It’s always an thrill to discover that one of your idols admires your work, and a huge honor for another blogger to trust you with their “baby”. So you can imagine my elation — and perhaps even sense my panic? — when the lovely Tartelette asked me to guest-post over at her place this week.
I’m beyond flattered to be asked to contribute to Tartelette’s incredible site, winner of Food Blog of the Year in the 2008 Well Fed Awards and — just this week! — placed at #43 on the Times Online list of the World’s 50 Best Food Blogs.
After a lot of hemming and hawing about whether I had the chops to showcase my meager pastry skills on such a gorgeous site, I finally mustered enough courage. With some spirited inspiration from David Lebovitz‘s fabulous book, The Perfect Scoop, not to mention a healthy dose of chocolate, I think I managed to bluff my way through without too much embarrassment with a recipe for Profiteroles with Chartreuse Ice Cream.
Be sure to head on over to Tartelette‘s place to read the story, get the recipe, and enter for a chance to win a copy of The Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent.
I feel downright terrible that it’s taken me this long to tell you about the fabulous time we had last month in Seattle at Le Mixeur, the exclusive soirée organized by the Munat Bros, Ted & Charles. But in my defense, it’s taken me this long to figure out how to explain it without sounding like I’m bragging. Because, dear reader, saying Le Mixeur is a cocktail party is like calling the Titanic a boat: Technically accurate, but completely missing the point both in scale and impact.
We’d read about these fabulous shindigs, jealously drooling over tales of drinks created by some of the West Coast’s finest mixological masterminds. But somehow — despite having ingratiated ourselves to the Munats both at the Zig-Zag and at Tales of the Cocktail — we’d never managed to sync our travel plans to their social calendar. Eventually, we hit the jackpot, scoring an invite to Le Mixeur Cinq on a weekend when we had no other obligations; away we flew.
On our first night in Seattle, we dropped in on Keith Waldbauer skulking in his lair at Union, one of our all-time favorite Seattle dining spots. We’d read that Keith had contributed a recipe to the Mixeur menu, and we asked him to tell us about his inspiration for the drink that would be served to dozens — if not hundreds — of serious cocktailians the following night.
“Oh… you’re going to Le Mixeur?” he asked with a gleam in his eye. “You’ll have to tell me how my drink tastes. I just sent them a recipe and didn’t even try it.”
Was he pulling our leg? You never know with Waldbauer. No sir, you never know with a man like that.
The next night, we made our way to a warehouse loft in SoDo, in the ominously empty streets bathed in the blue glow of Qwest Field. After climbing flight after flight of stairs, our efforts were rewarded. The white-walled loft opened out and up and away, revealing a happy hubbub. Our eyes darted from walls hung with eclectic art to the oh-my-god-impressive bar in the corner, where professional mixologists and a few determined amateurs shook and poured for the flowing crowd. In an open mezzanine above, the DJ nodded and smiled as the beat kicked in; a belly dancer took the floor, gyrating for the loudly appreciative audience.
The bar was stacked deep and thick as folks studied the night’s menu and waited patiently. We quickly found Charles Munat, and weasled our way into a couple of drinks after what we later realized was a uniquely short interval. Happily, the crowd was full of plenty of friends, as well as many familiar faces from bars both near and far. And the gods of mixology obviously watch over fools and drunks, because Keith’s drink — a minty, gin-based, tall sour with a Chartreuse float, which he’d dubbed the Aristocrat Swizzle — was every bit as perfect as the setting.
- Keith Waldbauer
1-3/4 oz gin
3/4 oz lime juice
10 mint leaves
dash simple syrup
1 barspoon green Chartreuse
Muddle mint and syrup in a mixing glass. Add gin and lime juice, and shake with ice. Strain into an empty Collins glass, fill with crushed ice, and top with a Chartreuse float. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Oh, hi — are you still here? Dang, sorry about that. We’ve done the metaphorical equivalent of falling asleep at the WordPress dashboard, and yet you kept coming by. That’s so sweet.
But enough navel-gazing: We’re back! We’ve got a great few posts in the hopper, including a brand new eat-local challenge for the summer. First, though, I think we’re definitely overdue for a drink.
