Friday, December 15, 2017

Tea Time with Brandy: Sparkling Cocktails & Matcha Peppermint Scones


Every year a few weeks before Christmas, Brandy hosts a Wrapping Party. It's a jolly old time with all of her friends; listening to Christmas carols, nibbling a few treats, and sipping a few drinks while progressively getting merrier while their paper cutting skills get worse and worse until inevitably, someone ends up wrapped in clear tape like a mummy. "I find that it's the best possible way to get motivated for the worst chore of the holiday season," she says, "Plus, it's usually an excuse for me to try some more experimental recipes before I give them their big debut."

To keep everyone feeling merry and bright, Brandy made sure she had plenty of cocktail making supplies on hand. One thing she had hit upon as a brilliant base for mixing simple cocktails quickly while ensuring they had great flavor was a new line of sparkling waters from Waterloo. Coming in 7 varieties, the sparkling waters are all calorie free, sugar free, and sodium free, meaning they add brilliant flavor and bubbles to a cocktail without adding anything else. Brandy particularly likes the Lime flavor, which she mixes with vodka and cranberry juice to create a Sparkling Christmas Cosmo. The Black Cherry flavor is also lovely with a splash of cranberry and some honey whiskey, making a lightly crisp version of a Manhattan. All of the flavors (which also include watermelon, coconut, lemon, and grapefruit) are also perfect for sipping on their own as a light and refreshing palate cleanser after consuming tons of sweet and salty snacks.


Speaking of which, this year, Brandy decided to go a little bit out of the gift box, so to speak, for her Wrapping Party provisions. "I like my food to be colorful this time of year," she explained, "But I don't want to overload things with dye and artificial hues." For that reason, she zeroed in on Matcha as a natural colorant as well as a spectacular winter flavor. The thought of tea put her in mind of her home land, and instantly she was craving scones with lashings of cream. "Hmmm... Matcha scones... now that's an idea!" she said to no one in particular. But the idea needed just a little something more to make it feel complete. "Of course! The cream!" she exclaimed. Thinking on flavors that might match well with the delicate Matcha, but also remind her guests of snowy winter days spent snuggled by the fire, she hit on the idea of a peppermint scented buttercream to fill her scones with. And as her cabinets are always stocked with wonderful extracts from Nielsen Massey, it was a sinch to make her scone and cream dreams a reality.

Matcha Scones with Peppermint Cream

2 cups of cake flour
4 teaspoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons of Matcha powder
a pinch of salt
2/3 cup of milk, plus one tablespoon
2 large eggs (one for egg wash)
1/4 cup of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons of Nielsen Massey vanilla extract
4 tablespoons of softened butter
Nielsen Massey Vanilla Sugar for topping

For peppermint cream:

1/2 cup of softened butter
1/2 pound of confectioner's sugar
2 teaspoons plus more to taste of Nielsen Massey peppermint extract
about a tablespoon of milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder, matcha powder, and salt. In a second bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla extract with a hand mixer. Add in one egg and the milk while continuing to mix. Slowly add in the dry ingredients and continue to mix until everything is well incorporated. Using either an oiled ice cream scoop or your flour dusted hands, form the dough into about a dozen small balls and line the baking sheet with them. Scramble the remaining egg with a tablespoon of milk, then use a pastry brush to apply the egg wash to the tops of the scones, then sprinkle on vanilla sugar. Bake in pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, or until the tops are slightly brown. Let cool completely.

In a medium bowl, cream together the softened butter, confectioner's sugar, and peppermint extract (start with two teaspoons and add more if desired). Add in milk a few drops at a time to loosen up the cream and give it more of a whipped texture rather than a hard icing texture. Cut the scones in half horizontally and spread a generous amount of peppermint cream on the bottom piece before adding the top back on.

The writers of this blog were sent products from the mentioned companies free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Late Bloomer or Earlier Riser

The Slow and Savory Review

A few years ago, Brandy bid a fond farewell to her dear friend, Brochette Barleycorn (world famous anthropologist and competitive basket weaver) when she set off for a multi year sojourn in West Africa. Unfortunately, the farewell had not gone quite as planned, with Brandy having taken her globe trotting friend out for a disastrous dinner. "It was one of the most horrid meals of my life," Brandy remembers, "They served us oysters rife with pieces of shell, over cooked pasta, there was a hair on the steak, and the desserts were frozen in the middle. I've never been so embarrassed by a restaurant. What a terrible memory to leave her with right before she left the country!"

