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Showing posts with label Drinks and Cocktails. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Drinks and Cocktails. Show all posts

Friday, October 9, 2015

Having a Very Good Time in New York State's Finger Lakes

Last month I went on a road trip in the Finger Lakes. Flying to Rochester, I rented a car. For the next three days I drove south, then east, then north until I dropped the car off in Syracuse. With guides from the county tourism boards, I saw as much as I could on a too-short trip. I had a great time enjoying the lakes, visiting with farmers, looking at the beautiful countryside and meeting people who have lived their whole lives in this very special part of the country.
The focus of the trip was distilleries. Specifically, those distilleries on orchards. These are family owned farms. Those farms were allowed to produce distilled spirits because of law that was passed by the state of New York in 2007.
The Finger Lakes region is well-known for its vineyards. Now there are good products originating in the orchards. For the most part, that means apples. All kinds of apples, which are used to make hard cider. In the past when I tried hard cider, I didn't enjoy the sweetness. The hard ciders I tasted at Apple Country SpiritsEmbark Craft  Ciderworks both in Williamson, the orchard collective at Finger Lakes Cider House at Good Life Farm in Interlaken and 1911 Spirits at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard outside of Syracuse were dry and light like champagne.
The real surprise was when I tasted the vodka, gin and brandies made from the products of those orchards. At Apple Country Spirits, I had Tree Vodka, Apple Jack and brandies made from cherries, plums and pear. At 1911 Spirits, I had 1911 Gin and 1911 Vodka. All were very good.
The vodka and gin at both distilleries were made from apples. That doesn't mean the spirits tasted like apples. They were delicious clean tasting and mild.

At the end of the trip, on my last night in Syracuse, I visited Al's Wine and Whiskey Lounge in the downtown area. The bar is relatively new but looked and felt as if it had been there since the turn of the 20th century. Tall ceilings. Brick walls. A pool table in the back. A lounge with leather couches and chairs. And a 35 foot long wooden bar backed by floor to ceiling shelves filled with bottles of spirits. The bar list is as thick as the phone book for a small city.
After a very busy trip, I was ready to enjoy the fruits of my labors, so to speak. I wanted a cocktail. One made with a local product. The way it works at Al's is instead of reading through a cocktail menu, you tell the bartender how you are feeling, which in my case was tired and what kind of spirit you like, which in my case was either vodka or gin, whichever was local.
The result was a very delicious cocktail made with Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard's 1911 Gin. I wrote up the recipe for Zester Daily. Please take a look. I think you'll want to make the cocktail for yourself. It is that good!

Upstate N.Y. Craft Distillers Get Creative With Gin

Friday, April 24, 2015

The District by Hannah An, Upscale Vietnamese near the Beverly Center

The District is a few blocks from the Beverly Center. A Vietnamese restaurant with an upscale menu and a friendly bar, chef-owner Hannah An has created an airy space with a large menu featuring organic poultry and meats, fresh seafood and a great variety of vegetable dishes that will make vegans very happy.
Many of the Vietnamese restaurants that have appeared in Los Angeles over the past year have focused on modified versions of street food: pho (the richly flavored beef or chicken noodle soup) and banh mi (French baguette sandwiches with meat and pickled vegetables). Both are available at The District, but these are versions made with high-quality, fresh ingredients and they are only two of several dozen dishes on the menu.
Hannah An is the eldest daughter of the family behind Beverly Hills' Crustacean, a restaurant known for the quality of its seafood and the elegance of the dining room. The design of the District is more casual. With an outdoor patio and windows that open to the street, the restaurant is light and airy and elegant in its own way.
Recently I joined half dozen other food writers for a tasting. We ate land animals and creatures from the deep. Some were crispy fried, others were braised with a layering of flavors. We ate steamed rice, soft braised noodles, light as air spring rolls, deeply flavored soup, a salad topped with a beautiful piece of crispy-skin salmon, an excellent Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk and a delicious cocktail that had plenty of heat.
The menus (lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch) overlap with dishes like pho (beef and chicken) and fried calamari available any time of day. Some like cha go roll are favorites in Vietnamese restaurants. At The District, the fried rice paper rolls practically evaporate in your mouth. There is not a drop of oil on them. Inside the well-compacted roll is a mix of ground chicken and vegetables. The garlic lime dipping sauce has enough heat and sweetness to compliment the other flavors. 

