The “Blushing Dutch” Martini


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I love a summer cocktail. I also love experimenting with different flavors combinations. The good news about these ingredients is that you can change them up. Try lemons and raspberries. Cilantro and cucumber. Blueberries and mint. The Vling mixer comes in cranberry pomegranate, citrus and regular tonic. So have fun with it!

Ingredientsphoto
New Amsterdam Berry infused vodka – 1 part
Vling cranberry pomegranate mixer – 3 parts
Sweetened lime juice – a splash or so to taste
Fresh lime – 2 slices per glass

Preparation
Slice limes. Chill glasses in freezer.
Fill cocktail shaker halfway with ice  and fill with first three ingredients. Shake lightly (the Vling mixer is fizzy!). Poor into chilled glasses and enjoy!

The Perfect Bite
Of course there’s no “bite” in a cocktail unless you’re chomping on the vodka-soaked fruit – which is amazing! But also, a good tip is to keep vodka (and gin) in the freezer – makes for a perfectly chilled drink on a hot summer day.

The Perfect Health
Let’s be honest. It’s a cocktail. But using the Vling is helpful. It’s lower in calories and sodium then other tonics and is filled with electrolytes to help offset the dehydration that happens form alcohol. So there’s that!

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Miso Soup with Soba Noodles and Chicken


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If you’re like me soba noodle always sound a little intimidating. Do they require special handling? Are they high maintenance? The answer is yes… and no.  Super simple to cook – 3 to 4 minutes tops. And the only special handling is to remember that they continue soaking up liquid… so best to store leftovers dry.  Honestly, they are best freshly made but they cook so quickly it will just take minutes to prepare next time you need them! And since they’re lower in carbs and calories than regular pasta noodles… these buckwheat gems are worth it!

Ingredients (serves 2)
1 quart chicken stock or low-sodium broth (I actually used my garlic broth for this)
4 ounces of organic soba noodles
1/4 cup fresh miso paste (found in Asian or specialty stores)
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice (or any fresh lemon)
1 cup roasted or rotisserie chicken breast (or other cooked chicken breast), warm or at room temperature
Thinly sliced scallion greens, for garnish

Ready to Cook?
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a medium pot, bring the broth to a simmer. Do not use salt or oil like you do for white pasta.

Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook until al dente, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the noodles, and using tongs, transfer them to bowls.

Meanwhile, ladle 1 cup of the broth into a heatproof bowl and whisk in the miso. Return the miso-broth to the pot and cook until hot, but not boiling. Add the lemon juice. DO not omit the lemon juice – you need the acidic to cut through the saltiness of the miso.

Top the noodles with the chicken. Ladle the hot broth on top of the noodles, garnish with the scallions and serve.photo 1

The Perfect Bite
I love to use chopsticks to scoop out the noodles and chicken… then slurp the broth from the side of the bowl… just as they do in Japan. But no shame in using a spoon if you prefer. Just get every last drop!

The Perfect Pairing
Try 2012 Terres Dorées Beaujolais l’Ancien Vieilles Vignes or 2012 Tissot Arbois Poulsard Vieilles Vignes each pairs beautifully with the salty richness of this soup.

The Perfect Health
Soba (buckwheat) Pasta: Due to their buckwheat content, soba noodles are a slow-releasing carbohydrate, meaning they’re a source of good long-lasting energy. In addition, you can cut calories virtually in half when you switch from regular white pasta to soba noodles. Buckwheat contains the vitamin B compound choline. Health Hokkaido lists that buckwheat, specifically the choline compound, assists with increasing metabolism and decreasing fat accumulation. Read more here.

Homemade Dill Pickles


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I love pickles.

Always have…  but it was never something I thought I could make myself. I imagined the process was complicated and required all kinds of equipment – who knew?! You really just need some canning jars – wide mouth are the best – and a few essential ingredients. Kirby cucumbers are the classic pickling cucumber. Be sure to pick ones that are firm and not overly ripe. English cucumbers don’t hold up well and get mushy – and waxed cucumbers are bitter and won’t pickle well. So go to Pubix (where I get mine) or your local Farmer’s Market and grab a bunch. I used about 6 pickles to make one quart, cut in coins.

