Search This Blog


Monday, July 22, 2013

Simply Simple Syrup

I love simple syrups. I use them for tea, for cocktails, for flavoring in sparkling water and I generally have several flavors at the ready. Some I enjoy on their own while others I combine to create more complexity in my drink of choice. Be creative, get inspired and enjoy a refreshing beverage of your own on a hot summer day!

You can make a Light Syrup with a 2:1 ratio (2 water/ 1 sugar)
A Simple Syrup with a 1:1 ratio
Or a Rich Syrup with a 1:2 ratio (1 water/2 sugar) – also called Bar Syrup

1 Tbsp.
2 Tbsp
4+ sprigs of fresh (or 1 Tbsp dried)

My basic recipe is the following (for a light syrup and of course adjust accordingly it you prefer sweeter):

1 cup filtered water
½ cup cane sugar
Leave plain or add flavoring (in the amounts indicated above).

Bring water and flavoring to a boil, reduce heat and add sugar. Simmer until sugar is melted and flavors have married (I usually let it go for about 10 minutes). Let cool, strain, bottle and refrigerate.

I love using the rosemary syrup with lemonade (a sprig of fresh rosemary makes a beautiful garnish). Chamomile is perfect with soda water (you can add a bit of milk or cream to make your own Italian style soda) and lavender is a favorite in my morning cup of Earl Grey tea. How would you enjoy using them?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Spice, whole vs. ground and the winner is?

Let’s talk spice! We get so many people stopping by the shop asking for ground spices that I need to mention as convenient as it is to reach for something that is already pre-ground when cooking dinner after a long day at the office, this doesn’t bode well for flavor, impact and in the end, your wallet. Most spices begin to lose their flavor shortly after grinding and generally by the time you pick up a jar in the grocery store you’ve already got a compromised product and one that you’ve most likely paid more for than the whole unadulterated spice itself. 

To get the most out of your whole spice, a light toasting is a great way to tease out the flavor before you grind and offers up the best results. I use a small cast iron pan to gently toast over medium heat until the aroma is released (no need to add anything other than the whole spice itself). Once it begins to reveal it's fragrance, pull from the heat and set aside to cool. Now it's time to grind it if that's what you need or use it whole – it all really depends of what end result you are looking for.
To grind or not to grind, that is the question! Is it better to use mortar and pestle, electric grinder, hand crank or grater? Well to be honest, I think the best method of grinding is the one that you will actually use and also depends on the grind you are looking to achieve. At home, I use all of the above and have several grinding apparatuses on hand to get the job done. Yes, it does take a few extra minutes to toast and grind your spices, but it makes a world of difference and at the end of the day you’ll have better flavor while using less spice and saving yourself a fortune in the long run. Some spices can be very pricey and although that bulk bag seems tempting, unless you are running a restaurant or feeding an army, don’t do it, it’s just not worth it. It is better to buy in smaller quantities from a reputable spice shop that turns over their product at a rapid pace to ensure freshness than to spend your hard earned dollars on something substandard.  
For example, peppercorns start to lose their volatile oils within 30 minutes of grinding and by the time you’ve had ground pepper hanging around for a month it is pretty much done. Try an experiment. Grind some pepper and give it a taste. Put the rest away and taste it next to some freshly ground  a week later. Do this again at 2 weeks, 3 weeks and so on. The change is pretty dramatic and once you experience it, I think you may never buy pre-ground pepper again. It really does make that much of a difference. 
Now that said, there are some spices that I buy pre-ground and mostly those include spice blends that may be too complicated and pricey for me to try blending myself or some hot peppers and roots and things that may be more of a hassle that I am willing to put up with or require a mask and goggles to grind. As with anything, use your best judgement and keep it as simple as you need it to be.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hibiscus Cocktail Time

Holy cow! It looks like I’ve been bitten by the craft cocktail bug! Once upon a time I used to enjoy a well made Vodka Martini or Manhattan and even an occasional layered shot concoction, but that was another lifetime ago and I’ve been mostly a wine drinker for many years since. Fast forward to now. I live in Portland Oregon and the beverage is king around these parts. From coffee to spirits there is no shortage of creative craftspeople willing and able to take it up just one more notch, ever raising the bar to new heights.

Well now, with all this creativity swimming wildly around you, one can’t help but be swept up in it and now my old nemesis gin is my friend and I am more likely than not to step out of my comfort zone of old standbys and try something new. I still however haven’t really adopted a taste for beer, much to the dismay of many a friend who swore I would succumb after living in Portland for a while – they say one has no choice in the matter. Four years down at this point and I still am not a beer fan but as I’ve learned, never say never and only time will tell.

Clich├ęs aside, in the meantime cocktails it is and I have concocted a simply delicious one using a recipe for hibiscus punch (aka Jamaican Sorrel) as a base. From there I just do what I always do and play with my food, hoping to make something that puts a deep smile on my face (it has to pass my litmus test before I pass my experiments along to my trusted tasters). Sometimes it’s a hit, other times not so much – I nailed it with this one though and thought I would share. It’s one of my new favorites and feels so festive this time of year.

Fill cocktail shaker with ice and add:
1 part Ransom’s Old Tom gin*
2 parts Hibiscus punch
A splash of soda water and a squeeze of lime (I often add a vanilla bean)
Strain and pour into martini glass with a sugared rim
Garnish with a lime

*if you don’t use Ransom’s, I would add a dash of bitters and big yes on the vanilla bean or you can always substitute gin with a nice dark rum for another twist – play around, it’s fun (although if you haven’t tried Ransom’s you really should splurge and give it a try, it's unbelievably good)

Hibiscus punch (aka Jamaican Sorrel):

1 gallon water
3 oz Hibiscus
2 c. sugar

Soak Hibiscus in water for 2 hours. After soaking, bring mixture to a full boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for approx. 8 min. While simmering, add sugar stirring until well dissolved. Let cool and refrigerate.

Cheers and happy holidays to you all!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bagna Cauda revisited – the perfect cold lunch is in the leftovers

As an independent retailer I am always trying to come up with easy lunch solutions that do not require closing my doors during business hours to run out and grab a bite. Currently we have no refrigeration microwave toaster oven burner or any other appliance to cook or store shelf unstable foods in at the shop, so I am pretty limited on what I can brown bag for lunch and way too often I've just not eaten all day because I didn't plan ahead and have anything suitable on hand.

Now I love having Bagna Cauda for dinner. Seasonal vegetables freshly cooked in a rich garlic anchovy olive oil with rustic crusty bread is pretty much the most lip smacking hot meal one could have, but enjoying it the next day for lunch, cold, is something to behold. I can honestly say that I am not sure how I love it better, hot or cold.
After you’ve eaten your fill of that tasty Mediterranean fondue (Bagna Cauda) cook up the remaining veggies and let them cool in the olive oil. After it has cooled down, pour all of the ingredients into a refrigerator container (including the olive oil) and it’s ready for tomorrow’s lunch. It is delicious eaten at room temperature with a sprinkling of Fleur de Sel and freshly ground pink peppercorn and spreads oh so nicely onto a firm piece of crusty bread. Mmmm, mmmm, good!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cookies

As we move into the long dark season I begin looking for ways to bring sunshine and light into these dreary NW days and nothing says sunshine, summer and warmth quite like lemons. This recipe for Meyer lemon olive oil cookies makes me smile and is the perfect accompaniment to a nice cup of tea (and because they are made with olive oil instead of butter, they're a little kinder to the waistline (and arteries) -something we generally need to think about this time of year as the holiday festivities make counting calories a wee bit difficult).

1 cup sugar (I like to use organic evaporated cane sugar)
3/4 cup Meyer lemon olive oil
1 lemon zested (Meyer lemon if you can find it, but any will do)
2 eggs
2-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp course lemon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and make sure the rack is in the center of the oven. Combine sugar, olive oil and lemon zest, blending well with an electric mixer. Add 2 eggs and blend until emulsified (usually takes a few minutes). Sift in flour and baking powder, add salt and blend well. Now roll into balls and put on a cookie sheet (you will probably need to have a small bowl of flour handy to dip your fingers in for rolling). Flatten the cookies and sprinkle a little sugar on top if you'd like (you can also play around and sprinkle some lemon salt, or slivered almonds or anything else you may like to top cookies with). Bake for 12 minutes. Makes approx. 2-3 dozen cookies (depending on size).


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Homemade Grand Marnier

Home crafted gifts can sometimes be met with mixed results. Maybe the special holiday knitted vest wasn't a favorite but the homemade cookies are always a big hit. Well, I've had plenty of "misses" in my attempt at hand crafted items but one of the "hits" that I have had over the years is my homemade Grand Marnier, an orange flavored liqueur. This is a simple recipe that I have used and can be enjoyed in just 5- 10 days, but the longer it ages the mellower it becomes. I am sipping a glass of 2 year old liqueur at the moment and it is buttery and smooth with an intoxicating fragrance rivaling its name brand version. I highly recommend letting it age several months to a year.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3 cups brandy
2 tsp orange extract

Dissolve sugar in almost boiling water stirring constantly. Once dissolved, allow to cool at room temperature. Stir in brandy and orange extract and transfer to bottles or jars with tight fitting lids. Shake daily to dissolve sugar completely. The liqueur should be ready in 5 to 10 days - but remember, the longer it ages the mellower it becomes. Makes one quart.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Autumn has arrived and as our belated summer’s bounty winds down, it’s time to adjust our eating patterns to fit the changing seasons. Bagna Cauda (pronounce: Bahn-nya Coda) is essentially an Italian fondue. An olive oil, butter, anchovy and garlic fondue – one word summation – YUM!! Although typically a Piedmontese autumnal and winter dish, at our home, we pretty much eat it year round, adjusting our vegetables based on what is in season and raring to go. Possibilities are limited only by choice and availability, oh and experimentation is always fun –that Kohlrabi that you bought at the farmers market and are not sure what to do with, why not!!

Start with an assortment of sliced vegetables and a baguette.

½ cup olive oil

1-2oz anchovy fillets

1 head garlic

¼ cup butter

(some regions also add 1/8 cup heavy cream –this is optional)

In a saucepan over low heat (or directly in the fondue pot) add oil, butter and anchovies. Peel 1 head of garlic, mince or thinly slice and add to mixture and continue to cook on low heat until anchovies are well blended (approx. 20 min.). When the garlic and anchovies are cooked down it’s ready to go. If you have been cooking the sauce directly in the fondue pot, just gather around, spear your assorted vegetables and cook in the sauce until done. Eat with some delicious crusty bread (which you will also want to use to sop up the Bagna Cauda as you devour the array of vegetables. Enjoy!!

Serves 4