Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Infused Spirits and Shrubs Part 1: Getting Started

Raspberry-vodka infusion
 Infused Spirits
I very rarely make dishes with summer fruit that extend beyond washing them and standing over the sink to eat them - or eating them out on the front stoop, but that requires remembering to bring out a damp paper towel. If you're at the sink, no problem if you have drips and your hands get sticky, but... I had a hankering to make some infused spirits, and jumped in on the last bit of the main berry season.

Since it will take a few weeks for the infused spirits to get the the point where I can tell whether they're good or I give them as Christmas presents (KIDDING!), I'm going to refrain from posting recipes. I'm also thinking "infused spirits" rather than making a sweet, liqueur-type drink. When it comes to drinks - alcoholic or non-, my preference does not run towards sweet drinks. My default cocktail (cosmos w/my seesters notwithstanding) has one ingredient: bourbon, and (sometimes) ice - if that qualifies as an ingredient. I will taste the infusions, and decide where I want to go with that. I really don't want to end up with something that tastes like cough syrup. There are dozens of methods out there for any one infusion so I'm flying in the dark on this.

Right now, I have blackberry, raspberry and blueberry infusions sitting in a lower cupboard and am going to prepare a lemon infusion today. Oh - I also have a kumquat infusion that has been sitting there since June. It's doing fine, it's just taking a long time as I wanted only the essential oils from the peel and not much of the tart juice and I refused to strip the zest off of 20 kumquats.
My new favorite way to (temporarily) label jars and containers - blue painter's tape.

Shrubs
(See Part 2: here)

While I was doing research online and checking books about infused spirits, I kept running across "shrubs" and seeing references to shrubs: recipes for mixing fruit with sugar and then vinegar, mixing fruit with rum or brandy, sugar and (sometimes) wine - to be used to add to both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. At first I thought vinegar sounded like crazy talk but as I read more, I figured that if they were nasty, we wouldn't be still be using them.

The word "shrub" (applied to a beverage) derives, at least in part, from the Arabic word "sharab" which - as far as I can tell - and I heartily apologize to any Arabic speakers for any errors - means "to drink". Other "sharab" related English words are "syrup" and "sherbet". Perhaps the earliest time it appeared in a dictionary is 1747 in the Oxford English Dictionary as, "...any of various acidulated beverages made from the juice of fruit, sugar and other ingredients, often including alcohol".
Blackberry shrub syrup: I'll let it sit in the refrigerator for a week, then taste.
Stepping back in time a bit, punch (likely from the Indian word "panch" and Hindustani for "five") was originally made from five ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water tea and/or spices and named "paantsch". This drink was brought to England in the early 17th century and was made with a wine or brandy base. Then, around mid-century, Jamaican rum started being used. By the last quarter of the century documents make reference to punch houses (Wikipedia, "Punch (drink)"). Ye olde English folke brought punch to the American colonies. There's an interesting article I just remembered from Saveur on punch. Fortunately, the article (along with some of the recipes in a sidebar) is available online here.

In New England, shrub advertisements appear as well as recipes in early to mid-18th century. You could certainly buy lemons and oranges (I'm pretty sure they weren't cheap) but buying a bottle of shrub that would keep on the shelf was probably more economic. Making your own, even more so. Having a bottle of purchased or homemade shrub on the shelf meant you were well on your way to punch. Today, having some shrub on your shelf means you are on your way to a refreshing drink or cocktail.

 For the shrubs I've started so far (blackberry and raspberry), I settled on a non-alcoholic 'cold process' (Serious Eats: Cold-Processed Berry Shrub and Cocktail 101: How to Make Shrub Syrups) for these two batches rather than cooking the fruit together with the sugar and then adding the vinegar. Again, I think I'll taste before I make any recipe recommendations. I'm going to try a couple of variations in my next two batches - strawberry and lemon - as well.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Get Yer Grains & Legumes: Chickpeas, Barley, Tomato, Avocado + Bacon Bowl


This post isn't so much about a recipe as an example of how I eat on (very nearly) a daily basis, inspired by a couple of folks and some basic decisions I made a few years ago about how I wanted to eat for the rest of my life - more on this in another post.

Hulled black barley
Just about once per week I cook up a batch of chickpeas (1 cup dry). Drained, they store beautifully, if kept refrigerated, for up to a week. I'll generally do another grain or legume and this week it was black, hulled barley. Black hulled barley tastes the same as regular hulled barley. I don't cook it to the point where it fully opens up, but just prior to that. It's nutty and (I think) delicious - I prefer it over pearled barley in many applications - although beef barley soup is one example where pearled barley tastes great. Pearled barley is polished to remove the outer bran layer. It cooks more quickly and isn't as chewy as hulled (I like the chewy). Hulled barley also keeps well if completely drained and refrigerated for 4-5 days. There are many hot and cold dishes I prepare where I throw in a handful of one or the other - or both.

Everything but the almonds I added as garnish are shown here. While I usually store chickpeas fully drained, yesterday
I cooked some with bay leaf, garlic and a little olive oil and stored them in their cooking water since
I knew I'd be using them within a few days.

