Tag Archives: gin

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

 

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

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.

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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.

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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

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