Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Change is in the air - or is that just baking bread?

Snickers is good at keeping secrets. She can't talk.
I'm about to let you in on a big secret.

Shhhh ...

I just signed a contract to write a cookbook. Yep, me. Cookbook. Woah.

Or, really, it's mostly a bread baking book. Which means that I'm currently up to my ears in bread flour, bread dough, bread & buns, bread crusts, and bread crumbs.

That's the good news.

The (sort of bad) other news is I've realized that if I'm going to get the manuscript to the publisher on time, I'm probably not going to be able to get a blog post done every single day. I need sleep, people. And I don't want to start putting up posts that are just a photo and a caption. I want to keep posting quality stuff.

Just not every darned day. Maybe 3-4 times a week. Just until I get the bulk of the manuscript done and I can detach myself from the oven for a while.

So that's how it affects the me and this blog. But enough about me. Let's talk about my book.

Mmmmm. Buns. I love buns.
It will be mostly yeasted bread (and bread-related) recipes. There will also be some extra recipes, like things you can put on your bread (sauces, butters, jams) and then some things you can do with leftover bread. And then some tips, techniques, and other useful information.

The book is scheduled to published in November, 2014.

Woah. That's not so far away, really. Not when I think about everything that has to be done.

I don't want to bore you to death with the details right now, and I don't want to turn this into an about-my-book blog, so I'm creating a new blog where I'll be posting about the book, with updates, milestones, and chatter about what's going on.

I know it sounds a little crazy to start a new blog when I'm cutting back here, but this is my first book, and I want to remember the process, I've been jotting notes already, so it won't take much work to put that up on my blog. There's nothing there yet, but I'll put up a link when it's got something to read,

Maybe some of you will be amused about the process and the fun I'm having with the dough. So much dough...

Meanwhile, how about a recipe?

This is bread, but it's not one of the recipes that will appear in the book. You'll have to wait for those.

Both the Harvest Grains Blend and the rye chops came from King Arthur Flour. The Harvest Grains blend is a mix of seeds and stuff. When I first saw it, I thought it looked a little like birdseed, but it's got great flavor. And I kinda love sunflower seeds in bread.

This particular loaf is sort of, well, ugly. It rose nicely, it tasted great, but the top was lumpy and bumpy and cratered and weird. That's one of the things you can't control in a bread machine. Sometimes a loaf looks odd because of the way it settled in the pan when it finished kneading.

For a prettier loaf, you could take this out of the bread machine when it's done kneading and shape it and bake it in the oven. Or make the whole thing by hand or with a stand mixer. Or shrug your shoulders and say that's how it's supposed to look.

Me, I'm eating my ugly-but-tasty bread and baking like crazy so you can buy my book in 2014.

Rye & Harvest Grain Bread Machine Loaf

Not so pretty, but very tasty.
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/2 cup rye chops
1/2 cup Harvest Grains Blend
2 cups (9 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Combine all the ingredients in your bread machine in the order suggested by the manufacturer. If you have different settings, go for a medium loaf and a light crust.

Beep-beep, boop-boop, bakety-bake-bake.

When the bread is done, remove it from the bread machine and let it cool completely on a rack before slicing.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Celebrate Beer Day! Coming on August 2!

AND I'm being trendy!

Let's be perfectly honest. It's been a long time since anyone's accused me of following trends, particularly when it comes to fashion, decorating, or lifestyle stuff.

Even when it comes to food, I'm not particularly trendy. Hey, I live in the middle of the country. It takes a while for the trendy stuff to travel this far and then make it uphill on a donkey. By the time the trendy ingredients get within my reach, they're usually trending towards boring in NYC.

So when I got an email about beer day and beer-ology, I thought that for once I might dabble in the trendy. Because apparently beer cocktails are the next big thing.

I like beer. I like cocktails. I've had a michelada. I might have also tried one other beer cocktail. And there are those mutant beer/margarita things that aren't too bad with a lot of ice on a hot day.

To help me celebrate beer day, my new BFF sent me samples of Templeton Rye Whisky and Fernet Branca, neither of which I had tried before. And there were recipes for a whole bunch of cocktails. This one intrigued me:

The Black Sea

1 ounce Templeton Rye Whiskey
.5 ounce Fernet Branca
.5 ounce Chocolate Syrup
Top Ballast Point Sea Monster Imperial Stout

In a mixing glass with ice, shake whiskey, Fernet Branca and chocolate syrup, strain and fill with stout.

Garnish with shaved chocolate and pinch of sea salt.

Let the games begin!

I checked my fridge, and I had no Top Ballast Point Sea Monster Imperial Stout. In fact, I had no sea monsters at all. No sea monkeys, even. What I did have was a bottle of a local brew: Left Hand Milk Stout.

So, I sort of made the recipe, but ...

I drizzled the inside of the glass with the chocolate sauce. I saw that presentation in a cocktail with a lighter-colored beverage, where you could see the drizzle in the glass. With the milk stout, the presentation aspect was lost. Oh well.

And then I went with 1/2 ounce of the Templeton Rye and 1/4 ounce of the Fernet Branca. In a shorter glass. Poured right into the bottom of the glass, and then topped off with the Milk Stout.

Well, then. Okay. It was ... um ... Dark brown and not really photogenic. I didn't add the chocolate shavings because it was just a sample for me and it was 10 p.m. and I wasn't in the mood to go shaving any chocolate. If chocolate wants to be shaved at 10 p.m. it should just go shave itself.

In retrospect, white chocolate shavings might have added a visual interest to the drink that would have made it a tad more appealing for photos. But still. 10 p.m. No one's taking photos at 10 p.m. around here.

The herbal notes in the Fernet Branca reminded me of root beer. Which is still beer, right?

Well, okay, it's not actually beer, but I have some root beer made by a local brewery - Oskar Blues - so it's beerish and beer-brewery-brewed, so I'm proclaiming it beer-like enough for cocktail purposes.

Because it's my blog, and that's how I roll. Sideways, usually. I never really got the hang of somersaults.

At first I thought about making the same drink, but substituting brewery-brewed-beer-of-root instead of the stout, but I realized that would leave me with yet another dark drink in a glass. Ho hum. That's not fun.

So I thought, well, why not an ice cream float?

*rumble around in freezer for ice cream flavors*

So, I had some ice cream with chocolate mint Girl Scout cookies crumbled in, chocolate ice cream four pink-to-purple ice creams (cherry/berry sort of things) and a citrusy ice cream.

I decided the chocolate would be too dark for good photos, the fruity ones didn't appeal to me all that much. So, I decided to dunk the Girl Scouts.

Black & Blues Root Beer Float

2 (ish) scoops ice cream
1 ounce Templeton Rye Whiskey
1/2 ounce Fernet Branca
Root beer (I used Oskar Blues root beer)
Chocolate Sauce (with mad abandon)

Put the ice cream in a tall glass. Add the Templeton Rye Whiskey and Fernet Branca. Top with root beer. It will foam up, so let it subside or stir it a bit to deflate the foam. Top it off with a bit more root beer.

Drizzle the chocolate sauce over the top.

If you want to spill a little chocolate sauce artistically over the side, that's fine. I was just messy.

Serve.

I received samples of the Templeton Rye Whiskey and the Fernet Branca for the purpose of this post.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Rambutan vs Lychee

It sounds like it could be a crazy monster movie, eh?


And they look a little alien, don't they? Beep, beep. Boop, boop. 

Earlier this month my friends at Frieda's Specialty Produce send me two interesting fruits - lychees and rambutans. Although they look very different from each other on the outside, they're a little more similar once you get past the ... uh ... shell.

The lychee has a bumpy, sort of hard shell.


The rambutan looks like a crazy hairy tentacled .... egg-thing.


The lychee's outer hull can be pierced with a thumbnail, and it peels easily, like you'd peel a cooperative hard-boiled egg. The fruit inside is has a texture similar to a grape. The fruit is sweet and mild-tasting. Inside, there's one dark brown seed.


The skin on the rambutan is thicker. If you've got really tough nails, you might be able to get through the skin, but I found it easier to start by cutting the skin with a knife. Once that was done, it was easy to peel.


The rambutan fruit was a little firmer than the lychee, not quite as sweet, and I thought it had a slightly melon-like flavor.The seed was much larger than the lychee seed, and it was much lighter in color. Not that it matters much.

So, which one is better? The lychee is easier to peel, but the rambutan wins for its crazy appearance. Taste-wise, I liked the rambutan slightly better, but my husband preferred the lychee.

So I guess it's a tie.

Besides simply eating the fruit, I decided I needed to use it in a recipe, but I read that cooking it wasn't recommended, since it ruined the delicate flavor. Lychee martinis are pretty popular, but plopping a lychee into a drink didn't seem like it was quite creative enough.

So, I decided to make a lychee liqueur. It's in process now, but so far it looks (and tastes) pretty darned good. I'll be posting a recipe for it when it's complete.

So, have you tried either? Both? Which do you like better?

I received these fruits from Frieda's Specialty Produce, but I was not required to write about them.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Gadgets: OXO Batter Dispenser

I usually use a disher when I need to fill a cupcake or muffin pan, or I pour from a large measuring cup or batter bowl when I'm making pancakes or waffles. To be perfectly honest, it's good enough. But it can also be a little messy. It's inevitable that I have drips and drops where they don't belong.

So I figured I'd give the OXO Batter Dispenser ($11.99) a test drive. It's a simple concept. Squeeze, and the batter comes out. Stop squeezing and the valve keeps batter from dripping. It's not totally revolutionary - some ketchup and mustard bottles use a similar system, but with a smaller opening.

For filling (and between squeezing) the dispenser fits on a base. The top comes off for easy filling and it holds about three cups of batter. It comes apart for easy cleaning and it's dishwasher safe. That's all good.

This held enough for a batch of pancakes I made, but a large batch of cupcakes would take a couple re-fillings. So that's something to consider. And because of the size of the dispensing opening, you're limited to non-chunky batters. Small bits are fine, but larger chunks of nuts or whole blueberries wouldn't work.

It takes a couple extra seconds to take it apart before washing it, but I'm saving time by not having to clean up splattered batter that drips off a disher. It takes a little time to fill, but it's one fill for a lot of batter, as opposed to multiple dips with the disher. I'd say this has a slight edge on time spent, but not by much.

Is this an essential gadget? Well, no. I've been using other methods for a darned long time and no one's complained. But I do like that this is a little neater, particularly when I'm cooking for company or when I want super-neat presentation for photos. It should also be great for funnel cakes or spaetzle, although I haven't tested it for those applications.

The product was supplied for the purpose of a review on Serious Eats; this was previously published on Serious Eats.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lazy Galumbki

I'm sure you know what galumbki is, even if you don't know it by that name. It's stuffed cabbage.

In Polish, it's called galumbki (the "l" is pronounced like a "w," sort of like gah-woom-key), and it's something I've been eating since I was a little kid. I remember watching my mother wrestle with the cabbage, blanching the whole head, peeling off leaves, wrapping the meat in the leaves ...

It was a pretty time-consuming process.

And it required cabbages with relatively large leaves, so it wasn't something that could be made on a whim. It was pretty much guaranteed she's make it in March, because large, leafy cabbages were usually available around St. Patrick's Day.

But the rest of the year was hit-or-miss.

So when mom made stuffed cabbage, she made a lot. Because she knew she wouldn't be making it again for a long time. Sometimes she'd buy two big cabbages and we'd be eating them for a week. But that's okay. I absolutely loved when she made them.

But of course, every big head of cabbage had plenty of small leaves in the center. Mom cut those in chunks - bigger than what you'd use for cole slaw or sauerkraut. And that cabbage would sit under the stuffed cabbage and get all soft and tomato-y. It was one of my favorite parts of the dish.

On the other hand, the leaves that wrapped the meat weren't all that great - they were sort of thin and flimsy. I would have been happy if they disappeared.

So ... when I saw a photo of meatballs and cabbage, the light bulb above my head lit up.

Woah. Why not skip the leaves and the wrapping that takes so long, and just cook the cabbage and make some meatballs?

This isn't really about a recipe, because you can use any stuffed cabbage recipe. Seriously.

I made mine in my slow cooker, first cooking the cabbage and some onion and red bell pepper to soften it a bit, then adding the meatballs and sauce, and cooking it until the cabbage and meatballs were cooked through.

In winter, I'd probably make this in a Dutch oven in the oven.

The HUGE benefit is that this takes so much less time. No need to fuss with peeling cabbage leaves. No wrapping of meat in leaves. Just whack the cabbage into chunks and make some meatballs.

And no more flimsy cabbage leaves.

I don't know why it took me so long to figure this out. Probably because I was stuck on the "traditional" version, so I couldn't imagine doing it any other way.

But this is such a simple idea. I should have thought of it years ago. And it makes the preparation so much easier.

Now, I can make a small batch any time I want to - no need to wait for large cabbages to appear at the market, and I don't have to wait until I have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen.

Woah.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Pork Steak - braised in a crock pot

My mother used to make pork steaks in a frying pan. It was an odd process. She'd cook it on low an let the liquid just about simmer away, then she'd add more water. She'd cover it, uncover it, turn the heat up or down. Add more water an let it simmer away.

It was almost like she couldn't figure out what she was doing. Or maybe she couldn't figure out when it was going to be done. I'm sure there was some logic to what she was doing, but I sure didn't know what she was up to.

Even though I thought the cooking was weird, I always liked the result.

Although she went about it in a peculiar way, what she was doing was braising the meat. It makes sense. Pork steaks aren't particularly tender.

I decided to use my slow cooker to do the same thing. I started with a frozen pork steak - it works fine since it's a thin piece of meat - but normally I'd use non-frozen meat.

When I was cooking this, I was looking around for something I could use as the braising liquid besides water. I didn't have any wine open. I thought about using beer. Then I decided to us some Dry soda. No, it's not actually dry - that's the brand name. It's got less sugar than regular soda, so it's a little less sweet and the flavors are a little cleaner.

Ginger is a new flavor of Dry soda, and it's got more of a real-ginger flavor than regular ginger ale. If you don't have the Dry soda, you could certainly use regular ginger ale, water, wine, or beer. Whatever you like.

This assumes you have a slow cooker with a browning function. If yours doesn't, you can do the browning in  a separate pan, or you can skip that step. You can also do this on the stove, but the slow cooker doesn't heat up the house quite as much

Braised Pork Steak

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pork steak
1/2 medium onion
1 bell pepper (your choice of color)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup Dry ginger soda
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water (optional)

Heat the olive oil in your slow cooking on the browning setting. Season the meat on both sides, add it to the slow cooker, and brown on both sides.

Add the onion and bell pepper, cook for a minute or so then add the ginger soda. Cover and cook on low until the pork steak is tender. I cooked mine for 3 hours - but it depends on how low the "low" setting on your slow cooker is.

Uncover and raise the heat to reduce the liquid. If you like, thicken the liquid with some cornstarch - mix it first with the water so it doesn't clump up, and then turn up the heat so the liquid for a minute or two.

Serve hot.

The nice people at Dry Soda recently sent me some samples of their new flavors, and their new packaging - it now comes in cans. I was not required to write about the product.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

And now for a little video interlude

One of the most amusing videos I've seen on Facebook.

Enjoy!


