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    A Natural Cook

    Among the skills my mother never passed on to me, I include many domestic tasks, such as sewing, ironing and cooking. Why iron, she reasoned, when she could simply avoid it by not permitting anyone in the house to own anything that required ironing? Similarly, my brothers and I knew there was always a sixth guest at our dinner, in addition to our family was the smiling face of Paul Newman, on our salad dressing bottle. The only reason I knew the word ‘Ragu’ was nothing to do with delicious Bolognese sauce, but rather to do with what it said on the jar by the stove.

    For years, I thought I did not like salad dressing or pasta sauce–naked lettuce became my MO, the pasta with olive oil, salt, pepper, and following my parent’s enlightening trip to Italy in the early 90′s, real Parmesan cheese.

    The lack of much real home cooking in our house, though, did not in any way hamper my innate sense of cooking. From a young age, I’d crawl around in cabinets, inviting friends over for cooking projects, such as a certain ill-fated orange juice and butterscotch cookie attempt. Then, as now, I was not really one for the use of recipes.

    I always considered myself, though, despite my dearth of experience at the strings of my mothers apron (I’m not sure she even owned one), a natural cook. A child of the kitchen, the kid who would sit up on the island in my parent’s kitchen even if it were to just watch the water boil, to watch as the dried spaghetti went from rigid sticks to plump noodles, slithering into the water as it cooked.

    A love for cooking can be learned, but it need not be taught for so many of us.


    Why does some whiskey get so expensive?

    For those of you who read 99 Drams, you’ve found out that the trip started first as a quest to understanding why someone would pay $50,000 for a bottle of whiskey. Let me give you a bit of a spoiler to that question:

    They pay that amount because they can.

    The truth is that the money spent on these whiskeys has little, if anything, to do with the quality of the drink itself. Once you start seeing prices for whiskey above, say $500, it has more to do with the exclusivity of what is being purchased. Whether it’s better than other whiskeys is often irrelevant.

    The high costs of some whiskey is the result of two different (but sometimes related) activities surrounding human nature. The first is the our propensity to collect things. Whiskey is no different, and there are a plethora of people out there who purchase whiskey like kids buying trading cards. The purchase bottles because they’re the first production bottle, or the last known bottle of a brand long retired. Here again, it’s not that the whiskey tastes better, it’s that the bottle is different, or has historical significance.

    However, to that end, the second variable comes into play. Because collectors search for unique bottles, they often end up with 25 year old, 30 yer old, even 40 year old bottles of whiskey. Many people collect these bottles because they’re rare. Or at least more rare than the twelve year old bottles that most every Scotch and Irish Whiskey Distiller produces.

    Now it just so happens that older whiskeys are often also better tasting…more complex. Staying in a barrel longer means that they develop deeper and richer flavors. To a point, mind you. At some point in the aging process, whiskey will take on too many characteristics of the oak, something which is to be avoided if at all possible, unless you like the taste of bark. Additionally, Bourbon ages differently than Scotch and Irish Whiskeys, so a 30 yo Scotch may be something to enjoy, while a 30 yo Bourbon will leave your breath smelling like a beaver’s belch.

    But back to the uniqueness of the flavor. The older whiskey’s taste differently than the younger whiskeys which brings us to reason #2 why there are pricey whiskey’s out there: Uniqueness. The uniqueness of flavor makes older whiskeys something to be sought out if you like to try newer and rarer (and some would argue, better) than the average whiskeys out in the marketplace.

    Now the collectors in the first camp love the people who search out unique tastes, because they will inevitably consume the rare drink, which in turn makes the collectors investment raise in value. It’s a win/win for both crowds.


    Tipping Isn’t A City In China

    This week, I had a chance to dine at a local restaurant featuring a new happy hour menu. I was excited, and happily planted myself at a table on the patio after a nearby appointment. Ten minutes later, after smiling at every server and bus boy who walked by, my server finally arrived with a menu. Unfortunately, the service continued to slide downhill after that.

    When the bill arrived, I suddenly heard my best friend in my head. Jenny – a former server herself – has lectured me on the importance of tips at nearly every meal we’ve eaten together since high school. Regardless of whether we receive the wrong drinks, or our food is cold, or if the server is unfriendly, she consistently makes sure that I leave a proper tip – 15-20% preferably. I always get the impassioned plea defending the livelihoods of servers everywhere.

    “You have to leave a tip. This is his job,” Jenny says. “This is how he pays his bills.”

    So this week, as I sat at the restaurant with my long-empty water glass, I debated my entry on the tip line. Was it really warranted? Did the server go above and beyond? Five servers, eight tables seated, at 5 pm on a weekday – is there ever a good excuse for bad service?

    I even thought about how nice it had been when I visited Australia, where servers are paid a great wage across the board and the service is impeccable.

    As usual, I guiltily left the appropriate gratuity.

    How do you handle the tip situation?


