Tools and Gadgets

bitters for beginners, part I

So, I’ve developed a little obsession with bitters lately and I thought I might share it with you.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you’re not familiar with bitters, they’re basically a bitter or bittersweet infusion of botanical ingredients, usually in a mix of water and alcohol, and sometimes, glycerine. Although many varieties were originally created for medicinal purposes, the main function of bitters today is a flavoring agent for cocktails. Much like adding spices to a meal, bitters serve to add depth, complexity, and flavor to drinks.

There are actually two kinds of bitters on the market today. First, there are digestive (or potable) bitters that can be consumed on their own, some of the more popular varieties being Campari, Aperol, or Fernet. What I’ll be discussing today though are cocktail bitters, which are what most people think of when they hear the word. These are usually used as a flavoring agent for alcoholic drinks, but can also be mixed with soda water, or any number of liquids. Some people even like to use bitters to flavor dressings, sauces, or baked goods. I myself have had great luck flavoring creme anglaise with lavender bitters.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

Bitters may have been around as long ago as ancient Egypt, but they were further developed from the middle ages through the renaissance when the practices of alcohol distillation and making plant-based medicines were both widely practiced. Many brands of bitters sold today still reflect herbal remedies and tonic preparations that can be traced back to renaissance era traditions.

One of the most well-known brands, Angostura bitters, were created in Venezuela in 1824 by a physician who originally intended them as a cure-all for sea sickness and stomach ailments, and as a stimulant to keep malaria patients active and healthy. Many people still swear that a few dashes of these bitters in soda water is a great way to settle an upset stomach.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

No one knows for sure when bitters made the leap into cocktails, but it may have all started with people adding spirits and sugar to medicinal bitters to make them more palatable. It seems that they really did need just a spoonful of sugar (and booze) to help the medicine go down.

By the 19th century, the practice of adding medicinal bitters to fortified wine was so widespread in Britain that it made its way across the Atlantic to the American colonies. As early as 1806, publications were referring to bitters as one of the essential ingredients in a new alcoholic beverage called a “cocktail”. The recipe, as printed in Hudson, New York’s Balance & Columbian Repository, called for four ingredients, “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” The popularity of bitters grew steadily through the early 20th century, and certain varieties of bitters became synonymous with specific cocktail recipes.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

The popularity and availability of bitters came to a screeching halt when prohibition launched with the passing of the Volstead Act in 1919. A few bitters were able to survive this dark age in American history though, because some manufacturers were based outside the US; while some others, like Fee Brothers, used glycerine instead of alcohol to keep from being shut down. Speakeasies even started using bitters as a way to mask the off flavors of home-made bathtub gin and bootleg hooch. When prohibition was repealed many of the old bitters companies started producing again, but things took another turn for the worse as consumer tastes and drinking habits changed in the 1950s and 60s. This was too much for many companies who were still having a hard time recovering from prohibition and the depression, and most bitters varieties all but disappeared in this era. There are only a few brands left today that have lasted straight through since the 1800s under the same name.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

Many people credit revered mixologist and author Gary Regan with helping move the recent bitters renaissance forward. After researching and experimenting with century-old recipes for long-gone styles of cocktail bitters, he introduced his Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6 in 2005. In less than a decade, the popularity of bitters (and old school craft cocktails) has exploded, and there are now hundreds of varieties of bitters on the market. Many of the current brands got their start with bitters enthusiasts experimenting with their own speciality bitters at home, and now some companies, like Hella Bitter, are working to develop DIY bitters kits for home use. Many brands are reviving old styles and “lost” recipes, while others are using old techniques to introduce new varieties like mole, grapefruit, black walnut, and sriracha.

