Collards Two Ways

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It’s been a long winter here in New York, made longer by an incredibly snowy March. This month is always a question mark, and often a tease: a day or two of glorious sunshine puts everyone in a cheerful mood, only to be crushed by lingering, chilly, wet gloom for the next week. Sigh. At the beginning of winter, and even through January and February, I enjoy the thick, meaty stews and slow, warm braises that populate the seasonal menu. But after awhile, no matter how much iron I pack in with beans and lentils, I crave a big batch of greens. Their color acts as a visual cue that I’m doing right by my body, their taste reminds me of the bounty of warmer times, and, since they’re packed full of nutrients, I feel better—fresher, lighter—for hours after eating.

But in March—fickle, callous March—it’s still too early for young spring lettuces and even the most dedicated foragers will have trouble rustling up enough ramps or ferns to make more than a meal or two. So I turn to what’s available in my Washington Heights grocery: mustard greens, kale, or collards.

Collards are my go-to green. I was forced, as a child, to eat them on New Year’s Day for good luck. In the South, usually the collards are simmered with vinegar, salt, sugar, crushed red pepper, and something porky like a ham hock or ham bone. I didn’t care for the tart flavor and toothsome texture growing up, but now I can’t get enough. Besides this traditional preparation, I like collards in other forms, too.

Mature collards are massive things, with leaves six or more inches across and thick, tough stems. Before cooking them, always take the time to remove the stem. You can save it for other purposes, like chopping and adding to a stew or braise, but if you leave them on for these recipes, they’ll be inedible. Make two cuts down either side of the stem and pull away the leaves to remove (pictured).

Removing the collard stem

Removing the collard stem

Collards with Chipotle

Ingredients:
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, plus 1 Tbs. adobo sauce
1/2 lb collard greens, stems removed, roughly chopped (about 7 cups)
1/4 cup of water
salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 
1. In a large heavy pot over medium heat, combine all ingredients.

2. Heat until water is just boiling, and then simmer on low heat for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally. As they soften, crush the peppers with the side of the spoon.

Sautéed collards with garlic

Sautéed collards with garlic

Sautéed Collard Greens with Garlic

Ingredients:
1/2 lb collards, stems removed, sliced into ribbons or roughly chopped (about 7 cups)
1/2 head of garlic, finely minced (about 2 Tbs or 30 grams)
2 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 Tbs fresh lemon juice (optional)

Directions:
1. In a large sauté or frying pan, heat olive oil and garlic over medium-low, just until garlic is fragrant.
2. Add collards and sauté over medium low, stirring vigorously so garlic doesn’t rest on the bottom of the pan and burn.
3. Sauté just until collards are bright green and slightly wilted, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and a squeeze or two of lemon just before serving, if desired.

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Tasting Notes: Bushmills Black Bush Head-to-Head

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This review is part of a St. Patrick’s Day Flash Mob Blog effort. Scroll to the end for a list of all participating blogs.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t know much about Irish whiskey. It’s not the sort of thing one drinks when spending a year in Scotland. The Water of Life Society hosted a small tasting of Irish whiskies but only because our president was Irish—and I unfortunately missed out on that one. I’m pretty sure the only Irish whiskey I’ve tasted is Jameson—and that was long before I knew how to drink whisky, back in my days of shots and vomit.

So I’ve got some catching up to do when it comes to that other uisce beatha. What better time to start than in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day? The brilliant Canadian blogger and germinatrix of ideas Johanne McInnis of The Perfect Whisky Match suggested on Facebook that we—the whisky bloggers of the world—unite in the first-ever whisky blogging flash mob (first ever blogging flashmob in general?). We settled on St. Paddy’s as it gave focus in terms of whiskey type (Irish) and tie-in with an existing holiday. Bushmills Black Bush was selected as an easy-to-find (for most) and relatively inexpensive Irish whiskey, perfect for accommodating as many bloggers as possible. (A few folks couldn’t find Black Bush in their country or weren’t able to buy an entire bottle—ahem, that’d be me—and other bloggers generously sent samples of their own—ahem, that’d be the ever-gracious, kindest of the kind Joshua Feldman of The Coopered Tot. Just another day of friendliness and generosity in the Whisky Fabric!)

