Boulder’s mixology scene the place for holiday spirit(s)

mixologyBy now, we’re well into the Third Wave of the mixology craze. Cosmopolitans begat new types of martinis begat the revival of pre-Prohibition-era cocktails (which begat bartenders donning suspenders or dapper suit vests).

The revival of classic cocktails and trending toward intelligent, seasonally-driven mixology made with craft-distilled spirits has been driven by America’s mania for all things artisanal and/or local.

Ignore the pretentious b.s. that muddies the waters of the food and wine et al. industries. You’ll find that most consumers, chefs, farmers, and food artisans are merely interested in the provenance of certain ingredients, and the traditional methods used to produce or prepare products like cheese, charcuterie, boutique wine, craft beer, and distilled spirits. This is a good thing. And, I might add, who doesn’t appreciate a great meal or well-made beverage?

That, in a nutshell, is why Boulder, Colorado has been making headlines as one of America’s most progressive dining destinations. As a former resident, (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I move. A lot.), I can attest that Boulder is on the cutting edge of conscious eating. But where it really shines, in my opinion, is its mixology scene.

Bonus: Boulder’s best drinking spots are located on or just one block off of Pearl Street, which runs through the heart of downtown and the pedestrian mall. This time of year, Pearl is aglow with fairy lights adorning the trees, and (if you’re lucky) snowfall: it’s a wonderful place to spend the holidays. If you like to imbibe, try a glass (or three) of good cheer at any of the restaurant/bars following the jump.

mixologyWhen I first moved to Boulder in 2006, I lamented the shortage of decent watering holes (meaning, places not overrun by frat boys; it is, after all, a college town). Fortunately, the two best restaurants in town, nationally-acclaimed Frasca, and The Kitchen, (in this instance, I refer to its adjacent, second-floor sister spot, [Upstairs]), put the same thought and care into their beer and wine lists and the crafting of cocktails as their food. Thus, I happily spent many nights cozied up to the bar of one or the other.

Frasca has since undergone a remodel and expansion, and last spring opened Pizzeria Locale next door, which has its own impressive beer and wine list. The cocktail progam at Frasca–overseen by bar manager Allison Anderson–is still fantastic, as are the selection of apertifs and digestifs, including premium grappas. For a light, festive holiday drink, try the Promessa d’Italia (Luxardo Maraschino Cherry Liqueur, Blue Gin, and Prosecco).

Former Frasca beverage program director Bryan Dayton opened OAK at Fourteenth with chef/co-owner Steven Redzikowski in November, 2010. The restaurant immediately attracted attention for both its localized New American cuisine focused around the oak-fired oven and grill, as well as Dayton’s stellar mixology program. Sadly, a kitchen fire destroyed the restaurant several months after opening.

But, as they say, every cloud has a (Don Julio) Silver lining. In September, Dayton won Bombay Sapphire’s “Most Inspired Bartender of 2011,” and is currently gracing the cover of 5,000 copies of the December issue of GQ as part of his handsome reward (his winning drink: a “Colorado-inspired blend of juiced pears: simple syrup infused with sage, fennel and juniper; blackberry; Bombay Sapphire East; yellow chartreuse, and lime”).

OAK just celebrated its reopening on December 14th, with a revamped design and slew of inspired takes on classic cocktails, featuring Dayton’s passion for craft spirits. On the menu for the holidays: Oaxacan Winter (Sombra mezcal, Antica Carpano, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Navan, molé bitters, and agave), and the Oak Martini (Death’s Door Vodka or Gin, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, and grapefruit bitters). New to OAK’s beverage program are house-created and -bottled sodas, in flavors such as kumquat and tarragon or cucumber and basil.

Last June, The Kitchen opened [Next Door], a “community gastropub.” There’s more of the same rustic, localized fare The Kitchen is known for, but you’ll also find an abbreviated selection of beer, wine, and natural sodas served on tap. It’s part of The Kitchen beverage program director Ray Decker’s ongoing commitment to source the best craft beers, boutique wines, and distilled spirits available.
mixology
At The Bitter Bar, located around the corner from The Kitchen, you’ll find a short, appealing American bistroish menu, but mixology is the star of the show just as proprietor/manager Mark Stoddard intended. Thumbs up, too, for the “staff picks” section on the menu listing cocktail and entree pairings.

