Many of us in Chicago know Melissa Yen as the friendly woman who ran Vella Cafe, a popular brunch/lunch spot that I used to eat at regularly. It was at Vella that Melissa first started using the flavored syrups that would become Jo Snow. This past fall, the syrups became her full time thing. Now you can find them at stores in the Chicago area, as well as popping up on menus at restaurants and bars.
The syrups are a hit, and I am a huge fan. We keep a bottle on hand to add to cocktails, top ice cream or to make a quick soda. But you can (and should!) get more creative. They are great whipped with cream, used in salad dressings, sauces, and coffee. It is a simple product with endless uses.
Melissa is also fantastic and she and I recently met for lunch to talk syrups. She inspired me to try my hand at making my own syrup at home. Her main advice was to have fun because, as she reminded me, you can’t go too wrong. And it is true— even my worst experiments were still pretty good. But before we get to my creation, I (of course) asked Melissa to take the L+D food quiz:
Lottie + Doof Food Quiz: Melissa Yen of Jo Snow Syrups
Sweet or salty?
Salty and crunchy! It’s all about texture for me. That said, I ALWAYS need something sweet after I eat something savory!
Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate, hands down!
Hot or mild?
Unfortunately these days it is mild. Stomach isn’t what it used to be :(
What won’t you eat?
I will never eat stinky tofu ever again. I shudder at the thought. I don’t feel so bad, though, because it got the best of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern also.
Most memorable meal?
Pizza Bianco in Arizona. They have THE best pizza. The dough has the perfect chew. It gets nice & bubbly & blackened in spots. Perfect amount of toppings, not too much cheese.There is really nothing else on the menu. They have a wood burning stove & that is it. I love single concept restaurants. We had to wait for hours, but we snagged a seat down the block at their “bar” which is a little house lit by candles & noshed on olives & sipped on wine, while spending quality time with our friends. What a wonderful evening.
Favorite object in your kitchen?
Oddly enough, an inexpensive random yellow spatula. It has the best curve & is suitable for any job.
What are you scared of in the kitchen?
Flipping food in a saute pan. I still have not mastered that task, or even attempted it lately.
Do you prefer to cook alone or with others?
I would have to say with others. Whenever we have parties we tend to have interactive parties, where people create their own dishes from ingredients we have provided, like roll your own sushi, or wrap your own gyozas or create your own ramen soup. I love the interaction & collaboration & creativity that stems from collective cooking.
What country would you move to for the food?
Vietnam. We are going in January. I am so excited. I cannot go very long without some type of Asian food. I think I could survive on goi coun. It is just the perfect food; light, healthy, crunchy, satisfying. Even their grilled meats are light & flavorful paired with cold noodles, fresh herbs, tangy fish sauce. I love the contrast of flavors, textures & temperatures.
If you were to come back as a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?
Kale. Somewhat misunderstood, like me!
What’s for dinner?
A big bowl of soup. We keep home-made chicken stock in the freezer & thaw it for quick meals. We add whatever veggies we have in the fridge & supplement from the pantry & freezer, so..tonight: Chinese brocoli, frozen corn for texture, shitake mushrooms, maybe some brown rice or cellophane noodles. We can spice it any number of ways, Asian, Latin, Italian, so we never get sick of it. I could eat it everyday.
Inspired by Melissa, I made this bright and refreshing grapefruit, lime, and ginger syrup. I love it with sparkling water, but it is also nice spooned over some grapefruit segments.
This isn’t about a recipe, just an idea. Steep something in some syrup to extract flavor. Go crazy! I am working on a prune, orange, anise that I am still trying to get right. Dried fruit, zests, herbs and spices, there are so many possibilities. Have fun experimenting and let me know what you come up with!
Or better yet, just find yourself some Jo Snow and let Melissa do the work for you.
Huge thanks to Melissa for the syrups, and for such a wonderful, Chicago-based product! More on Jo Snow syrups (including links to order your own bottle) HERE.
Grapefruit, Lime, and Ginger Syrup (inspired by Jo Snow Syrup)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- zest of 1 large grapefruit
- zest of 1 lime
- 3/4 cup water
- 1-2 teaspoons of grated fresh ginger
In a bowl, rub zests into sugar to release oils. Combine sugar, water and ginger in a small pan and cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves and syrup is simmering. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 15 minutes. Strain syrup to remove zest and ginger and allow to cool. Keep in the refrigerator and use however you like.
