Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dry Curaçao Ancienne Méthode

Brad Farran's Julius Orange
We like orange liqueurs at the Whiskey Forge. For decades, we’ve relied on those two old stalwarts, Cointreau and Grand Marnier. Cointreau in particular is a workhorse around here. When Mandarine Napoleon showed up on local shelves, I added that to the rotation. Solerno, a blood orange liqueur, is an interesting twist; we like it in cobblers. But perhaps my favorite of the lot is Dry Curaçao Ancienne Méthode from Cognac Ferrand.

Ferrand’s curaçao, a blend of cognac, vanilla, and citrus peels, is based on a 19th century recipe and made in consultation with drinks historian, David Wondrich. The Floating Rum Shack gives the backstory of how the brand came to be. We use it in punches, Mai Tais, with gin, with whiskey. It’s just a beautifully balanced, superbly well-done orange liqueur that’s earned a permanent place on our copper-topped dry sink.

New York bartender Brad Farran gave a recipe for Orange Jul…erm…Julius Orange in a Wall Street Journal piece last summer. I admit; the result is a lot like a boozy version of that shopping mall favorite.

Julius Orange 
2 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao Ancienne Méthode
½ oz Cruzan Single Barrel Rum½ oz lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla syrup
½ tsp sugar cane syrup
1 dash orange bitters
½ oz heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg 
Combine liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker, adding cream last. Shake hard with ice. Strain into a rocks glass over crushed ice. Garnish with nutmeg.
Something lighter, without the sugar and cream, is the Alabazam. I pinched the recipe from 19th century bartender William “The Only William” Schmidt and upped the curacao just a bit to really bring it forward. For the original, see his 1891 bartending manual, The Flowing Bowl.
2 oz brandy
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao Ancienne Méthode
.25 oz simple syrup
Two dashes Angostura bitters
Soda water (Q or Fever Tree)
Fill a tall highball glass two-thirds with crushed ice. Shake all the ingredients except the soda water with ice. Strain into the serving glass, top with soda, and stir.
Goes well with:

  • If Orange Julius-type drinks get you going, but you'd prefer one without the booze, try Kenny Shopsin's take on them with fresh orange juice, powdered egg whites, powdered sugar, and crushed ice.
  • That cobbler with Solerno I mentioned? It's very nice with Lillet, as served from time to time at San Diego's Polite Provisions. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Bit of Seed Cake

Knock around old American and English cookbooks and household manuscripts for any length of time and you’ll come across recipe after recipe for seed cake. Not poppy seed cake, mind you; that still has adherents. Rather, I mean a decidedly more old-fashioned seed cake, dating to at least the 17th century, in which the nutty, musty, vaguely anise-like smack of caraway infuses the whole thing.

Yeah, yeah. You’ve had caraway in rye bread, maybe sauerkraut, goulash, or some cheeses. It’s integral to the taste of a Reuben sandwich, but those are all savory. It’s out of place in a sweet, right? Look, if you hate all those things, then skip seed cake; it might be caraway itself you don’t like. But if you do like them and just had never given any thought to sweetness and caraway, give it a try in cake.

Not just any cake, though. Not fancy, multi-tiered, extravagantly decorated cakes. Simple. In fact, the old recipes are essentially pound cakes with a small amount of caraway tossed in. I can’t quite emphasize that enough: a small amount. Poppy seed cakes sometimes call for so much of the blue-black seeds that they look as if someone dropped slices into a cinder pile. A caraway seed cake, on the other hand, should have a light scattering of seeds (fruits, really, but we call them seeds) peeking out of each slice. A teaspoon — at most one and a half — is enough to flavor a three-pound cake.

When I made a loaf yesterday, I overcooked it a bit when I was pulled away by a phone call from a UK distiller — the edges are a bit crusty, but the interior remains moist. Keep a closer eye on your cake than I did mine. And maybe turn off the phone.

Hundreds of recipes are available from the past several centuries, but contemporary chef Fergus Henderson of the London restaurant St. John has got a bit of reputation for his version which he pairs with a glass of Madeira. Me? I take mine with hot black tea.
Seed Cake 
9 oz/260g soft unsalted butter
9 oz/260g caster sugar
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
5 eggs, beaten
11 oz flour, sieved
1 Tbl baking powder
¼ tsp salt
5 oz/150ml full-fat milk (or use 4 parts whole milk, one part heavy cream) 
Grease a 16 x 10 x 8cm loaf tin with butter and line the base and sides with baking parchment. 
Cream the butter, sugar and caraways together either with an electric mixer or in a bowl with a wooden spoon until they are white and fluffy. Gradually mix in the beaten eggs, adding them little by little to prevent curdling. Then sift in the flour and mix until incorporated. Lastly add the milk. 
Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and bake in an oven preheated to 350°F/180°C/ for 45-50 minutes or until it is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out

~ From Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gallatly (2007) 
  Beyond Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking Part II

Goes well with:
  • Nigel Slater, another British writer, has a number of books out now. I've got UK editions of all of them. He's worth tracking down. Here was my introduction to his writing (and a recipe for chicken liver pâté). Why UK editions? When possible, I prefer them, especially since I use a combination of eyeballing ingredients and weighing them on a kitchen scale. American editions of books by metric-using authors, on the other hand, have such clunky, bizarre measurements: 2/3 cups plus 1 and one-half tablespoon of flour. What? Did...did you mean 100 grams? Intolerance for making things harder and more complicated might be a carryover from my science background.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sausage Biscuits for a Party

What is that ring? Scroll to the end.
The weather has turned. The ungodly, soul-sucking heat that followed me on travels in the last two months has broken. Finally, the idea of turning on the oven isn’t the suicidal notion it was just a few weeks ago. Sunday, we made cookies. Last night: a side of salmon quickly roasted with Irish butter, a scattering of salt and pepper, and a few dollops of pesto. And then there’re sausage biscuits.

My California friends talk a good game about their gym routines and diets; low-fat, low-carb, gluten-free, and all that. Whatever. If I put out a basket of sausage biscuits at some shindig at the house, they’re gone.

Nothing fancy, little cocktail nibbles like these are common throughout the South and the variations are Legion. Sausage patties tucked into split biscuits are a bit more substantial as breakfast sandwiches nationwide, but these are smaller — just a bit smaller than a table tennis ball — and have nuggets of of crumbled, cooked country sausage throughout. Unlike the little deep-fried bitterballen I like to make at the last minute and serve with mustard, these biscuits can be made days ahead of time and are good just as-is.

John Martin Taylor gives a version in Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking with a rich cheese-and-flour dough a lot like what Southern cooks might use for cheese straws, another party staple. It’s his recipe I use. The sausage you want is pork, the kind with sage, black pepper, and almost too much crushed red chiles. I don't bother with the pecan halves, but you do what you like.

These go well with beer, whiskey, Champagne, more biscuits, and French 75 cocktails. And maybe more beer. And just one more biscuit.

After all, it’s back and shoulders day. Gotta load up on protein.
Sausage Biscuits  
1 pound country sausage
6 ounces (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1½ cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp salt
1½ cups plus about 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
Perfect pecan halves (optional) 
Fry the sausage over medium-high heat until it is cooked through, drain, and allow to cool. Cream the butter and cheeses together. Sift the salt and flour together over the cheese mixture and blend together with a wooden spoon or spatula. Crumble the sausage and mix it in with your hands. Chill the dough for about 30 minutes. 
Heat the oven to 350°F/175°C. Pinch off small pieces of the dough and roll them into 1-inch balls. Place the balls about an inch apart on baking sheets [use baking parchment or a silicone baking sheet if you like, but they're not strictly necessary]. If desired, top some or all of the balls with perfect pecan halves, pushing the pecan into the dough and flattening the balls. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until they begin to brown. Serve warm or at room temperature. 
Store in airtight containers for no more than 1 week.

~ From Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking: 
Recipes and Ruminations from Charleston and the Carolina Coastal Plain (2012).

While baking, the biscuits will throw off crispy, melty cheesy bits in a sort of crunchy brown halo surrounding each. Throw them out if you want, but canny eaters will toss them into a gratin crust, a sweet potato mash, or a bacon-and-spinach salad. 

Goes well with:
  • What else is Hoppin' John up to? Check out his blog or order some of his stone-ground grits.
  • A simple pork sausage. If you use this recipe rather than buying pre-made sausage, omit the fennel and Worcestershire sauce, add rubbed sage, and up the quantities of black pepper and red chiles. Grind finely.
  • And if you are into making your own sausages, check out Elise Hannemann's Liverwurst, a 1904  German recipe that uses ground bacon in the mix, resulting in what Americans would recognize as homemade Braunschweiger. 
  • If pork and homemade charcuterie's not your bag, how about bread? My dad makes a pretty righteous loaf of dense onion rye bread
  • Lastly, you may still be seeing peaches in the stores. The season's mostly gone for us, but those left will still make good jam, perfect for slathering on non-sausage, plain ol' buttermilk biscuits. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Tomato Sausages

Just a handful of our tomato glut
After an early but slow start to our tomato season back in May, the plants are in full production mode now, pumping out newly ripe tomatoes every day. We've done our best to stay on top of the onslaught with BLT sandwiches, Caprese salads, green salads, chopped salads, and pasta sauces. I've snacked on the little cherry tomatoes out of hand like they were candy. Just this weekend, we seemed finally ahead of the recent glut with just a few tomatoes left in the kitchen.

I even wondered, as I put the finishing touches on an article Friday, whether there were enough tomatoes to use in a salad for dinner that night. I shouldn't have worried.

From the back of the house I heard the door close and, a few seconds later, the gentle thud of a stainless steel bowl against the granite counter in the kitchen. Investigation revealed: more tomatoes. The huge mixing bowl couldn't even contain all the new harvest. Tomatoes overflowed onto the counter; little cherry tomatoes and fat, ribbed Brandywines, bigger than my fist, all ready to go. Others were lined up, not quite ripe enough, but near enough to bring them inside before squirrels feast on them.

What the hell will I do with all these? More and more — and more — tomatoes every day. Then I remembered a short recipe from an old manual in the library that uses tomatoes and finely crushed crackers to augment fresh pork sausages.

The red paste of tomato pulp and crackers is an example of a panade: bread mixed with milk, stock, or other another liquid. The technique is common for making meatballs, meatloaf, and a variety of sausages, helping them remain moist after cooking — and add a bit of flavor.

I don't usually make sausage in the summer, but this may be just the recipe that'll inspire me to haul my stuffer down from the attic to inaugurate the coming of Autumn.

From A. W. Fulton's 1902 Home Pork Making, here's
Tomato Sausages 
Add one and one-half pounds pulp of choice ripe tomatoes to every seven pounds of sausage meat, using an addition of one pound of finely crushed crackers, the last named previously mixed with a quart of water and allowed to stand for some time before using. Add the mixture of tomato and cracker powder gradually to the meat while the latter is being chopped. Season well and cook thoroughly.
Goes well with:
  • My hearty recommendation of Maynard Davies' Manual of a Bacon Curer.  If you even think you may try your hand at making bacon, the book is a must-have.
  • And speaking of bacon, here's my recipe for bacon dumplings for a wicked hangover.
  • Nigel Slater's recipe for a smooth and creamy pâté
  • And then there's my take on Jennifer McLagan's book Odd Bits with its recipe for brain fritters.  Written almost two years ago, its opening line is still a bit of a conversation stopper: "I have licked the inside of a dead man’s skull, yet cannot bring myself to eat brains." 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bookshelf: Lunch with the FT

Yuko Tojo,
granddaughter of
executed war criminal
General Hideki Tojo
The first inkling Yuko Tojo 
had of what really happened to her grandfather 
was when she was in fifth grade at school. 
Gripping her small white hands around her neck, 
the 65-year-old re-enacts the classroom scene of more 
than half a century ago when a boy stood on a chair 
before leaping to the ground with the cry: 
"Tojo hanged." 

The young girl looked up the strange word, 
kohshukeiin the dictionary 
and found a description next to the picture of 
a hooded man with a rope around his neck. 
'Then I knew the meaning,' she nods, 
releasing her grip 
to continue the dissection 
of her lamb fillet. 

~ David Pilling
'Let sleeping gods lie' reprinted in
Lunch with the FT: 52 Classic Interviews 

You might never guess it from the newspapers's terse Twitter feed, but London's Financial Times publishes great articles on art, literature, movies, music...and food. Some of the most enjoyable weekend writing tackle each week arrives on those peach-colored pages. Honestly, it's mystifying that the vibrant Weekend section gets such short shrift when it's one of the better reasons to read the paper.

Watson (minus Crick)
Financial updates aside, one of the best reasons to read the paper is the Lunch with the FT column, a regular piece with a simple premise: different journalists interview some well-known person over lunch. The Financial Times picks up the tab, except when a few feisty subjects simply refuse to let another pick up the bill. Subjects include politicians, actors, industrialists, musicians, writers, artists, war criminals, and their family members. Some are profiled early in their careers, others toward the end...and then there's the poet whose lunch with interviewer Nigel Spivey was among his very last. "Gavin Ewert is dead," wrote Spivey in one of the reprinted interviews.
The poet's death, last week, was hardly the consequence of lunch with the Financial Times. But, with hindsight, we gave him a grand send-off. 
He had just recovered from a prostate operation when we met in high summer. But intimations of mortality were not apparent. Far from it. 
Aiming to arrive on good time at the Cafe Royal, I found him already settled at the bar, fondling a large pink drink. Ah,' he said, without guilt. 'There you are.' 
'I say,' I said, with anguish. 'That can only be a Negroni.' It was indeed a Negroni, the gin and Campari mixture with a velocity of intoxication that is both feared and loved by those who know it. This lunch would be, in the poet's own phrase, 'a thick one'.
Diddy: "If I endorse a candidate right now,
I mean the race would probably be over."
And so is the book. I rarely board planes with printed books these days, but on flights in the last few weeks to Denver and Kansas City, I made an exception for Lunch with the FT, a birthday present. The articles are revealing and engaging, the subject a mix of those I recognize, some I'd never known existed, and others who could rise the ire of some readers.

There's a young(ish) Angela Merkel interviewed years before she became Germany's chancellor; Chinese novelist Yu Hua; painter David Hockney; Sean "P. Diddy" Combs (who refused to endorse a candidate during a 2004 interview because "It would sway people. If I endorse a candidate right now, I mean the race would probably be over."); Stephen Green, executive chairman of HSBC and an Anglican priest; Jennifer Paterson, one of the Two Fat Ladies cookery program; and the famously demanding British chef Marco Pierre White.

Others include George Soros, Twiggy, Queen Rania of Jordan, F. W. de Klerk, Dolce and Gabbana, Paul Krugman, Michael Caine, Jeff Bezos, Saif Gaddafi, Martin Amis, Steve Woziak, Martin McGuinness, Donald Rumsfeld....52 in all.

In a volume packed with fantastic one-liners and bons mots, one that sticks with me is from James Watson who, along with Francis Crick, discovered the structure of DNA in 1953. Nearly every high schooler knows the name, but few could pick him out of a lineup. When interviewer Christopher Swann asked back in 2004 whether a lack of public recognition ever bothered him, the scientist gave a rueful smith and admitted that "discovering the structure of DNA did little to help him propagate his own genes. 'There were no groupies,' he says. 'Well, I suppose there were two but you wouldn't have wanted to get too close to either of them.'" Of course, the co-father of modern genetics goes on to say that if technology permits it, women ought to be able to abort homosexual fetuses.

Jimmy Carter mulls political torture
over iced tea in Plains, Georgia.
Revealing and engaging, I said. Didn't say it was always palatable.

Through them all, there's food, cocktail, and wine. Whether it's Watson slicing into veal or Jimmy Carter hunkering down over a bowl of green tomato soup, food and drink are the excuse to conduct all the interviews. Some of these subjects are dead, some restaurants undoubtedly closed, but the prose remains. Cheers to Lionel Barber for pulling them together and James Ferguson for his illustrations.

Lionel Barber (2013)
Illustrations by James Ferguson
Lunch with the FT: 52 Classic Interviews
352 pages (hard cover)
ISBN: 1591846498