GRAPEFRUIT & THYME SODA

My garden and I did not start the month of August off on the right foot. While I was being bombarded left and right by dishes and posts featuring beautiful tomatoes, the plants in my garden taunted me with green orbs of various shapes and sizes that refused to ripen. I obsessively checked them twice a day. I even had a dream that, amidst a bit of chaos involving Doctor Who (David Tennant, not Matt Smith), the air traffic controller from season 2 of Breaking Bad, and a woman who insisted she must go to Paris for “jewelery season,” I uncovered a vine of perfectly ripe tomatoes at the edge of my much-nicer-than-it-is-in-waking-life backyard.

While my tomato plants refused to cooperate, my garden did manage to redeem itself with a bounty of herbs, including an overabundance of thyme. I don’t know why, but the smell of thyme makes me thirsty. I love adding it to drinks and it works well with a number of things (lemon, blackberries, pears, etc.), but thyme + grapefruit = THE BEST. I was introduced to this combination nearly a year ago at my favorite Burlington restaurant, and I have been obsessed ever since.

Oh and BONUS: This soda practically begs for gin. Put ‘em together and, boy, do they go down easy.

Grapefruit & Thyme Soda

zest and juice of 2 pink grapefruits
juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups of sugar
2 cups of water
10–12 springs of thyme
pinch of salt
seltzer
Combine water, salt, zest, juices, and thyme in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce and let simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 1 hour.

Run mixture through a cheesecloth to filter out the solids. Return the filtered liquid to the pan, add sugar, and heat until sugar is just dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool, then transfer to a container. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week.

To make soda: Combine 1 part syrup with 1.5 parts seltzer.

To make a grapefruit-thyme gin fizz: Add 1 part gin and 1.5 parts syrup to a glass filled with ice. Top with seltzer then stir to combine.

Homemade Bitters Giveaway!

Hey, guess what — this is my 100th post! Shall we celebrate with free things? Yeah!

Bitters and cocktails are a relatively new interest of mine. While my parents didn’t care much for alcohol outside of social events, a few random bottles of beer could always be found in the basement fridge, along with the occasional half-empty, forgotten bottle of wine. Liquor, however, rarely (if ever) made an appearance. Long, twisty spoons, shiny shakers and their accompanying gadgets, pretty glasses of various shapes and sizes — all of these things were unknown to me.

Without a scotch-sipping grandfather or a cabinet filled with old, mysterious bottles to instill charm and intrigue during my childhood, my first impression of liquor/mixed drinks came from college. (College students in Albany, NY do not drink “cocktails,” they mix swill with more swill, and then they guzzle it. Lots of it.) In case you can’t already tell, my first impression was not a good one. Liquor was bleached-blonde, spray-tanned girls sucking down appletinis or cosmos in between attempts to out-screech each other. It was guys sporting double polos with popped collars, a pound of hair gel, and a suffocating amount of Acqua Di Gio elbowing me out of the way at the bar to order a round of panty droppers for the appletini girls and Captain ’n’ Cokes for the bros. It was drinking to get wasted. It was drinking to get so wasted that you just puke directly onto the floor of a bar, then nonchalantly stumble away while a girl screams about the vomit on her feet. (Yeah, I saw that happen. I bet that girl never wore open-toed shoes to a bar again.)

And so, I developed a love of beer and wine, but bypassed liquor and cocktails almost entirely. Then last year, I began looking into books on homemade soda. And thanks to Amazon’s suggestion vortex, Andrew Schloss’s Homemade Soda led me to Darcy S. O’Neil’s Fix the Pumps, which led me to Brad Thomas Parsons’s Bitters (as well as Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails and David Wondrich’s Imbibe!). And because each of them sounded so intriguing, I bought them all. BTP’s Bitters, however, quickly became my favorite. I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with apothecaries, old-timey medicine, and anything that gives me an excuse to buy and use many jars and bottles, so I guess it was a natural attraction. Within a month, I had the jars, the high-proof alcohol, and more herbs than I will ever use in my lifetime, and I was ready to get down to business.

UPDATE: After this post went live last night, I received several comments from people who weren’t quite sure what bitters were, and I realized I probably should have explained a bit more about them! Bitters are made by infusing herbs, spices, fruit peels, barks (and a number of other things) in high-proof alcohol over the course of several weeks. (Glycerin is sometimes used in place of alcohol, although I’ve read that the extraction is not as good.) When the steeping process is complete, you filter out the solids and add a little bit of sweetener. The result is an aromatic liquid that is most commonly added to cocktails, but has a variety of other uses as well. Bitters were originally marketed as a cure-all of sorts, for anything from headaches to indigestion, but soon found their place in alcoholic beverages. Just a few dashes can make all the difference in a cocktail. To quote Parsons: “Bitters are essentially a liquid seasoning agent for drinks and even food, and their frequent description as a bartender’s salt and pepper hits close to the mark.” Their presence is somewhat subtle, but leave them out and you’ll definitely notice that your drink seems a bit sweet, a little disjointed, or is just lacking that extra something.

