Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Lesson in Smoking (and Learning!)

I am proud to announce that as of last night, Chef Reiton has become a graduate of Low & Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons, Gary Wiviott's cookbook "course" on smoking a rather fantastic array of meats.

Wiviott has, in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner, created a cookbook that, in "boot-camp" style, teaches a cook to become a master smoker.  Last night (or shall I say, all day yesterday) was the graduate course: 20 pounds of pork butt to make pulled pork.  And, man, was that the kicker... Even Marley the dog enjoyed it.  He ate one of the shoulder bones in ten minutes flat.

I have to say: I am so proud of my partner.  The hours that it takes to properly smoke a piece of meat is daunting to me.  As much as I love smoked food, I never would have smoked anything if he hadn't wanted to learn how to do it (and I honestly haven't done anything except watch him at the smoker as we drink beer, and then eat his amazing food).  It's been a little lesson to me, watching him do this whole "boot-camp" process and tasting the flavor that I fantasize about every time I think of "grilling:" if you want to learn something, DO IT.  Don't be daunted by the steps or the time or the expense.  You can always find a way to make it work for you and still learn the lessons that need to be learned.

Gosh, don't you love it? Food really does teach you so much about Life.  It's a fantastic teacher.  And you get to eat it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bittman's Brownies with Frosting: A Lunchtime Request

I felt like baking this afternoon.  I said so at lunch, and Michael said he wanted to help.  We decided on brownies, WITH FROSTING this time, so once again I pulled out Bittman.  This time we added his Chocolate Buttercream Frosting for the top.

Yummy.  A chocolatey mess.  Michael loved them.  Goal accomplished.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Herb-scented Corn-on-the-Cob

I have a faithful reader who I have been disappointing.  It's been a few weeks since I've written last, and she noticed.  So, Barb, this one is for you.

Michael loves corn-on-the-cob, so we've been buying quite a bit of it lately.  The last time I made it, as I was digging it out of the veggie drawer, I noticed a bunch of rosemary that hadn't been used yet, sitting all lonely in the drawer.  I hate wasting herbs—wasting anything—and my brain started working.  So I took a sprig of it and dropped it into the boiling water when I dropped in the corn, just for shits and giggles.  You know how I love to experiment.

The results, I am happy to report, were successful in two areas.  First, I could taste the difference.  There was just enough of a hint of the rosemary—that woodsy bite—to round out the sweetness of the corn.  A nice little tweak to what can become a bit boring.

My second success? Michael couldn't taste it, at least not enough to have his amazing sense of smell take over and his almost-teenage brain to ask, "What is this taste? It's DIFFERENT."  His only response these past two times has been, "This corn is so good.  It's perfect.  We should have it more."

And I inwardly smile.  My harshest food critic is happy.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Brandy Smash

Tonight's cocktail? A Brandy Smash: mint and simple syrup muddled together with 2 oz. of brandy and ice.

a brandy smash cocktail


I think I like it.

Vegetable Recipes for Cancer Fighters

I have a friend, R1 she has been nicknamed, who is one of the bravest people I know.  She is one of two friends who are, at this very moment, raging war again cancer in her body.  Her doctors and her readings have strongly stressed the importance of creating an uninhabitable environment for cancer cells—one of those ways being loading her body with antioxidants from fresh vegetables.

On her blog that is tracking her whole story (you can find it at, R1 requested vegetarian and fish recipes, and so I've decided to create a post for her and for all other cancer warriors out there.  These recipes are simple and delicious and are favorites of mine.  They also feature ingredients that are regularly touted as being high in antioxidants.  I've bolded all ingredients and utensils needed so they can be gathered and prepared ahead of time before you start to cook.

R1, I hope you enjoy them.  And may they be my contribution to kicking your cancer cells' fucking asses!!!

Homemade Guacamole

In a medium bowl, blend:
1 Tblsp water
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. crushed oregano

Halve 4 avocados that yield to the gentle pressure of your thumb.  To halve, hold the avocado lengthwise in the palm of your hand.  Insert a paring knife, then rotate the avocado top to bottom then bottom to top to score the whole way around the seed.  Twist the two halves to separate.  Take a heavy chef's knife or cleaver and whack it into the big seed.  Gently twist the knife to loosen and pull out the seed.  Take the paring knife again and CAREFULLY make three scores down through the flesh to the skin (don't cut yourself!).  Now take a big dinner tablespoon and scoop down along the skin to get the flesh out of it's "shell."  Plop the flesh into the bowl of spices.  Do this with all 4 avocados.

Add to the bowl a small chopped red onion, a tablespoon or two of chopped fresh cilantro, and a small chopped plum tomato.  Squeeze the juice from one lime into the bowl.  Sprinkle with coarse salt and a dusting of cayenne pepper to taste.

Take a potato masher or pastry blender to the bowl and mash everything together to the consistency that you like.  Some people like it chunky, some smooth.  I'm somewhere in between.  Scrape the guac into a serving bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, making sure that you press the wrap down onto the guac.  Guac reacts to the oxygen in the air and turns a nasty brown color if you don't do so.  Pull it out, still covered, about 15 minutes before serving time so it isn't too cold.  Garnish with some cilantro leaves and a cherry tomato half, if you so desire, when you serve.

This recipe makes quite a bit, enough for a decent sized party.  If you make it for just two of you, I'd only use one avocado and scale down everything else to a fourth.

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Cornmeal-crusted Tilapia with Salsa and Spicy Black Beans (adapted from Everyday Food) - serves 2

Shake in a plastic bag then dump in a pie plate:
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tsp. paprika
a dash or two of cayenne pepper
coarse salt and cracked pepper to taste

Rinse and pat dry 2 tilapia fillets and score them at the "seam" with a knife so you make two strips out of each fillet.  

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of olive oil.  While it's heating get the fish ready: doing one at a time, shake, pat, sprinkle, and roll each strip in the cornmeal mixture, making sure the coat both sides of each piece completely. 

Cook the tilapia strips in the skillet until they are a delicious, crunchy, golden brown, about 2 minutes per side for the thin pieces and 4 minutes per side for the thicker pieces.  Serve with a salsa of your choice and the Spicy Black Beans (below).

Spicy Black Beans
In a small saucepan, heat 1 tsp. olive oil over medium heat.  Add 1 or 2 minced garlic cloves and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes and cook another minute.  Rinse and drain 1 can black beans and add them to the pot with 1/2 cup of water and the juice from 1/2 a lime.  Simmer, covered but stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.  Season with coarse salt and cracked pepper and serve with tilapia.

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 Homemade Hummus

Open 2 cans of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans), reserving 1/4 cup of the liquid.  Rinse and drain the chickpeas and dump them into the bowl of a food processor with the reserved liquid.  Add to the bowl:
1/3 cup fresh (NOT bottled) lemon juice--and don't go over
1/4 cup tahini (found in the organic or ethnic section--it's sesame seed paste)
2 chopped garlic cloves
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. olive oil
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 1/4 tsp. coarse salt

Turn the processor on and blend, blend, blend, stopping frequently to scrape down the sides with a spatula and redistribute the mixture.  Blend it to the consistency you like.  I like hummus smoother rather than chunkier, but see what you like.

I like to serve hummus at room temperature with a little pool of olive oil in the middle and a dusting of fresh cracked black pepper, but it does need to be stored in the fridge.  Excellent served with all manner of raw veggies and toasted whole wheat pita wedges (make them yourself, don't buy them) or naan bread.

This recipe makes a LOT.  Good for a party, but cut it in half for two of you. 

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Green Beans with Tomatoes - from Everyday Food - serves 4

In a large skillet with a lid, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high.  Add 1 halved and thinly sliced medium onion and 1/2 tsp dried oregano, crushed, to the oil.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are lightly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add a 14.5 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes in puree to the skillet, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon or your fingers.  Stir to combine with the onions, then add 1 lb. trimmed fresh green beans, 1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt, and 1/2 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper, and stir again.  Bring everything to a boil.  Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover the skillet, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the green beans are done to your liking.   Don't cook more than 30 minutes.  I tend to go about 15 minutes.  Stir once more, and then serve.

