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Archive for January, 2012

Photo by Tasha Tupa

It’s been a busy week (and then some) since my last feature here at Nom Chompsky, but in an effort to maintain my self-imposed deadline of an article-a-week, here I am. Last night as I lay awake trying to think of something simple and easy, yet still interesting to write about, it occurred to me that, despite being a “Grub and Grog Blog,” all of my entries were on the “grub” side. So why not compose an ode to my favorite classic cocktail: The Negroni.

Ahh, the Negroni. Simple in form, yet complex in taste. Sophisticated, but unassuming. The Negroni is an Italian concoction made of equal parts dry gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. No one knows the exact origins of the cocktail, but the most popular story goes something like this: In the early 1900s, wealthy Americans were flooding Europe in droves, and Florence, Italy was a top destination. A popular drink among such Westerners was the Americano, which contains Campari, sweet vermouth, and sparkling water. Enter soon-to-be-famed party animal Count Camillo Negroni, circa 1919. Perhaps he was having a bad day or maybe he was having a great day, but either way he asked his bartender to ratchet up his Americano by replacing the sparkling water with gin. My man. The drink soon caught on and the rest, as they say, is history.

“My Negroni.”

The taste of a Negroni cannot be accurately described with words. A veritable explosion of flavors comes through due to the ingredients used. Dry or London gin adds its characteristic juniper bite. Campari-a type of Italian bitters made with herbs, bark and most remarkably the orange-like Italian fruit chinotto-gives the drink its characteristic ruby red color and citric brightness. And finally sweet vermouth (a fortified red wine also known as red, rouge, or Italian vermouth), lends its herbal sweetness to round out the drink and add color.

Although considered an apéritif, a drink made to consume before a meal to stimulate the appetite, I find it more enjoyable after dinner or with no dinner at all. It doesn’t seem an appropriate libation for a backyard barbecue or while watching the game, nor at my favorite dive bar, and not just because the bartender would, justifiably, look at me like I was an ass. A negroni is a little more suited to low-key and dimly lit parties, or your favorite cocktail bar or nice restaurant. Consumed at home as a nightcap or while relaxing with a book or movie would also work well. While not really an “exclusive” or posh drink, it lends itself to a drinker that has been around the block a few times and has come to occasionally appreciate something a little better than a bourbon and coke or gin and tonic.

A word to the wise from a man with a little experience: Don’t underestimate its potency. Like a good Martini (a real one, not the day-glo colored party favors that they sell at the Applebee’s bar), Old Fashioned, or most other classic cocktails, it’s a doozy; a cup of spirits built to accentuate and celebrate the taste of said spirits, not to cover them up. Appletini, Cosmo, and Fuzzy Navel drinkers need not tread into these wonderful wastelands of boozy delights.

I’m not sure why the Negroni hasn’t had the lasting power of other old cocktails like the Manhattan and Martini. It may not be on every cocktail list in every bar, but rest assured, it’s always going to be there. It’s that puppy at the shelter that stands to the side with an alert, subdued confidence and air of sophistication, while its companions try to woo you with flashier tactics. Did I just compare my favorite cocktail to a dog? What can I say? Metaphors were never my thing. The list of bars and restaurants in Mobile that can make you a Negroni is small, likely less than a 10. In a bit of self promotion, I will say that I can make you one anytime you want at the Haberdasher downtown.  I’m usually there on Thursdays and either Friday or Saturday nights, late, but it’s on the menu and any of our staff can make you a great one. If you’d prefer to try one at home, the recipe follows.

RECIPE:
-1 oz. London or Dry Gin. My personal favorite for this drink is Plymouth, though any good dry gin will do. Whatever you do, don’t settle for bottom shelf booze or your cocktail will taste like a pureed Christmas tree with rubbing alcohol.

-1 oz. Campari Bitter. Nothing else will do.

-1 oz. Sweet Vermouth. Once again, don’t skimp. Punt e Mes makes a great Negroni, but you’ll have to venture out of Alabama to get it, I’m pretty sure. Noilly Prat is very affordable and works just fine, but Dolin Rouge is what I personally use. It can be bought retail at Red or White on Old Shell Rd.

