Saturday, January 30, 2010

Big Apple Cocktail

Last week's TDN theme was Fruit Brandy where it was suggested: "Break out your kirsch, apricot eau de vie, applejack, poire william, or whatever other fruit-based spirit you can conjure up."  I took up the gauntlet and used both Kirsch and Apple Brandy in my entry:
Big Apple
  • 1½ oz Laird's BiB Straight Apple Brandy
  • ½ oz Strega
  • ½ oz Kirschwasser
  • ½ oz Amaro Averna
  • 2 dashes Boker's bitters
  • 1 dash Regan's Orange bitters
stir and let cook on the ice for a few minutes, there's a lot of high proof stuff in there and a little dilution is ok, stir again and strain
After I tried this it seemed to me reminiscent of a Manhattan, or one of the many Manhattan or Brooklyn variations named after New York neighborhoods.  Here's a nice roundup of them [alt link].  In this vein, and due to the apple flavor from the brandy, I ran with this theme and named the drink Big Apple, a nickname of the city we all know and love.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

GateGuru and TwentyFour! iPhone Apps

I previously told you about TripIt, GateGuru is another cool travel app I found out about by talking to a guy who made it, a fellow attendee at a recent wedding.  GateGuru tells you the location of food, shops, etc at all the main US airports, so, for instance, you know if you should grab a bite before you go through security or if you can wait and hit the brewpub past the evil TSA.  I recently used it to find a real seafood place in my terminal when we had a long layover in Houston on our way to Buenos Aries, and a great greasy spoon for breakfast in Chicago on the way to Jackson Hole, my most recent trip.  You can select an airport, or use GPS to figure out the one you are currently in.  Cool stuff.

Also, TwentyFour! is a fun, addictive, and challenging math game app that a friend made.  You race against the clock (or your buddy) to take as many sets of flashed four numbers that you have to add, subtract, mult, or divide with all four numbers to get 24 as you can, with extra bonus time for every one you get right.

Check 'em out.

Celery Syrup for celery&nori

I mentioned before how much I enjoyed the celery&nori I had at Momofuku ssäm bar, and I decided to try to recreate it at home.  The key ingredient I needed to figure out was the celery syrup.  The first one I tried was a recipe I remembered seeing on Serious Eats in this post about the Celery Julep.  Here is the procedure from that post to make the syrup:
"Fresh" Celery Syrup
  • 10 ounces celery (about 4 large ribs)
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon celery seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Chop the celery into pieces, put them in the food processor with 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the celery seeds, and the salt, and process until the celery is a loose puree. Pass the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing the pulp to extract as much flavor as possible. You should have about 1/3 cup (ed.-I got a bit more).  Add the celery juice and the remaining sugar to a small saucepan, and warm the mixture over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves. You should have about 1 cup celery syrup. (Covered with plastic wrap, the syrup will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week.)
This was good stuff, but not quite right for the drink.  I think it needs something more clear and with less of the fresh celery flavor and less green color.  I've got some other ideas to make use of this which I think will be great, however.

To find the right syrup for this drink, I then turned to the always sage Alton Brown (check out his excellent new book, Good Eats: The Early Years, with recipes from first 80 episodes of Good Eats!).
AB's Celery Seed Syrup
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground celery seed
Place the sugar and the water into a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir to combine. Continue to stir frequently until all of the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the celery seed, cover and allow to steep for 1 hour. Strain though a fine mesh strainer into a heat-proof container and place in the refrigerator, uncovered until completely cool. Place in an airtight container and store for up to 6 months.
This was designed to be added to soda water to make a homemade version of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda, but I hijacked it for my own nefarious needs.  This is the one I think works best for the celery&nori.  Also note this is a 2:1 simple syrup, where the first was closer to 1:1.

