Monday, June 20, 2016

Eating Omily: The Definitive Julep Tutorial

Happy Summer Solstice and Strawberry Moon! (A strawberry moon is the first full moon of Summer) I'm celebrating by carting home my annual flat of strawberries for preserving purposes. I'll spend a sticky hour later getting as many as I can manage prepped and frozen or simmered down into a simple strawberry sauce that will keep a week or two in the fridge, or six months in the freezer. It's a great way to keep the summery strawberry flavor going since fresh strawberries will dissolved into a pile of moldy goop in a matter of days! I use it the way I use fresh chopped berries: by stirring it into yogurt, chia pudding, or, (segue alert!) mint juleps!

If you follow me on instagram, you may have already sense this blogpost on the horizon. The mint julep is my favorite cocktail in the warmer months: it's cool and refreshing, and I'm a big fan of the real star of the drink, which, contrary to who got top billing, isn't mint. It's bourbon of course! Simple mint juleps are lovely, but they only get better with the edition of seasonal fruit. Strawberry juleps are what celebrating the return of June tastes like, and later when humid, sticky days are getting me down, I can always chill out and find a smile when I'm sipping on a beautiful blackberry mint julep.

When the choir at my church held a potluck picnic, I signed up to bring strawberry mint juleps for all, and so I could spend some time enjoying the party, I googled around for ideas on how to batch juleps, rather than muddling them all individually. I wasn't very happy with what I found: a lot of people complaining about making even a single julep, first of all, and second of all, lots of recipes for mint simple syrup, resulting in a drink with no fresh mint in it at all. This. Is unacceptable.

I've provided a basic mint julep recipe before, but if there's a significant population out there intimidated at the thought of muddling, something more detailed is clearly needed. So here it is!

Omily's Mint Julep Tutorial!

You'll need: glasses. And the type of glass matters. Traditionally, mint juleps are served in sterling silver cups, but A.) I don't have one of those, and B.) I prefer using clear glass because it's a damn pretty drink. You also have to think about the bottom of your glass.  For example, I love serving cocktails in canning jars, but the bottom of the glass is convex, like an upside bowl, which means that it's easy for the mint to hide in the edges from your muddler. You want a concave, like a right-side-up bowl, shape to the bottom of your glass. You'll also want it to be wide enough for your hand to fit easily inside. You'll be more comfortable if you choke up on your muddler, and if you're hitting your knuckles on the glass with every stroke, you won't make many juleps.

You'll also need: a muddler. Mine is the pestle from a small, marble mortar and pestle I got as a wedding present. It's got some heft to it, which makes muddling easier, and the unpolished marble has enough texture to shred mint, but is smooth enough that the leaves don't get caught and stuck to it. I make lots of juleps all summer long, and I've never felt compelled to by an official 'Muddler'. If you do, consider the traits I've just outlined. A wooden spoon will work in a pinch, but it will take considerable longer to do the job with it.

You also need mint, of course. I like peppermint. Not spearmint, which is milder, or any of the other varietals like chocolate mint, or apple mint. I want a sharp, cool, minty flavor with an herbaceous, green background. Peppermint gives me that.

And Bourbon, of course. Don't go for the fancy stuff. My go-to for cocktails is Heaven Hill. I don't see it in stores a lot, and you may raise an eyebrow at the price. It seems too cheap to be any good, but it's perfect. Ask your liquor store if they can order it in for you. Most can, and will, for free.

The last ingredient is not the least important: Ice. You'll need a lot of ice. When I make two juleps, I use up more than one full ice cube tray. If you're the type to leave the empty tray languishing by the sink for weeks, plan ahead and make sure you have at least one tray full of ice per two drinks.

And optionally, some fresh summer fruit to jazz up the standard recipe. Strawberries and blackberries are my favorites, but don't hesitate to experiment!

Oh yeah, and sugar. You do need sugar. There's no getting around this. You do not need simple syrup. You need sugar. Coarser is better. I like sugar in the raw best, but any old sugar that's not powdered will do the job.

Ready, everyone? Here's the method.

Put your glass or glasses in front of you. I don't make more than two at a time. Have a julep station if you serve these at a party. Don't play bartender.

Put eleven small (or less large) mint leaves in the glass. It's an arbitrary number. I don't know where I got it. I've been counting eleven leaves out for a while now, and it works every time.

Sprinkle about a teaspoon of sugar over the leaves.

Muddle.

BE PATIENT. This is where my instagram post comes in. Check it out here. It's also a good opportunity to check out my julep glasses of choice! As Alton Brown says, "Lackluster muddling leads to lackluster juleps." Don't make a lackluster julep. :-) Push down hard on sugar over mint, rotating as you go. Lift up, shift the muddler, repeat. It should take about two minutes.

Once the mint is completely shredded into a dark paste, add your fruit if you're going to, and mash it up with the muddler. It will be much easier than muddling the mint. ;-) It's not a good idea to muddle the mint and the fruit together because the fruit juices will dissolve your sharp sugar crystals, which you need to shred the mint.

Now, add the bourbon. I do two shots of bourbon. I said it was refreshing; I didn't say it was weak. I like to take this opportunity to stir the drink, loosening the paste of mint and fruit, and distributing it evenly into the bourbon. Now, add ice. Fill the glass about two thirds or three quarters of the way, then stir again. This will start your cocktail cooling down, and it will melt some of the ice into the drink. You aren't adding any other liquid to this, so that ice melt is important for balancing the flavor. Dip the spoon down to the bottom and bring it back up, to distribute fruit and mint throughout. Top off with more ice, give it a last stir, and it's done!

Almost. If you sip it right now, you might think it's too strong and needs to be cut with seltzer or something. Wait five minutes. Try it again. It will be perfect.

Drink.

Repeat.

Aaaaahhh...

Happy Summer!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Eating Omily: (Reusable!) Bag-fulls of New Local Treats!

I've been finding such lovely treats at the Farmers' Market lately! Strawberries, of course: now is the time to eat pints a day and freeze the rest, or dump them in vodka for an ambrosial cocktail treat!

But there's so much more...reusable mesh produce bags, beach plum preserves, cherry bomb chili bitters, personal-sized vegan shepherd's pie, fruit-infused beer, garlic scapes, yogurt smoothies, flowering chives...no doubt about it: not only is another growing season upon us, farmers are getting more and more creative every year!! Let's break it down, shall we?

Reusable Mesh Produce Bags: Pick up 4/$10, and say good-bye to the nasty plastic habit! These breathable bags are gentler on your produce, and are machine-washable! You can see one of mine pictured above. Different vendors sell them at various green markets in the city. Ask at the Manager's Tent at the Union Square Farmers' Market, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday!

Beach Plum Preserves: beach plums are a tart, wild fruit that grows along the shores of Long Island. They're sustainably foraged, and cooked into a sweet and flavorful spread for all your brunching needs. Get a jar while you can! Once they're gone for the year, they're gone. You can find them at the Union Square Farmers' Market on Saturdays, along the top of the park, bordering 17th street.

Cherry Bomb Chili Bitters: if heat's not your thing, you can grab lavender, mint, or a variety of other flavors instead! These simple, and intensely flavored tinctures are just the thing to up your cocktail game! They're also a Saturday treat, and can be found at the Union Square Farmer's Market about midway up the park bordering University Place.

Personal-Sized Vegan Shepherd's Pie: With such a rich, savory flavor, you'll find yourself doubting the veracity of the vegan claim, but it's legit! You can find this perfect little lunch every day the Union Square Farmers' Market operates at Body and Soul: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday! They have lots of other excellent sweet and savory treats, too.

Fruit-infused beer: this tiny beer stand operates as part of a larger purveyor that offers lots of apples, greens, root crops, and tomato-based products, including bloody mary mix! They have more typical beers as well, including a beautiful balanced American pale ale. They can be found on Fridays for sure, and I believe Mondays as well at Union Square, close to 16th street, bordering the interior of the park.

Garlic Scapes: this is a gimme. You'll see these all over the market this time of year! But I buy mine from Central Valley Farms on Mondays. They're just shy of the north-west corner of Union Square, and they also offer wonderful yogurt, butter, eggs, cheese, other veggies, and strawberries!

Yogurt Smoothies: Ok listen carefully: this one's NOT at Union Square! You'll have to find your way over to Van Vorst Park in Jersey City, at the corner of Barrow Street and Montgomery Street on a Saturday before 3:00. Don't worry: it's just off the PATH train at Grove Street! And, the maple vanilla yogurt smoothie is well worth the trip (although blueberry, strawberry, and peach are all pretty special, too)! Why not fuel up with one before walking two blocks over to Newark Avenue for my Aerial yoga class at Jivamukti 2-3:15?? :-D

Flowering Chives: These are a perfect centerpiece with their pretty purple clover-like blooms, and an edible edition to a salad, or flavorful herb addition to your omelets and stir-fries with their subtle, clean onion flavor. And again, they're available at multiple vendors.

What special treats are you noticing at the Market these days? I can't believe the way the offerings have evolved since I started going ten years ago! It just goes to show you, at least every once in a while, you have to just take your time moseying around and see what you can see. You never know what you'll discover!!

Happy Spring!