Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: The Marvel Cocktail

Sorry for the delay on posting. I've been very busy ever since cracking open the cocktail shaker. I'll talk about the things I've been doing in another post.

The Marvel Cocktail

This week's cocktail was chosen in honor of the Captain America movie that opened last Friday. We got dressed up in our S.H.I.E.L.D. gear to attend the midnight showing, so you can see that this was a big deal. We loved the movie, and when 12 Bottle Bar posted the Marvel Cocktail for the same reason, I knew we had to continue the celebration by trying it. The name of this cocktail really has nothing to do with Marvel Comics, as the drink predates it, but

The Marvel Cocktail:

2.25 oz Rum
2.25 tsp Sirop de Citron (see below)
2.25 tsp Grenadine

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe

The original drink proportions given by the Savoy are 3/4 part rum, 1/8 part sirop de citron, and 1/8 part grenadine. The measurements above are how the 12 Bottle Bar translates it. This is kind of annoying to mix. Maybe it would have been better to make it like this: 1 part sirop de citron, 1 part grenadine and 6 parts rum. If 1 part = 1/2 oz, then that would make a 4oz drink that would fit into a large martini glass. If you want a 3oz drink, use the measurements above. Otherwise, if you don't mind a slightly smaller drink, you could do 2 tsp sirop de citron, 2 tsp grenadine and 2 oz rum. That would give you a fairly standard 2 oz of spirit plus flavorings.

Sirop de Citron
2.5 Lemons, thinly sliced
500 g Sugar

Slice the lemons and toss them in the sugar
Let stand in a non-reactive bowl for 2 to 3 days
Add the mixture to a saucepan and bring to a low simmer
Stir until any remaining sugar is dissolved
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve
Discard the solid or use them elsewhere
Optional – if syrup is too thick, thin with a little water

I am not sure what size lemons this requires, but I suspect mine were a bit small. I actually used three lemons to balance out the fact that the ones I had were considerably smaller than the typical Sunkist lemons found at most supermarkets, but I think I should have used more, since my syrup came out very thick and not as strongly flavored as perhaps it should have been. It's also only light yellow, as opposed to the deep yellow described, and the final drink color is not the same as the 12 Bottle Bar picture. Still, I liked the flavor, and I also think it will make a great lemonade, since the inclusion of the peel gives it a more sophisticated taste than the juice alone.

The verdict: Based on the drink description, I expected this to be a very rum-forward drink, but I found it to be a grenadine-forward drink. One guest even thought it tasted somewhat of cotton candy. While that would not have occurred to me, I can't disagree. I would like to try it with a darker rum and a stronger sirop de citron.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Basil & Grapefruit Paloma

Basil & Grapefruit Paloma

This week, I decided to try a drink I saw over on Indie Fixx, a Basil & Grapefruit Paloma. Apparently, the Paloma is a very popular drink in Mexico. It is a tequila-based highball, using grapefruit soda and lime. Since I didn't have the sparkling lime water called for in Indie Fixx's recipe, I changed things a bit to use lime juice and seltzer instead. Here's the recipe I used.

Basil & Grapefruit Paloma:

1 leaf Basil
2 oz Tequila
3 oz Grapefruit juice
3 oz Seltzer
Juice of 1 small lime (1/2 oz)
salt to rim the glass (optional)

Rim a tall glass with salt if you like.
Muddle one basil leaf in the bottom of the glass.
Add a handful of ice
Pour in the tequila, lime juice.
Top off with the grapefruit juice and then the seltzer.
Garnish with a lime wedge.

The verdict: I found the taste to be basically a sparkling grapefruit margarita. Everyone agreed that the salt was an irritating distraction rather than a positive aspect. It even had Scott thinking of pretzels, rather than margaritas. The basil was an interesting note in the background, since there was only one leaf. I think it took the edge off of the grapefruit, which needed doing since there was no sugar. It was too grapefruity for Scott. I think it would be more enjoyable with perhaps a sugared rim, and maybe less grapefruit and more seltzer.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What I do during a brown out

Cassis Ice Cream

When I tried the ice cream, it turned out to be a lovely texture despite the lack of an ice cream churn. With the brown outs we've had over the last few days thanks to a heat wave and our neighbors cranking their air conditioners to the limit, I imagine I'll be eating it all in the next few days.

Natural Cream Wensleydale

Natural Grey Wensleydale

Another thing I've done lately is spin up a total of 5oz of natural colored Wensleydale from a Michigan farmer. This is the fiber I bought last fall, just after I moved here, at the spinning presentation. Finally, thanks to my attempts to participate in Tour de Fleece, I have spun it up.

I'm not participating in the full blown Tour, but I have been trying to spin at least a little every day that I can. This past weekend, there was no spinning because we went to Stratford, Ontario with friends. We saw Merry Wives of Windsor at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. The rest of the weekend was spent exploring the lovely town of Stratford, both on foot and on a tandem bicycle. It was a great weekend getaway, and my first time in Canada.

We returned home to a brown out, which seemed to end Monday, then the power went down again on Tuesday. Yesterday, I spent doing yard work, and I managed to get some spinning and studying done while the sun was up. Last night, we went to a movie just to be somewhere with lighting after dark. Today, power returned just as I finished my book. Hopefully it's over now, and we can actually host drink night. Admittedly, though it was good for my productivity to have the computer and the TV out of the picture all day.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Black Currant Ice Cream

Black Currant

The black currants I did not use to make jam -- 150g to be precise -- went into making cassis ice cream. I combined two recipes in particular, after reviewing a number. Neither of these recipes call for an ice-cream maker, and I suppose I could have simply divided this one by 1/3, but I was especially interested in trying this one because it is entirely proportional, so I could use it no matter how much I harvested. The only real change from the second recipe was that I added an egg in the manner described in the first recipe.

Since most of my followers don't speak French, here's what I did:

I boiled the black currants in a little water for a few minutes to soften them. The currants quickly became soft, broke and began to boil. I transferred them to the blender and liquified them. Because the mixture was thicker than the juice I was expecting, I measured the amount that came out of the blender and added enough water to get it back to the original weight of the fruit before boiling. Next, I added 1/2 the weight of the currants in powdered sugar. I seperated an egg and added the yolk to this mixture. I placed the sugared juice in the freezer to cool. Then, I whipped the eggwhite to hard peaks and popped that bowl in the refrigerator. In a separate bowl, I whipped 2/3 the volume of the currant juice of whipping cream.

local whipping cream

You should have seen the cream. I bought local whipping cream from Calder Brothers Dairy for the first time, It was so rich that when I poured it out of the bottle, there were globs of cream so thick you would think it had already been whipped. When I tried to shake it a little to homogenize it before using it in vodka cream sauce for last night's dinner, I actually managed to whip it slightly in the bottle. I have never before seen cream so rich. I misjudged how much I would need for the ice cream, butterbeer and vodka sauce, so I envision more home made ice cream, strawberry shortcake and possibly Devon-style double-cream in our very near future -- like next week.

Cassis Ice Cream

"Imitation" Maraschino Cherries

Making imitation Marachino cherries

Yesterday, I dove into preserving the cherries I had pitted. After everything I had heard about real Luxardo maraschino cherries, 12BottleBar happened to post about how to make imitation ones, which apparently require sour cherries to be most authentic. Since I had sour cherries, and I wasn't sure if they would really be good for jam, and we have real Luxardo maraschino liquor, I decided to dive in and make "imitation" maraschino cherries -- which are more real than the stuff at most stores that is legally labeled "maraschino cherries". First, I had to brine the cherries and make the cherry syrup. A lucky find of bottled sour cherry juice at the nice grocery store where I went to pick up our Michigan maple syrup meant that I did not have to sacrifice a third of the cherries for making the syrup. Bringing the cherries for a day helps to preserve them and allows them to soak up more of the syrup when they are transferred later. The syrup also had to cool and sit for a day before adding the maraschino liquor. By this afternoon, everything was ready -- except for a pretty container. I combined it all, and in a few weeks the salt and syrup will be balanced out and they will be ready to use.

"Imitation" Maraschino cherries
Luxardo maraschino liquor with my imitation maraschino cherries.

Jam Making

Fruit for preserving

At the beginning of the week, I decided to tackle the daunting task of trying to preserve the fruits harvested from our garden. This was a task I found daunting because I had never actually made jam before, just cut some strawberries for the other people who worked their magic in the back room. Also, I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do with any of it. The picture above shows the strawberries, black currants and sour cherries I harvested and pitted or de-stemmed, as well as rhubarb and apples from the market all prepped for processing.


Strawberries and rhubarb were easy enough. After weighing the strawberries left from last week, and going out to pick an additional 4 oz of strawberries that day, I decided to combine them into strawberry-rhubarb freezer jam. With the guidance of some online sources, I mainly used the recipe on the box of pectin for strawberry freezer jam, substituting rhubarb for some of the strawberries. I did use one cup less of sugar, similar to some of the online recipes I had seen. I also only had one box of pectin, and I was planning to make several jams. When I bought it, I thought it was enough for processing a large batch of fruit, but then I read fruit quantities on the freezer jam recipes and realized that I needed more! I decided to use almost all of it on the strawberry rhubarb and boiled it the longest time I saw recommended for processing rhubarb to soften it. It set up beautifully.

Black Currant

The harder decision was what to do with the black currants. On the one hand, I wanted to make more jam, but on the other hand, memories of French glace au cassis (black currant ice cream) lured me that direction. Ultimately, I decided to use some for making jam and to reserve the rest for making ice cream.

Making black currant apple jam

I decided to use the apples as a neutral base for the strong black currant flavor. I had been planning to combine them with one of the other fruits, but I wasn't sure if it would be sour cherries, black currants, or both together. What led me to my final resolve was a drink that my Duien and I used to enjoy on a weekly basis at The Marlay House: Strongbow cider with crème de cassis. Since I love the combination of black currant and apple, I decided to give it a go, using a recipe for apple honey lemon jam as a base and adding just a handful of currants. I ended up relying almost entirely on the pectin in the apples with just a dash of the powdered stuff, and it set up beautifully. I did find all of the prep of the apples to be a big pain. When the sliced apples finally began to soften after a lot of cooking, and I could smash them a bit with the potato masher as directed, I ended up with what was basically applesauce with currants. In the future, I think I will use the method from my apple butter recipe, where you simply quarter the apples and cook them with skins and cores, then run them through a chinois or sieve. This gives the sauce more flavor, vitamins, and apparently the pectin is also primarily located in the cores and peels. What did amaze me about this recipe was how adding the sugar took it from applesauce to apple jam consistency. The apple-currant jam also set up beautifully, and turned a gorgeous ruby hue. I may have simmered it for a ridiculous amount of time though. Word to the wise: do not try to make two different jams at once; you can't pay enough attention to one of them -- in this case, the strawberry-rhubarb that was bubbling away as I sauteed the apple-cassis. Also, use an extra-deep pot, even if you have a small amount of fruit, or it could boil over, inundating your stovetop as you desperately try to catch the flowing juices in the random extra pan sitting on your other burner. Yeah, don't do it that way.

Strawberry-rhubarb jam and apple-black currant jam
Strawberry jam to the left, cassis-apple jam, right.

Cocktail Wednesdays: Butterbeer

Butter Beer

In honor of the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, this week's drink was butterbeer. I used the recipe from this week's Working Class Foodies episode featuring the drink. Now, butterbeer as described in the books, is only mildly alcoholic, and the WC Foodies version is completely non-alcoholic, though they suggest adding a shot of bourbon if desired.


3 Tbsp Butterbeer Syrup (see below)
Seltzer Club Soda
2 oz Bourbon (optional)

To a tall mug, add Butterbeer Syrup, bourbon (if desired), and top with Seltzer Club Soda.

Butterbeer Syrup:

3/4 cup Brown Sugar
2 Tbsp Water

5 Tbsp softened butter
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup heavy cream

Add brown sugar and water to a small saucepan and heat over medium high heat. Stir constantly. Keep a glass of water to the side for dipping your spoon or heat-proof spatula in. Bring to a low boil and remove from heat when candy thermometer reads 240ºF. Stir in butter, vanilla, salt and lemon juice. Once these are incorporated, add heavy cream, mix and let cool.

(Image of Emma Watson and one of the Phelps twins drinking butterbeer at Universal Studios from here)

The verdict: The syrup is amazing, similar to butterscotch or caramel, but with a beautiful tang from the lemon juice that keeps it from being too cloying. The first reaction to the finished drink from everyone else was how strong the whisky taste was, but I wasn't so sure. I felt that the sharpness was actually from the seltzer in the original recipe. I tried adding more syrup, and that made it better, but I still felt that you could barely taste the syrup and I wasn't enamored. I tried another using club soda rather than seltzer, which I thought was much smoother. The sweet flavor came out much better, even with the original syrup quantity, and the taste of the whiskey was not strong. Still, I'm not satisfied.

(Butterbeer movie still found at

As you can see, the color and texture matched neither the theme park version nor the movie version shown above. Particularly unappealing about this version of butterbeer is the head, which does not dissipate, but floats on the top like some kind of buttery foam or scum. It's not bad tasting, but it's a very strange texture, and would be better if it were lighter, like the head on beer. Butterbeer should be able to be served hot as well as cold, and I can't imagine this one hot. I suppose I was expecting something closer to hot buttered rum, but with more foam. (On the other hand, the hot buttered rum shown here looks just right.) According to Wikipedia, the drink served at Universal Studios is very similar to cream soda. Some butterbeer recipes include cream soda. Some butterbeer recipes and some hot buttered rum recipes contain less butter. I'm interested in trying other recipes. I wonder if we can convince our friend who loves to homebrew to try this one. We could also try this historical buttered beer recipe. I am also wondering if we could adapt a cream soda recipe to end up with better results. Interestingly, the original cream soda recipe used acid and sodium bicarbonate to fizz, but I think I like the idea of a yeast based soda better than either sodium bicarbonate or seltzer. A cream soda made with brown sugar does seem to have a good color and good potential, and I'm curious about what I'm reading about lactose sugar. Maybe butterbeer is yeast-based cream soda left to ferment a little too long? Anyway, lots of ideas to try.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Grog


Because I'm still trying to go through the basics, the drink we tried this week was Grog. (Sorry for the delay, and the fact that the best photo I have is still blurry.) This one is historically significant, and not for being the drink of pirates, but for being the drink of the Royal Navy. Per 12BottleBar:

"After the British conquest of Jamaica, the Admiralty switched its sailors’ daily ration from beer or brandy to rum. Some 85 years later, Admiral Edward Vernon found straight rum excessive and ordered his sailors’ rations cut with water and lime. As the lime juice, in the process, prevented scurvy, the drink caught on, and it became known as “Grog” — from Vernon’s nickname, “Old Grog”.

With its basic combination of sweet, sour, strong, weak, Grog is nothing more than a simple punch. There are no pretensions or complexities here. It is what it is — a tasty, light drink that’s perfect for summer."

2 tsp Brown Sugar
0.5 oz Lime Juice
2 oz Rum
4 oz Water

Stir all ingredients in mixing glass.
Pour into a collins or rocks glass with a few large ice cubes.
Garnish with a lime wheel.

We debated whether the ice was really historical. Those sailors probably did't have any, but it was hot enough that I was happy to.

The verdict: I have to agree that it is a simple, tasty, light summer drink. It is not the hard, strong drink that I would have originally associated with sailors and pirates. As I was mixing, we ran out of lime juice, and Scott got one that had mostly lemon instead of lime. The lemon was definitely not as good, and Scott found it too acidic. The lime was a better combination with the brown sugar. It's not a crisp sort of a summer drink, it's more tropical, like a fruity drink without the fruit.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Green Almonds

Last week, I went to a small neighborhood grocer that I had never been to before. I had been curious, and a couple of folks in my knitting group recommended them. I was impressed by the selection of produce, and the prices, which were mostly much lower than the prices at the large chain store in our neighborhood. Plus, along with hard to find things like passionfruit, heirloom tomatoes, and guava, there were things there that I had never seen before: like green almonds.

This isn't a picture of the green almonds I bought, since I ate those while my camera was charging. The picture is from here. This article was the one that piqued my interest and made me go back this week to pick them up and try them. Unfortunately, with the short season for green almonds, I was unable to get them early enough to eat whole while the nut is completely undeveloped, but I did get them in the second stage, when the nut is milky and grassy with only a slight hint of amaretto. A really lovely snack.

I found that this grocer sold mostly Arabic and Latin foods, and they have breads from a local arabic bakery as well as unusual cheeses and yogurts. Then there are the huge bins of different types of spiced and roasted almonds and sunflower seeds, and a whole salad bar of different types of olives. I am definitely continuing to shop there. Plus maybe this will give me the confidence to go into some of the local groceries whose signs are in Arabic.