Friday, March 26, 2010

Honeymoons and Spring Fake-outs...

It was warm enough last week, high atop the Potter building, to have all the windows open and to paint the yard furniture. But yesterday, the clouds rolled in again. Today, a nasty thin wind just turned over the garden umbrella we'd rather optimistically raised over two rocking chairs outside my study. The temperature is thirty seven degrees and the unchanging light is the dull, even sort of stuff you get during a snowstorm.

Ken bought me a couple of little azalea plants to put on the porch last week, and I'm going to have to remember to take them inside tonight. When the clouds blow away later, it's supposed to go down into the twenties.

Such is March, and an odd month it's been--health care reform finally passed, Alex Chilton and Fess Parker gone, a week of sunshine and balmy breezes dotting the ends of the bare tree branches with green...and today, murk and shuddery cold. After I do my radio show tonight, and Ken gets back from practicing, we'll probably light the first fire we've had since the big snowstorms of just a few weeks back.

One could spite the turn in the weather with a tropical drink, but I'm thinking something soothing might be more to the point. In my continued exploration of the Ted Haigh Cocktail book, I ran across The Honeymoon Cocktail last weekend. It's a good drink for a night like this: not too winter-heavy, a tad on the sweet side but not cloyingly so. It's a venerable drink, supposedly from The Brown Derby chain in LA. I swore I wasn't going to quote any more of Haigh's recipes in this blog, but after playing with his formula some, I simply can't beat it--with the caveat that although he calls for Calvados, I do use Applejack, which he says is OK. There are other formulations kicking around the web, but many of them call for far too much Benedictine, which will give you something that tastes too medicine-y for me.

Here's what I do:

2 oz applejack
1/2 oz Benedictine
1/2 oz orange curacao
1/2 oz lemon juice

Shake hard, serve up in a cocktail glass with a lemon twist. Haigh suggests flaming the lemon twist (putting a lighter to it while you're twisting it over the drink to spark up some of the oil that will emerge, a tricky fillip). That last thing is perhaps advisable to impress your guests or Significant Other on the first round, but if you make a second round, please don't do it. You'll burn your fingers for sure! A plain old lemon twist, while not as sexy as the flamed one, is just fine in this interesting drink.

Anything with applejack in it is bound to be tasty, and with the nicely balanced proportions of Haigh's recipe, the complex flavors of the Benedictine won't overwhelm any amateurs in your crowd. Cheers!

See you at 4 EDT on!

Friday, March 12, 2010

No Penny Whistles--just soda bread and whisky, please...

I don't know how Irish I really am. My dad is pretty thoroughly Irish, but he always claimed that there was French-Canadian in his family. My maiden name is Blanck, which is really Dutch. There are only two things I know for sure about my heritage: a) I'm an Irish/German/English mutt, for the most part and b) I couldn't be a bigger WASP unless my first name were Muffie. Although my friend Tom (Randoradio's Logovore) says Irish people don't count as WASPS. He's probably right--Irish folks are Celts-- but you can't pronounce WCPS. And that doesn't even get into the whole Protestant/Catholic thing...

It's complicated, as they say on Feetsbook.

I do like St. Patrick's Day, though. I don't like the barroom version, where folks put sequined shamrock glasses on and start drinking at 9AM. Nor do I especially love the penny-whistled drenched, misty moisty green public TV version. I like a dinner party with a few friends and family, and I put the cocktail shaker away for this one. Jamesons and water or Guiness to drink, corned beef and cabbage, soda bread, and some simple sweet for dessert. This year I'm thinking of a chocolate cake from the French housewife classic I Know How To Cook. A French cake on St. Pat's is fine, I think. I've actually had terrific French food in Dublin. Anyway: a few Irish cheese and some crackers and fig jam before hand.

Corned beef is something I've loved for years, even the nasty commercial stuff, but if you shop around a little, you can often find butchers who brine their own at this time of year. It's worth the extra effort to do so. DiCicco's in Rockland and Westchester Counties (downstate NY) usually has a barrel of the stuff out.

Here, by the way, is my genuine family recipe for Soda Bread. Notice that it does use white flour, caraway, and raisins or currents. It's Irish-American, not trad Irish. But we've been making the stuff for fifty years anyway, and it's good: neither too sweet nor too crumbly. Toasts up great for days, too. I standardized some (but not all) of my great-aunt's eyeball-it measurements:

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups flour (unbleached is best)

1 to 2 tablespoons caraway seeds (to taste)

1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons sugar

a generous 1/2 stick (4 and 1/2--5 tablespoons) melted butter--use the frying pan you will bake this in to melt the butter

about 1/2 medium box of raisins (can mix golden and brown, or use currents)

2 eggs

2 cups buttermilk

Greased cast iron fry pan to bake it in.

Preheat oven to 325.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the salt, sugar, and baking soda. Beat the eggs in a smaller bowl and add to them the buttermilk and the melted butter. Mix wet ingredients well. Sprinkle half the seeds and the raisins into the dry mixture and begin to add the wet mixture on top of it, mixing with a rubbermaid spatula. When you’ve given it a few turns, add the rest of the seeds and raisins, and the rest of the wet ingredients. Gently mix the dough until wet and dry mixtures are combined. Do not overmix. You want a folding motion, and a few lumps are OK as long as everything is moistened and holding together. Dough will be stiff--perhaps like drop biscuits. You may need a tablespoon or two more buttermilk on a dry day.

Put dough into frying pan in which you have melted the butter (you will also have wiped the extra butter up the sides of it, so the dough won’t stick).

Bake at 325 for about an hour. To check for doneness, take the bread out of the oven and gently invert the fry pan, catching the bread in your other (hot gloved!!!) hand. Insert a roasting thermometer. Properly cooked soda bread should be 190 to 195 degrees, and the top will be golden brown.

Eat warm or cool, with butter. This is also good toasted, and will keep in a plastic bag for two or three days.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I'm on today--Friday the 12th--at 4 PM, as always.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Stirrings of Spring

The really peculiar thing about late winter is how intense it can be--and then it just disappears like an inch of overnight snow on a 50 degree afternoon. Which is what's happening high atop the Potter Building, this almost-spring. We're still having cocktails before the fire in the evenings, and it's still pretty dark outside by the dinner hour. But something is stirring.

That got me thinking about highballs today. Highballs, of course, are drinks in tall glasses with ice cubes in, the kind baby boomers like me remember our parents drinking. Nothing like that tinkly-ice-in-glasses sound to evoke a grown-up party of the past! But when I got into making cocktails, I was more interested in the ones you serve "up", in the stemmed, cone-shaped glasses. Those seemed way more Nick and Nora to me. Still, there's a time and a place.

And so today, as I put together thoughts for my radio show, I wandered over to the Internet Cocktail Database to see what their randomizer would come up with for me. Yikes! It was something called the People Eater. Well, at least it was a highball, and I HAD been thinking about highballs. You ready?

1 oz. 151 proof rum
1/4 oz lime juice

Pour over ice in a highball glass, fill with 7-up, and give it a stir.

Um...OK. Actually, I'm no huge fan of 7-up, but I do like highballs with ginger ale. My grandpa introduced me to cocktail hour at an age that would be considered scandalous these days with bourbon and gingers. Here are two drinks I've got the kitchen staff making today, again courtesy of the Internet Cocktail Database--and what a fine public resource it is!

The Buck Jones
1 and 1/2 oz light rum
1 and 1/2 oz cocktail sherry (dry)
3/4 oz lime juice

Pour over ice & fill the highball glass with ginger ale. Stir. I'd garnish with a lime slice.

The Ruby Rangoon
1 and 1/2 oz. gin
1 and 1/2 oz cranberry juice

Pour over ice & fill the highball glass with ginger ale. Stir. I imagine an orange garnish? One could play.

Of course, with any of these drinks, the quality of the finished product depends greatly upon your mixer. I'd go with a snooty ginger ale from a small company--something with some good flavor. Ginger beer might be a little too burny-intense. Leave that for the Dark & Stormies. And I'll tell you a dirty secret: although cocktail purists will scream and tear their hair, if you're watching sugar intake, decent-tasting diet G.A. works in a highball.

See you at 4 on!