Tag Archives: cocktails

My First Workshop: Booze Infusion Blowout!!

 

Inspired by last winter’s soup swap, my friend Elena asked a little while back if we could do a booze swap, tasting and trading homemade infusions. It sounded like a great plan (what could be better than sharing creativity in cocktail form?), but there was a minor glitch. Some of the people who wanted most to participate had not infused liqueurs before and weren’t quite sure how to go about it.  And so, a plan was born: a two-part party with infusion taking place in Part I, an exchange of boozy goodness in Part II.

Part I, the workshop portion, took place yesterday. Infusions were made, drinks were drunk, good times were had. My house still smells like ginger, zesty and fresh.

I highly recommend throwing your own infusion party! Here is how to do it:

Step 1: Roll Out the Beverages.


I had some previously made infusions on hand. Most of them were on the sweeter side — rhubarb, hibiscus, ginger-peach, and earl grey. These I set out with a pitcher of OJ, a pitcher of lemonade, and some seltzer. Nothing too fancy, just some general mixers to cut the drinks a bit so we weren’t just slugging back multiple tastings of uncut liquor. I had a more savory concoction, too: a caraway-dill vodka with a hint of garlic. This I mixed with the meager drop of vermouth I had on hand and a dash of olive juice for a strong and pickly dirty martini. One guest claimed that the caraway-dill vodka was great with orange juice, but I’m not sure I believe him.

Step 2: I Love Jars. Get Some Jars.


We asked participants to bring a bottle of booze and some flavors they would like to work with, and we provided jars to make things a little easier.

Step 3: Permission to Wing It.


Because I was in a period of transition (AKA post-school, pre-state-licensing floundering) when the booze party plan was hatched, we decided to call this shindig a workshop. I was super psyched to take on a leadership role and teach some things, and I typed up some official sounding language in the invite about how we would discuss infusion and sample some past projects before assembling our concoctions. It all sounded very orderly. In fact, it was not very orderly at all, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I vaguely pointed to the line-up of infusions and mixers, and people poured drinks and rolled up sleeves and started slicing and dicing fruits and veggies and spices on the kitchen island, tumbling pretty colors and smells into jars.

I offered a little bit of advice as things trucked along: the zest of citrus fruits is the best part to infuse. When using super crazy hot peppers, taste your infusion hourly to make sure it’s not getting out of hand. Fruits and veggies should be ready to strain in a couple of weeks. Teas will only take a day or so. But mostly, we all just winged it, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at each other’s colorful combinations, lining up shiny jars.

In a few weeks, we will strain our drinks, add some sugar as appropriate, reconvene for swapping and sharing, maybe tie some ribbons on bottles for holiday gifts, resume our kitchen-creative chatter. I look forward to tasting some of these blends next month — I’m eying the vanilla-pear, various gingery concoctions, all of them, really, in all their improvised glory. I can’t wait to taste how they turn out!

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Return of Rhubarb = My Favorite Beverage, Round 2

Rhubarb is more striking-looking with its leaves, but don't eat them. They are poisonous.

Since getting engaged a few months back, I’ve talked several times about making gallons of rhubarb liqueur for my wedding next year. As we have not set a date, I reasoned, I’d better make it now in case we run into crunch time next spring. I think some people might have thought I was joking, but, if there’s one thing I’m serious about, it’s gin. If there’s another, I suppose it’s local produce. And so I am here to restate my commitment to the rhubarb booze, to making as much of it as possible for signature cocktails for Shawn’s and my special day. Now to find a date and a venue that will allow said cocktails…minor details…

I am also here to provide better photos than I did in my last post on this topic.

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, How to Make Rhubarb Liqueur:

Step 1: Chop Rhubarb, however much you have on hand, and put it in a great, big jar. Here we see four large stalks of rhubarb, courtesy of our CSA. That is a gallon jar.

Step 2: Add a little sugar and the zest of one lemon. Give it a shake. It will look shimmery and juicy all at once. You will be pleased.

Step 3: Add gin. The first time I made this, I used vodka, noting that gin would probably be tasty. I then made another batch with gin and confirmed that this yielded a vastly superior beverage. Here I have used a handle (that’s a legitimate unit of measurement, right?) of meh-quality gin. It’s not really worth it to use the good stuff. It will all mellow out in the end.

Steps 4-5: Not pictured. Step 4 is straining. Through a coffee filter is best, but a fine sieve will do if you are feeling impatient (the coffee filter straining takes, approximately, forever). Step 5 is adding simple syrup to taste and pouring it all into a bottle.

Here we see my second batch of the season sitting next to batch #1, strained and bottled earlier this week.

Last year, the first batch of the season was a pale pink due to the pale green stalks of rhubarb that were available early in the season. The second batch looked more like Hawaiian Punch™ due to brighter, rosier stalks. Re-visiting my second batch of liqueur after a mere one day of infusion reveals that this is going to be the case again. Look at the color on this stuff!

OK, so maybe they don’t look that different now, but trust me: the color will deepen in the next week or two. I will give the jar a good shake every couple of days, then strain it, add simple syrup, and let my liqueur join its paler friend waiting for next year. That is, if I can resist the temptation to serve this up at every cocktail party between now and then. It’s spring in a cup, people! Irresistible!

Cream Tea Take Two: Tea-Based Cocktails and Clotted Cream

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I mentioned in an earlier post that my mother and I attempted to make clotted cream for our biennial tea party last month. Finding a legitimate yet manageable recipe for clotted cream can be tricky. Most have you heating cream slowly in a wide, shallow pan, often over a double boiler, until a crust forms on top, then chilling. Some have you starting with raw, unhomogenized milk. Some involve whipping cream with mascarpone and sometimes even sugar, but Momma and I were either too snobby or too ambitious to go in for such whipped up imitations. The real deal versions, the ones that contain only rich, tasty cream, take a long time, what with the gentle heating and the chilling and setting. We did not have a long time, with me arriving the afternoon before the tea party (with much to do), nor did we have access to the raw, full-fat, cream-on-top Jersey cow milk that I am sometimes lucky enough to get my  hands on. My mom and I heated regular heavy cream gently until she needed the stove for other tea-related endeavours, and we tried to let it set, and, when that did not work, tried straining through coffee filters (Alton Brown’s suggestion), but again ran out of time. Ultimately, I scooped out the thickened parts, whipped the rest of it, and folded it all together. It tasted good, and there were no upturned noses at our offer of thick cream on scones, but my Gran would have been apalled to hear it called clotted cream. I vowed to try again and to get it right before the next tea party.

This time around, I came much closer. Not close enough that I don’t need to try again, but closer. For those unfamiliar with clotted cream, it is also known as Devonshire cream (to girls like me, that is, with roots in Devon — the Cornish make it, too, and claim it for their own), and it is thick and smooth and barely golden, and it is wonderful with scones and jam. You can buy it in gourmet stores in the U.S. for six bucks or so for a tiny jar, and the texture is nice, but it’s surely been pasteurized to all hell, and it’s just not the same. Purists may tell you that proper clotted cream cannot be replicated here under any circumstances, because the milk in the U.S. is not the same. That’s all fine and good, but, while mass-produced dairy here is definitely nowhere near what it is across the pond, and while our cows have not been eating good, vitamin-rich English grass, we’ve got some pretty good grass here in the states, and there are some awesome farmers out there feeding it to some healthy cows who then produce some fantastic milk. Nay-saying purists me damned — I think we can make clotted cream stateside. I am happy to keep trying, and I am always happy to host a tea party.

I decided to keep things manageable for myself this time and only provide cream tea fare: scones, clotted cream, and jam.  I also offered up tea-based cocktails. I told guests that they should not bring anything unless there was something they were itching to make, and I was amazed at the lavender shortbreads, adorable open-faced tea sandwiches, brownies, fresh dark cherries and lime blossom tea that appeared on my counter. It was a far better spread than I would have dared dream.

To make the clotted cream, I poured raw, unhomogenized milk into the ceramic pot that sits in my slow cooker. I let it sit in the fridge overnight so the cream could separate, and I supplemented with a little bit of heavy cream. Then I took it out and heated it for a couple of hours on the “warm” setting. To my great delight, the nubbly golden crust typical of real clotted cream formed on the top. The cream got a little thick. I skimmed it off the top, put it in a baking pan to cool, and popped it in the fridge. The now-skimmed milk went back into its bottle for drinking and general milk use. I checked on the cream before bed, and I was happy to note that it clung to the edges of the pan and appeared thick and just about right for clotted cream. Alas, I checked it again in the morning and found the thick parts thick and perfect, the thin parts still thin. Again, I turned to coffee filters. Again, it took forever to strain and was still runny by tea party time. Rather than whipping the runny parts of the cream, I decided to pour it into a jar and shake it, hoping that the thicker, crustier parts would maintain their shape and texture. Here is the weird part: I shook it up in two batches. One thickened up to a consistency similar to that of very thick whipped cream. The other batch separated, after very little shaking, into a runny white liquid and a ball of thick yellow cream. I gather this is how butter is made, with the runny leftover liquid being traditional buttermilk, but the more solid part was far more creamy than buttery, and, when folded into the other batch of cream, it was lovely. The final product had a pale gold color and clotted creamy texture and was very close to what I’d hoped for. Next time around, I will try to cut out the extra steps of straining and shaking by using fresh cream. Still raw, still from Jersey cows. We will see how that goes. I will post a recipe then, or whenever I have a more reasonable number of steps and a less whipped final result.

The cocktails, on the other hand, worked out great this time around. I made an herbal tea sangria with licorice-mint and red zinger tea, a little hibiscus liqueur that I made a few months ago, and white wine. The more popular drink, arguably the better of the two, was an Earl Grey based drink that I called the Grey Lady. Make a pitcher for your next afternoon cocktail party, or serve anytime if you’re not an insomniac who shies away from caffeine in the evening hours.

Recipe: The Grey Lady

You will need:

  • 6 Earl Grey tea bags
  • 1/4 to 1 cup sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • rhubarb infused gin
  • gin
  • water

Steep tea bags and zest of grapefruit and lemon in 4 cups boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove tea bags, add sugar to taste, pour into pitcher, and let cool. Juice the lemon and grapefruit and add to cooled tea. I added a good bit of rhubarb gin, well over a cup, and then added regular gin until it tasted right. If you have rhubarb booze on hand, gin-based or otherwise, I suggest you use it. If you do not, regular gin will suffice, though you may want to increase your citrus a bit. I wound up using roughly 1.5 parts rhubarb gin and 1 part regular gin to 4 parts tea, and it went over well. Mix it up and serve over ice.

Return of the CSA meal plan

Things have been a little scatty for the last few weeks with various travel plans and failing to share our CSA delivery a couple of times. All veggies have been consumed or preserved in some way, except those that are still fresh and viable in the fridge, and discovering and cooking up new veggies has been great. The planning, however, has fallen by the wayside a bit.

So here I am, attempting to get back on track. This week’s delivery was particularly exciting, with 2 very fragrant bunches of herbs and no bok choy in sight. (Sorry, bok choy. I still love you, and you have provided me with terrific opportunities to get in touch with my creative side, but I need a little breather.)

We got:

1 Head Napa Cabbage
1 bunch Green Scallions
1 bunch Red Kale
1 bunch Cilantro
1 bunch Basil
1 bunch Chinese Broccoli Guy Lon
1 Boston Lettuce
1/2 pound Adorable Baby Zucchini
1 Cucumber
1 Green Romaine
1 bunch French Radishes
1 Red Oak Leaf Lettuce

We biked the kale, red oak lettuce, most of the radishes, a little cilantro, and half of the scallions and baby zucchini over to our share sharers this evening, and I resumed contemplating vegetables. Here is what I came up with this time around:

  • Cabbage and potato gratin (I am addicted)
  • Rice sticks with sesame-almond sauce, chinese broccoli, scallions, and cilantro (there’s a chance some pickly bok choy will make its way into this dish)
  • Zucchini frittata with basil
  • Salad! Salad! Salad!

It doesn’t look like much typed up there, but most of those things are good for at least a couple of meals for Shawn and me, and there will be a LOT of salad. I will also make a big batch of pesto to freeze up for colder days when fresh herbs are harder to come by. I learned this trick from my mother, whose pesto is legendary among our family friends. The quintessential summer meal, in my mind, consists of sweet corn, juicy sliced tomatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper and basil, and a pile of my mother’s pesto pasta. Pesto in the wintertime is not only delicious, but has the added bonus of summoning up memories of the long table at Colleen’s house, kids and parents and good friends piled around with lake-wet hair. Definitely a thing worth preserving.

My mom freezes hers in batches big enough to feed a rather large family. As I live with just one other person, I freeze my (less legendary) pesto in ice cube trays to add to soups and frittatas, etc., or to sauce up pasta or sandwiches for the two of us. I freeze it in trays, then toss it all in a freezer bag for the winter. I pulled out the last cube a few weeks ago, and we’ve been eating fresh herb sauces ever since, so it seems like as good a time as any to start building the winter stash.

As for those cucumbers, there’s salad, of course, but also many cocktail applications to explore. I recently muddled some cucumbers and lemon for rhubarby cocktails, which were delicious. And surely something delicious can be done with cucumbers and cilantro, maybe a splash of lime? And there’s always Pim’s, of course, for these breezy evenings, and cucumber is always welcome there…does dreaming about cocktails count as assembling a meal plan? I like to think yes, that I am not digressing too much.

The zucchini basil frittata has been tucked into, and I am off to get started on the rice sticks dish for a picnic tomorrow to celebrate the start of one of my favorite free things to do in Brooklyn with CSA bounty (ours and our friends’) and homebrew. Life is good.

Rhubarb Booze!

Rhubarb liqueur is the reason this blog exists. A couple of weeks ago, I trotted off to the farmer’s market at Grand Army Plaza with the express purpose of picking up my first rhubarb of the season to make booze and the strawberry-rhubarb slop that goes on ice cream and tastes like early summer perfection. There was a nice lady there buying rhubarb herself, and she and I struck up a conversation about the making of liqueurs. She made some with rhubarb last year. She was psyched. She encouraged me to make and have a cupboard full of bitters (which I hope to get going in the next couple of months — adorable market lady, if you ever read this, you’re super influential). She asked if I had a blog. I made one happen in a rather abstract, removed response. That’s how it went down.

After an excellent day of veggie buying, car borrowing, homebrew shopping, and Long-Island-diner-dining, I got going on the rhubarb goodness. We made the gooey ice cream topping (many thanks to the dinner guest who left strawberries in my fridge that week), and I chopped a whole bunch more rhubarb and plopped it into my trusty gallon jar.

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Step one: Chopped rhubarb in jar

That’s a little over a quart of rhubarb. I added lemon zest for good measure, and some sugar, too. In general, I am in favor of leaving the sugar out and adding simple syrup once your infusables have infused. That way, you have more control and can taste for sweetness and tweak to your liking. If you add the sugar at the start, you run the risk of winding up with something sweeter than you’d like. That said, rhubarb is notoriously tart, so I didn’t think there was much risk of oversweetening, and I really wanted to shake it around with a little sugar and watch the juices start to seep out, so that is just what I did. Simple pleasures.

 

rhubarb shaken with sugar and a little zest
rhubarb shaken with sugar and a little zest

 

I added 1.75 litres of vodka, gave it a good swirl to make sure all juices and sugar crystals were submerged, and tucked it away in a dark and cozy spot.

 

Ready to infuse!
Ready to infuse!

 

By the next day, the rhubarb had all floated to the top of the jar, and the vodka had turned a very pale and pretty shade of pink. I let it sit for just shy of two weeks, pinkening and flavoring up, me giving it a shake whenever I thought of it (probably averaged out to every other day). And here it is all infused. I decided it was done when most of the color had leached out of the rhubarb and into the vodka, as it seemed unlikely that the rhubarb was going to give up any more flavor.

 

Ready to strain...
Ready to strain…

 

Because there was some sediment in the bottle (lemon zest and, presumably, fibers that had come out of the rhubarb), I strained it through a coffee filter. I added some simple syrup and poured it into a glass jug. Shawn proclaimed it spring in a bottle.It was coming up on bedtime when all of the vodka had finally dripped through the filter, so we didn’t do much with it that night. I made one simple drink for Shawn and me to share: Rhubarb liqueur with a squeeze of lemon, topped up with plain old seltzer. It tasted bright and only slightly sweet and most refreshing. It would be excellent with some muddled strawberries (of course) and a little bit of fresh mint or maybe even basil. Given my natural affinities, I thought it would also be great with a little splash of gin. Maybe I will skip the vodka middle man and make rhubarb gin next time around…Either way, cocktail possibilities abound, and I highly recommend this easy, pleasing way of bottling spring.

 

Spring in a bottle: Rhubarb boozy goodness
Spring in a bottle: Rhubarb boozy goodness
In Sum: The Recipe
 
What goes in:
4-5 cups chopped fresh rhubarb
zest of half lemon (or to taste)
1/4 cup sugar
1.75 litres vodka
simple syrup of 3/4 cups sugar (roughly 2:1 ratio of sugar to water)
  
How to do it:
1) Shake chopped rhubarb with lemon zest and sugar in large glass jar
2) Add vodka and store in dark place for approximately two weeks, shaking every couple of days
3) Strain, add simple syrup, bottle up and drink!