Summer Sippers, starting with the basics…

Trio of cocktails

Alright, so here we are, on the verge of the unofficial start to summer, Memorial Day weekend.  What do you have planned?  Picnics?  Fishing?  Spending time with those who’ve served and honoring those who can’t be here with us?  Oh yes, that’s what I am planning too!

Will there be some cocktails in your weekend plans?  I know there will be in mine 🙂  And so we begin post number ONE, #summersippers!  Over the next fifteen weeks (if I say it out loud here, I’m obligated, right?) I will share one cocktail post a week..each week, highlighting a different liquor and a few different varieties of cocktails you can make with that liquor.  I am going to get help from some of my amazing Minnesota food blogger friends along the way, so don’t think these are going to be your run-of-the-mill cocktails, I plan to share unique twists on the basics!

So, let’s start today with basic bar set-up.  First, an explanation taken from the Huffington Post Taste blog, of basic alcohol terminology:

Two terms are often confused: liquor (lik-er) and liqueur (li-kur). Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know:

Liquors are hard alcohols, a.k.a. spirits, such as gin, vodka, whiskey, or brandy. They are distilled from grains, fruits or vegetables and contain no sugar.

Liqueurs are alcohols flavored with herbs, fruits, nuts and/or spices and have sugar added. A liqueur can be enjoyed sipped as an aperitif (pre-dinner drink) or digestif (post-dinner drink) or mixed to make cocktails.

Bitters are a very concentrated form of liqueur (yet they don’t taste sweet, but rather bitter as their name suggests) used in small amounts (a few dashes is all you need) in drinks and cocktails.

Mixers are non-alcoholic additions in mixed drinks and cocktails. They include sodas, such as tonic water, seltzer, lemon-lime soda, and juices such as cranberry, orange, lemon and lime.

Syrups are used to sweeten drinks and cocktails. The classic type is a simple syrup, made from equal amounts sugar and water heated to a simmer and then chilled. Simple syrups can further be infused with fruits, herbs or spices or they can be made from alternative sweeteners like honey or agave syrup.

I’ve linked to this particular blog post because it gives more great info on what to stock your bar with if you want to make what type of drinks etc.

Next week I think I will talk about Mixers, bitters, syrups, fancy cubes etc.  So we move from the basics, to bases and then we’ll get into the good stuff!

Alright, so your opinion of what to have on hand might be different from mine and that’s perfectly okay!  I am just giving you a basic list of what a home bar might have.

Basic booze set-up

My booze list:  Vodka, Gin, Rum, Whiskey and/or Bourbon, Brandy, Tequila…I like Grand Marnier instead of Cointreau and I like to have Bailey’s and/or Kahlua on hand for bedtime/bonfire sippies or adding to coffee on a Sunday morning!  Of course within each of these categories you’ll have MANY different varieties of that particular alcohol.  For example, Smirnoff Vodka has 33, yes, 33 different flavors of Vodka.  This number doesn’t even include the mixers, pre-made cocktails, malt beverages etc. they produce.  They even have a new line called “Sorbets- without the spoon”.  Check it out here.  I will admit to having a bottle (almost empty) of BACARDI Limón in my cupboard.  But, sadly, I don’t drink enough cocktails (one of the reasons I am doing this post series!) to remember why I bought it and how I drank it! 🙂

Wine & beer opener, jiggerStir sticks & umbrellas

zester, strainer & juicerfun straws

Now let’s talk a bit about bar tools & equipment.  Pictured above, are a few basic ideas of what to start with.  Most of these items are fairly inexpensive to pick up.  I use my zester for cooking all the time so that was probably the most expensive item of the lot.  And don’t give me a hard time for all the colorful straws, stir sticks and yes, drink umbrellas!  My kids love them!  (oh ok, so do I!)

