Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Buvare: 'Twas the Punch Before Christmas

Every once in a while, something will strike such a perfect chord with me that it's as if The Universe just WANTS me to be happy. And that's how I felt when I saw this flier for Rum Dood, Barkeeper, and Kraken Rum's 'Twas the Punch Before Christmas contest at Malo Cantina. It was just an equation for success! A great drinkin' blog, a great bar shop, my favorite dark rum I hadn't had yet, all under one roof at one of my local haunts. Sign me up!
For the contest, Rum Dood had posted the rules, to concoct an original recipe containing citrus, spice, spirits, sugar, and some sort of “weak.” The six selected finalists were mixing up large batches for this event at Malo. And I had a ticket.

It was a particularly blustery night when two of my friends and I huddled together, walking through the rain-tinged wind to Malo. Once in the toasty upstairs, it felt as if the holidays were finally upon us; a warm and lively scene highlighted by laughter and the sound of pouring punch.We didn't really waste any time and gravitated first to the station of Zach Patterson from STK. He was serving up a concoction titled "Port of Portland Punch", an iceberg covered with fresh mint and fresher-than-fresh lime zest (he was zesting as we approached) had our mouths watering before we had a glass. This punch was a velvet smooth mixture of Kraken Black Spiced Rum, Canton Ginger Liqueur, Benedictine, Green tea, Lemon, Gum syrup & Tahitian Vanilla/Citrus blend, topped with Prosecco. My palate was excited - and this was only stop #1?? Zach's punch literally made me swoon, the magical blend of Tahitian vanilla and lime mingling like creamy key lime custard, but finishing clean and spicy. Living in LA by way of Portland, OR, naturally we began an instant rapport over the city, the next punch-man down the line chiming in, Mr. Blair Reynolds of Portland tiki culture fame. We slid down to his station and he poured us another slam dunk.Blair (of Tradertiki.com) called his recipe "Blackheart Punch," a blend of Cruzan Black Strap Rum (my favorite!), Cruzan Amber Rum, Iced black tea, Cinnamon syrup, Lemon & lime juice. Another popper on the tongue, the cinnamon syrup a superb bond for all of the flavors. I could have stayed in this room all night, back and forth between these two bowls, but then what if they only got better?!In the next room, Jason Schiffer (from 320 Main in Seal Beach) was topping off his gorgeous "Tonjok Punch" with some bubbly. Already promising, we held out a glass. The curious contents included Bols Genever, Batavia Arrack, Root, Depaz Cane syrup, Simple syrup, Lemon juice, Peychaud's bitters, topped with Chandon Brut. While I was intrigued and impressed with the creativity, the overall effect was quite stiff (as in alchoholic!) and not quite as refined flavorwise as I had hoped for. This was also when we realized we were a wee bit tipsy and visited the snack table!Next we hit Chuck Taggart's "Ponche Relejante" ("Relaxing Punch"). Boy, this was even more intense! Alright, check this out: Gran Centenario Rosangel tequila, Del Maguey Minero Mezcal, fino sherry, Licor 43, Guaycura Liqueur de Damiana, Demerara sugar, Té de 7 Azahares (Mexican “7 Blossoms” tea), lemon & lime juice, Fee’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters, Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters (get Chuck's recipe here). The smoke of the mezcal hit me first, a splash of kerosene in an otherwise smooth floral mixture. His punch was risky with its flavor profile, and I had to give him props for that! But the drunker I was getting on this school night, could not finish my potent glass.By Chris Bostick's (The Varnish) "Punch You in the Eye Punch," I felt like perhaps someone had (even my photography got... fuzzier). This was based around green tea-infused El Tesoro Silver Tequila, with Scarlet Ibis Rum, Aperol, Benedictine, Cucumber Demerara syrup, Lemon & grapefruit juice, topped with Ting Jamaican soda. As much as I wanted to love this (big Varnish fan here), that pesky Aperol took the flavor away from a drinkable punch realm for me. It was a slow sipper, and the pleasure of punch in my opinion is enjoying its potability whilst the tipsy just creeps up!Lastly, a nice lady was mixing up hot buttered Kraken Rums, which at the time sounded lovely, but after a few sips just didn't seem to be the right proportions. Noticing the full glasses about the perimeter of the room, I could see we were not alone in this impression.
So back to the beginning we went!We revisited with Zach and Blair, "reassessing" their pleasant punches before traipsing down the steps with our punch glasses for a quick taco in the dining room. By the time we made it back upstairs, the winners had already been decided (whoops! We hadn't even gotten to vote yet!). Chuck Taggart won the judge's award, while the people picked Zach Patterson. Both well-deserved!
A festive night in all, I left happy, and more pleasantly plump than a $12 ticket has ever left me before! Can we do this once a month, guys??

