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Mint Juleps and Cottage Grub
7.4.2002 by JP, every Saturday.


This past weekend I held my 3rd annual mad cottage bash at my cottage on Little Lake Joe about an hour away from Huntsville. There we worshipped the sun with good food, beer and mint juleps. Cooking for everybody has always been a challenge, but this year I thought having experience in the restaurant biz and at cooking school would give me an advantage. As it happened we spent about $15 each on food for 2 days and ate pretty darned well, if I do say so myself. Here's a rundown of what we ate:

Breakfast:

We had pancakes, bacon and the mandatory OJ for breakfast the first day. After cooking 3 pounds of bacon I had quite a bit of fat in my pan (that's not a euphemism folks) so I decided to deep-fry a pancake in the bacon fat, mmm... heart disease... The pancake was pretty tasty with a nice crispy exterior but I wouldn't recommend it since it'll cause you to have a massive heart attack. Actually I shouldn't poo poo the idea too much - sure its pure saturated fat, but if you're deep frying at the optimal temperature (360F) it won't add that much fat to your food; the fat forms a crispy coating on the food that prevents more fat from being absorbed. You should watch out for soggy/greasy fried foods though, these have most likely been fried by a moron who should be shot. Either that or they've been sitting under a heat lamp for hours and you should be shot for buying them you big moron. (woo! I'm so edgy I just can't stop insulting my audience!)

The second and third breakfasts were an unexciting combination of more pancakes, cereal, toasts, bagels and grapefruits. One note on the grapefruit, if you're a real man you don't put sugar on your grapefruit. I'm a real man and I've got the grapefruit to prove it.

Lunch:

On the first day we had burgers for lunch, this is a mandatory cottage food and I picked up some PC Thick 'n Juicy burgers because they were on sale ($6.99 for 8). I didn't even think to check the prices of ground beef but that may have been even cheaper, then again I didn't especially feel like hand-forming 20 burgers during my vacation.

For lunch the second day we had PC White Macaroni and Cheese which is my favorite-imitation-Kraft dinner-of-all-time,. Whoever made it put in a can of diced tomatoes which was a neat twist. Also... whoever made it served a bunch of sliced mushrooms to put on top. Sorry to whoever put those out, but I have no use for raw mushrooms: they're one of the few veggies I can't stand raw. Yuk. The mushrooms were for the spaghetti anyway, but I'll let it slide this time since I'm such a softie. It should be noted that I was the only one who complained about the food all weekend, I guess learning about this stuff has made me a bitch that way. Hopefully it won't ruin my enjoyment of food entirely, maybe it'll simply mean I start eating larger and larger portions like a crack addict.

Dinner:

For dinner the first day we had spaghetti, well actually it was rotini (spirals) and I bought way too much; for some reason I bought 4 kilos for 12 people, we went through about 1 and a half so I made pasta salad from the rest. As far as I know there's still about 2 kilos of pasta salad rotting in the fridge up there. The sauce was some PC bottled stuff with mushrooms added - screw making my own sauce, I wanted easy, no hassle food.

The second day we had fajitas which are a great, easy food to make for a crowd of hungry folk. I bought boneless chicken thighs for this and made a simple marinade from oil, lemon juice, garlic, chilli powder and cumin, then I grilled them on the BBQ and sliced 'em up. Thighs are more flavourful, juicier and cheaper than breasts; like I always say, boneless breasts are the tofu of the meat-eating world, so it's nice to try something different (read: better) now and then. With the rice we had the usual refried beans, sour cream, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese just like you would have on a taco. Normally I'd go for some roasted peppers and caramelized onions but there wasn't time or budget for that; red peppers cost about a million dollars each. I also sliced up the leftover burgers for the fajitas. Gotta use the leftovers!

Mint Juleps

In addition to all that great food Sean and I decided to make Mint Juleps. As far as I know Mint Julips are a drink from the southern US, typically drunk on hot summer's days (like most southerners). The impetus for making these was a recipe Sean got from a famous Portuguese writer he met online (don't ask). Here's the recipe we used:

Metafilter Mint Julep

You need:Really fresh, just-plucked mint; A good bourbon or sour mash(i.e. Maker's Mark, Jack Daniel's, Wild Turkey; nothing too fancy).A lot - and I mean a lot... of crushed ice. Wrap icecubes in a clean towel and whack the shit out of them , until they're powder.Your basic cane sugar(not icing sugar or baking sugar or molasses) (If you're a regular at the Kentucky Derby):A silver cup. Actually, any metal cup is good, because it frosts beautifully and freezes the whole wrist, which is precisely what's desired. I prefer a beer mug, but I'm just a despicable furriner.

Now:

1)Strip about fifteen leaves of mint from ze mint plant and tear them up, into ze cup. Achtung! Do not do zis with ze knife! Otherwise you bruise ze little bastards.

2)Throw in two tablespoons of sugar.

3)Add but a smidgen of the liquor. Just enough to start mashing.

4)Now mash - but truly mash and nuke - the mint, sugar and bourbon until you can't tell the fuckers apart.

5)The good part, from James Beard's posthumous recipe: be sure to PULL UP the mixture you've pounded all the way up the glass. This syrupy coating will make your Julep good from top to bottom. (Did you know "julep" has no plural? Well, it doesn't matter).

6)Now fill, but CRAM, truly compact all the ice-powder into the glass. Force it in until it can go no further.

7)Now fill the whole thing with the whiskey.

8)And now the real work begins: with a long spoon start swishing the julep like crazy, until the whole glass really frosts over.

9)When it does, pick up a straw and set yourself down. If not that wimpish, fuck the straw and guzzle like a man.

10)If lazy or, in the meantime, too drunk to even contemplate making another one, you can top up from the handy JD bottle next to you and compromise your integrity with full ice cubes too. At this stage, nobody cares if it's a genuine julep. Plus, you can say you only had one.

N.B., It's a lot of work but you should consider growing your own mint patch; it's that delicious. Bartenders never have the time or the patience, outside God's Julep Country, to make it properly.
I've had julep made with cognac, rum and Scotch and even rye whiskey, but nothing beats the ole corn licker moonshine shit.

Sean and I agreed that making a syrup of water and sugar the night before would help a lot since the sugar dosn't dissolve very well at those low low julep temperatures. On that note here's a link to a recipe for Mint Julep Syrup from the good folks at VegWeb, yes that's right, unlike most Mint Julip recipes this one omits the ground calf's face. Seriously though, the idea of making a big batch of syrup beforehand really appeals to me; no little bits of mint getting stuck in your teeth and less work when it comes to actually serving the things. If you're not into loads of booze try diluting your julep with a bit of lemon juice and some club soda.

We made our juleps from Jack Daniel's and I've always wondered a couple of things about the label on a bottle of JD so I did some research and answered those burning questions once and for all.

What does “Sour Mash” mean?

JD is made from a fermented “mash” of corn, rye and barley. To start the fermentation they take a lump of the mash from the previous batch which has all that great yeast and bacteria floating around in it, and mix it with the new batch. This gets things rolling quicker and maintains consistency between batches; it's the same process used to make sourdough bread.

What's a Tennessee Whiskey?

Under normal conditions JD would be considered a Bourbon. Bourbon is a type of whiskey made in the USA with at least 51% corn (more on what makes a bourbon here). What makes JD different is that they filter it through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal before putting it in oak barrels for aging. Mmm... Charcoal... Apparently the charcoal filters out some nasty tasting oils and gives the JD a smoove flava. The charcoal filtering allows JD to be classified as Tennessee Whiskey by the US government.

Ok, well I think that just about covers things for now. My quote this week is an expression they used to use back in the plantation days of the southern USA when the bourbon flowed freely during harvest season.

“If it's brown drink it down, if it's black send it back...
...to work in the fields.”


(note: I swear I'm not a racist, really)




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