A Rose-Flavored Holiday Story

Author: Kirsti Kay, Sweets, Dessert, Recipes, Food & Drink, Holidays

I did a crazy thing this year. I entered the Los Angeles Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off. I never enter contests. I hate competition. I remember being in school and getting chosen last for sports teams. I hated sports. I still do. To this day, the only sport I can play with any kind of confidence is ping pong. But I always hated competition, because there has to be a loser. I know what it feels like to be chosen last, or not at all, and I don’t want anyone to feel that lonely feeling, so I have avoided competition my whole life.

A few weeks ago, I saw the ad for the Los Angeles Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off and thought, “I CAN DO THAT!” I have some recipes that are twists on classics! I have some skills! I can bring something unexpected, yet nostalgic, to the holiday table! So I entered. I entered with a cookie I have been making for many years: rose petal shortbread. I tweaked the decorations to add holiday-colored sugar and red rose petals so the cookies would have Christmas flair, and I entered with pride.

After hitting “submit,” I realized I would have to ask my friends to vote for me. The only thing worse than competition is asking everyone I know to do me a HUGE favor. I hemmed and hawed, I sweated, I wrung my hands, I whined to my husband Aaron, but I asked. And people responded. Not only did they vote for me—some every day—they shared my post on their own pages and sent me encouraging notes of support. I was blown away by the collective kindness.

Well, I did not win, but I’m totally OK with that. The fact is, the contest was more of a popularity vote than how good your cookie is. I still feel great about my recipe, which I think reflects the zeitgeist of what is happening in baking and is really delicious and easy to make. But most of all, I felt the holiday spirit in all of my friends who voted and reposted and encouraged me. I felt humbled by the friends of friends who voted and said they thought my recipe sounded amazing and they couldn’t wait to try it.

Of course, it would have been a fancy brag to have won (there wasn’t even a prize, just bragging rights), but I got what I needed out of the contest—I felt loved and supported by so many people, even people who don’t know me. I probably won’t be entering any more contests, but I’ll keep baking and I’ll keep sharing and I’ll keep appreciating my friends and family and my new friends of friends who believed in me enough to vote for a cookie they haven’t tasted, made by a gal some of them didn’t even know. You picked me first. And that means more to me than any bragging right.

Happy Holidays, Wonderful Friends!!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

HOLIDAY ROSE PETAL SHORTBREAD
Makes about 24 cookies

Cookies:
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
⅔ cup confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon rose extract*
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon crushed dried rose petals (optional)
2 cups all purpose flour

Icing:
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
sparkling holiday sugar and fresh (organic, non-pesticide) torn rose petals for garnish (chopping makes them dark around the edges)

Combine butter and confectioners’ sugar in a stand mixer fitted with paddle and mix until combined with no lumps, 2-3 minutes. Add the rose and vanilla extracts and the crushed rose petals (if using) and mix until incorporated. Add flour in two stages until just combined.

Transfer the dough to a quart-size Ziploc bag, leaving a small hole at the top so air can escape, and roll out with a rolling pin until dough has fully and evenly filled the shape of the bag. Refrigerate on a flat surface at least two hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325°F and line two large baking sheets with parchment. Cut the sides of the Ziploc bag and peel back the top layer. Use a ruler and nick each side of the dough at 2-inch intervals with a pizza cutter or knife. Gently cut out your squares and transfer to parchment-lined cookie sheets. Use a fork to make traditional tine marks in the dough.

Put one cookie sheet in the refrigerator while the first batch bakes, 18-20 minutes. Watch carefully toward the end. You want the cookies very slightly browned at the edges only. Cool cookies completely on wire racks.

To make icing, combine confectioners’ sugar with milk and mix with a small whisk until smooth. To decorate, drizzle icing over cookies with a fork and, while icing is still wet, sprinkle with sparkling sugar and rose petals.

 

*Rose extract is available at many grocery stores and at Amazon.

Organic dried rose petals are available at Amazon or World Market (in the spice section).

 

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Green Fairy Tale

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Drinks, Entertainment, Food & Drink, History, Movies, Recipes, Spirits

Twenty-five years ago today, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was released in theaters. Being a fangirl (emphasis on “fang”), I flew out to see it, but amidst the gore and gothic romance, one scene sank its teeth into me:

Count Dracula fills a glass with green liquid, then pours water from a carafe over a sugar cube, which rests on an intricate silver spoon suspended atop the glass. He tells Mina, “Absinthe is the aphrodisiac of the self. The green fairy who lives in the absinthe wants your soul, but you are safe with me.” Mina takes the sugar cube and sucks on it with a look of ecstasy on her face.

Needless to say, I swooned.

