday, and the best to you for a wonderful 2010. Happy New Year!!

St. Germaine Sparkling Cocktail

1 part dry sparkling wine
1 part soda water
1 part St. Germaine liqueur

Combine ingredients slowly and serve in a champagne flute. Great for parties and goes well in pitchers.

Tarragon Corn Chowder
Yields: 1 quart

1 potato, par-boiled
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 cup Spanish onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2-3 sprigs fresh tarragon
Pinch Salt
Pinch Pepper
¼ cup white wine
2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp flour
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup frozen or fresh corn

Place the diced potato in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a separate pot, fry the bacon on medium heat, stirring constantly.
Add the onion and celery, cooking until transparent.
Add the fresh tarragon, salt, and pepper. Cook for 30 seconds.
Add the white wine and reduce about 3 minutes.
Add the butter.
When butter is melted, add the flour to make the roux.
Add 2 cups of the chicken stock and mix thoroughly.
NOTE: Stir constantly and keep at medium heat to prevent soup from burning.
Add the other 2 cups of the stock, the corn, and the par-boiled potato.
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer for 20 minutes.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Courtesy of Butler’s Restauarant & Tavern at The Essex Resort & Spa, a proud Partner in Education with New England Culinary Restaurant.

SmoresMartini

By Chris Benjamin. Benjamin, director of food and beverage, The Essex Resort & Spa

The holiday season is right around the corner, so here are some tips on stocking the home bar if you’re entertaining family and friends this year. If you’ve been creating the recipes in my recent columns, you’re certainly on the right track to building the perfect entertainment bar. There are certainly some things that every bar should have, so you can cater to most folks’ tastes:

1) Have the liquor basics.

Basic white liquors:

  • Vodka
  • Gin
  • Rum
  • Tequila
  • Triple sec

(You can also add dry and sweet vermouth for the martini and Manhattan drinkers).

With these base liquors and the right mixers, you can pretty much accomplish anything you need and most of the regular drinks friends will request.

Brown liquors:

  • Scotch
  • Bourbon
  • Whiskey

This should satisfy the requests of those pesky uncles or father-in-laws (my father-in-law is a big fan of Old-Fashioneds).

In terms of liqueurs, look for flavoring agents that also will serve as an after-dinner drink. Cream cordials, like Baileys, and chocolate-flavored liqueurs, such as Kahlua, are good mixes to have as they allow versatility for sweeter, cream-based drinks. They’re also are excellent flavoring agents for the after-dinner coffee or digestif.

2) “Well” vs. “Call”

I’m frequently asked which liquors are must-have (“call”) and which you can skimp on (“well”). Truth is, it really depends on the crowd, with a couple of exceptions.

Rum and tequila are almost exclusively used in blended drinks, so you can almost always go bottom-of-the-barrel with them.

Vodka and gin drinkers, on the other hand, tend to be very particular. If you’re making a basic punch, use the “well” version. For martinis, go with something better like Absolut, Ketel One, or the crème de la crème, Grey Goose.

Gin is very similar as most people like it with tonic. Use Bombay, Beefeater, or my personal favorite, Tanqueray.

Triple sec is mostly used as blending, so “well” is fine. Vermouth, too.

When it comes to Bourbon, Whiskey and Scotch, every person has a different taste. Jack Daniels and Jim Beam are safe Bourbon choices; it helps to have some Canadian LTD or Canadian Club around for anyone who has relatives from the north, eh?

For the Scotch drinker, it’s best to get a middle-of-the-road line like a Glenfiddich or Glenlivet, but be warned that Scotch drinkers are the hardest to please because the brands are so varied.

When it comes to cordials, you can get away with the lower-end stuff such as Kamora (for Kahlua). I’d stick with Baileys or Frangelico, though, if possible– the imitations are pretty poor.

3) Mixers

Some basic things will take care of your entertainment needs. Coke, Sprite and ginger ale are good soda choices. Grab some orange juice and cranberry juice (and pineapple, if you’re going all out), some half and half for cream drinks, and a few lemons and limes for garnish.

Keep in mind that you probably have some great garnishes in your kitchen already– chocolate syrup is great in White Russians and Mudslides, maple syrup can be used in tons of coffee drinks drizzled over whipped cream, sugar is great for rimming martini glasses and for muddling, salt is crucial for margaritas, and maraschino cherries work well for Manhattans and as garnishes on tropical drinks.

