Sunday, April 24, 2011

Among vernal joys

Now that the weather is warm enough, I can finally dust off my grill.  Oh wait, Boston fire code is prohibitive and prevents me from grilling on my balcony.  With such great sorrow, I was deprived of the succulence of meat grilled over charcoal flames.  Nevertheless, I was determined to exploit a loophole to enjoy outdoor cooking.  The Boston fire code says nothing of portable butane stoves.  Aha!  Just the opening I needed to fix myself a nice burger.

Perhaps you're wondering why I couldn't just griddle the burgers on my stove indoors, why the need to move the cooking outdoors.  If you have ever cooked burgers stove-top, you would know that burger-smell will permeate the walls and saturate the air.  Thus, the outdoor aspect was not for heightened deliciousness, but rather for aesthetic reasons that I would rather my apartment not smell like a burger joint for the next few weeks.

Having my mind set on burgers, I went straightaway to the grocery store, picking up some brisket, short rib and chuck, which went into the freezer as soon as I got home.  A couple hours later, I cut about 6 oz of short rib and brisket and about 8 oz of chuck into half inch cubes and put these back into the freezer.  After another 15 minutes or so, I finely chopped the meat with my trusty cleaver (also, thank goodness for large wood cutting boards).  I loosely gathered the chopped beef without packing it and seasoned it with just salt and pepper on both sides.

Meanwhile, some oil was heated in a cast iron skillet on my portable stove outside.  When the oil reached a slight smoke, I slid the burgers in and cooked them for 2 minutes before flipping.  Immediately after flipping, the burgers were topped with a slice of American cheese each (blasphemy I know, but the meltiness of American was sought) and cooked for another 2 minutes before being served on Martin's potato rolls.

There is simply no way that the picture does the burger any justice, its humble appearance belying the joys to be had.  This was my first attempt at a thin style of burger since I usually prefer thicker, meatier patties.  Despite being thin, these burgers were still pretty succulent with cheese oozing throughout, yet with a great crust of browned Maillard deliciousness. I don't know if I'll ever be a convert, but I can certainly see the merits of both. If I weren't so late already, I would make myself a couple more..

Friday, April 22, 2011


A recent article rather neatly intersected my interests here on this blog and those of my dear friends over at NRS.  To read more about my reflections on the matter, check out my submission to said esteemed publication.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Excitement on an otherwise cool day

I had some shrimp left over from a few days ago, so I threw together a quick dinner to finish them off.  While water for pasta was boiling, I peeled the shrimp and threw the shells in some oil to roast with a pinch of salt.  After straining out the shells, I used a bit of the roasted shrimp shell oil to saute the shrimp with a bit of garlic, toasted cumin and red pepper flakes.  A touch of sherry to deglaze before adding tomato sauce.  When the pasta was nearly done, I threw in a handful of frozen peas.  Tossed it all together with a bit of black pepper to finish it off.  Roasting the shells really donate a rich nuttiness that elevated the otherwise ordinary tomato sauce.  In fact, I can still smell the aroma of roasted shellfish lingering..

Dinner was nothing fancy, so I wanted dessert to be straightforward too.  What better to satiate my sweet tooth than a flip.  It also gave me a chance to crack open a new bottle of Cruzan Black Strap rum to serve as the base.  Sweetened with a bit of orgeat and vanilla syrup and spiced with a touch of allspice dram and Angostura.  Dry shake with a whole egg to give it body.  Delightful combination of spice and buttery richness.  The sweetness alternated between maple, caramel and molasses, the latter being the most expected but perhaps the least apparent.

Despite using no butter, cheese or cream, both ended up being quite rich.  The richness of the flip was no surprise, but the results of using roasted shell oil in the pasta was unexpected.  I still have several tablespoons of the roasted shell oil left, and I would love to try it in more dishes.  Any ideas?


A chilly pallor,
Still dreaming of cassoulet.
Spring in name only.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Musical interlude

If you have chatted with me online at all over the past few weeks, chances are that I was listening to Movits! on my end.  It has been a couple weeks since they were mentioned on Colbert Report and a friend mentioned them to me.  Their new album was available for streaming on SoundCloud for awhile, and I really got hooked immediately and had it streaming almost nonstop until the stream was removed.  Now though, I just listen to their album on repeat after I bought it off iTunes.

In case you haven't heard of them, Movits! is a trio from Luleå, Sweden that plays a cross-pollinated style that combines hip hop and swing jazz.  Mind you, I speak not a word of Swedish unless you count the bits of food and drink vocabulary that I know, a family friend's gravad lax and pannkakor come to mind.  (I would've also mentioned köttbullar, but the only reason I know that one so well is because of the bag of them I see in my freezer, from Ikea of course.)  Regardless, Movits! are incredibly catchy and inevitably leads to be tapping my feet or bobbing my head.

Thus, when I learned that they would be playing live in Allston, I was thrilled.  After all, I don't expect Swedish bands to show up in Boston frequently.  Although I would not ever go back to O'Brien's unless a fantastic band was playing, I certainly had a rather enjoyable time thanks to Movits!  Perhaps it should come as no surprise, but the energy in their performance was infectious.  By the end of the night, everyone in the crowd (albeit, a somewhat sparse crowd, Monday night and all) was on their feet dancing.  If you haven't given them a listen, I urge you to do so!


If I was lucky enough to start the week off with some awesome music, I closed the week with equally marvelous music.  This past Sunday, I was joined by a few friends at the Waitiki Festival of Music and Cocktail hosted by the Waitiki 7 and Opus Affair over at Russell House Tavern.  Having hosted a tiki party of my own in the past, I had stumbled across the Waitiki 7 while compiling an exotica playlist.  Given the ever-so-gradual emergence from the throes of winter in recent days, I was more than ready to dust off my aloha shirt and put on a lei for the occasion.

I've never been to an Opus Affair gathering before, but when I first arrived, it was absolutely packed with an exuberant crowd.  The Waitiki 7 were already in full swing, serenading us with their lovely tunes, which I found both uplifting and relaxing.  Later, after Waitiki finished their set, Brother Cleve was also on hand to spin some great tunes to keep the party moving.  While Waitiki were great at RHT, I am visualizing a more perfect venue outdoors, sitting in a rattan armchair on a warm summer night, a slight breeze flitting through the trees, and of course, a refreshing mai tai in hand.  Ah well, perhaps that is too much to ask..

Unlike O'Brien's though, I was much happier to be at RHT because I knew good cocktails could be had, especially with Aaron Butler presiding over the bar.  Indeed, I spotted several notable leaders of the local cocktail community partaking in the festivities including Drink's Misty Kalkofen, Drinkboston's Lauren Clark, the Boston Shaker's Adam Lantheaume, and the aforementioned and inimitable Brother Cleve, among others.  Initially, the wait at the bar was 4 deep to get drinks, but I luckily remembered that there was another bar upstairs and consequently, managed to snag myself a mai tai or two upstairs without much wait or fuss.  Also on the special cocktail menu for the night was the classic Jet Pilot, as well as Aaron Butler originals, the Koki'o Punch and the Lokelani Cooler.

As Montanya and El Dorado rums were sponsors of the event, all of the above drinks contained at least one of their rums.  I've always been a huge fan of El Dorado, so I was quite pleased to see them there.  However, I have never heard of Montanya until now.  From what I gather, Montanya are a craft distillery hailing from Colorado that produce both a light and an amber rums.  Though I did not have a chance to sample these rums on their own, I thought they certainly made good cocktails.

Thanks in particular to Aaron Butler, Graham Wright of Opus Affair and Randy Wong of Waitiki of being gracious hosts and for throwing such a magnificent party!

Sunday, April 10, 2011


As reported in NRS, HILS recently sponsored an evening of wine tasting hosted by hot-shot stem cell biologist George Daley.  I had heard him complain at past dinners that the wine selection was inadequate, and the word on the street is that his lab's retreat involved some fantastic vintages from his private collection.  Thus, I was quite hopeful that he would be bringing some impressive bottles from his cellar.  Alas, neither Château Pétrus nor Domaine de la Romanée-Conti were forthcoming.  Since the event was hosted at the Harvard Faculty Club, apparently there were rules against the bringing of wine not purchased therein.  However, it was nevertheless an enjoyable event where the basics of wine tasting were explored via four flights of two wines each.  A list of the wines tasted and a few of my tasting notes follow in the order in which they were presented:

  1. Dry Creek Fumé Blanc 2009
    Nose: green coffee, apricots and melon
    Palate: citrus, dried apricots, raw cane sugar, a touch hot
  2. Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc 2010
    N: grapefruit, green pepper
    P: green apple, slate, very bright and crisp
  3. Domaine Talmard Mâcon-Chardonnay 2009
    N: lemon, brioche, honey
    P: toast, caramel, lemon, chalky
  4. Marcel Martin Vouvray Le Droissy 2008
    N: grassy, very subdued
    P: very sweet, grape candy, pear
  5. Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2007
    N: cedar, black pepper, humidor
    P: peppery, currant, blackberry, candied orange
  6. Campo Viejo Rioja 2006
    N: tobacco, barn, leather
    P: cherry, smoky, berries, vanilla
  7. Echelon Vineyard Merlot 2008
    N: blackberry, violets, prunes
    P: late-harvest berries, more subtle tannins
  8. Montes Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009
    N: tobacco, toast
    P: cocoa, cigar, quite structured
Of course, these impressions are simply my own observations and obviously will not be shared by all.  There seemed to be a good mix of Old and New World wines, but I would have to say that I would have liked to see some more lesser known varietals and regions.  An Argentine Torrontés or a Barolo Nebbiolo would have been more interesting.  Though I suppose that for a general audience with varied backgrounds, establishing the basics would be more prudent.