I then had to infuse the Applejack with the nori.  I actually chose to go with the Laird's Bottled in Bond Straight Apple Brandy, because why not?  As a test, I stuck a sheet of nori in 10 oz or so of the Laird's, and tasted it after 40 minutes or so.  At this point is had WAY too much nori flavor and wasn't good at all.  I tried diluting it 2:1 with uninfused Laird's, and it was better, but still way too strong.  I then took an oz of the diluted stuff and diluted it 2:1 again with another oz of fresh Laird's, and that did the trick.  I took this now 4:1 dilution of my initial infusion to make:
celery&nori (old fashioned)
  • 2 oz nori-infused Laird's BiB Straight Apple Brandy
  • ¼ oz AB's Celery Seed Syrup
  • 2 dashes celery bitters
stir and strain into DOF glass
I think this made a serviceable reproduction of the original, and in any case is damn good.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bee's Teas first Mixology Monday of 2010 is upon us, hosted by Frederic, et al over at cocktail virgin slut.  The theme they have chosen is "Tea." I'll let them elaborate:
Tea has played a historical role in cocktails for centuries. Perhaps the best documented early example was its inclusion in punches as part of the spice role to round out the spirit, sugar, water, and citrus line up. Later, teas appear in many recipes such as Boston Grog, English Cobbler, and a variety of Hot Toddies. And present day mixologists are utilizing tea flavors with great success including Audrey Saunder's Earl Grey MarTEAni and LUPEC Boston's Flapper Jane. Now it's our turn to honor this glorious cocktail ingredient!
Tea is not something I've played with as an ingredient before, so I started with something simple, tea-infused gin.  (I went with Darjeeling because I had it handy).  That seemed straight forward enough.  Then I had to figure out what to do with it.  I figured whatever I made probably didn't need bitters since tea has some bitterness on its own, but probably still needed a sweetener.  I immediately thought of honey, as it goes nicely with tea.  Now some acid; surely lemon here is called for and not lime.  But of course, there's already a gin, honey and lemon cocktail, the Bee's Knees, so I can just use that for the proportions.  And just like that the classic Bee's Knees becomes the Bee's Teas:
Bee's Teas
Shake and strain; garnish with lemon twist
The Bee's Teas tastes, well, just like lemon iced tea sweetened with honey. But it's a cocktail! So if that's your type of drink, give this one a try. I think you can figure out how to infuse the gin, just don't leave the tea in too long lest it get bitter. I don't remember what I did, half an hour maybe and then tested it and decided it was done, or something thereabouts.

Here's the Bee's Knees for reference:
Bee's Knees
  • 2 oz gin
  • ¾ oz Honey Syrup
  • ½ oz lemon juice
Shake and strain; garnish with lemon twist
Simple, right?

(late) UPDATE: Here's the roundup.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Colicchio&Sons opening night review

Tonight was the opening night for the new Colicchio&Sons restaurant in the old Craftsteak space.  I happened to be getting a reservation for last Friday on Opentable and happened to notice that Colicchio&Sons was taking reservations for tonight's opening night, so I decided to jump on the opportunity.

The concept for this restaurant was for Colicchio to get back to his roots and do more composed dishes as he had been doing for the last year or so at Tom: Tuesday Dinner.  I was lucky enough to attend the first of those (read about it on a blog and got in off the waiting list due to a last minute cancel), as well as a similar in style special 'Farm-Maker Dinner', so I was already well sold on the concept.

We got there a bit early and enjoyed a drink in the "Tap Room."  I started with a Cinnamon Sidecar while deciding on the wide variety of choices for brews on tap.
I settled on the delicious, albeit expensive, Italian Pausa P.i.L.S. after my starter cocktail.

But on to the main fare.  I started with the "Roasted Sweetbreads with Honey Onions & Bacon-Sherry Vinegar":
Mmmm, these were fantastic. They only served to highlight the differences I observed and spoke about in the sweetbreads available in Argentina vs those I can get here.  These had the mild creamy flavor I love with a nice acidity and sweet balance from the accouterments.

I also tried the "White bean Agnolotti with Chorizo, Pork Belly & Octopus":
What's not to love about that?  It was luscious and richer that I expected, but in a good way and not so much that it scared the wife away (this was her order and she loved it, but she often doesn't like rich dishes as much as I, eg scallops, foie gras.)

She ordered as her main course the "Lamb Loin with Merguez Sausage and Lentils":
I think the picture speaks for itself, but I was especially happy with the bite of "Venison with Turnips, Black Trumpet Mushrooms & Quince":
I'm normally disappointed with Venison steaks, as I often find them a bit lean and while having decent flavor, a bit boring.  Not this one;  it had excellent gaminess but still rich and intoxicating texture and flavor, very well done.

