Grilled Pineapple in Jasmine Tea

As the Skinny drink craze kicks into high gear, I thought I would add a few thoughts on the whole concept and some alternatives to the pre-bottled mess that is being offered to take advantage of people’s desires for lower calorie and less aggressive flavored drinks.

The problem is not with having lower calorie drinks or cocktails, but how you do them versus buying a pre-made drink or spirit. Just saying Skinny doesnt mean anything…If you drink a ton of them it adds up. And some of the Skinny offerings aren’t even very skinny to begin with if you read the fine print.

I’d like to offer a few easy alternatives that anyone can do at home or in any bar, anywhere.

There is the DIET/CLUB SODA OPTION, but that is obvious. The not so obvious ones that have been around forever are the use of club soda instead of sugared sodas or juices…or the use of club soda to cut your sugar soda in half. The later is what is generally called a “Presbyterian” or “press” when one has a spirit, and half club soda and half ginger ale or 7UP. This was originally done to cut the sweetness and syrupy taste of these drinks, especially if you are drinking many of them.

But this has the added benefit of cutting the calories of your mixer in half. Voila! Skinny and not even tryin!

The next alternative to make even greater savings on calories is to have a spirit and club soda and add a splash of something for a hint of flavor. Simply a “vodka soda and splash of cran” is a fairly well known cocktail already, but is a great way to skinnify your drink.

The LESS MIXER OPTION  If you enjoy drinks like Cosmos and Lemon Drops you can do the same thing to those style drinks by just using a splash of mixer, instead of the standard recipes. Like a vodka chilled and served up, with a splash of lime, cran and cointreau…or even just a splash of cran for taste and color.

Not only do these drinks have less calories and are easy to make…they tend to be much easier on the stomach and palate, are much more refreshing, and give you better value by upping the spirits a bit and diminishing the mixers. But upping the spirits ratio might beg for one to also use a smaller glass. Smaller glasses is such an obvious way to make your drink skinnier, it gets overlooked the most. It forces you to ration your drink naturally.

The last alternative is the homemade take on the “Vitamin Water” style of drink.

A month ago I recreated a drink I made for Vosges Haute Chocolate and St Germain for the Southern Wine and Spirits quarterly Late Night Event. This one featured Vodka.

Vodka is either very easy to mix with or very hard to mix with,  depending on your point of view. I take the view that it is difficult to mix with and maintain any semblance of the vodka in the drink.

Grilled Pineapple made into Heart Shaped Garnish

My take on mixing would be to use very subtle flavors and taste sensations. I decided to do a “Vitamin Water” style drink with vodka.

The base for this was a high quality Hand Rolled Jasmine Tea, (tea is a great base for the “water” style of drink since you can control the sugar etc yourself and brew it to be as subtle or strong as you want)

The tea itself is wonderful, but vodka and iced jasmine tea is 1 dimensional. To add some subtle flavors and a little bit of acid and sugar for the palate, I grilled fresh pineapple and infused the tea for 1 or two days in the fridge. I do not crush or puree the pineapple. I only want the juices and flavors of the sliced and grilled pineapple to enter the tea and be in that subtle equilibrium. If I mashed the pineapple, I would have far too much juice, sugar and acid going on for what I want…But that would be a good drink or base for another option, just not this one here.

This process now gives this tea a new dimension that has hints of tropical pineapple, the caramelization gives off subtle notes that work with the tea and the hints of clear pineapple juice that naturally move into the tea by osmosis, and the tea flows into the pineapple pieces (garnish or cool appetizer coming up!)

Heart Shaped Pineapple Skewers

Remove the pineapple and then strain any other particles or pieces that have fallen off into the tea.

Taste it for acidity and sweetness. You can add a touch of lemon juice or cane sugar( no lemon peel will overpower the tea and pineapple) if it is too subtle for your taste (I have done this)

This is really just a form of iced tea, but it lends itself nicely to a vodka drink.

Now to make this a refreshing, tall drink just chill some vodka strain into a tall glass full of ice, and top with the the chilled, grilled pineapple Jasmine tea. Add a piece of grilled pineapple for garnish…the pieces are delicious!

This will keep in the fridge, sealed, for a week or more. And you dont have to put any vodka in it!

This is both delicious and for the palate for the occasion. But it is also very low in calories. Skinny can be a beautiful bi-product and when things work in harmony, things are happy and real. This drink was made with taste and palate in mind, but that also naturally made it low in calories and wasn’t forced.. it isnt trying to be something it isnt…I think that is beautiful…

1 Whole Ripe Pineapple
Aprox 1/2 Gallon of Fresh brewed Hand rolled Jasmine Tea ( I use Emperor’s Jasmine Tea from Rare Tea Cellars in Chicago)
sugar and lemon to taste…but dont over do it!…optional
trim the pineapple and cut it into discs. Use a grill pan or clean gas grill. (We dont want the smoke, so this is one time I prefer the grill pan)
Grill pieces until grill marks appear and rotate. Do this again and then flip. Same process for both sides. This will give you crisscross grill marks and the proper caramelization.
When they are all done just add the pieces to the Jasmine Tea and keep in the fridge for at least 24 hours…48 ideally.
You can leave the pineapple in if you wish, no straining or anything for a more natural looking drink….Or remove and strain for a beautifully clear tea/water. That is mostly an esthetic issue.

En Plen Air was a cocktail I made for Valentines Day at Vosges Haute Chocolate Shop in Chicago in 2011.

In the original I used coconut water and a little fresh made pineapple juice, but I liked the Jasmine tea infused with pineapple so much I decided to use it as a mixer.

At Vosges with En Plen Air
EN PLEN AIR (variation)
1 Part St Germain
2 Part Bacardi Superior
3 Parts Jasmine Tea/Grilled Pineapple Water
Grilled Heart Shaped Pineapple Garnish
Chill and serve in a tulip glass, coupe or flute
All diet soda or club soda for mixer
Half club soda and half mixer of your choice (7up, ginger ale, Cranberry etc)
Use less mixer and in your mixed drinks…for example…lemon drop use less lemon sour mix and more vodka.
Use a smaller glass, especially with a higher spirit ratio like above. Also drink your cocktails on the rocks more often. They will last longer and stay cold longer and also dilute the higher spirit ratio drinks naturally as well.
You can actually use the super low cal and less aggressive commercial versions offered, or make your own natural versions at home.
The example I made above with grilled pineapple and Jasmine Tea, or just fresh lemonade made with double the water, or fresh orange juice that is mixed with water. Really delicious!!

Cà phê sữa đá…Large Batch Vietnamese Iced Coffee made easy

Individual Stainless Brew Filter and glass
Espresso/Cafezinho/Cuban Coffee

I love strong Espresso or French roasted coffee. I picked up the taste for this style of coffee while traveling often to Brazil years ago. There they make a little demi-tasse pour of sweetened espresso called cafezinho, very similar to Cuban coffee. Even longer ago I discovered Vietnamese iced coffee and loved it, but it wasn’t until I spent time in Brazil and upon moving back to the U.S. that I always drank small strong coffees this way. The commonality of these styles is that they are heavily dark roasted and full bodied and brewed to be bitter and intense.

The intense bitterness of these styles is assuaged with the addition of sugar and or cream/milk of some kind. It can be as sweet or bitter as one likes, but almost always has some sugar in it. But in intense heat and humidity like, say, in Vietnam, it can be a little oppressive to drink hot coffee…thus the addition of ice is a natural progression for coffee as is with tea.


Sweetened Condensed Milk


In tropical locations around the world the use of sweetened condensed milk is a staple for many dishes and drinks. It certainly is in Brazil, (leite condensada, or leite moça in colloquial terms) where I became accustomed to its use in drinks and desserts. Canned, concentrated and sweetened, it was a way to preserve milk for hot humid climates and for it to be readily available on shelves in markets. This meant that in earlier days it very likely was the only milk available to most people. It thus became an important ingredient for tropical tastes and cultures around the world.


Cà phê sữa đá

The popularity of this style of coffee in the U.S. really began after the end of the wars in South East Asia and with the influx of refugees and immigrants from there in the mid to late 70’s.

My visits to Vietnamese restaurants in the late 70’s with my Vietnamese friends led me to Cà phê sữa đá (this means “iced coffee with sweet condensed milk”) Traditionally it is brewed table side into a glass with ice and sweet condensed milk at the bottom and a spoon for you to mix it up.

An individual coffee press full of dark french roast with hot water is brought to table. Brewed and mixed and iced and done.

3 Pieces of Brew Cup
Coffee ready to be tamped

The coffee brand that is very traditional here with the Vietnamese community in the US is Cafe Du Monde of New Orleans fame. It is a blend of drip grind French roast coffee and chicory . It really is a great coffee for this drink. There are other coffees from Vietnam, most popular of which is Trung Nguyen. It has cocoa added to the ground coffee, which I add to the grounds before brewing, but I find it a bit weak and too sweet when balancing the condensed milk. I don’t have that problem with Cafe Du Monde.

Milk, coffee, cassia, cocoa nibs

This recipe for iced coffee has notes of burnt chocolate, cinnamon, dark coffee, the silky smooth texture that isn’t watered down. There is a rich, complex flavor and the balance of bitter and creamy and sweet that calls for sipping, not gulping.



How To Make More Than One At A Time

I would crave one of these on a hot summer morning, but doing the whole brewing thing each time I wanted one was just not going to happen, so I thought “why not make a huge batch already mixed and keep it in the fridge?”

That was that.

Anyone can do it with no special tools or equipment.

Here is my large batch version of Cà phê sữa đá:

I use a run of the mill 10 cup drip coffee maker which goes to 11 if you push it. Feel free to use a French press or whatever method you prefer. I use the drip maker since I can easily brew the amount I want without too much fuss.

I do two brewings to get to about 1.6 litres.  In my 10 cup drip maker I do one full brew, and a half brew using the same grounds. This is the perfect amount and strength to balance exactly one whole 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk and it all fits perfectly in a French 2 Litre Carafe.

I fill the filter as full as possible and then add some ground or whole cassia cinnamon along with some cocoa nibs on the grounds. This is to your taste, but don’t overdo it.

Cafe DuMonde, Ground Cassia, Cacao Nibs

I brew the first batch and add it to the carafe and begin the second brew.

Carafe with first brew (hot)

I then add the whole can of sweetened condensed milk to the hot coffee and mix while I wait for the second brew.

Mixed first brew

I then add the next brew to top off the carafe.

Full batch of Cà phê sữa đá

You’re done!

This is also delicious hot and I often have a little cup before cooling.

Allow to come to room temperature and then store in the refrigerator.

To serve, pour over ice in small glass. I prefer large cubed ice, like Kold Draft, so you keep the chill and have a little melt, but not too much melt. Like a whiskey with a cube or two.

Cà phê sữa đá on ice

This can easily be made into an iced coffee cocktail by adding a favorite liqueur and/or spirit like dark rum, Kahlua or coffee liqueur, chocolate liqueur, hazelnut, mint etc…

It is great made into a frozen blender drink…. with or without alcohol.