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.]