Thursday, March 21, 2013

Buvare: Shiso Lovely

I had never sampled Korean cuisine before moving to Los Angeles. Casual as a boisterous group trip to Soot Bull Jeep for KBBQ may seem now, I am well aware of the benefit we have living in this city to enjoy such motley experiences. To many though, even LA denizens, the overwhelming bounty that is our Koreatown (with one of the highest population densities of all neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the United States) remains still an indecipherable mystery. Determined to enlighten international diners about the diverse flavors and health benefits of Hansik (Korean cuisine), The Korean Food Foundation has launched a series of city restaurant guides, including a slick 200-page guide to LA's Korean restaurants, from Koreatown to Marina del Rey, Buena Park, Garden Grove, Pasadena, and Los Feliz. Edited by legendary LA Times & LA Weekly food writer and cookbook author Barbara Hansen, and written with the help of many top local bloggers, the guide is now available at The Korean Cultural Center, through PDF download on The Korean Food Foundation's website, and as a handy iPhone app available in iTunes. To put the guide to the test, I teamed up with my recurring foodventure cohort Kristin "the Cuisinerd" to embark on a mini K-town food marathon. Bibambap, we don't stop!
Check it out over at

During our walkabout through K-town and its eateries, pubs, markets and banchan delis, I became inspired to craft a cocktail from Hansik ingredients, with a fresh profile to compliment its flavors, and involve the Korean concept of Ssam (literally meaning "wrapped," in which edible leaves are used to wrap meat, condiments, and banchan).
Perusing Han Kook Market, I decided to start with the obvious base spirit - Soju (소주). Known mostly to me these days as the cocktail spirit of choice for restaurants with a beer/wine license, this clear, slightly sweet distilled spirit is made from grain or sweet potatoes and typically has an alcohol content of 40 proof (20% ABV) - Half that of, say, most vodkas. Nevertheless, it is the most popular traditional Korean spirit, deserving of a second chance. I was also intrigued by Makgeolli (막걸리), a milky, sweet low-alcohol (6% ABV) beverage made from sticky rice, known for its high fiber, protein and vitamin levels. With some fresh produce and a lucky hand, Shiso Lovely practically made herself.

Shiso Lovely

1 1/2 oz Jinro Soju
1 oz Jinro Makgeolli
1/4 oz Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 oz Honey Tangerine
1/2 oz Lemon
1/4 oz Honey Syrup
3 Shiso Leaves

Add shiso leaves and honey syrup to a shaker and muddle. Combine remaining ingredients, pack with ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass lined with a slapped shiso leaf.

Shiso Lovely also works well as a long drink. After shaking, strain instead into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with soda and garnish with a green maraschino cherry, candied lotus root and shiso leaf ssam.

*For the Honey Syrup:
Combine 1/2 cup of water with 1/2 cup of honey in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently until honey has dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mixology Monday: Road to Mandalay

Is it already that time again? Nothing like a Mixology Monday cocktail recipe challenge to shake things up! 
This month's theme comes from Scott Diaz of Shake, Strain & Sip, challenging the pretense of today's über-craft bar scene: 
"The evolution of the cocktail has been a wondrous, and sometimes, frightful journey... But with all this focus on 'craft' ingredients and classic tools & form, it seems we have become somewhat pretentious... As such, this month's MxMo LXXI theme, From Crass to Craft, will focus on concocting a craft cocktail worthy of not only MxMo but any trendy bar, using dubious and otherwise shunned ingredients to sprout forth a craft cocktail that no one could deny is anything less."

In the back of every liquor cabinet lives a dark secret. It is usually very old, always sticky to the touch, and often times... Blue. Oh yes. Blue Curaçao. More commonly found in the tenure of tiki-philes like myself,  the blue devil still causes a blush (or excuse) upon discovery. Unfortunate really, as the liqueur flavored with the dried peel of the laraha citrus fruit, from the island of Curaçao, is not completely untasteful. Yet it is often unnecessarily dyed the most unnatural shade of blue. Craft? We'll see...

Burma's Pegu Club, set just outside of Rangoon (now Yangon, Myanmar), is probably best remembered by its legacy, the Pegu Club Cocktail. This ginny signature drink was sipped by its exclusive ex-pat members
mostly wealthy businessmen and military officials, as far back as 1866. First printed in "Barflies and Cocktails" by Harry McElhone in 1927, the recipe has only more recently resurged from obsolescence in Myanmar, now served in several historic colonial hotels in Yangon, as well as on the Road to Mandalay, an Orient Express cruise boat on the Irrawaddy River.