Traditionally bitters are made by infusing alcohol with different botanical ingredients, but some companies also add glycerine to their bitters. Glycerine is a simple sugar alcohol compound that is colorless and flavorless. Bitters made with glycerine are generally cheaper because you can use inexpensive extracts, thin them out with water and alcohol, and use the glycerine to hold the flavors together and keep them shelf stable. It’s a much quicker process but produces a flatter, less complexly flavored bitter. While glycerine based bitters do have some alcohol in them, they have significantly less than traditional “craft” bitters. Glycerine can also add a bit of a waxy mouthfeel to a cocktail if too much bitters are used. This is not to say that glycerine based bitters are not as good as traditional bitters, it’s just that there’s a significant difference in their intensity and utility. Craft bitters tend to be more expensive because they’re usually made from higher quality ingredients and have a stronger, purer, more concentrated flavor. Since they’re made from alcohol they don’t affect the mouthfeel of your drink, and their highly concentrated flavor means they’re used very sparingly and will last longer.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you’re new to the world of bitters, and you’re curious about them or would like to start building a collection for your home bar, the best way to find out what you like is to taste some. Aromatic and orange bitters are the most commonly used styles and, along with many of the newer citrus flavors, they’re the most versatile when it comes to their utility. There are plenty of brands and styles to choose from, so if you’re not sure what you’d like, go to your local bar and see if they’ll let you taste what they have. Or, if you’re fortunate enough to have a store in your area, like Whisk, that will let you sample bitters before taking the plunge, all the better. That way you can familiarize yourself with a variety of different flavors, taste the differences between certain brands, and choose what will work best for you.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

There is no end to the different styles and  varieties on the market today, so experiment with them and have fun. Just think of what you normally like to drink, and odds are that someone out there is making a style that corresponds to your favorite tipple or mixer. Get creative! That’s what building a collection of bitters is all about. You can play with flavors, throw things together, see what works for you and what doesn’t. It’s all about personal taste and there’s no rules that dictate what you can and can’t do. It’s just like building a collection of liquor for your home bar. Just go with what you like.

There are far too many varieties of bitters on the market for me to list them all, but check back next week for part II of bitters for beginners, and I’ll outline a basic guide to a few popular styles, and give you a few simple ideas on how to use them.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

*This post was written in collaboration with whisk, a store with an extensive cocktail section and one of the largest collections of bitters in NYC.

garlic press giveaway

UPDATE: CONTEST CLOSED!

Today I have something big for everyone! I’m announcing the first ever Brooklyn Homemaker giveaway!

garlic press giveaway | Brooklyn Homemaker

In my last post, I reviewed several garlic presses, detailed some of the different features available on some of them, and discussed which ones I liked the best. The Harold Import Company, makers of the garlic press and slicer that I reviewed, has generously agreed to donate one for a loyal reader and fan of Brooklyn Homemaker!

garlic herb compound butter | Brooklyn Homemaker

This one ended up being one of my favorites. Though unpeeled garlic requires a bit of extra force, it can handle both peeled and unpeeled cloves. It’s better at getting more garlic through the press than some of the other ones I tested, but it did still leave a small bit behind. One of the reasons I like it so much is that it also doubles as a garlic slicer, giving you nice thin evenly sliced garlic. To use the slicer function the clove needs to be peeled, but it’s very efficient and leaves no garlic behind at all.

garlic herb compound butter | Brooklyn Homemaker

Another really great feature is that this tool has a press that actually swivels out of the hopper to make it more accessible for easy cleaning. This is a common feature in many high end garlic presses, so it’s nice to see it in such an affordable tool. It also comes with a handy cleaning tool that attaches to the inside of the arm, and slides out when needed.

In case you forgot, there was even a handy video, produced by my amazing friends from Crown Street Productions! Check it out!

This tool is versatile, easy to use, and easy to clean; and at only $20, it’s a great value too!  Now, thanks to the generosity of the Harold Import Company, this tool could be yours for FREE!!! Entries will be accepted until 6pm on Tuesday March 18th. To enter, please follow the contest rules detailed at the bottom of the post.

garlic herb compound butter | Brooklyn Homemaker

After I was finished pressing all that garlic, I had to find a use for it. I thought a perfect way to let the garlic shine while putting it to practical use was to make a garlic and herb compound butter. Compound butter is basically any mix of butter with supplementary ingredients like herbs, spices, garlic, etc.; that’s then formed and refrigerated to be sliced for later use. It’s great to top a steak, mix into (or use as) a sauce, or toss into pasta. This super garlicy butter would also be perfect to make garlic bread, or as a sauce for a white pizza.

