Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Quick Drink: Sangria

"Oooh sangria," you say "let's go drink some at the beach/Fly/Cinco de Mayo." Sangria is a drink, like the Mint Julep or White Russian, that requires a certain time, event, or place sensors to trigger your desire for one. You likely aren't drinking sangria with a bowl of gumbo in January, but once the warmth of spring descends you are looking to drink outside with something refreshing in hand.

We get hankerings for sangria on Sundays; this may or may not have anything to do with the fact that Sunday is technically Funday. Regardless after walking the hounds and baby around the park, Lindsay will remark that if I make a pitcher of sangria for the afternoon she will help me drink it. You may have a wonderful sangria recipe that you learned from a Jerry Jeff Walker song and I am sure it is great. However, next time you get the envie for something legal that also gets you so high, try this recipe from Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric's of Employees Only and their fantastic Speakeasy book

What we really love about this particular batch is the incredibly fragrant and sultry simple syrup it requires. Your whole house will fill with the smells of root beer or pho if you are of a Vietnamese bend. We generally do not let it sit overnight as we can never wait that long. Often we serve the saturated fruit on the side instead of in the glass. I find trying to navigate around a chunk of apple and slice of orange often leads to me spilling wine all over myself. You can use a garden variety Syrah from California, which you can pick up for a steal anywhere that sells wine. I try to drink only good rioja so I wouldn't use it in a sangria. This recipe doesn't use brandy which helps keep it light enough to consider making two batches. 

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday. 

Spiced Sangria Roja 
credit Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 each whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, star anise
1 vanilla pod, split down the middle
3 thin slices of ginger

Combine the above and bring to a boil. Now simmer for ten minutes. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes or so. Strain into a large pitcher.

1 bottle red wine
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/8 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 orange, cut into quarter-wheels
1 lemon, cut into wheels
1 cup seeded and cubed melon (often I use apples)
1 cup red grapes, halved

Add the above to the syrup mixture and stir. Pop in the fridge for as long as you can wait. Serve over ice in a large glass. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Top Shut the F Up

By now, you are likely aware that Top Chef is coming to New Orleans to film. And if you have been paying attention, there is a lot of discussion about whether or not it was proper for some of the funds from the BP disaster to be used to "sponsor" the series. Anthony Bourdain who has always recognized the brilliance and uniqueness of New Orleans suggested the BP money should be donated back to a New Orleans charity by Bravo. Bravo's Andy Cohen brought in tax rebates that went to Treme. That brought in David Simon to offer his point of view. Read this to catch up.

So if you are scoring at home. A New York food personality, a Baltimore newspaper man-cum-director, and a St. Louis exile who traffics in human reality are lecturing each other on the proper usage of funds received by Louisiana from a British company. This is either a punchline to the worst joke in history or a set-up for a Mark Twain quote. Now this may sound xenophobic, but it is quite presumptuous of people who don't live here to tell us what we can and can't do with our money. Sure, we may be jaded at the end of tourist season with outsiders, but really can you just leave us alone?

I have no problem with BP funds used to promote tourism going to Top Chef to lure them here. This is how the game is played. At least it is a better usage than just putting billboards on interstates or catchphrases tucked inside in-flight magazines. This money from BP was earmarked for a specific purpose: promoting tourism. It can't just go into the hands of shrimpers or fishermen or just be given to charity.

My problem isn't with the expense, its with the expectation. Does anyone really think a person who truly enjoys food and cooking doesn't already know that New Orleans is a good spot for both? Is some guy with a platinum rating on Yelp! Charlotte going to suddenly remember to visit New Orleans and see what the fuss is all about because of a Quickfire Po Boy Challenge?

What is more likely is this will be a retread of every New Orleans travel show or segment. There will be Brennan's. Lots of Brennans. There will be oysters, shrimp, and crab and sly references to "Creole" cooking by Padma which imply it sucks. There will be a second line Elimination Challenge and a Sazerac Quickfire. A Toyota Prius will drive from the Whole Foods Uptown to the swamp to cook alligator in a pirogue while Dixieland plays in the background. A cheftestant will wear a white cap and sling their take on beignets at Cafe du Monde. Katrina will be referenced more than Harold McGee by the cheftestants. Mardi Gras and voodoo will exist in a perfect harmony gumbo analogy.

But this is ok. We will watch and point out to each other how the contrived the Cajun challenge was and how old some chef looked. We are used to being painted with a brush as wide as the Mississippi as being a particular and sacrosanct way. The real problem is every tourist (and local) has their idea of how New Orleans is supposed to be. Like two Italian Americans fighting over whose grandmother made the best ragu. One says, "My grandmother's New Orleans used jazz bands, late nights at Lafittes, and oyster po boys." The other says, "Your grandmother is wrong, its Mardi Gras Indians, streetcar rides, and boiled crawfish."

Neither is right and both are wrong. But hey, at least there is food on the table.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Quick Drink: Riesling

You and I aren't drinking enough Riesling (pronounced Reese's Peanut Butter Cups). The International Association of Riesling Exporters and Importers' (IAREI) states that the average American drinks only 1 tablespoon of Riesling every two years. Art Vandelay, head of the IAREI, recently expressed his firm desire to "get that number up to 1/4 cup at least every eighteen months."

Well, you might be saying, why should I drink more Riesling? Chances are you are going to go out for spicy food, seafood, barbecue, or Asian food soon. Likely the waiter will come by first to take your drink order and you will request something disgusting like sweet tea or Pepsi. The reason you want these drinks is because of their inherent sweetness. Sweetness brings stability and helps balance out aggressive, bold flavors. Put down the sweet tea and ask for a Riesling instead.

What is Riesling? Riesling is a type of grape, grown mainly in Germany, but also Germany-light (Alsace), the Finger Lakes Region of New York, and other cool areas, such as Washington State and Sean Payton's bachelor pad. Besides having a touch of sweetness or honey on the palate, Rieslings can also have some acidity which makes them the George Gershwin of wines. You can pair them up with fancy food like smoked salmon and caviar or dress them down and pair with boiled crawfish. Try it with poached salmon with a grapefruit and ginger beurre blanc.

In short, drink more Riesling.

Grapefruit and Ginger Beurre Blanc

I use less butter than is traditionally called for per Ms. Child's classic recipe, as I do not think you really need 2 sticks of butter to achieve a rich and luxurious sauce. But look, Mrs. Child is probably right.

1 Shallot, minced
1 joint of ginger about the size of your thumb, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons of grapefuit juice
3 tablespoons of white wine
8 tablespoons of butter
Salt and Pepper, to taste

In a saucepan, combine the shallots, ginger, a pinch of salt, a few cracks of pepper, wine, grapefruit juice and 3 tablespoons of butter and bring to a rapid boil. Allow this mixture to reduce to a syrupy consistency. Take the remaining 5 tablespoons of butter and cut into small pieces roughly the size of your thumbnail. Or if you are a giant, the size of your pinky nail.

Strain the reduced sauce into a clean, unheated sauce pan. Immediately, add 2 pieces of the reserved 5 tablespoons of butter. Whisk furiously. Then, place pan on low heat and whisk in the remaining butter and remove from heat. Taste, adjust for seasoning, and spoon over poached or grilled fish for best results.