Shrubbery


 

 

With apologies to Monty Python, when you hear someone wax poetic about shrubs these days, they're likely referring to a beverage, as opposed to landscaping. Shrubs have become tragically hip of late, and for good reason; they're a delightful drink resurrected from colonial days.

There are two primary variants of the shrub as beverage; which one you're thinking of probably depends on which side of the pond you were raised on.

Here in the former colonies, shrubs were vinegar and fruit based creations popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, with their origins in home preserving, the vinegar having been employed to extend the shelf life of fruit and fruit extractions. Over in England, shrubs were blends of booze, citrus and sugar, drunk iced, or used as a base for punch; this version's roots sprung from popular patent medicines of the time. Both variants were often infused with herbs and spices and use in mixed drinks as well as flying solo.

American shrubs fell out of favor in the early 1900s, with the rising popularity of home refrigeration. Recent resurgence in home growing and preserving has renewed interest in 'drinking vinegars,' as shrubs were sometimes known. That has lead in turn to many commercial offerings, and a subsequent rise in price of same. Fortunately, shrubs are simple and inexpensive to make at home. Shrubs are a sweet-tart treat, and readily lend themselves to experimentation. Combining a favorite fruit or two with a complimentary herb or spice yields a truly refreshing drink far better for us than the artificial crap so popular these days.

Making shrubs requires a few simple steps and about a week's time, so it's a fun project to finish on a spring weekend.

We'll start with a basic recipe and expand from there.

 

Citrus Shrub

1 Lime

1 Lemon

1 Navel Orange

2 Cups Cane Sugar

2 Cups Apple Cider Vinegar

 

Rinse the citrus, then place that in a large mixing bowl with 4 cups cold water and 1/4 cup white vinegar. Allow the fruit to soak for 15 minutes, then pour out the water, rinse and pat the citrus dry. This step is highly recommended for all store bought fruit, as a means of removing wax and residual chemicals prior to use.

Zest all citrus, then juice, and rough chop the remainder. Toss all into a glass or stainless steel bowl, preferably one with a nice, tight fitting lid.

Add the sugar and toss to thoroughly coat the fruit.

Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for three days, tossing gently once each day; the sugar will draw moisture from the citrus as it blends.

Remove the fruit from fridge and add the vinegar, stirring to blend thoroughly. Cover and return the bowl to the fridge for three more days, stirring once daily.

Now you're ready for final clarifying. Wash thoroughly and then sterilize a glass jar or bottle by immersion in water at a rolling boil for 3-4 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the fridge and carefully run the mixture through a double mesh strainer, (A colander with cheese cloth will also work.) squeeze the fruit by hand to get all the liquid out, then discard the fruit.

Strain a second run using a couple of layers of cheesecloth, or a single layer of butter muslin; this will remove excess pulp and clarify the final product nicely.

Pour the syrup into your sterilized glass bottle.

The syrup will be good for 2 weeks refrigerated, though I doubt it'll last that long.

Portion 2-3 ounces into a pint glass, then top up with sparkling water or seltzer and plenty of ice. A sprig of mint with a leaf rubbed around the rim makes a lovely garnish.

There you have the basics. The process is virtually identical for any variant you can think of. If you're using fresh or dried herbs and spices, they'll do best added with the vinegar, (for instance, that mint I mentioned makes a very nice adjunct to the basic citrus version we just made.)

Lemon, lime, Meyer lemon, orange, mandarins, tangerines, grapefruit, yuzu, berries, pomegranate and cranberry, solo or combined, will all make wonderful variants. By the same token, different vinegars yield broadly different shrubs; distilled white, cider, champagne, balsamic, wine, and fruit or herb infused have tremendous potential. Certainly there's room to play with sweeteners as well; local honeys, agave nectar, or raw sugars all will impart different notes to the finished product. Finally, add herbs and spices and the possibilities are bound only by your creative imagination. Here are a few more to try, then strike out on your own.

 

Very Lemony Shrub

4 Meyer Lemons

2 Cups Cane Sugar

2 Cups Champagne Vinegar

About 4″ fresh Lemongrass

5-6 Kefir Lime Leaves, (Fresh is best, dried will do)

1/4 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

Prepare as detailed above. Cut lemongrass into roughly 1/4″ rounds and add that plus the lime leaves to the initial mix with the sugar. Add the lemon thyme when you add the vinegar.

 

CranApple Shrub

8 ounces fresh or frozen Cranberries

2 Opal or Honeycrisp Apples

1 small Lemon

1 1/2 Cups Cane Sugar

2 Cups Red Wine Vinegar

1/2 Cup Water

1/2 teaspoon Ginger Root

1/4 teaspoon Fennel Seed

Pinch of Sea Salt

Rough chop apples, zest, juice, and rough chop remained of lemon.

Combine cranberries, apples, water, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until about half the cranberries have popped.

Remove from heat, add lemon zest, juice, and pulp. Store in the fridge for 3 days.

Remove, mince ginger and add, plus fennel seed and vinegar; store refrigerated three more days.

Strain and bottle as per above.

 

 

Grapefruit Shrub

3 large Pink or Red Grapefruit

2 Cups Cane Sugar

2 Cups Rice Wine Vinegar

1 small Lime

2 sprigs Fresh Mint

2 Tablespoons Cashews

Zest, juice and rough chop grapefruit and lime, add to sugar and rest 3 days.

Chops cashews, and add with vinegar and lime for next 3 day rest.

Strain and bottle as above.

 

 

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Best Canned Tomatoes


We’re still in the food doldrums, those weeks at the tail end of winter and the beginning of spring, where it can be a bit of a challenge to find good stuff to cook with. Oh, good things are there, given the massive food economy we labor under, but to be honest, I balk at spending $5 a pound for the ‘best’ tomatoes that really aren’t all that good. And let’s face it, tomatoes are key to many of the things we want to cook and eat at this time of the year, AKA, hearty and comforting stuff.

As such, it’s time to consider canned tomatoes. Certainly there are good and bad in this regard, with everything from indifferently chosen and packed to fabulously tasty, and cheap to outrageously expensive. Fact of the matter is, when making soup, stew, and tomato based sauces, canned are preferable to fresh at any time of year, due to the volume needed to achieve the desired end, and because most of us grow tomatoes that excel when used fresh; many of those varieties, and a whole lot of heirlooms, don’t sauce very well at all.

With that in mind, let’s explore what is worth your hard earned money; UrbanMonique has gone to bat, and done the research for you. We tested stuff that ranged from a buck a can to the $8 per range, and found that, as fate would have it, price has little to do with taste. In fact, some of the priciest variants don’t even warrant honorable mention. Here’s what we found.

First, the general caveats.

1. Sound logic dictates that you should avoid the basest, generic variants. White cans with TOMATOES printed in black, block letters thereupon are not likely to be tasty, (And if you’re old enough, remember those?).

2. Check the can to see if they’re BPA free. Beyond what’s in it, what’s part of it should not be something you have to ingest.

3. The house brand from your favorite grocery may or may not be decent. These vary from region to region, so you’ll need to do a bit of label reading to discern the bore and stroke of yours. Buy a can or two and taste test before you go to town with them. Taste them as we did, straight from the can with nothing added, and keep in mind that tomatoes are often a base layer in cooking, and all the augmentation in the world won’t make bad ones taste better.

4. Read the label before you buy; don’t assume that there’s nothing in there but tomatoes. Added water, salt, preservatives, or other veggies of dubious lineage are to be avoided.

5. All canned tomatoes are going to have some degree of metallic taste from the container. The solution to this is cooking time and a little fresh citrus; if you don’t give them those treatments, the metal flavor will remain, and it is most unpleasant.

6. Famous name does not mean good taste; fact is, not one tomato labelled San Marzano was good enough to make our recommended list. I know food shows and chefs go wild for them, but fact is, our domestic contestants simply taste better. I suspect this is somewhat in the same vein as ‘Italian’ olive oil or balsamic vinegar; what you see may not be what you’re getting…

7. Get whole canned tomatoes whenever you can. More flavor survives in the whole fruit than the processed variants, and with a stick blender, you can make any consistency you like in a snap.

We judged tomatoes on flavor, acidity, texture, and appearance; all those metrics are purely subjective, of course, so again, you should put in your due diligence when deciding what to stock your pantry with. I will say that, for the most part, everything we looked at and rated looked and felt pretty good; the final results were awarded predominantly on flavor first, and acidity second.

And the winners are…

 

365 Organic. This brand is available in our neck of the woods through several grocery chains. They have a nice balance between sweet and acid, and make great sauce.

 

Trader Joe’s house brand. Dang near a tie with the 365, and notably cheaper. Joe’s also happens to have the best and cheapest frozen pizza dough.

 

Muir Glen Organic. As good as the top two, but notably pricier, hence the third place finish.

 

Hunts 100% Natural. A bit on the acidic side, but still a very nice, balanced offering, and can be a discount brand from time to time.

 

Haggens-Top Foods house brand. A very decent tomato, often on super sale, (As in 15 9 ounce cans for $10 cheap). Not quite as flavorful as the top contenders, and not available outside the Pacific Northwest.

 

And to celebrate, we offer our go-to pizza sauce recipe.

 

1 9 oz can whole Tomatoes

1 small Lemon

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Balsamic Vinegar

1-2 small cloves Garlic

2-3 leaves fresh Basil, (1/4 teaspoon dry OK)

5-6 leaves Oregano, (1/4 teaspoon dry OK)

Sea Salt & fresh ground Pepper to taste

OTPIONAL: A couple inches of tomato paste from a tube, or a light scoop from a can.

 

Rinse and zest lemon. Peel and mince garlic. Chiffonade basil and oregano.

Process tomatoes with a stick blender to your desired degree of chunkiness.

Add zest, vinegar, oil, garlic and herbs and blend thoroughly.

Start with a quarter lemon and add juice, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Blend through, then adjust seasoning and citrus as desired.

Allow flavors to marry for at least 30 minutes prior to using.

Don’t cook this sauce; the tomatoes got cooked before they were canned, and you’ll cook it again with whatever dish you prepare.

Sauce will keep for a week, refrigerated, in an airtight, non-reactive container.

 

 

 

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Salame de Chocolate


Check out this incredible offering from my pal Nandini – don’t know about y’all, but I am SO making this ASAP!

Do yourselves a favor and subscribe to her blog; literally everything she posts is this good.

GoanImports.com

It’s obvious that Salame de Chocolate (Chocolate Salami) has a European origin for us Goan’s. It is made mostly for Christmas and Easter in Goa. But in our household it was made for Birthday Parties along with Marie Biscuit Cake(spin-off Italian Tiramisu)  because it makes for a rich decadent dessert. The melt in your mouth Salami would always impress our friends as it’s not a very common dessert in Goa. So if you are a vegetarian who has heard about the real deal Italian salami than this one is for you my friend :-).

chocolate-salami-de-goan-christmas-sweets-recipe-italian-portuguese-cacaoIn Goa we get Marie Biscuits, but if you are in the US and have no access to it you can use Graham Crackers. If you want to make it just for adults than add a tablespoon of rum or brandy. You can skip the egg yolks and replace it with heavy cream. The Goan…

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Deviled Ribs with Sauce a la Diable


I love ribs, but truth be told, we don’t do them that often, because prepping and cooking them correctly doesn’t lend itself to spontaneous decisions. I know better, but for some reason, a relatively quick and delicious solution doesn’t seem to present itself when I’m contemplating a rack at the store.

The light bulb did turn on the other night however, whilst reading a historical novel set in 19th century Paris. The characters were enjoying ‘Deviled Bones with Diablo sauce’, and instantly that classic recipe I’d not prepared in decades swum into memory.

Deviled Bones and Sauce a al Diable harken back to Auguste Escoffier, a founding father of French quisine. ‘A la diable’ refers not only to the sauce, but to the method of broiling poultry or beef that has been coated in breadcrumbs. Sauce Diable is a derivation of the classic French brown sauce. While formal preparation of a brown sauce is quite involved in both time and technique, there are cheats that will provide the proper essence of the real McCoy in short order.

Regular visitors here know I advocate making stock at home on a regular basis, reducing some, freezing some, and thereby having it ready to hand at a moments inspiration. If you don’t do that in your kitchen yet, all is not lost; store bought stock and broth options are readily available these days, and you can find good ones with little or no salt or preservatives. A savvy cook will have beef, chicken, and veggie stock or broth in the pantry at all times.

With that in hand, I’ll share a brown sauce cheat that will fool even finicky diners, and you’ll get introduced to a very versatile thickening method, beurre manié.

Deviled bones was originally made from the left over, meaty ribs of several standing rib roasts. In days past, this would be considered a form of garde manger, making sensible, (and delicious), use of what would otherwise be considered waste. Nowadays, you’d need to secure attractive loan terms to afford a single standing rib roast, so we’ll use beef spare ribs instead, which are relatively cheap and plentiful.

