Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Yellow Blur

This was an interesting little cocktail I created. Technically it's the first cocktail I've ever made that actually won a competition. At a guild luncheon that was hosted by Ruffino Prosecco, they decided to pit us in something of an Iron Bartender Competition. They divided us guild members up into 5 teams and told us to make 2 cocktails per team, one on the rocks, and the other served up. We were given free reign of the bar at Stratus Lounge. Many teams tried to come up with a game plan, but our team took a totally different approach, a more playful one. We all just hopped behind the bar and started making drinks. I started with a sort of orange French 75. It was a good drink but a bit boring. My friend Dan was working on a sort of strawberry smash. As the five of us were playing around we would taste each other's drinks and give feedback. In the end, Dan turned his into our up cocktail and I switched mine to a collins style drink with a little chartreuse zing. 

3/4 oz. Bombay Sapphire
1/2 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
1/2 oz. Cointreau
1/2 a Peeled Orange
1/4 oz. Simple Syrup
Ruffino Prosecco

Peel an orange and tear away about half the slices. Add the slices and all the ingredients except the prosecco to a mixing tin with ice. Shake very vigorously to break up the orange. Strain into a collins glass filled with ice. Top with prosecco and garnish with a lemon wedge.

This cocktail took quite a bit of ingenuity. Toward the end of the time limit, all the tools seemed to disappear. I had been fresh squeezing juice from halves of oranges for all of my experiments but when the clock was ticking I couldn't find a juicer, or a knife for that matter. I just said, "I'm doing this like in grade school." I used my thumbnail and peeled off the skin, tore off half the orange and chucked it into a tin. The ice they had at Stratus was good and dense so I knew it would do the job pulverizing and juicing the orange. I originally planned to double strain this to make for a clean presentation, but they were counting down the seconds as I wrapped up and a mesh strainer was nowhere to be found. I wound up just using a Hawthorne strainer which filtered the big chunks of pulp but left a few bits. This actually made the drink a lot more fun. I made it again later by double straining and I don't think it was as good. The pulp added a feel of scratch made lemonade and I think made the drink feel lower proof and more drinkable. The pulp floating around the drink in the bubbles is actually partly what inspired the name of this drink. Though the name takes an indirect reference to a Ron White bit. 

"Tiny bubbles. In the wine. Make me feel happy. Ah, they make me feel fine."
- Don Ho

Photos by Bry Guy of dumbartender

Monday, July 27, 2015

Superfruit Creamsicle

This was a cocktail I designed to be submitted to the VEEV, A Better Way to Drink, bartender challenge cocktail competition. The cocktail must feature 1 1/2 ounces of VEEV. Which was a hard thing restriction when you have such a strong liqueur. I was a bit confused by this challenge as it asked you to recreate a classic cocktail using VEEV, an ounce and a half of VEEV. Yet, points were awarded for originality. I took inspiration from a few classics and put my own spin on them while incorporating the liqueur. 

1 1/2 oz VEEV
1/2 oz Thyme infused Cointreau
1 oz Fresh Orange juice
1/2 oz Heavy Cream
1 Egg White (1 oz)
Chocolate Bitters

Dry shake all the ingredients except the bitters for one minute. Add ice and hard shake for 15 seconds. Double strain into a sours glass and add four drops of chocolate bitters. Use a pick to make a pattern in the bitters. Serve with a smile.

The original inspiration came from the standard Creamsicle recipe but drew inspiration from the Fizz as well. I knew I wanted to really bring out the dessert snack notes of the acai. One of my favorite snacks is chocolate covered acai berries. I included some cream and orange flavors as well as a bit of grassy flavor from the thyme and Voila!

“When you are attracted to, and eat, fruits, occasionally a seed will be carried within you to a fertile ground.”
- David Wolfe

Sunday, July 26, 2015

My Ideal Meal

This was an interesting thought experiment I posed to myself. What would my ideal meal be if money, materials, and time were no object? My birthday is coming soon at the time of writing this post and I was wondering what I'd like to do for it. A nice hearty dinner has always been a tradition, but if I could have anything, from any restaurant, for any number of courses, along with any drink pairings, what would I want? To be clear, these are all items I've enjoyed individually in the past, though not necessarily together. While these are not all my favorite foods specifically, they are foods that hold some significance or nostalgia to me. I hope you enjoy it. What would you do for your greatest meal ever?

