• Monthly Cocktail #3: The Bramble

    bramble8Here in California our endless summer drought? continues. But elsewhere we assume that fall is coming. With that in mind, we tend to think of “last gasp of summer” types of cocktails, and that usually brings us to the Bramble, a delightful combo of gin, lemon, sugar and blackberry liqueur (Creme de Mure). While most people here in the States haven’t heard of the Bramble, it is one of the most popular cocktails in the UK. And just like the Arctic Monkeys, this is an import from Britain that more Americans should enjoy.

    bramble1bramble2The story of the Bramble is also a good one. The history says that UK bartender Dick Bradsell came up with the Bramble as an answer to the Cosmopolitan. And we can say that while the Bramble shares the attractive looks of the Cosmo, it is a much better cocktail (sorry, it is…). Basically a gin sour enhanced by blackberry liqueur and made into a slow sipper using crushed ice, the Bramble is a warm-weather delight.

    bramble3bramble4Now, you may say “I don’t want to buy that Creme de Mure stuff, how often will I use it?” Well, considering how tasty the Bramble is (and that you can make a bourbon variant called the Black Demure), we think it is worth buying. But, if not, just adjust the recipe and muddle 3 or 4 fresh blackberries and some extra simple syrup. You will still have a tasty sip, even if it doesn’t get the intense blackberry flavor from the liqueur.

    bramble5bramble6 Continue reading

  • Our Garden, Growing Strong….

    grows….please forgive the obscure Game of Thrones reference (think House Tyrell). But our garden is growing strong, indeed. The hot and dry winter left us without cherries (not enough chill hours) and with withered greens. But our spring onions and potatoes were a delight and the blueberries and strawberries are simply amazing…and plentiful. No complaints.

    grows1grows8grows4It is our tomatoes that are truly growing strong, we practically have a tomato thicket. Frankly, we can’t wait. And along with tomatoes, our other warm weather plants like the eggplant, peppers and raspberries all look like they will have a very good summer. That means we will have a good summer.

    grows6grows11grows3Oh, and don’t even get us started on the apples, peaches and figs. They look good so far and we hope we can keep the varmints off them until late summer. It is a 50/50 shot at best…but hope springs eternal.grows10grows9 Continue reading

  • Mystery Fig Jam

    fjamWhile gardening tends to require some attention to detail, sometimes it is simply best to roll with things. And our figs are a good example. A few years ago we had a Black Mission Fig Tree put into the orchard. We cheated a bit and bought a tree that was a few years old and already a few feet high (hey, we wanted figs sooner, rather than later). But that tree didn’t last long, the gophers ate the entire root ball and the tree literally fell over. Nature often gets the last laugh, and your best plans are laid to waste.

    fjam1fjam2But that doesn’t mean we stopped fighting. We got another fig tree, wrapped the root and planting area with wire mesh and planted again (insert Monty Python’s Holy Grail “Swamp Castle” joke here). And this time we beat the gophers…..sweet! Oh, except the figs were green, not black, and now we have no idea what they are. Kadota? Adriatic? Greek Royal? Who knows….we just know they ain’t Black Mission. Ah, nature.

    fjam3Regardless, we got a decent spring crop and an excellent fall crop of these green figs. When ripe, the figs are soft on the outside and have beautiful bright red flesh. And they taste great, too. The only problem is that the figs don’t keep well. You need to eat them quick. And we do. But when you have a couple hundred figs, it is time to make some jam.

    fjam4fjam5fjam6And fig jam is a treat (even if it isn’t the most attractive thing going). It works simply on toast, but the rich sweetness is an excellent foil for cheeses and charcuterie. In fact, if you want a perfect sandwich, make a good grilled ham and sharp cheddar sandwich with fig jam. A perfect dish.

    fjam7fjam9fjam10The recipe we use is adapted from the Blue Chair Cookbook, one of our favorites. It is just figs with sugar and lemon juice and a splash of Yellow Chartreuse and Benedictine for herbal notes. Being the cocktail nerds “cocktailians” we are, we actually have Chartreuse and Benedictine, but If you don’t have them, ignore or use some candied ginger (or go buy some and mix some drinks). The only bummer with this recipe is that it takes a while. Nothing really hard here, it is just that you are making jam and need to do some boiling, reducing, stirring, etc. But since the figs go bad quickly, this is your best option if you grow or buy a lot of them.  Now if we could just figure out what kind of figs they are…

    fjam11Fig Jam:

    (Adapted from The Blue Chair Cookbook)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • You can use any ripe, thin-skinned green figs here, but Adriatic are suggested. Kadota or Greek Royal also work.
    • If you have thicker-skinned figs, you want to precook the fig slivers in a little simmering water until tender, then use as directed.

