Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Margarita Sorbet

I'm now playing with my new ice cream machine, so I'm gonna put up the recipes that I create myself. OK, I'm gonna put up the ones that work. The others, I'll probably hide from the light of day.

I got the machine a few weeks back. I was watching Iron Chef and thought, "Damnit, I want an ice cream machine!" So I started looking at machines, and the reviews are sort of all over the place. The one thing that was consistent, though, was that people felt the machines under about $700 can't produce rich, smooth ice creams reliably. I was gonna use a chunk of tax rebate to buy a really expensive machine, and decided it was worth trying a cheap one. I found a Cuisinart ICE-20 on Craigslist for $20. Can't beat that. Better yet, it comes with a second bowl. Pretty much every maker under $300 is the "freezethisbowlfortwelvehours" type, or the really old school rock salt and ice type. So having a second bowl allows me to make two batches at a time. When you're an addict like I am, well... Anyway, so far this thing has done a great job. Rich, creamy ice cream, smooth, well developed sorbet. Glad I decided to try for the $20 before spending $700.

Quick aside. In 2000, Lukafresh and I went shopping at the Albertson's in University Village. They had a sale. $2 pints of Ben and Jerry's. Fresh is an ice cream addict. I am an ice cream addict. It was like if the guy at the corner of 2nd and Bell announced half of on rocks. We went bananas. We literally filled our shopping cart with ice cream. Our freezer wouldn't fit it all. We had to eat like 4 pints right away so they wouldn't melt. The freezer was empty in two weeks or so.

Anyway, now you probably understand my ice cream addiction somewhat. Sorbet plays a critical role in the ice cream universe. Sore throat? Sorbet. Feel bogged down by a heavy meal? Sorbet. Too hot to eat something creamy? Sorbet.

I've got a bottle of tequila that's just a little too harsh to drink naked. So I thought, "hey, I'll turn you into sorbet!" Looked up a recipe or six, and settled on one.

But the problem with these recipes is that the creators either a) have never been bartenders or b) took no pride in the margaritas they made if they were. Apparently what they wanted to create was an homage to the Jose Cuervo pre-mix margarita you buy in the grocery store. That is not what I wanted. So I took the ice cream theory from the recipes, and mixology theory from my own experience, and churned this recipe out:

2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup lime juice (I recommend key lime for this recipe)
3T lemon juice
6T tequila
8T orange juice
2T triple sec (optional, I prefer without)

Combine water and sugar, heat on medium until completely integrated. Once the sugar dissolved, raise heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add all other ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Chill until fully cold (in the fridge if you're patient, with an ice bath if you're like me). Freeze in your machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Here's a key step - when you transfer from the machine to your container, use a broad spoon or spatula to gently mix it together. It'll come out of your machine with inconsistent texture - the stuff on the outside will be very dry and frozen, some will be more soupy. If you don't mix it until it's consistent, it'll freeze unevenly. In particular, the tequila will run out and make tequila ice around the edges, while the rest will have little tequila flavor.

Once it's in your container, freeze it for 2-4 hours to ripen. Then enjoy. Amy, who eats about 1/3 the ice cream I do, ate the better part of a quart of this in 48 hours. I just had to make a second batch.

Here's the mixology breakdown (and the ingredients I didn't see in any other recipe):

In the states, most margaritas are sweet and sour, tequila and triple sec. You might get lucky and get it muddled with fresh lime. You might get even luckier and have homemade sweet and sour. You might get truly lucky and get a bartender who understands that a margarita should have a splash of OJ. The recipes all behave like you want a TGI Friday's margarita. I dunno about you, but I don't. So what's up with the ingredients I used?

Lemon juice - in my opinion, sweet and sour should be about 2/3 lime, 1/3 lemon. The lemon counters the lime nicely, and adds dimension to the flavor. You won't get lemon in most scratch margaritas in Mexico, but for the purposes of either homemade sweet and sour or this recipe, it'll give you a nice depth.

Orange juice - the sweetness of the orange is how you get a margarita smooth. Triple sec is just orange liqueur, and if you use it here you'll get the syrupy flavor of an airport bar margarita. It'll also cause the freezing to be even more uneven, making it more likely you end up with a dry, lightly flavored section and an ice cube of liquor around the edge. Use fresh orange to dull the edge a little, and because the flavor of juice is much nicer than the flavor of DeKuyper.

In Mexico, almost every scratch margarita you'll get has four ingredients: Tequila, triple sec, fresh lime, oj (plenty of sloppy margaritas to be had there, too, with garbage and sugar covering up lousy tequila and laziness). Because our palette has been destroyed by chain restaurants and sloppy bartenders, it's hard to make a margarita without a ton of unnecessary sugar and some extra stuff. This recipe is about 2/3 real margarita, 1/3 Americanized. But I think you'll enjoy it.

What cocktail or booze-based frozen treat should I attempt next?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Knowing your server

Apparently it's restaurant week in my blog. In this episode...

My friend posted this to her Facebook wall the other day:

As you'll notice, there was a pretty fair conversation on the topic. My immediate answer was yes, mostly because it means there's less free stuff for you. I can't think of any regulars I comped much for who didn't know my name/whose name I didn't know.

I recommended a few clandestine ways to get the servers' names (off the receipt, ask another staff member, etc), but there's a possible issue there too, which another poster pointed out: the server still doesn't know your name, and suddenly using the person's name after years of never having used it is awkward/suspicious.

If you decide to ferret out the name of a server after a long period of non-introduction, then be considerate about it. Give your credit card to pay, so s/he has the opportunity to learn yours easily. Chances are, s/he is just as embarrassed about not knowing your name at this point.

And there's also a certain line to observe, right? Sometimes, customers seem to think knowing and using your name somehow gets them past the important part: tipping. Apparently, once we're on a first name basis I'm no longer reliant on tips to earn my income, so you don't need to tip me as long as you say, "Evan" every 3rd sentence or so. I'll always take a nice tip from someone who doesn't know my name over a stiff from someone who thinks s/he's my friend.

In the end, I recommend the full disclosure method. "I don't know how I've gone this long without introducing myself, and now it's really awkward. But I'm Evan." It's probably a relief for the server, too, who definitely doesn't know your name and probably wishes s/he did. I remember a group of regulars, four dudes, who came into GB 2-3 times per week. They started in someone else's section, but eventually I inherited them. At that point, I'd been seeing them 2-3 times a week for a year, and had never introduced myself, and now it was too late. I never did get their names, and it was mildly awkward every time they sat down. Woulda been better to just admit ignorance and introduce.

What say you, restaurant people? How did/do you deal with the regular whose name you never got? Is there a point at which learning the person's name becomes too awkward and you just give up?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Anxiety Dreams

I wish I could draw, as I'd draw this one out. I tried to do some stick figures, but it turns out that's not even in my wheelhouse. Oh well. I'll leave that type of blogging to this wonderful gal.

Anyway, here we go. So the other night, we went to this restaurant. Little tiny place, West African cuisine. One dude working. When we walked in, it was just us (Amy, Miles, Lila, yours truly). Over the next 100 minutes until we left, a fairly steady stream of folks came through. The poor guy working was way over his head - I got the feeling he wasn't normally a cook, because cooking our meal (2 apps and 3 entrees) took 70 of those 100 minutes. At the end, he came to apologize and explain that they were short handed that night. When I told him I had worked in restaurants, you could literally see the stress fall off his shoulders.

And I got to thinking - this was like a real, live server anxiety dream.

This guy is about to realize that he has 27 new tables
When I worked in service, anxiety dreams were at least a weekly occurrence. The details varied, but the scene was always the same. Tons of people sitting in my section/at my bar, and something complicating. Sometimes I'd have the classic no-pants realization. Others, the section grew every time I turned around. Maybe people all sat at once, or maybe a flow that just didn't stop. Or I was out of ketchup and every table wanted it. Or a combination of all of those. These are common to every server I know.

One stands out from the crowd - the weirdest dream I ever had. It came near the end of my tenure in restaurants. In the dream, I was working a restaurant that was shaped like an old broadway set, with three tiered levels (each about 2 steps higher than the lower, think of like A Chorus Line, or a Rockette's show), and the bar was on the top level. I was working by myself, and no one in the place but me. The bathroom was just an unprotected toilet next to the bar on the top level. I really needed to take a crap. Eventually, I just had to go. As soon as I started, people began coming in, and seating themselves on the lower level. People kept coming, and I apparently had a limitless gut. Something from Norse Myth, or something - the Bung of Plenty, gifted to mighty Thor from the Gnomes of Ygdrhamster or something. So I'm sitting on the top level, in full site of a newly filled restaurant, waving to people and saying, "I'll be right with you," as my gut made constant grumbly noises that showed no sign of slowing or stopping.  And that was how the entire dream went. Dream hours of pooping and waving to people, telling them I'd be right there to take their order.

Needless to say, I woke up scratching my head and wondering if I'd crapped the bed. Thankfully I hadn't.

So yeah, analyze that shit, Sigmund (pun inevitable).

Since leaving restaurants, work anxiety dreams have become almost entirely a thing of the past. Which makes me wonder - Do you have work anxiety dreams? What do they look like? Are they consistent in theme (like the filling/growing restaurant), or do they vary? And why in god's name couldn't that damn toilet at least have had a stall??? ;-)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Ewok Whisperer

So after my X Wing project, one of my best friends, Toby Rzepka, asked me if she could say Yub Yub yet.

I'm proud to announce that we're almost there. Sadly, "Gooondah" still hasn't caught on.

I've been intending to do my next Star Wars project for the last couple weekends, but haven't had time. I've got several plans for very fun (and somewhat more practical) projects. Hoping to post soon.

Do your kids speak any nerd languages? If you don't have kids, which nerd languages do you plan to teach them when you do?