DOTW: The Vesper

Posted by Cameron on 11.30.06 11:56 PM


“When I’m–er–concentrating, I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made.”
–James Bond, Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Was ever a character from popular literature more poorly served by Hollywood than James Bond? We all know the silver screen buffoonery: arch, cartoonish cardboard cutouts with sapphire blue eyes. Hit the tape marks and luxuriate in the JiggleVision. Dress like a peacock, shake the gadgets. Secret agent? Bah. This is a man so monomaniacal in his habits that even his enemies know his drink preference.

But on the page, Ian Fleming’s international spy is a different man. He prefers a low profile. He is thoughtful and specific, driven by both personal inclination and professional urgency. He is a hopeless romantic and desperately human. Over the course of the original thirteen novels and a few short stories, Bond falls deeply in love, again and again, in the face of brutal heartbreak. He takes great pains to remain anonymous and alive in a dangerous trade, and he is intimately, passionately connected with the day-to-day business of living.

“You must forgive me,” he said. “I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink. It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details. It’s very pernickety and old-maidish really, but then when I’m working I generally have to eat my meals alone and it makes them more interesting when one takes trouble.”

“Shaken, not stirred,” marketing-friendly bull***t be damned. Bond drinks whatever is appropriate, local, and good. In Turkey, it’s Kavaklidere, “a rich coarse burgundy like any other Balkan wine”. In the Caribbean: gin, tonic and lime (you can take the Boy out of the Empire…). Champagne? Just watch the man go. And when the vodka comes out, our man James drops pepper on top, for practical and aesthetic reasons:

‘It’s a trick the Russians taught me that time you attached me to the Embassy in Moscow,’ apologized Bond. ‘There’s often quite a lot of fusel oil on the surface of this stuff –at least there used to be when it was badly distilled. Poisonous. In Russia, where you get a lot of bath-tub liquor, it’s an understood thing to sprinkle a little pepper in your glass. It takes the fusel oil to the bottom. I got to like the taste and now it’s a habit. But I shouldn’t have insulted the club Wolfschmidt,’ he added with a grin.

But there’s only one drink that Bond invented, and it’s not the one you might think. The medium-dry vodka martini may have launched a thousand ships, but the Vesper, introduced in Casino Royale, is the original–really, the only–Bond drink. Not surprisingly, it’s a much more interesting cocktail:

“A dry Martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, Monseiur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?”

In The Book of Bond, Kingsley Amis argues that the mixture is a mistake, as that quantity of Kina Lillet would have made the cocktail undrinkably bitter. We will never know for sure, as the formula of Lillet was changed in 1986. Happily, the new Lillet works like a charm.

Made with one “measure” equaling one ounce, the Vesper is indeed a large, strong, cold cocktail. The vodka takes the edge off the gin and contributes a bit of sweetness which is reinforced by the Lillet and the lemon.

“This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.”

As might be expected, James can only find a bad one. This drink’s name comes from Vesper Lynd, a female spy who Bond initially ignores but then falls in love with. Vesper turns out to be a double-agent working for both the Russians and the British while in France. It’s a combination that echoes the ingredients of the cocktail that eventually bears her name: vodka, gin, and vermouth.

The Vesper
3 ounces gin
1 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce Lillet

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass (or champagne coupe, if you have one). Garnish with a large, thin slice of lemon peel. Bet large. Tip the chef de partie. Flirt with Moneypenny. Get out before they use the laser.

Drink of the Week, drinks, literary, recipes


Zombies in the garden

Posted by Anita on 11.29.06 12:22 AM

tomatoes in november (c)2006 AECRight before we left town for Thanksgiving, I took some shots of our edible garden. It’s amazing how many things are still thriving, including the tomatoes(!) and — back from the dead! — the finicky ol’ Italian basil.

Of course, some other plants are finally going dormant for the season. At least our raggedy-ass Santa Rosa plum tree now has an excuse for looking like hell.

And, right on schedule, the citrus trees are beginning to bear some fruit. We won’t get much of a harvest this year, since the trees are so young, but there’s at least one bergamot, a few Meyer lemons, and tons of makrut (kaffir lime) blossoms.

(More pix on Flickr.)

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All corked up

Posted by Anita on 11.28.06 6:49 PM

bouchon (c)2006 AECEvery time I sit down to write this post, I sigh deeply and then find something more pleasant to do… like empty the dishwasher. It’s not as though our meal at Bouchon Las Vegas was bad, per se (ha ha), but the experience was so far below even our modest expectations that I’m still disappointed, days later.

As I browse through the photos, I realize that most everything we ate was reasonably good, some things were even great. But there were so many service missteps, awkward moments, and food fumbles that added up to a whole lot less than the kind of memorable meal I expect from a Thomas Keller establishment, even a baby bistro in Sin City. Especially one with $35 entrees.

I suppose the biggest issue with our meal was the sevice. Our waiter was undeniably sweet, but simply not ready for prime time. As Cameron said: “He has the raw skills to be a great waiter, but he’s definitely not there yet.” His numerous gaffes included awkward check-ins, stammering recitations of specials, and a rather graceless handling of a bar mistake. Oh, and an outright “WHA?” moment, when he described “soubise” to the couple next to us as “kind of like a risotto.” Um, ah-no. On the flip side, the host staff and managers were right on top of things, both as we arrived and as we departed.

The other clunker of the evening was the atmosphere: Bouchon’s space at the Venetian suffers from a severe lack of coziness. I know, I know… it’s Vegas, but the high ceilings make the place feel less like the Grand Canal and more like the Grand Canyon. On the positive side, the decor hits a gently Gallic tone, whispering “bistro” — a Parisian-style hat rack over banquettes and pastel still-life murals — without dipping too far into cliche.

The food, alas, was similarly hit and miss. After we placed our order, a runner brought shatteringly good bread and a welcome bowl of pistachios to accompany our drinks: a signature Bouchon cocktail for me (a touch too much peach liqueur for my taste — but hey, it’s their recipe) and a glass of sancerre for Cameron.

Moving into the appetizers, Cam’s onion soup came out of the kitchen terribly undersalted; With no salt on the table, he had to ask our gawky waiter to bring some. My salade lyonnaise was top notch — perfect egg (sous vide, perhaps?) and lovely lardons — but slightly overdressed.

We both opted for nightly specials for the main course. Cameron’s dayboat scallops were perfectly seared, served in a delicate, creamy sauce gilded with tender pieces of crab, and accompanied by a light-as-air potato gratin. (Sounds impossible, I know… but Keller’s crew knows their spuds, even here.) My pavé de veau featured meltingly tender veal breast, assembled into a tall cube and crisped up with panko. Underneath: Lovely roasted brussels sprouts, a too-sweet soubise (that’s an onion-infused Bechamel sauce… not at all like a risotto, thanks), and odd but definitely tasty chestnut “pain perdu” sticks on top of the stack.

For dessert, we chose after-dinner drinks and an order of beignets to share. The pastries themselves were cold and leaden, like they’d been made hours ahead of service, and their cream filling tasted pasty and heavy. An unbilled scoop of chocolate ice cream was the plate’s saving grace.

Our waiter stopped back after our dessert arrived to let us know it would be a few minutes before the bar could serve my requested glass of poire william; they needed to get a bottle from storage. I truly didn’t mind the delay, but the waiter’s fumbling and stumbling left me more annoyed than the actual missing drink. When the digestif did finally arrive, the glass contained a gargantuan pour, easily three times as much as any sane person would drink at a sitting — a generous gesture, perhaps, but one that came off feeling amateurish.

All in all, it seemed more like a meal that should have cost closer to $130 than the $230 we spent, even adjusting for the Vegas Factor. Would I return? Possibly — I suppose we could have dropped in on an off night…although it’s hard to believe that Keller wouldn’t have the A-team in the kitchen (and working the tables) on a Saturday night, even on a holiday weekend. With so many other restaurants left on our Vegas list, it’s hard to imagine we’ll be back anytime soon.

3355 Las Vegas Blvd.
(inside the Venetian Hotel)
Las Vegas, NV 89109

restaurants, Vegas


Simply souper supper

Posted by Anita on 11.28.06 8:08 AM

cauliflower & blue cheese soup (c)2006 AWCTami of Running with Tweezers posted a gorgeous roasted eggplant soup recipe in honor of her mother, and invited her blog-buddies to post about their favorite soups. With a head of cauliflower in the fridge, a brisk chill in the air, and my own parents’ anniversary dinner to cook, I knew exactly which soup to share.

I first made a variation on this soup last winter as one of the last few Soup of the Fortnight installments. But it bears repeating, because although it’s based on an Epicurious recipe, you know I can’t make anything without a little (or a lot) of tinkering. Plus, it’s such a luxurious soup, and it goes so well with a wide variety of sandwiches and salads to make a satisfying supper — you might never guess how easy it is to make simply by tasting it.

Here’s my adapted recipe, perfect for a chilly evening:

Blue Cheese Cauliflower Soup
1 (1-pound) head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk, or more as needed
3 ounces Gorgonzola (or other mild blue cheese), crumbled
Ground white pepper, to taste

In a medium pot of boiling water, blanch 1 cup of the nicest-looking cauliflower florets until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water, and set aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and remaining cauliflower. Cover the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender, not brown — about 8 minutes.

Add flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chicken broth and 1 cup of milk, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover partially. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and soup thickens — about 20 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. (If using a traditional blender, puree in two batches.) Thin with additional milk, if desired. Gradually add the cheese, stirring until melted. Season with salt and white pepper, to taste.

Ladle soup into bowl, and garnish with the reserved cauliflower. Serves 4.

cooking, family, other blogs, recipes, Soup o' the Fortnight


Yes, grasshopper

Posted by Anita on 11.27.06 6:04 PM

grasshopper pie (c)2006 AECA faithful MWD reader, keeping an eye on my Flickr set last week, sent me an email: “I can’t believe anyone other than my Mom is still making grasshopper pie!”

Well, believe it, Grasshopper! Knowing that Cameron and I aren’t big fans of pumpkin pies, Mom asked what we wanted for Thanksgiving dessert, and this old favorite was the first thing that popped into my head. I know it was my “birthday cake” on more than one occasion growing up, and it’s maintained its place in the pastry pantheon over the years. And I’m sure I’m not alone in my love of this cookie-crusted, nuclear-green pile o’ fluff…

A few years ago, we rented a big house on Whidbey Island with a gaggle of friends, and I made a trio of pies for a Thanksgiving dinner: A gorgeous wild-blackberry pie with an all-butter lattice-top crust, a silky pumpkin custard in a leaf-lard shell, and a homely ol’ Grasshopper Pie.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

Sure enough, the Grasshopper was the hit of the dessert table, as a dozen thirty-somethings waxed nostalgic about the beloved dessert of their childhood.

Last year, I made the pie using Martha Stewart’s recipe. It was good — maybe even better than the original — but the added effort took some of the charm out of dessert. Part of this pie’s charm, at least for lazy ol’ me, lies firmly in its simplicity, its reliance on grocery-store ingredients, and its thoroughly un-chic appearance.

Since it’s minty and green, Grasshopper Pie makes a nice Christmas dessert. Or, you know, my birthday’s not too far off…

Grasshopper Pie
16 Oreo cookies*, crushed fine
2 T butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
24 marshmallows (full size, not minis)
1/2 pint whipping cream
4 T creme de menthe
2 T creme de cacao
Chocolate curls or chocolate jimmies, for garnish

Mix butter into cookie crumbs and press evenly onto the bottom and sides of an 8-inch pie plate; refrigerate to set.

Heat the milk to a simmer in a large saucepan, then reduce heat to low and add marshmallows. Stir until all marshmallows melt. Cool the mixture to room temperature, then refrigerate.

When fully cool, beat the melted marshmallows with a hand mixer until fluffy, adding the creme de menthe and creme de cacao. In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream to medium peaks, then fold whipped cream into the marshmallow mixture.

Pour filling into prepared crust. Trim with chocolate shavings or jimmies, or extra cookie crumbs. Freeze overnight, or at least 8 hours, before serving.

*If you want to get all fancy, replace the crust ingredients with 1/2 package Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, crushed fine, and 4 T melted butter.

dessert, family, holidays & occasions, recipes


Wrapup: Under the Lens

Posted by Anita on 11.27.06 7:39 AM

under the lens collage (c) 2006 AECThank God it’s Monday! I thought that I took a lot of pictures during a normal week, but participating in Sam’s challenge had me (along with my family, my friends, and my co-workers) questioning my sanity.

But I had a lot of fun. Being tasked with photographing simply everything I ate or drank meant that I really had to get creative, and think of ways to turn even the most boring foods and beverages into something worth looking at.

A number of folks have asked me if the added scrutiny has changed what or how I ate, and I can honestly say “no” — although I’d qualify that with “…other than to choose the more photogenic option among equally appealing choices.” And really, even that minor self-editing only happened on a couple of occasions: When picking out a sweet snack from the vending machine at work (the Kit Kat shot), and when opting for a cold turkey-and-avocado sandwich over a hot turkey sandwich yesterday afternoon. I’m guessing this would have been a lot harder on a non-holiday week, although I am certainly not angling to repeat the experience soon.

Shooting food at the office wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected. We have some good natural light, supplemented by good task lighting. The flip side of that is that the desert light here at my parents’ house is either gorgeous, or brutal, and not always optimal at the times of the day you’d suppose.

under the lens (c)2006 AECI’m also surprised that I only forgot to take a photo of one thing — a glass of wine I had at a friend’s house one evening. (I promptly took a picture of a similar glass at home, as soon as I remembered, and poured the wine back into the bottle. What, me, obsessive?)

Speaking of neurotic behaviors, my inner perfectionist hated having to post pictures of *everything*, especially the night we ate at Bouchon. I really enjoy the editing process… not only the tweaking of photos, but deciding when a shot just isn’t good enough to save or share. I didn’t have that luxury here, so there are photos on Flickr that would ordinarily have been consigned to the bit bucket.

Click “View Slide Show” below for the roundup — which is supposed to display inline here, but isn’t, for some reason — or check out the whole set on Flickr, where you can comment on individual pix.

cooking, family, geekery, holidays & occasions, other blogs


DOTW: Michelada

Posted by Anita on 11.24.06 8:25 AM

michelada (c)2006 AECWhen plotting out this week’s pre-Thanksgiving meals, I decided that it had been too long since we’d enjoyed any home-cooked Mexican treats. And because I’ve already renewed the Doña Tomás cookbook three times at the library (no más renewals for me), I wanted to try one more recipe out of it.

I picked out a chicken taco recipe — mostly on the strength of its interesting-sounding salsa — and happened upon a recipe for Michelada, a beer-based concoction, which I added to the menu.

Once I get the week’s dinners sussed out, I shuffle them around, matching each meal’s complexity to the days of the week that make the most sense. Since we were facing a short week with Thanksiving travel planned, I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room. But, consulting my trust Rancho Gordo calendar, I noticed that Tuesday, 11/20, was the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. Perfecto!

When I went downstairs to copy the recipes out of the cookbook, imagine my amusement to find this snippet in the Michelada header notes:

Without General Don Augusto Michel, there would have been no Mexican Revolution, and no such drink as the Michelada. Actually the revolution probably would’ve still taken place, but we definitely would have been deprived of this unique libation… which is not really a beer, not really a cocktail.

And, at least anecdotally, they appear to be correct… at least about the drink’s legendary namesake. Here’s another snippet from a Mexican food distributor‘s site:

This traditional Mexican drink has been around since the days of the Mexican Revolution. A revolutionary general from San Luis Potosi named Don Augusto Michel used to visit a restaurant and he liked to drink his beer in a very unusual way. In a glass with ice, he poured lime, salt, soy sauce, pepper and picante. This speciality soon turned into a popular drink, making the restaurant famous for it. Because of that, the owner decided to baptize this speciality in honor of his creator.