The affordably priced dishes are large enough to share. For those who want to splurge for a celebration, there is fresh lobster and filet mignon.
The best dishes at The District draw on the flavor combinations that immediately tell you the chef is from Vietnam. Whether combined in a sauce or used in the dish itself, freshly squeezed lime juice, cilantro, peppers and pepper flakes, fish sauce, fresh fruit, garlic and lemon grass are used by a practiced hand that knows exactly how much is the correct amount.

We were served black cod in a clay pot. In Vietnam the fish used would probably be catfish. Flaky and moist, the cod has a silken texture familiar to anyone who has eaten a version of Morimoto's miso-black cod, a dish served at many upscale Japanese restaurants.  Chef An uses lemon grass, fish sauce and a five spices mix to put a little edge into the darkly rich sauce. Chinese broccoli and thin uncooked ginger strips add texture.  On the very bottom of the hot pot were two triangles of fresh pineapple lying in wait for anyone who needed a bit of sweet-acid to add to the already complex flavor profile of the dish.
The calamari plate was another standout. Topped with a salad of purple kale and frisee, the crinkly leaves complimented the crispy calamari. The dipping sauce, another classic Vietnamese mix of fish sauce, peppers and lime juice rounded out the flavors. A selection of cocktails accompanied the calamari. The colorful cocktails have colorful names: Hot Asian, Side Car to Vietnam, Love You Long Time and Face Down in Saigon. 
The playfully named cocktails are well-crafted drinks designed by David Shoham, a mixologist well-known in Los Angeles. The freshly squeezed juices and the mix of heat and sweet are masterful. 

My hands down favorite of those we tasted was the Hot Asian. I could describe it, but I'll let the menu do it for me, "lemon gras infused Loft and Bear Vodka, organic Vietnamese chili agave, fresh squeezed lime juice, garnished with lime zest and Vietnamese chili." Hopefully you noticed that "chili" appeared twice in the description. Topping the ice filled glass was a whole, bright red pepper for those who wanted even more heat. 
I didn't need more heat, but I would have happily consumed another Hot Asian if I had brought along a designated driver. The cocktail was that delicious.

There is so much more to be said about The District by Hannah An. We ate a great many delicious dishes -- pho bo (beef with noodles), Hannah's noodles with crispy whole lobster, shaken beef with filet mignon so tender it really did melt in the mouth, chicken curry with fava beans, peas, thickly cut red onion rings with Thai basil and a kale Caesar salad topped with a crispy-skin salmon filet. 
There are many more dishes on the menu I want to try. I love the idea of chef An's take on French onion soup that uses bone marrow and Vietnamese spices. I want to have the roasted ginger chicken, crispy tofu, braised short ribs, District salad with prawns, kale and curly endive, duck confit salad with Vietnamese herbs, roasted cauliflower with pistachios, coriander-crusted lamb and the flatbreads (chicken, pork belly and heirloom tomato-burrata). 

They all sound delicious.

The District by Hannah An, 8722 West Third Street, LA, CA 90048, 310/278-2345.  Open for lunch Monday-Friday, dinner every night and Sunday brunch.

Monday, December 31, 2012

For New Year's Eve: A Favorite Cocktail

The holidays are a great time to break the work routine, slow down the daily tempo, and hang out with friends and family.

Cold weather makes the outdoors less hospitable. A warm kitchen invites like no other room in the house.  Pulling together appetizers, a salad, main dish, and a couple of desserts, is a lot of work but also great fun. 

With New Year's Eve tonight, I'm turning to an old favorite, a drink that evokes the sweetness and excitement of the tropics.

Because there are edible pieces of fruit at the bottom, include a spoon so the cocktail can be enjoyed as a drink and an appetizer all in one.

Tropical Rum Cocktail

Yield: 4

Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup white rum
2 Fuyu persimmons, ripe, slightly soft, finely chopped
1 cup fresh orange juice, sweet
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
16 ice cubes

Method

Pour the white rum into a pitcher, add the powdered sugar, and stir well to dissolve. Add the finely chopped persimmons, orange and lime juice, and stir well to combine.

Put 4 ice cubes and a spoon into each glass, pour in the drink, making certain that the persimmon pieces are divided equally and serve.

Variations

Top with a fresh sprig of mint

Adjust the proportion of orange and lime juice, to taste

Substitute finely chopped mango, strawberries, kiwi, or fresh passion fruit for persimmons

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Apple Pie Gets Whisky Tipsy

For the holidays, old favorites are entitled to special love. Case in point, apple pie. Nothing is more American and no dessert is more satisfying than apple pie, hot from the oven, topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Delicious as it is, special occasions call for special ingredients.

Whisky's smoky sweetness seems like a perfect companion for apple pie's richly comforting wholesomeness.

My mother made apple pie for Thanksgiving and Chanukah. Her recipe was the essence of simplicity. One of those dishes that intuitively adheres to the principle of "let the ingredients speak for themselves."

At a time when farmers markets didn't exist in cities, my mom would pack my sister and myself into her Dodge and we'd head out to the farms in the areas surrounding Banning, California, the small town on the way to Palm Springs where we lived during my high school years.

Sometimes we'd stop at stands along the highway and buy a basket of apples, maybe a pumpkin or two, and a grocery bag filled with lettuce, beans and onions. When she had decided we would make a whole day out of the trip, we would go to one of the many U-Pick 'Em apple orchards in the area. My sister and I would clamber up the tall ladders, my mother holding on to the bottom as we picked apples and deposited them in the pails provided by the farmer.

Happily we don't have to travel as far now, since farmers markets bring fresh apples to our neighborhood on Sunday in Pacific Palisades and Wednesday and Saturday in Santa Monica. The Fuji apples from Ha Farms are firm and sweet and make an especially good apple pie.

The nice folks at Maker's Mark gifted me with a bottle of their whisky, the idea being I would come up with a nifty cocktail for the holiday season.
It didn't take much effort on my part to mimic the beautiful version of the Manhattan served at the Westside Tavern (10850 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064) in West Los Angeles.

Called the Proper Manhattan, the secret to their upgrade of the classic cocktail is the addition of Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6, manufactured in New Orleans by the Sazerac Company and sold locally at Wally's (2017 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064).
Thinking about my mother's apple pie and eyeing the Maker's Mark on the counter, it was easy to put two and two together.

For many years, I've been tinkering with my mother's apple pie recipe--adding cream and crystalized ginger to the crust--so including whisky with the apples seemed like the perfect addition to a holiday apple pie.

Normally I wouldn't use whisky in cooking because the alcohol cooks off and I would much rather sip whisky than use it for flavoring, but a whisky apple pie, topped with a premium vanilla ice cream and served with shooters of Maker's Mark whisky and Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6 seems like a fine way to celebrate the holidays. Nothing like double-downing on a good thing.

Manhattan Shooters
When a cocktail seems like too much of a commitment, a Manhattan shooter is a great way to go, the perfect size to accompany appetizers and snacks.

Yield 1

Ingredients

1 1/2 ounces premium whisky
1/4 teaspoon dry vermouth
5 drops Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6

Directions

Keep the shot glasses, whisky, vermouth and bitters in the freezer. When ready to serve, take everything out of the freezer, measure, mix, pour and consume the shots along with a slice of the whisky apple pie.

Whisky Apple Pie

Use any variety of apple you enjoy. I like Fuji apples which are sweet so I can use less sugar.


Ingredients
6 large sized apples, washed, peeled, sliced 1/2” thick
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup whisky
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon golden raisins
2 tablespoons roughly chopped raw almonds
5 large pieces crystallized ginger
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 teaspoons raw sugar
1-2 tablespoons ice water

Method

Make the pastry first. Hand chop the crystallized ginger as fine as possible. Put the flour, butter, sea salt, 2 teaspoons of raw sugar, and the crystallized ginger into a food processor and pulse until well-blended.  

While the food processor is running, slowly add the cream and then a little water at a time until the dough forms a ball.

Sprinkle flour onto a cutting board. Remove the ball of dough, divide into two pieces, put onto the flour and flatten into two 6” disks. Wrap each disk separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 60 minutes. Just before you are going to roll out the pastry, remove the disks from the refrigerator and allow to soften for five minutes.

On the floured cutting board, remove one disk from the plastic wrap and roll out the dough so it covers a 9” pie dish. 

Gently lay the dough over the pie dish and press down to fit. 

Trim the excess dough off the edge with a sharp paring knife. 

Make a dozen holes in the bottom of the dough. Weigh down the dough with ceramic pastry balls, uncooked rice, or beans and bake 15 minutes in a preheated 375 F oven.

Remove. Let cool on a wire rack. Remove the weights.

Roast the chopped almonds on a piece of aluminum foil in the 375 F oven for 5 minutes and remove.

For the filling, put the whisky, lemon juice, raisins, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Toss the apple slices in the mixture so the apples don’t discolor.  Let sit 15 minutes. 

Spoon the apples, raisins and almonds into the prebaked crust. Pour 2 tablespoons of the liquid on the apples. Reserve the rest of the liquid.

Roll out the top crust on the floured cutting board as before. Lay the pastry on top of the pie. 

Trim away the excess. Use a fork to press together the edges of the top and bottom crusts. The tines will make a nice design along the edge.

Use a paring knife to poke half a dozen slits in the top pastry to allow steam to escape.

Bake in a preheated 375 F oven 30 minutes. 

Place the reserved whisky-brown sugar liquid in a small saucepan. Reduce to one quarter the volume over low heat, stirring frequently.

Remove the pie from the oven. 

Brush the whisky syrup on top of the pie and dust with a sprinkling of raw sugar.

Return to the oven for an additional 25-35 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned.  Remove from the oven, place on a wire rack and let cool.

Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

For New Year's Eve: A Favorite Cocktail

The holidays are a great time to break the work routine, slow down the daily tempo, and hang out with friends and family.

Cold weather makes the outdoors less hospitable. A warm kitchen invites like no other room in the house.  Pulling together appetizers, a salad, main dish, and a couple of desserts, is a lot of work but also great fun. 

With New Year's Eve fast approaching, the search is on to plan a festive meal. What better way to begin the celebration than with a drink that evokes the sweetness of the tropics.

Because there are edible pieces of fruit at the bottom, include a spoon so the cocktail can be enjoyed as a drink and an appetizer all in one.

Tropical Rum Cocktail

Yield: 4

Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup white rum
2 Fuyu persimmons, ripe, slightly soft, finely chopped
1 cup fresh orange juice, sweet
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
16 ice cubes

Method

Pour the white rum into a pitcher, add the powdered sugar, and stir well to dissolve. Add the finely chopped persimmons, orange and lime juice, and stir well to combine.

Put 4 ice cubes and a spoon into each glass, pour in the drink, making certain that the persimmon pieces are divided equally and serve.

Variations

Top with a fresh sprig of mint

Adjust the proportion of orange and lime juice, to taste

Substitute finely chopped mango, strawberries, kiwi, or fresh passion fruit for persimmons

Friday, May 14, 2010

If You Want a Caipirinha, You Can Travel Down to Rio, or You Can Make One at Home



Please take a look at a photo gallery about Rio I put together for the New York Daily News.  Seeing those photographs again, brings back wonderful memories.





The national drink of Brazil, the caipirinha, has 4 ingredients: cachaça, sugar, limes, and ice. Simple, delicious, and strong. Cachaça is harsher than rum but more flavorful than vodka.

Off and on for three years our older son, Franklin, lived in Brazil. We visited him in Rio where he introduced us to the pleasures of sitting on the Leblon beach, enjoying the incredible view and feasting on "appetizers" sold by vendors who walk up and down the beach.

The variety of delicious treats carried by vendors is amazing. Grilled chicken, saladinhos ("little salty snacks"), cheeses melted on a small brazier, shrimp on skewers, ice cold agua de coco from a freshly opened coconut, and a variety of fruit beyond belief. After you've eaten enough or want a break from watching the parade of beautifully tanned and under-dressed Cariocas (what the natives of Rio are called), a short walk to any of the restaurants and bars that line the beach and a caipirinha is waiting for you.

From now until the end of the Olympics in 2016, the vendors have been banished from the beaches, but you can be certain they'll be back.

Because Brazil has such a bounty of tropical fruits, it was only a matter of time before the caipirinha enjoyed the addition of other flavors. Frank had learned to make variations. Going to a nearby farmers' market, we picked out different fruit to add to the basic ingredients.

Back at his apartment we spent the afternoon working our way through many combinations. What we liked best was adding kiwi fruit and pomegranate seeds, then we experimented with the proportions.

Back home we discovered that cachaça is not easy to find.  Luckily, we tracked down Leblon cachaça so we could make caipirinhas whenever we wanted.

Caipirinha

Yield: 1

Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

2 ounces cachaça
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
1/2 lime, cut into 8 pieces, mashed in a mortar and pestle
1/2 kiwi, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds
ice, cubed or crushed

Method

Pour the cachaça in a 12 ounce glass, add the sugar and stir well. Pour in the lime, kiwi, and pomegranate seeds. Mix and fill the glass with crushed ice. Serve with an espresso spoon so you can eat the kiwi and pomegranate seeds while you sip your caipirinha.

Variations

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A New Year's Eve Cocktail and Appetizer All-in-One

I enjoy spending hours cooking in the kitchen. Doing the prep work soothes my frazzled nerves. Watching a dish slowly come together as the various ingredients combine their flavors calms me down.

Being in the kitchen is a great escape from a contentious world. Pulling together appetizers, a salad, main dish, and a couple of desserts, gives me a lot of pleasure. Good food promotes good conversation and well-prepared dishes tell our friends that we care about them.

I like to have the meal completed before everyone arrives, but sometimes, like this New Year's Eve, I know I'll still be cooking. The best solution is a colorful cocktail that refreshes and entertains while I'm finishing dinner.

Because there are edible pieces of fruit at the bottom, including a spoon means the cocktail is a drink and an appetizer all in one.

Tropical Rum Cocktail

Cocktails, like pets, need to be named. I'd appreciate any and all suggestions.

Yield: 4

Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup white rum
2 Fuyu persimmons, ripe, slightly soft, finely chopped
1 cup fresh orange juice, sweet
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
16 ice cubes

Method

Pour the white rum into a pitcher, add the powdered sugar, and stir well to dissolve. Add the finely chopped persimmons, orange and lime juice, and stir well to combine.

Put 4 ice cubes and a spoon into each glass, pour in the drink, making certain that the persimmon pieces are divided equally and serve.

Variations

Top with a fresh sprig of mint

Adjust the proportion of orange and lime juice, to taste

Substitute finely chopped mango, strawberries, kiwi, or fresh passion fruit for persimmons

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Kimchi Chicken Wings Take Flight

Needing an appetizer for an Asian themed dinner, I played around with the kimchi I had in the refrigerator. A simple marinade using brown sugar lessened the impact of kimchi's bite, but there was still plenty of spiciness.

The result was a sweet-heat dish, a good companion for cocktails before dinner.

Kimchi Chicken Wings

Yield: 4 servings

Time: marinate overnight; cook approximately 60 minutes

Ingredients

2 1/2 pounds chicken wings, washed, pat dried
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup kimchi, finely chopped
1 tablespoon kimchi water from the bottle
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, washed, peeled, sliced thin
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Method

Dissolve the brown sugar in the kimchi water, olive oil, and soy sauce. Add the kimchi, onion slices, and chicken wings. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking tray with tin foil for easy clean up. Place a wire rack on the tray and arrange the wings on the rack. Drizzle the wings with olive oil. Put into the oven and bake 30 minutes. Turn over with tongs. Bake another 30 minutes. The wings should be tender and golden brown. If not, turn the wings over and continue baking another 10 minutes. Check again and continue baking at 10 minute intervals, turning the wings each time, until they are done.

In a small saucepan on a low flame, reduce the marinade by a third. Reserve.

The wings should be eaten hot. Pour the heated, reduced marinade over the wings just before serving.

Make sure everyone has plenty of napkins and a chilled drink of choice.

Variations

Add 1 tablespoon julienned garlic and 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley to the marinade
Just before serving, top with 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallion

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cocktails Perfect for the End of the Week: Passion Fruit, Lime or Orange, & White Rum

Just when you thought you'd never get a break, the week is finally over. It's Friday night and you can stop thinking about work, school, and those never-ending errands.

The truth is, if you don't recharge on the weekend, you're toast next week. You'll be in a bad mood. You won't look forward to work, school, or those never-ending errands.

So you owe it to your good humor, your health, productivity and the betterment of all your relationships to kick back and take it easy.

A cool refreshing drink is a great way to slow down and smell the roses, or, in this case, the fresh fruit.

These drinks are all about the quality of the fruit. The limes, oranges, and passion fruit need to be fresh and juicy. The rum must be white. The sugar powdered.

Besides that, you'll need a couple of ice cubes and a muddler or a spoon. Now you're set to entertain yourself or share the good times with friends.

Passion Fruit, Lime or Orange & White Rum

Pick either lime or orange, the choice is yours.

Yield: 1 serving

Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

1/4 cup finely chopped lime or orange, with juice
1 teaspoon passion fruit pulp including seeds
1/4 cup white rum
1 heaping tablespoon powdered sugar
4 ice cubes

Method

Crush the lime or orange in a glass with a wooden muddler or the back of a spoon, add the passion fruit, rum and sugar. Stir to mix well.

Add the ice cubes and serve with a small spoon, the better to sip and stir and sip some more.

Monday, April 28, 2008

It's 90 Degrees in the Shade But a Tall Glass of Ice Cold Lemonade Lowers the Temperature

It's hot. Really hot. But Nature is good to us. When the temperature climbs there's an abundance of produce to help cool us down. Salads. Fresh fruit. And lemonade. At the Palisades Farmers' Market on Sunday the roses were in bloom, berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries) were everywhere, and Meyer lemons were selling 5 for a dollar. At that price we can afford to have as much fresh lemonade as we can drink. I don't know anything more refreshing on a hot day than an ice cold glass of lemonade.

A little bit of lemon juice goes a long way. When lemons are in season, it's difficult to understand why we'd ever buy lemonade from the supermarket. If Meyer lemons are available, they make a mellow-tasting lemonade. Artificial sweeteners can be used to replace the sugar. Personally I prefer using raw sugar because of its caramel flavor.

Fresh Lemonade

Making lemonade is easy. The hardest part is juicing the lemons and that takes very little effort. An electric juicer can be used although I enjoy doing it by hand.

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (3-4 large lemons)
1/4 cup sugar (preferably raw sugar)
1 quart water

In a quart pitcher mix the juice, sugar, and water together with a long spoon. Adjust the flavors to your taste by adding more lemon juice and/or sugar. The lemonade will keep in the refrigerator for several days. Stir before serving. Find a tall glass and fill it with ice. For a garnish you can use a lemon wedge, a sprig of mint, or a slice of mango.

Variations

Crush an herb like mint or rosemary and add it to the lemonade.

Mix in the juice of 2 limes to make lemon-limeade.

Add 1 1/2 ounces of white rum or vodka to each tall glass with a sprig of mint to serve at a cocktail party.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 5 minutes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Perfect Meal: Salad, Pasta, and a Good Stiff Drink

A friend and I had a tough day and we needed a quiet place to have dinner and recover. We happened across Matteo's, a West LA fixture since the Frank Sinatra Rat Pack days.

The menu is Old School, with sections for Antipasti, Salumi, Insalta, Pasta, Seafood, Chicken, Chef's Specialities, and Weekly Specialties. I'll definitely come back for Tuesday's Roast Pig alla Porchetta Dinner. Tonight I settled on a Caesar salad, Spaghettini alla Vongole, and a Perfect Manhattan with a twist. I have to say, the combination was about as right as it could have been.

The dinner reminded me that a salad, pasta, and a drink was a good way to settle down and switch gears from work-manic to social. Tonight I decided to do my own version of this trifecta and make an Arugula Salad with Feta and Olives, Spaghetti with Parsley and Bacon, and a Perfect Manhattan.

Perfect Manhattan

A Perfect Manhattan mixes up easily and should be the first thing you make, so you can sip while you cook.

Yield: 1 serving

Time: 2 minutes

Ingredients

4 oz. Bourbon or Whiskey
½ oz. Sweet Vermouth
½ oz. Dry Vermouth
1 twist of lemon peel, 1" long, ¼" wide

Method

Keep the Bourbon in the freezer so it will be extra cold. Pour the Bourbon and both vermouths into a martini glass, stir, drop in the twist, and sip contentedly.

Arugula Salad

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

1 bunch arugula, washed, dried, the leaves pulled off the stems
10 oil cured black olives, pits removed, cut in half
1 scallion, washed, trimmed, sliced, the white and green parts
¼ cup feta, crumbled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons reduced balsamic syrup
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt

Method

Toss the arugula, olives, scallions, and feta in a salad bowl, then drizzle the olive oil and reduced balsamic syrup. Taste and season with pepper and sea salt as desired.

Spaghetti with Parsley and Bacon

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound dried spaghetti
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, the leaves finely chopped, the stems not used
4 strips of bacon, already cooked, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup homemade chicken stock or pasta water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt
Freshly ground Parmesan or Romano cheese

Method

Put a large pot of salted water (1 teaspoon of Kosher salt to 1 gallon of water) on a high flame while you sauté the parsley, finely chopped bacon, and garlic in the olive oil until softened, not browned. Add the dried pasta to the boiling water, stir well, and check every 5 minutes, stirring each time, until cooked al dente.

To capture 1 cup of pasta water, put a measuring cup in the sink next to the colander. Empty the pot into the colander, filling the measuring cup with pasta water as you do. To keep the pasta hot while you finish the sauce, put the spaghetti back in the pot, drizzle with olive oil, stir well, and cover.

Use the chicken stock or the pasta water to deglaze the pan, adding the butter and mixing with the parsley-bacon-garlic mixture. Simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Taste and season with sea salt or black pepper if needed. Serve with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.