Monday, October 25, 2010

So What Cocktails

I wanted a special cocktail for our Korean feast a few weeks back, and my friend Virginia suggested using a distilled drink called soju.

I had never heard of this beverage and I imagined going to the local liquor store and having the following exchange.  (You should hear a Texas twang inside your head for this.)  Me: “Hi, I’m looking for a bottle of soju.  Do you have it?”  Liquor store clerk: “So what?”  Me: “Soooo jew.”  Liquor store clerk:  “Huh.  Never heard of it.”

Soju is a distilled beverage from Korea.  It is clear in color and tastes similar to vodka, but it is lower in alcohol content, usually 25 to 45% ABV.  Traditionally soju was made from rice, but you can now see it distilled from other grains and starches.  Even though it is commonly drunk neat in shot glasses, I wanted to mix it up a bit.

It just so happened that the very weekend I decided to create a soju cocktail we went to dinner with our friends Chris and Jennifer.  We learned that Chris has become something of a liquor connoisseur and because my husband and I enjoy drinking alcohol, thinking about alcohol, and talking about alcohol, the conversation quickly turned to Chris’s expanded focus on liquor. 

I asked Chris if he could recommend a liquor store that might have hard-to-find items.  Chris asks what in particular I’m seeking.  I don’t expect him to have heard of it, so I say I’m looking for an Asian distilled beverage called soju.  Just as I am about to launch into an explanation of what has been shared with me by Virginia, he says oh, I think I have three cases of that.  I’m pretty sure my mouth fell open at this point.  I can only hope I didn’t embarrass myself too badly.  Luckily, Jennifer has known me a long time and that certainly wouldn’t have been the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in front of her.  Once, my jaw started working again, I asked him where he got it.  He offers instead to give me a few bottles.

Well, we’ve enjoyed experimenting with our bottles of soju.  Thanks, Chris!

Soju Gingertini
Makes 1

3 oz soju
1 1/2 oz ginger syrup
lemon peel

Put soju, ginger syrup, and ice in a cocktail shaker.  Shake until chilled.  Strain into glass and garnish with lemon twist.

To make the ginger syrup - Take a 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peel, and cut into big chunks.  Put it in a saucepan with 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water, stirring to combine.  Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat.  When mixture boils, reduce heat and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved and syrup is slightly thickened.  This took me about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat, discard ginger, and let cool.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Pom Soju Cooler
Makes 1 drink

2 oz soju
4 oz pomegranate juice
1/2 tsp honey
lemon slice for garnish

Pour soju and pomegranate juice over ice.  Stir in honey.  Garnish with lemon slice.

Gingerbread Soju

Makes 1 drink

1 1/2 oz soju
3 oz ginger syrup
cinnamon sugar
dash of allspice
cinnamon stick

Pour soju and ginger syrup in an ice-filled shaker.  Shake until chilled.  Strain and pour into a cinnamon sugar rimmed glass.  Add dash of allspice and garnish with cinnamon stick.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Friday Flop

So, not at all of my kitchen experiments work out perfectly.  In fact, sometimes they are a total flop.  Luckily, my latest project was not a complete and total flop...just a minor one.

I've been obsessed with making my own pepper jelly lately.  I just love the stuff, and I think it tastes good on or with so many things.  But, I'd never made my own before, and no one that I asked confessed to any experience with it either.  So, I did some research and read through many recipes (including several from my folks, thank you!) and came up with a formula that I thought would work.

Well, it didn't.  I mean, it tasted good...a nice combination of sweet and hot, but the consistency was all wrong.  It ended up not like jelly, but more like honey.  Disappointing to say the least.

Unfortunately, I'm still preoccupied with the challenge of making pepper jelly.  So, I'm looking to you for help, dear readers.  I would appreciate it if you would review what I did and offer suggestions for improvement or advice on what I could do differently.  Thanks in advance!

Pepper Jelly
Makes 6 half-pints

1 cup green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 cup jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
6 cups white sugar
1 box of pectin

I finely chopped and seeded both kinds of peppers.  You can see I wasn't too careful about the seeds.

I combined the peppers with the vinegar and sugar in a big heavy pot, and brought it to a rolling boil.  I let it boil for about a couple of minutes.

Then, I took it off the heat and added the pectin.  I used one box of Sure-Jell.  I stirred some more to get rid of all the lumps and then I spooned it into sterilized half-pint jars and sealed.  I processed the jars in a boiling water bath to complete the seal.  Once the jars were vacuum-sealed, I turned them over and around a bit to distribute the peppers throughout the jelly.  I could tell it was thickening, but only so much.

I'm guessing I didn't let it cook long enough.  Thoughts?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

October is Texas Wine Month

In honor of Texas Wine Month, I thought I would share a few tidbits of knowledge and give you a recipe that calls for a bottle with an apple in it.

Did you know that Texas has more than 220 family-owned vineyards covering 3,700 acres?  What about the fact that the Texas wine industry contributes more than $1.35 billion a year to the state's economy and supports more than 9,000 jobs for Texans?  Are you surprised to learn that the Texas Hill Country is  the third largest American viticultural area, dwarfing any in California?

The first vineyards in Texas were established by Spanish missionaries in the 1600s, but the modern Texas wine industry as we currently know it began in the 1970s.  Because the industry hasn't been around very long (relatively speaking), vitners are still determining which grapes grow best in the Texas climate.  Current front runners include traditional European grapes, such as  Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Merlot.  Texas wineries are also doing great work with grapes such as Sangiovese, Syrah, Blanc du Bois, Viognier, Malbec, and Tempranillo.  Plus, some of the cooler climate grapes such as Reisling and Pinot Noir have been successful in West Texas, where the elevation creates a cooler climate.

The major differences between the Texas growing season and that of California are that ours is much warmer with less sunshine and more heat and humidity.  Climate is the single most important factor in viticulture, and there are several grapes that are well-suited to the Texas heat, including Syrah, Tempranillo, and Viognier.

Viognier is an intense, slightly spicy white wine.  My favorite is from Becker Vineyards outside of Fredericksburg, Texas.   It has hints of floral, peach, and apricot, but still maintains a bit of crispness.

Andrea Immer Robinson, Master Sommelier and wine writer, said it is, "One of the best viogniers made in America, so it's worth the search."

I think it works pretty well with dishes that you might pair with a reisling, such as these pork chops in a recipe modified from Saveur Magazine...

Stuffed Pork Chops with Roasted Apples and Calvados
Serves 6

10 Tbsp butter
10 small yellow onions, peeled and halved lengthwise
2 stalks celery, trimmed and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 tsp dried sage leaves
1 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 double-cut, bone-in, pork chops
6 cooking apples, peeled, quartered, and cored
3/4 cup calvados

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  Melt 5 Tbsp of the butter in a large skillet over low heat.  Finely chop 3 of the onion halves and add to the skillet along with the celery, garlic, and sage.  Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until soft, probably no more than 5 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat, stir in breadcrumbs, and season stuffing to taste with salt and pepper.

Using a sharp knife, cut a deep pocket in the side of each chop.

Fill each with one-sixth of the stuffing, then close with a toothpick.  Season chops with salt and pepper.

Wipe skillet clean and return to medium-high heat.  Brown stuffed chops, 2 at a time, making sure that both sides and the edges get nicely browned.  It was about 3 minutes per side.  Transfer chops to a large roasting pan.

Reduce heat under skillet to low and melt remaining 5 Tbsp of butter.  Put melted butter, apples, calvados, and remaining onions in a large bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Toss well.  Increase heat to medium high, put apples and onions in the skillet, and saute until evenly browned all over.  It took about 10 minutes.

Scatter and spread the apples and onions around the chops in the roasting pan.  Cover pan tightly with foil and roast until chops are tender, about 3 hours.  Be sure to pull out the toothpicks before serving.

NOTE: Calvados is apple brandy from the Norman region of France.  Apples are pressed into a juice that is fermented into a dry cider, and then distilled into brandy or eau de vie.  After aging in oak casks for two years it can be sold as Calvados.  The longer the aging, the smoother it becomes and the more expensive the bottle.

You will notice that my bottle of Calvados Pomme d'Eve has an actual apple inside.  Cool, huh?  After the blossom, and once the apple has started to grow, carafes are attached on the apple trees, so that the fruit can grow inside.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Olive This Bread

I'm crazy for the olive bars that are popping up in the nicer grocery stores across the country.  But, I always end up buying more than I really need.  Since not all the varieties I end up with taste good in martinis, I decided to whip up some olive bread.

Olive Bread
Makes 1 loaf

1 package of active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp white sugar
2 3/4 to 3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup warm milk
1/2 to 3/4 cup seeded, chopped olives (any variety)

In bowl, combine yeast, sugar, and warm water.  Let proof.

In large bowl, combine 1 1/4 cup flour, melted butter, and milk.  Add foaming yeast to dry ingredients.  Stir well.

Add chopped olives and stir.

Add another 1 1/4 cups flour to make a soft dough, stirring.  Turn out the dough onto a floured surface.  Depending on how sticky it is, you may need to add another 1/4 cup of flour as you knead.

Knead until it is no longer sticky.  Cover and let rise on floured surface for about 10 minutes.  Make sure the space isn't too drafty.

