Fancy cocktail cherries

I’ve been meaning to blog stuff here for months, and failing each time. (Don’t worry; it’s because business is good!) But my pal Jen just started up a fun craft blog with her sister Lauren, and I couldn’t resist sharing this post about fancy cocktail cherries.

So adorable! Jen is already a much better food blogger than I've ever been, and this is her first food post.

So adorable with helpful labels and everything ! Jen is already a much better food blogger than I’ve ever been, and this is her first food post.

But if you’re not quite this crafty, don’t fret! I’ve been a hippie about maraschino cherries for ages, as corn syrup and red dye are on my Foodie Sneer List. These are two natural alternatives I’ve tried and loved. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m TOTALLY gonna try making my own in all three ways, but it’s nice to have a shoppable option too!)

Tillen Farms Maraschino Cherries

These are super-natural, with a nice firm consistency perfect for biting. They’re sweetened with real sugar and colored with beet juice, but there’s no beety flavor! They just taste like maraschino cherries only much better. They also keep the stems on them, so they may look or work better for some cocktail applications.

You can get them on Amazon, but I’ve also seen them at so many local hippie-ish grocery stores, in the cocktail section. They’ve got much nicer ingredients than a couple other purportedly-natural options, too!

ZerGüt Pitted Sour Cherries in Light Syrup

I was searching for the above Tillen cherries in my local non-hippie grocery store, and I wasn’t able to find them. But these weird suckers were in the imported food section, buried among ramen and Tapatío and matzoh mix. I LOVE the name, can I just say? ZerGüt. Zehr cute. :)

They’re sour but they have been soaking in truly light syrup for so long that they don’t taste very sour. However, they’ve also been sitting in syrup for so long that they kind of disintegrate if they’re remotely agitated, etc. Like, ice cubes will crush them. These are also dyed naturally, but the dye tends to kind of seep out of them and into whatever drink or dessert you put them in. Which is weird, since sour cherries are naturally red—it’s almost like their syrup bath causes the natural cherry pigment to leach out of them.

I think they work best to be muddled in drinks where you plan to muddle, or for single-cherry-on-top applications like sundaes.

 

Also, the jar won’t be this cute for long. Something about the threads just isn’t right, so that light syrup tends to leak and stain and drip and make everything sticky and maroon. If I were wise, I would have transferred these into a Tillen jar at some point, especially once I’d used up enough of them. (The ZerGüt jar is quite large!) Eventually I’ll get there, but you should just do it ahead of time now that I’ve warned you. :)

IMG_8577

 

And there you go! May your homemade cocktails never be ungarnished. What’s your favorite cherry?

On selecting satsumas

Satsumas on a tree.I’m obsessed with satsumas. Always have been. Every winter, I compulsively overdose to the point where the skin around my thumbnails is stained bright yellow-orange from the oils in the peel, and my teeth start to hurt from the sugar and acid. I’m an idiot. An idiot who LOVES her satsumas. And as such, I feel that I can speak from a place of authority about how to purchase optimal satsumas.

Satsumas, if you’re unfamiliar, are these amazing little tangerines, similar to the clementine and the mandarin but not quite identical to either. They are sweeter, tangier, softer-fleshed, softer-segmented, easier to peel, more seedless, and generally easier and more enjoyable to eat than any other variety of orange. To the point where I basically don’t eat oranges except from about November to about February, which is satsuma season in my part of the world.

The Wikipedia entry for satsumas contains the following text, which is bullshit:

The uniquely loose skin of the satsuma, however, means that any such bruising and damage to the fruit may not be immediately apparent upon the typical cursory visual inspection associated with assessing the quality of other fruits. In this regard, the satsuma might be categorised as a hit-and-miss citrus fruit; the loose skin particular to the fruit precluding the definitive measurement of its quality by sight and feel alone.

I am going to teach you how to perform miracles and avoid almost all shitty satsumas. Stay with me, citrus lovers.

1) Buy loose over boxed or bagged if you want the best success rate. This may seem obvious, but boxes can hide crappy, moldy, bruised fruit that will start rotting its neighbors sight unseen. If you do purchase a box or bag of satsumas, do your best to peek inside to see if you can spot any weird green or white ones, and unpack the box or bag immediately to quarantine the icky ones from the healthy ones. You can give them all a dip in warm water with a little vinegar to kill of any errant mold spores, but you’re gonna have to carefully dry them all because moisture is mold’s friend.

