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Tales from Tales

by in View All Posts, July 13th, 2009

Am just back from New Orleans, where I spent the last couple days as a guest of Tales of the Cocktail, the annual cocktail conference that brings together bartenders, drink historians, liquor companies, and cocktail aficionados for a 6-day extravaganza that I heard referred to more than once as “spring break for bartenders.” As can be imagined, morning seminars were slightly more sparsely-attended than evening ones, and were accompanied by no small amount of hair of the dog.

I was down from Friday through Sunday, and spent the majority of my time geeking out on cocktail history, which was to be had in abundance – presentations on that front ranged from a roundup of forgotten 19th-century bartenders to a discussion on how best to resurrect historical cocktails, as well as a threatened (but not performed) experiment to see whether navy gin (thus named because it’s high enough proof that, if you spill it on gunpowder, the gunpowder can still be lit, making it a good thing to have on ships) does in fact live up to its name.

Other highlights included the annual Spirit Awards, naming the best bars, products, and bartenders in the industry. It’s rare that this happens in any field, but frankly, I agree with almost every one of their picks, most especially the Best American Cocktail Bar (Pegu Club), Best Cocktail Writing (Dave Wondrich), American Bartender of the Year (Jim Meehan), and World’s Best Cocktail Bar (PDT, where Jim Meehan is not-coincidentally the heart and soul behind the bar). Best New Product was Bols Genever – I’m always happy to see more gin, and traditional gin at that, hitting the market, and the Bols was featured in one of my favorite drinks of the conference, the Genever Collins, demonstrated at a feisty panel, where, among other notable quotes, punch was referred to (in contrast to the austerity of a martini) as “the extravagant drag queen of the gin cocktail world.”

Brief outtakes from other moments: Phil Greene demonstrating the proper form for an airborne absinthe wash (performed pre-Sazerac, and while wearing a rain poncho to protect his suit); a raucous limoncello demo with Danny DeVito and John Besh, broadcast live on New Orleans’ legendary Chef and the Fatman radio show; a fake-mustache-involving*, only-somewhat-successful attempt at a Harry Johnson-style stacked glass pour; a homemade bitters contest and tasting, with more than one participant copping to having procured the necessary herbs at “the hippie herb store;” a short history of Bourbon street’s burlesque bars, presented in part by two former dancers now in their 80s (Wild Cherry and Evangeline the Oyster Girl); and a really remarkable, The Game-style presentation, the last of the conference, about how best as a bartender to manipulate your guests into doing what you want them to.

All told, Tales was a fascinating experience, and a highly-recommended one — and, even though I’ll probably spend the next week slowly sipping water while simultaneously avoiding bright lights and sudden noises, it was worth every sip.

Rupa Bhattacharya, Culinary Writer

*Mustaches were a recurring theme at the conference, both in the context of historical bartenders (that they all had them) and modern bartenders (them too) – but honestly, I think I saw just as many Hawaiian shirts as I did mustaches. I’m wondering whether Tales 2109 will involve people ritualistically, only semi-ironically putting on Hawaiian shirts the same way this year’s non-mustachioed presenters did mustaches.

Ripe For The Picking

by in In Season, July 9th, 2009

On Saturday, just hours after getting home from a two-week vacation, I headed to the garden and felt like I was suddenly greeted by teenagers when I left toddlers behind. Every plant was twice its size and blooming fruit and flowers that were just days away from ripening.

Thankfully, I hadn’t missed any significant harvest, since I had plucked the blossoms off the tomatoes and peppers before I left, encouraging the plants to put their energy toward growing fuller before producing fruit.

These are the kinds of garden smarts I’ve learned from watching other gardeners year after year in my community garden, and I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.  If you love tomatoes and peppers too, here’s another tip: Plant early and plant often. Thanks to early and successive plantings (I’ve planted tomato seedlings every three weeks this summer), I have plants in every stage of ripening-which means we should have handfuls of tomatoes from now until October (unless I just jinxed myself by putting that in print).  I share more tips like that one with you on the next few episodes of our Good Food Garden documentary, so tune in, and dig in.

Sarah Copeland, Recipe Developer and Good Food Gardens spokesperson

Cannery Row

by in View All Posts, July 8th, 2009

Great piece today in Salon by Sarah Karnasiewicz, formerly of Saveur (and Salon too, actually, I think), about the resurgence of home canning, and whether we’re all deluding ourselves about homesteading being a logical response to a down economy.

As an avid home canner with a serious and legendary spatial-vision problem (which is what got me into home canning in the first place, as I brought home 15 pounds* of peaches entirely by accident a couple years ago), I’ve long since hit the acceptance stage, but those of you needing more justification would do well to read.

Rupa Bhattacharya, Culinary Writer

*They really seemed like 5 pounds. Not only do I have no spatial vision, I also clearly don’t know my own strength.

Holy Cow [rimshot]

by in View All Posts, June 30th, 2009

A Hare Krishna group in West Virginia (who knew?), faced with what appear to be mounting cases of dissatisfied cows, has launched the nation’s first adopt-a-cow program, allowing you to provide care for a retired cow for $108 a month — or, should that prove too pricey for you, you can feed a workaday cow for $51 a month instead.  And you should definitely click through to the WSJ article on it; the cow-profile woodcut is worth the price of admission.

Charlie, meanwhile, has been doing his part. He’s already adopted three. [via]

Rupa Bhattacharya, Culinary Writer

There Will Be Blood

by in View All Posts, June 29th, 2009

3026949625_9a639da938_mThe kids are home for the summer and the rain shows no signs of ever stopping, so I have two words for all of you cooped-up parents out there: Boudin Noir. For many the dark, almost black sausage conjures up feelings of warm, comfy, home-cooked goodness. For others deep, dark, pure disgust. And for others still, utter confusion. “What is it? Blood?! I don’t understand.”

To those of you in this last category, I’m no Harold McGee, but let me explain briefly. You fill a sausage casing with blood, gently poach it in water; the blood coagulates, becomes solid, and voila, blood sausage. Couldn’t be simpler.

So what will we need? Ingredients: A couple yards of natural hog casings, some ground mace and cloves, salt and pepper, an egg, a little cream, diced pork back fat, and about two quarts of pig’s blood. Equipment: A large pot to poach the sausage, a mixing bowl, a whisk, a funnel and someone (who isn’t squeamish or afraid to get a little messy) to hold the funnel.

Once this is all gathered, the process is easy and fun for all — as long as you don’t make the mistake I made on my first attempt.

Mix the raw ingredients in the bowl, tie off one end of the casing, stick the funnel in the other end and pour the ingredients into the casing. All pretty easy; that is, assuming the mouth on your funnel is wide enough for all the ingredients to pass through. (When it isn’t, you end up spending 45 minutes using your finger to stuff chunks of fat and blood through a hole they were never meant to get through, inevitably losing your grip on the casing and spraying you and your happy little helpers with blood.) In any case, the mission is eventually accomplished.

Then, the sausage is poached gently until all the blood has coagulated, and the sausage is sautéed with butter, apples and thyme and comes out of the pan just in time for your spouse to return home out of the rain to find their happy little family looking like the offspring of the barber of Seville, with a delightful hearty meal ready on the table.

I can’t think of a better rainy day activity. Enjoy!

Charlie Granquist, Culinary Producer

It Came From the Library 12: Milk, Hold the Cookies

by in News, June 26th, 2009

How an extremely misanthropic resident of the bovine digestive system such as E. coli travels through four stomachs, 150 feet of intestines large and small, across thousands of miles, from farm to processor(s) to retailers to — at the end of a journey that makes a Yukon river salmon run look like a 5-minute commute — ultimately find new accommodations in some unlucky human gut is one of the most pressing mysteries investigators of food contamination have attempted to solve since the first major E. coli scare back in 1992.

This week that mystery got a new twist with the emergence of a new and wholly unlikely disease vector: chocolate chip cookie dough. Now, a rare hamburger (or even spinach grown downstream from a feedlot) is one thing. But how E. coli 0157 found its way into a package of Nestlé Toll House Cookie Dough, let alone enough packages to sicken at least 65 people in 29 states, is the kind of mystery that adds a whole new layer of fear and distrust to an already worrisome situation. Nothing in Nestlé’s product would seem to pose an E. coli risk. The risk usually associated with cookie dough is salmonella from raw eggs-even Nestlé’s eggs are pasteurized.

One can only hope that the food safety reform bill just passed by a House panel, while far from perfect, will make such mysteries easier to solve in the future. In the meantime 300,000 cases of recalled cookie dough should have landfills nationwide smelling a little sweeter for the next few weeks.

Jonathan Milder, Research Librarian

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