I enjoyed this tasting, then, because I started with a fresh slate. Inevitably, I compared my impressions to Scotch, but I tried hard to nose and taste sans expectations. This tasting was especially fun because I had two different expressions of Black Bush to try. Josh had an old bottle from the ’90s that he’d not drunk much of over the years, and handed it off to me for the project and “for shots when novice drinkers come over.” (I’ve had some disappointing experiences giving good whisky to rubes who shoot it back without a second thought. Sad face.) He also gave me a generous sampling of today’s Black Bush to taste side-by-side with the old stuff.

Were they different? Yes, and no. The flavor profiles had a lot in common but each emphasized different aspects.

Bushmills Black Bush (late 1990s expression)
Nose: Leather, mocha, apples, and lots of spice: cinnamon, allspice, cloves. A sweet vanilla note and light floral topnote, as well as fresh wood or pencil shavings.

Palate: Strong wood pervades throughout the duration of the flavor. Spice, especially black pepper, on the midpalate which fades disappointingly quickly. Slight sweetness and a surprising flash of banana along with more expected citrus. Overall, the oak overwhelmed the more interesting flavors in this dram.

Finish: Oak and more oak. A bare hint of lingering spice but not enough to suit me.

Bushmills Black Bush (contemporary expression)
Nose: Vanilla, cloves, apple bread, pears, cardamom, clean pencil shavings. Light, sweet, and fruity, with a slight mocha or chocolate undercurrent.

Palate: Sweet with vanilla and counterbalanced with oak. The most prominent spice is a gentle cinnamon bark, with baked apples and a hint of banana.

Finish: Again, lots of wood and not much else. There’s some dark chocolate (like unsweetened, 100% cacao) at the back of the tongue but otherwise, it disappoints.

Overall, I found that neither dram fulfilled what I enjoy most in a whisky, but I was glad for the chance to find that out for myself. My opinion wavered as to which I preferred. In the first round, the new stuff came out on top; but round two found me preferring the older version. Neither would be my post-dinner dram of choice, but the 1990s version made a lovely hot toddy, and I’ll surely keep the remainder of the bottle around for future mixing or cooking use.

Flash Mob Bloggers:

http://www.bestshotwhiskyreviews.com/search/label/Black%20Bush
http://misswhisky.com/2013/03/17/black-bush-whiskey-flash-blog/
http://whiskyisrael.co.il/2013/03/17/tasting-bushmills-black-bush-its-saint-paddy/
http://freakywhisky.ca/2013/03/17/bushmills-black-bush/
http://theperfectwhiskymatch.blogspot.ca/2013/03/guest-blogger-for-st-patricks-day.html
http://dramgoodtime.com/2013/03/17/bushmills-black-bush-review-flash-mob-style/
http://whisky-discovery.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/whisky-discovery-349.html
http://gjr71.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/bushmillsmb-flash-mob-tasting/
http://whiskyguyrob.com/whiskyguyblog/robby-oill-and-the-little-people/
http://whiskymeasure.com/714/reviews/bushmills-black-bush-review/
http://themaltdesk.blogspot.dk/2013/03/bushmills-black-bush-distillery-bottling.html
http://awardrobeofwhisky.com/bottle/bushmills-black-bush
http://www.tomswhiskyreviews.com/review.php?articleid=485
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ir0tNwjYahE&feature=youtu.be
http://boozedancing.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/st-patricks-day-flashmobblog-whiskey-review-bushmills-black-bush/
http://maltfascination.com/2013/03/17/bushmills-black-bush/
http://whiskygirl.nl/into-the-black-bush/
http://cocktailchem.blogspot.ca/2012/03/whiskey-for-st-patricks-day-bushmills.html
http://www.whiskyplus.ca/critiques/whisky-critiques/whiskey-whisky-critiques/bushmills-black-bush/
http://theperfectwhiskymatch.blogspot.ca/2013/03/st-patricks-day-bushmills-black-bushhe.html
http://www.connosr.com/reviews/bushmills/bushmills-black-bush/irish-top-blend/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3VDH9kAKKo

An Evening of Scotch & Chocolate

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What’s better than a whisky tasting? A whisky tasting with chocolate.