Alas, I can’t seem to find any reliable references tying Don Augusto Michel to the Mexican Revolution, but I never let the truth stand in the way of a good drinking tale. So, here’s to Don Augusto’s possibly fictitious legacy, and to happy coincidence. ¡Viva la revolucíon!

Michelada estilo Doña Tomás
coarse salt
juice of 1 lime
1-2 drops habanero hot sauce (or to taste)
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
1 pinch kosher salt
1 bottle Negro Modelo (or other dark Mexican beer)
1 lime slice, for garnish

Salt the rim of a tall glass, and fill with ice. Stir in the lime juice, hot sauce, worcestershire sauce, and salt. Pour in the beer and garnish with a lime.

beer, cookbooks, Drink of the Week, drinks, Mexican, recipes


One with everything

Posted by Cameron on 11.21.06 9:50 PM

Big flour tortilla wrapped around 2 hot dogs, 2 slices of cheese, 3 slices of bacon, chili & onions.

Those words, announcing one of the many fat-tastic specials at Pink’s Hot Dogs on La Brea at Melrose, are among the many reasons why a trip to L.A. doesn’t feel complete without a stop at Pink’s.

On our last visit to El Pueblo, I ended up flying solo for a day while Anita was at the UCLA campus attending a blog writing “workshop.” My plan for the day: go play in Hollywood.

I’m not a fan of the typical Hollywood Boulevard shtick. My Hollywood starts at the corner of Sunset and Gardner, where there are about seven guitar shops in a two-block span, including a huge Guitar Center. But once again, Fate intervened. While walking from the car to my first guitar shop destination, I found the amazingly cool Orphaned CDs used CD store…which also happens to rent tuxedos, so you can get your outfit and ceremony music in one convenient stop.

I say that Fate intervened, because had I not found Orphaned CDs, I probably would have spent the morning as a much-hated “twiddler,” playing horrifically expensive guitars through exquisitely costly amplifiers that I had no intention of buying. But as I sat down with my first axe of the day, my newly-purchased CDs began to sing to me through their plastic bag. “Go,” they crooned, “Drive.”

And I did. I put down the guitar, walked out, climbed in the car, slotted “Welcome Interstate Managers,” by Fountains of Wayne, cranked the volume, slid down all the windows, and rolled out to cruise Paradise City. Did I mention that the sun was shining? Do I need to?

Yes, yes. We’re coming to the part with bacon.

I love banging around West Hollywood on general principles, but Pink’s was the touchstone of my day. Technically, it’s just a hot dog stand, the way that the New York City Marathon is technically just a footrace. Pink’s has been around for 65 years; a local legend visited by the unknown, the up-and-coming, the about-to-be, the recently-were, the has-been, the never-was, and occasionally, the OH-MY-GOD-IT’S.

There ain’t nothing fancy at Pink’s. Anything that don’t come from a can comes out of a package. You stand in a line that folds three times across the length of the front counter. When I queued up after finding a spot in the tiny parking lot, mirabile dictu, it was at about the two-and-a-half fold mark. It’s not uncommon for the line to stretch back another half block, which in L.A. works out to about two miles. As I waited behind six Japanese teenagers dressed in matching designer hobo rags and biker wallets (I swear on my life that two of them had identical leather shirts), the man behind me regaled his companion with the story of the time that he and a friend, criminally late for a gig and having already eaten dinner, stopped at Pink’s to chow down for no other reason than because there was no line. It’s that kind of place.

Meanwhile, behind sweeps of cafeteria glass a troupe of very serious Latinas (never seen anyone back there who couldn’t plausibly answer to the name Maria, and every one of them could and would kick your ass) hustles out onion rings, fries, and some seriously unreal hot-dog-based food. Hot dogs, polish dogs, turkey dogs even. Don’t like bacon on your burrito dog? How about pastrami? Yeah? Polish or Brooklyn pastrami? Nacho cheese, tomatoes, coleslaw, sauerkraut, pickles, sour cream. The list goes on.

You order. Fast. The crew member who takes your order sees it all the way through to completion while you pay the cashier. They have an odd array of bottled soda, including grape Crush. Out back, a batch of tables is mostly shaded from the eternal sun by umbrellas, and a small sheltered dining room is lined with signed headshots. Nicole Kidman appears twice, for reasons that are undoubtedly best left unexplored.

The Bacon Burrito Dog is my Usual, but we’ve got dinner at AOC lined up for that night, so I opt for the less gut-busting Bacon Chili Dog with my grape Crush. With cheese, natch. The dog colors my plate with greasy orange love. I finish and head out to the car, tool up Melrose and do some window shopping and people watching. I love L.A.

restaurants, shopping, SoCal, travel


Chicken, three ways

Posted by Anita on 11.21.06 12:49 PM

roast chicken (c)2006 AECNo, this isn’t a post about some Thomas Keller masterpiece. Rather, it’s an ode to a single bird that’s fed us amply for the last three days.

We’ve gotten into the habit of buying a chicken from the folks at Hoffman each Saturday, and then roasting it up for Sunday dinner. Sometimes we put it on the rotisserie, sometimes it ends up as Zuni Roast Chicken, still others we spatchcock it and stick it under the broiler.

The thing about these Hoffman birds is that they’re normal size, even perhaps a little smallish (which is how I like them, anyway). But the skin is so tasty, and the meat so satisfying, that we quite happily feast on them for days, without complaint. Not a scrap goes to waste.

This weekend, we simply stuffed some rosemary-salt butter under the skin, trussed the legs, and set the bird in the oven on 375º for about an hour and 20 minutes. The bird cooked faster than I expected, catching me off-guard for side dishes. I set the roasted bird aside, and Cameron made a simple salad using baby greens we’d picked up at the market.

Meanwhile, I boiled a half-box of linguine, defatted the drippings, added some stock and wine, and reduced it to a saucy consistency. When the pasta was still al dente, I tong’ed it into the roasting pan, tossed it in the sauce for a quick simmer, and popped it on the plate with a piece of the chicken on top. It was good enough for company, if I do say so myself.

The next morning, I turned some leftover breast meat into my favorite chicken salad, and smeared it between two slices of Acme pain de mieheaven. And then, for dinner, we tucked some more shredded meat and cheese into Rancho Gordo tortillas and made tacos dorados from the Doña Tomás cookbook.

Am I sick of this chicken yet? Not on a bet. This morning, I finished off a stale bag of tortilla chips with some of the leftover salsa from last night’s dinner, sprinkled on a little cheese and the last of the breast meat… voilá: Chilaquiles for breakfast. And I’m having the leftover tacos for lunch. If I wasn’t heading out of town, you can bet that the carcass and back meat would be destined for soup later in the week, too.

cookbooks, cooking, farmers markets, Mexican


A week under the lens

Posted by Anita on 11.19.06 8:25 PM

collage (c)2006 AECOver on the always-delightful Becks & Posh, Sam challenges us to join her in a rather exhibitionist exercise: Photographing everything that passes our lips for an entire week, and sharing with our readers:

I hereby commit, starting from the moment I wake up on Monday November 20th, to the minute I go to bed on Sunday 26th November 2006, to take a picture of everything I consume… I think it will be a fascinating excercise, especially to be able to compare America indulging in Thanksgiving whilst others are not.

…We’ll aim to post up our pictures on our blogs on Monday 27th November.

We’ll be home the first part of the week, before heading out of town for Thanksgiving, then at Mom & Dad’s for the rest of the challenge period. My family already thinks I am crazy, and there shouldn’t be a lot of restaurant meals to throw a wrench into the works.

I promise not to post all the pix to MWD, but I’ll blog about interesting meals (as usual), and starting tomorrow I’ll put all the photos in a Flickr set. And, of course, there’ll be the full roundup next Monday.

family, geekery, holidays & occasions, other blogs
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