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Archive | February 16th, 2010

Griffin to Go: Drink in Some Mardi Gras Spirit

Griffin to Go: Drink in Some Mardi Gras Spirit

The cover of the book says it all: “Famous New Orleans Drinks (And How to Mix ‘Em).”

Well, almost all. This gem from one Stanley Clisby Arthur was first printed in 1937, a few years before the introduction of the Hurricane by Pat O’Brien, whose name still graces a chain of bars, including one on the River Walk.

But don’t let that deter you from searching out this slender volume, because it is a treasure trove of facts and stories behind the potent potables that dominated the Big Easy, and many a Southern bar, during the era. It’s little wonder the book is still in print today.

My copy, given to me by dear friends who understand the joys of a well-mixed cocktail and a well-spun story, is from the book’s fourth printing, which was in April 1941. The country was still months away from the second world war at that time, and some areas were only beginning to emerge from the Great Depression.

Though Prohibition had ended only a few years before, Arthur proudly hails his city as “the home of civilized drinking” for more than a century.

He doesn’t stop there: “The flowing bowl and the adept mixing of what went in it has constituted as high an art in this Creole city as the incomparable cooking for which it is famed.”

To prove his point, Arthur offers recipes for drinks that are still shaken, stirred and layered at many a New Orleans haunt, including the Sazerac, the Absinthe Frappé, Ramos Gin Fizz and Planter’s Punch.

“The quality of mixed drinks as served in New Orleans has always appealed to the sophisticated taste,” Arthur writes. “It was here that your most modern of American beverages, the cocktail, first came into being and was given its jaunty name.”

Etymological stories are of particular interest to the author. The term “julep,” for example, dates as far back as 1400 A.D., he writes, “long before we ever heard of the Southern States of these United States, where the julep is popularly supposed to be indigenous.”

But Arthur doesn’t stop there. He goes on to give advice about how to make a julep that will keep you smiling: “Don’t use rye whiskey in making a julep. If you do use whiskey, let it be Bourbon, which serves its highest purpose when it becomes a component part of that prince of all thirst-quenchers known as the Mint Julep.” As a Kentuckian who honors the derby each May, I heartily concur.

I also love the fact that so much of the lore remains up-to-date more than 70 years after the book’s initial publication. Take this passage on one of the Latin Quarter’s still-popular nightspots: “Of all the ancient buildings in New Orleans’ famed Vieux Carré, none has been more glorified in story and picture than a square, plastered-brick building at the corner of Bourbon and Bienville streets, known as the Old Absinthe House.”

The building, erected in 1806, was originally used for importing, then bartering foodstuffs and tobacco. Over the course of its history, it became a grocery, a boot shop, and, in 1846, “a coffee-house, as saloons were then called.”

Today, you can taste a cocktail made with real absinthe there.

Absinthe, or actually something called “absinthe substitute” (which I would take to be Herbsaint, Pernod or a similarly anise-flavored alcohol), is a key ingredient in the Sazerac recipe included in the book. But it wasn’t always part of the mix. And Arthur is more than happy to offer the evolution of a drink, when he can. Especially when the drink in question is considered “the best known of all New Orleans cocktails.”

The original recipe called for Peychaud’s bitters, which were created in New Orleans by a druggist named Antoine Amédée Peychaud. It remains a key ingredient today; not so the alcohol it was meant to complement. It seems brandy was a little too European for American tastes, so rye whiskey elbowed its way into the mix. With that change came the addition of absinthe.

“But this history delving is dry stuff,” Arthur notes, “so let’s sample a genuine Sazerac.”

Indeed.

A Genuine Sazerac

1 lump sugar
3 drops Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 jigger rye whiskey
1 dash absinthe substitute
1 slice lemon peel

[amazon-product]0882891324[/amazon-product]To mix a Sazerac requires two heavy-bottomed, 3 1/2-ounce bar glasses. One is filled with cracked ice and allowed to chill. In the other a lump of sugar is placed with just enough water to moisten it. The saturated loaf of sugar is then crushed with a barspoon. Add a few drops of Peychaud’s bitters, a dash of Angostura, a jigger of rye whiskey, for while Bourbon may do for a julep, it just won’t do for a real Sazerac. To the glass containing sugar, bitters and rye, add several lumps of ice and stir. Never use a shaker! Empty the first glass of its ice, dash in several drops of absinthe … enough will cling to the glass to give the needed flavor. Strain into this glass the whiskey mixture, twist a piece of lemon peel over it for the needed zest of that small drop of oil thus extracted from the peel, but do not commit the sacrilege of dropping the peel into the drink. Some bartenders put a cherry in a Sazerac; very pretty but not necessary.

