• Mixology Monday Cocktail: The McCovey Cove

    The McCovey Cove Cocktail.

    Time for another Mixology Monday! (We know it’s Friday, we like to be early.) This month’s online cocktail party theme is “Garnish Grandiloquence”  and our host is Joseph at Measure + Stir, one of the most innovative cocktail blogs out there (and one of our favorites). Here are the details:

    I’m always shocked by the way that an orange peel or a lemon peel can transform the experience of drinking a mixed drink from something mundane to something magical. In a similar vein, eating the olive in a martini will totally transform the imbiber’s perception of the drink. So this Mixology Monday, let’s really make a study of art of the garnish, by mixing up drinks where the garnish plays a central role in the experience of the drink. Of course, you don’t have to make a latticework out of orange peels, a pirate ship out of citrus, or a ferris wheel out of pineapple and squash, but it sure would warm my heart. This type of garnish is traditionally in the realm of tiki, but you could mix anything, so long as the garnish is the star of the show.

    Very cool, but a bit of a challenge, as we tend to keep our garnishes simple. But part of the reason we blog is to constantly improve our skills, so we got to work. Happily, we had an easy subject to work with, the San Francisco Giants’ second world series win in the last three years. As die-hard fans there was no question we would create a cocktail to celebrate. And our friend Sonja even gave us Giants cocktail umbrellas. Well, now we had one garnish, but motivated by Joseph’s Gourd Vibrations we decided to make the “glass” a garnish as well. And since the Giants are all about orange and black, we decided to use a hollowed orange with the SF logo and include a black (or very dark brown) cocktail. And after going through a bunch of oranges, we got our cocktail and named it after McCovey Cove, the body of water outside the Giant’s ballpark (knick-named after Giants’ Hall of Fame player Willie McCovey). Buster Posey was just named MVP, so we almost named the cocktail after him, but he doesn’t seem like the drinking type….

    As for the actual cocktail, the McCovey Cove is our adaptation of a Port Antonio, a tiki drink with gold and dark rum, lime juice, coffee liqueur and falernum. The Port Antonio is a good tiki drink that uses the coffee to add some aroma and slight bitter notes to cut through the sweetness of the rum and falernum, a “grown-up” tiki drink.  We wanted to go even more “coffee-forward” and developed the McCovey Cove. The McCovey Cove has aged Jamaican rum, high-proof coffee liqueur, Cherry Heering, lemon juice, allspice liqueur and a big orange twist (or hollowed orange) as a garnish. The McCovey Cove features a full orange oil and spice aroma followed by strong coffee and vanilla flavors backed up by the fruit of the Heering and the spice notes of the allspice liqueur. The lemon juice provides a backbone of citrus and acidity to keep the overall flavors bright and refreshing.

    A few notes on ingredients. We use Kahlua Especial, a 70-proof version of Kahlua in this recipe, we prefer the flavor and extra spirits. Most high-proof coffee liqueurs should work, but they vary in coffee flavor, so be ready to tune the recipe. As for the allspice liqueur (also known as pimento dram), it is a useful tiki ingredient featuring a full blast of holiday spices that are a great foil for sweet rum and citrus. St. Elizabeth makes a commercial version, but Alicia at Boozed and Infused has an excellent DIY recipe here. In a pinch, you can sub tiki bitters or Angostura for the allspice liqueur. Finally, Cherry Heering is one of the best cherry liqueurs and a worthy addition to any bar. Heering works equally well with gin, whiskeys and rum- go get some!

    Our thanks to Joseph for hosting this month’s MXMO and Fred Yarm at Cocktail Virgin Slut for managing the whole enterprise. It was great fun, as always. And we managed to slaughter only a “few” oranges making the McCovey Cove…but we think their “sacrifice” was worth it!

    The McCovey Cove:

    Ingredients:

    • 1 oz. Aged Jamaican rum (Appleton 12 year-old)
    • 3/4 oz. Coffee liqueur (Kahlua Especial)
    • 3/4 oz. Cherry Heering
    • 1/3 oz. Fresh lemon juice
    • 2 Dashes allspice liqueur (St. Elizabeth’s allspice dram)
    • 1 Large navel orange (or a big orange twist)
    • Cocktail umbrellas
    • Straw

    Assemble:

    1. Carve a design into the orange using a channel or paring knife, if you like. Position the carving on the bottom two-thirds of the orange.
    2. To hollow the orange, cut off just enough of the bottom rind of the orange to create a stable base, but don’t pierce the inner flesh. Then cut off the top third of the orange and carefully cut or scoop out the orange flesh (reserve for juice). A grapefruit knife is a helpful tool.  Set aside.
    3. Combine the rum, coffee liqueur, Heering, lemon juice and allspice liqueur in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until very cold and strain into the hollowed orange filled with fresh ice. Garnish with cocktail umbrellas and add a straw. Serve.
  • The Best Brownies Ever

    The best brownies ever.

