Maple syrup sidecar

The sidecar is my favorite go-to cocktail. Or rather, go-to cocktail where I can tell there is a decent bartender — at shitty places, my go-to is a glass of cheap sparking wine. (This comes from having a horrifyingly bad sidecar made with cheap brandy and no sweetener from Brasserie Margaux a couple years ago. *shudder*)

Aaaanyway, why am I mixing cocktails at 3:07 on a Friday? Because it’s my Sunday, baby, and it’s almost Christmas, and I vacuumed and swept and mopped up a storm and made banana bread out of the worst bananas ever, AND we needed to use up some lemons.

It should go without saying that this drink is better with the highest quality ingredients — I use Cointreau because it really does taste better than other cheaper Triple Sec type options. My brandy this time around was Raynal VSOP, but I would welcome recommendations of other good ones to try. I use organic lemons and organic Grade B syrup — it has a stronger mapley flavor than Grade A.

Maple Syrup Sidecar
2 oz VSOP brandy or cognac
1 oz Cointreau or equivalent
2 oz lemon juice, strained
1/2 oz Grade B maple syrup

Combine all and shake well with ice, pour directly into glass, or strain into chilled glass if desired. Skip the sugared rim unless you need it for the aesthetics; if you must sugar the rim, reduce syrup in drink by 1/4 oz, grind your sugar to superfine using a (well-cleaned!) coffee bean grinder or food mill, and use maple syrup to make the sugar stick to the rim.

Indispensable tools for the job: shakerstainless steel funnel with strainer, mini measuring cup

Cheers!

Experimentations with iced coffee

I’d been hearing about “toddies” and “cold-brewed coffee” for some time, so I figured I’d give it a whirl. Word had it that cold-brewing produced a more flavorful blend with less acid, which would be perfect for me since coffee acid definitely upsets my stomach. (Also helpful that our hot-brewing coffee maker died a week after we received it as a wedding gift, so we exchanged it for a Bodum pitcher that better lends itself to cold.) I Googled around and settled on a 24-hour room-temp brew choice, thanks to smitten kitchen and America’s Test Kitchen.

Well, this morning I got to crack into my new brew, and I have to say I’m a bit disappointed. It’s definitely true that you taste the beans more than the roasting process, which is nice I guess (roasting flavor = yum!), but there’s still a pungently acidic note to my coffee. I actually think it’s a symptom of the beans — my beans are a weird blend of Victor’s and Zoka house decafs, and I’ve noticed an overly acidic note to them when brewed via heat methods, too. Perhaps I’ll give this iced coffee thing another whirl with a different decaf someday. (WHY can’t they make decafs as snobbishly well-curated as regular beans?)

For now, it’s a reasonably nice pick-me-up, especially if you add cream and maple syrup like I do! Using cream instead of milk means the maple doesn’t curdle the dairy, and maple syrup adds a lovely depth of flavor that’s yummier than agave or other low-cal sweeteners, but lower on the glycemic index than sugar. Try maple syrup in a plan latte sometime, too — it’s amazing!

Brunch for TEN!?

My lovely friend Jen emailed me the following question today:

If Ginnie was serving brunch for 10 this Sunday, what would she make? :)

And being me, I over-replied. But I realized this might be a heck of a useful post!

For TEN!? What have you gotten yourself roped into?

1) Meat: I’d do ham steak/s instead of bacon or sausage because it’s easier to cook (just sear in pan & voilà) and doesn’t make the house stink like meat for vegetarians. Make ’em look fancy by doing grill marks if you have the requisite apparatus and time and sanity. I don’t like putting much of any kind of sauce or glaze on ham, but something orangey would be nice if you felt like dressing them up. Another plus is that since ham is pre-cooked/cured, you’re not likely to accidentally undercook meat or give anybody a food-borne illness.

2) Sweet: I’d make the Blueberry Pecan French toast recipe from Epicurious since you can prep most of it the night before. Throw in a bit of cinnamon too and use real vanilla bean if you can. Also make sure you use full fat milk or even half and half — nobody eats French toast to be healthy & it’ll taste better. :) I like making it with strawberries instead of blueberries too, but definitely shell out for fresh fruit, not frozen. You could probably sauté apple or banana if berries are too scarce. Use Grade B maple syrup for maple-ier flavor — Trader Joe’s has good prices. You could whip up some cream for a festive addition to this.

3) Egg: Then you can do a big easy vegetable omelet (arugula & fancy mushrooms like oyster or chanterelle?) or scramble, and fancy it up with drizzlings of truffle oil — but keep that part optional on the side if you have kids or other picky eaters to feed. Maybe truffle half of it and stick a little shroom on top to distinguish the truffled half. Go very easy w/ that stuff!

4) Drink: Do a big pitcher of mimosa on ice; more people like those than Bloody Marys or other AM cocktails, and people can always wander into your kitchen to tweak the ratio. (Maybe leave out some decent brandy on the counter if they feel like spiking their version.) Cristalino cava is usually $7-9 per bottle and works great; the normal kind is best but Extra Brut works too. Don’t get the pink. Fresh squeeze the oranges and have extra pre-squeezed from the night before so the fun keeps flowing. I like to use blood oranges if available for a fun look — but don’t fret over orange selection because the reddish peel coloration rarely corresponds to the color of the flesh. Just grab & go and know that any oranges will be delish. :) If you have an opaque pitcher use that instead of clear, because the pulp residue makes clear pitchers look unnecessarily dirty/icky after just one pour.

GOOD LUCK!!! Oh, and this may also be of service.

Will Bake For Food — Yummy treats, great cause!

I’m so excited. Historically I haven’t found much time for charity anything, but this year I’m starting to find some cool causes that are quite fun to celebrate. Not only am I attending my first ever charity auction gala this year, but I’m also participating in my first ever charity bake sale!

Will Bake For Food is an awesome event organized by two local food bloggers — they get Seattle-area culinary bloggers to bake scrumptious treats, which can be bought using donations of canned food. Win/win!

I won’t be present myself, but my chocolate chip cookies will be! And you can see my ridiculous pic  to the right, or eventually on their site when they upload it here.

Feel free to link to the event to help promote it by using the badge to the right on your site. You can also follow them on Twitter at @WillBakeForFood, Like them on Facebook, or do whatever other marketing shebangery you choose!

Culinary whimsy

Look, it’s been ages since I’ve blogged. There are a lot of good reasons for that (which we’ll get to in a minute), but perhaps I needed something really inspirational and delightful to nudge me back into it. Cue Christopher Boffoli via Mental Floss:

What a delight, right? Nothing I make has ever been quite this striking or fun, but hopefully it can serve as inspiration. At the very least, it got me to post something, right?

So let’s see — what the heck kind of food updates do I have? Well, the thing is, they’re sort of life updates. See, I started a new job in July, and the fast pace plus quick transition turnaround has just kind of sapped a lot of my blogging energy. But another big positive life change is that we’ve finally gotten to a point where we cook at home more often than not, plus I bring lunches to work more often. Both of which mean that each cooking project is that less shocking/fantastic/anomalous, so they don’t all feel post-worthy and I couldn’t possibly keep up by blogging about everything I make. Quite a victory in and of itself!

Hopefully I’ll get back to posting at least some of the more victorious or special or beautiful eats, though. The Colts are down Peyton Manning this year, so we’re not quite in full-on NFL Fan Mode with decorated cakes and whatnot, but we’re spending the holidays at home so I plan to cook up a photogenic storm then.

Spaghetti (squash) and meatballs

Ah, the challenges of attempting to eat South Beach/heart healthy/low refined starch, and still eat inexpensively. It’s damn tough! This one’s been lingering in my draft pile, but it was so yummy I didn’t want to let it slide.

Back when Grant wanted spaghetti and meatballs RIGHT AFTER a bunch of starch-overloaded Stroganoff, I countered with spaghetti squash and meatballs. He consented. I cooked. I had never made this dish before, or even heard of spaghetti squash before my friend Jen introduced me to it a couple years ago. I was so thrilled to learn of a less starchy spaghetti alternative!

I used About.com‘s guide for cooking the actual squash, because Martha’s said to cut it open raw and I thought that might be too rough on my tennis-elbow-crippled arms. And I used roughly Martha’s turkey meatball recipe, but I kinda fudged it as I’m wont to do. My meatballs were better anyway, and beefier. (I don’t know why, but I just really really hate ground turkey. I think it’s sort of like carob — it feels like someone is just trying to trick me.)

Always better with some Italian flat-leaf parsley mixed in. And prettier, too.My sauce was just a jar of Newman’s Tomato Basil to which I added a bunch of herbs and veggies, as I usually do. It’s nice that there’s a cheap, easy to find, no sugar added natural sauce out there — makes me feel less bad about using a prepared sauce. This wound up being a pretty tasty dish, all things considered, though the meatballs make it much more labor-intensive than just a straight up meat sauce. It all depends on how much time you have to spare. Either way, yum!

And for those of you who, like me, are horrified at the idea of pasta plus more starches, this is a great way to feel less guilty about making the perfectly accompanying garlic bread.

My intro to slow

Let's pretend mine will look exactly like this.

My mom gave me a slow cooker for my birthday. Yippee! I grew up on her Moroccan-inspired lamb and couscous dishes prepared lovingly in the crock pot, and I’m looking forward to creating my own.

However, in true Virginia fashion, I got bored flitting through recipes that called for complicated steps (searing the meat BEFORE I put it in the cooker? You mean I can’t just throw this sh*t together before I dash off to catch my bus in to work?) and ingredients I don’t currently have in my kitchen (see aforementioned couscous), so I decided I’m just gonna wing it. Yep, I bought me some grass-fed lamb at Whole Foods, and Imma throw that in there with chopped turnips and rutabaga and carrots and kale and herbs and spices and a can or two of beans or soup we have that I can’t seem to use up, and some wine and whatnot, and just throw it on low and go with the flow. Ya know.

The plan is Lamb Thursday. I’ll keep ya posted. (And possibly I’ll put the slow cooker in a baking dish in case it explodes/leaks while I’m at work, which seems totally likely, and yet does not deter me from this “plan” in the slightest.)

Saffron-chèvre peas

My husband recently confessed to me that he loves and misses peas. Yes, peas. I’m not sure why it is that it never occurred to me to make them — partly because they’re kind of sweet, and I used to have a mild aversion to sweet vegetables (remedied by wonderful squash soup and parsnip purée recipes), and I think because I’m a bit of a snob about only getting fresh not frozen veggies when possible. And peas are usually frozen. (This recipe uses frozen peas, anyway.) But he recently brought home a deli dish of a cold pea salad with cream and onion, and I went nuts for it. So I decided to try my hand at my own variation. Et voilà !

1 shallot (or one bulb if it’s a large shallot)
about 1 Tbsp butter
about 5 Tbsp milk, to taste (I use whole un-homogenized)
about 3 Tbsp heavy cream
1 pinch saffron threads (about 10 threads total)
1 bag frozen peas
About 3 Tbsp un-flavored chèvre (creamy goat’s cheese)

Finely mince the shallot, or if you prefer the texture, leave it in rings.

Sautée the shallot in butter and a tiny bit of salt until brown and beginning to become translucent. Add in the milk and the cream and simmer a bit. Add in saffron threads, adjusting quantity for desired saffronicity — but remember, it takes a while for the full flavor to “bloom” so start small. I added my saffron in two batches.

Then, while the saffron-milk sauce is very gently simmering, cook a package of microwave peas to half finished (my directions said to microwave covered with a bit of water; I just zapped for 3-4 min. instead of 6-8). Remove with slotted spoon and add to saffron mixture.

Crumble up the chèvre and toss it into the mixture, in three batches, mixing as it simmers and waiting for it to fully melt before adding the next batch. Stir the mixture constantly on low heat until the peas begin to soften and a few start to burst ever so slightly.

Of COURSE we ate them before we remembered to take a picture. They go great with ham steak, though.

Smoked salmon & hazelnut linguine

Yet another dish I cooked up on the fly without noting any specific quantities. Let’s see if I can reverse-engineer this baby, because it was DELICIOUS.

Set a large pot of salted water to boil for your fresh linguine (we use Seattle’s Cucina Fresca brand. Not to be confused with my friend Brooke).

Mince 1 shallot (or 1 bulb if large) and 2 garlic cloves with a few sprigs of Italian flat-leaf parsley. (I use the chopping attachment to my Cuisinart hand mixer.) Brown a tablespoon of salted butter in a skillet (I like cast iron). Once brown, add another tablespoon, reduce heat to medium low, and add in minced shallot-herb mixture. Add 1 cup double-strength chicken stock (I use the Organic Better than Bouillion). Reduce to very low and let this simmer while you…

Pour 1/4-ish cup milk (I used whole) in a pot, bring to gentle boil. Add a tablespoon or so of unbleached white flour, mix in the lumps, and roux it up. Eventually add a glob of cream cheese (1/3 c?), a similarly sized glob of sour cream, a quarterish cup grated parmesan, and a splash of kefir, and enough milk to thin it all out. Mix and melt but don’t overheat it to burning.

Crush some raw hazelnuts (I smashed them in the pestle part of my mortar and pestle with a mojito muddler, because well, we just unpacked and I can’t find the damn mortar. Assuming the mortar is, in fact, the stick part. You know what I mean. Smashy smashy.) Coat with a bit of olive oil and nice salt, and toast in (toaster, if you like) oven until the oil sizzles and the nuts begin to brown and become fragrant.

When finished, break up chunks of dry (non lox-style) smoked salmon, being careful to remove any bones, and stick the salmon in a bowl to warm up in the remaining heat of the toaster oven.

Boil the pasta for 30-60 seconds less than the stated cook time. Drain, combine with sauce, curse about having made way too little sauce for that quantity of pasta like you always do. Oops. Add in hazelnuts and salmon while combining, garnish with grated Parmesan; devour immediately.

Chez nous !

OK, so yes, this is a picture of reheated Popeye’s chicken leftovers. But hey, don’t knock it just yet! First of all, we have a tacit understanding that anytime there’s an Ikea run, there must also be a Popeye’s run. That’s just how it is being married to Grant. Second of all, when I got stuck in horrid post-Ikea traffic and called him to have him preheat the oven, and we both forgot that I had three dishes of salted oiled kale leaves ready to make chips, and he didn’t think to check it, and he roasted them at 400 for like 20 minutes, it actually wound up crisping them almost perfectly with only slight burny residue on a few leaves (which I still happily ate). Hooray accidental snackery!

AND we had enough chicken left over for dinner AND I managed to clean up our living and dining rooms so we got to eat on an actual table for only the second time since moving in AND I made Grant prepare the sides (biscuits, also left over, plus steamed broccoli) so I could get a little cooking break. SO check out this pseudo-fancy shot of our eating space. Decent, right? I mean, the décor is still a bit bare as we haven’t hung any pictures, but come on. CLOTH NAPKINS AND CRYSTAL CANDLESTICKS, people. Sh*t is coming together now. (Now if only I could find my Pyrex containers to take leftovers in to work easier!)