3.14.2015

The Dead Rabbit in Old New York

There is a bar near Battery Park in lower Manhattan that is a cross between the kind of saloon with sawdust on the floor and a spot where you can order a cocktail with bitters and not get the stink eye.  Inside is a patchwork of black and white photos hanging from the ceiling and some sort of ceramic rabbit wearing a shamrock bib and Mardi Gras beads sitting amid the booze bottles. The place is called The Dead Rabbit.

All of this should help set the stage.

If you are going to name your place after a deceased furry mammal, you are probably not a sentimentalist in the traditional sense.  What they are sentimental about, however, is cocktails. The co-founder, Jack McGarry, tested scores of recipes from the mid-nineteenth century to create his historically-rooted bar with an Old New York meets Irish-American feel.

Brett and I stumbled in on a Saturday at approximately 11 am, found the two best bar stools in the joint, and did not leave for the next three hours.  We drank a number of cocktails that day. If asked to recall them, I probably would not get much further than a sweeping implication of gin and beer, forced into a number of wonderfully barbaric midafternoon combinations.

But right before we were about to settle up, our bartender —who had a Southern drawl and was not particularly attentive that day—set down an Irish coffee.  Which I suspect was meant as a peace offering for spotty service.

We were drunk on booze and charm by this point.  But she did not know that. One sip and another was promptly ordered.  The drink became legendary thereafter. And thanks to The New York Times, we were able to uncover its secrets.

As is the case with Irish coffees, a fresh pot is brewed and whiskey is righteously employed.  The cocktail is delicately sweetened with a demerara simple syrup that plays to the barrel-aged vanilla notes of the liquor. Perhaps the piece here, however, that truly sets the cocktail apart is that the heavy cream is left unsweetened and whipped only until “ropy.” It looks like a cumulus cloud, spreading to fill the glass and floating delicately on top, graced with nutmeg in its final moments.

The whole thing ends in a pretty harmonious, self-congratulatory clink of glasses. Brett and I have become sort of crazy for them.  Also as unlikely sentimentalists in the traditional sense, we have fondly named them Dead Rabbits.

It is at once a classic and romantic cocktail.  Not too sweet, to be sure.  And with the guts that any drink from a good Irish bar would have.

It is only a slight coincidence that this information comes to you a few days prior to St. Patrick’s Day.  In the event that a superlative Irish coffee is needed this weekend, you’ll know how to drink the rabbit dead.

The Dead Rabbit
Adapted from The New York Times, courtesy of Jack McGarry from The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog

Ingredients:

1 tbsp Demerara syrup (see below)
about 3 to 4 tbsp whipped cream (see below)
3 tbsp (1½ ounces) Irish whiskey (Jameson works in a pinch)
4 ounces hot fresh coffee
dash of freshly ground nutmeg

demerara syrup
1 cup Demerara sugar
½ cup of water

whipped cream
1 cup heavy cream

Instructions:

for the Demerara syrup

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water over low heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves; set aside.

for the cocktail

Brew a pot of coffee. Meanwhile, warm a coffee mug with hot water (slightly below boiling works well).

In a medium bowl, whip the cream until it achieves a ropy consistency; it should be firm but still loose.  Place in the refrigerator until needed. 

Pour out the water from the warmed glass.  Add the syrup and whiskey.  Pour in the coffee; stir to combine.  Gently spoon the whipped cream on top. It should float if properly whipped.  The amount used will vary slightly depending on the size of your glass, but you’ll want it about ¾ inch thick and covering the liquid.

Grate nutmeg over the top.

Makes 1 cocktail

Notes:
-It’s easier to make some of the components in bulk.  The whipped cream makes enough for 3 to 4 cocktails.  You’ll have extra syrup beyond that, too. (Store the syrup in the fridge.)


-It just so happens The Dead Rabbit has won a number of awards, including Best Bar in North America last year. They do not mess around.


2.28.2015

Spicy Oil Tomato Sauce. To Bring the Heat.


I apologize for the delay.  Since we last spoke Boston has suffered three more snowstorms and Valentine’s Day.  We also have some prior business to attend to. I am lucky to say my pathology reports came back: I do not have cancer.  So while winter remains in a perpetual standstill, I no longer need to be. 

I originally thought I might discuss some things I learned during this ambiguity, but the vibe around Boston has not exactly been uplifting.  And mentally I cannot drag anything weighty through the snowdrifts.  

So I am going to discuss tomato sauce. 

My boyfriend, Brett, and I were snowed in—yet again—two weeks ago.  Since he is a good human who loves to cook meaty, spicy stews we did the most romantic thing imaginable. 

We went to a beer tasting for Valentine’s Day.  Bought a few growlettes, including one named Your Possible Pasts. Decided to spend the next 48-hours in my one-bedroom North End apartment.  Cooked and consumed a pound and a half of meat. And did not kill each other.

Instead, we made a velvety stew of spicy peppers and pork shoulder.  Which was delicious. But I am not here to talk about melty pig today.  If you live anywhere other than Southern California, you might be up for something a little less taxing at the moment. And since we are supposed to get more snow on Sunday, might as well keep things simple and have hot pasta for dinner. 

I promised I would not reveal the origins of this recipe.  Suffice to say it came from a friend of a friend of a friend who has a very successful restaurant. I’ve doubled the tomatoes and halved the garlic and oil, among a few other tweaks. So it is likely this person who shall remain nameless would no longer even recognize it. No matter, a promise is a promise.

It has become my go-to sauce recipe.  It doesn’t require hours of prep, nor does it disappoint.  Ever. It’s one of those priceless things you happen upon, that you don’t know how you ever lived without.

Kind of like finding someone who can tolerate you for 48-hours in a snowstorm.

Spicy Oil Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

2-28 ounce cans of whole peeled plum tomatoes
¼ cup canola oil
3 to 4 small dried chiles (preferably chile de Arbol or Thai chile), minced
2 small dried chiles, whole
3 to 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 scant tbsp honey
kosher salt, to taste

Instrucitions:

In a food processor, puree the plum tomatoes until smooth.  Heat a large saucepot on medium; add the canola oil and minced chilies. Cook until the peppers start to smell fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté another minute, taking care not to let the slices burn.

Add the pureed tomatoes and remaining whole chiles; stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil and the honey.  Add a few pinches of salt.  Cook on medium heat until the sauce comes together and thickens slightly, about 20 to 30 minutes; turn the heat down if it starts to wildly splatter.  Stir in another 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Taste and add additional salt, as needed.

Makes about two quarts

Notes:
-This is a spicy sauce. Reduce the amount of chiles if you are sensitive to heat.

-I prefer Muir Glen tomatoes and choose to puree them because I feel it makes a better sauce.

1.30.2015

On Achieving Homeostasis: Fruit and Nut Granola Bars with Cacao and Sea Salt

I recently had my yearly physical.  My lipid profile aligned me with the Ikarians.  However, I also had a walnut-sized lump in my left breast that dictated a mammogram.  I am not sure why so many women complain about them.  Having your breasts smashed between two synthetic plates is nothing compared to having them biopsied, penetrated with a needle and then fished around in, like you were searching for car keys in an oversized purse.

Except instead of gathering keys, tissue samples are collected and sent to the lab for testing.  Then a tiny piece of titanium in the shape of a microscopic pigtail is inserted into your breast to tag the lump, and to be with you forevermore. Your boob is bruised.  Then you wait to hear if you have cancer. 

No one talks about this.  Most stop after the electromagnetic radiation.

In an attempt to explain homeostasis, I remember my sixth grade science teacher said a system will desperately try to maintain stability, no matter the cost.  It knows no other path.  If you stop and think, it’s quite incredible—whether a human body, the plant earth, or a broken hollandaise—forces react involuntarily to protect against stimuli that threaten to disturb the balance.

The system doesn’t always succeed.  But the internal fight is there.  So while I await biopsy results, I choose to distract myself by mashing some fruit and oats into squares, operating within the bounds of snack homeostasis. 

The coordinated alliance of figs, cherries, pecans, seeds, and grain melds with maple and honey.  Meanwhile, the added stick of butter threatens to make granola bars about as non-righteous as they can get; yet, also ensures equilibrium among the other ingredients.  It is browned until it becomes nutty and additionally harmonious.

I was worried the cacao would muck up the fruit and oat flavor.  That the nibs would become overpowering, an indolent shroud for the more virtuous bits.  But everything binds into something reminiscent of a seven-layer bar, with the malleable properties of a product put forth by the Quaker Oats man.

The result is glorious.

We tend to walk through life thinking in concrete terms.  Things are either healthy, or not.  Good or bad.  Yet, we are often standing on tectonic plates.

The best we can do is be open, and malleable, and have faith in the forces that bring us back to homeostasis.  And in those that bring us granola bars.

Fruit and Nut Granola Bars with Cacao and Sea Salt
Inspired by Nigel Slater from Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard

Ingredients:

110 grams (1 stick) salted butter (includes butter to grease the pan)
70 grams (about ½ cup) dried whole figs
60 grams (about ½ cup) pecan halves
40 grams (about ¼ cup) dried sour cherries
30 grams (about ¼ cup) sunflower seeds
180 grams (about 1¼ cups) rolled oats
20 grams (about ¼ cup) shredded unsweetened coconut
35 grams (about cup) almond meal
50 milliliters (about 3½ tbsp) honey
50 milliliters (about 3½ tbsp) maple syrup (grade B preferable)            
90 grams (about a scant ½ cup) superfine sugar (see note)
15 grams (about 2 tbsp) cacao nibs (not chocolate covered)
heaping tsp fleur de sel or other finishing sea salt

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Butter a 9-inch square pan (I used a 11 x 7).  Remove the fig stems and quarter the figs.  In a food processor, finely chop the figs, pecans, cherries, and sunflower seeds until they hold together when pressed. (This can also be done by hand; the finer you chop the ingredients the better the bars will hold together.)  Place in a large bowl and mix in the oats, coconut, and almond meal.

In a large saucepan, melt the remaining butter on medium heat until it turns a deep golden brown and starts to give off nutty aromas; stir in the honey, syrup, and superfine sugar.  When the mixture comes to a rolling boil, add in the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly; stir in the cacao nibs.

Tip the mixture into the prepared pan and press it down firmly.  Scatter the salt evenly on top.  Bake for 20 to 30 minutes.  As it cooks, the edges should start to slightly puff up.  It is done when the rim is golden and the middle puffs up to meet the edges.  As the mixture cools, press it down again. When the mixture is still warm, but cool enough to easily handle, cut into 12 bars.

Let cool completely and then store in an airtight container for 5 days (or freeze).

Makes 12 bars

Notes:
-If you can’t find unsweetened coconut, you can use 200 grams (about 1cups) oats instead.

-If you don’t have superfine sugar, whirl regular granulated sugar in a food processor.  It’ll take about ¾ cup to make the amount of superfine sugar that you’ll need for this recipe (you may have just a little bit extra).


-If you use a 11 x 7 pan it may need a little more time to bake (closer to 30 minutes), whereas a 9-inch square pan will require a little less time.