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Spiced Pear Vodka

3 Mar

A few years back, I had a pretty intense love affair with St. George‘s Spiced Pear Vodka. Part of its allure was its amazing pear flavor, sure, but another piece was almost certain that it was LIMITED EDITION. You mean I can’t have this delicious taste whenever I want? I’LL TAKE TWO. You know, just in case. Fast forward a few years, (yes years) and I’ve still got the majority of one bottle in my freezer – you can’t just drink it all at once! It’s for special occasions because its LIMITED EDITION.
We took it with us when we moved, and through a cruel twist of fate, I ended up having to to dump it out. Heartbreak.
My darling husband put my entire family on the hunt for this beloved tipple – all to no avail. LIMITED EDITION, remember.
They tracked a couple of bottles down here and there in Florida, but how on earth were they going to get it from Florida. It was a lost cause.
Cue my clever mother, who wrapped up and delivered my very own DIY spiced pear vodka kit. Delicious Hangar 1 vodka, all the necessary spices, a nice bottle for infusing, and directions to go pick up my own dang pears (since who knew when I’d actually get around to making it).
She also scrolled through the far reaches of the internet to find a couple of recipes, clever lady.  My ingredients came complete with print outs from One Martini (in protective plastic sleeves, since vodka infusing can get spilly).

I followed Jessica’s directions pretty closely, only making a few tweaks.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe pears
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 star anise
  • 5 cloves
  • 750 ml vodka
  • Large jar/bottle – large enough for the entire bottle of vodka and the pears and spices.

Directions:

  1. Wash pears, cut into slices/pieces and add to the jar.  The smaller the pieces, the more surface area you have, so theoretically, the faster it will infuse.
  2. Add the spices and pour in the vodka.
  3. Cover and let sit to start infusing. After a day or so, check the taste. I pulled the star anise fairly early on, probably only a day in, but left everything else to continue to infuse.
  4. Each day, give it a swirl and taste it again. Once the flavor is where you want it, strain the vodka and store in a glass vessel.  I put it back in the vodka bottle.  I’d say to plan on at least three days, maybe a week before it’s “done.”
  5. I lost about 150ml through the process, but didn’t want to lose that boozy goodness, so I heated up the fruit to make a compote, and served it warm over vanilla ice cream.  Super good!
  6. I love this with a mix of fizzy water and vanilla syrup (sugar free usually), but I keep trying to come up with amazing cocktails to make with it that don’t require me purchasing all sorts of additional obscure liqueurs and bitters.  Sadly, that’s not my strong suit, so if you have any recommendations, let me know!  I have this one on my radar – with plain old sweet vermouth in place of the Cardamaro, and these yummy The Bitter Housewife bitters I picked up at Bitters + Bottles in South San Francisco.

Shepherd’s Pie

16 Jan

 

I was pretty sure that I was the cook in this house, but Patrick keeps proving his own worth in that arena, dang him.  But also, yay him!  And me!  Because I get to eat his awesome food, and he’s WAY better at cleaning as he goes, so the dishes aren’t even as bad as one might fear.

After booking a trip to Ireland for the summer, he was inspired, and decided to surprise me with a little pre-vacation Irish celebration.  I came home from work to the most amazing Shepherd’s Pie I’ve ever had (no lie, and I’m totally not just saying that to be nice), bacon & Brussels sprouts with a drizzle of honey (admittedly not Irish per se, but delicious, and hey – they’re green), and Guinness – of course.

Adapted from the recipe at Genius Kitchen, here’s the low down on Patrick’s version.

