Friday, November 16, 2012
Thanksgiving and cocktail are seldom synonymous words. The holiday is one for wine, and plenty of it. But on the current episode of The Table Set we challenged ourselves to think outside of the wine box and come up with food friendly alternatives to unoaked Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
While craft beer and hard cider make great cases for themselves, I decided to also come up with a pre-dinner cocktail. As I would be spending the holiday in the Russian River Valley this year, miles from Iron Horse and Korbel, I considered a sparkling wine element, but instead dusted off a bottle of Korbel brandy as the base spirit.
A longtime fan of a Brandy Sidecar, I tinkered with the classic ratio, introducing fresh cranberry syrup and black walnut bitters, with Dry Curacao in for the orange liqueur. The result is a lively holiday drink that can last through the season, Turkey Day 'til New Year's Eve.
Listen to The Table Set: Not Talking Turkey
Monday, November 12, 2012
They say the most dangerous food is wedding cake.
I imagine that trickles down to what's in the toasting glass... So when two of my loveliest friends recently asked me to concoct their wedding reception's signature cocktail I may have broken a small sweat whilst smiling and saying "of course!"
This would just have to be my most perfect cocktail yet.
Not one to take such challenges lightly, I drew up a lengthy survey. I would need to know every detail of the bride & groom's tastes, their vision for the wedding, guest makeup, and --most importantly-- if they like a sweet drank.
After diagramming their answers I hosted a very serious cocktail tasting consultation. A wall of jarred syrups and infusions initially separated us, but after a couple of autumnal trial rounds (November wedding = best cocktail season ever), we all loosened up and began to make some headway. The two couldn't have more disparate tastes, but factoring in a diverse group, we all agreed on vodka. I cloaked it with harvest flavors and textures, resulting in what the clever bride (and one-time ChocoMeat guest writer) christened "Sweater Weather."
Important lessons were learned on the big day (i.e. insist on specifics when a caterer is handling the shopping), but all-in-all the cocktail was well received by the party. In fact, some people forewent the wine and drank it all night.
I suppose I can file that under success.
1 1/2 oz Tito's vodka
1 oz apricot liqueur
1 oz natural unfiltered apple juice
1/2 oz cinnamon simple syrup
1 1/2 oz Reed's ginger beer
Combine all ingredients except ginger beer and shake well. Strain over fresh ice into a bucket glass. Top with ginger beer and lightly stir. Express oils from an orange peel and garnish, top with freshly-grated nutmeg.
To make cinnamon simple syrup, combine 1 cup of water with 1 cup of sugar and several cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely. Strain and bottle. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Saturday, November 3, 2012
A few months back, my Table Set co-host Andy Windak was invited to join TJ Miller as guest chef on the Nerdist podcast Dining with Doug and Karen. They were so impressed with Andy's whimsical and heartfelt spread that they invited him back for another round. And this time, Andy asked me to join him and create a beverage program to be paired with his Breakfast for Dinner menu.
The guest co-host on our episode was Tim Heidecker of Tim & Eric fame and most recently his film The Comedy, making the total three wisecracking comedy folk to please.
We were given Meltdown Comics' green room to stage, where I set up a makeshift bar (which seemed to elicit excitement from the podcast's cocktail-loving producer).
I was most excited to serve the first drink, a shot to be served alongside Andy's amuse bouche. It was the first idea I experimented with once I knew the theme was breakfast, elevated: A Bloodless Mary. The concept is pretty simple, really: Infuse the spirit with tomato rather than clog the glass with thick juice. I picked cherry tomatoes from my garden and steeped them in gin for a week. The resulting liquor was golden and heady with a sun-kissed tomato cologne, bright and familiar on the palate with a lasting umami quality. I mixed the gin with lemon juice, bacon bitters, a dash of Crystal hot sauce, black pepper and celery salt, then served in frosty lemon-pepper ice shot glasses. Instant breakfast party!
Andy's amuse was a delicious Benedict Bite of homemade English muffin, fried speck, poached quail egg, and scratch hollandaise.
For round two I knew Andy was injecting some Latin love, so I mixed up a Dirty Horchata cocktail. Here I infused smoky Mezcal with Stumptown Guatemalan coffee beans, shaken with horchata and cocoa mole bitters until frothy, garnished with freshly shaved cinnamon.
The horchata was served alongside Andy's Chicken & "Waffles" -or- Coq Au Vin Chilaquiles, a composition of duck-fat-fried corn chips, braised chicken, salsa, queso fresco, cilantro, and a waffle fried egg.
What breakfast menu would be complete without the iconic Mimosa? For a seasonal twist I used dry French brut hard sparkling apple cider in place of bubbly. For the juice element I froze popsicles of fresh orange and brown sugar with a rosemary sprig "stick." The brut cider nibbled away at the ice pops slowly releasing and blending the flavors.
The corresponding course was Andy's fish course. He served Shrimp and Grits Poutine - Fish fumet gravy, butter-poached shrimp, grits "waffle fries," and bacon fat rouille.
For dessert I went with a coffee-replacing Breakfast Beer. Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast (oatmeal stout brewed with coffee) enhanced lightly with Amontillado and Pedro Jiminez Sherry, garnished with a Stumptown coffee bean and freshly grated nutmeg.
Andy matched the robustness with his Hallowaffle - A pumpkin waffle, Count Chocula ice cream, maple bourbon syrup, chocolate whipped cream, and maple bacon crumble. As a bonus round he also brought out Booberry and Frankenberry ice creams. Nuts!
Overall I think our creativity was appreciated, though pushing the envelope always results in a few confounding reactions. Listen for yourself and imagine what it all must taste like while listening to other people sip, chew and slurp. (*wink*)
Listen to our episode of Dining with Doug and Karen
Photos by Ted Houser