Summer Fizzy Drinks: Spirited Version

This post was largely inspired by the Briar Patch cocktail, and the blackberry-chile syrup that is responsible for the bulk of its flavor (101 Cookbooks). It is everything good about summer, to my mind: fresh, sweet (but not too sweet), hot (but not too too hot), fruity and fizzy, and as boozy (or not) as you want. The cocktail, which originally called for blackberry simple syrup, features bourbon, lemon juice, maple syrup and bitters (plus egg white if you like it shaken and foamy — I don’t, so I leave it out). It’s riff on a Maple Leaf, I suppose, with a smoky-hot twist!

 

This is just one of many cocktails that you can make using local berries and herbs; if you haven’t thought to make your own syrups or infusions before, we have some suggestions for getting started!

Some recent posts I’ve been admiring on this subject:

by Stacey Spensley (via Flickr)

From Food and Wine, the Garden Elixir features cilantro and celery in variation of the gin martini. They also add green Chartreuse, apple juice, and lime juice to bump up the green. Don’t worry if you don’t keep Chartreuse on hand; it’s very distinctive and certainly adds to this cocktail, but it’ll be delicious without it as well. I’d definitely go with a little fizz on this one, maybe using lime soda instead of the lime juice, but it’s up to you.

 

Pepino’s Revenge, also from Food and Wine (via Wolfgang Puck) uses cucumber and basil in a margarita-like tequila cocktail — SO refreshing on a hot day!

 

via Pexels.com

From The Spruce, try a blueberry martini!! Making the juice is as simple as blending the berries (no need to strain, unless you want the juice to be clear).

Or try their Garden Patch Smash, which combines tequila, blueberries, raspberry-lavender syrup, lime, and lavender soda.

And, we couldn’t leave out the tomatoes… and neither could Serious Eats. They have a wonderful fresh tomato martini that absolutely wouldn’t be the same without that perfect local tomato. The recipe calls for tomato and vodka blended together, and then strained gently but thoroughly to yield clear tomato-flavored vodka. To 3 oz of this, you add 1/2 t. dry vermouth, and 1/4 t. white wine vinegar. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass. It’s a bit unusual, but so summery and delicious.

Why not experiment with your cocktail recipes, and include some local ingredients? Let us know if you have a favorite!

 

 

 

I Can Grill That?

Last week I found out that one could grill green beans. My first thought was, “don’t they fall between the grates?” (HAHAHA.) (No, really, that really was my first thought.) It turns out that beans do very nicely with a bit of char – you can use a grill basket or heavy duty aluminum foil. But it made me wonder: what other vegetables can I grill? Here is a short list of recipes with veggies that you’re sure to see at the market this week.

Corn. (Corn!) Everyone’s favorite. If you make this, you can also make this. And this. (Trust me, elote is going to be your new obsession.) Grilled corn is beautiful with grilled sweet peppers, too.

So…PEPPERS. Are you a fan of jalapeño poppers? Well, here you go. (No need to go out for this anymore – make it at home with truly excellent, local peppers.) And if you’re a fan of spicy dishes, try a grilled jalapeño potato salad. 

Squashes and zucchini are a popular choice, and you can add any range of flavor profiles – even just a bit of sea salt. Here is one with basil (definitely in season!), and it’s also great with mint. Oh heck – here’s one more. It’s just all so good.

Eggplant is another veggie that loves the heat. This recipe might just make an eggplant lover out of a skeptic (I know you’re out there!). I love that this dish has an easy, flavorful yogurt sauce. Looks fancy; very easy.

Panzanella (bread and vegetable salad): another summer classic.

Fruit! Grilled peaches can pair with a main course as a side, shine in a salad, or as a super-easy dessert.

Lettuce! (Yes, lettuce!) Romaine lettuce, in particular, holds up just fine to a hot grill.  (At the market, you might try another variety – ask a farmer which varieties are sturdy like Romaine.) Lots of flavor options with this, too.

