You can't make everything from scratch

...but you can sure try!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fun with grenades

Grenade: Baie ronde de la grosseur d'une orange, à saveur aigrelette, renfermant de nombreux pépins entourés d'une pulpe rouge

Grenadine: Sirop fait du jus de grenade ou imitant le sirop de grenade

(Source: Petit Robert)

Sometimes, relationships that are clear in one language are obscure in another. For example, I never used to know what grenadine was made of. The ingredient lists on most commercial grenadines offer no insight, since they contain no fundamental differences from, say, the ingredient list on a bottle of soda.

In French, however, the connection is clear: the root of grenadine is grenade, which, in English, is a pomegranate. Hence greandine's red colour, which experience suggests is its only distinguishing feature. The definition of grenadine given above also underscores another point, however. It defines grenadine as a "syrup made from pomegranate juice or imitating pomegranate syrup." And imitating is the key word here, since, again, most commercial grenadines have never even been in the same room as a pomegranate.

As my husband will tell you (probably while sighing and rolling his eyes), I've been on a cocktail kick recently. One standard ingredient I make for cocktails is simple syrup. At its most basic (I'm tempted to say, at its "simplest"), simple syrup is just equal parts of sugar and water, mixed (and often heated) to dissolve the sugar. The resulting syrup is then used to sweeten cocktails without leaving a film of grit in the bottom of your glass. When I made my most recent batch, I wanted to store it in a capped squeeze bottle in the fridge. The only such item available in the local hardware store was a pair of bottles, one yellow, one red, intended to be used for mustard and ketchup. "Hmm," I thought to myself as I poured the simple syrup into the yellow bottle, "What can I put in the red one?"

Then one day, it hit me. I could make my own grenadine -- real grenadine, made from pomegranates! At its most basic, grenadine is just simple syrup, with pomegranate juice in place of the water. There are a number of variations: many recipes suggest adding some vodka or neutral spirits as a preservative, and some recipes suggest reducing the pomegranate juice by half before mixing the sugar in. I followed the most complicated approach, reducing the juice by half, heating to dissolve the sugar, and adding a tablespoon of vodka as a preservative.

You can find pomegranate juice at most major grocery stores these days, thanks to the rising popularity of pomegranates as a source of antioxidants. So there's really no excuse for using commercial grenadine. Just make sure the juice you buy is 100% real pomegranate juice; otherwise, you may as well just use the commercial kind, since it has a longer shelf life. (There are also a number of real-pomegranate commercial grenadines on the market. Fee Brothers' American Beauty grenadine is one. I've ordered a bottle of it, and am curious to see how it will stack up.)

There are lots of cocktails that call for the red syrup; The Internet Cocktail Database lists 538 of them. One that's recently gotten my attention (and is currently sitting on my desk) is the El Floridita. It's sort of like a fancy Daiquiri, but with a hint of chocolate and a nice red colour. You can learn more about it at The Spirit World blog.

El Floridita
1 1/2 ounces white rum
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 teaspoon white crème de cacao
1/2 teaspoon grenadine

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake hard. Strain into a chilled martini glass.


Monday, October 02, 2006

A dilly of a pickle

Dill pickles
Generally, I'm not much of a home canner. I know that it's a great way to do the whole "eat local" thing through the long, cold winter (see, for instance, this post on Accidental Hedonist), but there's something about the whole process of sterilizing jars, filling them, and sealing them properly that always strikes me as being too much effort. Especially when I lack the space to store large numbers of jars, full or empty.

However, a craving for good kosher dills and a trip to the Dieppe Market a few weeks ago means that I now have my first-ever bottle of homemade dill pickles in the fridge.

The recipe I used comes from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's Charcuterie, a book that I can't praise highly enough, even though I've barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer. (To see some of the more impressive projects from the book, check out this thread on eGullet.) In the book, Ruhlman and Polcyn put pickles in the section on brined foods, which I've written about before.

The closest thing I've made to pickles in the past is Moroccan preserved lemons, which I make fairly regularly (and will make more of, once I reclaim my lemon jar from the blueberry-infused vodka that's currently in it). I also tried making some Japanese daikon pickles last winter. They were pretty tasty, but there were only so many I could eat, and my husband didn't have a taste for them, so I ended up disposing of a good part of the jar, something that it pains me immensely to do.

Fortunately, home canning is the one culinary endeavour that seems to be popular in my little corner of the country (as my downstairs neighbour, who very graciously offers me some of his own home-canned pickles and fruit from time to time, will attest). Consequently, supplies for it are quite easily available; it was no trouble finding dill seed, pickling spice or coarse pickling salt, though the fresh dill required a short trip to a neighbouring town.

So how did they taste? Fairly dilly, though I found the pickling spice I used to be a little overpowering, contributing too much allspice flavour to the mix. Next time, I might try making the picking spice mix in the book, rather than using a commercial mix. In a real testament to the quality of the cukes that went into the jar, the pickles were very crunchy and - the biggest surprise - had a distinct cucumber flavour, which is like nothing I've ever tasted in a commercial pickle. In the end, they weren't quite the kosher dill experience I'd been looking for. To get that, I think I'll have to use the recipe for "The Natural Pickle" on page 69 of Charcuterie, which calls for them to be fermented at room temperature (but no more than 23 degrees Celsius) in a 5-per-cent salt solution for 7 days. Or maybe I'll just buy a jar of Strub's.

Oh, and if you recognize it, please ignore the label on my re-purposed jar. Those name-brand kosher dills, while not bad, decidedly did not satisfy my craving for kosher dills, which is why I turned to homemade. Frankly, I found the jar's original contents preternaturally crunchy.

Sorry, no recipe this time. If you really want it, you can find it on page 71 of Charcuterie, which you can get from your local bookstore or library.