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Nicoise Salad - serves 2

On a platter or two serving plates, arrange:
2-3 steamed red new potatoes, quartered (optional)
4 oz. steamed trimmed green beans (optional)
2 plum tomatoes, quartered
1 head of Boston lettuce, rinsed, dried, and torn
half a small red onion, thinly sliced
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced (optional)
1/8 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 can Italian tuna in olive oil (has a gold label), lightly drained and broken up 

Serve with Dijon Vinaigrette:   
In a small jar shake together:
2 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice (NOT bottled)
1 Tblsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small garlic clove, crushed
coarse salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

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Sauteed Zucchini, Peppers, and Tomatoes - adapted from Everyday Food - serves 2

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1 medium zucchini, quartered and sliced into 1/2-in. chunks; flesh of 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 3/4-in. squares; 1/2 pint grape tomatoes, and 2 smashed garlic cloves.  Season with coarse salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  Cook, tossing frequently, until the veggies start to brown but are still crisp-tender, about 5-7 minutes.  Serve.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Jocelyn's Plum Jam

My brother has a friend, Jocelyn, who is a girl after my own heart.  She's getting her doctorate in English (i.e. way smarter than me, but we love the same thing!), and she, too, loves to cook.

One of the other things that I loved about Jocelyn is that she is resourceful.  Plum trees grow like crazy in CA, and refusing to let a good thing go to waste, she gathers their fruit and makes jam.  When my sisters and I showed interest in her jam-making, Jocelyn brought us each a jar of plum jam to take home with us.

The first morning that Chef Reiton and I got back to the Midwest, we made a stack of buttered toast and cracked open Jocelyn's jam.

Ohhhh, my.  Deliciously plummy and not too sweet.  A perfect breakfast.

Sue's Ooey Gooey Brownies

I'm sitting here sipping a Between the Sheets (a fantastic little cocktail consisting of an ounce each of light rum, Cointreau, and brandy shaken with 1/2 ounce of fresh lemon juice), still reminiscing over last week.  I just went through most of the pictures taken by the three of us sisters during the trip.  (I actually am going to steal a couple to supplement and replace a few of mine in the past few blogs...)  Anyway, in going through the pictures, I recalled two more food items that I've wanted to blog about.  So, here's the first one:

My father's boss of 35 years (both men long retired) was gracious enough to meet up with my siblings and other relations for dinner at Garibaldi's the second evening of our trip to CA.  He meets with my brother on occasion, but he hadn't seen the three of us girls together since we moved to PA in '81.  My last memories of him were when I was about 12 years old and involved the National Art Gallery, a train museum, and listening to Pomp and Circumstance on his Walkman (which he apparently still has).  Well, I will soon be swinging into my late 30s, just to give you an idea of how long it's been since I've seen him...

ANYWAY.  We met at Garibaldi's and spent FOUR HOURS talking and eating and drinking and laughing.  The evening was spectacular.  Well, Mr. Fisher must have had just as much fun with us as we were having with him, because the following evening we got a message: Mr. Fisher wanted us to come over for dinner the night before we left.

I have to say that my heart leaped at that invitation.  In one evening I had grown completely fascinated with this man who knew my father probably better than all of us, who was incredibly intelligent, sensitive, witty, artistic, and just plain cool.  A feeling of deep respect and trust had come over me in those four hours I had sat beside him, and I was so excited that I was going to get to know him more.

Sunday evening came—a bittersweet evening: bitter because it was the last evening with my siblings and my uncle, who had come up from LA; sweet because we got to spend it with Mr. Fisher.  But that night was one of my favorite nights.  Again, we laughed and drank and talked and ate.  For five hours we sat around the dinner table, the dining room lit by candles, and we shared another meal together.

(You are probably wondering at this point what any of this has to do with food.  This blog entry hasn't been about food! It's been a damn story! Well, hold onto your napkin, foodie friend...)

Now, Mr. Fisher has a very good friend, Sue, who loves to cook.  She never actually said she loves to cook—but it's obvious.  She came over for dinner and made, well—dinner. 

Aaaaand dessert, being a deliriously good chocolate creation that she calls Ooey Gooey Brownies.  She cut them into huge squares, plopped a massive scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, and served them with a pitcher of hot fudge.  Real hot fudge.

The best part? She gave me the recipe. So here you go, dear readers.  And thank you, Sue!!!


1 cup butter
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate

Stir in:
2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla


Pour the batter into a 9 x 13" pan, spread 12 oz. chocolate chips and 2 cups of mini marshmallows on top, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Buena Vista Cafe—San Francisco, CA—A Restaurant Recommendation

I can't go on a romp about CA and not write about something alcoholic.  I am happy to report that in our search for a trolley ride that didn't happen, we landed right across the street from the first American bar to serve an Irish coffee,

Below is their delicious concoction.  I'm a dork and got it decaf.  I'm just getting old and can't do caffeine past noon...

Photo courtesy of Michelle
Check out their story on creating it:  Makes you want to go create something...

House of Nanking—San Francisco, CA—A Restaurant Recommendation

Another restaurant that my siblings and I, our uncle, and Chef Reiton and son visited in our recent California trip is apparently known by many.  It is the infamous

a Chinese restaurant in downtown San Francisco that you need to get to by 6 p.m. or you will have a looooooooooooong wait for dinner.

Photo courtesy of Michelle
My brother had visited before, and we took his recommendation: DON'T order off the menu.  Ask the waitress what is good that day, being sure to tell her what you don't want, and then wait for your table to be flooded with food.

Below are two of the eight items that were deposited onto our table: fried chicken wontons with peanut sauce and beef with green beans, garlic, and fried rice noodles. I'm not going to show or tell you anything else because I don't want you ordering off the menu!  Follow the directions above!!!

Still have concerns about ordering en masse? The bill came to about $25 per person, which included beer and tea and tip.  Not bad for an incredible meal that gives you leftovers AND has you rolling out the door.

Trattoria La Siciliana–Berkeley, CA—A Restaurant Recommendation

In a recent trip to California, I visited THE best Italian restaurant I have ever been to.  I was in town visiting my brother with my two sisters. Our first night together we visited a little place called Trattoria La Siciliana on College Avenue in Berkeley.  It is a teensy tiny place that has been family-run for 15 years. 

Our reservations were a little bit late, but considering I got to sit on a bench and talk to the adorable owner while I watched her guys cook (and learn a new pasta-cooking tip in the meanwhile) made it completely worth it.

After being seated and while we decided on what we were hungry for (which took awhile since we all hadn't been together for 8 months), we pigged out (really) on the most amazing of simplest concoctions: olive oil, minced fresh garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, fresh Italian parsley, dried rosemary, cracked black pepper, and salt.  Dip fresh Italian bread in the above and NIRVANA.  (Although Chef Reiton, who arrived later that night, said that he could smell the garlic on me for the next 24 hours...)

The waiter (and I mean the waiter) suggested that we do our meal family style, so we took his advice and ordered the following:

  • bruschetta topped with mozzarella
  • "fresh" green salad with olives and mozzarella
  • risotto in a cream-tomato sauce with olives and artichoke hearts
  • ravioli filled with mushroom and tossed in a butter sauce

Our experience? I think the pictures below says it all:

Check them out if you are in town:  A wee bit pricey, but you won't be sorry.  I promise.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Perfecting an Ice Cream Base Recipe

I found somewhere online a couple years ago a quick ice cream recipe.  Many may call it cheating, but I'm going to pull a Bittmann here and tell you that I'm just too happy with the quick way to bother with the hard way many times.  The hard way is actually making a custard, using eggs.  It is fantastically delicious, but so is making ice cream.  So, I make ice cream.

The recipe that I found used to delight me to no end.  But a few months ago I made my chocolate version of it, and it was really, really sweet for me.  I don't know if my taste buds are changing, or if I've just not eaten the amount of sugar that I used to, but I knew I had to change the recipe.

The old recipe was simple:

  • 1 can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • your flavoring of choice

In a discussion with Chef Reiton, we decided that trying a cup and a half of cream might adequately balance out the sugar of the condensed milk, so the next batch of ice cream I made, I did the following:

1.  Macerate a small container of rinsed raspberries (what is that, 6 oz.?) in a tablespoon of sugar for about 10 minutes.

2.  In a large bowl, blend the cream and the condensed milk until the mixture is completely smooth and combined.

3.  Turn on the ice cream maker and slowly pour the cream mixture into the container.  Let it run for about 5 minutes.

4.  Stir the raspberries and scoop them into the container as it continues to run.  Continue mixing for another 25 minutes until the ice cream is of soft-serve consistency.

5.  With a spatula, scoop the ice cream into a freezer container, then lay a piece of plastic wrap over the ice cream and smooth it down completely to make contact and leave no space for ice crystals to form.  Cover with the lid and "ripen" or freeze the ice cream for at least an hour.

