Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Small Guide To Improving Your Classic Cocktails

A "Callie's Way" which is a modified
Hemmingway Daquiri that I make. 

I'm no cocktail wizard. In fact, if you probe the depths of the trivia-lobe of your brain, you might recall that I had "learn to make more cocktails" on my New Year's resolution list. And by "learn to make more cocktails," I am excited that I am now master of 7 different drinks! (I make a Jack Rose, Manhattan, Trinity, Dry Gin Martini, Regular Martini, Hemingway Daiquiri, and Daiquiri as well as almost anywhere in town if you are curious.) 

That said, I have had the of making innumerable more cocktails and a few punches, as well as had access to the blooming cocktail renaissance in Los Angeles from being a member at Cana, to chatting with Eric at the Varnish about vermouth, and tasting Chartreuse with Julian at Rivera. So I wanted to offer a few quick pointers to people who are just now discovering the joys of classic cocktails but might be getting less-than-stunning results at home. 

1) Your ice has to be really good. Go to the freezer and pop one of those cubes you've been using to try drinks in your mouth. If it tastes at all stale, funky, bitter, mineral, dusty, musty, freezer-burnt or anything besides like wondrously clear January skies, you're probably going to be boned no matter how good your technique and ingredients. Depending on the severity of the issue you might just have to get fresh trays and use filtered water (as was my case) or do more crazy things like cleaning your freezer and making your ice with filtered water and then putting the trays in doubled ziplock bags (like my friend Brendon had to do). You can always go buy ice if your home water and freezer are terrifying. 

2) Dilution is vital. This includes ice size. If you've ever been to a good cocktail bar you know they chip their ice differently for each kind of drink. It's not just to look fancy, it's because they're trying to get the dilution of the drink right. Same with the amount of stirring and/or shaking. Agitation and time takes water from the ice and incorporates it in to the drink. While the foremost thing ice does is make the drink cold (a general rule in classic cocktails is that getting the drink as cold as you can is good), what you are also doing is watering down the drink slightly. Much like a barrel proof whiskey (50%+ abv) can be too "hot" to be pleasurably sipped without a bit of water, so too you're bringing the abv of the cocktail down a bit. If it's not diluted enough it will taste really hot (not just strong, but burning strong and almost syrupy) but it will taste watery and thin if diluted too much. This is why you don't interchange things like large chunks of ice and crushed ice - remember from high school science that surface area is a big part dissolving an ingredient (as is agitation). As with snow piled up on the side of the road that stays frozen until March, using larger amounts ice also means that they will stay colder longer, thus adding less water but still chilling the drink and visa versa. 

3) Measure measure measure. Please make drinks by measuring very precisely. You can't learn anything if you're sloppy about how much of each ingredient you're adding because then you have no way of knowing how much more or less of an ingredient will be needed. They did a test and found that even professional bartenders regularly miss eyeballing a shot by +/- 50%!  I know that the trend at the moment is to be all fanciful with tricks and gimmicks while shaking and pouring the drinks, but honestly, I could care less about how many flips the damn bottle does if the drink is whack.

4) Practice one drink A LOT. Vary the ratios of on ingredient at a time slightly (three dashes of bitters instead of two - using different kinds of biters - use slightly less Chartreuse - use more lemon - use higher proof booze etc. etc.) and if you make 10-15 of the same drink you can understand how the balance of the drink works and most importantly what each ingredient is adding. This also lets you "fix" drinks. Your citrus is not always going to be the same acidity, you're not always going to have the same bourbon, you're not always going to have access to the same brand of creme de violet. But if you've meticulously worked through variants of a standard drink, you can taste it as you go and make adjustments because you know what to adjust! I usually focus on one kind of drink at a time. Besides, being able to make two A+ drinks is way more impressive than being able to make twenty D+ drinks. 

5) Even before you get mixing, taste your ingredients! If you've never tried something on it's own, pour a little glass of it and sip or on the rocks on it neat to get a feeling for what it is. I was all over the place on vermouth until I started drinking if on by itself and suddenly I understood what it was doing in drinks. Same with any liquor, syrup or bitters. Start making an archive in your head of the base flavors and next time you're out and someone asks your opinion of a drink you can look like a rockstar when you say "oh, it tastes good, but I think another dash of Angastura would balance it out better."  

6) Non-tiki cocktails are the art of balance. (Tiki cocktails are their own game - just pick up Beachbum Barry's books to learn about them). We can't figure out who to attribute this quote to, but apparently some 1800's bartender said that a good cocktail should never make you full, it should always make you hungry. What this means is that sugar and acid are harmoniously aligned. That the body is firm, not flabby. That the flavors aren't cloying. That the drink tastes unified. 

