Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fiesta Week: Day Six

This concludes fiesta week. Thankfully, the fiesta was a success! But what would any party be without a few special beverages? In addition to a couple of Mexican beers, guests also sipped on white sangria with orange, peach, and mango, and a non-alcoholic watermelon margarita—I call it “watermelon drink,” for lack of a better term. Obviously, you can add some tequila if you wish--just substitute it for the lemon-lime soda. Both drinks are really easy and super refreshing.

Sangria, everyone’s favorite wine punch, is more Spanish than Mexican; but regardless of its origins it is just right for the summertime and was a welcomed guest at my fiesta. Did you know that Sangria was first tasted in the United States at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York? That was not too long ago! Traditionally sangria is made with red wine but you can make it with white, sparkling, or rosé—whatever your taste.

I hope that you all enjoyed learning about these Mexican dishes over the past week. I know I did!

White Sangria
Adapted from allrecipes.com  

Yield: 1 Gallon
- ½ cup peach schnapps
- ½ cup cognac
- ¼ cup sugar
- 4 oranges cut into rounds
- 2 peaches, sliced
- 2 mangoes, sliced
- 1 bottle dry white wine
- 1 liter ginger ale

• Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher and enjoy! Can prepare a day or two in advance and refrigerate to develop stronger flavors. Serve over ice.

Watermelon Drink

Yield: 1 Quart

- ¼ cup sugar syrup
- 4 cups watermelon, cubed
- ½ cup lemon lime soda
- ¼ cup lime juice plus lime wedges for garnish
- ¼ cup orange juice
- Crushed ice

• Fill glasses with crushed ice. Combine all ingredients in a blender; blend until smooth. Fill prepared glasses with watermelon drink and garnish with lime wedges.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Fiesta Week: Day Five

I’ve been attracted to the fiesta spirit ever since I was a baby parked in front of Disney’s The Three Caballeros on loop. I could sit there all day and watch Donald Duck, Panchito and Jose sing in their sombreros. As I indecisively flip-flopped over the right dessert for my fiesta, I felt as frustrated as Donald in the film clumsily trying to blend in as a suave caballero.

Dessert may not be the first thing that comes to mind when most think of Mexican food, but there are many possibilities for one to consider. At first, churros sounded like a great idea; you know the long sugary donut sticks they sell from carts at carnivals and fairs? If only I had the right sized star tip. I thought of doing a sweet take on some kind of savory Mexican fare like fruit empanadas or burritos, but that got shot down by the oven-avoidance plan I had established from the beginning. Plus, after doing all that prep for everything else I wanted dessert to be easy, preferably without lots of mixing bowls or dough making.

Then I considered trying my hand at flan--what’s more Mexican than that, right? But serving my first attempt at the jiggly caramel-topped custard to company was not worth the risk. How about fried ice cream? They love that stuff at Mexican restaurants. I wondered if there was something I could do with regular old, un-fried ice cream instead; a palate cleanser of sorts, for my already busting table of guests? And that’s when I finally settled on tequila-flamed mangoes over vanilla ice cream.

At this point it probably sounds ridiculous, but I also got this recipe from Rick Bayless. I told you I used my new book, Mexico One Plate at a Time a lot for this fiesta! Seriously though, what better time is there to reference a cookbook chock full of authentic Meixcan recipes? Anyway, before the tequila-flamed mangoes are engulfed in a light blue flame of burning alcohol, they are baked with brown sugar. This step can be done ahead of time, which made things way easier (even though it kind of broke the no-oven rule a little bit). The baking process makes the mangoes sweet and syrupy. When it came to be show time my flame was lame but, whatever. Did it taste good? Yes, amigos! Served over vanilla ice cream, it kind of reminded me of bananas foster but with mangoes--and that’s certainly a good thing.

Tequila-Flamed Mangoes
Yield: 6 Servings

- 4 ripe mangoes
- 1 oz (1/4 cup) butter
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- ¼-1/3 cup tequila
- 3 Tbs granulated sugar
- Vanilla ice cream for serving

• Peel mangoes with a paring knife. Standing the mango up on one end, slice the flesh from around the pit on both sides. Cut the large pieces into ½” wide wedges.
• Heat the oven the 350 degrees. Place butter in a 13” x 9” baking dish and set in the oven. When melted (about 5 minutes), remove from the oven and add the mango slices. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and gently stir to coat the mangoes completely. Bake, shaking the dish occasionally, for 45 minutes. (Can do this step a day before you plan on serving and refrigerate. Just make sure you reheat the mangoes before flaming).
• Just before serving, pour the tequila into a small saucepan and set over low heat—don’t let the tequila get too hot or it won’t flame. Sprinkle the mangoes evenly with granulated sugar; pour tequila over and immediately light it. When the flames subside, spoon the syrupy mangoes over ice cream.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fiesta Week: Day Four

And now, for the main course of our fiesta: flank steak and chicken fajitas served with sautéed peppers and onions. Everybody’s happy with fajitas: you roll up whatever you like inside of a tortilla and enjoy it bite for bite for all of its delicious simplicity. It’s like the Mexican equivalent of a hamburger. If I must say so myself, the marinade for the flank steak is awesome. The longer it sits the better. I let mine marinate for three days, but wouldn’t recommend any longer than that. As another option, I also prepared chicken gussied up a bit with tequila-lime marinade. The chicken really benefited from that little bit of tequila, but then again, what doesn’t? (Ha ha).

As a side, we had tomato rice with great flavor, thanks yet again to Rick Bayless. In addition to the rice, I fried up some plantains. Eating plantains in Mexico was one of my fondest gastronomical experiences, though I often found it difficult to try and replicate them. So it was much to my own delight that the plantains for the fiesta came out sweet. For a two ingredient recipe, making fried plantains can be pretty tricky if you don’t know about your ingredients.

The secret to obtaining all of the natural sweetness from the fruit is something I learned not too long ago: make sure they are super ripe—almost completely blackened, before you use them. I found this out at work when preparing to shop for our Latin Bistro class; one of the dishes called for black plantains and I realized I would have to buy them at least a week in advance so they would be ready in time. Some grocery stores such as those in largely Latin communities will sell them already black. That’s the convenient thing about working at culinary school. You learn as you go and pick up some tips for yourself. Last time I tried to make fried plantains, I did not know this tip and they did not come out so good! They definitely were not sweet in any sense of the word.

Flank Steak Marinade:
Yield: 1 ½- 2 pound flank steak

- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 ½ Tbs grated ginger
- 2 ½ Tbs fresh lime juice
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbs honey
- Salt and pepper
• Mix all ingredients in a zip-top bag with steak. Close bag and distribute marinade all over steak. Refrigerate for 24 hours or up to 3 days. Grill and slice thinly to serve.

Tequila-Lime Marinated Chicken
Yield: 4 chicken breasts

- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
- Juice from 3-4 limes
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 Tbs tequila
- Salt and pepper

• Mix all ingredients in a zip-top bag with chicken. Close bag and distribute marinade all over the chicken. Refrigerate for a few hours or up to 24 hours.

Red Tomato Rice
Rick Bayless, Mexico One Plate at a Time
Yield: 6 cups

- 12 ounces (2 medium-small round or 4-6 plum) very ripe tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped OR one 15 oz can good-quality whole tomatoes in juice
- ½ small white onion, roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
- 1 ¾ cups chicken broth or water
- Salt
- 1 ½ Tbs vegetable oil
- 1 ½ cups white rice, preferably medium-grain
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into ¼ inch cubes
- Fresh hot green chiles to taste (roughly 3 serranos or 2 jalapenos), a slit cut down the length of each one
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 ½ cups frozen peas or cooked fresh peas

• In a blender or food processor, combine the tomatoes with the onion and garlic. Blend to a smooth puree; you should have one generous cup. In a small saucepan, heat the broth or water until steaming; stir in salt. Cover and keep warm.
• In a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over medium. When hot, add the raw rice and stir regularly until the grains have turned from translucent to milky white, 5-6 minutes. Add the tomato mixture and carrots and stir a couple of times, then let cook until any liquid is reduced and the mixture is somewhat dry-looking, 2-3 minutes. Add the warm broth/water, chiles and parsley, stir thoroughly and scrape down any rice grains clinging to the slide of the pan. Cover and cook over the lowest heat for 15 minutes—the temperature should be low enough that only the slightest hint of steam escapes from the lid.
• Remove pan from the heat and, uncover and quickly distribute the peas over the rice. Re-cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Uncover and test a grain of rice: if it is still hard, re-cover pan and set over low heat for 5 minute; if the rice has absorbed all the liquid and is completely dry, sprinkle 2 tablespoons of water before returning to the heat.
• When done, fluff rice to release steam and stop the cooking. Remove and discard chiles or use as decoration on top of the rice.

Fried Plantains
Yield: Serves 4-6 as a side

- 2 large very ripe plantains (black), peeled and sliced on a bias
- ¼ cup of butter
• Fry in two batches. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add plantains and cook until browned on each side.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fiesta Week: Day Three

I had to have beans and corn at my fiesta but didn’t really want to prepare them straight-up. I needed something a little fresher, lighter, and great for the summer. Besides, it had been pretty freakin’ sweltering out; the humidity was thick and I wanted to avoid making too many things that required use of a stove or burner.


The result was a colorful corn and black bean salad. To cut time and for the sake of preserving cool air, I used canned (shh, don’t say anything). Mixed with lime-cilantro dressing, the addition of chili powder and cumin incorporates smokiness with a slight kick, giving the salad more of a Tex-Mex flair rather than purely Mex. This was one of the first things done on the menu; a day ahead of the fiesta I sliced and diced, threw everything in a bowl, and on the day of I dressed the salad and that was it. This also works as a condiment, and if you have any leftovers it is great mixed into pasta salad.

Since I think it’s always nice to offer a regular green salad on the table, I searched epicurious.com for one that had some Mexican influence. A recipe for Mexican Chopped Salad with Honey Lime Dressing from a July 2003 issue of SELF magazine is what came up, and it was exactly what I was looking for. It’s got romaine lettuce with tons of Mexican staple vegetables thrown in such as peppers, radishes, and jicama. Jicama is a tropical root vegetable that you can now easily find in the produce section of most grocery stores. Eaten raw, it is crispy, sweet, and a pleasant surprise to those who have never tried it before. To top it all off, the salad gets a little added spice from fresh jalapeno in the dressing.

Corn and Black Bean Salad:

Yield: about 12 cups

Salad:
- 1 can 15.5 oz black beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 cups corn (frozen, fresh, or canned)
- 2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 1 small sweet onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
Dressing:
- ½ cup fresh lime juice
- 1 Tbs chili powder
- 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
- About 3 Tbs olive oil
- 1 Tbs honey
- 1 Jalapeno, seeded and minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Salt and pepper to taste

• Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl. In separate bowl, whisk dressing ingredients together. Pour dressing over salad and stir to combine.

Mexican Chopped Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing
Adapted from SELF, July 2003

Yield: 1 large bowl of salad

Salad:
- 3 heads chopped romaine lettuce
- 1, 15.5 oz can black beans
- 2 large tomato, seeded and chopped
- ½ jicama, peeled and chopped
- ¾ cup corn kernels (fresh, frozen, canned)
- ¾ cup thinly sliced radishes
- Half a ripe avocado, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
Dressing:
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 Tbs honey
- 2 Tbs finely chopped cilantro
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
- ½ jalapeno, chopped

• Toss all salad ingredients in a large bowl. In separate bowl, mix dressing ingredients. Pour dressing over salad and mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fiesta Week: Day Two

As far as I’m concerned, when planning a fiesta there is only one man to turn to for sound advice and authentic Mexican recipes: Rick Bayless. With his help, Americans are beginning to open their eyes to a whole new realm of Mexican cooking: real Mexican cooking.

Flipping through the channels at around 2:30 in the morning, I first found Rick on PBS wetsuit-clad and descending down into a sink hole in the Yucatan jungle. The hole opened up to one of the peninsula’s marvelous and mystifying underground freshwater caves that were once considered sacred to the Mayans. After snorkeling in the crystal clear water and gathering an appetite for fish dinner, Rick later watches as real-deal ceviche is prepared right on the beach from fresh caught fish. Maybe it was because I was already half asleep, but his Mexican adventures seemed like an absolute dream.

