Cocktail Friday: The Interpol

Today’s cocktail was inspired by a coworker who had it in Vegas. He was able to give me the ingredient list but not proportions; I had to work it out by trial and error.

The Interpol builds on several rich traditions: gin cocktails featuring amari (e.g. the Negroni, with Campari) and traditional cocktails that substitute an amaro for some or all the vermouth, for instance. This one builds an alternative to a martini by replacing the dry vermouth with Cardamaro, a cardoon (artichoke) based amaro that adds a woody, herbal flavor. (You might remember it from my Woodsy Owl).

I had to play with the proportions and am not convinced that I got it quite right, but I really liked this version. There’s an alternative formulation at Kindred Cocktails that I also want to try, but I think the simple syrup has to be 86’d—the gin is already sweet enough.

As always, here’s the Highball recipe card, if you plan to try it out. Enjoy!

The Interpol, created with Highball.

Cocktail Friday: Tonic and Bitters

When I posted a note about today’s drink on a private cocktails discussion, the reaction was swift: “sounds delicious, but not as delicious as alcohol.”

Yes, this is a non-alcoholic drink. But we’re staring down the barrel of a week of 90+ degree days and having something cool but satisfyingly complex sounds pretty good to me right now. And the proportions for combining something as simple as tonic and bitters turned out to be surprisingly tricky to get right. (The addition of lime is a non-obvious, but delightful, balance. Also for this drink, if you think you’re putting too much bitters in, you probably haven’t added enough.)

As always, here’s the Highball recipe card, if you plan to try it out. Enjoy!


Cocktail Friday: Wallis Blue

This Friday’s cocktail is another one from the Esquire Drink Book. This one, the Wallis Blue, was supposedly fashioned by the Duke of Windsor himself in honor of his bride-to-be, the American socialite Wallis Simpson, by mixing a version of a sidecar and adding blue vegetable dye to match the color of her eyes.

As a Facebook friend of mine would say, #ewgrossbarf.

But the cocktail is delicious. The Duke (if it was he) was astute in swapping out brandy for gin. I skipped the sugared rim of the original (see link above) but you can absolutely do it if desired. I also substituted creme de violette, which you should have for Aviations anyway, for the blue food coloring.

Here’s the Highball recipe card, if you plan to try it out. Enjoy!

wallis blue



House dressing, please

For people who eat sandwiches and who’ve spent time in Williamsburg or Charlottesville, two words are apt to cause rhapsodies of gastric nostalgia: “house dressing.” The Cheese Shop in Williamsburg and Take It Away in Charlottesville, both started by Tom and Mary Ellen Power (who were also responsible for the Cheese Shop in Hidenwood that I remember growing up), both feature deceptively simple sandwiches (home baked bread, meat, cheese, limited vegetables including sprouts, cucumbers, and recently, sundried tomatoes), and both feature the also-deceptively-named house dressing.

I’ve tried to create a version of this over the years (as have others), and came up with something I liked rather a lot based on a recipe posted on (which itself credits Epicurious, so who knows?):

  • 1 cup mayonnaise (use the good stuff)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon turbinado sugar (2 packets of Sugar-in-the-Raw)
  • fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds

Place mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, sugar and pepper in a blender or food processor. Start at a low speed and graduate up to a higher speed. You may need to turn off the blender once or twice and press out air the bubbles with a spatula to get it all blended well. Transfer the mix to a bowl. Stir in the 1 teaspoon of mustard seed. Put in a covered container and store in refrigerator overnight, to let flavors marry. After 24 hours, the spread is ready to use. Use as spread or dip for sandwiches. Enjoy!

The taste is quite good, especially on turkey sandwiches at Thanksgiving, but it’s not quite right.  I didn’t realize the disconnect until  I was able to visit Take It Away again a few times for reunions and grab another taste.

Fortunately, the point is rendered moot by the new availability of House Dressing in the jar, over the Internet. I’ll wait until cooler weather to order it and check it out, but maybe our long nightmare is over!

Cocktail Friday: Kentucky Corpse Reviver

Kentucky Corpse Reviver, with frog
Kentucky Corpse Reviver, with frog

For the second entry in Cocktail Friday, I turn to bourbon, but with a twist. One of those “any excuse to party” websites declared Wednesday National Bourbon Day, and I decided to celebrate with a drink I had never had before, which is a twist on a completely different drink: the Kentucky Corpse Reviver.

There are a number of drinks with the name “corpse reviver,” which are mostly unrelated to each other and to this drink. The theme, as Wikipedia dryly notes, is “hair of the dog” hangover cures, but I can’t imagine anyone drinking these in the morning. Wikipedia gives the great Harry Craddock credit for the two better known recipes, based on cognac and gin, but also points to a mention of a cocktail called a Corpse-Reviver in Punch in 1861, meaning that the concept is ancient even if the drink is modern.

In concept, the Kentucky Corpse Reviver is a straightforward adaptation of the justly famous Corpse Reviver #2, substituting bourbon for gin and omitting the absinthe. In practice, the addition of both bourbon and the mint garnish make this an entirely different, and remarkable, drink. But proceed with caution: as with the original, “four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.”

Here’s the Highball recipe card, if you plan to try it out. Enjoy!


The spicy is life

There are very few sentences of five words or less that will make me drop what I’m doing and read something closely. “Sichuan Cuisine, Imperiled by Success” happens to be one of those sentences. The New York Times does a review of how the demand of extreme eaters for more and more spicy foods is imperiling authentic Sichuan cuisine.

This hits closely because Sichuan is a culinary discovery that has honestly revolutionized my palate. I used to be satisfied with mediocre American-Chinese dishes; I shudder to think how much fried rice I’ve consumed in my lifetime. Sichuan fills two voids for me. First, the strong flavors and unusual ingredients of many traditional dishes hit areas of my palate that no other foods can touch. Second, I feel as though it’s one “traditional” Chinese cuisine where I’ve learned enough to claim a small amount of expertise.

I owe any expertise I’ve accumulated to three local restaurants: Sichuan Gourmet, whose Framingham branch hosted my first Sichuan dinner but whose Billerica and new Burlington stores have seen much more of my custom; Szechuan’s Dumpling, who during its golden age could bring spicy deliciousness right to my front door; and the Baldwin Bar at Sichuan Garden, which combines superb Sichuan food with a world class cocktail bar. And that’s all without exploring Chinatown’s spicy offerings. But it’s probably the first one to which I owe the biggest debt. At Veracode, it’s so well loved that we don’t even call the restaurant by name anymore; it’s just Spicy, as in “let’s go to Spicy.”

I think it’s interesting that there’s a concern for authenticity emerging this early in Sichuan’s culinary history. As the article points out, most Sichuan dishes go back “only a century or two.” Of course, the history of French haute cuisine can be traced to the same period, thanks to Escoffier‘s codification and elevation of traditional French cooking. But I hope that I get a chance to explore more of the traditional cuisine before it gets “extremed” to death.

Cocktail Friday: The Bairn


Today’s post comes courtesy of the Esquire Drink Book, a mid-century masterpiece of cocktail lore. It’s not just comprehensive but also wittily written and illustrated, and full of odd little throwaway recipes here and there.

I’ve been reading through it for a few weeks and am starting to collect cocktails to try. One that I investigated early on and that’s stayed with me is the Bairn, which as its name suggests is a Scotch-based cocktail. This blends the smokiness of Scotch with a solid dose of orange from both the Cointreau and the bitters. It’s a great introduction to the book and is an unfussy Friday afternoon sort of cocktail, which if your Fridays are anything like mine is just the right sort of thing to try.

I’m experimenting with a new-to-me app called Highball to document and share cocktail recipes; it’s nice because importing the image below into your version of the app will automatically add the recipe to your recipe book. Try it out and let me know what you think.


Barbecue field trip: 12 Bones, Asheville

Hogzilla sandwich, 12 Bones, Asheville

I couldn’t go through a week long visit to the South without checking into a few barbecue stops. Top of my list: 12 Bones in Asheville.

My cousin took me and Lisa here a while ago, after they first opened, and I’d made a few visits since. Even if they didn’t famously have a picture of President Obama on the wall from one of his several stops while campaigning, it still would have been on my short list because (a) they do pulled pork really well (b) likewise, sausages (c) they understand that side dishes are not an afterthought.

They also have a sense of humor, which is why Hogzilla is on the menu. This is a hoagie roll that barely holds a bratwurst sliced in half, topped with pulled pork, pepperjack cheese, and sugar-cured bacon. I had skipped it the first few times, but was ravenous this time (we got there after 1pm). So I figured “why not” and ordered it, with collard greens and jalapeño cheese grits on the side.

It arrived at the table (outside, in the cool breeze coming up from the French Broad—another reason to visit). It looked a lot bigger than I thought it would. I began to have second thoughts. Still, it smelled good, so I decided to start with the sides.

First bite: the cheese grits are the real thing, with just enough heat. I try the collards next, which are delicious but not quite as remarkable as the ones at the Admiral last night (though admittedly that’s a horse of a different feather altogether). I look at Hogzilla again out of the corner of my eye: still there. Still big.

I pick it up; it holds together really well. This is not to be taken for granted at a barbecue joint. Half the sandwiches I’ve had in our pretty-good Massachusetts BBQ places fall apart because whoever put the sides on the plate put too much juice on, soaking the bread. The motto here could be “12 Bones: We Know How to Use a Slotted Spoon.”

I take a bite. The first bite is spectacular, with the spice flavors from the bratwurst complemented by the smokiness of the pulled pork and the sweetness of the bacon. The pepper jack is invisible, though I suspect it contributes to the sandwich’s cohesion.

Before I realize it I’ve eaten two thirds of the sandwich. Then I have to slow down. I look over at my dad, who’s ordered the same thing. He’s eaten only a third of his. “That’s a lot of meat,” he says. “Yeah,” I say.

I make myself finish it. I feel full. Hours later, I still feel full. I suspect I may never need to eat again.

I will return to 12 Bones. But next time I think I’ll just get the pulled pork.

Cocktail recipe: Woodsy Owl

The Woodsy Owl

It’s a concert week, so I thought in lieu of a proper blog post I’d share this cocktail recipe I invented a year or so ago. Enjoy!

This is the Woodsy Owl. It’s a little like an Allen Cocktail, but the combination of sweet vermouth and Cardamaro gives a slightly sweet herbal flavor to what would otherwise be a less bitter variation on the Negroni.

Woodsy Owl

  • 1 oz gin (recommend Plymouth)
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 oz Cardamaro

Combine and stir over ice. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with lemon peel (optional).

“A modern art—this mixing of drinks”

Inside front wooden cover and title page of Here’s How: Mixed Drinks, published in Asheville in 1941.

Speaking of primary artifacts of history…

As I learn more about the fine art of mixology, I’ve been slowly acquiring interesting cocktail books. As the books get better, so do their bibliographies, and so I’ve started to poke my nose into the rabbit hole of vintage cocktail books.

A friend gave me a copy of the Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual—highly recommended even if you never make a drink in it for the thoroughness of the historic research and the slightly breathless biography of the NYC bar’s owner and bartender. In an aside, an early chapter mentions a punch recipe that was cited in a book called Here’s How, published by Three Mountaineers in Asheville, NC in 1941.

A cocktail book published in Asheville? In 1941?

Of course, Asheville had been a resort destination during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but I had no inkling that it had a cocktail culture. But, one eBay acquisition later, I can attest that editor W.C. Whitfield knew his stuff. The hillbilly illustration and wood-and-leather binding aside, the contents are impeccable, with a brandy crusta recipe I will be trying this weekend, and three different variations on a mint julep.

I can’t figure out who Whitfield is, nor his connection to Asheville, but the publisher Three Mountaineers was a furniture and home furnishings maker founded in 1932 (hence the wooden covers, presumably). Maybe my Asheville relatives can find out more…

Sending 2015 out with a bang

Happy New Year!

We went a little nuts yesterday and made Melissa Clark’s “modern timpano” for our New Years Eve dinner. Did it go well? Well, aside from taking more like five hours, and the pasta covering being pretty inedible, I’d say yes. The inside was delicious, though not much like the Stanley Tucci inspired dish it’s named after (and check Tucci’s feedback on that in the recipe comments!). 

You can see what it looks like fresh out of the pan above, and served up below. 

And the New Year begins, lazy, as we polish off leftovers for lunch – not a hardship when it’s leftover duck and shrimp gumbo – and think do I really want to cook that Hoppin John analog today? Well, yes, since I went to the trouble of mail ordering the Sea Island red peas from Anson Mills and they’re soaking in the fridge. 

But for now it’s just a pleasure to sit and enjoy the quiet. 

Late August


Ah, late August. The temperatures are still high (well, high by Boston standards, anyway–growing up, 83° was more like a warm fall afternoon) but you can tell summer is getting to be a little long in the tooth.

For starters, the tomatoes are starting to come in. We only have a handful of tomatoes on the plants this time around; I have no idea why, except that we didn’t spend as much time with the plants this year. So we’re supplementing with the big boxes of seconds that are starting to show up at Wilson Farm and using those for our annual tomato sauce exercise. The process looks something like this photo set from last year, except this year we didn’t have a big crop of cherry tomatoes so I diced the big ones by hand instead of using the food processor. We make about a dozen to 20 quarts every year, and they last all through the winter and into the high summer if managed right, even given our relatively high pasta and pizza consumption. Case in point–we opened the last 2010 jar just last week.

So I’m making sauce. Instead of mowing the lawn (it can wait a day) and instead of napping while my son naps, which I might regret later. But right now it’s feeling like the right thing to do. Because sometimes you have to take a look at the future and say, I want to be ready.

QTN™: Gnomegang

When I read that American brewer-in-the-Belgian-style Ommegang was collaborating with actual Belgian brewery L’achouffe on a beer, I was a little nonplussed. But then I saw the name of the collaboration: Gnomegang. And it all made sense.

This is a remarkably, even dangerously, easy drinking beer at 9.5%. A shade lighter than the classic Chimay gold but darker than Achouffe stablemate Duvel, only the slight sour on the tongue flavor tips off the uniquely enjoyable threat lurking within. There aren’t too many Belgian styles that are just right for sitting by the grill, but this is one.

I had to hunt to find a bottle of this collaboration, but it’s totally worth seeking out.

At the Salt Lick, Driftwood, TX

At the urging of about six Facebook friends, I make the pilgrimage from downtown Austin, where I am on travel for a few days, to Driftwood, Texas, tonight to visit the Salt Lick. It’s a barbecue joint that’s been around for about 43 years. As these things go, it’s commercialized and simple at the same time. Commercialized: mail order menus sit on the table; jars of the sauce line the entrance; there’s a separate function building. Simple: Four meats (brisket, sausage, pork ribs, turkey), three sides (potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans) that all come at once, free “condiments” (pickles, raw onion, white bread), pie, and soft drinks. (Driftwood is in a dry county, but they allow BYOB; I decide not to B my own B, since I have a 25 mile drive each way.)

I order a plate of brisket and sausage and an iced tea, and wait at an otherwise empty table.

The table in front of me is discussing old Texas home construction. “There would be a place in the parlor where you would have the viewings. With a stained glass window. Now it’s just a window seat, but then they assumed you would be hosting a wake. I remember two occasions where they had to open up the windows to get the casket out.” Behind me, a different technology: “So I had to convince them to take our quarter micron process and adapt it to the 3.3v work.”

Of course, Texas is, in terms of high tech, a hardware state. (What else?)

I sit thinking about old technology: cooking meat in smoke.

The food: Brisket is absolutely lean and supple. The sausage is saucy: well spiced, juicy, flavorful. The pecan pie is an inch of custard with a single layer of pecans on top–not at all my grandmother’s recipe–but the pecans are completely evocative of autumn nights with a nutcracker at the dining room table over a layer of newspaper.

As I stand to leave, I get the salty tangy burning in the eyes of the woodsmoke. It conjures other fires, and other cuts of meat with perfect pink rings from the smoke: 12 Bones in Asheville, Big Jim’s in Charlottesville, Dixie’s in Bellevue, WA, Three Pigs in McLean, and of course Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Q south of Williamsburg.

And even though I am full to bursting, it all makes me homesick for Carolina pulled pork in a bun.

Magret a la Mad Elf

Christmas dinner has come and gone, and brought some unusual triumphs.

First, the side dishes: alongside the usual boiled parslied potatoes and green beans, I slipped in a dish of glazed turnips. The turnips were so young and soft that I was afraid to really brown them for fear of turning them to mush, so they were just kind of boiled. But delicious. Like a potato and a radish made sweet, forbidden love. I never had turnips growing up, but they are certainly growing on me now. I suppose that increases my New Englander score a bit.

Next, the main dish. As already noted, I seared duck breasts — four Muscovy breasts and a Magret — then popped them in the oven to rest while I worked on the sauce. I poured out all but a thin film of duck fat on the bottom of the pan, dumped in a diced shallot, and scooted it around a bit while it sizzled. Then a few tablespoons of flour to thicken the roux while I pondered the deglazing. I steeled my nerves, opened a Troëgs Mad Elf—and poured the whole thing into the pan.

An aside on the Mad Elf. I try to find a holiday beer every year–sometimes it’s been a standby like the Harpoon Winter Warmer, sometimes Belgians like the Kerst Pater Winter Ale. Some of the selections have not lasted, and I’m still sad that Orchard Street Brewing Company’s Jingle Ale went away when the brewery did. This year’s holiday beer was the Mad Elf from the Troëgs Brewing Company in Harrisburg, PA. An astonishingly subtle 11% ABV, the cherries and honey mask the heat until it’s too late, as a rule. Well worth snapping up a few sixes if you come across it.

At any rate, I thought, if I was going to do a cherry sauce for the duck but had no cherries, why not use a beer brewed with cherries instead? The answer became clear after I had deglazed the pan and cooked it for a bit: the bitterness from the hops threatened to swamp the other flavors and make the sauce inedible. I desperately cast about for something to fight the bitterness and found a bottle of pure cranberry juice in the fridge, and added about 3/4 cup, tasting after each splash. The cranberry juice did wonders: without totally removing the bitterness, it added a deep sweetness and redness to the sauce that made it piquant and splendid. I added dried thyme and sage, cooked it through, and we were ready to go.

And it was excellent. The flavor of the magret breasts was gamier than I thought, but the sauce carried it through. Definitely a keeper.