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On tangents…..and homemade tonics.

16 May

Homemade Tonic Syrup

 

K: What I’m about to talk about here today is not really anything particularly “Southern”, although the southern states certainly did have their fair share of Malaria back in the day, and it DOES get awfully hot in the South, requiring us to quaff many an ice-cold beverage…….and I guess we certainly do also have a reputation for loving our booze.    So…OK…if I REALLY stretched it, I could somehow find some sort of Southern theme in here.  I’m not going to bother though.  I started off down a tangent recently that has everything to do with ME and probably not all that much to do with my culture. Other than the drinking.  And the hot.

Right.

SO.

Gin and tonics, yeah? The quintessential summer highball!   Well, no.  Not for me. I was never a gin drinker. Until about a year ago, I’d have told you that I just didn’t drink gin. Ever. Never, ever because….ew….who drinks pine tree sap when they can have  sweet, caramel-y rum, or crisp, vibrant tequila? No sane person, right? Right! But…thanks to a trusted bartender (here, if you’re curious – Hi Melinda!) I have recently discovered that I was dead wrong about gin. It turns out that I DO like gin. Kind of a lot. More than is perhaps reasonable for someone who was an avowed gin-hater less than a year ago. I mean, I’m unlikely to ever just sit down with a glass over ice like I will with a nice brown liquor, but that’s not a thing I do in the summer anyway.  And we WERE talking about summer, weren’t we?  Yes we were.

Now, a few weeks ago, as the winter wore grudgingly on and I wanted to pretend spring was coming, I started thinking about the gin & tonic.  I thought about how I’d never liked them, assumed it was because I didn’t like the gin part of the equation, and never thought about it again.  But now I LIKE gin, so I decided to decided to figure out the perfect G&T for the upcoming summer. I began trying various different commercial tonics and tonic syrups, in search of this perfect thing, but still just couldn’t quite get behind anything I found.  Since we’ve already established that it’s not the gin, I already know I love fizzy drinks (home soda-making addict for nearly 5 years now), and I already use enough limes to support a small island nation on a regular basis, the culprit clearly had to be the tonic.  So I did what any normal person does.  I decided to try to make my own. I mean, I’ve been making syrups for our SodaStream since the beginning, so this didn’t seem especially exotic.

It took a month, and trials of three different recipes to finally narrow this down to my particular tastes, and this is where I landed.  A bright, citrus-forward, low-herb, tonic with enough bitterness from the cinchona bark (see notes below on what this is and where to get it) to stand up to any gin I’m likely to drink.  For the record, I’m still not a huge fan of strong juniper flavors, so keep that in mind if you happen to love a lot of pine forest in your gins. If you DO love the juniper, you try this, and it works for you, I’d LOVE to hear about it, so please come back and tell us in the comments!

Tonic Syrup:

1/2 C. Cinchona Bark, cut – NOT powdered (see notes for more info)
1 Grapefruit – All the zest, and  6 oz. of the juice
1 Lime – zest and juice
1 Orange – zest and juice
1 Lemon Grass stalk – lower portion only
1 tsp  Salt

4 C. Water
3 C. Sugar
4 TBS Citric acid (sold in brew stores, cheese-making supplies, and of course Amazon.com)

1. Bring Cinchona bark and water to a nice rolling boil in a large saucepan, and boil 20 mins while zesting and juicing the citrus.

2.  Zest and juice each fruit (I just used a very sharp veg peeler for straining ease, but a microplane is also fine) and dice the lemon grass.

3. After 20 minutes at a boil, add the zest and juices of the citrus, along with the lemon grass and salt, to the pot.  Return to a boil for 2 or 3 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to steep at least 20 minutes, but no more than an hour.

4. Strain out solids with as fine a strainer as you can lay your hands on, and a couple of layers of muslin or fine cheesecloth if you have it.  If a little of the cinchona powder ends up in your tonic, it’s not a huge issue.  It will be more cloudy than, say…a commercial tonic syrup, but it will settle out, and can be managed with careful pouring later. I’m lucky enough to have both an extra-fine chinois AND ‘butter muslin’ used in cheese-making, and STILL I had a bit of residue, so believe me, the cinchona powder is a giant pain in the ass and you just SHOULD NOT stress about it.

5.  Once the solids are strained out, return the liquid to the saucepan and add the sugar and citric acid.  Heat this over med-hig heat, stirring frequently, until sugar is completely dissolved.  There is no need to bring this to a boil again.

6.  Cool completely, and put in your bottle of choice. Put this glorious bottle in your refrigerator.

DO refrigerate this syrup. It is NOT shelf-stable.  It lasts quite a while in the fridge. That is to say….it has so far lasted as long as it has taken me to drink through each batch. Let’s just say a month, as a ballpark.

What? OH!! You want to know how to DRINK it?  Well, OK, I’ll give you my ratios, but keep in mind…everyone’s tastes are different, so DO play around with the following recipe.  If you hit on some sort of ‘perfect’ ratio that ALL of your gin-swilling friends magically adore, please – for the love of summer – come back and tell us about it!

The Communal G&T

3/4 oz  Plymouth gin (or other dry, English-style gin)
1/2 oz  Tonic syrup
Dash  Celery bitters
4 oz  Soda (I used our SodaStream, but bottled/canned is also fine)
Lime wedge

Glass: Highball

Build drink in glass, starting with gin, tonic, and celery bitters. Stir well with ice. Top with more ice and soda. Garnish with split lime wedge, which should definitely be squeezed over the drink and tossed in with an air of Imperial Gusto.

Also, call me a heathen, but I ALWAYS want a straw. ALWAYS.

———————-

Note:
What the hell is Cinchona Bark?!? In short, it’s the bark of a Peruvian shrub and is the natural source of the Quinine we use to fight malaria. We don’t generally use the bark any longer on a large scale. We definitely still use quinine, but primarily it is a synthetic, highly concentrated, controlled-substance version.  We normal peeps have to tincture it out of the bark, which is sometimes difficult to find.  I find the powdered version UTTERLY annoying to deal with, and would probably never have made my second batch if I hadn’t found the cut version at Penn Herbs.  Save yourself the hassle. Don’t use the powder. IF, for whatever reason, that’s all you can lay your hands on, don’t boil it separately for the additional 20 mins.  Just add it and the citrus juices and peels at the same time and follow the directions from there.  ALSO, if that’s what you need to use, go here first and read this….and perhaps have a bit of a ‘tot’ before you start….

 

 

Sawmill Gravy

30 Apr

IMG_0303

M: So many Southern dishes have their roots in poverty.  What that means is that the innovations are often based in pulling as much flavor out of as little as possible and stretching it as far as possible.  And that means gravy.  We’ve looked at a few here, including tomato gravy, corn gravy, red eye gravy and butterbean gravy.  And plenty more lie ahead.  I’ve never met a gravy that wasn’t right at home on a biscuit, but when someone says simply “biscuits and gravy”, sawmill is usually what they are talking about.  Named for it’s origins in the Appalachian logging camps, where long, grueling days of labor were often fueled by little more than biscuits, gravy and a strong cup of coffee.  Few ingredients, flavor rich and stick-to-the-ribs satisfying.  It may be considered “poor-do” gravy, but sometimes the poor do just fine.  This is Southern cuisine in its purest form and is a pleasure in any kitchen.

There is no “twist” here.  It is straightforward, honest cooking without apology.  I feel like I should have more to say about this recipe, but what can I tell you?  It is what it is.  Exactly what it is supposed to be, exactly as it is meant to be done, and exactly what I want for breakfast.  When biscuits and gravy is the order of the day, there is no substitute.

