And you thought today’s cocktails were too damn big…
From the June and July 1956 issues of Playboy, respectively. Yes, that’s two fifths of gin, plus one ounce of vermouth.
Note: This is a review of a product supplied to me for promotional consideration. Take it with however much salt you wish.
A few weeks ago, a company called Air & Water offered to send me a portable ice maker to review for promotional consideration. Upon receipt, it took up space in storage for almost two weeks because I have a small kitchen and limited counter space to test it. Finally, I had to cave in and make room: I had a moment of crisis in the late afternoon when I realized that not one tray of Tovolo cubes in my freezer was solid, and my wife would soon be home, demanding cocktails and brooking no excuses.
The appliance in question, the AI-100SS from NewAir, is bulky but lighter than you’d perhaps expect. Its operation is actually pretty interesting. First, it’s portable, which means it’s not plumbed into your water lines. You fill it with whatever water you prefer–tap, distilled, spring, or Christina Hendricks’s bathwater, it’s up to you. The reservoir has a capacity of about 2 quarts of water. You fill it by lifting the cover, removing an ice basket that sits above the reservoir (more on this later), and pouring the water in. A drain-off cap allows you to empty the reservoir if you need to move or store the machine while it still has water in it.
The ice it produces is thimble shaped, and that’s a result of the machine’s operation. Once you turn it on, the machine sucks water from the reservoir into a sort of tub. The water forms a bath into which metal rods are descended, which chill the water, forming ice around the rods. Selecting the size of your ice thimbles simply means that you’re selecting the thickness of the ice that forms around the rods. When the ice is finished forming, the machine turns off the chilling power of the rods, the ice drops off the rods and is ejected into a basket.
The ice basket has small perforations, and as I said before, it sits atop the water reservoir. So as unused ice melts in the basket, the water drips back into the reservoir, ready for another session of ice-making. Smart design. The machine takes about 6 – 15 minutes to make the first batch of ice, depending on the size you selected. Once the basket fills up or the reservoir runs out of water, the machine shuts itself off.
My first batch of ice tasted a little off, with sort of a plastic taste, so I followed the instructions that said to use a bit of vinegar or lemon juice and allow it to cycle a few times. I first tried vinegar, and although it didn’t immediately impart a vinegar flavor to the ice, it did make an iced drink taste vinegary as the ice melted. I switched to lemon juice, which eventually washed away all the vinegar and provided me with tasty lemony ice water, so I’d definitely advise using lemon if needed.
Enough already, I can hear you saying. How’s the ice?
I used this ice the first night to make a couple of drinks, and here’s what I decided:
I work from home, and I have a glass of ice water at my side at all times. Aside from coffee (black, please), water is usually the only beverage I drink until the start of cocktail hour. Until the NewAir came along, that meant several trips a day into our small, overloaded freezer. Now, however, I leave the freezer shut all day, which frankly, is better for the freezer, and better for the food (and ice) inside. It means that when it’s time to mix drinks, I know I can rely on having many frozen Tovolo cubes.
And, I no longer have to whack away at the cubes to make chipped ice for chilling down cocktail glasses. Instead, I can just scoop some machine ice into them and top them off with water. The quick melting is ideal for this because it chills the glasses down quickly.
I’ve seen Fred Yarm, from the Cocktail Virgin blog, comment in a couple of places that a friend of his owns a NewAir and stores her thimbles in the freezer in plastic containers. This seems smart because the ice would get hard and cold. I might try it and report back.
I can’t tell you I’d have bought this machine for myself. To be honest, it never even occurred to me that portable ice machines were a product category you could purchase from. I do, though, love that these little thimbles allow our freezer to work more efficiently, free up the Tovolo cubes from the humble act of daily hydration, and chill my glassware lickety-split. I won’t say I can’t live without it; if I had a freezer with a built-in ice machine, I’d probably box this up until company was over. But I don’t have a built-in ice maker, and so I find this portable model very handy.
If you’re in the market for a portable, countertop ice machine, the NewAir AI-100SS won’t disappoint you.
Time for something a little different.
For a while now, I’ve been a member of the website Food52, a collaborative site created by food writers Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs that highlights the recipes of home cooks. The idea is this: every week, the site runs two contests, each featuring a different dish or ingredient. Any site member can submit an original recipe. Hesser and Stubbs choose two finalists from the list of recipes; voting opens at this point. Any member can vote for one finalist. The winner receives a spot in the Food52 cookbook, which will be published by HarperCollins.
A recent contest called for Your Best Chicken Wings, and it was pretty open-ended: Korean-style, Buffalo-style, you name it. As part of the Food52 process, and to help foster a sense of community, Hesser and Stubbs invite members to test certain Editors Pick recipes. One of the chicken-wing recipes up for testing was for scrumptious sounding Longhorn Tequila Wings, by a home cook and small farm owner named Tom Hirshfeld.
The process is a little involved, but man, the results are worth it. First you brine the wings in a mix of tequila, lime zest, salt, and water. After the wings brine for about 90 minutes, you remove them from the brine and dry them on a rack in the fridge. Dredge them in a mix of flour, masa harina, chili powder, and other spices. Fry, and then toss in a dressing of tequila, onions and garlic, peppers, cilantro, and lime.
When I saw the recipe, I knew I wanted to make it, so I called dibs to test it for an Editors Pick. So I whipped them up as a Sunday app, and paired them with shots of tequila and sangrita. Oh my yum.
photo by Jennifer Hess
The wings were great. I chose not to make them overly hot because frankly, I’m kind of a wimp with spicy-hot foods. I like just enough spice to know I’m alive, but not enough to wish I weren’t. Tom calls for them to be served with home-fried tortilla strips, which were addictive. The wings themselves carried the earthy sweetness of the agave juice, well balanced with the heat of the pepper, tang from the lemon, and piquancy of the onion and garlic. The masa gave the coating a nice tenderness, and it’s a grace note I’ll want to play with the next time I fry chicken.
Hirshfeld recommends pairing the wings with a Shiner Bock, in keeping with their Lone Star State inspiration, but I went with the classic tequila/sangrita pairing, and it was fabulous. I want to do this for a cocktail party some time.