Saturday, December 22, 2012

I feel like Sandra Lee!

It's true!  I got bored and combined store-bought ingredients (vodka) with some fresh ingredients (cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans) and BAM!  I somehow ended up with Aftershock.  

The Devil
For real.  If you're not British, you're probably not all that familiar with this syrupy, cinnamon liqueur, but I remember ferreting it back from London for my little brother-in-law out in Australia.  It's expensive as hell in the UK (£26), and I recently found it here stateside (B and his little brother were thrilled) for about $20, but I was aftershocked (wah wah) by how similar this ended up tasting!

Aftershock is no joke.  It makes you do questionable things.  Like take another shot of Aftershock...

Look how happy everyone looks before the Aftershock! 
And I think the Bean's face says it all...This was her first shot of Aftershock ever.

It's really not a terribly difficult concept, but I'll tell you, what, little bottles of flavoured liquor certainly do impress!  Basically, you take a bottle of vodka (I used this because it's clear and takes on other flavours really well) and stick in some of whatever flavour you want.  I did this cinnamon vanilla bean one, thinking it would be a nice addition to egg nog, and a spicy chili one, which makes a great shot or a delicious addition to Bloody Marys (and helped me to utilize the heaps of cayenne peppers and serranos that our garden was kicking out).

One thing that surprised me was how quickly the cinnamon and vanilla bean turned the clear vodka into a caramel bourbon colour (this change started immediately, and piqued about 36 hours later):

Still, my favourite is the chili vodka, because I love that you can see the peppers and I love how it elevates a regular Bloody Mary.  Plus, it looks fantastic in smaller bottles as a gift.

I think the possibilities for this are limitless, and I definitely want to make a Meyer lemon or Satsuma variety now that citrus is in season.  Let's not lie, I'm probably going to make a Jolly Rancher or Sour Patch Kids infused vodka any day now as well.  :/  The funny thing is that I don't like vodka.  I have friends that drink vodka tonics, vodka waters, etc. and it makes my stomach turn.  It tastes like paint stripper to me on its own, but the flavours definitely make it tolerable and, dare I say, enjoyable?  Well, I still wouldn't choose to drink it on its own, but it's definitely great for cocktails.

Bottoms up!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sunday Funday Bloody Mary Bar

Today I FINALLY made time to see one of my good high school friends that I've been playing, "We should hang out some time," with for the last 6-12 months, feeling threatened by her imminent departure.  Turns out she's not leaving anymore (a selfish, "YAY!" for me), and we got to enjoy some Bloody Marys in the Texas sunshine before it gets unbearably hot.  It was the start to a pretty awesome Sunday Funday.

I'd been on the prowl for a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar for months, as I don't particularly like the bland, tomato soup tasting Bloody Marys you get in most bars (and there's always the anchovy risk in unknown pre-mixes), but I do love a good peppery, spicy, cleans-your-clock Bloody Mary that is closer to drinking salsa than anything else.  You know what they say - if you want something done right...spend forever searching for a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar!

While the set-up at Uncle Billy's was ultimately disappointing (a smallish tray with three bottles of pre-mix - thankfully one without Worcestershire sauce that contained anchovies - some olives, pickled green beans, and several bottles of hot sauce), I think I managed a pretty good drink.  I had severe heartburn by the end of the first one, so I obviously did something right!

I think I did a pretty great job on the garnishes as well - my drinks never come looking this good!

Breakfast of Champions Bloody Mary

(What I make at home, not what I had at Uncle Billy's, unfortunately.)

  • Mr. & Mrs. T's Bold & Spicy Bloody Mary Mix
  • Splash of vegetarian Worcestershire sauce (I use Annie's)
  • Splash to glug of Stubb's Wicked Chicken Wing Sauce
  • Splash of jalapeño or olive juice
  • Several cranks from the black pepper grinder
  • Several shakes of celery seed
  • Several shakes of celery salt (up the celery seed instead if you want to cut the sodium)
  • Squeeze of lemon or lime
  • Olives, lime wedges, celery stick, or pickle spear to garnish

Preparation (very complicated)
  1. Put some ice in a glass.
  2. Fill 2/3 of the way with the Bloody Mary mix.
  3. Shake, splash, crank, and squeeze the rest of the ingredients into the glass.
  4. Stir with a celery stick or pickle spear.
  5. Enjoy!
Oh, you can add vodka if you want as well, haha!  I drink this (sans vodka) on mornings where I don't have time to make breakfast and I stick a green straw in it.  I can still remember my new boss' face the first time he saw me walk in with one of these.  Was it shock?  Nope.  Pure jealousy!

