grenadine and orgeat

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Tiki might sound like it’s all fun and games, but it helps to go at it with a liberal dose of snobbery. I’ve found that ingredients in cocktails matter significantly more than they do with food. Use store-brand artificial vanilla in your cookies instead of “good” vanilla and no one will be the wiser, but cutting corners on your rum quality can make your drink taste like rubbing alcohol.

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The quality of your syrups won’t be as distinct as the rum, but they do matter; plus, the ingredients to make your own are often cheaper than purchasing the pre-made syrup. Not only that, but it’s a lot easier to find almonds for sale than orgeat, even a cheap artificially-flavored version. Grenadine, by contrast, is readily available, but check out the ingredients – is it high fructose corn syrup and citric acid? If you’re using good rum and juicing fresh citrus, doesn’t your cocktail deserve real grenadine based on pomegranate juice instead of artificially-colored HFCS?

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Grenadine couldn’t be simpler to make – mix unsweetened pomegranate juice with sugar, heat it up until the sugar dissolves, and stir in lemon juice and orange flower water. Unfortunately, orgeat is not nearly so easy, but homemade orgeat is so rich, so aromatic, I can’t imagine that a commercial version comes close.

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Orgeat, by the way, is pronounced “oar-zsa”, as in Zsa Zsa Gabor, and it’s a syrup made from almond milk. The first step is to milk the almonds, and there’s no denying that it’s a bit of a chore – soak, grind, soak some more, squeeze, add sugar and orange flower water. (Okay, so orange flower water might not be so easy to find, but it is readily available online, and you don’t need much.) Then taste it, and you’ll immediately see why it’s such a common ingredient in tropical cocktails.

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It’s a lot of work for a drink when you could just open a can of beer or a bottle of wine instead, isn’t it? Tiki is more of a hobby for us than just a cocktail. But with richly flavored homemade syrups, it’s a very tasty hobby.

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Grenadine (slightly adapted from CHOW)

Makes about 1½ cups

1 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon orange flower water

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the pomegranate juice and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Add the lemon juice and orange flower water. Store, refrigerated, for up to a month. (Can also be frozen for longer storage.)

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Orgeat

Makes about 2 cups

2 cups (8 ounces) almonds
4 cups water, divided
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 ounces vodka or brandy
2 teaspoons orange flower water

1. In a medium bowl, mix the almonds with 2 cups of water. Cover and set aside to soak for 30 minutes.

2. Strain the almonds, discarding the water. Transfer the soaked almonds to a blender or food processor and process until most pieces are approximately the size of a grain of rice. Transfer the ground almonds back to the bowl and mix with another 2 cups of water. Cover and set aside to soak for 4 to 5 hours, stirring occasionally.

3. Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth; place the strainer in a larger bowl. Strain the almonds through the cheesecloth. When most of the liquid has been removed from the almonds, wrap the cheesecloth around the almonds and squeeze out any remaining liquid, massaging the almonds to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the almonds and cheesecloth.

4. Transfer the liquid to a medium saucepan and add the sugar. Heat over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves. Let cool to room temperature, then add the vodka or brandy and the orange flower water. Store, covered, in the refrigerator, for up to a month. (The orgeat can also be frozen.)

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tonga punch

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Our experiments with rum cocktails have progressed from comparing how well different fruits infuse into rum (strawberries and raspberries work the best; apples don’t work at all) to trying a new tiki drink almost every week. Over the last year, we’ve tried over thirty tiki drinks!

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On Sunday evenings, after the chores are done, workouts are finished, food for the week is prepped, we reward ourselves with a couple cocktails. Sometimes we sit outside in the backyard while we sip; sometimes I sit inside on my computer and plan our next vacation. (We’re going to Iceland, which is about an untiki-y as you can get.) It’s one of my favorite times of the week, even though I know we have to go back to work the next day.

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Of all that we’ve tried, this one is both Dave’s and my favorite. It’s so refreshing – not too sour, not too sweet, not too strong, not too weak. As a bonus, it doesn’t require any particularly rare ingredients. It also doesn’t require tiki mugs, but if you’ve got them, they make the best time of the week just a little bit better.

