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Monday, March 22, 2010

best broccoli

Used to be, Kaytie would have thought that good broccoli was impossible. Just the smell of cooking broccoli was enough to make her gag repeatedly. She hated the soggy, limp texture that steaming produced.

The solution? Roast the florets! The caramelization is great. Then, finish them off with some lemon – I’ve decided lemon is the best complement to most dark green veggies – sautéed spinach, asparagus, and of course, broccoli.

Roasted Broccoli

1 bunch of broccoli
2-3 garlic cloves
1 lemon
salt & pepper
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425.

Cut the broccoli off the big stem into florets. Slice the garlic thinly. Put the broccoli and garlic in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Toss to cover evenly.

Spread the broccoli and garlic on a cookie sheet. (I lined mine with heavy-duty foil first.) Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes.

After you pull the broccoli out of the oven, zest about half the lemon over the broccoli. Slice the lemon in half, and squeeze the juice over the broccoli, too.

Top with finely grated parmesan.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

infusion conclusion

Well, Infusion 5000 has come and gone. About 20 people came over, and we tasted 13 infused liquors. It was a blind tasting – we had scorecards and everything, even a trophy!

I spent most of the evening pouring samples for everyone.

There were interesting combinations, some good and some not so much. After such success with our initial infusions, I went for a more complex flavor. Unfortunately, sun-dried tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, garlic, olives, basil, and oregano in vodka turned out to be disgusting. Might work in a Bloody Mary, though.
The scorecards had space for people to guess what had been put in each liquor. There were lots of references to medicine and disinfectants. Bengay, soap, and moisturizer. Walgreen’s cologne. “It burns!” Staircase pigs. (Turned out Mokry was trying to write staircase piss.) My favorite, however, was in reference to one of the last vodkas. One judge wrote, “Same. They all taste the same now.”

Of course, there were a lot of insightful guesses, too. And some tasty liquors. Tott took third with her apple, ginger, and vanilla vodka. Kaytie won second. She soaked basically any dried fruit she could find – figs, dates, apricots, blueberries, cherries – and tossed in some fennel, vanilla, nutmeg, and I’m honestly not sure what else. It was good, though. The grand champion was Mary Kendall. She infused bourbon with honey and rosemary. Yum.

Anyway, here are some tips for infusing your own liquors.

Fatty substances, such as meat, dairy, or nuts do not infuse well.

Herbs infuse quickly; dried spices, even more so.

Buy dried herbs and spices in bulk; they’re so much cheaper that way.

Dried fruits work better than fresh fruits.

A combination of dried and fresh fruits or herbs is a good idea.

Higher-proof alcohol works best.

Fresh ingredients may rot if left in alcohol for too long.

Fruits and vegetables may take a while to infuse; best to start early and strain out if worried about rot.

Classic flavor combinations you enjoy in food will work well—e.g., lemon and basil, cinnamon and vanilla, orange and cloves.
Fruit will take about 2-3 weeks to infuse, and herbs will take about one week.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

stating the obvious

I realize that most of our six readers are serious foodies and accomplished cooks. This post, however, is for the rest of you. I am going to tell you something very obvious--how to make a very tasty salad.

A salad is something I rarely crave (unlike Tott, who can put away AN ENTIRE BAG OF RAW SPINACH in one sitting). My grandfather calls it "rabbit food," and I pretty much feel the same way. But lately I've been trying to eat in a healthier way (five pounds down, baby!), so I've been wracking my brain to come up with interesting salads.

This was one that I actually enjoyed more than my main course (a fine but unexciting chicken couscous), so I figured I'd share.

A Good, If Obvious, Salad

baby spinach
red grapes
white onion
roquefort cheese
spiced walnuts
Newman's Own Light Balsamic Vinaigrette

Make the walnuts (see linked recipe). Dice white onion fine. Salt. Saute in a little olive oil over medium-high heat until browned. Remove from heat and cool. Put on top of salad with other ingredients and toss with dressing. (I went easy on the cheese and nuts 'cause the fat. If you are not watching your girlish figure, don't worry about it--put as much as you like.)

PS--I just realized that I posted this under DREW's name, not mine! Ha! That makes this post much funnier if you read it thinking Drew is writing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

infusion profusion

Last fall, kumquat trees were on sale for seven dollars. Seven bucks?! Of course I bought one. It had a bunch of green kumquats on it, and they ripened to orange. Which presented the question: What could we do with a bunch of kumquats?

Well, duh. We decided to soak them in vodka. There’s a little background here. I’d bought some glassware from a chemical supply company, and I’d been intending to make some infused liquors. Maybe a mint rum, or a lemon basil vodka, or a pepper vodka. These bottles had sat in a box for months. Finally, I had an excuse to buy a lot of vodka. (Luckily, we harvested the kumquats before the snow came.)

We had four bottles, so we went to the store and wandered around the produce section. We decided on four combinations: kumquats & rosemary; pomegranates & basil; blood oranges & star anise; and lemons, cucumbers, & dill.

Well, we opened the pomegranate & basil vodka with a few friends, and it was quickly gone. (Before I could even take a picture of it!) Delicious. The kumquat & rosemary was similarly dispatched. (Note: if you want to cover the taste of alcohol, use rosemary. Worked like a charm.) We have yet to drink the blood orange & anise vodka, but we’ve tasted it, and it is great. The herbs make these vodkas light and refreshing – something that makes a great aperitif over ice with club soda.

Notice that I have not mentioned the lemon, cucumber, & dill infusion. That’s because it was disgusting. It tasted like rotten pickles. We quickly dumped it down the sink.

Three successes out of four attempts is a pretty good record, especially since we had no real idea what we were doing. After a conversation with a mixologist at Cure in New Orleans, Kaytie came home with a wealth of information about infusing liquors, and we wanted to try more.

We also needed an excuse to have a party. The logical conclusion? Infusion 5000: The Epic Infused Liquor Contest! It’s going down this weekend. Stay tuned for the results.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

mom's favorite breakfast

Whenever we visit Dallas, Mom has banana bread as an option for breakfast. Consequently, I have made the assumption that she LOVES banana bread.

(Of course, it is possible that she has banana bread because she thinks WE love it. There was a period of several years when she would have a huge bowl of red apples waiting for me every single time I came to visit. I wasn't particularly fond of red apples, but Mom thought I liked them, so she made sure to always have them on hand. She's that kind of mom. I’m currently trying to impress upon her my love for cookies in hopes that there will always be a big plate of them in Dallas!)

Regardless, I think Mom likes banana bread. So, when she came to town last weekend, I had to have some banana bread ready for Saturday breakfast. BUT, for some reason, I don’t have her recipe. After looking at a couple online and trying one from a coworker, I’ve come up with a great recipe. (It got Mom’s stamp of approval.)

Banana Bread

5 ½ Tbs butter, at room temp
1 cup sugar
6 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup pineapple juice
1 egg
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 2/3 cups flour

First, let’s talk bananas. When a banana gets too dark, throw it in the freezer (peel on). When you have 6 bananas, you’re ready for this recipe. Why freeze them? I have found that when you thaw a frozen banana, it will be so gooshy that it is almost impossible to hold. It is disgusting, but so soft. And perfect for banana bread.

Okay, preheat the oven to 350.

Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Mix in the bananas, vanilla, and pineapple juice. Beat in the egg.

Add the salt, baking soda, and baking powder, and mix it in.

Mix in the flour.

Grease a 4 x 8 loaf pan. If you want to be sure that your bread will come out of the pan without sticking to the bottom, here’s a trick - cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan. After you grease the pan, press the paper onto the bottom, and grease the pan again. When the bread comes out of the pan, you’ll be able to peel the paper off the bottom of your bread.

Pour the batter into the pan, and bake it for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

The bread will be done when a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Take the bread out of the pan, and cool it on a rack.