30 March 2010

Recipe: Ramos Gin Fizz

The Brennan family hasn't let us down yet.  Can the people behind Bananas Foster ever go wrong?  But we do need to give a shout-out to the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone.  A dash of orange flower water?  I think not.

2 oz. half-and-half
1 1/2 oz. gin (we like Leopold's - its floral notes match well with the drink)
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 egg white
Orange flower water (4-5 dashes)
Vanilla extract (about a dash)

Combine all in a shaker, and shake until your arm is about to fall off.  Then shake some more.  Strain into a rocks glass and serve immediately, while everyone can admire your shaking skills.

Do I need to tell you that the lemon juice needs to be fresh or how to make simple syrup?  No - otherwise what are you doing here?

The Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel also makes an excellent Ramos Gin Fizz.  Clearly, more research is required.

23 March 2010

Recipe: Bourbon Milk Punch

This is (basically) the Commander's Palace recipe.  Pete Fountain can't be wrong.

1 1/2 c. 2% milk
1/2 c. heavy cream
12 oz. bourbon (Maker's Mark is the rail in our house)
1 egg white (NOT optional, even if the recipe says it is)
1/2 c. simple syrup
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract (the real stuff, not the fake stuff)

Combine the milk, cream, bourbon, egg white, sugar, water and vanilla in a pitcher. Mix using an immersion blender. Serve over rocks in old fashioned glasses with a grind of nutmeg on the top.

22 March 2010

Food Lab 1: Eggs

We decided to hold the very first Food Lab on March 21 in honor of my birthday. Between eggs being one of the building blocks of cuisine, the players desiring to gather on the early side because it was a Sunday, the variety of great brunch drinks you can make with eggs, and my own love of - and inability to make - poached eggs, the subject was obvious.

So Mad Kitchen Scientist, The Executive Committee, Chef Spouse, Papa IA by Day-Chef by Night, Mama IA by Day-Chef by Night, and I gathered at our house to learn everything we could about eggs.

Now, I love poached eggs.  But we've had no luck poaching eggs.  Chef Spouse had proposed getting an egg poacher, but I'm with Alton Brown on this - no single taskers.  So we will poach eggs in a pot of water or not at all.  We tried plain water and vinegared water.  We tried just off the boil and just steaming.  We tried adding herbs into the water.  We tried dropping the eggs in the water and poaching them in various vessels.  Yes, we ate a lot of eggs.  In the end, the winner was water off the boil (no heat), 1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar, tarragon in the water, egg straight in, 3 minutes.  Perfection.  Yes, you need to use a LOT of tarragon - and thanks to Papa IA by Day-Chef by Night for the idea - but it's awesome.  Grow your own.  Buying fresh herbs is too expensive.

Mad Kitchen Scientist had made some Parker House rolls for us, so in between poaching and eating eggs and eating the rolls, we decided to try baking some eggs in the rolls.  It did not thrill.

In the meantime, Mama IA by Day-Chef by Night started making some divinity, which is a really old-skool traditional southern candy that's made with egg whites, and, if it doesn't set up properly, comes out kind of like marshmallow fluff.  Yes, I know that from recent experience.  Why do you ask?

Back to the eggs:  now we were on to scrambled.  We decided to try Alton Brown's double boiler method.  When you're starting to play around with ingredients, you can't go wrong with Alton Brown.  Everything Alton says about whisking the curd as it forms is true.  Everything Alton says about low heat is true.  The cleanup is a mess - the eggs never brown, so a fair amount sticks to your inner bowl and is a bitch to remove. But the eggs?  Divine.  Even better with a schmear of goat cheese (once again, a Papa IA by Day-Chef by Night innovation.  He rules.).  You know what didn't work?  Bourbon scrambled eggs.  Yuck.  But you don't know until you try

We also enjoyed a cornucopia of egg-based drinks:  Ramos Gin Fizzes, Bourbon Milk Punch, and champagne.  Well, OK, champagne's not egg-based, but it goes with everything.

We finished the day with fantastic chocolate souffles, courtesy of Mad Kitchen Scientist (who was totally looking for an excuse to buy a bunch of ramekins) and The Executive Committee.  Recipe to follow.

