Grenadine for Grownups

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In my former life I was a bartender. That’s where I developed an understanding of flavor, the way flavors work together, how to balance them. When I started tending bar, longer ago than I care to admit, drinks generally ran sweet. It’s what people knew. It’s what they expected. That changed over time and people came to expect a balanced cocktail, one that balances sweet, sour and bitter.

The two worst perpetrators of overly sweet cocktails are sour mix and grenadine.

Never—I repeat NEVER—buy sour mix. All you need is lemon juice, water and sugar. Make it yourself. Or better yet, make simple syrup of equal parts sugar and water and use that and lemon juice. It’s easy, will taste better and isn’t full of unnecessary ingredients. (A quick internet search reveals that one of the most common brands contains only 3% juice, preservatives, artificial color, and oddly, milk solids.)

Most store bought grenadine is the same as sour mix in that they contain very little actual juice, just a ton of corn syrup and food coloring. The Spanish word for pomegranate is granada and grenade in French. Any guesses the etymology of grenadine?

Actual, for real grenadine has levels of flavor and a brightness missing in the store bought stuff. It’s for grown-up cocktails.

I spent a few years mixing drinks at a place that made grenadine with pomegranate molasses. Pomegranate molasses is by slightly sweetening pomegranate juice and then reducing it. The cooking process brings out darker, more complex flavors than straight pomegranate juice would yield.

Use this in cocktails like a Clover Club, a Jack Rose or a Ward 8.

Grenadine
(Makes 1 pint)

In a medium sauce pan combine pomegranate molasses, sugar and water. Heat over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. Add orange flower water. Refrigerate.

Thanks to my friend, and former co-worker, Cristi DeLucca for helping me to confirm the ratios for the recipe. If you’re in Chicago go see her behind the bar at Bangers and Lace. Ask her to make you a Ward 8.

Just Do It

mustardSome things aren’t nearly as hard as we think they’re going to be. Cooking the Thanksgiving turkey, for instance. Or programming the VCR. Or particle physics. Or making mustard.

Mustard is crazy easy to make. It’s so easy we don’t buy mustard in our house anymore. We just make it. It takes few days, so a little planning is needed, but not a whole lot of attention or active time is called for.

(Tangent: According to Wikipedia, mustard is “commonly paired with,” among other things, pizza and sushi. That’s wrong on so many levels…)

The recipe below is a very basic recipe. It works fine on its own, but use it as a starting point for experimentation. Play around with the ratios of mustard seed (the brown is spicier than the regular yellow), add some dried tarragon, throw in some honey or brown sugar, or try red wine or a splash of bourbon. The only thing I would caution against experimenting with is the ratio of liquid. Nobody likes runny mustard.

The finished mustard will be bitter, but let it sit for a day or two and that will dissipate.

Coarse Mustard

Combine all ingredients and let sit for two days. Blend to desired consistency. Refrigerate for a day or two before using to allow bitterness to dissipate.

Yes. Another pickle related post.

cranberry-sauceLike the vast majority of people these days (or least of Americans), I grew up on cranberry sauce that came out of a can. We had certain, unspoken rules about it in our house. It needed to maintain the shape of the can when put on the serving dish; it needed to be sliced with a knife and not scooped with a spoon; and the kind with whole cranberries was certainly NOT allowed. But, sometime in my early-20’s, I saw an actual, for real recipe for cranberry sauce and was absolutely astonished by how easy it was. It’s ridiculously easy. Like, I-can-make-it-in-the-time-it-would-take-me-to-find-a-can-of-it-in-the-supermarket easy.

We’ve got a few good, simple cranberry sauce variations in our archives, but there’s always room for one more, right?

I came up with this recipe last year at my wife’s behest. It’s slightly more complicated than the above recipes, but is still pretty simple and doesn’t involve a whole lot of active prep time.

pickledcranPickled Cranberries

Place spices in a muslin bag, or tie in cheese cloth. Add vinegar, spices and sugar to a sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add cranberries and cook until berries just begin to burst. About 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and transfer to a nonreactive bowl. Cover and let sit overnight. Remove spice bag and refrigerate. As with so many other recipes, after a couple of days the flavors will become really good friends.

