31 August 2009

Site Redesign + Blog Art

I got tired of looking at the header on the blog, so I figured it was time for a fresh start. Once I started fiddling around with CSS in the Blogger template, things got a bit out of hand... hence the custom remodel job here, which might change in the next few days. More importantly, I'm no longer associated with the hundreds of other sites using the same brown and beige template (such as Dr. Debs' blog), and I can develop a more individual look now. Don't know why I didn't do this sooner.

The design of this latest header is taken from the logo for Beemans Chewing Gum (favorite of pilots and early astronauts), but it's a pretty common 50s-style motif. Oddly enough, I can't stand gum or being around people constantly chewing and snapping.

Some have pointed out that this resembles the sign of an old diner, and I like that connection. But it doesn't signal any sort of change on the blog; I'm not going to bleach my hair, wear sunglasses on the back of my head, and review Waffle Houses like a low-budget Guy Fieri.

Here's a retrospective of the past headers. (Note that if you go back to any old posts, it will only show the most recent header, layout, and links on the side.)

Unpublished concept art from late 2004. I couldn't work it into a good horizontal format, and it looks like the sign for an Olde Time Ice Cream Shoppe. No, I don't own a red and white striped shirt, a straw boater, or arm garters:

The original from the start in 2005, which stayed up until summer 2008. I still like this one, but it's a little too stodgy, like the logo for a brand of high-end wood varnish:

The replacement in June 2008, where I tried to render a texture similar to a closeup of a leaf's surface:

By October 2008, I felt a little more text was needed:

It was easy to decorate for Christmas:

I stuck with this design for a while, though I would change the colors with the seasons or whenever I felt like it:

The April Fool's Day header, which generated no e-mail or comments, but I'm still fond of it:

Inspired by the blazing heat of a Memphis summer, I played with breaking out of the design with a new look (1980s science textbook cover) and the use of a photo background:

...But I wasn't happy with it and retreated:

Since that was confusing some people, I went back and tried a yellow version of the old header, which I recently discovered looks horrid on certain monitors:

Which takes us all the way to today's new header. I started over from scratch and took things in a whole new direction. I might play around with a few different styles, different color schemes, etc. in the months to come. (You know, De Stijl would be fun...) I'm looking at the header as less of a recognizable brand for the blog and more of a necktie--no need to wear the same tie for years on end:

P.S. Just to show I have a softer side, a few months ago I did a header for Samantha Dugan. It went through a couple of revisions and tweaks, but she settled on this one:

28 August 2009

Flygande Jakob & Murphy-Goode's "The Fumé"

I've invoked the late Hunter S. Thompson a few times on this site, and I'll do it again here. As Raoul Duke he described Dr. Gonzo as "One of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die."

That's kind of how I feel about Flygande Jakob, a bizarre bit of Swedish comfort food that involves mostly non-Swedish ingredients, and is the kind of dish so stupidly easy that it's the one dish incompetent young men will cook for their girlfriends, like similar American guys with spaghetti. (I've hung out with some Swedish dames in my day, and didn't take them for being that easy to impress. I suppose long hours of darkness during the winter lead to desperation...)

Here's a recipe for "Flying Jacob", named after the Swedish air freight employee who is credited with inventing the recipe in the 1970s. For those of you that don't speak Svenska*, this is an unholy mishmash of chicken, cream, bananas, and Heinz Chili Sauce, topped with bacon and peanuts.

If you can wrap your mind around the ingredient list and the visually unpleasant, splotchy, pink sauce created by the cream and Heinz, it's actually pretty tasty. It's definitely odd, and eating chicken with bananas sounds more like a piece of performance art. But the bacon and peanuts add salty, savory flavors, and something about a creamy casserole tends to shut down the more critical parts of your brain. Traditional sides are rice and salad; I did rice and corn, because I had a bag of frozen corn I wanted to cook and was nodding towards Scandinavian frugality.

My fellow diners, Paul and The Roommate, liked it well enough but the consensus was "Don't make this again."

And because I always celebrate the strange over the ordinary, I thought this was the perfect occasion to showcase a wine from Murphy-Goode. When they picked brother man Hardy Wallace as their Wine Country Lifestyle Correspondent, I celebrated by going out and purchasing my first-ever Murphy-Goode wine, the 2007 "The Fumé" Sauvignon Blanc, $13, 13.5% abv. Pure Sauvignon Blanc from the North Coast of California. Lovely aroma of lime peel, melon, and grapefruit, with flavors of grapefruit flesh and a lovely finish reminiscent of lemon meringue pie.

It made a great pairing for the dish, but I don't expect to see "Goes well with Flygande Jakob" on the back label of future releases. I will, however, suggest to keep this in mind as a wine that goes well with casseroles and lots of competing flavors, meaning that it could be a great Thanksgiving or Christmas wine.

*Here's an English recipe using metric measurements. But there's nothing complicated about this recipe and the various proportions differ from recipe to recipe. Cook some chicken breasts, chop them up, layer in a dish with banana slices, and pour in a 1:3 mix of chili sauce (or ketchup) and cream. Top with chopped nuts and crumbled bacon, and cook at 350°F until warmed through.

26 August 2009

Two Oddly-Named Wines

Wrongo Dongo and the Bitch. We're a long way from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, folks.

I've got nothing against funny names, and have even celebrated them at times. Mostly I'm concerned with what's inside the bottle, but I'll give extra credit when a good wine has good design and marketing. I'm going to do a little face-off here with these two wines, opened on the same night. Both are made from Rhône grapes grown outside southern France, they're close in age and price (around $10 each), and both are meant to grab the attention of shoppers with a certain sense of humor.

The Competitors:
The 2007 Wrongo Dongo is from the Jumilla region of Spain, pure Monastrell (Mourvèdre). It's made by Bodegas Hijos de Juan Gil, but I didn't see any info about it on the website. 14% abv.

The 2008 Bitch Grenache is a Grateful Palate import from the Barossa Valley in South Australia. 15.5% abv.

Round 1: Aroma/Taste
Bitch was very hot due to the high alcohol, and what remained was a big strawberry jam profile. It also pours somewhat thin; it looks a little too light to be a full red. A one-ounce tasting pour can look almost like a rosé. After several hours of breathing, some of the heat blows off and you get this wine with a light beginning, big fruity middle, and a brash, heavily tannic and slightly bitter finish. Something of an odd experience.

Wrongo Dongo was much more in line with a traditional Spanish table wine. Lighter body overall with far better balance and restrained finish. Interesting, earthy aromas including tar, funky black peppercorns, a bit of the barnyard, and black cherry notes in the background. (This may sound repulsive to wine newcomers, but it was a nice surprise to find an Old World profile like this packaged as a novelty for the American market.) It should also be noted that this wine was good right after opening as well as hours later.

Winner: Wrongo Dongo

Round 2: Name
I don't use the word bitch often, and when I do, it's as a gender-neutral verb equivalent to the Yiddish kvetch. However, that name combined with the pink design has made this a popular gag gift for women to give amongst themselves and take to girls-night-out parties. How it didn't get a Sex and the City tie-in I'll never know. In fact, why don't they stock this alongside the wine coolers, Franzia boxes, and White Zinfandel? (Just kidding, ladies.) I was always curious to try it, but never felt like actually buying it. Would it send a signal that I'm mad at women, or is there a prison connotation? Would I have to buy Scotch, Jägermeister, and Everclear to compensate, like when a guy is sent to the store by a woman to purchase certain items and tries to hide them under a six pack of beer and a few cans of Wolf Brand Chili?

Wrongo Dongo is a weird one. Supposedly it's a Massachusetts euphemism for being dead wrong. Either that or someone is an Oingo Boingo fan but couldn't secure the licensing rights. The name is certainly unusual, but it doesn't have anything to do with Spain, wine, nor is it a common enough phrase to catch customers' attention. Compare this oddity to the more appropriate Jumilla export Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Winner: Bitch, by default

Round 3: Design
Both are fairly modern designs, far beyond the old house and all-caps of traditional French wine labels. I admit the Wrongo Dongo label is creative, but I'm not fond of that style, and the eyes make it slightly creepy. Keeping mascots' eyes from looking scary is hard work, such as with the Pillsbury Doughboy or in early episodes of The Simpsons, when a character viewed ¾ from behind would appear to have hollow eye sockets. The minimalist sanserif font is nice, but like the name, I think it's too weird to accomplish much.

The Bitch is, however, beautifully designed. Simple yet elegant layout, fun yet subtle use of hearts, and a curious shade of salmon. Best thing: that's a great bit of custom script work on the name. It would have been much easier to just use one of the millions of generic script fonts out there, and almost nobody would have cared. But they went that extra mile, and I appreciate that. Plus the back text made me burst out in laughter. Instead of a goofy story, the word "bitch" is repeated dozens of times.

Winner: Bitch

* * *

So Bitch wins on style, but Wrongo Dongo wins on substance. If you could switch the labels on the bottles you'd have one fantastic wine and one real dog. As a former graphic designer, I pay perhaps too much attention to packaging. I try not to let it influence my purchasing decisions, but we're all human and successful advertising plays into those desires. It's why I enjoy blind tastings, or getting random bottles to try--it forces me out of my habits and makes me focus on the inner character of the wine. To quote a great philosopher, beauty means less over time, but "you can't fix stupid".

24 August 2009

A Pair of Aussie Reds

Recently in a Facebook post, blogger and wine retailer Michael Hughes wondered aloud if the curse of Sideways had been lifted from Merlot. That was a bizarre and frustrating time for many wine fans, and a bunch of the folks parroting the lines from the movie at restaurants and wine tastings were missing the point entirely.

The Sideways phenomenon was interesting because it was sparked by a one-time crossover between erratic pop culture and staid wine appreciation. It took a relatively minor issue (one dimensional, overly fruity California Merlot) and thrust it in the face of wine sellers and waiters all over the country. Likewise, this was met with a huge burst of enthusiasm for Pinot Noir, though I'm sure things have settled back down to their earlier positions.

I wondered what might be the next object of wine hatred. To quote Tower of Power, "What's hip today, might become passé." There have been a lot of articles about negative trends in Australian wine after a decade of explosive growth. Have they pushed too hard too fast? Labels got ridiculous? Too much fruit? Too much alcohol? I'm overjoyed with the democratizing effects Australian wines had on the US market--there's nothing scary or threatening about an $8 bottle with a kangaroo on it, and it brought people into stores--but I understand what those writers mean about some of the things coming out of the land down under.

I sincerely hope that Australian wines don't suffer the same impact that Sideways had on legitimately good Merlot. Do these occasional flareups of anger at a certain wine steer the industry back on course, or does it hurt the good wine while sparing the original and deserving targets of criticism? I'd love to hear opinions of those readers and fellow bloggers who are directly impacted by things like this.

Here are two brief reviews of good Australian wines I've had recently that, aside from their size as giant wineries, seem to buck the trends mentioned above. Classy labels, interesting complexity, good balance, and while they're edging up on the alcohol scale they're not hot or too strong.

2002 Rosemount Hill of Gold Mudgee Shiraz. $20, 14.5% abv. Looks like the first great vintage after three rough years in the Mudgee region. Leather, tobacco, dried cherries, cassis, touch of licorice. It's often a gamble with these slightly older bottles but this one just got more and more interesting as it went along.

2007 Penfolds Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvèdre from South Australia. $17, 14.5% abv. 77% Shiraz, 23% Mourvèdre. Perhaps the smoothest Penfolds I've ever tried. Creamy with lots of black cherry and leather notes, little touches of cinnamon and plum as it warms up. I picked it up purely for the novelty of a GSM - G, but was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

I really hope that wines like these are able to thrive and survive out there in the marketplace, but as this is part of a longer trend than the flash-in-the-pan Sideways effect, it may be a decade before we see how things turn out.

Update 1: Interesting rebuttal to the anti-Australian wine news from The Jug Shop in San Francisco.

Note: The top photo is of an unnamed winery in the Barossa Valley of South Australia. It was taken by my paternal grandmother on one of her recent adventures. Aussie wine country isn't quite as exotic as Antarctica or Russia just after the fall of the Soviet Union (to name but two of her previous trips), but she had a great time.

21 August 2009

2005 Horse Play "Rollicking Red"

Wandering around wine shops is always interesting, because no two are laid out the same way. One setup I really like that I don't see often is at Kirby Wines & Liquors. They have a rack called "Other Reds" that covers various blends that don't easily fit into the other categories. Similar wines are sold at other places, but often they're tucked into a corner or shuffled in with unrelated wines. While it could be treated as an afterthought, it's obvious that some real care, attention, and even humor goes into these selections.

It's a rotating inventory as well, providing an impetus to check back every couple of weeks. My most recent pick from this rack is the 2005 Horse Play "Rollicking Red". $10, 13.8% abv. 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, and 17% Syrah, sourced from Paso Robles and San Benito County (represent!). For an inexpensive, four year old wine, it was a star performer. Black cherry and blackberry all the way without being a fruit bomb or jammy. Peppery undertone on the nose, dark and slightly ashy flavor with a full black cherry structure. Light beginning, medium body, firm tannins, and a long finish. Great example of a crescendo in a wine.

These "Bordeaux Blend + Syrah" wines are getting more popular in California, and blended properly they're wonderful. I've had a few that were unbalanced, but I was very happy with the way this one turned out. And you can't beat the price.

Once in a blue moon I'll get a craving for a baked sweet potato, which of course must include butter and brown sugar. But to really make it incredible, add a generous sprinkling of large sea salt crystals. This completes the savory-sweet-salty trifecta and adds some needed texture. (I'm even thinking now that a light dusting of dark cocoa powder would be fun to add a touch of bitterness.)

Just like with some of those other wine blends I mentioned, occasionally a meal gets unbalanced as well. The wine and the potato were amazing. The snow peas were pretty boring, and I'd forgotten to de-string them. And the steak... Ugh. Bargain sirloin from the grocery store, the kind of cut that leads me to believe that this animal did have four legs but perhaps wore a saddle or pulled a plow. The kind of steak more commonly seen at truck stops at 4 a.m. that gives you a craving for A-1 steak sauce.

My kitchen disasters are rare these days, but they happen to everyone at some point, particularly if you're always cooking different things. And I've always believed that if you're not screwing up once in a while, you're playing it way too safe.

19 August 2009

Benito vs. the Cocktail: Lucien Gaudin

One of the many great, forgotten cocktails found in Ted Haigh's book is the Lucien Gaudin, made from ingredients that would cause a lover of vodka martinis to collapse in the fetal position. I had glanced at the recipe in the book, but was inspired to give it a shot after a post on Serious Eats written by Paul Clarke of Imbibe magazine and The Cocktail Chronicles blog.

The cocktail is named after French fencing legend Lucien Gaudin, famous for winning gold medals in the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games. He also died from one of the saddest cases of bruised pride I've ever seen: "Gaudin committed suicide in 1934 after being wounded on the thumb by a nonfencer during a duel."

Compare that minor injury to the old Austrian "dueling scar" or Renommierschmiss that was a badge of honor and mark of social status. Ritual scarring is not unknown in various cultures around the world, but I wonder how Mom felt when young Helmut came home on Christmas break with his face sliced up from swordfighting at Universität.

Lucien Gaudin
1 oz. Gin
½ oz. Campari
½ oz. Cointreau
½ oz. White Vermouth

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir, and strain to serve.

This looks deceptively like cherry Kool-Aid®, but don't let the color fool you. Despite the presence of sugar in the Cointreau and Campari, there is nothing sweet about this cocktail. In fact, such sweetness as there is barely blunts the edge of an insanely bitter, orange peel-flavored cocktail. It's the bastard offspring of a Martini and a Negroni.

That's not a criticism; as stated many times I love bitter flavors. Bring me my coffee black, and my beer full of hops. I think that the Negroni is a little more balanced, but the Lucien Gaudin is a fun change of pace and it's always nice to have another Campari cocktail in the old recipe file.

17 August 2009

2008 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé

This past Thursday night the Commercial Appeal online tasting was hosted by dear friend and local wine guru Mike Whitfield. He picked out a real winner that really appealed to my palate, the 2008 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. $15, 13.5% abv. Pure Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stellenbosch region of South Africa.

While this winery is only 20 years old, the region has been producing wine for 350 years. South Africa is unique among wine-producing countries in that we have a precise date of the very first wine made there: February 2, 1659. You can thank the meticulous Dutch for that kind of record-keeping; I've seen many "authoritative" yet conflicting accounts of the first wine made in the United States. I think about a dozen states claim the title, based on various definitions of "wine" and "United States" (e.g. Vitis labrusca wine made in the 1500s in Florida, which was Spanish territory). And if the Vikings ever made it far enough south, Maine might hold the title, taking the matter back a thousand years into the mist of legend.

What do I keep saying, folks? History in a glass.

Nice wet granite aroma, hint of lavender. After it warms up there's a vegetal character to it. Big acidity, fruity yet dry, and it's got a flavor of overripe strawberries. The 2009 has just arrived, and most of the people who participated in the tasting were drinking the newer vintage. This wine has great structure to it, and not all rosés are as delicate as their name might suggest.

You don't really associate rosé with South Africa, nor do you often see Cabernet Sauvignon made in this style. But it definitely works. The Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc is also outstanding, and the bottles are easy to find due to the unique longitudinal label. If you're not familiar with South African wines, Mulderbosch is a great place to start. You'll get serious, European-style wines made on the very southern tip of the African continent.

14 August 2009

Radio Free Benito: 2007 Ass Kisser Shiraz

Yes kids, I was fooling around the other night and decided to review this wine in audio rather than in text. And why not try this out with a wine that has a silly label? Our guinea pig is the 2007 Ass Kisser Shiraz from South Australia. $10, 13.9% abv.

Click here to listen to the mp3 version!
Two minutes long, the volume might be a bit low.

.wav version here with boosted volume

12 August 2009

2007 Lost Angel Muscat Canelli

I felt like returning to the chicken and mac & cheese theme from the recent dinner party, but scaled back for a casual lunch. The pasta is pretty much the same as last time, minus the lobster and substituting cavatappi for elbow macaroni. This corkscrew shape is more fun to eat and holds on to the sauce better due to the tiny ridges along the sides. Lightly steamed broccolini for the tasty vegetable side. Pretty simple dinner, yet I did something interesting with the chicken.

I brined the chicken legs overnight using a slapdash mixture of pomegranate juice, allspice berries, mustard seeds, honey, salt, and water. The next morning, I smoked them using alder chips for about two hours before serving. The color was gorgeous--looked more like a cherry/walnut wood varnish. Great flavor, the kind that can't be duplicated merely by slapping on McSmokehouse BBQ Sauce™. In fact, this chicken needed nothing else added to it. I even left the hot sauces in their respective hazmat containment units.

I opened a random purchase, the 2007 Lost Angel Muscat Canelli from Eos Estate Winery in Paso Robles, California. $14, 11.5% abv. Honey and apricot aroma, with a touch of pineapple. The flavor is medium sweet, and a veritable fruit salad: peach, cantaloupe, a little banana, and a final burst of lemony acidity. It's sweeter than what I normally prefer, but was a fun change of pace, and an interesting contrast after trying a dry implementation of the grape.

10 August 2009

Alternative Packaging

The wine industry is abuzz with talk about alternative wine packaging. More environmentally friendly options, ideas that reduce carbon emissions, better recycling potential, etc. In this post, I'm going to cover two bargain wines that utilize such methods in ways relatively new to the US market.

First up is the 2008 Don Simon Cabernet-Merlot. From the Castilla–La Mancha region of Spain, $7, 12.5% abv, half Cabernet Sauvignon and half Merlot. Pretty basic red blend, black cherries and blackberries. Touch of sweetness on the first taste, with full fruit flavors following. Firm tannins with a drying finish. It's not the most complex Spanish wine I've ever had, but for the price it's serviceable. What about the packaging?

This is a 750mL PET bottle (polyethylene terephthalate). Because the plastic is much thinner (think a plastic soda bottle), this looks smaller, like an odd 500mL glass bottle. Also, it's squeezable, both before and after opening. Because the empty bottle looks, from a distance, like a real glass bottle, I plan to keep it around and bonk unsuspecting guests on the head, where it will do no harm but will generate great mirth at their fearful reaction. Because of the squeeze factor, it didn't feel like pouring from a regular bottle. With the thinner walls, this is more susceptible to temperature variations--chilled whites will warm up quicker, for example.

2008 Yellow+Blue Malbec. $11, 13.5% abv. Pure Malbec from the lesser-known San Juan Province of Argentina. Overall plum jam profile, softens out with breathing and achieves a sort of Beaujolais-style "juice" flavor. Big, mouth-drying tannins.

This is a Tetra Pak, popular for years in Europe for everything from shelf-stable milk to soups, but is a more recent addition to US markets (aside from the juice boxes packed in kids' lunches for decades). It's comprised of layers of plastic, paper, and aluminum and, unlike the PET bottle, can be smashed flat for lower volume refuse. I preferred this to the PET bottle, because although it felt nothing like a wine bottle, it was like pouring juice or chicken stock or condensed miso soup or any number of products currently packaged like this. (And specifically for this reason, keeping a few around for cooking purposes might be a good idea.)

* * *

There's an inherent logical flaw in conservatism, and I'm not talking about politics. Let's look at the Martini. Various groups have their "set in stone, handed from God to Moses to my cocktail glass" recipes that are inviolable and are the One True Martini. But we don't even know precisely where, how, or when the Martini began, and the earliest versions were so heavy on vermouth as to be undrinkable to most modern cocktail sippers. So people are selecting an arbitrary decade of the 20th century as their source, and they're not all picking the same decade.

It's the same thing with wine bottles. Some people refuse to purchase screwcap wines. Some people get annoyed at a Chardonnay in a Bordeaux-style bottle. One day I hope to meet someone so pure that he only consumes wine that's been packaged in ceramic amphorae. After all, that's what was used to store wine 3,500 years ago, and not only are they really organic and made from natural materials, but even today we keep pulling up intact versions from the floor of the Mediterranean.

The point is that it's what's inside the container that matters. Neither of these are spectacular wines, and I tried them more for the novelty value than anything else. But screwcaps are beginning to catch on as a respectable alternative, and I think other packaging might as well. Give it a generation. And if the thought of serving wine from a plastic bottle or paper box offends your very soul... Use a decanter or a carafe. Classy, attractive, and provides some pleasant aeration. Or I have another suggestion:

Use an empty glass wine bottle. Keep a clear bottle and a green bottle with shapes that you like, and--very important, because you don't want to mislead anyone--remove the labels. Maybe even add your own, and decorate with glitter and unicorn stickers. Or hand it off to an artsy niece and let her paint it. Whatever floats your boat. There's no shame in reusing old bottles if you want that "authentic" tactile sensation.

07 August 2009

Benito vs. the Cocktail: The Black-eyed Susan

My maternal grandmother was a prize-winning horticulturalist, so a good bit of my childhood was spent around truly amazing flowers. I didn't get a lot of direct instruction--honestly I wasn't that interested when I was a kid, and mostly I was warned not to touch anything. But I assume something rubbed off, because the ladies have always praised my taste in flowers. Thanks, Grandmama!

Flower names can be confusing... some are cutesy, some are more Latin or Greek than English, and others are just perplexing. But one name in particular really bugged me as a kid: the Black-eyed Susan. It's a pretty little yellow and black flower, but Mom's name is Susan and it always bothered me because it sounded like someone beat up my mother. My father is a true gentleman who has been happily married to my mother for nearly 40 years, and there is no history of domestic violence in my family--let me state that for the record. I just found the concept of someone hurting Mom abhorrent, and why on earth would someone name a flower that?

Now let's skip to the present day. I don't get angry when I see the flower, and I've enjoyed the tradition of sipping a Mint Julep on the day of the Kentucky Derby. In fact, in 2008 I had the honor of quaffing a Mint Julep at Churchill Downs during an off-season race, and I was close enough to the track to get hit with stray flecks of dirt. But it turns out that there is another cocktail associated with a famous horse race, Baltimore's Preakness Stakes. This cocktail is called... the Black-eyed Susan, after the blanket that is draped over the winning horse, made from the state flower of Maryland.

Out of curiosity, I had to give it a shot.

Note: Most recipes for this cocktail assume you're serving 10-20 people, in the grand tradition of Southern punches. Likewise, there are dozens of competing recipes with often differing ingredients and proportions, and so as to avoid having to fight a duel at sunset, I do not make any claims to this as the definitive version. I chose a simple, smaller recipe for two from Southern Living:

The Black-eyed Susan Cocktail

3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup pineapple juice
3 tbsp. vodka
3 tbsp. light rum
2 tbsp. orange liqueur
Crushed ice

Combine ingredients, shake and serve straight up or on the rocks. Garnish with cherries and orange slices if desired, though I've seen all sorts of fruits used on these.

I added a dash of lemon bitters just for the fun of it. It ends up being a more complex Screwdriver, with the pineapple providing a fun element. With a 5:2 ratio of fruit juice to liquor, this is light and refreshing and could be a neat alternative for the brunch Mimosa.

P.S. The little horse is from--I'm not making this up--a Scout trip to the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis when I was twelve. It's a Clydesdale, not normally used in horse racing, but along with my fellow patrol members we gathered up as much schwag as possible. For years I carried around these fake credit cards that had Budweiser beer logos on them. I have no idea why, and once I was old enough I discovered I really didn't like the one-note flavor of Budweiser in any of its incarnations.

05 August 2009

Dave's Crazy Caribbean Hot Sauce

Fifteen years ago I tried a hot sauce at a seafood restaurant that was made from carrots. The sauce, not the restaurant. Despite my terrible track record in growing carrots, they're probably my favorite root vegetable. I love the touch of sweetness and that slightly astringent quality when they're fresh. One may make a case for onions being more versatile, but rarely do I grab a Vidalia from the pantry to munch on while reading a book.

Carrot-based hot sauces are delicious, but rare. It's one of the many long-lost products that I'd think about at odd moments, but never while at the grocery store. However, the shade of this bottle caught my eye at the local supermarket, and a quick scan of the label revealed a carrot hot sauce. Huzzah!

Dave's Crazy Caribbean Hot Sauce is made by the same producers of the "Dave's Insanity" series of hot sauces and mustards. Truth in advertising is important, so I'll point out that this has plenty of heat, but a good flavor as well. The carrot flavor is foremost yet it's smooth enough that you don't have hard orange chunks in the sauce (a failing of lesser carrot sauces). A little sweet, a little tangy, and balanced out well with a bass line of respectable chile power. If you can handle something like Habanero Tabasco without curling up in the fetal position and crying for your mama, you shouldn't have any problem with this sauce. I slathered it on some tamales and enjoyed the resulting eye-watering and sinus-clearing. I'd really love to try it on some raw oysters, but it's also great on eggs, and frankly, I've never met an egg of any preparation that couldn't benefit from a few dashes of hot sauce.

Some hot sauces come in a bottle with a tiny hole at the top. This is a remnant from the practice of bottling potent spicy concoctions in old perfume bottles, which would allow you to dash on a few drops here and there. But some thicker sauces like this (that begin to blur the line with salsa) come with wide mouths that let you pour it on. It's a matter of preference, but this is tasty enough that I wish it came in a bigger jar.

03 August 2009

Apocalypse Cow and the Sloppy Buffaloes

When I received a bottle of Apocalypse Cow beer from dear friend Tom R., I immediately thought of a funny quote from the short-lived The Tick live action series. A character named Batmanuel said with a deadpan Spanish accent, "Apocalypse Cow is fifty feet tall; she shoots fire from her teats."

If you're not familiar with the weird humor of Ben Edlund's nigh-invulnerable superhero*, just ignore the above. Let's talk about the beer. Spoooon!

Brewed in Munster, Indiana by Three Floyds Brewing Co., at 22 oz. and 10% abv, this is nearly equivalent to an entire bottle of wine. But show me a wine that has a rating of 100 IBUs, eh? Those used to superlight lagers need not apply; I think my beard grew a half inch while drinking this. Lovely orange color, with a firm orange peel nose. Other spice flavors develop on the palate, like nutmeg and allspice. This style of beer provides huge bitter flavors, and this particular bottle did not disappoint. Long finish on the flavor. I'm also a bit partial to the weird, cyclopean bovine on the label.

After seeing the recipe in Cook's Illustrated, I decided to make a batch of sloppy joes, despite not having a craving for them in over two decades. I can't remember the last time I had these--Scout camp or a school cafeteria. It's the kind of dish that screams "institutional", but the article seemed like a good guys' night/beer tasting companion dish. I was also curious to try one fresh, as I don't think I'd ever eaten one that had spent less than three hours in a steam tray. I made a few substitutions in the interest of flavor. I used ground buffalo instead of beef, a big shallot instead of an onion, and splashed in a bit of Bourbon with the brown sugar.

The "sloppy buffaloes" were quite good, surprisingly tasty for something generally associated with the worst of 50s American cooking. I can't imagine that we'll start seeing gourmet variations in trendy bars like what's happening with sliders, but you never know. If a Basque-fusion chef comes out with a chorizo/merguez/yellow tomato Sloppy Joseba served on split brioche, drop me a line.

*Sample words of wisdom from the animated series: "You know, though today was the worst day of my life, I learned many things. First, the world looks a lot different when you're six inches tall and covered with feathers. Second, two heads are definitely not better than one. And finally, you can lay eggs and still feel like a man."