For a moment, I hoped I could just close my eyes and end up on a beach in Mexico eating ceviche and chilling out with Rick. Since that wasn’t happening, the closest thing I could do was buy one of his cookbooks. I searched the bookstore for the renowned Chicago chef’s Authentic Mexican with no luck. Instead, I ended up stumbling upon and purchasing the companion to the PBS series that originally introduced me him, Mexico One Plate at a Time. I pulled several recipes out of this book for my fiesta, including those for two of my starter dishes: crispy potato sopes and you guessed it, shrimp ceviche!



Sopes or corn masa boats are a very traditional Mexican preparation. Formed from a slightly thick cake or tortilla made from either smooth-ground corn masa or reconstituted masa harina flour, the edges are pinched upward to make a little boat shape to hold fillings. Since it was my first try at sopes I followed the more “contemporary” and easier recipe that utilizes potatoes for the dough. Making the dough and forming the sopes turned out to be much simpler than I had thought (see slideshow under recipe for step-by-step images). They are fried to finish which produces a crispy texture and flavor similar to a good French fry.

The filling for the sopes was Rick’s recipe for Salsa Roja or Red-Chile Tomatillo Salsa, topped with goat cheese and fresh herbs. The salsa calls for hotter dried chiles such as arbols or chipotles, but I used milder ancho chiles. The end result is bona fide Mexican flavor that melds perfectly with the goat cheese. Serving the golden sopes was something really different to present to guests, and they all seemed to enjoy it.



Lime is one of my favorite flavors in the world, and you need a lot of them for a fiesta (I bought 20 and still had to get more!). It is no wonder why I love ceviche—it is fresh fish marinated in fresh lime juice. In Rick’s recipe for Shrimp Ceviche Cocktail he creates a sauce made from hot sauce and ketchup, in addition to the lime juice. When those flavors marry with the shrimp, cilantro, crunchy onions, cucumber, and jicama, it is amazing. The shrimp ceviche was by far my personal favorite of the fiesta, and a real hit with my guests as well. It is an absolute must-try. Thank you Rick Bayless!

Crispy Potato Sopes (Masa Boats) with Salsa, Goat Cheese and Herb Salad
Rick Bayless, Mexico One Plate at a Time 

Yield: 18 sopes/ 8-9 as a pass-around nibble

- 2 medium (about 8 ounces) baking potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
- 8 ounces (1 cup) fresh smooth-ground corn masa for tortillas OR 1 cup powdered masa harina mixed with ½ cup plus 2 Tbs warm water.
- Salt
- Vegetable oil to a depth of 1/2" for frying
- About 1 ½ tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
- ¾ cup salsa
- 2 generous cups loosely packed torn herb leaves (watercress, arugula, mizuna, basil)
- About ½ cup crumbled goat cheese

• The dough for the Sopes: In a medium pan, boil the potatoes in salted water to cover until thoroughly tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and cool. Push the potatoes through a ricer or medium-mesh strainer into a bowl. Scrape the potatoes into a measuring cup. Discard about 1 cup of the potatoes, return 1 cup to the bowl and knead in the masa (fresh or reconstituted) and ¾ teaspoon salt. The dough should be the consistency of soft cookie dough.
• Forming and baking the sopes: Heat a well-seasoned or nonstick griddle or heavy skillet over medium. Divide the dough into 18 portions, roll into balls and cover with plastic to keep them from drying out. One by one, form the fat little tortillas that will become the sopes: cut two squares of plastic (to be on the safe side, cut them from a food storage bag, the thicker plastic works better). With your hands, gently flatten a ball of dough between the sheets of plastic to about 2 ½ inches in diameter (it should be about 1/4” thick). Peel off the top sheet of plastic. Use your thumb and index finger to push up the dough into a border about ½” high around the edge to form the sope, the little boat. Flip the sope—uncovered side down—onto the fingers of one hand, then gently peel off the second piece of plastic. Now, flip the sope over onto the griddle or skillet, flat side down. After about a minute, when the sope has loosened itself from the cooking surface, remove it from the griddle. This cooking is just to set the bottom surface, not to cook the masa all the way through. While the first sope is cooking, continue shaping and adding others to the griddle or skillet. After cooking, to keep them from puffing oddly during frying, prick the bottoms of each one with a fork, being careful not to go all the way through. Cool, then cover the sopes with plastic to keep them from drying out.
• Finishing the sopes: In a deep heavy medium skillet or saucepan, heat ½” of oil to 350 degrees (if you do not have a thermometer you can judge the temperature by dipping the side of a sope in the oil—if it sizzles vigorously, it’s ready). Stir in the balsamic vinegar (if using) into the salsa and set out the herbs and crumbled cheese. A few at a time, fry the sopes until they are a rich golden brown, about a minute. Drain them upside down on paper towels, then keep them warm in the oven. When all the sopes are done, arrange them on a serving platter. Spoon about ½ Tbs of salsa onto each one, top with herbs and sprinkle generously with cheese.

Salsa Roja: Red Chile-Tomatillo Salsa
Rick Bayless, Mexico One Plate at a Time

Yield: about 1 ¾ cups
- ½ ounce small hot dried chiles, stemmed
- 6 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 1 pound (10-12 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
- Salt
- Sugar, about ½ tsp (optional)

• In an ungreased skillet over medium heat, toast the chiles, stirring for a minute until they are very aromatic (some will have slightly darkened spots on them). Transfer to a bowl, cover with hot water and rehydrate for 30 minutes. In the same skillet, roast the garlic, turning regularly, until soft and blotchy-dark in some places, about 15 minutes. Cool and slip off the papery skin. Roast the tomatillos on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until soft, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes on each side. Cool, then transfer the contents of the baking sheet (including any juices) to a blender or food processor.
• Drain the chiles and add to the tomatillos along with the garlic. Puree, then scrape into a serving dish. Stir in enough water to give a spoonable consistency, usually about ¼ cup. Season with salt, usually 1 tsp, and the optional sugar. Refrigerated, the salsa keeps for several days.




Shrimp Ceviche Cocktail
Rick Bayless, Mexico One Plate at a Time 

Yield: 3 cups/serves 6 as an appetizer
- ½ cup plus 2 Tbs fresh lime juice
- 1 generous pound unpeeled, smallish shrimp
- ½ medium white onion, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
- 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
- ½ cup ketchup
- 1-2 Tbs vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce
- About 2 Tbs olive oil, preferably extra-virgin (optional, but recommended to smooth out sharpness)
- 1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jicama (or ½ cup of each)
- 1 small avocado, peeled, pitted, and cubed
- Salt
- Several lime slices for garnish
- Tostadas or tortilla chips for serving

• To cook the shrimp, bring 1 quart salted water to a boil and add 2 Tbs of the lime juice. Scoop in the shrimp, cover and let the water return to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat, set the lid askew and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 10 minutes. Spread out the shrimp in a large glass or stainless steel bowl to cool completely. Peel and devein shrimp. Toss the shrimp with remaining ½ cup lime juice, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.
• In a small strainer, rinse the onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid. Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, optional olive oil, cucumber and/or jicama and avocado. Taste and season with salt. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.
• Serving: spoon ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses, or small bowls. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime. Serve with tostadas or tortilla chips.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fiesta Week: Day One

Welcome to Fiesta Week! An entire week dedicated to the cuisine of Mexico.

A few years ago I visited Puerto Vallarta with my family and fell completely in love with Mexican culture and traditions, art, and of course, food. Standing just beyond the sea, the Sierra Madre Mountains provide a picturesque backdrop to the coastal city alive with history and character. Even as a tourist day tripping along the main sights, I still felt a strong sense of culture. Just a few steps off of the beautiful beaches and into town and you are strolling among handmade Day of the Dead statuettes and aromatic street food vendors, all to the festive sounds of mariachi music in the distance. There is no place else like it. You just feel immersed in tradition, like everything has a story. The pure simplicity of life in Mexico has left a permanent impression on me.

This weekend we had friends over and instead of throwing burgers and hot dogs on the grill I wanted to cook up something a little unexpected. Fiesta! Any excuse for the opportunity to cook and share lots of Mexican food. It was so hot out that we actually felt like we were in Mexico! I’ve decided to dedicate each day of this week to a course off of the menu so that I can tell you about every dish and provide all the recipes. They range from old favorites to new preparations that I’ve never tried before. First up: my own recipes for pico de gallo and guacamole. More than anything else we ate in Mexico, nothing brings back memories quite like having these two classics with tortilla chips by the pool.

Pico de Gallo:
Yield: about 2 cups

- 4 large tomato, diced
- 1 jalapeno, very finely diced
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 1 large/2 small garlic cloves, minced
- 1-2 limes, juiced
- ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste

• Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Can prepare and let stand overnight.
• Serve with tortilla chips




Guacamole:
Yield: about 2 cups

- 4 avocado
- 2 tomato, diced
- 1 red onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 jalapeno, minced
- ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
- 2 ½ limes, juiced
- ½ tsp cumin
- Salt and pepper to taste

• Cut avocados in half and remove pit; scoop out flesh into a bowl. Mash the avocado with a fork until smooth. Add all other ingredients and mix together.
• Serve with tortilla chips

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Beer Cocktails

I’m not a huge fan of beer, though a recent pattern in posts might have led you to believe otherwise; in only a month there have been beer battered fried pickles, beer bread, and now beer cocktails! I appreciate beer’s versatility. It can be trashy, classy, or anywhere in between. And the more varieties I taste, the more I learn to like beer, or at least respect it a little more.

Beloved by many, beer’s reach stretches far beyond the typecast of big bellies, flannel shirts, and motorcycle dudes. Much more than a drink funneled by frat boys, it surpasses ping pong balls in Solo cups and sloppy drunken antics. Gastronomically speaking, it is on the same caliber as wine. Beer too has flavor notes, body and depth, and can be paired to compliment cuisine. With an abundance of different varieties and flavors, beers can also be mixed together to create fun cocktails.

Beer cocktails have been around forever (e.g. Shandy, Black and Tan), but the idea was totally new to me. When my cousin suggested I mix chocolate beer with the Lindemans Framboise Raspberry Lambic I talked about purchasing in my beer bread post, I just had to learn more. If you’ve never had Lindemans Framboise it doesn’t even taste like beer, it is more like sweet, fizzy juice that can give you a buzz. Keeping that in mind, the idea of mixing beers together didn’t seem as nasty as I figured it potentially could be.

Research consisted of going to a local ale house and tasting a bunch of different beers. My enthusiastic assistants and I (thanks Eloise and Stephanie!) each tried one of the bar’s beer cocktail specialties, then got three individual varieties and mixed them around to make our own little creations. Really difficult research, I know. Surprisingly, each cocktail had its own complex little personality. The smells, contrasting bodies and notes of the melded beers in each drink, came together to create totally unique experiences.They were all very interesting, fun to try, easy to drink, and convincing enough to turn a non-beer fan such as myself into a believer.

Here are all of the beer cocktails we tasted. A lot of the classic beer cocktails contain sprits; these are all beer on beer. Try them out or use as inspriation for your own concoctions!

Round one: beer cocktails off of the menu.
Black Cherry: Sam Adams Cherry Wheat topped with Guiness
Raspberry Chocolate: Lindemans Framboise and Young's Double Chocolate Stout
 Black and Blue: Bluepoint Blueberry Ale topped with Guiness

The black cherry and black and blue cocktails were very similar. An initial sniff delivered an aroma of the underlying fruit beer but the first thing to hit the taste buds was the boldness of the Guiness. It finishes with the sweetness of the fruit lingering on the palate. The chosen winner by all was the raspberry chocolate mix; the original motivating force behind this blog post ended up tasting as good as it sounded!

Round two: individual beers:
Hoegaarden, Woodchuck Pear Cider, Ithaca Apricot Wheat Ale

Both the pear cider and apricot ale were very sweet but turned out to be a nice compliment to the spicy Hoegaarden, described on the menu to have, "apple-like tartness...coriander, and orangey fruitiness." When mixing up our own cocktails, the first thing we did was combine all three beers together. The result was alright, but without wow-factor. The top blends of the night were apricot and pear cider, and especially apricot and Hoegaarden; slightly punchy, not too sweet, and barely recognizable as a beer, the apricot Hoegaarden was definitely our greatest success.

Our beer cocktails!
 Pear cider and apricot ale; Hoegaarden and apricot ale; Hoegaarden, pear cider, and apricot ale

Stay tuned for "fiesta week," all next week!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Dull Excuse for a Chef's Knife


Today, I am shamefully stepping out from the shadows to confess my guilt in one of the most shunned of culinary sins: I’ve allowed my knife to become painfully dull. Ever since I left my last job in a professional kitchen, I’ve gotten lazy in keeping my blades as sharp as they should be. To admit this to an audience of fellow cooks and foodies hurts almost as much as trying to slice into the delicate skin of a tomato with a knife you have tormented far beyond the help of anything less than a professional grind.