M-m-m-m-m! Let’s have another!

From “Famous New Orleans Drinks (And How to Mix ‘Em)” by Stanley Clisby Arthur

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Chef’s Corner: A Hearty Bean Soup, Tuscan Style

Chef’s Corner: A Hearty Bean Soup, Tuscan Style

The pancetta, smoky ham and herbs bring a taste of Italy to this hearty white bean soup.  The sun-dried tomatoes add color and a lively acidity. This mellow, nourishing soup recipe is from personal chef Sarah Penrod, owner of the local Chef for Life.

Tuscan Bean Soup
1 ounce pancetta OR 1 slice bacon, cut in small dice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ounces smoked ham (1 thick slice from the deli), cut into small dice
¼ cup diced onions (cut in small dice)
¼ cup diced carrots (cut in small dice)
¼ cup diced celery (cut in small dice)
¼ cup thinly sliced leek
4 cloves roasted garlic, mashed
1 bay leaf
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon leaf thyme
1 tablespoon chopped basil
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
¾ pound dry white beans, cooked according to package directions OR 2 3/4 cups cooked beans
40 ounces chicken stock
¼ cup minced sun-dried tomatoes
½ cup tomatoes, crushed, with juice
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Place the pancetta or bacon in a heavy saucepan over medium heat with olive oil blend. Render fat, but do not cook meat until crisp. Add onions, carrots, celery and leek and sauté until almost tender.

Add roasted garlic, bay leaf, pinch red pepper, thyme, basil, oregano, cooked beans and stock. Stir ingredients together gently. Bring just to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer over low heat until beans are very tender.

Add sun-dried tomatoes and crushed tomatoes and simmer another 15 minutes. Using a hand blender, purée approximately ¼ of the soup.   (Or, transfer 1 cup of soup to regular blender, blend, then pour purée back into pot.)  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste.

Makes 6-8 servings.

From Sarah Penrod, chef, Chef for Life

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Making a Last-Minute Mardi Gras Party Fun

Making a Last-Minute Mardi Gras Party Fun

Add some zest to your Mardi Gras party with a few items from the store that are easy to prepare and full of flavor.

Beignets are more than just a New Orleans version of a doughnut. The fried dough, buried under a blanket of powdered sugar deeper than the snows in Washington, D.C., has a unique flavor and texture. Cafe du Monde, the temple of these crisp yet airy confections offers a mix at Central Market, 4821 Broadway, that will get your day off to a sweet start.

You’ll also be able to find Cafe du Monde’s chicory coffee in a regular and decaf version. (Scoff at the latter, if you will, but the flavor is surprisingly robust and full-bodied.)

Costco offers Cajun Hollar’s version of dirty rice made with andouille and boudin sausage. This heat-and-eat treat is marketed as a “rice, pork and chicken product.”

Many supermarkets offer Zatarain’s New Orleans-Style Dirty Rice Mix that calls for you to add your own meat “to make a complete meal.” The company also offers jambalaya, red beans and rice, and gumbo mixes as well.

The meat you add could be andouille sausage or boudin, both of which are often among the sausages at your neighborhood grocery.

Check the frozen meat section for crawfish tails that have already been peeled. These are great to toss in a gumbo or jambalaya at the last minute.

Check the condiments section for olive salad, if you have a hankering for a muffuletta. The deli section should have everything from the mortadella to the provolone cheese. You may have to make a special trip to Central Market, though, for the special round bread.

Oysters from the gulf are available at most fish departments, if Oysters Rockefeller, an oyster po’ boy or Oyster Artichoke Soup is on your agenda.

Pick up a king cake at your nearby H-E-B bakery. The soft cake with the white glaze and the multi-colored sprinkles on top are made fresh daily during the season. And if you get the slice with the baby, you host the party next year.

All of these shortcuts will help you let the good times roll. And that’s really what Mardi Gras is all about.

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