Sunset Margarita

This weekend, I will have the privilege of introducing my husband to live music by the one and only Jimmy Buffett. Despite being an avid music lover and concertgoer, Les has somehow managed to miss seeing the Son of a Son of a Sailor on stage (not to mention the pre-show tailgating), but that will all change on Saturday.

It may be difficult for me to make these fabulous margaritas in the parking lot of the Buffett concert, and it certainly would not display its layers of color through a red plastic cup, but it will taste as wonderful, and at least we enjoyed it at home a few times in all its beautiful, grown-up-cocktail glory.

The raspberry “sinker” has a way of stealing the show.

I created this drink from memory after a getaway weekend Les and I had back in February. We had a mouthwatering Mexican meal in Asheville, North Carolina, and I was intrigued by the descriptions (and the flavors) of the restaurant’s specialty margaritas. This one was called “1800 Sunset,” and the highlight—besides the 1800 reposado tequila that is the star spirit—was the Grand Marnier float and something the menu called a “raspberry sinker.” A float, I understand, and I’ve done it before by slowly pouring a spirit over the back of a bar spoon on top of the finished drink. But a sinker? How in the world do you get an ingredient to stay put in the bottom of the glass? After much searching on Pinterest, YouTube and a few of my favorite professional cocktail sites, I finally learned two ways to achieve this feat, one of which I’ll share with you in the slideshow (hint: I was seriously overthinking it).

A little sweet, a little heat, a little tart and a whole lot of fun!

For the rest of the drink, I wanted pure tropical bliss, so added a few twists of my own. I mixed the tequila with freshly squeezed lime, a splash of pineapple juice and a bar spoonful of jalapeno-infused simple syrup to shake things up. Raspberry on the bottom, orange on the top, and no sign of any “shaker of salt” —no, this pretty drink is rimmed with pink sea salt. These are no ordinary margaritas. Jimmy Buffett, eat your heart out!

You don’t need special “margarita” glasses to make this drink, but it is prettiest in a clear glass that is wider at the top than the bottom. Even a martini glass would work, if that’s what you have. Make up to two drinks at a time in your shaker.


Ingredients, per cocktail

2.0 oz. 1800 reposado tequila

1.0 oz. pineapple juice (canned or fresh)

0.5 oz. jalapeno-infused simple syrup (recipe below)

Juice of 1/2 lime

0.5 oz. Chambord raspberry liqueur (for sinker)

0.25 oz. Grand Marnier or Cointreau liqueur (for floater)

1 tablespoon pink sea salt (for rimming the glass)


Instructions

Prepare the glasses first by swiping a lime wedge around the rim. Pour a couple of spoonfuls of Himalayan sea salt onto a paper towel. Roll only the outside of the glass on the salted towel, so that the rim is evenly salted, but the salt will not fall into the cocktail. Place the glasses in the freezer for at least 10 minutes.

Slice thin wheels of fresh lime, one for each drink. Place them on a paper towel to absorb excess juice and sprinkle them lightly with sea salt, if desired. Measure out the Grand Marnier into a shot glass or small measuring cup. This will aid in “floating” the liqueur over the drink without overdoing it.

Here comes the “sinker” part of the recipe, and you may be surprised how easy it is. Remove the glasses from the freezer and measure the Chambord into the bottom of the glass. Add several ice cubes (or one giant one) to the glass so the Chambord cools down while you shake up the rest of the cocktail.

The drink begins with a pour of Chambord, topped immediately with ice. I use my digital scale for measuring; it’s less sticky! 🙂

In a cocktail shaker, combine tequila, pineapple juice, jalapeno syrup and lime juice over one cup of ice cubes. Shake about 20 seconds to blend the ingredients. Strain the cocktail over the ice in the glass, pouring slowly to avoid disturbing the raspberry sinker underneath.

Finally, turn a bar spoon or teaspoon upside-down over the drink, resting the tip of it on one of the ice cubes. Pour the Grand Marnier slowly over the curved back of the spoon—easy does it! Garnish the drink with a lime wheel and enjoy!

I missed getting a picture of the Grand Marnier float, but it really is as easy as it sounds!

Jalapeno-infused Simple Syrup

1/2 cup filtered water

1/2 cup cane sugar

1/2 red jalapeno, thinly sliced (seeds included, if you dare)

Simple syrup can be infused with just about anything. This time, I used a red jalapeno for heat to balance the sweet pineapple and raspberry.

Bring water to a gentle boil. Turn off the heat, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the jalapeno slices and allow the syrup to steep until completely cooled. Strain out the jalapeno slices. Transfer the syrup to a sealed jar or squeeze bottle. Keep syrup in the fridge for up to two weeks.