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Tonga Punch (rewritten from Stephen Siegelman and Maren Caruso’s Trader Vic’s Tiki Party)

Makes 1 drink

I recommend Shellback, Flor de Caña, or Appleton white rums.

Technically, triple sec and orange curaçao are different and not interchangeable (Grand Marnier is curaçoa; Cointreau is triple sec), but using triple sec instead of curaçao won’t ruin this drink. We use Clement Creole Shrubb, which is neither triple sec nor curaçao.

Look for grenadine with pomegranate in the ingredient list; otherwise you’re just buying a combination of high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, and food coloring.

2 ounces silver rum
1½ ounces orange juice
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce orange curacao
¼ ounce lime juice
¼ ounce grenadine
1 cup ice

Combine the liquids in a blender. Add the ice and pulse until the largest pieces if ice are approximately ½-inch. Pour unstrained into a glass and enjoy.

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fresh pasta with braised quail

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I have never seen a Meyer lemon for sale where I live. My local store used to stock blood oranges in the winter and rhubarb in the spring, but I didn’t see either this year. Sheets of nori? I’ve started ordering them online, along with golden syrup, peppermint extract, a big container of sprinkles, espresso powder, 00 Italian flour, herbal tea, looseleaf black and green tea, passionfruit concentrate, and my favorite brand of soy sauce. Living in a small town has its disadvantages.

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But I seem to have a steady supply of game meats. I’ve bought quail a few times, and this is my favorite way to use it (which isn’t to say that chicken drumsticks or thighs wouldn’t also be great in this dish). What I’ve learned about quail is that they are so tiny that it can be hard to find the meat. As someone who doesn’t much appreciate messing around with their food as they eat it, a salad topped with a whole quail was frustrating (although pretty).

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This pasta dish, with so little in it besides the quail, cooks it down to its essence. What sauce there is is concentrated quail stock. It’s intensely savory. It coats the pasta in the thin layer, with bits of shredded quail meat dispersed throughout. You can garnish the dish with teeny tiny drumsticks. And, amazingly, this is a dish I can actually find all the ingredients for in my little town.

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Fresh Pasta with Braised Quail (adapted from Marcella Hazen’s Marcella Cucina via epicurious)

Serves 4

4 whole quail, washed and dried
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
½ stalk celery, minced
½ medium carrot, minced
1 fresh sage leaf, minced
6 rosemary leaves (remove from 1 sprig), chopped very fine
½ cup dry white wine
1 roma tomato, diced small
1 pound fresh pappardelle or fettuccine
½ cup (1 ounce) freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

1. Season the quail generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and quail, and cook without moving for 3-4 minutes, until well browned. Flip the quail; continue to cook until all sides are browned, propping the quail against the sides of the pan if necessary. Transfer the browned quail to a plate.

2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the vegetables and herbs; cook, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant and lightly browned, 1-2 minutes. Add the wine and use a spatula to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low, return the quail to the skillet, and cover. Cook, turning occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add the tomato, cover, and cook for another 20-25 minutes, adding water as necessary to keep the pan from drying out, until the meat can easily be removed from the bones.

3. Remove the quail from the pan and shred the meat, discarding the bones. If desired, reserve the drumsticks with their meat for garnish.

4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until just tender, 2-4 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water.

5. Add the shredded quail meat, pasta, ¼ cup pasta cooking water, and parmesan to the pan with the sauce. Toss the contents together until well mixed, adding more pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Serve immediately, topped with additional parmesan and the reserved drumsticks.

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roasted brussels sprouts and butternut squash with bacon-porter dressing

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Vegetables, cooked right, are delicious, a fact all-too-often forgotten as they’re relegated to an afterthought. It’s fortunate that roasting vegetables has become popular, because those can be an afterthought and still be tasty with just salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, but what could happen if we put the same effort into a vegetable dish as we did the main dish? What could happen is that Brussels sprouts will be the most popular dish at your party.

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A friend and I threw a beer tasting party last month, with amber ale cheddar soup, stout-braised beef topped with potatoes, scotch ale creme brulee, and these vegetables. This was the dish that got the most compliments and recipe requests. (Although I need to ask my friend for the creme brulee recipe, because that had a really interesting and delicious bitter edge to the sweet custard.)

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Brussels sprouts and squash are roasted, which is always a good start, but then the ante is upped with a dressing made from bacon renderings, minced shallot, malty beer, mustard, and apple cider vinegar. I wasn’t sure about the pairing of Brussels sprouts and squash, but the earthy and sweet combination ended up being great, and it was all tied together with the sweet-tart dressing. I admit, it isn’t quite as easy as just throwing vegetables in the oven with salt and olive oil to roast, but every once in a while, don’t vegetables deserve to be the star?

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash with Bacon-Porter Dressing (adapted from Beer Bitty via Craft Beer)

8 servings

1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch dice
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped (or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme)
4 slices thick-cut bacon
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
4 ounces porter or brown ale
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

1. Place a heavy rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven; heat the oven to 475 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the Brussels sprouts, squash, oil, cayenne, nutmeg, and thyme. Transfer to the hot baking sheet and roast until the vegetables are browned and tender, about 20 minutes, stirring twice.

2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate; when cool, coarsely chop or crumble. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the skillet. Add the shallot and garlic; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and maybe a little browned, 2-3 minutes. Add the beer and vinegar, increase the heat to medium-high, and simmer until reduced and slightly syrupy, 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, mustard, sage, salt and pepper. Pour the beer mixture over the vegetables and stir to combine. Top with the bacon and nuts; serve.

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chocolate port wine cake

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I try not to be a hoarder. If I splurge on something, the last thing I want is for it to go to waste. That’s what almost happened with this bottle of port. We bought it last fall on a trip to Texas’s hill country, known for its wines. I have a friend who loves port, so we brought it over a few weeks later when we were invited to their house for dinner. And then, since port has a long shelf life, even after it’s opened, we put it back in the pantry.

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And that’s where it stayed, for a year. I think the problem is that I always think of port as pairing nicely with desserts, particularly chocolate, but Dave and I rarely eat dessert at home. I couldn’t bear to pour it down the drain, so instead, I put it in cake.

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Considering how good this cake was, the port can’t be said to have gone to waste. The port wasn’t an obvious flavor in the cake, but it must have contributed something to how rich and soft this cake was. Still, next time I buy an expensive bottle of wine, I’ll drink it with cake and save the cheap stuff for putting in the cake.

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Port Wine Chocolate Cake (rewritten but barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

8-12 servings

Cake:
1 cup + 1 tablespoon (5.1 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup (1.5 ounces) Dutch cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) firmly packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup port wine (tawny or ruby)

Topping:
½ cup mascarpone cheese
½ cup chilled heavy or whipping cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the cake: Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper; butter and flour the bottoms and sides of the lined pan, or spray with baking spray. In a small bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.

2. In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugars, and salt; beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add the egg yolk, beat until fully incorporated, then add the whole egg. Add the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add one-third of the dry ingredients, followed by half the wine, another one-third of the dry ingredients, the remaining wine, and the remaining dry ingredients.

3. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack. Cool completely before topping, at least 1 hour. (The cake can be baked, cooled, tightly wrapped, and stored for at least one day before serving.)

4. For the topping: In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the mascarpone, cream, sugar, and vanilla together until soft peaks form. Spread the topping over the cooled cake.

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cranberry grappa jelly

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Perhaps the lesson learned here is that cranberry sauce is better with alcohol. These are the only cranberry sauce recipes I can say that I honestly like. The plain stuff is nothing but sweet and tart, but adding a lot of wine or a little bit of grappa mellows those flavors while adding some complexity.

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Still, I have to admit, I’m not really sure what to do with cranberry sauce. I gather it’s supposed to be put on top of the turkey, but that’s where I keep my gravy. Mostly I make it because it makes an excellent sandwich when combined with leftover turkey, green chile, and mayo.

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I already had my mind made up that I prefer my cranberries without the skins, and this recipe is designed for that. Plus, it slurps just like the stuff from the can, but you can make it any pretty shape you want (and have a pan for). Of course it tastes way more interesting than the stuff from a can, and it does make one heck of a sandwich.

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Cranberry Grappa Jelly (from Gourmet via epicurious)

8 servings

1¼ pounds fresh or frozen cranberries (4½ cups)
1¾ cups sugar
1¾ cups cold water, divided
1 cup grappa, divided
2 (¼-ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin (4½ teaspoons)

1. Bring cranberries, sugar, 1½ cups water, and ¾ cup grappa to a boil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then briskly simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until most of berries have burst and the mixture is thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Strain through a large fine-mesh sieve into a 2-quart measuring cup or a bowl, pressing hard on and then discarding solids. (You will need 2½ cups liquid.)

2. Stir together the gelatin and remaining ¼ cup water and let stand 1 minute to soften. Bring 1 cup drained cranberry liquid to a simmer in a small saucepan, then add the gelatin mixture and stir until just dissolved. Add the gelatin mixture and remaining ¼ cup grappa to the remaining 1½ cups cranberry liquid and stir well. Pour the cranberry sauce into a lightly oiled mold and chill, covered with plastic wrap, until firmly set, at least 12 hours.

3. To unmold, dip the mold in a large bowl of warm water (water should reach halfway up mold) for 5 seconds, then run tip of a thin knife around edge of mold. Tilt mold sideways and tap side against a counter, turning it, to evenly break seal and loosen jelly. Keeping the mold tilted, put a plate over mold, then invert the jelly onto the plate.

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pan-seared halibut in white wine sauce with green beans and tomato-scallion relish

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I have found the perfect single-person dinner. Not because it’s easy, although that’s nice. Not because it only uses one pan to cook, although I’m not complaining about less dishes to wash. Not because it tastes good, because of course it tastes good or why would I be talking about it?

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No, the key for bachelor(ette) meals is that they don’t leave you with half a can of tomatoes or beans, or half a cucumber or pepper, or the vast majority of a roast leftover. If you’re cooking for one, this recipe uses one fish filet, one tomato, one scallion, and a handful of green beans.

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Because I have been cooking for one a lot lately, while Dave travels for work, I’ve been making this dish often. The original recipe instructs that the green beans be steamed in a separate pot, but that seemed like a lot of hassle and dishes just for me, so I saute them quickly in a skillet, then add just a bit of water to cook them through. Any remnant green bean bits are scraped up with a glug of wine. I like to transfer the green beans to a pasta bowl and cover them with a big plate while the fish cooks in the same skillet. The fish gets laid over the green beans, the pan is deglazed with wine again, then a simple relish is heated briefly in the pan before it’s time to eat.

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I don’t know if fish served over green beans (although you could put yours on the side if that’s more your thing) sounds weird. The relish really brings everything together, since it’s so bright and flavorful, mixing perfectly with both the beans and the fish. It’s an easy, healthy, one-pan, delicious meal that won’t leave you with a bunch of half-used ingredients, and one of my newest favorites.

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Pan-Seared Halibut in White Wine Sauce with Haricots Verts and Tomato-Scallion Relish (adapted from Alfred Portale’s The Twelve Seasons Cookbook via epicurious)

4 servings

Regular green beans work just as well as haricots verts in this recipe. I’ve also successfully made it with both halibut and mahi-mahi. The pictures show mahi-mahi.

It’s easy to adapt for one person; just divide all of the ingredients by four and use a small skillet.

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
16 ounces haricots verts or green beans
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ cup water
6 tablespoons white wine, divided
4 halibut or mahi-mahi fillets, each approximately 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 scallions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons capers, drained
4 small roma tomatoes, diced fine

1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the beans, 1 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are spotty brown, 4 minutes. Add the water, cover, and cook until the beans are bright green and still crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove the cover, increase the heat to high, and cook until the water evaporates, 30 to 60 seconds. Divide the beans between four plates or shallow bowls. Add 2 tablespoons of wine to the pan, swirling it around and scraping the pan with a rubber spatula to dissolve any stickiness on the bottom of the skillet. Transfer to liquid to the dishes with the green beans; cover set aside.