One of the cool things that happened before our spring slump kicked in was Cocktail Week: Seven whole days devoted to well-made libations, visits from cocktail illuminiati, and some of the city’s best restaurants offering multi-course meals with inventive cocktail pairings. (Imagine eight pork dishes — including two delicious desserts — with seven different American-whiskey cocktails: Foodie hotspot Orson hosted this Bourbon & Bacon extravaganza, and I dream of it still.)
Another night, the folks at CUESA hosted a Farmers Market Cocktails tasting in the arcade of the legendary Ferry Building. At the mercy of one of those unseasonably hot days we get each May, a few hundred cocktail fans packed under the archways like a tin of tipsy sardines. Happily, we ran into many of our local blog buddies, which made for fabulous chit-chat as we sampled and sweltered.
Sadly, although I love fresh-fruit cocktails, Cocktail Week falls at possibly the worst time of the year for that sort of thing. Specialty citrus is pretty much gone, stone fruits are weeks away, and there’s not much on hand but some early-season strawberries and underripe cherries. As a result, I was not captivated by many of the drinks we tasted at the event, despite their being created by some of the best bartenders in town.
The best sip of the evening was the official drink of San Francisco Cocktail Week 2008: The Soirée. It features both green Chartreuse and St-Germain elderflower liqueur — two of my favorite ingredients — woven together with the muskiness of silver tequila, a sour punch of lemon, and the whispered spice of a Latin-inspired tincture. It sounds like the sort of crazy mess you might expect from a collaboration of a trio of star bartenders… but it’s actually delicious. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that the version we sampled that night was shaken up by one of our favorite mixologists.)
The chile-cinnamon-cocoa tincture — definitely not optional — requires a little effort, but the ingredients can be found in any decently stocked bulk foods department. With a quick shopping trip, a few minutes of prep, and a little patient steeping, you can throw your own Soirée whenever the mood strikes.
1.5 ounces silver tequila
1/2 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1/2 ounce green Chartreuse
1/2 ounce lemon juice
2 dashes mole tincture
Mint, for garnish
Shake all ingredients with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
3-1/2 T cacao nibs
1/4 red bell pepper, minced
1 dried very hot chile (such as de arbol)
5oz silver tequila
Place all the ingredients into a jelly jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake the jar twice daily for four days then strain the mixture, first through a sieve, then through a coffee filter before bottling.
In the pantheon of sparkling cocktails, there are a thousand lesser gods, and then there are the titans: the bright Mimosa, the elegant Champagne cocktail, the tart French 75, and the dusky Kir Royale. They’re generally a subtle lot, and so simple to make that you hardly need a recipe. They’re all lovely in their own ways and moods — Mimosas at brunch, Champagne cocktails at weddings, French 75s when you want to get into an argument about gin vs. brandy — but the Kir Royale is perhaps the most adaptable.
Until it was popularized by Catholic priest Félix Kir, the simple aperitif of white wine and blackcurrant liqueur was known quite aptly as blanc-cassis throughout its native Burgundy. But then, history intervened. An active organizer in the Resistance during World War II, Monsieur Kir helped plan the escape of more than 5,000 prisoners of war. After the Liberation, Kir was elected mayor of Dijon — the Burgundian capital — and eventually took his place in the French national assembly. He was the last clergy member to wear the habit in the halls of the Palais Bourbon, and he always toasted delegations visiting Dijon with the aperitif that perfectly marries two of the town’s best tipples.
The original Kir is made by dosing white wine — not, as some would say, Burgundy’s reknowned Chablis, but rather the slightly sour Aligoté — with Dijon’s equally famous blackcurrant liqueur, creme de cassis. The Kir Royale makes things a bit more festive by replacing the white wine with Champagne, an inspired substitution that moves an everyday apero into the realm of celebratory cocktail.
The Kir Royale also makes a perfect party drink, as it’s low in alcohol — best for guests who may not be accustomed to knocking back a few high-octane libations in an evening — and quite forgiving of measurement-free mixing. After all, what host wants to spend time fiddling with precisely a half-ounce of this and exactly three shakes of that when there are guests to greet, coats to hang, conversation to encourage, and appetizers to primp?
