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Mixing Islay: The Coal Fire Cocktail

The Coal Fire Cocktail - Wonderland Kitchen

At home, I’ve been on a bit of a single malt scotch kick recently. The smokier and peatier the better. Maybe it’s the time of year, but right now there is nothing more satisfying to me than 2 ounces of peaty, smoky, and briny Isaly scotch. It could also be that I’m just projecting our desire for a wood burning fireplace in our living room into my glass. But let’s not get too psychoanalytic.

Though single malts are best taken neat with just a few drops of water, I simply couldn’t resist trying to find a way to get those flavors into a cocktail. If you think you would like the taste of the last log in the fireplace, burned all the way down, embers ashy yet aglow, then this cocktail is definitely for you. That description pretty much sums it up. The recipe calls for Ardbeg 10, but any smoky and peaty Islay single malt—like a Lagavulin 16 or Laphroaig Quarter Cask—would certainly make an acceptable substitute. Sláinte!

Coal Fire

1 1/2 oz. Pikesville Rye
1/2 oz. Ardbeg 10 Year Islay Single Malt Scotch
1/2 oz. Taylor Madeira Wine
1/2 oz. Grade B Maple Syrup
1/4 tsp. Los Nahaules Mezcal Joven
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Flamed orange peel for garnish

Combine the rye, scotch, Madeira, maple syrup, mezcal, and bitters in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Flame an orange peel and drop it in for garnish.

Rye and Maple Thanksgiving Cocktail: Poor Sap

Rye and Maple Thanksgiving Cocktail: Poor Sap

My job takes me all over the country. I travel about 100 days a year and make a complete circuit of the lower 48 every two and a half years. As you might imagine, I go to some pretty neat places as well as some not so neat, but who really wants to hear about that? One of the perks, as you might also imagine, is that I sometimes stumble upon some unique spirits that I wouldn’t normally see on the shelves of my local shop. I’m learning, albeit gradually, that although some of these intriguing bottles don’t always deliver, the disappointment of letting one slip away far outweighs the disappointment of a less than thrilling taste. Case in point: I’m still kicking myself for not picking up a bottle of Montana Rye just last month. Live and learn.

One of the bottles I am glad I didn’t pass up was Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur, which I happened upon a year ago while staying in Burlington, Vermont. Though it languished unopened on my shelf for nearly a year, I finally decided to try it out in an autumn-inspired cocktail. What I ended up with is a bit of a riff on the Manhattan, with the maple liqueur taking the place of the sweet vermouth. Contrary to what you might think, Sapling doesn’t have a completely overwhelming sweetness, especially when set against the rye, but I found that a touch of Fernet Branca balanced the drink out quite nicely. A bit of house made grenadine fills out the profile of this mildly boozy drink that’s perfect served as a crisp autumn evening warm-up or a post-Thanksgiving cocktail.

Poor Sap

2 oz. Pikesville Rye
1 oz. Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur
1/4 oz. Fernet Branca
1/4 oz. House made grenadine
House made cocktail cherry for garnish

Combine the rye, maple liqueur, fernet, and grenadine in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

The Ultimate Baltimore Beer Cocktail: Way Down in the Hole


Beer cocktails. So hot right now. And if you believe the Baltimore Sun, they are something of a trend in Charm City, not to mention elsewhere. I must admit to being late to the party, not really getting wind of this so-called trend until browsing the drinks menu at Of Love & Regret not too long ago. But I’m not really a trendy guy. Nevertheless, you’ll have to believe me that the idea for this concoction came to me not as a result of trying to hop on some bibulous bandwagon, but rather as an attempt to remix elements of drinks from a couple of famous barkeeps—one local and one not—with some ingredients indigenous to Baltimore into a cocktail that captures the flavor of the city, cigarette butts and all.

At its core, Way Down in the Hole is a modified Michelada, but it also pays homage to Jim Meehan’s Beer and a Smoke as well as my buddy Russell de Ocampo’s infamous Kosher Boh. Like Baltimore City, Way Down in the Hole could be an acquired taste for some. I have never licked a Baltimore sidewalk and am happy believing that this drink serves up enough tastes of the town so that I will never have to. All kidding aside, I was pretty impressed—and, to be honest, more than a bit surprised—with how good this cocktail tasted. What you get is an earthy, yet refreshing and well-balanced palate with a hint of smoke along with a bit of heat creeping in on the finish and lingering well after each sip. Sounds like Baltimore to me.

