Sunday, August 24, 2014

MxMo: The Bankhead and Eddington On The Beach




Hello, welcome to my first nervous foray into the monthly blog party known as Mixology Monday, in which a kind fellow drinks blogger plays willing host to a house full of cocktail creatives and supplies a theme for those folks to riff off of.

After narrowly missing the window for last month's Smash theme, I vowed to jump into August's theme with wild abandon. As it happens, our host this month is Rated R Cocktails with an intriguing theme: coconuts.

As some of my old readers might recall, my last adventure with coconut as a shrub ingredient was equal parts amusing and mediocre, so rather than digging that old skeleton out of the closet, I thought I should perhaps think outside the box.

While coconut immediately lends itself to more traditional uses in cocktails, I knew it would be a challenge to work shrub in somehow. I was stuck until my brilliant wife finally screwed in the light bulb that had been flickering rather dimly over my head.

"Since your pineapple shrub is mostly made up of coconut vinegar, wouldn't that count?"

Why, yes. Yes, it would.

The brand of coconut vinegar that I use is made from the sap of coconut trees, which is aged until it ferments and eventually becomes vinegar over nearly a year's time. What can seem particularly misleading about this type of coconut vinegar is that it smells and tastes almost nothing like coconut, in fact taking on a slightly gamey, fermented note reminiscent of the hogo of some funkier rums.

When mixed with pineapple, habenero and turbinado sugar, the resulting shrub is spicy, sharp, and effectively has an almost butterscotch like funk to it. Here's how to make it.

Don Whoa!
12 oz raw coconut vinegar
4 oz white wine vinegar
16 oz pineapple, roughly chopped
12 oz Sugar In The Raw
1-3 habanero peppers, halved, seeded and membranes removed depending on desired heat level

Cut peppers in half, optionally seeding and removing membranes to reduce heat level. Set aside.

Pour white wine vinegar into Pyrex measuring cup and microwave until hot but not boiling. Gently immerse hot peppers into hot vinegar and cover with lid, plate, cling wrap or other means of holding in heat. 

Agitate gently, and check every 15-20 minutes to see if desired spice level has been reached. Remove peppers and any seeds that may have become loosened during steeping process. Set steeped vinegar aside.

Remove top, bottom, and outer skin of pineapple, slicing into rough chunks, until there are 16 ounces of pineapple chunks. You may macerate the pineapple with 12 ounces of Sugar In The Raw by either placing pineapple and sugar in the jar you will be making shrub in and muddling or using immersion blender until a syrupy pulp forms, or alternatively blending pineapple and raw sugar in Vita-Mix and pouring blended results into the glass jar. In either case, put jar of pineapple/sugar mixture into refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or up to 5.

Remove jar from refrigerator and add both coconut and chile infused white wine vinegar to pineapple/sugar mixture. Agitate vigorously and place back in refrigerator for 1 week.

At the end of one week, place two strainers over a large Pyrex measuring cup. Carefully pour contents from the jar into the strainer, occasionally pausing to press on solids to squeeze out excess liquid. Discard solids. 

To bottle, situate tea strainer in funnel, and gently pour shrub through tea strainer into clean bottle. Refrigerate. Shrub should keep bottled in refrigerator for at least six months and likely up to 1 year or more.

Depending on fruit, may yield 16-24 ounces of shrub.
 
In any event, it got me thinking about one of the request in this month's MxMo post in which the host mentioned it might be nice to see something done in the pre-prohibition mold. 

I examined the DNA of two well known-ish drinks from drinking's Golden Age that share pineapple juice in common, and figured I would use my Pineapple/Coconut Vinegar shrub to split the difference.

Borrowing the rye and dry vermouth elements from The Algonquin, and maraschino liqueur from the Mary Pickford and a couple of dashes of Regan's Orange bitters for good measure, may I present: The Bankhead, named for actress and Algonquin Round Table member Taullulah Bankhead.



The Bankhead 

1.75 oz rye whiskey(I used Bulleit)
.75 oz Don Whoa!(see above)
.5 oz dry vermouth
.25 oz maraschino liqueur(Luxardo)
2 dashes orange bitters(Regan's No. 6)

Combine ingredients in mixing glass or tin, stir with ice, 

Strain, up, into cocktail glass.

The Bankhead seems to get around one of the complaints I often hear about The Algonquin, which is that it is generally too dry and not particularly worth doing again. However, The Bankhead incorporates this shrub and its wild, rich tangle of sweetness, subtle heat from the pepper, and undefinable but manageable gaminess from the coconut vinegar, which melds very well with the rye and builds a bridge that closes the gap between it and the herbaceous notes of the dry vermouth.

I guess from a more modern standpoint, one might argue this is kind of like a Bensonhurst with a high dose of pineapple shrub in place of Cynar.

As tasty as that is, I kind of feel like I owe everyone something with a more traditional coconut ingredient: coconut milk.

While my first reaction was to think of Pineapples and Coconuts dancing in a conga line or something of the sort, I thought if I am already doing cocktails with shrubs, I had better go for broke and do something really, really crazy. Cacao nib balsamic shrub, anyone?

Before we get to the cocktail, we need to make this shrub, which I have nicknamed Time's Arrow.

Time's Arrow(Cacao nib balsamic shrub)

16 oz Balsamic Vinegar
8 oz cacao nibs
5 oz turbinado sugar
1/2 vanilla bean

In a sealable, non-reactive container, combine cacao nibs, balsamic vinegar, and vanilla bean. 

Store in refrigerator for 2-3 days, then strain solids. Add 5 oz turbinado sugar to mixture, combine stirring until sugar dissolves. Strain shrub into bottles with a canning funnel. 

Refrigerate. Shrub should remain good for 1 year or so.

If you are a fan of dark chocolate, you're going to dig this. The syrupy body and pronounced sharpness of balsamic vinegar coupled with unsweetened cacao nibs give the impression of a very dark high percentage cacao chocolate bar, just barely sweetened with earthy turbinado sugar and a bit of vanilla bean.

Now that you have cacao nib shrub, let's make this cocktail, which I call Eddington On The Beach.

After a few failed attempts with other base spirits, it became apparent that rum was the spirit for the job. Aged rum was a decent choice, but wasn't really clicking with the cacao shrub/coconut milk combination. I needed heavier body, and there are few heavier than our friend Cruzan Black Strap Rum. I needed a couple of other flavors to round things out, so I bought in Amer Picon which has worked well with this cacao nib shrub before matching it in both body and it's complementary orange flavor which would work with both chocolate and coconut. Rounding the whole thing out was a little bit of turbinado simple syrup. Like so:



Eddington On The Beach

2 oz Cruzan Blackstrap Rum
.5 oz Amer Picon
.5 oz Time's Arrow(cacao shrub, see above)
.5 oz turbinado simple syrup
.25 oz coconut milk

Combine ingredients in mixing tin, shake without ice, then with. 

Strain into Old Fashioned glass over rocks

The result was quite nice in a cocktail geek meets tropical dessert drink kind of way. The light hand with the coconut milk got the flavor across without smoothing off the edges of the spirits to the point they were flat, while also blending with the cacao nib shrub and the pitch black rum in a way that reminded me of a Mounds bar if it had a pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in its wrapper. It was sweet, but not cloying. Smooth, without being boring. One could jazz it up even further if one were inclined with a little bit of Mole bitters or some such thing.

Hell, if you really want to go full vacation mode, you could blend the thing with ice and really go crazy. That said, I think I would recommend the above recipe for weeknights and less whimsical moments. 

As for the name, it is a nod to Arthur Eddington, the British astronomer known for his development of the "Arrow of Time," as well as a jokey take on the pseudo-tiki nature of the drink and a reference to the classic Philip Glass musical piece, "Einstein On the Beach."

I'd like to extend my thanks once more to JFL for hosting this crazy coconut themed shindig and letting me do my inaugural MxMo post on such an interesting and fun topic. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Savory Shrub: Elizabeth Revisited

Hello again.

Apologies for the long delay between posts; I was on holiday in Oregon and didn't have much access to do much in the way of shrub related activities for the past week or so.

To make up for this terrible lapse, this week I wanted to revisit one of the more unusual shrubs that I've done, and that was Elizabeth, an heirloom tomato and berbere shrub I did a couple of years back. When I say unusual, I mean to say that unlike most of the jammier, fruit and herb based options, Elizabeth had the distinction of being the first shrub that I ever did that leaned savory rather than sweet. I won't bore you with all the fine details again in this post, but if you want to re-read the original or haven't read it before, you can do so here.

If one can get past Elizabeth's ruddy, not so glamorous looks, I think the shrub's savory nature really lends itself to some really interesting possibilities outside of being enjoyed by itself; I mean, let's face it, I don't foresee people sitting around sipping on this one with soda they way they might with a strawberry or ginger shrub, so it's likely going to be the backbone of some other delicious and quaffable application.

In regard to those applications, I am hoping to share some of those possibilities with you shortly, beginning with an interesting cocktail that goes its own way, straying adventurously from the path of the world's well-worn vodka fueled brunch staple. 

In the meantime, you'll need to know how to make this delightful megaton payload of umami greatness before Heirloom Tomato season is over, so without further ado, here you are:

Elizabeth

Ingredients:
16 oz heirloom tomatoes
8 oz brown sugar
12 oz white wine vinegar
4 oz apple cider vinegar(Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar)
2 tsp bebere, ground

Equipment:
Colander
Food scale
Sealable non-reactive container
Muddler or heavy spoon
Strainers of increasing fineness
Large measuring cup
Tea strainer
Funnel(preferably canning funnel)
Sealable glass bottle

Wash tomatoes and pat dry. Cut into large chunks and set aside.


Put open non-reactive container on scale and use tare function to zero out the reading. Gently drop tomato chunks into container until desired weight is reached. Use tare function again.

Pour or spoon brown sugar into container until desired amount is reached. Add ground berbere, and using muddler, grind sugar into tomato until a thick, syrupy mixture forms. Seal container and rest mixture in refrigerator for 2-5 hours.

Remove container from refrigerator and unseal. Place on scale, once again using tare function. Add appropriate amount of white wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar to container. Reseal, and place back into refrigerator. Rest jar one week.

After one week, remove container from refrigerator. Arrange strainers in levels of increasing fineness over measuring cup. Strain liquid through strainers, pressing on pulp to express any trapped shrub. 

Place funnel in bottle, and situate tea strainer in funnel opening. Pour strained shrub through tea strainer into bottle, and seal bottle. 

Refrigerated shrub should last from six months to one year.

Enjoy.

See you all later this week with a cocktail!

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Hard Stuff: Laughton

Laughton


One of the most rewarding things about making shrub is finding creative ways to use it outside of the traditional combination of shrub and club soda. If you're lucky, some of them pair quite well with tonic as well as does a grapefruit shrub, or our last shrub, Reverend Powell.

Though Reverend Powell mixed with tonic gives one the faint echo of a gin and tonic, I felt that it should really have the opportunity to shine in a more bibulous manner, so I set off in search of a cocktail that would let this shrub of unusual flavor really strut its stuff. 

The search lasted a bit longer than I expected. I first thought that maybe it would be nice to do more of a shim, which is another name for a low proof cocktail that allows one to get down with their bad self while still remaining upright. This line of curiosity led to experiments with Gentian liqueurs like Bitterman's Amer Sauvage, and aromatized wines like dry vermouth, and even a brief flirtation with the likes of Campari. Ultimately, there was some promise with the Amer Sauvage and the red currant taking on as sort of excellent deeply ripe authentic cranberry note; while this was interesting ground I'd like to till in the future, it just wasn't coming together for this cocktail. 

I had to face the facts: this cocktail was likely going to need a base spirit to be successful. As everyone knows, in today's market there are so many possibilities around, it's hard to even know where to begin. Looking at the basics, I began to whittle down the list. 

My big fear was that the juniper notes in the shrub would clash with anything that didn't have juniper notes in it already(gin) or something fairly broad and neutral in flavor(vodka). I just did a drink with gin, and figured I would do another if nothing else worked, and I didn't have any vodka. 

The next logical step was whiskey. Bourbon, it turned out, was a bit too smooth and flaccid to stand up to the very pronounced fruit flavor of the shrub. When I pulled out the rye, however...oh yes, now we were cooking with gas. 

A generous slug of a big rye, in this case the 90 proof Bulleit variety, with its spicier character and extra muscle, was able to keep the sweetness of the shrub in in check without devolving into insipid juicebox territory. Meanwhile, the currant flavors in the shrub offered a bright, fruity finish that segued effortlessly out of the strong flavors of the whiskey. 

Still, it was missing something; there needed to be another note not to balance the sweetness of the shrub, but something to bring its high notes a little closer to Earth. I know that sherry and shrub favor each other in general, so a dry, nutty Amontillado seemed like a good plan. To brighten things up and tie everything together, a couple of dashes of Regan's No. 6 Orange Bitters were tipped in. 

All in all, I like this one quite a bit. In the past I have found that it's not always easy to reconcile brown liquors with brighter fruit flavors that aren't particularly autumnal such as pear and apple. The combination of the brawny rye with bright fruit is grounded by a subtle savoriness in the sherry, with the orange bitters lending just a hint of citrus to complete the package. It is, dare I say, a nice whiskey drink for a summer day. 

As to the name, as the name of the shrub in this cocktail is Reverend Powell from The Night of The Hunter, the cocktail is named after its director, English actor, Charles Laughton. Laughton appeared in a great deal of classic films including I, Claudius, The Big Clock, and Spartacus to name a few.

Despite his long list of acting credits, Laughton only directed the one film, but given the long standing hold that it's had on countless audiences over the years, he sure as hell looks to have made it count.

LAUGHTON

2 oz rye whiskey(Bulleit)
.75 oz Reverend Powell
.25 oz Amontillado sherry(Lustau)
2 dashes orange bitters(Regan's No. 6)

Combine ingredients in cocktail tin or mixing glass.

Stir with ice until container frosts.

Strain into cocktail glass, up. No garnish.

Enjoy.
 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Shrub #21: Reverend Powell

Reverend Powell
After people get over the initial shock of the concept of drinking vinegar for recreational purposes, you begin to see the wheels turn as you list off all of the various flavors of shrub one can make. The fields of strawberries dancing in one's head, the cascade of crisp, sweet raspberries, or the juicy inspiration of summer at the mention of ripe peaches. The tart bracing delights of red currants...

[Insert Record Scratch Here]

So...yeah, if summer fruit had a social strata, red currants would clearly be one of the thoughtful outcasts who reads Sartre and doesn't like to talk much. They take a lot more effort to work with, but in the end, they are as bright and sharp as other berries, but with a decided air of mystery and subtlety that his more popular counterparts seem to lack ever so slightly.

Red Currants are so under the radar, I am frankly overjoyed and excited every time I run across them at all. The first time I made this particular shrub was probably in 2011 when I had a chance encounter with them wrapped up in their snug cellophane cartons in a grocery store. I had never had anything particularly currant related at the time other than perhaps some creme de cassis in something and maybe a cassis lambic years and years ago. I thought after my brief dalliance with this elusive berry that I would treasure our time together fondly and move on.


Richter's Red Currants
That was until a few weeks ago I happened to be in the same grocery and to my surprise, I stumbled across an entire display of offerings from Richters, the same farm that I had used last time. There were gooseberries and red currants both, and though the thought of experimenting with gooseberries was an exciting one, I knew I had to have another go at red currant shrub.

While making this shrub doesn't register a particularly high degree of difficulty, be warned that when I mentioned them being a lot more effort to work with, I wasn't kidding.


As you can see, red currants are tiny. I mean, really tiny. It takes, as Bertie Wooster might have said, a "goodish" amount of them to make a reasonable quantity of shrub. Paired with the amount of time it takes to remove the tiny stems that are attached to them, it seems like more trouble than its worth, but trust me, when you see the end results, you won't feel that way.

As with any fruit for shrub, grab a colander and wash it thoroughly. Red currants are the sensitive, brooding sort, so be gentle; these guys could become pulp in your fingers when too much rough pressure is applied.

Washing The Currants
The next step is to get a clean and sterilized non-reactive container. As usual, I am using one of my trusty bale jars which I put on the scale before using the scale's tare function to zero out the weight. This will make it a lot easier to portion out and get the correct weight of the currants.

With all of this in place, it's time to get the currants in the jar. Unfortunately, it's not quite as easy as that, since there are a lot of tiny stems and things you have to pull off of these tiny little berries. I find that this process is not quite as excruciating as when one is making a shrub with pie cherries, but it's still mildly irritating.

On the bright side, you don't have to pit anything, so there's that.

The Jar and the Colander(Not the title of a new children's book)
After weighing the appropriate amount of currants into the jar, it's time to gather the sugar. I chose white sugar for this one because I wanted a clean, unencumbered sweetness. I think anything earthier would overpower these guys, and given their subtle flavor, it would be extremely easy to do.

Given the fact I like using these shrubs as soda syrups, I thought juniper would bring another level of depth and interest to it as a non-alcoholic beverage. For the unfamiliar, juniper is technically a seed cone from pine trees with a potent, resinous texture even when dried, and a sharp, piney, woodsy flavor. Most recognizable as the main flavor element in gin, it is a bold and unapologetic spice that works beautifully in concert with other earthy ingredients in small quantities. 


A Little Dab Will Do Ya


As I often look to the culinary world for inspiration, it occurred to me that both red currants and juniper are frequently used in the preparation of game meats which further solidified my confidence in this pairing.One cautionary note, however: it's really important to be judicious with the amount you add, unless you enjoy drinking a delightful berry soda that has been filtered through pine cones. 

Currants and Sugar in Repose
Once the sugar and juniper are measured into the jar, I begin to muddle. Muddling is usually one of my favorite parts of this endeavor. One the one hand, I enjoy the subtle transition from two materials into one, the melding of ingredients, and the beautiful stratification of colors. On the other hand, it's really therapeutic to wield a giant piece of wood and smash fruit to bits, letting you live out those long dormant childhood fantasies of impersonating Gallagher's act in your own home.

The Beauty of Wholesome, Unsullied Ingredients


The Beauty of Wholesome, Sullied Ingredients

After that enjoyable endeavour, one should have a viscous mass of fruit and syrup. The jar is closed up and put in the refrigerator to rest for a few hours, where the sugar should continue to pull the juice of the crushed fruit. Anywhere from two to five should do it, but if you accidentally forget overnight, it certainly will not hurt the shrub in any way.

A Viscous Mass of Fruit and Syrup

After its brief respite in the chilled confines of your fridge, the vinegar goes in. I chose white wine vinegar for this as it has a mild, but very present acidity to balance the heavier dose of white sugar I used to balance the tart berries. Shrubs are always a bit of a balancing act, and it can be especially tricky in cases where you want to offset tartness in certain fruits such as this one. It's also a bit more neutral in taste than other wine vinegars, so it lets the other ingredients take control without being too present as a red wine vinegar or a balsamic would be.

After agitating the mixture, it goes back into the fridge for a week. After that, it's filtered three times, and then bottled.

After all of this, the real question is of course, "What is the shrub like?"

The unsatisfying, but brief answer is, "It's great!"

In all sincerity, unless you have currants growing on your property, this can be a slightly more expensive project as it takes a few cartons to make a reasonable amount of shrub. Putting aside price for the time being, I really love this one.

The best way I can describe it is to say that it is reminiscent of a non-alcoholic gin mixed with sweet and tart berries, with touches of mild acidity creeping around the outside. It doesn't seem to have as much natural pectin as say raspberries or strawberries, so the mouthfeel is not exceedingly syrup like despite its sugar content.

In temperance mode, this thing is an outright gem, especially when mixed with a better quality tonic water like Q or Fever Tree as it makes you feel like you're drinking a fruity G & T, but without the eventual impairment, and when the weather is warm, G & T's are one of my favorite warm weather coping mechanisms. Don't like tonic? No problem, soda water is also excellent, as it slips into more of an adult soda mode. Either way, you just can't lose.

In regard to cocktails, there are some definite possibilities across the board. Vodka and gin are no brainers, as the juniper will either come through solo against the cold, stark canvas that vodka offers, and it will reinforce the juniper notes already in most gins.

As I will demonstrate in a day or two in the next installment of The Hard Stuff, even a muscular whiskey enjoys its company when arranged in the proper context.

As for the name, this shrub's moniker was a bit of a leap through word association. As red currant and juniper are both used in dishes involving game meats, I thought of hunters, which in turn made me think of the film Night of the Hunter.

From there, it wasn't much of a hop to the foreboding and mysterious Robert Mitchum character, Reverend Powell, the creepy and effective antagonist of the film. For those who have never seen it but are familiar with "LOVE" and "HATE" tattoos on knuckles, or any pop cultural references to said knuckles, Mitchum's Powell had them first and utilized them best. As far as anti-heroes and creeps go, Robert Mitchum is tops in my book, and his Harry Powell stands tall as both a cultural icon and one evil so and so.



So while red currants and juniper are both kind of like two misunderstood loners of the fruit and spice worlds, respectively. It seems lucky, but not so surprising perhaps, that in a shrub like this they have become fast and inseparable friends.


REVEREND POWELL

Ingredients:
14 oz red currants, separated from stems
13 oz white sugar
14 oz white wine vinegar
2 to 2.5 tsp juniper berries, finely ground

Equipment:
Colander
Food scale
Sealable non-reactive container
Muddler or heavy spoon
Strainers of increasing fineness
Large measuring cup
Tea strainer
Funnel(preferably canning funnel)
Sealable glass bottle

Gently pull red currants from their stems, placing in colander. Discard stems.

Rinse red currants thoroughly in colander. Shake colander to get rid of excess water.

Put non-reactive container on scale and use tare function to zero out the reading. Pour or spoon red currants into container until desired weight is reached. Use tare function again.

Pour or spoon white sugar into container until desired amount is reached. Add ground juniper, and using muddler, grind sugar into fruit until a thick, syrupy mixture forms. Seal container and rest mixture in refrigerator for 2-5 hours.

Remove container from refrigerator and unseal. Place on scale, once again using tare function. Add appropriate amount of white wine vinegar to container. Reseal, and place back into refrigerator. Rest jar one week.

After one week, remove container from refrigerator. Arrange strainers in levels of increasing fineness over measuring cup. Strain liquid through strainers, pressing on pulp to express any trapped shrub. 

Place funnel in bottle, and situate tea strainer in funnel opening. Pour strained shrub through tea strainer into bottle, and seal bottle. 

Refrigerated shrub should last from six months to one year.

Enjoy.




Monday, July 28, 2014

The Hard Stuff: Amalthea

Amalthea





















First of all, my apologies for the lack of posts last week, things have been a bit crazier around here for some reason, and my day job has distracted me from my blogging duties, but I am back and I have what I hope will be some fun content for you this week.

I can't think of anything more fun that starting the week with a cocktail, so I would like to introduce you to a new segment/column on the blog that is tentatively being called "The Hard Stuff," in which the shrubs that we make are incorporated in decidedly non-temperance friendly ways.

As some of you may know, the use of our delicious drinking vinegars began quite a while ago in this country, notably to mask the flavor of the rotgut rum that was being pumped out up and down the Eastern seaboard. Times, as well as the quality of distillation methods, have changed; rather than quell the more distasteful elements of our liquor in an attempt to stomach it in our collective attempts at inebriation, we now look to shrub as a shelf stable modifier that can add not only interesting flavors both in and out of season, but a pleasant acidity that could potentially take the place of a lemon or lime balancing the equation in your tin.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was looking for a new name for the plain raspberry shrub that I make, and I got some great suggestions. Ultimately, I went in a more mythological direction, naming the shrub Ida.

While this may seem like an unusual name, there is connection in the Greek myths in which a woman named Ida was picking berries for the infant Zeus(who was being hidden from his jerk of of a dad Cronus, who would have eaten him if given half a chance, but I digress...) when she pricked her finger staining white raspberries red, which is why raspberries have been that color ever since. If you're more of an astronomy buff, it's also the name of Jupiter's third moon. Either way, I dig it.

Keeping with this theme, I found that the cave Zeus was being hidden in was in a mountain called Mt. Ida, and it's next to a place called the Amari Valley, and it started me thinking about bitter liqueurs that would go well with raspberry; I knew that whatever I picked, there would need to be a flavorful, but fairly unobtrusive set of ingredients to slot in with these ingredients.

First things first: base spirit: Gin.

First and foremost, gin is one of my favorite base spirits and if you use a milder, more citrus forward gin like Plymouth, it can act as a really broad canvas to display a lot of other interesting flavors without clashing. Additionally, gin and raspberry have proven to have historically teamed up with excellent effects in drinks such as the Clover Club and the Albermarle Fizz. So gin was in.


My second pick was Aperol. To those who aren't familiar with it, Aperol is mild bitter liqueur; it's slightly bitter, only 11 percent alcohol by volume, and is a very exciting, but to some, slightly disturbing, hazard cone orange color. It's a little bitter, but not overly so and it seemed like a good balance to the jammy, sweet raspberry shrub.

Since it's summer, my mind turns to modifiers such as fortified and aromatized wines to sort of pad out the bolder flavors of the base and in this case, the slightly bitter liqueur. Nothing says summer gin to me in this regard quite as well as Lillet Blanc. Lillet is an aperitif wine that is a summer classic that can be enjoyed alone, but whose bright, slightly fruity nature works as a fantastic lengthening buffer here.

Finally, what would a shrub cocktail be without shrub? In this case, we are using the Ida from a couple of weeks ago. While this shrub is a bit sweeter and thicker due to the natural pectin in raspberries, it still has slight hints of sharpness from the naturally tart nature of raspberries and the white wine vinegar. This very mild acid takes the place of what one might have used citrus juice for.

I personally think this cocktail worked out best when it was stirred. Shaking was fine, but it did tend to make it seem a little cloudier to me. Stirring kept the lovely jewel tones and with a minimum of dilution, finally finished with an orange twist, which I dropped right into the glass.

But how does it taste?

Amalthea is kind of tricky to describe; the overall flavor is slightly fruity, with hints of mild bitterness, but due to the use of the Plymouth gin and the slightly bumped up amount of it, it makes the whole thing relatively dry and quite bracing without turning your tongue to sandpaper.