Verdict?  Fun day, we all learned to poach and scramble eggs perfectly, we were more than a little buzzed, our cholesterol counts were off the charts, and Food Lab was a hit. 

10 March 2010

Author Bio: Elizabeth Engel

Hi there! I got into this because my spouse, Jim (aka "Chef Spouse") came up with the idea.

My history with loving food goes back a long way.  Some of my earliest food memories include:

Going to the Kimberton Country House with my grandparents. They introduced me to fine dining early (i was probably around 7 years old the first time we went), so I learned proper table manners, how to behave my rambunctious self in a nice restaurant, and how to order off a REAL (as opposed to from a clown's mouth) menu.

Ordering Veal Marsala at the Vale-Rio as a kid - much to the surprise of the waitress - and eating it all.

Meeting my dad in Center City Philadelphia and going to Bookbinders for oysters.

Speaking of my dad, his huge vegetable garden which, as a kid, I did not fully appreciate.  Too much work.

Vacationing in Maine at about the age of 10 and, for the first time, eating as much lobster as I wanted. The fact that the restaurant was a picnic table place overlooking the water, and the lobster boats, didn't hurt.

Anyway, other than a flirtation with vegetarianism (that lasted 10 years), I've always been an adventurous eater. I attribute it to my folks, who always said that we had to try one bite of everything, but if we didn't like it, we didn't have to eat any more.  As an adult, there is literally NOTHING I won't eat.  Sure, there are some things I like better than others - who doesn't? - but you know those people who are like, "I won't eat anything purple"?  Not me. Jeffrey Steingarten thinks he ate everything?  Me, too, and I wasn't an ass while I was doing it.

Some culinary highlights include:

My first chili half-smoke at Ben's after abandoning vegetarianism
Omakase at Morimoto
Omakase at Makoto
Dinner at the Inn at Little Washington
The year my New Year's resolution was to dine at all the Washingtonian's Top 100 restaurants in DC I hadn't yet eaten at
Lunch at La Tour d'Argent in Paris
Dinner at Ristorante Santini in Milan in the pouring rain
The first time my baguettes came out right (another New Year's resolution)
My first taste of caviar (can't even remember when that was)
Mastering the technique for risotto (thank you, Roberto Donna)
Mastering the technique for roux (thank you, Jude Theriout)
Prejean's pheasant/quail/andouille gumbo

Anyway, welcome to our little project.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we will!

01 March 2010

Who are you people, and what is "Food Lab," anyway?

So glad you asked!

Food lab is the brain child of Jim Engel, aka "Chef Spouse."  It starts during the 2009 NFL playoffs.  Chef Spouse and I (Elizabeth Engel, your humble correspondent) love to eat, love to cook, love to entertain, and LOVE the NFL (specifically, the Philadelphia Eagles).  All during football season, we cook every weekend and have people over every weekend to watch the games (thanks to the magical invention of Direct TV and the Sunday Ticket). Which is AWESOME.  Until the second week of February, when football season is over.  Normally, we spend a few weeks totally depressed, pick ourselves up, and move on with our spring and summer.

Not this year.

This year, Chef Spouse started thinking...we love to cook. We have friends who love to cook. We love to entertain. We have friends who love to entertain. We're all trying to learn more about cooking and improve our skills. Experimentation is tough, though. You don't want to do it for a dinner party - what if it flops? Weeknight dinners are pretty much out, too - no time. And what you REALLY need to do is make the same thing over and over with slight variations to determine which combinations of ingredients and technique produce the best results. But 2 people eating 3 dozen eggs in one day is not a good idea. 

Hence, Food Lab.

The mission? Gather a bunch of food-loving friends. Pick an ingredient or a technique. Do a little pre-planning to make sure you have all the tools you need. Gather in someone's kitchen on a weekend. Bring plenty of booze. Cook. Taste. Test. Render a verdict. If it all goes to hell, give it to the dog and order takeout.

This blog will document our experiments in cookery and hopefully shine a little light on classic ingredients and techniques.