Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ruled by the Wind...

...or the sun, or the jet stream, or an off-shore flow, or some crazy ass storm travelling down from the Bering Sea.  While the weather tends to dictate what I eat and how I eat pretty frequently, a day's or night's cravings may or may not be fulfilled.  Or you can say, 'to hell with it!' and throw caution into that Santa Ana wind event that's bound to come rolling around.  

And so again it happened.  I wanted soup, it was the kick-off weekend of fall, after all...and yet...Mother Nature thought it would be amusing to give Southern California yet another few days of hot, sunny, 102 degrees in the shade before finally gracing us with days that were almost crisp, where heading out in the morning, I could wear a jacket and maybe even a scarf!

I was thinking about Italian Wedding Soup when I made this.  I still  want to make a classic wedding soup.  When I was young and dad made it, I usually ignored the escarole and ate as many mini meatballs as I could get my hands on, even before they made it into the soup.  Meatballs would have been in the same danger had I made them on this go-round.  So little meatballs...you're safe for the time being.

Curly Endive and Millet Soup
Easily serves 2-4

1 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, minced
4 cups stock, vegetable or chicken
2 cups water
5-6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded
1 bouillon cube, optional
1 medium bunch curly endive, washed with leaves torn from stems
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup millet
1/4 cup Italian dry sausage, sliced thin into quarters, optional
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot, add the olive oil, bay leaves, garlic, and onion.  Over medium heat, cook the onions until translucent.  When the onions are ready, add the stock, water, bouillon cube, basil, endive, and red pepper flakes.  Stir to combine and let simmer for 5 minutes, allowing red pepper flavor to bloom.  Remove the bay leaves, then add the millet and sausage (if using).  Let soup simmer for 20-25 minutes to let millet cook.  Serve with toasted hearty, crusty bread.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hiding in the Shrubs

Up until a couple of years ago, the only definition I knew for 'shrub' was something along the lines of 'a woody plant smaller than a tree.'  Thanks, Dictionary.com.  A shrub was something green, generally round, and bordered your property line or was planted in neat rows down the length of your driveway.  Then I discovered a whole new definition:  '...a sweetened vinegar-based syrup, a drinking vinegar...often infused with fruit juice, herbs, and spices for use in mixed drinks.'  My first reaction?  'Hell, yes, count me in!'

So it was the October 2012 issue of Sunset magazine where I first discovered this mysterious shrub.  Considering how I've rarely used vinegar for more than salad dressings or for pickling, I was very interested in trying it.  The Sunset recipe is for a cranberry shrub and since it was perfect for Fall, I jumped right into making it.  Happily, it's easy-peasy to make and it truly is a great mixer for cocktails.  I also love drinking them as a soda, where one part shrub to 2 parts sparkling water or club soda on ice is a treat.

1've used the Sunset magazine recipe as my base for the shrubs since that first time.  Over the past couple of years, there has been cranberry, raspberry, Italian prune plum, and the latest incarnation...gala apple.  A little swap of apple cider vinegar for the red wine vinegar, the addition of an overripe Bartlett pear, and this mix is so, so, so perfect for Fall.  I also took it upon myself to make a little Fall cocktail that's perfect for sharing.

Gala Apple Shrub
Adapted from the Sunset recipe
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

3-4 Gala apples, cut into small pieces 
1 pear, cut into small pieces
1 cup sugar 
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water

In a medium saucepan, add all the ingredients and bring to a low boil over medium heat.  Stir occasionally and with the back of the spoon, smash the fruit as much as you can.  Let simmer for about 10-15 minutes, making sure all the sugar has dissolved.  Place a fine mesh sieve or a medium size bowl and pour the shrub into the bowl.  Let the shrub drain and press the fruit to get as much liquid from them as you can.  Allow to cool, then store in a bottle in the fridge.  Lasts at least 2 weeks.

Note:  You don't need to peel the apples or pear.  


Apple & Rye
Serves 2 (and maybe a wee bit more)

1 fl. oz ginger simple syrup
4 fl. oz gala apple shrub
2 fl. oz rye whiskey
tonic water
apple slices, thin, for garnish

Throw all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake vigorously to mix.  In two old fashioned glasses, add ice cubes and a thin slice of apple.  Pour in cocktail three-quarters of the way and top with tonic water.  Toast.  

Note:  If you don't have the ginger simple syrup, I recommend making some.  It will last for awhile and you'll be able to use it in many drinks.  If you don't want ginger, make a plain simple syrup and muddle a thin slice of ginger in your glass and discard before adding ice and the cocktail.  To make the ginger simple syrup, in a saucepan, add one cup water and one cup sugar.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and stir frequently to allow sugar to dissolve.  Add 3 or 4 3-inch pieces of ginger. Allow mixture to come to a simmer.  Remove from heat.  Let mixture steep for half an hour or so.  Discard ginger and store syrup in the fridge.