Friday, December 30, 2011

Holiday Cocktails, Part II

Please, come have a drink with me!

The new year is upon us, and I hope it's not cliché but I'm making quite a few resolutions for the first month of the year. Mostly about cleansing my system: I am giving up alcohol, meat, dairy and sugar for two weeks, and the two following weeks will be a slow re-entry back to those things. I have never, ever given up sugar and to be perfectly frank, I am petrified. I am also working on other things in my life, both physically (be more active in the winter) and emotionally (be more grateful). I often don't give New Year's too much sway in my life, but this year I'm feeling it a bit more. I really, really want to be a better me. There's no quitting involved here, but there is a pause I feel is necessary.

But! I've still got one more day to revel in the indulgent things. And they are really good things. A while back the really great people at No. 3 Gin London Dry Gin sent me a spectacular present. Not only a bottle of No. 3 Gin, but bonus, The King's Ginger, an amazing ginger liqueur. They wanted to know if my Calamondin Cocktail would suit the No. 3 well. I have good news, it did all that and more. The No. 3 Gin is a really fine gin: smooth, herbaceous and warm with a piney juniper bite to it. It makes a mean dry martini, but it also mixes well, which to be honest, I was surprised by.

It really makes you want to kick back...
The King's Ginger is amazing, I was really impressed with it. It would make a great hot toddy, and in all truthiness, the thought did cross my mind that next time I was sick with a cold, I might need a shot of it. It's that good, and I think it even may be good for you. Listen, lest you roll your eyes at me, alcohol is a tonic! I am sure I will be revisiting The King's Ginger in this blog. I think it might figure into some jam recipes down the road.

[Please note:  I loved receiving these gifts, but my opinions are my own. If it wasn't good stuff, I wouldn't be talking about it.]


King's Ginger, No. 3 Gin, citrus syrup and a gin cordial*

This is a drink that is sure to satisfy the preserver and drinker alike. After you've made candied citrus peels, you are left with a lot of lovely citrus-y syrup, thick and very sweet. I find it a lovely thing to put in a cocktail, but sparingly. This is not a simple syrup. If you don't have candied citrus syrup (which you may indeed not) use a nice soft marmalade instead. If you have a firm marmalade, heat it up a bit before using it to soften it, and keep the chunks in. The bitter-citrus-sweet of a marmalade added to a drink is a natural! In this situation, it marries well with both the ginger and the gin.

Maybe it's my impending cleanse that's making me think thoughts like this, but I sat down and really thought about how this drink made me feel. This macrobiotic book I like always tells you to be thoughtful about how the food feels or makes you feel. Well, this drink made me feel warm, a swell to the chest, my throat felt warm and my forehead tingly. Isn't that what a cocktail ought to do? (It might have helped that I was watching Ernie Kovacs at the time. Have you ever? Watching even a few minutes will make anyone feel a tad altered. I do think Ernie would have approved.)

The Gin-Gin

1 ounce of No. 3 Gin
1 ounce of The King's Ginger
1 spoonful of candied citrus syrup (between a teaspoon and tablespoon, depending on your tastes) or a simple marmalade
soda water

Mix the gin, the King's Ginger and the syrup in a tall glass of ice and stir well. Strain into a small coupe glass. I like to top it with a splash of soda water, but you could pass on this. Garnish with a piece of candied ginger, candied citrus, both, or just a slice of orange peel. This will make one or two small cocktails, depending on your glass size. Mine are ridiculously small, but I like that. Trying to keep it together here, people.


This is a standard Gibson, but I used slices of pickled red onions for it, instead of pearl onions. There are a million recipes for pickled red onions, but here's one from David Lebovitz or Simply Recipes, two fine resources. You should always have them in the fridge. They are a sandwich, and cocktail, staple.

The Preserver's Gibson

1 ounce of gin
a whisper of vermouth
a few thin slices of red onion pickles

Mix gin and vermouth in a large glass of ice. Stir that up! Strain into a nice martini glass, and garnish with some pickle slices. Sometimes I slip in a little bit of the brine.

* Did you see that quart jar of gin cordial? A dear friend with fabulous taste gave that to me for the holidays. It's a gin cordial with clementine, kumquat, coriander and black pepper. Wow! I think she based it on this recipe from the always inspiring Melissa Clark.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bigos, or Polish Hunter's Stew

Winter solstice is here, and the shortest day and longest night is upon us. I love celebrating this event, because it means we are on the way back to longer and warmer days. Even though it won't feel like it's happening for a long time, it's still happening. The days will soon be getting longer.

As we dip into the thick of winter, I have noticed that now is also when the freezer and cupboards start to take a hit. The freezer is already low, and I will have to start looking for good prices on good local meat, in large quantities, which is how I generally work it. I was hoping for a friend to get a doe or two this season, and I was going to help her break it down. I was really excited for this: venison kielbasa, venison salami! But it didn't happen. Deer season came and went. That's when I thought I might make rabbit. I've been thinking of rabbit for a while now. And I searched high and low, but no luck.

What I was looking to make was buttermilk fried rabbit, a recipe from Georgia Pellegrini's new book, Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time. An advance copy was recently sent to me by the publisher and I inhaled it, as fast as I could, ready to make one of these recipes.  But, the only place that had rabbit, had it frozen and $10 a pound, and I just couldn't pay $30 for rabbit. It seemed ironic to me that driving home the other day I passed a rabbit on my street that had been hit by a car. It's not a common sighting in my neighborhood, although we do have rabbits around. I couldn't help but to think, as it was quite fresh, hmmm. Is that my rabbit? But, I'm not that hardcore, and I do have a couple of squeamish bones in my body, so I declined the free meat. My fear made me think of Georgia, and her book, and what she does. One of the notes I wrote to myself as I read the sneak peak at her book was this: that woman does not look away. She is incredibly brave. She does it in a very subtle manner, so that you don't notice her grit, but once you start thinking about it you see it everywhere. There's also this: she's a great writer, of stories and recipes.

The book is laid out, somewhat similarly to her first book, Food Heroes, as journeys that focus on a type of game that she learns to hunt. There are colorful characters, mostly men, and Georgia  holds her own among them. It's a gripping and solemn book despite the somewhat tongue-in-cheek title, mostly because she takes it so seriously, both the hunting and the ethics behind what she's doing. There is some fun, a hunt across the pond that sounded like a lot of fun, and lots of whiskey drinking (though it seems no one gets drunk). I did wish I heard about some other women hunters, because they are out there. But, it's not a how-to or an overview, it's one woman's personal foray into the world of hunting,  and how it takes over her life. Let's not forget: there are many fine recipes, both for the game she hunts and their accompaniments, brines and sauces, etc. The last thirty pages or so of the book are really a quite fabulous cookbook.

As I continue to make my way in a life that favors a peasant-y, home made and home grown foods, I have often wondered when I might consider hunting. One of the things I want to start with is fishing. I'll be honest and say that I'm not sure I could be a good hunter. But I do know I am a decent home butcher, so maybe that's a start. Hunting seems to have gotten a bad rap over the past fifty years, and I wish industrialized meat had gotten it instead. Maybe we can work on that.

In the meantime, instead of rabbit or venison, today I'm making Bigos, the Polish hunter's stew, I think it's a fitting meal for a short, cold day and a nod to the hunter. Traditionally, Bigos was a winter dish, sometimes left on the stove to cook for a week, new ingredients added as they were taken out. It was also something served on the 2nd day of Christmas, so I am close. There is no set way to make it, or at least according to me, you may disagree if you are Polish! Lots of meat and lots of cabbage is the general rule. Some folks use tomatoes, I never do. I used only ham hocks for this one, but pork shoulder, sausage (kielbasa, of course) and bacon is the norm. I found that the ham I made over the summer goes very well in this, too, which is good because I've got a ton of ham steaks in the freezer.


2 medium onions, chopped coarsely
2 carrots, peeled and chopped in two (go ahead and dice if you like, I prefer large chunks of carrot)
2 medium potatoes, peeled, diced
1 medium head of cabbage, sliced finely for a nice shred
1 to 2 cups of sauerkraut
meat: kielbasa, bacon, ham hock, ham steak, venison, etc., fresh or cooked, chopped how you like it
salt and pepper to taste
secret ingredient: 1-2 tablespoons of candied pickled apples (recipe from Liana Krissoff's wonderful book, Canning for a New Generation. I can't live without this stuff!)

Sauté the onions in olive oil (or bacon fat, if you have it) until golden brown. Add the meat, and brown it. In my case, I used one large ham hock, so I just put it in on top of the onions and started adding everything around it. After browning---less if the meat is cooked already, like ham or kielbasa, a little more if it needs to be cooked---add all the rest of the ingredients. (It will be cooking for an hour or two, so no worries about being cooked through.) At this point you could take the whole shebang to a slow cooker to finish it off, which I sometimes do, with great results. Otherwise, keep it in your pot or Dutch or French oven, and cover it, keeping it at a low simmer. The cabbage will release it's water and create a great broth. You don't want too much liquid, as bigos is a dry-ish stew. Cook it for about an hour and a half. The potatoes and carrots should be tender. If you are willing to last longer, go for three hours. That's why the crock pot is nice.

Traditionally, bigos is served with mashed potatoes. Obviously, I don't do this, and instead put my potatoes right in the stew, making this a one pot (or maybe two) dish. When it's ready, I just serve hot bowls of it, with some warmed rye bread and butter.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sugar Drop Cookies with Cornmeal and Olive Oil

I had high hopes for this holiday season. When I posted about my holiday cocktails, I was just swinging into it. Then I got this miserable cold that clutched my bronchi for two weeks. The whole family got it, of course, and that means no sleep when you most need it. So, boo-hoo, right? I'm better now, but the season seems to have soured for me. I've never been one much for Christmas, to be very honest, and the only reason I am now starting to be swayed by it's glitter and sweets and mystery is that my son is just starting to be enthralled by it. How can I not enjoy that sparkle in his eyes when he sees trees lit up?

What I really do enjoy celebrating now though, is the solstice. It's a quiet celebration, one spent walking one of the nearby preserves. More and more, as I get older and especially now that I get up so early, I look forward to the darkest day with much anticipation. I feel as if there is something to said in that. Welcoming the darkest day, as it slowly creeps towards us, feels like something powerful. To really accept the winter fully and respect it for what it is, the only way we can reach renewal, to return to the green.

It's not that I wasn't deeply affected by Christmas myself as a child. Buying a tree, standing it in the foyer with the old red towel, decorating it. Begging my parents for tinsel which was considered vulgar. Wrapping up sticks I found in the yard for my dog, Moro. We got clementines in our stocking, and pieces of coal, as well, my parents making sure to not let us think we were that good. I think I remember taping a few Christmases, with a tape recorder, then a new-fangled technology for us. We always ate fish on New Year's Eve, smelts and octopus in keeping with the Italian tradition of the feast of seven fishes. Breakfast was usually homemade croissants that I helped form with my mother the day before. We always made gingerbread men, which I never truly loved to eat, but I always enjoyed dressing them with raisin buttons. Anise cookies, Pfeffernüsse and the requisite rolled sugar cookies were also in our cookie rotation.

In keeping with the age old cookie-making tradition, we've been making cookies nearly every day. My son is at the age now that he really loves to measure out the flour and spoonfuls of various leavening and spices. The funny thing is that he rarely eats the cookies we make! I've been bringing them around to friends because otherwise I'll eat them all. These cookies are a riff on the jam-filled thumbkins that folks like me (who have a cupboard full of jams, that is) like to make. They are lightly sweet with a toothsome chew from the cornmeal. Best of all, they are incredibly easy to make!

Sugar Drop Cookies with Cornmeal and Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

2 cups AP flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, not a finely ground one
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt

Mix the dry ingredients. Mix the wet ingredients, below, in a separate bowl.

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of cherry pit liqueur or almond extract

Add the wet to dry ingredients, as you mix it will change from a smooth thick batter to a somewhat dry dough. Using a measuring tablespoon, scoop out balls of dough, roll them between your palms, roll them in extra sugar, and place them on your parchment paper covered tray. I like to use my measuring teaspoon to indent a bowl shaped pit in the middle of the cookie dough ball. Then I use that spoon to fill with jam. I used a fig fennel vanilla jam, which went amazingly well with the dough, and a raspberry jam, which was pretty but seeped a little. Use a jam that's firm, and not syrupy or it will seep into the cookie and not look as pretty. I covered them with sliced almonds. Bake them for 10 to 12 minutes.

While you are at the cookie thing, check out Tigress' virtual cookie party (tonight!) and cook book giveaway. She is giving away a bunch of amazing books, and there will be cookie camaraderie to boot. You can bet I will be there, with a plate packed with cookies!

Branches from the yard dressed up until we get a tree.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Smoked Deviled Eggs

Nope, I didn't make the salami, but that's next. Photo: Peter Genzer.

This post is a fond farewell to Charcutepalooza, The Year of Meat. You'll remember how back in January a frenzy over all things cured, smoked, brined and stuffed among other things began to bubble over here. Herewith are my posts for 9 months out of 12. It was about August when things started falling apart due to preserving, not to mention starting a small jam company, but there was plenty of good stuff that happened before that.

January: Duck Prosciutto
February: Bacon, Guanciale
March: Corned Beef
April: Smoked Trout and Bluefish
May: Breakfast and Dinner Sausage
June: Sweet, Sweet Italian Sausage
July: Bratwurst
August: Bacon, Smoked Ham, Ham Hocks, Live Paté Even, But No Terrine!
September: Fine Live Paté

The final challenge is to show off, and although I didn't quite do that, I did feel that a small soirée I had recently brought together some of the things I made and learned over the course of the year. I served Fine Liver Paté studded with pistachios, served with pickled red okra and homemade mustard. Smoked bluefish salad. And the center piece was smoked pulled pork, a mash up of Momofuku's pulled pork recipe that Yummy Supper turned me onto and Ruhlman and Polcyn's pulled pork recipe from Charcuterie.

(Notes on the pork: I basically followed the Momofuku recipe, except that I smoked the meat for the first three hours of cooking time using hickory chips, at a temperature of 250 degrees. The liquid left in the pot after the oven roasting time is pure gold, and you can dip bread into it while drunkenly standing around the stovetop, or you can save it. Or both! It will turn into jelly with a layer of fat on top. Scrape the fat off, maybe cook some potatoes in it. The jelly makes an amazing base for a smoky, meaty cauliflower cheddar soup.)

But the revelation was the hickory smoked deviled eggs. While I smoked the meat I tossed in two dozen hard-boiled eggs with the shells removed. Depending on how close they are to the smoke, leave them in around 15 minutes to a half hour. They will be browned, like a tea-stained egg. The filling was pretty standard, except for the spoonful of white miso I put in it. Did I also mention that the eggs are from my own chickens?  I'll bet that this is totally doable on a stovetop smoker, for you urban smokers out there!

So, thank you to Cathy of Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen and Kim of the Yummy Mummy for cooking up this amazing challenge! I've learned so much from this. Reading all of the posts from many amazing people who took it and ran with it is so inspiring. Look at some this particular round up, for starters. Amazing! And I can't wait to see who gets to go to France for the grand prize!

I didn't take pictures. Too busy eating. (And drinking!) Photo: Peter Genzer.