Is winter coming or is it going? That depends on where you live. This week the guys try to sort it all out. From warm grogs to hot pots, “what’s hot and what’s not”?
Even their parties this week are reflective of the chill in the air. Greg’s been traveling to Seattle for a cool-weather-get-away that covered all the hot spots in town. He’s been drinking with the cool kids at Poppy, Sun Liquor, Artusi, Canon and The Zig Zag Cafe because there’s more than one way to chill in Seattle. Nathan’s been back to Disney Land. It’s one destination that transcends the weather and warms every kid’s heart. Even kids Nathan’s age. Because whether it’s hot (or it’s not) running with Tinkerbell is a family affair with the Hazard clan. So is Trader Sam’s where it’s fun to celebrate winter tiki with a Shrunken Zombi Head.
It’s Andy who really knows how to generate some heat this chilly post holiday season. How about a high-brow-low-brow Christmas Tree bonfire (with Korean barbecue), right on the beach. The dried branches ignite within seconds and make a scorchingly bright light show, that just might catch the attention of the Coast Guard. Whether it’s legal or not just might depend on the weather. Because what’s Hot and what’s Cold can be subjective. Just listen as Andy tries to answer that question, straddling his time between sunny Los Angeles and snowy Michigan.
But the Hot Pot has all the answers, or at least provides the questions. Dip your hand in and grab a piece of paper. That’s how the game works. This week the guys reach in and try to answer the question– what’s hot and what’s not? It’s complicated.
There might be some disagreement about Cher, but one thing all three guys can agree on is that warm winter drinks with an alcoholic kick make winter a wonderland. Greg’s whipped up a little something with chamomile tea and genever he calls a Warm Cardigan. While Andy experiments with getting the butter into a chai-laced hot rum drink– for a not so classic Hot Buttered Rum, Andy style. While the kettle’s on the guys taste that version and try the same idea with apple brandy. Both versions score points, and Greg thinks the brandy version reminds him of the original nighttime sniffling sneezing coughing aching stuffy head fever so you can rest medicine. The Hot Toddy.
But Nathan’s a modern man and so are his cocktail creations. Inspired by the bar 1886 in Pasadena and his own experiments with winter tiki, Nathan’s created a Hot Grog to sip by the fire. It’s very “apres ski” in the “Shaggiest” sense of the word. Certain to warm your winter.
Warm winters aren’t just a southern California tradition. The French have their own way of keeping the chill at bay. It involves la grole, an communal drinking vessel designed to keep hot drinks hot. Ensuring a certain intimacy between imbibers. The lid has spouts, making it look like a very adult sippy cup (but not really as you’ll burn your lips). The Scandinavian’s have their own tradition for keeping warm by the bar. It involves genever, an old style Holland gin (that’s not “really” gin). The bartender fills the cordial glass all the way to the very brim. Rather than spill a drop lifting the glass from the bar, the drinker is expected to lean down and slurp the first sip right off the top of the glass. The genever is then chased with beer. This little tradition is known as kopstoot, or “headbutt”.
Now that you’ve had a drink with the guys, aren’t you feeling hungry? There’s still cheesy raclette in the works, so stay tuned. But the weather calls for braising. Andy’s been braising lamb shanks– it’s great method for many cuts of meat. The concept behind braising is this: the main ingredient is seared, or browned in fat. It is then simmered in liquid on low-heat in a covered pot for a very long time. Cooking the meat low and slow for a lengthy time breaks down the tough connective tissue in meat. Through time, the moisture and heat build, and the collagen (which is what makes the meat “tough”) dissolves into gelatin. The gelatin moves into the sauce and works as a slight thickening agent making the sauce smooth and velvety. The key to success is time. Because as soon as the meat cooks through, its fibers begin to expel moisture. Thereby causing the meat to become dry and less flavorful. If you were to pull the meat out of the pan at this point you would be disappointed with the results. But if you give the meat even more cooking time, these fibers relax and absorb the melted fat as well as the flavorful broth. This process is called osmosis. The long and short of it is that everything re-hydrates and becomes very tender with an amazing flavor. So come on, you can do this. It works with vegetables too. Greg likes fennel and Andy’s wants to braise red leeks until they get as soft as butter. Try it.
Endive makes for a classic braise. Greg remembers his mother’s version (oh so similar to Julia Child’s). But say “chicory” to Nathan and his mind turns to coffee and Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.
Let’s face it. Nobody knows winter like the Norwegians. They drink a botanical flavored liquor known as aquavit. It’s really starting to catch on in North America too. Maybe it’s time you tried some. It’s better than freezing to death, right?