Thursday, December 4, 2008

Transcendent Wings

I drove out to play a couple games of pool (which I lost heinouosly) with a friend last night. During the games, my friend recommended that we order the wing dings.

I'm not a huge hot wing fan. In general, I find sauced wings one-trick ponies that rely exclusively on their sauce to impress. And the breaded-fried wings are usually nothing special, verging on insipid.

this particular friend is known in my social circle as the Brass Chef. He is a cook and foodie of some note. He combines the speed and practicality of a line order cook with the innovation of a Great Chef.

If he says to try the wings, I try the wings, though I wasn't expecting anything too special. They arrived at our table with little fanfare-8 breaded deep-fried wings in a paper-lined mesh basket. They seemed tiny, but they were golden brown and piping hot, plucked moments ago from the fryer.

After giving them a few minutes to cool off, I tried one. And all of a sudden my paradigm shifted.

They were on the small side, but every bit of them but the bone was edible. There was no gristle to be found on them, as evidenced by my friend stripping each of his wings down to the bone like a pirhana strips a cow.

The coating was hot, crispy and thin with just a touch of oil glistening. At the joints, there was a little bit of extra coating that was a little bit crunchier. The chicken was tender and juicy. The flavor and texture was a lot like eating teeny tiny pieces of excellent fried chicken.

The first flavor I could taste was something subtly but intangibly sweet, like cloves or chinese five-spice or curry powder. The sweetness quickly dissapeared as the spiciness began to bloom.

The heat of the wings was well-balanced. The spice developed at a good pace and never got too overpowering. This heat started while I was still eating the wing, and developed just a little bit more as an aftertaste. These are not super-hot, but the heat does build somewhat as you eat more of them.

The drummetes and wings were equally good, though the drumettes had more places where a little more extra coating could accrue. But since the batter was so light, extra coating was a joy, not a chore.

It was as if I'd been eating these wings for years. I even craved them just like someone who'd been eating these wings for years. It was like meeting someone new and instantly having a connection with them as if we were old friends.

I know this sounds silly, anthropormoprhizing wings. But don't laugh until you've actually tried these wings.

We got an order to take home with us. I'm planning to grab an order of the wing dings this weekend when I'm back in the area to satisfy a craving I never new I had.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving and Altruism

I was out to dinner with my family for my husband's birthday, when my mom and dad got to talking about what they were doing for Thanksgiving. I'm won't be there--I'm visiting the in-laws, including the sister in law with the new niece--and my sister is visiting her boyfriend. So, my parents were to be empty-nesters for the first holiday ever.

My dad suggested that they volunteer at a soup kitchen, and do something to help the less fortunate. My mom heartily agreed.

My parents rule.

This Thanksgiving, keep in mind that there are a ton of people less fortunate out there, even more so in years past due to the economic downturn. These people need care and support, but not just food. They need hope, and to know that others care.

Maybe your budget it also tight this year, but if you can't give money, you can always give time. Maybe it's going to a soup kitchen, maybe it's donating food, or maybe not.

I don't have time this year, what with two jobs and a house to take care of, but I do have some money. The Mister and I will be making some donations before the holidays, and also will start to put charity as a line item in our budget for 2009.

Not to get too didactic, but there's surely something you can do to bring a smile to someone else's face and lighten their load. It will lift your spirits as much as it will lift theirs.

Here's some links to get you started:

The Hunger Site et. al: All you do is click on a link and ad revenue goes to charities. Super easy

How to donate food to a soup kitchen: An EHow article that gives the basics.

Look into microcredit: Microcredit is basically giving a small, short-term loan to someone whose needs are so small or who is so poor that they can't get bank financing. It's sort of like lending your sister $50 to buy books for college until her student loans come through, or giving your son $40 to start up a lemonade stand. Much, but not all, microcredit is for international purposes, so if you want to help peopole in your community this might not be the way to go. But it will directly help people.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lovely lamb chops with cheesy bacon mashed potatoes

I just had this meal not one hour ago, and it was delicious. Prep time was minimal. If you are a lamb lover, this is the only marinade you will ever need. I heartily suggest you drink a robust red wine with this meal.

These recipes make enough for about two servings, but can easily be doubled. I've found that you don't want to over-marinate the lamb, so 30 minutes or less will do fine. Prep time on this is minimal, but it is delicious. Not the fanciest of meals, but it will satisfy any lamb lover, and the mashed potatoes taste almost like cheesy potato skins.

Lovely Lamb chops with cheesy bacon mashed potatoes

Bottled lemon juice is fine here, but fresh garlic and fresh herbs are a must.

8 lamb rib chops, French cut style
salt and pepper
1/4 cup oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
2 sprigs thyme, oregano, or your favorite herb

Trim the lamb of excess fat if needed. Place chops on baking sheet. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, add oil and lemon juice. Crush garlic cloves and add. Strip the leaves off the herb springs, and add to marinade. It's OK if a few small stems get in.

Pour marinade over chops, directly on baking sheet. Turn after 10-15 minutes. Make sure to spoon some of the herbs and garlic on the chops when you turn them.

Meanwhile, while the chops are marinating, make the potatoes.

1 cup instant mashed potatoes
1 Tablespoon butter or oil
2 Tablespoons Bacon Salt
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 an onion
1/4 cup cheese
1 cup water
1/4 cup milk
scallions and cheddar for garnish (optional)

Chop onion to medium dice. Add to medium-sized saucepan with oil and salt. Cook until onion is translucent and fairly soft, stirring occasionally, over medium heat, about 10 minutes.

While onions are cooking, start to broil the lamb chops. Broil about 2-3 inches away from the broiler. For rare chops, broil 3 minutes per side. 4 minutes per side for medium. Remove from the oven and let rest.

Add bacon salt and stir to combine. Add water, stir, turn heat to high until mixture begins to boil. Turn off heat, add milk and potatoes. Stir until the mixture begins to solidify, then add cheese.

Serve 4 chops per person with the potatoes on the side. Drink with a robust red wine. Feel like a cannibal as you gnaw the lamb bones.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A trio of garlic breads

I had a garlic bread so delicious last night that I had to share the recipe. As a bonus, I've got two other lovely garlic bread recipes, too.

Goat cheese garlic bread with roasted garlic

2 baguettes
4 oz plain goat cheese
1 head roasted garlic
1 small clove garlic, finely minced or crushed

Slice baguettes in half, lengthwise. Slice each half crosswise. Basically, One Baguette is now in four pieces. Put goat cheese, garlic and roasted garlic in a small bowl, use a fork to smash together until somewhat smooth. It's ok, in fact preferred, to have some texture from the roasted cloves. Add a little bit of salt and pepper to taste.

Place on broiler pan, and broil in the oven until tops just start to brown. Serve hot.

Tacky Italian Restaurant's sinfully delicious garlic bread

If you've been to this restaurant I'm clandestinely referencing, then you know what I'm talking about. If not, just know this is a crunchy, crusty bread with a powerfully potent, but not overpowering, garlic flavor. I swiped the basics for this recipe from Meemo's Kitchen, who has a great write-up on the recipe. I have modified it somewhat to clarify procedure and to add just a pat of butter, though the "authentic" recipe does not call for it.

The key to this is finding a good foccaccia to start with. Ideally, it should be a size that will fit into a 9-inch cake pan. You split it in half crosswise so you've got two round pieces half the thickness of the original. (You can always make your own foccaccia if you really want.)

"Buca’s" bread

Makes two loaves

1 loaf focaccia bread (rosemary and red onion if you can find it)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
2 T butter
6 cloves garlic-minced (jarred is OK)
3 cloves garlic-sliced very thin
2 tsp oregano
¼ cup mozzarella (optional – variation)
3 Tablespoons Romano cheese

Advance Prep:

Cut loaf of bread crosswise so you end up with 2 circles, each about 1 inch thick. Let sit for an hour or two.

Slice garlic cloves thinly, set aside for an hour or two.

Make garlic oil. Combine minced garlic, butter and oils in a microwave safe dish or in a small saucepan. Heat in microwave for 30seconds to 1 minute until butter just melts. Do not let garlic burn.


To assemble:

Brush each round of bread--the entire thing--with garlic oil. Get the top, sides, and especially the bottom of the bread. Slice bread into 4-6 rounds using pizza cutter. Place bread in cake pans. Sprinkle oregano and Romano on top (and mozzarella if using). Top with garlic slices.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake for 10 minutes, until heated through. Remove from the oven, and turn on the broiler. Broil top of bread until garlic just starts to brown (if using cheese, when cheese is bubbly).

Remove from pans and add a little more oregano and Romano. Serve hot.

Slothful garlic bread

I think I've posted this before. It's the garlic bread I make when I don't have any butter at room temperature and I want garlic bread NOW.

1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, pressed in garlic press
1/4 cup pre-shredded cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, whatever you have on hand)
1 small sub sandwich roll (4-6 inches) or 2 slices of bread

Mix mayo, garlic and cheese. Spread thickly on bread. Broil until it puffs and just starts to brown. Eat quickly before you have time to ponder that you've just made garlic bread using mayonnaise.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day Libations

(Cross-posted on Manic Scribe.)

Whether you're a Republican or Democrat, a teetotaler or a lush, there's a libation for you on Election Day.

I did an informal Twitter poll, and most people are drinking hard liquor, of all things. Gin, scotch, Tequila (if "their man" loses), Goldschlager and bitters (aka "Conservative's Tears."

I'm having a small party, two political junkie friends are coming over later, but mostly I'm helping Mahalo make sure that the election returns are updated as fast and accurately as possible.

If you want to avoid the Internet traffic disaster that CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC will be, check out these fun and fast sites over at Mahalo:

Electoral Map
Exit Polls

But I digress. I wanted to offer some drinks of my own for this election cycle. Although I've tested these drinks, or versions close to them (ask me about the "flaming kitten" sometime), Imbibe at your own risk, don't drink and drive.

The Obama
1 to 2 oz peaty scotch, like LaPhroaig
1/2 oz Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
1/2 oz banana liqueur
splash of heavy cream
Combine, stir. Serve on the Barocks.

The McCain
2 oz whiskey
Juice of 1/2 lemon, fresh squeezed
1 Tablespoon of sugar
Shot of Tobasco sauce or other hot sauce (for that Maverick-y edge)
Shake, strain, serve.

The Palin
Essentially a Cosmo, but make sure you make it with Russian vodka.
2 oz Russian vodka
1 oz Cointreau, Triple Sec, or other citrus liqueur
1 lime, fresh squeezed (or 1 oz lime juice)
1 oz Cranberry juice

The Biden (called the Hrab in some circles)
Diet coke in a highball glass over ice.
Biden is a teetotaler, you see.

Other options

*Are you a Joe (or Jane) Six-pack? Celebrate being a demographic with a six pack of your favorite beer.

*Make a red-white and blue layered drink called a pousse-cafe. The trick is to use a narrow glass and pour each layer over the back of a spoon. You can use any liqueurs for this, but you'll want to experiment to make sure they have different enough densities to separate.

*Drink wine. There's a company doing "red" and "blue" wines, but any red, white, or blue wine will do.

And a few drink ideas for those who don't (or won't, or can't) drink. AAA is big on mocktails, to encourage people not to drink and drive. Check your local state AAA group, and/or the links below.

AAA Oklahoma "mocktail" contest winners

20 Mocktails from AAA Wisconsin

Red, white and blue layered drink (nonalcoholic)

One final note on non-alcoholics: Infusing herbs like mint, basil, or any herb you like is a great way to impart flavor, and a touch of bitterness, into a drink without adding the booze.

Remember, drink early, drink often!

I think that's how the saying goes...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Improv recipe: Leek and Squash soup with beans and greens

I roasted a butternut squash for this and cooked my own beans because that's what I had on hand. I've modified the recipe to take advantage of convenience foods. Canned beans and frozen squash puree should be just fine in this recipe and yield a similar quality of finished result.

The leeks just make this. Onions can be used if you can't get your hands on leeks. But do try to get leeks.

1 package frozen butternut squash
2 leeks, white and pale green parts only
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or other full-bodied, flavorful vinegar
1 can of pre-cooked white beans
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Handful of greens such as spinach or beet greens (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Microwave squash puree per package directions. Meanwhile, chop leeks and add to large saucepan with butter, and a teaspoon of salt. Sautee leeks on low heat for 5-10 minutes until soft and just starting to brown. Turn off heat and add the sherry vinegar. Stir briefly so the onions absorb the vinegar.

Add 2 cups stock to onions, stir. Drain can of beans, add to pot. Add thawed squash puree. Add greens if using. Stir to combine. Turn heat to medium and simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soup is combined and greens are tender. Taste and add more salt if needed. Turn off heat and stir in cream. Serve with crusty bread or croûtons if desired. Serves 4.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Football Party Menu

Le Cellier, Canadian Cheese Soup (Epcot World Showcase)
Traditional Shepherd's Pie made with tomato, lamb and sage
Hot Cheese Dip from Big Damn Chefs
Custard in baked pumpkins
Apple crisp
Assorted appetizers including olive tapenade, chips and salsa, French onion dip, baked Buffalo wings and hummus
Assorted wines and beers

Go Blue!

Improv recipe: Baked oatmeal

Today was the tailgating party for my office. We celebrate the yearly regional college football rivalry with a potluck. Actually, we celebrate pretty much everything with a potluck, but that's beside the point.

I'd gotten some steel-cut oats, so I decided to make some baked oatmeal. Steel cut oats are different then rolled oats. They are small little squares/cylinders instead of flakes, and they take longer to cook. But the texture is delightfully chewy, and the flavor is heartier. You can find them in most grocery stores, sometimes called Irish oats or pinhead oats.

Alton Brown's got a decent crock-pot oats recipe, but I wanted something i could transport easily on the bus, so I looked for recipes just for baking.

I found a couple good ones, but I didn't have all the ingredients, like raisins, on hand. So I took the basic requirements, 1 cup of oats to 4 cups of liquid, cook for 30 minutes at 325, and played around with it.

In the end, I came out with an extremely sweet, tasty and filling oats recipe, guaranteed to feed a crowd.

Spiced Baked Oatmeal
For the spice, I used a loose herbal chai tea mix that has actual pieces of chocolate beans, cinnamon sticks, or cardamom in it. If you can't find that, use mulling spices. The main thing is you want big pieces of stuff--nothing powdered, and you want flavors that will go well with sweet.
1 1/2 cups steel cut oats
2 1/2 cups milk
2 1/2cups water
1 can sweetened condensed milk
3 Tablespoons mulling spices or chunky chai tea mix
1/2 cup dried fruit, such as raisins or cherries (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Mix liquids together in large saucepan. Add spice mix. Heat just under boiling. Turn off heat, let steep for 5 minutes. Strain into bowl. Using saucepan, heat up 2 tablespoons butter. Add oats to butter, stir for a couple minutes until they start to smell toasty. Don't let them burn. Add milk mixture back to the pan, add dried fruit. Stir until combined.

Spray 9 inch square baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Place pan on cookie sheet to catch spills or drips. Pour milk and oats into baking dish. Cook for 30 minutes. If it's not done, cook for 10minutes more until it starts to set up. Stir to make sure everything is evenly distributed. Put a few dried fruit pieces on the top to make it look pretty. Serve warm.

This is extremely sweet and rich and doesn't need any brown sugar or cream on the side.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Magical biscotti

I was home sick one day this week, and had some Amish Friendship sourdough starter that needed to be used up. But, since I wasn't feeling well, I didn't follow the recipe exactly.

I forgot to add the sugar.

Did I mention I wasn't feeling well?

I tried a piece, and it wasn't all that bad. The flavor and texture was OK, but the loaves were a little crumbly and not very sweet. I suppose I could have served it as a savory side bread, but it was kind of bland.

As I looked at the slice of bread, my illness-addled brain realized how closely it resembled biscotti in shape and texture.

Thus, magical biscotti was born.

I whipped around the kitchen to find a baking sheet. Since the bread-cum-biscotti needed something extra, I also made a quick chocolate glaze to drizzle on the finished product. I found some chocolate melts, some butter, some vanilla, and some orange oil, and I was good to go.

While the biscotti were baking, I microwaved the chocolate, then added the other ingredients until the sauce was dark, shiny and smooth.

As the biscotti cooled I went all Jackson Pollack on them.

The finished product looked awesome. They tasted slightly less awesome. The texture was a little off, and they tasted more like pieces of toast than actual biscotti. But I'd gotten my mind of my illness for a couple hours, and I'd discovered a good way to use up leftover quick breads, which are notorious for going stale. I'd call that a win.

Magical biscotti
Obviously, these are nowhere near authentic, and I sincerely hope my dead Italian Grandma will forgive me for this. The recipe works best with sweeter breads, like banana bread, zucchini bread, amish friendship bread. To use savory breads like cheese or herb bread, see the savory variation below.
part of a loaf of quick bread
1/4 cup chocolate chips
chocolate chips
vanilla extract
1 drop orange oil

Preheat oven to 350. Slice quick bread into 1-inch slices. Cut slices in half, lengthwise, so you have roughly a finger-sized slice of bread. Carefully place on baking sheet, making sure the bread does not crumble.

Bake 10-15 minutes. You do not want the biscotti to brown. They will get harder once you remove them from the oven.

While biscotti are baking, Make sauce. Microwave chocolate chips until melted, stirring every 30 seconds. Add a tablespoon of butter. Add vanilla and stir. If chocolate gets gritty, add more vanilla until it smooths out. Add one drop of orange oil.

While sauce is warm, drizzle over biscotti. You can also dip one side of biscotti completely into chocolate if you like.

Savory variation
5 minutes before end of baking, sprinkle biscotti with any shredded cheese of your choice--sharp cheddar, Gruyere, freshly grated parmesan, or a mix of cheeses would be great.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Oktoberfest Taste Test

Oktoberfest beers are lagers, which means they are fermented at colder temperatures. They are technically harder to make than ales, and they have a different flavor profile. A little more subtle than ales, but still tasty. They tend to be a very clean, refreshing taste. If you've ever tried Red Stripe, that's a lager.

I actually tasted 4 or 5 Oktoberfest beers for this tasting, but lost track of which beer was which after the first few. So I've only got two full sets of tasting notes. Sorry. Oktoberfest is a strong beer, at around 5-6% alcohol, but it doesn't drink like one. After those two reviews, I will give my impressions, overall, of the other beers.

1. Weihenstephaner Oktoberfest Marzen
Nice head. Not too foamy, but it didn't disappear right after I poured it, either. The was a lovely amber color. I didn't get much smell from the glass, but once I tasted it, I could detect a good malt flavor. It wasn't very hoppy. The hops I did detect were at the front of the sip, the malt rounded out the back and provided a nice aftertaste. As I drank the beer, the hops built up a bit on my tongue and became more noticeable, but still a well-balanced beer. This was an easy drinking beer, and didn't feel like the 5.6% alcohol that it was.

2. Leinenkugel's Oktoberfest
Redder than the first beer. Not much head at all, and what head there was faded quickly. A roasted, toasted note at the front of the sip. A tad sour. Very little hops, but hops were at the end of the sip. Somewhat bitter finish. There was also a malty flavor I tend to associate with pilsner beers at the end, as an aftertaste. The only way I can describe this is like a Bud or a Labatt's finish.