Drink 1: Americano
This is my staple before meal drink. It's light. It opens my palate. It won't compete with other flavors and it's one where I can sip it at any speed I like and on a hot day, it is truly refreshing. This drink was the first drink ever ordered by James Bond in Ian Flemming's novel, Casino Royale. I adore Campari so I knew I'd need that in my first drink as it is an aperitif. For the vermouth, I would prefer Vya, a new, Californian made, line of Vermouth. I might take it with regular soda, but I would prefer it with Perrier. It is worth mentioning that during the entire meal I would like a side of ice water. 

Appetizer: Cheese and Meat Plate
To follow up with the last bits of my cocktail, I would like to consume an array of cured meats and fine cheeses. I know I would require some prosciutto, ideally thin-sliced prosciutto de parma. Some of the meats must be a bit spiced, some properly made pepperoni, salami, or bologna. One of the greatest slices I've eaten recently was actually of duck prosciutto so I'd like a few slices of that, but not too many as it's quite rich. I'd like a bit of Roquefort, sheep's blue cheese, but again not too much. In contrast, I believe that some smoked brie or Pierre Robert would be in order. We may as well throw in some goat's milk cheese as well, some bucheron perhaps. Naturally, there would be a few other compliments such as candied walnuts and spicy stone mustard, along with bread, oil, and jam.

Drink 2 and 3: Sazerac & Fruh Kolsch
As I move from lighter flavors of cheese to some stronger flavors I opted for my ultimate favorite cocktail and a good all day drinking beer. Yes, a bit of double fisting here, but I would be sitting and having water as well. The Sazerac is really a favorite cocktail if I know I have a competent bartender tending to me. It's supposedly the first cocktail truly invented in the United States though there is much dispute over this. The original recipe supposedly called for cognac, and then started being cut with rye, until eventually it just became a rye whiskey cocktail, which is how I like it. I like Dad's Hat Rye with Grande Absente for the rinse. 

Fruh holds a special place in my heart as the first drink I ever had technically legally. Sorry, Herr Goetz but I had a few beers when I was on the school exchange in Germany. It was in violation of the school regulations, but it was worth it. A group of us students went out with the German students to Rhein Park and we drank. We got a case of Fruh and of something else, Spaten or Becks. I'd had plenty of beer before, even wine, and a few liquors. But there was something about that beer that made me feel good. This was the first where I really felt like that there was nothing wrong with it. We didn't have to hide it from anybody. I looked for this beer everywhere when I came to be of age in the United States to no success. It is in no way the best beer I've ever had, but it's a simple true pleasure. One particularly bad day I found myself at a bar and they had Fruh on draft. As I was drinking that beer all the awful things that were happening fell away.

Entree: Surf and Turf with Potatoes and Mac 'n' Cheese
You can never go wrong with two premium pieces of meat. Steak is one of those things that pair well with the heartier cheeses and my new refreshments. One of my favorite meals at my old job was a 9-ounce steak cooking in its own bloody juices topped with a disk of melted soft cheese, I forget which one at this time and a few potato medallions cooked in what I recall being duck fat. Like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, I typically take my steak bloody as hell. To pay homage to the song of a dear friend, I think I'd have a porterhouse. Though I'd take it pan-roasted to medium rare with butter and light seasoning. A really wet steak would not be best paired with my other dishes and sides.

I have a long-standing love of lobster. I remember being a boy and cooking live lobsters with my parents. My cat would fight them and my father would try to recreate the scene from Naked Gun 2 1/2. I remember visiting Cape Cod in the summers as a child and eventually coming to love ripping apart and eating the messy treat. A bit of melted butter to pair with a split lobster tail and two big fat cracked claws is all I could ask for were it to be paired with a steak as well. I imagine a 2-pound lobster would suffice for this.

