Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Szechuan Peppercorn Pepper Steak with Daikon

Radishes are those round-ish, red outside, white inside things at the salad bar, right? While you're elbowing your way along the sneeze guard, maybe you top your plate of lettuce and shredded carrots with them, maybe you bury them (if you choose them at all) under your mountain of cottage cheese and croutons. Except for salads, radishes are pretty forgettable.

Except those cold, scarlet red, icy white orbs of bite-y, crunchiness aren't the only radishes out there. There are long radishes, HUGE radishes, white, pink and even black radishes. 

Not only that, fresh from the fridge and in a salad isn't the only way to serve them. Radishes that aren't cold? Warm radishes? Even (dare I say it), cooked radishes? Yes.

The first time I encountered cooked radishes was at Volt Restaurant in Frederick, Maryland. You know, Volt? Of the Bryan Voltaggio, Top Chef fame? Kimber and I lunched there a while may remember that glowing account of our day in Frederick.

A beautifully plated entree of branzino included an artistically arranged smattering of roasted radishes along the edge. I was skeptical about roasted radishes, but soon found Chef Voltaggio (or his kitchen crew) knew his stuff

Taste? Somewhat like a potato with a little bit of a horseradish-y kick...the texture was potato-like as well. I filed that knowledge away in the back of my mind and promptly forgot about it. Until..... 

Strolling through the Whole Foods produce aisles looking for parsnips for a stew, I found what I was looking for on the bottom shelf of that glorious, colorful refrigerated produce section. They were the prettiest parsnips I'd ever seen. They were so clean, so smooth, so white, so BIG! Like no parsnip I'd ever seen before. 

I pondered...the sign SAID parsnips...must be a new variety. They went into the cart and upon reaching home, also went into my stew. Those parsnips were incredible! The best ever! 

You already know what's coming next...they weren't parsnips, they were daikon radishes. Whole Foods (once again) had mislabeled an item in the produce section. I didn't know any better, I'd never had daikon before. 

Like the recent Whole Foods mislabeling of  Garnet/Japanese Sweet Potatoes, this too had a happy outcome as the parsnip/daikon was my favorite part of the stew.  

You know, I'm beginning to think Whole Foods has some kind of nefarious mislabeling scheme going on. If they label a new food as something known and familiar, maybe someone (me) will try it, get to like it and consequently BUY it. Again and again. Very clever, Whole Foods. Your scheme is working. Deliciously.

Here's a recipe I created JUST to have daikon again.

Szechuan Peppercorn Pepper Steak with Daikon

  • 1 pound round steak, partially frozen, sliced thinly across the grain
  • 1/2 cup beef broth, store bought is just fine
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons sherry, or white wine if you don't have sherry on hand
  • 1/4 cup tamari soy sauce, be sure to use wheat free tamari to make this gluten-free!
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, or peanut oil

  • 1 large daikon, peeled, quartered lengthwise and sliced across into quarter size pieces
  • 1/2 large onion, large dice
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded, large dice
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded, large dice
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 pound snow pea pods - fresh, whole, nice and small, tender ones, remove the strings
  • 1/2 bag spinach, roughly chopped

  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns, Szechuan, crushed with a mortar & pestle or in a sealed heavy plastic bag
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger, powdered
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch, check the label to be sure it's gluten-free is gluten is an issue

An hour before you start to cook, mix the broth, water, sherry & tamari in a sealable plastic bag & mix well.  Add the beef strips and let marinate for an hour (or more).

When you're ready to start dinner, heat a large skillet or wok - I use a big electric skillet.  Preheat the skillet to smoking hot. BE SURE YOU RESERVE THE MARINADE.  Gradually add half the beef and brown on both sides.  Remove this batch and do the next; add the first batch back into the skillet.

While the beef is cooking, add the crushed peppercorns, ginger, sugar and cornstarch to the marinade.  Stir well and set aside.

Add the daikon, onion and peppers.  Cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes.  Add the spinach and garlic and stir until the spinach wilts. Add the snow peas last and stir another minute.

Stir the marinade well again being sure the cornstarch is completely incorporated into the liquid. Pour the mixture over the beef and veggies in the skillet and continue stirring until the mixture comes together.

Pour the pepper steak into a bowl and serve over rice. My favorite is brown rice!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Spicy Shrimp & Andouille Jambalaya with Beet Greens

On opening the fridge, I realized I had some serious cleaning out to do in there. Where did all those fridge-real-estate-hogging bits and pieces come from? Oh everything was good, but wouldn't be for long if I didn't get crackin'. I needed more space!

There was a big bag of beautiful yellow peppers I'd picked up on my last walk through the Strip District.  $2 for a big basket? You know they came home with me. I'd roasted beets last week and saved the tops - you don't throw out beet tops do you? You won't after this recipe.

There was a nice piece of andouille in the meat drawer, 3 jalapenos that were ready to give up the ship, half a bag of shrimp in the freezer, the last few stalks of celery in a bag and a couple of slices of ham left from last Sunday's dinner. With those ingredients on hand and rice in the pantry, dinner was decided. Hello Jambalaya!

There's a lot to be said about a one pot dinner that can clean out your refrigerator and be an authentic Cajun treat. And it feeds (not literally) an army. Leftovers for the week, YES!

Spicy Shrimp & Andouille Jambalaya 
with Beet Greens

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3/4 pound ANDOUILLE, or other smoked sausage, sliced in half lengthwise then across to make half-rounds about 1/4" thick
  • 1/2 pound ham, diced small
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeds removed, diced
  • 2 medium yellow bell peppers (or use red or orange...whatever you have), seeds removed, diced
  • 2 large jalapeno peppers, seeds removed, finely minced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, fire roasted is my favorite, add all the juices, too
  • 3 fresh thyme, sprigs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 3 Tablespoons cajun seasoning, I used Slap Ya Mama - nice and spicy!!!! (if you don't like big heat, use less)
  • freshly ground black pepper, LOTS - to taste
  • 4 cups chicken stock, I used a box from the store shelf, feel free to use your own homemade if you have some!
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice
  • beet greens, the tops from 1 bunch, washed and sliced across into about 1/2" ribbons (if you don't have beet green around, kale works beautifully!)
  • 12 large shrimp, raw, peeled and deveined, tails left on
  • 1 teaspoon cajun seasoning

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or other stove to table cookware.  Once the oil is HOT, but not smoking, add andouille and ham and saute until WELL browned. Remove meats with slotted spoon and set aside.

Add to the remaining oil in the pot, onion, celery, green and yellow peppers and jalapeno.  Once the veggies are about halfway to translucent, add the minced garlic and continue cooking until the onions are translucent and the rest of the veggies are soft.

Next add the diced tomatoes and seasonings and continue cooking for a few minutes until everything is nicely melded.

Now add the chicken stock, rice and greens, stirring until the rice is evenly distributed throughout the veggies.  Bring to a boil.

Add the meats and stir well again and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer about 25 minutes. 

Toss the shrimp with the teaspoon of cajun seasoning. Uncover the pot and place the shrimp on top of the rice, cover and continue cooking until the shrimp are pink.  Do NOT overcook the shrimp. 

Spoon into bowls and serve with good crusty bread!

NOTE: Be sure not to overcook your rice OR your shrimp.  Nobody likes mushy rice or rubbery shrimp.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Minestrone with Adzuki Beans and Kale

I always thought it was Jack and his beanstalk that had the corner on magic beans. Not anymore! Apparently Dr. Oz and like-minded health conscious folk have challenged ol' Jack with these new-kids-on-the-block-beans, the Adzukis. to me anyway. 

What are they?  Besides the darling of the macro-biotic world? Adzuki beans are are a variety of beans found in Japan, China and such. Small, dark red and packed with protein and fiber - much like any other bean - they are also said to contain the power to help you lose weight. If nothing else, they fill you up so you stay full longer. 

Do I buy it? Probably not. But after the excess of the holidays followed by Restaurant Week, I'm looking to adzuki beans to be the antidote to my over indulgence. What the heck, it's worth a shot.  (I'm only half kidding....I'm secretly hoping all this "magic" stuff is real! Note to self: get a grip!)

Traditionally in Asia, adzukis are used in sweet preparations and desserts. My friend Leah Lizarondo of the wonderful Brazen Kitchen blog told me of an adzuki bean rice pudding she makes. Leah! Recipe?! If adzuki beans are good for you, then adzuki beans for dinner AND dessert must be even better! Magic? Here's hoping!  

Minestrone with Adzuki Beans & Kale

  • 1 cup dried adzuki beans, rinsed
  • 1 ham bone
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, broken into pieces - WITH leaves
  • 1 large carrot, big pieces
  • 2 tablespoons seasoned salt, You know I use Jane's Crazy Salt!

  • 1 can garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1 large can of diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 large potato, scrubbed & diced, leave peel on
  • 1 package Italian green beans, frozen
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large zucchini, cut in half lengthwise, sliced across
  • 1 large carrot, peeled, sliced thinly
  • 1 large celery stalk, sliced thinly
  • 4 cups kale, sliced into 2" ribbons
  • 8 large fresh basil leaves, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • seasoned salt, to taste - maybe 1-2 T more
  • 1 parmesan cheese, rind - SAVE YOUR PARM RINDS FOR SOUP! - plus more for serving 
  • 1 cup ditalini or other small pasta - or just crush larger pasta (gluten free, of course, to make this GF)

In a large heat-proof bowl, soak adzuki beans in boiling water several inches above beans for 2-3 hours. Drain.

In a large soup pot, add the ham bone, onion, 2 celery stalks and the carrot. Cover with water until the ham bone is submerged.  Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to simmer and cook 2-3 hours until the meat begins to fall off the bone.  Remove bone and meat and strain out the stock veggies.  Return the broth to the soup pot.

Add adzuki beans, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, potato, Italian green beans, garlic, zucchini, slices carrot and celery, kale, 8 basil leaves, oregano, additional Crazy salt and the rind of a parmesan wedge.  The rind makes all the difference in the the soup depth and flavor.

Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat and cook an hour or so until the veggies are soft.

Add the pasta at this point.  Bring to a boil again, reduce the heat again and simmer until the pasta is tender.

Serve in bowls topped with shaved parmesan and a little fresh basil.

NOTE: You can use purchased beef broth in place of the homemade ham broth - I had a hambone and you know I don't waste it!  Use 2 boxes of broth in place of the homemade stock.  Veggie stock is fine if you want to keep this vegetarian. If you're making this gluten-free, be sure to check the label of the bought broth to be sure it's GF.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Restaurant Week - A Delicious Tour of Delightful Pittsburgh Dining

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week is like Christmas all over again. All these new, fun menus and restaurants are like shiny packages just waiting to be discovered...all over town.  It's like a fine dining scavenger hunt or a culinary tour de force of da 'Burgh. Even favorite and familiar spots have new and special delicious temptations awaiting your discovery.  

And the event lasts a whole week! Unless, like me, you jump the gun and start a day early.
Sunday - Verde MexicanKitchen & Cantina, Garfield
Verde Mexican Kitchen &Cantina in Garfield, one of our favorite brunch spots in the 'Burgh, was the official kickoff of Restaurant Week for us. It was Sunday. Sunday is the first day of the week. I ASSUMED the week's festivities began on a Sunday....wrong. So what the heck...we got an extra day to celebrate.  

Both Mark and I started off with one of Verde's very special, spicy Bloody Marias. Instead of typical vodka, tequila is the spirit of choice along with a housemade mix using guajillo peppers and garlic to kick up the flavor factor. May I just say OLE!

Although not officially restaurant week, we still observed the spirit of the event.  Verde's version of eggs Benedict was a new-to-me dish so shouldn't that count? 


Sauteed escarole and their scrumptious house-smoked bacon were the base for beautifully poached eggs and crowned with a guajillo hollandaise. To accommodate my gluten issues, instead of the usual English Muffin they were kind enough to serve them with a side of corn tortillas AND a trio of salsasWord of advice.  Never, NEVER hit up Verde's brunch without getting the bacon.  You will thank me. 

Thanks, Verde! (Bonus!  Verde has a gluten-free menu!)
Tuesday - Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen, Regent Square  
Now THIS was a real treat! Not only was I visiting Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen for the first time, I was there as one of an invited group of Pittsburgh food bloggers. The Restaurant Week people (hi Brian & Andrew!) gathered we blogging "foodie" fiends (and friends) to kick off the week.  

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sponsored Happy Hour to really get things started right for the night!  We tippled, dipped and schmoozed with fellow bloggers while meeting the driving forces behind the new Post-Gazette food blog, PG Plate

If you haven't checked out the PG Plate, do it! With info about restaurants and dining, bars and libations, ingredient sources and cooking and everything related, it's food news you can use.

Once happy hour was over, we moved to the dining room.  That's where I met up with an old Latin friend.  The arepa. What's an arepa? A Latin delight made of masa harina that's made into dough, shaped into discs and griddled on both sides. They are crispy outside, creamy inside, naturally gluten-free, usually split and deliciously stuffed with cheese and/or chorizo.

You can find them (or their cousin, the pupusa) all over the country, even Cleveland! But in Pittsburgh? Not to be found. Until Tuesday in this lovely Regent Square restaurant.  

Alma's preparation was different than what I'd had before.  The arepa itself was nestled under a salad of beets, avocado, cabbage and cilantro and accompanied by the most delicious fried plantains I've ever had.  A very fresh saute of asparagus, red bell peppers, carrots and zucchini shreds graced the side of the plate. SO good!


Wednesday - Habitat, Downtown Pittsburgh  
What a surprise! Restaurant Week was actually happening in Downtown Pittsburgh with a lunch special at Habitat in the Fairmont Hotel.  Well, sign me up!

The RW special was an Express Lunch  consisting of soup, salad, a sandwich and dessert...all for $15.  Sandwich? Er...gluten issue? Not a problem.  Habitat accommodates food issues of all ilk and actually had gluten-free bread for my muffaletta. 

Can I tell you I almost cried with gratitude?  That's the first muffaletta I've had in eight years. It. Was. Wonderful! The soup of the day was a light, not creamy, rutabaga puree studded with peas and chunks of said rutabaga. The salad was kissed with a light, lemony dressing.  Perfect. 

Dessert? A cupcake. No, not gluten-free, but they kindly substituted a fabulous rich, DARK chocolate double-scoop of ice cream. My dining companion had the cupcake...she decided I won the dessert round.

Thursday - Up Modern Kitchen, Shadyside  
This visit to a new-to-me restaurant in Shadyside came courtesy of a Yelp Elite event at this cozy little bar/restaurant upstairs of their sister restaurant, Shady Grove. (Hint for finding this spot...although the address says Walnut Street, the entrance is on Bellefonte. Why?  This is Pittsburgh, there are imponderables.)

Up Modern put out a beautiful variety of sliced charcuterrie as well as smoked olives (addicting - smoked olives WILL be on my smoker the first time out in the spring!), jerky, mushroom risotto, fried cheeses and even that Pittsburgh favorite (drum roll, please) dippy eggs. We didn't go hungry!

Nor thirsty. Their version of a Moscow Mule, though non-traditional, was quite refreshing. It was made with gingerale instead of ginger beer, but at least the mint sprig was present.  Bonus for the mint sprig in my book. 

Saturday - KaleidoscopeCafe, Lawrenceville  
THIS was a lovely find! No, I wasn't the first to discover the gustatory joys to be found on a side street of Lawrenceville. But, when walking from Industry Public House on Butler Street to our Paint Monkey evening a couple of months ago, we did "find" this colorful gem of a building just begging to be visited. 

Three Yelp friends (Hi Rachel, Jenn and Michael!) and I met up for lunch. Again, the Restaurant Week menu wasn't available for lunch, but (again) trying new foods there wasn't a problem.  Oh, the choices! 

Have I mentioned how I love dining via "small plates," appetizers or tapas? Well, I do. Little smatterings and tastes are right up my alley. 


I'd heard wonderful things about the chicken and apple sausage small plate at Kaleidoscope- so of course, that was part of my order.  Slices of house-made sausage sautéed with apple, red onion and walnut in a spicy maple-rum sauce, topped with melted brie and a mixed berry coulis were presented in a gratin dish. It was a spicy, rich, crunchy, sweet combination of tastes and textures that was an alluring beginning to what was to come.  

Crab dip?! In Pittsburgh? I knew I was taking a chance ordering a crab dish. Fortunately, my fears went out the window with the first bite. I honestly would have preferred a higher crab to sauce ratio, but this IS Pittsburgh after all.  Chef Dan hit the creamy delight right on.  Not only that, to oblige the old gluten issue he subbed in top notch fries to dip instead of pita bread.  

Only one thing could make this afternoon delight better...dessert. Specifically, a CHOCOLATE dessert. Hello Flourless Chocolate Torte, you certainly are looking beautiful today. AND delicious!  And you were


Rich, dense, decadent dark chocolate with white a chocolate rum ganache ended the meal and my Restaurant Week perfectly.

I'd intended to cap off the close of Restaurant Week with my own celebration called "Bar Night." I had Carson Street's Acacia in my sights as the perfect spot to toast a very fine week. Alas, Restaurant Week left me yearning for a quiet night at home and a simple dinner of homemade minestrone.

Until next time, Restaurant Week! It was fun! Now when is that next date so I can put it on my calendar NOW?!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Tuscan Roasted Chicken with Winter Veggies & Garlic

Another quick post with a speedy, easy, totally delicious weeknight dinner the fam will think you slaved over all day. And all in one dish! 

With no further adieu, here it is.

Tuscan Roasted Chicken with Winter Veggies & Garlic

  • olive oil spray
  • 1 pound cauliflower flowerets, just snap them off the head - weigh after taking of the head (easy way to measure? Dump the squash in the dish first and then fill up the empty squash container with cauliflower)
  • 1 pound butternut squash, prepackaged, cubed - so easy!
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 4 chicken breasts, bone-in, skin on
  • Rustic Tuscan Seasoning from Costco (Kirkland), to taste
  • granulated garlic
  • kosher salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Spray the bottom and sides of a large, shallow casserole dish with olive oil. Scatter the veggies evenly over the bottom and sprinkle seasonings over the veggies.

Top with the chicken breasts and season again liberally. Spray olive oil over the chicken breasts and bake until browned and beautiful...45-60 minutes. 

Wasn't that easy?! (I won't tell anyone if you don't.)

Note: Rustic Tuscan Seasoning is a blend of roasted garlic, bell peppers, rosemary, basil, oregano and lemon.  If you can't find this in the store, mix up a blend of your own with the same ingredients or find a similar blend.  Penzey's will definitely have something similar!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Japanese Sweet Potato Red Curry Soup with Coconut

How do YOU choose a sweet potato? You know, to be sure you get the sweetest, most flavorful of the bunch?  I was taught that the darker the outside of the sweet potato, richer and sweeter the flavor.  And I've found it to be true over the years.  Which brings me to how I ended up finding a whole new variety I never knew existed...and that I think is even better than all the rest, though decidedly different. 

I was stalking the perfect sweet potato in the aisles of Whole Foods just looking for the best ones possible for Christmas dinner. At the top of the display there were some very dark red, almost purple, sweet potatoes...that HAD to be the best ever.  The sign said "Garnet Sweet Potatoes."  Great!

Christmas dinner preparations began and the sweet potatoes were tucked into the oven for a good roasting. Later, upon cutting them open at the dinner table, we found not soft, dark orange flesh, but a firmer potato of a soft golden color.  My selection method had failed!  But did it really?  

Once buttered, seasoned and TASTED, we soon found these were no ordinary sweet potatoes.  Both the texture and taste were somewhere between an Idaho baking potato and a sweet potato. And we like them even better! And we wanted more!

The next trip to Whole Foods, I headed straight to the same table and found the sign had been changed. The "Garnet" designation now had been moved to another area and a new sign declared my new favorite potato "Japanese Sweet Potatoes."  Aha! So I bought another bunch of them and spread the word to potato pickers next to me.  They bought them, too. Now what to do with them other than a simple baking...not that there's anything wrong with that.

And so I adapted the old standard Houlihan's Baked Potato Soup into a whole new recipe.  I used coconut milk in place of milk, I added Thai Red Curry Paste and toasted coconut, a curry hot sauce that I recently got as a gift from a dear, sweet friend ...plain old potato soup was transformed into something a little sweet, a little hot, and just a little exotic.  And totally delicious!

Japanese Sweet Potato Red Curry Soup with Coconut

  • 2 med Japanese sweet potatoes, baked, peeled and cubed
  • 3 T butter (or even better, coconut oil!)
  • 2 cups diced onions
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup instant potato flakes
  • 2 t hot sauce (I used a lovely curry hot sauce, but use your favorite) 
  • 2 T Thai red curry paste
  • 1 t Thai fish sauce
  • 1 cup fat free evaporated milk
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • sliced green onions
  • 1/2 cup toasted coconut flakes

  • Melt butter (or coconut oil) in soup pot & add onions. Saute over low heat for 10 minutes or until onions are translucent.
  • Add cornstarch and Thai red curry paste to onions and cook 4-5 minutes, stirring well.
  • Add potato flakes to a large bowl, gradually add chicken stock stirring to incorporate well. 
  • Add slowly to onion mixture, stirring constantly over medium heat and continue cooking to a gentle simmer.
  • Add evaporated milk and coconut milk, stirring until smooth and slightly thickened. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. Do not boil.
  • Add potatoes, hot sauce and fish sauce, simmer gently for another 15 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, ladle into bowls, top with sliced green onions and toasted coconut flakes.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Teriyaki Burgers


For some odd and arbitrary reason, Tuesdays have always been burger night in our house. Sunshine, combined with traditional Tuesday burger night, had Mark and I craving Teriyaki Burgers - damn the snow! 

These burgers are one of our favorite Burger Night burgers in warm summer weather, so why should a little snow out in the back deter us from such delightfulness?  It shouldn't.  Even more importantly, it DIDN'T!

Although the recipe calls for ground beef, this is equally as delicious made with ground chicken or turkey or (probably my favorite of all) ground pork...or any combination of any of the foregoing. Crunchy water chestnuts, zingy green onions, (wheat-free) tamari and just a kiss of brown sugar turn ordinary ground meat into one very special burger.  

Sure, you could broil these inside, but then you'd miss the dreams of summer that go along with grilling in the cold.  What's a little shivering when the smoky aroma of fat hitting the flames fills your nostrils with enchantment and the resultant sizzle is staccato music to your ears?  

There might be snow on the ground, but just for a little while it is summer in your heart.  And tummy. 

 Teriyaki Burgers

  • 2 pounds ground chuck
  • 8 ounces waterchestnuts, canned, drained and chopped
  • 1/2 cup tamari soy sauce, wheat-free (or regular soy sauce if you're not concerned about gluten)
  • 4 green onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic

Mix all ingredients together well, but do not overwork the mixture to keep it light.  

Make into 8 patties and grill carefully.  They may stick or fall apart if you're not careful with them.  I usually use a grill basket for easy handling and turning.

NOTE:  If we're not having company, I still make all 8 patties and freeze half of them to thaw and cook as the mood hits.  No fuss, made-ahead teriyaki burgers from the freezer are always nice to have on hand.

Instead of beef, try ground chicken, turkey or pork - or any combination.  I think my favorite is ground pork. Yum!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Tapachula Mule

Welcome back from the very busy holidays, all!  Hope your precious time off was as much fun as ours was here...and there.  We did travel!

While Kimber was home for Christmas, we were out and about Christmas Eve day doing last minute shopping - bet most of you were doing the same thing, yes? We paused for lunch at one of my favorite spots in the North Hills, Tamari in WarrendaleKimber was in the mood for sushi, I was in the mood for Latin.  Tamari just happens to serve (amazing) Asian Latin fusion. Score! 

We sat at the bar - no surprise there - and while we perused the menu I enjoyed a lovely fresh apple and rum drink (wish I could remember the name), while Kimber sipped one of the best specialty martinis ever...a wasabi martini. That martini hit the perfect balance of heat and sweet and tart.  That's what I'm getting next time.

Anyway....while we dined and enjoyed our cocktails, we chatted at length with TJ the bartender.  Haven't you found a mutual interest in fine food and cocktails creates instant friends wherever you go? The ultimate ice breaker, for sure. 

TJ described a margarita they'd worked on for a competition that used candied jalapenos for the garnish.  Hmmm...I'd just candied orange peel for Christmas dessert...right then and there I decided jalapenos were next.  So I made them.

Eureka! Sugared jalapenos aren't just beautiful, they are delicious!  A simple syrup simmer mellows the jalapeno heat just enough to allow true fruity flavors to emerge. The sweetness evens out the heat just right.  Now...what to do with them... (See the italics below...before drying, the balance was perfection...after...welllllll. Round 2 of sugared jalapenos will commence shortly. New method coming up.)

Bucking tradition, in order for the bite of jalapenos to not be overpowered by the zip of ginger beer, I used a gentle gingerale instead. The punch now came from the peppers, yet the ginger was still definitely there. Muddled fresh ginger helped bring the ginger forward without being too strong.

A brief simmer of jalapeno slices in simple syrup had left behind a nice spicy syrup and lovely spicy sugar remained from the sugaring process.  You KNOW I didn't waste either.

Four new, beautiful Moscow Mule copper mugs sat gleaming and beckoning for their first use.  They wanted something very special.  Jalapeno Mules?  For the alliteration, Tapachula Mules became the name. 

A little background is apropos here. Tapachula, Mexico sits right on the Guatamala border and on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. That far south, you KNOW it's hot...and cool from ocean breezes. Kind of like the Tapachula Mule is hot, yet cool and refreshing at the same time.

The result?  A new cocktail that's truly worthy of the new copper mugs.  Next weekend's guests will be enjoying a real treat.

Tapachula Mule

(Makes a cocktail to fill a 24 oz. copper mug.  Scale back the recipe for a smaller mug or glass or have leftovers to seconds!)

In a cocktail shaker:
  • 2 slices of fresh ginger, approx. the size of a nickel
  • 3 oz vodka
  • juice of 1 lime (1/4 c. approx.)
  • 1 oz. jalapeno simple syrup
  • gingerale

Fill the tin 3/4 of the way with ice, put on the top and shake until the tin is icy cold.  Strain the liquid into a chilled copper mug for the classic presentation or into a chilled tall glass.  Add fresh ice and top off the drink with gingerale.

Stir gently and garnish with a sugared jalapeno when I get the recipe to you!  Otherwise, garnish as I did above with a lime wheel and a jalapeno slice.

NOTE:  If jalapeno simple syrup is too spicy for you, use plain simple syrup.     

Update: Okay....have you ever had a creation not turn out the way it was supposed to?  Yeah. That's what happened with those beautiful sugared jalapenos. 

The method I used called for the sugared slices to be dried in the oven on the lowest setting.  The sugar melted in spots instead of drying.  So I sugared those spots again. And they melted again. So I flipped them over gently and sugared again. And get the picture. I would have used them anyway, but the drying process intensified the heat and threw off the heat/sweet balance.  Arrrrggggghhhhhh. Back to the drawing board.
Heat AND sweet! (before)

Jalapeno "fail." (after)

The next go 'round I'll simmer the jalapeno slices in the simple syrup and let them air dry before sugaring and let the sugar set before storing. That should do the trick. Look for the post on the new technique very soon.

In the meantime, the Tapachula Mule is still awesome!  Just the decoration needs to be reworked.  So instead of making you wait for just an adornment, here's the cocktail recipe...the perfected garnish will follow!