I found it interesting that, though the flavor profiles were pretty much the same on these two beers, each beer expressed those flavors in a different way. Everything I was tasting was pretty subtle, and after a while, the beers began to blend together.

But all the other beers I tried were very similar. Perhaps more hops for one, different malt taste on the other, but all were medium- bodied or lighter, fairly carbonated, and easy to drink. I tended to prefer the German Oktoberfests, but this may have been bias on my part. Would be interesting to do a blind tasting at some point to see if this holds up.

In short, you can't go wrong with Oktoberfest, especially if you like lager beer. I'd suggest getting a few and trying them to see which you prefer, at least one German if you can.

And, as I've said before, if you can find an Oktoberfest on draft, done by a microbrewer, drink that. You will quickly learn what "fresh" beer really is.

Don't drink and drive kids, and have fun!

Thursday, September 25, 2008


You may be thinking to yourself, "Why is she posting about Oktoberfest when it is only September?"

Well, I'm actually posting this late. Oktoberfest actually starts in September and goes through to October. Oktoberfest is nearly done!

Let me 'splain. The ruler of Germany at the time thought the party was such a good idea and so much fun that he 1. Made the party last longer and 2. Made the party start sooner. My kind of guy.

What you need to know about Oktoberfest is below.

*Mahalo has two great pages about Oktberfest and Oktoberfest recipes
*Drink whatever beer you like, but think about expanding your horizons.
*If you want to be authentic, drink Oktoberfest. It is a golden, almost pumpkin-colored brew, strong on the hops, strong on the malt, strong on the alcohol. *
*Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest
is the gold standard, but there are several other ones out there.
*If you can get to Schafly Brewery in St. Louis for their Oktoberfest on draft, do it. It is a transcendent experience.
*Lederhosen means leather pants. They are completely optional unless you are doing Oktoberfest in Germany.
*Food should be simple, hearty fare.
*Don't let a late start discourage you from having an Oktoberfest party.
*Have fun!

I'll try to get some Oktoberfest beer reviews up this week if I can get over to my local supplier who may have some bottles left.

What a view

We hiked (OK, took the tram) to a mountain, then walked around it a bit. This was in Palm Springs, where apparently the rich are so rich they don’t need to, you know, expend energy to climb mountains. It was actually pretty cool, an amazing view during the tram ride.

Also, the trails at the top of the mountain were of many different challenge levels and could involve primitive camping for those who really felt guilty about it. It was clean, cold, dry, beautiful and the trees smelled like butterscotch cookies.

Dinner was offered at the restaurant at the end of the—er, top of the mountain.

Again, I ordered the filet, and again, I was burned. Or it was burned, rather. This time the sauce was fine, a red-wine reduction. The sauce, the scenery, and a glass of lukewarm red wine helped to make the hockey puck somewhat edible.

The view was spectacular, which made up for the lackluster and overpriced food. I’d do it again, but next time, go with the pasta.

I was reminded that there was once a time when well-done steak was the norm. My family didn’t start eating its meat rare until I was at least out of grade school. Possibly later. Of course, my father still likes his meat more well-done than my mother, but they can both enjoy a good medium-rare steak from time to time.

Thus ends the California food blog travel adventure.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Home cooking

The best meals I had were those that were cooked for me by friends. The Mister is from LA, so this trip was largely to meet “family” that couldn’t make it to our wedding. Meeting new people and being welcomed into the fold made the food all that much tastier.

But the food itself was also pretty awesome. Two friends who had just returned from eloping in Hawaii had a post-wedding shindig at their house. The husband cooked a veritable feast: Meatballs, Curried potato gratin, Shepherd’s pie, short ribs and kimchee—from the local Korean place—I actually ate kimchee and liked it—and a rich, yet light, cake for dessert. It was a feast. I wish I was still there.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Le fondue, and sushi in the desert

I like fondue, and will eat it every chance I get. What else can I say? So me, The Mister, and his childhood friend went out to The Melting Pot. I ordered an extra cheese portion for the table to ensure there’d be enough to go around, and I found a lovely Sauvignon Blanc to search for at home. Fruity, juicy, mouth-watering acidity, just how I like them.


I’ve come to the conclusion that in most any civilized place these days, you can get the exact same Mexican food and the exact same sushi. Not saying there’s anything wrong with strong margaritas, boisterous music, and cheese-drenched enchiladas. And I love a good California roll and a miso soup regardless of the state I’m in. But I was hoping, especially for the Mexican food, for something a tad more authentic. The margarita was quite nice, though, and the company was spectacular.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dining at Disneyland

We had a marvelous, spontaneous lunch at the Grand Californian Hotel’s, Storytellers Café. It’s not the uber-fancy restaurant at that hotel, so the prices were pretty decent. The styling was elegant, but relaxed. Green, and marble, but warmed up by some wood accents. The floor carpet was all letters and trains. A great place for both kids and adults to enjoy.

The food was fabulous. I had a simple soup and salad, but it was so flavorful and fresh that it was just lovely. My one beef with the vegetable soup is the menu said the veggies were to be “fire roasted,” but there was no roastiness to be seen or tasted in the soup. But, they floated a goat-cheese smeared crouton on top, so all is forgiven. The salad had bits of hard cheddar, and crunchy things that made it a taste and texture sensation.

Oh, and they had our anniversary wine. The Iron Horse Fairy Tale Cuvee, a sparkling wine bottled just for Disney. Lightly sweet, but not cloyingly so.

It is my very favorite champagne.

We went in the mid-afternoon, so the restaurant was very quiet. Also, going outside the park to eat, where it was nearly deserted, was a wonderful idea. No ticket needed to eat there. I highly suggest getting to the Grand Californian to look around and eat at the Storyteller’s Café if you get a chance.

My other meal at Disney was not quite as good. We lucked out and got walk-in tables at the Blue Bayou, the restaurant in the Pirates of the Carribean ride. So, it’s all decked out like you are on the banks of the Missisippi in New Orleans at the turn of the century at dusk. Nice ambience.

The filet itself was fine. Cooked properly. But the béarnaise, dear god, the béarnaise. I didn’t mention this to my dining companions, because I didn’t want to offend them, but the béarnaise tasted like it had been made with, not butter, but yellow paint.


I ate around the béarnaise and otherwise enjoyed the steak and potatoes, but I was sorely disappointed about the butter sauce.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Burgers for breakfast

Having never really been west of St. Louis, I had never had an In & Out Burger. So that was something on the “to do” list for our trip. Due to our packed schedule, the only time we could make it to In & Out Burger was for breakfast. Well…I was disappointed in my first In & Out Burger. Needed more salt, or more sauce, or something. I regret to inform you that I was too chicken to order it “Animal Style.”

The burgers I had at Hi Life were much better. The meat itself wasn’t as primo as the In & Out, but the thousand island was much better, and the bun was soft, fresh and sweet.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ah, California.

Went to California for 8 days. It was lovely. I really wasn’t in California for an uber-culinary experience. I was there to relax and have a good time, which I did. For once, meals were secondary.

Nevertheless, there was some good food, good times and good memories. Over the next week or so I’ll be rolling out several short posts.

Here's the first.

Dodger Dog and Blinky Beer
The first thing I ate when in LA was a Dodger Dog and beer from a hard plastic pilsner that pulsated blue light. It was touristy, overpriced, and delicious.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Uses for Pesto, part 2

Update: Was on vacation in California. Food review of that trip forthcoming.

3. My garlic scape pesto is so concentrated with garlic flavoring that it's a great add-in when you need to, er, OK, I'll say it, kick it up a notch. Bonus: The scape pesto does not have a pronounced herby flavor like basil- or parsley-based pesto does.

I've used the pesto to enliven a bowl of canned tomato soup, to mix with sour cream for a chip dip, and as a topping for gaspacho.

4. Use it to make garlic bread.

5. Condiment for prime rib or other steak, instead of horseradish.

6. Add a little more olive oil, and use as green cocktail sauce.

It's good stuff. Next year, if you see those wierd curly-Q stalks at the farmer's market, dig out your food processor and give garlic scape pesto a try.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Uses for Pesto: Part 1

These aren't recipes. Too easy, too much room for experimentation.
1. Alfredo noodles done al dente, with a few tablespoons of pesto mixed in. No meat need apply.

2. Good quality crusty bread-French, Italian, or sub sandwich bread. Spread one side thickly with pesto, then top with good mozarella. The kind you slice yourself, that comes in globes, not bricks. Slice tomatoes thinly, place on other side. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and pepper. Bring two sides together. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or parchment paper. Weight down sandwich for 10 minutes, or let it sit for an hour. Unwrap and eat.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Garlic Scape Pesto

The key to a really good pesto isn’t the freshness of the ingredients or the ratio of oil to nuts to cheese.

It’s a food processor.

Now, I’m sure that a large part of the reason that last night’s garlic scape pesto was so amazing was because the garlic scapes were locally and organically grown, the parmesan was real parmesan, and the olive oil was grown on a small family farm in Lebanon.

But the food processor was what allowed everything to come together quickly and homogeneously.

I tried to make pesto last year with my blender. Bad idea. The blades couldn’t stand up to the crunchy, chunky ingredients. And it made everything taste bitter. In fact, it was inedible, no matter how much parmesan I added into it at the end.

And as much as I like “slow” food, I wasn’t going to try the mortar and pestle.

If you’re going to make pesto, folks, a food processor is essential. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Now, onto the recipe.

Garlic Scape Pesto
A garlic scape is the shoot of a garlic plant which is cut off in early spring so that the garlic bulb will grow better. It’s kind of like a cross between a chive and a stalk of asparagus. It’s got a strong garlic flavor but is not as harsh as a clove of garlic. The scape season is pretty short, but they last pretty much forever if kept in the coldest part of your refrigerator.

