But we still continued to question ourselves. What were our motives for making kimchee from scratch or infusing white whiskey with gentian-laced crème de violette to make a florally bitter tincture? We looked for insight from everyone, and from every shared happy hour and meal together.
The epiphany happened just a week or so ago when our friend Evangeline asked Paul point blank, “What job would you do if you could do any job in the world?” “Recipe development” was the quick response. Steve agreed. For us, there is nothing more satisfying than to be surrounded by an arsenal of utensils and gadgets, all eagerly waiting their chance to have a go at bottles and boxes of promise. And, in the battlefield that is our wee kitchen, we thank the gods that, even though the two of us barely fit only with the proper geometric skirmish, we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that our appliances comprise a perfect triangulated pathway connecting our sink, range, and fridge.
Regardless of the size of your workspace, you must instill a sense of play and adventure. When you give yourself license to play freely, nothing is so precious as to become weighed down by vainglory. You tend to shrug at the losses and smile when there are victories; you learn, and that is what life is all about. You rediscover your love for shaking and stirring, simmering and sautéing.
Culling from every lip-smacking experience we shared this year was not as difficult as we had thought. We agreed that spirits, liqueurs, books, movies, and recipes we returned to more than once — those things that contained multitudes of layers — would make the cut. In no particular order, here are some of our favorite things of 2013.
1. Favorite Books
The Drunken Botanist
Critics, bartenders, and foodies praised The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, and you should too. Written in a fun and easy, approachable manner, this book celebrates and limns in great detail “The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drink,” the book’s subtitle. Filled with recipes, lore, science, and anecdotes, The Drunken Botanist will satisfy the science-loving child in those who paid attention in school, to those who want to know why allspice seeds won’t germinate from simply planting them (they “must pass through the body of a fruit-eating bat, a baldpate pigeon, or some other local bird”). It will inspire the home mixologist to start infusing spirits and sourcing unusual products, such as sorghum syrup, used in the following recipe, named after a popular sweet sorghum cultivar, which the author describes as “dessert in a glass.”
(from The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart)
1/2 ounce sorghum syrup
1 1/2 ounces bourbon (or if you don’t like bourbon, try it with dark rum)
1/2 ounce amaretto
Because sorghum syrup can be too thick to easily pour or measure, try spooning it into a measuring cup and heating it in the microwave for 10 seconds with a very small amount of water, just enough to make it easy to poor. (Alternatively, drop a dollop of the syrup in the cocktail shaker and hope for the best.) Shake all the ingredients over ice and serve in a cocktail glass.
Old Mr. Boston Official Bartenders’s Guide ©1935
Paul’s Mom has a friend named Janet who happened to come across an almost 80-year-old copy of a familiar friend to many home bartenders, the Mr. Boston Guide. We were thrilled when she deemed it necessary that we have it. This is our third copy (the others are from 1988 and 1968 — the 1968 copy coming from Marie, another of Mom’s friends!!), and we just love it. Filled with period ads for Mr. Boston products, it’s set up in the format of another famous bar guide, The Savoy Cocktail Book. The measurements are mostly in proportions, instead of precise ounce measurements (cocktails were smaller back then as any Nick and Nora movie can attest to), such as 1/2 Italian Vermouth and 1/2 Old Mr. Boston Dry Gin, which is the recipe for a Gypsy Cocktail. Just substitute your favorite London dry gin.
(from Old Mr. Boston Official Bartenders Guide)
1/2 Italian [sweet] Vermouth
1/2 Old Mr. Boston Dry Gin
Stir well with ice and strain into 3 oz. Cocktail glass. Serve with a Cherry.
The Way We Ate
Subtitled “100 Chefs Celebrate a Century at the American Table,” this lovingly curated cookbook from photographers Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz pairs chef’s recipes with years from the twentieth century. We represent 1969 and developed a cocktail with two side dishes using the Stonewall Riots as a jumping off point. Try our ’69 Cocktail paired with lamb chops with mint gremolata and some cheddar and caramelized–stuffed mushrooms. We served the cocktails and the mushrooms to our families on Christmas Eve. They were gone in three minutes. [Buy the book]
Cheddar and Caramelized Onion–Stuffed Mushrooms
(created by Cocktail Buzz for The Way We Ate by Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz)
The savoriness of these ingredients combined creates an explosion of umami on first bite. Pairing it with a 69 Cocktail coaxes out even more flavors.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 pound button mushrooms (smaller ones are better)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons brandy or cognac
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4-inch-thick 1-inch squares
1/4 ounce Parmesan cheese
Finishing salt, such as Maldon
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cover a baking pan with parchment paper, then place a wire cooking rack atop the paper.
Heat the 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion and slowly cook until caramelized, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes. Reduce the heat if the onion starts to brown too quickly.
Meanwhile, remove and discard stems from the mushrooms. Wash the mushroom caps and set aside.
When the onion has caramelized, add the Worcestershire and brandy. Simmer for a minute, making sure to deglaze the pan. Transfer the onion to a plate or bowl, and set aside. Add the mushroom caps to the skillet, top with a lid, and heat on low for 2 to 3 minutes, flipping once, until the mushrooms soften slightly. Drain any excess water from the mushrooms, and place top down on the rack. Gently press 1 square of Cheddar into each cap. (You may have to cut the cheese into smaller pieces depending on size of the caps.) Top the cheddar with a generous dollop of the onion mixture, then a little piece or two of Parmesan. Transfer to the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and transfer the mushrooms to a plate. Sprinkle with finishing salt. Serve immediately.
[Makes about 2 dozen, depending on the size of the mushrooms.]
photo © Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz
2. Cloud Atlas
3. Organic and Non-GMO Food
The following edict may seem mean, but it comes from a place of tough love: Stop eating processed food! Well, it’s nearly impossible to stop eating it altogether, but maybe start by not shoveling it down your throats all day. That’s what we have been saying for years, and it’s finally taken the courage of well-intentioned whistle-blowers to get the word out. GMO stands for genetically modified organisms, meaning scientists have fucked with the DNA in certain plants so that foodstuffs travel better, have a longer shelf life, and someone gets richer along the way.
Food that is organic is not, by law, genetically modified. The corn, soybeans, and sugar beets that are in everything are genetically modified (thanks Monsanto), and many current scientific studies think that the allergies that are pervading our lives are caused by such GMO food. Want to feel better, don’t eat the crap. Want to live longer, don’t eat the crap. Basically pay attention to what you choose to eat and make informed decisions.
Now that we got that off our chests, we will continue with our regularly scheduled program.
4. The Manhattan Cocktail and All Its Variations
Looking back on 2013, we realized that the cocktail we drank the most was indeed our fave, the Manhattan. Although the basic formula of 2:1 whiskey to sweet vermouth, with a dash of bitters, is our go-to recipe, we have made countless variations, using obscure and well-known liquors, quinquinas, tinctures, vermouths, cordials, and bitters. Besides our love for the burnished, caramelized, woody flavors inherent in American whiskeys such as rye and bourbon, perhaps it is the Manhattan’s simple elegance that beguiles us time and time again. Here are two variations you may enjoy.
(adapted by Toby Cecchini, the guy who made the Cosmopolitan famous)
2 ounces rye or bourbon
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Add lemon twist.
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)
1 ounce rye
1 ounce cognac or brandy
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe.
5. Christmas in New York
We finally broke down and stayed in New York City this Christmas, uniting our families for an extravaganza of food, flavor, and fun. Neither of us had ever spent the Holidays in NYC, or Brooklyn to be exact, so we decided that if not now, then when? Our goal: to feed and inebriate up to twenty people on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day without stressing too much about it. How did we manage that, you ask? Two things are required: prepare most of it ahead of time, and don’t fret if you forget the cherries and onions for the cocktails.
Our main course on Christmas Eve proved to be simple and sumptuous: Martha Stewart’s recipe for Beef Tenderloin with Shallot Mustard Sauce; our Christmas day main was less formal but equally as tender and savory: Hawaiian Pulled Pork. The pulled pork was a blessing: we made it two days before and just heated it up, served with mini soft dinner rolls. Here’s the recipe.
Hawaiian Pulled Pork
(created by Cocktail Buzz)
6-pound pork shoulder (or just the Boston butt) (plus or minus a pound is fine)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon li hing mui powder, also called just li hing powder (don’t know of any substitutes, so if you do not have, just eliminate)
1 tablespoon ‘alaea salt (you can substitute any sea salt)
1/2 tablespoon gochugaru powder (you can substitute any hot chile pepper powder)
20-ounce can pineapple chunks in juice (not syrup)
1 mango, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2–1 tablespoon ume plum vinegar (you can substitute apple cider vinegar, or any other, since the amount is so small)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 nob fresh galangal, minced (with juice) (you can find at Kalustyan’s in NYC or substitute fresh ginger)
juice of 1 lime
Preheat oven to 350ºF, adjusted for middle rack. Trim skin and excess fat off pork shoulder, but not all the fat. Rub with dry rub, working into flaps, folds, and crevices. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a dutch oven. Sear meat, approximately 2–3 minutes each side. Brown sugar will begin to bubble and blacken on bottom, so keep a watchful eye. Add onions. Cook for a minute. Add wet mix, making sure some is on top of shoulder. Lay aluminum foil over the pot so it drapes a little over the edges, for a better seal. Cover with lid, tightly. Cook for 3 1/2 hours, flipping shoulder every hour. When done, remove from oven, remove lid, and shred with 2 forks. (Careful, it’s very hot.) Remove bone and anything gristly. Serve with dinner rolls.
Remember to enjoy the experience. Sometimes tweeting that cocktail pic is part of the experience, just don’t make it the experience. Share the moment, followed perhaps by a smile.