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So, as some of you know, I’ve been cooking or overseeing the weekly Sunday crawfish boils at Alabama Music Box for a few years now (3 to be exact).  This year I decided, in the spirit of that sacred American tradition-the eating contest-that we should take the opportunity to end the season with a bang.  Enter the 1st Annual AMB Ghost Chili Cajun Crawfish Challenge. 

In case you’re not familiar, the bhut jolokia pepper, also known as the ghost chili, is the hottest widely cultivated pepper in the world rating up 1,000,000 on the Scoville Heat Scale. As a point of reference, a jalapeno rates from 3,000-8,000.  I have a dozen of them in my pantry, a few of which are going to end up in the final pot of crawfish to be boiled on June 3rd, along with my already lip-blistering combination of regular ingredients.  

The rules are simple:  Each participant is given a dozen crawfish cooked with ghost chilies, which they must peel and eat within 4 minutes with no drink or other food ingested.  You drink, you’re out.  Then there is a 5-minute “cool down” period in which still no drink is allowed.  Every minute thereafter, remaining contestants will be given another crawfish to eat, until the last man (or woman) is standing, liquid extinguishers untouched.  They take the pot and a T-shirt and the bragging rights for a year!  

We’ll also be cooking up or normal delicious Sunday crawfish before the contest for everyone to enjoy.

Signup is the day of the event, between 5 and 6 o’clock.  
There will be a small entry fee, $10 or less

Image

Just looking at the flyer gives me heartburn.

Hope to see you there.  Competing, or enjoying the spectacle.

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Last night I had a conversation with a friend about the effects that “temperature shock,” which is a term used to describe when something has been chilled, warmed, then re-chilled, or vice versa.  It’s widely accepted as common knowledge that this will ruin a beer and give it a “skunky” taste or aftertaste.  Apparently, it’s not the case, which I’m happy to know since I’d assume that much of the beer that I may buy from a grocer, liquor store or bar has undergone some temperature change.  This is from the most recent issue of Cooks Illustrated:

We knew from our beer storage experiment that buying and keeping beer cold helps preserve it’s fresh taste, but we were also curious to see if so-called temperature abuse can produce off-flavors.  To find out, we purchased a case of chilled beer (in case to avoid any issue of light exposure) and divided the contents into two groups.  Half of the cans went into the refrigerator as a control, while we subjected the others to significant temperature fluctuations: three hours in an 85-degree water bath, followed by an overnight chill.  After repeating the “shock” process three times, we tasted both batches of beer side by side.

As it turned out, no one noticed a skunk flavor in either sample.  We also spoke with David Grinnel, vice president of brewing quality at Boston Beer Company [Samuel Adams], who confirmed that skunked beer flavors and aromas are the result of light exposure, not temperature fluctuations.  So buy your beer in cans or dark bottles and don’t be afraid to buy it chilled, even if you won’t be able to keep it cold once you get home.

So there you have it.  A widely-accepted misconception put to rest, so drink up, and cheers, prost, salud, slainte, l’chaim and na zdrowie!


Has beer ever looked hotter?

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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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What are your thoughts on this subject?  To quote my friend Simon, “…putting only ketchup on a hotdog is the equivalent of eating a salad composed entirely of iceberg lettuce, cheese, and ranch dressing,” although I think adding cheese is giving them too much credit.  Look, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but if your opinion is pro-ketchup, just know that your opinion is wrong.

Here’s a pretty interesting and entertaining article on the subject.  It doesn’t appear to have been proofread, but nevertheless…

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-goldwyn/ketchup-on-hot-dogs_b_928338.html

You’ll have to copy and paste it, haven’t figured out how to hyperlink on here just yet.  Thanks to Gayle for it.

For the record, my favorite hot dog to make at home will include:

-Cheap Oscar Meyer Classic Wieners, the ones with “Pig lips and assholes,” to quote Dan Aykroyd in “The Great Outdoors.”
-Hot dog chili sauce. Castleberry’s is my favorite but it’s becoming harder and harder to find.  Texas Pete’s is horrible.
-Diced, pickled jalapenos and white onion.
-A decent amount of French’s yellow mustard.
Celery Salt (a must on EVERY dog I make, and a very underrated condiment in general)
All placed within a steamed Bunny brand hot dog bun.    And of course no ketchup in sight.  I don’t want you to even wave a bottle of the heathen sauce in my direction.

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