Friday, September 24, 2010

cocktail and bar snack: gold rush + oven fried okra with smoked tomato aioli

Every summer for the past four years, I've traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, for eight days in order to read and score high school essays from the current year's AP English Literature Exam. There's much more good stuff from Louisville than you'd think: baseball, horsesMuhammad Ali, killer Ethiopian and Persian food, My Morning Jacketcool fossils, and bourbon a-go-go... 

Because this small city's downtown suddenly swells with over a thousand high school and college English teachers during that week in June, it's always a bit of a mixed bag: it is admittedly something of a socially awkward nerd-fest (present company included), but also, and at the same time, it's full of some of the coolest and most interesting people you'll ever hang out with, all of whom are packed into one frigid, fluorescent-lit convention center for a week of eight-hour days spent scoring largely mediocre high school writing, and who are chomping at the bit by five o'clock in the evenings for anything else to do but read. So, to pass the time, we have been known to find good restaurants, go bowling, do silly karaoke, dance at Howl At the Moon (shout-out to my man Ed), and drink lotsa bourbon.

This just in: whiskey
futures are soaring.
One of the more surprising spots in the downtown area is Proof, the bar and restaurant attached to the 21st Century Museum Hotel on Main Street - part hotel and part museum - which is also so much fun to visit for its rotating art exhibits. My AP friends and I generally eschew Proof on the typical go-out-to-dinner night because it's nearly impossible to get a reservation, but we do insist on going there for drinks on the final evening, when most of the other English teachers are already in bed in preparation for their flights the next day.

Proof has a constantly evolving menu of the best-named cocktails I've seen in a while. Two years ago, I felt obligated to try something called the Dirty Presbyterian, which completely lived up to the name (I only hope I could do as well...). This year was no different: we had a couple of rounds of delicious drinks, including the gold rush (which I found so haunting that I actually hunted down a recipe for it), as well as a basket of fries with an intriguing smoked aioli. I had no idea how to replicate that one at home, but I had just watched a Top Chef episode in which a contestant mentioned a smoked-tomato-something-or-other, so here is my homemade version.

It's probably too fancy to call this aioli. This is basically just a spicy, smoky, tomato-n-mayo-based dipping sauce, but it is GOO-OOD, to quote Cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation

I've posted the recipe for oven fried okra here, which I realize is only in season during the dead middle of the summer in the South. At any other time, the romas for the aioli will still be available at any grocery store, as will baking potatoes for this best home fries EVER recipe. I recommend substituting your dip-ables as needed, season-wise.

gold rush cocktail
3/4 oz. honey, warmed
3/4 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 oz. bourbon

Pour all three ingredients into a cocktail shaker without ice and stir until well combined. (Stirring before adding ice keeps the honey from getting cold and congealing into taffy consistency, which will mess up the drink.) Now add several cubes of ice, put the lid and cap on the shaker, and shake vigorously. Strain into a highball glass with a lemon twist or a sprig of mint for garnish.

oven fried okra
1 lb. okra, washed, dried & split down the middle lengthwise
1/2 c. corn meal
sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne to taste
olive oil spray (or Pam)

smoked tomato aioli
2 to 3 small roma tomatoes
1 medium garlic clove, minced
sea salt, pepper, sugar, olive oil
2 tablespoons Hellman’s low-fat mayo
1/4 tsp. liquid smoke
a pinch of cayenne pepper
a few shakes of chipotle Tabasco sauce (for the spicy smokiness)

Roast tomatoes:  Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice roma tomatoes lengthwise into thirds and remove ribs, seeds, and pulp. Drizzle with olive oil and toss them a bit so that they’re covered completely. Arrange them peel side down in a shallow oven-proof skillet and sprinkle with garlic, sea salt, pepper, and a little bit of sugar – making sure that these ingredients are on top of the tomatoes and not on the bottom of the pan itself. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until they’re nicely caramelized and brown. Let them cool.

Don’t turn the oven off! Keep it preheated to 450 degrees.

In a paper bag, pour in cornmeal, garlic powder, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Shake it around so that it mixes together. Put in halved okra, twist the top closed, and shake it around so that it’s all coated with the breading mixture. Dump the breaded okra into a not-so-fine sieve over the garbage can and shake all the extra corn meal off of it. Grease the bottom of a large rimmed baking sheet with olive oil and then arrange okra in a single layer, cut side down, spraying the top of everything well with Pam (or drizzling with olive oil). Roast okra for 30 minutes, shaking or turning it halfway through cooking time to make sure both sides get browned and crunchy.

While okra is cooking, in a small food processor combine cooled roasted tomato pieces, mayo, liquid smoke, and a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Blend until smooth. Add a sprinkle of cayenne and or few shakes of chipotle Tabasco sauce to taste (more if you like it spicy) and give a couple of extra pulses of the food processor to incorporate.  

Serve okra with aioli for dipping.

Sit back on your porch and enjoy your Kentucky-endorsed cocktail and bar snack.



Leslie said...

So good. Not the dipping sauce - although i reeeeealllly want to try - but your writing. You're inspiring me to go further in my kitchen where I've gotten a little comfortable, it seems, AND to go further in my writing. Cheers backatcha :-D

Tanvi said...

I'm going to have to try this cocktail - I like the taste of warm honey and bourbon on a cold/rainy Seattle day. I really like this blog! Keep the recipes coming...