Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

I'm not what you'd call a tiki carver by any stretch of the imagination. But with Halloween here and a load of pumpkins begging for the knife, I couldn't resist bringing a little South Seas fantasy to the traditional Jack-O-Lanterns.

Happy Halloween, ya'll.

With a tip of the hat to Trader Vic's Scorpion Bowl, here's a punch for just such a carving.

Skellington Bowl

6 oz fresh orange juice
5 ounces lemon juice
2 oz boiled cider
1 oz orgeat
.5 oz cinnamon syrup
6 ounces of light rum
1 oz brandy

Blend with two cups of crushed ice. Pour into the hollowed out pumpkin. Add ice cubes to fill, and insert 2 or 3 straws.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Boiled Cider, an Old New England Syrup

There is nothing especially technical about serving cider
if you bought it at the right place

and kept it cold long enough
for it to harden a little.

~ Louise Andrews Kent
Mrs. Appleyard’s Kitchen (1942)

Once the temperature dips, my thoughts turn to hearty meals. For the last fifteen years or so, that also means cider: sweet, hard, mulled, or boiled. If it's apple squeezin’s, I'm in. I’m not talking about distilling hard cider (though that has its own appeal and I particularly like Mrs. Appleyard’s commonsense approach to such things), but simply pouring fresh apple cider in a broad pot, turning on the heat, and letting it boil down until it becomes a sweet syrup.

There. That’s more or less the recipe.

Although lately I’ve been livening up cocktails with the stuff, it’s versatile syrup that’s put to good use in both sweet and savory dishes such as pies, baked beans, fools, wild rice pilafs, and pork roasts—even gingerbread. Bacon, oranges, and mustard are especially nice complements (see below for a boiled cider pie recipe).

For cocktails, I find that boiled cider goes particularly well with applejack, Calvados, brandy, and rum. I’m not in any particular rush to try it with gin, but let me know what you think if you give it a shot.

In more detail, here’s how to do it. Make it enough times and you’ll get to understand when to take it off the fire just by its smell, dark color, and thick consistency. Until then, cheat: Once the cider is in the pot, but before it comes to a boil, insert a cake tester, wooden BBQ skewer, or wooden chopstick straight down into it. This is your dipstick.

Mark the depth of the cider on the wood. Then mark half of that. Then mark half again. Then mark half of the last mark—this should be 1/8th the original height. Cook until the level is almost down to the last mark. You’re looking for about a 7:1 reduction. A little more or a little less isn’t going to hurt.

Boiled Cider

1 gallon/4 liters of fresh sweet cider

Pour the cider into a broad and deep heavy-bottomed pan (I use a large enameled Le Creuset Dutch oven). Turn heat to high.

Boil the cider, uncovered, until volume is reduced to just under 400ml (about half a whiskey bottle’s worth).

Let cool and bottle. I tend neither to filter or to refrigerate the syrup, but do as you please. In any event, keep it in a cool, dark place.

Right. That pie I mentioned.

Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts is my go-to dessert book. If I could only keep one dessert book out the whole library, this would be it. This, in fact, was the book that introduced me to boiled cider. Here’s an adaptation of his recipe. If you don’t have his book but enjoy cooking desserts, go get a copy.
New England Boiled Cider Pie
Adapted from Richard Sax (1994) Classic Home Desserts

1 unbaked pie crust
2/3 cup boiled cider
2 Tbl sugar, or to taste
2 Tbl plus 1 tsp unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbl fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs, well beaten
2 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and coarsely grated
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/8 tsp fresh-grated nutmeg
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for serving

Roll out pie dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8” thick and place into a buttered pie pan. Trim all but ¾” around pie, then turn edge under and make a fluted border, then chill in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C.

In a bowl, whisk together the boiled cider, sugar, melted butter, lemon juice, salt and eggs. Add the grated apples and stir to blend well. Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust, sprinkle with brown sugar and nutmeg and bake until the center is just set, about 50 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack and serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Goes well with:

Willis and Tina Wood’s family has been making their boiled cider since 1882. If you don’t feel like making your own, give them a jingle.

