Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cool Hendricks Gin and Fever Tree Bitter Lemon Memories

Years ago (many), one of our favorite summer cocktails was a simple, cool, refreshing, not-too-sweet, gin and Schweppes Bitter Lemon over ice. No matter how blasted hot it was in the scorching heat and humidity of a Baltimore summer, our gin - or sometimes Campari -  & bitter lemon would somehow seemingly transport us to a cool, breezy island of respite. Ahhhhh. And then Schweppes stopped making Bitter Lemon. Boo.  

Flash forward to last weekend. Wwhhoooosssshhh. 

Walking through the aisles of Wexford's Market District, Mark and I spotted a lovely woman stationed at a display table handing out samples of Fever Tree BITTER LEMON! Be still my heart. I smiled, I nearly giggled. I picked up 6 4-packs and headed straight for the Wine & Spirits Shop across the parking lot and bought Hendricks gin. 

I think you know the rest of this story. Yes, the afternoon most certainly did feature a gin & bitter lemon on the rocks with just a tiny squeeze of lime. So simple, yet so elegant. 

So what if the temps out there were in the 60's? So what if it was too cold to sit on the deck? This time instead of the liquid transporting us to a cool island, it magically sent us time-traveling back to hot summers and very cool memories of Maryland, friends, and of summer days gone by. Here's to summer, friends. Cheers!

Hendricks Gin and Bitter Lemon

  • 2 ounces gin - use your very own favorite gin
  • 1 bottle Fever Tree Bitter Lemon
  • ice
  • just a squeeze of lime

Add ice to a glass, pour the gin over the ice and add the bottle of bitter lemon. Give it just a squeeze of lime and stir ever so gently. Serve with a garnish of lime.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Spicy Peppadew Bacon Cheese for Burgers

What's more American than a classic burger on the grill on Memorial Day? Not much. Unless you top it with that classic Southern delight, pimiento cheese!

Occasionally I develop a real craving for pimiento cheese and for the last couple of weeks, that's been the case. 

This time, instead of using traditional pimientos from the squat little Dromedary jar we all use, I had other plans. Pickled Peppadew peppers would make a nice little twist on the original recipe! If you haven't had Peppadews, they're about the size of a cherry tomato, slightly spicy and totally delicious. 

The vinegary-ness of the Peppadews countered the richness of cheese and mayo and bacon added a nice smoky, salty edge to the mixture. What a way to top our holiday burgers in style!

Spicy Peppadew Bacon Cheese for Burgers

  • 4 slices thick cut bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
  • 8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded on medium disc of food processor
  • 1/3-1/2 c. jarred Peppadew peppers, chopped
  •  1/4 c. mayonaise
  • 2 T. onion, grated
  • 1/2 t. Kosher salt
  • a hefty grinding of black pepper

Add everything to a bowl, mix well and refrigerate until burgers are ready. Spoon the mixture on top of the burgers, add whatever other toppings you like - tomatoes, onions, lettuce, pickles - and serve.

NOTE: Have some of the cheese spread left over? Spread it on crackers! Yum. Have some peppadews left over from the jar? Stuff them with some of the cheese for an appetizer or stuff them with chicken or tuna salad - also for an appetizer. Be creative!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cuban Black Rice & Black Bean Soup with Jamaican Dark Rum

Ponderable question. Is it still technically possible for black bean soup to qualify as Cuban if the sweet, dark rum therein hails from Jamaica? How about if I call it Cuban-style

Sure, they make dark rum in Cuba, but unless you ARE or KNOW a rum runner we'll never be able to make this soup with authenticity. Damn Cuban embargo. Enter Appleton Dark Rum...from Jamaica.

How did this dark and rich soup come about? Like most of my soups, there was a this case, a ham bone...leftover from a Sunday dinner. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it at the time, so I wrapped it well and tucked it into the freezer until there was some inkling of what to do with it. The inkling never came. 

What did come was warmer weather. As the opportunity for hot soup waned, I decided to just wing it, make the stock and see what naturally developed.

