Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lumber Jacques Cocktail from W Hotel Montreal

I had the good fortune to attend a bachelor party in Montreal recently, and, unsurprisingly, great fun was had. Serendipitously, after we had chosen the weekend, we discovered that the Jazzfest was finishing up that weekend a scant few blocks from our hotel, which served nicely as an added bonus. It turned out that it was nowhere near as awesome as the one in New Orleans, but it was a nice distraction to wander around outside with a beer and hear some tunes. Speaking of the New Orleans jazz fest, if you've never been you are officially an idiot and you should absolutely book your flight and hotel for next year this very second. It's that great. Anyway, back to Montreal.

First things being first, we upon arriving immediately hit Au Pied de Cochon to eat ourselves to death on a mind numbing array of foie gras dishes, including the famous poutine, along with plenty of pig, duck, and the biggest rib I've ever seen served that apparently came from a bison.

Skipping to Saturday, before supping at the excellent restaurant Toqué!, we wandered over to the Plateau Lounge at the W Hotel down the block for some pre dinner drinks. Well, most of us did, we nearly killed the bachelor the night before and he was still recovering, but despite our very real fears, he manned up and made it our for dinner and the rest of the night. Well done sir. At the W they were serving up my new favorite drink, the Lumber Jacques:

That's my version pictured above, as I've replicated it at home. Looking at the ingredients I could tell it would be right in my wheelhouse, but was still very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. On to my version of the recipe.

Lumber Jacques
  • 1¾ oz Green Chartreuse
  • 1½ oz Rye (Rittenhouse 100)
  • generous ¼ oz maple syrup
  • 1 healthy slice fresh ginger
  • ½ oz fresh lemon juice
  • ½ oz fresh orange juice
  • 2 dashes angostura
Muddle ginger aggressively with bitters and maple syrup, add the rest with ice and shake. Strain into chilled double old fashioned, garnish with orange twist and lime wedge. I like having a few very small stray pieces of ginger left in there that give a spicy hit when you bite them.
I like this so much I'm tempted to just claim credit for it myself. Canadia is another country, what are they going to do to me down here? And aren't Canuks afraid of the dark anyway? The drink they served didn't have the orange twist I added, is that a big enough changed to claim it for myself? Oh well...

I was hit with another jolt of good fortune on the flight home as well. Started out poorly as I was being curmudgeonly about not getting to choose my seat when I bought my ticket and getting stuck in a window seat at the back of the plane, but on this particular flight a window seat on that specific side of the plane turned out to be perfect. On our approach to LGA we flew directly over Manhattan and Central Park, covering nearly the whole island north to south before bearing east to land when we got downtown. I thought it would be pretty cool but was dumbstruck by how awesome the view turned out to be. I've lived here for over 10 years and sometimes take it for granted, but it was like one of those moments when you walk around the city on a familiar route but happen to gaze up and out and realize how magnificent the city can be instead of concentrating on weaving through the crowd of people, only an order of magnitude stronger of a feeling. And the feeling repeated itself every time you looked somewhere else or as the park or something else new came into view. I do love NYC.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Got milk?

Sweet, new research says:

drinking milk ¹ can lessen the chances of dying from illnesses such as coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke by up to 15-20 %.

It's a meta study of more than 300 other works, and makes sense to me. Obviously you have to be careful when looking at studies like this, because they are more often than not bullshit, especially when quoted in or interpreted by the media, but I like this one. Some things just ring true to me, like the studies that say beer, wine, or bacon are good for you. Those are the ones I choose to believe. Or did I make the one about bacon up? Ok, well then the other two examples anyway.

I at least bet that eating zero bacon is correlated with poor health of some sort.

Lupa's Salads: cavalo nero with guanciale or escarole salad

Lupa is one of our absolute favorite restaurants, and I've tried to copy some of their dishes at home a few times. My most recent endeavor was their Cavalo Nero, aka black kale, aka dinosaur kale, aka lacinato kale, salad. With guanciale, of course. It's important to use this type of kale, since it's served mostly raw, being only slightly wilted by the hot pork fat, and regular kale is tougher and really should be cooked more. I started with recipes from here and here.

I didn't have the guanciale, so I used some Nueske's bacon. It was quite easy, simply brown the bacon, then dress the raw kale with lemon juice and the bacon drippings, with perhaps some salt and pepper and some hot pepper flakes if that's your thing (as it is mine.) I tossed some minced garlic in with the bacon when it was almost done as well. Oh, and I also added some thinly sliced raw celery as suggested by one of the recipes referenced above for some texture. The first time I tried making this it just wasn't quite right. The problem? You guessed it, not enough bacon. Second try did the trick, although it could have probably used slightly more still. Really depends on how much fat renders out of the bacon, I think my chunks were pretty lean, so I suggest cooking extra. Worst case you've got extra bacon; I suspect you can find a use for it. Speaking of that, I instituted a bacon rule in our place which is as follows: if either of us cooks bacon as an ingredient, e.g. for my wife's artichoke dip, the cook must cook extra bacon since it is a certainty that the sounds and aromas produced will make me hanker for a taste.

