Riesling No. 5: Wine Scents for Wine Lovers

Katherine Ramos, Features Editor, Lot18

Bergamot, rose, jasmine, spice and peach with woody notes. While this might sound like a tasting note, it actually describes Guerlain’s classic fragrance, Mitsouko. And should you find yourself sniffing black cherry, raspberry, plum and vanilla, you’ve either poured a California Cab — or doused yourself in Britney Spears’ Midnight Fantasy.

Whether you’re talking about lipstick named Merlot Red or vinifera-infused spa treatments, wine has a special place in cosmetics. But a recent Refinery29 writeup of The Kelly & Jones Wine Note Collection left me inspired. While it might all be fermented grape juice, there have been plenty of times I’ve swirled a wine — particularly Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Moschofilero or Muscat — and found those aromatics as striking as just about any perfume. So I decided to take matters into my own hands, and with a few basic natural essences, I was able to whip up a solid perfume at home evocative of Riesling. The beeswax in the base offers the honeyed aromas common in these wines, while the orange blossom, bergamot, pepper and tuberose create a sillage that’s has a floral, bright, citrusy complexity.

1/2 tsp. Unbleached Beeswax, grated
4ml Golden Jojoba Oil
8 drops Neroli Essential Oil (orange blossom)
8 drops, Bergamot Essential Oil
1 drop, Black Pepper Essential Oil
1 drop, Tuberose Absolut

Blend formula into 4 ml* of jojoba oil. Grate 1/2 teaspoon of unbleached beeswax and melt over very low heat in a ceramic ramekin held over boiling water (bain-marie). Stir jojoba mixture and immediately remove from heat and pour into compact. Let perfume set for 15 minutes.

*If you’d like to use the solid perfume to fill a locket rather than a compact, halve the recipe.

You find the fragrance ingredients from White Lotus Aromatics, and jojoba oil and beeswax from Mountain Rose Herbs.

Blind Tasting Blackjack

Chris Hallowell, Features Editor, Lot18

In years past, my April Fools Day pranks were a little more devious (e.g. putting a rubber band around the spray nozzle at the kitchen sink and waiting for unsuspecting coworkers to wash their hands). This year, however, I decided to grow up a little bit. I picked up a set of R. Croft Double Blind Black Tasting Glasses from Lot18 and tried to dupe my wine buddies with a game we call “Blind Tasting Black Jack.” Sure, this may be the wine geek equivalent of a Star Trek enthusiast learning Klingon, but it’s a ton of fun, so lay off.

In Blind Tasting Black Jack everyone brings a wine for the group to try. Everyone is given a black glass and something with which to bet (e.g. poker chips, beans, coins). The person whose wine is to be tasted next functions as the moderator for that round. The moderator brings the glasses into another room and fills them up with their wine out of sight of the rest of the tasters. Once poured, the moderator brings the glasses in, passes them out, and the game is on.

The moderator will lead the contestants through several rounds of betting that become more and more specific, until finally, the identity of the wines are revealed. Contestants bet on each round based on how confident they are with their answer. After the bets are placed, the moderator asks players for their answer, and they either lose their bet or double their bet based on whether or not they answer correctly.

The rounds are as follows:
Smelling Only
• Is the wine red, white, or rosé?
• Is the wine dry or off-dry?
• Is it from the Old World or the New World?

Tasting and Smelling
• What country is the wine from?
• Is it a single variety or a blend?
• What is the name of the grape or dominant variety?
• What region is the wine from?
• What appellation is it from?
• Is the wine 1-3 years old, 4-6, or 7+?
• For those that are really brave, who is the producer?

This looks intimidating, but don’t be discouraged, I’ve played with Master Sommeliers who have barely gotten past the red or white round. Yesterday, in particular, no one got anything right because I threw in a few curveballs as a nod to the holiday.