Now, get it ready for baking.  I baked my loaf free-form on a baking stone.  So, I just shaped it a bit and placed it on the stone.  If you want to use a loaf pan, roll up the dough tightly...seal up the ends by pinching down at the loaf, seam facing down in a greased 9 x 5 loaf pan.

Cover completely and allow it to rise in a warmish, draft-free place until doubled.  This usually takes about an hour.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree F oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Book Review: Meat A Love Story by Susan Bourette

My husband pointed out that I haven't written a book review in a while.  He's right.  Even though  I've read plenty of food-related books over the past few weeks, I have not posted any entries on them.  Let me try and rectify that...Please note that not all reviews have to be recommendations.

The book begins with Toronto-based journalist Susan Bourette working undercover in a slaughterhouse.  Not surprisingly, Bourette finds this to be an unpleasant experience.  The purpose of sharing her experience is not really to incite policy change, like Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, but more to explain why she's written a book about meat.

The slaughterhouse experience makes Bourette become a vegetarian like her boyfriend, Gare.  (His saintly vegetarianism is pointed out every few pages, and it was a little annoying to me.)  However, Bourette can't cut it as a vegetarian, and she continues to crave cheeseburgers.  So, the book details her attempt to determine how to enjoy meat without guilt and visions of the slaughterhouse.  I've read other takes on this concept, but was willing to hear her out and give this book a chance.  Problem is - I don't think she really accomplished this.

Besides the fact that the guilt-free-meat-eating thing has already been done by other authors, Bourette doesn't really do anything.  She takes all these trips to a fancy New York City butcher, a hunting camp, Alaska for whale blubber, a conference of raw meat fanatics, a South Texas ranch, the farm for Blue Hill Restaurant, and a top-line steakhouse.   Even though she lists her goals for each journey, Bourette is unsuccessful at butchering; she can't manage to shoot a deer; she spits out the sacred whale blubber in front of her hosts (offensive!); she doesn't like the beef in South Texas; and she refuses to eat any raw meat.  She does, however, eat the expensive Berkshire pork at Blue Hill (although she doesn't think it is good enough to justify the focus on animal welfare), and she manages to eat three (!) steaks at the steakhouse.

If I were her, I would have felt some guilt or embarrassment about my lack of success, but perhaps Bourette's editor believed that the author-going-outside-her-comfort-zone-and-failing thing hasn't been done enough.  Combining that concept with carnivore chic and you've got a sale!  Guess there is still hope for any of us to get our own food adventures published...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Farmer's Market Casserole

I know I am not alone in this, but I sometimes go a little overboard at the farmer's market.  Everything looks so good, and I buy too much.  Then, a few days later I'm doing a mad scramble in the kitchen concocting dishes to use up our goodies before they aren't so good.

This happens to people who have their own gardens, too.  Wes, I'm talking to you.  I really like garden gifts, but I understand that sometimes you can't accept any more tomatoes.

This casserole is just my latest attempt to enjoy all the local produce that I can.  You can easily modify this recipe to use up what you have on hand.  Plus, the effort is basically chopping vegetables, so you can still enjoy the last bit of nice weather.

Farmer's Market Casserole
Serves 4 to 6

2 potatoes, parboiled, then peeled and sliced thinly
2 very small and onion Vidalia onions, sliced thinly
garlic, minced, to taste
2 tomatoes, sliced
fresh basil leaves, to taste
2 zucchini, peeled and sliced
olive oil for greasing and drizzling
salt and pepper, to taste
3 ounces queso fresco, crumbled

I rubbed the inside of a 9 x 9 baking dish with olive oil and layered the bottom with the potato slices.  I lightly drizzled the layers with olive oil and sprinkled them with salt and pepper.

Then, I added the onion slices and sprinkled a bit of minced garlic across the top.

I added tomato slices next and laid whole basil leaves on top of the tomatoes.  I was generous with the basil because we have so much.  Other herbs would be nice, so use what you like.

Zucchini was the next layer, and I also drizzled this with olive oil and added a bit more salt and pepper.

I finished with another layer of tomato slices.

And no casserole of mine is complete if it isn't topped it off with cheese.  We had some Mexican queso fresco that I wanted to use up, but other cheeses would be great here, too.

I covered it with foil and placed the casserole in a 350 degree F oven for about half an hour. If you want to finish cooking now, remove the foil, raise the temperature to 425 degree F, and bake for another 25 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and it is nicely browned on top.

If you want to serve the casserole later, remove from oven, and let it cool.  Then, leaving it covered with foil, keep in refrigerator until ready to finish cooking.  When you are ready, pop it the preheated 350 degree oven, still covered in foil.  Bake for about 10 minutes.  Remove the foil, increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F, and bake for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and it is nicely browned on top.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fresh Basil Pesto with a Texas Twist

There is a booming crop of basil in the yard of our rental house.  The obvious way to use fresh basil is to make pesto.

Pesto is typically made with not only basil, but also pine nuts or walnuts.  I decided to take a different tack.  I used locally grown pecans like a good little locavore, and I added a jalapeno for a little zing.

Texas-Style Fresh Basil Pesto
Makes 1 cup

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/3 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 jalapeno, diced, optional
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

It is best to use a food processor, but you can use a blender, too.  Combine the basil and pecans, and pulse a few times.  Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the processor/blender is on.  Stop to scrape the sides with a spatula.

Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended.  Add the jalapeno, pulsing yet again to blend.

Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

You Will Crumble At the Smell of These Plums

While my parents were in town last week, we made a visit to the Weatherford Farmers' Market.  About half an hour's drive west of Fort Worth, Weatherford, is the county seat of Parker County, which is famous as the Peach Capital of Texas.

It is no longer peach season, but there was still a lot of great-looking produce.

The farmers' market is situated near the historic courthouse square and is open seven days a week with fresh fruit and vegetables straight from local producers.

I picked up some lovely black plums.

While they were delicious to eat out of hand, they were ripening very quickly so I baked them in a crumble.   I wanted something a little different...with a little crunch, so I added rolled oats and pecans.  The house smelled just heavenly as the plums bubbled in the oven.  Enjoy.

Crispy Plum Crumble

4 1/2 to 5 cups of sliced plums
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 large egg
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
4 Tbsp cup butter, melted, more for greasing baking dish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter a 9 x9 square baking dish.

Combine plums and brown sugar, stirring well.

Pour the sugared plums into the buttered baking dish.

Mix together flour, white sugar, oats, salt, and cinnamon.

Beat the egg, and add it to flour mixture.

Stir lightly with a fork until mixture is crumbly.

Spread mixture evenly over plums.

Sprinkle with pecans, and then drizzle with melted butter.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Guest Post: Jewish Apple Cake

This guest post is from my smart, athletic, and witty friend, Wendy.  Our group of friends is always excited when Wendy brings this cake to gatherings.  It is delicious.  I made it just this week with help from my mom and husband and it made the house even smell delicious.  Enjoy.

Dear Katie,

You asked that I share with you my recipe for Jewish apple cake.  I'm really excited to participate, so ... thanks for asking.

I make this apple cake every Thanksgiving for my boyfriend Dave and his family. I also tend to make an additional one that I can eat all by myself -- and sometimes share with my friends Katie and Brian.

It's a fairly simple recipe. The only trick is to pick the right kind of apples.  I usually start with at least two granny smith apples.  They're tart and firmer than many other types of apples, so they hold up well in baking and tend not to get too mushy throughout the cooking process. Fuji, Gala, and Rome apples are also excellent options.  Many times, I'll use two or more different types of apples in the cake to make a more interesting flavor.  In my opinion, the more apples, the more moist the cake and the more delicious the final product.  The recipe, for example, calls for 3 apples.  But I usually use four or four plus!

Here are the ingredients:

3 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 cup of vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 cups of white sugar
1/4 cup of orange juice
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
3 (or 4 or maybe five!) apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon (I use a bit more than 2)
5 teaspoons of white sugar (go heavy on this, too -- it's sugar!!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease a 10 inch bundt cake pan. 

Combine the cinnamon and the sugar together.  This creates such a wonderful smell.  Just remember ... tigers love pepper.  Hate cinnamon. 

In a separate bowl, mix the slices of apple in most of the cinnamon sugar mixture, coating each slice in the mixture. Set aside.  Save a small bit of the mixture for later.

Beat the eggs in a separate bowl.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and 2 cups of sugar. Stir in the vegetable oil, beaten eggs, orange juice, and vanilla.  Mix well.

Line the bundt pan with a layer of the cinnamon sugared apples, and then pour some of the batter on top of the apple layer.  Keep creating layers of apple slices and then pouring batter over it.  Make sure to keep some apple slices for the very top layer.  When the apple slices are gone, look in the bowl in which they were resting.  There should be some apple cinnamon-sugar juice in the bowl, which is a great addition to the cake.  Simply pour the sugary liquid on top of the cake.  

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for about 70 minutes.  The cake should be moist, but should not stick to a toothpick that is poked into it.  The toothpick should come out rather clean after poked into the cake.

The cake should slide out of the pan if you greased it properly.  Coat the cake with the remaining cinnamon sugar.  Or you can use powdered sugar.  Or you can use both.

This cake is a great fall treat, and a tradition for my new family.