What’s a review of a cookbook without actually trying a few things from it? As I said before, I made the orange liqueur recipe within days of receiving the book (and enjoyed it) but I’ve just made the following, as well. The two main flavors are very prominant so I’d recommend this only if you really enjoy them. Based upon my system, this is an A for equipment, C for ingredients (citric acid is rarely available in stores), and A for technique for a B+ overall. If you can get your hands on the ingredients, though, it’s worth it.
Self-Carbonating Cinnamon Passionfruit Fizz
(based upon recipe from Zero by the Alinea Group)
Black Rice Stock
175 g Chinese black rice 1 L water 12.5g baking soda
Combine the water and black rice and sit overnight. The next day, strain the rice off and combine 500g of the liquid with the baking soda.
17g cinnamon sticks, coarsely crushed 170 g water
Toast cinnamon in a saucepan, add water, and boil for 20 minutes.
80g sugar 70g cinnamon stock 50 g passionfruit puree 7.5 g citric acid
Combine ingredients together well.
Pour one part of the passionfruit cocktail into a glass. Slowly add one part of the rice stock. The acid of the citric acid and citrus will react with the basic baking soda and foam satisfyingly.
Apologize for the large delay between the last post and this one. I’ve been busy preparing for the start of the Girl Scout year with my multi-level troop. Also got over whatever crud I had so am back to work full-time.
Equipment: Medium saucepan with lid, fine strainer – A Ingredients: Less common are French chicory (C), cinnamon sticks (B), angelica root (C), gentian root (C), anise seeds (B) – C Technique: Slightly burning sugar – B Overall: B
Equipment: Medium saucepan with lid, fine strainer – A Ingredients: Less common are verjus rouge (B), vanilla pods (B), dried figs and cherries (B), cinnamon sticks (B), gentian root (C), chamomile (B), cinchona bark (C) – C Technique: Slightly burning sugar – B Overall: B
Equipment: Sealer and sous vide OR saucepan with lid, fine mesh strainer – A Ingredients: Less common are vegetable glycerin (B), poblano (B, depending on your region), mastic (C), galangal (B, depending on your region), star anise (B), fennel pollen (C) – C Technique: Heating things up – A Overall: B+
Equipment: Saucepan with lid, fine strainer – A Ingredients: Less common are galangal (B, depending on your region), cane syrup (B), aloe vera leaf powder (C), gentian root (C), cinchona bark (C), green cardamom pods (B), saffron (B) – C Technique: Slightly burning sugar – B Overall: B
Bitter Liqueur (a la Campari)
Equipment: Saucepan with lid, fine strainer – A Ingredients: Less common are gentian root (C), cinnamon sticks (B), star anise (B), angelica root (C), whole cloves (B) – C Technique: A Overall: B+
Next time: We’ll go slightly out of order and I’ll share one of the recipes from the Modern Cocktails chapter that I’ve tried and love.
We continue with the back bar today with some common and som uncommon recipes.
Equipment: Saucepan with lid, peeler, fine strainer – A Ingredients: Less common are vanilla beans (B), Cacao nibs (B) and whole nutmeg (B) – B Technique: Caramelizing sugar is hardest part – B Overall: B
Equipment: Sealer/sous vide OR saucepan with lid, mesh strainer – A Ingredients: Less common are vegetable glycerin (B), gentian root (C), dried orange peel (B), star anise pods (B), green cardamom pods (B), cinchona bark (C), whole cloves (B) – C+ Technique: You have to crush the pods of star anise and cardamom which can be hard for some (B) Overall: B
Equipment: Saucepan with lid, fine strainer – A Ingredients: Less common are whole cloves (B), gentian root (C), star anise (B), dried orange peel (B), whole nutmeg (B), green cardamom pods (B), whole allspice (B), vanilla bean (B), dried sassafras or sarsaparilla root (C) – B- Technique: Semi-burning sugar is hardest part which I would surely screw up unless supervised – C Overall: C
Bitter Amaro (Inspired by Cynar)
(No, I have never heard of this, either.)
