Monday, March 2, 2015

Deluxe Appletini

Deluxe Appletini

Bright green and super sweet, the appletini is one of those cocktails that's easy to enjoy when you're new to cocktails. It goes down easy and it's simple to make: the most popular version is simply vodka and sour apple schnapps.

I drank a lot of them back in the day, but frankly, they no longer appeal to me. Not to sound too snobby about it, but I like a more refined cocktail--something that isn't so sweet and has more interesting flavors.

Yet to forgo the appletini shouldn't mean there aren't plenty of other great ways to use apples in cocktails (see the "related" links below for some great examples). For this drink, I wanted a cocktail that celebrated apples but was more refined than the traditional appletini.

Of course, an appletini isn't a real martini in the traditional sense, but we can nudge it a little closer by using gin instead of vodka. I used the Half Moon Orchard Gin that Roofers Union bartender Frank Mills introduced me to when he shared his recipe for the How Do You Like Dem Apples cocktail. The gin is made with apples as produced by Tuthilltown Spirits Farm Distillery in New York.

For the apple liqueur, I turned to Leopold Brothers, a Denver-based distillery that makes amazing gin, but also a line of liqueurs. Their New York sour apple liqueur uses a blend of sweet apples like Honeycrisps and sour ones like Granny Smith. For the ginger liqueur, I went with Bloomery SweetShine ginger liqueur from the Bloomery Plantation Distillery in West Virginia (which has, unfortunately, closed). Lastly, the bitters--technically a shrub--also contain apples. It's a celery-apple shrub from Bittermens to round out the drink.

For the garnish, I cut a very long apple peel and set it in the glass as a spiral. It doesn't really stick to the side of the glass, but even if it floats it still looks fun.

Deluxe Appletini

2 oz. Half Moon Orchard gin
1 oz. Leopold Brothers New York sour apple liqueur
1/2 oz. ginger liqueur (such as Bloomery Sweetshine)
1/4 oz. Amontillado sherry
1/4 oz. lemon juice
2 dashes Bittermens Orchard Street celery shrub
Apple spiral garnish

Combine gin, apple liqueur, ginger liqueur, sherry, lemon juice and shrub in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until very cold. Place the apple spiral in a chilled cocktail glass. Strain cocktail into the glass.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

I've mentioned before that I was a picky eater as a kid. But here's an interesting twist in that story: I loved Chinese from an early age. Even before I became a big fan of pizza, I was digging the Szechuan and Cantonese cuisines widely available in Portland.

And I wasn't in to your typical kid-food Chinese like sweet and sour pork or chow mein. Although my parents introduced me to Chinese through char siu (roast pork) noodle soup, I quickly moved on to the hot and spicy stuff. I loved hot and sour soup, General Tso's chicken and, my favorite, kung pao chicken.

Szechuan (or Sichuan) peppercorns

There are unfortunately a lot of rather bad recipes out there for kung pao chicken. They are too sweet, too saucy and not the right kind of spicy. I like kung pao chicken hot, but to make it right requires a little szechuan (or sichuan as it's sometimes spelled) peppercorn, a curious little Asian spice that really isn't pepper at all. It adds no heat. Instead it adds tingle. Put one directly on your tongue and you'll feel a fizzy numbness for a couple minutes. This combination of heat and numbing is an authentic kung pao flavor and it's marvelous. The spice was actually banned from the United States until 2005, but it is now available (I got mine from Spice & Tea Exchange). It only takes a teaspoon for this dish, which isn't very much. You'll want to pick through them to discard the little black seeds. You're really only interested in the husk (don't worry if you don't get all the black seeds, they're just a little gritty).

I tinkered with this recipe until I got something I liked. It's sort of a marriage between the more traditional Kung Pao with the Szechuan peppercorns and the Westernized version with its celery and roasted peanuts (traditional calls for frying raw peanuts, which are hard to find). I find this recipe has a nice balance of spicy and salty with just a touch of sweet. It's also far less oily than what you might get in a restaurant.

