Tag Archive: Spirits

How Do You Like Dem Apples?

Outlet Radio Network
November 19, 2004

How Do You Like Dem Apples?

Just a short column to let you all know I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. Being in the food and wine biz this time of year gets a bit crazed. Out in the non-electronic world I’ve gotten several requests recently for good old-fashioned apple pie. Things like “what’s the world’s most amazing apple pie recipe?” and other easy demands to respond to like that.

Well, I’ll tell you. I haven’t a clue. There are probably a gazillion recipes out there for apple pies, and I’ve only tried a few of them. Truthfully, I tend to go about as simple as I can when I make an apple pie, which isn’t very often. You can use something basic from the Time-Life Good Cook series, or that long-famed kitchen staple, The Joy of Cooking. Or your mother’s recipe. Hey, if you think you’ve got the world’s best apple pie recipe, I’d love to hear about it and try it out.

What I do make pretty regularly with apples is an old Ukranian-Belarusian (somewhere out there) sort of apple pie-cake-crumbly kinda thingie. The recipe isn’t my own and it’s been reproduced in Eastern European cookbooks for eons, but damned if it isn’t really easy and really good! It’s usually referred to as something like “Guest at the Door Apple Cake”, for reasons that should be apparent from the name.

This comes out best if you use a 9″ springform pan, but any deep dish pie, tart, or cake pan will do. You can even do this in a cast iron skillet if you want!

Butter the inside of the pan and sprinkle with bread crumbs or flour to prevent the cake from sticking. Preheat oven to 350F.

Take six large, tart apples and peel, core, quarter and then slice them. Toss the apple segments with a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Put them in the buttered pan.

In a mixing bowl, whisk or beat together 3 large eggs and just under a cup of sugar (don’t ask me why, but a full cup makes it too sweet, so take out a heaping spoonful). Beat this until it is pale yellow and forms a ribbon when your whisk or beaters are lifted.

By the way, what that means is… if you lift the egg beater, or electric mixer, or hand whisk out of the mixture, it kind of drizzles off and leaves a ribbony looking trail that takes a moment or two to sink in, rather than just streaming off and disappearing into the bowl.

Gradually beat in one and a half cups of all purpose flour. The batter will get pretty thick. Pour the batter relatively evenly over the apples. Bake until it turns puffy and golden colored, about 50-60 minutes, depending on your oven, the pan, etc. Let cool for a little and serve with whatever you like to serve on appley things – whipped cream, ice cream…

On other apple topics, since I promised I’d throw in some booze sort of tasting notes, some drinking thoughts:

Apple cider. Not the stuff in big gallon jugs that’s brown and filled with sediment from apples and your parents made you and all that…

Traditional French, English or American (they’re the only ones I know who make the stuff) alcohol-type apple cider. There are lots of producers out there of these. Two favorites:

Farnum Hill apple ciders, from Lebanon, New Hampshire. Made in relatively dry styles, these, to me, taste like very delicately apple scented light beers. They are quite yummy, and well worth checking out. Farnum Hill distributes primarily in the northeast U.S., but you can hit their website at www.farnumhillciders.com and who knows, maybe you can score some!

Eric Bordelet produces amazing apple and pear ciders in France. They range from relatively dry to relatively sweet. My faves are the Argelette for the apple and the Granit for the pear, but they’re all worth seeking out and trying. Once you taste these you’ll be hooked!

I’m also a huge fan of calvados. This is brandy made from apple and pear wine rather than grape wine. You get all that warming fire that is what good brandy is all about, with a delicious touch of apple fruit. Not sweet! My favorite producer is Christian Drouhin who makes a regular “Selection” calvados and stunningly good vintage calvados under the Coeur du Lion label. The vintage ones make great gifts!

I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.


Pop My Cherry

Outlet Radio Network
October 13, 2004

Pop My Cherry

Sorry, that was just to get your attention.

I’m on a bit of a mission. It’s somewhat casual, I can’t say I’m devoting a huge amount of time to it. But nonetheless, it’s a mission. I want to bring back the popularity of Maraschino. The liqueur, not the cherry. In fact, I find no excuse for the cherry.

That’s not entirely true. There is an excuse for the cherry, but that’s all it is, an excuse. Originally, maraschino cherries were made from various wild European sour cherries. They were steeped in Maraschino liqueur for days on end, much like brandied cherries are now. Packed in jars, they were shipped off to the wilds of gay Paree, where, in the late nineteenth century, they were all the rage.

