Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Recipe Round-Up: Mocktails

Well guys, this is it. Baby boy still hasn't flipped, so I'm going in for a C-section on Friday. That's just three days from now. I've never been so excited and terrified all at once! Surprisingly (considering the whole cut-you-open-while-you're-awake aspect of the situation), I'm really looking forward to it. I can't wait to meet this little guy and start this new phase of my life. And I can't wait to not be pregnant anymore! Overall I think I had a pretty easy pregnancy, but I can't say it went by quickly. And this belly is getting out of control!

While I definitely missed cocktails over the last nine months, I had a lot of fun getting creative with non-alcoholic recipes. For my last post, I thought I'd do a quick roundup of ten of my favorites. See the full list of mocktails here!

Wishful Thinking

1. Wishful Thinking. The first mocktail I posted, this one is simple but really delicious. Lime juice and lavender syrup dress up the usual ginger beer, and a dash of cardamom bitters provides the finishing touch.

Juniper & Tonic

2. Juniper & Tonic. Mixing tonic water with lime juice and a juniper syrup totally cured my G&T craving. Throw in some edible flowers and you have a beautiful summer sipper!

Just Beet It

3. Just Beet It. My only foray into the wide world of homemade shrubs during the pregnancy, this vibrant recipe pairs beet shrub with tarragon and tonic water. It was a definite favorite!

Chamomile Pear Sour

4. Chamomile Pear Sour. Using aquafaba, a vegan substitute for egg whites, allowed me to make a sour with a lovely layer of foam on top, just like the real thing. This would be a good non-alcoholic option to impress a real cocktail lover!

Spicy Sandia

5. Spicy Sandia. While this mixture of watermelon, lime, and jalapeño is basically screaming for a couple shots of tequila, it's a positively delicious recipe on its own - perfect for outdoor summer sipping.

Toasted Coconut Iced Chai

6. Toasted Coconut Iced Chai. This one isn't pretending to be a cocktail, and it doesn't have to. It's a sweet, delicious treat for when you want to drink something just a bit more decadent.

Consolation Prize

7. Consolation Prize. This is the only recipe on the list that I didn't come up with - it's from Smitten Kitchen, one of my all-time favorite food blogs. It's basically a cross between a piña colada and a mojito - absolutely dreamy.

Golden Orchard

8. Golden Orchard. Fennel, turmeric, and sparkling apple cider might seem like unusual ingredients in a drink, but they work perfectly in this sparkling mocktail.

Old Cuban

9. Old Cuban. A true "mocktail," this recipe emulates one of my favorite cocktails with the use of non-alcoholic sparkling wine and several dashes of Angostura bitters. It was probably the closest I felt to the real thing for nine months!

Green Monster

10. Green Monster. Cucumber and black pepper is a match made in heaven - seriously, you've got to try it, preferably with some Hendricks. But failing that, green tea is a fabulous substitute.

In addition to these recipes, I discovered lots of interesting non-alcoholic products aimed at the teetotaler, including Element Shrub & Club, Seedlip Non-Alcoholic Spirits, and Fre Wines. It's nice to see so many options on the market and on bar menus. There are a lot of reasons someone might not be drinking, and it's great to not feel left out!

Well, I'll probably take a bit of a hiatus from posting for the next few weeks, but check my Instagram and Twitter for baby updates and - who are we kidding? - pictures of my first few post-pregnancy cocktails. Cheers!

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.