Equipment: Blender (B), shallow pan (A), fine strainer (A), saucepan with lid (A) – A- Ingredients: Less common are whole artichokes (B), gentian root (C), cinchona bark (C), angelica root (C) – C Technique: Sugar nearly-burning, pot swirling, several steps use descriptions rather than times for judging when complete – C Overall: C+
Equipment: Sheet tray, parchment or silicone baking mat, sharp knife, sealer and sous vide or saucepan with lid, fine strainer – B Ingredients: Less common are whole pineapple (B), fresh ginger (B), toasted oak chips (C, the chips are easy to get but you’ll have to have a way to toast them), black cardamom pods (B), whole allspice (B) – C+ Technique: Most difficult is cutting up pineapple bark (is it just me or will you have a LOT of chopped pineapple lying around if you make these recipes?) – B Overall: B-
Later this week: Finishing up the back bar section with Amaro, Sweet Vermouth, Herbal Liqueur (inspired by Chartreuse), Fernet, Bitter Liqueur (Inspired by Campari)
Zero breaks up the recipes into big categories: basic syrups (see last post), back bar (15 recipes), classic cocktails (13 recipes), modern cocktails (38 recipes), wines (15 recipes), and et cetera (11 recipes). I’m going to break these up in roughly groups of 5 so, well, I don’t have to take a ton of time writing up a given post.
The first big section is Back Bar – those basic liqueurs and other liquids the bar tender uses to make drinks. The stuff you use more than an ounce of in a given drink. This was one of the sections I was most excited about as NA beer and wine of good quality are easy to purchase but there are few making back bar alternatives outside of the more basic vodka, whiskey and tequila. But that’s another post.
Each recipe in the book starts with “In the style of….” which I’m not going to repeat below. Obviously none of the protections on geographic areas or ingredients have been followed. More inspired by.
Also, I’m including online ordering from Penzeys Spices in the B category for ingredients. They have fast shipping, cheaper-than-McCormick prices, and very high quality spices and dried herbs. If you cook often, you’ll easily be able to get an order together to qualify for free shipping. You may also be lucky enough to live near one of their brick and mortar locations and able to do contactless pickup. They don’t give me anything to point you their way, I’ve just loved their products for a dozen years.
Change to Grading Scheme
So, after some though, I decided to remove the “Sounds Good” category as, really, who am I to judge what others would like? Overall grades will now be a simple average of the equipment points of each category.
To see the grades of all recipes reviewed so far, open the Google Sheets here.
Equipment: Blender, fine strainer, sealer/sous vide OR saucepan, scale – B
Ingredients: Odder items are glycerin (B, stocked at Whole Foods), star anise (B, bigger grocery stores or Penzeys), juniper berries (B, bigger grocery stores or Penzeys), and angelica root (C, $10 online for culinary type) – averages to a B
Equipment: Oven, cookie sheet/sheet pan, parchment paper, sealer/sous vide OR sauce pan – A
Ingredients: Odder items are barley (C, homebrewer supply store), dried peaches and dried figs (B Trader Joe’s if you have one nearby), fenugreek seeds (B, Whole Foods), and vanilla bean (B, Whole Foods or Penzeys or sometimes in bulk from Costco but they are priceyyy), Oak chips (B, good hardware or BBQ supply store) – C
Note: Someone in an NA drinks group posted that they made this and it was quite minty right away. They recommended letting it sit for awhile before consuming it unless you want to use it in place of rum in a mojito.
Equipment: knife sharp enough to cut a pineapple, sealer/sous vide or saucepan – A
Ingredients: Odder ones are a whole pineapple (A-B, depending on season and how close to the Tropics you live), apricots (A if in season, you’re SOL otherwise), agave syrup (A), vanilla beans (B, see above), fresh bay leaves (C – unless you have a store/market that serves the Latinx community, you’ll need to look online) – averages to a B
Technique: hardest part is cutting up a whole pineapple which seems scary to me, though you only need the outside for this – B
Note: I made this myself and it is easy and quite tasty. If you live the vanilla bean in the mixture when it “cooks” it’ll be very vanilla. If you’re not as into vanilla, consider using just the seeds, half a bean, or a bit of vanilla extract.
Equipment: Sealer/sous vide OR large pot and Ziplock (look here for the water displacement trick for sealing a bag with as little air inside as possible) – A
Ingredients: Odder ones are whole cloves (B, Whole Foods or Penzeys), vanilla bean (B, see above) – B
Equipment: grill or gas burner (to char outside of a pineapple), sealer/sous ide or saucepan – B
Ingredients: Odder items are whole pineapple (B unless in Tropics), apricots (B in season), black cardamom pods (B – green are easier to find, Penzeys), Szechuan peppercorns (B – Whole Foods or Penzeys), Lapsang Souchong (C – smoked black tea, tea shop), fresh bay leaves (C, see note on Tequila recipe) – C+
Technique: De-bark pineapple, char said pineapple – C
Next time: Back Bar, Pt 2 with Spanish rum, two types of bitters, bitter amaro (Cynar), and Jamaican rum
The first two recipes in Zero aren’t particularly exciting, I’ll agree, but they are important. Offered are two syrups – simple syrup and demerara syrup – you can use in cocktails but also coffee and tea, especially the iced versions.
I won’t repeat what Mental Floss explained better in this post about what makes simple syrup simple. What I like best about it is that it’s so easy to make – heat up water, add sugar, stir to blend. Before you can make many of the drinks in the book, you’ll need simple syrup so you may as well whip up a batch and put it in the fridge to use later.
Quick tip: Label everything you have in a container in your fridge that’s not in its original packaging. Use painter’s tape.
We have three jars of what look like the same thing but one is sweet, one spicy, and one is bacon fat. Pigment doesn’t wear off painter’s tape, it’s easy to write on with a Sharpie or normal pen, and it pulls off easily without leaving residue. Just make sure you don’t buy the dark blue kind as it’s hard to read.
To see the grades of all recipes reviewed so far, open the Google Sheets here.
Equipment: Bowl, spoon, kitchen scale – A
Ingredients: Sugar, water – A
Technique: Weighing ingredients, stirring – A+
Sounds Good: It’s sugar melted into water, who wouldn’t like that? Okay, that person who decided to use the quarantine to give up sugar. – A
Equipment: saucepan, spoon, kitchen scale – A
Ingredients: demerara sugar (a bigger basic grocery store would have it but you may have to shop around), water – B
I’m an engineer and I can’t help but approach my review as I would an engineering task. What’s the problem? The book is expensive and on one know if it’s worth it. And, for some reason, folks have decided I can figure that out. How will we know when we’re done? Well, that one is pretty easy. Once I’ve got through every recipe and weighed it against some criteria of “worth,” I can make a judgement. How will we measure that the solution solves the problem? Measurement, oh, measurement. Always fun to debate. I’ve lost more arguments in technical meetings over how we’ll decide something is “good” than I can count. (Also lost many about definitions of so-called “common” terms but that’s a topic for another time.)
What Makes a Cookbook Worth Buying
For some people, cookbooks are about fantasy. They show us a glimpse into the kitchen at a fancy restaurant or into the Barefoot Contessa’s house in the Hamptons. It’s not a life we’ll likely ever had, but we could. It lets us dream. Maybe this is why you’d buy Zero, for the idea of it. If that’s the case, do your own evaluation as I don’t live in your head nor you in mine. What I find to be my ideal is very different from yours.
For some people, cookbooks are about inspiration. You flip through and maybe you make a recipe or two, but mostly it inspires you to do more. Bake more bread. Try out your Nana’s recipe for meatballs. Eat outdoors. It’s a jumping off point for things already on your “someday” list – or adds to it. It inspired me to try more things in the kitchen, as the non-cook in my family. Heck, I even used the sous vide for something other than making cold brew or setting it up for my husband to make something. Again, I can’t help you decide if this will inspire you or not. Your head != my head. (It’s weird in there, full of Disney lyrics and a childhood fear off the vacuum cleaner.)
For some people, the cookbook is about the recipes. You buy the book to actually make things from it and eat/drink them. That’s how I’m approaching the book. Do I want to and can I easily get the stuff to make the recipes?