Variety of wine glasses

So, you can probably tell that we mostly drink wine, right? 🙂  Glassware can be a bit tricky and at the same time, you could just use the same type of glass for all of your cocktails!  There is no right or wrong way, it’s your house!  We have white & red wine glasses.  We have stemmed & stemless.  When I was a kid, I would tag along with my grandparents to flea markets & garage sales.  I started collecting mason jars (the large kind I used for flower vases over the years) and match books (don’t ask) and since then have been using smaller mason jars for drinking glasses over the years and now they are actually in style to use as a drinking glass!  Ball even just came out with a retro line of jars in a beautiful blue color.  I gotta get me some of those!

Beer mug & pint glass

Over the years my hubby has collected beer glasses, so we have LOTS of that style beer glass.  Last year, when I was posting about my Beer for a Year (see previous posts) win from Summit Brewery, I picked up these two from their store at the brewery.  I love the mug, but oddly enough, it holds more than just one beer!  So yeah, I guess I have to drink two then, right?

Margarita & Daiquiri glasses

A few years back, my husband and I were on a Margarita kick and I decided I HAD to get traditional glasses to use.  Let me just say, they are adorable, but they are hard to drink out of!  You really have to be quite sober so you don’t spill it on yourself.  And, uh…you are drinking right?  Get where I am going with that?!  🙂  Anyhoo, the other glass pictured is from a set an awesome friend just gave me and could be used for margaritas, daiquiri’s, iced tea and as you’ll see in a later post…sangria!!

Martini glass

So….I had to go buy this gorgeous Martini glass, cause, big surprise, I am not a Martini drinker!  But, I am going to try a few fun things over the course of this series, so we’ll see if that statement remains the same at the end of all this!

Cordial glasses

My husband loves his nighttime “sippies” (don’t get mad at me honey…) so we have always had plenty of snifters, cordials glasses etc.  You can use they glasses for brandy, cognac, even shots.

Rocks & Highball glasses

Above are just a few basic drink glass sizes (there’s the mason jar!)  that you can use to make your basic cocktails.  I am sure you have something in your cupboard that would work.

Additional bar stuff...

In addition, you might want to have a few miscellaneous items as shown in the picture above.  We always have Kosher Salt on hand for cooking; you’ll need this for rimming your glasses for Margaritas.  Lemons, limes, oranges and other fruits (we’ll talk more about that next post) are good to keep on hand.  Bitters, again, we’ll talk about this, but many basic cocktails call for this, so pick up yourself a small bottle to keep on hand.  And for fun, colored sugars are great to use when rimming the glass for some specialized drinks.  More on that as we move along.

Below I’ve listed a couple of great links I didn’t include above.  A delicious foodie-friend of mine, Joy Summers (of City Pages blog & other fame) put together this great list of the top ten Craft Cocktail bars in the Twin Cities for my Minnesota followers.  And the last link is one I found from Martha Stewart and in addition to basic bar set-up, she gives a breakdown of different liquors/liqueurs and cocktails you can create from each.

Top 10 Craft Cocktail bars in the Twin Cities

The Basics on home bar set-up, from Martha Stewart

So friends, I hope you enjoy a long, relaxing weekend and thanks for beginning this #summersippers cocktail journey with me!

Cheers, Shawn

My Oink Outing…

Recently, my husband & I signed up for a CSA with Natura Farms.  (more details on that in a future post) Yes, we have a pretty big garden of our own, but my husband had the opportunity to tour this farm, (located in gorgeous Scandia, Minnesota) and is doing some business with them already.  We were excited to not only support another local business, but have the opportunity to enjoy some things we weren’t already growing.  We usually amp up our veggie intake in the summer, but this summer, we are eating some nights, nothing but veggies!  It makes me realize I could really become a vegetarian.  But then I come to my senses…how could I not ever smell my most favorite smell, taste my most favorite food…wafting in from the grill, smoker or on a lazy weekend morning…the kitchen!  Yes, people, I am talking Pig.  Pork, glorious Pork!A friend recently posted a picture on my Facebook wall (not going to share that here, as some of you might get emotional once see how cute it was) of an adorable piglet, all pink & fuzzy.  The caption read “I love you!!!  Okay, now you can’t eat me.”  Ha!  I found the humor in it, and yes, for just the smallest of moments I thought “how could you eat something so cute?”  But that’s what makes my relationship with Pork so amazing; I can appreciate and adore the tiny precious little piglets, still a pretty pink color and all soft & fuzzy looking.  And I can appreciate the Sow, the Mama pig, who bravely bears (called “farrowing” in pig farming) those little piglets, that someday will grow to be somewhere around 270+ pounds that will eventually make it’s way to my dinner table, and finally my belly.  Until recently, I had no idea the steps involved.  That was, up until I went on my very first Oink Outing!