The first round I made consisted of six varieties of bitters: apple, lemon, grapefruit, pear, root beer, and coffee pecan. Then as soon as spring hit and rhubarb started showing up on the shelves, I whipped up a batch of rhubarb bitters, and decided to throw together an orange one as well. Out of all eight varieties, the grapefruit, pear, and root beer are the stars in my opinion. (The pear took a little while to grow on me, but then summer hit and I discovered that it absolutely rocks in tequila.) The grapefruit is excellent in most drinks that usually include a little bit of lemon or lime juice/twists, as it adds some unexpected citrus notes that can only come from grapefruit. (I love adding a few drops to my gin & tonics.) And as far as the root beer batch goes, I can’t get past drinking it in soda water. In fact, I’d say that the vast majority of my bitters wind up in plain ol’ seltzer. If you’ve never tried this before, I highly recommend it. I drink it simply because I love the taste, but a glass of bitters & soda can do wonders for an upset tummy or after a particularly large meal.

 

Alright, enough of my blabbing, let’s talk about the giveaway! I have two sets of bitters up for grabs. Each set consists of eight 1-oz. bottles of pear, grapefruit, lemon, orange, rhubarb, root beer, apple, and coffee pecan bitters. Just leave a comment below telling me your favorite variety of bitters and your favorite way to use it (in a drink or otherwise). Or if you’re new to bitters, just tell me your favorite drink (as long as it isn’t the panty dropper). I’ll start things off with two of my favorites (the first of which is actually just something that I’m just super excited about and haven’t gotten around to trying yet):

  1. My 50-year-old bottle of Angostura bitters that I found at a flea market. As soon as I pick up a bottle of Pisco, it’s Pisco Sour with old Angostura time!
  2. The Bitter Truth’s Original Celery Bitters. Excellent in grapefruit juice. Astoundingly good in soup.

The giveaway will end this Sunday (the 29th) at midnight. Sadly, I do ask that only U.S. residents participate in the giveaway, as I’m not sure how well these little guys would fare in Customs. I will announce the winners Monday morning on Facebook, as well as in a follow-up post Monday or Tuesday evening. Good luck, everyone!

And for those of you that would like to try making your own bitters, here are a few tips from me:

If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of Bitters. It is a wealth of information, ranging from history to recipes to cocktails to culinary uses.

Look into what sort of reasonably priced, high-proof spirits are available for purchase in your area. For U.S. residents, visit the Department of Liquor Control website for your state, or inquire at your local beverage center. You want to use alcohol that is at least 80-proof, but ideally 100-proof or higher. (The higher the alcohol content, the better the extraction.) For vodka-based bitters, a grain alcohol like Everclear is the way to go. It is 190-proof and dirt cheap, but its sale is also restricted in a number of states (Vermont being one of them). I was able to get a few bottles shipped to me through Budget Bottle. They will ID you on delivery, so it’s ideal to be home when the package is scheduled to be delivered (otherwise be prepared to pick it up later).

If you don’t have an herbalist in your area, you can order herbs online. I bought most of what I couldn’t find locally from the Dandelion Botanical Company (as I found their site had most of what I needed and was relatively user-friendly), but Tenzing Momo is another good vendor. If you aren’t familiar with buying herbs by weight, keep in mind that 1 or 2 oz. of something might not sound like a lot, but it will wind up being far more than you need.

If you need to purchase jars for steeping bitters or storing herbs, or bottles to bottle up the finished product, I highly recommend Specialty Bottle. I used their 32 oz. mason jars for steeping, their 4 oz. amber jars for storing herbs, and their 2 oz. amber dropper bottles for the finished product (and the 1 oz. versionfor the giveaway bottles). You do not want to go larger than 2 oz. for the dropper bottles. I originally ordered the 4 oz. bottles, but the droppers felt very flimsy. Considering how slowly most people use bitters, 2 oz. is more than adequate. I am also curious about the European dropper bottles, as I think their droppers might be similar to the dashers you would find on most store-bought varieties of bitters. (I just didn’t want to buy a bunch and find out I was wrong! If anyone has any insight on this, I would love to hear it.)

As far as labels go, I went pretty DIY with those since I am relatively savvy with design programs. I made mine in InDesign, printed them off from my home printer on basic label paper I bought from Staples, and then covered them with clear packing tape to keep the ink from running if it happened to get wet. (Like I said, pretty DIY.) If you don’t want to deal with all that, I hear good things about MOO, although I have not used them myself.

Filtering is key, and also kind of a pain in the @$$. Parsons’s recipes call for straining the solids out of the alcohol after 2 weeks, then covering them in a pan with water, letting them simmer, then placing those in a separate jar and allowing them to steep for another week. The solids + water + heat yields a pretty cloudy mixture, and filtration can be a bit tedious. For the first round of bitters, I spent ALL day filtering those things. I ran them through butter muslin (very fine cheesecloth), then I ran them through paper coffee filters over and over until I was satisfied with the clarity. (They usually backed up in the paper filters, so I wound up carefully stirring them for a bit, then gently squeezing them to coax the liquid through. If I didn’t do so with the utmost care, the filter would pop and I’d have to grab a new one and start over.) Once I was happy with the clarity, I combined the alcohol and the water-based mixture back together, then added the sweetener and let them sit for a couple more days as directed. Parsons’s notes that you should skim off anything that congeals and rises to the top after the sweetened mixture has sat for a few days, but nothing congealed in my first batches. In the second round when I made the rhubarb and orange, however, I was much lazier about filtering before adding the sweetener. As a result, I wound up with a lot of weird gunk that needed to be removed (especially in the rhubarb batch). And so, my suggestion to you is to filter, filter, filter before adding the sweetener. I would recommend buying a flat-bottomed gold filter like this one. (Make sure it also has the filter mesh on the bottom — some do not.) Get the solids out by running them through a cheesecloth-lined sieve first, and then run the remaining liquid through your gold filter a few times. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can also run it through a paper filter for good measure. Alternatively, Science Fare‘s Kevin Liu has a great poston Alcademics that discusses using an Aeropress for filtration. (I would love to buy an Aeropress and give this method a try, as it seems more effective and less tedious than coaxing liquid through a gold filter.) Either way, the more you can clarify the liquid, the better.