We’re having a few friends over for cocktails and canapés tomorrow night, and one of the ways we’re planning to keep things simple is by setting up a do-it-yourself Champagne bar. We’ll put a case of bubbly on ice, line up a couple dozen flutes, and gather a gaggle of colorful liqueurs — cassis, St-Germain, absinthe, violette, Chartreuse — for guests to customize their drinks. We’ll have syrups, garnishes, and bitters, too, plus a sheet with ideas on how to mix and match. It’ll be fun to see an assortment of pastel sparklers in the hands of our pals; I can’t wait to see what our clever friends concoct.
1/4 to 1/2 ounce crème de cassis (or to taste)
Champagne or other dry sparkling wine
Pour the cassis into the flute, and top with the bubbly.
Garnish with a lemon twist, if desired.
Remember last month, all those Strega concoctions we resurrected for Raiders of the Lost Cocktail? Well, it seems yours truly has been anointed the winner of said challenge, and therefore the decider of this month’s challenge ingredient.
Don’t be too impressed by my gold-medal status: I was the only entrant who actually followed the rules. So paltry was the attendance that I actually managed to take both first and second place. Of course, the scanty turnout might just could possibly sorta have been due to the relative obscurity of the target ingredient and the mysterious lack of published Strega recipes.
So in the spirit (hardy-har) of opening up the challenge to wider participation, let me propose a slightly more-mixable subject: Benedictine. It fits the bill quite neatly: A widely available product that has been known to gather dust, but one that well deserves a broader audience.
Like the now-trendy Chartreuse, Benedictine began its life behind abbey walls, the proprietary elixir of the monastic order that shares its name. A sweetened cognac base infused with 27 secret herbs and spices — the Colonel has nothing on those monks! — amber-hued Benedictine conjures up a set of heavenly flavors and aromas. It’s also the kind of spirit that makes curmudgeonly drinkers (and drink-makers) giddy. Here’s David Embury waxing poetic on the subject in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks:
One of the oldest and best of all liqueurs, highly aromatic, and having a base of the finest cognac. It is made with consummate skill and is thoroughly aged. There are few liqueurs in the world that can compare with it.
Indeed, its balance and complexity has kept Benedictine from ever falling completely out of fashion. Although sales of herbal liqueurs rapidly declined after Prohibition, most every cocktail book in our library boasts at least one recipe for this concoction.
Certainly, it’s no stranger in this parish: We’ve mixed up no less than four recipes bearing the blessed tipple: Erik‘s guest-sermon on Bobby Burns, the Pegu Club’s Prince of Wales variation, a post-MxMo stab at the Cabaret, plus last Friday’s very own Widow’s Kiss.
One last word of warning, my children, before you venture forth in the world: Be not led astray. As the reverend Dr. Bamboo wisely cautions, the labeling of premixed “B&B” appears nearly identical to that of the pure liqueur. The wise man seeketh the right label.
Go now, and mix some more.
(Stay tuned to The Spirit World for the formal announcement and directions on how to enter, or check back here for a link in a day or so.)
Dia de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a bit of a misnomer, especially in Mexico where the festivities are often spread out over two or more days. Like most Latino holidays of a spiritual sort, this fiesta integrates indigenous traditions alongside Catholic feasts, blending traditional pre-Hispanic ancestor worship with the Europeans’ All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Children and other innocents are remembered on November 1, and those who died as adults are honored the next day and night. As someone for whom death is a relatively fresh memory, setting aside a few days to remember those we have lost seems eminently wise, a useful way of mourning together and acknowledging individual loss as part of a universal experience.
The celebration — somehow more intimate and yet more festive than Halloween — gives people time to openly remember their dearly departed, and many Mexican and Mexican-American families erect memorial altars in their homes. These ofrendas typically feature a photo of the deceased surrounded by candles, glasses of water, vases of marigolds, small statues of saints or skeletons, decorated sugar skulls, and plenty of food. In addition to the rich bread known as pan de muerto, altar offerings often include moles or other fragrant dishes, bottles of beer or tequila, and other treats to tempt the spirits of the departed to return for a visit home.
Not far from our house, the streets around 24th and Mission are filled with shoppers stocking their altars: The craft stores sell skeleton figurines and papel picado, the florists put out bunches and buckets of marigolds, the panaderias set up tables of pan de muertos on the sidewalk, and the smell of incense fills the air. The mood is festive and the decorations colorful, and tonight, there’ll be a festive parade through the heart of the Mission. What a civilized way to celebrate life’s ultimate certainty.
One of the most recognizable symbols of the fiesta is La Calavera de la Catrina, the fancy-lady skeleton. As with many macabre figures in Mexican folk art, La Catrina serves as a reminder that death comes for us all, even the well-to-do and the beautiful. But La Catrina doesn’t let her mortality stand in the way of a good time: She dons her best plumed hat and heads out for a jaunty stroll. Although La Catrina is, herself, dead, she looks so much like a storybook widow-in-black that it’s hard to remember that she’s actually the deceased, not the mourner. No wonder she feels so festive! If you catch her in the right moment, she might just give you a…
1-1/4 oz Calvados or other apple brandy
3/4 oz Benedictine
3/4 oz yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry, or a sugar skull.
Passing time waiting for a table at Range, I noticed some of my favorite bottles clustered together along the bar: Chartreuse, St-Germain, and No. 209 gin.
“Are those all for the same drink?” I asked Brooke, the bartender.
“Yes they are — our nightly special.”
“Sold,” I said, closing the menu unread.
She set to muddling black peppercorns in a mixing glass along with some cantaloupe chunks. Ugh, I thought to myself, that looks nasty. No fan of the muskmelon, the mere idea of a cantaloupe cocktail made me gag.
And then she added the St-Germain and the Chartreuse to the muddled mixture, and I realized that was my drink in her hands. Oh god…
But really, I should have known better than to fret. The crew at Range, while adventurous, rarely steer me wrong. This drink was no exception. Somehow it all worked — the Chartreuse brings out the melon’s herbal overtones, and the St-Germain accentuates its floral notes. A splash of lemon juice keeps things in balance, and a good long shake opens it all up. The black pepper’s heat isn’t immediately apparent; it works like an internal garnish that becomes more obvious as the drink warms, a great counterpoint to the increasing sweetness as the chill fades.
Range christens its creation the Can-Can, a clever nod to the cantaloupe base, the two French liqueurs, and the pepper’s kick. We’ll just overlook the fact that there are at least two other cocktails with the same name — a surprising oversight from the upstanding mixological minds behind Range’s bar.
Can-Can a la Range
3/4 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 cup cubes of ripe cantaloupe (4-5 chunks)
2 oz dry gin (Range alternates between Plymouth and No. 209)
1 tsp Chartreuse
1/2 oz St-Germain elderflower liqueur
juice of 1/2 lemon
In a heavy-bottomed pint glass, muddle the peppercorns with half the melon until cracked. Add the rest of the cantaloupe cubes and continue to muddle until juicy and soft. Add the remaining ingredients, then shake well and strain into a well-chilled cocktail glass.
Summertime is finally upon us! Even here in San Francisco — where our summer months are notoriously cold and foggy — the sun is shining high and bright, the skies are a precise shade of coastal blue, and everyone’s outside enjoying the weather. We know it’s merely a respite from the gray gloom that will descend again, without fail; Three days of sun are all San Franciscans ever expect.
Another sure sign of the season: Ice cream and sorbet stories are everywhere. Today’s food section turned up as crammed full of ice cream as an apartment freezer: Make it, buy it, stand in line for it… the Chron‘s got us covered in the frozen-confection department.
As if that’s not enough, not one but two blog events this month are dedicated to scoopable sweets: Laura picked sorbet as this month’s “Hay Hay, It’s Donna Day” theme, and Meeta’s Monthly Mingle 12 focuses on ice cream. So I was already flipping through the recipe file when I got an email from the library, telling me that my copy of David Lebovitz‘s new ice-cream book — the darling of the blogosphere — is ready to be picked up, at long last.
OK, wow. Really, I can take a hint: Time to get churning.
I won’t bore you with another gushing post describing what a treat it is to read The Perfect Scoop — I’m too late to the ice-cream social for that, and I couldn’t possibly come up with any more synonyms for “mmmmm!” than you’ve already read elsewhere. Suffice to say that I was bowled over (har har) by all the delectable-sounding options — hello, chartreuse ice cream? — and picking just one recipe proved impossible. I compromised: One ice cream, one sorbet.
Sultry summer weather at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market seduced us into buying more stone fruit than two people could possibly eat, so we opted to sacrifice a few pounds’ worth for the apricot variation on David’s peach sorbet. Not wanting to overwhelm their perfect ripe essence, we substituted St-Germain liqueur for the recipe’s standard kirsch. The color was vibrant and the flavor sublime, but the texture turned a tad bit grainy for my taste. A beautiful scoop, nonetheless, but nothing to make me abandon my old standby ice-cream book.