Fresh and Foodie says:
March 21st, 2011 at 9:09 am
Awesome! i love Jo Snow. My favorite is the fig vanilla black pepper — it’s amazing in a latte.
Grapefruit, lime and ginger sounds like an amazing combination. Would love this mixed with some vodka and club soda. Nice!
March 21st, 2011 at 9:24 am
Agreed, F&F, Fig, Vanilla, Black Pepper is SO good. I love it on ice cream.
March 21st, 2011 at 9:30 am
Ohhhhhh….. syrup. Now that spring is here – time to be outside and drink fruity cocktails! Awesome ideas for creative simple syrups!
March 21st, 2011 at 10:09 am
The timing of this post is excellent… I randomly bought a yuzu at the Tai Nam Market yesterday, and syrup sounds like the perfect way to use it.
Approximately how long will this keep in the refrigerator?
March 21st, 2011 at 10:31 am
Hey Emily- Sounds good! I usually keep simple syrups around for a couple of weeks, maybe longer. The high sugar content will keep it relatively safe.
March 21st, 2011 at 10:52 am
…I bet this would be great over freshly fallen snow! I know, I know, I bet that sounded dorky but still, I bet it would be good…*giggle* ;o)
…Thank you for the recipe!
elizabeth / sophisticated pie says:
March 21st, 2011 at 11:46 am
i love making syrups!! I haven’t tried the Jo Snow, but when I’m in Chicago next (should be very soon, yea!!!) I’ll have to grab a bottle or two.
Christine (Cook the Story) says:
March 21st, 2011 at 12:26 pm
Her syrups sound wonderful, as does yours! There’s nothing quite like ginger and citrus. My post actually has a syrup recipe hidden in it today as well (orange and rosemary). I wonder what it is about the beginning of spring that has us turning to sugar drizzles? Maybe it’s the thought of all those bright sunny drinks in our near future.
March 21st, 2011 at 2:07 pm
Well, hurrah, Jo Snow is at the Marion Street Cheese Market! I will have to check the syrups out when I come up for air after Election Day.
March 21st, 2011 at 3:16 pm
Fun with syrups! Thank you for saying that you can’t go wrong with creativity :) I made some ginger pomegranate syrup around Christmastime and gave bottles to friends as gifts, along with a bottle of prosecco. I had no clue what I was doing, but it turned out. You’ve inspired me to revisit the syrup-making for summertime.
March 21st, 2011 at 5:34 pm
That kale answer is tops. I love this emerging trend of beautifull-crafted, creative syrups, and her packaging is gorgeous.
March 21st, 2011 at 9:06 pm
Wow. Thanks Tim for such a lovely blog post about my syrups. And thanks for all the lovely comments, L & D fans. I take it as a high compliment that some of you have enjoyed my Fig Vanilla Black Pepper syrup. Kimberly, thanks for the compliment on my packaging. I love it. I think my designer, Jennifer Mayes did a great job capturing the essence of Jo Snow. Can’t wait to try your recipe, Tim & the orange rosemary from Christine’s blog. Yay!
Kim Lennert says:
March 22nd, 2011 at 9:18 am
We love her syrups! (& her!) Not only great cocktail fixings, but terrific for salad dressings.
We roasted blood oranges in her tangerine syrup and added to rice pudding! So tasty!
Congrats on Saveur as well!
March 22nd, 2011 at 1:17 pm
Perfect timing, Tim! I’m headed out of town on spring break and wanted to bring clever hostess gifts to my foodie family. I looked online, found a retail location, and snapped up several bottles – well, several for family and several for me. I’m bummed that the fig vanilla black pepper was gone, but I think I’ve got enough to work with :-) The first thing I thought of was having it along with prosecco, but wow…whipped cream? drizzled in yogurt? OMG, the possibilities are endless!
March 26th, 2011 at 11:23 pm
Tim, when your recipe says ‘3/4 water’, do you mean cups?
sam henderson says:
April 26th, 2011 at 1:00 pm
I’ve never had Jo Snow, but I’m going to find some. Looks amazing… and who doesn’t love great packaging?
By the way, how have I been floating around the blogisphere and never bumped into your site before. LOVE it!