The French 76

Cooking a Thanksgiving meal is thirsty work. Around noon last Thursday I felt it was time for a holiday cocktail. Drinking early in the day is a delicate process though; one needs one's few wits, so is wary of the hard stuff, like my beloved Sazerac, my winter drink. The hard stuff is so much more palitable at, say, 5 pm.

We had a bottle of Asti Spumante in the 'fridge. It's very sweet yet dull. A joke in the wine world, no better than that peachy colored "white zinfandel" quaffed by ladies who don't really like wine. However, Spumante is low in alcohol and had bubbles, so it at least got me thinking.

My first thought was the French 75, a refresher named for one of my favorite cannons from W.W. I. An ounce of gin meanders its resiny goodness through lemon juice, sugar, and (mostly) champagne in an elegant flute. It's refreshing, slightly tart, and not overly alcoholic, so seemed to fit my bill.

But, I thought, the sweetness of the Spumanti would still be the dominant note in this little alcoholic quartet. How to balance?

My answer was to cut out the sugar (naturally) and to introduce a bitter element, which I did in the form of Campari. Campari mixes beautifully with gin in the classic Negroni; also, it turns out, in the French 76.

Like the amps in Spinal Tap, is the 76 "one better" than the 75? No, but I would say it's its equal.

I'm now saddened to report that I once poured a bottle of Asti Spumante onto our compost pile. (My wife gets them as Xmas gifts from her boss.) Never again.

French 76
to a flute add:
1 oz. gin
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. Campari
top with cheap champage

garnish with twish of fresh orange peel


Rummaging through the freezer

I'm thrifty, and I hate wasting food, so I always freeze bits of leftover food: the vegetable skins and chicken bones for stock, which I frequently make, but is never the same. Doesn't matter. It comes out flavorful and adds taste and nutrition to any meal it goes into.

On Sunday I rummaged, and here's what I found:

1 cup frozen liquid from cooked beans and a smoked pig shank

1 baggie frozen corn

1 cup frozen chickpeas in their cooking liquid

1 last "ice cube" of frozen pesto (I freeze pesto in ice cube trays, then pop them out and store them in baggies)

3 ice cubes of frozen tomato pesto (cherry tomatoes and blanched almonds, whizzed in the food processor with a little garlic and olive oil)

Pancetta, about a 2 oz. portion

1 small pork pattie, made a few months before as part of a batch for Bahn Mi-- it was flavored with a little caramel and lemon grass

From the pantry:

1 can black beans

1 small smoked pepper, maybe chipotle? medium spicy

1/2 an onion

Spices: cumin, cayenne, tumeric

In other words, enough to approximate a batch of black bean (AKA Black and Gold) chile.


Anniversary dinner

A quiet dinner at home for our anniversary this year. The previous two weekends saw us travelling, first to New York with friends, next to San Antonio to see my mother and step-father. A night in was in order, and we enjoyed some very fresh Chilean Sea Bass from my favorite fishmonger in the Strip District.

I seasoned the steaks, then seared them skin-side down for two minutes, then flipped them and place the pan in a 350-degree oven. After ten minutes I topped them with some bread crumbs which I made from a couple of slices of my mother's brown bread, to which I'd added some chopped fresh herbs from the community garden behind our house. Also going in the pan: a couple of sliced cherry tomatoes and some baby beets, likewise from our plot in the garden.

It never ceases to amaze me how much spinach can cook down; a panful becomes a small green mass in mere moments. The spinach made a good bed for the fish. A drizzle of olive oil, a bottle of Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc, a beautiful woman across from me, and all was very well in the universe.

Mexican Omelet

Various sundries from the 'fridge produced this tasty combination.

Saute togehter chopped mushrooms, shallot and green onion. Sprinkle a little cumin, smoked paprika and chipotle chili powder over all. Saute til mushroom liquid evaporates and everthing tightens up and shrinkens, like a brave man enduring a cold shower.

Make an omelete and add some shredded cheddar (though queso fresco would be ideal), fresh salsa and then the smoky, caramelized mushrooms. Serve with warm, buttered flour tortillas.


Quick and Easy Fish Tacos

I'm told there are healthy versions of this using grilled swordfish in southern California, but I'm going for the fried version here.

I take tilapia or catfish fillets, dredge them in seasoned flour, dip them in beaten egg, and then dredge them through panko, a large flake Japanese bread crumb (which makes a lighter crust).

Next, I saute the fillets. Bacon fat is really good here, but any oil would work well. For either of the thin fillets allow about 3 minutes per side. Be careful flipping them, they may come apart.

I make a sauce out of adobo (smoked jalapenos in adobo sauce from Reyna's in the Strip District) whizzed together with mayonnaise and ketchup in my little handheld food processor. (A little of this goes a long way.)

I then shred cabbage and mix it with lime juice, a little olive oil, and some S and P.

I spread a little sauce on a heated flour tortilla (place them in a hot ungreased cast iron skillet for 20 seconds/side), top it with fried fish, add some cabbage, some chopped cilantro if you have it... voila.