24 July, 2014

Ke Tla Bo Bana (See You Later)

We're up to our knees in boxes and suitcases. The boxes are for everything that's going into storage for the next year; the suitcases are for everything that we're taking with us to Africa. I'll let you in on a little secret: I hate packing. I also hate unpacking. Whether it's for a move or a vacation, I can't stand to pack, re-pack, unpack, or do anything else packing-related.


Moving makes it even worse. Not only are we packing, but we have to worry about security deposits, turning off utilities, changing our address, mail forwarding, etc. Plus, we're not just moving, we're moving abroad. Not surprisingly, that means there's a whole list of additional things we have to do like make a stack passport photos for visas and residency permits, get international driver licenses, figure out what to do with cell phones and car insurance, open accounts with international transaction-friendly banks, get all of our tax information in order 9 months early, file powers of attorney, go to the doctor and dentist, stock up on a year's worth of prescriptions and travel meds (and I'm not just talking malaria-prophylaxis and Immodium-antibiotic cocktails for traveler's diarrhea. Look up the indications for Praziquantel and Albendazole for a quick parasitology lesson), sell or store vehicles, rent storage space, schedule movers, the list goes on and on.

That's the part that isn't fun. The fun part (if you like a challenge in the kitchen) is using up everything and anything you can. I think C takes the cake for creativity. One afternoon he brought me lunch at work. I was expecting sandwiches (let's be honest, I was expecting Jimmy John's). What he brought was a large tupperware of pasta: rotini and angel hair, marinara, sausage, and oriental frozen veggie mix. I was skeptical but I can't pretend that it wasn't delicious. A few weeks ago, he made a spicy, veggie pasta using homemade chipotle salsa as a sauce base because it's all we had. I don't know where he comes up with this stuff but it's impressive. The most impressive "dump" food I made was Black and White Cake from Clinton Street Baking Co. Cookbook that I made to use up pumpkin, buttermilk, brown sugar, powdered sugar, a thing of cocoa powder, cream, butter, and dark chocolate chips. (This cake was super moist chocolate cake frosted with cream cheese frosting and glazed with chocolate ganache. People were pretty excited about it!)

As if we weren't busy enough with packing and preparing for our "trip," my birthday popped up just 4 days before take-off (and not coincidentally it will pop up again as we repatriate next July). By the time my birthday rolled around, I had already packed up all of my kitchen stuff except my Kitchen Aid, a cooling wrack, a spatula, and a tube pan. This year I decided on Angel Food Cake with whipped coconut cream. I can't pretend that the whipped coconut cream was a good idea. It was so disgusting that I was gagging and had to scrape it all off. I replaced the whipped cream with Cherry Garcia ice cream and all was well again, until I had to say goodbye to our kitties as C set off to drive them to a friend's house in Chicago where they will be staying for the upcoming year. (I keep expecting to find someone sleeping in my suitcase, wrinkling and fuzzing all of my clothes, but nope. They're gone.)

Saying goodbye to C and the cats was when it finally started to sink in--we're moving to Africa! We'll arrive in our new home on Monday and spend a few days running errands (buying pre-paid electricity, re-titling our vehicle, buying groceries and other essentials, and who knows what else) before we each start our jobs. The city is currently experiencing both electricity and water shortages, so we've been warned of scheduled load-shedding but unscheduled water shut-offs. We're expecting a lot of candlelit dinners cooked over the grill in our backyard, out of necessity not because we're romantics!

I can't predict when I'll be writing again because let's be honest, I can't predict anything that's going to happen in my life after today! That's overwhelmingly terrifying but exciting. I've always been a planner, though it's time to adapt to a hakuna matata lifestyle. Though the locals won't be speaking Swahili, hakuna matata is very much in their vocabulary. So is ke tla bo bana, see you later!

17 July, 2014

Szechuan Pepper (and a lesson in moderation)

I love spicy food. That's a semi-new thing. As a kid, I shunned all things peppery, for which  I blame my dad. One evening, he was gnawing on a banana pepper while driving me home from After School Clubs. He offered me a bite and promised that it was sweet and not spicy. Either he lied or I got the only spicy bite on the pepper. I was in tears and had to open the gallon jug of water that happened to be in the car. I not only suffered the burn but also the pain that comes with a having an overfull bladder on a bumpy road.

Tolerance to spicy food is either something that comes with age or with experience. My guess is the later because my Indian friends tell me that they don't tone down their cooking for their children (we're talking 3-5 year-olds) and the kids do just fine.

Luckily, my tolerance increased before I studied abroad in Mexico. After that, I don't think I enjoyed many meals that weren't spicy. There was at least one month in college where the only two foods I ate were chipotle chili and black bean tacos topped with serrano pepper pico de gallo. I can't cook for my mom anymore because what I think she should be able to tolerate is not what she can tolerate. (We recently had a little trouble with a bowl of pho. In my defense, I only added a tiny little squirt of Sriracha and a few slices of jalapeño.) I've recently discovered Tabasco's chipotle pepper sauce and it's really revolutionized the way I make quesadillas and breakfast tacos.

Eventually I learned that Mexican food isn't the only spicy food that exists. When I lived in St. Louis, I went to a barbecue hosted by one of my Chinese American professors, Dr. Yu. In true American style, he grilled hamburgers, but alongside the buns and condiments was a full spread of Chinese takeout. I tried a bite of everything but kept gravitating back to one dish. It was a chicken dish prepared with intact dried red peppers. It was spicy and I couldn't get enough.

In my search to discover what I ate at that barbecue, I came across this beautiful photo of a dish called la zi ji or chicken with chiles. I found a recipe for it here and I convinced C to make it for me. The dish calls for two teaspoons of szechuan pepper. Lo and behold, it's really hard to find Szechuan pepper in Houston. Thankfully our Chinese American roommate recently took C on a tour of Chinatown, so C knew just where to go. We went to one of the Asian grocery stores and found the Szechuan peppers after a thorough investigation of the new-to-us fruits and vegetables we passed on the way to the dried foods section.

The Szechuan (pronounced "sih-tron" kind of like in citronella) pepper isn't actually a peppercorn. It's a berry from a plant in the citrus family. It has a floral taste, makes your tongue numb (especially if you bite into one), and leaves a sort-of-pleasant lingering heat. Add a little for flavor, for if you add too much, you won't be able to taste or feel anything until the numbing effect wears off. Be warned.

As C was preparing the la zi ji for dinner, I heard him yell. A few minutes later, he popped his head into the bedroom and reported that chiles japoneses are extremely hot and shouldn't be eaten whole. Shortly thereafter, he served the la zi ji over rice. After just a few bites, he put it down and reported that it was too spicy to enjoy. I was doing ok. The flavor was good but it was numbingly hot (as our roommate had warned us). Eventually I added sour cream to mine to make it more palatable. The sour cream did not complement the dish in the least, but it did make it more comfortable.

After biting into my third Szechuan (I was picking around them fairly well), my mouth was thoroughly numb and I was salivating at an alarming rate. That's when I called it quits. I asked C if he followed the recipe. He got this sheepish look. "Sort of. I tasted it as I was going and it wasn't very hot so I added a little more Szechuan pepper." By "a little more Szechuan pepper" I'm pretty sure he meant a few tablespoons more than the two teaspoons the recipe called for. There was about 1/2 cup of leftovers and I counted 12 Szechuan peppers in my bowl after I picked out all of the ones I could easily find (at least a tablespoon worth).

Now, heed my warnings. If you decide you want to buy Szechuan peppers, head to your local Asian market. Do not pay the exorbitant prices online (we paid around $3 for 4 ounces). We found them between the bulk spices and the dried peppers. There were three nearly identical packages that had either green, orange, or red plastic packaging. C chose orange, hoping that it was the "medium" heat variety. Apparently he thought we were buying salsa. I know that the green signified "green szechuan pepper" but the only difference between orange and red was the volume (yet not the price). Suspicious. Do note that it's also called "Prickly Ash" and might not be labeled as Szechuan pepper. Through the packaging, you should see clusters of three little, red, split-open balls about the size of peppercorns. Once you have them, be sure to use them with a light hand.