We’ll prepare the brown sauce first while the ribs boil, then the a la diable derivative, then broil the ribs. All told, this is easily done within an hour to an hour and a half, tops.

Depending on the size of the ribs you find, you’ll want two to three per person as an entrée.

To parboil the ribs, set a large stock pot 2/3 filled with lightly salted water over high heat. When the water boils, carefully add the ribs and adjust heat so you maintain a rolling boil. Cook ribs until they are no longer pink, about 15 to 20 minutes. When they’re done, removed them to a colander and set aside to cool.

 

Quick Brown Sauce

1 1/2 Cups Beef Stock or Broth

1 Cup dry Red Wine

1 small yellow Onion

1 stalk Celery

1 small Carrot

4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter

2 Tablespoons Wondra Flour

Pinch of Thyme

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

 

Rinse, peel, and dice veggies to a relatively uniform size.

In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of butter at room temperature with the wondra flour. Incorporate by hand, and the roll the resulting dough into marble sized balls. This combination is the thickener known as beurre manié; it is made in the same proportions as roux, but is not cooked prior to incorporation as a roux is. Set aside for use a bit later.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.

Add all veggies to the pan and sauté, stirring steadily, until the onion becomes translucent. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Increase temperature to medium high and add the red wine; gently scrape any cooked bits from the pan.

When the raw alcohol smell has been cooked off, add the beef broth or stock; allow the sauce to come to a brisk simmer. Add the thyme and stir in. Continue cooking, stirring steadily, until the sauce has reduced by roughy 50%.

Reduce heat to medium low, and begin adding balls of beurre manié one at a time, allowing each to melt and incorporate prior to adding another. You are after a consistently slightly looser than gravy, so when you get close, stop adding the beurre and remove the sauce from heat; the sauce will continue to cook and thicken somewhat.

Run the sauce through a single mesh strainer to remove the veggies and herbs.

 

Now for the a la diable variant; this is a delicious sauce for any grilled meat or veggie, frankly, (Absolutely fabulous with roasted Brussels sprouts).

 

Sauce a la Diable

1 1/2 Cup Brown Sauce

1/2 Cup Red Wine, (Burgundy is great)

1 small sweet Onion

1 small Lemon

4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter

2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce

1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard

Dash(es) Tabasco Sauce

Sea Salt and fresh ground Black Pepper

 

Rinse, peel and mince the onion.

Rinse, zest and juice the lemon.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add onion and sauté until translucent.

Add the wine and gently scrape the cooked bits from the pan.

When the raw alcohol smell has cooked off, add the brown sauce, Worcestershire, lemon zest, and mustard; whisk steadily to incorporate and heat through.

Reduce heat to low and season with lemon juice, tabasco, salt and pepper to taste. You want a bit of zip to the flavor, so adjust that to your liking.

Simmer sauce over low for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When ready for service, add, melt, and whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.

Run the sauce through a single mesh strainer, and serve hot.

OPTIONS:

Minced Capers or Cornichons.

 

Now it’s time to roll them bones. This recipe will do nicely for four folks.

 

Par boiled beef ribs, 2-3 per person

2 cups fresh, finely crushed bread crumbs, (Sourdough is wonderful, as are Panko)

4 ounces unsalted Butter

2 Tablespoons Champagne Vinegar

 

Preheat your broiler and set a rack a good 8″ beneath.

Melt the butter and whisk it together with the vinegar in a pie plate.

Place the bread crumbs in a second pie plate.

Place ribs 2 or 3 at a time in the butter and vinegar and coat evenly, then roll the ribs through the bread crumbs, and press lightly to help them stick.

Arrange ribs in a broiling pan, leaving about an inch between each.

Broil slowly, keeping an eye on the ribs. Turn the ribs with tongs steadily to create a nice, even golden brown coating.

You want about 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time, so if things are going too quickly, drop your pan another notch.

 

Serve hot with the sauce a la diable, mashed potatoes, and roasted Brussels sprouts.

 

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Scared Local Yet?


If ever there was a siren song for reform of our food production and distribution system, this New Yorker piece is it. Read it, and get involved. Start by buying local whenever you can. Know your sources for what you put in your body every day. Take a stand on the system that allows this kind of thing to exist and multiply, and make your voice heard. I don't know what our governments spend most of their time doing, but it isn't properly regulating this. Let's light a fire under 'em.

 

Posted in Current Issues, Food Safety, Sourcing | Tagged , | 2 Comments