INGREDIENTS

  • tablespoon olive oil
  • teaspoon black pepper
  • lb ground beef (he used grass fed)
  • 1/2 lb lamb (grass fed again)
  • large onion, finely diced
  • 6 large carrots, chopped
  • 1.5 cups frozen peas
  • sprig of fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • tablespoons flour
  • tablespoon butter
  • glug of red wine (he used a Zinfandel)
  • tablespoons tomato paste
  • tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • cup reduced sodium chicken stock
  • large quantity mashed potatoes (estimating 1L or 6 cups, fresh or leftover) – he used Russets, and used the usual mashed potato accoutrements – salt, pepper, milk, butter – AND he mixed some of the Parmesan cheese through as well
  • egg, beaten
  • grated Parmesan cheese 
  • grated sharp cheddar cheese – Tillamook makes a tasty one  (for the cheeses, the amount you use is really up to you, but might I suggest “lots”?  Grate a cup and a half of cheddar and a half cup of Parm to be safe; not including the Parm you may have used in the mashed potatoes – ain’t nothin’ wrong with cheese. . unless you’re lactose intolerant, in which case just skip all of that cheese nonsense)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F.
  2. Saute carrots in the olive oil until starting to get tender.
  3. Add in the onions and saute for a minute or two then add the meat.
  4. Season with black pepper and thyme.
  5. Cook until browned then drain fat.
  6. Add the butter and peas.
  7. Sprinkle with flour and stir through.
  8. Add tomato paste, wine and Worcestershire sauce.
  9. Let this reduce slightly then add the chicken stock. Allow to reduce down until you have a thick, meaty gravy. Season to taste.
  10. Remove from heat. Grease a 9×13 oven proof dish with butter and add the meat/veg/gravy base.
  11. Spoon or pipe the mashed potatoes over top. Patrick chose to spread his spuds out evenly, then dragged a fork lightly across the top to create ridges.
  12. Brush with egg, and bake for about 20 minutes or until the potato is nice and browned on top.
  13. If you’re using the cheese, you can either add it 5 minutes ago, or add it now and pop it under the broiler so it gets all bubbly and browned.

Let cool slightly before serving, so it holds its shape a bit better, and you don’t scald the inside of your mouth.

Kindred’s Milk Bread

4 Jul

Oh milk bread. I had such high hopes for our time together. Alas, it all fell apart before it even began. . .
* first, I realized that I didn’t have a dough hook. Apologies for going there, but – d’oh!  I borrowed one from my neighbor which I knew immediately was way too small.  And yes, I tried it anyway, because as has been proven – I always learn from my mistakes that baking is an exacting science and not something that one can wing.
* second, I saw that my milk powder was not distributing evenly – rather sitting in clumps – large, hard clumps that I couldn’t really break up with my fingers.
* third, once the dough hook really, truly, honestly was not going to work (as I was incorporating the butter), I took the dough out and kneaded it by hand.  I am not sure if that was wise.
* fourth, it calls for extra large muffin tins – somehow in my mind that was just “muffin tins.” I realized as I portioned out the dough into the tins, that allowing them to raise for their second proof was going to be a huge problem. Now I had to scramble and drop in my little lumps of dough into a bundt pan, a la monkey bread. I had too much, so I also did a loaf pan. Good LORD, was I doing ANY of this recipe correctly?!

Needless to say, this will certainly need a second attempt once I have the right dough hook.

Multiple failures aside, the bread was delicious, so I can only imagine that when made properly it’s absolutely magical.

portioning out the d’oh


Recipe from Food52, helpful video here:

Makes 6 rolls, two 9- by 5-inch loaves, or 12 split-top buns

  • 5 1/3cups bread flour, divided, plus more for surface 
  • 1cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup mild honey (such as wildflower or alfalfa)
  • tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder (such as Bob’s Red Mill)
  • tablespoons active dry yeast (from almost 3 full envelopes – measure it out though, don’t just dump in 3 envelopes)
  • tablespoons kosher salt
  • large eggs, divided (2 eggs to go into the dough, 1 for egg wash before baking)
  • tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • Flaky sea salt 
  1. Cook 1/3 cup flour and 1 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a thick paste forms (almost like a roux but looser), about 5 minutes. Add cream and honey and cook, whisking to blend, until honey dissolves.  I drizzled the honey in slowly, so it really dissolved as I added it.
  2. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and add milk powder, yeast, kosher salt, 2 eggs, and 5 remaining cups flour. Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry have taught me to put the yeast on one side and salt on the other – sure, they’re all getting mixed together, but yeast doesn’t like too much salt, and I figure it can’t hurt, so I do it.  Knead on medium speed until dough is smooth, about 5 minutes.  I had to start my mixer off pretty slowly, or else my kitchen was getting a nice sprinkling of flour.  Once most of the flour had been incorporated I was able to turn up the speed another click to medium. Add butter, a piece at a time, fully incorporating into dough before adding the next piece, until dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic, about 4 minutes.
  3. Coat a large bowl with nonstick spray and transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  4. If making rolls, lightly coat a 6-cup jumbo muffin pan with nonstick spray. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and divide into 6 pieces. Divide each piece into 4 smaller pieces (you should have 24 total). They don’t need to be exact; just eyeball it. Place 4 pieces of dough side-by-side in each muffin cup.
 If making loaves, lightly coat two 9- by 5-inch loaf pans with nonstick spray. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and divide into 12 pieces. Nestle pieces side-by-side to create 2 rows down length of each pan.
 If making split-top buns, lightly coat two 9- by 13-inch baking dishes with nonstick spray. Divide dough into 12 pieces and shape each into a 4-inch long log. Place 6 logs in a row down length of each dish.
  5. Let shaped dough rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size (dough should be just puffing over top of pan), about 1 hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 375° F. Beat remaining egg with 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl to blend. Brush top of dough with egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt, if desired. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until bread is deep golden brown, starting to pull away from the sides of the pan, and is baked through, 25 to 35 minutes for rolls, 50 to 60 minutes for loaf, or 30 to 40 minutes for buns. The top of my bread started to get too dark, so I had to cover with foil.  If making buns, slice each bun down the middle deep enough to create a split-top. Let milk bread cool slightly in pan on a wire rack before turning out; let cool completely.

Pastry – A tale of heartbreak

27 Feb

I’ve watched people make pastry on The Great British Bake Off for years.  Looks easy enough, right?  Ha.

I made bread.  Dense bread.  Fair, I did a “rough puff” using my food processor. . .and then I froze it for a week or so. . . and then it was driven three+ hours to a rental house in Tahoe that was not equipped for baking. . . where it sat in the fridge for another day; so admittedly, I did not exactly set myself up for success for my first pastry go.  Watch, as I amaze:

Getting yeasty with it.

Preparing to pulse.

Post pulse – after combining the butter/flour mix with the yeast mix.

Mid “booking.”

Making do in Tahoe. . . using a roll of cling film as a rolling pin. This is how ALL the best pastry chefs do it.

Adding my sweetened cream cheese and jam mixtures.

Did I mention making do? We couldn’t find any sharp knives, but this spatula had a nice edge for cutting strips.

Braiding away.

Braided and egg washed – ready to bake!

Et, voila! A little dark, I know, but why start succeeding now?

I took my inspiration from Sally’s recipes for the dough and filling, and this page for freezing/defrosting the dough.  It tasted. . . fine.  The texture was. . . bready rather than flaky.  It was edible, but I am not calling it a success.  I’ll definitely need a second take on this – perhaps without the freezing and thawing, perhaps without the shortcut to rough puff.  And yes, my second take will absolutely count as one of the 40.

Eggless Cookie Dough – for fear free snacking

26 Feb

I am not exactly a cautious person.  I walk right out to the edge of things.  I swim along with the (nurse) sharks when snorkeling.  I drink milk past its best by date if it smells okay.  Those leftovers in the back of the fridge?  Well, they’re not furry – I’m sure they’re probably fine.  Jumping out of an airplane attached to a stranger by nothing more than an adult version of a BabyBjörn?  Sounds fun!  So eating cookie dough, eggs and all, is not something that has ever frightened me.  I will eat an entire batch of it in fact, if I’m not kept a close watch on.

I can appreciate however, that not everyone has my pluck.  And, because I really would like nothing more than to eat an entire batch of cookie dough, I decided to give one of these “snacking dough” recipes a try.  Now, I’d be remiss to not mention that eating raw flour also comes with a certain amount of risk, like e.coli, but the idea of raw flour seems to frighten people less than raw egg – especially if you’re thinking of making truffles with the dough.