Click here for some more holiday party punch recipes!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Recettes Secrètes: Holiday Canning

Every year 'round the holidays, I get a box in the mail that makes my season. It is generally filled with a couple of modest mason jars with handwritten labels. The fresh fruit butters, preserves and sauces filling these jars are always the most divine I've ever tasted. Nicole has never let me down! So for the holidays, I asked my favorite chef if she would share some of this year's secret recipes (and damn do they sound good!), and her canning tips. Without further ado, a gift to you, a guest blog by Nicole:
4 years ago, living at home due to a life I thought I could no longer handle, I decided the best therapy was to teach my self a new skill. I wish I could say my love of canning was passed down through the generations, but in reality I learned from the back of my mom's 70's copy of Betty Crocker. It took one giant batch of tomato sauce and enchilada sauce and I was hooked. Thus began my annual canning adventure. Last year's undertakings included salted caramel pear butter (a hit! But I gave the recipe away to someone who then canned it and passed it off as her own!) blackberry jam from berries I picked, port roasted plum, and quince. This year I've chosen 5 things (and that was narrowing it down), and I always do small enough batches so that everyone gets something different. Batch one was bourbon yam butter and roasted pear rosemary butter. I have the advantage of working in a commercial kitchen, which does make things easier, but it can be done at home! Here are some of my tricks:

1) Sterilize sterilize sterilize!!!! A dishwasher works really well, or else in the boiling canning liquid for 2 minutes. Everything goes in rings, seals and jars.
2) Wipe the edges down pre sealing (an extension of sterilizing)
3) Keep the water boiling!!
4) Use the right stuff (new seals always!)

I got my canning pot at a hardware store but have since potted a ton at thrift stores, it will ideally hold 9 jars and be pretty deep. I usually buy a new case of jars for each product and that includes all the pieces, but jars and rings can be reused, only the seals have to be changed and they are pretty cheap. Canned items will last years but these recipes will also keep 2 weeks tightly sealed in the fridge.
For more extensive canning procedures, you can check out the following in-depth articles:
Using Boiling Water Canners
Principles of Home Canning
(I find these a little TOO in-depth, but found this simple Sunset feature helpful)Bourbon Yam Butter:
5 yams
1/2 cup good quality bourbon
1/2 brown sugar
whole spices such as nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon sticks

1) fill canning pot with water and bring to a boil
2) roast yams in skin until soft
3) cool and peel yams and puree until very smooth in food processor
4) combine bourbon and spices, heat until boiling and then reduce or ignite if using a gas stove (this rapidly reduces and concentrates flavor )
5)combine yams, reduced,strained bourbon, and brown sugar in a large pot
6) cook until sugar melts and becomes incorporated
7) add the hot mixture to sterilized jars and wipe edges clean, place seals tightly on and then put rings on and tightened. place jars in boiling water and boil rapidly for 35 minutes adding water if necessary
8) remove from water and cool. when completely cool the center of each lid will be slightly depressed

Roasted Pear Rosemary Butter:
5 pears
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
5 sprigs rosemary

1) fill canning pot with water and bring to a boil
2) combine rosemary, sugar and water and cook until all sugar is dissolved, set aside
3) dice pears skin on and roast until golden brown
4) puree pears with rosemary simple syrup until smooth
5) cook mixture until hot
6) add the hot mixture to sterilized jars and wipe edges clean, place seals tightly on and then put rings on and tightened. place jars in boiling water and boil rapidly for 35 minutes adding water if necessary
7) remove from water and cool. when completely cool the center of each lid will be slightly depressed

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Buvare: Nog!

It took one word to make me change by bustling holiday plans the other night and beeline to The Hungry Cat immediately after work. That word was nog. I had read that David Lentz, chef/owner of The Hungry Cat was making his special recipe of spiked eggnog for the holidays, served in house by the glass - or by the bottle to go!
Lentz's nog is smooth and creamy, not at all eggy-thick like store-bought stuff. It is spiked heavily with spiced rum, brandy, and whiskey in every batch. Add a little cinnamon & nutmeg and you have a damn fine holiday treat.

Available for a limited time at The Hungry Cat,
1535 Vine Street, at Sunset Blvd, Hollywood; 323.462.2155

Friday, December 18, 2009

Super Bon!: ChocoMeats' Holiday Gift Guide

I've been trying the past couple of years to get more creative with my holiday gifting... Focus on the concept of giving simple luxuries someone might not have thought of for themselves; Also each year focusing attention on homemade alternatives to overpriced store-bought goods. As everyone's pocket book gets a little smaller, here are some suggestions of great gifts starting at just $5.99.

For an inexpensive, simple but useful item that makes a statement, try the playful Animal House line of kitchen gadgets by Boston Warehouse. Their Monkey Peeler ($8) is becoming quite the celeb. $5.99 - $18.00

For the winelover, pick up one of Silverlake Wine's custom designed wine journals. These notebooks have pre-selected categories to ease the fear of the blank page. There is also plenty of space to indulge creativity. $12
For the connoisseur, enroll them in one of SW's wine clubs. The Front Table Club starts at just $25/month.

If you opt for simply a bottle of estate wine or small-batch liquor instead, wrap it in a charming single-bottle environmentally friendly 100% cotton reusable Maptote wine tote. $12

For the coffee drinker/design nut, give one [or a color palette set] of Pantone coffee mugs. Available at Show in Los Feliz (along with MANY other fine products). $14

My favorite glassware (that years later I still haven't bought myself!) are Heath Ceramics' wine punt glasses. Made from recycled wine bottles, these tumblers are both rustic and chic. $15 set/2

For the host, check out the book Forking Fantastic: Put The Party Back in Dinner Party by Zora O'Neill and Tamara Reynolds, two veterans of the New York food world showcasing their very best recipes and how to focus on the practical joys of down-to-earth entertaining at home.
$20 sale $15 at buyolympia.com

For the chef with a sense of whimsy, give the gift of color with Pure Komachi 2 Series knives. A subsidiary of Shun, Komachi 2 pulls its weight in the knife world, impressing critics despite its playful aesthetic. The stainless-steel knives each feature a different colored non-stick blade that runs right through the handle.
All under $20! $6.99 - $19.99 each ($89.99 set)

Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini (with cover by Nikki McClure) outlines many different routes by which we may take back control of our food. The three central principles of the Slow Food plan are: food must be sustainably produced in ways that are sensitive to the environment, those who produce the food must be fairly treated, and the food must be healthful and delicious. Guidelines any true food lover should abide by! $20

For your favorite Russian baker, get these Matryoshka Measuring Cups ($28), available at Anthropologie. [I was originally going to featur this more modern/designy version by M-Cups ($12), but they seem to be sold out everywhere until the new year!]

For the serious cook, enhance their cookware collection sustainably with a piece of La Chamba black earthen cookware. La Chambaware is hand made earthenware pottery, keeping food moist as it cooks, and easy to clean. You can use it in the oven, directly on the stove top, and even in the microwave. Each piece is unique. No two pieces are identical. Available via La Chamba's website; A small selection is available at Kelly Green Design. from $34

A winsome design indulgence would be the Kippis Tray by Marimekko, Finland. This fetching pattern designed by Maija Louekari is actually fabric pressed into plywood, for a unique handmade effect. Available in NYC and online from Scandinavian Grace. Other Marimekko products available at Plastica and Reform School. $48

Or my personal favorite, the gift of food! Homemade liquor infusions are easy as pie, and an indulgent tasty gift. Make Rosemary Limoncello or Bourbon Pear Butter if you're feeling kitchen-crafty, otherwise go to one of these amazing shops and compile a basket of culinary delights:
the Mercantile
The Cheese Store of Silverlake
Joan's on Third
The Oaks Gourmet
The Alpine Village (Torrance, CA)
Galco's Soda Pop Stop (Stumped? Get a dozen bottles of rose flavored soda!)

Most importantly, have fun! Don't forget to enjoy the spirit of giving.

"No Chocolate for Xmas" illustration by Stuart Kolakovic

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Buvare: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas Ale

For the past few months, I have been the happy member of an exclusive little Friday afternoon tradition at the office called Belgian Beer Fridays. We meet around 5:00, gather in a small office and rotate curating the small flight of tastes (usually 3-4 beers), often loosely relating to a theme. This past week was naturally focused on the most festive of all beer drinking occasions - the Christmas ale. Our group leader brought a lovely selection of some of this year's finest (let's just say it was the tipsiest BBF yet):

We started with the Bruery's Two Turtle Doves - A Belgian Strong Ale (12% ABV) brewed with cocoa nibs, caramelized sugar and toasted pecans. This dark ale has a roasty nose, flavors of dark chocolate malt, molasses and dried fruit... A robust alchoholly experience that lingers on the tongue. Yum.

Next we had the popular Delirium Noël, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale style beer (10% ABV). The amber body is smooth and lightly malty, with vanilla, raisin and spice notes on the tongue. Very drinkable for a holiday ale.

The St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (10% ABV) is pitch dark with a creamy head, malt and candied spiced fruits on the nose. Drinks smooth, caramel-rich with nutmeg and a host of Christmas spices. Probably my favorite of the three.

"For fun" we indulged in a fourth bottle (dessert, if you will), Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, a Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout (13% ABV). This was pure molasses bliss. Chocolate fudge sauce. A child's first taste of sin. Go get a bottle today!

