Archive for the ‘Beverages’ Category

Rhubarb Liqueur

Friday, August 5th, 2011

I made my first batch of rhubarb liqueur last year, and it was a roaring success…. I ran out long before I was ready for it to be gone. This year I made a larger batch, and I’m already beginning to wonder if I made enough. It goes over very well as a homemade gift.

I started the liqueur back in May and have been allowing it to age.  I got into it for the first time this week, and have to say it’s darn tasty! It can be mixed with lemon juice and sparkling water, but I’ve been enjoying on the front porch after dinner, undiluted and chilled.

I’m not going to give exact measurements, because it really depends on growing conditions of the rhubarb and personal taste. Since this is a sipping cordial, I would recommend investing in some good vodka.

Rhubarb Liqueur
80 proof vodka

Chop rhubarb and place in a large jar (I filled a gallon jug about 2/3 full).

Pour vodka over rhubarb to cover by about an inch.  Allow rhubarb to steep 3 or 4 weeks.

Strain vodka from the rhubarb pulp, and place back into clean jar.

Make a thick simple syrup using 1 part water to 1.5 parts sugar. Place sugar and water into a pan and bring to a boil for a couple of minutes.  Cool syrup to room temperature.

Add simple syrup to rhubarb vodka to taste.  I really don’t know how much to recommend.  It’s going to depend on your rhubarb and the level of tartness or sweetness you prefer.  I had such a wet spring that my rhubarb was especially juicy, and the flavor wasn’t quite as intense as some years, so I used less sugar than the previous year’s batch.

Put a lid on the jar, place it in a cool dark location, and let it age at least 3 months.  Initially, it’s going to taste pretty rough.  I promise  it will become nice and smooth as it ages.

Watermelon Margarita Granita

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

The heat of this past week prompted me to try a frozen treat a little more grown up than popsicles, although I’m not knocking popcicles.  I wanted something simple, and I wanted to use up the watermelon taking precious space in my refrigerator.  I was thinking this could also become a more family friendly Watermelon Limeade Granita by omitting the alcohol, and increasing the amount of lime juice and sugar. Don’t be surprised if I give you more granita possibilities before the summer is out. I’m on a granita roll, playing around with different flavors.  I also made an amazing espresso granita that’s my favorite so far.

Puree your watermelon flesh by throwing it into a food processor, or whiz it with an immersion blender.

Watermelon Margarita Granita
2 1/2 cups  watermelon puree
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup simple syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water)
1/2 cup tequila

Combine ingredients in a shallow baking dish and place in the freezer. When slushy  ice begins to form around the edges (20 to 30 minutes), use a fork to rake the ice back into the mixture. Repeat this every 20 to 30 minutes until the mixture is completely frozen and granular.

Serve in dishes that have been pre-chilled in the freezer, and garnish with a small watermelon wedge.

Elderberries and Sumac Lemonade

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

This past weekend, my husband and I went out to forage elderberries. We noticed that the berries seem to be ripening a little more quickly than last year, and wanted to get some before the birds did. Last year I dried enough elderberries, and made enough tincture to supply a small army. The berries we picked this weekend went to my dad to make elderberry wine. I plan to pick some more this coming weekend which I will can as juice with honey, lemon juice, and a little ginger.

I just got the following email from my dad this morning:

“I thought you might be interested to know that we’ve got one of the hottest ferments going that I’ve ever seen. I made a yeast starter about 12 hours before pitching the yeast. When I put it in the batch it started bubbling vigorously within three hours. This morning is going like “gangbusters”. Doing the juice extraction by simmering was a good choice because it gave us a really rich, ruby red juice with no sign of “green goo”. I think this is going to be a good batch. Dad”

Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to tell you how the wine turns out for about 18 months. The process begins with primary fermentation and progresses to racking, fining, and bottling about 6 months later. Aging will take another year.

While we were out picking elderberries, I grabbed some ripe Sumac berries so I could make some Sumac Lemonade at home. Now before you get alarmed, this is Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) and not the much less common poison variety (Toxicodendron vernix or Rhus vernix).

I’ve always been a bit mystified why there is so much confusion over poison sumac. The poison stuff has white berries, and doesn’t look a thing like true Sumacs which have red berries.

Staghorn Sumac berries are covered in a layer of a sort of fuzzy red, waxy powder. When collecting the berries, the easiest way to know if they are ready is to rub the berries between your fingers and then lick your fingers. If the taste is sour you know they’re ready. This tartness comes from ascorbic acid (vitamin C).  We haven’t had much rain this month, so the Sumac berries are in good shape. Rain will wash off the berries, taking the tart flavor with it.  It’s also a good idea to choose clusters of berries that look relatively clean. It’s best not to rinse the berries before making the lemonade.