I debated a long time what side or sides I would want with this main course. Potatoes were what came so naturally, it was almost a cliche. Baked potatoes were never my style. Roast potatoes in duck fat would easily be my ideal, but I always like mashed potatoes too. So I decided to have both. A half dozen or so baby potatoes split and fried to give them a nice crisp snap. Naturally, a little salt and pepper, possibly rosemary.

The mashed potatoes would require some mix-ins. A bit of garlic and cheddar cheese should suffice, but butter, cream, and other light flavors would be welcome. A nice creamy feeling to wash the palate. I don't care for them overly lumpy or fluffy. a nice creamy texture is what makes it my comfort food. I thought of incorporating bacon to the potatoes, but I thought that better suited to some pasta, or better yet, some Mac 'n' Cheese.

I firmly believe that the best macaroni and cheese is baked with bread crumbs on top, forming a crust. Bacon pieces should be incorporated, not bacon bits, pan-cooked bacon sliced to about 3/4". Also, nice long noodles please, while elbows and shells promote nostalgic thoughts of mom making Kraft or Velveeta, I believe, in this case, comfort food serves the function of providing the comfort. Oddly enough the cheese sauce blend isn't a real concern for me in this dish though I would like it not to be over watery, and preferably to have a little spice to it, a little warmth.

Drink 4: Patron Burdeos
I thought a very long time about what my after-dinner drink should be. Ideally, my previous two would hold through my main course spread. I thought of whiskey, port, amaro, or even a boozy milkshake kind of drink. While whiskey was my style, I thought it better suited to leave that to pair with the steak and not to be with dessert. Then I thought of brandy. No, that wouldn't be for me. While I like it, I knew there was something better. Then it hit me, the most wonderful drink I was privileged enough to taste as a gift when I did my first cocktail showcase. Patron Burdeos had the taste of fruit and wine from it's wonderful aging in the Bordeaux wine barrels. When you mix that with the proof of a good tequila you get a drink a is is better than cognac at being brandy. A snifter of this neat would be fitting for the last drink of the evening.

Dessert: Lava Cake, Ice Cream, Berries 
I needed some chocolate for dessert, but also a little more creaminess other than just cheese and butter. Lava cake is a great go-to dessert because it's never bad, but when it's good, it's tremendous. If the cake has a good crunch to the shell that almost cracks allowing the hot lava to flow out, then you have yourself an amazing cake. You naturally need some cold to go with that. So some vanilla ice cream, you can't beat a cliche sometimes. A few chilled strawberries, and maybe a few raspberries

I thought of doing a whole spread of every kind of food imaginable, but I knew much of it wouldn't pair together. So I opted for the most luxurious cohesive spread I could. A meal that would remain uncluttered was a necessity. I wouldn't want a volcano sushi roll with some barbeque pulled pork and creme brulee. It just would mesh right on any level, though all of those things are amazing on their own.

I thought I'd price this were I to order it at a restaurant assuming average markup and prices. I'd actually estimate this at a little over $200, maybe $240. A good chunk of that comes from just the Burdeos. Were I to make this on my own, excluding cooking costs, it may only cost about $65 if I shopped the deals available to me. Of course, that is by the ounce for cocktails and may be considerably higher than that if you factor in the cost of whole bottles and containers. But I think this meal would be worth that. In practicality, I might switch the Burdeos for something more practical, but this thought experiment was for the ideal meal.

"The meal isn't over when I'm full. The meal is over when I hate myself"
- Louis C.K.

Photo Credit: Flickr, Wikimedia, Pixabay

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wine Keys and Openers

Pull Corkscrew
This is the oldest style of wine bottle opener around. The style of it makes it look like it was some type of woodworking equipment. In short, you press the point in, screw the handle until it is deep enough. Grip the handle firmly and yank the cork out. The original design is of course very risky to use as it requires a very firm grip on the neck and shoulder of the bottle to be able to physically yank the cork out. These are the kind of screw you find Many times when an amateur tries to use this type of corkscrew they will drop the bottle and make all kinds of mess, especially if it's a bottle of white wine that's been chilled and has condensation on it. Some modifications were made over the years. Springs and levers and more form-fitting grips have helped, but they still tended to rely on physical strength to yank the cork out

Waiter's Wine Key
Give me a lever and a fulcrum and I can move the earth. Just about anyone who has worked in the service industry has used one of these at some point. They start as a sort of swiss army knife of handy bits. There's a blade for removing the foil around the cork. There is, of course, the metal helix on a hinge that screws in. What gives this little tool the nickname Waiter's Friend is not just the portability of the tool, it's that little extra piece of hinged metal which just makes the job so much easier. Once the metal helix is screwed in, you tilt the handle and bend down that metal plate so it presses against the top of the rim of the bottle. Carefully holding all parts in place, raise the open side of the handle levering out the cork. It takes so little effort compared to trying to pull it straight out.  It does take a little getting used to. You need to figure out just how deep to screw it in so that when you pull, the entire cork comes out. Some newer keys have a two-tiered metal plate. This allows the key to pull the cork part way out, and then finish the job with the whole length of the plate. 

Butterfly / Wing Corkscrew
These are the most common wine openers I find in your average home. This is a very novel modification to the standard cork pull. they simply took the standard corkscrew that had a brace on it and added some levers attached to gears so that it pries itself out rather than having to be yanked out. It maximizes efficiency and cuts the amount of force needed in half. simply position the screw at the top of the cork and twist the knob. If you have a firm grip on the base of the corkscrew and the bottle then it should screw in with very little resistance. As you screw the winged levers will raise. When you reach a sufficient depth firmly grasp the levers and press down. the cork will be forced out without much strain. Often times the twisting knob serves a second function of a beer bottle opener.

Rabbit Opener
This is a sexy piece of bar equipment. The advantage of this model is that it twists itself into the cork as you raise the handle. So all you have to do is grip the two ears, lift the lever up, and then pull it back down. When this works, they seem like the smoothest bottle opener I've ever worked with. But these are far more form over function I find. They are sexy and can impress your house guests, but sometimes they just don't work. The worm will slide in but then slide ride out without pulling the cork with it. I find the expense and bulk of this item to be impractical for a bartender though they do look pretty at home

Electric Wine Bottle Opener
I'm seeing more and more of these on the market today. Yet I don't see enough of them used in bars or even households. I think there's always been a certain charm to seeing a bottle opened by hand. While as an employee I like expediency in my work, as a guest I like the little ritual. They operate very much on the same system of the rabbit opener but use a battery to spin and pull the worm helix. Oddly enough, these tend to be cheaper than the rabbit openers. Yet, there's no lifting, twisting or squeezing necessary. I find these work very well for home use. The average battery would not be sustainable for a busy wine bar environment, only being able to open five bottles a day. I like these though, most brands work well and look very sexy sitting on the counter with the other appliances.

Coravin Wine System
These are a fairly new addition to the wine game. They use a small needle inserted through the cork of the wine bottle and a CO2 cartridge or draft pressure system to pressurize the wine bottle and force the wine through the needle. This is great for restaurants that don't want to open a bottle of wine which might not sell and could potentially spoil within days. It's also great for liquor reps. You draw out your glass or sample, remove the needle and the bottle remains sealed and preserved. For a regular consumer who doesn't need to worry about having an open bottle of wine sitting around the house for too long, this is not a necessity. 

"Wine is bottled poetry."
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Photo Credit: Pixabay, wikimedia

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Gin 201: The Different Botanicals

Juniper Berries
This is what gives gin that note of Christmas trees. All gins have to use juniper in order to be called gin. This goes way back to when gin was first invented and they started modifying the recipes from Dutch genever. Legally Juniper has to be the predominant flavor. That rich pine flavor actually comes from the fruit of the evergreen tree. Well, not really a fruit, but a seed or conifer cone. It also has slight notes of lavender and occasionally a touch of heather. Juniper is a very potent flavor and gins that are too juniper-forward tend to be very off-putting to the average drinker so a rounded, balanced gin is much more preferable for most distillers.

