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I think what I proposed as Pomegranate week is going to turn into…weeks. There is so much I want to try and share about this berry.

The Babylonians believed chewing pomegranate seeds made them invincible in battle. When I drink one too many glasses of pomegranate liquor I feel invincible too.

Since making this will take a little over a month- start now to have it available for Christmas or New Years- or winter in general. Anything bright red feels festive to me.

I have many friends who would roll their eyes at the mention of how many days it takes to make this.  “Why not just buy one from the store?”  “Why wait one month when you could have it now?” etc. etc. But making homemade liquor requires actually very little active time and is quite easy. And, of course, there is such satisfaction when your own hands and time go into the process. I enjoy something so much more when it is a creation rather than a product. Watching others enjoy and savor is even better.

This can be drunk after dinner (or before dinner, or at lunch, or in the morning) as a dessert liquor. It can also be mixed with champagne or sparkling wine for a great cocktail. Garnish with pomegranate seeds or a wedge of orange. (I use orange zest to flavor the liquor).

I added orange zest and star anise the second time I made this and it improved the flavor of this drink. The acidity from orange instead of just lemon adds another dimension of acidity. Star anise adds an almost spicy liquorice taste. It comes in powder form, but I prefer to use the star-shaped, rust colored fruit in its entirety.

***Brief interlude of star anise info-Star Anise is a fruit native to China and Vietnam, but now grows in southern China and Japan. Its star shape ranges from 5-10 point sections. It is picked from trees before it is ripe, and then dried. The flavor is much more pungent than anise seed or fennel seed. It is wonderful to use in mulled wine, rice, rice puddings, meat marinades, and fruit salads (among other things).

Okay, back to the recipe. After a few variations, this is my favorite method and recipe for Pomegranate Liquor:

MADE WITH MY OWN HANDS POMEGRANATE LIQUOR

STEP 1

You will need:

  • 1 large sterilized glass jar that can be sealed tightly
  • 2 cups of “base” liquor like vodka or gin
  • one strip of lemon zest and two strips of orange zest- without white pith
  • 2 pieces of star anise
  • 5 large, heavy, firm pomegranates (you may only need 3 or 4, but get 5 just in case)
  1. Cut Pomegranate in half.
  2. With a presser or any kind of handy  juice strainer, extract as much juice as you can. You need to end up with 10 ounces of pom. juice
  3. Put juice (with its pulp- but NO white pith or rind allowed) in the glass jar, and add to it the vodka, and lemon and orange zest.
  4. Seal jar TIGHTLY
  5. Steep this mixture for at least 2 weeks and up to 4 weeks in a cool, dark space. Turn over every few days.

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STEP 2

You will need:

  • A strainer
  • 1 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 2/3 cup Water
  • a 2nd bigger glass jar if needed
  1. Strain the pomegranate-vodka mix- do not squeeze too hard.
  2. Boil the sugar and water together until it dissolves- let cool
  3. Add syrup to pomegranate-vodka mix and seal quickly in a bigger jar now if necessary.
  4. Let steep for 3 weeks to 1 month.
  5. Bottle. I like to add a few fresh pomegranate seeds to the bottle-this is a lovely little decoration.

You can of course decorate your bottle in many ways, and give as a gift- Make your own design into stickers, wrap and tie with colorful twine, etc. Play with textures and colors.

*note- if there is “sludge” at the bottom of the liquor, just take all the clear liquid from the top to bottle and leave the sludge behind.

When I take my first drink on Christmas, I will let you know how it turns out. Ask me any questions you like, and let me know how it turns out for you!

“clink”- Stin Iyia Mas! (A Greek toast- To Our Health)

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These are the plums I cut up today, in a bit of a rush. This has been a busy week. So when I’m this busy, it’s all about simple pleasures.

I’m not sure if this sounds like a wierd breakfast, but I’ve been craving Roasted Plums. Craving dessert in the morning comes naturally to me.

Sometimes I just cut them in half, add vanilla bean, pour honey, sprinkle a little brown sugar, maybe a dot of butter…and serve warm with either thick Greek yogurt or ice cream.

I was in the mood for something a bit different. I picked up a bag of chestnuts on the street yesterday. I have some leftover Port in my wine cabinet. Eureka! I tossed cut plums in a small baking dish with a drizzle of port wine, scraped vanilla bean, and sprinkled a small amount of brown sugar. If you want, you could also dot the plums with butter. I chose not to.  They roasted in a 180C/375F oven for 15 minutes or so. They should be tender and releasing juices, but not mushy.

While the plums were roasting I dropped the chestnuts in a food processor. Once roughly chopped (do not let them get too fine- then there is no texture!) I toasted them a bit, and added a tiny bit of sugar to the pan while roasting. Hey, I didn’t add any butter, can’t I have some sugar?

I plated my plums with a little yogurt and topped with the chestnuts. I drizzled the released juices from the pan over the yogurt.

An even nicer presentation would be making this into a trifle. In a glass you could layer the plums, yogurt, and nuts elegantly.

I had a nice breakfast with a serving of fruit and protein for the day. Sorry I didn’t take a pic of the finished plate.

When you find flavors that work well together, vary your recipes up. For example, with the same ingredients, I could have made chestnut mousse and a reduced port syrup to accompany the plums. Or I could have poached the plums in port and topped with chestnut ice cream. You get the idea.

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Yes, I’m using apples again. I want to share a simple recipe for a warm after dinner drink, which I’ll be serving at a dinner party tomorrow.

I knew this would be a busy week, so I chose the menu accordingly. The themes are Fall and French Bistro. I am making a Salmon Mousse appetizer, Blanquette de Veau (Veal Stew with White Sauce), Pomme Anne (a potato tart made with layered thin potato slices), Fennel Arugula Salad with Orange Vinaigrette, and two cheese plates. I chose a peppery blue cheese and a nice Camembert that I will heat and serve with apricot jam.

We’ll be ending the meal with Chocolate Mousse with Candied Almonds, and my Warm Apple Rum Drink.

That may sound like a lot, but honestly- the potato dish is the only one that requires a the most active time and energy. Veal stews by itself for hours, the salad and cheese plates are easy and quick to assemble, and chocolate mousse is one of the fastest desserts to prepare.

Here’s how I spread things out:

Thursday- grocery shopping, made salmon mousse (can be refrigerated up to 2 days)

Friday- chocolate mousse, candied almonds, apple drink (without rum)

Saturday- Morning: Veal-let stew all day, assemble salad without dressing, assemble cheese plates/ A few hours before party, make potato tart

Right before serving, I add dressing, add honey and other garnishes to cheese plate, and reheat the veal and potato. And a few friends always end up assisting with things here and there in the kitchen.

To serve the mousse, I pipe it onto plates and garnish with the candied almonds. Before serving the Warm Apple Drink, I add the rum, reheat slightly, and pour into glasses with a cinnamon stick and slice of apple (the apple that’s been used to flavor the drink).

I enjoy all the little distractions from work during the week. It’s nice to use my hands and satisfy my senses while escaping from the flat computer screen!

On Sunday I will post all the details, recipes and pictures from the dinner party. For now, here is one part of the menu that is super easy, for which you certainly don’t need a special occasion. Any cozy, cool fall night is the right setting for this drink:

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WARM APPLE RUM DRINK (8 servings)

  • -1 quart apple juice
  • -1 quart apple cider
  • -1 apple, studded with cloves (got that idea from Emeril)
  • -1 tbs grated orange peel
  • -2/3 cup brown sugar-(use just 1/3  if the apple juice youre using is sweetened).
  • a dash cinnamon
  • a grating of nutmeg
  • (i love clove, so i add more sprinklings of clove)
  • 1 cup dark rum (i like to add 2 cups, but keep in mind people may be driving soon after this after-dinner drink).
  • -3 tbs grand marnier (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  • Stud the apple with cloves

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  • -Mix first 7 ingredients in a pot over medium heat. Once it starts simmering, let it continue to simmer for 12 minutes.

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  • -Take off of heat, remove apple, and strain.

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(you can do all of this 1 day before serving)

Before serving- add  rum and reheat until just warm. Do not heat for too long, and do NOT boil. This will reduce the flavor of the rum.

Pour into glasses, and garnish with a slice of the cloved boiled apple, and a cinnamon stick.

If you wish, add a small drop of grand marnier to each glass.
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mmmmmm.

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This morning I woke up to thundering rain. Although I’ve enjoyed my long lovely summer, I’ve been quite in the mood for a change of season. Today was the first day it really felt like fall.

With a hooded sweater I walked to the grocery store to prep some meals in the morning while I work in the afternoon. Tonight my boyfriend is coming over and I want us to have a relaxing, cozy dinner in the house. The idea of French Onion Soup feels like a perfect choice.

I bought large yellow onions, a baguette, gruyere cheese and some fresh thyme. (I’ve tried to grow herbs in my garden for the past two years but it just isn’t fair to the poor plants to keep trying…:-/) I sliced the onions quickly and let the caramelize slowly while I got back to my editing. Later I flavored the soup by deglazing with with beef stock and brandy (I forgot the sherry), and seasoned with thyme, bay leaves, and sea salt. Once Niko gets here, I will broil his ceramic bowl of soup with a baguette slice covered in shredded gruyere. I will eat mine without the bread and cheese, because I am trying to shed some pounds. No need to take pity.  It is still an incredibly flavorful soup this way, and I have some wheat bread I will use to dunk. 🙂 I don’t know if you will think I’m crazy, but I actually like to grate clove into my french onion soup before eating…I like it, what can I say?

Now onto my favorite part of the meal…dessert, and the real point of this post!

I’m very sorry I don’t have a real picture of the dessert and used a copout Rembrandt painting! But my camera is on the fritz, I have no clue whats wrong with it…

Let me say first that I used to grocery shop prepared with strict lists and a strict idea of what I would be making. I think this is a mistake. It’s important to see what is available and what is fresh the day you are at the market. I am now less dependent on recipes, and more inclined to creativity. Today I bought apples because they smelled great and it’s another great ingredient to celebrate autumn. When I turned the corner and smelled the fresh wild mint from 3 feet away, I knew I had to get it! Every few minutes while I strolled the store,  I lifted the bunch up to my nose for a deep breath of the intense mint aroma. This was not the pre-packaged herb variety!

Well, this combination of apples and mint in my buggie led to a new experiment. I wanted to pick something relatively healthy while still tasting indulgent. I decided to make Calvados Baked Apples with an Oatmeal Crumble and Apple-Mint Sorbet. This combo has not only a play in textures but also temperature, which I love.

First I start on the sorbet:

I am making a small portion for two, but you can of course double or triple this recipe:

APPLE MINT SORBET (4 servings, i will have some left over maybe for tomorrow morning) 🙂

  • 4 apples, peeled and diced
  • 2/3 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup calvados liquor
  • juice of half of a lemon
  • a dash of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbs honey or 4 tbs sugar- or a mix- be careful not to overextend the honey, because then it will taste like honey sorbet! I’ve made that mistake before.
  • 7 big mint leaves, finely chopped.

Ok, I do not have an ice cream machine yet, so I made mine the old fashioned way!

Blend the apples with the wine, liquor,  and water. Then stir sugar/honey and lemon juice and dash of apple cider vinegar.

Stir well and place in an air tight container to freeze for an hour.

Stir well again; then freeze again- check it every 15 minutes or so to stir until its set. I can’t give you an exact time on this, you have to keep your eye on it.

When you see it’s almost ready to set, stir in the chopped mint leaves.

I love adding calvados to any apple dessert because the flavor is Apple X’s 10!

CRUMBLE

In a bowl, mix with your hands 1/4 cup oatmeal, 2 tbs honey, 1-2 butter(cut into tiny bits)- you can adjust this to your liking as well-this is just a ratio to help you if you need. I would advise to pour as much oatmeal into the bowl, add a little honey, put a few bits of butter, and see how it goes. You want a sticky, crumbly mixture. This makes very little. If you want more, double or triple this. Don’t be afraid to do this by sight and not strict measurements.