A arge bunch of garlic scapes
about a cup of olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
two large handfuls of almonds
1/2 cup (at least) grated Parmesan cheese

Cut the ends of the garlic scapes. Make sure to remove the flowering end to avoid bitterness. Roughly chop scapes into 2 inch pieces or so.
Add scapes, almonds, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to food processor. Run processor until mixture is more or less uniform. While processor is running, drizzle in oil in a fine stream. Keep drizzling until the mixture starts to become more liquid and turns a lighter green in color. Stop the processor occasionally and check for thickness. Because the garlic scapes are tougher than, say, basil, this mixture will never be as smooth in texture as regular pesto. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Fold in grated Parmesan. Keeps about a week in the coldest part of your refrigerator.

If freezing, don't add the cheese. Put into freezer-safe container, and add a little bit of oil to seal the top. After thawing, add the cheese just before serving. (Cheese doesn't do well being frozen).

Expect some pesto recipes from me the rest of the week. I've got about 2 cups of pesto to use up, so we'll see what I can do.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Recipe: Polish Wonton Soup

This started out as an improv recipe, but the results were so good that I've decided to write it up as a full recipe, and make it again. Thanks to The Mister for coming up with the recipe name.

Serves 4
1 pound pre-cooked Kielbasa polish sausage (refrigerator section)
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon pepper
8 mini pierogis, your favorite flavor
at least 2 cups of cabbage, or sturdy leafy green like kale, spinach, or collard greens
Splash of something alcoholic, like vodka (or the juice of one lemon)
1/2 cup sour cream (optional)
sour cream and saurkraut for garnish (optional)

Heat chicken stock in fairly large pot. Meanwhile, dice Kielbasa into 1/2 to 1-inch cubes and roughly chop cabbage or greens. When stock reaches boil, add black pepper, kielbasa, vodka, and greens. Turn heat to low and simmer until greens are done, stirring occasionally. This may take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes depending on the green (Spinach cooks quickly, kale and cabbage take longer).

When greens are almost done, add mini pierogis to soup. Cook another 5 minutes. Add the sour cream (if using). Taste, and add a little more salt if needed.

Ladle into bowls. Try to get 2 mini pierogis in each bowl. Garnish with sour cream and saurkraut if desired.

If you can't get mini pierogis, use 4 regular sized pierogis. Cook them separately in water, then slice them in half before adding to the soup.

This isn't very Polish, or Chinese, but it's a filling, one-dish meal, and a great way to get your veggies. I made this in the heat of summer, but it's really more a winter recipe.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Original Daiquiri Ice - clone recipe

My husband's favorite Baskin-Robbins item is the Daiquiri Ice. Unfortunately, in 2007, we learned that the recipe had changed. It is now LIME Daiquiri ice, and has a LOT more lime flavor, and is WAY too tart.

I searched high and low for a clone recipe, but there were none. So, I came up with one of my own. It’s a pretty good clone of the original recipe, and a light, refreshing dessert for a hot summer day.

(this is NOT Lime Daiquiri Ice)

The key to getting the right tartness level is the citric acid powder. Usually, 1 teaspoon does the trick, but may need to be adjusted up or down depending on how sweet (or sour) your limes are. Err on the side of tartness, but not so much so that it makes your mouth involuntarily pucker. Of course, if you prefer things sweeter, use less powder to taste.

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lime (fresh squeezed, a little pulp is fine)
1 tsp imitation rum extract
Between ½ and 1 ½ tsp citric acid powder (sold under the brand name FruitFresh. Or you can go to a health food store or online for generic food grade citric acid)
1 drop green food coloring

Heat sugar and water just until sugar melts. Remove from heat and add ½ teaspoon citric acid. Stir until dissolved. Let mixture cool a couple minutes, then add rum extract, lime juice and food coloring. Taste, and add more citric acid powder as needed, a quarter teaspoon at a time. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Churn in an ice cream machine for 25 minutes. Spoon ice into freezer-safe bowl, and move to the freezer for an hour before serving.

Note: The recipe only makes a little over 2 cups, so you may want to double the ingredients.

I posted this on an anonymous food forum about a year ago. So, if you come across this recipe somewhere else on the Internets, it’s mine. This is a completely original recipe developed by looking at the ingredient list of the original Daiquiri ice, and by referencing Shirley Corrhier's Cookwise for information on how to set up a basic sorbet recipe.

Consider this recipe Creative Commons. Feel free to repost and redistribute, but please link to my blog or credit me if you do.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Chicken Agumba #2

For backstory on the Chicken Agumba meme, see my post, Chicken Agumba #1.

Made a great Chicken Agumba yesterday, in the Crock Pot(TM). Even though I was bleary-eyed and not fully awake, it came out great.

Best guess at the recipe follows.

Chicken Agumba #2
3 or 4 frozen chicken breasts
1/2 can of roasted garlic salsa
a few tablespoons of olive oil (nothing fancy since it was gonna cook all day)
1/2 can of water
1/2 to 1 cup dried white beans
1 large (and we're talking large)onion, medium-to-large dice
Salt to taste

Tossed beans in first, then the liquid, then topped with chicken. Cooked in the crockpot about 8-10 hrs. Had The Mister stir it a couple times during the day.

The dish had a sweet, savory, almost a baked bean-y flavor. It was delicious. I'd add more liquid next time--probably a full can of salsa and a salsa can's worth of water. Maybe part or all of a beer if I had one lying around.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pie Smoothie

I'll be the first to admit I didn't come up with this idea. I stole it from a regional chain that specializes in pies.

A pie smoothie is made exactly as it sounds--with milk, ice cream, and a slice of pie, all blended together until it's smooth.

It sounds a little strange, possibly even gross to some, but it is delicious. I made a pie smoothie at home and was extremely impressed with the results. I used vanilla ice cream and a triple berry pie.

The berries in the pie gave the smoothie a nice, fruity flavor. The crust and crumb topping of the pie, when blended, gave the smoothie a wonderfully creamy, thick texture.

The only downside is it's a little bit rich, and is on the Frappuccino side of caloric count.

Pie smoothie - serves 2
2 large scoops vanilla ice cream
1 cup milk
1 slice of pie, your favorite flavor (I suggest berry pies)
blend all ingredients until smooth. Add more milk if needed.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sanguine Sangria

Zoë: You sanguine about the kinda reception we're apt to receive on an Alliance ship, Captain?
Mal: Absolutely. What's "sanguine" mean?
Zoë: Sanguine. Hopeful. Plus, point of interest, it also means "bloody".
Mal: Well, that pretty much covers all the options, don't it?
Mal and Zoe, "Safe" (Firefly, 2002)

Point of interest, Sangria also means "bloody."

But my good friend cannot drink red wine, the poor girl. Something to do with the flavonoids. But she can drink white wine just fine. So I whipped up two batches of Sangria today.

The infamous "blue" (purple, really) sangria has been banned for life.

There's really no recipe for Sangria--it's just wine, fruit, a proportion of hard liquor, and, if you want, a touch of club soda to lighten things up a bit.

Here's a few tips on how to make your own signature sangria without fuss.

* The sweeter the starting wine, the sweeter the sangria will be. The fruit that you add does not make the drink any more sugary, but it does give fruity flavor.
* Use a good wine, but not a great wine. By good wine, I mean a wine you like and enjoy drinking by itself. Don't go for the bottom of the jug wine just because you're going to add stuff to it.
* Always add some citrus. My ratio is one orange and a half a lemon per bottle of wine.
* Limes and grapefruits are bad, mmkay? Limes and grapefruits have skin that is very bitter-much more bitter than oranges and lemons-and will impart a bitter flavor to your sangria.
* Color-code the fruit to the wine. If you're doing white sangria, add white fruits, like peaches, pineapple, mango. For red sangria, use red fruits, like strawberries, cherries or mixed berries.
* Frozen fruit is fine, in fact it's ideal. Frozen fruit will act like flavorful ice cubes, helping to keep your sangria refreshingly cool before the sun sets.
* Brandy, orange, and rum are good, but pick one. Stick with liquors that will add complimentary flavors to the sangria. Orange liquors are especially good, like curacao or triple sec. I add about 1/2 to 1 cup of liquor per bottle of wine
* Add club soda, to taste, before serving. The club soda will add a touch of dryness, a touch of sparkle, and will lighten up your drink. If you don't do this, you run the risk of getting real drunk, real quick. If that's your aim, more power to you, but I told you so.

In honor of Independence Day, I now present to you red, white, and blue sangria. Can easily be doubled. (Again I implore you, do not drink the blue sangria. I only include it for sake of completeness.)

Red sangria

1 bottle red wine (Garnacha del Fuego is great)
1/2 bag of frozen mixed berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries), OR 1/2 bag frozen strawberries.
1 orange, sliced
1/2 lemon, sliced
1 cup Triple sec
1/2 cup rum
1/2 bottle club soda

Put fruit in the bottom of large pitcher or thermally insulated pitcher. Add wine and triple sec. Refrigerate. Before serving, taste, and add club soda, up to a half a bottle, as needed.

White Sangria
1 bottle fruity white wine, dry or sweet, as your preference
1/2 bag frozen peaches
1 orange, sliced
1/2 lemon, sliced
1 cup Triple sec
1/2 bottle club soda

Put fruit in the bottom of a large pitcher or thermally insulated pitcher. Add wine and triple sec. Refrigerate. Before serving, taste, and add club soda, up to a half a bottle, as needed.

Blue Sangria

1 bottle cheap red wine
1 cup blue curacao - must be blue
1 orange
1 lemon
1 bag frozen blueberries or mixed berries

Mix. Chill. Drink. Get drunk off your ass.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

BBQ 5 - Epilogue

Well, the meat was overcooked. So, I sliced it as thinly as I could manage, against the grain, chopped it into small pieces, and dosed it with a good store-bought BBQ sauce. I'll be serving it on toasted onion buns tonight, as a sloppy Joe-type sandwich.

I tried a few test pieces as I was chopping, and it's a bit chewy, for sure, but the flavor isn't bad. Hopefully it will pass muster with The Mister.

I should probably have had the meat thermometer out sooner. Even so, the excess of coals doomed me. Next time, I'll make sure to use fewer coals, which should make a difference. Live and learn. Such are the perils of semi-live blogging.

I did, however, have a pretty cool improv flash of brilliance after I took the meat off the grill. There was still a ton of heat left, so I cooked a peach pie! On the grill!

I spread the coals out into one layer, instead of being on one side. I tightly wrapped the pie in aluminum foil, making sure none of the edges were peeking. I also put the pie on top of a heavy baking sheet, to help diffuse the heat coming up from the bottom of the coals. Since this was a frozen pie, I let it cook for about 2 hours.

It came out pretty well. We got a tornado-producing thunderstorm halfway through the cooking time, so I didn't have a chance to uncover the pie to let it brown properly. So the top crust got a tad doughy. The bottom crust was pretty dark, though--not quite to burnt stage, but more summer tan brown then golden brown.

For the future, I'd probably leave out the bottom crust, and just do a pie crust or cobbler topping. Since this was a pre-made pie, I didn't have much choice in the matter.

This method is definitely something I'll try to perfect, and work on for the future. I was able to cook a pie without having to heat up my kichen, and when the weather's as hot as it has been this week, that's worth a lot. Look for some more blog posts about doing pie on a grill later this summer.

BBQ 4 - Hot

I brought my meat thermometer out to check the brisket, and while I was out there, I decided to check the ambient air temperature. I stepped well away from the grill so I didn't skew the results higher.

According to my meat thermometer, it's 86 degrees out today. The humidity is such that, if I spend more than a minute ouside, I begin to condense a layer of sweat on my body.

My meat is also hot. Too hot. In my excitement with the coals--I can make fire!--I got too many going at once. So, even though it's indirect heat, the side of the meat closest to the coals is getting a fair bit of char on it.

The thermometer says it's at 195 degrees and climbing. Medium-Rare is 140. I'm hoping my thermometer's wrong, but I'm doubting it. The meat's been on for about 2 hours of the 4 I was aiming for. But I think there's no doubt about it--I gotta take the meat off.


Meat's off the grill. I'm gonna let it sit for a ten minutes or so, then cut into it and see what I've got. If I need to, I have enough hot coals to cook it some more.

At any rate, everyone who owns a grill should invest in a pair of welding gloves. They're long, so they cover more of your hands and arms, so you don't have to worry about getting burned. They work so well, you can manipulate the coals with your gloved hands!,GGLD:2004-35,GGLD:en&q=welding+gloves&um=1

BBQ 3 - The Mop, and authenticity

I've watched enough Food Network shows and read enough books to know what the "rules" are barbecue are, more or less. The experts disagree on some points, but overall, you should:

1. Cook the meat Low and slow--the slower, the better.
2. Cook over natural chunk charcoal
3. Use some kind of wood for smoke flavor
4. Use a rub (and keep this rub a secret on pain of death)
5. Do not sauce while cooking. After cooking, sauce is optional and hotly debated.
6. Mop meat with flavorful liquid regularly to keep meat moist.

I'm following about half of the rules. I'm breaking some on purpose.

I'm cooking the meat low and slow, but since I'm using coals, and not a smoker, the heat is probably going to be higher than is ideal. There's not much I can do about this right now.

I'm not using natural chunk charcoal. I love Alton, but I gotta go against him here. The stuff is a pain in the ass to use. It burns out very quickly--we're talking minutes--it burns hot, and it flames up a lot. I might use it for grilling, sometimes, but I'll sooner get a smoker than use natural chunk charcoal to try to barbecue something.

I'm not using wood because I don't have any on hand. Well, I've got some pine, but that's not a good flavor to impart in meat, well, not in the states, anyways.

I am using a rub. But I am sharing the details. Caveat Emptor: I've not tried the rub before, so I don't know how it will be. I do suggest that you make your own rub, because it's just fun to toss stuff together.

I'm not using sauce.

I am using a mop. I'm basting the meat about every half hour with:

1 cup vinegar
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon paprika

The recipes I've found online usually include beer and/or coffee, vinegar, salt, and some spices. I had no beer, so I used a bottle of red I opened the other night. I wanted to keep the mop simple.

I've got a silicone basting brush I'm using to baste the meat, but some hard-core guys use an actual cotton mop for this purpose. Not my style. I'd probably use a clean cotton dishtowel if I wanted to get a similar effect.

I'm thinking I should probably dig out my meat thermometer to get a better idea when the brisket will be done. Be back soon.

Barbecue part 2

Well, I've had my first problem.

You'd think a simple piece of equipment like a chimney starter would be a no-brainer to use. Not so. After the third attempt to light my coals, I called The Mister home.

I was stuffing the paper into the starter wrong. There's a grate at the bottom of the starter. I was putting paper above the grate. But it was supposed to go below the grate.


But now that I've figured it out, I've lit another batch of coals all by myself.


I've shoved the coals to one side of the Webber, and put the meat on the other side. It's been on the grill about a half hour.

For flavor, I put a spice rub on the brisket earlier in the morning.

I didn't really measure what was in the rub, but I figure the recipe below is a fair estimate of what all went into it.

1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
a few tablespoons each of:
chili powder
onion powder
celery salt
curry powder
celery salt
a little bit of
cayenne pepper
black pepper

I massaged all this into the meat pretty good and let it sit while I wrangled with the coals.

Off to mop the meat and check on the coals. What's a mop? Not something to clean floors, in this case. Stay tuned to the next installment to find out more.

Barbecue Part 1

I've been stunningly busy this spring into mid-summer, and have not had much time to blog. As such, my energy to cook creatively has been fairly low, and I've been recharging my culinary batteries. But with the farmers' markets in full bloom, and my CSA share starting in less than two weeks, Cooking will soon become a necesity.

However, this weekend finds me at home. So I've caught up on laundry, tamed the jugle that is our front yard, and decided to do a bit of slow cooking.

I'm doing barbecue.

Not grilling, but barbecue. Where you cook something low and slow over coals, with perhaps a touch of fragrant wood sprinkled atop.

I have to admit, I haven't used the Webber all that much in the 2 years we've had it. It's been nice that The Mister likes to grill, so those days I sit out and let him have at it. But, as he said, 3-5 hours at the coals is a little too much for him.

So, after a quick lesson on grilling, The Mister went off to work and I'm alone at home with the dog, some Kingsford, 2 chimney starters, and 3 pounds of dry-aged highland beef brisket.

Further updates as events warrant.

Friday, May 2, 2008

You really wanna know what's in a mint julep?

Update: Here's also a nice julep recipe from the awesomely named Wasabi Bratwurst. It is very classic and traditional.

A Mint Julep is one of those things, like czarnina, that sounds lovely, but the name masks its true contents.

The word "bourbon" is nowhere in the title of the drink, but bourbon is what makes up 99% of a julep. There is mint, to be sure, but it's a spring or two, muddled around in the bottom of a glass. Depending on your recipe, sugar, simple syrup, or soda water is then added to taste, and it's served in a shiny silver cup.

Clearly, the quality of bourbon that goes into a mint julep is key. Use top-shelf stuff for this if you even want to attempt it, folks, especially if you are not normally a bourbon drinker.

My friend, who dutifully drinks one Mint Julep a year, on her High Holy Day, the Kentucky Derby, uses Woodford Reserve bourbon. It's good stuff, but pricey.

If you want to try a mint julep, here's some recipes for you.

Becky's Mint Julep recipe at Blacktype Blog. She'll have this up before post time tomorrow.
Alton Brown's Mint Julep. He's a southern boy, so he should know his stuff.
Old Mr Boston's Mint Julep. A recipe from a classic tome of mixology.
The Official Mint Julep. From the Kentucky Derby Web Site.

Now, here's something strange. The official sipping bourbon of the Kentucky Derby is Woodford Reserve. But the official bourbon for the mint julep is Early Times. I've had juleps made with the former, but not the latter, so I can't speak to the quality of the Early Times, so I still recommend going with the best stuff you can afford, at least to start. It'll last you for at least a half a dozen Derby Days.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Improv recipe - blueberry orange cobbler

Cobbler's always a great recipe to do on the fly because it's primarily pantry staples. And by pantry, I include fridge and freezer items. I had a half a bag of frozen blueberries, and some leftover grand marnier sauce that I'd used on ice cream, and a hankering for some cobbler. The orange flavors from the marnier and the marmalade are a nice way to sweeten up the cobbler while adding some additional flavor.

Serves 2

half a bag of frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons grand marnier
2 tablespoons marmalade
1 teaspoon cinnamon, or five-spice powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup rolled oats
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Celsius. Combine grand marnier, marmalade, salt and cinnamon in bowl. Stir to combine. Add frozen blueberries and stir to mix. Divide berries between two small oven-proof bowls or ramekins.

In another bowl, mix oats, butter, and brown sugar. Smoosh with fork until it's all crumbly. Top berries with oat mix.

Cook for 20 minutes until top is browned and berries are bubbly.

This will be a little runnier than your typical cobbler, so if you like your cobbler thicker, let it cool to room temperature before eating. If you don't mind it a little bit looser, dig in as soon as it's cooled enough to not burn your tongue.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Sours" - The Dirty Little Secret of Mixology

My friend Jeff points out that I've given equal time to wine and beer, but liquor, or liqueur if you prefer, has been given short shrift on this blog.

This post aims to even things up a bit.