For the past decade, absinthe has been enjoying a revival, but back in 1992, I hadn’t heard of it. The public Internet was in its infancy, so I had to do some old-fashioned library research in order to learn more about this mysterious drink. I discovered that it was a popular libation in Gilded Age Paris that was purported to have psychedelic properties and had been credited with inspiring great works of impressionist art, literature, and music. It had also been illegal in the United States since 1915.

Absinthe is a potent alcoholic drink featuring a mixture of botanicals, including sweet anise, fennel, lemon balm, star anise, and peppermint. One primary ingredient is grande wormwood, an herb containing high levels of thujone, long thought to be responsible for absinthe’s mind-altering effects. Due to its transformational nature and the vivid green color of the liquid, drinking absinthe became known as “romancing the green fairy.” It was believed to be highly addictive and, in the lead-up to Prohibition, took the blame for many of the social problems of the day.

The forbidden always seems more exotic, so I plotted to get my hands on a bottle, but years passed without success. I traveled to New Orleans in the spring of 2000 and visited the site of the Old Absinthe Bar where, ironically, there was not a drop of absinthe to be had due to the continued ban on its importation, but I was not the only one who’d caught absinthe fever. That same year, a product called Absente was released in America. Marketed as the first legal absinthe in the U.S. since the ban, it was made using a process similar to the original 19th-century versions, replacing the wormwood with southernwood and adding sugar.

I immediately purchased a bottle, along with their matching absinthe-style glasses and spoons. Still infatuated with the ritual that I’d seen at the cinema and read about in my research, I reverently set up my glass and spoon, placing the sugar cube just so, then carefully poured ice-cold water over the sugar and into the glass of Absente. I watched, captivated, as they combined to create la louche—the magical alchemy that transforms clear, emerald-hued absinthe into the opaline shade of green milk glass. This was finally happening! I brought the glass to my lips and took a sip.

In the build-up to this moment, I’d never entertained the thought that anticipation of a thing is often greater than the thing itself. I had also failed to consider that absinthe contains two types of anise—a flavor I don’t favor. Further, I’d never been a fan of hard liquor. Even watered down and sweetened up, this brew was robust, to say the least. I could only choke down about half of the liquid.

Disappointed, but unbowed, I wasn’t quite ready to abandon my quest for true absinthe. Despite discovering that I didn’t dig the drink, I still yearned to experience the heady effects that had inspired artists like Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec and authors such as Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway, so the search carried on and I continued to accrue absinthe accoutrements.

Helping to keep the dream alive, absinthe was featured in two movies released in 2001. The first was Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!, in which several characters savor the spirit and subsequently hallucinate a green fairy in the form of Kylie Minogue. A few months later, I found myself once again in the theater staring up at a stunning bottle of absinthe in From Hell, where Johnny Depp’s character is at once chasing the dragon and romancing the green fairy.

Eventually, Kirsti—who’d caught the absinthe bug from me—convinced a friend who was traveling to the Czech Republic to smuggle a bottle of genuine absinthe back to the U.S. for us. Bottle finally in hand, we set out our paraphernalia and prepared to imbibe. This was it.

Antique silver absinthe spoons are highly collectible, but these stainless steel versions are beautiful and affordable.

I didn’t feel the same thrill I’d experienced when preparing to drink Absente for the first time, but we performed the revered ritual and drank up. I finished my entire glass and even had another, but as the evening progressed, I never felt more than a slight buzz from the alcohol—no symphonies heard, stanzas conceived, or scenes envisioned, and not a single flash of fairy wings.

The romance was officially over.

My absinthe-related supplies and books were relegated to a dusty shelf, while the bottle of contraband liquor languished in a cabinet. This would have been the end of the story if not for our friend Mika, who, in addition to being a trained opera singer and pastry chef, is a talented mixologist with a knack for dreaming up delicious drinks. She likes to rinse a glass with absinthe before constructing a cocktail, or incorporate a small measure in the mixture itself, imparting an almost floral note that I find enchanting. Like many a skilled composer, she doesn’t always transcribe her technique, but BuzzFeed compiled a convenient list of absinthe cocktails for those who don’t take their liquor neat—or too seriously.

Hidden within this vintage-inspired artwork by Robert Rodriguez are the names of Tempus Fugit’s absinthes.

If you have the heart of a true absintheur, you’re in luck! Absinthe was officially legalized in the United States in 2007, leading to a flood of options for enthusiasts. Absente was reformulated to contain actual wormwood, and even Marilyn Manson got in on the game with his acclaimed version, Mansinthe. Many are of high quality, but beware of imitations. I tried one that looked more like mouthwash than absinthe and did not form a louche when water and sugar were added. We at The Swoon Society are partial to Vieux Pontarlier, a pre-ban absinthe from Tempus Fugit Spirits, purveyors of luscious liqueurs in beautiful bottles.

