Friday, March 30, 2012

Sushi & Sake: The Aviasian

The Aviasian
If you are a MiddleBar fan you know that one of my favorite drinks is the Aviation and I like any variation on that classic mix of gin, maraschino, and citrus. While enjoying some hand made sushi here at MiddleBar, we thought it would be nice to have a cocktail as opposed to the usual hot sake thus the Aviasian was born.

I wanted to call this cocktail the Kamikaze because of it's flying theme, the Japanese ingredient, and it's potential to knock you out. Unfortunately, the name Kamikaze was already taken by a crappy 80s shot featuring vodka, triple sec, and lime. This is 2012 people, out with the old and in with the new. I give you, the Aviasian.

1 oz Dry Sake
1 oz Hendrick's Gin
1/2 oz Herbsaint
1/2 oz Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 oz Lime Juice
1 barspoon of House Cherry Juice 

Shake with ice and strain into a wine glass. Serve with a house cherry.

Akami Sashimi & Tuna Rolls

I would give you a recipe for sushi, but it's pretty self explanatory. Keep these few tips in mind:

Fish: Assure that all of your fish is Sushi or Sashimi Grade and purchase your fish at a well known distributor as opposed to your regular market. Keep your fish uber chilled until the moment you need it and avoid cross-contamination.

Rice: Use Japanese short grain rice, not long grain, brown, or even jasmine. Rinse your rice well, cook it according to the package directions and create a "sushi-zu" using rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula to cover the rice in a glass or wooden bowl (no metal, it reacts with the vinegar).

Tools: A bamboo rolling mat. An extremely sharp knife. And keep your knives and hands wet to avoid sticking.

You can take it from there.

Sayonara Ya'll!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Palermo Pear Granita

Next time you're in Rome I highly suggest you rent a classic red convertible Alfa Romeo and take a little trip. From Rome, head 7 hours south down the western coast of Italy, take the ferry from Messina to Villa San Giovonni, head west on the E-90 for about 45 miles and you're there. Palermo, Italy. Palermo is the beautiful capital of Sicily famous for it's history, culture and of course, it's cuisine. My great grandfather Joseph Rizzo Sr. was born in Palermo and I think this recipe (even though it's not pasta sauce) is one that would make him very proud.

The granita is a semi-frozen Sicilian dessert made from sugar, water, and whatever else you can throw in it. A granita is a relative of the sorbet or Italian ice and it's consistency varies throughout the Southern Italy. In Palermo, the granita is almost chunky unlike it's cousin gelato. With that in mind, I've created the Palermo Pear Granita.

This recipe calls for a can of sliced pears which I don't usually prefer over fresh produce. For this recipe though, the can is easy, quick, and doesn't even require adding any additional sugar or water. Plus, most of us have a can or two stashed in the back of the pantry already.

1 can sliced pears in light juice
2 sprigs of mint
1/2 a fresh lime
1 oz of Kinna Lillet (optional)

Place the pears with their juice along with mint and fresh lime in a food processor. Puree for a few seconds, then pour the mixture in a small pie tin. Top with one ounce of Kinna Lillet if desired (champagne would also be nice too) and freeze for about 20-25 minutes. Once the dish has not fully frozen and has a slush like consistency, take a fork and spoon out the mixture into a serving dish. Garnish with fresh mint and wow your friends.

This recipe is unbelievable. It was a spontaneous MiddleBar creation and I was shocked at how delicious this simple dessert turned out to be. You have to try it. Trust me.

Ciao Ya'll

Monday, March 26, 2012

Quick Fix: Tarragon Sour

The Tarragon Sour
I've been experimenting with more and more herbs in my cocktails for the last few months and my newest favorite is the Tarragon Sour.  Tarragon is one of the four French "fines herbes" (along with parsley, chervil, and chive) with a gentle anise flavor. This unobtrusive flavor is perfect for a simple classic cocktail. Lemon and tarragon pair quite well together as evidenced by the use of both ingredients in many dishes both French and otherwise.  Lemon and tarragon are perfect flavors for roast chicken, salmon, and now, bourbon.

2 oz bourbon
1 oz (1 lemon)
1/2 oz Demerara Simple Syrup*
2 sprigs tarragon

Delicately muddle the tarragon sprigs and demerara syrup. Add bourbon, ice and shake well. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass garnish with a lemon twist and a fresh tarragon sprig.

*The demerara syrup adds a supple mouthfeel and added sweetness to this cocktail. If you don't have demerara, regular simple syrup works just as well.

Cheers Ya'll!

Friday, March 23, 2012

"First you make a roux": How to Make the Best Roux for Crawfish Etouffee

The classic start to the best Cajun dishes. 
There may not be a more debatable topic in Creole coking than the infamous roux. Each Southern chef has a different opinion on which is the best technique, color, and flavor. There are a myriad of roux varieties ranging from a "white roux" to the "brick" version and everything in between, blonde, brown, peanut butter or chocolate. Each imparts a different hue, thickening power, and distinctive nutty flavor to your dish. Making a roux is easy, burning it is easier, and mastering it is an art form.

The roux calls for 2 simple ingredients: flour and any type of fat. The choice in fat is yours, but the traditional French recipe calls for butter.  Southerners use bacon grease, lard, clarified butter, any meat fat or oil for their roux. The French use an equal ratio of fat to flour. For my roux I use a blend of fats at the ratio of 2:1 (butter/bacon grease to flour) and prefer the peanut butter hue, but again the choice is always yours. The best part of making a roux is that you can experiment and create a secret recipe which makes all your dishes unique to you.

Crawfish Etouffee 
The key to a perfect roux is to stir, stir, stir! I can not emphasize this enough, cast iron (the only place to make a roux in my opinion) holds heat so keep your pan on low and stir the hell out of the thing with a flat wooden spoon (Southerners often have a flat wooden spoon especially for roux). If you start to see any black specs, your roux is burning and at that point there is no way to save it. Toss it, wipe out your skillet, and start again. It may take you a few tries but you'll get it. Once you perfect your own unique roux, you can officially call yourself a Southern chef. Well...maybe.

Ryan stirring the pot. 
The following dish is brought to you by the official Pastorek crawfish boil. I'm lucky enough to have crawfish flown out to Los Angeles a few times each season, but if you don't have access to live, fresh Louisiana crawfish, you can easily substitute boiled shrimp.  Don't you dare use foreign imported crawfish, that's a sacrilege. Laissez les bon temps ROUX-le ya'll!

MiddleBar Crawfish Etouffee
1 lb boiled crawfish (Thanks Ryan)
1 red bell pepper (green is traditional but I hate green bell pepper)
1 small yellow onion diced
2 ribs celery diced
1 can rotel diced tomatoes
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 sprigs of thyme whole on stem
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tbs tomato paste
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp bacon fat
1 tsp worcestershire
2 cans chicken stock (fresh stock if you have it)
1/2 cup water
Tony Casherie's Original Creole Seasoning, salt, pepper (about 1 tsp-1tbs depending on the saltiness of your crawfish so add seasoning as necessary)
1 large cast iron skillet

First you make a roux by melting the bacon fat, butter adding the flour and stirring until the roux takes on a nice peanut butter color. Add the onion, celery and bell pepper, salt, pepper and Tony's and saute in the roux until soft. Add garlic, rotel, worcestershire, chicken stock, water, bay leaf, and thyme and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cover for 20-25 minutes. Remove the lid, add crawfish, and simmer for 10-20 minutes more. Remove bay leaves and thyme. Serve over heaping white rice and garnish with fresh parsley.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Cast Iron Skillet

MiddleBar Cornbread
Before there were non-stick pans, we Southerners had the cast iron skillet. Seasoned with nature's Teflon, bacon grease, the cast iron is a piece of cookware that can outlast you IF you properly care for it.

The cast iron and it's cousin the dutch oven are two examples of cast iron cookware used pre-stovetop days when we were all cooking over an open flame. Cast iron being "cast" out of one solid piece of "iron" distributes heat evenly and also retains that heat extremely well.  These two attributes make it a perfect cooking pan for everything from fryin' chicken to makin' cornbread. You can also smack the hell of a boneless chicken breast with the back of that heavy pan, then batter and fry it up of course! Before you get cookin' here are a few easy steps to keep your cast iron in tip top condition for hundreds of years to come.

Seasoning The Skillet:
Metal is a porous substance and those pores open during the heating process. If those pores are filled with oils and fats food will not be able to stick in those pores. The thin layer of seasoning also seals the metal so that oxidation does not take place causing rust. Before using your pan, and if your skillet begins sticking or rusting use this simple process to season your pan.
1. Preheat the oven to 275
2. Heat skillet on the stove top 
3. When the pan is very hot, coat with bacon grease 
(use the bacon grease for this (or lard if you are really brave) and save your olive oil for a vinaigrette)
4. Once the pan is coated, dump any excess grease
5. Bake for 2 hours
*Use your pan for frying for the first 2 uses after seasoning*

Even this tragic pan can be saved, just re-season!
(And no, I do not own this pan. My Southern blood wouldn't let
something like this happen!!!)
Cleaning your skillet:
While the pan is still warm, rinse with scalding hot water and with a gentle sponge (no soap), remove any remaining food particles. For really tough grit gently rub with sea salt and hot water. Dry thoroughly with a towel and to avoid dust, place a thin layer of paper towel over the surface (it's very important not to store the pan with the lid on. This can cause rust and 2 more hours of your time to re-season the pan) Before each use gently wipe the surface with a paper towel to remove any dust.