If late night cocktails are your thing, I suggest making The Bitter Bar your last stop, but be prepared: these drinks pack a wallop. Friendly, informative mixologists serve seasonal cocktails (in warmer weather, some ingredients are sourced from the property’s own herb garden) in vintage crystal stemware–a nice touch. There are always seasonal specials, but don’t dismiss “Bitter Originals” such as The Gunner’s Daughter (Eldorado 5 Year Rum, Smith & Cross Navy Strength Jamaica Rum, Domaine de Canton–a ginger liqueur– Cynar, and Allspice Dram) and the Hokkaido Highball (Yamazaki 12-Year Single Malt Japanese whiskey, elderflower cordial, and apple drinking vinegar). Happy holidays indeed!

Tip: Boulder is located at 5,430 feet, so if you’re not used to the altitude, you should be more concerned with drinking water than alcohol. Remember that one drink is equivalent to two at this elevation. Pace yourself, drink lots of water, and pop a couple of aspirin before you turn in for the night.

From Mark Stoddard at The Bitter Bar comes this sophisticated upgrade on eggnog.
Tom & Jerry
serves 1

1 egg
1 oz. aged rum
1 oz. Cognac
1 oz. hot milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 allspice berry, ground
1/2 clove
4 oz. hot water
nutmeg, for garnish

Separate the egg white and yolk into two bowls. In one bowl, add rum and brandy to the yolk and beat together until frothy. In the other bowl, beat the egg white until it forms a peak, and then add milk, sugar, ground allspice, and clove. Fold the rum, Cognac, and yolk into the egg white bowl, and stir. Strain into a tall mug or tempered glass and top with hot water. Garnish with grated nutmeg on top (a microplane zester works well).

[Photo credit: Tom & Jerry; Bryce Clark]

How to Make a Flamed Orange Zest for Cocktails

Traditional holiday beverages from around the world

holiday beveragesAmericans aren’t very creative when it comes to traditional holiday beverages (do, however, look for my upcoming story on Boulder’s banging mixology scene, which includes some killer contemporary winter cocktails). Historically, though, we’re more of an eggnog/mulled cider/hot chocolate kind of society.

I’m not knocking our Christmas beverages of choice. Properly made, they’re delicious, and certainly festive. But some countries really know how to roll when it comes to holiday imbibing (especially Latin America. One word: rum.).

Below, a compilation of some of the more interesting boozy holiday beverages from around the world that can be easily recreated in your own kitchen. Online recipes abound, and all of these are (almost) as tasty sans alcohol.

Coquito: Puerto Ricans are great because they’re not afraid to embrace their love of saturated fats (lard, coconut milk, etc.) or rum. In case you’ve been living under a rock, coconut is the new fat du jour (read more about its health attributes here). Everything in moderation, including moderation, as I always say.

Coquito recipes vary, but in general, this rich, blended Christmas concoction is a froth of spiced rum, condensed milk, coconut milk or cream of coconut, vanilla, and spices such as cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Some versions may include ginger or ground nuts, but it’s always served chilled, in a small glass. Heavy, yes, but both sexy and satisfying. Add some eggs, and you’ll have ponche, the Venezuelan or Dominican version of eggnog.

Mulled wine: Variations on this warm, spiced, sugared, and otherwise enhanced wine (usually red) are served throughout Europe. There’s Nordic gløgg redolent of cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and bitter orange (and perhaps a helping of aquavit). It’s very similar to German glühwein made with lemon, cinnamon sticks, cardamom or ginger, and cloves; in Alsace (the French region bordering Germany), they also add vanilla bean.

In Bulgaria, greyano vino contains honey, peppercorns, and often, apple or citrus. Polish grzane wino is more of a traditional mulled wine, but they also make grzane piwo, in which mulled beer (try a Hefeweizen or Belgian ale which are lighter and sweeter) is substituted for the wine. Na zdrowie (“To your health”)!

[Photo credit: Flicker user Akane86]holiday beveragesPonche Navideño: Not to be confused with those other luscious ponches, this Mexican version is made with sugar cane, apples and/or pears or citrus, raisins, prunes, and tejocotes–an indigenous fruit used by the Aztecs, who called them texocotl. Add tequila, brandy, or rum; heat, and instant fiesta. At Christmastime, ponche vendors can be found on the street, ladling out cupfuls of good cheer.

Another popular Mexican holiday beverage is champurrado, a version of atole (warmed cornmeal thinned to a pourable consistency) flavored with chocolate. It tastes much better than it sounds, and is delicious on a chilly day.

Sorrel Punch: This Jamaican Christmas drink is made from the petals of a species of hibiscus (jamaica in Latin America), locally known as sorrel. In Australia it’s known as rosella, and where it makes a lovely, delicate, fruity red jam. This isn’t the same plant Americans know as sorrel or French sorrel. That’s a bitter wild green, which would make for a truly revolting cocktail, unless you’re one of those people who find wheat grass juice “refreshing.”

Dried hibiscus buds can be purchased at Hispanic or Caribbean markets; the recipe varies, but it’s usually some combination of the flowers, sugar, smashed fresh ginger, water, lime juice, and rum (dark is more traditional than light). Mix, stir, turn on your light box (fellow Seattleites know what I’m talking about), and crank your fave reggae CD. It ain’t the islands but it’s a nice change of pace from all that mulled wine.
holiday beverages
Wassail: Did any American not grow up hearing about or actually going “wassailing,” aka carolling? This mulled British cider is synonymous with knocking on stranger’s doors and breaking into song. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to hit the wassail bowl after mandatory childhood post-carolling; parents should remember that singing in public is the worst possible form of torture for a geeky, tone-deaf pre-teen. Wassail has been a Christmas classic across the pond for centuries, so I’m sure generations of British children suffered the same fate.

Cola de mono: Although Chile is better known for its pisco sours (Peru also claims this libation as its own, but both countries produce it and they’re still duking it out over who actually invented this potent grape brandy) and wine, Christmastime means a glass of “monkey’s tail.” Combine aguardiente (sub pisco or a neutral firewater) with milk, coffee, vanilla bean, and cloves. I have no idea what this has to do with the tail of a monkey, but it’s a cute name. Uh, bottom’s up.

[Photo credit: eggnog, Flicker user elana’s pantry; wassail, Flicker user jeremytarling]

Removing Red Wine Stains

Video of the day: a goaty guide to pronouncing foreign cheeses

The holidays are Cheese Season. At no other time of the year are cheese and specialty food shops as thronged by dairy-seeking customers. They’re hungry for a fix or searching for a gift, recipe ingredient, or the makings of a cheese plate. Cheese is love, and one of the easiest, most elegant ways to kick off a cocktail party or conclude (or make) a memorable meal.

With that in mind, the folks at Culture: the word on cheese magazine (full disclosure: I’m a contributing editor) have produced this clever (and utterly adorable) video to aid you in pronouncing some of those delectable but tricky foreign cheeses from France, Spain, and Switzerland. Happy Hoch Ybrig, everyone!


Five sustainable alternatives to turkey this Thanksgiving or holiday season

thanksgiving turkeyIf you expected to see “Tofurkey” anywhere in this article, you clearly aren’t familiar with my work. Nope, no textured vegetable protein here.

As a kid–an obnoxiously picky eater, at that–turkey was on my lengthy list of foods to avoid. I suspect it was the notoriously dried-out birds of my youth that caused my aversion. Today, I like turkey, but it’s honestly not one of my favorite eating birds: I much prefer a good roast chicken or a game bird.

Game birds–both wild and farmed–are popular throughout much of Europe, especially in the UK, France, and Italy. Goose and duck are frequently seen in Asian cuisine, depending upon the country and region. And now, game birds are growing in popularity in the U.S.. Quail and duck aren’t difficult to find on menus, but there’s also squab, guinea hen, partridge, wood pigeon, etc.. Some birds, such as goose, heritage breed turkeys, or wild game birds may be seasonal or require order well in advance; just to give you an idea, the turkey farmer at my local market has people start signing up for Thanksgiving birds in March.

