If you’ve been around A Sweet Spoonful for awhile, you already know a few things: 1) I like strong drinks and 2) I don’t often accept freebies or do giveaways on the site. With this next post, one of those things has changed. While I just don’t see the relevance or need for plastic batter bowls that store batter in the handle (what?!), towels specially designed to sop up red wine, or acid-resistant bud vases (hmmm)–I do see the need and relevance for vodka. So when the kind folks over at SKYY vodka wrote to me to introduce their new Ginger infused vodka, I told them to send one on over. Quickly. It’s been a tough few months.
In thinking about how I wanted to mix it, I kept thinking how great it would be to pair it with fresh lime juice and mint. I didn’t add any sweetener because, in addition to liking strong drinks, I dislike syrupy sweet ones. So if this has a bit too much of an edge for you, add a dash of simple syrup. But honestly, I think you’ll like it. It screams outdoor patios and freshly mowed lawns. There’s a drink out there called the Moscow Mule, which is basically vodka, fresh lime juice, and a few glugs of ginger beer. My recipe is in the same family but it’s more like the Stiff Mule: we’re not messing around here. I think I’ll call it that.
O.k., now onto the snacks because, I don’t know about you, but when you start mixing up cocktails, there needs to be a little something to much on. My mom recently bought this incredible narrative cookbook called Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. Have you seen it? It’s written by Martha Hall Foose and in it she details her experiences living in the South and some of the traditional (and not so traditional) recipes she’s come to love from the Mississippi Delta. In all honesty, I haven’t come across a cookbook I’ve been this excited about in a very long time. So I dove right in this afternoon with recipe that looked like it’d pair well with the Stiff Mule: Martha’s Yazoo Cheese Straws. Legend has it that Mary Margaret Yerger began her cheese straw business modestly. Now, 79 years old, they pump out 3,000 pounds of straws a day. That’s a lot of cheddar, my friends. The recipe is flawless. I did make a few adaptations, mixing in a bit of white cheddar and sprinkling sesame seeds on top for a little extra crunch.
Have a great weekend. I’ll be working, but hopefully you’re doing something outside or in the kitchen or creative or new. Cheers to whatever it is you’re up to, and cheers to stiff drinks and delightfully salty snacks.
This recipe asks that you let the cheese come to room temperature before combining it with the butter because the dough will be much smoother. And if you don’t have a cookie press lying around, just form the dough into 2-inch round logs and chill until firm. Then slice into 1/8-inch thick disks and proceed with directions from there.
Slightly adapted from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Prepare a cookie press with the star attachment or an another narrow attachment of your choosing.
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the cheese, butter, salt, pepper, and dash of hot sauce by pulsing until well blended. Then add the flour and pulse until a ball of dough forms. Press long strips of the dough 1 inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheets (I used a Silpat just to be safe). Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges just barely begin to brown.
Remove the cheese straws and let cool completely. Break in half if you’d like (not all of the sesame seeds end up sticking). Store in an air-tight container.
Muddle the mint in a little glass with a pinch of sugar and a few drops of water. Then add to the cocktail shaker along with the other ingredients, shake vigorously, and pour into glass. Garnish with a few sprigs of chopped mint.
Early Fall Baking
Last weekend we went apple picking up near Yakima, a good three hours east of Seattle. We drove over to Harmony Orchards with our friends Brandi and John and met up with many other groups and families to amble about the rows and rows of apples in the unusually warm sun. We missed the annual picking last year as we were on our honeymoon, but the previous year was the one in which we made the colossal mistake of picking over 70 pounds of apples. I've never made so much applesauce in my life. This year we practiced restraint in bringing home a cool 38 pounds and after getting them all situated in the basement, I started to leaf through a few cookbooks looking for a great apple recipe -- something, preferably, that used quite a few apples, wasn't too sweet and could double as breakfast or dessert (really, the best kind of recipe). And that's exactly what we have in these Custardy Apple Squares.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.
I rarely make muffins at home and never order one when I'm out and about as I find they're often far too sweet and never truly that satisfying. I realize, too, in looking back at my cookbook that there's only one muffin recipe throughout. Case in point: I'm tentative on muffins. But not these. We've been pretty thrilled to have this healthier version of Morning Glory muffins on the counter this week; they have little bits of apple, raisins, walnuts, and grated carrot and are cloaked in a buttery oat crumble topping -- quite the opposite of your boring coffeeshop fare. I thought long and hard about doing a Valentine's post, some festive cookie or confection that would be share-worthy this weekend, but the more we talked about what our weekend would really look like, it involved something special for breakfast instead. I don't remember the last time a Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday, so we have big plans to have breakfast in bed and if your plans are even remotely similar, these muffins would be a fine inclusion.
I generally work on weekends. It's something I've come to terms with only because I know it won't last forever. I write. I bake. But those two things don't always pay the bills, so I work retail on the weekends and dream of the day when I'll have a Sunday like this one: