Copper & Silver
So if a Moscow Mule & Mint Julep spill into each other, do they become a Mintcow Mulep?
Ahem. Anyway. I’ve been writing copy about the Moscow Mule’s traditional receptacle, the copper mug, and the Mint Julep’s silver tumbler, both created decades ago in the name of marketing, then abandoned after enthusiastic imbibers began stealing the mugs and tumblers. Now they are making a comeback, as the craft cocktail movement continues to pick up speed.
The Moscow Mule’s origin story isn’t all that interesting, your basic successful marketing plan, but it’s one of the best vodka cocktails I know, mainly because the ginger beer gives a nice spiciness to counteract the lime. Can’t wait to make these further into the summer, when it’s hotter.
Which happens to be how I feel about the Mint Julep as well, and its back story is fascinating. Mint leaves muddled into bourbon and chilled with crushed ice and garnished with mint. It’s that simple–one of those things so perfectly balanced that I considered purchasing a Sno-Cone machine to make liquorish mid-summer treats.
The word “julep” is traced as far back to the Middle East, and a rose-flavored water called Julab. When the drink made its way to the Mediterranean, the rose petals were replaced by mint leaves. Americans eventually mispronounced the drink and switched out the water for liquor, and a classic infusion was born. The Derby’s marketing tool of silver tumblers made a great julep even better, the frosted edges of the stainless steel tumbler rim embellish the drink with teeth-chattering cold, then you taste the smooth burn of bourbon and the brisk herbal note of mint. Delicious.
I just finished reading Relish, by Lucy Knisley. It’s delightful.
And now I’m reading Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman, after receiving a copy in a class offered by Sur La Table of a similar name, Ratios Not Recipes. I’ve taken about 5 classes at Sur La Table now, and this one was my favorite. We made crème brûlée, pie crust, shortbread cookies topped with crystalized lemon and dark chocolate drops, and a pâte à choux, which I mixed with goat cheese and chopped basil and dropped in big globs that puffed to the size of hamburger buns. Really good. The cookies were tasty too (I never miss a chance to mix lemon with chocolate) but the pie crust inspired me. I went home and straightaway made a Rhubarb Crostata.
It was delicious.
Speaking of crostata, there’s one on the cover of this month’s Sur La Table catalog. I’ll bet you’ll easily guess which pages I worked on. You should request a copy.
Best thing I saw today was Portion Control by Christopher Boffoli, these wonderful mixtures of miniature people among huge blow-ups of food:
Rock Candy Icefall
….including this awesome photo of Fran’s Grey Salt Caramels, attended to by the Salt Harvesters
M and I are off to San Francisco for a week. So I need to finish up this blog and get back to my research. I’ll leave you with a shot of what I think just might be my first completely successful loaf of bread. I created a sourdough starter over the Memorial Day weekend and made this gorgeous loaf. Perfectly browned crust, soft and tender center: San Francisco Sourdough loaf. I will never forget it.
Week 1: Creme, Tart, Spring
- Make twinkies
- Make something with rhubarb
- Learn how to make spring rolls
1. Made the easiest thing first: rhubarb syrup for cocktails, or as I’m enjoying it most, over ice with seltzer water and a slice of lime for a refreshingly tart soda. A couple stalks of rhubarb, some lime juice and sugar (from past experience I’ve learned to always use less sugar than a recipe calls for; not all rhubarb is tongue-twisting sour, so it’s better to start with less and build as needed). Also good mixed in gin & tonics.
2. Made the second-easiest thing next, vegetarian spring rolls, an item M & I order nearly every time we see ‘em on a menu and so frequently that we have restaurants rated by spring roll. (Best ones in Seattle that we’ve discovered so far are at the Tamarind Tree . . . they have a ridiculously too-long menu, but if you bring us beers, and spring rolls [and keep 'em coming], we’ll be perfectly content.
