Posted: September 25, 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

Classic cocktails are making a comeback. And Tammy Coxen (www.tammystastings.com) is here to tell you that James Bond got it wrong.

I recently attended a class Tammy held, at the hip Ravens Club in Ann Arbor. About a dozen attendees learned to make a martini, Manhattan, an Old Fashioned, and more obscure drinks. Although I tended bar for many years, the craft has changed. Many bars are taking as much care with the ingredients of their drinks as the chefs do with food, experimenting with recipes, making their own syrups and mixes, and paying attention to the visual presentation as well.

Me, when I tended bar, I got by on a few stock tricks. Whenever someone ordered a Manhattan, Id say That will be $24 worth of beads and trinkets, and see who got it.

Whenever someone wanted a foo-foo drink my name for a fruity concoction if I didnt know how to make it, I would fake it. No one was ever the wiser. Vodka and fruit juice tastes pretty good no matter what you call it.

When I made a martini, I had my own measuring standards for pouring vermouth. A regular martini got a splash. For a dry martini, I would put a few drops in the martini glass with ice cubes, swirl it around, and dump it before adding gin. Extra dry or bone-dry martinis were merely made in the presence of a vermouth bottle.

Not Tammy. She teaches correctly that a classic martini was made with 3 parts gin and one part dry vermouth. She also added orange bitters, a variation I did not know. Bitters are concentrated concoctions of fruit, spice, and/or herbs; the most well known is Angostura brand. Tammy has a collection of bitters featuring flavors from chil to chocolate.

James Bond got it wrong by insisting that martinis be shaken. Tammy showed us that shaking a martini changes its character, and not in a good way. First stirring her martini in a cocktail shaker, she poured it carefully to demonstrate that it was crystal clear. Then with the same ingredients she shook it vigorously. The drink was cloudy, cluttered with ice chips and air bubbles.

Martinis should be served ice cold, so Tammy recommended serving just a two ounce drink in a very small goblet, like a mini-me of the martini glass commonly used to deliver up to 5 or 6 ounces of  alcohol. Tammy says if you want a bigger drink, just make a second when you finish the first.

Cocktails traditionally had four components: spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. With usage, the meaning of cocktail broadened to include any mixed drink, so when people wanted a classic cocktail they asked for an old fashioned cocktail thus spawning the drink we now call an Old Fashioned. Tammy demonstrated two versions, one with muddled fruit that I used to make, and another without fruit, flavored with the oil of an orange peel. Tammy showed us the correct way to peel a piece of orange, and even to heat it with flame on the fleshy underside to bring the oil to the surface on the top.

Today, a wide variety of mixed drinks are called martinis. Go to a martini bar and youll be given a menu listing perhaps a dozen foo-foo concoctions, with colorful names and  equally vivid presentations. Most will feature vodka, not gin heresy to a true martini lover.

When I was still young enough to get carded, and didnt drink anything more sophisticated than a pina colada, a friend took me to the Persian Aub Zam-Zam Room, in the heart of San Franciscos Haight-Ashbury district, for my first martini. Behind the bar was owner-bartender Bruno Mooshei. He carefully filled two chilled goblets with Boords gin and Boissiere vermouth in a ratio, he always insisted, of 1,000 to 1 and placed them before us.

It was pure liquid gold. As I sipped happily, I told Bruno This is perfect. He smiled and said, The martini, my friend, is the Rolls Royce of drinks.

Stirred, not shaken, of course.

Tammy Coxens Classic Martini

Ingredients:
1 1/2 oz. gin (she used Beefeater
    which is also one of my favorites)
1/2 oz. dry vermouth (she used Vya)
2 dashes orange bitters
    (she used Regans)
1 lemon twist (she used a lemon)

Directions:
Stir all ingredients except twist in an ice filled mixing glass. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the twist.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine.

Posted: September 19, 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

In the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, when Toula was a little girl, she sat alone in the school cafeteria, frizzy haired, big nosed, and unpopular. The blonde girls at the next table asked her what she was eating, and Toula quietly said moussaka. The popular girls laughed cruelly, saying Ewwww, moose caca!"

Too bad the Heathers at the next lunch table didnt realize how awesome moussaka really is. At its best, it is a sublime combination of layered tastes: sauted eggplant, seasoned lamb, spicy tomato sauce, melted cheese, and topped with a fluffy bchamel sauce.

At its worst, its like swallowing a construction block.

Hopefully were going to give you something today more closely approximating the former. Im combining recipes from famous Greek chefs Julia Child and Frances Moore Lappe, of Diet for a Small Planet fame, and adding a touch or two of my own. You will be left with a version that can easily substitute cooked brown rice, for an equally delicious vegetarian version.

This has a long list of ingredients, but it is really no more complicated than lasagna.

Moussaka
Equipment:
9x13x2 baking dish, oiled on bottom and to
    top of sides
Oiled baking sheet
Colander or paper towels (for draining eggplant)
Pastry or basting brush
Deep saute pan
2 sauce pans
Cheese grater or food processor

Ingredients:
2-3 firm, shiny medium sized eggplants
Tablespoon dried thyme or oregano.
1 1/2 cup minced onions.
2 TBS olive oil.
2 cloves minced garlic.
3 cups chopped cooked lamb, combination beef and
    lamb, or for vegetarian version, 1 cup uncooked
    brown rice cooked to package directions.
2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes
    (I use San Marzano), crushed or diced.
3/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives (optional).
3/4 cup red wine.
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley.
1/8 TSP ground allspice.
1/8 TSP ground cinnamon.
Pinch of nutmeg.
Salt and pepper to taste.

For the topping:
3 TBS butter.
4 TBS flour.
2 cups hot milk (at least 2% or whole).
1 cup grated cheese, such as Swiss or Greek kasseri,
    divided in half.
1/2 cup ricotta and/or sheeps milk feta
    (I like Trader Joe Greek feta in brine).
Pinch of nutmeg.
Salt and pepper to taste.
1 egg.
1/4 cup grated Parmesan.
1/4 cup bread crumbs, stale Greek or Italian bread,
    or Panko crumbs, sauted quickly with butter
    (optional).

Directions:
1. Cut the firm, shiny eggplants into 3/8 thick rounds, sprinkle with salt, and drain in a colander or on paper towels for 20 minutes.
2. Brush the eggplant slices with oil and sprinkle with dried thyme or oregano. Bake 20 minutes in a 400 oven and then brown briefly on top under the broiler.
3. Gently heat the milk in one sauce pan.
4. If using meat, brown it in the saut pan and drain the fat.
4. In the same pan, brown onions in oil; after a few minutes add garlic.
5. Add cooked meat and saut, stirring for several minutes. If using rice, add and stir; no need to saut.
6. Add tomatoes, olives (if using), wine, parsley, spices, salt and pepper.
7. Cook, stirring frequently for half an hour, until mixture holds its shape in a spoon. Carefully correct seasoning.
8. Line baking dish with layer of eggplant slices, spoon on the meat or rice mixture. If you have enough of both, put half the topping on the eggplant, then a second layer of eggplant, and the rest of the meat or rice topping.
9. Make the bchamel sauce. In the second sauce pan, cook together the butter and flour, and blend in the heated milk. Simmer for three minutes.
10. Blend in the ricotta and/or Feta cheese and half the Swiss or kasseri. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg.
11. Remove from heat and whip in one egg. Whip it good.
12. Spoon the sauce over the top of the eggplant/topping mixture in the baking pan, and shake the pan to allow some of the sauce to sink down in.
13. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup Swiss or kasseri cheese, the parmesan, and if using, bread crumbs.
14. Bake 45 minutes on the middle rack of a preheated 350 oven until bubbling hot, the top nicely browned. Let cool. Greeks eat this warm or tepid, but not too hot; it is also good cold.