Cooked, cold black rice waited in the fridge...what would work with black rice, but black beans. Beans and rice, of course! In soup form. This was made even easier by the cans of black beans I keep in the pantry just for such times. (Because you never know when you need a can for emergency black bean hummus or cowboy caviar!) The soup came together quickly and easily. Classic ingredients - with a twist - simply don't need much fussing.

You might wonder why, at first glance, dark rum was added to soup. It just seemed like a natural pairing. Dark rum is made from molasses so I thought that same dark, slightly smoky sweetness would echo the smoky sweetness of ham stock. That, and it just seemed like a fun addition! Doesn't rum make just about everything better?! 

Cuban Black Rice & Black Bean Soup
 with Jamaican Dark Rum

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large green pepper, seeds removed, diced
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced

  • 3 cans black beans, drained

  • 4 cups ham stock (see recipe below)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 2 cups cooked black rice (or brown rice - or whatever cooked rice you have tucked in the back of YOUR fridge!)

  • 1/4 cup dark rum

  • 1/4 cup green onions, sliced well into the green

In a large soup pot, add 2 T. olive oil and heat. Add the chopped onions and green pepper. Saute until soft, add garlic and cook another 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the drained black beans and stir into veggies. Cook another 10 minutes to meld flavors.

Add the ham stock, vinegar, bay leaves and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, lower heat immediately and add rice. Cover and simmer about half an hour. Add rum and simmer another 15 minutes or until the raw rum taste dissipates.

Ladle into bowl, add reserved ham (that you've warmed in the microwave - make it easy!) and garnish with sliced green onions.

Ham Stock:  In a soup pot, add a large meaty ham bone. Add several large celery stalks with lots of leaves, 2 large quartered onions, 3 T. dried minced garlic. Bring to boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for several hours until the ham fall easily from the bone.

Cool and remove all the meat from the bone. Reserve meat to add to black bean soup. You should have about 4 cups of ham stock. Proceed with black bean soup recipe.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Samosa Potato Tacos with Smoked Corn, Jalapeno & Poblano Salsa

Have you been to the PGH Taco Truck yet? Maybe more accurately, has the PGH Taco Truck been to YOU? That's the beauty of a free-range, free-roaming, cage-free food truck - it isn't tethered to one solitary spot. All the goodness of whatever specialty food is on-board travels the area if not directly TO you, at least NEAR you.

The outskirts of Pittsburgh (occasionally within the city limits, but that's another story...sigh) are blessed with a herd of these behemoth trucks representing all variety of foods. In the mood for sushi? The Fukuda Truck. Burgers? Ah, you have a selection here with BRGR or Steer & Wheel. Cupcakes? Hot dogs? Grilled cheese? Respectively, Dozen Dessert Truck, Franktuary Truck and Oh My Grill. Even Pittsburgh's Polish favorite pierogies are represented with the PGHPierogie Truck! Essentially, if you have a craving itch, there's a food truck to scratch it.

Lately, Mark and I have often been scratching the itch for tacos at the PGH Taco Truck. The bright red truck hangs out regularly at the Coffee Budhha on Perry Highway (Rte. 19) in the North Hills. James, the talent behind the tacos, cooks up some out-of-this-world and out-of-the-ordinary tacos to please the waiting crowds wherever he goes. Not only do we buy tacos for ourselves, they make wonderful take-along treats when visiting friends!

So far Mark and I have tried the SeaBak (named for Rick Sebak, Pittsburgh's WQED documentary treasure) consisting of scallops (Sea), bacon (bak), cheddar and guacamole - I LOVE this one! (the sea part changes with the tide - shrimp or lobster or any combination thereof may show up on the menu at James' whim); spicy jerk chicken and avocado cream - fantastic!, Mark's favorite - juicy pork with sweet Thai chili slaw, a more traditional taco of Angus ground beef with cheddar and fresh salsa - another Mark fave and organic curried potato with sriracha-lime cream just to name a few. The curried potato one? I tried to duplicate it - you know me...gotta try it at home!

I'd been craving the curried potato taco for a while. One of the things I've missed since being gluten-free is the savory Indian treat known as a samosa. Back in our Maryland days, samosas at the Columbia Fair were an item I never missed...okay, and fried dough too. I imagined a curried potato taco would taste very much the same as my long lost Indian pastry. Did it? Well, almost. 

The tender potato filling was delicious and I will most DEFINITELY be ordering it again! But it wasn't quite the samosa flavor I craved. Could I capture the flavors of both the PGH Taco Truck version and a samosa? I did! The best of both samosa AND taco all rolled into one suddenly became our new favorite vegetarian entree.

My version? Instead of ghee I toasted whole coriander seed in butter (for a vegan version try using coconut oil instead), diced cooked potatoes, onion, garam masala and at the very end added the traditional peas for a textural "pop" and sweetness against the potato and spices. Then I made a smoked corn, smoked jalapeno & poblano salsa with lime and cumin to add a little brightness and even more texture to my tacos. Even meat-loving Mark is a fan!

One more BIG plus in my book for the PGH Taco Truck. They use corn tortillas exclusively and EVERYTHING is coincidentally and naturally gluten-free. Even the soy sauce is GF. THANK YOU, James! Check Facebook and Twitter to find out where the truck is on any given day - James usually posts or tweets his schedule at the beginning of each week and updates throughout the week. Who knows? We may just see each other in line in front of the big red truck some evening soon!

Samosa Potato Tacos 
with Smoked Corn, Jalapeno & Poblano Salsa

  • 2 tablespoons butter, or coconut oil to make this vegan
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/4 cup yellow onion, very small dice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 pound potatoes, cooked in their skins till just tender, cooled, peeled and cut into 1/4" dice
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (see recipe for homemade below)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)

  • 6 corn tortillas, warmed

Melt the butter (or coconut oil) in a large skillet. Add coriander seeds and toast - don't let them burn. Then add diced onions and cook gently until translucent.
Add the potatoes, garam masala and cayenne. Stir gently so the potatoes are thoroughly coated with the butter and spices - try not to let them break up too much. Remove from heat.

Add the frozen peas (the hot mixture will thaw the peas, but still let them retain the "pop" for a contrast in texture. Sprinkle with lemon juice and combine well. Keep hot.

Assemble tacos: Lay out a warmed corn tortilla and spoon some of the potato mixture down the center. Next spoon some corn salsa down the center, too. Fold over and eat with a squeeze of fresh lime.

Homemade garam masala: 

  • 1 t. cumin
  • 1 1/2 t. ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 t. ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. ground cloves
  • 1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg. 

Combine all the spices well. You will only use 1 teaspoon of this mixture for the potatoes so be sure to store what's left in a small bag or extra spice bottle. Be sure to mark it so you know what it is when you dig it out of the bag of the spice cabinet the next time!
Smoked corn salsa: Cut smoked corn or roasted corn from the cobs into a large bowl. Use about 2 cups. Set aside. While you're smoking or roasting the corn, put on 1 jalapeno and 1 poblano and cook until soft. Remove the peppers to a plastic container and cover with a lid tightly. Set aside for at least 15 minutes. When the peppers are cool, remove the skins, stems and seeds. Finely dice the peppers and add to the corn.

In a molcajete or mortar and pestle, mash 1 small garlic clove, a handful of fresh cilantro leaves, 1 finely miniced, seeded jalapeno pepper with about a teaspoon of Kosher salt. When the mixture is pulverized, add it all into the corn and peppers. Squeeze the juice of 1 lime over all with a pinch or two of cumin and mix well. The salsa is ready to top the tacos. Use any leftover salsa with chips or to top hot dogs or nachos.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Classic Spirits Making the Cocktail Scene All Over Again

Everything old is new again...or so they say. In the cocktail world, it seems to be absolutely (no pun intended) true. Without a doubt, the resurgence of classic cocktails and/or craft cocktails is the reason for some old time, classic spirits making the scene again.

Having an ear that's occasionally tuned to the current trends in spirits, I sometimes enjoy hearing about what's "new" these days. Take Fernet Branca for example, it's so hot right now! Um...Mark and I started enjoying it in the early 80's while on a trip to Monte Carlo and the French and Italian Rivieras. Every meal was followed by Fernet as an after dinner digestif by tourists and locals alike. When we bid adieu, there was a bottle of Fernet tucked into our bags!

