Monday, July 27, 2015

Sunset at the Beach Cocktail

I've fallen in love with the idea of color-changing cocktails and layered cocktails. This time I decided to up the ante by creating a layered cocktail that has a color-changing component.

My friends at Smirnoff challenged me to create a "Day at the Beach" themed cocktail featuring their Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka. Well, okay then.

I decided that my drink should not only be drinkable on a sunny, beachy day, but that it should also look like a day at the beach. But it also had to taste really good.

I decided that butterfly pea flower tea would represent sea and sky, and pineapple juice would represent sand. But that wasn't enough. I wanted the drink to represent sunset - that time when the sun suddenly turns the water and sky colors, and the sun itself is a glowing red ball.

I have round ice cube molds, so I simply added syrup from dark red cherries to the water in one of my ice ball molds to create a red sun. Easy peasy.

This drink requires some planning, because you need to freeze the tea and the pineapple juice in ice cube trays, and make as many ice balls as you'll need. But then assembling the drink is simple.

I could imagine these being the special drink of the day at a beach bar.

Before the vodka is added, on the left. Finished drink on the right.
As far as what this tastes like, the main flavors are pineapple juice and citrus, while the tea adds a light floral flavor - not as ... perfumy ... as lavender, though. Round ice cubes melt very slowly, and the drink itself is very cold because it's made entirely from crushed ice, so the cherry flavor doesn't become noticeable unless you let the ice melt a lot before the drink is finished.

Sunset at the Beach

For the prep:
Brewed butterfly pea flower tea
Pineapple juice
Syrup from Amareno, Luxardo, or other dark cherries
For the cocktails:
1 ounce Smirnoff Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka

Prepare ahead of time:
Freeze the butterfly pea flower tea in ice cube trays (as many as you need) and freeze the pineapple juice in separate trays.

You'll use about 1 part tea to 3 parts pineapple juice. To figure out how much ice you'll need per drink (since ice cube trays hold different amounts) crush a tray of plain ice and see how it fits in a glass along with a round ice cube.

If you freeze extra, I'm sure you'll find uses for the ice cubes or crushed ice later.

Combine cherry juice with water to create a red liquid and use it to fill round ice cube molds.

To make the drinks;
Blend the blue ice cubes in your food processor or blender until you have blue "snow." Transfer it to a container. Rinse the blue out of the food processor or blender. Blend the pineapple juice cubes in the same way.

Place the pineapple juice "snow" in your glass, filling it about 2/3 full. Place the ice ball on top of the pineapple slush. Ideally, you want the ice ball peeking above the top of the glass, so how full you need to fill the glass depends on how big your ice ball is.

Add blue "snow" around the outside of the glass, surrounding the ice ball, making sure to leave some of the ice ball uncovered. Now you've got sand, blue water and sky, and the sun starting to set.

Now comes the fun part. Pour the Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka over the top of the ball and over the blue ice, and it will immediately change color.

Serve. A paper umbrella is optional, but highly recommended.

Thanks to Smirnoff for supplying me with tasty beverages.
Just like a sunset on the water, you can watch the sun and sky change color in this cocktail

Friday, July 24, 2015

Homemade Chip Dip Mix

I've been on a bit of a chip-dip binge lately. I've tried pretty much every brand of onion soup mix and dip mix that's out there.

Some of them were good, some were nostalgic. And unfortunately, some tasted way too raw-oniony for me. But buying little packets of soup mix to make chip dip seemed silly, considering I wasn't making soup, and I had a whole cabinet full of spices that I could use.

The idea was in the back of my head when I saw a recipe for onion soup mix on a blog called Save with Pennies. I was about to try that recipe to make chip dip when I thought, gee, lets skip the soup and go straight to the dip.

So I went into the kitchen, opened the world of spices, and started mixing. After several tasty tries - none of them were bad, really - I came up with something I liked.

This is a LOT of spices, but when they're mixed together and added to a creamy base, you don't really pick out the individual flavors of every single spice. It's just a very tasty dip.

Chip Dip Mix

1 tablespoon dried red & green bell peppers
1 tablespoon dried shallots
1 tablespoon dried romano cheese powder
2 tablespoons dried chives
2 teaspoons dried dill
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried horseradish powder
3 tablespoons dried toasted onion flakes

Combine all the ingredients in a spice grinder (I use a small coffee grinder) and blend for a few seconds. Add the toasted onion  and pulse a few times. I liked this best when there were small bits of onion rather than having it all powdered - but you can do what you like.

You could also simply mix the spices, but the shallots, onions, red & green bell peppers, and chives are all fairly large and you'd end up with a chunky dip, and that's not what I wanted.

If you don't have a spice grinder, you could go old-school and use a mortar and pestle to crush the spices, or you could try using a blender or food processor. I can't guarantee how well those methods would work since I haven't tried them - but from previous experience, the food processor doesn't seem to work as well with really small quantities.

To make the dip:
Add 1 tablespoon of dip mix to 1 cup of sour cream, yogurt, or a mix of sour cream and yogurt. Mix well.

While I love Greek yogurt, I think a little sour cream is needed for dip. A 50/50 mix of sour cream and yogurt is my preference, but when I'm short on sour cream and I have a lot of yogurt, a mix of 1/4 sour cream and 3/4 yogurt is pretty darned good.

But of course you can make it with all yogurt to cut the calories.

It's best if you make this an hour or so in advance and refrigerate it until you need it, so the dried herbs and spices have time to hydrate.

For spices you can't find at the grocery store, check out Penzeys and Savory Spice Shop - that's where I got mine, but there are also other sources, I'm sure.
Make your own chip dip mix so you never have to buy a packet again.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Chicken and Rice Casserole - a 30-minute meal

It's not fancy - it's COMFORT FOOD!
It all started out with a hankering.

Now, you have to know that if you have a hankering for something, it's not going to be something highbrow. No one hankers for escargot or seared scallops. No, you hanker for tater tot casserole or hot dish or 7-layer dip.

I was thinking that I wanted that chicken with cream-of-something soup. Maybe made in the slow cooker.

So I browsed for recipes and realized that I didn't have enough slow time for the slow cooker. But then I saw recipes that cooked in the oven. Well, okay then. A storm had just rolled through, so it was cool enough to turn on the oven.

I kept one eye on the clock while I worked on a few blog things. The average cooking time for the recipes I saw was about 45 minutes in the oven and maybe a 10 minute rest. I figured I'd give myself extra time, just in case it wasn't done in time. Or if I wanted photos.

I envisioned a thin layer of melted cheese, just for the fun of it. I figured I could cook the thing covered for 40 minutes, check the chicken temperature, add just a little tiny sprinkle of cheese, and then cook for another 5 minutes uncovered to let the cheese melt and maybe crisp the top a little.

It was all going swimmingly well. I dug out the 9x13 casserole I wanted to use and found ingredients and turned on the oven to preheat. I had just bought a couple bags of a frozen mirepoix mixture - one regular (carrots, onion and celery) and one Cajun (onion, celery, and green pepper), and I figured one of those would be nice in the rice. I grabbed the regular one.

The dice on the mirepoix wasn't as small as I'd have done if I was cutting, but it was fine for this purpose. I'm not sure if I'll buy it again, though. We'll see.

And then I looked at the oven to see how the preheating was doing and glanced at the oven clock and UH OH! Somebody stole a whole hour from me.

Grrrr. I had riced mixed with soup and water in the pan and I had the mirepoix bag cut open and chicken waiting for me ... and NOW WHAT?

I really didn't want to eat dinner an hour late, and although I could have scrambled some eggs, at this point I had mixed enough that I felt like I was committed to making this recipe. And then I did the thing that I thought I'd never do. I cooked the whole danged thing in the microwave.

And ... it was actually good. I needed to adjust flavorings at the end, but the recipe below has ths corrected amounts. As far as the cooking, it was fine. Not weird at all.

Of course, if you know how to read a clock, you could make this in the oven and figure about 45 minutes of cooking time, covered, at 375 degrees.

Chicken and Rice Casserole

1 cup jasmine rice (or other white rice like basmati)
1 10 1/2 ounce can cream of chicken soup (or cream of mushroom or celery)
1 soup can full of water
1/2 teaspoon salt*
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 12 ounce bag frozen mirepoix mix (or frozen mixed vegetables)
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Mix the rice, soup, water, salt, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, and mirepoix mix in a microwavable casserole dish. Mine was a 9x13, but a 9-inch square or round should be fine, as long as it all fits.

Cover with microwavable plastic wrap (I had one brand that tended to melt, so make sure yours is okay in the microwave) or cover with some other microwaveable cover. Cook for 10 minutes on high.

PLEASE keep in mind that microwaves vary in power, so you might need to adjust your cooking time. But this should get you close.

While the rice is cooking, cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized cubes of somewhat even size.

When the 10 minutes are up, remove the pan from the microwave carefully. Peel back the plastic wrap (or remove the lid) very carefully. Steam burns are pretty awful, so vent it away from you and make sure your hands are enclosed in mitts or are well out the way.

If you want to taste for seasoning now, you can do so. The rice will be crunchy, but you'll get an idea of what the flavor will be.

Add the chicken, stir to combine, and cover again. Microwave for another 15 minutes, stopping about midway in the cooking process to stir again. Since we're cooking in a microwave, the center portion will be less cooked than the outer portion, so consider that when stirring.

When time is up, take a peek to make sure the chicken is cooked through and the rice is no longer crunchy. Most of the liquid should be absorbed. If you prefer it saucier, stir in a little hot water. If it needs more cooking, give it another stir and let it cook for another few minutes.

Taste for seasoning, and add more salt, if desired.

Serve hot, and don't admit that you cooked this in the microwave. A sprinkle of chopped parsley or chives adds some green freshness and makes the dish a bit more festive.

*Yes, I know that chicken soup has a lot of sodium ... for soup. But it's not quite salty enough for a cup of uncooked rice, 3/4 pound of vegetables, and three chicken breasts. If you fear that this will be oversalted, omit the salt at the beginning, and taste it at the end of cooking time and adjust, if need be.
30-Minute Chicken and Rice Casserole
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