Root Beer Liqueur

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I’m always on the lookout for new liqueurs to make. This one stuck out for me because I’d been reading The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Elix Katz, and was intrigued by the section on making your own roots beers. I am far far too chicken to brave making carbonated beverages at home (explosions, broken glass, blindness, a lifetime in darkness, etc…) so I decided to make a liqueur instead.

It was actually pretty easy finding the ingredients. I just biked down to my local home brew shop, and they were there for sale by the ounce. Although I got some funny looks from the burly, bearded brewmeisters when I told them I was making a root beer flavored liqueur. I tucked my tail between my legs and scuttled out of there fast.

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It didn’t wind up tasting all that much like the root beer I drank as a kid, but if you like strong, complex, herbal liqueurs, I recommend this one.

Root Beer Liqueur

Adapted from Serious Eats

3 cups water

1-teaspoon sassafras root bark

1-teaspoon birch bark

1-teaspoon sarsaparilla root bark

1 star anise

1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger

1 sprig mint

Peel of 1 lemon (just the zest, not the pith)

2 tablespoons brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

1-teaspoon molasses

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

1½ cups vodka

1.)   Combine water, barks, anise, ginger, mint, and lemon peel in a pot and boil until water reduces by half. Remove from heat and let steep for 2 hours.

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2.)   Place a sieve lined with cheesecloth over a clean pot and strain liquid into it. Add sugars and molasses to pot and bring to boil.

3.)   Remove from heat, add vanilla and allow to cool completely before adding vodka.

4.)   Store in a cool dark place, allowing flavors to combine for one month.

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Peach Chutney

At Phillip’s Farms this week the trees available to the pick-your-own pickers were heavy with gorgeous peaches—almost none of them ripe, unfortunately. Not that that stopped us taking home a couple buckets full, cheap as they were. Having deposited a bucket’s worth with my parents, I decided to make chutney with what remained, and what a chutney it was.

My boyfriend was out at a poker game and I was planning a most depressing evening of takeout and The Gilmore Girls, when lo and behold, I remembered our underripe peaches. No need for takeout when you can have pork chops with peach chutney. So there was still Gilmore Girls involved in my evening, but all the novels I’m reading are too serious and the nip in the air makes me remember that I have to go back to teaching in a few weeks, so Lorelai and Rory’s antics are a blessed, rose-tinted necessity right now.

I ate my pork chops and peach chutney with sautéed kale and roast potatoes. It was a magical feast for one.

Peach Chutney

1.5 lbs peaches

1-tablespoon olive oil

½ cup chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1-cup cider vinegar

¼ cup maple syrup or honey

½ cup raisins

Salt and pepper

1.)   Poach peaches in boiling water for ten minutes or until soft and fragrant. Cool by running under cold water and then remove the pits and chop.

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2.)   Sautee onion and garlic until soft, ten minutes.

3.)   Add red pepper flakes and stir one minute, until fragrant.

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4.)   Add peaches, vinegar, maple syrup or honey, and raisins, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil, reduce heat and continue cooking on medium low until peaches soften, about twenty minutes. Add water if the liquid boils out before the peaches have fully cooked.

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Paleo Blackberry Jam

We went down to Phillip’s Farm in Milford, New Jersey a few days ago and went picking. I hadn’t been to a pick-your-own farm since childhood, and experiencing one of these places with the eyes of an adult, I learned a few things about agriculture. I was picking blueberries in the sun for half an hour and practically got sunstroke. We sat in the car for ten minutes afterwards with the air conditioning blasting, drinking down a gallon of water. The actual migrant workers picking in the next field must have thought we were pretty silly for doing this work for free. So there went my agrarian fantasy.

It wasn’t all sweaty and disillusioning, fortunately. The best picking of all was blackberry picking. They’re exactly in season right now and hung heavily off the vines, eager to be picked. They were big, juicy and sour and we filled our buckets in no time, walking up and down between the big, shady bushes. I could have picked blackberries all day.

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My boyfriend follows the paleo diet so the jam I made from our blackberries couldn’t have any sugar or store-bought pectin in it. I made skillet jam with honey and it took a long damn time but the end result is pretty damn perfect. It’s old school jam, perfect for biscuits or scones, and I imagine unearthly when combined with peanut butter and brown bread.

Blackberry Jam

2.5 pounds blackberries

1 scant cup of water

1 3/4ths cup honey

Juice of four lemons

1.) Heat together berries, lemon, juice and water in a skillet until comes to a boil. Then mash berries with a fork.

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2.) Add honey and boil hard for 15 minutes.

