Whip It Out

The other day I was whinging over Instant Message to Mrs. Underhill.

I’d had lunch at a restaurant near work, and they’d made a pasta with Sicilian Cous Cous, Asparagus, Fava Beans, Fennel, Spring Onions and Pancetta.

I was kind of disappointed that the vegetable mix was pre-cooked.

Here you have ingredients that could be served in a 3 star restaurant and they are ruining them by pre-cooking them. To make matters worse, they weren’t really saving any time.

I thought I could do better, and told Mrs. Underhill so.

She said, “Oh, yeah, Mr. Cheffy Chef, let’s see it. Whip it out.” Or words to that effect.

Weeknight dinners don’t lend themselves to fava beans, so I subbed in Edamame.

Spring Vegetable Pasta

1/2 bunch Asparagus, in sliced on the bias, about 1″
1/4 Pound Pancetta, thick sliced, roughly chopped
1 bulb fennel, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 bag frozen Edamame
crushed chile flakes
1/2 cup Chicken Stock, water, or vegetable stock
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh marjoram
Olive Oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
Goat Milk Feta Cheese

8 oz Linguine

Heat water for pasta.

Heat pan, add olive oil, and saute asparagus until fragrant and bright green, seasoning with salt. Remove from pan.

Heat pan again, and add olive oil. Add Pancetta and saute until it begins to give up oil. Add fennel and onion. Season with salt and crushed chili flakes cook until tender. Add Edamame, thyme, marjoram, and chicken stock, cover and saute until beans are tender.

Drop pasta in rapidly boiling water.

With a spoon or mashed potato masher, mash a portion of the beans. Pull linguini from water and drop into veggies adding some pasta water if it seems dry. Add reserved asparagus and toss. Briefly cook to allow pasta to absorb flavors, and stir in most of the feta, reserving some to top the dishes.

Serve in warm pasta bowls and top with a little more crumbled feta and black pepper. A loaf of crusty bread, a light red wine, and dinner is done.

Not bad, if I don’t say so myself. I didn’t even mind having almost the same thing twice in one day.

San Francisco Bartender Competition

The first Monday of every month Jon Gasparini and Greg Lindgren of Rye bar in San Francisco host a competition for bartenders.

An ingredient is chosen, usually working with a spirits company, and the bartenders create original cocktails featuring that ingredient. The winning cocktail goes on the menu at Rye.

This month I was lucky enough to be tapped as one of the judges.

As a cocktail enthusiast and San Franciscan, I can’t really think of many better ways to spend an evening out at a bar, than having drinks made for me by some of San Francisco’s top bartenders.

The ingredient this month was a challenging one, Campari. This bitter aperitif is most well known for its part in the classic drink, The Negroni. But, its bitterness makes it something of a challenge to feature in a cocktail. Too much Campari and your drink might be too sweet or too bitter. Too little, and it gets lost.

My fellow judges and I were given instructions on the criteria for judging cocktails, from “aroma” to “utility”, and sat down at a table to await our drinks.

I was quite happy to be joined in judging cocktails by two experienced Bay Area bar professionals, David Nepove and Dominic Venegas. (It almost as fascinating and informative just to listen to these two geek out about the spirits and bar industries as to judge the cocktails!)

The cocktails ran the gamut, from an upscale take on the Negroni featuring Anchor Junipero Gin and Cocchi Barolo Chinato to an absolutely amazing new original cocktail with strawberry juice, Plymouth Gin, and a passion fruit foam.

I was completely awed by the amount of work and creativity that went into each of the 9 cocktails we were presented with.

Unfortunately, we did have to decide on 3 winners, and they were:

1) Joel Baker, Bourbon and Branch, for his creation, Notte della Stella

This was the aforementioned creation with strawberry, gin, Campari and a passion fruit foam. I was blown away by this one, from the lovely aromatic smell of the passion fruit foam to the perfect balance of sweetness and bitterness in the liquid proper. He even punched out little star shaped pieces of citrus peel to float on top of the cocktail as a garnish.