Recipe: Chickpeas, Barley, Tomato, Bacon and Avocado Bowl

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hot Day? Turn on the Oven: Oven-Carmelized Onions

1/2 an onion down, 5 1/2 to go
No matter how this turns out, my house smells like heaven right now - if heaven is full of onions and butter (and why shouldn't it be?).

I always seem to find some cooking project when it gets hot that requires the oven to be set at 400 F and run for several hours (insert .wav of Nancy Kerrigan wailing, "Why? Why?").

Since I like to have things made-ahead in my (freezer) pantry whenever it makes sense, one of the things I wanted to have are some caramelized onions.

I am following the America's Test Kitchen oven method that comes with their "Best French Onion Soup" recipe.
6 onions - ready to go in the oven.

By freezing them, I know I'll lose some texture and flavor, but they won't need to last that long because I can find many uses for them. I love roasting vegetables: asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. and all of the above would benefit from some caramelized onions.

I saute a lot of greens - same dealio. I eat a lot of salads (heavy on the vegetables, light on the lettuce) - ditto. Hell, I'd eat caramelized onions out of a bowl. Shhh... I'm thinking about grilled baguette slices topped with some of these onions, goat cheese and sprinkled with thyme leaves. Or on top of a grilled steak.

By using olive oil instead of butter, you can make it vegan.
After 1 hour
After 2 hours
After 2 hours, 45 minutes. Looks kinda scary but it's not done yet.
Better. Scrape, scrape, scrape. There are some bits that look burned but I tasted a couple of them (okay, I did a lot of tasting) and they were just fine. This shot was taken right before I added the 1/4 cup of brandy.
Ahh...

Recipe: Oven-Caramelized Onions

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Don't Eat This - But It Cleans Bottles Like A Champ!

A while ago, I was looking for something to clean a bottle in which I mix salad dressing. While I love to use the whisk to emulsify a vinaigrette, sometimes I make 2 to 3 times what I'll need and store the remainder in the refrigerator. I eat a lot of salads. I have a bottle with a wide mouth and a screw-top cap. (Note from the "I learned so you don't have to." school of life. Make sure the cap is on securely before you start to shake it).

Over time, even though I washed it regularly and even used a bottle brush, vinegar gunk built up on the inside - I think mainly from balsamic. I started spelunking the interwebs and ran across a post somewhere recommending Efferdent to clean metal, ceramic or glass containers.

Rinse any container VERY thoroughly with hot water
to get rid of the "minty fresh" aroma after you clean it with Efferdent.
Yes, I said "Efferdent".  I bought a package. I really wanted to blurt out, "I'm not using this because I have dentures!" as I went through the checkout line.

I tried it on both the salad dressing bottle and my travel mug (with a metal interior lining) and it worked beautifully - like magic. I wouldn't use it on plastic but I've used it on metal and glass containers.

This morning I wanted to wash out a swingtop bottle that had held a homemade cranberry liqueur. As before, it worked beautifully and in about 15 minutes I had a completely clean (and somewhat minty fresh) bottle.

When whatever-it-is-that-makes-it-work has finished, the water will be clear (about 15 minutes). In this case, I emptied out a little of the water, covered the opening with one hand and shook it up to dislodge the last bits of gunk from the sides and then rinsed it several times with very hot water.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dinner - July 2: BBQ Pork, Chicken Skewers, Grilled Potatoes, Zucchini-Tomato Slaw and Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

I always visit my family in Washington state at this time of year.  My youngest sister and her son's birthday are all clustered around the beginning of July and festivities abound - this year it seemed on steroids. Oh - don't forget Canada's Birthday on July 1st.

On Saturday, while a couple of sisters and their friends were out getting pedicures, I made dinner for them and (most of) the rest of our family. Even though I visit several times a year, I miss the normal day-to-day stuff and contributing to get-togethers and meals shared. I love cooking for them.

A bonus to visiting when the weather's nice (and it was spectacularly sunny and warm this trip) are frequent, seemingly close enough-to-touch sightings of Mt. Rainier, the surrounding Cascades range and if you're lucky the Olympic range on the peninsula to the west. This shot, taken with my phone as I was about to go into a store, does not do justice to Mt. Rainier. If you live (or have lived) within sight of it, you don't often refer to it by name but just "the mountain".

This day I made: barbecued pork, grilled chicken satay, barbecued potatoes, corn and zucchini-tomato slaw with a Tennessee mustard dressing (yeah, I'm still digging the julienned zucchinis). Strawberry-rhubarb crisp for dessert (my sister S. assembled the crisp - thank you!!). And Cosmos - the official Walker sister's cocktail.

Photo: Cathy Walker Hall
Recipes after the link include:
  • Cosmos - Walker Style
  • Barbecued Pork Shoulder
  • Grilled Chicken Skewers
  • Grilled Roasted New Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic
  • Grilled Corn on the Cob
  • Zucchini-Tomato Slaw with a Tennessee-Style Mustard Dressing
  • >Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp