Lost Weekend…Or How I Got Trapped in Stars Hollow

*Warning, if you haven’t watched Gilmore Girls-A Year in the Life, this post contains spoilers!

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No really…that is how I lost most of last weekend…binge-watching the entire four 90-minute episodes of the new Netflix reboot of Gilmore Girls. My fellow “Movie Chicks” (aka Rina and Laura) and I were, like all Gilmore Girl fans, giddy with anticipation for the premiere of A Year in the Life, gobbling up every morsel of information on social media about possible new storylines, sharing trailers on Facebook, taking Gilmore Girl quizzes.  We were primed for the epic reunion/love fest with our favorite characters.

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Did the Netflix revival live up to our expectations?  Meh…not so much. While I am nowhere near as incensed as Rina over some of Rory’s incomprehensibly idiotic life choices…such as her affair with Logan…I am disappointed that my favorite character, Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) made only a brief (though memorable) appearance.  I was beyond thrilled when I heard Melissa McCarthy was indeed reprising her role in the eleventh hour.  Although I have to admit, if I wasn’t a diehard Sookie fan I would’ve balked at her over-the-top multi wedding cake extravaganza because, let’s face it, I of all people know it’s pure fantasy. No one, not even the amazingly talented uber chef Sookie, could’ve pulled off that many elaborate creations in such a short of time by herself!  Do people know how long it takes to wrap a cake in fondant, let alone sculpt one?!

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We are equally dumfounded and dismayed that Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) didn’t figure more prominently in the storyline, whereas Logan had way too much screen time, when Jess was clearly the more compelling love interest.

And we can all agree that Paris (Liza Weil) needs her own spin-off…

…and “Stars Hollow, The Musical” should be an actual musical.

I don’t think any of us necessarily thought revisiting Stars Hollow would tie up all the loose ends left dangling (like an annoying participle) when the series ended back in 2007. But come on, those “last four words” made me (and probably everyone else watching) scream “Whaaaaat?!?!” (followed by a few choice expletives) at the television screen.  Six hours of viewing and that was it??  Just enduring Rory and Logan’s ridiculous “steampunk” adventure alone was enough to send me reaching for a strong cocktail.  I was so confounded by the ending I decided to binge-watch another series on Netflix just to take my mind off of it…which led to my “lost weekend.”

I did, however, manage to make it to the Sunday Farmer’s Market, where I found some lovely tangerines…which I subsequently turned into a fragrant homemade Mandarincello Liqueur.  Now had I been sipping this deliciously potent nectar while viewing Gilmore Girls, maybe I would have been less critical of its shortcomings…but then again, I could’ve just woken up with the hangover.

The old school way of making citrus liqueur is to take the peel from the clean, washed fruit (minus the bitter pith), put it in a tight-sealing glass jar, cover the peel in a clear neutral alcohol like vodka (or Everclear), and let the mixture sit undisturbed for about 6 weeks to draw out all the flavor and essential oils from the skin of the fruit.  The deeply scented liquor (strained of the peel) is then combined with an equal amount of syrup made from a 50/50 blend of sugar and juice of the fruit that has been brought to a boil.

Since I am in possession of a stainless steel whipped cream dispenser (courtesy of Whip It!) I opted for the modern method of rapid infusion through the use of nitrous oxide.

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To draw out more of the flavor and essential oils from the tangerines I used a microplaner to finely zest the peel…

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which I then placed inside the stainless steel canister along with 2 cups of vodka.  I injected two N2O cartridges into the sealed canister and gave it several good shakes.

While the N20 worked its magic on the tangerine zest and vodka, I juiced enough tangerines for 1-1/2 cups of juice, which I then combined with an equal amount of sugar and brought to a boil.

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To make the liqueur, I simply strained the syrup into a large glass pitcher (or measuring cup), then whisked in the strained infused alcohol.  *For instructions on how to make rapid infused alcohol please refer to my previous post “Better Cocktails Through Science.”

Mandarincello with Sparkllng Water
Mandarincello with Sparkllng Water

Mandarincello Liqueur

Yields:  approximately 1 quart

  • 1/4 cup fresh tangerine zest
  • 2 cups vodka
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed tangerine juice
  • stainless steel whipped cream dispenser
  • 2 N2O cartridges

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Bake–Savory Pop Tarts

Ever since I abruptly decided to jump off the crazy train that was my day job (or more like leaping off a runaway train a few stops before it plowed spectacularly through the main station), I’ve spent my time working on consulting projects (aka playing with food).  Consequently, I find myself with a whole lot of odds and ends in my refrigerator–leftover ingredients from various recipe experiments, like thick béchamel sauce, caramelized onions, and black forest ham.  I’d already managed to use some of it on a pizza, mixing together the béchamel and caramelized onion and using the savory concoction as the base for my pizza bianco. But what to do with the rest?  There was only a scant cup left over, not really enough for a pot pie and I was pretty much done making croque monsieurs (one of my experiments).  As I was standing near the empanadas food truck waiting for my friend at the Farmer’s Market this morning the idea hit me.  Why not make Savory Pop Tarts!  I could bulk up the leftover caramelized onion béchamel with sautéed mushrooms and cheese to make enough filling for at least ten pop tarts.  Layer in some chopped black forest ham and we’ve got a winner.

Now you can make pop tarts with any variety of doughs, from puff pastry to pie.  My pastry of choice is a buttery, flaky pate brisee.  It’s richer than pie dough, more tender than puff pastry, and provides just the right structure for pop tarts.  A word about Pop Tarts (the boxed kind)–I’m not a fan.  I tried to like them as kid, but simply couldn’t get past the dry texture and teeth achingly sweet frosting and filling.  I think my mom bought me a box once, which I refused to finish…much like that box of Lucky Charms…and that was the end of that.  During my sophomore year in college, my roommate used to get care packages laden with boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Rice-a-Roni, and Pop Tarts.  I gave Pop Tarts another go…no dice.  It really wasn’t until I began re-making pop tarts with handmade pastry dough and filling them with really tasty stuff–homemade preserves, Nutella, caramelized fruit, peanut butter, etc.–then I became a convert.  Like Lorelei Gilmore, I had a pop tart epiphany (only not about the crappy artificial kind).

The tricky thing about pop tarts is getting the consistency of the filling, whether it’s sweet or savory, just right.  If it’s too wet or loose the filling will leak and explode out the sides, leaving you with a sad deflated pop tart.  A rich thick béchamel sauce, for example, is an excellent binder for all kinds of savory fillings.  Also, it’s important to brush the edges of only one side of pastry with egg wash or cream so the seams will stick together securely.  Brushing both the top and bottom halves will merely cause the pastry to slip and slide.

For my savory pop tart filling, I sautéed about 1/2 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms with a little olive oil, fresh thyme, salt and pepper, hard apple cider, and chicken stock, then added 1/4 cup frozen organic corn, and a tablespoon each chopped fresh parsley and chives.  I combined this mixture with the leftover caramelized onion béchamel and 1/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese.  I placed a heaping tablespoon of the filling at the center of 10 pate brisee squares (cut approximately 3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″),

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layered on a little julienned black forest ham, brush the edges with heavy cream, then topped each one with another pastry square, sealed the edges and crimped them with a fork.

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Each pop tart was brushed with more cream, pierced with a fork to allow steam to vent, and sprinkled with grated parmesan and black pepper.

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I baked the pop tarts at 400°F for about 25 mins., until they were golden brown.

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Savory Pop Tarts are the kind of “out of the box” pastry worth making!

Bechamel Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
  • 2 Tbsp. All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup Whole Milk, slightly warmed
  • ½ tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • ⅛ tsp. Ground Black Pepper
  • Pinch of Ground Nutmeg

On medium low heat, melt the butter in a saucepan and whisk in the flour to form a paste.  Stirring constantly, cook the mixture for about two mins., then gradually whisk in the warm milk a little at a time to avoid lumps.  Turn the heat back up to medium and continue whisking until the mixture begins to boil.  Lower the heat and cook for another three minutes, seasoning with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Transfer the thickened sauce into a bowl and press a film of plastic onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming as the sauce cools.  Chill the sauce until set to use for filling.

Pumpkin Spice Be Damned!

