December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Rosemary Cocktails

Inspired by our holiday rosemary bush & our recent homemade limoncello, here is a seasonal cocktail we pulled together. If you never got a chance to try your hand at homemade limoncello, pop over here for a substitute recipe.

2 large sprigs of rosemary ~4 inches each
4 oz vodka
4 oz limoncello (see my original recipe here)
1 liter of soda water
yield: 4 servings

1. fill the cocktail shaker with ice & rosemary

2. pour in vodka & limoncello 

3. shake vigorously until the shaker is too cool to handle. take a break & shake some more.

4. divide over ice in 4 highball glasses or up in 4 martini glasses. fill each glass with soda water.

How are you planning to celebrate the passage of 2012 and ringing in 2013? Any fun cocktails or recipes to share? See you in the new year!

Classic with a Twist

Deviled Eggs 

Deviled eggs are as classic as they are versatile. Serve these up as appetizers at a cocktail or dinner party, or present them in a brunch or tea party spread. As always, experimentation & creativity on these presentations is encouraged.  

Deviled Eggs with Feta, Sun-Dried Tomato & Parsley

6 hard cooked eggs
2 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, diced
handful or half bunch of fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, minced
1.5 tbsp mayo
2 tsp medium to hot yellow mustard
salt & pepper to taste

1. place eggs in a large pot of salted water & bring water to a rigorous boil. dial back heat to a slow, rolling boil. cook for about 10-17 minutes. theories on how to make the perfect cooked egg are plentiful (as seen here and here), i tend to "listen" for their readiness, when the eggs begin to beat against the side of the pot with a gentle patter, i consider them done. 

2. to make your eggs easier to peel, immerse them in cold, iced water immediately for about 2 minutes after removing from the heat.

3. while the eggs are cooking, chop the feta, sun-dried tomatoes & parsley. fold them into the mayo & mustard.

4. once the eggs are cool enough to handle, tap the egg on the counter & roll it around to spread the crackle. peel the eggs. 

5. cut the eggs in half & with a small paring knife separate the cooked yolk from the egg white. 

6. add the yolks into the feta & mayo mixture. stir to combine.

7. spoon a generous amount of the feta mixture into each egg white half.

8. dust with fresh, cracked pepper, paprika or parsley, should you feel inclined.

Deviled Eggs with Edamame, Wasabi & Pickled Ginger

6 hard cooked eggs
1 cup frozen shelled edamame or pre-shelled edamame
1.5 tbsp mayo
.5 tsp wasabi paste
2 tbsp pickled ginger, diced
salt to taste

1.  place eggs in a large pot of salted water & bring water to a rigorous boil. dial back heat to a slow, rolling boil. cook for about 10-17 minutes (see notes above on estimating cook time). 

2.  in the last 2 minutes of cook time for the eggs, add edamame into the pot. edamame are ready when they plump a bit & float to the top. 

3.  immerse the eggs & edamame in cold, iced water immediately for about 2 minutes after removing from the heat.

4.  while the eggs are cooking, dice the ginger & mix the mayo & wasabi. wasabi is known for its harsh nasal heat, caution is urged here.

5.  once the eggs are cool enough to handle, tap the egg on the counter & roll it around to spread the crackle. peel the eggs & shell the edamame, if needed.

6.  cut the eggs in half & with a small paring knife separate the cooked yolk from the egg white. 

7.  add the yolks into the mayo & wasabi mixture. adjust heat level by adding more mayo or more wasabi if you are looking for more of a kick. fold in cooked edamame & salt mixture to taste.

8. spoon the edamame mixture into each egg white half. garnish with pickled ginger.

December 27, 2012

Homemade Cheer

Plenty of time to make either of these easy & celebratory offerings for a New Year's Eve party.

Bourbon Soaked Cherries

These make for an excellent snack on their own right, but are even better spooned over vanilla ice cream or swirled into a Manhattan.

1 bag frozen cherries
2.5 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp vanilla extract
10 oz bourbon
yield: 4 250ml jars

1. thaw the cherries. if you are using fresh cherries, even better - use about 4 cups, washed & pitted.

2. bring water and sugar to a light boil in a medium saucepan. stir until sugar dissolves.

3. add lemon juice and vanilla extract. cool completely.

4. divide the cherries evenly across 4 jars. pour the syrup over the cherries. then add bourbon, leaving about 1/2 inch head space.

5. unsealed cherries should be used within a couple of weeks, while sterilized & sealed cherries will last for months.

note: those in the DC area, i bought the jars & spoons at Trohv in Takoma Park, MD, a home & gift shop that makes for a delightful afternoon excursion.


An Italian digestif, best served cold.

10 lemons
1 bottle of vodka
3.5 cups water
2.5 cups sugar
yield: 7 cups

1. using a vegetable peeler, remove peels from the lemons in long strips. as needed, trim away any white pith from lemon peels & discard.

2. place the lemon peels in a pitcher, pour vodka over the peels & cover.

3. steep the lemon peels in the vodka for 4 days at room temperature.

4. dissolve the sugar into the water over medium heat, about 5 minutes. let the syrup cool completely.

5. pour the syrup over the vodka mixture. cover & let stand at room temperature overnight.

6. strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer. discard the peels. transfer limoncello to bottles.

7. refrigerate at least 4 hours, up to one month.

note: i used an old absolut bottle for this gift package, but world market sells resealable bottles which would work well for this purpose.


recipe inspiration from here and here.

December 21, 2012

Brown Bag Lunch

Bulgar & Chickpea Salad with Feta & Dried Apricots

The bulgar and chickpea base curbs a carb craving in a healthy way & the sweetness of the apricots plays nicely against the tang of the feta. Embracing the spices of the season, this salad could make for a nice vegetarian-friendly offering at a holiday party. As a brown bag lunch option, this one is interesting and satisfying enough to eat three days in a row. 

1 cup bulgar
1 tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
6 mini red onions, halved
1 can chickpeas, rinsed

1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp crushed red peppers
1/4 tsp cinnamon 
1 dash cloves

1.5 oz feta, crumbled
9 dried apricots, diced
handful parsley, minced
salt and pepper to taste
yield: 3 servings

1. combine 1 cup bulgar with 1.5 cups water, cook over low-medium heat until water is absorbed completely. transfer cooked bulgar to large bowl.

2. meanwhile, saute the yellow pepper & mini red onions in 1 tsp olive oil with a pinch of salt. add spices & cook until the yellow peppers begin to brown a bit, stir in the chickpeas & saute for an additional 1-2 minutes. 

3. combine cooked veggies & chickpeas with the bulgar, stir in feta, apricots & parsley.

December 20, 2012

Hostess Gifts

Apple-Carrot Baby Cakes with Goat & Cream Cheese Topping
{original recipe from Simply Recipes}

With the holiday season in full swing, why not surprise the hosts of the next party you attend with these muffin-like cupcakes, packed with enough nutrients to be fitting for breakfast the next morning!

2 cups all purpose flour
1.5 cups sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp baking powder
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup vegetable oil (light olive oil, canola oil or grapeseed oil)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 & 1/2 cups packed coarsely grated carrots (about 3 medium)
1 & 1/2 cups packed coarsely grated  tart apples (i used 2 medium Granny Smith)
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans (i used 1/2 cup pecans + 1/2 cup hazelnuts)

frosting ingredients:
5 oz goat cheese (plain), room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
yield: 24 baby cakes

1. preheat oven to 350F with rack in center of the oven

2. in large bowl, combine flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, spices, cocoa, pepper & salt. whisk to combine, then stir in oil & eggs. stir in carrots, apples & nuts.

3. if using cupcake holders, place in muffin tins, otherwise grease lightly with butter & dust with flour. fill muffin tins with batter until 3/4 full.

4. bake for approximately 20 minutes, less if not using paper liners, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. let cool completely before frosting.

5. beat goat cheese, cream cheese, butter & vanilla until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. gradually add powdered sugar and mix until combined. 

December 19, 2012

Grilling Delight

Burger with Feta & Pickled Red Onions

Remember those pickled red onions we paired with pulled pork. Here is another dish that pairs nicely with them. Over the weekend, we grilled burgers & served them bun-less, topped with sliced feta, pickled red onions & parsley vinaigrette. 

1.5 lbs ground chuck (i used 80% fat)
2 oz feta, sliced
pickled red onions
1/2 bunch parsley
1.5 tsp olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
yield: 6 burgers

1. gently form 3/4 inch patties of even thickness with the ground beef, be careful not to over handle the meat as it will become tough and dry (avoid the meatloaf sandwich temptations & keep these patties simple!)

2. using your fingers make a shallow well in the top of each patty & season with salt & pepper to taste (note: do not salt meat until patties are formed - best time being within minutes before they hit the grill, as salt dissolves proteins and draws out moisture)

3. before you light the grill, brush the grate clean so the burgers will not stick. for even better results, brush the grate with olive oil using tongs & a paper towel, a note of caution here to be careful about potential flare-ups. light the grill & let the fire settle to a medium heat

4. cook the burger with the indented side up first. the burger should be easy to release when ready to flip, about 4-5 minutes. cook on the second side, another 4-5 minutes. do not press or flatten the burger - you want the juicy goodness to remain with the burger. a medium burger should register 155F, if using a meat thermometer.

5. to make the parsley vinaigrette - coarsely chop a handful of parsley, add a glug of olive oil, whisk in salt & pepper to taste. a splash of white wine vinegar makes it light & tangy.

serve burgers with a slice of feta, pickled red onions & a spoonful of parsley vinaigrette. enjoy! 

A lamb burger with melted brie and pickled red onions would work nicely, as well Lamb Kebabs with Pickled Red Onions & Cilantro-Mint Yogurt Sauce. Let me know how it works out if you give either of those a try!

illustration source: real simple

December 18, 2012

Light & Easy Week Night Dinners

Boston Bibb Lettuce Wraps

After party filled weekends throughout the holiday season, lighter week night dinners make for a nice break. Boston Bibb lettuce makes a great vehicle for wraps, as it has a perfect cup-like shape that holds up well to the weight of a variety of fillings. Experimentation here is encouraged - below are a couple of suggestions.

Crab Stick & Avocado Lettuce Wraps

1 head of Boston Bibb lettuce, leaves separated
1/2 package of fake crab stick, thinly sliced
1 avocado
2 carrots, peeled & thinly sliced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
cilantro for garnish

assemble & enjoy! 
hint: i find it works well to layer the avocado onto the lettuce first, as other ingredients will stick better

Shrimp & Grapefruit Lettuce Wraps

3/4 dozen cooked & peeled shrimp
1 avocado
2 carrots, peeled & thinly sliced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
~1/3 grapefruit, segmented, white pith removed
cilantro for garnish

assemble & enjoy! 
hint: again, i find it works best to layer the avocado first

Vietnamese Style Ground Beef Wraps

1/2 pound ground chuck
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 dash fish sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 leek, cut into coins
2 carrots, peeled & cut into coins
cilantro for garnish

1. season beef with salt & pepper to taste

2. in a small bowl combine the soy sauce, lime juice, fish sauce & honey, set aside

3. add oil and garlic to a frying pan, bring to a low heat, swirl oil around the pan & cook until garlic softens a bit

4. add the ground chuck to the pan & brown on all sides, stir only as needed

5. remove cooked beef & put aside in a medium sized bowl

6. add leeks & carrots to same pan, while cooking add the soy sauce mixture

7. once carrots soften, add cooked beef into the pan & cook until flavors combine & sauce thickens slightly

8. assemble wraps and enjoy!

the real joy of these wraps comes in the endless possibilities of dipping sauces that enhance the flavors of the wraps. click here for some easy, Paula Deen inspired dipping sauces.

December 14, 2012

Weekend Outings

A Guide to Ethiopian Food 

Washington, DC is home to a thriving Ethiopian ex-pat community and can proudly claim some of the world's best Ethiopian food. Escape the cold this winter at any of these local Ethiopian restaurantsBring a crowd for an intimate, communal dining experience around a plate of injera. Linger over slow cooked, spicy stews and delight in tej. Don't forget to finish with coffee.

Source: Edible DC

December 13, 2012

Fire Side Cheer

Cocktails & Desserts

'tis the season for merriment, eh? make your next holiday party one to remember with these easy, yet classy, offerings sure to impress.

Old Fashioned Cocktail
{recipe from Esquire with expert commentary}

1 sugar cube
3 dashes Angostura bitters
club soda or water
2 oz rye whiskey (lately we have been sipping on Bulleit - look for the green label)

1. place the sugar cube (or 1/2 tsp loose sugar) in an old fashioned glass

2. wet down the sugar with 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters and a short splash of water or club soda.

3. crush the sugar with a wooden muddler, chopstick, strong spoon, lipstick, credit card, whatever. rotate the glass so that the sugar grains and bitters line the glass.

4. pour rye and garnish with a lemon rind.

note: rye can refer to either of two types of whiskey: 1) American rye whiskey, which must be distilled from at least 51% rye; 2) Canadian whiskey, which is often referred to and labelled as rye whiskey for historical reasons, although it may or may not actually include any rye in its production process. an old-fashioned can be made with bourbon, but expect a much sweeter drink, as bourbon is distilled from at least 51% corn, lending a telltale sweetness and fuller body. 

