• New Years Cocktail: Black Velvet

    The Black Velvet cocktail.

    The Black Velvet cocktail.

    Sometimes it seems like all we do this time of year is visit with friends, eat sweets and enjoy a few cocktails. And then we realize all we are doing is visiting with friends, eating sweets and enjoying a few cocktails. Not bad, not bad at all…Actually, we are doing quite a bit of cooking, but it turns out that blogging about savory dishes in the midst of the holidays is tricky, too little natural light and too many people coming and going for good photos (we are not complaining, more time with friends is always better). Baking and cocktails are a bit easier to plan for, so with New Years coming, how about another cocktail?

    velvet2velvet3And the Black Velvet is a perfect cocktail for New Years. A simple combination of equal parts Guinness stout beer and good champagne or sparkling wine, the Black Velvet packs real flavor and depth, but without a lot of booze. A cocktail, but one that will keep you standing until midnight (or 9pm, we cheat and use east coast time, then we go to bed…we save our “humbug” for New Years). While you might not expect stout and champagne to work together, they are a very surprising match. The stout adds body and some roasted and bitter flavors to the crisp, yeasty and fruity notes of the champagne. You get a sip you can savor from beginning to end.

    velvet4The Black Velvet is also beautiful, and as it turns out, fashionable. Let’s start with the looks. If you first add the Guinness and then slowly add the champagne (a spoon helps here) the drink will form two layers, the top a bit rosy and the bottom black. The layers will meld over time, but the almost-black drink in a champagne flute is stunning. As for the fashion, beer-based cocktails are all the rage in mixology these days and the Black Velvet is a very good introduction. And since part of the fun of cocktails is the conversations they start, if you add the looks with the trend and then the back story, the Black Velvet is a sure conversation starter.

    velvetThe back story? Most histories agree that the Black Velvet was created at the Brooks Club in London in 1861 to “mourn” the death of Prince Albert. Some suggest the cocktail symbolizes the black armbands worn by mourners. Some, like David Wondrich, suggest that (just maybe) the Guinness was a way to mask the drinking of champagne, which would have been very tacky right after the death of the prince. We bet both are right, the only question is the relative order of the explanation. We have our guesses, but either way, we get a good drink out of the deal. And even if the Black Velvet came from an “ending”, it is a lovely cocktail to celebrate the new year. Beautiful and flavorful but light on alcohol and with a great story attached, the Black Velvet is the perfect drink for a long night with friends. Happy New Year!

    The Black Velvet:

    Ingredients:

    • 1 part stout (Guinness)
    • 1 part champagne or dry sparking wine

    Assemble:

    1. Filled a chilled champagne flute or tall Collins glass halfway with the stout. Wait for some of the foam to subside.
    2. Very slowly add the champagne (use a cocktail spoon on the inside of the glass, if you like) until the glass is full. Serve.
  • What The Rains Left Behind

    rains2Christmas brought joy, friendship, feasting and rain. Lots of rain. We have no complaints, we need rain here…always. And the mountains are covered with snow. Again, no complaints…well, maybe a little.

    Filled in just a day or so...

    Filled in just a day or so…

    rains5rainsOnce the storm passes, we like to see what’s left. The grasses are green and thriving, but the flowers are a bit tattered. Happily, a few held on. Some are more sturdy than we would ever expect, particularly the roses. Their colors sway and flash in the storm. The petals fly, but new blossoms are never far behind.rains10rains12rains8rains13

    A bit tattered...but hangin' on...

    A bit tattered…but hangin’ on…

    We leave you with a few “crafts” from our time in the rain. Inspiration comes from many places….rains16rains15

  • Gingerbread Cake For Christmas

    Gingerbread Cake. Merry Christmas!

    Gingerbread Cake. Merry Christmas!

    Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas to all! For all the stress of the holidays, it is still a magical time of year. At it’s best, Christmas is a celebration of hospitality and generosity. While we hope it is never a necessity for anyone, it is good to have an annual reminder that giving to others (or baking, or cooking, or mixing a cocktail) is its own reward. We wish you peace.

    ginger3ginger4While Christmas does have deeper meaning, we also enjoy the food and drink. We already shared some Christmas cocktails (and remember there are twelve days of Christmas to work with), but we also want to share our favorite dessert, gingerbread. We enjoy gingerbread any way we can get it, in cookies, sheet cakes or this beautiful ring cake. We love the deep spicy flavor of gingerbread and the smell says “holidays” to just about everyone. The funny thing, though, is that we think that you could just as easily call it “molassesbread”. This recipe features a big splash (does molasses splash?) of molasses and oatmeal stout beer. When combined with a full slate of holiday spices, the funky molasses and roasted maltiness of the stout make for one seriously moist and flavorful cake. Once you have this gingerbread, it’s hard to go back.

    ginger5ginger2The recipe comes from the Gramercy Tavern in New York City and was published in 2008 by Smitten Kitchen. We are lucky enough to have dined a few times at the Gramercy Tavern and it is simply one of our favorite restaurants anywhere in the world. As for Smitten Kitchen, it is one of the best food blogs out there (great cookbook, too). And we get to visit Smitten Kitchen any time we want, we don’t even have to be in New York. In any event, when one of your favorite blogs posts a recipe from one of your favorite restaurants, the dish is likely to be good. We made this recipe for the first time a few years ago, now we can’t wait for Carolyn to make it as a Christmas treat. Oh, and did we mention you can make French toast with this gingerbread? (And if there is any left over, you should.)

    ginger6ginger7Making this gingerbread is, happily, pretty standard baking. (We will note this is another very moist cake that uses oil, rather than butter, hmmmm…) The only real trick here, and it is a BIG deal, is to thoroughly and completely butter and flour the bundt or loaf pan. And we mean completely. If you miss a spot, the cake will stick. Take your time and if you see even a tiny open spot, you need to fix it. This won’t take long, but no one likes a cake with chunks missing, even if it is one of the best tasting cakes they have ever had. And we are betting this will be one of the best cakes you’ve ever had. Merry Christmas from all of us here at Putney Farm!ginger8

    gingerGingerbread Cake:

    (Adapted from Gramercy Tavern and Smitten Kitchen)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • You can use a bundt-style pan, a ring pan or use loaf pans for the cake.
    • The cake is better the second day and should keep a few days. It is very good toasted or made into French toast.

    What You Get: Very moist, spicy and funky gingerbread. If you like molasses, you will love this cake.

    What You Need: No special equipment required.

    How Long? About 90 minutes with 30 minutes active time. With planning, an anytime dish.

    Continue reading

  • A Few Christmas Cocktails

    backword2

    The Back Word Cocktail. Maybe we can add peppercorn “ornaments” next time.

    The big day is almost here, and in the moments between shopping, gift wrapping, partying, pulling your hair out, decorating and cooking we suggest you take the time to have a well-made cocktail with special family and friends. Taking a few minutes to put on some music, pick the recipe, pull out the glasses and mix the drinks will soothe your soul. And you get a tasty drink and good company out of the deal, a very merry Christmas indeed! (And if Hanukkah is your gig, then please try the Bees Knees.)

    backword4So what to drink? It all depends on your taste. We like gin and it is the holiday season. Gin does taste a bit like a Christmas tree (all that juniper), so we may toss in some winter citrus and mix up a classic like the Aviation or a Pegu Club. We also like champagne and spice, so a Seelbach is an almost perfect holiday cocktail, and a good choice for bourbon fans. If you like rye whiskey and deep flavor, then the Sazerac, with it’s bright red color and strong kick will bring out your inner Rudolph (2 or 3 Sazeracs will make you think you’re Rudolph, but you’re not).  Cold? Try a toddy like the Tammany Jack. If you want a lighter, aperitif-style cocktail then a Calla Lily, Chrysanthemum, or our variant, the Flowers For Sonja would be a good choice. And if you just need a cold, hard dose of booze (and sometimes we do), then a dry Martini will always do the trick.

    martini3But what if you want to experiment? Maybe impress your guests with a secret ingredient? Well, there are plenty of places to look. Fred Yarm’s Cocktail Virgin Slut is one of the leading cocktail blogs with literally hundreds of innovative recipes from the best bars in Boston. He also has a companion book, Drink and Tell. If you get a few good bottles of booze, pick up Drink and Tell and mix away. Other good web references include the Mixology Monday series of themed online cocktails parties, Drinks at Serious Eats, Liquor.com, Saveur and Cocktail Chronicles all have large libraries of new and old cocktails. And CocktailDB has a huge list of classic drinks, just be ready to sort through a lot of recipes!

    dback3Before you start, remember that making cocktails is just like making a good dinner for family and friends, just faster (and slower, if you follow). Look at the booze you have, your fridge and your spice drawer. Maybe you have a few herbs in the garden, or some fresh fruit? Seek out a little inspiration (or a challenge), think of what you and your guests like, and then get going. You will be glad you did.

    Required summer reading.

    Required holiday reading.

    And if you need a little help getting started, here are a few of our favorites that encompass the old and the new, the simple and complex. And we have one new recipe, The Back Word, that we think clearly fits the holiday theme. Have fun and Merry Christmas!

    backword5The Back Word:

    (From Drink and Tell and Backbar in Boston)

    Ingredients:

    1. 1 and 1/2 oz. dry gin
    2. 3/4 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
    3. 1/2 oz. Lillet Blanc
    4. 1/4 oz. Luxardo cherry jar syrup (or brandied cherry syrup)
    5. Lemon peel, for garnish
    6. Rosemary, for garnish

    Assemble:

    1. Combine the liquid ingredients with ice in a cocktail glass or shaker. Stir until very cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe.
    2. Cut a small slit in the middle of the lemon peel and insert a sprig of rosemary in the peel. Float the peel on the top of the drink and serve. Continue reading
  • Cumin-Spiced Lamb Burgers

    lburger10

    Cumin Spiced Lamb Burger.

    This time of year, with the holidays swirling around us, we sometimes find it hard to make a regular weekday dinner. 5-course extravaganzas? No problem. Cocktail party? Sure thing. Cookie exchange? Bring it on. But we can, and do, plan for the big stuff. Daily dinner for the family with work, sports, parties, exams and constantly shifting schedules is often more tricky. But over the years we built up a few recipes that are very, very good, but don’t take up a lot of time and have a few easy ingredients (and usually don’t involve a ton of cleanup). Cumin-Spiced Lamb Burgers is one of these dishes. Just a few ingredients, one pan, a little time and a lot of flavor.

    lburger2lburger6And flavor really is the big benefit of using lamb. Lamb usually has more flavor than beef, and if you use the right cuts the flavor isn’t too “gamey”. Most lamb used to be imported from New Zealand and Australia, but these days there are many local grass-fed lamb suppliers (all over the USA) and the quality of the lamb is outstanding. With bright, clean flavor and juicy texture, lamb is worth a try. And this burger is a perfect introduction to lamb (our kids love all sorts of lamb, this was the “gateway” dish).

    lburger8lburger9Our recipe is based on the world-famous lamb burger from the Breslin gastropub in New York City. A veritable who’s-who of food writers and celebrity chefs have waxed poetic and “foodgasmed” on TV over April Bloomfield’s burger (clearly all Food Network auditions require the ability to foodgasm on command). But to be fair, this is one fine burger. And just to top it off, the Breslin sources their meat from famous butcher (and self-promoter) Pat LaFreida. Pat has a special blend just for the Breslin. Sadly, Pat doesn’t do California. Happily for us, our local butcher gets a lamb in every week or so, they break it down on site and then freshly grind the trimmings. And their blend will do just fine for us. (We also get great local beef and lamb from Stemple Creek Ranch, so good.)

    lburger12lburger7As for the recipe, it is incredibly easy to make these burgers. The Breslin’s recipe features a char-broiled rare-to-medium rare lamb patty, feta cheese, thinly sliced red onion, olive oil and seasoning on a warm Ciabatta roll. Good stuff. They also serve the lamb with cumin mayo, but we prefer to add salt and cumin directly to the meat. Cumin and lamb play very well together, but cumin is a strong flavor and you can omit if you like. We also use a cast iron skillet or grill pan on the stove (but boy would we like an indoor grill). The only real tricks in this recipe have to do with technique. You must rest the lamb burgers for 5-10 minutes after you cook them to let the juices settle in the meat, rather than running all over the plate. And if you put the slices of feta onto the patties while they rest, the cheese slightly melts on the burger. Yum. You really don’t need any sauce other than the olive oil and juices from the burger, but if you make a quick raita or cumin mayo, it will certainly taste good. And if you add a dash or two of Sriracha on top of the burger, we won’t tell…..

    lburger3 Continue reading

  • Basler Laeckerli: Spiced Honey Cookies

    honeybar7If there is one constant in our kitchen during the “holidaze”, it’s sweets. We have a number of birthdays, Hanukkah and Christmas to celebrate, and somehow candy, cakes, cookies and donuts seem to pop up all over the place. As our designated baker, candy maker and kitchen chemist, Carolyn is very busy this time of year (I help clean up….and eat too much). But Carolyn isn’t too busy to try new things, and this year for a cookie exchange Carolyn made these Swiss spiced honey cookies. And they turned out to be a very tasty, and relatively easy, treat. So good that they will be a regular holiday item for us, and as we include Putney Farm honey in the recipe, something we can share with friends that includes a little of our “farm”.

    honeybarhoneybar8Basler Laeckerli cookies (really more like a bar or blondie, but whatever) include honey, sugar, spices, nuts and candied citrus peel with a dash of Kirsch, a clear cherry brandy. Most recipes include a glaze to add sweetness and for better presentation. We adapted a King Arthur Flour recipe, because their recipes rarely let us down. Recipes vary a bit in the spices, lemon vs. orange peel and hazelnuts vs. almonds, but if you follow the general recipe you can adapt the final ingredients to fit your tastes. And these cookies taste delicious. The dense bars feature a full blast of honey sweetness followed by spice and citrus notes, the nuts add just a little crunch. If you eat one of these, you are likely to eat three…or four…or five.

    honeybar9honeybar3Making the cookies is an easy process, but somewhat untraditional. After combining dry ingredients (flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda) you cook the sugar and honey until they dissolve and then add the Kirsch, candied citrus peel and nuts (we use orange peel and almonds). Then you stir in the dry ingredients and let the mixture cool into a firm dough. To bake the cookies, you press them into a parchment or foil-lined pan and then bake for about half an hour, and enjoy how your kitchen smells. After cooking and cooling the cookies you make a quick glaze to brush on the cookies. The one big trick here is to use very hot glaze and work rapidly, the glaze cools quickly and will not spread well if you dilly-dally (Carolyn’s words). Once you get the glaze on, just cut and serve.

    honeybar2honeybar5As for the history of Basler Laeckerli, the name tells you most of the story. The cookies originated in Basel, Switzerland and the name lecker means “delicious”, and the cookies are indeed delicious. The recipe dates back at least 700 years and supposedly was a way for spice merchants to promote their product. And if the streets of Basel were filled with the smell of these spiced cookies in the oven, we bet that it wasn’t a hard sell. When you make these cookies and their aroma fills the air, you may find your family lined up in the kitchen.

    honeybar6

    Basler Laeckerli: Spiced Honey Cookies:

    (Adapted from King Arthur Flour)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • The recipe suggests almonds and candied orange peel, but you can substitute hazelnuts and / or candied lemon peel.
    • The recipe suggests a 10 x 15 baking pan, but you can use a slightly larger or smaller pan, but adjust cooking time up / down with thickness.

    What You Get: A unique and very tasty honey and spice cookie / bar.

    What You Need: A 10 x 15 baking pan is recommended. No other special equipment is required.

    How Long? About 1 hour, with 20 – 25 minutes of active time. An “anytime” dish.

    Ingredients:

    (Makes about 40 cookies)

    Dough:

    • 3 cups (12 3/4 oz.) all-purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 cup (12 oz.) honey
    • 1 cup (7 oz.) granulated sugar
    • 2 tablespoons Kirsch
    • 1/2 cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
    • 1 1/2 cups almonds, chopped fine but not ground
    • Butter or cooking spray for buttering pan

    Glaze:

    • 1 tablespoon water
    • 1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz.) granulated sugar
    • 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

    Continue reading