One was a Bastianich skin contact Pinot Grigio. Though the grape usually yields white wine, Pinot Grigio’s pinkish skin can impart a little color, or in the case of this extra-long, 15-day maceration, the skins can make it damn near red. Being a moderator for this wine was hilarious. One taster called out “It’s obviously red,” just before another said “I bet the farm on white.” My friends’ arguments reached reality-television proportions. It was like pouring gasoline on the fire when I revealed that it was actually a rosé; now no one could possibly guess it was Pinot Grigio. “Dance, my puppets,” I thought to myself as I summoned my most evil Mr. Burns laugh.

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisHallowell

The Vin Vivant: Salvation in a Salmon

Audrey Luk, Copywriter, Lot18

It was bound to happen. After training myself to craft a meal based on tasting the wine first, it follows that any meal made the “opposite” way – prepare dinner, check the cellar, uncork the closest possible match and sip and sup with fingers crossed – would taste comparatively lackluster. 

I decided to put the paddles on my palate with a particularly exciting meal. What better way to revitalize my cooking than with a vibrant wine? If you don’t know what that tastes like, you must pick up a bottle of the 2005 Arcadian Fiddlestix Vyd Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir. When I poured it into a glass, it looked and smelled like a much younger wine. The color was bright ruby and consistent to the rim. In the mouth, the wine brimmed with juicy cherry and raspberry flavors with a touch of dried mint. The tannins embraced the sides of my mouth and mid-palate. Tasting this Pinot crystallizes the notion that wine is alive. It breathes, evolves and ages. This one surely has a long life ahead of it.

With a wine this evocative, I went light on food prep to showcase each ingredient’s flavors. You can’t have two stars on your table competing for attention. To match the wine’s vibrancy, I cooked an intensely colored entrée: pan-fried salmon over crisped Chinese bacon and purple yam puree topped with chive buds. The wine could definitely handle a fatty yet still delicate protein, and the scant earthiness from the yams and savory-sweet bacon would nicely offset the Pinot’s fresh berry notes. 

I got the salmon and cooking tips from my favorite fishmonger, Lewis at Fish Tails in Brooklyn. He suggested that I use only peanut or rice oil for pan-frying fish as they have higher smoke points, and also recommended frying the half-pound steaks I bought for 7 to 8 minutes on the skin side and 4 minutes on the flesh side. His advice was spot on, and the meal came together with minimal active time after I made the puree. I dusted the salmon with kosher salt and fresh black pepper, and pan-fried it in a cast-iron skillet as the bacon slowly crisped in a pan. When the bacon was done and draining on a paper-towel-lined plate, I flipped the fish and tossed chive buds in the pan that the bacon was fried in to take the raw garlicky edge off.

Maybe it was the puree’s pretty hue or the fist-pump-inducing glory of achieving perfectly crisped salmon skin, but I was happy as a pig in a barrel of truffles at the pairing. My cooking groove has returned, just in time for spring vegetables!

Purple Yam Puree

Ingredients:

3 medium sized yams - 1.5-1.75 lbs.
¼ c. whole milk
3-4 Tbsp. peanut oil
A generous pinch of Maldon sea salt
1/2 tsp. chili powder, or more depending on how piquant yours is. The kind I have is artisanal, spicy and potent, a gift from my Lot18 Secret Santa. Thanks, Dan! 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pierce the yams with a knife and wrap them in foil. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Unwrap the yams and cut them in half. As soon as your fingers can handle it, score the skin of the yams lengthwise and peel the skin off, which should come off fairly easily like onionskin. Pinch off the ends of each yam, as they tend to be stringy. Cut the roasted yams in quarters and place them in food processor or blender.

Whip the yams with the milk and oil, adding more or less to achieve your desired texture. Add the salt and gradually add the chili powder and pulse – the mash should just have a hint of spice as the yams are naturally sweet. I have a feeling that this recipe won’t work as well with regular yams, so use the purple ones if you find them; I’ve only seen them used in Filipino and Okinawan cuisines, so they aren’t widely available even in Asian grocery stores. The puree comes out amazingly full and thick, almost like a rich dessert. You won’t believe how little milk and oil you have to add to this vegetable to achieve this texture. Don’t be surprised if tears of joy spring to your eyes. 

