Category Archives: Drinks

pop! goes the biergarten

A few months ago, my friend Suzanne started talking about how she wanted to open a biergarten in Detroit. Little did I know that what I thought at the time was small talk, in the same way you’d casually say “I want to learn how to hang glide” or “I want to visit Turkmenistan”, would turn into the coolest place to spend an autumn Sunday afternoon.  Keep in mind, I didn’t realize at first that she was talking about  a temporary pop-up operation. But had I known she was serious, I never would have doubted for a moment- when Suzanne wants to make something happen, it happens!

She and her partner Aaron assembled a crack team of friends and colleagues to work on the project, each contributing of their talents pro bono (photography, graphic design, marketing, build-out, etc).  I was in the thick of wedding planning and wasn’t able to lend any assistance until the day before opening, but Marvin was on board from day one. Even hearing tidbits from him about the development of the project, though, it was still surprising and impressive to see it come so successfully to fruition.

The biergarten was dubbed “Tashmoo“, a name that may sound strange given that they’re going for a traditional European-style vibe, but which carries a lot of local significance. It was the name of a steamboat that operated in the Detroit River from 1900 to 1936 between Detroit and Port Huron (thus the anchor in the Tashmoo logo), and supposedly means “meeting place” in some Native American language (a curious language nerd, I searched to see which one and came up empty-handed, other than a reference to an Algonquin word for a lake in Massachusetts).  Regardless of nomenclature, though, I think most people were just interested in having an excuse to drink good beer and socialize outdoors on a beautiful 70° day. And let’s admit, much as we all love Roosevelt Park and Eastern Market, it was a welcome change of scenery to hang out in a different neighborhood.

Many of the GUDetroit crew had planned to go right when they opened, at noon. I was initially shooting to be there early as well, but ended up missing all of them so I just waited until late afternoon. The second I stepped outside, I was kicking myself for not having been outdoors sooner- it was a gorgeous warm fall day the likes of which we may not see again until next year. I got down to the West Village around 5:45, just in time to beat the rush of people coming after the Lions game (and, I suspect, some who had only recently woken up from the previous night’s debauchery… or their afternoon nap?).

B

Beer in hand, I made the rounds chatting with friends while Marvin did what he does best. The crowd was a nice mix of people I knew from different circles- singles, couples, families all enjoying the great weather and cornhole (slightly monopolized by the kids, but the grownups will get their turn this Saturday). In addition to 5 Michigan beers on tap, there were two local food vendors (who will rotate in the coming weeks), Porktown Sausage and People’s Pierogi. As a meat-eater I went for the brat, beer’s natural partner, at least according to most Midwesterners. I even got the pierogi folks to spot me a bit of their sauerkraut. These are no factory-stuffed sausages- the Porktown guys make their brats by hand and perfectly season them with a nice hit of juniper and garlic.

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Around 8pm the crowd was treated to a screening of “People Mover”, a short film featuring several musicians, poets and chefs of my acquaintance (and many others I’d heard of but not yet seen). The crowd watched with hushed attention, erupting into spontaneous cheers a few times as various familiar faces came on screen.

After the flick, we said our goodbyes and headed out to catch a short set at the Lager House by our talented friends (and fellow newlyweds) James & Melissa Rae… my final bit of vacation before starting back to work. On the bright side, at least there are four more Sundays of Tashmoo to look forward to! And they’re bringing in different beers each week, so what better excuse for return visits?

gu detroit sherry tasting party

So, I know it’s Christmas Eve and you’re all probably running around doing your last-minute preparations.  But I’ve been sitting on this post for a long while now and wanted to get it published- there’s a recipe for romesco sauce that you just might be interested in if you need a last-minute appetizer for a Christmas or New Year’s party.

There ain’t no party like a Detroit… sherry tasting!

Those of you who have been following this blog are familiar by now with the GU Detroit*, a loose collective of “food and drink professionals and serious enthusiasts”. A couple months ago the topic of sherry came up in the forums, and since no one was extremely knowledgeable, and because we all love an excuse to get together and imbibe, our friend and cohort Suzanne seized the occasion to host a sherry tasting.

*That’s “gee-you Detroit”, short for Gourmet Underground, not “goo Detroit”, in case you were wondering.

The GU Detroit gang being what it is, I shouldn’t have been surprised to walk in and see a large table groaning with the weight of what seemed like several tons of food- Spanish charcuterie, cheeses, olives, and tapas of all sorts were nestled in tightly, and I was challenged to find room for my contributions.  Although I should be used to this kind of spread at a GUD event, it was still a bit overwhelming and I had that “kid in a candy store” feeling for at least the first hour I was there.

In addition to about 10 or 12 types of sherry, there were wines (including several bottles of Les Hérétiques, a GUD favorite that Putnam and Jarred turned us on to) and homemade cider my brother brought.  The tasting was semi-organized in relation to the number of people there- someone (Evan or Putnam, I’m guessing?) had lined up the bottles in order from the pale finos to the darker, richer olorosos so that we could attempt some semblance of a proper tasting.  However, due to the somewhat chaotic nature of the event, I can’t tell you much beside the fact that I preferred the lighter sherries;  the intense raisiny flavors of the darker sherries were not as much to my liking.

I hadn’t had a chance to cook for quite some time, so the day of the party I decided to go all out and make three different tapas to bring.  Flipping through The New Spanish Table, I came across a recipe for deviled eggs with tuna (which I blogged about in a less breezy post than this) that sounded perfect. I also made a batch of romesco sauce from the same book, a paste (although that word makes it sound less appealing than it is) made from hazelnuts and peppers and garlic and sherry vinegar that can be eaten with crudites. Last but not least, I sauteed some button mushrooms with garlic and parsley.  I think I’m at my cooking-mojo best at times like these- when I have the day to consecrate to the task, and an event to prepare for.

I can’t wait for the next GU Detroit gathering, aka excuse for me to actually cook.  I’m not anticipating doing much cooking to speak of in the next month (not counting lots of scrambled eggs/omelettes and salads for dinner), as I focus on packing and moving house and getting the new house in order, so unless there’s an event to kick me into gear it may be a while before you hear from me, at least regarding new recipes! But I’ll be around, regaling you with other food-related news and happenings.

For now though, here’s the romesco recipe.  If you’ve never tried it, I strongly encourage you to do so- it’s a nice break from all the roasted red pepper hummus and cheese spreads and ranch flavored veggie dips so prominent around this time of year.  In addition to using it as a dip, it has other applications as well- in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Judy Rodgers cooks shrimp in it (I’ve made this too and it’s uhhh-mazing!!) and I can picture it as a great sauce for chicken too.

Romesco Sauce (adapted from The New Spanish Table)

1 medium-sized ñora pepper or ancho chile
⅔ cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 ½ Tbs toasted breadcrumbs
1 small ripe plum tomato, chopped (if unseasonal, substitute 1 good quality canned plum tomato or 3-4 Tbs canned diced tomatoes)
1 Tbs sweet (not smoked) paprika
pinch of cayenne
6 Tbs fragrant extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs sherry vinegar (quality red wine vinegar may be substituted)
coarse salt

Notes: I could not locate a ñora pepper or ancho chile when I made this last time, so I used something labeled “chile California” which, although inauthentic, worked fine. Also, almonds may be substituted for the hazelnuts, or a combination used. The sauce will have a slightly different character but will still be delicious.  If you want to gild the lily, fry the nuts in olive oil instead of dry-toasting them.

Soak the dried pepper in very hot water until softened, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the stem and seeds and tear into small pieces, either before or after the soaking, whichever is easiest. Reserve the soaking liquid.

Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times until roughly chopped.  Add the garlic, pepper, paprika, tomato, breadcrumbs, cayenne and ⅓ cup of the pepper water and pulse until fairly smooth but retaining some texture.  With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil, processing until completely incorporated.

Scrape the contents into a clean bowl, stir in the vinegar, and season with salt to taste.  Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature for the flavors to meld, then taste and season with more salt or vinegar as necessary.

Serve with crudités such as endive leaves, fennel or celery sticks, or use as a sauce for grilled shrimp, chicken or asparagus.

braised cod with pistachio & preserved lemon pesto

A few months ago I got an email from a gentleman at Oh! Nuts asking if I’d like to sample some product, and maybe I could write a recipe about it.  I was thinking of all kinds of treats to make- ice creams, tarts, etc.  But when the package came, I was too busy to do anything with it so I made like a drag queen and tucked the nuts away.  Then recently I checked out A16: Food + Wine from the library (yes I know, I’m behind the curve on this book that was much-hyped around Christmas 2008) and saw a recipe for halibut with a pistachio, parsley, and preserved lemon pesto (try saying that three times fast!).  It sounded like a perfect summer dish and a great excuse to use some of those pistachios.

Incidentally, can I just dork out for a moment and say how exciting it was to get my first shipment of free swag??  I’ve been offered a couple other things here and there but nothing I would actually use.  Free nuts was a major score, as A) I love nuts of all kinds, and B) nuts are freaking expensive!  The company sent me pistachios, hazelnuts, and steamed, peeled chestnuts, which I think I’ll save for an autumnal dish.  [Can I also say to all the bloggers who are always griping on Twitter about how many PR emails/offers they get, it’s a little hard to have pity.  Gee, you poor thing, your blog is well-known enough for you to get PR pitches and free stuff all the time.  Boo hoo!]

I was really happy about how this recipe turned out, and although I made it with fish, I could easily imagine this pesto-like sauce as an accompaniment to roast chicken or on pasta for a vegan dish.  As a side dish, I just drizzled some artichokes with olive oil and lemon and tossed a few olives in for good measure. I picked up a nice bottle of Auratus Alvarinho selected by Jeffrey at Holiday Market that was moderately priced and a great compliment to the food; A16 suggests a Sicilian Carricante if you can find that.  As far as a “review” of the nuts, they were perfectly fine, fresh, etc.  Of course I always advocate buying local first, but if you can’t find something you need, the Oh!Nuts website is a good alternative.

A note on fish: To find out whether a certain fish is on the endangered/ unsustainable list, check here.  Re: substituting fish, Mark Bittman’s book Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking is an excellent resource; for each type of fish, he lists several other species which can be interchanged in recipes.

Pistachio & Preserved Lemon Pesto (adapted from A16: Food + Wine)
printer-friendly version

1 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
2 cups parsley leaves, loosely packed
1 Tbs capers (salt-packed if possible)
½ a preserved lemon, peel only
½ tsp dried chili flakes
½ cup olive oil
sea salt if needed
fresh lemon wedges and additional olive oil for serving

Note: This pesto is best served the day it is made.

Soak the capers and preserved lemon peel in cold water to remove some of the salt.  Roughly chop the parsley.  Put it in the bowl of a food processor (if you have a smaller-sized bowl, this works best) along with the pistachios, chili flakes and capers (drained and rinsed).  Pulse while adding the olive oil in a thin stream, scraping down the sides once or twice, until the pistachios are well-chopped.  Alternately, you can make the pesto in a mortar and pestle; you’ll want to chop the parsley more finely for this version.  For fish or chicken, I prefer a looser pesto where the nuts are left slightly chunky, but for pasta you could process it a bit more if desired.  Finely dice the preserved lemon peel and stir into the pesto; taste for salt (mine did not need any; the capers and preserved lemons were salty enough to season the mixture).

To serve with pasta, simply toss the pesto with 1 lb pasta that has been cooked in well-salted water.  Drizzle over a bit more olive oil if desired, and serve with fresh lemon wedges.

Braised Halibut with Pistachio & Preserved Lemon Pesto (adapted from A16: Food + Wine)
printer-friendly version

One recipe Pistachio & Preserved Lemon Pesto
1½-2 lbs halibut fillets (sustainably sourced cod can be substituted), cut into 6 serving pieces
sea salt

Note: The A16 recipe calls for halibut, but at $19 a pound it was a bit out of reach for me so I substituted cod.  The cod was thinner but I folded under the thinnest ends to ensure a more even cooking, and adjusted my cooking time downward.

Season the halibut fillets with sea salt at least one hour and up to four hours prior to cooking.  Remove from refrigerator ½ hour before cooking to allow to come to room temperature (less time will be needed for thinner fish).  Preheat oven to 400°.  Drain off any liquid that has accumulated and place the fish in a glass baking dish.  Divide the pesto evenly among the fillets, pressing down so it adheres.  Place a small amount of water in the bottom of the dish, enough to come about a third of the way up the fish.

Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through; this will depend on type and thickness of fish, so keep a close eye on it.  (Fish is done when it is just firm to the touch; it will continue to cook for another couple minutes after removed from the oven, so it’s best to err on the side of ever-so-slightly underdone.)  Drizzle with a bit more olive oil.  Taste the braising liquid and drizzle some of this on top if desired.  Serve immediately with fresh lemon wedges.

building a basic home cocktail bar: a tutorial

I’m excited to present simmer down’s first guest blogger, my friend Evan Hansen of the blog UndergroundDetroit.com.  Evan is a connoisseur of classic cocktails (among other things) so I asked him to outline the basic elements of what one would need for a beginner’s home cocktail bar. Take it away, Evan!

My first “cocktail” was bright green, probably a mixture of Apple Pucker, Midori, and some sort bottled juice. That first drink was also my last for many years, with only the occasional gin and tonic passing my lips. Then a few years ago, I was handed a cocktail glass containing gin, fresh lemon juice, and maraschino liqueur.

Life changed.

Now I order boxes of spirits from across the country to make drinks with names like Lucien Gaudin, Captain Handsome, and Lion’s Tail. There must be four dozen different products in my home bar now, and I’ve traded the Chernobylesque green of Midori and Pucker for the hazy purple of Crème de Violette and fresh citrus. And at the risk of sounding completely arrogant, the resulting drinks are pretty damn awesome.

Friends will occasionally ask how to start a decent home bar without having to initiate a raid on the local party store or buying up the entire shabby chic liquor cabinet collection at the local Pottery Barn. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy.

The “Essential” Spirits

I suppose there really are no truly essential spirits, but making a few classic drinks and having flexibility to experiment a little do require that you own some basics.

Consider acquiring these eight (only 8!) to start:

Spirit Recommended Brands Notes
Dry Gin Beefeater, Bombay, Tanqueray, Plymouth I usually keep more than one gin — something clean like Plymouth for martinis and something more robust for mixing like Beefeater. If you’re going with only one, Beefeater is great for the price.
Bourbon Buffalo Trace The best value in base spirits might be Buffalo Trace. A near unanimous winner in our blind bourbon tasting. Eventually, you may find that you’ll use more rye whiskey than bourbon, but bourbon is cheaper and easier to find in Detroit, and for starting out, it covers all your basic drinks.
Rum Mt. Gay, Appleton, Bacardi I like Mt. Gay white rum. Like Bacardi but cheaper.
Tequila El Jimador, Xalixco, Sauza Start with a blanco tequila. A lot of folks go with a reposado or anjeo (aged) tequilas because they’re smooth, but when you’re using tequila mostly for margaritas, I actually prefer a bit of an edge, and a 100% agave blanco like El Jimador is both dirt cheap and delicious.
Triple Sec Cointreau It’s pricey, but Cointreau has more orange flavor than other triple secs and the right amount of sweetness for mixing. Plus it’s easy to find. Never substitute Grand Marnier as it has a brandy base that adds way too much caramel flavor.
Maraschino Liqueur Luxardo, Maraska Maraschino is a delicious cherry liqueur used in several classic cocktails. There are only two brands readily available; both are good.
Dry Vermouth Noilly-Prat, Dolin Detroiters can’t get Dolin, but since reverting to their European recipe for sales in the US, Noilly-Prat is perfectly good.
Sweet Vermouth Carpano Antica, Punt e Mes, Dolin, Boissiere If you gag when you think of sweet vermouth, you’re not alone. Martini & Rossi has killed the reputation of this absolutely necessary class of fortified wines. Antica Formula and Punt e Mes are made by the same producer but are drastically different with Antica showing an intense herbaceousness. Boissiere is a good inexpensive option.

You’ll note that there’s no vodka on my list. Vodka’s a good spirit to have, and it’s necessary for some classics like the Moscow Mule. But since vodka wasn’t popular in the United States until late 40s, there aren’t a lot of classic recipes calling for it. Besides, it’s a neutral spirit, and we’re all about flavor, so stick to the big four base spirits to start – gin, whiskey, rum, and tequila.

Additional Ingredients

Ingredient Notes
Angostura Bitters A few dashes of bitters can really change a cocktail. Angostura is the most widely used aromatic bitters product and an absolute necessity.
Orange Bitters Orange bitters add a great note to a lot of classic drinks. Brands include Angostura Orange, Regan’s, The Bitter Truth, and others.
Fresh Citrus Fresh lemons and limes are a must both for the juice and to use the peel as a garnish. Oranges and grapefruits should be added to the rotation eventually as well.
Tonic Water You really only need this for gin and tonic when starting out. After all, your guests may expect it. But tonic can be used in other clever ways with more ingredients. Try buying Q or Fever Tree tonic instead of Canada Dry or Schweppe’s.
Cola of Good Quality High fructose corn syrup dulls taste buds and tastes like crap. Buy good cola — I like Fentiman’s Curiosity Cola, but even the Mexican version of Coke which uses cane sugar is good.
Grenadine of Good Quality Grenadine is supposed to be pomegranate syrup. You’d never know it if you taste Rose’s Grenadine. Buy a better brand (there are lots, but Stirrings has become the most readily available) or learn to make your own.
Cherries of Good Quality Look for cherries without artificial coloring. Nothing natural and edible is colored like Ronald McDonald’s hair.
Egg Whites Egg whites are a “must” for a lot of classic drinks, and I like to use them in my whiskey sours. Shake them with the other ingredients but no ice to form a nice frothy emulsion and then shake with ice to finish the drink. Pour it out and drink a nice full-bodied, frothy cocktail. Egg white is the texture king!
Simple Syrup Make your own and put it in any bottle or jar you have around the house. Equal parts sugar and water, heated, cooled, and stored should do the trick. You can make sweeter syrups later by using more sugar, but this works to start.
Fresh Ice Ice can ruin your drink if it’s handled improperly. Old ice tastes of freezer funk. Ice that’s too small or too cracked can dilute your drink prematurely. Try to use ice that’s only a few days or maybe a couple weeks old at worst. I’m partial to ice made in silicone trays that create perfect cubes. Find them at Sur la Table

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With the spirits and mixers above, you will become hero – a hero in a world of restaurants and bars that serve only sugary neon drinks that end in -tini. Among the many classics you’ll be able to concoct are Aviations, Bourbon Crustas, Margaritas, Martinis, Manhattans, White Ladies, Mojitos, Daiquiris, and Martinezes. And Clover Clubs, Pegus, Ward 8s, Gimlets, and Whiskey Sours. And plenty of others.

Tools

To make decent drinks, one really only needs a shaker, a strainer, and a spoon. After all, you can stir or shake a drink with the bottom half of a shaker, and a basic strainer gets most of the undesirable bits of ice and fruit pulp out of a drink. But to make great drinks, it gets a bit more elaborate.

  • Cocktail shaker
  • Mixing glass
  • Spoon
  • Hawthorne strainer
  • Jigger / Measuring cup
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Juicer
  • Muddler

Here are some general rules for the above equipment:

  1. Measuring: No matter how good you are at eyeballing amounts of spirits, never, never, never skip a proper measurement when making a drink. It doesn’t make you look talented; it makes you look like you enjoy bad drinks. If you have a traditional jigger, the big end (actually called a jigger) should be 1.5 oz and the small end (called a pony) is 1 oz, make sure the measurements are accurate. I had a jigger that was actually 1.75 oz on one side and 1.25 on the other, which I discovered after a week of strange drinks. Measure out some water in a measuring cup and see if your jigger is accurate. Or better yet, get a tiny measuring cup like this awesome one from Oxo.
  2. Shaken vs. Stirred: James Bond couldn’t order a drink to save his life. Shaking is a faster, more efficient way of chilling a drink because of the intense contact between the ice and the drink. But it also makes your drink cloudy. So only shake drinks that are already going to be cloudy, including anything with citrus juice and egg whites. Martinis, Manhattans, and other all-spirit drinks should always be stirred – unless you’re a British spy with a license to kill. Then you apparently do whatever you want.
  3. Shaking: A lot of bartenders recommend that people buy a “three piece” shaker to start. You’ve seen them: It’s a large metal tin with a strainer that snaps on the top and a lid that covers the strainer. And if you have one, go ahead and use it. No sense spending more money on a new shaker. But the built in strainers tend to form ice dams and can make pouring the drink a pain. They also tend to be on the shorter side, which means that there’s not as much room for the ice to move around with your drink. A “Boston Shaker” (a large metal tin with a smaller metal tin or pint glass on top) or a Parisian shaker (a bullet-shaped two piece metal shaker) makes a much better drink in my opinion. Regardless, when you shake, use whole ice cubes, especially if you have a larger shaker with plenty of room for the ice to move. As the ice bounces around, it’ll chip and help dilute and chill the drink. When the shaker is frosty and really, really cold, you can strain your drink.
  4. Stirring: Because stirring whole ice cubes takes forever before achieving proper dilution (you want some water in that drink!) and proper temperature (warm martinis suck), feel free to crack your ice before adding it to your mixing glass. The added surface area will help melt the ice faster without clouding your drink like you would by shaking it. If you have a good steel bar spoon, use the back to whack a cube. If you don’t, put the ice in a clean towel and smash it.
  5. Straining: A really nice, totally optional piece of equipment to have is a small mesh strainer. Like a standard kitchen strainer but with a diameter of only 2 inches or so. That way you can strain the tiny bits of ice and fruit pulp that can still slide through a Hawthorne strainer and into your drink. But it’s a luxury rather than an essential tool, and if you have a bigger mesh kitchen strainer, you can always use that too.
  6. Garnishes: The essential oils in citrus rind will add a distinctive note to your drinks. A peeled garnish is known as a twist, and there are a lot of ways to prepare it. The easiest, though, is to use a standard swivel veggie peeler from your kitchen drawer, draw the blade across the rind hard, and create a large swath of citrusy real estate to add to your cocktail. You’ll want to twist the peel over the drink to spray some of the oils into the cocktail, and you can rub the lip of the glass as well to really get all the aromatics in the glass. Later, you can invest in a channel knife and make long, pretty, spiraling strips of peel, but for now, save the 15 bucks.
  7. Muddling: Firmly tapping or striking a citrus peel will help release some of those oils, which is a key component in a caipirinha or a mojito. Similarly, muddling mint adds a lot of flavor to a mojito or julep. When you muddle mint or other herbs, though don’t muddle it so hard as to break the leaf into lots of pieces. Doing so can make your drink bitter as the leaf releases chlorophyll, not just the oils in the herb.

Glassware

Great cocktail bars will sometimes have three or four kinds of glasses in which to serve their various drinks – cocktail glasses (or martini glasses or “coupes”) in which drinks are served “up;” rocks or old-fashioned glasses for short drinks; tall or Collins glasses for carbonated drinks, swizzles, and other long drinks; and sometimes specialty glasses for other cocktails.

So what do you need for starters? Anything that gets the booze to your lips.

Any small rocks glass can hold a drink served up and a drink served on the rocks just fine. So chances are you already have what you really need, but if you want to branch out, start with some cool cocktail glasses. They add a really nice touch to a drink and make even an ungarnished cocktail look swanky and well-executed. If you have a good antique/vintage store nearby, look for cool mismatched cocktail glasses. And as a bonus, older glasses tend to be the right size. I have some really neat looking martini glasses from Crate & Barrel, but they’re big enough that they could be mistaken for the cups at 7-11. And while I admit there’s some appeal to an alcoholic Big Gulp, I’d rather be able to taste three well-proportioned and distinctly different cocktails on my way to inebriation than have to choke down the warm remnants of an eight ounce martini.

Recipes

Some of you were undoubtedly smart, skipping all my preachy cocktail soliloquies and leaping straight down here to the good stuff. While my recipes obviously work for me, they may not be to your liking. If something is too tart, try making it differently, keeping notes on what you enjoy. Even legendary bartenders have their drink recipes altered, and you should feel confident in doing so. In addition to the specific recipes listed below, you should peruse the internet for other drinks to try making. A good place to start because I tend to agree with a lot of the proportions in his drinks is with Robert Hess’ semi-defunct DrinkBoy website. Check out the list of cocktails or search the site by spirit so you can see all the drinks he has using a particular ingredient. Some of the drinks also have corresponding instructional videos that show you how to make them.

Anyhow, here are eight great, easy cocktails using the ingredients I listed earlier. Since most people I’ve spoken with who are new to cocktails tend to view gin with a sinister glare, I’ve listed more gin drinks than anything else. Play around with them and fall in love.

Dry Martini

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 oz dry vermouth
  • Two dashes of orange bitters
  • Stir with cracked ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish, if you’d like, with a lemon twist.

Martinis are made with gin, not vodka. The first martini was most likely made with sweet vermouth, and the dry martini is thus made with dry vermouth. Vary the proportions to your liking, but ignore the recent trend to just rinse the glass with dry vermouth and then pour in the gin. That’s a glass of gin, not a martini.

Manhattan

  • 2 oz bourbon (or rye whiskey)
  • .5 – 1 oz sweet vermouth to your taste (I prefer more vermouth than other folks, I think, especially when using a great vermouth like Carpano Antica)
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • Stir with cracked ice and strain into a chilled glass. You can serve it on the rocks with a cherry if you’d prefer, but with good ingredients, you may not want to dilute the drink by having it on ice.

White Lady

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • Optional: 1 egg white
  • Dry shake to emulsify the egg. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

Clover Club

  • 1.5 oz gin
  • .25 oz grenadine
  • .75 oz lemon juice
  • 1 egg white (definitely NOT optional)
  • Dry shake to emulsify the egg. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass. I’ve seen this garnished with a raspberry floating on the egg foam when served in a champagne flute. Kind of cool, but not at all necessary.

Margarita

  • 2 oz tequila
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • .5 oz lime juice
  • Big pinch of salt
  • Shake all ingredients with ice, strain, and pour over ice into a glass. I prefer not to salt the rim, but you can if you’d like.

Cuba Libre

  • 2 oz white rum
  • .33-.5 oz lime juice to taste
  • Cola
  • Add the rum and lime juice to a glass with ice, top with cola to taste, stir to integrate the ingrediants, and garnished with a lime wheel or wedge. With good cola, you will never again in your life be able to tolerate another Bacardi and Coke.

Daiquiri

  • 2 oz white rum
  • .5 oz lime juice
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a lime wedge or wheel. Experiment a bit: Adding grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur makes this a Hemingway Daiquiri, which is an amazing drink.

Aviation

  • 2 oz gin
  • .5 oz lemon juice
  • .25 oz maraschino
  • Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass. This was first served to me with a cherry at the bottom point of the cocktail glass, which creates a really red haze at the bottom of the glass. But some folks garnish with a lemon twist floating in the drink. I greatly prefer the former. This drink is also often made with another ingredient called creme de violette. It’s not currently found in Michigan, but if you get your hands on any, it turns the drink sky blue and the name becomes much more understandable.

For me, the psychosis started with the last drink on that list, the Aviation. After trying one, I needed to learn more about cocktails, and that’s what sent me looking for obscure ingredients and recipes for my own infusions and bitters. If you’re so inclined, you can end up with 30 or 40 spirits and a nearly endless array of cocktail combinations worth exploring. But even if not, just picking up those eight basic spirits and a few accessories and mixers will go a long way toward ensuring you’re able to drink well and drink often.

honey, cumin & lime grilled chicken for the gudetroit picnic

In my last post I alluded to a picnic with some fellow Detroit gourmands, some of whom I introduced to you in this post.  We’re a growing group, and we decided to have a potluck picnic on Belle Isle as an excuse to eat, drink and get to know each other a little better. Molly and Todd scoped out the perfect spot under some willow trees, on the banks of the Detroit river with a view of the city.

Knowing this group, I had high expectations, but wow… I have to say I was pretty blown away by how much everyone put into it.  Dave (aka Captain McBoozy), James and Evan ruled the drinks department- Dave made a Rhubarb Rum Punch and some Prescription Juleps, Evan brought a chartreuse-and-pineapple juice concoction,  and James (our resident coffee-roaster and token Romanian-American) made a fabulous cocktail with cold-brewed coffee, vodka, passionfruit syrup and Romanian mountain mint.

The food was no less spectacular… I displayed an incredible amount of willpower and paced myself perfectly so that I was able to nibble and sip on and off all day while never feeling uncomfortably full or overly tipsy.  This was no small feat, since it was pretty much a spread to end all spreads. My contributions were a big bowl of chlodnik and a mess of honey, cumin & lime-marinated grilled chicken (grilling courtesy of Todd, thanks dude!).  The rest of the food I almost hesitate to list for fear of inadvertently leaving someone out, but there were homemade sausages, pizza on the grill (organic dough courtesy of Strawberry Moon in Ferndale), Vietnamese fresh rolls, an Israeli couscous salad with shrimp (don’t tell the rabbi!), bruschetta, gazpacho, Korean beef tartare lettuce wraps, grilled steak with arugula, a huge bowl of guac, and an assortment of gourmet ice cream courtesy of Jeni’s Ice Creams in Columbus.  Jarred also brought an assortment of wines provided by Western Market– score!

We whiled away the afternoon until it slipped into evening, and somehow managed to dispatch almost all of the food.  We were even making ham sandwiches towards the end of the day, with leftover marble rye, mustard, and some J&M German bacon (not really “bacon”; more like the best ham you’ve ever had).  As the sun set over the city, we packed up our belongings and mused about how perfect the day had been, and wondered aloud how soon we could do another picnic.

Back to the chicken- this isn’t the first time I’ve made this chicken, but I usually make it with wings for a better meat-to-marinade ratio.  The drumsticks weren’t bad, but I think I’ll revert to using wings from now on.   It was hard to “name” this recipe because all of the marinade ingredients are bold and prominent- the sweet-tart punch of honey and lime, the toasty warmth of the cumin and cayenne, and the savory hit of garlic all contribute to a sauce that sings with flavor.  The elements are inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine, but I’ve never had anything like it in a restaurant or come across any similar recipes in any cookbooks or blogs, so for now I’ll claim it as my own.  We couldn’t do this at the picnic, but if you’re near a stove, the leftover marinade (boiled and reduced) makes a killer dipping sauce.

To see the full set of photos from the picnic, check out my flickr set.

Honey, Cumin & Lime Grilled Chicken
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4-5 lbs chicken wings (or drumsticks), preferably free-range or organic
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (4 large limes should yield this, unless they are particularly dry)
2 Tbs honey
1 Tbs ground cumin (seeds toasted & freshly ground if possible)
½ tsp cayenne or 1 tsp Harissa paste (or more if you like it spicy)
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 packed Tbs minced garlic (a couple cloves depending on size)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbs olive oil

Combine marinade ingredients in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, stirring to dissolve the honey.  Taste to see that the sweet/sour flavors are balanced.  It should taste pretty pucker-inducing, but the heat will tame some of the acidity.  Taste for spiciness as well, adding cayenne as you see fit.

Wash and pat the chicken dry.  Place in a sturdy Ziploc-type bag with the marinade and seal, expelling as much air as possible.  Marinate for at least an hour, longer if possible.

Grill the chicken over medium heat, turning frequently and basting often with the marinade (this should take about 15-20 minutes for wings; slightly longer for drumsticks.  If unsure, use a meat thermometer and cook to 160°).  If you like, boil down any remaining marinade on the stove until slightly thickened and use as a dipping sauce.

book review: “families of the vine” by michael sanders

It’s always a happy occurrence to come across a book that covers overlapping topics of interest to me- in this case, wine and France, and more specifically, malbec (a favorite grape of mine) and southwestern France (where I lived for a year).  I’m not quite sure why Families of the Vine sat on my shelf unread for as long as it did- it came out in 2006- but I’m very glad I finally got to it.  Reading it was a little bittersweet, as I regretted not having visited any of these vineyards when I last was in France, but I now have an itinerary for my next visit!

Over the course of two years, Michael Sanders (author of From Here, You Can’t See Paris, about a French village restaurant and also on my reading list) spent time with three winemaking families in the Lot valley near Cahors, the city which lends its name to the wine’s appellation.  In Families of the Vine, we are introduced to Yves & Martine Jouffreau-Hermann of Clos de Gamot, a vineyard dating from 1610 and whose signature wine is considered the quintessential expression of red Cahors;  Jean-Luc Baldès of Clos Triguedina, the prodigal son who returned to the family vineyard after studying in Bordeaux; and Philippe Bernède of Clos la Coutale, who favors fast cars and producing a more international (read: softer, fruitier) style of red wine.

Le vin de Cahors has, in recent centuries at least, always played second fiddle to its cousins from Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Sanders gives a bit of history explaining that due to geography and political power, Bordeaux gained the upper hand that it still enjoys to this day, in spite of the fact that the “black wine of Cahors” was once preferred by the English over the lighter claret (the Brits’ name for Bordeaux).  Cahors wine, by law a minimum of 70% malbec with merlot and tannat making up the remainder, received appellation status in 1971 thanks to native son Georges Pompidou.

The book takes place in 2002 and 2003, with Sanders writing about the 2003 growing season and the 2002 vinification process, in that order.  The 2003 growing season was unusually hot and dry, causing much stress on the part of the winemakers.  In some cases, hot dry weather can be a boon to the grapes, but in this case it wreaked havoc on them, causing the winemakers to have yields that were  50% or less of their normal harvest.  Coincidentally, I was visiting France at the exact time of the harvest Sanders writes about, and I well remember la canicule– the devastating heat wave in which hundreds of elderly people across France died.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book for me was reading about vinification, and the struggle between old and new ideas among France’s winemakers.  This is a subject that has been on my mind lately, as some of my more winesavvy friends have been talking about natural wine and what it means.  The crux of the problem is that, although in an ideal world many French winemakers would love to make a more traditional product, the market demands wines that can be consumed just a few years after being bottled.  Many winemakers simply don’t have the resources to cellar the wine for the requisite time, which requires not only the space to do so, but the capital to be able to tie up their money for years on end.  Some, like Bernède, are embracing the more fruit-forward, “Parkerized” styles of wine, which are easier to sell internationally and don’t require as much investment.  Others, like the Jouffreau family and Jean-Luc Baldès, are trying to hang on to the more traditional style of Cahors wine, which typically requires at least 10 years in the bottle to reach its full potential.  Yves Jouffreau-Hermann has even gone to the extreme of planting a difficult hillside vineyard, Clos St-Jean, whose grapes he hopes will yield a truly outstanding wine in years to come.

The main thing I am taking away from this book (apart from a burning desire to return to southwestern France to sample some of the wines of the region) is the importance of supporting producers who are dedicated to making quality wine in the traditional manner, even if it means sacrificing easier profits.  Like any artisanal tradition, when these winemakers are forced to cut corners to survive, we will all suffer for the lack of variety and quality.  I admit that until now, I have never cellared any wines, instead just buying them as I needed them.  But after reading the personal stories of these families and how much work they do for relatively little profit, I think it’s time to start endorsing that by choosing more “challenging” wines; wines that require a bit of commitment.

The only thing this book sorely lacks is a map showing the region and locations of the vineyards and châteaux, but other than that, it’s a wonderful introduction to anyone unfamiliar with winemaking, and a great resource for anyone interested in Cahors wine or the lives and struggles of the people behind the grapes.

Note: The photographs from this post were borrowed from the internet. Clicking on the photos will take you to the websites where they were found.

mushroom tart for a bordeaux wine tasting

Sometimes I feel like a pretty lucky gal.  You may recall a couple months ago when I mentioned a get-together with some new food friends?  Well, one of these friends, Jarred, was recently able to procure a large amount of Bordeaux for a wine tasting drinking (as Christina & Molly more accurately put it on Twitter!).  There were about 20 bottles of red Bordeaux, as well as a smattering of white wines, hard cider, etc.  Jarred does the wine buying at Western Market in Ferndale, so the idea was to get a bunch of us tasting, and then hopefully buying, the wines in question.  I think it was also to help him narrow down which wines to order from the distributors.

And so, a couple Fridays ago, some of the GUDetroit gang descended on Jarred & Dawn’s Ferndale apartment, bearing an assortment of wine-loving foods.  I knew many people were bringing cheese and/or charcuterie, and Jarred had also snagged some grass-fed local steaks for the grill, so I asked what else I could bring to round out the selection.  Jarred wisely suggested something with mushrooms- their earthy flavors would be a nice complement to the wine.  I immediately thought “mushroom tart!”- some sautéed mushrooms, with some herbs from the garden, would be just the thing.

I started off by making a cornmeal crust- I wanted a little crunch in case the mushrooms made the dough soggy at all (luckily they didn’t).  I sautéed a copious amount of mushrooms with some shallots and herbs and a splash of sherry, adding some dried porcinis for extra mushroomy depth.  I added some cream and egg at the end, not enough to make a quiche-like custard, but just enough to bind the mushrooms and make the tart more sliceable.  A dusting of Parmigiano before the tart went in the oven was the final touch.  The result was pretty much just what I had hoped for.

As for those wines?  Where to begin- I was pretty overwhelmed, and was mostly just taking suggestions from others who were a little better informed or who had thought to bring notepads to take notes!  A few I recall enjoying in particular were Château La Fleur Plaisance (Montagne St-Emilion, 2006), Château Liversan (Haut-Médoc, 2006) and Château Cabannieux (Graves, 2005). (Mind you, I tasted many, many wines and these are just a couple I happened to jot down!)  All of the wines improved noticeably as the evening wore on and they had time to open up, but these are wines to cellar for at least a few more years before they’ll reach their full potential.  (That becomes problematic in my household, where the notion of a bottle of wine hanging around for more than a week or so is unheard of!) For more detailed descriptions of the wines, check out this post by Gang of Pour.

Thanks again to Jarred & Dawn for their excellent hosting skills and to the folks at Western Market for their generosity;  I’ll definitely be heading there next time I have a few bucks to spend on a nice bottle or two. For the size of the store, they are really doing a great job on their wine department, with a focus on organic and natural wines.  This wine tasting (er, drinking!) really inspired and motivated me to start taking more notes and to build a cellar.  I also have to give a shout-out to George & Kim from Gang of Pour and to Putnam, all of whose wine knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious.

Mushroom & Herb Tart with Cornmeal Crust
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1 pre-baked Cornmeal Tart Crust (recipe follows, or you could use the slightly different cornmeal crust from this post)

1 ½ lbs mushrooms, peeled and sliced (you can use any combination of button mushrooms, portabellas, cremini, etc; I used mostly regular mushrooms with a few portabellas thrown in)
2 shallots, minced
about 3 Tbs minced fresh herbs of your choice- I used sage, thyme & marjoram
about 1/3 cup dry sherry
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
about 1 ½ cups boiling water
a few Tbs butter for sautéing
2 eggs
½ cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or other hard grating cheese

Directions:
Put some water on to boil.  Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them; cover with a lid or plate and set aside.

Melt a knob of butter in a large, shallow skillet over medium heat.  When melted, add half the shallots and half the mushrooms; increase the heat slightly (you need to do the mushrooms in two batches to avoid overcrowding).  As the mushrooms absorb the butter and the pan becomes dry, lightly salt the mushrooms so they release a little of their juice.  About halfway through the cooking, add half the sherry.  Saute the mushrooms until golden and cooked through, increasing the heat if necessary so the liquid evaporates. Remove the mushrooms from the pan; set aside.

Wipe the pan and repeat the process with the second batch of mushrooms.  While they are cooking, remove the dried mushrooms carefully from the water and chop roughly.  (The mushroom liquid may be strained and reserved for use in a soup or to deglaze a pan.) Throw them in the pan. When the mushrooms are close to done, add the herbs and cook for a moment longer. Add the first batch of mushrooms back into the pan and stir well.  Remove from heat.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs and cream.  Season with salt and pepper (I like to add a little nutmeg too, but it’s optional.)  Pour over the mushrooms and stir to combine (if filling is very hot, wait a few moments so the eggs don’t become scrambled). Put the filling in the pre-baked tart shell.  Grate a light layer of cheese over the top.  Cook at 375° for about 15 minutes or until the filling has set.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cornmeal Tart Crust (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)
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Makes enough for two 9″-10″ tarts

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks butter
¼ to ½ cup ice water as needed

Cut the butter into small pieces and set in a bowl in the freezer to firm up for a couple minutes.  Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few larger pieces remaining.  Add the ice water in a thin stream while running the processor, just until the dough comes together (no more than 30 seconds).  Take care to only add as much water as needed so the dough does not become pasty and sticky. Divide in half and wrap each half in plastic.  Let rest in the fridge for an hour before rolling out.

To pre-bake the crust, heat the oven to 375°.  Roll out the dough and place in a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom.  Place a layer of foil over the crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is just beginning to turn golden.  Let cool slightly before removing the weights and foil.  (This dough can also be used for fruit tarts/crostatas; Martha instructs cooking it for an hour with the filling rather than pre-baking it.)