Summertime Care for Your Butcher Block Starts with Mineral Oil!

Summertime Care for Your Butcher Block Starts with Mineral Oil!

Whether you have a traditional end-grain butcher block, a butcher block countertop, or a cutting board version, it is critical this summer that you apply mineral oil to your butcher block.

Moisturize – Butcher Block with an oil finish needs to be re-oiled with mineral oil to keep it from drying and cracking.

Summertime is here!  Temperature and humidity changes could cause your butcher block to dry and crack. Exposure to extremes in humidity can swell and shrink a butcher block enough to cause checks in its surface. And high temperatures certainly can dry out the wood and cause cracks. What is the remedy? Oil your butcher block with food-grade mineral oil!

You can extend the beauty and life of any butcher block with a natural oil finish by reapplying butcher block mineral oil NOW and every 4 weeks.

If you use your block every day, moisturize more often. This will help prevent it from drying out and cracking.

Apply a generous amount of mineral oil to the butcher block surface then spread it evenly using a plastic grocery bag. (This is preferred to using a cloth, which will absorb too much oil). Smooth it over the entire top and sides of the block. Allow it to stand overnight. In the morning, remove any excess oil with a paper towel.

Protect – Reapply a board cream to lock in moisture and provide a protective barrier.

An especially effective maintenance regimen involves the use of both block oil and board cream. We recommend you first apply a coat of John Boos Mystery Oil (their proprietary mineral oil based product) following the instructions above. The mineral oil will penetrate deep into the block moisturizing the wood. Then apply John Boos Beeswax Board Cream to lock in the moisture and leave a silky, wax barrier on the surface of the wood. Mineral Oil and Cream


Avoid Sun and Water – Store your butcher block and cutting boards out of direct sunlight and keep them away from standing water.

Direct sunlight on wood is a no-no. When possible, move your wood blocks, cutting boards, and even wooden utensils out of direct sunlight.  And always wipe up spills on butcher block right away. Any standing water on a butcher block, especially one that is not moisturized and sealed, can cause damage.

Given the cost of butcher block can be significant, caring for your butcher block will protect your investment down the road. 

More Butcher Block Care

These helpful tips are applicable any time of year, not just summertime. So, remember to keep your butcher block healthy and protect your investment with a little tender loving mineral oil care.  If you seek more information, reference our Complete Butcher Block Care and Repair Guide.

 

Kitchen Tips – How To Clean Butcher Block

Kitchen Tips – How To Clean Butcher Block

I have admitted this before…I am actually one of those people who enjoys cleaning!  I find the process to be relaxing and almost cathartic. And for me it is very rewarding because I can usually see a huge difference in a short amount of time – instant gratification so to speak! While most people don’t enjoy it the way I do, I would guess that nearly everyone would admit that after they are done cleaning they feel better, maybe “lighter,” happier, or just plain glad it is over.

Springtime brings with it a new energy. A zestfulness. And for many, the willpower to tackle some household chores that they have been putting off during the winter season. For us at Butcher Block Co., springtime is a good time to remind our customers how to take care of their Butcher Block investment.

So, let’s review some best practices and how to clean butcher block cutting boards, standing blocks, tables or countertops…

Daily Cleaning – Clean butcher block after every use.

  • Scrape – Gently remove any food particles with a scraper or spatula. If you happen to have a varnish surface, remove food particles with a sponge so as not to scratch the surface (remember, you shouldn’t be cutting directly on a varnish finish).
  • Wash – To clean butcher block, wipe the surface with a clean wash cloth dipped in hot water and mild dish soap. Rinse the wash cloth and wipe the butcher block again. (Never submerge your butcher block in water).
  • Dry – Using a paper towel or dish towel, dry the surface of your butcher block thoroughly. Store your cutting boards on edge to dry both sides completely, and to save counter space.

Deodorizing – Keep your butcher block smelling fresh.

  • Neutralize odors before they arise.
  • Fill a spray bottle with white vinegar.
  • From time to time, after you prepare food on your butcher block, clean the butcher block then spray vinegar onto it.
  • Allow it to stand for a least 30 seconds before rinsing and drying.

 Disinfecting – Occasionally disinfect your butcher block, especially after prepping raw meat, fish or poultry.

  • Clean butcher block first following the steps above.
  • It’s necessary to kill germs, not just reduce their count. You’ll need a disinfecting solution that destroys ALL microbes in 10 minutes.
  • Use a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. You can blend your own solution using 35% food-grade hydrogen peroxide by mixing one part with 11 parts of water.
  • Pour the hydrogen peroxide onto the butcher block, spread it around using a clean sponge or cloth and let it stand for 10 minutes.
  • Rinse the solution off of the butcher block surface by wiping with a clean, wet cloth. Then dry the butcher block thoroughly with a paper towel or dish cloth.
  • Follow the steps below to moisturize your butcher block.

