Monday, September 28, 2009

Recipe for a Happy Hour ... Heck, For a Couple of Happy Hours!

Tom and I suddenly found that we have slid into having our very own little happy hour every Saturday and Sunday evening before dinner.

This began when Hannah turned 21, became enamored with cocktails, and I bought her a Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide. I liked it so much that I bought one for us also.

We've never been cocktail drinkers before but how boring things would be if we always did the same thing all the time. About 5:00 or 5:30 in the afternoon, we settle down with a new cocktail to sample, listening to music and either reading, knitting (yes, that would be me), or just chatting. Without meaning to, it has become a routine that we have realized we both anticipate with pleasure. Just a little time to stop the day, slow down, and mark the progression into the evening.

We tend to play jazz or other music that could be classified, perhaps, as happy hour music. For those who are not sure what that would be, do go over to The Happy Hour Lounge where Andrew and Jeremy host a delightful podcast that gives wonderful samples of that musical category.

(I must confess that, although we confine ourselves to a single cocktail each, I am a real lightweight. I have begun planning evening meals that are largely done ahead or don't require much work afterward when I've got a little buzz going. Although I am sure the lighthearted singing along with the music forms a delightful background to the rest of the household. I repeat: I am sure of it!)

Enjoying experimenting with different ingredients and recipes, thus far we have found that we are the biggest fans of that category of drink known as "sours." Considering that our favorite cocktail before now has always been the margarita, this is no surprise.

Thus far our favorites have been the Chelsea Sidecar and the Daiquiri, which I realized that I'd never had as a plain drink without a lot of strawberries in it. Coming in third has been the Maiden's Blush. Great name isn't it? And it is a pretty shade of pink as one would expect.

The recipes for all three follow ... and may all your hours, be happy hours!

(For the uninitiated, as we were, a cocktail glass is what most people call a martini glass.)

1 oz. lime juice
1 tsp. superfine sugar or simple syrup*
1-1/2 oz. light rum

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Chelsea Sidecar
1/2 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. Triple Sec (we have Cointreau on hand and use that)
3/4 oz. gin

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Maiden's Blush Cocktail
1/4 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. Triple Sec
1 tsp. Grenadine
1-1/2 oz. gin

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

*Simple Syrup
Equal parts water and granulated sugar, heated over a flame, and then cooled and stored in refrigerator until needed. Keeps indefinitely refrigerated in a scrupulously clean container.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tartes aux Fraises (Fresh Strawberry Tarts)

This is what I made for my birthday ... yes, waaaay back in May. I began typing in the recipe waaay back then also, but you can see that I got sidetracked and never got back to it until now. (That's a heckuva sidetrack!)

At any rate, this was a staple of my teenage years at home each spring, once my parents got the Time-Life Foods of the World: The Cooking of Provincial France.

It is not difficult at all and can be done in steps.

I make a 10" shell with 2" inch sides, using a spring-form pan since I don't have a tart pan.

Also, I have added the step of beating up an egg white and lightly brushing the inside of the shell with it, letting it sit in the fridge for 30 minutes, and then baking. That greatly helps to preventing the custard from softening the shell if on assembles it ahead of time as I am wont to do.

Tartes aux Fraises
(Fresh Strawberry Tarts)

To serve 6

6 individual 3- to 4-inch pate brisee tart shells or 9- to 10-inch pate brisee (I use Perfect Piecrust for this)

1 egg plus 1 extra egg yolk
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
pinch of salt
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup hot milk
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400 and bake the pastry shells (or shell) as described in the recipe (linked above), adding another 7 to 10 minutes to the final baking to brown the shell lightly and cook it fully. Unmold the shells (or shell) and slip it onto wire cake rack to cool.

In a heavy 2- to 3- quart saucepan -- off the heat -- beat the egg, the extra egg yolk and the sugar with a wire whisk, rotary or electric beater until the mixture thickens and turns a pale yellow. add the flour and salt, and beat until well blended.

Beat in the powdered gelatin and vanilla; then slowly pour in the hot milk in a thin stream, beating constantly.

Cook over moderate heat, stirring with a whisk, until smooth and thick. Do not allow the custard to boil; it if seems to begetting too hot, life the pan off the heat a few seconds to cool it. If the custard gets lumpy, beat it with a whisk or rotary beater until smooth. pour the custard into a large mixing bowl and place it in the refrigerator to cool.

When the custard is cold and has begun to solidify slightly, whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. fold it thoroughly into the custard with a rubber spatula and beat gently if there are any lumps. At once, pour or spoon the custard into the pastry shells (even if finishing later!).

Currant Glaze
1 cup red currant jelly
1 tablespoon hot water
1 tablespoon kirsch

1 to 1-1/2 quarts large ripe strawberries, cleaned and stemmed
Powdered sugar

Make the glaze: in a small saucepan, warm the red currant jelly and water over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to froth and thicken. Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the kirsch and let the glaze cool a bit.

(My note: I always have a problem with this glaze as it seems to slightly liquify the custard ... I may try this in the future with no water. The other answer is to have it only on the berries, which is a difficult proposition but may be possible with care.)

Meanwhile, arrange the strawberries on the custard, stem side down -- and in concentric circles if the tart is a large one -- until the top of each tart is completely covered with berries. Spoon the warm glaze over the berries. Refrigerate the tarts for at least 2 hours or until the custard is firm. Sprinkle them with powdered sugar before serving.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Let me just explain something to the Full Plate bloggers ...

... or more probably to their marketing person ... whose missteps make it sound as if the blog culture is something they just heard of (what is this new creature we discover in the Amazonian jungle?).

Here's a sterling example from the email I just received:
Each author will do one blog a week, and The Full Plate Diet staff will do two weekly blogs a week.
Dang! Really?

Because I'll clue you in. "Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen" is a blog. What you are reading right now is a "post." Amateur mistake. Which, if one is getting any sort of advice at all from informed sources, one would know. Forgivable in individuals, just plain clueless from a probably professional writer.

Also, having a disclaimer that one must agree to before one reads the blog? No. Period. If the info is that sensitive or likely to be misused then don't put it on a blog people. Far better to have an overall disclaimer as part of the main layout ... or at the bottom of each post. Or something like that. Pretentious.

So the overall effect out of the box? Clueless and pretentious. I hate that because the book has much worthwhile info and probably the blog does too.

Why did it annoy me enough to post about it? Just lucky I guess. I see these errors constantly from people and companies who I know were advised by professionals ... who aren't on top of their game. It irks me.

For examples of how to do it right, including disclaimers, check out the Quick and Dirty Tips gang, especially Nutrition Diva and House Call Doctor.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Food, Glorious Food (Photos)

taken by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Is this not an absolutely gorgeous photo? Truly beautiful.

I have long admired the food photography over at Michael Ruhlman's blog. (For those who do not do much food reading, I have admired Michael Ruhlman's work since reading the definitive work, The Making of a Chef. His other writing is just as wonderful and following his inquiring mind via his blog has been a real pleasure.)

I simply never wanted to go through the trouble to write requesting permission to feature the photography (yes, I'm lazy too...). You can, therefore, imagine my delight at reading his announcement that his photographer is his wife who is now setting up shop. She says on her blog:
I landed my first staff photographer position in 1982 and have been shooting since, everything from news editorial to fine art. Over the past couple of years, having become involved with Michael’s work, his books, his blog, I’ve turned my focus to food. I’ve initiated this blog to connect with readers and other photographers interested in discussing issues of the craft. I’ve also put up my own site to display my food work. Here, you can browse color and black-and-white food images, purchase prints or high resolution files and get medium resolution files for free. Thanks for landing here and I hope you’ll be back often to discuss photography here or food on Michael’s page.
You may find her photography site here. I think she is particularly savvy to give up-front permission to bloggers to use her photos as long as there is attribution and links. It merely widens the field of exposure to find those who are looking for photography to purchase. Believe me, there is a need.

Do go browse.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Coffee Buttercream Frosting

I've been so very lazy about cooking. However, when one has a large group of people coming over for a meeting and is providing the dessert, well, then one must bestir oneself. I made my favorite Chocolate Buttermilk Cake but was bored with all the usual ways I frost it (Chocolate Malt or plain but oh, so good Buttercream ...). So I started digging through The Cake Mix Doctor* where I found a copied page from ... well another of her cookbooks that I picked up from the library (can't remember which, maybe her chocolate cake cookbook?).

At any rate, the chocolate cake paired with this intense coffee frosting was a huge hit.

Coffee Buttercream Frosting
Makes 3-1/2 cups, enough to frost a 2- or 3-layer cake

1/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
8 tablespoons (1 stick butter), at room temperature
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted, plus additional if needed

Pour the milk into a small glass bowl andheat in the microwave oven on high power for 30 seconds, or until very hot. Stir in the coffee granules until they dissolve. Set the mixture aside.

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until fluffy, 30 seconds. Stop the machine and add 1 cup of the confectioners' sugar. Blend with the mixer on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, 30 seconds. Alternating, add the coffee mixture and the rest of the sugar, beating on low speed until smooth. Add more sugar if the frosting seems thin. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until lightened, 1 to 2 minutes more.

*The Cake Mix Doctor. There is not a bad frosting recipe in this book. They are all homemade as opposed to the cake recipes which fix up cake mixes. I don't use the cake recipes from this, preferring the texture of home made cake, but I do use it for inspirations on cake/frosting pairings.

Sorry Wilma ...

... my weekend got away from me, but NEXT weekend I definitely plan on making that Lentil Soup I was telling you about. So check back!