So it finally occurred to me that since M & I also like lounging around in the park or beach on sunny days as well as camping, wouldn’t it be economical and tasty to just wrap up our favorite veggies and get on with our tans? I’m almost embarrassed to discover how easy spring rolls are to create. Once I found the wrappers (they’re not near the egg roll, wonton or pot sticker wrappers in the refrigerator section; just go directly to the Asian section of your grocery store and find them all stiff and shrink-wrapped like dinner plate-sized communion wafers). So you do all your veggie prep, fill a shallow bowl (I used a 9 x 13 pan) with hot water, dip a wafer in for 15 seconds, then carefully lift the transparent and flexible wrapper out to drain for a couple of seconds, then place on a towel. Dab the top to remove any excess water. Arrange your fillings in the center, avoiding the urge to overfill. We used microgreens, cilantro, julienned carrots and cucumbers, and sliced avocado. Fold the bottom up and over, turn in the sides, roll up all the way and set aside to proceed with the rest of the rolls. Dip in spicy peanut sauce and crack open a Rainier beer or two and toast your good life. They were so good I forgot to photograph them, but I’ll save that honor for future rolls.
3. The Twinkie experiments begin!
I first tried a white sponge cake that was intended to be paired with strawberries and whipped cream. Result: nice and light and spongy, but bland. Then I tried a recipe that claimed it was a Twinkie recipe. Got the color right, but so dense and heavy there’s not room for a cream filling . . . not moist enough. But the batter itself? Significantly lightened with whipped egg whites, it was delicious. I had more than a couple spoon fulls. I’m not normally a cake batter lover, but this was so yummy that I was surprised the cake was so drab.
Recall that idea I had a couple posts back for whipped cream flavored with banana? I went ahead and pulverized some freeze-dried bananas and folded them into whipped cream that I’d stabilized with gelatin. The result? I was slathering thick servings of it on top of the twinkie cakes, then finally dismissing the cake for the cream exclusively. Real banana flavor, and so creamy. This is a keeper that will make a return in other desserts.
Went to work and got a hot tip from our resident chef; Barbara will be sending me a Twinkie recipe that should closely approximate actual Twinkie flavor and texture and I’ll be trying it out with a strawberry-banana cream filling.
Week 2: Ice, Smoke, Scotch
This week I discovered Sur La Table sells an item called Smoked Brown Sugar. I got a whiff before I left work today and it’s followed me everywhere. Amazing, sharp, tangy wood on top of molasses and caramel. Perfect for baked beans, or roasted with apricots and peaches on the grill . . .in a fruit crisp. The blurb online recommends barbecue ribs, crème brûlée, grilled salmon, pulled pork, acorn squash. I’m thinking the salted caramel ice cream trend could use an update, honestly. Smoked butterscotch ice cream, anyone?
I also decided I’m tired of buying $4 coffee every morning so I made a big–
Jug o’ Iced Coffee
1 lb ground coffee
8 qts cold water
Mix coffee with water. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature 8 hours or overnight. Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and set over a pitcher or other container. Pour coffee/water mixture through the strainer, allowing all liquid to run through. Discard grounds. Place coffee liquid in the fridge to chill. Use as needed.
I also discovered that adding chocolate to a balsamic vinaigrette is a good thing. Shaved chocolate melted into vinegar and whisked into oil. The chocolate adds a lovely depth to the vinegar.
Olive oil, balsamic, chocolate: together?
On Friday I attended a Sur La Table Bread-making Workshop where I made Raisin, Rosemary and Cinnamon Focaccia, a cute little Sourdough loaf, Pesto Rolls and an Old-Fashioned Sandwich Loaf. This has made me determine that my refrigerator is in need of a permanent new resident–a sourdough starter.
And of course, I made one more attempt at the Twinkies. This time I tried one new cake recipe and two new cream filling flavors. The cake flavor is right….texture still not there. The white shortening-based room-temp stable cream was disgusting and went entirely into the trash, sans two spoons to test. The strawberry-banana whipped cream was awesome. At this point, it’s safe to say I’m twinkied out and ready to move on.
How about I go ahead and finish off the week with Smoked Butterscotch Ice Cream!
Smoked Butterscotch Ice Cream
1 cup firmly packed Darkhorse smoked brown sugar
2 T. butter
1 T. Orlando Mexican vanilla
2 t. bourbon
1 1/2 c. whipping cream
2 c. half -n-half
6 large egg yolks
Melt brown sugar and butter over medium heat until mixture is bubbly, 3 to 5 minutes. While whisking, slowly add 1/2 cup whipping cream. Remove from heat and add vanilla and bourbon.