Kung Pao Chicken

2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. dry sherry
1 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 lb. boneless-skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

Stir fry:
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 celery ribs, cut into 1/8-inch thick diagonal slices
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 scallions, white parts chopped, green parts separated and chopped on a diagonal
Generous pinch (or more to make it hotter) red chili pepper flakes
1 tsp. szechuan peppercorns, black seeds removed
1/2 cup roasted peanuts

1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. dry sherry
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
3 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 tsp. sugar
3 tbsp. water
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

Cooked jasmine rice (see recipe for perfect white rice, you can use jasmine or long-grain white)

1. Marinade: whisk together the cornstarch, dry sherry and soy sauce in a small bowl. Add the cubed raw chicken to a medium bowl. Pour the marinade over the chicken and stir to coat. Set aside while you prep and cook other ingredients.

2. Heat 1 tbsp. vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the celery and stir-fry for 2-2 minutes. Remove from pan. Add the remaining tbsp. of oil. Add the marinated chicken. Let it it sit for a minute to brown, the stir fry until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan, leaving the drippings behind.

3. Reduce heat under the pan to medium. Add the garlic, white-part of the scallions, red chili pepper flakes, szechuan peppercorns and peanuts. Stir to coat with the remaining oil and cook until the garlic is fragrant but not browned, about a minute.

4. Whisk together the sauce ingredients in a liquid measuring cup then pour into the pan. Once it starts to bubble, add back the stir-fried celery and chicken and stir to coat the other ingredients. Turn off the heat. Serve over cooked jasmine rice with a sprinkle of the green scallions.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Homemade Granola

Homemade Granola

I've realized recently that I don't have very much breakfast content on my site. It's probably because I don't make a hot breakfast very often. During the week, I eat cereal, fruit and coffee to get out the door as quickly as possible. Often on weekends, we do pretty much the same thing.

That's why homemade granola is perfect for us. It's a way to have something special and homemade for a weekend breakfast that doesn't require--in that moment at least--any preparation. It's easy to make and can be done way in advance. It should keep in the refrigerator for at least a week.

A coworker brought some homemade granola to the office for an informal breakfast get-together and shared with me how easy it is to make. I don't often buy granola at the store, as it's kind of expensive and you blow through the box quickly. Homemade granola doesn't require expensive ingredients--the most costly thing is the pecans and you can certainly use other nuts, seeds or omit them.

Granola is basically just roasted oats with a sweet glaze. You can put whatever else you want in it: spices, such as cinnamon or nutmeg; nuts, like almonds, walnuts or cashews; any type of dried fruit; coconut; etc. My coworker told me he used equal amounts of olive oil, brown sugar and honey, so I went with that in this recipe, along with a little cinnamon, vanilla, pecans and dried cranberries. Since toasted nuts are wonderful, I added the pecans with the oats, but the dried cranberries should be stirred in after roasting.

I tried this with both Greek yogurt and milk and liked it both ways. It's definitely a more exciting way to start the weekend than a bowl of store-bought cereal.

Homemade Granola

Makes 4 servings, about 3/4 cup each

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup pecan halves, coarsely chopped
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Milk or Greek yogurt

1. Preheat oven to 300 F.

2. Combine oats, nuts, salt, cinnamon, vanilla, olive oil, brown sugar and honey in a large bowl, stirring to evenly coat the ingredients with honey and oil. Spread mixture in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in the oven until browned, about 20-25 minutes. Set aside to cool. Transfer to a container, breaking up clumps (if desired). Stir in the dried cranberries.

3. Serve in bowls with milk or Greek yogurt.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Oscar Nibbles: Red Carpet Popcorn

Oscar Nibbles: Red Carpet Popcorn

It's just 3 days until the Oscars. I hope everyone has their Oscar Ballots filled out. There are a lot of close races this year. Will Boyhood or Birdman (or maybe even The Grand Budapest Hotel) win Best Picture? Will it be Michael Keaton or Eddie Redmayne for Best Actor? Surely no one can challenge Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette and J.K. Simmons in their races. However, if there's one thing I've learned through the years about the Oscars, it's that there are always surprises.

I've been sharing my Oscar Cocktails on my site and through social media the last couple weeks. Whether you're having an Oscar party, watching the show with friends or by yourself, you'll probably want something to snack on with those drinks. And popcorn goes perfectly with movies.

But the Oscars are a night to get dressed up, so instead of plain buttered popcorn, I'm offering two recipes to spice up the classic snack.

The first is an Asian-inspired mix of honey, sesame and srirarcha. Feel free to use as much or as little of the sriracha as you like, depending on your heat preference. This popcorn is sticky--so serve it with napkins--but it was our favorite of the two. The other is good too though, a spicy-savory blend inspired by fajitas.

Sriracha-Spiced Honey-Sesame Popcorn

1/3 cup popcorn kernels
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. honey
A few squirts of sriracha (more or less, depending on how spicy you want it)
Pinch or two of salt
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp. black sesame seeds

1. Place 5 popcorn kernels and vegetable oil in a large (4 qt.) saucepan. Set over medium heat with the lid on the pan. Listen for the 5 kernels to pop. Once they have, add the rest of the corn and put the lid back on. Cook, shaking the pot frequently, until almost all the corn has popped (the rate of popping will slow way down when it's about done). Remove from heat. Transfer the popcorn to a large bowl.

2. Combine butter, honey, sriracha and salt in a microwave safe bowl (a 1-cup Pyrex glass measuring cup works well). Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir the mixture to combine. If the butter hasn't all melted, microwave for another 15-20 seconds and stir again. Stir in the sesame oil.

3. Using a spoon, drizzle a few spoonfuls of the mixture over the popcorn, then gently toss the popcorn. Continue drizzling and tossing until the corn is as evenly coated as you can get it. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds.

Fajita-Spiced Popcorn

1/3 cup popcorn kernels
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. onion powder
Pinch or two of salt

1. Place 5 popcorn kernels and vegetable oil in a large (4 qt.) saucepan. Set over medium heat with the lid on the pan. Listen for the 5 kernels to pop. Once they have, add the rest of the corn and put the lid back on. Cook, shaking the pot frequently, until almost all the corn has popped (the rate of popping will slow way down when it's about done). Remove from heat. Transfer the popcorn to a large bowl.

2. Combine butter, lime juice, chili powder, cumin, oregano, onion powder and salt in a microwave safe bowl (a 1-cup Pyrex glass measuring cup works well). Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir the mixture to combine. If the butter hasn't all melted, microwave for another 15-20 seconds and stir again.

3. Using a spoon, drizzle a few spoonfuls of the mixture over the popcorn, then gently toss the popcorn. Continue drizzling and tossing until the corn is as evenly coated as you can get it.


2015 Oscar Cocktails

Oscar Nibbles: Cracker Jack

Oscar Nibbles: Bacon-Wrapped Blue Cheese Dates

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Winter Salads

When I haven't been mixing Oscar Cocktails lately, I've been making warm wintery things like Smoky Bacon Mac & Cheese, Black Bean Soup and rich desserts like Tres Leches Cake. Time to lighten up!

Although when you think of winter vegetables, a lot of roasting comes to mind, there are plenty of fresh options from which to create salads. Yes, summer is the time of year when we have the greatest variety of produce available, but there are enough cold-season options (plus imports) to create many wonderful combinations.

A few things I like for winter salads:
  • Greens: Hardy greens like kale or mustard are in season in winter, and things like spinach and different lettuces are always available. 
  • Roasted vegetables: I know I said part of the point of this is to get away from roasted vegetables, but Brussels sprouts are easy to roast and taste great in salads, they are also good raw. Roasted cubed butternut squash is also good in salads.
  • Raw winter vegetables: Root vegetables thinly sliced like radishes are great in winter salads, as are fennel and celery in thin slices.
  • Seasonal fruit: Citrus fruits grown in warmer climates come into season in winter, so take advantage of their better flavor (and lower cost). Grapefruit, oranges and pomelos are wonderful peeled and cut up in salads. Also plentiful during winter: avocados.
  • Cheese: Non-produce ingredients like cheese work great in winter salads. I like to cube or crumble cheeses like sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, goat cheese and blue cheese.
  • Nuts and seeds: Pecans, walnuts, sliced almonds and pipettes are some my favorite. Toast first in a pan over low heat to bring out their flavor.
  • Dried fruit: Dried cranberries, cherries and raisins are all welcome additions for a little sweetness.
What I don't recommend:

  • Tomatoes. What you can find at the grocery store in the winter is bland and mealy. When you cut a tomato open and it's mostly white on the inside instead dog vibrant red, it's a sign that it's not very good.
  • Croutons. While I recommend adding a few non-produce items like nuts and cheeses, also adding bread can feel like overkill. Plus if you're going for something light, croutons are an easy way to make a salad feel too substantial.

