Laurel’s Whiskey Sour

Craig and I are suckers for tasty cocktails.  We also love whiskey.  What’s better than a tasty whiskey cocktail?  One that’s refreshing, simple, and is full of protein!  Craig and I spent a few weeks fussing with ratios, and have finally settled on a ratio that we love.  Full disclosure, this is not the standard whiskey sour ratio, but one that we both prefer.  A true whiskey sour traditionally does not have an egg white in it.  Technically, a whiskey sour with an egg white is called a Boston sour.  Don’t be weird about egg whites in cocktails.  They make them delicious and foamy and creamy, but aren’t gross.  We were making these and one of our friends didn’t want to try it because of the egg in it.  Then she tried it after a little peer pressure and remarked that it wasn’t gross at all.  So there’s that.  If you’re concerned about potential foodborne illness, don’t be.  This recipe is actually better using pasteurized egg whites.  More on that later.

whiskey sour cocktail

Our Whiskey sour is a simple beast.  4 ingredients. 5 if you’re fussy like me.

Egg White – Don’t skip this.  I promise it’s good.  And if it’s not, then you’re only out the ingredients of one cocktail.  Try the recipe when you have friends over, and without a doubt, someone will love it and ask you for the recipe.  Send them to my blog.  Anyway – we found that in addition to being way less effort than separating a fresh egg, pasteurized egg whites in cartons seem to give more even foam.  Just use those.

Rye Whiskey –  This can be made with most whiskeys, but rye is far and away the best.  It isn’t sweet like bourbon, and has this slight bite to it that really bounces off the creaminess off the egg white and the sweetness of the sugar.  Added bonus, you can get great mixing rye for almost nothing.  The Old Overholt that we use is $16 per 750ml bottle.

Lemon & Lime Juice – You want both.  My version of the optimal ratio is 2 lemons per 3 limes.  As long as the juice isn’t sitting the fridge for a week or something, it’s still delicious.  Don’t use bottled juice, even the really tasty Nelly & Joes stuff that’s usually passable.  It needs to be from real fruits.

Simple Syrup – This is pretty simple (hahaha, get it?  simple?!).  But seriously.  Add roughly 1 part sugar to roughly 1 part water, heat until sugar is liquefied.  I don’t even do this on the stove anymore.  I put a bunch of sugar in this jar/bottle, add some boiling water, and swirl it around.  This usually does the trick.  If it doesn’t, I microwave it in 30 second increments til it’s done.  It lasts forever in the fridge.

Bitters – These are not necessary, but I prefer using them.  Angostura are fine, but this is 100% the chance to break out your weirder ones.  My favorite is grapefruit bitters, continuing the citrus theme.

whiskey sour cocktail

Ingredients:
3 oz (or 2 fresh) egg whites
4 oz rye whiskey
3 oz lemon/lime juice
1 oz simple syrup
(optional) dash bitters

Directions:
*Add a few ice cubes to your cocktail shaker (I use 3 large hexagonal ones) and put your egg white in.  Cap and shake the crap out of it.  The goal here is to generate a lot of froth and start breaking up your ice a little.
*Crack open shaker and add the rest of your ingredients.  Shake again.  I find that sometimes the shaker burps a little, so I do this second shaking over the sink to reduce stickiness.
*Strain into an old fashioned class, garnish with a slice of lime and a couple dashes of bitters if desired.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake Jelly Shots

I turn 30 this year.  I have come to the jello shot game pretty late, but I’m making up for it by producing delicious gelatinous versions of some of my favorite cocktails.  I haven’t shared any of the recipes here before, mostly because I haven’t photographed them, which… shame on me.  They’re tasty.  The one piece of advice that I can give you for any type of jello shots, is if you’re using real ingredients (not Jell-O mix), make sure the flavor is over the top.  It needs to be sweeter than a sane person would willingly drink.  Think Mai Tai or pretty much any super sweet tiki drink.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake Jelly Shots

I made these as a cocktail a few months ago as a way to try to use up some of the remaining Birthday Cake Vodka that I had, and they were loved by everyone.  I had a bachelorette party to go to this weekend, which proved to be the perfect excuse to turn this super girly drink into a great jello shot.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake Jelly Shots

So I did.  I did a little testing in terms of strength before jellifying it, and found that a 1:1 ratio seemed to work perfectly.  If you’re in the US, chances are you’re going to be able to find unflavored Knox gelatin in powder.  My recipe uses that, as it is what is most available to me. I’m not sure what the gelatin sheet conversion is.  For a sturdy jello shot, you want to go with 1 cup of liquid per packet of gelatin.  This makes them stable at room temperature and sturdy enough to hold together as you pull them out of molds or cut them.   And a word of warning – if you’re using silicone ice cube trays like I do, be sure to get the freezer smell out of them.  It’s not terribly apparent with ice, but there’s something about the alcohol content that absorbs every wayward flavor.  I ended up having to throw out all of the shots from the green mold because even after a baking soda soak, then a vinegar soak, then a run through the dishwasher, the flavor was still apparent in the gelatin.  The blue one got the same treatment and tasted fine.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake Jelly Shots

Ingredients
1.5 cups canned pineapple juice
3 packets Knox gelatin
1.5 cups cake or vanilla vodka
nonstick cooking spray (don’t use coconut oil.  it solidifies and gets ugly)
maraschino cherries if desired (these give you a really pretty red gradient)

Instructions
*Measure out pineapple juice in a heat resistant cup large enough to hold everything.
*Sprinkle gelatin evenly over pineapple juice, making sure all of the gelatin gets moist
*Allow gelatin to bloom for 5-10 minutes and heat until totally liquefied. I microwaved it.
*Allow to cool additional 10-45 minutes.
*Add Vodka, stir, and pour into molds/loaf pan that have been sprayed with nonstick spray. Add cherries if desired.
*Chill in fridge overnight or for 6+ hrs
*Remove from molds or loaf pan. Cut into cubes if you used loaf pan.
*Enjoy responsibly

Coffee CSA

Craig and I are coffee snobs.  Over time, we have slowly stepped up our game in terms of what coffee we determine is “acceptable.”

One of our favorite coffees is actually roasted in Seattle.  It’s called Back Pedal Brew, by Middlefork Roasters.  It tastes creamy and chocolaty.  It’s quite nice.  But it’s about $16/lb, not organic, and kind of a pain to get.  Our options are Seattle Coffee Gear, which has 2 locations nearby, but neither are convenient, or Whole Foods, which is equally inconvenient to get to (and also a total zoo).  Whole Foods also offers some pretty great coffees in their house brand which can be purchased in bulk.  That is our general go-to for everyday coffee.  I get their organic breakfast blend for $10/lb and it’s pretty tasty.  But it’s still a total pain to get at Whole Foods.  So sometimes when we run out of “the good stuff,” we will slum it, and pick up a bag of Starbucks coffee.  And every time, it’s awful.  During one of those times, I just wasn’t willing to make time to take a special trip to Whole Foods to get more coffee, and we finally broke down and decided to try out a coffee subscription service again.  We had tried Tonx in the past and weren’t fans of how overpoweringly sour their roasts tasted, so we dropped it.

I signed up with CoffeeCSA.org last week and scheduled our first delivery of 2 pounds of coffee.  2lbs monthly costs $30 shipped.  It is roasted just a couple days before it is shipped.  Since they deal directly with the farmers, the people who grow the coffee make a lot more money.  The subscription that we selected allows us to get a “featured farmer of the month” coffee, so we get different coffees each month.   We got our first delivery yesterday. It’s tasty, and good, and Craig really enjoyed it, which is saying a lot.  Also, I like that the farmers are getting paid more, and I like that the coffee’s organic.  But most of all, I like that I don’t have to schlep my ass to Whole Foods twice a month to get ethically produced coffee.  So CoffeeCSA – if you’re reading this… want to be the first sponsor on my site?  I like what you’re doing and I want more people to get involved in paying the people producing our food a fair wage.

Bulletproof(butter) Coffee

I am willing to try almost anything once.  When I was pretty into eating Paleo(or similar), I kept coming across references to Bulletproof Coffee.  If you have somehow missed the hipster express and have not yet heard of this substance, here, let me explain it to you.  It’s basically butter and any number of other good-for-you fats dunked into your coffee.  It sounds totally sick, right?  Well it tastes incredibly close to coffee with cream.  And essentially, it is.  The concept is that it gives you energy, focus, and helps curb your appetite.  And it does.  You know, because coffee. And fat.  You could probably get a very similar product from just adding some grassfed cream and a couple hunks of coconut oil to your coffee in the morning, but for whatever reason, this feels like more of a ritual and leaves me feeling less hungry.  It very well could be psychological.

The recipe?
28 grams (2 tablespoons) of good fat (grassfed butter and coconut oil)
coffee

Grassfed butter is the preferred base of this.  People recommend unsalted.  It’s expensive at the grocery store, and our Costco only sells the salted stuff.  Craig and I use it because we don’t have any issues with sodium consumption, and frankly, we kind of like it.  Craig goes with the whole 28 grams in butter, because he hates coconut.  Joke’s on him.  I actually quite like coconut, so I either go 14/14 or 23/5 butter/coconut oil.  The reason to include the coconut oil is that the medium chain triglycerides are easy to digest and generally considered (at least for now) quite good for you.

Coffee.  Craig and I use the heck out of our Aeropress.  Like every morning.  I actually haven’t touched my espresso machine in over a year.  It’s on a shelf in our spare bedroom collecting dust.  Anyway, good coffee.  Organic coffee is better for the environment (duh) and has far less chemical residue that conventionally produced coffee.  And I find that when you start getting into decent quality coffee, there often is very little (if any) cost differential between conventional and organic, so might as well find something organic you love.  We usually  get the Whole Foods store brand, Allegro.  They have a medium roast that’s organic, called Early Bird Breakfast Blend.  A pound will set you back about $12.

weighing out the fat for bulletproof coffee

Here’s how we go.  I have amassed quite the collection of those flimsy plastic starbucks reusable mugs.  You know, the ones that cost $1 and look like a normal paper cup?  I am constantly losing or letting to-go mugs get totally disgusting, so I figured I’d just get these quasi-disposable cups and use them for coffee at home.  The only thing is that since I’ve gotten these, I haven’t destroyed any, and I’ve mostly stopped losing them.  And they last freaking forever. Oh geez.  There goes another rant.

doodles on reusable starbucks cups
Recognize  the llama?

doodles on reusable starbucks cups
Recognize the NWA reference?  Craig’s favorite cup.

I have a scale out on the counter all the time.  I use them constantly for cooking, portioning, etc, so it is a super easy way to ensure I’m getting the right amount of fat in my coffee.  While the water is heating and the coffee is grinding, I just toss the cup on a scale, and start adding butter/coconut oil til I hit 28 grams.  Then I brew my coffee right over the top of the butter.  It melts the fat, and then I just buzz the half-full cup with my hand blender.  It gets frothy and emulsified, I let it sit a few more minutes for the foam to die down a little, and then finish filling the cup with additional water.  Easy peasy.

brewing coffee with the aeropress

bamix hand blender
I got this 1970s Bamix on Ebay for $30 shipped.  It’s built like a tank.  Made in Switzerland, and should last you forever
blending the coffee and butter/coconut oil

blended coffee
Difference between blended butter coffee and unblended.  Gross oil slick on top of unblended.

Now, let’s talk about how this goes, realistically.  Nutritionally, it’s great.  It fills me up, and only sets me back a hair over 200 calories.  There are few breakfasts that do so.  It takes an equal amount of time to make as a normal cup of coffee (which I’d be making anyhow), doesn’t take any more time to consume than I normally would spend (sipping while I put on makeup and drive to work), and doesn’t generate any additional dishes.  The hand blender just gets rinsed off when I’m done and goes back in it’s little stand thing.

And the downsides?  If I let it get cold, it gets icky.  The oils solidify and then it gets chunky.  Microwaving fixes the chunky part, but then you get the oil slick on the top again.  Fix?  Drink it faster.  Done.  The inside of the cup gets oily, and I like to reuse my cups.  Instead of just rinsing the cup before refilling it with some hot water with tea, I actually have to wash it with dish soap. I can live with that.

Additional upside?  It moisturizes my lips.

So I implore you, please try this.  At least once.  If you have one of those little bullet type blenders, make the coffee in that!  I admit that it might be kind of a bummer if you just have a vitamix or other normal blender, but give it a shot, and if you love it, spend $30 on a hand blender, which you will use all the freaking time once you have it.

Espresso, learning how to pull a proper shot, and delicious failure

Urg.  I have this love-hate relationship with fussy things.  On some occasions, I enjoy the fussy aspect of really perfecting something.  On other, either the artfulness of it is lost on me, or I just don’t care enough to put forth the effort to get it “just right.”  Such has been my experience with espresso.

A few years ago, I picked up a cheap espresso machine as a birthday present for myself.  It was a cheap little refurbished machine (highly rated though) that is essentially internally identical to the Starbucks Barista machine.  It has what is called a pressurized portafilter. The portafilter on espresso machines is the little basket with a handle that the coffee goes in.  A pressurized portafilter eliminates the fussy aspect of pulling a really nice shot of espresso.  It gives you a consistent product, eliminating the need for the “correct” grind size, tamping, etc.   It is consistent, and good, but not great.  Enter my nature.  Why improve on good?  Because I could use a good knock to my ego.  A manual portafilter, one that doesn’t have the safety net of being pressurized has potential to make exquisite shots of espresso.  It also has the potential for extreme failure. The benefit of the potentially extreme failures that a manual portafilter can provide are that they are a) cheap and b) still espresso (yum).  A couple years ago I got a burr grinder (also cheap, but highly rated), for the ability to freshly grind my beans, and knowing that at some point in time, I would decide that I had nothing better to do than spend $60 on a manual portafilter and continually hurt my own feelings in the quest to make great espresso.

The pressurized portafilter is visible sitting on top of my espresso machine in the first photo.  It is a big honker.  The non-pressurized portafilter is much slimmer, not having any of the extra crap in it to pressurize the chamber.  An additional wrinkle in the standard portafilter game is the bottomless, or naked portafilter, where they cut out the bottom of the portafilter so you can see the basket from the bottom.  This allows the barista to see exactly how the coffee is coming out of the filter.  It basically allows you to figure out WTF you’re doing wrong, so you can try to correct it.  And boy-o is it apparent!

manual portafilter for saeco aroma

There are a whole host of problems that you can create with different variables.  The variables include: grind size, tamp pressure, inconsistent tamp pressure,  and quantity of coffee.

bottomless portafilter

You wanna hear how my first attempt went?  NOT PRETTY.  Side spurting like nobody’s business, too short of extraction times, blonding, over extraction.  It was a clusterfuck.  And no crema.  NONE.  It was still coffee, so.. you know… I drank it. Then I made a second attempt this morning.  A little better. I got SOME crema, but not much.  I still had a spurter, multiple streams, over and then underextraction.  I tried again.  This time with a little more coffee, a little more pressure, and a slightly finer grind.  Better results.  A spurter still developed, but it took a while.  Extracted too fast.  I have work to do.  And by golly am I going to love both my successes and my failures!

not very much crema
I used a ramekin so it would help catch any spray.

Updates will follow.

Infusing your own alcohols

I am going to be honest, I have made several pretty bad infused liquors.  That goes with the territory. You win some, you lose some.  In college, I took a $30 bottle of vodka and soaked a huge pile of blackberries in it, then added a huge amount of sugar.  The result – $40 worth of fail.  That $40 failure was a huge financial hit for a college student, and dissuaded me from attempting to infuse booze for many years after that.  Last fall Craig mentioned a mixed drink that he had tried where you mix fireball (cinnamon liqueur) with apple flavored snapple, but mentioned that it was very sweet.  I set about coming up with a way to make it tastier and lower sugar.  I soaked a few cinnamon sticks in some whiskey, and mixed it with actual apple cider.  It’s delicious, and has the benefit of no added sugar.

 This post is not about my whiskey though.  It is about infusing gin.  Most of us have had a bad experience with gin that has put us off drinking it.  Mine involves running out of juice midway through a night of drinking when I was in highschool, and switching to doing shots of it out of a mug.  It was not a positive experience.  The next time I touched gin was close to 8 years later, when I spent the weekend getting cut, bruised, sweaty, and dusty tearing out a huge pile of juniper bushes from our front yard.  Deciding that I needed a victory cocktail, nothing seemed more fitting than drinking a spirit steeped in juniper offspring (berries).  It was then that my love affair with gin began.  Unfortunately, nobody else in my circle of friends felt the same way about it.  To this day, I have to come up with something pretty fancy to get Craig to drink it.  This spring, I came across the ticket.  I made a rhubarb simple syrup, and began my experimentation with adding different herbs to cocktails made with the syrup.  If I remember correctly, I think the gin cocktail was rhubarb simple syrup, muddled basil and lime, plus gin and soda water.  And it was magnificent.  It was then that I coerced Craig’s best friend (and my secondary husband) Ian to try gin.  He then began drinking gin and tonics (G&Ts!) and has also begun exploring the exciting world of craft-distiller’s versions of gin.  Rogue brewery has a gin that they put out somewhat recently which is great.  My PERSONAL favorite is Dry Fly from Eastern Washington.  They scale back a bit on the standard botanicals, and add in apple, lavender, hops, mint, and some other similar flavors.  It is an incredibly complex flavor and is a lot less juniper-heavy than many others.  This spring, when lavender was blooming, I took a cue from Dry Fly, and collected some lavender flowers, threw them in a jar, then filled it with gin and allowed it to sit for a few days.  The gin turned a yellowish color eventually, and I strained everything, and made cocktails using elderflower syrup and soda water.  It was like drinking a flower, but in a good way.

lavender-infused gin
It tasted as pretty as it looked

So this year for Christmas, when I found myself unable to find a suitably thoughtful gift for Ian (he is a very good gift giver), and he mentioned having gotten a new fancy gin, I knew what to do.  I decided to make him a trio of infused gins.  The biggest trick to infusing liquors, is to start with something CHEAP.  It doesn’t have to be enormous plastic bottle cheap, but unless the enormous plastic bottle liquor is actually unpleasant tasting, it should be fine if you start with that.  When I infuse our cinnamon whiskey, I get a 1.75 liter bottle of the cheapest whiskey I can find, and dump a few cinnamon sticks in.  My go-to gin is Beefeater, and I get it in (glass) 1.75 liter bottles for a pretty decent price, so I feel OK keeping it around for drinking, and whatever hair I have up my ass for infusing. My first plan was satsuma-cranberry.  For this, I just threw half a bag of fresh cranberries into a bottle (I’ll mash them up a bit if I do this in the future) and the zest from 2 satsumas.  I like doing large ribbons of zest, so I slice big pieces of peel off, then shave away any visible bits of white pith (pith=bitter=unpleasant).  Here it is after having sat for a few days.

Satsuma-Cranberry Gin
The second one is lemongrass-lime.  For this, I got a stalk of lemongrass and cut it to about 8″ long, then cut it into strips so that I’d be able to remove them from the bottle, and did the same zest trick with 2 limes.  Due to the assertiveness of both flavors, I expect that this one will only take a few days to infuse, but I think that it’ll be a fun one to experiment with, so I’ll be happy to “water it down” with some additional gin(if it’s too intense) and take whatever leftovers I end up with.

lemongrass-lime infused gin
My final infusion is a grapefruit-basil infused gin.  As you can see, it’s only grapefruit zest so far.  That is partially because I think that the grapefruit will need a little longer to infuse to release its flavors, and partially because I haven’t made it to the store to get some fresh basil in the middle of winter yet.

grapefruit infused gin

TGIF – Lettuce Discuss Imperial Stouts

Craig and I (and everyone in the PNW, no?) are fans of great beer.  Our tastes have a tendency to change, and as it stands now, we most like expensive things.  Of course, right?  When we first started dating, the “nice” beer that Craig liked was Stella Artois, and my personal favorite was Pacifico, with a little lime.  We both thought we were fancy.  As we got older and bothered trying more and more things, we progressed into a phase where we were drinking a lot of witbier (something like Blue Moon) and hefeweizens, then amber ales, IPAs, and eventually made our way to stouts.  As it is now, our “style” of choice for beer is either a sour beer like a lambic or a kriek (in which a beer is brewed, then bacterial strains re-ferment the beer, basically turning it into a tangy creation, kind of like how you make yogurt), or an imperial stout(which is basically just a stronger, thicker, more intense version of a normal stout).  Something that some of the fancier breweries tend to do is get an imperial stout, and age it in old liquor barrels.  Good bourbon barrel-aged imperial stouts are mind-blowing complex, with all of the intriguing characteristics of a well-made imperial stout, plus all of the complexities of a great bourbon, the slight caramel, vanilla, and smoke flavors.  They are a holy grail for us, but difficult to find in bottles, as most breweries will sell them only on location in their brewpub.

Earlier this week I was at our local BevMo collecting a few different examples of hard ciders (we’re just starting to get into those) and one of the salespeople was stocking the shelves.

“Can I help you find anything?”
“Um… Do you have any great imperial stouts?” (I love getting personal recs from people)

His eyes lit up, and with a tone akin to a child asking if Santa was bringing him the BB gun he wanted “Do you like Bourbon barrel aged stouts!?!”

My eyes lit up, and with a tone akin to a child finding out that Santa was bringing him the BB gun he wanted “Heck YES I like Bourbon barrel aged stouts!!!”

Velvet Merkin Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout

He ran into the back.  I trembled with anticipation.  When he returned, he informed me that they had JUST gotten them in an hour earlier, and that there were none on the shelves and that “it’s awesome.”  I happily took it, finished my shopping, and got out to my car, where I looked it up on beeradvocate, where people tend to be pretentious and take beer snobbery very seriously.  It’s rated a 96/100, which is pretty much unheard of.  Plus, well, it’s called Velvet Merkin.  Come on, that’s funny.  In case you aren’t aware, a merkin is a pubic toupee.

Velvet Merkin Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout

As you may have noticed, our bottle is marked No. 001.  It looks like the distribution on the beer is only a few hundred cases, so I assume it’s the case number.  Their promo photo the Firestone Walker website shows a bottle with a 001 marking, but the box says 002.  Who knows.  Either way, since it’s so highly rated, I’d say it’s unlikely we won’t love it, and I will probably be heading back to BevMo again today to grab another couple bottles if they still have them.