Despite some conflict along the way, this green fairy tale has a happy ending, so raise a glass in cheers to a journey of 25 years, but opt for emerald and skip the silver…unless there are vampires about.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Absinthe

 

Have you caught the bug? For detailed information about the history, ingredients, and ritual of absinthe, visit Absinthe Fever.

 

You Say Tomato, I Say Yum!

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Starters

It’s easy to get in an appetizer rut. I think I have done a hundred different variations on a cheese plate and, while always a crowd pleaser, it’s…well…boring. I have a few other appies on regular rotation (some have even appeared in this blog), but it’s not easy to find one that is delicious, pretty AND easy to prepare. When you’re having a dinner party, the last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time on the appetizer (I prefer to spend the bulk of my time on dessert!).

Our dear friends Cindy and Ric recently moved nearby and invited us over to see their new house and have some cocktails. Cindy is a Class A party thrower and has been both my inspiration and a mentor in the fine art of “entertaining”—a word I honestly hate and never use, but sounds fancier than “having people over.” She taught me that planning ahead is key, that a signature cocktail instantly makes the night more special, and that flowers—and lots of them—make all the difference.

As we sat out in their backyard sipping cocktails in the glorious Los Angeles twilight, I thought the evening couldn’t get better. And then Ric brought out the appetizer. We collectively gasped in delight! In a rustic paella pan, whole cloves of roasted garlic shimmered in a pool of warm olive oil, fragrant and golden. Sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and goat cheese snuggled together with the garlic, creating a colorful tableau. Served with a freshly toasted baguette, it was a sight to behold. All conversation stopped as we stuffed our faces, not caring that olive oil was dripping down our chins and we were licking our fingers with reckless abandon. We were like kids devouring their very first birthday cake. And when we were done, we could have done it again.

Cindy and Ric graciously shared the recipe with me, and I’ve made that appetizer for everyone who has come to dinner since. Every guest has had the same reaction we did that night at Cindy and Ric’s: full-on swoon. I even considered creating a spreadsheet that showed the people I had made it for so I wouldn’t repeat it, although I don’t think anyone would have minded. When one of my best girlfriends, Erika, was coming to visit with her daughter, Viva, making this appetizer was a no-brainer.

Erika is not your typical dinner guest. Having Erika for dinner is like having Ina Garten, or a nicer, prettier, and better-smelling Tony Bourdain, over. She is a well-known food and travel writer and cookbook author who publishes her own glorious magazine, GFF (Gluten Free Forever – I recommend you get a subscription* immediately, even if you are not gluten-free. It’s fabulous!). The first time I met Erika, she offered to cook all the food for my wedding (I did not let her). Shortly after that, I was invited to her birthday party in which she made a croquembouche (Google it – your jaw will drop). This is just how she rolls. She blew my mind and continues to do so to this day. She is also down-to-earth and so lovely that I never feel I have to impress her, but it is also fun to cook for people who love food, so I do spend time thinking about what to make.

I don’t even remember what else I made that night, but the garlic and tomato appetizer was a home run. Even Viva loved it. When Erika asked if she could put the recipe in the holiday edition of GFF, I was thrilled! Thrilled that I could make something that dazzled her, thrilled that Cindy and Ric’s wonderful recipe will live on in print, and thrilled that so many others will be able to enjoy it too. I may not like the word “entertaining,” but feeding my friends delicious food is pretty dang entertaining.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

OLIVE OIL-POACHED TOMATO AND GARLIC APPETIZER
Adapted from the Holiday 2017 issue (no. 13) of GFF Magazine

2 cups good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 bulbs of garlic, cloves separated and peeled or 1 package of pre-peeled garlic (from the refrigerated section of the grocery store)
½ pint cherry tomatoes
1 8-oz. jar julienned sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
3 Tbsp. capers, drained
11 oz. goat cheese
½ tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
1 small handful of basil, leaves sliced into thin strips
Fresh ground pepper
1 French baguette, sliced and lightly toasted (if you are gluten-free, Erika recommends the brand Against the Grain Gourmet)

Preheat oven to 400º F. In a pan over very low heat, add the oil and garlic and cook gently until garlic is very soft, but still light in color (overcooking garlic will ruin the flavor of the garlic and the oil), 30-40 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes longer, stirring occasionally so they don’t burn. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, bake the sliced baguette for 8-10 minutes until just toasted.