Then came Prohibition. Another example of our country carrying a joke too far, something, as I keep reminding you, we’re quite good at. Somehow these wonderful, wild, sour, European cherries that had spent their days lazily floating about in liqueur were converted into what is, simply, an abomination. Some minion of evil, unknown to me, took sweet cherries, pickled them overnight in salt, sugar and alum to bleach them, then soaked them in red food coloring and a sugar solution to produce the vivid vermillion balls we now find sunken in our drinks. So that’s the excuse.

To finish off with the cherries themselves. Try making your drinks with brandied cherries, which are readily available in fine food shops. You’ll be surprised at how much more interesting they are. Even better, if you’re making drinks at home, make your own. It’s not that hard to put a bunch of cherries in a jar and fill it with brandy… or better yet, the original, Maraschino liqueur, and let them soak for a few weeks.

Which brings us back to my mission. It was a serendipitous find, this liqueur. Well, sort of. You see, I was reading a novel of historical fiction – a fascinating book, Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. The details of the book are irrelevant, but there was a passage in the book where two of the characters pop open a tin of caviar. A discussion ensues in which one asserts that the typical vodka or champagne accompaniments are just plain wrong, and that the original drink that the czars of Russia imbibed with good caviar, was a good shot of chilled Maraschino.

I had to try it. My friends and I were stunned at how well the two went together. The slightly bitter, slightly sweet, intensely cherry flavored liqueur balanced perfectly against the briny, crunchy sturgeon roe. It was a match made in heaven. Not that I eat much in the way of caviar on my budget, but I doubt I’ll ever have anything else with caviar again.

Which led me to explore this liqueur. Again, once wildly popular, it has for the most part become one of those bottles on the back bar, or even hidden away, or even non-existent, at most drinking establishments. To the best of my knowledge only two brands are currently imported to the United States, though they are by no means the only ones made. Luxardo and Stock. The former is probably the most recognizable – coming in a thin green glass bottle, the lower two-thirds covered in wicker. The Stock is slightly sweeter, and has a less interesting bottle. The Luxardo has a touch more of that bitter note.

Maraschino is a clear liqueur made from marasca cherries. These are grown throughout the Dalmatian coast area, i.e., Croatia and Istria. The liqueur is made from both the juice of the cherries and the essence of the crushed cherry pits, which is where the hint of bitterness comes from.

There are dozens upon dozens of old cocktail recipes (and here and there new ones) that make use of this spirit. Any good bar book will direct you to several, the top bartending websites like Webtender and DrinksMixer list, respectively, 49 and 117 cocktail recipes that make use of it. I recommend it. I urge you to try it. Oh just go out and buy a bottle, throw it in the freezer, buy a tin of good caviar, and serve shots alongside. You won’t be disappointed.


2 ounces of dry gin
½ ounce of dry vermouth
2 dashes of bitters
½ ounce of Maraschino

Shake these ingredients with ice. Strain into a martini glass where you will delight to the beautiful soft peach color. Garnish with a proper cocktail cherry, i.e., either a homemade Maraschino cherry as discussed above, or a brandied cherry.

Wine picks for this column:

Cantina Nalles & Magre Niclara Pinot Bianco, 2003

Pinot Bianco, or Pinot Blanc, is one of my favorite white grapes. In the hands of a skilled winemaker it somehow seems to combine the steeliness and dryness of a good Pinot Grigio with the delicious aromatics of a Pinot Noir. Not surprising, since all three come from the same family of grapes. This is one of those delicious examples. My only disappointment – the wine in former vintages used to come in a bottle with a beautiful label adorned with a Venetian print, and was called “Lucia”. Now it comes with a somewhat ordinary label with a little countryside scene, reminiscent of a dozen other producers’ wines from the Alto Adige area of Italy. Still, the wine is a find. Pair this up with spicy preparations of seafood, vegetarian dishes or lighter meats. From Village Wine Imports, 212-673-1056. Around $10.

El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa, 2002

Spain, and the Navarra area in particular, is the current source of many of the new, hot wines hitting the market these days. It is worth your time and effort to explore as many of these as you can. This particular gem has been a favorite vintage after vintage, and the new release of the 2002 is no exception. Made from old vine Garnacha (Grenache) grapes, this is a concentrated flavors of raspberries and slightly sour cherries, peppery, simply stunning glass of wine. This is a great wine to go with grilled and smoked foods, or just to have on its own. From Jorge Ordonez’ Fine Estates from Spain, 781-461-5767. Around $12.

I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.


South Beach Cosmo

Outlet Radio Network
August 9, 2004

South Beach Cosmo

Never let it be said that we Americans don’t know how to carry a good joke just a little too far. My current fave for “okay, enough already” is the low-carb diet craze. Atkins or South Beach or whomever else has popped onto the radar, let’s stop the insanity!