The last time I attended a whisky event at the Morgan Library, it was hosted by Gordon & MacPhail and featured five of their independent bottlings plus a Benromach. Last Friday, Josh Feldman (aka writer of the Coopered Tot and personality extraordinaire) presented six unique whiskies coupled with stunning chocolates by Pacari. In a warm, inviting atmosphere, attendees softened chocolate between their fingers while learning from Francisco Vivar of Pacari about the origins and characteristics of each variety and from Josh about the whisky pairings. We nosed and sipped and tasted in various combinations (whisky first, then chocolate; now chocolate first and then whisky; now together!) to determine the impact on flavors resulting from each order. Surprisingly, it does matter which goes into your mouth first. Even simply placing the chocolate on your tongue, allowing it to melt a bit and then nosing the whisky can radically alter the evident dominant flavors.

Pacari is a company that seems relatively unknown to the average US consumer but has captured the spotlight of the chocolate world. Based in Ecuador (Pacari translates as “nature” in local language Quechua), they make 100% organic chocolate and adhere to “fair and equitable standards” of production while aiming to preserve traditional methods of cacao farming. The importance of this becomes clear when tasting Pacari’s different varieties of chocolate, several of whose unique flavors showcase the diversity of the local terroir. And all this isn’t just talk; Pacari really puts its money where your mouth is. The company is the first chocolate producer in the world to earn the Demeter Biodynamic Certification and, what’s more, Francisco’s sincerity and authenticity—he uttered not a word of industry jargon or marketing language—spoke volumes about Pacari’s confidence in their products. Indeed, with or without whisky, this chocolate shines.

Clay, Allison, and I replacing evil with whisky

Clay, Allison, and I replacing evil with whisky

Joining me in flavor exploration were pastry chef/food writer Rebekah Pizanaauthor and chocolate expert Clay Gordon, and Allison Patel, Whisky Woman and producer of Brenne Single Malt. We formed a cozy little pack of nerds, exchanging notes and learning from each other throughout the evening. As I know next to nothing about chocolate (except that I enjoy it!), it was truly a privilege to taste alongside someone as knowledgeable as Clay and learn from his insights. It was also a treat to hang out with Allison—and even more so when Josh pulled out a bottle of Brenne to share with the room! For the unlucky (aka non-New Yorkers) who don’t yet have access to it, Brenne is a delicious, different kind of single malt produced in Cognac, France. It always surprises first-timers—even whisky connoisseurs—in a pleasant way and as other guests mobbed Allison to heap effusive praise on her whisky, the night culminated in a truly magical moment. Big ups to Josh for his perfect timing!

The night held other surprises too, not all of which I can reveal just yet. (Check back in a couple of months for something exciting that perfectly marries the realms of chocolate and spirits.) Clay generously shared some unique products with me—the beautiful 100% cacao Il Criollo by Domori, a bit of the ridiculously-addictive (and tragically not available for purchase) dried cacao fruit, and strangely awesome dark chocolate-covered, jalapeño-dusted corn nuts from Fruition Chocolate. (Yeah, corn nuts, I know—you have to try it to believe it.)

Dried cacao fruit might not look appetizing, but is worlds ahead of your run-of-the-mill fruit leather.

Dried cacao fruit might not look appetizing, but it’s worlds ahead of your run-of-the-mill fruit leather.