A box of bee sweet satsumas

Image source: Crochetbug

2) Smaller satsumas are sweeter and superior. (Just remember the handy mnemonic SSSSSS! I don’t know.) The tiny ones have more potent flavor and are generally much easier to peel. I find their texture to be more delicate, too. So it’s best to hand-select small ones that have the thinnest yet least blemished peels. (More below on blemishes.) If you must buy boxes or bags, look on the shorter side of the box, perpendicular to this image I was able to find online, haha. (Sorry! My store doesn’t have boxed ones so I couldn’t snap a real-life example.) There is a small rectangle where the packers should stamp the rough size category—Small, Medium, Large, or Jumbo. Smalls are really hard to find, but mediums are pretty prevalent and will yield a better box than any larger sizes.

A blemished satsuma.3) Closely inspect the peels. Wikipedia is correct that satsumas have much thinner skins than most orange-type fruits, and their peels are usually very loosely attached to the fruit. That’s what makes them so nice and easy to remove. But you CAN spot a damaged satsuma fairly easily from the peel if you know what to look and feel for. You just have to pay attention! (And be one of those annoying people who takes forever carefully selecting your fruit. Haste makes waste. Be a weirdo with me; I’ll keep you company.) Some signs of damage are more obvious, like this one; the spot is about the size of a penny (spread out weirdly) and is soft and brown. Ew. But any spot of any size that is brown or soft (sometimes accompanied by slightly lighter yellowing in the soft areas) is to be ignored. It may be only a tiny spot on the skin, but it can mean a greater rotted area inside. Similarly, black spots are almost always bad news, and of course white or green mold is no good. Because even the freshly transported supermarket displays can contain crappy satsumas, it pays to carefully inspect them and touch them all over their skin.

4) “Green on the peel, no big deal.” Or whatever. :) Generally, the green only develops on large sized thicker skinned satsumas, and large ones are usually avoided for inferior taste reasons anyway. But occasionally a thicker peel will develop on a smaller satsuma, and those are fine.

5) Air circulation preserves shelf life. Being crammed in a shipping crate together is part of what makes some satsumas go moldy; they seem to need to breathe. So for that reason they’re best stored loose-ish, in a bowl specially made for fruit (out of wire or something). I also like to put a cloth between them and the bars/edges of the bowl to cushion the little suckers. They WILL dry out pretty quickly since their skins are thin, but if you’re like me you’ll eat them fast enough that this won’t be an issue. (I suppose you could always try the lemon hack with them; I’ve never done that. I wouldn’t want to bite into a cold satsuma; that would hurt my teeth.)

6) Peeling them nicely brings good luck. Okay, not really, but it’s fun. I’ve always peeled mine in this kind of serpentine fashion in exactly one piece, ever since I was a kid. Dunno why. And another friend of mine always peels hers in a star-flower-like shape. We take pride in our peeling. What’s your peel shape? Send me a picture! (Not a rude one.)

Happy satsuma season!

Coffee tales

Tonx is a fantastic coffee bean subscription company. They recently included my mug story in the Mug Life section of their newsletter. You can read the appropriately abridged version via that link, but here’s the unabridged one I submitted in case you like too many words. (I have no idea why you would subscribe to this blog if you didn’t, haha.)

textured yellow mug

When my husband and I were mere lovebirds, we took a trip to the nearby quaint town of Port Townsend. It was our first early-couplehood weekend away, and I was positively giddy traveling with the guy I was proudest to call my boyfriend.

We wandered into a random kitchen shop and saw these two mugs and had to have them—his was orange with raised square texture, mine was yellow with raised dots. We bought them for each other, even though they were the exact same monetary value (something like $6.95). Somehow, the gesture of separate transactions was meaningful, you know? (I’m sure the shop clerk was rolling her eyes.)

I fully expected this mug to just make its way into the rotation of awkward or lame mugs in my cupboard, as most mugs do. But instead, perhaps in our giddy starry-eyed state, we each took our fancy new mugs to our respective workplaces. They became our Desk Mugs.

A week later, I quit my job. I transitioned into a new role at my first-ever “real” job in a major tech company, and that mug came with me. Hardcore developers of fancy enterprise software suites admired my mug in the corporate kitchens. My mug garnered jealousy at meetings. If I ever accidentally left it in the kitchen, people knew to bring it back to me.

My mug became a part of my professional identity. It has come with me to every job since then, earning compliments the whole while and holding twice as much coffee as those lame paper (or worse, Styrofoam) cups. It became the personal item of flair I chose to display at every desk I’ve sat at.

Now I work at home. That textured yellow mug is still on my desk every day. I even started decorating my home office with accents of the same shade of yellow, so it would always fit in. My seven-dollar mug reminds me of the love of my life, and of my own professional success and prowess. It even reminds me of how I turned my romantic success into a business helping singles find their own mug-exchange partners. I love that the people who compliment my mug now are my clients.


Here’s another coffee tale; this one is of woe.

I swept it up by hand and brewed with it anyway. And the grinder is the Baratza Encore, which I love. I mostly followed Marco Arment’s advice about grinders, but went cheaper. However, one Tweep said in response that her grinder requires all parts to be properly assembled in order to grind; that seems like a useful feature right about now. :)

I’ll be posting a longer ditty on my ideal coffee creation flow soon, in case you’re somehow not incredibly bored by that!

Mull the best wine ever

Over the past few years, I’ve become the Mulled Wine Gal in our various social circles. I’d never even had mulled wine before a pal made it for a New Year’s Eve party in like 2006, but I’ve been obsessed with making (and perfecting) it every chilly season since. With any new obsession comes experimentation, and of course, many failures along with the successes. Let me share with you my tricks and pitfalls so you can mull the best wine ever.

Basic mulled wine goes like this:

Put dry red wine, spices, and sweetener in a pot. Simmer. Drink.

I don’t think I’ve ever once followed an actual recipe for making mulled wine. You needn’t either. Oh, if you’re a recipe kind of person I can understand that, but really you should just make an excuse to taste it from time to time until it tastes yummy. So, rather than giving you a step by step, let me give you a concept by concept!

Use cheap wine. The kind you might actually be embarrassed to serve otherwise. The best you can do is buy dark dry red wines in boxes; that way, the unused stuff stays fresher all season long. Something from Franzia will suit your purposes just fine. Fancier vintages are great for actual red wine drinking, but with mulling you really can’t taste the delicate fruity notes of blah blah whatever under all the many spices and sweeteners you’ll be adding, so save your fancy bottles. Any richer varietals (Syrah/Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, etc.) are fine. The lighter Pinot Noirs and Beaujolais Nouveaux are for drinking with dinner; they’re not so mulling friendly. Go big, bold, dry, dark, and CHEAP.  If you wind up buying bottles instead of boxes, that’s fine, but you may prefer boxes because…

Save some un-mulled wine for dilution. Don’t make my usual mistake and empty every drop into the pot. It’s easy to over-mull your wine accidentally, because mulled wine is inherently a party drink that you leave simmering and kinda forget about. This means that while you were busy hosting guests, much of the alcohol boiled right off of that simmering pot on the stove. So save about a quarter of that unmulled stuff to dilute down the mixture when it comes time to serve. (Besides, you may have the odd friend who just prefers a plain ole glass of red, but doesn’t want to make you open up a decent bottle for just the one glass. Let that poor fool have his Franzia ration if he’s so insistent.)

Pick the right mulling spices. You don’t have to make your own spice mix if you’re super busy or just not a fancypants DIY person; there are tons of pre-made options to choose from. If you live somewhere with a kinda hippie grocery store that has a bulk foods section, you can ask for mulling spices starting in about October. They’re often stored in somewhat elusive places, so don’t be shy about bugging a clerk.

Different mulling spice options

From left to right, we have Market Spice mulling mix, in the middle we have a brand called Spicy Peak (which contains artificial cinnamon oil, boooo), and Market Spice’s chai spice mix, which I don’t care for in a mulled wine context.

And of course, you can always make your own. The main components of a good mulling spice are cloves, cinnamon, orange peel, and allspice. I’ve also seen blends that include ginger, nutmeg, lemon peel, black peppercorns, and star anise, and I’ve actually tried mulling with a chai spice blend that also included cardamom pods. (Not totally worth it, in my opinion, but you might like it.) I also enjoy the odd vanilla bean husk, but you shouldn’t waste actual vanilla bean caviar on this—it’ll be kinda overpowering and no one likes the seedy texture anyway. When you use real vanilla bean for some other fancy dessert, save the husks in an airtight container for something like this, and only use one husk per mulling.

I find that citrus peel can start to make the wine go a bit bitter if you over-mull as you probably will, and clove can become overpowering and mouth-numbing very quickly. So if you’re one of those Perfect Pinterest People and you decide to create your own spice mix, I believe the perfect hierarchy to strive for is cinnamon bark, then allspice, then star anise, then citrus peel, then cloves, then any other spices your little heart desires.

I suppose you have to figure out what to do with all these loose spices. I often just use a piece of cheesecloth tied up with twine, if I’m together enough to have both in stock. You could get fancy spice bags, too. But I’ve also been exposed to enough snooty tea-drinking behavior (I mean, I AM half English) to have plenty of strainer options. Even if you don’t use a tea strainer type device, you can just use a soup skimmer, or one of those handy funnels with a built in strainer that I’m always telling you to buy. Or, you know, just ladle around the loose spices and don’t sweat it. Have another drink.

A collection of straining options

This is all of my non-cloth straining options. Er, like 3/4 of them. Jeez we have a lot of kitchen crap.

A box of Knudsen's mulling spicesIf you’re not a DIYer and you don’t have  a hippie option, have no fear! Chainier stores like Safeway and Kroger will start stocking mulling spices from Big Cider (haha) made by Martinelli’s or R.W. Knudsen. They look like tea bags, and they’re actually way easier to use than the fancier loose spice types. The box of mulling spices from Martinelli’s or R.W. Knudsen’s (pictured here) should look more like this. It should be clear on the ingredient list that it contains only spices, and not anything attempting to approximate either apples or actual cider.

Apple cider powdered mix is NOT a substitute for mulling spices. And I hate to call Grant out here, but just in case you happen to have a grocery shopper who is only Level 2 or so in your household, visual aids can be helpful. This first image of Alpine SpiceD apple Cider Original Instant Drink Mix Natural & Artificial Flavors is NOT mulling spices. I provide this only as a visual to know what to avoid (but I include an affiliate link because hey, ya never know. Half the commenters on this blog seem to believe I’m super interested in buying Russian knockoff sneakers. Click away, my pals.)

Sweeten creatively. I remember a few years ago reading a GOOP newsletter (to which I subscribe mainly for comedic mockery purposes) with a mulled wine recipe, in which Gwyneth Paltrow harped on how terrible she felt just pouring loads of sugar into mulled wine. So she recommended agave nectar instead. Here’s the deal: the new rage of Snooty Sugar Science™ actually says agave is not so great, because it’s basically processed as all fructose, aka all totally high glycemic and fattening. JOKE’S ON YOU, GOOP!

As for us non-lifestyle-brand-owning regulars, we can get away with whatever sweeteners exist in our cupboards at the time of the mulling. Since I usually have all this stuff on hand somewhere, I like to use a combination of organic maple syrup (grade B, please, ALWAYS), brown sugar (or white plus a tad of molasses if that’s what you have around), honey, and (raw, organic, darker) agave, and maybe some of this coconut palm sugar craziness I just learned about but have yet to try out. A combo of different sweetening sources is almost always richer and more complex tasting than just straight up white sugar; THAT part Gwynnie was right about. Just don’t use anything diet-y like Splenda or NutraSweet or Stevia. Those are not going to play nice with everything else going on; suck it up and have a few actual calories.

As for how much to put in, I really swear you should just wing it. Scoop out a  spoonful of honey, stir it in, let it melt, stir the mixture, take a little sip. Still kinda bitter? Pour in a tablespoon or so of maple syrup. Stir and taste. Still kinda bitter? Repeat with different sweeteners you have around until it starts tasting just a little sweet. Then STOP. People can further sweeten their individual glasses if they want it sweeter, but you can’t UN-sweeten an over-sweet batch, so be conservative. And maybe put out a little pitcher of maple syrup (the fastest to melt) with some spoons to stir it in if you think your folks will be into that.

Oh, and re: that honey we talked about: don’t use up the fancy nice awesome raw stuff you got at the farmers’ market from local wildflowers to combat your seasonal allergies in this drink. I mean, you CAN, but that expensive raw stuff is loaded with antimicrobial and general health-promoting benefits that’ll be totally annihilated by the heat, the cloves, and the alcohol of a pot of mulled wine. Honey’s health boost is zapped at about 120 degrees Farenheit (so says the weird bee guy at my far-mar). This is the opportunity to use up that lame stuff someone bought at the supermarket in a plastic squeezy bear.

Here’s my last sweetener note: the most yummy yet affordable maple syrup is the organic grade B from Trader Joe’s in a glass bottle; the next best is organic grade B from Whole Foods in a big beige plastic tub. Don’t get suckered into spending $15 for a normal-sized bottle unless it’s a delightful souvenir from your Vermont or Canadian vacation, and don’t buy grade A thinking it’s better. It’s not. You want the darker color and fuller flavor of B. Their system has it all wrong. Don’t get me started. :) And if you would even consider buying vats of colored corn syrup known as Log Cabin or Mrs. Butterworth’s, I have no idea why you’re still reading this blog post. Onward!

Buy extra-long cinnamon sticks for garnish. Most normal cinnamon sticks are cut down to fit in standard spice jars, which means they’re worthless for a cute stirring-stick because they get completely submerged in the beverage. But if you go to your local fancypants spice retailer (I like Market Spice), you can probably get extra long ones. Yeah, they’re a little pricey, but they’re cheaper than plenty of other types of fancy drink garnishes and they keep forever. (They needn’t be super duper fresh because your actual fresher mulling spice mix will be what really gives the wine a cinnamon flavor. These tend to be more for utterly delighting your guests than for flavor, although they do up the cinnamon ante a bit.)

You just might recognize this mug if you’re a Tonx subscriber! Doesn’t it look swanky with a big ole cinnamon stick stirrer?

Spike with style. There’s nothing sadder than taking all this yummy, well-spiced, well-sweetened stuff and ruining it with a splash of cheap brandy. If you decide to give your mulled wine a little oomph, go for decent cognac. Some people swear by Hennesey or Courvoisier; I’m more of a Rémy Martin VSOP gal myself.* Nothing crazily expensive, but don’t go buying the cheapest option. And by the way, don’t feel like too much of a heathen for spiking—a lot of what evaporates during the mulling process is alcohol, so you’re sort of reconstituting the wine’s original potency more than you are emulating Don Draper. Mostly. Spike with a light hand. :) I prefer to leave the whole vat un-spiked and let individuals liven up their own glasses with their desired cognac serving, but if you’d rather DIY, you can ask per glass if people want a shot in there, or whatever floats your boat. I often have a range of guests including nursing mamas who are happy for milder alcohol content, and sleep-deprived dads who beg for double the VSOP, haha. Use your best judgment; they’re your guests!

Be smart about your vessel choice. The first mulled wine I ever had was served to me in a wine glass, but it wasn’t a dinky dainty crystal one. It was a hefty restaurant-grade one. Which is a darn good thing, because scalding hot wine in a slightly chilly thin crystal glass just might break it, AND be uncomfortable to grasp, ya know? The main thing to remember is that, with all hot beverages, a handle or stem is pretty nice to have. You can always do mugs, but I find it so pretty to look at that I prefer a transparent container. Glass mugs would be great; we don’t have normal ones but we sometimes use glass beer steins. (Those are so tall that even extra-long cinnamon sticks would get submerged.) We have these cool double-walled Bodum cups that work, except they’re small so I always go for many refills, haha. I have these great thick glass goblets with a bee pattern that I sometimes use. Whatever you choose, just be kind about not burning your guests’ hands.

Clearly, it was urgent that I create a visual aid for vessel type.

Oh, and you inevitably get sticky wine all over the damn place when ladling it out of the pot, no matter how careful you are. (I hate you if this is untrue in your case.) I don’t yet have a perfect solution to this, but sometimes I use a wide-mouth funnel on top of a mug, or I even pour the wine into a pitcher and serve each glass from that. No solution is perfect, because it cools quite a bit the more you transfer it, but play around until you find a good solution. Mine is a damp rag next to the mulling pot so I can wipe off any sticky residue before handing guests their drink. :)

True Blood Type W Positive

Save any leftovers for a couple weeks! The spices you’ve used for mulling all have anti-microbial properties. This stuff will store for a while; I like to use a glass Mason jar with a firm lid, or a glass water bottle. Next time you want to mull up some wine for a group, pour that in as your starter and you’ll barely need any spices or mulling time to whip up a new batch! (And hey, if you’re the insanely eco-conscious type, you could even empty any half-drunk glasses into your Mason jar. You’ll be boiling any germs anyhow next time you mull. I think it’s kinda icky, and I have too many germophobic friends to roll like this myself, but I won’t judge you if you promise not to tell me about it.)

If you don’t have very much to save, use old condiment jars so you can look like a creepy vampire who stores human blood snacks in her fridge. It IS a Halloween-appropriate beverage, after all.

Happy mulling!

 

*I’ve heard of people spiking with apple or cherry brandies, but that doesn’t taste right to me. Those seem better placed in a spiked mulled cider. (But personally, I prefer even cider with a nice cognac.) And I’ve also wondered how it would taste to spike with Dubonnet Rouge. But I’ve never actually tried it.

Eat, pray, lunch

Ploughmanesque

I’m still just as bad at eating proper lunches as ever. I didn’t finally sit down to some non-trivial calories until 3 PM today. But, thankfully, I was able to assemble this semi-filling, semi-healthy lunchish platter. That’s rotisserie chicken, cornichons and olives, some delicious Dutch cheese, half a Landjäger sausage, and an organic apricot.

What I need is to figure out a way to incorporate more vegetables into this type of super-speedy thrown-together meal, ya know? Then I wouldn’t feel so bad about my spastic work-from-home eating habits!

He said, she said: A chicken story

I’d like to report on a little conversation I had with Grant a couple weeks back. Nearly verbatim.

Me: Hey, I just noticed that Ballard Market does indeed have rotisserie chickens! They’re only $8 instead of $10 like at Whole Foods, and they’re from Draper Valley Farms (the same place I got our awesome Thanksgiving turkey from!), which is a much closer farm that raises their poultry WAY more sustainably than the crappy California one that does the theoretically natural Whole Foods chickens. (Michael Pollan wrote a whole exposé on them in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.) And they’re brined with a much healthier solution than usual; it’s less salty and it’s all natural, not like those gross QFC ones that are cheap but full of corn syrup and nitrates. But they aren’t super obvious because they’re not pre-packaged; you have to actually talk to the deli staff to get one. So please try to remember that next time you shop there, and try to remember to get them from there over other groceries whenever you can, OK? There’s one in the fridge right now if you want some, and I just stuck it in there so it’s probably still warm. I gotta run.

Him: So… what you’re saying is… there’s chicken in the fridge… and it’s really good.

Green(ish) smoothies

I’ve been working from home since January, trying to make a go of my online dating consultation business full time. (PLEASE send my info to your single friends if you think they could use a hand! Referrals are my number one source of business.) Working from home has SO many wonderful advantages, but I thought one would be that it would make me eat healthier. Boy, was I wrong!

I’m normally a very hungry person, and between boredom, stress, and I guess just timing at work, I’m always acutely aware of when it’s lunchtime at a normal office job. Sometimes I’d have a big project or be engrossed in a deadline and I wouldn’t eat until an unhealthily late hour, or I’d stay late well past a smart dinner time. But for the most part, I ate regularly at normal intervals that didn’t make my metabolism crazy.

At home, I’m a menace. Grant and I are sharing our car and attempting to stave off the purchase of a second vehicle until we have kids someday. So I’m sometimes driving him to work or to the bus stop, grabbing a latte, mocha, or chai, and then not consuming anything else for breakfast. And then I don’t realize it’s Food O’Clock until about 3 PM, when I’m DYING and my entire metabolism is screaming at me and I need to lie down and can’t imagine getting back to work because my blood sugar is crashing so hard. (I exaggerate a little, but not much; I’m an idiot who forgets to eat.) I don’t think this is one of those healthy things where I lose weight; I think my body goes into starvation mode and starts conserving anything that touches my lips as fat. So it’s not like I devised a brilliant breakfast-free stratagem here! I need to eat.

More and more, the thing I wind up eating to chill myself out is one of these:

Mmm mmm purpley goodness!

 

Yeah, that’s a “green” smoothie. Only yesterday’s is more like brownish-purple because I included lots of blueberries. In fact, all this contains is filtered water, ice cubes, two lemons, half a bunch of Italian (flat) parsley, and about half a cup of blueberries.

Here’s today’s, which was a third a bunch of Italian parsley, a few (five?) big leaves of green kale, a large Braeburn apple, and two small lemons, plus ice cubes and filtered water:

Frothy goodness!

One of my tips for making more nutritional smoothes is that you should generally blend up as much of the fibrous parts of veggies as you can, in addition to the part you’d normally eat. So for kale and parlsey, this means you don’t discard the stems (though you can trim the very end bits off if they’re scuzzy). And for lemons, you cut them like this:

IMG_3940

Actually, you can be even less aggressive than I was. I just accidentally cut through to the pulpy part, but an ideally butchered lemon would be opaque pale white with all zest removed but no juicy bits poking through if you know what I mean. I first learned of green smoothies from Green for Life by my mom’s pal Victoria Boutenko. Victoria posited that you could even eat leafy parts like carrot tops and other veggie greens that usually get discarded in our country. I’ve tried it but never with a proper blender, which makes a HUGE difference; so I can’t attest to the carrot top thing (nor the Carrot Top thing, if we’re honest) but I bet it’d be lovely.

Here are my prep tips for an awesome green smoothie that won’t gross you out:

  • Include ice cubes. Both in the blend and in the glass you drink from. I find that green smoothies are WAY less ick-inducing when they’re really cold! I also often use some frozen berries both for fiber and flavor, and they have the side benefit of chilling things down a bit.
  • Use a Vitamix. You just have to. You’ll never get truly smooth-ish smoothies with a regular blender. See if you can find a used one on Craigslist or at a yard sale; my mom did this for me and saved hundreds!
  • Add more water than you think you need. You may want to make your smoothie more concentrated, but more water makes it blend more easily and heck, it keeps you hydrated!
  • Don’t use powders/boosts/etc. Just don’t. There’s a place for that crap, but in my opinion it’s not in a smoothie like this. The ingredients in what I’m describing are so pure and healthy that they shouldn’t need a helping hand from some chalky powder that’s just going to diminish your final product.
  • Start on Low, wait until all the bulky bits have been grabbed and are starting to spin in the slushy form, and then kick it up to high. If you need to, use the blending stick to poke your produce through the hole in the lid (I KNOW; that’s what she said). Poke as much as necessary, but be careful because liquid can spew out around the poking stick once everything is blending properly. I don’t even want to hear the jokes that might come from this.
  • Consume rapidly, ideally within a couple hours. They get gross if you leave them, even refrigerated. And they start to taste really different and not in a good way.
  • Stir before you sip! I like to use these metal spoon straws, which are also excellent for many a melty dessert. (I definitely don’t just eat kale, after all!)
  • Rinse your equipment right after. Even our badass dishwasher can have trouble getting dried smoothie-blend-bits from the inside of our glasses, blender carafe, and reusable straws if I don’t stay on top of the rinsing. Which just looks super gross to the next person who uses that item. So be diligent!

I’ve been doing much better home-food-wise ever since I got back on the green smoothie train. I know they look scary, but I urge you to give them a try! Heck, come over and I’ll make you one. :)

Supafine? No, ULTRAfine

ULTRAfineKnow how I was all cocky about my great cookies the other day? Well, ONE coworker gave me a less glowing but more helpful piece of cookie feedback: my bud Cristina mentioned that she could detect the large crystal size of the sugar I used. I tend to go for organic bulk evaporated cane sugar, which does indeed have a noticeably large crystal size. In fact, said crystal-crunchiness had always bugged me too, but even the finer organic evaporated sugars I’ve found have still been kinda chunky like that. I’ve occasionally been precious enough to grind it down to a supadupafine size in a coffee bean grinder in order to, say, sugar a cocktail rim, but never have I done this with enough sugar to bake anything. Who has time for such frivolities?

A: The C&H company. (OK, by “time” we should probably round up to “massive industrial complexes and machinery and infrastructure” or something.) So check this out: you can buy supafine and also ULTRAFINE (“baker’s”) sugar in the grocery store! I knew that sexy fine cake flour existed, with a creepy name that makes it sound like knockoff Dove Body Wash, but I never realized that a fancy sugar also existed. I bought some recently, mainly because I was at a sketchy little mini-mart that didn’t have great selection, but I’m SO GLAD I did. Its deceptively weird milk-carton packaging is actually way easier for storage, and the stuff inside is amazing.

Cookie jarrrI’ve been using it to make the odd cocktail, such as my standby Sidecar or more recently, an Old Fashioned, which I started enjoying thanks to the most recent The Talk Show with Marco and Gruber. Anyway. Great for Old Fashioneds because you want something that dissolves quicker in less water, so you can move on to filling the majority of the drink with the important part (the whiskey). And today, I tried making white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies with it—delish! I actually under-estimated the amount I would need, since I thought my cookies from before were both too sweet AND too crystally-crunchy. Turns out they may have only been the latter. But I daresay the texture is much improved now!

I can’t wait to try this stuff for cakes, as well as any recipe where I need sugar to dissolve fast. I think I’ll always keep a carton on hand. However, I do wish that I could get a luxury product like this in a less processed format—I know, what a brat, right?—because I do think organic sugar tastes better. It’s kind of like how I wish they made unbleached recycled Charmin, or unbleached recycled Bounty, ya know? It’s a real shame when natural products are inferior products. If I ever get windfall-rich and accomplish all my other many MANY windfall-rich goals (get a Ph.D. in linguistics; pitch a movie about online dating and actually get hired to do something with it; buy the silly ice cream joint by my house and turn it into a combo ice cream joint/neighborhood pub; get a legal pet ocelot somehow; ever fix our goddamn deck; start up a natural skincare line; buy the overpriced .com equivalents of all my silly domain hack websites; the list goes on and on) then I totally plan on making a company that makes Luxury Natural Products. Eh, maybe I will grind up a bunch of organic evaporated large crystal sugar for my next confection, just to see how it goes.

Oh, and isn’t my new foxy cookie jar adorable? It’s still on clearance at West Elm if you hurry. (Curse the lack of affiliate link.) We’d been wanting a sleek, mod-looking yet fun cookie jar for ages, and this could not fit that description better. They have some other cute animals too. Happy baking!

foxy

Tweaked rich banana bread

I made this banana bread, also to rave reviews from Cassie and Brigittie in particular. I admit it turned out very nicely and super moist. No pics fanciness, but here were my deviations from the recipe, for posterity:

  • I doubled it, so quantities adjusted accordingly.
  • I added enough molasses so that it was like using dark brown sugar.
  • I used two big bananas and two tiny ones which I think are a sweeter species.
  • No walnuts, a tad more vanilla than called for, and my usual pinch of xanthan gum with the dry ingredients.
  • Added about 1.5 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp ground cloves.
  • Didn’t quite have enough sour cream, so I supplemented with about 1/3 cup leftover cognac-spiked vanilla-bean-infused sugar-sweetened whipped cream from Thanksgiving. Shut up; it worked great.
  • I wound up needing to bake mine for at least 10 min. longer than she called for.
  • If I did it over I might experiment with cutting back on the sugar. Didn’t seem like it truly needed it all, esp. with the richness of flavor that my other additions contributed. (No offense, dear anonymous Internet Janet! Your recipe was a badass base for my compulsive experimentation.)

Classic chocolate chip cookies

This is my idea of the perfect chocolate chip cookie. It’s a variation of a combination of  recipes from Martha Stewart and the back of a Tollhouse chips bag, but with my own tweaks that personalize it.  If you experiment with the amounts of sugar, flour, vanilla, butter, and chips, plus oven temp and time and placement, you can customize it nicely to your liking. I find everyone has a different idea of “the perfect cookie,” but I hope you enjoy mine!

I brought these in to work today, and my coworker Cassie was so effusive and inquisitive in her praise that she finally motivated me to stick them in a proper post with proper instructions. Here ya go, Cassie!

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar*
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1 large egg (NOT Omega-3), room temperature if possible**
  • Up to 2 sticks salted butter, room temperature (I use somewhere between one and two sticks depending what I’m after – more butter = less fluffy/cakey, more crispy/chewy. Lately I’m a Full 2 Sticks kinda gal)
  • 1/2 tbsp (or less, if you like) real vanilla – don’t use imitation, buy a good but cheap real vanilla.***
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 12-oz package chocolate chips****
  • Optional – if you’re going to add nuts or dried fruit (dried sour red cherries make a wonderful addition), make sure to remove some chocolate chips to make room for them.  My advice is 2 parts chips, 1 part fruit/nuts/both, for a total of 12 ounces of add-ins.
  • See my personal baking tips for more detailed ingredient advice and techniques.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350ish, and set out your baking sheets (but NOT on top of the oven). Cut up parchment or throw down the Silpat or whatever else you like to do to preserve your cookies’ asses.
  • In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar about two minutes, scraping sides and bottom well (especially if using a stand mixer).
  • Add molasses if you’re doing a brown sugar substitution, add vanilla and egg and keep beating.
  • Mix dry ingredients together lazily in a separate bowl, then add this mixture in about three parts, mixing after each addition. Don’t go overboard mixing once the flour is added, or your cookies will get all hard because you’ve teased the gluten out of the flour and accidentally started kneading the mixture like bread. Avoid that. Be lazy.
  • Stir in chips with a wooden spoon or paddle and try to make sure they’re evenly distributed.
  • For easy storage, use your hands to shape dough into balls or patties and keep loosely packed in Tupperware in the freezer for easy removal and baking of just one or two.
  • Chill dough if possible for at least 45 minutes, then bake at 350 degrees for 10-20 minutes, depending *very much* on your oven – check at 10, 12, 15, etc. minutes and remove at the first hint of browning on top.
  • Allow cookies to cool for at least 30 minutes.  For cookies you want to eat immediately, cook a bit longer (but leaving the ones for later to cool even if they seem a bit undercooked will make for softer, chewier cookies even after cooling – salmonella, shmalmonella, I say!)

 

*Best is if you do the whole white sugar but add molasses at egg stage thang.
**Duck is definitely best here! The biggest one in the dozen; be extra careful with shells since they’re thicker and even more unpleasant to bite into.
***An easy way is to do “vanilla sugar” — whenever you use vanilla bean caviar in a recipe, stick the hulls in a spice jar and fill with sugar. Use that sugar to bake things like these cookies. You’re welcome. (Still use the normal amount of vanilla bean extract as well.)
****I just use Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chips, but obviously, fancier chocolate makes for fancier cookies.