Wine Tasting and the Talking Bush That Saved My Life

2 Apr
While clowning around, Becky, myself, Lau, and Veronica found some wild horses.

While clowning around, Becky, myself, Lau, and Veronica found some wild horses.

Here’s a story I wrote for Vine Pair, an email newsletter devoted to wine education, terminology, and slashing the snobbery of wine drinking:

Put Some Sherry on Top

27 Mar

Sherry is super cool. Like bourbon (or awesome hot sauce), it’s aged in barrels in basements. Often winemakers use a blend of white grapes aged over a long timespan, so most don’t have a vintage. My favorite wine bar has some fantastic varieties now, and there are certainly a lot of them. Some can taste like raisins and molasses, like the Toro Albalá Gran Reserva PX. Others are nuttier and amber-colored, like the Oloroso Don Niño Emilio Lustav. The first sherry I ever tried (from Trader Joe’s) had a nutty and briny taste that was almost ocean-like. So far, I haven’t met a sherry I didn’t like, and it actually makes for a really cool cocktail mixer.

For this drink recipe, the fortified sherry lends some sweetness to bourbon. It’s my take on the Brown Derby, a bourbon-grapefruit concoction named for the famous Los Angeles restaurant. It looks like a naughty iced tea when served, with plenty of grapefruit and ginger bite. It’s a drink for the tumultuous seasons: warming bourbon for cold evenings and sweet sherry and citrus for spring’s hopefully-soon-before-my-feet-take-on-freezer-burn arrival. One of these days.

Maid of Sugar, Maid of Spice

1 oz. 90-proof bourbon (I use Maker’s Mark)
1-2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters
2 tsps. grapefruit bitters (recipe follows)
1 oz. ginger simple syrup (recipe follows)
1/2 oz. Ruby Red grapefruit juice
1/2 oz. cream sherry
1 grapefruit slice for garnish
1 ginger slice for garnish

In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine bourbon, bitters, syrup, grapefruit juice and sherry. Shake vigorously and strain into a coupe glass or lowball. Garnish with grapefruit slice and ginger.

DIY Grapefruit Bitters (adopted from Serious Eats)

1 1/2 cups 100-proof vodka
Peeled zest from 1 grapefruit
Peeled zest from 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried lavender blossoms
4 dried juniper berries
3 dry sage leaves
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons cut gentian root
1/4 cup golden rum
2 ounces simple syrup

Combine citrus zests with vodka in a glass jar. Shake to agitate and let steep overnight.

Add lavender, juniper, sage leaves, coriander, gentian root, and rum to jar. Seal and shake to combine. Keep in a cool, dark place (like a closet, pantry, or the dungeon of Castle Bitter).

Keep in dark place 10-15 days (I kept mine steeping for 17 days).

Using coffee filters or cheesecloth, strain mixture into another jar or bottle until all impurities are removed. Add simple syrup and shake to combine. Let sit overnight before using.

Ginger Simple Syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
5 thin slices ginger root

In a medium saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Reduce heat, add ginger slices, and steep for 15-20 minutes. Let cool before using.

TBT: Lemon Tree Chicken

20 Mar

lemon logoThis week’s TBT post is a recipe from my mom. I was starting out cooking on my own in college, and this delightful, springy, and super-simple chicken recipe was in the stack of recipes she gave me. I made this one night with my friend Olivia, with lemon ricotta fritters for dessert. Ricotta can often be bland, but frying and serving it with blackberry jam (also courtesy of Margaret Werner), is the way to go. At the time, I had no idea how to deep-fry food. We dumped a stupid amount of olive oil into a stock pot, turned up the heat, and waited. And waited. There was no chance we’d stick our fingers in hot oil to check for temperature, so we waited some more. The shimmering surface was a good visual cue, so I plopped in the first lump of ricotta, which practically turned to ash before my eyes. The fritter would have felt at home in the last days of Sodom. Or Pompeii. Smoke started rising and the fritters bounced and fought their way through the hot oil. The sputtering drops shooting out of the stock pot made the volcano comparison complete. Olivia’s face became the color of the cream sauce. This was it. Our friends in Atlanta seeing Usher would not be able to call us from the concert. We were going up in flames.

Olivia threw open her windows, I cleaned the counter, and we tried the fritters again. While I haven’t gone back to make the fritters, the chicken’s a recipe for repeating. While my mom might be displeased at my frying attempts (now I know olive oil has a smoking point of 405°F and is one of the least stable oils to use for frying), she’d be proud of the lemon tree chicken.

4 whole chicken breasts, diced into small chunks
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
1/4 cups flour
1 tsp lemon zest
1 1/2 Tbsps lemon juice
2 Tbsps dry white wine
1/2 cup cream
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat broiler. In a large plastic bag, put salt, pepper, and flour. Add chicken and distribute flour on all sides.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet and brown the chicken. Remove from pan.

Add lemon zest, juice, and wine to skillet and bring to a boil. Return chicken to pan.

Cover this mixture, turn heat to low, and simmer 5 minutes. Add cream into wine mixture and cook until bubbly, about 1 minute.

Arrange chicken in a 9×13 pan and sprinkle with Swiss cheese. Broil pan until cheese begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Top with additional lemon zest and chopped parsley. Serve.

Throwback tune:

Graphic by Tommy Werner

Napoleon’s Winter

18 Mar

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Jacques-Louis David [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Spring should be a new direction. Or with the longer days and blossoms on the news, maybe I just think everything is dramatically starting over. My first spring here in New York still feels like winter (and will stay like that until Easter, I’m told), but it’s got all of the personal ups and downs I associate with spring, such as new jobs and ways of thinking. Two weeks ago, I moved a little ways uptown with a close friend from work.  The move wasn’t even ten blocks, but the trek uphill to our apartment felt like a journey, especially as my boxes were falling apart in my hands. I’ve also got to find a new laundromat.

I’ve got the one anchor that’s been with me since I landed here in the City: life in a restaurant. I started off wiping up high chairs and bearing the brunt of a cranky porter who wanted nothing more than to push my buttons. I’m now being shown how to complete inventory and order every wine on the list, the visual and gastronomic differences between Rosette de Lyon and Bayonne, and how to charge through the crowd between kitchen and guest with dropping a drop.

Moving is exciting but has a bit of regret involved. You’ve got to deal with leaving part of you behind, and advancing full-speed into whatever’s next, just like charging into the restaurant armed with a tomato soup. Luckily, I have friends to support me; together, we’re crafting the coolest crib in the city. But like any new move, it’s got challenges. The post-war-era pipes rattle like they’ve got to wake up the world, a cacophony of chitty-chitty-bang-bang clanking and clattering. And we discovered a mouse in the kitchen. At first, we yanked our feet off of the floor, darted our eyes to every corner and crevice, and felt the paranoia of a home invasion. Then, we named him Napoleon.

Ratatouille has always been one of my favorite movies. I like seeing the ambitious rise of wunderkind Paul Liebrandt in A Matter of Taste, or listening to Kenny Shopsin use sexual metaphors to describe his scrambled eggs in I Like Killing Flies, but I love cartoons, and Pixar ones have always been the best. The first movie I saw in theaters was Toy Story. Pixar’s is never stronger than in the Francophilic Ratatouille. I loved it for the story, the jokes, and of course, the food. The confit biyaldi that topples the big, bad critic made me want to learn French cooking. It’s also the movie that properly introduced me to Thomas Keller, who served as a culinary consultant for the project.

Rewatching it, I get a new sense of appreciation by relating with the movie. Linguini is an outsider, an American in Paris. He works from the very bottom in one of Paris’s top kitchens, sweeping up the floor and cleaning messes, with only a vague interest in what goes in. When given responsibility of cooking, he swings around like a carnival ride and jerks his arms choppily. I stride along and stop suddenly when running food to tables. I often miscount and drop a soufflé to the next table, who think it’s a gift from the kitchen. All the same, I feel like I’m absorbing the restaurant world in a great way, just like Linguini. Having a mouse in the apartment just completes the picture.

Napoleon was the first name that came to our minds, but given this polar vortex whirlwind winter, it seems appropriate. The short French dictator emerged from his Russian winter scarred and humiliated, but stronger. I hope to do the same, with or without a mouse guiding my cooking.


Video: Roberta’s Pizza

16 Mar

I love this place. From the rooftop garden to the amazing myriad of radio programs they host, Roberta’s makes me feel far cooler than I ever thought possible. They also have a killer brunch, and it’s their bread that’s in this blog’s banner photo. With a filter of course.

What Should I Drink Tonight? Let this graph decide

14 Mar

It’s Friday night, and you don’t have a clue. Can’t decide what to order at the bar? Want to try something new?

Screen shot 2014-03-13 at 10.42.37 PM

A kind-as-cupcakes team at Stanford collected data over a 10-year period and built this fancy algorithm and visual display. Say you like Stone Russian Imperial Stouts and want the brand name (or even aroma) of a similar beer. Faster than a frat party keg stand (but not as messy), this guide selects brews that play well together. It’s kind of like the Genius feature on iTunes, or a “You Might Also Like” column on Amazon.

My shopping for St. Patrick’s Day beers just got easier, thanks to these scientific cicerones (the fancy word for a beer sommelier)

Have a happy and responsible weekend.

If you have as much time on your hands or want something to read while you sip, here’s how the research worked:


Kendrick Lamar On Cereal

7 Mar

Mr. Kendrick Lamar continues to blow minds with this absolutely academic approach to cereal eating. In words fitting for an episode of the scientifically minded Sporkful, Kendrick breaks down his method on the bowl:

  • There are two kinds of cereal: fun and casual. I’d like to add that there’s another category: timewaster.
  • Kendrick marinates the cereal for about a minute, contemplating his favorite cartoons and his rapid takeover of the hip-hop scene.
  • That first crunch is the most important.
  • His ultimate goal is a 60-40 ratio of soggy to crunchy.
  • Everybody grew up on cartoons and cereal, even the tough guys.

Words to live by.

Still waiting to see Snoop Dogg on why Sugar Smacks should keep their name.


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