Ballast for the Bar


By Gini Rainey

Here’s another cute, little book that has more information than you can imagine between its two blue covers.  “drink´lollgy: EATS – A GUIDE TO BAR FOOD AND COCKTAIL PARTY FARE,”  is a clever book written by James Waller and Ramona Ponce with illustrations by Glenn Wolff.  Published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang in 2006, it contains everything you need to know from Bar Food Basics straight through to Hangovers & Leftovers on its 384 pages.

Beginning with the sound advice “if you’re going to drink, shouldn’t you have something to eat, too?,” Waller & Ponce share some great ideas for snacks that will accompany your libations in grand style.  Promising that your buddies will be in awe of you, they have some mighty good sounding ideas to convert the standard “nut” to something that willl make you reaching for more.  I’ve had sugared pecans before, but I’m pretty sure their recipe for Sweet Glazed Pecans, that not only have the standard sugary mix, but also some five-spice powder, cumin, pepper AND cayenne, will have you asking the bar keep for another frosty mug of draft beer.

In the good old days, my dad’s tavern boasted the usual bar-food of the day: pickled pigs feet, pickled sausages, pickled eggs, Slim Jims, beer nuts and peanuts – the spicier and saltier the better, and all designed to give you a powerful thirst.  These days you’ll be hard-pressed to find the old-fashioned bar food I grew up with.  Now if you get hungry or are looking for some ballast, you’ll be handed a menu that lists heavy appetizers.  Oh, please, bring back the days of light, bar snacks!

This book, however, will provide you with a way to create your own bar-food to serve at your private bar at home.  Hard-boiled eggs can either be pickled at home, or you can use some of their ideas to create your own salt mixes on the eggs.  It just so happens that today is National Potato Chip day and celebrates the invention of that glorious snack food by George Crum in Saratoga Springs, NY, back in 1853.  Waller & Ponce have shared with you how to make your own custom chips and lots of them!  After all, who can eat just one?

If you’re one of those folks who would prefer a bit heavier snack with your beverages, you’ll be able to knock out some Chicken Cocktail Kebobs, Pork Saté, a bazillion varieties of wings, tapenades, light seafood salads, fondues and so much more!  There is even a recipe for Aunt Babe’s Cake with a Chocolate Butter Cream Glaze that Waller’s aunt preferred to wash down with a glass of cold beer.  I kind of like chocolate chip cookies and beer.  I know.  I’m weird!

Bar-food aside, this book has recipes for a boat load of martinis, blender drinks, highballs, mixed drinks, as well as addressing a fine list of specialty beers.  And, as I mentioned at the beginning of today’s blog, the authors have been kind enough to offer some after-the-party suggestions in the chapter “Hangovers and Leftovers.”  Leading the parade is James’ special technique of scrambling eggs, followed by what to do if you have served ham or turkey and have leftovers.

Let me leave you with the recipe for the traditional bar-food, Pink Pickled Eggs.  Some people will undoubtedly complain that “Eggs aren’t supposed to be that color!” but what do they know?  Drain 2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans of sliced beets and pour the reserved “beet juice” into a large saucepan and bring it to a boil.  Lower the heat to simmer, add 1 cup of cider vinegar and 1 cup of dark brown sugar, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Now place 1 dozen peeled, hard-boiled eggs, the beets, and 1 medium red onion, sliced into rings, into a large, wide-mouthed, heat-proof glass jar, layering them to ensure even distribution.  Pour in the hot vinegar mixture, adding water, if necessary to make sure all the ingredients are covered.  My suggestion: If you like spicey food, you might add a few dried red chile’s, garlic or fresh jalapeños to the vinegar/juice/sugar mix.

Let the mixture cool, cover the jar, and refrigerate for at least 2 days before serving – the longer they remain in the liquid, the darker – and better – they get. (Will store for around 2 weeks)  Then, belly up to the bar, pour a cold one and dig in!

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