And while we are on the subject of lettuce, we should consider how salads don’t just come in the cold and raw variety (or even include lettuce, of course). Great salads often combine both hot and cold elements, cooked (or grilled) and raw ingredients, salty/sweet/crunchy, etc. It’s all about having a combination of flavors and textures – and using local, fresh veggies means that the flavor is going to be just that much better (and will need very little dressing up!). Check out this grilled corn and nectarine salad (you could easily sub peaches).

Lastly…BEER CAN CABBAGE. (Seriously!) Why let the chickens have all the fun? (And you can grill cabbage without a beer can, too.)

We are in the heyday of summer vegetables. I can’t stop smiling. You, too?

Happy summer, and enjoy.

What to Do With All Those Springtime Herbs

If I had to choose one thing that has really changed my cooking, it’s using fresh herbs. Tossing some chopped parsley, chive or cilantro on a dish is an easy, healthy and time-saving shortcut to robust flavor.

I grew up in family that is typically planning the next meal with gusto as we are eating the current one (you, too?). Since the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree (brace yourself for endless bad food puns in my posts…sorry), once I was on my own in the world I would work through ambitious food projects because, well, I wanted to eat them. Make your own chicken stock?* You bet. Find the most authentic way to make a timpano?** It’s ON. Binge-watch the Sopranos and then make Italian-American meals that you saw on Carmela’s dinner table? Maybe I did. Fuggedabboutit.

But as my life got busier and busier (sound familiar?) I had to find cooking shortcuts. It dawned on me that sometimes I just shouldn’t bother cooking things; the veggies from the market and my CSA were so flavorful that, in most cases, I loved them raw. Talk about a time-saver. Duh.

I digress (is my middle name). Fresh herbs are an immediate way to punch up the flavor of any meal and are perfect when served chopped and totally raw (especially if, like me, you sometimes forget to follow the recipe and the dish is done and all that’s left to fix things is salt, pepper, and fresh parsley. Yay for parsley!). Because they are delicate, you almost always add fresh herbs at the end of your cooking to have that burst of flavor alongside the ones that you simmered, roasted or grilled.

But sometimes herbs are actually the star of the show, and springtime brings with it an explosion of flavor in tiny little bundles.  When you’re perusing the offering at the market, it’s going to be hard to resist those adorable clusters of herb joy – so don’t do it. Buy a bunch and when you get home and panic and think, what the heck do I do with all of this? you can check the blog and we’ll help you out.  No problem.

An herb sauce that is endlessly useful on meat or on veggies is chimichurri (which is also a great way to use your green garlic). There are many variations on this Argentinian staple (feel free to make up your own) and it works on just about anything savory, though traditionally it’s used as an accompaniment to grilled beef. (Try the leftovers on eggs!) For plant-based eaters, it’s lovely on grilled portobello mushrooms. Check out other options here and here.

Another great use for herbs is tabbouleh, served on its own as a salad and frequently as an accompaniment to hummous and with other mezze. I love a variation on tabbouleh that includes wheat berries, which are grown locally at Ackerman Farms and are sold at Common Ground in Bloomington.

Are you a salmon lover? (We are utterly devoted to our Sitka Salmon CSA share – did you know you can get sustainably-fished salmon and seafood from small, operator-owned fisheries in Sitka, Alaska delivered right to your door?) This recipe also calls for scallions (spring/green onions), another item that is plentiful in the early months of the summer market.  (I also love this NYT feature on parsley. The NYT Cooking section and app is excellent and FREE.)

I don’t want to leave anyone out, so how about some love for mint, cilantro, tarragon, and dill, while we’re at it.  That last link might send you down a rabbit hole, because Smitten Kitchen is about the best food blogger out there and it’s very likely that you’ll want her to be your best friend (I do!). But don’t forget that the thesis of this post is that all you have to do to enjoy herbs is chop them up and throw them on whatever you are eating. Done.

Happy spring! — J.S.

*Surprise! That link is actually to a hands-off recipe for homemade chicken stock! Not complicated at all.

**And you know that Stanley Tucci’s Big Night is the best movie ever, right? Full disclosure: have not yet made the timpano.