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St. Patrick’s Day Favorite: Dublin Coddle

img_20160317_142528.jpgDublin Coddle – a nourishing stew of sausage, potatoes, and bacon to warm you up.

I was looking for a new dish to try this St. Patrick’s Day, having thoroughly exhausted my usual corned beef hash in years past. Flipping through The Irish Pub, a relatively lightweight cookbook I found during the Borders bookstore liquidation, I came upon a recipe for Dublin Coddle, which sounded perfect for my cold, snowy St. Patrick’s day.

Looking at the simple ingredients, I was expecting to have to doctor this recipe up, but I was surprised at the delicious flavor. The heavy seasoning of black pepper during assembly really contributes to the personality of this dish.

The stew is essentially just sliced sausage, bacon, leeks, potatoes, and onions, with herbs and garlic tossed in for good measure. These are all layered in an oven-ready casserole dish after browning the onions and sausage and roasting the bacon, covered with chicken stock or water, and braised. I strongly suggest chicken stock, as even though the ingredients will impart wonderful flavor, the boost of a good, gently seasoned stock will do wonders.

As with most recipes here, my measurements are more ballpark than precise. What’s most import is to base your proportions on your casserole dish. Eye your baking dish, and visualize what it will take to make layers with these ingredients:

  • Good quality pork sausages, bratwurst-sized (and style). I used bockwurst.
  • Diced onions, enough to line the bottom of your casserole dish
  • Thick-cut bacon, 5 to 10 slices
  • Rough-chopped starchy potatoes, such as Russet
  • Leek green tops, coarsely chopped
  • Ground black pepper
  • A few garlic cloves, chopped
  • Herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, sage, and dill, finely chopped
  • Lightly seasoned chicken stock, at least 5-6 cups (enough to cover ingredients)
  • An oven-proof casserole dish with a lid (or foil), and pans for browning of ingredients

Directions

  1.  Brown your sausages on both sides in a pan. Allow to cool, slice width-wise into roughly 1-inch pieces, and set aside.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and roast your bacon until cooked. Set aside bacon fat for later, do not discard. Allow bacon to cool, and dice into 1/4-inch pieces. Set aside.
  3. Dice your onions. On the stovetop, saute the onions in some of your saved bacon fat until tender. Line the bottom of the casserole dish with the sauteed onions. Season with black pepper.
  4. Add up to a third or half of your chopped bacon in a new layer. Save the rest as a garnish for the end.
  5. Add the sliced sausages as the next layer in the casserole dish. Season with black pepper as well.
  6. Add the coarsely-chopped leek green tops, the diced garlic, and finely chopped herbs as the next layer.
  7. For the final layer, cover with a layer of roughly-chopped starchy potatoes. Season with black pepper.
  8. Pour enough chicken stock to cover all ingredients. Braise uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduce oven heat to 250 degrees, cover casserole and braise until the potatoes are tender and have thickened the stew with their starch.
  9. Remove from oven, stir well, salt to taste, and cover the stew with a garnish of the remaining chopped bacon.

img_20160317_142405.jpgMy pot of Dublin Coddle, ready for a cold day.

Book Essentials: The Martini Companion.

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Book Review: The Martini Companion.

Here begins a review of books that will appeal to both martini aficionados and vintage cocktail lovers alike. It’s best to begin with a book most practical:The Martini Companion (Regan/Regan, 1997, Running Press). Small enough to tuck under your arm or slip into a handbag, The Martini Companion  answers the question: I want to make my own martinis. Now what?

Despite its own declaration of “A connoisseur’s guide,” The Martini Companion will walk you through martini self-sufficiency from the first step, from glassware to garnishes, and the ever-present debate of shaken vs stirred. Lovely photographs by Steve Belkowitz grace each section, displaying a gorgeous selection of vintage glassware to fire even the most spartan imagination. Since vodka martinis are just as popular as gin martinis, this book divides evenly between the two liquors and then vermouth, covering history, basics on their creation, and a selection of brands to try.

It is here, in the brand reviews, where The Martini Companion proves its worth. The history and production of each mentioned brand is thoroughly covered, before tasting notes and recommendations are given. If you are floundering on where to start with gin or vodka and vermouth, which brands are respected standards, or which taste personality might appeal to you, then this book can be a godsend without overwhelming you. The reviews are by no means comprehensive, but it’ll certainly get you on your feet and on your way to defining what kind of martini drinker you will be.

It is after this point that this book will either outlive its usefulness, or carry on, depending on your personal tastes: the general martini recipe section. Since this book was penned in the late ’90s at the height of the x-tini cocktail boom, the authors give a (perhaps reluctant) nod to the many variations cropping up in bars worldwide. It is here that a classic martini enthusiast will flip through many eyebrow-raising variations (or corruptions) of the martini, from the La Serre Tequila Martini to a Skyy Diver Martini (made with peppermint schnapps). As vodka is a more neutral spirit for such wild experimentation, you’ll also note that the majority of these recipes are made with vodka, not the classic gin of the original martini recipe.