So when Brochette finally returned to the States, Brandy knew she had to make things up to her friend. "It's not necessary," Brochette had told her, "I mean, yes that meal was pretty awful. Between the waiter telling us we looked like two flowers at the center of a bouquet and then spilling wine all over us and the horribly out of tune piano music, things were set for disaster before the food even arrived at the table!" "Even still. My heart has been heavy since you left and the only way forward is to remedy this grievous error. We're going to brunch and I won't hear another word about it."

Taking a bit of a gamble on a new place, but one with an established reputation behind it, Brandy brought Brochette along to The Late Bloomer, which recently opened in the former location of Lyfe Kitchen in the New City complex. Coming from the same team behind Lyfe Kitchen, The Late Bloomer promised classic American flavors in a casual setting. Building on some of Lyfe Kitchen's ideas, the menu was scattered with lots of vegetable and produce focused dishes. The layout hadn't changed much for the location's days as a Lyfe Kitchen outpost, but the decor had shifted to more vibrant pops of chartreuse set against blues and grays, giving the restaurant a relaxed and contemporary feel.

As Brandy was feeling a little in need of something healthy, she began her meal with a Kale Banana Smoothie. The texture of the drink was surprisingly light and airy, while the flavor was mildly sweet with no hint of bitterness and had a slight zing of citrus juice. Brochette, on the other hand, was ready for a stiff drink, so she ordered the Good Neighbor, a mix of vodka, St. Germaine, bitters, and citrus. Brochette was very happy with how refreshing and bright the drink was, commenting, "This tastes like a breakfast cocktail to me. I could see it on any menu along side a mimosa and a Bloody Mary."

They started things off by sharing a Beetza; a flatbread topped with roasted beets, caramelized onions, arugula, pesto, and Parmesan cheese. The crust was very light and crunchy with a flavorful char on it that complimented the earthy and sweet flavors of the toppings nicely. Brandy particularly enjoyed the thinly sliced beets, which had been roasted to perfection, while Brochette was enamored with the pesto.


Brochette picked the Norwegian Scramble for her entree, which came with scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, a toasted bagel, and a crème fraiche sauce. The eggs were a little soft for Brochette's liking, but Brandy thought they looked just right. Otherwise, the dish was very simple, subtle, and satisfying. Brochette especially liked that the components could be arranged in any manner one wished, from an open faced sandwich to a hash.


Brandy went with the Shortrib Meatloaf sandwich, which came served on Texas Toast with a side of fries. The texture of the meatloaf was very unique, being flaky and very tender. Brandy liked the slightly tangy sauce and thought it did a good job of adding flavor to the meat without over powering it. Her only complaint was that the sandwich as nearly impossible to pick up because the meat was too substantial for the flexible Texas Toast, and so could only be consumed with the use of a fork and knife.


Finally, they ended their meal with an order of Monkey Bread, which came covered in a toffee sauce and toasted pecans. The bread itself was soft with a nice chew to it, allowing the toffee flavor to linger on the tongue in all its buttery goodness. "What an excellent idea for a shared dish!" said Brochette, snagging a lump of bread with her fork. "Yes, it's quite good. One of the better ones I've had," said Brandy, ensnaring her own bit of bread. Happily, they munched on their delectable treat without talking, until that inevitable moment when only one piece remained. The clang of their forks could be heard all throughout the restaurant. After an intense few minutes of starring, Brandy relented to her friend with a smile. "After all," Brochette said as she popped the toffee covered confection into her mouth, "You do owe me for that terrible dinner."


Apart from some wonky bits of service (which could mostly be excused by the place only having just opened) Brochette seemed quite pleased with her experience at The Late Bloomer, which finally gave Brandy the peace of mind she had been craving. The food was all done very well and the prices weren't anything that was going to start a wallet screaming in terror, but Brandy hoped that the restaurant would, in time, come to find more of a definitive identity that didn't so resemble it's older sibling. "I'm half tempted to order another plate of that monkey bread to go," Brandy confessed to Brochette as they headed out. "What a great idea! We'll take it over to the lake and have a little munch while we do some people watching," Brochette exclaimed. "Oh no, dear. We'll do nothing of the kind. My debt has been paid to you in full and now I fully intend on consuming an order of that oh so shareable dish all by my lonesome."

The writers of this blog were invited to dine free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

The Short and Sweet Review