Wood’s Cider Mill
1482 Weathersfield Center Road
Springfield, VT 05156
P: 802.263.5547
Fax: 802.263.9674



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bar Food: Spanish Fig Cake

With San Diego temperatures plummeting to the mid-60’s, I can’t help but recall our decade in Philadelphia where—to make it through the harsh winters—I guzzled hot tea by the liter. Occasionally bits of Spanish fig cake helped. But it isn’t just for tea. As a bar snack or part of an appetizer spread, fig cake complements Manchego cheese, a slice of membrillo, and a small bowl of olives. It doesn’t hate a glass of sherry or port if you roll that way.

Now fig cake isn’t your typical baked cake like red velvet or a pound cake; it’s a dense little drum of dried figs mixed with Marcona almonds or sometimes hazelnuts. Done properly, it’s not overly sweet since there’s little more than figs and nuts in it. Mitica makes a popular version and Zingerman’s sells chucks of the stuff.

But there’s also a way to make it at home with no cooking at all.

While researching sweetened whiskeys this morning, I came across a recipe for A Spanish Dessert Treat in a 1904 English candy-making manual. Yeah, I said candy-making manual. I like sugar work and collect old candy books. You wanna make something of it?

The little brown tome bearing Alan Davidson’s fishy bookplate I picked up for a measly $30 from Bonnie Slotnik*. The Treat inside it was a dead ringer for the fig cake I knew back East.

This recipe calls for fresh bay leaves to be inserted between layers of the cake. It’s not just a matter of taste. Old importer guides and grocer manuals report that bay leaves packed in bundles of imported figs helped prevent insect infestation. Layer some in if you have access to fresh bay and like the taste. Dried sounds…unappetizing. Ignore Mrs. Rattray’s suggestions of gilding this particular lily with sugar.

A Spanish Dessert Treat

Split some fresh-dried figs of the best quality, “pulled figs” [see below] by preference, and arrange in each three or four split blanched almonds; close the fruit and put it in layers in a screw tin, such as a small brawn tin, or into a jar in which increasingly heavy weights can be put; between each layer put a few fresh bay-leaves; when the whole mass is perfectly solid, the pressure having been daily increased, lift it out and cut into slices with a sharp knife. These may be formed into the basis of a sweet, dusted with icing sugar, and decorated with royal icing.
Mrs. M. E. Rattray (1904)
Sweetmeat-Making at Home.
C. Arthur Pearson, London.

Pulled figs note: Since this is (at least) a 105-year old recipe from a British source, I hit the shelves to see what the Brits would have meant by “pulled figs” just as the 20th century was getting its sea legs. According to The British Pharmaceutical Codex (1907),
“Natural" figs are those which are packed loose and retain to some extent their original shape. “Pulled" figs have been kneaded and pulled to make them supple; these are usually packed into small boxes for exportation, and are considered to be the best variety. "Pressed” figs have been closely packed in boxes so that they are compressed into discs.
Snip off any remaining stems regardless of which kind of dried figs used.

*I’ve scored a few of Andy Smith’s discards from Bonnie as well. Few trips to New York are complete without a stop in her little used cookbook store. At least not when you’re a book geek like me.

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks
163 West Tenth Street
New York, New York 10014-3116
phone: 212-989-8962
fax: 212-989-8102

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First Annual Food Symposium and Literary Feast

This Saturday, October 24, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans is hosting its first annual food symposium. Museum director Liz Williams explains: “...The conference will focus on issues and trends in the culinary arts, memoir, food business, food history, farming and agriculture, restaurant business, and other aspects of food.” The inaugural theme is The World's Fairs in New Orleans and Inventing Creole and Cajun Cuisine.

Presentations cover:
  • The 1884 World’s Fair: Inventing Creole Cuisine;
  • Creole Food and the Works Progress Administration;
  • Creole and Cajun Food Demonstration, sponsored by the Intercontinental Hotel;
  • The 1984 World’s Fair: Reinventing Cajun and Creole Cuisine;
  • Food Writers and the Future of Cuisine.
Presenters include: Liz Williams, Gene Bourg, Susan Tucker, Rien Fertel, Paul Freedman, Sara Roahen, Judy Walker, Pableaux Johnson, and others.

Tale of the Cocktail attendees know that the Southern Food and Beverage Museum shares space with the our own little happy hour shrine, the Museum of the American Cocktail. Others might need a little help finding the place: Riverwalk is so big and the Poydras Street address is a little misleading. The museums are all the way over on the Julia Street entrance, next to the convention center on the upper floor.

