Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Cheer from Cocktail Buzz

A Hard Candy cocktail will lift your holiday spirits.

A few years back, Ars Nova, New York’s premier hub for emerging artists and new work, asked us to come up with a cocktail for their Winter Holiday party. The theme: Candy Land. Remember Candy Land, the colorful board game we played as preschoolers? Of course you don’t, you’ve had too much to drink since then. But reach back, far back into the folds and synapses of yesteryear, and you might just remember marching your gingerbread pawns around the board, picking up sweet treats along the way while aiming for the final destination, the Candy Castle. The real goal of the game was to help children learn their colors. That took about two seconds. All the game really did teach us was to crave a bowl of M&M’s with a Pixy Stix chaser.

So we created a cocktail that tastes like candy canes—high-octane candy canes—and dubbed it “Hard Candy,” the “hard” of course referring to the amount and proof of the spirits involved. It’s definitely a sipper, and we do recommend only one, but if you must have two, make sure you’ve played Candy Land with the kids in your life before venturing onto a second.

Hard Candy
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

2 ounces Jack Daniel’s
1 ounce white crème de cacao
1/2 ounce peppermint schnapps
mini candy cane, as garnish

Stir in a mixing glass half-filled with ice for 30 seconds. Strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice (or up, if you dare). Garnish with a mini candy cane or other peppermint candy.

photo by Steve Schul

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tree-Trimming with Brunch and Cocktails

Our dear friends Monica and Matt have two lovely children, Frances and Cole, and every year we try to host a tree-trimming party where the kids are the center of the holiday festivities. This year we decided on a brunch with bagels (courtesy of our friend Curt) smothered in cream cheese, nova, and little bites of capers and scallion; swiss cheese quiche; and, to keep the Swiss theme in the fore, Zwiebelwähe, a Swiss onion tart that’s thinner than a quiche, but just as tasty (we got the recipe from Saveur magazine). Monica made some incredibly light pumpkin scones, which added nice spice flavors to the buffet table. (A lot of bready, starchy, goodness, yes, but who’s really counting when it’s the holiday season.)

Zwiebelwähe (Swiss Onion tart). Difficult to pronounce. Easy to eat.

The kids were no shrinking violets this year; they knew that the tree-trimming was the focus of the party and they were at the center. Frances, almost 6, acted as tree-decorating ringleader, and Cole, almost 4, followed his big sister’s advice as she evenly placed ornaments from each bough in hopes of producing a beautiful display. Their artistic concentration allowed the adults to focus on toasting with a little holiday cheer, this year in the form of mimosas. Mimosas are a terrific drink for a situation like this: you want to catch a light buzz and feel the gaiety of sharing food and tales with your friends. Making a perfect mimosa, though, is subjective. For a cocktail with only two ingredients, everyone seems to like theirs with a different ratio of orange juice to champagne, as we’re sure you do. For our mimosas this season, we used freshly squeezed Clementine juice (so sweet!) and Sofia blanc de blanc (from a bottle this time). Just make sure you’ve squeezed all those gorgeous little Clementines before your guests arrive or you’ll be mired in a drippy mess as you try to scramble to make the drinks.

Frances contemplates her next move with the concentration of a chess champion.

The weather was cooperating so after the trimming and the noshing, we took a little constitution on the terrace with a round of new cocktails, Ramos Gin Fizzes, a frothy blend of gin, heavy cream, egg white, and some orange flower water. (Instead of shaking shaking shaking until our arms ached, we used a blender—much better for a party.) It’s the orange flower water that gives this drink its characteristic, perfumed flavor, and the gin that gives it its kick, but its the cream and egg white that elevate this drink to the rare status of breakfast cocktail as it leaves a frothy moustache on your upper lip as you sip.

Cole rewards himself for a tree-trimming job well done.

Back inside, after we devoured a flourless chocolate cake, the kids got to open their gift: this year we decided that they could share a DVD of “The Wizard of Oz.” They know the entire story through songs and books, but never had they seen the film until we all sat quietly around the TV and watched as Dorothy Gale does everything in her power to save her little dog from the machinations of Miss Almira Gulch, aka the Wicked Witch of the West. Never have we seen two youngsters so enraptured (and quiet) by movie magic, but we had to remark that it was us, the adults, who were enraptured as well. We all knew the movie frame by frame and couldn’t wait for Dorothy to open the door from her drab, sepia-toned life on the farm in Kansas to the enchanted, brightly colored world of Oz. “The Wizard of Oz” may be 70 years old this year, but it has never failed to cast its spell over the hearts and minds of children and adults all over the world.

(traditional brunch cocktail)

orange juice

Fill a champagne flute a third of the way with chilled freshly squeezed orange juice. Top with chilled champagne, but leave a little room at the top to add more juice or champagne, depending on your preference.

Ramos Gin Fizz
(adapted from Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology)

2 oz. gin
1 ounce cream
1 raw egg white
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce orange flower water
club soda
1/2 cup ice
quarter of an orange wheel, as garnish

In a blender, mix everything except the club soda until frothy. Divide between 2 champagne flutes, and top with a splash of club soda. Drop the garnish atop the froth.

Bagels with Nova and Cream Cheese

bagels, sliced down the middle and in half to make half-sandwiches
Nova (cured and smoked Eastern salmon)
chopped scallions
cream cheese
dried dill

Toast the bagels, smear with some cream cheese, sprinkle with dill, capers, and scallions. Top with slices of Nova.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Inspiration from Thanksgiving Leftovers

This turkey leg looks lonely. It needs a good home. How about ravioli?

This year we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving leftovers rather than grumble about them. You see, we usually re-create Thanksgiving dinner four days in a row following the blessed event. Why? Well, usually we make complicated side dishes with esoteric ingredients so to repurpose them would be folly. This year, because we stuck with traditional fare (see last week’s post), we decided that our seemingly perfect meal could use a shakeup. The barbecued turkey sandwiches on challah rolls and Turkey Tetrazzini were great ways to stretch both the light and dark meat, but after a few days, all that was left was dark meat and wing meat (only a few scraps of the once succulent breast were left, and these pieces were slightly dessicated—not really suitable as a main course on their own).

So we cut every last ounce of tender dark meat from the drumstick and thighs and the tiny bits from the wings, and didn’t stop until we had a nice pile of pulled turkey meat.

What to do . . . what to do . . . ?

Have a cocktail, of course. We had some oranges and limes that were ready to be juiced, so, scouring the Internet for an extant drink, we saw several recipes for the Fjord (or Fiord) Cocktail. Fjords are those deep Norwegian inlets that create incredible-looking coastlines from space, and this drink is called a Fjord because it uses a little aquavit, that enticing caraway-infused spirit that’s a Scandinavian tradition. And since tradition was the theme to this year’s Thanksgiving, we thought this cocktail fit nicely into the scheme of things. This is the ratio we thought worked best (it’s from in whetting our appetites for the hot mess we were about to tackle:

Fjord Cocktail
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

1 ounce brandy (we used Asbach)
1/2 ounce aquavit (we used Linie, but also try Krogstad for a less caraway flavor)
1/2 ounce fresh orange juice
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce grenadine (we used Stirrings, but now is the perfect time of year to make your own)

Shake in ice for 15 seconds and strain onto a chilled glass.

