Friday, March 15, 2013

gin z'herbes

it's almost 5 on a friday here and after the week we've had in casa livingawesomely, it's not strange that one's thoughts turn to cocktails. 

this one could be celebratory or sorrow-drowning, which not-coincidentally makes it perfect for a week of ups and downs in which i finally got a job (!) and our darling pug maeby had to have emergency surgery to remove the felt furniture floor-protector thing she appears to have eaten (dogs will eat the stupidest things, honestly).

luckily she's fine (staples and sad-face aside), the job will help pay for her $$$ surgery, and i don't start til monday so i can be home with her for a few days as she recuperates. i'm also extremely lucky in that the job is basically my dream position and i will be able to do a lot of good for the community while putting my legal training to good use. so, overall we're ending the week on a high note.

i'm also a bit surprised to note that the ol' herb garden is still going strong. i haven't been doing a lot of cooking over the past couple of days while the pup was in the hospital, so i've been craving green things and freshness. we already had some gin in the freezer and simple syrup (1:1 sugar:water, boil, let cool) in the fridge, so making this was a snap.

i wanted this to be extra-herby and i like a little salad in my drinks, so i just muddled mint (a couple of sprigs each of chocolate mint and orange mint), mexican tarragon, pineapple sage  basil and italian parsley in the glass with about 1 tablespoon of simple syrup. it was maybe 1/4 cup total herbs, not packed down. you can of course use whatever you have handy, but i like a mix of at least a couple of things so you get the variety of flavors - some savory, some less so.

then just add some gin (more or less a shot, depending on your week!) and fill the rest of the glass with sparkling water. you could also use tonic instead, and leave out the simple syrup. but i really like not having other flavors (like bitter quinine) getting in the way of all those herbs. you could also muddle and then strain out the leaves, but as i said, i like the swampy gardeny aspect of it and i enjoy eating the different leaves as i come across them. as ever, go with your lights.

so cheers to everyone surviving this week and let's all cross our fingers that next week and the weeks after that give us some more normal old boring wonderful times to be grateful for.

*ingredients* (roughly)
1/4 cup mixed fresh herbs - mints, thyme, parsley, cilantro, basil, sage - whatever you've got
1-howevermanyyouneed shot(s) gin
1 tablespoon (or to taste) simple syrup
sparkling water to fill the glass

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

ginger chocolate pear bread cake

i was initially going to introduce some punctuation into the title of this post, but in fact i actually think of this as if it was all one word, like GingerChocolatePearBreadCake, so i decided to leave it punctuation-free. 

it's dangerous, though, if you already don't really use capital letters as you ought and then you start flouting the rules of punctuation. you could go off the rails really quickly, is what i'm saying. but. BUT. i was almost an english minor, so it's like one of those "learn the rules so you can break 'em" things. 

or not.

pears and i have a moderately complex relationship. i kind of dig fake pear flavoring (though it's uncommon to find in candies, etc., i like it when i do) and my favorite kind of skyr when i went to iceland was pear-flavored. too often when i buy pears, though, they start out hard, enjoy a brief 30 second interlude of flavor/texture perfection, and promptly melt into the crisper drawer.

that's essentially what happened with these pears mike bought, but i found them before they were quite destroyed and decided to put them to use in a sweet quick bread. there aren't a lot of pear bread recipes out there, but i found this one and modified it to my mental image of the pear bread-cake i sought.

to that end - chocolate. also much more pear and ginger, including a hefty dose of finely grated fresh ginger. nuts would be a good addition, too, but we didn't have any because we used the last of the pecans for the beet and blue cheese salad (aka Beets of the Southern Wild) we made for this year's oscar pun dinner (see previous offerings, Midnight in Pears and Precious: Based on the Liquor Gin by Bombay Sapphire, whose recipe has sadly been lost to the mists of glorious memory).

the great thing about quick breads is how quick they are (!). the main work involved in this is the messy (for me) peeling and cutting-up of the very-soft-at-this-point pears. as shown above, just cut them in half after peeling, get the core out, and chop them thinly one way and then the other. you don't have to be overly fastidious about this - they kind of meld with the rest of the bread anyway.

other than that, it's a typical one-to-one-and-1/2-bowl affair - the wet ingredients (including sugar. sugar usually counts as wet in baking) get mixed together and then you add the dry ingredients. probably the best thing would be to mix the dry ingredients separately and then add them, but i'm congenitally unable to dirty more dishes than necessary, so i always mix the leaveners in the measuring cup with part of the flour, add that, add the rest of the flour, and mix everything gently together. then fold in the pear and the chocolate. i used some dark chocolate discs, but you could also cut up a bar or use some chocolate chips.

i buttered the loaf pan (9"x5") and made a little liner out of parchment paper. you don't necessarily have to do this, but the paper or a liner of aluminum foil will make the bread easier to remove from the pan later. a stitch in time, etc.

then just bake it for 45-50 minutes or so, turning it around mid-way through. i let it cool in the pan for awhile before taking it out, which was a good move because this stuff is super moist (though not dense!) and it really wanted to fall apart at first. once it cooled down, though, it made for a rich, gingery afternoon treat that stayed lushly soft for several days. it's particularly good with a strong cup of tea, but would also work as a more dessert-y course with a scoop of ice cream.

ginger chocolate pear bread cake
(heavily adapted from this ginger pear bread recipe)

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 packed teaspoon grated fresh ginger (i used a microplane over a cup to make sure to catch all of the ginger juice, which contributes a lot of flavor)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon

1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten

mix separately, then add
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

fold in
2 cups peeled, cored, and chopped pears

1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate

bake at 325 (although i actually started at 350 and turned it down to 325 after 10 minutes or so) for 45 minutes or until a toasty golden brown

listening to: yo la tengo