Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cocktail Buzz Twelve Favorite Things of 2012

“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”  
— “A Christmas Dinner,” Charles Dickens
Old mixing guides, cocktail pamphlets, and cookbooks can be the inspiration for your your next cocktail party.

Well after New Years’ midnight chimes had run their course, and all the festivities of “Holiday” had evaporated into the wintry night, we sat back with our favorite cocktail, the Manhattan, and reflected over the year. We asked each other, “Dear, what were some of your favorite things throughout 2012?” Limiting ourselves to the realm of the kitchen and bar, we compiled a list of twelve things (one for every month of the year) that gave us quite a lot of pleasure. Hopefully, our descriptions of these lovely indulgences will induce immediate sal[i]vation, followed by a trip to the grocery, liquor store, App store, and Tucson.

1. Vintage Cookbooks, Culinary Magazines, and Product Pamphlets

The simple act of reflecting on the year triggered in us a sense of nostalgia, churning up memories from way way back in time. A simpler, more “vintage-y” time, if you will. We both grew up rummaging through old barns and antique shops, beginning what would become our lifetime collection of objets. In the same way we mine thrift stores for a whimsical tableware pattern, we now scour old cookbooks for the recipes to fill those vintage dishes. And not just old cookbooks. We’re certain, if you raid Mom’s (or Grandpa’s) attic, you’ll come across some yellowed, faded promotional pamphlets for, say, Bacardi or Arrow cordials, or recipes for the family’s venerable standing mixer. These searches aren’t just physical acts: In pining for the past, we seem to be searching for an era when food wasn’t processed, but actual, real food — when the ingredient list on packaging consisted of five ingredients or less [see Favorite Thing No. 3, for more on this].

Making the following Mexican-inspired dip from an old compilation of Food and Wine recipes is a healthy alternative to buying a prepackaged one. Yes, it takes a wee bit of time, but less than a Cooking Channel episode.

Pumpkin Seed Dip
(adapted from The Best of Food and Wine, 1984)

1 1/2 cups (8 ounces) hulled, unsalted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3/4–1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
hot pepper sauce, to taste (we like Cholula Hot Sauce, Original)
3/4–1 teaspoon salt (depending on saltiness of hot sauce)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 scallions, thinly sliced

In a small skillet, over medium heat, cook the pumpkin seeds until they pop and turn golden brown, stirring occasionally (2–3 minutes). Add seeds to a blender and puree until finely ground. Meanwhile, heat oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Pour oil and garlic into blender. Add 3/4 cup chicken broth and lime juice, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Puree, scraping down the sides occasionally. If the mixture is too thick, add broth one tablespoon at a time, and puree until it achieves desired consistency. (We like it as smooth as possible, but not runny.) Transfer dip to a serving bowl, cover, and chill, or serve immediately, garnished with scallions.

Further Exploration 
Our friends and fellow travelers Paul and Noah love exploring the past, as is evidenced by their excellently curated Web site, The Way We Ate. We share their love of Gourmet Magazine, once considered the nonpareil of culinary monthlies. And speaking of monthlies . . . .

2. iPad Magazines

Behold the iPad. It costs more than most people’s weekly salary, but, honey, when it does a job right, you repeatedly thank your lucky stars for every penny you plunked down for this precious jewel. Magazines that have taken full advantage of its techno capabilities, such as linking, pop-ups, alternate views, videos, and nonlinear page-turning, stand out as the best. Our favorites right now are Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart Living, and Whole Living. One of the recipes we keep returning to in Whole Living is for an unusual toasted muesli with coconut, pistachios, cranberries, and millet (a mild-tasting, old-world, protein-rich cereal grass). Once it’s jarred, it never lasts the week.

Further Exploration 
For a nonculinary change of pace, try Architectural Digest on the iPad. It’ll blow your mind with its alternate room views and one-click captions, and trigger real estate envy. Don’t take it to bed with you or you may stay up all night.

3. Healthy and New Alternatives

When our five-year-old godson Cole shouted to the heavens, “I hate quinoa,” before a sumptuous dinner of his mom’s chicken tagine, we couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Here was a five-year-old (five-year-old!) who knew not only what quinoa was, but knew he did not like it. (It is considered health food after all, the bane of many a child.) Luckily for us, and everyone else at the table, we do like quinoa.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) are seeds from an annual herb found in the Andean highlands, and are considered a complete protein, providing us all nine essential amino acids necessary to keep us happy and healthy. Use it in lieu of rice or couscous. Its light, fluffy texture takes well to sauces, and its nuttiness complements so many flavor profiles. Just make sure when you buy it, and the package does not read presoaked, you must do the soaking yourself or the results will be a tad bitter.

Another trendy and healthy (but delicious) favorite this past year is kale, in all its forms. Curly, Tuscan (aka Lacinato or dinosaur), rape, Jersey. Once relegated to the lowly position of salad-bar filler, it’s now esteemed not only for its bittersweet flavor, but for its health properties. It appears that some of its chemical compounds can block the growth of cancer cells and help boost DNA repair. Not bad for something we used to not give a second thought to. Dan Barber, the highly respected Blue Hill Farm chef, celebrates this leafy green in his recipe for kale chips. For extra credit, you can infuse beets in vodka in preparation for a cocktail that pairs perfectly with these crispy leafy delights.

Kale Chips
(adapted from a recipe by Dan Barber, Bon Appétit, February 2009)

12 large Tuscan kale leaves, rinsed, dried, cut lengthwise in half, center ribs and stems removed
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 250°F. Toss kale with oil in large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange leaves in single layer on 2 large baking sheets. Bake until crisp, about 30 minutes for flat leaves and up to 33 minutes for wrinkled leaves. Transfer leaves to rack to cool.

(adapted from a recipe by Lucy Brennan, Hip Sips)

3 ounces beet-infused vodka*
1/2 ounce fresh lemon-lime juice (half lemon juice, half lime juice, both fresh-squeezed)
1/2 ounce simple syrup**

Shake in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.

*Beet-Infused Vodka:
3 red beets (1 1/2 pounds), trimmed, peeled, and cut into quarters
1 bottle (1 liter) vodka (Lucy recommends Monopolowa)

Put the beets in a wide-mouthed glass jar with a lid. Add the vodka and seal the container (reserve the vodka bottle for refilling.) The mixture will immediately turn a bright ruby color. Store in a cool dark place for three days, stirring each day. The infused vodka will be a deep purple color with a strong, earthy beet taste. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the beets. Place a funnel in the reserved vodka bottle and pour the infused vodka into the bottle. Cap and store in the refrigerator for up to six months.

**  To make simple syrup, dissolve 1 cup sugar in 1 cup water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Let cool. Transfer to an airtight container. May be refrigerated for up to a month.

Further Exploration 
Kale chips also pair well with an Americano [see Favorite Thing No. 12, for the recipe].

4. Fast-Food Favorites at Home

BLT & Egg Sandwich
It’s hard to ignore cravings. We’d be lying if we told you we ate healthy all the time. After all, we are cocktail people, and everyone knows bacon goes so well with a lot of the drinks we make. So when we need to take a break from the salubrious, we make real-food alternatives to the fast food that’s been detrimentally mutating our genes for the past five decades or so. For breakfast, there’s the poached egg (or neutral oil–fried egg) on English muffin with natural cheddar and uncured bacon we love to make, slathered in mayonnaise, with crispy lettuce. A hybrid Egg McMuffin–BLT, if you please.

Homemade Big Mac
For a weekend late lunch with friends, we’ve been know to build a sandwich made with two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions, piled on a three-tiered sesame-seed bun. Executive Chef Dan Coudreaut from McDonald’s Canada shows you how to make a homemade Big Mac. We like to grind our own meat, though, since it is much healthier than the big agribusiness pre-ground beef sold in most supermarkets. Try a ratio of 2/3 sirloin steak to 1/3 skirt, hangar, or flank steak. 50/50 works well too. Remember, a little fat here is important since the patties are so thin.