4) The tools of the trade

You don’t need a whole array of different tools here. A good pint glass and plastic keg cup work well for shaken drinks. A strainer is important for martinis. (If you’re more advanced, you can just hold the keg cup and pint glass horizontally to your drink glass, and make a small gap between the two to allow the drink to come out).

Use a channel knife for twists, but a paring knife can work, too. In terms of glassware, martini glasses are a must-have. Any sized tumbler should work for mixed drinks, and you should have at least a few small rocks glass on hand.

5) Have fun.

Bartending isn’t just about mixing the drinks, it’s also about the show that you put on. When shaking a drink, hold it high. Flip some glasses around if you can, and remember to interact with your guests. Cocktails taste a lot better when served with flourish, fun and a smile. I’ve included a recipe this week that’s pretty tasty, easy to make, and will appeal to a broad audience.

Enjoy!

S’MORETINI

Ingredients:

1 ¼ ounces vodka (the better the vodka the better the drink)
¾ ounces Dark Chocolate Godiva Liqueur (or any dark-chocolate flavored agent)
¾  ounces Navan Vanilla flavored Cognac
¾ ounces Toasted Marshmallow Syrup (you can find this in many coffee shops)
Chocolate syrup
Crushed graham crackers
Mini marshmallows

Directions:

Combine vodka, Godiva, Navan and syrup in a pint glass filled with ice. Shake vigorously. Rim a martini glass with chocolate syrup. Add the graham cracker crumbles to a small plate and dunk the rim of your glass into the crumbles. Strain the drink into the glass and garnish with mini marshmallows. Sip and enjoy.

coffee

by Chris Benjamin, Food & Beverage Director, The Essex Resort & Spa

Autumn has certainly come in and taken over our world, a prelude to the next longer season ahead. Seems like every day it’s 54 degrees, raining, and windy. The leaves are falling, and old man winter draws ever nearer.

It’s dreary days like these that make me seek out those comfort items that we keep around to lighten our mood and hearts; for some it might be a favorite sweater; others look for a place near the wood stove and a good book; still others might look towards a great comfort meal that was once a favorite as kids (mine happens to be my Dad’s Chicken a la King).  But for others, there’s nothing like having a solid cocktail in their hand.

I’m sure ‘Cork Dork’ Jason Zuliani might argue that a glass of wine is what’s needed, but to many folks in Vermont one of the most comforting beverages is coffee.  Warming on the inside, coffee in moderate amounts is also very healthy, recently linked to reducing the risk of colon cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and cavities (if you go sans-sugar).  Of course any beverage can be improved upon, in my opinion, with a little love from some distilled spirits, and liqueurs are the best marriage of flavors.

Liqueurs can be defined as any spirit (usually but not always low in alcohol) that are strongly flavored with either fruit, herbs or nuts and have higher than normal sugar levels (thus the lower alcohol).  Originally intended to be drunk after dinner as a digestif, these spirits are an ideal match for coffee as flavoring agents.  Examples of these types of liqueurs are wide and varied, and most have some an ancient, special recipe that’s been handed down for centuries (The Colonel’s seven herbs & spices has nothing on these guys).

One such liqueur is Grand Marnier, created by Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle in 1880.  It’s a blend of Cognac (more on this next week) and Citrus Bigaradia, a special orange hailing from the Caribbean.  It’s also one of the ingredients you’ll find in the Essex Warmer, this week’s featured cocktail.  While you’ll only find this at The Essex Resort & Spa, most restaurants carry their own specialty on their dessert menus, so take a look the next time you’re out.

I recommend sipping The Essex Warmer on the porch on a day like today, watching the leaves fall, or hosting friends for a celebration. While you can skimp and get cheaper liqueurs, I don’t recommend it.  The generics utilize more high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings than the real stuff, thus why they tend to be cheaper.

Enjoy.

The Essex Warmer
3/4 oz Grand Marnier
3/4 oz Bailey’s Irish Cream
3/4 oz Kahlua
6-8 oz Your favorite coffee (6 oz if you want to really taste the liqueur, 8 oz if you’re looking for the sneak attack).

Combine all the ingredients.  Top with whip cream and garnish with three coffee beans (this is traditionally done in Italy with sambuca drinks. The beans represent health, wealth and happiness).

PineappleMartiniby Chris Benjamin, Food & Beverage Director, The Essex Resort & Spa

Vermont is known for producing high-quality products sought-after nationwide: cheese, maple syrup, apples, organic produce and lamb, among others commodities. While our wine program is slowly gaining ground, and our beer is perhaps among the best around, one of the newest ventures is the art of distilleries, or the making of alcohol.

