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Baby Jesus pee (milk liqueur)


Remember when I told you about the awesome Azorean cookbook we got from our neighbors? Well, I've dabbled in a thing or two beyond the molha. One of the recipes that intrigued me from the beginning was one for a milk liqueur. The name alone is enough to pique one's interest. But lest you think this is a creamy drink like Irish cream, let me disabuse you of that notion. 

Rather, the idea here is that milk is combined with liquor and other ingredients, most importantly citrus. The acid from the citrus causes the milk solids to coagulate, and the milk liquids that are left behind give the liqueur a viscosity and weight that you cannot get from alcohol and sugar alone.

Best of all, as with nearly all the recipes in the book, is the grace note: 

Around Christmas, it was traditional to make, quite in advance, various homemade liqueurs, destined for the friends who were to come round. These liqueurs, characteristic of the Christmassy period, were tenderly named the "wee of little Jesus" or "o xixi do menino Jesus." This tradition, with the passing of time and  the running around for time, is now starting to disappear, although it is continued by inviting friends over for the so-called "xixi" that now, at the best of times, is no more than a gin, a whisky or any other purchased drink.

So, if you, like I, are interested in keeping this treasured tradition alive, read on. 

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Plasma Mary

Plasma Mary

A couple months ago, Rosie at 18 Reasons pinged me, asking whether I'd be interested in teaching a Bloody Mary class, accompanying a display of local illustrator Kelly Lynn Waters' delightful illustrations of Bloody Marys (Maries?) from restaurants and bars around town. The teacher they had initially lined up couldn't make it, leaving a gap. I'd taught two infusions and liqueurs classes there already, with another on the books, and so I suppose I'd acquired the ad hoc mantle of Mr. Booze. Without putting much thought into it, I replied that I would. 

Of course, there was one small wrinkle: I really don't like Bloody Marys. 

I do, however, like to challenge my palate from time to time and try to conquer my culinary disinclinations. (Still haven't gotten over that orange thing yet. That's a stubborn one.) So I took this as an opportunity to explore what really makes a bloody mary, and what exactly I didn't like.

On the surface, I should love them. They're savory, spicy, full of umami, and heaven knows my tomato consumption can be nothing less than epic. But in fact, it's the tomatoes that were the issue. Or, rather, tomato juice. More specifically, the thick, mealy goo that tastes like the can it's purchased in. Yes, that was surely the root of the problem.

I decided that for the class, we would explore a little of its history starting with its invention at Harry's New York Bar in Paris in 1921, peppering it with three versions of the drink. First, would be a straight-up classic version, using predictable ingredients like the aforementioned dreaded canned tomato juice. For the second, we'd juice fresh tomatoes, give it a little more spice and spike it with clam juice to make a Caesar, the official drink of Canada. Finally, I would solve the problem of the cocktail, eschewing tomato juice altogether for a thinner essence of tomato and an infused vodka, served up in a cocktail glass. This, I dubbed the Plasma Mary, since it lacked the thick redness of tomato juice and instead is a cheery, clear yellow. 

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Vodka infusions: Cucumber and lychee, part 2

InthebottlesFolliwing Saturday’s foray into vodka infusions, I took my own advice and tasted on the fifth day. Good thing, too, as I think they were pretty much done at that point. So I got down my trusty Melitta cone and filters, which happens coincidentally to fit so very well with the top of my Tupperware measuring cup, and set to work.

Draining the lychees was entertaining, as the fleshy white meat with pinkish streaks immediately made me think of lobster meat, which was not quite the effect I was going for. Somewhat to my surprise, the lychee infusion did not turn out milky white, but rather faintly golden and opalescent. Luckily, it does not smell or taste like lobster. Rather, the bouquet is slightly funky (as lychees are), but the flavor is full-on sweet lychee. Very nice indeed.

The cucumber seems good at first pale. I did not have cute containers at the ready when I strained off the infusions yesterday (d’oh), so I just had them in the fridge until this afternoon. The acid test for the cuke infusion will be when it’s frozen, to see whether those fabulous ice crystals form.

I did try a sip of the two blended together. That has potential! I’ll try it when they’re both frozen.

I tasted the spent flesh of both fruits, as I always do. Naturally, they taste like booze, and to a lesser extent like the produce they are. But interestingly, the vodka appears to have a pickling effect on it, as the flesh comes out denser, tougher and crisper. I’m sure there are some significant culinary applications for vodka-pickled fruits and veggies. All I’ve ever done with them in the past is blend them with ice for a quick summer cocktail. Alas, for now, I’ll merely have to continue dreaming up recipes for liquor-soaked lychees; I sent it down the drain. Eat up, little fishies!

A few more pics, including closeups of the lobster meat lychee flesh and obligatory cutesy label, after the jump.

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Vodka infusions: Cucumber and lychee, part 1

CucumberinfusionDPaul and I have been doing vodka infusions for several years now. Over the years, we’ve experimented with a wide variety of ingredients and methods, with varying degrees of success. But of all the infusions we’ve done, the consistent winner has been cucumber. This came as much a surprise to us as anyone, figuring that more obvious flavors like citrus, berries or vanilla (being, as they are, commercially available) would be the standouts. Mais non.

Once you’ve infused your own vodka, you’ll think twice about buying flavored vodka. The flavors and aromas you get from a handmade product are far more genuine and nuanced than commercially produced brews. In the case of cucumber, you definitely get a big, fresh explosion of cucumber flavor, but moreover you get discrete notes individually distilled — floral, melony, grassy — that harmonize like a perfectly struck chord. But best of all, if your balance is exactly right, the frozen vodka forms gorgeous sheets of ice crystals that crash on the tongue when you drink it. It’s an incredible experience.

There is no precise recipe, just a few rules of thumb: For fresher ingredients, like fruits or herbs, you need a higher ratio of infusable to vodka, and a shorter steeping time. For drier ingredients, like spices, it’s a lower ratio of infusable to vodka and a longer time to steep.

A few notes from past infusions:

  • If you’re going to do lemon or any other citrus, only use the zest and maybe some pulp; the pith is extremely bitter, and will overpower the flavor of the vodka.
  • Vanilla, cinnamon and other dry spices work extremely well and can be left in to steep for quite a while. We once left a cinnamon stick in so long that a slick of red oil ultimately rose to the top of the infusion.
  • By contrast, fresh ingredients require a lighter hand. Sometimes if you go too long, you’ll surpass the sublime flavor of the ingredient and begin drawing bitter and off flavors.
  • Star anise creates a lovely golden-hued infusion with a potent licorice flavor. And when you pour it over ice, it turns opaque white instantly. Neat!
  • Fruits must be fully ripe, or you will only get tartness and bitterness. Adding sugar to the end product only results in syrupy texture.

For this attempt at cucumber, I used two standard cucumbers, peeled and seeded. If you are using garden-fresh, organic cucumbers, feel free to leave the peel intact. It will give your product a charming green tint and a stronger grassy note. But the ones I got looked a bit waxy, so off they go. Don’t worry too much if you don’t get all the seeds out — you do want the cucumber to impart just enough water to the infusion to allow for that magical ice crystal thing to happen. But if you left the seeds in, it would become too watery, and you end up with slush.

Chunk up the cuke, and put in an airtight container with enough vodka to cover, maybe a little more. In this case I used maybe up to 750 ml. Store in a cool, dry place for about seven days, but start tasting it at the five day mark. Strain with a coffee filter, and store the resulting infusion in the freezer for up to two or three months.

It wouldn’t be any fun if we only did the same things over and over again. Today I came across some gorgeous lychees at the 24th/Valencia market, and so an experiment was hatched.
Peeling lychees is like peeling leathery, spiky hard-boiled eggs. But the milky, succulent interiors feels so nice while you’re working with it. It’s a bit messy getting the pits out, but worth it in the end. Already it’s clear that the end product will be milky like the flesh of the fruit itself. A pic of the final carnage and infusion-in-process after the jump.

Update: Check out Martha from 2 Tasty Ladies‘s experiments in infusion!

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