Another favorite sandwich that has caused big controversy is a certain chicken sandwich you can find at a chain restaurant known for its donations to antigay causes. So instead of us haranguing you for patronizing this establishment, which is desperately and pathetically trying to prevent us from achieving the rights we gay American citizens deserve fully, you can make your own. The lovely and informal Hilah will show you how to make a Chik Fil-Gay.

Now that we’ve finally gotten your attention with these three sandwiches, you must remember that balance is key. Do not make these every day. Have a salad with dark leafy greens, such as kale, instead. Balance is also the key to our next favorite thing . . . .

5. Rums with Lime

For many years we eschewed rum. Not because we don’t like it. On the contrary, its an ingredient in some of our favorite cocktails. Rather, we feared it. So many choices in a dizzying array of categories: light, dark, amber, aged, spiced, agricole. Well, this year, we finally took the plunge and focused on balancing one our favorite flavor combos, rums and fresh limes, in two cocktails: the Mojito [photo right] and the Daiquiri. Limes give you an aliveness in a drink, especially when you muddle them to release the essential oils in the peel. Add some rum, especially light (or white) rum, and the aroma begins to take you on a journey of nirvanic bliss. Plus, adding lime juice makes rum easier to pair with food. Think about how a TV chef will advise you to add citruses and vinegars to a dish so that the acids will commingle with the other ingredients, thus melding flavors that’ll make your taste buds scream with excitement.

Further Exploration 
We’ve recently discovered the joys of spiced rum, a dark amber–colored rum predominantly flavored by vanilla bean and caramel, but, depending on the brand, you can detect a host of other spices. Our recent favorites have been Shellback and BlackBeard. Shellback is smoother at 80 proof, and mixes well with sodas and lime juice. BlackBeard is higher in proof with more insistent flavors.

6. Chef Addam Buzzalini, Maynards Market & Kitchen

Chef Addam Buzzalini (love the
name) with Paul, at Maynards
Market & Kitchen, Tucson.
Chefs and Bartenders, as you already know, are the current celebrities. When we patronize a well-regarded restaurant, we try to obtain a seat at the bar to watch the bartender work her magic, and hope to catch a glimpse of the chef as he scans the dining room, trying to analyze his guests’ levels of contentment. With the proliferation of shows like Top Chef and Chopped, and the popularity of the Food Network and Cooking Channel, these men and women, who have dedicated endless hours of truly back-breaking labor to delight your senses, deserve the praise and notoriety they’ve been receiving.

On our recent and brief trip to Tucson, Arizona, we scanned the Internet for the perfect place to have a fresh and seasonal dinner with drinks, and decided that Maynards Market & Kitchen would fit the bill nicely. A long well-stocked bar on one side of the room balanced the relatively small and comfortably chic sunken dining room, which overlooked the railway station with its full-sized windows. It was a chilly desert evening, and two Maynards Manhattans warmed us up instantly. The meal was exquisite: formidably crafted, redolent and sapid with the late-fall flavors of apple, fennel, pomegranate. We licked our plates of oysters, foie gras, scallops, and butter lettuce clean. We asked Robert our server if we could call upon Chef Addam Buzzalini to prepare a special multicourse birthday dinner, paired with cocktails, for Paul on the following night. Chef Addam was completely game, and when we arrived the following night, 8:00PM sharp, we ran into him before entering the building. “I hope you both are hungry,” he said with a devilish grin, as we opened the door and were whisked to our table.

Foie gras sous vide paired with an infused apple brandy cocktail.