While there are relatively few distilleries throughout the state (at least that are legal; no telling how much moonshine is being produced), the ones that have come to market are continuing with the same quality for which our state is known. One coming to the forefront of recognition and market share: Green Mountain Distillers.

Based out of Stowe, Green Mountain Distillers, with their most notable product being Sunshine Vodka, has recently attained certification as 100 percent organic. I have long been a supporter of this great product, featuring it in many of our drinks at The Essex Resort & Spa, but my support recently increased when I found out who were the masterminds behind it: Tim Danahy and his partner, Harold Faircloth III. Tim and I used to work together in a past lifetime at The Shed Pub & Brewery, where Tim was the master brewer. It was a great reunion and catch-up, and I learned of a couple of new products that have recently been released: the new Organic Lemon and Orange flavored vodkas.

Tim has long been, in my mind, one of the most talented brewers I’ve ever worked with, and I find that same talent has been applied to his vodka. Quadruple distilled for quality, the alcohol is combined with Vermont Spring water to give it a clean, distinct flavor that is perfect as a base for memorable cocktails. At the Essex, we use this vodka in many of our infusions, which is a huge hit and trend in the industry. While the following recipe might not help you for this weekend, it’s a great investment for future and can be brought out to impress your friends any time as it keeps extremely well (though I do recommend keeping it refrigerated to prevent spoilage).

I hope you enjoy the drink, and encourage you to seek out Sunshine Vodka, a great spirit consistent with keeping your buying local, organic and sustainable.

Enjoy!

RECIPE: Pineapple Vodka Infusion
Created by Mark Elwell

1 pineapple, cleaned and diced into 1-inch chunks
3 bottles of Sunshine Vodka

Combine Vodka and pineapple in a large container that is tightly covered. Store in a dark, cool place for about a week. Remove the pineapple and push through a juicer (you can also just squeeze the fruit but this gets maximum extraction). If you don’t use the juicer, you can eat the fruit but beware the consequences (in other words, I wouldn’t jump behind the wheel of a car anytime soon).

RECIPE: Pineapple Martini
1-and-one-half oz. pineapple-infused Sunshine Vodka
Three-quarters oz. Malibu Rum
Three-quarters oz. pineapple juice

Fill a pint glass or tumbler with ice. Combine all the ingredients and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass and serve with a pineapple spear. Sip and remember summer or gulp and forget the winter.

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Gather your girlfriends and pack your bags!

Escape to The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa – relax, renew, and reconnect with your sense of adventure and your best friends. With great food and pampering in the equation – it’s sure to be a memorable experience you’ll treasure.

The Gourmet Girls Get-a-way starts from only $579* for 2 Ladies.

Both of you will enjoy these fantastic features:

  • One night accommodations in a Traditional Guest Room
  • Chef In Training Cooking Class onsite at Cook Academy
  • Choice of One:
    • 50 Minute Swedish Massage
    • 50 Minute Transformation Facial
    • Essential Manicure  & Pedicure
  • Unlimited Spa Access
  • A Delicious Spa Lunch
  • Complimentary Fresh Start Breakfast
  • Early Check in / Late Check out when available
  • You can also click HERE to see a schedule of the great Chef-In-Training classes available.

Is there more than one BFF? Well that’s an easy solution–additional girls in the same accommodations for $230 (so that means it’s cheaper if more fabulous friends tag along!), but limited rooms are available and the rates are based on double occupancy.  Need more time away?  Adding on a 2nd night is only an extra $169.*

What are you waiting for? Come here and let us pamper your stress and worries away, not to mention a time of your life with your closest girls! Click to see the new Spa Menu!

Jeff Baker, Beer & Wine Manager of the Winooski Beverage Warehouse came in to The Essex to interview Chris Benjamin, Food & Beverage Director for The Tavern and Butler’s Restaurant about featured brews in the two restaurants!

The Essex staff tries to create worldly, yet local tastes throughout their overall culinary experiences by pairing specific culinary creations with the world-class brews and wines of course.  Although food pairings are most often associated with different wines— beer and food pairings are really quite a treat and will shock your taste buds in delight!

Click below to read Jeff Baker’s blog on his experience at The Essex, other stories of micro-brews, fine wines and Vermont beverage news!

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