Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Sweet and Sticky Evening of Jam Making and Canning

Last night, I got one of my urges to cook something I've never cooked before.  Sometimes those urges turn out great...  other times not so great...  such as my toffee making attempts.  But I will master toffee someday, I'm sure of it.  I won't let an electric stove get the best of me!

We're heading to North Dakota early tomorrow morning to spend 4th of July weekend with Jamie's family, so I decided to make homemade jam to take along to give to his mom and sister.  (So while we're out of town, this will be my last post until next week...)

Of course, you could just buy jam...  or you could have some fun making your own, and knowing exactly what is and isn't going into it. The jam making itself seemed simple enough--some fruit, sugar, spices, lemon juice, pectin....  all pretty basic stuff.  So I created a few recipes that I hoped would be delicious:  

Strawberry-Apricot Jam and Black Cherry Vanilla Bean Jam

Sounds yummy, right?  They were SO good, it made me wish I had some freshly made biscuits to scoop a big dollop of jam onto, but I settled for a cinnamon graham cracker with a little peanut butter and some of the cherry jam.

If you're a fan of biscuits and jam like I am, though, then you might like to try making my Baking Powder Biscuits recipe.

Now canning, on the other hand...  that I've never done before.  Usually I just make small batches that can be refrigerated and eaten right away.  So I did some research, and I'll tell you what...  it's really easy.  There are a ton of articles online to help you get started, but I'll break it down into just a few things I learned:
  1. Sterilize the jars well in the dishwasher or in a hot pan of simmering water.
  2. Keep the jars hot while you're making the jam;  pouring hot jam into hot jars lessens the chance of the jars breaking from the temperature shock.
  3. You have to process the jars of hot jam in a water bath to preserve them--it's the only approved, safe method for preventing bacterial contamination.  (Unless of course you're planning to eat it right away, in which case you do not need to process the jars, simply refrigerate and eat within a few months.)
  4. Don't over-tighten the rings on the jars before the water bath--they should only be "fingertip tight" so that steam can penetrate under the ring to seal the jar correctly.
  5. You don't need any fancy equipment--a large pot, tongs (preferably with rubber or silicone at the ends which will grip the jars better), and the jars, lids and rings, of course, are all you need.  
  6. The lids should only be used once for processing--once they are used, they won't seal properly again.
  7. Sugar is a natural preservative.  If you want to use a little less sugar, that's fine, but remember that lower sugar content means a shorter shelf life.  The general rule of thumb in jam is equal parts fruit to sugar (1 pound of sugar for every pound of fruit).
  8. Don't try to do a taste test straight from the pot of boiling jam.  It's really hot, trust me.  Your tongue will thank you later.
Ok, so the fun part is making and eating the jam, so enough about canning and on to jamming...  :)

Printable Recipe

Strawberry Apricot Jam
(makes 2 pints or 4 cups)
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
  • 3 fresh apricots, pitted and sliced
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 packets of pectin (0.4 ounces each)
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
 Black Cherry Vanilla Bean Jam
(makes 2 1/2 pints or 5 cups)
  • 2 pounds frozen sweet dark pitted cherries, thawed
  • seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 packets of pectin (0.4 ounces each)
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Combine the fruit, lemon juice and spices (if using any) in a large stockpot.  Gently mash the fruit to release the juices, but leave it chunky.  Gradually stir in the pectin.  Turn the burner to high, and bring to a vigorous boil while stirring constantly.
Add the sugar all at once and stir well to dissolve.  Bring to a boil again over high heat, and boil hard for one minute.

Remove from heat.  Jam may look runny, but it will gel as it cools, and remember that it will also continue to cook during the water bath.

Pour hot jam into hot, sterilized jars, leaving about 1/4 inch "headspace" at the top, to allow for expansion.  Wipe rims of jars with a clean, damp cloth.  Center lids on jars, then screw on the rings "fingertip tight".  Place jars in a large pot of simmering water, ensuring that jars are covered by 1-2 inches of water.

Cover the pot, and bring water to a steady, gentle boil over medium heat.  Once it starts boiling, set the timer for 10 minutes (20 minutes if you're at high altitude like me).  After the timer goes off, remove the lid and remove the pot from heat; let jars sit in the water for an additional 5 minutes.  

