Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte

Pumpkin spice lattes have officially hit every coffee shop and cafe here in Seattle and while I love the warming and spicy flavors of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and allspice, I often find that pumpkin spice drinks are just way too sweet for my taste. I'll call it the Starbucks effect. So my solution, of course, was to make my own (this is my solution for a lot of things, some of which turn out well and others do not...). But this recipe turned out very well and it's one that I'll be making again throughout fall and maybe even into winter. Or at least until it gets too cold and rainy and then only mulled wine will suffice. Anyway, I hope you try this delicious and only slightly sweet pumpkin spice chai latte because it is truly a necessary part of fall. Trust me. 

// Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte // makes 8 cups
You'll want to make a full batch of this pumpkin spice chai latte to keep in the fridge for cold mornings or cozy afternoons. If you don't have the space, though, or you're not as much of a pumpkin spice fan as I am, you can halve the recipe. Also feel free to play around with the spices and sweetness until you find a balance that works for you. 

8 cups whole milk or milk of your choice
1/4 cup maple syrup

3 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 tablespoon cardamom pods
1 whole nutmeg, cut into quarters
2 teaspoons whole cloves
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons loose black tea
1 inch knob fresh ginger, cut into rounds
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, whisk together milk and maple syrup. Gently heat over medium-low heat until milk is just simmering - don't let boil! 

2. While milk is heating, place all spices (cinnamon through ginger) in either a mesh bag (like a nut milk bag or vegetable storage bag) or in the center of some cheesecloth. Cinch bag closed or tie ends of cheesecloth together and place spices in milk along with vanilla and salt. Turn heat to low and let steep for 45-50 minutes or more, depending on taste preference

3. Remove and discard spices. Serve chai hot with a dollop of steamed milk or whipped cream and a zest of freshly grated nutmeg

Shrubs: Blueberry Vanilla and Strawberry Black Pepper

Yes, I know, shrubs are the haute drink of choice these days, alcoholic or not. They can be found in mason jars lining the shelves at trendy bars and as boozy quaffs on popular blog posts. While I tend to cringe at modish food trends (are we over bacon everything yet?), I'm actually enjoying shrubs in the limelight. Not to brag, though, I first learned about shrubs way before the shrub craze hit Seattle.  My introductory taste of the vinegary drink occured during one of my Chef's Pantry classes at Bastyr in 2012. The theme of the week was "Bottled Infusions"  and Cynthia Lair - our eccentric but highly proficient instructor - took us through them makings of not only shrubs, but also ginger beer and homemade vanilla extract. I can't remember exactly what flavor of shrubs I made during that fortuitous class, but I remember that it was absolutely delicious with a hit of sparkling water. I kept the bottle in the side door of my fridge and sparingly used it when I needed a refreshing drink. Sadly, it took a hipsterish culinary fad and a deluge of beautiful blog photos for me to pick up shrub-making again. Not to mention 46 lbs of fresh picked blueberries... 

True shrubs are a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and fresh fruit that are left to marinate overnight or up to a week. The longer the fruit steeps in the vinegar, the more potent the flavor. You could, I guess, blend up the fruit, sugar and vinegar and then strain it to a make a quick syrup, but then you don't get the full flavor of the fruit, nor the beneficial bacteria that mildly ferments the shrubs. My recommendation? Do yourself a favor and reserve a space on your counter for a week that's solely dedicated to a big bowl of infusing fruit. You'll be the star of the next dinner party or cocktail hour. 

Any fruit or flavor combination works. I love perusing through The Flavor Bible to come up with new flavor profiles. My favorite discovery so far is pineapple and anise (which would make a great shrub!) Blueberry vanilla and strawberry black pepper are only two flavor combos that could go here. Let you imagination go wild or raid your spice drawer to come up with your own concoctions! As mentioned above, the idea behind both of these recipes are gratis from Cynthia Lair. Shrubs can be served with sparkling water or mixed into a boozy cocktail - try vodka or rum. 

//Blueberry Vanilla Shrubs// Makes ~2 cups
1 lb fresh blueberries
1 cup unrefined cane sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 vanilla bean, split down the middle

//Strawberry Black Pepper Shrubs// Makes ~2 cups
1 lb fresh strawberries
1 cup unrefined cane sugar
1 cup champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

Instructions (same for both recipes):
1. Place washed fruit in a large bowl. Mash fruit with the back of a large spoon or with a pastry cutter until the fruit is bruised and some liquid has been released. Add the sugar and stir well. Cover bowl tightly with a plastic wrap. Let sit in a dark, cool spot (somewhere on your countertop is fine) for 1-2 days.

2. After 1-2 days add the vinegar and any aromatics/spices you're using (in this case either vanilla bean or black peppercorns). Stir well, then cover tightly again with plastic wrap. Let infuse for 7-10 days. 

3. Strain the shrubs into a bottle or glass container using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth, pressing the pulp with the back of a spoon to get all the liquid out. Discard the fruit pulp. Store shrubs covered in the fridge for 6+ months.