Gram’s Blueberry Cake

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I think summer berries are my favorite type of fruit, especially local berries. I never knew it growing up, but I was spoiled when it came to fresh berries. My father’s family grew tons of berries on their farm in Bow, NH. Strawberries were their specialty, but I also remember picking wild blackberries off the vines that grew under the barn. And even now, you will find high bush blueberries, red raspberries, and those same black raspberries growing throughout the sprawling acreage behind the old white farmhouse. I was raised on deep red strawberries that only exist at a certain time of early summer – just before July 4th. They are red to the core, soft and sweet and juicy. You know them when you see them, because they are smaller than the berries we now often find in the market from California or Mexico, and they are not white and hollow in the center. Likewise, the blueberries I was raised on were the smaller, wild, low bush variety – they are the size of a pea or smaller and have a more intense, sweet flavor than the larger (think dime-size) high bush relative.

It seems many members of my family have stories about berry picking as children. I personally remember driving over to 3A in Bow as a family and hiking up under the power lines to pick wild low bush blueberries. It was the family’s secret spot (I don’t recall any family members going there for years, so I think they might have died off, or been removed.) My mom has memories of picking wild blackberries in the woods behind her home in Mascena, NY, and being attacked by a hive of wasps. Evidence of the summer berry’s significance in my family is still evident at family parties, when we endlessly debate the ingredients for the perfect blueberry pie filling – some argue tapioca powder does the trick, while others insist a runny pie with only sugar and lemon zest are needed!

So I guess it comes as no surprise that one of the favorite recipes that has been passed down generations is my Grammy Lindquist’s Blueberry Cake. It is one of those recipes that is great to have in your arsenal, because it’s so damn easy and quick to make. The batter is assembled in less than 15 minutes, and the cake takes 30 minutes to bake. During that time, whip up a batch of the sugar glaze, and you’re good to go. I recently made this cake with last year’s wild blueberries I picked from Gap Mountain up near my parents’ cottage (our NEW family spot!). It was a super last minute creation for a friend’s birthday brunch. The blueberries are really the star of the show here, and since that’s the case it’s always good to use fresh local berries, but I found my defrosted berries worked out just fine! And don’t be scared that this sugar glaze calls for vinegar – just trust me when I say it is D-I-V-I-N-E, and is a great conversation starter when people comment on how delicious it is!

I hope you give this recipe a try, and tell me what you think!

Gram's Blueberry Cake

Grammy Lindquist’s Blueberry Cake with Warm Vinegar Drizzle

Ingredients:

1 egg

½ c. sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1 c. flour

¼ c. milk

3 tbsp. butter, melted

1 c. blueberries, stemmed and washed

Making the Cake:

1. Pre heat oven to 350°F and grease an 8 x 8 inch baking pan.

2. In a mixing bowl, whip the egg, sugar, and baking powder until creamy.

3. Add the flour and milk and continue beating to combine thoroughly.

4. Turn in the melted butter and fold to combine.

5. Fold in the blueberries and spread the batter into the greased pan.

6. Bake for 30 minutes, watching carefully in the last 5 minutes that the top does not brown too much. You want a soft slightly golden topping to allow maximum soakage of the drizzle!

Vinegar Sugar Syrup

Ingredients:

¼ c. cold water

2 tbsp. cornstarch

1¾ c. boiling water

1 c. sugar

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. white vinegar

1 – 2 tbsp. butter

Making the Syrup:

1. Mix cornstarch into cold water to make a slurry.

2. Bring 1¾ c. water to a boil and stir in the sugar and salt.

3. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

4. Add the cornstarch slurry and stir constantly to thicken the syrup. The syrup will begin to bubble rapidly – be careful not to let it boil over!

5. When the sauce has thickened, stir in the vanilla and vinegar and continue to stir.

6. Drop the butter into the warm syrup and stir to melt.

7. Cover and keep just warm until ready to serve the cake.

Serve warm cake by drizzling some warm syrup onto the plate, placing a piece of cake on top and drizzling a bit more syrup over the top.

