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I like cold beverages

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I cannot lie,  I like my cocktails.  A strong spirit and a tasty mixer, and I’m a happy girl.  The current martini trend and I are besties.  I also enjoy a solo spirit – vodka or tequila on the rocks, both preferably with a little lime.  Limoncello over ice sipped slowly = happiness.  This summer has been noteworthy for two extraordinary cocktail experiences.

Before we begin, may I recommend a little musical accompaniment to your reading enjoyment (open in a new window).

The first was a visit to the oh-so-cool Manifesto cocktail bar, a speakeasy ensconced in The Rieger Hotel, a 95-year old hotel in Kansas City’s Crossroads Art District.  The hotel now operates as a restaurant and features an interesting menu I’m eager to sample.  But, on this visit, we didn’t even darken the restaurant’s front door.  No, we wandered around back to the dimly lit alley, climbed up on the loading dock and knocked on the sign-less door.  We were admitted and directed down a narrow black staircase to an underground den.  We found seats at one of a dozen small tables and were greeted by a perfectly styled cocktail waitress who explained the joint:  there’s a small menu of about 30 “liberated” cocktails, organized by spirit and labeled as shaken or stirred.  No beer or wine are served.  If they’ll make other cocktails, they don’t advertise it.  The menu features intriguing names like “Winter in Buenos Aires”, “Jackson Co. Democratic Club Cocktail”, “Jalisco Spice Trade” and many others.  It’s fascinating to peruse the menu and wonder aloud about the various merits of Bonded Applejack Brandy, St-Germain Elderflower, Lemon, Housemade Grenadine and Absinthe combined into a cocktail.  This notable delight was dubbed the Springsville and it was remarkable.

I don’t normally enjoy Absinthe, nor licorice-flavor of any kind, but this was revelatory.  The flavor of the drink was slightly sweet, mostly sour, deliciously icy and at the end, seemingly long after the initial flavors had faded away, the gentle spiciness of the Absinthe perfumed my mouth and opened my eyes.  I took sip after sip and this wasn’t even my drink.

Another drink of Brian’s that I happily stole sips from was the Smokin’ Choke, an exciting twist on the classic Manhattan:  Applewood Smoked Four Roses Whiskey, Cynar, Maple Syrup and Peychaud’s Bitters.  The flavor was intense, but what really struck me about this drink in particular and Manifesto in general, was the ice.  Yes, the ice.  And not just the ice in this drink, but the ice used in all the cocktails.  The perfectly chipped ice in the Springsville.  The single block ice cube crafted to fit the shape and size of the double old-fashioned glass in which the Smokin’ Choke was served.

I’m big on ice.   I like a lot of it in any beverage.  And the ratio of ice to drink is crucial:  too little ice and you’re looking at a cocktail that will deteriorate by the minute into watered down spirits and tepid mediocrity.  Too much ice and well, really, there’s really no such thing in my book.  Just so long as the glass is big enough.  Their truly masterful use of ice and fascinating flavor combinations put Manifesto over the top for me.

The second cocktail experience of note in the summer of 2011 was the Candied Bacon Martini, crafted (but not created) by yours truly in honor of Shelly’s Biggest Bacon Birthday.

The candied bacon was a huge hit.  I made several (very small) test batches in the week leading up to the party, since I thought that with something as crucial and potentially life-changing as candied bacon being served at a event thusly named, it would be worth my while to perfect the recipe.  I tried different kinds of sugar, different flavors of bacon, varying oven temperatures and baking times and found the best combination to achieve ultimate candied bacon satisfaction.  The cocktail was vodka, Applejack brandy, amaretto and maple syrup, combined in a 3:2:1:1 ratio.  A thin slice of green apple on the rim and the candied bacon draped unceremoniously across the top.  The combination of flavors and textures rocked my socks.  Sweet.  Icy.  Salt.  Bacon.  Caramel.  Maple.  Chewy.  Crunchy.  Bacon.  Apple.  Bacon.  Bacon.  Bacon.  (Silently mouths) Bacon.

