Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Mocktail: Cider & Smoke

Cider and Smoke

It feels like fall is coming early this year. One minute it was still hot outside, and the next everyone is talking about Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Halloween decorations are for sale. I have to say, I don't mind. (Well, I mind about the Halloween decorations - that's just ridiculous. But I can let that go.) Fall is probably my favorite season. I love when the air turns crisp and cool and the leaves start changing. I love jackets and apple picking and all the upcoming holidays. And this year I have even more to be excited about - another birthday we'll be celebrating every year at this time.

Cider and Smoke

Another reason to love fall is the change in what you get to eat and drink. Soups and pies and cider donuts are back on the menu, and light, citrusy cocktails give way to darker spirits and spiced, smoky flavors. This year, the transition poses a bit of a challenge. Without alcoholic ingredients, it's easiest to turn to fruit juices and fizzy sodas to fill your glass, resulting in distinctly summery concoctions. I really wanted to make something that felt like a fall cocktail. So I gathered up my favorite fall flavors and tried my best.

Cider and Smoke

The base of this drink is apple cider and Lapsang Souchong tea. Lapsang Souchong is a really unique tea. The leaves are dried over cypress and pine wood fires, giving it an intensely smoky flavor. When brewed, it smells almost like barbecue sauce. Though it might sound like an exotic ingredient, it's not difficult to find - Twinings makes it. Some lemon juice and spiced Demerara syrup balanced things out and added additional autumn flavor.

Cider and Smoke

Taking a cue from the tea, I decided to smoke the glass for this mocktail as well. I saved the damp teabag and flamed it with cinnamon and cloves, letting the smoke fill the glass before I poured in the drink. In addition to intensifying the flavors of spice and smoke, this step adds a nice bit of ritual that's reminiscent of making a cocktail.

Cider and Smoke

Cider & Smoke

3 oz. apple cider
3 oz. Lapsang Souchong tea
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. Cocktail & Sons Spiced Demerara Syrup
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
6 cloves

Brew a cup of tea, reserving tea bag or tea leaves. Let the tea cool. Combine tea, cider, lemon juice, and syrup in a mixing glass and set aside. Place the tea bag or tea leaves on a fireproof surface with the cinnamon stick and cloves and briefly flame them using a crème brûlée torch. Immediately cover with a rocks glass to capture the smoke. While the smoke fills the glass, add ice to your mixing glass and stir the cocktail until chilled. Flip over the rocks glass and strain in the drink. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and an orange twist.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ricotta Toasts with Honey and Thyme

Ricotta Toasts with Honey and Thyme

I love a good snack or appetizer with cocktails. When we have people over to our house, we usually stick to a simple cheese plate and some olives - it's classy and there's no real prep involved. If you're already making dinner for guests, there's often not enough time to spend putting together elaborate appetizers. So I get pretty excited when I find a recipe that's both quick to make and impressively tasty.

These ricotta toasts are based off of a dish that I had at Citizen Public House in Fenway. It seemed like it would be easy enough to replicate, so I wrote down the ingredients and have been holding onto them for a while. Now I can't believe I waited so long to make this. The recipe is so simple, but the result tastes utterly amazing. My husband and I positively gobbled these up after I photographed them.

I'm not including exact amounts below, because this is a very ad-libbed sort of recipe - how much you'll need depends on your taste and how much you want to make.

Ricotta Toasts with Honey and Thyme

First you need to toast some slices of bread. You'll want bread that you can easily cut into thin slices, about 1/4 inch thick. I used a sesame baguette from Iggy's, cut on a steep diagonal. Arrange the slices on a baking sheet and brush or spray them with olive oil. (Let me put in a quick plug for one of my favorite kitchen gadgets, this olive oil mister - perfect for things like this!) Put the slices under the broiler until they just start to turn brown - just a minute or two, and watch them carefully! Remove them from the oven and cut a garlic clove in half, rubbing the toasts with the cut side. Let them cool a bit.