While the garlic oil/tomato mixture is still warm, pour it into a rimmed platter, add the sun-dried tomatoes, capers, red pepper (if using), and ground pepper to taste and give it a stir. Crumble the goat cheese on top, sprinkle the basil, and…ENTERTAIN!

 

*SPECIAL OFFER FOR SWOONERS: Use code Fall25 for 25% off the Holiday 2017 issue, or Fall17 for 35% off subscriptions, including shipping.

GFF Magazine is also available at Barnes & Noble, Whole Foods and many other places where magazines are sold.

 

Floral Dose

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Cold Drinks, Drinks, Entertaining, Food & Drink, Recipes, Spirits, Wellness

This post is guaranteed to raise your spirits, because we’ve found the cure for the common cocktail. Readers of this blog know that Kirsti and I swoon over floral flavorings, so we almost slipped into a coma when we discovered this bouquet of botanical drink mixers from Floral Elixir Company. With flavors ranging from Orchid and Orange Blossom to Lemon Verbena and Lavender, these sweet syrups will breathe new life into your libations.

Floral Elixir Company handcrafts its line of 13 drink mixers using only natural herbs and flowers. This includes its rainbow of vibrant colors, which is created from a blend of botanicals. The syrups can be mixed with sparkling water to make singular sodas, or used to sweeten lemonade and iced tea. Behind the bar, these elixirs transform mixed drinks into magical potions with palliative properties.

Years ago, Kirsti hosted a cocktail party with a self-serve bar where guests could mix floral and herbal liqueurs (like St. Germain, Crème de Violette, and Canton) with sparkling wine. It was a huge hit, but these botanical syrups from Floral Elixir Company offer even more variety and control for amateur and master mixologists alike. Get started with these recipes and grow your repertoire.

Floral elixirs are the Rx for refreshment, so we prescribe an oral dose several times per day, or as needed, to restore well-being.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Floral Elixir Company Botanical Drink Mixers

 

In their online shop, Floral Elixir Company offers a Mini Elixir Master Set , which includes sample sizes of all their flavors, as well as cocktail kits for Champagne Lovers, Tea Lovers, and everything in between.

 

Trial by Fire Tongs Punch

Author: Kirsten K., Drinks, Entertaining, Food & Drink, Holidays, Hot Drinks, Recipes, Spirits, Wine

Christmas has forced me to face my fears on more than one occasion. When my father was no longer able to hang lights on the outside of the house, I had to conquer my fear of heights to get on the roof and do it myself. Ditto for climbing to the top step of the ladder in order to place the angel atop our 13-foot tree.

feuerzangenbowle-1As the granddaughter of German immigrants, I enjoy many German Christmas traditions, so when I read about Feuerzangenbowle (FOY-er-TSAHNG-en-bowl-uh)—literally, “fire tongs punch”—I knew I had to try it…but I am scared of working with fire.

I have always had an anxious relationship with fire. One year at a family dinner, tissue paper from a gift bag fell into a candle flame on the table and caught fire. I panicked and dumped an entire pitcher of water on it, dousing my sister in the process, which led to yelling (and slapping). Fearful of starting a fire in my own fireplace and burning the house down, I prefer to enjoy one at Kirsti’s, where her husband Aaron is master of the hearth and assumer of the risk.

But I really wanted to try this punch.

The practice of setting fire to a rum-soaked sugar cone suspended by a set of specialized “tongs” over a bowl of mulled wine has a long history in Germany, but gained in popularity after the release of the 1944 film Die Feuerzangenbowle, which has become a cult classic. The sugar cone caramelizes as it burns, dripping into the punch bowl to sweeten a blend of red wine, citrus, cinnamon, and spices.

It’s a showstopper at parties with a large cone set aflame, but I wanted to start small, so I purchased mini sugar cones and tongs for experimentation. My first couple of attempts were failures, since the rum I’d acquired did not have a high enough proof to catch fire, but I was assured by subsequent research that Bacardi 151* would satisfy all my flaming needs.

feuerzangenbowle-2With tools and ingredients on hand, I set to brewing. I began with just a cup of wine, adapting the recipe (below) for one person. Once the tongs and sugar cone were in place, I poured the rum over the sugar. Then, with the longest match I could find in one hand and a fire extinguisher in the other, I lit the cone.

The flame started small, but quickly shot up higher than I’d expected, giving me a moment of panic, but it subsided as the sugar began dripping into the pot. In less than a minute, the punch was ready to drink—and it was delicious! Of course, you have to like mulled wine, which I do, but the addition of caramelized sugar makes this a sweet holiday treat.

