Pots of Tea

This winter for a Christmas present to myself I purchased a large quantity of specially loose teas from a variety of companies. Over the past months I have been trying each out and deciding which I liked and which I didn’t, and as things go the favourite teas have been consumed leaving me with the ok teas and the ones I don’t really enjoy.

Not wanting to simply throw away these “less preferred” teas, and being parched during the somewhat hotter weather now that we are into summer, I set about looking for ways to use these blends in cold drink concoctions. And as it turned out, these “lesser” teas became the preferred choice for cold iced drinks with some simple additions.

So now my home is often filled with pots of tea in the more literal sense. As I don’t have a tone of tea pots, and really only need containers to heat water, steep tea and allow to cool, my kitchen cooking pots have found yet another use. My stove top becomes tea steeping central as I steep, simmer or even boil loose tea in water to the desired concentration – works best with a tea infuser/strainer – and then turn the resulting liquid into syrups. What are some of my creations? Here is what’s currently brewing.

Chocolate Chilli Saigon Chai Syrup

I actually really love chai tea hot. In past blogs I have used chai tea to make various drink creations and had practically run out of tea. Digging through my cupboards I found a small sample of the Chocolate Chilli Chai which I had not yet used – preferring the more traditional flavour. So I rallied and mixed the last of my favourite tea with this new mix to make something fun for summer.

Ingredients
  • 2 Tbsp Chocolate Chilli Chai loose tea (Davids Tea brand)
  • 2 Tbsp Saigon Chai loose tea (Davids Tea brand)
  • 4-6 cups water
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
Procedure

This tea requires boiling the loose tea and straining it or using a tea infuser as tall as the pot of choice, I prefer the latter. Place tea into infuser, and set into pot of water. Bring to a boil and simmer about 10 minutes to get a strong brew. Remove tea infuser and add last two ingredients, bring back to a boil and allow sugar to dissolve completely. Cool and store in bottles.

When ready to serve pour over ice to fill half the cup, top with cold water or milk and serve.

My thoughts

My favourite chai is spicy and strong. While this drink qualifies on both counts, I realized today while frequenting my local “specialty cafe” that a good chai needs honey. This recipe used sugar and I think would benefit from replacing some of the sugar with honey. I have still not mastered that perfect chai taste and have not figured out how to get the right balance of strong, sweet and spicy. As a result the the specialty cafe in my town still sees me willingly pay $5 for a tall cup of Chai at least once a month so I can get my fix.

Pink Lemony Blossom Tea Syrup

Two traditional non-caffinated teas that I have never enjoyed are camomile and mint tea. I am not sure if this is because those are the most commonly offered to kids and I tired of it years ago, or if it brings back memories of sleepless nights, but either way I won’t drink these hot. One of my Christmas purchases was a herbal tea called Pink Lady Herbal Blossom Tea. The description indicated it was a blend of rose petals, hibiscus and mint. Unfortunately for me the mint overpowered the more subtle herbs and this tea got put in the “lesser” pile.

With summer upon us, the idea of mint juleps came into mind, and the tea came out from it’s dark corner. Preferring a milder mint taste I added some black La La Lemon Tea to round it out.

Ingredients
  • 2 Tbsp Pink Lady Herbal Blossom Tea (Epicure)
  • 2 Tbsp La La Lemon Tea (Davids Tea)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
Procedure

Boil water in pot and place tea (in infuser) in pot to steep. Simmer about 10 minutes (don’t boil unless you want a stronger black tea taste) then remove infuser. Add sugar and bring to a boil until sugar has completely dissolved. Allow to cool and poor into bottle to store.

When ready to serve simply pour 2-3 oz over ice in tall glass, add water or club soda to fill and serve with a fancy straw.

My thoughts

Hooray for the resurrection of mint tea into something that doesn’t remind me of bed time and toothpaste! While a true mint julep this isn’t, it is a refreshing alternative. I prefer it with club soda as it adds sparkle and makes this a bit more upscale. I am not sure what the tiny bit of hibiscus and rose in the teas blend add to the mix… Something to test would be to add a drop or two or rose and/or hibiscus water to the drink to see if that takes it to the next level.

Scarlet O Citrus Twist Syrup

This is based on an Epicure Recipe for Berry-lemonaid Herbal Iced Tea which you can find the original recipe here. The recipe calls for Scarlet O Herbal Blossom tea infused syrup, fresh squeezed lime or lemon juice, and some berry flavoured mixes. For my recipe I chose to go more natural with the berries, and cheat with lemon juice. The tea itself is a blend of honeybush, elderflower and hibiscus.

Ingredients
  • 4 tbsp Scarlet O Herbal Blossom Tea (Epicure)
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar or 1 Tbsp stevia powder
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
Procedure

Boil water in pot and add tea infuser full of tea. Turn heat down to low and allow to steep keeping water hot but not simmering (this tea is strong). Remove infuser and add sugar and lemon juice and bring to a boil until sugar is dissolved completely. (If using stevia you won’t need to boil as it will dissolve quickly). Allow to cool, pour into bottles and store.

When ready to serve pour about 2 oz over ice and a sprinkling of frozen blueberries, add 1 oz of lime cordial, top with water or club soda and serve.

Our thoughts

This is my favourite tea of the three, blended with the lime and club soda it adds a kick that cuts the thirst on a hot day. The original herbal blend comes through to give an intriguing and pleasant taste. Served without the blueberries is also nice. I am on my second bottle of syrup and summer has only just begun.

This tea is actually fabulous blended with the Pink Lemony Blossom tea, after their first tentative sip my girls both finished up two glasses at dinner tonight.

The Syrup Dilemma

Making virgin drinks that taste like the original drink has it’s challenges. To make a virgin mudslide required a coffee syrup and a home made Irish Cream without the Irish Whiskey. Cut with milk this drink was tasty – but sweet. To make my latest masterpiece the Tidy Bowl Shooter, I used curaçao syrup but cut it with Jamaican Ginger Beer so the sweetness was balanced by spice and fizz. Some shooters though are an epic fail – especially when blending multiple syrups instead of multiple liqueurs. While liqueurs are sweet they also have a kick of alcohol, the syrups… well they are simply sweet. This was most apparent when I tried to use my butterscotch syrup in place of butterscotch schnapps. I tried something called a Butterfly shooter from BarNoneDrinks: half Butterscotch and have Irish Cream right? Well I had both of these – in syrups so it should be a piece of cake! Nope. Thick and utterly impossible to drink – ick. Similarily the pumpkin pie shooter made from Butterscotch Scnapps, Baileys and Goldschlager also doesn’t translate well into a combination of syrups. There is also a similar mix called the oatmeal cookie using vodka and cinnamon schnapps, but again too much syrup and nothing to cut it with.

So how to fix this dilemma?

It occurred to me that one needs to balance the sweet with something, similar to in a cocktail where bitters are used to balance the sweetness. And so far, in other more successful shooters, I have used the addition of a cream, a sour mix or a fizzy spicy addition to balances the sweetness of a syrup based skeeters (virgin shooters).

So what options are left? Salty? More Sour? More Fizz or Spice? Or do some drinks simply not convert to the virgin option no matter how much you want them to?

So there is my dilemma – and my latest challenge.

Sugar and Cloth had one way to meet this challenge. She blends sweet caramel, ice-cream and milk with a dash of salt. What a better way to cut sweetness than cream and salt! You can find her recipe here.

Another option is to relish in the sweetness. There are a ton of shooter recipes that are imitating food. The Oreo Cookie Shooter that blends chocolate, coffee liqueur and Irish cream – all easy enough to replace with syrups to make a strong sweet concoction. So why not serve with a glass of milk just like the cookie, as a chaser? Or to be more creative, invest in some shooter bomb glasses and serve the milk around the shooter – just like a kid would dip his oreo in milk. We tried this recipe with non alcoholic syrups… Tasted nothin’ like an Oreo Cookie – unless you are dipping them into coffee!

So this is just the beginning of my journey – and more experiments are needed – but I am hopeful.

Rosemary Lemonade Snowballs

Rosemary Snowballs

Rosemary Lemonade Snowballs made with fresh fallen snow. From back to front: Rosemary Limonade, Rosemary Citrus & Vanilla Rosemary Lemonade Snowballs.

Some of the simplest virgin drinks are lemonades. Creating simple syrups from citrus and herbs, and pouring a tall iced glass full of sweet and tangy refreshment is the classic summer drink. So what to do when it’s blustering on a winter day? Well when they give you lemons, make lemonade. And when they give you mounds of snow, make lemonade snowballs!

The three recipes are my favourites from a summer of research in preparation for this blog, each using rosemary as the herbal note in the drink along with either lemon or lime. Each is a intriguing drink as a lemonade, bright tart and delicious, but not too sweet. Cold numbs the taste buds somewhat, so syrups used for snow cones and slushes often have to be slightly more concentrated.  I thought it would be fun to see how these lemonade syrups stood up to the snowball test.

Each of these syrups I poured over about 1 1/2 cups packed snow to make a 3 inch snowball.

Rosemary Limonade

The Kitchen has a wonderful recipe for syrup that is based on limes. I’ve always found limes sweeter than lemons and the tartness of this drink provides quite a punch (as described in the original recipe which you can find here.)
The original recipe calls for 1 part syrup to 2 part water or soda water, however for my purposes I poured 2 oz syrup over snowball (yep real fresh clean snow, but you can make this with 1 1/2 cups shaved ice if you don’t have the benefit of freezing cold snowy winters).
Rosemary Lime Syrup
  • 1 cup lime juice (6 limes)
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • Peel of 2 limes
  • 2 (4 inch) sprigs rosemary

Mix juice and sugar, heat on medium until sugar dissolved. Add rest, lower to med-low and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat, let cool overnight then strain and store.

My Thoughts: 

The original recipe is very strong and tart. The drink, as the recipe states, has a serious kick which is great for a thirst quencher and for those who like a more sour taste. We tested the drink as directed against the snow ball version, and the snow ball version is less sweet tasting but equally as sour. I tried cutting the syrup half and half with simple syrup for the snowball, which made the result still tart but pleasant and less likely to result in a “pucker power” face.

Rosemary Citrus Lemonade

The Kitchen also came up with this recipe using the both oranges and lemons, and  blending these with rosemary and honey for a wonderful flavour. The result is a wow factor to the drink that according to the the people at The Kitchen compares in flavour to Orangina.

The lemonade recipe calls for 2-3 tbsp syrup poured over ice and filled with water or soda water. When making this up I found that regular stirring was required to keep the syrup from sinking to the bottom of the glass. You can find the original recipe for this Rosmeary Citrus Lemonade here. The authors of The Kitchen mention that this syrup would make a fine granita, which would be a frozen version of the syrup, possibly straight up. So in keeping with the idea of this experiment I poured 2 oz syrup over snowball.

Rosemary Citrus Syrup
  • 2 lemons zest & juice
  • 2 oranges zest & juice
  • 4 4-inch sprigs rosemary
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cups honey

Bring to a Boil 1 min, remove from heat and cool 10 min. Strain and store.

My Thoughts:

This recipe as a drink  when diluted with water as instructed (1 part syrup to roughly 2 parts water) is very pleasant and the orange juice and additional sweetness the honey provides makes this the sweetest of these three drinks. We found the rosemary quite strong in this blend and if rosemary is not your preferred flavour you may want to reduce the amount in half.

As a snowball, the orange added more colour to the snow than the other two drinks, giving visual appeal, and the snow mixed in to the syrup reduced the sweetness of the drink but not the other flavour profiles.

Vanilla Rosemary Lemonade

This last recipe was found at MyRecipes.com and is little different in its creation and execution. The syrup for this recipe, unlike the others, doesn’t incorporate the citrus into the mix. Instead the lemon juice is added in equal portion to the syrup as a fresh squeezed component and mixed in glass. You can find the recipe for the original drink here.

Because the original drink doesn’t incorporate the lemon I adjusted the concept slightly to make it work for the snow ball.

Vanilla Rosemary Syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 3 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 3 cups water
  • fresh squeezed lemon juice (need 3 cups total)

Simmer all but the lemon juice until sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and let cool 30 minutes. Strain. Mix 1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice with 1 oz syrup in a cocktail shaker. Shake and pour over snowball.

Makes about 24 servings. If you are making smaller servings squeeze lemons as you use the syrup and store the remaining syrup without mixing the lemon in. The syrup should last about 1 month in the fridge.

My Thoughts:

This drink is very tart both in the liquid and snowball form. This is probably due to the fresh lemon used with the vanilla rosemary syrup. I found that adding a bit of simple syrup to the drink made a big difference, and would recommend the following formula for the snow if you like things a little sweeter: 1/2 oz lemon juice, 1/2 oz simple syrup, 1 oz vanilla rosemary syrup.

Our Verdict:

For the sake of my tests I wanted clean fresh snow and had to live with what we mostly get: Powder. Great for skiing in, terrible for making snowballs out of. Warming the snow helped, so I left it in a bowl for a day (outside but near the house & covered) and by the next afternoon the snow was perfect for packing. It took about three cups of powder snow to make what would normally amount to one “packed snowball” which required hand packing without mitts (no fluff please!). After freezing my poor fingers, I realized one could pack the snow into a rounded bottomed glass and then simply tip the snowball out into the serving cup… much better, but not quite the same realness.

Pouring the syrups over the snow, once it was packed, did not fully saturate the snowball and the result was something that needed to be eaten with a spoon like granita. Stirring the snow up, and giving it a few seconds, allowed the flavour to blend into the snow more uniformly and after a minute or two the drink became, well, more drinkable. Kind of like a daiquiri.

But what about the taste? Well…

The Rosemary Limonade was the most powerful flavour of the three: the rosemary, sweetness and lime all blend for a tart and slightly sweet mix that is lovely, but more a slow sipper. The Rosemary Citrus Lemonade was the mildest and sweetest, easy to consume in large quantities with no “pucker power” (but possibly some mild brain freeze!). The Vanilla Rosemary Lemonade was the most sour, probably due to the high concentration of fresh lemon juice and low concentration of sugar in this recipe. The vanilla was lost though, masked by the stronger rosemary and lemon flavours, and I am not sure what the addition of that ingredient brings to the drink. (Guess that means further testing… next summer!)

So does super cooling the drink make a difference? According to an article in The Guardian the answer is yes. In fact, just as we found, the colder the beverage the sweetness will be less noticeable and the sourness of the drink will be more apparent. This explains why the limeade (which used the least amount of sugar and the strongest juice – 1 cup lime juice) was too strong at full strength, and the rosemary lemonade (where the syrup was diluted with lemon juice) did not taste very sweet, and lost some of it’s more interesting flavours to the cold.

These drinks could use something special for presentation.

These drinks could use something … fancy looking, to add a visual interest.

For presentation, these could use something… maybe a swirl of zest on a cocktail stick, a beautiful spoon for stirring, or a citrus wheel. I am hoping that Santa will bring some interesting accessories this year, cause there is not much in the way of local options, and shipping costs are a bit more than this girl can swallow.

General Review of idea below!

Kid-o-metre 4/5 The concept was super fun too much rosemary was not according to my kids.
Taste: 5/5 I made these over and over while we had fresh snow until I ran out of syrup… sometimes we blended syrups for more interesting flavours. Definitely a winter treat!
Simplicity: 4/5  not too hard to put together – snowball making skills may be required 🙂
Ingredient finding: 2/5 snow in abundance, rosemary not so much… And in warmer climates… I bet it’s the opposite!

 

Chai Shooter

chai shooter and chai

Chai Shooter and Hot Frothed Chai.

I love tea. My dad got me into Earl Grey years ago, and if I am looking for a solid anytime tea, that is my choice, with milk and sugar (never could go black). But if I was to choose a hot drink for comfort, for curling up on the couch and reading a book, I would go to my stash of Chai Tea, brew it up with honey and milk and sit back and relax to the aroma of cinnamon, ginger & cardamon.

According to the Mighty Leaf, chai tea is 5000 years old and originates in the courts of Siam and India, created originally as a healing drink. Considering the health properties of ginger and cardamon are said to include assisting with nausea, infection, colds and flu; and cinnamon also is said to have similar properties, assisting with colds, infection and upset stomach; it doesn’t surprise me that one would turn to this drink for comfort and has become popular across the globe.

Chai now comes in vanilla and chocolate flavours, in lattes and in iced drinks. So how about creating a shooter?

Chai Infusion

In order to create something authentic I went back to the basics and found a recipe for chai tea —from scratch— and made up a strong chai infusion as my base. You can find both this recipe and the recipe for other common chai drinks here. Here is how I altered it for my purposes

Ingredients:
  • 12 black tea bags
  • 5 sticks cinnamon
  • 1/8 cup black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup cardamon pods
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 2 inches ginger root, sliced and peeled
  • 4-5 cups water
  • 2 cups brown sugar
Procedure:

Put cinnamon, pepper, cardamon and cloves into ziplock bag and crack with rolling pin or hammer until broken but not powder. Add to water, teabags and ginger in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and steep for 1 hour. Add sugar and boil 5 minutes until sugar dissolves. Cool and strain with double strainer. Return liquid to heat and simmer 30 minutes to concentrate syrup. Cool and store until needed in fridge.

Chai Shooter

Ingredients:

Procedure:

Pour chai infusion into shot glass, mix cream and cinnamon syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice and layer over chai infusion. Serve.

My Thoughts:

In order to create a strong flavour I blended cinnamon syrup with cream and layered that over the chai infusion in a shot glass. The result was a stronger hit of cinnamon, similar to if one had topped their latte with ground cinnamon, and sweetening the first flavours hitting the tastebuds.

This would be lovely as a hot drink too, using heated chai infusion and frothing the cream and syrup before pouring over the drink and served in a demitasse.

Pumpkin Mandarin Shake

Pumpkin and Mandarine Oranges two common Christmas ingredients during the holidays.

Pumpkin and Mandarine Oranges two common Christmas ingredients during the holidays.

Well it’s December! Christmas is less than a month away, the wish book is out and kids are taking notes, baking is in the air, logs are on fires, and Christmas specialty items are hitting the stores.

One of my favourite is Mandarine Oranges. Fragrant and sweet and so easy to peel. My kids just love getting these in lunches, and for snacks, and mom is often picking up peels all over the house.

So what to do with these peels, they got to have some use right?

Mandarine orange peels have a different flavour than the common orange and less bitter pith making them perfect for creating orange syrups and infusions. I found that infusing mandarines peels into syrup created a nice punchy citrus flavour, more appropriate for drinks where a citrus instead of pure orange taste is required.

Taking this to the next level, I wanted to see how much a mandarine infusion would add to a pumpkin shake creation – instead of using my standby of orange juice. The idea was to mix fresh pumpkin puree, cinnamon and honey syrups and mandarine flavour with ice-cream to create a unique shake. Because of all the other sweet ingredients, I hoped to use a water infusion instead of a syrup for my orange ingredient.

My first try was to create a tea of mandarine peels with hot water, and use this as an ingredient in the recipe. While the resulting shake was indeed tasty (my youngest sucked it down happily, my eldest claimed she is not a pumpkin pie or pumpkin anything fan), the mandarine was lost in the mix.

Next I tried simmering the mandarines in water instead of steeping them. Then lastly tried blending water and the peels in a processor, simmering and then straining to get the strongest flavour possible.

Pumpkin Mandarine Shake

Ingredients:
  •  2 oz pumpkin purée
  • 1 oz cinnamon syrup
  • 1 oz honey syrup (1:1 hot water to honey)
  • 2 oz mandarin infusion
  • 1 cup vanilla ice cream
  • Whipping cream
Procedure:

Blend all ingredients but whipping cream in a blender and then top with whipped cream.

My Thoughts:

This is a tasty recipe but needs more orange flavour. Even with the blended infusion, the orange is very subtle. I used homemade pumpkin puree, made from boiled up pumpkins saved from halloween, and there is quite a bit of liquid in the puree. If you use canned pumpkin, you may want to add a bit of liquid to the mix, or reduce the pumpkin down to 1 oz since it is more concentrated. Also the pumpkin is not spiced, so watch that you use plain puree, not pumpkin pie filling.


 Mandarine Infusion Recipe

Mandarine peels from three oranges
1 cup boiling water

Procedure:

Either make a tea of the mandarines and water. Or simmer chopped peels and water for 5 minutes then let steep for 10 minutes, strain and cool. Or for most concentrated version blend water and mandarine peels in blender then simmer 5 minutes and strain immediately (this version is a bit more bitter).


Kid-o-metre 3/5 one of two kids likes this in my family
Taste: 3/5 a work in progress
Simplicity: 5/5
Ingredient finding: 4/5 seasonal recipe

Cucumber Lime Fizz

Cucumber drinks are great all year. Left to right: Cucumber infused soda water & Cucumber  Lime Fizz.

Cucumber drinks are great all year. Left to right: Cucumber infused water & Cucumber Lime Fizz.

Did you know that cucumbers can cool blood and reduce swelling, erase pen ink, keep glass from fogging and clean surfaces without streaks? And if you eat it? Well! It eliminates bad breath, assists with hang-overs and provides you with 13 vitamins and minerals. Hooray for the mighty cucumber. They even have a National  Cucumber Day in the United Kingdom in June.

Ok so it’s November, but cucumbers are a favourite snack in my home (for 3/4 of us) and make an excellent addition to beverages. I found a wonderful recipe for a vodka infused cucumber ginger fizz from Martha Stewart which you can find here. I revamped to create something refreshing and sweet without the need for more cucumber the next day to treat any over indulgences. (Unless you love cucumbers like I do, then by all means enjoy them the next day!)

The original version instructs on how to make a cucumber infusion – giving an hour to have the flavours blend. Since cooking cucumbers in syrup is not an option here, two options present themselves: infusing cucumbers in water or sparkling water, or muddling cucumbers into a cold simple syrup and then straining the ingredients.

As the other two flavours are both strong — lime and ginger— I tested all options to see which would provide the best cucumber flavour against the true recipe. In order to compensate for the slower infusion rate of the cucumber in sparkling water or regular water, I gave each three time the infusion time of the vodka. Then created the recipe as directed and taste tested each.

Interestingly enough, there was very little difference between the drinks. The drinks are made with mostly sparkling water and all the flavours are very subtle. So I tried again but made smaller sizes, with the same amount of the flavouring ingredients (infusion, syrup, lime) and just less soda water.

Much more tasty and the differences between drinks was a little more noticeable.

Muddling the fresh ingredients in simple syrup and water gave the drink a bit more kick from the lime and ginger  (I used three small slices each of ginger and cucumber) gave the drink a more earthy taste and a slight opaqueness to the drink.  The infused version had a sweeter flavour, more clarity and tasted more like a refreshing pop. For all the drinks, the ginger and lime flavours came out stronger than the cucumber, while the cucumber lent more to the aroma and nuance of the drink.

I used soda water for my infusion and the salt added a stronger note to that drink than plain water or vodka, however the initial fizz from the soda water was long gone after the infusion process. The vodka infusion was easily replaced with any of the other infusions making this drink easy to adapt to a virgin recipe without a loss in flavour.

So the verdict? Both the muddling and the water infused options were my favourite of the bunch. I definitely recommend making the drink with the more concentrated recipe.

Fresh Cucumber Ginger Fizz – Muddling Method

Ingredients:
  • 2-3 slices ginger root
  • 3-4 slices cucumber (depending on thickness of slices)
  • 2 Tbsp simple syrup (1:1 water to sugar)
  • wedge of lime (1/8 lime)
  • soda or sparkling water
  • extra cucumber
Procedure:

Create garnish by slicing cucumber along length with a peeler and cutting into thirds. You will need one to two slices depending on the size of your glass. Fill glass with ice and drop cucumber slices in around edge.

Squeeze lime into glass and drop wedge into top of glass. Top with soda water (3-4 oz). Muddle ginger and cucumber in cocktail shaker with simple syrup. Strain while pouring over the ice. Stir and serve.

Sweet Cucumber Lime Fizz – Infusion Method

Ingredients:
  • 1 cucumber
  • 2 Tbsp cucumber infused soda water (see below)
  • 2 Tbsp Martha Stewart’s ginger simple syrup
  • wedge of lime (1/8 lime)
  • 3-4 oz soda or sparkling water
Procedure:

To make soda infused water chop half cucumber coarsely and place in non reactive container with 1 can (1 2/3 cups) soda water. Allow to infuse for 3 hours, strain and keep in fridge until use. (Lasts 2 days)

To create garnish slice remaining  cucumber along length with a peeler. You will need two to three slices depending on the size of your glass. Fill glass with ice and drop cucumber slices in around edge.

Squeeze lime into glass and drop wedge into top of glass. Top with soda water (3-4 oz). Pour ginger simple syrup into each glass, stir and serve.

My Thoughts:

What did my family think?

With a hubby who hates cucumbers and two kids who find ginger drinks overpowering, I had to go to outside sources. So after my first testing, I meandered over to my sister-in-laws with some samples and created both the “favourites” for her. Her comments? “Refreshing” Her preference? The more earthy muddled drink, which I agree feels more like a cocktail and less like a mixture of pops.

What’s your preference? With only two samplers at my disposal, I challenge you to do the taste test and comment on your thoughts.

Cacoa Nibs and Cocoa Powder

The difference between Cacao and Cocoa. From left to right: Cacao Nibs, Cacao Nib Syrup, Chocolate Mocktini, Chocolate Syrup and Cocoa Powder.

The difference between Cacao and Cocoa. From left to right: Cacao Nibs, Cacao Nib Syrup, Chocolate Mocktini, Chocolate Syrup and Cocoa Powder.

Did you know that cacao nibs are the raw form of chocolate? Did you know that they are said to have one of the best sources of magnesium. According to WebMD “Researchers estimate that the average person’s body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, and about half of that is in the bones. Magnesium is important in more than 300 chemical reactions that keep the body working properly.” National Institutes of Health lists some of these chemical reactions “including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation” And that is just five! If your into nutrition and science then check out the links to find more.

Ok, but back to food right?

What the heck is Cacao? and why are they spelled different? Is that just a Canadian thing, eh?

Nope. Nothin’ like that. Turns out that Cacao is unprocessed and the real  raw deal. Cocoa processed and can refer to products with added sugar. But not always.

I checked this out by reading the ingredients on the back of my Fry’s Cocoa Powder. Processed – yes. Sugar added – nope. Here is the ingredients on my container: Cocoa, sodium carbonate. May contain peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat and/or sulphites.

So the last bit is all about the “don’t sue us if you have an allergic reaction, we processed this somewhere where other stuff you may be allergic to is held and/or processed.” But the first bit? So Cocoa and … what? Sodium Carbonate. An additive used to keep the powder from caking, grumping up, compacting like a lump. Get the picture? So processed, but pretty pure, well mostly.

Ah sorry, again with the science right? Jeez. This blog is called Experimental Virgins for a reason. Love me some science.

Back to drinks though. Why do I care? Why bother with all this research?

I want to make drinks as close to the original tastes of the adult versions as possible, when possible. Infusing Cacao Nibs will give a clear fluid, while using Cocoa Powder will give an opaque look. Think of it as the difference between cinnamon sticks and powder, there is a place for both. You don’t put whole cinnamon sticks into cinnamon buns (mmm cinnamon buns…) and you don’t put ground cinnamon into a clear iced tea. Same thing with Cacao Nibs and Cocoa Powder.

On to the recipes and enough with the preamble.

Cacao Nib Syrup

I came across cocoa nibs in my research to find a way to make an alternative to creme de cacao and looked up as my starting point DIY Chocolate Liqueur. The basic ingredients for flavouring? Cacao nibs. Infused in vodka along with sugar, water and vanilla.

So can you make a similar syrup and how? Turns out it’s pretty easy and has been done. I found the recipe simply with Google and a little poking around on a site describing a yummy iced tea using a cacao infused syrup. Great! The ingredients? Cacao nibs, water, sugar and vanilla. Sound familiar? You can check out the original recipe here for the whole drink. For the syrup alone here is what they say:

Ingredients:
  • 3 tbsp cocoa nibs
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
Procedure:

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer 5 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Strain the syrup through a fine sieve; discarding the solids. Store in fridge until needed.

My Thoughts:

First thing you should know is 1 made six, yes six, times the recipe. Go big or go home I say, and I am gonna use this a lot! Gotta have stuff to test with, and gotta have enough to make mistakes and go “ick” and chuck the drink in question down the sink.

Second I have trouble telling if sugar is dissolved completely when there is particulate matter in my syrup. So I tend to make the syrup first and then add the flavouring to it, simmer a few minutes, and then continue as before. Will that affect my final product? Not sure…

After the said time I strained the syrup, keeping the nibs for the time and tasted the syrup. Then in an exercise of science, I divided the syrup in half (remember I made six times the recipe) and added the nibs back to half the syrup. According to the DYI for chocolate liqueur, it calls for 8 days to steep the cacao nibs in the vodka before adding the remaining ingredients, then one more day to blend flavours. Since sugar syrup is thicker than alcohol I gave it two weeks in the fridge.

How did the original syrup taste?

Chocolatish. Ok so that’s not a word, but cacao nibs don’t taste like a chocolate bar. Remember not processed and unsweetened? They also have a nutty taste and are a bit acidic. The husband says it tastes a bit like maple syrup with a dash of apple cider vinegar.

14 days later I tested the second batch of syrup that had been infusing in the nibs for in the fridge. The flavour had mellowed and was more chocolatey but also less acidic. Much more pleasant but still the hint of a bite is there. I wonder…

In order to be completely scientific I purchased a different brand of nibs to repeated the recipe. My first reaction to the new brand was that they smelled different. When I made the recipe again using the new product, the resulting syrup was the best of the bunch, chocolaty and sweet with only a hint of acidity. (My husband still finds it unappealing, give him regular chocolate syrup any day.)

Final thoughts? The quality of the nibs makes a difference, and infusing the nibs for 2 weeks with high quality nibs will give you the best product. What name brand did I finally choose? Navitas Naturals Raw Organic Cacao Nibs (unsweetened). If you can’t find them locally, I got mine from HealthyPlanetCanada.com.

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

Sometimes you need a real thick chocolate syrup for the job. Our family tested out a few we found on the net with the “chocolate milk” test. Does the syrup make a good cup of chocolate milk? Is it chocolaty enough, too bitter, too sweet?

The first from Allrecipes.com was too weak in our minds, especially when mixed with milk. The second passed the muster. This one is from KitchenTreaty.com and is thick and strong, but makes a great chocolate milk. You can find all the instructions on their site here, but to get you started here is the basic list of ingredients you will need.

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Mocktini

Ingredients:
  • 1 oz chocolate syrup
  • 1 oz cacao nib syrup
  • 2 oz club soda

To show the difference in density and opaqueness of the two syrups I decided to make up a simple martini using both drinks, layered and topped with soda water. I probably wouldn’t serve this, as is, since the Cacao Syrup doesn’t work alone with soda water. Once it’s mixed it is reminiscent of a rich cold cocoa drink. – more appealing, but again, not quite there yet. My husband added a splash of cream and it became “OK”.

It is pretty though, and if one were to mix something else with each layer, and serve with cream on top, or maybe a candy cane for stirring, this could have potential. I think I will revisit this around Christmas time, maybe add some mint and see if I can’t come up with something inspirational.