Ingredients (makes 2 pints or 1 quart)
1 1/2 pounds Kirby or Persian cucumbers
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 teaspoons dill seed (don’t be tempted to use dill weed – it makes a huge mess!)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1 and 1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 tsp of sugar

Preparation

  1. Prepare the jars: If you are planning to can your pickles for long-term storage, bring a large pot of water to a boil and sterilize the jars and their lids. If you are planning to make refrigerator pickles, simply washing the jars and lids is fine.
  2. Prepare the cucumbers: Wash and dry the cucumbers. Trim away the blossom end of the cucumber, which contains enzymes that can lead to limp pickles. Leave the pickles whole, cut them into spears, or slice them into coins, as preferred.
  3. Add the spices to the jars: Divide the garlic, dill seed, and red pepper flakes (if using) between the pint jars: 2 smashed cloves, 1 teaspoon dill seed, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes per jar.
  4. Pack the pickles into the jars: If making spears, trim the ends if they stand more than 1/2 inch below the top of the jar. Pack them in as tightly as you can without smashing the cucumbers. If making coins, try to pack them in tight up to an inch from the top.
  5. Bring the pickling brine to a boil: Combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a small sauce pan over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil. Pour the brine over the pickles, filling each jar to within 1/2-inch of the top. You may not use all the brine.
  6. Remove air bubbles: Gently tap the jars against the counter a few times to remove all the air bubbles. Top off with more pickling brine if necessary.
  7. Tighten the lids: Place the lids over the jars and screw on the rings until tight.
  8. Optional — Process the pickles for longer storage: For longer storage, place the jars in a boiling pot of water. When the water comes back to a boil, set the timer for 5 minutes and remove the jars immediately. Make sure the lids pop down; if they do not, refrigerate those pickles and eat them first. NOTE: this method will make your pickles softer… so if you like more of a crunch… skip this process.
  9. Cool and refrigerate: Let the jars cool to room temperature. If you processed the jars, they can be stored on the shelf. If unprocessed, store the pickles in the fridge. The pickles will improve with flavor as they age — try to wait at least 48 hours before cracking them open. They will start looking like pickles in a few hours… but will taste best after a couple of days.

 

pickle jars

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before…

 

after

after…

 

 

Enjoy!

Kale and Quinoa Salad


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This salad is loosely based off of my kale and walnut pesto recipe. But with a few revisions, I’ve come up with a salad that’s light, yet hearty enough for a main course! And as always, there’s room for plenty of versions – substitute your favorite nuts and dried fruits to make it your own. You can swap out the quinoa for bulger wheat or another of your favorite grains or seeds. Just remember, the key is in the blanching of the kale which brightens up the leaf and softens its texture.

The best thing about this is it combines several “super” foods:  kale, quinoa, cranberries and walnut oil which has 1.77g of Omega 3’s per serving! So feel free to indulge!

Ingredients
6-8 cups kale leaves (roughly 2 bundles), ribs removed
2 large fresh garlic cloves, smashed and coarsely chopped (or 2 tablespoons minced)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/3 cup olive oil (for extra walnut taste (blend olive oil with roasted walnut oil – I found some at Home Goods for $8.99!)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice (roughly 1/2 of a large lemon – squeezed)
1/2 teaspoon course sea salt (to taste)
1 cup coarsely chopped, toasted walnuts (raw is fine but toasting brings out their nuttiness)
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup dried cranberries (I use Craisens Pomegranate cranberries)

Preparation
Remove ribs from kale and give it a rough chop. In a large pot, bring water to a boil with a couple of pinches of salt. Prepare a large boil of ice water and set aside. Once water in boiling, add kale for about 1 minute. Your kale will start to turn a brighter green. Remove kale from pot and immediately put in ice water. This is called blanching and is what helps give (and keep) your kale a bright green. Remove kale from ice water after 1 minute and squeeze dry.

quinoa

This is how your quinoa should look when it’s done.

Peel and roughly chop two large bulbs of garlic. If you are using pre-minced garlic, this is roughly 2 tablespoons.

If you are roasting your walnuts, place then in a dry saute pan over medium heat. Continue moving them in the pan until you begin to smell their nuttiness. It should take about 2 minutes.  Keep an eye on them – they burn

easily (which is why I don’t put them in the oven anymore – I always forget them!).

Using the water from blanching your kale, bring 1 cup to a boil. Add 1 cup quinoa and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once you see that the quinoa seeds are beginning to burst open you know they are about done. Once the water is absorbed turn off heat and fluff with a fork. The cooking process for this is similar to couscous. Add a pinch of salt and let completely cool. NOTE: Do not add quinoa to salad until cooled or it will wilt the kale.

Ready to Make?
In a food processor, add the blanched kale, garlic and Parmesan. Pulse 6-7  times while slowly, through the feed tube, drizzling the oil(s) until mixture is moistened and is well-combined. NOTE: It’s important to use the pulse feature and not let your processor run… you want to retain some of the leafy texture of the kale – you do not want it as fine as the pesto.   Remove lid and spoon into serving bowl. Zest a whole lemon directly into mixture and squeeze half of the lemon into the mixture.  Add DSC_0015dried cranberries, walnuts and cooled quinoa. Gently toss until thoroughly mixed. Add salt to taste.

The Perfect Bite
This is the perfect opportunity for the perfect bite – be sure to stack your fork with a little bit of everything! Sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy, refreshing and hearty… it’s got everything!

The Perfect Pairing
One of my new favorite wines is the Cline 2012 Mourvèdre Rosé. It is crisp and refreshing, not overly sweet, and has hints of pomegranate, cherry and plum… which will pair wonderfully with the dried pomegranate cranberries and walnuts in this salad. Mourvèdre is a rare grape in California and has beautiful mouth-feel on this rosé.

The Perfect Health
Though quinoa is considered a whole grain – it is technically a seed. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has officially declared that the year 2013 be recognized as “The International Year of the Quinoa.” Quinoa is gluten-free and an excellent source of protein. For more health benefits read HERE.

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Low and Slow Winter Country Ribs


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Country ribs. Big slabs of porky goodness cut from the shoulder of the hog. But boneless or bone-in, these are nothing like a rack of ribs. They are chunky logs of pork, trimmed with a small amount of fat, and they require slow, low-temperature cooking to become delicious. That’s the downside: You can’t do a fast country rib. The upside is that they are all meat, so you’re quick to fill up.

The best way to cook country ribs is over a wood fire, but you can cook them on a charcoal or gas grill. I did these in the oven because it’s winter and I didn’t want to brave going outdoors to the grill. Any of these methods work – but just repeat after me: Low and slow… low and slow…

You’ll want to sauce these ribs with something. It can be as simple as cider vinegar, or you could use your favorite barbecue sauce. I used my favorite bottled version and added a few things to give it an extra punch.

Ingredients
6-8 country ribs, about 3 pounds (quantity will vary depending on size of individual ribs – I got ribs from Porter Road Butcher and they were very large so I cut them in half.)
Kosher salt
pepper
Dark amber beer (I used Negra Madelo)
The barbeque sauce of your choice
I also added to my BBQ sauce (to taste):
Garlic paste
Worcestershire sauce
Bourbon

DSC_0014The Fab Four that made my BBQ sauce

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Soak ribs in beer for at least 8 hours, overnight is best. I did mine for almost 24 hours.
That should be the max you soak them or they will start to shrivel.

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Remove from beer and sprinkle both sides generously with salt and pepper.

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Now coat ribs in your sauce and put on a rack on a foil-lined pan.

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Make sure your ribs are about 2 inches apart so they have room to breath.
Which is why you have them on the rack so the heat can circulate all around.

Now put your pan of ribs in a 250 degree oven (middle rack). You’re going to cook these for 4-5 hours… however, leave them alone for the first 90 minutes… then you will pull them out, turn them over and brush more sauce on them every 30 minutes until done.

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Be sure to get all four sides of the ribs!

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And don’t skimp on the sauce!

You will know they are ready when the meat starts to fall apart a little when you turn them. This means the fat has rendered into the meat and the connective tissues have broken down. When you finally get to this step, it’s time to brush them with sauce one last time and then move the ribs up to the top (or broiler) rack and finish them off at 350 degrees for 5 minutes… to get those yummy, crunchy, charred edges you would normally get on a fire grill. But be careful – no more than 5 minutes or you will undo all your hard work and dry out your ribs!

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Voila! A plate of succulent goodness. Bon apetit!

The Perfect Bite
For me the “money bite” is right in the center of the rib, it’s the juiciest! But you also may love a fatty-end… it will literally melt in your mouth.

The Perfect Pairing
I normally list a wine for pairing but since these are filled with bourbon and beer goodness… I’d stay on theme. Try them with the beer you marinated them in, in my case Negra Madelo. Or try them with my infamous Red-Headed Martini (made of bourbon and beer!). These will also go really well with my Spicy Mac & Cheese as a side dish.

The Perfect Health
It’s true: Pork really is the other white meat. Ounce for ounce, pork tenderloin has less fat than a chicken breast. And food scientists are finding ways to make it leaner and leaner every year. Cured pork such as ham, bacon and pancetta are treated with salt, nitrates and sugar for preservation and are where all the bad health properties come from… but fresh pork, on the other hand, receives minimal processing, if any, and includes chops, ribs and roast. For more information read HERE.

Fall-apart Pot Roast


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Who doesn’t love pot roast? Well, I suppose some of my vegetarian friends are not fans, but most everyone else I know deems pot roast as the ultimate comfort food. However, I have heard many friends complain that they have not been successful… that often the meat comes out tough!

Contrary to belief, tough pot roast is not a result of over-cooking… but of UNDER-cooking! And the science of that is not always consistent. For example, the rule of thumb is to cook low and slow, about 1 hour per pound of meat. But temperatures in ovens vary and sometimes the weather can throw everything off… so shoot for an hour per pound, but if it’s not falling apart tender then put it back in and check it every 20 minutes. I had a small 2lb roast this time, yet it took 3 hours. You just never know. But the longer in the oven the more the connective tissues break down and turn into succulent deliciousness.

Because of the intimidation factor so many feel when facing The Pot Roast… I took a lot of extra photos for some step-by-step assurance of what things should look like. Scroll through the photos with my comments and then read all of the directions before beginning… so you will feel confident as you go along. This is actually a very simple and inexpensive meal – so relax! And in 3-5 hours your patience will pay off and you’ll have an amazing meal to serve your family and friends.

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I chose a bottom round tender cut – but you can use a chuck roast as well. Look for good marbling.

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GENEROUSLY salt and pepper both sides!

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The other side had a layer of fat – don’t be tempted to remove this – you will need this for browning and it will render away! Put this side in the pan first.

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Start by lightly browning your vegetables in a teaspoon of oil. Then remove from the pan.

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Then put the meat in the same pan (fat side down). Add a touch more oil if needed. Brown on each side – I stand it on the ends to get every side, Only a few minutes per side is needed. You want a good caramelized browning.

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Now return everything to the pot! Add beef stock until it’s about half way up the meat.

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Isn’t it lovely?

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You know your meat is done when it easily pulls apart with forks.

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Voila! Great over mashed potatoes or rice or even egg noodles.

Ingredients

  • 1 whole (4 To 5 Pounds) Bottom Round Roast or Chuck Roast
  • 2 Tablespoons Grapeseed Oil (or an oil that has a high smoke point)
  • 2 whole Onions or one bag of frozen pearl onions (which I used)
  • 6 whole Carrots (cut in 1″ pieces) or 1/2 bag of baby carrots
  • 3 stalks celery (cut in 1″ pieces)
  • Salt To Taste
  • Pepper To Taste
  • 1 cup Your favorite Red Wine (optional, you can just use beef broth if you prefer)
  • 2 cups To 3 Cups Beef Stock
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Thyme (or dried if that’s all you have)
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Rosemary (or dried if that’s all you have)

Ready to Cook?

First and foremost, choose a nicely marbled piece of meat. This will enhance the flavor of your pot roast. I chose the bottom round because it’s a little bit leaner. But make sure you do see a decent amount of marbling. Generously salt and pepper your meat.

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil (or you can do a butter/ oil split). I use a ceramic-covered cast iron pot. It needs to a heavy, stove-to-oven pot.

Peel and cut two onions in half and cut 6 to 8 carrots into 2-inch slices (you can peel them, but you don’t have to). When the oil in the pot is very hot (but not smoking), add in the halved onions, browning them on one side and then the other. Remove the onions to a plate.

Throw the carrots and celery into the same very hot pan and toss them around a bit until slightly browned, about a minute or so. Remove and repeat process with the mushrooms, though for less than a minute (do not cook thoroughly).

If needed, add a bit more oil to the very hot pan. Place the meat in the pan (fat side down) and sear it for about a minute on all sides until it is nice and brown all over. Remove the roast to a plate.

With the burner still on high, use either red wine or beef broth (about 1 cup) to de-glaze the pan, scraping the bottom with a whisk or wooden spoon to get all of that wonderful flavor up.

When the bottom of the pan is sufficiently de-glazed, place the roast back into the pan and add enough beef stock to cover the meat halfway (about 2 to 3 cups). Add in the vegetables, as well as 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary and about 3 sprigs of fresh thyme (a teaspoon of each if using dried).

Put the lid on, then roast in a 275F oven for 2-3 hours (for a 2lb roast). For a 4 to 5lb roast, plan on 4-5 hours.

Transfer meat to a cutting board. Test it using two forks to pull meat apart. Is it easy? Then you did it! A little tough? Put it back in and test every 20 minutes. Once done, cut meat into chunks and serve with the vegetables over mashed potatoes (or other favorite starch). Be sure to pour the juices over the top.  Uh-Mazing!