Sumac berries are slightly diuretic and laxative, so don’t go hog wild and drink a whole pitcher of the lemonade, or you may be visiting the restroom frequently. However, if you’re having difficulty in that department, then a pitcher of the lemonade may be just the herbal remedy that you’ve been looking for. While we’re on the subject of herbal remedies, I though I would mention that Sumac has a long standing history of use in Native American and Appalachian folk medicine.

To make the Sumac Lemonade I placed some of the berries in a bowl of cold water. I rubbed the berries a little bit, and then set the bowl aside for about an half hour to infuse.  It’s important to use cold water. Boiling the berries will bring out tannins, resulting in a bitter unpleasant drink. Also, the longer you infuse the berries the stronger the flavor will be.

After infusing the Sumac, I poured the resulting liquid through a coffee filter.  I know some directions will call for straining through cheesecloth, but even with a coffee filter I still get a fine red sediment at the bottom of my container. If you look closely at the picture to the left, you will see a small amount of a fine red sediment in the bottom of the glass.

Sweeten the Sumac Lemonade to taste and enjoy!

Cucumber Cocktails

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Thanks to sweltering heat and humidity, I think I’m about to melt. Yes, I am griping about the weather again. A vacation to Siberia sounds absolutely divine at the moment.  The cucumbers in my garden, on the other hand, are thriving!  They’re not quite as prolific as the zucchini, but they might be coming in a close second.  Thank heavens something that thrives in the heat that’s making me miserable, can also provide some cooling relief!

Chilled cucumber juice is very refreshing, and a great way to use up an over abundance of cukes.  Personally, I love my cucumber juice in cocktails with lots of ice.

To make cucumber juice, you will first need to peel, seed, and chop your cukes.  Place the chopped cukes in a food processor and blend to a smooth puree. Pour the puree through a fine mesh strainer, pressing to extract as much juice as possible.  I don’t throw the leftover pulp away, but use it to put together a quick veggie dip or Tzatziki. The juice will store in the refrigerator for a few days.  A fine green sediment may settle on the bottom of the container… no problem, just shake it up.

The following are my two favorite cucumber cocktails.

Cucumber Cooler
4 ounces cucumber juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 to 1 ounce simple syrup
1 1/2 ounces vodka
12 or more mint leaves

Fill shaker with ice.  Add all ingredients to shaker and shake until your hand feels like it’s going to freeze off. Then switch to the other hand and shake it again. Strain into a tall glass filled with ice.

Cool As A Cucumber Cocktail
2 or 3 lime wedges
12 or more mint leaves
2 ounces cucumber juice
1 ounce lime juice
1/2 to 1 ounce simple syrup
1 1/2 to 2 ounces light rum
Soda water

Place lime wedges and mint leaves in a tall glass (I have zombie glasses, the traditional glassware in which mojitos are served). Muddle lime and mint in the glass to release their oils. Fill glass 3/4 full with ice. Add cucumber juice, lime juice, simple syrup, and rum.  Top off with soda water and stir.

Updated 8/11/10 – This post is my entry for a Cucumber Blog Party I’m participating in.  For more cucumber recipes visit the following blogs.

Creamy Cucumber Salad at the Torchsong Studio blog

Cucumber Lime Salsa at the Essential Herbal blog

Cucumber Spread (Tzatziiki) at the Sagescript Institute blog

Tomato Cucumber Salad at Swisher Hill Soapworks

Chilled Cucumber Soup at Rosemary’s Sampler

Cucumber Dill Sauce at the Garden Chick blog

Cucumber Watermelon Salad at the Soap & Garden blog

Hibiscus Mint Iced Tea

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

My mint beds have gone crazy.  In addition to drying some for winter use, I’ve been trying to find as many different ways to use it as possible.    I have a couple of other blogging friends who have been busy dealing with their overabundance of mint. Tina over at The Essential Herbal Blog recently wrote about how she dries her mints. Maggie gives several ideas for using mints over at  The Renegade Farmer.

My boys like  a cold pitcher of plain mint tea kept in the refrigerator, but I prefer something with a little more pizazz. This week’s little heat wave had me brewing up a batch of one of my favorite iced mint tea recipes.

Hibiscus Mint Iced Tea
2-3 cups loosely packed mint leaves (1/2 to 3/4 cup dried mint if you don’t have fresh)
1/4 cup dried hibiscus flowers
Juice of 2 lemons
6 cups boiling water
Honey or agave nectar for sweetening

I brew my tea in a large Pyrex batter bowl, but it could also be done in a pan on the stove.

Place the mint leaves and dried hibiscus in your brewing container. Cover with boiling water and steep for an hour.  Place concentrated tea mixture into a pitcher and add lemon juice.  Next, top up pitcher with ice cubes and/or cold water. Sweeten to taste.

I try to use sweeteners in moderation and avoid sugar when at all possible. Honey and agave nectar are my sweeteners of choice.  If you choose to use sugar, a simple syrup of 1 part sugar to one part water is a good sweetener for cold beverages.