Remove jars from water with tongs and allow to cool on a wire rack overnight.  Check the seal on the lid after 12 hours.  If the center of the lid is indented, then it has sealed properly, and you can store in your pantry for up to a year (refrigerate once you open it).  If the center of the lid pops up and down when you press on it, then it did not seal correctly;  you should refrigerate and eat within a few months.

Happy 4th of July, everyone, and I'll see you when we get back from NoDak!  

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mediterranean Vegetable Platter

I can't take credit for this idea, although I wish I'd thought of it on my own.  My mom sent me a link to some recipes on Williams Sonoma, and I was drawn straight to this vegetable platter.  I did change it up a little--I knew my parents would hate the anchovies, so I left those out, being that this was for Father's Day lunch, and added a few extra items such as stuffed cherry peppers and artichoke hearts.

I practically crave vegetables in the summer, when the day is hot and the air feels heavy, vegetables are filling without being too heavy.  The grilled vegetables in this dish, with the cool and tangy olives and feta cheese, all drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette is really mouth-watering.

So I'll share my findings with all of you.  This is definitely something I'd make again!

Printable Recipe

Mediterranean Vegetable Platter
  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced diagonally in 1/2 inch slices
  • 2 red bell peppers, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rings
  • 3 tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup mixed Greek olives
  • 4 large artichoke hearts
  • 4 stuffed cherry peppers
  • 1 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
  • olive oil, for brushing the vegetables
for the dressing...
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Brush the zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and onion with olive oil, and grill until you have some nice char marks, about 7-8 minutes.

Arrange vegetables, olives, artichoke hearts and cherry peppers on a serving platter.  Drizzle with the dressing and top with feta cheese.

I made this for 4 people, and it was much more than we could finish, so this could serve up to 8 people.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Crockpot BBQ Chicken with Bacon

With camping comes campfire food, including peppered bacon for breakfast.  And who doesn't love bacon?  Jamie and I don't have bacon at home all that often - except for turkey bacon every now and then - but when I suggested turkey bacon for the camping trip, he gave me a look that said that wouldn't be at all acceptable.  Okay, okay, so we got real bacon.

We had a few pieces leftover, and it seemed like it would be a nice addition to BBQ chicken.  I've made BBQ chicken a few times in the crock pot, and it's succulent and tender every time, so if you haven't cooked chicken this way, I suggest you try it immediately!

Jamie and I eat dinner pretty late, so I don't mind waiting a few hours for the crock pot to do the work, but if you're in a hurry, just follow this same recipe, only bake it in the oven in a baking dish, covered with foil, for about an hour at 400 F, or until chicken is cooked through.

Last night, we made open-faced sandwiches with the shredded chicken and a few sliced tomatoes, with homemade Vanilla Bean Apple-Date Sauce on the side.  Completely simple and incredibly satisfying.

Printable Recipe

Crockpot BBQ Chicken with Bacon
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 slices of bacon, cooked but not too crispy, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 1/4 cup BBQ sauce
 Place all of the ingredients into your crock pot and stir so that everything is coated in the BBQ sauce.  Turn it to high, cover and cook for 2 1/2 hours.

Transfer chicken breasts to a plate and shred with two forks.  Return shredded meat to the pot and toss with the sauce until well coated.

Toast some thick slices of good bread, top with sliced tomatoes and the shredded chicken for a yummy open-faced sandwich.

Apple-Date Sauce infused with Vanilla Bean

Applesauce was a dinner staple when I was growing up...  along with bread and butter, beans and rice.  We were a family on a budget, after all!  When my mom asked me to set the table, one of my favorite things to do was to spoon applesauce into a pretty serving bowl, sprinkle it generously with cinnamon, then gently swirl the cinnamon into the applesauce.  Even then, I liked food to be visually appealing.  Wild rice, on the other hand...  not so appealing to a 10-year old, no matter how pretty the bowl is.

Last night, I put some chicken in the crock pot for dinner and was wondering what to have with it.  I found some apples in the fridge, along with an almost empty bag of dates in the cupboard (see my recipe for Date Swirl Cookies), and a vanilla bean nearing its expiration date; in spite of the hot day, freshly made applesauce sounded really good and homey.  Plus I always like using up ingredients in creative ways so that they don't go to waste.

Cinnamon would be pretty predictable in this recipe, so I decided to leave it out;  I wanted the flavor of the vanilla bean to come through instead, and I was really happy with the result.  The applesauce was so smooth and creamy, with a subtle vanilla flavor that really complements the apples and dates and a beautiful speckling of vanilla bean seeds all throughout.  Eat this sauce on its own with a spoon, on top of chicken or pork, or use it as a substitute for oil in baking--it'll be delicious!

Printable Recipe

Apple-Date Sauce infused with Vanilla Bean
  • 5 apples, peeled, cored and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 14 pitted dates, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out (use both the seeds and the bean pod--you'll remove the pod later)
  • 2 cups water
Place all ingredients into a large stockpot; bring to a boil over medium heat; cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Reduce to medium low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until apples are softened.  Taste the liquid and adjust seasoning if desired.

Remove the vanilla bean pod from the pot.  Using an immersion blender, puree apples and liquid until smooth (or you can leave slightly chunky if you like).  Cool, then transfer to glass jars and store in the refrigerator.  Makes about 4 1/2 cups.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gooey S'mores Brownies

It's that time of year when grocery stores have a special display just for S'mores ingredients - I've even seen Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on those displays and wondered how those would taste in a S'more.  Amazing, I'm sure!  My sister spreads Nutella on graham crackers (instead of chocolate bars) before adding the toasted marshmallows, and they are totally yummy. 

This past weekend, we went camping and boating with a bunch of friends, and I actually made it the whole weekend without having a single S'more--something about being in the sun all day that really zaps my energy and appetite.

So, needless to say, we came home from camping this morning with a surplus of graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate.  I really don't want all those items sitting in the cupboard, tempting me to make S'mores at home and totally negating hard work at the gym...  So instead, I decided to use up the ingredients by making something delicious to take to work tomorrow.

To save time, (since I also have a mountain of laundry needing to be washed clean of campfire smoke), I used a boxed brownie mix, but you can certainly use your favorite brownie recipe if you prefer to not use a mix.  Since I added so many gooey melty items to the brownies, I added an extra egg to the brownie batter so that it would hold up better while baking with melting chocolate and marshmallows.  You can use any kind of chocolate you like;  I used a variety of Hershey's Special Dark and Milk Chocolate with Almonds.
Gooey S'mores Brownies
  • 1 box Brownie Mix
  • 15 graham crackers
  • 15 marshmallows
  • 6 chocolate bars, roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
Make brownie batter according to the box's instructions and set aside.
Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray and preheat the oven to 325 F.  Arrange 7 of the graham crackers on the bottom of the pan, breaking them to fit if needed.

Cut the marshmallows in half; the easiest way to cut them is with a sharp, clean pair of kitchen scissors.  Arrange half of the marshmallow halves on the graham crackers.

Pour half of the brownie batter evenly over the graham crackers and marshmallows, then sprinkle with 3/4 cup of the chopped chocolate.  Repeat above steps to build a second layer with remaining graham crackers, marshmallows, brownie batter and chocolate, reserving 1 graham cracker and 1/2 cup of the chopped chocolate for later.

Bake at 325 for 35 minutes, or until center appears to be set.  Remove from oven, top with remaining chopped chocolate, and crush the remaining graham cracker over the top.  Cool completely before serving...  that is, if you can wait!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New York Strip Steak with Peach Balsamic Reduction Sauce

It's the last post in my All About Peaches series from last Friday's dinner...  

First, we had Peach, Goat Cheese and Mint Bruschetta with Peach Mojitos, then Grilled Peach and Veggie Skewers, and lastly, of course, the Strip Steak.  Jamie is a genius when it comes to steak, both at cooking it and picking the best cut on a menu.  For our anniversary dinner out a few weeks ago, he ordered a medium-rare bone-in tenderloin, and it was so tender and succulent, it was like steak butter.  

Seriously, it was that good.  My salmon was good, too, but man, that steak was amazing...  

This weekend we're going camping, and I happen to know he picked up a few USDA prime cuts for dinner at the campground, and it should be delicious since the prime steaks are always fantastically flavorful.  Whether he grills it or sears it in a cast-iron pan on the stove, I have no complaints.  Especially if I can relax while he's cooking!

The better the cut of meat, the less you have to work to make it good, so for a strip steak, a little salt and pepper is all you need along with a very hot pan or grill so you get a nice sear.  For a 1 - 1 1/2 inch thick cut, about 3-4 minutes on each side will cook it to medium rare, which, in my opinion, is the only way to eat it.  For the reduction sauce, all you need is a little balsamic vinegar and peach puree.  To reduce something, you're simply boiling out the water, and when you reduce balsamic vinegar, you're left with a really sweet and tangy syrupy sauce that's fantastic on steak.

And one of my favorite things about leftover steak...  steak and eggs for breakfast the next day.  Some toasted bread, a few slices of steak, a poached egg, and a sprinkle of goat cheese and cherry tomatoes, and you have yourself a really yummy Saturday morning breakfast.  

And I wouldn't think less of you if you took a nap on the couch afterwards.  :)

Printable Recipe

New York Strip Steak with Peach Balsamic Reduction Sauce
  • 2 strip steaks, 1 1/2 inches thick
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 ripe peach, diced, pitt and skin removed
Season the meat with salt and pepper.  Heat a cast iron skillet or grill to medium-high heat.  (Make sure the pan is hot enough so that the meat sizzles when it touches the pan.) Cook the steaks for 3-4 minutes on each side for medium-rare.  Allow to rest on a plate for several minutes before cutting.

Meanwhile, combine the balsamic vinegar and diced peaches in a bowl; use an immersion blender to puree until smooth.  Pour into a hot skillet on medium to medium-high heat so that liquid boils, but not too rapidly.  Cook until sauce has reduced by half, and has a syrupy consistency.  (Be careful not to reduce it too far, or it will become too thick and sticky.)

To serve, spoon sauce over the steak.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Grilled Peach and Veggie Skewers

This is the fourth post on my "All About Peaches" dinner series.  (For previous posts, see All About Peaches, Peach, Goat Cheese and Mint Bruschetta, and Peach Mojitos.)  Coming up next:  Strip Steak with Peach Balsamic Reduction Sauce.

After the bruschetta and mojitos, a few relaxing hours passed as the night got darker, the summer air cooler, and our stomachs started rumbling for dinner.  I've grilled veggies many times before, but I've never before grilled fruit, and I think I've been missing out.  It's something I'm going to be doing a lot more, though!  Right now, I'm thinking how delicious slices of fresh pineapple or cherries would be fresh off the grill.

I paired the peaches with zucchini, squash and cherry tomatoes; since I grilled them on wooden skewers, I needed items with similar cooking times that could all come off the grill at the same time.  I sliced the zucchini and squash into very thin ribbons that I folded back and forth before piercing with the skewer, and while pretty, the slices were too delicate for the grill, so I would recommend thicker slices, or bite-sized pieces.

Printable Recipe

Grilled Peach and Veggie Skewers
(makes 6-8 skewers)
  • 4 peaches, pitted and quartered
  • 2 zucchini, sliced
  • 2 squash, sliced
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • wooden skewers
Soak the skewers in water for at least 30 minutes beforehand.  Alternate peaches, zucchini, squash and tomatoes on the skewers until all ingredients are used.   Brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill on a 400 F-degree grill for about 6-8 minutes, turning once.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lemon Cream Cheese Tart makes a happy Dad on Father's Day

Today being Father's Day, Jamie and I had lunch at my parents' house.  Since I enjoy any excuse to make dessert for other people, I wanted to make a really special dessert for my dad, so I thought about his favorite desserts over the years, and the one that stood out most in my mind was Lemon Fluff.  This dessert was quite simply, layers of Cool Whip, cream cheese and instant lemon pudding, on top of a thin crust made of butter, flour and crushed nuts, all in a 9x13 pan.  My dad loved Lemon Fluff so much, and rightly so, that I remember him cutting two big pieces and stacking them in a bowl to eat with a spoon.  It was easy to make since it was a mostly non-bake dessert, except for the crust, and as a kid it was hard to get through dinner, especially if dinner included lima beans (blegh!), knowing that there was creamy lemony goodness waiting in the fridge.

So with my memories of Lemon Fluff as inspiration, I decided to make an all grown-up version with a shortbread cookie crust, creamy and tart lemon pastry cream, smooth and tangy cream cheese and whipped cream, and to top it all off, candied lemon slices.  I also wanted a reason to use my new and very pretty blue tart pan I recently found at Target.

When someone else has mastered a recipe for perfect tart crust and pastry cream, there's really no reason to not use their tried and true methods, so for this dessert, I turned to my baking cookbook by Dorie Greenspan, "Baking: From my Home to Yours".  So the genius behind the lemony perfection of this dessert is all hers, although the layer of cream cheese filling is my own.  This dessert is sweet but not too sweet, tart, smooth, creamy...  with a buttery crumbly crust that perfectly complements the creamy filling.  What could be more perfect?

There are a lot of steps to completing this tart, but don't worry, it is well worth it!  After finishing his first piece this afternoon, my dad stated in what my mom described as a "sticky voice":  "I think I require another piece."  Somehow, I don't think the rest of the tart I left in their fridge will last through tonight.  :)

Printable Recipe

Lemon Cream Cheese Tart

Sweet Tart Dough
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered or confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • Tart pan, with a removable bottom
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, powdered sugar and salt.  (For the following steps, Dorie Greenspan used a food processor, but I did just fine with a pastry cutter and my hands.) Scatter the cold butter pieces over the flour, and using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until you have coarse crumbs (about 1-2 minutes).  Add the egg yolk, a little at a time, stirring into the flour and butter with your fingers.  Working quickly, work the dough with your fingers to incorporate the moisture into the flour.  (The dough will appear very dry, and you might think it doesn't have enough liquid, but don't worry, it will come together.)  After 2-3 minutes of working the dough, it should start to hold together enough so that you can gather it into a ball.

Grease your tart pan very thoroughly with butter or cooking spray.  Take half the dough and press evenly into the bottom of the tart pan, all the way to the edges.  Take the other half of the dough, and press evenly around the sides of the pan, ensuring that it comes all the way up to the top of the sides--you want a deep crust since you will be filling with two layers.  Freeze crust in pan for 30 minutes before baking.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Take a large piece of aluminum foil and spray the shiny side thoroughly with cooking spray.  Fit the foil, greased side down, tightly against the crust.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Carefully remove the foil.  If the crust has puffed, gently press it down with the back of a spoon.  Bake for an additional 5 minutes until golden brown.  Cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

Cream Cheese - Whipped Cream Layer
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
 Using the whisk attachment of an electric mixer, beat the whipping cream and powdered sugar until soft peaks form.  Add the cream cheese and beat with the cream until it is smooth and thick.  Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Dorie Greenspan's  "Most Extraordinary French Lemon Pastry Cream  "
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • grated zest of 3 lemons
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
  • 2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature
  • medium saucepan and metal bowl, to be used as a double boiler
  • instant read thermometer
  • mesh strainer
  • blender or food processor
 Bring a few inches of water to a simmer over medium heat.  In a metal bowl, combine the sugar and lemon zest.  Rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. (At this point, I couldn't help licking a little of the lemon sugar off my fingers - yum!"  Whisk the eggs into the sugar, followed by the lemon juice, until well incorporated.

Set the bowl over the saucepan.  (The bottom of the pan should not be touching the water.)  Place the thermometer into the liquid.  Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F (I stopped when it reached 177 degrees F since I'm at a high altitude), whisking constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling.  The cream will start out light and foamy, then it will thicken and the whisk will leave tracks.  When it reaches 180, after about 10 minutes, immediately remove from the heat, and pour through the mesh strainer into a bowl.  Discard the zest that's left in the strainer.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Pour lemon cream into a blender or food processor and add the butter, about 5 pieces at a time.  Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter.  Once the butter is in, keep the machine going and blend the cream for an additional 3 minutes for a light, airy cream.  Pour the cream into a container, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Candied Lemon Slices
  • 3 lemons, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups granulated sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
 Bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop in the lemon slices.  Boil for 2 minutes, then drain the peel in a colander and rinse under cold water.  Refill the pot and repeat the boiling, draining and cooling twice more.

Rinse out the pot and pour in the 4 cups water.  Stir in the sugar and lemon juice and bring to a boil.  Return the lemon slices to the pot, cover and reduce the heat so that the lemon slices simmer gently in the syrup.  Stirring now and then, simmer for 1 hour, until slices are soft and completely candied.  

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lemon slices to a wire rack set over a plate to drain and cool.  Allow to dry overnight, then toss with sugar until well coated.

Don't throw out the syrup!  What's left in the pot is a wonderful lemony simple syrup that can be used anytime you need a liquid sweetener.  I poured mine into a jar to keep in the fridge for future use.  One thing I plan to use mine tea on a chilly night.

Assembling the Lemon Cream Cheese Tart

Spoon the cream cheese mixture into the tart shell and spread evenly over the bottom of the crust.  There's no need to use all of the cream cheese if you'd like a thicker layer of lemon cream on top--I used all but 1/2 cup of the cream cheese mixture.

Next, spoon the lemon cream over the cream cheese and spread with a spatula.  Swirl the spatula to create any kind of design you'd like on top.

Lastly, arrange the candied lemon slices as desired on top of the lemon cream.

Carefully, press the bottom of the tart pan up to remove from the pan--if buttered well, it will come out perfectly cleanly.  Set tart on a serving dish.  Serve and be prepared for lots of compliments.  :)

Peach Mojitos

To continue my "All About Peaches" series of Friday night's dinner, the first post being the appetizer round of Peach, Goat Cheese and Mint Bruschetta, the next item from the menu was a refreshing Peach Mojito

Generally speaking, I don't usually drink much other than a glass or two of wine on Friday nights, Mike's Hard Lemonade (yes, I'm a lightweight drinker) or the occasional White Russian, but I am kind of fascinated by all the combinations out there that mixologists come up with.  But the average person couldn't possibly have that many different types of liqueur, syrups, juice, alcohol, etc, and everything else it takes to make those cocktails at home, could they?  Actually, I'm sure I could be surprised by the answer to that.  

So, since I already had mint on hand for the bruschetta and a bottle of white rum leftover from a dessert I made last year, leaving the rum untouched since then, I decided to make mojitos.  All you need is white rum, lime juice, sugar, mint leaves, and club soda or Sprite.  Oh, and peaches for my version!

Printable Recipe

For one Peach Mojito:
  • 1/2 ripe peach, diced
  • 6 mint leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 2 ounces white rum
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • crushed ice
  • 4 ounces soda
Place the diced peaches, mint leaves and rum in a tall glass, and gently muddle to crush the mint leaves and release their flavor.  (If you're like me, and you don't have an official "muddler", the blunt end of a spatula will work just fine, too!) Add the lime juice, sugar and ice, and stir.  Top off with the soda and garnish with a sprig of mint, slice of lime or peach.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Peach, Goat Cheese and Mint Bruschetta

Last night Jamie and I made our "All About Peaches" themed dinner, and for the appetizer we had bruschetta.  Although maybe it could also be considered crostini--is there really a difference between the two?  Personally, I don't care about the official term, since both are awesome.  What could be better than good bread brushed with olive oil, toasted until it's warm and crisp, and topped with yummy ingredients?

For the bruschetta, I started with a fresh, aromatic loaf of rosemary olive oil bread from the grocery store bakery.  The right bread is essential, since it's the foundation of the whole dish, and I prefer something with more depth and flavor than just white french bread.  Slice the bread about 3/4 inch thick, place on a baking sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Toast under the broiler until golden brown and crisp.

Meanwhile, prepare the topping.  I topped mine with diced peaches, goat cheese crumbles, a little honey and lemon, freshly chopped mint, and a sprinkling of coarse salt.  If you combine the topping ingredients together like I did, then be sure to eat the bruschetta right away, since the goat cheese will start to absorb the juices from the peaches and get soggy if you leave it to sit for too long.  Or instead of mixing everything together, just arrange slices of peaches on top of each slice of bread, then top the peaches with the remaining ingredients for a pretty presentation.

Printable Recipe

Peach, Goat Cheese and Mint Bruschetta
  • 1 loaf good bakery bread
  • olive oil
  • 2 peaches
  • 1/2 cup goat cheese crumbles
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped mint

Friday, June 17, 2011

All about peaches...

A thunderstorm came on suddenly this afternoon, and the smell of rain and sound of thunder took me back to my childhood; growing up in South Carolina, we certainly got our fair share of rain and thunderstorms and I sometimes miss that since Colorado is generally so dry.  One of my favorite memories of our house in SC is of my younger brother (hopefully he won't mind my sharing this).  There was a wide, very deep dip between our house and our neighbor's house that would fill with water after a week-long rain storm;  it was practically a small pond when it was really full.  And my brother would sit out there with a fishing pole, convinced he was going to catch a fish.  It's too bad it never occurred to us to sneak a few fish in there so he could actually catch something.  That would have made his day!

Something else we got plenty of on the east coast--fresh peaches.  I wish they didn't have so far to travel to get to us here in Colorado.  When you drive down I-85 near Gaffney, SC, there's a huge peach-shaped water tower called the Peachoid, and it was always the highlight of any road trip to see that massive peach; my brother, sister and I would giggle uncontrollably at the peach crack on one side of it since it looked like a big... you know.  :)  (Google it and you'll see what I mean.)

I'm headed to the store in a few hours to get a few items for dinner; tonight's dinner will be centered all around peaches.  I'm really looking forward to making this meal because I so love fresh peaches with their sweet-tart juiciness and soft, fuzzy skin.  It's the sort of meal I would love to make for company, so that I could make a little more of it.

Here is my menu for tonight, so pictures and recipes will be coming throughout the weekend:
  • New York Strip Steak, with a Peach Balsamic Reduction sauce
  • Grilled Skewers of Zucchini, Squash, Peaches, and Cherry Tomatoes
  • Peach, Goat Cheese and Mint Bruschetta
  • Peach Mojitos (can't forget the cocktail on Friday night, although Jamie has informed me that he won't be drinking a girly fruity drink.)  :)
  • And for dessert, I'm so tempted to make a warm and buttery Peach Crumble, topped with vanilla ice cream....  but, I have to resist temptation, so I'm sorry, no peach-themed dessert tonight, although I will be making a special Father's Day dessert to take to my parents' on Sunday--more on that later, though...

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Sweet Potato Fries and BBQ Beef Brisket

    Summertime just begs for BBQ and all the wonderful side dishes that go with it.  For this post, though, the BBQ is not the star, ...  I won't pretend to be a master at BBQ, although I'm working on my skills.  I made BBQ Beef Brisket the other night, which turned out more dry than I would have liked, although it was still pretty tasty on a toasted bun with onions and spicy pickles. 

    Grilled corn on the cob was as perfect as it always is--personally I don't think it needs anything added, although as a kid, my family loaded ours up with butter, salt and pepper--now I eat it plain.

    And then there are sweet potatoes.  Sweet potatoes are a really good-for-you food, being a low-glycemic carb in addition to just being plain delicious.  And they really don't have to be smothered in butter, cinnamon and sugar the way they're served at most steak houses;  roasted in the oven with a little olive oil, salt and pepper until they're soft inside and the edges are nicely crispy and caramelized is just about my favorite way to eat them.  (For a variation on the spices try them with nutmeg or a dash of cayenne pepper!)

    For our BBQ dinner, though, I decided to make fries.  Now, I've tried making oven-baked sweet potato fries many times, and cannot for the life of me make them crispy in the oven--they still taste good, but they're not really what I want from a fry (think Wendy's--best fries ever!).  So for this meal, I boiled them first to cook them nearly all the way through, then fried them in a shallow pan in some olive oil to add a crispy exterior.  I was really pleased with the result, and thought they looked especially cute arranged in brown paper cones set in a glass.

    Printable Recipe

    Sweet Potato Fries
    • 2 large sweet potatoes (for 4-5 servings)
    •  salt, pepper, or other favorite seasoning
    • 1 cup olive oil
    Peel the potatoes, if desired, or leave the peel on for added texture and simply scrub the potatoes well.  Slice into steak-fry size wedges (about 1/4 inch thick).  
    Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over medium heat.  Add the potatoes and cook just until you are able to pierce them with a fork, but wedges still hold their shape.  Since you are not making mashed potatoes, it's important to not boil them too rapidly, or they will become soft and mushy on the outside before they're cooked through.

    Transfer potatoes to a wire rack to drain.  Heat the olive oil in a wide, flat bottom pan over medium-high heat.  The oil is hot enough when a drop of water sizzles when dropped into the oil.

    Working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, fry the potatoes, turning as needed, until golden brown and crispy.  Drain on a paper towel and immediately sprinkle with seasoning.  

    (I made the paper cones by cutting rectangles from paper Starbucks bags, rolling into a cone and folding the end under before placing in a glass.)