Friday, March 27, 2009

Seasonal Produce: A Springtime Infusion, Now with Cookery!

In a previous post, I discussed the virtues, however regionally-influenced, of Blood Oranges. I likewise promised to include a recipe for an infused Cachaça utilizing these delightful late winter/springtime citrus. Furthermore, it occurs to me that I haven't had any culinary examples up here in a long while. This is not to say I haven't been cooking (quite the opposite actually), but rather I'm usually so busy when doing so as to lack the wherewithall to photograph my little kitchen adventures...

So, as promised, here's the infusion: short, sweet & clarified slightly from its initial appearance at the Ministry of Rum many moons ago. As an aside, in this particular infusion, though the overall proof of the spirit (from 80 to about 75, in case you were wondering) drops somewhat due to the inclusion of certain of the ingredients, this infusion nevertheless makes a marvelous addition to spring & summertime cocktails well after Blood Oranges are out of season – an example of which I’ve included just after the recipe. You can even enjoy it (like a certain friend of mine does - on the beach for Labor Day) straight over an ice cube or two...

Blood Orange Cachaça
750ml: Cachaça (Pitu works well here)

5x fresh Blood Oranges, washed
3 Tblspns. Raw Sugar
1 Tblspn. white Sugar
1 Tblspn. Lemongrass, minced
½ Tsp. Cardamom, removed from pods (optional)
1½ Tblspns. Water
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡
1. Carefully peel Blood Oranges, being sure to remove & discard all bitter pith from the skin.
2. Likewise remove & discard all pith and seeds from the flesh of two of the Oranges. Seperate into segments.
3. Clean & mince Lemongrass & shell Cardamom. Toast Cardamom seeds in a small pan.
4. Combine ingredients in a clean container & add Cachaça.
5. Seal container & swirl/shake vigorously.
6. Place in a cool, dark location for approximately 7-10 days, swirling vigorously several times.
7. Strain 2-3 times by preferred method (coffee filter, cheesecloth &c), pressing on solids to remove all liquid.
8. Clean container with hot water and replace liquid within. Allow to stand for one more week.
9. Strain or rack again as necessary & bottle.

Enjoy in any cocktail (as appropriate, flavor-wise) which calls for Cachaça - a Caipirinha w/ half lime & half blood orange muddled works nicely. Or you could try it in the following libation (or come up with your own uses – and pass them along to me in the comments section if you’re so inclined):

Sangriento Rabo de Galo

2 oz. Blood Orange Cachaça
¾ oz. Carpano Antica Formula
¼ oz. Aperol
1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir with ice & strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of fresh Blood Orange.

But now that you've labored (not for all that long really) at preparing the above infusion, why not stick around the kitchen a bit longer - perhaps for a lovely spot of dinner that will make handy use of some of the extra (Lemongrass, Blood Oranges &c.) ingredients from your infusion...?

Roast Quail stuffed w/ Savory Veal Couscous

6x Quail, cleaned & marinated
Savory Veal-Couscous Stuffing (see below)
Grande Duchess Potatoes (see below), to plate
Manchego Cheese, shaved thin for garnish

1 Cup Lillet Blanc
2 Tblspns. Honey
Zest of ½ Blood Orange
2 Tsp. fresh Tarragon, chiffonade
1 Tsp. Herbes de Provence blend
¾ Tsp. Coriander, coarsely-crushed
½ Tsp. white Pepper

Savory Veal-Couscous Stuffing:
½ lb. Veal, ground
1 Cup medium Couscous
½ Cup fresh Blood Orange juice
½ Cup Veal stock (or sub. ½ Beef & ½ Chicken stocks)
6 Tblspns. Butter, unsalted
1 Tblspn. Honey
2x cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tblspns. green Onions, chiffonade
2 Tblspns. Lemongrass, chiffonade
1½ Tsp. fresh Tarragon, chiffonade
Fluer de Sel & black Pepper, to taste
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡
1. Prepare the marinade by combining listed ingredients in a plastic bag, agitating to mix, and adding cleaned Quail. Marinate the birds for approximately two hours in the refrigerator.
2. Prepare the Couscous stuffing as follows:
3. In a medium saucepan over low-medium heat, melt Butter and saute Garlic, Lemongrass & Onions until fragrant (about 2 minutes).
4. Brown the ground Veal in the same pan.
5. Add remaining ingredients, stir well & bring to a simmer over low-medium heat.
6. Place the Couscous in a bowl & when liquid mixture is simmering, add to the container. Stir well & cover with plastic wrap to steam for approximately ten minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 375°. Remove Quail from marinade & drain before generously stuffing with Couscous mixture. Reserve ½ Cup of marinade.
7. Arrange stuffed Quail in a 9x13 dish or braising pan & deposit reserved marinade in bottom.
8. Place prepared Quail in preheated oven & cook for 25-30 minutes, or until well-bronzed. Remove, allow to rest for about 2 minutes & plate with:

Grande Duchess Potatoes
2½ lbs. Potatoes, peeled
2x cloves Garlic, minced
¾ Cup: Heavy Cream
8 Tblspns. Butter, unsalted & divided
½ Cup: Manchego cheese, shredded & packed
3x Egg yolks, divided & beaten

Generous pinch of Nutmeg, freshly-grated
Fluer de Sel & black Pepper, to taste
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡
1. Clean & boil Potatoes in salted water as per ordinary mashed potatoes.
2. In a small saucepan over low-medium heat, melt the Butter & allow to brown slightly (not quite beurre noisette) before adding Garlic.
3. Saute Garlic over low heat until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes) then slowly stir in Heavy Cream & Cheese.
4. Bring to a gentle simmer, stirring often & remove from heat.
5. Drain Potatoes & allow to stand, uncovered, for about 5 minutes (so that some amount of moisture may evaporate).
6. In a small bowl, temper two of the beaten Egg yolks by slowly adding the Butter-Cream mixture & whisking aggresively.
7. Whip Potatoes smooth by preferred method, slowly adding Butter-Cream mixture & seasoning with Nutmeg, Fluer de Sel & black Pepper.
8. On a silicon-lined baking sheet divide mashed potatoes into six equal portions; the ambitious may wish to pipe the warm potatoes into a whimsical arrangement.
9. Gently brush the formed potatoes with the remaining beaten Egg yolk & place in the oven at 375° for approximately ten minutes (this may be placed in the oven with the Quail if you wish), or until crisp on top. The ambitious may then further crisp the top with a culinary torch, but this step is not really necessary.
Serve with the prepared Quail (taking care to not forget adding the shaved Manchego on top) on a warmed plate & enjoy!

Cheers & Enjoy!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Bit of Bitter, From...Jersey?

Well, not exactly - bear with me a moment. Though the drinks listed in this article were originated some time ago during a sponsored Thursday Drink Night at the Mixoloseum, the ingredient in question doesn't really have anything to do with New Jersey, but more (or less) on that in a few breaths...

Said TDN was graciously sponsored by a cocktailian favorite; an ingredient which can be a bit intimidating to those unfamiliar (hell, even to those initiated) with its particular charms: the mavelously-complex amaro called Fernet Branca. At once medicinal, sharply herbal, tangy and bittersweet, Fernet can be a difficult ingredient to work with - only a handful of cocktails utilize it in any sizeable quantity and it is most often taken straight, typically applied (quite successfully) as a digestivo.

Yet the complexity and breadth of flavors present in this Italian spirit can be quite appealing, in a bewitching sort of way, despite its propensity to bull through more delicate flavors. As with similarly-rambunctious ingredients, the challenge to working with Fernet successfully lies in finding equally strong flavors, or combinations of flavors which play along with, hightlight, or merely ones which refuse to be pushed aside, to combine it with. Ginger, for example, has long been an accompaniment to Fernet, such as in the San Francisco tradition of chasing a shot of the spirit with strong Ginger Ale. Therefore, in my (winning!) TDN entry I thought to give such a well-proven combination - with a few small twists - a shot.

Give this libation (or any of the equally-excellent concoctions my colleagues produced that evening) a try & experience Fernet Branca's intriguing flavor profile for yourself. And if a full half-ounce of Fernet has you a little suspicious, feel free to read on for a more subtle (& Jersey-related; or not) application of the spirit - and hopefully you'll come around eventually (©):

Bully Boy
1 oz. Bourbon (Bulleit)
½ oz. Fernet Branca
½ oz. Domaine de Canton Ginger liqueur
½ oz. fresh Lemon juice
2 Tsp. Raw Simple syrup
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass & garnish with a twist of fresh Lemon.

One of the most noted (and frankly, the simplest) applications of Fernet is its use as a substitution for an aromatic (or other non-potable) bitters such as Angostura, rather than as a primary ingredient - as above - of a cocktail. For example, when used thusly a few liberal dashes of Fernet in a Bourbon Manhattan makes for a lovely drink called a Franciulli Cocktail. With such a role well-established, I reasoned to try out Fernet in a simple, yet classic, libation of which I am inordinately fond - the Jersey Cocktail. Told you I'd get there, if eventually...

In it's original form, this little-known beverage hails from the earliest days of the cocktail - when producers and purveyors of alcohol (& just about everything else) conducted their business unhindered by such trifles as safe food & drug laws, or even ingredient or labeling legislation. Champagne was, naturally, imported from France and the demand for it was quite prolific throughout the United States. The American thirst for the stuff was so strong, that quantities of the sparkling wine imbibed outstripped the quantities which were imported to these shores by a great deal...

So what ingenious forgeries were foisted upon the tippling populace when a Champagne Cocktail was called for? To quote David Wondrich's Imbibe!, the unlucky were served, "processed beet juice" and the 'lucky' would generally receive, "Garden State hard cider, pressurized with CO₂ (preferably without too much residual carbonic acid) [...] in a Frenchy-looking bottle." As such counterfeiting was not necessarily advertised to the clientele, this libation seldom appears in any source other than bartender's guides. Yet it is in the first of these - Jerry Thomas' 1862 How to Mix Drinks - that the drink is addressed with a measure of honesty towards its components. To further quote Mr. Wondrich, "let that be its recommendation" and it is indeed, a very good one.

Ironically, the hard Cider I tend to use most in this application actually hails from France (Normandy) and possesses a very Champagne-like dryness which is quite agreeable here - but if your only option is a sweeter style, merely reduce the sugar by a touch. When prepared (almost exactly as a Champagne Cocktail) with Angostura bitters, it is quite nice; with homemade Boker's, even better; but with Fernet in place of these, it shines brighter than a counterfeiter's smile:

(New) Jersey Cocktail
1x Sugar cube (or 1 generous Tsp. of Sugar)
3-4 dashes: Fernet Branca
Brut hard Apple Cider
Douse the sugar cube with the Fernet Branca. Fill a champagne flute with well-chilled hard Cider & gently drop the sugar cube into the glass. Gently stir, garnish with a twist of fresh Orange & enjoy.

Cheers & Enjoy!

**In the interest of full disclosure, samples of Fernet Branca were provided for this event. They were, in fact, provided so far in advance of said event, that I blew through my sample & had to purchase a new bottle in order to participate...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Seasonal Produce & A Last Stab at Winter

Yesterday's foul weather, hopefully the last incidence of heavy snow this season, coupled with a weekend trip to one of my favorite farmer's markets, reminded me of a drink I haven't enjoyed in quite a while. This is not entirely unusual - many of my drinks go with what's good at the time - I'll often pick up ingredients & whip up new or variant drinks a la minute.

Unfortunately many of these fall victim to my less-than-stellar memory, suffer from the vagaries of seasonal ingredients (often considered a lightly-stocked 'specialty' or 'novelty' product by the local grocers), or are merely set aside for later use in the wake of something new (or something old which happens to be new to me). In any case, while out stocking up on provisions, I happened upon a selection of ripe Blood Oranges - my second-favorite (only nominally behind Tangerines) winter produce, and happily snapped up a bunch of them.

A natural mutation of sweet and bitter Oranges cultivated for many years throughout the Mediterranean, Blood Oranges are a delightful dichotomy of flavors. They are somewhat sweet at first, particularly at the height of their season, with a discernibly tart, almost berry-like, finish. Depending on variety, season and regional climate/light conditions where they are grown, Blood Oranges vary greatly in appearance both inside and out. Some varieties/crops are more blood-colored inside, while the flesh of others are more similar to pink/reddish-tinted oranges in appearance. Likewise, while the skin of many varieties/crops are mottled in texture and often feature darker patches of color, others are smooth & bright in outward appearance.

No matter their look, Blood Oranges generally make a fantastic addition to cocktails, as many of my fellow cocktailians will attest. Substituting them into any number of libations what call for fresh Oranges makes for a wonderful depth of flavor and an attractive, darker coloration. Depending on where they hail from, Blood Oranges have a fair breadth of season too. While they are cultivated heavily in the Mediterranean, the best (in flavor and coloration) U.S. varieties tend to, in my humble opinion, hail from Texas and California. The ones I purchased were brought in, late season, from Texas; soon I suspect, the California varieties will (if they show up at all) soon be on the shelves.

So, with Blood Oranges in hand, I pondered a drink to use some of them in - as they are quite a treat for me I utilize them as often as possible in cocktails when given even half a chance to do so. After a thusly-enhanced Bronx Cocktail, I finally settled on the following lovely little take on the California or Stone Sour, which plays up the fruity tartness of the Oranges & adds a few sharp, bittersweet notes through the use of the delightfully-bitter Italian liquor Aperol. Go on out and snag some Blood Oranges if you can, give them a whirl in anything that tickles your fancy; or give the wintery weather a good-riddance and take a stab at this little beauty (©):

Jacknife Sour
1½ oz. Laird's Applejack
½ oz. Aperol
1 oz. fresh Blood Orange juice
¼ oz. fresh Lemon juice
1 oz. Simple syrup
1x fresh Egg white
1 dash: Honey Tangerine bitters (substitute Regan's or The Bitter Truth Orange bitters)
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass & dry-shake. Add ice and shake well; strain into a chilled cocktail or sour glass and granish with a flamed twist of Blood Orange.

Check back soon for another (likewise neglected for reasons unknown) use for this delightful winter citrus - a fantastic Blood Orange-infused Cachaça...

Cheers & Enjoy!