Archive for the ‘beverages’ Category

I ordered some takeout from a new-to-me Afro-Caribbean restaurant the other day – Cocoa Chili. The food was great – chicken yassa and plantains – but on a whim I threw a drink into my digital cart. A glass of sorrel. It was described as “refreshingly cool hibiscus flower beverage steeped with Caribbean herbs and spices and sweetened with cane sugar.” I was thirsty, I like hibiscus, it sounded good and I am always up to try something new.

Boy, was it ever good. How have I not had this before? Until very recently, sorrel to me has always been a tart, citrusy green herb that grows like crazy in my garden plot. I never knew it was also what some called hibiscus. I’ve cooked with dried hibiscus flowers but knew them more so by the Mexican name, flor de jamaica, not sorrel and have enjoyed hibiscus drinks in Mexican taquerias but it wasn’t like this. There was a spice flavor here I very much enjoyed. How have I not crossed paths with sorrel drink? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it a time or two but was likely thinking of the green herb, so I glossed over it time and again. Big mistake. This stuff is delicious. Cold, lightly sweetened, a little tart, a little floral with this haunting spice note. Clove? Allspice? Cinnamon? Ginger? What was that? I had a bunch of dried hibiscus flowers leftover from some project so I fired up google. I had to figure this out.


I learned sorrel (or sorrel drink, zobo or sobolo) is popular in Caribbean and African countries and the specifics of the recipe vary slightly. Every recipe starts with dried hibiscus blossoms (or sometime fresh if you’re climately blessed) then warm baking spices are added – cinnamon, allspice, ginger, star anise, cloves and peppercorns are all possibilities. Some might add citrus; I saw versions with orange, lemon and/or limes. The mixture is brought to a boil then left to steep anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 days when it is then strained and sweetened. It reminds me a lot of mulled wine and like that beverage, it is also consumed frequently around the holidays. Most commonly enjoyed cold over ice and it’s not uncommon to add a jigger or two of rum. Rather festive, I must say.

I’m not sure what spices Cocoa Chili use but I decided on fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, a few allspice berries and some cloves. Because the hibiscus is rather tart, I decided to skip any additional citrus. I put the ingredients into a pot, covered with water and brought the mixture to a boil. Steeping time varied, anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 days. After reading all sorts of thoughts and opinions, I opted for a long steep time – 3 days in the fridge – partly because I felt the spices needed some time to impart their flavors but also because that’s what worked for my schedule.

After 3 days I strained out all the solids, and opted to sweeten with a simple syrup rather than straight sugar. I have very unpleasant memories of childhood Kool-Aid pitchers with a sugar sludge in the bottom that never really quite dissolved. Simple syrup is just easier and you can taste the sweetness level to determine the tart-sweet balance relatively quickly and easily. 

I poured an ice filled glass and sat back. Lovely. Just lovely. Bright and refreshing, a little tart, a little sweet with delicious hints of those baking spices. I love it. As an added bonus it’s absolutely gorgeous; a nice vivid dark reddish pink. Many consider this a strictly holiday drink but I think it is perfect for hot summer days. A splash of rum would be welcome and I think tequila would be quite nice too. Over the pandemic I enjoyed quite a few wonderful hibiscus margaritas. They will be even better made with this

So as these super hot days stretch out, maybe grab a bag of those hibiscus blossoms at your Hispanic or African market or even the Hispanic aisle at your regular grocery store, dig out some spices from your stash and brew up a tub of this delicious, vivid liquid. You won’t regret it.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: FEET UP EASY. This isn’t really overly difficult; it just takes time. Hands off time to allow those flavors to develop. Start it early in the week and you’ll be drinking easy by the weekend. Curiously enough, hibiscus is known as “sorrel” in Jamaica and “flor de jamaica” in Mexico. Interesting, no?

Other hibiscus recipes: Strawberries in Hibiscus SyrupStrawberry Hibiscus Popsicles

twelve years ago: Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

eleven years ago: Sour Cherry Cobbler

ten years ago: Life in Southwest France

nine years ago: Spanish Sunday Lunch – Patatas Aioli

eight years ago: Hush PuppiesTin Roof SundaeWatermelon Aqua FrescaRhubarb Beer Jam

seven years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

six years ago: Radish Butter,  Slow Roasted Spiced Pineapple  

five years ago: Pina Colada SherbetOrange Julius with Strawberry and Pineapple variationsChicken Shawarma Pocket SandwichRoasted Cherry Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

four years ago: Grand AioliSalmon Rilettes

three years ago: Greek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

two years ago: Strawberry Mascarpone Galette

last year: Raspberry Rhubarb Streusel TartGinger Mint Lemonade Base

SORREL (HIBISCUS DRINK) – loosely adapted mostly from this recipe among others

makes 3 quarts

for the steep:

3 quarts water

5 ¼ ounces (150g/about 3 cups) dried hibiscus flowers (sorrel)

½ pound (227g) ginger, and grated (use the grating disk on a food processor)

10 whole cloves

10 allspice berries, roughly crushed 

1 large cinnamon stick

for the simple syrup:

2 cups water

2 ½ cups (495g) sugar

  1. For the steep: In a large pot or Dutch oven, bring water to a boil. 
  2. Add sorrel, ginger, cloves, allspice and cinnamon; and boil until the hibiscus flowers (sorrel) begin to plump and swell, about 8 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and let stand until cooled, then continue to steep in an airtight vessel in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.
  4. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a large pitcher, pressing on solids to express as much liquid as possible. If needed, strain again until it is clear of any ginger remnants. Discard solids.
  5. For the simple syrup: In a saucepan, bring water to a boil with the sugar. 
  6. Continue to cook, stirring, until sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from heat.
  7. To finish: Stir simple syrup into the strained sorrel, ½ cup at a time, until desired sweetness level is reached. Keep any extra simple syrup refrigerated for your ice tea or coffee.
  8. Chill until ready to drink. Serve over ice.