Moisturizing – Butcher Block with an oil finish needs to be re-oiled to keep it from drying and cracking.

  • At least once a month (more often if used heavily), oil your butcher block.
  • Use a food-grade mineral oil like John Boos Mystery Oil. Apply the oil with a plastic grocery bag, spreading the oil over all surfaces. Let the oil stand over night to penetrate the wood.
  • The next morning, wipe off any excess oil using a paper towel.
  • Whereas oil penetrates the surface of wood to moisturize it, a good board cream will leave a silky, wax barrier. Seal in the moisture with John Boos Board Cream. Apply the cream over the butcher block like you would apply a moisturizing lotion. Let it sit for a few hours or over night. Wipe off any excess with a paper towel.
  • Note – Butcher Block with a varnish surface does not need to be moisturized with oil or cream.

These helpful tips are applicable any time of year, not just springtime. So remember to clean butcher block to keep it healthy and to protect your investment. All it takes is a little tender loving butcher block care.  For more information, check out our Complete Butcher Block Care and Repair Guide.

Food Processor Favorite – Olive Tapenade Recipe

Food Processor Favorite – Olive Tapenade Recipe

Are you a food processor aficionado? You should be! This versatile kitchen gadget, while large, makes short work of many tasks and will earn its keep every time you entertain. Sarah is here to share some of her favorite ways to use the food processor, along with a simple and versatile recipe for Olive Tapenade that is sure to please your palate. Alright, Sarah, get us all mixed up in this food processor world!

Greetings, entertainers. Let’s talk tech! I love kitchen gadgets, and when I was thinking around my kitchen for a favorite, one immediately sprang to mind. Not only is this gadget versatile, but it is easy to use, pretty noisy, and for me has some stress-relieving benefits.

I am, of course, speaking of none other than the food processor!

Why is a food processor so great? First, I never had one growing up, Food Processor so it went in the class of kitchen gadgets I thought of in my head as “super crazy technical and awesome” (along with the mandoline). I only ever saw them being used on cooking shows, and seeing professional chefs use them for everything made me want one pretty badly.

Fast forward a few years to when I finally put one in my own kitchen, and I’m a pretty happy camper. Do you want fresh salsa? Toss in a mango, some chiles in adobo sauce, and some fresh tomatoes. Run out of hummus halfway through the party? Never again. This thing is the king of dips, and as an added bonus, puts you in the front row to watch things being pulverized.

One of my favorite things to make with a food processor is tapenade. I usually have all the necessary ingredients in my kitchen, which mostly speaks to my love of olives (and anything salty). So let’s get down to it—how do we make this treat for your guests?

Ingredients

  • Olives. I like to use a combination of olives from the olive bar at my grocery store, but if you have a favorite, that works, too. Kalamata olives make great tapenade that turns out a pretty purple color. The key here is no pits.
  • Olive oil. Seems unnecessary, right? Wrong. Just a drizzle is absolutely necessary to getting your tapenade a smoother consistency.
  • Capers. Just a few!
  • Lemon juice. Salt loves acid. Enough said.

Food Processor

Directions

Assemble your food processor. For me, this means choosing the correct-size bowl, and determining which blade to use. I chose a smallish 4-cup bowl to keep my ingredients close together, and the standard chop blade that came with my machine. Some food processors offer doodads that julienne and add all kinds of awesome knifework to your ingredients. Olives are so small that it’s not necessary here.

Add olives! I chose a mix of dried black olives, red pepper Spanish queens, and kalamata. I used enough to almost cover the bottom of my food processor, but for a party, you’ll want closer to 2 cups.

Now capers. I used a heavy hand because I know I like the pungency. I wouldn’t use more than a teaspoon-full for guests.

I squeezed half a lemon using another favorite gadget—a citrus juicer. Pro tip—put your citrus in flat side down so that the squeeze turns the lemon inside-out.

Turn your food processor on low to blend your ingredients. I let it go about twenty seconds, or until the food stops moving around the bowl.

Once your olives are all stuck to the sides of your bowl, turn the processor off, remove the lid, and scrape the sides. Now, the magic. Add a little bit of olive oil, and turn it back on low. I’d recommend about a tablespoon, or enough to keep the pulverized bits moving around the bowl as the machine goes.

