• Weekly Cocktail #30: The Derby

    The Derby Cocktail.

    When we look around our bar, it doesn’t take long for us to see that bourbon is sometimes a neglected spirit. We often prefer rye whiskey in many classic cocktails and when reworking old recipes tend to look to Cognac or Armagnac. But that doesn’t mean we dislike bourbon, we just usually drink it neat, on the rocks or in Mint Juleps when spring comes around. But part of why we write about our explorations in cocktails is to expand our tastes, so this week we took another look at bourbon.

    And it didn’t take us long to find the Derby. The Derby combines bourbon, sweet vermouth, orange Curacao and lime juice. We were attracted to this drink both because it uses common ingredients (like the Scofflaw), but features the uncommon mix of lime and whiskey (like the Junior). And, finally, a little research from Ted Haigh noted that Trader Vic Bergeron himself published this recipe and featured the drink. If it’s good enough for Trader Vic, we figured the Derby was worth a try.

    And the Derby is certainly worth a try, and probably a regular visit. The bourbon and sweet vermouth are a natural fit, but the Curacao adds depth and the lime adds a bright, tart flavor to the sip. If you are a big Manhattan fan, you might find this drink a bit sour, but if you are a rum or gin fan, this cocktail may seem like familiar territory. But make no mistake, you taste the sweet caramel notes of the bourbon, it just doesn’t dominate the whole sip. Like we said, worth a visit.

    As for the spirits, we use Bulleit bourbon as our go-to bourbon and recommend it, but this would be a good cocktail to play with- try the bourbon(s) you have. We also use Pierre Ferrand Curacao, a reformulation / recreation of  “old-time” Curacao. We are big fans of the Pierre Ferrand, it is less sweet and has more spice than most Curacaos or triple secs. But finally, the big variable in the Derby is the sweet vermouth. We use Carpano Antica, a much less sweet vermouth that adds some spice and amps the tartness of the drink. (If you see a theme emerging, it’s that we usually prefer tart and spice flavors in our cocktails).  If you like a sweeter sip, Dolin or M&R might be the way to go. But again, the Derby is a good recipe for experimentation, and a great way to enjoy a little bourbon.

    The Derby Cocktail:

    Ingredients:

    • 1 oz. bourbon whiskey
    • 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
    • 1/2 oz. orange Curacao
    • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice.

    Assemble:

    1. Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupé. Serve.
  • Home Cured Canadian Bacon

    Home Cured Canadian Bacon.

    Also known as “back” bacon, “Irish” bacon, “rasher” bacon, or just “bacon” (in the UK), what we have here is a cured, smoked, boneless pork loin. Much leaner than bacon from pork belly (American Bacon or “streaky bacon” in the UK), Canadian bacon is very tasty and pretty good for you. If you worry about the fat in bacon, Canadian bacon is a good choice. We eat both types of bacon, you just can’t have enough bacon in your life.

    Most Americans are familiar with Canadian Bacon as a featured part of the Egg McMuffin, and while it does go well with eggs (and we do make a better McMuffin at home), Canadian bacon has other uses. We use our Canadian Bacon in grilled cheese sandwiches, diced in soups, and simply as a snack.  The best way to serve it is sliced thin and lightly browned in a skillet. The flavor is like smoked ham, but with some of the piquant flavor of bacon. Good stuff and a fun project.

    Making Canadian Bacon at home takes no special skills, just time and a key ingredient. The key ingredient is “pink salt” or curing salts. You can order them here. And if you want your bacon to taste like bacon, you need to use curing salts. Curing salts do contain sodium nitrites / nitrates and there have been some questions on their impact on health. We looked into it and any health risks seemed minimal. In fact, a little more research told us that fresh vegetables are very rich in nitrates (celery in particular) and there is no health risk associated with nitrates from veggies. So, as vegetable gardeners, we get plenty of nitrites and our health is fine. So we may as well enjoy some home-cured bacon.  (Michael Ruhlman has a good, if somewhat heated, piece about overblown Nitrites / Nitrates risks here. It also includes some other scientific links on the subject. )

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  • Peach Sorbet: Saving The Season

    Peach Sorbet.

    Lots of orange, red and brown tones in the blog these days…Fall really is coming.

    In any event, we are all about saving the flavors or summer. After we pickle, can, jam and preserve there is always the option to make ice cream and / or sorbet. Why is this our last option? We aren’t really sure. Maybe it’s because if the fruit is at its best, we eat it out of hand. Maybe we like making pies. Or maybe we simply start to get lazy….hmmm.

    Blanch peaches in boiling water for easy peeling.

    And sometimes we do feel a bit “unmotivated” to make ice cream and sorbet. It even seems like a chore with a lot of gear and cleanup involved. But we know better, making ice cream and sorbet is easier than expected, particularly if you chose the right recipes. For ice cream, Philadelphia-style ice creams (no egg custard) are very simple to make and feature bright flavors. And sorbet is as easy as it gets; fruit, sugar, maybe a touch of booze, blend, freeze, etc. As far as needing special gear and a lot of cleanup…well you’re stuck with that. But at least you get dessert.

    In California we still have peaches and nectarines, but the quality and texture start to fade somewhat (except for late-season peaches). Frankly, some of the peaches get a bit mealy, but they are still sweet and tasty. So knowing that the season is almost over, we “motivated” and made peach sorbet. And it’s very tasty, and didn’t really take all that long. The only extra work when dealing with peaches is skinning them, but it’s easy if you blanch the peaches in boiling water for about 30 seconds, the skin will come off easily. The other “extra” task is blending the peaches, but any blender will do here.

    The recipe we use is adapted from David Lebovitz, food writer and ice cream / sorbet expert (he knows what he is doing). We only add an optional dash of lemon juice to the recipe, depending on the sweetness of the peaches, which vary widely by variety. The recipe includes ripe peaches, sugar, Cointreau (orange liqueur) and half a lemon. The Cointreau adds flavor, but the alcohol also limits crystallization in the sorbet for better texture. But you can omit the Cointreau if you like. We keep it in….as you might expect. ;-) In the end you get a very flavorful and rich sorbet with smooth, slightly dense, texture. The peaches are a real flavor-bomb in sorbet, a little of this stuff goes a long way. If your season is ending, this sorbet will make it last a little longer.

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  • Simple Garden Recipes: Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

    Oven-roasted tomato sauce.

    Sometimes when we say “simple”, we really mean it. Ripe tomatoes, a little onion, some olive oil (bacon fat, if you like), salt and pepper. And some time (mostly inactive). What do you get? Sweet and tasty tomato sauce. And what about herbs and other seasonings? We’ll get there, bear with us….

    One of the keys for this sauce is taking the time to roast the tomatoes in the oven before you simmer them in the pot. The roasting caramelizes the tomatoes and adds more sweetness and complexity to the final sauce. The other key is using very ripe, even slightly overripe tomatoes- we just happen to have a bunch of our tomatoes and we need to use them. But many farmer’s markets will have late-season tomatoes, ask for their sweetest, ripe tomatoes. And go ahead and buy the ugly tomatoes- it’s all going into sauce anyway.

    Not necessary, but gets you a smooth texture.

    Making the sauce, as we noted, is easy. Roast the tomatoes (a lot of them). Meanwhile, add some olive oil and/or bacon fat to a big pot and sweat about half an onion. When the tomatoes roast and start to brown, remove them from the oven and add them (and any liquid) to the pot. Simmer at low heat for an hour, add a touch of water if the consistency gets too dry (don’t worry about dilution, plenty of flavor here). Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

    At this stage you have a choice. If you like a more “rustic” sauce with skins and seeds, just mash-up any large chunks with a wooden spoon and you’re done. If, like us, you like a smooth consistency there is a bit more work to do. We take an immersion blender to the sauce for a few seconds (a potato masher also works really well) and then strain the sauce through a mesh strainer to remove skins and seeds. We use a ladle to mash the sauce into the strainer to get as much sauce as we can. This sounds fussy, but it only takes 2-3 minutes and you do a get a smooth, glossy sauce. Your choice.

    Finally, how do we serve the sauce? This is where the sauce really shines. We use this sauce as a base and then do a quick cook with any other flavors we want to add, just before service. This time we browned a bit of home-cured bacon, added the sauce, a bit more pepper and a chiffonade of basil at the end. Yum. But a bit of garlic, thyme, oregano and olive oil would be great. Some Italian sausage? Excellent. You get the idea. So make this sauce and then add whatever you like, the sweet tomatoes are a great foundation to work from.

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  • Harvest….Is There A Better Word?

    Even in California we know it’s coming. It’s autumn, but the tomatoes are red, ripe and juicy. There’s a nip in the air, but the melons are ripe and fragrant (and oh so tasty…sigh). Peaches fill the farmers market…but we also see glimpses of sweet potatoes, grapes, pumpkins and pomegranates. We may be in the “Cadillac Desert” but, even here, there is no free lunch…seasons change. Harvest.

    The same goes for our garden. Pick those tomatoes, dry those beans, pickle more cucumbers (again?!?) and can/jam those berries and peaches. And if you have a friend who likes thermofuckingnuclear hot peppers, then some “generosity” is in order. Have at it. Share. Abundance is something to celebrate (unless all you have is zucchini, then go stand over there…;-).

    All the while we plant our winter crops and look to the colder seasons. Tomatoes become jars of sauce. Peaches freeze into sorbet (yum- won’t last into winter, but whatever), we cure bacon and smoke almonds. There is flavor to be had in any season. And, of course, there are always seasonal cocktails. If you don’t have a bottle of Laird’s Bonded Applejack or good Calvados, now is the time…time to celebrate. Time to reflect. Time to share with friends. And, perhaps, time to take a well-earned nap….

    It isn’t an accident that our largest and most important festivals and holidays come after the harvest. Our annual miracle, and it is a miracle, happened again. We live, we eat, we share, we love. Remember that Billions of people live from the fruits of this Earth. It is far from perfect (lord knows, there is more to do) but we have a good foundation to work from. Harvest is time to be thankful and look to the future. We say “thanks for this year and cheers to the next, may your pantry be so full you can share”….and remember to share, there is nothing better….

    We leave you with flowers…Happy Monday….

  • Weekly Cocktail #29: The Daisy Black (and a new cocktail book)

    Daisy Black Cocktail from “Drink & Tell”.

    Last week, Fred Yarm of Cocktail Virgin Slut published his cocktail book “Drink & Tell, A Boston Cocktail Book“, and as Fred is one of the leading bloggers in the space, we happily ordered the book (any excuse to try more drinks is welcome here on the farm). There is something wonderful about the world we live in when a gardener in California can order a book about Boston cocktails and it arrives from Seattle in just a few days. (Fred, if you make the book into an iPhone / iPad App, that would be even cooler).

    And after playing with “Drink & Tell” for a few days, we think it’s an excellent cocktail book. As Fred himself points out, there are plenty of “basic” or “classic” cocktail books out there, and many are very good. But Drink & Tell goes a different direction and features new or evolutionary cocktails from bartenders all over Boston. What you get is 500 recipes, most you can make at home, that expand your repertoire and offer inspiration. If you feel like you’ve “tried them all”, “Drink & Tell” will suggest otherwise.

    While there are some very funky creations in the book, and we tried a few, our first favorite is a simple cocktail called the Daisy Black. The Daisy Black combines rye whiskey, honey syrup and lemon juice with a touch of mint. It is something of an evolution of a whiskey sour or smash, but a bit more refined. And as we just made Honey Syrup and are playing with rye, this drink was an easy choice. The drink comes from Dylan Black of Green Street in Cambridge Massachusetts. Black created the drink as an homage to his great-grandfather, who also tended bar. A noble profession.

    As for the flavor of the Daisy Black, you get a nice whiff of mint followed by the taste of lemon and honey (and who doesn’t like lemon and honey?) complimented by the spice of the rye. A tasty, soothing sip that is perfect for autumn. Imagine tea with lemon and honey, just better… a lot better. So if you are looking to expand your cocktail knowledge and try some new creations give “Drink & Tell” a try. We will make more of the cocktails from the book and share then over the coming weeks.

    The Daisy Black:

    (From Green Street and “Drink & Tell“)

    Ingredients:

    • 1 and 1/2 oz. rye whiskey
    • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
    • 3/4 oz. honey syrup (recipe here)
    • 1 large mint leaf

    Assemble:

    1. Combine the whiskey, lemon juice and honey syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupé. Slap the mint leaf in your palm and them place on top of the drink. Serve.