Chocolate, Cheese & Beer – Recap

It has been too much lately, reading the exploits of my friends who only seem to frolic, never work. My old buddy Rodrigo reportedly has some sort of high-tech job, but all I see on Facebook are videos uploaded from his surfboard-mounted digital movie camera. Another friend, Phil, now living in Oregon goes snowboarding down Mt. Hood when he’s not doing… Come to think of it. What does he do?

Though I have been known to strap on snowshoes, I’m not too keen on drowning in the surf or ending up a crumpled pile of fleshy bones after suffering the effects of gravity. This week I goofed off in my own way. I cooked, I brewed, I ate, I laughed.

I even got in an argument with a drunk guy and called him by a piece of digestive system anatomy… to his face. I’m opinionated, but I rarely share that epithet in mixed company. We made up. He bought me beer. What will our next meeting bring?

It’s Sunday now and I’m basking in the success of being in my own, indefinable way, the champion of un-work.

Here is my nugatory rundown of the week.

  • Monday I ate lunch and contemplated Tuesday.

  • Tuesday was the day for the chocolate and beer. I kept my fingers crossed that chocolates would come from Lincoln’s Chocolatier Blue and they did! The beers were a variable bunch provided by a local distributor. By his own admission, the rep stated he hadn’t much experience with chocolate and beer – and it showed. But the deeper message that was planted in my brain had to do with the biases inherent in distributor-chosen selections. I feel a bitch session coming on that I’ll have to post in my Gripefruit section very soon! However, there were two delicious pairings, both with Weyerbacher beer (Easton, PA):
  1. Belgian-styled quadrupel Quad with the holiday spice chocolate (“You got your apricot in my custard!” “You got your cloves in my peaches!”)
  2. Rum Soaked Currant praline with Weyerbacher Tiny (“Bing, bang, bada bing bing bang.”)

  • Wednesday I brewed my traditional Baltic Porter,  a dark, potent lager that will cold condition towards perfection (what, can’t I aim high?) for a couple of months. Thanks to my new book Yeast (White and Zainasheff, Brewers Publications), my yeast cell counts were (say it like Carl Sagan) in the “billions and billions.” Within six hours of pitching the fermenters were rollicking and spewing stuff that only a homebrewer could love.

  • It was also a good time to save some spent grains from the brewing. I had an idea, actually I thought it to be a revelation, that I could make pumpernickel rye soft pretzels. The trick to using spent grains in bread is to purée them in a blender with some warm water. Otherwise you end up picking coarse grain husks from your teeth. The recipe included stone-ground rye flour, molasses, caraway seeds and a few standard bread ingredients. I won’t post a recipe here, not because the pretzels weren’t good – they were delicious – but because a black pretzel has a rather unappetizing appearance. Judge for yourself…

  • While the infamous pretzel dough was rising I met up with beer maestro Jason to try out a few more of our cheese pairings. We had settled on certain cheeses but were still searching for the specific beers to knock it out of the park. We settled on a date (March 4) and number of tickets to sell (50) and we are sure to sell out early. There is a practical size to a cheese-beer tasting; even this one will have 250 measured portions of cheese, the same number of beers to dispense, plus accouterments. Then everything has to be at the right temperature. I hope we’re getting prep help the day of…
  • Thursday rolled around and there were still pots and pans to clean from beer and pretzel operations. I put off the cheese making to Saturday. But I did stick with the plan to attend a six course beer dinner at a Greek restaurant called The Parthenon. If you read my previous thoughts on beer dinners, you know that I believe it is a good idea to have some moderate strength beers in the mix so you don’t turn into a “pod of beached whales by the fourth or fifth course.” What I failed to estimate were the portions of food. The first course of spice-rubbed chicken drumsticks pressure-cooked to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, sitting atop couscous flavored with lemon juice and blanched almonds was huge. What would pass for a chicken tagine entrée in some Moroccan restaurants was more food than an entire upscale beer dinner. By the fifth course, we were slung over the back of our chairs, our arms akimbo and eyes at half mast. Awesome, filling, soul-warming food. Then the soup bowl sized crème brulée, redolent with vanilla seeds. It had the consistency of melting ice cream. Here’s a similar recipe with a discussion on the key ingredient: vanilla bean paste. Oh mercy. Yes, if you’re wondering, we ate the whole thing.
  • Friday, is it Friday yet? Coasting just a bit. I spent most of the day researching an article for All About Beer magazine. Something about ancient beers and their cultural and ceremonial importance. Now, that is work. Sorry. Didn’t mean to mention the “w” word. I was trying to convince you that I am really just a professional goof-off. Back to being indolent… I made a batch of cider. Although I follow my own recipe, I’m going to let you in on a guilty little secret

  • Saturday – the Day of the Satur. I pause to imagine I know what a Satur is… some sort of man-beast mythic creature. Perhaps the body of a cow, a chalky green hide of lizard scales, angel wings, and man’s head that looks like Wallace. Or maybe I was channeling my inner cheese god. This day was for blue cow’s milk cheese in the British tradition, i.e. Stilton.

