Monday, October 31, 2011

Dispatching Zombies for Halloween

They might not seem like much one at a time.
But in a group, all riled up and hungry?
Man, you 

~ Morgan to Rick Grimes
The Walking Dead

Halloween candles from Chicago's P.O.S.H.
Last Thursday, I bought candy — bags of candy — for tonight’s trick or treaters. We won’t get very many visitors, I know (there just aren’t that many young kids in our neighborhood), so I expected to have leftovers. What I didn’t expect was that the boys would devour nearly half the stash before Halloween. Yeah, ok, I may’ve helped.

Treats the neighborhood kids won’t be getting tonight, though, are our zombies. Seriously, now; it’s Halloween. What else are we gonna drink? After the recipe, check out Blair Reynolds of the Oregon Bartenders' Guild crank out a slightly tweaked version.

First, though, from Beachbum Berry’s Tiki+ app, here’s Don the Beachcomber’s midcentury version of this potent tiki classic. And a parting word of warning. As Morgan says above, these might not seem like much one at a time, but a bunch of them? Watch your ass.
Don the Beachcomber’s 1950 Zombie

1 oz lime juice
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz unsweetened pineapple juice
1 oz passion fruit syrup
1 oz gold Puerto Rican rum
1 oz white Puerto Rican rum
1 oz 151 Demerara rum
1 teaspoon brown sugar syrup
dash Angostura bitters
sprig of mint

Shake well with lots of crushed ice, pour into a tall glass. Garnish with mint sprig.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bookshelf: Bitters

It has become a cliché of modern bartending that bitters are to cocktails as salt is to soup. They are the seasoning, the ingredient that can turn merely acceptable drinks into stellar ones. Or, as one Filipino friend explained to another in a turn close to my heart, “Bitters are to cocktails as bay leaves are to adobo.” You may or may not be able to pinpoint the taste, but without it, everything has a certain flatness.

If you already make your own cocktail bitters, chances are that Brad Thomas Parsons’ recent book on the subject holds little new for you. On the other hand, if you’re just starting to dabble or don’t know where to begin, Bitters conveniently brings together a lot of material in one place. With no other bitters manual in print, one might even call it indispensable for the DIY cocktail enthusiast.

After some introductory remarks and history, Parsons dives into the meat of the matter with short profiles of some two dozen players in today’s bitters boom: Fee Brothers, Bittermans, The Bitter Truth, Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Bitters, Bar Keep Bitters, Scrappy’s, and more. Not a bad lineup considering that a decade ago, Angostura, Fee Brothers, and Peychaud’s were the three remaining bitters producers that survived Prohibition. He includes recipes for thirteen bitters such as apple, orange, rhubarb, coffee-pecan, and root beer bitters. A substantial collection of cocktail recipes using bitters — more than half the book — rounds out the pages.

Parsons clearly has spent much time obsessing over bitters; he interviews appropriate authorities and booze pundits, he includes the right companies and products, and he hits the high points of history. He’s done his homework. Yet there’s a clumsiness about his writing. After going on for some length about sassafras, for instance, Parsons calls for using it in a recipe — but what part of the plant? The powdered leaves he writes about? The root he mentions? They are as different as ham and bacon. Or consider this entry under Snake Oil Bitters: “Not much is known about this lineup of Brooklyn bitters or their creator...” Really? That’s either lazy or disingenuous.

The passage that prompted me to bark out in disbelief, though, is this:
Once I’ve sized up a joint, I’ll ask the bartender, “Do you make your own bitters?” More often than not, the answer is yes.
Oh, come on. Laudable as making bitters is, I guarantee you that the vast majority of American bartenders do no such thing. I can only imagine that this is a sampling error stemming from Parsons’ preference for places with what he deems “serious bar programs.” I like those places, too, but they're far from the only game in town.

While there are welcome lists of bittering and flavoring agents, there's no attempt to give them Linnaean names or even thumbnail descriptions. When plants' common names vary from place to place and related plants often parade under the same name, specifying genus and species is especially important, a convention one finds in the most useful gardening books and horticultural tomes. The lists entirely omit traditional bitters coloring agents such as sandalwood, Brazil wood, and cochineal. 

Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad to own a copy. If you’re into cocktails, you should get one, too, if only to understand this core ingredient better. Even if you have no intention to macerate, infuse, percolate, and use homemade bitters, there’s a wealth of recipes for cocktails using commercial examples. It's just that I would prefer to have seen a stronger editorial hand here, a more rigorous historical and scientific review before Bitters had gone to print. If I sound disappointed, it’s because the book is merely good; it could have been great.

From Brad Thomas Parsons’ Bitters, here’s his twist on cherry bitters, inspired by time in the Pacific Northwest. “Devil's club, sometimes known as Pacific ginseng,” he writes, “is a shrub that grows in North American forests with a cool, wet climate, and for me it instantly evokes memories of hiking the trails around Snoqualmie Falls. Rounded out with the addition of Oregon hazelnuts, this aromatic bitters takes me back to Seattle every time I add a dash or two to a drink.

Cherry-Hazelnut Bitters

Makes about 20 ounces

½ cup lightly toasted and skinned hazelnuts
½ cup dried tart or sour cherries
2 tablespoons devil's club root
½ tsp schizandra [sic] berries [see note]
½ tsp wild cherry bark
½ tsp cinchona bark
½ tsp cassia chips
¼ tsp chopped dried orange peel
3 star anise
2 cups 101-proof bourbon, or more as needed
1 cup water
2 tablespoons rich [2:1] syrup

Place all of the ingredients except for the bourbon, water, and rich syrup in a quart-sized Mason jar or other large glass container with a lid. Pour in the 2 cups of bourbon, adding more if necessary so that all the ingredients are covered. Seal the jar and store at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 2 weeks, shaking the jar once a day.

After 2 weeks, strain the liquid through a cheesecloth-lined funnel into a clean quart-sized jar to remove the solids. Repeat until all of the sediment has been filtered out. Squeeze the cheesecloth over the jar to release any excess liquid and transfer the solids to a small saucepan. Cover the jar and set aside.

Cover the solids in the saucepan with the water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover the saucepan, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool completely. Once cooled, add the contents of the saucepan (both liquid and solids) to another quart-sized Mason jar. Cover the jar and store at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 1 week, shaking the jar daily.

After 1 week, strain the jar with the liquid and solids through a cheesecloth-lined funnel into a clean quart-sized Mason jar. Repeat until all of the sediment has been filtered out. Discard the solids. Add this liquid to the jar containing the original bourbon solution.

Add the rich syrup to the jar and stir to incorporate, then cover and shake to fully dissolve the syrup.

Allow the mixture to stand at room temperature for 3 days. At the end of the 3 days, skim off any debris that floats to the surface and pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined funnel one last time to remove any solids.

Using a funnel, decant the bitters into smaller jars and label. If there's any sediment left in the bottles, or if the liquid is cloudy, give the bottle a shake before using. The bitters will keep indefinitely, but for optimum flavor use within a year.

Note: The schizandra [sic] berries called for are from the plant Schisandra chinensis, widely used in traditional Chinese medicine. Look for deep red dried berries in health food stores, spice shops, online shops, and in Korean markets, where it is sold as an ingredient for tea under the name omija. Go for whole berries rather than powdered for an easier time filtering.

Brad Thomas Parsons (2011)
Photos by Ed Anderson
Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas
240 pages (hardback)
Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 1580083595

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bookshelf: The American Cocktail

She was rather like one of those innocent-tasting American drinks which creep imperceptibly into your system so that, before you know what you're doing, you're starting out to reform the world by force if necessary and pausing on your way to tell the large man in the corner that, if he looks at you like that, you will knock his head off.

P.G. Wodehouse (1919)
My Man Jeeves

With Christmas less than two months off, we’re solidly into cookbook season. This year, that means cocktail books as well. Of those, a handful of new American drinks titles should be on the radar for the cocktail geek in your life (even if that happens to be you). We’ll take a look at some of them over the course of the next week.

