Northstar Cafe Fresh Ginger Ale: Version 2.0

I have spoken before of the wonders of The Northstar Cafe. It’s a true Columbus gem and every time I get to dine at this wonderful establishment, I am never let down. Whether it be their vegetarian burger, rustic tomato soup, barbecue chicken flatbread, chopped salads, or their voluptuous cookies, I am always so impressed with the flavors of their menu items. They have developed the perfect equation for showcasing fresh and organic foods without being overly complicated or too trendy.  The ingredients they select are the stars of the show and I really admire and appreciate the effort they put into their food.

Without a doubt, though, my favorite creation from Northstar is their fresh ginger ale. I first laid my lips on this sweet nectar two summers ago and I was never the same after that moment. It was a magnificent fusion of spicy ginger, tart lime juice, and a hint of refreshing mint. Pure genius.

I attempted to recreate the concoction at home several times and I finally found a method that I liked, but it was still missing that extra Northstar sparkle. The ginger just wasn’t as sharp as I knew it could be. Nonetheless, I made the ginger ale several times since settling on that recipe until I finally decided to try tweaking things to take the ginger flavor to the next level. All I did was allow myself more time for the flavors to develop. I put the chunks of ginger, water, and sugar in a pot on the stove to heat to a rolling boil. Then I turned off the stove, removed the pot from the heat, and let the syrup to steep overnight. The result? A much greater ginger punch without any hint of bitterness and a truly divine drink.

Cheers to the great people at Northstar Cafe for their fresh ginger ale! My heart is happy.

Fresh Ginger Ale

Yield: Approximately 12 drinks

Ingredients

  • 2 arms of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice (8-10 limes)
  • 5-6 sprigs fresh mint
  • 1 liter club soda

Directions

1. Place the water, chunks, of ginger, and sugar in a medium-sized pot and heat over medium heat on the stove. Bring to a rolling boil and then remove from heat and allow to steep for at least 2 hours (or overnight).

2.  In a separate small bowl, add the mint leaves and lime juice. Muddle the mint with a wooden spoon to incorporate the flavor into the lime juice.

3. Add the ginger syrup to a pitcher. Add in the lime/mint mixture and stir to combine. Chill and serve with club soda, to taste (I prefer 1 part ginger syrup to 2 parts club soda.

Source: Inspired by The Northstar Cafe

Homemade Graham Crackers and a Housewarming

Our friends, Jess and Greg, recently moved into a beautiful new home in Dublin. This past weekend they had a housewarming party and I was happy to help with the food and drinks because I so enjoy any excuse to help plan parties. One of Jess’s desires was a s’mores station and she requested that I make homemade graham crackers. I’ve made these crunchy cookies before, but I used slightly different recipe last time around; and, I must say, I prefer this version much more. They’re perfectly crispy and the honey flavor really shines. Most importantly, though, they are delicious building blocks for s’mores. Jess even made Ina Garten’s coconut marshmallows to take things to a whole new level of scrumptastic. Hot diggity dog.

My friends, you must start making your own graham crackers. The store bought version doesn’t even compare on any fraction of a level. The recipe is very simple, but just plan ahead because the dough needs to be chilled before baking. You won’t regret it.

I’m in a glass canister mood as of late- I just love them

The new house!

The beautiful hostess

Two babies

Ladies with both beauty and brains

Two proud mamas

I love this face- pure mischief

Man talk

Mingling on a chilly fall evening

“Work it”

Graham Crackers

Yield: About 2 dozen (recipe can be doubled)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups whole wheat graham flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • cinnamon sugar (1 teaspoon cinnamon/3 tablespoons sugar), for sprinkling (if desired)

Directions

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy- about 2 minutes. Slowly add in the honey and mix until combined.

2. Whisk together the flours, soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently knead together into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or up to 5 days.

3. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside. Make the cinnamon sugar in a small bowl.

4. Unwrap the dough and roll it out on a lightly-floured until about 1/8 inch thick. Using a cookie cutter, or a pizza cutter, cut out 3 inch rectangles. Place them on the baking sheets, about 1 inch apart, and poke with a fork. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake another 5-6 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Source: Barely adapted from Brown Eyed Baker, originally from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones

Zucchini, Walnut, and Oatmeal Scones

My idea of a perfect weekend morning involves getting up early before the rest of the world starts to stir. I love to fire up our Keurig and listen to the motor run as the water heats up, the anticipation of the hot fuel about to course through my veins is enough to clear the morning fog from my brain. After I have the steaming hot cup of Joe in hand, I love to stroll to my treasured pile of magazines I haven’t read and select which one to peruse while lounging in my jammies. It is fabulous. Even better, though, is when I have a special breakfast treat to enjoy- just like these scones.  Not too sweet, but just sweet enough, with a little more substance than a typical baked good. A perfect pair for a perfect moment.  I wish, in those moments, that time would slow down; but, alas, that is what makes those mornings special.

There is good news, though, my friends. The weekend is upon us and those Saturday and Sunday mornings are just around the corner, waiting for us to greet them with open arms. Make these scones to help make it even more special. You won’t regret it.

Happy Friday, everyone.

Zucchini, Walnut, and Oatmeal Scones

Yield: Approximately 1 dozen scones

Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar (plus extra- or coarse sugar- for sprinkling on top)
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup cold buttermilk
  • 1 cup shredded zucchini (about one large zucchini

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 40o degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mat and set aside.

2. To shred the zucchini: Rinse and dry a whole zucchini. Slice it up (skin and all) into 1-2 inch chunk and place in a food processor. Pulse until shredded into uniform pieces. Dump the shreds out onto the center of a clean kitchen towel. Wrap the towel over the zucchini and ensure it is sealed. Wring the towel (with the zucchini inside) over a sink or bowl and get rid of as much liquid as possible. Continue to wring until no more liquid can be squeezed out. Set the zucchini aside.

3. Whisk the flour, oats, sugars, walnuts, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together in a medium-large bowl. Add in the chunks of butter and use your hands to incorporate the butter pieces until the mixture is about the size of peas.

4. In a separate small bowl, mix together the buttermilk and egg.  Carefully fold into the dry mixture just before fully incorporated. Gently add in the shredded zucchini and fold just until combined.

5. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead as necessary. Divide into two equal hunks. Mold each hunk into a 6 inch disc. Dip a sharp knife in flour and carefully cut each disc into 6 wedges.

6. Use a spatula to place the scones on the baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for 20 to 22 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container for two days or freeze.

Source: Adapted from Dorie Greenspan Baking: From my home to yours Oatmeal and Nutmeg Scones

Weekend in Charlottesville

Robert and I visited my sister (Selby), brother-in-law (Kevin), and the cutest ginger baby in the world (Jack) over the Labor Day weekend. They are currently living in the oh-so-charming  Charlottesville, Virginia; and, although we have visited them a few times before, we have never had the chance to really explore the city. My sister did a great job of planning the weekend and we had a fabulous time. I was truly touched at how she made a point to take me to so many wonderful culinary shops and bakeries. She is, admittedly, not as passionate about cooking and baking as I am and it meant so much that she was so considerate of what I love.

On Saturday morning, we woke up early and got to spend quality time with little Jack while Selby ran a four mile race and Kevin worked at the hospital. Seriously, folks, this child is such an angel- I hope our children are as good as he is (they won’t be).

After Selby got back, we got ready and headed to the downtown mall to check out the Saturday morning market. It was drizzling, but the weather didn’t keep the people or the vendors away. The market was full of beautiful produce, gorgeous flowers, and local made-from-scratch baked goods and food.

After the market we stopped at one of Selby and Kevin’s favorite sandwich shops, Baggby’s, for lunch. It was perfect. I had a grinder, Selby had a California wrap, Robert had a Philly cheesesteak, and Jack had a grilled cheese. Robert claims it was one of the best cheesesteak sandwiches he has ever had. It was nothing fancy- a cute little family-owned hole in the wall; but it was great (and each sandwich came with a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie).

Once our bellies were full, Selby took us all around the Charlottesville downtown mall. The best thing about the mall is that almost all of the shops are local boutiques. Very few of the stores were national chains and I couldn’t get over how charming each place was. I told Selby numerous times that I was in sensory overload- I almost couldn’t function because of the cuteness.

Later that evening, we left little Jack with a babysitter and headed to Devil’s Backbone Brewery Company for dinner and drinks. I didn’t take any pictures while we were there, but the beer and the food was tasty. I had the fried green tomato Caprese salad, Robert ordered the smokehouse burger, Selby got the Backbone salad, and Kevin enjoyed the fish and chips.

On Sunday, Robert and Kevin went golfing while Selby, Jack and I visited the Carter Mountain Orchard to take in the views and peruse the store. We got Jack and the boys fresh apple cider donuts. They were so good, Jack ate a whole one.

The weekend went by quickly and we had such a fun time visiting our family and exploring Charlottesville. Selby and Kevin were great hosts and we can’t wait to visit again. 🙂

Girls’ Weekend at the Lake

Two weeks ago, after months of planning in advance, five of my greatest friends and I reunited in Port Clinton at my parents’ cottage for a weekend of running through Cedar Point, staying up late, catching up, and laughing so hard I was sure I had just completed an intense ab workout. Jamie, Angie, Katie, Leah, Launa, and I have know each other since elementary school. We grew up together and became especially close in junior high and high school while we played on the same basketball team.

My mom was so excited she forgot the “e” in “welcome”

Where we’re from, basketball is a way of life and it requires intense commitment. In the spring, while our classmates were traveling south for spring break, we were setting and working towards goals for the next basketball season. During the summer, when most kids our age were cooling off at the pool and staying out late getting into trouble, we were shooting shot after shot in the gym and pushing ourselves beyond exhaustion in the weight room. When fall rolled around, while our classmates were hitting the snooze button, we were experiencing the joys of morning madness complete with seemingly endless bouts of running sprints. Needless to say we spent a lot of time together; and for a large group of teenage girls, that can often be a very bad thing. Fortunately for us, it was different. There is something very powerful about working together towards a common goal-  towards something greater than one’s seventeen year old self. We formed a lifelong bond that is unlike any I have made since graduating high school.

It’s difficult to articulate how precious this group is, but I think Launa summed it up best in an email she sent to me after we all headed home, “this weekend reminded me how special this group of girls is. It was so great to see that after all this time things were the same and yet completely different. We are all our own people… we have our own lives, our own beliefs and yet somehow in some ways we grew in the same way; and still have a crazy, fabulous time with each other.”

It’s been nearly a decade since we were hamming it up in the locker rooms together, but those memories seem to always stay fresh in my mind; especially after a great weekend with some of my favorite people in the whole wide world.