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.
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 always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
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.