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The Bitter Truth and NOWFE

OK, so that could be a bit of a misleading headline. This is actually a two-part column with one part dealing with the secretive world of bitters and the other part encouraging you to get your butt in gear and make your NOWFE plans.
I am sorry if you were expecting an exposé about one of our biggest and best festivals devoted to alcohol and food. There is an alcohol and food tie-in between the topics, however, if I am allowed to really stretch the rubber band.
We shall start with bitters. You know that crazy little bottle of “stuff” that you add to your cocktail by drops because every mixologist says you should to give it a special je ne sais quoi. Whatever the hell that is. 
If Bourbon is your Dad, and Vodka your Mom, then Bitters are your crazy Uncle Leonard, the one who can’t keep from pinching your nose, messing your hair and “pulling” quarters out of your ears.
Every quite small bottle of bitters contains a different combination of botanical ingredients, different from every other bitters label on the shelf. They also contain water, possibly, and alcohol, but not in large enough volume to demand regulation. The level of alcohol varies widely from label to label, with 45 percent not an unheard of percentage. The alcohol preserves the botanicals and does not significantly alter the total alcohol level in a cocktail. 
The ancient Egyptians were the first to create an additive that, when added to medicine, made the cure not so unpleasant. Pharmacists through the ages, including those practicing in early New Orleans, concocted their own bitters, adding ingredients to the potion but never sharing the recipe. It was their secret weapon, and pharmacies throughout the village each had their own “house style,” and their own following. Cocktails were a logical developmental step. Maybe your headache was not any better after the pharmacist mixed you a potion, but add more alcohol in the form of spirits, a bit of citrus, and you felt really terrific, even if for just a little while. 
Lately there has been a veritable explosion of bitter brands on the market. Some old stand-bys include Angostura and Peychaud’s, originally from New Orleans but now manufactured in Kentucky. Joining the category are Dale DeGroff with his pimento bitters; Gary Regan, noted cocktail blogger; and Bitterman’s, started in Brooklyn and now based in New Orleans. 
It’s not an unreasonable step, given the incredible density of flavor in bitters, that they would make a powerful ingredient in a lot of baking recipes. Pies, cakes, cookies and casseroles gain extra oomph with the addition of bitters.
Pimento Bitters Pork Marinade
From Liz Williams, Southern Food & Beverage Institute, New Orleans
To make the marinade:
1 oz (1/8 cup) Dale De Groff Pimento Bitters
Juice of 1 orange
1/2 cup fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Mix all ingredients together. This mixture is enough for about 3 1/2 pounds pork. This might be about 9 center-cut boneless chops or a loin. 
Place the meat into a large resealable plastic bag with the marinade. Seal and marinate in the refrigerator for about 2 hours. 
The pork can be grilled or cooked in a hot pan with a tablespoon of olive oil.  After the meat is seared, add the rest of the marinade and allow to cook with the meat.  If the pan becomes too dry, add a bit of dry white wine or, if you have it, a bit of leftover brut Champagne. When the meat is done spoon juices from the pan onto each pork chop.
Garnish with chopped gremolata of minced parsley, grated lemon or orange rind, and minced garlic.
Allspice Oatmeal Cookies
From Liz Williams, Southern Food & Beverage Institute, New Orleans
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
3/4 cup softened unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 tbsp. honey 
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
2 eggs
2 tsp Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Bitters
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 whole wheat flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 cup chopped candied ginger
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Beat butter in an electric mixer at medium speed until butter begins to lighten, about 45 seconds. Add brown sugar.  When incorporated add the honey, salt, baking powder, baking soda, ginger and cardamom. Beat to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Beat in eggs one at a time and bitters until combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour and rolled oats. Fold in the nuts and candied ginger. Mix thoroughly, but do not over mix the dough.
Drop dough by rounded teaspoons about 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges begin to color. Let stand on cookie sheets for 1 minute. Remove the cookies from the cookie sheet and cool on wire racks.
The New Orleans Wine and Food Experience
May 21-24
Since the early 90s when it began as a July event, the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience (NOWFE) has been a glowing success. Winemakers love the event. Chefs participate to incredible levels. Wine lovers from all over the region are at every function. And the designated charities who receive the proceeds are appreciative that everyone concerned has been so generous, as well as thirsty and hungry.
The affair begins on Wednesday evening with about 40 restaurants all creating special dining experiences and pairing with internationally renowned winemakers. Thursday is a packed day, with VINOLA, a high-end wine tasting which rolls right into the Royal Street Stroll, one of the premier wine tasting events anywhere. Every wine festival on the planet is envious of this event, staged every year from the beginning. Great wines, fine shops, and a street full of happy attendees. This is what real wine tasting is all about. 
Seminars take place on both Friday and Saturday on a wide variety of topics. Friday evening and Saturday afternoon are the Grand Tastings with tons of wines ready to be enjoyed, and restaurants from every section of New Orleans bringing their best work to share with anyone who cares to step up, which is usually everyone.
A relatively new addition to the Friday lineup, and a welcome one, to be sure, is the Big Gateaux Show, which combines sparkling wines, sweet treats and burlesque. It’s a great party and one that can only happen in the Crescent City. 
I am told tickets are going very well, with many events either already sold out or close to it. Check out www.nowfe.com and sign up right now.  


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