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Archive for July, 2010

Last week I posted the recipe for cherry drinking vinegar used to make a colonial drink called a shrub (concentrated syrup made from fruit, vinegar and sugar poured over ice and sparkling water).  When you last saw me, I had pitted and mashed the cherries, covered them with apple cider vinegar and left them to sit at room temperature.

Today I added 1/2 cup of sugar and gently boiled the cherry – vinegar mixture for about an hour (I chose to do it outside on my trusty Weber grill because boiling vinegar has a somewhat pungent odor),

strained the mixture and began a series of taste tests.  With some advice from my visiting sister-in-law K, I added about 1/4 cup more sugar and the drinking vinegar was ready to use.  My first shrub was delicious — a perfect refresher for a summer afternoon.

The recipe made just shy of three cups of liquid and I am already imagining all kinds of other uses for this vinegar — in salad dressing, mixed with vodka … I think the possibilities are almost endless.  The recipe says it keeps indefinitely; I am guessing it won’t be around that long!

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One of my recent fascinations has been with the fruit drinking vinegars that are on the menu at two Portland restaurants:  Ping and Pok Pok.  These drinks are light, fruity, not too sweet, and, because the vinegar is topped with sparkling water, a little bit fizzy.  A perfect taste for a hot summer afternoon or evening and a great companion for spicy, complex foods.

A few weeks ago someone tweeted about a New York Times Magazine “Case Study” by Toby Cecchini that included a recipe for drinking vinegar and I knew the gauntlet had landed.  I was going to try making my own drinking vinegar at home.  A weekend trip to Hood River which resulted in several bags of cherries provided the final ingredient — the fruit I needed.

The recipe is not complicated.   The first step is to pick through the fruit (and in the case of cherries, you remove the pits), mash it up a bit, cover it with vinegar and let it sit in a covered container for a week.  Pitting cherries is messy work, and my fingers are stained red right now, but I think it will be worth it in the end.

As recommended in the original article, I used an additive-free organic apple cider vinegar — Bragg vinegar — that I was able to find at my local New Seasons grocery.  You might have to order this vinegar; it is available online.

After the shrub has developed, the recipe calls for adding 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar, boiling the mixture for an hour, and testing it for sweetness.  The drink is served mixed with sparkling water over ice.

Here’s the full recipe from the NYT website:

Shrub
Makes about 1 1/2 to 2 quarts, depending on fruit used.

These measurements can be played with quite liberally, as some fruits contain more natural sugars.

2 quarts fruit, use any fruit, pears, figs, raspberries, cherries
1 liter apple-cider vinegar (preferably Bragg) or other vinegar.
1/2 to 1 cup raw sugar
Soda water
Ice.

1. Rinse the fruit and discard any rot. Place in a large non-reactive or ceramic pot and mash for several minutes with your hands or a wooden spoon to break up. Pour in enough vinegar to cover and top with a lid. Let macerate at room temperature for a week, stirring once a day. (Do not be alarmed by the smell or the sludge on top.)
2. After a week, stir in 1/2 cup of the sugar and gently boil for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly, then strain. (The smell created from boiling is a bit offensive, so open the doors and windows.)
3. Make a test shrub: cool 3 to 4 tablespoons of the fruit mixture. Fill a 20-ounce glass with ice. Add water or soda water to almost the rim, then add the chilled fruit mixture. Taste to determine sweetness. If it is too tart, add sugar to the fruit mixture, little by little, while still hot. Cool fully and funnel into bottles. Will keep indefinitely in refrigerator.

Since I have only completed the first part of the recipe myself, you’ll have to wait (with me) for a week to find out how the shrub turns out.  Stay tuned!

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Cooking in someone else’s kitchen can be a real challenge.  You can’t find the salt, you don’t have your favorite knife, their oven is not like yours.  Fortunately, my most recent experience was easy and fun.  And, even better, the food turned out well!

This kitchen was at the home of my friend A, someone I have known, we calculated, for about 40 years.  His kitchen is a work of art — a room he designed in a house he has built (is technically still building) in the hills above Oakland, CA.

The occasion was a fourth of July barbeque.  Everyone was bringing something, and I decided to contribute two small salads — one with roasted sweet potatoes and one with watermelon — variations of traditional fourth of July potato salad and fresh watermelon.

The dishes are both easy to make (I hesitate to even call what follows recipes, they are so simple) and can be pulled together in less than an hour, including the time needed to peel, dice and roast the sweet potatoes.  Next time you are cooking in a friend’s kitchen — or even your own — you might want to give them a try.

Watermelon Salad with Feta, Parmesan, Basil and Mint

1 small seedless watermelon, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
¼ cup crumbled Feta cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 small bunch basil, sliced very thinly
1 small bunch mint, sliced very thinly
Juice of one lime
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toss watermelon cubes in a generously sized mixing bowl with Feta, Parmesan, basil and mint.
Add lime juice and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Let the salad sit for about 15 minutes and then transfer it to a serving bowl using a slotted spoon (there will be a lot of “juice” in the bottom of the bowl; I prefer to serve the salad with only a little of it).
Serve at room temperature or cooled in the refrigerator.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Lime

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
¼ (or less, to taste) cup finely chopped sweet onion (like Vidalia)
Juice of one lime
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Toss diced sweet potatoes with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and spread out on a baking sheet.  If your baking sheets are small, use two so that the potatoes are not touching.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until sweet potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.
Transfer the roasted sweet potatoes to a medium sized serving bowl and toss with the remaining olive oil, diced onion and lime juice.  Season to taste with salt and pepper (I like a lot of black pepper with this salad).  Serve at room temperature.

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