Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gin Class at Tender Bar & Kitchen

The sun shone, it was almost noon. A queue of strangers was forming outside Tender Bar & Kitchen in Lawrenceville waiting patiently for the doors to open. 

Passersby may have thought the worst of us. We may have appeared to be overly thirsty for our first drink of the day, but that wasn't the case at all. We were there for a class on gin. We were thirsty for knowledge.

You can study gin?! Yes, you can. Our instructor for the day was Marie Perriello, the Education Director at Tender, assisted by Jeff Catalina, the owner of both Tender and Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina in Garfield. I don't know about you, but I LOVE a bar with an Education Director! The more I know about what I drink, the better I like it.

The long bar in the narrow, former-bank-turned-bar, was lined with 18 students awaiting Marie's cocktail enlightenment. Each of us had our own station and equipment - tins, both a cocktail AND a julep strainer, barspoon, glasses, etc. everything we needed to make our own drinks.  
It was a real treat to start off with an old-fashioned, non-alcoholic vanilla phosphate. I hadn't had one of those since I was a kid on a spinning stool at the drugstore counter! Plates of the kitchen's fresh-made potato chips with aioli and bowls of piping hot hush puppies kept up our energy throughout the class.

Marie and Jeff conducted a gin tasting before we started mixing cocktails.  We tasted and learned the differences in taste and the suitability for types of cocktails by sampling Beefeater, Plymouth, Old Tom and Bols Ginever. I couldn't decide if I like the Plymouth or the Bols best - all four were excellent.

The cocktail making began with a Martinez, a stirred gin cocktail. Here's where we used the Haymans Old Tom Gin we had tasted earlier along with Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, Sweet Vermouth and Boker's Bitters. Stirred gently with ice in a circular motion, strained with a julep strainer into a coupe glass and garnished with lemon peel, it was delicious. And beautiful, don't you think?

The Martinez
Next we moved to a shaken cocktail called The Last Word - the perfect name for the last cocktail of the day. I chose Plymouth gin...the smooth sweetness would complement the other components of the cocktail. Luxardo was used again, Green Chartreuse (another fave of mine) and fresh-squeezed lime juice. 

The Last Word

After shaking and double straining the liquid into a cocktail (martini) glass, we were ready to raise a toast to the education in gin that we'd gotten in a short, but sweet, two hours. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday at all.

One of the things Marie stressed was the adaptability of a cocktail...how you can swap out one spirit for another, a modifying agent or spirit for another. She gave us confidence to take what she taught and experiment on our own.  

Marie mentioned using Mezcal in place of gin in the Martinez and, in fact, I've enjoyed a cocktail she makes that does that very thing. So I tried messing with spirits and other additions myself and came up with this little number. Here's the recipe first for Marie's classic Martinez.

Want to learn that cocktail confidence yourself? Sign up for upcoming classes at Tender! I'll see you there!

Martinez - Marie Perriello

  • 2 oz. Haymans Old Tom Gin
  • .5 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
  • 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 dashes Boker's Bitters

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass. Use a julep strainer and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel.  

Mezcal Martinez - my version
  • 2 oz. Wild Shot Mezcal
  • .5 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
  • 1 oz. Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
  • dropper full Bittermens Elemakule Tiki Bitters
Stir all in a mixing glass. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with lemon peel. 

Mezcal Martinez - my version

Cocktail education really is Marie's specialty. In addition to bartending at both Tender and Acacia, she owns her own cocktail education business, Stir Society

Marie conducts demonstrations and classes in homes to delight and amaze your friends or businesses as a team-building exercise or entertainment for clients. Check it out for your next party or business meeting...it will be an event to be remembered!


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tomato Smoked Chicken Soup with Black Rice

By now you know I'm not one to let anything go to waste...especially when it would make a good soup stock. Can you believe I JUST realized you can make stock from smoked chickens? Missed that boat, folks! And that error of omission was fixed on Sunday.

All the smoke-infused goodness that was left over from Sunday's Cajun-rubbed-beer-can-style chicken was plopped into my soup pot along with onions and celery (with LOTS of leafy celery tops), halved fresh jalapeno for extra kick and lots of garlic...Jane's Crazy salt, too...you know how I love that stuff. As the stock simmered, it became a deep, burnished mahogany red as a result of all the Cajun spices. The stock was gorgeous!

After the pot of stock cooled, it was tucked away into the fridge to mellow overnight. I'd planned on making a version of tortilla soup, but upon tasting the stock decided to go in a different direction. The stock stood on its own and it would be a sin to mask the Cajun flavor. It was perfectly delicious just as it was. 

Just a few veggies were needed to round it out, so I roasted fresh tomatoes, zucchini and red pepper slivers. I cooked up a pot of black rice to add a little "heft" to the soup and for the contrast in color. (Have you tried black rice? Packs more flavor and nutrients than regular white rice and is so much prettier than brown rice...I think it might make for a very interesting rice pudding!)

So here's the recipe for a rich, colorful and soothing soup to warm you in the last of the cool days of spring. At least we hope it's the last of the cold weather!

 Tomato Smoked Chicken Soup with Black Rice

Serves 6 
  • 2 quarts chicken stock (approximately), from the carcass of a smoked chicken (see directions below)
  • 6 Roma tomatoes, cut in six pieces each, lengthwise - I used Campari tomatoes
  • 1 zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise, then across into thin slices
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1" julienned slices
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 6 large basil leaves, fresh
  • cooked chicken, reserved from the stock
  • 3 cups cooked black rice - if you can find it, brown or white rice otherwise
  • fresh basil leaves, thin slivers, as garnish

Stock: Using the bones, skin and leftover meat from a smoked chicken (that you smoked outside and had been rubbed liberally outside and in with Cajun seasonings), put the chicken pieces into a large soup pot. Add 4-5 celery ribs with ALL the leaves and broken into 3-4 pieces each, 2 peeled and quartered onions, 1 large jalapeno cut in half lengthwise, 2 T. Jane's Crazy salt, 2 T. dried minced garlic and just cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover. Lower heat to a simmer. Simmer for several hours until the meat falls off the bones and the stock is rich and red. Cool and refrigerate overnight. The next day, first remove all the solidified fat at the top of the stock. Then remove all the meat and reserve. Remove and discard the veggies and strain the stock into another large pot. There should be approximately 2 quarts of stock.
Veggies: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray olive oil over a baking sheet with sides and scatter the tomatoes, red bell pepper slices and zucchini evenly over the baking sheet. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Spray again with olive oil and roast until the veggies are soft.
Soup: While the veggies are roasting, start warming the stock on top of the stove. Add the tomato paste and basil leaves to the stock and when the veggies are ready, add them to the pot along with any accumulated juices on the baking sheet. Stir. Simmer about half an hour, heat the chicken separately. Heat the cooked rice separately.
Serve: Put a rounded scoop of rice in the bottom of a bowl, gently ladle the soup around the rice, add sliced chicken to the top and garnish with slivered fresh basil.
NOTE: If you haven't smoked a chicken, you can use the carcass of a store-bought rotisserie chicken or home roasted chicken and use a nice smoky Cajun seasoning to taste in place of the Jane's Crazy Salt. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Cucumber Blood Orange Gin & Tonic

It's Monday. There's still grass to mow and yard work leftover from the weekend that needs to be done. You've worked all day, you've taken care of the stuff that didn't get done on Saturday or Sunday. You deserve a refreshing break. I know I do!

Here's one quick cocktail to refresh your thirst AND your spirit. Cool cucumber, tart blood orange, a floral tonic syrup, a little gin and a splash of soda. Sit back and relax...before you do it all over again tomorrow. 

Cucumber Blood Orange Gin & Tonic

Makes 1

  • 1/4 cup English cucumber, cut into 1/2" pieces - skin on
  • 1/2 orange, blood orange, juiced
  • 2 ounces gin, Blue Coat or other less juniper-y gin
  • 3/4 ounce Jack Rudy Small Batch Tonic syrup (if you can't find it or want your cocktail NOW - who can blame you - just use a little more than a splash of tonic water instead of the Jack Rudy and soda water...no problem!)
  • soda water

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the cucumber pieces and the juice well. Add gin & tonic syrup, add ice 3/4 of the way up the tin, cap tightly and shake briefly. Strain into an ice filled glass of your choice.

Remove a strip of orange peel from a blood orange with a wide swivel blade veggie peeler. Remove a strip of cucumber with a knife. Rub the flesh side of the cucumber around the rim of the glass and insert decoratively into the edge of the glass. 

Twist the orange strip skin side toward the cocktail over the liquid, letting the orange oil fall into the glass. Rub the skin side of the orange peel around the rim of the glass and insert it into the glass alongside the cucumber strip. Add a splash of soda water to the top, stir gently and enjoy.