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This one came about in a very self-serving way. Over the holiday weekend, I got together with a few friends for a socially distanced bbq/gathering type of thing. It was hot as blazes so we opted to drink vodka lemonades in tall glasses with lots of ice. To make it simple, our host had bought premixed lemonade in jugs and here lies the problem. Premixed lemonade is fine as is but as soon as you add anything too it, the flavor weakens resulting in a vaguely lemon flavored drink. I greatly enjoy a sparkling lemonade cocktail kind of thing and adding vodka and club soda to a premixed lemonade just throws the whole thing off. Much discussion ensued and we came to the conclusion that you’re just better off in that case having a vodka soda with a twist, which is an entirely different thing. These are the trivial matters that consumed our conversation that afternoon. This can be better, we all agreed. I can make this better, we all agreed.


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Sitting at a traffic light not long ago, I looked up and saw something I hadn’t thought of in years: Orange Julius. Those frothy whipped orange drinks were a large part of my teenage years due to the enormous amount of time I spent at the local mall. I haven’t seen them in a while. Where have they been? According to a little web research, Orange Julius started in the late 1920s and thanks to an acquisition by Dairy Queen, seems to be making a resurgence of late.


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I left the photoshoot with bags of leftover groceries. Cheese, milk, nuts, cottage cheese, flowers and fruit. Oh god, the fruit. When you’re professionally shooting a product for advertising, everything needs to look good. Damn near perfect actually so you buy pounds of apples to find that one pretty, quintessential apple or multiple types of pumpkin seeds (raw, roasted, salted, large, small) because you just don’t know which one will look best until you see it. God forbid an imperfection of some sort, say a bruise or an off-color, draws the eye away from the product you’re trying to highlight. While the resulting photos are beautiful, there’s always a lot of food leftover at the end of a shoot. This is how I ended up with 3 packs of strawberries, 2 of raspberries, 2 of blackberries, 2 whole pineapples, 4 peaches, 2 dozen apples, a bag of lemons and limes and 4 mangos. And that was just the fruit.


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We’ve reached that point of the summer where gardens are exploding. I came back from several weeks out of the country and my sweet little plot in a community garden had grown to Amazonian proportions due to a rainy June and generous fertilizing. My cute tomato plants were 6 feet tall and growing in every direction like gangly, awkward teenagers. And like teenagers, they needed some firm guidance and a bit of discipline. The sugar snaps had wound their invasive tendrils into damn near everything and needed to be redirected. And the herbs, oh god the herbs. They were enormous unruly bushes, candidates for a topiary or bonsai artist perhaps. I went in with a pair of shears and aggressively pruned those suckers. Aggressively. I tamed those beasts.


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So lemonade versus limeade. I think in most cases, when given the choice, most people would choose lemonade. Which is a shame because limeade is pretty fantastic. In fact, I actually prefer it. Why can’t you regularly order vodka limeades or lime-y Arnold Palmers? Why isn’t there lime Italian ice? Or is there? It always seems to center around lemon. Limocello? Is that thing? I think, perhaps out of habit, we defer to lemon when a juicy lime can be used. Now that prices seem to be back to normal – I just bought 10 for $1 – I say let’s jump on that bandwagon for a while.


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Sometimes, I get myself into a bind. Every week at the farmers markets I walk in with a plan. I set a budget, I know exactly what I need to buy and I set off with determination. Within 30 seconds that plan is usually shot to hell. Something over here catches my eye. Something over there catches me by surprise. A particularly lovely pastry cries out to me. A gorgeous bouquet just needs to be on my entry table. I stumble to my car with my heavy load, vowing to do better next week. But I know. I know.


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Never much of a coffee drinker, I’ve always gravitated toward tea usually unsweetened glasses of ice tea, what we called “Sun Tea” growing up, or a piping hot cup with a spoonful of honey to ease a sore throat or a bad mood.  When “chai lattes” became popular at trendy coffeehouses, I discovered something that I very much enjoyed.  While everyone else was ordering coffees with made-up size names, I would defiantly order a “large” Chai Latte and the sweet spiciness made me happy.  That is, until I went to India and had a sort of chai epiphany.  I was embarrassed that I actually liked the hastily concocted “lattes” made with a boxed concentrate back home.  This, now this, was something else entirely.


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Another New Year’s Eve is upon us. Where did the year go? Am I the only one that’s surprised by this? “Time flies” doesn’t even begin to cover this but in the meantime, I plan on ringing in the New Year in a fun proper fashion. Some friends and I are attending a Roaring Twenties party tonight and are dressing up like gangsters. This being Chicago, I think we’ve got it in the bag. Beforehand, everyone is meeting at my place for some tasty snacks and cocktails. And I’ve got a special one planned. Ginger Kir Royales.


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Last week at the farmers market, I piled a big thick stack of beautiful rhubarb into my bag and on the drive home, thought about what to do with it.  Pies, crumbles, crisps, jams … yes, but.  But what?  What else is there?  I toyed with the idea of sorbet for about 3 seconds but there’s absolutely zero room in my freezer for the stupid ice cream machine canister these days.  I’ll make a pie, sure, but not this week.  I was still thinking about it as I trudged up the stairs.  What to do.  What to do.  Then I saw the lime green cover of a recent cookbook acquisition on my coffee table and remembered a recipe that caught my eye – Rhubarb Syrup – and the drinks that followed.  Perfect.  We have a winner.


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