Ginger Snap Sandwich 
with Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting
{frosting recipe from Country Living}

8 oz cream cheese, room temp
1/4 cup pumpkin puree (if using canned, note not pumpkin pie)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temp
1 tbsp fresh orange juice
1 tsp grated orange zest
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners sugar

1. blend cream cheese, pumpkin puree, orange juice, zest and vanilla in a large bowl using an electric mixer until smooth.

2. add the sugar and continue to beat until light and creamy -- about 5 more minutes.

3. assemble sandwiches and enjoy. use the leftover icing as a dunk-a-roo dip - it's that good.

note: we found the frosting recipe to be a bit orange forward and added 1/4 cup additional pumpkin. i use store bought ginger cookies - Safeway Select Ginger Spice cookies - they are crispy thin, allowing the flavors of the frosting to really shine through. feel free to use homemade ginger snaps.

Ginger Snap Sandwich 
with Orange Chocolate Squares & Roasted Marshmallows

1 box ginger snaps
1 bag marshmallows
1 Lindt Excellence Intense Orange Dark Chocolate bar
1 cracklin' fire
optional: old fashioned cocktails or better yet a flask of whiskey to pass around

1. gather sticks or the device of your choice to roast the marshmallows. gather enough firewood & kindling to keep the fire burning strong through the night. 

2. light the fire, roast the marshmallows, enjoy a s'more sandwich with a dark chocolate orange square & ginger snaps. 

3. drink some whiskey, eat another. drink some more whiskey.

December 10, 2012

Has Anyone Ever Tried Donkey Cheese?

Novak Djokovic is buying the world’s entire supply of donkey cheese
{original article on busted racket by Jay Busbee} 

We know that "Novak Djokovic is buying the world's entire supply of donkey cheese" sounds like the kind of headline that would show up around April Fool's, but it's apparently legit. The world No. 1 is spending millions to purchase all of the rare cheese made from, uh, donkey milk.
The cheese, known as pule, is white, crumbly and made from donkey's milk. It runs over $500 per pound, in part because one pound of the cheese requires over three gallons of milk. It's produced in Djokovic's native Serbia, and he plans to use it in his soon-to-open chain of restaurants.  (Too much to hope that the restaurants are named "Donkey Cheese"?)
Pule recently received the distinction of the "world's most expensive cheese." Created at one farm in one town in Serbia, the cheese is derived from milk on one of Serbia's most well-known natural reserves. Djokovic purchased the farm's entire year's supply.
"It will save a lot of effort having to deal with various restaurants, with only one customer buying the lot we don't have to worry too much about salesmen," said Slobodan Simic, manager of the farm. "It is a great vote of confidence as well in what we do here." Simic recently told Reuters that the cheese could fetch as much as $2,900 a pound if it were sold on the open market, but it's sold privately at around $576 a pound to promote the farm's conservation efforts.
image: found here via here 

Brown Bag Lunch

Pacific Salmon, Baby Potato, Green Bean & Leek Salad

When it comes to lunches, I aim to be heavy on proteins to keep me going through the afternoon. This usually comes in the form of eggs, beans, tuna, or whole grains. This time around I happened to have Wild Pacific canned salmon from Trader Joe's, resulting in a simple, luxurious upgrade to this nicoise-like salad. 

4 baby potatoes, white or red
1 can salmon
1/2-3/4 lb green beans
1 leek
3 tsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp white wine vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
optional: 1.5 tsp capers, handful black olives, asparagus in lieu of green beans, fresh chopped parsley, 2 hard boiled eggs, 1.5 tsp dijon mustard, fresh squeezed lemon juice 
yield: 2 servings

1. generously salt 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.

2. cut potatoes into large cubes, add to boiling water & cook until tender to the touch of a fork.

3. meanwhile, cut the ends off of the green beans & cut in 1/2. cut the leeks into coins.

4. add 2 tsp olive oil to a frying pan & add the green beans & leeks to warmed olive oil. add salt & pepper to taste & saute until leeks turn translucent. 

5. when potatoes finish cooking, drain water into a colander. add potatoes to a large mixing bowl. 

6. open and drain off excess liquid from canned salmon (depending on the quality, you may want to remove salmon skin and tiny bones) & add to potatoes. 

7. add 1 tsp olive oil & white wine vinegar & toss potatoes and salmon together. add sauteed green beans and leeks, stir together. add salt & pepper to taste. finish with a squeeze of lemon.

this salad is easy to customize to your liking. feel free to experiment with any of suggested optional ingredients. on the greens front, I tend to go for whatever is in season, in the spring this salad features asparagus rather than green beans. when salmon is not on the menu, I use canned tuna packed in olive oil. this salad (or some of these variations therein) is a staple in my brown bag lunch repertoire. 

December 07, 2012

Healthy & Refreshing

Thai-Inspired Shrimp & Cabbage Salad

In my book, this salad has it all -- crunch, tang & a touch of sweetness. Fresh mint, cilantro & chives keep every bite interesting. This salad provides a nice break from some of the rich flavors of the season. It is even better the next day for lunch, once the flavors have had a chance to sit together overnight. 


3 dozen medium sized shrimp (fresh or frozen)
handful peanuts
1.5 limes, juiced
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1.5 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp sriracha, more if you like it hot
1 bag shredded cabbage or 1/2 green cabbage finely shredded
2 carrots, cut into small rounds
1/2 orange pepper, diced
1/4 red onion, cut finely
2 handfuls green beans, diced
2 tbsp fresh mint, ribboned
handful cilantro and chives, chopped
yield: 4 main course servings

1. bring 4 cups water to a slow boil, salt generously

2. crush the peanuts with a mortar & pestle or pulse through a food processor for a couple of seconds (alternatively, a plastic sandwich bag and a rolling pin does the trick)

3. transfer crushed peanuts to a small to medium sized bowl. add lime juice, rice vinegar, honey, soy sauce & sriracha. whisk together and adjust to taste. a couple drops of fish sauce would go a long way here.

4. boil shrimp until cooked through. cooked shrimp are pink and float to the top of the pot. pour cooked shrimp in a colander to drain water, add slash of cold water to stop shrimp from cooking. if necessary, peel and de-vein shrimp. 

5. chop vegetables & fresh herbs. place in a large bowl.

6. add shrimp & peanut-lime dressing to the cabbage mixture. stir together until dressing evenly coats the salad. if you are finding it difficult to stir, feel free to add a glug of olive oil, a dash of salt, & a squeeze of lime.

December 05, 2012

Crowd Pleaser

Pulled Pork Nachos

Yesterday's post on pulled pork is a tough act follow. Then this happened - pulled pork 'nachos'.

I use the term nacho lightly as we used potato chips as the base & these were not smothered in cheese. We layered pulled pork onto kettle cooked potato chips, then topped with chopped pickled red onions & chopped cilantro. 

It was outrageously good. This one is guaranteed to be a real crowd pleaser - one to surely keep in active rotation for low-key, meat-friendly crowds. Perhaps a Super Bowl Party?!

Flying Pig Photo Credit: Andrei Sinioukov

December 04, 2012

Aaron's Pork Rub

Pulled Pork & Pickled Red Onions

In mid-October, we had the pleasure of attending the wedding of our super hip friends, Sarah and Aaron, at a neighborhood pizzeria & wine bar in Chicago. Sarah is an interior designer and Aaron a purveyor of all things pork. Inspiration abounds when spending time with them. Their wedding was befitting to their personalities and wedding guests received the gift of Aaron's killer pork rub and rib rub. 

Pulled Pork

With an eye toward opening his own rib joint one day, Aaron is tight-lipped about his rub recipes. The good news is that there is no shortage of dry rub recipes on the internet, each claiming an edge over the next. Look for a balance of sweet, salt & spices, for heat and depth. Counter intuitive to its namesake, the dry rub prevents slow cooked pork from drying and ensures it is tender and juicy. 

When making pulled pork, I opt for the shoulder cut. Cover the pork with the dry rub and gently massage the rub into the meat, let sit overnight. In the morning pop the pork into a slow cooker, feel free to add 1/2 cup water. 6-8 hours later you have the makings of a glorious meal. As the pork finishes, use a fork to pull the pork apart & separate into bite sized chunks. Mix pork with the juice in the bottom of the slow cooker - feel free to pour off excess liquid & remove and discard any large fat chunks. Continue to cook for up to 1 hour, until the juices are absorbed.  

Pickled Red Onions

2 red onions
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp salt
2 cups water
star anise, bay leaves, whole cloves, whole black & white pepper corns (optional)

1. thinly slice the red onions

2. whisk together vinegar, honey, salt & water

3. heat vinegar mixture over low heat & add onions and optional ingredients, as desired. cook until onions soften & become uniform in color (hot pink!)

4. serve onions over pulled pork in a warmed corn tortilla. garnish with fresh, chopped cilantro.

5. leftover onions will keep in the fridge for several weeks. 

In the spirit of the season, both dry rubs and pickled red onions could make for very special homemade gifts for any foodies in your gift exchange circles. Williams-Sonoma agrarian line sells any basics & accessories you may need to package homemade canned & bottled gifts.