Still, there are some variations that even I, vintage gin martini curmudgeon, would love to try, such as the the Gotham Martini from the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, whose beautiful accompanying photo displays the slightly darkened mix of vodka, blackberry brandy, black sambuca, and a blackberry garnish. I’d be most inclined to substitute gin for vodka… but still.

The Martini Companion is available in hardcover for about $25 on Amazon, but I picked up a very good used copy from the Marketplace for less than $5. After two years with this book, I can say it’s well worth any price you find it for.

Gin Tasting Notes: Magellan Gin

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Magellan Gin

The requisite amount of time was spent suspiciously eyeing this gin on the shelf and examining its contents under strong lights to determine that indeed, this gin is blue. Fear not, this isn’t merely a marketing ploy involving Blue Lake #1. Magellan Gin is perhaps the world’s only naturally colored blue gin, owing its exotic hue to the iris flowers that grace its bottle. These flowers are steeped in the gin, contributing both a vivid blue and a distinct floral note to its flavor. Subtle notes of spice are also pleasing to the palate.

Well enough, but how does it stack up in a dry martini? Although at least one other reviewer doesn’t recommend Magellan for a decent martini, I find that this gin holds its own well, as long as it isn’t forced to compete with the higher vermouth ratio in a vintage gin recipe. Magellan Gin benefits from a more modern, austere gin to vermouth ratio, anywhere from 5:1, 8:1, or even the fairy-touch spritz of vermouth that I would normally spurn. Like a delicate hothouse bloom, Magellan Gin is best appreciated in the most spartan recipe possible, but might also provide intriguing notes in complex cocktails with bitters.

If you’re simply searching for a better blue martini recipe than those involving blue curacao and sugary additions, this gin will fit the bill while cutting the fluff. Its deep color, barely diluting in the most generous recipes, will certainly draw some attention as a conversation piece. As a sipping gin on its own, its light floral and spice notes will engage the tongue without overwhelming, leaving your mind free to wander while pondering its blue depths.

Choosing Your Liquor Store.

Choosing the Right Liquor Store.

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Which liquor store is right for you? We’ll get to the more practical considerations, but here is the takeaway: a good liquor store will stock not only your favorite brands, but also a wide variety of your favorite kind of liquor. Of the two, I’d dare say the latter is more important. Only sticking to your trusted brand may eventually settle you into a stale rut, or leave you flailing with indecision when it’s not available in a particular store, at the bar, or in a restaurant. Becoming comfortable with a range of brands allows you to not only select an alternative with confidence, but develop a working list of brands suitable as gifts or recommendations for friends and family.

In the picture above, nearly twenty different bottles of gin are shown. This excludes the bottom and very top shelf varieties cut off by the camera. Try to find a liquor store with at least a dozen different bottles of your favorite liquor available. Unless you really lucked out, this often means the best store will not be your closest store. Don’t panic; even in my relatively small town, I can count at least three that meet this requirement, or are close. The best selection doesn’t always equate to the largest store. Depending on the store owners and their priorities, a small mom-and-pop shop might house an extraordinary collection of select liquors. The best method is to keep an eye out for unexplored stores, with the goal of roaming their aisles in free moments.

How do you know when you’ve found a good store? When you regularly find yourself making wishlists, reading the labels on intriguing bottles, or snapping pictures of shelves, you know you’ve found a winner. A good store preoccupies you with possibilities and future plans. Like a good bookstore, you can easily lose twenty or thirty minutes of time just wandering its aisles.

Once you’ve found some ideal candidates, here are some other considerations:

Rewards Programs. Most moderately-sized liquor stores have some type of reward accrual system that offer regular discounts or coupons after a certain number of points are reached. For example, my nearest liquor store offers $5 off any non-sale item after the goal points are reached. This can help when shopping on a budget or purchasing top shelf items.

Drive-Thru Options. If you have young children or a tight schedule, the freedom to pull up to a window and order your regular bottle is a wonderful luxury. It’s also good for your wallet, as it prevents spendy impulse purchases that weren’t in your liquor budget.

Price. If selection is no issue, be sure to price-shop around for your best buy. $3-$5 price differences shouldn’t break your budget, but if your go-to store is regularly charging $10 more than its competitors for the same bottle, it may be time to move on.

Events, Stocking, & Special Orders. Some stores have regular events, such as tastings, food pairings, and even classes. However, the best events and selection in town won’t matter if they’re always out of stock, or are slow to refill the shelves. A good store also has the option of special orders, but be warned – special order waiting lists can be lengthy, or at the store’s discretion. Of the three special orders I’ve attempted to place at my closest store, only one went through after three months. 

And Finally, a Good Selection of Pints. Want to try that new brand, but not willing to commit to an entire 750 ml? Keep in eye out for stores with dense pint selections behind the counter. Most stores also offer pints of select liqueurs as well that might otherwise break the bank, such as Grand Marnier or Chambord.

Gin Tasting Notes: Gordon’s London Dry Gin

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Gordon’s London Dry Gin

Today I sampled Gordon’s, one of the original grandfathers of London dry gin (since the late 1700s) and the dry martini, so much so that it featured prominently in many vintage martini ads (I’ve added a few images). It still uses the original secret recipe, and replicas of the original pot stills used by Alexander Gordon. But this angel has fallen from grace and is now sold in a plastic bottle on the bottom shelf of any liquor store. I avoid the bottom shelf (and plastic liquor bottles) for good reason since my early college years. But the Distracted Hermit’s on a budget, so today was a fine day to rack my pride, stop giving it the side eye, and try a gin I should have tried a long time ago.

10632632_10207542724503551_6332875360701194438_nImage Source: The Martini, Barnaby Conrad III. All Rights Reserved.

This is the world’s most balanced gin. It’s the gin that gin distillers should be required to consume at least five bottles of and memorize what it means to distill a classic juniper gin, not too overpowering in any of its flavors, not too heavy on the kick, soft on the swallow, nor too sweet and smooth, like the new “modern” gins. It’s the perfectly balanced scale; the center of a spinning compass. It should say to distillers, “This is the classic standard. This is what you build upon.” Plastic bottle aside, the Regans (The Martini Companion) still list this gin as one of their first recommendations out of dozens, and they haven’t lead me astray today. Happy New Year.

946458_10207542724943562_5028877681654445070_nImage Source: The Martini, Barnaby Conrad III. All Rights Reserved.

Step Up Your Martini Game.

Step Up Your Martini Game.

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Christmas present. Thanks Sis! I had this gem on my Amazon wishlist for quite awhile and she finally obliged me. I already switched out the “modern” (bird bath sized) martini glasses for a pair of smaller vintage ones.

I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t this a bit superfluous? Do you really need a dedicated cocktail case? First, I want you to envision yourself: Cocktail Aficionado, esteemed by friends and family alike. Will they invite you to their parties? Will they expect you to dazzle them with a recipe or three? Of course they will. Now, I want you to imagine yourself pulling an open cardboard box out of the trunk of your car and huffing up the walkway to your host’s house, bottles and glasses clinking, as you hope there’s no cat or dog underfoot to send you diving face-first into a mess of glass and wasted vermouth. Seems a bit more appealing now, doesn’t it? I bet.

Or, if that scenario doesn’t suit, just imagine the next family Thanksgiving, with those one or two intolerable relatives talking nonstop, and nothing on the table but sparkling cider. You’re welcome.

Gin Tasting Notes: Broker’s London Dry Gin

12392036_10207467121253517_606520314754226261_nBroker’s London Dry Gin

We’re long overdue for a Gin Tasting Note, Vacation Week Edition, which allowed me to languidly stroll the city’s new liquor megastore & line up the latest contestants. Today we have Broker’s London Dry Gin, a London import sporting an adorable English bowler hat on its cap & boasting to be the “best gin in the world,” based on a 2010 NY taste test. I hold the results of this test in strong skepticism, being as they placed Scotland’s Hendrick’s Gin in 6th place, only one spot above New Amsterdam – the cloying, biteless king of the 3rd shelf in liquor stores. Anyone with half a tongue knows that Hendrick’s tastes like fairy magic in your mouth. Anyway. While not a #1, they were definitely on to something, as Broker’s manages to combine the personality of the “new” gin style (smooth sweetness) with the old London dry gin’s kick to the throat that keeps you on your toes. It’s lightly reminiscent of Bombay’s Sapphire, without Sapphire’s schizophrenia. Overall, a sipping gin – good enough to drink neat, with a strong enough personality to give you something to ponder. In a 4:1 clean martini, it produces a surprisingly savory afternote that imitates an olive. In a dirty martini, you may want to add some extra dirt, because this gin absorbs brine while pushing its high notes higher. I ended up adding 3x the brine for it to taste properly dirty.

Gordon Biersch Brewery, Broomfield, CO

Gordon Biersch Brewery

We had a seriously trying, “defining moment” type of day, and we ordered at Gordon Biersch like we’d never eat again. We watched a movie at the best theatre and I bought new boots. Don’t let anyone tell you such activities are not cathartic. They’re lying.

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First things first. Keep in mind, this is a full brew pub with I’m sure some interesting brews on the menu. But it wasn’t that kind of day. I needed it straight, with no nonsense. I ordered a clean gin martini, no garnish. I’ve developed a distrust of restaurant olives, as they tend to be the worst kind, with a low quality, over-the-top brine and garish pimentos. It came in a bird bath-sized glass, but in this era, that cannot be helped. I was a bit suspicious of the “frostiness” of the martini when it arrived, but I discovered to my delight that this was a perfect, finely shaved iced that disappeared within the first two minutes of drinking, leaving the ideal, ice-cold martini. Very well done. I had two.

 

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The meal itself was exquisite: shrimp and salmon carbonara with fried pancetta and topped with a fried egg. The perfect meal for an extremely stressful day.

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I usually turn down dessert since I expect to come home with leftovers, but what the hell. Rich fudge, but not so rich as to make you feel like you’re being taught a lesson.

Overall, the finest experience I’ve had in a long time, including the service. I can’t believe how many times I’ve walked into the movie theatre at Flatirons and only casually glanced at this restaurant. So if you find yourself in the Denver Metro Area, or one of the other rare locations of Gordon Biersch, I thoroughly recommend you drop in.