The first sip is magnificent: a perfect blend of all the ingredients. The second sip is more complex; you can detect the caraway notes, and this bitterness plays amazingly well with the sweet orange and pomegranate (from the grenadine), and the tangy lime. The brandy brings all these tastes together. This is one cocktail we will be making again an again, and if you’ve never tried aquavit and are unsure how you’re going to like its distinct spice, the Fjord is the perfect starting point. It’s easy to sip and a perfect bridge to the main event, Thanksgiving Ravioli.

Adding the turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing filling to the sheet of pasta dough

We successfully made some ravioli a few weeks back, why not make a new batch. We tossed the turkey in the food processor, but it looked so blah; it needed a friend, so in went a few dollops of the leftover sweet and tangy cranberry sauce. We gave it a whir and watched as the shiny bits of bright red mixed with the mostly dark turkey meat. One taste told us we needed to add something more. We looked in the fridge and Steve said “What about the stuffing?” What about the stuffing, indeed. That savory mix of cornbread, apples, and Italian sausage added moistness and balance to the filling. One more whir and we were ready to start on the pasta.

We followed the pasta recipe we came up with from our last batch to the letter, but noticed that when we were running it through the pasta roller, the dough was too sticky. It was a little damp outside, and this greatly affects the elasticity and moistness of the dough. Adding a bit more flour helped make the process easier, and when the sheets of dough were laid out, we plopped some filling on one of them in evenly spaced mounds, covered it all up with the other sheet, smoothed out the trapped air pockets, and cut it all into neat squares. This time, we mounded the filling higher in each raviolo, but this may not be such a good thing; if the dough is too elastic, it may tear as you try pressing out the air pockets between mounds. Be careful. If you do get a tear, you’ll have to plug up the hole with a scrap piece of dough. This will make that particular raviolo a little chewier, but that’s better than losing your precious filling in the roiling boiling bath you’re about to drop them in.

Time to boil the ravioli

In deciding what kind of sauce would go best with these ravioli, we wanted to keep the Thanksgiving leftover theme in the fore, so we added some chicken stock to the leftover gravy, seasoned it with a little marjoram, salt, and pepper, and let it thicken a little on the stove. The point was not to create something goopy, but rather a broth in which the ravioli would steep, almost the way you would steep Chinese dumplings in a wonton broth. When the ravioli floated to the top of the pot, we cooked them a minute longer, drained them, and laid them gingerly in two shallow bowls. After ladling some of the brothy sauce over them and sprinkling with fresh parsley, we inhaled deeply the aromas that took us back to the moment we tasted our Thanksgiving dinner. Only this time, every flavor was on the fork, in one bite.

Thanksgiving Ravioli, a perfect end to a weekend of leftovers

After a supremely satisfying dinner we realized we had some of the filling left over. That would make its way into the Thanksgiving Sloppy Joes we would have the following night. (We mixed the filling and the sauce together, plopped it some lightly mayonnaised brioche buns, and topped them with a little cranberry sauce, plus lettuce for some crunch. A pear, goat cheese, and toasted walnut salad with a shallot vinaigrette was the perfect side. Simple and delicious once again.) Now all that was left from our original Thanksgiving dinner was a little stuffing and cranberry sauce. The stuffing sadly would end up in the garbage (we mourn throwing away food, but in this instance it was necessary), but the cranberry sauce, about a third of a cup, would end up infusing some Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon Carolina Moonshine. The cranberry sauce is still infusing the Moonshine, but daily taste tests presage delicious cocktails to come. Stay tuned. We’ll keep you posted.

We salute the turkey with our Thanksgiving Sloppy Joes

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving Simplified

A hand-cranked apple peeler: Thank you for making pie-making a breeze.

This Thanksgiving we spent our time together, as we always do, but with no guests at our table. Last-minute changes afforded us the opportunity to sit this holiday with just each other. Instead of scrambling to find some hot new recipes using outré ingredients, this year we decided on a simple bill of fare: cook what you know, and don’t use any recipes except the ones in your head. We came up with the basic shape of our meal through chit-chat and cocktails days before the feast, and decided that spending the least amount of money to make great “traditional” dishes was the way to be Zen about all this. Here’s what we made:

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu
roasted turkey with gravy,
sausage stuffing,
whipped potatoes,
mashed sweet potatoes and parsnips,
green beans with almonds,
cranberry sauce,
apple pie with whipped cream

Drinks Menu
Sofia Mimosa with Galliano,
The Wink

We took our time making the meal. To say that it took all day would not be a lie, but it was a nice way to spend the holiday. Leisurely we sipped some Sofia Mimosas with Galliano with an easy lunch of bacon and eggs. The new Galliano L’Autentico has fewer vanilla and more spice notes than the older version, and it provided a zippy contrast to the orange juice and the blanc de blanc bubbly in a can we love so much.

Sofia Mimosa with Galliano
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

1 1/2 ounce fresh orange juice
1/4 ounce Galliano l'Autentico
1/2 can Sofia blanc de blanc champagne

In a mixing glass, chill the orange juice and Galliano by stirring in ice for about 20 seconds. Strain into a champagne flute. Top with champagne.

The first dish was so simple. Cranberry Sauce. All you need to know how to do is boil water and make sure you have some sugar handy. And homemade looks a hell of a lot prettier in a serving dish than the blob that lurches out of a can. The whipped potatoes involved boiling water as well, but a little butter and heavy cream helped them achieve their full potential (though we didn’t overdo the butter and cream this year). The sweet potatoes and parsnips were roasted in the oven, all wrapped up in aluminum foil before being subjected to a good whipping with, again, a little butter and heavy cream, plus a sprinkling of nutmeg and brown sugar for some fall sweetness. With all this starchy goodness, we needed to counterbalance with something green. We both love green beans and were toying with the idea of making green bean casserole, replete with savory, creamy mushroom sauce and crispy wispy onion rings, but that mouth-watering description took away from the “green” aspect of what we wanted, sort of like when you’re on a diet and insist on just the salad bar, but then end up eating half the tub of macaroni salad. So we agreed on blanched green beans, further sauteed with some chopped almonds and fresh herbs, like thyme and marjoram.

Laying the foundation for stuffing with sauteed leeks and celery.

Steve’s favorite Thanksgiving dish is stuffing. He makes it every year, and loves to use sausage. It’s such a mish-mosh dish, a mongrel made with what seems like leftovers: stale bread, scraps of meat, some root vegetables and an onion. This year’s stuffing was onion-free, though leeks (which we’ve been cooking in almost every meal lately) and celery were the foundation upon which were laid savory cornbread croutons, apples, and little bites of hot and sweet Italian sausage. Baked so that its crusty top gives way to a slight pillowy interior, this stuffing was even further enhanced with a little slathering of gravy.

Ah, the gravy. So important. Do not trifle with gravy or the lit-up faces of those sitting at your table, admiring the gorgeous yet tasteful holiday tablescape it took you three weeks to design and shop for, will turn into sullen looks of unfulfilled dreams. The gravy this year was easy, and for one reason only: the turkey drippings were a’plenty. Why? Well, we like a moist bird (who doesn’t?), so we used a giant plastic bag in which to cook the bird. Instead of following manufacturer’s instructions, we didn’t poke holes in the bag to allow steam to escape from the air surrounding the bird. We let the air in the bag inflate as the bird cooked, and essentially it slowly did a poach-and-braise kind of thing, while still browning. At the very end, we poked some holes in the bag to let the steam out and cooked it until it reached a perfect 165˚F. When we plopped it on the carving board to rest, it looked beautiful.

The moistest bird awaits carving.

Paul does the carving, and this year’s 14-pounder gave in easily to the blade. The white meat was succulent and had hints of celery and onion, which we had stuffed in the bird’s cavity. The dark thigh meat was tender and had a pleasant gaminess. The gravy added a light richness to everything it touched. Suddenly, the bird, which is supposed to be the center of the banquet, earned its place.

But we’ve forgotten one important piece, that which completes any holiday meal . . . the pie. With apples we got from the farmers market and some Granny Smiths we picked up at the grocery store, Steve whipped up some pie crust while Paul mixed some cut-up apples with spices (mostly cinnamon, with some ginger, mace, nutmeg, and allspice) to make the filling. The results, heavenly.

Apple pie is easy. All you need is motivation.

Cleanup’s a breeze when you have no dinner guests, and even though we didn’t start eating until 9PM, we were all scrubbed, dried, and put away before midnight, enough time to relax with the remains of our Thanksgiving cocktail, The Wink. The Wink is perfect for an all-day event like Thanksgiving. It’s mostly Moscato d’Asti, a sweet and crisp white wine, with some Pear brandy and a dash of celery bitters to temper the sweetness. Refreshing, not cloying, and easy to make, you can keep your party happy with chilled bottles at the ready.

The Wink
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

2 ounces Moscato d'Asti (one with pear notes will work perfectly)
3/4 ounce pear brandy (we like Clear Creek)
dash of celery bitters (The Bitter Truth)

Pour chilled ingredients in wine glass in order above. Garnish with celery leaf.

The three ingredients that make The Wink.

Even though we took our time preparing the feast, our dogs were bone-tired by the end of the night, and after the last bite of apple pie, we slipped into a sugar-induced sleep and dreamed of leftovers. Our big leftover plans included turkey barbecue sandwiches (delicious on challah rolls with a topping of Japanese turnip and celery slaw) and Turkey Tetrazzini (on the menu today), but other leftovers lingered in the fridge waiting to be cast in a new role: the mashed sweet potatoes and parsnips, the stuffing, the Moscato d’Asti. It reminded us of our food challenge last weekend in which we wrote down on slips of paper items in the freezer and cupboards that were neglected and needed to be used in a creative dish.

So we decided to do the same with neglected items in our bar to make a new cocktail. Each of us wrote down three possible items to use as an ingredient in the cocktail, folded the little slips, and proffered them to the other for opting. We then decided that we would join forces to create one cocktail combining the items we each picked. Steve got Xanté (pronounced sawn-TE, but with a French nasal twang), a pear liqueur made with cognac and hints of vanilla, and I got Moscato d’Asti. Hmm. This sounded familiar, almost like the ingredients for The Wink, with the sweet ultra-pear aromatic rush of Xanté substituting for the subtler pear brandy. Xanté is a tricky liqueur to mix with; it’s 38% alcohol by volume and has a very strong personality—it can easily insinuate itself as the life of the party, but we wanted to create something a little tamer, something that your guests could sip on all night without stumbling and falling into your crystal decanter collection. We had a red grapefruit, so we mixed some of that with the Xanté and topped it with the Moscato d’Asti. Done. We even played with ratios, but found that our instincts on our first try were correct. This drink is easy-peasy to make and you can preshake your Xanté and red grapefruit juice and keep it chilled in a bottle alongside the bottle of Moscato d’Asti. Just write down the proportions for your guests, and they can make one themselves. Some people like a garnish, so make sure you have a few grapefruit twists for them to decorate their glasses. The smell of the twist along with the pear fragrance of the Xanté is rather enticing. Here’s to Thanksgiving leftovers. Cheers!

(created by Cocktail Buzz)

1/2 ounce pear liqueur (we like Xanté)
1 ounce red grapefruit juice (you can substitute pink if you cannot find red)
1 1/2 ounces Moscato d’Asti

Shake the first two ingredients in ice vigorously, so that little ice shards are created. Strain into chilled glass. Top with Moscato d'Asti. Garnish with grapefruit peel, if desired.

Photos © Cocktail Buzz.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Food Challenge with Cocktails, or Using Our New Standing Mixer to Make the Perfect Pasta

by Paul Zablocki

When the cupboards and the freezer can no longer hold your bounty, it’s high time for a culinary challenge.

Last Saturday morning, Steve opened the freezer and out fell a whole bunch of food-filled freezer baggies. Luckily he was wearing footwear or we’d have had to make a trip to the emergency room. I then looked through the cupboards and was dismayed by the sheer volume of stuff. “We need to do something about this,” I said. “Why do we complain we never have anything to eat? We’re such beggars in the house of plenty.”

So here’s what we did about it, the food geeks that we are, and we encourage you to do the same. Not unlike the TV show “Chopped,” but without the insane time constraints, take three ingredients that are taking up your precious storage space and make a meal. Not only will you compare and contrast saved recipes from books, magazines, and online sources, you will feel blessed by Annapurna, the Hindu goddess of Cooking and Food. But I suppose in what we churned out, the Roman goddess Vesta would be more apropos.

I wanted to up the stakes, so I suggested we write down ten ingredients each (such as the dried sardines I thought would make a great something or other at some point), throw them into a reusable canvas shopping bag (we do try to be green), and pick three. I thought it would be fair to only allow one of your own into the trio.

Here’s what Vesta saddled us with:

Paul: fire-roasted whole tomatoes, mini delicata squash, hot turkey sausage

Steve: pork rib meat (rib tips), coconut milk, filé powder

So where to begin?

Well, since our kitchen is small, and we really didn’t want to eat two big meals at once, we decided on separate days: I would make a feast on Sunday night, and Steve on Monday. Perfect.

I love hot Italian sausage, but hot turkey sausage is its milder American cousin, a little leaner, but still spicy and tasty. I also love a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, and we had a can of Muir’s Organic in the cupboards that was just begging to be used. But what about delicata squash? And mini ones at that? We picked them up at our local Farmers Market from Ray, the organic farmer who always has a great selection of seasonal vegetables. We get whatever looks good that week, but the squash were a carry-over from the week before and looked a little scary lying in the vegetable drawer in the fridge. Yellow with green stripes: they looked like mini Body Snatchers pods. So I went to the Web for some inspiration and found a blog called Barley & Me that touted the flavors of the delicata squash, and advised me to save the seeds for a simple salting and toasting.

My head started hurting from all the ideas exploding in the recipe box in my brain. Well, a challenge should be challenging, no? Why not put to good use the new pasta roller attachment I got Steve for his birthday and attach it to the new Kitchen Aid standing mixture my Mom and Dad got for us recently? I could just make a fettucine dish, but I said “Screw it, I’m going for ravioli.” Scary. I’ve never made ravioli before. Steve did once about four years ago for an Iron Chef Valentine’s Day Challenge we thrust upon ourselves one dreary winter when he, inspired by the beet and poppy seed ravioli from al di là in Brooklyn, decided he would make casunziei by hand. Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ve ever tried to make ravioli without the aid of a standing mixer and pasta roller attachment, maybe you should run down to your local kitchen supply store and throw down the plastic. IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

(Ever since Vesta bestowed us the gift of ease, we have made apple upside-down cake, ciabatta, and coconut cake. We just got our meat grinder attachment, and now that we are no longer pasta roller virgins, we are ready to grind some short ribs and top round to make us some burgers for the bbq.)

Since I never made ravioli before, I needed to consult a few sources. Tom Colicchio’s How To Think Like a Chef proved to be a great starting point. His pasta dough recipe is simple and straightforward, same as the recipe that came with the standing mixer—no degree in molecular biology necessary. I was put at ease, but only slightly. A little voice in my head kept warning me about the possible perils to come for never having used a pasta roller before. The only experience I’ve had with a pasta roller was Steve and I making pierogi with Barbara and Jon in the spring. And that was a hand roller, a little pain in the ass that required too much work. At least I’d have ease with the attachment, right?

Looking for inspiration in the fridge, I saw a dessicated parsnip, some limp carrots, and some semi-healthy looking leeks. I hate throwing out unused food! I’ll put them to good use and make a brunoise: finely diced vegetables cooked slowly in butter. This would be the base for my sauce, a chunky tomato and vegetable ragú. And for my main dish I’ll roast the delicata squashes and their seeds, combine the roasted squash with some pan-fried Italian turkey sausage in the food processor, and there you have the ravioli filling. I needed a side dish too, and there was an orange cauliflower in the crisper, so I knew exactly what to make, a recipe Steve found a few years ago in New York Magazine for roasting one and smothering it in a anchovy–olive oil sauce.

But back to the scary pasta attachment. Sunday arrives, and I know I’m going to make hot turkey sausage and delicata squash ravioli with a fire-roasted tomato sauce with leeks, carrots, and parsnips, sprinkled with roasted delicata squash seeds. Filling, easy. Sauce, I could make it half asleep. Pasta dough—it was a breeze! After consulting for a step-by-step course in basic ravioli making, the only scary part occurred when, as I was using the standing mixer to make the dough, I thought it was too shaggy and dry. I remembered that Colicchio uses olive oil in his recipe, so I added a tablespoon of that, plus a little more water, and crossed my fingers. If that didn't work, I was screwed. But it did work, and beautifully. There’s a synergy that happens when one uses a pasta roller. When you load the dough into the top and it travels through the roller, as if entering a black hole, it emerges transformed into a thin shiny sheet of delight. It’s not delicate, it actually can’t wait to meet your fingers and the palms of your beckoning hands like wide swaths of velvet ribbon unrolling onto your gathering palms. Magical.

I made two batches of ravioli, having rolled out four sheets of dough, and the first one I messed up a little. I was so overexcited about the ease in rolling out pasta dough that I actually cut the dough into squares after plopping down a little filling on half the dough. Down boy! That meant I had to cut up the other dough and press each ravioli individually. If you’ve made ravioli before, you are either shaking your head or laughing at me (or both). What I rectified on my second try was placing the second sheet of dough over the first sheet that had dollops of succulent filling waiting to be blanketed. Then I tamped it with my fingers, smoothing out any air holes surrounding the mini mounds of savory squash and turkey, and cut it up into squares using a pizza cutter. Easy as pie (and yes, pie is easy, but more on that on a later day).

There were a few instances during the cooking where I changed direction and went with the flow, like my decision to go for a chunky tomato sauce as opposed to pureeing and straining the sauce, but for the most part, I knew what I wanted from the start, especially flavorwise. We’d start the meal with a Cocktail à la Venezia, the Gondolier, a light, refreshing fizzy drink with flavors of lemon, juniper, and hazelnut; devour the ravioli with a side of the cauliflower; and follow that with some passion fruit ice cream for dessert and a digistif of bourbon and crème de menthe to settle the food fervor.

If I thought my food challenge results were stellar, Steve’s were galactic. Even though he cheated a little and made two dishes from the three ingredients, the end results made me quiver with glee. Filé instantly makes one think of gumbo, and Steve knew he’d have to add the tea-tasting sassafras powder at the end of any sauce he’d come up with or else overcooking with filé will make your sauce stringy and bitter. Ugh. But Steve’s a dessert lover—no meal is complete without some dessert component, whether it be a slice of melon or a full-on croquenbouche—so what do do with the three ingredients? Make two dishes, one using filé and some rib tips we had frozen after making some St. Louis-style barbecued spare ribs this summer, and one using coconut milk. The coconut milk would go into the makings of a to-die-for cake. The crumb of the cake was delicate but firm, and this contrasted perfectly with the chewy texture of the baked-in coconut crust. We had some toasted coconut in the fridge, leftover from Steve’s birthday cake, so sprinkling that on top of the cake, which was already doused with a sweet and tangy coconut icing, only added another layer of coconut flavor. And pairing it with the passion fruit ice cream from the night before was genius (we must reuse the leftovers!!!).

But what was really genius was Steve’s repurposing the leftover pasta dough. Keeping the sheets of rolled-out pasta dough at their widest, he laid them effortlessly into a glass baking dish and started the layers of a lasagna. What he laid atop the pasta sheets made my mouth water: a thick bolognese of braised rib tips, fire-roasted tomatoes, and tomato paste (the amount of umami yumminess was staggering). When the lasagna came out of the oven, I was privileged to nab the slightest wisp of cheese that had formed a string from being pulled to the breaking point as Steve lifted the pan out of the oven. If that tiny wisp would be an indication of the flavors to come, I knew we were in for a treat. As the lasagna cooled, we nibbled on some sopressata and Parmesan cheese, and for the drink, a Rattlesnake, a silky rye and lemon juice cocktail that bites you back with its dash of absinthe. Steve then prepared a simple salad of mixed baby greens and slices of his house-made ciabatta bread, the best I’ve ever tasted.

Fellow home chefs and appreciators of good food, I neglected to tell you that Steve layered his lasagna not only with the tangy, stewy, savoriness of the pork and tomato sauce, he layered it with béchemal sauce as well. I just love the richness of this simple white sauce. Butter makes everything taste better and the way the creaminess of the béchemal danced with the fatty richness of the meat sauce, then performed a three-way with the oozy mozzarella—I am reminded of why we go through all the trouble to create complex, yet satisfying food.

The following are the recipes we created, borrowed, and adapted, and some are one-offs we haven’t perfected. Please feel free to adapt as you see fit.

Paul’s Meal

The Gondolier
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

1 1/2 ounces Tanqueray gin (or other juniper-forward gin)
3/4 ounce limoncello (such as Danny DeVito’s or Pallini)
1/2 ounce Frangelico
6 drops Falernum bitters*
lemon wedge

In an ice-filled rocks glass, add the first four ingredients and stir. Top with about an ounce of soda, add a squeeze lemon and add wedge to drink.

*available from Blair Reynolds, You can substitute another falernum or tiki-style bitters.

Hot Turkey Sausage and Delicata Squash Ravioli

2 pasta sheets (see Pasta recipe below)
hot Italian sausage and delicata squash filling (see Filling recipe below)
fire-roasted tomato sauce (see recipe below)
toasted delicata squash seeds (see recipe below)

With a rounded teaspoon measure, scoop out some filling (see Filling recipe below) and evenly dollop on top of the pasta sheet closest to you in a manner that will create as-square-as-you-can-get ravioli. When you are finished adding the filling, take the other sheet and place it atop the sheet with filling. (You can, with some water and your fingertips, paint the pasta sheet in between the meat filling before you place the second sheet atop it. This may create a better seal.) Starting from the center, tamp the pasta dough with your fingertips, working the air pockets out to the edges of the pasta sheets. When all the air holes have been eliminated and the sheets have stuck together from pressing, you can shape the ravioli with a pizza cutter.

