Sunday, April 22, 2012

buffalo gals - bourbon with meyer lemon & rosemary

you don't have to call this drink "buffalo gals." you don't have to make it with buffalo trace bourbon, for one thing. making it with a different bourbon would make the name make even less sense than it already does.

also, it isn't just for gals. i don't even ever say "gals," even though i am from texas and some people expect that. although it does have a nice bright floral thing going on with the meyer lemon syrup, this is not a stereotypical girly drink.

this drink means business. or lounging on a sunday afternoon/evening. it is flexible.

although you could just use regular lemon sorry, you really need meyer lemon in here. or maybe something similarly complex, like cocktail citrus or possibly mandarin oranges with lemon juice as well.

anyway, peel the lemon zest in long strips, trying not to get too much white pith. a little is not a big deal, but don't like dig down in there.

sorry, my brain isn't working well. too much studying and not-studying. when i'm stressed out, i like to play stupid games that don't really require you to think that much. things like solitaire and, lately, asteroids. do you know that game? basically you're a little spaceship and you shoot asteroids and flying saucers and try not to get blown up. it's mindless but also vaguely entertaining, even though i am pretty bad at video games. i don't generally play them, since i don't like doing things i'm not good at, but for some reason, asteroids doesn't bother me like that. i guess i just figure that sure, i'm not particularly skilled at shooting space rocks, but that's why i went to law school rather than asteroids school.

i suppose the same could be said for games where you're a spy or whatever, but i've always sort of imagined that i'd be pretty good at being a spy, so i don't like the idea of discovering via video game that i would suck at it.

but anyway.

once you've peeled the lemon (it does take a sharp peeler, as they have very thin skin), add it, a smallish sprig of rosemary or two (see above) and half a cup each of sugar and water to a pan. bring it to a boil, let it boil for ~ 1 minute or so, then turn it off and let it cool.

this is a very simple drink, so you're almost done already.

bourbon. this one's good. there are also other ones.

once the syrup is cooled, mix the juice of 1/3 - 1/2 a meyer lemon, 1 1/2 - 2 ounces bourbon (to taste), and maybe 1 ounce or so (also to taste) of syrup. the amount of syrup you use depends on how sweet you like your drinks. the amount of bourbon you use depends on how bourbon-y you like your drinks.

that's it! stir, add ice, and sit out on the patio and enjoy the spring. i'll just be in here, alternately studying wills & trusts and playing asteroids.

*ingredients* for 2 drinks (you'll have syrup left over)

peel/zest from one meyer lemon
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 smallish sprigs fresh rosemary

2 ounces bourbon (+/-)
juice from 1/2 meyer lemon
~ 1 ounce lemon-rosemary syrup (to taste)

*if you want to make it a little more afternoon-y and a little less Serious Whiskey, add some club soda or sparkling water

listening to: explosions in the sky

Thursday, April 19, 2012

springy lentil salad with citrus-mustard vinaigrette

lo, it is spring! the flowers are flowering, the birds are singing, and the chilly rain is still falling. but in between the cold and rainy days are drier, warmer days that stay light longer and longer and make you feel like maybe things won't be so bad.

i make a lot of variations on this salad, because lentils and mustard go well together and it's a nice, filling, and portable lunch that only gets better after you make it. i usually make a very large batch and we eat it (on and off) all week. also, it's vegan, which is nice. although sometimes we eat it with sausage, which is not vegan. usually.

these are french green lentils (or "lentilles du Puy") and they are the best for lentil salads because they keep their shape much better than the yellow or brown lentils that are always hanging shiftily around bulk bins. those lentils are great for dals or lentil soup, but for a salad these are really worth seeking out. i usually find them in the bulk section as well. they have a great texture and a bit of a peppery taste that i really like. fancy lentils! who knew?

because the dressing and vegetables add so much flavor to this salad, you don't really need to cook the lentils with much - just rinse them and put them in a big pot with water covering them by a few inches. i also usually add a bit of salt. then just bring the water to a boil, turn the heat down to low-medium, and let them cook for maybe 30 - 40 minutes, or until they're tender. the cooking time depends on how fresh they are, so just keep trying them. then drain them and add them to the vegetables that you have thoughtfully been preparing while the lentils cook.