garlic herb compound butter | Brooklyn Homemaker

Quick and Easy Garlic and Herb Butter

1 stick, 8 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced (pressed) garlic
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme (or other herbs as desired)
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

With a fork, mash all the ingredients together until very well combined. Butter will need to be at room temperature or softer, but not melted. Transfer the mixture to a piece of plastic wrap, wrap up and shape into a round tube. Twist the ends of the wrap closed and refrigerate the butter until hard. It will keep in the refrigerator for weeks and can be sliced off as needed. Yum!

garlic & herb compound butter | Brooklyn Homemaker

Contest rules:

Entries will be accepted up until Tuesday March 18th, at 6PM EST.

To enter, please follow these links and “like” both Brooklyn Homemaker and Harold Import Company on facebook. Then come back and leave the comment “Gimme Garlic!” on this post, and tell me why you’d love to have a new garlic press.

Only one comment per entrant, please.  The winning garlic press can only be shipped within the contiguous United States, so entrants must live or have a mailing address within the lower 48. Winner will be chosen from the comments by selecting a number (using a random number generator) from the total number of comments when the contest comes to a close. Winner will be contacted via email for shipping information.

garlic press test

Today I want to talk to you for a bit about garlic presses. For the longest time I’ve been using my mom’s old garlic press that somehow made it into my kitchen when I moved into my first apartment. I don’t know how it got there. I didn’t take it, I swear.

The thing about my mom’s old garlic press is, well, that it sucks. It’s a cheap flimsy press with a deep narrow hopper that’s nearly impossible to clean. It’s easy enough to use, but I learned quickly that if I didn’t want dried bits of garlic stuck in the holes then I’d have to soak the press immediately after use. Most of the time I would end up deciding that the pain of cleaning it outweighed the convenience of using it in the first place, and I’d reach for a chefs knife instead. As I’ve mentioned before, I manage a kitchenware store, and after a year or so at Whisk I finally realized that I had no excuse not to have a decent garlic press in my life.  Of course, then the pressure of choosing the right one was too much for me and I stalled again. We carry so many that I just couldn’t decide which was the one for me.

So, I decided to just try them all!garlic press testing | Brooklyn Homemaker

With Whisk’s help I took home a sample of each style, used them all a few times, and kept notes so I could share my new knowledge with you!  I think Whisk has done a really great job of choosing a nice well-edited selection, so to be honest, I didn’t really dislike any of them, but there were some that I did like more than others. To me, the three main things to take into consideration with a garlic press are efficiency, ease of use, and ease of cleaning. Below I’ll give you my honest opinion of each tool I tested, along with a link to each one in case you’re looking for one yourself!

First though, I have a special treat for you! My amazing and talented friends Karen and Mari of Crown Street Productions joined me in my research and made this handy video guide to some of the presses I tested! Not every tool below is in the video, but we thought that seeing some of them in action might give you a better idea of the different features and how they work. Check it out, and please excuse my serious expression. I’m not used to being in front of the camera and I was a bit nervous. Also, I take garlic presses very seriously! haha! I hope you like it!

Learn anything?

Okay, back to the testing.

I wanted to see how these tools would stand up to both peeled and unpeeled cloves, so to get started I tried out the Zak! Designs garlic peeler, available for $9 here.garlic press testing | Brooklyn Homemaker
It’s just a simple silicone tube, but the garlic’s papery peel wants to stick to it. All you do is insert a clove or two into the tube and roll it back and forth on your countertop, then out comes the naked clove! I was skeptical at first, but was really impressed with how well it worked.  It really couldn’t be more simple to use, and if you find yourself peeling a lot of garlic, I’d highly recommend it. The one thing I noticed is that the peels of garlic that’s been sitting around for a few days (or weeks) comes off much easier than garlic that just came home from the grocery store.