Before serving, toast the crumble in the oven on 375 for just 8 min or when it looks toasted and golden.

BAKED APPLES

2 whole apples, peeled and cored

a sprinkling of juice from a half of a lemon

1/4 cup apple juice or cider

1/4 cup calvados liquor-or brandy

2 small dots of butter- or big dots 🙂

4 tbs sugar

Preheat oven to 200C or 400F

Wash apples and score them on top (slice a shallow X on the top)

Place apples in a small baking dish

In the cored holes, but the dot of butter and pour the juice-calvados liquids over the apples

Sprinkle 2 tbs of sugar on each apple

Bake for 25-40 minutes, depending on how strong your oven is- keep an eye after 20 minutes. you want them fork tender, but not mushy! There should be a nice bite, so there is a contrast to the soft sorbet.

*of course you can add any spice you like- cinnamon, clove, etc. I am keeping it simple so there is just an intense flavor of apple, enhanced by sugar/honey and accented by the apple-mint sorbet.

**make sure the apples are warm when serving.

TO PLATE:

Cut thick slices of apple and plate them attractively-overlapping on a plate.

Drizzle some of the natural sauce from the baking pan over the apples. (If you want, you can reduce the sauce in a pan to concentrate before drizzling)

Scoop a delicate quinelle of sorbet over the baked apples.

Finish by sprinkling the oatmeal crumble over the dish and top with a vibrant green sprig of mint.

I hope you enjoy this, let me know what you think after trying!

(tomorrow I will post my Ta Kioupia review, a great restaurant in Athens)

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Every Friday, I will present an enticing dessert recipe!  They will be my own creations or adaptations from other recipes. Some will be pleasantly simple, while others will require more attention and skill. Both decadent and healthy options are in the mix. Most importantly, they will be stunning and distinctively flavorful.

Flavor always means more than looks, I know. But sometimes my favorite part of baking is delighting in the colors and composition.

I idealize this indulgent joy of pretty pretty desserts.

There is something about using my time and hands and creativity to create something special for people I love.

There’s nothing like experimenting with ingredients and techniques, and seeing my guests’ eyes widen at the sight of the creations. I’ll never forget the first time I got my homemade caramel at the exact right temperature to make shapes out of it. When I topped my homemade individual chocolate lava cakes with the caramel designs, I probably enjoyed the result of my labor more than the taste…Don’t ask how I cleaned the glistening globs of dried caramel in my pots and counters!

My boyfriend’s parents came to my house for a dinner a few weeks ago. I know they are not partial to rich desserts, and they love fruit.  We had a ton of apples in the fridge, so the perfect choice was simple: French Apple Tart.

I kneaded the dough.  I feel like I’m in another era when I use my hands this way, and I love it. With dough, it’s not just the recipe. Depending on temperature and level of humidity, you really have to feel through it. The texture should be elastic, soft, not very sticky, and easily malleable. Sometimes you may need a dash more or less of water, the same for flour. The more you make it, the easier it will be.

I chose a round pan, and decided to make a rose shape out of thin slices of apple. I had seen it done once on TV years ago.

There’s really nothing to it! You basically peel and core the apple, then cut it in half. Core-side down, slice the fruit lengthwise. Each time I finish with one apple, I start arranging it, slightly overlapping, in a circular patern around the pan. By the time you get into the center, you will be overlapping more tightly, and it will finish off the image of the rose exquisitely.

I think when the apple is a little soft (not too soft) it helps with shaping them this way.

Top the tart off with dots of butter and heavy sprinkles of sugar before you bake(it needs more sugar than you would think).

The traditional thing to do once its out of the oven is to brush warmed apricot jelly over the apples. Add some liquor to the jelly for more depth of flavor. Calvados is the obvious choice, but brandy works well too! Sprinkle some powdered sugar.

Sometimes I like to shave some clove for a different kick.

Try this, it is so satisfyingly elegant.

When serving, I got the wide-eyed reaction I always love to see. 🙂

Feel free to ask me any questions! Here is the recipe (adapted from Ina Garten)

TART DOUGH

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 cup ice water

You will need either 8 small apples or 5 big ones for a 9inch tart.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and sugar. Instead of sifting, a nice trick is just to use a whisk, and whisk all the ingredients. This provides the same result as sifting, and its much less trouble.   Add the butter and pulse in a food processor 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas. Pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F/ 200C. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Roll the dough out a little larger than the pan you’re using. Place in the pan and refridgerate again. Then get the apples ready as I described above.

Once you form the apples oh-so-beautifully, dot the apples with butter and sprinkle a lot of sugar all over the apples.

Warm 1 cup apricot jam with 1/4 cup brandy or Calvados.

Bake for 25 minutes and then keep checking every 5 minutes until the apples are golden brown. You way want to turn the tart around every so often so the crust in the back of the oven doesn’t burn.

Once you take it out of the oven, brush the apples with the warmed jelly-liquor mixture.

Let me know how it turns out!

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This is the wall of a restaurant in Prague called V Zatisi. For some reason I was compelled to take a picture of all these wine glasses…probably because I love wine, and appreciated a place in Prague where wine was more celebrated than beer. 🙂

A lot of people ignore Greek wines but there are actually several award winning wineries here like Sigalas and Gerovassiliou.

Gourmet magazine included an article a couple months ago praising the wonderful Greek grape varieties of Malagousia and Assyrtiko.

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This is an underground wine cellar in a picturesque side street of Athens.

Wine is one of my favorite ingredients to add dimension of flavor really easily. Any time I have a bottle of wine that’s been opened and a bit old, I save it to use in pasta sauces, stews, etc. I also find that drinking wine while I cook eases the stress of making everything perfect. 🙂

Cherries are in season now, so it’s a good time to share one of my simple recipes for them. I favor quicker recipes in the summertime since I want to be outside as much as possible!

Once they are in season it seems every house in Greece keeps big bowls of them fresh from Laiki, (the fruit and veggie market). Walking in the market in July, the bright aroma of cherries actually manages to stand out. The vendors let you taste a few to convince you of the great quality-the quality of which they take great pride, and rightly so.

Eating them plain and fresh at the beach is great. Our moms always shove food in our beach bags. They seem to be afraid we will starve for the 4 hours we spend there…none of us know why.

When I want to do something more indulgent with cherries, I go to this recipe: Pitted cherries stewed with a dessert wine  and poured over mascarpone. The mascarpone tempers the richness of the cherries, and adds a smooth contrasting texture to the chopped fruit.

You can use whatever sweet wine you like, or even a liquor of your choice. But I have had really great results with Boutari’s Iouliatiko wine. It has a high alcohol content, moderately sweet, and bears aromas of dried fruits, nuts, cocoa, and coffee.  (No they aren’t paying me to advertise. Maybe they should!)

It was recommended to me in a local bakery a year ago and I’ve been buying it ever since. It goes great with fruit and blue cheese platters, but my favorite way to use it is in the following recipe:

CHERRIES SIMMERED IN SWEET WINE OVER MASCARPONE

(6 dessert servings)

Ingredients

-3 1/2 cups sweet wine of your choice

-1 1/2 cups sugar

-2 pieces of star anise

-2 1/2 lbs sweet cherries, pitted and halved

-1 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese (you can use cream cheese, but really its not the same. its worth it to get mascarpone).

-2 tbs honey

-1  tbs powdered sugar

In a saucepan, combine the wine, sugar, and star anise.

Simmer over moderately high heat.

Add the cherries and bring back to a simmer.

Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the cherries are just tender, around 6-7 minutes.

Make sure to transfer the cherries into a glass or stainless-steel bowl so the cherries don”t overcook.

In a bowl, smoothly mix the mascarpone with the powdered sugar and honey.

Remove the star anise from the cherries.

Place 1/4 of the marscapone in individual serving dishes and top with the cherries.

It is fast, impressive, and refined. It is a nice balance of sweetness due to the mascarpone. The juice from the cherry mix is syrupy and velvety.

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This is my partner-in-wine friend Kelly and I enjoying our “wine trio” at P.F. Changs a year ago.

I will report on the famous Santorini wines when I return next week!

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