Friday, June 29, 2012

Monthly Moonshine: It's Pimm's O'Clock!

The first time I had Pimm's I was, appropriately, in London. I was there with my family and we'd just had a whirlwind of a day that involved Hyde Park, the Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace. We were tired, we were hungry, we were hot, and we were desperately in need of a drink. After some squabbling we ended up at a little pub where we ordered fish and chips. 

Normally I'm the type to order beer, especially at a pub in London, but neither my mom nor my sister drank beer at the time so they asked the waiter what else he might recommend. He suggested Pimm's No.1 Cup. He was then met with looks of mild confusion.

Until this point I had gone through life tragically unaware that Pimm's existed. He went on to explain that it was a mild summer drink, typically British and kind of like punch, made with a gin-based liqueur, lemonade and various fruits. We figured "When in London..." and gave it a try. And we were truly not disappointed.

Pimm's was created in London in the 1840s by James Pimm. He owned an oyster bar in the city and developed the drink as a more palatable form of gin, which could be sipped rather than knocked back like a shot. The gin is sweetened and flavoured with liqueurs and fruit extracts, giving it its dark amber colour. The recipe is closely guarded and allegedly only known to six people. At least that's what they claim on the back of the bottle. 

It is truly the perfect summer drink, especially if you don't like beer and you're not partial to the overly sweet Mike's Hard style of coolers. Pimm's Original, the recipe featured on the homepage of their website, is made up of three parts lemonade, one part Pimm's No.1 Cup, strawberries, cucumber, orange, and mint. Mix it all together, pour it over ice, and there you have it. It's commonly served in a jug, making it perfect for backyard barbecues and summer parties.

There is a subtle bitterness underlying its sweetness and the mint acts as a natural coolant that cuts through the medley of flavours to leave you with a fresh, almost earthy taste. The more you let it sit, the more the flavours mingle together lending a complexity that no run-of-the-mill punch could accomplish. 

Traditionally, Pimm's is made with English-style lemonade, which is clear and carbonated, but it's not uncommon for people to substitute ginger ale. The herb borage was often used instead of mint in the drink's earliest incarnation, as it has similar cooling properties and a cucumber-like flavour. However, due to the fact that mint is a more common herb it has come to replace it as standard.  

For me, Pimm's is summer in a glass. It tastes like slipping into the cool water of a pool on the hottest day of the year. It evokes lazy summer afternoons basking outside as the heat of the sun hangs around you, your glass dripping a ring of condensation on the table, with the lingering scent of summer flowers and freshly cut grass heavy in the air. And it's promising to be a long beautiful summer, so grab a bottle and sink in.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Simple Salads

Once upon a time I hated broccoli. Emphatically. I used to wonder what ever possessed anyone to eat it in the first place, let alone have them coming back for more. I don't hate broccoli anymore, though I couldn't tell you what changed my mind, couldn't tell you the precise moment of epiphany that lead to my current, ardent love for broccoli.

I can tell you how to make the broccoli salad that I made yesterday. Lucky for me, and for you if you make it, broccoli salad is stupidly easy. 

You will need the following:
- broccoli, broken into bite-sized pieces
- bacon, cooked and crispy, also broken into bite-sized pieces
- sesame seeds

For the dressing:
1 cup of mayonnaise
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp vinegar

Toss the broccoli with the bacon bits and sesame seeds. I used a bunch of broccoli the size of the bundles you can buy at the grocery store. I am going to guess that I used about 2 tbsp of sesame seeds. What I actually did was sprinkle sesame seeds on the broccoli until I thought there was enough. I recommend you do the same.

As for the dressing, mix it all together and toss it into the salad. Use just enough to coat everything. The above recipe was more than I needed, so be careful not to drown your salad in a sea of mayonnaise. 

I should probably tell you that the measurements given in the above recipe are very rough. By which I mean I didn't actually measure when I made my dressing, much like the sesame seeds. Why? you ask. Well. I'm lazy. One of these days you'll wander over to this blog and find I've renamed it. Lazy Girl in the Kitchen maybe, Adventures in cutting culinary corners. It's even alliterative. 

But that's off topic. The point is this salad is so easy and so delicious and you should go make it right now. Throw in some dried cranberries or toasted slivered almonds if you feel like it. What are you waiting for?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

And red all over

This is a post about strawberries. Specifically, Ontario strawberries. Because it's that time of year again, when the strawberries are fresh and out to ruin you for all other strawberries. 

I adore summer strawberries. The ones that are a little bit on the smaller side, soft and ripe and dripping with juice. Red all the way through. After a winter of strawberries that crunch and leave you with a white, tasteless interior, these ones are nothing short of divine.

Their sweetness is fuller, lingering on your tongue with tangy under-notes, begging you to eat just one more. I like them best when they're on the cusp of being overripe. Maybe there's a small bruise on one side, marred so that other people pass it over for a prettier one. But that's when they're at their best, their sweetest, their most flavourful. And you can taste an earthiness underneath it all, something of the soil they were grown in, something of the spring rains that coaxed them into being.

This is the way strawberries were always supposed to taste. Of early summer's gentle warmth and sun-drenched days that never seem to end.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Malted Milk

Lately I've been drinking malted milk. I have terrible insomnia most nights and more often than not I wake up during the night, about once every hour, usually with my sheets twisted around my legs like I've been wrestling with my entire bed. So my mom suggested drinking warm milk. I wasn't overly fond of the idea, so one night when she came to visit she brought a container of Horlicks malted milk powder. I figured it couldn't hurt to try.