All in all, I would say it is an enjoyable little tipple, and one I hope you'll enjoy in these waning days of summer.

AMALTHEA

1.75 oz Plymouth gin
.75 oz Aperol
.5 oz Lillet Blanc
.5 oz Ida(raspberry shrub)

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker, and add ice.

Stir until glass or tin frosts, strain into cocktail glass. Cut strip of orange peel and twist over the drink, rubbing peel over rim. Drop peel into the glass.

Enjoy.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Raspberries Revisited and Renamed

In 2012, when I began the blog, one of the first shrubs that made its way on here was a raspberry number, I named Pink Flag, after the album by seminal post-punk band Wire. At the time, I thought this was a great idea, but in retrospect, it seemed like a bit of a missed opportunity.

Originally, the original raspberry shrub was supposed to have lemon verbena and black peppercorn in it, neither of which really came out in the shrub at all. As time went along, I started to have two versions of a lot of the fruit based shrubs, one that was basically just for the fruit alone, and one that was a little more experimental with different spices, herbs, or vinegars, or in some cases, a combination of any of those things.

I came to the conclusion recently that I am going to try to revisit some of the spirit of that very first shrub that didn't work out, but rather than using the very potent and unmistakeable black Tellicherry peppercorn, I will give the fruitier, more delicate pink peppercorn a shot in its stead. It seems like a no-brainer to me to reappropriate the Pink Flag moniker for this new raspberry pink peppercorn concoction.

I'll hopefully be doing that one and sharing the results soon, but that left me with a bit of a naming conundrum; what shall I name the plain raspberry one since Pink Flag is out of the running?

I have some ideas, but I would love to hear from you, the readers. Take a look at the picture of the finished shrub below and let me know what you think it should be called in the comments. I'll look at the suggestions and make a decision next week.

Extra points for interesting references and/or puns.

While we're waiting for a name, I think this is a good time to share the updated recipe for whatever this raspberry shrub will be called as it has changed a little bit from the last time I posted a recipe for it.


 
For Shrub:
16 oz raspberries
12-13 oz white sugar
16 oz white wine vinegar
 
Equipment:
Large, sealable non-reactive container
Muddler, blender, or immersion blender
Sealable glass bottles with non-reactive lids
Metal Mesh Strainers of decreasing fineness
Funnel, preferably a canning funnel
Large Measuring cup
 
 
Making Raspberry Shrub:
 
In a large, sealable non-reactive container such as a bale jar, place 16 oz raspberries. Cover with 12-13 ounces of white sugar and muddle raspberries and sugar until a thick syrup forms. Close container and place in refrigerator for 3-6 hours.
 
Alternatively, you may blend 16 oz of raspberries and 12-13 ounces of sugar with an immersion blender in an immersion blender safe container, or in a standard blender, pouring the sugar and raspberry mixture into your non-reactive container. Refrigerate for 3-6 hours.
After 3-6 hours have passed, open container and add vinegar. Shake or agitate vigorously until combined. Close jar and add to refrigerator once again.
 
Hold in refrigerator for one week, agitating occasionally.
 
After one week's time, remove the container from the refrigerator and place strainers over measuring cup. Carefully pour contents of the jar into the strainers, pushing on solids to express as much liquid from the mash as possible. Set aside strainers.
 
Place funnel in glass bottle. If using a tea strainer, place inside the funnel. Slowly pour shrub from measuring cup through tea strainer, pausing to scrape the bottom or rinse the tea strainer if the pectin causes it to become blocked.
 
Continue, leaving a small amount of space in the neck of the bottle and close bottle.
 
Place in refrigerator for one more week.
 
Shrub should stay good for at least a year, but likely longer when refrigerated.
 
Enjoy!
 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Cookin' With Shrub: Enchiladas Al Pastor-ish

I've always felt that one of the hidden talents of shrub is its ability to stealthily slide out of its supposed restraints of beverage bondage. If you want to get creative, there are a lot of ways to sneak some of this fantastic drink into any number of dishes, savory and sweet alike.

I've done some minor experiments with this notion in the past, but it was always kind of a quick affair, reducing some shrub here for a glaze, or straight as a topping for ice cream or such, but I had never concocted a recipe from the ground up that wasn't adapted from somewhere else specifically.

Until now.

Don Whoa!, the pineapple shrub we've talked about before, has long haunted me with its gustatory potential. Pineapple and vinegar are both well known tenderizers of meat, with their acids and enzymes and what have you. It's probably no wonder to most people, when I say that when I start gathering a mental picture of meat and pineapple my mind immediately goes to the South of the Border favorite, tacos al pastor.

For those of you who haven't been lucky enough to try this Mexican marvel, the short version is that "Al pastor" is essentially a style in which pork is loaded up on a vertical spit device called a trompo, which is very similar to Middle Eastern schwarma. The pork, having been marinated in spices, dried chile, and pineapple, becomes juicy and tender as the gentle heat crisps the outside of this pig mountain as it turns. Pieces are shaved off with a sharp knife, and the meat with onion and other accompaniments(including pineapple pieces) are either served in tacos or a few other manners.

Delightful, no? Despite the amazingly tasty nature of a dinner involving the al Pastor style of meat management, this method posed a few problems for an apartment dwelling gent who would love to have his own trompo, but who unfortunately used up the entirety of his half of the kitchen space allotment by buying 900 different coffee devices and commandeering his very patient wife's lid drawer for spices.

