Blu-ray Review: “Treme: The Complete Series”

If you were offered a trip to New Orleans for just over a hundred bucks, you’d probably take it, right? Well, it is perhaps oversimplifying matters to equate the “Treme: The Complete Series” box set (available exclusively on Blu-ray) with a visit to N’Awlins, but maybe that’s only because there’s nothing particularly simple about “Treme.” Does that mean it’s the sort of series that will blow you away? Not at all. Indeed, “Treme” has no interest in even trying.

For those who missed the series over the course of its HBO run (and judging by its practically invisible ratings, there were quite a few of you), “Treme” begins three months after Hurricane Katrina all but wiped out the city of New Orleans, and follows more than a dozen NOLA residents from all different walks of life picking up the pieces and attempting to move forward. It’s a series about culture, politics, cooking, tradition, and most definitely music, which it revels in. The show dazzles viewers with one great musical sequence after another (all recorded live and with no overdubbing or lip-synching), and the list of artists – usually playing themselves – that appear on the series over the course of its 36 episodes is practically countless.

In many (if not most) ways, “Treme” is anti-television. It seemingly throws out the rulebook that started being written when TV came into existence, playing loose, but rarely fast. There’s a price to pay for this brand of innovative storytelling, though, and that’s that “Treme” does not excite in any of the traditional ways that we’ve come to expect television to. Not once in the entire series will you throw your arms up and cry, “Yeah right! That would never happen!” such is the day to day reality of its goings-on. Indeed, when viewing it, you almost have to train yourself to watch this brand of TV a little differently.

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Picture of the Day: Betcee in her underwear

Here’s a great shot of Betcee as she poses in just her underwear from a shoot we did in New Orleans. We love her pretty eyes and that short, cute, curly dark hair.

Betcee in her underwear

  

Drink of the Week: The Cognac Sazerac

the Cognac SazeracThere was a time when calling a drink a cognac sazerac would have been close to calling a certain sandwich a “beef hamburger.” However, New Orleans’s magnificent contribution to classic cocktails has changed over the years. Today, it is almost always prepared with rye whiskey but, as I pointed out in my prior post on this great beverage, it was originally a cognac-based drink.

The occasion for my welcoming in 2012 with a reconsideration of an old favorite was the kind and savvy decision of the Hennessy company to send me a bottle of their relatively young, but still very drinkable, Hennessy VS Cognac. I’m not a huge cognac or brandy connoisseur at this point, but I’m starting to see what all those rappers and the late Kim Il Sung saw in the stuff. In fact, I sort of accidentally mostly polished off the bottle sooner than I meant this last Christmas Hanukkah when I got overenthusiastic making Sidecars — with Cointreau, at last — for family. I also tried one of their recipes, the Hennessy citrus, which wasn’t bad but was kind of sour for my taste. I think the addition of a bit of egg white. as in this variation, might have helped.

Nevertheless, I had enough Hennessy VS left to revisit what I might actually argue is the more readily enjoyable version of this great cocktail. Harder edged drinkers may prefer the whiskey based drink, but I’m here to tell you this one may well be preferable for those with softer taste buds.

The Cognac Sazerac

2 ounces cognac
1 teaspoon superfine sugar or 1 sugar cube
1/2 ounce of water
2-3 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
1 teaspoon Herbsaint
Lemon twist

Start by chilling a rocks glass, either by filling it with ice or leaving it in the freezer or, ideally, both. Dissolve a teaspoon of superfine sugar by stirring it in a cocktail shaker or room temperature rocks glass with unchilled water, whiskey, and bitters. (If you want to go super traditional, leave out the superfine sugar and muddle a sugar cube into the same mixture instead.) Once the sugar is dissolved, add plentiful ice. If you want to conserve water, and you should, you can use the same ice you’ve been using to chill your rocks glass.

Take your now well-chilled glass and add a teaspoonful of Herbsaint, a very sweet but strongly anise flavored liqueur. Swirl the liquid carefully, holding the glass sideways. The idea is to coat it with the Herbsaint. Then, turn the glass upside down over a sink, dumping out any remaining liquid.  Now it’s time to grab your cognac and fixings filled shaker and shake it very vigorously. Strain the result into the chilled and Herbsainted glass.

Then, take your lemon twist and run it along the edge of the glass. Twist the lemon peel over the beverage to magically deliver lemon oil to the drink. Drop it in. Sip while listening to the New Orleans music of your choice.

***

A few notes about ingredients and practices. For starters, It’s actually more traditional to use absinthe but, having just purchased my first bottle of the once illegal stuff, I wasn’t wowed. Both liqueurs are heavy on the anise, but absinthe has a bitter edge that I was not too thrilled by. So far, at least, I personally prefer the kinder, gentler, and cheaper sweetness of Herbsaint in a sazerac. There is also a shaking vs. stirring debate here to some degree, but I don’t get why you’d want to stir it. Froth is your friend in a sazerac, I say.

Also, though I really did enjoy the Hennessy VS Cognac, feel free to use your favorite straight-up brandy. Most regular brandy is to cognac as champagne is to sparkling white wine. It’s basically the same, just made from grapes grown in a different part of the world.

