Shrubs – A Colonial Drink Makes a Comeback

It’s hard to resist a drink with a name like shrub!

Vinegar Gift Box from Menus and MusicBefore the invention of refrigeration, shrub syrups were made to preserve ripe fruits for later enjoyment. In Colonial America, shrubs were popular for mixed drinks, and recently they’ve been making a comeback!

Shrub drinks are based on shrub syrups made from fruit, sugar, and vinegar. These syrups are also known as drinking vinegars, which is appropriate enough because the word shrub comes from sharab, an Arabic word meaning syrup and sharbat, a Hindi word for drinks based on syrups made from fruit extracts.

Served chilled and mixed with still or sparkling water or spirits, shrubs are a very refreshing way to balance tart and sweet. Almost any ripe berry and fruit can be used to make a shrub. Just follow the seasons and enjoy fruit-infused vinegar drinks that are based on citrus, strawberries, cherries, apricots, blackberries, raspberries and other delicious berries, peaches, tomatoes, watermelon, pears, figs, and so on!

Experiment by adding different vinegars, sugars, and herbs and spices such as lemon verbena, lavender, basil, tarragon, mint, rose geranium, cloves, cinnamon, and peppercorns.

On a hot afternoon a shrub makes a great thirst quencher, and before dinner it stimulates the appetite as an aperitif and adds intrigue to a cocktail. Enjoy!

Orange Shrub

This easy drink recipe will taste even better when you wait a week or so before using the shrub syrup. Over time, the syrup’s lightly sweet and tart flavors will harmonize and become considerably more mellow. You can store the syrup in your refrigerator for up to 6 months. You will have enough to make 16 to 20 shrub drinks.

  • Orange Shrub Syrup
    • 4 or 5 Valencia oranges or blood oranges, preferably organic, washed and halved
    • ¾ cup sugar or honey
    • ¾ cup Orange Blossom champagne vinegar (available at MenusandMusic.com) or other champagne vinegar
    • Rosemary sprig, optional
  • 6 ounces chilled sparkling water or still water, plus more to taste
  • Ice
  • Orange wedge or rosemary sprig for garnish, optional

Juice the oranges to make 1 cup juice; cover and refrigerate the juice, reserve the oranges.

Transfer the oranges to a medium glass bowl, add the sugar, and stir to combine.

Using a muddling stick or a wooden spoon, muddle or mash the oranges and sugar until the peels are crushed. Let stand and macerate at room temperature overnight or up to 1 day. The sugar will slowly draw the juices out of the fruit to make a syrup.

Pour the refrigerated orange juice into the orange peel mixture Stir until combined and strain the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean bowl; press to extract all the syrup and discard the solids.

Pour the strained syrup into a wide-mouthed jar with a lid. Add the vinegar and rosemary sprig, if using, and stir to combine. Cover the jar and refrigerate the jar for at least 1 week, or until the vinegar flavor mellows and the citrus flavor becomes prominent. Shake the jar occasionally.

Pour 1 ounce orange shrub syrup into a glass over ice. Top with 6 ounces chilled sparkling water or still water. Leave room in the glass for adding more syrup or water according to taste. Garnish with an orange slice or rosemary sprig if you like.
Makes 1 drink
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Orange Shrub Margarita

  • 1 ½ ounces tequila
  • ¾ ounce Grand Marnier or Cointreau
  • 1 ½ ounces Orange Shrub Syrup (see recipe above)
  • Chilled club soda
  • Orange wedge, optional

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the tequila, Grand Marnier or Cointreau, and Orange Shrub Syrup.

Shake well and strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with an orange wedge if you like.
Makes 1 cocktail

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Spring is coming! Spring is coming!

Grilled Greek-Style Chicken KebabsOK so my family is a little overly eager, but last night we had a major feast to celebrate the coming new season, warmer weather—and all the abundant food and fun that come with spring. It was quite an impromptu party!

After grocery shopping and setting up our grill the day before, we were ready to start our preparations right after getting home from work.

Our basic ingredients included chicken breasts, a sirloin tip steak, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, red onions, mushrooms, asparagus, green onions, a rustic French bread loaf, and a pineapple.

While the charcoals were heating up, we prepared the vegetables, cubed the chicken and steak, and seasoned everything with salt, pepper, herbs, and olive oil. After threading the meat and vegetables onto metal and bamboo skewers, we grilled the kebabs and slices of bread that we drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic when they came off the grill.

Everyone was getting absolutely ravenous from the sizzling aromas, but luckily we only had to wait about 15 minutes before sitting down to devour what turned to be only round one of this amazing dinner.

Everything tasted so good, but sadly our plates became empty, so we decided to ransack the refrigerator and look for other things to grill! We came up with a bunch of asparagus, green onions, mushrooms, red onions, and of course more bread.

The vivid depth of the grilled flavors had us all swooning once again, and they almost commanded us to keep on grilling. And besides, it was now time for something sweet …. and this was when we spied the glorious pineapple on the counter.

The coals were now perfectly gorgeous, so we grilled pineapple slices to go with a little vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Oh my!

We’re so happy about the return of spring and intend to keep grilling as winter fades from view.

To see the recipe from Grill to Thrill for Greek-Style Chicken Kebabs click here, and for Grilled Pineapple with Rum Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream click here.

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Truffle Honey

Truffles are one of the ultimate culinary treasures, and when they are preserved in honey the combination is sublime!

Truffle honey is sensational drizzled over blue cheese, goat cheese, sharp cheddar, fresh figs, pears, apples, and a buttered baguette. It also makes a great glaze for ham, game, and roast chicken. The following recipe is from Tapas in Barcelona, the fourth volume in my MusicCooks Travel Series.

Smoked Salmon with Truffle-Honey Montaditos

This sensational open-face sandwich layers smoked salmon, crème fraîche, and truffle honey onto softly crunchy bread. These remarkably seductive tapas are served at Quimet & Quimet in Barcelona.

8 ounces crème frâiche, sour cream, Greek yogurt, or cream cheese
12 ounces cold-smoked salmon, thinly sliced
¾ cup truffle honey for drizzling
8 large bread rusks or 16 toasted baguette slices

Spread the crème fraîche over the rusks or toasted bread slices. Top each rusk or bread slice with smoked salmon, and arrange the tapas on a serving platter or on little plates. Drizzle with truffle honey and enjoy!

Makes 4 to 6 tapas servings

Rusks and Toasted Bread Slices
Rusks and toasted bread slices make a crispy base for many delicious toppings.

4 round rolls, or 1 baguette

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place a wire rack on top of a baking sheet. Using a serrated knife, cut the rolls crosswise into even slices a little less than 1 inch thick, or slice the baguette into sixteen 3/4-inch thick slices.

Arrange the bread slices in a single layer on the wire rack and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until crisp.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Store for up to 2 weeks in a sealed container.

Makes 8 rusks or 16 toasted baguette slices

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The House of Fragonard

A passionate dedication to the magic of perfume!

Shortly before the First World War, Eugène Fuchs set up his own perfumery based on the new concept of selling perfume products directly to tourists who were beginning to discover the charms of the French Rivera.

Opened in 1926, Parfumerie Fragonard was named after the famous Grasse-born Rococo painter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806). The shop’s name was a tribute to traditional 18th-century arts and to the town of Grasse, perfume capital of the world. This founding

spirit has been loyally maintained by three succeeding generations, and today traditional Fragonard products are available in about 20 countries.

Under the tenure of Jean-Francois Costa, Parfumerie Fragonard went through an expansion and modernization. As an avid art collector during the 1970s, Costa also amassed a large collection of antique perfume related items that now enrich Fragonard and give the town of Grasse a new cultural dimension.

Today, Jean-François Costa’s daughters, Agnès, Françoise, and Anne, preside over Fragonard. They are resisting the trend toward synthetic essences and remain a traditional company that is concerned with keeping alive the soul and magic of natural perfume. Of course they are as involved as preceding generations with continuing to build the company while still keeping it special.

This dedication to a tradition of excellence is the reason I’m proud to offer Fragonard products to my customers!

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Assembling Jigsaw Puzzles

The jigsaw puzzle was invented around 1760 by Englishman John Spilsbury. An engraver and mapmaker, Spilsbury attached one of his maps of the world to a piece of wood and then carefully cut out each country. This puzzle was commercially produced as an aid to teaching geography. In the late 1800s, cardboard puzzles were introduced and primarily manufactured as children’s puzzles. In the 20th century, die-cut puzzles with sentimental scenes and rail and shipping images were popular, and puzzles were used as premiums and advertisements.

Today people are discovering that working on a jigsaw puzzle is a great way to reduce stress and to keep the brain active. They are still used to teach geography, and putting one together continues to offer hours of entertainment. Jigsaw puzzles make great gifts, and they are recyclable—pass them on to family and friends!

Here are a few simple tips that may help!

  1. Make sure your work area is large enough to hold the total number of pieces laid out face up.
  2. Turn all the puzzle pieces face up.
  3. Select the edge pieces and put them to one side. If you have a shaped jigsaw puzzle, this may be a bit more difficult
  4. Arrange the pieces into color groups.
  5. Try to complete color group sections of the puzzle; refer to the finished picture on the front of the box if you like.
  6. Assemble the edge pieces.
  7. Place any grouped color sections inside the edges in a spot that seems correct according to the finished picture.
  8. Start adding the rest of the puzzle pieces by expanding the already completed color or edge sections.
  9. Continue until finished!
  10. Just two little “don’t” asides: Don’t try to make the pieces fit: if they won’t go together easily, they’re in the wrong position. Don’t become frustrated; your patience will be rewarded at the end of the project!

For a real puzzle treat, try one of the beautiful wooden Jigsaw puzzles from my catalog!

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Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Snap Cookie Crust

A silky smooth filling with a nice balance of spice in a flavorful, crunchy crust. Serve with vanilla ice cream or a dollop of homemade whipped cream flavored with a splash of bourbon if you like.

Filling
2 large eggs
One 15-ounce canned pumpkin purée
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
Ginger Snap Cookie Crust (recipe below)

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Stir in the sugar, pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt until well combined. Pour in the half-and-half and stir to blend. Transfer the pumpkin mixture to the prepared gingersnap crust.

Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. The center of the pie will not be completely firm. Let cool for 1 to 2 hour before serving warm. Cover the pie with plastic wrap and refrigerate for another hour to chill completely. To store, refrigerate the covered pie for up to 3 days.

Makes one 9-inch pie

Ginger Snap Cookie Crust
8 ounces gingersnap cookies, (1 box SNAPS cookies)
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.

Break up the cookies slightly and add them to a food processor or blender. Pulse until they are finely ground. Add the butter and pecan, if using, and pulse a few times to combine.

Press the gingersnap mixture evenly into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Cool the crust 10 minutes before adding the filling.

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How to make coffee in a Press Pot or French Press

According to skilled baristas, using a press pot is the easiest and best way to make excellent coffee at home!

Use high quality, fresh coffee beans and grind them to a coarse grind. You’ll need about 2 tablespoons of beans per cup of coffee. When grinding coffee with a blade grinder, use short bursts of a few second each and, with you hand on the top, shake the grinder so the grounds get mixed to make a more consistent grind. A total of about 8 seconds should be enough.

A coarse grind has distinct chunky particles, and using it in a press pot results in slower, more even extraction for a fuller bodied cup of coffee. A coarse grind also prevents the mesh filter of the press pot from getting clogged.

Add the freshly ground coffee to the clean, dry press pot. Use 1 tablespoon of ground coffee for every 4 ounces of water.

Bring a kettle of water just to a boil and pour it over the grounds to saturate them evenly. Since the ground coffee may expand while brewing, do not entirely fill the pot or some of the coffee may spill out onto the countertop. Gently stir together the coffee grounds and the hot water. Put the top on the press pot.

Brew the coffee for 4 minutes, then slowly push the press to force all the grounds to the bottom. Pour the coffee into cups and enjoy!

For best brewing results, the water temperature should be between 195°F and 200°F. It’s easy to determine how long it takes boiling water to reach this ideal temperature: Bring a pot of water to a boil; remove the pot from heat. Use an instant-read thermometer to calculate how many seconds it takes the water to reach 200°F, probably between 10 to 15. Just repeat this same timing whenever you make press pot coffee.

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