Though not carb-related, it first struck me when I picked up a carton of Tropicana OJ and noticed that the label now proclaims that it is Cholesterol Free! And Lactose Free! Yes, I was quite worried about all the animal fat and dairy in Florida oranges. Okay, it’s just marketing for the masses, but…

It came up again in the wine shop. Someone came in and asked to be directed to the low-carb vodkas. Someone else asked about the low-carb wines. Then in a bar someone ordered a cosmo made with low-carb vodka.

Let me set the record more or less straight…

Here are the raw numbers: Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram; Fats have 9 calories per gram; Proteins have 4 calories per gram; and Alcohol has 7 calories per gram.

A standard five-ounce glass of wine has approximately 100 calories, of which roughly 90 calories come from the alcohol. The rest comes from, yes, Carbohydrates – a whole 2-3 grams of them. (Actually, to be technical, they are Carbohydrate Equivalents – there are really less than 1 gram of true carbohydrates in a glass of wine.) The new “low-Carbohydrate” wines are reduced to an amazing 1.6 to 1.9 grams, cutting the Carbohydrate calories by approximately one-third!

The wine still has almost 95 calories.

Straight spirits, i.e., vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and whiskey, have zero carbohydrates. Yes, zero. Always have, currently do, probably always will. So a “no-carb” vodka on the shelf for twice the price of your current favorite brand? Totally marketing hype.

And that cosmo? The carbohydrates come from where? Oh yeah, the cranberry juice, the triple sec (sugary orange liqueur), even the lime juice! Not the vodka. No carbs to cut. And the only way to lower the calories in spirits is to lower the alcohol content.

Oh, and a final point… All those low-carb diets tell you not to drink alcohol during the initial phase, and then limited quantities in the later phases. Why? Not because they have carbs. Because they screw with your blood chemistry and tend to induce you to eat more.

Gin & Tonic please? Hold the lime, I’m watching my carbs…

I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.


Blue, Blue, My World is Blue

Outlet Radio Network
June 2004

Blue, Blue, My World is Blue

They fight aging, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s, they fight bad cholesterol, infection, cure the common cough, prevent blindness (and improve night vision) and strokes, improve your motor skills, and improve your memory. In fact, if I’m reading the USDA’s study correctly, they apparently helped laboratory mice remember just where they left their car keys. Bears will travel fifteen miles on an empty stomach just to find them.

You can eat them. They have vitamins, fiber, and free-radical antioxidants. They are not, however, a cure-all, I found no listings for eliminating hang-nails, regrowing hair, or making your teeth whiter. They are low in carbohydrates, and approved, I believe, by all appropriate low-carb diet plans – since all of us are on one of those these days. They are, by the way, blue.

Blueberries in fact.

There are entire websites devoted to them. “Googling” on the health benefits of blueberries yields up a serving of over 26,000 websites. Blueberries all by their lonesome manage nearly half a million sites. According to these various sites, blueberries are the oldest known plant still living, with evidence of their existence from over 13,000 years ago! They are one of the few native foods indigenous to North America, or so these websites proclaim. In fact, they are so All-American that when they first appear on their bush, they are white, then turn red, and finally blue!

E-Bay, as of today, has 1145 blueberry related items for sale (well, okay, a few of those are Macintosh computers in blueberry color, but…)

The Maine Wild Blueberry Association is sponsoring research into Blueberry Burgers.

They come in lowbush and highbush varieties, they are known by aliases such as Bilberries, Whortleberries, and Hurtleberries. They are not, however, and this is emphasized in many places, the same thing as Huckleberries. Confusing the two is apparently a major Berry Faux-Pas. They are the state berry of the state of Maine. And, for nearly two centuries, there has been a special tool, the Blueberry Rake, dedicated to their harvest.

Next month, July, will be the fifth annual National Blueberry Month. Really and truly.

In preparation for the festivities, my team and I set out to provide you with all the tools you need to make sure you can have the best of the summer blueberry soirees.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

Let’s face it, most of us only eat blueberries in muffins, so we had to start there. These are not your average, day-to-day, blueberry muffins. These will bring tears to your eyes. And your car keys will magically appear in your hand immediately after consuming one.

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon salt
3 large eggs, beaten
3 cups milk
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup molasses
1 cup melted shortening or butter
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Take about a tablespoon of the flour and toss the blueberries in them to lightly coat, this will help prevent them all sinking to the bottom of your muffins as they bake. Sift together the dry ingredients, and in a separate bowl, combine the wet ones. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, and then stir in the blueberries. Grease a muffin tin and divide the muffin mixture evenly. Bake at 400F for 25 minutes. Makes 12 large muffins.

