Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ginger Spiced Summer

Ginger beer is one of my favorite things on earth.

Soda (Pop, Fizz) is something I steer clear of altogether. Commercially sold soft drinks are full of garbage we don't need and our bodies DO NOT want.

If it can take blood off of a highway and the rust off of a car bumper, I don't want it in my belly.

What the soft drink companies don't want you to know is how simple making this stuff really is.

Water + Sugar + Flavor + Bubbles = Bliss

For Podunk Fest (Melody and Matt's new annual festivus for the rest of us), I decided to bring the elements for one of my favorite cocktails, the Dark & Stormy.

Here is the process from beginning to end:

A rough chop through about 2 cups worth of ginger root.

Add half a vanilla bean and a few solid strips of lemon peel.

Then boil that son-of-a-gun in 6 cups of water. When the ginger is cooked through, add 4 cups of sugar.

Chilled and standing in the morning sunlight.

Well dressed and ready to party.

Now, in order to turn this sugar combination into fizzy lifting drink, we need to add club soda. In addition to that, some spiced rum helps a lot.  
Podunk Fest was an incredible time. Here is how the rest of the evening went. A big thanks to Melody and Matt for hosting everyone. Well done, you two.

A few delighted smiles. Now, where's the food?

Matt had the great idea to provide this crowd with a crawfish bake. This was the secret to success.

Glorious crawfish. Loads of them.

They're so purty.

Say hello to my little friend.

That's a hungry crowd.

That's a dog.

Our lovely host, enjoying local strawberries.

Mom's famous raspberry lemonade with a splash of ginger syrup. Delicious!

May all of your celebrations with friends and family be the stuff of vibrant and loving memories. xo

Friday, June 8, 2012

Catching flies with vinegar

"It's the dressing that baffles me." I hear that a lot.

Well, I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist. I'm sure the dressing and marinade industry is making a killing off of people not being confident in creating their own flavor basis.

Lucky them. Now, lucky us.

What does it take? The following:


You need a fat base. Olive oil is a standard, as is canola or vegetable oil, even sesame oil makes an appearance every once in a while. Sometimes it's mayonnaise, sometimes it's bacon fat. Either way, you need something to carry your flavors and create a nice mouth feel.


That tangy bite we crave. Vinegar is the standard, as is citrus juice. The variety here is unbelievable. Take a waltz through your favorite grocery store or fancy foods store and find their vinegar section. Your head may spin. I like to keep several bottles on hand at all times ... for the most part they are: Soy Sauce, Balsamic, Red Wine, White Wine, Rice, Sherry, Champagne, Raspberry, Apple Cider, White. We always have lemons in the house, usually some limes show up ... grapefruit works, too. Oranges are a nice change every once in a while. If you have any of this sitting at home, you can make amazing meals with few other ingredients.


Shallots do really well here. I use them in almost every dressing I make. Also garlic. Paste that stuff through a Microplane or other zesting/pressing tool and there is garlicky goodness throughout whatever it is you're mixing. Then there's herbs. The options here are as endless as the vinegar selection, so I won't bore you with semantics. All I ask is that you try any and all of them. Herb gardens are a great way to give your green thumb a trial run. They practically take care of themselves and many varieties are perennials.

Other flavor enhancers and aromatics include anchovies, citrus zest, chili peppers, black and white pepper, wine, juices ... let your imagination run wild. I love to add mustard- dijon or a stone-ground spicy something-or-other- which adds a thickness and a flavor that is hard to beat.


 Sometimes you have to add a little something to manage all those flavors. Acid can create quite a bite and some sweetener helps bring your concoction from the brink. Maple syrup, brown sugar, honey, and agave syrup are favorites of mine. Sometimes all you need is just a pinch, but it makes such a difference. If you can't shake getting the shakes when trying your concoction, add some sweet.

And trust your palate. Don't be afraid to try new things. Here are some old standbys of mine (keep in mind, oil:vinegar is equal to 3:1):

Lemon-Anything (This shows up in a lot of my cooking):

Olive oil
Lemon juice

Red Wine & Herbs (Very flexible, works great on grains)

Red Wine Vinegar

Latin Flair

Canola Oil
Lime Juice
Red Pepper Flakes
Agave Syrup

Asian Invasion

Soy Sauce
Sesame Oil
Toasted Sesame Oil
Red Pepper Flakes
Black Pepper
Brown Sugar

Balsamic Standard

Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Maple Syrup

Like I said, sky is the limit. Just keep these rules in mind and you're golden. Marinate meats and veggies, dress salads and sides, roast anything and everything with these guys and you're made in the shade.

Tasting for quality is a metaphor for life, just remember that it is easier to add an element than it is to take it away.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I make it grain

I've been saying a lot lately- here and there (Facebook, actual face-to-face time)- about how dearly in love I am with whole grains.

No, seriously ... I have.

There's so much out there that I have yet to add to my master list. It seems like new grains come to my attention just about every day. It's funny to call them "new" since most have been enjoyed by ancient civilizations for centuries, but have been lost to our society through methods of commercial agriculture and monoculture.

Sorry, this isn't a soap-box posting. It's an ode ... to heart-healthy, belly filling, blood sugar stabilizing, freaking-delicious grains.

Even these guys want in on the action, though they don't have a chance of having those begging glances being rewarded.

That's Jackson on the left, Bear on the right.

My dad is one of the hardest people to convert to the whole-grain bandwagon. Don't get me wrong, he's a healthy-ish guy ... whole grain bread products are a standard in his house, but he hates rice, quinoa ... really anything of that ilk that has a "grainy" texture.

I get it. He's not alone in his plight. Lots of people can't get beyond the look of the stuff, let alone eat it.

That's when my job gets interesting.

That right there is a Bulgar salad. Zucchini, summer squash, broccoli, feta, pancetta.

When something like this hits the table and there are skeptics about, your offering needs to taste good- nay, *great*. Plus, I had to compete with a cobb salad surrounded by deviled eggs. No joke.

See?? That's some serious competition!

Needless to say, a little bit of cheese and a little bit of bacon (traditional, Italian, Canadian, it doesn't matter) makes everything taste better. I consider using bacon a cheat. It really isn't good for you at all, but its horrible attributes can be overlooked if we're trying to overcome a textural aversion.

My salad got two thumbs up (in the form of a second helping on Daddy-O's plate) and that felt great. Grains are a blank canvas to apply flavors to. Sure, some of them have their own curious flavor profile- quinoa and amaranth certainly have something going on- but that doesn't mean you can't delight your taste-buds. Here are some tricks to help you ease into grain-laden-bliss:

Rinse and/or Toast: Toasting grains helps their flavor develop. Rinsing makes a huge difference with lots of these guys. A quick wash in some cheese-cloth goes a long way (colanders are a decent idea, but their holes are often too big for this purpose).

Stock: Veggie, chicken, veal, beef ... forget the directions on the box/bag, cook grains in stock instead of water and you're headed down the road to success.

Flavor Enhancement: Acids and oils can take you places without adding too much salt or fat to the mix. Lemon juice, red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, rice vinegar ... do I really need to go on? Olive oil and sesame oil certainly do the trick. Any combination works well, just be sure to mix your vinaigrette in a separate container before splashing it all over your grains. Quality control, folks ... quality control.

Hot and Cold: I love that you can eat this stuff either way, but keep temperature in mind when you're serving. Temperature will change the texture of your dish and that can make a huge difference to any eater.

If there's a grain you're dying to try, TRY IT! There are so many resources out there to help you find the perfect recipe, you really can't go wrong. Your heart, belly and mind will thank you.

Happy eating. xo