The Perfect Bite
This is a perfect opportunity to stack your fork with a little bit of everything… swirl it in the juices and let it all melt in your mouth.

The Perfect Pairing
I used the Rex Goliath Pinot Noir to cook with as well as paired it with the meal. This is a very heavy, rich plate and needs a lighter touch to accompany it. It’s smooth and velvety dry with a harmonic blend of black cherry with a touch of vanilla that stays on the tongue to produce a pleasant finish.

The Perfect Health
This dish is packed with vegetables and if you did like I did and your veg ratio to meat is much greater… then scoop up a few ladles full of veg and some broth and throw it all on the blender. Puree until smooth and use this instead of making a gravy with flour. Much healthier and incredibly tasty! Keep adding broth until you reach your desired consistency.

Cheesecake with Cranberry Port Compote


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I am generally not a dessert person. Often, when out to dinner, I opt for a second glass of wine over ordering dessert. If I’m going to spend the calories, I’d rather it be on wine. :) But cheesecake has long been a weakness of mine. And this just may be the most perfect cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. Adapted from a couple of recipes I’ve researched, below is the final product after much trial and error.

Also, I’m dedicating this post to my sister Brenda… who two days before Christmas was madly searching stores for a cheesecake without toppings. When I said, “It’s too bad you don’t live closer, I’m making cheesecakes tomorrow.”  She replied, “Wait. You can make a cheesecake?”

Sometimes it’s hard to believe we come from the same womb.

Ingredients
Crust
2 cups of Graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbsp sugar
Pinch salt
5 Tbsp unsalted butter (if using salted butter, omit the pinch of salt), melted

Filling
2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature (I use the 1/3 less fat)
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream (I use lite)
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Topping spread
1 cups sour cream (I use lite)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Compote
1 12oz bag cranberries
1 cup granulated sugar
2-3 cinnamon sticks
2 cups good port wine (I used Graham’s 6 Grapes Porto)

Special equipment needed
9-inch, 2 3/4-inch high spring-form pan
A large, high-sided roasting pan

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350°F, with rack in lower third of oven. Leave room for a second rack below that to place water pan. Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor or blender until finely ground. Put in a large bowl, and stir in the sugar and salt. Use your (clean) hands to stir in the melted butter.

Put all but 1/4 cup of the graham cracker crumbs in the bottom of the spring-form pan. (Save the remaining 1/4 cup for garnish later). Gently press down on the crumbs using your fingers, until the crumbs are a nice even layer at the bottom of the pan, with maybe just a slight rise along the inside edges of the pan. Place in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

Cut the room temperature cream cheese into chunks and place in the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed for 4 minutes until smooth, soft and creamy. Add the sugar, beat for 4 minutes more. Add the salt and vanilla, beating after each addition. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Add the sour cream, beat until incorporated. Add the heavy cream, beat until incorporated. Remember to scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl, and scrape up any thicker bits of cream cheese that have stuck to the bottom of the mixer that paddle attachment has failed to incorporate.

Place a large, high-sided roasting pan on the bottom rack of over. Prepare 2 quarts of boiling water and fill roasting pan 3/4 full. This will help steam the cheese cake as it’s cooking which will keep it moist and prevent it from cracking.

Pour the cream cheese filling into the spring-form pan, over the graham cracker bottom layer. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Place it on the rack right above the pan of water. It should be a little below the middle of the oven. Cook at 325°F for 1 1/2 hours. Do not put the spring-form on a separate cookie sheet – you want to steam to rise up up and around the cake… and a cookie sheet will block the steam.

All ovens cook differently, so check your cheesecake at about an hour to an hour and ten minutes. Carefully insert  a meat thermometer, check the temperature in the very center of the cake. It should be between 160 to 165 degrees. Don’t worry making a small hole in your cake – it’s going to have a topping.

Turn off the heat of the oven. Crack open the oven door 1-inch, and let the cake cool in the oven, as the oven cools, for another hour. This gentle cooling will help prevent the cheesecake surface from cracking.

Cover the top of the cheesecake with foil, so that it doesn’t actually touch the cheesecake. Chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight.DSC_0036

Preparing sour cream topping
Place sour cream in a medium sized bowl, stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla, until smooth. Chill until you are ready to serve the cake.

