Sunday, my guy and I binge watched five hours of Better Call Saul, not leaving the couch, not getting out of our PJ’s – entirely guilt free. This is the new normal in the midst of COVID-19 and a shelter-in-place quarantine.
Another result of my self-quarantine is creative recipe concoctions using only on-hand ingredients. Friday, during lockdown, I cleaned out my liquor cabinet and found a number of bottles, barely used, from last year’s various cooking and baking recipes (How did I accumulate THREE different kinds of Sherry?). I gathered up the most promising flavors, experimented a bit, got tipsy in the process, and came up with this winner.
Sure, I’m familiar with vermouth…it’s that mixer in the green bottle pushed to the back of the liquor cabinet that plays a supporting role in martinis and manhattans. The alcohol that, along with Galliano, has a shelf life longer than Twinkies. The perpetual cocktail bridesmaid – never the bride.
How very wrong I’ve been.
I discovered vermouth – real vermouth – a few months ago at Amar Santana’s Vaca restaurant. He’s managed to elevate this non-descript mixer into something sublime – it’s house-made, poured from the tap, served on the rocks and garnished with a thick slice of orange zest. And it tastes like…well…on my first sip, I proclaimed it tasted like, “Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled into one.” His version is redolent of warming spices – cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, slightly sweet with hints of vanilla, and tertiary notes of herb (sage? thyme?) and orange.
Thus began my quest to make my own vermouth at home. Vermouth, I’ve discovered, is aromatized, fortified wine; wine that has been infused with herbs and spices (aromatized) and has alcohol (in this case, Sherry) added to it (fortified). The sweet version of vermouth also has caramelized sugar added. My final version below is a world away from Vaca’s recipe ( I can aspire!), but still quite tasty; similar to higher-end bottled vermouth I’ve sampled in recent months – like an Amaro – a bit sweet, a bit bitter, and loaded with spices and herbs.
The first thing you’ll notice is there’s a daunting list of ingredients. But don’t be deterred, the actual hands-on time is about 30 minutes total once you have your supplies. My recommendation is to order your herbs and spices online from a reputable retailer (I bought mine from Monterey Bay Spice Company) and the remaining ingredients can be purchased from a well-stocked grocery store.
The perfect aperitivo – a bit sweet, a bit bitter and loaded with spices and herbs. Play with the proportions to highlight your favorite spice.
5 green cardamom pods
7 whole cloves
2 star anise
6 juniper berries
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon wormwood
½ teaspoon chamomile flowers
¼ teaspoon dried sage leaves
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Entire zest of an orange, peeled using a potato peeler
2 strips of zest from a lemon, peeled using a potato peeler
3 cinnamon sticks
½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
1 bottle light white wine such as Pinot Grigio (I use Tesoro della Regina)
1 cup sweet Sherry (I use Osborn Cream Sherry)
Crush cardamom pods, cloves, star anise, juniper berries, and coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle. Scrape them into a medium stock pot. Add wormwood, chamomile, sage, nutmeg, orange zest, lemon zest, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla bean and seeds. Pour white wine over ingredients, bring to boil, remove from heat, cover with lid and let steep for 24 hours.
In a small pan, make a caramel by combining sugar with 2 Tablespoons of water. Cook over medium heat, without stirring, until caramel is dark golden. Carefully add sherry to caramel – the caramel will bubble and splash. If the addition of Sherry causes the caramel to harden, return to stove to re-melt the caramel.
Strain and squeeze the wine mixture well through a coffee filter or two layers of cheese cloth. Add the Sherry mixture and stir to combine. Serve on the rocks with an orange zest.
In general, I’m not a fancy, foo foo, flavored latte kind of person. Mornings, I prefer a single cappuccino (no messing around with “caff” or “fat” or “pumps” or “Vente”) or, after dinner, a perfectly pulled single espresso with just a bit of raw sugar. When feeling especially indulgent, I may splurge on a true macchiato with an orange twist (not to be confused with Starbuck’s bastardization, look it up).
These were my go-to hot beverages until, a few months ago, I discovered (gasp!) cardamom rose lattes at my local coffee house. Cardamom? And rose? Decidedly foo foo, I was nonetheless hooked. If Chai was female, it would taste like this. I adore citrusy-spicy cardamom and use it often in my baking – an unexpected alternative to cinnamon and I’ve always been a fan of those delicate, rose-scented, syrupy Indian sweets. Combine these two flavors with creamy steamed milk and a bit of espresso and you have an exotically spicy, floral, sweet treat that can only be described as well-being in a mug.
Since returning to work, I’ve taken to making my own cardamom rose latte so I can begin each morning with this comforting, soothing brew. It makes my morning a bit brighter.
To learn more about the benefits of rose, check this out.
Inspired by a latte at my favorite local coffee house.
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
1 ½ teaspoons cardamom
2 Tablespoons rose water
To make syrup: In a small saucepan, heat sugar and water together until sugar is completely melted and mixture looks clear. Remove from heat, stir in cardamom, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Strain through cheesecloth and add rose water.
To make latte: Make latte according to your machine’s directions. Stir in one tablespoons of syrup (or to taste) for each 8 oz. of milk. Breathe deeply and enjoy.
Similar to eggnog, but flavored with coconut, lime and almond, this Haitian holiday beverage is traditionally served on New Year’s day.
2 cups sugar
¼ cup water
3 cinnamon sticks
1 liter dark or spiced rum*
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
12 oz. can evaporated milk
15 oz. cream of coconut (not coconut milk)
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon almond extract
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
Zest of two limes
Combine sugar, cinnamon sticks and water in a saucepan and place on low heat. Allow sugar to fully dissolve and make a simple syrup. Remove from heat and cool.
Whisk rum into cooled syrup. Combine condensed milk, evaporated milk and coconut cream. Vigorously whisk milk mixture into rum in a steady stream to avoid curdling. Add extracts, spices, and zest. Set aside for two hours to allow flavors to meld.
Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Pour into glasses, garnish with additional nutmeg and serve. Cremasse can be served cold or room temperature – I prefer it cold.
*Dark rum allows the almond extract flavor to come through while spiced rum compliments the cinnamon and nutmeg.
This summer, I’ve been ordering Thai delivery on an alarmingly regular basis from my favorite Thai food place. While I do indeed adore Thai food, I realize my cravings are focused less on the spicy coconut-infused curries and concentrated more on the sweet and creamy Thai iced tea that comes free with every order. I’ve caught myself slurping the last remnants with my straw before I’ve even managed to open all the food containers.
Realizing the ridiculousness of ordering a complete Thai meal every time I crave an iced tea, I decided to make my own. Unfamiliar with the actual ingredients in Thai tea, some quick Googling uncovered Pantai Norasingh Thai Tea mix available on Amazon and Ebay which produces tea with the same saffron-orange hue and vanilla aroma as my favorite restaurant tea. I’ve heard Thai tea is made with sweetened condensed milk, but after a few delicious Thai tea taste tests this week, I decided that my personal preference is a blend of whole milk and half and half. I’ve already made two batches.
In a medium saucepan, bring water to boil and add the Thai tea mix and sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar. Bring back up to a boil. When sugar is dissolved and tea is boiling, remove from heat, cover and allow tea to steep one hour (30 minutes will work if you can’t wait a whole hour for your tea).
Strain the tea leaves, pressing down on leaves to extract as much tea as possible.
To serve, combine milk and half and half in a small pitcher or measuring cup. Fill two glasses with ice and fill glasses ¾ full with tea. Add milk mixture until glass is full. For the quintessential Thai iced tea layers of tea and milk, pour milk slowly over the back of a spoon. Stir and enjoy.
*You can use whole milk, half and half, sweetened condensed milk, or coconut milk. I like the richness the combination of whole milk and half and half imparts.