Do the check, scrape, add olive oil thing until your tapenade is the consistency you like, and then serve with pita chips or pita bread (I’m a sucker for pita bread with tapenade!). If you want to make it extra fancy, toast your pita in a pan on the stove first with a little butter.

So what are your favorite kitchen gadgets? Any that were a childhood dream realized as an adult (I know I’m a huge nerd)? Happy entertaining, hosts!

 

Homemade Soup – Slow Cooker Thai Chicken

Homemade Soup – Slow Cooker Thai Chicken

A big bowl of homemade soup is just the ticket for these cold winter months, and with this Saturday being Homemade Soup Day, now is the perfect time to share a fantastic recipe that will warm you right up! It is also most definitely slow cooker season, so we’ve got Sarah here with a souper (sorry…) easy dish to come home to on a chilly night. Warm us up, Sarah!

In the dead of winter, I know I can always warm up from the inside out with a good bowl of homemade soup (and good bread!). I live in the snowbelt and experience a wonderful phenomenon known as the lake effect, which means I can expect a foot or more of snow overnight without Mother Nature blinking an eye. It’s great when you’re in school because there are snow days, but as an adult with a job, the traffic jam that doubles my commute home means that I am looking forward to dinner being ready when I get there.

Enter the slow cooker, one of my favorite kitchen appliances. You can throw raw ingredients together in the morning and come home to a fully-cooked meal.

My favorite homemade soup this winter has been a creamy coconut milk-based Thai chicken soup.

Adapted from this recipe, this soup is tangy and a little bit spicy. It gets better as you get deeper in your bowl.

Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Soup

  • 1 ½ lb. chicken (3 frozen chicken breasts)
  • 1 bunch cilantro (or 1 squeeze from herbs in a tube)
  • 1 heaping tsp ginger
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bag frozen peas
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 TBS red curry paste
  • 5 TBS fish sauce
  • 1 TBS lemon juice
  • 3 TBS peanut butter
  • 4 TBS brown sugar
  • 2 TBS soy sauce
  • 1 TBS sriracha

Instructions on this one are pretty simple: Load up your slow cooker, turn it on low, and go about your day. I turn it up to high for a bit when I get home from work. I doubt it does anything, but it FEELS hotter. When you are ready for dinner, remove the chicken breasts and cut them up (lazy girl shortcut). This is great served over rice, but I love a brothy soup (as evidenced by my midnight whiskey chicken soup obsession). The combination of peanut butter, red curry paste, and fish sauce will keep you dipping your spoon until you’ve eaten a bowl or more. So good it sneaks up on you.

Homemade Soup

My favorite serving suggestion with Thai chicken soup is thick, crusty bread spread thick with good butter. A diced red pepper wouldn’t go amiss in this concoction, and I wouldn’t turn my nose up at tossing in baby corn or plain frozen sweetcorn.

What are your favorite deep winter recipes? What is the best side to serve with homemade soup? Do you like your soup piping hot or more lukewarm? I am in camp “hot enough to burn my mouth,” just like my mother, and I will never learn.

How to Stress Less this Thanksgiving

How to Stress Less this Thanksgiving

Stress less this Thanksgiving with some great tips from Claire. My mom and brothers do pretty much everything for Thanksgiving in my family, so I couldn’t really stress less even if I tried. For those of you who take a more active role, keep these tips in mind to help yourself get through the day. Tell us what to do, Claire!

The world hasn’t ended quite yet, which means that Thanksgiving is still going to be just next week, if you can believe it. If you’re like me, you have been so worried about an uncertain future that you have all but forgotten about the upcoming holiday. In my case, that says a lot, because the holidays where I get to cook for people are kind of my favorite. In such a time, I think we can all use a little bit of help pulling together a successful Thanksgiving party.

After a week of hand-wringing, this is what I’ve come up with to help us all stress less.

  1. Put away the Halloween decorations that are still sitting around on your front porch. I know you’ve been distracted this week, but the skeleton is sending the wrong message to your guests, who are expecting your home to be a safe space. The corn stalks and decorative pumpkins can stay because they are generically autumnal and more harvest-oriented than the rubber rats and giant spider.
  1. Speaking of decorative pumpkins, now is the time to pick up some additional seasonal gourds. The few remaining pumpkin patches might even have some on sale. They make great centerpieces and look lovely and festive artfully arranged in a bowl on the front hall table. If you are making centerpieces for your table, though, keep them on the smaller side. You want to leave lots of space on the table for dishes, and you also don’t want to block anyone’s view across the table.

stress less

  1. Pick up the tablecloth from the dry-cleaners. Remember when you dropped it off there like 3 months ago? The cleaners don’t charge storage fees, but maybe they should.
  1. Invite friends and people you love. We can’t all be with our families at the holidays, and maybe we don’t all want to be. If you are hosting Thanksgiving, why not cast a net for friends who don’t have a nearby or welcoming family? This year especially, many people will be looking for something for which to be thankful, and a warm and welcoming table is a good start.
  1. Make mulled cider. If you start it in the morning, your house will smell like heaven all day. Aside from that, if you are preparing a Thanksgiving feast, you have a long day on your feet ahead of you. You definitely want to stay sober until you sit down at the table. Sipping on cider will help you stress less; it is satisfying and warming, but not alcoholic enough to incapacitate you before dinner starts.
  1. Pick out all of your serving dishes ahead of time. Make sure you haven’t accidentally double-booked your purple ceramic casserole dish like last year and then you don’t know what you’re going to serve the stuffing in. Hypothetically speaking, obviously.

Stress less

  1. You are going to be hecka busy with that bird and that gravy and that stuffing and those beans and potatoes. Allow yourself to stress less by finding a couple of people who are willing to wash dishes as you go , tend bar, and make an emergency last-minute run to the grocery store (don’t act like you’re not going to need one).
  1. You’re not kidding anyone with that green salad. No one will have room left on their plates for vegetables that haven’t been cooked in bacon fat or cream of mushroom soup, and you’re probably going to need the roughage the next day, so you might as well save yourself the time on Thursday.
  1. Empty out your fridge this weekend so you don’t have to sort through it after work on Tuesday to make room. Order a fresh bird today so you aren’t stuck next Thursday morning with a frozen bird that will never thaw in time. Figure out what you can make ahead of time, and get it done early.
  1. If you’re attending as a guest, ask your host what you can bring or do to help. If they don’t give you any direction, just bring a bottle of wine and start doing dishes. If you are bringing a side dish, also bring something attractive to serve it in.

I think a small amount of stress is pretty normal for hosting any kind of social gathering, but hosting this event should be fun. My way to stress less is to micro-manage and juggle the entire meal by myself, but maybe yours is to have a pot-luck! The worst reason to do a thing is because that’s the way your parents did it, so make your own traditions! And hold your loved ones close. Despite global warming, this is going to be a cold winter. Happy Thanksgiving.

National Sandwich Day – Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken Sandwich

National Sandwich Day – Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken Sandwich

National Sandwich Day should happen at least once a week, in my opinion. But if I got my way, we’d all be getting paid to eat sandwiches and play with puppies and kitties  and the economy would collapse…so maybe we should leave Sandwich Day alone. I am always happy to have a new idea in my sandwich arsenal, though, which is why I am particularly thrilled with Sarah today. Not only does this sandwich look 100% phenomenal, I never knew about cilantro in a tube, and I think my life may be forever altered in the best possible way. I hope you feel the same about this creation. Sarah, if you would be so kind, show us the way to sandwich perfection.

Happy National Sandwich Day, folks! I am a big fan of putting things between bread as a meal, as well as the season of FALL, and so when I discovered that National Sandwich Day happens to be in November, I knew we had to cook up a hearty fall sandwich to celebrate.

I have always been enamored with “weird” foods. This may have begun when my dad brought home a coconut from the grocery store when my brother and I were little kids. We cracked it open with a hammer and chisel, I think, and while none of us really cared for what we found inside, I retained the fascination with food that required a little bit of work to get to the good stuff. Shellfish, avocados, mangoes, and pomegranates are huge favorites of mine, possibly for this very reason.

Not many things speak “fall” to me more than pomegranate—we’ll leave the turkey and cranberry to Thanksgiving (which is SO SOON, you guys!).

Today we will be making a Pomegranate Balsamic Glazed Chicken Sandwich with Smoked Gouda, Anjou Pear, and Cilantro Aioli.

Ingredients:

  • Good loaf of bread
  • Cooked chicken (you know my favorite shortcut is a rotisserie chicken)
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¾ cup pomegranate seeds (about 2/3 of a pomegranate)
  • Sriracha
  • Ginger
  • Cilantro
  • Mayonnaise
  • Smoked Gouda
  • 1 Anjou pear

Let’s get started! The first step is to open your pomegranate. After googling this lazily (I believe my search keyword was “open pomegranate”) and clicking on the very first video, I found an acceptable method which only requires a bowl of cold water and a knife. The idea is to score the pomegranate along its sections (I followed the splits in the top of the fruit with my knife), break it open with your hands, and proceed to pull the seeds apart from the casing in the water. The dense seeds sink to the bottom, while the vaguely pool noodle-like outer skin floats. This science checks out. It took the longest for me to break the thing open, but start to finish I think I had all the seeds out in about ten minutes.

sandwich

Once you have your pomegranate seeds, chuck them in a small pot with ½ cup of balsamic vinegar. I let mine come to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. You basically want to cook the vinegar until it thickens and loses its bite. I can’t leave things be, so I added a squeeze of Sriracha and a squeeze of ginger (herbs in a tube are the BEST shortcut) to amp up the tart pomegranate and sweet balsamic flavors.

While the glaze was thickening, I cut up my pear into thin slices, sliced my Gouda, cut two thick slices of what my grocery store told me is “Tuscany bread,” and broke down my chicken into vaguely bite-sized pieces. Now would also be an excellent time to toast your bread and cheese, if you want a toasted sandwich. The pear adds some crunch, but not quite as much as I wanted. I think next time I make these, I’ll definitely go toasty.

Once your glaze is making thick bubbles and doesn’t have a watery consistency (taste it, too—the vinegar “bite” should be mostly eliminated), throw it (pomegranate seeds and all) into the container with your chicken and coat well.

Now it’s aioli time! Guys, aiolis are the easiest things to make. You know the fancy, creamy dipping sauces you get in some restaurants. “Sriracha garlic aioli” is usually mayonnaise with a squeeze of Sriracha and some roasted garlic (this is over-simplifying things—but not much!). Let’s make a fancy-sounding super tasty cilantro aioli with—wait for it—two ingredients. I took a small container, added a squeeze of mayonnaise and about a teaspoon and a half of cilantro from a tube (I love fresh herbs, but this stuff packs a lot of flavor and doesn’t go bad quickly) and mixed it together. Congratulations, you’ve made a fancy, restaurant-quality dipping sauce. Spread it on your bread!

sandwich

So the steps of sandwich-building today are going to go: aioli Sandwich and pear on one piece of bread, Gouda and chicken on the other, then quickly slap them together. I apply some pressure to kind of hold this guy together, and cut it in half to make this less unwieldy to eat. The Gouda brings creaminess, the chicken has a nice sweet flavor thanks to the glaze, the occasional pomegranate seed gives you some tartness, while the pears are a bit crisp, and the aioli adds a bit of salt.

This is a heavy, but well-balanced sandwich, in my opinion. Perfect to welcome fall and get ready for sweaters and blankets and bonfires and raking leaves in the crisp air.

What are your favorite fall flavors? Would you toast this sandwich (I should have toasted this sandwich)? What kinds of aiolis are you inspired to make this season? I think I want to try something with figs…

 

Fun Week – Summer Fun for the Whole Family

Fun Week – Summer Fun for the Whole Family

There’s still a little time left for some summer fun! We’ve been compiling recipes and ideas for a few years now, and we figure it’s the perfect time to share the summer fun with you.

Adult or kid (or kid at heart!), there’s something for everyone in this summer fun roundup!

First and foremost, get a batch of Boozy Poptails in the freezer right away. These adults-only frozen pops will surely get you through the last few weeks of summer!

Poptails Done

If that booze gets you feeling nostalgic, come share your childhood summer fun memories with us here.

Doing any camping this summer? Or attending a bonfire? Sarah’s fire pies are a definite must!

Campfire Pies summer fun

Another fun way to eat outdoors is having a build-your-own kabob party! Everyone gets exactly what they want all grilled to perfection!

If you’re looking for something on the lighter side, Claire’s grilled salad brings the best of summer onto your plate.

Grilled Salad

Or if the heat is just too unbearable, stick with something delicious that you don’t even have to cook! Ceviche tacos make for the perfect dish on a hot day – no grill required!

The very best way to finish off summer is with the most refreshingly delicious dessert: homemade mint ice cream. Can you think of anything better? I sure can’t!

Mint Ice Cream

What are your go-to meals and activities for summer fun? Share with us!

 

 

Butcher Block Co. Giveaway Promotes Tiger Wood Cutting Board, and Safe Food-Prep Practices

Butcher Block Co. Giveaway Promotes Tiger Wood Cutting Board, and Safe Food-Prep Practices

Consumer Sweepstakes Aims to Educate Public about Safe Use of Cutting Boards

Butcher Block Co., a leading online seller of “all things butcher block,” has a consumer sweepstakes giveaway slated for August. The grand prize is a spectacular end-grain cutting board made of South American tiger wood, designed and constructed in West Texas by the artisanal studio, Cotton & Dust. It’s reversible, 2 inches thick and 22 by 11 inches. All Cotton & Dust boards carry a Lifetime Reconditioning Guarantee. You can return the board for a free annual refurbishment and reconditioning.

According to the company’s Marketing VP, Kathleen Grodsky,

“This giveaway promotion will serve two purposes. First, it will draw attention to Cotton & Dust’s magnificent cutting boards. Second, it provides an opportunity to remind consumers of the best, safe practices concerning the use of cutting boards.”

“Summertime is peak grilling season, when the risk of cross-contaminating food through unsanitary practices is at its highest. With that in mind, Butcher Block Co. is disseminating the following information and helpful tips across various media outlets.”

Reminder – Unsanitary Use of Cutting Boards Can Pose Risk to Your Health

The Center for Disease Control estimates that foodborne illness sickens one in six Americans each year. A key cause is the mishandling of food, which allows for the transmission of bacteria and viruses. Since cutting boards play an essential role in the food preparation process, their unsafe use can contribute to the problem. For example, using a single cutting board both to cut up raw meat, poultry or fish, AND to slice fruit or vegetables, can result in cross-contamination. In other words, microbes can be transferred from contaminated food to clean food.

Best Practices for the Safe Use of Cutting Boards

  1. Use Two Cutting Boards – Dedicate one board to cutting raw meat, poultry and/or seafood. Reserve the second board exclusively for fresh produce and bread. This will help prevent cross-contamination.
  2. Wood vs. Plastic – While it’s true you can sanitize plastic cutting boards via dishwashers, cutting on them can leave deep grooves where bacteria can hide, persist and thrive. In contrast, any bacteria that remain in grooves in wooden cutting boards do not multiply; they die off as the wood dries after cleaning.
  3. Cleaning – Plastic cutting boards should be washed in very hot water. To thoroughly clean a wood cutting board: rinse off debris; scrub with soapy, hot water and a bristled-brush, sponge or dish rag. Dry the board thoroughly. Moisture promotes bacterial growth.
  4. Disinfecting – Once in a while, and after prepping raw meat, fish or poultry, disinfect with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. Pour it on the board, spread it around and let it stand for 10 minutes, rinse and dry.
  5. Moisturizing – Re-oiling (at least once a month) helps prevent butcher block from drying out or cracking. Apply food-safe oil liberally and allow it to soak into the wood overnight. Remove any excess the next day.

For more information, including instructions on how to care for and repair butcher block cutting boards, visit our Help Center:

https://butcherblockco.com/butcher-block-info

To enter our August 2016 Cutting Board Giveaway visit our Butcher Block Co Facebook page.

Home Bartending – Basic Bar Gadgets and Classic Cocktails

Home Bartending – Basic Bar Gadgets and Classic Cocktails

Just in time for the weekend, our Cocktail Queen, Sarah, is back! This week she is sharing with us some basic bar gadgets plus how to use them to make three classic cocktails. I own all of these bar gadgets, but I have never used any of them (well, my muddler has been used to break up ice a few times, but I don’t think that counts…), so I think it’s high time I graduate from pouring bourbon and opening beer. Let’s see if Sarah can teach me a thing or two about making real, grown-up cocktails! You can come along for the lesson, too, and we’ll practice our new-found bartending skills together.

So let’s talk classic cocktails. You don’t have to be a film noir star to be able to enjoy an old fashioned, but you will need a few basic bar gadgets to help craft your masterpieces.

I’ve been expanding my own collection of home bar gadgets as of late, and my cocktail game has never been stronger.

The bar gadgets in question today are:

Bar Gadgets

Cocktail Strainer

This should fit perfectly over a pint glass or other shaker, allowing you to strain ice and any other bits you’ve mixed into a fresh glass.

Muddler

We will get into the finer details of proper muddling in a later post, but this is great for crushing ingredients before adding alcohol – we’ll be using it to make old fashioneds really easy to make.

Stirring Spoon

This is surprisingly helpful, especially when you are stirring a cocktail in a tall pint glass. Your average spoon won’t make it all the way down to the bottom, and the slender, spindly handle maneuvers more easily around bulky ingredients (believe me – I was as surprised as you that a FANCY SPOON is a great bar gadget).

Channel Knife

This is the most technical tool we’ll be using today. The best tutorial I’ve ever seen on cutting twists is here. It demonstrates three easy ways to make a fancy-looking garnish. I like the channel knife because I LOVE gadgets, but it’s also handy if you aren’t making a lot of drinks or don’t have a use for fresh-squeezed lemon. Twists cut with a channel knife are also a little more delicate-looking than ones done with a vegetable peeler, making for extra fancy. I found the bulky handle of the channel knife easy to control once I had practiced a bit. Oh, and the bonus citrus zester on this one is nice to have on-hand. Pro tip – have friends over for “practice cocktail night;” it is VERY fun.

So on to actually making these bad boys. Today, we’ll be delving into Negronis, Old Fashioneds, and Cosmopolitans. Negronis are probably the most obscure on that list, but my sources say they’re coming back in a big way as of late. There are a few special ingredients you should have, both to have a nicely stocked home bar, as well as to impress your guests.

The well-stocked bar will contain:

Sweet Vermouth

(the red kind)

Angostura Bitters

(Peychaud’s are also acceptable)

Campari or Aperol

I, personally, have found that the bitterness or orangeness of Campari is not something I prefer to be able to taste in a cocktail, but Aperol is another bitter alcohol that I find palatable. Either of these is going to be a bright orange bottle, giving your cocktail an unmistakable color. One bottle of this will last you quite a while, since it’s rarely called for in drinks, but its presence in your home bar will make you look like an esoteric expert.

Fancy cherries

It might seem silly to spend $20 on a jar of cherries, but these will last you a good long time, and Luxardo is the bartender’s gold standard cherry. I tried several fancy cherries for this post, and the thick syrup of Luxardo helps this guy stand up to a boozy drink. I promise you can taste the quality. Woodford Reserve also makes a decent cherry for slightly fewer dollars.

The drinks!

Bar Gadgets

Old Fashioned

  • 2 sugar cubes
  • Angostura bitters
  • Seltzer or water
  • Bourbon whiskey
  • Orange
  • Cherry

Drop 2 sugar cubes in a heavy-bottomed glass (they’re actually called old fashioned glasses for a reason!) and shake a few dashes of bitters on them.

Add half an orange wheel and a cherry.

Pour a splash of seltzer or water in the glass. Seltzer is going to lighten this drink up in a surprising way if you’ve only ever had these with water before. It’s a nice change of pace that I encourage you to try even once.

Mash gently with your muddler. The sugar cubes should no longer be cube-shaped, and your fruit should have released some of its juice, but don’t pulverize the fruit.

Add ice. The giant fancy ice thing that’s a trend? The reasoning behind it is that the bigger the ice cube, the less surface area it has compared to several smaller ice cubes. So you get the same amount of chill factor with more time to drink before the ice has completely melted or waters down your drink too much.

So add your ice, then 2 parts whiskey. I used my trusty Bulleit Bourbon, which has lately been housed in a fancy schmancy decanter and looking very stylish. Stir it gently and let it sit for a few moments before sipping. Garnish with an orange wheel and a fancy cherry (snacks with drinks are always appreciated by me).

Bar Gadgets

Cosmopolitan

  • Sweetened lime juice
  • Vodka
  • Lemon
  • Triple sec
  • Cranberry juice

In a cocktail shaker, start with ice. Any ice is fine here, since we’re going to shake this guy.

Add 1 part sweetened lime juice.

Add 1 part triple sec.

Pour in 2 parts cranberry juice.

Finish with 3 parts vodka, and shake thoroughly for about twenty seconds – your shaker should be cold to the touch.

Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Bar Gadgets

Negroni

  • Campari or Aperol
  • Gin
  • Orange
  • Sweet Vermouth

In a pint glass or shaker, start with ice.

Add 2 parts gin.

Measure 1.25 parts sweet vermouth and pour it in. (Note to purists – I reversed the proportions of Campari and sweet vermouth to match my own tastes. Traditionally, you’re adding more Campari than sweet vermouth, but I preferred it this way)

Add .75 parts Campari.

Take your long-handled stirring spoon and stir this for about twenty seconds, or long enough that you feel silly stirring. This is going to make sure your drink is cold.

Strain into a glass. This can be served up (no ice) or given some ice cubes to keep it company. Garnish with an orange twist.

Bar Gadgets

Which drinks should I mix up for you next? Do you have an obscure bar gadget that you’ve never used?

What’s Trendy? Low-Carb Veggie Noodles!

What’s Trendy? Low-Carb Veggie Noodles!

Veggie Noodles are the latest trend in the food world, and I’ve got to admit, I kind of love it. I LOVE vegetables, and I’ve been using spaghetti squash as an occasional pasta substitute for years. With the introduction of the spiralizer, I can now make noodles out of zucchini and other squashes, carrots, and just about any other firm veggie! You don’t have to use it as pasta, though. Another great way to use veggie noodles is to simply prepare them as a side dish. Sautéed in a little butter or olive oil with garlic and salt, they make a great addition to any meal. This is one trend I’m happy to jump on board with! Lucky for you, Sarah W. is also a spiralizer fan, and has a spectacular zucchini noodle and meatballs recipe to share with us. This one is particularly friendly if you are on a low-carb diet. Take it away, Sarah!

I have a foodie confession to make: I am not a huge fan of Italian food. Pasta has never been a religious experience for me the way that it seems it should when gauging my social media feeds. (I am fully aware that Italian food consists of more than PASTA, and have indeed eaten my share of other dishes. All are quite good! It’s just not my favorite food genre.) People. Love. Pasta. I am not a finicky eater, but when I go out to eat, I prefer to order something I couldn’t easily make at home, and when I’m cooking at home, my comfort spices include chili powder, thyme, cumin, and hot sauce.

That being said, whenever I picture cooking in the kitchen, it stems from the image of someone’s Italian grandma making sauce and noodles from scratch, stirring a bubbling pot smelling of garlic and love. To me and my fanciful brain, that’s traditional cooking. I just don’t do very much of it myself. So for this week’s blog, I decided to push myself back to basics and see if I could modern it up without being too crazy. The current trend of veggie noodles seemed like a good compromise.

We recently had our neighbors over for dinner, and they are pasta fanatics. I knew I wanted to make something at least Italian-inspired that would also be flexible enough for my current gluten-avoidance. Some Googling led me to this awesome recipe for Lasagna Meatballs, which I adapted and served with a choice of zucchini noodles or traditional pasta in fun shapes. I got a yield of 40 meatballs, which, including sauce and cheese, netted me 1.3 carbs per meatball. Not bad for those counting carbs! Your mileage will vary, depending on the cheeses (ricotta and mozzarella both contain carbs) and sauce you find around you, but this is a pretty delicious recipe that can be easily adapted to different diets by changing the base.

In order to make zucchini (or carrot or let-your-imagination-run-wild other vegetable) noodles, you will need a spiralizer. You can julienne your veggies, but they won’t have the same flexibility and movement that a pasta noodle does. I have a small, basic one and it’s served me well. Its size makes it easy to store since I don’t use it very often. Vegetable noodles are really trendy right now, and it’s easy to see why. They’re not labor-intensive; they can be tailored to go with a variety of dishes; they’re visually appealing and a way to get more color on your plate.

I had never made meatballs before, and these are a little wet, by virtue of the ricotta cheese. I skipped the breadcrumbs/flour usually called for in meatballs, and decided to use some extra Parmesan cheese instead. This was a good idea.

Zucchini Noodles with Lasagna Meatballs

  • 1 lb ground beef or turkey (I used turkey)
  • 1 lb sweet or hot Italian sausage (I used sweet)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • parsley, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper to taste
  • ¾ cup Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 cups pasta sauce (I used the lowest carb I could find – 5 carbs per serving)
  • 1-2 roasted red peppers
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cup mozzarella cheese
  • 3 zucchinis
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine the sausage, turkey, eggs, ricotta, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic to make your meatballs. Dice or finely chop the roasted red pepper and add to the mixture. I found it was best to have some “rings off” time and combine this by hand. At this point, the meatball mixture is very wet.

Add ¼ cup of your Parmesan cheese. If you still don’t like the consistency, add another ¼ cup.

Form 1-2” meatballs and line them up on a large baking sheet. They can be somewhat close together, as they won’t spread while they bake. Pop in the oven for 25 minutes. Bigger meatballs may take more time. As mentioned above, I got 40 meatballs out of one batch.

Grab a baking dish and start loading your meatballs in. I was able to cram all 40 into a 13” x 9” dish. Cover with sauce. Cover that with mozzarella cheese, finishing up with the remaining Parmesan. Cook this for an additional 30 minutes.

Trendy Veggie Noodles

When you have about 20 minutes left on the bake, use the spiralizer to prep your zucchini noodles. These are fairly simple. Trim the ends of your zucchini. Hold the zucchini firmly in the spiralizer and turn so the blades cut the vegetable. This will produce noodle-shaped ribbons. These can be sautéed in a pan over medium heat for 4-5 minutes in butter. Twenty minutes out is a good time to start boiling water if you’d also like to serve pasta as an option.

Trendy Veggie Noodles

I served these to my pasta-fiend neighbors (while calling them “lasagna meatballs”) and got this reaction: “The meatballs themselves don’t seem like they’d be cheesy, but they’re really cheesy!” They were a hit.

Trendy Veggie Noodles

Have you jumped on the veggie noodle trend? What’s your favorite vegetable to use, and how do you prepare it?

Printer-friendly recipe: Zucchini Noodles with Lasagna Meatballs