Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Even Better


There is good, and then there is better.
You recall that awhile back I wrote about Eben Freeman's fat-washing technique to impart the flavors of any fat to any spirit. Brown butter rum, peanut butter bourbon, bacon vodka: there is no limit.

All the buzz these days is about bacon, but I expect this will change, as all things do. In the meantime, let a vegetarian teach you an even better way to infuse your spirit of choice with the smoky, meaty flavor of bacon.

Last week I was working on a cocktail for my upcoming competition, the Great Sconnie Sip-Off. The cantaloupe shrub came out nicely, as did the cucumber vodka, but the lavender rock-candy failed to perform in time for the preliminary trials. At the last minute I was left with nothing to present. I did what you would have done: I improvised.

I had some Roaring Dan's Maple Flavored rum in the house, and I bought some bacon. I used Freeman's technique of pouring the fat of the bacon into the spirit to give it bacon's flavor. It gave it smokiness, but it lacked umami. I bought more rum. I bought more bacon.

That night at work, I met a man who claims he makes the best bacon on earth. "What is your secret?" I asked breathlessly. He told me, and I will tell you. Cook it like barbecue: low and slow, paying careful attention to each slice as an individual. It took forever, but what I produced was bacon as gorgeous as any I have seen in life.

I put the fat and the bacon in the jar with the Maple-Flavored rum and what resulted was a spirit I knew would pass muster. Just to be sure, I brought it to my co-worker, Jo Curley. The girl loves bacon not in the obsessional way of hipsters, but in the true way of a connoisseur. She was hesitant to try it, worried I would have wasted perfectly good bacon. She was satisfied, but I was not. I riddled her with a machine-gun volley of questions. Does it taste like bacon? Is it weird? Is it good?

According to Jo, I hit the nail on the head. This is how I did it:

You will need one package of Patrick Cudahy Bacon, one bottle of Roaring Dan's Maple Flavored Rum and the patience to cook that bacon very slowly. You will also need a clean canning jar large enough to hold it all. Pour the rum into the jar, put the cooked, cooled bacon and its fat into the jar and let it sit on the counter in your kitchen overnight. The next day, put the jar in the freezer to separate out the fat. Spoon off the fat and remove the bacon. Strain the liquid through cheesecloth, and then through coffee filters until it is clear and lovely. That is all.

In case you wondered what kind of cocktail I made with it, it is pictured above, and its recipe follows.

Bacon Cocktail

1.5 oz. Bacon Infused Roaring Dan's Rum
.5 oz. Anderson's Maple Syrup
8 drops Bittercube Orange Bitters
Sprecher Ginger Ale
Combine rum, maple syrup and bitters in your mixing tin and shake. Pour into cocktail glass and top with ginger ale. Garnish with bacon.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Inside the Process

It was a perfect day... the first day the heat broke. I was driving with the windows down. My dog, Chloe, was adorably barking her fool head off at everything in creation and all felt right with the world. I have passed this cute little farmstand a couple of times a week since the beginning of summer and meant to stop. Today was my day.

I pulled off the road and unloaded the dog and we walked across the warm gravel toward a young mother and her two children and the whole thing could hardly have been more Norman Rockwell if there had been two boys headed off the the fishin' hole. It was perfect. I had already decided to buy whatever she was selling; thanks to our recent drought the selection was somewhat limited. Limited, but locally-grown and beautiful.

I bought a couple of bags of produce and went on my way and I didn't think any more of it. I'm coordinating a cocktail competition and have a lot on my mind -- most of all my mixology block. I plan and execute whole menus of cocktails, seasonally -- this little thing should be no problem. All I had to do was invent a cocktail using only ingredients from the Great State of Wisconsin. I love cocktails. I love Wisconsin. It should have been a snap.

Slowly, it all came together. The fresh cucumbers I bought at the farmstand went into a jar of Rehorst vodka, which they softened and to which they imparted a fresh, green flavor. With no real plan in mind, I then made some lavender-infused sugar.

I've been growing some lavender out back of the bar. Lavender infused sugar is as simple as putting lavender in a bag and letting time do the work. Remember when I wrote about oleo saccharum? I was surprised to see the sugar is getting ever-so-slightly melted from the essential oils in the flowers, just like the lemon oil melts the baker's sugar.

Then I melted the sugar in boiling water to make a supersaturated simple syrup which should crystallize into rock candy - remember rock candy? Rock candy, being supersaturated, is exponentially sweeter than simple syrup, Mine, having begun with herb-infused sugar, then having that same herb added at the end of boiling, will -- cross your fingers -- should have a big lavender flavor to match so that a little will go a long way.

I think it will need an acidifier to balance it out and then we should be in business. Brennan's has some nice Wisconsin canteloupe and I'm thinking shrub...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dy's Rum Punch is Easy, Fresh and Delicious

There is more than one way to skin a cat. Well, that's just gross... There's more than one way to make rum punch. There are so many ways to make rum punch that, um, I'm sure there's a formula to calculate this, but in the words of my man Jake Gaylord, "I was told there would be no math...." There will, however, be mixology.
But first, the basics about punch, a little etymology and a little history. The etymology is meant to give you some confidence about tailoring this recipe to your own tastebuds, and the history will hopefully give you a sense of this fine drink's longevity.

The word "punch" comes from the Hindi word for "five." The five in question are: spirit, sugar, citrus, spice and water. As long as you employ these ingredients, you will have made punch. The drink itself has a certain romance to it, having been popularized in the 1600's by the British East India Trading Company. It is usually served communally, in a large, wide bowl. I think it's a perfect way to please a large number of guests without too much work during the event.

First thing's first: this recipe calls for grenadine. Don't buy grenadine. Make grenadine. It's easy. It is such a remarkable improvement over the dull-flavored, red-colored schmoo typically sold as grenadine that to use it in this recipe or any other is a dirty shame.

Easy Grenadine

1 qt. Pomegranate Juice (like POM)
2 c. sugar
Boil the ingredients, then cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Let cool, then pour into a clean, dry bottle.

Some sources call for 2 dashes of orange flower water, but I think this is optional. Not optional for your home bar is an ounce of vodka, for preservation. There's no point having such a delicious ingredient just to let it spoil!

Rum Punch
1 oz. Myers' Dark Rum
1 oz. Bacardi Rum
2 oz. Fresh Orange Juice
2 oz. Fresh Pineapple Juice
1/4 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
3/4 oz. Fresh Grenadine

Combine all ingredients and shake, serve over ice.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Happy Birthday BETA!

Happy first birthday BETA!

Beta by Sabor has been around for an entire year and to celebrate they have some great specials for the month of August.

$1 gets you an order of Beta's world famous Chicken Waffles
You can beat the heat with frozen cocktails of the week blended in their one-of-a-kind NitroCream machine (if you haven't seen this thing in action it's a must)
Half-off handcrafted cocktails from 4:31 - 6:01 pm everyday

If you haven't checked out Beta by Sabor yet, now is the time!

Here is an interview EatMKE did with Chef Mitch the creative force behind Beta. 

This week we sat down with one of Milwaukee's best Chef's; Executive Chef Mitch Ciohon of Sabor and Beta by Sabor. Enjoy the interview.

How did you get your start in the kitchen?

I started in the kitchen when I was 14 years old. I made sundaes and burgers at The Kiltie in Oconomowoc. My love for cooking and spending time in the kitchen with my grandma grew in my time there. 

After going to college for hockey, I moved back to Milwaukee and started working at Gil’s Café on the eastside when I was 20 years old. Right away, I fell back in love with the kitchen.   

Where else have you worked?

The Kiltie
Gil’s Café as sous chef
River Walk Bistro as sous chef
Sabor Brazilian Churrascaria as sous chef
Iron Horse Hotel as sous chef
Sabor & Beta by Sabor as executive chef

When did working in restaurants change from “just a job” to a career?

The change happened for me when I was at Gil’s Café. I started as a line cook, but very quickly realized how passionate I was about the kitchen and cooking. A lot of the things I was learning just made sense and I caught on really quickly, which gave me that feeling of, “holy shit, I think this is what I am supposed to do with my life.”  So I rolled the dice and here we are.

What is your passion in the kitchen?

I have a serious love affair with food – the ingredients are the key. I get so excited about the things I get to cook, especially the ingredients I grow myself or forage in the beautiful woods of Wisconsin. For me, that is where my passion comes from. Nothing to me is more exciting and gratifying than finding a beautiful morel mushroom in the woods and knowing you can eat it; or pulling a sun warmed tomato and eating it in your garden. Those are the kinds of things that do it for me. Getting excited leads to the ideas that start bubbling in my head, trying new things and the great results (not all the time – trial and error).

I also find happiness in teaching and sharing my craft with those around me. I have been lucky to have a great team here at Sabor and Beta by Sabor to help with everything we do. And don’t let me forget the huge amount of passion and drive that comes from my family; I am always trying to make them proud and happy!

What do you think of local food sourcing? Passing fad, serious trend, or way of the future?

Local food sourcing is a serious trend and way of the future. I love supporting the farmers and learning about where ingredients come from. It’s also good to learn about the farmer, farm and its history. Then, when a guest asks me about something, I can give some background on it. I think it enriches the dinning experience, makes it more romantic.

Another way of the future is the urban farm/city gardening. I think it is going to get pretty big. Luckily, with Will Allen near us, we are on the forefront in that area. I feel like that is a neglected idea for downtown restaurants.

Who are your top go to vendors for locally sourced food and what do you use them for?

I currently source from almost 20 local farms/purveyors:

Bernard (a personal contact and farmer)
Bolzano Artisan Meats
Braise RSA
Clock Shadow Creamery
Hometown Sausage Kitchen
A personal contact for honey
Local farmers markets
One Guerrilla Farmer
Sassy Cow Creamery
Strauss Farms
Sweet Water Organics
Sysco, who has a great relationship with Growing Power
Underground Kitchen
V. Marchese
Yuppie Hill Poultry

How do you incorporate this into your menu?