The recipes that follow are three ideas based on these principles. These are just salads I've tossed together with what I have on hand and a couple carefully selected ingredients. For Salad #1, for example, I had planned to make it with dried cranberries, but found I had dried cherries in the pantry, so I used those instead. Feel free to treat these recipes as spring-boards for your own creations. These recipes are scaled for two dinner-size portions.

Winter Salad #1: Kale, Brussels Sprout and Chicken Salad with Dried Cherries (pictured above)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 lb. boneless-skinless chicken breast cutlets (may also use turkey)
2 tsp. dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 cups kale leaves, stems removed and discarded, leaves cut into small pieces
12 oz. Brussels sprouts, halved and roasted (see note)
1/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup pecans and walnuts halves, toasted
2 tbsp. dried cherries
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. dijon mustard

1. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add chicken, season with thyme, salt and pepper and sauté until cooked through and lightly browned, about 10 minutes total, flipping halfway through. Set aside to cool then slice into strips.

2. Combine kale, roasted Brussels sprouts, cheese, nuts and cherries in a large bowl. Whisk together apple cider vinegar and mustard seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. Add the remaining 2 tbsp. of olive oil and whisk to combine. Pour over salad and toss to combine. Serve on bowls topped with sautéed chicken strips.

Note: To roast Brussels sprouts. Preheat oven to 400 F. Put cut sprouts in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and season with a pinch of salt, then spread on a baking sheet. Flip sprouts over so the cut-side is down. Roast for 35 minutes until golden brown in places. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Winter Salad #2: Apple, Pecan and Blue Cheese Salad
This is a classic winter salad trio: a pungent cheese, paired with a fresh fruit (apples or pears) and nut (pecans are my favorite, walnuts or almonds are good too). Be sure to choose a good blue cheese. I like the cheese from Rogue Creamery.

3 cups green leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles
1/3 cup pecan halves, toasted
1 apple (any type you like), peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the lettuce, cheese, nuts and apple in a large bowl. Whisk together the vinegar and olive; season with salt and pepper. Pour over the salad and toss to combine.

Winter Salad #3: Fennel, Radish, Orange and Avocado with Goat Cheese
This salad balance the bitterness of radishes and fennel with sweet oranges and honey. It has a range of textures too from the crunchy pepitas (pumpkin seeds) to the creamy cheese and avocado.

3 cups romaine lettuce leaves, torn into bite-size pieces
2 radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup shaved fennel, plus a few pieces of fennel frond for garnish (tip: shave the fennel bulb with a vegetable peeler or mandoline).
1 orange, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces, visible pith removed
1 avocado, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp. toasted pepitas
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 tsp. honey
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup crumbled soft goat cheese

Combine lettuce, radishes, fennel, oranges, avocado and pepitas in a large bowl. Whisk together the vinegar and honey, then whisk in the olive oil. Pour over the salad and toss to coat. Serve in shallow bowls topped with goat cheese crumbles and fennel fronds.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Oscar Cocktails: Bonus - Gone Girl

Cook In / Dine Out Oscar Cocktails 2015 Gone Girl

This drink is part of my series of Oscar Cocktails inspired by the 2015 Academy Award nominees. See all of my Oscar Cocktails here.

Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher and adapted from the popular novel by Gillian Flynn, tells the story of a seemingly normal and happy couple, Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike), whose lives are forever altered when Amy goes missing. But the truth of her disappearance is far more complicated and twisted than it at first appears. Gone Girl is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress (Pike).

At first blush, the Gone Girl cocktails looks like a sweet, refreshing drink--the kind of thing that would quench your thirst on a hot day. Yet this drink isn't all that it appears: it's got quite a fiery kick thanks to the spicy honey syrup made with Mike's Hot Honey. Sweet but with an unexpected fiery kick, just like Amy. The drink is also bright red, evoking the under-the-surface anger (and later bloodshed) in the film. I used Greenhook Ginsmiths American gin because it's made in Brooklyn, which is where Nick and Amy lived before moving to Missouri.

Oscar Cocktails: Bonus - Gone Girl

1 1/2 oz. American dry gin (Greenhook Ginsmiths)
3/4 oz. Campari
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. hot honey syrup (see note)
2 dashes cardamom bitters (Scrappy's)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Blood orange or lemon wheel garnish

Combine gin, Campari, lemon juice, hot honey syrup and bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until very cold. Strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with citrus wheel.

Note: For hot honey syrup, combine 1 part Mike's Hot Honey, 1 part honey and 1 part hot water and stir to combine.


2015 Oscar Cocktails

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Smoky Bacon Macaroni & Cheese

Smoky Bacon Macaroni & Cheese

Let's just pause for a minute and think about the amazing goodness that warm melted cheese and thick smoky bacon can bring to a multitude of recipes. Mmm....

When I brought the two together for this smoky bacon mac & cheese, it was pretty much perfect. I love everything about this recipe. The combination of sharp cheddar and aged gruyere with a little parmigiano-reggiano is just the right mixture of cheeses. The bacon, which comes from Benton's Smoky Country Hams, is so smoky it will make you think someone built a campfire in your kitchen.

When making the béchamel, I've recently learned that it works better to add the milk in small increments rather than all at once. I've noticed that you don't end up with that "flour film" in the pan that I've experienced before. Otherwise, I think I can just let the pictures do the talking on this one (scroll all the way down for the recipe).

Smoky Bacon Macaroni & Cheese

8 oz. thick hickory-smoked bacon, cut into lardons (1/4- to 1/2-inch wide strips)--I strongly recommend using Benton's hickory smoked country bacon
1 lb. dried penne rigate pasta
1 tbsp. plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 cup panic bread crumbs
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
Dash of grated nutmeg
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
8 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz. shredded aged gruyere cheese
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano (parmesan) cheese

1. Cook bacon in a medium frying pan over medium heat until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper-towel-lined plate. Discard the bacon grease or save for another use.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta according to packaged directions for al dente. Drain and set aside in the pot.

3. Melt 1 tbsp. butter in a small nonstick frying pan over medium-low heat. Add panko and stir to coat evenly with butter. Cook for about 2 minutes. Don't brown the breadcrumbs. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a medium saucepan (I recommend using a shallow saucepan) over medium heat. Add flour and whisk to combine. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes (do not brown), stirring frequently with the whisk to form a roux. Add 1/4 cup of milk and immediately whisk into the roux until smooth. Add another 1/4 cup milk and repeat. Keep adding the milk in 1/4 cup increments, whisking each time until the mixture is smooth, until all the milk is added. Increase the to medium heat to bring the mixture to a bubble, then reduce heat to medium low. Season with nutmeg and white pepper. This is white sauce, sometimes called béchamel.

5. Add the cheese by handfuls to the béchamel, whisking in each handful until smooth until all the cheese has been incorporated. Turn off the heat.

6. Preheat the oven broiler with the rack about 6 inches from the broiler.

7. Add the cooked bacon, grated parmigiano-reggiano and cheese sauce to the pot with the cooked pasta. Stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to a 9 X 13 baking dish. Smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the buttered panko evenly over the top. Place the baking dish under the broiler and broil until the bread crumbs are lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes (watch carefully, do not do this unattended as it can burn very fast). Remove from oven and serve immediately in shallow bowls.


Smoky Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese Fondue Bake

Modernist Mac & Cheese with Bacon and Roasted Cauliflower

Truffled Mushroom Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese: Lessons on Cheese Substitutions

Basic Macaroni & Cheese

Rotini with Blue Cheese, Squash and Sage