Instant Ginger Beer, shockingly good

Summer coolers come in all sizes and shapes. Ginger beer is one of my favorites; I’m always on the lookout for an unusual one, and there are plenty—once you take notice.  Some are dark, sweet and spicy, while others are light and refreshingly tart.

Over this home-bound summer, I’ve gotten used to going with whatever food and drink is easily available.  While browsing old files recently, a short recipe caught my attention for an easy ginger-based drink. Labeled Indian Sparkling Panakam, it included ground dried ginger and very few other ingredients, with no resting or aging process needed.  An instant ginger drink.

I had the basics on hand so I gave it a try. I mixed dried powdered ginger, cardamom, a dash of salt, and lime juice together and combined it all with agave syrup.  Incredibly, the ginger syrup was full-flavored and packed a nice zap of heat.

Instant Ginger Beer

Either an individual glass or a full pitcher can be prepared by diluting the syrup to taste with sparkling or soda water. I was doubly excited as I am always ready for an opportunity to pull out my trusty soda syphon, on stand-by, poised and waiting in the fridge door.

A taster glass is a good way to check for flavor, balance, and sweetness. I pour one tablespoon of the ginger syrup into a glass and give it a short blast of soda water. The mixture suddenly comes alive, rises up out of nowhere, forming a brown, creamy head—an apparent reaction to the ginger. It calms down, I add more soda and have a taste.  For simple pantry items this is quite the concoction!

Since then, I’ve enjoyed this sassy ginger cooler at different times of the day with all manner of food.  It’s a bubbly and utterly refreshing instant spritzer.

Instant Ginger Beer 

A mildly sweet ginger drink; adjust to taste. Inspired by Sparkling Panakam from Super Natural Every Day, by Heidi Swanson.

Ingredients
¼ cup agave nectar or simple syrup
2 tsp ground ginger
⅛ tsp ground cardamom
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
⅛ tsp sea salt
4 cups seltzer, soda or sparkling water, chilled
ice cubes
Garnish:  mint, Thai basil, or lime slices

Instructions
1. Create the syrup in a container: combine ginger through sea salt and stir to dissolve, combine with agave.
2. For an individual glass, measure in 1-2 tablespoons of the syrup, add seltzer water to half fill, stir to muddle. Add ice, top off with more seltzer and garnish with basil, mint, or lime slice.
3. For a pitcher: place the syrup in a pitcher. Add a splash of seltzer and stir to dissolve. Add the remaining seltzer, stirring to mix well. Add more ice cubes to chill well. Garnish as desired. Serves 4, or 1 quart

Tinkering with Drinks

I switched to a small soda siphon a year or two ago and haven’t looked back. It fits perfectly in my refrigerator door, out of the way but readily available when I need it. The swap out has greatly reduced wasteful plastic,  glass bottles, and caused me to upgrade my beverage repertoire.

With the return of summer heat I’m back tinkering with drinks and the soda siphon is staying busy. I’m always looking for a new sipper, something refreshing and not too heavy. Fruit syrups are tasty but I’d prefer less sugar. Fresh juices are fun but they can quickly turn into dessert, too.

I very much like the citrusy-tart flavor of fresh pink grapefruit juice. It responds well when lightened up with a blast of sparkling soda, a dash of bitters, a pinch of salt, and some fresh mint or lime.  But, after a while, I needed a change.

And along carrots. I didn’t have to go out in search of carrots, there are usually a few stashed somewhere in the fridge. Carrots are good for snacking and good for you; they are rich in vitamin A, beta-carotene, and more. Yes, they are abundant and last well—you could call carrots a universal vegetable. Their mild flavor is adaptable in both sweet and savory dishes, giving them staple status in many of the world’s cuisines.

Turns out, carrots and grapefruit have a symbiotic relationship.

Shaving carrots into thin wide ribbons opens up their surface area and encourages the grapefruit juice to settle in and extract both their color and flavor. In less than an hour and without much effort, you’ll have an earthy, peach colored, mildly sweet-tart juice.

