Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pittsburgh Cocktail Week...What a Week It Was!

Before I go any further, let me first thank my designated driver throughout this very first Pittsburgh Cocktail Week...without you this week could never have been the tour de force de cocktails that it truly was. Thanks, Mark! It was a tough job and somebody had to do it. (Glad it wasn't me.)

Although the event ran for an entire seven days, as hard as I tried I couldn't begin to make it to every bar and restaurant participating in the week. Nor could I make it to every special seminar or event, but I gave it my all. There were industry events: an Agave seminar at Verde, Ice Carving at Livermore, a Wigle Distillery seminar on aging, a tour and tasting at Boyd and Blair Distillery.

Boyd and Blair - tour and tasting

Tender hosted a seminar entitled "Drink What You Like and Like What You Drink, led by Johnny Foster and Butterjoint conducted a hands-on class on shrubs and preserves as used in cocktails.

Ground Cherry Pineapple Shrub in process at Butterjoint - Now THAT'S a muddler!

Started at Butterjoint, finished in my kitchen - YUM!

Not to be forgotten, cool events for you and me were held, too. The bartenders at Verde had folks step right up to the bar for a hands-on class in making the perfect margarita, Livermore's Giuseppe Capolupo taught a few basic tricks to carve your own ice at home, Wigle conducted an aged whiskey tasting that SOLD OUT quickly! 

There was a cocktail and food pairing class at Industry, South Seas Thursday at Tiki Lounge with Lucky the Painproof Man and totally amazing, authentic tiki drinks using the best rums and liquors, fresh squeezed juices and handmade syrups. 

(Heads up....Lucky takes over Tiki Lounge and creates these EVERY Thursday from 4 - 9 PM, not just for Pittsburgh Cocktail Week!)

Lucky the Painproof Main, Tiki Bartender Extrordinaire

(I'm not saying this tiki mug got the Pirates into the playoffs, but....)

Probably the most exciting happening during the week (for me, anyway!) was the cocktail competition going on all around the town! Restaurants and bars entered one or more cocktails into several categories. This is where my designated driver came into play...the fun was in trying cocktails in various spots, voting on them via an app called Grail. The developers of Grail, Rhomania, are right here in Pittsburgh! (Check out Grail and all the cool things it does and restaurants it carries right here.

At the end of Pittsburgh Cocktail Week, a winner was declared and won $1,000 in barware! Not bad for the very first ever event!  I won't tell you right now who won, but I DID get to enjoy the winning entry early in the week. 

It was impossible to get to every spot and to sample every least for me it was. I did hear rumors that an attempt was made by at least one hardy soul! Here are (some of) the cocktails I tried.

Oaxacan Campfire by Hannah Morris - Verde Mexican Kitchen

The Secret Garden by Erika Joyner - Salt of the Earth

Amelia's Last Flight by Sean Rosenkrans - Tender Bar and Kitchen

Pittsburgh Sour by Chris Matrozza - Franktuary

Billy Porter's Kinky Boots by RaeLynn Harshman & Alyssa McGrath - Dish Osteria

Looks like a whole lot of was...and that's just the ones that were photographed! Then there were those that were shared among we cocktail geeks and afficianados. Fun times! 

As said earlier, I just managed to scratch the surface of the creative libations to be had. Giving it a go EVERYWHERE was impossible! I missed Pittsburgh Cocktail Week specialty drinks at Harvard and Highland, Bar Marco, Livermore, Benjamin's, Tamari in Warrandale, Spoon, Industry Public House, Meat & Potatoes (yeah, I can't believe I didn't get there either!), Butterjoint - but I got there for that fabulous Shrub class!, Toast, Speakeasy, Pino's or Lidia's. NEXT YEAR!

But what about THIS year's winner? That would be the lovely Erika Joyner with her creation using Wigle Ginever, cucumber mint syrup, lime juice and eucalyptus bitters called The Secret Garden. Well deserved, Erika! 

If you didn't get to participate in Pittsburgh Cocktail Week THIS year, start planning for next year. Next year will be even bigger...and hard to believe as it is...BETTER! 'Til next year. (I think my liver will enjoy the break.) 


Monday, September 23, 2013

Green Chile Pork Pozole - Crockpot-Style

For YEARS I've been seeing recipes for a Mexican dish called alternately posole or pozole. Some recipes used pork, some used chicken, some had a red chile base, some used green chiles...ALL sounded rich, spicy and satisfying. 

Depending upon the source, I ripped or printed out probably dozens of versions over the last 6-7 years and never once made one of them. But. After years of pouring over recipes, I knew just what parts of recipes sounded like a fit with my family's palates. Extra jalapeno heat, deep smoky cumin, a little herbaceousness via a hint of oregano, LOTS of tender pork and and lots of sweet, corn-y almost potato-y hominy.

To make it easy, I went with long, slow crockpot cooking. Easy yes, but I sure didn't want to sacrifice the flavor of what  browning would do for the pork and I browned boneless pork shoulder before adding to the crockpot and then softened garlic, onion and tomatillos in the drippings. I deglazed with the pan with green enchilada sauce to get every last bit of goodness out of the skillet and into the crockpot. 

After cooking all day (or all night in my case), the result is a thick soup (or thin stew - depending on your glass-half-full/half-empty interpretation) that is ladled into bowls, garnished with bright green cilantro and a healthy squeeze of a lime wedge or two.

Our fall dinner menus consist of a few favorite Mexican-inspired soups/stews seeming just made for cool nights and warm tummies. Pozole just joined the ranks of that list! Pozole sits right in line now with chili, white chili and taco soup. 

Next time I think I might try scooping a mound of brown rice or black beans into the center of the bowl. Maybe I'll try it with chicken...or turkey. What is definite here is that I'll positively be making this one again. Frequently!

            Green Chile Pork Pozole - Crockpot-Style

  • 2 T. canola oil
  • 2 1/2 pound boneless pork loin roast, cubed, browned 

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 tomatillos, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 28-ounce can green enchilada sauce
  • 2 15 to 16 ounce cans hominy, drained

  • fresh cilantro
  • lime wedges

In a large, heavy skillet, brown pork in oil in 3 batches. Move each batch to the crockpot as it is done. Saute the veggies and seasonings in the oil left in the skillet until veggies are softened, add to crockpot. Add enchilada sauce to the skillet and stir up all the browned bits, getting ALL the good stuff off the bottom and into the sauce. Add to the crockpot along with the hominy.

Cover and cook on high for 2 hours, then low 6 to 8 hours or until pork is tender.

To serve: Ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro. 

Serve with cornbread.

6 servings.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Maple Chipotle Sweet & Spicy Smoked Pork Chops

Lazy days of summer are on the wane, while fall is ramping up to be quite the busy season! Gone (already!) are the slow Sundays of sitting by the smoker, feet up with a cold one in hand, listening to birds chirping in the trees and the gurgle of the pond. Sounds idyllic, doesn't it? In theory, it does - in reality, the summer was just as busy as this (impending) fall is shaping up to be and that scene was just a dream.

Busy or not, who doesn't love a good, simple recipe without a lot of fuss? I, for one, would be (and am) a fan of just such a recipe. How do you like that, I just happen to have one! Maple Chipotle Sweet & Spicy Smoked Pork Chops fill the easy prep/easy cooking bill quite nicely.

Four simple ingredients make up a wet rub: grade B real maple syrup (richer and with more intensity than Grade A), canned chipotles in adobo, minced fresh garlic and Kosher salt. That's it! Mix them up into a wet paste, rub into the chops, refrigerate overnight and smoke them over maple wood chips the next day. 

Even the smoking process is a basic one that leaves you with time for other raking leaves that are starting to flutter from the trees or planting a riot of yellow, red and purple mums where fading summer blooms once were.

Bonus! Once those Sunday chores are done, sidling up by the smoker in a comfy chair on a cool, fall afternoon is a very pleasant, warm and toasty way to end your day...along with that cool one in hand!  

Maple Chipotle Sweet & Spicy Smoked Pork Chops

  • 4 pork chops, 1" thick, bone-in, center cut loin chops

  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup, grade B, if you can find it
  • 3 tablespoons chipotle chiles in adobo, 1 small one, plus sauce to make 3 tablespoons, mashed well
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt

Mix the wet rub ingredients together well. Rub into the pork chops and put them into a ziplock plastic bag. Be sure to put ALL the rub in with the chops, squeeze out all the air and seal. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, take the chops out to bring to room temp before putting on the smoker.

Prepare the smoker and soak the maple chips for 1/2-1 hour. When the smoker is to temp, put on the chips and the chops and smoke for 2-3 hours, depending on your own smoker - all smokers are different.

Sit back, relax and enjoy!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Eastern Shore Crab Lump & Fried Green Tomato Benedict

What do you get when you take classic Southern Fried Green Tomatoes and combine them with beautiful, sweet, white lump crab from the Eastern Shore of Maryland? Just one of the most delicious brunch dishes ever to grace a morning plate, that's what!

Instead of a plain old boring English muffin for the base of Eggs Benedict, how about a nice big slab of green tomato, simply crusted with cornmeal, seasoned and fried crisp? Top that with a gently poached egg (complete with a lovely runny yolk), grace that with spoonsful of thick, yellow, lemony hollandaise and finally crown it with giant Maryland blue crab lumps?! Did I hear a chorus of enthusiastic yeses?! I thought I might.

Somehow this combo Deep South and Maryland Eastern shore inspiration came together for the best brunch dish I've ever made. I just wish I could send you all samples to taste to inspire to to MAKE THIS for someone you love. Yourself even!

There are a few steps to get this on the table, but each step is simple...even the hollandaise is an easy blender version that needs no cooking. The crab lumps? Just pick them from the plastic tub and put as many as you wish on the top of the finished dish...again, no cooking. The fried green tomatoes are a simple version and poached eggs are a snap. If you're poached egg-challenged, feel free to use a fried egg - I won't tell.

Oh. One more thing. be SURE to serve a great Bloody Mary there any better brunch combination? Really.

What goes better with brunch than a doggone good Bloody Mary? Nothing!

Eastern Shore Crab Lump & 
Fried Green Tomato Benedict

  • 2 large green tomatoes, sliced into thick slabs
  • cornmeal, enough to dredge the tomatoes
  • Jane's Crazy Salt
  • canola oil, or use BACON personal fave! - enough to skim the bottom of the skillet & more for the 2nd batch

  • 2 large eggs, poached how you like them - I like mine runny!

  • 1/2 cup hollandaise sauce (see recipe below)

  • 1 cup Maryland blue crab, (or VA, LA or TX...just make sure it's REAL American crab and fresh in the plastic tubs, not pasteurized in cans (even if it's on ice and it's canned, it is NOT fresh crab!), nice BIG lumps! (Here in Pittsburgh, you can find FRESH, real blue crab right at Penn Avenue Fish Company on Penn Avenue in the Strip District. I'm a HUGE fan!)

These were simply too pretty not to share...made me think of watermelon!

Prepare hollandaise: This is the easy blender hollandaise...if it gets too thick, thin it with more lemon juice until it's the consistency you like. 

  • 3 egg yolks
  • pinch Kosher salt
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1 T. heavy cream
  • 2 sticks melted butter
  • juice of 1 lemon, more if you need it

In the jar of your blender, combine the yolks, Kosher salt, cayenne and heavy cream and buzz on high until well blended. While the blender is running, add the butter and finally the lemon juice. If it's too thick, add more lemon juice. That's it...easy!

Tomatoes: Heat canola oil in a big cast iron skillet - enough to skim the bottom. In the meantime, pour the cornmeal onto a paper plate and dredge the tomato slices on both sides. Season one side liberally with Jane's Crazy Salt.

When the oil is hot, add the tomatoes to the skillet. Brown on one side then turn them over and season the other side. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and do the next batch. Set aside.

To plate: set a big fried green tomato slice on a plate, top with the poached egg, slather with hollandaise, top with crab lumps and enjoy!

P. S. You may have noticed only two of the fried green tomatoes were used for the eggs benedict, but I made lots more. Why? So you have extra fried green tomatoes to snack on! Yum.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Plum Good Gin & Tonic!

Just as September straddles the edges of summer and fall, so  the Plum Good Gin & Tonic combines the refreshment of summer's favorite G&T  with the first flush of fall plums. 

What else would you do with a few plums that didn't go into that (recent) delicious Plum Smoked Duck? Around here, you know we simply used them in a cocktail.

To emphasize the plum-i-ness even more, we used some plum wine left in the bottle from the smoked duck, a little gin, a smidgen of Jack Rudy tonic syrup, lime, a splash of soda and there you have one mighty fine cocktail. Well, almost anyway. A few drops of Bittermen's Burlesque bitters took it right over the top. Cheers!

Plum Good Gin & Tonic

  • 1 prune plum, pitted and cut in half
  • 2 oz. gin (I used Bluecoat - made here in Pennsylvania!)
  • 1/2 oz. Jack Rudy Tonic Syrup (check online to order!)
  • 1 fresh lime, juiced (about 1 oz.)
  • 1/2 oz. Japanese Plum Wine - also known as Gekkeikan
  • 9 drops Bittermen's Burlesque bitters (optional)
  • splash seltzer or soda water

In a tin, muddle the plum, lime juice and tonic syrup until well mashed to release all the color and flavor. Add gin and plum wine. 

Fill the tin 3/4's of the way up with ice and cap tightly. Shake well and double strain into a coupe or other glass. Garnish with a piece of plum or lime wheel and serve.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Plum Smoked Duck with Plum Wine Reduction goose! Duck. Smoked duck to be specific. Fine tuning it even more, duck marinated in Japanese plum wine (gekkheikan), garlic, Asian 5-spice, star anise, Szechuan peppercorns and tamari, then smoked over a combo of apple and cherry woods and served with a fresh plum and plum wine reduction. Drooling yet?

This was our very first venture into duck smoking so we kind of went into it blindly. (Just so you know, with great effort I'm resisting a duck blind joke. You're welcome.) I knew I didn't want to go the traditional orange overdone, don't you think? But the classic combo of fruit and duck is a time-honored tradition for a reason. They were meant for one another!

The plan was to use sake as the marinade base, but when I found plum wine on the state store shelf, the rest of the flavors fell right in line. Plums are plentiful in the farm markets right now so Italian prune plums went on the list. The rest of the ingredients found their way from the pantry and spice rack into the solution and became one beautifully fragrant bath for our plump duck.

After hours of smoking the duck to a deep, rich brown lacquer, all that was needed was a simple sauce to highlight the the smoky, sweet flavor. You should have smelled the luscious, fruity, spicy aroma as it rose from the opened smoker! Heaven. 

Isn't he pretty?!

A simple reduction of the same plum wine mixed with crushed plums, organic orange blossom honey (ha! I did get the classic orange in there after all!), sharp Colman's mustard, ginger and garlic produced a gorgeous dark red sauce that accented the sweet, slightly game-y duck perfectly. You might even say dinner was plum delicious!    

Plum Smoked Duck With Plum Wine Reduction

  • 1 5-pound (approximately) duck, thawed if necessary

  • 3 BIG garlic cloves...or 6 smaller ones, smashed
  • 1 star anise, crushed
  • 3 slices fresh ginger root, about quarter sized
  • 1 tablespoon Scechuan peppercorns, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons five-spice powder
  • 2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce, Gluten-free to make this GF
  • 1 1/2 cups wine, Japanese Plum Wine - also known as Gekkeikan

  • 1 cup wine, Japanese Plum Wine - yep, same as above
  • 4 very ripe Italian prune plums, seeded and quartered
  • 1 teaspoon honey, orange blossom...or your own favorite
  • 1 teaspoon Colman's dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • a hefty pinch of powdered ginger

The night before you want to serve this, combine garlic, star anise, fresh ginger, Szechuan peppercorns, 5-spice, tamari and plum wine in a gallon size zip top plastic bag. Squeeze out all the air, seal tightly and put it into a bowl that holds it snugly. (If it leaks, it won't be all over your fridge if it's in a bowl!)

The next day, take the duck out of the marinade and discard the marinade. Dry the duck thoroughly with paper towels. Pour the soda out of a soda can, add about 1/2 cup of plum wine, a hefty shake of granulated garlic, 1/2 t. - 1 t. cayenne, 1/2 t. mustard powder and 1 t. ginger. Yes, this will cook beer can chicken style! Fit the duck over the spice and wine filled can and carefully set aside.

Soak a combination of half cherry/half applewood chips for at least an hour. Prepare the smoker according to whatever smoker you use. When the coals are hot, scatter the chips.

Put the duck on the smoker and smoke for at least 6 hours - more or less according to your smoker and/or your preference. You know I'm loose about smoking instructions...every smoker is different! Remove the duck and let sit while you make the reduction.

REDUCTION (reDUCKtion?): In a saucepan combine 1 c. plum wine, the quartered plums, honey and spices. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Let simmer until the liquid reduces by half. Strain the reduction through a small strainer, pressing the solids to extract all the liquid.

Slice the duck and serve with the beautiful sauce. This would also be wonderful with a chicken...and there's a LOT more meat on a chicken! (A turkey breast would work well, too!)