Post Script: I just showed my kid a picture of sliced, canned cranberry sauce.  She thought it looked ridiculous.

In a Pretty Pickle

cornichonSo, my mother-in-law found my pickle stash.

I don’t know how it happened.

So, the only thing I can do is to make more pickles and hope there will be enough to get through the next nine months until cucumbers are back in season. My fingers are crossed that 100 jars will do it. That’s not crazy, is it? Rational people who live in smallish apartments do that sort of thing all the time, right?

The thing is it’d be a shame to throw away all that brine once the pickles get eaten. Reusing the brine for more pickles is fine for refrigerator pickles, but I can my pickles. Reusing brine to can is a dicier proposition because science. Besides, I don’t have the space to store it.

It doesn’t mean, however, that leftover canning brine can’t be used for something other than pickles. Like fried chicken. It’s not as weird as it sounds. We’ve all seen buttermilk fried chicken, where the chicken is marinated in buttermilk. The acidity in the buttermilk tenderizes the meat. There’s plenty of acid in vinegar, so…

Place 4 chicken breasts in a gallon Ziploc bag along with the brine from a quart jar (or 2 pint jars) of pickles. Remove as much air as possible and seal the bag. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours. When you’re ready to cook, remove from brine, and pat dry. Then prepare as you normally do.  Obviously, that’s going to include includes our Ozark Fried Chicken Seasoning, right?

Reverse Root Beer Floats

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I needed an assistant. I needed someone who would handle the mundane grunt work. Someone to write recipe notes for me; to scrape vanilla beans for me; to do the dishes for me.

The hitch, though, is that I don’t have the money to pay a decent assistant. But, with a little perseverance on my part I found someone who was willing to work for Pop Rocks.

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Granted, she needs to be in bed with the lights out by 8:00, but who am I to argue with the price?

This time of year the canister for our ice cream maker basically lives in the freezer. After every batch of ice cream or sorbet, it gets washed and put right back into the freezer so it’ll be ready for the next recipe. Recently, with an itch to make something frozen, and in the mood for something different I hunted down the root beer extract we had left over from a horribly failed attempt candy making venture.

Middle age, being the jerk that it is, has required that we look for alternatives to dairy in our house. While the original recipe (from America’s Test Kitchens The New Best Recipe) calls for whole milk and heavy cream, I used soy creamer and coconut cream in place of whole milk and heavy cream respectively. This recipe makes for a good base for most ice creams (just substitute another extract flavor), but works best with heavier flavors that can stand up to the coconut.

My newly hired assistant also expects a certain amount of entertainment and fun, so what we really needed was a vanilla soda so we could make Reverse Root Beer Floats.

We carry three different vanilla beans at the Spice House, but I settled on the Mexican beans. In contrast to the others, especially the Madagascar, I get earthier notes off the Mexican beans (think coffee and bitter chocolate), that I figured would work better with the root beer flavors.

Root Beer Ice Cream

  • 1 ½ cup coconut milk (or heavy cream)
  • 1 ½ cup soy half and half (or whole milk)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 tsp root beer extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste

Position a strainer over a medium bowl set in a larger bowl containing ice water. Heat the coconut milk, half and half and ½ cup of sugar in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until steam appears and the milk is warm (about 175 degrees), about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the yolks and remaining ¼ cup sugar in a medium bowl until combined and pale yellow. Whisk half the warm mixture into the beaten yolks, ½ cup at a time, until combined. Whisk the milk-yolk mixture into the warm milk in the sauce pan; set the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until steam appears, foam subsides and the mixture is slightly thickened or an instant read thermometer registers 180-185 degrees. (Do not boil or the eggs with curdle.) Immediately strain the custard into the bowl set in the ice bath, stirring occasionally to help it cool. Cover and refrigerate until and instant-read thermometer registers 40 degrees or lower, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

Add root beer extract and vanilla paste and stir well. Pour the custard into the ice cream machine canister and churn, following the manufacturer’s instructions, until the mixture resembles soft-serve ice cream. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container, press plastic wrap flush against the surface, cover the container, and freeze the ice cream until firm, at least 2 hours.

Vanilla Bean Soda

Combine sugars, water in salt in a medium sauce pan. Split vanilla beans lengthwise with the tip of a paring knife. Using the back of the knife scrape the seeds from the pods and add them to the saucepan. Add the pods to the saucepan.

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Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugars are dissolved. Let cool a bit and pour into an airtight container. Refrigerate overnight.

Strain and discard pods.

To serve combine ½ oz. (2 tbsps) with 8 oz. (1 cup) chilled club soda. Add syrup slowly to avoid foaming. Stir well. Or, add 4 oz. (½ cup) syrup to 1 liter of chilled club soda. (Again, add syrup carefully to avoid foaming.)

My trusty assistant forgot about the Pop Rocks altogether. She was too bugging me to taste the ice cream.

Bread and Butter Pickles

Bread and Butter Pickles

I have a confession to make: Last summer I went on a pretty hardcore bender. In the process I became a living Portlandia sketch. I pickled everything I could get my hands on. Working a couple of days a week at a farmers market meant I got my hands on plenty.

See, over the last few years I’ve become increasingly interested (okay, obsessed) with preservation and the surprising number of foods we still eat that came about simply to avoid spoilage and to have something to eat in February. Cured or smoked sausages, ham and bacon, jams, dried fruits and herbs all began as a way to avoid spoilage. So did duck confit. Beer and wine likely started as a means to lengthen the shelf life of barley and grapes. As did pickling.

Roughly defined, pickling involves using a liquid base that inhibits bacterial growth. Acid, salt brine and vegetable or olive oil all do the trick. My bender resulted in putting up far too many jars of pickled fruits and vegetables for a normal family of three to eat, and a kitchen that perpetually smelled like vinegar. (Although, between my pickles and the jam my wife made we would have been set if that brutal Midwestern winter dragged on any longer. So, it’s not all bad.)

The Spice House carries a great pickling spice blend that makes a great base for dill pickles, but I think my favorite style is the sweet bread and butter pickles. My mother-in-law agrees and did her part to move a few jars. She started asking politely a few months ago when I’d be making more. Now that cucumbers are showing up at the farmers markets, she’ll be relieved to know that I can start making them again.

After trying a few recipes I found online, I made one that was close to what I was looking for, but was a little heavy on the celery seed, so I pulled back on that. If memory serves, I also had to adjust out of necessity. I think I was short on white vinegar and/or white sugar and made up the difference with cider vinegar and/or brown sugar. The changes not only made a huge difference, but gave me the exact pickles I was tasting in my head.

I made a batch of these last week. Somehow, though, three jars went mysteriously missing. Curiously, my mother-in-law had been over to babysit.

Bread and Butter Pickles
(makes approximately 7 pint jars)

  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups cider vinegar
  • ¾ cups brown sugar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 4-4 ½ pounds of cucumbers

Wash and sterilize 7 pint jars, lids and rings.

Slice cucumbers into rounds about ⅛ inch thick.

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In a heavy sauce pan combine vinegars, sugars and salt over medium heat. Stir periodically until sugars and salts are dissolved.

To each sterilized pint jar add:

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Pack each jar tightly with sliced cucumbers, leaving ½ inch head space.

Fill each jar with hot brine and cap. Wipe rims with a clean, damp towel. Place in refrigerator for at least two days to allow flavor to develop, but try to allow them to refrigerate for at least two weeks.

Alternately, instead of refrigerating, process the jars in a water bath and store in a cool, dark space where your mother-in-law can’t find them