Other variations include a bottom layer of half-cooked potatoes my favorite food in the world but here it makes things a tad too heavy. The bread crumbs add texture, but also make things more hefty. Use them if you also like your mac n cheese with bread crumbs.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine.

Posted: September 4, 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

Every year at Labor Day weekend, my Pennsylvania family descends upon our lake house like a herd of locusts. Or is that a school of locusts? Whatever. They come loudly, like Greeks do. As Nia Vardalos observed in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

And my whole family is big and loud. And everybody is in each others lives and business. All the time! Like, you never just have a minute alone, just to think, Cause were always together, just eating, eating, eating!

What else is there, besides eating? Oh yes, theres planning to eat. For weeks prior to Labor Day, email chatter is all about food. Whos bringing this, whos cooking that.

Whos shipping a ham to my house the day before. The best way to cook moussaka. And where am I supposed to put all this stuff? Everyone who comes brings a cooler, and that doesnt include the beer.

The actual cooking has to be planned carefully. I cant cook with just anyone else in the kitchen. Correction: I cant cook with my sisters. I tell them if I had a cooking show,

it would be called, Get The Hell Out Of My Kitchen, and to take the title personally. Still, they wander in cheerfully, drinks in hand, with unsolicited advice. It needs more dill. What are you doing? (Shaking their heads in unison) Thats not Moms dressing.

Every now and then we try to put some order in this chaos. On one family trip, we agreed who would cook which meal. The first night it was my turn, and my mother was scheduled for the next night. But as I was preparing dinner, my mother was right behind me, two bags of groceries in her hand, already taking out a package of shrimp and starting to peel them. Mom! I said, What are you doing? Tonights my turn to cook we agreed! She looked at me, smile-frowned in that peculiar way of hers, and replied, I lost my head. Then she went back to peeling her shrimp.

Ive debated about what recipe to leave you with here. There will be many Greek recipes in columns to come moussaka among them, perhaps. But really, nobody makes moussaka anymore. Its delicious, of course, but its sort of like swallowing ballast. We want to keep you light on your feet, spry enough to run from me when I chase you the hell out of my kitchen.

Greek Horiatiki Salad
(village salad)

This is my favorite salad in the whole world. Its a salad without lettuce, just tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and of course lots of feta cheese. My Aunt Mary would put a giant plate of this in the middle of the table. Wed finish the salad in no time, and then all dip our slices of packaged white bread into the leftover dressing, right from the common plate. Back in those days, the dressing was made with Mazola. (Olive oil was an imported luxury, perhaps brought back once a year from the old country in smuggled jars.)

My version of the horiatiki salad uses the same familiar summer vegetable bounty, with a little more verve.

Ingredients:
Firm, ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
Small, tender cucumbers, peeled and sliced. Before you peel them, slice off each end and rub the cut end into the rest of the cucumber. My mother taught me that made the cucumber sweeter. I have no reason to believe that actually works, but I always do it. Cucumber to tomato ratio roughly 1:1.
Sliced, sweet yellow or red onion. Maybe 1 small onion for every 4 tomatoes/2 cukes.
Feta cheese. I actually love Trader Joes authentic Greek feta, made with sheeps milk, in brine. Sheeps milk feta has the nicest tang. Use as much as youd like.
Good Greek Kalamata olives. Go crazy.
Pepperoncini are nice, or some other pepper with a bite, like chopped Hungarian pepper.

Optional ingredients include a few good anchovies or rinsed, salt-packed capers for salt kick; wedges of hard-boiled egg; sliced beets (fresh, of course, boiled til tender); and/or plain boiled potatoes, diced. Finally, though its not traditional, some diced avocado, with or without bacon, is just marvelous.

Dressing:
I just like a simple two or three parts olive oil to one part red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. If you want herbs, a little oregano, fresh basil, chopped dill, or mint gives it some variety (but if youre using avocado or bacon, skip the herbs).

Serve this with plenty of good Greek bread, and if you really want to be authentic, make sure you have an assortment of loud Greeks dipping their bread into the serving plate.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine.