Friday, March 30, 2012

Monthly Moonshine: An Introduction and a Sidecar

I have to tell you, I've always loved cocktails. They're so much fun and there's so much room for creativity. There's also a lot of room for unmitigated disaster, but that's why people write down the good cocktails when they happen upon a combination that works.

I prefer the simple cocktails, the ones that have three or four ingredients and come together in a couple of minutes. Usually if I feel like having a drink I open a beer or, if I'm feeling a bit more sophisticated, a bottle of wine. But in an attempt to broaden my drinking horizons I'm going to feature a drink at the end of each month; some monthly moonshine, if you will (though I'm not going to be trying any actual moonshine). I was toying with the idea of doing this bi-weekly, but in the name of preserving funds and preventing alcoholism, I think monthly is appropriate.

I might mix a cocktail one month, try a different bottle of wine in another, let you know about a particularly interesting beer, or even about a bar or restaurant that offers something unique in the drink world. I might even venture into the world of whiskey. Today I bring you the Sidecar.

Like all famous cocktails, the origins of the Sidecar are debatable, though people seem to agree that it first appeared in the 1920s. Some say it was invented in London, others say in Paris, and who knows? Wherever it came from, it was popular. The people of the twenties loved their Sidecars.

For whatever reason the Sidecar is one of those drinks that dropped of the face of the planet for a while. Like gin it had the stigma of being a grandparent's drink. But old is new again and old fashioned cocktails are on the rise, likely, in part, due to shows like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire.

Since it's been in hiding for so long, I found a wide variety of recipes, all claiming to be the 'authentic' Sidecar. About the only thing they agreed on was the ingredients: brandy, triple sec, and lemon juice. Of course the purists get specific and say it needs to be Cognac and Cointreau. I had neither so I used St. Remy brandy and whatever brand of triple sec I had lying around.

Next there was a debate about the ratios. In some cases the drink called for twice as much brandy as the other two liquids and others used more triple sec. I also found several that used equal parts of each, so as a compromise that's what I did. Given the colour of my drink when I finished compared with the slightly darker colour of pictures online, I think that most people throw in the extra brandy.

Either way it was a good cocktail. Just the right amount of tanginess with a smooth finish. The alcohol wasn't overpowering and it's refreshing. I may have found my new cocktail of choice.

The following is the recipe I used, but feel free to double the brandy if you're so inclined.

3/4 oz brandy
3/4 oz triple sec
3/4 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled martini glass. Enjoy!

The freshly squeezed juice really does make a difference over the bottled stuff, so I would recommend buying a lemon. If anyone tries it with 1 1/2 oz brandy, let me know how it turns out!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Luck O' the Irish

In honour of St. Patrick's Day I made Irish soda bread. There are several reasons for this. The first is that I can't let St. Patrick's Day pass without doing the something. The second is that it's so so easy. I love fresh bread, but dealing with yeast is often annoying and finicky. Thus the beauty of Irish soda bread, which, as the name suggests, uses baking soda to rise. The third reason is that it's delicious. It has a beautiful, dense texture, and is perfect for sopping up the extra juice at the end of a bowl of stew.

Something about the flavour of it tastes like home. Probably because my mom always used to make it. You can find recipes for loaves that have nuts and berries and other added ingredients, but I prefer this version. It's simple, delicious, and you can eat it with just about anything.

Irish Soda Bread
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in the butter until any noticeable chunks are gone. Add buttermilk and mix until it forms a dough. Turn out onto clean surface and knead about ten times. Form into a round loaf and cut an 'x' into the top. Bake at 350F for one hour or until golden brown. Slice and enjoy!

So Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone! Make yourself some soda bread, have a pint of Guinness, and bask in the luck of the Irish for a day. And if you're feeling peckish for dessert, try the chocolate stout cupcakes from this post. They will not disappoint!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cream Puffs and Belated Gifts

Good afternoon! It's another lovely day here in Toronto and even though it still seems too good to be true, having 15C weather in mid-March (March!), I'm enjoying it immensely.

The other day I made cream puffs because I owed my friend Sarah for Christmas. They were, in fact, meant to be her gift, but like everything else in my life of late, they were postponed in favour of work. So she gets her Christmas present in March.

It's been awhile since I've made choux paste and I'd forgotten how wonderfully easy it is. Honestly, I think cream puffs and eclairs will be my new stand-by recipe for dessert in a bind. They really are that simple. They also have the benefit of simple ingredients. You'll just want to make sure you have a lot of eggs.

And without further ado:

Choux Paste

1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup butter, unsalted
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup + 3 tbsp flour
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 475F and line trays with parchment.
Bring the milk, water, butter, and salt to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and add flour all at once, stirring to incorporate. Return to heat and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pot. (This happens relatively quickly.)
Place in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or transfer to a bowl and beat with a hand mixer, and mix until the dough has cooled slightly, but is still fairly hot.
Add eggs one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated after each addition.

The mixture should be a thick paste after the final egg is incorporated and still be able to hold it's shape. If it looks too dry, add another egg.
Pipe using a large straight tip (I used #309), or scoop by tablespoon, onto parchment lined trays about one inch apart. You can also pipe them into logs if you want to make eclairs.

Bake at 475F for 10 minutes and then turn oven down to 375F. Continue baking until crispy on the outside and golden brown in colour.

In the meantime, make your pastry cream. I have nothing but good things to say about pastry cream, which is simply a stirred custard. It is delightfully simple to make, can be made the day before use and refrigerated, and I would not be above eating it out of the bowl with a spoon.

Pastry Cream

2 cups milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
8 egg yolks
4 tbsp sugar
5 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp butter, unsalted

Place milk and vanilla in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Combine egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. In a steady stream pour scalding milk into egg mixture while whisking. Once most of the milk is incorporated, return to heat and cook until thickened, stirring with a whisk the whole time. When it starts to bubble, keep cooking for one minute and then remove from heat.
Stir in butter. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Once your choux paste shells are cool, cut them in half using a serrated knife and pipe cooled pastry cream between the two halves.

If you want to make the choux paste ahead of time, just freeze the empty shells and thaw them completely before filling them. This prevents them from getting soggy when the filling sits in them too long.

You can add any flavouring you like to your pastry cream, either in place of the vanilla, or after it's cooked if your using alcohol (such as brandy). And if you'd prefer a lighter filling, fold in some whipped cream until you reach the desired consistency. There's really no rule for this, though 50/50 is probably a good way to go. This method is called frenching (no, not that kind of frenching.)

If you're feeling really ambitious, melt some chocolate and paint it on the tops of your cream puffs. Or if you're like me, and don't feel like making more work for yourself, just dust them with icing sugar and enjoy!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Coffee, etc.

Well. That's embarrassing. I just read my last post. And here I am, more than a month later, and with no updates to speak of. On the bright side I have a shiny new job that allows me more time to write.

Also, I've realized that part of the reason I so rarely post is that I feel guilty doing so if I don't have a recipe for all you lovely readers. So I'm here to tell you that from this point onward some of these posts are going to be reviews of sorts. Upon re-reading my original, first post I realized that I said this blog would include food experiences, not just recipes, so I'm reaffirming that statement.

On that note I spent a couple of hours today at a new-ish coffee place called Seven Grams. I have to say, I'm pretty enamoured with it. Living at Yonge and St. Clair has its benefits, namely the inherent safety of the area and it's proximity to the subway, but it's also seriously lacking on the independent coffee scene. Needless to say I am thrilled that I've found a relatively close, indie cafe that not only has good coffee, but excellent seating for all my writerly needs.

Located on Avenue Road, just one block south of Davenport, it's only a short bus ride away from my apartment. It's close enough that it doesn't feel like a journey to get there, but far enough to motivate myself to work since I did just drag my laptop with me. They have lots of seating, including a communal table on the upper level where the coffee counter is, and more seating downstairs, conveniently separated from the constant stream of people on the main level.

What you see here is my lovely Americano misto--two shots of espresso, hot water, and some steamed milk for those of you who don't know. This is pretty much my ideal drink because I find lattes too milky at times, yet I always put milk in my Americano.

And this one was perfect. Smooth and strong, but without being bitter, and just the right amount of milk to balance it.

I also purchased this delicious scone because I am incapable of confronting a pastry case without buying something. And it was worth every penny. I wish there had been more of it. Light and crumbly and that cheese. It had just the right amount of saltiness that I was craving. I don't know where they get their food products, but I intend to ask them next time I'm there.

And there will most certainly be a next time. I think I've finally found my spot. My spot to write that is. Somewhere I can park myself and not feel like I'm being ushered out, not too loud, but busy enough to provide some decent people watching. I'll keep you updated as I make my way through the coffee menu and food stuffs.