Sorry for the crappy pic. Here's something that should make up for it. I was just going to include a pic, but I was enchanted by the sound so I thought I'd share (or tease?) a video with you. Sorry I can't post the smell also.

The other salad I love at Lupa is their escarole salad with red onion, walnuts, and pecorino. It's really brilliant, and either of these salads can serve as a light meal in their own right. On this one I was flying blind on the dressing, although I think I've come up with a workable facsimile. May not be the same, but it's good enough to get requested by those who've tried my version. I make the dressing with 2 parts good extra-virgin olive oil, 1 part apple cider vinegar, a bit of dijon mustard to emulsify, and a dollop of honey for some sweetness, since the escarole itself has a bitterness to it. And of course salt and pepper. As when making a proper pasta, be careful not to overdress, the escarole should be just lightly covered by the dressing.

Trebuchet Cocktail †

After much experimentation, I finally settled on the cocktail recipe to match the Pantagruel name. Given the etymology of Pantagruel, I decided to go with exclusively liquors from France, and, as predicted in my previous post, it's cognac based. Later, I thought better of naming a drink after myself, or at least my nom de plume, so I went with another, yet still appropriate, name, the Trebuchet. (In my defense if you think it was preposterous to consider naming a drink after myself, I will submit that at the time Pantagruel was just a word I liked in general, and the thoughts of it being a good name both for a cocktail and an alias were independent, so it was not an act of hubris, a trait I am hardly bereft of, if I do say so myself.) In any case, on to the drink:

  • 1½ oz Remy VSOP Cognac
  • ¼ oz Calvados
  • ¼ oz Cointreau
  • ¼ oz Green Chartreuse
  • 1 tsp Benedictine
  • 1 dash Peychad's bitters
  • 1 dash angostura
Stir and strain into chilled double old fashioned, lay siege with flamed orange twist to garnish. It's pretty hot and can do some damage, so don't be afraid to let it cook for a minute before pouring.

Since the timing was good and I thought it appropriate, I also submitted it to the guys at Thursday Drink Night: New Orleans last week. I thought it fit as similar to a Sazerac with the Peychaud's, especially with the other French ingredients and the fact that Sazeracs were originally Cognac based before tastes shifted and the Rye version became standard.

And because I had fun posting the last video, here's the flamed orange twist in (HD!) action:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Burger Trial I: The Grind

Here is my delayed account of my first self ground burger experiment. Well, at least the first one using the actual grinder attachment on my Kitchenaid mixer. I've done it before pulsing the meat a few times in the food processor, which, I have to admit, works surprisingly well, but surely is not optimal. And since we're going for perfection, I'm stepping it up. First, the blend ingredients:
  • 2 parts lamb shoulder
  • 2 parts beef chuck steak
  • 1 part beef short rib
  • salt
The variable in this trial is the grind method. There are two dies for the grinder, fine and course. I tried three different methods:
  • grind only once through coarse die
  • grind twice with coarse die
  • grind once coarse followed by once fine
And, after forming (very loosely, handling as little as possible) the patties:

The progression from coarsest to finest goes clockwise starting with the one at the left. And after getting the coals ripping hot and raising them as close as possible to the grate, and a mere 2-3 minutes a side:

And upon closer inspection:

I employed minimum condiment in order to make clear the differences in the actual burger. And the results? Inconclusive, they were all awesome. I ate too many burgers that day. It's hard to tell in the picture above, but I think the coarsest is on the right this time, the finest grind on the left. (I knew at the time for sure, but I don't remember now.) The only thing I determined was that the burger that got the fine die treatment was my least favorite, but it was a very close call for all three, and I'd say it would come down to a matter of personal preference. It's texture was, as you'd imagine, smoother and more delicate. But delicate is usually not what I'm going for in a burger. I decided to use the twice coarse ground method going forward, if for no other reason than it's easier to distribute the salt since I salted between grinds, an option I obviously don't have with the once ground meat. Presumably two grinds also mixes the component ingredients better, but I didn't notice a problem with the once ground burger. In any case, I loved all three, and went back for seconds of all three. They all are sufficiently tasty to my mind that I wouldn't mind having two types just for the sake of variety at a meal, but the differences were not as detectable as I would have guessed a priori. Perhaps the lesson is you can't go wrong when you grind your own?

Relative sugar content of liquors?

Speaking of the Cooking Issues blog, their post on agave nectar vs simple syrup got me thinking. They were comparing the two, and part of the process involved using a refractometer to determine exactly how sweet each ingredient was in order to normalize that variable during the taste test. So I was wondering if there existed somewhere a reference where you could find out the sugar content of liquors. I poked around, but alas, google failed me.

I'd find such a reference useful when tinkering with recipes. Say, for example, you wanted to swap some of the vermouth in a manhattan with Benedictine, or some Cointreau for Chartreuse in a margarita, but wanted to maintain the same sweetness. We know the alcohol contents so at least we know what's going on with that, but with the sweetness I'd at best only be able to tell you which ingredient was sweeter, certainly not by how much of a factor. It's not so bad if you're dealing with a simple swap, but if you're striving to create something with several sweet ingredients it can get messy fast. Or maybe such info would be cheating, I don't know.

Not that the trial and error's not part of the fun, but sometimes it would be nice to have a better idea of where to start.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sabering Champagne

I saw this post over at Cooking Issues and it reminded me of this video of my first attempt at the art of sabering a bottle (and gave me an excuse to figure out how to post video).

It's way easier than you might think, and I've subsequently taught several people how to do it at some parties we've hosted, which makes for a fun party trick. I'll leave it to the guys over at Cooking Issues to teach you how to do it since they did an impressive job in their post, but will point out that although totally unnecessary, I think it's extra fun if you splurge and use this Laguiole Champagne Sabre. It's the one I learned with at Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, so I bought one for my next party.

Heathcare vs Vet Spending

Here's a fascinating post from Megan McArdle at the Atlantic for those that think there's a simple solution to control national health-care costs by controlling malpractice suits, end of life care, or any of the other usual suspects. Turns out our spending on our pets is rising in lockstep with our spending on ourselves. (As it should.) Not to say there are not tons of problems that need addressing with health-care, because there are, just saying it will be neither as easy nor as successful as anyone claims.

HT (again): Marginal Revolution

While I'm thinking about it, here's an example from Mankiw I saw the other day.

Here's the chart from Andrew Biggs:

Also, Mankiw noted it also, cool.

Friday, July 3, 2009


A friend just turned me on to this great new service and iPhone app called TripIt. All you do is forward the email confirmations you get from expedia or Continental or your hotel or whatever, and the site pulls out the relevant info and constructs an itinerary for your trip, so you have everything in one place, and can also check it on your iPhone. It has so far been pretty good for a wide range of stuff I threw at it, there were only a couple reservations I got from small independant hotels it didn't understand.

It has other cool features, like sharing with friends so you can see what their itineraries are if you're travinging together. It also tells you how many cities and countries you've travelled to, which I find pretty neat.

It's free at least for now, I think it might be in beta, but check it out.

Orangewood smoked filet

So here's the new thing I mentioned in the last post, filet smoked with chunks of wood from orange trees one of our guests brought for us:

It was remarkably easy, fire up the coals on one side of the grill, toss a dry chunk of orange wood on the hot coals, put the steaks on the opposite side of the grill and close the lid and let it go for a bit less than half an hour. I usually soak the wood for smoking in water for a bit to keep it from burning too fast, but following the recommendation of the guy who had done this before, we didn't this time and it worked beautifully. We only used a small chunk of wood also, less than 1x1x3 inches in size; I would have thought we would need more and I would have been wrong.

Another important step is to get the ventilation right. I had wanted to get a Bar-b-chef Texas grill, but by the time I went to buy it I discovered they had been discontinued, so I ended up with this one from Lowes. It was difficult to find one I wanted since I was adamant that it have both an adjustable firebox I could raise and lower it to control the heat and a door to access the coals to add or adjust them without removing the grill surface, and I was having difficultly finding a grill with these features. My friend's one complaint about his bar-b-chef was that it didn't have enough vents to control the air flow, I think it only has 2, one on each side of the hood. Fortunately my girl has 4, one on each side of the hood as well as one on each side of the main body closer to the coals. These proved useful for smoking, because I could open the top vent close to the meat and the low vent closer to the coals on the opposite side, and close the other two. This directed the smoke up and over the meat, as well as allowed me to adjust the size of the opening near the coals to cut down on the air intake if it was getting too hot inside to slowly smoke the meat. So maybe having the bar-b-chef discontinued was a blessing in disguise. This one's definitly not quite as sturdy, but she works.

Definitely adding this one to my repertoire in the future.

I've ordered some more orange wood and some other fun looking stuff from

BBQ Season

Sorry for the lack of posts, but I've been busy and had guests in town so didn't get a chance to put up some things I've been meaning to. But I learned a new bbq trick from one of said guests, I'll post about it later. Also coming soon, the first experiment in my quest for the perfect burger. Until then, here's my new grill (and a bit of Halley's behind, that reminds me I need to put up some pics of her and the new puppy, Tesla):

And one of its early products: