31 October 2014

Halloween Drinks for the Grown-Ups

When we are home for Halloween, we usually splurge on a giant bag of Mike & Ike's and wait for the little kids to roll in, because they are so damn funny.  I don't know why, but we tend to get a lot of the really little ones, the kind who can't quite make it up the stairs to our porch and who are too shell-shocked to say "trick or treat" when we open the door.  They may be too young to be eating all this candy, actually.  So, we drink, hand out the crappiest candy in the world, and laugh at our neighbors' kids.  Yes, I realize how lucky we are that no one has tried to burn down our house or roll the yard.  Yes I do.

I always fantasize about making a party of it, but no one ever wants to come over to drink and laugh at little kids.  That's weird.  But if they ever did, I would serve punch, like maybe one of these:

Southern Pineapple Punch

1 (2-liter) bottle ginger ale, chilled
1 (12-oz.) container frozen pineapple-orange juice concentrate, thawed
1 cup mango nectar
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 cups Southern Comfort (optional)
Crushed ice

Mix it all together.  You now have Southern Pineapple Punch

Cranberry-Key Lime Punch

2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
5 to 6 cups chilled club soda
1/2 cup fresh Key lime juice
1 cup vodka
Garnishes: Key lime slices and fresh cranberries

Combine 2 cups fresh cranberries, sugar, and water in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 8 minutes or until cranberries begin to pop. Pour mixture through a wire-mesh strainer into a large pitcher, discarding solids; cool completely (about 1 hour). Stir in chilled club soda, fresh Key lime juice, and vodka. Serve over ice. Garnish with Key lime slices and fresh cranberries

Warm Spiced Sangria

8 black peppercorns
6 whole allspice
6 whole cloves
2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
3 (3- x 1-inch) orange rind strips
3 cups orange juice
1 1/2 cups apple cider
3/4 cup sugar
2 (750-milliliter) bottles dry red wine
1/2 cup brandy
1 orange, sliced
2 small Granny Smith apples, sliced

Place peppercorns, allspice, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and orange rind strips on a 5-inch square of cheesecloth. Gather edges of cheesecloth, and tie securely with kitchen string. Combine orange juice, apple cider, sugar, and spice bag in a 6-qt. slow cooker. Cover and cook on HIGH 2 hours. Stir in wine, brandy, orange slices, and apple slices. Cover and cook on LOW 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Discard spice bag before serving.

Sparkling Pear-Brandy Cider

2 cups chilled pear nectar
1/4 cup honey
1 cup brandy
2 (750-milliliter) bottles sparkling apple cider, chilled
1 (1-liter) bottle club soda, chilled

Stir together. Do not shake.

Montgomery Punch

2 cups fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup brandy
2 (750-milliliter) bottles chilled sparkling wine
1 (375-milliliter) bottle chilled dessert wine
Garnishes: orange slices, lemon slices, cranberries 

Stir together. Do not shake.
Now, I'm not trying to tell you how to live, but doesn't this seem so much more civilized for your Halloween party?  Try one out and write about how it turned out in the comments below. Happy Halloween, everybody!

27 October 2014

A Shameless Plug: Come See a Concert!

I am touring with my amazing musician friends, Verismo Trio, today and for the next two weeks in Georgia and South Carolina.  Through the magic of the interwebs, I can continue to inundate your Facebook feeds with recipes, reviews, and general snarkiness.  But if you are in or near Columbia, SC or Athens, Atlanta, Macon, or Milledgeville, GA, come hear us play new music for flute, saxophones, and piano!  Here's the complete tour schedule, and here's a live video of one the of the super-cool pieces you can hear at the show:

In two weeks, I'll post food and travel reviews from our trip.

24 October 2014

Quick vegetarian pasta dishes and links

A fast pasta dish is such a glorious way to end the day with friends and family. I open some wine (we call it "work wine" in my house), chop some veggies, start a pot of boiling water, and halfway pay attention to what I'm doing while catching up on all the poop that went down throughout the week. Plus, it's comforting food and, without the meat, not too heavy before bed. Here are my absolute favorites when I'm too tired to cook, but too cheap to order pizza:

Pasta with broccoli, lemon, and capers

Serves 4

1 cup broccoli florets
1 small lemon
½ pound dry spaghetti, linguine, etc.
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoon capers (or roughly chopped olives)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
bread crumbs and grated Parmesan for serving

Bring a pot of salty water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions, with the addition of the raw broccoli (if using frozen, add the last two minutes or cooking).

Meanwhile, in a serving bowl, combine the juice and zest of the lemon, capers, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil in and stir to combine.

Drain cooked pasta and toss with the dressing in the serving bowl. Put some bread crumbs and cheese on the table for sprinkling

I list some no-cook pasta sauces in this blog post, too; all you have to do is cook pasta and chop a little bit.

It doesn't get easier (or more gluttonous) than Bittman's version of Pasta alla Norma, published in NYT.

Whaat?!?! Lentils and mushrooms in pasta sauce?!  And if you keep some cooked lentils ready in the freezer, you can whip this up in no time.

21 October 2014

Salty-Sweet Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Blondies

You have to be a monster to not love the combination of peanut butter and chocolate (or allergic. But if you're allergic to peanuts, maybe the universe is trying to tell you something, like that you are going to have a miserable life). Even better? Salty-sweet peanut buttery chocolaty goodness. This dessert can be thrown together in a few minutes, but they have to cool before you cut them, so plan ahead. 

Salty-Sweet Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Blondies

Yields between 1 & 12 servings

¾ cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter
⅓ cup oil (coconut is great, but canola will also work)
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup milk (any kind)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup unbleached white flour
½ teaspoon salt (halve this if you want the sweet without the salty)
½ teaspoon baking powder
⅓ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease a baking dish.

Mix the oil, sugar and peanut butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add the milk and vanilla essence and mix well. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix. It will be a very thick batter, almost like cookie dough. Fold in the chocolate chips and tip the mixture into the baking dish.

Press down evenly with the back of a spoon to spread it into every corner of the dish. Bake for 22 minutes till the edges are brown. The center will remain a bit soft. 8. Allow to cool completely, preferably overnight, before cutting into squares.

17 October 2014

Friday favorites and a cocktail

I may be a sucker for pumpkin spice in the fall, but I am an absolute whore for apple cider (not literally). I also like drinks that are easy to make because, well, I am old and cranky. Here's what I've been drinking lately:

Bourbon Cider

Serves 1

2 parts Apple Cider
2 parts Ginger Ale
1 part Bourbon

Combine the cider and bourbon in a glass. Top with the ginger ale, give it a little stir and plop in some ice ice. Garnish with an apple slice.

I like lots of other things, too, actually. There are so many clever bloggers out there with brilliant ideas.  Here are a few I thought worth sharing this week: 

This recipe for chicken tinga tacos is so simple and delish.  I used actual chicken, but I think you could definitely substitute seitan and never the dead bird. 

Who couldn't stand another creative grilled cheese recipe in their life?  Especially when it has a fried egg on top!

It am probably too cheap to pay for this after my 30-day trial runs out, but for the time being, I am digging the tutorial vids on Salted tv. And I love that you can browse recipes by mood.

Frosted Red Velvet cookies.  That is all.   

14 October 2014

Eating in unlikely places

In the spirit of open-mindedness, we all try some things we probably shouldn't: street food in a town with no street food tradition, a city-wide festival in the summer heat with weak refrigeration units, or maybe a sushi restaurant in small-town Wyoming.  But you know what? I still think it's worth it.  So here's to all the adventures we embark upon in the name of food exploration and faith (albeit misplaced at times) in local foodies everywhere.

Crappy Crepes in Fort Collins

Cultivating a dislike for celebrity chefs

Eating Italian in a Cow Town (hint: don't)

Everyone's Favorite Hot Dog and Doughnut Themed Restaurant

Getting a little too fancy with eggplant

But there is such a thing as a Guide to Edible Airport Food

The Illusive Search for Pie

Looking for a Sidewalk in the O.C.

The Misery of Shirataki Noodles

Ode to the Horseshoe Sandwich

Sometimes Beer Just Isn't Enough

And from elsewhere on the web...

Why that last food festival you attending wasn't so satisfying

And believe it or not, The broadening experience of eating at Epcot

10 October 2014

It's time for muthuh-uckin' pumpkin spice

It's October, and that means that everything is pumpkin-spice flavored now.  I'm not going to engage in apologies or self-hatred; I kind of like it.  I'm not too into those Starbucks thingys because I like coffee-flavored coffee, but I do enjoy a good...

Oatmeal-Pumpkin Smoothie

Pumpkin-Cream Cheese Muffins (which always takes me back to my days in Bloomnigton, Indiana)

Pumpkin Harvest Muffins

Pumpkin Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars

Pumpkin-Spice Foie-Gras Mashed Potatoes? Nah, maybe next year...


It will also soon be decorative gourd season, by the way.

07 October 2014

The Zucchini Project: Zucchini Corn Pancakes

Well, I don't know about you, but my zucchini crop is finally starting to fade, and here in Northern Colorado, it won't be long before heavy frosts put a rapid end to the sprawl that has taken over my back yard.  So, this is the final installment of my Zucchini Project, a pretty, green flecked pancake you can eat on its own with any sauce you like on top, or as a side with meat or hot or cold salads. Really, you could use these recipes with other vegetables just as easily, so I haven't been torturing you with my zucchini obsession the way you keep telling everybody I am. Quit complaining.

Zucchini Corn Pancakes

Serves 4

1 pound zucchini, grated
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup corn kernels, frozen, canned or roasted
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil

Place grated zucchini in a colander over the sink. Add salt and gently toss to combine; let sit for 10 minutes. Using a clean dish towel or cheese cloth, drain zucchini completely.

In a large bowl, combine zucchini, corn, eggs, basil, oregano and garlic powder; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in cheese and flour until well combined.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Scoop tablespoons of batter for each pancake, flattening with a spatula, and cook until the underside is nicely golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side, about 1-2 minutes longer.

Serve hot; will keep in the refrigerator up to one week or in the freezer up to one month. 

03 October 2014

Potato and Mushroom (and maybe some other stuff) Hash

This reminds me ever-so-slightly of my dad's famous skillet potatoes and onions, though he would rather die than ever put Brussels sprouts in them (you don't have to, either). Or mushrooms.  But you have to put the mushrooms in. He used to make his potatoes as a side with dinner, and this dish does work well alongside everything from pork to salmon.  But I kind of like to just toss some grated cheese (or better yet, cheese curds if you have them!) into the hot gooey mess and eat it that way.  Or you could do the hipster thing and put a fried egg on top... Share your variations below!

Potato and Mushroom Hash

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 medium Yukon potatoes, washed and diced
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
About ½ pound Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced (optional)
Juice and zest from ½ lemon
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
Salt and black pepper to taste

Over medium-high heat, warm the oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions until translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add the potatoes, season with salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until soft (you can also cover them for part of the time while you do other things, but be careful to keep them from sticking to the pan).  Add the mushrooms, give them a stir, and lower the heat to medium low and cover for about 10 minutes.  Uncover and stir in the Brussels sprouts (if using) along with the lemon juice and zest and scallions.  Cook, stirring frequently, until sprouts are tender and wilted to your liking.  Season with salt and pepper and serve.

For once, this mug was not ironic.