Monthly Archives: July 2009

The McGriddle

At some point in the last few years, the country seems to have waken up out of its misguided The Other White Meat silliness and rediscovered that pig plus fat equals transcendent tastiness.  Heritage hogs, Italian lardo, the return of lard in pie crusts, pork belly on the menu of high end establishments, bacon dancing the tango with chocolate… You just knew at a certain point someone was going to ask themselves, “I wonder if I can get pork fat into a bottle of booze?”

Of course, since this is America (Fuck yeah!), the answer is “Yes, you can!”  The technique is fat-washing , a means for infusing the flavor of a fat into a liquid while leaving behind the greasiness.  The alcohol is infused with a liquid fat for a period of time to extract the flavor, then cooled in a freezer to solidify and strain out the fat.  For a bacon-infused bourbon, the recipes I have found call for between 1 – 3 ounces of rendered bacon fat, which is achieved easily by cooking approximately a pound of bacon and reserving the rendered fat.  (For the cooked bacon, well, eat it!) Once the fat has cooled, but still remains in liquid form, add the fat to a 750ml bottle of bourbon.  Allow the fat and bourbon blend to steep for about four hours or more, then put it in a freezer overnight.  The next day, strain out the bourbon through a fine sieve and cheesecloth.  Bottle and refrigerate.

A bourbon on the sweeter side is recommended such as Bulleit or Four Roses, as a longer aged bourbon with strong oak or smoke tones would crowd out the bacon flavor.  Also, use a good quality, strong-flavoured bacon.  For mine, I used a combination of applewood smoked bacon and Bulleit.   For the first drink with it, I went a little nuts and tried a cocktail that mimics the flavor of a McGriddle.  I found it tasty, but others might find it merely odd.  A more straightforward presentation would be PDT’s Benton’s Old Fashioned with bacon bourbon in place of the rye and maple syrup subbed for simple syrup.   Next infusion experiment: Hot Buttered Popcorn Rum!


1  1/2 oz. bacon bourbon
1 oz. whole millk
3/4 oz. Grade B maple syrup
1 whole egg

Combine with ice and shake hard.  Strain into glass.  Garnish with bacon salt.*

* I had no bacon salt, so I used some ground cinnamon.

Courtesy of Todd Thasher of Restaurant Eve & PX.

Beet, Chard and Barley Salad

We sure  like to get our farmer’s market on.   Summer has the best of everything, especially out here in California: stone fruits galore (peaches, cherries, plums, nectarines, pluots, apricots), berries of all kinds, fresh figs, sweet beets, chard, fennel, corn.  One of the (many) nice things about  Californy is that the growing seasons are so long – which means summer produce sticks around long enough to really go hog wild.   It makes it extremely easy to get spoiled – which is good because we like being spoiled.   Ms. ChinaNob agrees.

Chopping chard

This salad is a perfect summer salad for fresh finds from the farmer’s market – light, sweet, tangy and with enough salty savoriness to make you feel full on a salad alone.   Which is what you want for summer – a meal that won’t weigh you down.  For the feta cheese, we used a Bulgarian sheep feta that was on sale for a really affordable price – it was quite tangy and briny – a perfect match to the sweetness of the roasted golden beets and the tang of the lemon dressing.

Beet and Barley Salad

1 cup dry pearl barley
4 medium beets, tops removed
1 bunch white or rainbow chard, washed
3 Tbs. lemon juice, divided
1/2 large red onion (about 1 cup), minced & soaked in cold water 30 min.
4 oz. feta, crumbled
4-5 scallions, sliced into fine rounds
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
extra sliced scallions for garnish

Heat the oven to 450F.

Boil 3 cups water.  Add the barley and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Reduce to simmer, cover, and cook until barley is al dente, about 30 minutes.  Drain, return to pan, & cover with dish towel.

Wrap beets in tin foil and roast in the oven until fork tender–30 – 45 minutes. Peel and dice the beets into 1-inch cubes.

While beets roast, strip leaves from chard and chiffonade into long ribbons. Cut the stems into bite-sized pieces.

Heat 1 tsp. of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté  chard stems until translucent around the edges. Add chard leaves, half of the lemon juice (1 1/2 Tbs), and a healthy pinch of salt. Cover and cook the chard until bright green and wilted, stirring occasionally (about 8 minutes).  If pan gets dry, add some water to keep it steaming.

Drain the red onion. Combine barley, beets, chard, red onion, feta, and scallions in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together remaining lemon juice and 2 Tbs olive oil.  Drizzle over the salad and stir to coat.    Salt & pepper to taste.  Garnish with scallions.

Courtesy of Apartment Therapy.

Zadaran Storm

Over the Fourth of July holiday we took advantage of the Friday off and went to the Old Oakland farmer’s market.  It’s like the Ferry Building farmer’s market, but everything is half price and there’s no annoying Marinites.   We found some great fresh raspberries – $5 for two pints.  Combined with the strawberries and grapefruit we picked up, we were living large.  So I decided to take some of the berries and make a syrup.  Because raspberry syrup is just too good.  Plus, you can use it with seltzer for a quickie raspberry soda, or squirt it over ice cream.  Or brownies.  Or brownies with ice cream…

Zadaran Storm

2 oz  Gosling’s Black Seal rum
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz raspberry syrup
1/2 oz vanilla syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
ginger beer, to top

Combine all ingredients besides ginger beer in a Collins glass.  Add crushed ice and top with ginger beer.  Stir for 10 seconds until cold.

Courtesy of Rick at Kaiser Penguin.


Ordering a martini in all but the most meticulous bar scares me.   First there is the vodka issue – if you are not careful, you order a martini and instead of gin, you get a glass of cold vodka with no vermouth.  Might as well do vodka shots.  Second, there is the vermouth issue.  Nine out of ten bartenders are under the mistaken impression that spritzing a little vermouth into the glass makes it a martini.   It doesn’t.  There is also the side issue that the vermouth likely has been improperly stored and gone bad.  Finally, even if all this goes right, the bartender will likely shake it, creating a cloudy mess in your glass.  It is almost not worth the trouble, which is a shame for such a lovely cocktail.   Especially one that traces its lineage to Martinez, California!


2  1/4 oz gin
3/4 oz dry vermouth
dash of orange bitters

Stir with ice for 10-20 seconds until ice cold.  Strain into cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon peel, oils expressed into glass.

With such a short and simple list, quality ingredients are essential.  For the gin, this is the time for that bottle of top shelf you own.   Personally, I am partial to the rose/cucumber profile of Hendricks, but there are plenty of good gins out there – Martin Miller’s, No. 209, Old Raj, Bluecoat – the list goes on.  Plymouth is an excellent and affordable choice.  It is frequently mentioned as the original or classic gin called for in a martini.  Plymouth is a medium-bodied gin with excellent balance and slightly sweeter than a London dry.  On the gin spectrum of sweetness, with London dry as the driest and a Dutch-style genever being the sweetest, Plymouth sits between a London dry and Old Tom gins.  Its also a great, all-around mixing gin.

For the vermouth, its important to use fresh vermouth.  If you have a bottle of opened vermouth in your liquor cabinet and cannot recall when you opened it, then toss it.  It has probably gone bad.   Vermouth is a fortified wine, but still a wine.  Much like a sherry in that it lasts longer than ordinary wine, it does eventually go bad once opened.   Once opened, you can expect the vermouth to last a few weeks if left on a shelf.  To extend its life, store the opened bottle in the refrigerator.  In addition, if you have a wine vacuum pump, use that as well.  When vacuum-pumped and refrigerated, you can get up to two months from an opened bottle of vermouth.

If you find that you aren’t drinking it quickly enough, dry vermouth also makes a great all around cooking wine.   Don’t take my word for it – the Oracle at Delphi (AKA the fine folks at Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen) have pronounced dry vermouth as the best go to cooking wine on the quality/value scale.  My favorite dry vermouth is Dolin Vermouth de Chambery, a  very light, very dry French vermouth that is well worth the extra dollars.   It is easily drinkable over ice with a lemon twist as an apertif in the summer, similar to Lillet or Dubonnet.   And tasty, tasty in a Martini.

Finally, go nuts with some orange bitters.  Bitters in a martini is essential.  It is what transforms the drink from gin with vermouth into a cocktail.  The bitters adds an aromatic component to play with the astringent qualities of the gin as well as the herbal components of the vermouth.  Besides orange bitters, I would imagine other citrus bitters such as lemon or grapefruit might work.  Bitters, bitters, bitters!

Oh, and don’t forget your garnish.  I prefer a citrus peel of either lemon or orange. with some of the oils expressed into the glass.  I save my olives for eating.  Cheers!


When I was a college freshmen, we used to go to this place in Harvard Square called the Hong Kong.  It was one of those big tacky sit-down Chinese restaurants that catered to the suburban and college student crowd, offering big plates of sweet & sour meat stuff with a side of cream cheese wrapped in fried wontons.  Of course, as a broke college student, it was awesome.  Since then, it appears the place has attempted to clean itself up a bit, and even has a comedy club going on six nights a week. I hear the open mike night attracts the Cambridge/Allston/Somerville hipster crowd at this point.

Besides cheap, fried, sugary “Chinese” food, the other thing the Hong Kong offered to broke, underage college students was a drink menu specializing in tiki-style drinks in oversize portions.  Fog Cutters, Sidewinders, Mai Tais, Singapore Slings – the whole classic lineup.  Of course, this being the 1990s and the pre-mixology era, that meant tiki drinks with cheap rum & brandy, sour mix, fruit juices from concentrate and probably some MSG.  This did not matter, for three very important reasons: (1) we were college students in the 1990s – we had no idea what good cocktails tasted like, (2) they served Scorpion bowls in these giant ceramic bowls with big ole straws that served four, and (3) most importantly, they didn’t card.   Let me repeat: They. Did. Not. Card.  They could have served Everclear mixed with OJ & Sprite and we wouldn’t have cared.   It was booze, it was cheap, and it was fruity enough to cover over the gasoline scented Bacardi 151 enough that we could stomach several bowls in a sitting.  Good times.

All of which is to say, this Scorpion tastes nothing like the Hong Kong.  It’s actually quite good.  Tasty, even.  But like the Hong Kong, its still oversized and best enjoyed with friends.


1 oz fresh lime juice
2 oz. fresh orange juice
2 oz. gold rum
2 oz. gin
1 oz. brandy
3/4 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. orgeat syrup*
8 oz. crushed ice

Combine all ingredient and flash blend for 3 seconds.  Pour into a giant mug or goblet.  Share with a friend.

* For the orgeat, use homemade or as close as you can get.  I used the orgeat from Small Hands in Berkeley.  The stuff made with corn syrup and almond extract is just nasty.  Like sticking a marzipan bomb in your cocktail.

Courtesy of Steve Crane’s Luau (1958), via Jeff “Beachbum” Berry

Old Cuban

Um….this drink is just awesome.  Its the creation of Audrey Saunders, owner of the The Pegu Club in SoHo.  The Pegu Club is one of the best bars EVAH – part of the modern speakeasy/cocktail club/mixology movement of the last few years.  I was there over the Christmas holidays with Ms. ChinaNob.  I think by the end of the night we had sampled six or seven cocktails.  They were just THAT good.  If I lived nearby, I’d be both broke and joining AA.

Old Cuban

1 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
6-8 mint leaves
1 1/2 oz. gold rum
2 dashes Angostura bitters
top with champagne

Muddle simple syrup, lime juice and mint leaves.  Top with ice.  Add rum and bitters.  Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass.  Top with approximately 2 oz. champagne.

Courtesy of Audrey Saunders.


National drink of Brazil.  Cachaca the new vodka – or old gin.   The cosmo of the 2000s.  Easy drink to get your samba on.  Blah blah blah.  I have no idea.  I just know it’s tasty, and more importantly, incredibly easy to make.  Just three easy ingredients.  No syrups, no exotic liqueurs, no bitters, no multiple page recipe lists.  Heck, you don’t even need a cocktail shaker for this one.   Perfect for lazy summer days.


2 oz. cachaca (I used Sagatiba Velha)
2-3 barspoons sugar
1/2 lime, quartered

Muddle sugar and lime in an old fashioned glass.  Add ice, then pour cachaca over ice.  Stir and top with additional ice.


Rhapsody in Blue

Ginger, ginger, ginger! How many things can you drink with ginger?  I don’t know for sure, but this month’s Mixology Monday attempted to find that answer.   Might have well asked how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop.  You never quite figure it out, because there are just too.many.options!

Rhapsody in Blue

2 oz   gin
1/2 oz   strong ginger syrup
1/2 oz    simple syrup (1:1)
3/4 oz    fresh lemon juice
2 dashes rose water
8-10 fresh blueberries

Muddle berries in ginger and simple syrups.  Add gin, lemon juice and rose water with ice.  Shake and strain into cocktail glass.

Courtesy of MxMo and Blueprint Cocktail.

