I'm not usually a fan of brown liquor. But add some cream and vanilla and a hint of caramel and I'm in.
Blame it on Tina Conte McPherson, of Primo and Mary's Salsa, for getting me hooked on Black Button Distilling's Bespoke Bourbon Cream.
Black Button is a craft distillery (with tasting room) located a stone's throw from Rochester's Public Market and Rohrbach Brewing Company. Its products include gin, vodka, whiskey, bourbon and moonshine (corn whiskey), made in small batches from local grain. It even makes a limited-edition lilac gin, in honor of Rochester's famous lilacs and Lilac Festival.
Black Button sets up shop each month at the Winter Farmers Market at Baltimore Woods Nature Center, in Marcellus. In January, the Black Button display was next door to Primo and Mary's Salsa stand. "Try the bourbon cream... it's so good,'' Tina said, gesturing to her neighbor.
He poured a small sample. It's creamy and sweet (not overly) and rich -- an easy stand-in for Bailey's Irish Cream in coffee and delicious on its own. I had budgeted $20 for market purchases and had to think about spending $33 on a bottle of booze.
"You're worth it,'' I told myself. "Besides,'' I rationalized, "It's local. Or almost local.''
The first time I served the bourbon cream, I poured it in small sipping glasses, like those you'd use for sherry or port, and served it room temperature. Since then, I've been adding ice to the glass, pouring the bourbon cream over the ice and giving it a swirl. It's excellent that way -- an indulgent, adults-only mini milkshake for dessert.
I haven't tried it in coffee yet, but that's just a matter of time. It also would make an excellent "adult" iced coffee or coffee smoothie. For March birthdays and St. Patrick's Day, I've made chocolate cupcakes and frosted them with Bailey's-infused buttercream icing -- there's no reason the bourbon cream liqueur can't stand in for the famous Irish whiskey cream liqueur.
I'm looking forward to a Rochester road trip and visit to Black Button Distilling some day soon. In addition to the Winter Farmers Market at Baltimore Woods, you can find Black Button products at stores like Vinomania and Harbor View Wines and Liquors in Syracuse and Liquor City in DeWitt, according to the distillery website.
Albany has a Penzeys. Buffalo has a Penzeys. West Nyack has a Penzeys. Long Island has a Penzeys.
Syracuse? No Penzeys!
Penzeys Spices is an upscale retailer of spices, based in Wauwatosa, WI. It has 67 retail outlets in 29 states, as well as online and mail-order shopping -- which is a good thing, since we here in Syracuse are completely Penzeys-deprived!!!
I've been ordering from Penzeys online for years -- the quality of their spices is excellent and their prices are reasonable. Orders over $30 are shipped for free and I love how they include a sample-size spice or seasoning with orders. Last month, it was a thrill to FINALLY visit a Penzeys store in person (Crossgates Mall; Albany). The store SMELLS great -- it's packed with more than 250 spices and seasonings -- and the staff is very friendly and helpful.
On returning home and unwrapping my haul, I contacted Penzeys to advocate for a Penzeys store in Central New York and received this reply.
"While there are no specific plans for the next round of new Penzeys stores,'' wrote Penzeys' Margie Gibbons, "I'm happy to pass on your interest for a store closer to you.''
So, if you want to pile in the car and make a Penzeys run to Buffalo or Albany, give me a shout.
A Few of My Favorite Things from Penzeys:
Double Strength Madagascar Pure Vanilla Extract: Double the vanilla love in baked goods and desserts. Each bottle of extract contains a vanilla bean to fish out -- or to transfer to the next bottle for steeping.
Vanilla Sugar: Great for decorating Christmas cookies -- and to add to hot cocoa.
Pizza Spice: A hand-mixed combination of salt, Indian fennel seed, Turkish oregano leaf and powder, sugar, garlic, Tellicherry black pepper, sweet California basil, white onion, crushed red pepper and cayenne red pepper powder. Sprinkle it on homemade pizza and in omelets.
Vietnamese Extra Fancy Cinnamon: It's extra strong and flavorful, too. "The highest quality, strongest cinnamon available in America today,'' according to Penzeys.
Cocoa Powders: Natural cocoa is great for baking. The Dutch Process cocoa powder makes excellent hot cocoa and hot fudge sauce.
Penzeys Spice Packages: Boxes like nine-jar Baker's Box ($70), which contains two kinds of cinnamon, Dutch Blue poppy seeds, ginger powder, lemon zest, Dutch cocoa, ground cloves, ground cardamom and Double-strength pure vanilla extract, make memorable gifts.
Quality cooking deserves high-quality spices. Add Penzeys to your Christmas wish list or treat yourself today.
Chicken Soup for the Soul? Sure, that’s fine. But truth is, in winter, any kind of soup is good for the soul – especially if it’s homemade.
So far this winter, we’ve stirred up pots of Black Bean Soup With Cumin, My Favorite Lentil Soup and Curried Cream-less Broccoli soup, all from “Jane Brody’s Good Food Book’’; Kale and Potato Soup from Alice Waters’ “The Art of Simple Food’’; Beef Minestrone Soup from Wegmans Menu magazine; Vegetarian Minestrone Soup from “St. Basil’s Celebration of California’s Cuisines’’; and Pasta e Fagiole a la Mary Anne Esposito, to name a few.
Mary Kiernan, a chef and instructor at Syracuse University, shared with me her recipe for Chorba Ras el Hanout, a hearty vegetable soup made with the Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout, for a feature that will appear in the March-April issue of Central New York (The Good Life) Magazine. March will still be soup season. I can’t wait to try it.
Why soup? It’s warming, satisfying and comforting, and fills the kitchen with savory aromas. It can take a lot of chop-chop, but once you get into the rhythm of it, it’s no chore.
Soup is inexpensive to make, often uses what you already have on hand and provides multiple servings. Leftovers make a great lunch – or lunches.
Way better than Campbell’s or Progresso. Mmmm Mmmm good! And good for you.
Curried Cream-less Broccoli Soup
Adapted from “Jane Brody’s Good Food Book’’
You will need:
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil (or a combination)
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon curry powder
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 2/3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 bunch broccoli, including the stems, cut into flowerets and ½- inch slices (about 1 pound)
1 large potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch slices
1 cup milk
In a large saucepan, heat oil/melt butter. Saute onion for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook briefly. Add the curry and pepper and stir. Add the broth and water to the pan, bringing the soup to a boil. Add the broccoli and potato. When the mixture returns to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer until all the vegetable are tender (about 20 minutes).
Puree the soup using with a stick blender (or in a food processor or blender. Return puree to pan, stir in milk, and cook over low heat until hot. Do not boil soup once milk has been added.
Makes 6 servings. The recipe doubles easily. You might want to make it ahead, to allow the flavors to meld.
I have many favorite Christmas moments each year: listening to my favorite holiday CD, Chuck Leavell's "What's In That Bag?'' once again; pulling Aunt Anne's handmade ceramic tree with tiny lights out of its box and plugging it in; seeing Bailey's giddy reaction to fresh fallen snow; driving around town, usually with Mom, to see some of the spectacular light displays people go to great lengths to stage at their homes.
No matter how busy things get, the holiday season wouldn't be complete without a trip to Hercules Candy Co., in the village of East Syracuse, to pick up some homemade candy canes for gift- giving and personal enjoyment.
The candy canes cost 85 cents each and come in three minty-fresh flavors: wintergreen, spearmint and peppermint.
I'm partial to the wintergreen, but they're all delicious.
The canes also come in raspberry and root beer flavors. I haven't tried those. Yet.
In this day and age, when you can pick up a box of dozen candy canes for $1 or less at Walgreens or Wal-Mart, candy-making the way it's done at Hercules is fast becoming a lost art.
Hercules owners Steve and Terry Andrianos twist their candy canes and delicate, brightly colored ribbon candy the old-fashioned way: by hand.
No machinery, other than a stove, is used to make their chocolates, filled chocolates, chocolate-covered potato chips, peanut brittle, mint bark and other specialties. Chocolate and other ingredients are purchased directly from the producer. Nuts are roasted on site.
White chocolate and milk chocolate Rudolphs, $2.99 each, with red nose, of course.
The couple are the third generation of the Andrianos family to make candy in East Syracuse. The shop was originally on West Manlius Street, the main drag, but moved to the family home on West Heman Street during the Great Depression.
Steve Andrianos started making candy when he was 12, learning from his parents and grandfather, and always dreamed of running the business. He has done so since 1977, and turned it into a year-round operation in the late 1980s, thanks to the addition of an air conditioning system.
If you stop in to pick up some candy this holiday season -- and you absolutely positively must -- ask if anyone is making candy. You may be invited downstairs to have a look at works in progress. Group tours are available, but must be arranged in advance.
Filled chocolates, ready to be boxed.
Hercules Candy Co. is at 209 W. Heman St., off Kinne Street, in East Syracuse. From Thanksgiving to Easter, the store is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 463-4339.
It looks like thickened heavy cream, and it is, but with a tangy twist.
It's creme fraiche, one of our favorite things to have on hand in the refrigerator.
Creme fraiche can be used as a garnish for soups and as a topping for baked potatoes. You can spoon it on fruits, like berries. It has a rich and creamy consistency, and it won't break down if you stir it into sauces.
I've read that you can use it as a filling for crepes, dollop it on pancakes and waffles and stir it into salad dressings, but I've never tried it in any of those ways. I do know it works well on warm scones, along with a smear of jam.
Mostly, we use it as a garnish for pureed soups -- both for eye appeal and flavor.
You can spend a lot of money for a teeny-tiny jar of imported creme fraiche at Wegmans. You'll find it in the gourmet section, alongside the European butters and cheeses.
We bought it once, until we got smart and decided to make our own.
"The Food Lover's Companion'' suggests making creme fraiche by combining one cup heavy cream and two tablespoons buttermilk in a glass container and letting it sit, at room temperature, until thickened. In winter (and in our drafty house!) this can take up to 24 hours. Refrigerate the creme fraiche and it thickens further and will keep for maybe 5 days.
Lately, we've been making creme fraiche with one part (1 cup or half a cup) heavy cream and one part (1 cup or half a cup) of sour cream, which, unlike buttermilk, we tend to always have on hand.
Combine the cream and sour cream in a glass bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until very thick. This can take several hours or many hours (overnight). When thickened, give it a stir and transfer it to a jar with a lid and refrigerate.
Creme fraiche seems to get a little more tangy as it ages. The last time we made it with heavy cream and sour cream, it stayed thick and fresh for more than a week.
That's a great rate of return for not very much work.
This is the first of an occasional series on my favorite foodie things.The Thanksgiving table is so laden with good things to eat -- turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, salads, cranberry sauce, cranberry bread, pumpkin bread, dinner rolls -- that another traditional accompaniment to the feast, pureed squash, sometimes gets overlooked.
Here's a way to give locally grown winter squash, so abundant and inexpensive this time of year -- and so flavorful! -- a starring role at any meal.
The recipe is adapted from "The New Basics Cookbook,'' by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, which probably should get its own "favorite things'' post. For years now, it has been a go-to for great ideas and recipes and answers to cooking questions.
Roasted Squash Soup
You will need:
4 winter squash, about 8 pounds total (try a combination of butternut, buttercup and acorn)
1 stick butter or margarine (it does add depth of flavor, but you can use less)
8 teaspoons dark brown sugar
3 carrots, peeled and halved
1 large onion thinly, sliced
10 cups chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 teaspoon ground mace
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut squash in half lengthwise (this can be the most difficult part of making this soup) and scoop out all the seeds and as much of the stringy fibers holding the seeds as you can.
Place squash halves skin-side down in a large, shallow roasting pan. Place 1 tablespoon butter (half a tablespoon works, too) and 1 teaspoon brown sugar in the cavity of each squash half. Arrange carrots and sliced onion around and on top of squash. Pour 2 cups of broth in pan, cover the pan tightly and roast squash for 2 hours.
Remove pan from oven and let the squash cool enough so you can handle it.
Scoop squash flesh out of skins and into a large soup pot. Add remaining vegetables and cooking liquid. Add remaining 8 cups broth plus mace, ginger, cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
Using an immersion (stick) blender, puree the soup until smooth. If it seems too thick, add some heated broth, a little at a time, until puree is of a consistency you like.
Serve the soup with a spoonful of sour cream, if you have it, and a sprinkling of fresh parsley, chives or chopped scallions.
Bonus: You will have plenty of leftovers for lunch or other subsequent meals! The recipe makes 12 or more servings and the soup freezes well.
Note:We like this soup topped with a dollop of creme fraiche, another favorite foodie thing. More on that in my next post.