Monday, October 22, 2012

Sipping at Wood

Wood's Rusty Nail
It was a gorgeous fall day as we drove back from Michigan yesterday.  And the Wolverine State was in full fall color to boot.  Simply gorgeous.  As we drove through the city on a fine Indian summer afternoon, The Partner and I were not ready to settle in for a Sunday indoors.  So we unpacked our suitcases, loved, fed, and watered the Old Man, and walked on over to Boystown.  

We decided to try our luck at Wood, the restaurant that has replaced Fire Fly -- one of our regular haunts when we were dating.  When we got there they were in the midst of a power failure.  I said, "If you can pour a cocktail without needing electricity, we'd be glad to sit at the bar and see if the lights come back on."   With a fun esprit about there being no lights save the bright fall sun we were seated at the bar and made quick friends with our mixologist, Gustavo.  

The bar was stocked with some amazing spirits.  Looking to get a "baseline", I ordered a classic off the classic menu -- a Rusty Nail.  It was warm and herbal -- just enough to balance the smoky sweetness of the whiskey.  It was also a generous serving that sipped well through dusk.

Wood's Cherry Wood

The Partner decided to let Gustavo have his way with him. A Brazilian, Gustavo couldn't help but proffer a Cachaça-based beverage in the void of our initial indecision. In the end, The Partner capitulated and was mixed an original tipple, the Cherry Wood. A mix of Cachaça, a raspberry liqueur, and I believe I caught a whiff of Chartreuse, the cocktail was flavorful and smooth without being overly sweet. It did indeed taste like cherry wood -- in all the good ways (and I'm certain there's no irony in the name, what with the restaurant being in the heart of Boystown!)

For the locals, go park yourself in front of Gustavo and strick up some conversation. He's friendly, mixes a good drink and has fun doing both. Then order up some of the small plates. The power did come back on about 20 minutes into our visit and folks were lined up at the door in an instant. The pork belly was very good. The risotto was average. But hands-down, the best item we had -- and we had seconds of it -- is the Tarte Flambé flatbread. Rich, creamy, crunchy, chewy, caramel-y. Run, don't walk

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Maple Scotch Glazed Apples

This will be the last of the cooking posts this week.  The Partner's Gram turns 90 and celebrations are planned for the weekend with family jetting and driving to Michigan from all over the country.

So while we're away celebrating Gram this weekend, I'd love to hear back from readers.  Recently, D. mentioned that he looked forward to my making him a featured bev.  I remarked that I'd hoped readers were trying things out for themselves.  So jumping in to Web 2.0, I'm putting a call out for a little interactivity.  

Your assignment: This weekend, try out a recipe or two or three from the blog.  Cocktail or cooking, doesn't matter.  Then leave comments on the post (or posts) you tried.  Leave them in Comments on the blog post so we can all participate.  Some of you have been subscribing and commenting via email, which I love.  But I'm the only one who sees those.  Then we'll all discuss.  (Once a teacher, always a teacher!  :-)

Ok, on to today's post.

A bit mono-chromatic, but tasty!
A decidedly fall dish, dinner last night consisted of pork chops, cabbage slaw & apples.  Tonight both the pork and the apples got the treatment.  For the pork I used the somewhat Asian flavored marinade featured in the very first Cookin' with Booze post.  Here's the card for the apples:

Maple & Scotch Glazed Apples*
2 baking apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 oz. scotch
1 oz. butter
fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste

Peel, core and slice the apples.  Toss them with the juice of half a lemon to keep them from browning.  In a medium sized sauce pan, bring the syrup to a low simmer, stirring occasionally so it doesn't burn.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the scotch.  Stir it into the syrup and place back on the heat.  Simmer until it reduces slightly.  Add the butter and stir constantly until it is completely melted and the sauce begins to thicken.  Take half a lemon and give it a gentle squeeze.  You're not going to want all the juice because you've already put some on the apples.  Just a couple drops to brighten up the flavor.  Salt and pepper to taste -- again, just to balance flavors.  Add the apples to the pan and gently stir to glaze them with the sauce.

This will keep warm over a low/simmering heat until ready to serve.

Serves 2

*: A nice variation on this would be to add a 1/4 t. of cinnamon, nutmeg, or 1/8 t. clove, or allspice to these.  I did not, however, as it would not have gone with the pork marinade or what I did with the cabbage.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cooking with Scotch

I was inspired by a sauce I saw Jose Garces prep on Iron Chef the other night.  Thought I'd give it a whirl.  My original plan was to glaze some white acorn squash with a maple, scotch sauce. But the steak I made as the entree was marinated in EVOO, lemon, garlic, & thyme.  These flavor profiles seem to clash, the former being fall, the latter being summer.  So I improvised.  Here's the recipe.

Baked Acorn Squash with Orange Marmalade, Scotch & Fresh Thyme Glaze
1 acorn squash- seeded, peeled, & cubed
2-3 T. orange marmalade
2 1/2 oz scotch*
1 T. butter
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed

Bake the squash at 375 in a lightly (canola) oiled cookie sheet until tender -- about 15 minutes or until tender depending on the size of the dice.

While the squash is baking, melt the marmalade in a sauce pan over medium-low heat.  When melted, remove from the flame and add the scotch.  (Remember what happened to Roz if you don't take it off the open flame before adding the booze!)  Stir until combined.  Return to the heat and add the butter.  Stir until melted and the sauce thickens and comes together.  Sprinkle thyme leave over and taste.  Add salt if needed.  You could also brighten it a bit with a half-squeeze of fresh lemon.

When the squash is done, toss it with the sauce and serve.  Deep, warm, citrus flavor with the cake-like goodness of acorn squash.  Mmm-mmm, good!

* We have 15 different bottles of every kind of scotch & whiskey under the sun on the bar.  Single malt, Irish, Tennessee, Kentucky....  The "youngest" bottle is probably 5 years old.  At this rate we'll be cooking with it until the crack of doom!  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cooking with Jim Beam

Getting back to boozing and blogging the past few weekends has been fun.  It's also reminded me that we have an inordinate amount of ancient brown liquors on the bar that we'll never get rid of if we limit ourselves to cocktailing.  So we return to the kitchen with a long overdue post about Cooking with Booze!  This week's liquor for the larder: whiskey.  Well, that'll be the liquor of choice no matter what week it is since that's pretty much all we have taking up space -- various varieties of whiskey, bourbon, or scotch.  

Here in Chicago it was a foggy, rainy, fall weekend last week which was an excellent excuse to sit on the sofa (nurse a hangover from Date Nite), watch movies and putter in the kitchen.  

Not having alerted The Partner to my plan to putter in the pantry, he had already started defrosting some ground chuck and mild Italian sausage.  I decided to take advantage of the Chopped moment and go with chili.  We like our chili with tons of veggies and beans along with the meat despite the fact that some would say this is not true chili.  Oh well.  What's great about using booze in chili -- which I do often, is that it doesn't really matter what kind of chili you make, the liquor gives it an added dimension of flavor that a diner can't always put their finger on.  (Grating a generous portion of fine dark chocolate into it does the same thing, but that's a different post!)  And, I think it's less about the kind of booze you use so much as when you use it during the cooking process.

What To
In the past I've used either beer in the chili -- which isn't so rare -- or tequila -- which isn't as common.  But I don't need to cull either of those ingredients from the bar, so my eye turned to a bottle of Jim Beam that had perhaps a round and a half left in the bottle (about 6 oz).  Given our penchant of late for more top shelf bourbons, I knew this grog would never see a glass.  To the kitchen with it!

How To
If you cook you have your way to make chili, so I'll sidestep the whole recipe part for now and jump to the place where one browns the meat.  These are the first ingredients to hit the heat in my chilis and then remove them.  This leaves behind yummy caramelized bits that add flavor.  Then I throw in the veggies.  As they soften and sweat they also pull up some of the delicious bits from the bottom of the pan.  But they don't pull up all of them.  That's where Jim (or Sam or Jose) comes in.  After the veggies have softened and browned, turn off the flame and move the pan to a cold burner or counter before adding the liquor.  (This is very important.  Otherwise, the video below could happen to you.  The trick is to be as funny during a kitchen fire!)  

Once the bourbon is in the pot, give it a stir, put it back on the heat and bring to a simmer.  Continue to stir until and all the brown bits come off the bottom. This is called deglazing the pan: a fancy French term for a simple process that makes for a lot of delish!  Return the meat to the pot and continue cooking according to your particular chili custom.  

I used about 1/3-1/2 c. of bourbon because that's what I had to finish off the bottle.  I found this to be the perfect amount for flavoring the chili, but add the amount that suits your tastes.

*Note:  This particular recipe was kicked up by adding the juice of one lime before the final simmer.  It gave a fresh brightness to balance the warm oakiness of the Jim Beam.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Givens: Last night was Friday
              Last night was Date Nite
Statement: Food ≤ Cocktails x Fun = Post ÷ Hangover
Short Post.

Happy hour: Sidecar.  Close relative of Maiden's Prayer & Between the Sheets.

Tasty aperitif.

Partner: "I think I can drink this one.  It's just the right balance of sweet and sour and acidity.  I don't think D. & S. would drink it.  But, oh well...."

Me: "They'll drink what I make 'em!"

A rave for an old classic.

Side Car
2 oz. cognac
3/4 oz. Cointreau
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/4 oz. simple syrup

Shake with ice.  Serve in a chilled coupe half rimmed with sugar.  No garnish.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

 Last weekend was my budd, J's. bday. A collector of cookie jars, The Partner suggested we get him one to mark his big day. Luckily, there's a cookie jar store up the block from us. No kidding.  Alas & alack, it wasn't open yet when we hoofed it up there to accomplish our mission.  So what did we do?  Walked a few doors up to browse the local liquor store, of course.  Why the liquor store is open on a Saturday morning before the cookie jar store, is beyond me.  

Besides stock items for the bar, they also had unique craft beer offerings.  Given our post-blog bourbonlicious life, we had to bring home a six of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale.  Tonight, while The Partner was making dinner, we cracked a couple.  There is no missing the fact that this brew is aged six weeks in decanted bourbon barrels.  Sweet, smooth, vanilla, oak, bourbon are all right up front.  Delightful to sit at the kitchen bar, chat about our days, and watch The Partner make dinner.  Very enjoyable and we both agreed that this is a one-time tipp a night.  With only one KBBA it's not a cloying or syrupy sweetness, but more than that at the start of an evening, it could be.  Keeping the KBB ale on the bar as well as the stout (which we've had out before) would be a good thing.  Great for conversation and starting the evening off in a unique and tasty way.
We did eventually make it back to get the cookie jar!

Friday, October 5, 2012


A keeper on the menu list for those with a sweeter palate.
As much as I loathe to admit it, it's October.  The summer has passed in the blink of an eye, and it feels like we barely got a chance to enjoy it.  Today is a cool, damp, cloudy day.  And while I don't want summer to end, resistance is futile.

So in an act of capitulation, I hit the PDK's seasonal recipes and found the Newark under "Fall".  We did not have the Fernet Branca.  I looked it up to see if there was a substitution I could make.  (I'm getting pretty chefly with this mixology thing!)  It's described as "a dark, syrupy alcoholic drink similar to an amaro, with a flavour that's best described as being a cross between medicine, crushed plants and bitter mud." Yum. And we don't keep Jager on the bar. So what do we have that comes close to this to add that dimensionality? I opted for a splash of Pimm's. Thinking about it again, Campari might have been a better choice. 

Still, I don't know if I'd try again with either the Campari or the Branca, assuming I could find it.  Both The Partner & I were in agreement from the first sip -- way-aay too sweet.  Oddly enough given the pear base, it had a smooth, apple quality to it.  It is the essence of fall.  Despite it not being our cup o' tea, I don't know that I would discount it out of hand.  This is a good bev to keep on hand for the guest who might be up for something new and has a palate for sweet tipples.  In that case, I think this could be a hit.

2 oz. pear brandy
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1/4 oz. Fernet Branca
1/4 oz. Maraschino liqueur

Stir with ice & serve in chilled coupes.  No garnish.