Monday, November 28, 2016

Infused Whiskey: 3 Ways

I got really inspired by the fine work being done by Jessica Merchant over there at How Sweet It Is. Especially when that fine work involves bourbon or, in my case, whiskey.

You see, she recently infused bourbon three ways: Apple Pie, Chai Spice, and Chocolate Orange. I made some major changes, swapped out bourbon, and stepped away from the Chocolate Orange. But in the end, I made three wonderful infused whiskeys, and I think you should, too.  

Holiday season can be your excuse. But we both know you don't really need one, do you? 

I didn't.

We don't get autumn until late in Northern California. Isn't this fabulous?

Okay, let me talk you through each one of these gems and then propose some possibilities for next steps.  Besides drink them immediately.

Let's start with the recipes first, and then let's talk about what to do with them.

1.  Decide which one to make. Or... just make all three:
Apple Pie Infused Whiskey
1 granny smith apple, sliced
1 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla bean, split
2 whole cloves
1.5 cups whiskey or bourbon

Chai Spice Infused Whiskey
1 to 1 1/2 vanilla beans, split (I used 1 1/2 because I like a lot of vanilla)
1 chai tea bag
1.5 cups of whiskey or bourbon

Winter Spice Infused Whiskey
I am not a fan of Chocolate Orange in a drink, so I swapped that out for an orange and clove. Come on, what else screams Thanksgiving and then the opening of December? Inspired by this recipe from boozed and infused, my recipe is chock-full of winter spices, including cloves and cinnamon and peppercorns. But the heaviest (and happiest) note is orange, as it should be.

1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
8 whole allspice berries
zest of 1 orange (peeled into large strips, only zest, no white pith)
5 peppercorns
1.5 cups of whiskey or bourbon

2.  Mix these puppies up:
To make the infusion, add the ingredients to a jar and pour the whiskey over the top. Close up the jar and set in a cool, dark place (or the refrigerator) for 2 weeks. After 1 week, taste the whiskey. Make any adjustments (more vanilla, take out some cloves, etc.) to fit your palate. Infuse for another week and taste again. If you want more flavor, infuse for one more week. 

When you're ready, strain the whiskey into a bottle or jar and label it.

3.  Choose your own adventure:
So what do you do with all of this infused whiskey?  Oh, friends, there are so many things to do:
  • A good old Old Fashioned.  (Try this with Winter Spice Whiskey. It was perfection.)
  • Apple Cinnamon Hot Toddy.  (Try with the Apple Pie Whiskey and a bag of English Breakfast Tea. Yes, again, please.)
  • How about a Manhattan? (Might I recommend the Chai Spice Infused Whiskey. It was perfect for a late fall evening.)

I don't think you can go wrong. Cheers!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Thanksgiving Round up

Friends, I have been writing this blog for six years now. It is one of the many joys in my life. If anything, I wish I had more time to write this blog. Wish I had more time to investigate the history of a preparation technique, the science of dish, the cultural significance of a food. I wish I had more time to craft stories around the foods I make--either stories relating to my own upbringing or to the global culture that we inhabit or the connections to the literature I love so much. I wish I were out there in the world interviewing and writing about the amazing people producing and creating food in my area.

These are possible goals for my future.

And while time is finite and I certainly wish for more, I must admit I have been so grateful to have you all along for the ride for what little time we have had so far--I am so glad to be a part of your lives, if only for a moment.

With all of this in mind and given the time of year, I wanted to take some time to reflect on some of my favorite posts and to dig them back up. These are the ones that I am most proud of, that most reflect what I wish every post could be. It may be the science, the memory, the history, the literature, the photograph (but trust me, if it was from 2010-2014, it wasn't the photograph, I promise). So here they are, my top 12 favorite blog posts (so far...)

Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for joining me for this lovely little ride, my friends.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hazelnut-Streusel Sweet Potato Pie

Sure, pumpkin pie is often trotted out this time of year, but let's not forget sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie's (usually) less-sweetened, less-spiced Southern cousin.  Simpler to make from scratch (no hassles of cutting a pumpkin in half), this velvety custard pie makes no apologies for itself and does not try to cover up its tuber origins. 

Generally, the spice profile in a sweet potato pie is a little bit toned down from pumpkin pie, which is usually just a vehicle for spice as it is. That said, I will admit, this particular recipe is a little more spiced than you'll usually find, but the spice note here is not ubiquitous "pumpkin pie" spice to be found in every latte in America right now. Instead, it is heavy on the mace, which is the sheath that covers a nutmeg kernel, and it is quite luscious and rich (blame the heavy cream in place of condensed milk).

Fully ensconced in African-American culinary history, sweet potato pie goes way back. In fact, here's an 1881 recipe from Abby Fisher, a former slave who made her way from South Carolina to Mobile, Alabama, to San Francisco post Civil War. In California, she set up a pickles and preserves shop, and encouraged (as she says in the "Preface and Apology" to her book) by her "lady patrons and friends" from San Francisco and and Oakland, she was the first African-American woman to publish a cookbook.

And here's a great article from The Washington Post tracing the history of the sweet potato pie, especially in opposition to its Northern pumpkin rival and in celebration of its deep roots in the African-American community. 

This is a pie with a story, and it's one that often gets shadowed by the ubiquitous pumpkin pie.

Just to snazz this up a bit, Greg Patent, our cookbook's author, whipped up this hazelnut-steusel topping.  Let's just admit that this topping is gilding the lily for an already wonderful dessert. However, it does add a nice sweet crunch against the smooth, spiciness of the filling. So, I caution you not to skip it. 

Gilded lily be damned.

As you get ready, my American friends, to sit down to turkey-day dinner soon, might I suggest sweet potato pie?

 I promise, even after gorging on a bird and stuffing and potatoes and salad and whatever else might be on your holiday table, the final dish will look a lot like this:

Hazelnut-Streusel Sweet Potato Pie 

Adapted from Baking In America  

4 Servings


1 graham cracker crust (see below or make your favorite recipe)

For the filling
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
2/3 cups sugar
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3/4 cups heavy cream

For the topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp cold butter
1/2 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts

1.  Make the graham cracker crust (see below).

2.  For the filling: steam the potatoes, covered, until tender, about 30-40 minutes. Cool, cut in half, scoop out the flesh, and mash with a fork or potato masher. You need about 1 2/3 cups for the filling. The sweet potatoes can be prepared a day or 2 ahead and refrigerate, covered.

3. Adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F.

4. In a food processor, combine the sweet potatoes, sugar, mace, nutmeg, salt, vanilla, eggs, and cream or about 20 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl and then process about 20 seconds longer, until smooth.  Pour the mixture into the graham cracker crust.

5.  For the topping: combine the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl. With a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs or peas. Stir int he hazelnuts.

6.  Sprinkle the topping over the filling. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the sides are puffed and set but the center of the pie jiggles a little when you move the pan.

7. Cool on a wire rack until the filling firms up, at least 2-3 hours. Cut into wedges and serve, perhaps with some whipped cream.

Graham Cracker Crust

Adapted from The New Best Recipe  and  Baking In America  

1 9-inch crust

9 graham crackers (5 1/2 ounces)
1/4 cup sugar, plus more if needed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
5 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter

1. Adjust the oven rack tot he center position, and preheat the oven to 325°F.

2.  In a food processor, process the graham crackers until they are fine crumbs, about 10 seconds. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and butter and process for 10-15 seconds, until the butter is in small bits.

3.  Coat the pie dish with cooking spray and press the mixture firmly into the bottom and up the sides. 

4.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned and smells aromatic. Let cool completely on a wire rack. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Holiday Roast Chicken with Cranberry-Fig Stuffing

Fifteen years ago, I came to the Bay Area for the first time. The husband and I lived in two different states (Utah and Colorado, respectively), and he invited me to California for what would be my first of many Thanksgiving dinners with his family. Of course, at the time, I didn't know that.

I was a bundle of nerves, wanting to impress his family. I spoke little, was so polite I did not ask to eat any breakfast or lunch on Thanksgiving day. I minded all of my manners. I even sent a thank you note to his parents for their hospitality. And for years, his parents were concerned that I was "too nice."

Nope.  Just terrified.

