Category Archives: drink

Fleet Week Airshow Picnic

October is a special time for San Francisco as Fleet Week is finally here and we get a respite from the summer fog and cold in what we call our “native summer”. This weekend was one of the prettiest weekends I have ever seen for Fleet Week, the sky was so blue and clear, and the air was warm, like San Diego warm.

My view #picnic #lazysunday
(perfect blue skies)

Besides the parade of ships, ship tours, safety and disaster recovery demonstrations, the Naval band, and the North Beach parade, Fleet Week features a thrilling airshow by a variety of amazing precision flying teams, culminating in the Blue Angels. I have always loved watching the blue and gold planes streak through the skies of San Francisco, flying right over my apartment building, over the Bay, through Downtown, they’re screaming loud but it is so thrilling.

I have watched the airshow from a variety of places over the years, from the Marina Green, the retaining wall at the entrance of the Marina, Aquatic Park, on the Hyde Street hill, and of course, from the water on friends’ boats. A few years back my dearest sisterfriend and I found the perfect spot to watch the airshow from a local park on top of Pacific Heights. Our annual picnic there has become a happy tradition, despite the Parks and Rec Department heavily watering the grass each year the night before.

This year, I brought one of my giant blue camping tarps, which held away the soggy field from our backsides for a little while but it was not impermeable. We were far better off than everyone else who were unprepared for the squish factor!

I was able to try out my new picnic basket, and it performed like a champ.  People back in the day really knew how to build a picnic basket and this one is amazing.  The hard wood top folds back completely flat, perfect to hold the glasses for our Aperol spritzes.  Inside the basket is a suspended divider, which is where I perched the tray of warm crispy oven baked chicken pieces, while the rest of the basket held my chill bag, which kept the zucchini and cucumber tiger salad  and grapes nice and cool.  The removable divider flips over to become a little tray table for the picnic blanket, how perfect is that?  It held everything:  the cutlery, plates, my mini cutting board kit from the SF Opera in the Park days, serviettes,  champagne glasses, the works.  I am so over the moon happy with this basket.

What a beauty! A gift from a nice man. Time to plan a picnic!!
(my new vintage picnic basket, a gift from a nice man)

Our menu:

  • Crispy oven baked chicken
  • Roasted sausages with sourdough bread and all the fixings
  • Zucchini and cucumber tiger salad with shiso dressing
  • Fresh green salad with yuzu dressing
  • Bunches of chilled red grapes
  • Veggie sticks and hummus
  • Sharp cheddar for snacking
  • Assorted chips
  • Juice boxes for the kids
  • Aperol spritzes for the adults

The chicken I made for the picnic is from a recipe from my dearest friend L’s mom.  Since I was a baby, her mom and my mom would take turns making lunches for our families when we got together for sailing trips, Christmas tree hunting, pumpkin patch forays, or various camping trips.  L’s mom used to make this amazing baked chicken with an unusual breading of wheat germ and sesame seeds and it was always my favorite.  It has been years since I have made it for myself, or anyone else and it is the perfect picnic food.  It fit in perfectly with the non-specific Asian zucchini tiger salad recipe I wrote about previously.  This year, I added cucumber to the tiger salad in lieu of the fennel and it was fantastic.  We ate so much that we didn’t even miss dessert other than the grapes, we completely forgot to make something.  Next year, however, we will have brownies or some other evil treat.

Aperol spritz
(Aperol spritz time!)

We lazed about on our vast blue tarp, which we covered in colorful fabrics and sarongs, and over the course of the next four hours we enjoyed our lunch and the warm air, people watching, and fending off tickle attacks from the boys and various dogs who were highly intent upon sampling our chicken and sausages.  The ladies played around with our new nail art stamping plates and nail vinyls, and looked at gorgeous photos from the Homecoming dance the night before.  We also did watch the amazing planes and their pilots zoom around, there were lots of time between the various displays to enjoy our lunch and each other.  The Breitling team and the Blue Angels were especially thrilling this year!

I hope the “native summer” returns for another weekend as I would like to use my beautiful picnic basket again. It being California, odds are that it will.

Recipes:      Crispy Oven Baked Chicken

Zucchini Tiger Salad with Shiso Dressing

Aperol Spritz

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The Flame of Love and Tall Tales

I was at Whitechapel the other night, enjoying a lovely cocktail and the ambiance of this great new watering hole. We were discussing the merits and qualities of various gins and watching an incredible bartender flame orange peels for the Penny Dreadful, my latest cocktail obsession.

The aroma and wild flaming action of the orange peel brought back a memory of another night, sitting at a bar in North Beach, chatting with an older bartender. He told me about his working the bar at a private party at Dean Martin’s home. Imagine, making cocktails for Dean Martin or even being at one of those epic parties… the mind boggles.

As he crafted me a cocktail, he told me about how bored Dean was getting with martinis and how he was listening to the other members of the Rat Pack talk and sing, and when Tom Jones chimed in with song, inspiration struck. The bartender created the Flame of Love cocktail. He filmed a coupe with fino sherry, then stirred a vodka until very chilled and poured that into the glass, and then flamed 3 strips of orange into the glass.  He flamed the orange peels for me at this point in his story and I was hooked.  It was very dramatic and aromatic and something I will never tire of watching.