    What You Get: Delightfully rich and sweet jam that works with sweet or savory dishes. A way to use your ripe figs.

    What You Need: A jamming setup. What? You don’t have one? Well, now is the time…

    How Long? Forever. Well, not quite. But free up a few hours.

    Ingredients:

    • 2 1/2 pounds plus 3 pounds Adriatic figs, stemmed
    • 3 pounds white sugar
    • 6 oz. fresh lemon juice
    • 2 ounces yellow Chartreuse
    • A few drops of Benedictine

    Assemble:

    1. Place 5 metal spoons on a plate and put them in your freezer for jam testing.
    2. Slice 2 1/2 pounds of the figs into 6ths or 8ths, depending on their size. Place the fig slivers in a large heatproof mixing bowl, add the sugar and mix. Let the mixture macerate while you make the rest of the recipe.
    3. Place the remaining 3 pounds of figs in a Stainless steel pot or kettle big enough to hold them in one layer. Add cold water up to 1/2 inch depth in the pot. Cover the pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir and decrease the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook another 5 minutes. Then, using a potato masher, crush the figs to release their juices. Stir, cover, and cook for another 20-30 minutes until the figs are mushy and translucent. Stir often to avoid any burning on the bottom of the pan.
    4. When the figs are done, put them through the a food mill with the finest setting and add to the slivered figs and sugar. Add anything that does not go through the food mill into the mixture as well, breaking up any large chunks. Stir everything together to dissolve the sugar, then add the lemon juice, Chartreuse and Benedictine. Transfer the mixture to a large nonreactive pot or kettle.
    5. Bring the jam to a boil over high heat, stirring regularly with a heatproof spatula. When the jam boils, lower to an active simmer. Simmer 7 more minutes and then mash again with the potato masher. Continue cooking another 25 minutes, stirring regularly and lowering heat of the jam starts to stick.
    6. Test the jam for doneness on the frozen spoons. Place the jam on a spoon, put it back in the freezer for 3-4 minutes, and then tilt the spoon. If the jam is gloppy and runs slowly, it’s done. If runny, cook a few more minutes and repeat the test.
    7. When done, pour the jam into sterilized containers and process per your manufacturer’s instructions (although we suggest processing in the oven, it’s much easier).
  • The Viveka Cocktail And Homemade Limoncello

    viv

    The Viveka Cocktail.

    Many months ago we asked for our readers to guess the location of a photo we took in Kauai. The winner would get a cocktail named after them. The winner was our friend Viveka from My Guilty Pleasures, a blog about life with all it’s humor, delights, food and travel. It is also a blog about friendship. Viveka seems to collect friends, both in the physical and virtual world, at a very steady clip. She has a big, warm, generous heart.

    viv4viv5viv6Viveka is also patient. Because once she won our little contest, we knew we had to use a special homemade ingredient in her cocktail; limoncello. The only problem was that limoncello, while easy to make, takes a while. Like a few months. But we warned Viveka of the impending wait. And then we waited. And waited. But finally the wait is over.

    viv7Limoncello is basically a liqueur of lemon zest (with as little white pith as possible) soaked in grain alcohol (or strong vodka), strained and then sweetened with sugar syrup. You get a sweet, lemony liqueur without any sour notes. It’s good stuff. While you can make limoncello in just a few days, an infusion of 30-45 days is generally considered the best method. The you need to strain and filter the zest from the very-strong booze and add some simple syrup to get to about 60 proof and age it again for another 45 days (most people shorten this step). But since we are making cocktails, we took a slightly different path.

    viv3viv2Our one issue with limoncello in cocktails is that it is a bit sweet and not strong enough to lead a cocktail. It is good as an accent, but we thought it could fully replace gin or vodka if our limoncello was stronger and dryer. So rather than use a mix of 50% or more simple syrup, we went with about 35-40% syrup. And since we were using 135 proof Everclear as our base, we ended up at about 90-100 proof. The limoncello is a bit strong on its own, but has the juice to carry a cocktail and gives a slight warming feel as you drink it. Not too hot or boozy, but you know it’s there.

    viv8And that was exactly what we wanted for our special cocktail. Our friend Viveka is not a fan of dark booze like rum or whiskey, so we wanted to use a “clear” booze. We do enough gin drinks around here, so that was out. And since Viveka is from Scandinavia, we figured she knows her vodka. Boozy limoncello seemed liked a good fit. And we even had a recipe in mind.

