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Bite Club: Vermont's Food & Drink Blog


July 26, 2013

Grazing: Blueberry Tom Collins

Blueberry_collinsFloat the idea of a gin cocktail when you're out with friends, and some might wince. "I hate that stuff!" a coworker told me just yesterday with a shudder.

I've never understood this. For me, gin is the (alcoholic) essence of summer — vegetal, herbaceous and gently creeping into my shoulders after one or two sips. Contrary to the maxim, gin has never made me cry — though perhaps I've never drunk enough of it.

Gin also loves citrus. Enter the Tom Collins. This exquisitely simple gin recipe was supposedly born in the late 1800s at the hands of a London bartender who blended the then-ubiquitous Old Tom gin into a refreshing mixture with sugar, lemon juice and fizzy water.

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July 19, 2013

Grazing: Raspberries Everywhere — And How Not To Bake A Raspberry Tart

Now that the rains have rolled away, we're left with blinding heat and a surfeit of berries. Well, not strawberries, which suffered through our wet spring and whose season is over anyway. Raspberry and blueberry bushes are drooping with fruit (a picking list is below) — including at Poverty Lane Orchards, which is just down the street from me and where I picked some earlier this week. In a sunny field given over entirely to raspberries, there was fruit in every state of being — hard and coral colored, bright red and sweet, and some berries so dark and ripe that they were melting on the bush. I watched a toddler sit down in he grass and eat his family's entire harvest when they weren't looking. It was a raspberry idyll.

With a pile of berries on my counter, I resolved to bake — never a good idea for me — and tried to decide between a simple French-style tart or the more cake-like English model. I looked in cookbooks, at websites and blogs, and even called a cousin. Since I hate following recipes to the letter — and hence, am an awful baker — I combined the finer points of all of those recipes in my head for (what I thought would be) the perfect raspberry-peach-almond tart. 

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July 15, 2013

Grazing: The Happy Marriage of Vodka and Lemon Verbena

Lemon_verbenaCocktail writer Warren Bobrow uses the term "gartending" to describe the practice of using seasonal ingredients in cocktails. This is certainly my preferred method of mixing drinks, at least in the summer: Walk out the back door, grab a handful of thyme/basil/sage/mint/berries from the garden, them combine them into something simple, bright and delicious.

This no fuss, little muss, late afternoon method of cocktail-making doesn't always yield perfect results, but with ingredients grown yourself — or picked up at the farmers' market — the drinks are always scrumptious and fresh.

A loved one recently gifted me with a curly, fragrant lemon verbena plant, which I stuck in the ground of my kitchen garden. Though she suggested that I make tea with the leaves, the plant hasn't grown enough quite yet to cut it down for tea. A few sprigs for a cocktail? Well, yeah, that might work.

Lemon verbena is intensely, gorgeously fragrant, and a lemon verbena simple syrup — made by tossing a handful of lemon verbena leaves into a mix of equal parts sugar and water, then heating it until the sugar dissolves and then letting it cool — is a fairy-like elixir. As serendipity would have it, a few weeks after planting my lemon verbena, I also became the new owner of a bottle of is SILO Vodka from Windsor, distilled from local rye and so, so gently sweet and smooth.

Together, these things make lemony magic: SILO vodka, some lemon verbena simple, a spritz of fresh lemon juice and a splash of St. Germain (which someone I know recently called "MSG for bartenders.") 

The Lemon (Verbena) Drop

2 ounces vodka, such as SILO vodka
1/5 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon verbena simple syrup*
1/2 ounce St. Germain
Sprig of lemon verbena, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup. Shake until chilled, and then strain into a cocktail glass. (You can also pour this over ice and top with soda for a spritzer). Pour St. Germain over the top, garnish with lemon verbena, and serve.

July 7, 2013

Grazing: The Best Maple Creemee?

It's been so sticky these last few days that I've hardly been able to think straight. To stay cool, I've jumped in a lake (twice), showered twice a day and consumed Stracciatella gelato, Salted Caramel Pretzel frozen yogurt, strawberries with crème fraiche, guava sorbet and several glasses of rosé.

Another sure-fire way to cool down is to take a long ride in an air-conditioned car, especially if it's to obtain more frozen dessert. Today, that meant a 30-minute trek to the roadside stop on Route 107 just outside Bethel, Tozier's Restaurant. One side of this 60-year-old gem is a sit-down dining room where you can down Cobb salads, onion rings and Reubens; the other is a takeout window serving up plates of fried clams and ice cream, which people eat at a few picnic tables nearby. Almost any time from April to October, dozens of cars are parked in front and across the street.

Toziers2It was at Tozier's that I had my first creemee epiphany: When I interviewed owner Bill Campbell, a few years ago, he was rolling his own waffle cones. As I left, he filled one with maple creemee for me to take on the road. It was so monstrous that I thought I surely wouldn't finish it all.

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June 21, 2013

Grazing: Rabbit, Rabbit Everywhere?

At first, I thought it was just me. Lots of places — Italian, French, 'nouveau Vermont,' whatever — seemed to suddenly have a rabbit dish on the menu. Braised rabbit. Fried rabbit. Oatmeal-crusted rabbit with mustard demi-glacé and guajillo-rosemary aïoli (at the Inn at Shelburne Farms, though I didn't get to try that).

Was rabbit creeping onto menus with stealth...and butter? I asked fellow food writer Alice Levitt if she'd noticed anything. "Juniper has it in hazelnut gastrique with a flaming sprig of juniper. El Cortijo has had a ton of it lately in salads and tacos. I had it at Hen of the Wood in the pasta dish I wrote about this week," she says.

Happily, the rabbit wave is not an illusion. I've had a long kitchen love affair with rabbits (as well as those who hunt them): a longtime boyfriend of mine used to shoot them in the English fields with his air gun, then skin them outside our door. I'd stew them with mustard, garlic, cream and rosemary, then spoon the whole thing over egg noodles. Even if he didn't tote home dinner, rabbit was easy to find at the grocery store, where the low-fat meat is something of a staple. Here in Vermont, I was thrilled when I met a woman at a party who raised and sold rabbits on the down-low. I got a steady supply from her — that is, until she moved away a few summers ago.

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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 31, 2013

Grazing: House-Brewed 'Heifer-Wisen' (With a View) at Whetstone Station

Whetstone1A deck overlooking the Connecticut River. A glass of house-brewed hefewiezen. Some mahi-mahi tacos. Blinding sun. These things defined my last May afternoon.

Brattleboro's Whetstone Station Restaurant & Brewery opened just about a year ago, but since Brattleboro is at the opposite end of the state from Burlington, I hadn't yet made it — until today, a 90-degree scorcher that feels more like late July.

Fortunately, Whetstone has a breezy deck — two, in fact — with plum views of the Connecticut River, which resembles an estuary here. On May 6, Whetstone finally began brewing its own beer in a cozy brewhouse just off the main dining room. The bar taps one of these at a time, and the first — a pale ale called SMaSH Pilot Batch #1 — apparently kicked pretty quickly.

Lucky for me, today brought another fresh beer: Heifer-Wisen, so named for Brattleboro's Strolling of the Heifers, which takes place next weekend. Brewed on May 20 using organic malt from Valley Malt of Hadley, Mass., and New York-grown hops, Heifer-Wisen flows "unfiltered, unpasteurized, and served straight from the fermenter," as the menu says.

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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 17, 2013

Grazing: Waitin' On A Plane at the BTV Skinny Pancake

Foodnews-skinnyThis post probably appears just above one from earlier this week announcing that the Skinny Pancake on Burlington's Lake Street will double in size by July. Does that mean that the third Skinny Pancake — the much-anticipated one at Burlington Airport, which opened just over two months ago — is already old hat?

Not for me. Without plans to fly anywhere, this rustic-looking kiosk remained off limits from behind a wall of TSA glass. With some local craft brews on tap, a cocktail menu that draws heavily on local spirits, and a section of the menu devoted to crêpe-less dishes — panini, a Vermont Salumi sandwich, even a burger — I was curious about what I couldn't have.

Until this Wednesday, when I was booked on a flight to DC. I arrived at the airport early to get my Skinny Pancake on.

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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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