Shrimp Ceviche Tacos

Originally published May 6, 2013

THE CHEF'S CORNER: SHRIMP CEVICHE TACOS

PROLOGUE

'The Chef' is more than a mythical figment of my imagination. While becoming a regular at 'The Chef's Corner' in Naperville, we became good friends. The friendship started on our love for the game of basketball spilling over to ethnic culinary arts.  We stay in touch by having him pass on the recipes that I became accustomed to eating while visiting his restaurant.

Did you know that not everyone is considered equal at Farmer's Markets? Vegetables are easy to spoil if you shop at a Whole Foods that does not get a ton of turnover...and the stuff at Jewel/Dominicks isn't that great. My answer to that problem was visiting local Farmer's Markets. During one of my visits with the Chef, he told me that not everyone that shows up there are actual farmers. Outside of Chicago, it is perfectly legal to buy strawberries by the truckload and resell them. Inside Chicago, the rules are different but you catch the drift. 

People play games and it is up to you to ask the right questions. It also helps to get to know your farmer anyway to ask questions about what you are buying. The farmer that I support here locally routinely keeps me posted on what he has coming up for harvest. 

Having moved to LA, I called up the Chef regarding the local farmer market. My last call was centered around a 'reseller' peddling seafood. The quality is good, the variety is nice but the prices are in line if not more than the local Whole Foods. After exchanging angry adjectives and nouns the Chef responded...."stop buying from that ^&*^#@, here is how to make Shrimp Ceviche Tacos. You will like"

CHEF'S SHRIMP CEVICHE TACOS

From Chef:

  • 1LB SHRIMP
  • 1 AVOCADO
  • HALF SEEDLESS CUCUMBER
  • HALF RED ONION
  • 1 ROMA TOMATO
  • 1 1/2 CUP OF DICED PINEAPPLE
  • JUICE FROM 3 LIMES
  • JUICE FROM 2 LEMONS
  • TWO OR THREE SERANO PEPPERS
  • 1 SMALL CAN OF PINEAPPLE JUICE
  • CILANTRO
  • SALT AND FRESH BLACK PEPPER

Boil shrimp in salted water for 2 minutes. Cool them in ice water, then set them on the side. Dice onions,avocados,cucumbers,put them in a bowl mixed with pineapple and juices. chopped cilantro, reserve some cilantro for garnish. Add diced shrimp,salt and pepper, let them stand for 1 hour room temperature. Meanwhile, make guacamole from another avocado. Heat the tortillas spoon some guacamole , add drained ceviche and garnish with reserved cilantro.

Notes: The shrimp that I used just had the tails on, making the food prep easy for this. If you need a reminder for how to make Chef's guacamole. I used the small corn tortillas reheated in the microwave wrapped in a damp towel. Try to serve this with a citrus drink, my choice for this photo shoot was a Corpse Reviver #2. Pineapples are tough to find ripe, look for the ones that are not green at the bottom with the leaves on top somewhat 'loose'. Most grocery stores will have pre-cut halved pineapples, use that. For my white readers, Serrano peppers are hot...you might just want to use one or two. 

 

CONCLUSION:

Vedad Vrselj calls Travnik home despite being forced out during the Bosnian War. His former restaurant in Naperville remains one of the most respected and highly reviewed eateries in the area winning awards for best burger and infuriated competition with better ingredients for less money (His yelp reviews). His cult following continues with catering to the Chicagoland area and stays in touch with his Facebook page.

Best cocktail you will have this summer

Originally published Jul 1,2013

THE BEST DRINK YOU WILL HAVE THIS SUMMER...

Honestly, I stumbled upon this drink while researching a new spirit: Bonal. It is foggy how Bonal Gentiane Quina even made a blip on my radar but discovering that it is made from herbs residing in the Grand Chartreuse mountains made me giggle like a school girl. My writing does not even come close to the level of this blogger, so I will let Vive la Bonal sway you even more towards this aperitif.

With the spirit in my mind, my search results dumped me over to Sugar House of Detroit.  In their blog, they had the audacity to compare their Bonal assisted drink to The Last Word. 

There are some drinks out there, like the Last Word, that combine extremely different flavors with complete success. I don’t hesitate to say this is one of those drinks. Instant fucking classic… Assuming you like extremely smokey, bitter, citrusy stuff. 

Before you scoff at anything coming out of Detroit, keep in mind that the prohibition-era cocktail 'The Last Word' originated from the Detroit Athletic Club. Without a doubt they are making an incredibly arrogant statement, which is acceptable to me but it better deliver.  

Sugar House of Detroit presents the Famous Last Words.  

  • .75 oz. Laphroaig
  • .75 oz. Aperol
  • .75 oz. Bonal
  • .75 oz. Lemon

Shake, strain into a coupe or smallish martini glass if you have nothing else to use.

There are no words that describes how amazing this drink is. It is a crying shame that no one has made any comments on their blog, perhaps we should fix this. Never before has a drink shattered my personal rankings for cocktails like this. With no doubt in my mind, this is my personal favorite drink of the summer. This means it will rattle what you think a mixed cocktail is. This means you, you flavored sugary vodka drinkers. 

Comments

  • I hate buying bottles for those specialty drinks. But each bottle used in this cocktail can be easily reused elsewhere.
  • Laphroaig is a straight punch in the face while kissing a girl that chain smokes. The last time we visited, it was a bitter cold winter Chicago night at Catch 35 downtown. After being smacked in the face with that bone chilling wind off the river, Laphroaig was sitting at the bar telling me to stop being such a whiny little girl. Keep this bottle handy during those cold winter nights.
  • Bonal can be sipped on the rocks as a typical aperitif. Unlike those Italian vermouths that need citrus help, Bonal seems delicious straight with no help. 
  • Aperol is used everywhere with too many classic cocktails to list out.  
  • Don't forget to put the Bonal in the fridge after opening. Yeah I know you don't read labels, but I do.  
  • This is not a boozy drink at all, a tad bit on the sweet side but nothing is better during those summer afternoons especially when it reaches 100.  
  • Laphroaig is around $50, Bonal is around $20, Aperol is slightly more expensive at around $25. If I was able to find this in LA, then you will have no problems finding this at Binny's.  

Suger House said it best "You're welcome"

butternut squash and pumpkin soup

Originally Published: Nov 20, 2013

Butternut Squash and Pumpkin soup: Holiday of Excess Edition

 

My local farmer gave me a couple of pumpkins so I asked the Chef how he cooks with it. The soup recipe that he gave me has been used twice and after enough practice, I feel comfortable sharing. Before we get to that part, let's discuss Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Eve has been one of the biggest drinking nights for quite some time. Look around at the increased DUI checkpoints and police articles discussing 'no refusal' checkpoints. For whatever reason, it is socially acceptable for your inner bro to come out. So turn your visor backwards, order a jaegerbomb and trade fist pumps with your friends...because that is the only way to have fun right?

For those that would rather stay in with family or invite friends over, I have a few ideas to share. In case you missed it, here is a great blog discussing an essential digestif

Plenty of drink ideas on this blog, here is a simple drink from Canon's Gentleman's Companion.

  • Two ounces of Bourbon (I'm using Weller here)
  • 1/4 ounce of Benedictine
  • Dash of Angostura bitters (Try Fee Brothers Barrel aged bitters)

Stir with ice then strain into a small glass. 

PROLOGUE

'The Chef' is more than a mythical figment of my imagination. While becoming a regular at 'The Chef's Corner' in Naperville, we became good friends. The friendship started on our love for the game of basketball spilling over to ethnic culinary arts.  We stay in touch by having him pass on the recipes that I became accustomed to eating while visiting his restaurant.

Butternut Squash Soup

From Chef:

  • Butternut Squash or Pumpkin or both
  • Medium Onion
  • Two ribs of celery (I use four)
  • Fresh thyme
  • Half stick of Butter (I'm using coconut spread)
  • Chicken stock (around a quart)
  • Salt
  • White Pepper (didn't have that so I used black)
  • Cinnamon (1/4 teaspoon)

 "In soup pot (toss in the butter) saute onions and celery with thyme don't brown add squash cover with stock, bring to boil season with salt and pepper add cinnamon cook for 15 or20 min.transfer to blender puree in batches but very carefully" 

"stock to cover veg or 1quart I don't like runny soup"

Serve with a little sour cream if you have it around. Use salt and pepper to taste, it depends how salty your chicken stock is. 

This has ruined me a bit, I understand that not all pumpkins are edible but now when I see my farmer I always grab pumpkin to use in this soup or to cut in half and roast with olive oil, salt and pepper.  

CONCLUSION:

Vedad Vrselj calls Travnik home despite being forced out during the Bosnian War. His former restaurant in Naperville remains one of the most respected and highly reviewed eateries in the area winning awards for best burger and infuriated competition with better ingredients for less money (His yelp reviews). His cult following continues with catering to the Chicagoland area and stays in touch with his Facebook page.

cheaper version of the last work

Originally published Jun 23,2014

CHEAPER VERSION OF THE LAST WORD

By far the biggest barrier to entering the homemade craft cocktail scene is the cost or perceived cost of making cocktails. There is a perception that these cocktail bars use expensive and rare ingredients. Every bar is in the business of selling a product so that means everyone is looking for the highest margin. This is where I have picked up on bottles that are labeled as 'bang for the buck'. These great priced spirits that when mixed with others to form a cocktail, is difficult to pick out the $45 dollar bottle from the $28 bottle. So for all you people that hate Gin and would rather drink Whiskey or Tequila, please continue hating on my preferred spirit. The public's lack of demand for Gin has pushed the price point for premium Gin to the mid $30s. 

Most of you know by now that Green Chartreuse is one of the more beloved bottles that reside in my collection. The problem is that summer is here and most of my friends are looking for either a Last Word or Mezcal Last Word. Green Chartreuse is easily a upper $50 to low $60 bottle. If those monks raise the price again, this is going to turn into a serious problem. There has been no getting around the cost of making this drink until a recent visit to Laschet's Inn

The kind folks at Laschet's Inn told me of a 'herby' liquor that a couple of folks enjoyed but cautioned it was strong. Escorial was the mystery green bottle that they were kind enough to pour our party a couple of shots and were amazed at our reaction. For starters, we don't do shots and instead sipped but each one of us instantly spouted: this is green chartreuse. A quick phone call to the Chef confirmed our suspicions: 'yes I told you, Germans make some it. not the same but close'. 

Binny's has Escorial for $29.99 but don't expect to find this at every location. 