7) Learn to make your own syrups; learn to squeeze your own juices. Making simple syrup is amazingly easy. Making your simple syrup with real Turbinado sugar (which has this molasses funk to it) like they did back then will change your drinks from "decent" to "glorious." And while I know I don't have to tell you, always squeeze your own fresh juices for each session. If getting a dozen or two fresh limes at the local chain market seems pricey, try to find a Korean, Japanese, or Mexican market near to you. Do you know how to pick good citrus? If not, pick it up - it should feel heavy in your hand. The skin should be unblemished. It should be firm, but have some give (old citrus will feel mushy, or like a rock).  

8) Do your homework. These drinks have been made by professionals for upwards of a century, so go grab a copy of David Wonderich's Imbibe and get reading! You'll be amazed at how much of what you thought you knew turns out to be hearsay and advertising jiggles. Learn to be highly skeptical of recipes online — look at the source. If it's not someone who has a clear knowledge of cocktails, beware, you're probably looking at a recipe for disaster (see what I did there?) Cocktail virgin slut is a great blog to get you started. As is

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Flanuer @ The Arava Review

"Cyan, Aqua, and Tree"
Archival Inkjet Print, 2010
11.33" x 17"

Hi everyone — I just wanted to share with you that the online journal The Arava Review has a number of photographs from my Flâneur project featured on their current issue (along with some great poetry) that just went live tonight! 

"Former Stairs"
Archival Inkjet Print, 2010
17" x 11.33"

At it's core, Flâneur is about a home that is no longer home — A walking home. About the way that personal history gets intertwined into the stucco-walled apartment labyrinths and the bleached stunted trees and forgotten lawns from accidental urban planning. Flâneur is about the ways that wandering and photographing even the most familiar paths places can cause them to become estranged. The more I look at the places outside of me with the camera the more I inevitably find myself expressing a world inside that is filled with gaps, screens, ruins, artifacts, outdated color pallets, shadows, tourism and advertisement-lingo.

"View To The Ocean"
Archival Inkjet Print, 2010
17" x 11.33"

So too Flâneur is an attempt to learn to leverage a stubborn perseverance to see the way that places and memories can switch places with each other back and forth. By attempting to use a camera and years of walking the same sidewalks to learn to see the strange poetics of the obvious and latent histories that bubble in the surfaces on every trip to the grocery store and every stroll to the coffee shop — About the feel of a miniature sun-drenched plot of the California dream that is being renovated and gentrified before my eyes. Flâneur is a project of learning to see the story that our wandering feet tell of the places we unknowingly haunt.   

Sunday, September 25, 2011

CSA Recipe: Cumin Pork with Chickpeas and Heirloom Carrots

This is a simple, but long-cooking pork dish with hints of Moroccan flavors goes wonderfully over some basmati or jasmine rice.

Braised Pork with Chickpeas and Heirloom Carrots
Serves 4

1 tangerine or tangelo, juiced and zested
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 bunch of heirloom carrots, peeled and cut in to 2" lengths
1 onion, finely chopped
1 lb pork shoulder, cut in to 1" chunks, well seasoned with salt and pepper
4 c filtered water
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander 
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs chopped fresh mint or cilantro

1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in an oven-proof braising pan (dutch over or such). Saute the onions for 4-5 minutes, until golden and soft. 

2) Add the cumin and coriander and cook for another 3-4 minutes, until the spice-onion mixture starts to lightly brown.

3) Add the pork chunks, stir to coat with the onion-spice paste, and cook the pork for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is lightly browned on all sides.

4) Add enough water to cover the meat, cover the pan and place in the oven. Braise for about two hours, stirring occasionally until the meat is really tender. 

Since you'll need something to amuse yourself for those two hours, especially if you've finished your work and your girlfriend is at her job, might I recommend shooting a portrait of your pet? Here's a shot of Mau (Callie's cat) that I made during the braising process.  

5) Pull the pan out, uncover and set on a burner. Add the carrots, juice and chickpeas and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the carrots are tender. You might need to add a bit of water if the pan is too dry. 

6) Turn the heat off, stir in the zest. Taste for salt and pepper. Scoop the braise in to bowls and garnish with the chopped mint or cilantro. Serve with a side of rice and a glass of viognier, roussane, Pouilly-Fuisse, gewurztraminer, or sauv blanc (a balanced white). 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

CSA Recipe: Braised Kale, Young Potatoes and Ricotta Salata

This luscious, earthy braise that is accentuated by the salty chunks of salata and the bright lemon.  Some beans, a little pinch of red pepper flakes, or even some fresh corn would be fun in this if you want to change it up.