As mentioned above, I get excited about local sourcing and that leads to the ideas that start bubbling in my head, trying new things and the great results.

The seasons have a significant impact on what is available here in Wisconsin, but when the time is right for certain ingredients I build menu items around it. At Beta we have the opportunity to change things often – pending product availability, new ideas and popular items on the menu. Lucky for us, the local products make frequent changes easy.

What are your favorite dishes on the menu at the moment?

The Cheeky (braised veal and seared halibut cheek) is my favorite.

Seared scallops on bacon and fried banana puree with green grape gastrique is another gem. I enjoy the different flavor combo on this one, all the flavors really work well together.

Fresh pork rinds – This is one of my most simple dishes, but I love it.  Crispy little pillows of pork goodness.

Everything on the menu is tested and modified to perfection, that’s part of the fun! I can honestly say I like each item. If I didn’t like every item on the menu, I’d be selling myself short.

People know you use liquid nitrogen for some of your desserts and cocktails what other uses have you found for it in the kitchen?

We use the NitroCream Machine for desserts. That’s where it fits best, but there are certainly other uses for it in the kitchen. The heirloom radish salad is topped with liquid nitrogen frozen peanuts and golden raisins. They are then blended with a coffee grinder into a super flavored dust.

I like dusts – We use bacon dust to flavor the scallop dish and the pork rinds. What better flavor to put with pork than pork? We cook the bacon, blot the fat off, freeze and grind to use as the most perfect bacon “bits” ever. We use the machine for all of our powders – onion, garlic, tomato, and jalapeno, just to name a few. We dehydrate the produce and then freeze and blend it. When it’s frozen, it breaks up really well.

I’m looking forward to bringing back the tomato salad this summer, which is sprinkled with fresh mozzarella powder, oils and balsamic. You can swirl together your own mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette on the plate.

Any big plans or dreams for the future?

To keep working with as many local farmers as logically possible and get together with some other chefs to start the Milwaukee Chef Alliance. The alliance will make it easier for everyone to work together and put a star on the map for Milwaukee in food culture. 
To continue doing our best here at Beta, bringing fun new cocktails and food to the growing Milwaukee food and drink scene.

Most of all, just to have a good time and smile …the food tastes better when you’re happy!

Sabor on Urbanspoon Beta By Sabor on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Fair Food Review: Wisconsin Mac Burger

Writen By: Adam's Amused

I don't usually get entrees at the fair because they take up too much room in my stomach and I can't sample as much other tasty goodness. But, I made an exception for this burger at the Miller Lite Sports Bar and Grill. Deep fried mac and cheese bites, bacon, and more cheese topped the patty. It was tasty and it made itself at home alongside the other fair food in my stomach.
Verdict: Yum

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

It's Not a Race to Get Wasted...

Wisconsin has a lot of traditions, and lots of them are honorable. One of them, however, has been on my mind for months: Why is Wisconsin so drunk?

You know what I'm talking about. The Wisconsinese generally think nothing of getting bombed, and only slightly more about driving drunk. I observed the "Puke & Rally" for the first time at Silk one night when my niece left the table to rid herself of the 151 and then returned to continue drinking. Anecdotal evidence is one thing, but statistics are another. When the local paper started digging into this very topic, they found we are #1 in binge drinking, drunk driving and most drinkers per capita.

The Milwaukee Journal went on to interview anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, historians and more than 100 Sconnies and came up with a complex answer to my (perhaps oversimplified) question. I'll save you the trouble of locating their article and quote it directly:

"Climate. Ethnicity. The historical importance of the brewing industry. The interpersonal dynamics that govern how people learn to live comfortably in a group. The social nature of most drinking. A relative lack of newcomers who might foster change. The premium many here place on being just a regular person. The need for identity."

Take a minute with that, and think about life in Wisconsin.

There is one tiny ray of sunshine. Although we do, as a State, drink more alcohol than all others, it is not because some of us are getting non-stop bombed; it's because so many of us are drinking. Tennessee has about the lowest percentage of drinkers, Wisconsin has about the highest. Head-to-head against Tennessee, we come out looking good: our State disappears more alcohol, but the average Tennesseean can out-drink the average Wisconsinese.

And if you can't feel cool next to Tennessee....

I'm kidding, Tennessee. But I'm not kidding, Wisconsin. The subtle effects of beverage alcohol far outstrip its dramatic effects. Everybody gets a little looser and has a good time on the way to getting belligerent and stupid. The trick is to recognize the border and do not cross it. Stay in control of your words, your mind, and above all your dignity.

You have an opportunity to practice at The Great Sconnie Sip-Off, which will be held at the Waukesha Chancery on September 15th. It may seem antithetical for a girl who is promoting the responsible use of alcohol to be hosting a cocktail competition that is open to the public but the truth is in its name: a Sip-Off. It's not a race to get wasted. It's an opportunity to practice the Art of the Sip. Join us at 7pm and enjoy our hospitality.

(And if you want to read the full article, click here