If you ever decide to experiment with concocting your own bitters recipes, do your research and/or consult an herbalist. (This is very important for spirits that will be consumed in greater quantities, like DIY vermouths/apéritifs/digestifs or other liquor infusions, but it’s wise to exercise caution with bitters as well, even if you’re only adding a few dashes to things here and there.) The extracts of a number of barks and herbs can have adverse health effects when consumed in large doses. Granted, it will usually take quite a lot for some of these effects to manifest, but it’s still important to know what you’re working with, regardless of the quantity you plan to consume. I realized this shortly after I completed the first round of bitters and brought them to a friend’s cocktail party, where a number of herbalists also happened to be in attendance. When they excitedly asked me what I’d used to make the bitters, it caught me rather off guard. I stared at them blankly for a few seconds, trying to remember what — besides the obvious — had gone into each batch, and then stumbled over the names of handful of herbs and barks that I was actually able to recall. They then went on to recount various bitters and tinctures they had created for specific reasons, and why they’d used particular ingredients for each, as I listened and though to myself, “oh yeah, these ingredients actually dothings . . . duh.” So, in short, just keep in mind that there’s a reason these things started out as medicinal extracts, and that people still go to school to learn about them today.

I hope some of you will find this useful! (I think this is the longest post I have ever written, by far.) If anyone has any tips of their own, please share. I would love to hear them.

 

ZUCCHINI & SWEET CORN PIZZA

esterday, I shared a simple pizza sauce recipe and a few house-sitting pictures with you. Today, I’d like to follow that up with the resulting pizza and a house-sitting anecdote.

What follows is a prime example of what it’s like to be me. See, I seem to be a magnet for “oops” situations. We’re talking a rapid series of events that will cause my brain to completely freeze, and my I-work-8-hours-a-day-on-a-computer fingers on my left hand to start involuntarily making ctrl+Z keystrokes. Sometimes, it’s my own fault. But most of the time, it feels like mischievous cosmic forces are at work, putting me in ridiculous situations for their own amusement. (See also this post.) It’s cool though, because apparently the universe and I have similar senses of humor. (I am also well aware that this cosmic torment might actually be better defined as “karma,” since I have a bit of a penchant for mischief myself.)

The story begins on Friday evening of last week. I’ve finished my work, wrapped up a number of care-taking chores, and I’m ready to enjoy a glass of wine. I grab a corkscrew from a drawer, remove the cork most of the way from the bottle, then start to pull the rest of it out (which, for me, usually requires a bit of upward pull and a little bit of wiggling back and forth). But right as I start to pull, the entire thing pops right out. And since my cork wiggle had begun with a tilt towards me, the metal top of the corkscrew wound up in the outer corner of my eye socket. Luckily, after about 10 seconds of my brain only being capable of thinking, “holy $&*#, HOLY $&*#,” my memories of bad ankles and high school soccer practice kicked in, and I was able to switch gears to, “ice pack [or bag of frozen corn] — 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off.” After enough icing to calm myself down and dealing with the fact that a white shirt was a bad ice pack wrap choice (I was also bleeding a little), I did manage to enjoy my glass of wine. I also examined the cork, which turned out to be about half an inch shorter than any other cork I’ve ever seen. You win this round, universe.

One of the things I quickly learned about house-sitting in a rural place is that it requires a lot of planning ahead, food-wise. On occasion, I realize that I’m running low on staples, but I really don’t feel like driving half an hour to buy anything. That is how things like this pizza come into being. (And yes, the bag of corn that saved my poor eye is the same one that went onto this pizza!) There happened to be a lone zucchini in the vegetable drawer, and with a dwindling pile of garlic scapes and some random scallions, a delicious pizza was born!

Zucchini & Sweet Corn Pizza

  • 1 round of pizza dough
  • 1/2 a batch (or around 4 oz.) of pizza sauce
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated
  • 8 oz. of sweet corn (fresh or frozen)
  • 3 garlic scapes, minced
  • half a dozen or so scallions, minced
  • 1 1/4 cups of mozzarella, grated
  • 1/4 cup of jarlsberg, grated (parmesan or edam are good alternatives, or just use all mozzarella)
    mixture of olive oil and honey (for the crust)
  • If using a pizza stone, place it on the bottom rack in the oven. Preheat to 475°.

Saute zucchini and corn over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, or until most of the water has cooked off.

Shape dough into a circle (or whatever shape you wish). Evenly distribute sauce, then sprinkle on half of the cheese.

Evenly distribute toppings, then add the rest of the cheese. Brush honey and olive oil mixture on the crust.

Bake for 15–20 minutes, or until the crust begins to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool, then slice and serve.

Roasted Mushroom Ravioli with Thyme & Garlic Scapes

I’m sitting here, staring at these little ravioli on my computer screen, trying to think of something nice to say about them. And I’m finding it rather difficult. Not because they weren’t good — they were, in fact, quite good (aside from a mediocre pasta dough experiment, which I will address at a later date). But because I’m sitting in my 91° room, while a fan blasts 91° heat towards my face at high speeds long after the sun has set. So when I look at these ravioli, all I can see is warm, hearty food that was cooked over a pot of boiling hot water, then tossed into a sizzling hot frying pan. Not the sort of thing one dreams about on an evening like this, when throwing together a minimum-effort burrito and cracking a cold beer feels borderline commendable. But a few days days ago, in the balmy 78° weather, these things really hit the spot. So I will now attempt to transport my consciousness back in time, so that I may present these things with the level of enthusiasm they deserve.

First off, if you’ve ever had roasted mushrooms before, I really don’t need to convince you that these ravioli are delicious. And if you haven’t, just imagine perfectly tender, succulent mushrooms that pack an insane amount of flavor. Now think about mixing those up with chèvre and parmesan. Oh and then there’s the whole pan-frying pasta in butter part too. Sold? Sold!

Roasted Mushroom Ravioli with Thyme & Garlic Scapes

yield: approximately 2 1/2 dozen medium ravioli

  • 1 lb of cremini mushrooms, cleaned
  • a few tablespoons of olive oil
  • a hefty dash of red wine vinegar or sherry
  • two cloves of garlic, minced
  • a sprinkle of salt and pepper
  • 2 oz. of chèvre (herbed, if you can find it — if not sub in some fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, etc.)
  • 3/4 cup of parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tbsp of butter
  • a few garlic scapes, minced
  • a few sprigs of thyme, minced
  • 1 batch of pasta dough

To roast the mushrooms:

Preheat oven to 450°. Toss mushrooms with olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper, then spread across the bottom of a baking dish. Roast mushrooms for 15–20 minutes, or until they look nice and tender and smell divine. Remove and let cool.

To make the filling:

Once the mushrooms have cooled down, dice them and transfer to a bowl. Mix in chèvre and parmesan (and fresh herbs, if using). Set aside.

To make the ravioli:

Roll pasta dough out into a rectangular shape on a well-floured surface (making rectangle as symmetrical as possible), until thin but not in danger of tearing (about 1/16 of an inch thick). Distribute spoonfuls of filling along half the surface of the dough. Brush a little bit of water in between the spoonfuls of filling, then cut off the unused portion of the dough. Carefully transfer it on top and press to seal.

Cut out ravioli with a sharp knife or a pasta wheel. To make extra-sure they are sealed, press all around the edges with a fork. Trim ravioli, re-knead the leftover dough, then repeat the process until all of the filling has been used. Freeze any ravioli that you won’t eat immediately.

Bring a pot of water to a boil, then add the ravioli. Cook until they begin to float (this should only take a few minutes). Meanwhile, melt butter in a pan over medium heat, then add the cooked ravioli, garlic scapes, and half the thyme. Pan-fry for a few minutes on each side, or until lightly browned. Top with the remaining fresh thyme, then serve!

Strawberry-rhubarb Balsamic Shrub

When you hear the phrase “drinking vinegar,” what comes to mind? Weird old-timey medicine? Something gross you’d drink if you were doing some sort of “cleanse”? It’s vinegar. And you drink it. That doesn’t sound delicious at all.

I decided to make a shrub purely out of curiosity. I had a bunch of strawberries and rhubarb leftover from making ice cream, and my eye on this post for a while now. I wanted to try it and I wanted to like it, but deep down, I was worried I’d hate it. It would be too vinegary for me, and I’d feel like a wimp. I’d wind up putting it in smoothies or trying to dilute it with seltzer and/or booze, all the while lamenting the waste of expensive balsamic. But now that I’ve finally tried it, I can honestly say that I don’t like it. I LOVE it.

I really don’t know if I can express how much I love this weird vinegary deliciousness I’ve created. It has a wonderful sweetness to it, counterbalanced by a refreshing tang that kicks you right in the the back of the tongue. Normally, I’ll make a soda syrup that will wind up just sitting in the fridge, hoping it gets used for a few cocktails before it’s deemed no longer drinkable. But I just can’t get enough of this stuff. I’ve been drinking a glass or two of it per day, while telling myself that I can’t have any more because I need to save it for cocktails this weekend. (I’m even considering not using it for cocktails, especially after a little experiment this evening left me craving more shrub and less gin. What?!)

If you’d like to learn a little bit of history about shrubs, Serious Eats has a great article that includes two different methods for making them (hot- and cold-processed). For my shrub, I followed the cold-processed method. Call me old fashioned, but I think there’s something much more appealing and wholesome about giving the ingredients a few days to naturally get acquainted with one another, rather than tossing some stuff in hot sugar water and straining it out after a matter of minutes, then throwing in some vinegar and calling it a day. I can only speak to the results of the cold method, but what I can say about that is it only requires patience and stirring, and the end result is amazing. I already know that I will be making this many, many more times this summer.

Strawberry Rhubarb Shrub (with a little pineapple too!)
(adapted from Fudge Ripple)

yield: approximately 2 cups of syrup

1 1/4 cups of ripe strawberries, cleaned, hulled, and sliced
1/2 cup of rhubarb, cleaned and sliced
1/4 cup of pineapple, sliced (if you don’t want to bother with pineapple, feel free to replace this with another 1/4 cup of rhubarb or strawberries)
1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
10 black peppercorns, slightly crushed
1 cup of balsamic vinegar (make sure you use a decent quality balsamic)
1/2 cup cider vinegar (again, decent quality)
Combine fruit, peppercorns, and sugar in a bowl or jar, stirring to evenly-coat the fruit. Allow mixture to sit for around 1 hour, then macerate until everything is nice and broken up. Cover and let sit for 24 hours. (At room temperature is fine, but feel free to stick it in the fridge too.)

After 24 hours, macerate the mixture again, trying to crush the fruit as much as possible. At this point, you can add the vinegars immediately, or let it sit for another 24 hours. (I let mine sit for another day.)

When ready, add the vinegars and stir well. Store at room temperature for 7–9 days, giving it a good stir each day. When finished, pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, then transfer to a clean jar or container. Store syrup in the fridge.

To mix: Add 1 part syrup to 2.5–3 parts seltzer.

As far as cocktails go, I did not like this very much with gin. I think it would pair much better with tequila, which will be my next experiment!

UPDATE: This shrub + tequila = a match made in heaven. The flavors work with each other so well that you can barely tell where one ends and the other begins. It tastes like a beautiful summer day in a glass! Combine 1 part reposado tequila, 1 part shrub syrup, and 2.5 parts seltzer in a glass filled with ice. (I also added a few drops of pear bitters, and it was divine. I realize most people won’t have these on hand unless you happen to be one of those crazy people that bought Brad Thomas Parsons’s Bitters and immediately made six different batches of bitters . . . like I did. If you’re mega-jealous, do not despair — there just might be a giveaway in the future!)

Asparagus & Caramelized Ramp Hand Pies

So as some of you may know, I have but one sworn food enemy. That sweaty-tasting, eye-stinging, vile orb of slimy-yet-crunchy layers: The Onion.

My dislike of onions has existed for as long as I can remember. My mother swears I used to eat them when I was very young, but I have no recollection of this. On occasion, she would accidentally add a bunch of onions to something before separating out an untainted portion for me, then try to pass it off as onion-free in the hopes that I wouldn’t notice. That never worked. I could spot them in food from 10 feet away. I could smell them from even farther. I’d smush my dinner all around the plate, pick out every onion I could find, then still refuse to eat it, igniting a dinner table standoff: Carey: Hater of Onions vs. Parents: Lords of After-Dinner TV Privileges. Even today, finding them in my food ignites a childish, fussy frustration within me. If I order a dish sans onions at a restaurant and the waiter asks if I have an allergy, my go-to response is, “I’m mentally allergic to them.” This is usually met with a somewhat bemused look, but it keeps them out of my food.

 

Then a year or so ago, J and I were having dinner at a local restaurant, and I ordered an entrée that came with these strange little soft-as-butter bulbs around the edge of the dish. I ate one and promptly declared it one of the most delicious things I’d ever tasted. J tried one, gave me a somewhat baffled look, then said, “Carey, that tastes just like an onion.” I paused, contemplating my next move. I decided that screaming “LIAR!” and demanding he retract his statement while I threatened him with a butter knife was not the best course of action in the middle of a crowded restaurant (though that was my first instinct). So instead, I took another bite. And wouldn’t you know it, they were still delicious. And in that moment, I found a glimmer of hope. Hope that I might actually be able to overcome my longest-standing, most-neurotic food phobia. In a world where people seem to love to define themselves by what they don’t eat, I take a somewhat-fierce pride in being an ex-vegetarian that no longer imposes labels or restrictions on herself. Instead of constantly passing up things or fearing that I’ll have a meal ruined by some sort of hidden meat product simply because I don’t eat that, I’ve learned to understand the benefits and drawbacks of the various things I eat. I’ve paid attention to the effects that different foods have on my body, and I eat what makes me feel good. And on the whole, that’s still what would qualify as a mostly-vegetarian diet. But sometimes it’s a bloody steak. Or an ungodly amount of chocolate. Point is, if I can overcome all of that, I should be able to get past this darn onion phobia too! If I could make that happen, it would kind of be like reaching Food Nirvana.

Sadly, I haven’t made too much progress on the onion front. One occasion of note, however, occurred at my favorite restaurant in town, when I asked if the risotto dish had onions in it. One of the chefs was nearby, and I (being somewhat sneaky) assumed that he’d say yes but offer to leave them out. Instead, he looked me square in the eye and said, “yes, but I’ll make them so small you won’t even notice them.” I, momentarily taken aback, had a brief staring contest with him (that was probably entirely in my head), then responded, “OK, yeah, do it.” And it was delicious. I could see the tiny little bits of onions, and I didn’t even care. So I guess that is progress. And clearly, I still love those weird little onion-like ramps. I don’t understand why they’re so amazing, but they are.

 

Asparagus & Caramelized Ramp Hand Pies

yield: approximately 18 pies

Dough

  • 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 14 tbsp (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 2 oz. parmesan (around 3/4 of a cup), grated
  • ½ cup of ice water

Filling

  • 1 small bunch of asparagus
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 small bunch of ramps
  • 2 tbsp of butter
  • 1 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups of ricotta (I can’t quite remember how much I used, so start with 1 cup and adjust as needed)
  • 3/4 cup of parmesan, grated
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp of water (for the wash)

To make the dough:

Combine flour and salt in a food processor and pulse once or twice. Add butter and pulse until crumbly, then pulse in cheese. Add the ice water a little bit at a time, pulsing in between, until dough comes together. Turn out dough and gather it together, then divide into two pieces. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

To roast the asparagus:

Preheat oven to 450°. Snap off unripe ends of asparagus, then chop into 1/2-inch pieces. Toss in a pan with olive oil and roast for about 20 minutes, or until asparagus has some slight browning.

To caramelize the ramps:

Wash and trim off roots. Cut off bulbs, then roughly chop greens and set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add ramp bulbs, then stir to coat and cook over medium heat for around 1 minute. Reduce heat to low, then continue to cook bulbs, stirring occasionally, until they’ve softened a begun to brown — around 8 minutes. Add sugar and stir until everything begins to caramelize — around 2 minutes. Add in greens and stir for approximately 1 minute. Cover pan and turn off heat. Let sit for about 5 minutes, or until greens have wilted.

To make the pies:

Preheat the oven to 375° and remove dough from the fridge.

Combine the asparagus, ramps, and all of the remaining filling ingredients (except for the egg wash) together in a bowl.

Roll out both dough rounds into a large rectangles, approximately 11 x 14 inches each and 1/8″ thick. Place heaping tablespoons of filling across one rectangle, top with the other, then cut into 3 x 3 squares. Press edges of pies together with a fork to seal, trim off any excess on the ends, then combine with the rest of the dough trimmings and re-roll out into a 1/8″-thick rectangle. (Refrigerate before re-rolling if dough feels too soft.) Spoon out the remaining filling across half of the dough, cut other half and place on top, and repeat the sealing/trimming process.

Place pies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat mat. Brush egg wash on each pie, then score with a sharp knife. Bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the edges of the pies begin to brown. Transfer to a rack and let cool.

 

Roasted Strawberry Rhubarb Basil Ice Cream

Few things make me happier than the arrival of rhubarb season. Once I see it making an appearance at farmers’ markets and on store shelves, I know that winter really, truly is over. But even more exciting than the symbolic significance those strange red stalks hold is their amazing flavor — a unique tartness that plays well with others, like strawberries, citrus, and ginger. It’s darn tasty, and so versatile. It’s the pumpkin of the spring! And while the pumpkin supply is practically endless during fall in the northeast, rhubarb season seems to vanish all too quickly. And that is why I’ve developed a method for making sure I get my fill of rhubarb each year: If I see it, I buy it. And I buy most of it. The first day it showed up at the store, I’d stuffed about half of the pile in a bag when I realized people were waiting for me to quit being such a hog and get out of the way. The next week, no one was around, so I took all but three puny stalks. Yeah, I’m that jerk.

Looking through my archives, you wouldn’t really pick up on my rhubarb obsession. That, I’m sorry to say, is due to the fact that everything gets eaten before I have a chance to photograph it. Pies, sodas, fruit leather — it’s all gone. We ate it all. But I saved you some ice cream! Wasn’t that nice of me?

As soon as I tasted this stuff, I knew I couldn’t let it vanish without being documented. I usually try to avoid the combination of strawberries and rhubarb because J is mildly allergic to the former, but it seemed essential for this ice cream (especially because I wanted to bring basil into the mix). If you’re skeptical about the use of basil in a sweet dish, I urge you to suspend your disbelief and give it a try. It adds a subtle, almost anise-like flavor, which compliments the sweet/tartness of the strawberries and rhubarb perfectly. The end result was divine. I know an ice cream is good when I want to melt it down and drink it so I can consume it more quickly, and this is one of those ice creams. Even J ate it, under my watchful and somewhat concerned gaze, promising me that it was fine because he’d taken allergy meds earlier that day. My only teeny tiny complaint was that, once frozen, it got a bit icy. Some brief reading online seems to indicate that the way to remedy this is by adding more sugar (but if anyone has any other insights, please share). I’ve made no adjustments to the recipe below, so if you’d like to try adding more sugar to avoid iciness, an additional 1/8 – 1/4 of a cup might help. (Also, the original recipe called for brown sugar, which I was out of. This may have a different effect on the final consistency, and also add a nice depth of flavor if you’d like to give it a try in place of white sugar.)

Roasted Strawberry Rhubarb Basil Ice Cream
(adapted from Not Without Salt)

yield: approximately 1 quart

  • 2 cups of rhubarb, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups of strawberries, stems removed and halved
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large basil leaves, minced
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups of heavy cream
  • 1 of cup milk

Preheat oven to 400°. Combine rhubarb, strawberries, and lemon juice and zest in a pan. Roast for around 15–20 minutes, or until everything is nice and soft. Remove and let cool for 10–15 minutes.

Add rhubarb/strawberry/lemon mixture to your food processor. (If you aren’t neurotic about non-chunky ice cream, you can add the basil now as well and skip the straining part.) Process for several minutes, or until the mixture seems very smooth. Run mixture through a sieve, stirring until you’ve gotten everything through and separated out any remaining chunky bits. Return the mixture to the food processor, add in your basil, and process for another minute.

Transfer mixture to saucepan. Heat on medium and add the vanilla extract and sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat and let cool.

Once your mixture has cooled down a bit, add in the heavy cream and milk. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for at least an hour, or, ideally, overnight. (I also read that an overnight chilling can make a big difference in the final texture, so I will be doing that from now on.)

Process chilled mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Anatomy Of A Really Good Grilled Cheese

So unless you’ve been living under a rock as of late, you probably know that it’s grilled cheese month. And if you think I’d pass up an opportunity to get in on the cheesy madness, you’d better think again!

I have some pretty strong feelings about what a grilled cheese should be. And, at the risk of getting a bit up-on-my-soapbox-y, I’d like to share them with you. First: Butter that bread. No oils, especially if they’re “spritzed” on (good grief). BUTTER all the way! Second: Use a light, mild-flavored bread. Because the bread is just a crispy vessel that contains and delivers the delicious, melty cheese. Which brings me to my last, but most strongly-held belief: The cheese is the one and only star. I like a hot sandwich with cheese and other tasty things as much as the next person. But if you ask me if I want a “grilled cheese” and I reply, “yes!” (which I always will), I don’t want any of that extra jazz. No stringy greens smacking me in the face. No tomato chunks falling into my lap. And no, not even any delicious (but overpowering and tough-to-bite-through) slices of bacon. Just buttery bread and ooey-gooey cheese, please.

OK, now that we have my diatribe out of the way, let’s talk components and assembly! When cheese is the prime ingredient, you need a filling that will melt well, while also packing a good deal of flavor. This can be somewhat tough to achieve with just one cheese, as many melting cheeses tend to be milder in flavor, while many of the tastier cheeses don’t melt very well and tend to be a bit overpowering on their own. The simple solution: two (or more) kinds of cheese — one that will melt, and one that will pack a nice tasty punch. And grate those cheeses! This facilitates melting, and allows you to mix in your other two ingredients: the “flavor enhancers” (i.e., herbs, spices, salt, pepper, etc.) and the creamy spread. (Basically, what you’re going to do is create a “cheese salad” of sorts.) This gives you even ingredient distribution, and also keeps your grated cheeses from flying all over the place when you flip your sandwich. NO CHEESE LEFT BEHIND. NOT ON MY WATCH.

For my grilled cheese, I went with mozzarella, an aged gouda, and plain greek yogurt. One other suggestion I have regarding cheese selection is to perhaps avoid really shiny ones. Jarlsberg, while one of my all-time favorite table cheeses, takes on an almost wax-like consistency when melted, which I find rather unappealing. While I haven’t tested the theory, I think that a shiny cheese may be a waxy one as well.

To make your cheese salad, simply grate your two cheeses and set aside. Add a dollop of your creamy spread of choice to a bowl, then mix in your herbs and spices. If you’re using dried herbs, I highly recommend giving them a good “finger crushing” as you sprinkle them in. This will release more flavor, and also make them a little less gritty, since they don’t really get a chance to rehydrate. Add your grated cheeses to the bowl and mix everything until it’s well-combined, with a “bound” salad consistency. (I literally just discovered that term as I was trying to come up with an adjective other than “paste-like.” Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Evenly apply the mixture to one slice of bread (leaving just a little room around the edges to minimize cheese loss during the grilling process), then top with the other. Your filling should be about as thick as one slice of bread.

Heat up your grill pan or cast iron skillet and butter one side of your bread. Once your pan is nice and hot, add your sandwich, butter-side down. While it cooks, butter the other side of the bread. Once the first side has some nice browning, flip the sandwich and give it a good press. At this point, I like to reduce the heat on the pan to low (or turn it off completely if using a cast iron pan), then cover it and let it cook for a minute or two. This ensures that your cheese will melt, and your bread won’t burn. (I’m also very intrigued by Alton Brown’s technique [8 minutes in] of using two hot cast iron pans as a press, even if he is an oil spritzer — c’mon, AB!)

And the last important step in making a grilled cheese: Cut that baby in half! Take a moment to marvel at the ooey-gooey cheese, then dig in.

blackberry, lemon, & thyme soda

Spring, for me, brings craziness. Every year. Without fail. My attention span plummets to 5 minutes. I walk to the kitchen and then stand there trying to remember why I did. I drink lots more super coffee. (To make super coffee, simply pour hot water over coffee grounds in your french press or clever dripper, then forget about it for half an hour. When you finally remember that you were making coffee, sprint to the kitchen, pour a cup, and add excessive amounts of cream and sugar to counteract the taste.)

The craziness also makes me do very ambitious things. Like deciding to prepare two kinds of homemade soda along with a giant Easter dinner, despite waking up late and lazily milling around the house for far longer than I should have. I experienced a couple moments of doubt (accompanied by an impressive variety of curse words), but in the end everything turned out great, including my ambitious soda.

I’m not much of a soda drinker (with the exception of Reed’s Extra Spicy Ginger Ale — so good!). But I’m semi-obsessed with the idea of making my own sodas — in part because it makes me feel like a bit of an alchemist, but mostly because it allows me to create beverages that are far less sweet than the store-bought varieties. And since I’ve been loving the addition of herbs to soda syrups lately, this was a great way to use up the fresh thyme leftover after I’d made my Easter ham glaze.

I’d mentioned that I’d made two sodas, and I will admit that this was the less impressive of the two. (Sadly, there was none of the better one left to photograph!) This blackberry soda is still quite good, but it’s missing something. I think that something is tartness. Extra lemon juice might help, or possibly a pinch of citric acid or a little cider/red wine vinegar. If anyone has any suggestions, I would absolutely love to hear them. This is a recipe that I will continue to make and experiment with, and I’d encourage you to do the same if you decide to give it a try. Adjusting things to your taste is part of the fun of soda-making!

(This soda would also make a great cocktail mixer. I thought it might pair well with heartier liquors, but I tried mixing it with applejack and it just didn’t stand up the way I’d expected. I’d recommend trying it with gin instead [or vodka, if you aren’t big on gin].)

Blackberry, Lemon, & Thyme Soda

yield: approximately 3 cups of syrup, or enough to make 6 cups of soda

  • 1 cup of blackberries, slightly muddled (or chopped, if using frozen berries)
  • 1/2 cup of raspberries, slightly muddled (or chopped, if frozen)
  • approximately 1 dozen sprigs of fresh thyme
  • zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 tsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 3 cups of water
  • (and perhaps something to increase the tartness — another lemon, a tsp of citric acid, or a little cider/red wine vinegar)

Combine everything except for honey, sugar, and molasses in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for 5 minutes.* Remove from heat and let sit for an hour or two, or until completely cooled.

Once cooled, strain out solids through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Return liquid to sauce pan, place pan over medium heat, then add honey, sugar, and molasses, and stir until just dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool once again.

*I only let my syrup simmer for 5 minutes because I use a SodaStream to carbonate beverages. If you do not have a home carbonation system, you will want to reduce this syrup down a bit more so the end result is still fizzy once combined with seltzer. I would recommend allowing the syrup to simmer for around 20–30 minutes, or until it has reduced down by nearly half.

If you are using a home carbonation system, mix 1 part syrup with 1 part water and carbonate as directed . . . sort of. I’ve discovered that when you carbonate something besides just water, it has a tendency to fizz, a lot. I’ve found the best thing to do is carbonate cautiously, letting the mixture rest for a while when it becomes foamy. (If this seems like an annoying process, I’d suggest reducing the syrup down as instructed above for combining with seltzer. I simply prefer to cook things as little as possible, which is why I chose this method for my soda.)

If you go with the reduced syrup, I’m not quite sure of the proper ratio of syrup to seltzer. I’d recommend starting with an ounce of syrup, adding seltzer, then adjusting to taste. Throw in a couple fresh springs of thyme and enjoy!

(The syrup will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.)

Irish Car Bomb Ice Cream Float

Uh, need I say more? It’s dessert. Made with booze. This thing pretty much sells itself.

If ever there was a testament to my obsessive need to bring food ideas to fruition, this is it. I was having a tough time coming up with a St. Paddy’s Day post after discovering that the Brown Eyed Baker already made Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes last year. (I was totally stealing the idea from the head baker at Johnny’s café anyway, so I guess it serves me right!) Then on Thursday morning, I started thinking about ice cream floats. By 8:00 a.m., the KitchenAid ice cream bowl attachment was headed my way via express shipping, and recipes for Baileys ice cream, whiskey caramel sauce, and whiskey whipped cream had been hunted down and bookmarked.

If you don’t want to bother with making ice cream, I believe Häagen-Dazs also sells a Baileys ice cream. But I will just say that the homemade version is frighteningly delicious. Especially when it contains swirls of whiskey caramel. It’s even great for breakfast. Not that I would know. Just this theory I have.

This is definitely one boozy dessert. I’m not really big on Guinness, but I used it here to stay true to the drink. If you feel the same way I do about Guinness, try using Beamish or Murphy’s in its place. (It’s been a while since I had either of these beers, but I remember being partial to Beamish ages ago.)

(P.S. I realize that the ICB doesn’t exactly have the most politically correct of names. To anyone who might find my decision to retain the title in this post offensive, you have my apologies in advance.)

 

Baileys Ice Cream
(from Nigella Lawson)

yield: approximately 1 quart

  • 575ml whole milk (just under 2 1/2 cups)
  • 450ml heavy cream (just under 2 cups)
  • 125ml Baileys Irish Cream (1/2 cups)
  • 1 whole vanilla bean
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 225g sugar (1 cup)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the milk and cream in a sauce pan. Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the caviar, then add the caviar and the pod to the mixture.

Bring the mixture to a slow boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat. Remove the vanilla bean pod from the mixture and discard.

Combine eggs, sugar, and vanilla extra in a bowl. Beat together at medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture is thick, smooth, and pale yellow in color.

Measure out 1 cup of the milk/cream mixture. Slowly add it to the egg mixture while beating on low speed. (By doing this you are warming up [or “tempering”] the eggs, so they won’t turn into cooked grossness when you add them to the hot milk/cream.)

Slowly stir egg mixture into milk/cream. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Pour mixture through a sieve into a clean bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, placing plastic wrap directly on the custard (to keep a skin from forming), and refrigerate until chilled completely. (This step in the process tripped me up a bit because I didn’t want the plastic wrap to come in contact with the still-hot custard. I let it cool down a bit, then did my best to skim off the little bit of skin that did form.)

Once the ice cream is completely chilled, process it according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. Let the finished ice cream soften a bit, then swirl in the whiskey caramel sauce (recipe below).

Whiskey Caramel Sauce
(from The Burp! Recipe Collection)

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • just enough water to cover the sugar and bottom of the pan
  • 1 cup of whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup of Irish whiskey

Note: If you’re just using this for the above batch of ice cream, you could definitely cut the recipe in half. I wound up with 1 cup of leftover caramel. (Not that I’m complaining!)

Add sugar to a medium saucepan and shake to evenly distribute. Add just enough water to cover the sugar.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, paying close attention and swirling occasionally. Once the mixture turns a dark amber color (after about 5–7 minutes), remove from heat.

Whisk in cream and whiskey. Let caramel cool a bit before adding it to your ice cream.

Whiskey Whipped Cream
(from The Pioneer Woman)

  • 1 cup of heavy cream (very cold)
  • 3 tbsp of sugar
  • 2 tbsp of Irish whiskey

Combine all ingredients and beat on high until stiff, approximately 4 minutes.

Irish Car Bomb Ice Cream Float

Add a couple scoops of ice cream to a glass, then pour in your Irish stout of choice. (Ignore the skimpy amount of ice cream in the image below. I feared wasting any more after the first attempt at controlled foaminess got very out of hand.)

 

Fill glass nearly to the top, saving room for the whipped cream.

 

Top with a hefty dose of whipped cream, then serve. (If you’d like to make a big fun foamy mess, just pour some more stout on top of the whipped cream.)

Sláinte!

 

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