Easter is not Easter without the story of a fall and rise of a being. This is such a tale. We were getting ready to visit our good friend, Rina. I had promised her a hollow Easter bunny because she likes to break their heads off and put ice cream into them. It is quite savage. The day before visiting I put the bunnies (there was another one for her son as well) in the trunk and completely forgot about them until we were ready to leave the next day. I opened my trunk and discovered a sight that was fit for an episode of CSI. It was particularly warm that day, and the bunnies were hollow no more. Not wanting to waste perfectly good chocolate, I thought of what I could do. I happened to have pie crust in my fridge, so I thought about making a chocolate pie, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about doing it.
So, I just started putting in the usual suspects.
1/2 cup sugar
About 1/4 stick of butter
1 cup of flour
Not sure if baking powder was necessary but put it in anyways
And, yes, I still have pecans in my freezer. So, I chopped up the bunny and the pecans and threw them in, too.
I put the pie in at 350º for about 20 minutes or until the crust started to brown. I really didn’t follow the time. When I took it out, I broke some more chocolate pieces off and put them on top to melt. And there you go. Done.
My daughter loved it. She ate everything but the crust. So I pretty much could’ve made regular cookies.
Let me tell you a little story. It involves love, betrayal, and possibly….muuuurder. It was a chilly night. My husband ran to the corner store because alas we were out of milk. I wouldn’t be going to our regular store until the next day, and it was a milk and cookies emergency. After dinner, I reached into the refrigerator to pour a glass and picked up…Buttermilk!!! Son of a… My husband bought buttermilk! The only people I have known to drink buttermilk are my Papa and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas. Besides being disappointed, I didn’t know what to do with it. I thought about fried buttermilk chicken, like Mimi is known for, but I had a whole chicken and wasn’t about to cut it up. I did however have some salmon. So I decided to try it, except baked not fried. I put buttermilk and salmon into a Ziploc bag overnight.
The next day I took it out. I had some pecans so I decided to smash some to mix with flour for some nutty taste. It was fun crushing them in a bag. I then set up a little work station for my flour/pecan mix and egg. I took the salmon out of the bag and dipped it into the egg and then into the flour/pecan mix and placed it on a piece of foil. Then, I put it into the oven at 350°.
I quickly sautéed some Brussel sprouts with butter and garlic which is absolutely the best way to cook them.
After about 15 mins., I checked on my baking salmon and wondered why it was not making a crust. Then I realized it needed some oil on top, so I threw some avocado oil on it, and it finally started to get that crust. After about 20 more mins., it was sizzling and ready to come out.
My children loved it. My daughter usually doesn’t eat the skin off of the salmon, but this time she ate the whole thing!
Although I wasn’t particularly thrilled about “springing ahead” and losing an hour of precious sleep (yeah, who’s lame idea was it anyways and why are we still doing it when it’s universally acknowledged to being rather pointless in the modern world?!), I was, nevertheless, done with Winter. And you know what really puts me in that “springtime” mode? It’s the sight of gorgeous, vibrant stalks of crisp rhubarb.
The first wave of rhubarb at the produce markets tend to be the hot-house variety and a little pricey. But if you’re like me, you won’t mind splurging on these jewel-like beauties…especially if you’ve got some yummy things in mind–like strawberry rhubarb pop tarts, or tender, melt in your mouth rhubarb crumb coffeecake or rhubarb creme filled lemon cookie sandwiches…
What I love to do with the rhubarb is to cut it up into chunks then quickly poach it in simple syrup, just until the pieces have a little “give” when pinched. I then shock the rhubarb in ice water to stop the cooking and allow the poaching syrup (which has turned a lovely shade of pink) to cool to room temperature before adding the poached rhubarb back into it. The poached rhubarb in syrup will keep quite well refrigerated in an airtight container or mason jar for up to two weeks. You can spoon the poached rhubarb over vanilla ice cream, add it to coffeecake or muffin batter, toss it with strawberries or raspberries and top with streusel for an easy pie. Best of all, you can use the flavorful rhubarb syrup to make all kinds of drinks…alcoholic or otherwise.
I’ve come up with two…call it my salute to spring. Both feature my homemade rhubarb syrup and my latest obsession–“make it yourself” fizzy water. I love sparkling water and fizzy drinks…just don’t like the cost and the ridiculous amount of sugar in most store-bought sodas, so I got myself an inexpensive handy-dandy compact soda maker on Amazon. And, voila…homemade craft sodas! But getting back to the drinks, the first one is a refreshing non-alcoholic spritzer (yeah, weird I know, me making something without booze!) I’m calling it Rhubarb Spring–basically 2 oz. rhubarb syrup topped off with chilled sparkling water, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, garnished with frozen raspberries and a slice of lime.