  

Drink of the Week: Irish Coffee

Give or take a few destructive and heat-increasing Santa Ana winds, relatively chilly weather is settling in, even here in Southern California. So, I suppose it’s finally time to take on what I consider to be the king of hot cocktails. Still, what a blow to my ego to discover that, not only have I had some difficulty pulling off this most delicious of drinks, but that I’ve mostly been drinking it wrong, too! I’ve finally learned that Irish coffee tastes even better if you don’t stir in that pretty layer of unsweetened cream floating on the top. And for all these years I thought floating the cream was just a presentation thing.

Irish CoffeeA true cocktail classic, Irish coffee might be hard for amateurs like me to pull off, but it’s also not so easy to provide a concise history. The most widely accepted version is that it was developed by chef Joseph Sheridan of Ireland’s Shannon Airport, who came up with the idea of adding whiskey to coffee to warm the cockles and other parts of travelers on bitter cold winter nights. Then, the story goes that Pulitzer Prize-winning travel journalist Stanton Delaplane brought the concept back home with him from an early 1950s trip to Ireland and reverse engineered the beverage with the help of the proprietors of San Francisco’s Buena Vista Cafe. Just to muddy the waters, though, L.A.’s temporarily closed Fairfax Blvd. landmark, Tom Bergin’s Tavern, also claims to be the American popularizer of the beverage.

No doubt people in San Francisco will hiss when they read the above, because that’s what they do in S.F. whenever you mention Los Angeles in any context. I can hardly blame San Franciscans, though, for wanting to claim credit. Irish coffee is an amazing beverage which I’ve greatly enjoyed in both Southern and Northern California, not to mention New Orleans and maybe I’ll have it in Ireland some day. There’s nothing like the combo of caffeine and alcohol and this tastes immensely better than vodka and Red Bull. So, enough vamping, here’s the wondrous but tricky (for me) to pull off recipe.

Irish Coffee

5-6 ounces very hot coffee
2 teaspoons sugar (preferably brown)
1.5 ounces Irish whiskey
Unsweetened, lightly whipped cream

Using a whisk or whatever device you have handy, lightly whip heavy cream until it is very frothy, which I admit is easier said than done. Set aside.

Get a glass coffee mug, but since you probably don’t have one, use a reasonably large wine glass, which also works beautifully. It’s best to heat the glass by putting in very hot water or holding it over steaming water if you’re afraid of breaking it. That may not be 100 percent essential if you do as I do and drip the coffee directly into the glass using a Melitta-style filter. Stir your sugar into the coffee thoroughly.

Then spoon — do not pour — the cream onto the top of the coffee. (You can also try pouring the whipped cream over the back of a spoon, but that didn’t work for me at all.) Sip the coffee through the layer of cream on top. And for James Joyce’s sake, don’t stir it!

*****

I’ve probably attempted this six times at home and I’ve managed to get this drink right precisely once. Getting that heavy cream whipped enough so that it sits atop the coffee and doesn’t simply combine with it has been tricky for me, to say the least. More than once I considered the coward’s way out — sugar-laden canned whipped cream. It would definitely be easier.

Some imply that if you simply pour heavy cream unwhipped over the back of a spoon it will somehow work. I’m here to tell you every time I tried the back of a spoon thing it failed to create the desired effect, whether or not I’d pre-whipped the cream. I’m not saying the results tasted bad, but they’re not nearly as heavenly as sipping the coffee through the cream. If you can manage to get it exactly the way I did that one time, it’s just the best warming pick-me-up/make-me-happy there is. If you’re really feeling lazy, though, a shot of Bushmills neat with a coffee chaser (or any chaser) isn’t so bad, either.

  

Drink of the Week: The Daiquiri

http://blog.bullz-eye.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/213ba60487turale-200x3001.jpgToday it’s a milestone at Drink of the Week as we’re leaving behind our old friends whiskey, gin, and vodka for that tropical favorite, rum. Nevertheless, we’re holding on to our classical cocktail standards, so you may abandon all thoughts of blenders.

This is not the ultra-sweet ice-based monstrosity of a strawberry daiquiri that you’ll find at your local Bennigan’s/El Torito/Acapulco/TGIFriday or the devastatingly alcoholic quasi-Slurpees sold by hole-in-the-wall vendors on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Nope, at the risk of sounding like a complete snob, this is the more civilized, yet refreshing — and vastly less fattening — beverage reportedly named either for a Cuban beach or an iron mine and favored by Ernest Hemingway and John F. Kennedy. The former personage is a lot more popular in post-revolutionary Cuba than the latter, but that’s another story.

Here’s the drink:

The Daiquiri

2 ounces rum
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
Lime or orange wedge (optional garnish)

Mix sugar with room temperature lime juice. Add rum and plentiful ice to your cocktail shaker. Shake very vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass. It’s not really necessary, but you can garnish it with a lime wedge, or an orange slice if you’d like an extra touch of sweetness. You can add a little more sugar if you like, but remember that rum has, for a hard liquor, a lot of built-in sweetness. It will taste even better with Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo’s Afro-Cuban classic, Manteca, playing in the background.

****
I’ve tried this a few ways, but I’m happy to say this is a rather indestructible drink if you don’t mess with it too much. Most recipes call very specifically for light rum, but it was only slightly less good when I tried it with gold rum. Cocktail historian David Wondrich says you can also use the even sweeter and more complex dark rums, but cut back some on the sugar. Since I ultimately determined that his recipe was better than those I found in several other places calling for more lime juice and sugar, I imagine he’s right about that, too.

  

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