Vanilla rosemary vodka spritz

There’s a lot to celebrate today!  Not only are we smack dab in that cookies and cocktails time of year (where every day feels sort of celebratory), but I’m especially happy to tell you that I didn’t die over the past semester.  Yesterday I turned in my dissertation proposal, which means that I’m now free of classes and could feasibly go on to write my dissertation from a Parisian cafe or a Caribbean beach town (or, more likely, my desk in Oakland…but it’s nice to dream).  Also, I’m really proud to announce (albeit a bit late — this happened, like, a month ago), that we’ve joined up with Gojee Drinks.  You can now find our recipes mixed in with others from some incredibly inspiring drink bloggers over on Gojee’s website.  So, a big cheers all around!

Today we’re going to celebrate with this vanilla rosemary cocktail.  Vanilla feels pleasantly wintery without being too heavy, especially when it’s mixed with herbs (or citrus, but let’s do that another day).  So, I’ve been heading out to our badly neglected herb garden, scavenging herbs, and then making simple syrups.

For the vanilla, it would be entirely wonderful and yummy to use a real vanilla pod, but I’ve been cheating and using vanilla bean paste, which is a vanilla extract that’s thick with ground up vanilla beans.  It’s kinda expensive initially (I found a 4 oz bottle for $8 in the bulk section at my local grocery store), but seems to last forever.  You can certainly use vanilla extract, but I think the flavor is more authentically vanilla with the paste (and of course, would probably be even better with a real pod).  By the way, if you’re substituting, 1 t vanilla paste = 1 t vanilla extract = 1 vanilla pod.

Another variation might be to serve these drinks in sugar rimmed champagne flutes.  Maybe they would look like a platter of icicles?

Vanilla rosemary vodka spritz
Makes one drink

  • 0.5 oz vanilla rosemary simple syrup *
  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • 3 oz club soda
  • ice
  • optional rosemary sprig for garnish
  • optional sugar for rimming glass

With your finger, a towel or a brush, cover the rim of your glass with a bit of the simple syrup.  Next, sprinkle some sugar on a plate and dip the rim of your glass in the sugar (like we did with the cheladas way back when).  Add ice to the glass.

In a shaker or a separate glass, stir together the simple syrup, vodka and club soda.  Pour it into your glass and garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

* Vanilla rosemary simple syrup

Makes 2 oz — or enough for 4 drinks

  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 1/4 c natural cane sugar
  • 1/2 c water
  • 2 drops vanilla bean paste

Combine rosemary, sugar and water in a small point.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Add vanilla.  Strain to remove rosemary.

Baked apple crisp

Last week was a glorious week.  I turned in the written portion of those tests I’ve been moaning about, and then one of my best friends and my sister ended up in town for work.  We went on an eating bender, of course, because that’s what I do whenever there’s out-of-towners to take the blame.  Among the highlights: black pepper broth and tofu skins at cramped, hipster-filled Mission Chinese (oh, and we ran into Martha Stewart on our way out the door, which felt like a very misplaced celebrity siting — her aura of handcrafted holiday wreaths clashed with the gritty Mission), a winter squash and parsnip soup at Outerlands, vegan charcuterie at Gather, and a tea leaf salad at Burma Superstar (I need to learn how to cook Burmese food…I am so in love…).

You might think that would be the end of it, but my sister and I decided that there should also be dessert.  Of course!  So, on Monday night, after the restaurant tour was winding down, we made a baked apple with a crisp topping.  Warm, sweet apples almost make me glad it’s getting cold out.

Teel and I tried out a bunch of different apples after being inspired by a recent Saveur test on baked apples.  We used a Macintosh, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and a Braeburn.  Like Saveur, we found that the Macintosh (not pictured) and Granny Smith apples split open/exploded.  The Braeburn looked the best, but it wasn’t juicy enough.  The Golden Delicious turned out to be our favorite, which was surprising since neither of us love them raw.

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Zucchini pie with yeasted olive oil crust

I am so happy with this savory pie.  Here’s the deal: the filling takes about four minutes to pull together and you can use any pie shell you want.  You can make this recipe in a snap with a pre-made crust, or you can give it a little more love and make the crust yourself.

I went with a yeasted olive oil crust from one of my most favorite cookbooks, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  I usually shy away from tart and quiche type things for dinner because, with a buttery crust, they can be pretty high in calories.  This crust is lighter.  In many ways, it’s like a thin pizza dough enriched with olive oil and an egg.  It’s seriously very easy to make — not fussy and it comes together within a few minutes.  I think it’s much easier than a regular pie dough.  All you need is a bit of time to let the dough rise.

If you prefer a traditional shell, I am currently digging on this recipe for a for a flaky rye pie crust on 101 cookbooks.  I would definitely go the beer route for the liquid in the crust.  A Pilsner style would be perfect.