First up is The American Cocktail by the editors of Imbibe magazine. Imbibe writing is spirits-heavy, but covers drinking broadly, so any given issue may have stories on tea, soda, coffee, wines, beer, cider, or even water. Producing a cocktail book was a natural course for them; I’m glad to see the editors finally got around to it.

Headnotes on fifty recipes in the book give historical context, ingredient notes, and drinks origins. The recipes themselves are from bartenders across the USA and are broken into areas of the country (The South, Northeast, Midwest, West, and West Coast) where regional ingredients from sassafras to huckleberries lend a sense of place to all of them. Without getting to the elaborate preparations of molecular mixology, the book gives a pretty representative look at what drinking looks like in craft cocktail bars around the country. Wisconsin Kringle syrup to liven up your brandy, anyone? What about a persimmon margarita?

An eight-page appendix of American craft distilleries is a particularly welcome addition, as is specifying particular spirits from local distilleries throughout the book. Yeah, yeah, distribution is limited for a lot of the spirits, so you can usually swap out the specific spirit with a similar one you’ve got on hand, but hats off to the bartenders and editors for making the point to call out local liquor in many of the recipes. Hunt around online; you can often find merchants willing to ship local wet goods to your door.

In the section on the South, spirits and wine director Shannon Healy at Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill — my old stomping grounds — deploys the North Carolina cherry flavored soda Cheerwine in a bittersweet cocktail called Big Bay Storm.
Big Bay Storm

1.25 oz Gosling's rum
.75 oz ounce pineapple juice
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
.75 oz Campari
Ice cubes
1 ounce Cheerwine soda

Combine the rum. Campari, lemon juice, and pineapple juice in a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake vigorously. Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with the Cheerwine. Stir to combine and garnish with the orange wheel.
From Portland, Oregon comes Evan Zimmerman’s North by Northwest cocktail, balancing apples in three forms (local brandy from Clear Creek Distillery, fresh-pressed juice, and apple butter) with lemon juice and Averna, a dark Italian amaro we use to good effect in dark Manhattans from time to time.
North by Northwest

1.5 oz Clear Creek apple brandy
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
.75 oz fresh-pressed apple juice
1 tsp apple butter
Ice cubes

Combine the brandy, lemon juice, apple juice, Averna, and apple butter in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake well and double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Editors of Imbibe Magazine (2011)
Photos by Sheri Giblin
The American Cocktail: 50 Recipes That Celebrate the Craft of Mixing Drinks from Coast to Coast
144 pages (hardback)
Chronicle Books
ISBN: 081187799X

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Drinking Cheerwine Like It's My Job

Moderation. I'm familiar with the concept, of course. But there are occasions when it just doesn't sit well.

Pinched from
The last time I left North Carolina, for instance, I drove off with nine cases of Cheerwine stowed in the trunk. Nine. I don't believe that, until that day, I'd bought nine cases of anything ever for myself at one go.

But while living near Chapel Hill I had picked up the habit of downing two or three of the cherry-flavored sodas each day. It's a distinctly North Carolina soda and just wasn't available where I was headed. That was going to be a hard habit to shake. As far as I knew, the stash in my trunk was going to have to last for months, maybe as much as a year if I...ugh...if I practiced a little moderation.

I'm not alone in my obsession; Tar Heel natives have doted on Cheerwine since 1917 and in a recent slideshow on fifty iconic Southern food brands, Garden & Gun magazine led with the red stuff. Recipes abound for using it in cakes, as a braising liquid for hams, in barbecue sauces, ice cream, and, increasingly, cocktails.

The batch I hauled away is long gone, but fortunately I no longer have to make a 2,500 mile trek to get what may well be my favorite soda. Here in Southern California, BevMo carries single bottles. The cost is a little more than I used to pay...but overall, it's cheaper than the interstate microimporting I used to do. To help find a source close to you, the soda company offers a zip code finder here and will ship it. Kegworks ships as well.

I never got around to braising a ham with the stuff or using it in a brine, but I admit that now that I have a source for it, it might be time for another case.

Or two. 

Caveat: I haven't seen anyone selling Cheerwine in plastic bottles online, but stick with glass bottles and cans. In North Carolina — and, admittedly, this was years ago, so things may have changed — the plastic bottles I bought often held flat soda, even when freshly opened. This was never a problem with cans and glass bottles.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Georgia Moonshine Raid Results in Arrests...What? Oh. Nevermind.

This summer, I wrote a bit on so-called legal moonshine (link below). I wrote a number of things  — some more clearly than others — but the take-home message was this:  if laws permitted the manufacture of moonshine, it would cease to exist. Furthermore, dubbing legally produced spirits "moonshine" invites trouble from the get-go. Yes, of course, the public will be curious. But we're also curious about car crashes, burning houses, and train wrecks. Doesn't mean we want to get involved.

Spinning curiosity into cash requires overcoming generations of not just curiosity, but actual fear about moonshine as well. This is the stuff, after all, that supposedly makes one go blind and kills people. Marketing wholesome, tax-paid liquor as moonshine can be done successfully, but distillers and marketers who chose to try their hands at it would do well to think hard about why they'd want to do that, the makeup of their target audiences, and possible alternatives before forging ahead.

And there's the possibility that federal agents will want to arrest your ass.

Just ask Dwight Bearden, operations overseer of the Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery in Dawsonsville, Georgia. This past Friday, agents showed up on reports that moonshine was being made at the yet-to-open distillery.

I don't know whether the informant was just a spiteful prankster or simply ignorant, but the location of the distillery should've been a tip-off to the feds that they might take the complaint with a grain of salt: Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery is located smack-dab in Dawsonville's city hall.

In the end, the distillery was cleared of any moonshine selling, sampling, or production. The still is not yet complete, so, no, they weren't making any. Of course, a different business name might've prevented all that nonsense in the first place...but then this may just be PR gold. "Did I ever tell you," the story will one day go "about the time the feds almost shut us down?"

Best of luck to you, Mr. Bearden! We'll be keeping an eye on your progress.

Goes well with:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Charles Bukowski Stamps

Somewhere in storage, I've still got an armload of Charles Bukowski books, most of them autographed. Over the years, I've given some away as gifts. Others just languish in the dark. I thought at one time that if I ever had trouble paying rent, I could pawn them off on Hank Chinaski enthusiasts for some extra scratch. Held onto some very old Lovecraft books and autographed Burroughs, too, for the same reason.

There was a time when I was enamored of his writing. Jaw-dropping amounts of booze, gambling, and desperation. Loose women and soul-draining work. During long, snowbound Midwestern winters, the Southern California he described, even with its bums, drunks, adulterers, addicts, and assorted losers, held an almost aching grip on my imagination.

Here's the deal about Bukowski, though: once you've read ten of his stories (any ten: pick 'em), you've pretty much read his entire oeuvre. Despite his sometimes mesmerizing use of English, there's only so much I can read about an alcoholic's inside take on bleeding ulcers, distended livers, and drunk-tank vomit before I wonder...what else have you got?

So I stopped buying Bukowski books. Stopped reading the ones I own. I still got a smile today, though, when I was digging through old papers and found my long-lost Bukowski stamps.

These aren't supposed to exist.

Bukowski spent nearly 15 years working for the US Postal Service. His novel Post Office is an autobiographical take on those awful years and remains perhaps his best-known work. Although one hears occasional rumblings about the possibility of an official USPS Bukowski stamp, that hasn't happened. These stamps are a bit of subversive art I picked up in New York back in the 1990's and made to look like actual postage stamps, complete with a little Glassine sleeve. They are an homage to America's most famous real-life postal worker, if not our most celebrated alcoholic.

Maybe I'll trade them for a bottle of Thomas H. Handy rye. I'm pretty sure he'd approve...

