Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mint Julep - Medicine or Cocktail?

One of the most relaxing and refreshing alcoholic drinks is the mint julep. Popular for nearly two centuries, the drink's history is not clear.

"Julep" is derived from the Persian gulab and the Arabic julab, both of which mean rosewater, and were a scented liquid made from rose petals immersed in water. North African and Middle Eastern cooking relied on its use. During medieval times, rosewater was a popular medicine in Europe.

John Davis' book Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States (1803) mentions the drink that contains a dram of liquor and mint and is consumed by Virginians in the morning. Davis' book does not say the drink contains whiskey.

The Food Chronology by James Trager reports that brandy poured over ice and garnished with mint leaves is served at White Sulphur Springs, a spa in western Virginia. Reportedly, the drink was considered as a protection against malaria.

Trager's book also mentions that in 1859, the drink was served at Old White Springs in the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia. The drink contains brandy, cut loaf sugar, limestone water, ice, and mint. Eventually, the brandy was replaced by bourbon whiskey.

While Henry Clay served as a U.S. senator from Kentucky, he brought the drink to the Round Robin Bar located in the Willard Hotel. Thus, a popular southern treat finds its way into political circles.

And no Kentucky Derby would be complete without its signature drink. The julep earned that title in 1938 when the cocktail was served in a souvenir glass that sold for 75 cents. The Kentucky Derby Museum estimates that over 80,000 juleps are served during the Derby.

To whip up a pitcher of the famed drink, you need the following ingredients:
  • 2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 cups mint leaves, loosely packed
  • 2 cups bourbon
  • mint leaves for garnish

Combine water and sugar in saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add mint and boil. Remove from heat, cover and steep for 30 minutes. Pour mint syrup through a strainer. Allow to cool.

Combine syrup and bourbon. Pour into a container with a lid. Keep refrigerated for up to one month. Garnish with mint leaves when serving.

Servings: 4

Friday, May 16, 2008

Chocolate Chips Discovered By Accident

A favorite snack for young and old alike is the chocolate chip cookie. How did the invention of the chocolate chip come about? Thank a Massachusetts inn owner.

Ruth Wakefield graduated from Massachusetts Normal School n 1924 and worked as a dietitian. But she and her husband purchased a tourist lodge and dubbed it Toll House Inn.

Ruth earned a reputation for her fancy desserts and sweets. Her favorite cookie recipe was the Butter Drop Do cookies. Usually, baker's chocolate was a staple for the recipe, but Ruth's pantry was void on that fateful day. Instead, she substituted baker's chocolate with a semisweet bar that she cut into pieces. The bar, incidentally, was a gift from Andrew Nestle of Nestle Chocolate Company.

Ruth assumed the semisweet chunks would melt into the cookies, but once she removed the cookie sheet from the oven, she discovered that the small chunks softened, and the Toll House Inn guests loved her cookies.

As Ruth's recipe gained popularity, she and Nestle made a deal. He would print her now-famous recipe on the package and in return, Ruth received a lifetime's supply of chocolate.

My favorite chocolate chip cookies are the ones my Grandma Larson used to bake. They were oh so moist and the chips would just melt in your mouth. She would line an old metal coffee can (yes, this was in the 60s) with a bread sack and fill it full of the delectable treat.

One time, we had friends over on a Friday night. Our parents were downstairs and we girls were upstairs, but we took a can of grandma's cookies with us. I think I ate 19 of them and my friend ate about 17. I was so "not-feeling-up-to-par" the next day. But I didn't let that setback deter me.

Now when I have the chance, I make chocolate chip cookies using the Toll House recipe, but I also like to add coconut and chopped nuts. Mmmm. Delicious!!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Truffles aren't a trifle to make

Mention the word 'truffle' and two thoughts might filter through your mind: an expensive chocolate treat or a mushroom. Interestingly, one was inspired by the other.

Chocolate truffles originated in France and featured a mound of ganache - chocolate and cream - rolled in chocolate. These globs resembled the highly sought after mushrooms. Thus, the sweet treat earned the same name.

Stories concerning the invention of the chocolate truffle attribute its discovery to famous French food expert Auguste Escoffier. Reportedly, one of his assistants poured hot cream over chunks of chocolate instead of into a bowl of sugar and eggs. And thus, ganache was born.

In the U.S., the truffle is often confused with any cream-filled chocolate. The two candies are nothing alike. Truffles feature balls of ganache covered in expensive chocolate.

Truffles make a classy gift, especially when they are homemade delicacies. A popular choice is the Champagne Truffle. The following recipe makes 24 delightful pieces.

Champagne Truffles
  • 1 pound quality bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 8 ounces heavy cream
  • 1 ounce unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ounce Cognac or 3 Tablespoons champagne
  • 1 pound bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 pound cocoa powder

Note: The champagne can change the consistency of the ganache, but the mixture will still form easily into balls.

Bring cream to a boil, stirring to prevent scorching. Pour over one pound of quality bittersweet chocolate. Beat in butter. Cool to set. Beat on medium speed until light. Add cognac or champagne.

Pour mixture into a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch plain tube and form mounds of the ganache on wax or parchment paper. Refrigerate until set.

After the centers have set, melt another pound of bittersweet chocolate. Sift cocoa into a pan. Dip balls into the melted chocolate and then place in the cocoa, rolling until coated. Once set, place truffles in a strainer and shake gently to remove any excess cocoa powder.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Parfait - A Sinfully Good Dessert

Want an easy dessert that will satisfy everyone? Consider serving a parfait.

Originally, parfait was developed during the 1800s. It tasted like coffee and was a frozen treat served in several forms because the parfaits were placed in ice cream molds. Eventually, these layered ice cream desserts were laced with fruit, syrups, or liqueurs.

The American version of the treat features ice cream layered with fruit or syrup that is served in a tall, thin glass. Parfaits should not be confused with ice cream sundaes. The difference: the dish.

Parfait can be made with pudding, mousse, or ice cream. Here's an easy treat that is sure to delight!

1 pkg. instant chocolate pudding (fat-free works for this recipe)
2 cups cold milk (skim may be used)
1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 c. whipped cream (low-fat or fat-free is suitable)

Layer options: chocolate syrup, fruit, whipped cream

Combine pudding mix and milk and mix according to package directions. Add vanilla and whipped cream. Whip until smooth. Layer pudding mixture into parfait glasses, alternating with layers of chocolate syrup, fresh fruit, or whipped cream.