Conversely, the carrot curls absorb the citrus flavors; they make a tasty snack and a pretty garnish.

Serve this refreshing and healthy drink over ice, enliven it with a splash of soda or sparkling water, and garnish with fresh lime and carrot curls for munching.

Grapefruit-Carrot Sparkler

Ingredients

  • 1 medium carrot, peel and shave into thin wide ribbons with a vegetable peeler
  • 2 cups or more fresh pink grapefruit juice, to cover
  • soda or sparkling water

Finish:  ice, lime slices, carrot curls

Instructions

  1. For juice, place carrot ribbons in a container and cover with fresh grapefruit juice. Chill for an hour or longer.  Any remaining curls can be re-used 2 or 3 times.
  2. For the sparkler, place ice in an 8-ounce glass, half fill with grapefruit-carrot juice, top-off with soda or sparkling water, and stir well.  Garnish with carrot curls a squeeze of fresh lime.   Serves 1 or more

Sun Syrup

It’s lavender time in Oregon.  I’m smiling, because sitting next to me is a glorious bouquet of lavender which is permeating the room with its clean, dazzling scent.

With this glut of lavender, I’ve been experimenting with a new syrup for drinks and desserts and I’m wondering why I didn’t think of this idea sooner.

It is tough to beat the combination of lavender and lemon, they are such a natural together.  But it occurred to me that it could use middle notes for further enhancement.  The answer was so obvious:  it needed vanilla.  I gave it a try in my last batch and was amazed at the difference!

I also wanted to do away with the sugar and the heating of the simple syrup for a more natural approach.  I’d replace it all with agave nectar combined directly with the flavoring mixture.  Then, I’d let the power of the sun would work its magic.

Lavender buds (2)
Sun Syrup

For the flavoring blend, I gathered up lavender blossoms, lemon zest, a bit of lemon, part of the vanilla and smashed it all together.  I blended this mash with agave syrup and let them hang out in the sun for an afternoon.

I couldn’t help myself.  I kept opening the lid to check the aromatics—and it continued to blossom.  I gave it a taste, the flavor was intensifying beautifully.  I took this as a good omen and decided to let the syrup stand at room temperature overnight and into the next day, and when I thought about it, I’d give it a good shake.

You could call this a sun syrup because the heat of the sun is enough to release the natural oils and flavors into a tantalizing summer blend for spritzers and a myriad of other uses.

Lavender Soda

This syrup is delicious drizzled over just about anything, including your favorite cake. Fair warning: it is addictive with fresh strawberries.

Vanilla-Lavender Syrup with Lemon

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp fresh lavender blossoms and leaves
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract, divided
  • 1½ cup agave

Instructions

To make the syrup:  with a mortar and pestle, pound the lavender, lemon zest and juice, and 1/2 tsp vanilla to soften and release aromatics. Place in a 2 cup jar, add the agave and shake to combine.

Let the mixture stand in a warm sunny spot for 4 to 6 hours. Then allow it to stand at room temperature overnight, shaking once or twice to disperse mixture.

The next day strain the mash through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth.  Place the syrup in a clean jar or bottle, add the remaining vanilla and shake well.  Let stand at room temperature 1 more day to mellow flavors, then store in fridge for 2-3 weeks.   Yield: 1-1/2 cups

Vanilla-Lavender Sparkler

Pour about 1 tablespoon Vanilla-Lavender Syrup into 8 ounce glass. Half fill with soda or sparkling water and stir well. Add cracked ice, squeeze in a lemon slice, top off with more soda water, give a stir and tuck in fresh lavender if available.

Summer Tea and the Good Life

Mountain Rose Herbs makes a caffeine-free bulk tea called Evening Repose Tea that I have gotten in the habit of enjoying in the evening. It’s a relaxing balance of peppermint and spearmint, chamomile and cornflowers, lemon verbena, lavender, rose petals and organic stevia.

But once the summer heat cranked up, hot tea no longer held that same appeal. I hit on a solution that has become my go-to iced tea during the day and well into the evening.

Still a sun tea of sorts, I’ve ramped up the process just a tad.  Instead of leaving the tea to steep outdoors via the sun’s rays for an entire day, I gently pour boiling water over the bulk tea wrapped in cheesecloth and set it out in the sun for a couple of hours. It’s just enough time to infuse yet remain well-balanced, clear, and very refreshing.

Once I got with the program, I’ve come up with other variations. One of my favorites is simply to boost the lavender and rose values by tossing in a bit more of it from a pretty bowl I have drying on a nearby table. Add ice, perhaps a little lemon, sugar if you must, and life is good.

Summer Tea

Ingredients

1/3 cup bulk tea, such as Evening Repose Tea
6 cups boiling water

Directions

  1. Wrap the bulk tea in 2 layers of cheese cloth and tie securely with culinary twine. Place in 2 quart container with lid.
  2. Gently pour boiling water over the tea, loosely cover and place in the sun for 2 hours.
  3. Remove the tea bag and pour into a storage container. When cool, chill and serve with ice and lemon slices. Serves 4 or more.

Magic Moments

It was early evening. An impromptu visit for tapas at La Rambla Restaurant in historic McMinnville turned out to be an utterly magical experience.  Their small plates of brilliantly flavored dishes are aptly described as Northwest inspired cuisine from Spain.

La Rambla is well known for their Wine Spectator award winning regional and Spanish wine list. It’s a thoughtful volume expressly selected to enhance a varied and robust spread of foods. The restaurant is a welcoming place: gorgeous luminary pendants suspended from the high ceiling cast a warm ambiance while guitar music drifts by in the background. It’s all beautifully orchestrated for conversation and fine cuisine.

As you would expect, the seafood is mouth-watering.  Consider Grilled Local Oysters with cava gastrique, truffle snow, and roasted garlic snow, or Fried Calamari served with red aioli, onions, peppers and chives.  There’s even an assortment of paella offerings to mull over (allow 45 minutes lead time).

la-rambla-tapasWe nibbled on house smoked almonds while awaiting the arrival of Pork Migas, a bonanza of house smoked pork, bacon and chorizo, filled in with fried bread and pimenton. The Sautéed Green Beans showcase al dente beans topped with melting Valderón blue cheese and hazelnuts. Both are rich and shoutingly good!

I always appreciate the thoughtful addition of alternative beverages. Offered here, an assortment of lightly sweetened fruit flavored house sodas. I opt for the rhubarb with bitters and soda water, a balanced blend well suited for lively tapas.

Darkness had settled as we left the building and headed out into the rain soaked night. The starlight sky was actually a magical light show amid the profile of historic buildings. Above, a network of twinkling lights dotted the web of tall trees, then the sparkles seemed to dart and dance their way down the street and disappear into the distance.

Mysteriously Marvelous Pear Italian Soda

About a month ago I wrote about the amazing pear butter that my slow cooker effortlessly pulled off while I wasn’t looking.

In the simmering process an incredible amount of liquid accumulated, which I ultimately elected to drain off rather than dilute the jam. The reserved syrup tasted so good I strained and decanted it, then set it aside to refocus on the hot pears. Armed with an immersion blender, a quick blast was all that was needed to render a silky-soft near creamy puree. But I still had no idea what I had. Did all the flavor escape into the syrup?

Once cool enough, I gave the pear butter a taste and was thrilled with the results! It needed absolutely nothing: the lemon, coriander, and cardamom all worked in perfect harmony with the pears. So thrilled was I with my good fortune, the jam became my go-to topping and the decanted syrup shifted further to the back of the fridge, pretty much forgotten until recently. That’s when I got a sudden hankering for an Italian soda.

Pear Italian Soda
Pear Italian Soda

The reclaimed pink-tinged pear syrup is a revelation. Its mysterious essence is not cloyingly sweet, it is exotic yet well-balanced with all the elegance of fresh pears. In a blind tasting I would put this syrup up against anything else on the market. Of course, I do wonder if I will ever be able to replicate it again!  But that’s another story.

Lacking this fabulous elixir, find the best pear syrup available and create your own divinely refreshing Pear Italian Soda.

Pear Italian Soda

Ingredients
cracked ice
3 – 4 tablespoons excellent pear syrup
1-2 dashes bitters
6 – 8 oz. sparkling or soda water
1 lemon slice
Directions

  1. Fill a tall glass with cracked ice.
  2. Pour in 3-4 tablespoons pear syrup, add a dash of bitters, a light squeeze of lemon, top off with sparkling or soda water to taste and stir.  Garnish with lemon slice.  Serves 1.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley named Wine Region of the Year

willamette-valley-vine
Courtesy Travel Oregon

More awards come to the Willamette Valley!

Industry leader Wine Enthusiast magazine recently named Oregon’s Willamette Valley as their 2016 Wine Region of the Year.  Home to 530 wineries and nearly 20,000 planted acres, much acclaim can be attributed to Oregon’s world class pinot noirs.

Rivaling regions of Champagne, Sonoma, and Provence, these international honors were awarded for “the outstanding quality of its wines, the resulting international recognition and the tectonic shifts in wine investments have engendered.”

Read Full article here.

Heat Wave?  Just Add Ice

Here in the Pacific Northwest we are known for our extreme coffee consumption.   At any time of the day or night, drive down a busy street and you will likely find multiple drive up coffee stands positioned to service the staggering number of customers queued in line for their next quick fix.

And when it comes to heat waves, rather than sweet tea, iced coffee is often our drink of choice. With temperatures soaring over 100 degrees for multiple days recently, my friend Chuck’s house specialty is a refreshing Thai iced coffee.

Thai Iced Coffee
Thai Iced Coffee

He suggests sugar muddled in a glass with a spiced coffee base, filled with ice cubes, and finished with half and half to taste.

Of course this took me right back to my coffee days in the Bahamas and Caribbean.  Since fresh milk was considered a luxury that required refrigeration, condensed milk was often favored due to its greater shelf life.  So popular, it was also served in most cafes and restaurants; after a while its taste just became part of the experience.

Since I’m not a big fan of sugar in my coffee anyway, I opted to stay with tradition and go with my old standby, sweetened condensed milk.  If you are a blog follower, then you are likely familiar with other recipes here praising its virtues, like Key Lime Pie and Dulce de Leche.  Its light caramelized flavor adds a richness, it rounds out, and enhances the cardamom and cinnamon flavoring brewed into the coffee base – it’s that simple.   Just add ice!

Thai Iced Coffee

Ingredients
4 tablespoons coffee, freshly ground
1/3 teaspoon cardamom, ground
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cups water
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup milk
Ice
Garnish:  Cinnamon or cinnamon sticks

Directions

  1. In basket of a coffee brewer, place ground coffee, cardamom and cinnamon. Brew with water and allow to cool.
  2. In individual glasses add 1-2 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk and thin with 1-2  tablespoons milk.
  3. Add ice and pour in cool or chilled coffee; top off with additional milk as desired. Garnish with a sprinkling of cinnamon or a cinnamon stick. Serves 4.

Tea, from Oregon with love

Minto Island Tea Company stands in a class all its own.  They are leading the way in the specialty production of certified organic, handpicked, small-batch crafted teas in Oregon’s lush Willamette Valley.Minto Island Tea

Who knew temperamental, labor intense teas would grow in Oregon—or in the US, for that matter?  First planted back in 1988 as an experimental project, their plants and techniques proved to not only thrive but they have flourished over the years. Minto Island Tea leaves

As small batch growers, this family operation continues to adapt, perfect their art, and gain acclaim along the way for high quality green, oolong and black teas.  For more information their teas can be sourced at their Minto Island Farm Stand in Salem, from their website, or at the Portland State Saturday Market. 

