Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Grossmuttis Kartoffelsalat (We Call it Tater Salad)

Since moving to body-conscious Southern California, I’ve cut way back on taters, but with Irish roots on one hand and German on the other, I’ve got a double spudlust that makes my knees nearly buckle at the prospect of something so verboten as a bacon-studded German potato salad.

What better time than Memorial Day, though, to bust out a big bowl of the stuff to satisfy my lust for carbs? For weeks, I’d been craving the bacon fat-and-vinegar-laced salad that Philadelphia chef Fritz Blank used to make for staff lunches or special occasions when I would visit. It wasn’t the kind of food he’d serve at his fancy French restaurant Deux Cheminées, but to bolster our holiday grill of bratwurst, burgers, and chicken, it was just the ticket.

Blank, a former Army captain and microbiologist, is meticulous about recipe preparations and his original notes for this salad are worth reading for the amount of precise detail about the recipe. This meticulous scientist makes legions of jigger-wielding nouveau “cocktailians” look downright sloppy. Scroll down for a link to his notes and procedures for his grandmother’s potato salad.

With apologies to Fritz, I’ve adapted his grossmutti’s Kartoffelsalat to my kitchen and tastes. Most notably, I’ve cut the fat by nearly half (but kept every single drop of bacon fat) because I don’t care for an overly slick salad. I also used Yukon Golds, but cut into small slices, somewhere between the coin-shaped slices he calls for and the cubes he reserves for American-style potato salads.

Roll out the barrels, baby: this German classic is good all summer long.
German Potato Salad

5 lbs C or B-sized golden potatoes
1 ½ gallons of water
½ cup salt

¾ lb. double smoked bacon, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 cup thinly sliced green onions, white part only
¾ cup fresh parsley, chopped “medium”
1 level tablespoon freshly cracked black peppercorns
1 ½ tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 cup of rice wine vinegar or a mild champagne vinegar
1 ½ cups oil mix (combined rendered bacon fat plus peanut oil)

Place the potatoes, ½ cup salt, and water into a 16-quart pot. The water should cover the potatoes by about 4 inches. Bring to a full boil over high heat; reduce to a gentle boil and cook uncovered until the potatoes are tender yet firm. Start testing after about 20 minutes. Test by sliding a knifepoint into potatoes: it should go in easily with minimal resistance. Carefully drain placing the potatoes in a single layer onto a tray to cool slightly.

In the meanwhile, render the bacon over medium heat until crispy, but not hard. Drain and reserve the drippings.

While the potatoes are still hot but able to be handled, slice them into bite-sized slices (or the “coins” Blank calls for) into a large mixing bowl. The slices should about 1⁄4-inch thick or slightly more, and should not break apart or crumble.

Add all of the remaining ingredients on top of the potatoes, and mix gently with a large spoon, silicon spatula, or your hands to distribute everything evenly. Do not overmix or break up the slices.

Let the salad sit for a few hours at room temperature to develop the flavors. Taste carefully and re-season if necessary with salt, pepper and/or vinegar. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Goes well with:


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Garlic-Spiked Honey and Anise Short Ribs

Talk about easy. Not only is this recipe quick, it’s stolen. I blatantly lifted the idea for garlic-spiked honey-and-anise ribs from British writer Nigel Slater, though I goosed his spice proportions for a more aggressive bite. Slater’s simple concept in The Kitchen Diaries—writing compellingly about his home-cooked meals over the course of a year—makes the book joy to read. Well, that and his obvious love of the topic. This is one of his cold weather dishes and, since San Diego doesn’t get cold as it’s understood elsewhere, it’s a year-round meal for us.

Once every few months, generally when I’m in a funk about something, I toss this together using nothing but ingredients from our home larder and a rack of ribs I’ve picked up from the butcher. The massive pan-Asian 99 Ranch Market serves nicely.

Slater uses less garlic, black pepper, and red pepper, but marinates the ribs and wouldn’t object to an overnight rest. I ditch the marinade and oopmph up the spices Your call. If you don’t have the star anise, though, do try to pick some up. It really makes the ribs zing and gives an exotic touch that suggests, oh, maybe some tiki drinks are in order with this. It makes such a difference, in fact, I keep a jar of the stuff on hand solely for this recipe.

The pork ribs should be cut across the bones, flanken-stlye, yielding several long strips of short ribs which should then be cut cross-ways into small bites of two-three bones each.

Garlic and Anise Short Ribs

1 rack of pork ribs, cut flanken-style (about 4lbs/1.8 kilos)
7 Tbl Honey (orange blossom)
4 Tbl Oyster sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand)
6-8 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbl Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes)
5 Star anise (whole)
1 tsp black pepper, coarsely ground
½ tsp sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C

In a 9”x13” Pyrex dish, mix the honey through sea salt.

Rinse and pat dry the strips of ribs. If you like, you may remove the membrane along the back, bony side. Cut between every second or third rib to make small bite-sized portions. Using a spoon or spatula, mix the ribs and sticky sauce together. Roast for about an hour and fifteen minutes.
Slater recommends serving these over rice with pan drippings. I’ll often throw in some steamed broccoli and swap out Vietnamese rice noodles (bun) for the rice. Either way, break out the napkins: this one’s going to be messy.

Goes well with:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Oh, fer Feck’s Sake: Scott Beattie’s Artisanal Cocktails

Those of you in the San Francisco Bay area this week are in for a treat. Like Martin Cate before him, Scott Beattie, author of Artisanal Cocktails, will be tending bar as a guest at Bourbon and Branch this Thursday and Friday (May 14-15). Go if you can. The man is doing something truly special.

Those of you not in the Bay area—well, you can just suck it.

Missouri? Suck it. North Carolina? Suck it. Mississippi? Iowa? Nebraska? Maine? Suck it. Even New Orleans, with one of the most vibrant cocktail scenes in the world, you know what to do. In more ways than one, you can’t make it.

Beattie’s subtitleDrinks Inspired by the Seasons from the Bar at Cyrus—belies the real inspiration here. This is undeniably a book rooted in California’s bountiful wine country. The drinks—beauties, each and every one—call for fresh produce, brilliant edible flowers, top-shelf liquors from craft distillers, esoteric essential oils, and fresh herbs to such a degree that cocktail enthusiasts outside that organic heirloom microcosm might feel themselves just…taunted.

There are foams and homemade pickles, amaranth spears and bamboo springs, tomatoes, watermelon cubes, celery root threads—garnishes that make the orchids on our home bar seem downright pedestrian. Some of his cocktails are so freighted with produce that they become as much conversation pieces as refreshment. Straw? Fork? Camera? Peterson’s Field Guide to North American Wildflowers? What do I reach for here?

Unlike Beattie, who grew up in Northern California with its vibrant foodie culture, I’m from the Midwest. You know, the place where the citrus is waxed, the hearts of palm canned, and the shiso is…wait, the what? Might as well call for moon rocks and muddled hen’s teeth.

Seriously, this isn’t a recipe book. This is cocktail porn. If you enjoy cocktails to begin with but also revel in the inherent escapism of National Geographic magazine or the Travel Channel, then you may get a serious kick out of Artisan Cocktails.

Hats off to Sara Remington for her gorgeous photography—lots of bokeh beads of condensation glimmering on glasses, Technicolor blossoms, and cocktails that resemble table centerpieces more than something you’d actually drink.

If you’re at all into cocktails, check out the book. It’s not like others you may own. But as a practical manual for mixologists outside northern California, it’s best viewed as inspiration for using your own local produce and resources to make amazing cocktails. How so? Well, if you intend to make each drink in the book, you’ll need (this is just a partial list);
  • 500 micrograms of B12 powder
  • kefir lime leaves
  • lotus root
  • rosemary blossoms (the little purple flowers, not the leaves)
  • fresh hearts of palm
  • pickled fennel
  • black sea salt
  • red sea salt
  • verjuice
  • anise hyssop leaves
  • fennel fronds
  • fenugreek
  • candied rhubarb
  • bamboo sprigs
  • lemongrass (for candying)
  • sunflower petals in chiffonade
  • yuzu juice
  • dehydrated peach chips
  • jasmine blossoms
  • heirloom tomato water
  • pickled celery root threads
  • powered vitamin C
So, you’re in Kansas City, Wilkes-Barre, Des Moines, or Tupelo. Unless you’re willing to pay extraordinary shipping charges, there are some drinks here you just can’t make. But you can follow Beattie’s lead and make cocktails that are so rooted in your hometown that anyone tasting it would know exactly where it came from.

Get to know your florist. Become a regular at your farmers’ market. Suss out the local liquor in your area. Got recent immigrants in your hometown? Find out where they shop and begin learning their flavors. Start a garden to supply your bar with the garnishes you want to use. Cooks do it, why not bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts?

Say you’re in Western North Carolina. The nearest lotus root is in Atlanta. Skip that drink. Maybe try a bloody mary with local heirloom tomatoes, pickled ramps, and, what the hell, a rim of coarsely powdered pork rinds. If you’ve got respectable moonshine, ditch the vodka and go all-local. You get the idea.

I’m not likely to make recipes exactly as presented in Beattie’s book, but it’s got me wondering what, other than margaritas and micheladas, San Diego cocktails might become. I haven’t put the thing away in three weeks.

Scott Beattie (2008)
Artisanal Cocktails: Drinks Inspired by the Seasons from the Bar at Cyrus.
Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 1580089216

Order here from Beattie's website.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bookshelf: Joanne Weir’s Tequila

First in my roundup of summertime cocktail books is Joanne Weir’s enthusiastic primer Tequila: A Guide to Types, Flights, Cocktails, and Bites. In case you should miss it, the James Beard award-winning writer has become an evangelist for 100% agave spirits. Don’t bother her with the golden mixto tequila one usually finds in happy hour margaritas. “Only a fool,” she insists, “would drink mixto.” Mixto, made from almost half sugar, is the common stuff that has helped bestow tequila with its race-to-the-bottom-of-the-bottle, girls-gone-wild, I-don’t-remember-how-I-got-here reputation.

Tequila is a solid introduction for drinkers who want to expand their understanding of how to enjoy this Mexican spirit. It’s not the last word in tequila or even history, but the book primes the conversation by outlining the production and characteristics of blanco (or plata), reposado, añejo, and extra añejo tequilas, suggesting ways to enjoy them as flights, and then diving into recipes.

To that end, Weir has enlisted some of today’s better-known bartenders to present tequila cocktails. Now, a tequila cocktail isn’t as easy as it sounds. Gin is a fantastic mixer, as is rum. And vodka? Making tasty vodka drinks is no harder than combing your hair. But tequila can be troublesome, its big flavors prone to shouldering into and overwhelming a drink. Other than margaritas and shots, most drinkers aren’t sure what to do with it. Why fix, the thinking goes, what ain’t broke?

Well, because the world is tastier than frozen margs.

Enter mixologists such as Lucy Brennan (Mint) Audrey Saunders (Pegu Club), James Meehan (PDT), and Philip Brady (Death & Co.). In all, almost two dozen well-known enthusiasts step up to the challenge of crafting tasty tequila cocktails. Herein you’ll find the Aperol Sunset, la Chupparosa, the Chartreuse-spiked Kama Sutra, and the Surly Temple (ok, perhaps the girls still go just a little wild). Duggan McDonnell of San Francisco’s Cantina, offers his
All the King’s Men
1 ½ oz reposado tequila
½ oz Averna
½ oz ruby port
1 tsp agave nectar
1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 to 2 oz ginger beer
1 paper-thin ginger slice, for garnish

Combine tequila, Averna, port, agave nectar, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Cover and shake for five seconds. Simultaneously strain the mixture and pour the ginger beer into a Collins glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with the ginger slice.
And because this isn’t a one-tequila-two-tequila-three-tequila-floor celebration, but an introduction to more sophisticated drinking, Weir offers cooking recipes. Gonna drink? Gotta eat. All her recipes—from red chile pepper pickles and chorizo hand pies to carnitas and, yes, even cupcakes—include 100% agave tequila, sometimes at multiple stages. I’ll pass on the tequilamisu, but with recipes for ceviche, grilled steak, and chilled melon soup that won’t heat up the kitchen, Tequila makes for some inspirational summer reading.

Goes well with:


Kickstart Summer with Three New Cocktail Handbooks

As an historian, I favor old cocktail books with their line drawings, rough paper, and palpable letterpress impressions on pages—the care with which they must be handled all suggest fragile treasures. Even the smell of quietly acidifying old paper has its appeal. After all, any one of those old tomes might contain neglected bits of wisdom, recipes, or processes that been forgotten with the passage of time. It’s from just such old books that I’ve pulled some of my favorite drinks, syrups, tinctures, and other concoctions.

Newer books—those offering 1001 cocktails or purporting to be “complete” guides to mixology—too often merely catalog recipes without an eye to whether they are accurate or even work as balanced creations. Their places on remainder and close-out shelves are well-earned.

Three deserving a closer look, however, have come across my desk recently. With summer on the way, I’ll be referring to each over the next few months for ideas on keeping cool. I’ll talk about each over the next week.