There are other ways to get closer to an authentic reproduction, such as this brilliant method by the ultra-brilliant J. Kenji Alt-Lopez(one of my culinary heroes), but I didn't want to borrow a recipe and just shoehorn the shrub in. Since there was no possible way I could compete on grounds of authenticity, I decided I would have to strive to be aces in flavor to make up for it.

So I guess rather than me inaccurately calling this creation Enchiladas Al Pastor, we could think of this as an homage to its vibrantly spicy, tangy pineapple flavors; perhaps a sort of fanciful tangent if you will.

I give unto you Enchiladas Al Pastor.

Er, I mean I will...let's take a look at how we got there.

As it turns out, my first attempt to pair Don Whoa! and pork was far, far less successful. My first thought years ago was that the magical enzymatic beatdown that takes place when pineapple and/or its juice comes into contact with meat made me think that using it by itself as a marinade would a great idea. After all we have the sharp tang of vinegar, the sweetness of both pineapple and raw sugar, and the gentle citrusy heat of habaneros rounding out the package.

On paper, this sounds like a real ass-kicking roundup of flavor. As it turns out, however, the result proved to be slightly tangy, not hot, and pretty damned sweet. Decidedly not tasty.

The reality was that despite all of those elements being present in the shrub, the marinade itself was quite thin and watery, as vinegar does have a pretty sizable amount of water along with our old sharp pal, acetic acid. After thinking long and hard about the Epic Marinade Failure of '12, I finally realized a couple of the key components that a good marinade has that shrub alone is missing.

First, salt. You can season the pork all you want, but if you don't put any in the liquid it's going to be bland and lacking in a general savoriness. The other glaring hole in this equation was a medium that would carry flavor, preferably one that had some fat to better absorb the flavors.

Armed with this new way of thinking I assembled a very simple marinade involving salt, oil, our pineapple shrub, and the additions of the potent, resinous Mexican Oregano and the earthy, pungent funk of toasted cumin. In the interim, I cubed the pork shoulder and put the chunks in a bowl, finally pouring the marinade over them and sealing the bowl with a lid. It would then rest there for at least a couple of hours. 



With the pork presumably taking on some real flavor in the fridge, it was on to the big show piece of the dish, the enchilada sauce. This was going to be tricky; not only was the sauce going to go over the tortillas before their final triumph bronzing in the oven, but this was also going to be the liquid that the pork shoulder would be simmered in.

I have always heard that the basis of a good enchilada sauce was the use of whole dried chiles and spices, and who am I to argue with conventional wisdom?

One benefit of making things up as you go along is the ability to use whatever chiles you damn well please. I have seen a lot of red sauces that are very ancho heavy, but I was curious to do something different; ancho still had a solid place in my mix, but guajillos were going to be the leaders of this pack. Backing them up was a ragtag band of misfits such as Aji Mirasol, for mild heat and fruitiness, ancho for earthiness and depth, and pequin for clean, bracing heat. 



With my pepper selections complete, I halved and seeded the chiles and dry toasted each type of pepper individually over medium heat. There is a delicate balance in toasting these things; take them out too early and they haven't become aromatic or begun to tap into their full flavor, but if left too long, your final results will be bitter and acrid. You should just be able to smell the aromas before pulling them. I advise being particularly careful with tiny peppers such as the pequins as they take practically no time at all. tossed the into some warm stock so they would soak up some liquid and become soft and pliable. 




While peppers make up the bulk of the sauce, we'd be nowhere without the aid of aromatics. An onion was divided, and half of it was blistered in the pan the chiles were toasted in. This slightly caramelized the onion and gave it a little bit of that rich, smoky element that comes with that process. To balance that out, the raw half was also used along with some raw garlic cloves, and more of the cumin and Mexican oregano that we used in the marinade to echo those flavors that should have been making their way into the pork at that very moment. 


To the aforementioned items, more pineapple shrub was added for an extra bit of vinegary acidity, pineapple sweetness, and to help thin the mixture a little. This mixture was transferred to the Vita-Mix and blended into a thick paste. The mixture was strained to get rid of lumps and/or any excess seeds through a metal strainer, until the paste was about the consistency of a Kansas City BBQ sauce.


I am not sure if it was the use of pork shoulder in this dish, or the use of vinegar, but I took a page from Indian cooking and decided to stew the pork cubes much in the same manner I make vindaloo. The pork was browned in batches, and the sauce mixture was poured over the meat. After bringing the mixture to a boil, and a tight fitting lid was placed over the pot, and the heat was reduced to a simmer.


This went on for nearly an hour, and by the time I checked on it, the meat had become fork tender.

At this point, the finish line was in sight. Sarah helped me fill the tortillas and get them situated in our glass baking dish. 


After being nestled snugly together, the sauce that the pork was cooked in was then ladled over the enchiladas, and blanketed in a generous layer of shredded cheese. 


After a brief stint in the oven we were greeted with the following results:


Now I give unto you, Enchiladas Al Pastor-ish.

So after five hours of working at this, what did I learn?

First, authentic or not(in this case, clearly not), these things are damned delicious. 

The shrub, while subtle, does lend flavors of fruit, sweetness, and acidity in both the pieces of pork from the marinade and the sauce. It brings a really great sharpness that balances the rich chile sauce and keeps it from feeling too heavy. The pork shoulder falls apart when stewed in this manner, but also has a more substantial feel than shredded pork sometimes does. With a healthy dose of gooey cheese, there is not much to dislike, barring dietary or religious restrictions. 

That said, even when something is pretty great, it would be disingenuous to say there was no room for improvement, so there are a couple of small items I might consider tweaking in the future.

I might add a few more ingredients to the marinade; perhaps some garlic in there would be nice, and I am toying with the addition of a few drops of Maggi sauce or Tamari to boost the umami factor a little bit. 

In regard to the sauce, I love this blend of chiles, but I could see it as a basis to rotate in and out some different chiles, such as cascabels, or for some smoky undertones, use a little bit of Pasilla Oaxaca to anchor it, though a little goes a long way, unless you're hankering to eat a bacon-y campfire, in which case, go nuts.

I think I would also reserve some of the sauce and not use the whole amount to simmer the pork in. As it cooks the heat of the chiles dissipates a fair amount and the whole thing melds into a really deep, mellow mode that while rich in flavor, does lack some of the bite of the raw sauce. I would like to try ladling the raw sauce over the assembled enchiladas to see if it retains a little more of that bright, snappy heat when only cooked over the enchiladas.

The only other variant that I thought might be fun would be to adapt a dish that I used to enjoy at a Mexican restaurant my family went to often when I first moved to Seattle. They called it "Enchiladas Texas Style" aka "El Paso Enchiladas." I cannot say what made these enchiladas particularly aligned to that region per se, but I do know that they were stuffed with a metric ton of jalapeƱo and sour cream in addition to shredded chicken. 

Just do everything the same as above, but when assembling the actual enchiladas, add generous helpings of diced habanero and sour cream before baking. And if you really want, maybe some grilled pineapple if you're into that sort of thing.

From the ashes of disappointment to triumph on a plate, Enchiladas Al Pastor is a culinary comeback kid I think we can all get behind, authenticity be damned.


Enchiladas Al Pastor-ish

Marinade:
1.25 cup pineapple shrub
1 tbsp Mexican oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp salt

Enchilada sauce:
5 dried guajillo chiles
2 dried aji mirasol chile
1 dried ancho chile
3-4 pequin chiles
2 tsp salt
1 onion, halved
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup pineapple shrub
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp Mexican Oregano
2 tsp cumin, ground

Enchiladas:
3 pound pork shoulder, cubed
Flour Tortillas
Cheese, shredded


For Marinade:

If using whole cumin seeds,  place seeds in a small, dry skillet, toast whole cumin until fragrant. Let cumin cool, then grind in spice grinder. If using ground cumin, disregard this step and continue assembling marinade.

In a large immersion blender friendly container, combine oil, shrub, salt, and ground cumin. Crumble Mexican oregano between your fingers into marinade. Using an immersion blender, thoroughly blend the mixture until uniform. If you do not have an immersion blender, place all marinade ingredients into blender cup, and blend until uniform.

Trim pork shoulder of excess fat and cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch cubes. Place cubes in a sealable container such as a bowl with a lid or zip top bag and cover with marinade. Refrigerate for 2 to 6 hours. 

For Enchilada Sauce:

Start a medium skillet over medium heat, toast each individual type of chile separately, gently turning until chiles become aromatic and removing right away and setting aside. Overly toasted chiles will give the sauce an acrid taste, so be careful not to over toast them.

Warm chicken or vegetable stock on stove or in microwave until hot, but not boiling. Gently place dried, toasted chiles in hot stock and cover for thirty minutes. 

Meanwhile, pour 1 to 2 tbsp vegetable oil in the same skillet the chiles were toasted in and turn heat up to medium high until shimmering. While waiting for oil to heat, halve an onion. When oil has gotten to temperature, place onion half in oil, watching carefully and turning frequently until browned and lightly charred. Remove onion and set aside. 

After the chiles have soaked in stock for thirty minutes, pour chiles and stock into blender with garlic, both onion halves, shrub, salt, and ground cumin. Crumble Mexican oregano into mixture. Blend until smooth. Alternatively, you may use an immersion blender on this mixture in a large immersion blender safe container.

Strain sauce mixture through a metal strainer over large measuring cup or bowl. If mixture seems exceedingly thick, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup water to thin to desired consistency. 

Sauce can be made ahead of time and should be good refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

Stewing pork:

Remove pork in marinade from refrigerator. In a large heavy bottomed pot, heat vegetable oil on medium high heat until shimmering.

Working in batches, brown pork cubes in pot until they have taken on color, and set aside. After last batch of pork has been browned, add all other browned pork cubes back into the pot and cover with enchilada sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, the reduce to medium-low heat and cover with tight fitting lid. Simmer, stirring, very occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour or until pork cubes are fork tender or otherwise falling apart.

Assemble enchiladas:

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Spoon stewed pork chunks into tortillas, with some sauce from the stewing mixture, and add generous sprinkling of shredded cheese, careful not to overstuff enchilada. Place tortilla seam side down in 9 x 13 glass dish. Repeat process until glass dish is full of completed enchiladas. Ladle sauce from stewed pork over the enchiladas, smothering in sauce. Sprinkle generous amount of cheese over the sauced enchiladas. 

Place glass dish into oven, watching carefully until cheese has become fully melted and gooey. 

Remove dish and serve immediately.