the gumbo pages

looka, <lʊ´-kə> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look"; in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans, it is usually employed when the speaker wishes to call one's attention to something.  

2. --n. Chuck Taggart's weblog, hand-made and updated (almost) daily, focusing on food and drink, cocktails as cuisine, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news of the reality-based community ... and occasionally movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, travel, Macs, liberal and progressive politics, humor and amusements, reviews, complaints, the author's life and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the author's fancy.

Please feel free to contribute a link if you think I'll find it interesting.   If you don't want to read my opinions, feel free to go elsewhere.

Page last tweaked @ 11:58pm PDT, 10/31/2007

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If you like, you are welcome to send e-mail to the author. Your comments on each post are also welcome; however, right-wing trolls are about as welcome as a boil on my arse.
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Buy my New Orleans music box set!

Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens

"Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" is a 4-CD box set celebrating the joy and diversity of the New Orleans music scene, from R&B to jazz to funk to Latin to blues to zydeco to klezmer (!) and more, including a full-size, 80-page book.

Produced, compiled and annotated by Chuck Taggart (hey, that's me!), liner notes by Mary Herczog (author of Frommer's New Orleans) and myself. Now for sale at your favorite independent record stores (such as the Louisiana Music Factory, because you should be supporting local New Orleans retailers) or via Amazon if you insist.

The box set was the subject of a 15-minute profile on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" on Feb. 6, 2005, and a segment on Wisconsin Public Radio's "To The Best of Our Knowledge" on Apr. 3, 2005. Here are some nice blurbs from the reviews (a tad immodest, I know; I'm not generally one to toot my own horn, but let's face it, I wanna sell some records here.)

*      *      *

"More successfully than any previous compilation, Doctors... captures the sprawling eclecticism, freewheeling fun and constant interplay of tradition and innovation that is at the heart of Crescent City music." -- Keith Spera, New Orleans Times-Picayune.

"... if you DO know someone who's unfortunate enough to have never heard these cuts, press this monumentally adventurous box and its attendant booklet upon them. It's never too late to learn" -- Robert Fontenot, OffBeat magazine, New Orleans

"... the best collection yet of Louisiana music." -- Scott Jordan, The Independent, Lafayette, Louisiana.

"[T]he year's single most awesome package" -- Buddy Blue, San Diego Union-Tribune

"This four-CD box set doesn't miss a Crescent City beat ... For anyone who has enjoyed the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, this is Jazz Fest in a box. ***1/2" -- Dave Hoekstra, Chicago Sun-Times

"... excellently compiled, wonderfully annotated ... New Orleans fans will know much of this by heart, though they may not remember it sounding so good; those who don't know what it's like to miss New Orleans will quickly understand." -- Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press.

"... a perfect storm when it comes to reissues. This box set is musically exciting, a complete representation of its subject matter, and just plain fun to listen." -- Charlie B. Dahan,

"... one of the best impressions of a city's musical blueprint that you're likely to ever find." -- Zeth Lundy,

"... an unacademic, uncategorized album that suits the city's time-warped party spirit." -- Jon Pareles, The New York Times

How to donate to this site:

Your donations help keep this site going. PayPal's the best way -- just click the button below, and thanks!

You can also donate via the Honor System, if you wish (but they deduct a larger fee from your donation and I keep less).

(Also, here's a shameless link to my Amazon Wish List.)

Buy stuff!

You can get Gumbo Pages designs on T-shirts, mugs and mousepads at The Gumbo Pages Swag Shop!

Looka! Archive
(99 and 44/100% link rot)

October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007

2006:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2005:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2004:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2003:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2002:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2001:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2000:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

1999:   Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

My Photos on Flickr
My Darlin' New Orleans...

The Flag of The City of New Orleans

Shop New Orleans! Visit the stores linked here to do your virtual online shopping in New Orleans. The city needs your money!

Greater N.O. Community Data Center
New Orleans Wiki

Gambit Weekly & The Times-Picayune
Scat Magazine
WDSU-TV (Channel 6, NBC)
WGNO-TV (Channel 26, ABC)
WNOL-TV (Channel 38, WB)
WTUL-FM (91.5, Progressive radio)
WVUE-TV (Channel 8, FOX)
WWL-TV (Channel 4, CBS)
WWNO-FM (89.9, classical, jazz, NPR)
WWOZ-FM (90.7, Best Radio Station in the Universe)
WYES-TV (Channel 12, PBS)


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home.

2 Millionth Weblog
A Frolic of My Own
Ashley Morris
Blogging New Orleans
Dispatches from Tanganyika
Home of the Groove
Humid City
Library Chronicles
Mellytawn Dreams
Metroblogging N.O.
People Get Ready
Da Po'Blog
Suspect Device Blog
The Third Battle of New Orleans
World Class New Orleans
The Yat Pundit
Your Right Hand Thief
Cocktail hour.

"We are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million lives as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims." -- Charles H. Baker, Jr.

   The Internet's most comprehensive
   and indispensible database of
   authenticated cocktail recipes,
   ingredients, reseearch and more.
   By Martin Doudoroff & Ted Haigh)

Museum of the American Cocktail
   Founded by Dale DeGroff and many
   other passionate spirits in Jan. 2005.
   Celebrating a true American cultural
   icon: the American Cocktail.
   (Their weblog.)

*     *     *

The Sazerac Cocktail
   (The sine qua non of cocktails,
   and the quintessential New Orleans
   cocktail. Learn to make it.)

The Footloose Cocktail
   (An original by Wes;
   "Wonderful!" - Gary Regan.
   "Very elegant, supremely
   sophisticated" - Daniel Reichert.)

The Hoskins Cocktail
   (An original by Chuck;
   "It's nothing short of a
   masterpiece." - Gary Regan)

*     *     *

Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Book Collection
   (Constantly growing)

Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Menu
   (A few things we like to
   drink at home, plus a couple
   we don't, just for fun.)

*     *     *

Peychaud's Bitters
   (Indispensible for Sazeracs
   and many other cocktails.
   Order them here.)

Angostura Bitters
   (The gold standard of bitters,
   fortunately available everywhere
   worldwide. Insist on it.)

Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6
   (Complex and spicy orange
   bitters for your Martinis,
   Old Fashioneds and many more.
   Order them here.)

Fee Brothers' Bitters
   (Classic orange bitters,
   peach bitters and a cinnamony
   "Old Fashion" aromatic bitters,
   plus new lemon & grapefruit bitters!)

The Bitter Truth
   (A new brand of bitters
   from Germany: orange, lemon,
   aromatic bitters and more!)

*     *     *

   (The study of booze with Camper English)

Alcohol (and how to mix it)
   (David Wondrich)

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

The Art of Drink:
   An exploration of Spirits & Mixology.
   (Darcy O'Neil)

Bar Mix Master
   (Brad Ellis, New Orleans)

Beachbum Berry:
   (Jeff Berry, world-class expert
   on tropical drinks)

The Cocktail Chronicles
   (Paul Clarke's weblog)

The Cocktailian Gazette
   (The monthly newsletter of
   The Museum of the
   American Cocktail.)

A Dash of Bitters
   (Michael Dietsch)
   (Lauren Clark)

DrinkBoy and the
   Community for the
   Cultured Cocktail
   (Robert Hess, et al.)

DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog

Drink Trader
   (Online magazine for the
   drink trade)

Happy Hours
   (Beverage industry
   news & insider info)

Imbibe Magazine
   (Celebrating the world in a glass)

Jeff Morgenthaler
   (Bartender/mixologist, Eugene OR)

Jimmy's Cocktail Hour
   (Jimmy Patrick)

Kaiser Penguin
    (Rick Stutz, bringing us cocktails
    and great photographs)

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

La Fée Verte
   (All about absinthe
   from Kallisti et al.)
   (Ladies United for the
   Preservation of
   Endangered Cocktails)

Fine Spirits & Cocktails
   (eGullet's forum)

The Ministry of Rum
   (Everything you always wanted to know)

The Modern Mixologist
   (Tony Abou-Ganim)

Mr. Lucky's Cocktails
   (Sando, LaDove,
   Swanky et al.)

Mr. Mixer
   (Hundreds of cocktail recipes ...
   in Hungarian. Well, why not?
   Sajnos, nem beszélek magyarul.)

Nat Decants
   (Natalie MacLean)

Off the Presses
   (Robert Simonson)

Spirit Journal
   (F. Paul Pacult)

Spirits and Cocktails
   (Jamie Boudreau)

Spirits Review
   (Chris Carlsson)
   (Beverage Tasting
   Institute journal)

The Thirstin' Howl
   (John Myers)

Trader Tiki's Booze Blog
   (Blair Reynolds)

Vintage Cocktails
   (Daniel Reichert)

The Wormwood Society
   (Dedicated to promoting accurate,
   current information about absinthe)

Let's eat!

New Orleans:
Culinary Concierge (N.O. food & wine magazine)
Mr. Lake's Non-Pompous New Orleans Food Forum
The New Orleans Menu
Notes from a New Orleans Foodie

Food-related weblogs:
Chocolate and Zucchini
Honest Cuisine
Il Forno
KIPlog's FOODblog
Mise en Place
Sauté Wednesday
Simmer Stock
Tasting Menu
Waiter Rant

More food!
à la carte
Chef Talk Café
Chowhound (L.A.)
Food Network
The Global Gourmet
The Hungry Passport
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Pasta, Risotto & You
Slow Food Int'l. Movement
Southern Food & Beverages Museum
Southern Foodways Alliance
So. Calif. Farmer's Markets
Zagat Guide

In vino veritas.

The Oxford Companion to Wine
Wine Enthsiast
The Wine Spectator
Wine Today
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers

Wine/spirits shops in our 'hood:
Colorado Wine Co., Eagle Rock
Mission Liquors, Pasadena
Silverlake Wine, Silverlake
Chronicle Wine Cellar, Pasadena

Other wine/spirits shops we visit:
Beverage Warehouse, Mar Vista
Wally's Wine & Spirits, Westwood
The Wine House, West L.A.

Reading this month:

Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to the Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar, by David Wondrich.

A Lifetime of Secrets, by Frank Warren.

The Nasty Bits, by Anthony Bourdain.

Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk.

The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, by Douglas Brinkley.

Listen to music!

Chuck's current album recommendations

Luka Bloom
La Bottine Souriante
Billy Bragg
Cordelia's Dad
Jay Farrar
The Frames
Sonny Landreth
Los Lobos
Christy Moore
Nickel Creek
The Old 97s
Anders Osborne
The Proclaimers
Professor Longhair
Red Meat
The Red Stick Ramblers
The Reivers
Zachary Richard
Paul Sanchez
Marc Savoy
Son Volt
Richard Thompson
Toasted Heretic
Uncle Tupelo

Tom Morgan's Jazz Roots

Miles of Music

New Orleans

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

No Depression


Appalachian String Band Music Festival - Clifftop, WV

Long Beach Bayou Festival

Strawberry Music Festival - Yosemite, CA

Talking furniture:

WWOZ (New Orleans)
   Broadcast schedule
   Live audio stream

KCSN (Los Angeles)
   Broadcast schedule
   Stream the last "Down Home"
   for 1 week after broadcastk

   Live MP3 audio stream

Bob Walker's New Orleans Radio Shrine
   (A rich history of N.O. radio)
   (Comprehensive listings)

Air America Radio
   (Talk radio for the
   rest of us)
Joe Frank
Grateful Dead Radio
   (Streaming complete
KPIG, 107 Oink 5
   (Freedom, CA)
KRVS Radio Acadie
   (Lafayette, LA)
Mike Hodel's "Hour 25"
   (Science fiction radio)
Raidió Idirlíon
   (Irish language & music)
Raidió na Gaeltachta
   (Irish language)
RootsWorld's Rootsradio
RTÉ Radio Ceolnet
   (Irish trad. music)
WXDU (Durham, NC)

Films seen this year:
(with ratings):

In the cinema:
Babel (****)
Children of Men (****)
Notes on a Scandal (***-1/2)
Zodiac (****)
Grindhouse (**-1/2)
28 Weeks Later (****)
Spider-Man 3 (***)
Rescue Dawn (***-1/2)
1408 (***)
Live Free or Die Hard (***-1/2)
Ocean's Thirteen (**-1/2)
Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer(**-1/2)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (***-1/2)
The Bourne Ultimatum (****)
Death at a Funeral (***)
Ratatouille (*****)
Once (****)


Lookin' at da TV:

"The West Wing"
"Battlestar Galactica"
"The Sopranos"
"Six Feet Under"
"Malcolm In The Middle"
"Star Trek: Enterprise"
"One Tree Hill"
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
"The Simpsons"
"Father Ted"
The Food Network


A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans (Joshua Mann Pailet)
American Museum of Photography
California Museum of Photography, Riverside
International Center of Photography

Ansel Adams
Jonathan Fish
Noah Grey
Greg Guirard
Paul F. R. Hamilton
Clarence John Laughlin
Herman Leonard
Howard Roffman
J. T. Seaton
Jerry Uelsmann
Gareth Watkins
Brett Weston

The Mirror Project
(My pics therein: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.)

My photographs at Flickr


The Amazing Adventures of Bill,
by Bill Roundy

Bloom County / Outland / Opus,
by Berkeley Breathed

Bob the Angry Flower,
by Stephen Notley

The Boondocks,
by Aaron McGruder

Calvin and Hobbes,
by Bill Watterson

by Garry B. Trudeau

Electric Sheep Comix
by Patrick Farley

Get Your War On
by David Rees

by Jonathan Rosenberg

L. A. Cucaracha
by Lalo Alcaraz

by Peter Blegvad

Lil' Abner,
by Al Capp

Lulu Eightball,
by Emily Flake

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,
by Eric Orner

by Walt Kelly

Suspect Device,
by Greg Peters

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak


Polly Ticks: (Progressive politics & news)
Daily Kos (My favorite political weblog)
Eschaton (The Mighty Atrios)
Hullaballoo (The Mighty Digby)
Media Matters for America (Debunking right-wing media lies)
Orcinus (David Neiwert)
PostSecret (Secrets sent in via postcards; astonishingly beautiful, funny and sad.)
Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall)
TAPPED (The American Prospect Online)
Think Progress
TruthOut (William Rivers Pitt & Co.)

Borowitz Report
(Political satire)
The Complete Bushisms (quotationable!)
The Fray (Your stories)
Landover Baptist (Better Christians than YOU!)
Maledicta (The International Journal of Verbal Aggression)
The Morning Fix from SF Gate (Opinions, extreme irreverence)
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Onion (Scarily funny news/satire)
"Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis", by David Neiwert. (Read this.) (Not the actual White House, but it should be)

Weblogs I read:

American Leftist
The BradLands
The Carpetbagger Report
Considered Harmful
Creek Running North
Ethel the Blog
Un Fils d'un État Rouge
Follow Me Here
Franklin Avenue
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
Jesus' General
Mark A. R. Kleiman
The Leaky Cauldron
Letting Loose With the Leptard
Little. Yellow. Different.
Making Light
Martini Republic
Mister Pants
More Like This
Mr. Barrett
Neil Gaiman's Journal
News of the Dead
No More Mr. Nice Guy!
Not Right About Anything
August J. Pollak
Q Daily News
Real Live Preacher
Respectful of Otters
Roger "Not That One" Ailes
Ted Rall
Sadly, No!
This Modern World
Whiskey Bar
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?
Your Right Hand Thief

Matthew's GLB blog portal

L.A. Blogs

Friends with pages:

mary katherine
michael p.
tracy and david

The Final Frontier:

Astronomy Pic of the Day
ISS Alpha News
NASA Human Spaceflight
Spaceflight Now


Locus Magazine Online
SF Site


"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

-- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1901-1909), speaking in 1918

"There ought to be limits to freedom."

-- George W. Bush, May 21, 1999

"You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier."

-- George W. Bush, describing what it's like to be governor of Texas, Governing Magazine, July 1998

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

-- George W. Bush,, December 18, 2000

"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."

-- George W. Bush, Business Week, July 30, 2001

Made with Macintosh

Hosted by pair Networks

Déanta:  This page is coded by hand, with BBEdit 4.0.1 on an Apple G4 15" PowerBook running MacOS X 10.3 if I'm at home; occasionally with telnet and Pico on a FreeBSD Unix host running tcsh if I'm updating from work. (I never could get used to all those weblogging tools.)

LOOKA! Bia agus deoch, ceol agus craic.

 "Eating, drinking and carrying on..."  -- Adelaide Brennan

  Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Feliz Día de los Muertos!   Well, actually it's tomorrow, but the festival is usually three days, held to celebrate and honor the lives of the dearly departed in Mexican and many other Latin cultures. The big Los Angeles festival, held at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, was last Saturday and is always a blast (and, with many of the altars and memorials, frequently quite moving.)

I managed to squeak in some photos from last weekend's festivities in time for Hallowe'en. Here are a few; the full set of 49 photos is here.

Angel de la muerte

"That's all, 





Happy Hallowe'en, and Feliz Día de los Muertos!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hennessy Art of Mixing Academy.   The producers of one of the oldest brands of Cognac are on tour. They're in the middle of a massive promotion, involving multi-city world tours with various musicians, but have also been conducting seminars for bartenders. Calling it "The Art of Mixing Academy," they made their way to Los Angeles last night and put on a very fine event at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

I managed to snag an invitation thanks to my pal Marcos Tello, one of the great keepers of the bar at Seven Grand, who was hosting the event for Hennessy. I was very glad to be there, because I found myself in a room full of the best bartenders in the city, and some of the best in the country as well -- the seminar and demonstration portion of the evening was conducted by Chad Solomon and Christy Pope, bartenders extraordinaire of places like the Pegu Club, Milk and Honey and the Flatiron Lounge, as well as their own cocktail catering and consulting outfit Cuff and Buttons. We were in very good hands.

There was about an hour or so given to tippling and scmoozing beforehand, so I got to mingle and talk to bartenders (who are, of coures, some of my favorite people in the world). Damian, Patrick, Dan and Brian from Seven Grand were there, and I got to meet the bartenders from Sona (which I love, and whose relatively new cocktail program didn't really exist last time we dined there), Comme Ça (Sona chef David Myers' new French bistro, with a cocktail program and menu developed by Sammy Ross of Milk & Honey, and which sounds amazing), Osteria Mozza (my top dining destination in town, if I can ever get there) and Charcoal among others -- all great folks, and I look forward to quaffing (and dining) at those establishments. Nice big drinks were served, one of which was a long drink of Hennessy VS, lime juice, simple syrup, soda and a bit of Ricard (refreshing), and very excellent Sazeracs, made with Cognac as they were originally (which I don't do nearly often enough, and should do more). I also met Caroline, who's got a spiff locally-oriented blog and who took a bunch of terrific pictures of the event, some of which depict a shady-looking character who bears an uncanny resemblance to yours truly.

After we were herded back inside Chad and Christy went to town, making it very clear that this wasn't just a flashy marketing gimmick on Hennessy's part to increase brandy sales. Brandy is a truly, exceptionally mixable spirit, and it seems that a number of people don't realize that. Brandy was, in fact, one of the first spirits to be mixed into cocktails, and all the other categories of drinks developed in the 19th Century, but many factors, from the phylloxera epidemic to Prohibition and the later popularity of vodka marked the decline of Cognac brandy as a mixed spirit. People tended to think it's something older people drink out of a snifter; in recent years other demographics have popped up, everyone from James Bond to rappers. Hennessey (and really, any good mixologist as well) want to remind bartenders as well as the general public of this history of Cognac in cocktails and mixed drinks, and encourage them to create more new ones.

The drinkable history lesson stretched back to the emergence and earliest mentions of a "cocktail," which first appeared in print in a Hudson, N.Y. newspaper on May 13, 1806 described as "a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, water, sugar and bitters; it is vulgarly called a 'bittered sling.'" (Oh my, how vulgar ... I'm so appalled by the vulgarity of that appellation that I may have to find myself a fainting couch! Ahem.) At the time, a drink called a "sling" was merely spirits, sugar and water, and the addition of bitters to it made it something special. One of the first cocktails to emerge, of course, was New Orleans' own Sazerac, and this was the first cocktail demonstrated and presented to everyone, in lovely little taster glasses, by Christy and Chad. Surely you know the recipe by now, but I'll give it to you again, especially because I was pleased to see that Christy and Chad make theirs almost exactly the same way we make them at home, proportions-wise; the only difference was a dash of Angostura, which they emphasized was widespread but not traditional, and I got the impression that most of the time they leave that out. (My philosophy: while Angostura is a stupendously fabulous product and one of the great anchors of the bar, its ubiquity calls for it to be omitted here so that Peychaud's bitters, used originally and solely in the Sazerac at its creation and through its development and cementation of popularity, can shine as is truly deserves).

Of course, most of the time the Sazerac is made with rye whiskey these days, but this is the Original Sazerac, and if you haven't tried it this way, you should.

The Sazerac Cocktail

2-1/2 ounces Cognac brandy (we used Hennessy VS last night).
1/4 - 1/2 ounce simple syrup to taste.
4 dashes Peychaud's Bitters.
1/4 ounce Herbsaint, absinthe or pastis.
Lemon peel.

First, chill an Old Fashioned glass with ice. Once chilled, empty it and add the pastis or absinthe; swirl to coat the inside of the glass, and discard the excess, leaving a little bit behind in the bottom of the glass.

Combine the brandy, bitters and simple syrup in a mixing glass with ice; stir for 20-30 seconds and strain into the prepared glass. Express the oil from the lemon onto the surface of the drink, and garnish the drink with the peel, no matter what grumpy ol' Mr. Stanley Clisby Arthur says. (We love you though, Stanley.)

Next we moved on to another historical cocktail, when things started to get a bit more complex in the mixing glass. Another category of drinks to emerge in the early to mid-19th Century was the Smash, referred to by the Father of All Bartenders, "Professor" Jerry Thomas, as "a julep on a small plan." It had some similar ingredients to the well-loved julep -- spirits, sugar and mint -- but rather than being slowly sipped through a straw in a silver cup packed with shaved ice, the smash was strained off the ice, more bracing and meant to be consumed quickly.

The classic Smash was usually made with brandy, whiskey or gin (most likely Dutch gin rather than the London dry we're used to today), shaken with fine cracked or shaved ice and a couple of nice sprigs of mint, then served over fresh cracked/shaved ice and garnished with mint and orange slices. In more recent years, Dale DeGroff, King of Cocktails, adapted the Smash to more modern tastes with the addition of a bit of citrus to it, which makes it a much more pleasant drink. The addition of about half a medium lemon, cut into quarters and muddled in the mixing glass with the mint, does more than add a bit of juice -- this way, you get lemon oil from the peel, and that makes a huge flavor difference.

Sounds simple, but you'll be surprised how wonderful this drink is, and while you're at it you're drinking history.

The Brandy Smash
(Modern version)

2 ounces Hennessy VS Cognac brandy.
3/4 ounce simple syrup.
1/2 lemon, quartered.
Small handful of mint.

Place the lemon in the mixing glass, top with the mint and muddle until you've released the lemon oil from the peel, along with some juice. Don't pulverize the lemon and especially not the mint.

Add the simple syrup and brandy, fill with ice and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass, either up or on the rocks, and garnish with another sprig of mint.

Bartender's hint: before you garnish, place the mint in the palm of your hand and give it good "spank;" i.e., clap your hands with the mint in your palm. Sure, it's a bit showy (yet impressive-looking), and it serves to help release the aroma of the mint, which'll go right up your schnozz as you're sipping. Mmmmmmm.

Then we moved on in our cocktail history to a drink called the Daisy, which contined spirits, sugar and water (or simple syrup), citrus and a bit of orange Curaçao. From this basic recipe you could vary the spirits as with many of these historic drinks -- brandy, whiskey, rum and gin were frequently used to make Daisies -- but you could vary the liqueur as well. For a classic daisy the best orange Curaçao is recommended -- Senior and Marie Brizard make good ones, but the best of all is the classic Grand Marnier, richly flavored with its brandy base.

Chad and Christy demonstrated a variation/evolution from the classic Daisy formula with this drink, in which the Curaçao is replaced by yellow Chartreuse, in a slightly higher proportion to the lemon juice to give it a nice balance. Green Chartreuse is typically specified, which you certainly can use, but the yellow has a slightly softer, sweeter profile that works really well in this combination; I love the way yellow Chartreuse plays with lemon juice.

The Champs-Elysées

1-1/2 ounces Hennessy VS Cognac.
3/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake for 10-12 seconds, strain into a chilled rocks glass, either up or on the rocks as you prefer.

We moved on to the development of cocktails in Europe. While the cocktail can be called America's first great contribution to the culinary arts, the Europeans finally started to catch up in the early 20th Century. One classic that emerged from that period, and is perhaps the best-known brandy cocktail today, despite its relative obscurity with the general drinking public, is the Sidecar, which emerged around the end of World War I. As with many cocktails there are myriad stories as to its origin; Harry MacElhone, in his classic work Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails, cites a bartender from London by the name of Pat MacGarry. David Embury, author of The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, gives credit to an American officer in Paris who asked a bartender for a kind of brandy sour and named it after the side car of his motorcycle. Whoever did it ... well, thanks. We like it.

And whoever did it ... it's not an entirely original concept, having descended from the Crusta, and being in a category of drinks Gary Regan calls "New Orleans Sours;" i.e., spirit, orange liqueur, citrus. The original proportion, as it was made in France during its beginnings, were equal proportions of brandy, triple sec and lemon juice. Perhaps it's just that tastes have changed, but in this proportion I place this into a category of drinks I call "Not Very Good." Not bad, just undistinguished. Later on the proportions evolved to 2 parts brandy and 1 each of the other two ingredients, and then for a while I started making them in the "classic" proportion of 4:2:1 (which is incidentally a good starting-off point if you're trying to create a new drink with spirit, liqueur and citrus; you can vary from there as you need, and add seasoning via dashes of this and that). However, Christy and Chad -- as well as Patrick and some of the other bartenders present -- favor a 3:2:1 proportion, which oddly enough is the proportion I use for my Margaritas but not my Sidecars. I will now. It was goo-ooo-ood.

The Sidecar

1-1/2 ounces Hennessy VS Cognac.
1 ounce Cointreau.
1/2 ounce lemon juice.

Combine with ice and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

There are many people who also garnish the drink with a sugar-encrusted rim. I don't do it. It's messy and unnecessary. The drink doesn't need it.

(That said, if you're making Tony Abou-Ganim's wonderful Sidecar variation, The Cable Car, in which Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum is substituted for the Cognac in a 2:1:1/2 proportion, the rim of cinnamon and superfine sugar on the glass really makes the drink. It's lovely, and it's the sole reason we keep Captain Morgan in the house.)

Next came another classic cocktail called the East India Cocktail, which was quite obscure until it was inadvertently resurrected by Dale DeGroff. Back at the turn of the century Dale was commissioned by Courvoisier to create a new cocktail featuring their Millennium Cognac bottling, which he then called the Millennium Cocktail. He later figured he needed to change the name, as he was very happy with the way the cocktail turned out and he'd hate to see it relegated to the trash heap of millennial merchandise. Later on, he discovered that an out-of-print book called The Roving Bartender, written by Bill Kelly in 1946, had a cocktail called the East India Cocktail that contained the same basic ingredients albeit in greatly different proportions. Dale's version has some subtle but important differences that make for a wonderful flavor, and as far as I can tell, he's still calling it the Millennium (he was the night he gave me one, at least). It was absolutely lovely.

The original East India recipe called for Cognac with just a couple dashes each of orange Curaçao, pineapple juice and bitters. Dale's Millennium had equal parts brandy and pineapple. This version of the East India that Chad and Christy made for us splits the difference, and retains the finishing touches on Dale's drink, one of which was to be a huge influence on my own signature cocktail.

The East India Cocktail
(Modern, Dale DeGroff-inspired version)

1-1/2 ounces Hennessy VS Coganc.
3/4 ounce pineapple juice.
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Combine ingredients with ice in a mixing glass, shake thorougly for 10-15 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass. You'll have a lovely foamy head, which is what happens when you shake pineapple juice. Flame an orange peel over the surface of the drink, and grate a little nutmeg on top.

The final cocktail we were served was an example of the very kind of thing Hennessy and the gathered bartenders want to have happen -- the creation of new brandy-based cocktails. Working with Audrey Saunders at the Pegu inspired them to do more experimentation with the infusion of teas into spirits, which has tremendously exciting flavor potential. Audrey's Earl Grey Marteani, which is insanely good, begins with a bottle of Tanqueray gin that has been infused with loose leaf Earl Grey tea. Infusing tea is easy but you have to watch it. The general rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of tea leaves per 8 ounces of spirits, so you'll need about 4 tablespoons for a liter, 3 for a 750ml. The infusion time is two hours -- no more, no less, especially not more. Any longer than that will mean more and more of the tannins will be extracted from the tea leaves, making the spirit overly tannic. "Even two hours and twenty minutes can kill the whole thing," Chad said.

They experimented with the infusion of spiced Indian chai into Cognac, thought of making it creamy without making it too heavy and settled on a vanilla-flavored almond milk (easily obtainable at Whole Foods and similar markets); this way you get the creaminess without the weight. They had tried soy milk and found it completely unsuitable (unsurprising, as I find soy milk to be completely unpalatable), but the almond milk had just the right touch. I tasted some by itself, which I'd never done, and it's wonderful stuff -- I'm going to lay in a supply for myself now. A nice, silky body and creamy, foamy head came from the addition of egg white.

This is a really, reall good drink, perfect for dessert or even for breakfast or brunch.

Left Bank Masala Chai Cocktail
(by Chad Solomon and Christy Pope)

1-1/2 ounces chai-infused Hennessy VS Cognac.
1-1/2 ounces vanilla almond milk.
1/2 ounce honey syrup (2:1 honey and hot water; allow to cool).
3/4 ounce pasteurized egg white.

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker WITHOUT ICE. Shake for about 10 seconds without ice -- this helps emulsify the ingredients nicely. THEN add the ice, and shake for a good 30 seconds. Strain into a wine goblet or decorative glass of your choice. Garnish with a grating of nutmeg and some toasted sliced or slivered almonds.

After Chad and Christy's presentation, the bartenders present were invited to go behind the fairly well-stocked bar and play; i.e., create! Marcos and Patrick and Damien and a bunch of other guys got back there and made some very tasty stuff (none of which I remember because I didn't write any of it down). There was one guy who was into the whole "flair" thing, juggling bottles and glasses and shakers over his head and behind his back and, in the process, dribbling spirit and mixer all over the floor. I am really not into that kind of thing; it adds nothing to the flavor of the drink and arguably takes away from it because he is not using jiggers to measure his ingredients. I'm also opposed to freepouring in general, as in many recipes a difference of even 1/4 ounce being out of proportion can completely kill a drink. (It takes almost no time to use a jigger to measure, folks ... use 'em!) If my bartender is a talented juggler, fine -- I'd rather see him juggle rubber balls or flaming bowling pins in between drinks than juggle my liquor.

I got behind the bar after a while and knocked something off which wasn't bad. I had never mixed brandy with St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur before, and there was a nice big pretty bottle of it (so hush). I gave it a semi-classic proportion, upped the level of the St. Germain due to its being less sweet than most liqueurs, and tossed in a couple of dashes of fruit bitters to make it a bit more complex and interesting. Several people tasted it and thought it pretty good; my favorite reaction was from Judd, one of the bartenders I'd been talking to, who took one sip and made a big puckery Mr. Yuck face. I cracked up. "Wow, that good, huh?!" He, as it turns out, prefers sweeter drinks (which I do not), and this was was to his palate a bit tart. I gave him a minute to recover and prepare, and had him taste it again. Still not to his own taste, but he did appreciate the flavors and balance.

I thought about naming it after Wesly, since he wasn't feeling well and couldn't make it to the event, but I don't think either of us are egomaniacal enough to name drinks after ourselves or each other. I thought of something somewhat close, though, and named it after one of my favorite character actresses whose name at least contains his in its first syllable. The tartness and pleasantly bitter edge of the cocktail suited her most famous character too, I think. ("Oh, do be quiet, Durwood.")

The Moorehead Cocktail

2 ounces Hennessy VS Cognac.
3/4 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
1 dash Fee Brothers' peach bitters.
1 dash Fee Brothers' orange bitters.

Combine with ice and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

My last Cognac offering is one I came up with several years ago, inspired by an old recipe I found in a book about vintage barware, of all things. I haven't mentioned it in about four years or so, so it's time for a refresher. It's pretty good, I think; folks who've come to the house like it. I do hope to be able to serve it to its namesake one day. One of my oldest friends was a camera operator on "I Heart Huckabees," and was kind enough to present the recipe to her and tell her how I had come up with it and named it after her. She was "fascinated," and honored, but apparently declined to issue the invitation to the set for me to make her one that I was hoping for. Oh well.

The Lillet Tomlin

Offer your guest a gracious hello!

Then, combine in a mixing glass with ice:

1 ounce Lillet.
1 ounce Mandarine Napoleon.
1/2 ounce Cognac.
1/2 ounce Maraschino liqueur.

Stir for 30 seconds and and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry, and a thin slice of orange perched on the rim of the glass.

Garnish additionally with two ringy-dingys and serve to the party to whom you are speaking.

The whole event was a blast. Thanks to Marcos for inviting me, to Christy and Chad for their great presentation, to Hennessy for putting it on, and to all the bartenders I met that night -- I look forward to warming some barstools in your places soon. Thanks again to Caroline for all the great pictures; she covered the event quite nicely in her blog.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, October 26, 2007

Tonight.   We'll have dinner with a goodly segment of The Fat Pack tonight, chowing down on Hungarian food at Duna-Csárda, formerly Csardas, in Hollywood. I love Hungarian food, although if authentically prepared it'll make you feel like you need to have your arteries scraped out. That tends to only kick in after four days or so, so I'm hoping we'll be fine tonight. It's apparently changed hands since the Csardas days, and I hope it's still as good as it once was. We'll see. Anyway, I hope to have Magyar food porn by next week.

Then we're headed to Theatre Asylum in Hollywood to see a grand stage production in which the movie "Showgirls" is re-enacted by sock puppets.

I'm not kidding.

It's entitled "Sock Puppet Showgirls," and it's just what you might be thinking it is -- Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas' unintentional camp classic (and truly one of the most painfully bad movies ever, described by that great cineaste and critic Joe Bob Briggs as "the only movie ever made where every single character is hated by the audience"), satirized as it's performed by the very non-Lamb Chop-like cast. Between Csardas and Eszterhas we're keeping up the Hungarian theme for the evening as well.

Egészségedre! (Make sure you pronounce this toast properly, because if you leave out that final "r" you're not saying "To your health!" but instead "Up your arse!")

Perique Liqueur de Tabac.   Many of you are, I'm sure, aware of this liqueur. In case you aren't ...

Perique Liqueur de Tabac

Master absinthe-maker Ted Breaux was approached by someone at the distillery in France where he makes his magnificent absinthes with a sample of a Japanese product, an attempt at a tobacco-based liqueur. This particular product was ... not good. He was intrigued by the idea, though, and was encouraged by the distiller to see if he could come up with something better. Ted, being a Louisiana native, thought of the extremely rare, powerful, fruity Perique tobacco. Perique is, in fact, grown only in St. James Parish, Louisiana, and for the most part only on two family farms, for a total of about 16 acres' worth. A year and a half later, Perique Liqueur de Tabac was born.

I'd been hearing about this, and when we ordered our last batch of absinthe from Liqueurs de France I added a bottle of Perique to the order. I was excited about this, and not because I'm a smoker. I'm not. In fact, I'm one of those pain-in-the-ass non-smokers that people like Anthony Bourdain really hate. (Too feckin' bad. I don't spit my alcohol habit in your face. But we're not going to fight about this, are we?) What I do love is the smell of tobacco before you set it on fire, and I always have since I was a kid. Too bad it gets ruined when you ignite it.

Perique is 31% alcohol (62 proof), made entirely from the distillation of the rare tobacco in a wine-based spirit plus sugar, and interestingly the process leaves the resulting spirit completely free of nicotine (which would have been a headache for this product on a number of levels).

We followed Ted's advice to enjoy Perique as one would enjoy a fine Cognac, and sipped it neat from our best Cognac glasses. It's wonderful stuff -- smooth, complex, fruity, spicy, not too sweet, not cloying at all, with elements of wood and leather, more like one of the more complex whisky-based / spice liqueurs only drier. Unless you were familiar with the type of tobacco it's made from you'd almost never know it was made from tobacco at all. I almost hate to mix this stuff, but I can't help but wonder what a half-ounce of this would taste like in certain cocktails. I think I'm going to order another couple of bottles of Perique and find out.

We broke out the bottle at our absinthe tasting last Sunday, and I passed around a sample. Everyone loved it, and noted flavors ranging from pear to allspice. Everyone was pleasantly surprised when it was revealed it was a tobacco liqueur.

Perique may not be for everyone, but I can't recommend it more wholeheartedly. I'll even let you drink it in the house.

Eggs and bacon for breakfast. (Or, Cocktail of the day.)   As you may have noticed, I've really been getting into flips lately. It doesn't hurt that Mary gave us some fresh eggs, fresh out of her friend's chickens. (These are much, much better than factory-farmed supermarket eggs.)

Last June I linked to an L.A. Times article about Mexican liqueurs (which has now unfortunately fallen into the catacombs of their paid archive), and recently picked up another one they wrote about: D'Aristi Xtabentun (pronounced "shtah-behn-toon"), Mayan liqueur of the Yucatán, made from fermented honey and aniseed in a rum base (described in the article as "Pernod for honey lovers," although I myself would be more likely to say "Herbsaint for honey lovers"). It's lovely, and I understand it's terrific in coffee (can't wait to try that!). We decided to take Murray Stenson's advice, though, after he left a comment on that post which included this recipe, encouraging us to try it for breakfast. "Mmmm, breakfast." I, being no stranger to breakfast cocktails, wholeheartedly embraced this idea.

The Xtabentun Flip

The Xtabentun Flip
(from Murray Stenson, Zig Zag Café, Seattle)

1-1/2 ounces brandy (we used Don Pedro Mexican brandy).
1/2 ounces Xtabentun
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce fresh orange juice
Whole egg
Simple syrup to taste (we used 1/2 ounce of rich Demerara syrup).

Combine with ice and shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Strain into appropriately pretty glassware and optionally top with some freshly grated nutmeg.

Yay, eggs for breakfast! But, you know ... I like bacon with my eggs.

Unfortunately a bit earlier that morning I discovered a mishap with our second refrigerator out in the garage -- the freezer door had come open and had been that way for at least a day, ruining lots of frozen crawfish tails, boudin, duck sausage, black pudding, passion fruit purée and a gorgonzola and walnut frozen pizza from Roma Deli. Sigh. Not only that, but the three remaining packs of Allan Benton's Hickory Smoked Country Bacon, one of the best I've ever had and one of my running favorites, had been at room temperature for too long and smelled just a little too funky when I opened them. DAMMIT!!

I looked in the inside fridge to see if there was anything else, and ... ta-daaa! Kolozsvári to the rescue!

Koloszvari (Hungarian bacon) Mmmmm, bacon.

Not the first cocktail with which I've served bacon as an accompaniment, but maybe the best so far. I think the combo might work a little better with a more simply flavored flip or milk punch ("It's really different," said Wesly, who added that he'd drink this one but wasn't sure he'd ask for another one). I rather enjoyed it, and look forward to more experimentation with Xtabentun.

"Down Home" fundraising wrap-up.   It was a bit of a slow night -- I was up against the World Series (some baseball thing, apparently popular). We did manage to pull in about $800 in pledges, which should get kicked up a bit when website pledges and matching funds come in.

Thanks to those of you who did pledge, and of course ... it's not too late! Support KCSN, the best and most truly eclectic mix of music in Los Angeles radio -- go to our website at and click to pledge.

Miss Willie Mae an' Miss Leah in da Noo Yawk papuh!   A New York Times reporter visits Willie Mae's Scotch House and Dooky Chase's in New Orleans, and orders fried chicken. With video!

Music video of the day.   Damien Dempsey, one of my very favorite Irish singers these days, performing his song "It's All Good" from TG4, the Irish-language TV network.

Editorial cartoon of the day.   They're only skeet to these people.

I love Pat Oliphant. (Thanks, LeeAnn!)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, October 25, 2007

KCSN Pledge Drive!   It's been going on since last Friday, but tonight's my turn to raise money for the radio station and for my program "Down Home".

You can call in to pledge the old-fashioned way at (800) 795-KCSN (5276) between the hours of 7:00 and 9:00pm PDT (10pm-midnight Eastern, 0300-0500 GMT), or do it the newfangled modren way! Visit our website at anytime, and just tell 'em you like "Down Home." If you're a listener to the station (and specificalaly to my program), we ask you to give a little back, particularly now that "Down Home" is offered as a weekly archive, which you can stream at your leisure!

We have lots of thank-you gifts in return for your pledge, starting with the Down Home CD 5-Pack, which includes:

Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino -- 2 CDs featuring artists such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, B.B. King, Ivan Neville, Elton John, Taj Mahal, The New Orleans Social Club, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt, Jon Cleary, Neil Young, Ben Harper, Lucinda Williams, Randy Newman, Robert Plant, Li'l Band O' Gold, Art Neville and many more!

The Red Stick Ramblers - Made in the Shade -- The Ramblers, from southwest Louisiana, spin Western Swing, '20s and '30s era jazz, and traditional Cajun stylings to create an addictive sound all their own.

Gráda - Cloudy Day Navigation -- Great, cutting-edge Irish traditional music with a contemporary flair.

Sky Blue Sky - Wilco -- I don't want to hear any whining about this wonderful album (waah, it's not different enough, waah, it's not rocking enough, waah). It's brilliant; sweet, harmonic folk-rock interspersed with brash guitar solos from Nels Cline that knock your socks off and take the songs off in fantastic and unexpected new directions.

Washington Square Serenade - Steve Earle -- singer/songwriter Earle's griping new album is a loving tribute to his newly adopted hometown of New York City and its freewheeling folk music era of the early '60s -- that movement, that music and the city that gave them all a nurturing home.

Plus my 4-CD New Orleans box set Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans, and if this wasn't enticement enough ... everyone who pledges will be eligible to win a 7-day cruise to the Mexican Riviera -- enjoy the sun-swept beaches of Mazatlan, take in the sights of Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. Your odds are going to be a damn sight better than most contests, especially the Lotto, so pledge and (I hope) win!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Frank J. Mannino, "Frankie Mann," 1926-2007.   I was very sad to hear that my music teacher and band director from eighth grade and high school passed away last weekend, of Lou Gehrig's Disease. (I didn't know he was suffering from that, how awful.)

Frank J. Mannino, aka Frankie Mann

We called him "Prof," and outside of school he was a professional jazz musician and bandleader known as "Frankie Mann," nephew of Santo Pecora, one of New Orleans' early jazz greats. He was a tremendous jazz educator, and a wonderful music teacher overall. By time time I was a freshman he had me playing as well as the first-chair seniors I sat next to in the band. During the summer between 8th grade and freshman year he taught me to play the saxophone (and very well, except for my lack of aptitude for jazz imporvisation, his specialty) in less than three months. He led our band to numerous awards and me and many of my classmates to superior-rated solo performances. My all-encompassing interest in music and my professional dabbling therein (albeit not as a performer) is traceable back to those days. He was a gentleman who called his students "gents," a patient but demanding teacher, and insisted on discipline and decorum from his students.

So of course, we gave him a hard time.

We were a bunch of 15-year-olds who thought they knew everything and that adults were stupid, and I'm afraid I gave Prof far more agita than he deserved. I regret not having the opportunity to tell him what a great teacher he was, to apologize for the often rotten behavior of myself and many of my classmates, and to let him know that despite what an unappreciative little shit I could be at 15 and 16, that I grew up all right.

My sincerest and heartfelt condolences go out to his family, friends, and everyone who was fortunate enough to be educated by him.

Thanks for everything, Prof.

Southern Californians, it's time to flee.   F-L-E-A, flee.

The wildfires are a huge disaster, 1500+ homes have been destroyed, and it's long from over. As if that wasn't bad enough, who is now apparently coming to our rescue?



(More from The Rude Pundit.)

Absinthe tasting.   We had several friends over last Sunday and broke out our five different absinthes (excluding the French Versinthe Blanche and two inferior Spanish absentas), plus two that Gregg and Mike brought, set out a nice spread and officially inaugurated our relatively new absinthe fountain. And a splendid time was had by all.

The spread included prosciutto and perfumey Tuscan-style cantaloupe, several different kinds of olives, marinated roasted red peppers, cornichons, several cheeses (Parmigiano-Reggiano, Stilton, Carrigaline Irish farmhouse cheese, Roquefort, a wonderful musky goat blue cheese, membrillo, Italian white anchovies, crusty bread and some Italian fig cookies with chocolate chips. All of which went very well with The Green Fairy (which in some cases was white).

Here are the brands we tried:

Lucid: The first absinthe made for the American market since the ban in 1914, developed by Ted Breaux and marketed by Viridian Spirits. It's currently on the shelves in New York and Los Angeles, coming soon elsewhere and goes for about $60.

Kübler 53: The first Swiss absinthe to be commercially available, legally imported by a spirits importer based in Texas, currently in NY and soon to hit LA and elsewhere. We got a nice deal from DrinkUpNY of $51 with no tax and free shipping.

"La Bleue": A clear Swiss absinthe that Gregg and Mike brought which they mail-ordered back when this was contraband, especially in Switzerland where it was made; Swiss law allowed for ridiculously huge fines not for the making or drinking of absinthe, but for its transportation. I'm not sure of the manufacturer, but this would be similar to the Kübler or two the current Clandestine brand (reviews here and here).

Pernod aux extraites de plantes d'absinthe: Pernod once made the most popular brand of absinthe in France, but switched the formula to a pastis after the ban. Now Pernod Absinthe is once again available in Europe (and, I hope, soon in America as well).

Absinthe Nouvelle-Orléans: The first product released by Jade Liqueurs, hand-made by New Orleanian Ted Breaux in century-old copper pot stills that were used to make Pernod absinthe in their heyday, in a distillery in Pontarlier, France. Ted is primarily responsible for debunking many of the myths about quality historical absinthe -- that it doesn't rot your brain (other than by overconsumption of any strong alcoholic spirit), it doesn't make you crazy, it doesn't make you hallucinate (see previous parenthetic remark re: pink elephants), and that "thujone content" is a highly overrated characteristic. This style of absinthe approximates that kinds that were popular in New Orleans near the turn of the 19th Century.

Absinthe PF 1901: Another of Ted's artisanal products, an "homage" to the original Pernod Fils absinthe and which, according to those lucky enough to do a side-by-side tasting, compares favorably to vintage bottles of the real stuff.

Verte Suisse 65°: An "absolutely accurate" recreation of C. F. Berger's product made in Neufchâtel, Switzerland between 1823 and 1910, which was "almost lost forever if it had not been for the resurfacing of original, unopened bottles, which Jade Liqueurs was able to secure for preservation." We hadn't tried this one before, and those who have say it's Ted's best.

It was a party, and not entirely a party of hardcore absintheurs, so we didn't do detailed tasting notes, but we did have favorites and not-so-favorites. We'd make and share either 1 or 2 servings of each, dripped with chilled water from the fountain at roughly a 4:1 or 5:1 proportoin as per the traditional method, albeit none with sugar cubes because, um ... I forgot to get sugar cubes. However, while being a fun part of the ritual with the absinthe spoon and the dripping of the water over and through the sugar, sugar is not necessary to enjoy these spirits. As Ted told us during his excellent seminar at Tales of the Cocktail, the reason for the sugar was not to counteract any horrid bitterness, but because "the French had a sweet tooth ... and still do." The detectable bitterness in the various products is actually quite pleasant, and nothing hard to handle for anyone who quaffs Campari and Italian amari as much as I do. (Just wait until I finally get a bottle of pelinkovac, preferably the Serbian Gorki List brand rather than the Croatian Maraska, which is reportedly less bitter that its Serbian counterpart.)

Lucid: Good. Not spectacular, but as Mike put it, "VERY easy to drink." Ted was asked to "tone down" the flavor profile for the American palate, which means less intensity in the anise (because how many Americans do you know who despise that flavor and throw away all their black jellybeans?) and less complexity in the herbal undertones. It still tasted quite good, though, and would make an excellent "starter absinthe" for anyone interested in this spirit, its history and possibly working their way up to finer-quality (and more expensive) products.

Kübler: Very good. Lighter in alcohol and body and flavor, but full-flavored -- a bouquet of aromas wafted from the glass, and it tasted great, with the anise balanced by herbal and floral flavors. Also very easy to drink, but more complex than Lucid. A fantastic value.

La Bleue: Similar to the Kübler, with a slightly higher alcohol content. Also clear, it louched nicely and had a prominent anise flavor, with not as much compexity as the Kübler. Crisp and clean. I shudder at the thought that given its illegal status at its point of origin at the time of purchase, it was at least four times more expensive than the Kübler is now. Zoinks.

Pernod: This one could have used the sugar cube, as it had much more bitterness than the previous ones. Referred to on the web site as being "inspired" by the original, and especially after tasting Ted's own homage later on, I don't think they got terribly close. From what I've read it's artificially colored (!!), which seems a bit of a slap in the face; the real stuff gets its color from the chlorophyll during the maceration stage. I'm not a fan of Pernod pastis (I think New Orleans' own Herbsaint is a far superior product, at 1/3 the price), and this seemed a lot like that but more bitter.

Nouvelle-Orléans: This was our first bottle of Ted's stuff, and we'd already had about 1/3 of it before the other night. Several of us agreed on a great one-word description for this one: "Funky," like its namesake. This one was vastly different from every other absinthe we had ever tasted. The anise was there but not overwhelming, and there were several other spices in the mix as well, ones I wasn't used to from other absinthes. It's ... funky. I really like it.

PF 1901: We tasted this for the first time at Ted's seminar in New Orleans, and in comparison with the product that the actual Pernod company is now making ...well, they should be ashamed, and Ted knocks it out of the park. Unfortunately I'm unlikely ever to have the opportunity to sample pre-1914 vintage Pernod, but if it's anything like this, I'll be happy to stick with this. An explosion of aromas come out of the glass after it's louched, and there's so much going on in -- anise and a touch of wormwood bitterness and flowers and mint and a multilayered symphony of tastes. Yay!

Verte Suisse 65°: Another winner. Unlike most typical Swiss styles it's green, but not quite as deep green as some of the others. Once the water was added and the spirit louched it was practically the dictionary definition of the word "opalescent" in color, and you could practically smell the aromas across the room -- anise and flowers and herbs and an almost honeyed sweetness that most definitely does not require added sugar. Wonderful stuff.

The conversation sparkled. No one cut their ear off. No one went mad. In fact, we all felt really quite good and nobody got terribly drunk (well, there were seven of us sharing). We did some other tippling too. Last time I'd seen Marty I'd been on the verge of getting my stash of Abbott's Bitters and he asked about them, so I made him a Manhattan with Rittenhouse 100, Cinzano and a big dash of Abbott's. I watched his face carefully -- startled, then stunned, then quizzical, then blooming, and he said, after a long while, "This is the best Manhattan I've ever had." Yay!

Other samplings included Ted Breaux's Perique tobacco liqueur, Zirbenz stone pine liqueur and McKendric's mesquite-mellowed "Western style" whiskey -- more on those another time.

Yes indeed, a splendid time was had by all.

I'm thinkin'.   It might be time for a new machine. A nice one at that.

I've been a dedicated fan of the laptop/notebook life since I got my first ice-white iBook in 2001. Ah, a whopping 500 MHz processor (pre-G3) and a Gargantuan 10GB hard drive! And I could take it with me wherever I went! Despite the relatively tiny real estate of the 12" screen, I was hooked.

In 2004 that machine was replaced by a gorgeous aluminum-cased G4 PowerBook, this time with what seemed at the time to be a screaming 1.5 GHz processor, an 80GB hard drive and gorgeous 15" screen. This was almost as large as my last hulking CRT monitor's display, fast and with huge capacity, and just as portable.

And, as has been the case with every computer I've owned, it starts out being screaming fast and large and after a few years seems wheezingly slow and tiny. It seemed particularly slow with certain graphics-intensive applications, and seemed to be less tolerant of my increasing desire to run many apps at the same time.

So, portability addict that I am, I naturally thought to buy the most souped-up 15" MacBook Pro that I could afford, but I had been wanting a larger monitor on my desktop for a while. I coveted the 23" Cinema Disply, but man, that thing's expensive. I also checked out some other less expensive brands of monitor, but then thought ... why not an all-in-one solution?

I went to an Apple Store and looked at the new iMacs. It's a breathtakingly beautiful machine. The one major con people keep citing is the glossy glass screen, but I think it makes the colors pop, the images sharp, and the 24" model has a pretty impressive 178° viewing angle. (Our office, where the computers live, is always in subdued light, so I'm not worried about reflections.) It's a gorgeous piece of design with impressive performance (I find the Mac Pro to be overkill for my needs), and although it has a few cons -- no expandability besides memory, no PC or card slots -- it's not much that a few cheap peripherals or external HDs couldn't fix.

I'm drooling already. (Don't drool on the hardware.)

Paul Prudhomme and U.S. foreign policy.   Who knew how far his influence would go?!

There's no logical reason it should exist ... but it is delicious!

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  Thursday, October 18, 2007

Edible cocktails.   (Sorry for the lack of posting ... busy week.)

Last week's L.A. Times Food Section ran a rather surprising article on jelly shots, which are probably more colloquially called "Jell-O shots," named after the artificially flavored, artifically colored dessert that we grew up on and is the foundation of hospital and Midwestern church cuisine.

Thing is, when it's actually a Jell-O shot, mixing the packaged dessert with booze, it's crap. It's a college student thing, right? None of us grown-ups would be interested in such a thing, right?

Well ... maybe we might.

I remember reading in Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology that The Father of Modern Bartending, Professor Jerry Thomas, talked about jelly shots in his seminal 1862 tome How to Mix Drinks: The Bon Vivant's Companion. I had forgotten that, then made a beeline back to the original text, and ... sure enough. As Gary pointed out, he even offered a caveat that you not slurp down too many of these, saying that "[m]any persons, particularly of the softer sex, have been tempted to partake so plentifully of it as to render them somewhat unfit for waltzing or quadrilling after supper." No wonder there was so much stumbling around instead of waltzing and quadrilling at all our college dances.

The Professor's recipe was called "Punch Jelly," and y'know, maybe stuff like this could actually be good... especially when they're made with real ingredients, set with unflavored gelatin, and look like this:

From top to bottom, here's Campari and orange juice, blueberry martini, Rosé Champagne with candied orange peel, vanilla bean Prosecco, B-52, pear martini, Manhattan, tequila sunrise, gin and tonic. Dang. These look good.

Recipes are provided for the blueberry, Prosecco, B-52 and G&T, and once you learn the basic technique they can be easily adapted to any classic cocktail. I might have to give this a try sometime. As long as it doesn't affect my quadrilling.

Oniony goodness.   I recently got on the mailing list for a site called Culinate, and have been enjoying their newsletters and columns. One in particular, called "Unexplained Bacon". (Can you guess why the name caught my eye? He also sings the praises of butter and lard, so he's my kinda guy.)

The current one is all about onions, which I love in just about every way, shape or form. It must be an inherited trait, as my grandfather was such an onion fanatic that he'd take a sweet onion, peel it and eat it like an apple. (My grandmother put a stop to that, sadly, but after that he was apparently allowed to have a few thin slices of raw onion on crackers to satisfy his craving while not gassing her out of the house with his breath.)

I learned some things I didn't know, such as:

Except for sweet onions, yellow onions are rarely sold fresh; they're cured. After the harvest (in June and July), they're dried in the field, a shed, or an atmosphere-controlled facility and then stored in a very cold and dry warehouse until it's time for their star turn on the shelves beginning in August. This is similar to what happens with apples in the fall. Properly stored, onions can last a year.

I guess I'm not storing them properly, 'cause my onions, which I tend to buy in quantity, never last that long; I get black slime or sprouting on the last couple before I finish the batch.

I will definitely try that Supper Onion Pie recipe.

Leave the whiskey sauce off these.   Today's Times Food Section features savory bread puddings, which is nice to see. I love bread pudding in general, and I've been doing savory bread puddings for years. It's a great side dish or even a main for brunch, and I often serve this alongside the Thanksgiving turkey instead of dressing (er, well, along with the oyster dressing, that is!).

The Times has recipes for three variations:

* Corn and brown butter bread pudding

* Fennel and Italian sausage bread pudding

* Dandelion greens and bacon bread pudding

Wow, that one with the dandelion greens and bacon looks great. I guess you could substitute any bitter or flavorful greens, like mustard greens or watercress or kale or arugula or whatever.

Some of my own recipes include:

* Spinach and tasso bread pudding

* Savory Wild Mushroom, Andouille & Leek Bread Pudding with Parmagiano-Reggiano Cheese (vary the basic recipe above)

* Budino di pane saporito con guanciale, formaggio Taleggio e funghi porcini (Savory bread pudding with guanciale, Taleggio cheese and porcini mushrooms ... the best savory bread pudding I have ever made)

Once you've got the basic recipe and principle down for making a bread pudding, whether sweet or savory, you can make seemingly infinite variations.

Now, let's start letting some bread get stale and get cooking.

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  Monday, October 15, 2007

HBO takes on New Orleans (the right way, I hope).   Right now I'm at the point where I don't want to even hear about any more TV shows being set in New Orleans, but I did get a glimmer of hope from this announcement:

[HBO's] David Simon has made the streets of Baltimore famous with gritty television dramas such as "The Wire," "Homicide: Life on the Street," and "The Corner." Now he wants to take on the Big Easy.

The next series he hopes to produce for HBO is about musicians reconstituting their lives in New Orleans, he told The New Yorker for its issue hitting newsstands Monday.

Simon, whose dramas are known for their authenticity and detail, has been spending time there researching the music scene.

I can actually get excited about this. I've seen "Homicide" here and there, and although I generally don't watch cop shows it's been good every time I've seen it. "The Corner" was amazing, and although (strangely enough) I've never seen it, everyone tells me "The Wire" is one of the best shows, if not the best, on television, right up there with "The Sopranos" but with far less of the media hype. HBO's series have been consistently excellent with only a very few exceptions, and I have faith they'll get it right.

It certainly couldn't be any worse than the wretched, steaming pile of crap that is "K-Ville," which has so disgusted me that I've stopped watching it. Fortunately, according to Schroeder, its ratings are in the toilet, so maybe it will be mercifully euthanized soon. Schroeder ends his post linked above with this:

Yo, dudes -- yeah, you, the bad producers and writers of K-Ville -- take your money and your lousy story ideas and go trash your own city. We may have our problems, but they're not for you to criticize, or exploit for your own amusement and profit. At least we'd take the time to get the story right. A documentary film about New Orleans would be more interesting than the crap you put on TV.

David Simon is there researching the local music scene. Gee, actually spending time in the city finding out what it's really like, something to which the producers and "writers" of "K-Ville" don't seen to have devoted as much as five minutes.

Ajisen Ramen.   A while back we got an email from our friend Tom, who said, "Now that I'm working in Arcadia I'm close to all these great Asian restaurants. Two days ago I went with some coworkers to Ajisen (which means "Flavor Line," compliments of our resident Japanese speaker) Ramen, and the place blew our socks off. Yesterday I went again with another set of coworkers, and again everyone was just blown away by the tastefulness of the food. Really hands down the best ramen experience I've ever had."

Well, of course, we had to try it.

In America when you say the word "ramen" to people, they only think one thing -- Top Ramen, the little bricks of dehydrated noodles you reconstitute in hot water and add a little "flavor packet" of salt and powdered meat flavoring and salt and MSG and salt. We all lived off it in college because it costs fifty cents, and because aside from the carbs in the noodles it contains no actual food it's a miracle we all didn't all die of malnutrition, or at least pass out during our exams. When you tell people you're going out for ramen they laugh at you, because this is the image they have in their minds.

In fact, real ramen noodles are one of the staples of Japanese cuisine. True ramen noodles are hand-pulled and the dish named after them are noodles served in a hot meat-based broth, with lots of toppings ranging from different kinds of meats, to seaweed or vegetables. Many different regions of Japan have their own take on ramen, and you can read more about it at the Rameniac's site.

I love the that little girl on the logo, which Tom accurately described as "a giant hut-like building with a billboard of an anime-esque little girl with two hair buns feeding herself some noodle and winking at you."

It was hard to miss.

Ajisen Ramen Ajisen Ramen

I did a little digging, and found out that Ajisen is a chain of about 120 outlets, mostly in the Far East but with a few in North America, and is pretty well known out that way. The Arcadia outlet's fairly popular; we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table, and enjoyed reading the pretty picture menu in the meantime. We dug in with a variety of dishes.

Spicy Conch

The first dish we had, which Tom had gone out of his way to mention in his email, was Spicy Conch. I'll bet most of you haven't had this, as it tends to be very regional. You've all seen conch shells and figured it's a type of mollusk; it's more specifically a type of saltwater snail with a similar texture to escargot when cooked, although firmer. I was looking forward to this ... and ended up being disappointed as it was the only dish we didn't like. I'm guessing it was better last time, because even Tom, who'd had it before, didn't finish it.

I'm not sure how the conch was cooked, but whatever cooking method it was rendered it rubbery rather than firm. It was also served ice-cold, which we really didn't anticipate. The flavor was pretty good, especially the sauce it was, but the rubbery texture and ice-cold temperature were off-putting. I'm guessing it was overcooked, and I'm also guessing that I'd like it better if it was served firm but still tender, and at room temperature.

Spicy Pork Ramen

This is Ajisen's signature dish, Spicy Pork Ramen, with seasoned ground pork atop a salty broth with ramen noodles, sliced roasted pork, scallions, greens, and a smoked boiled egg.

This was my first real ramen experience (as opposed to the Top Ramen dehydrated stuff we somehow lived off in college), and it made me want to try more. However, though this was pretty good, I felt that there's probably far better ramen to be had. This is a chain after all, and I found it to be almost unbearably salty. The broth was flavorful, though, very much so, and I liked the combination of texturs in the dish. As is typical with other Asian noodle dishes I've had (including pho and Thai noodle soups) it was way too many noodles for me, especially with me still trying to keep an eye on WeightWatchers points and realizing that noodles are 4 points per cup. They're very filling, though, and I didn't feel bad about giving my surplus noodles to Tom.

"Premium Pork" Ramen Ramen with Corn

We tried two other varieties, the Premium Pork Ramen and Ramen with Corn. The former featured a huge pile of thinly sliced grilled pork loin and was very yummy; the latter was similar to the first one but without the ground pork and with lots of sweet corn (although not fresh corn, sadly). Both good.

Beef Enoki Roll

Our second appetizer, which we ate a bit later along with the noodles, was the Beef Enoki Roll -- a clump of enokitake mushrooms wrapped in a thin strip of seared beef, served in a beef gravy. This was excellent, and intensely beefy, with the mild fruitiness of these mushrooms (which I like a lot and don't get nearly often enough). Wonderful dish ... next time we're getting two!

I'm always fascinated by Asian desserts, which are always unusual by Western standards and even off-putting to the unadventurous. I even like the really wacky ones -- at Saladang Song, a wonderful street-Thai food restaurant in Pasadena I once had dried salted fish flakes over sticky rice, which were superb; the flavor was more nutty than fishy, and they were lightly sweetened with a touch of palm sugar and a touch salty. (That said, the "various tubers" in syrup with a very salty coconut cream they also served was pretty vile.) We were keen to try the desserts ...

Green Tea Ice Cream with Mochi Sweet Red Beans with Mochi

This being a Japanese restaurant there were a lot of mochi-based desserts. Mochi is a Japanese rice ball or cake made from sweet (glutinous) rice that's been pounded into a paste. It's often served with ice cream or even as a coating for ice cream balls. On the left is Mochi with Green Tea Ice Cream atop Sweet Red Beans, and on the right is Hot Sweet Red Beans with Mochi. The red beans in that were were cooked into a thinner porridge, and drizzled with coconut cream. Yum ... I really liked this one.

Our hands-down favorite, though, was ...

Japanese Yam and Red Bean Ice Cream

Japanese Yam and Red Bean Ice Cream. This was one of the most unusual desserts I've had in a long time. The yellow yam was thick and sweet and served hot, and the sweet red bean ice cream was cold, and when you ate them together the combination of temperatures and flavors and texture was amazing!

The verdict -- I like ramen. I liked Ajisen too, but I can't help but have the feeling that we can do a lot better, especially in an independent establishment that might have a lighter hand with the salt and MSG. Check out the episode of Chef Evan Kleiman's radio program "Good Food" that featured The Rameniac (a.k.a. Rickmond Wong) and visit his website. I'm going to, and I'm going to learn some more befor I go out for ramen again.

Mindboggling quote of the day.   Delivered "without irony," as Atrios put it. Condoleezza Rice, apparently an intelligent person, is completely blind to what she's saying because she's drunk too much of the Kool-Aid and has no grip on reality:

The Russian government under Vladimir Putin has amassed so much central authority that the power-grab may undermine Moscow's commitment to democracy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday.

"In any country, if you don't have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development," Rice told reporters after meeting with human-rights activists.

"I think there is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. I have told the Russians that. Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the Duma," said Rice, referring to the Russian parliament.

What country are we talking about here? The president (and vice-president) have amassed too much central authority which undermines democracy? Weakening of countervailing institutions? The undermining of the judiciary (rather, activist judges!)? Oh wait, that'd be us.

These people are deranged.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, October 12, 2007

Yeah you rite, Al!   In case you live in a cave and hadn't heard, Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize today.

It's immensely gratifying, while at the same time infuriating knowing that he should be president now, and the man who stole the office from him is not a peace prize winner but a war criminal. Another related Salon article entitled "Al Gore's win, America's loss" says that "[w]inning a Nobel on top of an Oscar and an Emmy is surreal validation for the man who should have been president."

This morning Mary said in email, "Some day, someone is going to write a novel about how different the world would have been if Gore v. Bush had gone differently in the Supreme Court. Like all those stories about what would have happened if the Allies hadn't won WWII and so forth." I'm a fan of alternate history fiction, and I'd like to read that novel.

Al ... I wish you'd run for president. Your country needs you. However, Tim Grieve in Salon points out why it unfortunately won't happen.

(We could actually get the White House this time. Easily. Why the f#¢k does it have to be Hillary in the lead?)

Bourdain rocks.   I've just started chef Anthony Bourdain's latest book, a collection of short pieces called The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps and Bones. He's become one of my favorite food writers, and it's not because of the bad-boy attitude that seems to upset some of the daintier food writers. Bourdain knows food, he knows it very well, and he cares. He's passionate. He's not a snob (which he'll emphasize in the quote below), and in fact more often than not is singing the praises of street food around the world as being some of the very best food human culture has to offer. He also calls bullshit when he sees it.

I really don't want to seem like I'm picking on anybody in particular, but I just wanted to quote the first paragraph from a piece in the book entitled "Counter Culture," one that made me shriek, "Yes!!" (Boldface emphasis mine.)

For a while, I thought it was just me. After years of eating well, in great restaurants, four hours at Alain Ducasse New York now felt like a year with an ugly mob. Siting there in my high-backed chair, choking in my tie, oppressed by the dark dining room, the relentlessly hushed formality of it all ... by the time my waiter pushed over the little cart and invited me to choose from a selection of freaking bottled waters, unironically describing the sources and attributes of each while I squirmed in agony, I felt ready for my head to explode with frustration. At Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, asking simply where I could find a bathroom, I had my napkin whisked away and was escorted to the bathroom with humiliating ceremony (all the way into the stall -- where, as I recall with unease, I was also advsied how I might find paper and operate a toilet). By the time the waiter had dutifully replaced the refolded napkin on my lap, surely no one in the dining room was left uninformed as to exactly where I'd been and what I'd had to do. There might as well have been a flourish of trumpets announcing "the customer at table seven has an urgent need for a piss!" While it's okay for Ferrán Adrià to tell me exactly how he wants me to eat each dish ("One bite! All at once!" -- he is Ferrán Adrià, after all), some foam- and agar-agar-crazed wannabe in London or Chicago who tries to tell me how to chew my food is gonna get a pepper mill upside his head -- if he even allows pepper near the table anymore. I've had it with the pomposity of it all. Restaurants are supposed to be about the food, aren't they? They're supposed to be ... well ... fun.

Boy, this brought back memories. And I had probably neglected to mention before that I had had nearly the same experience at Charlie Trotter's. I too asked where the bathroom was, and was escored there personally (which made me feel quite uncomfortable). The server, being female, did not actually follow me into the bathroom and subsequently into the stall (say thankya, by God and the Man-Jesus). I might have lost it and said something less than polite to the server, along the lines of "Will you get the hell out of here please?!"

The piece continues about a trend he's seen the world over, with chefs taking the radical step of eliminating anything they deem unnecessary to the service of highest-quality food, from the glassware and expensive silver and flowers, and even the table itself: "In this bold new vision of the way it could -- and perhaps should -- be, the finest ingredients, prepared by the very best chefs and cooks, are served over a counter, diner style."

Fascinating idea, and one I'd like to experience more and more. Steve and Mary just got back from Osteria Mozza, the new joint venture by Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton and the hottest table in town. They weren't able to get a table but were seated at the mozzarella bar, very informal, where they were served by Nancy Silverton herself. They got to watch her as well as have her personally prepare their plates, and they said it was incredibly fun.

Still, I think there's a happy medium to be met. I love going out for a nice, fancy dinner, and there's absolutely no reason in the world it can't be fun. Reread the article about Ella Brennan from the T-P last Sunday (linked below in the October 7th post), and think about every dinner you've had in a Brennan restaurant, especially Commander's. It's beautiful. It's elegant. The service is impeccable. And it's a blast. I recall one of the things I said to Wes when we were at Trotter's -- "They need to hire Ti [Martin from Commander's] to come up here for a week and teach them how to have a good time."

Another paragraph got me thinking -- when Bourdain travels the world, he spends lots of time hanging out with and talking to chefs, talking about food, what they love to cook, what they love to eat and what they think is bullshit.

When we play the "Death Row Game," naming those single dishes or ingredietns that we'd choose if given only a few hours to live, as the last taste to ever cross our palates, I take note. Most chefs' choices for last meal are invariably simple. No one ever expresses a desire to experience a fourteen-course degustation menu (or even any part of one) in an as-yet-unvisited three-star Michelin. Instead, the word Mom usually comes up. Bread and butter, steak frites, duck confit, and a bowl of pasta are the popular answers.

I stopped there to think about what I'd want for my last meal, and the answer came to me in about a twelfth of a second.

Red beans and rice. With andouille, ham hocks and pickle meat. A hot sausage poor boy, dressed, with American cheese, on Leidenheimer's French bread. A side order of crisp smoked bacon made by Allan Benton's. A plate of the world's most perfectly cooked French fries, with ketchup mixed with Tabasco to dip them in. Chocolate pecan bread pudding with rum sauce.

What would your last meal be?

UPDATE: I was just reading the transcript of a chat with the L.A. Times' Russ Parsons, and he recommends a book due out next Tuesday. It's called My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals - Portraits, Interviews and Recipes. Russ says it's "remarkable," adding that "It sounds like a really cheesy idea, but the woman is a terrific photographer. She really captured the personalities. and the answers are really revealing." Participating chefs include Ferrán Adrià, José Andrés, Dan Barber, Lidia Bastianich, Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, Michelle Bernstein, Daniel Boulud, Anthony Bourdain, Scott Conant, Gary Danko, Hélène Darroze, Alain Ducasse, Wylie Dufresne, Suzanne Goin, Gabrielle Hamilton, Fergus Henderson, Thomas Keller, Giorgio Locatelli, Masa Kobayashi, Nobu Matsuhisa, Jamie Oliver, Jacques Pepin, Gordon Ramsay, Michel Richard, Eric Ripert, Marcus Samuelsson, Charlie Trotter, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and more.

Cocktail of the day.   Imbibe Magazine and USA Pears are co-sponsoring a contest for the best pear-based cocktail. The deadline was last Wednesday the 10th, and unfortunately I kinda procrastinated. I had been kicking some ideas around in my head, and then all of a sudden it was time to go to Houston to visit family, and the day I got back was the last day, and I didn't really get to do as many versions and try as many ideas as I wanted.

I was grumbly about it, but when I ended up with wasn't bad, so I entered it anyway. I still feel it's kind of unfinished, so I'll probably keep working on it. Given that the weather's getting a little snappier as we head into autumn, and that Marcos mentioned that they'd soon be removing juleps from the menu at Seven Grand and adding flips, I decided I wanted to do a flip.

In case you're not familiar with flips (my fellow cocktail geeks can run to the jacks during this paragraph), it's basically a drink containing a whole egg. As someone mentioned in the comments a while back, the flips of yore were impressive productions, mixing egg with ale and spices and thrusting a red-hot poker into it to heat it up. That's a bit much for me, and although Jerry Thomas lists a number of recipes for hot flips (only calling for the addition of hot water rather than the use of an instrument of torture), the classic is the cold brandy flip, made only from brandy, sugar, water and an egg.

Here's what I came up with so far. Consider it a work in progress.

The Bartlett Flip

1 ounce fresh Bartlett pear purée.
1 ounce Clear Creek Pear Brandy.
1/2 ounce Lemon Hart Demerara rum (80 proof).
1/2 ounce Bénédictine D.O.M. liqueur.
1/2 Lauria Alpensahne (Alpine Cream Liqueur).
2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters.
1 teaspoon Grade B maple syrup.
1 fresh egg.

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker 2/3 filled with ice and shake well until thoroughly combined, about 15-20 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass. Grate a bit of fresh cinnamon over the top of the drink.

Lauria Alpensahne

The one I had made before this the night before Wes declared to be "the best one yet," and I think the one I tried the next morning was even better, substituting the Demerara rum for the applejack I had tried before.

The addition of Lauria was the one thing I was unsure about. Lauria is a really fascinating Austrian liqueur made from fresh Alpine cream, Poire Williams brandy and a purée of regional mountain pears (six different varieties, in fact), imported by Haus Alpenz. Alpenz is Eric Seed's company, and I had met and befriended Eric at Tales of the Cocktail last July. He's got an amazing batch of products in his repertoire, importing spirits and liqueurs primarily from Austria that were heretofore unseen in the States, or at least not seen for a long time. Our late-night tasting session until 3am had us tasting pine liqueur (which I was surprised I liked so much), pelinkovac (an eye-poppingly bitter wormwood liqueur from Serbia, not for the faint of heart, which I also liked, much to the proud delight of my good friend Dule from Serbia) and many of Alpenz' wide range of products including the best pear and apricot liqueurs I'd ever tasted, and not to mention the very exciting Crème de Violette and Batavia Arrack.

We didn't try any Lauria that night, but I read about it on Alpenz' site. It's very unlike cream liqueurs you maybe used to, such as Bailey's; it has texture to it, because of the pear purée. I was a little wary primarily because it's not widely known or available yet, but I bought it quite easily at The Wine House in West L.A. (It's also a really quite pretty bottle, so hush!) Lauria is really delicious on its own, and I tend not to be a fan of cream liqueurs. It actually shlurp-shlurps out of the bottle, given its unusual texture; one article I read about it recommended shaking it with ice just to smooth it out a bit, but I thought that the egg would help emulsify it nicely into the body of the drink, and it does. The main reason I wanted to use it is because it has an amazing flavor of pear, and that's what I wanted to add to the drink.

The flavor's almost there, but I might experiment with the addition of one more element. I might also tweak the proportions 1/4 ounce here or there, but as I said ... not bad.

In the highly unlikely event I win this thing ... first round's on me!

Goodbye, Mr. Sam.   The best pizza in the city is in my neighborhood. Casa Bianca Pizza Pie in Eagle Rock actually is worth the long wait (although I usually don't get much else there). The founder of that Los Angeles institution, Mr. Salvatore A. "Sam" Martorana, died last Sunday at his home in Pasadena at age 83.

Our trick is to call Casa Bianca around 4 in the afternoon, place a take-out order for a 7pm pickup, and I grab it on the way home. It's still piping hot by the time I get home and we don't have to wait in an annoying line. Our favorite is the Italian sausage (until recently handmade by Mr. Sam), fresh garlic and spicy green olives. Might have to pick up one of those this weekend.

Thank you for all the great pizza, Mr. Sam!

Guest food pornographer of the day.   Having mentioned that Mary and Steve went to Mozza the other day and dutifully sent out food porn the next day, I asked her if I could share it with y'all. (Sadly, no pictures.) Here's Mary:

Steve and I were out this late afternoon/early evening, and he suggested that we get some dinner. While we weighed options, I got cocky and suggested we try Mozza -- what the heck, it's only 6pm on a Tuesday, maybe we might get lucky.

As it happened, there was no waiting at the mozzarella bar. This seemed a fine compromise; though we've eaten at the mozzarella bar at Jar before, it's always fun, and there was Nancy Silverton her own self right there, steps away from us, working the bar.

Then we found out that one can order from the regular menu while seated at the bar.

Well, HOTCHA! Except there was a dilemma -- the menu was sooooooooooo good we couldn't decide. We made bold to Chef Silverton and said, "Would you please just choose for us?" And she did.

Starter: Grilled Octopus with soft potatoes, celery salad and lemon vinaigrette dressing. Now, I've never had octopus before, and Steve has only had rubbery sushi, but this was meaty, smoky from the grill, with the tartness of the lemon pulling all the flavors together. We would have ordered almost any other app but this one, so we were delighted she made us have it. Terrific.

Primi: Fresh Ricotta and Egg Raviolo with browned butter sauce. A single raviolo (singular!), about three by three, stuffed with butter-soft ricotta cheese, and a lightly cooked egg in the middle. Cut into it, and the yolk, a brilliant golden yellow, oozes out. Mix it together with the browned butter sauce, the flash-fried sage leaf, and the cheese, and... dearie me.

House-made Orecchiette with Fennel Sausage and Swiss Chard. Not as hearty as a ragù, more like a puttanesca in consistency, topped with garlic bread crumbs that once again pulled together every flavor of the dish. I would have gone for a flashier dish (goat cheese ravioli with five lilies, or oxtail ragù), but again, this was nothing like any pasta dish we've had before. Chef knows her stuff.

Secondi: Grilled Whole Orata wrapped in grape leaf. A beautifully fresh Mediterranean fish you can't find anywhere else in LA, I think. Not a lot of places, certainly. But it was overshadowed by...

Roasted Pork Arista, with sweet corn and chanterelles. An enormous slab of thick pork, a pig raised especially for Mario Batali, its flesh a pale softness, topped with a thick rim of fat, seasoned so lightly with special salt, which was set off by the light sweet corn. I ask you.

Dessert: Rosemary Olive Oil Cakes with Rosemary Gelato.

And it all wasn't that expensive (one COULD easily have an app and a primo, and be plenty full and spend less than $40, though secondi run $26-$29), and it was so so so good. And the cute bar prep boy chatted cheese and other culinary things, and Chef Nancy kept coming over to see how we were doing and she's so pretty and talented, and it was marvelous.

Can't wait to go back. Happier sitting at the bar than at a table.

So, yay!!!

Holy guanciale, Batman. I really, really wanna go! And there will be pictures.

Last night's "Down Home" now streaming.   You can listen to last night's edition of my radio show for the next seven days; find it here. Enjoy new music from Anders Osborne and from the new Fats Domino tribute (Taj Mahal, the New Orleans Social Club and Art Neville), plus The Palmetto Bug Stompers, Louis Armstrong, Kid Thomas Valentine, Tom McDermott and Evan Christopher, Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, Larry Williams, The Alabama Shieks, The Radiators, The Bottle Rockets, Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty (singing in French), Belton Richard and his Musical Aces, Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer, Charivari, The Wild Magnolias, Paul "Li'l Buck" Sinegal, Little Bob and the Lollipops, The Meters, Dervish, The Saw Doctors, Christy Moore, Old Blind Dogs and Dr. John.

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  Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cocktail of the day.   This one comes from Robert Hess, who, while teaching everyone about the Old Fashioned in his video series a couple weeks back, mentioned that you could make an Old Fashioned with any base spirit -- any kind of whiskey, rum, gin, brandy -- then said, "I suppose a tequila Old Fashioned, which I've never tried, that might be good too ... you might want to make some changes to the recipe to adjust it to ... (his eyes light up and you can see the gears turning in his head) ... I can see maybe some agave syrup ... that would be quite good, we should try that sometime."

Well, he did, and wrote it up on a weblog I just stumbed across (I know, where have I been, sheesh) called The Spirit World. His initial idea was to use lemon bitters, but tried grapefruit bitters (both from Fee Brothers) and ended up preferring that.

I made one when I got home last night, but I like my Old Fashioneds to be doubles (i.e., 3 ounces of spirit instead of 1-1/2) and decided to use both kinds of bitters. Here's my version of Robert's drink:

Tequila Old Fashioned

3 ounces El Charro añejo tequila.
1 teaspoon agave syrup.
3 dashes Fee's lemon bitters.
3 dashes Fee's grapefruit bitters.

Combine ingredients in a double rocks glass with ice, and stir for 30 seconds or so. Garnish with a long strip of lime peel.

El Charro is one of my favorite sippin' tequilas these days, smooth as silk, and was perfect for this drink.

Sigh. *tear hair out*   The California Department of Motor Vehicles really, really excels at inefficiency and the wasting of my time.

If there's one thing that new TV series "Reaper" got right (besides the casting of Ray Wise as The Devil) it's depicting the portal to Hell as being at the DMV.

Have a barf bag handy.   I know, I haven't written about politics in a long time, and I've been enjoying not doing it, a lot. But ... sometimes things just build up, and you've gotta let it burst out so it can heal, like a pimple. Now that I've given you that disgusting imagery, let's segue to a disgusting politician.

The flip-flopping helmet-haired Mormon former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, is running for president. Watch him being confronted by a young man in a wheelchair who suffers from muscular dystrophy (and is probably lucky to be alive given his relatively advanced age, appearing to be in his early 20s). Watch him listen to the man's brief account of his medical history, how his doctors have all said that medical marijuana would be beneficial to him, and then when the man asks a question about whether Romney would support the arrest of him and his doctors for treating his fatal disease watch Romney completely blow him off, and turn his back on him.

Note how he instantly plasters across his face a grin of truly stomach-churning phoniness as he begins to faux-gladhand his way away from the young man, and when others around him challenge him to answer the man's question, his sickening grin doesn't waver a millimeter as he hi-howareyas himself further away.

Five pounds of shite in a one-pound bag.

Right wing smear campaign against 12-year-old boy.   A few weeks ago a young boy named Graeme Frost was asked to give the weekly Democratic Radio Address. Graeme was severely injured in a car crash and suffered extensive brain trauma and a paralyzed vocal cord, and was in a coma. In the address he asks President Bush to sign the renewal of the Children's Health Insurance Program, hat both houses of Congress passed that week with broad bipartisan support (and which he later cruelly vetoed).

The right wing responed with a smear campaign against the child and his family.

Some nutbar blogger did some Googling and, following that age-old adage of "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing," decided that the Frost family was rich and that this was an abuse and violation of CHIP, and proof that it needed the veto. The National Review,, the nauseating Michelle Malkin and others jumped on the winghut bandwagon to attack this child ... but as it turns out the information was faulty, and indeed the Frosts are precisely the kind of people that the SCHIP program was intended to help.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's the Swift-boating of a seventh grader.

Aren't you proud?

A friend of the family wrote in a letter, ""Chances are, Bonnie, Halsey and their kids will survive this. The sad reality is that they've already been through much worse. But what does it say about us as a nation that we seek to destroy the reputations of those we should honor? Have we become so cynical and nasty that we no longer can recognize simple courage and decency?"

Now that the smirking chimp's popularity is down to 28% and falling, I wonder how long it'll take for the media to catch up with the fact that the country is increasingly turning away from attitudes like these. These excuses for human beings, these Coulters and Malkins and Hannitys and O'Reillys and Limbaughs and Goldbergs and Kristols, will someday soon, I hope, fade away from the public spotlight and be ignored, as such people should be ignored, "[people whose] goal is to destroy, smear, and intimidate" and who have no sense of honor or decency whatsoever.

National Guard Troops Denied Benefits After Longest Deployment Of Iraq War.   BushCo is screwing the soldiers they sent to fight in their horrible war. Again. Via AmericaBlog: "Oh my God. The Bush administration sent these guys to fight for 729 days instead of 730 days, because had they been sent for 730 days they'd have gotten education benefits. My God. Okay, Democrats, you've been handed another opportunity to blow up in the GOP's face their lack of respect for our troops. From, Minnesota:"

When they came home from Iraq, 2,600 members of the Minnesota National Guard had been deployed longer than any other ground combat unit. The tour lasted 22 months and had been extended as part of President Bush's surge.

1st Lt. Jon Anderson said he never expected to come home to this: A government refusing to pay education benefits he says he should have earned under the GI bill.

"It's pretty much a slap in the face," Anderson said. "I think it was a scheme to save money, personally. I think it was a leadership failure by the senior Washington leadership... once again failing the soldiers."

Anderson's orders, and the orders of 1,161 other Minnesota guard members, were written for 729 days.

Had they been written for 730 days, just one day more, the soldiers would receive those benefits to pay for school.

"Which would be allowing the soldiers an extra $500 to $800 a month," Anderson said.

The orders were written for 729 days. What a coincidence.

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  Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cocktail of the day.   This is both an everyday cocktail and an extraordinary cocktail, and most definitely worth a post.

We finally tried a Martini using Vya Extra Dry vermouth. The verdict ... fantastic.

It had an amazing balance -- the botanicals of Vya dry co-mingled with the botanicals of the gin, and rounded them out, surrounded them in comfy cushions and added its own spice to make this the most easily drinkable Martini I've ever had. I instantly realized why most people claim they don't like vermouth in their Martinis -- because most dry vermouth is too old, poorly stored and probably cheap stuff to begin with, with a bouquet of chalk and Pine Sol. Noilly Prat is the usual standard; as Martin Doudoroff, who conducted the vermouth seminar with Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh at Tales of the Cocktail '07 said, "Of the common vermouths, it's the best ... and it's crap."

According to Martin and Doc, Noilly Prat is coming out with a new reformulation of their dry vermouth, which actually isn't new at all -- it'll be the original formulation they used in the mid-1800s, and should bring their product up to a level where you might actually consider drinking it alone as an apéritif as well as mixing it into a very wet Martini. I'm excited by this prospect, but until then ... I'm a Vya man.

Buy it in the 375ml half-bottle size so it stays fresher, and keep it in the fridge.

Here's the Martini we had last night. We were out of lemons, so my preferred Martini garnish -- the lemon twist -- was unavailable. Olives come in second for me, but I do still like a Martini with an olive. I usually omit the dash of orange bitters when garnishing with an olive (bit of a clash there), but try never to leave it out if I'm twisting. (Wes likes his with olives a lot, and a little dirty; I made his with about a teaspoon of olive brine).

Last Night's Fabulous Martini

1-1/2 ounces Plymouth gin.
1/2 ounce Vya Extra Dry vermouth.
1 pimento-stuffed olive.

Combine the gin and vermouth with ice in a mixing glass, and stir for at least 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with the olive on your nicest cocktail pick. Marvel at the flavor.

If you're still a bit timid about a 3:1 Martini, make a slightly larger drink at 5:1, using 2-1/2 ounces of gin to 1/2 ounce vermouth.

It seems to me that this is what a Martini should have tasted like all along.

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   New episode up!

The Kir Royale

When I travel through France, I always try to have at least one Kir Royale. It is a fairly common drink, named after Canon Felix Kir, a former mayor of Dijon, who popularized the use of the local white burgundy wine with a splash of cassis, which became known simply as "Kir". With champagne, it is known as a Kir Royale.

Remember, the "Royale" means it's Champagne; it has nothing to do with Quarter Pounders or the metric system.

Beware faux Kirs made with Chambord; a bar that's doing it properly has real crème de cassis.

Hugo's Restaurant, Houston.   I spent four days in Houston this past week, visiting my sister and brother-in-law and my fantastic nephew Thomas (now eight months old, soldier-crawling everywhere and preparing to walk and wreak havoc by Christmas or so). When I'm visiting them I'd actually be content just to stay at home and spend time with them, but Thomas is pretty good when they take him out so we do manage to hit a restaurant or two while I'm there.

This time we made a return visit to the place they took me on my first visit to see Thomas (although my second Houston visit; you may recall I went there for his birth, but the little bollix didn't show up!), and it's someplace I'll want to visit again and again. Hugo's Restaurant is one of the best Mexican restaurants I've ever been to, easily on a par with the Border Grill in Santa Monica and not all that far behind Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago. The cuisine is regional, complex, intensely fresh and flavorful, plus Chef Hugo Ortega takes his tequila and cocktails very seriously.

The "Oaxacan Rita"

There are a variety of creative cocktails on the menu at Hugo's, but I like to keep it relatively simple. The "Oaxacan Rita" is just that -- a properly made Margarita with Cointreau and fresh lime juice, but instead of blanco tequila a wonderful smoky mezcal was used. Mezcal is similar to tequila but can be made outside the Tequila region of Mexico, is from a different species of agave and that agave is dried over a fire, giving mezcal a great smoky character.

Hugo's off-the-menu Oaxacan Rita is made with Monte Alban mezcal (not my favorite), but I paid a few bucks extra and specified one of the magnificent mezcals made by Del Maguey.

Rather than get separate entrées we decided to get a bunch of appetizers and one taco special and split them, which worked great; the appetizers are perfectly portioned for sharing. Our waiter brought them no more than one at a time, and timed the next arrivals perfectly, so that most of the time we didn't have multiple dishes crowding the table (the service at Hugo's is consistently excellent).

Quesadillas with Squash, Corn and Peppers

Quesadillas with Squash, Corn and Peppers -- Beautiful, crisp, fresh vegetables made this simple dish extraordinary. We almost went for the mushroom and huitlacoche (a black corn fungus called "the truffles of Mexico" by connoisseurs, and "corn smut" by Midwestern farmers who consider it a blight on their corn and don't realize they shouldn't be throwing those ears of corn away, but instead should be selling them to huitlacoche connoisseurs), but as we were getting mushroom tacos later in the meal thought that might be just a bit too much shroom.


Hugo's Ceviche is always outstanding. Last time we had the superb salmon variety, but this time the simple red snapper version, with tomatoes, onions, avocado, lime juice and cilantro. Bright, clean flavors; not overly spiced or adorned. Sometimes simplest is best.


I'd been excited about this one as soon as I saw it on the menu. Garnachas were little boats made of sweet potato masa (the same dough used to make tortillas, this time orange and sweet with yam) and topped with roasted pork in adobo Huasteco, a thick spicy sauce made from lamb stock, ancho chiles, garlic and cloves. Oh my Gawd, Díos mio, this was good.


Next up were Sopesitos. Sopes are masa cakes like very thick tortillas; they're grilled so that they get crispy on the outside but are soft on the inside. These little sopes had three different toppings: beef with rajas, chicken with guajillo chile sauce topped with pickled red onions, and roasted pork with pasilla chile adobo and sesame. These were all fantastic, but a bit tougher to share, as all three of us wanted to try each one. We managed to expertly cut each one into three almost perfectly equal pieces (good thing my brother-in-law's an engineer).

Taquitos de Pollo

Next, Taquitos de Pollo, which you're probably familiar with -- rolled fried tacos stuffed with chicken and served with guacamole, salsa verde and crema fresca. Not extraordinary but delicious and very non-greasy, unlike most taquitos you see at lesser-quality establishments.

Tacos de Hongos

Then, our "main course," providing one taco each -- Tacos de Hongos, the tacos being handmade of yellow corn masa with mushrooms, greens and caramelized onions, plus a sprinkling of queso fresco. The tortillas had a deep corn flavor and wonderful texture, and the slightly bitter greens (I forgot to ask what they were) were a surprising and tasty taco filling. This dish is perfect for vegetarians, who probably aren't usually able to get dishes this good in a Mexican restaurant.

Now, dessert!


At my recommendation Jeff got Capirotada, which is Mexican-style bread pudding. As we're both New Orleanians we have a long history of bread pudding appreciation, and this would be very familiar to most New Orleanians with the exception of one additional savory ingredient we're not used to -- capirotada also contains some form of cheese, usually queso fresco. This version also contained apples and raisins.

Pastel de Chocolate al Chipotle

Melissa and I split this one (or rather, as she said, "You eat what you want and leave a bite or two for me," which was easily done). Pastel de Chocolate al Chipotle, which was a dark chocolate cake infused with chipotle chile, with coffee-cinnamon ice cream and topped with a swirl of caramel and garnished with bitter cocoa nibs. The chipotle was fairly subtle but was there, smoking in the background. The chocolate was intense intense intense, and the ice cream brought it all together. It was superb, and reminded me of the Chocolate-Chopotle Pot de Crème I had at Rosemary's in Las Vegas, although that dish had so much chipotle in it it was actually tongue-tinglingly spicy!

Make sure you hit Hugo's if you're ever in Houston.

(I've got some older photos from my first visit to Hugo's still left to post; I never got around to it when I got back last April. As soon as I find the specific dish descriptions I'll get them up, and if I can't find them I'll just wing it.)

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  Sunday, October 7, 2007

Where's 'e at?   In Houston ("Houston? Houston, Texas?!"), that's where. I've been out of town since Friday, visiting my sister and brother-in-law and adorable nephew Thomas, having fun and even having a great meal. Posting will resume in earnest on Tuesday (well, maybe Wednesday), but I've managed to accumulate a few things of interest in the last few days and will toss up a few amusements for a late Sunday night.

The Queen of Cuisine.   The Times-Picayune ran a long, wonderful story on Miss Ella Brennan of Commander's Palace and the Brennan family restaurant empire, who "has been so familiar to New Orleanians for so long that you might not think she is regarded as one of the greatest and most revolutionary restaurateurs in the world."

Over her career as a restaurateur, Brennan has made her mark with a series of fresh and innovative concepts: She pioneered the notion of nouvelle Creole cuisine. She elevated the profile of Louisiana cooking throughout the world. She forged a level of service that was the match of any anywhere. And she used her kitchen at Commander's Palace as a kind of de facto New Orleans culinary academy, turning out dozens of the city's finest chefs and thereby enlivening the local food scene beyond measure.

In a business known for its here-today-and-gone-tomorrow vagaries, as well as its chew-'em-up-and-spit-'em-out mercilessness, Brennan has maintained a place for her restaurant in the hearts and minds of generations of New Orleanians, as well as hordes of visitors. And in doing so, she has attained a place for herself in the culinary history of the nation.


Some people say her achievement owes to her insistence on serving handmade, complex, imaginative dishes in a large restaurant that seats several hundred people (the exact number is a family secret) rather than something simpler that can be churned out in high volume... Some people say her secret is her relentless striving, her refusal ever to say it's good enough... Some say it's her openness to new ideas ... Others say it's her studiousness. She reads widely, deeply and constantly ... And still others say it's her gift for combining a spirit of fun with a grand restaurant. Many upscale restaurants, especially in the Northeast, have service designed to flatter the intelligence of their customers, validate their sophistication. For Brennan, the task has more to do with warmth and joyfulness and pleasure.

[Ruth] Reichl, the editor of Gourmet magazine, recounts her first visit to Commander's Palace in 1980: "It was the most extraordinary service I'd ever had in an American restaurant," she says.

"We were used to going to fancy restaurants and having a guy with a French accent look down his nose because you weren't pronouncing it right. Or he'd say, 'Very good choice,' and you'd be proud. Some waiter was congratulating you.

"But you went to Commander's Palace and it wasn't like that. It was like we're here to make you have a good time. It was like understanding what the contract with a restaurant is supposed to be about: We give them a lot of money and they make us feel good. You went to Commander's Palace and you understood what you'd been missing all along. 'Oh, this is what it's supposed to be like.'

"Fun is way up on the list. Upscale fun. Going out is not just what's on the plate. It's everything around it. And Ella never forgot that."

It would behoove any restauranteur to remember that (including certain restauranteurs on West Armitage in Chicago). We're there to have a good time, and I've never had anything less at Commander's Palace, which is quite probably my favorite restaurant. Which reminds me ... I kinda interrupted my '07 Jazzfest coverage a couple of months back, and my procrastinating behind needs to get itself back in gear and resume. When I do resume, later this week I hope, it will be with my most recent -- and truly extraordinary -- meal at Commander's last May.

Thank you, Miss Ella!

New Orleans' Best Cocktails: The Brandy Milk Punch.   Master bartender Chris McMillian of the Library Lounge in New Orleans teaches you how to mix one of the great breakfast and brunch cocktails from our great city. Yes, I must remind you, in New Orleans we drink cocktails for breakfast -- I mean, really, how else can you properly face the day? One of the nicest and smoothest and most classic is this one:

I had a wonderful variation on this a while back, which I've recreated at a couple of brunches since then. To your Brandy Milk Punch add some Herbsaint or other pastis (or even absinthe if you've got it), anywhere from a dash or two to a half-ounce, depending on your taste.

If y'all are luckky maybe he'll teach you how to make an Absinthe Suissesse one day.

October 4th edition of "Down Home" now streaming.   The archived edition of my radio show last week is available for your listening pleasure, at your leisure, until it's replaced by a new episode next Thursday.

Enjoy several selections from the wonderful new tribute album on Vanguard Records, Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino -- this week we hear from George Porter Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste, Herbie Hancock, Renard Poché, Los Lobos, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and Galactic. We'll also hear several selections from The Fat Man himself. Also, a nice big set of music from BeauSoleil, plus Dr. John, Dervish, Big Sam's Funky Nation, The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars, Alberta Hunter, Blind Willie Dunn's Gin Bottle Four, Juluka, Ciarán Ó Maonaigh, Mick McAuley and Winifred Horan, The Bothy Band, Paddy Casey, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Evan Christopher and Ella Fitzgerald.

Sweeney Todd trailer is up!   Yahoo! Movies has the trailer for Tim Burton's film of the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street available for your perusal and enjoyment.

It looks really good so far. Just as Big Fish was a a partial redemption for the abomination of Planet of the Apes, perhaps this will be a redemption for the debacle that was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a heartbreaking misfire on so many levels (directing, acting, music), although it had its moments.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, October 4, 2007

*beep* ... *beep* ... *beep* ...   *run*run*run*run*run*run*run*run* ...

"It's called Sputnik!"

"We know. Sit down."

Sputnik I

Ah, one of my many favorite scenes from "The Right Stuff," Philip Kaufman's epic tale of the original Mercury astronauts and the development of manned space flight (based, of course, on the fantastic book by Tom Wolfe, who unfortunately didn't care for the movie). The launch of Sputnik I by the Soviet Union, which took place 50 years ago today, is indelibly ingrained in the minds of everyone who was alive and aware at the time. It was one of those "everything will be different now" moments, fortunately (mostly) in a good way. The Yanks got caught with their pants down, and the Soviets, led by their mysterious "Chief Designer" Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov, achieved the first step in space flight.

So, Happy Sputnik Day! I eagerly await the launch of the first warp-capable vessel.

Cocktail of the day.   We finally picked up some Vya vermouth, long overdue, I know. I tried it in a Perfect Manhattan a few days ago, and it was really good, but different from what we were used to with the garden variety vermouths. This time I decided to try it in another cocktail, rather than just sipping it chilled and neat or on the rocks, because for some reason I am determined to do things bass-ackwardly this week.

This is one of our favorite cocktails when we want something light, and there are few cocktails as good or better when you want to showcase the flavor of a vermouth. I've mentioned it before, but it's time to mention it again. We got it from a book entitled The Speakeasies of 1932, with illustrations by the great Al Hirschfeld and text by Gordon Kahn. Gary Regan turned us on to this one in one of his columns, and we've been quaffing it ever since.

The Vermouth Cocktail

The Vermouth Cocktail

1.5 ounces dry vermouth.
1.5 ounces sweet vermouth.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.
2 dashes orange bitters.
2 dashes grenadine.
Lemon twist.

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir for at least 30 seconds until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and cut the lemon twist over the glass to catch the spray of lemon oil. Twist the lemon peel over the glass before adding garnish.

The Vya was rich and spicy and gave this a depth that we didn't get from the previous versions we'd made. Although we'd make this with Carpano Antica or Punt E Mes sometimes, we always used Noilly Prat for the dry vermouth. I haven't done a side-by-side taste test (and I will as soon as we open our new half-bottle of NP), but so far I think that with regards to depth and complexity of flavor, Vya has it beat.

Now, the photograph ... brown liquid in a glass, on my cutting board, surrounded by the bottles used to make the drink. BO-ring! Not to mention exactly the same as the last two cocktail pictures I posted. Unfortunately making the photograph more interesting has lately taken a back seat to "Hey, this drink isn't getting any colder, and I want it NOW, dammit!" I promise I'll work on more interesting settings. I should set up a little drink photography studio in the corner, or something.

Make your own orgeat.   It's an ingredient in many classic cocktails (not the least of which is the mighty Mai Tai), and if you're a consistently insistent cocktailian, you're going to want the best possible version of it to go into your drinks.

There are competent versions out there -- both Monin and Torani make orgeat (which, in case you're scratching your head, is a milky-colored almond syrup), and The Bum calls for the standard of Trader Vic's. Then again, I've seen some orgeat (or orzata if made in Italy) that consist of water, high fructose corn syrup (yuck!), almond extract and artifical color. Nah, that won't do, will it?

I don't suppose it could get any better than making your own homemade orgeat with almonds, almond meal and sugar, could it? François-Xavier of the food weblog gives us a bit of history of orgeat (first recipe appearing in 1765, in which barley stood in for the almonds) and offering us a wonderful recipe for a homemade orgeat, complete with illustrations.

Yay, more cocktailian concocting in the kitchen!

Farmer's Market Dinner at Auntie Em's Kitchen in Eagle Rock.   Auntie Em's is one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, mostly open only for their great breakfasts and lunch, plus dinners prepared for takeout (they close at 7), but every few months they throw a multi-course feast based on fresh seasonal ingredients from the farmer's market.

Farmer's Market Dinner at Auntie Em's Kitchen, Eagle Rock

We've been regulars since not long after the current chef-owner Terri Wahl took over the business (which before, under the same name, had been a run-of-the-mill sandwich shop catering primarily to Oxy students). She and her former business partner really turned the place around, and in recent years Terri has expanded the business considerably, expanding next door to add a cheese and fine-foods shop as well.

They'd been doing these dinners for well over a year, and something always kept us from going -- schedule conflicts, out of town, etc. This time we were free, and couldn't wait to go!

The menu was sent out in advance, and you had four entrées to choose from, including a vegetarian option. Wine pairings from local wine shop Colorado Wine Company were suggested as well (it's BYOB), and the price was only $32 a person! Such a deal!

Greens, Herb and Bean Salad

First course was a Salad of Shell Beans, Blue Lake green beans, sugar snap peas, Little Gem lettuces and herbs, and heirloom teardrop tomatoes with a shallot-Dijon vinaigrette. This was the best salad I'd had in ages, with a wide variety of textures and flavors. Tender and crunchy and peppery, with a beautifully seasoned dressing. Given that this was Auntie Em's, the portion was substantial, as always.

Braised Pork Shoulder and Farmer's Market Vegetable Hash with Sauteed Rainbow Swiss Chard

Our choice for the main course was kind of a foregone conclusion, given that it came from that wonderful, magical animal -- Braised Pork Shoulder with Farmer's Market Vegetable Hash and Sautéed Rainbow Swiss Chard. The pork was amazing, tender and flavorful and crispy and fatty around the edges, falling apart. Very homey and comforting. The hash had potatoes, yellow and green squash, cauliflower, onions, fresh sweet corn, and topped with cilantro. Super, super good. And, as you can see, another Gargantuan portion.

We were too cheap and lazy to follow the wine recommendation, unfortunately. Terri recommended either a 2003 Gomba Barolo from Italy ("a little herbal and earthy, perfectly weighted for pork") or a 2005 Koehler Syrah from Santa Ynez ("a nice, more intense pairing for pork, offering its own meatiness and dark fruit flavors"). Given that we're facing a $1200 car repair bill (that goddamn Bug, arrrrrghhhh, don't get me started!) we were pinching pennies a bit, and Wesly wisely suggested that I choose something from the stash of wine we already had.

I didn't want a Cabernet -- too big, even though Barolo can get pretty big too -- and the closest thing I could find in our stash was a 2005 Bodega Norton Malbec from Argentina. We uncorked it and took a sip, and ... PLAM! It was like getting slapped in the face with an alcohol-soaked rag. It's been a while since I'd tasted a wine that was that hot on the first sip. I longed for a decanter but we didn't have one, so I poured it and we let it sit for a while, and through the entire first course to give oxidation a chance to work its magic. By the time we were ready to have it with the pork it was better, although not great. It went adequately with the pork, having some dark fruit like cherry and plum, and the tannins worked with the fatty pork. Hrm, maybe we could have gone for the Barolo or the Syrah if not for that feckin' car! It was fun to drive when it worked, but part of me is sorry I ever bought it. But I digress.

Oh, by the way ... the other three main course choices were:

Shrimp and Fresh Corn Risotto

Orzo and Herb Stuffed Heirloom Tomato served on a Yukon Gold Potato, Zucchini and Baby Eggplant "Lasagna"

Chicken with Peach-Thyme Vinegar Sauce with Jasmine Rice and Black-Eyed Peas

Actually, I would have been happy with any of these, even the vegetarian entry, which smelled really, really good as it was served to a diner next to me. Wes and I forgot about how generous the portions are here; we could easily have gotten two dishes and shared them both, and had enough of each. But, of course, each of us thought, "There's no way I'm going to be able to sit there and watch him eating pork and me having none."

Cheese Plate

The Cheese Plate came next, and unfortunately our server didn't know the name of any of the cheeses were were served. They were all domestic, mostly from Wisconsin and California, and made from cow's, sheep's and goat's milk. There was a semi-hard cheese, a silky goat, a very piquant semi-soft and a creamy goat, all wonderful (and all from Auntie Em's adjoining Marketplace cheese shop), drizzled with a caramelized balsamic syrup, with fresh figs, Marcona almonds, French baguette and water crackers. Mmm, boy ... I sure do love a cheese course.

Roasted Peach Napoleon with Passion Fruit Cream

For dessert ... Roasted Peach Napoleon with Passion Fruit Cream -- homemade cream cheese puff pastry (!) and peaches roasted in brown butter, topped with peach caramel sauce and crème fraîche whipped cream. Man, oh man. Almost nobody makes their own puff pastry! Even the pastry chef I studied under, who was Belgian ("You can call me Pascal, because I am Belgian. If I were French you call me 'Chef' or I kick your ass."), admitted that he buys his puff pastry frozen from a quality, reputable baker because it's so difficult and time-consuming to make by hand. I usually complain when there's no chocolate in my dessert, but not this time. It was the perfect dish to make the transition from a peach summer into the slightly chillier autumnal weather, with those summery peaches cooked into a warm, spicy compote with brown butter.

I'd recommend these dinners not only to my fellow denizens of Northeast Los Angeles but to anyone within a reasonable driving distance (I'd drive an hour for this meal, but fortunately I only have to drive five minutes). Check out their website and get on their mailing list for these every-few-months dinners. Auntie Em's Kitchen is located at 4616 Eagle Rock Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90041, and their number is (323) 256-0800.

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  Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Cocktail of the day.   Y'know, if this is going to be a real cocktail-of-the-day feature, it should be what we drink every day, not just a new or special or forgotten/resurrected drink I feel is "blogworthy." (Gawd, what a truly awful non-word. It's just bad, not funny, like the Seinfeldian "spongeworthy.") Not every needs to make something super-special every day; sometimes we want the cocktail equivalent of comfort food.

Our cocktail last night? Old Fashioned, with Maker's Mark Bourbon, a coupla teaspoons of simple syrup, a few dashes of Angostura and a Luxardo cherry. On the rocks, in the traditional style, in our Mignon Faget Creole Cottage glasses.

It was what the doctor ordered after a long, busy, drama-filled day for both of us.

Who says something not-so-special can't be special?

AWARD! AWARD!   It was that time of year again ... time for the 3rd Annual Mac and Cheese Night, thrown by Sherri and Mitch. You may remember the story from this time last year -- our friend Steve's friends Sherri and Mitch were going to throw a mac and cheese party / cookoff, and Steve asked me if I had a recipe I could give him. I provided Emeril Lagasse's Maytag Blue Mac and Cheese, and with that he won. They asked him to invite me last year, and I won by a landslide with my original recipe for Dubliner Mac 'n Jaysis (recipe at the above link). So, this year I had to defend my title, which meant I had to come up with another winning dish.

I started turning some ideas around in my head, had what I thought was a pretty good one, got inspired by a new Irish cheese from Kerrygold that I'd been having over the last year which, in its strong, piquant flavor, resembles some harder Italian cheeses (and keeping with one Irish cheese was good luck, I think), plus some other Italian ingredients with which I was inspired by another of our frequent trips to Roma, our favorite Italian grocery and deli in Pasadena, plus an idea solidly rooted back home. A muffuletta in a dish, with macaroni instead of bread. Hmm. It ... could ... WORK!!!

(inspired by the great Muffuletta sandwich of New Orleans)
Torchietti Pasta with Ivernia, Provoletta and Fontinella Cheeses,
Muffuletta Olive Salad and Julienned Speck (Smoked northern Italian prosciutto)

1 pound torchietti pasta (or whatever shape you prefer).
5 tablespoons unsalted butter.
6 tablespoons flour.
1-1/2 teaspoons Colman's dry mustard.
5 cups half-and-half.
8 ounces Ivernia cheese from Kerrygold in Ireland, grated.
8 ounces provoletta cheese, grated.
2 ounces Fontinella cheese, grated.
1-1/2 cups muffuletta olive salad, finely chopped (see method).
8 ounces speck, cut 1/4 thick, sliced in half lengthwise and julienned crosswise.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

For the olive salad, follow the link above and, if you don't want to make such a large amount of olive salad for later use, just kinda wing it like I did, approximating the proportions of ingredients. I used a tall jar of pimento-stuffed green olives, a jarred giardiniera mix from Roma (using about 1/3 of a jar that was about the same size as the olive jar), omitted the fresh celery and carrots and pickled cauliflower. Also, for this use, you'll want to finely dice and sauté a small brown onion instead of using jarred pickled cocktail onions, and mince and sauté the garlic as well. If you're making a large quantity remove the 1-1/2 cups of olive salad you'll need for the dish before adding the oil at the end; you don't want any extra olive oil in your pasta dish.

For the cheese sauce, heat the butter in a large pot until it foams. Add the flour and mustard, whisking until no lumps remain. Add the milk gradually, whisking constantly, and bring to a boil, continuing to whisk constantly, scraping the bottom and edges of the pot so it doesn't stick. (This makes a classic bechamel sauce.) Slowly bring the bechamel to a boil, which is necessary so that it'll thicken properly, whisking all the while. Reduce heat and simmer for 3-5 minutes, whisking frequently, until the sauce is the consistency of very heavy cream (sauce coats the back of a spoon). Add the olive salad and combine throughly. Cook over medium-low heat for a minute or so until the olive salad is warmed through. Remove from heat, add the cheese(s), then stir until the cheese is melted. Add the julienned speck, salt and pepper and stir until combined.

Add the pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for 5-6 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Pour into a buttered 9x13x2" baking dish.

To finish, heat in a 350F oven for 10 minutes so that it firms up a bit. We served ours with fresh-baked olive oil bread from Roma; any good Italian bread will do.

YIELD: 6-8 main course servings, 12 side-dish servings.

I was thrilled once I got this into the oven. All of a sudden, the whole kitchen smelled like muffulettas toasting in the oven at Napoleon House! Yeah you rite!! I love it when an idea manages to leave my head and come together in real life.

Of course, I was in such a rush to finish the dish à la minute and get to the party while it was still piping hot that I neglected to photograph it, and I didn't even photograph it once I got there. (Duh.) I did manage to crop out a crappy but viewable look at the dish from another larger photograph of the entire table.


I chose the torchietti because of its semi-resemblance to a muffuletta bun; the provoletta, aged a bit with a deeper, richer flavor than provolone, stood in for the latter. I wanted a stronger flavor than what we'd get out of mozzarella, since the cheese was the star of the dish, and the Irish Ivernia, enhanced with a bit of our beloved Fontinella, did just great.

The speck stood in for the ham, Genoa salame and mortadella (although a julienne of any one of those or all three would also undoubtedly work great in this dish), and since the very generous proprietor of Roma offered us some of his special olive oil bread to have with it, who were we not to listen to him? (It is beautiful stuff, and a little torn-off chunk of that went really well with the dish, and helped remind us of its sandwich origins.)

Olive Oil Bread from Roma Italian Grocery and Deli Olive Oil Bread, inside

Look at that stuff ... man oh man. I couldn't really get a picture of the whole loaf that did it justice -- it was easily two feet long, a foot wide and four inches thick -- but it looks more like an soothing sculpture than a loaf of bread. Beautiful, edible art. Tender and silky and unctuous and ... oh my.

The dish was still nice and hot by the time we got there, and people weren't messing around; already there were a dozen dishes on the table, crowds were forming, and dishes kept coming in every 5 or 10 minutes.

I was greeted warmly by the hosts ("Uh oh, here he is!") and got a bit of stink-eye from someone I had defeated last year, who I believe came in second or third and who foolishly believed that I should retire. Ha! Only when I am truly bested in battle by every member of the mac and cheese horde!

That's a lotta mac 'n cheese...

That wasn't even all of it -- not everyone had arrived yet, but this was the main table. Eventually it was so crowded that some dishes were in danger of teetering over the edge, and the overflow table in the kitchen ended up being covered with dishes too.

All in all I counted 34 different macaroni and cheese dishes, ranging from the truly Epicurean to the unconventional (a cold macaroni and grated cheese salad with greens) to the ballsy and humorous (Kraft Mac 'n Cheese out of the box) to the lame (Stouffer's. Bleh ... why would anyone even bother tasting that?).

There were a couple of overriding themes thanks to the wording of the invitation, which said, "We encourage decadence (read bacon and/or truffles.)" Well, who can complain about bacon turning up a lot, except that it does make for some sameness. I made it a point to exclude bacon from the dish, in fact, so that mine would stand out. Of course, a sufficiently different and delectable pork product was substituted. As for truffles, there wasn't a single shred of truffle to be had, but unfortunately there was lots of truffle oil. Recalling Tony Bourdain's snarky observation about the overuse of truffle oil in today's trendy restaurants, I tended to find that most of the dishes at the event containing truffle oil used it with far too heavy a hand, and that also tended to give those dishes a lot of sameness. I also immediately discounted any dish that was dry and that lacked creaminess, which is an essential quality for a mac and cheese dish (fortunately there were none like last year, where a few people just boiled some elbow macaroni and melted Cheddar cheese over it ... eek).

I had several favorites -- well, mine, of course (it tasted really, really good and I was very happy with it); one called "Bacon Lasagne" that had a loose lattice of bacon strips across the top and a lighter hand with the truffle oil; Steve's "End of the Baseball Season Bratwurst & Grilled Onions Mac & Cheese" dish, made from the leftover bratwurst we had had at a party at their house the day before, with grilled onions, which was excellent; there was a gigantic batch served in an aluminum foil turkey roaster that featured Italian sausage -- good but not spectacular; plus one called "Alpen Macaroni (Swiss recipe)" featuring Gruyère cheese, potatoes, bacon, heavy cream and beautifully caramelized onions.

When time came for voting, I narrowed it down as best as I could. I actually considered voting for myself, because mine was honestly one of the two or three favorites, but I wasn't there to rig or throw an election, so I decided on another favorite and voted for that -- the Alpen Macaroni.

And speaking of rigging elections ... while the votes were being counted there was apparently a rather obvious attempt on someone's part to stuff the ballot box. Many votes came in for one dish, all in the same handwriting, and were thrown out. Sheesh. Amateurs! If you're going to rig an election, at least try to do it so that your corrupt, immoral, evil! vote actually wins it for you. They mustn't have been enough of a disciple of Karl Rove. (Actually, to be serious for just a second, it was a child who was trying to help out her mortified mother, who upon discovery of the ballot-stuffing immediately disqualified herself and patiently explained to the tyke that rigging elections is not what we do in this country. Well, not what we should do in this country, at least.)

When the final tabulations were made ... your boy came in second. The winner? Alpen Macaroni! Hmm, if he ended up winning by one vote I'd feel kinda stupid. Maybe I shoulda voted for Steve, who had my other favorite and which actually was better, but I thought maybe I should give someone other than my friends a chance. (Silly idea, though; my friends are great cooks and do, in fact, rule.) I got one bit of feedback from someone who opined I "got robbed" and went on to say, "I thought [the winner] was a little one-dimensional, flavor-wise. [Yours] had different flavors, all terrific, in every bite." Aww, thanks.

In any case, congratulations to Dan, the 1st Place winner!

I don't know how close it was, and actually, I was happy despite having been deposed from my Macaroni Throne. Below is a photo of the two champions -- on the left is Dan, the winner, then ... um ... Mrs. Dan (sorry), then me, then our hosts Sherri and Mitch. Turns out that not only had I voted for Dan, but Dan voted for me! Awww. Really nice guy, but next year he shall topple!

Da Winnahs!  AWARD!  AWARD!!

As last year the 1st Prize was an Uglydoll (last year my prize was an Ice-Bat; this year it's Tray, who apparently not only has three eyes but three brains too).

I have to confess I kinda wanted another Uglydoll. Although, once I got there ... second prize looked pretty cool too. I would have been happy with either. In fact, once I got to the party and saw it, I decided that I actually wanted the second prize more.

Even though winning 1st Place would have resulted in my having an actual Uglydoll collection (one needing two of something before it constitutes a collection), 2nd Place made me happy. It was a Toxic Teddies Ramones Set. Toxic Teddies are "a selection of bears designed to unsettle and frighten people." But The Ramones aren't frightening, they're awesome! (Well, unless you're my Mom's age or something.)

Hey, ho!  
Let's go!

Hey, ho! Let's go!

But dammit ... I want another Uglydoll next year.

"Fat on fat on fat."   Although they're six months too early for National Grilled Cheese Month, the New York Times takes a look at the wonderful world of grilled cheese in Los Angeles. (Those of you who are regular readers will be well aware of the keen interest in grilled cheese we've got ova by this weblawg.)

IS there any pain quite as sweet as the one caused by a steaming drip of cheese oozing from between slices of just-grilled bread and onto your lower lip?

Buttery, salty and enduringly simple, the grilled cheese sandwich stands unrivaled in the universe of simple gastro-pleasures. It is the gateway sandwich to the land of hot sustenance, the first stovetop food many children learn to prepare by themselves.

But in Los Angeles, the grilled cheese is less a starting place than a destination, an object of outright mania, not just at workaday coffee shops but also at any number of well-regarded restaurants, where it.s slathered with short ribs, decorated with piquillo peppers or topped gently with a quail egg.

Thursday is grilled cheese night at Campanile, a standard-bearer of Italian dining in Los Angeles, and the restaurant.s busiest night, when the tables bustle with families, hot daters, girls-night-out revelers downing prosecco, and divorced dads hoping to buy good will from their estranged children.

And have I ever been to Grilled Cheese Night at Campanile? No. Why? Because this feckin' Thursday night radio show can be damned inconvenient sometimes. Sigh.

Lots of other places do delectable grilled cheese around town too, but I particularly liked this one not only for its sandwich but for The Money Quote:

At the Foundry on Melrose, [Chef] Eric Greenspan has a grilled cheese that weds taleggio cheese with short ribs, arugula and apricot caper pur?e on raisin bread.

Mr. Greenspan served raisin bread with his cheese courses and thought it would translate well in grilled cheese sandwiches. He added the meat because, he explained, a chef with ribs on the menu tends to have short rib scraps lying around anyway. (I have provided a recipe that does not call for ribs, presuming that like me, you have a lack of short rib scraps in your kitchen.)

I ate one in near silence in his kitchen over a white linen napkin, unable to turn my attention from this slightly spicy (arugula), decidedly messy (cheese and short ribs) and pleasantly salty amalgam.

"Grilled cheese is basically fat on fat on fat," Mr. Greenspan said cheerfully.

Heh. Yeah you rite.

Chef Greenspan offers a similar recipe to the one described, a Grilled Taleggio with Apricots and Capers. I love grilled Taleggio; I did a sandwich version of my budino di pane saporito (savory bread pudding) with Taleggio, guanciale and fresh porcini mushrooms. Oh me oh my. It was good.

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  Monday, October 1, 2007

Harry Lee, 1932-2007.   The controversial sheriff of Jefferson Parish (west and south of New Orleans and part of the New Orleans metro area) died today of leukemia, aged 75.

Harry Lee

Love him or hate him, he was a legend, and a true New Orleans character.

I only have one Harry Lee story, and it happened not to me but to a family member. (Actual participants in the story are encouraged to correct me if I've gotten any details wrong.)

One night my aunt and uncle and my little cousin Mia were out at a restaurant, and as they were about to leave they ran into Sheriff Harry Lee. He spotted Mia, who I believe was about three at the time, and said something along the lines of, "Hey little girl, wait right here, I've got a present for you." Her parents, not unimpressed by the Gargantuan presence, both literally and figuratively, of Harry Lee, duly waited. He instructed one of his minions to go out to the car and look for "that thing" and to bring it back to him. The flunky was gone for a long time, then came back and reported to the sheriff that he was unable to find whatever it was that he was supposed to be looking for. Harry ordered him to go back. He did, and again was gone for a long time.

By this point both Mia and her folks were beginning to get a little fidgety. The situation was starting to get ... weird. (Apparently Harry wasn't much for small talk.) As they murmured that actually it was time for them to go, Harry wasn't having any. "Stay right there!" he barked. "Don't move!" Gulp.

The flunky returned and sheepishly reported that he wasn't able to find whatever it was that the sheriff wanted. Exasperated, Harry had them all follow him out to the car, where he opened the trunk, rummaged around and in short order found what it was he was looking for, and presented it to Mia with a flourish.

It was a bobblehead doll. Of Harry Lee.

Only in New Orleans.

Liquor store update.   Attention, Los Angeles-area residents! Lucid Absinthe has been spotted (by me) at Beverage Warehouse on McConnell Street in Mar Vista. $60 a bottle. I had to chuckle when I saw that "Lucid Absinthe Superieure" is shelved right next to "Absente, Absinthe Refined," because Absente isn't absinthe at all, it's an overpriced (and in my opinion inferior) pastis. Lucid, containing grand wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is the real deal, and though not quite up there with Ted Breaux's top-of-the-line products it's still a very good product.

The price isn't bad, either, and it's a good starter absinthe. Now, don't forget all your glassware, spoons and absinthe fountains ... it's not quite as much fun without all the accoutrements!

I also picked up some Vya vermouth (finally!), both sweet and extra dry. We're gonna have some fun.

New Orleans' Best Cocktails: The Tom Collins and the Raspberry Collins.   This week master bartender Chris McMillian of the Library Lounge in New Orleans takes us through one classic and an updated verion.

They had some beautiful plump firm raspberries at Trader Joe's yesterday, and in the afternoon we had Raspberry Collinses. Man, what a good, refreshing drink.

The Cocktail Spirit.   Robert's got a new video up today, and which version of the drink will he talk about -- the brandy version, or the gin version?

The French 75

The French 75 is a delightful champagne cocktail, which first appeared in "The Savoy Cocktail Book" by Harry Craddock in 1930. The drink get's it's name from the 75 millimeter field gun used in the first world war.

Why, the correct version, of course! (*snark!*)

Johnny's in the basement ...   wondrin' where the bacon went.

Bob Dylan has a message for us ... thanks to Steve for setting it up!

You can make your own message at the Dylan - Everything Except Compromise site. (Dylan: His Greatest Songs, 3-CD box set with lots of extras, out today.)

September Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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Several of my friends and loved ones (and a few kind strangers) contribute regularly to this weblog, providing links, comments and sometimes lots more. Thanks to Wesly Moore, Mike Luquet, Mary Herczog, Steve Hochman, Dave Schmerler, Nettie DeAugustine, Diana Schwam, Andy Senasac, Michael Yasui, Steve Gardner, Michael Pemberton, Steve Kelley, Barry Kelley, Eric Labow, Tom Krueger, Greg Beron, Sean Burke, Shari Minton and Barry Enderwick.
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