Braised Kale, Young Potatoes and Ricotta Salata 
Serves 4

1 big bunch of any kind of kale - tuscan, black or dinosaur preferred - washed, stems removed and chopped finely
1 can of whole italian plum tomatoes, chopped up and juices reserved
1 lb mix of any firm, waxy fingerling potatoes (or yukon gold), cut in to 1" chunks
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs red wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon 
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 c chicken stock + 1/2 c water
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c crumbled ricotta salata

1) Parboil the potato chunks in lightly salted water and drain them. They should be just shy of fully cooked by 2-3 minutes.

2) Heat the olive oil over medium heat and cook the onions and garlic for 5-7 minutes, until golden. 

3) Add the kale and cook for an additional 4 minutes until it's wilted. 

4) Add the tomatoes and diluted chicken stock. Simmer on medium low for 10 minutes, until the kale starts to get soft.

5) Add the potatoes, red wine vinegar, and half the lemon juice. Simmer until the potatoes are finished cooking - 2-3 minutes - then add the crumbled ricotta salata 

6) Let sit for 3-4 minutes and season with salt and pepper as needed. If you want it to be more lemon-y, add some of the remaining lemon juice to taste.  You might need to add a touch more salt if you do that. You can also drizzle a bit of good olive oil over it. 

Serve with a balanced white wine (chenin blanc) or a light, acidic rural Italian red. And lots of crusty bread. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

CSA Recipe: The Perfect Tomato

So what to do with those tomatoes you only get for a couple weeks during the peak season of late summer? The ones that seem like sacrilege to cook? The ones you have nearly erotic dreams about? Well, maybe that's just me, but when I get ahold of perfect tomatoes this is what I do for a first course with dinner. While some may cry that this is "Shopping, not cooking," (the foodie equivalent of people who say some metal isn't "cvlt" enough) I'll stick by one of the traditional Japanese chef's in the Izakaya cookbook who said that the better ingredients, the less you should do to them. Serve with a sparkling rose of a lightly chilled light bodied red wine.  

The Perfect Tomato
Serves 1

1 large, perfectly ripe heirloom tomato (or a selection 2-3 smaller heirloom tomatoes)
1/4 tsp best quality olive oil
1/16 tsp best quality balsamic vinegar
1 tbs basil or other microgreens (or 1 tsp chopped fresh basil)
1/8 tsp best quality sea salt

1) Slice tomatoes in to 1/3" slabs, reserving the top portions (the part that is mostly skin on one side). Salt and eat reserved portions.   

2) Sprinkle the remaining slabs with salt and drizzle on the olive oil and balsamic.

3) Top with basil. (Grind some fresh pepper on if you want).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Saturn In Rain: A Cowboy Bebop Inspired Mix

I was jamming some great rare jazz finds while I cooked dinner one night, that kind of impeccably period music with with funky horn hits and electric guitars that was knocked off to accompany all sorts of car chases and kung fu in late-night theaters. Callie looked up from her Kindle and said "You should make a mix of music for Cowboy Bebop fans."  I'm a huge jazz nerd and I love to share great music and while I haven't really watched anime in hyears I have a fun collection of rare and cool music that could litterally have been on mix they sent Yoko Kanno when they asked her to make the music for the show. Until Callie said something it never occurred to me to make this mix even though getting more younger folks listening to jazz is a passion of mine! Simple as that (along with a couple late nights drinking whiskey and bugging the neighbors) "Saturn In Rain" was born. I want to thank the cool cats at inconstant sol and ORGY IN RYTHM for a few of the great rare gems that are featured here.

I'm not going to talk about each track, but nothing on this mix was in the show. Some of it is vintage and a few of the tracks are modern — but let's just take a look at that first song by Toshiko Akiyoshi & Lew Tabackin Big Band (a live performance recorded in 1979), does that opening riff sound familiar? How about that outro? I was howling with laughter the first time I heard that track. One of the other challenges was picking a specific Sun Ra track. Much of his body of work is really challenging, very free and epic work, but I had to include him since he pioneered the whole idea of people in weird costumes making space jazz and singing about traveling planets and interstellar trains over huge big band arrangements. The rest of the stuff, as you'll hopefully hear, should be fun and interesting for both fans of the show and anyone with an interest in retro-funky jazz!

Get the mix here!

