Dave’s Streamlined Martini Procedure

In the last five years, I have developed a steady stream of visitors who come to look at my Dave’s Dirty Martini Procedure post. However, since developing that procedure, my technique has evolved on two fronts:

  1. Shaking vs Stirring – There is a reason that James Bond famously says “Shaken, Not Stirred”. Up until the 1960s, Martinis were stirred, not shaken. The reasoning was that shaking would “bruise” the gin and also that stirring lent a beguiling jewel-like clarity to the cocktail.
  2. Utensil Clean-Up – My original approach left an annoying mess to cleanup. Cocktail shakers are not very dishwasher-friendly. The can can go in the washer as a sort of glass. Depending on the model, however, there may not be a secure place to place the strainer and the lid almost never has a natural home in the dishwasher.

Over time, I have streamlined my procedure to minimize the cleanup mess and switch from shaking to stirring.

Utensils

photo shows a mixing glass, a small disk with two toothpicks, and a martini glass

Utensils

  • Spoon – We are going to get a lot of mileage out of the spoon.
  • Small Dish – The dish is actually optional. However, I like to prepare the olives and put them on a dish of some sort. You can use the lid of the olive jar, but I found that I prefer to put away all the ingredients before doing the final assembly of the martini so I can immediately pick it up and enjoy it while it is cold, without leaving behind a mess that needs to be cleaned up later.
  • Toothpicks – I use ordinary wooden toothpicks from the supermarket. You can find all sorts of fancy reusable toothpicks at your local high-end liquor store, but such fancy toothpicks need to be cleaned and are not dishwasher-friendly. I stick with the old-fashioned wooden toothpicks and simply discard them after I am done drinking my martini.
  • Glass for Mixing – A pint glass from your local pub is the ideal size and shape. However, it is handy to have something with some sort of pattern on the mixing glass so that you can dispense with the measuring shot glass. More on that in a minute.
  • Martini Glass – Of course, you will need a martini glass. Recently we moved to Ohio in a bit of a hurry for a job and brought almost nothing with us. I was irritated to find that local department stores did not have ordinary, straight-up martini glasses. However, I found two of these nice, simple glasses at the local Goodwill store.

Ingredients

I have clear favorites for each of the three ingredients. However, I also like variety. As such, I continue to sample with different alternative products.

Photo shows a bottle of vermouth, a bottle of gin, and a jar of olives

Ingredients

  • Gin – My clear favorite is Bombay Sapphire, followed by Tanqueray. However, recently I enjoyed a bottle of Central Ohio craft gin from Watershed Distillery. Initially I was surprised by the rather sweet flavor. Ohioans have a powerful sweet tooth. In fact, it little too sweet for me. However, adding a dash of bitters balanced it out and delivered an interesting, complex flavor.
  • Dry Vermouth – My favorite continues to be Noilly Pratt. I have not yet encountered a nice, U.S. produced vermouth. I purchased a bottle of cheap, U.S. Vermouth and basically had to pour it out. I have heard that there is a budding craft vermouth industry somewhere, but I have not noticed anything interesting on the liquor store shelves in Ohio yet. Note: for beginners it is important to note that you want dry vermouth, not sweet vermouth. Dry and sweet are not the same, and a martini inadvertently made with sweet vermouth will be undrinkable.
  • Olives – Usually I am pleased by the olives in the martinis at most fancy hotel bars. However, at such bars, the bartenders are usually fishing the olives out of a gallon-sized jar. Such giant jars of olives are impractical for home consumption. I have found it to be difficult to get consistently high-quality olives in smaller jars. The one exception is the Divina brand. These are usually available at Whole Foods. Occasionally I will try olives stuffed with blue cheese or feta cheese, but I mostly stick to the sweet pepper stuffed olives.

One-Time Preparation

There is one step that you will only need to do a single time that will save you a lot of fumbling in the future. Take the martini glass and fill it to a comfortable level. For me this level is about 5mm below the rim. Pour the water from the martini glass into the mixing glass. Make a note of the “martini glass full” level on the mixing glass. In my case, there is a convenient pattern of rings around the base of the glass that marks the perfect level.