Cinco de Derby

Last week it seemed whatever blog or lifestyle news site I went to was imploring me to make a decision: Pick one to celebrate – the Kentucky Derby or Cinco de Mayo.

Sweet interwebs, why must I choose?! Can’t a girl have it all??

Indeed dear readers, we can!

The traditional drink for the Kentucky Derby is a mint julep. And Mexico’s most famous exported alcohol is, of course, tequila! So what do you get when you mix the two? Well, I propose this:

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The Añejo Smash

 This recipe comes to us from Imbibe Magazine, which claims the recipe was featured at a Manhattan mexican place called Viktor & Spoils (no longer open). Although the original recipe calls for Grand Marnier, I only had Cointreau on hand, and I found it to be a perfectly suitable alternative. Cheers, friends!

1.5 oz. añejo tequila (I used Espolón)

.5 oz. Cointreau

.75 oz. agave syrup

6 fresh mint leaves

4 lemon wedges

Combine all ingredients and shake vigorously on ice until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass that has been filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig.

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Now go enjoy with some tacos and guacamole!

 

 

Back Again – It’s Been A While!

What is it with starting blogs? How is it so hard to just get started? I imagine what this is what writers call “writer’s block,” since I know I have plenty of things to share with you, dear reader, and yet I just can’t get my words out there! It’s so much easier / faster/ instant gratification to snap a photo of something I want to share and throw it up on Instagram, than it is to sit down and give you some background. But I LIKE background! I LIKE when I hear more from a blogger about their process, what worked (and sometimes more importantly, what didn’t), how something can be modified, what to do with what he or she is making. So why not me? I guess it’s just lack of timing (what a poor, poor excuse). And so, perhaps I just need for force this for a while to get into a habit. Yes, I believe that’s the answer.

One of my favorite types of recipes to discover and learn is more of what I consider a “ratio recipe”, that is, a recipe the gives you an equation with which different types of each ingredient can be substituted in for one another. Take for example, The Sour. The Sour is a whole family of drinks that follow a simple premise: Base Liquor + Citrus + Sweetener. Most sours follow a 2-1-1 ratio, or 2 parts liquor, one part citrus, one part sweetener. For instance, two ounces of tequila plus one ounce of lime juice plus one ounce of Contreau equals a really tasty margarita!

With such a recipe, one can substitute and modify until their heart’s content! These are the types of recipes I really enjoy, and think are helpful to have in your back pocket.

So when I discovered a ratio recipe in Esquire involving a new favorite bottle in my liquor cabinet, I was excited. Aperol was first produced in 1919 in Italy by the brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri (don’t you just love Italian names?!) My understanding is that Aperol was created as a digestif with a lower alcohol content than others on the market at the time. Still to this day, Aperol has 11% ABV compared with its cousin Campari at 24% (FYI, although Campari and Aperol are now part of the same company, they weren’t originally. Campari was created by Gaspare Campari in 1860.) All of this blathering means that Aperol maintains the bitterness often associated with digestifs, but is not as strong, making it a good gateway for those looking to get into more bitter types of cocktails and drinks.

Back to Esquire. A few years back, Esquire published an article by David Wondrich touting a “foolproof, well balanced template for making drinks”, and the constant in the recipe was – you guessed it – Aperol! So here’s how it goes:

1.5 oz. liquor

whiskey, tequila, vodka, gin – pick your poison!

+

.5 oz. Aperol

+

1/2 oz. liqueur

Contreau, Chartreuse, Benedictine … Go wild! Or, not too wild, as Wondrich points out.

+

.5 oz. citrus juice

lemon, lime, or grapefruit 

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What I love about this recipe is that it gives you a few parameters with which to go crazy in, and it doesn’t force you to go out and buy a completely new line-up of bottles for your cabinet… unless of course you don’t have Aperol. But you should, so that’s okay!! The other added delight to this type of recipe is that once you’ve gotten comfortable with it, you can start to understand what each ingredient does to the drink as a whole, and THAT, my friend, is when you can really start scribbling outside the lines and changing the ratios as well as the ingredients!

For instance, oftentimes liqueur gives the drink the sweet factor while also upping the alcohol level a tad. So if one were to forego the liqueur, substitute a sweetener, and also increase the base liquor a tad, we’re sort of doing the same thing. And who’s to say we need to stick with ONE citrus? What if we split that amount between two types of citrus?

OH NO SHE DIDN’T!!

OH YES I DID!

OK, if I haven’t completely bored you with alcoholic mathematics, then perhaps I’ll draw you back with a recipe? Dubbed The Weekender Cocktail by Forrest Butler of Royal Rose Syrups, this cocktail includes my favorite Aperol with a few other delicious ingredients (only slightly modified from Wondrich’s template), and it’s the perfect summer cocktail for sitting poolside with a floppy-brimmed hat and a good book! Those days aren’t so far away, … right?!?! Sigh…

 

The Weekender

1 oz. vodka

3/4 oz. Aperol

1/2 oz. saffron simple syrup (from Rose’s, or DIY)

1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice

1/2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice

Directions:

Add all ingredients to a shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously (not shaking vigorously is the equivalent of shaking hands limply. So blasé!) Strain your drink into a chilled coup glass. Enjoy! Poolside!

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Until next time, friends!

Cheers!

 

 

 

To New Beginnings

About a month ago, it seemed as if spring was never going to beat out winter here in Boston. It was raw, damp and gray. As Marathon Monday quickly arrived, I thought about how last year, it was 90 degrees that day, and this year, we had barely reached 60 degrees on more than a handful of days. But spring finally arrived just a week or so ago, and boy has it been a good one!

Magnolia Trees, Beacon Street, Boston

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This past weekend, I went for a jog along the Esplanade. As I ran past the magnolia trees, the cherry trees, and the ornamental pear trees, I thought to myself, ‘This experience right now is 100 percent pure spring!’ And again last night, as I finished my run and sat stretching on the benches near the footbridge back to Beacon Hill, I thought the same thing.

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Sunset on the Esplanade, May 1, 2013

It’s been much needed here in Boston. After the chaos of the last few weeks following Marathon Monday, I feel like this city of mine needed a fresh start; to turn a corner into a new season. Mother Nature sure has responded. 100%.

Last weekend, I visited one of my favorite bookstores, The Brookline Booksmith, and picked out a book I’ve had my eye on for a while now, The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart. A book combining gardening and drinking? SCORE! Amy got me thinking about tons of different types of cocktails to try, and when I got home from my meander around the city, I found myself staring at a jar of dried lavender I’d purchased while in Seattle last year. Lavender … I’d had a gin based cocktail out in Seattle that had lavender bitters, but what about just infusing the lavender into the gin? I was onto something!

IMG_4730A simple Google search resulted in a few different recipes for lavender-infused cocktails, and on Sunday afternoon, I tried one of them out. The process was relatively simple, toss one and a half teaspoons of lavender into a saucepan and allow to warm for a few minutes over low. Add a cup and a half of gin and bring to a boil, immediately removing after reaching a boil and allowing to cool. That gin is then strained (with cheesecloth) back into your 750 ml bottle where it came from.

But I wasn’t done there! I then mixed up some lavender simple syrup, which was equally easy!

Lavender Simple Syrup

1/2 tablespoon lavender

1/2 c. water

1/2 c. sugar

Bring water to a boil, then steep lavender in the water for 10-15 minutes. Strain water, add back to the pot, and mix in sugar. Bring mixture to a simmer. Once sugar is completely dissolved, stir for another 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool. Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Both the gin and the simple have this wonderful aroma and taste of lavender, which is just so refreshing and springy – the perfect ingredient for a spring cocktail! I recommend mixing one up, and then heading out to enjoy it on a patio or deck. If you’re a city dweller like me with no private outdoor space, then open up a window, pull up a comfy chair, and enjoy the breeze and this drink with a good book!

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Lavender Gin Fizz

2.5 oz. lavender-infused gin

1 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 oz. lavender simple syrup

2-3 dashes orange bitters

club soda

Fill a collins glass with ice. Add gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and bitters.

Stir ingredients until well blended. Top with club soda. Garnish with a lemon wheel.