I think I've had it before bed for five nights now, but I'm not sure if I'm sleeping because of the milk, or because I've been inordinately tired lately (which is the only other way I seem able to get a full night's rest). For now I'm going to go ahead and give credit to the milk.

I'm not going to lie--I was skeptical. Not only about its ability to aid in sleep, but about the taste. As much as malt brings to mind Maltesers and malted milk shakes, it didn't sound very good as a hot beverage. I was pleasantly surprised.

If I had to compare it to anything I would have to say it reminds me of the milk leftover after eating a bowl of Shreddies, but warmed up. That probably sounds terribly unappealing, but I swear it's actually delicious. There's something oddly comforting about it, something that tastes like home and childhood and winter evenings spent reading a book or watching a movie. And maybe that is exactly where the appeal lies, less with its oddly post-cereal flavour and more with the nostalgia attached to it.

Regardless, I've been enjoying it, so I'm going to keep drinking it. Whether it's the effects of the hot milk that are helping me sleep or just a psychological calming effect that comes from feeling at home, it seems to be working.

And it's easy enough to make, just mix the powder with a bit of water to make a paste and add hot milk (detailed instructions are on the container). I usually heat up my milk on the stove top. If you read my post about chai tea, then you already know that I have a tendency to boil milk over. For the love of God! Watch your milk while it's heating! It makes such an awful mess if you don't. Trust me. I've done it enough times to know. 

And in case you were wondering, yes, that mug reads 'I solemnly swear that I am up to no good' scrawled over the Marauder's Map. I got it at the Science Center when they had their Harry Potter exhibit. The map only appears when the mug is hot. It might be my favourite thing ever. 

Stay tuned for an upcoming post where I will wax poetic about Ontario strawberries. Until then, malted milk--Hogwarts style.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I scream, you scream

The other day while I was perusing Pinterest (as one is wont to do when there are countless other things that need to be done), I came across a recipe for single ingredient banana "ice cream". It is literally made with pureed frozen bananas and nothing else. Well, okay, with peanut butter and cocoa powder as well, if you choose to amp it up a bit, but you don't need to add those.

'What is this?' I thought. 'Ice cream made with just bananas? Guilt-free ice cream???

Oh yeah. 

And since it's just about the easiest thing in the world to make (does it even merit the word 'recipe'?) I tried it as soon as possible. And you know what? It's delicious! Definitely comparable to ice cream. The texture is a bit more gooey, for lack of a better word, but not in an off-putting way, and I'm nearly positive a kid wouldn't know the difference.

Let your bananas get just a bit spotty, but not so ripe that they're brown. Chop them (I used four here) and then freeze for about a couple hours. Do chop them; trying to puree a whole frozen banana will not be fun.

Now, if your blender is anything like mine (ie. the worst appliance known to mankind) I would suggest using a food processor. Actually, I suggest using a food processor anyway, I just don't have one. I'm going to have to rectify that soon so I can make endless batches of this without undue frustration. (Really, it's the worst.)

Once it's smooth and whipped up, and you've scraped the sides down ad infinitum, toss in some peanut butter and cocoa powder. Or you could just eat it as is. It's also good as plain banana, but I couldn't resist the temptation of chocolate and peanut butter. Plus, wouldn't you love to be getting potassium and protein out of your dessert?

Anyway, I just eye-balled the amount of peanut butter and cocoa powder, but if you follow the link at the beginning of the post, you'll get precise measurements.

It has something of a soft-serve consistency when it comes out of the blender. It's tasty just like that, and definitely easier to scoop, but four bananas worth of 'ice cream' is a bit much for one person, so you'll likely want to freeze the rest. Let it sit out a bit before scooping it because it's going to be pretty solid. Or if you're impatient, like me, just run your ice cream scoop under hot water.

I was actually really surprised by this. I assumed it would be good, but oh man, its similarity to ice cream is impressive. And you could eat this for breakfast, as part of your lunch, as a post-workout snack, because you're really just chowing down on some bananas. 

I still can't wrap my mind around it. This might take some time. And some different combinations: maybe add some strawberries; mangoes; coconut milk; orange juice; mix in some nuts or chocolate. This is definitely going to require an investment in a food processor.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Monthly Moonshine: Black Russian

I have to tell I was contemplating cocktails to share with you I realized I had very little alcohol to mix anything complex. So that is a problem I will rectify by the time our next Monthly Moonshine rolls around. 

And then I decided that I need to get over my bias against vodka. That, and it turns out my sister and I have three separate kinds of vodka in our freezer and it's about time we used some of that.

So I bring you the Black Russian.

The Black Russian was invented in 1949 by Gustave Tops at a hotel bar in Brussels, Belgium for American ambassador Perle Mesta. It is so named for the use of vodka, a typically Russian spirit, and the dark hue of coffee liqueur. It seems strange, given the political climate at the time and the impending Cold War, that such a drink would be created for an American diplomat, but there you have it.   

Like every cocktail ever invented, opinions vary as to the correct ratios. However, in this case I found a clear trend toward 1 1/2 oz vodka and 3/4 oz coffee liqueur. So that's how I made mine. I would recommend using Russian vodka, for obvious reasons, but I found some Grey Goose so I used that. Kahlua is probably the most common choice for the coffee liqueur, but Tia Maria is also popular. 

In an old fashioned glass pour vodka over ice followed by the coffee liqueur. Stir and enjoy! Since this cocktail has no mixers to speak of it packs a bit of a punch. The coffee flavour hits you first, but it's quickly followed by a bite of vodka. 

My inner geek is certain that this is Black Widow's cocktail of choice. It appears unassuming, almost sweet on the surface, definitely nice to look at, but don't let your guard down because it will knock you off your feet. I'm sure her fellow Avengers would agree.