2. Season the halibut on both sides with salt and pepper. In the same skillet, heat the remaining 4 teaspoons of oil over medium-high heat. Cook the fish for about 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Flip the fish, reduce the heat to medium, and cook about 4 minutes longer, until the fish is opaque in the center and browned on both sides. Put the fish over the green beans in the bowl; cover again.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining 4 tablespoons wine and the lemon juice to the pan. Deglaze the pan by scraping up any browned bits with a rubber spatula. Stir in the butter. Add the scallions, capers, and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper if necessary, and pour over the fish in the bowls. Serve immediately.

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margarita cupcakes

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I haven’t really been drinking margaritas lately, since we’ve moved from daiquiris into experiments with all sorts of tiki drinks, but eating them is another thing. I hosted a taco bar party recently, where I supplied corn tortillas and beef barbacoa and everyone else brought sides or toppings. I thought about serving margaritas, but I wasn’t excited about squeezing a hundred limes; sangria for a crowd is a whole lot easier.

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But a taco party without margaritas in any form just isn’t right, so we’d have them for dessert instead. This is a white cupcake flavored with lime zest, then brushed very liberally with a mixture of tequila and orange liqueur. The buttercream, light and airy swiss meringue, is flavored with more lime juice and more tequila.

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I’ve found it’s nearly impossible to get the flavor of liquor in the batter to come across after a dessert is baked (bourbon pound cake seems to be an exception), so I don’t even attempt that here, just brushing – and then brushing some more, and then more – the baked cakes with liquor. The cupcakes aren’t so strong that you’ll gag on the fumes, but they do have a hint of bite to them, just like the best margaritas. And I had way more fun making cupcakes and frosting than I would have had squeezing lime after lime after lime.

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Margarita Cupcakes (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake from Baking: From my Home to Yours)

Makes 24 cupcakes

It seems like a lot of liquor to brush into the cupcakes, but trust me that you will use it all, and the cupcakes won’t be soggy.

Cupcakes:
3¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons (13.5 ounces) cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt
6 large egg whites
2¼ cups (15.75 ounces) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
12 tablespoons (1½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons lime juice
6 tablespoons tequila
3 tablespoons orange liqueur

Buttercream:
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
pinch salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 limes)
2 tablespoons tequila

1. For the cupcakes: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

2. Put the sugar and lime zest in a mixer bowl mix with paddle attachment until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the lime juice, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

3. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them ⅔ to ¾ of the way. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18-24 minutes, rotating the pans once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly. Transfer the pans to wire racks; cool about 5 minutes, them remove the cupcakes. Cool cupcakes completely on a rack before frosting.

4. Combine the tequila and orange liqueur in a small dish. Using a toothpick or skewer, poke about 10 holes in the top of each cupcake, almost to the base. Brush with the alcohol mixture. Keep brushing the cupcakes until all the alcohol has been used.

5. For the buttercream: Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a metal mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees and the sugar has dissolved. Using the whisk attachment, beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 6 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more. Stir in the lime juice and tequila; mix just until incorporated. Use a wide star tip to pipe frosting onto the cupcakes, garnishing with tiny lime wedges and lime zest.

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braised artichokes with creamy dipping sauce

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My sister’s kids aren’t particularly picky, but sometimes I push their limits without meaning to. Like the time I thought they’d get a kick out of eggs cooked in bacon toast cups, but instead they were like, Hey, now where does the jelly go? And at least that wasn’t a vegetable.

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I don’t even remember why I thought artichokes would be a good idea in the first place, but then when I started thinking about it, I got worried. They tend to turn a military shade of green once they’re cooked. I tried to get the kids excited about saying “okey dokey artichokey”, but I was pulling at strings and knew it.

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And then, oddly, they loved the artichokes. I think it was the number one rule of feeding children that worked in my favor – opportunities to dip. Plus, maybe, just maybe, I was right, and the fun of pulling off leaves and scraping the “meat” off with your teeth was more important than the brownish green shade of the vegetables. It certainly is for me, as this is one of my absolute favorite foods.

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Braised Artichokes with Creamy Dipping Sauce

Serves 3 to 6 as a first course, depending on how big your artichokes are and how big your appetite is

Trimming artichokes isn’t hard, but you might want to watch a youtube video or two if you’re not familiar with the process.

99% of artichoke recipes call for transferring the trimmed ‘chokes to a bowl of water with a lemon squeezed into it to keep them from browning. Not only does it not work, but they look and taste the same after cooking, so I’ve skipped this step. (But a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated tested it and found it the lemon water worthwhile.)

If your artichokes are really big, you might need to use a 12-inch sauté pan instead of a Dutch oven to fit them in a single layer.

If you’re mayonnaise-adverse, crème fraiche would be a great substitute. Greek yogurt or sour cream would work if you stir it in off the heat so the dairy doesn’t curdle.

3 medium artichokes
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup water
½ cup white wine
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon parsley leaves, minced

1. Working with one artichoke at a time, cut off the top 2 inches of the artichoke. Working around the artichoke, use scissors to cut off the sharp tips of the leaves. Trim the base of the stem, then trim off the outside millimeter or so of the stem. Cut the artichoke in half from top to bottom and use a paring knife to cut out the sharp purple leaves and fuzzy choke from the center. Rinse the artichoke under running water to remove any remaining fuzz.

2. Heat the olive oil in a 5- or 6-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Arrange the artichokes cut-side down in the pot, overlapping the stems in the middle. Add the water, wine, pepper, and salt. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and braise artichokes until tender when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes for small artichokes and 40 minutes for very large artichokes. (If you’re not ready to serve the artichokes right away, remove the pot from the heat and leave the cover on; the ‘chokes will stay hot for up to 30 minutes.)

3. Transfer artichoke halves to a serving platter or plates. There should about ⅓ cup liquid remaining in the pot; if there’s less, add water until there’s a total of ⅓ cup liquid; if there’s more, simmer the liquid to reduce it slightly. Add the mayonnaise and parsley to the liquid; whisk to combine and pour into individual dipping containers.

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strawberry daiquiris

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These ain’t your mama’s strawberry daiquiris. Or at least, they’re not my mama’s strawberry daiquiris, which are slushy and sugary and delicious and rightfully earn their classification as a frou frou drink.

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These strawberry daiquiris are no frou frou drink. They’re serious. Made from nothing but strawberry-infused rum, sugar syrup, and lime juice, they are also the most delicious cocktail I have ever had.

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It’s all thanks to Dave, who found an interest in rum after we went on a Caribbean cruise with his parents last year. Our liquor cabinet is now half rum, which is fair since that’s all we drink now that Dave is willing to mix up a variety of rum drinks and I’m willing to let him bring them to me.

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My part in this recipe is to think ahead enough to pour a bottle of rum over strawberries. Let them sit for a week (or really, just a few days if you’re in a hurry), strain, and you’re on your way to a seriously great cocktail. Just be careful, because these ain’t no frou frou drink.

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Strawberry Daiquiris

4 drinks

Make the sugar syrup by heating 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Cool before using. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for several weeks.

Make the strawberry rum by pouring 1 (750-ml) bottle of rum over 1 pound of stemmed and quartered strawberries. Strain after 5-7 days. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for several weeks.

Our favorite rum for mixing is Shellback Silver.

Update 6/5/2014 – Unfortunately, I had this recipe wrong initially.  The sugar syrup has now been reduced from ½ cup to ¼ cup.  We use ¼ cup, although we like our drinks on the tart side.

1½ cups strawberry rum
¾ cup lime juice
¼ cup sugar syrup

In a large measuring cup, mix the three ingredients. Fill a cocktail shaker with crushed ice; add half the rum mixture. Cover and shake until the sides of the cocktail shaker are frosty. Strain into two glasses. Add more ice and repeat with the remaining mix. Add some of the ice from the shaker into each glass. Serve immediately.

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