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Umeshu-inspired Pluot Liqueur

20 Nov

This one’s a success– a slightly sweet, tart, fragrant liqueur made from unripe green pluots (in the vein of umeshu) that stimulates the taste buds. Good on the rocks or mixed with a bit of soda water:

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This wasn’t where I’d started– instead, this summer I was thinking about how I loved the flavor of Japanese pickled plums* (umeboshi). While I didn’t have a line on green ume plums in the Bay Area, Hannah had a tree covered in green pluots in her backyard– perhaps those could be used similarly? And once I decided to pickle some pluots, why not also try to make a pluot liqueur along the lines of umeshu?

 

I started from a few magazine articles and blog posts, including Umamimart’s past posts about making umeboshi and umeshu, but unfortunately, the salted pluots didn’t turn out well (too salty, not enough flavor– the much-larger-than-ume pluots may have drastically changed how the salt worked its way into the fruit)… while the umeshu side project was a surprise hit.

Starting off, the right three jars combine green pluots, sugar, and vodka, trying out ratios of 50% of the pluot weight in sugar, 25%, and 10% (50% is more traditional, but I like things on the less sweet side).

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After just a few days– the pluots were changing color, and to my surprise, appearing to naturally ferment (based on the smell and the bubbling), even when submerged in alcohol. (The left jars are the less successful pluot umeboshi with red shiso leaf.)

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A month or two later, the liquid around the pluots continued to deepen in color, though the vodka taste was still a bit harsh:

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Everything I read suggested you want to wait at least 6 months (and even better, a year) for the flavors to mellow and meld. Five months later I couldn’t resist giving the 25%-sugar-ratio one a try, and all the harshness was gone– it was balanced, delicious, even a bit floral. I’ll stow away some bottles to age for the next 6-18 months, and look forward to drinking it over ice next summer when the weather turns warm again…

 

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* I realize that Japanese ume are not technically plums, but are a distinct fruit in the Prunus genus, along with plums and apricots

Homemade Gin from Foraged Sticks, Flowers, and Berries

13 Nov

This summer we spent 5 days backpacking in and around the stunning Caribou Wilderness.

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Inspired by my past brewing with foraged plants (yarrow, mugwort) in lieu of hops, an afternoon vermouth class, and following Pascal Baudar‘s photos– everywhere I looked I saw components for beer, gin, or vermouth– such as sap and wild yeast on freshly-opened pine cones:

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Or juniper branches and berries in gnarled old trees overlooking glacial ponds:

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dscf0944Back home a few days later, I unloaded my foraging bag:

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I decided to try to make both a vermouth (more on that in the future) and a gin, using only alcohol and things collected in the woods. Older methods of gin production involve alcohol that’s distilled so the vapor passes through a basket of botanicals (notably including juniper berries) before re-condensing– but not having a still I decided the simpler approach of a cold infusion into a neutral spirit was good enough.

I submerged eight potential components (coyote mint, pine sap, juniper bark and berries, green manzanita berries, fresh pine tips, not-yet-open pine cones, and yarrow flowers) in both jars of vodka and jars of fortified wine (white wine bumped to 19% ABV with brandy, for vermouth):

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I had no idea what would taste good and what would be distasteful or overly bitter, or how strong a flavor would come from of each component over time, so rather than throwing everything into a jar with vodka and hoping for the best, I decided to infuse each component separately and then blend them to taste later (accepting that I’d throw away some of the vodka from the stronger-tasting components). If I were planning to do this again, I could record the ratio that tasted good and then directly infuse that mix of components– but even then I’d expect every individual pine cone, branch, and handful of berries to be a bit different.

Every few days I smelled and tasted each jar, straining them at anywhere from 3 days to 4 weeks as flavors developed and before they got too bitter. The pine sap smelled and tasted horrible within days so I poured it out, but everything else produced a distinctive and interesting (if sometimes harsh or intense) flavor.

Finally, about three months later, I tasted each of the infused vodkas again side by side. Some had taken on significant color:

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I tried a few different mixtures at thimbleful scale to balance components with powerful aromas and/or tastes, and found a nice ratio that relied heavily on juniper berry and green manzanita berry, with a moderate addition of pine cone, yarrow flowers, and juniper branches, and just a touch of pine needles (harshly pine-y) and coyote mint (a lovely mint but very strongly flavored).

Without a re-distillation step it’s not transparent, but I think this is an attractive bottle of homemade alcohol– and it will always remind me of walking through those woods with a compass:

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Preserving Cherries

26 Jul

A few photos from an all-day preservation binge earlier this summer on a large quantity of Bing, Brooks, Rainier, and Tulare cherries:

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I’m deeply skeptical of all single-purpose kitchen utensils, but I will say the 6-cherry pitter was effective:

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Macerating some of them in sugar in preparation for shrubs.

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A few weeks later, the final bottled and labeled shrubs:

  • Rainier cherries with fennel
    • 5 cups pitted and chopped cherries macerated in 2 cups sugar with half a bulb of fennel for 24 hours, which drew juice out of the cherries, producing about 2 1/3 cups of juice, then strained and rinsed with 1 1/2 cups of champagne vinegar and 1/2 cup of cider vinegar and bottled (a roughly 2:1:1 chopped fruit to sugar to vinegar ratio)
  • A mix of Tulare (less flavorful) and Bing (delicious!) cherries, macerated on sugar and rinsed and bottled with cider vinegar, in three different batches:
    • Cherries with bay leaf and peppercorn (very subtle bay leaf, just tasted like cherries)
    • Cherries with vanilla beans and pink peppercorns
    • Cherries with fresh ginger

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Leftover sugared fruit from shrubs (with some juice extracted) still makes good cherry jam:

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Other cherry preservation we performed that day: cocktail cherries (both salt brined and unbrined, I don’t have the recipe handy), cherry mostarda, cherry-infused bourbon (bulleit 95 rye poured over a 1qt jar of bing cherries for about a month, then strained)…

Icelandic Cocktail Party

21 Feb

We threw a cocktail party / trip slideshow inspired by the food and drink of our trip to Iceland, squeezing about a dozen people into my tiny apartment.

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It started as an excuse to share the Brennivin (somewhat harsh icelandic schnapps with caraway), Lava Smoked Imperial Stout, and a cocktail centered around Birkir, the excellent birch-branch-infused liquer we’d carried back in our luggage (Birkir + lemon juice + simple syrup + soda water).

And then the planning spiraled a bit out of control, as tends to happen with dinner parties– we decided we needed to make individual-serving-size appetizers based on various combinations we’d seen in Iceland (lamb + rutabaga, arctic char + fennel + apple + dill, salmon + horseradish + cheese). Fortunately we were able to find char in one of the bay area fish markets.

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We tried a few ways of cooking rutabaga and ended up boiling and then deep-frying thick chips of it to layer carrot puree, lamb, fried onions, and salt on:

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The salmon (house-cured gravlax — raw salmon packed in sugar and salt and dill and let sit) with cheese, pickles, onions, dill on rye. This was all inspired by a dish at the “Unnamed Pizza Place” in Reykjavik operated by the Dill team that in retrospect I think was a substitution– the menu said it was salmon and fennel, but the first night we went there it came with cottage cheese and pickles and horseradish instead, which ended up being a great combination.

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Parnsip puree, arctic char (pan fried in butter), salmon roe, fennel (pickled and fresh), dill:

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A dessert hannah created visually inspired by the snow-covered lava boulders– Icelandic Skyr + dry chocolate cookies (almost sables) + a licorice caramel.

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More of the spread, before people showed up:

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All surrounded by souvenirs (lava, wool, volcanic ash) and a slide show of some memorable trip photos:

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Floreria Atlantico, literally underground cocktails in BsAs

25 Nov

A week and a half ago, I was here.

Walk into a flower shop:

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Head through the back door and down metal stairs:

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Have a drink:

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Just one page of the loosely themed menu:

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One of the best cocktail bars I’ve been to in my life, by far. Every single cocktail was remarkably good, and distinctive– glass jars of eucalyptus, cocktails infused with smoke from the grill, beer and amaro, a cocktail in pieces you combine as you drink… but none of it felt ‘conceptual-cute’ or forced. Really well executed cocktails that happened to have some structure to the presentation. I’m in awe.

Strawberry Balsamic Cider Peppercorn Shrub

17 Aug

Shrubs (drinking vinegars) are one of my favorite ways to preserve fruit — it goes a long way, it’s shelf stable even at room temperature, and it works as an addition to sparkling water, in salad dressing, or in a cocktail. Between holiday gifts and internal consumption (especially since I bought a Sodastream), the citrus shrubs from April and December were mostly gone. Fortunately, a trip to Swanton Berry Farm (pick-your-own) resulted in a box of small, flavorful, moderately-overripe-and-turning-to-paste-under-their-own-weight strawberries.

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Macerated in sugar, strained, and mixed with a few Tbsp of peppercorns and a 50/50 mix of aged balsamic and Bragg cider vinegar, then left to sit for a few weeks before straining again and bottling:

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Tart and refreshing with even a tablespoon in a glass of sparkling water:

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Limoncello (+ lime, bergamot)

3 May

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Peels of each type of citrus (meyer lemon, lime, and bergamot) soaked in vodka for a month in a dark cupboard, swirled gently every few days.

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After a month, I strained the peels out of the vodka. Instead of just adding a simple syrup, I got another set of each type of citrus (meyer lemons and limes from friends’ back yards, and I was fortunately still able to find fresh bergamot at Bi-Rite) and made each into an oleo saccharum– and then used that citrus-oil-infused sugar as the sweetener.

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From left to right: Limecello, Bergamot Arancello, Limoncello

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High enough in alcohol to keep a bottle in the freezer without it turning to ice,  good as an after-dinner digestif.