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In today's world of designer martinis the cocktail garnish has gone beyond the boring twist of lemon, a Maraschino cherry or a few green olives on a martini pick. With the advent of the Appletini. Chocolate Martinis, and other exciting martinis like the Lemon Drop, the world of the humble cocktail garnish has blossomed into one of haute cocktail and diva-liciousness!

Today you will see cocktails showing up with garnishes of edible flowers, real gold sparkles, fun little toys and a dizzying array of edible decorative touches that make every martini and any plain old cocktail a celebration of the cocktail hour!

The definition of garnish is:
To enhance in appearance by adding decorative touches; embellish. To decorate (prepared food or drink) with small colorful or savory items.

When it comes to food a garnish is traditionally edible and, like food, the garnish in a martini or cocktail should reflect the ingredients used in that drink or complement the flavor profile. If you are serving a Key Lime Pie Martini it is best garnished with a slice of lime, a Pomegranate Martini is nicely served up with a few fresh pomegranate seeds.

That does not preclude other innovations and some creative additions! Why can't an Apple Martini be garnished with some fun caramel corn on a martini pick or how fun is it to stick a sour lemon Twizzler into a Lemon Drop? Another fun way to garnish is to swirl a syrup or thinned out ice cream sauce inside the bowl of the glass. (I freeze the glass first because this helps keep your syrup from dripping. Once I swirl I put the glass back in the freezer which keeps the swirl in place and also chills the glass!)

Here are just a few of the unusual or non-traditional garnishes I have used:

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  • Edible flowers - make sure they are certified as edible! You can grow your own or buy them in upscale markets, even get them at the garden department. Just make sure they are cleaned, certified edible and pesticide free.
  • Edible Gold and Silver Flakes and Sprinkes - You can find food quality gold, silver and other precious metals at high end kitchen stores and online. Again, make sure this is certified "edible" - do not grab a packet of gold leaf at the art store!
  • Unusual fruits and vegetables - I love star fruit for it's shape and I think the micro- veggies are the perfect size for martinis!
  • Cake decorations - I use sprinkles (jimmies) and fun shaped cake decorations a lot.
  • Candy - I use tons of candy for garnishes. Chocolate, of course, is a must for a Chocolate Martini but how cute are all those gummi bears? During the holidays you can get really wild and find gummi eyeballs at Halloween and Gummy Santas at Christmas.
  • I have even taken fondant (used in baking those fancy cakes) and sculpted fun little shapes and put those on a martini pick! You can buy white fondant and color it with food color.
  • Food color - you can color a lot of fruits and veggies a color to match your martinis with food color!!
  • Herbs are beautiful on a savory martini - especially fresh out of your garden.
  • I've even used bacon and pickles as garnishes!
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The Olive is, of course, the modern day standard garnish for a Classic Martini, BUT who's to say you can't stuff that olive with something besides a pimento?

I have taken green olives and stuffed them with all sorts of cheeses, pickled garlic, dill flavored cream cheese and even little cubes of pepperoni and salami! I've also stuffed green olives with a small slice of carrot and cucumber!

But - and here's the tip - my newest trick is to take the olive jar and remove the juice (which you save to make a Dirty Martini!) and replace it with vermouth! Not only do these taste great, but if you replace the vermouth in a classic martini recipe with two of these you create a great dry martini with just the right amount of vermouth! You don't have to use vermouth either, you can use vodka or gin. Cool, huh?

You can do the same with dried fruits! I've made what I call Drunken Cherries with dried cherries and cherry vodka and I've also done dried apricots and blueberries with flavored vodkas. I even have an article here on how to make your own flavored vodkas!

Make sure you mark the jars as being "drunken", so you don't serve them to a tee-totaler. Let those olives steep in the vermouth for at least a couple of days. A week is preferable. The dried fruits can be very tasty just steeped overnight, in fact I think they're better less infused with so much alcohol.

You can add herbs and spices to the pickling mixtures and you can pickle more than just olives and dried fruits!! Pickle a pepper or another vegetable! You can actually buy jars of pickled vegetables in specialty food stores like Trader Joe's and World Market!

Of course, you can always pick up unique martini olives online at Amazon as well! They've got some great gourmet sets that include blue cheese stuffed olives, garlic stuffed olives and more:

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Fun, Non-edible "garnishes" that accessorize!

Technically a garnish is an edible decoration that enhances the visual appeal of your cocktail but it can be fun to bring in non-edible creativity into play!

The cocktail umbrella is, of course, the most often used of these but there are others you can buy like little plastic monkeys or elephants that hang off the rim.

I have often made some fun drink decorations by printing out an image and gluing it to a wooden cocktail pick. And speaking of cocktail picks - you can get those in a billion different versions from plain wooden ones with a seashell on top to hand blown glass to solid gold or silver ones with your initials.

I have scoured the toy section of the dollar stores and used party favors and even miniature toys. Just make sure you clean everything properly - either with alcohol or in your dishwasher if you can. If you can't clean it properly then don't use it.

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Making the creativity easier

Yes, you can just open up a jar of olives or Maraschino cherries, in which case you only need your hand or a jar opener but if you want to get a little more macho into your martini, try playing with some of these tools:

  • A standard double jigger - only pros can eyeball a shot!
  • A basic paring knife - helpful in cutting fruits and veggies down to size.
  • A larger knife for slicing fruits and veggies into discs or sticks, as well as other uses.
  • A pair of scissors - to trim off unwanted parts.
  • A channel knife - helpful in making those lovely long spiraling twists from your fruit rinds and peels.
  • A microplane grater - for when you want to grate some chocolate or fresh spices on top.
  • A zester - for getting those great fruit peels into the act, either as part of a muddling process or as a "zesty" quick garnish.
  • A lemon reamer - it's a quick, non messy way to juice citrus.
  • A muddling stick - I prefer the wooden ones myself.
  • A melon baller - it's great for turning melons into fun garnish shapes.
  • Mini cookie cutters - tiny little shapes can be cut from fruits, veggies, etc, and added to your martini.
  • A potato peeler - I used this often for shaving chocolate but it works great to shave thin slices of veggies which can then be a curl you hang off the rim.
  • A Cocktail Garnish Station - these are compartmentalized trays with several areas for different garnishes that you use a lot - you've seen these at the bartender's station in all drinking establishments.
  • Martini or Cocktail Picks - for when you need to spear something - toothpicks can do in a pinch but they are usually too short.

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Where do you put the garnish? That will, of course, depend on the garnish(es) you have chosen but the options are numerous:
  • You can simply drop some garnishes in.
  • You can spear one or two items on a martini pick and drop in or set the pick across the rim.
  • You can hang it on the rim.
  • You can use the glass itself for swirling syrups inside the bowl.
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