Three times, I have made Mezcal Last Words for a group of people, few were able to determine a difference. For those thinking about doing this, think of it like using North Shore Distillery's Mighty Gin which has a higher proof in a Last Word, this will be the same effect using normal gin with Escorial. 

Mezcal Last Word

  • .75 oz of Mezcal 
  • .75 oz of Escorial
  • .75 oz of Maraschino Liquor
  • .75 oz of fresh squeezed lime juice

Shake with ice then strain into a cocktail glass garnished with a real maraschino cherry.

For those that want the real Last Word, replace the Mezcal above with your favorite Gin. If the French Monk's have internet access and are reading this, I still have love for you guys. 

@bittterac

Don't forget to drink like a responsible adult

Parsons Batavia Arrack

Originally published

Jul 15, 2014

PARSON'S CHICKEN AND FISH: BATAVIA ARRACK DAIQUIRI

Batavia Arrack is not going to be a household name with most folks. My bottle has been sitting in my collection for about five years now. There is really no reason to break this bottle out unless making Swedish Punsch from scratch which is a bit silly considering it comes prebottled. This sub $40 spirit will be hidden at your local Binny's or neighborhood Lush. Good luck finding it anywhere else and if you see this hiding behind the bar make it a point to ask the bartender what they use it for. (assuming they are not slammed)

That is exactly what happened when visiting Parson's Chicken and Fish in Logan Square.  I enjoy visiting economically depressed Chicago neighborhoods and like all my previous visits, was pleasantly surprised with the entire package at Parson's. Great food with drinks that are probably difficult to make at home. They make a great slushy and with the name Negroni Slushy it satisfies my need to stay with the classics. Parson's also lists out their spirits on the menu with Batavia Arrack sitting towards the bottom. No one orders that spirit, you can even see the dust on that section of the menu. I asked the waitress (who was awesome): "hey if they are not busy can they make me something with Batavia Arrack? I don't care what it is. ".

The waitress returned with a Batavia Arrack Daiquiri. I'll shut up now. For those wondering, this is in my top five summer drinks. 

  • 1.5 ounce of Batavia Arrack
  • 3/4 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup

Do the usual, shake here with ice. Serve strained with mint as a garnish. If you have big ice, go for it. 

Thanks Parson's!!!!

@bittterac

Don't forget to drink like a responsible adult

crafthouse for camping

Originally published on 

Jul 23, 2014

ASK AC VOLUME 4: CAMPING WITH CRAFTHOUSE

Every now and then a friend of mine is dumb enough to ask me a question about cocktails. I say that because this is nothing but a hobby of mine when the real experts are behind the bar. Most of the time regurgitated answers that the experts have passed on to me suffice, but this time around there was nothing really to help me answer my friends question. 

"Challenge: Good summer drinks that can be easily made while camping or in a friend's cabin up north with minimal effort"

Abruptly, my inner requirement gathering nerd shows up asking "will there be ice?" and "will you have a juicer?"

There are a couple of three ingredient drinks out there, like a proper margarita covered in the last Ask AC volume. The problem with summer drinks is that they involve packing extra items for drink prep. Let's rattle through the items: shaker, ice, tequila bottle, Cointreau bottle, knife, juicer, limes and cups. Eight items to pack on your camping trip seems excessive. How did those guys in the 1800's do this?

Eventually I just gave up and told my friend to buy a bottle of Crafthouse and pack some ice. The Southside bottle is what I 'lived' on while staying in Chicago with no bottles, glasses, bar ware or utensils. Pour what you want to drink in a cup and add ice.

You have to love that they tossed in the 'gluten free' tag on their bottle description. But at least they didn't say 'best served with artisan bread'. 

Happy camping!

@bittterac

Don't forget to drink like a responsible adult

jungle birds summer cocktail

Originally published Jul31, 2014

JUNGLE BIRD: THE SUMMER COCKTAIL THAT CHICAGO IS BUZZING ABOUT

It is pretty easy to pick up on trends when visiting with bartenders. Granted by the time the news gets to me, it is probably old news..but let's humor me for a bit and pretend that I am special. It is foggy where or who first taught me the Jungle Bird but clearly every bar has been buzzing about this 70s era Tiki drink. Hard drink to explain to my friends, it is not overly sweet but makes the bitterness of the drink work. 

The New York Times explains why Jeff Berry thinks this tiki drink is so popular with the bartenders: "Mr. Berry said he knew why mixologists like the drink. “The reason, I am 100 percent positive, is because there’s Campari in it, which makes it the only vintage tiki drink that today’s amaro-loving bartenders can relate to,” he said."

My theory on the popularity is a bit cynical. The ingredients to make this drink are ridiculously cheap calling for cheap rum, sugar water and fruit juices. Toss some garnish on it and slap a $12 price tag on it and you have discovered one of the biggest profit makers of the bar. 

The Jungle Bird

1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 1/2 ounces Cruzan blackstrap rum
3/4 ounce Campari
1 1/2 ounces pineapple juice
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

Each bar is going to build this differently, but most are shaking this then straining into a rocks glass with big ice. 

To all my friends, I'm sorry for bugging you about this drink so much. It really is amazing with nothing else out there like it. Enjoy this at home and let the experts at the bar make you something difficult the next time you enjoy a night out.

@bittterac

Don't forget to drink like a responsible adult  

Required Reading:

convert your friends to gin

Originally published Aug 8, 2014

The cocktail that is presented to you here is the very same cocktail that converted me from a creme brulee martini drinking - sugary cocktail sipping - waking up with a headache idiot to the refined -  snobby - do not call me a hipster - wanna be craft cocktail bartender imbiber that I am today. 

The Corpse Reviver #2 has been mentioned many times in the past here, but never has been featured until today. This is the drink you serve to your gin hated friends, when they ask you what is in it, you respond simply 'Gin, now shut up' and calmly walk away. Without a doubt, this is the gateway cocktail to craft cocktails. Enjoy the ride. 

During the middle 1800s, these drinks were meant to be taken in the morning to revive the body before starting the day. Harry Craddock in his Savoy Cocktail Book published in 1930 goes into more details. 

There have been at least a million articles published on this cocktail, but now you know what drink created the mad man that you see today. 

  • 3/4 ounce Gin (I like using North Shore Distillery here)
  • 3/4 ounce Cointreau
  • 3/4 ounce Lillet Blanc
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • dash of absinthe 

Shake the ingredients then strain into a martini glass. Be warned that you can kill this drink by using too much absinthe, this means you San Antonio. 

@bittterac

Don't forget to drink like a responsible adult  

Required viewing:

shock your friends sour

Originally Published Aug 18, 2014

This past weekend, a good friend of mine invited my family over to catch up over food and drinks. After spending a couple of nights studying which drinks to prepare, my final list of three cocktails were: The Delicious Sour, The Diki-Diki Cocktail and the Dr Cocktail. The Diki-Diki ended up being one of the worst drinks which makes me want to hang out with my bartender friends to figure out what happened. The Dr Cocktail came out just great but was out-shined by quite possibly one of the best cocktails I have had in quite some time, the Delicious Sour. Move your inhibitions to the side, this cocktail will seem adventurous at first but when you finally arrive at your destination you will quickly ask yourself 'why did it take me so long to get here'. 

THE DELICIOUS SOUR FROM TED HAIGH'S VINTAGE SPIRITS AND FORGOTTEN COCKTAILS

  • 2 ounces of Apple Jack
  • 2 ounces of Peach flavored Brandy
  • 1.5 ounce of lime juice
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • Club soda

Here is what is going to happen, you will have a hard time finding decent Peach Brandy unless you decide to make your own. So Mathilde Peach Liqueur is what you will find, use that but turn down the dosage to 1 ounce and crank up the Apple Jack to 2.5 ounce. Here is my adjusted list:

  • 2.5 ounces of Lairds Apple Jack
  • 1 ounce of Mathilde Peach Liqueur
  • 1.5 ounce of lime juice
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sugar (use fine or super fine)
  • Club soda

 

PROCESS
 

Add all of the ingredient except the club soda into your shaker with ice. Fill the shaker up half way, but not more. Then shake for a very long time, maybe close to one minute. You will notice that the shaker will sound different almost like 'ropey'. Hard to explain. Then strain into two wine glasses, unless you want this all to yourself. After pouring then add in a splash or two of club soda. It really is difficult to mess up this cocktail since we did at least three variations of this over the weekend. 

Hurry up and enjoy this cocktail during what we have left of summer and be amazed at what the egg white does to the texture of this cocktail. You will be left sitting there wondering why you thought egg based cocktails were weird in the first place. 

 

@bitterac 

Don't forget to drink like a responsible adult  

 

REQUIRED READING:

 

Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie 100 Rediscovered Recipes and the Stories Behind Them

By Ted Haigh

fox news claims

Originally published Oct 15, 2014

Fox News published an article yesterday: 5 of the world's most dangerous cocktails. On that list is my favorite cocktail the Corpse Reviver #2. 

At SouthWark, a bar in downtown Philadelphia, the Corpse Reviver #2 is by far one of the deadliest cocktails on the menu. Made with gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, lemon and absinthe, this cocktail is dangerous because of  absinthe qualities that sometime provoke violence in drinkers or makes them black out. 

The unnamed author proclaims that absinthe is the culprit for violent behavior. A myth that is still common folklore despite numerous scientific studies that debunk that 1909 thinking. Let's rattle through the proper way to construct this cocktail.

  • .75 ounce of Gin (typically 90 proof)
  • .75 ounce of Lillet Blanc (French aperitif wine at 34 proof)
  • .75 ounce of Cointreau (orange flavored liquor at 40 proof)
  • .75 ounce of fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • A dash of absinthe (typically around 120 proof)

Shake the above ingredients, strain into a martini glass and serve with a Maraschino cherry. Do not use the atomic red cherry that Fox News shows in their picture. Find these cherries in your store: 

 

 

A dash of absinthe equates to 1/16 of a teaspoon which of that dosage will certainly not cause delusions, violent behavior or overall aggressive behavior. In regards to the myth of absinthe that originated in the early 1900s, the following links debunk this:

To wrap up the article from Fox:

  1. No details of the cocktail
  2. Posted the wrong picture of the cocktail (it is not clear like vodka)
  3. Promotes a myth that has been debunked numerous times. 

 If it actually was 1900, perhaps Carrie Nation would love Fox News. This was the same lady that would rile up mobs and run into bars smashing bottles with her hatchet which then lead to the failed experiment known as Prohibition. Carrie would also tell the Fox that they missed out  on a chance to include a bible passage to complete their fear mongering message. 

To my friends in the South, you have every right to your opinion but can we stop with the fear tactics that promote abstinence and uneducated agendas? Put the hatchet down, and meet me out for a cocktail. I will be more than happy to teach you a strange yet wonderful concept called: moderation

 

@bitterac 

Don't forget to drink like a responsible adult

gin challenge part one

Originally published Oct 20, 2014

Gin is a required ingredient with most of these classic cocktails. So it should not be surprising that Gin is being constantly rotated in my bar. Even better for me is that the general public hates Gin, the lack of demand produces great product for less than $30. With that said, the popularity explosion with craft cocktails has been both great and terrible because it means that quality cocktails are definitely more accessible than it was five to ten years ago. However the new found popularity has produced a slightly more expensive tier for Gin touting 'ultra premium' attributes. Top shelf Gin is creeping up towards the $40 mark but do the extra 'artisan' qualities of gin matter with these classic cocktails?

A voice has been running in my head about this theory regarding Gin for quite some time, here is how the test happened:

  • 1.5 ounce of Gin
  • 1 ounce of St Germain Elderflower liquor
  • 3 ounce of tonic water
  • 2-3 dashes of optional Acid Phosphate

This bottle of St Germain was sitting unopened on my shelve for over a year. Limes and lemons were missing from my fridge. One could argue that this test is already weird and that some key ingredients were missing or you can call me a creative thinker. Shaking and straining multiple versions of a drink was something off the table the previous night, so call me lazy. 

The Gins in this challenging round were:

  • Beefeater Gin 
    • Yes the cheap gin that even Jewel sells
    • For this cocktail, add the optional Acid Phosphate to make up for the lack of citrus
  • CH Distillery Key Lime Gin
    • Local to Chicago, somewhat common and can be found at Whole Foods
    • Upper tier price point for Gin, over $30
    • For this cocktail, omit the Acid Phosphate. 
  • Green Hat Gin
    • Not available in Chicago to my knowledge but is a East Coast thing
    • You will need to hunt for good prices but it should cost you $35
    • Keep the Acid Phosphate in the cocktail for this round

A couple months back, we tasted these spirits straight. No one liked the cheap Beefeater or the CH Distillery but enjoyed all of the premium gins. Keep that in mind as we get to the results. 

In regards to the cocktail above, here are the results:

3. Green Hat Gin. With this cocktail, the after taste was just over powering. It doesn't work unless you enjoy gin. 

2. CH Distillery Key Lime Gin. Surprisingly the bottle that I am known for hating came ahead of Green Hat. 

1. Beefeater Gin. It actually is a two way tie for first place. Beefeater with Acid Phosphate tasted identical to CH Distillery to this amateur taster. 

For my cheap friends, pick up that Beefeater. You won't find a better product for the money. 

For my hipster friends, stop talking trash about Beefeater. Even the International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC) has been giving awards to the Chivas Brothers for their Beefeater Gin. 

For my curious friends, before you splurge for that high end Gin do a little research for what drinks make the bottle shine. You may be picking up a bottle that specializes in some areas. 

Just promise that you won't do shots of Beefeater.

how to make superior tonic water at home

Originally published Oct 28, 2014

There is one thing that annoys me more than drinking a crappy drink and that is paying for a crappy drink. Last month I was stuck in my Lexington, MA hotel room with no quality cocktail bars within a twenty mile radius. Instead of heading down to the hotel bar to overpay for Miller Light, I drove around to get familiar with the area and to stop at the first liquor store that had a glimpse of hope.

Walking into the store, my gut feelings were validated when looking at the walls of liquor. Standing there, looking at the playing field...there were some decisions to be made. What cocktail could be made without any hardware, citrus or knifes? There were some local gins that were screaming at me, so I decided to go with a Gin and Tonic. While talking to the clerk, he saw my disgust when he pointed to the Schweppes Tonic Water.  

The clerk walked in back and grabbed a bottle of Jack Rudy Tonic Syrup then told me that this bottle would make the best tonic I would ever have. Here is how it works: take your favorite Gin mix Jack Rudy then top with club soda and ice. This syrup works, works better than Q Tonic or Fentimans. You can control exactly how sweet your tonic is, and that control alone is priceless. 

Directly from the label:

  • 2 ounce Gin
  • .75 ounce Jack Rudy Tonic Syrup
  • 4 ounce of club soda

Build in a collins glass, add ice then top with club soda. 

Let's ignore the fact that I was making this cocktail in my hotel room then walking down to the lobby to play a couple rounds of pool while sipping out of a paper coffee to-go cup. Trashy on the outside yet classy on the inside. 

http://jackrudycocktailco.com/ (available at Whole Foods and Marianos)

@bitterac 

stop eating crappy salads

Originally published Dec 17, 2014

Chances are high that you eat really bad salads or are one of those people that say 'salads suck they do not fill me up'. Despite the majority hating on salads, my Instagram salads pictures are easily one of the most commented pictures on my profile. A couple of requests sparked this post, so let's have some fun with the shocking truths below. Be warned, that this post will ruin you from 90% of the salads out there at restaurants. 

Your base is spinach. Toss out iceberg lettuce, grass has more nutritional value than that. Grab the biggest bowl you have in the closet, I'm expecting three times the size of your soup bowl at least. Fill that bowl (that could double as a helmet) with more than 60% full of spinach. 

Get some sweet peppers from the store. Yellow or orange only, no one eats Green peppers in their salad because green peppers suck. Take a whole pepper, not half, not a quarter..a whole pepper, slice that up and toss in your salad. 

Cucumbers are next, and these are eye-balled according to size. Too big then half other wise the entire cucumber. Do not be fancy about the prep here, just peel them because you are not a cow. Then cut length wise twice to make quarters. Then chop those up into smaller pieces. It takes me around 15 seconds to cut them up. 

Tomatoes are easily the most important aspect of the salad but also the most complicated aspect of your salad. Your tomatoes are probably terrible and taste like plastic because you leave them in your fridge. Stop reading and take them out of the fridge. Cut those tomatoes open, do you see white? Yeah those suck because you bought them at the grocery store and not a trusted farmer at a farmers market. Vine ripened tomatoes at Whole Foods, it doesn't matter...they suck. Grape tomatoes do really well for me. You'll also see those mixture of medley tomatoes. Take at least three handfuls of those tomatoes, wash them and cut them in half. For the yuppies out there reading this, take three vine ripened tomatoes and cut them in quarters. Dump them into your salad. 

Sit back and admire your salad with all the pretty colors. But don't take any pictures yet!

The secret to this salad is the dressing. Two parts olive oil with one part balsamic vinegar. Depending on how big your head is, your helmet bowl might be sorta large. So make enough dressing that there is at least some sitting in your bowl after you mix it. WAIT

You take your oil and vinegar and either place it in a real small tupperware container or a glass. Dump in some salt and pepper and mix that together thoroughly prior to adding to your salad. 

Sprinkle some goat cheese and start taking pictures. You can even get upscale by dumping sushi grade sashimi on top of it. 

Here is the shopping list:

  • Spinach
  • Orange or Yellow peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Enjoy your lunch and after you get full, make sure to wake up your co-workers from their food coma who think they are eating healthy by eating soup in a bread bowl. 

To my Instagram friends, you know who you are...thanks for the push to write this post. 

@bitterac

derby cocktail

originally published Feb 18, 2005

Last night marked ChicagosNext.com's first public google hangout. Since Matthew Bramer is my co-host, we figured to kick off these talks with our favorite subject: Craft Cocktails. 

During the hangout, we mentioned a quick and easy cocktail to make that uses only three ingredients. The Derby is easily one of my friend's favorite winter cocktails. Have fun with this one!

The Derby via Robert Hess

  • 2 ounces of Bourbon (I use Rye though, Rittenhouse)
  • 1/4 ounce of Benedictine
  • dash of Angostura bitters (I'm using 3-4 healthy dashes)

Stir with ice, then strain into a small glass. Garnish with a lemon peel. 

The lemon peel actually does matter with this drink, but in a pinch it is the first item that I skip. Also for the super lazy, just dump this into a glass with big ice and be done with it. 

Supporting links:

@bitterac 

Turn cheap rum into a premium cocktail

Originally published Aug 20, 2015

When sipping on a bourbon, if you can smell 'pepper, oak, caramel corn, new leather, plums, light toffee and pipe tobacco' while picking up on an 'astoundingly rich deeply honey-like and gently warming' palate...please sit this one out and stop reading this post, you are not my target audience.  

The liquor companies for years have been creating a false illusion of what premium is. They want you to think that ultra premium cocktails are based on the spirit alone. They do not want you to know that the true premium is the craftmanship making the cocktail and the manual effort behind the supporting ingredients. 

Handmade tinctures, syrups, bitters can turn virtually any base spirit into a premium cocktail and I can prove it. 

Jasper Rum Punch is brought to you by Ted Haigh from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.  Vintage Spirits is easily one of the better cocktail books in my collection. 

 

Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie 100 Rediscovered Recipes and the Stories Behind Them

By Ted Haigh

 

Searching for this online, you will notice that the author is ok with posting the recipe online. You will however need to purchase his book to get the full story on this cocktail and the rich history that it has. 

Jasper Secret Mix

  • 12 limes, juiced
  • 1.5 cups sugar (I'm using cane sugar)
  • 1.25 ounces of Angostura Bitters (I'm contemplating wearing this as cologne, it smells amazing)
  • Half of a whole nutmeg, grated

Stir all ingredients until the sugar dissolves. If you do not have room for this in your fridge, pour a smidge of that ultra premium vodka in this to help it keep at room temperature for a day or two.  (why vodka? because it is supposed to be tasteless and odorless and cheap)

For the cocktail, use 1.5 ounces of Rum (read the book to determine the proper types of Rum) with 1.5 ounces of the Jasper Mix. Try to serve with lots of ice...lots of ice since the cocktail tastes better with some dilution. 

How amazing is this jasper Mix? I used the completely wrong rum..spiced rum...kirkland brand from Costco....something like the 1.5 liter for $18 bottle...and Jasper Mix made *that* taste good. Perfect for those big summer parties where you may not know everyone but you don't want to use expensive liquor on strangers but don't want to look like a cheap ass either. 

You are welcome and your secret is safe with me. 

@bitterac 

WHAT IS A GIN & MONKS? COURTESY OF PECHE (AUSTIN,TX)

Originally Published Jan 30, 2012

It really only has been a year since I've started diving into making craft cocktails. I say 'making' rather loosely because all my drinks are duplications of other bartender's work.  It was around four years ago that a good friend of mine (@sharepointtoro) introduced me into the pre-prohibition cocktail scene. At the time, I lived in the suburbs and wasn't really able to dive into the subject since there are NO bars in the area that do mixed drinks like what I read in Robert Hess' books. Before my move to Chicago, my first real bar experience was in Austin Texas.

 

@peche_austin

http://www.yelp.com/biz/peche-austin

http://www.pecheaustin.com/

 

It was over a year and a half ago that I visited Austin during a mind numbing hot summer. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I botched an interview down there, but am happy that I was able to connect with some old friends. These friends introduced me to Peche. I've been in love with Austin and Peche ever since. They had on their menu a drink called Gin & Monks that used both Green and Yellow Chartreuse. For the past year or so, I've tried to get other people in Chicago to duplicate the drink. No one ever heard of it and no one really wanted to touch it. Clearly I fell for a drink that was a Peche original.

 

Finally last week, I made a return trip to Austin. Over the last year, I could have emailed them how to make the drink but never felt comfortable doing so. Finally after four visits in five days, I had the courage to ask for a Gin & Monks (which was not on the menu) and to ask how to make it.

 

With that said, I'm pleased to present the cocktail that I've been chasing for quite some time: the Gin & Monks by Dwayne at Peche Austin. 

 

1.5 oz Plymouth Gin

  .5 oz Green Chartreuse

  .5 oz Yellow Chartreuse

  .5 oz lime

  .5 oz simple syrup

 

Shaken and strained into a martini glass. 

 

  •  Is this a sweet drink? 
    •  YES , but the lime helps cut it down. You could probably cut the simple syrup down a notch.
  • Is this a summer drink? 
    • Probably so unless you live in Austin which doesn't have a winter. 
  • How great is this drink? 
    • In my top five.
  • Why did you use North Shore #6? 
    • Because I have a crush on that distillery, don't judge.
  • Could I have tried to make it on my own instead of toiling around for a year? 
    • Read intro to this blog post, I'm a novice not a professional.

Now you finally have an excuse to purchase a bottle of Yellow Chartreuse because this drink along with Sepia's Victorian Lace are MUST have drinks in your knowledge base. 

If you are ever in Austin, you owe it to yourself to visit Peche. They are clearly a class act and one of the better craft cocktail bars in the state if not the country.

Thanks Peche!

 

WHAT IS CORN & OIL AND WHO IS BARRELHOUSE FLAT?

Originally published Feb 13, 2012

 

As you can probably tell by now, I love learning from others and hearing how other people approach their craft. Regardless of what community you work in, nobody likes a know-it-all. It makes me wish that we all played dodgeball at least once a month to help us remember why it is important to act a certain way towards others. 

With that side rant over, I enjoy showing up to bars during the less busy times to ask questions. I'm trying to understand the rum side of things right now. The spirit confuses me because it seems to be similar to Whiskey, but uses dramatically different 'mixers'. Don't ask me why I think this, I'm still learning remember?  

Barrelhouse Flat has a drink menu that is separated by base spirit. As I'm staring at the section of Rums trying to understand what is going on, I give up and close the menu to ask for help. For the last drink of the day, I asked Jess at Barrelhouse Flat what is her personal favorite drink...as of right now..which is an incredibly difficult question to answer. Jess presented to me a drink called Corn & Oil to which she said that it was an underappreciated cocktail.

This drink consists of Rum and Falernum. I'm happy to learn about a new Rum based drink so I'm happy. I have no clue what Falernum was at the time, so I'm excited to learn something new once again. According to the bottle, Falernum consists of Lime Juice, Sugar, Almond & Clove Essence, Water and White Rum. I find it interesting that the old style or historical rum drinks always mix different types of Rums. One of these days, I'm going to have to remember to ask someone why they do that.

Corn & Oil gets it's sweetness from the Rum itself, I suppose...so it isn't an overpowering sweet drink. It also is served on rocks...big ice cubes if you have them. I love big ice, even in drinks that don't call for them like the Lion's Tale.  

Thank you Jess and Barrelhouse Flat for teaching me something new about Rum! Corn & Oil is sitting squarely in my top 10 right now. 

2 oz Cruzan Black Strap Rum

1/2 oz Falernum

dash of angostura bitters

squeeze 2 lime wedges

Both bottles (Black Strap Rum and Falernum) are extremely cheap, both are under $15 bucks. On the back of the bottle, Falernum lists their own recipe for Corn & Oil. I'll let you compare the two. Another side note, I believe that Barrelhouse Flat uses their own version of house made Falernum. So I'm positive that what we make will not taste as good as theirs. It also seems that Black Strap Rum is getting very popular with the Bartender circles now...this is the second drink in less than one month that I've been taught to make using that bottle. The other drink is Acid Brothers from Second Bar from Austin..another drink that sits in my top 10. 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

WHAT IS THE VICTORIAN LACE AND WHO IS SEPIA, CHICAGO? & NORTH SHORE DISTILLERY?

The first time that I had this drink was at Sepia. My interest was piqued since it used Yellow Chartreuse. Oddly enough it was mixed with vodka: North Shore's Sol vodka. I had my doubts, but surprisingly it was amazing and shattered my perception towards Vodka. For a summer time drink, this pretty much removed the Corpse Reviver #2 from my number one spot. Much to my chagrin, I was under the impression that it used a spirit that was in a limited edition run from North Shore Distillery. I thought this because when I returned to Sepia and asked for it again they informed me that they don't sell it anymore. With my heart broken, I returned to the comfort of a Corpse Reviver. 

