* You are viewing the archive for November, 2004

Gimme a necta, bra!

New Orleans’ own “nectar”, that is — it began life as a soda fountain flavor at Katz and Besthoff drugstores in the Crescent City (known to the locals, of course, K&Bas “K&B”). I’m just barely old enough to remember the soda fountains at K&B — great burgers and fries, BLTs and, of course, those fabulous nectar sodas and floats.

Nectar is a New Orleans original, and I’ve had a hankering for it lately. Deep red, with an almond-vanilla flavor that was best described as tasting “like wedding cake”, it may have died out when the soda fountains did, but still lives on as a sno-ball flavor, and has even been resurrected by a little company in Mandeville. A little Googling revealed a forum on nectar on eGullet, a wonderful article from the Times-Picayune about it, and I was pleased to see that the New Orleans Nectar Soda Company is still around, kind of — their website has no real content, although when I was home for Christmas I bought a bottle of New Orleans Nectar Soda at the Rouse’s in the Quarter.

Pableaux Johnson, who wrote the T-P article, also says, “Folks craving the goodness of nectar closer to home might do well to check the shelves of a neighborhood grocery store. The Mandeville-based Nectar Soda Co. sells fridge-friendly six-packs of the stuff for open-and-sip convenience. The company also markets 16-ounce bottles of the syrup for those keen on mixing their own.

Syrup and soda are available at Dorignac’s, Langenstein’s Metairie Road store and most Sav-a-Center stores. Call (877) 463-2827 or e-mail nscmail (at) nectarsoda (dot) com for information.”

He was also kind enough to provide some “nectar sipping spots”, places in the Crescent City where you can go and have a soda the old-fashioned way:

Sophie’s Ice Cream, 1912 Magazine St. (504) 561-0291
Tuesday- Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Monday

Creole Creamery, 4924 Prytania St. (504) 894-8680
Sunday-Thursday, Noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Noon to 11 p.m.

Plum Street Snowballs, 1300 Burdette St. (504) 866-7996
Monday-Saturday, Noon – 9 p.m., Sunday, 2 – 9 p.m.
Closed Oct. 15 through March 15

Ah, Plum Street. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of huge Chinese takeout tubs full of finely shaved ice and syrup I’ve had there over the years. There you won’t get a soda or a float, but a gorgeous sno-ball drenched with nectar syrup and topped with a frightening amount of sweetened condensed milk. Heaven.

Finally, for do-it-yourselfers, I managed to find some homemade nectar recipes and made up a batch of both syrups. Recipe no. 1 seems to be the one; I wasn’t all that thrilled with no. 2, but maybe with tweaking (like more sugar, less water) it’d work.

Most importantly … when you’re making nectar soda, DO NOT use club soda! Use sparkling/carbonated water only, with a sodium content of 0. Club soda contains salt and sodium bicarbonate, and that really throws off the flavor of the nectar. If you’ve got a soda siphon, this is the perfect thing to use it for (other than gin fizzes, of course).

3 cups granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
2 tablespoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon red food coloring

Bring sugar and water to a boil over medium heat. Let mixture cook about 8 to 10 seconds. Cool. Add vanilla, almond and coloring. Makes about 1 pint.

3 cups sugar
6 cups water
1 can sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons almond essence
2 teaspoons red food coloring

Over low heat dissolve sugar and water. Bring to a boil. Cool. Add the condensed milk, vanilla extract, almond essence and red coloring. Stir well. Store in refrigerator. Makes about 1-1/2 quart.

NECTAR SYRUP III (quick and dirty)
1 bottle Torani vanilla syrup
1 bottle Torani almond syrup.
2 teaspoons red food coloring.

Combine both syrups. Add coloring. Rebottle.
Makes 2 bottles. (This actually isn’t half-bad.)

Nectar syrup
Sparkling/carbonated water or seltzer (NO sodium!).

Pour an inch or so of nectar syrup into a tall glass. Fill with sparkling water and ice. Stir to mix.

Nectar syrup
Vanilla ice cream
Sparkling/carbonated water or seltzer (NO sodium!)

Pour an inch of nectar syrup into a tall glass. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and sparkling water. Stir to mix. Serve with a scoop of ice cream on top or whipped cream and a cherry.

2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup nectar syrup (homemade or purchased New Orleans Nectar®)
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste.

(For this recipe you may want to experiment with the amount of sugar.)

In a heavy saucepan bring whole milk and heavy cream to a boil, reduce to a simmer and then remove from heat. Stir in nectar syrup and put the milk mixture to the side.

In a separate bowl whisk egg yolks with sugar until smooth. Return milk mixture to heat and bring to simmer again, slowly whisking in the egg yolk mixture. Strain the combined mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and cool. Proceed according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Makes 1 quart.

That oughta keep you busy for a while. Happy Thanksgiving!

My new Polish love

… is named Żubrówka.

Or “bison grass vodka”, which is perhaps a bit easier to pronounce than “zhu-BROOV-ka”. I’d been meaning to try this stuff for a while, since our friends Gregg and Mike had brought us some back from Paris. It’s the classic traditional Polish vodka, infused with native bison grass, which gives it an extremely distinctive flavor and straw-green color. Dr. Cocktail has been singing the praises of it for ages, while telling us the American brands have been artificially flavored for a while. Apparently bison grass contains coumarin, a substance with anticoagulant properties that’s also responsible for much of its flavor.

Waiting for an occasion, I suppose, we never cracked open the bottle of Żubrówka that’s been in our freezer since the boys brought it from Paris, but opportunity presented itself for a taste last night. We had dinner at Warszawa, the excellent Polish restaurant in Santa Monica, before heading to McCabe’s to see the Savoy Family Band play. It had been years since I’d been, and it was even better than I remember — bacon wrapped plums, crispy potato pancakes, grilled kielbasa sausages, pierogis of every description, beef stroganoff, thick pea soup with smoked ham and marjoram, smoked fish salad with dill … and Żubrówka! There it was, listed on the spirits menu, and what better time to try it than before a Polish meal. It arrived in a little vodka glass, ice cold right from the freezer.

I know a true Pole would scoff at me, but instead of knocking the whole thing back, I took a healthy sip first, as I wanted to savor it and get the entirety of the aroma and flavor.

Oh, my.

I instantly fell in love with this stuff. Spicy, yet almost sweet but not syrupy like a liqueur; paradoxically, it was dry yet reminded me of candy — traces of caramel and nougat and vanilla. It also tasted like green herbs, but not medicinal. I tasted flowers, and lemon, and even coconut (!), and so many things going on in there. This stuff’s dangerous. I immediately wanted more.

I’ve never read Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, but in it one character describes the flavor of Żubrówka as smelling of “freshly mown hay and spring flowers, of thyme and lavender, and it’s soft on the palate and so comfortable, it’s like listening to music by moonlight.” I can dig it.

After enjoying our Polish meal and two-plus hours of the finest Cajun music to be heard, the very first thing we did when we got home was to crack open our bottle of authentic Polish Żubrówka. The difference between the domestic Polish and European version and the type produced for export to America is that the most authentic Żubrówka has a long blade of bison grass in the bottle, and the American version doesn’t due to USDA regulations. Apparently there’s also some artificial flavoring involved as well, although I’m not certain about that now (at least one website claims that true bison grass vodka is now legal in all 50 states). The French bottling, which we had, looks like this.

It was goooooood. It was … well, it was like the stuff we had at the restaurant, only a bit more complex, certainly subtler. It was great. However, once we run out of this stuff (and it won’t be long), I think that for the time being I’ll still be happy with the American-export version.

They say that if you travel to Poland and start drinking with the locals, don’t ever try to outdrink them (unless you’re Russian, and then only maybe). I’d better be very careful. If I’m in Warszawa or Cracow, drinking with locals, and they bring this stuff out, I’m a dead man … ’cause it’s so good I would have no incentive to stop unless I become unconscious.

Na zdrowie!

From what I understand, most if not all Poles would consider the consumption of Żubrówka in a cocktail as being a crime, an offence against decency, utter blasphemy. It’s to be consumed ice-cold, alone and quickly. However, my research seems to have uncovered an exception …

This drink, which translates from Polish as “apple tart” and is also sometimes called “Tatanka”, appears to be the one exception to the prohibition against mixing Żubrówka with anything else, and seems to be looked upon fondly. You won’t believe how tasty this is.

(pronounced “shar-WOT-ka”, I think)

1 ounce Żubrówka (Polish bison grass vodka).
3-4 ounces apple juice.
Lemon wedge.

In a heavy rocks glass, build over ice and stir.
Garnish with the lemon wedge.

Contrary to what seems to be Polish popular opinion, I think that Żubrówka would make an excellent cocktail ingredient. Only two exist in CocktailDB, and I’ve already got some ideas.