Cassia Bark
Cassia Bark is a close relative to cinnamon. Many people find that cassia has a slightly more delicate flavor though. It again comes from a breed of the evergreen tree this time originating in the south of China. Many gin makers source their cassia from other countries like Indonesia, Thailand. India, and Vietnam. Chinese Cassia does remain the most common. In gin, the freshly dried bark is typically ground to release as much of the flavorful oils as possible. Cassia bark supposedly is also good for blood pressure.

Angelica Root
Angelica root, sometimes known as wild celery, is grown widely in Northeast Europe. It does have its roots in the celery family, no pun intended but has a more woody vanilla smell. It blooms as a many-headed flower and is often harvested in the winter months. Angelica is rarely a dominant flavoring component; it is more being used as a balancing agent to bind the harmonies of various oils together. It does add a slight earthy tone but it more about providing a balance. Angelica is also used as medicine to fight viruses and bacteria.

Orris Root
Orris is really just a part of the Iris flower. This isn't used in the vast majority of gins but it is a fairly common component in more floral gins. Flavor wise it is very similar to violets. Tragically, due to its allergenic nature orris root was banned in many parts of Europe and the US, though this ban is mainly for cosmetics and scents. In gin production, the flower is harvested in late summer and made to dry a couple years before being ground. As with most gin ingredients Orris root has been used in medicine, in this case, it's helpful with sore throats and as an anti-inflammatory.

Coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant, also known as Chinese parsley or dhania. The entire cilantro plant is edible, stem seeds and leaves, but the vast majority of gin producers only use the seed. The flavor of the leaves and seeds are similar in a few regards but really have completely different profiles. It's worth mentioning that coriander seeds if consumed in severely high doses, can act as a narcotic. This goes away during gin production though. Coriander is probably the second most botanical in gin actually. Its flavor is a blend of citrus and sage. Its aroma is very akin to rose actually. Coriander in olden times was used to fight flatulence and arthritis.

Grains of Paradise
Grains of paradise are native to West Africa and Ethiopia. This area became known as The Pepper Coast. Grains are actually the seeds of a member of the ginger family. It's also known as Melegueta pepper, alligator pepper or Guinea pepper. These are often used in medicine as stimulants. The flavor is of course quite spicy and peppery, but the aroma is a bit more floral than your standard black pepper. Several centuries ago it was actually more common to use grains of paradise in cooking than pepper. Its use in gin was actually briefly banned in England for tricking people into thinking that the spirit was stronger than it really was.

Cardamom Pods
Cardamom is actually a member of the ginger family. It's native to southern India and is very hard to grow and cultivate aside from very hot climates like Tanzania and Guatemala. It is thus also one of the most expensive spices. 5000 years ago it was used in tooth cleaners and perfumes. Cardamom is widely used in South Asian cuisine, namely curries. There is black cardamom and green cardamom. Black has an almost peaty, smokey flavor while green is more floral, like the eucalyptus. Cardamom is a very warm flavor, slightly sweet, but very pungent.

Citrus Peel
The oils from lemon and orange peels are used very regularly in gin production. Almost everyone knows the flavor of citrus and it's very easy to place a citrus heavy gin. A fun fact is that the aroma molecules of a lemon are the mirror opposite of those of an orange. Citrus oils are great for a number of healing factors. It's good for the skin and also acts as a mild sedative, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic. Citrus was also used to fight scurvy which made it almost a necessity among British naval sailors, who popularized the gin and tonic. Another useful aspect of citrus is that it's helpful as a cleaning agent. That's right, lemon Pledge actually has a reason to be lemon scented. This actually makes a distillers job easier as the tanks don't get as dirty when citric acid is in the gin.

Other botanicals may include lemongrass, black peppercorn, cucumber, rose, cubeb berries. anise, licorice, almonds, grapefruit, chamomile, sarsaparilla, nutmeg, saffron

"The intense perfumes of the wild herbs as we trod them underfoot made us feel almost drunk."
- Jacqueline du Pre

Photo Credit: Wikimedia, Pixabay