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

Marinade:
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

Sauce:
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 2-3 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.

Related

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.

Related:

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
Salt
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.

Related

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Oscar Cocktails: American Sniper

Cook In / Dine Out 2015 Oscar Cocktails American Sniper

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

American Sniper is based on the story of U.S. Navy Seal Chris Kyle, known as the deadliest sniper in the Iraq War. The film is this year's biggest box-office hit among the Best Picture nominees. It is nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director (Clint Eastwood) and Actor (Bradley Cooper).

One of Kyle's happiest moments in the film is the night he meets his wife in a bar. They drink whiskey together, so for the American Sniper Oscar Cocktail, I wanted a cocktail they could have shared that night. Given that the film is about a sniper, I did a shot version, although I prefer the drink chilled and served up.

Oscar Cocktails: American Sniper

1 oz. rye whiskey (Bulleit)
1/2 oz. Jägermeister
1/4 oz. orange liqueur (Combier)
1/4 oz. Islay single malt Scotch (Laphroaig Quarter Cask)

Shot: Combine whiskey, Jägermeister, orange liqueur and Scotch in a tall shot glass (add the Scotch last). Chill, if desired.

Up: Combine whiskey, Jägermeister, orange liqueur in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until well chilled and diluted. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Float the Scotch on top. No garnish.


Related

2015 Oscar Cocktails

Oscar Cocktails: Birdman

Cook In / Dine Out Oscar Cocktails 2015 Birdman

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

In Birdman, an actor (Michael Keaton) best-known for playing a superhero years ago (sound familiar?) tries to resurrect his career with a serious Broadway play. In this year's race, it is the film with the best chance to unseat frontrunner Boyhood for the Best Picture win. Birdman is up for 9 Academy Awards, including Picture, Director (Alejandro González Iñárritu), Supporting Actor (Edward Norton) and Supporting Actress (Emma Stone).

The Birdman Oscar Cocktail looks to Keaton's superhero-character for inspiration. It's all about things a bird encounters in the wild: fir trees, flowers, bees (and thus honey). Among this year's Oscar Cocktails, this film was the hardest for me to represent. Yet, I really like this drink and tested several variations of it (some on the rocks, some with ginger) before deciding this is the best recipe.

Oscar Cocktails: Birdman

1 1/2 oz. American dry gin (Aviation)
3/4 oz. Clear Creek Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir
1/4 oz. elderflower liqueur (St. Germain)
1/2 oz. honey syrup (see note)
2 dashes grapefruit bitters (Scrappy's)
Rosemary sprig garnish

Combine gin, Eau de Vie, elderflower liqueur, honey syrup and grapefruit bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with rosemary sprig.

Note: To make honey syrup, stir together equal parts of honey and warm water until combined.

Cook In / Dine Out Oscar Cocktails 2015 Birdman


Related

2015 Oscar Cocktails

Monday, February 9, 2015

Dallas Desserts Valentine's Day Edition: Tres Leches Cake

Dallas Desserts Valentine's Day Edition: Tres Leches Cake

Dallas Desserts is a collaboration with Dallas Decoder, the top fan site for the Dallas television show.

For this year's Valentine's Day Dallas Dessert, Dallas Decoder and I decided to give our valentine to the show itself for having come back for 3 more great seasons produced by Warner Horizon Television and aired on TNT (check out Dallas Decoder's post here).

And what better way to celebrate the triple delight that was the Dallas revival than tres leches cake!

This is our favorite Mexican dessert (although fried ice cream is an incredibly close second). We first had it years ago at Alero in Cleveland Park, which was our Mexican restaurant of choice when we lived in that neighborhood. We immediately fell in love with it and order it periodically in Mexican restaurants ever since.



What is it? It's pretty simple actually: a single layer cake soaked with three milks ("tres leches"): evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and whole milk (or half-n-half or cream, depending on how rich this recipe is). It is often topped with sweetened whipped cream and may be drizzled with some other delicious sauce like chocolate, caramel or berry sauce.

Tres leches cake can either be made with a sponge cake or a yellow cake. I prefer the latter. I find the denser, cream-soaked cake to be more appealing. After baking the cake, poke it all over with a fork, then pour the three-milks mixture over the cake. I like to do this in increments to give the middle of the cake a chance to absorb the liquid as it's added, otherwise in the mixture tends to pool at the edge of the cake pan. Let the cake soak overnight before topping it with the whipped cream.



For this version, I topped the cake with drizzle of simple chocolate sauce. You can make your own with the recipe below or use a store-bought sauce.


Tres Leches Cake
Adapted from a Recipe by Alton Brown for Food Network

Cake:
6 3/4 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour (or cake flour), plus extra for the pan
4 oz. (1 stick or 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus extra for the pan
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz. (a little less than 1 cup) sugar
5 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Glaze:
12 oz. can evaporated milk
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup half-and-half

Topping:
2 cups heavy cream
8 oz. (a little less than 1 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chocolate sauce (optional, see recipe below)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F with an oven rack in the middle position. Rub a 9 X 13 baking dish with butter and dust with flour, tapping out any excess flour.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

3. Beat the butter in a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer) on medium speed until fluffy, about a minute. Reduce speed to low and slowly add the 8 oz. of sugar while the mixer is still running. Add the eggs one at a time and then the 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the flour mixture in three batches and mix until just combined.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly with a spatula. Bake on the middle rack until the cake is lightly browned on top and its internal temperature is 200 F, about 20-26 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and set aside on a cooling rack to cool completely.

5. Whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and half-n-half in a medium bowl (a large liquid measuring cup works well for this). Poke the cake all over with a fork. Slowly pour the dairy mixture over the cake. Refrigerate the cake over night to soak well.

6. Add the heavy cream, remaining sugar and remaining vanilla extract to the bowl of a stand mixer and, using the whisk attachment, whisk on medium-low speed until thick and then on medium-high speed until stiff. Spread the whipped cream topping over the cake and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

7. Serve squares of cake on plates topped with a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

Simple Chocolate Sauce

2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup water
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Heat chocolate and water in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until the chocolate has melted, whisking frequently to mix and smooth. Add salt and increase heat to medium and bring to a simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla. Store in the refrigerator; reheat gently in the microwave before spooning over cake.

Oscar Cocktails: Boyhood

Cook In / Dine Out Oscar Cocktails 2015 Boyhood

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

There has never been a movie quite like Boyhood. Filmed by director Richard Linklater in short segments over 12 years, it charts the evolution of a family during that time. It centers on Mason's (Ellar Coltrane) growth from age 6 to 18 but also shows how his parents--played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke--mature as adults as well. The film has been considered the frontrunner in this year's Best Picture race, although Birdman is hot on its heels. Boyhood is nominated for 6 Oscars, including Director (Linklater), Supporting Actress (Arquette) and Supporting Actor (Hawke).

Filming the movie over 12 years is a bit of a gimmick--a highly effective one in this case. Similarly, my Boyhood Oscar Cocktail is a bit of a gimmick: the ingredients spell out the name of the film. Nonetheless, it's still a great drink, a refreshingly citrus and slightly herbal rum cocktail.

Oscar Cocktails: Boyhood

Bacardi Light Rum, 1 1/2 oz.
Orange curaçao, dry (Pierre Ferrand), 1/2 oz.
Yellow Chartreuse, 1/2 oz.
Honey syrup 1/2 oz. (see note below)
Orange bitters, 2 dashes
Orange peel, garnish
Drizzle of fresh lime juice (1 oz., about 1/2 a lime)

Combine rum, orange curaçao, Chartreuse, honey syrup, orange bitters and lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until very cold. Strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with orange peel.

Note: To make honey syrup, stir together equal parts of honey and warm water until combined.

Cook In / Dine Out Oscar Cocktails 2015 Boyhood

Related

2015 Oscar Cocktails

Oscar Cocktails: Selma

Cook In / Dine Out Oscar Cocktails 2015 Selma

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

Selma is a biographical drama about minister and civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. Rather than attempt to chart his entire life story, the film focuses on his 1965 efforts to march from Selma, Alabama to the state's capital, Montgomery, in an effort to raise awareness of widespread voter disenfranchisement preventing African Americans from voting. The movie is a testament to the bravery of these activists, whose nonviolent methods nonetheless subjected them to horrible brutality from police and others bent on stopping them. The movie is nominated for Best Picture and Best Song.

Because Selma is a movie depicting important historical events in the Civil Rights Movement, I wanted equality to be the theme behind this Oscar Cocktail. All of the ingredients are added in equal measure. It's a riff on other such cocktails like the Last Word.

Oscar Cocktails: Selma

3/4 oz. dark rum (Mount Gay Extra Old)
3/4 oz. Campari
3/4 oz. orange cognac liqueur (Grand Marnier)
3/4 oz. lime juice

Combine rum, Campari, liqueur and lime bitters in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. No garnish.

Cook In / Dine Out Oscar Cocktails 2015 Selma

Related

2015 Oscar Cocktails

Correction: an earlier version of this recipe incorrectly called for lime bitters instead of lime juice.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Oscar Cocktails: The Imitation Game

Cook In / Dine Out 2015 Oscar Cocktails The Imitation Game

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

When it comes to Oscar-nominated films, World War II has proven a rich source of material, and The Imitation Game covers yet another key aspect of the conflict: the code-breakers. The film focuses on the critical role of British mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), who developed a machine to decode German radio transmissions--an early precursor of modern computers. Despite this accomplishment, Turing's life ended in disgrace within a decade after the war when he was discovered and prosecuted for his homosexuality. The film is nominated for 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Actor (Cumberbatch), Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley) and Director (Morten Tyldum).

The Imitation Game cocktail is inspired by the film's setting during World War II, with ingredients from three of the key countries in the conflict: British gin, German Jägermeister and French Benedictine.

Oscar Cocktails: The Imitation Game

1 oz. London Dry gin (Beefeater)
1/2 oz. Jägermeister
1/2 oz. Benedictine liqueur
1/2 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
Lemon twist

Combine gin, Jägermeister, Benedictine, simple syrup and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with lemon twist.


Cook In / Dine Out 2015 Oscar Cocktails The Imitation Game


Related

2015 Oscar Cocktails

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Pho (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

Pho (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

The first lesson about pho: it's pronounced "fuh," as in rhymes with "duh," which is what you can say once you've mastered that and other people still pronounce it like "foe" (or perhaps "faux").

Pho is one of the great Asian noodle soups. Its boom in the D.C. area preceded the recent ramen craze. I first tasted it in the early '2000s at Nam Viet Pho 79 in Cleveland Park and have enjoyed it more recently from Pho 14 in my neighborhood (ever wondered why pho restaurants are numbered? Northern Virginia Magazine did a story on this). I love the interplay between the warm broth, the onions, the beef and the fresh garnishes.



A typical bowl of pho is made with a spicy broth, flat rice noodles (I like something that isn't too wide, resembling linguini), meat (beef or chicken often) and fresh garnishes (cilantro, scallions, bean sprouts, a lime wedge). That last part is what distinguishes it from ramen, which generally has all or almost all cooked ingredients.

I actually forgot about my bean sprouts and the soup was tasty without them. I think the vegetable garnishes should really be considered interchangeable, even the cilantro, if you're one of those people with a genetic aversion to it (yes, that some people think cilantro tastes "soapy" is a genetic thing).



Although you can make it with chicken, I prefer beef in pho. I used sirloin, since that's what this Food Network Kitchen recipe called for, but you may use other cuts. I've seen it with flank steak, brisket and eye of round roast. The beef should not be overcooked. I suggest aiming for medium rare.

Be sure to use the right spices for this. Star anise and cinnamon are essential for flavoring the broth. I've seen clove, coriander and fennel seed use in other recipes too. And please don't skip the fish sauce. Sure, it smells funny, but mixed in with the other ingredients it does its job to add just enough pungency to elevate the the broth without making it fishy. A warm bowl of soup like this is perfect for these nasty cold winter nights.


Pho (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
Adapted from a recipe by Food Network Kitchen

8 oz. rice noodles
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
12 oz. sirloin steak
1 yellow onion, sliced
3 inches fresh ginger, peeled and sliced in half
3 cups low-sodium chicken or beef broth
3 cups water
5 star anise pods
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp. fish sauce
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped (optional, but I highly recommend it)
1 cup of bean sprouts (optional)
1 jalapeño pepper, sliced (optional)
lime wedges (optional)

1. Cook rice noodles according to package directions (do not overcook). Drain and set aside.

2. Heat vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Pierce sirloin all over with a fork to tenderize, then sear in the Dutch oven on both sides, cooking about 3-5 minutes per side. Set aside on a plate. Add the onion and ginger and sauté about 4 minutes. Then add the broth, water, star anise and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the fish sauce and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Discard the ginger, star anise and cinnamon stick. Thinly slice the meat and add to the soup.

3. Divide the noodles among 3 or 4 large bowls. Ladle a generous portion of broth with meat and onions into each bowl, then top with scallions and cilantro (and, if desired, jalapeño pepper slices, lime wedges and bean sprouts).

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Oscar Cocktails: Whiplash

Cook In / Dine Out Oscar Cocktails 2015 Whiplash

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

How far are you willing to go to be the best? That's the question at the heart of Whiplash, a film about a music student (Miles Teller) with designs on being a great jazz drummer who clashes with his school's sadistic jazz conductor (J.K. Simmons). The film is nominated for 5 Oscars, including Best Picture and Supporting Actor (Simmons).

For the Whiplash cocktail, I wanted a bracing drink that's strong and spicy. Something to knock you off your game just like Simmons' jazz teacher does in the film. It's also garnished with two toothpicks, like drumsticks, the movie's bloodiest weapon.

Oscar Cocktails: Whiplash

1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey (Bulleit)
1 oz. mezcal (Del Maguey)
1/2 oz. orange liqueur (Cointreau)
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth (Dolin)
2 dashes Fee Brothers whiskey barrel-aged bitters
2 dashes Bittermens Hellfire habanero shrub
Stemmed cherry and two toothpicks, garnish

Combine whiskey, mezcal, orange liqueur, vermouth and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass. Add ice and stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe. Pierce the cherry with the two toothpicks at an acute angle and stick in the glass.

Cook In / Dine Out Oscar Cocktails 2015 Whiplash



















Related

2015 Oscar Cocktails

Monday, February 2, 2015

Oscar Cocktails 2015

Oscar Cocktails 2015

In 20 days, one of the films pictured above will take home the film industry's highest honor: the golden statue standing atop a film reel that is the Academy Award for Best Picture. This year's slate tells the stories of a soldier, actor, boy/man, hotel clerk, mathematician, activist minister, scientist and music student. It's a slate that's half stories about real people, half stories set in the past, and half stories that take place wholly (or mostly) outside the United States. And all of them are great films (although not perfect).

As I've done the last two years, I'm celebrating the slate of Oscar Best Picture nominees with original cocktails inspired by the films. Each drink is based somehow on the movie: its themes, characters and/or settings. The drinks follow in the vein of cocktails I've been most interested in lately: old-school style drinks made with quality ingredients. Some of the drinks are also quite potent. Perfect for an Oscar party!

This year, I'm unveiling all of my recipes at once today. In the following weeks, I'll post individual pieces with the story behind each drink, adding links to the recipes below as the stories are posted (starting with The Theory of Everything and The Grand Budapest Hotel, which are up today). Keep your eyes peeled for a bonus cocktail too--one for a film that is nominated but not for Best Picture.

Cook In / Dine Out American Sniper Oscar Cocktail
American Sniper
A whiskey cocktail the soldier and his wife could have enjoyed in the bar the night they met.

1 oz. rye whiskey (Bulleit)
1/2 oz. Jägermeister
1/4 oz. orange liqueur (Combier)
1/4 oz. Islay single malt Scotch (Laphroaig Quarter Cask)

Shot: Combine whiskey, Jägermeister, orange liqueur and Scotch in a tall shot glass (add the Scotch last). Chill, if desired.

Up: Combine whiskey, Jägermeister, orange liqueur in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Float the Scotch on top. No garnish.

Cook In / Dine Out Birdman Oscar Cocktail
Birdman
Douglas fir trees, elderflowers, honey--things a bird, or rather a Birdman, might encounter.