10 July, 2014

Cherry Almond Crumble Pie

Fourth of July sparklers

"Is apple pie Fourth of July-sie?" asked my friend Christie.
"Of course!" I responded, "It's the classic American pie!"

That's all it took for Christie to decide that she was making her famous Apple Crumble Pie for a 4th of July potluck. Her pie is "famous" because it's the reason her husband married her (or so he claims). I guess I should feel lucky that Christie was already married by the time that C had the chance to try her apple pie! (It's really good.) Since Christie was making apple pie, I offered to make a cherry pie.

I first made cherry pie for 4th of July in 2012. The juicy, red filling against the slightly browned crust seemed patriotic. It just needed a few blueberries for a burst of blue. The crumble topping was delicious and made mostly of oats and shredded coconut. This year, I wanted to change it up. I used the same technique for the cherry filling but I used sweet cherries and decreased the sugar. The major change was the flavor. In addition to cherry, I wanted to add almond.

I owe the idea to a Blueberry Almond Streusel Galette. I first made the galette with blueberries, then again with a combination of blueberries and cherries, and then, upon C's request, with cherries alone. There was no contest: the cherry version was our favorite. A galette didn't seem nearly as American as pie, so I decided to put the galette filling into a pie pan. The streusel topping called for crumbled almond paste, so I had a fair bit on hand. To use up the almond paste, I decided to mix it into cream cheese for a cream cheese layer under the cherry filling. Oh, and I cut out stars from the extra pie dough to give the pie a little patriotic flair!

Objective
Make a cherry pie similar to my 4th of July Cherry Pie, but flavored with almond paste.

Materials
Pie crust:
1 cup + 2 tbsp. whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
dash salt
5 tbsp. butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 tbsp. shortening, cut into cubes
1/4  cup milk (give or take)

Cream cheese filling:
3 oz. almond paste, grated
1 tbsp. sugar
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Cherry filling:
16 oz. sweet cherries (if frozen, thaw and save juice)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 cup of cherry juice (+ water if needed)

Crumble topping:
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup almonds, finely chopped
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. almond paste, grated
2 tbsp. butter

Methods
1. Prepare the dough for pie crust: In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, salt, butter, and shortening a few times until the mixture becomes pea-sized crumbs. With the food processor running, slowly stream in the milk, only adding enough to bring the dough together (it should be crumbly and there will be a little bit of unincorporated flour). Pour the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and, using the plastic wrap, gather the dough into a ball and knead a few time to incorporate any loose flour. Flatten into a disk, wrap, and refrigerate for about 45 minutes before assembling the pie.

2. Make the crumble topping: Stir together the flour, rolled oats, ground almonds, and brown sugar. Use your fingers to rub in the butter and almond paste until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Refrigerate until you're ready to assemble the pie.

3. Make the cream cheese filling: blend together the almond paste and sugar (use a food processor if you have one). Add the cream cheese, egg yolk, and vanilla. Blend until smooth. Refrigerate until you're ready to assemble the pie.

4. Make the cherry filling: In a medium saucepan, whisk together the cherry juice/water and cornstarch. Add the sugar and cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly. Add the cherries and continue to cook for 5 minutes.

5. Assemble the pie: Roll out the pie crust to fit a 9 or 9.5" pie plate. Lay the crust in the pie plate and crimp the edges however you desire. Next, spread the cream cheese filling over the bottom of the crust. Pour the cherry filling over the cream cheese layer. Sprinkle the crumble topping over the rest of the pie. Place on an a baking sheet to catch any drips while baking.

6. Bake the pie at 400º for 40 minutes. After 20 minutes, tent the pie with foil, turn the temperature down to 350º, and continue baking for 20 more minutes. Move to a wire rack and cool completely before serving.

Results
Yum! Almond flavored, thin layer of cherry filling and delicious crumble topping. This is the perfect excuse to use frozen or canned cherries because you're making it into a jammy filling.

Discussion and Future Directions
The long ingredients list suggests that this is a challenging and laborious pie. It's certainly not as easy as dumping cherry filling into a pie crust and baking it, but it's definitely easier than making a lattice top!

