Raising the Bar

Bar Snacks That Go Beyond the Basics

By Mary Reilly, Food Styling by Joy Howard, Photos by Dominic Perri

Who said bar food needs to be basic? Not us! With just a little effort, you can easily add flair (and vegetables!) to make old favorites new. Transform classic bar-top and couch-side snacks into even tastier treats and pair them with a local beer, a homemade soda, or a good game.

Mini Potato Skins

Cracker Jill

Inside-Out Shishito Poppers

Sriracha Cauliflower

Chickpea "Fries"

The Wildcrafting Brewer

By Mary Reilly, Photo by Pascal Baudar

From Pascal Baudar, author of The New Wildcrafted Cuisine (highlighted in Edible Pioneer Valley Issue 10 | Fall 2016), the newly released The Wildcrafting Brewer (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018) will inspire a new level of creativity in true culinary DIYers.

Baudar talks us all through Lazy Wines, Herb Beers, and naturally fermented sodas. He also includes a section covering medicinal brews. 

Those who are new to home brewing and fermenting will appreciate that Baudar covers the basics: vessel selection, wild versus natural yeast, which type of sugar to use, etc. Experts will appreciate his take on ingredients: Where can we find natural sources of sweet, bitter, and savory? Baudar shares his experience and expertise through tips and methodology for successful fermentation and brewing. 

Whether you’re a brewer, forager, fermenter, or drinker of beverages, there is a perfect recipe to play with. Go wild!

FLOWER WINE (ELDERFLOWER CHAMPAGNE) 

This is an old traditional European recipe for making wine with elderflower. In Southern California we have Mexican elders (Sambucus mexicana) at low altitudes and the regular elder (S. nigra) in the mountains. One of the peculiarities of the Mexican elder is the fact that the flowers can be smaller, usually half to a quarter the size of the regular elder, which changes the recipe a bit. 

I don’t know why the wine is called a champagne—perhaps it’s due to the color and the fact that it’s bubbly. The old recipes make no mention of adding yeast, because it’s present on the flowers. I’ve had moderate success (probably around 70 percent) with spontaneous fermentation from the flowers, so these days I usually add some champagne or wine yeast if I don’t see any signs of fermentation after a couple of days. 

30 large Mexican elderflower heads or 20 regular elderflower heads 

1 gallon (3.78 L)
 water

3 cups (500–600 g) white sugar

3–4 lemons, zested and sliced

2 tablespoons (30 ml) vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)

Champagne or wine yeast (optional—flowers should have wild yeast) 

Pick the elderflowers when they’re fresh and full of pollen. Fresh Mexican elderflowers look a bit greenish, while the older flowers are whiter. You’ll discover very quickly that elderflowers are loaded with little bugs. My solution to get rid of (most of) them is to place the flowers in a bowl outdoors for about an hour; the little bugs will vacate. You can’t really remove them all at this point, but as you strain your solution later on, it will take care of the remaining ones. 

Place the water in a container, add the sugar, and stir with a clean spoon to make sure it’s dissolved. 

Add the lemon zest and lemon slices, the elderflowers (remove as much of the stems as you can without going crazy about it), and the vinegar to the container and stir briefly with a clean spoon. Some people add commercial yeast at this stage. 

Close the container, but not so tight that fermentation gases can’t escape. You can also place a clean towel on top. Let the mixture stand for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. If you didn’t use yeast, you should see some bubbles after 48 hours, indicating that the fermentation from wild yeast is active. If this doesn’t occur, then add some yeast at this stage. Using a clean spoon, make sure that you stir the liquid for a few seconds three or four times a day during this process. 

Strain the liquid (after 48 hours if additional yeast was necessary) into your fermenting vessel (bottle or bucket). Let the fermentation go for another 4 days. Using a layered cheesecloth when straining the liquid removes any remaining little bugs.

Your final step is to bottle your champagne in recycled soda bottles or swing-top glass bottles. Let it ferment for a week before enjoying. I like to check the pressure from time to time by unscrewing the bottle slightly to make sure it’s not excessive. 

Recipe and photo by Pascal Bauder, courtesy of Storey Press.

Amuse Me!

by Sanford D’Amato, Food styling by Joy Howard, Photo by Dominic Perri

An amuse bouche is a small taste from the kitchen usually sent out as the guests are looking over the menu. Its translation is “to amuse or gratify the mouth.” It gives you a welcoming feel for the food that is about to be served and helps you settle in for a great dining experience. Many guests think that the amuse is only found in fine-dining restaurants, but it actually is very common in other restaurants as well, only in a different form.

As I was growing up, my favorite amuse was the relish tray that graced every supper club throughout Wisconsin. I’m talking about the rectangular tray embellished with celery and crinkle-cut carrot sticks, pickles, pitted black olives, pickled cherry peppers, green onions, and radishes. The difference between a common and upscale presentation was the addition of crushed ice—to keep the vegetables crackling crisp—and the carving of the radishes into roses and the green onions into frilly pom-poms. This might explain my unnatural later-life lusting over salad bars, which I consider the perfect meal.

In my childlike terms: I broke it down into the good, bad, and ugly. Celery, carrots, and pickles followed by the black olives that I would first use for finger cots before popping them into my mouth—yummy! The bad was the radish. I would nibble off a spicy petal or two for attention but reject the rest. The pickled cherry peppers and green onions were the ugly, and no way were they getting anywhere near me! 

When my wife, Angie, and I made our first trip to Europe in the spring of 1985, we were amazed at the generosity of the restaurants. Before we had even ordered a beverage, food would appear: chilled mussels in Brussels, tiny sharp cheesy gougères in Switzerland, tasty slivers of marinated eggplant in Italy. All were wonderful, but the one gift that I couldn’t forget was served in a small bistro just over the border in Nice. 

A small plate appeared filled with tiny radishes—the size of shelled almonds—with their bright green plumage intact, a wedge of unsalted butter, and a small ramekin of coarse sea salt. We dipped them in the soft butter and salt grains and savored them with the glee of foraging bunnies as the wiggling green leaves disappeared into our mouths. The radishes were crisp, sweet, zesty, and a touch earthy with the rich butter and salt becoming the closing note of a perfect ensemble. This was the start of my radish obsession, from its simplest form on up to its many guises, both raw and cooked. 

Spring in the Valley is about optimism and rebirth. It’s shoots instead of roots, young and vibrant vs. mature and muted. After wild fiddleheads and ramps, the first vegetables you’re likely to see are radishes. 

The key to a great radish is freshness so look for bright, firm, crisp specimens. Available at any early-season farmers market, those first pickings are sublime for raw preparations. My favorites are the small red and white breakfast radishes with their fresh, vibrant green plumage in full display. 

I am a prodigious fan of cooked radishes where you can intensify their inherent flavor while balancing it with sweetness and acidity. The slightly larger specimens are just made for sautéing and braising. Chilled soup is the perfect vehicle for a sophisticated cooked radish flavor shot through with lemony acid, haunting cardamom, and a touch of spicy ginger. The grilled radish and scallion garnish (and the green radish tops if you have them) helps to bring the texture and a different layer of radish flavor back to the dish. Whether you serve this soup as a refreshing welcome or a centerpiece of a spring repast, I urge you to take the leap from raw to cooked. 

I always marvel at how tastes change as the “bad and ugly” of my youth have become stalwart components of my cooking arsenal! Now, every spring in Hatfield, we look forward to our own early tiny radishes and green onions plucked from the backyard and I don’t think I could truly relish spring without them.