Our second trial, though, helped me understand what all the swooning reviews were about. A perfect coconut ice cream doesn’t just toss a cup of shreds into a vanilla custard and freeze them up. Instead, it starts by infusing warm dairy with freshly-roasted coconut, steeping to extract subtle flavors. Then we strain the solids out of the coconut-scented cream, which is used to finish a rich, not-too-sweet custard base (and which I could barely restrain myself from eating with a spoon).
After churning and freezing, the mixture emerged as a beautiful, smooth off-white velvet, redolent with coconut but minus the “pencil shavings” texture that some (including Cameron) find unappealing. We loved it equally on its own and topped with toasted almonds for added crunch. But our favorite treat of all — sure to be the hit of the summer — paired the luscious toasted coconut ice cream with the icy apricot sorbet to make a Creamsicle-style treat to brighten even the cloudiest day.
Bring it on, summer. We’re ready for you.
Toasted Coconut Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
5 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon dark rum
Toast the coconut on a baking sheet in a moderate (350°) oven for 5 minutes or until golden and fragrant, stirring occasionally to toast evenly.
Warm the milk, half of the cream, and the salt and sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the toasted coconut and the vanilla seeds and pod. Cover the pan and remove from the heat to steep.
After an hour, rewarm the infused mixture. Strain through a medium-mesh strainer into another saucepan, pressing down on the solids to extract all the liquid. Discard the solids, reserving the vanilla-bean pieces for another use, if desired.
Combine the remaining cream with the rum in a large bowl. In a separate large bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. While whisking constantly, slowly add the coconut cream to the egg yolks.
Return the custard to the pan and place over medium heat, scraping the mixture to avoid scorching. Cook until the custard coats the back of the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer into the cream-rum mixture, and cool over an ice bath.
Cover the bowl of cooled custard, and place in the refrigerator until well chilled, preferably overnight. Freeze according to your ice-cream machine’s directions for custard-based recipes.
As you’ve probably noticed, I’m a sucker for any drink made with green Chartreuse. But I hadn’t found many cocktails that used the yellow version to good effect until Murray made me an Amber Dream during our most recent visit. This one’s a definite keeper; the gin and the vermouth counter the liqueur’s abundant sweetness.
As I sipped my Amber Dream, our friend Jason appeared beside me, grinning at his cleverness in having tracked us down. It dawned on me almost immediately that Jason’s wife is named Amber. Strange coincidence, no?
Jason and Amber welcomed their first baby Tuesday night, so now the drink is doubly apt: With little Cooper’s arrival, I’d guess there won’t be a lot of dreaming for Amber — or Zig Zag cocktails for Jason — for a while.
A number of recipes call for the drink to be garnished with a flamed orange peel, but just as many leave the cocktail ungarnished. And there seems to be some difference of opinion regarding the bitters, whether aromatic or orange are preferred. (If you prefer a garnish-free version, the orange bitters seem like a smarter accent, in order to keep at least some of the citrus tones in place.) Some recipes call explicitly for French sweet vermouth, and still others favor an Old Fashioned glass — and rocks — to the standard v-stem/up configuration.
Needless to say, there’s plenty of room here for tinkering. Try out a couple of variations, and raise a toast to the littlest foodie in our circle and his proud parents.
1-1/2 oz dry gin
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1/4 oz yellow Chartreuse
1 dash orange or aromatic bitters
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a flamed orange peel, if desired.
Here’s another Champagne cocktail, in honor of next week’s Mixology Monday festivities.
A word-prankster of the highest order, Cameron turned to me at the bar one night and asked: “If you mixed Chartreuse and Champagne, would you get a Chanteuse?” I laughed, and then exclaimed: “Hey, wait — that sounds like a tasty drink!”
Back home, a bit of experimentation proved that the two ingredients alone weren’t really much of a cocktail. But add a few dashes of bitters and a splash of citrus, and you’ve got yourself a sparkling combination worthy of the fussiest diva.
1 oz. green Chartreuse
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
3 to 4 dashes orange bitters
In a Champagne flute, combine the Chartreuse, lemon juice, and bitters. Top with bubbly, and garnish with a lemon twist, if desired.