Friday, July 19, 2013

Cinnamon Birdhouse Cookies

If you follow me on Facebook, you might have seen some posts where I talked about making Christmas cookies. It's not that I'm working that far ahead for the blog - I'm baking Christmas cookies for a magazine article.

While I was making miniature gingerbread houses, I had a great summer idea - using the same Good Cook cookie cutter to make little birdhouses that are perfect for summer.

The gingerbread houses had an arched doorway, but I didn't like that for the birdhouses, so used an apple corer to cut a round hole.

I added cinnamon flavor to the dough and I sprinkled cinnamon sugar on the roof, as well.

You can certainly make these cookies without making birdhouses. This dough is great for any cookie-cutter type cookie because it doesn't spread or rise much at all, so the shape doesn't change during baking.

I used a royal icing to "glue" the birdhouses together, and I brushed a thin layer of a brown royal icing onto the roof to give the cinnamon sugar something to stick to.

Cinnamon Birdhouses

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon flavoring
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Royal icing
Cinnamon sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and salt until it's smooth and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla extract, and cinnamon flavoring and beat until it's light, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the flour and mix on low until the flour is incorporated and the dough comes together as a cohesive mass.

Transfer the dough to a plastic bag (or wrap in plastic wrap) and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and take the dough out of the refrigerator to warm up a little before rolling. If the dough is too cold, it will crack and crumble. If it's too warm, it will start feeling a little greasy and will be soft and will tend to lose its shape when you try to move the cut cookies to a cookie sheet to bake.

Roll the dough to between 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick - you might want to divide the dough in half to make the rolling easier. Thinner cookies are better for smaller cookies; larger cookies need to be a little thicker.

Cut with your desired cookie cutters and place on an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving a little space between the cookies.

Bake at 350 degrees until the cookies are lightly browned on the edges - 12 to 15 minutes.

Let the cookies cool on a rack. Decorate as desired.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gadgets: WhipStir 2-in-1 Whisk

Everyone needs a whisk, right? And these days, it's not a bad idea to have a coated whisk for use in nonstick cookware.

There are plenty of whisks from so many different gadget manufacturers. And they're pretty much all the same, right?

Mostly.

What makes the WhipStir 2-in-1 Whisk ($14.99) from Chef'n different from the competition is that it's a double-sided whisk. Instead of a traditional handle, the smaller end is a hard plastic whisk while the larger end is flexible coated wire.

My first thought when I saw this was that it might be awkward to hold. Actually, since the smaller end is hard plastic, it's not different than holding the handle of any other whisk.

Holding the larger end to use the small whisk doesn't feel odd either. It might be less comfortable than a traditional handle if you're whisking something for a long time. But seriously, when I'm using a small whisk, I'm not making whipped cream. Usually I'm mixing some cornstarch and water in a small bowl, or mixing a small amount of dry ingredients. It doesn't take long to do that.

It's hard to muster up a lot of enthusiasm for a whisk, either pro or con. Whisks have been around for a long time, and unless you do a lot of hand whisking, there's probably not that much difference between them once you've decided whether you need a coated whisk or not. The bonus here is that you get two whisks in one tool - nice for starter kitchens, people with limited storage space, or who need an extra whisk and like the idea of two tools in one.

The product was supplied for the purpose of a review on Serious Eats; this was previously published on Serious Eats.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Amarena Cherry Ice Cream

Amarena cherries are pretty darned good. I had a jar of them that I'd been hoarding for a while, but I finally used them up making some cookies. But then I had the cherry syrup left, and I didn't want to toss it. I thought about making some kind of sauce or drizzling it over ice cream - but then I decided to put it in an ice cream.

I mean, why not?

When I tasted the ice cream base, I thought it needed a little more cherry flavor. So I added some Washington cherry extract. It's a different sort of cherry flavor than the Amarena cherries, so the flavor is more complex.

The color is a pale pink, but the flavor is bold.

Amarena Cherry Ice Cream

2 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup Amarena cherry syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Washington cherry extract

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Whisk or stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

Transfer the ice cream to a storage container and freeze until firm.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

If your knife block and spice rack had a baby ...

... with a touch of mad scientist thrown in, you'd have the Spiceologist Block.


My friend Heather from Farmgirl Gourmet partnered with Savorx, a spice shop in her area, to create the Spiceologist Block, and now they're looking for funding on Kickstarter to pay for tooling and the first production run.

Most of my spices live in a kitchen cabinet, which is where they belong. But the Spiceologist block would be awesome for the spices that I use every darned day. And it looks cool. All retro-sciencey. I think it would be just plain FUN to pour my spices out of test tubes. I mean, really, I sort of cook like a mad scientist, so why not look like one, too?

Or wouldn't this be absolutely adorable for cake decorating supplies? Colored sugars, sprinkles, those little colored dots, edible glitter - can't you imagine that?

Or maybe for an array of salts and sugars for your bar. Or all of your favorite spices for popcorn. Or an array of chile powders, ranging from sweet paprika to ghost peppers. Or ... or ... whatever you can think of.

There's a starter block with 22 spices (or 22 empty holes or 22 empty tubes) and then you can add on with a second block that holds an additional 22 spices. I tell ya what. I've got NO space on my counter, but I want this thing just because it looks so awesome. And fun. And quirky.


But it's not for sale yet. First, it has to be funded. Then, it has to be manufactured. The estimated date you'd get your Spiceologist Block (if you fund the Kickstarter at that level) is November, 2013. Just in time for Christmas for you, or for a gift.

And if my friend Heather says that the spices from Savorx are good, then I believe her. I've already browsed the shop and there are some really interesting items I haven't seen elsewhere. And heavens knows I've got a ridiculous number of spices already. So if you can't fund at a level to get a Spiceologist Block, then maybe you need some spices.

Go, take a look. See what you think. See if it's worth funding. See if you've got $5 in your pocket to get an eBook, or a little more for some spices, or a little more to get a Spiceologist Block for yourself for Christmas. Won't it be a great conversation piece?

But don't do it for me. Do it for yourself. Because you want one of these, don't you? And do it for Heather. She's a great gal, and I'd love to see her vision become a reality. Check it out!

This is not a sponsored post.

Monday, July 15, 2013

#MapleMonday Cocktails

Last Monday, I posted some recipes from Crown Royal for #MapleMonday. One was a lemonade, and the other was an iced tea.

This week, I'm using those recipes as a starting place to create some new cocktails.

First, I revised the iced tea. I thought about using herbal tea or one of the many flavored teas I have - Maple Vanilla or Ginger Peach would have been good.

But I kept thinking about iced coffee.

I mean, really, doesn't that sound good? Iced coffee with maple ... mmmm. and a touch of cinnamon.

After all, I was supposed to twist their recipe, and changing the tea to coffee seemed like a logical twist, right? Well, I thought it was. So I proceeded.

I didn't think the orange garnish they used in the tea would work in the coffee, but I wanted to add just one more flavor to the party, so I added some almond extract to the whipped cream. It was perfect.

Maple Iced Coffee

1 ounce Crown Royal Maple Finished Whisky
Strong brewed coffee*, sweetened to taste, chilled
Almond-flavored whipped cream**
Cinnamon sugar
Cinnamon stick and/or sugar cane swizzle stick, for garnish

Fill a glass with ice. Add the Crown Royal Maple Finished Whisky, then add the coffee. Stir to combine. Add a dollop of whipped cream on top, then sprinkle the whipped cream with the cinnamon sugar.

Garnish with a cinnamon stick and/or a sugar cane swizzle stick.

Serve

*I used decaf, but regular coffee is fine, as well.

**There are flavored whipped creams available in cans, but I whipped my own cream with a little bit of powered sugar and just a touch of almond extract.

It's Not Lemonade

As much as I like lemonade or plain old orange juice, lately I've become quite fond of orange/pineapple/banana juice - it doesn't seem as acidic as plain orange juice, and the flavor is a little more complex. The first time I bought it, it was in a bottle in the refrigerated juice section, but lately I've been buying the frozen concentrated juice.

If you can't find orange/pineapple/banana, a mix of orange and pineapple juice would make a good substitute.

So, when I got the lemonade recipe from Crown Royal for last week's post, I thought an interesting twist would be to use the orange/pineapple/banana juice instead. To be brutally honest, at first I wasn't quite sure if I'd like the combination of maple and orange, but then I realized that the two play together really well at the breakfast table, if you drink orange juice with your maple-syrup-covered pancakes.

This would be a great drink for a Sunday brunch - something different than the usual Mimosas or Bloody Marys. In a tall glass with a lot of ice, it would be great as a refreshing summer cocktail, too.

Adjust the amount of liquor to taste, and the size of the glass.

The Fruity Maple

1 ounce Crown Royal Maple Finished Whisky
Orange/pineapple/banana juice
Lemon slice, for garnish

Fill a glass with ice. Add the Crown Royal Maple Finished Whisky. Top with the juice to fill the glass. Stir, then garnish with the lemon slice.

Serve.

I received products from Crown Royal for making cocktails. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Contact High - It's all about the networking!

One of these days I'm going to get to a food blog conference. This is not the year. Mostly it's a financial consideration. Conference tickets, airfare, hotel.

And then there's the annoyance of travel. Might as well figure a full day at the beginning and end of the conference for travel time. And a day after to recover.

And then ... I wonder if I'm going to find something useful enough at the conference so I feel like it was worth my time and money. It's hard to know that before you go, right?

Or, maybe not. Casey Benedict, the guru behind the website Kitchen Play and the co-founder of the food blog conference Eat, Write, Retreat is offering a unique opportunity for bloggers to experience this conference without all the pesky traveling, and at your own pace. You don't have to attend all the seminars in two days, and you can use your time machine to re-watch seminars that you found particularly useful.

Or, you know, just watch the video again.

Sure, you have to pay something for it. Is it worth it?

Or in other words, is there some takeaway value? Do you learn new things that you can use? Do you have that "aha!" moment when you hear something and it just clicks?

Those are the things I hope for, but I never knew if food blog conferences delivered them. 

I previewed a video of a seminar about networking by Joy Manning called "Contact High." She laid it all on the table, including the amount of time she spends networking compared to the time she spends writing. And the time spent sending emails that no one will ever answer. It made me feel a little better about my schedule. I feel like I spend a lot of time not-writing, but Joy says that networking is a really important part of her job.

