Sunday, January 29, 2012

kalimotxo - spanish red wine cocktail

it has been Too Long since we talked about cocktails.

this is not due to a dearth of cocktails in my life, so please don't worry your pretty little head about that. there has been a notable lack of new cocktails, though, as mainly i've been sticking to tried'n'true equations such as bourbon + ginger = best. even when we went out to a fancy cocktail place last night i stuck with good old bourbon/ginger. it didn't hurt that they make their own ginger ale and augment it with generous shavings of fresh ginger. that didn't hurt at all.

but sometimes you want to go in another direction, i guess, so today i saw that there was a small amount of red wine that was just sitting around bored and then i remembered that we had coke (normally we don't - we are a proud diet coke family) and - ta da! - kalimotxo! (aka calimocho)

i first had this in spain, at a little bar in barcelona. it was incredibly hot and we'd been walking around forever. the ice-cold red wine and coke served in a cool dark courtyard was just the thing to refresh and revive us for another round of sightseeing.

this is kind of a weird cocktail. it tends to divide tastes. mike, for instance, thinks it's gross. i like it, but it's something i get a craving for maybe once a year. it's probably best in the summer, because it's not-very-alcoholic and is sort of refreshing and i could see taking a pitcher of them to the beach or on a picnic or something.

but here we are in the dead of winter and it's raining somberly and it was still pretty good. so.

making a kalimotxo is dead easy. just mix equalish amounts of red wine and coke and squeeze some lime in! you've just made a cocktail! i didn't have any limes, but lemon worked a treat. you can also leave the citrus out, but i think it adds a lot.

clearly, this is not something in which you want to use your best red wine that you've been saving for a special occasion, but if you have some indifferent and cheap wine and some coke lying around, this is an interesting way to use it. the wine and coke combine to make a beautiful dark ruby-colored drink that is somewhat sweet but has some savory deeper flavors from the tannins in the wine. it may not be an earth-shaking experience, but it's well worth a try.

mix some up, sit back, and pretend you are in beautiful spain, looking out on the mediterranean and thinking about having some jamón, a siesta and going out to dinner at 11 pm.

the above is some vodka that is patiently awaiting its time in the sun. i'm steeping some lemongrass and ginger in it and plan to make something like the cocktail equivalent of tom kha soup. but it still has some sitting around and infusing to do, so it will have to wait. in the meantime, enjoy your coke-and-wine!

listening to: santigold, MIA, more santigold.

Monday, January 23, 2012

coconut milk & banana "ice cream"

this is the message that greeted me this morning. thanks, bananas, way to advertise.*

i never liked bananas growing up. the blandish taste did not make up for the weird, icky texture. rather than just owning up to my general banana-dislike, however, i guess i thought my dislike would seem more serious to my parents if i found something concrete to hate about them. thus began my years of claims that i hated potassium. somewhere i'd heard that they had potassium all up in there and so i figured it was as good a reason as any.

but lo, i have seen the error of my ways, and now bananas and i are ... friendly acquaintances. i still don't buy them that often, but i do eat them occasionally and i definitely take seriously the messages that appear on the ones in my kitchen.

i read about using frozen bananas to make an ice cream-like concoction a while ago, but it didn't particularly appeal to me, being a relatively recent banana convert and all. all banana, all the time is a bit much.

but i bought a can of coconut milk at the asian market the other day (because even i know that "roxy" means premium quality ... and i liked the can) as well as some palm sugar. sugar, coconut milk (ROXY) and bananas are definitely something i can get behind.

this requires a couple of preparatory steps, such as peeling the bananas and freezing them and also putting the can of coconut milk in the fridge (you want everything to be nice and cold). but that's not too onerous. just do it before you go to work or whatever.

once the bananas are frozen, just blend them up (i used a food processor, but i think a blender would work too) with the can of cold coconut milk and maybe 4 or so tablespoons of palm (or brown. or whatever) sugar. i started out with just half a can of the milk, blended for a bit, then added more. the sugar you'll have to adjust to your tastes. start with just a couple of tablespoons and go from there. i also added a teaspoon or so of lime juice just to balance it out with a little acid.

once it's smooth, it will be kind of a milkshake consistency. this is also a good consistency, but if you want it to be more ice cream-like, you can put it in the freezer for awhile. if you go that route, i would stir it around every half hour to an hour for the first couple of hours, so it stays creamy. i actually ended up freezing it down more in my ice cream maker attachment thing, so if you have an ice cream maker, i think it would give you the best texture. but it will still taste good if you don't. i hope.

there are a lot of things you could add in as well - chocolate comes to mind, either in chip or stracciatella form, also any kind of nuts would be great. or candied ginger. the world is your oyster!

i don't think oysters would be that good in it.

whether you're a banana lover or merely a banana well-wisher, this is a delicious and relatively healthy and wholly vegan dessert. it also received an enthusiastic dog seal of approval when i accidentally spilled a little. so that kind of tells you all you need to know.

except, of course, which of these mascots/logo characters is more disturbing.

of course, mr. number one (last in a line of palm sugar magnates) has a grotesquely enlarged right hand and his neck seems to end as the knot of his tie. however, mandy the soccer-playing clementine appears to have only applied blush to one cheek. also, she's a clementine. also, her hair? and i think she has claws.

mandy wins!

4 regular-sized bananas. or like 5 or so. it's no big deal.
1 can coconut milk (or you can use coconut cream if you want to be all rich about it. use less sugar if you do, though)
2-5 tablespoons palm** (or other) sugar
~ 1 teaspoon lime juice (i used a slice that was about 1/6 of a lime)

blend everything up til smooth, then either drink it up like a milkshake or freeze it (stirring occasionally) for a few hours or freeze it in an ice cream maker.

*i learned this trick, like all important life lessons, from the bloggess.
**yo, seriously, palm sugar is delicious. if you see some around, you should try it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

cheese and crackers, margie!*

this is not a recipe, except in the sense that i am telling you you should put some cheese on some crackers. which you probably already knew, but if that's the case why aren't you doing it RIGHT NOW?

for real, this is the best snack. it's so versatile! there are literally at least a billion combinations you can do. it is filling and gives you the energy you need to fret about where wikipedia was for so long (power to the people! democracy in action!) or why that bearded honey you've been flirting with at starbuck's your neighborhood hipster coffeeshop hasn't asked you out yet. those things take their toll if you aren't properly snacked up.

here are some good combinations, if the old saltines and kraft singles aren't working for you:

jacob's cream crackers and sharp cheddar (pictured above).
sure there are other cream crackers (apparently. according to the internets.), but jacob has personally been making them since 1885 and he knows his stuff. these are large and sort of bready and have a really nice texture. i just found a pack at our local asian market for 89 cents. that is just a heck of a bargain. sharp cheddar you no doubt already know and love.

carr's cracked black pepper water crackers** and goat cheese.
carr's crackers are insanely expensive here for some reason, but i have eaten a lot of water crackers in my time and they are markedly better than, say, the trader joe's ones. also, black pepper is an awesome flavor for a cracker. spread some soft chalky goat cheese on there and baby, you've got a stew goin'!

those wheaty "entertainer crackers" and brie or camembert.
why are they called entertainer crackers? i have no idea. i asked google and the first thing that came up was barbara mandrell's wikipedia page, so if google is stumped then i have no hope. i have been to a lot of wine & cheese kind of things that featured these crackers, so i guess people find them handy for entertaining. it's not like they have a snappy routine that they do or anything, so don't be disappointed. but if you just want a nice softish crunchy wheaten cracker, they are your ... cracker. they're particularly good with squishy rindy cheeses like brie because the richness of the cheese and the nuttiness of the cracker seem to play off each other nicely. or something like that.

saltines and kraft singles.
god help me, but i do kind of love kraft singles. i think it's because we never had them at home when i was growing up. forbidden fruit and all that. don't judge me.

all of these cracker and cheese combos are good if accentuated with a little chutney kind of thing. tomato jam, carrot jam, or perhaps a particularly aggressive marmalade would be good, too.

experiment! go forth and snack! i will just be slowly dying here in the law school library, snackless.

*we have been watching a lot of Big Love lately.
**in all honesty, even though carr's water crackers are the best, we normally get the store brand or trader joe's ones. i am WAY too cheap to pay like $4 for a sleeve of crackers that are basically flour and water. and pepper.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

som tum - thai green papaya salad

this salad is one of my very favorite thai foods of all time, even though i normally hate papaya. fresh papaya is easily the worst-tasting fruit i have ever had. it should be banned from polite society. NEVER SMELL IT you will be so sorry you did.

i probably would never have even ordered this if i hadn't somehow gotten it into my head that it was made with green mango, which seemed fine to me. mango, after all, is not manufactured somewhere in the depths of hades.

by the time i realized my mistake, it was too late. not wanting to waste food, i figured i'd at least try it. i was surprised to discover that it was delicious - fiery, salty, sweet, and sour in all the very best ways. plus peanuts! papaya haters, don't let the terrible evil taste of the fresh stuff put you off - this doesn't taste anything like that.

it snowed today in portland. it was lovely, but it quickly melted. now it's plain old slushy and cold. although it might seem like perfect weather for something roasty or stewy, the bright crisp flavors of this salad made it seem a little warmer and more cheery.

i found the papaya at an asian market near our house. it was kind of a monster - it weighed like 2 1/2 pounds. i only ended up using half of it in the salad. i'm not sure what to do with the other half - wikipedia says it has lots of pectin - maybe a jam?

anyway, go ahead and peel the thing. it's pretty easy to peel - much easier than, say, a butternut squash.

cut it in half lengthwise, then admire the strange beauty of its seeds.

the seeds are edible, if somewhat odd. mike described them as tasting "kind of like mustard . . . and maybe burning plastic" but added that they were not unpleasant. i thought they tasted kind of like nasturtium - kind of peppery-mustardy-planty. i'm not sure what i'll do with these, but i found a recipe for a dressing that uses them and sounds kind of good.

now you can mix up the other salad ingredients and the dressing. i made quite a bit of dressing, because i like to eat the salad with rice so it's nice to have some extra dressing to soak into the rice a little. you could always dial down the proportions if you want it a little drier.

in a large bowl, mix 1/4 cup of turbinado or (more authentic) palm sugar, 1/4 cup (or a little less - it's strong) fish sauce, and the juice of one lime (around 1/4 cup).

mince/smash/grind one large clove of garlic. it would probably actually be a good idea to put a little sugar on the cutting board with the garlic - the crystals make it easier to grind the garlic up. here is a video by someone's grandpa to show you how to make it into kind of a paste.

add about 5 or 6 chopped scallions. i like to cut them on the bias a little because FANCY.

then you need some peppers. thai bird chilies are more traditional, but i used one of these red fresno ones, which was not hot, and one large jalapeño, which was middling hot.

slice them each pretty thinly. this salad is supposed to be quite spicy, so feel free to amp it up with some serranos or the like instead. i ended up putting in a few shakes of dried red pepper flakes as well.

the other two vegetables you need are green beans and tomatoes. long beans are traditional, green beans are totally fine, and haricots verts are delicious as well. i had some good frozen haricots verts at hand, so i thawed them and cooked them for a minute or so in a pan with a little shake of salt - just enough so that they weren't raw anymore.

i used halved grape tomatoes, but cherry ones would be fine also. there aren't a lot of good larger tomatoes around at this time of year, but in the summer some of the good heirloom ones would be aces in this.

mix the dressing, sliced peppers, scallions, garlic, beans, and tomatoes, then use a mandoline or julienne peeler to break down the papaya. i used a mandoline and it was a bit of a pain because the papaya is fairly unwieldy, but it isn't impossible by any means. if you have a peeler that juliennes, that is probably going to be easier. or you can grate it, but it won't be as pretty.

add the papaya and a handful of chopped cilantro to the bowl and you're basically done. it's good to make it a little bit before you want to eat it - i would let it sit for at least half an hour or so.

when you're just about to eat, top it with some roughly chopped roasted, salted peanuts. you don't want to put them on too early because they will get soggy and unattractive.

ta da! a little bit of southeast asia in the cold and wet northwest. this is so refreshing and delicious - you can eat it on its own or with some rice. it would be good alongside some tofu or with a hard-boiled egg or perfect as an accompaniment to fish sauce drumsticks.

it may seem like a lot of stuff, but it's mainly just a bit of prep and it's totally, totally worth it.

1 small or 1/2 large papaya (about 1 - 1 1/2 pounds is probably good)
3/4 - 1 cup lightly cooked green beans, haricots verts, or long beans
12-15 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 - 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 chili peppers, sliced (jalapeño, serrano, or thai - to taste)
5-6 scallions, sliced
1/3 - 1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts

1 garlic clove, minced/smashed into paste
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 - 1/3 cup turbinado, palm or regular cane sugar (+ more, to taste - i actually added another two tablespoons of regular sugar to the 1/4 cup turbinado because i ran out of turbinado and wanted it to be a little more sweet)
juice of 1 lime (~1/4 cup)
dried red chili flakes, to taste (may not be necessary - it depends on how hot your peppers are)

listening to: beach house, blouse (this video is crazy!), air

Thursday, January 5, 2012

smoky garlicky black beans

lo, it is january! people all over the world are becoming newly virtued, newly sure that This Is The Year When It Will All Change. like everyone else, i want to do better this year. i want to be nicer and more patient. i want to make more of my time and spend a little less energy being frustrated and bitter. but ultimately, these are things i need to take day by day and even in a kinder, gentler world there is still a place for semi-good-natured mockery.

oh, there isn't? well that sounds boring.

one thing that many people want to change resolutionarily is their eating habits. sure, i just ate a piece of chocolate, but in general i think we eat pretty healthily here in living awesomely land. plus, it was artisanal chocolate. AND free trade. so that's basically like you're doing your part for the good of the world by eating it, i'm pretty sure. i don't have to defend my chocolate-eating choices to you.

anyway, my innate defensiveness aside, these black beans i made sure were good. i know! you are all, snrrrszzzzzzboring. they are really tasty, though, and So Healthyface. also cheap. so they pretty much fit the bill if your resolutions involved things like eating better or being more thrifty. you also get the sort of quiet joy that comes of simmering something on the stove and making your house smell good on days in which the sun barely has time to rise before setting again at 4pm. it's also vegan, so the animals would thank you if animals were capable of feeling thankful. ours certainly aren't.

the first step of making beans may or may not be soaking them. i've read so many things and have tried all kinds of different ways - i'm not any sort of authority on it. frankly, i often used canned beans. but canned beans are nowhere near as good as the ones you make yourself. plus they are so 2011. for reals. this time i used a quick soak method that seemed to work well.

just cover the rinsed beans with a few inches of water, bring it to a boil, let it boil for a minute or two, then let the pot sit covered for at least an hour. then drain them out and rinse them off. you might need to pick a few losers out of the bunch as well. in the picture above, a helpful squirrel is pointing out a weird grey bean that no one wants. compost that puppy!

rinse the pot out and add a tablespoon or two of olive oil and put it over medium heat. once the oil's hot, add a medium diced onion. i think mine totaled 2/3 of a cup or so. possibly 3/4. don't get too hung up on the amounts. let that cook for awhile, stirring pretty frequently. you want it to get translucent but not too brownedy - 5 minutes-ish should be good. once the onion is translucent, add a whole head of minced garlic. you can, i suppose, add less, but garlic is good for you. also, garlic and onions cooking together form one of the great smells known to mankind. you owe it to yourself. let those hang out for a minute or so and then add some spices.

i was planning to use some cumin, some chipotle powder, and some smoked paprika. since there isn't any bacon or ham in here, i like the smokiness that those last two add. sadly, i was out of smoked paprika, so i used the smoke seasoning blend above. it's really good, but i like to not brag too much about the awesome trader joe's things we get here, since not everyone has access to them. but this time, i had no choice. and if you DO have a trader joe's, this stuff is good.

but it also is mostly smoked paprika. so you can work without it quite easily. add about two + teaspoons powdered cumin, 1-2 (or more, but it's spicy!) teaspoons chipotle powder (or you could use those canned chipotles in adobo - maybe like 1, minced?, and 2 teaspoons or several furious grinds of smoked paprika or smoke seasoning blend, respectively.

let it all cook together for a few seconds, so the spices get toasty, then add the pre-soaked beans and enough water so that they are covered by about 2 inches or so. you can add some salt at this point too - maybe a couple-few teaspoons (aka 2 -3). put the heat on high and let it come to a boil, then turn it down to medium-low (my stove's dial was at like 2 1/2 out of 10). cook until the beans are tender. this will depend to a certain extent on how old the beans are, etc., but it'll probably be like an hour. stir every 15 minutes or so, but it isn't a big deal.

once the beans are tender, add a can of tomatoes. you don't have to do this, but tomatoes are good in black beans, so i think you ought to at least consider it. this has a whole thing about bean skins and acids and bases, so you can see why you might want to wait until now to add the tomatoes.

you also might need to add a little more salt at this point. though it hasn't been scientifically proven, one of the main reasons people balk at eating homemade beans is that if they are undersalted they are the grossest things in the world. true story.

once they are tender, you can eat them immediately, or you can cool them and ladle them into muffin tins to freeze for later or you can keep them going on super-low heat until you're ready for them. they don't mind. they'll just be there when you're ready for them.

they're good on their own, or in enchiladas, nachos or the like. you can also have a little dress-up party with them and make some rice and have some toppings ready for delicious rice-and-bean bowls. we had them with brown rice, avocado, salsa, diced cheeses (cheddar, pepper jack), chopped scallions, greek yogurt (maybe i'm a philistine, but it really tastes just like sour cream to me), and garlicky sautéed kale.

i know. kale. eye roll. whatever haters, i love it! take the leafy parts from the stemmy stems, chop them up, cook them with lots of garlic, a splash of apple cider vinegar and some pepper flakes, and i could eat that stuff all day. it. is. the. best. particularly in a Virtue Bowl (TM).

good luck with all of your resolutionizing! here's to 2012!