Goes well with:
  • I've always enjoyed pseudobiblia, the books and ephemera from our literary past said to exist, but sprung entirely from an author's imagination. Lovecraft's Necronomicon, for instance, falls into this category, as does The Courier's Tragedy, a fictional Jacobean revenge play written by the equally fictional Richard Wharfinger in Thomas Pynchon's very real The Crying of Lot 49. In the novel, ancient secret rival postal services operate under the very noses of us hoi poloi. Had anyone actually affixed Bukowski stamps to envelopes back when postage was only 29 cents and mailed them, they would've fit right in the paranoid world of Miss Oepida Maas. 
  • What Do You Want from the Liquor Store?, a bit I wrote about Ted Hawkins' fantastic song Sorry You're Sick after hearing it on This American Life. Hawkins' performance and links included. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bacon Dumplings for a Wicked Hangover

Though I make Speckklöße only, at best, once a year, I lust after them each and every week. Speckwhat? Think of them as bacon dumplings. Think of them, also, as restorative after a night of debauchery and something you can make almost on autopilot. Hot, cheap, smoky, lightly greasy, carb-heavy with bacon’s ineffable umami loveliness, and better than aspirin when that bottle you hit last night smacks you right back. I could eat a dozen. Which is about how many this recipe makes.

Dumpling eaters. Don't make yours so big.
In Germany, Klöße and Knödl are names for poached dumplings made from potatoes, semolina, yesterday’s bread, flour, breadcrumbs, even crumbled dry pretzels. These dry ingredients are softened with stock, milk, or other liquids and are generally bound with eggs and flavored with fruits, nuts, or various proteins such as fish, cracklings, or — in this case — bacon.

Sidestepping the intricacies both of territorial nomenclature and of nearly infinite dumpling species, we’ll call these simply “Klöße.” That weird character, that ß, represents a sound we often make in English, but for which we don’t have a single character. It’s called an eszett and is pronounced like a double-s, so you’ll see these sometimes as Kloss (singular) or Klosse (plural). Speck is smoked bacon so Speck-Klöße are simply bacon dumplings.

Like all the German foods I ate growing up, I learned to make these in the American Midwest where German, Swiss, and Austrian bakeries, Konditoreien, sausage shops, and butchers were commonplace and the Germanic (or, as we called it, “Dutchy”) influence on home cooking was pervasive. The older I get, the less I eat the German foods of my youth. But as I work through our bacon inventory, I’ve been building a craving for a bowl of Speckklöße.

Today, I capitulated.


The recipe calls for simmering the dumplings. Seriously: simmer. If you boil these, they are likely just to fall apart in the pot. Edible, but in the same way a fistful of dough is.

3” square of slab bacon, diced into tiny cubes (about 8 slices if using pre-sliced)
1 medium loaf of crusty bread
1 cup/250ml hot milk
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper
q.s. rich chicken stock

Cut the loaf into slices (crust or no crust: your call, but save the cumbs) and pour the hot milk over them in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or a cutting board (careful that it doesn't tip the bowl) to keep in the heat and moisture. Fry the bacon pieces in a medium pan. When the bacon is browned, pour it, grease and all, over the soaking bread in the bowl. When the mixture cools, add the eggs, salt, and pepper. Mix gently but thoroughly.

Shape into small round dumplings about 1.5”/4cm in diameter. If they seem too wet, add some of the reserved breadcrumbs or even a small bit of flour. If they’re too dry, add a bit of stock. Then simmer the dumplings gently in rich chicken stock (I flavor my stock with roasted garlic and cumin) until they float and are cooked through (about 10-15 minutes).

Serve hot in shallow bowls with some of the stock.


About the bacon: Use the very best you can find. I like slab bacon, but pre-sliced is fine. Allan Benton’s stuff is amazing, but if you’ve got a local shop making or selling high-quality smoked pork belly, by all means shop there. And do check out Maynard Davies' Manual of a Traditional Bacon Curer.

About the bread: It’s easier to get good cupcakes in San Diego than good bread. Fortunately, we have Bread & Cie, a bakery that consistently puts out the sorts of high-quality breads I knew in the Midwest, on the East coast, and in Europe. Go for something with some character, a tight crumb, and a crisp crust. By all means, use flavored breads if you want to experiment; just keep in mind the effect that things like olives, rosemary, or jalapenos may have on the final dish.

