An awful lot of stuff happened this year. Nothing truly bad, but it’s been a struggle to keep up — a lot of unexpected home repairs and a really big investment in dance event organizing and more to do at work than average — and the result was no time at all to post on the FoodNerd.
Sorry about that. I imagine you’ve all gone off by now and given up on me, and I couldn’t blame you. But if you have me in your RSS reader or otherwise stumble back across me, welcome back.
The most recent kitchen adventures have been related to the winter holidays: ajil and milk punch.
Ajil is an Iranian trail mix that is made and eaten on the winter solstice night, when people stay up all night to ward away evil. I found the recipe in a recent issue of Saveur, and it sounded awfully good. I thought it might make a nice hostess gift for people on our trip to LA. So I went to the Armenian markets in Watertown to see if I could dig up the necessary ingredients. No one seemed to know what I was talking about when I asked for sugar-coated slivered almonds, but at the last store I found them on my own, in a huge display of every kind of candy or dried fruit you could imagine. They had dried mulberries too, which look just awful, like dusty old stuff swept out from under the fridge, but they taste pretty good so don’t be alarmed by their appearance. The salted whole pumpkin seeds are wonderful if you treat them like a salt lick, but I can’t work out any method for actually extracting the seed, so I punted and just used shelled pepitas instead. I also altered the recipe by adding in some shelled pistachios along with the ones in the shell. Roasted chickpeas are kind of bland and dusty-tasting on their own, but they are a nice element in the mix of stronger-flavored nuts and fruits. The end result is quite delicious, and very pretty with the greens, golds and browns punctuated with tiny flecks of bright white.
1 cup roast salted pumpkin seeds
1 cup whole salted pistachios
1 cup whole salted pistachios in shell
1 cup sugar coated, rose-water flavored slivered almonds (noghl)
2/3 cup dried mulberries
1/2 cup roast unsalted almonds
1/2 cup dried salted chickpeas
1/2 golden raisins
1/2 cup dried currants
8 mission figs
8 turkish figs
Milk punch is a historical drink with roots in the 1700s. I first had it at Backbar in Union Square, where it was a crystal clear, sweet, bright thing with strong notes of clove. It was so delicious and unusual that I wanted to try making some myself for a party, so I googled recipes. Nothing sounded quite like Backbar’s version, so I made up my own recipe.
I started with Basil Hayden, just because bourbon is delicious and I had some in the house. I used zest of 2 lemons and 1 satsuma mandarin, plus 1 cinnamon stick, 6 allspice and 4 cloves, plus a grating of nutmeg and a spent vanilla bean husk. The zest and spices are heated in a quarter-cup of the bourbon just to boiling, then poured back into the bottle and left for 48 hours, shaking occasionally.
Then you strain the infused liquor into a big bowl or pitcher, ideally something with a pouring spout, and add 1.25 cups fresh lemon juice and 1.25 cups rich simple syrup. Then scald 2 cups whole milk just under boiling point, and add it to the booze/citrus mix. It will curdle right away, but let it sit about an hour.
Then strain through cheesecloth or muslin. Then strain it again through a coffee filter. If you can, strain again through another coffee filter to get it as clear as possible. Pour it into clean bottles and keep it in the fridge, if you can keep people away from it long enough to have some to store. Your 750 mL bottle of bourbon will double in volume, so you’ll want another empty liquor bottle to store the other half of your batch.
This came out a pale yellowish-brown, and quite tasty in a lemony holiday-spice sort of way. The bourbon flavor comes through, but even people who don’t care much for bourbon have enjoyed this: the sweetness, smooth mouthfeel, and spice give it a wide appeal. I’m guessing Backbar used a vodka base, and less citrus juice, or perhaps they just have an industrial strength filtration method that gets theirs so clear. In any case, the method rewards experimentation and swapping of ingredients to your personal taste. I’ve just started a second batch with the same recipe, but with peel of 3 lemons and no satsuma, and a splash of vanilla extract, since I lack both oranges and spent vanilla beans at the moment. There’s also a few lovely options using gin and other flavor profiles from Randy Wong, whose basic method I pilfered.
We made a cheesecake from the leftover boozy-spiced curds, which aside from a grainier texture than we’d prefer was really rather delicious. I recommend it if you can’t bear to toss out the filtered curds. The pair make a nice combination for a party or potluck, as they do taste good together.