Place ravioli on a lightly floured surface, not touching each other. If you must stack ravioli, place atop lightly floured sheets of wax paper. Repeat with another quarter of dough. You can refrigerate the remaining dough and keep refrigerated for a few days.

In a pot of boiling water add the ravioli a few at a time, carefully so they don’t stick or break open. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until ravioli float to the surface. You can taste a corner to make sure they are cooked enough. Drain, separate in serving bowls, top with sauce and sprinkle with toasted delicata squash seeds (see recipes below). Add grated Parmesan, if you so desire.

Making the Pasta:
(adapted from KitchenAid and Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef)

4 large eggs
1–2 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Place eggs, water, olive oil, flour, and salt in a standing mixer bowl. Attach bowl and flat beater. Turn to Speed 2 and mix for 30 seconds. Then, exchange flat beater for dough hook. Turn to Speed 2 and knead for 2 minutes. If the mixture looks too dry, add a little more water, but only a teaspoon at a time. When done kneading, wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for about an hour in the refrigerator.

When ready to make the pasta, remove the dough from the fridge and divide into four equal pieces. Lightly flour a clean surface upon which to make the ravioli. Attach the pasta roller attachment to the standing mixer. Take one of the dough quarters and flatten to about 3/8-in. thick. Turn pasta roller setting to 1 and turn on mixer to Speed 2 or 4 (your dexterity will dictate the setting). Feed dough through roller. Fold and feed again. Do this for every setting up to 8, the thinnest. Lay pasta sheet on counter and cut in half and place them adjacent to each other, one farther from you.

Making the Filling:

2 turkey sausages, skin removed and chopped
3 mini or 1 medium delicata squash
olive oil
brown sugar
1 garlic clove, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cassia
salt and pepper, to taste

Delicata Squash
(cooking the squash and seeds adapted from Barley & Me)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut the squash in half horizontally (and if using a larger squash, one more time in half). Scoop out the seeds. Reserve. Put squash in a medium bowl. Add olive oil enough to coat the squash while stirring. Place squash flesh side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and brown sugar. Bake for 40 minutes, until browned. Remove from oven and let cool.

Delicata Squash Seeds
While the squash is baking, rinse the seeds off with water and pat dry (wash off the strings; this is time-consuming, so be prepared for a little messiness). Then, add enough olive oil and kosher salt to coat the seeds. Toast in the oven (or a toaster oven until browned). Remove from pan and let cool.

Hot Turkey Sausage
In a pan, add garlic and a tablespoon of olive oil. Turn heat to medium. As the garlic starts to smell fragrant, add the sausage. After the sausage cooks for a few minutes, add the cinnamon, and then salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until sausage is no longer pink. Remove from heat and drain any liquid. Add to food processor.

When squash has cooled, remove as much skin as possible and add squash to a food processor. Pulse until sausage and squash are incorporated.

Making the Sauce:

1 28-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes
3 leeks, soaked and rinsed thoroughly, small dice (white and light green part only)
2 small to medium-sized carrots, small dice
1 parsnip, small dice
olive oil
unsalted butter
turkey stock (or chicken)
salt and pepper
fresh and dried marjoram
fresh and dried thyme

In a stainless steel skillet, heat the oil and butter. When the oil shimmers and the butter has melted, add the leeks, carrots, and parsnip. Star every so often, and after ten minutes, add the stock, salt and pepper, to taste, and the dried marjoram and thyme, to taste (about a teaspoon of each should be good). Then add the tomatoes, including the liquid, and as the tomatoes begin to cook, break them apart with a spoon. Cook until the vegetables are soft and the sauce has thickened, about 20–30 minutes. Turn off heat and keep covered.

Jonathan Waxman’s Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Anchovy

2 small heads orange cauliflower
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 anchovy fillets
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, split in equal halves
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 425°F. Wash, dry, and cut the leaves away from the cauliflower. Detach the stem by making a cone-shaped incision into the bottom of the cauliflower, and pull away into large florets, then cut into bite-size pieces. In a large, heavy skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil and add cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 2 minutes, then pan-roast in oven until golden brown (approximately 10 minutes). Add a 1/4 cup of water, lower the heat to 350°F, and continue cooking for 30 minutes, turning florets occasionally until brown and tender.

While cauliflower is cooking, make the anchovy sauce. Using a mortar and pestle, mash garlic and anchovies with th olive oil, adding lemon juice to taste. Reserve.

Remove cauliflower from oven, place on a large platter, and drizzle with anchovy sauce.

Jonathan Waxman’s Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Anchovy
New York Magazine
November 21, 2005
from Jonathan Waxman, Barbuto

Green Beam
(created by Paul Zablocki, Cocktail Buzz)

1 ounce Jim Beam bourbon
splash green crème de menthe
dash Angostura bitters

Shake in an ice-filled shaker for 15 seconds. Strain into a cordial glass.

Steve’s Meal

Rattlesnake Cocktail

(adapted by Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz, from the Savoy Cocktail Book)

4 ounces rye
1 egg white
1 1/2 ounces lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes absinthe

Add ingredients to shaker before adding ice. Shake vigorously for 1 minute, then add ice and shake again for at least 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Serves two.

Rib Tips Lasagna

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Lasagna noodles (see basic pasta sough recipe above in Paul’s Meal)
Rib Tips filling (see Filling recipe below)
béchamel sauce (see recipe below)
1/3 pound mozzarella, grated

Making the Filling:

2 pounds pork rib tips
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon filé powder
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, including juice
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup tomato paste

Pat pork dry and season with salt. In a dutch oven, heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown pork in 2 batches, transferring with tongs to a bowl. In fat remaining in kettle sauté onion and celery, stirring occasionally, until just tender. Add garlic and rosemary and sauté, stirring, 1 minute. Return pork to kettle and add tomatoes with juice and 2 cups water. Simmer, covered, 2 hours, or until meat is very tender.

Transfer pork to a cutting board to cool. In a small bowl stir together flour and remaining 3 tablespoons water and whisk into liquid remaining in kettle. Discard any excess fat or bone from pork and chop meat. Add pork and tomato paste to kettle, stirring, and simmer until filling is reduced to about 6 cups. Turn heat off, stir in filé.

Making the Béchamel Sauce:

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk

In a small saucepan heat butter over moderate heat until foam subsides and whisk in flour. Cook roux, whisking, 1 minute. Add milk in a stream, whisking. Simmer béchamel sauce, whisking, until smooth and thickened slightly, about 6-8 minutes, season with salt.

Layering the Lasagna:
In a 3-quart baking dish spoon a layer of filling and top with lasagne noodles. Spread the filling, followed by the béchamel, then a thin layer of cheese. Repeat layering with remaining filling, cheese and béchamel sauce. Finish with a layer of cheese and bake, uncovered, 45 minutes, or until heated through and top is golden. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve with a salad.

Coconut Bundt Cake with Powdered-Sugar Glaze

3 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups sugar
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1 1/4 cups canned unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups (packed) sweetened flaked coconut (about 7 ounces)
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
Additional sweetened flaked coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 12-cup Bundt pan; dust pan with flour. Stir 3 cups cake flour and salt in medium bowl to blend. Beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add 2 1/2 cups sugar, beating until well blended. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then both extracts. Beat in flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with 1 cup coconut milk in 3 additions. Fold in 2 cups flaked coconut. Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top.

Bake cake until top is golden brown and tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool cake in pan 5 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack; cool completely.

Whisk powdered sugar and remaining 1/4 cup coconut milk in medium bowl to blend. Spoon glaze over cake. Top with additional coconut, if desired. (I topped with toasted coconut.)

Coconut Bundt Cake with Powdered-Sugar Glaze
Bon Appétit
October 2000

All photos except squash © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Cocktail Buzz Video: French 75 paired with shrimp cocktail

There’s nothing finer for a cocktail party than a French 75:
Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup . . . and champagne!

When our friend Debbie Briggs from Virginia asked us for a pairing that would be perfect for one of her ladies’ cocktail parties, we were ready for the challenge. We knew we wanted the French 75 to be the focus of our new video; it’s one of our favorite drinks: light, refreshing, happiness-inducing. An ideal place to start. So we looked in the cupboards and freezer for something that would go well with lemon juice and gin botanicals, the main flavor components of the French 75. We had some frozen shrimp, uncooked, tail on, in the freezer. Why not boil some up and use some of that cocktail sauce that had been in the fridge since earlier in the summer when we needed a quick hors d’oeuvre one night for an impromptu cocktail party?

Bingo! This pairing is so simple, and really a match made in heaven. The bright, tangy horseradish in the cocktail sauce plays amazingly well with the gin and lemon juice in the cocktail. And if you have a favorite prepared cocktail sauce, all this better! Just open the jar (and be sure to pour some in a cute serving bowl). This pairing is about simplicity. Hell, if you want to buy the precooked shrimp, we won’t tell (it may not taste as “shrimpy” as shrimp you boil yourself, but after a few sips of a French 75, no one will really notice).

We shot the video on two separate afternoons (sometimes the weather precludes a decent shoot on the terrace, and our first day proved to be a bit to blustery for our mic). But sometimes retakes can be a blessing, and we’re proud of the results. We even changed the opening and credit graphics since we upgraded our editing suite. Hope you like it. Click here to watch the French 75 { paired with shrimp cocktail }.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Making Amends with Yukon Jack

by Paul Zablocki

I came home from work Monday night feeling pretty crappy; a cold had invaded my body, and I knew that I would be a teetotaler for the week. Steve doesn’t much like to have a cocktail by himself, but he thought that Monday night would be a good night for a hot toddy. A mid-fall chill kissed the air, and he was up for a comforting mug of hot whiskey. So, he walked over to the bar (I was in the kitchen boiling the water for his toddy and my tea) as we chatted about this and that, and, not really focusing on the task at hand, reached for a bottle with “Jack” festooned across the label. He proceeded to make his toddy: two ounces of whiskey, a teaspoon of sugar, and 3 ounces of hot water. Simple. Comforting. Old school.

Hot Toddy
(adapted by Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz)

2 ounces your favorite whiskey
1 teaspoon sugar
3 ounces hot water

In a mug, add the whiskey, sugar, and water. Give it a stir. Enjoy curled up on the sofa with a loved one. (Make sure your loved one has a hot toddy as well.)

Usually the kitchen becomes redolent with the sweet caramel-burnished scent of bourbon once the hot water hits the whiskey-shot mug, but this time I smelled oranges. Steve put the mug ever-so-gently to his lips, blew a little to cool it down, and took the first sip, the one that is supposed to satisfy your expectations for wanting the drink in the first place. This time not a smile, but a wince, followed by a grimace, followed by “What the hell is this?” Ladies and gentlemen, I must take a moment to step outside the tale and proffer some friendly advice. Concentrate while making your cocktail, drink, potion, whatever. You don’t want the wrong spirit gumming up the works. For you see, Steve, thinking he had grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniel’s 7-year Tennessee whiskey, actually pulled a bottle of Yukon Jack off the shelf. For those of you who know the power of Yukon Jack, I’m sure you’re wincing along with Steve. For those of you unfamiliar with this spirit, let’s just start by saying that Yukon Jack calls itself “The Black Sheep of Canadian Liquors” on its label. Imported from Canada, Yukon Jack is a honey-colored liqueur that, upon unscrewing the cap, releases a sweet blast of baby-aspirin orange. Some may find this appealing. I, however, do not, for as a child riddled with fever, I loathed having to chew up four Johnson’s baby aspirins in order to abate my ague. (Once, I even dropped one to the floor thinking it would be forever lost in the shag carpet, only to be confounded by my father who later discovered it and brought it to my attention before my mom had a chance to vacuum.) Getting back to the tale, we tried to fix the mistake toddy by adding some Irish whiskey, but that didn’t help much. The drink ended up down the drain. Always a sad moment in the Cocktail Buzz Kitchen.

You’re probably asking yourself why we have a bottle of Yukon Jack in the house. Well, in full disclosure, I bought it on a whim one night while eying the shelves at Warehouse Liquors near NYU and thought I would give it a try. I do love to take a stab at creating cocktails out of misfit spirits and liqueurs. And also I read the product statement on the back of the bottle: “Yukon Jack® is a taste born of hoary nights, when lonely men struggled to keep their fires lit and cabins warm. Boldly flavorful, yet surprisingly smooth, there is no spirit like Yukon Jack®.” Hot. The thoughts of cowboys hanging out around a campfire, trying to keep warm while keeping each other company, was enough to make me whip out the credit card when the man at the register yelled, “Next!”

Now home, I had the bottle in my eager hands. Reading once again the label’s incantational pro–male-bonding words, I had a Brokeback Mountain moment, and thought fondly of Jake and Heath, in movie-lovers’ embrace, drinking whiskey from the same flask in the frosty Wyoming mountains. Smiling, I unscrewed the cap and took a whiff. Egad, what the hell is this? Turns out, Yukon Jack is not a real whiskey at all, but a 100-proof honey-based liqueur that is born in Valleyfield, Quebec, and makes is way into the U.S. by way of Hartford, Conn., where its bottled and then distributed.

Put off by the aroma, but inspired by life on the range, I decided to give it a go. What the hell, why not. Maybe something good can come out of all this sweet orangy syrup. Well, here goes. My thought was that whiskey was indeed needed to mix with the Yukon Jack, so why not use one of our favorite Jacks, Mr. Daniel’s. I knew that, based on the other ingredients I would add to the mix, these two spirits had to balance each other so as not to taste like grain alcohol laced with Kool-Aid. The first thing I thought of, to combat the sweetness of the Yukon Jack, was the bitter-orange brightness of Campari. The acidity in fresh orange juice would also cut through the alcoholic sugariness of the Canadian liqueur, so I added some of that, along with a dash of orange bitters, which would add another layer of what the Québécois would say je ne sais quoi. I then shook it all up in ice, strained it into a cocktail glass, and added a lemon twist. Voila! A sip revealed promise. So I quickly adjusted ratios and came up with a drink I was pleased with. I tried it on the rocks to see if I liked it more, and called Steve over to give it a try. Dangit, it was dee-lightful. You could taste the citrusy goodness that is inherent in the Yukon Jack, but when married with the tangy orange juice and bitter Campari, mellowed by the charred-maple sweetness of the Jack Daniel’s, a real cocktail emerged. We liked it better on-the-rocks, but I suppose it all depends on how chilly the evening is, cowboy. If you do drink it up, make sure you let the ice dissolve a little bit before you give it a vigorous shake. The water will help dilute the sweetness.