Each recipe will be graded on the following:
Does a typical person already own all they needed? (Rating of A)
Do you have to buy a few investment items to make these things? (Rating of B)
Does only a very well-equipped home kitchen have these things? (Full disclosure: My household falls into the last category.) (Rating of C)
Go to an average grocery store – using Publix Supermarket for comparison but think your typical Giant, Safeway, King Sooper (Rating of A)
Go to a better grocery store – using Whole Foods for comparison (Rating of B)
Go online – unless you live in a town with a ton of specialty stores, you’ll need to jump online for this (Rating of C)
Anyone can do it – think someone who has made things like boxed mac and cheese and has to Google what “spatchcock” means (after giggling) (Rating of A+)
I can do it – okay, so you don’t know me, probably. I don’t like to cook but have basic knife skills, can bake things that are just mix and pour, can make a roast chicken with the “cover in butter and herbs and cook to temperature” technique. If you’ve ever successfully made a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, you are me. (Rating of A)
My husband can do it – He loves to cook and has been doing it for years. He’s the type to make bread from scratch to use to make stuffing from scratch for Thanksgiving. We own over 500 cookbooks. (Rating of B)
Only my neighbor could do it – He’s an Art Institute-trained chef who now works on the Operations side of things but, again, trained chef. (Rating of C)
Sounds Good Factor
Good to almost everyone – Ask ten people (who like cocktails) on the street if something sounds good, and you’ll get 8 or 9 affirmatives. (Rating of A)
Good to the not-very-picky – I hate vinegar and asparagus and mushrooms so consider myself a picky eater. I’d not be in this category. Think odd but not extremely odd ingredients for cocktails. (Rating of B)
Good to the adventurous – If you try things like Parmesan gelato or the world’s hottest salsa, you’re in this category. Nothing scares you when it comes to food except foodborne pathogens. (Rating of C)
We’ll use the good ‘ole letter grade to GPA translation (A+ = 4.5, A = 4, B = 3, C = 2) to get a number score then do a weighted average as follows:
Final score = (Equipment + Ingredients + Technique + 2 x Sounds Good) / 5
Once I get to the end of the book, I’ll tally up all the scores and come up with a master Worth Buying the Book (WBTB for short, ’cause engineering LIVES for acronyms) score. And, yes, I’ll probably make up a Google Sheets of the ratings for those with no attention span / my fellow data-lovers.
Tomorrow: The first two recipes to whet our appetites. You may even run off and make them right after reading.
A few weeks ago, Matt puchased me a copy of Zero: A New Approach to Non-Alcoholic Cocktails from a Facebook ad. I can no longer have alcohol for medical reasons and tend to stick to NA beer or wine or the sort of thing a kid orders. The book offers to make my drink choices larger while still having the taste of a “normal” cocktail.
The book has come up in several NA beer groups on Facebook, with everyone speculating about complicated the recipes are. Do you have to hit up Whole Foods and buy things from the ‘Net to make just about anything? Do you have to have a giant chef’s kitchen full of specialty equipment and tools?
Really, their question is “Should I pay the high price to buy this book?”
I’m currently home for some time due to COVID-19 symptoms and figured this was a good a time as any to tackle a review. I’ll be tackling this question over a series of posts as I’m easily worn out and need to take frequent breaks.
January is tricky. It seems to last forever, with its cold weather and 31 days. And yet, I’m surprised it’s already February. Tricky.
It’s been awhile since I’ve stopped by for an update and all the usual things are to blame. Lots of activities competing for time. Not feeling like writing. It’s not honoring my commitment to myself to blog weekly. All is not lost. It’s a new month (and a new week) so time to refocus.
I am usually a small project knitter, wanting to work on something for a week, finish it up, and move on. (It also makes it easier to bring a WIP with me everywhere when it fits in a small drawstring bag.) Unless I’m on a trip, I don’t tend to work on anything with more than one cake/ball or maybe two small cakes/balls. The last few weeks, though, I’ve only made significant progress on larger projects and I find myself looking to start projects with that same size and time commitment to finish.
Lots of little project have been picked up, had a few rows or maybe an inch knit, and put aside again. I feel a bit of guilt over not making progress on the socks I began for my boss last summer and the vanilla socks that don’t even have a recipient in mind (but the next two pairs I’ll make after them do). The hat (bottom) is a new start for Lizzie in gifted baby alpaca and the cowl (top right) is a WIP I keep misplacing.
Yes, Portage is finally done, nearly after a year after I cast on. I started with the Portage (https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/portage-4) pattern but switched out the cables on the back for a simple knit/purl 3×3 rib which shifts every row. I’m not great with cables and wasn’t sure I’d have enough yarn to add the extra length the recipient requested.
I’ve been promised better photos of the sweater being worn but didn’t want to delay posting about the FO until I got them from her (ahem, RR).
FO: Bay’s Edge
I started this project because, well, I liked the pattern and the yarn combination. It sat for a bit, waiting for inspiration to strike. Apparently, the only inspiration I needed to work it was a recipient. Once I’ve had a chance to block this, it’ll be on its way to a high school friend of Matt’s who recently lost her husband to brain cancer.
I knit the pattern as written with the exception of some, uh, intentional design modifications. I’ll certainly be making more of these when I pick up another Miss Babs Yummy 2-Ply Toes gradient set (plus a coordinating neutral). Maybe at Maryland Sheep and Wool in May? (I’m actually in town this year for it! Third time in 11 years!)
A cold has been my nemesis this week. It knocked me on my behind on Tuesday with fatigue and a very sore throat, disappeared for a bit, then knocked down again the last 24 hours with fatigue, sinus pressure, and a runny nose. When I’ve not been napping or playing connect-three games on my phone, I’ve been working on a blanket from my stash of Spud & Chloe Sweater. I’m making it up as a go and am not even sure how large it’ll get. It’ll be done when I run out of yarn. I have three skeins of the raspberry color, one of navy, and one white. I may take out the navy and replace it with white as it’s all very dark right now. May even break my yarn fast to get more of the white.
Several of my 20 for 2020 goals focused around adopting healthy habits. My big goal is to get to a healthy BMI by the end of the year, with small goals like “run a 5K” and “walk 20 minutes a day.” I had a solid week of keeping up with things – bringing healthier lunches to work, joining Orange Theory and going 3x that week, recommitting to counting WW points. Then, let’s be honest, I let things slide. Just wasn’t choosing to do the preparation needed to make healthy choices easier and went back to my stagnant, always-eating self. Being sick wasn’t made it easy but I could have focused on healthy food choices while letting my body rest.
Thankfully, all is not lost. I can (and will!) re-start tomorrow. My plan to meditate daily in February will slid to March (so daily yoga moves to April) and I’ll delay a plan start to 5K training until I’m done with the cold. But! I will prep healthy lunches and move as much as my body will let me.
When we were thinking about the transition from summer through fall to winter, we had our usual conversations. Chance to make those meals with winter squash and long cooking times. Maybe pick out a house project or two for especially cold or snow days. Really, though, I never expected anything but the smallest of projects to get done.
Then last weekend happened. We went to Home Depot Friday night and picked out a new vanity, faucet, and fixtures. While I was at a friend’s house, Matt pulled out the old vanity and replaced the grout between our tile and tub – put in by an inept professional before we moved in – with caulk. By the time we went to bed that night, the vanity, sink, and faucet were in. The next day, we picked out new paint (Lunar Surface from Behr) and painted.
We still have work to do. Fix places where we didn’t apply enough paint, install the new mirror/medicine cabinet combo, towel bar, hand towel ring, and toilet paper holder. Soon, though, I’ll share before and after photos. You’ll have to imagine a small, half-done bathroom refresh.
Yes, I’m back. I’ve taken an assessment of all that I have going on in my life and decided that blogging can fit in. A few things got taken off my plate to accommodate it (regular letter-writing, most notably) and I’m pretty confident I’ll be sticking with this for awhile. So, let’s get going, shall we?
Life of Lizzie
This week, she picked up a habit of saying, “Get it?” Except she’s not using the typical application of saying it after a joke that didn’t land well, but for just about any declarative statement. “I had a Popsicle today. Get it?” “I want to wear this dress today. Get it?” Once I figured out it didn’t mean she had tried to make a joke, it made everything make much more sense.
The non-allowance allowance experiment continues. This last week, we owed her two week’s worth, $8, and she decided to spend it on the fish-catching came that I remember from when I was a kid. Turns out, it’s pretty hard for her so she quickly forbid Matt and I from playing and chose to play it by herself for quite awhile the day she got it. I need to encourage her to try again so she doesn’t forget about it entirely. Maybe we’ll even be allowed to play with her again.