* For ginger syrup, use a strong ginger syrup.  For mine, I used 1/2 cup ginger juice, 1/2 cup water, 1 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons peppercorns.   (If it was all ginger juice, no water, I’d ditch the peppercorns.)  The ginger juice was the product of grating an entire ginger root with a microplane and squeezing the pulp through a cheesecloth.  Its supposedly easier to use a heavy-duty juicer, but lacking a juicer, I substituted elbow grease.   I combined the sugar, water, ginger juice, and peppercorns over low heat to simmer for 10 minutes, took it off heat to steep for two hours, and then strained out the peppercorns.    With 100% ginger juice, you could just combine with sugar, no steeping needed.

“Indian-Style” Chicken Fricassee

Pardon the somewhat non-P.C. recipe title.  This is a Pierre Franey “60 Minute Gourmet” recipe courtesy of the New York Times – from 1988.  My how the times have a-changed – calling something “Indian-style” better be meant ironically, Rachel Ray does it in 30 minutes or less (or your next EVOO is free), and the Grey Lady still doesn’t understand why that paid-firewall idea didn’t work.  However, this recipe is STILL both easy and super tasty, especially the sauce.  A fricassee is a type of meat preparation, traditionally chicken, which involves browning the meat, then stewing it in a broth and finishing it with a cream sauce made from the broth.  This method of preparing chicken is particularly popular in Cajun cooking.  The Colonel has nothing on this finger-lickin’ good preparation.  First, the browning of the meat develops those rich flavors you can only get from the high heat searing of the meat combined with carmelization of the onion and garlic.  Then, you get the slow development of flavors and breakdown of muscle fibers from the braising in broth.  Finally, to that rich stew you add a shotgun blash of creamy goodness – or in this case, yogurty-goodness.  Francophone cultures always seem to figure out a way to take rustic or peasant-style food and elevate it to “cuisine”.  Bouillabaisse, moules et frites, ratatouille, coq au vin, bouef bourguignon…  Now I’m hungry again, and have a strange urge to play petanc.

Chicken Fricassee

1 chicken, 3 1/2 pounds, cut into serving pieces
salt and ground pepper, to taste
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 Tbs. chopped garlic
1 Tbs. finely grated fresh ginger root
1 Tbs. ground cumin
1 Tbs. turmeric
1 Tbs. ground coriander
1/4 tsp red-pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups skinless, seedless ripe tomatoes chopped into 1/2-inch cubes (or canned diced tomatoes)
1 bay leaf
1 cup fresh or canned chicken broth
1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander

Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt and pepper.  You can also substitute chicken thighs for taking a whole chicken and chopping it into pieces.

Heat oil in a skillet large enough to hold all the pieces in one layer without crowding. Add chicken pieces, skin side down. Cook until golden brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Drain off all the fat. Add onions and garlic. Cook and stir for 3 minutes.

Add ginger, cumin, turmeric, ground coriander, pepper flakes, tomatoes and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and stir to blend. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes longer or until chicken is tender. Remove bay leaf. Stir in yogurt and sour cream. Bring to a simmer, sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve.

We usually leave out the sour cream and just use more yogurt – it works just as well.  In addition, we remove the chicken pieces at the end and blend the sauce with a stick blender, for a creamier, smoother sauce.

The Box

My fridge is starting to get consumed by homemade syrups – vanilla syrup, regular lavender syrup, honey-lavender syrup, ginger syrup, extra-strength ginger syrup, cinnamon syrup… There is something about sugar, heat and some flavorization that I can’t stay away from.  It also leads to ever crazier ideas.  Like tarragon-bergamot syrup.  Or rosemary-lemon syrup.  Or maple-bacon syrup.  (OK, that last one sounds kind of gross.)

This drink was the winning cocktail for Thursday Drink Night a few weeks ago when the “theme” was Martin Miller’s gin.  Kind of tiki-esque, without the full tropical slam.  A fine summery drink that’s worth repeating.  Plus, it has a mess of ingredients, which is always fun.

The Box

1 1/2 oz Martin Miller’s gin*
1 oz Appleton Extra rum
1 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 oz cinnamon syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
6 drops absinthe
ginger beer, to top

Shake all but ginger beer, strain into ice filled collins glass and top with ginger beer.

* Martin Miller’s is a fairly “balanced” gin – with no particular botanical hogging center stage.  So when subbing the gin, I’d choose something medium-bodied.

Courtesy of Rick at Kaiser Penguin.