Flash back to a couple of weeks ago as I watched my Dad slam what was once one of my most decent knives, through a watermelon like a lumberjack throwing an axe into a log: listening to the stark sound of carefully crafted steel defenselessly smacking into a plastic cutting board, it hit me. Everything turned to slow motion: my father wielding the chef’s knife Psycho-style, watermelon juice flying into the walls. Suddenly I was horrified-- not just at the situation, but at myself. Bad chef!

I got a pit in my stomach as I remembered the not-so-far-away past where I had taken such good care of my knives. I made sure they were sharp and felt a sense a pride in keeping my tools in check. I kept them tucked away in my knife bag, covered, and untouchable to anyone but myself. Plus, if I ever got lazy with them, I’d have a chef down my back asking, “What the hell is this?” I still keep most of my knives sharp and healthy, particularly those used for butchering (which I haven’t done much of lately). But due to the sake of convenience, my trusted all-purpose chef’s knife somehow got thrown in the drawer with all the rest of the delinquent cutlery to be used and abused.

A result of weekend dormitory boredom at culinary school
and the sudden urge to be artsy; I call it "cereal killer."
How many times have you heard, “a sharp knife is a safe knife”? It’s true. Not only is a sharp knife safer to use, but it allows for more precision, and simply makes slicing and dicing easier and less strenuous. So why make things harder for myself? I have no idea. I guess using my knives only at home and not in a professional setting caused me to black out of my chef’s mindset for a minute. As with anything, using the right tools in the kitchen can make a world of difference in getting a job done quicker, easier, and safer; but all that goes out the window if they aren’t properly cared for.

To keep your knives up to par, it is ideal to steel them before each use. Once you get lazy with this practice, you will eventually reach a point where there is no turning back. Honing a knife on a steel is great for maintaining its edge for a while but does not actually sharpen the blade. Properly sharpening on a whetstone will bring it back to life. There are also many professional quality home knife sharpeners that can help to get the job done. As an example, WÜSTHOF sells all of the above. When my knives get dull, I always take them to a small grinder shop near me. For about five to ten bucks he makes them sharper than I ever could; just like new. As a matter of fact, that is where I’ll be heading--stat!

Monday, July 19, 2010

I Love Greek Chicken

Greek chicken is an easy, go-to dinner, good enough to make even the Gods say “Opa!” An alternative to the standard bread and fry, it’s a tasty new approach to a pack of chicken cutlets. You barely have to go out of your way to make this dish, especially since it's made with trusty kitchen staples like lemons, onions, and chicken stock.

To clearly express my love for this recipe, allow me this gluttonous illustration: I can eat an entire platter of Greek chicken by myself, sop up whatever remains of the zesty, sweet sauce with a loaf of bread, and still kind of want it again the next day. No joke.

Lightly dredged in flour seasoned with dried oregano, the chicken is sautéed and then set aside as onions, chicken stock, golden raisins, and lemon make their way into the pan. After the ingredients bubble together and develop into deliciousness, I always thicken the sauce a little with some flour at the end, so that it becomes sort of like a gravy. And it just wouldn’t be Greek chicken without feta cheese; the final touch is a sprinkling of the crumbly cheese over the top. Since I discovered this dish, feta has become a refrigerator must-have. If you would like, you can also add capers to the sauce.

Greek chicken is a great weekday meal when you want to have something good, fast. I also think that it would work nicely in bulk for a party. You’ve got to try it!

Greek Chicken:
Yield: 4 Servings

- 1 pack of boneless, skinless chicken cutlets
- AP flour for dredging plus about a tablespoon for thickening the sauce
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 1 cup thinly sliced onion
- 1 ½ cups boxed chicken stock or broth
- ½ cup golden raisins
- Juice of 1 and ½ lemon
- 1/4 cup feta cheese
- Lemon slices for garnish

• If your chicken cutlets are too thick, pound between two sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap.
• Combine flour, dried oregano, salt and pepper in a dish. Dredge chicken in mixture.
• Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken, cook for about 4 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm. Add onion to pan; sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in broth, raisins, and lemon juice; cook for about 3 minutes while scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Return chicken to pan. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 8 minutes or until the chicken is done. To lightly thicken sauce, whisk in about 1 Tbs of flour a little bit at a time until desired consistency is reached.
• When serving, spoon the sauce over the chicken and top with feta cheese. Garnish with lemon slices.

Adapted from the Best of Cooking Light Everyday Favorites, 2008

Friday, July 16, 2010

Bread and Beer: A Match Made to Leaven

Bread and beer: the perfect pair. Their compatibility is the type that hopeless online daters long for. You can just hear bread’s sigh of relief as she reads beer’s eHarmony profile: “enjoys grains, yeast, and long warm fermentations.” Ah, soul mates!

Together, bread and beer go way back. Civilization was built upon the farming of grains; since both have been a staple for ages, the question of whether those grains were first utilized in the making of bread or beer is a debate that stands beside the chicken or the egg. To debunk that argument, it has been said that ancient societies used bread in producing the earliest forms of beer. With so much history and such a great deal in common, the two were clearly meant to be. It only makes sense to join them once again in the perfect marriage that is beer bread.

Beer bread is a type of quick bread, meaning that you can bake it as soon as you make it. Thanks to a leavening agent like baking powder, there is no need to wait around for the dough to rise. Besides taking no time at all, the great thing about beer bread is that you can customize it however you’d like. You can play with the recipe and incorporate different beers, cheeses, onion profiles, and your own mix-ins like chili peppers, herbs, spices, raisins—whatever you want! I used applewood smoked cheddar, shallots, apple, and a pretty full-bodied brown ale. I didn’t have any bacon but you can bet that would have been in there too! The recipe is included at the end of this post for you to try or tweak.

While I was buying beer, I also purchased a bottle of raspberry Framboise Lambic. That would be interesting inside of beer bread as well, but I wanted to drink it! You can definitely taste the beer, so if you don’t want it to incorporate too strong of a flavor, go with a lighter brew. A lager might be the safest bet. I could just blame it on tasting a little too much of the star ingredient, but I’ll be honest and admit that my bread came out good, but not as great as it could be—I’m not much of a baker, but I’m always trying. Beer bread is probably one of the easiest breads to bake and partners really well with hearty dishes like soups, stews, and chilies. Have fun with it!

Apple and Smoked Cheddar Beer Bread:
Yield: 1 Loaf

- 1 Tbs olive oil
- ½ cup finely chopped scallions
- ¼ tsp fresh black pepper
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 cups, AP flour
- 3 Tbs sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ cup gala apple, peeled and shredded
- 1 cup cheese applewood smoked cheddar or similar cheese
- 12 oz beer
- Cooking spray
- 2 Tbs melted butter, divided

• Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
• Heat oil in a small skillet, add shallots and apple to pan; cook for 7-10 minutes until browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in pepper and garlic, cook for about a minute.
• Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and stir together with a whisk. Make a well in the center and add onion/apple mixture, cheese, and beer; stir until moist.
• Pour batter into a 9” x 5” loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Drizzle 1 Tbs of melted butter over batter and bake for 35-45 minutes.
• Drizzle remaining butter over batter. Bake another 25 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hello, Pic-a-nic Basket!

I recently arranged my first real picnic; armed with a blanket, some wine, my boyfriend, and an awesome picnic backpack very much like this one filled with lunch, I was fully prepared to eat on the grass and take in the perfect summer day. We set up shop beside a lake on the grounds of Old Westbury Gardens, the former estate of John Shaffer Phipps, heir to a fortune made in steel. Architecturally inspired by the homes of 17th century England, Phipps’s mansion sits before a beautiful, sprawling landscape of lakes, nature trails, and flower gardens.

If you’re from around the Long Island area, Old Westbury Gardens offers a quiet, pleasant escape. If not, you can still visit (or might have already), in the movies! It is no wonder why the estate’s scenic grounds have provided a location for so many films. It was first used in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 North by Northwest. The mansion’s scenes may not be as iconic as Cary Grant getting chased by an airplane in a cornfield, but still! Other popular films it appears in include 1970’s Love Story, and more recently, Age of Innocence, The Manchurian Candidate, American Gangster, and Hitch. TV shows Sex and the City, and Gossip Girl have also been shot there.

For lunch, I packed caponata and mozzarella sandwiches, à la Giada De Laurentiis. The caponata, a Sicilian eggplant dip, was great in between the toasted halves of a rustic Italian loaf. Light but substantial, and not as messy as I had thought, it was perfect picnic food. I barely even strayed from the recipe, because pretty much whatever Giada says, I listen to; she always gets it right, so I just roll with her word. I don’t care, she makes the kind of food that I love and she is one of my favorites. Along with that, we had a nice assortment of cheeses to pick on with the wine. Despite being limited by picnic conditions I prepared a spread of applewood smoked cheddar, horseradish cheddar, goat cheese, and provolone, with a mild sopressata, nuts, raisins, and crackers.

Don't you wish that I was going on a picnic and I was bringing...you! What are you bringing? ;-)

Caponata and Mozzarella Sandwiches:
Yield: 6 Sandwiches
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 eggplant, medium dice
- 1 red bell pepper, medium dice
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1, 14 oz can diced tomatoes
- 3 Tbs raisins (black or white)
- ½ tsp dried oregano leaves
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 Tbs drained capers
- 1 loaf ciabatta or other rustic loaf, cut crosswise into 6 equal pieces
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 6 slices (1/3”) drained fresh mozzarella
- Salt and pepper, to taste

• Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add celery and sauté until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add the eggplant and sauté until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Season with salt. Add the red pepper and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add diced tomatoes with their juices, raisins, and oregano. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer over medium-low heat until the flavors blend and the mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Add the vinegar, sugar, and capers. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
• Cut the bread pieces horizontally in half. Grill the bread cut-side down on a grill over medium-high heat until golden. Rub the whole garlic cloves over the toasted side of the bread. Add a slice of mozzarella to the bread bottom, spoon caponata on top, cover with other half of bread, and serve.
• To take on a picnic, wrap each sandwich individually in foil or plastic and keep cool.

Recipe by Giada De Larentiis, Everyday Italian, Food Network


Monday, July 12, 2010

Grilled Soup

You can grill just about anything, but soup? Before you begin to envision yourself rolling a can of Campbell’s over your grates, it’s the ingredients in this summery potage that are grilled.

I’ve been holding onto this recipe for Roasted Corn, Pepper, and Tomato Chowder since I cut it out of my Cooking Light magazine last summer. They don’t technically call it a “grilled soup,” but they call for it to be grilled, and I like the way it sounds, don’t you? Between the combination of vegetables and the unique technique, the recipe had no chance of remaining unscathed; I took my scissors to its corners and tucked it away in my book of recipes to try. It might have taken a year, but I finally got to test it out over the weekend.

Soup is liquid gratification. It’s good for the body and for the soul; it has the power to heal when you are at your weakest, and the substance to fill you up and raise your sprits when you’re feeling just fine. It’s the poor man’s sustenance and the rich man’s decadent first course. Its broth can warm you to your bones during the winter, and can even be refreshing in the summer. When it comes to soup, there are no real rules in the kitchen or at the table; once all of the ingredients simmer and develop, a chorus of slurping diners is considered more of a compliment than an indecency.

This soup was as simple and tasty as I'd imagined it would be. With a minimal number of components, it literally goes from the grill, to the pot, to the blender, and into your mouth in no time. And although not served cold, it’s got “summer” written all over it. Slightly charring the peppers, corn, and tomatoes on the grill, helps to incorporate a smoky flavor to the soup that actually enhances the sweetness in all of the ingredients. The creamy consistency and piquant bite of the feta cheese offsets the warm, fragrant puree and completes the dish. Grilled soup—who knew?

PS. My blog post, "Stick That In Your Pepper And Eat It" was selected by foodbuzz.com for their daily Top 9 today! Thank you Foodbuzz!

Roasted Corn, Pepper, & Tomato, “Grilled” Soup with Feta Cheese:
Yield: 5-6 servings

- 3 red bell peppers, halved and seeded
- 3 ears corn, shucked
- 4 large tomatoes, halved and seeded
- 2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cups onion, chopped
- 1 ½ quarts chicken stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 Tbs Chopped fresh chives or scallions

• Prepare grill to medium-high heat.
• Arrange bell peppers, skin side down, and corn on grill. Grill for about 5 minutes, turning the corn occasionally. Add tomatoes and grill for an additional 5 minutes or until vegetables are slightly charred. After removing the tomato from the grill, the skin should easily peel off.
• Coarsely chop the tomatoes and grilled red peppers and place in a bowl. Cut the kernels from the ears of corn; add to tomato mixture.
• Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or large, deep pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomato mixture; cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat to high and stir in chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Allow to cool slightly.
• Ladle soup into a blender and puree. Pour the puree through a sieve, over a clean pot. Make sure to press all of the liquid through the sieve. If your soup has a slightly grainy texture, you may need to repeat this process once more.
• Place the pot of pureed soup over a medium flame and heat thouroughly.Season with salt and pepper.
• Garnish each bowl of soup with feta cheese and chopped chives/scallions; serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Roasted Corn, Pepper, and Tomato Chowder, Cooking Light, June 2009

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Stick This In Your Pepper and Eat It

Olives and peppers, mozzarella and pepperoni; prosciutto and salami, before rigatoni; smelly aged cheeses hung from the ceiling by strings—these are a few of my favorite things! If I had a choice, along with a loaf of bread, quality olive oil, really old balsamic, and wine, those would be the adornments on the plate of my last meal. Come to think of it, all of that melt-in-your mouth fat swirling around would probably finish me off for good.

On Sundays, my family and I will often enjoy a bunch of goodies from the Italian deli before and alongside of dinner. I’m a big fan of the spicy red and green stuffed cherry peppers, which are a common staple behind Italian deli counters. The places by me will sometimes stuff them with a chunk of provolone wrapped in prosciutto. Other times, we’ll get ones packed with what looks like a mixture of different chopped-up dried salami; I’m not exactly sure what it is, all I know it that it’s really good. Either way, my mouth literally begins to water as soon as I crack open the lid of the plastic deli container and the smell of spicy peppers marinating together with flavor-saturated stuffing jumps up into my senses.

This past week we had leftover hot sopressata in the fridge. Sopressata is an Italian dry-cured salami typically made from pork; it can be spicy or mild. We don’t usually get the hot one, so I was a little obsessed with it. I’d keep the container near me while making dinner and testing recipes for my blog, or would sneak in a few slices as a snack during the day. Anyway, it reminded me a lot of the stuffed pepper filling that I can’t quite figure out, which inspired me to try and recreate it. Besides, it was a way to use up the sopressata and help me to stop feeling guilty about eating slices of what is essentially ground up fat and pig parts, as snacks.

I stuffed olives as well as peppers just to try something a little different. Overall, I was satisfied with the way they came out—pretty close to the real thing. If you’re not into spicy, the filling isn’t overwhelming but I would suggest stuffing a milder pepper. They both would work perfectly on something like an antipasto platter.


Stuffed Peppers/Olives:
Yield: About 1 cup

- Large green pitted olives and spicy/sweet “pepperazzi” or cherry stuffing peppers. You will also need 6-7 extra peppers, finely chopped, to add into the stuffing mixture.
- 1 cup hot sopressata (Italian dry-cured salami), very finely chopped
- 1/3 cup sharp provolone, very finely chopped
- 4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- Fresh thyme leaves stripped from 6-8 sprigs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Regular olive oil for storing

• Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Stuff as much of the mixture as possible into each individual olive and pepper.
• Store stuffed olives and peppers in the refrigerator inside of a closed container with just enough olive oil to keep them shiny and moist.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Buzz on Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder

The busily buzzing honey bee; hard at work, the tiny insect floats its way over fields of crops retrieving nectar to bring back to the hive. Their dance is a perfectly orchestrated production, from which honey is created. Beyond their life’s labor of making and storing honey, the bees are also nature’s own cultivator. Along their travels from flower to flower, they pollinate plants, igniting the growth of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. In fact, according to http://www.helpthehoneybees.com/, one out of every three bites the average American eats is directly attributed to honey bee pollination.

Over the past three years, honey bees have been struck with a crisis that is causing their colonies to die off at a mysteriously alarming rate. With much of the growth of our nation’s natural food supply reliant on the work of the bees—a job that could never be equally created by man, their increasing absence is an obvious cause for concern. The fruit of the honey bee’s labor is the fruit on our plates; without them we are without earth’s most delicious treasures.

Colony Collapse Disorder:

A large portion of the honey bee losses can be attributed to what is known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Colonies that experience CCD simply disappear from their hives and die. In a very good, short documentary-style video, Serious Eats talks to farmers and cooks at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester County, New York, about the crisis. In it, Jack Algiere, Stone Barns four season grower, describes CCD. “With CCD the bees don’t find their way back to the hive and thus, don’t make more honey, don’t make more bees, and don’t get out to pollinate again. That hive will then collapse on itself because it can’t sustain its existence.” This is the little understood, sad reality, currently being reported across the United States and in other countries as well. A bee keeper can be tending to a full hive one day, and find it completely empty the next.

Although the exact cause of CCD is still a mystery, researchers have come upon several factors that may be contributing to the problem including viruses, mites, poor nutrition, and chemical exposure. Other theories point the finger at cell phone radiation, bad weather, and climate change. One thing is for sure: an increase in awareness and continued research is essential to eventually saving the honey bees and our crops.

Help the Honey Bees:

Haagen Dazs is a major advocate for the honey bees, as they depend on their pollination for many of their ingredients. All proceeds from the sales of their bee-reliant flavors and their specially created Vanilla Honey Bee ice cream go towards funding research. A yummy reward for a good deed! The website http://www.helpthehoneybees.com/ is run by the ice cream company to educate and bring awareness to the cause. Visit to find out more about the crisis, as well as how to plant your own honey bee-friendly garden, support local beekeepers, donate to various research facilities, and create your own honey bee like the one at the top of this post to share and spread the word about our troubled pollinating friends.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Momofuku Noodle Bar = Momofukin Good Eats

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 777-7773

Intrigued by the constant chatter of ramen and delicious pork buns emanating off of its funny name, I’ve wanted to try Momofuku Noodle bar for some time. This week I finally got the chance to put on my hungry hipster face and sit down to lunch along the casual wooden bar of the popular East Village Asian fusion eatery.

Momofuku Noodle bar is the first of Chef David Chang’s restaurant realm in the East Village, made up of Ssäm Bar, Bakery and Milk Bar, Má Pêche, and Ko--all under the Momofuku name. Chang, a pig loving chef who made his start with a “fuk u” attitude has found continuing success, accolades, and celebrity by making straightforward, different, no-holds-barred good food, and delivering it casually and fairly inexpensively.

The Momofuku name gets a lot of positive recognition from diners and renowned chefs alike, making it a must-try in my book; I had to see what all the fuss was about. The noodle bar certainly does not need any validation from me and my humble little blog, but I’m going to give you some anyway.

Walking in at about 12:30 p.m., I was immediately seated beside the open kitchen. As a quick palate teaser, the amuse was a beet, goat cheese, and strawberry spoon. I of course, had to get the much talked about steamed pork belly buns to start, which lived up to all the hype—they were awesome. Equally as good was the brisket bun off of the day’s prix fixe menu, filled with horseradish mayo, pickled shallots, and romaine lettuce. One of Momofuku Noodle Bar’s great deals is the lunch prix fix menu which for twenty bucks gets you a bun, a noodle bowl, and a choice of soft serve or truffles for dessert. I ordered the ginger scallion noodles off of the regular menu for my meal; along with pickled shitakes and cucumbers, it also came with slices of fermented bamboo shoots called menma, which I had never tasted before.

Shortly after sitting down, a line started forming at the door. People love this place; and it’s easy to see why. The atmosphere is cool and laid back with quality food that you can eat and run. I would definitely go back to the noodle bar, and would like to try the other Momofuku restaurants as well. Perhaps the 12 seat, online- reservation only, Ko?

Monday, July 5, 2010

I've got a Pickle, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey!

After your quickie sweet pickle chips have marinated for a few days and are amply drunk with vinegar, sugar, and spices, the next (and best) part is figuring how you want to eat them; you might like to pile your pickles on top of a burger, press them into a Cuban sandwich, or munch on them straight from the juice. In one of the best tasting, but worst-for-you ways to eat a pickle, I decided to prepare some of mine Southern style: battered and deep fried.

Fried pickles are one of my favorite things to order off of the menu at barbeque restaurants. Succulent pickled goodness surrounded by a golden shell of crunch is just too hard to resist! And with a good pickle in the center, the deal is even sweeter.

For my first time making fried pickles, I think they came out pretty good. The only minor snag that I ran into was that at 1/8” slices, my pickle chips were just a little too thin for frying. To avoid holes and to get more substance within your fritter, I would fatten up the slices to at least ¼”. The batter emerged from the depths of the bubbling grease light and airy, receiving some of its flavor and puff from the beer bubbles. With a little kick from the hot sauce, the ranch dip adds another layer of tastiness to the sweet and sour pickles. Fry some up for a fun snack, appetizer, or side!

Recipe adapted from Southern Living, July, 2007.

Beer Battered Fried Pickles with Ranch Dipping Sauce

Batter:
- 2 cups pickle chips
- 1 egg
- 1, 12 oz can beer
- 1 Tbs baking power
- 2 cups AP flour
- Salt and pepper
- ½ tsp mustard powder
- ½ tsp paprika
- Vegetable oil for frying

• Heat oil to 350 degrees in a fryer, heavy skillet, or Dutch oven.
• Mix all ingredients except for pickles in a bowl. Batter each pickle chip individually and fry until golden.

Ranch Dipping Sauce:
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup buttermilk
- 2 Tbs Hot Sauce (such as Frank’s Red Hot)
- 1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Quickie Pickles

Sweet, salty, garlicky, hot, or vinegary, people have been enjoying pickles for what is estimated to be over 4,000 years. Throughout history, pickles have been highly revered for far more than their tasty crunch; Cleopatra is said to have attributed some of her beauty to the briny cucumbers, while Julius Caesar found them invigorating, and Aristotle praised them for their healing affects.

According to North Carolina’s Mount Olive Pickle Company, as chronicled on http://www.foodmuseum.com/, the tradition of pickling dates way back to 2030 B.C. when cucumbers were brought over from their native of India to the Tigris valley where they were first preserved and eaten. Pickled cucumbers are loved the world over, but while their popularity mostly originates in Europe, they have always had an especially large fan base in America. After all, pickles were on board for the country’s discovery, were held in high regard by presidents such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and thrived upon by colonial settlers when conditions did not allow much of a shelf life for anything else.

In 1492, pickles sailed the ocean blue, making their way to America via Columbus’s ships, the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria. America owes its namesake to the Spanish pickle merchant turned explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, who stocked Columbus’s ships with plenty of Vitamin C-rich pickles to help ward against scurvy outbreaks. In 1695, the flavor-bathing cucumbers went commercial when Dutch farmers started growing cucumbers in what is now Brooklyn and selling them to dealers who cured them in barrels and marketed them on Manhattan streets. From there, I guess you can say the rest is history.

When making pickles, there are a few different approaches you can take. One way is to ferment the cucumbers in a brine solution over several weeks. Obviously, since bacteria are involved, this method requires keeping a careful eye on factors such as temperature and sticking to your recipe. For a quick, easy, and safer alternative you can make vinegar pickles, like with my extremely fast recipe for sweet pickle chips. Although best after three to four days, you can literally eat them almost as quick as you make them, and you still get that strong pickle flavor. They are so good!

Just for fun: According to http://www.exploratorium.edu/, the expression “in a pickle” is derived from the Dutch expression “in de pekel zitten.” Used to describe being in a bad situation, the phrase literally translates to sitting in pickling solution.

Quickie Sweet Pickle Chips
Yield: 1 pound

- 1 pound cucumbers, washed and sliced at about 1/8” with a mandolin
- ¼ pound onion, sliced ¼”
- 6 fl oz. cider vinegar
- Pinch of salt
- ¼ tsp mustard seeds
- ¼ pound sugar, divided
- 2 cups water
- 5 fl oz white vinegar
- 1/8 oz celery seed
- ¼ Tbs allspice power
- ½ tsp turmeric

• Combine cucumbers, onions, cider vinegar, salt, mustard, half of sugar and water. Simmer for 10 minutes and drain. Discard liquid.
• Bring white vinegar, celery seed, allspice, and remaining sugar to a boil. Pour over cucumbers and onions and let rest under refrigeration for 3-4 days before serving.

Recipe utilizing pickles to come!

Happy 4th of July!