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Bite Club: Vermont's Food & Drink Blog


January 17, 2014

Grazing: Country-politan with Boggy Meadow 'Switchel' Cider Vodka

Switchel_vodkaVodka is the most infused of spirits. Berries, orange peel, citron, black pepper, chili peppers and vanilla beans all meet their ends in its clear depths, and drinkers never seem to tire of these infusions. Until now, though, no one (as far as I can tell) has thought to blend the clear spirit with apple cider and ... vinegar?

Yes. Vodka infused with vinegar may sound gross, but it actually echoes a drink that harks back hundreds of years. During the long haying days of the 1600s and 1700s, New England farmers often supped on blends of ginger, apple cider, spices and vinegar. This drink was known as "switchel," and it's undergoing something of a revival.

Boggy Meadow's cloudy, ochre-colored "Switchel" cider vodka is definitely unorthodox, but may not be so unusual two or three years from now. I've tried it in myriad vodka-cocktail ways — in a traditional martini with a twist; in a sherry martini; in a bracing Black Magic, with coffee liqueur and a spritz of lemon juice. All were delicious.

Its smoothest incarnation, though, may be a locavore riff on the Cosmopolitan. Switchel cider vodka lends a tangy twist to this blend of vodka, Triple Sec, cranberry and fresh-squeezed lime juice. It's a softer, brighter and more distinctive version of the original Cosmo — especially when blended with local cranberry liqueur. I've dubbed it the Country-politan.

Recipe below.

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January 3, 2014

Grazing: Blood Orange-Cranberry-Lemongrass Mocktail

Alas, the time for copious holiday drinking has passed. Cleansing teas, fresh juices and water have taken the place of bracing Manhattans and boozy egg nog — at least for the first few resolution-rich days of the new year. 

Yet staying healthy doesn't have to be boring. Mocktails, or alcohol-free cocktails, are refreshing, easy to make and user-friendly for drinkers, pregnant women and 12-steppers alike. 

This week I repurposed some leftover holiday cranberries to make a cranberry-lemongrass simple syrup, then blended it with fresh-squeezed blood orange juice and sparkling water for a juicy, tart-sweet, non-alcoholic tippler. Yeah, it has some sugar — but I needed to come down from the holidays easy. Recipe below.

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September 20, 2013

Grazing: Fried Green Tomatoes

They're the stragglers. The slow pokes. The tomatoes that couldn't bother to turn red and sweet before fall arrives. Yet rather than cave to the unripe fruit of our short growing season, you can triumph over climate and subjugate these hard, tart orbs into something crisp and delicious: Fried green tomatoes.

Yes, a movie was named for this tried-and-true Southern specialty, and with good reason: Green tomatoes are firmer and eminently more fry-able than ripe ones, and their tartness softens slightly during frying — yet but still retains enough tang for a satisfying salty-tart-crunch. They take less than 15 minutes to make, and when you bite into one, you'll be amazed by the alchemy that frying performs on their hard little bodies.

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September 13, 2013

Grazing: Spiked Maple Mocha

The propane guy showed up yesterday in his grumbling truck to pump gallons of liquid gas into the tank behind the house. The air was muggy, the leaves were still green, and a thunderstorm was brewing in the distance. But we both know what's coming — and it ain't more summer.

The season of autumn things is upon us: Fuzzy sweaters. Pumpkin beers. Early fires. Propane guys (!). And deep, dark mocha, the precursor to the hot chocolates of winter.

This summer, Christian Stromberg, the Saxtons River producer of Sapling Liqueur, came out with a bracing new spirit: a coffee liqueur called Perc. Stromberg cold-brews Arabica beans, then infuses the result into 60-proof liquor, sweetening it at the end. The result taste like sugared-up black coffee with a kick.

Vermont also gained two new maple creme liqueurs this year: Metcalfe's Vermont Maple Cream Liqueur — which sells briskly at the store where I pick up spirits — and Vermont Ice Maple Crème, from Boyden Valley. Metcalfe's version is light-bodied and nutty, but also slightly higher in alcohol than Boyden's version, which has more of a complex, Calvados-like note from the apples used in the blend. Together, the two products will likely dent in-state sales of Bailey's Irish Cream — both are far superior.

So how to marry these spirits together? In a mug of mocha. Coffee liqueur in coffee might seem like overkill, but Perc helps sweeten an otherwise astringent cup of java, while a dose of maple creme liquor adds silkiness. Make sure the coffee you start with is really, really hot, as the liquor and milk will rapidly bring down its temperature. I used Tonewood maple flakes instead of sugar to make my whipped cream — but a spoonful of maple syrup will do the same trick.

Spiked Maple Mocha

1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 to 1 cup of strong coffee
1 teaspoon light cream or milk
1 ounce Perc coffee liquor (Kahlua is a passable substitute — barely)
1 ounce maple creme liqueur, such as Metcalfe's or Vermont Ice (Alternatively, use 1 ounce Bailey's plus 1 teaspoon maple syrup.)
Hand-whipped maple cream (or Cabot preprepared whipped cream)

Dump chocolate powder into a mug, then fill it three-quarters of the way full with strong coffee. Stir to dissolve. Add teaspoon of milk and spirits, and stir again. Spoon fresh whipped cream onto the top, sprinkle with cocoa powder, and serve.

September 6, 2013

Grazing: The Summer Drink I'll Miss the Most — Orleans Bitter Spritzer

OrleansBrrr. The heat kicked on last night, and the basil narrowly missed a date with frost-induced death. Though these are the best sleeping nights of the year, they're also kinda bittersweet, since we all know what lurks around the corner.

Summer is technically still here, though, and all this season I've indulged in in a coral-colored ritual in a glass, one based on the elegant Orleans Bitter. A version of this drink was first served to me early this summer by Orleans' co-creator Deirdre Heekin at her Woodstock restaurant osteria pane e salute. As a friend and I sat the bar, Heekin handed us a few wine glasses filled with ice, Orleans, sparkling water, and an orange wedge.

I haven't made wine spritzers very much, but this was another creature — dry but quenching, zesty, invigorating, graceful. It was almost like drinking liquid hyssop with a tropical edge. There may have been other flavorings lurking in there, but I didn't ask; I went home and replicated it in the simplest way possible.

I say simplest, but its key ingredient — Orleans Bitter — can be challenging to find. When I ran out of my first bottle, It took me a while to find another. Last week, I hit gold at the new Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center in Newport. Then my personal spritzer party picked up where it left off.

With its ease of preparation and bittersweet balance, this drink is a liquid mirror of late summer. Make it as strong or as weak as you like.

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August 23, 2013

Grazing: Rosehip Simple Syrup

I strumbled across these gorgeous rosehips the other day. To my excited eye, they looked plump and ready for kitchen action — that is, until I picked them, took them home and made a simple syrup, which turned out to be more the rusty color of coral than the deep ruby that comes from truly ripe rosehips.

Rosehips really hit their stride after the first frost, when their tartness gives way to a citrusy sweetness. Last year, I used them to make a glaze. This year, I've decided to drink them. 

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June 14, 2013

Grazing: Quick, Fresh Ricotta (With Spring Peas and Mint)

Peas1'Tis spring, the time when we cut back, eat fresh and slim down. Yet somehow, I didn't get the memo. Lately I've been taken with turning out batches of fresh, fattening ricotta.

It all began last week in New York, when I stopped in for a bite at a cacophonous, newish restaurant called Maysville. Though the small plates were incredible (think agnolotti with nettles), I was bummed that they were out of a particular plate: spring peas, mint and ricotta. Once I left, I couldn't get ricotta off my mind. So once I got home, I promptly picked up some cheesecloth, broke out the milk and vinegar and got to work.

Really, this is all you need for simple ricotta — fresh, preferably organic milk, some kind of acid (lemon juice works), a saucepan, a drainage system and about a half hour of (mostly down) time. The reward is warm, luscious, tangy cheese that tells store-bought versions to just go home. 

So far, I've stirred my ricotta into pancake batter, blended it with two different versions of pasta with spring vegetables, and spooned it over — yup, peas, which I topped with mint and chives from my garden. I haven't dared step on a scale in the last week.

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May 27, 2013

Grazing: Rhubarb-Orleans Daiquiri

Rhubarb_staksAnother year, another exploding rhubarb patch. With so many stems and no real talent for baking, I sometimes use the tart stalks for a nefarious purpose: drinking. Last year, I gave a bundle of stalks to an acquiantance to make bitters, which he returned to me a few weeks later; I also paired a rhubarb simple syrup with raspberries, rum and mint for this juicy little number.

This year, I'm armed with an Omega juicer, a masticating monster of a machine. I fed some rhubarb stalks into it over the weekend, and their fibers proceeded to get tangled around the auger — but some rosy-pink juice trickled out, too. Its tartness was even more powerful than I expected.

I tried blending this juice with tequila (ick) and shook it together with vodka (which was just OK). Though I had forgotten that it was Smugglers' Notch Distillery Rum that worked so well last year, it's the very place I ended up again this year.

I dribbled some rhubarb juice together with this smooth, oaky rum, as well as with some Orleans Bitters, grapefruit and lime juices, mint and a few spoonsful of rhubarb simple syrup to balance out the tartness. It sounds like a strange combination on the surface, but it yielded a silky drink whose pretty pink color belies its potent, tart-bittersweet flavors.

With its combo of sugars, rum and citrus, this drink resembles a daiquiri, but barely. You could serve this over the rocks and top it with sparkling water for a spritzer, too; I simply shook the drink until it was really cold and then sipped it from a dainty vintage cocktail glass, garnished with even more herbs.

I'll probably finesse it over the next few weeks. But version 1.0 is pretty quenching. See recipe after the break.

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May 10, 2013

Grazing: Sautéed Nettles With Butter and Garlic

I live in a 1790s farmhouse that's been converted into condos, and my neighbors and I are surrounded by the verdant remnants of a working farm. Around this time of year, the disturbed patches in our fields and around the barn burst into a riot of weeds, with stinging nettles among the first to rear their deep-green leaves.

Nettles_groundFor years, I cursed and spat as I accidentally brushed my legs against these invisibly prickly shrubs or absentmindedly tried to pull one out with my bare hands. During a party a few years ago, the host handed me a bowl of wilted, spindly greens. "Nettles. Try them," he said. Dubious, I picked one up with my fingers and studied it before taking a nibble. Sautéed with garlic and olive oil, these enemies of countless gardening sessions had been transformed into something velvety and almost luscious, their sting magically gone. 

The fields looked different after that. If you've never hunted nettles before (actually, they're not hard to find), these clusters of deep-green leaves have serrated edges and veiny tops, and grow from calf-high shrubs. They're best when they're young and tender, still less than an inch long. You can either don garden gloves to pick them or (as I eventually learned) pluck them directly from above; something about that angle prevents their leaves from gittin' ya with their stinging hairs.

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February 22, 2013

Grazing: The Gooey Joys of Raclette

Raclette1Whenever my parents would unearth their avocado-green fondue pot, exciting things would follow — namely, dipping chicken tenders into my Dad's killer Schlitz-based beer batter, then frying them into crispy, amoeba-like shapes in the bubbling oil. 

It wasn't until years later that I sampled cheese fondue for the first time and, inspired by the communal gluttony, I purchased my own stainless-steel fondue pot ... which I used approximately twice. Reminded of its existence by my colleague Alice Levitt's recent article on fondue — and inspired to resurrect the tradition — I carted home thousands of calories' worth of cheese along with an Elmore Mountain Bread baguette.

Unfortunately, some of the fondue pot's parts were scattered to the wind, and my Kirsch was showing signs of age.

Fortunately, there's another convivial Swiss tradition for consuming copious amounts of cheese: Raclette, or melted Alpine cheese served with cornichons, pickled onions, boiled potatoes and cured meats. Though it, too, calls for special equipment (an electric raclette melter), a fire of any sort will do. After all, Raclette is hundreds of years old, predating electric outlets.

So I unwrapped my two types of cheese — a brick of squishy, cheap German cheese called Butterkäse, and a wedge of Spring Brook Farm Raclette — and arranged them on a rimmed cookie sheet. I then balanced this, perhaps unwisely, atop the grill of my gas fireplace. (You could use a warm stove, too, heated to 250 degrees or so). The cheeses began to melt and slide around after about three minutes, and within 12 minutes, they were ready to scoop onto the plate. 

The pale-straw-colored Butterkäse, literally "butter cheese," melted the fastest; it's mild and oily, but with a rustic edge. It's also the less expensive of the two. Befitting its name, the Spring Brook Farm Raclette fit the job perfectly: still a quick melter but with an elegant, addictive texture somewhere between silky lemon curd and butter.

Traditionally, as raclette melts, it's scraped onto diners' plates and savored over an hour or more of dipping, smearing and pickle crunching. Without a broiler, my raclette never became brown and bubbly, but it was still warming and scumptious when slathered over a crusty baguette and chased with tangy bites of cornichons, onions and apples. And since cheese and cider are such good pals, it was an ideal time to sample some Flag Hill Farm Sapsucker, a hard "cider beer" made in Vershire that's so dry it almost feels like drinking flannel. Alongside the molten cheese, the barely effervescent cider became rounder, with hints of orange peel, quince and biscuits. 

Raclette feels a little bit like eating deconstructed grilled cheese, but with a few Old World touches to keep it civil. Get it while it's hot, though; once it starts to harden, its appeal rapidly fades.

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