Thursday, May 21, 2015

Shrubs and Shims

If you’re looking for drinks that you can make at home, ones that are more interesting than run of the mill sodas and lighter than typical cocktails, shrubs and shims are something you should check out. Shrubs are fruit and vinegar based drinks, and the basic sugar, vinegar and fruit based syrups used to make them can also be used to make soda or fresh cocktails. Shims are lighter alcohol cocktails. It’s a term dreamed up by Dinah Sanders, author of The Art of the Shim.

The thing about shrubs is that you can take the basic formula of one part sugar plus one part vinegar plus one part fruit and endlessly riff on it. Try adding aromatics or herbs, or using cucumber instead of fruit. Use the syrups in salad dressings, in popsicles or in whatever drink you can dream up. The word shrub comes from the Farsi word, sharbat, which means drinking vinegar. They were popular with early colonists in the US and on farms, where surplus fruit could be preserved with simple vinegar and sugar. 

The idea behind a shim is keeping level. In the case of drinking alcohol, it keeps you level headed. Some interesting ingredients to use in shims include vermouth, ciders, sparkling wine, coffee and tea. 

The trend towards shims or lower alcohol drinks and shrubs, has been gaining momentum for the last few years. There are two very good books for exploring them: Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times and The Art of the Shim. Online check out the shrub category on Punk Domestics as well as this recent article in the New York Times call the Modern American Shrub with recipes. For shims, check out Dinah’s blog, starting with her roundup shims post.

If you’re around this Saturday May 23rd 2015, Healdsburg Shed is hosting a Shrubs and Shims workshop where you’ll get to see demos of lots of different drinks thanks to the in-house fermentation crafter Gillian Helquist. You’ll receive a discount on purchases and an introduction to locally sourced low-alcohol bases: Sutton’s Cellars Brown Label VermouthGolden State Cider, and Jardesca. There will be snacks to go with the drinks—all low alcohol so you can drive home safely! 

Disclaimer: My thanks to Healdsburg Shed for inviting me to a media preview of this workshop. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post on Cooking with Amy. This post does include affiliate links. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Galaxy Desserts By The Numbers

Recently I got a chance to visit Galaxy Desserts, a local pastry company that is now part of Brioche Pasquier, a family-owned French brioche bakery, the largest producer in all of France. Brioche Pasquier is currently expanding tremendously and their lines of brioche breads and snacks can be found in supermarkets around the US. Galaxy is most famous for their butter croissants, which are sold frozen, ready to bake. 

Here's what I learned about Galaxy: 

52,000 square feet - Size of the factory, which they have practically outgrown

16,000 - Number of croissants produced in an hour

350 degrees - The temperature for baking the croissants

144 - Layers of pastry and butter in each croissant

50 - Percentage of croissants versus pastry produced in the factory

15-22 minutes - The time it takes to bake the croissants 

8 hours - The approximate time for the croissants to defrost and rise before baking

Almost 6 - Time it takes Galaxy to make the croissants, from start to finish

4 - Number of times Galaxy Desserts products were featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things

2 - Products featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things (croissants & molten chocolate cakes)

1 - Officially the only place you can find their extensive line of croissants, Williams-Sonoma


Now let’s take a little tour! 

Galaxy uses high quality butter from Challenge Dairy. Mmmm butter. 


Almond croissants coming off the line. 

Almond croissants wrapped and ready to go in boxes. 

This machine is very important, if I told you what it does, I might have to kill you.

The best job in the world, filling molten chocolate cakes. 

The second best job, gazing at them longingly.  

While this post is about Galaxy, there is one number I want to share with you about Brioche Pasquier. The percentage of ingredients made in France used in their products? 80. All of their products are free of preservatives, trans-fats and non-GMO

Up Next
Check out Jane's excellent post on Brioche Pasquier, the factory tour and a recipe:
Chocolate Chip Brioche French Toast on The Heritage Cook

Disclaimer: My thanks to Galaxy Desserts and Brioche Pasquier for inviting me on the tour and serving me a lovely brunch. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post on Cooking with Amy. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Fort Street Food Crawl, Victoria, BC

Fort Street is one of my favorite spots in Victoria. It has distinctive Edwardian and Victorian architecture and some lovely antique shops. In that way it typifies “classic Victoria.” But that’s not the whole story. It’s also dotted with some of the most interesting and diverse eating establishments in town. It truly reflects the energy and vibrancy of Victoria today. 



On a recent visit I learned that Victoria has hundreds of restaurants and a thriving tech economy. I met coffee roasters, bakers and chefs from countries all over the world. Victoria is no longer just a sleepy British enclave but surprisingly cosmopolitan and modern for a city with a population of under 100k (the surrounding area is much larger).

I can’t think of a more pleasurable way to spend some time than to meander up and down Fort Street stopping to window shop and have some snacks. Here are some of my top picks for a food crawl.
The Little Cheese Shop has a great selection of local and international cheese, plus some lunch dishes and is the perfect place to find gourmet treats to take home. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and offers samples and recommendations upon request. It was here I found some local cheeses to take home.
Choux Choux Charcuterie is a traditional European delicatessen specializing in housemade sausages, pâtés, smoked, cured meats and artisanal cheeses. They also have a limited lunch menu and some cozy window seats where I enjoyed some chorizo, white bean and kale soup. I did buy a few of those sausages which made a perfect inflight snack!

Chorizo & Co is a charming Spanish café run by partners Jonathan Lee and Tomas Dosil. Dosil was born in northern Spain in the Galicia region. He and his family spent time in both Victoria and Spain and he dreamed of creating an authentic Spanish deli and café. The menu with bocadillos, tortillas and churros offers reasonably priced and filling snacks. The Spanish tortilla sandwich is pure comfort food.
Fishhook is a soup and sandwich spot from former “Top Chef Canada” contender and Red Fish Blue Fish restaurateur Kunal Ghose whose Bengali, Scottish, Greek, and Chilean background influences his creative cooking. I had the chowder with coconut milk, halibut and salmon belly bacon and a nibble of the justifiably famous tuna melt with caramelized broccoli smash, smoked local cheddar, cold water albacore tuna crudo topped with a smoked tonnato sauce.

Crust Bakery is the modern boutique bakery and French patisserie from successful Australian chef and restaurateur Tom Moore, who settled in Victoria with his family. Tom told me he doesn’t follow trends but that said, he is currently offering his version of a cronut. Most of the popular fruit and cheese Danish pastries had sold out when I got there but I enjoyed a massive chocolate meringue cookie and would definitely come back for a savory pastry or calzone or a loaf of their fruit and nut bread.

 Disclaimer: I was a guest of Tourism Victoria, I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post on Cooking with Amy.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Duas Quintas Reserva Red Wines: Wine on Friday

I have been very enthusiastic about Portuguese wines ever since I wrote WinePassport: Portugal.  I appreciate that they are generally very food friendly with terrific acidity, and offer excellent value. While many varietals are planted everywhere, some are very particular to countries like Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Like travel, discovering these varietals offers unexpected pleasures. 

In Portugal the same varietals that are used in Port are also used in table wines. But it’s only in recent years that some of the better tables wines have become more readily available abroad. Most port producers also produce table wines. One example is Ramos Pinto, a port producer that is revered for their 30 year tawny port and perhaps most well-known for their promotional posters by famous artists from the 1920's, you may recognize this one called the kiss. 


The Ramos Pinto port house was established in 1880, and in 1919 the owners, two brothers, purchased their first quinta, or estate. Today they make about the same amount of port as they do douro table wines which are branded Duas Quintas, which means two estates. The two original estate are located in the Upper Corgo and in the Douro Superior and all their grapes are still harvested by hand. 

I recently got a chance to try selected reserve wines of Duas Quintas dating from 1992 to 2013. While the wines have changed over the years, what I like about them is that they taste like Portuguese wines because they use all Portuguese varietals namely Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão. Let me tell you a little about each of these varietals:

* Touriga Nacional is probably the most famous varietal from Portugal and for good reason. It has notes of violet, eucalyptus, pine, herbs and mocha. It’s tannic but also fruity. 

* Touriga Franca also has an aroma of violets but also intense fruit and softer tannins. 

* Tinta Roriz is sometimes called aragones, in Spain it’s tempranillo. It has rich red fruit flavors of herbs, plum and raspberry. 

* Tinta Barroca has a very dark color but soft tannins, red berries and black fruit and a juicy and spicy finish. 

* Tinto Cão has spice and richness and great floral aromas. 

What are Duas Quintas reserve wines like? Without sharing my tasting notes for each one, the ones I liked the most had great acidity, remarkable balance and fresh fruit, even in some of the oldest vintages. While some of the wines had earthy notes of mushrooms others were spicier and even had notes of licorice. Though the wines vary from vintage to vintage, what remains constant is that these are wines of great value, well worth seeking out.  

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Ramos Pinto for this exclusive tasting. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post on Cooking with Amy