Anthony Bourdain is right–this pumpkin spice madness must stop! What started out as a harmless cup of pumpkin spice latte to signal the beginning of fall has turned into a marketing tsunami that’s threatening to engulf us in a sea of mediocrity.  I won’t go so far as Bourdain in wishing the trend “drown in its own blood”–because after all I admittedly still have a jar of pumpkin pie spice in my pantry (hey, it’s used judiciously to occasionally spice up actual pumpkin). But I would like to do away with a great many of the pumpkin spiced products out on the market, especially the non-food variety–pumpkin spice body lotion/bath gel (no, I’d rather smell like pumpkin pie because I’m actually baking one), pumpkin spice air freshener (again, better to get that smell from baking the real thing), pumpkin spice dish soap (ugh, really?).  Over saturation of pumpkin spice reminds me of that commercial for Febreeze–you know the one about becoming “nose blind to odors.”  In a way, all this generic pumpkin spice can dull your senses and fatigue your taste buds.

Years ago, long before the pumpkin spice mania took hold, I worked with a chef who barred me from putting pumpkin creme brûlée on the restaurant dessert menu–well, any pumpkin pie-like custard actually, including pumpkin cheesecake (unless it was in bar cookie form).  His reasoning, other than his own personal distaste for the American classic, was that it was too pedestrian, too expected, and unimaginative. Consequently, I had to come up with other, more creative ways to incorporate pumpkin into my fall repertoire, like roasting a medley of autumn squash/pumpkin in brown butter, maple sugar, and warm spices for a sweet crostata filling, then serving this alternative pumpkin pie with a scoop of almond brown butter ice cream.  Being forced out of my comfort zone not only expanded my creativity but made me appreciate pumpkin for all its natural beauty and tasty potential…beyond the pumpkin pie of my childhood.  Truth be told, I wasn’t even that big of a fan of pumpkin pie when I was a kid.  It was simply a vehicle for the whipped cream.

Pumpkin spice is like that whipped cream.  It’s a way for people who don’t necessarily love pumpkin pie, or pumpkin for that matter, to enjoy the trappings of fall– call it pumpkin lite.   I’m sure there are also plenty of pumpkin pie lovers out there who are obsessed with pumpkin spice, but I would venture to say a vast number of pumpkin spice aficionados probably wouldn’t eat pumpkin…perhaps unless it was heavy masked in that particular spice blend.  That’s a shame really, because pumpkins and other autumn squash are fantastically versatile, delicious in sweet and savory applications.

To take the chill off of a crisp fall day, I like to whip up a hearty batch of Pumpkin Vegetable Curry, using a combination of Japanese curry paste, curry powder, and coconut milk for a rich and flavorful sauce.

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While a bright orange firm fleshed pumpkin is the star of this dish, you can add any combination of vegetables to compliment it.  At the Farmer’s Market, I found some deep dark purple long beans, vibrant red bell peppers and zucchini.  The vibrancy of the vegetables reminded me of the peak fall colors in Maine.

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To make the curry, I simply sweated some chopped onions and garlic in hot oil until translucent, then added all the vegetables and tossed them around with a little bit of curry powder, salt and pepper for a 3-4 mins.  I then added in some chicken stock, water, a can of coconut milk, and 3-4 squares of Japanese curry paste (conveniently packaged and portioned out like a chocolate bar), and simmered everything on low heat for 10-15 mins., until the vegetables were tender.  Serve the curry over some steamed basmati or jasmine rice.

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On the sweet side, I like to compliment my pumpkin desserts and baked goods with equally deep, warm flavors like bourbon and maple.  I haven’t banished pumpkin spice, but I tend to use less of it in proportion to the other ingredients in my recipes.  My tender Maple Bourbon Glazed Pumpkin Scones are a delightful way to start the morning…or rejuvenate your afternoon.

Maple Bourbon Glazed Pumpkin Scones

Yield: 12 scones

  • 2 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Tbsp. Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 4 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice (or 1 tsp. Cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. Ginger, 1/2 tsp. Nutmeg, pinch of Clove)
  • 4 oz. or 1 stick Chilled Unsalted Butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 2/3 cup Buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp. Maple Syrup
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • Heavy Cream or Egg Wash for brushing tops

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Add the butter pieces, then using either two forks or your fingers quickly work the butter into the dry mixture until the butter pieces are the size of popcorn kernels.  Make a well in the center.  Whisk together the wet ingredients, pour the mixture into the well, and stir everything together to form a dough.  Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic film, lightly dust with flour, and pat it down into a 1″ thick square, wrap and freeze the dough for about 15 mins. to firm up.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F.   Turn the chilled dough onto a lightly floured surface, dust with more flour, then pat or roll the dough out into a 3/4″ thick rectangle.  With a pastry cutter or chef’s knife cut the dough in half horizontally, then into thirds vertically to form six squares.  Cut each square in half diagonally. Place the pieces on a parchment-lined sheet pan and brush with cream or egg wash.  Bake the scones for 18-20 mins. until golden and test done. Cool the scones completely before drizzling on glaze.