Streamlined Martini Procedure

1. Place the martini glass in your freezer. The glass only needs to be in a normal household freezer for 5-10 minutes to cool down adequately.

Photo of spoon in jar containing green olives

Use the spoon to fish olives from the jar

2. Use the spoon to fish olives from the jar and skewer them on the toothpicks. I prefer larger queen olives and usually prepare two toothpicks with two olives on each toothpick. (I like olives!) Place prepared olives on the plate.

Photo shows a spoonful of the brine from the olive jar

Add one spoonful of olive brine to mixing glass

3. Scoop one spoonful of the brine from the olive jar and pour it into the mixing glass.

Photo shows a spoonful of vermouth being poured into the glass

Add one spoonful of vermouth to the mixing glass

4. Add one spoonful of vermouth to the mixing glass.

Photo shows glass filled to level of rings

Fill glass with gin to previously measured mark

5. Fill glass with gin to previously measured the mark. In my case, that means pouring gin until the level of gin is just above the rings molded into the glass.

6. Put away the vermouth, gin, and jar of olives.

Photo shows a spoon stirring ice cubes in the mixing glass

Add ice and stir

7. Remove chilled martini glass from the freezer.

8. Place prepared olives into chilled martini glass.

9. Place three or four ice cubes into mixing glass.

10. Stir with spoon for about twenty seconds.

Photo shows author using a spoon to hold back the ice cubes while pouring the stirred martini into the martini glass.

Pour stirred martini into glass

11. Pour stirred martini into martini glass, using spoon to hold back the ice cubes.

12. Quickly drop the mixing glass, the spoon, and the small plate into the dishwasher.

Photo shows completed martini in chilled glass with two skewers of olives

Finished Martini

13. Enjoy your martini with no further mess to clean up!

Biscuits for Thanksgiving

In years past, we were part of a large communal Thanksgiving celebration that rotated between the houses of several families each year. For these events, I always enjoyed baking one or even two fruit pies. However, time has progressed. Children have grown up and moved away. Careers have changed. We moved from a large house to a cozy apartment. This year’s Thanksgiving was just three people.

For three people, I decided to do something a little simpler: biscuits.

That is, I have been tinkering with baking powder biscuits for more than ten years. However, I had not made any biscuits since 2009. Time to dig the recipe spreadsheet out of the archive and try again. Here is this year’s version:

Ingredients

  • All purpose flour – 3 cups (300g)
  • Quick cooking oats – 3/4 cup (75g)
  • Baking powder – 3 tablespoons (40g)
  • Baking soda – 1/2 teaspoon (3g)
  • Sugar – 3/4 teaspoon (4g)
  • Salt – 3/4 teaspoon (4g)
  • Unsalted butter – 3/8 cup (75g)
  • Crisco vegetable shortening – 3/8 cup (75g)
  • Low fat buttermilk – 1 cup (225ml)
  • Additional cold water – as needed, about 1/4 to 3/4 cup (50-150ml)

Utensils

  • Cookie sheet – a professional aluminum “half sheet” available from your nearest restaurant supply store works much better than a consumer-grade tin sheet.
  • Mixing bowl – that you can put in the freezer
  • Medium plastic bowl or similar for weighing on the scale
  • Cutting board – that you can put in the freezer
  • Flour sifter
  • Postal scale – I have a nice Japanese one that reads out in grams, much more accurate than U.S. scales that read only in ounces
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Large wooden or plastic spoon for mixing
  • Biscuit cutter 2.5 inch (6cm)
  • Plastic wrap
  • Timer
  • Oven mits
  • Rack for cooling
  • Spatula to move biscuits from hot cookie sheet to rack