The first press I tested is the Fante’s Cousin Umberto’s garlic press by the Harold Import Company and is available for $8 here.garlic press testing | Brooklyn Homemaker
This press is as simple as they come. It can handle both peeled and unpeeled cloves with no trouble at all. It’s made of sturdy food grade aluminum and has a deep hopper with holes at the bottom, and a piston that pushes the garlic through it. One issue I noticed is that the piston doesn’t reach all the way to the bottom of the hopper, so if you’re only doing one or two cloves you lose a bit of your garlic.
Since it’s aluminum it is definitely not dishwasher safe so it must be washed by hand. It’s hard to reach the inside of the hopper to clean it, but it comes with a handy little cleaning tool that helps push any leftover garlic back through for removal. Even with the cleaning tool though, you’ll still need to fish the remaining garlic out of the hopper with a butter knife, and if you ever misplace or lose this piece it would be really difficult to clean.
For the price, I think this press is a great option, but it’s definitely not what I would consider a “forever” tool.

Next I tried out an Oxo Good Grips garlic press, available here for $17.garlic press testing | Brooklyn Homemaker
This press is probably one of the better selling presses in the store. It features soft non-slip curved handles that feel really comfortable in your hands. It’s simple enough to use, but I felt that bit more force was needed than some of the other models I tested. It can handle unpeeled cloves, but that requires even more force. One really nice feature is that the large hopper fits really large cloves, or even multiple small cloves at once, which some of the other presses couldn’t handle. Unfortunately, this press also doesn’t quite reach the bottom of the hopper and leaves some garlic behind.
It is dishwasher safe, and the cleaning tool that pushes garlic back through the holes is attached to the back of the handle, so there’s no way you’ll lose it. Even with this tool, you’ll still need to use something like a butter knife to get out the remaining garlic.

Next up was the Susi3 press by Zyliss for $18, available here.garlic press testing | Brooklyn Homemaker
This press could easily handle peeled or unpeeled cloves with little force. Again though, If only doing one or two cloves, this press didn’t really push as much garlic through the hopper as I would have liked. It’s both lightweight and sturdy, and the curved handles feel comfortable in your hand. It also comes with a cleaning tool that attaches to the handle but removes for cleaning. It has long spikes to really help push the garlic back through the holes so the remaining garlic comes out really easily. On the other side of the cleaning tool there are three spikes to help get at any stubborn pieces that might want to stick around. The packaging says that it is dishwasher safe but “handwashing is recommended”. I don’t have a dishwasher to test it, but I’m guessing that it probably wouldn’t stand up to repeated and frequent travels through the dishwasher.

Next I tried out the Harold Import’s “World’s Greatest” garlic press & slicer, available here for $20.garlic press testing | Brooklyn Homemaker
This press actually ended up being one of my favorites. It can handle both peeled and unpeeled cloves, but I noticed a little extra force was needed with unpeeled cloves which, every once in a while, caused the garlic to shoot out of the press. It was better at getting more garlic through the press than some of the others, but it still left a little bit behind. One of the reasons I like this press so much is that beyond being a press, it also doubles as a garlic slicer, giving you nice thin evenly sliced garlic. To use the slicer function the clove needs to be peeled, but it leaves no garlic behind at all.
Another really great feature is that this tool has a press that actually swivels out of the hopper to make it more accessible for easy cleaning. This feature is more common in pricier garlic presses, so it’s nice to see it in this price range. It also comes with a handy cleaning tool that attaches to the inside of the arm, and slides out when needed. The slicer side can be a little trickier to clean but was easy enough with the help of the cleaning tool.
I really liked how versatile and easy to use and clean this press is, and would definitely consider it my favorite budget choice.

After that, I tried the Easy Squeeze press by Kuhn Ricon, which can be found here for $25.garlic press testing | Brooklyn Homemaker
I thought this press was nice and efficient and really got a lot of crushed garlic out of each clove, but I found that it didn’t work all that well with unpeeled garlic. It has a handy plastic blade that slides across the press to help remove the crushed garlic, and was the only press I tested that had this feature. The major bonus here is that the press mechanism is almost identical to presses almost twice the price, but the one negative, in my opinion, is that the lightweight plastic construction feels a bit flimsy.
This press is dishwasher safe, and the press also swivels for easy access during cleaning.