you can use various vegetables - some fennel would be good, as would a little broccoli. i liked the orange and green color scheme that was going on with this batch, though.

just chop whatever vegetables you like into smallish pieces. i quartered the thicker parts of the carrots and halved the thinner ends, then cut them into pretty thin slices - maybe 1/8" or so. it doesn't have to be exact, of course. i sliced the celery lengthwise into maybe 3-4 strips per stalk, then cut it into thin pieces as well. the asparagus i cut into coins, for the most part, but left the ends whole. finally, i just diced up the orange bell pepper (green bell peppers are the devil and are not fit for human consumption).

oh! and a large shallot also got in there, but not in time for initial picture-taking.

you can just leave the vegetables raw, if you like, but i prefer to cook everything a bit to take the edge off. heat up like 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large pan (medium heat). then add the shallot (you could use onion instead, but shallots are a little milder and more garlicky), let it cook for a little less than a minute, then add the carrots and celery, let those cook a bit (2 minutes?), then the pepper. at this point, i also added a few tablespoons of chopped italian parsley and perhaps a teaspoon of dried thyme. fresh thyme would be good, but i didn't have any. other herbs would be nice as well - marjoram, any of the famed herbes de provence, etc.

let everything cook until the carrots lose their rawness - maybe 5 minutes or so, depending on how thick they are. add the asparagus towards the end, so it doesn't get too mushy - asparagus is so wonderful right now, you barely need to cook it at all.

then just stick everything in a bowl to hang out for a bit while you make the dressing.

i love when we're almost out of mustard because the jar makes a perfect vehicle for dressing and you don't have to try to scrape out the dregs of the mustard. lots of dijon mustard is good in this, because mustard and lentils are basically the chocolate and peanut butter of the savory food world. they just go together SO WELL.

since we're still in winter-spring crossover mode here in oregon, this salad really fits with both seasons. citrus is great right now, so i used the juice of a whole orange and a whole lemon, along with most of the zest of each. these, plus olive oil, the mustard, garlic, and salt are all you need for a very tasty dressing that brings everything together.

with the garlic, it's nice to make it into kind of a paste so it mixes in well. chop it fairly finely with about 1/2 a teaspoon of coarse salt, then use the side of your knife to slide across the cutting board, which helps the salt and garlic grind together. the rough salt crystals help speed up the process. once you get the hang of it, it's really fast. here's a video if that doesn't make sense.

everything goes into your mustard jar, then you can just shake it up, et voila!

it's best to have the dressing ready by the time the lentils are done, so that you can put it on while they're still warm - it seems to help the dressing get absorbed better. start with maybe 1/2 the dressing, toss everything together, add more if you like. i ended up using all of it, but there were a lot of vegetables and lentils to cover. add more salt as well, if needed. undersalting things makes them gross and bland. it's probably a good idea to add a little more fresh parsley and other fresh herbs, if you have them. sometimes it needs a little more acid, too - more lemon juice or some apple cider or sherry vinegar would be good. it just depends on what you like.

this is one of those salads that just gets better as it sits, so it's great for bringing to work all week. you can add things like goat cheese, sliced sausage, hard-boiled eggs, etc., if you want to bulk it up a little, but it's really quite filling on its own. it's also great for a picnic or potluck, since basically anyone of any dietary persuasion can eat it - vegan, gluten-free - it's got it all! or rather, doesn't have it, if "it" is animal products or gluten.

*ingredients* for A Lot of salad - you can cut it in half if you want
1 pound (~ 2 cups) dried french green lentils

1 large shallot
2 large carrots
2 celery stalks
1 orange, red, or yellow bell pepper (NOT GREEN)
1 bunch (more or less) of asparagus
thyme, other herbs

2 -3 tablespoons dijon mustard (i like it pretty mustardy)
juice & zest of 1 orange
juice & zest of 1 lemon
1 small/medium garlic clove
1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
maybe 1/3 - 1/2 cup olive oil (also to taste - i like more citrus and mustard and less oil, myself)

listening to: nothing, really, but i've had simple song by the shins in my head all day. and, of course, the weight. rip, levon helm.

Friday, April 13, 2012

blackberry & grapefruit cupcakes

okay, so technically this is yet another blackberry recipe and it looks a lot like the blackberry streusel muffins i already made. BUT there are very important differences.

1. although there is no frosting in the pictures, these are actually cupcakes. therefore, they're much sweeter and richer than the muffins. although i did call them muffins when i took them to my class. but that was just because i ran out of time to make the frosting and no one wants to eat frosting-less cupcakes.

2. these have grapefruit juice and zest, which is great with blackberries.

3. i guess those are basically the only differences.

first things first. get out the butter (1 1/2 sticks) and the eggs (despite the picture, use 4) to let them get room temperature-y. the butter needs to be soft so you can cream it in with the sugar. i don't really know why the eggs have to be room temperature as well, but that's what all the real baking people say to do, so i generally do it.

once everything's achieved some kind of temperature equilibrium, preheat the oven to 350. then beat the butter for a couple of minutes so it's nice and fluffy. then add 1 1/2 - 2 cups sugar. using 2 cups makes them quite sweet, so be forewarned. it's forearmed.

let this just beat around for awhile (4-5 minutes) while you zest a grapefruit and then squeeze its delicious juice. i had a fairly small grapefruit that was really rather recalcitrant in its zest-giving, so i only had about a teaspoon. i think a little more would be nice - maybe 2. or 1 if it's really packed in there. you also need about 1/3 cup of juice.

add both of these at once to the butter-sugar mixture and let them mingle. then add the 4 eggs, one by one, mixing in between each.

i like to crack eggs into my measuring cup before adding them, because otherwise i'm always scared that i'll get shell bits in there and mix them in and it'll be gross. so be careful. no one likes biting into eggshells (except maybe mongooses/-geese).

once the eggs are nicely mixed in, add the flour mixture and the milk, alternating between the two. i add ~ 1/3 of the flour, mix a little, then 1/2 the milk, mix a little, and so on. you definitely don't want to overmix it, so don't go crazy.

once it's all come together, add lots of blackberries. i used about 2 1/2 cups, which made them quite berryful. you could probably get away with a little less or a little more, depending on what you have around. or other berries would be great, too - blueberries, raspberries, etc.

fold them in carefully so they don't all break apart and make the batter a weird color. then just fill up some muffin cups like so:

and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes or until they're goldeny brown on top and seem pretty firm, like this:

this makes about 2 dozen cupcakes and i ran out of the paper cup things midway through. luckily, you can make ersatz cups with parchment paper. just cut ~ 5" squares (mine were like 5" x 6" because the paper was 12" wide) and use a glass (or beer bottle, in my case) to smush them into the muffin tin. it describes it more on the linked page.

it worked pretty well, although some came out better than others. if you try it, you should attempt to get the paper pretty well folded so the cupcakes don't get weirdly shaped. but it isn't that big a deal. cupcakes are going to be crowd-pleasers even if they are funny-shaped.

as far as frosting, i didn't make any for these, but i usually make cream cheese frosting with two softened bricks of cream cheese, half of a softened stick of butter, a little vanilla (~1 teaspoon), and some powdered sugar. mix everything but the powdered sugar together, then add it ~ 1/2 cup at a time until it's as sweet as you like. you could also add some grapefruit zest to this and it would be aces.

cupcakes may not be as trendy as they once were (i guess the glitterati have moved on to ... cake pops? whoopie pies? macarons? i don't know), but they still are a sweet and tasty little dessert with a high ratio of frosting to cake. you can't really go too wrong.

i don't know where this recipe came from originally (maybe epicurious? i can't find it there, but that seems right), but it started out as lemon-blueberry layer cake. i've made it that way, too, and it's excellent.

3 cups flour (~ 15 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup butter (~ 1 1/2 sticks), softened
2 cups sugar (could use less)

1/3 cup grapefruit juice
1-2 teaspoons grapefruit zest (or whatever you can get off a recalcitrant grapefruit*)

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup milk (or buttermilk/milk+yogurt mix would be great)

whisk dry ingredients together
beat butter until fluffy, add sugar slowly as the mixer runs, beat until light and fluffy
add juice + zest and mix thoroughly
add eggs one at a time, mixing in between
add ~ 1/3 of flour mixture, mix a little to incorporate
add ~ 1/2 of milk, mix a little
alternate, ending with flour mixture
fold in berries (i used frozen, but fresh would also be wonderful, of course)

bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until firm and golden-brown.

frost with cream cheese or other frosting, or pretend they're muffins and eat them for breakfast.

listening to: of monsters and men. icelandic accents + boy/girl harmonies = good times! i really think you should watch this video - it is somewhat scary and very awesome.

*recalcitrant grapefruit would be a good name for a band. or maybe not.

Monday, April 9, 2012

adventures in fruit

look! it's a cherimoya! they were on sale at the grocery store, and i've heard that they are also called custard apples, which sounds good.

the lady behind me in line was very complimentary re: my cherimoya-choosing skills until i told her that someone who worked there had picked it out for me. that kind of lowered me in her estimation. but she cheered up when she started telling me about her time in spain where she first tasted the wonders of the cherimoya and apparently ate it for dinner for like two weeks or something. people always like to talk about their travels.

ever since i bought it half an hour ago, i keep thinking the word in my head with different syllables emphasized. CHERimoya. cheriMOYa. cherimoYA. i haven't cut into it yet, but i'm excited. CHERIMOYA!

... later that day ...

so. we ate some cherimoya. you guys, cherimoya is SO WEIRD. at first it tastes like blue cheese (?!), then it changes to tasting all fermenty (??!), then it tastes sweet with a weird background of something savory.

i cannot in all good conscience recommend it, exactly, but it was a taste sensation. it's worth trying, but we could only really eat a few bites of it. very interesting. cherimoya!

luckily i also got some exciting citrus, which was much better. above is a lovely meyer lemon. these are the best ever. they're extremely fragrant and slightly sweet. i use them in cocktails (peel some zest and add it to a martini or add it and some of the juice to a gin & tonic) or things like lemon curd. they're also good with fish - you can slice one into thin rounds and lay it over halibut or something. fantastico!

the other citrus thing i got was called "cocktail citrus" at the store. it's apparently part pomelo and part mandarin. it has a lot of seeds, but i liked the slight bitterness. it was great in a gin & tonic and i could see it being good in some kind of tequila drink as well. time to get some more and do some experimenting.

listening to: red house painters. trying not to think about cherimoya.

Friday, April 6, 2012

biscuits & gravy*

spring is taking its time coming to the pacific northwest this year. it actually snowed just a week and a half ago. but everyone's trying to put a brave face on things and the trees are still blooming wildly, so that's heartening. i'm pretty sure spring's just around the corner.

biscuits and gravy seem sort of spring-y to me. i'm not sure why, except that they kind of tread the line between hearty winter food and lighter springtime fare. whatever the season, the richness of the cream gravy plus the lightness of the biscuits makes for a satisfying brunch dish and a great way to start off the weekend.

biscuits are remarkably simple to make. every time i make them, i wonder why i don't do it more often. and while many people no doubt have fondish feelings for the biscuits in a can that puff oozily out when you knock it against something, these are roughly a million percent better.

first, preheat the oven to 450. mix together 10 ounces (~2 c) of flour, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, ½ a teaspoon or so of salt, and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. then add 6 tablespoons of cold butter, cut (as above) into smallish chunks. i think these were each about a centimeter cubed, but the size doesn't matter all that much.

then use your hands or a pastry blender or fork or something to cut the butter into the flour. i was looking for a video of this, but couldn't find one. if you're doing it by hand, you basically just rub the flour and butter between your thumbs and fingertips until the mixture is in kind of coarse crumbs. they don't have to be totally uniform.

then add ½ cup of yogurt and ½ cup of milk (i think it's easiest to mix them together, then add them to the flour mixture) and mix until it just comes together. you want to be careful about not overmixing biscuits, lest they turn into gross tough hockey pucks. word to the wise. use your hands to just push the dough together, then turn it out on a floured surface (i like using a large cutting board, so i don't have to clean stuck-on flour off the countertop) and pat it together (you don't have to be crazy-gentle, but don't like knead it) into a somewhat uniform shape about ½" thick or a little more (maybe even ¾").

cut them out using a cookie cutter or a glass that's 1 ½ - 2” in diameter. or you can make them bigger, of course. you can make them as big as you want! as big as your head!

maybe not that big. if they're bigger, they'll take a little longer to cook, fyi.

i don't make too big a fuss out of making sure all of the biscuits are perfectly round (as is evident above). i figure that if you want fancy, you probably aren't really wanting biscuits and gravy anyway. you can press the little scraps together into more biscuits! more biscuits = better.

i like to put them close together like this, i read somewhere that it helps them rise more. it does, of course, take away somewhat from the crunchy edges, but i also think it keeps them more moist inside. so it's a balance you'll have to strike for yourself. you can place them farther apart if you like. then into the oven with them for about 15-18 minutes (until they're a nice goldeny brown). after 10 minutes, i sometimes drop little bits of butter over the top of each one - it makes the tops even goldener and more delicious.

while they're baking, you can make the gravy. (i actually just wrote "cravy" which, while it should probably be "crave-y," is not an inaccurate reflection on my feelings about gravy). this time, i used some loose turkey sausage, but i often make it vegetarian and it's still totally good. if you're using sausage, cook it in a large pan with relatively deep sides, since you'll be making the gravy in there. you can use whatever amount of sausage you want - probably ½ a pound is plenty, though. once it's cooked (medium heat, break it up into smaller pieces with a spatula, don't get salmonella or something), take it out and set it aside for a bit.

if there is a huge amount of oil in the pan, you can use less butter, but turkey sausage doesn't have much oil, so i used about 1 ½ tablespoons of butter. let it melt, then add 1 ½ - 2 tablespoons of flour. basically you're making a roux. let these cook together for a minute or so, stirring frequently. then start adding milk.

i usually add maybe ¼ cup at first, whisk it into the roux, then keep adding small amounts at a time until it's thick but not like a paste. then you can add a little more milk at a time, like ½ a cup or something. adding the milk slowly and mixing as you do helps it to avoid dreaded lumpiness.

people have different thicknesses of gravy that they prefer, but i would guess that all together for that amount of flour and butter, you'll need maybe 1 ½ - 2 cups of milk. i like thicker gravy, myself, so i would probably stop adding milk around the lower end of that continuum. then add the sausage back into it and cook another couple of minutes over low-medium heat to make sure everything's hotted through. if it starts seeming too thick, you can always add more milk. also make sure to taste it and add salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

once the biscuits are done, split them in half while they're hot, pour a generous helping of gravy over them, and enjoy. they're also not bad with a sunnyside-up egg or two, if you're especially ravenous.

there are a lot of biscuit recipes out there, and this one was cobbled together with ideas from several sources. you can also maybe just use buttermilk, but i thought the yogurt made them extra-tender.

10 oz (2 c) flour
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
6 tbsp butter, cubes
½ c yogurt
½ c milk
~ ½ tsp (or a little more) salt

~ ½ pound turkey or other sausage (if desired)
1 ½ - 2 tbsp butter
1 ½ - 2 tbsp flour
1 ½ - 2 cups milk
salt & black pepper to taste

*incidentally, i made this particular batch for a now-annual pun-filled oscar party - it was called "The Help yourself to some biscuits and gravy" and joined "midnight in pears" as our contribution.

**since this is essentially a b├ęchamel sauce (without the fussy warming-up-the-milk part), you can also use the basic flour, butter, milk technique, add some grated cheese and maybe a little freshly grated nutmeg, and have a tasty cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese, etc. a little mustard instead of the nutmeg is also good. go crazy! you're welcome.

listening to: a spotify playlist of songs that get stuck in my head a lot. includes bishop allen (click, click, click, click) and the national (mr. november)