Slam Dunk Summer Cocktails and Concoctions
It’s that glorious time of year where salty breezes, tank tops, and open-toed shoes signify one thing: “before it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” season is upon us. The temperatures are rising and the golden sun is shining so treat yourself to good eats and drinks and—as my boy Kenny Chesney says—let the warm air melt those blues away. Here are some summer cocktails and savory recipes to get you started.
Speaking of sunshine, my first sparkly spirit is actually a do-your-body-good, electric orange fusion of healthy ingredients blended with a touch of smooth vodka. If you don’t already know the extreme benefits of turmeric, it’s likely you’ve been living under the root itself. This knobby golden-yellow powerhouse contains the compound curcumin—a substance not only with potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, but one that’s been linked to helping, preventing, and even treating cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and depression. Now permeate all of that colorful goodness with two hits of smile-inducing booze, and you’ve got my Golden Sunshine—a drink you can feel good about from your slightly buzzed head to your sandy toes.
If this pungent, earthy, slightly bitter libation doesn’t do it for you, sweep your spice cabinet for cardamom and take the tequila off the shelf. This ginger-scented fizz is not only super trendy—as tequila’s cooler older cousin Mezcal is also poured in—but you get the benefit of a citrusy pop every time your lip brushes the herbal cardamom-sugar rim.
These light, zesty sippers are ideal for washing down creamy, crunchy snacks—so go cheese plate or go home with this pairing. Big, bold varieties like funky Stilton or mushroom-y Italian taleggio are balanced by the freshness of the cocktails, while milder spreads like brie with ginger-fig jam mirror the spicy sharpness of the turmeric in the Golden Sunshine and the aromatic notes in the Spiced Mezcal Fizz.
For you summertime traditionalists whose cocktail favorites include ingredients like exotic coconut or sweet berries (I’m lookin’ at you, colada cravers, these last two bright beauties have your name all over them. Take advantage of the blooming fruit and get to picking. My Coconut-Mango Thai Basil Smash screams “beach, please” with its fusion of Hawaiian and Asian flavors. Go ahead and make googly eyes at the Strawberry Vanilla Creamboat because she knows she’s got it going on. Eggs aren’t just for the breakfast table anymore, Toto. Mixologists all over the world are shaking the whites into their drinks to produce uber-frothy, wildly foamy textures that you can’t beat with a bamboo stick.
It’s a no-brainer that the fiery, coconut slathered, Thai-inspired wings and Coconut-Mango Thai Basil Smash produce a perfect marriage. As for the Strawberry Creamboat, the splash of milk will mellow out the chilies in the wings making those two go hand-in-hand. No seriously, put a drumette in one hand and my creamboat cocktail in the other. You’ll thank me.
- 2 ounces turmeric-infused vodka (recipe follows)
- 1 whole carrot
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Juice of 1 orange
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 dashes bitters
- Sparkling water
- Orange rind for garnish
To prepare turmeric-infused vodka, combine 1/4 cup chopped turmeric with 1/2 cup vodka (preferably Tito’s) and let infuse for 24 hours. Strain.
In a blender, combine turmeric-infused vodka, carrot, honey, orange juice, lemon juice, and bitters. Pulse until thoroughly blended and then press through a fine mesh sieve (pushing as much of the mixture out as possible using the back of a spoon). Re-strain the mixture one more time so it’s completely smooth and then pour over ice, top with sparkling water, and garnish with a peeled piece of orange rind.
Spiced Mezcal Fizz*
- 1/4 cup sugar + 1 tablespoon
- 2 tablespoons fresh ginger root (rough chopped)
- 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
- 1 ounce good quality silver tequila (such as Espolon or Herradura Silver)
- 1 ounce mezcal
- 1 ounce fresh pineapple juice
- Juice of 1/2 fresh lime (plus wedges saved for garnish and wetting rim)
- 2 dashes bitters
In a small saucepot, combine 1/4 cup of sugar with 1/4 of water and the fresh ginger root. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat. Allow the mixture to infuse for at least 1 hour and then strain through a fine mesh sieve to get rid of any ginger root.
On a small plate, mix together the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar with the cardamom. Using a lime wedge, wet the rim of your cocktail glass and then dip it into the cardamom-sugar until the rim is coated.
In a cocktail shaker, combine 3/4 ounces fresh ginger syrup, the tequila, mezcal, pineapple juice, lime juice, and bitters with ice. Shake vigorously until frosty and then strain into your cardamom-sugar rimmed glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Charcuterie Board with Bourbon Honey + Ginger-Fig Jam
Serves 12 – 14
- 4 ounces fresh cheese (such as a local goat’s milk chèvre)
- 4 ounces soft-ripened or semi-soft cheese (such as Camembert, Brie, St. Andre, or Taleggio)
- 4 ounces salty, pungent cheese (such as Stilton or Gorgonzola dolce)
- 4 ounces smoked cheese (such as gouda or sharp cheddar), sliced
- 2 ounces whole-muscle cut meat like prosciutto, shaved
- Toasted crostini rounds and a variety of gourmet crackers (such as Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps®)
- Mixed olives and pickles
- Fresh herbs like parsley or basil (for garnish)
- Bourbon Honey (preferably Cloister)
- Ginger-Fig Jam (recipe follows)
On a large platter, arrange the cheeses (with a mix of butter knives and sharp knives) and meats and decorate with crostini rounds, crackers, pickles, olives, and herbs. Serve the honey and jam in small ramekins alongside with a spoon.
Spicy Thai Coconut-Lime Grilled Wings
Serves 10 – 12 as an appetizer
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon minced or grated lemongrass
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
- 2 Thai red hot chilis, deseeded and cut into slivers
- 2 tablespoons red curry paste
- 1 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- Zest and juice of 1 lime (plus more limes for serving)
- 12 whole chicken wings, split into wings and drumettes (24 pieces total)
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
- Cilantro leaves and whole peeled baby carrot sticks (for garnish)
In a large skillet, heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Add the lemongrass, garlic, chilis, and red curry paste and cook until very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk, honey, fish sauce, lime zest and juice, and whisk to combine. Simmer the sauce for 3 to 5 minutes, and then season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Divide the sauce into two batches and cool to room temperature. Generously season the wings with salt and pepper and then toss them in one half of the sauce. Marinate in the fridge for at least several hours or at best, overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325°.
Remove the wings from the marinade and arrange them in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until almost cooked through and lightly browned, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium high heat and slowly reheat the second half of the coconut sauce.
Continuously basting with the warmed-up sauce, grill the wings until they have generous char marks, about 2 to 4 minutes per side. Arrange the wings on a platter and garnish with the cilantro and carrot sticks. Serve extra lime wedges alongside for those who want to turn down the heat.
Makes 2 cups
- 1 pound fresh figs stemmed and halved (or ½ pound dried figs, stemmed)
- 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
- 3 tablespoons orange juice (or ½ cup if using dried figs)
- 1⁄3 cup packed light brown sugar (or ¼ cup if using dried figs)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- Pinch of kosher salt
In a medium saucepan, combine the figs, orange zest, orange juice, brown sugar, ginger, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. If using fresh figs, mash with a potato masher. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. If using dried figs, now you can mash with a potato masher or pulse in a food processor for a very smooth spread. Refrigerate the jam for at least 20 minutes before serving.
Coconut-Mango Thai Basil Smash*
- 2-ounces good quality silver tequila (such as Espolon or Herradura Silver)
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- Small handful fresh Thai basil
- 2 1/2 ounces sour mix (or substitute lemon and lime juice sweetened with sugar)
- 1 ounce canned unsweetened coconut milk (plus another 1/2 ounce for garnish)
- 2 ounces mango juice or puree
In a cocktail shaker, combine the tequila, brown sugar, and a few sprigs of the Thai basil. Muddle until very fragrant, and then add one ounce of the coconut milk, the mango juice, and ice. Shake vigorously until frosty and then pour over ice. Garnish with the remaining splash of coconut milk and Thai basil leaves.
Strawberry Vanilla Creamboat*
- 2 ounces light rum
- 1/4 cup sliced strawberries (plus several more for garnish)
- 1/4 fresh vanilla bean (or substitute 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Juice from 1/2 fresh lemon
- 1/2-ounce milk
- 1 fresh egg white
In a cocktail shaker, combine the rum, 1/4 cup strawberries, vanilla bean, and sugar. Muddle until very fragrant, and then add the lemon juice, milk, and egg white. Shake vigorously for 1 full minute until the mixture is very frothy. Strain into a glass and garnish with a strawberry.