Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Post at Don't Mess With My Mise

Over on Don't Mess With My Mise, I've got a new post up about a really great restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee, why we all go out to eat, and what makes a good chef (that bit is perhaps more subjective than the rest).

The Cheese Pizza Debate, Power Outages, and Nashville's City House 

Enjoy, and I'll look forward to your feedback!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ginger-Mint Juleps for these 98-degree summer days we keep having

To buy this print on Etsy, click here
The inspiration  for a recipe can come from all kinds of places - a really beautiful eggplant, a day when you just desperately want something with cardamom, an episode of some cooking show featuring a dish you just know you could do better - but most of the time, for me anyway, the sources of my ideas are pretty ephemeral. Not this time. This time it was, literally, written on the wall.

Outside of home, New Orleans is my favorite city. I've been about 7 or 8 times at this point, and every visit just makes me love it more. Dirty, smellin' like ass, constantly wet, and so deeply beautiful and completely human - of course I love it. If you have ever looked at a planned community and felt warmed  by a sense of security and order, New Orleans is probably not for you. Another thing about the Crescent City - it loves a good drink.

The mural above is on a wall on Decatur (a.k.a. Rue de la Levee) , the street that runs along the Mississippi and anchoring the French Quarter. Emerson's was a drug company that made most of its money from BromoSeltzer, so I'm guessing that their Ginger-Mint Julep was something a bit different from mine. Still, I thought the fresh and spicy flavors of ginger would blend well with the minty, syrupy-sweet classic julep, so off I went, splashing bourbon around my kitchen trying to make extracts, spattering ginger-infused simple syrup all over the stove, and generally having a grand old time. NOLA would be proud.

After some experimenting, I came up with a combination of fresh and infused mint and ginger flavors that I think works well. The ginger is not the dominant flavor, but it does add a warm, ever-so-slightly spicy edge to all the minty bourbon sweetness. I made a big batch of both the ginger simple syrup and the mint extract, which isn't a bad idea if you want to be able to whip up a specialty cocktail whenever you want. Also, if you can make a pitcher in advance of a party or a big night in, the flavors will benefit from having a chance to meld, with both the torn mint leaves and grated fresh ginger adding some complexity, freshness, and intensity to the drink.

Ginger-Mint Julep
Amounts given are per serving; multiply as desired.

2.5 oz. bourbon 
About 3/4-1 tsp. mint extract (there is a lot of variation in the strength of homemade extracts, so be sure to taste and adjust. Recipe below)
About 1 Tbsp. ginger-infused simple syrup - ditto above caveat about variation
1/8 tsp. freshly grated ginger (or more, if you're me)
1 sprig fresh mint, leaves torn

Fill a collins glass or metal julep cup with crushed ice. Top with torn mint leaves. In a shaker, combine bourbon, mint extract, ginger syrup and grated ginger, then pour over the ice. Garnish with a mint sprig (and candied ginger from syrup, if it's pretty enough). 

If possible, you can prepare a pitcher in advance. Combine all ingredients except torn mint leaves in a pitcher (this way the grated ginger gets to soak a bit and plays a bigger role), taste and adjust, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

For mint extract: 
Plan on at least 4 sprigs of mint per serving, excluding garnish and fresh leaves for each drink. Wash mint and remove leaves. Place leaves in a small casserole dish or some other non-plastic flat-bottomed container, then pour enough bourbon over the leaves to barely cover them. With a pestle or whatever utensil you thing will work, crush the leaves a bit. Let them soak for about 15 minutes, then pull them out and squeeze them in a cheesecloth or paper towel or even just your hands. put them back in and let them soak longer. Repeat process a couple of times, until the liquid has taken on a strong taste and smell of mint. Strain. Will keep well, store in a glass jar.

For ginger-infused simple syrup:
The basic simple syrup recipe is 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water, yielding roughly 1 1/2 cups of liquid. At those measurements, 6-7 slices of ginger should do it, but next time I make it I plan to add more to see if I can get a more intense flavor. Don't be too afraid of overdoing it with the ginger, because it will be diluted by the bourbon, ice, and mint extract.

For some more of my NOLA pictures, pop on over to my food+travel project  Don't Mess With My Mise... here's a little sample.