1 bag dried black beans (it was whatever the normal size of bags of beans at the store run - i think that's a pound)
1 medium or small onion, diced
1 head of garlic, minced
1 can tomatoes (14 oz) - i used just regular diced ones, but you can get the ones with flavoring if you like. if they're salted, take it easy on the salt you add
2+ teaspoons powdered cumin
1-2 teaspoons chipotle powder, or 1 chipotle chile in adobo, minced - spicy!
2+ teaspoons dried smoked paprika (or that trader joe's stuff)
salt, to taste

listening to: a weird mix of the lower 48 (especially come awake) and some hip hop-ish songs off a spotify mix i made (lupe fiasco, the streets, aesop rock/mountain goats).

Sunday, January 1, 2012

sparkling wine & apple sorbet

happy new year! new year's eve at living awesomely headquarters was a very sedate affair, just as i'd hoped. after countless years of going to parties and/or bars for the big night, i found myself wanting most of all to just relax last night.

it was all i'd hoped it would be - mike made migas, we drank a little whiskey and a little champagne sparkling wine à la méthode champenoise and watched movies. at midnight, flame-happy portlanders set off dozens of pretty fireworks and i fell asleep soon after.

if you had a party for new year's, however, you might have ended up with some leftover sparkling wine. perhaps a guest brought some that ended up being sweeter than you'd like for regular drinking, or maybe you got some that looked pretty in the bottle but ended up being way too sugary for your taste.

basically, if you have some sweet sparkling wine lying around (or a sweet still wine would probably work, too), you could do much worse by it than making it into an apple-y refreshing sorbet (it looks very melty in the picture, but it hardens up a little more than that.).

we had this lambrusco languishing in the fridge for a couple of days. it was just too sweet to drink on its own, and i am not one to throw away wine, even if i don't particularly want to drink it. i'm not crazy, after all (and i should note - this was the only goodish light i could find to take this - i'm not just trying to show off our all-black book collection. jealous?).

when i started eating an apple that tasted great but had an unfortunately not-so-crisp texture, it all came together - i decided to try making a wine sorbet with bits of apple and a little splash of cider to tie it all together.

i cut the apple into little bits - they were each about the size of ... hmmm, like a bean? like a few grains of rice stuck together? it's not that big a deal.

once you cut up the apple, it's simplicity itself - just pour the bottle of wine into your ice cream maker along with some cider (the juice kind, not the alcoholic kind. although that could be good... maybe?). i used about a quarter of a cup of some pear cider, as that's what we had on hand, but apple cider is of course fine as well. if the wine you have is on the less-sweet side, use more cider. or you could leave the cider out altogether and just use the wine.

let the ice cream maker do its thing for a while, until the wine looks like a delicious alcoholic slushy. then you can add the apple bits and let it go for another 5 minutes or so. then pack it into a freezer-safe container and let it harden for a few hours. then enjoy!

you probably want to be somewhat careful with this, of course - i wouldn't give it to children, for instance. unless they were being particularly screamy. it might calm them down...

but no. probably still not a good idea. it is basically just frozen wine, after all. delicious, appletastic frozen wine.

i think that a little smidge of rosemary might be a good addition to this as well. we have a huge bush of it, but i didn't think of it in time. also, if your apple is nice and crisp and unmushy, you could cook it down with the rosemary and cider a bit (maybe like 1/4 teaspoon of rosemary - that stuff is strong) and get it cold before adding it to the wine slush. that would be good. next time.

this would be great as a palate cleanser between courses of Fancy Dinner or as a tiny ending to a big meal. you could also eat it with a cheese course, i think. but then, i don't really know from wines OR cheese courses, so follow your lights.

happy holidays to you and yours this season. the sad wreath below was our only real decoration this year (as the animals are prone to climbing, leaping on and/or otherwise wrecking any indoor decorations we might try - they're why we can't have nice things), but it's helpful because now i can just open the door to pick off bits of rosemary. so handy!

1 bottle sweet sparkling wine or sweet white wine
1 smallish apple (or a pear would be great, too)
1/4-1/2 cup pear or apple cider

it's not really germane to wine slushies or sorbet, but while writing this i've been listening to cat power and i like this song and video. the end.