Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Shake, Rattle, & Roll: The Making of a Gin Drinker

From the Edible Monterey Bay eNewsletter, today...
What does it take to turn a wine drinker into a gin aficionado? How about the right mixers and the right recipes, imparted with a dash of English history. That's how EMB's intrepid Camilla Mann got her start at the Hyatt Carmel Highland's recent Shake, Rattle and Roll class.

My piece about the February 2013 installment of Carmel Highlands' Shake, Rattle, and Roll cocktail series just went live on Edible Monterey Bay's blog. (19 February 2013). Click to read it...or read on.

Shake, Rattle, & Roll: The Making of a Gin Drinker
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

Picture a cadre of shot glasses – filled with pre-measured syrups, juices, and alcohol – standing sentry around a platter with garnet-hued cranberries, cucumber and lime wheels, and aromatic leaves separated from stems. Add to that a group of two dozen eager attendees and you have the scene of Hyatt Carmel Highlands’ kick-off event for their 2013 Shake, Rattle & Roll series. This is a hands-on series of cocktail workshops hosted in the picturesque Sunset Lounge.

In the span of ninety minutes Trevor Easter, English Gins West Coast Brand Ambassador and a bartender with a dizzying résumé, guided us through making three different cocktails and shared his wealth of knowledge about drinks and the history of alcohol. Trevor talks faster than any person I’ve ever met. Maybe it was the time limit, though I suspect that’s his usual pace because after class, while he did slow noticeably, it was still a rapid-fire of trivia and answers. I think it’s just that he possesses a lot of information he wanted to impart.

I have to admit that I was not a gin drinker before this class. I had tried gin, certainly, but it wouldn’t have been my libation of choice. Trevor changed that.

I appreciated the historical background of gin as a cure-all. Gin was invented in the 17th century by a physician in the Netherlands who started with neutral grain spirits and flavored them with the juniper oil. He used it to treat kidney ailments and called it 'genever' which, in Dutch, means juniper.

The British incorporated the juniper-infused alcohol into their regimen to battle malaria and scurvy. While effective at inhibiting malaria-causing parasites, quinine – made from the bark of the cinchona tree – has a bitter, unpleasant taste. Diluting quinine with water and sweetening it with sugar formed a ‘tonic water.’ The British East India Company and its colonials in India, then, added gin to the tonic to make it even more palatable. Voilà! The Gin & Tonic was born.

British Royal Navy Surgeon General Sir Thomas D. Gimlette is credited with formulating the Gimlet – gin and lime juice – to induce his shipmates to ingest more citrus as an anti-scurvy medication.

I enjoyed the history lessons, but what really solidified my admiration of gin: the drinks.

The first of the three cocktails we made was Trevor’s Herbes de Provence. I’m not sure I could have managed to muddle, mix, shake, shoot photos, take notes, and drink the cocktails on my own. Thankfully I brought a friend with me and he agreed to be my designated bartender.

Herbes de Provence is a mixture of gin, ginger liqueur, lime juice, and rosemary syrup with a muddle of cucumber and basil. Herbaceous and zesty, this cocktail was the linchpin in my conversion to being a gin drinker. With one sip, I was intrigued. With the second, I was enamoured.

The next cocktail, another gin-based drink, was the Hearts Content – gin with pomegranate and lemon juices sweetened with simple syrup. And our final creation for the evening was the Field of Dreams, a blend of tequila, limoncello, lime juice, and simple syrup with a float of Aperol.

Armed with recipe cards and my very own bartending kit of tools, this class has inspired me to get shaking on creating some cocktails on my own. Trevor explained that as long as we use consistent ratios of alcohol to sweetener and juice, we can be as inventive as we like. But he had one hard and fast rule he shared: if there’s citrus, shake it. Otherwise, stir.

Here’s what coming up in the Shake, Rattle, and Roll this year. April’s class is called Spring Fever, July’s theme is Haute Summer Fun, and in November they’ll be mixing up drinks with Fall Harvest Flavors. I’m ready to shake it up, as long as it involves gin…and citrus.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Afield {Book Review}

In conjunction with the 2013 Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks, the editors at Food52 put out a call for the community to review some cookbooks for their Community Picks portion of the fun and games. I ended up this this one: Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish by Jesse Griffiths.

Afield is part manifesto, part cookbook, and part coffee table book. And it is definitely not a book for people who want to believe that the meat they purchase comes - headless, legless - wrapped in cellophane at the grocery store and was never a living animal.

Broken down into ten chapters, Jesse guides the reader through prepping and cooking everything from snipes to wild boar and from crab to rabbit.  Each section includes step-by-step images of how-tos – pluck doves, clean catfish, filet flounder, pick crabs, field dress large game, butcher a deer – and a bevy of easy-to-follow recipes.

Given that my circle of friends includes hunters and fishermen, I often get emails with photos of successful kills held aloft next to proud grins. And I relish getting deliveries of homemade sausages, cuts of wild boar and venison, whole crabs, and more. But I have never had to deal with an entire animal, except for seafoods. So with Afield on my desk, and this review to pen, I made a few calls to get my hands on some wild boar and some fresh crabs.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Brookhouser
Brian, “the best killer in the family” according to my 9-yearold, took me to his game freezer; I toyed with making something with his wild boar sausages. But, in the end, I snagged a piece of wild boar backstrap and followed Jesse’s recipe for Wild Boar Rillettes. Before reading Afield, I had never heard of a rillettes, much less eaten one. Rillettes are savory meats or fish that have been braised or prepared as confit. As suggested, I served my rillettes with a hefty bread, grainy mustard, and homemade pickles. Jesse’s recipe was easy to do and resulted in a salty, creamy, satisfying dish.

Click for the Wild Boar Rillette recipe on my kitchen blog: 

Photo courtesy of Bret Boatman
Because my friend’s husband – my usual crab source – was out of town, she asked her co-worker if he would help me out. Bret called and hooked me up with two beauties that he had just pulled from Monterey Bay earlier in the day. Making a variation of Jesse’s Pasta with Crab, Basil, and Garlic was an easy dinner on a Sunday night. Well, easy for me. My husband had to pick the crabs clean which I really, really appreciated. I did pour him an oatmeal stout while he cracked and pulled.

The recipe was, as promised, a great way to stretch a few crabs into a filling dish with just a handful of other things. Jesse’s stories are written in a way that make you feel as if you have stepped into the scene. And his recipes, besides the fresh meat, utilize ingredients you have readily available in your pantry. Jody Horton’s accompanying photos are vivid; you feel as if you could reach right into the page and grab food from the plates.

Afield is an accessible, inspiring tome that helps you turn a carcass into a culinary masterpiece.

*Note: Several of us reviewed the same cookbooks. My review was, in the end, not used by Food52 during their Piglet.*

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Luscious, Romantic & Juicy {Photo Essay}

Tonight I celebrated Valentines' with my love at La Crème in Pacific Grove. Owner Tamie Aceves had invited me to come by, photograph, sip wines, and feast on Chef Jon Moser's culinary stylings. 

The dinner was, aptly titled: luscious, romantic, & juicy. Five courses. Five wines. Amazing! I'll post tasting notes later on my kitchen blog: Culinary Adventures with Camilla. For now, enjoy the photos...

and, if you celebrate...Happy Valentines' Day!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Fogline Farm {Photo Essay}

I had the absolute pleasure of being introduced to Fogline Farm today. Farmer Johnny Wilson gave us a tour of his farm - from the budding crops to the piglets and the hens. You'll hear more about Fogline from me soon...