Then there's Campari. This is another spirit Mark and I enjoyed many years ago - back in the late 60's! These days, the Negroni is THE cocktail to make with Campari...and I DO love me a well-made Negroni. (Thank you Acacia and Shane.) In those days, we simply mixed it with tonic or (wish we could still find this one) Schweppes Bitter Lemon. Clean, crisp, bitter and thoroughly refreshing on a warm, sunny day, the Negroni just hits the spot.

And then there's sloe gin. If you think the late 60's were far back, it was the mid 50's when my parents were sipping their favorite Sloe Gin Fizzes while playing Five Hundred around the kitchen table with Aunt Anna and Uncle Bert. We kids would occasionally be treated to a sip (or two if we were quick!) of the nose tickling beverage. 

Sloe Gin is back in style, too. Not the Jacquins my parents used in their cocktails - that sweet, syrupy stuff wasn't even real, just artificial flavors and coloring. Now Plymouth gin makes a very fine version with actual sloe berries! Not sweet, but tart and a little bitter. And that gorgeous red is natural!

With all these new-again liquors (with memories attached for me), I've been experimenting. Here are the recipes for the successful results, along with the recipe for a classic Negroni. Mix one of these up for yourself and a guest and sip...and maybe even conduct a little cocktail trial and error of your own. Research can be such fun!

The Classic Negroni

Makes 1

  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
  • a swath of orange peel

Gently stir gin, Campari and sweet vermouth in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with orange peel. If desired, serve over ice.


Makes 1

  • 1 oz. gin (I used Bluecoat)
  • 1 oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin
  • 1 oz. Canton Ginger Liqueur
  • a large slice of candied ginger (or smaller pieces on a cocktail skewer)

Gently stir gin, sloe gin and ginger liqueur in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with candied ginger. If desired, serve over ice.

Aloe and Sloe

Makes 1

  • 1 oz. gin (I used Bluecoat)
  • 1 oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 oz. sweetened aloe juice
  • barest splash of seltzer
  • a long ribbon of lemon peel

 In a cocktail tin, add gin, sloe gin, vermouth and aloe juice. Add ice 3/4 of the way up the tin. Cap tightly and shake until the tin is frosted on the outside.  

Strain into an ice filled cocktail glass, add just a splash of seltzer, give it just a gentle stir to keep the in the effervescence and garnish with lemon peel.  




Monday, May 13, 2013

Pastrami and Mother's Day Weekend - Both Were Smoking!

I LOVE Mother's Day! It's the one day of the year I (officially) get to celebrate the three things in my life I treasure most, my kids. Three daughters. Whew! 

It doesn't hurt that there are gifts involved either...AND a day free of cooking. Actually, it was an entire cooking-free weekend since Mark and I hit up the PGH Taco Truck for dinner on Friday night.

Kimber came home bright and early Saturday morning, while Mieke and Julie celebrated with the kids - those precious grandkids - in MI and WV. Regardless, phone calls and sweet thoughts connected us all. So Kimber and I did the usual mom/daughter activities. We shopped and we dined!

We kicked off the Saturday no-cooking weekend with brunch at Meat & Potatoes, followed by stops at the Strip District and opening day of the Firehouse Farmers Market, a quick (but productive) tour of Ross Park, dinner with Mark at Franktuary in Lawrenceville and later made the rounds of a few hot spots in town - including Kimber's first time at Tender. How did we cap off the night? SHOE shopping! What a perfect mom/daughter day!

Sunday brought more good food, only this time at home. Kimber flipped a few fresh blueberry, gluten-free pancakes for breakfast and a little later Mark fired up the smoker. A quick mix up of a simple pastrami-ish rub for corned beef brisket was the ONLY cooking I did all weekend. (Really, can you even call mixing spices cooking?) As much as I love to cook - and you know I do(!) - sometimes a break feels really good.

The pastrami? Incredibly delicious. Just a simple spice and brown sugar rub and HOURS over applewood chips produced a tender and moist, smoky and succulent piece of heaven. The perfect ending to a perfectly wonderful and wonderfully fun Mother's Day weekend. 

Pastrami Spiced Smoked Corned Beef

  • 1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole cardamom seeds
  • 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • reserved packet of spices from the corned beef brisket package

  • a 3-4 pound corned beef brisket, reserve packet of spices to use in the spice rub above
  • 4 cups applewood chips, soaked in water for about an hour  

Remove the corned beef from the package and rinse well under water. Dry with paper towels and set aside.

In a small coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle, grind the mustard seeds, cardamom seeds and peppercorns to a medium grind. Transfer the spices to a small bowl, add the salt, reserved packet of spices and brown sugar and mix well.

Pat the spice rub over all sides of the corned beef. Let sit to almost room temperature before putting onto the smoker.

Prepare the smoker as you normally would, place the meat fat side UP and smoke the corned beef until tender. 5-5 1/2 hours more or less. Let rest at least 15 minutes and slice thinly. Pastrami Reubens with the leftovers anyone?

(The smoking technique is very general since I don't know if you're using an electric or charcoal smoker. If you smoke, you KNOW how to use your smoker to obtain the best results!)


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Gluten-Free Blood Orange Meyer Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

Lemon Meringue pie! The craving hit like a bolt of tart, sweet, luscious lightening! Right then and there, it was decided what the weekend's dessert would be.

As days counted down to Saturday (and the available time to make the pie), I realized a gluten-free pastry crust just didn't measure up to the good old Crisco gluten-FULL crust of my memory. Hmmmm. Okay, instead of a disappointing GF crust, how about a cupcake to cradle the citrusy, lemony curd? Done.

That lemon curd I'd been craving all week? Blood oranges and Meyer lemons seemingly beckoned from the fridge. Suddenly the lemon meringue craving turned into something just a little more exotic, more exciting.

Saturday came...finally. While the cupcakes baked, the curd came together in a jiffy and when the adorable cakes emerged from the oven, the curd was already quick-chilling.  

Once all the parts were ready to roll, the little cakes were hollowed out and filled with the orange-y, lemon-y custard. Meringue was whipped into sweet, white clouds while filled cupcakes chilled in the fridge. Last of all, the meringue fluff was piled on top and popped into the oven to brown. Gorgeous!

I'm not gonna was a lot of effort, but SO worth it! Hmmmm....I'm just thinking about maybe a coconut cupcake filled with key lime curd, crowned with a browned, coconut kissed meringue. I'm also thinking that might possibly be this year's Parrothead cupcake for the Buffet concert...WITH a Margarita, of course!

 Gluten-Free Blood Orange Meyer Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

Makes 12

  • 1 package yellow cake mix, Hodgson Mill Gluten-Free
  • 1/2 package instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice (or 2 T. lemon juice AND 2 T. orange juice)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 3 eggs

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup fresh blood orange juice (or regular fresh o.j.)
  • 1/3 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon juice)
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 T. grated orange zest
  • 1 stick butter, room temp

  • 4 egg whites
  • 3 T. sugar
Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place cupcake liners into 12 cupcake pan holes.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, mix the cake mix, dry instant pudding, buttermilk, juices, oil and eggs until everything is mixed, scrape down sides of bowl and mix on medium another minute until well incorporated.

Using an ice cream scoop, fill cupcake liners 2/3 full.

Bake approximately 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Don't overbake. Cool completely on racks. Once they are completely cool, hollow out the centers with about a 1" hole - do NOT go all the way to the bottom. Set aside.

Curd: In the top of a double boiler (or a heat-proof bowl over simmering water in a pot), mix sugar, juices, eggs and yolks, zest and salt. Whisk the mixtures constantly until it becomes very thick and silky. Do NOT let it come to a boil. Remove from heat and cool. (I quick cooled the curd in the freezer, stirring often so it didn't freeze. Once the mixture is chilled completely, move to the fridge until you're ready to fill the cupcakes.)

Assembly: Fill the hollows of the cupcakes with the curd. Chill again while making the meringue.

Using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites to a froth. Add the sugar gradually, continuing to whip until they come to a stiff peak. Top each filled cupcake with meringue. Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven until the peaks of the meringue are beautifully browned. Remove from oven. Refrigerate for several hours before serving.