But what to dub it? A no-brainer, really. It uses both Yukon Jack and Jack Daniel’s, why not call it Jack and Jack, a sort of play on Jack and Coke.

Jack and Jack
(created by Paul Zablocki, Cocktail Buzz)
1 1/2 ounces Yukon Jack
1 ounce Jack Daniel’s
1 ounce fresh orange juice
3/4 ounce Campari
dash orange bitters

Shake in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into a ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with an orange or lemon twist, if led.

Upon further rumination, I liked the name even more. Jack and Jack is also a play on Jack and Jill, and thinking about the two Jacks running up the hill to fetch a pail of water, or driving a herd of sheep, I was content with the notion of bringing a little gaiety to our list of house-made cocktails. What the conservatives would call “spreading my agenda.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, our tale brings us to Connecticut, the land of Lucy and Ricky in the later seasons, where the rich park their carcasses after working long hours in Manhattan skyscrapers, where marriage between two men or two women is legal. An enlightened place, if you will. (Shame on you Maine for your bigotry. May you come to your senses, along with California and the rest of those other states in this great land, and realize that marriage is for all.) So we brought the recipe for Jack and Jack with us in our heads to the cozy town of Wolcott where my cousin Matthew and his lovely fiancée Kelly were to tie the knot by an idyllic pond. “Can you tell the bartender what kind of cocktail to make for us?” pled the newly wed Matthew, Kelly holding his hand, practically jitterbugging with her husband, both beaming in both connubial bliss and the expectation of a yummy cocktail. “I've got just the thing,” I promised them. So I sidled up to the bar and gave the man behind the stick the recipe for the Jack and Jack. “On the rocks.” It was a muggy June night and the ice would soothe the sultriness. They took a few sips and their eyes lit up more. “Thank you so much!” they cooed as a gaggle of bridesmaids whisked them off to the dance floor. Steve and I would join them anon. There’s nothing better than cutting a rug with the one you love at a wedding.

At 50% alcohol, Yukon Jack will get you buzzed. This guy seems to love his Yukon Jack with his camping family. And this guy gets quite a jolt from swiggin’ some Yukon Jack (another camper . . . hmm). This young Canadian guy can’t seem to keep his shirt on, he loves his Yukon Jack so much.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Grilled Cheese as Proustian Madeleine: A Late Supper Rhapsody

by Paul Zablocki

Steve and I are like the Spanish: We eat supper late—sometimes as late as 10:30PM. There are several reasons involved in our delayed prandial fulfillment. (1) We usually don’t walk through the door until most Americans have already eaten their grub and parked themselves in front of the boob tube (we’re smart: we combine these two pastimes). (2) We usually like to chat about our days while enjoying a cocktail, and perhaps a little nosh. (Sometimes we split a cocktail. This is known as a “splitty.” You can apply this catchword to anything bibulous that is split between two people, viz. a Manhattan, a muffin, a Carnegie Deli tower-of-pastrami sandwich.) (3) We like to cook, so when ordering in sounds unappealing, we scour the cupboards, freezer, and fridge for inspiration.

Last night inspiration seemed to ooze from the cupboards and fridge. (The freezer is usually a not-so-friendly appliance at 9:30PM. It takes a long time to thaw a pork loin.) After a Black Hawk Cocktail—a slightly tart simple drink made with bourbon, slow gin, and lemon juice—we experimented with some more whiskey, namely Jack Daniel’s, to come up with a drink for my friend Bruce who came up with a great name for a drink: The Preening Ass. I recently had an authentic Mexican dinner with Bruce, and told him about the joys of Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine. Bruce is mainly a wine drinker, but the idea of sweet, custard-tasting Catdaddy really appealed to him, and since Bruce works in advertising, he’s always bouncing around names and phrases to catch one’s attention; ergo, The Preening Ass.

So last night, Steve and I set out to make a Preening Ass. But what makes an ass an ass? A buck has ginger ale, a mule ginger beer. Well, an ass is sort of like one of these animals, so it should have something fizzy, no? We decided lemon soda would fit the bill for no other reason than it sounded posh, and a preening ass would definitely want something posh in his drink. There was some limonata (lemon soda) in the mini fridge, so we were in luck. But Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine sounds anything but posh. Were we barking up the wrong tree? Hells no! The fact that our ass is preening shows you that, in a Psych 101 context, he’s hiding something. Maybe he grew up in the Deep South and on his entrance to Princeton University he wanted to hide his provenance. So he started to preen and primp, lost his dialect, and whammo, he became the Preening Ass. Tennessee borders North Carolina (the state of Catdaddy’s origin), so adding Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey seemed appropriate. Finding the right ratio was pretty simple. Add some ice, give a little stir, and sip. Not bad for a fit of inspiration. (Let it be known that we are in no way disparaging the Deep South or Princeton University. We like them both.)

Black Hawk

1 1/4 ounces bourbon (we used Virginia Gentleman)
1 1/4 ounces sloe gin (we used Plymouth)
1/2 ounce lemon juice
cherry, as garnish (we soaked maraschino cherries in bourbon and cognac after dumping out the bright red juice)

Shake in ice for 15 seconds and strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Add cherry.

Preening Ass
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

1 ounce Jack Daniel’s
3/4 ounce Catdaddy
3 1/2 ounces limonata (we used San Pellegrino)

Fill double rocks or highball glass with ice. Add the Jack Daniel’s and Catdaddy. Stir to chill. Top with limonata. Give another quick stir.

So now that the drinking portion of the evening made us happy, we decided it was high time to move on to a proper meal. It was already 9:30 and nothing was thawed. Usually when this happens we get on the phone and order some pizza or Mexican. But we were in the mood for something home-cooked and comforting . . . that reminded us of chilly nights growing up when Mom knew just the right thing to make our tummies happy. A tostada smothered in shredded iceberg wasn’t going to do it (and besides, we had one the night before). Quickly we scoured the kitchen: some leftover ciabatta about to go stale was hanging out on the counter in an anonymous paper bag. We then opened the fridge hoping for something tasty: sharp cheddar in the cheese drawer, some leftover canned tomatoes (can you already figure where I’m going with this?), some prewashed baby greens Steve picked up from the grocery store, radishes, lots of butter, a little heavy cream. I then reached for the new nonstick frying pan that Steve’s mom got him for his birthday this month, as well as a sauce pan, and we started making a mini feast: grilled cheese, tomato soup, and a side salad. The perfect late-night supper. Actually, the best supper of all time. And it’s [gasp] vegetarian. Like a Proustian madeleine, memories of eating simple, nourishing food with our families flooded us as we supped to images of the Atlanta Housewives reunion on the tube.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

day-old (or 2-day-old) ciabatta, sliced 1/3-inch thick
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
sharp cheddar, sliced very thinly
salt and pepper, to taste

In a frying pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat, careful not to burn it. Lay the cheese between two slices of bread and place in the pan. Turn the heat up to medium and sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you have a grill press, lay it atop the sandwich. If not, give the sandwich a good press with a spatula. Grill for about 3 minutes, checking the bottom with the spatula to see if it’s golden brown. Flip and grill for another 2 minutes. Add more butter if necessary. Plate and slice in half, if you so desire.

Tomato Soup

8 ounces whole tomatoes from a can
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/4 cup water
salt, pepper, and hot paprika (or cayenne), to taste
leftover ciabatta, cut into cubes or ripped into pieces

Heat tomatoes in a saucepan. When the liquid starts to bubble, use an immersion blender to whip them up. (If you do not have an immersion blender, you can use a countertop blender before you heat up the tomatoes.) Add cream, water, and spices, and heat for a few minutes while stirring occasionally. With any leftover ciabatta, toss pieces into the frying pan with the butter you used for the grilled cheese. Let the pieces soak up the butter and flip when they become golden brown. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and hot paprika and remove from heat. Garnish soup.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

October Is the Coolest Month

For those of you who live in temperate climes, we are deep in the throes of fall and what better way to enjoy the chill in the air than with a cocktail or two. And so far, October has proved to be a harbinger of good things to come in the very near future, so if you need to continue to three or four cocktails, we won’t stop you (unless of course you are trying to get behind the wheels of a motor vehicle).

At the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala, New York Public Library.
(photo by Gabi Porter)

1. The Manhattan Cocktail Classic Preview grand gala on October 4 was held at the New York Public Library. Eleven makeshift bars in various locations in the main lobby, halls, and mezzanine touted specific liquors (such as Tanqueray, Don Julio, and Hendrick’s) and boasted some of New York’s most creative men and women behind the stick. According to the Web site:

“Thee Manhattan Cocktail Classic is New York City’s first ever multi-day event celebrating the history, contemporary culture, and artful craft of the cocktail. Part festival, part fête, part conference, part cocktail party, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic brings together the unparalleled talents and opportunities of the bars, bartenders, and restaurants of our great city for five days of activities, both educational and celebratory in nature, championing the common ideals of authenticity, equality, sustainability, service, and pleasure. (There will be some drinking involved, too.)”

We were invited by PR superwoman, Hanna Lee (a vision in a red cocktail dress) who, along with an advisory board of cocktail luminaries, a smattering of New York city bars, and other PR firms, managed to create an aura of old-school celebratory big-band imbibing on a truly orgiastic scale. We ran into the lovely Ana Jovancicevic, from Handcrafted PR, who looked stunning in turquoise (Ana always looks stunning no matter where you see her), and who was responsible for procuring the gargantuan portions of food festooned throughout the library: Henry VIII–sized roasted turkey drumsticks, whole suckling pigs, an endless supply of oysters. At the oyster bar, we chatted with Jaime Salas, Tres Generaciones Tequila Ambassador. We also ran into Dan Warner, Beefeater Brand Ambassador, who the night before made us some delicious drinks at the new Crosby Hotel to celebrate Gary Regan’s new book, The Bartender’s Gin Compendium. The possibility of food running out seemed very slim, as well as alcohol. Some of the drinks we had were insanely good, such as the Brooklyn made with Maker’s Mark bourbon. As we moseyed upstairs to the mezzanine, we spotted Lynnette Marrero who whipped up a Liberty Cocktail for Steve (Zacapa Rum, Applejack Bonded, Demerara sugar syrup) and Toby Maloney who rinsed, sprayed, and stirred a Hungry Manhattan (Bulleit bourbon, Punt e Mes, Zwack, Campari, Angostura Bitters, Lagavulin rinse) for Paul. Both drinks were simply excellent, and no wonder. Their base spirits (Zacapa Rum and Bulleit Bourbon) are some of the best of their kind.

Before we left we chatted with some more friends from the cocktail biz: Danny Ronen, writer, consultant, and ginger-promoting ambassador to Domaine de Canton; Blair Reynolds, Portland, Oregon, cocktail expert; Damon, the man behind the bar at the delicious-in-every-bite Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. No one’s hands were empty; everyone seemed happy as a clam.

We even ran into novelist, Gawker contributor, and Dazzle Dancer Mike Albo and his friend Kimberly Sexton who is developing her own line of skin care using cacao. A marriage made in choco-heaven! As Mike and Steve chatted about this, that, and the other thing, Kimberly slipped Paul a sealed syringe bottle filled with Daniel Preston’s secret cacao-based spirit, aged one year in an American Oak barrel. We later made a drink with it after a few taste-tests, and ooh boy, this stuff is good. We look forward to hearing more from Daniel Preston and his Brooklyn Cacao in the near near future.

All in all, it was lovely, decadent, and mirthful, and if this was billed as “Preview,” what insanity can we expect from the real deal in the Spring? We can’t wait!

If you want to check out some more great photos of the event, click here.

Liqueur d’Orange and Rouge, from Combier.

2. Combier is releasing two new bottlings, Royal Combier and Rouge, and we were on hand at Dutch Kills in Long Island City, Queens, to taste their exquisite Frenchness. Ah, Combier. We love it in a Sidecar. We knew we’d love the new stuff. And that we did. The Royal Combier is sure to rival its competitors in the Cognac-based orange liqueurs, and the Rouge—let’s just say that there is not another cherry liqueur that tastes so, well, so darn cherrylike. And we’re talking real fresh cherries, not the not-so-fresh cherry flavor in those syrupy old-fashioned cherryesque liqueurs. We can’t wait to start mixing with it!

The men behind Combier: Scott Goldman and Frank Choisne.

And do visit Dutch Kills. There is a long bar at which to ogle the sleight-of-hand prowess of bar masters, such as the estimable Giuseppe Gonzalez. And if you want a more intimate setting (with a date, a loved one, a business partner), dark and sexy booths line the walls as you enter this gorgeous establishment started by none other than Sasha Petraske, founder of Milk & Honey. We look forward to a proper visit.

3. Junior Merino recently touted the 100% blue-agave properties of Don Roberto tequila at a tasting he and the Don Roberto people sponsored at Rayuela, one of our favorite restaurants on the Lower East Side. Paul went solo this time and as he walked up the stairs at Rayuela, past the tree that oversees all in the restaurant, Heidi Merino gave him a kiss on the cheek and handed him a Guadalajara Silver, a slightly sweet blend of lime, green apple, and grapefruit juices, shaken with some Don Roberto Plata, a little ginger liqueur and some agave nectar thrown in. Shake it up and off you go. This was such a refreshing bridge drink, easing us from summer into fall, and everyone lapped them up.

Junior then had us seated as he presented to us the three styles of Don Roberto: Plata (or silver or white), Reposado (means rested, aged for several months), and Añejo (aged over a year). [Paul’s now slipping into the first person.] I would have to say my favorite was the Añejo—it had a musky, fresh-wood smell, almost like sawdust (but in a good, piny way), and the sip was smooth, yet deep and full of caramel-woodsy age. The distinction that Don Roberto possesses has to do with terroir: the agave plants grow at the base of a volcano, so the plants take in some of the flavor nuances of the soil. You definitely get that in this tequila, especially in the Plata, but nuttier in the Reposado.

A lot of familiar faces were present, everyone merry with an endless supply of sips and nibbles, aglow with the ruddiness of Mexican spirits running through their veins. I look forward to sharing some Don Roberto Añejo con Esteban.

Guadalajara Silver
(crafted by Junior Merino)

1 1/2 ounces Don Roberto Plata
1/4 ounce agave nectar
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce fresh pink grapefruit juice
3/4 ounce ginger liqueur
1/2 ounce fresh Granny Smith apple juice

Rim glass with sugar and cinnamon and add ice. Pour all the ingredients into a shaker, shake for fifteen seconds, and pour into rocks-filled glass.

All in all, October has proven itself to be a mighty fine month. Yes indeed. [sip.]