There are really only two things you need to know about hard liquor.

One: Don't have a martini bar at a Sunday party, especially if your guests are used to beer and wine.

And two: If you no nothing else of drink making, learn how to make sours.

What's a sour? It's pretty self-explanatory. It's adding some kind of sour liquid, usually lemon juice, to hard liquor. Usually some sugar is also added to balance things out. Shake with ice, strain, and serve.

Fresh lemon juice is best for a sour. (What, you were expecting me to say using bottled juice is OK here? Well, you do what you feel is best.)

Instead of sugar, which can be gritty even after you've shaken it silly, you could also use a simple syrup, a mix of sugar and water heated until the sugar just dissolves. But sugar works fine, especially if you're not straining the dregs of the drink into the glass.

My advice for ratios is to make a couple sours, and find what ratio you like best. A good start is a half a lemon, and 1-2 tablespoons of sugar for each ounce of liquor.

Just make sure you taste the drink, and adjust if needed.

If you really must have a recipe, here's one that's good for an individual serving, and here's one from Ina Garten that's enough for a crowd.

Have fun, kids!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Belated Blarney - Irish Beer Tasting Highlights

Meant to get this up earlier, but here were the highlights of the Irish beer tasting I attended St. Patrick's Day weekend:

  • Mickey's Malt liquor (served tongue-in-cheek) is apparently like mother's milk to college students. Somehow I missed out on this slice of college life.

  • There are Irish cream liqueurs out there that are wine-based. Like Baileys, but wine instead of whiskey. They are extremely smooth, and worth searching for.

  • There's really no strict rules for what makes up the "Irish beer" style. Generally it's Irish grains and hop strains, and there's some kind of roasting or toasting involved.

  • The biggest thing I discovered was the huge difference between light-bodied and full-bodied. Drinking so many beers side-by-side, I really got a good concept of body, better than I've ever had before. It was much easier to tell in beer than in wine. This is something that I will carry over to the wine world..

  • Guinness is not the least-bodied stout out there. That dubious honor would go to Murphy's. It was water-thin.

  • I really like Wexford. Toasty, a little sweet, very creamy because it has the can widget.

  • Even though I enjoyed myself, and had a good time talking to the store's beer guru, I didn't feel like I got my money's worth, which was disappointing. I could have done just as well doing a tasting at home for a lot less.

  • I was able to pick up a 6-pack of some overstocked Oktoberfest for a song, so the night ended happy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Shake your Top Secret Shamrock

A little past-due, but I had my first (and probably only) McDonald's Shamrock Shake of the season last night.

Now, I'll be honest. I drink Shamrock Shakes like most people eat Liver and Onions--not because it tastes good to me, but for the nostalgia value.

However, the shake I had last night was pretty darn good. Perhaps it was because it was late and I was hungry. Perhaps it was because I'd just left a sporting event where my team won. Or, perhaps it was because the shake was actually fresh and ice-cold, with the texture of ice cream rather than ice cream soup.

At any rate, it was good. So good that I would consider having another. But, I've only got till the end of the month before Shamrock Shakes, like Girl Scout Cookies, vanish into the ether for another year.

That's where Top Secret Recipes comes in. Top Secret Recipes was started by Todd Wilbur. He was a guy with not much cooking experience, who wanted to make clones of his favorite snack foods. It's grown to a brand franchise, including at least a half a dozen books, a comprehensive Web site, and frequent apperances on television. His recipes include fast food, snack food, table service recipes, and even beverages.

I've been a huge fan of Todd Wilbur ever since I was craving an Orange Julius but there weren't any stores in my state. His recipes are simple, straightforward, and taste pretty darn close to the real thing.

His Web site is pretty cool--all his recipes are listed in a searchable database, and you can buy a recipe cheaper than an itunes download. Just make sure to be nice and follow his usage guidelines--these recipes are copyrighted works.

And, he offers one recipe a week for free, which changes every week. This week it's Buca di Beppo's garlic bread, which is one of the best garlic breads ever.

The other cool thing is that many of his recipes are actually cheaper than buying the item at the store.

So, if you've got a hankering for a Shamrock Shake in July, or live in Maine and want a Carl's Jr. burger, or if you simply have an intellectual curiosity to make an OREO(TM), check it out.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

As promised - the wine reviews

I've decided to try my hat at wine reviews. Here are my impressions of some recent bottles I've been drinking--at the Big Fat Greek Dinner and at some informal get-together. If applicable, I've talked about where I got the wine, when I drank it, and if there were any food pairings.

Espiral Vinho Verde - Picked this up at Trader Joe's for less than a Starbucks Frappuchino. Very (but pleasantly) surprised when I opened it to find it was bubbly. Limes on the nose. Very acidic, fruity, maybe just a touch sweet. Served with Saganaki (flaming kasseri cheese). Was great as an aperitif. Going back to buy more of this.

Garnacha de Fuego - Medium-bodied red wine. Very smooth, mild tannins, good fruit, some nice spicy, peppery flavors. This was good on its own, and simply amazing with the lamb. A wine with broad appeal.

Boutari Retsina Wine - A white wine, from Greece! Apparently, this is a very old style of wine that was traditionally aged in containers (casks, bags) that were sealed with pine resin. As oak is to French wines, pine is to Greek wines. It's, uh, certainly piney. I'm not sure if I liked it. The pine pretty much overpowered everything else in the wine. I don't see this pairing well with food. Good wine for a sense of terroir, and an adventurous palate.

Verimonte Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Reserva - Fun and fruity. Like drinking a tropical fruit salad. Lots of grapefruit and tropical fruits on the nose. Nice and acidic. A Juicy wine, got my mouth watering while drinking it.

I don't know if it's because the weather has been so cold or if I just like the style, but I'm learning that I really enjoy dry or off-dry, tart white wines with a bunch of fruit flavors to balance them out. I'm definitely a bit tired of Chardonnay right now, especially if it's oaked.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My Big Fat Greek Dinner

On Monday, I made dinner for my mom, in celebration of her birthday. The three-course Greek meal was a huge success, and one of the best meals I've ever made. Though there were a few things I would have done a little differently, here are the highlights of the menu.

Appetizer: Flaming kasseri chese, aka Saganaki, aka OPA! aka "Oh my God the food's on fire!" This is quite a common dish in greek restaurants. It's showy, with big, bright flames, and hey, who doesn't like melty cheese on bread. This was amazingly easy to do. I just dredged some kasseri cheese in flour, pan-fried it in some butter until it was all melty, removed from the heat, added the Grand Marnier, lit it, yelled OPA!(yes, this is a required step. It's much like yelling "FORE!" when playing golf), and doused the flames with a squeeze of lemon.

This was just as good as you get in a restaurant. The hardest part was finding the kasseri cheese. Next time, I would use only 2 tablespoons of butter, and use a non-stick pan.

Main course: Lamb rib chops marinated overnight in olive oil, lemon, oregano, and garlic. I broiled these to medium-rare. They were super-tasty, little morsels of savory goodness.

Lamb rib chops are hard to find, so I just took a rack of lamb and cut it into rib chops. I also learned not to be afraid of trimming excess fat and gristle off a piece of meat. Even though it was technically "wasteful," it made the meat much easier to eat, and much more tender. Next time, I would use a ratio of 2 parts oil to one part lemon juice--the chops were a little too tangy. I would still add at least head, if not a head and a half, of chopped garlic.

Side dishes: Brown rice with lentils, and greek salad. For the rice, I more or less improved, and it came out great. I fried up a chopped onion with some oil, oregano and cumin, then added chicken broth and a half cup of lentils. I let that cook for a while, then added some more broth and some instant brown rice. Very tasty, and the lentils were a nice texture contrast in the rice.

The greek salad used romaine lettuce as its base, then I added a chopped tomato, some thinly sliced onion, some good Kalmata olives, and a lot of feta cheese. I served a tangy greek dressing on the side.

Dessert: Walnut and pistachio baklava with vanilla ice cream. I've worked with filo dough enough to know that the super-fancy desserts are best left to the pros. Both of these items were store-bought. The baklava straight from the local greek restaurant. Greek yogurt would have been more traditional here, but it was a birthday party, after all.

Wine: Two different wines, both procured by my dad were served with dinner. A Greek white wine, and a Spanish red wine. The white was very wierd. It was very piney. Not bad, per se, but it didn't go terribly well with the cheese, and it took some getting used to. The red, on the other hand, was wonderful. Nothing too complex, but it was smooth, spicy, and meshed really well with the lamb. I promise to do a separate wine writeup sometime soon, with the names of the bottles and all.

The meal was great, not just because of the taste, but because it was easy to do, I could do much of the hard work in advance, and it was thematically consistent.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Cookbook review: AHA One-Dish Meals & Meals in Minutes

I made some goals in 2008 to eat less, eat better, and exercise more. I was looking for a cookbook that had lots of healthy meals that I could make for a weeknight dinner. They had to be quick and easy to make, they had to taste good, and they had to be filling.

I found two cookbooks that fit the bill pretty well. They are American Heart Association cookbooks: Meals in Minutes, and One Dish Meals fits the bill perfectly.

I've got about a half a dozen recipes so far that I've tried, and most of them I'll be making again (and again).

Portion sizes on each of the recipes is pretty good. For dinner, main dishes are pretty filling, so long as you also provide a side dish of some sort.

The only place where this cookbook falls a little flat is in its design and cooking tips. They seem to be a little inconsistent, and not terribly helpful for me. Also, the cookbook is written in that "working mom" style--you know, where it tries to be cutesy and clever, but just comes off sounding silly?

The other problem is a problem I have with almost all cookbooks: the meals are fast, but the times given for prep are less than the actual time it will take you. Unless you are working in ideal conditions, the recipes will probably take you a little longer than what the recipe states.

Other than that, they're great books. They're not the most fun cookbook to read, but the recipes are what count.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Ultimate Recipe Showdown of Ultimate Destiny

OK, Food Network. You’re being awfully sadistic these days. You know it’s been a pipe dream of mine to get on the Food Network, ever since the first season of The Next Food Network Star. But, you made it pretty clear that you didn’t want my kind—self taught home cooks. No, you wanted flamboyant food personalities for whom cooking was already their day job. Bam! Indeed.

Now you dangle another carrot in front of my nose—your new show Ultimate Recipe Showdown. You say this show is all about self-taught home cooks showing off their best recipes for fabulous prizes, of up to $50,000.

I could care less about the money. I just want to get on the show. And meet the Double Dare Guy. You know, Marc Summers? You hired him to do Unwrapped, and now, with Guy Fieri, he’s the co-host of the Ultimate Recipe Showdown.

According to your Web Site, you’re accepting recipe submissions for Season 2 of the show until March 31st. You say that I can enter as many recipes as you want.

Ah, but there’s the rub. I’m a good cook, but you know recipe creation is not my specialty. Ever since that strained yogurt-garlic sauce in the 6th grade that made my eyes water, I’ve tried to get better at creating recipes. And sure, I won First place at a college during a spring break recipe challenge with my Sunset Soup. And I was victorious in the Iron Chef Birthday Battle back in June of 2007. But I only have, maybe, a half a dozen original recipes. And maybe a quarter of them are Ultimate Recipe quality.

You’re not just getting my hopes up, are you, Food Network? Do I have enough original recipes to have a chance? Do I have enough time over the next month to do some serious experimenting? Are you going to break my heart yet again?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Garlic lovers' recipes - Garlic Honey Ice Cream

I love garlic, as is clear from my blog's moniker, but I was a little scared of the recipe for Garlic Honey Ice cream in
The Garlic Book.

However, that didn't stop me from trying it a couple summers ago.

This is a good recipe because it's well-flavored with garlic, but the garlic is not overpowering. Most recipes call for poaching the cloves in the cream, then pureeing the mixture. But, in this recipe, you steep the cloves in honey, then remove them before you make the ice cream. So there's a distinctive, yet mild, garlic flavor.

The other cool thing about this recipe is its texture. Using the honey rather than the sugar to sweeten the ice cream makes it super-smooth. There's no grittiness from undissolved or recrystallized sugar granules.

The family members I was able to persuade into trying it couldn't identify the odd flavor of the ice cream as garlic right away. And my mother, God bless her, liked it well enough that she went back for seconds the next day.

I can't post the actual recipe here, because it's copyrighted, but you can buy a copy of The Garlic Book on You could also try to make up your own recipe from the basic method I've outlined above, if that's your cup of tea, or, er, clove of garlic.

The book seems to be out of print, so you may need to check a used bookstore to get a copy, but it's worth buying for its other garlic recipes. There's a great garlic bread, a garlic and bread sauce, and chocolate-covered garlic. The cloves are poached in red wine and sugar to make them sweeter before they are enrobed in chocolate.

If you do try the recipe, I'd love to hear what you and your friends think of it. If you can convince your friends to try some. (It's not that strong a garlic flavor. Really. The coldness of the ice cream also mutes the flavors somewhat.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Forget Chicken Soup for the Soul. I need chicken soup for me!

I've been down for nearly a week with the flu. Remember: the flu shot is your friend. If I hadn't gotten one, I'd still be very, very, sick.

I'm finally back up, and back to blogging. Now that I'm back, I wanted to highlight some good chicken soup recipes.

Ma Cobb's Chicken Soup-Featured in Big Damn Chefs and on The Signal Podcast, this great chicken soup recipe has lots of curry, cayenne, and garlic.

The Barefoot Contessa has a great chicken stock recipe. I like this one because it tells you how much salt to put in the stock. Most recipes don't. For a novice cook, the hardest thing about making stock, is making sure it's got enough salt in it. But, don't discard the chicken like it says to. Pick the chicken out, dice up some carrots and celery, and use it for the soup.

Katie's lazy chicken soup-This recipe was invented by my younger sister. Still twice as good as what you'd get in a can, but so easy you can whip it together in a half hour, with very little chopping, even if you have the flu. Serves 2

1 carton chicken stock
1 small bag baby carrots
celery, roughly chopped (optional)
Box of seasoned pre-cooked chicken breast strips, Italian or Southwest seasoning.
1-2 cups egg noodles
1 Tablespoon Italian Seasoning or Poultry Seasoning (optional)
2 cloves crushed garlic (optional)

Heat up chicken broth. Add carrots, garlic, and other vegetables if using. Simmer 10 minutes. Add egg noodles and chicken strips, and simmer another 10-15 minutes until veggies get as tender as you want them and chicken strips are heated through. Taste soup and add extra seasoning if needed, but the seasoning on the strips should be enough.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cuddle up this Valentine's Day

I think most people who use food to woo and wow their sweethearts on Valentine's Day either 1. Go for chocolate or 2. Go out for a fancy dinner. Maybe both.

But I'm going to suggest that you stay home for Valentine's Day, and avoid all the crowds. Instead, make a meal at home for your beloved, set the mood with candles and music, start a fire going, and have a much more enjoyable time.

Maybe it's my Italian Grandmother gene getting the best of me again, but there's nothing like a home-made meal to make people feel loved. If you're the one who does the cooking in the house, you already know this. Also, the quality tends to be better when you make it at home--better food for the same, or less money.

Now, normally I'm all about uber fancy meals and setups and plannings. But not for Valentine's Day. You want to do something tasty, but simple, so you have more time for, you know, canoodling.

So, if you are cooking the Valentine's Day meal this year, first think of your beloved, and what he or she would like. If you think crab legs are sexy but your spouse hates seafood, then crab legs with clarified butter 'aint the way to go. If they really love chocolate, then a creme brulee isn't going to impress them (unless it's a CHOCOLATE creme brulee!)

I've put together a list of amorous menu options for those who need ideas. I've included some basic instructions for some of the suggestions--not really recipes, but something to show you how easy it really is and to get you started.

Oysters - if you really like them. I don't. Otherwise, go for something like smoked salmon or shrimp.
Sliced french bread, topped with something tasty and savory - sauteed onions, roasted garlic, or goat cheese, or cream cheese. Even something pre-made out of a jar becomes special when it's spread on a toasted baguette slice.

Main Courses
Steamed crab legs with clarified butter - to clarify butter: melt a stick of butter in a saucepan over low heat until it's completely melted. Use the smallest saucepan you have. Either a. spoon out the white solids, or b. pour the clarified butter into a bowl, leaving the solids in the pan. If some solids sneak by, don't fret.
Steak - season with salt and pepper. Put over flaming hot grill for a few minutes per side. enjoy
Chicken in foil packets - add some diced veggies, some wine or chicken broth, bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Side dishes
Baked/roasted potatoes
steamed vegetables
dinner rolls

White wine, red wine - The gold standard. But what if your honey likes mead? or Beer? Go with it. There's nothing wrong with an IPA with a Valentine's Day meal.

Creme brulee - seriously, this is really super easy to make. The gourmets will say "use a vanilla bean," but you can ignore them and just use real vanilla extract.
Cheater's chocolate lava cakes - make a batch of from-the-box brownies, but bake the batter in muffin tins instead of a brownie pan. Make sure to grease the tins, but do not line them. Check them about 10 minutes before the minimum cooking time on the box. You want them a little bit undercooked. Serve as-is or with a sauce.
Dessert wines - Wines like sweet, flavorful ice wine or strong, smooth port can be desserts in and of themselves.
Chocolate-covered strawberries - Melt chocolate in microwave. Stir every 20 seconds or so. Dip strawberries. Put on waxed paper in fridge for at least an hour. Heaven.

I'd love to hear from readers what they're doing for Valentine's Day, and what their favorite Valentine's Day menus are--fancy or simple.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! As Kaylee from Firefly would say "Have good sex!"

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mad (food) Scientist, Part 2

It's alive, er, edible!!!!

The curried coconut-scented lentil-brown rice-black beans and tomatoes thing turned out really well! (I have got to get a better name for it...). The flavors all played well with others, and the result was a slightly sweet, slightly spicy, colorful pot of beans with good flavor and texture.

As I went to make the recipe, I realized one major error. I was going to use evaporated skimmed milk plus a little bit of coconut extract instead of coconut milk. I thought I had some in the pantry, but it turned out I had sweetened condensed milk. They are not interchangable. Not at all. However, it worked out pretty well. It gave a subtle sweetness to the rice, which would have been better had I used more curry powder.

And, I found another good use for the faux cream of coconut. It made a pretty good substitute for Coco Lopez, in the lovely drink called the Painkiller.

I still think that evaporated skimmed milk plus coconut extract would be a good, not-sweet, low-fat, substitute for cocunut milk, but I shall have to wait another day to actually do the experiment. Curses. Foiled again.

Tropical curried rice and beans
1 cup split lentils
1 cup instant brown rice
1 16 oz can black beans
3 cups chicken stock
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 to 1 teaspoon coconut extract
2-4 Teaspoons curry powder, to taste

Put rice and lentils in a pot with a tight-fitting lid.
Mix together sweetened condensed milk and coconut extract. Stir to combine. Add coconut milk to rice and lentils. Add the black beans, including the liquid in the can. Add 2 cups of the stock to the pot. Heat to boiling, uncovered, sirring often. Once the mixture reaches a boil, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add a little bit of chicken stock if mixture starts to get too dry.

Uncover pot, add tomatoes and liquid. Cook for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add more salt or curry powder if needed.

Turn off heat and let rice and beans sit for 10 minutes. Uncover, stir and eat! Serve with Painkillers.

