Monthly Archives: November 2013

Thanksgiving Potlucks for Shitty Cooks

It’s Thanksgiving potluck season, and that either means you (like us) will be slaving away in the kitchen to produce sumptuous dishes that sweat with animal fats and glisten with salty gravy, or (like many) you’ll be sweating like a nervous pig on auction day as you try to come up with something to mask the fact that you can’t tell the difference between a skillet and a saucepan.

Thankfully, we’re here to help. And for most of these Thanksgiving shindigs, the important (and difficult) things like turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, and potatoes are taken care of by someone who takes inordinate pleasure in showing off their cooking (also, like us). But all those main dishes take time and energy and leave their cooks with depleted resources for taking care of everything else that is necessary for a proper, gut-busting feast. Here are some things you can bring to the table that other people may have overlooked in the mad scramble to finish the gravy, brown the gratin, and carve the bird.

Decent bread. Yea, the pungent, natural levain kind, fired in a commercial oven so its crust is, well, crusty, while its crumb is sumptuously tangy and moist. People can make this at home pretty easily, if they have a dutch oven and an unoccupied stove to put it in, but, this being Thanksgiving, that probably isn’t the case. So, offer to bring a couple loaves. (Olive batard, anyone?)

Hor d’oeuvres. These are easy because you can pay someone else to do them for you. Get some crackers and cheese, or a spread of nuts, some cornichons and pickled onions, berries, or something else to nibble on while you drink something loosening before getting down to eating the main course.

Martinis. Gin and vermouth, stirred with ice, strained and served up with the garnish of your choice. If you’re reading this sentence, you can make a martini. And if you really can’t, bring an aperitif wine.

Fancy vanilla ice cream. To go with the pumpkin pie someone else baked.

Port or sherry. For after dinner sipping. (Still bring the martini and/or aperitif.)

Pumpkin beers, and a pumpkin beers zine. Because who doesn’t want to read about the pumpkin beers you just brought?

This Is a Zine about Pumpkin Beers

Be the first on your block to own a copy of the limited edition, perfect-read-on-your-bus-ride-home-for-Thanksgiving copy of THIS IS A ZINE ABOUT PUMPKIN BEERS. Written, designed, and hand-assembled by The Bitters. $3 postage paid. Get yours through PayPal here.

Choosing Gin: Broker’s vs. New Amsterdam

Broker's v. New Amsterdam

I’ve been comparing certain gins for everyday use. In the past, I was a New Amsterdam partisan, because it is cheap and because it plays well with citrus: it’s what I have used to test out many of the gimlets and fitzgeralds, in all their variations, I make, if only because it seems like a remarkably good deal. And it is, and it doesn’t offend, and, sure, it cheekily cashes in on the Breukelen zeitgeist even though it is distilled in Cali. But, swapping in a more robust gin puts muscles onto your drinks. And you know what? Muscles are good.

Where New Amsterdam is definitely an affordable, smooth spirit that has no major faults—it’s solidly unremarkable in every way—Broker’s is bigger and meaner, with more booze and a harder-edged flavor. In a word, it’s ginnier. Not in a bad way—there are no harsh ethanol notes or off flavors—but comparing a simple recipe varying only the two gins (I made a gimlet with Peychaud’s and sipped the two side by side), Broker’s makes itself present in a drink’s overall impression while New Amsterdam fades to the background.

This isn’t completely surprising: New Amsterdam is 40 percent alcohol, where Broker’s is 47, and Broker’s claims to be made in a pot still (whether this is strictly true or marketing speech for running neutral grain spirits through a pot still on a final distillation to instill botanicals, though, is hard to say).

Given that the difference in price between the two bottles is about three bucks, it’s better to go with Broker’s. Assuming you want to taste the gin in your gin-and-juice.


Awesome Mac and Cheese

Macaroni Crust

Awhile back, I made an excellent platter of mac and cheese, using the methods that Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot outline in their book Ideas in Food. Basically, the “methods” boil down to two very simple things: using evaporated milk instead of a roux for the base of the cheese sauce, and soaking the dried elbows for an hour before cooking them. Variations abound (you could incorporate mushrooms—or, better, lardons or bacon—into the sauce or bread crumb crust), but the base is simple enough that you can pull it off in half an hour, if you have presoaked the pasta. So. There is no excuse for not fattening up for winter.

The can of milk imparts a carmelized richness to the dish with no added effort, and soaking the macaroni for an hour does something to the pasta that makes it that much more toothsome: al dente, sure, but also pleasantly pliant under teeth. And both are extremely easy to incorporate into mac-and-cheese recipes.

But swapping out the milk for the roux makes me wonder what else can be put together in this fashion. I used to make a lot of creamed tuna by combining a roux with garlic, onion, and the contents of a Chicken of the Sea can; maybe a smaller can of condensed milk would work there too. Or, maybe potato gratin could be that much easier.