Joy Manning. Photo courtesy of EWR
She shared her first "accidental" networking success that showed her how important networking could be, and explained her current marketing strategies.

One of my favorite bits was when Joy explained that networking isn't a one-to-one exchange, and that you ought to plan on giving more than you get. And, she said, while most people see the value in networking with people who are more influential than they are, it's also good to network with - and help - people who are just starting out.

Because you never know what connections will be useful to you in the future.

Seeing this video made me wish I had gone to the conference. But it's a great idea to have videos of presentations. You can watch, re-watch, rewind, and refresh your memory about what the speakers said. Sure, you can't hand out business cards or schmooze, but you can watch all the educational components from the comfort of your own house.

And, it gives you a good idea whether you might want to attend the conference in the future.

If you're interested in buying the conference videos, they're available HERE. and through at July 31 you can get 20 percent off with the discount code EWRCookistry.

Disclosure: I will be receiving the full set of downloads a no charge.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Jicama and Radish Salad #TheSaladBar

Jicama is a strange vegetable, isn't it? It's a little starchy and a tiny bit sweet. it doesn't have a strong flavor, but the crunch of it is very refreshing. It's perfect in a salad or a slaw.

A mandolin with fine julienne blades is the prefect thing for cutting the jicama and the radishes - it makes perfectly even matchstick cuts, You can use the mandolin with a regular blade for the celery, or just slide it with a knife - whichever works best for you.

I used a champagne vinegar with is a mild-flavored vinegar. Rice wine vinegar would also work well. If you're using a stronger flavored vinegar, you might want to use less. Also, to keep this salad looking bright, I suggest using a light-colored vinegar. As mus as I like balsamic, the color wouldn't work well here.

Jicama and Radish Salad

1 jicama
4 radishes
2 stalks celery
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of sugar

Peel the jicama, julienne it, and rinse it in cold water to remove the starch. Put it in a medium bowl. Remove the root and from the radish and julienne - if you're using a mandoline, that stem will help keep your fingers further from the blades. Add the radishes to the bowl. Slice the celery thinly and add it to the bowl.

Sprinkle with the salt and pepper, then drizzle with the vinegar and oil. Toss to combine. Taste for seasoning and add sugar, if desired, or add more vinegar or oil, if you like.

Serve immediately, or refrigerate until needed.




Friday, July 12, 2013

Marinated Grilled Skirt Steak

Skirt steak is one of my favorite cuts of beef. I enjoy a good prime rib or ribeye, but skirt steak is so great for marinating and grilling. Cut against the grain, it's perfectly tender, too.

The one teeny mistake I made with this steak was that I marinated it without cutting it first. Which could have been okay, except that once I got it on the grill, I realized that if I wanted even cooking I was going to have to cut it into sections. So I ended up whacking it into four pieces after it was on the grill.

The aji panca chili paste is a dark red paste that I bought in a small jar. I thought it needed a bit of sweetness and tartness, and the first thing I thought of was the black cherry balsamic vinegar that I bought recently. It was the perfect balance for the chili paste, and the hint of fruitiness it added to the steak was just about perfect.

Marinated Grilled Skirt Steak

1 skirt steak
1/4 cup aji panca chili paste
2 tablespoons black cherry balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Put everything into a zip-top plastic bag and massage it around to coat the steak with the marinade. Set aside for an hour, if you have the time. Or, refrigerate for a couple hours.

Heat your grill (or, you can use a grill pan) an cook the steak on both sides on high heat to get grill marks. This cooks quickly since it's so thin, so watch it carefully, and don't overcook.

Let the steak rest for 10 minutes before slicing against the grain to serve.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Peach Ice Cream

I love the idea of fresh-fruit-flavored ice creams, but they're not as easy as you think. Fruit contains a lot of water. If you put chunks of fruit in the ice cream, you end up with hard, icy fruit blocks in the ice cream. And that's not nice.

Pureeing the fruit solves the problem of icy chunks, but for some fruits, the flavor is pretty darned mild. Peaches aren't particularly strong flavored, that's for sure. If I had a peach extract, I might have used that to enhance the flavor. But, oddly enough, I didn't have any peach flavoring.

So instead I chose similar flavors that I knew would enhance the peach. First, I added a bit of pineapple extract. Then I added just a touch of fiore di sicilia which has a citrus-vanilla-floral flavor. And then a little bit of rum.

Since it wasn't peach season when I made this, I used canned peaches. When fresh peaches are in season, I'm sure I'll come up with another recipe. They're just starting to look good at the grocery store, but I'm really looking forward to the local ones.

Peach Ice Cream

1 15-ounce can peaches in juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons rum
Pinch of sugar
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon pineapple extract (optional)
3 drops fiore di sicilia (optional)

Blend everything in your blender until smooth. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled - give it about an hour, since those canned peaches were room temperature, right?

Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Transfer to a storage container and freeze until firm.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Vanilla Almond Ice Cream

This recipe started out as a way to use up ingredients that were left from other recipes. The five egg yolks were left from making a cake. The almond milk was purchased for a dairy-free "ice cream" and the heavy cream was for yet another ice cream.

The eggs motivated me the most, though. I hadn't made an egg-based ice cream lately, and it was just about time.

I wasn't going to post about this recipe. I mean, is was just something I threw together rather than something I thought about, planned, developed, and tested. But I liked the way it turned out, so I figured it was worth writing.

Vanilla Almond Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups Silk Vanilla Almond Milk*
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Heat the cream, sugar, and salt in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat until the cream comes to a simmer.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs to break 'em up.

When the cream is hot, begin drizzling the cream into the eggs, whisking the eggs as you go, until you've got about 3/4 of the hot cream incorporated into the eggs.

Next, slowly pour the egg mixture back into the pan with the milk, stirring as you go. Continue cooking, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens. You'll see and feel the change. Don't overcook though - we're looking for a thick custard, not scrambled eggs.

Turn the heat off and whisk in the almond milk and vanilla.

Strain the mixture through a fine strainer into a storage container, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions, then transfer to a storage container and freeze until firm.

*I'm not entirely sure the brand matters here, but this is what I used. I've tried other almond milks that are thinner or thicker, so that would affect the consistency of the final product. But I don't think it would be a deal-breaker.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Finger Limes! Squeeeeeeee!

I've been lusting after finger limes ever since I saw them online, so I was really excited when Frieda's Specialty Produce sent me some this month.

I had one cut open before I put anything else away.


Since I'd only seen photos of them, I didn't realize how small they were. Not the size of a standard lime. Or a finger. The ones I got were about 1 to 1 1/2 inches long.

The really cool thing, besides the fact that there are teeny balls of limey goodness inside the fruit, is that the insides were different colors. The first one I cut open was a pale peachy color, another was a pretty pink, and a third was a darker pink, and some are a pale green - almost like a common lime.


The little balls are fairly sturdy, so they have a bit of snap to the them. The flavor is definitely lime, but maybe not as tart, and there's a whiffy of an herby-piney scent on the skin.

I could snack on these like candy.


I decided to toss some into guacamole and then I used another lime's worth for a garnish.

Guacamole with Finger Lime


1 avocado
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lime juice
2 tablespoons diced onion
Innards of 3 finger limes

Combine the avocado flesh, salt, lime juice, onion, and two of the finger lime flesh in a small bowl. Stir well, mashing the avocado to your desired texture.

Put the guacamole in a serving bowl and garnish with the flesh from the third finger lime.

Serve.

I received the organic finger limes (and other items) From Frieda's Specialty Produce. I was not required to write a post.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Maple Iced Tea and Maple Lemonade for #MapleMonday

Happy Monday!

And, yes, it is.

You might have noticed a few recipes lately using Crown Royal's new Maple Finished Whisky, including an ice cream and a barbecue sauce. Well, the folks at Crown Royal noticed as well, and they asked me if I wanted to participate in #MapleMonday.

They deal is simple. They sent me cocktail recipes they created. And then I'll be creating my own twist on the recipes that I'll be posting next Monday. Which gives me all week to work on some tasty cocktails. Tough job, right?

So, to get us started, here are the two recipes they sent. I already have some ideas, but I'd love to hear what you'd do to twist and tweak these recipes into something different. Go!

Maple Iced Tea

1 1/2 ounce Crown Royal Maple Finished Whisky
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce cinnamon syrup
2 oz unsweetened tea

Shake and strain into a highball glass.

Garnish with a half orange wheel and cinnamon stick.


Maple Lemonade

1 1/2 ounce Crown Royal Maple Finished Whisky
Lemonade

Fill glass with ice and top with lemonade.

For my participation in #MapleMonday, I will be receiving a Maple Monday kit from Crown Royal to help me create my cocktails.

UPDATE! Giveaway!

How about a quick giveaway? In the box of goodies I got from Crown Royal, there were a whole bunch of really cute square shot glasses. I don't need a ton of shot glasses, so I packed eight of them in a box and I'm ready to send them to someone.


Why eight? Because that's what fit nicely into the box I had. Completely logical.

TO ENTER:

Leave me a comment telling me how you'd modify either of the recipes above. What would you add,change, or delete? You don't need to create a whole recipe, just throw some ideas at me.

Contest ends at Midnight, mountain time on Sunday, July 14. US addresses only. Usual contest rule apply.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Boneless Ribeye - I'll bet you never cooked it this way before

Everyone knows that the day after Christmas is the best day to stock up on wrapping paper and bows, but the fifth of July is a pretty good day to hit the grocery store. I picked up a honkin' thick (a bit less than 2 inches) boneless ribeye steak for 30 percent off the pre-holiday sale price.

I have a recipe somewhere for cooking a beef tenderloin by putting it under the broiler and cooking the heck out of the outside, then wrapping it in foil and stashing it in something warm(ish) to finish cooking - or at least an enclosed space that will retain the heat.

So I thought, "Why not try it with steak?" But not under the broiler. I figured I could do the same thing on the grill.

