Posts by Alan:

Sunset Gin Cocktail

An original gin cocktail made in the desperation of a late-night kitchen cleanup

Wife’s out of town on business. Kids put to bed, after cooking up what should have been a simple one-pot meal–that turned into a five-burner affair. Staring dumbly at the cooktop, full of scrub-mandatory cookware. This calls for a cold beer.

No beer? Agh. Home alone: what would I say to the cops? “Oh, I just left the kids in bed to go get some beer. It’s alllll good, right?”

Tired of red wine. Too warm for that anyhow. What’s in the pantry? Gin? Ok. Not a G&T, though. Hmmm. Here’s some Aranciata. And some Grenadine. Here’s what I ended up with: a refreshing, delicious, light cocktail. Almost tastes like an Orange Julius, surprisingly. There’s a slice of lime to cut the sweetness of the grenadine, too. I think it’s a keeper, especially for summertime. But as you can see, it works fine in January. too.

Sunset Gin Cocktail

put into a Highball glass:

  • Crushed ice
  • 2 shots Hendricks Gin
  • 1/2 shot Grenadine
  • 6 oz. Pellegrino Aranciata

Stir. Serve with a slice of lime. Enjoy!

Olive Oil: sometimes it’s even better than butter

I am one of those people who would rather die than put margarine on anything. Butter is a staple in our household, and it’s excellent on almost everything. Ever fried bacon in butter? Your arteries will cringe, but your tastebuds will leap for joy, trust me. 

Sadly, I needed a grilled cheese sandwich, badly, one afternoon. No prob: I have some homemade bread, some american cheese (yeah, the kind wrapped in individual slices)…and –OH NOES–NO BUTTER! 

Rather than turn away from the kitchen and head out to the local store for butter, I grabbed the olive oil, spiraled a little bit around in the pan, and grilled the sandwich con olio d’oliva. You have to watch the sandwich carefully, since the oil will absorb into the bread, and the bread will burn more quickly than with butter. Keep the heat a little lower than you’re used to, and you should be fine. 

The end result was dee-lish. The olive oil imparted another layer of flavor to the sandwich, and next time I have some fancy brie or camembert laying around, I’ll try this recipe with that instead, for a more “authentic” eurpoean grilled cheese. In the photo at right you can see the darker areas of the bread where the oil swirls were…the oil does spread out from there, and the contrast in taste between the darker areas and lighter areas are lovely.

If you like beer, why not make it yourself?

Aprés Ski Tomorrow, November 3rd, is Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day. It’s cheaper to make an excellent two and a half cases of your favorite porter, lager, or IPA than it is to buy. All it takes is some basic equipment, good sanitation practices, and the ability to follow a recipe. If you can make a Betty Crocker cake out of the box, you can brew beer!

I’ve been brewing for about ten years, with long lulls for darkroom building, other home remodeling, raising small kids, and other distractions. Still, I’ve managed to do about 14 or 15 batches in that time, and every batch I brew confirms how easy it is to do, and how satisfying it can be to hold that finished glass of beer in your hand, knowing you had everything to do with getting it there. With all of the batches I’ve done, I’ve ended up with leftover ingredients: hops, vacuum-packed and shoved into the back of the freezer; dried malt extract (or “DME”); adjunct grains with names like “Munich” and “Crystal”, sealed up in Ziploc baggies and piled up in the homebrew box in the pantry–you get the picture. The good news is that you can use many of these grains, hops, and other elements anytime, for another recipe.

Faced with a box of leftover beermaking supplies late last year, I decided to make some beer. After seeing what I had on-hand, it looked like I had most of the ingredients for a Porter-style beer. Named for the strong-shouldered working men who hauled heavy loads day and night in the London of centuries past,
“porter” usually refers to a darker-looking, somewhat heavier ale. It isn’t too bitter, and shouldn’t have much of a hop taste or aroma. It is usually seen as “sweeter” than a bitter-style ale, and lighter in body than a stout. Think roasted barley, or the smell of a nice whole-grain bread coming fresh out of the oven, and you can imagine the taste of a porter.

The following is a recipe, then, for what I call Leftover Porter. But the type of beer you make is entirely up to what sort of leftover stuff you’ve got laying around from previous brewing sessions. The point is to use it, and make something good out of what was just a pile of grain and dried flowers! The only thing I had to buy was the yeast (since I prefer liquid yeast, and it doesn’t keep).

Leftover Porter


  • 6 pounds Muntons dark Dried Malt Extract
  • 1 pound Muntons light Dried Malt Extract
  • 12 oz. Chocolate Malt, crushed
  • 5 oz. Crystal Malt, 10 Lovibond (that’s a measure of how much sugar is in the malt), crushed
  • 8 oz. Crystal Malt, 50 Lovibond
  • 1 oz. Cluster hops, 6.2% alpha acid content (for bittering)
  • 1.5 oz. Willamette hops, 4.9% alpha acid content (for bittering and aroma)
  • 0.5 tsp. Calcium carbonate (to adjust the water hardness)
  • 1 tsp. Irish Moss (to help clarify the beer as it cools)
  • Wyeast “British Ale II” yeast


  • Crush malts in a ziploc bag, hammering them with a rolling pin (if they aren’t already crushed). This will help to release the sugars in the malts later on. Transfer these to a cheesecloth or mesh nylon bag (“hop bag”).
  • Place the bag of malts into a stockpot with about 2.5 gallons of cold water. Bring to just under a boil. Remove the bag of malts. Reserve for the compost pile.
  • Add your Dried Malt Extract and Calcium Carbonate. Mix in thouroughly. The DME will stick like crazy to your spoon, and clump (after all, it’s basically sugar). Be patient and stir it all in. Then bring the mix up to a full rolling boil. Watch to make sure it doesn’t boil over! Sticky wort on the stove is nasty to clean up. I keep a mug of ice-cold water nearby to damp down the foam as it gets too close to the top of the stockpot.
  • Add the Cluster hops. Putting them into a hop bag will make it easier to remove all of them later on, but you can strain them out later, too, if you want.
  • 15 minutes into the boil, add the irish moss.
  • 25 minutes into the boil, add the Willamette hops.
  • 30 minutes into the boil, remove the pot from the heat. Cool down to about 90 degrees or so.
  • Pour the stuff (we call it wort) into a fermentation vessel, usually a glass carboy, 5 gallons in size. Top off to make 5 gallons. Use distilled water to avoid any contamination. When the temperature of the wort gets to about 70 degrees, pitch the yeast into the wort, mixing in without aerating it too much. Cap it with a hose running into a bottle of water, and sit it in a dark place where the temperature will remain at 68-70 degrees, for seven to ten days. slap on an airlock after the foamy stuff (“krausen”) finishes blowing out of the carboy and through the hose.
  • After about ten days or so, you can transfer the wort to a second carboy via syphon, which will help make a clearer beer. But it’s not necessary. Wait until the liquid in the airlock bubbles less than once a minute or so, and then bottle your beer!

Notes: I’m glossing over the importance of sanitation, and how to do it, and some of the details about how to “rack” your wort into the fermenter, etc. But any good homebrew store will sell you a book that talks about these particulars. The important thing is to experiment, using what you have on hand.

And if at any point in the brewing process, you feel stressed, remember the brewer’s mantra: Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Homebrew.

A Chocolate Burrito, you say? ¡Si!

Señors and señoritas, I give you the chocolate burrito!My wife, daughter of a hippie family that made their own tofu, has always turned up her nose at my suburban Wonder-Bread-eating culinary youth (well, we did eventually start eating Roman Meal, which I suppose is a little better), but despite my love for her, I have no shame about my eating education. We did, after all, eat a lot of healthy, diverse food–we just ate a lot of sloppy joes, tuna noodle casserole, and grilled cheese sandwiches, too.

With this exposition in mind, let me present a scenario: It’s 1984. Your mom or dad has just made a chocolate cake (Betty Crocker, out of the box) and finished frosting it using the frosting-in-a-can. But, of course, there’s frosting left over, and nothing goes to waste in this house. So it goes into the fridge, awaiting a later fate. A few days later, burritos are made–lovely, shreds of beef, jack cheese, refritos, and lots of green chiles, of course. There are flour tortillas left over. Into the fridge they go. Now, there they are on the same shelf…perhaps it was only a matter of time before the invention of…

The chocolate burrito.

“Eeewwwww!”, you say. But, as with so many amazing experiences in life, first impressions can be deceiving. So take a walk down the dark side of the dessert (or in my case, breakfast, or coffee-break, or lunch) street, and make a chocolate burrito.

The process couldn’t be simpler: Get your flour tortilla, left over from the other night’s south-of-the-border fest. Please don’t use a corn tortilla, ok? That’s just sick. Lay it on a clean, flat work surface (or in the palm of your hand if you’re in a hurry). Get out that half-empty can of chocolate frosting. Any brand will do, but I prefer Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker, something in the milk chocolate to chocolate fudge spectrum. It might help to thrown the can in the microwave for a few seconds to soften it up–you don’t want to break the flaky four tortilla as you spread the frosting. Slide your knife around the inside surface of the frosting container, scooping up a tablespoon or two of dark, sweet goodness. Spread it onto the tortilla. Repeat. Ideally, you want a coating of frosting that is thin, but thick enough to cover the ridges and valleys of the tortilla itself. A coating about as thick as the tortilla itself usually works well, but it all depends on how sweet your tooth is.

Then,roll it up. If you are working with a smaller tortilla–say, soft-taco-sized, you end up with a roll about an inch in diameter, sort of like a taquito. If you are using a full-size burrito holder, you’ll end up with something approximating, well, a burrito. If you’ve used the perfect amount of frosting, you get a nice alternation of frosting/tortilla/frosting/tortilla, spiraling all the way out into your sweaty, anticipatory hand.

Serve with a glass of ice-cold whole milk. Because this isn’t health food you’re eating. You might want to make a second one in advance…you know, just in case. Despite my now much healthier eating habits, I have a soft spot in my heart for the chocolate burrito, and to my wife’s chagrin, I plan on imparting this affection on to my little girls as well. As for my wife: well, I have yet to catch her in the act of making one of these, but there are times when I swear there is less frosting in the can than there was earlier, and all of the tortillas seem to have mysteriously disappeared….