For that matter, you can play with the poaching liquid. I find the idea repugnant, but you could — if you possess the perversity to do such things — swap out the bacon with country ham and poach these in coffee as a red-eye dumpling concoction. But beef stock, fumé, and vegetable stocks are all fine. Water, too, in a pinch, if it’s salted. Deep-fried in fat takes it an entirely different, though no less delicious, direction. Want to sauté some onion and include it in the dumplings? In. Got cracklings from rendering your own goose fat? In. Knock yourself out.

The version above is the no-frills classic I prefer at home, but there’s no reason not to take the basic idea and run with it.

Lord knows the Germans have.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On the Road

Locals say black wooly worms are a sign of cold winter to come.
I've been in Kansas City all week and jet off to Chicago in a few hours, then back to warm, sunny San Diego.

And, man, my bones are aching for it. When I woke at 5 this morning, it was just a hair over 40°F outside. I know, I know; that's not cold. But for me, it's on the harsh side of brisk. And, frankly, if I were to put on some socks and fire up the tea pot, I'd feel a lot more cozy. I'll get on that in a minute.

Meanwhile, I'm repacking and planning my attack on the Windy City, one sure to include cured meats, sausages, and distilled and fermented beverages. Ooo, and bakeries. San Diego may be warm, but we lack for solid, old-world style bakeries.

I'll be back soon. There will be a recipe for hangover dumplings, some food book news, and that thing I did with Chartreuse (or, rather, in which I was an all-too willing accomplice while watching cartoons at a Kansas City gay bar).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Smooth and Creamy Pâté

My introduction to Nigel Slater’s writing was at Kitchen Arts & Letters, Nach Waxman’s cookbook store in New York. Its manager, Matt Sartwell, understood my tastes and my interest in titles from Europe, Latin America, and Asia. He also understood that I was willing to pay more for such imported books because they were often more interesting than so many of the latest American offerings. Or, at least, the titles in that particular store were.

Once, nearly ten years ago, I was browsing the shelves and making a small pile of books to take home when Sartwell asked me if I’d heard of Slater. The name was only vaguely familiar. British was all I could come up with, perhaps a columnist. “His earlier books weren’t anything special,” I recall him explaining as he took a book from the shelf “But his latest one” — and here he pulled an old clerks' trick by placing it in my hand — “is quite good. He writes like you talk.”

I wasn’t at all convinced that anything resembling more of me was something the world needed.

But I humored Sartwell and flipped through the book. The more I plucked through its pages, the more I realized that this guy did write a lot like I speak. Not entirely. Maybe a bit more floral and breezy than I might be. His ingredients, tastes, and methods of cooking, though, as well as a casual style that puts less emphasis on exactitude than on appropriateness, was uncannily similar to my own. He wrote of “enough” butter, glugs of brandy, and splashes of wine. Commonsense in a way that made me appreciate just how uncommon sense truly is.

I added the book to the pile. Some books in my library I don’t open for years on end. Not a month goes by, though, that I don’t crack open Slater’s Appetite for inspiration. Still on my Braunschweiger high, I was craving a bit of liver sausage. For wont of a proper smoker here at the house, though, braunschweiger was out. Chicken liver it was, then.

The milk was whole, the brandy from Jepson (which I wrote about here), and the schmear photo is mine. The rest of this is all Slater (sounding freakishly like me):

A Smooth and Creamy Pâté

There is a constantly recurring lunch in my house that consists of little more than deli shopping laid out on the kitchen table, eaten from its wrappers and cartons. It is a Saturday morning thing, really. Hunks of bread, either freshly baked sourdough or a crisp ficelle, some tiny, purple-black olives, miniature gherkins, a knobbly salami, and a couple of fat wedges of cheese are pretty much what we seem to have. Yet it is a favorite meal, one I enjoy as much as any other, I like a pear with mine, too, or a huge bunch of sweet, muscaty grapes. The star of such a meal is often a white china dish of homemade pâté to go with the little gherkins, or cornichons as they seem to be called nowadays. It is so difficult—almost impossible—to find a commercial pâté that is both velvety and pink enough that I think it worth making your own. The method that follows may sound pedantic, but it is small points such as the sieving after the initial blending that make the difference between a good pâté and one that is truly sublime. Some swamp-green canned peppercorns, hot, soft, and addictive, to scatter on as you eat will bring untold rewards.

Enough for 6
chicken livers—about 14 ounces
milk—enough to soak the livers in
butter—½ cup, plus ¼ cup at the very end
whipping cream—6 tablespoons
brandy [Jepson Rare Alembic Brandy]

Trim any dark or green bits from the livers, cover them in milk, and leave them for thirty minutes. This will rid them of any bitterness. Soften two-thirds of the ½ cup butter, not so far as to melt it, but just so it takes a finger easily. Melt the remaining third in a shallow pan. When it starts to foam, drop in the livers, drained of their milk [and blotted dry on paper towels]. Take care—they will spit at you. Let them develop a pale, golden crust on one side, then turn them over and do the same to the other. It is essential that the butter is hot enough for this to take only a few minutes, otherwise, the center will not stay pink and the pâté will lose its magic.

Now tip the livers, their butter, the softened butter, and a generous seasoning of salt and black pepper into a blender or food processor with the cream, and blitz to a smooth puree. Pour a couple of good glugs of brandy into the empty pan, put it over the heat, and bring to a boil so the alcohol burns off (some people ignite it at this point, but I have never found it makes that much difference). Pour the brandy into the creamed chicken livers and continue to blitz. No matter how much you whiz the pate there will still be some graininess, but it should remain pink.

Now, using a rubber spatula, push the mixture through a stainless steel sieve into a bowl. I know this is deeply boring, and the sieve is yet another thing to wash up, but it really does make a crucial difference to the pâté, turning the grainy and the mundane into the blissfully velvety. The point is to have as smooth a texture as possible, and you can only get that by sieving. Scrape the whole lot into a terrine or bowl, smooth the top, and put it in the fridge to set.

Half an hour later, and no longer because the mixture will discolor, melt the ¼ cup of butter and scrape off the froth that rises to the surface. Pour the butter over the pate and return it to the fridge to set. I tend to leave mine for most of the day or overnight, but it should be ready in three or four hours. It will keep for a day or two.
Details for the American edition:

Nigel Slater (2002)
Appetite: So What Do You Want to Eat Today?
448 pages (hardback)
Clarkson Potter
ISBN: 0609610783

Goes well with:
  • A trip to Kitchen Arts & Letters (1435 Lexington Avenue, New York City, 212.876.5550,
  • Jepson made the brandy I used to great effect in our quince-infused brandy.  At $19.99, it was a steal. Peel your eyes and keep 'em peeled for that price at Trader Joe's in case they ever score a great deal on it again. 
  • Jennifer McLagan's new book on offal cookery, Odd Bits. I recommend this one less because there's any particular resonance between the writing styles of McLagan and Slater than because of the odd bit recipes I yoiked from each.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Muoi Thien Huong

Not long ago, I made a huge batch of boiled shrimp for the boys — more than could be downed in one sitting. I was a little taken aback that anything was left at all, but, to be fair, the pot had been brimming with not merely shrimp, but cobs of corn, fat links of smoked sausage, garlic heads, and more, all seasoned with a satchel of South Louisiana spices.

Leftover shrimp aren't exactly a curse, but they were already cooked, so they wouldn’t work in gumbo the way I make it. I was thinking of a simple salt-and-pepper treatment I’d done on shrimp last year when Luke Nguyen sprung to mind. For the last several weeks, I’d been reading the recipes of this Vietnamese-Australian cook, author, and culinary explorer; his muoi thien huong (salt-and-pepper seasoning) seemed a perfect fit.

Within five minutes, I’d cranked out a batch of Nguyen’s simple seasoning laced with ginger and five-spice powder, sliced two limes, dumped a handful of cold cooked shrimp on a plate, and started dipping.

I ate alone. There would be no leftovers this time. Nobody saw my smiles.

From Secrets of the Red Lantern (in which it's also deployed with shrimp), here’s Nguyen’s
Muoi Thien Huong
(salt and pepper seasoning mix)

1 Tbl salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp five-spice powder

Mix thoroughly and store in an airtight container
Afterwards, in the wake of my speedboat gluttony, I realized the rice noodles in the cabinet would’ve made a nice complement, maybe with a splash of fish sauce and fresh mint.

Ah well. There will be extra shrimp next time, too.

Pauline Nguyen, Luke Nguyen, and Mark Jensen (2008)
Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Vietnamese Recipes from the Heart
344 pages (hardback)
Andrews McMeel Publishing
ISBN: 0740777432

Goes well with:
  • Easy Shrimp, a stripped-down version of the above from last year for an even more streamlined way of dealing with leftover shrimp.
  • Shrimp aren't the only Vietnamese thing that makes me smile.  The fish sauce fried chicken wings at Pok Pok in Portland were, hands down, the culinary revelation of the year. We dispatched an inordinate number of chickens replicating the recipe.
  • When I boil shrimp South Louisiana style, I dink with his his ingredients and proportions, but Chuck Taggart's seafood boil seasoning recipe over at Gumbo Pages is the backbone of what goes into my own pot. 
  • Two other seasoning/spice mixes, one from Hungarian Louis Szathmary and one from Donald Link of Cochon in New Orleans. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Kruidnoten Liqueur, A Genever Recipe

Hiram Walker makes a gingerbread liqueur, biscotti-flavored cordial is not unheard of, and in his The Joy of Mixology Gaz Regan gives a recipe for a Jägermeister-spiked Oatmeal Cookie cocktail. Americans, though, simply don’t make cookie-flavored cocktails and cordials at home. Not often, anyway.

Fitting then, that the Dutch — who, after all, ran the first commercial still in America in the 17th century and gave us our word cookie — have a recipe combining the two. In a post last month, Lizet Kruyff relates a recipe for kruidnotenlikeur from Maak van de noot een deugd (roughly “Make a virtue out of nothing”), a new Dutch cookbook devoted entirely to cooking with kruidnoten.

Kruidnoten are tiny gingerbread cookies, cousins to the Christmastime specialty peppernuts. A direct translation is "spice nuts" but "nuts" refers to their diminutive size; they are no more likely to contain nuts than are peppernuts (or doughnuts, for that matter). Typical spices in the little cookies include ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, white pepper, cloves, and coriander, but such things vary with the baker.

With the help of Renée de Vries, an internet specialist at the University of Amsterdam, I tracked down online excerpts from the book. Why? Well, because Kruyff’s blog calls for 12 liters of genever, a Dutch spirit enjoying a modest renaissance in the US. Even counting my personal stash of current and vintage bottlings, there are probably not 12 liters of the stuff in our entire neighborhood. Plus only 500 grams of sugar to make a cordial with that much liquor? Something is not right. A look at the original reveals that her "12" liters is actually "1/2" liter. Big difference.

My somewhat loose and streamlined translation follows. For sticklers, see the original recipe below. Kruyff suggests both using white rum as an optional base spirit and, if you're so inclined, adding a splash of cream after the maceration. The original recipe notes that you can use cane sugar for a "warmer" taste and darker color.
Kruidnoten Liqueur

1/2 liter jonge genever or vodka
3 handsful of kruidnoten
200ml water
500 grams of cane sugar

Push the kruidnoten through the bottle's opening. Put the bottle away for about six weeks in a dark closet. Give the bottle a shake now and then to show it who's boss and so that the flavors can blend. Do not worry if it looks nasty.

After six or seven weeks, strain through cheesecloth or a clean tea towel into another bottle. Do this again if you doubt whether particles remain.

Make the syrup. Put the sugar and water in a saucepan with a thick bottom. Bring to the boil, stirring. Stir until all sugar is dissolved. Let cool, mix with the kruidnoten infusion and pour into a pretty bottle.

Karin Sitalsing, Marije Sietsma en Helga de Graaf (2011)
Maak van de noot een deugd: koken met kruidnoten
120 pages (hardback)
ISBN: 9081764802
€ 17,95