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The Summer Coffee Conundrum

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I am a coffee drinker. Grande cappuccino, slightly dry, with whole milk- is my Starbucks handle. Those first few seconds after the barista hands over my drink are the most crucial. It’s then that I get my first look at the quality of the foam, is it thick and creamy like I could ski on it, revealing that this milk has been steamed at the perfect temperature to heighten the milk’s natural sweetness and produce a perfect texture? Or is too airy, caving in on itself from too high of temperatures, the product of haste and poor training.

Then there’s the weight. Too heavy and the espresso will be overly diluted, too light and I’m in for a very bitter few minutes. So needless to say, a lot happens in those first moments. For me a good cap must include excellent foam and the perfect milk to espresso ratio. I’m simply not interested in watery coffee of any kind. Which brings me to the real topic of this post- The Summer Coffee Conundrum.  It’s too hot to drink the usual quality hot beverage and the iced offerings are disappointing at best. Usually no more than watered-down sugar delivery systems, the limitations of iced coffees make summer a difficult time for the foam and espresso addicted. Enter the Iced Indonesian from La Prima Tazza in downtown Lawrence, KS.

Unlike most cold coffees that are based on cold press or brewed coffee, this one starts with two shots of espresso, so you get that distinct espresso flavor upfront, and the caffeine boost, if that’s what you are after. Add to that their signature house made Indonesian syrup, cold milk, a combination of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a scoop of ice. Now here’s where it gets really good. You have the choice of topping your drink with whipped cream- boo. Or steamed milk- yes! Always, always go with the steamed milk. This cold drink has all the big espresso flavors and satisfies my foam fix, something few cold drinks are able to accomplish. At first it may seem weird to be slurping foam off the top an icy drink, but it really works.

Then there’s the extra flavor from the syrup. To say I’m not a fan of flavored coffee is putting it mildly. I hate it. Usually, because it tastes fake and is way too sweet. But not this one. The flavors are similar, as you might expect, to a Thai iced coffee, but it isn’t as sweet or thick. It is the perfect iced coffee and a highlight of summer.

What’s in a name?

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Unlimited, all you can eat, cheese sauce, that’s what.

Let me explain.  This whole conversation started months ago after a trip to Disney World when I learned from a coworker, after the fact, that one of the hamburger joints in Tomorrow Land apparently offers cheese sauce out of a pump at the condiment bar in the same way most places offer ketchup and mustard.  As in unlimited.  As in free.  As in cheese sauce.  My mind was going  a mile a minute when I first learned this potentially life changing news.  “Just think of it!  I could have had all the cheese sauce I wanted!!!”  I whined in misery and regret to B.  What an opportunity!  And, being uninformed, I had missed it.  Usually a total sucker for free condiments (he worships at the altar of Chick-Fil-A), he uncharacteristically did not share my regret.  “Fuddruckers has cheese sauce in a pump,” he revealed with total nonchalance, as if it’s no big deal.

Let’s take a moment for me to share that I realize how low-brow and weird my love of this kind of cheese sauce is.  I recognize that it doesn’t even resemble cheese.  I agree that the flavor is fake and the aftertaste can be chemical.  To be clear, I love a good, real cheese just as much as the next person.  Probably more than most.  Much more.  My favorite food would probably be cheese.  I love them all: the creamy, the sharp, the crumbly, the stinky.  They’re all perfection in my book.  Cheese sauce from a pump, however, is not the same thing as real cheese.  It’s a special treat all it’s own.  Would I pick cheese sauce from a pump over a creamy, tangy goat cheese?  Absolutely not.  But creamy, tangy, delicious goat cheese does not come out of a pump and is most decidedly not free.  It’s really the gratis pump that appeals to me.

So, I’m reeling with the news that Fuddruckers offers free cheese sauce in a pump at their restaurants.  This is awesome!  There’s a Fuddruckers a few miles away from my house!  I am on it!  But then I forgot about it and then the damn place closed.

Jump to this weekend when B and I are in Omaha where the Fuddruckers location is most definitely open.  We’d already had lunch.  We’d already had samples and gelato and cookies at Whole Foods, too.  We weren’t hungry at all.  But, by God, we were stopping at Fuddruckers.

We ordered a small basket of fries and a soda to share.  Less than $5.  But look at what was free.

The pumps were so big and shiny.  There was cheddar cheese sauce and jalapeno cheddar cheese sauce.  We got both. Of course.  Did I mention they were free?  And unlimited?

In fact, we got more than just cheese sauce.

There’s actually an elaborate condiment bar with more sauces, mayos and mustards, plus tons of veggies, salsas and other toppings you might want on your sandwich (or fries).  They’re pretty proud of it.  Should of taken a picture, but I was a little obsessed with the cheese.  I preferred the jalapeno.  The regular was pretty bland.  The jalapeno wasn’t what I would call spicy, but it had more flavor than the other.  We ate three little sample cups full with our small basket o’ fries.  Unlimited diet coke, too.  Nice place.

No post about Fuddruckers would be complete without a comment on the name itself.  It’s pretty silly.  It sounds sorta naughty.  The good folks in the signage department seem to be aware of that.

Additionally, B informed me that this Fuddruckers was not in the nicest part of Omaha, though it seemed perfectly safe when we were there.  He’d heard that there were bullet holes in the walls.  He snapped this pic in the men’s restroom to enter into the record as Evidence A.

Would I return to a restaurant that was the site of a possible urinal shootout?  You betcha.  Just so long as they keep refilling the cheese pump.

Chocolate and peanuts and salt, oh my!

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The full name is Green and Black’s Organic Milk Chocolate with caramelized peanuts and a hint of sea salt, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue with quite the same meter.

I picked this up today at the Omaha Whole Foods, which is a fabulous market replete with bar after bar of  fussy prepared food to complement the fussy prepackaged food.  There was also a pretty decent variety of free samples.  We each had a child’s size cup of gelato.  B had cookies and cream, his favorite, and I had vanilla with chocolate almond lacey cookies crumbled in.  The laceys are sold at Whole Foods, as well, and I’d been eyeing them while we browsed, but the gelato seemed as good a vehicle as any, so I went with that.  It was fine, pretty typical of American gelato:  the vanilla base itself didn’t have much flavor; the laceys were chewy and chocolatey; and I was left just a tad disappointed.

But this post is not titled:  Mediocre Gelato.  To the task at hand…

The caramelized peanut and sea salt chocolate bar.

This is pretty darn awesome.  The salt and chocolate combo is something I’ve been hearing about for awhile now, but haven’t really explored.  Lesson learned.  Consider me on it.  The sea salt cuts the sweetness of the milk chocolate in a really lovely way.  It melts nicely on the tongue and the range of flavors imparted as the warmth of the chocolate fills your mouth is incredible.  Salty sweet perfection.  But the real stars of the show are the caramelized peanuts.  I’m not usually a big fan of nuts in my chocolate.  Mr. Goodbar?  Shrug.  Peanut cluster?  No thanks.  But those are plain peanuts, a sort of 6 or 7 on the crunch scale, especially when enrobed in chocolate.  These caramelized peanuts, however, are a definite 9.  They’re crunchy and salty and make me want to follow each nibble with another.  This is good stuff.

Birthing The Peanut Sauce

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Okay, I don’t have an actual baby, so I haven’t gone through any real birthing throes, but here’s blog post numero uno, which I anticipate will be far less painful than actual birth.  Welcome to The Peanut Sauce, where gal pals Sarah and Shelly will be seen regularly dishing out thoughts, ideas, pictures and undoubtedly wordy and/or silly commentary on one of our favorite things:  food.

Long Live The Peanut Sauce!

To reiterate, this is not my baby.