Last summer, some of my Minnesota Food Blogger friends (now officially known as the group Fortify) were posting pictures from their Oink Outings and I asked how I could participate in one.  Well, this spring I got an email asking if I was still interested (YES!) and what dates worked best for me (ANY!) in June.  So yes, this happened last month…and truthfully, I don’t know what happened to July…can someone tell me?  I had this awesome posting calendar all set up and the summer derailed me.  Anyway, hope you’ll forgive me and let’s talk some Piggy now!

Oink Outings, sponsored in part by the Minnesota Pork Board, brings together families & pig farmers, educating both on how pigs are raised and what Mom’s like me go through when choosing how & what to feed our families. For my Oink Outing, we were excited to partner with farmer Judy Bode’s farrow-to-wean pig farm, Rebco Pork and Executive Chef Bryan Schouten of Brackett’s Crossing Country Club.  My day began at Brackett’s Crossing where Chef Bryan prepared a mouth-watering Pork Carnitas Salad (isn’t that red taco shell gorgeous!) for our lunch and provided us with several recipes to take home and enjoy with our families. Chef Bryan was able to join us for the day, as we toured the gorgeous southern Minnesota towns of Courtland & Nicollet .  We made a pit stop on the way down, at Schmidt’s Meat Market where we were given the honor of seeing some of their huge smokers and product being prepared for the retail coolers out front.  I was even given a gift of their award-winning Raspberry Chipotle Bacon, which I used to make this Brown Butter Bacon Ice Cream.

      

From there, we moved on to the Bode family farm, home to Rebco Pork.  The Bode’s have 900 acres of farmland in the Courtland area.  In addition to their fifth generation pig farm, they also grow corn & soybeans.  I was very impressed with the measures they take to keep their pigs healthy; every employee showers as they enter the building, at the beginning of their shift.  They each have their own supplies for doing so, along with clothing & uniforms they must keep at the farm.  Everything gets washed there, to again protect the pigs.  So, we acted like employees, all though we didn’t shower, we did have to suit up…here’s a picture of our whole crew ready to enter the building!

First up on the tour was the farrowing barn.  Rooms where Sows were placed to give birth.  I couldn’t wait to see some of the piglets, sweet, pink & brand new!  Pig farming has changed over the years.  Technology has enabled pig farmers to know pretty close to when a Sow will be giving birth, so they can move her to the farrowing barn before her big moment.  That same technology has also enabled pig farmers to choose the type of pigs they raise; consumer demand dictates this mostly, but today’s pigs are leaner and tastier than they have ever been.  As we entered the first farrowing barn, the piglets were about three weeks old.  They’ll be weaned shortly from the Sow and headed to the finishing barns, on another part of the Bode family farm.  From their they will grow to be pushing 270+ and will shortly thereafter make it’s way to the grocery stores we all shop at.  The next farrowing barn we entered had Sows just about ready to give birth, and as my luck would have it, one was giving birth right as we came in!  I know the picture might be a little graphic, but how amazing is that!  It’s crazy to see the difference in size from those tiny little piglets and the Mama laying on her side giving birth to them.

After pulling me away from the piglets, we moved to a different area of the facility; the gestational barn.  This is where the pregnant Sows are kept until they are ready to move to a farrowing barn.  I have to admit, it was difficult for me to see the Sows, lined up, all inside cages.  Of course I thought it would all be “Wilbur-like” and they’d be roaming free, eating grass and hanging out with the ducks, geese and other barnyard animals.  But there’s good reason they aren’t.  First, we can go back to the strict measures the Bode’s take to ensure their pigs stay healthy.  Free roaming pigs can pick up all sorts of diseases from just roaming about outside.  In this environment, everything is monitored; from the water they drink, to the feed they get.  Also, they are protected.  Pigs, believe it or not, can be a lot like humans, behavior-wise.  If they were left in an environment where each pig can freely eat what & when they want, bigger pigs can bully smaller pigs and they end up not getting what they need nutritionally speaking.  So for what they are trying to do, provide healthy, nutritious Pork to families all over the country, Rebco Pork & the Bode family are doing an incredible job!

The day came to close and as I drove home from my tour, I was happy to have learned as much as I did.  It’s good to know where your food comes from.  We should all learn that someday!

So let’s talk about some of my favorite ways to eat Piggie meat!  My most favorite Pork product is Bacon.  Ah, Bacon.  What ever would I do without Bacon?  I am also not a Bacon snob.  I like any Bacon… Although I am not sure I can stomach any of the “Bacon” themed crazy products out there right now. (see below) But I will eat it in salads, on Panini’s (if you don’t own a Panini press-get one), in pasta, dipped in chocolate (aka “pig-lickers”), try it in braised Mustard Greens, Kale or Swiss Chard, I’ve put it in ice cream (see above), I’ve put it in cookies.

Someday I hope to get Bacon Roses for Valentine’s Day…who wouldn’t love that!  Hint-hint…

Since getting my smoker for Christmas we’ve smoked Ribs (see previous blog post here) and just this past weekend, finally smoked myself a Pork shoulder for pulled Pork.  I will admit, it didn’t go as well as I had planned (we ended up putting it in the oven inside for another hour + to cook) but in the end, what resulted was the most incredible, juicy, tender pulled Pork!  My husband’s comment (after it was all said and done) “this was pretty good, but if you tried my pulled Pork recipe from work, it would curl your toes”.  Uh, really? I asked why he’s never brought home any samples???  Tease.

A note about cooking pork; most people kill it.  And I don’t mean in the good way…to safely eat Pork, you need to cook it to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.  (unless it’s ground Pork, which should be 160) LET IT REST before slicing into it and you should have a juicy, delicious piece of Pork!  If you want/need more info on cooking with Pork, check out the Minnesota Pork Board’s website HERE.

      

And my other favorite way to eat Pork is slathered with Mustard (Dijon & whole grain), chopped garlic, olive oil & tons of fresh Tarragon (ok in the winter it’s dried from my garden) you have to try it this way!!  We usually either bake these in the oven or sauté them.  In the summer, definitely throw them on the grill.  We also usually do this on Pork chops, but it would be incredible on a gorgeous Pork tenderloin or roast.  (salivating just thinking about it) And for another idea with Pork tenderloin, check out my Rhubarb Beer Jam post from last month.

So yah, there’s no chance of becoming a vegetarian with all the delicious Pork available today!   Thank you to the Minnesota Pork Board, the Bode family of Rebco Pork, Chef Bryan from Brackett’s Crossing and Oink Outings for letting me participate!  Eat Pork people!!

UPDATE ON THIS POST:

Just wanted to be clear, the thoughts expressed above are my own…since taking this tour, I have read & watched articles & videos on both “sides” of pig farming.  I have no answer to solve the problem faced by consumers & farmers today. The farm I visited was very clean and appeared to really care about their pigs.  I was compensated for my time (as I did take an entire day off of work to go) but I still wrote what I wanted to.  If given the choice, I would buy the best meat available to me; free range pigs and all.  We each do what we can, to feed our families in the responsible way we see fit.  Thanks for reading 🙂

Beer for a Year, month three…

Greetings beer lovers!

This month’s special brew is Summit’s Horizon Red Ale.  The brewmasters at Summit Brewing call this beer “an inspired hybrid that blurs the boundaries between IPA and Amber styles. The exceptional blend of American hops (including the harder-to-find Horizon variety) gives it an intense pine, citrus and earthy character in the nose and on the tongue.”  Read more about Summit Horizon Red Ale.

As I mentioned in the first blog post about my beer winnings, I am not a huge beer drinker normally, but if I do drink it, it’s gotta be something I can “chew” on if you know what I mean.    I was excited to try this Red Ale, as I usually like Red beers and it definitely showed it’s character right away!  However, I knew I would have my work cut out for me, because, as with the Summit Extra Pale Ale, there was a bitter note I would need to overcome when cooking with it.  So, we talked and talked (the hubby & I) about the options we had.  We talked about making a batter out of it, which we will still may do, but then I stumbled upon this recipe from Taste of Home for Swiss Beer Bread.  Then the hubby said he could make Beer Cheese Soup.  I know what you are thinking, but you said you wouldn’t go there?  And you are right, I hadn’t planned on it, but I thought would be a perfect compliment to the bread!  I usually try to stay away from bread (gluten) whenever possible but I am weak when it comes to freshly baked bread…..so, let’s get started!

This is what you’ll need to make the Swiss Beer Bread:

4 ounces Swiss cheese-grated

1/4 cup caramelized onions-finely chopped

3 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 bottle (12 ounces) Summit Horizon Red Ale

2 tablespoons butter, melted

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper.  Stir beer into dry ingredients just until moistened. Add the caramelized onions and almost all of the cheese, keeping a small handful aside to put on the top as soon as it came out of the oven.  Transfer to a greased 8-in. x 4-in. loaf pan. Drizzle with the butter. Bake at 375° for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove from oven & sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. 

What I love about this bread, besides the fact it is delicious, is that you can add pretty much anything you want to it.  You could swap out the Swiss cheese for Cheddar, you could add crumbled bacon to the batter, chives or other herbs.  I slathered it with butter while still slightly warm, but it would be delicious with honey or even a fruit butter.

Now let’s talk about the soup……this took a bit more of our patience and perseverance, but the finished product is amazing!

Here is what you’ll need for the Beer Cheese Soup:

1/2 small sweet onion, finely diced

1 small carrot, finely diced

One 12oz. bottle of Horizon Red Ale

3 tablespoons of Worchestshire sauce

4 cups of milk (we used 2%)

1 cup of half & half

3 cups of chicken stock plus 2 tablespoons of chicken base

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

16 oz. of shredded cheddar cheese

4-6 thick-cut bacon, cooked & crumbled

olive oil at the ready and salt & pepper to taste

1/2 cup of butter & 1/2 cup +/- of flour for roux*

Preheat your large stockpot or Dutch oven on the stove top.  Once heated, add a good coating of olive oil and sweat the onions & carrots.  Then add the Worchestshire and reduce the liquid until just about syrupy.  Add your beer and continue to cook  for a bit.  Add your stock and once up to temp, add a tablespoon or two of your roux.  Using a whisk at this point, you’ll want to slowly add the milk and then the cream.  Tasting along the way and adjusting the flavors as you go.  Continue to add the roux to thicken.  Once you feel you are where you want to be flavor wise, add the cheese and continue to whisk until smooth.  Turn off heat and ladle into soup bowls.  Sprinkle with crumbled bacon and any other items you’d like to add!  (you won’t ever see me putting popcorn on as a garnish….I have never understood that, but feel free to do it if you like it that way!)

One thing I need you to be sure to do, is to taste this as you go along.  Recently, a question was posed to a group I belong to, the Minnesota Food Bloggers about what advice you’d give a novice cook or baker.  My answer should have included-taste as you are cooking!  It’s so important.  You’ll want to keep the awesome beer flavor while toning down the bitter aspect of it.  We got three meals out of this soup, (nice large bowls we ate with bread or a salad) meaning one batch will either feed 6-8 or split up like we did.

*To make the roux, melt butter in a small sauté pan.  Slowly add the flour, using a whisk, cooking until the mixture has thickened and is caramel in color.

Enjoy & see you next month!!

Cheers,

Shawn