Sous vide duck, paired with
Bulleit rye Manhattans
We immediately hit it off with Alana, our server (the waitstaff is beyond excellent). She assured us that the kitchen and bar were buzzing with excitement at the prospect of creating new dishes, each with a cocktail pairing, and that Chef would come out with each course to explain what he and his staff created. All in all, we had six courses. Raw oysters topped with a piquant bloody mary–style tapenade paired beautifully with a specially prepared bacon fat–washed vodka rocks cocktail that was hard to put down. (We knew we had five more to go, so we decided to take sips.) Sous vide foie gras bathed in a gastrique of pomes and berries melted in the mouth as it was washed down by an apple brandy cocktail that was so layered, we cannot for the life of us remember what those layers were. The charred endive and stinky cheese with pear sauce naturally paired with a cocktail of pear-infused armagnac and Belle de Brillet pear liqueur. That was followed by a to-die-for sous vide duck over a bed of pear and lentils and a side of red beets and root veggie crisps. Pairing this with one of our favorite cocktails, a Bulleit rye Manhattan, was dangerous. By this point, we could only muster a few sips (we had a little drive back to the hotel), and knew that we needed to pare down our pairings. The fifth course was an oxymoronic study in simple excess: steak au poivre paired with stout laced with a shot of espresso. By this point, our bellies were begging us to stop, but one cannot stop when there’s dessert coming.

The glow of these pear-centric cocktails beckoned us with their redolent allure.

Grapefruit tart and dark chocolate
bark with hazelnuts
We managed to save a little room for the insanely flavorful vanilla custard tart crowned with sweet-tart candied grapefruit, plus a generous side of dark chocolate bark with hazelnuts. And if that wasn’t enough, Alana returned with a burning birthday candle aside a coupe filled with one of Paul’s favorite ice cream flavors, honey lavender. A perfect ending to a magical meal at a place where everyone’s smile was genuine. Palpable joy wafted from the kitchen through the dining room, letting us know that those within loved their craft. With toques off, we raise a glass to Chef Addam Buzzalini, his staff, and Maynard’s mixologist, Eddie Pain, who gave us so much to cherish over those two nights in late December.

7. Bulleit Rye

We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk a little about one of our favorite spirits last year, Bulleit rye. We already had a passionate affair with Bulleit bourbon, so we knew we’d love the rye. Less sweet, more vegetal — a different flavor altogether — this rye found its way into many of our Manhattans during 2012. What we love most about mixing cocktails is coming up with new recipes and sharing these with fellow travelers. When we found out that friends Matthew Lawrence and Jason Tranchida, of Headmaster magazine fame, loved Bulleit rye, we were quick to offer our services to come up with a special cocktail for their Magazine’s fourth issue launch parties. Instead of one, we came up with two, the Headmaster 4 and The Pupil. The Headmaster 4 is a riff on our Bulleit rye Manhattan, but uses the bitter Fernet-Branca liqueur instead of bitters. The Pupil is a lighter affair — a ginger ale highball that also uses Fernet-Branca. Together, they are well-served at any party.

Another beauty we found ourselves making time and time again with Bulleit rye is the Manhattan-like Marianne Cocktail. It combines rye with another of our favorite things of 2012, Byrhh quinquina [see Favorite Thing No. 8].

Further Exploration 
We realized that bottles of rye had surpassed bourbon on our shelves this past year. Perhaps it’s a direct result from drinking Manhattans as frequently as if the city were giving them away. Some other ryes we recommend are Templeton, Redemption, and the new George Dickel. Rittenhouse, bonded at 100 proof, has, and always will be, another favorite.

The Marianne Cocktail combines rye with Byrrh, a fortified wine reintroduced to the U.S. after a 70-year absence. Welcome back.

8. Byrrh

If you can find it, do pick up a bottle of Byrrh, a quinquina, or fortified wine laced with quinine. A little sweeter and more luscious than sweet vermouth, Byrrh (pronounced BEER) will win you over not only for its grapiness, but also for its versatility in the realm of mixology. Use it in lieu of sweet vermouth or Dubonnet rouge in cocktails and you’ve come up with an entirely new drink. The Marianne and the Rye Byrrh are good places to start.

9. Signature Cocktails

Daddy Gives Rosie a Buzz
Besides the Headmaster 4 and The Pupil cocktails we created for our friends’ launch party [see Favorite Thing No. 7], we had a swell time working with another friend, the incomparable burlesque performer Rosie 151, on a signature cocktail, Daddy Gives Rosie a Buzz. This summer highball combines fresh watermelon juice with Catdaddy Spiced Moonshine, plus a little gin and lime juice to bring it all together. We were especially excited by this drink because we got to introduce Rosie to the makers of Catdaddy, Piedmont Distillers, who now sponsor Rosie at her shows. If you haven’t seen Rosie 151 perform, and you’re in town, do check her out. Her versatility knows no bounds, and she has since started making her own cocktails with Catdaddy. And if you do live in town, bring some friends with you to see her perform. They’ll be happy you did.

Further Exploration 
If you’d like for us to come up with a signature cocktail for you or your special event, please give us a shout. We’d love to mix and stir up some trouble for you.

10. Cocktail Time with Friends

Speaking of friends, sharing cocktail hour with those who love the interplay of food, drink, and wild discussion makes for a gay old time. We cherish the countless late afternoons and evenings we’ve gotten together for eats and drinks with our downstairs neighbors, Curt and Theo. Recently, we rode out the destructive superstorm together, and were inspired to come up with a Hurricane Sandy drink, using ingredients we had plenty of (apple brandy, Southern Comfort, and limeade) for that scary and unforgettable night.

Paul, Steve, Danny, and Matthew enjoy a Hawaiian lunch with local flavor–inspired drinks.

Five thousand miles away, on our beloved island of Hawai‘i, live our friends Danny and Matthew, who love to cook and create in the kitchen. When we come a’visitin’, we’re inspired by local flavors to create some tantalizing cocktails. One we came up with this summer also used limeade plus local amber rum from the guys’ stash. Its other ingredients, a Key lime cream liqueur called Ke Ke and Kahana Royale macadamia nut liqueur (discovered in Hilo at the well-stocked Kadota’s Liquor), were doled out in various ratios, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice was added before a big stir in tall glasses with lots of ice. A fun way to share a lunch of locally smoked brisket and garden salad.

Paul watches and Jon puts the finishing
tie on some homemade sausage links.
Getting together with Cousin Barbara and hubby Jon is always fun; they are consummate foodies who are always searching for the perfect combination of stimulating and satisfying flavors. One time we all got together to make pierogi; another time, we gathered to make three kinds of homemade sausage (breakfast, sweet, and spicy) using our Kitchenade standing mixer and big hunks of pork from Jon’s dad’s butcher shop, Ottomanelli & Sons Meat Market, in the West Village (285 Bleecker Street). Even though we did that in 2011, the sausages continued to feed us throughout the early months of 2012 in so many different preparations. We always look forward to what our next kitchen adventure will produce.

Sara-Kate, Penny, and Steve share
a hug and some Sidewinders
Two things we love to make for friends, and made quite a few times during 2012, are Thin-sliced Roasted Pork with Southwestern Spices we discovered a few years back on and a basic mule (who doesn’t love a good mule? — the spicy ginger beer tickling our tongues, opening up our taste buds) [see recipe below for a whiskey mule]. Pile some of that seasoned roasted pork on top of fresh rolls with some mojo sauce or barbecue sauce, pair that with a round of whiskey or tequila mules (aka Sidewinders), and you’ve got yourself a happy little shindig. The last time we made the roasted pork at Curt and Theo’s, we had none other than friends Sara-Kate (the creator of [very serendipitous]), Penny, and Amy by our sides, sipping some mules and Cut Flowers, dining on some roasted pork, and swapping It-can-only-happen-in-New-York tales of the city. Mules are the perfect beasts to help you entertain at your next small gathering.

Whiskey Mule
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

1 1/2 ounces your favorite whiskey
3 ounces ginger beer (the spicier, the better)
lemon peel (optional)
Angostura bitters (optional)

In a highball glass (chilled, if you can), add the whiskey and fill with ice cubes. Top with ginger beer. Add bitters and lemon peel, if you so desire. Stir until cold.

A visit from Cousin Barbara and some chairs inspire an early-fall terrace party, and a new tall drink called the Zul Mule.