Recipe: Sawmill Gravy

Summary: When “biscuits and gravy” are on the menu, this is what you’ll get (if you’re very lucky). From The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz Smoked Breakfast Sausage
  • 4 T Flour
  • 1 c Whole Milk
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Black Pepper

Instructions

  1. Brown sausage in a large, cast iron skillet, breaking into large clumps with side of spoon.
  2. Transfer sausage to paper towel to drain and pour off all but 3-4 tablespoons of grease from skillet.
  3. Stir flour into skillet, stirring and scraping until flour browns.
  4. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly until gravy thickens.
  5. Stir sausage back in.
  6. Season with salt and pepper and serve over biscuits

 

 

Deep Fried Black-Eyed Peas

01 Sep

Deep Fried Black-Eyed Peas

M: Where have these been all my life? Only in the South, home of all things fried, would it occur to someone to deep fry black-eyed peas. The results are spectacular. Crispy, textured, and spiced with seafood seasoning and salt, they are eaten as one might snack on popcorn – by the handful and with difficulty stopping.

If this salty snack has a history of consequence in southern cuisine, I can’t find it. I first found the deep fried delicacy in a restaurant called Relish here in Raleigh. I was immediately hooked. Imagine my delight when, just a few weeks later, I stumbled upon them again, this time in what has become one of my favorite restaurants here in the Triangle, Beasley’s Chicken and Honey. Served in mason jars, they make one heck of a bar snack and pair perfectly with an cold beer (lucky thing they had plenty of that too).

This recipe isn’t exactly what I had at either restaurant, but it’s in the ball park. The hardest part is waiting a day for the peas to soak, so no one is going to blame you if you start with frozen instead of dried (just thaw them and pick things up at step 2). Err to the side of frying longer to make sure you get the light and crispy texture that makes these so darn good.

Recipe: Deep Fried Black-Eyed Peas

Summary: Deep fried and tossed in seafood seasoning, black-eyed peas are transformed into a distinctly southern bar snack.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups dried black eyed peas
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 jalapeño, sliced lengthwise and seeded
  • Canola oil for frying
  • 3 teaspoons seafood seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Soak beans overnight, then drain and rinse.
  2. Simmer beans, onion and jalapeño in a covered pot of water 35-45 minutes until tender.
  3. Drain beans, remove onion and jalapeño and let beans rest to dry or pat dry with paper towels.
  4. Heat oil in a pot to 375 degrees.
  5. Gently pour beans into oil and deep fry for 7-8 minutes, until crisp.
  6. Toss with seafood seasoning and salt.

 

 
1 Comment

Posted in Appetizers

 

Pork Roast (a.k.a. Liquid Pork)

15 Mar
Pork Roast
“No man should be allowed to be President who does not understand hogs.”
- Harry S. Truman

 

M:  I’m a pork man. I mean, I love a good cut of beef and you can’t really go wrong with chicken, but there’s just something about pork. Maybe it’s because North Carolina is the second largest pork-producing state. Maybe it’s because the nation’s largest retail pork producer, Nahunta Pork Center, is not far from here and they have an outlet store attached to my farmer’s market. Or maybe it’s because moving South exposed me to the joys of barbeque and pig pickin’s and the all-but-ubiquitous pulled pork. Whatever the reason, pork is my “go to” meat these days and if you’ve got a recipe I haven’t tried, count me in.

This recipe, with its bold “a.k.a. Liquid Pork”, brought high expectations from a guy who stops at every single church, social club, or neighborhood pig pickin’ he sees.

How was it? Not to shabby, I must say, but it left me conflicted. What separates this roast from one that might be destined for a good ol’ NC pulled pork sandwich is the addition of a fairly traditional gravy. The submitter says that he prefers to pull this roast instead of slicing, but his extended family prefers it be sliced. To the slicer, I say good luck.

That is not a criticism.

This is one tender hunk of meat. Cooking it in that gravy made this roast so moist and succulent that “Liquid Pork” is pert near literal. In fact, when I lifted the roast from the pot so I could show you how nicely it had cooked, the bone slipped out cleanly through the bottom without provocation. I suspect the only reason it didn’t fall to pieces immediately was because I hadn’t stripped the skin off yet. That makes for some good pulled pork.

And the gravy? It was fine. Good even. If this were sliced, this gravy would have been just the thing. But once the roast became pulled pork, willingly or not, I kind of wished I had a little Eastern Carolina barbeque sauce instead. This is not the recipe’s fault. Call it regional conditioning.