Combine remaining 1 cup whipping cream and half-n-half and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
Beat egg yolks. Whisk 1/2 cup of warm cream into yolks, then pour back into pan with cream. Stir constantly over low heat until mixture is slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
Pour through fine mesh strainer then whisk in butterscotch mixture. Chill and freeze. Maybe add something in for texture: chocolate chunks, broken up bits of brittle, some toasted slivers of almonds.
Mmmmmmmmm. So good.
So I made a batch of David Lebovitz’s vanilla ice cream. I’ve made several of his flavors, as you know, but never the most classic. Turns out it’s wonderful, combining an entire vanilla bean with its seeds and 3/4 teaspoon of extract (I did a combination of Madagascar Bourbon paste [magical stuff] and [my very favorite] Orlando Mexican vanilla extract). M and I had a couple of scoops the other night with macerated strawberries but the rest is to be paired with birthday cake.
Tonight I’m making Orange Syrup Cake with Candied Oranges, Lebovitz’s adaptation of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s version in Jerusalem. This is the birthday cake for C & K.
The orange and lemon zest baked into the cake scent the cake over the course of a day but the Mediterranean method of pouring homemade citrus syrup over the hot cake when it is removed from the oven is what makes this cake extra special. At first, most of the syrup pooled at the edges (and certainly tested the seal of my springform), but eventually it all soaked in. Man, it was over-the-top tender, and because most of the base is ground almonds, the flavor and dense texture are slightly reminiscent of citrus-flavored marzipan.
C & K said it was delicious.
Discovered this video explaining how to create a rocher, or oval-shaped scoop of ice cream, earlier today; I tried to do it myself a few times with some of the vanilla when I got home, but . . . I’ll need more time. Nibbled some remnants of the cake from the fridge and I’ve decided I might like it best chilled. If I make it again, I might replace all the orange with lemon to create a sort of lemon bar cake.
Thanks to J, I’ve gotten my hands on a Vanilla Crème Cake pan, so spongey cakes and creamy fillings are abounding in my brain. My favorite idea is a sort of neapolitan Twinkie: one injection each of banana, chocolate and strawberry cream fillings; since a Twinkie is on average three bites, each bite is a different flavor. Hmmm. I might have to just go ahead with that one, eh?
A friend of mine, Steve, has a predilection for bringing treats to parties that are naturally colored. There was the time he brought a trio of frosting-dips that had been dyed with blueberries, mango and matcha powder. So in a nod to Steve, I was inspired to create a naturally-colored cream filling of my own devising. Steve, I hope you will use this recipe to romance someone along your way away from Seattle. Have sweet travels.
And the rest of you…try this deliciousness.
Strawberry Whipped Cream
2 cups whipping cream
1 pkg. Trader Joe’s freeze-dried strawberries
2 T. powdered sugar
2 t. vanilla
Put strawberries in mini food processor or (clean) coffee grinder and process into powder. Put cream in large bowl, add sugar and beat until incorporated, then add strawberry powder and vanilla, beat on low until mixed, then beat into thick cream. You won’t have to do this for long, so don’t overbeat it into butter.
The result? Whipped cream with the flavor of fresh strawberries. How can red dyed artificially flavored syrups compete? They cannot. Reject them. Make your own sweet treats to keep your tongue buds pleased.
A couple of days later I was eyeing some Trader Joe’s Roasted Coconut Chips (The subhead description sounds a tad demented: mature coconut soaked in young coconut milk, roasted with a touch of salt & sugar). They’re one of my new favorite snacks. A couple or three half handfuls offer a slightly sweet crispness on demand. I’m thinking of pulverizing some into powder for another whipped cream flavor. In fact, I may just go on a freeze-dried freak run to Trader Joe’s for an array, an entire BUFFET of whipped creams. Heh. You know. WTFN?*
In other news, I’ve been brainstorming up names for the following iconic snack cakes: Twinkies, Ho Hos, Sno-balls and Ding Dongs. For work not for whim, in case you wondered.
A uniquely challenging challenge it is, naming a snack cake. How do you draw the line around where’s too far over the line? Snack cake names, after all, connote lewdness yet inspire a nostalgia that compels you to long for soft cakes cream-filled and occasionally frosting-dipped. At least that’s what I tell myself, since I have not had a snack cake in years.**
The reason for this most unusual of tasks is that Sur La Table will be rolling out new pans and implements for the truly nostalgic cooks out there to make their own home-crafted snack cakes. If you ask me, this just opens the oven door to creating snack-things far and away tastier than the originals.
Over a weekend I rolled out a white board and went through numerous cookbook indices in search of inspiration: Maidda Heater’s Book of Great Desserts, David Leibovitz’s The Perfect Scoop, Fran Bigelow’s pure chocolate, Lindsey R. Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts, Flo Braker’s sweet miniatures, and even 2002’s Minnesota-printed collection of my extended family’s recipes, Cooking with the Wencl’s. Here are some of my favorite names I dreamt up.
Ding Dongs: Cake Knocks, WTFudges, Dream Cremes, Choco-Lottas
Twinkies: Crème Declairs, Golden Sponges, Winkie Cakes, Cream-filled Winkies
Ho Hos: Choco-Ritos, A-Hoy-Ho’s, Royo’s
Sno-Balls: Sno-Cremes, Cloud Cakes, Whiteouts, Mallow-Moons
Only time will tell if any of my brainstorm ends up branding an actual snack cake pan, but those pans will have to get rolled out quickly, since the latest news from Slate is that the Great Twinkie Shortage is soon to be over. I think I’d just as soon get a pan of my own and make my own version of Twinkies. I’ve always wondered what the originals tasted like. They had a banana filling that was eventually switched to vanilla cream when shipments of bananas to the States were rationed during WWII.
Note to self: Add freeze dried bananas to your shopping list.
*Why the Fudge Not?
**Okay, that’s a fudge. When I first heard a whiff that Twinkies might finally be entering permanent retirement a year ago, I swiped a box from a Safeway. The first couple bites did indeed whisk me into a sweet tizzy of nostalgia, but then my palate began to detect a slight chemical undertone that was rather off-putting. Nevertheless, the entire box was eventually consumed. Ugh.
So many stories.
First, here’s my first crisp of the season, made during the last week of August: peach, nectarine, pluot blackberry crisp. Blackberries from the thorny bushes in the alley, the other fruits from my recently re-instated CSA, Full Circle Farms. I used Ina Garten’s recipe, which included both orange juice and lemon juice, and zests from both. And the cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon were baked with the fruit instead of the oatmeal crumble topping. Good and tart, with layers of spice and fruit gel then a soft crunch into buttery oatmeal cookie crumbs. So good.
Oh, and then there were two months when I worked at Fran’s Chocolates. Yep, that’s me, grinning like a choco-maniac as I shift salted caramels at the fabulous boutique located in the foyer of the Four Seasons Hotel and across the street from the Seattle Art Museum.
From May 9th to July 8th I had the privilege of handing out samples and putting together boxes of some of the finest chocolates I’ve ever tasted. And I especially liked it when I was asked to make the hot chocolate base (which involves lots of steamed milk and chocolate shavings and going to town on ‘em with an industrial immersion blender) because I’d sneak a little cup for myself as a reward. I now know how to tie a mean ribbon from all the boxes I tied up during shifts. And after sampling everything in the shop, my favorites are 3: milk chocolate covered caramel dappled with smoked salt (a bestseller even before Obama admitted he favored them), espresso truffle: milk chocolate-covered espresso-infused dark chocolate ganache . . . a staff favorite and an unsung hero, if you ask me . . . I admittedly did my darndest trying to convince dark chocolate purists that the milk chocolate balanced with the espresso perfectly. And finally a classic, Fran’s Pure Dark truffle, because I am a dark chocolate lover above all, even if my 3 favorites wouldn’t seem to suggest that. Aside from the wonderful people I was lucky to work with, dear Pure Dark truffle, I miss you most of all. I can stop by and order up some, of course, but it’s not quite the same as going to work and having them just there for the sampling.
Then there was the time this summer when I torched my 1st burnt creams, or as they’re better known, crème brûlées. I tried turbinado sugar, thinking it would create a thicker crunch with a more molassesey taste. Unfortunately, it took longer to melt the sugar down, resulting in some burning. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but my next attempt with regular cane sugar had a more successful sugar shell*.
*the best part is that I smuggled half of this batch (not shown) across the border into Canada, along with my kitchen torch, so that I could present my boyfriend’s mom with her favorite dessert, when we vacationed together there. My boyfriend likes to tell this story to illustrate my relentless eccentricity to others. Heh.
The recipe, btw, is FABULOUS.
For my birthday (July 26th, since you asked), my boyfriend gave me this book:
He was honest that he had bought it as much for himself as for me, and since, in the months hence a corner of the living room has been set up to collect the growing collection of rye, whiskey, bourbon, rum, vermouth (3 different kinds, of course), gin, and an assortment of classic bitters, I have no complaints. When a mutual girlfriend of ours loaded us up with a load of apples, I slyly hinted that I’d already made a crisp recently and what did he think about turning all those apples into his first batch of homemade bitters . . . . well, now the table is overflowing with tiny brown paper bags filled with barks and powders and god knows what else, since my boyfriend wisely picks up on my best hints. So deep into fall we should be ready to try our first batch. Full disclosure: I can’t wait!
And then of course, the biggest news is that I began working at Sur La Table corporate, joining a writing team of four. September 11th is the 2 month anniversary of when Nat and I began writing for Sur La Table. This, by the way, is our first joint writing project, the Birthday Card for the Leadership Conference.
The great advantage of having a job as this is that I get to combine my love of writing with my love of all things related to the kitchen . . . a dream job. The disadvantage is that because I am constantly thinking about food and thinking about preparing food at work, I am almost continuously hungry or convinced that I’m hungry. Since I’ve never experienced such a continuous sensation, I sometimes find it unnerving. As with so many things, I suppose I’ll eventually adjust (hopefully not my waist size).
My regular project is creating new descriptions for cooking classes every month and dreaming up clever titles. I write headlines and occasional copy for print catalogs. I write descriptions for products that appear on the website. And then there are other ongoing projects. My favorite so far was developing an espresso menu for the retail stores that is being printed on a large display to hold the Jura Giga 5 Home Café. Writing about espresso drinks made me nostalgic for my barista days back in college, over 12 years ago.
Another effect of working in this industry has a way of knocking one’s sense of seasons completely off schedule. I’ve been writing this blog in mid-September, but at work I’ve been writing about Christmas cookies and candies. Who knows, maybe this effect will have the benefit of helping me finally get ahead of the curve on planning out Christmas gifts.
Finally, I’ll mention the book I just finished reading.
My boyfriend laughed over the title, and I had no particular interest in Paris when I picked it up. But Mr. Lebovitz wrote “The Perfect Scoop,” which I’ve mentioned on this blog a number of times because it transformed me from being just a baker into someone who can deftly whip up ice cream, too. And while TSLIP should not be considered a guide book per se, it is a helpful primer on the people and customs surrounding the ordering of food at markets and restaurants, and it’s filled with all sorts of recipes I can’t wait to try. And the writing was so charming that I’m debating on sending David a marriage proposal.
I’m very much looking forward to the fall . . . and apple bitters.
Peas peas peas.
1 lb. of green peas, fresh or frozen, slightly overcooked
6 large egg yolks (to be warmed with 3/4 c. whole milk), warm peas steeping in 1 1/2 c. heavy cream, 1/2 c. lightly packed mint leaves
See, my best friend Cody was making a list aloud one day of absurd ice cream flavors he thought I should make, and he rather flippantly suggested “Green Peas!” Then he paused, as if he might have gone too far.
Custard mixed with cream and peas, cooled then blended with mint.
So when his birthday came around this year, I thought I’d surprise him. I consulted my David Leibovitz ice cream bible and discovered his recipe based on a flavor he’d had in Paris at the Palais Royal. Leibovitz prepares the palate by suggesting that if you’ve ever enjoyed a slice (or wedge) of carrot cake, you’ll know the idea of transforming vegetables into desserts isn’t that strange of an idea. I’d braved avocado before, and though that has a lot of fat lending itself to the creaminess, I thought the earthiness of the two might be similar.
Blended mixture strained.
Turns out the similarity is really the fun I experience in watching people try it and then try to guess what the flavor is. The mint functions like salt does in other dishes, emphasizing the base flavor. Cody tried it, but eventually I did have to tell him. His eyes lit up, he licked the spoon, said “Oh, yeah. Tooootally. Peas.”
We each dipped our spoons in our bowls again. It was definitely ice cream. It was definitely peas. And undoubtedly intriguing.
Green Pea Ice Cream: The Taste of Spring