Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thirsty Thursday-Lager & Lime

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Celebrating my upcoming trip to my beloved England, this Thirsty Thursday features a drink that I often order at a pub in England when I'm not enjoying a local cider. Many of the beers are too hearty for my taste, but a lager is a crisper, lighter beer with a brighter flavor. When Rose's lime juice, plus freshly squeezed lime juice is added, the lager is transformed into a lovely lime flavored light beer, perfect with the ubiquitous fish and chip  meal or a Ploughman's Lunch, composed of a thick piece of  Stilton, Cheddar or a local speciality ,  Branston Pickle. and a hunk of crusty homemade bread.  There are many brands of lagers available so pick one, buy some fresh limes and a bottle of Rose's Lime Juice and you're ready to go!

Lager & Lime

1 teaspoon Rose's Lime Juice
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
8 ounce bottle lager
lime slice for garnish

In a chilled beer glass, combine the two limes juices. Pour in the cold lager and garnish with a lime slice. Makes 1 drink.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Slow Cooker Andouille Sausage Stew with Grilled Polenta

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Andouille sausage sits in for bratwurst to make this hearty fall stew Cajun style and the grilled polenta adds an Italian touch. Perfectly cooked in a slow cooker with little prep time involved also makes this an easy dish for a Sunday night supper for family and friends. In addition to the andouille, the stew is loaded with red potatoes, green cabbage, onion, pre-packaged chopped ham,  and red bell pepper.  Slow cooked in a chicken broth, spicy mustard and cider vinegar mixture  for about six hours transposes these simple readily available ingredients into a flavorful medley. To make this meal super easy, use ready made polenta from the grocery store.

When buying a slow cooker, some nice features include-a removable ceramic or stainless steel insert, and a programmable timer to set the cooker to start if you are away from home all day. However, the cooker should be set to start within 2 hours of filling it. Other nice features include a timer that shifts from cooking to a "keep warm" cycle as soon as the timed cooking ends.

Andouille Sausage Stew

4 cups coarsely chopped green cabbage
14 ounce package Rajin Cajun andouille sausage-medium hot or your favorite smoked sausage
1 cup cubed ham-1/2-inch size
2 cups coarsely chopped red potatoes
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, cut into thin wedges
32 ounce package chicken broth
2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Shredded Jack cheese, optional
Grilled polenta for serving, using ready made or homemade grilled polenta

In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine cabbage, andouille sausage, ham, potatoes, red bell pepper and onion. In a large measuring cup, whisk together chicken broth, mustard, cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and thyme. Pour over ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook on the low-heat setting for 6-7 hours or on high heat setting for 3-3 1/2 hours. In large soup bowls, pour stew over grilled polenta squares and top with shredded Jack cheese, if desired. Makes 6 -8 servings. Andouille stew recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens-Ultimate Slow Cooker-2008.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tarte Fine-TWD

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A great time of the year for an apple tart! I would have loved to say that I got my apples from an orchard and had all the fun involved riding on a hay-filled wagon, sipping apple cider and biting into crisp, juicy apples just off the tree, so you know they are fresh, but---. It didn't happen! My apples came from the grocery store as did the puff pastry, but what an easy tart having the convenience of prepared puff pastry. One day I will try my hand at making real puff pastry. Ice cream or creme fraiche will be delicious on the warm tart.

Thanks to Leslie of lethallydelicious for her appropriate choice of the Tarte Fine. Check out her site for the recipe and some really useful tips on handling the pastry to ensure that the pastry will puff up properly when baked.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thirsty Thursday-Bullace or Wild Grape Infused Gin

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This Thirsty Thursday we are delving into fruit infused spirits using wild bullaces or Southern wild grapes to  make a lovely color gin to use in your favorite gin libation.

Bullaces, also called wild damsons, grow wild in the woods around my sister's house. Although the vines have been growing for many years, last year's crop was outstanding, possibly due to the abundance of rain. So I was the happy recipient of several pounds of bullaces. Having lived in England, I was accustomed to seeing wild damsons, blackberries, sloes and a variety of other "hedgerow" fruit while picking blackberries for a crumble or cobbler or just walking the country paths. After deliberating for a few days, I decided to make an bullace infused gin to kick up my favorite gin and tonic. Patience was the key as the prepared fruit, sugar and gin had to sit in a dark place for at least three months, but became better if left to steep for a year. This was early September, 2009. A few weeks ago, I strained the fruit off and bottled the gin. The result was a lovely purplish pink spirit that reminded me of sloe gin, an infusion made with a small berry related to the plum family. Maybe you have had a sloe gin fizz made with sloe gin, lemon juice and club soda?

Wild bullaces ripen around late August or early September. The flesh is green and sweet with tiny seeds which are difficult to remove so makes the bullace better suited for jellies and infused spirits. Some are green, like the muscadine grape so popular for making wine and jellies in the South. If you can't find bullaces, plums or similar fruit can be used. Gin is used here, but vodka can substituted. Happy Infusing! Recipe adapted from TheCottageSmallholder.

Bullace Gin

1 pound bullaces, washed-bruised or spoiled fruit discarded
3/4 cup sugar
750ml gin, cheap gin is great
A sterilized 1 liter jar with clamp lid, such as the Le Parfait jar

Prick the fruit well with a fork. Folklore has it that only a silver fork be used or the fruit will spoil. Place the bullaces in the sterilized jar. Using a funnel, add the sugar and top with the gin. Shake daily until the sugar is dissolved. Place jar in a dark place for three months to a year. Taste occasionally and add more sugar is needed for a sweeter gin.  Strain through a muslin/jelly bag and bottle in sterilized bottles after a year. Do not leave any longer than a year as the fruit may spoil. Use for your favorite gin drink.

Bullace Gin and Tonic
1-1/2 ounces gin
1 ounce bullace gin
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
5 ounces tonic water
Lime for garnish

Combine the two gins, lime juice and tonic water. Pour over ice. Serve with lime garnish. Makes 1 drink.

More Thirsty Thursday-Mugica from Rossella.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Coffee Break Muffins with Mosto Cotto Apples

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These breakfast or anytime muffins, redolent with a deep dark coffee flavor, need no adornment, but since Fall is officially here today, I served my muffins with an chunky applesauce cooked in a red grape syrup called a mosto cotto. Traditionally, a true mosto cotto is made from wine grapes and while mine isn't authentic, it tastes pretty good. This recipe comes from Carol Field's book, "Italy in Small Bites", a cookbook I use constantly. Rhiani from  Chocoholic Anonymous chose the coffee break muffins for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie baking group.

Mosto Cotto

2 pounds, plus 2 ounces red grapes
1 cinnamon stick, optional
2 cloves, optional
Zest of of 1/2 lemon, optional

Wash grapes and remove stems. Mash them in a bowl with a pestle or use a food processor with a shredding disk attached. Drain and press through a sieve to extract the juices. Add the juice to a large saucepan-you should have around 5 cups of grape juice. Add cinnamon stick, cloves and lemon zest if desired. Set the saucepan over low heat and slowly simmer for about an hour. Stir occasionally to redistribute the juices. Remove any froth that forms. Then, bring to a full boil and cook down to a thick syrup, about 1-1/2 cups. Remove cinnamon stick, cloves and zest. Set aside to cool before either freezing or placed in sterilized jars. Makes about 1 -1/2.

Chunky Applesauce

4 apples, peeled, cored and cut into large chunks
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup mosto cotto

In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil, add apples and lemon juice. Cook on medium heat until apples are tender, not mushy and water is nearly cooked out. Add mosto cotto and simmer about 10 minutes. Remove from heat; serve at room temperature or chill. Makes about 2 cups. You can also make this with pears.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Italian Inspired Grape Upside Down Cake

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It's a bit early for fresh cranberries to show up in the grocery store, but I usually buy a few extra packages each fall for the many recipes that call for cranberries. However, I had already used up my stash. The nectarine substitution was tempting, but I had some extra red grapes left over from a  mosto cotto that I was making at the same time. Why not use them? I have used grapes successfully in other desserts like this grape schiacciata that I posted  awhile back. The red grapes worked wonderfully well in this upside down cake scented with cinnamon. I held my breath when I turned the cake out on the serving dish, but the grapes held fast.  I'll make this again with the grapes and with the cranberries when I see them in the grocery store.  This upside down cake was a wonderful fall dessert pick from Sabrina of SuperfluouslySabrina who has the recipe on her blog. Looking forward to seeing what other TWD bakers have done with this easy, yet divine dessert? Check out the TWD blogroll.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Italian Sweet Fig Focaccia

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Mediterranean-View From TerraceOn this very day last year, I was enjoying the view from the balcony of a lovely guest house, La Mala in Vernazza, a seaside town in the Cinque Terre region of Italy. Traveling around the five cities by train each day was an adventure not only for the beautiful scenery, but enjoying the tantalizing Ligurian food. The Italians not only have breakfast, lunch and dinner, but tucked between these main meals are two small casual meals called merende, Italian for "small bites".  The ancient Romans ate very light main meals, and many could not return to their homes after a busy day in the marketplace  to eat, so these little bites from taverns or osterie kept them nourished throughout the day.

The tradition of merende continues today in modern day Italy whether in a caffe, wine bar or while casually walking the streets.  Good bread is an integral part of the merende. Pizza, focaccia, bruschetta, crostini and piadina, even polenta, topped with a myriad of fresh seasonal ingredients become a small bite that is easily eaten by hand.

Fresh figs are prolific in the summer and fall months in Italy and make a perfect topping for bread or other appetizers and desserts. Dried figs work just as well  for this focaccia if fresh ones are not available. Just soak them  covered with warm water, then drain.  A rustic country bread, this sweet fig focaccia is made from dough enriched with butter and eggs, similar to a brioche dough. The dough is easily made in a bread machine, although it can be made by hand. A more flavorful dough begins with a sponge which can be made anywhere from 30 minutes-24 hours ahead.

Sweet Fig Focaccia

2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup warm water (105°-115°F)
1-3/4 cups, plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour or bread flour

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter,
cut into 6 pieces, room temperature

For the starter: According to the manufacturer's directions for your bread machine, place the ingredients for the starter in the bread machine pan. Process on the dough cycle. When fully mixed, turn off machine and let ingredients sit in the pan until bubbly, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, if using dried figs, soak in warm water for 30 minutes, drain and pat dry before using.

For the dough: To the pan, add the flour, sea salt and unsalted butter. Process on the dough cycle. When finished, remove dough from pan and place on a lightly floured surface. Oil a 10-1/2x 15-1/2-inch baking sheet. Stretch the soft, somewhat sticky dough out to fit the oiled pan. Cover the dough with a towel and let rest 10 minutes to relax the dough. Then stretch it again to completely cover the sheet. Scatter the figs and turbinado sugar over the dough. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

For the topping: 1 pound sliced fresh or dried figs, 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar.

Bake the focaccia for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375°F and continue baking for another 15 minutes, until top is golden. Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove and cool on a rack.

Serves 8-10

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Thirsty Thursday-Espresso Martini

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Often called an espressotini, the espresso martini is one of many variations of a martini cocktail made with gin or vodka and vermouth. It is thought that the martini was invented by a bartender at the Occidental Hotel whose  regular customer took a ferry every morning from the hotel to the town of Martinez located in the San Francisco Bay area. A plaque commemorating the birth of the Martini is located there at the corner of Alhambra Avenue and Masonic Street.

A perfect after-dinner drink/dessert with a jolt of caffeine and a nice hit of a combo of vodka, Sabroso coffee liqueur and Baileys Irish Creme, this espresso martini is simple to prepare.

Espresso Martini

3 ounces freshly brewed espresso
1 shot vodka
1 shot Sabroso-Licor de Cafe (coffee liqueur)
1 ounce Baileys Irish Cream

Pour freshly brewed espresso in a cocktail shaker half-filled with crushed ice. Add vodka, coffee liqueur and Baileys. Shake vigorously for a few minutes. Pour into a chilled glass. Garnish with three fresh coffee beans. Serves 1.  For a sorbet, freeze mixture in an ice cream maker or in a shallow container. If using a shallow container, use a fork to scrape to resemble a granité.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Thirsty Thursday Cocktail-Razzmopolitan

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In my quest for the perfect drink for Thirsty Thursday, I sometimes have in my mind a definite drink I want to feature,  then  I buy the specific liquors or liqueurs and mixers, hopefully using something that I have on hand. But sometimes, serendipity takes over. While thumbing through one of my many cocktail books, I spied a cocktail called a "Razzmopolitan", a speciality at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin, Ireland. Two things hit me-my Yorkie, Raz is named Razzle Dazzle and I'll be visiting Dublin in October. My choice was made.

"Ice", the bar at the Four Seasons, (an appropriate name for a bar)  stocks an excellent selection of vodkas, including some delightful homemade infusions and has around a hundred or more recipes for cocktails, but it is the vodka concoctions that get the most praise. The Razzmopolitan's lovely red color comes from a raspberry flavored vodka and cranberry juice. Cointreau, the most elegant of orange liqueurs adds a unique orange flavor along with a dash of freshly squeezed lime juice. Fresh raspberries are the perfect garnish.


1-1/2 measures raspberry flavored vodka, such as Stoli Razberi
1 measure Cointreau
1 measure bottled cranberry juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
4 raspberries
Extra raspberries, for garnish

Place vodka, Cointream, cranberry, lime juice and raspberries in a cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with extra raspberries. Makes 1 cocktail.

"Ice"- Four Seasons Hotel, Dublin Ireland

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