The sun has slowly but surely intensified its rays as we’ve gone deeper into summer, and while the garden is certainly enjoying it, my over-heated house and uncomfortable body is not. Temperatures like these are what makes me want to chop off all my hair, having it this long feels like walking around with a blanket on your head in the summertime. I think the feeling where your hair gets so sweaty that it starts sticking to the back of your neck is on par with a splinter under your fingernail for me. So, sooooo intensly uncomfortable. Since I can’t yet bring myself to break the bank installing central air conditioning in our old house, I’ve been finding other ways to stay cool. I’ve started sticking cucumber peels on my forehead, dampening the sheets a little before bed and then pointing a fan at them, and the good ol’ fashioned cold compress on top of the head. But by and far the most pleasant and enjoyable way to stay cool has been unwinding out on the deck with an ice cold cocktail.
I’ve been playing around with different flavors in drinks lately (since I’ve been mixing them quite a bit), and my favorite so far has been incorporating grilled fruits into the cocktail mixture and just letting them stew in it for a few hours before serving. The fruit takes on this smoky, oaky flavor and the sugars on the exposed skin caramelize while it’s laying over the intense heat of the coals, so you also get an amazing toasty-brown sugar flavor, too. I’ve done a few different variations with varying juices, teas, mixers, and fruits, but I’m an old-fashioned gal and my favorite so far has been a simple iced tea with fresh lemon juice, grilled peaches, and Hangar 1 Straight Vodka. The slightly bitter tea is balanced by the sweet peaches, and the tang of the lemon juice brings just the right amount of brightness to the drink. And I love using vodka for drinks with strong flavors like this one because Hangar 1 is so smooth it really allows the flavors of the fruits and tea to shine through perfectly and clearly. This type of drink is perfect for entertaining, because you can whip up a big batch the day before everyone is coming over, toss it in the fridge, and just take it out when everyone arrives. Plus, the longer you let the cocktail infuse with the grilled peaches in it, the more intense the smokey campfire flavor will be. I started tasting it pretty well after just a couple hours in the fridge, but overnight yields the strongest results. And feel free to experiment with other tea varieties and fruits, I bet an iced jasmine green tea with grilled pineapple would also be prettttty amazing. The options are endless!
As for grilling tips, I prefer cooking over hot coals or burning wood rather than gas because I like the smokier flavor that you get from those sources. If you’re cooking over gas, you miss out on the smoke infusing into the food, but you also have a steady and predictable heat, which makes the cooking process slightly less complicated. With wood and coal-fire cooking, you don’t want to use any lighter fluid to get the fire going because the flavor of the lighter fluid can end up infusing into the food as it burns off while the food is cooking over it. If you’re not sure what that would taste like, just think of the smell of lighter fluid. It’s not a pleasant one, and definitely not something you want a hint of in your food. Also, I’ve found that the heat level is much steadier and more predictable if you start cooking over the fire once it’s no longer shooting out big flames, but is instead at the ‘glowing’ stage where the embers/coals are kind of white on the outside and are glowing red/orange on the inside. They’re emitting a very strong and steady heat at this time, which is ideal for cooking because you won’t get a sudden flame burst that going to burn the heck out of whatever it is you’re trying to cook over the fire. It’s just a nice, steady and constant heat source for the roughly 20 minutes it will stay this way. Lastly, make sure you have a nice set of long grilling tongs, since you want to keep your face as far away from the heat source as possible and having a loooong set of tongs helps a lot in this regard. Just pay attention to the heat coming off the fire, wait for it to burn down to the ‘glowing’ stage, pop those peaches on the grate, and you’ll be fine.
Begin by grilling the peaches. Sprinkle the inside of the peaches with 2 teaspoons of sugar. Use the olive oil to lightly brush the grill grate to keep the peaches from sticking. Place the peaches, inside facing down, over indirect heat on a wood or charcoal grill and over medium low heat on a gas grill. Allow to cool until light charred grill marks appear on the peach. Remove and allow the peaches to cool slightly before cutting them in half so that you have eight peach quarters. Set aside.
In a large pitcher, stir together the sugar, iced tea, Hangar 1 Straight Vodka, lemon juice, and vanilla extract until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the peaches and stir to agitate slightly. Cover and place in the refrigerator, allow the flavor to infuse for at least 2 hours or overnight.
When you’re ready to serve, uncover the pitcher, stir, add ice, and distribute. Serves 4.