Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentimes Day!

We insist on saying ValenTIMES day, much to the chagrin of my eldest.

I am happy to report that my infused vodka came out wonderfully! I used the cherry/vanilla/ginger with a tiny splash of Frangelico in a chocolate shot glass. I think next time I'll put one of the vodka-soaked cherries in the bottom of cup, but everyone seemed to enjoy it. I regret not taking pictures of the finished product..... but let's just say that it was not my first drink of the evening and leave it at that.

I love Valentine's Day! I think it's sweet and I adore all the tickey-tackey pink and red and sparkly decor. I'm also into the chocolate aspect of the day LADIES AMIRIGHT

This morning I made special Valentimes pancakes for the fam.

Here's my pancake recipe; 1) purchase Krusteaze instant pancake mix 2) follow package directions 3) add a bunch of pink food coloring left over from your kid's birthday cupcakes. The end.

Not pictured: Berry Compote

The compote is very simple. I almost always use frozen fruit - it's easy and I usually have it in the house already. This should make enough for four people.

Quick Berry Compote

2 c frozen berries
1 T sugar
1/2 c juice or water, divided
1 T cornstarch

Place berries, sugar, and 1/4 c. liquid in a small saucepan on medium heat. Simmer until berries are heated through. Whisk cornstarch in to remaining 1/4 c liquid to make a slurry. Gently stir slurry into hot berry mixture. Keep stirring for about a minute until compote has thickened. Remove from heat and serve.

This is not a traditional compote by far, but it's a fast fix and right tasty. Top with whipped cream, or sour cream with a little lemon zest.

I am not cooking anything else today because we have been invited to an eight course dinner party with full wine pairings (!) and I am saving my appetite. Did I mention how much I love my friends?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Haiku: Brussel Sprouts

why do they boil me
down to a mushy grey blob
I taste best roasted

Okay so maybe poetry is not my forte', but you get the point.

There is a subconcious list that we all carry around with us;

Things That Are Yucky
  1. Lima Beans
  2. Meatloaf
  3. Liver
  4. Brussel Sprouts
Where did we get this list? TV? Can't you just hear Bobby and Cindy Brady's little voices in your head bitching about what Alice made for dinner? Or, maybe your mom was like mine and would cook the hell out of everything - dry meat, formerly green vegetables boiled down to an unappetizing, soft, khaki mess. The woman could make a shaker of Italian seasoning - the only herbs we had in the house - last a year.

I like brussel sprouts. In all honesty, I like all four things on the above list. I figured out how to cook each of them so that they don't taste like poops, so that helps. I am going to tell you how I cook brussel sprouts so that they look like this:

...and taste nothing like the horrors of your youth.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Boil a pot of water, with a small handful of salt added.
Take each sprout, and slice in half the long way (as shown). Remove any outer leaves that may be dried out or brown.
When the water comes to a boil, add the sprouts. You will notice that they almost immediately become a more vivid green, isn't that pretty? Let them boil for about a minute, then drain.
In a large bowl, toss the sprouts with 1T olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. A little fresh garlic would also be very nice, here!
Spread sprouts on a baking sheet, put in oven.
Check after ten minutes, stir sprouts around on baking sheet so that they roast evenly.
Ten more minutes should do it, but if they don't look browned enough to you then by all means put them back in the oven! At this stage I would check every five minutes, and stir every time you pop them back in the oven.

So what is happening, here? First, you're parboiling the sprouts in the water. This cuts down on your roasting time, keeps the veg from drying out while they roast, and gives you that brilliant green color. The salt in the water brings out the flavor of the sprouts and helps maintain the green for the duration of the cooking process. Roasting the sprouts in the oil caramelizes the naturally occurring sugars and creates a wonderfully sweet nuance to the taste.

If you're not normally a fan of cruciferous veg anyway you may not like this, but you never know! I always thought I hated asparagus because my mother would boil it to limp and lifeless and then pour melted Velveeta all over the poor things. The first time I had it steamed I became a convert - then I had it grilled and it moved to the top of my List of Favorite Vegetables.

Yes I have one.

I make a lot of lists.

Don't judge m

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

No Longer Confused About Vodka, Infused

I have been a little trepidatious about alcohol and vinegar infusions. It seemed that it could not possibly be as simple as dropping stuff into liquid and then ignoring it for a few days. Apparently it is? Then why have I waited so long? The lesson here kids, is Carpe Diem (or something to that effect).

In honor of Valentine's Day, our cocktail club theme is "Pink Drinks". I am currently infusing vodka with cherries to achieve the necessary blush. I have two set up: Cherry/Vanilla/Ginger and Cherry/Lime.

The next step is to create a cocktail. I don't care for very sweet drinks; I will partake of an occasional chocolatini and call it dessert, but I tend to go for simpler tastes like vodka tonics and dirty martinis. I am also fairly new to mixology. When learning to cook, you don't jump right from toast to rack of lamb - I'm not ready to attempt anything too complex. I've decided to make a Rickey* with the Cherry/Lime Vodka. I know that Rickeys are traditionally a summer drink, but I could use a little taste of summer right about now. I'm still deciding with what to blend the Cherry/Vanilla/Ginger. I kind of want to try it with cola, but that won't be pink.

In addition to the vodka, I am infusing white vinegar with garlic, rosemary, and lemon peel. I am trying to eat mostly salads for lunch, and I prefer oil and vinegar over most salad dressings. Infusing the vinegar and/or oil adds a nice punch of flavor. Zeke, my crystal skull, is working on it for me:

I didn't measure anything for these infusions. I "eyeballed" it (yes, that is the scientific term) and am hoping for the best. The vodka should be ready in five days, I'm going to test the vinegar after two weeks, because that it what The Internet told me to do.

I'll post the cocktail recipes after I try them out!

*Basic Rickey: Lime juice, simple syrup, club soda.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wheaty Baked Ziti

This weekend, after a crazy dinner party that left me with four dishwasher loads of dishes and six kinds of cheese in the fridge, I found myself hungrily eyeing my slow cooker and trying to think of what I could make that would involve as little prep and as few dishes as humanly possible. If I could use up some of that cheese, even better. The answer, my friends, was baked ziti.

I will admit that I was skeptical about slow-cooked pasta. The very nature of the noodle is that it's a quick, easy, meal. If you know how to boil water, you're pretty much good to go. I was afraid that the long cooking time would make the noodles mushy and unappetizing, and that they would absorb too much of the sauce. I found that as long as you don't leave it in too long ad you keep an eye on it, it works perfectly. This isn't a recipe for a workday when you'll be gone for eight or nine hours, it's more for when you're home but otherwise occupied.

I highly recommend the use of whole-grain pasta in this dish. Because they are denser than refined noodles, they're less likely to lose integrity during the slow cooking process and you are less likely to end up with a crock full of glop.

Slow Cooker Baked Ziti

1 box of whole grain ziti, or shape of your choice
1 jar of prepared marinara sauce
1 cup water
2-3 cups assorted cheese (I used shredded mozzarella, crumbled goat cheese, and a grated hard cheese - Roth's Private Reserve)

Spray the inside of the crock with pan spray, you'll thank me when it's clean-up time. Layer as such: One third of the sauce, half the pasta, half the cheese, one third of the sauce, the remaining half box of pasta, the rest of the sauce, the cup of water, the rest of the cheese. Cut a piece of aluminum foil about the size of the inside of the crock, spray one side with pan spray, and place it (spray side down) lightly on the ingredients. Like this:

This will keep the moisture down in the lower half of the crock, where it belongs, and the top layer of pasta will cook but not get all crunchy. Cook on high for four hours. Keep an eye on it, if it looks like it's drying out but the noodles aren't cooked through, sprinkle another 1/4 of water over the top.

This was a big hit with the family. I served it with chewy whole grain bread, and mixed greens.

P.S. My current favorite salad dressing is a sprinkling of tamari and a sprinkling of orange muscat champagne vinegar. I find the vinegar at my food boyfriend's place (Trader Joe's). It's zesty, sweet, and a little tart on the finish, and works perfectly against the subtle salt and umami of a nice tamari. Did I mention it's fat free? Because it is.

P.P.S. I started a Twitter account for notices of updates and random blurbs that won't fill a whole blog post. You can follow @mouthfull_blog, and I will attempt to be entertaining.