Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Understated Elegance in a Cocktail Glass

Summertime... lots of people associate summertime drinking with an ice-cold beer or a simple duo like a gin and tonic. I've just finished the Summertime Cocktails menu for the Waukesha Chancery, and it is replete with fresh citrus and herbs. In the Midwest, we go too many months without really fresh ingredients, so we celebrate freshness in summertime: fresh fruit and fresh herbs.  I am unusually grateful for summer in Wisconsin, having spent many years in the South. I miss having regular warm sunshine, fresh produce year-round, the softness of humid air and feeling gentle breezes on my skin. I wanted to do something unexpected and elegant this season, but still honor the simplicity we all cherish about a beautiful season which is far too fleeting.There are a few surprises in the Summertime menu, including two ingredients that are drawn from the historical depths of mixology, but overall the flavors are familiar. No matter what the season, we always strive for balance, and these cocktails are no exception.

Lemon Verbena c.dy godsey

One way many of us celebrate summer's bounty is by growing our own herbs for cooking (and for me, cocktail-making). Whether your garden is in a container on the patio or dug into the earth, Lemon Verbena (aloysia citrodora) is a very agreeable plant. Its fragrance is the strongest of all lemon-scented plants, excluding, of course, the lemon itself.  I bought all the herbs in our bar garden from the local Stein's Garden Center, Chef Jeff's brand, including the Lemon Verbena featured this week.  Lemon Verbena, or Vervain, is easy to grow, requiring only soil, sun and water. Lucky for me and my endeavor, it benefits from frequent harvesting -- three shoots will branch off every time it is topped.  You can also overwinter it indoors; it is a deciduous plant and thus will lose its leaves, but it will come back in spring. Homeopaths say the plant can aid in the treatment of depression; I can certainly vouch for the uplifting feeling of inhaling its bright perfume. 

A few weeks back, I was having a celebrate-the-weekend cocktail with my sister, and formulated the following understated, sophisticated cocktail. I thought a mellow vanilla flavor would be just the thing to tone down the brightness of the lemon flavor.  To soften the drink, I used a sweetener, Oleo Saccharum; you will recall this ingredient from my post on making limoncello.  
Lemonilla Zest c.dy godsey
It is one of five seasonal cocktails featured at the Waukesha Chancery this summer.
Lemonilla Zest
2 oz. Absolut Vanilla Vodka
1 oz. Oleo Saccharum
10 Lemon Verbena leaves
Chill a large cocktail glass.
Combine the Vodka and Saccharum.
Add the leaves and muddle.
Transfer to an iced Boston Shaker.
      Shake, strain and serve.

How did it get its name?  As everybody knows, I am a terrible drink namer. To come up with such a perfet moniker, I needed help.  I turned to Facebook, posting a picture of the drink and its flavor profile. There were several suggestions, but Doug Johnson's was the best.  When I turned in the menu to my boss, a native Spanish speaker, he pronounced it "lem-o-NEE-ya," and it stuck

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