I sat and sipped this divine concoction in the dimly bar, chatting with this charming older gentleman about old Hollywood and the stars of the day, trading tales of meeting this person and seeing that person, but really, who can top the Rat Pack with Tom Jones?

The last time I went to the restaurant the bartender was no longer there and the current staff did not know about the Flame of Love. A little research revealed that the cocktail is the creation of Pepe Ruiz. I searched for images of Mr. Ruiz and realized that the bartender who told me this story was not Mr. Ruiz and that it was all, sadly, a tall tale.  Whoever that bartender was, despite not creating the Flame of Love himself, his company, the story, and the evening were enchanting. There are many tall tales in San Francisco, and while some of them are real, most of them are perfect for passing the evening, sipping something divine.

Recipe:  Flame of Love Cocktail

Prevent Scurvy, Drink Gimlets!

Our version of summerish weather is here, if you discount the odd day of rain. When it’s over 65 degrees out, we consider this a *hot* day and one’s mind wanders to gazpacho, tall iced drinks and, for me, gimlets with fresh lime juice.

There is nothing more sublime than a chilled cocktail glass brimming with shimmering opal green elixir, the lime gimlet.

Lime gimlets

It’s all about the proportions: gin, fresh lime juice, and simple syrup, all shaken over ice until your hand aches from holding the frosty shaker and you can swipe a finger through the rime of frost. I like adding fresh basil to the shaker, stems and all, and floating a few leaves in the glass to further perfume the drink.

One decadent Sunday night I had a friend over for “framily” dinner and made up a batch of the basil gimlets. It was 74 F in the kitchen and the cool tart sweet drinks went down easily as we watched the sun turn the buildings on the hills peach and pink then lavender and grey. The two limes I had on hand made just enough for us to have a glass and a half, almost too much and not quite enough.

The next day I was determined to find more limes.

Thinking creatively, I found 6 limes from Walgreens of all places. I was able to walk there and back quite successfully, but iced my ankle when I returned to work, that might be the farthest I have gone on my own with crutches! It was totally worth it, and who would have thought that the limes from the drug store would be so large and juicy!

That night in my kitchen I juiced up all six of them and measured out the proper proportions for the gin and simple syrup into a large mixing bowl and filled a wonderful antique stoppered bottle I found at an estate sale. The bottle was full but there was more left in the bowl, enough to generously fill my cocktail shaker. There is a mysterious wonder in this world when all things become synchronous in this fashion.

I tossed in a few branches of basil and shook and shook and then sat down at my little kitchen table and poured myself my lovely drink. It was again a superb sunset, and I tarried there a while until the light dimmed and faded.

The full bottle is reposing in my fridge and I’ve been shaking it up when I see it as the lime pulp has floated to the top. I calculate I have a few more days in which to drink up this batch of gimlets, and what a fine few days they will be.  Best of all, I will definitely *not* get scurvy this month.

Cin Cin!

Recipe:  Gimlets with Basil

 

Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

We have a wonderfully talented group of food writers, bloggers, photographers and food lovers in the Bay Area and thanks to social media we know who we all are and, on occasion, we get together for some shenanigans.

Dolores_Park_photo_montage_panorama_2013-04-13_14-39

From Wikipedia Commons

This year I took on organizing a date for a picnic in San Francisco and chose Dolores Park for our venue. It’s usually sunny there, it has a great view of the city and is reasonably close to BART and other public transportation. The park is also right across the street to BiRite Creamery. A picnic with fun people, a pretty spot and decadent ice cream, it is such a winning combination.

The morning fog blew away pretty quickly and despite the stupidity of the City watering the lawn during the night (very soggy and muddy lawns) we had a very merry time.

Many lovely friends and new friends came to share in the afternoon and of course the food was terrific.  I made my favorite sangria and that was a big hit, and I could have doubled the quantity and still would have not made enough.   Next time I will bring two jugs worth, or six bottles of wine!
Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

It was one of those magical times when we were not playing with our phones *overmuch* or taking pictures constantly, we were in the moment and enjoying each other’s company, trading stories, singing goofy songs and talking about food and writing.  We did play some hilarious music on our phones, tucked into a red Solo cup for acoustical enhancement purposes.

Yes, it’s true, we were all singing Makin’ Bacon Pancakes, the New York remix, for way too long and it’s still in my head today.

Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

When the sangria ran out and the fog started to blow back in, we gathered up our soggy Mexican picnic blankets (funnily, almost everyone brought one) and headed to the long line at BiRite Creamery.
Insanely long line at BiRite but we don't care - sundaes!!!!

Despite the line being ridiculously long we were patient and chatty, and it really was worth the wait.  Just sampling their vast and unusual selection is worth a bit of catching up on life and people watching, and soon enough we all had our decadent ice cream treats in hand.  With frozen mouths and sunburned faces we chatted a bit more before scattering to our own destinations – Tartine, a tour of the Mission, BiRite Market, home.  We said farewell and until next time.

Picnics in the summer are my favorite thing to do and this time so many of my favorite people were there.  Thanks to everyone who attended and for your amazing and decadent treats!

Thanks to:
Faith – Blog Appetit
Diane  – Will Write For Food
Amy – Cooking with Amy
Owen – The World of Owen Rubin
Jenn – FootBat and EastWest Pastry
Lori and Doug – Fake Food Free
Deborah and friends – Lunch In A Box
Nathan – Knit1Eat1
Christian – Dad in the City
Jennifer and Baelson – Revel Kitchen
Orly and friends – Yumivore
(if I missed your name here, I’m so sorry!)

The Recipe:

Carmen Miranda Sangria – San Francisco Style

If you live in the Bay Area and want to join the Bay Area Food Bloggers group on Facebook, ask to join here, and also there is a Google group, ask to join here.  We are food writers, bloggers, photographers, culinary-minded entrepreneurs and food lovers.  We are also people who used to do all of the above (i.e., lapsed) but are still interested in food and culinary scene.  We connect to share opportunities, ask questions, get support and socialize.  These are not forums to promote yourself or your brand, however.

Grown Up Boozy Treats – Negroni Jelly

I was invited to attend a craft night by a local art and yarn shop this week. Our hostess provides wine and nibbles but welcomed contributions so naturally my thoughts turned to cocktails.  Knitting and drinking a cocktail is positively the best thing ever.

The Negroni is my favorite cocktail these days, equal parts of St. Georges Terroir gin or #209 gin, Campari and Carpano Antica sweet red Vermouth, stirred with ice and served up in a swanky glass with a bit of orange peel. The diehard Italians serve it over ice in a highball but I prefer it my way.

I drink alone, yeah, with no body else! #Georgeknows

It’s not often convenient to bring a cocktail shaker and ice and cocktail fixings with you to a craft night, especially when the venue is a comic book store, so why not resurrect the old 80’s favorite of Jello-O Shots in Negroni form? Since these are grown up boozy treats I like to call them jellies as the British do.

Negroni jelly is shockingly easy to make. Actually, I forgot to make these until about 12:45 am and rousted myself from bed and mixed them up in under 2 minutes.  I heated up a cup of water in a measuring cup, added a few pieces of orange zest and two packets of unflavored gelatin and microwaved it until the gelatin was completely dissolved. Every 20 seconds or so I would stir the mixture with a fork. Then, I poured this into my small casserole dish, and measured in equal parts of  #209 gin, Campari and Cinzano Rosso, gave it another stir with the fork, and put it in the fridge.

To serve, cut little cubes with a spatula, plop into a cup and serve.

Negroni jelly

I preferred to eat the jelly with my fingers, a kid at heart always!

Negroni jelly

Besides being visually stunning, their flavor was truly zingy.  The presence of the orange was lovely and subtle, the flavor of a good Negroni was really clear and the jelly had a pleasant, bitter tang of gin and Campari. We couldn’t stop eating them and wiggling them at each other.

The evening was really fun and a bit surreal.  We were a bunch of pretty girls (and one cool guy) sitting in a comic book store knitting and eating boozy jellies and sipping wine.  The regular customers were pretty cool about our being there but there was a distinct feeling of being in an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Although the Negroni jelly had a strong alcohol flavor it doesn’t really have much alcohol, so one can eat them with without compunction. I will be making more jellies of a boozy nature for the upcoming craft nights. What flavor should I do next?

Negroni Jelly

Cocktail Adventures with LUPEC

Like any urban lady I love sipping a well crafted cocktail. It was my pleasure to join an amazing group of ladies called LUPEC or Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails. Many members are bartenders or business owners or aficionados like myself and several of the members are some of my best friends.

At our last meeting we had the opportunity to try two fantastic cocktails. The first was a wonderful cocktail using Casa Noble Organic Reposado Tequila.

CN Reposado Angle

Casa Noble is located in Jalisco Mexico and uses blue agave for their tequila. You don’t find organic tequila very often and the Casa Noble tequila is quite special. The Reposado is aged for just under a year in French white oak barrels, like fine wine. Their Anejo tequila is aged between two to five years in the oak barrels. The Reposado tequila tasted more like a fine whiskey to me, smokey and oakey. A fun note about the distillery, they have partnered with famed rocker Carlos Santana. Not only does he make amazing music and sexy shoes for us ladies but now he makes tequila. I just love this guy, and he’s local too.

carlos

Casa noble

LUPEC met at Laszlo, which is a fun bar in the Mission district and the bartender there, Kevin, made a wonderful Old Fashioned for us using the Reposado tequila.

I have long loved the Old Fashioned cocktail, ever since the Commander of the US Power Squadron sat me down one day at the tender age of 12 and taught me how to make one. The Power Squadron is like a country club but for yachts and powerboats, and my late father was Commander for a time. The Commander I remember the most was a family friend and he would have us over to his home on the Peninsula often. The Old Fashioned was his favorite tipple and he was shocked that his favorite “bartender” only knew how to mix the perfect martini. I guess you could say I had rather of an Auntie Mame childhood, mixing cocktails for my family’s friends and guests.

For those of you unfamiliar with the cocktail, it’s a drink of a sugar cube dowsed with bitters and a few pieces of fruit or orange rind, muddled together in an old fashioned glass, named for the drink naturally. Whiskey and sometimes a dash of soda water are stirred in with a few large hunks of ice and garnished with more fruit. I used to carve out the ice myself with an ice pick and block ice because that’s the way he liked it. These days I love the silicon large format ice cube trays such as these from Tovolo.

Tequila old fashioned

You can vary the Old Fashioned by changing up the bitters or the whiskey, using American whiskey or rye, and now, using an aged tequila. What a great twist on an old favorite!

Kevin’s version used simple syrup instead of a sugar cube and although I am not sure what kind of bitters he used I am quite fond of either the Bitter Truth aromatic or orange bitters. This Old Fashioned had a mysterious and alluring smokiness to it from the oak barrels of the Reposado. The brandied cherry was a nice touch.

Square one

We were served another fun cocktail that night featuring vodka from Square One.

Square One is another organic distillery that I have enjoyed getting to know over the past two years. They use organic rye from the US to make their vodka and water from the Grand Tetons; it is so lovely and smooth. They infuse some of their vodka with unusual flavors and I am quite fond of the Basil infusion. It has organic Thai, lemon, Genovese and sweet basil varieties, plus a touch of organic coriander (cilantro), honeysuckle and lemongrass. It is very aromatic and unusual and makes great cocktails.

We were served a riff on the Last Word, called at Laszlo as the My Word and it was definitely refreshing and a little dangerous. One could have quite a lot of these on a thirsty night.

Both of the representatives for Casa Noble and Square One are delightful ladies and it was great fun to get to know them and sip their cocktails. I am hoping to add the Casa Noble Reposado and Anejo tequilas and the Square One Basil to my liquor collection for some cocktail play at home.

Make these yourself!

Reposado Tequila Old Fashioned

2 T water
1 lump of sugar —- or 1 tsp. agave nectar
Angostura bitters – or any bitters you like, there are some amazing ones, my current favorite is the Bitter Truth orange bitters
A 3” piece of orange peel, no pith (white part)
Ice
2 oz Casa Noble Organic Reposado tequila
Brandied cherries or maraschino cherries (or a piece of pineapple, a piece of orange or all of them)

Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in an tumbler. You can use agave syrup instead if you like or simple syrup. Add two dashes bitters and a piece of orange peel, but twist the orange peel first then rim the glass with it before placing it inside the cocktail glass. Muddle (smash gently) with a spoon for a few minutes. Add a large cube of ice (large format) or fill 1/3 way with ice cubes, add the tequila and stir well. Garnish with fruit. Sip!

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—–

Square One Basil My Word

3/4 oz. Square One Basil vodka
3/4 oz. yellow Chartreuse
3/4 oz. maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice

Mix all together in a shaker with ice, shake or stir well until very cold. Strain and serve up in a coupe or martini glass that has been chilled. Sip!

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A Day in the Sun

There is a kind of a euphoria that falls over me after having a migraine. I don’t know if it is the relief of not being in pain or if it is an increase of seratonin or if it is just a feeling of wellness after being unwell.

Whatever it is, after five full days of an evil migraine, today I am pain free and feeling happy.

20130427-182458.jpg20130427-182631.jpg(Peruvian riff on a mule and a piña pisco punch)

I was able to sit in the sun and have a lovely brunch with a friend and relax and chat about food and family and enjoy being outside. It was a bit surreal, is this what normal feels like?

20130427-182816.jpg(I enjoyed the montadito burrata without the egg)

In this euphoric state I have a lingering feeling of lassitude, a bone deep fatigue that lifts off like a wisp of ash floating up from an ember. There is a mental vagueness, which is problematic during the work week, but on the weekend I just go with the flow. Sitting in the sun and slowly eating and sipping and watching the buzz of the Bay was just the right speed. The patio at La Mar is a very pleasant spot.

20130427-183023.jpg(a super chifa)

20130427-183252.jpg(yes, it’s true, I ate and enjoyed brussel sprouts but there was candied bacon involved)

After brunch I made my farewells to my dear friend and strolled to the Ferry Building to play. I only had simple decisions to make today. Should I buy some burrata and bread? Yes. Should I treat myself to a salted caramel vegan donut for breakfast tomorrow? Yes, yes. Do I forgo dinner and just nosh on a meat cone from Boccalone and the bread and cheese? YES Please! Should I rest when I get home. Oh, yes. Most assuredly.

Should I buy a stuffed chicken for the Roost? Hmmm, I’m still thinking on this one.

20130427-183630.jpg

I am slightly sunburned after brunch and still stiff and sore all over, part of the effects of the postdrome migraine phase, but it’s all good. I have the entire weekend to relax.

Chicken Mock Pot Pie

It was one of those nights. I came home from work cranky, sore, hungry, and exceedingly broke.

I surveyed the emptiness of my refrigerator and found a partial carcass of a roasted chicken from the other night and spotted a box of Bisquick stashed in the corner of the pantry. Perfect, it’ll be a mock chicken pot pie kind of night.

20130306-185434.jpg

I made myself Negroni, because of course I have all the ingredients for that, but no vegetables, for Pete’s sake I am even out of pepper. But I muster onwards, sipping a few sips of my cocktail made me feel a little better, they also accentuated the urge to have something decent and slightly hearty for dinner.

I looked in the freezer and found a little bit of frozen spinach and some frozen corn kernels and spread those in the bottom of one of my beautiful oval casseroles. I picked out most of the meat from the chicken carcass and added all of the pan juices and sauce from the chicken into the casserole. This went into the oven to get bubbly, while I pulled out that ubiquitous box of Bisquick. I measured out the mix and grated in some cheddar cheese and sprinkled in as much black pepper as I could from the tiny porcelain chicken salt-and-pepper set that I keep on my dining table. I mixed up the biscuit dough with my hands and patted it rather flat between my palms and laid it on top of the casserole filling.

My chicken mock pot pie went into my convection oven while I relaxed at the kitchen table finishing up the latest issue of Lucky Peach. The aromas of Campari, orange and gin were slowly eclipsed by the baking smells of biscuits, cheese, and chicken.

20130306-185557.jpg

This is certainly not haute cuisine but it is wonderful comfort food and I’m grateful to be able to cook a decent dinner out of my pantry. I am grateful for a pantry full of great things, including very fine gin.

Nine more days until payday!

hal’s Negroni

Honey Heaven

I am a California girl and literally grew up in a land of milk and honey. My mom was conscientious in her grocery shopping from the local co-op and we ate a lot of local products including some of the finest honey that our little bee friends produce.

(Photo courtesy of the National Honey Board)

Most of our honey was orange blossom or clover and occasionally we would be treated to honey in the comb, to be chewed on slowly like gum until little pellets of beeswax were left behind to be genteelly spit out (or not so genteelly, like when my sister and I fought like little animals, bee wax pellets were the perfect sticky projectiles).

As an adult doing my own grocery shopping I became a regular customer at the Marshall’s honey stand at the farmer’s market. There were so many different varieties of honey to sample, including my childhood favorites, and new ones very local to San Francisco, such as star thistle (we knew they had to be good for some purpose), eucalyptus and cappings honey. Cappings honey is the honey cut from the end of the combs which has a naturally thick and creamy texture. I began to use bee propolis which is the royal jelly and pollen, to help my allergies.

Honey is an ancient food,l and a natural preservative. Archeologists have found preserved honey in Egyptian tombs that albeit rather petrified was still edible after thousands of years. Honey in its natural state stays perfectly well for a long time, and if it crystalizes one can re-melt it and it will be no worse for the wear. In itself honey is a perfect food.

(Photo courtesy of the National Honey Board)

I was so delighted to be invited to a cooking demonstration and honey tasting party by the National Honey Board. The amazing New Orleans born pastry chef David Guas has his own cafe and bakery in Virginia, the Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery. He is on a tour for the National Honey Board to share the versatility and varieties of honey and a few local writers, media and bloggers were treated to a lovely event at the fabulous Ketchum test kitchens. Chef David is honey collector and advocate and is so impassioned and enthusiastic about honey that despite my inherent love for honey I was motivated to expand my honey collection even more.


Isn’t he a honey?

It was an intimate, casual event, and Chef David visited with us as we sampled some of his signature recipes prepared for the National Honey Board, such as a Tropical Honey Coconut Water Cooler made with tropical fruits, coconut water and toasted coconut on top. We had little bites of walnut bread topped with slim slices of blue cheese and drizzled with buckwheat honey, and Chef David’s “Crunchy” Honey Toasted Almond Spread on celery sticks.

After catching up with our friends and getting to know Chef David we proceeded into the Ketchum test kitchen, my how I wish I could just move right into that glorious room!

Chef David had six pots of honey laid out on a counter and we were given a chance to sample each type of honey in a blind tasting. What a challenge this was to apply a wine tasting lexicon to the subtleties of honey, but it turned out to be a revelatory experience. The range of flavors, textures and aromas in each honey sample was so different, and between sips of water we tried to guess the varietal of the source pollen based on the flavor profiles. Very few of us had accurate guesses and it was fascinating to hear how each of us interpreted the flavors of the honey.

(Photo courtesy of National Honey Board)

Here are some more unusual varietals of honeys from the United States, some of which I had never tried before:

AVOCADO
Primarily produced in California, avocado honey is gathered from avocado blossoms. It is a well-rounded honey with a rich, buttery flavor and a flowery aftertaste.

BASSWOOD
Basswood honey has a fresh taste suggestive of green, ripening fruit. It is often characterized by its distinctive lingering flavor.

BLUEBERRY
Taken from the tiny white flowers of the blueberry bush, the nectar makes a light, amber-colored honey with a moderate fruity flavor and the aroma of green leaves. It is produced in New England and Michigan.

BUCKWHEAT
Typically produced in Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as Eastern Canada, buckwheat honey is dark and full-bodied. It has been found to contain more antioxidant compounds than some lighter honeys.

CLOVER
Clovers contribute more to honey production in the United States than any other group of plants, with Red clover, Alsike clover, and the white and yellow sweet clovers the most important for honey production. Clover honey varies in color from clear to light amber and has a sweet, flowery flavor and a pleasing, mild taste.

EUCALYPTUS
There are over 500 varieties of eucalyptus plants with the majority found in Australia and Canada. Eucalyptus honey varies greatly in color and flavor but tends to be a stronger flavored honey. Some eucalyptus honeys have a slight menthol flavor and scent.

FIREWEED
Fireweed honey is light in color and comes from fireweed, a perennial herb that grows immediately following a forest fire. Primarily produced in the Northern Pacific states and Canada, fireweed honey is a delicate, sweet honey with subtle, tea-like notes.

ORANGE BLOSSOM
Orange Blossom honey, often from a combination of citrus sources, is usually light in color and mild in flavor with a fresh scent and light citrus taste. Orange blossom honey is produced in Florida, Southern California and parts of Texas.

SAGE
Sage honey, primarily produced in California, is light in color and heavy-bodied, with a mild but delightful flavor. It is extremely slow to granulate, making it a favorite among honey packers for blending with other honeys to slow down granulation.

SOURWOOD
Sourwood trees can be found in the Appalachian Mountains from Southern Pennsylvania to Northern Georgia. Sourwood honey has a sweet, spicy, anise aroma and flavor with a pleasant lingering aftertaste.

TUPELO
Tupelo honey is a premium honey produced in northwest Florida. It is heavy-bodied with a mild, distinctive taste, and is usually light golden amber with a greenish cast. Because of the high fructose content in Tupelo honey, it granulates very slowly.

WILDFLOWER
Wildflower honey is often used to describe honey from undefined sources.

Source: http://www.Honey.com | http://www.Honey Locator.com

Chef David fired up the glorious Viking range and started his cooking demonstration to illustrate the incredible diversity honey has in the kitchen, beyond spreading on hot buttered biscuits or stirring into tea.

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We perched convivially on stools around the capacious islands in the test kitchen, our attention rapt as Chef David toasted slivered almonds and then whirred them into a creamy almond butter spread. He used copious amounts of honey to caramelize more toasted almonds in a saute pan with a little butter then mixed quickly with corn flakes for a super crunchy tasty almond crunch to sprinkle on top of the almond butter filled celery boats.

He confessed the almond and cornflake crunch doesn’t last for very long in his house because of his voracious little boys, but it would keep quite well and crunchily for over a week.

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Chef David then whisked together a quick creamy salad dressing with honey and tossed this with halved flame grapes and slivered almonds and peppery baby rocket for a refreshing and delicious salad. I imagined adding chunks of leftover roasted chicken or turkey for a faux Waldorf salad for a fast summer supper.

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His next demonstration made me feel he was near and dear to my heart. Chef David honey glazed bacon slices in the oven, and turned them into crispy-chewy honey glazed BLTs. Holy cow, was this ever fantastic. The honey flavor really showed well against the smoked bacon flavor and I mentally kicked myself for not trying this sooner with my pig candy experiments.

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Chef David then showed us his simple yet scrumptious honey brined pork chop with a honey whole-grain mustard sauce. Brining pork chops is a standard for many, including myself, but brining chops using honey instead of sugar imparts all the complexities of the honey into the pork and obviates the need to add additional flavorings such as fruits, herbs and aromatics.

The brined chop was seared in a pan and finished in the oven and removed to a platter to rest. The pan drippings, or fond, were dissolved in water and dollops of honey and whole grained mustard were added to reduce for a quick pan sauce. I don’t think even Wordsworth could describe the sweet, savory and meaty nuances this pork had in each juice bite. Pure heaven.

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Honey has been used largely for desserts and Chef David gave us his favorite and show stopping honey lemon cheesecake dessert pops. Imagine an eggless cheesecake with Meyer lemon zest but in a popsicle form, resting on a huge platter of buttery crispy honey graham cracker crumb crunch. One picks up the creamy, glistening pop half coated in crunchy crumbs and nibbles this confection slowly off the popsicle stick. His sentiment, “Everything tastes better on a stick” is something I have said for years and it was such a playful and friendly dessert, so very charming in its simplicity and the flavor of honey was perfectly highlighted. I may never eat regular cheesecake again.

The combination of honey and almonds in the demonstration recipes is not a coincidence. Besides producing honey the honey bee has an enormous role in California and the world’s agriculture by pollination. Almond trees, for example, are solely pollinated by bees, so if the bees did not exist we would never have an almond.

The news has been filled with the collapse of bee hives throughout the world and the scientists are still trying to figure out the cause and how to prevent this tragedy from continuing, for the sake of our bees and for the future of agriculture. Some speculate is it due to a mite infection in the hive, others blame pesticides and genetically modified crops (GMO) such as those created by Monsanto. There is an interesting article about Monsanto buying the world’s largest bee research firm here, one wonders what this means about their future veracity.

This is an important issue to stay informed on and I hope as you enjoy your next bite of something in the kitchen with honey, or try some honey in the comb you think about the magic that our bees produce and what we as responsible consumers need to do to help preserve our bee population. Please support your local honey producers and buy directly from them whenever possible.

Chef David Guas’s Recipes:

Tropical Honey Coconut Water Cooler

“Crunchy” Honey Toasted Almond Spread

Grape and Almond Salad with Honey Yogurt Dressing

Honey-Candied Bacon & Lettuce Sandwich

Honey and Whole Grain Mustard-Glazed Pork Chop

Honey BBQ Pulled Chicken on Buttermilk Biscuits

Honey BBQ Sauce

Buttermilk Biscuits

Honey-Lemon Cheesecake Pops

Resources:

For more information about honey, honey bees and recipes, please visit the National Honey Board

To learn more about the different varieties of honey and what is harvested near you, visit the Honey Locator

Infusion Class at The Fifth Floor

Out of the wealth of fantastic restaurants in San Francisco I have a few favorites and the Fifth Floor is ranked highly among them.

Their burger – bourbon – beer special is a frequent indulgence and Chef David Bazirgan’s treatment of foie gras is incomparable. Foie mousse stuffed buratta – foie-ratta! It is the most luscious thing ever on a plate.

When I heard through friends that Chef Bazirgan was going to teach an infusion class I had to go, no matter what.

I hailed a cab and hobbled over to the Fifth Floor, which is located in the Hotel Palomar, and entered the lounge during the daylight hours. It was a very weird feeling to see the place with so much light and empty except for our exclusive group.

What a delightful afternoon this turned out to be and I expected no less.  Most of the other attendees are friends from Twitter and from various food and cocktail events around town. I love how Twitter and Facebook has brought so many of us together, where before in a large city we may have otherwise not met.  My network expands all of the time – it is rather like witnessing the Big Bang theory in action.

Chef David and his bar manager, Brian Means, greeted us with a glass of sparkling wine and ushered us into the dining room where a demonstration table was set up with rows of comfy chairs.

Brian started things off with a tangy aged Pink Elephant, a cocktail of Beefeater gin, lemon, Small Hands pineapple gum, Rosato vermouth, orange bitters and smoked Absinthe.  This concoction was aged for two weeks to mellow the flavors. The Absinthe was smoked using a smoker gun.

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A few of these and you will see pink elephants.

Chef David showed us the smoker gun for a treatment of egg yolks. He forages for Douglas fir needles and other necessary herbs in his kitchen from their rooftop garden, various areas in San Francisco including the Presidio and the San Bruno mountains.

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Chef David firing the smoking gun assisted by Amy

Chef loaded the smoker gun with the Douglas fir and inserted the output nozzle into a hotel pan filled with fresh, raw egg yolks and sealed the pan with plastic wrap. The container fills with a thick fog of smoke and the egg yolks are infused with the aromatic scent for 30 minutes. Then the yolks are delicately transferred to a plastic bag filled with a dab of olive oil and sea salt and cooked in a sous vide (temperature controlled immersion bath) at 165 F for 45 minutes.  The softly cooked egg yolks are whisked to a creamy consistency with a bit of neutral oil and used on a beautiful shaved asparagus salad, which is on the regular tasting menu, or, for today, as a dollop on top of a tiny crostini with a quenelle of beef tartare.

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beef tartare crostini with Douglas fir smoked egg

Although I was not able to indulge in this little bite my friends assured me it was fantastic, with the smoke displaying as a subtle enhancement to the creamy egg.

The absinthe for the cocktail was infused with smoke in much the same way, although we were not privy to the organic material used to create the smoke.  Chef recommended purchasing a smoking gun at Polyscience, where they can be had for under $100 or locally at TriMark Economy Restaurant Fixtures on 7th Street.

Our next demonstration was something that many of us love but perhaps don’t think of as an infusion – miso soup.   The base for a miso soup is dashi, which is an infusion of konbu (seaweed) and bonita (tuna flakes).  Chef purchases his ingredients at the same shop I do in Japantown and he uses the best konbu and bonita he can find.  Because the packaging for these products are in kanji therefore naturally we have no idea which products Chef purchased, but I always follow the lead of older Japanese ladies when I shop for my dashi ingredients.

Chef noted that dashi is an essential, simple and yet subtle infusion, and his recipe (end of post) is a classic preparation.  He soaks the konbu  in fresh water for 30 minutes, then gently simmers this for 10 minutes.  Then, he removes the konbu and lets the infusion reduce for about 5 minutes over high heat.  The shaved bonita flakes are added to the hot infusion and allowed to steep for 10 minutes and then it is strained.

In a small bowl he mixes together the miso paste, using  3:1 red to yellow miso and then a ladleful of the hot dashi is whisked in, and the loosened paste is added to the rest of the dashi.  At this point your miso soup is ready to serve, and it is a question of what kind of garnish you would like to use.  This being the Fifth Floor the garniture was exquisite. Chef prepared pickled shitake shreds, cubed tofu, foraged seaweeds, onion blossom buds from the roof garden and daikon micro greens.

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fancy garniture for miso soup, Fifth Floor style

Chef David ladled the miso into teapots for ease of serving to the class, but it is also a clever way to serve to your own guests, as the teapot keeps the soup very warm and it has great panache.

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an elegant way to serve a simple soup

The chattering in the room ceased except for appreciative murmurs from everyone. Amy and Brian lined up for a cupful and Chef took a moment to enjoy some too, having had a really busy week between the usual filled nights at the restaurant, the Share Our Strength event Thursday and the foie gras dinner at Alexander’s the night before. We agreed that miso was our go-to soup when feeling draggy or under the weather. To me, it is far more satisfying than even chicken matzo.

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beautiful miso soup – warm, comforting and restorative

As the food section of the infusion class drew to a close, Chef David passed around a pot of eucalyptus infused oil that he made by crushing branches of young eucalyptus from the Presidio and allowing it to steep with a neutral oil, such as canola. He uses this light and floral oil as a finish to some of his dishes. I was surprised that it did not have any tinge of menthol, just a very pleasant herbiness with a familiarity that comes from growing up driving through the Presidio.  He also discussed the common and classic of infused vinegars but did not want to demonstrate them because, knowing we are “foodies” he felt this particular demonstration would be superfluous.

Since the class was so informal it was such a treat to have the opportunity to chat food with a chef of this caliber. He made a delicious razor clam ceviche for the Share our Strength event and an attendee inquired about his source for clams, which turned out to be very close to her hometown on the east coast. Another person asked about his contribution to the foie gras dinner the night before so Chef David pulled out his iPad and showed off his photo gallery, which is also available to view on Instagram.  He and his wife are also expecting his first baby quite soon.  Mazeltov!

With a fresh pour of sparkling wine in our glasses, and for me a little help from Amy with my purse, we transitioned over to the lounge to discuss infused spirits and tinctures with the Bar Manager Brian Means.

Brian had a large trolley filled with interesting dropper bottles of various mysterious ingredients, little containers of spices and herbs and a huge glass barrel of lemoncello.

Brian started off by discussing the commonly known infusions in the world of finely crafted cocktails, namely vermouth, bitters and infused vodkas.

He demonstrated a unique use for vermouth, namely Aperol, an Italian aperitif similar to Campari.  He brought around a tray filled with Asian soup spoons, and nestled into each spoon was a egg yolk shaped sphere of a pale jade hue with bright red bits of what looked like tobiko scattered over the top. This was fact an Aviation cocktail formed into a sphere with crunchy bits of dehydrated Aperol.

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The Aviation is a well-known cocktail in San Francisco (and elsewhere) comprising gin, maraschino liqueur and usually egg whites, but this time the liqueurs were mixed with sodium alginate, a form of powdered seaweed, and formed into a sphere using a calcium lactate solution which creates the skin of the sphere. Fun stuff indeed! The Aviation ball popped in the mouth and then the bitter and crunchy bits of the dehydrated Aperol provided the final KaPow of sensation.

Next dessert wine glasses filled with a golden liquid were delivered to our waiting hands.  The fragrant scent of lemons filled our heads as we sipped Brian’s housemade lemoncello (recipe below) made from Greek lemons.

This was heady stuff and after all that we had imbibed so far most everyone was sipping this slowly.  Brian makes an infusion of peeled Greek lemons with Everclear, a very high-alcohol spirit (known as moonshine back in my youth but now available commercially).  The peels sit on the alcohol for several weeks then are strained and diluted with sugar syrup.

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Lemonhead time – lemoncello, a classic liqueur originally from Sicily 

The color is achieved purely by the duration of the peels infusing with the alcohol. Meyer lemons are also wonderful for this concoction or any citrus fruit peel can be used for a different effect. I immediately thought of kumquats and plan to make up a batch once I see them in the market again.

Vermouths are infusions of herbs and spices that are blended into red or white wine, sweetened or not.  A common herb in vermouth is gentian, which I had always associated with the color violet (look at your crayon box!) but is a traditional herb used as a tonic.

Another common infusion is bitters, which are technically tinctures. In older times before advanced medicines, the local quack or healer would make tinctures of healing herbs and spices to treat ailments.  Today, they are a base for many cocktails and are a very potent infusion of herbs and spices and alcohol.  Brian passed around his collection of housemade tinctures:  black pepper, habanero, espresso, cinnamon, lemon, vanilla (same as a vanilla extract), black walnut, cherry, and my personal favorite, candy cap mushroom.   The base for tinctures does not have to be Everclear, bourbon and rum are often more suitable for a base depending upon the ingredient to be infused. Brian’s favorite tincture is a citrus bitter (recipe below).

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I could not get enough of this tincture, candy cap mushrooms in a bourbon base

The final infusion Brian discussed is a newcomer to most of the cocktail crowd, fat washing. I have had a lot of experience with this when I created bacon bourbon and bacon vodka several years ago. Bacon fat is added to the alcohol base and left to infuse for a few days. The mixture is then frozen to allow the fat to be removed easily, and after straining a few times through cheesecloth the mixture is ready to use.    My fat washed bourbon made the best bacontini.

Brian, of course, takes fat washing to another level by making infusions of roasted pecans with butter infused into bourbon, or coffee beans and cacao nibs with Everclear.  I really want to try making butter pecan bourbon once I figure out this allergy-intolerance business.

Brian recommended a wonderful book, which I have in my collection, the Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. I think it is an essential to any cook or food and cocktail enthusiast. He sources his amazing collection of herbs and spices from Scarlet Sage Herb Company in SF, or the Rainbow Market. There is a shop in Berkeley as well but as I am rarely there I didn’t jot down the name, my apologies.

Brian was so kind to gift us all with a bottle of his habanero bitters. I am compiling food and drink ideas to use with this vial of liquid volcano with a fruity edge.

We lingered for a while over the last of our lemoncello and wandered out into the bright blinking daylight for a cocktail and snack at Jasper’s to decompress and have more conversations about the wonderful world of infusions.

I hope you enjoy Chef David and Brian’s recipes, I am going to make the bitters after my next grocery store run. The Fifth Floor will be hosting another infusion class in either April or May and I highly recommend you snap up a ticket once they announce the dates.

RECIPES:

Chef David Bazirgan’s Fifth Floor Miso Soup (includes Dashi)

Brian Means’ Fifth Floor Lemoncello

Brian Means’ Fifth Floor Citrus Bitters