If you can’t find these birds at your local farmers market on butcher shop, you can order them online. The important thing is to ask or research how the animals are raised, and make sure it’s in a humane, ecologically responsible manner (see end of article for more information).

With the proliferation of farmed birds (mostly small-scale operations) in the U.S., I’m hard-pressed to recommend you shoot yourself some dinner (although I’m behind roadkill), but hunting is a discussion for another day. For the record, while I don’t participate in it myself, I support hunting wildlife as a means of population control, as long as the animal in question is fully utilized.

As for you city slickers, just be aware that wild birds are much stronger in flavor, less tender, and in most instances need to hang for a few days so the proteins can break down and render the meat edible. So put away your bird call and shotgun unless you have the experience and permits, and do your shopping locally or online. No muss, no fuss, and trust me, plucking birds is a serious pain in the ass. Farmed birds are bred for more tender meat, are usually hens (also more tender and mild), and a great choice even if you’ve never cooked anything beyond a chicken breast.

Do note that goose and duck, are very fatty (the extra padding helps keep these aquatic birds buoyant) and you’ll need to render the fat before you can cook the meat. The key to successfully preparing most birds, however, is to not overcook them. Your butcher or any number of cookbooks will be able to tell you how to prepare them. Some good resources: Nose to Tail Eating (Ecco) by Fergus Henderson, and River Cottage Meat Book (10 Speed Press) by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Sourcing information for all of the following bird species can be found at the end of this article.

1. Goose
Goose was once a British Christmas dinner favorite (oddly, turkey is now the bird of choice), and it’s still popular in Germany. According to esteemed food writer Joan Nathan of Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook (Random House), German Christians traditionally ate goose for Christmas, and Jews cooked it for Hannukah. In her book, she provides a lovely family recipe for roast goose stuffed with chestnuts and apples that would make any Thanksgiving table proud.

[Photo credit: Flickr user turtlemom4bacon]thanksgiving turkeyGoose is considerably more fatty than other birds, so it’s not a good choice if you’re watching your cholesterol or calories (stick with white meat turkey). But it’s that layer of fat that makes the meat so succulent and juicy. It’s very rich, so a little goes a long way; ideal if you’re feeding a crowd.

2. Pheasant
The Common Pheasant is native to Asia, but there are over 30 subspecies that have been introduced all over the world as a game bird; it’s naturalized in Europe. In the U.S., we’re most familiar with ring-necked pheasant: the males are striking, with emerald- and crimson-colored heads. Farmed pheasant is growing in popularity on menus, and is similar to dark chicken meat in flavor

3. Quail
While tiny and full of bones (imagine gnawing on a giant hummingbird drumstick), quail is a great choice if you’re having a small gathering because you can serve one bird per person. They’re very dainty and require simple preparation. Just butterfly them, thread on skewers and toss on the grill, or pan-fry. Quail meat is dark, juicy, and non-gamey; it pairs beautifully with dried fruit such as figs, dates, or cherries. Toss grilled quail atop some bitter greens dressed with a bacon vinaigrette, add some plumped dried fruit, and let the cooking juices wilt the greens. Dinner is served.

4. Duck
Duck is commonplace on fine-dining menus nationwide. While technically white meat (as is goose), it’s similar to red meat: rich, rosy, and juicy with burnished, crackling skin. Many people are intimidated by cooking duck, but it’s one of the easiest alterna-birds to work with, especially if you just use breast, thigh, or leg meat. Breasts will have a thick layer of fat beneath the skin; you’ll need to score the skin in a cross-hatch pattern to help the fat render (Don’t throw it out! Store it in a clean, sealed jar, and use it to fry potatoes or other foods for extra crispy goodness). Grill or saute breasts; legs take well to braising or confit.