Key Points

  1. Use a postal scale to weigh the flour, oats, butter, shortening. The ratio is tricky and using a volume measure for flour is very unreliable. The volume of the flour can vary widely depending on the humidity, whether it has been sifted, and so on.
  2. It is hard to get the amount of liquid just right. How much liquid the dough needs will also vary from day-to-day depending on humidity, temperature, the phase of the moon, and so on.
  3. The goal is similar to that of a pie-crust. We want to make little balls of shortening that are covered in flour and do NOT dissolve into a wet mush. When we put the biscuits in the oven, these should fluff into “flakes” or at least that is the idea.
  4. One method of keeping the little shortening balls intact is to get them very cold just before the final prep of the dough. It also helps to have the working surface really cold. Finally, you want to handle the dough very quickly and briefly. Otherwise, your hands will warm it up, melting these little balls.
  5. For those not used to weighing things on a postal scale, put the plastic bowl on the scale before you turn it on. That way, the scale will calibrate itself to “0” including the weight of the plastic bowl. This technique makes it very easy to measure ingredients and then use the plastic bowl to dump them into the mixing bowl.

Preparation

Starting two hours before meal time:

1 – Weigh flour into sifter.

2 – Measure baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar into sifter.

3 – Sift together.

4 – Mix the oats into the bowl and stir together.

5 – Put some of the mix back into the plastic bowl, put it back onto the scale, turn the scale off and on again to calibrate.

Picture shows bowl on postal scale with some flour mix and vegetable shortening

Weigh Crisco into Some of the Flour

6 – Scoop the vegetable shortening into this mix using a spoon until you have measured 75 grams.

7 – Dump the mix and vegetable shortening into the bowl.

8 – Calibrate the scale again.

9 – Trim one stick of unsalted butter until it weighs 75 grams.

Shows intact and unwrapped stick of butter sitting in flour mix in bowl

Put Butter and Crisco into Flour Mix and Allow to Soften

10 – Unwrap and drop the stick of butter into the bowl with the vegetable shortening and dry ingredients.

11 – Allow the mix to sit on the counter for about 30 minutes until the butter is fully softened.

Continuing 90 minutes before meal time:

Shows crumbly flour mixture

After Cutting in Shortening, Mix Will Look Like This

12 – Use a knife to cut shortening up into smaller chunks. Then use fork to press these against the sides of the bowl, turning and repeating until the mixture has the texture of cornmeal.

13 – Cover with plastic wrap.

shows bowl and cutting board in freezer

Bowl and Cutting Board Into Freezer

14 – Place cutting board and bowl into freezer.

15 – Turn on oven to “bake” and 450°F (230°C) and allow to preheat.

16 – Allow cutting board and mix to chill for 45 to 60 minutes.

17 – Remove bowl from freezer.

18 – Add buttermilk, 1/3 of a cup at a time. Stir lightly to spread moisture. Do not over-mix.

Shows that dough is still too dry to come together

Not Moist Enough After Adding One Cup of Buttermilk

shows dough now sticky enough to form a ball

Moist Enough After Adding a Total of 1/2 Cup of Additional Water

19 – Assess dough. Is there enough moisture that this dough will stick together? You don’t want a cake batter. You want a level of stickiness that just barely picks up the flour mix.

20 – If necessary, carefully add more cold water, 1/4 cup at a time until the dough is just sticky enough.

shows a ball in the bowl

Form a Ball in the Bowl

21 – Form a ball of dough in the bowl. Don’t over-work it. Just squeeze and pat it together until a ball forms.

Shows crumbly dough patted into a rough square on cutting board

Pat Dough Flat

22 – Remove cutting board from freezer. Sprinkle lightly with flour. Pat dough ball into a square about an inch (2.5cm) thick.

23 – Lightly oil the cooking sheet.

24 – Cut biscuits with the biscuit cutter, twisting slightly to separate each one.

shows 13 biscuits touching each other on cookie sheet

Place Biscuits Touching on Cookie Sheet

25 – Place biscuits touching each other on the cookie sheet. Placing them this way will encourage them to expand upward rather than outward.

26 – Press the scraps of dough together, pat back to a smaller square and continue cutting. Don’t worry if there are small gaps in the dough. These actually make the biscuits more interesting.

27 – Take the last tiny scraps of dough and push them into the biscuit cutter to form one last biscuit.

28 – Using your thumb, press a small dimple into the center of each biscuit. This dimple will prevent the biscuit from crowning (forming a domed top).

Finished Biscuits After 15 Minutes in Oven

Finished Biscuits After 15 Minutes in Oven

29 – Place cookie sheet in oven.

30 – Set timer for 15 minutes.

31 – Bake until golden brown on the top. Remove from oven.

32 – Use spatula to transfer biscuits to rack for cooling.

Finished Biscuit with Butter and Jam

Finished Biscuit with Butter and Jam

Critique

The biscuits look and smell great. However, for my taste they are a little dry. I would like them to be a little softer and more like the unspeakably artificial biscuits that you get in a little cardboard tube at the grocery store. I realize that those instant biscuits contain all kinds of frightening chemical ingredients…but I like them. As a next step, I may cut the cooking time slightly. I may also experiment with adding an egg to the dough.

Sources

  • http://www.worldwideschool.org/library/books/tech/recipes/bread/biscuits-1/Chap1.html
  • Alton Brown “Good Eats” seen on 27 May 2004
  • GQ Magazine August 2004 issue page 66 on 10/9/2005

Christmas Cookies 2012

Christmas Cookies Ready for Parties

Christmas Cookies Ready for Parties

Baking Christmas cookies was an entertainment highlight of the Christmas season when I was growing up. Once I had children of my own, I made a point of taking the tradition over and making it part of our own family tradition. When the children were smaller, we made cookies together. I keep a binder of recipes that I mark up with notes about results, difficulty, preparation time, ideas for next time and so on. This binder is pretty thick and it has more than twenty years of notes in it.

In recent years, I had done most of the preparation myself. The children tended to be busy with other activities during the Christmas season. We also are fortunate to have a nice community of family friends and have developed a pattern of packaging up our cookies and taking them to holiday parties that we are invited to.

This year our daughter Erika came home for Christmas and decided to take over the Christmas cookie preparation. She is a good cook and did an excellent job. The plate shown above includes:

  1. Austrian Raspberry Shortbread from Smitten Kitchen.
  2. Chocolate Crinkles from Betty Crocker
  3. Cherry Gems from Blue Ribbon Cookies by Maria Polushkin Robbins (Editor)
  4. Sugar Cookies by Lag Liv.
Cookies Go Well with a Christmas Martini

Cookies Go Well with a Christmas Martini

As for the Sugar Cookies, Erika comments that it is slightly easier to cut the cookies if you chill them first. That is, Erika rolls out the dough between two sheets of wax paper. She then puts the dough (still between the sheets of wax paper) into the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes. After removing the dough from the freezer, she peels back the top sheet of wax paper and cuts them with a cookie cutter.

By the way, these cookies all go very nicely with a Christmas Martini.

Dave’s Dirty Martini Procedure

Careful readers will have noticed that I have added a new top-level menu to the blog called “Tech Notes”. Under this category I will be creating pages for specific useful technical procedures. Some of these will start out as blog entries and then migrate to become reference pages under Tech Notes.

First up is the procedure for making my favorite classic dirty martini.

We are going to shake our martini rather than stirring it. Historically, gin martinis were stirred; other cocktails were shaken. Hence the need for the classic James Bond directive: “Shaken. Not stirred.”

Implements

Implements, Martini Glass

Martini Glass

The first thing you need is a martini glass. My martini glasses are rather typical Texas-sized glasses. Filled to the brim, the glass at left holds 300 ml ( 10 ounces) of your favorite beverage. A martini served in a beer mug or a coffee cup just doesn’t taste right. Having an appropriate martini glass is important.

The next key implement is the cocktail shaker.

Implements, Cocktail Shaker

Cocktail Shaker

 

 

 

I use a classic shaker as shown to the right. The cocktail shaker is made of stainless steel. As such it does not chemically interact with the ingredients you mix in it. The cocktail shaker has three components:

  1. The main vessel. The shaker vessel show in the photo to the right holds 360ml (12 ounces) of fluid.
  2. The cover
  3. The cap.