The Ultimate Baltimore Beer Cocktail: Way Down in the Hole

Way Down in the Hole

1 oz. Los Nahuales Mezcal Joven
1/2 oz. Pikesville Rye
3/4 oz. Lime Juice
1 dash Fee Brothers Celery Bitters
4-6 dashes Woodberry Kitchen Snake Oil hot sauce
1 bar spoon Soy Sauce
6 oz. National Bohemian Beer
Old Bay
Zest of Orange and Lime for garnish

Combine the mezcal, rye, lime juice, bitters, hot sauce, and soy sauce in a mixing glass. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled Collins glass rimmed with Old Bay and half-filled with ice. Top with beer and add the orange and lime zest for garnish.

The Things We Ate (Christmas 2011 Edition)


The Christmas week here at Wonderland Kitchen annually includes three or more solid days of feeding six adult people. Sure, we get a restaurant meal in one evening and nosh on plenty of cookies along the way, but a little cafeteria strategy keeps us from going hungry without someone spending the entire holiday in front of the stove.

This year, my plan was homemade soups and breads, rounded out with some store-bought meats and cheeses for sandwich-making, so that a variety of meal combinations could be patched together to match the widest variety of tastes and dietary requirements.

To that end, I started researching options that might make a dent in the supplies offered by my (previously!) over-stocked pantry, and we ended up with some real winners. I wasn’t planning to post these dishes, so I didn’t take the usual series of process shots, but some of the recipes I discovered were just too tasty to horde for myself.

The Breads:

I made these both pretty much exactly as outlined in the linked recipes, no real adaptation or tweaks required.

Tomato, Basil, and Garlic Filled Pane Bianco
from Dianna Wara/King Arthur Flour

Tomato, Basil, and Garlic Filled Pane Bianco

Looked like such a challenge, but it really wasn’t (so perfect for entertaining!). I admit I was skeptical about using scissors to cut open my loaf before shaping, so at first I tried using a serrated knife. That was a fail. Just use the scissors. The good people at King Arthur Flour know what they are talking about without my interventions.

New York Deli Rye
from Smitten Kitchen/The Bread Bible

New York Deli Rye

The only switch up I employ here is to form the loaf into a batard shape and slash it deeply across four or five times. I bake it with the ice/steam method suggested.

The Soups:

(Absolutely the Best, Most Awesome) Cream of Tomato Soup (Ever!)
from Smitten Kitchen/The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook

Cream of Tomato Soup

I skipped the brandy and the cayenne pepper, because I worried it would scare off my family, and I didn’t think the soup needed any additional salt. I immediately ate two bowls.

Gypsy Soup
from The Yellow House/Mollie Katzen’s The New Moosewood Cookbook

Gypsy Soup

This seemed like a great dish to keep warm on the back burner and feed to arriving family members after their long drives to our house. It made a huge amount, and yet it seems to have disappeared. I’ll be keeping this one in the winter rotation.

I swapped potatoes/sweet potatoes for the squash (that’s what I had), used swiss chard for the greens (my preference in most cooking cases), and mixed a spice combination of 1 tsp. hot curry, 2 tsps. garam masala, and 3 tsps. sweet Hungarian paprika (in place of the turmeric, paprika, bay leaf, and cayenne indicated in the recipe).

Falling Back Into Soup


Crisp temperatures required that I actually dig proper shoes out of the closet before hitting the farmer’s market this weekend. Suddenly sweet potatoes and squash sounded appetizing. Weird how nature works like that. Summer, it seems, is saying her farewells.

When I got my weekly produce haul home and out on the counter, I spent fifteen minutes dreaming up multiple, complex culinary projects that would suit a blog post here before I stumbled on Yotam Ottlenghi’s recipe for Broiled Vegetable Soup and realized I had the exact combination of veggies needed for this single, elegantly simple dish. It was irresistible. Some people play sudoku; I get a little jolt of dopamine when I read through an ingredient list and realize I have just enough of this and that and that other thing to make it work out perfectly.

Aside: the eggplant is a vegetable that I want to love unreservedly, but that I frequently despise because I have cooked it poorly. No more! When prepping it for soups and spreads, the “hour under the broiler” method Ottlenghi suggests will be my new go-to. Doing so chars the outside to a crisp so that you then literally crack it open to scoop out the beautifully cooked meat inside.

