Napoleon was Here

I like my cocktails the way I like my men; rich and sweet.

The Kid just nominated Chris Evans for the rich/sweet position. He has the added benefit of being hotter than a $20 Birkin bag…

That’s my colorful way of saying we had eggnog for Christmas and jazzed it up with a shot of brandy.

We decided spur of the moment, so we didn’t make our own.  We picked it up at the grocery store.

The Kid and I purchased what might be the best prepared version out there—from Hillsborough’s Maple View Dairy.  It’s really thick, creamy, sweet, but not too, and contains just the right amount of nutmeg.

We purchased the brandy at our local ABC store (a nightmare by the way, at 5PM on Christmas Eve). 

For most Americans that don’t have a butler or a bat cave, brandy is not a very familiar spirit.  Brandy is distilled wine.  This distillation changes the flavor to something deep, caramel-y, and not very fruity. 

Yes, it is served in a snifter, and warmed with the hands.  But for sipping you kind of need to buy the really good stuff.  To help you out, brandy producers have set up a system of achronyms.

VS-“Very Special”; at least three years old.

VSOP- “Very Superior Old Pale”; four years old.

XO or Napoleon-“Very Old”; at least six years old.

Hors d’âge- “Beyond Age”; at least ten years old.  This is the stuff Bruce Wayne and his squad sit around drinking, in really expensive crystal snifters.

For cooking with, or mixing into cocktails, the middle of the road that you’ll find at your local ABC is plenty good enough.  We payed $7 for a pint and it put the nog into our egg nog just fine.

The cream sauce recipe is a wonderful way to use leftover brandy.  The Brussel sprouts bring acid, freshness, and green to help keep the meal from becoming ridiculously rich.

Enjoy the sauce, enjoy the sprouts, and enjoy the new year.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Pub Sprouts

4 slices thick-cut bacon or pancetta

1 small yellow onion

1 pound Brussel Sprouts

2 tablespoons malt vinegar

Salt & pepper

Clean sprouts by cutting off ends and discarding any leaves that look funky.  Then either slice each very thinly, or using slicing disk, run through food processor.

Cut onion in half, then slice into thin half-moons.

Slice pork into ¼ inch wide strips (called lardons) and cook onto medium-low in heavy skillet until fully rendered and crispy.  Reserving fat in pan, remove crispy lardons to paper towel-covered plate.

Pour off fat from pan, leaving approximately 2 tablespoons.  Add onions and cook on medium until translucent (about 5 minutes).  Add Brussel sprouts, cover, and cook for 3 minutes until veg are wilted and have released their liquid.

Uncover, add vinegar and cook on medium until the liquid has cooked off and the veg are lightly browned (7-8 minutes-ish).  Taste for seasoning, and reseason, if necessary.  Serves 4-6.

Mushrooms in Brandy Cream Sauce

2 pounds mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

2 shallots sliced thinly

2 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon dry thyme

½ cup brandy

1 cup chicken stock

¾ cup 2% milk

¾ cup heavy cream

Salt & pepper

In a large heavy skillet melt butter and add mushrooms, shallots, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cover, and cook on medium for five minutes.  Remove lid and cook until the pan is dry and veg are lightly browned. 

Add brandy and cook until the liquid has almost cooked out.  Pour in stock, milk, and cream.  Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer (use a splatter screen if you have one because this sauce will—a lot).

Cook until the sauce has thickened and is glossy (around 8-10 minutes).  Serve on meat or starch.

Nog me

I was pretty young the first time I had eggnog, and since the grownups didn’t want to deal with a bunch of inebriated preschoolers (kindergarteners can be ugly drunks), my glass came from the kids’ hooch-free punch bowl.The flavor reminded me of when Dad would make a vanilla instant breakfast shake and add vanilla extract.  Only the nog had a strong egg flavor, and it was very milky.  I had given up milk after getting a carton of malodorous, lumpy moo juice during snack time at school.  Yeah, no, egg nog really didn’t move me.

Then a million years later, I was working as a bartender at a country club in Raleigh.  This is actually where my culinary fire was sparked.  I was friends with the kitchen staff, and they were my patient, generous tutors.

It definitely wasn’t Bushwood.  I never saw Bill Murray, not once.

I began to learn the traditions, unwritten rules, and rhythm of a professional kitchen.  I picked up how to observe without getting in the way.  I became familiar with, and learned to appreciate, the black humor that is woven through the very fiber of the denizens of the cook house.

And I learned that one of the very best places in the world to be is on the chef’s good side; especially when he or she develops new recipes and recreates old ones.

One night in early fall, Chef Wes came into the bar office bearing gifts.  It was a tall frosty glass full of what looked like a vanilla milkshake.  I got excited.  He told me it was eggnog.I got bummed.He then informed me it was made using the recipe of George Washington.  Yeah, the father of our country, and evidently, enthusiastic imbiber of spirituous beverages, George Washington.

I got intrigued.

He handed me the glass and I could immediately smell the hooch.  It wasn’t teased by some lightweight eggnog-flavored liqueur, it was chockful of multiple types of hangover-inducing hard liquors.

So, practicing enlightened self-protection, I took a small cautious sip.

First of all, it was boozy.  But not the throat burn-y thing that takes your breath away boozy.  It was mellow.  The alcohol flavor kind of reminded me of one of those fat, hearty gentlemen from a Dickens novel like Mr. Fezziwig; boozy, but jovial and refined.  Does that make any sense?The texture of this egg nog was very different.  It was thick and creamy, like the milkshake I’d mistaken it for.  And it wasn’t too milky or too eggy.  This cold creamy glass of good cheer made me understand what the whole eggnog fuss was about.  When made right, it was really good.

So, below is what scholars and cooks believe was served at our first president’s table.  And since recipes from that era are notoriously skimpy when it comes to details, the directions are from both me, and Chef Wes (Thanks, Chef).

George Washington’s EggnogeggnogOne quart heavy cream

One quart whole milk

One dozen tablespoons sugar (that’s 3/4 cup for you and me)

One pint brandy

½ pint rye whiskey (bourbon works just fine)

½ pint Jamaica rum (Debbie here-no disrespect to the prez, but I’m partial to rum from Puerto Rico)

¼ pint sherry

12 eggs, separated

Mix the alcohol and set aside.  Place egg whites into mixer and beat until they’re glossy and stiff peaks appear.  Remove from bowl and set aside.  Make sure you do the whites first because if there’s any yolk in the whites, they won’t beat into stiff peaks. 

Place yolks and sugar into the mixer bowl and beat on high until it’s the color of butter and runs from the beater in ribbons.  Stir in alcohols, milk and cream.

Then very gently, fold the whites into yolk mixture.

George recommends at this point to let the egg nog rest in a cool place (fridge) for two days before serving. 

Makes one honking punch bowl’s worth.  Enjoy.I hope you enjoy this Colonial nog.  And I hope you get every gift on your list.

But more, I really hope that you, Gentle Reader, and all of your loved ones can spend a few relaxed hours together having fun, and remembering why these are the people that populate your world.

And to all, a good night.

Thanks for your time.