I actually macerated more raspberries than I needed when I did this, so I whipped up a quick batch of Cook's Illustrated Perfect Pie Dough that uses vodka (only I used all butter) and made a few hand pies with the leftover berries to eat with my ice cream.

The ice cream result? It was perfect.  Sweet, but not gag sweet.  Creamy, but it still froze up nice and firm, just how I like it.

So, here it is: raspberry ice cream with raspberry pie, summer in a bowl!

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Cocktail Creation Gone Wrong

Tonight I planned on having my own little private celebration for my sister.  My eldest sister just completed the coursework for her master's degree in educational leadership, and I told her tonight that I'd have a drink on her.

I concocted a quick pizza out of cheap veggies that I bought at Ed's Way today, layering thinly sliced onions, zucchini, kalamata olives, and ruby red peppers on a flour tortilla, sprinkling it all with crumbled feta cheese, and drizzling it with olive oil and dusting it with cracked black pepper.


While it baked I made a quick salad of cucumber and tomato, and then—I concocted a new drink.

I didn't have any limes or lemons, which surprisingly are fundamental in a LOT of cocktails, so, being so happy a cocktail experiment of yore, I got cocky and "threw" these ingredients together:
- 1 1/4 oz. Broker's gin
- 3/4 oz. dry vermouth
AND (my HUGE mistake)
- 1 oz. Cointreau

I took a hefty sip....

Dear GOD.

The only thing that made me continue sipping/gagging my marvelous creation down was the fact that I had told the eldest that I'd have a drink to celebrate her tonight.  I didn't want to toss the drink in the sink and jinx her.

The problem? I knew it before I even had it mixed, but—once again—I didn't listen to my brain.  Cointreau is just too sweet to be added in such vast quantities.  An ounce???

Seriously, Ms. Archer.  Be reasonable.

But...I did it, and I could barely get a few sips down.  I attempted to temper it with a few dashes of blood orange bitters, which helped.  But still.  (Cough.)  I couldn't drink the whole glass.

So, lesson learned in cocktail making.  Those liquors that only seem to be used in very small quantities in every cocktail recipe you come across??? There's a reason for that.  So take heed.

Dearest sister, please understand that my half-finished drink does not represent in ANY way the amount of pride or love in my heart for you!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A (Graphic) Experience with Kobas

Over spring break Chef Reiton and I went to his Uncle Larry's house for an event that I am so grateful to have been a part of.  Every year Uncle Larry makes kobas, a Hungarian sausage made from pork.  Most years Chef Reiton helps him make it.  This year, I got to make it! Okay--I got to help.

Uncle Larry had us bring 10 lbs. of coarsely ground pork shoulder with 25% fat (straight from the butcher that morning), garlic water (half a quart of water with an entire head of sliced garlic soaking in it), coarse ground black pepper, coarse salt, and paprika.  Typically, Uncle Larry makes his kobas with sweet paprika, but Chef Reiton and I tend to like to spice things up a bit, so for this batch we decided to try 3 parts Hungarian sweet paprika to 1 part Hungarian sharp paprika.

The only other ingredient that we needed were the casings.  While at the butcher we picked up a package for $4, wondering why Uncle Larry was saying they were so expensive. When we got to his house, Uncle Larry had a few casings left from the previous year that he had saved, so we decided to use those first.

The preparation of kobas was very, very simple.  We dumped the meat and spices into a very large bowl, and I started kneading with my hands.  After the spices were very well blended, Chef Reiton slowly poured in the garlic water while straining out the garlic, and I continued to knead the liquid into the meat.  We continued to add water and knead until the meat mixture looked full and very moist but not wet. There was no water in the bottom of the bowl when we were ready to press.

Next came the fun part: making the sausages themselves.  Uncle Larry went into a back room and came out with a sausage press that had been in the family, he guessed, for about 60 years.  His grandfather had been the first to work the press, and now here it sat, still beautifully black, waiting for the family to press yet another batch of delicious kobas.  Chef Reiton raised the plate, swung open the bucket, and we dumped in all 10 lbs. of meat.

An old sausage press full of ground pork

To keep the casings from sticking to the stuffing nozzle, it is important to give the nozzle a good greasing, so Chef Reiton showed me how to grab a small handful of meat and smear it all over the nozzle.  You can see the bowl of soaked and rinsed casings in the bowl, waiting to be stuffed, in the picture below.

lubricating the nozzle with ground pork

After the nozzle was carefully greased, it was time to feed the first casing. Chef Reiton squeezed an inch of sausage out of the nozzle to prevent the casing from tearing on the nozzle edge

 preparing the nozzle for the casing

 then I gingerly slid the beginning of a casing onto the nozzle.

inserting the nozzle into the casing

carefully gathering the casing on the nozzle

Chef Reiton then showed me how to carefully feed the casing the entire way up the nozzle, squinching it up like a sock, until there was only about an inch or so of casing left hanging off the nozzle.

fully inserting the nozzle into the casing

Once the casing was entirely fed onto the nozzle, I twisted the end to "knot" the casing, then Chef Reiton began to turn the press handle and a new sausage was on its way.

With an entire casing filled, it was time to make the actual links.  I laughed to myself as I watched Chef Reiton measure out the links with his hands, squeeze the filling at a stopping point, then twist the sausage to "knot" it off.  I was remembering pictures in storybooks from my childhood, pictures of salamis and links of sausages hanging from the ceiling at a deli.  As a kid, I never actually saw sausages like that in the store, and the pictures of them fascinated me.  Now here I was, making them.

creating kobas sausage links

We continued to stuff the casings that Uncle Larry had leftover, slowly filling the pan with link after link of deliciously fat kobas sausages.

a tray of kobas sausage links

We soon ran out of Uncle Larry's casings and turned to the casings that Chef Reiton and I had brought.  We pulled the casings out of the salted soaking water, rinsed them--then frowned.  If such statements can be made of animal intestines, Uncle Larry's were much more attractive than ours.  Ours were clean, but they had nodules that the more expensive ones didn't.  Chef Reiton and I decided right then and there: next year, we pay the extra cash, no matter what.

Before I knew it, my kobas experience was over.  Uncle Larry made a request to do it again in a few months, and Chef Reiton and I jumped at the offer.  While Uncle Larry went upstairs for a minute to rest, we carefully cleaned the family press, dried it, put it back together, then placed it back on its shelf where it would silently sit and wait, ready to create more memories another day.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Gateway Cocktail: The Sidecar

I believe I've had a Sidecar before, but I don't know that I've ever actually made it myself.  So here she is:

  • 2 oz. Jacques Cardin cognac
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice

A Sidecar cocktail

I was a little afraid to try it, but now I'm happy.  Mmmmm.  Smoooooooth.

And dangerous.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tips for the BEST Grilled Chicken

I had the longest, nicest talk with my mom after school today, and she asked me if I'd posted anything new recently.  She sounded so excited about my posts that I just had to write something tonight for her.

I'd gotten chicken legs cheap at Ed's Way, so I decided that tonight would be a good night to use the first batch.  Thank God I looked at my Blogosphere last night, because someone had landed on "Archer's First Grill" from last spring, and I had reread it.  In it I described how I poached my chicken legs, like Sean does, before I grilled them, so that's exactly what I did tonight.  I put enough water to cover the legs in a pot, dumped in four cracked green cardamom pods with some salt, garlic powder, and cayenne, then brought the water to a boil before turning it down to just a simmer, partly covering it, and letting it go for 20 minutes while I started laundry.

At the end of 20 minutes I turned the fire off, then sliced around the base of each chicken leg to snap the tendon and release the skin, allowing for an easy removal of the nastiness.  I gave each leg a heavy sprinkle of Martha's spice rub from Everyday Food and let them sit for a few minutes.  In the meantime I heated up the cast iron grill pan and the small cast iron pan, then peeled two small carrots and rubbed them with olive oil. 

Now came the cooking, which was simply tossing the legs in the grill pan and turning them every few minutes, and pan-roasting the carrots with a bit of cumin, turning them every so often so they could caramelize evenly.  During the down moments I quartered and sliced a plum tomato, laid it on a bed of cilantro leaves, and drizzled it with some ranch dressing for my "salad."  And I made a Cosmo.

Here are the final results:

I'm a little nervous about the chicken.  I know that poaching makes meat pink, which parts of it were, but the juices were clear.  So I'm certain (mostly) that the chicken was completely cooked.  It's just that the meat was soooo tender and juicy that those pink parts scared me a little.  But the rub made the meat just delicious, and with the sweetness of the carrots and the creaminess of the dressing with the tartness of the tomatoes—I couldn't stop eating it.  So if I wake up tonight barfing up a lung, I'll know why.