2) Yanni Kehagiaras, Bourbon and Branch, for his creation Milanese Breeze

This was an incredibly refreshing combination of watermelon juice, campari, and gin with a lovely curl of thinly sliced cucumber impaled on a silver cocktail pick for a garnish. I really want a pitcher of this for my next party.

3) Carlos Yturria, Rye, for his creation, Spiagia Nera

Carlos created a drink with Campari, organic plum syrup, citrus, and a “snowball”. This was a sort of a Campari sno-cone. Light refreshing and enjoyable.

For me, the whole experience underscored how fortunate we are here in the San Francisco Bay Area, to have available to us such an incredible selection of ingredients, and passionate food and bar professionals who are willing to go to incredible lengths to utilize those ingredients in amazing and unexpected ways.

I can’t wait to get back to Rye some time soon to see how they manage to pull off Joel’s “Notte della Stella”!

Daiquiris, A Cautionary Tale

“The moment, now, had arrived for a Daiquiri: seated near the cool drip of the fountain, where a slight stir of air seemed to ruffle the fringed mantone of a bronze dancing Andalusian girl, I lingered over the frigid mixture of Ron Bacardi, sugar, and a fresh vivid green lime.

“It was a delicate compound, not so good as I was to discover later at the Telegrafo, but still a revelation, and I was devoutly thankful to be sitting, at that hour in the Inglaterra, with such a drink. It elevated my contentment to an even higher pitch ; and, with a detached amusement, I recalled the fact that farther north prohibition was formally in effect. Unquestionably the cocktail on my table was a dangerous agent, for it held, in its shallow glass bowl slightly encrusted with undissolved sugar, the power of a contemptuous indiffernce to fate ; it set the mind free of responsibility; obliterating both memory and tomorrow, it gave the heart an adventitious feeling of superiority and momentarily vanquished all the celebrated, the eternal, fears.

“Yes, that was the danger of skilfully prepared, intoxicating drinks. . . . The word intoxicating adequately expressed their power, their menace to orderly monotonous resignation. A word, I thought further, debased by moralists from its primary ecstatic content. Intoxication with Ron Bacardi, with May, with passion, was a state threatening to privilege, abhorrent to authority. And, since the dull were so fatally in the majority, they had succeeded in attaching a heavy penalty to whatever lay outside their lymphatic understanding. They had, as well, made the term gay an accusation before their Lord, confounding it with loose, so that now a gay girl certainly the only girl worth a ribbon or the last devotion was one bearing upon her graceful figure, for she was apt to be reprehensibly graceful, the censure of a society open to any charge other than that of gaiety in either of its meanings. A ridiculous, a tragic, conclusion, I told myself indifferently: but then, with a fresh Daiquiri and a sprig of orange blossoms in my buttonhole, it meant less than nothing.”

A short extract from Joseph Hergesheimer’s 1920 book, “San Cristobal de la Habana.”

For me, it is tough to improve on that, other than just giving a recipe for a Daiquiri.

The traditional Daiquiri recipe is as follows:

The Juice of 1/2 lime
1 Teaspoonful of castor or superfine sugar
2 oz Bacardi Rum (Ideally Havana Club Añejo Blanco. However, given the current US embargo of Cuban products, another Cuban-Style Rum like Flor de Cana Extra Dry, Appleton White, or Matusalem Platino, will likely have to do.)

Juice lime into mixing glass. Drop spent lime shell into mixing glass. Measure sugar and rum. Add ice, cap your shaker and shake until the outside of the shaker frosts. Strain into cocktail glass.

According to Wayne Curtis, in his informative and entertaining book, “And A Bottle of Rum,” Ernest Hemingway visited “El Floridita” in Cuba. When he saw Constantino Ribalaigua Vert making Daiquris he asked to taste one. He then said, “That’s good, but I prefer it without sugar and double rum.” This version became known as the “Papa Double.” Later in life, it is said Hemingway became fond of another version with a splash of grapefruit juice and a dash of Maraschino Liqueur. This is sometimes called the “Hemingway Special.”

We’ll try that.

Hemingway Special

2 oz Flor de Cana Extra Dry Rum
Juice 1/2 Lime
1/2 oz Grapefruit Juice
1/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.