The cream cheese is a nice way to break up the almond paste and improve the texture. It becomes a smooth, cheesecake-like layer (though it's very thin and just there for flavor, not texture). You could double or triple the cream cheese layer for more of a cheesecake pie. You could eliminate the cream cheese layer altogether and double the cherry filling for a traditional, deeper-dish cherry pie. You could skip the crumble topping and layer 50 stars over the top for an even more stunning display! If you prefer double-crusted pies, double the crust recipe, lay a round over the top of the filling and make slits. Perhaps a star? Maybe some sort of flag pattern? The sky is the limit!

This is the pie to make if you love almond flavor. If you prefer cherry alone, give my 4th of July Cherry Pie a try! If you have local, fresh, perfectly ripe cherries, I would opt for the 4th of July Cherry Pie instead of the Cherry Almond Crumble Pie because it would give the cherries a chance to be the star. Here, the cherries and almond share the stage.

Supplementary Materials





03 July, 2014

Ranch Road Roasters (Fredericksburg, TX)

Fredericksburg, Texas is a small town at the eastern edge of Hill Country. It's about 80 miles west of Austin and 70 miles south of the "Heart of Texas." Like many small towns in Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is known for its peaches, lavender, and wine. The Convention and Visitors Bureau boasts that the town has German heritage with Texan hospitality, which highlights the main things that set Fredericksburg apart from the other small towns in Hill Country: German food and beer. As soon as you arrive at the edge of town, you're greeted with a "Willkommen" sign. As you proceed down Main Street, you come across a number of restaurants and touristy shops named "Das [insert principle product] Haus."

Along with our good friends The Brown Family, we went on a weekend getaway to Fredericksburg. We rented a cute little chalet on a property east of town along Barons Creek. On Friday night, we stopped at a brewing company for beer flights and then a German restaurant for dinner. After dinner, we soaked in the hot tub and marveled at the stars we aren't able to see in Houston. We woke up early on Saturday and made a quick stop at the Old German Bakery on our way to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. It was perfectly cloudy and windy, a winning combination for a delightful hike (see the photos below).

After our hike, we ate the dessert pastries leftover from breakfast and headed back to town for lunch. On our way to a local burger joint, we passed a coffee shop. After lunch we stopped for coffee so that C could fuel up before chauffeuring us around the rest of the afternoon (we went to two wine tastings, one at Becker Vineyards and the other at Six Shooter Cellars [talk about two completely different atmospheres! Uff da!]).

The coffee shop was called Ranch Road Roasters. We tried two of the three "signature drinks" on the menu. First, C ordered the double espresso with a lime twist (unfortunately I don't remember the name). Obviously I noted the lime infusion, but the first thing I noticed was that that coffee was smooth and not bitter. It was the first espresso I've ever enjoyed. Upon further investigation, I discovered that RRR sources their beans from two places: Costa Rica and Antigua, Guatemala. Antigua! It's possible that we've had the same beans before just roasted at the plantation in Antigua! (I've told you about our trip to Guatemala, but I can't believe I never wrote about our trips to the coffee plantations and our favorite coffee shop! Now I'll have to tell you more about our trip!)

Next, the boys each ordered a Farm-to-Market Latte, which is made with honey, vanilla, and whole milk. Though as a group we only ordered two, we should have ordered four! As soon as C tasted his, he said "I better drink this quickly because I know it will be gone as soon as Abby tries it." Doc Brown and I both claim we don't drink coffee (she doesn't like hot drinks but will drink iced coffee and I don't like the flavor), yet we both drank a significant portion of our husband's/boyfriend's lattes. Mr. Brown described the flavor as "marshmallow." The foam at the top definitely reminded me of marshmallow, but more delicious and less sweet (in a good way).

The one special that we didn't try was the Mocha, and based on the description on RRR's Facebook page, we definitely missed out! It appears to be made with fudge from the fudge factory down the street. Fudge? In my coffee? I could get on board with that!

At breakfast on Sunday morning, I asked everyone what their favorite meal in Fredericksburg was. Without thinking twice, Doc Brown shouted out "The coffee!" All whole-heartedly agreed! Our last stop in town was at RRR for more lattes. We were a bit heartbroken when we discovered that they are closed on Sundays! We easily would have waited an hour for a noon opening, but it wasn't feasible to hang around until Monday morning. If we ever find ourselves in Fredericksburg again, you'd better believe that Ranch Road Roasters will be our first stop in town!


Pictures from Enchanted Rock State Natural Area:





26 June, 2014

Banana and Zucchini Muffins

Remember when I ate 30 different veges in 30 days and vowed to post more recipes with vegetables? No, you probably don't because you're probably here for the brownies and  ice cream. Me too. Unfortunately being healthy is important and balancing the food groups is key to a healthy diet. That's why today's vegetable (and fruit) recipe takes the shape of a muffin!

While cleaning out the freezer, I found 1/2 cup of shredded zucchini that got shredded and frozen just in the nick of time (meaning that it was probably too squishy for anything else but not yet moldy). "Bring on the zucchini bread!" I thought, only to realize that zucchini bread, zucchini cake, and zucchini blondies all require more zucchini than I had on hand. It seemed counter-productive to have to go to the grocery store to acquire more zucchini in order to salvage that measly 1/2 cup. I could have made zucchini cupcakes, but I wasn't feeling chocolate.

Meanwhile, in the fruit bowl sat a bunch of very sad looking bananas. Three of them became SoNo Baking Co. Cookbook's Banana Cream Tart. (You can find a copy of the recipe here.) The rest needed to be frozen or baked into something delicious, and since we are moving abroad in 30 days (um, exactly 30 days from now… what!), they certainly weren't going into the freezer. Enter: Banana Zucchini Muffins. Why? Because there is no such thing as "not enough zucchini" or "too many bananas." Zucchini is the gift that keeps on giving and banana is the fruit that's better to forget about until it's black and squishy. Paring them together is just plain thrifty, not to mention delicious.

Objective
Make banana zucchini muffins with [mostly] whole grains. Adapted from Taste of Home's Zucchini Banana Bread.

Materials
Dry:
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon flaxseed meal
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Wet:
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 egg
1/4 cup olive oil (light in flavor)
1/2 cup banana, mashed (about 2 small bananas)
1/2 cup zucchini, shredded

Optional:
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Methods
1. Preheat the oven to 325º. Prepare a muffin pan by lining with paper cups or greasing (or place silicone muffin cups on a baking sheet) and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry. Do not over mix, stir only until the ingredients are incorporated. Fold in the walnuts (if using).
3. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Fill the muffin cups 3/4 full.
4. Bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack, then flip out of the muffin pan.

Makes 10 small muffins.

Results
Incredibly moist, soft, and healthy? Ok that last part is stretching it. Best within 24 hours or they get sticky to the touch from all the moisture.

Discussion and Future Directions
When C got home from call, the first thing he did was walk into the kitchen and stuff an entire muffin into his mouth. "What do you think?" I asked. His response was a muffin-muffled, "Good!" I wasn't sure he could actually breathe, and since taste requires smell and smell requires breathing, I wasn't convinced. However, a few hours later when he woke up from his post-call nap, his eyes lit up. "Muffins!" he remembered, then walked into the kitchen and returned with three. He proceeded to butter them and eat them slowly. This time I believed him when he told me they were good.

22 June, 2014

Rhubarb Cocktails (Review)

People are often impressed that I can bake.  Remember the yellow cake I made for one of my ESL students' 60th birthday? "You made this? Wow!" said the birthday girl after she realized that it was a real cake and not a plastic one. I have no idea why she thought I would bring a plastic cake, but hey, who knows? Maybe she received a plastic cake in the past!

A few weeks later, it was another student's birthday. Since I made vanilla the first time, I decided on chocolate cake with a Texan flair: Texas Sheet Cake from the Homesick Texan. I left out the chile powder because I wasn't sure how well that would go over. I assumed they would like it because 11 of the 12 students are from Central and South America. But, what if the birthday girl didn't like spicy food?

Really, they can be a tough crowd! We were learning adverbs this week and I was trying to think of an example of an annual event to teach the word "annually." Trying to give a relatable example, I used the World Cup assuming that my students were soccer fans. Plus, I'd walked away from the USA-Ghana game to go teach, so it was the first thing that popped into my mind. "El Copa Mundial!" I said, hoping to get a "VIVA MEXICO!" or "VIVA HONDURAS!" out of someone. Maybe if my argentinos had been there I would have gotten a stronger response; instead, I heard crickets chirping. Then I realized that the World Cup is quadrennial and well, I changed the subject. Thankfully, one of my students threw out "Rodeo." Whew! Since someone was able to give a better example than I was, I knew that they understood the word.

The moral of that story is that I can't make assumptions when it comes to my students. They are adults ranging in age from 25 to 60 with real life experiences. They certainly aren't the caricatures of people used as examples in my high school Spanish textbooks. They don't all love soccer and they probably don't all love spicy food. Instead of chile powder, I went heavy on the cinnamon. "Canela, no?" one of my students asked. "You made this? Wow," said my 60 year-old student, "You can get married."

Where am I going with all of this? I'm getting there. Whenever someone is impressed that I can bake, I tell them that baking is mostly about recipe selection. Baking differs from cooking because, for the most part, you can't taste and add along the way. What you put into your dough or batter and your baking parameters are going to dictate the outcome (well, that and the ambient temperature, humidity, amount of stirring, precision of measurement, etc.). I don't find baking challenging because baking is all about following the recipe. Sure, you can go on to adapt recipes or create your own, but for the novice baker, your goal is to follow the recipe exactly. Maybe that's easier said than done. I'm a scientist, so that's my job. Baking is a lot like chemistry lab (but hopefully only microbiology lab if you're using yeast or starter).

What I do find challenging is mixing drinks. C is a drink-mixing all-star. Really, I think he could make or reproduce anything. And if I mess something up, he can taste it, tweak it, and fix it into something delicious.

For the summer solstice, I wanted to make a summery cocktail. Enter the Rhubarb & Strawberry Collins. I muddled and poured and stirred. Exit a boozy rhubarb milkshake. My highball ended up watered down and lacking flavor. C was on call at the hospital (his last call shift for at least 13 months!!), so it was up to me to do the tweaking and fixing. I tried salvaging it by adding more rhubarb syrup but it wasn't quite right. Inspired by Rhubarb Floats from Not Without Salt, I added ice cream. It wasn't a knock-your-socks-off kind of drink, but I was happy to drink it.

Why rhubarb? I bought a half pound of rhubarb on a whim with the intention of baking. Instead, we (well, C) made it into rhubarb simple syrup. Basically, chop up your rhubarb (we used 3 stalks), add enough water to cover it and add an equal (or half for a longer infusion) portion of sugar, simmer 20-30 minutes until the rhubarb becomes mush and the liquid becomes a syrup, strain, and chill. Save the mushy "compote" for something else and use the syrup for cocktails. There aren't a ton of rhubarb cocktails to choose from, though it's not hard to find a rhubarb version for most of the classic cocktails. It's a little trickier to use than say grapefruit juice because the juice and flavor are in the simple syrup, so balance is key.

Our Rhubarb Cocktail Recommendations:

C's vote: Ginger Rhubarb Bees Knees from The Bonjon Gourmet
Ingredients: muddled ginger, rhubarb syrup, gin, lemon juice, and orange bitters, shaken with ice.
Tweaks: more lemon juice.
Flavor: tart and fruity, like a rhubarb drink should be (according to C).

A's vote: Rhubarb and Rose Ramos from Food52
Ingredients: London dry gin, lemon juice, lime juice, rhubarb syrup, cream, and rosewater, stirred then topped with ice and soda water.
Tweaks: left out the egg white for lack of pasteurized eggs.
Flavor: rhubarb ice cream in drinkable form.

Obviously the quality of the base spirit and liqueurs plays a role, but I think the secret to mixing drinks is the selection of ingredients: pairing flavors and picking up on the subtleties of each component. For example, I used the wrong base spirit when trying to make a melon infusion. I picked an aromatic, herbal gin instead of a milder dry gin, so the juniper and herbs overpower the melon. I suspect the other secret is practice by way of trial-and-error. I'm still a novice drinker let alone drink-mixer. Because I don't drink much and and I don't drink often, I'll probably just stick to baking! Anyway, I already have a resident "mixologist!"

My highball attempt. Note the beautiful rhubarb syrup!

12 June, 2014

Espresso Milkshake from Summermoon (Austin, TX)

One Saturday in late March, we ditched Houston and headed to Austin. It was a beautiful sunny morning with hardly a cloud in the sky; there was enough of a breeze to stay comfortable in the 80°F weather. We saw plenty of bluebonnets and wildflowers along the highways and I even convinced C to stop for pictures along highway 36. I was shocked he stopped after we'd spent a whole Saturday the prior weekend driving around looking for bluebonnets, with success!



Just like our first trip to Austin, our first stop in town was at Summermoon Coffee Bar. Last November, C had a "golden weekend," those coveted two days off in a row that only come around every few months, so we visited his best friend from high school who lives in Austin. As soon as we arrived, we stopped at a coffee shop for a "study date" so that C could knock off a few sets of practice questions for his third (and final) medical licensing exam (which he passed! Woo hoo!). While he studied, Elliot and I goofed off.

At one point, Elliot disappeared and returned with an espresso milkshake for C. I'm not a coffee drinker (nor is Elliot), but  C convinced us to try it. It was amazing. Creamy, but not from ice cream, sweet, ever-so-slightly chocolatey, with an earthy, coffee flavor. Summermoon fire-roasts their coffee in-house, so their coffee has a distinct woodiness. Every time I bring up that milkshake, C laughs at me because I claim that I don't like coffee. He also got a kick out of me finishing all of his lattes in Guatemala. Ok, I'll admit it: coffee is growing on me. Now, can I have another espresso milkshake, please? I set off to recreate it at home.

This second time we were at Summermoon, I watched the barista make the milkshake. First, he put ice cubes and a tiny bit of moon milk in the bottom of the blender. He grabbed a to-go cup and drizzled in chocolate syrup. Then, he poured hot espresso into the blender. After that, I got distracted, but I'm pretty sure he added more moon milk (and maybe more ice cubes), blended it, and poured it into the plastic cup. I started drinking it, and the rest is history. It was gone by the time we made it to the Barton Creek Green Belt for our walk.


According to Summermoon's Facebook page, an espresso milkshake is "espresso, moon milk and ghiradelli sweet ground chocolate, blended with ice." So, what is moon milk? Summermoon's top secret, homemade creamer/milk made of 7 ingredients. Coupled with the wood-fired coffee, moon milk gives their drinks a uniquely delicious flavor that their devotees can't get anywhere else. Though many of their patrons are convinced it's made of crack cocaine because it's so addictive, I have the impression that moon milk is made of cream, sweetened condensed milk, other milks and vanilla.

Materials
ice cubes
sweetened milk?
espresso
chocolate syrup

Methods
1. In a blender, combine the ice cubes and milk. Pour in the hot espresso. Blend.
2. Drizzle chocolate syrup into a cup and pour in the milkshake.

Ok, that's not a helpful recipe. I don't even know what one of the ingredients is. So, I tried another route. I stopped at Whole Foods and picked up a jug of double espresso iced coffee with almond milk. I tried blending it with both ice and ice cream but neither gave me the desired result. To be fair, I wasn't digging the flavor of the coffee (I like almond milk, but apparently not with coffee). When I told my mom about the experience she asked, "Why do you always try to recreate things? Why not make it a treat for yourself whenever you're in Austin?" Though I don't want to, I will listen to her. Next time you find yourself in Austin, Texas, head over to Summermoon and try their milkshake!

Interested in making an espresso milkshake on your own? Here's the closest recipe I could find based on the ingredients I saw added (though it uses espresso powder instead of espersso). Give it a shot (pun intended) and report back!