On Thursday night, I took her out for a special “date” so she could have extra time with me before I was gone for the weekend. (More on that later.) The original plan was to wander around the toy section at Target then go to Chick-fil-a. We did wander Target very, very slowly. After she got her game, she insisted we get 1) Cheerios – “they’re for the weekend” and 2) crazy-shaped Annie’s boxed mac and cheese. I will admit I pushed her to the mac and cheese rather than going out as I’d had Chick-fil-a for lunch and it was going to start pouring soon.
(Yeah, that’s her feet under a toilet stall door. She does this anytime I need to do my thing, to make sure she stays close. Very literal interpretation of “I need to be able to see your feet.” I try not to think about the fact she’s got her face pressed up against the door.)
On the Needles
Most of my week was spent knitting – then pulling out and re-knitting the Campside shawl from Alicia Plummer in Berroco Ultra Wool DK in the Heather colorway. More about what happened with the first attempt in a bit. The second attempt is going really well and I’ve only got the final pattern of eyelets then the ribbed border to go. This will be given to a coworker who enjoys a muted color palette – and is opening her house to our team to watch Spaceballs next Friday.
I’ve also made a tiny bit of progress on the Vestigial socks in Neighborhood Fiber Company Studio Sock in the Parkland colorway. I like the pattern plenty but haven’t been in much of a sock mood. These will be my on-the-go project next week so I can make some real progress towards completion. The recipient lives here so obvious doesn’t need them for quite awhile but I hate having something hanging over me like this. (I’ll post a pic next week.)
Adventures and Discoveries
Yesterday, we went to DC for the first time in months to see a special exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. Lizzie was very impatient on the walk from Archives to the museum but happily walked through the exhibit with Matt on Dutch paintings of watercraft. (I stayed in the courtyard and knit on the socks in peace.) We were all very hungry at that point, so we went to b DC, a burger place. Lizzie didn’t eat almost any of her mac and cheese, but Matt and I really enjoyed our burgers and sides (tater tots for me, truffle fries for him). She really wanted to see the butterfly exhibit at the National History Museum but the line to get in was, no kidding, two blocks long. Guess everyone else was happy to finally be out of the house, too. Amd, you know, tourists. We promised her we’d get back to see them in the fall. I, of course, was too busy sweating and avoiding people to take any photos.
Oye. Ugh. Sigh.
Several things didn’t go so great this week.
My trip to Cleveland for a friend’s baby shower got cancelled due to a traffic control issue and no available flights that would get me there in time. I got a refund and immediately spent the money on a new watch and sock yarn from Miss Babs. Thankfully, I found out hours before I went to the airport and the United folks were great in trying to help me fix things.
It rained almost all week. Lots and lots and lots of rain. The immediate issues of cabin fever, getting soaked, and needing to carry an umbrella everywhere were easily dealt with. Harder was the water that came into our basement and wet our carpet when the outside drain was clogged with dirt. Thankfully, our cleaning lady discovered it after a few hours so we were able to unclog the drain, get the water up with a shop vac, and finish drying it out with a fan pretty quickly.
And I pulled a very Angela move at one point and left my badge inside my work area when I went out of it to use the restroom. Thankfully, someone was coming out very soon after who went and got my badge from my desk for me. I almost never take the thing off, too.
A Better Me
This was week two of my combination Weight Watchers restart and gluten, dairy, and soy elimination diet. Almost no headaches, at last! No real signs of improvement, health-wise but it’s only two weeks in. Lost 3.6 pounds since last Sunday. Had some issues actually eating enough points; turns out most of my points before were eating all the cheese and bread. This whole thing resulted in a few great culinary discoveries: almond-milk lattes, spicy eggplant dip, rediscovery of yumminess of Mojo chicken on the grill, Wegmans chicken tortilla soup.
My parents are visiting and wanted to spend some time with Lizzie by themselves. We took the chance to enjoy a slower trip to our favorite farmer’s market. We wandered through, bought some meat and veggies and fruit (and I picked up a bag of decaf coffee). It was the perfect, relaxing start to what became a very busy day of shopping and a visit to a local Spring festival.
Does your town/city have a farmer’s market? Is it year-round or seasonal? What sort of things are sold there?