Just as at the Gordon & MacPhail tasting, a comment from the evening perfectly reinforced the philosophy behind this blog, and behind my explorations of food and spirits in general. In the midst of the writers’ geekery over the pairings and our attempts to verbalize the tastes and feelings swirling around our palates and minds, Clay sagely intoned,

“You can take the whisky seriously. You can take the chocolate seriously. But you can’t take yourself seriously.”

How right he is. No matter what tone of “authority” I might take on this blog (and I do hope there’s not much of one), I earnestly believe that eating and drinking should be primarily about enjoyment. Tasting notes and philosophical rhapsodizing help me sort out the mechanics of food and drink, provide an outlet for my natural interest, and enable me to organize my emotional connections to the act of cooking, eating, and sharing. But I don’t have to deeply contemplate a dessert or compose an ode to a dram to enjoy it, fully and truly. In the end, what matters is the pleasure received from tasting what’s good, and that’s it.

All that being said, now I’m going to share my tasting notes. Ha!

Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or 12yo with Pacari Piura 70% Regional
The Piura chocolate is made from Peruvian white cacao beans and is an unprocessed as possible. By itself it had a strong fruitiness—notes of berry, cherry and green apple. Paired with the Glenmorangie (which displayed typical sherried notes of golden raisins on the nose and spiciness on the palate), the two produced a honeyed butterscotch flavor with the fruitiness coming out as peaches, and a hint of underlying white pepper.

Compass Box Hedonism with Pacari Lemongrass
My favorite combination of the evening, best taking the whisky first. Hedonism is an all-grain blend with a sweet nose of marshmallows and gorse flowers and a tropical palate full of coconut. Josh described it as a “500 thread count silk pillowcase” and it is, indeed, indulgent. With the chocolate, the citrus notes of the whisky came out in full force beside the lemongrass along with a crisp freshness—to me, spearmint—which lingered on the finish. As the whisky breathed (and as we tasted other chocolates), the gorse scent (some smelled it more as jasmine) became stronger and more developed and lingered sweetly.

GlenDronach “The Revival” 15 yo with Pacari 65% Manabi Regional
Another sherried malt, the Revival gave off strong plum and raspberry notes on the nose and a palate of dried fruit, orange peel and a hint of hot paprika on the tip of the tongue. With the chocolate, strong gingerbread notes emerged which deepened both elements.

Aberlour A’bunadh Batch 42 with Pacari 65% Manabi Regional
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Aberlour and especially their A’bunadh series. Paired with this chocolate, the dram that displays some of the richest sherry notes I’ve tasted takes on an earthiness entirely new to me. The familiar cooked fruits now seemed roasted rather than stewed—bolder and more complex. This was one of the most interesting combinations of the night, as the chocolate and the whisky completely changed each other.

Ardbeg Uigeadail with Pacari Salt & Nibs
The pink salt in this chocolate comes from Cuzco, where people dig ponds, fill them with water, and let the water evaporate, leaving this salt behind. Ardbeg, an Islay whisky, also incorporates parts of the earth where it’s made, displaying characteristic peatiness. Together, these two elements created a total explosion of salt and peat: dissonant at first, but which soon mellowed to a sweet, honeyed harmonization. A very fun combination, especially since this was one of the few chocolates we were encouraged to chew (the “nibs” being little bits of the cacao bean).

Balcones Brimstone with Pacari Fig
By this point, I was so caught up in the general atmosphere of excitement (this was right after Josh produced the Brenne and the whole room went wild), I neglected to take very comprehensive notes. As you might have guessed, the chocolate contained chewy little niblets of fig. Its sweet fruitiness married nicely with Brimstone’s uniquely smoky profile, achieved via Texas scrub oak (whatever that is—tastes sort of, but not really, like mesquite). It was like drinking a barbecue sandwich topped with fig preserves—and therefore awesome. The Brimstone also paired fabulously with the aforementioned corn nuts, leaving me in a state of near-delirium and joy.

PS—Read Allison’s beautiful take on the evening here