A portion of a track from David Torn’s excellent new ECM recording “Prezens” accompanies the cocktail making today.

This ended up a tad on the tart side for me. However, I think it has plenty of Maraschino, so perhaps, if you don’t like tart cocktails, add a half teaspoon of simple syrup or Caster Sugar.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Grinderman

I resisted blogging about the new Wilco recording for a couple months. Figuring cocktail or food people might not want to hear about music. But, well, I give up.

Aside from cocktails, food, and gardening, the other “vice” in the Underhill Lounge family is music.

One of the first things my wife and I bonded over was music.

After our first date, I gave her a free jazz CD I absolutely knew she had to hear (Cecil Taylor, “Live in Bologna”) and on my birthday she gave me a CD with a candle on it.

It has been downhill from there.

I suspect when we first moved to California and discovered Amoeba Music we may have spent more money on records there, than on food.

Lately, I’ve gotten out of the jazz mode and more into popular music. My wife has been absolutely instrumental in helping me form my tastes in popular music, introducing me to more amazing artists than I can really keep track of.

One of those artists was Wilco, and their excellent album, “Sky Blue Sky” has been my soundtrack for the last couple months. I actually suspect Mrs. Underhill was starting to get a bit tired of the CD, as it would be on every time she came home from work and she would sigh and say, “Oh, Wilco, again?”

So it is with excitement that I announce my new favorite recording, perhaps not coincidentally, the latest music gift from my wife, “Grinderman” by Grinderman.

It seems a new more group oriented personality for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds came out of making their last record, so they decided to commemorate this by releasing Grinderman, and, frankly, my friends, it rocks.

Now, I’ve been listening to Nick Cave for a long time. I think “The Firstborn Is Dead” may have been the first time he caught my ear, forcing me to go back and listen to those amazing Birthday Party recordings, and then hang with him up through his recent chamber rock escapades.

The new CD is a hilarious garage band style jaunt through jaded excess, accompanied by distorted guitars, catchy bass lines, and punchy rhythms. From “Get it On” all the way to “Love Bomb”, Grinderman will have you tapping your toes, laughing out loud, and singing along with their vulgar enthusiasms.

Spicy Simmered Tofu

One of my favorite cookbook authors is Jeffrey Alford.

His big picture looks at food and its significance for cultures and peoples are a pleasure to read. And his wife, Naomi Duguid’s, wonderful pictures just add to the pleasure of reading their books.

One of the dishes from their “Seductions of Rice” book, which we come back to again and again is a version of their “Spicy Simmered Tofu”.

It’s a fun recipe, that lends itself to improvisation. Most recently, we had some romano beans to add; but, use whatever you have on hand. Broccoli, bitter greens, green beans, etc. Just chop it into bite size pieces.

I’ve even served this to people who claim to hate tofu. They were converted. So I’ll hear none of that sort of “tofu is boring” sort of whinging.

While their version includes ground pork, most often we leave that out in favor of a fuller palate of vegetables.


Spicy Simmered Tofu, underhill-lounge stylee

Ingredients:

About 1 pound firm tofu in 1/2 inch squares
Peanut oil
3 scallions, sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
6 brown mushrooms sliced
1/4 pound Romano Beans, sliced
Handful Spinach, roughly chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons Hot Chile Bean Paste
6 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Shaoxing Rice Wine
1 Cup Chicken Stock (or veggie stock, if you’re a vegetarian)
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro

Heat wok or saute pan over highest heat. Add the oil, and when it is hot, add mushrooms. Cook until they give up their water and start to brown nicely. Reserve.
Reheat work or saute pan, add a little more oil, and saute beans until lightly browned. Reserve.

Heat wok or saute pan again, add oil and when hot, add in ginger, garlic, and scallions. Cook until fragrant. Add tofu, and toss with minced seasonings. Add Soy Sauce, Rice Wine, chile bean paste, and Chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, and add reserved vegetables. Heat until simmering, and then lower heat and stir in dissolved corn starch. It will thicken quickly. Turn off heat, stir in spinach. Continue stirring until spinach is wilted, and serve over steamed rice. Sprinkle on chopped cilantro.