    Baking, in its purest form, is chemistry. Baking has rules, exact measurements, chemical reactions and controlled variables. Baking is science. But like many sciences, once you master the basics (after many, many reps), you begin to move into the realm of art. Each recipe is a canvas to be tuned and tweaked for new textures and flavors. New dishes emerge, but without undoing the fundamental chemistry of the dish. The hard science yields to something evolutionary. The magic seeps through. Those moments of evolution are rewarding for the cook, and the eater, alike.

    And while it is a big leap to say we have the “best” anything, these brownies do represent Carolyn’s never-ending quest to pack as much chocolate into every brownie as is humanly (and scientifically) possible. When we say “best” chocolate brownies, we mean it. We are talking about a couple of pounds of chocolate, and chocolate in every, single, possible step. Chips, chunks, cocoa powder, melted and whole chocolate every way you can. And while we don’t have scientific data to back it up, we bet most people will be ok with that. Most people need want more chocolate in their brownies. Most people need want more chocolate in their lives…..

    The recipe we use is classic “brownie 101″, but Carolyn has additions that make the difference between just good and the best. Carolyn greases the baking sheet and then dusts with cocoa powder, rather than flour. The recipe has two flavors of melted chocolate and then bittersweet and white chocolate chunks (instead of nuts). Carolyn uses instant coffee to amp the chocolate flavor (coffee enhances chocolate). And finally a sprinkle of salt adds a delightful contrast to the dark chocolate, the salt enhances the chocolate and sugar, yet keeps the flavors from becoming cloying. The salt makes each bite as good as the first. In the end you get a dense, moist and very chocolatey brownie with just a little extra everything. These brownies are gooey, but they do hold together (best to chill in the fridge before slicing). Carolyn essentially added chocolate to the recipe until the eggs and flour couldn’t hold any more. And yes, we thoroughly enjoyed the experiments getting to this point.

    So now the question is, “what do we do with all these brownies?” We save a few for ourselves, but this batch will be sold as a snack at the intermission of our eldest son’s school play. Carolyn is already well-known at school for her cupcakes, so we bet the brownies will be a hit. We think the play will be a hit as well, and we will save a brownie for our son. Break a leg kid! Continue reading

  • Medjool Dates Stuffed With Celery and Parmesan

    Medjool Dates Stuffed with Celery and Parmesan.

    As we move towards the holidays we break out quick recipes for entertaining. When we host a party we tend to serve a few quick snacks, usually a mix of hot of cold dishes. One of our favorites is just radishes, butter and salt, but this combination of sweet dates with crunchy celery and savory parmesan cheese is a new favorite. The dish combines many flavors and textures, is quick to make and easy to eat with a drink in your hand. A perfect cocktail party treat.

    We are familiar with many parmesan-stuffed date recipes, but this recipe from Hugh Acheson is one of the first we know of that adds the crisp, vegetal crunch of celery and the bite of Italian parsley. Add some acidity from a quick vinaigrette and you have a very well-rounded bite.  We added some of the tender celery leaves and a splash of sherry vinegar to fit our tastes, but whether you tune the recipe or stick with the original version, you get a very tasty dish.

    Making these stuffed dates is as easy as it gets. Peel and chop some celery, and reserve some of the leaves, then chop some Italian parsley. Make a quick dressing with olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Add the celery and parsley and mix with the vinaigrette. Grate a few ounces of parmesan cheese and add it to the mixture. Then slit 6-8 Medjool dates lengthwise and carefully remove the pits and stuff with a tablespoon of the cheese and celery mixture.

    And then you are pretty much ready to serve. Put the stuffed dates on a serving dish, maybe drizzle on some oil, vinegar,a pinch of salt and a few sprigs of parsley. The only question is how you present the dates. The dates are malleable and sticky, so you can stuff them and close them completely to hide the stuffing. Or you can leave the dates open to show off the goodies. We like to leave the dates open, but it is your call. Regardless of how they look, you will enjoy the depth of flavors and textures. And it’s good these are easy to make, your guests will probably ask you for another batch.

    Medjool Dates Stuffed With Celery and Parmesan:

    (Adapted from Hugh Acheson)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Look for large, quality Medjool dates for this dish and use the best parmesan you can find.

    What You Get: A perfect cocktail party snack.

    What You Need: No special equipment required.

    How Long? 5 minutes. Anytime dish. And this is worth making any time.

    Ingredients:

    • 6 large (or 8 medium) Medjool Dates
    • 1 stalk of celery, preferably with a few leaves still attached
    • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
    • 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
    • Pinch of salt
    • 2 – 3 oz. grated parmesan cheese (the best you can get)
    • Sherry and/or balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

    Assemble:

    1. Peel the outer side of the celery and remove the strings. Chop the celery, on the diagonal, into pieces about 1/4 wide. Reserve a few of the celery leaves. Chop the parsley.
    2. Combine the celery, celery leaves and parsley with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the lemon juice and salt. Mix well and then fold in the grated parmesan cheese.
    3. Slit one side of each date lengthwise and then remove the pits. Stuff the dates with about a tablespoon of the celery and parmesan mixture. Squeeze the dates a little to secure the stuffing. Arrange the dates on a serving plate and drizzle with the remaining olive oil, a touch of balsamic and/or sherry vinegar, a sprinkle of salt and a few sprigs of parsley. Serve.
  • Weekly Cocktail #36: A Martini

    A Martini.

    Writers coin hundreds, perhaps thousands, of words each day to wax over the history and debate the composition of this week’s cocktail, the Martini. We can’t, and won’t, try to match any of it. What we will say is that the weather is getting nippy, we are cooking richer dishes and many holiday parties are on the horizon. Our tastes tend to shift with the season, and these days we start to crave the occasional Martini. Regardless of all the blather endless conversation, a good Martini is still a delight. Clean, cold and elegant, and with crisp, bracing flavors, a Martini is a good start to a special evening. (A few more can also be a very poor end to an evening, but we will leave that to Dorothy Parker).

    Ironically, for all the “best”, “only way”, or “classic” interpretations of the Martini, the recipe has been in flux throughout the Martini’s history. The only real constants are gin (yes, only gin) and vermouth. And that’s it, otherwise the variables are endless. Early recipes used Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth, some Plymouth gin and a mix of sweet and dry vermouth, later recipes London dry gin and dry vermouth. And the ratios are simply all over the place. Even the best cocktail books and writers simply don’t agree. Some recipes go 50/50 vermouth to dry gin (most recipes these days use dry gin) and some still use just the lightest hint of vermouth, others include a dash of bitters. And, of course, you have the preparation and garnish. The amount of back-and-forth over shaken vs. stirred and olive vs. a lemon twist already fill a few volumes. In fact, the one thing we can say with confidence is that if someone tells you they know the “best” or “only” way to make a Martini, they really don’t know what they are talking about. All they really know is how they like “their” Martini. If you like a good Martini, you need to try a number of variations and decide what you like. This is a good thing.

    And while you experiment, we do suggest you consider a few things. Firstly, vermouth isn’t an afterthought. There are many quality vermouths out there from the inexpensive (Noilly-Pratt) to the premium (Dolin). And if you keep them in the fridge they actually taste good. No need to skimp. Try recipes that use more vermouth, you may be surprised. Secondly, the world of gin is exploding with multiple flavor profiles. Good London dry gin and Plymouth are still heavy on juniper, but “new world” gins like Hendrick’s and Nolet’s focus on flavors like cucumber or rose petals (we tend to like the old standby of Tanqueray and the occasional dalliance with Hendrick’s, but that’s just us). Third, we suggest you play around on the edges, try a dash of orange bitters, experiment with olives and twists depending on the gin or vermouth you use.  Finally, it makes sense to keep your Martinis small so they don’t warm up, a cold Martini is a good martini. And feel free to shake or stir, just be sure to do it until the Martini is very, very cold.

    Right now, we enjoy Dolin dry vermouth and have it highlight our Martinis. We use a decent slug of vermouth with dry gin and we also enjoy an “old-school” variation and include some orange bitters. As for olives or a twist, it depends on our mood and if we need a quick appetizer, but we like the lemon oil from the twist. So our current recipe is 1 and 1/2 oz. dry gin, 3/4 oz. dry vermouth, a dash of Regan’s Orange Bitters #6 and a lemon twist. We have a cool mixing glass, so we stir. But do what you like. Enjoy yourself.

    And one last note. Few cocktails match the spare, timeless elegance of the martini. The shaker, the glass, the olive all look beautiful and harken back to the art-deco designs and speakeasies of the 1920′s. Having a Martini is a special event, a small step back in time, an escape. And we celebrate that. However you make it, take the time to make your Martini well. Pull out some of your best glasses and maybe even a silver tray. Pick out some good music to play. Maybe invite over a few good friends. Serve your Martini with style, it will pay you back handsomely.

    The Martini:

    Ingredients:

    • 1 and 1/2 oz. dry gin
    • 3/4 oz. good dry vermouth
    • 1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters #6 (optional)
    • Lemon twist

    Assemble:

    1. Combine the gin, vermouth and bitters in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupé. Squeeze the twist over the drink and then place it in the glass. Serve.
  • Braised Short Ribs

    Braised Short Ribs with horseradish sauce.

    Typical of California this time of year, in one day we went from eighty degrees and sunny to forty-five degrees and rainy, with snow in the higher hills. And while the rain does turn the golden hills back to green, we will still take the warmer weather as long as we can get it. But one of the benefits of colder weather is that we get to make some more “wintry” dishes, and that often means braises and stews. And one of our favorite braises involves beef short ribs.

    Short ribs are a cheap, flavorful and tender (if you cook them right) cut of beef from the rib/plate section of the cow. Short ribs are butchered a few different ways, but for braises the rectangular “English” cut is usually preferred. The longer, thinner “flanken” or “accordion” cuts are more commonly used in Korean-style preparations, which are fantastic, but for another post. The short rib pieces are anywhere from 1-3 inches across and 1-2 inches thick and will usually contain a section of the rib bone. As there is a lot of fat and connective tissue (along with a bone), the short rib has potential for a lot of flavor, but is likely to be tough unless cooked long enough, at moderate temperatures and in a moist environment. Sounds like a braise is in order.

    Braising is a combination cooking method where meat is first browned in dry, high heat and then slowly cooked in a covered pot along with liquid. And if you just said “isn’t that just like a pot roast”, you are correct. The high heat provides tasty, browned flavors and texture, while the moderate temperature, moist cooking breaks down tough cuts of meat and builds a sauce. The addition of aromatics and herbs and flavored liquids like wine and/or stock make for very deep, rich flavors. And while braising takes time and has a few steps, it is an easy cooking method and has the bonus that most braises keep well and are often better the second day. If you cook for a hungry family or a crowd, braises should be in your toolkit. (It is worth noting that braised short ribs are a popular dish with caterers for all the reasons we just noted, delicious, low-cost and easy to prepare ahead of time.)

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  • Simple Garden Recipes: Chard Gratin

    As a family, we love greens. And we don’t mean salad greens (although we love them, too), we mean greens, kale, spinach, collards and chard. And one of the many blessing of northern California is that we can get almost any of the hearty greens we want, any time of the year. The cool, often foggy, coastal areas provide a consistent environment for growing most greens regardless of the season. We slow cook the heartier greens (see here for a recipe), but for the sweeter, more tender greens like spinach and chard, we often chose to cook “au gratin”.

    Au gratin simply means cooking a vegetable or protein with a top crust of breadcrumbs, cheese and/or butter, but most recipes these days also include a base sauce like béchamel. Gratins are easy to make, taste great and are also a way to introduce very healthy vegetables to doubting kids (and adults). Our gratin of creamed spinach is one of our staple holiday dishes. Everyone loves it, it’s easy (we use frozen spinach), you can make a huge batch ahead of time, and the leftovers work with almost anything. But for smaller meals, we enjoy making a gratin of sweet, nutritious chard. This dish isn’t just a way to use up some veggies, it’s a real treat.

    The key to the dish is the sweetness of the chard, while some of the hearty greens need a little help, chard is very sweet on its own. And that should not be much of a surprise, as chard is a close relative of the beet, which is also known for its sweetness. But unlike the beet, chard is all about the tender, nutritious leaves (and the stalks that are less reedy than most greens). The leaves and stalks are so tender that, rather than a long cook, a quick parboiling and sauté prepares them for cooking in the oven. You get all the flavor and nutrition of a heart green like kale, but in a little less time.

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