This is our second year making cheese, and we seem to be making it more often, at least once per week. Since the first of the year, we have made a sage-infused cheddar, a gouda, a gruyere, an imperial porter cheddar, and a traditional Colby. Our investment in equipment has been pretty minimal – a few cheese molds and a giant pot we got on clearance. But after a few pressing related mishaps, we have decided enough was enough and strung for a fancy cheese press from cheesemaking.com. We shopped around on Craigslist and eBay, and there were a few knock-off versions, but the quality of this one and it’s inclusion of a super-nice stainless-steel cheese press and follower pushed us over the edge.
In addition to preventing disaster (my olympic weights would often come crashing down mid-press!), I also feel like this system is a lot cleaner: no more germs falling like snowflakes onto my beautiful cheese-babies. I also love that this system comes with a draining tray that I can position over the sink.
It’s pricey, but I figure the convenience factor is worth it. Now I just have to make more cheese…
Here in Seattle, there are scads of bars, restaurants and speakeasies, each serving up an amazing list of craft cocktails. We love exploring our city and trying out their fares, but we also love making our own craft cocktails at home, where we can enjoy our farm and animals, and imbibe at a fraction of the cost. And no drive home, to boot!
You don’t need a giant stockpile of mixers and liquors to have a legit home bar. But having some simple syrup on hand is one of the easiest things you can do to up your cocktail game. Any number of classic cocktails use simple syrup as one of balancing bases, from Mojitos to Gimlets to Sours.
Making Simple Syrup
Basic Simple Syrup is easy: combine equal parts water and syrup in a small saucepan. Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar completely dissolves – but don’t let it come to a full boil. Once all the sugar has dissolved, set the pan aside and let cool to room temperature, and then store.
This makes a general-purpose base for most cocktails, and works as a sweetener without being too thick or cloying. Of course, you can adjust the proportions to your taste.
Most classic cocktails use 1/2 to 1 1/2 ounces of simple syrup in their recipes, so each cup of syrup should make, on average, 8 cocktails. Think about your planned consumption, and work backward to figure out how much you want to make. I usually make 16 ounces, as that is the size of my preferred storage container (more below).
Preservation & Storage
You can safely store your syrup as is, in your fridge, for up to a month. One trick I use is to add a bit of cheap vodka to the solution to further discourage any nasties.
For storage, I recommend these plastic squeeze bottles to make storage and dispensing easy. I use a Sharpie and a strip of blue painter’s tape to make easy-to-remove labels to find what’s what in the fridge. What’s great about these bottles – as well as being very affordable – is that they can be used for any number of other kitchen or craft purposes, from sauces to paint. When you’re done, you can even run them through the dishwasher to get ‘em good and clean.
Now that you have the basics, let’s look a few of my favorite variations.
Rosemary Simple Syrup
This variation is pretty simple. Simply place several large sprigs of rosemary directly into the mixture as you heat it, then let it steep for an hour or more while it cools. Then simply remove the rosemary, and you are good to go. Most herb & spices work well with this technique.
Basil Simple Syrup
This variation is slightly different. After the solution has cooled, add about a 1/2 cup of basil leaves to it, then pulse with your blnder until the basil is quite pulverized. Then strain it through a fine sieve or cheesecloth to remove the bits, leaving a green infusion behind.
In this variation, you’ll swap out the sugar for honey at the same ratio. You can’t add honey directly easily to cocktails (it’s too thick) so this is how you can get that delectable flavor into your cocktails.
We’re just barely scratching the surface here. There are literally hundreds of variations you can make, limited only by your pantry and imagination. To get your juices flowing before your next happy hour, take a look at this wonderful list at Imbibe Magazine or this Pinterest Board.