Friday, June 25, 2010

Detective Liver Punisher and the Curious Case of the Patriot Shot

Earlier this week, Monday to be precise, having wrapped up practice with the new band, Modestly Nautical, we decided that some post practice libations were in order. The closest watering hole to Joe’s house/practice spot is a fantastic little dive bar in South Euclid known as: The Razzle Dazzle!

This is the kind of place you’d expect to see your uncle who thinks Larry the Cable Guy is hilarious or that neighbor with the Iroc and the wraparound shades. It’s a working man’s bar and it is damn proud of it, too. It’s décor is simple, a few tables and chairs, bar stools, giant American flag, the usual, with a few slot machine-like skill games in the corner and a big screen TV that yearns for the return of football season. In a nutshell: this bar is perfect.

The drink selection is somewhat limited, mostly domestic beers—I think I saw Heineken’s in the cooler, but that’s less an import and more a waste of money—and the standard gin/tequila/rum/vodka/whiskey behind the bar along side some very old looking fairly dusty bottles of amaretto and other cordials that seem to be as much decoration as ingredient.

As we were ordering a round of Buds and Miller Lites our extremely friendly bartender mentioned there was a special shot available should we want and that a dollar from the price of each shot would be donated to the USO. The name of this drink-for-charity? The Patriot Shot, of course.

Two rounds in, we’d all switched to High Life at this point, our collective interests were piqued. I walked inside to buy my round of beers and a few Patriot Shots for the table. When this option had been first broached by the bartender we were trying to figure out what this “sweet, delicious, red-white-and-blue” shot might entail. My guess was a layered shot with grenadine, lemonade, and blue Curacao floating on top of each other. After ordering them I found that I wasn’t too far of the mark.

Here’s how it went down:
First the bartender filled a rocks glass a third to a half full with Smirnoff Ice. He then tipped the glass and carefully poured grenadine down the side of the glass which is thick and syrupy enough to lift the Smirnoff ice up a quarter of an inch. So that’s the red and the white, but how does the blue get in there? Well, the barkeep grabbed a cocktail shaker—I was a little surprised that the Raz Daz has one—scooped in some ice then poured in blue Curacao and vodka and gave the whole thing a good shake. This blue vodka mix was doled out into shot glasses and were set, not dropped a la Jaeger Bomb, into the rocks glass. The effect is somewhat like an inverted Bomb Pop with a blue vein running through out and peeking out the top.

And the taste:
Not bad considering the Smirnoff Ice or gross juice as I like to call it. It’s got the sugary candy blast from the grenadine and the orangey bite from the Curacao which balance out the chemically painful sweet-n-sour zing of the gross juice. The Patriot Shot goes down smooth and tastes too good to be alcoholic, but it is. It seems like there would be a better way to build this without sweet-n-sour malt liquor, but I’m not sure what. Coconut rum? Real, actual lemonade? Anything other than barfy-time hangover juice would be an improvement.

And now you know what to serve your friends and family this Fourth of July weekend, because nothing says America quite like booze and patriotism!

Oh! Speaking of Smirnoff Ice, am I the last person to find out about this:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Homemade Ginger Ale

We never had a lot of pop, or “soda” as some people call it, in the house growing up. Some times for parties we’d have a few 2 liters, but really the only carbonated soft drink in regularly our house was ginger ale. There for the rare occasion that a mixed drink was being made or for upset stomachs, a six pack of Canada Dry was usually in the pantry or garage. I think it’s because of this that ginger ale has long been a favorite of mine. It’s crisp, refreshing bite is unlike any other pop on the market science or placebo a bottle always made me feel at least a little better when I was under the weather.

But it wasn’t something I ever really thought about too much—because who really sits around and contemplates their preferred soda for more than a few seconds—until recently. We spent a portion of this past winter warming body and soul with the hearty, refreshing blend of bourbon and ginger ale and now that the weather is nicening up a bit I’ve become enamored with the classic cocktail the Moscow Mule ( While drinking all this ginger ale I started to remember an episode of Good Eats I’d seen a while back entitled “Ginger: Rise of the Rhizome” in which food genius Alton Brown discusses the unique qualities of the ginger root—not really a root, rather an underground portion of the stem from which roots grow—and its application to cuisine. On this episode one of the final recipes Brown shares is for homemade ginger ale. After looking it up ( and remembering how simple it was I decided I would make my own rather than continue to drink mystery chemical water.

The recipe is simple enough and only requires a little time and patience. For this application you will need:

1½ ounces of freshly grated ginger
6 ounces of sugar
7½ ounces of filtered water
1/8 teaspoon of dry active yeast
2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice

After grating the ginger add it, the sugar, and ½ cup of the water to a small pot. Place the pot on medium-high heat until the sugar completely dissolves. Then remove from heat and let steep for an hour. After an hour pour syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and press ginger pulp to extract any remaining syrup. If the syrup is still above room temperature place the bowl in the fridge or an ice bath until the temperature is somewhere between 68 and 72 degrees (you don’t want to kill the yeast!). Once cooled pour the syrup, yeast, lemon juice and remaining water into a two-liter bottle, cap, and gently shake to combine the ingredients. Allow the mix to stand for about two days, opening occasionally, once or twice a day, to relieve pressure. Once the desired level of carbonation is achieved place bottle in the fridge, opening once a day to relieve pressure.

So, I put this together this past Tuesday and after two whole days(!) of waiting I finally poured a glass. The results? Excellent! The taste is much different than most commercially sold ginger ales. This yields a much lighter, crisper, true ginger taste with just a hint of acidity from the lemon—it’s kind of like the salt or vanilla in a recipe, it’s not overwhelmingly noticeable but it wouldn’t be the same without it. On its own the ginger ale is clean, refreshing, and delicious with no overly sugary tooth rot feel or gross diet chem after taste, just sparkly, ginger goodness. My only complaint, and it’s minor, is that it’s not strong enough. I think nest round I’m going to up the ginger level a bit, and maybe try lime juice in stead of lemon. The only reason this is an issue is because the ginger-ness of the ale gets lost when mixing it. I think it’ll be a solid base for a Moscow Mule or something subtle like that, but with whisky it’s just tingly mouth feel from the carbonation and a bit of ginger after taste, not bad, but I don’t want it to be drowned out completely.

This recipe was so easy and delicious there’s no reason not to give it a shot and make you own homemade ginger ale!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

On Vodka

Walk into your local liquor store, State Liquor Agency here in Ohio, and you’ll be greeted by row upon row of bottles in all manner of shape, size, and color. Each one contains a liquid that was, hopefully, crafted with love by their distillers and sold to the public not just as an intoxicant, but as a delicious, interesting, unique foodstuff (drink-stuff?). I know every time I go into one I’m slightly overcome by the possibilities that lie within. A huge ingredient list waiting to be mixed, shaken, or stirred together in almost endless combinations to create an entire universe of delicious cocktails and beverages; I often feel like the proverbial kid-in-the-candy-store.

But I must admit there is one aisle in the liquor store that I generally avoid: the vodka aisle. While I’ve yet to meet a drink I can’t stand, standing there looking at bottle after bottle of clear liquid I can’t help but feel bored knowing that what’s inside varies little from brand to brand. Sure there are flavored vodkas offering up nearly as many options as Jelly-Belly, but coarse chemical flavorings seem bland and gross, to say little of the fact that flavored vodkas can easily be made at home with real, natural ingredients.

No, I think the real problem is the lack of any sort of identity in the vodka industry. It has no home, no ingredients, some history but that’s about it. To better understand let’s look at some other spirits.

In the wild world of whiskey there are a variety of factors that contribute to its gorgeous color and rich complex favors. Bourbon, for example, must follow certain production standards in order to attain the name “bourbon.” There are ingredient parameters, at least 51% of the mash must be corn; ageing and containment guidelines, at least two years in new charred oak barrels; and although “bourbons” can be produced in any state that permits the distillation of sprits, purists will tell you that bourbon only really comes from Kentucky, anything else is American whiskey. There are distinct parameters the come in to play during the distillation process that ensures bourbon its ruddy-brown color and rich, velvety taste. Similarly the drier, spicier flavor or rye whiskey is due to the fact that it must be made from at least 51% rye malt. Over seas Scotland takes the production of its eponymous whiskey even more seriously, with a laundry list of rules and regulations that must be followed in order to actually be scotch whiskey. Ireland, too, has its own rules and regulations regarding the production of the crisper, more astringent Irish family of whiskeys.

Regionalism, production guides, and ingredients aren’t just important to whiskey. South of the border distillers have an even stricter set of guidelines to follow in order to produce tequila. For example real actual tequila, produced from blue agave plants can only be made in Jalisco and Guanajuato, liquors produced from agave outside of these regions is either mescal—the bottles with the worm—or sotol. Further, true tequilas are made from 100% blue agave as opposed to mixtos which must be at least 51% agave. To further protect the product they make Mexico has claimed the exclusive international right to the word "tequila", threatening legal actions against manufacturers in other countries.

But vodka, oh vodka, requires nothing more than a few ingredients to be made. At its most basic vodka is nothing more than water and ethanol. It can be distilled from any grain that can be converted to ethanol. And it can be made by anyone anywhere. All this means that vodka, despite being first denoted in Poland as long ago as 1405, has become a homeless transient in the liquor store to the point that there is a brand called Tito’s which is distilled in Texas. That’s right, everything’s bigger, remember the Alamo, Governor George W. Bush electing Texas manufactures a so-called “premium” vodka. So that’s the first complaint I’m lodging with vodka: no home and no set parts list. My second problem is that, as near as I can tell, the quality of vodka is based on its lack of taste, not presence. This is a somewhat ludicrous concept considering the $20-$30 dollars, minimum, you might drop on a decent bottle. For that kind of coin I want something that’ll dance on my palate, not just clean my mouth and burn my throat. I’d much rather plunk that down on some cozy brown liquor or a crisp clean bottle of gin (essentially spicy vodka, but, hey, at least it’s got some bite).

Now that I’ve aired my grievances with vodka let me say that I’m in no way trying to dissuade anyone from buying it, just to be more dollar conscious when it comes to this whitest of liquors. That said I’d also advise against the bargain brands that come in shatter proof plastic bottles and amounts to paint thinner. Is there a difference between a bottle that costs $8 a pop and something in the $20-25 range? Absolutely (pun only marginally intended). The more expensive bottles will taste cleaner and fresher and less like a hangover of headpocalypsian proportions as they’re likely using better ingredients and multi-stage filtering and distilling processes. Think of the difference between slurping up a palm full of pond water and tall cool glass of water a la Britta pitcher. But are you going to find any real discernable difference between what’s in the $20-30 bottles and what’s in the $30+ bottles? Not really, and if you do I’d love for you to judge a taste test between a Britta pitcher a Pur filter, tell me which nothing tastes more like nothing.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Soy Chorizo Two Ways!

On a recent shopping expedition Nicole procured soy chorizo from Trader Joe’s. She texted me about this find and I could only respond with curious trepidation. It rested in the fridge tempting, no, daring us to try it. But how? What is the best way to cook and consume soy chorizo?

The first wave of inspiration came a few nights ago while Nicole had a house guest. I was in the process of firing up the grill for some brats and burgers, but that’s about all we had and the light fluid had just been lit, there was time to kill and bellies to fill. So into the frying went the chorizo along with some olive oil and minced onion. We allowed it to brown a bit and warm through while the onions took some color and flavor. Once it was sufficiently heated through we layered it onto tortilla chips with black beans and cheese before popping it all into the oven for a few to melt the cheese. Cheese now sufficiently melt-y we heaped some sour cream onto the pile and dug in. The result? Some of the best goddamned nachos I’ve ever set tooth to, and I’ve had my fair share of nachos. (Like the Jamaican jerk chicken nachos with pineapple salsa at ABC the Tavern!)

Half a chorizo down we were considering our options for the rest of the sausage-like soy food product when it dawned on us: breakfast! Of course this would make a great breakfast treat! So earlier this week we hatched a plan for a breakfast-for-dinner evening repast. Skipping to the chase: it was a rousing success. Now, here’s how we did it:

Nicole pre-sliced a few small potatoes on the wide slicer blade of her box grater. These potato chips were layered into a skillet with some olive oil. With each layer that went in we sprinkled on Mexican chili powder, salt and pepper, or crushed garlic. The bottom of the potato layer cake was allowed to sufficiently brown before we flipped it over and mixed in the other half of the soy chorizo. The rest of the potatoes were given time to brown and absorb some spicy chorizo goodness. When the potatoes and chorizo seemed to be almost-but-not-quite done we poured four well scrambled raw eggs over the whole deal and let that cook for a few minutes. Once the eggs seemed mostly set, save for the top, we popped the oven-safe skillet this was cooking in under the broiler. After a minute or so in the broiler a handful of cheese was tossed on top and back under it went. Cheese melted and browning just around the edges we pulled the rig from the broiler and sliced it up. Served with a dollop of sour cream, a few shakes of Valentina (Mexico’s hot sauce of choice) and a few dots of sriracha our soy chorizo/hash brown\frittata was not only done but capitol-A-awesome. Spicy, savory, and hearty as hell, this would be an excellent start, or end in our case, to the day. Oh, it’s great with a beer, too!

All I’m saying, I guess, is give soy chorizo a chance. And why not? It's fairly helathy, full of protein, spicy and well seasoned. It has great texture and is ready to go right out of the package. It can be heated along with whatever it's being served with or served chilled from the fridge. The only draw back to the soy chorizo is that it has to extricated from its non-edible casing. Not the end of the world, but it does mean no spicy soy chorizo on the grill.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Liver Punisher Drink of the Month Club #1!

In what I hope will be a regularly updated section, I offer the first ever Liver Punisher Drink of the Month Club “Drink of the Month!”

Ah, June, where spring becomes summer and the mercury rises steadily in the day but can drop precipitously in the evening. When the weather demands a drink that is as cool and refreshing as it is hearty and bracing. What (oh what?!??) beverage is there in existence that can cool the body in the sun drenched daytime and warm the soul by night? Why none other than…

The Moscow Mule!

The Moscow Mule is not just a cocktail whose simplicity belies its deliciousness and overwhelming refreshmentitude, but it’s also socially significant to boot! The Moscow variant of the Mule—otherwise known as “Bucks,” a Mule is a combination of citrus juice, liquor, and a ginger flavored beverage—was created in 1941 by the bartender at the Cock’n’Bull tavern in Los Angeles and is generally considered to be the drink that introduced America to Vodka.

As stated above the Moscow Mule is simple to engineer, but here’s a quick look at the ingredients and a how-to incase this is your fist attempt at tending bar:

Lime wedges
Ginger Ale

What to do with them:
Into your favorite rocks glass (I like the Andy Warhol doubles I got for my birthday) place a healthy amount of ice. To this ice add 1.5-2oz. of your preferred Vodka [Russian-made potato vodka would be traditional and appropriate as this is a Moscow Mule, but since vodka can be made anywhere by anyone with anything that shit in the plastic jug at Giant Eagle will work, too. I guess]. Now a healthy squeeze of fresh lime juice, I like at least 1/8th of a lime in mine but that’s me. And finally top off your glass with a robust and flavorful ginger ale* or beer; I’m a Vernor’s man myself, but Hansen’s makes a terribly tasty ginger brew that’ll knock your ass off, and the diet version is actually good, too!

Oh, and if you want to make this really traditional, mix it all up in a copper mule cup, the way the fancy lads and lasses used to.

So, there it is: your June drink of the month. A cool, sweet-n-sour cocktail that’ll wash the heat off you, but with a spicy/boozy kick to stoke the fires on a chilly late fall/early summer’s eve.

*Making my own soon, definite posts to come on that front!

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