I first had Jack Rudy tonic syrup at Bad Decisions in Baltimore...where else?! I bought mine through Fab.com, but you can get it through Amazon, too. You can definitely buy it at Jack Rudy Cocktail Company! Probably through other places as well. No blood oranges? Pfffttt! Use regular oranges or even tangerines. Hmmmm...that sounds great!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Burgh'ers and Burgers In Harmony...


Pittsburgh, PA - a city bursting at the seams with hulking skyscrapers and soaring steel girders of multitudinous bridges...and great burger joints.

Harmony, PA - a peaceful, bucolic village of farms and fields way up north (further than Zelionople!)...and a great burger joint! In fact, we found absolute burger brilliance in Harmony. Maybe that should be "Burgher" brilliance. The fine establishment of which I speak is Burgh'ers.

Now we didn't happen upon Burger'ers by accident, we'd been wanting to check this place out since last fall after sampling Burgh'ers delectable bites of food and inventive cocktails at Savor Pittsburgh. Somehow, despite the best of intentions, we never made it that far up north...until Friday. You can be assured we'll be making the trek regularly now!
Upon walking through the door, the place was packed. Wait for a table? Not when there were two prime spots at the end of the bar! It was the perfect perch to observe all the happenings between the kitchen and the front, the kitchen and the bar, the bar and the front...you get the idea, it was the happening place to be. And talk.

We were soon chatting with our barmates as if we'd always known one another. Al and PJ sat to our immediate left and we talked of rock music and Jergel's new spot in Warrendale, the old days and the loss of loves...and of Harleys while we waited for food and drink.  

And we schmoozed with Dee Hutto, our very talented bartender. Dee was responsible for the back of the bar looking as much like a scene out of Harry Potter's Hogwarts schoolroom as anything else. Glass jars and bottles of all sizes and shapes and colors held infusions, elixirs and bitters with fruits such as figs, pineapple, mango, orange, blood orange, spices and herbs all waiting to be part of the magical, liquid combinations of spirits with which Dee built each cocktail.  

It was the last weekend for Dee's winter cocktail menu and the Royal Fig was sounding just right for the cool, blustery weather outside. Crown Royal, Dee's housemade Pimms, Campari, lemon and her own orange fig bitters beckoned. Bold, tart, sweet and crisp, it was perfection. 

Don't look for it on the bar menu as Spring cocktails have taken over...although if you're lucky, Dee may just have enough ingredients to mix you up one last Royal Fig. No promises, though. While I enjoyed my cocktail, Mark savored one of the very nice selections of craft beers on tap. We finalized our dinner selections.

Now what else would you order from a place called Burgh'ers, than a burger? Exactly. Mark ordered the Pitts Burger piled high with cheddar, coleslaw, pickle, basil onion and "special" sauce. The Animal was my choice. It's a cheeseburger...oh, not the typical cheeseburger you might envision, this was a cream cheese burger!  

Fresh basil, crisp onion, raw, spicy jalapeno slices and sweet tomato stacked atop a burger of organic local beef and grilled to caramelized perfection on a screaming hot flat top. You might choose to have yours on a bun, but I chose a huge romaine leaf, of course. The contrast of hot meat and cool cream cheese accented with all those fresh veggies made my heart sing...and my tastebuds smile.

The Animal - Burgh'ers far superior version!
Owner and head chef, Fiore Moletz, hit a home run with this one and the rest of the menu! I think it's the use of local, organic beef, chicken and fresh veggies that makes the difference. Check out the rest of the menu at Burgh'ers.

Although I didn't use the organic beef burger mix that Burgh'ers does and I don't have a white hot flat top to sear the patties almost instantly, I made my own - nowhere near as good as Burgh'ers - version of the Animal burger at home. It was good! If you can't get out to Harmony to experience the REAL Burgh'ers burgers, give this one a whirl.

One more thing...Burgh'ers will be selling their their burgers and other items outside of Good Taste Pittsburgh in Cranberry on Saturday, April 20th at the Marriott on Rt. 228. There will be deliciousness both outside and inside!

The Animal Burger

Makes 1 burger

  • 1/3 - 1/2 lb GOOD quality ground beef, made into a thin patty
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 2 slices cream cheese from the foil-wrapped package
  • several thin slices raw jalapeno pepper - or use pickled ones from the jar
  • thinly sliced onion - red onion would be pretty!
  • red, ripe tomato slices
  • finely julienned fresh basil
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Jane's Crazy salt or another good seasoning salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • a good toasty bun (gluten-free to make this GF) or a whole Romaine lettuce leaf
Either grill the burger or sear it in a very hot cast iron skillet - I'm assuming you don't have a flat top either - on both sides to medium rare or however YOU like it.