Here's how it went:


Ribeye on the Grill
  • I seasoned the steak on both sides and let it rest about and hour at room temperature. Just salt. Nothing else.
  • I heated the grill to blasting hot.
  • I cooked the steak for a total of 4 minutes on each side, moving the steak at about the 3-minute mark to get pretty grill marks.
  • I wrapped the steak in a triple layer of aluminum foil and put it into a cast iron dutch oven, since I knew that would retain the heat.
  • After 45 minutes, I checked the steak, and it was nicely warm and right about rare. I wanted it done just a bit more, so I tossed it on the grill for a couple more minutes. Perfect!
I really like this cooking method, but I need to tweak the timing just a little bit. On the other hand, I don't get steaks this thick very often, so I'd have to adjust the timing for a more normal-sized steak, anyway.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Tandoori Chicken, Channa Masala, and Ginger Lentil Rice

When I got Flavors of My World by Maneet Chauhan, I thought it was interesting that her book was "A culinary journey through 25 countries." I figured, hey, she travels a lot, so this must be her favorite recipes from places she has visited.

Nuh uh. These are fusion recipes, taking traditional fare from other countries and then adding an Indian twist to them. Some are much more twisted than others.

To be perfectly honest, I found this book a little hard to cook from. I suppose if I was well-versed in Indian cooking, it would have been easier. But there's no glossary or explanation of what the ingredients are, so I needed to look things up online.

That said, the recipes and photos all looked good, and someone who regularly cooks Indian food would probably have a better idea what gur is or where to buy a sheet of vark or what a ginger-garlic paste is supposed to be.

I just found it puzzling that this book didn't explain these things to make the recipes easier for folks who are new to cooking Indian cuisine.

If you're willing to take this book as a sometimes-loose guide to this fusion cuisine, I'm sure you'll breeze through the inconsistencies and do what you want.

But if you need a step-by-step guide with specific and detailed instructions, you'll get a little frustrated. Fortunately, you can look up herbs, spices, vegetables, and substitutions online.

I finally decided to make tandoori chicken since I had almost everything I needed. I didn't have tandoori masala, but I did have Penzey's tandoori seasoning. I figured it was close enough.

And while the recipe called for 4 chicken breasts, I used half of a large chicken, instead. I cut it into pieces before cooking.

Tandoori Chicken
Adapted from Flavors of My World by Maneet Chauhan

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon tandoori masala (I used tandoori seasoning from Penzey's)
1 cup plain yogurt (I used plain Greek-style yogurt)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon salt
4 chicken breasts* (I used half of a chicken, cut up)

Heat the oil on medium heat in a small pan. This is just for toasting the spices, so you don't need anything too big. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, and tandoori seasoning. Cook, stirring almost continuously for 2-3 minutes, until the spices are fragrant. Watch it carefully - burned spices are not a good thing. Don't ask my how I know that.

Transfer the spice mixture to a medium bowl (something that will hold all the chicken) and set aside until the spices have cooled to room temperature.

Add the yogurt and whisk to combine, then add the lemon juice, garlic, ginger and salt and give it another stir to combine everything.

Add the chicken and move it around in the marinade to coat it. Cover the bowl and transfer to the refrigerator. (Or you can transfer it to a suitable lidded plastic container or a plastic bag - whichever is better for your refrigerator space.)

Let the chicken marinate for at least an hour, and up to 6 hours, if you prefer.

When you reach the 8-hour mark, you're risking that the chicken will develop an odd texture, so you don't want to do this the day before.

Preheat your grill (I did this outdoors, but a grill pan should also be okay.) Cook the chicken on indirect heat until cooked through (use a thermometer). How long this will take depends on how hot your grill is, and also how bit the piece of chicken are.

The great thing about cooking on a grill is that for something like a cut-up chicken you can move the smaller pieces to a cooler part of the grill while you keep the larger pieces closer to the fire. The chicken I bought was pretty big -- even though I cut the breast into three pieces, those pieces were pretty big.

When you take the chicken off the grill, let it rest for at least 5 minutes before you cut into it.

In the book, this chicken was used in bahn mi sandwiches, but we ate it as is on the first night, and made tacos with the leftovers. How's that for fusion cuisine?

*A similar recipe that I used to make years ago required boneless, skinless breasts, and was cooked in the oven. The coating formed a crust of sorts. For this recipe, the chicken I used had both skin and bones. Use what you like. I'm guessing this recipe would also work well in the oven.

And now for some sides

I recently received some samples from a company called Tasty Bites and figured  this would be the perfect chance to try a few of them. I thought the channa masala and ginger lentil rice would pair well with the chicken.

These products are shelf-stable and can be cooked in the microwave or in the pouch in boiling water. They're fully cooked, so you just need to heat them up.

It's nice that there's not a lot of extra packaging - I've seen similar foods that put the cooking pouch into a box.

The channa masala was a spicy chickpea dish in a tomato-based sauce. Definitely spicy. This was a great side dish, but it would also be wonderful as a vegetarian meal on top of some rice (which would also temper the spice level).

The ginger lentil rice had a good punch of ginger flavor - there was no way you could miss that. The lentils added texture and contrasting color to the dish. It was a nice spicy side, but I think next time I'd pair with with a less-spicy main dish. Three different spicy items was just a little too much. But this would have been great with some broiled shrimp or a simple pork roast.

So farm those are the only products I've tried, but I imagine the others are similar. I don't normally buy pre-made products like these, but I can see how they'd be handy to have on hand.

Disclosure: I received the cookbook from the publisher and the side dishes from the food company. I was not required to write a post about them.
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