The second one is a gin-based cocktail I’m calling Rosie Cheeks. At first I wanted to name it “Think Pink” after that musical number from one of our favorite musicals Funny Face (1957). But then Laura came up with “Rosie Cheeks” which better describes what happens after you’ve had a few of these cocktails. Still, I can’t resist referencing Funny Face. It’s springtime in Paris, stunning couture (by Hubert de Givenchy), and the s’wonderfully divine Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn.
2 oz. Gin
.75 oz. St. Germaine Elderflower Liqueur
1.5 oz. Homemade Rhubarb Syrup
3-4 dashes Rhubarb Bitters
.5 oz Lemon Juice
4 oz. Chilled Sparkling Water
slice of lemon for garnish
Combine gin, elderflower liqueur, rhubarb syrup, bitters and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes, then shake to blend. Strain liquor into a chilled glass and top with sparkling water and sliced lemon.
The start of Spring also heralds the coming of Easter. Now having been subjected to one too many religious movies around this time of year during my Catholic high school days (and I’m not EVEN Catholic!), I tend favor more secular cinematic fare…like the classic Easter Parade (1948) starring Judy Garland and (once again everybody’s favorite) Fred Astaire, with music by the incomparable Irving Berlin.
In keeping with my secular tendencies, I opted to make Easter Loaves–sort of like hot cross (un)buns so to speak. I used a simple brioche dough and layered in lots of fresh orange/tangerine zest mixed with sugar and dried currants. I formed the dough into mini loaves (mainly because I was too lazy to form a bunch of little individual buns), proofed them until doubled in size, then brushed the tops with heavy cream before baking the loaves at 350°F for about 35 mins. or until they were golden brown and tested done. When the loaves had cooled to room temperature, I made a light glaze with fresh tangerine juice and powdered sugar and dipped the surface of the loaves into the glaze.
Another thing that makes me think of Spring, is the abundance of asparagus. I love it in all forms–grilled, blanketed in hollandaise, in frittata, on pizza, tossed in pasta. For those of you who’ve followed this blog, it should not come as a surprise that one of my favorite ways to cook is to deep-fry. I’m not ashamed to admit that if it’s battered and deep-fried, I’ll probably eat it (okay, maybe not a Twinkie…I draw the line there!). So, of course I felt compelled to make asparagus tempura…along with red bell pepper, shiitake mushroom and shrimp tempura (hey, I like a balanced meal!). The process of making tempura is really pretty easy. The batter is a simple ratio of 1 part all-purpose flour to 1 part cornstarch, whisk in just enough sparkling water or club soda to make a batter that is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and season with salt and pepper. I added a little bit of toasted sesame seeds to my batter. Make sure that your vegetables and shrimp are patted dry before dipping into the batter.
For added crunch, I like to double-dip–that is dip the product into the batter, then dip it into panko bread crumbs. Fry the tempura in batches (3-4 pieces at a time depending of the size of frying vessel) at about 365°F until golden. Drain the excess oil off on paper towels. Arrange on a plate and dust with furikake (seasoned seaweed topping).
To make myself feel slightly less guilty about the tempura, I served it with a side of cold soba noodle salad, which is just cold cooked soba noodles, julienned carrots, sliced cucumber, diced red bell peppers, and chopped scallions, tossed in a light dressing of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, pickled ginger juice (aka the pickling liquid), sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.
Spring is about renewal and optimism, and viewing the world from a fresh perspective…or at the very least from a different angle. On that note, here are two funny, somewhat “unorthodox” takes on Spring.
Visions of shamrock shakes, minty Oreos and green bagels are dancing in our heads once again, all of which has us thinking about our favorite Irish-themed movies. If you’re looking for tour de force performances, there’s always that award-winning one-man powerhouse known as Daniel Day Lewis–My Left Foot (1990), In the Name of the Father (1994), The Boxer (1998), and Gangs of New York (2002). Rina really loves Gangs (despite Cameron Diaz, who she admits was surprisingly good in it), while Laura has a soft spot for Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), I think mainly because Sean Connery “looked really hot in it.”
For me, when I think of St. Paddy’s Day festivities it’s about the confluence of two cultural identities–Irish and American–so the movies that come to mind are ones that play upon this notion.
In the American cinematic landscape the Irish mob rivals the Italian mafia for supremacy. For every Godfather, Goodfellas, and Casino, there’s a White Heat, State of Grace, and Black Mass. Not surprisingly, Martin Scorsese has been at the helm of many from both sides. One his best (and the one that FINALLY earned him the coveted Oscar) is The Departed (2006), a riveting epic tale about an undercover cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a mole for the Irish mob (Matt Damon) in a race to discover the other’s identity before their own cover is blown.
Despite claims to the contrary (by Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan), it’s essentially a remake of a highly-regarded, popular Hong Kong crime trilogy called Infernal Affairs (2002-2003), albeit with a heftier budget and star-studded cast, including Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello), Mark Wahlberg (Dignam), Martin Sheen (Queenan), and Alec Baldwin (Ellerby). Set in South Boston, a place steeped in tradition, pride and bare-knuckled bravado, the film paints a vivid and visceral portrait of Irish American mob culture through its language, violence and imagery, which appears to permeate every aspect of life and defines the very soul of its characters.
The classic “Irish Car Bomb”–a shot of Bailey’s dropped into a pint of Guinness–seems a bit simplistic for such a complex film. My version incorporates other flavors, such as homemade Irish creme (made with Jameson no less) and coffee vodka (steeped with whole dark-roasted beans), Creme de Cacao, and spicy Aztec Chocolate Bitters. The added kick of caffeine takes this Southie Car Bomb over the top.
Southie Car Bomb
2 oz. Homemade Irish Creme
1-1/2 oz. Creme de Cacao
1 oz. Homemade Coffee Vodka*
3-4 dashes Aztec Chocolate Bitters
4 oz. Guinness
Combine the first 4 ingredients in a cocktail shaker with a 2-3 ice cubes, then shake to blend. Strain liquor over couple of fresh ice cubes in a high ball glass, then top off with Guinness.
*For the Coffee Vodka, take about 1 cup whole dark roasted coffee beans (I used Peet’s Major Dickinson) and place in a clean dry mason jar. Pour in about 2 parts good vodka and tightly screw on the jar lid. Allow the mixture to steep in a cool dry place for about 3-4 weeks. Strain out the beans before using.
The Commitments (1991), directed by the great Alan Parker, aside from having one of my all-time favorite movie soundtracks, is a funny, honest, remarkably unsentimental look at life in North Dublin set against the backdrop of Dublin’s eclectic music scene. Anchored by a mostly unknown yet musically talented cast–with standout performances by a the then sixteen-year old Andrew Strong (Deco) and Maria Doyle Kennedy (Natalie)–brought together much in the same way as their characters are recruited into the band, the film is a wonderful ensemble piece that is as soulful as its soundtrack.
While Parker doesn’t shy away from the grittier aspects of life for these working class Dubliners, who aspire to greater things beyond their often bleak surroundings, he finds the humor that underlies their uniquely Irish sensibility.
In honor of these working class dreamers, I’ve come up with a distinctly Irish version of a popular working man’s lunch I’m calling The DublinerPastie–corned beef brisket, cabbage, potatoes, onions, mushroom, and Irish cheddar, encased in flaky pastry. It’s a deliciously hearty and flavorful portable meal for anyone on the go.
There are plenty of romantic comedies set in the Emerald Isles–the gorgeous lush landscape a seemingly ideal backdrop for love. The Matchmaker (1997) is an overlooked gem about a Senator’s aide from Massachusetts, played by Janeane Garofalo (Marcy), who’s dispatched to the remote village of Ballinagra to find some Irish ancestors for the hapless Senator McGlory to visit in an attempt to bolster his lackluster re-election campaign.
Unbeknownst to Marcy, her arrival in Ballinagra coincides with the village’s annual “Match Making Festival” which proves to be more than a little inconvenient for the goal-oriented, no-nonsense American, who unwittingly gets caught up in the middle of a rivalry between two professional matchmakers, one of whom–the chatty, “love expert” Dermot (Milo O’Shea)–is determined to see her settled with her “perfect mate” by festival’s end (or lose the 100 pound bet he made with his rival). The all-business Marcy doesn’t buy Dermot’s brand of blarney, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to match her up, even if it involves some subterfuge. Sensing real chemistry between Marcy and Sean (David O’Hara), a former journalist turned local bartender, Dermot contrives to send them off to a remote island on a wild goose chase to find the Senator’s long lost ancestors. Much to her surprise, Marcy finds herself warming to attractive cheeky Irishman, as well as the quirky locals with their unfathomable customs, lively personalities, and pub-loving culture. In the end Marcy discovers that being Irish is more a state of mind than a genetic disposition (McGlory, it turns, is actually Hungarian), something she’s appears happy to embrace.
So to end on a sweet note, I give you Marbled Bundt Cake with Jameson Mocha Glaze–two flavors (vanilla and chocolate) swirled in perfect harmony, enveloped in a warming sweet Irish hug.
Marbled Bundt Cake
3 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Tbsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
6 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
1 cup Sugar
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
2 Tbsp. Irish Whiskey (Jameson)
1/2 cup Sour Cream
1/2 cup Whole Milk
6 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate, melted
Sift together flour, salt and baking powder; set aside. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in vanilla and whiskey. Alternately beat in the wet and dry ingredient on low speed (ending with dry), scraping down the sides of the mixer bowl after each addition. Remove 1/3 of the batter and mix it together with the melted chocolate. Spoon about 1/2 of the remaining vanilla batter evenly into a buttered and floured bundt pan, then top with alternating spoonfuls of chocolate and vanilla batter. Using the tip of a paring knife, carefully swirl the two flavors. Bake the bundt cake in a pre-heated 350°F oven for about 35-40 mins, or until an inserted toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Let the pan cool on a wire rack for about 10 mins. before inverting. Cool cake completely before glazing.
Jameson Mocha Glaze
2 cups Powdered Sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
1/2 cup Cocoa Powder
1 tsp. Espresso Powder
3 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, melted
3 Tbsp. Jameson Irish Whiskey
Whisk ingredients together until smooth, then drizzle evenly over the cooled bundt cake.
A couple of weeks ago, I had my anniversary dinner at a French restaurant called Liaison Bistro. I can’t remember the last time I ate so well. Actually, I can’t even remember the last time my husband and I went on a date without a child. I ordered a sole stuffed with crab drowned in cream. I’m sure there was a much fancier name for it, but that describes it perfectly.
Anyways I had a craving this week for some creamy soup to fill the void of waiting another year to have a meal like that. My husband recently bought the nutri-bullet, his electronic of the month, and has been suggesting that I use it for more than smoothies. I swear he should be a spokesperson for all of these products, because it seems like he memorizes the manual to make my life miserable. He wanted me to make a potato soup, but I didn’t have any in the pantry. I decided to use cauliflower instead since there was some rotting away in my fridge. I also added carrots for texture and color. Finally, I threw in some garlic for flavor.
I let them sit in a pot for about ten minutes with some vegetable broth until they were soft.
Afterwards I threw them into the bullet and blended them all together until silky smooth. I poured it back into the pot after putting a little bit in a bowl for my son. He was ok with it, but it might have still been hot. Oops.
I added cream and let it boil while I stir-fried some shrimp.
I wanted that seafood flavor like I had at the restaurant. Finally, it was all ready to eat.
My daughter thought it was delicious and ate her whole bowl. The next day, my husband tried my son’s baby food and said it had “very good flavor.” And this was eating it cold without the cream and shrimp, so I figured I received his approval.
Rainy weekends always give me a great excuse to do two things–cook and watch television–not that I necessarily need a rainy weekend to do either. In fact, I often find inspiration for my culinary experimentation just from channel-surfing. A case in point, the other night I happened upon an episode of Best Bars in America (Esquire Channel) in which comedians Jay Larson and Sean Patton, in one of their cross-country pub crawls, end up in L.A. at a restaurant called Father’s Office where they indulge in the signature Office Burger–a savory masterpiece consisting of a perfectly grilled medium rare burger, topped with melted Gruyere and blue cheeses, sweet unctuous caramelized onion bacon jam and peppery arugula served on a toasted soft roll. Chef/Owner Sang Yoon explains that what he was trying to recreate in the burger was the flavor profile of French onion soup–beef broth, caramelized onion and Gruyere cheese. Brilliant! So, of course, I immediately had a mad craving for that Office Burger. I knew I had some 80/20 ground beef in my freezer and onion in the pantry. All I needed were the other components. But when I got to Trader Joe’s, it occurred to me that while the burger would no doubt be delicious, it seemed silly for me to buy an entire package of rolls for one burger when I could just as easily come up with another variation on this “French onion soup” theme by making focaccia dough and using some of it to make a kind of cheeseburger pinwheel roll (like the one I made in a previous post) that would last more than one meal.