Maple Bourbon Glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. Maple Syrup
  • 1 tsp. Maple Extract
  • pinch of Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 2 Tbsp. Bourbon
  • 1 Tbsp. Whole Milk

Whisk together ingredients until smooth.

 

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Take heart John Oliver, not everything “pumpkin” has to taste like candle wax!

Better Cocktails Through Science

The long Labor Day weekend was the perfect time for binge-watching.  With endless possibilities and viewing options to choose from, I found myself browsing through YouTube, where I discovered my latest obsession–the wildly imaginative, over-the-top culinary wizardry of Heston Blumenthal.  I’d heard of his Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck in Bray, England and knew a little about the chef’s reputation as a proponent of molecular gastronomy.  I had no idea until I started watching his videos, however, just what a brilliant “Willy Wonka” he really was…or how insanely popular his food shows were in the U.K.   The appeal is pretty obvious really.  Every one of Blumenthal’s series–from Great British to Fantastical Foods to Feasts–playfully combines his love of food, mad culinary skills,  and sense of fun with his fascination with history, culture, and science.  It’s like Master Chef meets Good Eats on steroids…only way better.

The culinary geek in me was in heaven…what’s more, I was inspired!  Yep, after watching hours of this mad scientist conjure up food magic, I decided to apply a little chemistry to concoct my own special elixirs–better cocktails through science!

One of Heston’s favorite kitchen tools or gadgets is a nitrous or whip cream canister.  As it so happens, I’d been given one of these recently to test out by my friends at WhipIt.  I’ve discovered that not only is it great for making whipped cream, it is the perfect vehicle for rapidly infusing all kinds of flavors into alcohol–giving new meaning to term “craft cocktail.”  The injection of nitrous gas essentially forces the flavor into the alcohol, so what used to take weeks now only takes a few minutes.  Though a word of warning, this method also raises the percentage of alcohol in the given liquor.  Your cocktail will pack more of a punch!

Like a kid with a new toy, I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of infusions–late harvest peach, blackberry, “mango” grapes (given to me by a friend who’s dad cultivates unusual varieties).

"Mango" Grape Infused Vodka
“Mango” Grape Vodka

One of my favorites so far has been St. George Botanical Gin infused with fresh slices of Persian cucumber and mint leaves.

The color and perfume are divine…and practically screams “SUMMER!”  Since this is the end of summer, I thought it would be appropriate to create a cocktail that captures the feeling of summer in a glass.

Summer in a Glass

  • 2 oz. cucumber & mint-infused gin*
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 4 oz. ginger beer, chilled
  • 2 reserved gin-soaked cucumber slices
  • 2 fresh blackberries, 1 lime slice, mint sprig for garnish

Place the infused gin and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes.  Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled glass, then top off with ginger beer.  Garnish with cucumber, blackberries, mint and lime slice.

*For the infusion, combine 1 thinly sliced medium Persian cucumber, 6-7 mint leaves, and 6 oz. gin in a nitrous canister.  Inject with one cartridge, then give the canister a good shake and let is rest for a couple of minutes. Release the gas into an inverted glass, then strain the liquor.

Summer in a Glass
Summer in a Glass

With end of summer, comes the beginning of fall and the start of the school year.  What better way to celebrate this than with a cocktail that brings to mind that classic of school lunches–The PB&J.  To make my liquid version of the iconic sandwich, I first infused vodka with fresh Concord grapes–about 1 1/2 cups mashed grapes to 1 cup of vodka.  For this amount of mix I used two nitrous cartridges.

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For the peanut butter component, I infused vodka with chopped roasted salted peanuts (1 cup peanuts to 3/4 cup vodka, 1 nitrous cartridge), then made a peanut butter syrup by simmering 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 split vanilla bean with 2 heaping tablespoons of peanut butter, strained it and added to the peanut vodka infusion.

To serve the cocktail, I dipped the rim of a martini glass in melted grape jelly, then coated it in ground roasted salted peanuts.