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3.) Continue to cook at a brisk simmer until jam has thickened to desired level. This can take over an hour.

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4.) While jam is cooking, put a plate in the freezer. When you think the jam is thickened, test it by dabbing a little on the plate and putting it in the freezer for a few minutes. If after a few minutes the jam doesn’t slide off the plate when you take it out and hold it vertically, it’s done. It should be at around 220 degrees Fahrenheit if you want to test it with a candy thermometer.

5.) Allow to cool completely then refrigerate. Refrigerated, it should keep for several months.

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Lemon Sole with Anise and Cucumber

I like that I can get away with using catastrophic amounts of butter in my cooking so long as I think of what I’m making as ‘cuisine’ instead of just food. So many of my favorite things to eat are made with heaping mounds of butter. Pâté, when you come down to it, is little more than meat butter, after all. And there’s nothing I like more than meat butter on toast squares with a bit of red current jam.

Of course, I no longer balk anymore at using lots of butter (from locally raised, grass-fed cows, but butter all the same.) As I learn how to eat I become less afraid of cooking with real fats. I think part of eating well is learning not to fear fat. I imagine most of our fat fears come from fear of mortality. Not because we fear heart disease but because fat makes us conscious that the meat we’re eating came from something that was once alive: alive like you or I am alive. Like the cow or pig or lamb I too will one day be just the sum of my parts: fat, muscle, blood, and bones.

But we who cook with fat get a little thrill from brushing shoulders with death. We know we’re cooking an animal. Not that cooking with real fat comes anywhere near to slaughtering an animal, but in an urban kitchen, far from the farm, it’s about as close as you can get.

I’m feeling philosophic today, by the way, because the cherry bounce I was fermenting, which I was supposed to reveal with great fanfare at Christmas, got infested with fruit flies. Some of them even laid eggs. I had to throw it away. Much sadness: hence, a post about fat and mortality.

The recipe below is a Simon Hopkinson fish recipe that uses lots of lovely butter. It’s got a lot of fresh, clean flavors: lemon sole cooked in a buttery froth of absinthe, dill, and cucumbers. There’s even a bit of fancy flambéeing that goes into it; so, plenty of bopping around to distract you from the dark night of eternity. I’ve renamed this dish after the consort of Hades because it has the ability to enliven after a long philosophical winter of the soul.

Lemon Sole Persephone

(Serves 2)

Adapted from Second Helpings of Roast Chicken by Simon Hopkinson

2 filets lemon sole, skinned

4 tablespoons butter, divided.

6 sprigs of dill

Salt and pepper

¼ cup diced cucumber

1-tablespoon anise liqueur

1/3 cup white wine

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1.)   Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.)   Fold filets of sole in half with the fatty side underneath.

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3.)   Rub tablespoons softened butter into ovenproof dish. Lay dill on top of butter and the sole parcels on top of the dill. Season lightly and sprinkle cucumber over fish.

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4.)   Heat anise liqueur in a stainless-steel pan and light with a match. When the flames have died down, pour over fish.

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5.)   Add lemon juice to fish, cover with foil and cook in the oven for 15 minutes or until the fish is just cooked.

6.)   Remove fish to separate platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

7.)   Discarding the dill, take the fish juices, cucumber and butter and pour them into the stainless steel pan. Simmer sauce until it turns syrupy, then whisk in remaining butter, one tablespoon at a time, until the sauce has thickened.

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8.)   Pour the sauce over the fish and serve immediately.

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Pickled Curried Cauliflower

IMG_0254There’s nothing like a cold, spicy pickle to cool down a hot day in August. Most of us in America probably have bad associations with cauliflower: bags of frozen stir-fry mix and those sad, tasteless white lumps in school lunches. In Asia, however, they know what to do with cauliflower. Whether you eat it raw or cooked, it’s a vegetable that calls out for spices and intense flavors.

This recipe is extremely easy to make. You just need a few ordinary kitchen spices and a head of cauliflower. It’s in no way authentically Indian. They tend not to brine their pickles over there. Instead mustard seed oil and sunlight are used for the fermentation process. But I don’t have any mustard seed oil and live in a basement apartment, so brining it was.

 Indian Spiced Pickled Cauliflower

Adapted from picklemetoo.com

1 head cauliflower, cut into small pieces

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon turmeric

3 garlic cloves, crushed

2 quarts brine, made with filtered water

1.)   Clean a half-gallon screw top jar and layer the jar with cauliflower and spices.

2.)   Add brine and place a weight on the cauliflower so it doesn’t float to the top.

3.)   Keep in a cool place with the lid loose for 3 days.