Random Appetites: Martini Mishaps

Welcome to cocktail hour, kiddies!
This Will Never Do...

This Will Never Do...

First, a little background may be in order:

The classic martini is made with gin and vermouth (2:1 ratio) and garnished with either cocktail olives or a twist of lemon. The vodkatini made popular by 007 himself has become accepted as a substitute and with it have come numerous flavor variations. The common element, though, is that there be either gin or vodka in the drink.

I’m no purist, to be sure, as I find the straight martinis to be way too bracing for me. (This has a lot to do with my first encounter involving a dirty martini–one that’s had a splash of the olive juice added–that was way too strong for mixer-loving me.) Beginning in the Fall of 2005, however, I learned to love flavored martinis with a passion and spent over a year on a Mangotini kick like you wouldn’t believe. An unfortunate New Year’s Eve experience has since put me off the mango variety, mores the pity, but such is life.

From the online menu...Being somewhat adventurous and quite enamoured with pomegranates of late, I ordered a Pomegranate Martini at a local chain eatery named for a knowledgeable fruit and a very possessive insect. First of all, I only glanced at the description, but even if I’d committed it to memory it would not have prepared me for what the hapless waiter served me. When he approached the table I noticed the martini glass was rimmed. Unusual, yes, but the sweeter martinis often feature a sugared rim so I didn’t really give it much thought. He offered to pour the first one for me and I let him (less chance of me wearing it that way, after all) and he walked away. At the first sip I was horrified: it was not a sugar rim but SALT. When I finally unpuckered the lower half of my face from the shock I debated returning the drink for one with slightly less sodium or just wiping the salt off and making the best of a bad situation. Since the waiter took a bit to return, I went with the second option and was still trying to divide the salt from it’s host when he did return.

Of course I asked him why on earth anyone would SALT the rim of a martini. To which he answered, well, it’s actually a margarita. Pardon? He claimed that there really was only one pomegranate cocktail on their menu and it was a margarita. Um, no, have a glance at the menu if you would. Now, what I don’t see (nor had I tasted) was any tequila in there (which is sorta required for it to be a margarita) and it’s certainly NOT what was on the menu. [It should be noted that the online menu does feature a pomegranate margarita, as well, but it was not on our drink menu this particular visit.] Had I paid more attention to the description, though, I probably would have ordered something else since it does feature orange liqueur, sweet and sour and soda… not the way I like my Pomatinis. But whatever. The whole visit was questionable and will probably be our last trip to fruit-buzz’s for a while.

How is this a martini?Now, remember when I said there should be either gin or vodka in the drink to make it a martini? Well, another affront was spotted at yet another chain restaurant named after a gem of a day (this one chosen as it was one of the few recognizable, reliable eateries in a little Southern town). Why we continue to patronize these places is beyond me, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. This particular cocktail I did not try, opting instead for a glass of Sangria, but it clearly violates the entire notion of a martini. Last time I checked sake was neither made from potatoes or juniper berries, so no dice! I suppose if we were really trying to make a cause for a sake martini, vodka can be made from grains and rice is a grain so rice wine could maybe… nope, sorry, can’t do it, doesn’t count! It should be noted that this same musically-inclined eatery featured a curious cocktail called a “Chilled Grape Martini” which did include vodka but just makes me wonder why not just drink wine?

Looking Ahead

So! Now that September is over it’s time to switch gears a bit. I did enjoy having an on-going story for an entire month, a unifying theme and so forth, so will continue to “theme” the months more or less as long as I’m able to pull enough random stories together that all fit.

October, however, is going to be a bit different. The theme will be Peeves, Irritations and Observations and will be a mix of single and multi-panel updates. In part, I’ve got lists of these incidences that haven’t seemed to fit with the usual Random narrative I’ve got going on and this seems an opportune time to use them. The other part is that many will be quicker to draw than the usual updates, freeing me up a bit to get work done on the Year 1 book (always a method to my madness, of course), which I really want completed ASAP so I’ll have it for Cons in 2009.

And then, just today in the shower, I came up with a totally brilliant idea! October 18th is 24-hour Comic Book Day and I plan to participate in the challenge that is creating an entire 24-page comic story in 24 consecutive hours. Here’s where the brilliant plan comes in: 24 pages is exactly 2 months worth of updates, so even if I don’t quite get all 24 done on the 18th, I will finish them up and you will get to see them over November and December, “freeing” me up for those two months to work on the Graphic Novel script that has been languishing, untouched, since April. And since I’ll be sharing the story here, we’ll be taking a trip via the way-back machine to tell a story of my past, one that wouldn’t normally have been seen on these pages but I’ve been itching to put down in some form or another with the usual humor and self-deprecation you’ve come to know and enjoy.

So that’s what we have to look forward to for the rest of the calendar year. I hope you’re as intrigued as I am (no, really, it’s always a surprise when the finished page sits before me and how it differs from what I may have imagined) and will continue to check back for the regular updates. As always, feedback is both welcome and encouraged.

Random Appetites: Party Food!

Nothing like being fashionably late, no? (actually, a day off is a bit more than that but I’ll hope you’ll forgive me, I come bearing treats! or, well, at least recipes for them!)

The annual party season is soon to be upon us and the realization that I have not hosted a single, solitary party this year is rather sobering. Of course I plan to rectify the situation just as soon as feasible (looking like November at this point) but, in the mean time, I’ve been thinking about some of my party nibble stand-bys that have come to be known as the various sorts of “crack” served at my parties. I think I’d be lynched if I didn’t serve them!

Bacon-Wrapped Artichoke Hearts (aka Bacon Crack)

Quartered artichoke hearts
Bacon

Seriously, folks, this is as easy as it gets! Wrap each quartered artichoke heart with a half-slice of bacon and set it seam side-down on a baking sheet. I suggest one covered in foil for easy clean-up and definitely one with a lip to catch the bacon grease. You can also skewer the bundles on toothpicks or several on a kebab skewer (usually 5 or 6 will fit per skewer and remember to soak them first!) but I’ve found, when making these in quantity, that it’s actually more trouble than it’s worth. Either bake them at 350 degrees F until bacon in crispy and transfer to a foil pan for storage/reheating just before serving or broil just before your guests arrive.

I’ve served those at just about every party I’ve thrown since the late 90s after a coworker introduced me to them. They’re based on rumaki which is marinated chicken livers wrapper in bacon and broiled. I once tried the marinade on the artichoke hearts and it just didn’t translate well. Even people who don’t like artichokes tend to like this, it’s the bacon fat! You can substitute turkey bacon for a slightly healthier version, just don’t reheat them in the microwave or you’ll have artichokes wrapped in bacon-flavored Pringles-wannabe! I can usually get a small party’s worth out of 4 cans of quartered chokes and 3 pounds of bacon but the actual quantities vary.

Spicy Black Bean Dip (aka Black Bean Crack)

1 can black beans, partially drained
1/2 c prepared salsa
1/2 c prepared guacamole
1-2 tsp cumin (or to taste)
1-2 tsp garlic powder (or to taste)

Combine it all and puree til smooth. Honestly I don’t really measure this anymore and I usually make a double batch because it’s VERY popular. This is one of the reasons I own an immersion blender, frankly, and I couldn’t imagine having to do it in a regular one: messy! If you puree the beans a bit before adding the other ingredients they’ll mix together better. Give it a bit of stir once pureed and taste so you can adjust seasonings a bit. Makes about 2 cups.

This one originally came from The 5 in 10 Appetizer Cookbook and I think I started making it around the same time as the artichoke hearts. I’ve tweaked it a bit, adjusted it to my preference, but the main difference is the use of prepared guacamole that gets blended in: the original calls for fresh avocado to be diced and sprinkled on top. While it might look pretty (at first: avocado will brown when exposed to air, icky!) it means that only a few people will get the taste benefit of the avocado. Most prepared guac’s are spiced, as well, so this helps the flavor of the dish overall. Seriously, make a lot, if there’s any left over it’ll store for a couple weeks in the fridge. And it if doesn’t taste salty enough, try a bit of lemon juice before reaching for the kosher*; citrus will “brighten” a flavor without adding extra sodium. (Palmie has been known to raid this with the leftover chips for breakfast the morning after!)

Smothered Spuds (aka Potato Crack)

Baking potatoes
Olive oil spray
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
Shredded Cheese (mozzarella and cheddar, preferably, though co-jack works)
Crumbled bacon
Sliced green onions
Jalapeños (optional)
Sour cream

Wash and pat dry your baking potatoes and then bake on 350 degrees F for about an hour. Let them cool for a little bit. No, really, they will fall apart if you continue without letting them cool. Ask me how I know! Slice the potatoes into rounds about half an inch thick and lay them out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spray the slices with Olive oil (this is the best way for making them in quantity, you could also brush them with oil but the spray is quicker) and sprinkle liberally with the seasoned salt. Turn over the slices. Sprinkle the unseasoned tops with the shredded cheese, crumbled bacon and green onions. The peppers are really a personal preference, I prefer to leave them out, but if your crowd likes spicy, go for it. Put the covered spuds back into the oven (at 350, the universal temperature for almost everything) until the cheese melts and the potatoes heat through (maybe 15 minutes).

Quantity will vary based on the size of your potatoes but I can usually fill two sheet pans with 10# potatoes, 4 c cheese, 8 oz green onions (thank heavens for pre-sliced veggies in the produce section!) and a packaged of pre-cooked bacon (so much simpler this way, just take the kitchen shears to it and snip it into little pieces). Serve with sour cream topped with more green onions.

Something like a hybrid of twice-baked potatoes and nachos, these are totally yummy and very hearty fare for a booze-heavy cocktail party. A newer addition to my nibble roster, they are based on the “Stacked Spuds” of the now-defunct Roadhouse Grill chain of steakhouses (a moment of silence, if you would). It took a little bit to figure out the best way to coat the outside of the potatoes with the seasoning. You CAN dip the bottoms and sides into the a bowl of the seasoned salt and them sizzle them in a skillet with olive oil before putting them into the oven with their toppings but when you’re cooking en masse that’s just not practical.

*Kosher salt is best for cooking, hands down. Don’t believe me? Buy a box (should cost you under $2 for a pound) and give it a whirl. Something about the greater surface area of the larger crystals imparts so much more flavor. Save the iodized for popcorn.

Random Appetites: Tuaca

Not only is it a fun word to say, it’s pretty tasty as well! (though the urge to go “tu-a-ca-ca-ca” a la Disturbed’s Down With the Sickness is nearly overwhelming)

Now, even though I’m no longer IN the hospitality industry I still figure I’ve been around enough (and watch enough Food Network) to have at least heard most things on the market. Imagine my curiosity when, while perusing the dessert options the other night at The Melting Pot, Todd and I came upon this flavor option that we’d never heard of! Since it was listed along with liqueurs like Chambord and Grand Marnier (among others) we figured that it was another liqueur, we just couldn’t figure out what flavor.

Internet to the rescue! Once home we did a little digging (very little, actually) and were able to find out exactly what Tuaca is (from their website):

Tuaca: a premium Italian liqueur with a hint of citrus and vanilla.

Later that weekend we were out shopping (well, I was shopping, Todd was being a very good sport and keeping me company for the most part–have I mentioned how good a sport he is about things like this?) and passed a liquor store on the way home so we decided to see if they had it. Surprisingly enough (because you never know how knowledgeable the random counter help will be) not only did they have it but the guy I asked knew exactly where it was in the store and had even tried it before so was able to give us some tips. Despite the citrus/vanilla press his opinion was that it had more of a caramel flavor, not very citrusy at all, and that just sipping it cold was a good way to go.

Now, I don’t really drink liquor straight so while on the website we’d seen some recipes and one (from the Tuaca Tenders section) seemed especially yummy to me: The Snowball which is made up of Tuaca, Coconut Rum and Pineapple Juice. After another stop (for juice and nibbles) we were on our way home to experiment.

Unfortunately that particular recipe was incomplete: there were no measurements, hence the experimentation. First I tried a 1:1 between the Tuaca and Coconut Rum and topping it off with the pineapple juice (over ice in a double old fashioned glass). This tasted more like a pina colada (which isn’t a bad thing, but I already know how those taste!) than anything else so the next night I gave it another shot (see, I’m not a total lush). This time you could taste something different. But that’s not quite right: when mixed, the Tuaca has less of an actual taste and more of a feeling–you could FEEL something else in the drink, that warmth that comes from it’s brandy base and a slight hint of something you can quite put your finger on, that’s the Tuaca!

Random’s Snow Ball

1.5 to 2 oz Tuaca
1 oz Coconut Rum
6 to 8 oz Pineapple Juice

Pour over a handful of ice in a lowball or double old fashioned and swirl gently.

And remember when I said I don’t drink liquor straight? Well, Tuaca is something I can actually sip on it’s own. It’s very nice and smooth and not bracing at all, thought I still do prefer it with mixers.

Enjoy!

Delayed Celebration

Hostess Bar

Hostess Bar

I had intended for this to go up as the Lagniappe for Labor Day. Obviously that didn’t quite happen due to surgery and travel and so forth and I apologize, but better late than never, right? Clicking on the image will bring up the .pdf file for this fun bar for Scraps to stand by (modeled on the one that stands in the corner of my dining room). I’m not sure if it counts 100% as a paper model, but I’ve put it together and it really does stand, which I think is 100% cool! Hope you agree. More clothes coming soon for Scraps and, I think within a month or so, some friends to add to the party :)

Random Appetites: United Grapes of America

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1837245,00.html

Joel Stine of TIME Magazine decided to try (at least?) one wine from each of our 50 states and rate them. The article itself is a fun, quick read and if you follow the link at the bottom you’ll get to see how each state was represented and rated. Unfortunately Florida (as with the other Southeastern states in close proximity) did not fare well. On the one hand, I’m glad that it was a Gulf Coast winery that was tasted but I’ve had some much better wines from the Chautauqua Vineyards out of DeFuniak Springs. The blackberry wine is especially nice and they used to have a Carlos that was not overly sweet (they also used it in their bottled Mimosas that they no longer carry, mores the pity) but I tend to agree that muscadine wine can be a bit much even for those of us with a pronounced sweet tooth. Furthermore, the Port that the monks in St Augustine make is absolutely divine and definitely worth the drive to the other coast (which I still need to make one of these days!).

What’s your favorite regional wine (if you have one) and why? Had any of the ones on Mr Stein’s list?

Introducing: Random Appetites

For those who don’t know me personally, I have a confession (though not a very scandalous one, to be certain): I’m a foodie, and have been for years… decades even! I used to decorate cakes and even teach the Wilton Method before I very nearly ruined my health at Culinary School (2 years, long hours working my full-time desk job, too) and then spent a very short stint as Pastry Chef of a 4-Diamond Relais & Chateaux resort which will remain nameless (the name’s actually been changed since I worked there, new owners, etc.) before going back to bookkeeping (I had bills to pay, you know?). Even though I’m no longer in Hospitality, I do still enjoy good food and beverages and I’d love to find a way to incorporate that with my newer passion that is webcomics.

Now, Random Acts… is all about my personal reality, and frequently the strips have featured cocktails, parties, food and restaurants either as the main subject or just part of that whole background of life. That’s not likely to change (in fact, it might actually become more frequent, we’ll see). And I have a few ideas for food/comics side-projects to investigate in the future, but they don’t completely fit Random Acts…

All this to say: starting this week, Tuesdays (because Tuesdays generally need the lift) will feature a bite here on the blog that will focus on food, beverages or entertaining called “Random Appetites”. Sometimes it’ll be something personal, others (like this week) will be something newsy that you might not have heard about. Some might actually come with little drawings (but not this week; starting slowly here, folks). As always, I encourage feedback via the comments section or email. And, hey, if you have a foodie question that you’ve always wondered about, go ahead and ask! I just might have the answer…

Enjoy!