("Track Name" — Artist — Album)

1) "Warning! Success May Be Hazardous To Your Health" — Toshiko Akiyoshi & Lew Tabackin Big Band — Stuttgart, December 2nd, 1979
2) "Tom Cat" — Muddy Waters — Electric Mud
3) "Saturn" — Sun Ra — Greatest Hits: Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel
4) "If Only" — Gustav Brom — Plays For You Pop Jazz & Swing
5) "Attica Blues" — Archie Shepp — Attica Blues
6) "Nostalgia" — Matumoto Hiroshi & Ichikawa Hideo Quartet — Megalopolis
7) "I'm a Fool To Want You" — Donald Byrd — Royal Flush
8) "Saturn In Rain" — Alpha — Stargazing
9) "The Stakeout" — Matthew Shipp — GoodandEvil Sessions
10) "Green Caterpillar" — Masuarau Imada Trio + 2 — Green Caterpillar
11) "Wiggle-Waggle" — Herbie Hancock — The Complete Warner Brother Recordings
12) "Jeep On 35" — John Scofield — A Go Go
13) "Tuija" — P.E. Hewitt Jazz Ensemble — Winter Winds
14) "If You Want Me To Stay" — Sly & The Family Stone — Fresh

I hope you like the music and if you have any questions or if you are curious about some of the music, feel free to hit me up!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

CSA Recipe: Chard Tart With a Glimmer of Fall

This is an adaptation of the classic Patricia Wells "Bistro" recipe that bubbled up on a cool evening that hinted of fall. Even though it's been some of the most blisteringly hot days in L.A. the sun is setting earlier and earlier, I'm listening to some slow music, drinking a whiskey and realizing it's September. Normally I give wine pairings, but for this dish, I would make sure to musically pair it with the Les Discrets album "Septembre et Ses Dernieres Pensees" and a glass of calvados while you cook. 

Serves 4-6 with a solid salad

For the crust:
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water

For the filling:
1 bunch chard, well washed, stems removed and finely chopped (not dried)
1 tsp olive oil
1 ear of corn, kernels trimmed off
1/4 c walnuts, lightly toasted in a skillet
1/8 cup raisins
1 cup grated parmesan
3 eggs, lightly beaten in a large bowl
salt and fresh pepper

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2) Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the water and then the oil. Mix until totally blended. Patricia Wells suggests that you kneed a bit, and I agree, the texture of of the final tart crust will be better. To cop from her again, she reminds you that this kind of tart dough will be more like a cookie dough than bread. 

3) Press the dough in to a 10 inch pastry tin (the kind with the bottom that comes off).

4) Heat large skillet over medium-low heat and wilt the chard until all the liquid is gone. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the corn kernels and olive oil and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, until the corn is cooked through.

5) Add the parmesan to the eggs. Mix.

6) Add the walnuts, raisins and the chard/corn mixture and mix it all up. Add it to the pastry crust.

7) Bake for about 30-50 minutes until the crust golden and the chard mixture is cooked firm. Let cool some before serving.

Aside from the music, have this with a nice salad and a glass of viongier, gewurztraminer, chenin blanc or other mid bodied white wine that loves darker, nuttier fall fair.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

CSA Recipe: Summer Pork Chops with Heirloom Tomatoes and Pepita

This is a lovely fast dinner for a late summer evening (or even an amazing Sunday lunch). You can double it and double it again up to the size of your grill or grill pan. Using thin pork chops lets you get the outside nice and crispy and still cook everything through so that the contrast to the tomatoes is more prevalent.  

Serves 2 

4 thinly sliced pork chops
1 tbs pepitas, lightly toasted (or pine nuts)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 lb heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup micro greens, especially micro basil or micro mustard greens
1 tbs canola oil
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil, divided
salt and white pepper
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp high quality balsamic

1) Preheat your grill, grill pan or skillet to medium-high heat. Brush the pork chops with half of the canola oil. Sprinkle with salt and white pepper and rub it in. 

2) Grill the pork chops for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden. 

3) As you grill the chops, heat the 1 tbs olive oil in a small skillet over low heat. Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and lemon juice and cook just to warm through, 2-3 minutes. 

4) Plate the chops, split the tomato mixture over the top of both plates. Toss some micro greens on top, sprinkling the pepitas on that. Drizzle with a tiny amount of good balsamic (1/8 teaspoon maybe on each plate). [Also note: don't add as many micro greens as I did, if just from an aesthetic perspective: My plates looked more like topiaries than pork chops.]

Serve this with a side of smashed and fried potatoes with capers, chickpea and green bean salad or a pasta salad. It would pair well with any medium-bodied white. We had it with a lightly vegetal Sauvignon Blanc (the kind that sort of tastes like hints of raw green and red bell pepper) from France and it was fantastic.  

Art Mixup!

