Just been flying a bunch this week and saw this really good article on all the design aspects that go into the modern luggage tag, kinda amazing how much we take it for granted (of course I am probably not thinking about this because we are crammed in like cattle and our flights are all delayed, but oh well).
Early last summer while walking into a Lowe’s hardware store we saw fig trees for sale. Not being an expert on figs I assumed that being native to the Middle East they weren’t something for Ohio’s climate but upon further reading of their detailed tag that indeed the variety of Chicago Hardy was listed as fit for Ohio’s winters. We took home one tree and planted it, and it barely looked like it did any growing over the course of the last summer. Now I wasn’t expecting fruit anytime soon, but amazingly this summer after moving the tree to make room for our eventual wood fired pizza oven that we were digging the foundation of, the tree took off and really grew nicely and put out two figs. Amazingly they grew and ripened and the other day, at the end of a rough day we cut the two little figs in half and ate them. They were quite good, better of course having picked them feet from where we were eating, maybe not the best figs ever, but something I never expected to be eating in Columbus fresh from the tree.
A few months ago I saw an episode of Good Eats that on Ginger. (For years I was a religious Good Eats viewer but I somehow stopped watching as often and eventually not at all, but have intermittently seen a few episodes over the last few months. The gags are a bit more annoying then I used to think- but still I have a soft spot for it. Also doesn’t seem like the show is on very much anymore, oh well the food network basically sucks these days.) At some point after seeing that I was over at the Asian market (one of the three in basically two or three blocks) I can’t believe I don’t shop there more – great prices, amazing stuff – like huge pieces of ginger at cheap cheap prices. So back to Good Eats, saw an episode on ginger and thought why not. So while not being that into the ginger cookies he was making and the stupid ginger bread man story the show was operating around, thought the ginger ale he made looked pretty good and amazingly simple. So that night after dinner I whipped up a 2 liter bottles worth and in 2 days we would get to taste the results.
The recipe/process from Alton Brown is pretty simple, you start by essentially making an infused simple syrup with grated fresh ginger. After you make that and let it steep for an hour you add this along with water, lemon juice, and a tiny bit of yeast into a clean 2 liter bottle and wait for the yeast to do its thing and carbonate it.
(The recipe from Alton Brown is here
So that first batch turned out to be pretty good, it was nicely carbonated, it had good flavor and it was amazingly easy. It was missing something though: more ginger flavor,(disclaimer though – I am a fan of the Bahamian ginger beer (Barritt’s is one of the classic brands – available even here in Columbus), which gets put to good use a dark and stormy – an amazingly simple drink of the aforementioned ginger beer and Goslings Black Seal Rum with a lime for a garnish).
So with all that in mind I had planned to double or triple the ginger the next time I tried it. The other thing that wasn’t quite right in that first batch was the flavor the yeast imparted that made the drink taste reminiscent of bread. It wasn’t as off putting as that might sound, but it wasn’t quite right. The only problem was I didn’t ever get around to making it again, despite being so easy.
Last weekend though I finally remembered we should make homemade ginger ale. Just as before we had in the fridge a giant piece of ginger (this time from an Indian grocery store) but this time I happened to think of making ginger ale at just the right moment – while I was standing in the wine making shop in Clintonville. We had stopped in the store on the way back from the farmers market to look for a good summer beer kit and to finally brew our first batch of beer. As we were checking out with a kit for summer ale I thought of asking about yeast for ginger ale. The clerk recommended champagne yeast and with the little packet in hand we were ready for batch 2.0.
The results were stunning. I doubled the ginger (although it could still use more) but the flavor profile and the bubbles were amazing. It still couldn’t be easier. I still basically used the Alton Brown recipe with the doubled ginger, and of course champagne yeast and two days later we tasted an amazing batch of homemade ginger ale with a clean taste of ginger, a slight hint of the heat and great carbonation. Thankfully a packet of champagne yeast has more then enough for several more batches.
Yesterday was the ‘official’ grand opening of the new stage at Columbus Commons, the park in Columbus on the former site of City Center Mall. The park is an amazing addition to downtown and the new stage makes it just that much better. To open up the new venue a free concert of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra and Michael McDonald. After some mild convincing my fiancee agreed to go see the yacht rock show on what was a perfect weather night in Columbus. One of the great features of these shows is the ability to pack a picnic, sit on your blanket on the lawn – meaning if its a show you didn’t really feel like seeing, its still a good time.
I was trying to figure out what to pack in the cooler when I stumbled on this post from a few years back by Mark Bittman on 101 Picnic Dishes to Make in 20 Minutes, the roast beef sandwich sounded appealing, so after a quick stop to Weiland’s made up some sandwiches with blue cheese, horseradish, some tennesse tomatoes that looked really nice and some lettuce from our garden. Grabbed some pasta salad and a bean salad that was already prepared, grabbed a blank and some drinks and we were off to downtown. We got lucky snagging a meter right by the state house and in no time we were spread out on the lawn enjoying the Jazz Orchestra and our dinner. The lawn was packed but not painfully so and it was quite the cross section of Columbus who came out for the show. All in all a very good time, can’t wait to pack up another picnic and get back to another show.
I hadn’t ever given much thought to the Singapore Sling until a friend of mine who was getting into cocktails ordered us up a pair out in San Francisco a couple years ago. It wasn’t a signature of the bar we were at (I think they had to look it up in fact) and I don’t think they made it as good as it could be, but nonetheless I had it, thought it was okay and kinda slipped my mind. Fast forward a year or two and when thinking of a gift for that friends birthday it suddenly dawned on me that the supplies for the Singapore Sling (a drink that uses some non-standard ingredients) would be a great gift, but I needed to learn about the Sling first. The search led me to an article in Imbibe magazine: How the Sling was Slung: getting to the bottoms of Singapore’s most famous cocktail by David Wondrich (by the way if you don’t know that magazine and are interested in drinks it is really good).
In the article I learned that the drink today (at least as served in Singapore at the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel, the place of the Slings creation) is not what the drink was originally having been reformulated in the 1970s to be more like a tiki drink or punch that includes pineapple juice as the primary ingredient. Wondrich in the article goes to great length to find a recipe for the original and a new searchable archive of the national paper in Singapore gave him the answer. So unfortunately and sadly today if you visit the apparently beautiful and expensive Raffles Hotel and the long bar you will find plenty of people drinking the famous sling, but they will be drinking a pre-made drink from a dispenser that goes into a blender.
To make the drink you indeed need some ingredients you might not have on hand, depending on how well you stock your bar (making drinks like these sure causes the number of bottles you have on hand to increase!) To make the original version the two things that are out of the ordinary you need are Bénédictine, a sweet herbal liqueur from France and Cherry Heering a Danish liqueur made soaking crushed Danish cherries and spices in a neutral spirit, aging that in casks and adding sugar. Cherry Heering was a complete surprise to me and I had not known it before. Whereas a lot of cherry things taste artificial and cloying, Heering somehow avoids that taste and I hope to figure out some other uses for the stuff (see Imbibe’s article on Cherry Heering with some suggestions of what to do with it and more information the stuff itself).
With those ingredients in hand (purchased here in Columbus at Weiland’s grocery store) I was all set to go making a sling already having gin, bitters, some limes and soda water. The drink is on the sweet side so depending on your taste and mood I think upping the gin a tad can make for a less sweet version which is quite nice as well. Either way while sipping its nice to sit back relax and maybe try and picture that your sitting in Singapore, back in 1915 watching a cricket match.
I think Wondrich’s recipe for the original is the superior drink, but the pineapple version served in a Poco Grande glass has its time and place and is fun in its own right.
The recipe for the original sling from Imbibe:
1 oz. London dry gin
1 oz. Bols Cherry brandy or Cherry Heering
1 oz. Bénédictine
1 oz. fresh lime juice
2 oz. soda water
1 dash Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients except soda water and bitters in an ice-filled glass. Top with soda water, stir briefly and dash with Angostura bitters. Note: The original Singapore Sling appears to have been ungarnished.
Current version of the Singapore Sling as served at the Raffles Hotel, Singapore
1 oz gin
1/2 oz Heering Cherry Liqueur
4 oz Pineapple Juice
1/2 oz Lime Juice
1/4 oz Cointreau
1/4 oz Dom Benedictine
1/3 oz Grenadine
A Dash of Angostura Bitters
Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into Poco Grande glass. Garnish with a slice of pineapple and cherry. (Note: the Raffles Hotel Long Bar currently services a blended drink, which adds additional froth and is dispensed from an automatic machine, but upon request they will mix it from scratch).
You can’t get much more American than the Fifth of May, better known as Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo’s origins are not surprisingly Mexican and come from the State of Puebla, where they celebrate on May 5: El Día de la Batalla de Puebla, commemorating the Mexican army’s victory over the French in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla. As many of you know by now, Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexico’s independence day, let alone national holiday – yet here in America it has grown into a holiday not just for Mexicans in quite an American way. The origins of the American celebration go back to the year after the battle, with Mexicans and Latinos living in California being the first to celebrate in the US. What has followed is what happens to most things that get tossed into the cultural blender that is the United States – mutations and mixing ensue and what emerges is wholly American. So instead of some tame holiday remembering a battle, what we now have is a day for Mexican restaurants to make out like Irish bars (and every other bar) on St. Patricks day. Cafeterias get to serve tacos, bars stock up on tequila and in general a lot of people get to have a good time.
This isn’t that different that what has happened with what we think of as Mexican food has gone through. This past week the NY Times had an article (How the Taco Gained in Translation) discussing a new book Taco USA by Gustavo Arellano about how Mexican food became part of the mainstream American cuisine. I haven’t read the book yet, some of the authors ideas I think I am going to disagree with (he has a problem with Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless – without having read all of what he says about it yet I think I am going to disagree there – as I think educating Americans on non-fusion, regional Mexican cooking is a good thing). The book still does sound interesting for its accounts of how Americans (primarily white Americans) have been able to take Mexican ideas and turn them into successful American staples (fritos, tortilla chips, salsa and of course Taco Bell).
As we continue to fuse more and more cultures and cuisines into our repertoire (think Korean tacos, Califonia rolls and all our sushi with cream cheese, Chinese American food and heck spaghetti and meatballs) and continue the melding of older ones. The new Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos – which despite what I may thought about the thing based on their advertising- is apparently doing amazingly well and may be a bit more complicated in its origins than I would have guessed. Soft tacos from Mexico turned into crispy fried tacos and tortilla chips here in America, where years later down in Tijuana street food vendors turned Tostitos corn chips into a dish called Tostilocos: a base of Tostitos chips covered with things like jicama, pickled pig skins, tamarind candies, peanuts, cucumbers, fruit, chilies or anything else one could think of (See Tostilocos, Tijuana Street Food, Hits the Mainstream – NY Times). That kind of miss mash then turns around and comes back to us as Locos Tacos as Taco Bell.
So this brings me back to Cinco de Mayo and what made me think of all this in the first place – the following ad I saw from Donatos. What could be more American?
I don’t have it too often (fortunately or unfortunately), but fried chicken is one of those foods that while seemingly incredibly simple and common, can and often is, so much more. Thomas Keller makes it and so do plenty of gas stations, which makes it kind of democratizing meal of sorts – but rather than get too philosophical about the food (others have and its a topic worthy of it) I just wanted to write up a few recent fried chicken dinners I made here at home.
The first was a few months back and featured chicken that followed somewhat the recipes and techniques of Thomas Keller (from the Ad Hoc cookbook) and from Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty (Also see Ruhlman’s post on fried chicken here). Ruhlman worked on the Ad Hoc cookbook and claims his is better – a bold statement (unfortunately we didn’t try making both head to head – I have made the TK version before and knew it was amazing). Instead the recipe I used started with a brine mostly like Ruhlmans, one that has a lot of rosemary, the predominant flavor he likes in fried chicken. In addition I had lemon and some other herbs (thyme and parsley), but not quite as much as TK uses. The brine was left overnight before taking out the chicken to air dry on a rack in the fridge. (The brine is really the biggest difference between amazing fried chicken and fried chicken and cannot be skipped).
After drying the chicken gets dredged in seasoned flour - I used a mixture of cayenne, paprika, black pepper (a bunch), salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and a bit of baking powder (TK doesn’t use BP, Ruhlman does)
Next is a dip in buttermilk and back into the flour mixture, before frying it up, and finally topping w/ some fried rosemary and some lemon zest. (Actually some of it sat for a while in a 250 oven on a rack – dark meat especially actually benefits from this and lets you do the chicken in advance, something I should have done rather than frying huge batches of chicken with my friends standing around – oh well next time.)
Even though this chicken was of the American variety, I served it with some sauces that are somewhat asian if people felt like it (this chicken doesn’t need anything and really your just gilding the lilly, but I do like sauces…) One of them was Momofuku’s Octo Vin (a reverse vinagrette with a lot of garlic and ginger. The sauce/dressing’s full name is shortened from Octopus Vinaigrette, and was intended to stand up to octopus and has the reverse ratio of a vinaigrette with the oil and vinegar amounts flipped, the stuff is amazing and goes with fried chicken amazingly well, among other things). I also served a korean style sauce (discussed again below) and siracha honey which is amazing on fried chicken and is as easy as combining the two.
[Thanks to Ham Sandwich Indicted for the above photos as well as for the amazing biscuits that featured homemade cultured buttermilk - those could have been dinner alone.]
Fast forward to yesterday and I tried out David Chang’s recipe for fried chicken in the Momofuku cookbook (which is not the fried chicken they serve at Momofuku I might point out as they serve a breaded version there – amazing I should also add – but the one in the cookbook has no breading and is sauced with the octo vin). Anyway the gist of DC’s version is that the chicken is brined (simple sugar and salt brine for several hours) and then steamed for 40 minutes – thats right its fully cooked by steaming. The idea is clearly inspired by Asian preparations such as crispy duck where hot oil is used at the end to get a crispy skin, but the steam is used to cook the meat and cook and render the skin so that it is ready to quickly crisp. After steaming the chicken, take the chicken out and put it onto a rack in the fridge to dry / chill. After a few hours its ready to be fried and as you can guess it doesn’t need long. Word of warning have a splatter shield or at least be careful frying this chicken (I learned the hard way and was hit with quite a few large oil pops). Not being a scientist I assume this has something to do with the way moisture was trapped in the cooked chicken versus raw chicken, but just consider yourself warned.
The chicken crisps up quickly probably takes only about 5 minutes or so at 375. After draining it I tossed in the octo vin (and served more on the side of course). I also tried dipping some of the chicken in a thin (Korean style?) batter, basically cornstarch, AP flour, some salt/pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, and very cold seltzer water (I guess that part is maybe Japanese). This battered batch I tossed with a sauce made from gochujang (the amazing fermented Korean chili paste), garlic, ginger, rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey and siracha.
The results were amazing and compared to the breaded versions a whole lot less work, way less mess and means you can essentially precook the chicken and fry it up at the last moment. It isn’t quite the same thing however and is really its own dish as the intense chicken flavor that comes from frying chicken isn’t quite there due to the steam cooking. Don’t’ get me wrong though this is a dish worthy in its own right, just not quite the same thing. In case you were wondering I served this with some cabbage/fennel slaw and some beans from rancho gordo (Yellow Indian Woman – one of their heirloom varieties) that were cooked slowly all day with onions, celery and bay leaf, salt and pepper, which leads one not in the know to think there is meat in the dish as they are so rich tasting and flavorful.