1 1/2 oz. American dry gin (Aviation)
3/4 oz. Clear Creek Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir
1/4 oz. elderflower liqueur (St. Germain)
1/2 oz. honey syrup (see note)
2 dashes grapefruit bitters (Scrappy's)
Rosemary sprig garnish

Combine gin, Eau de Vie, elderflower liqueur, honey syrup and grapefruit bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with rosemary sprig.

Note: To make honey syrup, stir together equal parts of honey and warm water until combined.

Cook In / Dine Out Boyhood Oscar Cocktail
Boyhood
Inspired by the movie's gimmick of being filmed in segments over 12 years, this recipe spells out the film's name.

Bacardi Light Rum, 1 1/2 oz.
Orange curaçao, dry (Pierre Ferrand), 1/2 oz.
Yellow Chartreuse, 1/2 oz.
Honey syrup 1/2 oz. (see Birdman note above)
Orange bitters, 2 dashes
Orange peel, garnish
Drizzle of fresh lime juice (1 oz., about 1/2 a lime)

Combine rum, orange curaçao, Chartreuse, honey syrup, orange bitters and lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until very cold. Strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with orange peel.

Cook In / Dine Out The Grand Budapest Hotel Oscar Cocktail
The Grand Budapest Hotel
An old-school cocktail like the hotel could have served, complete with Hungarian liqueur.

1 1/2 oz. Plymouth gin
3/4 oz. Zwack Unicum liqueur
1/2 oz. orange liqueur (Combier)
2 dashes lime bitters (Scrappy's)
Maraschino cherry garnish

Combine gin, liqueurs and lime bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with cherry.

Cook In / Dine Out The Imitation Game Oscar Cocktail
The Imitation Game
Ingredients from Britain, Germany and France nod to the film's World War II setting.

1 oz. London Dry gin (Beefeater)
1/2 oz. Jägermeister
1/2 oz. Benedictine liqueur
1/2 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
Lemon twist

Combine gin, Jägermeister, Benedictine, simple syrup and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with lemon twist.

Cook In / Dine Out Selma Oscar Cocktail
Selma
A drink made of ingredients in equal measure inspired by the film's depiction of the Civil Rights Movement's struggle for equality.

3/4 oz. dark rum (Mount Gay Extra Old)
3/4 oz. Campari
3/4 oz. orange cognac liqueur (Grand Marnier)
3/4 oz. lime juice

Combine rum, Campari, liqueur and lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. No garnish.

Cook In / Dine Out The Theory of Everything Oscar Cocktail
The Theory of Everything
A rum swizzle inspired by Dr. Hawking's study of black holes.

1 oz. black rum (Gosling's Black Seal)
1/2 oz. coffee liqueur (Kahlúa)
1/2 oz. vanilla syrup (see note)
1 oz. freshly squeezed orange juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Club soda
Orange slice garnish

Combine rum, coffee liqueur, vanilla syrup, orange juice and bitters in a highball glass. Fill with crushed ice and top with club soda. Using a swizzle stick, swizzle the ingredients to combine. Garnish with orange slice and serve with a straw.

Note: to make vanilla syrup, bring 1 cup of water, 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 vanilla bean split down the middle (with seeds scraped into the pan) to boil in a medium saucepan. Turn off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Cook In / Dine Out Whiplash Oscar Cocktail
Whiplash
A strong and spicy drink that tries to knock you off your game, garnished with two "drumsticks."

1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey  (Bulleit)
1 oz. mezcal (Del Maguey)
1/2 oz. orange liqueur (Cointreau)
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth (Dolin)
2 dashes Fee Brothers whiskey barrel-aged bitters
2 dashes Bittermens Hellfire habanero shrub
Stemmed cherry and two toothpicks, garnish

Combine whiskey, mezcal, orange liqueur, vermouth and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass. Add ice and stir until very cold and diluted. Strain into a chilled coupe. Pierce the cherry with the two toothpicks at an acute angle and stick in the glass.

Bonus Cocktail: Gone Girl
The refreshing and sweet look of this drink masks its fiery true self.

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.

Related

2014 Oscar Cocktails
2013 Oscar Cocktails