My relationship with gin was fine until my visit to North Shore's Distillery only to see that they still do make Sol vodka. The bottle winked at me, I started to blush and returned back to Victorian Lace forgetting that Sepia took her away from me.

With that said, I present to you Victorian Lace. Introduced to me then snatched away from me by Sepia in Chicago.... to be reunited by the folks at North Shore Distillery once again.

1.5 oz Sol Vodka

1/2 oz Yellow Chartreuse

1/2 oz simple syrup

3/4 oz lemon juice

 

BARRELHOUSE FLAT PRESENTS: TIPSY BAR

Originally published Mar 22, 2012

I promised you more posts on Rum, specifically a post on Swedish Punsch. Eventually, I'll post about making Swedish Punsch. Today the post will not be related to Rum but will have Swedish Punsch as one of the ingrediants. 

Last year while researching Rum, a few cocktails books made mention of using Swedish Punsch. Specifically using Kronan Swedish Punsch. At the time, that bottle was extremely hard to find. However after doing some googling, it is possible to make Swedish Punsch using Batavia Arrack Van Oosten. Oddly enough that bottle was easy to find at the neighborhood Lush. I'll stop there with the explanation so that something can be saved for the next post. 

Fast forward to this year, and imagine my surprise while visiting Barrelhouse Flat to see a bottle of Kronan Swedish Punsch on the shelf. Immediately asked the bartender (who I should have wrote down his name, but I was drinking) what he uses with that bottle. He mentioned that their menu is about to change and one of their featured drinks uses Swedish Punsch. I'm very fortunate that he was willing to share the ingrediants with me. 

With that said, Barrelhouse Flat presents the Tipsy Bar by Jess Keane. 

1.5 oz Old Tom Gin (Hayman's)

3/4 oz Swedish Punsch

1/2 oz Amaro Abano

1/4 oz Lemon Juice

"Build over rocks in a collins glass, top with soda, garnish with an orange twist."

I can't do this drink justice by trying to explain it. It finishes sorta dry (from the amaro?)... and doesn't have too much of a tart....the gin they use really feels like a whiskey so beware. Truthfully you should ask the professionals about it. I'm sure that any of the bartenders at Barrelhouse Flat would be more than happy to explain it to you. (assuming it isn't too busy right)

This drink is sitting firmly in my summer rotation!

I'm not big into popularity contests, but Jess was featured in the Red Eye. Shame on you for not voting for her more.  

Thank you Barrelhouse Flat!

THE DRINK THAT NO BAR WILL SERVE YOU

Originally published Apr 3, 2012

Given the title of this post, the drink that I am going to describe to you might shock you. Before we dive into this mystery craft cocktail, I will share with you a type of drink that bars should stop serving right now: liquor mixed with Red Bull. If you need Red Bull to stay awake after drinking too much, then perhaps that is a sign to go home. Mixing a downer with an upper is never a good idea, it tricks your body. Keep in mind that alcohol dehydrates you, so does caffeine. So when you wake up with a splitting headache the next morning, you have no one to blame but yourself and your college level decision making process. 

Now that the amateurs have left the room, let's have a discussion about craft cocktails. Don't forget that if you have questions about this, save it for the professionals behind the bar. 

The Rubicon is a drink that for whatever reason bars are extremely shy to serve. When I say 'shy', I mean that so far only one bar has ever agreed to make it for me. I am guessing that the reason behind this is because the recipe calls liquor to be set on fire. Upon further inspection, every aspect of the Rubicon has hidden meaning. The liquor needs to be lit on fire at the right moment, the ingredients mixed at the right time, the type of ice is crucial as well (crushed ice keeps the rosemary petals down). 

Robert Hess with Essential Bartender's Guide first taught me this drink. 

1/2 oz Green Chartreuse

1 rosemary sprig

2 oz gin

1/2 oz maraschino

1/2 oz lemon juice

Light the Chartreuse and rosemary on fire in a rocks glass, and extinguish with the mixture of gin, maraschino and lemon juice. 

Hess references that this drink came from Jamie Boudreau. The blog post for this drink is here.

Here are my notes, my readers are asking for this (despite the fact that I'm not a pro at this): 

I picked this drink out of the collection because it uses Green Chartreuse. So expect the same type of medicinal flavor. I do pick up on the Maraschino more so than other spirits. Gin is the predominate spirit here, but it easily gets overshadowed. I actually like to start shaking the gin mixture well before lighting the Chartreuse on fire, this means that the fire is really only going on for perhaps five long seconds. Nothing smells better than burning rosemary, just don't overdo it. I love this drink and it changes flavors as you sip on it. Which I don't know if the melting ice has something to do with that or if the gin mixture is sitting on top with the Charteuse on the bottom.  

Go to your nearest bar and ask the bartender about this. They might introduce you to my new friend: Mezcal Last Word. The smokiness of the Mezcal emulates the burning of the Chartreuse. More info on that here: What is the Mezcal Last Word?

It is weird for me to end a blog post without thanking someone. So do me a favor and chat to your bartender and thank her/him for explaining the craft to you.