Sip and Spectate

Mindy Joyce, Experiences Curator, Lot18

Eat Drink Travel

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve watched the Tour de France and dreamed of one day going there myself. The event is basically a three-week tourism commercial for the entire country of France, and it certainly gets me thinking about my next trip every time. I’m a sucker for nice scenery, especially when it comes to the French Alps and small towns in wine country. One year, I visited just after the race had finished and was amazed to see the small villages were still buzzing about “Le Tour” and littered with memorabilia and remnants of the race. The impact that this cycle race has on the country is incredible, but actually being there as a visitor in July is life changing. Whether you’re a cycling fanatic or just casually interested, it’s an incredibly lively time to experience France. 

In my experience, people remember three things about their vacations: the food, the people and the unique experiences. Seeing the racers speed past at an event like Le Tour brings you into the energy and excitement, and let’s you feel like a part of something big. Trips like this live on in your mind for the rest of your life. 

It can be a little more complicated and expensive to travel during these times, but if you’re like me and have a bucket list of places you know you want to visit, then you can avoid these issues by planning ahead. 

For wine lovers, big events can be an ideal way to time your trip around your passions – you can enjoy an uncommonly memorable vacation while experiencing destination wine regions. Our five-day package to the Rhône Valley and Provence is timed to coincide with Le Tour, and it also includes a visit to Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s Domaine du Pegau (known for its 100-pt wines), Joël Durand’s chocolaterie and St.-Paul-de-Mausole, where Van Gogh spent part of his life. It’s this sort of robust, curated itinerary that makes for incredible trips with friends and loved ones, and gives you bragging rights over any of them who miss out. 

Beyond Le Tour, though, there are several other destination events perfect for wine lovers. One that is close to my heart is the America’s Cup. As a kid growing up in New Zealand, sailing and other boating activities were a regular part of my lifestyle. And as San Francisco prepares for worldwide attention as the host of the Cup and preceding Louis Vuitton Cup in August and September of next year, it’s already time to start thinking about your own trip. With the Napa Valley is listed as the “official wine region” of the Cup, one thing is for certain – San Francisco and the Napa Valley will be on everyone’s radar next summer. Start planning your trips now. 

But if you’d like to scope out the course early, we’ve managed to snag a private yacht that you can charter (with captain) for four hours of sailing with up to five of your friends on the actual America’s Cup course, on Memorial Day weekend this year during the Golden Gate Anniversary celebrations. You’ll see this on Lot18 on April 10, but for early information feel free to contact me

If you want to start planning your travel itinerary now, here are some major events on my radar. And if not this year, maybe next!

Grand Prix, Monaco May 24-27, 2012
French Open, Paris May 27-June 10, 2012
Tour de France, France June 30-July 22, 2012
Summer Olympics, London July 27-Aug. 12, 2012 
US Open, New York August – September 2012
Louis Vuitton Cup, San Francisco July 4-Sept. 1, 2013

America’s Cup Finals, San Francisco Sept. 7-22, 2013 

Cheers and happy travels!

Mindy

Share your travel tips with me on Twitter @MindyJoyce

The Black Market for (Extra-Virgin) Oil

Katy Andersen, Gourmet Curator, Lot18

Katy at the Plate

Swirl, smell, slurp, swallow. Ever been to an olive oil tasting? It’s like wine tasting – except you don’t spit. And qualities like a grassy nose or a peppery finish aren’t inferior – they’re enviable.

If drinking the spicy oil isn’t enough of a sensorial experience, try starting at 8am. It’s not everyone’s proverbial cup of tea, and hardly the choice replacement for a morning espresso. 

But there I was, seated in front of six pale emerald 1-ounce shots. Surrounded by at least 100 other olive oil enthusiasts at the early morning tasting in San Francisco, I silently thought, “Cheers: To a liquid breakfast!” 

