Proposed By: Jonathan
Reviewed By: David
My initial idea for this proposal was to make foods that fell into the categories of candy, side dish and entree. It may have been the season, or perhaps an intersection of need and opportunity, but that changed to gift, snack and tradition.
As time has passed, my wife, and to some extent I, have come up with a list of edibles to give as gifts to friends and family who have enough stuff. That list has included peanut brittle, toffee, and chocolate covered pretzels. This year Debbie added ginger bread cake and I made some blog inspired bourbon balls. The recipe I chose was more cookie than candy but there are options for both in the bourbon category. The base was ground Nilla wafers, chopped roasted pecans (presoaked in bourbon), cocoa powder, confectioners sugar, corn syrup and the requisite bourbon. All of that was mixed, chilled, formed into a ball and then rolled into a mix of cocoa and confectioners sugar. They were intended as a gifts and ended up there so I only got to try one. If bourbon was the goal, these morsels achieved that in abundance. I hope the recipients like bourbon.
That second category, snack, says a lot about the down time and bowl games that are a welcome part of the week between Christmas and New Years. There are not as many ideas for savory, liquor added snacks (especially that don’t entail cooking out the alcohol) as there are candies yet I found one appropriate for both my and David’s expertise.
In high school David and I worked at a two screen movie theater. It was small enough that any one day could include duties in ticket sales, concessions, projectionist and even clean up when The Rocky Horror Picture Show caused the regular cleaning crew to quit until the show’s run ended. The best job, and perhaps the one both of were the best at, was chief popper. Although the theater had small machine at the concession stand, most of the corn was popped and bagged over three hour marathon popping sessions in an isolated room behind the projection booth. Those bags supplemented the show corn downstairs and, incidentally, taught us the lesson that the secret to movie popcorn’s excellence is that it is reheated with dry air to provide the all important crispness.
The second recipe relies on that secret. The basic idea is to mix a small amount of liquor with melted butter, spices and whatever else sounds good. I made a butter, tequila, lime juice, brown sugar and cayenne pepper mix that was then poured over microwave corn (my apologies to the Reynolda Cinema popping room). The final step was to spread the popcorn over a cookie sheet and reheat it for 10 minutes in a 300 degree oven for the perfect crispness. Choose you own topping but don’t skip that last step.
Fruit cake is less a tradition of the season than it is a traditional joke of the season. Supposedly no one likes it or eats it but we know that is not true. There is a company in rural North Carolina, Southern Supreme, that makes an excellent cake. I ordered one, having missed making a purchase earlier in the season, with the idea of soaking it in rum. Christmas had already passed when I started to google exactly how to do that and it was only then I discovered my two mistakes. First, I didn’t need google. As one would expect with true traditions, my wife already knew what to do from having watched relatives growing up. Second, I was supposed to wrap the fruitcake in a clean dish towel or cheesecloth and apply the rum once every few days over a period ranging from a month to months. The cake is hidden away in a tin or container during that period until it has reached that perfect consistency and booziness. My mother-in-law apparently hid this wonder from her girls when they were kids by putting it on top of the refrigerator. She must have done the same when her sons-in-law came along. I will need to get back to everyone on how this turns out.
Here’s David’s Entry:
Some people are “show cooks”; that is, they like to cook for audiences, but when it comes to the day-to-day business of preparing nourishment… meh. And, me, I’m not even a show cook. Eating for me is closer to feeding—if a zookeeper came along and slipped something through a slot in the door, I’m not sure I’d mind.
That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate good cooking—I’d prefer my zookeeper to be adept—just that I rarely have the will to prepare meals and rarely enjoy anything I make, for show or otherwise. So perhaps you can understand how challenging this food with liquor proposal has been for me. When it comes to bourbon balls, I could never touch the ones they make at Muth’s Candy in Louisville. As for fruitcake, I’d love to try Jonathan’s, but I’m pretty sure any fruitcake I created would make a better artificial fireplace log. I’m loath to try anything so ambitious.
Every party has a pooper, I know. But I did fulfill this proposal, albeit in my own lazy way. I prepared Queso Flameado with Shrimp and Salsa Ranchera, and, if that sounds fancy, it was… and wasn’t. Really, this recipe might be renamed “Cheese and Shrimp Tacos,” except that it includes the dramatic steps of making your own salsa and of flambéing the cheese with tequila. After using what we call “an outboard motor” (immersion blender) to smooth out the canned chopped tomatoes, you add shrimp and tequila, get a long match, say a prayer to keep your eyebrows, and call everyone over to watch.
For just a second there, I felt like a show cook after all, and I enjoyed the results. The instant of completion is the optimum moment to eat. The cheese is quite melty, and the tequila imparts a complexity you may not expect, almost as if the dish included the complicated mélange of spices common in Indian food. And, yes, let me repeat, I enjoyed this food I made. I may cook with tequila again, who knows?
The second recipe I want to offer uses bourbon, which I thought, before experimenting with tequila, was the friendliest liquor for cooking. Though it isn’t quite the season for it, we always enjoy a bourbon and chocolate infused pecan pie commercially called, and trademarked, “Derby Pie”®. If anyone asks, however, please tell them we always call it “Museum Winner’s Pie” when we prepare and eat it and discuss it with others. You can find various forms of this “We Can’t Call It What it Really Is Pie” online, but the critical steps are making a soup out of butter, eggs, sugar, chocolate chips, pecans, and bourbon, pouring that soup into a pie shell, and then baking it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. It couldn’t be easier. Even a lazy-bones like me can manage it.
Jonathan and I were lucky to grow up in a household where my mom—a wonderful, amazing cook—saw to our culinary education. I learned a lot and have most of the basic techniques down. Unfortunately, little actual affection for cooking stuck. Fancy or plain, liquor or no liquor, in the kitchen I feel I’m sometimes channeling my dad, whose “beans and noodles” and “fried bologna sandwiches with ketchup” made us rush our mom’s recovery from every illness. I love to watch the Cooking Channel. That and playing grumpy sous-chef are often as far as I get, but—okay, I admit it—it was fun being pushed out of my comfort zone for this proposal.
Jonathan’s take: I just realized we never sent Bourbon Jerry and Mr. Seed any bourbon balls. I might have to make more.
David’s take: My biggest discovery was that tequila is food-friendly. Who knew?
Next Time (Proposed by David):
‘Tis the season for resolutions and diets, and there’s been a movement afoot to make January a month without alcohol. To that I have to say, “Oh well.” Still, I mean to give it a try. So this time I’m proposing Jonathan and I each create a “Mocktail,” a drink just as complex (and special) as a cocktail without alcohol. Though I fear I may once again play “Doubting David,” I’ll use this month to consider exactly what makes a libation special.