  • Saturday night it snowed again. A fair dose. After an hour and forty minutes of shoveling against the drifting snow, icicles on my eyebrows, I returned to the warm interior. No hot chocolate tonight. I have invented a new hot toddy that appeals to my woodland upbringing, my Scottish heritage, and, well, a desire to consume alcohol. I call my drink Woodsman’s Fly Dope because of its memorable aroma. First I make a big mug of strong tea using Lapsang Souchong tea. The tea has a huge pine/juniper smoke aroma and flavor. It brews a deep rust-colored tea with substantial body. So much body, in fact, that a wee dram of Scotch whisky is needed to lighten it up just a bit. The smoked tea and the peaty Scotch merge. Wisps of campfire memories wend their way through your skull like the figments they represent. Sleep will come, and dreams will weave my week into one confusing mural.

So, Rodrigo and Phil, right back atcha!

Cheers, TPJ.

Ceviché Mixto – Raw yet Refined

Number 5 in our countdown in the Feast of the Seven Fishes, though this dish alone could have seven fishes in it! Ceviché, cebiche, escabeche and similar terms refer to a seafood salad made with mostly or entirely raw seafood pickled in lime juice. It is typically served as a first course, the acid and spice jump-starting digestion.

As with many food terms the etymology is disputed. I prefer to accept that the term derives from siwichi, the Quechua name for the dish. After all, it most likely originated in the Andes where this language predominates.

Hot and fruity, the ají amarillo chili is a key Peruvian ingredient. (Source: laperuanavegana.wordpress.com)

Years back I was dining in San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. Dinner was at a Peruvian restaurant named Machu Picchu. It was one of those dinners that you never forget – it forms an immovable stepping stone in your life experience.

There they served three versions of the dish. Opting for the ‘mixto’ I was served a heaping portion of spicy, citrusy wonderfulness with sea bass, octopus, and probably abalone. The traditional piquancy in this dish comes from the ají amarillo chili and tiny sour limes called limónes verdes, or more commonly, simply limónes. Many dictionaries will tell you this term means ‘lemon,’ but in South America is refers to a tart green fruit that looks a Key lime, but is tart as a lemon. I’ll provide you with an alternative on case you can’t find true limónes.

An aternative for limónes (left) is a mixture of lime, lemon, and Valencia orange (right).

Alas, unable to find several of the traditional ingredients I have persevered to create a recipe with available foods that I think captures the delight of this dish.

I am also not immune to the idea the certain foods, like abalone, and to a lesser degree octopus, are not sustainable seafood products. You can check out recommendations from the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

Ceviché Mixto

Ingredients for 4 Servings

  • 2 pounds of fresh seafood (not counting shell weight), could include: firm white sea fish, salmon, shrimp, calamari, octopus, scallops, or other bivalves such as mussels or clams
  • juice of 12 limónes verdes, or substitute, as follows:
    • juice of 2 regular limes
    • juice of 1 lemon
    • juice of 1 Valencia orange
  • 4 ají amarillo chilis, substitute 2 habaneros
  • 4 serrano chilis, or add more!
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, slivered into very thin rings
  • salt and cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • leaf lettuce or shredded cabbage garnish

After par-cooking, sea scallops can be sliced into two "coins," then again to make "half moons."

Preparation

You will improve the texture of the dish by par-cooking the shellfish or octopus. For sea scallops (the large ones), heat in butter for 2 minutes per side, remove, cool, and quarter. For clams or mussels, steam in their shell for 4 minutes, cool and shell them. For octopus, poach in boiling water until firm and opaque, about 2 minutes. For salmon or white fish, such as sea bass, swordfish, shark, or red snapper, simply check for bones and dice raw. Cut any par-cooked items into similar sized dice, except for mussels or clams, which you will keep whole. Keep cool while preparing the dressing.

Make the dressing by squeezing juice from the fruit and removing any seeds. Toss in the chilis, finely chopped, the garlic and the onion. Allow to meld for a minute, then taste for piquancy. Add a little salt and cayenne, stir, then try again until dressing borders on being too salty and too hot for your taste. This will be just right once the fish is added.