During that first trip (ever!) to San Francisco and the East Bay, the then boyfriend and I did many of the requisite tourist activities, including but not limited to the Golden Gate Bridge, Baker Beach, and the Cliff House. It also included cat-sitting a 21 year-old-feline, driving around in a borrowed black Volkswagen beetle, attending a concert at the Fillmore, drinking tea on the corner of 9th and Irving in the City.  

Not bad for a four-day introduction to what would later become my home. 

This year, the husband and I have been tasked with making the turkey, for the first time. This is big. This is the handing over of the torch. 

This is a lot of pressure. Thank goodness I am over being so polite, because we might offend someone with our turkey. The worry--it will be dry, tasteless, and cardboard-like.

So we have been practicing on chickens. 

In this iteration, you have the easiest chicken ever. Smack some butter, salt, and pepper on it. Roast away. It's a particularly simple roast chicken, and the only thing making this a "holiday" chicken is the stuffing--but it is truly worthy of guests and a full sit down meal. Especially if you don't want the hassle of a turkey.

With the chopped figs and the dried cranberries next to the chicken broth and shallots, this stuffing is sweet and savory and certainly satisfying. I would add more to the stuffing if I were to make it again (which we might, but we have a sage and sausage stuffing on the docket for our next round). Perhaps some celery and mushrooms? The celery for the bright flavor and the mushrooms for more umami. Because I am not sure it's possible to have too much umami. 

We're not there yet when it comes to our Thanksgiving recipe. However, this one was well worth the attempt. Don't wait until there is a holiday.  

Just dig in. No cutlery required. 

I won't tell if you're not being polite.


Holiday Roast Chicken with Cranberry-Fig Stuffing

Serves 6

4 cups cubed (3/4-inch cubes) country bread or baguette
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup minced shallots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped dried figs
1/2 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme, divided
3/4 tsp kosher salt. divided
1/2 tsp pepper, divided
One 4 1/2 to 5 pound chicken

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish or coat with nonstick cooking spray. Spread out the bread cubes in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet and bake for 5 minute or until slightly dry. Cool and transfer to a large bowl. (The bread can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and kept in an airtight bag).

2.  Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small skillet and cook the shallots for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Pour over the bread. Toss the cranberries and figs. Moisten the bread with the broth. Stir in the egg, and sprinkle with the parsley, 1 tablespoon of the thyme, and 1/4 each of the salt and pepper.  Toss until well blended. Reserve about 1 1/2 cups of the stuffing for the chicken and place the rest in the baking dish. Cover with foil. (The stuffing up to this point can be prepared up to 8 hours in advance.  Do not put the reserved stuffing in the chicken until right before baking.)

3.  Place a roasting rack in a shallow roasting pan. Oil the rack or coat with nonstick cooking spray. Tuck the chicken wing tips behind the chicken. Spread the remaining 1 Tbsp of butter over the chicken. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Spoon the reserved stuffing into the chicken cavity so that it's filled loosely. If the chicken cavity will not hold all of the reserved stuffing, add any remaining to the baking dish.

4.  Bake the chicken for 60-70 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken at the thickest point of the thigh registers 175 degrees, and the temperature of the stuffing inside the chicken registers at least 165 degrees.

5.  About 15 minutes before the chicken is ready to come out of the oven, bake the dish of stuffing alongside until the stuffing is hot and the internal temperature registers at least 165 degrees, 20-25 minutes.

6.  Remove the chicken from the oven and loosely cover with foil for 10 minutes before serving. Spoon out the stuffing, carve, and serve.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Oh my.  What a gorgeous drink from an equally gorgeous cookbook. 

When this culinary treasure landed on my doorstep, I was hesitant to drag it into the kitchen for fear that I might slop some tomato sauce or coconut oil or just plain old water on it and ruin it. This may be a book for the living room table, not the kitchen table.

Shane Mitchell, food writer extraordinaire and Saveur contributing editor, fills the pages with beautifully written essays that rival the photography of James Fisher. Each of the ten chapters focuses on global culinary narratives, from the food cooked on the leitir (the autumnal sheep roundup) in Iceland to the meals cooked by refugees and migrants in the Calais Jungle. Committed to documenting the traditions of (as she writes in her introduction) "people who are firmly rooted in their culture and landscape, in some of the most isolated or marginal communities, where keeping the food chain vital remains a daily chore," she tells stories that "focus on rituals where hospitality plays a key role."

I could use more of this in my life.

I realize that what I am about to say may sound derivative, and let's just go ahead and admit it here--morsels and sauces is a food blog. That's all. 

However, I feel the need to say something else here. I think it's more and more important to find ways of connecting, of being inclusive, of glimpsing lives that are not our own, if only for an essay or a photograph, of opening ourselves up to something bigger than our individual selves. 

This is what I like about this book. It says that there is something to be gained in rooting ourselves in place, in time, in community. And I need my place and community a lot these days.

For whatever reason, I was drawn to the chapter on potato farming in Peru, an essay you can also find over here at Saveur. And what a punch this essay is, with its simple ending and elegant description of the food for the gods, of a connection to family and place and remembrance and honor. Add to that essay those gorgeous photographs that honor a person and a place and a culture and a life. You hardly need turn the page for a glimpse of a few recipes. 

But you'll be glad you did.

For, as much as you might wish to keep this book outside of the kitchen, you must cook from it, too. From a Roast Lamb Shoulder with Mushroom Gravy (from Iceland) to Chivito (Uraguay's answer to the hamburger), from Fried Rice Omelet (from Hawaii) to Cardamom Doughnuts (from Kenya), the recipes in here beg you to cook, to mix, to grill, to roast. 

But more than anything, the essays, photographs, and recipes beg you to stop long enough to cook, to gather around a family table and relish in this gift of a book.

I started simply with a potent cocktail, in part because I fancy a potent cocktail and in part because I did declare that this here blog needed more cocktails. And let me tell you, this is one cocktail for which you may wish to heed Mitchell's advice: save it for an afternoon "when you're not going anywhere fast." While this is a perfect summer drink, and we're about to enter into the California winter, let's remember that it's almost summer in Peru.

According to others, this traditional Peruvian cocktail is the result of tweaking a drink, the Buongiorno (a mixture of grappa, lime, and ginger beer), introduced in the 19th century by Italian immigrants. When Peruvians ran out of grappa, they substituted Pisco, and a new classic was born. 

Pisco is a Peruvian grape brandy, filled with a whole host of rules (cannot be wood aged, can be distilled only once, must rest for three months). And while it is an acquired taste, it's a taste I urge us all to acquire. Apparently Pisco was once quite popular among the Californian gold-mining set, but subsequently it fell out of fashion.  Nowadays, Pisco is enjoying a renaissance and bartenders are branching out from the Pisco sour and into a whole host of other Peruvian drinks. Enter the Chilcano.

I am looking forward to my upcoming dive into this book (I know those Cardamom Doughnuts will be coming my way). But I am relishing sipping on this potent cocktail as I peruse this gorgeous book. The husband and I often sit around the kitchen table with a plate of food or a tumbler of a drink and we thumb through cookbooks. We plan menus we will never serve and some that we will. We recall dinners with family and friends and we make plans for upcoming ones. 

Even in our little kitchen, we connect. 

Let's connect a little more these days.  And this book encourages us to do more of that--even if you don't cook a single recipe from within its covers. 

Now, that's a good book. 

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


Adapted from Far Afield

2 Servings

Ice cubes
1/2 cup Pisco
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1-2 Tbsp simple syrup (1 part sugar dissolved in 1 part boiling water, then chill)
3-4 drop Angostura bitters
1 tsp rose water
Ginger ale
2 lime rounds

1. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, mix the Pisco and fresh lime juice. Stir in the simple syrup to taste. 

2. Then add the bitters and rose water. Shake until chilled. 

3.  Add 1 ice cube to each of 2 lowball glasses, strain in the chilled mixture, and top off with ginger ale. Garnish with a lime round. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Slow Cooker Cinnamon Pear Butter

People, I had pears. Lots of them.

And this bounty of pears had been bestowed on my school by one of the families who had oodles of fruit. He donated much of his fruit to Urban Farmers, which in turn donates the food to food banks and other organizations that will accept fresh fruit for those who need it. What he didn't hand over to these organizations, he dropped off in our faculty lounge. And so I packed a bag of under-ripe pears, pears that were (quite frankly) as hard as baseballs, and I brought them home, unsure of what to do with them.