I had forgone both sleep and coffee that morning for two very important reasons. The tasting was a chance to hear top olive growers in the US, Italy, Argentina and Australia present their prize extra-virgin olive oils and taste alongside these experts. And moderating this impressive panel was none other than author and New Yorker contributor Tom Mueller.

Mueller has become something of a spokesperson in the world of extra-virgin olive oil after publishing a fascinating expose of fraud in the global market in the New Yorker in 2007. He recently released a longer form as “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil,” a book that inspired me to take olive oil a lot more seriously.

So what’s the big deal? Here’s a good example: In his book, Mueller cites that four out of 10 bottles labeled Italian olive oil aren’t. Aren’t what? Aren’t Italian, and aren’t necessarily olive oil. 

This fraud is driven by several factors, aside from greed. True extra-virgin olive oil is expensive and hard to make. And as seasons become drier and hotter, olive yields increase. As oil becomes more commoditized, downward price pressure increases. Cost-cutting measures and economies of scale only go so far, and eventually something has to give: in this case, the product itself. 

What are these Italian olive oils, if not what their labels say? The olives may have been grown in Spain, Turkey or North Africa, and pressed there before transported by tanker to Italy. And in a higher level of fraud, producers may mix olive with hazelnut oil or sunflower-seed oil, further degrading the substance in ways that would send Roman ancestors rolling in their graves.

As Mueller notably quotes in the New Yorker, the profits of adulterators, as told to him by one E.U. anti-fraud investigator, have at times been “comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks.”

Tasting with Mueller and the olive farmers on that early morning, I wasn’t worried about fraud – I was excited. There are still farmers whose oils are pure, and truly top quality extra-virgin. By buying oils bottled directly on the farm or tasted for annual certification by an independent organization such as the COOC, you can be sure the oils you get are pure, from their stated origin, and have those enticing spicy or fruity qualities that an extra-virgin oil should.

Follow my epicurean adventures on Twitter @KathrynAndersen

Super Tuscan Cooking

Have you always wanted to visit Tuscany? If you love traditional Chianti or innovative Super Tuscans, this region is a must-visit for incredible wine and food. While our "Italian Food Lover’s Getaway: Florence & Chianti" offer provides the opportunity to take an authentic Tuscan cooking course in a 17th-century private villa, here’s a taste of this traditional cuisine that you can prepare at home. 

Focaccia Con La Salvia (Focaccia With Sage)

Serves 2 people 

Ingredients

1 c. flour
1 Tbsp. and 1 tsp., or half, of a fresh yeast cube 
1-1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 pinch of salt
1/2 Tbsp. sage leaves 
1/2 tsp. sugar
Warm water

Preparation

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the oil and sage leaves, and set aside. 

Take a glass and fill halfway with warm water. Add the sugar and the half cube of yeast, and allow to gently dissolve. Cover the glass with a bowl, ideally clear glass to allow you to watch for foam appearing on the surface. 

After 5 to 8 minutes, add the yeast mixture to the flour. Mix with your hands and add as much warm water as you need to obtain a fluffy dough. Knead with the palm of your hand, and help yourself with a scraper, trying not to add too much flour – otherwise the dough will get too hard.

Let the dough rise in a bowl for one hour, and then cover it with a damp cloth. After another hour, oil a pan, spread the dough with your hands and prick holes on the surface with a toothpick. Drizzle with some extra-virgin olive oil, and then sprinkle with fine and coarse salt and some more sage leaves. The two salts make it more flavorful and add crunch. Let it rest for another hour, always covered with a damp cloth. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and bake for 20 minutes, until it is golden on top. Enjoy!

Death in the Afternoon, Pulitzer in the Morning

Chris Hallowell, Features Editor, Lot18

Image: New York’s 21 Club kept stocks of many celebrities’ drinks of choice. 

I’ve noticed a few things about myself over the past few years. Most notable are how different drinks affect me: cocktails make me talk politics, whiskey makes me philosophical, wine makes me talk about women and beer makes me talk about how good I am at the Big Buck Hunter arcade game. 