So, on to the filling.  Ever since that zucchini casserole, I’ve been thinking about a pie.  The flavors in this pie, white wine vinegar and mustard, draw from a southern French salad dressing recipe a friend taught me a while back.  The dressing, combined with Gruyere, pulls together a very flavorful dish.

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Amaranth and quinoa porridge

Every PhD student’s life is marked by a bit of academically sanctioned torture that’s known as a “qualifying exam.”  In my case, the qualifying exam is a month long written test followed by a 3 hour oral exam.  It’s a scary test, but preparing for it is even scarier — my desk is currently hidden under teetering piles of papers and books.  Thankfully, the prep is almost over.  I start my exams in 10 days.

Because of this exam situation, I haven’t left my desk as often as I’d like over the past month.  That also means I’ve been eating less fresh fruits and veggies and more stuff from the pantry (or the proverbial pantry, as our tiny kitchen definitely does not have a real pantry).  One of the dishes that’s become a new staple over the last month — and one I absolutely adore! — is a multigrain porridge.

I’ve always liked a warm breakfast cereal.  I started veering away from the usual flaked grains one day when I laid my eyes on a bag of amaranth that had been sitting around the house for a while.  I cooked a bit of it.  Then I mixed it with some other grains.  At points I was stirring together some combination of amaranth, quinoa, short grained brown rice, jasmine rice and millet, seeking a lightly sweet and creamy breakfast porridge.  I also added different types of milks, spices, fruits and nuts.

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Raspberry Lillet cups

We’re on to week 10 of the summer cocktail series!  To browse through the  past 2.5 months of cocktail fun, check out the Cocktails category.

Now would be a totally appropriate time to drink a hurricane, with Irene bearing down on the East coast and all.  Or, maybe, by the time the evening comes around, it will be more appropriate to drink something called a Tropical Storm, which I momentarily considered inventing this week (I think there are some drinks out there with the name Tropical Storm, but all the recipes I found were too gross).  Rather than focusing on natural disasters, though, I thought it might be a little nicer to concentrate on one of the wonderful parts of late August.  Raspberries.

Growing up I spent July and August working at a local farm.  I remember being a kid, walking the dusty rows of raspberry brambles in the early morning with yogurt containers tied on pieces of twine around my neck.  I was supposed to fill the containers and bring them back to the farm stand for sale.  And I did, eventually.  But I think I ended up eating just as many raspberries as I picked and the sun rose high in the sky before I filled a few quarts (I liked making my rounds about the farm, curiously peering at all the veggies and seeing what was ripe before returning to the stand).  Thankfully for the farm I was only paid $2.50/hour (still not sure how that was legal), because I was a total profit sink.

After those days on the farm, raspberries will always remind me of the fading days of summer.  Sigh.  So, I suppose it’s only appropriate to use them today.  This is the last of the summer cocktail series.  School has started up again and it’s a bit difficult for me to get this post together on Fridays now.  (That said, I have a killer liqueur post in the works, so this will certainly not be the end of cocktails on this blog — we’re just going to take a break from the weekly thing.)

For our series finale, we’re combining those little bursts of sunshine and August with Lillet blanc, a fortified, citrusy aperitif wine. Lillet is yummy.  It also seems to be pretty trendy these days.  I’ve seen it all over cocktail menus this summer, it was on 101 Cookbooks last week, and it even made an appearance on Martha Stewart in June as the “perfect summer cocktail.”  So, I thought I’d contribute to the Lillet fury in this post.  Hopefully, like me, you already have a bottle in hand you’ve been wondering what to do with it, other than drink it straight (which is fine, but I think it’s even better as a mixer…).

Cheers to a wonderful and full summer!

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Here’s to week 9 of our summer cocktail series!

I had my very first beermosa a couple months back at an awesome little pub in Oakland called Commonwealth Cafe.  Later I did a bit of googling, and it seems that they’re most frequently made with Bud or PBR and are affectionately dubbed hillbilly mimosas.  There’s nothing hillbilly about the Commonwealth beermosa, though.  It’s a real class act.

The difference between the hillbilly and the Commonwealth versions is that Commonwealth makes their beermosas with a wheat beer.  Most recently they were mixing with Ale Industries’ Orange Kush, brewed with orange peels, chamomile and coriander.  Earlier in the summer they were using a white beer.  Really, any sort of lighter wheat beer (like a hefeweisen, not a dunkleweisen) is great.  A blonde ale or a summer ale will also do the trick.

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Corn, cucumber and tomato salad

It’s high time for a salad post to balance out the booze and baked goods.  Especially since it’s that corn and tomato time of year.  So, here’s a simple salad I made the other day for a friend.  Mid-bite she said, “See, this is the kind of stuff you should be putting on your blog!  It’s so easy.”  Or something like that.  I agree.

In this recipe I use white balsamic vinegar, which my step-mom introduced me to a little while back.  It’s really nice on corn, since it conveys a sweet flavor without discoloring the salad.  It used to be pretty hard to find, but now Trader Joe’s stocks it and I’d imagine Whole Foods has it, too.  If you don’t own a bottle, I think it’s worth adding to your vinegar collection.  Just don’t show it to your cultured Italian friends, who will stare and say, “There is no such thing as white balsamic in Italy.”  (Hi, Christina!)

I also used some neat-o lemon cucumbers I happened upon at the farmer’s market.  They’re kind of funny looking, but a cute little kid behind the stand assured me that they were good.  I’m glad I took his word for it.  I really liked them.  But, this recipe will work with whatever cucumbers you have around.

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Two classic Floridita Daiquiris

I can’t believe this is week 8 of our summer cocktail series.  The only good thing about 8 weeks of summer being gone is that we’ve drank some damn fine cocktails along the way, if I do say so myself.  Click on the Cocktails category to catch up with the summer fun!

I am not the first person to write about these drinks.  I initially read about La Floridita daiquiris (or El Floridita, depending on the source) in my most favorite cocktail book, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.  There are also dozens upon dozens of blog posts and articles about the daiquiris, including the daiquiri Hemingway used to drink (yes, Hemingway again…).  But, oddly, all that nice coverage doesn’t seem to be translating to cocktail menus.

In all the bars I’ve gone to I’ve never noticed a classic daiquiri on the menu.  The closest I’ve seen are plain lime daiquiris and their fruity cousins at poolside bars, Trader Vic’s, and frozen drink dispensers on Bourbon St and in Vegas.  There’s no doubt that I don’t get out to the high class joints often enough, but it seems that bars favoring classic cocktails tend to be short on rum drinks.  More than that, they also tend to run away from blended drinks.  (I know from personal experience that most bartenders hate blenders — at one bar I worked at all the bartenders unanimously agreed that the blender was “broken” for years.)

So, up until today, I’d never had the real deal.  And guess what?  It’s no wonder it’s been made into so many variations.  The original daiquiris are wonderful.

Let’s refocus our collective association of the daiquiri away from the interior of Circus Circus and toward the streets of Old Havana (which I’ve never seen in person).  All photos taken in 2010.  Images courtesy of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

A few things before we get going.  According to my dear cocktail book, in 1939 La Floridita wrote down the recipes for four daiquiris creatively named #1, #2, #3 and #4.  All of them were served on ice — not blended.  Following the four recipes there was a fifth variation called the “E. Henminway [sic] Special,” a blended version of daiquiri #3.  Vintage Spirits just shares the recipe for #4, but I found a recipe for #3 that seems about right (many others used more lime or dropped the maraschino liqueur).  So, let’s make #4 and then the E. Henminway Special.

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Zucchini, corn and cherry tomato casserole

I knew I wanted to make something with zucchini and corn.  I also wanted there to be leftovers — something I could easily eat for lunch over the next couple days.  For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that a casserole might be the answer.  So I made one.  And it will definitely, definitely not be my last casserole.  It hit the spot.

This dish is total comfort food.  It’s particularly nice when you wake up in August with a cold that’s left your head in a cloud (colds in August = not fair), or even when all the news stories are just so miserable that it feels good to make something simple and grounded.

Contrary to my previous thoughts on casseroles, this is a light dish.  You could eat it as either a main or a side course.  If it’s a main, you may want to pair it with a tossed green salad.  Also, this recipe isn’t fussy.  If you have little bits of leftover grains around your house, you might mix them in place of or in addition to the rice.  I can picture something with millet, quinoa, farro or wheat berries being totally yummy. Continue reading

Trail mix cookies (oatmeal, dark chocolate and GORP)

These cookies are really doing it for me.  They’re moist, nutty and chunky.  When they’re warm, they overflow with dark chocolate.  As soon as I claim I’ve had enough, I find myself reaching in for another…

I started thinking about trail mix a couple weeks back when Alex and I threw work aside, haphazardly packed the car with whatever gear we could find, and headed off to Mt. Shasta.

Mt. Shasta is a big ole volcano that stands high above its surrounding mountains.  It’s a dramatic mountain.  For those of you who care about these things, the summit rises to 14,162 ft.  The base is at around 7,000 ft.  We planned to hike up in a single day, leaving at 3 am and getting back whenever we did.  Sound exhausting?  It was.  In all the mountains I’ve climbed, I’ve never ascended 7,000 ft vertical in a day.  Let alone after coming from sea level the day before.

It was incredible!  Gorgeous!  But the altitude was beating us up.  As we switchbacked up the hill, kicking steps into the snow with our crampons, I snorted down trail mix and chile-rubbed dried mango (thank you Trader Joe’s).  I hoped that the calories would turn into magical wings and fly me up the hill.  Eventually I gave up hope on the wings and started dreaming about trail mix cookies. Continue reading