Shrub: To Drink, Not Plant

Old fashioned shrub is a lively vinegar based drink gaining popularity as a mixer for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  A basic shrub syrup is made from fresh fruit, other flavorings, and vinegar.

Before refrigeration, the acid in vinegar was considered a preservative for the fresh fruit syrup, ensuring it would improve over time. Herbs, spices, and other additives were often introduced not only to add character but to mask potential off-qualities. It is thought that one of the first American cocktails probably included a shrub syrup with either rum or brandy.  Some health proponents regard vinegar-laced beverages as a restorative and even beneficial in weight loss.

Over a year ago, I mentioned my initial shrub experience here while visiting the Austin farmers’ market. I was especially intrigued by the yin-yang effect of an Apple Lemon Ginger version—in the Texas heat, it was a nice change and highly refreshing.

Since it’s pear season I decided to try my hand at making a batch and am amazed at how easy and tasty it turned out. I learned it’s important to use ripe fruit, a few bruises will not affect the end results.  The amount and type of sugar and vinegar will depend on the fruit’s sweetness as well any other flavors introduced.Shrub, full bottle

The comice pears used were sweet and juicy with abundant pear flavor and a whisper of floral notes. I decided to incorporate ginger and lemon again; flavors I suspected would support and enhance the pear’s.  After tasting champagne wine vinegar and two types of apple cider vinegar, I opted for a mild and fruity apple cider vinegar with 5% acidity opposed to the champagne vinegar’s 7%.

I opted to combine the peeled and chopped fruit, grated ginger and lemon with the sugar and let it stand in a cool place for well over 24 hours; enough time for it to soften and blend together. I added an equal amount of vinegar to the mix, combined it all and placed it in the refrigerator to blend and mellow for a couple of days. I checked on it daily and noticed a decidedly more integrated quality each day.

On the third day, I ran the fruit through a fine sieve. The syrup was a gorgeous coral color, which I did not expect, it had the true essence of the pears, the ginger and lemon gave just enough to balance and highlight the fruit.

I spent way too much time dithering over the cloudiness of the syrup with coffee filters and sieves. After considerable debate, I decided it was way too good to extract well over half for the sake of clarity.  Still, the fruit residue left behind looks much like pureed applesauce, and is just about the best thing I have ever tasted. Much like a gourmet uncooked pear butter, I have eaten it with yogurt, by itself, and even spread on toast.

Pear Ginger Shrub
Pear Ginger Shrub

The shrub syrup is just as good, shouting sublimely pear in tandem with a sprightly tart boost. Thus far, I have mostly enjoyed it over ice, topped with sparkling water and a good twist of lemon.

After a couple of sips, I’m energized and revitalized. Seriously. You be the judge.

Pear-Ginger Shrub Syrup

3 cups ripe pear, cleaned peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 tbsp. peeled ginger, grated
1 tsp. lemon peel, grated
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
Sparkling water, lemon wedges for serving

  1. In a large, clean bowl mix the chopped pear, ginger, and lemon peel with the sugar and combine well. Cover with plastic wrap and store in a cool place overnight.
  2. The next day, give the pears a quick stir to dissolve any sugar and add the vinegar. Let the pears rest a day or two in the refrigerator to develop flavors.
  3. Stir the mixture again, pour it through a fine sieve to strain, pressing to release as much liquid as possible. To remove cloudiness, if desired, strain again through cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Transfer to a clean jar or decorative bottle. Store in refrigerator up to 3 months.  Discard if bubbling or signs of mold appear on top.  Yield:  1 – 1/2 cups or more shrub syrup.

To serve:  In a glass with ice, combine 1 – 2 tbsp. shrub syrup  with still, soda, or sparkling water.  Adjust to your liking and garnish with lemon.