Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ginger Syrup and Ginger Ale

I've blogged this before, but it's been a while, and summer is here for those of us down South at least, and this stuff is perfect to keep on hand. I got this years ago from Imbibe magazine, and have made it regularly in the summer ever since. The ginger syrup can be used for any number of things (think rum) but I like it for making homemade hot ginger ale. And this is spicy, so don't give it to a little person and think they're going to like it. Most of them won't, I've discovered.

You'll need a lot of fresh ginger, sugar and water. And seltzer later, but for making the syrup that's all.

Chop the ginger, peel and all, into big chunks. Then throw them in the food processor and finely mince it. You'll need about two cups of minced ginger.

Put the minced ginger and two cups of sugar in a large pot with six cups of water.

Bring it to a boil, and immediately reduce to a simmer. Let it simmer on low for an hour, then turn it off and let it cool. Strain it into a pitcher to get all the bits out. You may want to run it one last time through a cheesecloth. I didn't, so I get little flecks of ginger in mine, but I'm lazy and I don't care.

To make ginger ale, just fill a glass of ice 2/3 full of seltzer, then fill the rest of the glass with ginger syrup (or less if you're a sissy and can't handle the burn). Give it a quick stir and a squirt of lime juice, sit back and enjoy the summer.

Or make a Dark and Stormy with it, or any other rum drink and it's perfect. It will keep in the fridge in a sealed container for about a week.

If you'd like to make your own ginger syrup and keep it in the fridge for rum emergencies, (or a cold glass of ginger ale when it's 100 outside), here's the .pdf.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Herb-Crusted Pork Chops

These are a pretty easy weeknight meal. You don't have to brine the chops, but I just find they're kind of tough if you don't. Pork is so lean these days. You can use bone-in pork chops or pork loin chops. I prefer the thicker cuts. If you are going to brine them, you'll have to think a little ahead. Frankly, I didn't, so these only brined for about an hour. Who knows if it actually made any difference or not? But they were still tasty.

To brine a couple of chops, mix half a cup of kosher salt and half a cup of sugar with four cups of cold water in a medium bowl. Stir it until the sugar and salt dissolve. Then put the chops in and stick the bowl in the fridge for as long as you can - overnight, if you've planned ahead. An hour if you're me.

When you're finished brining, take the chops out, dump out the brine, and pat the pork chops dry. Sprinkle them with just a little kosher salt (they'll already be somewhat salty from the brine) and cracked black pepper.

Put three flat bowls in a row. In the first one, put half a cup of flour. In the second, beat one egg with half a cup of buttermilk. In the third one, mix together a cup of breadcrumbs with a tablespoon of minced rosemary, a tablespoon of minced basil and a tablespoon of minced parsley. You can use any other herbs you like. This is just what I had on hand in my pitiful excuse for an herb bed. My basil is dying. I have no idea why.

Dredge the chops first in the flour, and shake off the excess. Then dip the chops in the egg mixture, then dredge in the breadcrumb mixture. You can kind of press the breadcrumbs into the chop. Yes, my hands were clean.

Heat a medium pan over medium heat. I used a cast iron skillet, because I was born in Arkansas, and I know they make food taste better. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter. When the butter is melted and foamy, add the pork chops.

Cook them until the breadcrumbs are browned and the pork is done in the center. How long is going to depend on how thick your chops are, but these took about 7 minutes per side. They were about an inch thick.

Drain them on paper towels, then serve. If you'd like to crust up some pork chops in your own cast iron skillet (or any other pan), here is the .pdf.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Denver, Part Three: Baby Ducks, Magic Bunnies and Bigfoot

I'd lie and say that (D)wyatt took the pictures for this blog, but that would be wrong. Because they're not very good, and I'm sure he would have taken better shots. I mean, check that professional camera.

Before we get to the very exciting story about Baby Ducks and Bigfoot, Let me introduce you to Magic Bunny.

During our Denver visit, we did a little shopping. I picked this guy up and he was so soft I couldn't put him down. So they made me pay for him. And I gave him to (D)wyatt.

And now, to put him to sleep, all you have to do is rub his face with the bunny ears and he's out. If he feels like it, that is. He also spends a lot of time wrestling it. And chewing on it. It may not stay very soft.

Sad that they make the kid sleep on the floor on a towel, isn't it?

I want that rabbit back when Dwyatt gets tired of it. Clearly it has the magical sleep properties that I sorely need.

I can't remember the last time I slept this well. I was probably his age.

Also on our shopping trip, Mom bought Dad a dog. They have twelve legs at home, and when they are staying in Denver, they miss them. So now they have one that holds down the fort while they're home and keeps them company when they're visiting.

He's made of recycled newspaper. Not pre-used by a real dog, of course.

So I FINALLY got to name something Dwayne! Dwayne the Dog. I'm being rather insistent about this.

Now without segue, we'll roll right on into our baby duck experience. Mom and Natalie and (D)wyatt and I went for a walk on Monday. We were looking for a bathroom for me (I told you, didn't I?) when we came across this:

About a dozen baby ducklings were walking down a side street in a huddle, peeping frantically for their mother, who was nowhere to be seen. It was heartbreaking. Natalie called Animal Control - no help whatsoever. We were trying to figure out what to do and get them off the street onto the grass and that's when all hell broke loose. They scattered like dice in a craps game. Not that I'd know about that. Well, what do you do but try to herd them back together? What we didn't realize is that those suckers can BOOK !! Little fuzzy web-footed jet propulsion!

We chased them through yards, out from under parked cars, behind bushes, and all over the side street when a woman drove by and stopped to help. Then another woman stopped - and get this - she was getting her PhD in bird behavior. No, I'm serious! It was most fortuitous.

And right about then was when one stray duckling got all emo and suicidal on us and ran out onto the four-lane busy street, peeping something about sacrificing himself to martyrdom for the Mallard Revolution.

Evidently, I don't have the sense God gave geese (or ducks) and didn't even look both ways before hauling ass after him. I heard my mother yell something like "Andrea, please don't get yourself killed!", but I couldn't hear her very well since she was running around in some stranger's front bushes. I chased that little fuzzy bastard around in the middle of the street in traffic and stopped cars just like a bona fide Officer of the Law.  That might have been fun, but I still hadn't caught that damned duck.

Some people walking a dog stopped to watch the show. I'm sure the dog was thinking she could do a much better job. I finally nailed the little guy (or girl - frankly, I didn't ask) in front of a stopped car. The dog walkers cheered. The drivers were glad to see me get the hell out of their way. My mother and Natalie were relieved I hadn't gotten myself flattened like Wile E. Coyote. (D)wyatt slept through the whole thing.

"I am not impressed by your feeble attempt at heroics, Aunt Andie. You bore me."

The duck didn't much like being held. Kept flipping his little webbed feet and peeping his head off. I don't blame him. I know they were all scared to death. By the time I got out of the street, Mom and the other two women had managed to gather up most of the rest of them and put them in someone's purse. (Not mine. I don't own one. I gave all my stuff to my mom to carry in her purse.) I added my little guy and then I tended to the asphyxiation-induced coronary I was having. (Did y'all know there's no air in Denver?)

So the PhD woman took them off to the bird sanctuary where they'll be fed and cared for. And hopefully given PTSD therapy. And Natalie and Mom took me to the corner grocery where I could use their rest room and buy a bottle of oxygen and borrow their defribrillator. Clearly, I survived.

But wait! That's not all! I saved the very best for last!

While we were walking, guess whose house I found?


By the looks of it, I had just missed him. You can tell he'd been out mowing his lawn. Probably he was in the back grabbing the leaf blower. It's OK, though. I'll be back, and now I know where he lives. Come to think of it, I probably should have knocked on the door and asked to use his bathroom.

I got home Tuesday evening and what with the duck drama and the heart attack and being overwhelmed by the close proximity of Sasquatch, I was pretty beat. I hit the bed by about 9:00. Eastern Day Time.

And someone besides Pootie was awfully glad I was home.

Happy (late) Mother's Day to me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Denver, Part Two: Mother's Day Breakfast Pizzas

All the mothers were invited for brunch at John and Natalie's. And those of us who weren't mothers (John, Jack and I) crashed the party anyway. Well, John and I were doing the cooking. He had decided he wanted to make breakfast pizzas. So while Natalie, her mom, my mom and Marsha played with (D)wyatt, John and I trashed the kitchen. Unfortunately, my brother the photographer didn't take any pictures of prep or the final product, and I didn't want to get olive oil and food bits all over Nat's phone, but the pizzas were very good.  We made several, but below I've outlined it for one. John uses a pre-made dough from Whole Foods. You can make your own pizza dough if you like, but this was awfully convenient.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Use a pizza stone if you have one. Peel a couple of yukon gold potatoes and then grate them. Set the potatoes aside in a colander to drain. Cook about a half pound of ground Italian sausage in a medium pan over medium heat. When it's browned, drain it paper towels. Roll out the pizza dough as thin or thick as you want it. Put it on a pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal if you are using a pizza stone, or put it on a pan. Brush the dough with olive oil and sprinkle it with a little Kosher salt and black pepper and basil and parsley. Or rosemary - that would be good, too. We used dry herbs, but fresh would be better. Squeeze the grated potatoes to remove as much of the water as possible. I kind of mooshed them around in some paper towels to get them dry. Spread the potatoes evenly over the dough, then sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Spread the Italian sausage and about a cup of shredded asiago or cheddar cheese over the top. Crack an egg on each side of the pizza and put it in the oven.  Bake it for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the crust is done, the cheese is bubbly and the eggs are set.

Sorry there are no food pictures. Here's a baby.

After breakfast, John wanted to get pictures of the mothers with (D)wyatt, so we trooped outside. That baby up there who normally smiles anytime a camera is stuck in his face scowled like Jabba the Hut for the entire photo shoot. He was not pleased.

See? And that's one of his better faces. He wasn't being openly hostile.

Not at all happy. But we thought it was hilarious. Poor kid is doomed to be ridiculed a lot.

It was a lovely Mother's Day. If you'd like to cook a breakfast pizza for your mother, here's the .pdf.

So check back - same bat channel. There's no cooking in the rest of my Denver trip, but there were adventures with baby ducks, bunnies and Bigfoot!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Denver, Part One: Limoncello

Since my ingrate of a dog didn't have anything planned for me for Mother's Day, I hopped a plane and went to Denver to spend it with my mother and the mother of my brand new nephew. I didn't take my camera, so I get to blame the poor photography on the fact that I was using Natalie's iPhone. And I think it must cause seizures because all the pictures I took with it are blurry. Natalie seems to be immune from this phenomenon  - her shots are fine.

It was an eventful trip. So eventful that I'm going to have to break it down into at least two parts. Maybe three.

For the flight to Denver, I got the best seat on the plane. No, I'm serious. Those of you who have been around me for more than 45 minutes know this.

The evening I got there, we got to go to Natalie's Aunt Marsha and Uncle Jack's and have dinner and make limoncello. Natalie's friend Dana went, too. (holla!) Man, that girl is funny. She's got the New Jersey Smoking Old Lady Accent down cold. Marsha is a wonderful cook and a fantastic baker. She fed us some seriously delicious Italian sausage sandwiches for dinner, and a fruit cobbler for dessert that was wonderful.  Then Jack set about the business of giving us a Limoncello tutorial. Here's how you make it:

Peel about a dozen lemons, making sure to get the yellow only, and not the white. The white is bitter. Put the peels in a glass bowl or jar and pour in 1 liter of Pure Grain Alcohol. Yes, the stuff that the guys in our dorm used to pour in a giant trash can with Kool-Aid, Beer, and any other kind of liquor they could get their hands on to make "punch". Seal it with plastic film and set the jar or bowl aside for 14 days. Jack did this step ahead. We didn't stay at their house for two weeks.

While Jack talks about the lemon peels, get a little distracted and take some pictures of your nephew. Try unsuccessfully to cut your brother out of the shot. (There's my mom on the left, and Marsha in the striped shirt on the right. And Jack's got the lemon peels. They smelled good.)

After you finish taking blurry pictures of the baby, strain the peels out of the alcohol. Or watch Jack do it.

You can throw the peels away now. Heat 2 liters of water in a large pot and add 2 cups of sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then set it aside to cool. While it's cooling, take a break and take another blurry baby picture. (He moves a lot.)

Here's Jack making the sugar water, and Dana taking notes. And telling us about smoking cigarettes and drinking limoncello with the old ladies in her apartment building in Jersey. I think it was Jersey. And I think they were Marlboro Lites.

Mix the sugar water with the lemon alcohol. It will get a little cloudy.

Pour it into bottles and it's ready to go. If you leave some room at the top of the bottle, you can store it in the freezer.

Ours was still a little warm, so we added some ice, but that's probably tacky. You should wait until yours gets cold. I'd recommend that you start making it before 8:00 PM.

If you'd like to try Jack and Marsha's Limoncello, here's the .pdf. Stay tuned! Tomorrow I'll tell you about big adventures! And breakfast pizza.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Pomegranate Margaritas

This is one of my favorite warm-weather drinks. Although I have also been known to make them when it's cold outside, too.

Use fresh limes. It makes a big difference.

Mix together one part fresh lime juice, 1 part silver tequila, one part pomegranate juice, and half a part Cointreau or Triple Sec. Put in a shaker full of ice, shake the ever-livin bejeezus out of it, and pour into a sugar-rimmed glass.

Here's the .pdf if you want to pin it to your refrigerator so you don't forget to make one.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Steak and Asparagus Salad with Warm Hoisin Dressing

This is another weeknight dinner you can put together quickly and easily using great spring produce. The dressing can be made while the steak and asparagus are cooking, so the whole thing can be ready to go in about 30 minutes. Or 45 if you're trying to drink a glass of wine and watch videos on your iPad at the same time you're cooking. Or wrangle little people. Oh, who am I kidding? If you're trying to wrangle little people, it will probably take you two glasses of wine and an hour. But it's still simple.

I'm cooking for two here, so if you're doing more, you'll want to bump the ingredients up except the dressing. there's enough for four on that.

First, heat up your grill. For gas, I kick it up to about 400. Generously salt and pepper beef filets. You can use another cut of steak, but I like this one because it's nice and tender and I think it goes better with salad greens.

Toss the steak on the grill and while that's cooking, drizzle a bunch of asparagus with olive oil and then salt and pepper it. When the steak is done, (for me that's about 7 - 10 minutes) take it off the grill and set it aside and put the asparagus on. Cook it until it's crisp-tender, about 5 minutes or so. I like mine a little blackened. No, really! I did that on purpose.

Mix together the dressing while the asparagus is cooking. Put a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil, then sweat 3 minced cloves of garlic and a tablespoon until the garlic is tender, about 3 - 4 minutes. Add a quarter cup of chicken stock, 3 tablespoons of hoisin sauce, 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, a teaspoon of dijon mustard and a teaspoon of honey. Whisk that all together and simmer it until it's reduced by about a third. That takes about five minutes, so at some point during all that, you're going to want to scoot out and pull the asparagus off the grill. Let the dressing cool slightly.

Put about 2 cups of watercress or mixed salad greens in a large bowl and toss with about a quarter of the dressing (more or less - depending on how wet you like your salad). Divide the dressed greens between two plates. top with the grilled asparagus, then slice the beef across the grain and place the slices on the asparagus. Drizzle with more dressing to taste and there you go. Dinner.

If you'd like to give it a try in your own kitchen, here's the .pdf. If you take a picture of it, though, turn the plate around so you get a shot of the top of the asparagus and not the stubby ends. Sheesh.