    Beer Reviews: Grieskirchner Weisse

    Weisse beers originated in what is today southern Germany meant as a summer drink. According to German Law, 50% of the grist used must be malted wheat. with the rest of the composition made up of malted barley. However, what you see here is an Austrian beer, not beholden to German law, but probably a similar composition due to tradition.

    Weisses do not keep well, and the older the beer, the more “off” it’s likely to smell. This was the case with this beer. However, the taste had not yet been affected it seemed.

    Appearance: Nice strong gold/brass coloring with an impressive head that lasts for a while. Minimal Belgian lacing after the head dissapates.

    Aroma: A bit of a banana smell, followed by a strong, nearly skunky odor. Not pleasant.

    Taste: A hit of bitterness right up front followed quickly by the banana again on the taste buds, with the finale of heavy wheat and barley. Pretty nice, and not what I expected after the aroma.

    Mouthfeel: Average. PLays nice on the palate, without being too zippy nor too weak.

    Drinkability: Do not be dissuaded by the awful aroma, the beer’s bite is better than it’s bark.

    Grade: B


    The Equation of Mediocrity

    I’ve been thinking about Industrial Food a fair bit of late, trying to determine just what causes their, at best, mediocre output. I’ve been playing with the ideas of variables and algorithms, and have decided upon the following equation”

    Frugality + desire for a wide consumer base + Lack of innovation * Complacency = mediocrity

    Frugality: I’m defining frugality as the pursuit to produce the food for as little money or investment as possible. This manifests itself in many ways, from adding cheap filler ingredients to the food (see HFCS) to automating the production line in order to remove the human element. This sometimes leads to even removing quality control from the lines, as we have seen in the recent peanut butter recall or reducing the USDA’s influence on beef production. Out of all of the variables, this seems to have the largest influence on the quality of food.

    Desire for a Wide Consumer Base: Another way to define this is the desire to please everybody, something that franchised restaurants indulge in quite frequently. For when you try to please everybody, you desire to offend no body. This means making sure that foods aren’t too spicy, too exotic, or too small (because for a consumer, it’s better to have too much than not enough).

    The result of this is food that ends up bland and uninspiring.

    Lack of innovation: Out there in this great big world of ours, there are companies out there that believe the road to riches is surely based off of a bold new energy drink, frozen Pizza, or Chocolate bar, missing out on the fact that these markets are saturated.

    The late Julie Phillips, author of the book You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again once wrote that if you’re going to take on a project, you should look to do one of two things: Do it first, or do it best. If you can do neither, than what are you trying to accomplish?

    Complacency: Why hasn’t Budweiser changed their recipe for Bud Light? Why does McDonald’s hamburgers taste the same they did several years ago? Because being the industry leaders, they feel that they don’t need to change.

    I’m sure that there are other variable out there that affect the taste of processed food, but these seem to me to be the top four.


    Buttermilk-Brined Chicken

    Buttermilk makes an excellent brine for chicken. It does a great job of penetrating the meat, so the chicken stays moist and the flavor of the spices go all of the way through.


    Ingredients

    3 cups buttermilk
    1/4 cup kosher salt
    1/4 cup Louisiana-style hot sauce (I used Frank’s RedHot Original)
    1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
    1 teaspoon garlic powder
    1 teaspoon ground cumin
    1 teaspoon ground black pepper
    1 teaspoon rubbed sage
    1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

    2 (3 to 4 pound) chickens, each cut into 8 pieces

    Combine the buttermilk, salt, hot sauce, Worcestershire, and spices. Mix well. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight, turning the pieces occasionally.

    Set up your grill for a direct cook over medium (350°F) heat.

    Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and put on the grill. Grill for about 40 minutes, flipping every 10 minutes or so, until the juices run clear or when a meat thermometer reads 180°F when inserted in the thickest part of the thigh.

    I served this with baked beans and a Summer-y pasta salad.


    99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist’s Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the Drink

    Here’s what a few people have had to say about 99 Drams of Whiskey:

    “…Hopkins’s enthusiasm for giving us the lowdown on the best tasting brands makes this book well worth sipping slowly.” – Playboy

    “Hopkins is an entertaining storyteller, which works in a book dedicated to a storied beverage.” – Portland Mercury

    “… one of the best whisky books of the year.” – WhiskyCast

    “.. a pleasant and informative read.” – Publishers Weekly

    “(Kate) has an open mind about taste, is aware of the brand push and is honest about the entire experience. It’s a refreshing perspective.” – about.com

    “99 Drams is a good read.” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    “…this is a frequently hilarious story about researching a great topic.” – Benito’s Wine Reviews

    “Kate Hopkins’s 99 Drams of Whisky is a welcome addition to the literature on scotch.” – Scotch Chix

    “With the quality of her research beyond reproach, the casual drinker can take comfort in the accuracy of her claims and the inaccuracy of the whiskey snobs.” – Eric Doss

    “…the way in which (Kate) intertwines Irish, Scottish, Canadian and American whisky history is unique and a dram good read.” – The Whisky Channel

    How can you purchase this little ol’ book written by little ol’ me? Click on one of the graphics below!

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