Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cooking with Booze, Vol. 2: Bourbon Reprint #2

Readers, food isn't just a mechanism by which your body creates ATP to be used by your muscles. I'm not a Bio major, so I'm not even sure if I got that right. But trust me when I say that food is an adventure, and that's a scientific fact. Making food can be exciting, like trying to find a restaurant on foot at night on 82nd Street and getting lost. Except you're in your own kitchen, where only your housemates or dormies can mistake you for a prostitute.
One way of making food exciting is applying sauces. This is because making sauces sounds easy but takes some actual effort and practice. I have failed often enough to assure you that messing up a sauce is easy.
Fortunately, you can learn from my errors. Even if you still mess this one up, you can console yourself with the following Mint Julep recipe:

Mint leaves (as many as you like - how about five? Five is a good number)

1. Take your glass and your mint leaves and put them together. Put a little bit of sugar and pour it in with the mint leaves.
2. This is the tricky part. Muddle. Basically, the goal is to bruise/shred the mint leaves by means of abrasive action with the sugar. If you don't have a muddler, get creative... but not too creative, this isn't Renn Fayre.
3. Once you've muddled your mint leaves (the more the better, I say!) pour in some of that sweet bourbon.
4. Add sugar to taste. I won't judge you.
5. Imbibe. You just made for a pittance what costs 7 bucks at the Delta.

Now, a tasty sauce: bourbon creme anglaise.

1 cup whipping cream or heavy cream (or milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon

You will also need a whisk. Trust me, it's the best way to go.

Now, creme anglaise can be intimidating - there are several places where you can go wrong, and there's one skill required that not everyone has ever even heard of - keeping the yolk. To extract the yolk only from an egg, crack it carefully, but don't open it yet. Instead, hold the egg upright (pref. over a sink or something, because white is going to spill when you open it) and open it carefully. Really carefully. Now, you should have one half with some white in it and one half with most of the egg in it. Carefully trade the yolk back and forth between shell halves until you've gotten rid of most of the white. Voila!

1. Heat your cream in a saucepan over medium-low heat, aka setting 2 or 3. Be very, very careful not to go overboard with hotness, because it will split the cream and you will feel very sad. Add vanilla and simmer (setting 1). Always stir!!
2. Once you've got your yolks, whisk them with the sugar until the mixture is a sort of pastel yellow color, not unlike a cooked yolk.
3. Slowly pour about half your warm cream into your yolks and sugar and mix. Then pour all of that back into the saucepan.
4. Simmer this for a while. Don't let it boil, and don't stop stirring it. Ever. You should start noticing it thicken.
5. Add your bourbon. If you want to add even more bourbon, advance at your own peril. While White Russians don't curdle, there is a threshold at which you will cease to have bourbon creme anglaise and begin to have ugly bourbon and creme curds. And that's gross.
5a. (A tip for advanced users: When I get scared I have too much booze for the cream, I save some of the sugar from previous steps, put it in a cup with bourbon, and microwave it to zap some of the alcohol out, then add it back in.)
6. Serve on top of something delicious, like cake! Or ice cream! Or, now that you know how to make creme anglaise, add something to it besides/in addition to bourbon!

Allez cuisine!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cooking with Booze, Vol. 1: Bourbon Reprint #1

When I was in school (not so long ago) I wrote two columns for the school newspaper in order to open the minds of my colleagues to the wider possibilities of teh booz. As a bon vivant, serious chef, and equally serious drinker, I am not satisfied with just one side of one thing. Like Alton Brown, I need everything in my life to be useful or beautiful in more ways than one. So it is with his cooking implements, and so it is with my drink. What is the point of buying something you will only ever experience in one way?
As I tried to point out in my short-run column, cooking with alcohol can immediately elevate the sophistication of a dish, especially if you are a poor college student. Steak with port sauce sounds a lot cooler than just steak. And moreover, if you try hard, you can do it cheaply. For example, I currently have like a gallon of cheap port sitting on my countertop.
My recent attempts to get friendlier with my copy of that longtime bible of cuisine, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", have reawakened a desire in me to cook with booze. Mainly because cooking with booze is well-nigh one of the foundations of French cooking. That, and it makes for some good blog posts. Without further ado, I'd like to kick it off by offering you a reprint of my first column. Keep in mind that this was tailored for college students; if you have nice things, don't let my sassy instructions keep you from using them.

Readers, while I cannot in print endorse or support underage drinking, I think we can all say that alcohol is one of nature's great gifts to humanity. Besides getting you drunk, booze also has the magical property of making food taste DELICIOUS, which is something everyone can enjoy even if they don't drink. You can save yourself a lot of money and impress the hell out of whoever is eating at your place by mastering the art of cooking with booze. Let me take you there.
This month's booze is bourbon. If you live under a rock and don't know what bourbon is, it's a type of whiskey produced and favored by the American South. Bourbon tastes excellent with muddled mint leaves, AKA the 'Mint Julep'.
Bourbon also tastes great in sauces and marinades. As I found out thanks to Tarah at Genesis of a Cook, it also tastes great in DESSERT. Here is Tarah's recipe for Vanilla Bourbon Bread with Walnut Coffee Crumble, translated by me into College Student:

For Crumble Topping

1/2 cup walnuts
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. cold butter
1 tsp. instant coffee
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

For the Bread

2 cups flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs
2 tbsp. bourbon
2 tbsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. salt

You will also need a 9x5 baking pan.

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease that pan.
2. Put all the ingredients for the crumble in one bowl and then mix it. Don't worry about it; it doesn't need to be hardcore mixed.
3. Put all of the dry ingredients for the bread in a different, much bigger bowl. Mix them together until it's all nice and evenly mixed. Be careful, because if you're an out of control mixing freak you're going to get flour everywhere.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones. If you want to, you can add more than just 2 tsp of bourbon - though not TOO much. I personally think that another tsp would be awesome, but YMMV. Stir until ingredients are combined. If you don't have a mixer, don't sweat it - small lumps will come out fine.
5. Pour the batter into your greased pan, and top with the crumble. Bake for 40-50m, or until it's done (if you stick a toothpick in it, it comes up clean).

Allez cuisine!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Don'tcha wish your girlfriend was a sociolinguist like me?

As a student of linguistics, I have been trained to keep a professional ear out more or less at all times. This is good when I'm trying to figure out the sounds of languages I don't know, but most of the time it only really distracts me from conversations that I'm trying to have by drawing my attention to the form rather than the content. Which is to say, I geek out when I hear something cool or unusual. One of my favorite games to play when I watch TV is 'Spot the Canadian'. (Admittedly, some of these people might just be from the Upper Midwest, but given the number of successful Canadian actors on American television, chances are pretty good that that 'aboat'in' actress is really from the Great White North.)
Needless to say, in my many travels, I often hear variations on English that appear to have bizarre, nonsensical distributions (just because the sample size is too small) or that I simply can't connect to any dialect group I already know about (again, small sample size). Here are the two most common and bothersome:

both: My pronunciation of this rhymes with 'growth', vowel and consonants included. What I hear a lot around Arizona, my new home, is something that sounds more like 'boulth'. I've also heard this outside of AZ, but here it seems especially prevalent.
else: My pronunciation is something like 'elss'. What I hear some other people say: 'elts'. I want to say this is a West Coast thing, but I have no idea.

These are bothersome only because I have no idea what larger phenomenon to connect them to. Let's increase the sample size. How do you pronounce these words?