When you are about 15-20 minutes from serving the dish, combine the seafood with the dressing. Add the chopped cilantro and toss gently to coat everything. Keep cool until plating in a wide glass or a plate. Slice the avocado and dredge in the remaining dressing. Place lettuce and avocado around salad. Dig in! A dish like this will go well with a cold pilsner that has some hop character, including Tecate or Heineken, Singha, or your go-to German pils. You might also try the national cocktail of Peru, the Pisco Sour. ¡Salud¡ TPJ

Ceviché Mixto con Chili Habanero.

The Countdown

So far:

  • No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale
  • No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French-style steamed mussels with creamy bleu cheese finish), serve with a semi-sweet hard cider (check out Farnum Hill).
  • No. 5 – Ceviché Mixto (Peruvian cold seafood salad with chilis and citrus juice), served with a cold pilsner or the Classic Cocktail: the Pisco Sour.

On deck:

  • No. 4 – Fried Smelts – providing I can find them (Italian, with a mushroom risotto and fennel side salad), served with an Italian saison-styled beer.

Thanks for following along – more soon. TPJ


Classic Cocktails ~ No. 8

No. 8 ~ Whiskey Cocktail, Old Fashioned

• The First “Cocktail”
• Old School Recipe
• Newer Old Fashioned

Here’s another grand, old school cocktail. Indeed, it is probably the original mixed drink to go by the name cocktail. In 1806 a newspaper editor defined a cock tail as:

a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters it is vulgarly called a bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.

Source: The Balance, and Columbian Repository, Hudson, NY, v5,n19

Despite the political cynicism, this first definition of a cocktail embodies the Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail and many similar mixed drinks, which used a different liquor. It does not explain the origin of the word cock tail, though. My made up explanation is that the fruit garnish was threaded onto a skewer and looked something like a rooster’s tail. If it were originally spelled cock tale, I might think it referred to political rhetoric.

In a modern bar, asking for an Old Fashioned will likely get you one mixed with bourbon. But back in the day you would specify the type of spirit, for example, “I’ll have a whiskey cocktail, old fashioned.” The Whiskey Old Fashioned embodies all of the flavor components typical of a great cocktail: sweet, sour, bitter, alcohol. See Classic Cocktails ~ No. 9 for more on the subject of wholeness.

Mixologist Robert Hess says that the first whiskey cocktails used lemon, not orange, and had no candied cherries. They certainly had no soda water either. In that spirit, here’s a recipe for a very early whiskey cocktail.

Old School Whiskey Old Fashioned

  • 1 teas. raw sugar
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • 2 slices of lemon
  • 2 ounces whiskey: bourbon or rye

Method

In a tumbler, combine the sugar, bitters, and one slice of lemon. Break down the lemon with a muddler or the back of a sturdy spoon until the fruit is bruised and the sugar is dissolved into the juice and the bitters. Add your whiskey. Bring up the volume with pure ice water. Garnish with a lemon slice.

Newfangled Old Fashioned

Modernistas like things sweeter, more colorful, and easier, but we still have to have the bitters in there. This version is less muddy since we substitute orange liqueur for muddled orange and all the fruit goes in at the end. Although purists say that soda water isn’t authentic, it does lend some zing. Whether or not you use soda water, there still has to be some water incorporated into the drink, either from melting ice during the shaking or by straight addition.

  • 1 tbl. triple sec (Grand Marnier or Cointreau)
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • 2 ounces whiskey: bourbon or rye
  • splash of soda water
  • 1 slice of orange
  • 1 maraschino cherry

Method

In a shaker, over ice, combine the triple sec, bitters, and whiskey. Shake firmly. Pour while straining into a tumbler over more ice, bring up with soda water, and garnish with a slice of orange and the cherry.

With election day less than six weeks away, may I suggest a Whiskey Cocktail, Old Fashioned? It may be just what you’ll need to swallow the grandstanding, stump-stomping, whistle-stopping, banner-waving  hysteria. They can’t buy one for you anymore. Nope, you’ll have to make it yourself. TPJ

Anise Liqueurs of the Mediterranean

Absinthe, you may know by now, is an anise-flavored spirit that contains a mildly psychotropic herb called wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). The drink originated in Switzerland and was popular among Paris-based artists around the turn of the previous century. Absinthe was outlawed in many countries by the early 20th century. It has since been largely re-legalized.

Anise-flavored drinks without wormwood came into their own during the intervening years. In France it was pastis, ouzo in Greece, and raki for the Turks. Indeed, most non-Muslim countries on the Mediterranean produce such a drink. anise map

Culturally, anise drinks are most often taken during the afternoon or before the meal. But they are also consumed as a digestif. They aid digestion and deodorize the mouth. Most are sweetened, but a few, like traditional absinthe, are not. The formula may call for anise seed, fennel, licorice, star anise, or some combination. The spirit base for most comes from the distillate of fermented grape must: marc in France, grappa in Italy, etc.

As with absinthe, adding water to these liqueurs causes a milky color to form. This results from the oils in the spices coming out of solution with the alcohol. This may be referred to as la louche (FR: cloudiness) or simply the ouzo effect. Typically one part of liqueur is placed in a small tumbler and five parts of spring water is added. There are those, however, who prefer taking shots. Anise liqueur can be used in cooking and is an essential ingredient in bouillabaisse.

Several films I’ve recently watched depict these drinks in their natural setting. In the two-part Jean de Florette and Manon de Source, villagers in the south of France sit at café tables in the town plaza drinking pastis and gossiping. In the film The Edge of Heaven, Turkish immigrants living in Germany drink raki with most meals, sometimes to excess.

The next time you enjoy a Mediterranean meal, consider finishing with an anise-liqueur. The flavors are sympathetic and you will pay homage to the more legendary drink – absinthe. More on that subject is on the way. TPJ.

The Palate Jack Goes Fulltime

It is true, The Palate Jack has decided it is time to make the avocation the vocation. Other people will now carry on with the environmental cleanup, whilst I turn my attention full-time to writing on the lifestyle subjects of slow food, good beverages, conviviality and travel. What can you expect from a kid who would play hooky from school so he could read the dictionary in bed!?

This quote caught my attention and seemed to sum up my personal zeitgeist:

George Herbert 1593-1633

Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.‘ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.

Ol’ George and I don’t have much in common other than wordsmithing. He was an Anglican priest with an understated wardrobe who died at 39. On the other hand, I am better fed, already older, and with more colorful vêtements.

Back to the writing… the goals for the first year are to contribute more pieces to periodicals, knock out a book or two, and keep the world apprised of my progress via this web log. I am currently igniting new and older publishing acquaintances and looking into both “publish on demand” services and traditional publishers for the book projects.

For the next few months I’ll be burning the proverbial paraffin from both ends while packing up from Nevada and migrating to softer, greener Hobbit holes. My heartfelt appreciation goes out to everyone who has supported me in this decision. I know what it means to have true friends. By mid-summer the web log should be cruising along with regular additions. There’s no time like the present to sign on for the email or other feeds! Please do. TPJ

Classic Cocktails ~ No. 9

No. 9 ~ Casa Blanca

• What Makes a Classic Cocktail?
• Reverse Engineering
• The Recipe

At first blush, classic cocktails can seem a bit, well, mysterious. Who would think to put dry white wine and bitter herbal extracts together with booze and piece of pickled fruit? It seems an unlikely marriage, and a polygamous marriage at that.

But what if you start with the mouth and work backwards? That is, just imagine a mouth-filling, brain-stimulating drink that has sweet, sour, salty, bitter, savory, and of course alcohol, all wrapped into one. The first drink like that to comes to my mind is the Margarita: sweet from sugar, sour from lime, salt on the glass rim, bitter from the rind of citrus, savory from the tequila’s complex plant elements, and then the buzz from the booze. Does it surprise you to consider that major fast food burgers, with their secret sauce and mystery ingredients seek to accomplish that very thing? Give me a homemade Margarita over a Big Mac anytime.

Another of my favorite classic cocktails is the Casa Blanca. I don’t know much about the history of the drink – my cocktail library must be too small right now, but I am willing to make up a story. Just don’t take it as the gospel truth. Having a backstory for a cocktail helps me remember what goes in it and what I’m striving to create.

Some premium white or silver rums. Source: Davies/Starr, NY Magazine

First off, it ought to stimulate all the flavor senses. We’ll want to emphasize some triggers over others by varying the intensity. (If all drinks stimulated every sense to a high degree, then all drinks would be more or less similar.) Let’s say we have decided on white rum. Good rum has some sweetness, complex fruitiness, and slightly sweet, straight-ahead alcohol. We can offset that fruitiness with some sourness and bitterness. Adding fresh lime juice will give us the sour, not to mention a little bitterness from the rind. Bitterness can come from a splash of bitters. Angostura bitters contain the bitter and tonic gentian root, along with some bitter citrus components. We won’t add something salty to this one, but will contribute some savory and astringent aspects from maraschino liqueur. This clear ingredient is only faintly cherry, with pronounced cherry pit nuttiness. It finishes off-dry in sweetness. Finally, just to add a dash of fresh sweetness, we’ll garnish with a sweet orange twist and a candied cherry.