Recipe: Pork Roast (a.k.a. Liquid Pork)

Summary: A pork roast so moist and tender it can’t help but be pulled. From The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 1 (7 lb) Pork shoulder, bone-in
  • 1 Head garlic, cloves peeled and quartered
  • 1 T salt
  • 2 tsp Black pepper
  • 1 tsp Ground cayenne pepper
  • 6 Medium onions, chopped
  • 2 Bell peppers, cored and chopped
  • 2 Stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 Carrots, chopped
  • 3/4 c Peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 c Flour

Instructions

  1. Cut narrow, 1 inch deep slits all over pork shoulder and stuff slits with garlic.
  2. Season outside of shoulder with salt, pepper, and cayenne.
  3. Brown meat in a dutch oven over high heat, adding a little oil, if necessary to prevent sticking.
  4. Transfer pork to a plate or large bowl.
  5. Add onions, peppers, celery, and carrots to dutch oven and stir to coat.
  6. Return pork to dutch oven and set aside.
  7. Heat oil in a heavy skillet for 2 minutes, then sprinkle in flour.
  8. Stir flour constantly until smooth until roux forms and darkens to the color of peanut butter (10-12 minutes).
  9. Pour roux over pork and vegetables.
  10. Cover dutch oven and place in oven at 350 degrees to roast 2 1/2 hours.
  11. Add 1/2 cup of water and continue to roast uncovered another 3 1/2 – 4 hours, checking every 30 minutes and adding water, if necessary to keep moist.
  12. When skin is brown and meat begins to fall apart, remove from oven and let stand 30 minutes.
  13. Lift skin from roast (if skin is not crispy, place on a baking sheet and place in oven at 475 degrees for 10 minutes).
  14. Pull meat from bone and serve with gravy and pork skin.

 

 
1 Comment

Posted in Pork

 

Miracle Drop Biscuits

04 Mar

Miracle Drop Biscuits

M: There is an art to making biscuits. Cold butter. A narrow window of consistency in which to mix wet and dry ingredients, all pressed and folded oh so carefully. Some are born with it and scratch their heads when neophytes repeatedly miss the mark. Others develop the skill with a whole lot of practice, willing to eat their way through many a sub-par biscuit until getting it just right. For those don’t fall into either of those categories, there is the drop biscuit.

No careful folding involved and that window of consistency opens pretty wide. Mix the dough, scoops globs onto a baking sheet and toss it in the oven. It ain’t always pretty, but the results are generally more delicious than the effort should allow and if I’m in a hurry or just can’t be arsed to make a proper biscuit, my sloth is rewarded with an effortless gravy sopper. It’s funny just how often that happens.

So what’s the miracle here? Look at that list of ingredients. I don’t know about your drop biscuits, but mine generally have at least half a dozen ingredients. Flour, buttermilk, butter, salt, baking powder and baking soda. I didn’t think you could get much simpler than that, but I stand corrected. For those who cannot be arsed to make a drop biscuit, I give you the Miracle Drop Biscuit.

Two ingredients. Two.

It certainly isn’t beautiful and it’s far from the best drop biscuit I’ve ever had. You know what though? It’s not bad. Pretty good, in fact. Did I mention it only has two ingredients? I wasn’t even sure it would hold together.

This is not the biscuit I’ll be making when company comes to call. If I’m scrambling to put dinner together on a busy day, though? You betcha.

I don’t know if this biscuit quite qualifies as a miracle, though. We’ll see what the new pope has to say.

Still. Amazing.

Recipe: Miracle Drop Biscuits

Summary: Two ingredients. Biscuits. From The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 2 c Southern Soft Wheat Self-Rising Flour
  • 1 1/4 c Chilled Heavy Cream

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
  2. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Place flour in a medium bowl and form a well in the center.
  4. Pour cream into well and stir to form a soft, wet dough.
  5. Bring dough together with a spatula (handling as little as possible) and drop into six equal lumps on baking sheet.
  6. Bake until golden brown (about 12 minutes).
 
2 Comments

Posted in Bread