Sunday, May 27, 2012

Grapefruit: Cocktail Companion

In last week’s post I mentioned that I have been making cocktails for the first time in decades. I had grown up knowing how to make a whiskey sour—my parents’ cocktail of choice—but naturally felt that I should learn more, perhaps something to make with gin, which I like, but something other than a martini, which I don’t like.  Quickly jumping to the conclusion that I needed a recipe book—any excuse to add to my cookbook collection—I ordered two books, trusting to my friends on egullet, who appear to be astounding drinkers judging by the number of threads about drinks and there being an entire category on spirits and libations. The two I chose were one that has been around a while, and one that is new and trendy, in keeping with the cocktail resurgence:  respectively, Esquire Drinks and The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan. The PDT, as it is known, is beautifully designed and illustrated, workmanlike (that’s a compliment), and contains classic as well as contemporary/new-age bartender recipes, seasonal recommendations, bar food recipes, and a bibliography of further reading. It’s fault is its trim size and heavy weight: I see compromise at work here, the author maybe wanting a traditional bartender handbook trim, the book designer and acquisitions editor not getting that it should not be a hardcover but rather a soft, leatherlike and flexible volume. And the closest thing to what I consider a whiskey sour is the Shiso Malt Sour—which actually makes me wonder, is this what made whiskey sours so popular after the war (WWII)? Ah well, the recipes are good and, as I said, the book is serious.  The Esquire book is badly written and opinionated (I just noticed that it actually admits to being opinionated in its subtitle)—this from someone with many opinions, but who believes those should be well-situated within a proper argument. But it has a focus on classic cocktails, which I did seek out, and seems OK, although the whiskey sour recipe seems all wrong and there is, of course, no excuse for the bad writing.

One thing I learned when reading these books is that grapefruit is as accepted and common as lemon and lime in cocktails—an essential. Who knew? Since I am widely known as having a perfect palate (there are some things that are just statements of fact, and cannot be considered boasting), I had to conclude that I had never had a cocktail made with grapefruit before. The challenge arose, and so when I saw these Arizona grapefruit at the farmer’s market, I immediately knew to what useful end they would be put.

These grapefruit were smallish but full of sweet/sour juice. I perused my newly acquired books and lit on the Swiss Mist, the beginning of my week of shaken cocktails with egg whites that yielded the surfeit of egg yolks that went into last week’s ice cream.

Swiss Mist Without the Absinthe

 This is very good on a hot day. Serves 1.

2 oz gin (I used Bombay Sapphire)
¾ oz lemon juice
¾ oz grapefruit syrup (see Note)
1 large egg white

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake without ice. Add crushed ice, shake again, vigorously, until very cold, and strain into a chilled stemmed glass such as a coupe or, my preference, martini glass.

Note: To make the grapefruit syrup, make simple syrup by heating 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water, stirring occasionally and brushing down the sugar crystals until they are all dissolved. Cool. Zest one grapefruit and add to the syrup in a canning jar. Seal and turn several time; let steep for 10 minutes. Strain and store in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 cup, enough for 5 or more cocktails, depending on the recipe.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Egg Yolks: Binding Dates and Pecans Together

I am not sure why, but I have started drinking cocktails again after a thirty-year or more hiatus during which I only drank wine and an occasional gin and tonic or Campari and soda in the summer. It’s not because cocktails are back, because they’ve effectively been back for a good ten years, and that didn’t persuade me. Actually, as I write this, I wonder if it’s the weather here in Tucson: an icy cold cocktail on a hot day seems to be just right.

And I do mean cocktail, not mixed drink. Something shaken, hard, with crushed ice until it is wonderfully cold, then strained into just the right glass. I love the froth this creates from using an egg white, suited to many sours. This, of course, leaves an egg yolk, and if you make one every day for a week, lots of egg yolks. What to do? This is the opposite of the usual problem, extra egg whites, which is not really a problem because, well, angel food cake really cannot be considered a bad thing, and they are so easily thrown into the freezer to wait for a baking day.

So I briefly pondered brioche. Or lemon or rhubarb curd.  But I had six yolks.  That’s a lot. And it was Mother’s Day, and hot—100 is hot, this time of year—and I wanted some ice cream. So I put the bowl of my ice cream maker into the freezer, made the custard base (working primarily from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop), chilled it, and then…I had to put everything away on hold until the next day. I suddenly remembered that the bowl needed to chill for 24 hrs, no exceptions.  How had I forgotten that? Clearly, I am not making ice cream nearly as often as I should.

Late Date and Buttered Pecan Ice Cream

We are lucky here to have a gorgeous variety of dates and abundant pecans. The dates remain soft and luscious, contrasting nicely with the pecans. Makes about 1 qt.

1 ¼ c milk
¾ c heavy cream
2/3 cup pure cane sugar
6 large egg yolks
Big pinch salt
½ tea pure vanilla extract
2 T bourbon
12 large dates, pitted
12 buttered pecan halves (see note)
1/3 cup buttered pecans (see note)

Chill the bowl of an ice cream maker in the freezer for 24 hours. If you have the room, just leave your ice cream bowl there all the time. Not only will you be able to make ice cream at the drop of a hat, but you won’t need to remember the 24-hour rule.

Put a buttered pecan in the cavity of each date and close the date over it. Set aside.

Heat the milk with the sugar and salt, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Lightly beat the egg yolks in a 1-qt bowl and slowly whisk in the milk. Pour it back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until it thickens and coats a wooden spoon.

Put the cream into a 1-qt bowl and strain the custard mixture into the cream. Add the vanilla and bourbon. Refrigerate until completely cool, overnight if you want. 

Pour into the ice cream maker and churn for 20 minutes; add the stuffed dates and the additional buttered pecans and churn an additional few minutes, distributing the dates with a rubber spatula if necessary. Pack into a bowl or pint containers and freeze til hard. Soften for about 5 minutes before serving; this ice cream will already be softer than many because of the alcohol and high fat content, so test it right out of the freezer and watch it.

Note: To make buttered pecans, preheat oven to 350F. Melt 1T butter in a large skillet. Remove and add a cup or so of pecans and a big pinch of salt, tossing well to coat. Spread the pecans out on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, stirring once. Cool.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother’s Day! Treat Yourself

I hope you had a nice, quiet day with some treats, as I did. Actually, I had a big treat, because last week my son flew out from NYC to visit me for five days, the best Mother’s Day present you could have, and yesterday fresh-cut flowers arrived, which grace my table as I write.  My wonderful niece, also from NYC, took her mother (the one holding up the cone) to the boardwalk in NJ for some Kohr’s custard—and those of you from New Jersey know how special that is. Clearly, we have brought up our children well. But really, we mothers secretly know we can’t take the credit. I look at these two amazing kids, now in their mid-20s, and know (because I’ve known them since they took their first breaths), that they just came out that way.  To borrow a phrase I learned in Nashville, we’re so blessed.

OK, maybe a little credit. Enough to treat ourselves to a day of indulgence. Notice that I do not have a recipe here, just pictures. How easy is that? Actually, as you will see next time, I intended to have a recipe, and a much more traditional definition of a treat, but failed to plan.  It’s Mother’s Day! I wasn’t thinking about being organized. But I have to say my dinner turned out to be more of a treat than I expected.

The asparagus are local. And they are—I do hesitate to say this—the best I have ever had. In my life. That is saying a lot. Must be the desert; asparagus do like their sandy soil, so apparently all sand is even better. My entire Mother’s Day dinner took ten minutes to make, and I must say it was excellent.  Little lamb patty (leftover meat from making little lamb meatballs in cognac sauce to bring to someone’s house as an appetizer); my apricot chutney mixed with country mustard, and the asparagus—the meat and asparagus thrown on the grill, lightly brushed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. The drink? A gin cocktail, shaken with egg white. More on that next week, too.  Hope you had a wonderful day.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Three holidays: Cinco de Mayo, Derby Day, LCM 5th Anniversary

What a difference a year makes. Today is Derby Day, the running of the Kentucky Derby horse race, and if I were in Nashville as I was last year at this time—which, thankfully, I am not—I would feel compelled to wear a big hat and make something Southern, and likely a mint julep. But I am in Tucson now, hard by the Mexican border. And today is also Cinco de Mayo, a holiday celebrated throughout America and becoming as popular as Halloween, not least because it is a great excuse, as if one were needed, to eat Mexican food. So Mexican it happily must be.

But the real reason I am surfacing after so much absence from this space is that today is the 5th anniversary of Little Compton Mornings. I am supposed to be grading final papers and getting in my final grades. But really, if I missed posting something today, wouldn’t that mean that May 5, 2012 had become the first anniversary of LCM’s death, rather than the fifth of its life?  I am not quite ready to let that happen. We all have trouble letting things go.

It is possible that what I have to let go is the really time consuming part of the blog—the insistence on recipe writing.  It would be so much easier and faster to just write about and photo what I cook and eat, or carp about the declining this or that, something I am congenitally good at. Or use other people’s recipes rather than develop and codify my own or spend a lot of time testing out the sketchy instructions from heirloom New England cookbooks.

In fact, using someone else’s recipe is what I have done today, and it is, yes, so easy!  Especially when you know the cookbook author has been conscientious in making her recipes reliable. Like Fany Gerson with My Sweet Mexico.  Below is a slightly altered version of her Gorditas de Piloncillo. Why these? Well, this is LCM’s anniversary, which you could argue really demands a plain, old-fashioned dessert (the subject of every other anniversary post (here, here, here, and here), and the gorditas come as close to New England as Mexican can get. Actually, they are like nothing so much as a thick, East-of-Bay johnnycake. So although they are in Gerson’s dessert book, they are, I think, more suited to breakfast, with a cup of cappuccino. You do see the little “5” in the cappuccino foam in the photo, don’t you? Happy 5th, LCM. May you have a long life, and a productive summer in Little Compton.

Gorditas de Piloncillo

I met Fany Gerson at the Tucson Book Festival recently, having been a fan since her book came out. She has a little place in New York that you should seek out.  These gorditas are nice just sugared, but honestly, I found them delicious dunked in—a la jonnycakes—maple syrup.  Serves 2.

5/6 c masa harina
½ c hot water
1 oz grated piloncillo (or light brown sugar, dried)
1 ½ oz queso aƱejo, ricotta salata, or cotija, crumbled
½ tea ground cinnamon

Lard for frying (or Crisco®)
Pure cane or turbinado sugar

Mix and knead together the cheese, cinnamon, and piloncillo. In a small bowl, mix the masa harina and water lightly together, then knead with the cheese/sugar/spice mixture just until smooth. Form into six balls and keep covered.

Heat the lard  to 365F to a depth of a few inches in a deep 9” frying pan.  Pat the masa balls out to about 1/8” thickness. Fry the gorditas two or three at a time; they should be covered with the fat. Like a good tortilla, they may puff slightly. Cook til golden brown, and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with sugar while warm, and serve for breakfast plain or with maple syrup for dunking.