Okay, the backstory. I imagine some really good white rum originating in Puerto Rico. The tropical fruits could come from those surroundings and the Maraschino liqueur could be an exotic ingredient brought in through trade. The drink is pale with a faint seafoam luster created by the fresh lime juice. Indeed, it reminds me of the historic Casa Blanca in San Juan, hued by a late afternoon cloud cover over a falling sun. (Okay, I’ve never seen that. Told you this was a made up history.)

The Casa Blanca Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 3 oz best white rum
  • 1 tbsp Crème de Curaçao, subs. Triple Sec
  • 1 tbsp Maraschino liqueur
  • ½ shot lime juice, fresh squeezed, about 1 small lime
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 1 ea Maraschino cherry (garnish), or whiskey-pickled cherry
  • 1 ea orange peel (twist, garnish)
  • Method

    Set 5-6 oz cocktail glass (martini or antique) with crushed ice to chill. In pint shaker over several ice cubes, add all liquid ingredients. Shake vigorously, empty ice from cocktail glass, strain cocktail into glass. Garnish with orange twist and cherry. Cheers! TPJ

    Classic Cocktails ~ No. 10

    No. 10 ~ The Aviation

    • 1916, NYC, Hotel Wallick
    • Balance and Daring
    • The Recipe

    The Aviation - Daring Do for Those with the Right... Flowers?

    The Aviation, as with many retro cocktails, was born of pedigree and muddied by mutation. In the case of this cocktail, two critical ingredients became nearly impossible to obtain, or a book editor left something out, or it was a government conspiracy. Whatever the reason, adaptations followed and it wasn’t until the original published recipe resurfaced that someone noticed the all-important Crème de Violette had been missing for many years. Another ingredient, Maraschino liqueur, fell somewhat into disuse, and also became rather a chore to locate.

    But now those ingredients are again available in the States. There is no excuse not to make the authentic version. If you are a student of drinks history, this is the real McCoy. If you are all about the flavor, this is the richly layered, subtle, deep, transcendent recipe.

    Barnstormer Roscoe Turner. Source: North Carolina State Archives

    With its faint robin-egg blue color, it is a cocktail that evokes the jeopardy between the perils of early flight and the wonder of a bird’s eye view. It wedges itself between delicate floral nuance, nutty astringency, lemony acidity, and a whisper of sweetness. The Aviation reminds me that the early mixologists were artists in their own right who deserve not to be upstaged by the flash of today’s liquor practitioners.

    The Aviation was reportedly first printed in 1916 in a book entitled Recipes for Mixed Drinks, by Hugo Ensslin. Reprints are available from time to time. Some have described this cocktail as “lean,” some say “just okay,” and still others cannot find the words. For them, only shifting eyes and a slow growing smile result as the delicate flavors trip over the tongue.

    What follows is my favorite formula, quite similar to Ensslin’s version and pretty close to that of Robert Hess. Getting your version to take to the air lies in the delicate balance of ingredient proportions. As well, you might experiment with the brands of gin and maraschino liqueur, as the synergies of this drink will bring out previously unknown subtleties in these complex distillates.

    The Aviation Cocktail

    Ingredients

  • 3 oz gin
  • 1½ tbsp lemon juice, fresh w/o pulp, juice from Meyer’s lemon is sweeter
  • 1 tbsp Maraschino liqueur
  • ½ tbsp Crème de Violette
  • 1 ea cherry, garnish, brandy marinated preferred, or Maraschino cherry
  • Method

    Set 5-6 oz cocktail glass (martini or antique) with crushed ice to chill. In pint shaker over several ice cubes, add all liquid ingredients. Shake vigorously, empty ice from cocktail glass, strain drink into glass. Garnish with cherry.

    Follow the recipe exactly, with spoon measures. Make notes on any brand preferences and alterations in quantities. Happy Flying! TPJ

    The Aviation Cocktail

    Classic Cocktails ~ Top 10

    This short note is to introduce my top 10 classic cocktails, with recipes gleaned from historical sources and contemporary mixologists. A word of caution… these are not the sickly sweet, creamy cocktails so common these days. These are not cocktails simply because someone put a word in front of “-tini.” No, they are not your daughter’s cocktails… they are your grandparent’s cocktails. What??? They didn’t tell you about that? Oh yes.

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