Archive for category Eat This

Drink This: Hot Dr Pepper

Round about Christmas time, Buzzfeed put up a video titled “9 Ways Christmas In The 60s Was Super WTF“. One of those ways was a commercial suggesting Dr Pepper not just as a cold and fizzy drink to enjoy at 10, 2, and 4, but as a hot drink, perhaps perfect for a sophisticated winter dinner party. Here’s a full-length version of the Hot Dr Pepper ad:

When I first saw the ad, I assumed it was an attempt by Dr Pepper, in a time before soda became an all-year, every-meal drink for many Americans, to sell their product during the coldest months of the year. Why not heat it up? Drink it warm? Use Dr Pepper to fight away the chill of a harsh winter night. I laughed at the video, and went about my life. A few weeks later I was trying to settle a bet about whether or not prune juice is one of the famously secret 23 flavors, I happened upon the FAQ on Dr Pepper’s website, and there among the questions was this:

Q: What is hot Dr Pepper?
A: Hot Dr Pepper was developed many years ago as a refreshing winter drink. Heat Dr Pepper in a saucepan to 180 degrees, place a thin slice of lemon in the bottom of a coffee mug or insulated cup and pour the heated Dr Pepper over the lemon.

So it wasn’t just a one-time campaign in the 1960s to get people to drink a cold beverage hot to push sales in lean months. This is still a thing. That they still suggest you try. So I figured…why the hell not?

Now, I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand. Namely, I didn’t have Dr Pepper or a lemon. One might observe that I didn’t have any of the ingredients on hand, and perhaps that’s fair. I did have a 12-pack of Dr Pepper taste-alike Dr. Bob. It’s long been my favorite Dr Pepper clone. As that review states, it’s a little dryer, which I think is what I like about it. I also had orange juice. I also had rum.

Simple recipe. I put just enough orange juice in the bottom of two mugs to cover the bottom, probably not even a tablespoon. I heated the Dr. Bob until it was steaming. Then I poured it over the orange juice. The result is something similar to a toddy, and perhaps an interesting alternative to an evening coffee or tea for someone who, like me, doesn’t like coffee or tea. The flavor was subtly different that Dr Pepper (or Dr. Bob) on its own, thanks to the added citrus. It was fine, but there was something missing.

That’s where the rum came in. I added just a capful, not even a shot. That’s what turned the drink from an interesting experiment into a quite delightful toddy. Something that I actually would serve at a party. Ramp up all the ingredients, put it in a crock pot, and not tell people what they’re drinking until after they’ve decided if they like it or not. Maybe I’ll even try it with the correct ingredients, not just those I happened to have on hand.

So drink up, it’s a cold few months ahead, and this is surprisingly good.

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Eat This: Rice Cereal

rice cerealThe list of ingredients is simple. It’s mostly rice, ground into a fine powder, and enhanced with vitamin E and iron. Mix it with a little warm milk or water, just enough to turn it into a slurry. Best served on a small spoon with enamel covering.

I’m sorry, I should have specified something from the get go. This particular episode of Eat This is aimed at the 4-6 month olds in my readership. I’ve been meaning to work on broadening my readership appeal. Look for my upcoming board book Mama’s Little Automaton.

We’ve started the little bird on her first bits of solid food. The first experiment was a mashed up banana thinned out with a little milk. We were later informed by our pediatrician that this is Not Recommended, as starting children on sweet foods like bananas can make it harder to introduce foods less interesting to eat. Like grains, vegetables, and basically anything else that isn’t actually sweet. So we backed off that, and started on a daily feeding of rice cereal. We started first at a 4-to-1 milk to powder ratio, and worked our way gradually to a more 1-to-1 mix, offered to her one meal a day just before we have dinner.

For three nights now we’ve offered her a dinner of rice cereal. And for three nights now she’s slept through the night. I’m probably jinxing it, but this is now her longest stretch of through the night sleeping, previously topping out at two nights. This isn’t even pediatric sleeping through the night, defined as midnight until 5am, this is our parental definition, from her bedtime of around 9pm until at least 7am the next morning. The kind of sleeping through the night that also lets us sleep through the night, and that’s a beautiful thing indeed.

I don’t know how much it’s a coincidence, whether offering her a meal of solid food at the end of the day is getting her through the nights. However, I cannot overlook the correlation and imply causation. It fills her up better, it’s slower to digest, there’s no reason to think the rice cereal isn’t directly tied to better sleep habits.

Some other highlights since last I spoke of the little bird on the blog:

We’ve found a rather foolproof way to get her to smile, and even laugh on command. It’s a little game called “P-U Stinky Baby!” It’s a rather simple game you can play at home, and really just involves saying “P-U STINKY BABY” in as high pitched a falsetto as you can manage. To mix it up, we’ll sometimes take her to see Other Baby (that weird backwards baby that lives in the mirror) and accuse her of being the “P-U stinky baby.” That makes both of them laugh.

She shows some awareness of her name. One of my favorite places to chart her progress are the milestone charts on babycenter.com. And I don’t mean to brag or anything, but at a week shy of 5 months the little bird has mastered all of the 5 month “most kids” listing, two of the “half of kids,” and is all over two of the “advanced skills.” If she keeps up with blowing these charts out of the water, we should in the next month see her crawling and jabbering. This is all exciting, as most Ivy League universities are now so competitive that a few weeks’ head start on jabbering can only help her future merit scholarship application.

It’s hard to reconcile the little person living in our house now compared to the pink lump we brought home back in September. Every day are new adventures, and clear progress as she moves towards being a fully aware and interactive toddler.

Next time I do “Eat This” I promise an actual Eat This post rather than using the feature to trick you into reading about my baby. As a hint, it involves something in this video:

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It Tastes Like Blue

That’s how I described a certain liquor I’m not too fond of at a Greedy Santa event I MCed this year.  It’s an assessment I stand by, even as some participants insisted that blue is not a flavor, and if it was what does it taste like?  My answer: Just look at Gatorade flavors.  The yellow is lemon-lime.  The red is fruit punch.  The purple is grape.  The blue?  Grab a bottle and you’ll see the flavor is “cool blue.”  Oh, some blue things are raspberry flavored, even orange flavored for my fellow cocktail enthusiasts, but so often the flavor is just…

Blue!

This is a companion piece to my article over on Unleaded today.  There I talk about smells, here I’m talking about flavors.

Taste is a less pervasive sense in writing.  While characters have noses and are frequently experiencing smells, they don’t necessarily run around tasting everything.  Unless, of course, you’re working on the novelization of Skyrim.  But the times that characters do eat, we want to know what they’re eating, we want to know how it tastes, we want to know if they’re enjoying it.  We as readers, in short, want food porn.

Describing food is an artform.  There’s a reason that restaurant critics are highly regarded for their craft and paid beyond just their expense reports.  Not only have they refined their palates to distinguish excellent food from the merely very good, the best ones also server as a master class in describing food, bringing the experience down to the reader so they know how the meal tasted, without stumbling over redundancies or repetition.  Few things can really gin us up like a well crafted description of excellent food.  The fact that we even call it “food porn” speaks to the sort of visceral reaction well chosen taste description elicits.

It’s one reason I do my Eat This series of posts on the blog.  While typically off topic to the direct subject of writing, they are, each and every one, exercises in both research and description.  And ones that I will readily admit fall short of their targets at times.  There’s a reason why I’m a currently unpublished genre writer and not Tom Sietsema.  There’s also a reason why Sietsema would be one of my first picks if I started interviewing writers here in the blog.  Maybe one day.  But I see each and every Eat This post as an opportunity to practice food description for that day I decide to put down a big banquet scene in a book.

Oh crap.  I’ve got one of those coming up in like seven chapters.

Over on Unleaded I suggested, as an exercise, smelling something.  Or just going through your day a little more aware of the smells around you.  Actually think about them, and try describing them as though talking to someone with anosmia, the inability to smell.  Know what I’m going to suggest here?  Oh, just take a guess.  Yup, eat something, and then describe it.  Here, I’ll even start:

[Bloggers note: I was about to post a picture of my lunch, but then realized that would be cheating.]  Lunch today was from the DC Lobster Truck, which may by the mostly highly regarded of the food trucks that patrols Washington and the suburbs.  And for damn good reason.  The lobster roll features big chunks of meat, perfectly cooked to be tender with only a hint of the chewiness lobster is known for.  It’s also hunks of meat from every part of the lobster, so the stringy bits of backmeat meld with unbroken claws that melt away.  The meat is mounded into the bun, rather than being artificially stuck together with mayo.  Let’s face it, mayo on a lobster roll is only necessary when a restaurant is looking to cover up the quality of their lobster, or that they’re making the rolls out of the bits of lobster they can’t serve in any other way.  The buns are liberally buttered before toasting, lending them a crispness that works perfectly with the softness of the meat, and mimicking the melted butter typically served with lobster.

There’s mine, just a little flavor description practice.  Feel free to volunteer your own.  Nothing that needs to fit into a larger narrative, nothing even longer than a paragraph, but with as much description as you can muster without giving in to cliché, repetition, or redundancy.  And don’t be afraid to use words not normally associated with flavors, just so long as they’re logical and evocative.  Sound good?  Then…go!

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Eat This: Blackberry Ketchup

In my culinary research about the 1860s (this is what I call my trips to America Eats) I’ve come across several recipes for ketchup that don’t include the one ingredient we most associate with the sauce: tomatoes.  Largely because the term “ketchup” has had a rather elongated history before becoming the thick tomato sauce we know today.

The original ketchup (kôe-chiap) was a Chinese sauce made from pickled fermented fish.  The idea of “pickled fermented fish” isn’t typically pleasing to the palate of our minds, but a similar sauce called garum (recipe) existed in ancient Rome and evolved into the modern Worcestershire Sauce.  Yes, we have two different refrigerator staples that owe to pickled fish sauce.  Three if you also keep Thai fish sauce on hand (you should), a sauce that is probably closer to the roots of ketchup than the modern tangy tomato sauce we get in packets with our french fries.  What became ketchup was a gradual invention that started in China, bounced to Indonesia, came home with English sailors, and immigrating to the New World.  Along the way the recipe was modified to fit the ingredients available and the sensibilities of the culture.

Which, from what I can tell, makes ketchup the culinary equivalent of the children’s game Telephone.

Tomatoes were an early ingredient in ketchup, though the resulting sauce was thinner and more acidic.  As the recipe evolved and traveled to North America, several variations came about, mostly involving the fruits of the New World.  Webster’s even defined “catchup” in 1913 as a “table sauce made from mushrooms, tomatoes, walnuts, etc.” Finding that definition, by the way, is the first I’ve heard of walnut ketchup.  On the current menu for America Eats there are 8 ketchups (a concept so bizarre that Firefox insists “ketchups” is not a word) which include a tomato recipe from 1830, but also recipes for fruity ketchups made with gooseberries, grapes, blackberries, and cranberries, and even offerings of oyster and, as promised by Webster’s, mushroom ketchup.  I have not had the pleasure of the ketchup sampler of yet, but I have tried the blackberry ketchup, which comes from an 1861 cookbook and was served with an 1869 fried chicken recipe.

It’s an interesting approach to blackberries, which we commonly think of only in terms of fruit salads, smoothies, and desserts.  It was rather like encountering mole for the first time, using an ingredient with a very identifiable flavor in a way so different from its typical uses within American cuisine.  It’s the culinary equivalent of running into a teacher outside of school.  There’s certainly a blackberry flavor, and it is sweetened as a proper ketchup should be, but there’s also the acidic tang of vinegar floating around, a mixture of spices, and even just a little touch of heat to pull it all together.

Since going to America Eats every time I have a hankering for blackberry ketchup would quickly bankrupt me, I went searching on the internet for a recipe and came across this one from the Food Network, as modified from a recipe served at the Chef’s Market in Goodlettsville, TN.  I recommend halving the recipe.

The recipe was relatively simple to make (not withstanding a mess caused by an improperly lidded blender) and resulted in a sauce that, while unquestionably blackberry flavored, was savory and tangy.  The final sauce was well thinner than a jam, or a bottled tomato ketchup, and would likely be good on any number of other items.  I could easily see serving it on biscuits or with sweet potato fries.  I went with the America Eats standard, though, and served it over my go-to fried chicken:

Prepare a breading of roughly two parts panko bread crumbs to one part flour, flavored liberally with white pepper, no salt.  Heat about 1/4″ of oil in a frying pan.  Magic range on my stove is about 5 to 5.5, your stove may vary.  Dip chicken tenderloins first in milk, then in bread crumb mixture.  Fry until golden brown and crispy, drain on paper towels, and enjoy.  The panko/flour mix is key, as the bread crumbs provide a lot of crunchiness and the flour provides for a more even coating.

Was my ketchup and chicken as good as Jose Andres’s?  No.  Because I will never cook anything as good as Jose Andres, even when going from his cookbook (I know, I’ve tried making his Txangurro, and it was tasty but just not quite there).  However, it is a simple foray into an entire category of sauces, almost completely lost in modern American cuisine.  In an interview with the New York Times coincidental with the opening of America Eats, Andres lamented, “Why, as a society, have we let this diversity go away?  Why would we go from a rainbow to black and white?”  My first attempt at homemade non-tomato ketchup was both tasty and easy.  Some of the recipes I’ve found are a little more advanced, include some spice steeping, but nothing more complicated than I’ve done while brewing beers.  Some highlights I’d like to try:

Many of these recipes make several pints, so may be suitable for jarring, or should be halved or even quartered for home cooking and serving.  A few specifically suggest letting the ketchup age at least a week before use.  I’ve tried none of the ones I’ve just linked, they all just fascinate me as further options in the exploration of the lost sauce ketchup.

Look for Eat This to journey more through civil war era cuisine as I now have two books that include 1860s recipes, and am plotting a big gala scene for Nickajack.  Trust me, it’s not all hardtack and corn pone.  Though I do now have recipes for both.  Oh, and if you’re in the DC area, go to America Eats.  Yes, I’ve said that before.  Originally slated to close this week, it’s been extended to July 4th, and while there is a hope to find a permanent home for it, it’s impossible to say whether there will be a downtime, or promise it still won’t go away completely.  I talked to the manager on duty about the future plans, and he said what Jose Andres is currently planning is never a guarantee to what he will eventually do.

 

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A Writer Reviews: Them Apples

I love Honeycrisp apples.  And really, who wouldn’t?  They were scientifically created by the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities to be the perfect apple for eating raw.  They’re crisp, they’re sweet, they’re juicy, they really are the best thing that you can grab out of the grocery store produce aisle and just sink your teeth right into.  Except they’ll probably want you to pay for the apple first.

But this is A Writer Reviews, not Eat This.  So why am I talking about Honeycrisp apples?  Well, first I want you to see a picture of a Honeycrisp.

Honeycrisp photo released under the Creative Commons Attributions-Share Alike 3.0 license by wikipedia user Jonathunder.

Aw man, that looks good, doesn’t it?  They get that great two-toned skin similar to a gala apple that makes them visually distinct.  I show you that picture to show you another picture.  These are the kinds of apples that Once Upon a Time has been using for the Evil Queen.

Red Delicious photo released under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 by wikipedia user Fir0002/Flagstaffotos.

That’s a Red Delicious apple, the apple that put Washington State on the map as an apple producer, and that still makes up most of the crop in the state.  Not as good for eating raw, great for cooking.  It has an iconic look to it, somewhat tall with very distinct bumps on the bottom, and a uniform red coloration throughout.  Every apple we’ve seen thus far on Once Upon a Time has clearly been a red delicious.  However, this week’s episode made a point of calling them Honeycrisps.  Several times.  It expounded on the ability of the Honeycrisp to grow in harsher northern climates.  Which is true, it’s what they were partially bred for.  A character talks about tending a Honeycrisp tree since she was a child.  Which is unlikely for the age of the actress, since they were only recently released, but since she’s also the Evil Queen I can forgive her a lie on this matter.  But to go out of the way to pick one very specific type of apple and then show another?  I can’t understand that.

If the store the prop department goes to doesn’t have Honeycrisp apples, they you go to the farmer’s market or the off ramp in Valencia and you buy a bag from Pedro.  Where’s the effort?

Sorry, that’s not me getting into random racial profiling, but rather it’s from another show that featured very specific species of apples this week, American Horror Story.  In a great scene, Zachery Quinto, playing a ghostly house stager (fantastic sentence to type) wants Granny Smith apples for a bobbing station, but series star Dylan McDermott bought Galas.  And, by god, those are Gala apples floating in the basin.

In the case of a television show, this is a prop department issue.  The prop department for American Horror Story is clearly a little more up on its apple varieties than the prop department of Once Upon a Time.  Or cares a little more.  Or realizes if a character is going to get mad about a variety of apples, it better as hell be that variety of apples.  If you think I’m being harsh and pedantic on Once Upon a Time (“I think you’re over-reacting.”  “Because I’m the only one who actually gives a shit?”), well, I am.  But I’m also not the only person who noticed that they clearly were not using the new darling of the apple world, and instead using mealy cooking apples.  But it’s still a prop department issue, not a writing room issue, so why am I even bringing it up?

As writers on the page, rather than writers for the screen, we are our own prop departments.  And we are writing for an audience that is going to include harsh and pedantic people, because that’s who people are.  So we have to do what we can to ensure that the props we put in stories are accurate, especially if we’re being precise about their nature.  If there’s a bowl of gala apples on a table and a character examines their green skin, that’s a prop error.  If Dirty Harry is running around shooting his .44 Magnum, he better fire either five shots or six, because if there’s a seventh, that’s a prop error.  Anytime a real world object is mentioned by name, it better work and look the right way or include an explanation of why it doesn’t.

People will notice these things.  People will call bullshit.  And it will pull people out of the stories.

What’s the solution?  There are two.  Less specificity and more research.  The former works where specificity isn’t essential to the plot, but be careful not to turn it into a cheat.  Sure we’re not going to know the make and model of every gun being shot at our hero as she escapes the death trap set up to finally kill her, especially if we’re in third person limited or first person perspective.  But we’ll probably know what her gun is, even if it’s a fictional one, just so that the rules of the weapon can be internally consistent.  So when specificity is called for, it’s time to do enough research to make sure the details are right.

So get your apples right.  And while you’re at it, go out and try a Honeycrisp if you haven’t.  Me?  I’ve actually got a bottle of Honeycrisp hard cider at home I’ve been meaning to break open.

Honeycrisp photo released under the Creative Commons Attributions-Share Alike 3.0 license by wikipedia user Jonathunder.
Red Delicious photo released under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 by wikipedia user Fir0002/Flagstaffotos.

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Eat This: Mango Ice Cream

This weekend found me at the Charlotte Hall Farmers Market up in Maryland.  I’ve heard stories of this particular market since my wife went two years ago, so I was excited to finally check it out for myself.  It was an odd duck, simultaneously larger and smaller than I expected.  The entirety of the affair was larger, a massive sprawl that included semi-permanent antique stores, a strip containing vendors of questionable repute, and several people selling kittens, puppies, baby rabbits, chicks, kids (goats not human), and various extraneous animals.  The farmers market portion was smaller than I expected, only a few booths with actual fresh fruit and veggies.

At one of the booths the vendor was passing slices of mango out.  Mango is one of those flavors I always expect to like more than I do, and this showed me why: because I’d never had a proper tasting mango before.  It was sweet, tart, even a little bready in a good way.  $5 would get me a box.  Without asking how many in a box I handed over my $5 and in return got a crate of 12 mangoes.  Which…is a LOT of mango.  That meant the trick was what to do with all of them and before I even got home I had set my mind on mango ice cream.

This is the recipe I landed on, thrilled that it included coconut milk, one of those flavors that pairs with mango more perfectly than almost any other combination of flavors.  It drove home how good the mangoes were that I got my 2 cups of cubed mango not out of 2-3, but out of 2 with enough left over for a quick snack.  I also made one change to the recipe, a last minute audible.  With the ice cream churn already running I hit the idea of cubing a third mango and dumping it in to get actual mango chunks in the final ice cream.  This was no small feat, as disassembling a mango feels less like cutting a fruit and more like butchering a piece of meat.  In the end, it was the right call.  Easily the best ice cream that’s come out of our home churn, just barely topping the lychee ice cream from a year ago.  It’s a little icy, but the combination of the coconut, mango, and lime flavors results in a wonderfully tropical taste, and the big hunks of frozen mango add little juicy splashes to each bite.

We’re down to just two mangoes left now.  Probably one by the time I get home.  Never figured I liked the fruit nearly as much, and wouldn’t have guessed I could eat so many of them so quickly.

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Eat This: America Eats Tavern

Typically I use the Eat This segments of this blog to talk about my own cooking exploits, but today it’s about eating exploits.  This weekend, as a belated second anniversary dinner, my wife and I had the opportunity to try the America Eats Tavern, the latest DC offering by our favorite restauranteur Jose Andres (yes, I’ve reached a point in life where I have a favorite restauranteur, and I’m actually okay with that).  His is the mind behind Jaleo, Oyamel, and Cafe Atlantico, the latter of which has gone away in favor of America Eats.  This means I’ve now sampled all his DC restaurants except Zaytinya and the ultra hard to get into Minibar (one day…one day).

America Eats is meant to be a companion restaurant to a display currently at the National Archives about the history of food and the United States Government, and its menu features a combination of American classics does the Andres way, and old recipes that have disappeared.  The highlight of the latter is the catsup menu that we did not have an opportunity to try, but features older versions of the modern sweet-and-sour sauce, including a thinner tomato version and a blackberry catsup that I would love to find the recipe for.  It’s also unusual for an Andres restaurant as it’s not built around small plates, though I have heard tell tales of people who treat the appetizer menu like a typical Andres menu.  Instead it’s built around five courses: Oysters, Appetizers, Soups and Salads, Entrees, and Desserts.

Neither my wife or I has ever developed a taste of Oysters, so we skipped straight to the appetizers.  I can’t pass up hush puppies, though I was tempted by the presence of a PB&J on the menu.  My wife had a vermicelli pudding described as the “grandfather” of modern mac and cheese.  Jaleo has proven Andres knows his way around a fritter, and the hush puppies reinforce that.  They were much lighter than a typical hush puppy, and had a fantastic corn flavor with whole kernels visible in each bite.  If I could have changed one thing, I would have liked a little honey in the butter, but unquestionably the best hush puppies I’ve had.  My wife’s vermicelli pudding was a light mac and cheese, but with angel hair pasta and Parmesan cheese, and a fantastic crust.  Really, the phrase “fantastic crust” is going to come up a lot in this review.  The kitchen was quite adept in making things crunch that other restaurants forget should crunch.

Next course.  I got a watermelon salad with crab cake.  The crab cake again had that nice crust, just a slight char to the bottom that seals in all the flavor.  Unfortunately the sauce served with it was a touch salty for my taste.  The salad, however, was the star of the plate, and I almost wish I’d gotten twice as much of that instead of the crab cake.  The salad combined four cubes of sweet in-season watermelon, pickled rind, microgreens, and goat cheese.  Followers of this blog and the Eat This segments already know my opinion of goat cheese.  My wife had a peanut soup, a thinner version based on an old recipe.  She enjoyed it, but in her words wasn’t surprised the recipe had gone out of favor.

On to the entrees.  We passed up a two-person steak called the buffalo tomahawk, but saw several, and if you want some steak absolutely get it and split it.  It’s a full pound of buffalo that starts purple when it goes onto the grill and gets served with a giant bone handle, thus the name.  Instead my wife got the short ribs and I got the Lobster Newberg.  It’s hard to really heap additional praise on lobster.  It is, afterall, lobster.  It was served with an interesting side, almost a large crouton with chopped lobster meat in the middle and a poached quail egg on top.  The short ribs, again, perfect crust.  There was a crunchy char on the outside, with the meat inside as tender a piece of beef as I’ve tasted.

Then…dessert.  Two weeks ago, closer to our actual anniversary, we went to Jaleo in Crystal City (have I mentioned we love the Andres restaurants?).  When the waitress there heard we had reservations for America Eats she insisted we had to try the cheesecake.  That’s one of my go to desserts on a menu anyway, so I went into the dinner already knowing that’s what I would get.  It was entirely unlike a cheesecake I’ve had before.  The filling was the texture of whipped cream, the crust was like a graham cracker crumble, and the whole was garnished with raspberries.  It was an absolute dream.  My wife got a Vermont dessert called “sugar on snow” which, in its simplest form, is maple syrup served over snow or crushed ice.  In Jose Andres’s head, it’s that but also with maple candy, brown sugar cane, and other little fruity and sweet surprises hiding under the small mounds of shaved ice.

I can’t overlook the drinks menu, which has seen just as much thought go into it as the food.  I had a classic cocktail called a Milk Punch, made with citrus juices and brandy.  My wife had a Moscow Mule served in a proper copper cup.  But perhaps more interesting were the non-alcoholic drinks.  Several classic sodas, including Cheerwine and Moxie, are available.  There are a selection of classic soda fountain drinks.  My wife picked a Dublin Dr. Pepper from the former, I picked a lactart from the latter.  Dublin, for those who don’t know, is the last Dr. Pepper bottling plant using the original recipe.  It’s like what you remember Dr. Pepper tasting like as a child, when the flavor was new and everything seemed more intense.  The lactart was a lactic acid soured drink with a fruity flavor and good two inch head of foam.  I have an uncanny ability to find the pinkest, frothiest drink on any menu, alcoholic or not.

We spent the evening seated at what would be, for my money, the be the best table in the house.  The entire restaurant is built in what feels like an old row house, so it’s a very vertical space with lots of half floors.  The kitchen is on the second floor, and there are two dining rooms each a half floor up before Minibar at the very top.  We were on the half floor above the kitchen, right on the railing, so we had an eagle eye view of everything being cooked, as well as a view of every bit of food going one more flight up the stairs.  Even had a server stop and show us what he was carrying up when I looked clearly interested in the fizzing glass on his tray.  Very well done on his part.

I’m gushing, I know.  In the end, the meal and the atmosphere give me no reasons not to gush.  It was the big things, and even the little touches, like checks delivered as bookmarks in classic volumes rather than the traditional leather bifolds.  By my understanding it’s a short-term space, keyed around the Archives exhibit.  So if you get the chance, please go.  Reservations are tough, we got ours a month in advance and even then had to settle for 5:45pm on a Sunday, but they’re certainly not Minibar tough.

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Eat This: Green and Goat Burgers

We’ve got way too many tomatoes.  Especially since I’m not really a fan of tomatoes.  If they all go ripe at once we’re going to have no choice but to either stew and can them, or give a bunch of them away, so we’ve been looking for green tomato recipes.  Because for some reason I do like green tomatoes.  I knew you could fry them, but as I was planning to fire up the grill last night I wondered.

Can you grill them?

That’s when I found this recipe.  Grilled Green Tomatoes with Goat Cheese.  I was immediately sold, because I love me some goat cheese.  But I figured, yeah, I could make those a side dish.  But I’m already planning corn as a side dish.  And really, tomatoes and cheese belong on a burger, not beside a burger.

One pound of ground buffalo.  Get it when you can find it and are looking to make burgers.  Seriously.  It’s going to be $1-2 more than ground beef (though I have seen it less than ground beef) but you are going to absolutely taste the difference.  Split into patties, onto the grill, and cover it to get them nice and smoky.  I simplified the tomato marinade to just olive oil, lime juice, white pepper, and salt.  The pepper acted as an emulsifier by complete accident so I had a really thick sauce.  I started the tomatoes when I flipped the burgers.  Careful, the olive oil will drip and you will get flair ups.  Gave the tomatoes a few minutes on one side, a minute on the other, then stacked them onto the burgers.  Added a big dollop of goat cheese on top, then covered it all again to give the cheese a chance to melt.

Oh.  You grill your buns, right?  Grill your buns!  I actually brushed them with a little more of the oil-and-lime marinade and tossed them on, just a few seconds, bread burns fast.  Take the buns off, stack the burgers on, and just enjoy the hell out of one of the best burgers you’ve pulled off your grill.  If you’ve never tried buffalo, I can only describe it as “beef, but more so.”  No gamey quality, it’s like the buffalo somehow develop their own Worcestershire sauce naturally.  Green tomatoes don’t yet have the tart tang of ripe tomatoes and are so sweet, and when grilled they have no crispness left.  The goat cheese is just creamy wonderfulness.  Seriously.

If you’re growing tomatoes, grab one now, nice and green.  Heck, it’s one fewer tomato for the squirrels to eat.  Fire up the grill, and get cooking.

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Eat This: Grilled Corn

I don’t mean this as a slight against Nebraskans, though I’ve yet to have anyone from the fine state visit this blog, but I don’t understand corn huskers.  You’ve seen them.  They stand around the corn in the grocery store, pulling every last husk off the ears they’ve chosen, and leave them in the trash cans that the stores provide.  This saddens me for two reasons.  The first is the squeaking sound of half a dozen corn huskers going at once is like nails on a chalkboard.  The second is that it means they’re going to go home and boil their corn.

It means they aren’t going to cook their corn the best possible way: in husk and grilled.  Or in husk and baked, if you’re not grilling.  Or even in husk and microwaved.  The trick is the husk.  It’s one of the single finest cooking vessels that mother nature provides.  There’s a reason there are other recipes that involve cooking withing corn husks.

It’s simple.  Just soak the corn in water for a few minutes, put it on the grill, and wait until the husk is starting to blacken.  Then pull it off the grill, shuck it, and enjoy the best damn corn you can make.

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