Pour ingredients together over ice in a mixing glass. Stir until well chilled and the desired amount of dilution occurs. You want a little bit of water in your Negroni. I strain over fresh ice but some prefer it “up” in a cocktail glass (often referred to as a “martini glass”). Garnish with a twist or peel of orange, cut above your finished drink or rub said twist or peel along the rim of your glass before dropping it in.
Enjoy!

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Hey Everyone, response to my food blog is much greater than I ever anticipated, so thank you if you’re following.  Made a facebook page for it, mainly because there are a lot of small links, tips, and other general blurbs I’d like to share, but don’t want clogging up the blog, which I’ll save for major writeups.  Please hit the link, “Like” it, and recommend it to your friends.  Thanks again.

Nom Chompsky’s Official Facebook Page

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I always preferred multiple choice...

For several years now, Wesley True has been bringing Mobile an unmatched culinary experience with his fine dining institution, True.  True has a varied and impressive background, that includes respected positions at two restaurants holding the coveted Michelin Two Stars, a sous-chef position at Gordon Ramsey’s Mesa Grill, and a finalist nod for the very prestigious James Beard award.  Starting tonight, the eatery will make a major change to the menu; from the pricier, fine French cuisine, comes a more casual, comfortable and affordable old-world Italian selection.  Tonight and tomorrow (Friday 1/13 and Saturday 1/14), patrons can get a taste of the new eats at a 50% discount when reserving ahead.

Tuesday, I (along with 5 other guests) had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at what will no doubt become a new Mobile favorite.  The menu is small but varied.  Choices range from recognizable fare such as spaghetti with meatballs in a tomato sauce, to local seafood, to several cuts of steak, to risotto and beyond.  At lunch, an assortment of flatbread pizzas, and sandwiches prepared with house-made focaccia, are also available.

The new line of dishes accentuate the ultimate in freshness, and According to True, “One benefit of this menu is that it’s easy to integrate local products.  We have sourced local seafood, lamb, pig, quail, beef, and eggs, and we have a lead on a farmer in Baldwin County who grows specialty produce.  We’re very excited about what the future holds.”  Items also feature local cheeses from Elberta, and house-made ricotta.

After sampling practically all of the antipasto selections- the, Prosciutto with Alabama Crab Meat, White Wine Poached Pear and Pickled Onions was my personal fave, while the Marinated Mushrooms, and the Meatball in Tomato Sauce also garnered high praise around the board- our entrees arrived.  I had the Local Shrimp and Mussels on a Fried Polenta Cake with a Spicy Sicilian Butter Sauce.  The shrimp were abundant, large, and very fresh, and the spicy sauce perfectly complemented the sweet polenta.  One companion from Texas, which apparently automatically makes him an expert on steak, described the Rib-eye as “The best steak I’ve had in Mobile.”  I tried it, and tend to agree.  Another guest had the Marinated Hanger Steak with Sautéed Broccoli Rabe and Walnut Pesto and got the “most diverse explosion of flavor” he’d ever experienced.  The Lobster Cauliflower Risotto with Local Goat Cheese and the Wild Mushroom Risotto with Parmesan and Basil were also heartily enjoyed.  Portions were quite nice, though side items are also available to those with a ridiculous appetite.

And now we come to…dessert.  Despite everyone being uncomfortably bloated and sufficiently full, True insisted that we have not one, but TWO of each of the three dessert options.  First, a trio of house-made gelatos.  Delicious and safe flavors of pistachio and chocolate were followed by Olive-Oil and Sea Salt Gelato.  Sounds crazy, right?  Wrong.  Unbelievably good.  A perfectly paired combination of sweet and salty.  Consider it the fine dining equivalent of dipping your french fries into your milkshake.  A Polenta Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and White Wine Poached Pear, and a Panacotta with Plum Sauce and Apple Compote deliciously finished out the final round of this knockout meal.

True also boasts a climate-controlled wine room with 1200 bottles representing over 150 selections of an award-winning wine list, with glasses and bottles available to fit any budget.  An eclectic classic cocktail list is also available, which includes a Negroni- my cocktail of choice at the moment.

All in all, I’m glad to see one of Mobile’s most unique dining experiences become more accessible to the average Joe like myself.  This weekend’s half off special is a great way to check it out for yourself, but remember that you must make a reservation first.

TRUE is located at : 9 Du Rhu Drive
Suite 201
Legacy Village on Springhill Ave.
Mobile, AL 36608

You can make your reservations by calling (251) 344-3334

*Thanks to Ryan Johnson and Tasha Tupa for their help

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Tuber Time

Photo by Tasha Tupa

So supposedly this is winter time.  You know what that means on the gulf coast: a roller-coaster ride of high and low temperatures, and having to keep your entire wardrobe at arm’s length.  Shorts and tee-shirts one day, heavy coats and long underwear the next.  OR, that ever popular shorts-with-a-jacket combo that will always baffle me.  But I digress.  We occasionally get some weather that resembles winter, and that correlates directly with the making and consuming of soups, stews, chilies and chowders.  So, in case we get another spat of northern air, here’s my recipe for potato soup, which is pretty traditional plus a simple white wine reduction and some ranch flavoring.

First, a little disclaimer: anyone that’s ever cooked a dish from scratch, with no recipe, hates to hear, “This is so good, can I get the recipe?”  Okay, yeah, let me just consult my logbook, and tell you what I put in this.  Nope, normally you’re eyeballing left and right, and constantly tasting until you get what you want out of it.  The hardest part is quantifying the ingredients.  With that being said this is my attempt at putting on paper what I’ve done in the kitchen.  Use at your own discretion and taste often while cooking.

INGREDIENTS:

-6 russet potatoes on the smallish side, mostly peeled, then cut into 1 inch cubes
-About 1/3 cup of FRESHLY chopped or minced garlic. I used probably 6-8 medium sized cloves
-Chicken stock (Swansons in a box is good)
-Whipping cream or half and half (milk will also do but will take longer to thicken)
-Medium sized white or yellow onion, diced, or 3 or 4 shallots
-3 tbsp sour cream
-Half a pack of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing mix
-butter
-5 or 6 strips of bacon
-white wine
-salt/pepper to taste
-fresh chives, finely chopped (green onion will work in a pinch)

Boil the potatoes until they’re pretty tender, but not yet falling apart. While that’s happening, sweat the onions, shallots and garlic in butter in a shallow frying pan big enough to cook bacon in, until they’re translucent.

When the potatoes are ready, strain most of the water out of the pot, leaving just about two inches in the bottom. Add about half of the chicken broth and enough cream to easily cover the potatoes. Add the onion/shallot/garlic (keep the pan handy), and slowly stir in the sour cream, and ranch dressing mix.  Add half a stick of butter, or 4 tbsp. Simmer on med-low heat.

While it’s simmering, cook the bacon up in the same pan that you cooked the veggies in, and put to the side. Pour the drippings into the soup. [Another disclaimer: this soup is not even kind of healthy.  Paula Deen herself might be appalled] Now heat the pan up until you see wisps of smoke, and deglaze it with 2/3 cup of white wine. Tip the pan up and reduce the wine up by about 1/3. Add the reduction to the soup. Add more chicken stock and cream until it’s the consistency you want, but remember that as the potatoes cook and fall apart the soup will thicken.  Salt and pepper to taste. Dice the cooked bacon.

Bowl it up, spoon in a nice plop of sour cream, add some finely grated cheese, the bacon bits, and finely chopped chives.  Serve with some crusty bread and enjoy!

***NOTES***

-When cooking with wine, remember to use actual drinking wine, and not cooking wine.  Cooking wine contains salt, and often other ingredients.

-I’ve, in the past, substituted shallots for the onion with great results.  If you have the means, do it!  Shallots add more depth and an extra buttery kick.

-Many people use white pepper in potato soup to retain that pristene cream color, but nothing compares to the taste of freshly cracked black pepper, and frankly, I like the way it looks in this soup.

-Once again, I only intend for this to be a guide, not a bible.  Send me your thoughts, ideas and results, if you decide to try this!

-I hate the title.  I struggled with it.

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