• Monthly Cocktail #3: The Bramble

    bramble8Here in California our endless summer drought? continues. But elsewhere we assume that fall is coming. With that in mind, we tend to think of “last gasp of summer” types of cocktails, and that usually brings us to the Bramble, a delightful combo of gin, lemon, sugar and blackberry liqueur (Creme de Mure). While most people here in the States haven’t heard of the Bramble, it is one of the most popular cocktails in the UK. And just like the Arctic Monkeys, this is an import from Britain that more Americans should enjoy.

    bramble1bramble2The story of the Bramble is also a good one. The history says that UK bartender Dick Bradsell came up with the Bramble as an answer to the Cosmopolitan. And we can say that while the Bramble shares the attractive looks of the Cosmo, it is a much better cocktail (sorry, it is…). Basically a gin sour enhanced by blackberry liqueur and made into a slow sipper using crushed ice, the Bramble is a warm-weather delight.

    bramble3bramble4Now, you may say “I don’t want to buy that Creme de Mure stuff, how often will I use it?” Well, considering how tasty the Bramble is (and that you can make a bourbon variant called the Black Demure), we think it is worth buying. But, if not, just adjust the recipe and muddle 3 or 4 fresh blackberries and some extra simple syrup. You will still have a tasty sip, even if it doesn’t get the intense blackberry flavor from the liqueur.

    bramble5bramble6 Continue reading

  • Brown Butter Chicken

    bbutterThe more things change, the more the stay the same. What is true in life is true in cooking (and drinking). Even when we cook ever-more-complicated food and mix ever-more-esoteric cocktails, the simple often (usually?) wins the day. And recently, we were playing with some very, very complex cocktails before we decided to mix a simple Hoffman House (a Martini of 2/3 dry gin, 1/3 dry vermouth, orange bitters and a lemon twist). Not surprisingly, the simple cocktail was the best thing we have had in weeks.

    bbutter8bbutter7The same holds for cooking. Just a few weeks ago, Michael Bauer of the SF Chronicle mentioned the Brown Butter Chicken of Corso, a Tuscan-inspired restaurant in the East Bay. Now, frankly, we go to SoCal (even NYC) more often than the East Bay (sad to say, but it’s true). So while may not make it to Corso, that chicken sounded amazing. Chicken, butter, flour, salt, lemon and heat- simple. So we made it. And, indeed, it was simple….and simply, f@#king awesome.

    bbutter6bbutter5Of course, you may be saying “it has brown butter, how bad can it be”? And you would be right. We use brown butter all the time on fish, veggies and pasta. Brown butter is one of the fastest ways to improve a dish (and kids love it). But it is always good to get a reminder that the best basic flavors work all sorts of places. And in this case you crisp chicken on the stovetop with butter ( high fat “Eurobutter” like Plugra works best), cook it through in the oven…with butter, and then finish on the stovetop and brown even more butter…then add some lemon to cut that butter. Yup, the only thing you may be asking is “why didn’t we do this sooner…and who is our cardiologist again?”

    bbutter4bbutter3 Continue reading

  • Bonus Cocktail: The Fourth Degree

    fourth10How do you know when you have officially become a cocktail geek? (Besides, you know…blogging about them.) Well, there are a few signs; multiple bottles of bitters, obsession with vintage glassware, too much gin and very little vodka, rum from at least 6 different Caribbean countries and the obligatory bottle(s) of absinthe are all reliable signs. Throw in some Falernum and Fernet and it is pretty clear that you, my friend, are a cocktail geek.

    fourthBut there is another major sign that you have gone over to the dark side (and, let’s face it, some of us enjoy it over here). Vermouth. If you have multiple bottles of vermouth and they are (hopefully) in the fridge, then you are probably a cocktail geek. And if you actually mix, match and test different recipes with different vermouth, then you are definitely a cocktail geek. Welcome.

    fourth2But even if you aren’t a cocktail geek (yet) we do suggest that all educated drinkers keep a good bottle each of sweet and dry vermouth. Keep them in the fridge, and use them often. Each brand has its charms and we suggest you experiment. And beyond the basic Martini and Manhattan, there are many experiments worth trying. We suggest the Fourth Degree be one of your first experiments.

    fourth8We will forgo some of the history (the drink, with differing recipes, is found in the Savoy and Imbibe!), but the Fourth Degree is a classic from the “golden age” of pre-prohibition cocktails. It lands somewhere between the Martinez (the proto-Martini) and the classic “wet” Martini. Not surprisingly, it uses gin and vermouth. But in this case, equal amounts of gin and both sweet and dry vermouth- along with a dash of absinthe and a lemon twist.

    fourth4Now you may say “meh”, but we suggest you try the Fourth Degree before you judge it. The drink is a bit sweet, but the flavors are deep, multi-layered and complex. You will get herbal and anise notes, but also surprising hints of fruit, chocolate and almond. The aroma of herbs and lemon peel is just as delightful. And, due to the large proportion of vermouth, the drink isn’t too strong. Go ahead and have another…

    fourth9The Fourth Degree is also a recipe that welcomes experimentation. Many have made the drink dryer with a larger proportion of gin, and that is very good. You can also play with the vermouth. Changing the sweet vermouth from M&R to Carpano Antica to Dolin to Vya will make for a substantially different drink. As will changes with the dry vermouth (we like Dolin and Vya here). But, of course, to truly experiment you need to collect a bunch of vermouth….hmmm….see what we mean?

    The Fourth Degree Cocktail:

    Ingredients:

    • 3/4 oz. dry gin
    • 3/4 oz. dry vermouth
    • 3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
    • 4 dashes (1 tsp.) absinthe
    • Lemon twist

    Assemble:

    1. Add all the liquid ingredients to a cocktail glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupé. Garnish with the lemon twist. Serve.
  • Monthly Cocktail #2: The Case For A True Mai-Tai

    MaiTaiThe Putney Farm crew recently returned from a delightful trip to Kauai. All good, nothing to complain about…but, maybe…um…there was one little thing. And it has to do with the classic Tiki drink, the Mai Tai.

    maitai2You see, the problem was that while we were served a number of “Mai-Tais” on the trip, the only real Mai Tai we had was at home (of course we stocked a decent bar in Kauai!). Not to say there was anything wrong with the many fruity-dark rum floater-bamboo cup-multiple garnish catastrophes “creations” we drank. Hey, its rum, lime, pineapple and a bunch of other stuff- how bad can it be? And usually it isn’t all that bad. However…maitai8

    maitai3A real Mai Tai, made with the right ingredients and in the right way, is just so much better. There is a reason everyone thinks “tiki” when they hear the word Mai Tai, it is a damn fine drink. Sweet, tart, funky with a nutty “I-know-not-what” at the finish, the Mai Tai is a perfect example of what makes cocktails so special. It is way more than the sum of its parts.

    maitai4So what about those “parts”? The other good thing about the Mai Tai is that the only truly esoteric ingredient is Orgeat (pronounced or-zhay) syrup, basically almond (and sometime apricot kernels) flavored syrup with some orange flower water. You can find Orgeat in many liquor stores or make your own. We have done both. Here is a well-known recipe to make it yourself. Small Hands makes a natural version that is very tasty, but the artificially (gasp!) flavored versions from Trader Vic and Fees taste just fine.

    maitai5Otherwise you need just a few other ingredients; fresh lime juice, triple sec, sugar syrup, a light grassy rum (rhum agricole is good), a dark funky rum, a sprig of mint and some crushed ice…..and a few extra minutes to make the drink.

    As for the rum, experts like Beachbum Berry and Rumdood all suggest an equal combination of Appleton 12 year (for the dark, funky notes) and Rhum Clement VSOP (aged, but still bright and a bit grassy) as the “standard”. And we agree. But we also like to play around and find other dark rums like El Dorado 8, 12 and 15 are all good (inexpensive) subs for the Appleton 12. We also think you can sub rhum Barbancourt (3 or 5 star) for the Clement, if the Clement is hard to find.

    maitai6Triple sec? We like Cointreau, but many suggest Clement Creole Shrub. Use what you like. Crushed ice? Trust us, it looks better and dilutes the drink properly. Mint Spring? Adds a bright note to the aroma of the drink, and it looks good. So does the lime shell. Got it? Good!

    Finally, one note on the history of the Mai Tai. While cocktail geeks historians quibble about the details, Trader Vic Bergeron made this version of the drink famous (even if Don the beachcomber made something else with the same name earlier). And Vic was a Bay Area guy, so we will stick with our man and tip our caps to Vic for this delightful sip. Now go make one before the summer is over!

    maitai1The Mai Tai:

    Ingredients:

    • 1 oz. dark(er), funky rum (Appleton 12 or El Dorado 8, 12, 15)
    • 1 oz. light(er) rum (Clement VSOP, rhum Barbancourt)
    • 3/4 oz. lime juice
    • 1/2 oz. orgeat syrup
    • 1/2 oz. triple sec
    • 1/4 oz. simple syrup
    • Mint sprig, for garnish

    Assemble:

    1. Using a blender, ice crusher or lewis bag, crush a bunch of ice.
    2. Add all the liquid ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Reserve the lime shell. Shake until well chilled.
    3. In a lowball glass, add the crushed ice and the lime shell. Stain the cocktail into the glass and garnish with the mint spring. Enjoy. Repeat.

     

     

     

  • Ugly, But Tasty: Japanese Eggplant With Miso And Sesame

    eplantHmm, what to do with all that eggplant? Every summer we plant them in the garden, and then we get a ton of ‘em. Both the big globe eggplants and the slender Japanese variety. So now what? Well, we certainly grill them and occasionally make the effort to fry the eggplant, but after a while we look for new recipes to explore, particularly for our Japanese eggplant.

    eplant1eplant2eplant3So when we found this recipe from Nancy Singleton Hachisu, and her excellent cookbook Japanese Farm Food, we had to give it a try. And it is a simple and flavorful recipe with sweet eggplant, nutty sesame and umami-rich miso. Yum. But there is just one little issue. Um…it doesn’t look all that good.

    eplant5eplant6And when you have a photo-heavy food blog, one is loath to post stuff that looks a bit gross “meh”. But that said, this is a great way to serve eggplant and it is delicious. The sesame and miso paste also keeps in the fridge (it also works with thinly sliced cucumber) so you can get a few meals out of it.

    eplant7eplant9eplant10There are only a few tricks to this recipe. Firstly, you do need some sort of mortar and pestle to make the paste (but you really need one anyway). Secondly, you can steam the eggplant in a steamer, but a microwave works just a well and saves some time. We use the microwave (one of the rare times we actually “cook” with it) but if you prefer a steamer setup, have at it.

    eplant11eplant12eplant14Otherwise, we suggest you remind yourself that beauty is only skin deep and give this dish a try. Japanese eggplant is a real summer treat, and this recipes does it justice…well, it does the flavor justice. Continue reading

  • Watermelon And Feta Salad With Mint and Radish

    feta7And back to blogging! It has been a nice few weeks off here at the farm. Not that we haven’t been busy cooking, but one of the few “downsides” of food writing (there aren’t really any downsides) is that we are often in search of the next new thing. Meanwhile, there are dozens of great recipes we want to revisit. So we spent a few weeks making some of our favorites. Lots of Caprese salads, barbecue, fish and rice bowls, summer corn salads and many a few Caipirinhas for the World Cup. All good.

    fetafeta1But we did try a few new things, including this salad of fresh watermelon with feta cheese and some mint and radishes. Now, watermelon and feta salads are nothing new, and they are very tasty. But we found this recipe to be an improvement on the original. Not that there is anything wrong with the surprisingly good combination of sweet melon and salty feta, but this is a recipe that you can certainly tune and tweak to your tastes.

    feta3feta4In this case we adapted a recipe in the Lobster Roll cookbook (from the Hampton’s fish shack of the same name) that adds some mint, radish and a balsamic vinaigrette. You get some herbal notes from the mint, heat and crunch from the radishes and the balsamic adds a welcome tang to the sweet and salty notes. More flavor, more texture…good stuff. And still a very easy salad to put together.

    feta5feta6The only issues with this recipe are in the details. Use only the best / sweetest watermelon, taste your feta for salt and adjust the seasoning, and definitely taste your radishes for heat and tune for your taste. A little kick from the radishes is a good thing, too much….not so good.

    feta8Otherwise, this is a perfect salad to serve with big, rich summer dishes like steaks, burgers and/or barbecue. The bright flavors cut through the fat and clean the palate for your next bite. Perfect for outdoor dining.

    feta9Watermelon and Feta Salad with Mint and Radish:

    Notes Before You Start:

    • No notes, once you have a watermelon you need recipes. This is a good one.

    What You Get: A light, flavorful and refreshing summer salad. Something to do with the watermelon you bought at the farmers market.

    What You Need: No special equipment required.

    How Long? About 15 minutes, mostly cubing watermelon.

    Ingredients:

    • 4 cups (3-4 pounds) of watermelon, cut in about 1 inch cubes
    • 8 red radishes, thinly sliced
    • 1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
    • 12 mint leaves, finely chopped
    • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • Kosher salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper

    Assemble:

    1. In a small bowl, mix the oil and vinegar.
    2. Add the watermelon, radishes, mint and feta to a large salad bowl. Add half the dressing, toss well and taste. Add more dressing and seasoning as needed. Serve.