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

Holiday welcome cookies

It’s hard to imagine the holiday season without making some sort of ginger cookie—and I’ve run the field, from simple cookies, to decorated gingerbread figures, and handmade houses. This year I’ve made my favorite basic molasses cookie and packed it with an assortment of ginger:  fresh grated, powdered spice, and candied pieces.

These cookies mix up in one bowl.  So fast to make, with little clean up, I’ve gotten in the habit of stirring them by hand without a mixer.  Another bonus with this cookie is that the dough can be prepared ahead, stored in the fridge, and baked on demand.

loaded ginger cookies

For a soft, chewy cookie, take them out of the oven while soft when pressed and slightly under baked. They will continue to cook. If you prefer a crisper cookie, bake them longer.

I like to bake off a batch for immediate enjoyment and shape the rest of the dough into a cylinder, wrap it well, and chill for later.  It’s incredibly satisfying to slice off rounds and pop a batch in the oven for a quick bake.  When family or friends arrive,  nothing says ‘welcome’ like the spicy scent of freshly baked cookies.

Ginger Cookies

Ingredients
1¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking soda
2 tsp powdered ginger
⅛ tsp each salt and cloves
¼ cup crystallized ginger, cut up
⅓ cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, well beaten
¼ cup molasses
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp mild vinegar
Icing:  ½ cup confectioners’ sugar thinned with 1 Tbsp lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with silpat or spray with non-stick spray.
    On wax paper combine flour, baking soda, ginger, salt and cloves.
  2. In mixing bowl, beat butter with a wooden spoon, stir in sugar until well blended and light. Beat in the egg, molasses, grated ginger, and vinegar.
  3. Add the dry ingredients and combine well, it will be thick. Shape dough into 3/4″ balls and roll in granulated sugar if desired. Place on baking sheet 2″ apart for spreading. Bake 15 minutes, until surface begins to crinkle on top, but slightly soft when pressed. Cool on rack.
  4. To ice cookies:  combine confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice to thin. Let icing drip off tines of a fork and drizzle over cookies.  Makes about 2 dozen.

Quirky Characters mash-up

What is zingy-bright, crunchy-chewy, butter-nutty, earthy and addictive?

Hint:  think ginger and pine nuts.  Oh, and throw in a smattering of cornmeal plus a little extra fortification from lemon and coriander. Hmmmm.

Now, you probably did not think first of biscotti, did you?  Mmmmm.

It is a startling combination, yes.  But for a biscotti lover always ready for a new taste thrill, these literally dance in my mouth.  The eggs play a major role in this cookie’s success:  they provide the binding structure and become the flavor background upon which all the disparate players blend into one quirky character.

Forget these if you don’t like ginger  gingerFreshly grated, powdered, and crystallized ginger all unite in one high-powered triple whammy.  Further, the sprightly crystallized ginger adds a distinct chewiness—the perfect foil—to the cornmeal’s earthy crunchiness.     

If pine nuts do funny things in your mouth, don’t bother pinenutsHere, smooth, elegant pine nuts strike a bewitching balance with the ebullient ginger. Essential toasting of the nuts brings out a rich, bacon-fat quality that jumps out of nowhere.  A dash of citrus from the lemon and coriander add supporting layers and rounds out these big flavors.Biscotti Ging Pine

Enjoy with a cuppa tea or a steamy latte.

Ginger and  Pine Nut Biscotti

Ingredients

  • 1-1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup cornmeal
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ginger, dried
  • ½ tsp coriander, dried
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp canola or walnut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp lemon zest, grated
  • ½ cup pine nuts, toasted
  • ¼ cup crystallized ginger, finely diced

To finish:  ½ cup  white or dark chocolate chips melted with 2 tsp shortening, or 1 Tbsp turbinado sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Spray a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.

  1. In a small bowl combine the flour through the coriander.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs, beat in the sugar until well incorporated, and then beat in the oil. Add the vanilla, grated ginger and lemon.
  3. Quickly add the dry ingredients, just to combine. Stir in the pine nuts and crystallized ginger.
  4. Divide the dough in half and form two long thin loaves (lightly floured hands help), about 12”x2”x ½”, with 2 inches between the loaves; they will spread a little. If using, sprinkle with turbinado sugar and press lightly into top.
  5. Bake 30-35 minutes, until firm but springy. Allow to cool about 10 minutes.
  6. Place each loaf on cutting board, slice into ½” diagonal slices using serrated knife.
  7. Lay cookies with cut side down on sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes.
  8. Turn the cookies over and bake 12-5 minutes longer, until lightly golden. Cool on sheet on rack.
  9. If desired, drizzle with white or dark chocolate heated with melted shortening. Store airtight at room temperature.   Makes 35 to 45 cookies, depending on size.

Peach Chutney with a Texas Drawl

peachesThere’s nothing like a tree-ripened peach, one so succulent that its perfumed juices dribble down your chin and slurping noises are the norm.  I have had my share of this year’s Texas peach crop and have specially enjoyed the local Hill Country beauties from Fredericksburg and Stonewall.

With visions of peach season quickly coming to an end, I decided to prolong their presence by transforming a few into mouthwatering chutney [truthfully, another mouthwatering chutney].  Perhaps this was prompted by a recent Saveur splash celebrating its 150th issue, which included a recipe for Major Grey’s Chutney, considered one of the world’s 150 most classic recipes.

Over the years plenty of purveyors have offered their versions of Major Grey’s chutney.  With its roots likely embedded in 19th century British India, it is anyone’s guess whose recipe is most authentic.

chutney 2I was intrigued:  but chutney does that to me.

Saveur’s recipe called for simmering mangoes, plenty of ginger, onion, garlic, raisins and warm spices for two hours. At one time I suspect tamarind paste would have also been included.

My own alterations started with cutting the recipe in half for a first run and the swap out of peaches for mangoes.  I reduced the amount of sugar and glad that I did, because it was still quite sweet.  I recall Major Grey’s as thick, sweet and exotic.  I further increased the lemon juice and threw in half of a juiced lemon during the cooking process.  Since I was making a smaller quantity, my chutney was well-simmered and thickly textured within 1-1/2 hours.

The results were very nice, indeed:  a dark, complex, well-rounded sauce with just enough heat to catch your attention.  Yes, I’d say that the peaches make a worthy contribution.

 

Texas Peach ChutneyChutney 1

A riff on Major Grey’s Chutney; inspired by Saveur’s Major Grey’s Chutney

Ingredients

  • 4 medium Texas peaches, peeled, chopped
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • ½ cup fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice plus rind from ½ lemon
  • 1 tsp dark chile powder
  • ½ tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg, salt
  • ¼ tsp each ground cloves, black pepper, and red pepper flakes

Directions 

In 2-quart pan, place all ingredients,b ring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer about 1-1/2 to 2  hours, stirring occasionally until thick.   Transfer to clean jar and store in refrigerator for about 2 weeks.  Makes 2 to 3 cups.

Mother of Invention: A & W Cream Soda

The old proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” proved itself true again today.  There I was, poised with my tasty, toasted English muffin in one hand and nothing in the other.    What’s a body to do when they discover they are completely out of their favorite jam or jelly?

apple ginger jam

In this case, I was missing my recent delicious find from IKEA, Sylt Flader & Apelsin, or orange and elderflower marmalade.  I cast a forlorn look about and it appeared that any hope would rest in the fate of four fat Golden Delicious apples.

With that as my impetus, I pulled up an old Bon Appetit recipe and went to town.  Here is the original recipe for Spiced Ginger-Apple Butter at Epicurious, with changes, including 4 Golden Delicious apples instead of 4 pounds of McIntosh.

By the way, in my wildest imagination, never would I think to combine A&W Cream Soda with apples.  But what’s a person to do when making apple butter and they are out of apple cider?

Add another juice or liquid, of course.  I suspect my weakness for cream soda comes from the vanilla addition.    Turns out, the claims of aged vanilla proved positive; it delivered a “subtle, nuanced flavor” that complements the layers of ginger, lemon, and apples.

Gingered Apple Jam 

Inspired by Bon Appetit, October 2000, via Epicurious

Ingredients

  • 4 Golden Delicious apples, cored, peeled, chopped
  • ½ cup cream soda or apple juice
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 2 tsp lemon juice and 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp crystallized ginger, minced

Directions 

  1.  In small saucepot combine apples, liquid, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, lemon zest, lemon juice, and bring it to a boil.  Simmer until the apple chunks begin to soften and lose their shape.
  2. Using an emersion blender or food processor, puree to break down into a jam, but leave some identifiable bits and pieces.
  3. Return to heat, add the candied ginger and simmer until thick and no pot liquid remains, 5 to minutes.  Cool and store in refrigerator.  Makes about 2 cups.