UPDATE: No barfing!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Dry Gin Martini—and An Apology to Mr. Hearn


I feel like I cheated on you tonight.

You, the man who got me into martinis.  The man who made me my virgin martini with Grey Goose vodka and blue cheese-stuffed olives.  The one who piqued my fascination with vodkas and made me who I am today.

Well, tonight I made a classic dry martini.  That means a martini with gin.



I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry.  But I need to follow my heart.

The culprits are pictured below.

If you see them, be kind to them.  It's not their fault.  And (sigh)—there was an olive.  A plain, pitted green olive.  

Alright, alright! I admit it... There were three.

Please know, despite my change in heart, I will always be grateful to you for what you have taught me. Always.



Sunday, January 24, 2010

Turtle Cake: Lessons on Half-Baked Cake and Caramel Sauce

Today was a day of experimentation.  And holy cow—it all worked!!!

First off, I made a roast in a big crockpot, something that I've never done before.  Top round boneless beef whatever was on sale at Pick 'N' Save, so I bought a pound and a half plus for $5.  I came home, rinsed it, patted it VERY dry (thank you, Julia), coated it in coarse sea salt, then heated a skillet to very hot and seared it on both sides with a bit of olive oil.  While it was browning on its first side, I stabbed the meat about 10 times with a paring knife and shoved slivers of a garlic clove into it.  I poured just enough water to cover the bottom of the crockpot, then placed the seared roast, four peeled whole carrots, a quartered onion, and three halved peeled garlic cloves in the pot with a heavy grinding of black pepper. I put the lid on and let it go on low.

Now, for dessert. I wanted chocolate, and, remembering the buckeye cake from Christmas, I wondered if I could make one like it—but as a turtle instead.

So...I started the chocolate cake on the Special Dark Hershey's Cocoa Powder container, but I halved the recipe since I only wanted one 9-inch layer.  While is was mixing, I pulled out the cookbook that I bought Chef Reiton for Christmas: Cooking by James Peterson—and looked up caramel.  Peterson says to forgo the water when making caramel and just melt the sugar over high heat. So I did. It turned out beautifully—until I realized that I wanted to make caramel sauce instead of caramel.  The caramel was immediately hardening, and I wanted a soft caramel to layer on top of the cake.  Amazingly, when I cranked the heat back up under the hard caramel, the sugar remelted and I stirred in cream to create a beautiful sauce.  I was a little afraid that the reheating would burn the sugar, but it didn't.

I let the caramel sauce cool on the stove while I put the cake in the oven, then ran upstairs to do some laundry. When I felt that it was almost time for the cake to be done, I ran back downstairs.  In peeking in the oven, I realized with horror that I had turned the oven OFF when I had turned off the timer for the caramel.  With a groan I pulled the cake (which had the signs of just starting to bake) from the oven, reheated the oven, and with a prayer placed the pan back in to bake.

Twenty-five minutes later, the cake was perfectly done. Phew. I cooled it on the rack then flipped it out of the pan (which took some tapping. I need to do the parchment circle from now on, just to make my life easier.).  As it cooled, I barely warmed the caramel to get rid of the skin that had formed on the top, then poured it onto the center of the cooled cake and spread it to the edges with a thin metal spatula.  I let it set, and in the meantime made the ganache: half a cup of cream boiled, then 4 oz. of Ghiradelli bittersweet chips poured in, rested for five minutes, then stirred until velvety smooth. When the ganache had semi-cooled, I poured it on top of the caramel and smoothed it across the top and down the sides with the metal spatula.  A few minutes later I circled the top with pecan halves and then placed the whole cake in the fridge to set.

Here's a slice half devoured:

A slice of Turtle Cake!

Our dinner was delicious.  I made a batch of garlic-buttermilk mashed potatoes and a green salad to go with the roast and actually concocted a half-decent gravy from the pan juices using the 1 tablespoon fat/1 tablespoon flour/1 cup milk and juices ratio.

I am so amazed at how good the cake was.  It wasn't nearly as rich as the buckeye cake was.  I was especially happy that my mistakes were fixable and that each part combined so well to make such a delicious dessert.  Maybe I'll play around with more "candy" ideas...

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