Pineapple-Cilantro Mexican Mule

With summer officially underway (as of Sunday at 11:32 p.m. EDT), I intend to be sufficiently armed with a lineup of refreshing, easy summer cocktails. We are finally getting back into the swing of life—fully vaccinated, planning summer travel, and enjoying the long overdue, in-person company of friends and loved ones. This makes me very happy, because one of the great common denominators for me and my husband, Les, is our delight in entertaining. Last weekend, we were pleased to have one of his fellow Yankees over for dinner, though the reference to Yankee is strictly a geographic one, as both Les and his friend, Dave, are native New Yorkers who happen to love the Mets.

While the guys talked sports in the air-conditioned comfort of our living room, I whipped up a batch of these pineapple-cilantro mules. It is my fruity, south-of-the-border twist on a classic Moscow mule, which uses vodka, lime and ginger beer. I have swapped in silver tequila and muddled some fresh pineapple and cilantro in the bottom of the copper mug. These two ingredients play especially nice together, and Dave, who initially noted that he has not enjoyed tequila since that bad experience in his younger days (you know what I mean because we all have one) joined me for a second round.

Summer tastes cooler in a copper mug!

This summery, chill cocktail is refreshing and simple to make. We have been enjoying the 1800 Coconut tequila (the same ingredient highlighted in the tequila & lime pie), but any straight silver tequila would be delicious. If you are still cringing over any tequila mishaps from your own youth, swap in a light rum and call it a twist on a mojito—no worries. 😀

Any quality brand of ginger beer will work, but I recently discovered the Q brand of cocktail mixers, and the company’s ginger beer is extra spicy and delicious, thanks to a pinch of cayenne.

I am generally not keen to have bits of anything floating in my drink, but the crushed ice keeps the muddled fruit and cilantro well-contained in the bottom of the mug.

Use fresh pineapple for best results, and if you don’t have copper mugs, go with a short rocks glass. Cheers!

The pineapple and cilantro work very well together, but if cilantro is not a favorite, the drink will be refreshing and delicious without it.

Makes 2 drinks

Ingredients

A couple of chunks of fresh pineapple for each mug bottom

A couple of sprigs of fresh cilantro for each mug bottom

3 oz. 1800 Coconut (or other silver) tequila

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 oz. canned or fresh pineapple juice

1 can or bottle ginger beer

Plenty of crushed ice


Instructions

Muddle the pineapple and cilantro together in the bottom of the mugs, using a cocktail muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon. Fill the mugs about 2/3 full with crushed ice.

Combine tequila, pineapple juice and freshly squeezed lime in a cocktail shaker. Add about 1 cup of ice cubes and shake about 30 seconds, until the shaker is uncomfortably cold.

Strain the cocktail into the ice-filled mugs. Top with ginger beer. Garnish as desired. Repeat at your own risk.



Tequila-Lime Chicken Tacos with Pineapple Pico

Once upon a time, a busy woman ran out of creative ideas for the package of chicken tenders she pulled from the freezer, and the only thing that could save her from a boring dinner was a spark of inspiration. The woman, of course, was me, and it happened on Friday. It happens more often than I’d like, truth be told.

Isn’t that a familiar tale? Even people who love to cook have creativity blocks, especially when pressed for time, and we all need a boost to pull out of a menu rut. If I had stuck with my ho-hum plan to fry the chicken tenders and plop them on a salad—well, it would have been edible, but uninspired. It certainly would not have been remarkable or interesting enough to share here on Comfort du Jour. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to check my email that morning before heading out for a full day of errands. Right there at the top of my inbox was a cheerful message from my West Coast blogging buddy, Michelle, and her casual sharing of a personal story about “tequila-lime chicken” arrived just in time to twist this plot and save our supper.

What I love most about food and recipes is the rich stories they tell about our lives. It’s one of the main reasons I started a food blog last year, a decision that I did not expect would lead to meaningful new friendships with other bloggers. Recent email conversations between me and Michelle brought us around to the joy of cooking on the grill (or the “BBQ,” as many West Coasters call it), and on Friday, she described this idea that she had invented to serve as a late-night patio bar snack at a restaurant where she once worked. Tequila-lime chicken is the kind of recipe you make by instinct, not by following specific amounts or ratios, and I love that she described the recipe that way—you know, with a little of this and a touch of that and a couple of those. It made perfect sense to me because 99 percent of the time, that’s exactly the way I cook, adding ingredients that fit the flavor profile until it looks and tastes “right.” It sounded perfect, and I couldn’t help but see my boring package of chicken tenders in a new light.

The ingredient list for the marinade was short and easy—tequila, citrus juice, fresh garlic and simple spices, such as cumin and chile seasoning, and it tenderized the chicken beautifully. My ingredient makeup wasn’t identical to Michelle’s recipe—she adds slices of onion to the marinade and I saved that for the pico topping—but the chicken turned out every bit as tender and flavorful as she described it, and I can totally see why her tequila-lime chicken tacos were a frequent “sellout” at the patio bar. We liked them so much at our house, I want to run out and buy a taco truck!

Tender, tequila-marinated chicken with the tropical pineapple pico and fresh cilantro. This was a fabulous twist of events!

The idea for tequila-lime chicken also gave me another excuse to make another batch of easy handmade corn tortillas, and this time I spiffed them up with cilantro puree, which accounts for the slight green tint to the shells. And I topped these “last-minute” tacos with a condiment concoction that I’m calling “pineapple pico,” a super-fresh, spicy, tropical mashup of pico de gallo and guacamole. I’ll share my notes for both at the end. 😊


Ingredients

About 1 1/4 pounds of chicken tenders, patted dry

1/4 cup silver tequila (I’m sure gold would work just as well)

Juice of 1 lime

Juice of 1/2 lemon

About 1/2 tsp. each of cumin, garlic pepper, ancho chile powder and kosher salt* (see notes)

2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced

2 to 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil*


*Notes

I used spices that were within easy reach in my cabinet, and I chose ancho chile powder because we love the bright, fruity flavor of it. You could just as easily use chipotle powder or any kind of bottled chile powder or, as my friend pointed out in her email, even some kind of pre-made taco seasoning. Keep it simple and southwestern, and let the tequila and lime work their flavor magic.

A little oil helps in a marinade, especially when using a very lean meat. My hubby runs the grill pretty hot and I wanted to help protect the chicken tenders from burning or getting dried out. Olive oil is my go-to, but avocado or canola oil would work just as well.


Instructions

Make the marinade first and give the chicken several hours to overnight in the fridge to soak up all the delicious, south-of-the-border flavors. It goes like this:


Grill the chicken on a hot grill (500° F at first, my hubby says), then reduce heat to 350° once you get the grill marks. Chicken tenders are smaller than whole breasts, of course, so they will cook more quickly. Watch them closely and pull them off the grill as soon as the juices run clear.

Hubby gets those perfect grill marks every time! The chicken was so tender, it practically melted in our mouths!

Cut up or shred the chicken tenders (you’ll be shocked at how tender they are!) and serve as desired. We perched them atop cilantro-flavored corn tortillas with crunchy cabbage, radishes, pineapple pico and fresh cilantro.

If you missed my recent post on handmade corn tortillas, follow the link to check that out. I include full instructions and all my best tips for turning out successful tortillas, with or without a tortilla press!


Pineapple Pico

1/2 cup fresh pineapple, cut into tidbit-sized pieces

1/2 cup baby tomatoes, halved or quartered to tidbit-size

2 Tbsp. red onion, chopped

1/2 medium fresh jalapeno, chopped

1/2 ripe avocado, cut into cubes

Juice of 1/2 lime, plus salt and pepper


Thanks for an amazing idea, Michelle! 🙂


Tequila & Lime Pie

As we inch toward some new variety of normalcy in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, my husband, Les, and I have been making an informal list of the top things that helped us get through the past year. Beyond the obvious things, such as face masks and avoiding crowds, we leaned into a few new routines as we fumbled through a year in lockdown.

Last week, I shared one of our favorite rituals—our Friday night menu of homemade pizza and smoked maple old-fashioned cocktails, our “quarantini” of choice. Today, I’m offering up a slice of this easy, no-cooking-involved spring dessert, in honor of the musical duo that has provided the soundtrack for our Friday nights at home for the past year.

My “tequila and lime” pie is obviously a riff on a margarita cocktail. It is bright and citrusy, sweet but tart, with refreshing lime juice plus two shots of tequila and a splash of orange liqueur. The crust, though similar in appearance to a graham cracker cheesecake base, is made from buttery crushed pretzels, a salty accent just like the one you’d expect on the rim of your margarita glass. I’ve made this pie for many years and always called it “margarita pie,” but it shall be known henceforth by its new name, “Tequila and Lime,” which also happens to be the title of a song by our Friday night friends.

The tequila and lime pie is especially good when served frozen!

Nearly every week during lockdown, we have cozied up in front of our big wall-mounted TV for “Quarantunes,” streamed on Facebook Live by Glenn Alexander, an awesome musician and all-around good guy, and his lovely and talented daughter, Oria, who graces us with her phenomenal voice and occasional playing of flute and turkey legs. Yes, I said turkey legs—you must press “play” and see it to understand.