11. Zul Mule

Of course we had to come up with our own mule. After Manhattans, they’re our next most-drunk drink. So when Cousin Barbara and Jon had a bunch of wooden outdoor chairs on their hands, we decided that they would fit perfectly on the terrace. We would turn it into a celebration of these sturdy handsome chairs and invite some of our local friends. An Early-Autumn Kiki, if you will allow us the indulgence. So we had to come up with a perfect cooler for a Sunday afternoon visit and were inspired by the classic Pimm’s Cup, and our love of mules. Pimm’s is a red amber–colored gin liqueur that tastes subtly of spice and citrus. A traditional Pimm’s Cup includes lemon-lime soda and a slice of lemon. For our Pimm’s Cup–Mule hybrid, we knew we had to use ginger beer. After all, that’s what makes a mule, a mule. But instead of the citrusy tang you get from lemon-lime soda, we opted for the more floral–fruity combination that L’esprit de June wine-blossom liqueur offers. It has a delicate, sweet aroma and tastes predominantly of strawberry essence. It’s quite lovely, and is a great substitute when fragoli (wild strawberry liqueur) is too thick and sweet. We were going to call it a Pimm’s Mule, but decided that Zul Mule was more fun to say (Zul is a combination of our last names, and we like it because it sounds like the demon gatekeeper in Ghostbusters).

Zul Mule
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

1 1/2 ounces Pimms No. 1
3 ounces Reed’s Extra Ginger Beer (or another spicy ginger beer)
1/4 ounce L’esprit de June liqueur
cucumber slice*
lemon peel

Fill highball glass with ice. Add Pimm’s and L’esprit de June. Top with ginger beer. Stir until chilled. Add cucumber slice and lemon peel, as garnishes.

* Steve loves this addition, and many love a cucumber slice in a traditional Pimm’s Cup. Also, if you have some borage blossoms, cut them at the stems long enough to support themselves in your glass, as an additional garnish. Their blue beauty will stand out against the amber-red hue of the Zul Mule.

12. Campari in Cocktails

Our friends Paul and Noah enjoy a Negroni Fizz.
Last year, we watched our appreciation of Campari turn into love, and found ourselves making cocktail after cocktail using the glowing scarlet amaro. Some of our favorite drinks are the Negroni Sbagliato (check out Joaquín Simó’s recipe), Negronis and Negroni Fizzes, Americanos, and a new favorite, the Old Pal. The Old Pal works much the same way as a Negroni, except that traditional Canadian whisky takes the place of gin. We go a step further and use higher-proof rye (Americans use to refer to Canadian whisky as rye back in the Mad Men days, and you can sometimes hear servers and old-time bartenders refer to a bottle of Canadian Club as rye) instead of Canadian whisky, and bump up the amount (traditionally these drinks use equal parts) to tame the sweetness and bring out rye’s inherent barrel-aged flavors. This Old Pal gives you more of a whiskey punch. But feel free to play with the ratios of all the ingredients to find your very special Old Pal.

Traditional Old Pal
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

1 ounce Canadian whisky
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth

Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass or coupe.

Cocktail Buzz Old Pal
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

1 1/4 ounces rye (try one at 90–100 proof)
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
lemon or orange twist (optional)

Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Add twist.

Negroni Fizz
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

3/4 ounce London dry gin
3/4 ounce Campari
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
orange twist, as garnish

Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into ice-filled double rocks or highball glass. Garnish with orange twist.

(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
orange slice, as garnish

Stir Campari and sweet vermouth in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into an old-fashioned or rocks glass. Top with soda. Add orange slice.

Pairing Suggestion
Blue Cheese on thin wafer crackers (especially a brioche-tasting cracker), with fresh raspberries.

Further Exploration 
The Rosita is another cocktail that combines a main spirit with Campari and sweet vermouth, but this time it’s silver tequila, plus some dry vermouth. Its bold flavors may take some getting use to, but it’s a road worth taking.

photos © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz