Friday, December 30, 2011

Salsa de Venas (or Are You Gonna Eat Them Chile Veins, Buddy?)

Detail of Salsa de Venas
by Michel Zabé
Common directions for cooking with chiles — from simple roasted bell peppers to the hundreds of chiles rellenos varieties — call for cutting away and discarding the seeds and ribs or veins that anchor them to the fruit’s interior. The rationale is twofold:
  1. Discarding seeds and veins makes a more texturally refined dish
  2. Seeds and veins tend to contain larger concentrations of capsaicin, the compound that makes hot chiles hot. Discarding them helps to temper that heat and let the flavor of the flesh become more apparent.
Removing chile veins from some dishes is all well and good, but discarding them? That’s just wasteful. Just as you can save shrimp shells for stock, collect pineapple trimmings for vinegar, or skim delicious cracklin’s from a batch of home-rendered lard, you can put those veins to good use.

Patricia Quintana does just that. In her 2005 book, Mulli: el libro de los moles, she details about a hundred salsas, moles, adobos, and pipianes that draw on Mexico’s culinary history from pre-Colombian times. From the Valle de Toluca (an area west and slightly south of Mexico City), she pulls a roasted tomato table salsa that’s heavily laced with those veins we’re supposed to throw away.

This isn’t an incendiary salsa, but neither is it for milquetoasts. Don’t spring it on your family or friends if they don’t like a bit of heat. Here’ s my translation of Quintana:
Toluca Valley-style Salsa de Venas

1 cup of veins from pasilla, negro, guajillo, or ancho chiles cleaned and dry-roasted
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled, roasted
½ medium onion, roasted
4 medium tomatoes, roasted
½ cup of water or to taste
1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt or to taste

To prepare the salsa:
Rinse and dry the chile veins. Preheat a comal or skillet and cook until toasted, but not burned. Roast the garlic too, onion, and tomatoes in the same pan until they turn dark. Allow to cool. In a molcajete or food processor, grind the chile veins with the salt and garlic, regrinding it all well. Add the onion and continue grinding. Add the tomatoes and grind until the sauce thickens,then add the water and re-season.

Serve in a mortar and pestle or in a sauce boat. Serve with fried charales [tiny, tiny fish] and freshly made tortillas.
Quintana's original directions:
Salsa de venas estilo Valle de Toluca

1 taza de venas de chile pasilla, negro o guajillo, o de chile ancho limpias, secas, tostadas
4 dientes de ajo medianos, sin piel, asados
½ cebolla mediana, asada
4 jitomates medianos, asados
½ taza de agua o al gusto
1½ cucharaditas de sal gruesa o al gusto

para preparar la salsa:

Lave las venas de los chiles y séquelas. Precaliente un comal o una sartén y aselas hasta que estén tostadas, sin quemarlas. Ase también los dientes de ajo, la cebolla y los jitomates hasta que tomen un color oscuro. Deje enfriar. En un molcajete o procesador, muela las venas de los chiles con la sal y el ajo, remuela bien. Incorpore la cebolla y continúe moliéndolas. Anada los jitomates y muelalos hasta que quede una salsa semiespesa; incorpore el agua y vuelva a sazonar.


Sírvala en un molcajete o en una salsera. Acompane con charales fritos y tortillas recien hechas.

Patricia Quintana (2005)
Photos by Michel Zabé
Mulli: el libro de los moles
Editorial Oceano de Mexico
288 pages (paperback)
ISBN: 9707770953

Goes well with:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Dad's Onion Rye Bread

Butter is not optional.
For as long as I can remember, my father has made onion rye bread, three loaves at a time, mostly in cold months. The first loaf we eat while it’s almost too hot to handle, rivulets of melted butter besmearing our hands; the second is half gone before it cools to room temperature; and the third, more often than not, is deployed in ham sandwiches. With 24 hours, not a crumb or crust remains.

Not long ago, I jumped at the chance to bake a few of these dense, moist loaves with him. Since snow recently had fallen, we cooled a pot of hot milk and sugar in the white stuff while the yeast proofed in the warm kitchen. Turning one’s back porch into an extension of the freezer is perhaps the only part of Winter I truly miss.

Cooling hot milk in the snow
When it came time to pull the ingredients together, I was amused that he regards aromatic elements in recipes — even his own — as I do. Only three tablespoons of caraway seeds in the recipe? Meh, sprinkle in some more until it looks right. One cup of chopped onions? We could probably put in a bit more without upsetting anyone.

Slightly misshapen, but so damn good.
Mind you, we both inflate the volume of those kinds of ingredients in the first place when we transcribe  recipes, so we might easily end up using twice the spices and aromatics as whatever the recipe called for before it got to us. The ingredients below are what’re on his written directions. If you want more onions or caraway, then you’ve got a baseline.

Our family isn’t shy about slathering butter on almost every slice. You shouldn’t be, either. Because the tops of these loaves are strewn with coarse salt before baking, though, stick with unsalted butter.

Onion Rye Bread

2 cups milk
¼ cup sugar
4 tsp salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 packages active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
6 cups all purpose white flour
3 Tbl caraway seeds
1 cup chopped onions
2.5 cups rye flour
Corn meal
q.s. cream
q.s. coarse salt

Scald milk; stir in the sugar, salt, and oil. Cool to lukewarm. Soften yeast in the warm water and when it’s foamy, add this yeast mixture to the lukewarm milk.

Blend in all of the all purpose flour, mixing well. Add caraway seeds, onions, and 2 cups of the rye flour.

Sprinkle the remaining rye flour on a board or counter and knead the dough until it’s smooth. Put the smooth dough into greased bowl, cover, and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Punch down and fold dough from edges to center.

Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let the mass rise again until doubled. Divide into three equal loaves. Put each into a greased pan sprinkled with corn meal. Brush the tops of the loaves with cream, then strew liberally with coarse salt. Cover with a clean towel and allow to rise again until doubled in size.

Bake at 350ºF/175ºC for 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from pans when they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on wire racks (unless you plan to tear into them right away, then just grab a board, a knife, and a boatload of butter).

Monday, December 26, 2011

I’ve Never Eaten Paw Paw

I wrestle daily with a neurological disorder called aphasia and, despite my best intentions, the utterances that spill from my lips are not always what I intend. Though individual words or short phrases may elude me, I do weigh my sentences before speaking aloud. The same cannot be said of all my friends.

John Audubon's 1820's depiction of
yellow-billed cuckoos and paw paws
[Note: If you’re offended by crudeness, I suggest you move on to other, more anodyne stories, perhaps about black-crusted chocolate pie or old-timey boiled cider.]

A few nights ago, a mixed group of friends gathered at our new house. When my family moved in, we inherited a dozen or so large trees that aren’t particularly interesting, well tended, or useful. Over drinks, the group kicked around ideas for replacing them.

Lemon, lime, and orange trees were obvious choices, given our climate and weakness for cocktails with a hit of citrus. I’m partial to the old idea of a gentleman’s orchard, one that holds fruit trees grown because they are exotic, unusual, or noteworthy for the region rather than strictly utilitarian. So we talked about Mexican and kaffir limes, Meyer and oily Femminello St. Teresa lemons, bergamot, Buddha’s hand citron, grapefruit, medlars, sour cherries, quince, guava, figs, and more. These are all just ideas at this point, nothing like an actual plan. When I threw out paw paw as a possibility — a venerable fruit tree of my native Missouri — one of the drinkers asked “Isn’t that the tree that smells like jizz?”

Frankly, I’d forgotten that aspect of the tree. I hemmed a bit. “Well, yes...I...I suppose it does. A bit.” I was trying to be diplomatic; the thing reeks of semen.

“Really?” another asked and then joked. “Does it taste like jizz, too?”

“I don’t know,” the first quickly answered. “I’ve never eaten paw paw.”

Three achingly full seconds passed in gravid silence before the room exploded into a pandemonium of howls while the blush of the paw paw virgin glowed like a California wildfire.

My friends are loyal, smart, kind, and funny, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. But, lord almighty, they can be lascivious.

[Edit 29 December 2011: Prompted by emails from concerned friends, I should clarify that I myself have eaten paw paw. The fruit itself carries none of the aroma supra and, in fact, is a mild, soft and inoffensive fruit, similar in texture to the local cherimoyas. It can also, according to one old report, be fermented and distilled into a brandy. While this doesn't surprise me one whit, I've yet to have any paw paw brandy. Let's see if that changes in 2012.]

Goes well with:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Snapdragon: Playing with Fire

If you live in a hoary northern clime and it comforts you to think that those who move to sunny San Diego somehow miss the cold, then, by all means, wrap yourself warmly in that mantle of delusion. We don’t.

Though I had a deft hand at cold weather cooking and drinking, hot punch, mulled wine, and various toddies just don’t carry the restorative powers that they seem to in the darker months of those places plagued with “four distinct seasons.”

from Robert Chambers' (1879) Book of Days
But add a little fire to the booze rather than just warming it? Well, even self-satisfied San Diegans don’t turn our noses up at that. From the simply flamed orange peel over a cocktail to more elaborate preparations among the tiki crowd, the blazing romance of flames and alcohol is nothing new. In fact, one venerable bit of flaming foodways plays well in both temperate and more frosty climes — snapdragon.

Known to Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson, and even further back to seventeenth century, the eating/drinking game snapdragon (or snap-dragon or occasionally flapdragon) has largely died out.

Let's walk through it and you'll understand why: First, kill the lights. Next, two to three raisins per person are placed in a broad, shallow dish. Warmed brandy is then poured over them — just enough to come up to their collars — and set alight. As blue and orange flames dance over the surface of the brandy and scamper across the raisins, guests take turns snatching single flaming raisins from the mix and popping them into their mouths, extinguishing the fire-robed fruit.

Around the time of the American Civil War, Anthony Trollope writes of the game in his novel Orley Farm:
'And now for snap-dragon,' said Marian.

'Exactly as you predicted, Mr. Graham,' said Madeline: 'blindman's buff at a quarter past three, and snap-dragon at five.'

'I revoke every word that I uttered, for I was never more amused in my life.'

'And you will be prepared to endure the wine and sweet cake when they come.'

'Prepared to endure anything, and go through everything. We shall be allowed candles now, I suppose.'

'Oh, no, by no means. Snap-dragon by candlelight! Who ever heard of such a thing? It would wash all the dragon out of it, and leave nothing but the snap. It is a necessity of the game that it should be played in the dark—or rather by its own lurid light.'
So, yes, darkness is essential, but speed is the real name of the game. For one, fire is hot and the faster you take your turn, the less chance of sustaining a burn. Second, the brandy won’t flame forever. The alcohol doesn’t burn off entirely (an old wives tale, a cooks’ inside joke), but it does burn until the proof lowers so much that it can’t sustain a flame.

You can understand why today’s safety-conscious parents would shut down a game of snapdragon before it ever began. Burned fingers, singed hair, booze for kids (yes, it was popularly, if not exclusively, a children’s game), burned table linens, and scorched floors get one reported to the authorities for child abuse. God forbid some antic soul should knock over accidentally a bowl of flaming alcohol onto the carpet, a pet, or another person and do some real damage.

Fortunately, I have no children. I do have raisins, however, a broad granite counter., and friends expected Christmas day. Brandy? You know I’ve plenty of brandy.

For obvious reasons, I suggest you not play snapdragon this winter. It died out for a number of reasons, not the least of which is safety. If my knuckles are bereft of hair the day after Christmas, though, you know what we’ve been up to over at the Whiskey Forge.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Drinking Advocaat

I think it is better always 
to have a drink before people arrive 
and that way, 
you’re just a bit more mellow...

~ Nigella Lawson

Now that we’ve established some semblance of a nomenclature and etymology for the egg liqueur advocaat, three questions arise:
  1. Who makes the stuff?
  2. Once you’ve got it, what do you do with it?
  3. If you can’t find it, is there an easy way to make it at home?
Last things first: yes, there’s an easy way to make advocaat at home. My own recipe with fresh eggs and VSOP brandy makes 1.4 liters of about 37-proof egg liqueur (see below).

If you’re put off by the prospect of making your own, though, three main brands are common enough to find on the shelf at your local boozery or through online vendors ; Bols (from Holland), Verpoorten (Germany), and Warninks (made by DeKuyper Royal Distillers in Holland). A bottle of any of these is readily available for $17-28.

Just as eggnog and even bourbon find their ways into a variety of desserts from cookies to cake, so, too, does advocaat. Most simply, it’s drizzled over ice cream. It’s also incorporated into cream fillings for cakes and pastries, sauce (just add it to vanilla sauce), folded into tiramisu, paired with baked fruit, and hundreds of other desserts.

In its drinking form (rather than the thicker, slightly cooked, incarnation), advocaat is indistinguishable from German eierlikör. One could easily slap alternate labels on the same product for different markets. Our European colleagues have been guzzling the infamous Snowball made with these egg liqueurs for some time. Popular — or at least well-known — in the UK, it’s simply one part advocaat to two parts lemonade (British lemonade, i.e., Sprite, 7-Up, or bitter lemon soda). Here, Nigella Lawson bangs one out:

Recipes for homemade advocaat typically call for anywhere from half to a full liter of alcohol per dozen eggs. I take a middle path with slightly fewer eggs and split the difference on the booze. The result? More boozy than some, not as much as others.

Here’s how we make drinking advocaat around these parts. For a thicker, spoonable, version, use whole eggs, ditch the milk, and heat the mixture in a double boiler.

The sweetened condensed milk is not traditional — or even strictly necessary — but it does creep up in some Dutch recipes. I like the additional smoothness and slightly cooked taste it lends to the finished drink, but feel free to omit it. Should you do so, add up to an additional ¾ cup of sugar. Likewise, if you just can’t get enough liquor inside you, this recipe will easily admit another 250ml/1 cup of 40% abv alcohol.

Rowley’s Authentic San Diego Advocaat

10 egg yolks
250g/1.25 c sugar
3-4 gratings of fresh nutmeg
A pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
750ml brandy, neutral grain spirits, or vodka

Strain the egg yolks through a medium sieve into a large mixing bowl to remove the chalazae (those repugnant, curled little white cords that attach the yolk to the shell). Add the sugar, salt, and nutmeg. Whisk gently to combine.

Stir in the vanilla extract, sweetened condensed milk and alcohol. Whisk vigorously, then pour into sterilized bottles. Seal. It's drinkable now, but better after two weeks in the refrigerator.

Makes about 1400ml of 18% abv advocaat.

  • Clear spirits such as vodka or NGS will not affect the color of the drink noticeably. Many people prefer them for this reason. I use aged brandy which lends a slightly darker cast to the drink.
  • Hold me in contempt if you will, but I use Paul Masson Grande Amber VSOP for this. Best brandy in the world? No, of course not. One of the best you'll ever get for under $10 per bottle, though. Recently, I scored a 750ml bottle at a local pharmacy for $8. Love those Christmas liquor sales...
  • Clean egg yolks and whites off kitchen and cocktail gear with an initial rinse of cool water. Hot water can cook the stuff and make it much harder to remove.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Throat-Rippers, Neck Oil, and a Dose of Advocaat

This time last year, I wrote about three drinks that meld booze and eggs; Elise Hannemann’s 1904 eierpunsch, William Verpoorten’s modern-day eierlikör, and — from the pages of Playboy magazine — Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s eggnog.

One drink I didn’t get to at the time was advocaat, a venerable Dutch egg liqueur that's not dissimilar to eierlikör, but which comes in two forms. The first, more familiar to Americans, Britons, and others outside the Netherlands, is a pourable, eggnog-like drink. Such “drinking” advocaat is for the export market and would not pass muster among old-timers in Amsterdam, Groningen, or Delft. On the contrary, domestic Dutch advocaat traditionally has been a boozy, custardlike concoction served in small cups and eaten with spoons. Both, however, have their devotees.

The domestic stuff, made with egg yolks and whites, is sometimes called dikke advocaat (“thick” advocaat) in Holland while the version we're more likely to encounter abroad is variously known as dunne (“thin”) advocaat or schenkadvocaat (“pouradvocaat”) or drinkadvocaat, made with the yolks only. Just to confuse things, most people who drink/eat the stuff call it all just “advocaat” without modifiers.

The word itself in Dutch means “attorney” or “lawyer” but there’s no obvious connection to the legal profession at all. It is also so similar to adpokat, an Indonesian word for avocado, that two rival modern explanations for this egg-and-liquor concoction’s name have arisen.

Dropping Dutch anchor in Indonesian waters, 1669
The first is that the name somehow refers to a booze-and-avocado tipple created or adapted by the globe-trotting merchants of the VOC (the United East Indies Company) during its 17th century heyday. Irishman Philip Duff is a long-time resident of the Netherlands, a vocal proponent of its distilling traditions, and an internationally known bar and beverage consultant. He gets asked about this lawyer/avocado thing a lot.

Duff — along with many other knowledgeable souls — feel that the word's origins are well and truly lost. In an email to me, he admits, however, that he favors the avocado angle as a result of the VOC’s voyages abroad and dominance of Indonesia in particular:
The likelihood of there being a booze of some sort made, flavoured or mixed with avocado pulp is more than even, and it's not too much of a stretch to imagine this evolving into something with eggs back in Holland, eggs having both a bit of the colour and texture of avocados. Or...
The word "abocado" crops up in Spanish and Portuguese and refers to smoothness, mellowness, sweetness - opening the door to the possibility that an eggs-and-booze drink originated in south/central America and was named there, then the name was bastardised when it was brought back to Holland.
Not everyone buys this, though. When I asked Amsterdam culinary journalist and historian Johannes van Dam about the origin of the word, he wrote:
Personally I do not think the name of the drink comes from avocado, because that fruit was not really known here when the drink was already known by that name.
This in and of itself would seem to put an end to the avocado argument. Van Dam prefers another explanation: that the word is meant to evoke a soothing throat lubrication, such as might be required for attorneys.

Katadreuffe and De Gankelaar prepare for court battle  in Mike van Diem's 1997 Character

The popular rationale for the attorney angle goes like this: In the course of their work, attorneys must speak often and eloquently. Such a rich alcoholic drink — so the thinking goes — would both soothe their throats and relax the nervous among them to better prepare them for their loquacious undertakings.

Writing in 2006, Dutch linguistic journalist Ewoud Sanders examined various origin theories offered over the last century for the word. There's no clear winner, but he offered a convincing explanation for the side of the attorneys:
For now the battle for the origin of a little advocaat is undecided, but personally I think most of the oldest theory, that advocaat is a drink for the lawyer to keep his throat lubricated. Not so much because I think many lawyers are useful speakers, but because [in calling it that] you’re naming this motif (as linguists call it) that can also found in other drink names. Thus, a glass of genever is a keelsmeerdertje [throat lubricator] or smeerolie [lubricating oil], and the Germans know designations for spirits including Gurgelwasser [garglewater], Halsöl [neck oil] (also for beer), Rachenputzer [throat polisher] and, as other extreme, Rachenreißer [throat ripper].
Considering that opera singers have been known to gargle and swallow olive oil to soothe their throats, that in many parts of the US I've heard alcohol dubbed "throat oil," and that even Mississippi state representative Noah "Soggy" Sweats, Jr. referred to alcohol in his famous 1950's Whiskey Speech as the "oil of conversation" — well, the idea of calling alcohol as lubricant (even if it's a tongue-in-cheek circumlocution) is compelling.

Until proven otherwise, I'm betting on the lawyers. Linguistics aside — and more pressing — how do we make the stuff? Next up: advocaat recipes.

Goes well with:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Blow to Craft Distilling

A decade ago, fewer than one hundred legal distilleries operated in the United States. Today, it’s four times that number as new American distilleries have leapt from success to success. But in Washington State, a hotbed of craft distilling, there’s a real fear that this burgeoning industry just suffered a crippling setback.

Initiative 1183 passed last month with the dual intent of closing state-run liquor stores and allowing private retailers to sell spirits. The tax benefits were projected into the tens of millions of dollars. But its recent interpretation by the Washington Liquor Control Board has left some distillers wondering, rightly, whether their businesses will survive.

Writing in Monday’s, Josh Kerns reports
Initiative 1183 adds a new 27 percent tax on liquor in addition to the current state liquor taxes of 20.5 percent, plus $3.77 per liter, according to [Orlin Sorenson co-founder of Woodinville Whiskey Co.].

Those new taxes include a 10 percent distributor fee and 17 percent retailer fee, which "result in one of the highest liquor taxes in the country," says Sorensen. "That's virtually our entire profit margin."
Sorensen has put it to his fellow distillers in the Washington Distillers Guild that they “need to remind the liquor control board that the voter's intent of 1183 was to privatize liquor, not raise taxes and fees on craft distillers and handcuff them from doing business in the state.”

Please, Washingtonians, raise a ruckus. Now. Today. Call your representatives, write letters and emails. Let them know that in misinterpreting this act, the Washington Liquor Control Board has set the stage to kill jobs and crush local businesses under tax schemes that were never the intent of Initiative 1183.

For more details from Kerns, see his original article here.

Keep tabs on developments in the forums of the Washington Distillers Guild here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Settled in the New Digs

After months of drinking down the liquor cabinets, weeks of packing thousands of cookbooks, and a three-hour flurry of actual moving, we're settled into the new house. Just shy of half the library's up. Most of the liquor is still boxed. The kitchen is almost up and running as I want it. The place didn't fully feel like home, though, until I brought over my knives. With my knives in hand, I can make nearly any house feel like home.

Salt-glazed syrup jug from potter  Sid Luck gracing the mantel
I'm keeping a low profile for a while; there's a floor to lay in the attic, shelves to build and fill, and some plumbing work that makes me glad I'm not a complete novice working with copper. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, that pig roasting in the oven craves my attention.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pumpkin and Ginger Doughnuts

I’ve been making booze since I was too young to buy it. But I’ve been making doughnuts and fritters even longer than that.

When I was very young, my mother taught me how to make a cheaty sort of doughnut (or, if that’s the way you roll, donut) from uncooked biscuit dough, the commercial stuff that came in a tube. Although I was barely able to tie my own shoes at that age, my siblings were all teenagers and slept in until unfathomable hours on weekends while my father golfed. If Mom was in the mood, we got doughnuts — all to ourselves.

While she handled the hot oil, it was my duty to lay out the dough, cut out shapes with an upturned glass, and then toss those sizzling fried gobs into a brown paper bag, coating them with sugar and cinnamon. They were still so hot when we tore into them that fingers of steam curled up from every bite.

With no kids of my own, it’s no longer the kind of cooking I’m likely to do. But homemade doughnuts have been a bit of an obsession ever since those early days. On a recent trip to Chicago, I idly picked up Allegra McEvedy's recent book Bought, Borrowed & Stolen where I found her recipe for pumpkin and ginger doughnuts.

With a fat ribbed pumpkin on the counter and a drive to eat up as much as is reasonable before we move, it was a simple matter of time before I succumbed to that Autumnal allure of hot pumpkin and spice. Do as you like, but swapping out an ounce of dark rum for an ounce of milk in the glaze is not the worst thing you could do this week.

From the Guardian UK, here’s McEvedy frying up a batch. Recipe follows the video.

Pumpkin and Ginger Doughnuts

150ml / ¼ pint whole milk
5 teaspoons (15g / ½oz) fast-acting dried yeast
100g / 3½oz sugar, plus 1 teaspoon extra
1kg / 2lb plain flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling
1 tin (460g / 14¾oz or thereabouts) of mashed pumpkin (or make your own by roasting 650g (1¼ lb) peeled pumpkin or squash, foiled, in a medium oven for 40 minutes, then mashing it)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
4 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons plain oil [peanut, vegetable, canola]
1-1.5 litres (1¾ – 2½ pints) oil, for frying

For the glaze:
a knob (around 1 teaspoon) butter
75ml / 3fl oz milk
175g / 6oz icing sugar
1½ teaspoons ground ginger
75g / 3oz ginger, washed and unpeeled
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the milk gently until it's just warm to the touch, then whisk in the yeast and the 1 teaspoon of sugar and leave to stand for 20 minutes, until frothy.

In a large bowl mix the flour, pumpkin (or squash), cinnamon, salt and sugar, then pour in the yeast mixture, beaten egg, melted butter and the oil then bring it all together to make a soft dough. Turn out on to a well-floured surface and knead with floured hands for about 5 minutes, adding more flour as necessary so that it doesn't stick to you or the surface.

Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 2cm / ¾ inch and use two circular cutters, one with a diameter of 8cm / 3½ inches and one with a diameter of 4cm / 1¾ inches, to make your rings. Use the trimmings to re-roll, then leave them to rise for 30 minutes.
Knock up the glaze by melting the butter in the milk and whisking in the icing sugar, ground ginger and vanilla extract. Coarsely grate the ginger root and squeeze the juice into it too – you can re-use the fibres for tea / hot toddies.

Pour the oil into a wide, thick-bottomed pan to a depth of about 2.5-3cm / 1–1¼ inches. Heat it up until hot but not nearly smoking, then turn the heat down to medium. Slide one of the doughnuts in first, just to check the temperature is right: it should fizzle and float up to the surface, very gently bubbling away. Cook them in batches for 5-7 minutes total, turning halfway through so they are evenly golden brown all over, then take them out with tongs or a slotted spoon and put them on a wire rack.

When they're cool enough to pick up, dip them into the glaze on both sides and tuck in not long after: there's not many ills in the world that can't be cured with a warm doughnut.

Allegra McEvedy (2011)
Bought, Borrowed & Stolen: Recipes and Knives from a Traveling Chef
224 pages (hardback)
ISBN: 1840915773

Goes well with:
  • Ginger pie. I can't help it. I'm a sucker for ginger in all forms and ginger pie in particular.
  • We often have pumpkins around the house. Sometimes, they even get turned into tiki-style jack o'lanterns.
  • Half-Slab Pumpkin, a recipe I outright stole from British writer Nigel Slater and then let mutate into something entirely new.
  • Doughnuts aren't the only fritters on offer. How about some lovely brain fritters or the New Orleans rice cakes called calas?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Moon Shines on the Moonshine

Preparations for our move continue. As I go through cabinets and drawers deciding what to take and what to jettison, I stumble upon across occasional little gems. I broke out into a smile when I found nearly hundred year old sheet music for The Moon Shines on the Moonshine.

Published in 1920, the song was already a popular tune as sung by Vaudeville comedian Bert Williams — an African-American who, in one of the bizzare twists of minstrelsy, regularly performed in blackface. He wasn’t the only one. But he was the only one WC Fields is said to have called “the funniest man I ever saw.”

Lyrics by Francis de Witt — just slightly different from the recording — follow.

The Moon Shines on the Moonshine

The mahogany is dusty,
All the pipes are very rusty,
And the good, old-fashioned musty
Doesn't musty anymore.

All the stuff's got bum and bummer,
from the middle of the Summer.
Now the bar is on the hummer,
and "For Rent" is on the door.

How sad and still tonight,
by the old distillery,
And how the cob-webs cob,
in the old machinery!

But in the mountain tops,
far from the eyes of cops,
Oh how the moon shines on
the moonshine, so merrily!
How sad and merrily!

Goodness me, how misery doubles,
Ain't one thing to use for bubbles,
For to drive away your troubles,
Now the tide has gone and went.

Days and nights are getting bleaker,
shivering for an old-time sneaker,
Even water's getting weaker,
'Bout one tenth of one per cent.

How sad and still tonight,
by the old distillery,
And how the mourners mourn,
Bt the Lager Brewery!

So, mister, if you please,
Don't let nobody sneeze,
Up where the moon shines
On the moonshine, so still-ily
How sad and still-ily!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Moving Liquor Bottles? Use Plumbers' Tape

Moving date approaches. Despite our best efforts to drink down the liquor cabinets, we successfully killed off fewer than thirty bottles in the last few weeks. The remaining bottles — the unopened, the rare and unusual, the mostly-full — get packed and hauled to our new house.

Fortunately, the new place is less than a mile away. This means that I get to move bottles two different ways. One is quick and easy (but prone to spillage) and the other harkens back to my days as a risk-averse museum curator. It was in museums that I learned that something like 85% of damage occurs to objects while they’re in transit; you’ve got to guard against it carefully.

Getting ready for the move
The quick and easy bottle-moving method is simple. Load up milk crates, short bottles all together and tall bottles all together. Put them in the car, short bottle crates on the bottom, and drive — slowly, cautiously — to the new place. Unload. Repeat as necessary.

You can move a lot of liquor in a short time with this method but, unpadded, the bottles may break. If the crates tip or go sideways for any reason — a sudden stop, for instance — they may spill or leak contents, either because corks and screwcaps aren’t secured or because they’re defective. Old corks in particular may not provide the seal they seem to at a glance.

You could reuse empty liquor boxes from your local liquor store or friendly bartender the same way. The cardboard dividers add some protection against breaks — but liquids in transit, especially in partially-filled containers, like to slosh around, so there’s still the leakage issue.

That’s where Teflon or plumbers' tape comes in handy. Plumbers' tape is readily available at hardware stores and plumbing supply firms. We call it tape, but it’s really a thin film of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) that doesn't have a sticky side like duct or masking tapes. It’s used in joints on plumbing projects to prevent leaks. Although it sticks to itself, it doesn’t stick to other surfaces — and that makes it ideal for sealing bottles.

Sealed with plumbers' tape
I’ll be putting some of the bottles in cases and just hauling them over in the car. I’ll drive slowly on the side streets and not make any sudden stops. But movers are shifting the bulk of the liquor library, so those bottles won’t be in my control. That means I’ve got to pack them with the expectation that they will break and/or leak. Who knows? They might even load boxes sideways.

I’ll risk a great many things. But not when I don’t have to. I’m padding all the bottles, of course, but just as importantly, Teflon tape goes on each and every open bottle the movers are taking.

Overkill? Maybe. But as Vincent Vega can tell you, bad things sometimes happen in vehicles and a roll of tape costs less than a Royale with Cheese. Losing a single bottle seems unlikely, but it was a leaky bottle that caused this mess. A leaking bottle may dampen cardboard, causing it to rip. A ripped box could mean a few hundred dollars worth of liquor — some of it no longer produced — comes crashing to the sidewalk when a mover lifts it.

And that ain't gonna happen.

How to apply plumbers’ tape to a liquor bottle

Keep the bottle upright (liquor bottles should be stored upright, anyway). Make sure the cork or screwcap is sound, dry, and snugly in place. Pulling gently to stretch it just a bit, wrap the tape 2-4 times around the joint of the bottle’s cap and the glass neck or the lower part of a screwcap. Repeat as necessary on the remaining bottles.

To remove, simply peel it off carefully. Because the tape only adheres to itself, it’s unlikely to take off any ink, paper, or decorative embellishments.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fastest Thanksgiving Shopping Ever

Home cooks and caterers know any number of tricks to sidestepping grocery crowds on the days leading up to Thanksgiving. They may, for instance, make sure all the staples are stocked well before the week of gluttony. They might get their goods delivered. Or they'll shop early in the morning while shelves are freshly stocked. But my favorite, no-fail method to get in and out of a market in the shortest time possible around Thanksgiving is less obvious. 

Shop where people don't celebrate Thanksgiving.

What the French toast? Who doesn't celebrate Turkey Day? That's downright anti-American...

Well, no. Not hardly.

In my rounds of San Diego food shopping, I hit several markets regularly that serve immigrant communities: Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, North African, Polish, German, Korean, Middle Eastern, and more. Turns out, around here, anyway, that recent immigrants simply haven't quite gotten the hang of Thanksgiving yet. Especially if the regular clientele's native language isn't English, German, or some other European tongue, the fourth Thursday of November is these markets is just...Thursday.

And what better time than a weekday to slip into a store, grab a few things you need, and get on your way quickly? Parking is no problem and crowds are practically non-existent. Produce and spices in particular can be very cheap. Who knows? You might be inspired to make something you hadn't considered before.

I've already got everything we need for tomorrow. There will be punch, pie, and a huge pot of short rib chili. Not traditional, but, then, I've never been a stickler for tradition.

Caveat: don't rely on this scheme at Christmastime. Even non-Christians come out in force to shop and eat for that one.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hot Damn, That’s My Jam

Hot pepper jellies and jams are household staples in huge swathes of the Southern and Southwestern United States. The ease with which these preserves are made accounts for some of their popularity, but the fact is that a whole lot of people find the piquant sweet-and-sour taste irresistible.

You can bet I'll be breaking some out this week for Thanksgiving.

Variations on the spicy agrodolce theme include thick raspberry and chipotle jam, jalapeno jam dyed green, quivering tequila-spiked jellies, peach preserves studded with habanero strips, and — inexplicably — jellies and jams no hotter than a bowl of celery sticks, but which their makers perversely refer to as “hot.” I’ve yet to sample an example made with the blistering ghost pepper, but it’s just a matter of time before some chilehead tempts death with infernal jelly on a cracker.

Of all these, my favorites are those that pack a noticeable capsaicin punch. In his 1987 cookbook, Southern Cooking, Craig Claiborne gives the recipe for an unfussy but suitably piquant jelly. He notes, rightly, that the peppers may be strained before the jelly sets in order to make clear jelly. Personally, I don’t see the point in that when most of this is going to be spread on top of soft white cheese for snacks. But, do as you will. Likewise, Claiborne calls for food coloring is an optional ingredient. I don’t find that my hot pepper jam needs it, but you do what your family likes.
Hot Pepper Jelly

1 cup cored and ground sweet red or green peppers, with the seeds
½ cup corn and ground long hot red or green peppers
6 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups white vinegar
¼ tsp salt, if desired
1 bottle (6 oz) fruit pectin
Red or green food coloring, optional

Combine the sweet peppers, hot peppers, sugar, vinegar, and salt in a saucepan. Simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Strain or not, as desired, and return mixture to the saucepan. If strained, the solids are good as a relish. Pour in the pectin and bring to the boil. Stir in the food coloring. Pour into sterilized half-pint jars and seal with paraffin. Store in a cool place.

YIELD: 8 TO 10 cups

Craig Claiborne (1987)
Southern Cooking
364 pages (hardback)
The New York Times Company
ISBN: 0812915992

Friday, November 18, 2011

Call for Whiskey and Rum Papers — ADI's 9th Annual Spirits Conference

This coming April, Louisville will once again host the American Distilling Institute's annual spirits conference. From April 1-4 2012, craft distillers will gather to talk about the craft, business, and future of new American distilleries.

I have had the pleasure of speaking at the ADI conference (and of getting pulled onstage for another about how craft distillers can work with writers for exposure to larger audiences) and can say that it is a great time. I strongly encourage anyone to has something relevant to say about American craft distilling to submit a proposal. Note that accepted papers will be published online and authors may or may not be invited to speak at the conference itself.

Here's a bit called As Surely as Thunder Follows Lightning, my own topic at last year's ADI conference. Penn Jensen, vice president of ADI, gives the details on what they're looking for this time around:
The growth of Artisan Distilling over the past few years has been extraordinary. The obvious parallel is with Craft Brewing, itself a remarkable achievement. As so many people succeed, begin, or look to begin a career investment in Artisan Distilling, the personal relationships, communication channels, and open access to accurate information becomes ever more important.

The ADI Spirits Conference Theme, Whiskey & Rum, addresses virtually every issue along the critical path to creating a quality whiskey or rum product. The larger picture, inclusive of all spirits, addresses everything from permitting and financing, to marketing and distribution.

Our goal is to begin an Archive of Conference Proceedings that will serve as a resource to all our members seeking to avoid costly mis-steps, and to learn from the best. To that end, we are issuing this Call for Papers.


Any seriously proposed topic relevant to the specific or general theme of the Conference is welcomed.


Your proposed topic should be sent to us no later than January 15, 2012. After that date, papers may be accepted for publication but may not be assured a presentation at the conference.


Technical papers will be peer-reviewed by experts in the specific field addressed.


ADI reserves the right to edit for length and grammatical construction. Any substantive changes must be approved by the author(s).


Papers may be presented in either .doc, .docx, or .pps format


Unless specifically noted, all papers will be published online.


You do not need to be a member of ADI to submit a paper or proposal for the conference.


Submission of your paper does not enroll you as a member of ADI, or automatically admit you to the conference. If you intend to attend the conference, you must register online. If you are invited to attend, you will be notified regarding facilities and equipment available.

Please send you topic/proposal to:

Pennfield Jensen, ADI Vice President
3432 Valleyview Dr.
Bloomington, IN 47404

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Whiskey Forge/Tales of the Cocktail Giveaway

Click to enlarge
Keeping an extensive culinary library in the house means that even when the power dies, I can still work on food and drink projects. The flip side is that paper takes up enormous amounts of space. There comes a point — for me, it's this week — when one needs to weigh wants against needs. See, I'm shifting in fits and starts to electronic versions of some of the library materials and I'm culling printed matter in advance of an upcoming move.

I need the material for work. I merely want it in physical form. But thousands of books, bits of ephemera, and vertical files just take up so much room, so after some judicious scanning, I'm giving some of it away.

The first thing I'm giving away — right here on this site — is a set of 4" x 6" recipe cards from 2008's Tales of the Cocktail.  To the best of my knowledge, it's a complete set of recipes for all the cocktails served over the five days of sessions, workshops, and panel discussions from that year. Almost 300 recipes. Among the cards are Martin Cate's rum-and-port concoction, the Dead Reckoning. From Pegu Club's Kenta Goto, there's a lovely Plymouth Gin-based La Fleur de Paradis (but note that the recipe calls for ½ ounce of Plymouth, not 12 — an issue we've seen before with genever) and an individual portion of Phil Ward's Mother's Ruin Punch in case you want to ruin any mothers this holiday season. 

This stack of recipe cards wasn't available to general attendees, but to presenters and media types. Even if you bought tickets to attend Tales sessions, chances are that you didn't end up with this particular bit of swag.

So how can you score this piece of cocktail history for yourself? Easy:
  1. Leave a comment below letting us know your favorite thing to drink. It can be booze-free or laced with alcohol — but it's got to be potable. Could be a cocktail, a homemade cordial, local beers, homemade bitters, whatever. Try to include a recipe; it's ok if you don't, but I like to know what you all are drinking. Include your Twitter account name so I can find you.
  2. Follow me on Twitter
What's the Catch?
There is no catch. Just follow me on Twitter and let us know about your favorite drinks. You don't have to tweet or re-tweet anything. There's no Official Entry Form, you don't have to do anything about me on Facebook, and you don't have to buy my book. This is just us getting to know each other better.

On November 30th, my lovely assistant will pick a winner at random. Because the person to whom I'm giving this set of cards is following my Twitter account, I'll send a message there for a shipping address. If I hear nothing in two days, it goes to the next random commenter. And so on until we have a winner.

"But, Rowley," you may worry. "I'm in Australia. Are you seriously telling me you'll ship it all the way here if I win?" Hell, yes, mate. None of this offer-only-good-in-the-lower-48-states nonsense. I have a few thousand regular Aussie readers — why would I exclude any of you? Same goes for readers in Germany, France, Holland, Thailand, Brazil, Canada, Morocco, or even far away and fabled Kansas. Anywhere. Now, if alcohol is taboo where you live or censors frown on foreign media, the package may never make it past customs agents. That I can't do anything about. In that case, it's just lost.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Candied Buddha's Hand Citron

Drinking down the liquor cabinets continues. Frankly, our goal is not to drink away the hooch entirely, but to kill off the heels — those few ounces sloshing around nearly empty bottles — so that we don't schlep a lot of heavy glass to the new digs. You'd think, given the imperative to jettison dead weight, that I would refrain as well from canning, pickling, preserving, making ice cream, and like that.

You'd be right. Well, mostly. Old habits die hard.

When I stumbled across a stash of the bizarre Buddha's hand citron last week, though, I seized on the opportunity to crank out one last batch. Unlike citrus fruit with which we are most familiar, Buddha's hand citron is not even vaguely spherical. It has color you'd expect in a lemon, but the shape is more like a cuttlefish or squid. Those with a penchant for old horror stories might find it resembles the tentacled head of HP Lovecraft's monstrous Cthulhu rather than the hand of anyone, but there you go.

Known more properly as Citrus medica, the Buddha's hand or fingered citron, is striking not just for its bizarre appearance, but its strongly fragrant zest. Unlike the pith of lemons, grapefruit, or oranges which can add a distinct bitterness some dishes, this variety is edible pretty much as-is.

But it also takes to candying very well and, since plum pudding season approaches, I wanted a stash of candied citron so that if I catch a wild hare and decide to make plum puddings this year, I'll have the  most elusive ingredient. It will also undoubtedly find its way into breakfast scones and accompany the occasional afternoon tea.

I started with 2 pounds of fruit but the directions below are easily adaptable for whatever amount you may have. Don't be surprised if you don't find any pulp inside. In fact, there probably won't be any at all. If you do happen to find some, simply slice away for this recipe.

Candied Buddha's Hand Citron

One large or two small Buddha's hand citron (about 2lb/1k)
sugar (about 6.75 cups)
water (about 3 cups)

Wash the fruit well, trim any greenish or brown spots, and cut into half-inch cubes — including all of the pith and all of the zest. Place them in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook about 30 to 45 minutes until the cubes become translucent. Drain the blanched fruit and return it to the pot.

Add 2 ¼ cups of sugar and 1 cup of water. Repeat until the cubes are completely submerged.* Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce it to a low simmer. Cook, without stirring, about one hour. You're looking again for translucency. Turn off the heat and let the poached citron cubes remain in the syrup covered overnight until cool.

The next day, strain them from the syrup (don't throw out the syrup) and arrange on a cookie rack set over a lipped tray to catch any syrup that drains from the pieces. Allow to dry at room temperature for 2 to 3 days until the pieces are dry to the touch. Toss them with granulated sugar and seal in an airtight container.

*For 2 pounds of diced fruit, I used 6 ¾ cup of sugar and 3 cups of water.

You can, if you want to speed the drying a bit, train a fan on the candied cubes. Do avoid drying them, however, in the oven since this may result in something more leathery than tender and supple.

I haven't yet decided what I want to do with it (except, obviously in, cocktails and perhaps desserts) but this recipe yields about 5 cups of fragrant citron syrup. Gingered citron lemonade is as good a place to start as any...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Kill the Open Bottles

As a freelancer, it's important for me to wrest as much value from the things around me as possible. In that vein, I keep a number of "yard work" shirts. They have frayed collars, bleach stains, little rips and tears — flaws that make them unsuitable for wearing to client meetings, but just right while raking leaves, trimming hedges, painting, etc. Old jeans serve the same purpose. The truth is, though, that I haven't had a yard in fifteen years.

That's not thrifty; that's hoarding.

But not this week. This week, I'm culling possessions ruthlessly.

We're in the midst of closing on a nearly 100-year old Craftsman home just off Balboa Park in San Diego's North Park neighborhood. I've already weeded the clothes. Today, I start pulling books I no longer use and boxing the library in earnest. Before the week is out, I'll turn that gimlet eye on the offsite storage unit.

But during the entire time, we're shifting how we use the liquor library. When we drink at home, we usually decide what we feel like, then simply gather bottles and start mixing. With several hundred open bottles at home, nearly any cocktail is possible, except for the most outlandish concoctions of modern molecular cocktology (or whatever it's called). The kind of drinking has to go on hold for now. Until we're settled in this place, the simple new rule for any bottle of spirits is:
Kill the open bottles.
We'll start with those holding just a few ounces of booze and then move on to more full bottles. I know we won't be able to drink it all, even with the help of friends, but I'm not moving frayed, torn old shirts — and I'll be damned if I'm moving heavy glass bottles with next to nothing in them.

 Goes well with:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Root Beer Cake

Root beer cake. Yeah, I know. Sounds like something Ernest Matthew Mickler would've praised. But I stumbled across a recipe for just such a thing while reading Andrew Carmellini's new book American Flavor and it struck a nostalgic chord. I've also been on soda and baking kicks lately as well as preparing to move (we bought a house this week), so anything that reduces the number of cans, bottles, and boxes from the kitchen larder or the liquor closets get boosted to the top of the to-cook, -drink, -make list.

When I said I'd made a root beer cake, the looks at home could only be described as nonplussed. If  I had described it as a dark spice cake or a moist cousin of German lebkuchen, the initial response might've been more enthusiastic. Turns out that the cake is very much like a spice cake, spiked with star anise, cardamom, nutmeg, lemons, and pepper. The top is covered with with spiced glaze flavored with some of the same spices.

Like a spice cake, it gets better on the second day. And the third. I'd make this for kids and to bring along on picnics, but, man, the doughnut potential here is so, so tempting.

A word of warning; the batter is very liquid. You might think something is amiss (especially since the measurements for the cake are odd). Not to worry; it comes out just fine.

From Andrew Carmellini's American Flavor, here's...

Root Beer Cake

The Cake

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature, for the pan
1.5 cups plus 1 Tbl all-purpose flour
One 12-ounce bottle (1.5 cups) root beer
½ cup molasses
½ tsp plus 1/8 tsp baking soda
¾ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup plus 2 Tbl vegetable oil
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated on a microplane or on the finest side of a box grater (1 tsp)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 ¾ tsp baking powder
1 ¼ tsp ground star anise
1 ½ tsp ground cardamom
½ whole nutmeg, grated (or 2 tsp ground nutmeg)
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp fresh-ground black pepper

The Root Beer Glaze
¾ cup heavy cream
1 Tbl sassafras bark (or ½ tsp sassafras extract; see Note)
2 cups powdered sugar
Pinch of ground star anise
Pinch of ground cardamom
¼ tsp kosher salt
¼ whole nutmeg, grated (or about 1 tsp ground nutmeg)
Finely grated zest of ½ lemon

To Make the Cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch cake pan with some of the butter.

Cut out a piece of parchment paper so it fits closely into the bottom of the cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with the parchment, and then grease the parchment with more butter.

Shake 1 tablespoon of the flour into the cake pan, and shake it around so it sticks to the butter. Tap out any excess flour that doesn't stick to the parchment or to the sides of the pan.

Pour the root beer and molasses into a deep medium-sized pot, and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. (You need those high sides because the baking soda will froth up very high, and you don't want it to spill over! So make sure there's some meaningful space between the liquid and the top of the pot.)

Pull the pot off the heat and whisk in all the baking soda, so it froths up. Then put the pot right in the fridge to cool down a little.

While the root beer mix is cooling down, whisk the brown sugar, vegetable oil, granulated sugar, ginger, and vanilla extract together in a mixing bowl. The mixture will be a little chunky at this point.

Crack the egg into the bowl and whisk well. The egg is what makes everything come together smoothly: you should have a thick paste. Set this aside.

In another mixing bowl, combine rest of the flour with the baking powder, star anise, and cardamom. Grate in the nutmeg and lemon zest, and add the salt and pepper. Whisk everything together so it's well combined. Take the root beer mixture out of the fridge. Pour a third of the flour mixture into a large mixing bowl; pour in one-third of the root beer mixture, then one-third of the sugar paste. Whisk everything together slowly (so it doesn't splash everywhere), and then add another one-third of the flour, another one-third of the root beer, and so forth, until everything is combined in the bowl. (The mix doesn't need to be completely and smoothly combined until the last of the wet and dry mixtures are in the bowl.) You should have wet, almost liquid batter.

Pour the batter into the cake pan, put the pan on a cookie sheet (to catch drips and splashes), and put on the middle oven rack.

Bake the cake for 45 minutes without opening the oven at all (this cake will sink if you shake it up while it's baking). Check it: the cake should be high and dark brown, with a little bit of spring-back when you touch it (but not too much-it's a very moist cake), if it's not quite ready, rotate the pan and put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes before checking it again. The whole baking process shouldn't take longer than 55 minutes, even in a slow oven.

While the Cake is Baking, Make the Glaze

Whisk the cream and sassafras together in a small pot, and bring it up to a boil over medium-high heat. As soon as it boils, pull the mixture off the heat, pour it into a glass or ceramic container (something that won't crack from the heat), and put it in the fridge. Let the mixture cool for about 30 minutes while the sassafras steeps into the cream, so you have a nice root beer flavor.

In a mixing bowl, combine the powdered sugar, star anise, cardamom, and salt. Grate in the nutmeg and lemon zest, and whisk everything together.

Strain the cooled cream through a fine-mesh strain into a small mixing bowl (so the sassafras pieces don’t end up in the glaze).

Gently whisk ½ cup of the cream into the powdered sugar mixture, holding back the last 2 tablespoons see if you need it. If the mixture is dry and not coming together as a glaze, add more cream. Whisk the mixture well, until you have a shiny, thick liquid.

To Finish the Cake

When the cake is ready, pull it out of the oven and let it rest for about 5 minutes.

Flip the cake out of the pan onto a serving plate. Spread the glaze thickly on top of the warm cake with a spoon. The glaze will melt and drip down the sides as you slather it on.

You can serve the cake as soon as it's cooled to room temperature-but like all spice cakes, it's even better the day after you make it. Store it covered at room temperature.

Andrew Carmellini (2011)
American Flavor
336 pages (hardback)
ISBN: 0061963291

Goes well with:
  • Drinking Cheerwine Like It's My Job. Root beer's all well and good, but I swear that there will come a day when a Cheerwine cake will cool on our kitchen counter. 
  • My review of Andrew Schloss' new book Homemade Soda — and how my mom came to think there was a drive-by shooting in her dining room.
  • My take on Brad Thomas Parsons' new book Bitters. It's because I make my own bitters, infusions, and extracts that I happened to have everything on the ingredient list for this cake.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tiki Cannibal Carnage for TDN: Nuku Hiva

Thursday Drink Night happens, more or less, once a week, lemme check. Yep. Thursday. Celebrants sometimes gather in person, but it's more of an online deal in which cocktail bloggers, spirits writers, bartenders, and drinks enthusiasts fire up their computers, chat with each other, and mix cocktails based on a theme or a particular spirit. This week, the theme is tiki...with a twist.

From the Mixoloseum blog regarding tonight's Thursday Drink Night:

[The] theme will be “Nuku Hiva” based on recent events on that tropical Polynesian island. A little back story:
In early October, the charred remains of a German adventurer were discovered at a campfire site on a South Pacific island. The tabloid media were quick to portray the slaying as a possible case of cannibalism on Nuku Hiva, an island historically known for human sacrifice. But locals are offended and experts say such killings are a thing of the very distant past. (read more)
Therefore, in honor of this darkly exotic mystery, the goal of the night is to create tiki drinks with at least one German ingredient! Bonus if you use fire!  Stop in to the chatroom after 8pm EST for all the fun and frivolity.

Now, what's a German ingredient? Kirsch? Yes. Bärenjäger? Yes. Jägermeister? Yes. Jägertee? Sure. Speckklöße? Not so fast...

Goes well with:
  • A bit I wrote a few years ago on Santa Maria tri-tip, bringing together The Smiths, Mr Gay UK, a taste for human flesh, and the inestimable Jeffery Jones in the 1999 film Ravenous. 
  • On Licking a Human Skull. I have, certainly. What? You haven't? Savage. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bookshelf: Homemade Soda

Around the time I started brewing my own stouts, ales, lagers, and "wee heavies," my father mentioned his fond memories of making root beer as a kid before World War II. During a subsequent school break, I scrounged up a few cases of empty bottles and pulled together ingredients to make an extract batch good old-fashioned American root beer with him. It was my first batch of home-brewed soda and the project taught me some early lessons in how not to work with yeast.

When the bottles began exploding in my parents’ dining room, my mother — then a schoolteacher — mistook the sounds of shattering glass for a drive-by shooting. Her students, she thought, had finally found her.

Mom was rattled, but unharmed. Over the years, I’ve collaborated on a number of undertakings with my father, from baking onion rye bread to laying bricks and building a deck, but that stab at root beer was our last joint beverage project.

The promise of homemade sodas occasionally came back to pluck at the edges of my imagination over the next few years and I ended up acquiring a decent collection of materials about the history and how-to of soda making. One of my favorites is Homemade Soda, a new-ish recipe collection by serial author Andrew Schloss. Not only does he have multiple root beer recipes, he gives various ways to prepare and then carbonate syrup bases; mixing with seltzer, carbonating with a siphon, or even — if you want to try your hand at it — brewing and lightly fermenting.

Schloss includes recipes for honey cardamom fizzy water, blazing inferno chile water, caramel seltzer, black lemonade, maraschino ginger ale, the “original” Orange Crush, homemade tonics, sarsaparilla, birch beer, spruce beer, various cream sodas, chai fizz, sparkling lemongrass lemonade, and an entire chapter devoted to shrubs, switchels, and other vinegar drinks.

The cocktail applications — both for the base syrups and the carbonated final product — hold a lot of promise. Regardless of whether you get all boozy with this or intend to use it as inspiration for treats for the kids, the historical asides, directions on equipment and processes, and light tone make Homemade Soda an easy and enjoyable read.

Goes well with:
  • Fix the Pumps, Darcy O’Neil’s compendium of old soda fountain syrups and tinctures recipes. 
Andrew Schloss (2011)
Homemade Soda: 200 Recipes for Making & Using Fruit Sodas & Fizzy Juices; Sparkling Waters; Root Beers & Cola Brews; Herbal & Healing Waters; Sparkling Teas and Coffees; Shrubs and Switchels; Cream Sodas and Floats; and Other Carbonated Concoctions
336 pages (paperback)
Storey Publishing
ISBN: 1603427961

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Champurrado for Day of the Dead

One night, when we were still new in San Diego, Dr. Morpheus and I attended a neighborhood party commemorating Día de los Muertos. We live about 20 minutes outside Tijuana; this is a very local tradition. Friends had spent days preparing mole, forming tamales, and doing the other prep work for the feast of traditional Mexican foods.

As we chatted with neighbors, Morpheus suddenly told me “I’ll be right back. Want some hot chocolate?”

“Sure,” I said.

Then I saw that he was headed to a huge, cylindrical Rubbermaid cooler. Guests were coming away from it with cups of steaming drinks. “Wait...” Even from across the room, I could smell what flowing from the cooler’s tap. But he was already gone. When he returned a few minutes later, he handed me a cup. He still hadn’t tried his.

“Don’t drink that,” I warned him. “You won’t like it.”

“It’s hot chocolate,” he explained as if I were an imbecile.

“That’s not all it is. Try it. It’s not something you’re going to go for, though.” We’ve known each other nearly twenty years; I know what the boy likes to put in his mouth. The look of surprise that leapt to his face at the first sip was pretty much what I expected.

“What the hell is that?”

That was champurrado, a subspecies of corn-thickened beverages common to Mexico known as atoles. Atoles can be plain or flavored with pineapple, peach, cinnamon, pumpkin, coconut, guavas, sweet potatoes, plums, peas, mangos, strawberries, sunflower seeds, and, quite literally, hundreds more fruits, spices, vegetables, and seeds.

Champurrado, one of my favorite varieties of atole, is flavored with canela (Mexican cinnamon) and chocolate. At a glance, it does look like hot chocolate, but if you’ve spent any time around corn (ahem), you can pick out the aroma well before tasting it. And if the aroma doesn’t give it away, the consistency certainly does.

An acquired taste? Yeah, sure, I'll grant you that. An acquired texture is more like it, though. Sometimes, it's almost pudding-like, but in general, champurrado isn’t thick like oatmeal or Cream of Wheat cereal. But even the smallest sip reveals it’s thicker than hot chocolate. More like a cream of tomato or pumpkin soup. Use masa if you’ve got it, but the corn that’s most commonly added around here is masa harina, a finely ground dry cornmeal used to prepare tamales and some kinds of tortillas. It’s first mixed with water to make a loose slurry, then added to the chocolate mix, the whole thing then heated a few minutes; if you add the masa harina all at once, the stuff clumps up like cornstarch.

Aficionados are split on whether to use all water, all milk, or some combination of the two, but here’s how we do it when Autumn sets in and the mornings are so chilly. This makes a moderately thick champurrado. If you like it thinner, simply add more water or milk to the pan while heating.

I've got the champurrado covered for tonight; who's making the mole?

One 3 ¼ oz disc of Mexican chocolate (Ibarra brand)
One 5-6” stick canela (Mexican cinnamon) or 3-4” regular cinnamon
2 ½ cups water (divided use)
1 cup milk
½ cup masa harina
1 small cone of piloncillo* (or ¼ to ½ cup turbinado or brown sugar)

Bring 1 ½ cups of water to the boil in a saucepan. In a separate mixing bowl (or the measuring cup if it’s large enough), mix together the remaining 1 cup of water with the milk and the masa harina. Stir together until it reaches a smooth, uniform consistency.

When the water comes to a bowl, stir the masa mixture again to loosen it. Pour it into the boiling water along with the chocolate, piloncillo and cinnamon. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the chocolate and sugar have dissolved and the canela flavor has suffused the entire mixture.

Serve in squat mugs (to better hold the heat).

* Piloncillo is the small, very hard sugar that comes in cones/pylons and is available at almost every Mexican market. We've used it here before in our pineapple vinegar.