Hi everyone! I just wanted to share a little behind-the-scenes moment with my art. Up late one summer night recently, I got thinking about how my projects tend to be very well defined. That is, something like a novelist or a band, I make large but discrete bodies of work; whether is it traveling with anime fans; walking around Santa Monica; or probing the weirdness of virtual worlds. But it made me curious to look at what connects all of my different works and projects. The themes, topics, obsessions, modes and even mistakes and assumptions that transcend the way I frame the works.

As a way to pry behind the scenes of my creative process, I built a Lightroom mashup that contains 18 images from each of my eight major bodies of work (except my writing) but sorted randomly so any piece of art can rub shoulders with any other piece.

I also turned one of these randomized presentations in to a video that I posted on Vimeo so I could let other people take a look at my work on a macro level. I'd love to get your feedback — anything no matter how small or epic — any idea or thought that comes to mind about my work; about how it's connected, how it's not connected, themes and topics I seem to return to, ideas that I don't seem to be interested in, historical connections, or any other random thoughts!

(Make sure to watch it on HD in full screen!)

Eron Rauch's Art Mixup from Eron Rauch on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Summer Sirens Mix Redone!

I really enjoy making mixes to share the music that really gets me inspired. I also am by no stretch a professional musician, professional music reviewer. Nor am I even that much of a die-hard music nerd that writes zines, reviews and such. The reason I bring this up is that my novice status aside, I am usually quite pleased with my mixes, having spent numerous hours selecting and sequencing the tracks to make them flow together well, highlight the various parts of the music that I want to show, and to capture the mood of the season (and the music that is filling it) accurately. Listening to the "First Sirens of Summer" mix that I made a few months ago I realized I didn't think it lived up to the quality level it should have been. So I spent some time redoing it and the result were more than worthwhile! The new version has way better flow and much wider scope of vision — it starts very dreamy, the haze of the morning burning off. Gets massive like a summer afternoon storm — then crazy WAY hard by the end so you can drink cheap beer and pump your first until the AM. This is the siren calling from depths of the sweaty nights of summer.

Grab it here!

1) "Old, Dim Light" — The Black Atlantic — Reverence for Fallen Trees
2) "Tokyo Wonder Land" — Boris — Attention Please
3) "Blue" — Whirl — Distressor
4) "It's So Easy" — Witchcraft — Witchcraft
5) "Rabbit" — Mr. Gnome — Deliver This Creature
6) "The Siren" — Graveyard — Hisingen Blues
7) "Vampire Circus" — Earthride — Vampire Circus
8) "Deerslayer" — Black Math Horsemen — Wyllt
9) "Grasping Air" — YOB — The Unreal Never Lived
10) "From Their Coffined Slumber" — Hooded Menace — Never Cross the Dead
11) "Eyeballing" — Dam — The Difference Engine
12) "Dreamdecipher" — Miseration — The Mirroring Shadow
13) "Demoralizer" — The Red Chord — Fed Through the Teeth Machine
14) "Ov Fire and the Void" — Behemoth — Evangelion

Friday, September 2, 2011

CSA Recipe: Cowgirl Creamery Pierce Point Pasta

I was very lucky that a friend, Claudine who works at the Silverlake Cheesestore recommended an amazing cheese that was washed in wine and rolled in herbs. With a creamy texture and a bit of artichoke flavor I knew this cheese would work well in cooking (though we did eat a large portion of it as we were cooking!) This simple, mild pasta dish was designed to let the cheese itself be star and then to have the wonderful season beans from the CSA be the understructure. If you can't get Pierce Point, this dish should easy accommodate any softer, milder cheese you want to feature for dinner.  

Cowgirl Creamery Pierce Point Pasta

Serves 2 With Leftovers for Lunch

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 lb yellow wax beans (or other mild bean) cut in to 1" chunks
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained 
1 tsp white wine vinegar
6 oz. dried farfalle pasta
1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1/8 tsp sea salt (to taste) + more for pasta water
4 oz Cowgirl Creamery Pierce Point cheese, cut in to small chunks

1) Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil (about 1tbs salt). Add the pasta and cook until al dente (firm tot the bite but cooked through). 

2) Wait until the pasta is about halfway done. Heat the olive oil large skillet over heat just above medium. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. 

3) Add the green beans and cook for 3-4 minutes until crisp but tender.

4) Add in and stir together the chickpeas, salt, vinegar and about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Cook for 1-2 minutes then turn off the heat.

5) When the pasta is done drain it well and add it to the skillet.

6) Add the white pepper and the cheese and mix it in well with the pasta and beans. 

Serve with a full-bodied white wine (basically the same wine you would choose for the specific cheese!)