Monday, September 24, 2012
Tiki has become something special to me over the years.
It is not just a kitschy party theme, type of cloyingly sweet drank, or dive bar category. Bizarrely enough it's filed alongside heavyweights like Christmas and New Year's as an important family tradition. Yes, my parents, sister and I do Tiki. And if I do say so myself, we do it damn well.
Initially, the end of summer Tiki Party at my parents' home in Tucson was a heavily-anticipated annual celebration. A break from large family gatherings brimming with kids ("we love your keikis, but this one is for adults"), and the rare party to really have a focus on drinking. Since I was college-aged when the Tiki Party debuted, I was not only surprised by this, but fully on board! Each year seemed to one-up the prior, adding a pit-roasted whole pig, ukelele orchestra, and even tradition hula dancers in full garb. It was a fantastic tradition.
Then one year the invite never went out. Then another year. The masses were restless, when would there be another Tiki Party? I tried to sate myself in California with regular visits to Tiki Ti, Tonga Room, Trader Sam's and with a big fat Tiki episode on my podcast The Table Set, but it wasn't enough. Once I found out my sister Megan missed it as much as me we conspired to convince my parents by any means necessary to bring it back.
Then this year... we finally succeeded.
It's always a whirlwind driving home to Arizona and jumping in to the preparations. It's also always startling opening the fridge in the garage to see Laura Palmer as a pig, awaiting the sacrificial pyre.
Day of, first thing's first - Get that pig going. It takes all afternoon to get a proper tender slow-cooked Kalua-style pig.
The photo opp murals Megan painted are always a hit.
And while the tables are set, I have my hands full with another task.
Shocking, I know - I manage the bar. With the addition of the bamboo tiki hut-style bar this year, things got serious.
Selecting a menu is hardly an easy task. Each year we debate, recounting drink popularity from the previous parties. The true Mai Tai is our collective favorite, but seems to be too boozy for our guests, as we always have the most leftover of it. The Blue Hawaiian is garish, but always a winner. We pre-mix everything in large batches as well, so the recipe has to work in that format - and some ingredients, such as bitters, intensify over time. This year I decided to select all new drinks; Classics that cover very different flavor profiles as well as liquor variety. No need to be rum snobs - It's just not for everybody.
In lieu of the signature Mai Tai I went out on a limb with South Pacific Punch, a potent blend of dark and light rums, fresh orange and lime juices, Falernum and passion fruit syrup. Not for the faint of heart, I think the profile of the spicy Falernum is what set this drink apart.
To satisfy the sweet drink lovers, instead of a neon blue concoction (I just can't get down with Blue Curaçao) I opted for the popular Chi Chi, a vodka-based riff on the Piña Colada with coconut cream, pineapple juice and a dust of nutmeg. Sometimes simplicity is best.
For the first time we introduced a bourbon-based tiki drink, which turned out to be the crowd favorite, the ominous-sounding Polynesian Paralysis. Akin to a Hawaiian-style Mai Tai, this one blends pineapple and citrus juices with orgeat, which marry nicely with the bourbon for a dangerously smooth sipper.
We always try to think of creative ways to keep designated drivers and non-drinkers in on the fun, and this year hibiscus lemonade and tropical iced tea just wasn't going to cut it, so I whipped up a non-alcoholic tiki classic Rainbow Punch. Here pineapple, orange, and lime juices are blended with grenadine, soda, and bitters for a well-disguised virgin.
It was an exhausting night of shaking drinks, so I was happy to have some relief long enough to get in on the Kalua pig and Polynesian potluck before it was all gone.
Perlana, one of the "best dressed" winners enjoys a Chi Chi.
Yes, no matter how much math and careful planning goes into our batch drink making, we always over-do it and have SO much leftover. Not a huge complaint, but it suffices to say that Tiki Party turns into Tucson Tiki WEEK. Aw well, maybe we'll get it right next year... Oh yes, there will be a next year.
Friday, June 22, 2012
On the Table Set podcast this week, Greg and I get our single on and help Andy brainstorm non-lame ways for parties of one to socialize in today's isolating, media-driven world.
Two words: FOOD PARTY! (duh.)
With interactive subjects like cheese and wine tasting (or even rooftop crustacean cracking), breaking the ice is a breeze. We also get spoiled by a special guest, Barrie Lynn the Cheese Impresario who takes us on a curated cruise down the CHEESE HIGHWAY.
Listen to The Table Set: Single Mingle in the City
And try Barrie Lynn's mouth-watering dessert recommendation below! SUPERCHARGE.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Interventions are not just for people. Sometimes they are for home bars too.
|Disemboweling my home bar|
I have a problem. In this cocktilian age, when most drink lists contain spirits most people have never heard of, much less own a bottle of, to me it spells "challenge." I browse specialty liquor stores like I'm flipping through records. Next thing I know I have a top-heavy bar chock-full of liqueurs like Strega and Becherovka keeping a much-needed bottle of Old Overholt Rye off the farm.
So in renovating my home bar, I decided to approach things from a fresh perspective. Namely, someone putting together their first home bar, with entertaining and flexibility on their mind. Let's be clear, setting up a home bar is better not taken on all at once. Build up your spirit and bar tool collection gradually, starting with the necessities for one or two cocktails. Expand on a need-based philosophy.
The Overview. Let's list it out:
Hardware. Cocktail shaker (I prefer a two-piece Boston shaker), strainer, jigger, fine mesh strainer, muddler, citrus juicer or reamer, barspoon, vegetable peeler, ice cube trays (I use Tovolos).
Glassware. There are four major categories as far as I am concerned that aptly cover most cocktail needs: Old Fashioned or Rocks glass, chimney-style Highball glass, Cocktail or Coupe stemmed glass, and Champagne flute.
Spirits. Bourbon Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, Scotch Whisky, White Rum, Dark Rum, London Dry Gin, Cognac, Reposado Tequila, Vodka.
Mixers & Liqueurs. Dry Vermouth, Rosso Vermouth, Cointreau or Triple Sec, Herbsaint, Maraschino Liqueur, Angostura Bitters, Peychaud’s Bitters, Orange Bitters.
Setting it up. For starters, I cleared off the main work surface of my bar cart, reserving it for my "well." I installed a shelf just above this surface for my "top shelf" selections, special bottles collected over time like small-batch bourbons and smuggled Czech Absinth. Below I stowed my mixers, specialty liqueurs, exotic bitters, and spirit varietals. While liquor will keep for a long time in a cool place away from direct sunlight, remember vermouth is a wine product and should be kept in the refrigerator for a longer life.
|Sazerac by Dave Stolte|
But Rule #1 - Don't be daunted. Start small. After all, this is supposed to be fun!
Speaking of fun, check out the latest episode of
the Table Set podcast in which Greg, Andy and I discuss stocking your home bar, pantry, spice rack, and fridge for impressing impromptu guests. And introduce our new co-host - The Little Gay Record Player!
Listen to The Table Set: Shumai On The Fly!
Friday, February 24, 2012
Let's break it down: New Orleans is my jam.
Always has been since the first day I stepped foot on its swampy foundation. Funny then that I've never really been one to celebrate its most iconic holiday - Mardi Gras.
I attribute this mostly to the fact that I have never been in NOLA for the festivities and thus fostered an affinity for it. I know about the plastic beads (and naughty things done to procure said beads), parade floats, excessive liver pickling, Bourbon Street crowds, and garish color schemes... Though for all I love about NOLA, these marks generally excite me the least. But then this year was different. Maybe I miss the dank scent of the Quarter, that high octane slushy daiquiri, and a little night music.
So this past weekend I celebrated the Angeleno way, at the Original Farmer's Market under the shade of the Gumbo Pot where locals claim tables as early as breakfast time on Sunday to have prime seats once the bands start playing and the afternoon beer starts flowing. I joined annual ringleader Lisa early for coffee and beignets, and heavy bead sorting. I stayed until the Zydeco dance floor picked up as the sun went down.
|Spotted: Neighborly accoutrement competition.|
|One fancy kazoo.|
|Noon = Abita Amber.|
|The royal Zulu coconut bead.|
|Spicy Food. Cool Jazz.|
|King Cake, delivered to your doorstep.|
|The King Cake baby is found! And thus next year's host selected.|
For more on Mardi Gras, and my general love of New Orleans...
Listen to The Table Set: Gimme Some Beads!
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
It's awards show season!
On the Table Set we have been discussing how to gussy up your next plain ol' TV party into something to remember. This honey-kissed sparkling punch that I created for Homefries U would make a classy sipper for an Oscar party, or an upscale afternoon with Oscar the Grouch.
Listen to The Table Set: Stay Tuned
Gilded Cava Punch
1 pint Krupnik Honey Liqueur
1 cup Dolin Blanc Vermouth
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup rich simple syrup*
4 bottles Cava Brut
1 liter club soda
Fee Brothers Plum Bitters
In a pitcher, combine honey liqueur, vermouth, lemon juice, rich simple syrup and 10 dashes of bitters, cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours. To serve, pour the mixture over a large block of ice in a punch bowl and slowly add chilled Cava and club soda. Garnish with lemon wheels.
Serve in wine goblets.
*Rich Simple Syrup
1 cup demerara sugar
1/2 cup water
Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until a rich syrup develops. Remove from heat, cool, and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
On The Table Set, I am referred to as the "punch guy." So for our holiday party I knew I really had to step it up and make something special. In lieu of a default sparkling wine punch with cranberries and lemon wheels I delved further, exploring old English Christmas punches and colonial tea-based punches. I came up with this Yuletide Christmas Punch, borrowing from the best and creating a mellow, dry, spicy and earthy rum punch that warms the soul while it quenches.
Yuletide Christmas Punch
These ingredients should make two healthy batches. Note that the strong black tea and demerara syrup can be made well in advance, and all ingredients chilled until the punch is mixed. (The ice mold is not meant to chill the ingredients as much as retain their cool temperature.)
1 bottle (750ml) dark rum
1 bottle (750ml) spiced rum
1 bottle (750ml) brandy
1 bottle (750ml) dry Lambrusco
2 liters club soda
1 quart strong black tea
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups demerara sugar
3 small oranges or tangerines
One day ahead, fill a bundt pan with water, cover with plastic wrap and freeze overnight.
Prepare strong tea by bringing a quart of water to a near boil. Pour into a heat-proof vessel with 8 black tea bags and cinnamon stick. Set aside to steep and cool.
Return saucepan to stove and begin warming a pint of water over medium heat.
Rub a lemon in a non-reactive dish of sugar until the sugar takes the color from the lemon, absorbing its oils. Add a splash of hot water and stir to make a paste, or 'sherbet'. Set aside.
Add 2 cups demerara sugar to the saucepan and stir until completely dissolved and syrup just comes to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool.
Using the tip of a knife, score and stud oranges with cloves to make pomanders. Wrap in foil and place in the oven at 200 degrees for ten minutes or until fragrant. Remove from the oven.
In a punch bowl combine exactly half the bottles of Lambrusco, rums, brandy, tea and juices. Stir in the sherbet, and demerara syrup to taste, approximately half of the batch.
Remove decorative ice mold from freezer. Place bundt pan into a bowl of warm water to loosen the ice from the mold. Carefully lower ice mold (or block ice) into punch base, and top with one liter chilled club soda. Garnish with pomanders, fresh tarragon sprigs, star anise, and a generous dusting of freshly grated nutmeg.
When the punch requires refreshment, add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined.