Monday, November 22, 2010

'Tis the Season for Hot Buttered Rum

One of my Twitter pals recently was recommended a delightful remedy for a sore throat: Hot buttered rum. It's one of my favorite parts of chilly nights, and it's dead simple to make! The first thing to do is to make the hot buttered rum batter. All you need are:

1 stick butter, softened
1/2 pound dark brown sugar (or 1 cup plus a little extra if you don't feel like weighing it)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 pinch salt

Mix it all together well (the KitchenAid mixer for about 3 or 4 minutes on medium comes in handy here, but a wooden spoon and bowl will work too), and store it in the fridge. As far as I can tell, it keeps indefinitely; I've left a forgotten batch in the back of the fridge for over a year and it still tasted just fine.

Now that you have your batter, making the hot buttered rum itself goes much faster. Get out an Irish coffee glass or a favorite small coffee mug (8 ounces works pretty well). Add 1 ounce light rum, a generous teaspoonful of the hot buttered rum batter, and top up the mug with boiling hot water (the cold ingredients will bring it down to a drinkable temperature). Garnish with a cinnamon stick, and you're good to go. For bonus points at outdoor gatherings, have everything you need out near the fire (with hot water in a thermal carafe), and keep a poker in the fire. When you serve up a hot buttered rum, dip the poker in the finished drink to give it a little extra warmth. Naturally, if you do this, don't fill the cups all the way to the rim! The hot buttered rum batter is nicely versatile; most any dark spirit works well. Hot buttered Scotch or Bourbon are both very nice.

I feel somewhat compelled to mention: Be conservative with the booze for hot buttered rum. If you make big mugs of hot buttered rum, the second half of the drink will be Lukewarm Buttered Rum, something not nearly as enjoyable. Heat brings out alcohol flavors, and the rum will quickly dominate if you try to add more to a normal size drink. Most importantly, hot drinks are mighty potent relaxation devices, and you don't want your whole party to fall asleep.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Mailbag: Turkey Time!

Brenda from Utah sent via carrier pigeon this missive:

So what are your best tips for cooking Thanksgiving turkey? Nothing fancy, just flavorful and not dry.

The classic Thanksgiving dilemma. So many people eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and so rarely does it come out tasting as good as it looks. Good news: The secrets are simpler than you think.

The biggest thing for a moist bird: Don't overcook it. Most birds come with a little pop-up thermometer thingie. It's cute, but using it means that your turkey is going to suck. The pop-up thermometer goes off at 185°, guaranteeing breast meat as dry as chalk. Get a digital probe thermometer like the excellent ThermoWorks Cooking Thermometer and use that. The meat should register 160° in both the thigh and breast. Usually the breast meat races ahead of the thigh meat; you can mitigate this some by filling a gallon Ziploc bag with ice cubes and draping it over the breast for 20 minutes to half an hour while you heat up the oven. Also on this topic, as tasty as stuffing cooked inside the turkey is, cook the stuffing on the side. If you stuff the bird, the stuffing has to also hit 160°, and the turkey itself will be way overcooked by that point. If you insist on stuffing the bird, put it in a covered dish in the microwave, and zap it, stirring every couple of minutes, until the temperature of it is 130° throughout.

Second thing for a moist bird and biggest thing for a flavorful bird: Brining. Introducing salt to the meat will both keep the bird moist, and make it taste better. Most supermarket birds are already brined. There will be something on the label mentioning it, usually saying something like "Moisture enhanced with up to 10% of a solution". Don't brine these, you'll end up with a bird that is closer to a salt lick. Just take it out of its package the night before cooking and let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator so the skin can dry a little for crisper skin on the finished product. If your turkey has not been brined, then brining it will greatly improve it. Lots of people brine theirs by putting it in a salt water solution, but I find this to be a huge pain in the ass when doing it with something as big as a turkey. I prefer to use a method I do for roast chickens: dry brining. Just sprinkle salt (about 3/4 teaspoon per pound, be generous) and pepper all over the bird two or three days in advance, and let it rest covered loosely in the refrigerator. If you want, before sprinkling on the salt, loosen the skin on the breast and thighs, and slide a few sprigs of herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage, what have you) underneath.