Southern Food and Beverage Museum
1 Poydras Street #169
New Orleans, LA 70130
Phone: 504-569-0405
Fax: 504-587-7944

The cost is $85.00 per person ($75.00 for SoFAB members), with a student discount at $25 and $35. Directions for tickets are on SoFAB's website.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

William S. Burroughs’ Birthday Beer

It’s a stretch to say that William S. Burroughs was a friend. But back in the 90’s the writer and I were neighbors in Lawrence, Kansas. Matt Dillon, Allen Ginsberg, and Hunter S. Thompson showed up now and then and the novelist Scott Heim was kicking around town at the same time. No, Bill and I weren’t friends, but we knew each other and on rare occasions chatted over dinner.

As thanks for his hospitality, I made a special beer — Teufelkatzen — for his 80th birthday. Later, I found bottles and labels of Teufelkatzen in bars, in peoples’ homes, mementos of spending time with him. Bill never drank the beer I made for him, but he did pass it around. I even heard third-person stories of the private brewer who only made beer for Burroughs. A bottle of that stuff, I was told, was only for people he liked and trusted.

By the time I knew him, the crazy-ass junky was history. The mischievous old man with an avuncular smile whom I came to know had a fondness for guns and cats. His afternoon tipple was as questionable as a syringe of junk, though: vodka and flat Coke.

I found the recipe today, along with my sole remaining copy of a label, in an old file. Haven’t made it in years, but for the first time ever in print, here is the recipe for William S. Burroughs’ birthday beer. In the mid 1990’s, I was still making extract brews, so it’s an easy recipe.


8 lbs pale malt syrup
½ lb British crystal malt, crushed
1.5 oz Northern Brewers hops
½ Cascade hops
1 vial of lager yeast*

But the crushed crystal malt in a brew bag and add to 1.5 gallons of cold water in a boiler. Bring to a boil. Remove the grains and add the malt syrup and Northern Brewers hops. Boil for 45 minutes. At the 43 minute mark, add the Cascade hops.

While the beer is boiling, add 3 gallons of cool water to a fermentation vessel. When the wort finishes boiling, add it to the cool water in the fermentation vessel and top off with more cool water to make five gallons total volume. When the wort cools, pitch the yeast. Ferment to completion and bottle.

Makes about 2.5 cases.

* See White Labs page on yeasts for more info on pitching.

Goes well with:


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gather ‘Round, Ye Distillers

Two distillers’ events are coming up and I’m superbummed that I can’t make either of them. The first is nearly on us.

Up the coast in Portland, Oregon, the 2009 Great American Distillers Festival is gearing up. For a measly $16, attendees get two days of festivities and a fistful of tickets for samples. I always enjoy rubbing elbows with my friends who forge whiskey, brandy, and other less recognizable spirits, but throw in a cocktail mixing contest hosted by the Oregon Bartenders’ Guild and I shake my head in wonder for not packing a bag. A total of $1750 will be dispersed as prizes, so you know the bartenders will be flexing their shaker guns.

October 24-25th. Full details at The Great American Distillers’ Festival website.

The second shindig is the American Distilling Institute’s hands-on whiskey distilling workshop at Stillwater Spirits in Petaluma, CA December 7-11th. The price tag is little heftier ($3500), but Bill Owens promises tours of Anchor Distilling, St. George Spirits, and various “whiskey bars.”

Whiskey bars?

The five-day class includes:
  • Five night stay at the Metro Hotel (one block from Stillwater) and all meals (we have a good cook for the week)
  • Tuition, room & board
  • Tours of St. George Spirits Distillery, Anchor Distilling Co. and the finest San Francisco Whiskey bars
  • Distiller Jordan Via (Stillwater Spirits) on brewing, distilling and maturation
  • Brewer Bill Owens (ADI) on mashing and fermentation to create wash
  • Moylan's Brewery & Restaurant creation of wash in action
  • Legal session on how to obtain a DSP
  • Learn how to operate a Moonshine-style pot still and a five-plate Christian Carl Still
  • Whiskey, bourbon & moonshine tasting daily
  • Proofing session and hands-on bottling experience
Full details at the ADI website.