Glenn Alexander and Oria, with Dr. Fauci! 🙂

Together, they are “Blue Americana,” and both Glenn and Oria (pronounced “oh-RYE-uh”) are equal parts gifted and goofy, and their weekly concert, staged from a table in their home kitchen, has helped us maintain humor and a sense of normalcy throughout the turbulence of the past year. We first met Glenn from his role as lead guitarist for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, a Jersey-based bluesy rock band that my husband has followed for about four decades. Not coincidentally, a Southside concert was the first date that Les and I had in 2015, though Les insists it wasn’t a date and maybe it wasn’t for him, but I still remember how he looked in black jeans that night, and how I wondered to myself, “why have I not noticed this before?” But I digress.

When COVID was still making early headlines, Les and I had gone to one of our last live music shows—a “Jukes” concert, just one night earlier than the Little River Band show I wrote about in my previous post, “Reminiscing.” Yep, for two consecutive nights, just ahead of the first COVID surge, we were nuzzled next to strangers in busy music venues. The reality of the virus obviously had not yet hit us. At the start of the Jukes concert, Southside Johnny strolled onto the stage with his shirt untucked and his usual sense of humor, telling the crowd not to get too close, because they had found the first “coronavirus person” in North Carolina, and he pointed to his left, directly at Glenn Alexander, who replied with his own swagger and wit, “I’m more of a Dos Equis person.” And then they rocked the house.

When we learned later that Glenn was streaming Facebook Live shows on Friday nights, it was a no-brainer—of course we would be watching, whenever we didn’t have plans. Which turned out, of course, to be the whole next year. Little did we know that these two—Glenn, with his virtuoso guitar skills and a side shot of tequila and lime, and Oria, with her sultry, soulful voice and adorable, unapologetic silliness, would become part of the family.

Check out Glenn and Oria on Facebook Live!

If you are on Facebook, please check them out this Friday night. Because if Glenn and Oria are in your living room at the same time they are in our living room—well, that’s almost as good as being together. 😊 You can also check out their shows after live-streaming, on Glenn’s YouTube Channel.


Glenn and Oria, we love and appreciate you!
Here’s a delicious slice of “vitamin T” for you and Dr. Fauci!

We feel fine, with our tequila and lime!

Ingredients

Crust:

1 stick (8 Tbsp.) salted butter, melted

1 1/4 cups finely crushed salted pretzels* (see notes)

2 Tbsp. coconut sugar (or regular sugar)

Filling:

14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, from about two large limes* (see notes)

Zest of one lime*

2 oz. (1/4 cup) 1800 Silver tequila*

1 oz. (2 Tbsp.) Grand Marnier orange liqueur*

8 oz. heavy cream, whipped

A few drops of green food coloring (optional)

*Notes

The measurement of pretzels is after crushing, so you will probably need to crush about 2 cups of loose pretzels to get this amount. Crumbs should be small and uniform, but not as fine as powder. If you have any leftover crumbs, you can use them to garnish.

Use a microplane to remove the zest of one lime before you juice them, and it’s best to use organic citrus anytime you will be eating a portion of the peel. Here’s a tip for getting the most juice out of your fresh limes: microwave them on high for about 40 seconds. Cool until they are easy to handle, then roll under your hand on the counter before halving and squeezing them.

This time around, I used 1800 Coconut tequila, for a little extra tropical flavor. I have also used Cuervo gold tequila with excellent results, so use whatever brand is your favorite, but remember that with so many mixers in this pie, it is not necessary to use a top-shelf tequila. Save the really good stuff for Quarantunes!

I use Grand Marnier in my margaritas, so I have also used it in my tequila and lime pie. Use a splash of triple sec if you prefer or if it is what you have on hand.

Here we go!


Instructions

  1. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Use a fork to combine pretzel crumbs and coconut sugar into the butter. Press into a 9” freezer-safe pie plate, using the bottom of a small dish to compress the crumbs. Put this into the freezer for at least 20 minutes to firm up the crust while you make the filling.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together condensed milk, lime juice, tequila and triple sec. Stir in green food coloring (if using) and lime zest.
  3. Use a spatula to gently fold in the whipped cream.
  4. Pour mixture (slowly) into the chilled crust and chill or freeze until serving time. For a chilled pie, give it at least two hours in the fridge; for a frozen slice, freeze at least four hours, preferably overnight.

To serve:

Place the pie plate in a shallow skillet filled with about an inch of warm (not hot) water, just a minute or two until the buttery crust is loosened enough to remove.

Top each slice with a dollop of additional whipped cream (spike it with Grand Marnier if you wish), a little lime zest and leftover pretzel crumbs.