Savory Blueberry Sauce

Anyone can open a can of sweetened blueberry sauce to pour over cheesecake, onto blintzes, or just to eat with a big spoon. We wanted a sauce that could be used for savory dishes – a delicious fruit sauce for meats – game, ham, turkey, use your imagination!

2 tablespoons chopped shallots or onions
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
½ cup dry red wine
½ cup water
1 pint of fresh blueberries

Saute shallots in butter in small saucepan. Add flour, thyme and rosemary, cook and stir until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Add wine and water and stir in the blueberries. Cook and stir until mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes until it thickens.

Makes 2 cups.

Our last task was to set out to explore the world of Blueberry Spirits. Nothing you might worship, light incense for, or perform any particular rituals on behalf of. Wine and liqueur. There is a thriving industry in the production of Blueberry Wine, and a fair amount in world of sweet cordials. They are not always easy to find unless you live in a Blueberry-centric part of the world, but we managed to scrounge up a few to taste and review.

I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.


The Ultimate Cocktail Party

Q San Francisco
July 2002
Pages 46-47

the ultimate COCKTAIL PARTY

Sean_Connery_James_2362858aIn my mind, the ultimate cocktail party is one straight out of a James Bond film. (Points here if you can name all seven actors who’ve played the part – without doing an internet search.) The parties are all similar: a classy locale, lots of martinis, champagne and caviar, good music, and interesting people. Party crashers, like James himself, who was virtually never an invited guest, are always welcome and treated well. Preferably, they wouldn’t beat up the hosts or other guests looking for information about diamond shipments, moon rockets, or nuclear submarines.

Key to all of the planning, and a successful party, is inviting interesting people. Virtually all else can be forgiven if your guests can enjoy themselves with each other. And unless you’re looking to have your furniture dismantled, don’t invite those two ex-lovers who go straight for the jugular on sight. It may be amusing for a few minutes in some warped world, but it gets tired quickly. A mix of people from different walks of life keeps the conversation lively. If you just invite a group of people from your own industry, everyone just talks about work.

Next, the venue. Most of the time that means our apartments, houses, or a friend’s apartment or house. All well and good, but make it look different from the way you live in it day to day. A little thought to decor, lighting, flowers, maybe rearranging your furniture for the evening, all go to make the space seem special.

Music should be picked to fit the event. Do you want people dancing? Do you want them lying about on couches? Either way, keep in mind that the primary function of the evening is a chance for people to socialize. If they have to shout just to be heard two feet away, you’re playing the Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” too loud.

Now, on to my favorite topic: food and wine. Since we’re thinking 007, the food is caviar. First, let’s have a little primer on fish eggs. Only sturgeon eggs (roe) may be labeled caviar, a word derived from the Turkish havyar,which means “egg.” The sturgeon is an ugly, toothless, bony-plated, cartilaginous fish that can live over a century and weigh more than a ton. Among the couple dozen sturgeon species in the world, those that really matter to caviar are found in the Caspian Sea, which borders Iran on the south and Russia and Kazakhstan on the north.

Back in the thirteenth century, when the Russians first made caviar, they named the biggest of their sturgeon beluga; the middle-size, osetra; and the smallest, sevruga. The fourth, the sterlet, produces “golden” caviar, and is so rare that only those of you with unlimited expense accounts need look for it.

Caviar should be served with a minimum of accompaniments. Toast points, blini (little pancakes), or thinly sliced cooked potatoes are traditional. All that chopped egg, onion, chives, sour cream garnishment is so I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-serving. The idea is to savor the flavor of the roe as they gently pop in your mouth, not turn them into a sideshow ingredient. Oh, and don’t use a metal spoon to serve the caviar, it changes the flavor.

At anywhere from $25 to $75 an ounce, there’s no question that caviar is expensive, but remember, we’re putting together a cocktail partyto entertain James Bond aficionados and the jet set.

There are three classic drinks to serve alongside your caviar sampler: black tea, iced vodka, and champagne. I will add a fourth, premium saké. For this column, and the throwing of cocktail parties, I will not delve into the riches of tea leaves and brewing. However, if you have the sort of friends who appreciate fine teas you may want to provide your guests with a diversified selection from around the world.

Every time I turn around there seems to be a new premium vodka on the market. The latest trend seems to be to package them in a bottle that in some way resembles an old apothecary bottle (Ultimat and Precis immediately leap to mind). My current faves for iced shots, are Van Hoo and Mor. For those of you who simply must have flavored vodkas, check out the line from Charbay here in the good old U.S. of A. For our caviar party, perhaps stick with the Meyer lemon or blood orange flavors.

Each time champagne comes up in this column I inevitably turn to my classic favorites, Krug or Demoiselle Cuvée 21. Given that we’re splurging on the caviar, why not? For some interesting other selections, and certainly a little easier on our already stretched wallet, try Laurent Perrier Brut L.P., Larmandier-Bernier Blanc de Blancs, or the newly introduced Iron Horse Vineyards “Good Luck Cuvée”.

When it comes to saké, it is important to choose your selections carefully. First, we’re not talking about that hot swill served at your local sushi bar. Most of that is the equivalent of wine-in-a-box, and often comes in that form. It is heated to disguise the fact that it is basically undrinkable. There are some premium sakés that are made to be heated, but trust me, those aren’t the ones you’re getting for under $10 a flask.

Good quality saké is made to be served at room temperature or slightly chilled. It comes in grades that can set you back anywhere from twenty to several hundred dollars a bottle. For our fantasy cocktail party here, go for a “daiginjo” saké, which, for practical purposes, is the upper level. A list of some of my favorite daiginjos includes Tsukasabotan “Shizuku”, Fukucho “Moon on the Water”, Masumi “Sanka” (nothing to do with decaffeinated coffee), Takatenjin “Shrine of the Village”, and, if you really want to splurge, Otokoyama.

With everything arranged as outlined above, you’re sure to have a party your friends will be talking about for months to come. However, if you want to really have a true 007 experience, consider asking your guests to come attired as one of their favorite James Bond characters. I for one can never get enough of Pussy Galore, Honey Ryder, Rosa Kleb, Jaws and Oddjob.

Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.


Throwing the Perfect Oscar Night Party

Q San Francisco
March 2001
Pages 56-57

Throwing the Perfect Oscar Night Party

martiniglassI have never been nominated for an Academy Award. I’m informed by friends in the know that this relates to my not having acted since a production of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in fourth grade. I narrated; Brilliantly, I might add. Regardless, I don’t find myself in possession of one of those golden statuettes, affectionately dubbed “Oscar”. Hollywood’s most enduring symbol of achievement was described by screenwriter Francis Marion as “the ideal symbol… an athletic body… with half its head, that part which held his brains, completely sliced off.” At 13-1/2 inches high it would be just perfect as a centerpiece on my dining table.

The true purpose of the Academy Awards, for those of us living in the forgotten fringe of theater stardom, is to see and be seen. It is far more important to be seen IN an Oscar de la Renta than WITH an Oscar de la Statue. The golden boy on your arm should be slightly more pliable than cast metal, and preferably earning his own paycheck.

In this regard, it is truly the Oscar Party that is more important than the awards ceremony. Who’s at the Governor’s Ball? Who’s at Spago? Who’s at Pagani? Who’s with whom? I might note, nobody’s asking, “what did they eat?” Lets face it, more than one salmon canapé and they’ll start popping out of their Cynthia Rowley gowns. Wolfgang Puck may have roasted his chicken breasts with risotto and black truffles, but it didn’t make the front page. As long as there’s champagne and cocktails, everyone’s happy. Not me. Personally, I can’t tell the difference between a Vera Wang and a Vera Charles; But I’ll whip up a Snapper Veracruz or a Pasta PrimaVera faster than you can fasten your seatbelts. There may be no statuette on my sideboard, but I can put a Veal Oscar in front of you that’ll make you forget about Cher’s new dress.

To throw a fab Oscar party begin by inviting those friends you can make catty comments about the movies with, get a big screen TV, and set up the dining table where you can watch the whole thing while you wine and dine. Also, bring out the good crystal, china and silver service – let’s do this right!


Start the night off by preparing “real” cocktails, not cosmos and apple-tinis and woo-woos. If you must drink those, please do it in secret. Martinis and Manhattans are perfect for this sort of party; simple, elegant drinks. A couple of notes about Martinis: First, they involve two ingredients, either gin and vermouth or vodka and vermouth. Looking at the vermouth bottle does not constitute making it an ingredient – that’s a glass of vodka or gin, up. I know we’ve all been raised to think a dry martini doesn’t contain the stuff – it does – just less of it. The original martini was 1/3 vermouth. A dry one should be about 1/8. Try it, you might find out that a martini is actually capable of having flavor. Also, let’s put one fallacy to rest her and now, gin doesn’t bruise. You can shake or stir to your heart’s content. The only thing that shaking does is dilute the gin (or vodka). The same will happen if you stir too long.