Glad you asked, Brenda! Thank you!

If you have a cooking conundrum of your own, just drop me a line and I'll be glad to help you out.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Jester Eats Las Vegas: Part I

*taps the microphone* Er... is this thing on? OK, so I've been neglecting the blog in favor of Twitter lately. Then, recently, for no good reason, the visitors here doubled in a week. I'm not questioning it, just appreciative, so I might as well give you something new to read since I just got home from a wonderful trip to Las Vegas.

Things started out down in Tempe with a quick breakfast at the new version of Stan's Metro Deli on Mill, up on the north end of the street on a corner I swear is cursed. I've seen so many things come and go from there that I don't hold much faith anymore for whatever decides to go in on that corner. I think Stan's is going to do pretty well if breakfast is any indication. The kitchen was having some new restaurant teething issues; the food came out slower than we had hoped, but the manager handled the situation well by bringing out some complimentary fresh fruit for us to nibble on. I opted for the #2 "Bob Parks Gallery" omelet, stuffed with Cheddar, bacon, and green chiles. Once it came out, I had no complaints; it was a good solid omelet, with decent potatoes and a little more fruit to round out the plate. With our bellies full, we hopped into the Jestermobile and took off for Vegas.

One of my scheduled pit stops on the way to Vegas was beautiful downtown Wikieup, home of Eat At Joe's Barbecue, some of the finest barbecue this state has to offer. We were feeling only a little peckish, so the plan was to split something small and get back on the road. Alas, our pit stop was cut short by a dark restaurant and a sign in the window saying they were on vacation until well after we would return home. Heads hanging a little low, we hit the road cursing the lack of Mojave Greens on this trip.

Fast forward a few hours, and we were now in the heart of Las Vegas. After a quick run to Gambler's General Store to pick up some pai gow dominoes (a game I've taken quite a fascination with lately), we had gone from a bit peckish to absolutely famished. My usual plan when I hit Vegas is to make a beeline for one of the finest coffee shops in all the land, the Peppermill Restaurant. However, my stomach had other plans. You see, it had been over a year and a half since my previous Vegas vacation, and therefore it had been that long since I had the amazing Frrrozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity 3 at Caesars Palace. After a short wait for a table, we got ourselves a table on the patio overlooking the Strip, giving us the perfect vantage point to play Thong/Not A Thong/Not A Thing with the passersby below. Thanks to a Foursquare check-in, we got a couple of $4 welcome blueberry martinis, which were a tad on the sweet side and tasted more of generic berry than specifically blueberries. I was a bit disappointed that management had trimmed some of the more fun stuff from the menu, such as the Macaroni & Cheese Pizza I had last time (they still serve mac & cheese, how hard would it be to throw it on a pizza crust?) and the infamous Bachelorette Hot Dog. The Frrrozen Hot Chocolate tasted as good as it did last time, but it wasn't blended long enough, and chunks of ice that got stuck in the straw marred the texture of the drink. My friend Scott went for the ABC burger, where the ABC stood for Avocado, Brie, and Caramelized onion, served with sweet potato fries. I had heard good things about their Caesar salad, so we decided to split both the burger and the salad. After a bit more of a wait than I would have liked (apparently the management's efforts to streamline the kitchen didn't go as planned), the food hit the table, and it was good. The burger had some stiff competition from Burger Bar down at Mandalay, and as I figured, Burger Bar is still my champion for Las Vegas burgers. The one here was good, don't get me wrong, but Burger Bar just plain nails it. I think that the brie was somewhat misplaced, here more for its initial than anything else. The Caesar salad was a good textbook Caesar, with plenty of croutons (pity they were the standard boxed ones) and Parmesan shavings to accent the assertive dressing. Part of the allure of the Caesar is that it comes with a giant crouton almost the size of a Rubik's cube. Well, it at least looks like a crouton; it was more of a piece of very thick extra-crispy garlic toast. I think the next time I'm in Vegas, I'll take a look to see if they've brought any of the fun dishes back to the menu before I sit down. If they haven't, I'll take my Frrrozen Hot Chocolate to go.