Okay, back to the soup. While I said I had just enough of everything, my available ratio of nightshades definitely favored the tomato, so unsurprisingly my soup led with that on the palate. Still, the rich and smokey eggplant on the base and the fresh basil on the top notes make this soup a stand out. My real coup here, however, was that I had scored a bag of fresh lima beans, so no canned mush in my ladle. The resulting bowl was a perfect match to the season.

You cannot (or at least I certainly will not) have soup without bread, however, and I had just seen a recipe I wanted to try out that used left over dill pickle juice as part of the liquid. You might have noticed that I’ve been making a few pickles here and there this summer, so I have spare dill-spiked brine all over the place. It seemed a similar-enough thing when I started, but I began to change my mind as I worked. I think the sweet, less vinegar-y commercial dill pickle juice that was suggested in the recipe would have suited this project fantastically, but my homemade pickling leftovers were a little too pungent. Still, it got me out of my rye bread rut, so all was not lost. And it makes great toast!

Broiled Vegetable Soup

From Plenty by Yotam Ottlenghi

3 medium eggplants
2 red bell peppers, stems and seeds removed (I used 2 roasted red peppers out of jar on hand)
3 medium tomatoes
2 red onions, diced
2 T olive oil
3/4 basil leaves, torn
2 oregano springs, leaves only
10 garlic cloves
1 qt vegetable stock (I had less eggplant and only ended up needing 3 cups to get a good consistency soup)
salt and pepper
4 cups cooked lima beans (fresh, if you have them)
yogurt or lemon to garnish

The best part of this recipe is the taste that the broiling of the vegetables gets out of them (or at least that’s what Ottlenghi writes and, after sampling, I would have to agree). Set the broiler on high. Prick the eggplant a few times with a fork and place in a foil-lined pan. Broil for 30 minutes.

At the 30 minute mark, turn the eggplant over with tongs and add the 2 peppers to the pan. Broil for 15 more minutes, turning the peppers half way through.

Place the tomatoes in a second foil-lined pan and at the 45 minute mark, add them to the oven on a rack beneath the already broiling vegetables. Broil for an additional 15 minutes, and then remove all vegetables from the oven, wrapping the peppers in foil. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them and roughly chop. Scoop out the flesh of the eggplant, leaving the charred skin behind.

In a stock pot , saute the onion in the olive oil on low for 20 minutes, until soft and golden (I started this when I put my tomatoes in the oven and the timing worked out well). To this pot then add the scooped eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, stock, oregano, half the basil, salt and peppers and simmer for 15 minutes. Blend until smooth and add cooked lima beans, reheating as needed. Adjust seasoning to taste and serve topped with yogurt or lemon and the remaining basil leaves. A slice of freshly baked bread on the side won’t do you wrong, either.

Three Cubed: Better Than Cake


The Book: Flavors of Hungary : Recipes and Memoirs by Charlotte Biro (1973)

As can be said for most April days here in Baltimore, it was dark, grey, and raining. Unwilling to leave my cozy kitchen for any purpose or ingredient not already pantry-side, I cracked open another cookbook in my stash that I had yet to actually use: Flavors of Hungry. The book, once part of a larger grandmotherly collection, had been passed on to me by a friend. She suspected that, going on as I do about my Hungarian roots and how my own grandmother never measured anything the same way twice, I might put it to good use.

Page 127 was an illustration, but page 128 was a recipe for what looked like a basic bread but contained both riced potatoes and cake flour. Rye flour was a suggested alternative to the potatoes so, having the latter but not the former, appropriate substitutions commenced.

As it turns out, the Hungarian aversion to measuring that my grandmother professed must be a universal. Water was to be added “as needed” and just how much potato was required (or how much rye flour was to be added, if that was the swap) was left to the cook’s own judgement. Assuming a certain skill level, the instructions only go so far: for example, you are to work the dough “until the texture is right” and you’re on your own as far as figuring out what that might be. This was probably more than obvious to most women in 1973, but it made me reflect on the requirements of recipes today.

Having a bit of bread-making experience in my hands, I felt pretty confident moving through the steps and ended up with a lovely round loaf with a thick, crisp crust. If I had it to do again, however, I would opt for the loaf pan version. The cake flour in this recipe, though only a small portion of the total, is what I suspect made the crumb so soft and just slightly glossy/chewy/stretchy. Unlike some homemade bread that can’t handle sandwich duty without crumbling to bits, this tasty rye could easily flex to withstand the weight of a turkey slice or the pull of a thick peanut butter even (gasp!) untoasted.