When it comes to preparing cocktails, always use good quality ingredients. My current faves for vodka: Mor, Van Hoo, and Rain. Save the more commercial brands, albeit good, for cocktails where the other ingredients are providing the flavor. For gins: Old Raj, Tanqueray #10, and Junipero. Noilly Prat makes a good, basic dry vermouth, but you might try one of the new, interesting brands like King Eider or Vya.

In my book, Manhattans contain bitters. Just a couple drops, but like the vermouth in a Martini, they add to the complexity. A Manhattan is also classically made with rye whiskey. Bourbon makes a good drink as well, but for a change of pace, why not try the original?

Again, good quality ingredients are key. For rye, Canadian Club Classic (12 year old) makes a great drink. My favorite, Van Winkle Family Reserve (13 year old). For sweet vermouth I prefer Martini & Rossi. Also give a look at Vya, which makes a unique style.


Veal Oscar

The classic Veal Oscar is a cutlet of veal topped with white asparagus, crabmeat, and Bearnaise sauce. With a little inspiration from a chef friend, here’s my, slightly different, version. Serves six.

6 thin veal cutlets
1 package of “dashi” flakes (about 5 grams)
3 sheets of “nori”
freshly ground black pepper
3 dozen asparagus spears
1 pound lump crabmeat
½ cup rice flour
2 eggs
1/4 cup cooking oil

juice of two lemons
3 tablespoons stone-ground mustard
2 egg yolks
1 cup olive oil
1 branch of fresh tarragon leaves

Dashi flakes are dried, shaved bonito (a tuna relative) that are used to make broth. Nori sheets are the large green seaweed squares used in making sushi. Both should be available at a good grocery or certainly at any Japanese market.

You will need two small plates and a bowl to prepare. On one plate put the rice flour, on the other, a finely processed (in your food processor) mix of the dashi and nori. In the bowl, lightly beat the two eggs with a couple spoonfuls of water. Season the cutlets with salt and pepper. Coat in the flour, dip in the egg wash, and then coat well with the dashi/nori mix.

Saute in the oil in a large skillet until golden brown on both sides. Place on a warm platter in the oven to hold until ready to serve. Meanwhile, cook your asparagus in just a little water and butter until tender. Season with salt and pepper and reserve on the side.

In your blender, on fairly high speed, whip together the mustard, lemon juice and egg yolks. Gradually add the olive oil – you are basically making a light mayonnaise. At the last moment, drop in the tarragon leaves (not the branch) and process till finely chopped.

In a small pan, warm the crabmeat and when it is hot, stir in enough of the sauce to thoroughly coat the crab. Remove from the heat.

To serve, place a cutlet on each plate, decoratively arrange a half dozen asparagus spears, and top with a good dollop of the crabmeat mixture. Pop a bottle of champagne, or pour another round of cocktails, and seal your bets on Best Picture with a toast.

Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.


The Perfect Cocktail Party

Q San Francisco
November 2000
Pages 60-61

The Perfect Cocktail Party

greenoliveEver since seeing Mame for the first time, I’ve wanted to through lavish, unconventional cocktail parties. What could be more fun than having your apartment completely redecorated every couple of weeks, inviting scads of the most interesting people to come “in-theme,” and serving up the best cocktails, the finest wines, and food that amazes one and all?

I recently had the opportunity to attend a theme party where the hosts had the wherewithal (I love that word! I’m not broke, I just don’t have any wherewithal…) to do up an Arabian Nights theme. To paraphrase my favorite golden girl, “Picture this, Long Island, September 2000…”

The hundred guests were put up in a local hotel, at the hosts’ expense. We were picked up and driven to their home, where we were deposited at the end of a long, paving-stone drive. The drive was lined with boys. Each was wearing nothing but harem pants and holding a large torch, held jutting forth from, well, an appropriate spot to jut forth from. We walked the drive doing the Madeleine Kahn thing, “no, no, yes, no, yes, yes…”

At the end of the drive were the elephant and camel, available for rides. We veered right into the courtyard where we were entertained for an hour or so by fortune tellers, belly dancers, boys and girls in various revealing costumes, cocktails, wine and canapes. Dinner was held in a tent in the backyard – complete with seating for the hundred plus guests, a dance floor, a stage (upon which performed, at various times, more dancers, a band, singers, and a stand-up comic).