We had one vegetarian amongst us, and while I didn't taste her gnocchi sans bone marrow (a shame, I know), I did get this pic:
I was very torn for my choice of main,  I've had Colocchio's Sturgeon a couple times before and loved it, and I'm always a sucker for Duck, as well as tempted by the Sirloin, but in the end I think I won by going with the "Capon 'Pot Au Feu' with Crispy Skin and Black Truffle":
This is not a dish I would typically order, but it was a real winner.  The meat was perfectly cooked, with a rich consommé and a variety of textures from the white meat, the dark meat, and the velvety richness of what I assume was the liver.  Yum, fantastic.

I'm not big on desserts, but we did get some excellent cheese, as well as a Banana Pecan upside Down Cake:

Botttom line, this place serves great stuff and some composed dishes you might find at the Tom: Tuesday Dinners over the last year or so.  This is top notch food, and if they eventually decide to offer a tasting menu it could be really special, and judging by how hard it was to get into Tom: Tuesday Dinner, also something the city may be clamoring for.  (I got in the first time, and tried calling and failed on many other occasions.  I'll also allow that perhaps the exclusivity made the demand seem higher than it otherwise would, but having tried it, I'd say the demand was warranted.)

If you are interested in trying to decode the other dishes we didn't get, here are some shots of the menus outside:

Bizarre Foods With Me: Argentina

This is not relevant, but just a cool pic the wife took of light shining through stained glass of a mausoleum in the La Recoleta Cemetary.

In fact, I didn't have anything too bizarre in Argentina, but I liked the theme and decided to run with it.  In fact, perhaps the most bizarre thing I had was sweetbreads, which are not all that crazy sine I have them often here in NY.  Here is a mixed grill of somewhat uncommon items, morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo, sweetbreads,  intestine sausage:

The wife goal was to go on, as she put it, an "empanada tour", much like we went no a "croquette tour" when we visited spain.  Two of the stronger contenders we had at a lunch break at a winery while touring bodegas in Mendoza, one corn and cheese and one beef:

I started with the Chorizo Burger at the same winery:

Later that night we sampled even more empanadas:

But perhaps my favorite were the trio we had at Azafran in Mendoza at a leisurely lunch. Molleja y champignon (Sweetbread and Mushroom), Chorizo con cebolla (Sausage and onion), and Morcilla y parmesano (Blood Sausage and Parmesan).  I had a lovely wine pairing with the trio as well:

Probably my favorite sweetbreads I had for the main course at the same lunch, these with peach chutney and torrontés wine reduction were delicious:

But the fact is that as much as I love sweetbreads, I like the ones I often get in NY more than those I got in Argentina.  The ones I had on this trip are very minerally and gamey,  and while those terms usually describe good things, they are often taken to too high a degree for my tastes in Argentina.  I'm not sure what the cause is, perhaps preparation, but I suspect it is because the offal comes from mature cattle as opposed to veal or lamb that we often get in the US.  I know the sweetbreads of lamb I have made twice were quite delicious and mild in flavor.  I suppose that, even for the "off cuts", if people start actually eating them commonly as they do in Argentina it's harder to get the choice pieces than it might be here.

Here's another random shot I enjoy:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dundee to Islay

This week's TDN theme was Scotch, which while an ingredient dear to my heart, at first left me a bit disconcerted because I had used Scotch in several of my recent TDN drinks for other themes.  I persevered however, and this is what I came up with:
Dundee to Islay
  • 1 oz Laphroaig 10
  • 1 oz mezcal (Chichicapa Tobala, or sub more Islay)
  • ½ oz Domaine de Canton
  • ½ oz lime
  • ¼ oz honey syrup
  • 2 tsp Bonne Maman Orange Marmalade
  • 1 dash Peychaud's
  • pinch salt
stir or muddle everything without ice to dissolve marmalade, then shake&strain and garnish with flamed orange twist
A big component of this drink is obviously smoke, but there's other stuff going on to keep it from dominating too much, although it srely pushes to the forefront of the flavor profile.  You probably won't be able to pick out the Canton, but you'd miss it if it wasn't there (I did before I added it to the mix, anyway) but it adds a subtle spice and richness and bumps the sugar content a tad to balance the acid from the lime, as well as the marmalade which is more tart than sweet.  The salt makes the whole drink more round in flavor, and the Peychaud's not only gives a touch more bitterness and complexity, but brighten's the color of the drink as well.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Huginn and Muninn

For the sake of completeness, here's another drink I made for the theme-less TDN "Retro" back in December I never got around to posting:
Huginn and Muninn
  • 2 oz aged Aquavit
  • ½ oz Noily Prat Dry Vermouth
  • ½ oz Strega
  • 2 dashes celery bitters
stir and strain

The name refers to a pair of ravens that fly around the world to keep Odin in the loop about all its happenings, which alludes to the main ingredient of aquavit in the drink.  It's quite a dry cocktail, an aquavit martini almost, with a touch of sweetness from the strega, but very herbal flavors coming from all the ingredients. You have to enjoy the aquavit to like this drink, but hey, I do enjoy it...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Frère Johnnie

Here is my second drink from this week's "Monks!" themed TDN, as in:
Anything created or originally developed by monks is fair game: Benedictine, Champagne, Chartruese, Trappist Ales, or any other odds and ends your research turns up.
Frère Johnnie
  • 1 oz Johnnie Walker Black
  • 1 oz Bénédictine
  • ½ oz Fernet Branca
  • 1oz oj
  • ~3 oz tonic
shake all but tonic and strain over fresh rocks and top with tonic, garnish with orange twist

I liked the way the Scotch works with Bénédictine in a Bobby Burns, and with OJ in a Blood and Sand, and I went from there.  I started out without the Fernet, but decided it needed something extra, and remembering a drink I recently had off of the very original cocktail list at Casa Cruz down in Buenos Aires over the holidays, I reached for the trusty elixir to add that special something, and I think it worked.

For reference, here is the drink from Casa Cruz:
  • Fernet Branca
  • jugo de naranja (orange juice, or muddled orange slices)
  • tónica (tonic water)
I didn't get the proportions, but I think you can be quite flexible with the components based on how sweet vs strong you like it or are otherwise in the mood for.

This was a deceptively simple and tasty drink. The whole cocktail list here was quite inventive, or at least it seemed to be to me from the pieces of Spanish I could decipher.  I decided to go with this drink because they love their Fernet down in Argentina, and when in Rome...
In fact, cocktails, while becoming more common, are still not commonplace in  the country.  I believe the most common one consumed there is the Fernet and Coke, believe it or not.  I've never tried it, but the Nacho was quite good so maybe I should give it a try.  Here's how much they love Fernet, the biggest bottle I've ever seen, it's like a Jeroboam or something:

Wine Country in Mendoza, Argentina

The first day we were in Mendoza we drove an hour or so into the mountains to go white water rafting on the Mendoza River.  Apparently the water was especially high that day so conditions were better than a typical day.  We didn't lose anyone, but we came awfully close to flipping the whole raft at one point, I was only saved by my right foot being slipped into a pocket attached to the floor of the boat.  It was awesome, that was the best part.


The weather was perfect, a nice respite from the chilly NY winter, and after the rafting we partook in a refreshing cerveza.  I call this photo Andes in the Andes.

Despite being quite lush, we were told that due to lack of rainfall Mendoza is technically a desert.  They are able to grow all the grapes for wine production by skillful irrigation using the Mendoza River, which is fueled by plenty of snow melt coming off the Andes.  There is an intricate series of irrigation ditches and gates to divert the waters to specific properties and they each have designated time periods and allowances to coordinate the water usage.  A large benefit is that the vineyards can carefully control the water flowing to the vines to specifically tailor the amount to the plant's needs.  Eliminating this one variable of nature's whim is a great boon to the winemakers, as a late season rainstorm before harvest can wreak havoc with the quality of the grapes in other wine growing regions of the world.  There is, as always, a trade off however, because what little precipitation Mendoza does get often comes in freak hailstorms which can wreak havoc of their own.  One winery we visited, Achaval-Ferrer, had recently lost the entire crop at its main vineyard two years in a row!  (They make really excellent wines, if you are curious.)

This winery also sits right on the banks of the Mendoza River, but at this point the river, the same river we rafted on with extra high water levels only the day before, all that remained the day we were there was dusty riverbed, the flow having been entirely diverted for irrigation.