The latter is the namesake for my cerulean adaptation (the original Pegu Club calls for unvaried Curaçao). And given the fact that the cocktail was originally named after the Pegu River, I actually find blue befitting for the cocktail. 

Road to Mandalay

2 oz Gin
3/4 oz 
Blue Curaçao
1/2 oz Lime
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 dash Orange Bitters

Add all ingredients to a shaker, fill with ice, and shake well.
Strain into a chilled coupe. If desired, garnish with a grapefruit peel.

A tart refreshing cocktail best sipped out of doors, there is hardly a cloying note to be found. Lick it up, haters. Lick. It. Up.

Thank you Scott for an entertaining Mixology Monday challenge! Check out the round up of submissions here, and visit the original MxMo LXXI announcement post here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mixology Monday: The Tigress

It blows my mind that it has taken my this long this participate in the renowned Mixology Monday. However, in light of the kooky cocktail hijinks I have been up to lately, I am happy that my first is this month's theme dreamt up by Stewart Putney of Putney Farm: "Inverted."
Inspired by Julia Child's upside-down or "inverted" Martini preference, Stewart wrote "What does 'inverted' really mean? Well, here is the definition, 'To turn inside out or upside down; to reverse the position, order, or condition of.' Hmm... It seems that 'inverted' really just means something 'flipped on its head'. And that can mean almost anything, and leaves plenty of room for creativity... You can invert the ratios of spirits, liqueurs or bitters in a cocktail, but we suggest you go beyond that and 'invert' whatever you want."

Refined. Elegant. Subtle.
Not words generally associated with what we lovingly call tiki.
But why not? Tiki's fine aged rums, specialty liqueurs and complex flavor profiles are every bit considered as a perfectly balanced Martinez or Sazerac, and in their heyday, just as glamorous. As winter tiki has been on my mind a lot lately (and not just because it was 82 degrees this February day), my task was plain. So I looked to the boozy classics, the Mai Tai, Zombie, Scorpion, Planter's Punch, Test Pilot, Sunakora and Three Dots and a Dash to cull a deeply flavorful aromatic tiki cocktail. That's right - no fruit, no juice, no freaky garnish. And by golly, it was easier than I expected.

The Tigress

1 oz Smith & Cross Jamaican rum
3/4 oz Lemon Hart Demerara rum
1/2 oz pineapple cordial*
1/4 oz St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
2 dashes Bittercube blackstrap bitters

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass over ice and stir well.
Strain into a chilled coupe and express oils from an orange peel over top, adding it to the glass as a garnish.

*For the pineapple cordial:
Fill a pint canning jar with freshly cut pineapple pieces. Pour in an ounce of Amaretto, and fill the remaining space with gold Barbados rum (such as Mount Gay). Seal and keep in a cool dark place for at least a week, agitating every day or so. Strain through a fine mesh sieve to extract any and all fruit pulp before use.

Fruity and rummy on the nose, smooth drinking, with a mellow spicy aftertaste. It's totally tiki, but fit for a speakeasy. Of course, as with all tiki recipes, the ingredients are key. Substituting rums will yield considerably different results, and in this case, the bold flavors of the Smith & Cross and Lemon Hart carry more than their weight (especially considering this cocktail is 100% liquor). So enjoy! And thank you Stewart for a fun and inviting first Mixology Monday!

Visit the original announcement post here, and the full Mixology Monday LXX Roundup: Inverted here! So many awesome and creative submissions I will be trying out...

For further inversion of winter tiki, check out my Hot Grog recipe from the Winter Warmer episode of my podcast, The Table Set. (Hot tiki? You bet!)

Monday, December 31, 2012

Gala Parfait: Feast of the Seven Fishes

You know what they say, Italians do it better.
Christmas is no exception. I had heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a coursed Christmas Eve tradition to count down the hours to Christ's midnight birth, but never have I experienced it. Until this year.
On the Table Set's holiday episode this year we decided to shake up tradition and go intimate dinner party instead of all-out Xmas bonanza like last year. Add my co-host Greg's recent collaborators Alaska Seafood graciously sharing some of their top-of-the-line sustainable seafood and our Buone Feste was heartily underway.

AND the table is set (no pun intended). In fact, Greg is such a pro I believe it was set a full day in advance.

As per usual, we had too many cooks in the kitchen — That's because some of our most talented friends were in attendance. Seven courses for seven wonderful cooks. And for extra credit, seven beverage pairings. No lazy bloggers 'round here!