There are three main breeds of duck sold commercially: Pekin, Muscovy, and Moulard. Pekin are the most tender and mild, while Muscovy are large, meaty, and stronger in flavor. Moulard are a Pekin/Muscovy cross; they’re larger, more fatty, and stronger in flavor than Pekin, and are usually raised for foie gras.

5. Squab
A more civilized term for pigeon, these aren’t your standard “rats-with-wings” variety. Squab are eating pigeons, and the meat is similar to duck–very juicy and rosy in color, with an almost livery flavor. Think of it as a smaller duck in terms of cooking technique.

Speaking of park pigeon, when I lived in the Bay Area, there was a semi-factitious activist group advocating the consumption of the out-of-control resident pigeon population (something I’d be completely behind if these birds weren’t such carriers of disease). To prove their point, they cooked up a bunch of captured birds in a San Francisco park one day and had a well-documented pigeon picnic. I’ve always found that hilarious.
thanksgiving turkey
Sourcing

Even if you decide to just stick with turkey or switch to chicken this holiday season, the most important thing–besides technique–is to start with a great bird. It’s worth the extra expense to get a pasture-raised animal that’s been supplemented with exercise, sunshine, plant matter, and foraged bugs. You’ll taste the difference, but it goes beyond just flavor.

Industrially-raised poultry (i.e. chicken and turkey) are the taste equivalent of Styrofoam with bland, watery meat plumped with saline solution; their feed is often supplemented with arsenic to produce pinker meat and act as a growth promotant and antiparasitic. They’re hybridized to grow quickly and possess outrageously oversized breasts (because that’s the part most people prefer to eat). Factory farming is also an inhumane, environmentally devastating industry with far-reaching impacts upon human health (Click here for more information on sustainable-vs-industrial turkey farming).

Sonoma County Poultry sells Liberty Ducks (actually a strain of Pekin ducks adapted to a slower, less stressful growing process) ships nationwide. Grimaud Farms of California’s San Joaquin Valley sells Muscovy duck and guinea fowl online

D’Artagnan is a well-regarded purveyor of specialty foods. They have a strong focus on sustainability and humane poultry and game bird production and procurement, and sell farmed quail, pheasant, quail, goose, squab, poussin (technically, young chicken, although sometimes game hens are sold under this name); capon (castrated rooster, which makes for flavorful, tender meat); guinea hen, and wild Scottish wood pigeon, grouse, pheasant, and Red-legged partridge online

Mad Hatcher Poultry
in eastern Washington produces quail, squab, poissin, and quail (heritage turkey and rabbit, too).

[Photo credits: roast goose, Flickr user Herman Saksono; cook, Laurel Miller]

How to Buy and Cook Duck Legs

Memorial Day barbecue problems? Call the Weber Grill hot line

Memorial DayThis Memorial Day weekend, I’m honoring our fallen heroes by exalting the art of grilling. Being a good grill master is how the average American male proves his manhood (in public, that is). Never mind that plenty of women can and do wield the tongs in the family (I do); being unable to operate a barbecue and produce an edible–if not outright delicious–end result is about as emasculating as it gets.

That is why I’m telling you about the Weber Grill hot line (1-800-GRILL-OUT, or email grillout@weber.com). The New York Times reports that the Schaumburg, Illinois-based company receives about 500,000 calls (mostly from men) a year and 75,000 e-mails. Operators–including Ms. Olsen, a 67-year old woman who’s been on the job for 14 years–deal with frantic issues related to everything from improper flaming to how to cook a squirrel.

Memorial Day is the busiest time of the year, but Weber wants people who sell their products to know what exactly they’re dealing with. The Grill Academy opened in Schaumburg in January, in order to educate salespeople about the care and feeding of Weber grills.. According to school director Kevin Kolman, students need to study hard, so they can answer questions such as, “What is the definition of a flavorizer bar?’ or ‘What is the importance of a damper system in a charcoal grill?”

Tough stuff. So should you find yourself slaving over a hot grill this weekend, and things aren’t going as they should, give Ms. Olsen a ring. Or allow your girlfriend or wife to take over.

[Photo credit: Flickr user rachelandrew]

Check out a clip from the UK Weber Grill Academy.