In the photo above, the cap is on the cover. The cover contains a strainer to keep the ice cubes from pouring into your drink.

Nice simple shakers of this type were available from Target this summer.

Implements, Mini-Measure Shot Glass

Mini-Measure Shot Glass

Next you will need a shot glass. The shot glass helps you measure ounces (28 grams) of liquid. If you are an obsessive compulsive type like me, you will like the “Mini Measure” shot glasses like the one shown at the left. These can be ordered on Amazon.com and are available in some grocery stores.

Implements, small glass for ice

Small Glass for Ice

 

 

 

 

You will need a small glass for measuring ice into the other implements. The size and shape of this glass is not very important. The one shown is a 6 ounce glass.

A dish towel will catch drips and slops

A Dish Towel Is Helpful to Catch Drips and Slops

 

 

 

I generally like to lay down a dish towel on the counter to catch drips and slops from the mixing process. Mixing on a dish towel helps insure that your martini glass does not leave unsightly gooey slop marks when you set it down on a white table-cloth.

 

 

 

Ingredients

Next we consider the ingredients.

Ingredients, high quality gin

High Quality Gin

The first most important ingredient is the gin. There are two main categories of gin:

  1. Dutch Gin – the Dutch apparently invented gin. Recently I have been drinking a bottle of Boomsma Dutch gin as shown to the left in the picture.
  2. English Gin – the British Empire was fueled by gin, especially in malaria-infested colonies where the colonists had to drink large quantities of quinine-containing tonic water to suppress the disease and needed gin to make it palatable. My favorite English-style gin is Bombay Sapphire. I also like Tanqueray, but I continue to sample others as I come across them.

The bottle on the right is some really good stuff which I snuck out of the Asatte Press Research and Development laboratories.

Ingredients, Dry Vermouth

Dry Vermouth

The next key ingredient is the vermouth. It is very important that you get “dry” vermouth and not regular or sweet vermouth. The French and Italians both produce very nice vermouth. In fact, the most popular Italian brand is the Martini brand. Initially I thought that the Italian brand must be the origin of the name of the drink, but the Wikipedia entry suggests otherwise. I happen to like the French Noilly Prat vermouth, although I do sample others from time to time.

Ingredients, High Quality Queen Olives

Ingredients, High Quality Queen Olives

Olives are also a key ingredient in the properly mixed martini. There are those who pursue alternative lifestyles, worship graven images, commune with investment bankers, or believe in gun control who prefer other condiments such as little frou-frou peels of lemon rind with their martini. I prefer the classic Spanish or Greek Queen olive.

My research into the selection of the best brand continues in earnest. I have been trying all kinds; a feta cheese stuffed Greek olive is shown in the photo to the right. Not only have I been experimenting with different brands, I have also been experimenting with different fillings. Nevertheless, I have been unable to find any brand or filling yet that could consistently beat “Divina Stuffed Olive with Red Pepper” (a little hard to get the specific variety online, but major grocery stores should carry them)

Cocktail Toothpicks

Ingredients, Cocktail Toothpick

Toothpicks are very important as well. The goal here is to load the toothpick up with three luscious, world-class, stuffed green olives. Some sliver of flimsy balsa wood from Southeast Asia is not going to do the trick. You need to invest in some high-quality cocktail toothpicks.

 

 

 

 

 

Assembly Procedure

Organize all of the implements and ingredients on the counter top.

Fill small glass with ice cubes

Fill Small Glass with Ice Cubes

The sequence of assembly is quite important here. The final goal is not merely to get the chemicals mixed, but also to have the entire assembly and contents at the right temperature: ice-cold.

As such, the first steps involve preparing the martini glass to receive the martini contents. We need to make that martini glass cold in a hurry.

Start by filling the small glass listed above with ice cubes.

Transfer ice to martini glass, fill small glass with ice water

Transfer Ice to Martini Glass; Fill Small Glass with Ice Water

Next transfer the ice cubes to the martini glass and fill the small glass with ice water.

Martini preparation is much easier if you have a refrigerator that has a dispenser for ice cubes and chilled ice water in the door.

Fill glass with water to chill as rapidly as possible

Fill Martini Glass with Water to Chill as Rapidly as Possible

 

 

Next transfer the ice water to the martini glass. This approach will rapidly chill the martini glass.

We really want that glass to be nice and cold when the mixed martini is ready.

Skewer 3 olives on toothpick and set aside in water glass

Skewer 3 Olives on a Toothpick and Set Aside in Water Glass

 

 

 

 

While the martini glass is chilling, we turn our attention to the olives. A high quality cocktail toothpick should be able to hold three queen olives.

Now is a good time to skewer the olives. We would not want everything to fatally warm up at the end while we fumbled helplessly to get the olives in position.

Skewer them now. Set them aside. The empty water glass is a good place to put them.

Pour about 0.5 oz olive juice into shot glass

Pour about 0.5 oz Olive Juice into Shot Glass

Now we can focus our attention on the actual mixing of the martini.

The term “dirty” refers to the practice of mixing a little of the murky water from the jar of olives into the drink. I like my martinis dirty.

Start by pouring about 15ml (~1/2 ounce) of the liquid from the jar of olives into the shot glass.

Add vermouth to olive juice to make 1 oz

Add Vermouth to Olive Juice to Make 1 oz

 

 

Next comes the vermouth.  A lot of people like “dry” martinis with minimal vermouth. Others demand “extra dry” martinis with even less vermouth. For these people, the bar tender will simply rinse the martini glass with a little vermouth and then pour it out. Finally, there are the people who demand an “ultra dry” martini. For these people, the bar tender shines a bright light on the martini glass and passes the bottle of vermouth between the light and the glass.

I am not one of these vermouth-phobic individuals. Basically, they are simply drinking gin in a fancy glass. I like my martini to have some flavor. As such, I add enough vermouth to the olive juice to make one ounce (29ml).

Fill shaker with ice cubes

Fill Cocktail Shaker with Ice Cubes

Next we fill the cocktail shaker with ice.  This step is not that critical. You want to add a sufficient quantity of ice to the cocktail shaker. Fill it loosely to the brim as shown.

 

 

 

 

 

Pour Olive Juice and Vermouth into Shaker

Pour olive juice and vermouth into shaker

Next pour the olive juice and vermouth mixture over the ice in the shaker.

 

 

 

 

 

Add about 5 oz of gin

Add About 5 oz of Gin

Next add about four ounces (~120ml) of gin.

If you are really thirsty, you should be able to just barely squeeze five ounces (~150ml) of gin into the shaker which will in turn end up just filling the martini glass to the brim.

The first few times you mix a martini, you will probably want to carefully measure out the of gin using a shot glass.

After you get used to your equipment, you can measure this by eyeball. If we look at the picture at the right, by experience I can see that the level of the gin is about 15mm below the rim of the shaker and understand that this is just about the right amount of gin to fill my martini glass.

Shake the Martini Mixer

Shake the Martini Mixer

Place the cap on the cover of the cocktail mixer and place the cover on the body. Give the martini a vigorous shake for a few seconds as shown in the photo to the left.

Set the mixer down (with the cap still in place).

 

 

 

 

Pour out ice water and place olives in glass

Pour the Ice Water out of the Martini Glass and Insert the Olives

  1. Quickly pour the ice water and ice out of the martini glass.
  2. Place the toothpick of olives in martini the glass.
  3. Shake the cocktail mixer vigorously for another ten seconds.
  4. Remove the cap from the cocktail mixer.
  5. Pour the frothy martini mix into the glass.

 

 

Completed martini slighly effervescent

Completed martini slighly effervescent

The resulting martini will be a slightly cloudy olive color. It will be slightly effervescent, bubbling with the air that was mixed into the cocktail by the vigorous shaking.

It will be very cold.

It will be very tasty.

It will contain about the same amount of alcohol  as two glasses of wine.

Caution: once you are setup to make these, it is very difficult to drink only one….