Preparing the cranberry port compote
Place cranberries, sugar, and port in a sauce pan. Bring to a full boil, then reduce to simmer and throw in cinnamon sticks. Stir occasionally and enjoy the smell of your house for the next 20-30 minutes. Continue simmering until all the cranberries have popped (you can hear them pop!) and the port is reduced to a thick syrup. When done, use a potato masher to gently mash down some of the cranberries – but not all of them, leave some chunky and whole!

Ready to Serve?
Remove from the refrigerator and place the cake on your cake serving dish. Run the side of a blunt knife between the edge of the cake and the pan.  Open the spring-form latch and gently open the pan and lift up the sides. Spread the top with the sour cream mixture and sprinkle with remaining graham cracker crumbs. Serve plain (here you go Bren!) or heap with the cranberry port sauce.

TIP: If you are taking this cheesecake to a party or outside your house, you may want to line the bottom of the spring-form with parchment paper, so that it can easily slide off of the pan’s bottom disk (so you don’t lose it). Otherwise, you can just serve it straight off the disk.

The Perfect Bite
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that any bite of the delicious cheesecake is the perfect bite! However, I will tell you that even though you need to store your cheesecake in the refrigerator, it is best serveDSC_0038d at room temperature. And the compote is best served warm. So keep that in mind and leave time before serving.

The Perfect Pairing
One of the mistakes people make when pairing a wine with dessert is getting something classified as a dessert wine. However, dessert wines are tricky and pairing a sweet with a sweet can be, well… too sweet if not done right. And cheesecake is one of the trickiest desserts to pair. Cream and fat are hard for wines to break through. So, this a perfect storm for a bad pairing, if you ask me.

But here’s a couple of tips: If you are getting a Port or a Madeira, they are intended to be drunk after dinner, as dessert, not with dessert.  Although Port does go well with dark chocolate – oh wow, now I want some! Anyway,  with this creamy cheesecake and bold cranberry-port compote, your best bet is a sparkling wine. Try a Prosecco, This Italian wine is crisp, fruity, and bubbly with a hint of almond and citrus flavor and plays well with others. Dolce Vita is a great little inexpensive Prosecco. Give it a try!

The Perfect Health
Recent scientific research shows that cranberries and cranberry products contain significant amounts of antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Read more here.

Nine Hour Burgundy Mushrooms


Beautiful Burgundy Mushrooms

The irony of this post is that I generally don’t like mushrooms. But I read about these on the Pioneer Woman’s site and her description alone made me want to spend the 9 hours it takes to make them! These are definitely for a special occasion because who typically has an entire 9 waking hours at home? But maybe this winter if you’re snowed in or just want to spend that chilly Saturday in your pj’s and have a legitimate excuse not to leave the house… then that’s the perfect occasion!

You can get a lot of miles out of these beauties. And whatever you do – save the cooking liquid! It’s to die for…. dip bread in it, use it as a soup broth or my favorite – make mushroom risotto with it! Be sure to read The Perfect Bite below for additional ideas.

Ingredients (Serves 6-8 people as a side dish.)
4 pounds White Button Mushrooms
2 sticks Butter
1-1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 quarts Burgundy Wine (other Reds Will Work)
1 teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
2 cups Boiling Water
4 whole Chicken Bouillon Cubes
4 whole Beef Bouillon Cubes
1 teaspoon Dill Seed
5 cloves Garlic, Peeled
2 teaspoons Salt (to be added at the end)

Preparation
Thoroughly wash the mushrooms and throw them into a large stockpot. Add all the remaining ingredients except the salt. Stir to combine.Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for six hours.

Remove the lid, then continue cooking, uncovered, for three more hours.

Yes, you read that right. It takes nine hours to make these taste this divine!

Add salt to taste at the end if desired. The mushrooms will be very dark in color. Simmer until needed. Be sure to add cooking liquid to your serving dish with some crusty bread for dipping – delish!

The mushrooms keep for days in the fridge and get better and better.

Throw all ingredients (minus salt) into the pot

Throw garlic, butter, seasoning cubes and dill into the pot.

Add wine and boiling water then turn heat to medium.

Now add the wine and boiling water – then turn heat up to medium.

Rinse mushrooms thoroughly. Normally you should dry-wipe mushrooms to clean - but you're about to soak these in liquid for 9 hours - so don't worry.

Rinse mushrooms thoroughly. Normally you should dry-wipe mushrooms when cleaning – but you’re about to soak these in liquid for 9 hours – so don’t worry and just give them a good rinse (don’t soak).

Mushrooms are just so cute!

Mushrooms are just so cute!

Throw mushrooms into the pot and stir to get covered with ingredients. It will look like a lot but they will reduce quickly.

