Local + Low-Cal Ingredients = 4 Tasty Summer Cocktails That Won't De-Rail Your Bikini Bod
Bartenders hate me. Well, maybe not Tara or Mirko, my former '21' Club colleagues who taught me how to mix a proper cocktail during my eight-year tenure as PR gal for that Gotham hot spot. And I’ve also PR-d several Brown-Forman brands; clients and forever friends Maggie Schneider Peak and Andrea Ream Duvall were my sisters-in-spirits, knowing how to mix - and appreciate - a great drink. Their co-worker, Brown-Forman PR superstar Kasey Allgeier, provided the purty photos you see here, peppered throughout this post.
When your standard is set so high, it’s easy to be disappointed. Think of me as persnickety Sally (as in 'When Harry Met...'). I just want my drink prepared exactly the way I want it.
First, A Few
1. Pre-made mixes: Too much sugar or salt is an Rx for no flavor balance. Please. Don't. Ever. buy or order anything with pre-made Bloody Mary or Margarita mix. Your circulatory system will thank you. And chances are you also won't be hung over from the chemicals. Shortcut mixers remind me of McDonald’s - crowd-pleasing, but not my taste. (Except for Mickey D's French fries. Those are almost worth the calories.) When you can’t readily identify the ingredients, skip the mix.
2. White Zinfandel: Don't get me started on this. When I see it as an offering at a bar or restaurant, it’s a tip-off that the cocktail program is dated (hello 1980s). I'm sad at how common this is in Florida. And it’s not just the large and small chain restaurants, it’s the fun Tiki bar where I’m more apt to enjoy the atmosphere than what I’m sipping. Despite the shared color, rosé and White Zin wines are NOT the same.
3. Unsolicited BYO: Is it just my neighborhood, or do you notice people bring their own drinks when they pop in for cocktails? Is this a Florida thing? FBP wants to know.
4. Beachball-sized Tumblers: It’s time to re-consider massive tumblers that hold 12+ ounces. Think of your grandmother’s barware, when stemware was smaller.
Then, My Handy
Dear reader, FBP is here to teach you to create better, lower-calorie cocktails.
Some of my NYC preferences have given way to my new Florida life. For instance, I used to think ice was for suckers. But given the Sunshine State’s heat, I now tend to fill my glass to the brim. Ice is your #1 calorie reducer. Taste isn’t compromised by ice. And make it fun. Ice-cube trays now come in oversized squares, which are classy and cool. (In the literal and hipster sense.)
The key to great cocktails is high-quality ingredients. If you’re a good cook, and trust your flavor instincts, you can do this. If you're not a great cook, follow FBP's recipes.
What I always have on hand:
1. Fresh herbs: These are garnishes that add subtle flavor. Basil, mint, thyme grow well in Florida year-round. Channeling Martha Stewart, I cut mine fresh from the garden.
2. Florida-fresh fruits: Also deployed for a subtle flavor hints and/or garnish. Many of my neighbors have lemon and lime trees, and nothing beats that. How lucky are we to enjoy fresh-squeezed Florida orange and grapefruit juices at every grocery store? Watermelon juice (which I was addicted to in NYC because of Organic Avenue) is a summer must. I tend not to add more than 1 ounce of sweet juice, and 2 ounces for my Bloody Marias. (See below for the recipe. Trust me on this.) You can also think 'spa' and add cucumber (yes, it's technically a fruit) to vodka and gin cocktails. Cucumber also pairs well with mint. Très refreshing.
A note: Add your garnish as the first step to enhance the flavor. That way the essence steeps through the cocktail.
Btw ladies, if you're mixing cocktails with lime on the beach, wash your hands immediately to avoid a really scary rash. Don't believe me? Read this, by our friends at Grub Street: Why making Margaritas in the sunshine is a bad idea
3. Low calorie mixers:
Bubbles make every get-together celebratory. Try San Pellegrino, Perrier and perhaps LaCroix (flavored waters are not teeth-friendly.) As for you 'Mommy Juicers' - maybe skip the Sprite and make your own with fresh lemon and lime juice, adding the no-cal Pellegrino or Perrier. No sugar needed.
My current favorite sweet-ish low-cal mix is a Panera Bread concoction: Fill a 32 oz. cup to the brim with ice. Add 1 oz. Blood Orange Lemonade (10 calories), 1 oz. Hibiscus Agua Fresca (10 calories), and top with Hibiscus Iced Tea (0 calories.) The ombré colors are so pretty too when you make it exactly the way I describe. If you're entertaining, this 32 oz cup makes 4-6 cocktails easily.
4. The Hard Stuff (AKA 'spirits.' So appropriately named!):
Vodka, gin, rum, tequila and whiskey = 97 calories for a standard shot, which is 1.5 oz. Whittle your way to a one-ounce pour for an even-skinnier 64 calories.
If boozy bubbles pique your fancy, think Prosecco, Korbel and Cava, which clock-in at roughly 85 calories per 4 ounces.
85 Cals Per Serving
Why a Bloody Maria? Because tequila is more flavorful than vodka. I prefer Herradura (especially because they sponsored my Humane Society of NY bash a few years back. #LoyalAndTasty)
2 oz V8
1/2 teaspoon fresh horseradish
1/8 lime cut into 2 pieces
1 oz tequila
Place basil leaves at the bottom and fill glass with ice, then add tequila. Use the first lime wedge to squeeze into the glass and let it remain there. Add V8, horseradish, pepper, tabasco. Stir. Rim the glass with remaining lime.
90 Cals Per Serving
Let’s hope they appreciate this and don’t sue me.
Drop mint or thyme to the bottom of the glass, then pour 4 ounces Korbel, Prosecco or Cava. Top with one ounce of the Panera concoction mentioned above. (90 total calories). You can pour this over ice, but I’m sort of a purist when it comes to fizzy alcohol and prefer not to.
You can swap the fizzy for gin or vodka, but keep it to one ounce for the spirit. Pour over ice.
100 Cals Per Serving
Add fresh basil or mint sprigs, then fill glass with ice. Add 1 oz. Finlandia (doesn't it make you feel cooler just saying Finland?). Top with 1 oz. watermelon juice (save the juice at the bottom of the skin after cutting the fruit and reserve for future use). 100 calories, but you will want seconds...at the very least.
111 Cals Per Serving
Fill your blender with shaved ice. Pour a bottle of good rosé (500 calories) and 6 oz. Finlandia (384 calories) into the blender. Add just a bit of either thyme, basil or mint - not a lot, and certainly not each herb - to the mix. Pulse for about 10 seconds. Serves 8.