Instead making the bacon-onion jam, I just flavored my caramelized onions with some fresh thyme and dry white wine. However, I did cook the ground beef in a little rendered bacon fat. I substituted some sauteed Kale and spinach for the fresh arugula and used a mixture of shredded Fontina and Gruyere cheeses. The end result was a richly satisfying, savory mouthful of deliciousness that just hit the spot. And, best of all, I had lunch for next couple of days!
With my “cheeseburger” craving satiated, I settled in for some screen time with some badass chicks. Now while I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy (hell, I’ve even been sucked into some mediocre ones), I also love watching action flicks featuring strong kick-ass women, particularly those who can stand toe to toe with (and sometimes triumph over) the men–like Michelle Rodriguez in the Fast and Furious movies or Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, or more recently Charlize Theron in Mad Max Fury Road and Melissa McCarthy in Spy .
In the predominantly male George Miller universe of Mad Max, Theron’s Furiosa stands as warrior capable of taking down even the most loathsome testosterone-warped muscle head. Overlooked and underestimated by her superiors at the CIA, McCarthy’s Susan Miller foils every attempt to put her in a box with her sharp mind and even sharper tongue. Although the two women are miles apart in terms of circumstances and physical prowess, they share a quality all badass chicks possess–a fierce determination that overrides all fear, even in the face of overwhelming odds. More importantly, they remind us that women are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves (and the world) thank you very much! No need to cue that chorus of “I Need a Hero”…though we can definitely use a badass cocktail, preferably one that starts with a healthy dose of tequila. To add some vibrant color and complexity (because a badass chick always makes a statement), I threw in some dark cherries and pomegranate liqueur, along with a red wine syrup (made by simmering dry red wine with sugar, vanilla bean and dark cherries), orange liqueur and fresh lime juice. Think of it as cross between a margarita and a sangria.
Badass Cherry Margaria
2 oz. Tequila (Silver or Gold)
1 oz. Pomegranate Liqueur (e.g. Pama)
1 oz. Orange Liqueur (e.g. Triple Sec)
1/2 c. Frozen Cherries
1-1/2 oz. Red Wine Syrup*
1/2 oz. Lime Juice
Combine ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a chilled glass and garnish with a slice of lime.
*Red Wine Syrup
Simmer 1-1/2 cups dry red wine (e.g. Merlot, Pinot Noir) with 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 vanilla bean (split), and 1/2 c. frozen dark cherries for about 10 mins. Liquid should be thick and syrupy. Transfer mixture into a mason jar and cool.
The challenge this week is to see if I can make sushi rolls without all the necessary components that most sushi chefs have. For one, I don’t have one of those fancy bamboo mat rollers and, two, I’m not exactly sure how their rice is made or what kind of rice they use. I could google everything…but what is the fun in that? I’ll pretend it’s 1997 and act like google doesn’t exist. (Full disclosure: I googled the date of when google started, it was September 4th, 1998) When I began this little experiment, I tried to think about how the rice got so sticky. I thought sugar was added, so I did just that and cooked my rice like I normally did. Without checking it afterwards, I put it in a Tupperware and then into the refrigerator to let it get cold. The next day, I started to prepare my roll. My husband was home, so as always, he asked what I was doing over my shoulder. I explained my plan. With some (eye)rolls of his own, he explained to me that was not how sticky rice was made. Furthermore, he understood now why the rice tasted sweet when he went to prepare his lunch earlier in the day. I told him not to worry about it, it’ll still work in my roll. The rice was a little loose, and I added some soy sauce to give it some flavor. Then, I chopped cucumbers julienne style and placed them in the middle and rolled it all up. My daughter thought it looked like a sushi burrito. My husband continued to guffaw at the mess I was making as all the rice started falling out of the sides. I guess I needed to try a different method for my rice.
As I was about to throw it out, he said he could make arroz con leche, but realized I had added salt and pepper to the dish. In the trash it went. He suggested I make it sticky by stirring it more to release more starch. I hate it when he’s right.
I remade my rolls and this time it worked. I made cucumber and decided to use up some of the sauerkraut that sits in my fridge. I thought it was similar enough to pickled radish rolls.
Now it was time for cutting my little sushi burrito….
And apparently, I need sharper knives. I went through three different ones–they’re all dull. Well, at least my daughter liked the rolls. And even though my husband was hesitant to try them, he too approved.