Place the burger on a waiting toasted bun or a large Romaine leaf. Top with the cream cheese slices and the veggies. Dust with Jane's Crazy salt and enjoy.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Soergel's Orchards Kick Off Good Taste Pittsburgh 2013!


What's up around town this weekend? Glad you asked. A good time is sure to be had at Good Taste Pittsburgh! After many years of being held east of Pittsburgh, this long-standing, fun foodie event finally makes it's first appearance in the north at the Cranberry Marriott (just off Rt. 279 North at Rt. 228). Get tickets!
The kick off event for Good Taste Pittsburgh was held last week at Soergel's Orchard in Wexford. Why? Because Soergel's will be a big participant in Saturday's event and one of the sponsors! What a party and WHAT A FEAST the kick off was! 

The feast

If you've ever been to Soergel's, you already know the farm produces everything food and garden related that can be imagined, from seeds to plants, to fresh produce, to their own products made from their very own fresh fruits and veggies, to their bakery, deli, and even their own smoked meats. 

Soergel's orchards produce apples that become not only freshly made cider, but their own jarred applesauce. Their tomatoes become some of the BEST barbeque sauce I've had in a very long time! Three kinds...Sweet & Smoky, Caroline-style and (my fave) Spicy.

Before becoming applesauce!

Where did this kick off party happen? In the middle of a field? No. In great big, comfortable McIntosh Hall behind the market. Yes, McIntosh...like in the apple variety. Makes sense!

"Applewood" Bill Maxwell with beautiful, gleaming smoker
 Tables laden with trays upon trays of their famous pulled pork - yep, smoked for 16 hours in the HUGE smoker on wheels that sat gleamingly out front; slices of juicy Black Angus beef (yes, their own farm-raised, hormone-free cattle), their own potato salad, pasta salad, green salads and fruit salads. Even the greens came from Soergel's own greenhouses - tomatoes and fresh lettuces (and more) grow there year round. (If I have you craving any of this, you know the deli is handy...pick some up! Or have them cater one of your events either at the Orchard or your own venue.)

Source of that sweet, sweet smoke

Soergel's emphasis on fresh and natural is especially evident at their gluten-free and organic foods store, Naturally Soergel's, located near the market. You all know by know about my gluten issues...and how frequently I mention Soergel's as the source of a lot of the products I use. THIS is the place to buy gluten-free in the Pittsburgh area! 

Besides carrying everything gluten-free you could possibly want, the staff is friendly, knowledgeable and happy to help you learn your way around eating gluten-free. If Amy (last name Soergel, of course) is around, be sure to say hello. 

Amy knows her stuff. Her degree in Public Health is from venerable Johns Hopkins University and her Masters in Epidemiology is from Pitt! What piqued Amy's interest in the gluten-free lifestyle? Amy was diagnosed with celiac disease many years ago. Amy lives what she teaches.

One more interesting note. During the presentation part of the kick off evening, it was announced that Soergel's would be growing their own hops this season. I looked over at Amy and kind of silently said to her, "Gluten-free beer?" She nodded yes. Following the presentation, I got the further scoop....and here it is.

Amy is engaged to Doug Foster who is a partner in the brand new Aurochs Brewing Company. Aurochs is the area's FIRST gluten-free beer, and is located on Route 65 in Emsworth.  Soergel's hops are being grown for Aurochs! Look for Aurochs Gluten-Free beer sometime later this year. Oh...and just where did Doug and Amy meet? Naturally Soergel's, naturally. Doug is celiac, too.

Be sure to stop and see the good folks from Soergel's at Good Taste Pittsburgh on Saturday and pick up information on what's happening all year 'round in Soergel's orchards and their markets and shops in Wexford on Brandt School Road just off Rt. 910.

Saturday's Good Taste Pittsburgh highlights include:

- Chef Keith Fuller of Root 174 in Regent Square and Chef Kevin Watson of Savoy in the Strip District will both be speaking and demonstrating their widely celebrated culinary skills.

- Cookbook author Lindsey Smith (Junk Foods & Junk Moods will talk about the importance of nutritious easting.

- Caroline Wright, Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals, will be making 3 of her recipes and signing her cookbook.

- The stars of Farm Kings - The Great American Country Network's (GACN) reality television show about the daily lives of the King Family from Freedom Farm in Butler County will actually be shooting a segment for broadcast! Don't miss this!

- Vendors, flower arranging, creative crafts and much more. 

See you there!