Next up was the Kuhn Ricon Epicurean press, available here for $40.garlic press testing | Brooklyn Homemaker
This is one of the more high end presses we carry at Whisk. The price may seem a bit rich for some, but after using it you’ll know that you get what you pay for. It’s really very easy to use and very little force is needed to squeeze your garlic through. It makes easy work of both peeled and unpeeled cloves, and it’s very efficient at getting almost all of the garlic through, leaving very little behind. It’s sturdy and strong, made completely of stainless steel. and features curved handles that fit the shape of a hand. The press mechanism also swivels out for super easy cleaning, and the remaining garlic loosened up and came out on its own when rinsed under hot water.
At this price i feel like I’m allowed to be just a bit nit-picky, so my one (tiny) complaint is that it’s a bit heavy and may feel a bit awkward in small hands. Overall though, this press is super sturdy, efficient, easy to use, easy to clean, and is a really solid choice.

The last traditional press I tested is made by Rosle, and goes for $45 heregarlic press testing | Brooklyn HomemakerMuch like the Kuhn Ricon Epicurean model, this press is very easy to use, and can handle peeled or unpeeled cloves with very little force at all. For extra leverage, there’s a small dimple feature that clicks into place when fully depressed, which makes sure the maximum amount of garlic is pressed out with as little effort as possible. Made of 18/10 stainless steel, this press is super sturdy and strong but feels lighter and less bulky than the Epicurean press. It doesn’t have the ergonomic curved handle design but it will fit into any hand easily. It’s also very easy to clean with a swiveling press mechanism that rinses off with little effort. The best thing about this press is that Rosle is so sure of the quality of their products that they come with a lifetime warranty. The stainless steel construction means it should never break, but if it does, they’ll replace it for you. If the smart and attractive design and maximum ease and efficiency isn’t enough for you, the warrantee definitely should sweeten the deal. This is the last garlic press you’ll ever need to buy, and after I finished my research, this was the press I purchased for myself.

With the presses out of the way, I moved on to some more garlic related tools.
Next I sampled the Chef’n garlic slicer, for $12 heregarlic press testing | Brooklyn Homemaker
This tool works sort of like a pepper mill. You put your peeled garlic inside, close the spring loaded press over it, and twist. It can be a little bit confusing to get it working, as the interlocking top and spring loaded mechanism inside aren’t exactly intuitive. It also really only works well with thin, small cloves. Once you get it going though, it works with little force by twisting the top clockwise. The garlic is pushed across the blades and comes out paper thin. This slicer gets your cloves much thinner than the Harold Import press and slicer, but of course, it doesn’t double as a press. It’s really easy to clean, but you have to be careful of the sharp blades.  It might not be completely necessary for all kitchens, but if you’re serious about super thin sliced garlic, and don’t mind working only with small cloves, it’s a pretty handy tool to have.

The last tool I tested is called a garlic rocker, by Joseph Josesph, for $15 heregarlic press testing | Brooklyn HomemakerThis tool produces a similar result to a traditional garlic press, but instead of pressing the garlic through the press with a piston, you rock the blades over a peeled clove while pushing down on the tool’s wide handles. Once the garlic comes through the holes you simply scrape it out with a spoon. The benefits to this tool are that it’s small and stores easily, and you’re able to get almost the whole clove through with little waste. It’s also very easy to clean since there’s no hopper to worry about. I will say though, that some force is needed to push down on the garlic, and can be a bit awkward to use. I wouldn’t recommend this tool for anyone with weak arms or arthritis. I would also say you wouldn’t want to use this on delicate counter surfaces.

So there you have it folks!
If you’re in the market for a garlic press, or you’re looking to upgrade, I hope you find all this information useful.  I think I’ve reviewed a nice selection of different presses in different price ranges, and I hope I’ve made it easier for you to make an informed decision. I think that among these choices there is a tool for anyone with any budget. Of course, I’m only one man, and these thoughts and opinions are mine alone, so some people may feel differently about some of these options. I’ve tried to be as unbiased and honest as possible, and I would like to mention that none of the companies that make these tools have paid me for anything I’ve said here.