We also visited one of my favorite bodegas, Catena Zapata.  Here is the view of their main finca, or vineyard, from the top of their (faux Aztec pyramid) winery:

We also learned that Catena Zapata, like most bodegas, make different wines for export and their own domestic market.  Here we sampled two of Catena's top Malbecs, one for export on the left, and the one just for Argentina on the right.  Unsurprisingly they keep the best for themselves, the bastards.  (In all fairness, some of the differences are due to requests by the US distributors to have certain flavor profiles they find easier to market here, but I like the style they keep in Argentina.)  We got a bottle of the good stuff you can only get there to bring home.  As luck would have it, before I discovered that there was stuff you can only get there, I got a 1999 bottle of the same Malbec and brought it home whe I was in Buenos Aires like 5 years ago which I've held on to and yet to open.   Mmmm, it's gonna be good.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Monky Gland

No, that's not a typo in the title, I do mean Monky Gland, not Monkey Gland, although the similarity is quite deliberate, as my Monky Gland creation is based on the old classic.  You see, this week's theme for TDN was "Monks!," as in:
Anything created or originally developed by monks is fair game: Benedictine, Champagne, Chartruese, Trappist Ales, or any other odds and ends your research turns up.
Now I've riffed off the Monkey Gland previously when I concocted the Surrender Monkey a while back for a MxMo,but that was more of a lark to amuse myself and the drink was only ok.  The Monky Gland, however, I really really like, here it is:
Monky Gland
Shake and strain into cocktail glass; squeeze orange twist spraying oils over surface of drink, garnish with orange spiral.

For reference, here's the classic recipe:
Monkey Gland
  • 1½ oz Gin
  • 1 oz Orange Juice
  • splash absinthe
  • ¼ oz grenadine
Splash absinthe into coupe glass, shake and strain rest into glass; garnish with orange spiral.
Dale DeGroff notes in his book The Essential Cocktail that there is an alternative Americanized version that subs Bénédictine for the Absinthe, so there's actually another tidbit that makes one version of the Monkey Gland a little monky itself.

Feliz Año Nuevo, and a note re buying art in Argentina

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

So for New Year's Eve in Buenos Aires, we attended a great party at Estilo Campo on the water in Puerto Madero.  The restaurant is a typical parilla, a place that serves the traditional grilled meat, sausage, etc, but for the holiday they took reservations for a single seating for the night's festivities.  We had the table for the night, and there was a dance floor with DJ, and intermittent tango shows weaving between the tables, and we could pop outside to take in the perfect weather and the fireworks over the water.  It was a blast and the crowd was fun and friendly; perfect for our party of four in a foreign city.  We also took home an excellent souvenir to remind us of our fun trip, this painting:

I noticed it hanging just inside the entrance right away as we were checking in, and since my wife loved it as much as I did, we quickly resolved to inquire about it.  As you can gather from the card in the corner, it was for sale, as were several other pieces throughout the restaurant.  In fact, they were painted by the wife of one of the owners.  But this first one we saw remained our favorite, and we ended up purchasing it.
Very happy with our new acquisition, and also thankful that we were able to keep track of it for the rest of the night and get it back to the hotel undamaged, the next day we tried to ship it home.  Here's the part you should take note of if you ever consider buying art in Argentina: after first being told that we could simply take it to the hotel business center where they would package and ship it for us, we were then informed that due to some law attempting to prevent the smuggling artwork out of the country, you are not allowed to ship such items without going to a bank and somehow obtaining a certificate of authenticity, or something along those lines, we still don't understand what was going on.  We were simply assured that we couldn't ship it, if we tried it would at best be returned to the hotel, at worst disappear down some hole in customs.  They did pack it up, and told us we should take it with us to the airport where we would be able to check it with our luggage, a rough and uncertain fate we were trying to avoid, but could live with.
A couple days later at the airport, however, while checking in the dude noticed our package and told us we could not check the package, due to the same law.  As an alternative, for reasons beyond silliness that escape me, we could carry it on ourselves.  But after inquiring to his superior, it was determined that it was too large for us to carry on. We were instructed to go to the police office elsewhere in the airport to get it inspected and get permission to check it.  So at the police, we find someone who speaks English, who then finds the guy who inspects paintings, who checks it and our passports out briefly and then tells us (through the translator) we are good to go.  No form or paperwork or anything, just an 'ok'.  So we re-pack the painting, go back to check in for the flight, nervously check it with our luggage, and cross our fingers and hope it makes it back to NY with us.
Luckily, it did make it back, happily rolling off the baggage claim at EWR alive and well, and it will be the first thing to grace our new home when we close in March and serving as a great reminder of our fun vacation.  Our other two bags, incidentally, didn't make our connection in Houston, but they too were eventually delivered safe and sound later that night.  So note to any would be art smugglers out there, don't lumber through the airport as English speaking tourists with a package obviously containing a painting and instead consider rolling it up and carrying it on your person or something.  I'm sure the law much successfully catch thousands of perpetrators yearly, how could anyone think of that?