If this whole process seems sketchy since you aren't using any soap to clean your skillet, I get it. I was a bit disturbed by this process myself the first time I actually thought about it but if your pan is properly seasoned, the hard patina layer keeps you safe and clean. (After all I've been eating out of cast iron my whole life and I seem ok....)

The Lodge Brand Cast Cookware. Buy This. 
Dos & Donts:
--Don't: Store with a lid on especially when it's humid, this can cause
--Do: Use your pan for frying the first 2 or 3 times after seasoning. (This locks in the oils even more!)
--Don't: Plunge the skillet into cold water when hot, this can cause cracking or warping
--Do: Heat the pan slowly starting at a low heat gradually raising the heat
--Don't: Wash with harsh cleaners, soap, or in the dishwasher
--Do: Enjoy your pan for years to come!

You can buy cast iron skillets anywhere these days and they are quite affordable especially since they last forever you really get your money's worth.  If you can get your hands on your grandmother's skillet though, that's a much better idea!
Cook like a Southerner Ya'll!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sun Dried Tomato Gastrique

Gastrique over pasta with Italian Squash
With most restaurant menus reading like your high school French textbook, it seems difficult for the average home chef to recreate these masterpieces. In a world of cassoulet, bechamel, and amuse-bouche, the gastrique is my new favorite technique.

A gastrique is a French culinary term for creating a glaze by reducing sugar, vinegar, and fruit. Using the sun dried tomato, we get the sugar and the fruit all in one and just need to add vinegar to create our gastrique!  This is a tasty and unique way to impress all of your gourmet friends. And trust me they will be very impressed.

1 3 oz bag of sun dried tomatoes
1/4 balsamic vinegar
1 cup water
3 sprigs of thyme
3 garlic cloves (minced)
1 tbs salt
1/2 tbs pepper
1-2 dashes sugar (most of sweetness is from the tomatoes so don't worry about the sweetness)

Rehydrate the sun dried tomatoes in balsamic, water, salt, pepper, garlic, thyme and dash of sugar.  Bring mixture to a boil, reduce to simmer 20 mins covered and then 10 uncovered.  Until the sauce is the consistency of a thick syrup.

This beautiful thickened glaze is a fantastic addition to pizza, on a toasted baguette with brie cheese or just atop some pasta as a quick dinner. Try this one on for size and please comment and let me know what you do with your Sun Dried Gastrique!

Au revoir ya'll!

Friday, March 16, 2012

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling: The Irish Julep

Jameson's Irish Julep 
A St. Patrick's Day Limerick:

Two hundred and twenty years ago
In the hills were the green grass does grow.
Whiskey was in pots.
For Irish not Scotts.
And I thought that you might like to know.

Ok, so I might need to work a bit on my poetry, but you get the idea. The Irish have been distilling whiskey (and consuming it heavily) since the twelfth century and it's history is forever tied to Catholicism. Christian monks brought distillation as well as Christianity to the Druid community in Ireland.  St. Patrick was influential on the Christianity front but I can't officially say that he was distilling whiskey. He was however, according to legend, busy banishing snakes from Ireland, and comparing three leaf shamrocks to the, Holy Trinity.

Over 1300 years later John Jameson the Father of Irish Whiskey began distilling in Dublin and has been producing his high quality, triple distilled product for the last 220 years. St. Patrick's day has been commemorating the religious feast of St. Patrick since the 1600s and over the years it has become famous as a day to express your Irish identity. Not Irish? Don't worry!  John Jameson nor St. Patrick was actually born in Ireland either and they are considered two of the most famous Irishmen. Tomorrow feel free to cash in of all the "Kiss Me I'm Irish" kisses you can, you're just about as Irish as Pat & John!

The Celtic Highlanders of the Irish Channel, NOLA. 
The Irish Julep 
3 oz Jameson Irish Whiskey
1 oz Simple syrup
1/2 oz distilled water
5 fresh mint sprigs
7 mint leaves

Gently bruise 7 mint leaves with the simple syrup in a highball or julep glass. Add 1 1/2 oz Jameson, fill glass to the brim with finely crushed ice. Swirl with barspoon until the outside of the glass frosts. Add remaining bourbon and more ice. Stir again, garnish with plenty of fresh mint sprigs and serve with a short straw so that you get a nice whiff of mint each time you take a sip.

Erin Go Bragh Ya'll!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Quick Fix: Edamame Hummus

I'm always looking for interesting ways to take run of the mill recipes to the next level. Sometimes it's the littlest changes that take the ordinary dish to extraordinary. Today we'll take a Middle Eastern dish on a little trip to Japan.

Hummus is an ancient Middle Eastern dish served anytime of day usually as a mezze course. Traditionally hummus (hummous, humos, hommus, depending on where you live) is made with mashed chickpeas that grow locally throughout the Middle East. In this dish we take Hummus a bit further East and swap the chickpeas for Japanese Edamame. The result is a delicious and unique dish for your next party.

1 12oz bag frozen shelled edamame
2 cloves garlic crushed
2 tbs tahini
3 tbs fresh lemon juice
2 tbs olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 large red bell peppers, cored seeded and cut into thin strips
3 whole wheat pita chips

In a small saucepan boil 2 cups of water, a liberal amount of sea salt and edamame for about 10 minutes. Remove and place into a food processor. Add lemon, salt, cumin, black pepper, garlic and tahini and puree until thin. Serve with sliced bell peppers or crunchy pita chips.

Crunchy Pita Chips
3 whole wheat pita chips, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp coriander, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 salt&pepper, 1 pinch of cayenne pepper. Cut pita into 1/8ths drizzle with olive oil and dress with spices. Place into a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Enjoy Ya'll!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mushroom Risotto

MiddleBar Mushroom Risotto
Back in December we discussed the famous MiddleBar Risotto. This lovely Italian delight is a great side dish for any occasion but if you're feeling a bit more hungry, toss in some toadstools!

This mushroom risotto stands on it's own and is the perfect dish for all your vegetarian friends.  I use shiitake and crimini for my risotto but you can try it with any fungi you'd like. I encourage you to get creative and try out some mushrooms you've never seen before. There are 100,000 different species of mushrooms out there, so you'd better get cookin'!

3 packages of mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic
1 small onion
olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
1 sprig of thyme
salt & pepper to season

Saute 1 small onion in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add garlic, mushrooms, salt&pepper, thyme and saute about 2 minutes. Add white wine and cook on medium high heat for about 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat strain 1/4 cup of juices then set aside and make the risotto.

1 cup abrorio rice
1 cup white wine
2 cup vegetable stock
3 cups water
1/4 cup shreaded parmesan cheese
1/4 cup mushroom stock (reserved from mushrooms)
salt & pepper
zest and juice of 1 lemon

Melt butter until it is brown, not burned, brown. Add rice and 1 cup of white wine. Bring to a slight boil stirring often. Add salt. Continue to add water and stock slowly while stirring  for the next 30-45 minutes (do not be afraid to add more or less liquid as necessary to keep your risotto from drowning or drying out). The more slowly you add water and more often you stir will effect the overall creaminess of the dish. Half way through cooking add the juice and zest of 1 lemon and mushroom stock.  Once the rice is al dente and most of the water is absorbed, remove from heat and quickly whip in cheese vigorously. Add mushrooms and serve.

Wait, what's that you said? You haven't had the MiddleBar Lemon Truffle Risotto?  WHY NOT!?!?
Enjoy Ya'll!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Video Spotlight: Ice, The Megalith, and The American Cocktail

Heizer's megalith boulder at it's former home in Riverside, CA
Los Angeles is atwitter with the news of a 340 ton boulder slowly making it's way through LA County. "Levitated Mass" is artist Michael Heizer's new (obviously permanent) instillation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The centerpiece of Heizer's work is the largest megalith boulder to be moved in modern times. This modern day Stonehenge has gotten so much press that it's got it's own twitter account (@LACMA Rock)! All this talk about rocks got me thinking about the most popular rocks, those in our cocktails.

It looks strangely like the megalith! 
The history of the American cocktail takes a dramatic turn in the early 1800s with the addition of ice. That solid piece of water is what makes a cocktail a cocktail. It was good ole American ingenuity that took these cold blocks out of the great lakes in the winter, loaded them into bunkers, and sold them to saloons across the country.

Ice is big business in bartending these days and I mean big. Mixologists are moving away from small thin ice cubes in favor of large dense blocks. The density and surface area of these blocks helps the ice melt slowly insuring that your cocktail stays cold but not watered down.

I am pleased to announce that this is the first edition of MiddleBar's Video Spotlight so without further ado, please watch our video above for a quick lesson in creating your own large surface area ice!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Do you like green eggs and ham?

Today in honor of the birth of Theodor Seuss Geisel 108 years ago we will celebrate with the Sam I Am. Now before you panic, today's quick fix does not have green eggs and ham (although the thought did cross my mind).

Dr. Seuss wrote and illustrated over 45 children's books throughout his career, most of which we all memorized before we could even read. Today we'll kick off National Read Across America Day by turning off the TV, mixing this great beverage and plopping down with a good book. I highly recommend One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, it's my personal favorite.

Sam I Am
2 oz Hendrick's Gin
1/2 oz lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
2 sprigs of mint
1 spray of Absinthe
1 egg white

Muddle the mint, lime and syrup, add egg white then dry shake. Add ice, gin, shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass coated with absinthe garnish with mint.

I will drink this in my house
I will drink this with a mouse
I will drink this here and there
Say! I will drink this anywhere!!!