Kailley was kind enough to post her recipe, (which she adapted from this recipe, which looks closer to what I ended up doing).  I made a few tweaks to it, and turned it into truffles.

Ingredients

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 2/3 cup-ish chocolate chips (I like bittersweet, and I don’t know if there is really such a thing as too much chocolate, so I may have used closer to a full cup)

Instructions

  1. Add butter, sugars, and vanilla extract to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat until smooth
  2. Add flour, baking soda, and salt to wet ingredients and mix
  3. Add milk and mix until dough is firm and smooth
  4. Fold in chocolate chips with a wooden spoon
  5. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months if not turning into truffles

To turn this into truffles, pop the dough into the fridge (I just left it in the mixing bowl), and get ready to temper some chocolate (again, I’m using dark) for dipping.

I then used a small scoop to scoop up even amounts of dough, and rolled them quickly in my hands to form “perfect” balls and set them aside on a piece of parchment paper.  Using my handy dandy Wilton dipping tools, I coat the dough truffles and set them pack on the parchment to dry.  A little sprinkle of something festive, et voila.  Chocolate chip cookie dough (salmonella free, but possibly e.coli loaded) truffles!

Phat beets

6 Mar

Our first crop of beets.

Our first crop of beets.

Our first attempt at growing beets was okay, but not great.  I should’ve thinned out the seedlings, and I didn’t, so I think it prevented some of the beets from getting very big.  Some were more carrot shaped than beet shaped.  However, the flavor did not disappoint at all.

We oven roasted them (wrapped in foil), peeled off the skins (hey super pink fingers), and sliced them up for a salad with thinly sliced sweet onions, orange segments, and goat cheese.  I used orange juice, olive oil, and red wine vinegar to make a quick vinaigrette.  It was divine.  I think next time I’ll add some nuts as well.  You may notice that the onions are pretty pink – before I dressed the salad, I put the onions, beets, and oranges into the vinaigrette to sit for a couple of minutes.

Beet & Citrus Salad.

Beet & Citrus Salad.

The next day for breakfast, it was on to the greens – we can’t just let them fall by the way side!!  The rest of that sweet onion was sliced up and sauteed with some smashed garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.  I let them cook until soft, then added the freshly washed greens (with all their “attached” water) and let them wilt down, finally adding a dash of apple cider vinegar to finish things off.  Then they got topped with eggs of course.  I sort of hate the way the greens make my teeth feel (spinach does it too – anyone know why that is?), but it made my mouth very happy all the same.  Soon, we’ll be able to make this entire dish with food from our backyard, minus the condiments of course.  Maybe the vinegar some day, but I’ll stick to purchasing the oil, salt and pepper.

Eggs with sauteed beet greens and onions.

Eggs with sauteed beet greens and onions.

Carne Asada Tacos

11 Feb

I love me some Mexican food. Carnitas and carne asada are two favorites to make at home (some day I’ll get a spit so I can get a good al pastor going. . . ), and since I feel confident that we’ve got the carnitas down, I was wanting to find “that” perfect carne asada recipe.

I found this recipe on All Recipes, and it is totally a winner, even with my tweaks.  Pardon me, while I try out the new Word Press recipe thingy. . .

Carne Asada Taco Marinade

Cuisine: Mexican
Ingredients
  • 3 pound flank steak
  • 1/3 cup vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
Instructions
  1. Combine the ingredients and marinate the steak for a few hours (no more than 8), turning once to coat.

Grill the steak to your desired doneness, slice or chop, and serve as tacos.  I am super in love with the following salsa to go with the meat:

1/2 white onion chopped
a big old handful of cilantro, chopped, because, yum
juice of 1/2-1 lime
2 avocados, chopped
salt to taste

Stir ingredients and use generously on your tacos.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

14 Nov

We got a request at work to share a family favorite recipe with the group, since Thanksgiving is imminent.  It made me realize, that I don’t think I’ve ever posted my sort of go to Brussels Sprouts recipe.  They may not be a traditional family favorite (I did not grow up subjected to these, thanks to my father’s aversion), but they have become a family favorite over at the Dowd house, in addition to the more traditional boiled sprouts.  As is usual, I’m pretty sure this is how I do it. . . .

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

2 pounds of Brussels Sprouts, washed and trimmed, and cut in half

6 slices of bacon (but you might want to just make the whole pack for snacking)

2 cloves of crushed garlic

salt & pepper

¼ cups of toasted pine nuts

optional: balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, or dried cranberries

 

Preheat the oven to 400.  Cook the bacon through, but pull it before it gets too crispy.  Chop it into small pieces.  Reserve 1-2 tbsp of the fat.

Toss the bacon with the garlic and bacon fat.  Roast for 20 minutes, then add bacon pieces and toss with the sprouts.

While the sprouts are roasting, you can toast the pine nuts in a hot pan until aromatic and just starting to tan.

Roast 10-20 more minutes, until the Brussels sprouts are crisp on the outside and tender inside, and the bacon has crisped up.

Stir in the pine nuts, season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

 

Options:

Skip the salt and add Parmesan cheese and pepper before serving.

Toss with a glug or so of balsamic vinegar, or drizzle with a balsamic reduction.

Leave out the garlic when roasting and add dried cranberries along with the pine nuts.  Balsamic is good here too if you’d like.

 

 

Roasted Tomatoes

10 Nov

One of my very favoritist things on the planet is what were called “sunblushed tomatoes” – I can’t remember if I was in England or Australia, or both, when I had them, but man.  Yum.

They were really just oven roasted to make them all caramelized and amazing tasting, but seriously, these bad boys on a piece of toast?  Even with those end of season ugly ones, or kind of mealy ones, well, especially those kinds – you can also freeze them once they’re roasted, and then eat them again as is or turn them into sauce and  you guys – just make some.  So easy.

Preheat the oven to 400.

Wash and cut your tomatoes in half if they’re Roma sized, or into quarters if they’re big.

Get out a glass baking dish (or a cookie sheet – I prefer the glass baking dish; they don’t seem to dry out as much), drizzle it with a good amount of olive oil and a mix of herbs.  I used dried marjoram, basil, oregano, slivered garlic, and a little bit of rosemary and salt.  Then toss your tomatoes in the herbed oil and roast (cut side down) for 20-30 minutes.  Keep an eye on the first batch so you know how long it takes for that specific size of tomato and your oven – the worst disappointment in the world is living in the most amazing smelling house ever and then not having anything delicious to eat.  You can eat them on crackers, on toast, on sammiches, in omelettes, in a box, wearing socks, with a fox, when entertaining (toast + goat cheese schmear + oven roasted tomatoes = 12 kinds of heaven) – however you want.  I keep them in a jar in the fridge with a little bit of extra oil to make sure they’re not sitting exposed to air to eat in the next couple (or few) weeks, and freeze the rest.

It’s not salad season, I know

10 Nov

I just had a super yum salad here at the Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia (if you’re here, it’s a great, cute, quirky little place to stay with all sorts of fun perks and thoughtful touches and DELICIOUS food and drinks – both catered, and in the Red Owl Tavern.  Join their frequent guest program, even if you’re not, and get even MORE perks – like free internet!  No, I am not being paid to say so, but Kimpton, call me!), and I want to remember it to recreate.  I also had one two nights ago that was also yum and that I ALSO want to recreate.  Also, who am I kidding – I live in California – it’s always salad season.

Today’s salad was super easy:

romaine, black beans, bell peppers, goat cheese (you knew it was coming), and I’m going to guess some sort of lime/cilantro dressing.  YUM.

A couple of nights ago it was:

mixed greens, garbanzo beans, cucumbers, asparagus, roasted tomatoes, roasted onions, with lightly pickled veggies and a basil vinaigrette.  This salad actually tasted a bit like fall to me – somehow the addition of the preserved veggies did it.  I would totally make this one for Thanksgiving dinner, and actually, probably will.  I can pickle that.