As an aside, check out your local Ross, TJ/TK Maxx, Marshall's, or HomeGoods store for an awesome array of well-priced mixers and drink fixin's (no, that's not possessive, it's a plural southern drawl :).  You'd be shocked by how many $2 or $3 bottles of really interesting stuff they have.  Plus, there's usually a great selection of fancy salts and sugars (for the rim of your glass) on the cheap as well!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Why the heck did you buy so much corn?!

Well, corn was 6/$1 at H-E-B when I ventured in at 10 p.m. to grab a rotisserie chicken and attempt to make B a super fast, semi-homemade chicken soup (you can read about how super fast that ended up being here) a few nights ago.  Never one to pass up a bargain (or a milky-sweet cob of fresh corn), I obviously bought $5 worth.

When I got home, B was in a Nyquil coma on the couch, and the ears of corn sat around for a few days.  Faced with constant..."reminders" (which were even more frequent than usual, seeing as B was at home sick just looking at the small harvest of corn day in and day out) about the 30 ears of corn that were "rotting" on the counter, I seasoned them up, and grilled them all at once.

Apparently, I have misplaced these photos, but it was simple stuff: A quick rubdown with olive oil, and then salt and pepper on some, Tajín on the rest (you can use chili powder and lemon pepper for a similar effect).  We wrapped them in foil (who knows about the cleanliness of apartment community grills), and grilled them for about half an hour.

We ate one a piece with our dinner, and then went to bed.  When I woke up this morning, there were 28 foil wrapped cobs of corn staring me down, so I got down to business with my fancy new corn zipper (thanks, B!) and made quick work of stripping the kernels from the ears.  I knew that I wanted to make a roasted corn bisque of some sort, as I've had a couple at different restaurants now, and enjoyed them immensely both times.

After gathering some ingredients I felt should be included, here's what I came up with.  It's a great option if you've got leftover grilled corn from your last BBQ.  Enjoy!

Yes, this soup is thick enough that a little drizzle of cream will sit nicely on top, and the peppers won't sink!

Roasted Corn Soup Bisque

  • 1 C  diced onion (I used yellow because there was one already cut in the fridge)
  • 1      large clove garlic, smashed
  • 4 C  roasted/grilled sweet corn kernels
  • 3 C  vegetable broth
  • 2 C  milk (unflavoured soy milk for a delicious vegan option)
  • 1 C  heavy cream (adds great creaminess, but regular milk is okay, too)
  • 1      cayenne pepper (approximately 6" long), sliced thin
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 C  roasted/grilled sweet corn kernels (optional)

  1. Don't stress about dicing the onions in a uniform size, or whether your corn kernels aren't perfect and whole.  We're about to blend the crap out of this.  :)
  2. Add onions, garlic, 4 cups of the corn, and broth to a large pot.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.  We're trying to get the kernels nice and tender here, so that they blend well.
  3. Pour soup into a blender about half a blender-full at a time, and go nuts.  You will pour this back into the pot, half fill the blender again, and continue to go crazy until the whole pot is blended.  It WILL NOT be terribly smooth, so don't worry.  It will get better, but this is, ultimately, a somewhat chewy soup.
  4. Add the milk to blended soup, and simmer for another 15-20 minutes.
  5. Repeat the blending process from step three, and return to pot when you are satisfied with the texture.  To be honest, I had hoped for a creamier texture, but maybe I just need a better blender. YMMV.
  6. Add heavy cream and cayenne pepper (you can certainly use fresh jalapeños or any other pepper you have on hand - we just had an abundance of cayennes in the garden), and simmer for 10 minutes to let the flavors blend.
  7. Salt and pepper the soup to taste (I used tons and tons of freshly cracked pepper), and, if you want a really hearty soup, add an additional 2 cups of corn kernels.  These will stay whole, and provide that lovely pop of sweet corn goodness when you bite into them.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Quick and Elegant Side: Roasted Dill Carrots

While making chicken soup for the B, I began to think that the carrots I'd sliced on my mandolin (I'm a sucker for uniform thickness, and I kind of suck at doing it myself) were a bit too thin and might become mushy in the soup.  So...what to do - at nearly one in the morning, on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion - with two cups of carrot chips?  Make the Bean the happiest girl in the world, of course!
Great for this side dish, but a bit too thin for a hearty chicken noodle soup...
We've had roasted dill carrots a number of times at one of our local markets, and the Bean absolutely loves them.  However, the last time we went, she paid almost $5 for a small container of them and they were overcooked.  Needless to say, she was pissed and complained how it was ridiculous that every time we came in, the quality was worse, the prices higher, and the portions smaller.

As I mentioned, I was dead on my feet, so I needed to get these carrots done and dusted ASAP.  A quick toss in olive oil, chopped fresh dill (the very first harvest from our little garden!), and a sprinkle of sea salt, and into the oven (at 375° F) they went.
Ready for the oven!
Just ten minutes later, they were barely curling at the edges and ready to come out.  Once they cooled a bit, I popped them in the fridge and hit the sack.  Now you can certainly eat these warm, but we prefer them chilled - the carrots are wonderfully crisp and the dill really has a chance to release its flavor.  

Either way, you have a beautiful side dish that takes about 2 minutes of prep, and 10 minutes of cooking.  It's a fantastic alternative to boring, blanched green beans or bagged salad if you're making a steak, or just as good straight out of the bowl (which is how the Bean ate all of it, in about five minutes).
Less than 15 minutes from start to sleep, thank goodness!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Taste of Home

My favorite part of coming over to my mom's house is that you never know what kind of food will be on the stove.  I have no idea what perceptions people have of what Guyanese vegetarians eat for dinner every night, but it certainly can't be what I walked into last night!

I was immediately greeted by the warm smokey smell of charred bell peppers, which made my mouth water just thinking of my mom's roasted peppers.  I don't care how much you pay at Whole Foods for a tiny jar - nothing beats the oily, vinegary, slightly smokey taste of freshly dressed peppers that have just come off the flame 20 minutes ago.
Garlicky, peppery, vinegary goodness!
I didn't know whether she was bulk roasting the peppers (since Sprouts had an amazing 3/$1 special on giant red bell peppers) or making just a few for dinner, but, thankfully, a quick look at the stove told me that it would be the latter.  In a big pan, Mom was sautéing zucchini and garlic and I thought that one of my favorites, pasta gagutz, was on the way.  However, the zucchini was cut in chunks (my favorite part of pasta gagutz is the thin, slightly crispy rounds of zucchini), and, having just bought my mom a mandolin, I tried to excuse my seeming brattiness by demonstrating how easy the device made cutting the zucchini "really thin!" (as my dad would shout from the living room).  

She indulged me and let me set up another pan on the stove so that I could duplicate the "something new" she was making with my thin slices of zucchini.  After those thin slices of heaven became golden brown and started to curl around the edges, I ground in a couple (okay, several) turns of black pepper, added the cooked linguine, and some minced black olives (straight from the can - no knife work needed) and capers.  
What would you add?  Kalamata olives?  Grilled eggplant?

I'll be honest - sorry, B - I took a few delicious forkfuls straight from the pan before being sent on my way with a steaming bowl of simple deliciousness, a container of roasted peppers, and two small loaves of ciabatta bread.  B was waiting at home because I was only over to drop the Bean home since some jerk had destroyed the whole driver's side of her car earlier that day by mashing it with his truck.  Normally I don't like to eat and run (and this is a dish you MUST eat hot, or else it just seems greasy), but when I walked in the door and B was moaning about what to make for dinner, it was all I could do not to squeal in excitement as I unloaded the delicious Mediterranean feast we had.

I added some of the oven-dried tomatoes I'd made earlier in the week as well as a good amount of parmesan cheese and a little drizzle of hot chili oil before reheating it (like I said, you MUST eat it hot).  This gave me time to slice open the ciabatta loaves and top them with slices of mozzarella cheese before sticking them under the broiler.  Throwing some roasted red peppers on top after taking them out of the oven completed the meal.  It was rustic, sophisticated, and comforting all at once.  So simple, but something that would certainly impress at a dinner party.
The creamy, broiled mozzarella is the perfect compliment to the acidity of the peppers.

I think some thin slices of mushroom would have been great in this dish as well, but that's the beauty of it - add whatever you want and toss!  I have no doubt that this would be exquisite with a bit of spicy salami or sausage if you have guests or a spouse who is always asking, "Where's the meat?"  You can make it all in one pan, and then separate it at the end and just let the oils of the meat infuse the dish.  If you use sausage, the fat left over from cooking it would be a great addition during the final toss.

καλή όρεξη!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What do you eat - Tofurky or something?

Whenever anyone finds out that I am vegetarian (and especially around the holiday season) I know that within seconds I will hear something along the lines of, "Haha, what do you eat Tofurky or something?"  To be honest, I'm impressed that so many people know what Tofurky is, although I'm inclined to think that many of them just know vegetarians eat tofu, and it's only a hop, skip, and a jump from turkey to Tofu-rky.  

They think it's witty, I want to bang my head against a wall, and they are inevitably shocked that there really is such a thing as Tofurky.  Since it's January, you can imagine that I am just about done with that line, so I wanted to share some of the fantastic meat alternative products that I do eat on a day to day basis.  

For those of you just starting on the vegetarian journey (or for you frustrated, meat-eating parents trying to appeal to a suddenly vegetarian teenager), think of this as a gift:  As a lifelong vegetarian, I've eaten a LOT of crappy fake meat in the last quarter of a century.  And I mean a lot.  Fortunately for you, I'm about to provide a little cheat sheet as to the best stuff out there.  There are links to all of the products' websites, so you can check them out yourself.

You're welcome.  :)

Best Veggie Chicken Patty:  Boca Spicy Chik'n Patty 
  • There's only one thing you need to know about these:  B hid from me for years when we were first together that he would ask the Bean to make him Chik'n patty sandwiches.  I mean, he actually would have cravings for them he liked the flavour and texture so much!
  • Also, Boca is endorsed by Weight Watchers, so that makes it super easy for those of you counting points.  This is neither here nor there to me, but my mom lost a whole heap of weight on Weight Watchers, so I thought I'd point that out.
  • I use this for everything:  Lasagna, meatballs, meatloaf, tacos, Hamburger Helper - you name it, if it calls for ground beef, this is what I use.  My sister prefers the Boca version, because I think it's closer to vegan (no egg whites, but it still has sugar).  
Best Breakfast Line:  MorningStar Farms
  • I haven't really seen many other brands make a serious effort at a vegetarian breakfast line, and these sausage links and patties (the regular, not maple) are so delicious, I haven't been persuaded to try anything else.  
  • I think all vegetarian bacon is a bit of a joke, but their bacon strips are what I grew up on, so on the rare occasion that I'm in the mood for a BLT, this is what I use.
Best Deli Slices:  Tofurky Deli Slices (Especially the Peppered and Italian Deli)
  • These deli slices are almost paper thin, and loaded with flavour.  I have been known to sit and eat half a package in one sitting without even realizing it.  Because I like my sandwich fixings thinly sliced (I can hear my dad saying, "And cut the tomatoes and cucumbers reeeeally thin!"), these really appeal to me.
  • Also, I have an unhealthy obsession with coarse ground black pepper, so it's like these were made for me!
  • LightLife's Smart Deli Roast Turkey Style deli slices are also pretty awesome, but it breaks my heart that they stopped making the salami slices I'm convinced they used to make.
  • I fill that void with Yves Meatless Deli Salami Slices when I can find them...
  • The Veggie Patch hot dogs were a surprise to me.  We always get the Jumbo Smart Dogs, but for some reason (probably because there was a sale and a coupon) I picked up a box of these one day.  They are the perfect size for those cheap, standard hot dog buns because they are slimmer than the Smart Dogs.  When I eat these, I feel like I'm getting a hot dog from a cart in New York.  
  • Note that it is best to microwave, boil or steam these (since they are so thin, grilling them makes them a bit too tough, unless you keep a close eye on them).
  • The Jumbo Smart Dogs are perfect for your summer BBQ.  Thick, juicy and big enough to fill out any bun or roll, these veggie dogs can withstand the heat from a grill, and are all the better because of it.  They're also substantial enough to hold their own against the relish, tomatoes, pickles and sport peppers that make up my favourite dog:  the Chicago Dog.

That's all for tonight!  Tomorrow I'll go over the best burgers, sausages, chicken nuggets and other meatless meal starters.