Getting a good-quality ricotta is really worthwhile for this recipe. I love the ricotta from Maplebrook Farm in Vermont, which you should be able to find if you're in the northeast. Calabro is another, easier-to-find favorite of mine - it's really thick and creamy. Both of these are usually firm enough that you don't need to drain them, but if your ricotta is a bit liquidy, place it into a fine mesh strainer or some cheese cloth and let the liquid drain off into a bowl. It's best to do this for several hours or overnight.

Ricotta Toasts with Honey and Thyme

Once your toasts have cooled, spread some ricotta on each of them - about a tablespoon, depending on the size of your slices. Drizzle them with honey, sprinkle them with a bit of salt and pepper, and top them with the fresh thyme leaves. And you're done! It's so easy and so, so good.

And don't limit yourself to honey and thyme - ricotta toast is an amazing blank canvas for toppings. Try pesto, tomato and basil, strawberries and balsamic vinegar, blueberries and honey, olive tapanade, even anchovies and capers if that's up your alley. Here are even more tasty ideas from Honestly Yum.

Ricotta Toasts with Honey and Thyme

Ricotta Toasts with Honey and Thyme

1 baguette
Olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced in half
Ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper
Fresh thyme

Preheat broiler to high. Slice bread on a diagonal, about 1/4 inch thick. Arrange on a baking sheet and spray or brush with olive oil. Broil for 1-2 minutes, until slightly browned. Rub each toast with the cut side of the garlic. Let cool slightly. Spread ricotta onto toasts. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle sparingly with salt and pepper. Top with fresh thyme.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Mocktail: Just Beet It

Just Beet It

Guys, we're in the home stretch! I'm officially in my final month of pregnancy, and because baby is staying stubbornly head-up, I've got a C-section scheduled for the end of this month. Unless he decides to flip, I'm exactly three weeks away from parenthood! (And cocktails. But parenthood is the bigger deal.) The weirdest part is, I think we're ready. We've got all the baby stuff, the house is basically in order, and other than making some meals to freeze and getting the dog a much-needed haircut, my to-do list is pretty short. The biggest thing is finishing up my postdoc research, which I should probably be working on right now instead of making mocktails. Oops.

When I first announced my pregnancy, a lot of my cocktail-making friends told me that shrubs would be my go-to drink for the next few months. If you're not familiar with shrubs, check out my brief intro to them here. They're basically tangy mixtures of fruit, sugar, and vinegar that can really add a flavor kick to any drink. And since they're non-alcoholic, they're great for mocktails. I expected to be making a lot of them, but between being sent some great pre-made shrubs from Element [Shrub] and Shaker & Spoon and having lots of other mocktail ideas, I didn't really get around to experimenting much. But with my pregnancy almost done, I figured it was high time to get into the shrub game.

Just Beet It

There are so many potential flavors for shrubs, I almost didn't know where to begin. But I've been wanting to do something with beets for a while, and a shrub is a perfect way to work them into a drink. Why beets? Besides their unusual but really delicious flavor - despite being root vegetables, they're quite sweet - they add an absolutely gorgeous color to drinks. (And cutting boards, and kitchen towels, and fingers....)

My go-to guide for shrub making is this article from Food52. It makes it really easy to design your own shrub recipe, which I think is the best way to go. There can be a lot of variation in flavor and sweetness between batches, and it's important to tailor your recipe to your ingredients and your taste. Last time I made shrubs, I did a "cold process" recipe where the fruit and sugar are combined in a bowl and left out for a couple of days to produce a syrup. This time, I went with the "hot process" on the stove because it was quicker. Basically, I simmered my sliced beets with water and sugar, added some vinegar, and strained the mixture into a jar. Really easy. Check out the recipe below for the exact proportions.

Just Beet It

For my finished mocktail, I combined the beet shrub with honey syrup, lemon juice, fresh tarragon, and tonic water. It was so, so tasty - tangy, vegetal, and sweet, with the perfect bitterness from the tonic water at the end of each sip. Definitely the kind of drink that (almost) keeps you from missing cocktails!

Booze it up: I'd add some gin to this one!

Just Beet It

2 sprigs fresh tarragon
1 oz. honey syrup*
1 oz. lemon juice
2 oz. beet shrub (recipe below)
3 oz. tonic water

Combine tarragon and honey syrup in the bottom of a shaker and muddle gently. Add lemon juice and beet shrub. Fill the shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass or Collins glass filled with ice and top with tonic water and another sprig of tarragon.

*For honey syrup, combine equal parts honey and water in a saucepan, bring to a low simmer, and stir until honey is dissolved. Let cool before using.

Beet Shrub

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup beets, peeled and diced
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the beets and continue to simmer for about 20 minutes, until the syrup is bright red and the beets are softened. Add half of the vinegar, stir, and taste - see how you like it and add the rest if desired. Bring briefly to a simmer and then strain. Let cool before using. Can be stored in the fridge for several weeks.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Mocktail: Chic a Cherry Cola

Chic a Cherry Cola

It's been years since I drank soda regularly. Club soda, tonic water, and ginger beer are the main exceptions, but usually only in cocktails - it's just since I got pregnant that I've been drinking them on their own with any frequency, and I've tried to stick to the lighter options. Once I realized how many calories and how much sugar I was sucking down, sodas kind of lost their appeal. And for some reason, cola lost its appeal most of all. Maybe because the flavor of cola is something I only associate with a fizzy, sugary soda? I don't know. There's no reason a bourbon & ginger ale is any more acceptable than a rum & Coke, but I'm much more likely to turn up my nose at the latter.

(Incidentally, what do you call sodas? I grew up saying "soft drinks," and it took moving away from Louisiana to realize that not everyone knew what I was talking about. It still feels strange to write anything else.)

So basically I'm not sure where the idea for this recipe came from. The idea of cherry vanilla cola basically popped into my head and wouldn't go away. Apparently this is something you could buy about ten years ago, which might be where I came up with it. It sounded pretty tasty to me. And then I got the idea of adding some coffee to the mix, and I knew it was the next drink I'd be making.

Chic a Cherry Cola

I generally just brew my own coffee at home, but I've been eyeing the growing selection of cold brews at my local grocery store, and decided to try some for this recipe. I picked Chameleon Cold Brew's Mexican Coffee, which actually has some additional flavors of cinnamon, almond, and vanilla that went very nicely in this cocktail. It's absolutely delicious on its own, and I could see nabbing a bottle regularly once I'm not watching my caffeine intake so carefully. For my cola, I reached for Maine Root's Mexicane Cola (there's a definite Mexican theme here, but that's entirely unintentional), which is a tasty cola made with organic cane juice that allows me to remain something of a soda snob.

I love the way the flavors of this drink came together. It's like the ingredients are made for each other, right down to the rosemary garnish. It's like a grown-up version of Cherry Coke. Well, I suppose a real grown-up version of Cherry Coke would have some booze in it - feel free to add some. Bourbon or rum, I'd say, something with some nice vanilla notes.

Speaking of vanilla, what about a scoop of ice cream? I think this drink would make a pretty mean float. Excuse me while I run back to the grocery store.

Chic a Cherry Cola

The name for this one comes, of course, from the 90's masterpiece "I Want You" by Savage Garden. Man, I was obsessed with that album in junior high.

Chic a Cherry Cola

6 cherries, pitted
3 oz. cold brew coffee (I used Chameleon Mexican Coffee)
3 oz. cola (I used Maine Root Mexicane Cola)
1/8 tsp. vanilla extract
Rosemary sprig

Place cherries in the bottom of a rocks glass and muddle well to release their juices. Add coffee, cola, and vanilla, stirring briefly to mix. If you don't want cherry pieces in your drink (I kind of like them), strain this mixture into a fresh glass. Add ice and garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Mocktail: Volstead Act

Volstead Act

I've got another lovely, vibrantly orange mocktail for you this week, courtesy of a secret ingredient - turmeric. I know I basically just posted a recipe made with turmeric, but throwing that little bit into my fennel syrup made me really want to experiment with putting this interesting ingredient front and center. I'm a little skeptical on all the supposed health benefits of turmeric, but I'm 100% in agreement that it tastes pretty fantastic in a cocktail. So while I was working on this tasty mix of pineapple, lime, ginger, and club soda, I went ahead and tossed in a whole quarter teaspoon. And it really makes an otherwise ordinary drink extraordinary.

Volstead Act

I'm calling this non-alcoholic concoction the Volstead Act in honor of the bill that started Prohibition in the United States. It's an intensely tasty drink - tropical and refreshing, with spice and savoriness from the turmeric. Add a little rum and you'd have a positively dreamy cocktail.

Volstead Act

This is the first recipe I've made with my fancy-schmancy new juicer from the folks at Simple Utensils, so I had to show it off a bit. I thought I was doing just fine squeezing citrus by hand or using my simple plastic reamer (not sure what you call the type, but it looks a bit like these), but now I'm not sure how I went so long without getting a proper hinged juicer. It's so much cleaner and easier! And I am all about that these days.

Volstead Act

Volstead Act

2 oz. pineapple juice
3/4 oz. lime juice
3/4 oz. ginger syrup*
1/4 tsp. turmeric
2 oz. club soda

Combine all ingredients except club soda in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with club soda and stir briefly. Garnish with pineapple leaves and dried pineapple slices.

*For ginger syrup, peel and slice a 1-inch piece of fresh ginger and add it to a saucepan with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Lower heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Then remove from heat and let the syrup steep as it cools. Once it's cool, fine-strain it to remove the ginger.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Mexican Hot Chocolate with Mezcal Whipped Cream

Mexican Hot Chocolate with Mezcal Whipped Cream

Usually I really enjoy summers in Boston. Sure, it can get pretty hot, but it rarely comes even close to rivaling the Louisiana temperatures of my childhood. Plus we have to make up for all those frigid months of winter. Summer is when I plant herbs on my balcony and vegetables in my backyard garden. It's when my husband and I sit outdoors and sip cocktails and watch the sunset. It's when most of the fun events occur around town. It's a great time of year.

Mexican Hot Chocolate with Mezcal Whipped Cream

This summer, however, I'm just not having it. Being pregnant kind of negates a lot of that summer fun. Admittedly I've had very few unpleasant symptoms these last few months, but I'm just so tired all the time - thus the lack of any blog posts the last couple of weeks. And the heat seems to make it worse. Instead of working out in my garden or sitting on the balcony, I'd much rather be curled up inside under a blanket. And on some evenings, when I'm feeling particularly achy and exhausted, I pretend it's already fall, take a warm bath (not hot - add that to the list of things I'm looking forward to in October), and curl up on the couch with some tea, warm milk, or hot chocolate. With the AC blasting, of course.

That, I hope, sufficiently explains this hot chocolate recipe in the middle of August. Although I would argue that there's never a bad time for hot chocolate. It's a delicious, comforting, all-purpose beverage. Don't argue with a pregnant woman.

Mexican Hot Chocolate with Mezcal Whipped Cream

At first, this was going to be a non-alcoholic Mexican hot chocolate, made with cinnamon and chili powder. But then the idea of mezcal whipped cream popped into my head, and I decided it was genius, because one little dash of mezcal is a-ok for baby but adds a surprisingly intense, smoky agave flavor to a batch of whipped cream. And then it occurred to me to add Ancho Reyes to the hot chocolate, and it was really a lost cause at that point. A simple suggestion wouldn't do - I had to at least hash out the proper proportions so that I could guide you all to spicy, chocolatey perfection. You can make this recipe with or without it, but whether you go non-alcoholic or full-on boozy, this hot chocolate is so good I promise you'll enjoy it - even in August.

Mexican Hot Chocolate with Mezcal Whipped Cream

Mexican Hot Chocolate

1/2 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 oz. Ancho Reyes or 1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine chocolate chips, cinnamon, and cayenne (if using) in a small saucepan. Add milk and put on stove over medium heat, whisking constantly, until chocolate chips are melted, spices are incorporated, and milk is warm. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Remove from heat and stir in Ancho Reyes (if using) and vanilla. Serve in a mug topped with Mezcal Whipped Cream, a pinch of cayenne, and a cinnamon stick.

Mezcal Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. mezcal (optional)
1/2 tbsp. vanilla

In a large bowl, whip cream with the whisk attachment of a mixer until it begins to thicken. add sugar, vanilla, and mezcal (if using). Continue to whip the cream until it reaches the desired consistency, with firm peaks that hold their shape.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mocktail: Golden Orchard

Golden Orchard Fennel Mocktail

There's a great book a lot of cocktail enthusiasts have recommended to me called The Flavor Bible. This genius tome is a must-have reference for anyone who likes to develop their own recipes for food or cocktails. It goes through dozens of ingredients, from achiote seeds to zucchini blossoms, and lists other flavors that work well with them. Some combinations are obvious, while others can be quite surprising. Under pineapple, for example, you'll find banana, coconut, lime, rum, and vanilla, but also chile peppers, curry, fennel seeds, maple syrup, and star anise. There's a gold mine of cocktail ideas right there! I've found the book particularly helpful with mocktails, where I often need a little creativity boost and suggestions for ingredients I wouldn't normally think of.

I turned to The Flavor Bible for this recipe because I had a definite starting place in mind: I wanted to do something with fennel. It's a favorite of mine, and I've been meaning to work it into a cocktail for some time. The Flavor Bible pointed me in the direction of a number of ingredients that are all supposed to work well with fennel and with each other: honey, almond, turmeric, and apple. It was a bit challenging to decide how to incorporate all of them; most went into a flavored syrup I made by simmering honey, water, chopped fennel, and turmeric together with a bit of almond extract added at the end. Non-alcoholic sparkling cider was a perfect apple base, and lemon juice and a bit of club soda evened out the flavors. I used Martinelli's because it's what I could find, but a drier cider would be even better - the Martinelli's is pretty intensely flavored and did its best to try and overpower the other ingredients.

This mocktail is sweet and tart, laced with subtle flavors of almond and anise. It would be a great one to pull out instead of champagne for a celebration, or to dress up the usual sparkling cider.

Golden Orchard Fennel Mocktail

I could not for the life of me come up with a good name for this drink! There are too many ingredients to keep it descriptive. The color is distinctive, but anything containing the word "orange" seemed misleading. A number of fennel puns came to mind (Fennel Word, The Fennel Countdown, That's My Fennel Offer) but I just have too much self-respect. So Golden Orchard will have to do.

Booze it up: Try an alcoholic sparkling cider!

Golden Orchard

2 oz. fennel syrup*
1 oz. lemon juice
4 oz. sparkling cider
1-2 oz. club soda, to taste

Combine fennel syrup and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled and strain into a stemmed glass. (Alternatively, you can build the drink in the glass, especially if your syrup is good and cold.) Add the sparkling cider and the club soda. The amount of club soda will depend on your cider; the Martinelli's is very sweet and intensely flavored, and I felt like it needed to be toned down a bit. Garnish with a sprig of fennel.

Fennel Syrup:

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1 cup chopped fennel
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp almond extract

Combine honey, water, fennel, and turmeric in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and let simmer for about ten minutes. Remove from heat and stir in almond extract. Let cool slightly before pouring through a fine strainer. Let cool completely before using.