Since my trial by fire tongs punch, I have made these seasonal spirits several more times, both on the stove and in a special mug with attached tongs. I no longer fear the flame and feel ready to tackle the larger version at a future holiday gathering. Until then, you can find me sitting by my (virtual) fire in front of the tree getting punch drunk on Christmas cheer. Fröhliche Weihnachten!

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

FEUERZANGENBOWLE (adapted from German Deli)

feuerzangenbowle-32 bottles of red wine (Burgundy or Merlot works best)
4 thin slices of orange
4 thin slices of lemon
juice of 2 fresh oranges
juice of 2 fresh lemons
½ tsp. fresh orange rind
½ tsp. fresh lemon rind
4 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp. cloves (optional)
1 large sugar cone
1 cup of rum (at least 151 proof)*

Equipment:
1 heat and flame-proof glass punch bowl, and
1 stainless steel bridge (tongs), or
Hot Pot Feuerzangenbowle Set
Long match or lighter

feuerzangenbowle-4Directions:
In a large pot, add both bottles of wine and all ingredients except the sugar cone and the rum. Simmer the wine, fruit, and spices over low heat for about 15 minutes. Don’t boil the wine—it should be hot, but not scalding. Carefully add the hot wine (including fruit slices and whole spices) to the punch bowl. For dramatic flare, place the punch bowl in a dimly-lit room. If you have a Hot Pot set, light the candle below the punch bowl to help keep the wine warm. Place the stainless steel bridge across the top of the punch bowl. Unwrap the sugar cone and place it on the bridge. Slowly pour the 151-proof rum onto the cone, rotating the cone until it is soaked with the rum. When guests have gathered around, light the sugar cone with the match or lighter.* The sugar cone will dissolve as the burning rum heats up the cone. The caramelized sugar will drip into the punch to sweeten it and the rum will enhance the flavor.

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*Use extreme caution with alcohol at this proof, as it is highly flammable. When you light the sugar cone, do so from a distance with a long match or lighter and make sure there is sufficient space for the cone to flame upwards (i.e. away from hanging light fixtures or decorations). Do not put your face near the cone or look down on it from above as you light it. Bacardi 151 comes with a stainless steel flame arrester over the opening to prevent the rum from igniting inside the bottle. It can be found in select liquor stores and is available for purchase online.

 

Our Gift to You – Swoon Saucers

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Sweets

swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-1Whenever I’m at a bakery and see the case of beautiful cookies, my knees go a little weak. All the different sprinkles and pretty shapes and the intoxicating singular smell of their collective sugary deliciousness make me swoon with delight! There is almost nothing more delightful than a pink bakery box filled with cookies.

swoon-stamp-christmas-tree-ornamentWith the holidays in full swing and Christmas and Hanukkah almost here, it can seem daunting to squeeze in baking time. Rolling out and decorating those cut-out cookies is a full weekend affair, and wouldn’t you just, for once, like to nap on the couch with the tree lights on and Nat or Andy or Burl or Frank crooning you into a happy holiday snooze?

Here is a recipe that is easy, super festive, and looks just like those fancy bakery cookies. Make the dough on Friday night, bake them Saturday morning, and enjoy the rest of your weekend.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM THE SWOON SOCIETY!

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

SWOON SAUCERS
(adapted from Piece Of Cake: Home Baking Made Simple by David Muniz, David Lesniak and Rachel Allen)

swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-2Makes about 50 cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. salt
1½ cups unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 large eggs
swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-34 tsp. vanilla extract*
Different sprinkles, nonpareils, colored sugars for decorating

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter on medium for about a minute. Turn mixer to low and add the oil in a slow stream and then add the two sugars, the eggs (one at a time) and the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the flour mixture in 4 additions, scraping down the sides after each addition. Dough will be very soft. Refrigerate in bowl covered with plastic wrap for at least an hour (and up to 3 days).

swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-4Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment.

Put sprinkles into small bowls. I like to use a variety of different holiday-themed decorations.

Using a tablespoon-sized cookie scoop or a spoon, make balls from the dough. Roll in your hands and then into the sprinkles. Place them on the baking sheets in rows of 3. Slightly flatten each ball with the palm of your hand.

swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-5Bake for about 14 minutes, just until the edges start to turn golden. Cool on baking sheet for a few minutes and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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*To really get that “bakery” flavor, you can substitute a teaspoon of Fiori di Sicilia for one of the teaspoons of vanilla. Available from King Arthur Flour.

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This recipe is great for any holiday – just switch out the sprinkles for Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, etc.!

 

Pickled French Plums – The Condiment You Didn’t Know You Needed

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Snacks, Starters

boat-street-pickled-french-plums-1I remember the olden days when fig jam and quince paste were exotic additions to a cheese plate. I used to really feel like an adult serving guests these fancy-pants confitures. It didn’t matter if your cheese platter was from Trader Joe’s or curated by a man with a handlebar mustache and bushy beard from the hipster cheese store—it was elevated. Now, even kids know what quince paste is, and fig jam is no longer special. You can buy it at Ralphs.

On this blog, we’ve written about rose petal jam and Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam as we quest for tasty additions to our plateau de fromage, but it has been a while since I’ve found something new that was worthy. Recently, I was visiting the cheese stall at my local Farmer’s Market and they introduced me to my new favorite: Boat Street Pickled French Plums.

boat-street-pickled-french-plums-2Made by acclaimed Seattle chef Renee Erickson, these Frenchie fruits will make your mouth sing. A winning combination of sour, sweet and spicy—the taste triumvirate—this spread creates a perfect storm when layered on top of some creamy, rich, soft cheese. Made with French plums, cider vinegar, cane sugar, coriander, mustard seed, arbol chili, orange peel, and bay leaf, it’s a complex explosion of flavor. It’s also amazing on sandwiches (grilled cheese—hold me!) or ice cream. Trust me, you will need several jars. Boat Street also makes pickled cherries, apricots, figs and raisins. So scratch that—you are going to need a boatload (see what I did there?).

There is nothing quite like a cracker spread with runny French cheese and a dollop of some magically fruity, smoky deliciousness and a chilled glass of Sancerre. Your mouth (and your guests) will say merci.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Boat Street Pickles

 

Grapefruit Loop

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Drinks, Food & Drink, Pop Culture, Recipes, Spirits, Wine

rose-pamplemousseToday is officially the last day of summer, and even though I view the hottest season of the year with dread, I find myself wondering where the time went. Back in April, Kirsti sent me a link to an article about grapefruit wine and how this rosé pamplemousse was all the rage in France. Envisioning the two of us enjoying summer sunsets on her balcony with a bottle of the citrusy spirits, I bookmarked it as something to explore—and possibly post about—in early summer.

On the day the season arrived, I saw a segment on Nightline about the “rosé lifestyle,” a craze primarily among millennials that has spawned the hashtags #yeswayrose and #roseallday. Deciding to blend the trend of those who #drinkpink with the French penchant for grape juice and pamplemousse, I scoured wine shops and liquor stores for grapefruit rosé, but couldn’t find a single bottle. An online search uncovered a few brands for sale from a handful of retailers, but the shipping was two-to-three times the price of the wine. When I contacted two local wine shops about ordering rosé pamplemousse in the States, neither was able to do it, so I shelved the idea.

very-pamp-rose-pamplemousseIn late summer, it suddenly occurred to me: I have a friend living in France! I’ve written a number of times about Mika, who currently calls Lyon home, so I contacted her and asked if she’d seen any grapefruit wine around town. Despite everything I’d read about the French passion for pamplemousse, she hadn’t heard of it, but she returned mere hours later with two bottles of Very Pamp from Maison Castel. She drank each “without fanfare” (her words) and didn’t seem too impressed, but the next day she found three more brands and reported back:oh-my-pamp-rose-pamplemousse

“I am having the Oh My Pamp. It is really good! Very interesting notes all around. Lots of play on the palate and much more in the nose. Yes, it’s sweet, but not too sweet and not flat at all. It actually has a small hint of ROSE flavor to it! I don’t know why, but it TOTALLY works. Super low alcohol, so after I enjoyed half a glass I added a tiny bit of vodka and it’s still smooth and delish. Rosé and grapefruit might be my new flavor combo this year!”

summer-water-rose-wineThree bottles later, what may have started without fanfare had ended with a fan there, but that didn’t help me at all. Unwilling to put her to the trouble of shipping me a bottle of alcohol, but wanting to stay in the grapefruit loop, I decided to take the advice of one blogger and simply mix grapefruit juice with grape fruit juice, so to speak. Since both grapefruit wine and rosé have become synonymous with summertime, I purchased a bottle of Summer Water rosé for this experiment.

Pink grapefruit juice and rosé wine make such an obvious pairing that it’s difficult to believe this marriage has only been recognized for the past few years. With each displaying a shy blush and demure sweetness that tempers a tart acidity on the tongue, this fun and and flirty couple captures the “spirit” of the season. It may have taken me until the end of summer to figure this out, but with local temps predicted to reach over 100° by the weekend, it’s refreshing to know that there’s still time to fall for this fad.

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grapefruit-rose-wineGRAPEFRUIT ROSÉ (adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 cup rosé wine
½ cup fresh pink or Ruby Red grapefruit juice
Ice (optional)

Mix wine and grapefruit juice in a small pitcher. Serve straight or over ice. Garnish with a slice of grapefruit, if desired. Serves two.

Variation: omit the grapefruit juice (or not) and add Monin Ruby Red Grapefruit Syrup, to taste.

 

You can purchase Meadowsweet Rosé Wine with Grapefruit (from Arlington, Binny’s, and Jericho), Ruby Red Rosé Wine with Natural Grapefruit Flavor (from Amity, Shop Rite, and We Speak Wine), and Pulse Rosé with Grapefruit & Peach online, but be prepared to pay around $20 to ship a $5-10 bottle of wine.

 

A Taste of Your Own Medicine Flower

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Fragrance, Recipes, Sweets

Violet Flavor ExtractBoth Kirsti and I have written about our love for floral flavorings and the disappointing search for a true violet culinary extract following our swoon-worthy taste of violet ice cream in the South of France. It can be difficult to find a natural violet extract, since the blossoms only produce a small amount of essential oils. For this reason, violet was one of the first perfume essences to be synthesized, and this extends to the kitchen, where artificial violet extracts are the norm. While they might smell and taste like violet, there’s usually a chemical undertone that tells you this flower was “grown” in a lab.

Violet CupcakeI have purchased a number of extracts that claim to be natural flavors or to taste just like violet, but they invariably turn out to be either analogs (i.e. synthetics) or made from orris root, a member of the iris family that is commonly used as a fixative in perfumes and is reputed to smell and taste like violet. While there is a violet-like quality to the fragrance, it is nothing that a true violetesse would mistake.

I’d almost given up the perennial search when I came across Medicine Flower, an “aromatic apothecary” that sells essential oils, massage and body care products, and genuine, 100% natural flavor extracts…including a violet that is “made from the material named on the label.” Wary, but excited, I purchased a small dropper bottle. When it arrived, I could detect the essence of violets before I’d even opened the package. Here it was at last: a natural, culinary extract that smelled and tasted like true violet.

Rose Flavor ExtractAccording to their website, Medicine Flower’s extracts have a flavor potency that is 30-70 times higher than other products on the market. I have no trouble believing this, because I’ve used my violet extract in chocolate, baked goods, hot drinks, ice cream, and anything else that might benefit from a floral fix for the past couple of years and there’s still some of the precious essence left in the original bottle that I purchased.

True to its name, Medicine Flower also makes jasmine and Bulgarian rose flavor extracts that are as swoon-inducing as the violet. Undiluted rose and jasmine absolutes can run in the hundreds of dollars per ounce, but these natural flavor extracts are only $22 for 15 ml (½ oz.) and can perfume your cooking and baking with just a drop or two, making them a phenomenal value.

Jasmine Flavor ExtractFloral extracts particularly enhance desserts. Add a couple of drops to the batter and/or frosting when making cakes and cupcakes, then garnish with fresh or candied blossoms. The rose is intense and intoxicating, like burying your face in a bouquet of velvety blooms. I like to put a single drop in a glass of lemonade or pink champagne and float a couple of petals on the surface. The jasmine is even more concentrated and has a fruitier aroma than most jasmine flowers I’ve encountered. Mix a drop into vanilla ice cream for a treat unlike any you’ve tasted.

These are only a small sampling of the 65 culinary extracts that Medicine Flower produces, which include flavors as diverse as butterscotch, cucumber, dark chocolate, fig, wildflower honey, and cabernet sauvignon grape. With so many to choose from, write yourself a prescription for several bottles and get a taste of your own Medicine Flower.

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Medicine Flower Genuine Flavor Extracts

 

Medicine Flower flavor extracts can also be dabbed on wrists as a light perfume or added to massage oils, soaps, and other body care products (great for birthday or holiday gift giving). Mix and match to create your own culinary mixture or signature scent.

 

Update 3/22/17:

Medicine Flower is ushering in a Spring Worthy Of Our Noses (and our palates) with discounted prices on select floral flavors and absolutes, plus 13% off your entire order when you use the code SPRING17, so stock up and enjoy a scent-sational season.

The following items are on sale:

Bulgarian Rose Flavor
Jasmine Flavor
Violet Flavor

Agarwood (Oud) Absolute
Frangipani Absolute
Jasmine auriculatum Absolute
Linden Blossom Absolute
Orange Blossom Absolute

 

Shrub the Right Way

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Cold Drinks, Drinks, Food & Drink, History, Holidays, Recipes, Spirits

Shrub 1Here in Southern California, we’re in the midst of an early summer heat wave, but instead of searching for the cool shade of a tree, I’ve been reaching for the cool treat of a shrub. Shrubs, also known as drinking vinegars, are refreshing beverages made from sweetened fruit and vinegar mixed with still or sparkling water. Used since the 15th century and popular in colonial America as a way to preserve summer fruits, the shrub is currently enjoying a revival.