Over the course of history, a few more productive members of society have found the perfect combination of talent and the perfect beverage to heighten their creativity – in moderation, of course. Here are a few examples:

Ernest Hemingway

Don’t let the boxing, bull fighting and gnarly scar on his forehead fool you; this guy liked sugary-sweet Mojitos. Not to say all Mojitos were syrupy and cloying, but Hemingway’s favorite bar in Cuba – which he frequented while writing The Old Man and the Sea – made his Mojitos and Daiquiris with grenadine instead of sugar or simple syrup. His earlier inspirational drink, however, was absinthe – he invented the Death in the Afternoon, for which he instructs, “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.” 

And perhaps it was absinthe’s higher proof that earned him the aforementioned scar. Inebriated, Hemingway reached out to flush a toilet and accidentally pulled a skylight down on his forehead. 

Winston Churchill

While not creative in the traditional sense, one could say that his politics were. It seems like when he was contemplating policies, Churchill was frugal and drank Johnnie Walker Red, but when policies were enacted, he celebrated with a more extravagant bottle of Champagne. He even named one of his racehorses after his favorite Champagne house, Pol Roger. Pol Roger returned the favor a few years after his death by naming their prestige cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. 

Hunter S. Thompson

It should come as no surprise that this guy drank from time to time. In general, you could find a rocks glass filled with Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon and ice. While he was writing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, however, it’s been said that he’d pop open a bottle of California Chardonnay and season to taste with acid.

Image: Some of Nixon’s store at the 21 Club. 

Richard Nixon

Again, here’s someone who isn’t typically noted for his creativity, but his way of ordering wine at restaurants was nothing short of creative genius. The 21 Club in Manhattan used to invite regulars and celebrities to keep their personal wine in the restaurant’s Prohibition-era cellar. To this day they still have wine from Sammy Davis Jr., Elizabeth Taylor and yes, even Richard Nixon. As you’ll see in the pictures above, Nixon, who lived in Jersey after his presidency, only served his guests wine from New Jersey. He must not have thought it was all that great, though, because he also made sure the sommelier knew to fill his glass with Château Margaux while his guests weren’t looking. 

Absinthe wins

Degas, Manet, Hemingway, Picasso, Wilde, Van Gogh and even Marilyn Manson, at one time or another, all preferred absinthe. Perhaps it’s the tiny traces of the psychoactive chemical thujone that heightens their creativity, or maybe a proof of 100-160 inspires a different way of thinking, but one thing is for sure: Absinthe has a great track record with painting, written word and crazy heavy-metal musicians. 

Remember to drink responsibly: While Van Gogh painted some really beautiful stuff under the influence, he also thought it was a good idea to cut his ear off.

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisHallowell

Coddling Your Eggs Is Good for Them

Katherine Ramos, Features Editor, Lot18

As a kid, cracking the shell of a soft-boiled egg in my pink porcelain egg cup was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. In high school, making a near-perfect crème brûlée in cooking class was one of my standout moments. In college, they were a cheap source of protein to fortify those bowls of chicken-flavored ramen. And as a full-blown adult, they’re the most versatile ingredients in my kitchen. 

But in this lifelong amour d’oeufs, I’d never made or even eaten a coddled egg. I’d come across some stuffy porcelain coddlers collecting dust on antique store shelves, but when Katy Andersen, the Lot18 Gourmet Curator, showed me the Jenaer Glas coddlers design by Bauhaus master Wilhelm Wagenfeld, I suddenly became very intrigued. 

Though I’m usually hesitant to bring ultra-specialized devices into my kitchen, function aside, they were just gorgeous objects. And because they’re clear, they wouldn’t require the same blind faith in the kitchen timer that those porcelain numbers would. I invited several friends over to sample my eggy experiments, and got coddling. 

Though it might sound otherwise, coddling your eggs does not involve emotionally suffocating them. Or even being overly gentle with them. At its most basic, you break an egg into a well-buttered container, put it in a pot of simmering water without fully submerging it, and basically double boil the thing. It turns out, it’s a little more foolproof than poaching with a little bit of practice.

Experiment 1: The 8-Minute Egg

I liberally butter the inside of the coddlers, break an egg into each, pop the tops on, snap on the handy metal closures and put them into a pot filled with simmering water that reaches just above the line of the eggs. After 8 minutes, they’re still looking soft on top. 

But after running a knife around the edge of the eggs to loosen them and plating, it turns out I’ve effectively made funny-shaped hard-boiled eggs. When I cut them open to check the yolk consistency, I end up with two overcooked Pac Men. My companions eat them, begrudgingly. 

Experiment 2: The 5 ½-Minute Egg

After giving the coddlers a thorough washing, I re-butter and break some new test subjects into them. After submerging for 5 ½ minutes, the eggs are still looking suspiciously jiggly on top. But in the interest of science, I decide to stop the cooking and test them out. After removing them from the coddlers, as it turns out, these are just amazing. The yolks are a perfect just-slightly-warmed runny, and the portions of the white that were in contact with the glass have crisped in the butter. My companions forgive me as they scarf these down. 

Experiment 3: Cured Cheese and Strawberry Soufflé

These coddlers came with several “not just for coddling anymore!” recipes, including this one. Reading “cured” (aged) cheese in the ingredients list, I was nervous, and briefly considered defecting to crème fraiche. But I had some delicious Spanish Mahón from La Tienda left at home, which seemed like as good a crapshoot as any for this test. 

I followed the recipe with a few tweaks: I overdid it a bit with the lemon zest, made some strawberry sauce from scratch with frozen strawberries, sugar and lemon juice, and opted to microplane the cheese to make sure it integrated well. 

I buttered the coddlers and sprinkled them with sugar, then added the fresh strawberries and the hot syrup to the bottom. 

Then, after spooning in the meringue-sugar-yolk-cinnamon-lemon-zest mixture, I put them into a pot containing about an inch of hot water. I then popped it in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for exactly 15 minutes. 

As I’d never made a soufflé before and had heard little about them other than how impossible they are to make and how often they fall, I was nervous. But after working through the directions and taking them out of the oven, these little guys were INCREDIBLE. Rich, citrusy, densely flavorful but fluffy-textured, my kitchen companions were raving with each bite. They didn’t last long. And now, I’ve found yet another place for eggs in my kitchen. 

Follow me on Twitter @Katherine_Ramos

Photos by Caitlin Sherman

Fire Up the Griddle

There are few foods that will get you sliding down the banister quite as fast as pancakes and waffles — even the most bleary-eyed will skip the snooze button. And served alongside crisp bacon (or, heck, with crisp bacon folded in) and drenched in real maple syrup, they’re the perfect weekend meal. Here are a few of our recent favorite recipes: 

Apple Sausage Pancakes

Ingredients:

1 1/2 c. flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 egg, beaten
3 Tbsp. melted butter
1 c. whole milk or buttermilk
D’Artagnan Chicken and Apple Sausage

Cook the D’Artagnan Chicken and Apple Sausage in a hot pan, allow to cool, crumble and set aside. 

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and stir thoroughly. Add egg and butter, and then stir lightly. Add milk and whisk just enough to combine ingredients. 

Melt about a teaspoon of butter over medium-high heat. Ladle on the batter, add sausage to the still-uncooked top, and then brown both sides. 

Drench in maple syrup to taste, and enjoy one of the ultimate breakfast foods. 

Cheese Jalapeño Waffles

Though you might not have had spicy waffles before, this delicious recipe is sure to wake you up. 

Ingredients:

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. grated or diced cheese (depending on if you like a glob of cheesy surprise in your waffles, or want it a little more integrated). Feel free to grate to your heart’s content without measuring. A strong Alpine cheese is best to offset the spiciness of the jalapeno and the sweetness of the syrup.

1 diced jalapeño, seeded if you’re WEAK
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 2/3 c. milk
1/3 c. melted butter
2 large eggs

Note: If you are unsure of whether or not to seed your peppers, you can warm the milk on the stove, take it off the burner and steep the seeded diced jalapeno in the milk for 10 minutes. Taste the milk and if it needs more spice, add in the quantity of seeds and ribs you desire to kick up the heat.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cheese, sugar, baking powder, salt and jalapeño. Add the eggs, milk and butter, and stir until just combined and moistened. 

Cook waffles according to the directions for your waffle maker.  

Serve immediately with syrup while waffles are still warm, or let cool on a wire rack to keep the bottoms from getting soggy.

Johnnycakes

A recent brunch order of Apple Johnny Cakes at Brooklyn Star in Williamsburg inspired some staffers to look into more traditional takes on this distinctly American dish. The cornmeal makes for a more rustic texture, and the density of johnnycakes makes them particularly satisfying.  

Ingredients:

2 slices bacon, diced
1 c. yellow or white corn meal
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 c. boiling water
Maple syrup as desired

In a hot pan, cook the diced bacon until crisp. Set aside the bacon and drippings. 

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Stir in the boiling water with a whisk until the batter is smooth and thick. 

Heat the bacon drippings on a griddle set over a medium-high flame. Ladle the batter onto the griddle; these should be smaller than your average flapjack, so only use about 1/4 c. for each. Cook until golden brown with crispy edges. 

Sprinkle with the bacon, and serve covered with plenty of maple syrup. 

Olive Oil Pancakes

This recipe comes from José Andrés’ book, Made in Spain: Spanish Dishes for the American Kitchen. While it might initially sound a bit strange to use olive oil in a breakfast food, think back to any olive oil cakes you’ve ever sampled. It makes for moist, rich bites, and the flavor works surprisingly well.  

Ingredients: 

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. Extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if necessary
1/2 c.  dark chocolate broken into small pieces
1/4 c. honey
Fresh mint leaves

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a mixing bowl. Whisk in the egg, buttermilk and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until you have a smooth batter, then stir in the chocolate pieces.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat. Ladle 1/4 cup of the pancake mixture into the pan and cook until golden brown. Flip the pancake with spatula and cook until golden brown on the second side. Transfer the pancake to a warm oven. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more olive oil to the pan as needed.

To serve, drizzle the pancakes with honey and garnish with mint.

Maple Syrup Sweetenomics

Katy Andersen, Gourmet Curator, Lot18

Native Americans figured out the secret of tapping the maple tree long before settlers arrived. Even today, nothing beats drenching a stack of fluffy pancakes with real maple syrup. But this simple pleasure isn’t so simple to make; it takes hard work to produce – days of it, in fact. 

Maple syrup starts with the maple tree – four different species to be exact. These trees store starch in their trunks and roots as fuel to survive the winter. By the first thaw, they have converted it to sugar. This sap runs through the trees until the first spring buds burst into leaf, and once harvested and heated for hours, it becomes liquid gold. 

But in the end, maple syrup boils down to simple mathematics. The average tree yields at least a liter per day of sap, depending on its age and the number of taps. In one season, which lasts between six and eight weeks, a tree will produce between 5 to 15 gallons of sap, roughly 10 percent of the tree’s entire sugar stores, according to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking.

With all the sap, let the bubble, toil and trouble begin. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup – no small forest. The longer the sap has to boil, the darker and more concentrated the maple syrup becomes.

At artisanal sugarhouses such as Mead & Mead’s, sap is boiled down in small batches from single trees. These micro-batches are important: Sap harvested earlier in the year contains more sucrose than at the end of the season, so it boils down to pure syrup faster. Thus early-season syrup is lighter and more delicate in flavor, and is typically graded A. The darker and more concentrated the flavor, the lower the grade. 

The days of work it takes to extract and simmer this nectar is reason enough to appreciate each syrup-soaked bite for more than just its incredible flavor. With small-batch producers like Mead & Mead’s, the payoff from all that work has never been so pure.

Follow my epicurean adventures on Twitter @KathrynAndersen