Double Duty: Ramps (Compound Butter & Pickles)

Three steps forward and one step back.

I pack my life into a tiny room but have to leave it for three weeks until I can be myself in my own space again. My parents finally get a closing date on their house but then their lease falls through. I finally make some progress on a difficult project at work only to have to rearrange all the deadlines to put out another fire. The new apartment accepts dogs but has a $300 non-refundable pet fee.

Saturday I woke up to 43 degrees and driving rain, but left my warm waterproof sneakers packed 90 minutes away. Because who expects fall-like Juneau, Alaska weather at the start of Memorial Day weekend in Connecticut? Argh.

This is the part where I usually say that despite the lack of posts, I’ve been cooking great things. Well, folks – that isn’t true this time. The last decent thing I made was made on the fly on my last day at my old house. I’ve told you about that place right? The place where in the spring I can grab ramps outside my door IN MY PAJAMAS if I want – so long as I wear some decent XtraTufs? Man, am I gonna miss that place.

I have been so careful with the ramp patch, too. Harvesting only the greens most of the time, with enough bulbs for one small jar of pickles. But this year? After being so careful in my tiny personal patch for the last two years, I found a whole other carpet. Not sure how I missed it before – blindness in the heat of ramp euphoria, perhaps. And though I still took only one jar’s worth for pickles, I made sure to get the fattest ramps there were.  Because I hope to come back next year, but who knows? Because I wanted to. Or just because.

Of course, I made the decision to make pickles after I had packed away all of my jars. But ever-fleeting ramps are one thing thats always worth digging out a jar.

So three steps forward and one step back. This is my life lately. At least I have by ramp pickles in my fridge and compound butter in my freezer, waiting for after June 1st in my new apartment.

Ramp Pickles by Snowflake Kitchen

Preserved Lemon & Ramp Compound Butter

One stick unsalted butter, softened
Ramp greens (approximately 5 ramps – 10 leaves), cleaned well, dried and finely chopped
One preserved lemon, flesh removed and rind finely chopped
Black pepper to taste

In a perfect world, leave your butter on the counter, go forage your ramps, prep everything and when you come back, it should be soft enough. If you are like me and keep your butter in the freezer, it might take a bit longer, and you might get a bit impatient – so prep ahead of time. Small firm, but not frozen, chunks can be helped along in a food processor. Which – if you’re going to already get dirty, you might as well mix the whole batch in there. Of course you can just as well make quick use of a bowl, mixing utensil and/or your hands.

Like my favorite recipes, this one involves mixing everything together, tasting, and when satisfied, forming into a log/packing into your vessel of choice and freezing until later. The tasting is key here, as is using unsalted butter. The preserved lemons bring plenty of salt to the table for my taste. My 2013 batch of preserved lemons has a nice kick of aleppo pepper, which is really great here, but please use what you have. No preserved lemons? Make them next year, and add salt and chopped lemon rind (but take care to minimize the bitter pith).

Use everywhere from searing scallops to melting over the top of a great steak to serving with crusty bread.

Ramp Fridge Pickles
15-20 ramp bulbs, cleaned, de-rooted
One wide mouth pint mason jar
1/4 cup of white vinegar
Water to cover
One teaspoon salt
One bay leaf
One tablespoon mixed peppercorns
Spring of thyme or rosemary

The best thing about fridge pickles is they take exactly no time to come together. Add your veg in a jar, add your vinegar, salt and spices and top with water. Place in the frige and swirl gently a couple of times over the course of a week, and you have a great accompaniment to cheese, in salad, or finely chopped in place of your usual cukes. They are great sliced thin on top of tacos in place of pickled onions.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Bitter

If you’ve been making double duty syrups and infusions for a while, no doubt you’ve been imbibing some homemade cocktail greatness. And while they can be spectacular (one Kate here, requesting rhubarbarita delivery, stat), sometimes they can fall a little flat. Bubbles are pretty great most of the time. Plastic bottle rotgut or top shelf artisanal spirits – depending on your mood, both have their place. Though, I still have yet to find a place for watered down light beer or jagermeister. Not even since during college. But it all can get kind of boring after a while. Nothing a little secret ingredient can’t fix.

Want to take your cocktail nerd up to eleven? Bitters, my friend.

Grapefruit Vanilla Bitters with Pink Peppercorns and Cardamom by Snowflake Kitchen

Not just that funky bottle with the label torn off in the back of your Dad’s liquor cabinet. (No? Just mine? Ok then.) Homemade bitters are the secret ingredient that you can never figure out. The one thing that takes your drink over the top and makes it not just memorable, but elevates it to obsessive.

So forgive me if this post finds itself a bit late in terms of seasonality, but good organic citrus can be found year round, even if the great stuff is more of a winter thing. Make it anyway. Your future cocktail nerd won’t regret it.

Grapefruit Vanilla Bitters with Pink Peppercorns and Cardamom
Adapted from Autumn’s Grapefruit Bitters with Juniper
Rind of approximately 2 grapefruits
3 tablespoons pink peppercorns
10 cardamom pods, cracked
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
Onyx Moonshine, to cover

First off, wash and peel your grapefruit. Supreme it if you want, and make Marisa’s Grapefruit Jam or AJ’s Preserved Grapefruit with Mint Sugar Syrup with the fruit. Or just dip it some vanilla sugar and scarf it – you’ll thank me later. Chop the rind into small pieces. Add the rest of the ingredients and top with a high-proof liquor. Everclear and vodka work just fine, but I was lucky enough to have Onyx Moonshine on hand. Surely you’ve heard of ‘shine – its unaged whiskey – and this particular spirit is particularly delicious. Onyx is a local product for me and business that I love, and just so happens to make great bitters. I highly suggest you seek it out for yourself.

Grapefruit Vanilla Bitters with Pink Peppercorns and Cardamom by Snowflake Kitchen

Long story short: peel your grapefruit, use the fruit elsewhere, add everything to a jar, top with Onyx, and wait. Start tasting after 3ish weeks or so. Unlike other bitters made with bitter herbs, this one takes a while to infuse. I was happy with mine after a month, but yours may need to age for a longer or shorter amount of time. Add a tablespoon or so, and taste. You can always add more. (Note: for true bitters made with bitter herbs, most recipes call for only a drop. Citrus pith bitters are less intense, and you should add more volume to get the same bang for your buck). The grapefruit and vanilla play wonderfully with gin or St. Germain in a cocktail.

PS: I also made a meyer lemon version with coriander, ginger, chile and bay leaf with the same method. It’s really great when mixed with Bulleit Rye Whiskey. Make that too.