    viv9The Viveka combines, boozy limoncello, Cointreau, lemon juice and muddled raspberries (or raspberry syrup, if you must). The drink is a riff on the 1934 Cosmopolitan (an older,  lesser-known- but IMHO better- version of the Cosmo), with the boozy limoncello replacing gin and fresh raspberries rather than syrup. (If using lower-proof limoncello, just add 1/2 oz. good vodka and a touch more lemon juice). What you get is a bright lemon sip that isn’t particularly sour, mixed with sweet orange and raspberry notes that almost seem to dance around. On the finish you get a nice warm kick from the limoncello. This drink has a warm heart, just like Viveka…..Here you go Wivi!

    viv1 Continue reading

  • The Best, And Easiest, Strawberry Jam

    straw

    The Best Strawberry Jam.

    straw1So what makes this strawberry jam the best? Well, it is just strawberries, sugar and lemon juice, so nothing gets in the way. If you have ripe, sweet strawberries, this is the real deal. And we use a technique that makes the process much, much easier. If you like jam, but don’t like all the specialized gear and the huge tub of boiling water, we have a solution: the oven.

    straw2It turns out you can sterilize your jars and lids in the oven, You can process the jam, too. (Just make sure your oven is true to temperature, they often are NOT, use an oven thermometer to be sure). Simply place your clean jars and lids on a baking sheet and heat in a 250 degree oven for at least 30 minutes. Remove the jars from the oven when you need them. Then fill the jars with jam, leave a 1/4 inch of room, wipe the rims clean, place the lids on, seal them and put the jars back in the oven for 15 minutes. Then take the jars out of the oven and they will seal as they cool. So. Much. Easier.

    straw3straw4The other fuss about making jam usually has to do w/ pitting and skinning fruit, or in the case of strawberries, hulling. There are specialized hulling tools, but we use strong plastic straws (flimsy won’t work here) and run them from the bottom through the center of the strawberries. It is the fastest way to hull the strawberries, and something anyone (read, your kids or guest) can be dragooned volunteer to do. It’s almost fun, and you can snack on a few berries along the way.

    straw5straw6As for the jam, we adapted the recipe (and the oven technique) from Blue Chair Fruit Company in Berkeley. Blue Chair has fine jams and marmalade, gear, classes and one of our favorite cookbooks. Worth a visit.straw8straw7

    Continue reading

  • Summer Fruit Lazy Daisy

    Summer Fruit Lazy Daisy.

    Summer Fruit Lazy Daisy.

    There are some dishes we make here at the farm that are a bit of a mystery before we try them. We ask ourselves if we chose the right recipe, bought the right ingredients, cooked them properly with optimal equipment, plated them well, etc. The only way to really know how we did is to make the dish, take a look at it and taste it. But this is NOT one of those dishes. From the moment you start making a Lazy Daisy cake with summer fruit you know its gonna be good, real good….like staring at the oven while bakes good. From batter to oven to plate this cake just screams “I taste good, serve me with some ice cream!” (It does, we heard it from the oven….we swear).

    lazy3lazy4If looking and tasting great wasn’t enough, the Summer Fruit Lazy Daisy has a few other charms, it is as easy as cake making gets and it will work with almost any summer fruit. If you are like us, between growing fruit and buying it at the farmers market we tend to be up to our armpits have a “surplus” at times. And while we enjoy fruit out of hand and making jam, there is something about a big pancake mixed with peaches and berries and baked in the oven that sounds pretty good (and that’s basically what a Lazy Daisy is). Top it with ice cream and you are ready for a big smile and a nap.

    lazy5lazy6As we noted, and the name suggests, making a Lazy Daisy isn’t hard and is similar to making pancake batter. Heat your oven, grease a pan, melt some butter, mix the dry ingredients, add the wet ingredients and melted butter, pour into a pan, add in some fruit and bake. Cool, sprinkle on some powdered sugar (fend off your eager family and friends) and then serve. It really is that easy.

    lazy7lazy8lazy10The only hard decision is your choice of fruit and presentation. We used our peaches, strawberries and blueberries and then added some blackberries from the farmers market (our blackberries got fried in the heat wave, sigh). A good balance of tart and sweet. You can use any combination of berries and stone fruits, but we suggest you taste them and adjust the sugar to match the sweetness of the fruit. As for presentation, you can choose a pretty design, or just mix everything together. We chose the latter…it is a “Lazy” Daisy, after all.

    lazySummer Fruit Lazy Daisy:

    (Adapted, somewhat, from King Arthur Flour)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Nada. Big oven pancake with summer fruit. ‘Nuff said.

    What You Get: A delicious and very easy summer cake. A perfect dessert for a summer get together.

    What You Need: No special equipment required.

    How Long? About and hour and 20 minutes, with about 15 minutes of active time. Anytime dish.

    Continue reading