Mad (food) Scientist

When crafting culinary creations, there's a fine line between improv recipe and insane (and inedible) food combination. I'm always fighting the impulse to combine too many flavors into one dish, which turns a potentially edibile meal into a Food Frankenstein's Monster.

Like anytime I go to Mongolian Barbecue. I always hate to go there, because I can never decide what sauce to have. So I usually mix them all up. And then my meal doesn't taste very good, either because the flavors don't blend together well, or there are so many competing flavors that it doesn't really taste like anything.

So, last night, when we went out to Mongolian Barbecue, I kept it simple. I went with duck for the meat, got a bunch of veggies, made curry powder the main seasoning, and and then did only a couple different sauces to round out the plate. It was very good, spicy, sweet, and well-balanced.

Tonight, I'm tempting fate. I'm making an odd dish at home, and I'm not sure if it will come out well. I'm trying to go vegetarian, and use up some pantry staples that I rarely use--like a bag of split red lentils that I've had for two years. I wanted to use coconut milk, but decided instead to use a substitute--sweetened condensed milk with coconut extract added. I'm not sure whether to also add some black beans or crushed tomatoes. Curry powder will be involved.

I'm a little worried that this will turn into a nightmare, but it could taste pretty good, especially for those who like those types of flavors. I'll keep everyone posted on how it turns out.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Improv recipe - brie puff bites

I love brie and puff pastry, but sometimes, a big wedge of brie shrouded in pastry is just too dense and overwhelming, especially for informal parties.

So, I decided to see what happened if I used those exact same ingredients, but made them bite-sized.

I used a pizza cutter to slice some pre-made puff pastry into even squares, then used them to wrap little squares of brie. Then I baked them in a 350 degree oven on a cookie sheet for 15-20 minutes, until they puffed up.

I didn't think that the bites would stay open, and they didn't, but the brie stayed mostly in the puff pastry, and didn't leak out too much. After a couple minutes to cool down, they were ready to go.

This is a great, easy appetizer, and one that I would do again. The bites are a bit more work than just wrapping the entire brie in pastry, but they're more versatile, too.

I also found out that, before cooking, these freeze extremely well. So you can make a bunch, put them on a cookie sheet, toss them in the freezer, then put them in a plastic bag. So, if you have unexpected guests, you can just let them thaw while the oven is warming.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Wine tasting - the results

Last Saturday was the mini-wine tasting. Four friends, two bottles of wine, a couple wedges of cheese, and some crackers. Since we only had two bottles to taste we chose to forgo the spit bucket, and just drink it up.

The first wine was a Robert Mondavi 2006 Woodbridge Chardonnay. Not rated that I know of, and about $10 a bottle.
The second wine was a 2004 Patz & Hall Chardonnay. The Patz & Hall was the $40 wine that was "rated" by one of those magazines.

The first thing we noticed was that these were two very different wines. The Woodbridge was very fruity, smooth, a little creamy, and had no spice or oak to it. The Patz & Hall was much leaner--less of the creamy mouthfeel--more acidic, and had lots of oak and spice flavors and aromas up front.

It's safe to say that there was more going on in the Patz & Hall bottle, that it was more complex than the Woodbridge. But it didn't make us like the wine any better. In fact, the acidity was a little off-putting.

When we went back to the Woodbridge, that's when the fruitiness really came out, and we found we liked it even more after drinking the Patz Hall wine.

Now, I'm not saying that I disliked the Patz & Hall. In fact, since there was some left over, I had a glass of it with some brie the other night, and it was rather nice. But it certainly wasn't $30 worth better than the Woodbridge, especially when there's so many decent Chardonnays out there.

My thoughts? One, more money equals more complex, but does not necesarily translate into more enjoyment. Two, the Chardonnays were actually fairly different from each other in style, so a little hard to compare. And, finally, perhaps my palatte is not developed enough to appreciate a great wine, or to distinguish it from a good wine. That's fine with me. There are still wines out there I like, that are quirky, tasty, and pretty cheap, (like Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier) and I can still enjoy those knowing that I'm not really missing anything by being thrifty.

Update: Checked the Woodbridge site, and apparently there is just a touch of oak-aged wine that they add to the mix. But not much.

Vampire sugar cookies

My friend brought this recipe to my attention:

Just a simple sugar cooke recipe, right? Looks so on first glance. But look again.

Go on, I'll wait.

That's right, the recipe calls for 8 cloves of garlic. Chopped, as if it makes a difference.

Now, I'm all for using garlic in wierd ways. Chocolate covered garlic and garlic honey ice cream are two recipes that I've made, and enjoyed, before. But this has got to be a mistake.

If you look down in the recipe instructions, there's no other mention of the garlic. This makes it pretty clear to me that it's a mistake in the recipe--perhaps someone mixed up a garlic bread recipe with a sugar cookie recipe.

Just another reason why you should 1. Not trust every recipe you find on the 'net, and 2. Read your recipe thoroughly before starting. I've got to imagine that one or two unlucky people chopped up the garlic before realizing the error, or, even worse, actually used the garlic in the recipe.

In related news: I'm proud to say that if you type in the phrase "sugar cookies with garlic" into Google, my blog is the first search result that pops up. Makes me giddy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wine tasting: the experimental setup

As I was thinking more about this wine tasting thing, I realized that, in addition to the fancy bottle of Chardonnay I bought, I still have an unopened bottle of Chardonnay from when I hosted Christmas dinner for my family.

So, I've decided to drink both of them, tasting-style, with crackers and a spit bucket and everything, to compare and contrast. My only problem is that I will need others to experiment with me. So, the tasting may have to wait a couple of weeks until I can get some friends together. But then, I'll have more data points with which to compare.

This should be fun!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The wine snob?

I've never been accused of being a wine snob. But I do enjoy food. And I consider wine a part of food.

That's why I wish I was just a little bit better at tasting wine. I'm not a world-class wine taster, but I definitely know what I like to drink and what I don't like. I can tell if something is sweet or dry, acidic, tannic, and can detect floral and fruity aromas.

But the flavors, textures, aromas of wine, and how to pin them down, are still somewhat elusive to me. I need a better vocabulary. I need to drink more wine.

The other problem is my pocketbook. I don't have a lot of money to spend on wine, or on courses where somebody can tell what's a good wine. It's not that I need somebody to tell me what's good, it's just that I'm the kind of person that likes to pick apart everything food. I get additional enjoyment of waxing descriptive about my food when I'm eating it. (My husband calls me a "commercial" and laughs.)

So, as a birthday present to myself, I bought one of my most expensive bottles of wine. (My most expensive bottle is a champagne I sipped often on my honeymoon, which has great sentimental value to me, so it's priceless.)

The bottle cost $40. It's a chardonnay--I can't remember the name--and it was rated 92 by Wine Spectator. Or perhaps it was Wine Enthusiast. Wine Today? Vine?

So far as I know, this is the first "rated" wine that I will ever drink.

It will be interesting to taste the wine to see what the "professionals" consider a high-rated wine, and to compare that against what I usually drink. Maybe I'll be able to taste a difference, or maybe not, but the experience should be fun. I'll learn something no matter what.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Cooking Goofs For The Soul, Part 3

I know I said I was going to do a poll, but one individual's cooking goofs are so clearly above and beyond the level of most mortals, I felt it was OK to make a unilateral decision.

Congrats to Dave, aka Stupid Reality, for his list of cooking nightmare stories, many which involved heat and/or chemical burns.

Runner-up status is awarded to Reggie for valiantly trying to burn down his school in his Home Ec kitchen, not once, but twice.

Both of you may redeem cookies from me by e-mailing me at themanicscribe at gmail dot com. You get your choice of one dozen Cookie Monster Cookie Dough Cookies, made by yours truly, or any cookies up to $15 in value off of

Thanks to everyone who posted their stories.

And, to wrap up this series of posts, let me share one last cooking goof with you all. This just happened last week. It was a comedy of errors.

I was trying to make a recipe called Maple Candy in the Snow. On its surface, it seems simple. Boil a pint of maple syrup until it hits 270 degrees Fahrenheit, then drizzle the hot liquid on some fresh, clean snow. The result should be chewy maple candy.

My first mistake? I used too small a pan, so every time I cranked the heat above medium low, the mixture would foam up and threaten to leap out the sides of the pan.

My second mistake? I used a meat thermometer to check temperature rather than a candy thermometer. For some reason, the temperature of my liquid stopped getting any warmer at 230 degrees. Well, a bit of critical thinking led me to why this happened. Meat is cooked to a much lower internal temperature than candy. Therefore, meat thermometers don't need to go to such high temperatures. So, I wound up guessing on the exact temperature of the syrup. I tried to use the method where you put some of the syrup in cold water, and feel for texture, but this wasn't working for me.

My third mistake? I didn't pack the snow down firmly. I just drizzled the syrup into the snow on my friend's back porch. Since the snow was light and airy and the syrup was thick and heavy, the syrup disappeared underneath the snow onto my friend's deck.

Bah. Just goes to show you that even a simple-seeming recipe can be complicated, and even an accomplished cook can have lapses in judgement every now and then.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

'Tis the season for hot toddies...

It seems like almost everybody gets sick this time of year. Whether it's the stress of the holidays, or the cold, dry weather that tends to keep us inside, it's hard to say.

At any rate, it's a good time of year, sick or no, for hot toddies. Here's a link to some great hot toddy recipes. Skepchick is normally not a food blog. However, some great hot toddy recipes and cold remedies have shown up in the comments thread.

My favorite of these is the recipe from a nun, which includes ice cream as a main ingredient. Yum. I think I'll try that one tonight.

One word of warning: Don't overindulge on these, and be very, very careful when mixing alcohol with cold medicines. A toddy a day at most.