I first learned about shrubs on a visit to Colonial Williamsburg several years ago and bought a bottle of pre-made shrub syrup from the Williamsburg Marketplace to try at home. I instantly fell for this sweet/tart thirst quencher, but why buy the syrup when you can easily make your own? Shrub 2The recipe is simple, requiring only three ingredients and a bit of pre-planning. Some people recommend cooking the mixture to speed up the process, but I prefer the cold method. It can take a few days, but involves only minutes of hands-on time, and the resulting syrup has greater depth and nuance.

While fresh summer fruits are now becoming available, frozen fruit works just as well when making shrub syrup. In fact, unless you grow your own fruit, pick it yourself, or obtain it from a farmer’s market, I suggest using frozen fruit (preferably organic) to make the syrup, since it is flash frozen a short time after it’s been picked and is actually fresher and more flavorful than most “fresh” fruit. Plus, it’s convenient, having been pre-washed and prepared.Shrub 3

In anticipation of the upcoming 4th of July holiday, I’ve made patriotic red raspberry and wild blueberry shrub syrups. After bottling, it’s best to leave the syrup in the fridge for at least a week or more to cure, so if you get started now, your shrub(s) will be just right to serve at that Independence Day picnic or barbecue. The fruit flavors intensify the longer the mixture sits, and the acid from the vinegar will dissolve any residual sugar over the course of a few days.

Once your syrup has matured a bit, it will be ripe to drink. You can mix it with water to taste, but a good ratio is 2 Tbsp. of syrup for every 8 oz. of water. As mentioned above, you can use still or sparkling water, but get inventive. Use the syrup in place of sugar to sweeten iced tea or lemonade, or follow the lead of trend-setting mixologists who have embraced shrub syrups as a way to add a tart kick to cocktails. The designated drivers and teetotalers at your gathering will appreciate a sophisticated shrub in place of the standard club soda and lime.

As we get ready to revel on America’s birthday, prepare to party like it’s 1776 and celebrate colonial-style with a bottle of aged shrub. It’s the perfect “cure” for the summertime red, white, and blues.

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COLONIAL SHRUB SYRUP

1 cup berries or fruit cut in small chunks
1 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar*

Put fruit in a glass bowl and stir in sugar, mixing until the fruit is coated. Cover bowl (I try to avoid using plastic wrap, so I just rest a plate on top) and put it in the refrigerator for one to several days. The longer the mixture sits, the more flavor will be drawn out by the sugar, but I find that two days is usually sufficient.Shrub 5

When you remove the bowl from the fridge, the fruit should be floating in a watery syrup. There are a couple ways to separate out the fruit. If you want to save the sweetened fruit to use later, you can either remove it with a slotted spoon, or pour the mixture through a strainer, pressing down on the fruit with a spoon or spatula to extract all the liquid, but it will still be coated with some undissolved sugar and you will need to scoop out any remaining sugar in the bowl to add back in to the liquid.

Since I like the least amount of fuss, I simply add the vinegar to the fruit mixture first and stir until most of the sugar is dissolved. Then I pour it through a strainer and press down on the fruit. Shrub 6What remains is a small pile of sweet, vinegar-infused fruit that you can toss in a smoothie or spoon over ice cream (if that sounds unappetizing, you’ve obviously never drizzled balsamic vinegar over vanilla ice cream).

Whether you add the vinegar before or after you strain the fruit, stir well and pour the mixture into clean bottles or jars. Place in the fridge or a cool pantry (shrub syrup does not strictly need to be refrigerated) for one or more weeks before serving. Makes about two cups of syrup.

Variations
If you want to get creative, experiment with different combinations of fruit, vinegar, and herbs. For a list of herbs that pair well with summer fruits, click here. You can also make shrub syrups with different types of vinegar, including balsamic, champagne, red wine, rice, sherry, white balsamic, and white wine varieties. Balsamic vinegars should be mixed 50/50 with lighter versions, such as dark balsamic with red wine vinegar (great with strawberries) or white balsamic with champagne vinegar (try it with peaches). Use rice vinegar with plums and Japanese basil for an Asian twist. You can even play around with other kinds of sugar, like turbinado, demerara, or muscovado. The possibilities are endless, so have fun!

*I recommend Bragg’s organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar.

 

To serve your drinking vinegars in authentic colonial style, purchase tavern shrub glasses from the Williamsburg Marketplace.