Throw mushrooms into the pot and stir to get covered with ingredients. It will look like a lot but they will reduce quickly.

Bring pot to a boil. See - after just a few minutes the mushrooms reduce and are covered by the liquid!

Bring pot to a boil. See – after just a few minutes the mushrooms reduce and are covered by the liquid!

Once pot comes to boil, reduce to simmer and cover. Then get comfy for the next 6 hours...

Once pot comes to boil, reduce to simmer and cover. Then get comfy for the next 6 hours…

The finished product! They are almost black from soaking up the wine and butter for 9 hours.

The finished product! They are almost black from soaking up the wine and butter for 9 hours.

The Perfect Bite
The MOST perfect bite is to just pop one of these babies in your mouth. But also try slicing them and piling high on a steak; or making risotto with the broth and slicing the mushrooms to mix in; or dicing them to top crustinis; or make a soup with the broth and the mushrooms. Plan to make all four pounds so you can spend all week trying them different ways. Enjoy!

The Perfect Pairing
Since these are made with a burgundy wine… continue pairing with your favorite red. Try a peppery grape like Bogle’s Merlot – rich and smooth and a wonderful compliment to the steak-like texture of these nine-hour buttons.

The Perfect Health
White Mushroom aid in weight loss and prostate cancer prevention. This category includes the familiar button mushroom, cremini and the Portobello. The white mushroom has a special carbohydrate that stokes the metabolic fire and maintains blood sugar levels. Read more about the health benefits of mushrooms HERE.

Sriracha-Pomegranate Chicken Wings


Generally, I try to post only my original recipes on here… but this one is too good not to share! Plus, every time I make these people insist on having the recipe “right away.” So, courtesy of one of my favorite Food Network stars, Aarti Sequeira of the cooking show Aarti Paarti, I present to you, Sriracha-Pomegranate Wings! As Aarti likes to say, “Serve these and people will write poetry about you.”

I have made these for several different occasions and without fail I get the same reaction, “These are the best wings I’ve ever tasted.” And often, when running into folks weeks after the event, I hear, “I can’t stop thinking about those wings!” I’m perfectly content bragging like this because, well, it’s Aarti’s recipe and she gets all the credit.

So get ready – Super Bowl is right around the corner. So start shopping for some of these ingredients, unless you’re like me and your pantry is already stocked with Indian spices. :)

(HINT: You can usually find pomegranate molasses at gourmet stores, better supermarkets, Indian and Middle Eastern stores. If you can’t, don’t fret. Grab yourself a bottle of pure pomegranate juice, pour it into a saucepan and boil it down until it reaches a loose syrup consistency. Keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t burn. There you have it. Pomegranate molasses. Sriracha is available in the international aisle of your supermarket — it usually has a little rooster on the label, and a bright green top. It either comes in a jar (more chunky) or a squeeze bottle (pureed). If you can’t find it, or don’t like it, any hot sauce or Tabasco will do. A little chipotle Tabasco would be awesome!)

Ingredients
2lb chicken wings (about 12)

Rub:
4 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
8 green cardamom pods, cracked open, seeds removed, husks discarded (if you can’t find these, use 2 tsp cardamom powder)
2 tsp cumin seeds
4 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp kosher salt

Sauce:
4 tsp grapeseed oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tsp reserved spice mixture
2 tsp Sriracha (Thai chili sauce; use more if you like it spicy!)
2 tbsp Pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp minced or torn mint leaves
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp cold butter

Preparation
Pat chicken wings dry with a paper towel; don’t skip this step! This will both help the rub adhere, and ensure crispy skin.

Place a small but heavy skillet (I like using a small cast iron one) over medium heat, and add coriander seeds, cracked black peppercorns and cardamom seeds. Toast, shaking pan often for about 1 minute.

Add cumin seeds and toast another minute until seeds have darkened, are fragrant and faintly smoking. Immediately transfer to a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder, and grind to a fine powder.

Grab a bowl large enough to hold all the wings (or giant zip lock if you must). Pour ground spice mixture into the bowl, and add the mustard and the salt (and the cardamom powder if you’re using this instead of seeds). Whisk to combine. Reserve 4 tsp of this mixture for the sauce (see below). *I would encourage making a double batch of this rub, as you will want to keep extra handy for other meals. It’s amazing on beef or shrimp.

Drop wings into the large bowl or zip lock; toss to coat the wings well. Let those puppies sit for about an hour.

Ready To Cook?
About 15 minutes before you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 375°F.

Line a baking sheet with foil. Place a wire rack over it, and grease with cooking spray (or brush with grapeseed oil oil). Place the wings on the rack, at an even distance from each other. Pop into the oven for about 45 minutes, flipping the wings over halfway through, and rotating the baking sheet for even cooking.

As the wings are roasting away, make the sauce: In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the grapeseed oil until shimmering. Add the garlic, and cook for about 30 seconds. Then add the reserved spice blend; cook another 30 seconds. Then add Sriracha sauce, pomegranate molasses and mint leaves. Stir, and cook for about 5 minutes, before finishing with the butter and the lemon juice. Stir. Taste for seasoning and set aside off heat.

When the wings are done, toss with the sauce. Avoid the temptation to eat them all yourself.

Recipe courtesy of aartipaarti.com
Link to recipe here

The Perfect Bite
So, this might depend on whether you like the drum or the flapper. For me, the perfect bite is the chubby part of the drum. What about you?  Now, I have gone to the trouble of making a yogurt mint sauce for dipping each time, but no one really goes for it. The taste of the wings, by themselves is so profound… why mess with perfection? So just dive in.. because really, the perfect bite is every bite.. including the licking of fingers and your now numb lips.

The Perfect Pairing
Fact: Indian food is incredibly flavorful and can be quite spicy.
Fact: India pale ales are incredibly flavorful and can be quite bitter.
Fact: It’s difficult to pair beer with Indian food.
Fact: It’s difficult to pair food with IPAs.
Fact: Indian food and IPAs were made for each other, literally.

These wings are merely Indian-inspired but have many of the traditional flavors…and with the sticky sweetness of the pomegranate molasses and the earthy, smoking spice rub – an IPA is an ideal choice. That said, I’m no expert on IPA’s to recommend a good one – so if you have a favorite, feel free to suggest it in the comments!

The Perfect Health
To start off, I love these wings because they are baked and not fried. But also, studies indicate that daily consumption of pomegranate juice, about 8 ounces a day for three months or more, can help:

  • Reduce dangerous LDL-cholesterol in blood
  • Improve blood flow to the heart in patients with coronary artery disease
  • Reduce thickening of the arteries that supply blood to the brain
  • Lower the level of systolic blood pressure

See? Not only are these wing unbelievably delicious – they can save lives!

Bon apetit.

The Red-Headed Martini


My dear friend Annie comes to town every year or so, and this year she was able to stay with me. Annie appreciates a good cocktail (one of many reasons I adore her), so I’ve begun the tradition of creating a new concoction in her honor, whenever she visits. Last time it was during summer and I came up with a Thai inspired white sangria. It never made it to the blog – but I’m sure next summer it’ll make an appearance.

This year Annie was visiting to celebrate her 30th birthday and so I new it had to be a special cocktail. Autumn flavors are magical. They bring you warmth and comfort and often hit all 5 tastes… sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. I wanted to create a beverage that “felt” like Fall. And I think I did it.

Introducing, The Red-Headed Martini. All it’s ingredients are auburn-red (as is its creator) and it’s a smooth yet feisty little drink (as is its creator). So aptly named.

I have now made this a few times using different brands of bourbon – some more expensive than others. And I can tell a difference. A big difference. If you can, please opt for the quality… make it last… make it a special occasion… but do yourself a favor and splurge a little. You will thank me.

Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)
1 cup bourbon – I use Bulleit or Woodford Reserve [pictured]. The key is to find a bourbon made in small batches. Both of these run in the $30-$35 range.
1/2 cup amber beer – I prefer Negra Modelo though you can use Shiner Bock if you’re cutting costs. Just be sure it’s an amber beer that isn’t too nutty or you’ll change the whole flavor profile.
1/4 cup dark maple syrup – I’ve been using Kroger’s Private Selection. It’s really good and only about $5.00 a bottle.
1 whole nutmeg (you’ll only use a small portion of this)
3-4 dried red chile peppers (1 for each drink)

Tools
martini shaker
grater or micro plane

Preparation
Chill martini glasses in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes. The bourbon and beer should be chilled and syrup at room temperature. You can use ice if you forgot to chill the liquor, but this is not a drink you want watered down.

Ready to Make?
Pour bourbon, beer and maple syrup into a martini shaker. Gently shake once or twice to mix ingredients. Be careful though, if shaken too vigorously the beer will head and foam everywhere. I may or may not be speaking from experience.

Pour into chilled martini glasses. Grate nutmeg into the martini and then float one dried chili on top. You won’t really experience any heat from the chili until the last sip, when it’s had time to soak.

Enjoy!