To serve as guests arrived, I thought Philadelphia Fish House punch seemed a fitting choice.

Course #1: The Cuisinerd and her main squeeze are no amateurs when it comes to sea bugs, and they knocked us flat with their Grilled Alaskan Oysters and Mignonette Trio: Spicy Chipotle, Cilantro Lime, and Classic Cocktail Sauce. (Seriously, these sauces should be sold in jars.)

Their offbeat pairing choice of Cantine Elvio Tintero Grangia frizzante (90% Favorita and 10% Moscato) created a wonderfully dry and fizzy bridge to the next course.

Course #2: I volunteered for the amuse bouche. Starting with salmon roe, I got inspired by dishes from LA's Son of a Gun restaurant and in the sexy NOMA cookbook. For added depth I first cured the roe in a beer brine. I used Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel's sweet and spicy Route Des Épices rye beer brewed with black and green peppercorns.

The finished amuse comprised of a Rye Crisp with Maple Cream, Beer-cured Salmon Roe, Green Chile Sugar and Fennel Top.

Course #3: Jackie the Beeroness (also behind Domestic Fits) wowed us all with her comforting Seared Alaskan Scallops wtih Smoked Sweet Corn Puree and Stout Balsamic Reduction. A sparkling wine cocktail with fresh basil and elderflower liqueur was an elegant brace.

Course #4: Chef, artist, and former Table Set guest Brian wove a tapestry of a "soup course" with his Seared Halibut over Forbidden Rice with Miso Pork Broth. For a cleansing respite, fresh lavender-infused spa water was paired.

Course #5: It wouldn't be a Table Set supper without something showy from Andy. His "Surf 'n' Turf" entree was no exception. Here, oceany Uni Capellini with Scallop, Bonito and Nori Crumble met earthy Rye Toast with Pine Nut Porcini Butter for a unique twist on the concept.
It was paired with Kabaj Rebula, a full-bodied Slavic white wine (100% Ribolla) capable of standing up to the intense flavors of the dish.

Course #6: Salad after entree? Why not?! Salad with crab? Hit me! Joy the Baker made magic with her crisp and refreshing Alaska Crab, Apple and Pomegranate Salad — a new Insalata di Mare classic. Get her recipe here.

Six courses in, I can hardly recall what we were drinking anymore... but my blurry photo shows that it was bubbly, and that we were having fun!

Course #7: And boy, the fun wasn't over yet. Greg built a mountain of it with his festive Caffè e Frittelle Dolci (Coffee & Donuts) — Glorious rosemary glazed donuts studded with gummy Swedish Fish, a highbrow/lowbrow win. I think I had seven.

In all, a beautiful night of subtlety, skill, festivity, and togetherness. Thank you to Alaska Seafood and all of our lovely guests!

Video and additional photography courtesy of Ted Houser

Friday, December 21, 2012

Buvare: The Tart in Tartan

I've never spent a winter in Scotland, though I imagine it would be spent fireside sipping something strong. This smoky and tart holiday cocktail is all about the pull. Best to give in and let it do its thing.

The Tart in Tartan

1 oz Laphroaig Islay Scotch whisky
1 oz Irish whisky
1 oz Cranberry Shrub (recipe here)
1/2 oz lemon juice

Combine ingredients over ice and shake. Strain into a tumbler over one large fresh ice cube. Express oil from a lemon peel and garnish. Sit back and enjoy slowly.

Recettes Secrètes: Fennel Mostarda

This recipe is a great way to use up the less desirable bits of a fennel bulb, stalks and all. It is delicious with a cheese plate, served on toasts, or in a sandwich. Can it and wrap it for an intriguing epicurean gift.

Fennel Mostarda

1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 wineglass (5 oz) dry white wine
5 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons water
1 heaping tablespoon mustard seeds

In a saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat, simmering until fennel is softened and jam-like, about 15 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature. May be jarred and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week, or canned for shelf-stability.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Recettes Secrètes: Cranberry Shrub

Shrubs are all the rage, yet making them couldn't be easier. This fresh cranberry shrub syrup is festive and delicious simply mixed with sparkling water or in a cocktail.
Keep your loved ones current!

      Cranberry Shrub

1 cup water
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
3/4 cups red wine vinegar
peel of one lemon

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, stir, cover and steep for 20 minutes. Press berries gently with the back of a wooden spoon to release juices. Strain through fine mesh and store in the refrigerator (or can for gift-friendly shelf stability).

Printable gift tag: