Thursday, October 20, 2011

Potions and Elixirs

Song Pairing:
Black Water by The Doobie Brothers
I'm definitely going for a setting here with my song choice.  The Doobies are paying homage to the Mississippi River and it suits my post today so well.  You see, we'll be making "reductions" today which can very much be likened to potions - secret potions if you so desire.  Black Water always makes me think of taking a leg off The Big Muddy and boating back into the bayous of Mississippi.  In my mind I can picture the shacks in subdued lighting - shadows all around - and maybe some old crone whipping up a batch of some odd elixir that'll cure some lover's straying eye . . . or make someone's eye stray your way.  I can't promise any magic of that sort with these concoctions but I'm pretty sure they're "gonna make everything all right."  Grab your raft, take a big breath, and exhale real slow - and catch that slow current and let's get the pots a-bubblin'.

When we were first married and scraping to make ends meet I used to take an apple that had gone mealy and some leftover orange rinds and put them in a little sauce pan.  I'd add water to cover the ingredients and sprinkle in some cinnamon.  I used to bring it to a boil and then turn the heat down way low and let it simmer for the better part of the afternoon.  My home smelled divine - like we lived inside of an apple pie!  We couldn't afford air fresheners or candles, but I loved the whole aromatherapy experience.  I found out in culinary school that I was actually on the road to making a sauce known as a "reduction.'

A reduction is a process where you take a liquid and boil it until it has become half or less of it's original volume.  You usually have some sort of aromatic, such as a spice or herb, with it.  The thing to keep in mind, though, when choosing which liquid to use is that, whatever flavor it has normally, will be intensified.  For example, liquids with bitter tendencies will only get even more bitter - tart flavors may become sour.  Be sure to taste along the way to decide if you need to add a sweetener.  Give it a stir now and then to make sure nothing is staking a claim on the bottom of your pan.  Another thing to keep in mind is that as it cools it will thicken even more.  What I do to be sure I don't end up with a tar pit of a mess is to ladle a small portion of the mixture into a dish and stick it in the freezer for a quick cool down.  If it's not quite thick enough, I cook longer.  If it's become thicker than I want I just add back a little more liquid.  When it's reduced to the consistency you want, strain it and then pour it into a shallow bowl and chill, uncovered.  When fully cooled, put in a container and store it in the refrigerator.

So what will you do with your reductions?  You'll use your "potions" to flavor dishes and knock the socks off your family and guests - that's what!  You can stir them into casseroles, incorporate them into sauces for meats or use as is.  They can be drizzled over desserts or stirred in to soups.  Whisk them in to vinaigrettes or use to flavor batters.  Once you have an arsenal of flavors on hand you'll never lack for flavor in your dishes.  I have a shelf on the door of my fridge dedicated to reductions and flavored simple syrups - potations which are ready at a moment's notice to help me add some "wow" to my meals.

Here are some ideas I came up with for reductions:

Apple Cider Reduction

4 c. apple cider or apple juice
1 c. white wine
1 orange
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 T. whole cloves
1/4 c. sugar

 This is the one that got the whole reduction ball rolling for me.  True confessions time - I will, on occasion, open my fridge and pour me a teaspoon of this stuff, just because it tastes soooo good!  Use it on pork, chicken, ice cream, pie, or even in salad dressing.  Or just as is!

Ginger, Apple, & Cinnamon

24 oz. ginger ale
1 apple, cut into fourths - no need to core
1 cinnamon stick
3 T. honey

I have this thing for ginger.  It started a couple years ago when I found a recipe for bread that used candied ginger.  It's been an addiction since.  So, as I was contemplating all the liquids I could use for this post, ginger ale suddenly popped into my head.  And being ginger and all, well, it just refused to leave until I could figure it out.  I consulted my Flavor Bible - no, there really is such a thing, I'm not making it up - I saw it recommended apples and the rest of the concoction just sort of fell in to place.  Heads up - this elixir has some bite!  In a nice way!  That ginger kinda sneaks up and gives you a little kick!

Orange Cranberry Clove

2 c. orange juice
1 c. cranberry juice
1 T. whole cloves
3 T. honey

Two of the happiest flavors to ever get along are orange and cranberry!  What a burst of tang they pack!  I kept my eye on this one as it brewed, just to make sure it didn't start going sour.  If you feel yours is becoming too tart, just add some sugar.  I realized, a little too late, that fresh cranberries in this would be awesome!  It's what I will be doing next time - add about half a bag, I think.  This is going to be drizzled over scones, ice cream, or maybe some chicken in an asian-inspired meal.  It could also add some interest to a breakfast smoothie!  Yum!

Pineapple, Coconut, Vanilla with Banana

46 oz. pineapple juice
13.5 oz. coconut milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped - add seeds and pod
4 oz. banana liqueur
3 T. sugar

I think I almost started to get the shakes as this recipe came together.  I spotted the pineapple juice on the grocery shelf and thought, "I wonder. . . ."  So I brought it home and started thinking about all the wonderful food profiles that would pair well with pineapple.  This was totally a pantry-inspired creation.  I saw that I had a can of coconut milk.  Yes - that would pair well.  As I looked up from the shelf with the coconut milk, I was staring straight at my vials of vanilla beans.  Why, yes - I think I'll take that as well!  I turned to leave and noticed the banana liqueur way back in the corner.  Huh.  I'll throw some of that in there, too!  This ended up being one of my happiest results of the day!  You can imagine how good this smelled.  This might be a teaspoon taster as well.  I'll be using it for desserts, of course, but I'm eager to try it on some fish.  I'm formulating a plan that involves dusting with coconut flour . . .
If you look close you can see the beautiful vanilla beans.  They've settled towards the bottom so you're going to want to be sure to stir this up before you use it!

Apricot with Cardamom and Peppercorns
Printable Recipe Card

46 oz. apricot nectar
1 t. peppercorns
2 t. cardamom
2 T. sugar

This was another Flavor Bible exploration.  I really wanted to try something different - maybe even a little nutty.  When I saw it suggested black peppercorns as a pairing for apricot, I figured that that might be considered a little nutty - so in it went!  In addition to my new fixation on ginger is cardamom.  Love the floral notes it brings without tasting perfumey.  I was very interested to see how it would go up again the pepper.  It's wonderful!  I can see this as a savory as well as a sweet dish enhancer.   Maybe with a steak . . .

Prunes with Cinnamon & Rum
Printable Recipe Card

2 c. prune juice
4 oz. rum
1 cinnamon stick, broke in half
3 T. sugar

I got soooo excited to make this one I forgot to get the before "ingredients" shot so you just have the after picture to gaze at.  But I'm thinking you all probably know what prune juice looks like, right?  This one ended up being my hands-down-all-time favorite of the day.  Whodathunk?!  Prunes!!!  Well, folks, don't just saunter on by those bottles of prune juice next time you're at the grocery store.  Grab one!  Take it home!  Throw it in a pot with the other ingredients listed above - or come up with your own "go withs."  Cook it down until it's about a third of what it was.  You will be licking your chops!  Say - that's a great idea - pork chops with this stuff!  But what came to my mind first is - "I can't wait to make Kahlua pork again because this stuff is going to be drizzled ALL over it!"

"By the hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama
Come and dance with your daddy all night long!"


  1. These look so good and it is something I have never tried before. You are blowing my culinary mind!

  2. Now I "get" how the Balsamic Raspberry Sauce at the Pike St. Market pasta place is made. It is a happy delicious memory which I now know a little bit better how to duplicate. Thanks! This post is fascinating. -Ciel

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