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Negroni time

Something about the holiday season puts me in the mood for a festive drink before dinner. Lately, S seems to be in the same mood, and his current favorite cocktail is a Negroni — the classic drink made with gin, campari and sweet vermouth.

When I first started making this cocktail I stayed true to the traditional 1:1:1 ratio and used the same amount of each ingredient in my drinks.  Over time, though, I have come to prefer my Negronis a little less sweet, a little more bitter and a little heavy on the gin.  And since I make them, S likes them that way too!

The recipe is still very easy.

For one drink, I pour 2 ounces of good gin (I like Plymouth), 1 1/2 ounces Campari, and 1 ounce Sweet Vermouth into a shaker filled with ice.  I shake gently, just enough to thoroughly chill the mixture, and pour it into a glass over an orange peel or a slice of orange for garnish.

Not only does it taste great, but it looks just right for the holiday season.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

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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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