If you're a holiday beer loving Angeleno, head over to 55 Degree Wine this Sunday December 20 between 5-10pm for December Beer Fest with holiday brews and bratwurst. 3111 Glendale Blvd (Next to Starbucks), Atwater Village; (323) 662-5556
Bottle pic by KyleRoth via Flickr Beer Labels, Close Up pool

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Voyager Bien: New Orleans, Day 6

Departure day was finally upon us... But that just meant more to squeeze in before heading to the airport! So much still to see! Michael and I took the historic St. Charles Streetcar to New Orleans' famous Garden District for breakfast. The trees along the avenue were covered in Mardi Gras beads from parades past and shimmered like jewels in the morning sun.The Camellia Grill is a classic comfort food institution in these parts, known for its crowded snaking single counter, fast friendly service and fluffy whipped egg omelets. The room was bustling and loud, filled with laughter and clanking plates.Once seated, our server "Sleepy" (with half-mast eyelids which I assume were his namesake) laid his sharp comedic presence upon us and shouted our orders to the open kitchen as soon as they passed from our lips. It was a sweet morning for me, I ordered the Pecan waffle w/ cane syrup, side of sausage, and coffee. Michael ordered a veggie omelet and side of grits. The waffle reminded me of Waffle House but better, and Michael's massively tasty omelet made me reconsider omelets as potentially awesome (generally a bore to me). We were full and happy, woken up from the friendly rapport and a hearty breakfast.After our meal we got off the streetcar at Washington Ave and strolled the streets of the Garden District, taking in the incredible architecture of the mansions, a blend of American Greek-revival and Creole French styles. We passed Anne Rice's home and the cornstalk fence, eventually finding Lafayette Cemetery Number 1, just across the street from the infamous Commander's Palace.Luckily the gate was open, so we got to explore the cemetery (popularly known as one of the locations for Interview with the Vampire). The above ground tombs were gorgeous...We took the streetcar back to the French Quarter to meet the guys for our last hurrah at the world-famous NOLA staple Café Du Monde.I'd been looking forward to this from day one! The scene is always crazy at Du Monde, a large covered patio chock full of tourists, manned by a quick waitstaff.Though I have a can of Du Monde's chicory coffee in my freezer back home, I was excited to have the authentic Du Monde café au lait from the source. [History: The taste for coffee and chicory was developed by the French during their civil war. Coffee was scarce during those times, and they found that chicory added body and flavor to the brew. The Acadians from Nova Scotia brought this taste and many other french customs (heritage) to Louisiana. Chicory is the root of the endive plant. The root of the plant is roasted and ground. It is added to soften the bitter edge of the dark roasted coffee. It adds an almost chocolate smoky flavor to the coffee.]
The other half of the Du Monde equation is the beignet - a square, French-style puffy doughnut, piled with a mountain of powdered sugar. Perfect duo for an afternoon blood sugar overdose.(Obviously hard to keep on your plate! The entire place was coated in sugar..)
After our afternoon treat, we made one last sweep down Decateur for last minute souvenirs and most importantly a stop where local paper-cut artist Jack Wittenbrink sells his prints street-side. These guys have been keeping Jack in business for years, with small collections at home of his whimsical landscape cross-sections of NOLA graveyards and bogs, filled with knotted roots, wild creatures and skeletons galore. The perfect keepsake encapsulating the vibe that is New Orleans, I carefully tucked my print into my suitcase alongside my Halloween costume, and readied myself for saying goodbye to the St. Philip.
With only 30 minutes left, Michael and I decided we were actually starved. We literally ran several blocks to grab takeout at the Verti Marte ("real food for real people"), a no-frills 24-hr deli in the back of a corner market nearby that had been recommended by a friend. I got red beans and rice with sausage, a massive portion that I would barely dent before the cab arrived. We ran back and sat at the table in the St. Philip's courtyard, cheers-ed bottles Abita Restoration Pale Ale and scarfed down our last NOLA meal...

I may not have gotten my drive-thru daiquiri or hung out at Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop.. but I knew in my soul I had experienced the real New Orleans. And besides, if I did everything, what would I have to look forward to for next time? I exhaled pensively as the swamps flew past once again heading back to the airport, the late afternoon sun illuminating their Spanish moss halos. I closed my eyes, imprinting the moment indefinitely.

Camellia Grill
626 S Carrollton Ave. New Orleans; 504.861.9311
Camellia Grill on Urbanspoon

Café Du Monde.
1039 Decatur St, New Orleans; 504.525.4544
Cafe Du Monde on Urbanspoon

Verti Marte (CLOSED)
1201 Royal Street, New Orleans, LA; 504.525.4767
Verti Marte on Urbanspoon