The PB&J

  • 2 oz. concord grape-infused vodka, chilled
  • 1 oz. peanut butter liqueur, chilled
  • 1 oz. half & half
  • small cluster of concord grapes for garnish
  • melted grape jelly, ground roasted salted peanuts

Combine the grape vodka, peanut butter liqueur, and half & half with 3-4 ice cubes in a cocktail shaker.  Shake vigorously and strain into the prepared glass and garnish with a cluster of Concord grapes.

The PB&J
The PB&J

 

On your mark, get set…BAKE!

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I have a confession…I’m a cooking/food show snob.  With hundreds of them on the air and thousands on the internet, we are inundated from morning to night.  I’ll admit I’m generally not a fan of the competition variety, like Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen.  I lost interest in Top Chef after two seasons, mainly because I got no enjoyment out of watching food “professionals” stab each other in the back week after week.  It was like watching “Master Chef meets Survivor.”  I see more than enough drama working in a real life kitchen, thank you very much.  Sadly, a great many popular American cooking/baking competitions thrive on and perpetuate a kind of cutthroat mentally that for me takes away the joy and passion for the craft.  Knife Fight on Esquire Channel might be an exception, only because the setting and premise is pretty straightforward–two chefs battling against the clock in an actual restaurant kitchen–and there is mutual respect amongst the competitors.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a healthy dose of competition to bring out the best in people–just not when it also brings out the ugly.

This is why I’m a big fan of The Great British Bake Off.  Aside from the incomparable wisdom of Mary Berry, the ascerbic wit of Paul Hollywood, and the cheekiness of presenters Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, the show is all about challenging the contestants to strive for their personal best.

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Yes, they are competing for the championship yet there is always a sense of sportsmanship and mutual respect.  No one is fighting for equipment or ingredients.  They each have their own fully-equipped, well-stocked stations.  Call me sappy, but I love the fact that everyone goes in for the group hug when someone gets eliminated.  Judges Paul and Mary aren’t sitting behind a table telling that week’s “loser” to pack up their tools and leave.

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What I enjoy most about the show is while the bakers’ skill and creativity are being challenged every week, I’m also learning something in the process–like how to make the perfect Jaffra cake (had no idea it was something one actually made from scratch since I’ve only ever seen them prepackaged) or what constitutes an ideal arlette?  I leave each episode with new found respect for the art that is my life and passion…and sometimes with a desire to whip up a batch of something quintessentially British…like crumpets.

Crumpets

Yield: about 1 dozen

  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, scalded then cooled to warm
  • 1 tsp. dry active yeast
  • 2 tsp. honey or sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 tsp. sea or Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda (dissolved in 2 Tbsp. warm water)

Combine flours and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk together yeast, warm milk and honey or sugar–then stir into flour mixture.  Gradually whisk in warm water to form a batter.  Cover and set aside in a warm, draft-free space for about 30-40 mins.  Whisk in dissolve baking soda.

Heat a heavy skillet or griddle with a little vegetable on medium low heat. Place greased crumpet rings onto the heated surface.  Fill each ring about halfway.  Cook first side until bubbles form throughout the surface and the batter is set about 1/4″ all around the other edge (about 4-5 mins.) Carefully flip the crumpets and continue to cook second side for another 3-4 mins.

Serve warm with lots of butter and jam.

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Happy Hour

For me Happy Hour can happen any day of the week, though more often than not it’s the weekend when I can really kick back and enjoy a cocktail (or two) since I usually don’t get out of work in time during the week to take advantage of Happy Hour.  And since the Rio Olympics has been dominating my television viewing of late this week, my drink of choice has been the caipirinha.  Yes, I finally got into the spirit of the games, but then who wouldn’t given the stellar performances in women’s gymnastics and all-around swimming.

Hey, when you’ve got a big bottle of cachaca and a bag of limes laying around just begging to be used…well, what can I say?  To keep things interesting, I’ve come up with another inspired variation on the classic Brazilian cocktail–Guava-Raspberry Caipirinha.  I got the idea to use guava in the cocktail from the quintessentially Brazilian specialty, guava paste.  Adding a few ounces of guava nectar or puree and some fresh or frozen raspberries to the cachaca and muddled lime gives the drink a gorgeous blush of pink and delicately sweet tropical note.

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Guava-Raspberry Caipirinha

  • 2 oz. Cachaca
  • 1/2 lime, cut into quarters
  • 2 tsp. turbinado or raw sugar
  • 2 oz. guava nectar or puree
  • 4-5 fresh or frozen raspberries
  • chilled soda water
  • slice of lime for garnish

Place the sugar and lime pieces at the bottom of a highball glass and muddle together to release the essential oils.  Add the Cachaca and guava, along with 4-5 ice cubes and the raspberries.  Top off with soda water and garnish with a slice of lime.

Happy Hour without food is just a cocktail–and pretzels don’t count.  I want something a little more substantial to nosh on with my drink…an hors d’oeuvre perhaps…something like a Mini Toad in the Hole.  Now there many interpretations of “Toad in the Hole.”  It can be a breakfast dish where you cut a hole in the center of a thick slice of bread, crack in an egg and fry it up.

Toad in the Hole with Crispy Bacon and Blistered Cherry Tomatoes
Toad in the Hole with Crispy Bacon and Blistered Cherry Tomatoes

The British version of Toad in the Hole is cooked sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding, served with gravy, which is the springboard for my hors d’oeuvres.  Instead of serving it with gravy, I top my mini toads with a little balsamic caramelized onion, horseradish sour cream, and fresh chopped parsley.  It’s a mouthful of savory deliciousness that is perfect for  soaking up all those Happy Hour cocktails!

Mini Toad in the Hole
Mini Toad in the Hole

Mini Toad in the Hole

Yield:  about 30

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1 Tbsp. rendered bacon fat, melted
  • 1/2 tsp. sea or kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 links smoked sausage (chicken apple, chorizo, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup grated white cheddar or gruyere cheese
  • olive or canola oil for mini muffin molds
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. horseradish creme
  • 1 tsp. chopped parsley

Process eggs and milk in a blender until smooth.  Whisk together the flour, salt, thyme, and peppers, then add to the blender and process until smooth.  Blend in half of the melted butter and rendered bacon fat.  Transfer the popover batter into a measuring cup or pitcher and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 425°F before baking.

 

Binge Worthy

The weekend is upon us and like many people trying to wind down from a week of stress (which for me is pretty much all the time), we like to hunker down for some therapeutic binge-watching, catching up on all those recordings piling up on our DVRs or finally getting around to seeing what the fuss is all about and setting sucked into an entire season of some hot new series on Netflix or Amazon.  Laura is preparing for the highly-anticipated Gilmore Girls reboot by binge-watching the original series.  Rina and I are still waiting for her to get through the entire Buffy the Vampire series so we can finally do a post about it!  With two kids running around, this could take awhile.  Recently, Rina and I both tried to get into the latest BBC adaptation of that behemoth tome of Russian literature War and Peace.  I lost interest after episode 4…or whenever Prince Andre and Natasha got gushy with each other at some royal ball.  Rina persevered a while longer and would now like those 12 hours back!  I think I tried to like War and Peace simply because I really liked the cast of actors, many of whom I’ve enjoyed watching in other productions, like Lily James (Downton Abbey), James Norton (Granchester), Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, The Fall), and Jim Broadbent (Bridget Jones).  But even the grandeur and “epic” drama couldn’t keep me watching, because (who am I kidding) it was torture enough wading through that book in college…and I was a LIT major!

What makes a series binge-worthy, you make ask?  I say, if it doesn’t hook you in from the first episode, even in the first 10 minutes, then chances are it won’t sustain your interest for the long haul.  Here are a few of my favorites and why I think they’re are worthy of binge-watching, in no particular order:

Orphan Black (BBC America)

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This brilliantly conceived, thought-provoking sci-fi fantasy drama (BBC America) about human clones showcases a fantastic cast of actors, including Jordan Gavaris (the irrepressible Felix), Maria Doyle Kennedy (fierce Mrs. S.) and Dylan Bruce (delicious man-candy Paul).  Most importantly it shines a spotlight on the mind-blowing talent of its star Tatiana Maslany, who at last count has played about a dozen distinctive characters over three seasons, and often three in a single scene.  Why she hasn’t garnered more acting awards is beyond me.  The series deftly weaves a complex web of twisty plot lines involving multi-layered characters that surprises you at every turn.  You’ll find yourself impatiently clambering for the next season to start!

Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon)

While I can’t say I’m a huge fan of classical music, I am a fan of the sexy Gael Garcia Bernal, who stars as the irresistibly eccentric, passionate “rock star” maestro Rodrigo who takes over as conductor of the New York Symphony from his more stately predecessor played by Malcolm McDowell (Thomas).  It’s a humorous, sexy, refreshing and sometimes harsh behind the scenes look at the world of classical musicians, with wonderful performances by Bernal, McDowell, the ageless Bernadette Peters, Saffron Burrows and newcomer Lola Kirk, who plays aspiring oboist Hailey.  If you have Amazon Prime, be prepared.  You might find yourself streaming both seasons in one weekend.

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Jessica Jones (Netflix)

Unlike Rina, who practically lives and breathes comics, I’m a late comer to the genre.  I have in the recent years, however, become a fan of the Marvel universe and in particular of the cadre of bad ass Marvel women, from Agent Carter to Black Widow.  When Netflix came out with their own female-centric Marvel series Jessica Jones (starring Kristen Ritter as the title character) I was intrigued–mainly because one of my British obsessions David Tennant (the 9th Doctor Who) would be playing her nemesis Kilgrave.  Tennant as Kilgrave, who by the way is seductively sinister, was the hook but Ritter’s emotionally raw and physically commanding performance as Jessica is what got me glued to the screen.  She’s not your typical heroine and Jessica Jones is not your typical action series.

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The Fall (BBC/Netflix)

Jamie Dornan’s chilling portrayal of Paul Spector in this gripping, intense British psychological thriller will make you forget about his performance in Fifty Shades of Grey.  He’s at once a loving father and a cold, calculating, sadistic serial killer preying on young women in Belfast, who is in turn being hunted down by the very determined Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson played by Gillian Anderson, brought in from London to head the task force.  The two engage in a riveting game of cat and mouse in which it is not always clear who is chasing whom.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (Netflix)

This import from the land down under is an engaging mix of good old-fashioned detective drama, romance, intrigue, and a dash of humor set in 1920’s Melbourne.  The title character Miss (Phryne) Fisher, played by the incandescent Essie Davis, is a sharp-witted, sexy, glamorous, free-thinking female private detective of independent means who effortlessly navigates her way through various social circles and cultures in pursuit of justice and adventure–armed with a pearl-handled pistol and an enviable wardrobe. As a thoroughly modern woman Phryne has her fair share of dalliances but its her “will they or won’t they” romance with Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) that keeps everyone guessing…and captivated.

Whatever you choose to binge-watch this weekend, there is one essential thing you’ll need (besides a comfortable couch)–a binge-worthy snack to help power you through hours of viewing.  Popcorn is my snack of choice…but not just any popcorn.  Oh no.  I’m talking about my “crack” Miso Soy Caramel Popcorn–an unbelievably addictive sweet and salty concoction that combines the airy crunch of popcorn with the umami of Japanese rice crackers. Yes, you can thank me later after you’ve inhaled a giant bowl full of this!

Miso Soy Caramel Popcorn with Furikake

  • 12 cups Popped Popcorn (preferably air-popped)
  • 1 cup Brown Sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup Light Corn Syrup
  • 1/2 cup Water
  • 5 oz. or 10 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 3 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
  • 1/4 cup Miso Paste
  • 3 Tbsp. Furikake (seasoned seaweed topping)*
  • 1 Tbsp. Toasted Sesame Seeds

*You can find the furikake in most Asian markets.  Just be aware that some varieties contain bonito (fish) flakes, so read the ingredient label.

Place the popcorn in a large heat proof bowl.  Preheat the oven to 325°F.

In a medium saucepan (at least 6 qt capacity), combine the sugar, corn syrup and water, then bring to a boil.  Add the butter and continue cooking until the mixture reaches 260°F.  Turn off the heat, then stir in the soy sauce and miso paste to combine, then the baking soda.  The baking soda will cause the mixture to foam up a bit.  Quickly pour the caramel evenly over the popcorn.  With a heat-proof rubber spatula coated with non-stick spray, toss the popcorn around to thoroughly coat the kernels with the caramel.  Spread the caramel corn out onto two sheet pans coated with non-stick spray.  Bake for about 25 mins., turning the mixture a couple of times during the process.  Remove the caramel corn from the oven and immediately toss in the furikake and sesame seeds, scraping the bottom of the sheet pan to loosen the caramel corn.  Allow the mixture to cool completely.

Binge-Worthy Snack
Binge-Worthy Snack!