When the hosts decided it was time to end the party, they played “Last Dance”, announced that our rides were awaiting at the other end of the drive…and, well, it was over. Now that’s the way to run a party. I just need a little more wherewithal.

I’m going to leave the redecorating to your own imaginations, the invitations for the amusing and facile as well. Food and wine, I can help with. Of course, I don’t know what theme you’ll pick, but at least I can offer a guide to my last theme party – I decided on turning my apartment into a Spanish tapas bar.

Tapas bars, as you may or may not know, are delightful places that Spaniards frequent as a prelude to dining. Starting at an appropriate point in mid-evening, you gather with friends and nibble on various tidbits while consuming a glass or two of sherry, wine or a cocktail. Generally you stand and imbibe, then move your cadre on to your next favorite spot. For my party, I send invitations to forty of my dearest friends and received 70 RSVPs! I have a six-hundred square foot studio apartment. Standing room was the perfect approach. I moved all furniture off to the sides except the dining table. My desk became the wine bar – both were draped in some sort of Spanish looking tablecloth.

I bought olives. Lots of olives. I bought serrano ham, chorizos and other appropriate charcuterie. I bought wine – sparkling, white, red, and sherry. All Spanish of course. Then I had to cook. Two dishes became the hits of the evening, prawns with garlic, and my romesco sauce with grilled veggies and bread to dip in it.

Prawns with Garlic

To serve 10 as a tapas

1/2 cup of olive oil
5 dozen decent sized shrimp (shells and head-on preferred)
2 teaspoons salt
1 head of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 cups of light, dry sherry
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, minced

Unless you have a huge skillet, you’ll need to split this in a couple of batches. Heat the oil until it is quite hot. Add the shrimp and salt and stir-fry for a minute. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook until the shrimp are nice and pink. Add the sherry and cook until it the sauce thickens slightly. Toss in the parsley and serve immediately. It’s best to leave the shells on the shrimp as they add flavor, and make it more fun for the guests to peel their own (or eat, shell and all, which is quite do-able).

Grilled Veggies, Bread & Romesco Sauce

2 japanese eggplants, sliced
2 zucchini, sliced
2 yellow squash, sliced
2 red bell peppers, cut in strips
1 bunch asparagus, pared of any tough ends
1 loaf crusty white bread, sliced (reserve the ends)
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

A stove-top grill works fine for this dish. Brush the veggies with olive oil, salt and pepper them to taste, and grill until done. Drain and serve on platters with Romesco sauce.

1 cup almonds
Bread loaf ends (each about 1 to 1-1/2″ thick)
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded & chopped
6 tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
2 cups olive oil
1 cup sherry vinegar

Toast the almonds, bread and garlic cloves in a 400F oven for 10-15 minutes till lightly browned. Put the bread and almonds in a food processor and process until finely ground. Peel the garlic cloves and add to processor with tomatoes, peppers, and seasonings. Process until smooth. Gradually add the olive oil and then the vinegar while processing. You should end up with about five cups of a thick, smooth sauce that is perfect for dipping the grilled veggies and bread in.

Your beverage choices are, again, going to be determined by the theme of the evening. As an accompaniment to my tapas dinner, I had a selection of dry sherries, cava (Spanish sparkling wine), white and red wines, and then after dinner drinks to go with the later desserts.

For dry sherry, I recommend one good manzanilla, like the Hijos de Rainera Perez Marin “La Guita” and perhaps a nice amontillado, E. Lustau “Los Arcos” would be excellent choices. Cava, the premier Spanish sparkling wine is generally light, crisp and delicate, generally from the Penedes region. Wonderful selections can be had from Juan-Esteve Avinyo-Nadal, Castillo Perelada and Jaume Serra.

A good white wine choice would be an Albariño from the north of Spain. Personal favorites include Martin Codax, Lagar de Cervera, and Fillaboa. You might consider a rosé, as Spain makes some excellent ones. Best choices include Muga and Conde de Valdemar. And for a red, the classic Spanish grape Tempranillo makes a winning evening – try Sierra Cantabria or El Coto Riojas, especially the latter’s Coto de Imaz Reserva, or any of the wines from the Abadia Retuerta winery.

You can finish with a selection of Pedro Ximenez based dessert wines – my current favorite, and a great value, the Alvear “Solera Diego Abuela No. 27” from Montilla-Moriles. A nice Spanish brandy for those who like a little after-dinner fire – Gran Duque d’Alba or Cardenal Mendoza would be great choices.

Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.


Holiday Spirits

Q San Francisco
November 1999
Pages 52-53

Holiday Spirits

“He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure,’ said Fred,’ and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health. Here is a glass of mulled wine ready to our hand at the moment; and I say, “Uncle Scrooge.”‘ Admittedly, Uncle Scrooge had his own experiences of holiday spirits to deal with. In my mind, his nephew Fred had a much better approach. Holidays have traditionally been times to celebrate with a wide variety of spirits. As children, we waited eagerly for our gaily wrapped packages (in my family no trees were involved, we had a train made out of large foil wrapped cardboard boxes – each car of the train containing the Chanukah gifts for one member of the family).

With just as much anticipation we awaited the annual chance to have just a little bit of rum in our eggnog. Friends down the block got to sample a small taste of that year’s Christmas punch. A few weeks earlier we had fallen over ourselves to get a medicine cup sized glass of port with our thanksgiving pumpkin pie. At New Year’s Eve? Just a taste of delightfully bubbly champagne. Why, for some youngsters, this was more alcohol in a few dozen days than the entire rest of the year put together!

It has been tradition for centuries to serve some form of a punch or flavored wine through the wintery holiday season. That tradition is often lost as we explore our way through wine auction purchases, the latest California cult sampling, or wax philosophically at some single malt scotch. At best, we might find ourselves pulling out a bottle of a particularly favored brandy that we’ve saved for just such a special occasion.

I say it is time to bring back the punch, the grög, the mulled wine, the bishop…

Many a century ago, there was the “punch” – a British colonial drink made from tea, spices, sugar and fruit and spiked with rum. The term came from the Hindustani word pānch, meaning “five”, and tradition has it that a punch should contain the five above listed ingredients. The French came up with their own version: less tea, and brandy substituting for the rum. In fact, until the 1830s, rum was banned in France in order to avoid commercial competition with locally produced brandies. Perhaps the most traditional of the punches is the marquise punch, which I recommend highly.


1 bottle of sauternes
½ cup of sugar
peel of 1 lemon
3 cloves
1 cup brandy or white rum

Heat all the ingredients except the brandy together until a fine foam appears on the surface and it seems just about ready to boil. Stir to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Pour through a strainer (to remove the peel and cloves) into your warmed punch bowl. Gently warm the brandy in a saucepan and then light. Pour while still flaming into the punch. Do this while your guests are present so that they can “ooh” and “aah” appropriately.

I have no doubt that someone will insist on making grög, that old tradition of the British navy. While perfectly nice, it is a simple warming together of rum, honey, lemon peel and diluted with water in order to stretch the seamen’s rations of rum. Play, experiment, come up with your own version.

Having mentioned it, it is probably incumbent on me to explain the “bishop”. An ancient drink, it is made by heating claret (red Bordeaux) or port with orange peel and cinnamon. Alternate versions use red Rhine wines (a “cardinal”) or white tokay (a “pope”); all basically refer to the color of the drink versus the color of the robes…you get the idea. The most interesting recipe I’ve found for this drink is called the “English Bishop”.


1 bottle of red port (not tawny)
1 orange
1 handful of cloves
¼ cup of brown sugar
1 cup of cognac

Take the orange and stick all the cloves in it so that it is as well studded as a leather boy at the spike… Dip it in a little of the cognac, just enough to wet it thoroughly, then roll it in the brown sugar till well coated. Brown on all sides under a broiler, or held on a skewer over a flame, until the sugar is nicely caramelized. Cut in quarters, drop it in a saucepan with the port, cover tightly and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add half the remaining cognac just before pouring into mugs. Float a tablespoon of cognac on top of each mug, light and serve to “oohs” and “aahs.”

There are probably as many recipes for mulled wines as there are places that get cold. The most unusual I’ve seen comes from Wular Lake in the old British Indian state of Kashmir, a long disputed area between India, Tibet, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It sounds quite odd, and is quite delicious.


2 bottles of red burgundy
2 limes, cut in thin slices and seeded
½ banana, sliced
2 cinnamon sticks
12 cloves
6 allspice berries
1 cup dark rum
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup club soda

Tie the slices of fruit together with the spices in a small cheesecloth bag or wrap. Put with the wine in a large pot, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 8-9 minutes, but not longer or the banana will get pulpy and cloud the drink. Remove the cheesecloth package and discard. Add the rum and sugar and stir to dissolve. Top off with the club soda and serve immediately while still foaming. Garnish, if you like, with a curl of lime peel.

Without question, if you whip up a truly delightful holiday punch, your friends will beg for your recipes. So what if they normally drink vodka-tonics throughout? It’s the holiday season, and for no other reason we should come together around the punch bowl and try something arguably seasonal and tasty!

Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.