I spent a Saturday morning thumbing through cookbooks. Should I make a crisp? What about a chutney? And then I alighted on Marissa McClellan's recipe for slow-cooker pear butter, and it seemed the perfect solution for a rainy weekend. And you all know how I feel about a rainy weekend. (Hint: Love.) 

You may know McClellan from her jaunty blog Food in Jars, or from her three wonderful cookbooks, of which I am the proud owner of two. I am particularly fond of this cookbook, Naturally Sweet Food in Jars, because no matter how you slice or dice it, canning takes either a lot of sugar or a lot of acid (or a lot of both). Sometimes I just want to step away from all of that white sugar. Enter McClellan's foray into more natural sweetness: coconut sugar, maple syrup, maple sugar, dried fruit, honey, fruit juices, and agave all make appearances here. I know that these are still sugars, but it just feels good to diversify away from granulated white sugar from time to time.

That said, I enjoyed spending the late morning and early afternoon tucking pounds of pears into the slow cooker vessel, letting them sweat and bubble until they become a mass of sticky goo, mixing in sweet maple syrup, adding cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger--what autumnal activities. What bounty.

And then I was left with jars of pear butter, so I can pass them on to family and friends--presuming I don't eat them all first--slathered on toast or swirled with some crunchy granola into yogurt or just hoisted into my mouth with a spoon.  

I think we know how this is going to end.

Slow Cooker Cinnamon Pear Butter

5-8 1/2 pint jars

4 pounds pears (Bartlett or Bosc), cored and chopped
1 cup pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp freshly chopped ginger
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp lemon juice

1. Place the chopped pears in a slow cooker. Cook on low for 1 hour.

2. Prop open the slow cooker lid with a wooden spoon or a chopstick. Cook on low for an additional 5-7 hours. At hour 4, either use an immersion blender or remove the pears and puree in a blender to desired consistency. (If you use a blender, return the pears to the pot for 1-3 more hours). 

3.  In the final hour of cooking, add the maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, lemon zest, and lemon juice to the pot. Continue to cook down to evaporate most of the water (feel free to take the lid off of the slow cooker or turn to high.  However, if you turn the cooker to high, stay nearby so you can stir often and ensure the pears do not burn).

4.  Prepare your jars. (See below: To Sterilize the Jars). When the butter has reached your desired consistency, turn the slow cooker off and ladle the butter into the prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling bath for 15 minutes (See below: To Seal the Jars).   

To Sterilize the Jars:
1.  If you're starting with brand new jars, remove the lids and rings; if you're using older jars, check the rims to ensure there are no chips or cracks.

2.  Put the lids in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring them to a simmer on the back of the stove.

3.  Using a canning rack, lower the jars into a large pot filled with enough water to cover the jars generously. Bring the water to a boil.

4.  While the water in the canning pot comes to a boil, prepare the strawberry jam (or whatever product you are making).

5.  When the recipe is complete, remove the jars from the canning pot (pouring the water back into the pot as you remove the jars).  Set them on a clean towel on the counter.  Remove the lids and set them on the clean towel.

To Seal the Jars:
1.  Carefully fill the jars with the butter (or any other product). Leave about 1/2 inch headspace (the room between the surface of the product and the top of the jar).

2.  Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp paper towel.

3.  Apply the lids and screw the bands on the jars to hold the lids down during processing. Tighten the bands with the tips of  your fingers so that they are not overly tight.

4.  Carefully lower the filled jars into the canning pot and return the water to a boil.

5.  Once the water is at a rolling boil, start your timer. The length of processing time varies for each recipe; for the butter, cook for 15 minutes at a rolling boil.

6.  When the timer goes off, remove the jars from the water. Place them back on the towel-lined counter top, and allow them to cool. The jar lids should "ping" soon after they've been removed from the pot (the pinging is the sound of the vacuum seals forming by sucking the lid down).

7.  After the jars have cooled for 24 hours, you can remove the bands and check the seals by grasping the edges of the jar and lifting the jar about an inch or two off the countertop. The lid should hold in place.

8. Store the jars with good seals in a cool, dark place. And jars with bad seals can still be used, just do so within two weeks and with refrigeration.