Additionally, all the wines presented here were quite drinkable and, from my understanding, quite affordable, given retail values between $10-15.  As such, it was a useful exploration of good wines that are not out of reach given a graduate student's stipend.  Nonetheless, next time, perhaps Professor Daley could be urged to part with a bottle of some Premier Grand Cru that I am sure grace his cellar.  Until then, tasting a 1982 Château Lafite Rothschild is but a pipe dream.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

At the forefront

Last night I was flipping through the April edition of Food & Wine while enjoying a dinner of seared sea scallops, asparagus and new potatoes when I can across the column on cocktail trends.  In general, I thought that the trends listed were pretty spot on, which isn't too surprising given that the author is PDT's Jim Meehan.  Though none of the featured recipes in the column were derived from Boston-area bartenders, I've definitely seen these trends in Boston for some time now as well.  Just my two cents..

1) Chef Cocktails:
I'm not exactly sure I understand what is meant by this.  It seems to me that the associated cocktail in this category is more culinary in the sense that spice, herb and fruit is combined with spirits.  Of the four, I probably disagree with the idea that "chef cocktails" is necessarily a trend.  There was a fad a few years ago to infuse vodka with just about everything under the sun.  Perhaps this is a newer manifestation, a moderated and more thoughtful application of introducing traditionally culinary, non-cocktail ingredients into the glass, but hardly anything extraordinarily new.  Bob McCoy's La Adelita, Todd Maul's Spring in the Afternoon, the Fin du Saison at Craigie on Main are all recent examples.

2) Salt:
The Fin du Saison allows me to nicely segue into this section on salting cocktails.  Salt has been popping up in cocktails all over the place over the last year or so.  Scott Holliday's Alicante, Misty Kalkofen's Little Giuseppe, and Kevin Martin's Danube all come to mind as cocktails I have enjoyed greatly where a touch of salt does have quite an effect on the balance of the drink.  I think the most extreme example that I can think of is the Campari "martini", which uses salt to affect the sensation of Campari's bitterness.  I'd be really interested to know what exactly the salinity does, as I'm sure the actual science behind this is fascinating.  (On this topic, I must also pat myself on the back a wee bit, since salting cocktails was my prediction for the next emerging trend in cocktails when asked a few weeks ago.) This wins my vote for most exciting trend.

3) Nonalcoholic cocktails:
With the advent of a greater variety of nonalcoholic syrups, more inventive soft drinks are on the rise.  There was an article in the NYTimes on this trend a couple months ago, so I guess it must be trending in New York, but I have to admit that I haven't seen it much in Boston.  Perhaps because I never look in the menu section labeled "nonalcoholic."

4) Tea:
I feel like most serious bars that I've been to have used tea for a while now, at least, for as long as I've been drinking serious cocktails, which I suppose isn't all that long.  I remember Ted Kilgore serving me something infused with tea during one of my first trips to Taste by Niche.  Not to mention, tea has historically been used in punches for ages, such as the Philadelphia Fish House punch. ("Tea punch" if you will, but not ti punch!)  Locally, I'm really intrigued by Max Toste's tea bitters, just another reason I should head out to Deep Ellum more.  As I recall, Ben Sandrof also plays with a lot of interesting teas like Pu-erh and Lapsang Souchong, but I have yet to experience this pleasure for myself.  Fred at cocktail virgin slut also seems to frequently feature tea in his recipes, indeed, even hosting a MxMo on the matter.  I also joined the fray with my Daitoku-ji cocktail from a couple weeks ago that combined both green tea and thyme, not dissimilar to Kathy Casey's Tea Thyme featured in F&W.

Even though this was not identified as a trend by Meehan, I think it should be:
5) Smoke:
Adding smokiness to cocktails is nothing new, with Laphroig rinses and mezcal, for example.  However, I think that adding actual smoke to cocktails is something that may see increasing traction.  See the Spring in the Afternoon above for just one example of Todd Maul's adventures in smoke, and see his Smoking Cinnamon for another.  Jamie Boudreau also has done some awesome things with smoker, the Machine Head coming to mind.  Shingo Gokan's technique of toasting thyme, while perhaps not smoking copiously, does bring out volatiles and changes the flavor profile.

My contribution to this 'trend' of smoke, if I may be so bold, is simply to smoke a glass with pipe tobacco before pouring in a standard bourbon old-fashioned.  To do so, I put a tiny pinch of pipe tobacco (from Leavitt and Pearce) on a small piece of foil and wrapped that under and upside down rocks glass.  I then used a kitchen torch to gently heat the foil until smoke appeared.  After letting the smoke condense a bit, removed the foil and poured in the old-fashioned.

Smoking the glass
Old-fashioneds are delicious as they are, but smoking the glass with a dash of pipe tobacco (I wish I had a smoking gun!) definitely donated an aroma of cherry wood, vanilla and a touch of smoke.  Because I was just gently warming the pipe tobacco instead of outright incinerating it, the smokiness was less powerful.  Besides I love the smell of pipe tobacco itself and that's exactly what I got.  A delicious way to augment an old-fashioned.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A little experiment

There has been so much buzz of late surrounding the idea of pairing food with cocktails, and by "of late," I mean the last few years.  The wonderful cocktail dinner held at Lineage several months back that featured Berkshire Mountain Distillers' spirits was really quite sublime.  I was amazed at how well each drink paired with each course, especially given that the talented bunch of bartenders (Joy Richards, Bob McCoy, Kevin Martin, Jackson Cannon and Ryan Lotz) had never tasted the course before crafting the drink with which to pair it.  While I cannot even approach their level of expertise or skill, I wanted to proverbially get my feet wet with the idea of pairing cocktails with food.

As a starting point, I came to the conclusion that it would be easiest to pair cocktails to cheeses.  Admittedly, this is partly because of my laziness in not wanting to prepare hors d'oeuvres as well as mix drinks.  However, my, I think good, rationalization was that I could pick three cheeses, each with a distinct flavor profile and with a somewhat canonical set of pairings with wine.  Using that foundation, I picked some cocktails that I thought fit along the lines of what has already been done in terms of wine pairings, but to offer these flavors in a new way.

That said, I invited a small group of friends over for this little experiment:

The menu

Each category had two cheeses (except for the cured duck breast) with one cocktail paired and one wine paired.  The wine pairings are perhaps boringly standard, but I wanted to serve the wine alongside as something of a baseline.  As for the cocktails, the Thorough General is one that I've made before, but the other two were newly developed for this concept.

I wanted to play the sweetness of the Thorough General, and its touch of floral and citrus, with the saltiness and pungency of the Fourme d'Ambert and the duck breast.  I thought it was good, though not revelatory.  Perhaps an idea that should not be dropped altogether, but may work with a bit of tinkering.

The Fifteen cocktail is actually what really got me motivated in the cocktail-cheese pairing, as the quince preserves therein really struck me as reminiscent of the classic combination of manchego and dulce de membrillo.  Indeed, this cocktail really complemented the manchego wonderfully.  On the other hand, the play with Nancy's Camembert was not unpalatable, but certainly less successful.  As for the name, it is a little play on words; the Spanish word for "fifteen" being "quince".  Incidentally, amaro Ramazzotti was also first produced in 1815.

2 oz brandy
0.5 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz Ramazotti
0.5 Tbs. quince preserves
Dash Angostura bitters
Lemon twist

The last set was pairing a fresh chevre and a goat triple cream from Coach Farm to a cocktail I've dubbed the Daitoku-ji, so named in honor of the Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan, known for its zen gardens and for its connection to Sen no Rikyū, one of the most influential Japanese masters of tea.  I truly love the toasted thyme and have to thank Shingo at Angel's Share again and again for his inspiration.  In fact, his fingerprints can be seen throughout this cocktail.  I thought it matched the chevre better than the triple cream, for which it lacked the acidity and sparkle to stand up to the richness of the triple cream on the palate.  The gustatory commerce between the Daitoku-ji cocktail and the chevre, though, got better as the drink evolved, the thyme donating a heavier presence over time.

2 oz shiso-infused gin
0.75 oz grapefruit juice
0.5 oz Longjing green tea syrup
Dash Boston Bittahs
Toasted thyme

 Finishing a round of cocktails

While I think the concept of pairing cocktails with cheese, and food in general, has many more miles in the tank, I certainly think it could use some refinement on my end.  Nothing was stridently conflicting, but aside from the Fifteen with manchego, nothing seemed sublime either.  Of course, the best part of the evening was the thoroughly delightful company, which could have sweetened even the bitterest of pills.