Pimm’s and Fish (and More Questionable Food Combinations)

Last summer, my best friend Holly and I started a new tradition of trying different recipes with specific kinds of alcohol. We had mixed success; tequila and mac and cheese was a surprisingly delicious combination, while Fireball cupcakes were better in theory than in practice. We planned on doing this every month, but unfortunately we don’t have the best follow-through and didn’t do anything for the next year. Last month, however, we decided to start it up again, and at Holly’s suggestion, we chose to experiment with Pimm’s-a spiced fruit English liqueur. Neither Holly and I had tried it before, and besides the popular English summer cocktail, the Pimm’s Cup, we couldn’t find many recipes using it, so we settled on three: the classic Pimm’s Cup, Pimm’s Cupcakes, and a Pimm’s marinade of Holly’s own creation that we used on cod.

  1. Pimm’s Cup
    Most Pimm’s cup recipes I found called for lemonade or ginger ale as a mixer, but the one Holly found actually used Sprite, and because we were lazy and didn’t feel like wandering around the crowded Aldi where we bought most of our ingredients, we grabbed a nearby box of generic-brand lemon-lime soda and hoped for the best. I was nervous when I opened the Pimm’s bottle and sniffed its contents. “It smells like wop,” I told Holly, grimacing, referring to the disgusting mess of spiked punch popular at frat parties (not that I would know anything about that…I definitely never spent any weekends my sophomore year awkwardly dancing to crappy pop music and spilling cheap, sticky jungle juice all over myself in the TKE house…). Still, I mixed it in with the sprite and slices of lemon and cucumber, topping each drink with a couple mint leaves. Fortunately, the cocktail tasted nothing like wop; it was a little citrusy, but mostly tasted like a familiar spice-Holly guessed nutmeg- and the combination with the citrus and mint was really refreshing. I can understand why it’s such a popular summer drink in England, and I would absolutely have it again.
    pimms cuppimms cup 2
  2. Pimm’s-Marinated Cod
    We couldn’t really find any savory Pimm’s-based dishes, so Holly decided to get creative. She combined the liqueur with sliced strawberries, oranges, and chopped jalapenos into an improvised marinade, which she used to pan-broil a couple cod fillets. The result was delicious; despite the orange and strawberry, the marinade wasn’t too sweet- I think the Pimm’s actually helped mellow it out- and the jalapeno gave it a nice kick. The only downside was that neither of us know how to properly cook fish, so the texture was a little chewy, but considering the purpose of the experiment was to make something tasty using Pimm’s, I would call the dish a success.
    pimms cod 2pimms cod
  3. Pimm’s Cupcakes
    After the Fireball cupcake disaster last year, I was a little nervous to try this one, but unlike the Fireball one, I found an actual recipe for this one on Lay the Table, a gorgeous food blog created by someone who actually knows what she’s doing and doesn’t just substitute water for booze in cake batter and expect it not to taste like garbage, the way Holly and I did last time. I didn’t make the batter from scratch because I am way too lazy, opting instead for a boxed mix, but I did want to try to make the buttercream frosting myself. I’m normally the “buy a can of frosting and eat most of it with a spoon instead of putting it on the baked goods” kind of girl, so I was a little nervous about making homemade buttercream for the first time, but I was proud to see it thicken into a sweet, creamy, confection- until Holly decided to dump the entire saucepan of mashed strawberries and strawberry juice we needed for coloring and flavor into the bowl rather than measuring it out. Thanks, bestie. Luckily, adding more powdered sugar-a LOT more powdered sugar- transformed it from a watery, chunky mess into a pale pink creamy glaze. I added the grated and chopped orange rind, mint, and cucumber, and mixed it into the glaze. We ended up only making six cupcakes before just deciding to use the rest of the batter to make one big cake because we are very impatient people. We were very happy with the results; the frosting/glaze was light and refreshing (who would have thought of putting cucumber in a dessert?!), although because we had to add so much extra powdered sugar, it was almost a little TOO sweet. I would definitely try this again- with the correct measurements this time.
    pimms frostingpimms cake

While we weren’t able to find as many recipes this time, I was happy with the outcome of the ones we did try. However, I don’t what the likelihood is that I would make any of them again; Pimm’s seems like the kind of thing I would buy for one cocktail and then have collecting dust in a kitchen cupboard for a couple years. The cupcakes were delicious, but I feel like I could use the same recipe without the Pimm’s and it would still taste just as good. Same for the marinade; while Pimm’s is good in a cocktail, it’s such a mellow flavor that using it for cooking is kind of pointless because it’s overpowered by other flavors. Still, it was an overall success, and I can’t wait to decide what our next boozy ingredient will be. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

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Tequila and Cheese (And More Questionable Food Decisions)

I’m not a big tequila fan. I like margaritas, but only because they’re sugary enough to mostly cover up the taste of the alcohol. My aversion is definitely a psychological issue; I overindulged on tequila shots when I was newly-twenty-one, so now tequila tastes like junior year of college and bad decisions.

And yet, I had a nearly full bottle of Jose Cuervo sitting on top of my fridge for about a month.  I decided to make boozy Popsicles for a book club meeting last month (aw, yeah, my friends and I get crazy when we discuss Mark Twain, yo) and I settled on a recipe for tequila sunrise pops, because I figured it would be hard to screw up tequila, orange juice, and grenadine. Unfortunately, I didn’t think about how long alcohol takes to freeze, so by the time my friends arrived they were more like tequila sunrise slushies. I also added way too much tequila to the tiny Popsicle molds, so by the time they did freeze, they were more like tequila shot ice cubes with a hint of orange juice.

Fortunately, Holly was up for another round of “let’s put a bunch of [insert alcohol here] into stuff and see what happens!” True, the Fireball experiment  hadn’t been completely successful (just thinking about those cupcakes makes me queasy), but cooking with tequila sounded a lot more promising than cooking with cinnamon whiskey, and we found a lot of great recipes. However, grocery shopping in a Minnesota suburb provides limited options on finding specialty ingredients like champagne mangoes or GranQueso or fontina cheesse. When Holly asked the deli worker at Cub what a good substitute for either cheese was, his reply was “That sounds Mexican. Is that Mexican?” and proceeded to give her detailed instructions on how to find the shredded cheese aisle.  Despite our limitations, we were able to be resourceful with what we had, and we totally knocked it out of the park on all of the recipes.

1. Tequila-infused mango and avocado salsa

The main reason I chose this one was because it involved no actual cooking, just chopping and mixing produce. I was a little worried about how it would taste, because the first instructions were to coat the chunks of mango in a bowl of tequila and let it soak for an hour, and it smelled like a frat house when I first mixed it. However, once the fruit had absorbed the alcohol and was combined with the avocado, jalapeno, and cilantro (I left out the red onion because it’s gross and this was my recipe, so there) it tasted phenomenal. The sweetness from the mango really cut down on the alcohol taste, but the tequila flavor still blended really well with the jalapeno and cilantro. From what I read, the only difference between regular mangoes and champagne or honey mangoes is that the latter are sweeter, but the regular mangoes and agave nectar provided plenty of sweetness to the mix, so I don’t think the substitution made a huge difference. It was magnificent, and I’m planning on making this for every social gathering I ever go to now. You’re welcome, family and friends.

Untitled

2. Apricot tequila glazed drumsticks

This recipe has only a few ingredients, but it’s super tasty. The tequila flavor is pretty much cooked out of the glaze, but the chili and apricot flavors are amazing together. Holly chopped the chilies by hand because she forgot that she had an actual chopper, so we would occasionally bite into a bigger chunk and get a spicy punch in the mouth, but the apricot cooled it off quickly.

wings

3. 3-cheese and tequila mac and cheese

Tequila and cheese don’t sound like two things that should go together, but mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food and is pretty hard to screw up, so we figured it was worth a try. The recipe actually called for poblano pepper-infused tequila, which, of course, the local liquor store didn’t have (and I’m not sure why it exists anyway, considering poblano peppers don’t have a super distinctive flavor) but Holly made do by juicing a poblano pepper with a garlic press and mixing it into the tequila. Because Cub had neither fontina nor GranQueso, we used Italian blend and Mexican blend shredded cheeses, because each at least contained both kinds of cheese (among others, so this was probably more like 8-cheese mac and cheese, which is a beautiful, beautiful thing). The original recipe was entertaining thanks to descriptions like “luscious cheese concoction,”, although some of the instructions were a little unusual (how do you accurately gauge how hot “piping hot” milk should be? Why can’t you just say “stir vigorously” instead of “stir like mad!” or “whisk, whisk whisk!”?). The result was exquisite; the dish was gooey, creamy, and had a nice kick from the tequila, sharp cheese combination, and cayenne pepper. It’s a pretty involved recipe, but I don’t think I can go back to Kraft macaroni again after this.

mac n cheese

4. Pink Lung (grapefruit beer and tequila)

This was Holly’s original creation: a combination of Illusive Traveler grapefruit beer and a shot of tequila. I was hesitant to try it, because I don’t like grapefruit, I’m not crazy about beer, and the mere scent of tequila reminds me of hangovers and regret, but Holly was pretty enthusiastic about it, so despite the unnerving name (seriously, naming a drink after an internal organ is not appetizing) I gave it a shot, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was refreshing and summery but had a nice warmth from the tequila.

pink lung

5. Strawberry sriracha margaritas

This one would have been a lot better if I had actually measured out some of the ingredients. Unfortunately, by this point I was confident that I was basically Martha Stewart and could just eyeball it when adding the sriracha to the strawberry/tequila/agave nectar mixture. The first few sips were amazing; strawberries and sriracha are surprisingly delicious together. After that, though, the heat from the sauce started overwhelming the strawberry flavor. It wasn’t bad; it was just weird. The recipe also called for Cointreau (orange liqueur), which I skipped because I didn’t want to buy something I would only end up using a splash of in one recipe and then never use again, but it might have helped balance the sweet and spicy flavors.

margaritas

Overall, this was a huge success. I had low expectations, considering tequila is my least favorite type of alcohol, but I would try all of these recipes again.  I’m pretty sure we’re going to make this a regular thing too, and try new recipes each month, so if you have any suggestions on what kind of liquor we should use next, let me know!

Fireball and Tomato Juice (And Other Questionable Food Decisions)

Holly has been my best friend since ninth grade. We formed a bond while we were waiting for our moms to pick us up after auditioning for the fall musical (and embarrassing ourselves spectacularly) when she complimented my t-shirt (camouflage with the caption “Ha! Now you can’t see me!” printed across the chest) and we commiserated over how horribly we’d performed during the audition. Nearly twelve years later, she’s still one of my favorite people; Holly is one of the brightest, funniest, most creative people I know, and she’s always been there for me, no matter how trivial my problems might be.

bff

In addition to being a generally wonderful human being, Holly is also my fine arts buddy; we do classy things like take a road trip to Chicago to see The Globe’s international tour of Hamlet or try escargot at a fancy French restaurant before going to the opening night of Fanciulla del West at the Minnesota Opera.

And sometimes we do not-so-classy things like adding fireball to a bunch of stuff to see what it tastes like.

I promise this isn’t as stupid as it sounds.

The plan stemmed from a growing need to get rid of a bottle of Fireball Holly left in my freezer on Halloween (we combined it with root beer, and the result tastes like liquid Red Hots; a candy-flavored drink seemed like an appropriate choice for the holiday). And yes, I am an amazing friend for not drinking any of it for eight months.

As it turns out, Fireball’s website has an extensive list of recipes (most of which have the word “balls” in them, which appeals to my twelve-year-old sense of humor), and a lot of them involve combinations I never would have thought of.  In the end, we each chose two recipes: one cocktail and one food. I only had two guidelines for the cocktails: they had to be ones we hadn’t tried before, and they had to be ones that didn’t involve other types of alcohol; as delicious as some of the ones on the website sounded, I really didn’t want to buy a huge bottle of butterscotch schnapps or pumpkin liqueur or some other obscure ingredient that would just end up sitting in the back of my fridge forever after using it for one drink.  All of the recipes we tried besides the cupcakes were from Fireball’s official website, although we tweaked them a bit. In some cases, doing that worked out really well; in others, we probably should have experimented a little more.

THE FOOD

1. Fireball barbecue sauce

I figured this one would be hard to screw up, which appealed to me because I never cook and wanted something easy. The recipe on the site was technically for baked barbecue chicken, but because it was hot as balls outside that day and we were already using the oven for Holly’s recipe and I didn’t want my apartment to feel like Hell, I decided to just mix it in a crockpot with frozen meatballs. The result: they were delicious. You couldn’t really taste the Fireball that much; the sauce was kind of sweet, but that was probably just the brown sugar. Holly noted that the syrupy-ness from the Fireball was kind of detectable, but it wasn’t overpowering. I would definitely make this again.

meatballs

2. Fireball cupcakes 

Technically, this recipe didn’t call for Fireball, they’re just called Girl on Fire cupcakes (after The Hunger Games success), but because they came up in a Google search for Fireball recipes, we rolled with it, replacing the water in the batter with the cinnamon whiskey. We also added a little Fireball to the frosting as well, hoping to increase the cinnamon flavor. Unfortunately, the cinnamon flavor was cooked out of the cupcakes, leaving behind only a rotten whiskey taste, so it was more like somewhat bland cupcakes with an ass-flavored aftertaste. They didn’t even look as cool as the ones in the recipe (although that might have to do with the fact that the original baker used a professional frosting tube and we just cut a hole in the corner of a plastic bag…hey, we get points for resourcefulness!). We used boxed yellow cake mix, which is what the recipe called for, but we think we would have had more success if we had made the batter from scratch….and just added cinnamon rather than Fireball. Conclusion: Fireball-THEMED cupcakes have the potential to be awesome, but actual Fireball cupcakes taste like sugary poop.

cupcakes

THE COCKTAILS

1. Fireball and Iced Tea

I thought this one would be my favorite because I love cinnamon tea. I figured it would just taste like cinnamon iced tea with a bit of a kick. However, we underestimated the strength of Fireball, and despite using the amounts of iced tea and whiskey listed in the official recipe, it just tasted like a big glass of watered-down Fireball. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t something I would be able to drink a lot of; it took us a while to finish the one drink, just because the Fireball was so overwhelming. Next time: more iced tea, less Fireball.

iced tea

2. Fireball Bloody Mary

This was the one I was the most nervous for; seriously, what weirdo over at Fireball headquarters was like “You know what would taste great together? Tomato juice and cinnamon.” Even the site’s name for it, “Bloody Balls,” is disgusting. But I really wanted to try an unusual recipe, so we risked it. At first, it lived up to my expectation that it would be gross; it just tasted like sugary tomato juice. Then, Holly had a stroke of genius and added a good squirt of sriracha to it…and it was SO. DAMN. GOOD. The spiciness of the sriracha helped combine the sweetness of the Fireball and the savory-ness of the Bloody Mary mix into this unique, amazing flavor.

bloody mary

BONUS SHOT RECIPE!

Inspired by the Bloody Mary success, Holly tried to recreate a shot she had tried at The Shout House in Minneapolis called an Atomic Fireball, named after the candy, which apparently the shot is supposed to taste like. The shot at the bar combined Fireball and Tabasco, but because the only hot sauce I had in my kitchen was sriracha, we had to make due with that. Lesson learned: sriracha and Fireball is not the same as Tabasco and Fireball, and it definitely doesn’t taste like candy. It does scorch your throat going down, so that’s fun.

atomic fireball

Overall, it was a successful experiment. True, some of the recipes weren’t anything I would ever willingly ingest again, but I had so much fun spending the evening with my bestie. Seriously, I’m so lucky to have this girl in my life. We go together like Fireball and tomato juice….and the sriracha is our bond of friendship…okay, this simile is becoming more of a mess than the cupcakes, so I’m going to stop now.