Orange, Honey & Rosemary Infused Vodka.

HAPPY FRIDAY!

It’s Friday, and that means cocktail time.

With the weather being how it is (sunny, dress-wearing, summerish) I decided on something spritzerish for our cocktail tonight. Although we cannot sit outside and enjoy them in the sunshine (the Mr. doesn’t get home until after dark), we can pretend like we are somewhere warm and tropical and that we are sipping on our delicious, refreshing, and invigorating cocktails. Throw on some Buena Vista Social Club and we’ve got ourselves an evening!

ORANGE, HONEY, & ROSEMARY INFUSED VODKA

Ingredients: Vodka, very ripe oranges, rosemary, honey

THE SHMECIPE:

There really isn’t much to this whole thing. It’s just a matter of getting everything together and makin’ it happen.

I decided the weather was soooo nice, that I needed to take advantage of it. So, outside with my cutting board, knife, and other necessities!

Now, there are lots of ways you could go about getting those orange slices out just the way you like ’em. I opted to slice them out… Take a sharp knife and, starting at the top of your orange, slice with the curve of the fruit just under the rind to the bottom. Do this all the way around, on all of your oranges. At this point you can try your darnest to get your slices out in the typical fashion, or, you can slice them out with a knife… Much easier, and you’ll be happy later when you can pop a vodka-soaked slice of orange in your mouth.

Into the Ball Jar with your slices! I used one of the larger jars and 6 oranges.

It’s an orange wasteland.

Now, in with Rosemary. I used about a quarter cup from the HUGE Rosemary plant that’s in my garden. You want it to be as fresh as possible in order to deliver the most flavor possible.

Honey. The honey that I’ve got is the best honey in the world, hands down… But, choose your favorite and I’m sure it’ll be good too (haha). Use about a half of a cup (more if you like sweeter things) and pour it into your jar.

To finish everything off you need the essential ingredient, vodka. I used a less-expensive vodka for this, and I usually do when I’m doing infusions because good vodka is expensive and I’m mixing it with a bunch of stuff so… what’s the point. If I could afford Grey Goose for my infusions, I would use it, but, I can’t, so here we are.

Top everything off with the vodka, leaving a little room at the top so you can give it all a good shake (once the lid is secured) and get those flavors workin’ and get that vodka infused.

Mix with club soda. You don’t want to miss out on all the good flavors you just used by mixing it with Sprite or something. Although, I think Ginger Beer would be delicious (pretty much anything with ginger beer in it is good). If you like your drinks on the sweeter side, add a little simple syrup!

Have a great weekend and enjoy this delicious beverage!

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Caramelized Onion and Feta Crostinis.

A while back I cooked for a small wedding reception party thing for my Mom and her husband Aaron.

I did a couple different things, not knowing the people who were going to be there, I went with a couple basic things, items that everyone and anyone would like.

One thing that I did stood out in particular though. It was an idea that I had tried before at a friends birthday party where I also was the cook/chef.

CARAMELIZED ONION & FETA CROSTINIS

Ingredients: Red onion, feta cheese, honey, butter, ground black pepper, your favorite bread to make crostinis with

THE SHMECIPE:

Once you have gathered all your ingredients together, begin by slicing your onion. Try and get the sliced relatively thin and as even as possible. This will ensure that nobody gets a big bite of crunchy red onion, and instead will get sweet, silky, evenly cooked yumminess.

In a frying pan (or whatever you’ve got handy), melt about a spoonful of butter completely on low heat (burnt butter is nasty), and add your onions. Toss to make sure they are coated, and let them caramelize, stirring occasionally.

After about 3 minutes of this, add a spoonful of honey and stir in. Add a pinch of ground black pepper, toss, and continue to let caramelize until onions are the desired texture… I like mine completely soft for this crostini, but if you like a bit of crunch, that’s alright too. Remember to turn off the heat once you’ve got what you want in the pan.

Gather your baguette, and slice into about 1/2 inch thick pieces. In a large frying pan, melt a third of a stick of butter and place your crostinis in the pan on medium to low heat. Allow time for the bread to brown on one side (about 2 minutes) and then flip. Remove your crostinis from the pan and turn off the heat.

Add a dollop of caramelized red onions on to your crispy bread and top with crumbled feta cheese.

This appetizer was a big hit at both parties I served it at. It’s unusual, but the flavor combinations work perfectly together, with the punch of the red onion balanced nicely with the sweetness of the honey and the salty coolness of the feta.

Enjoy.

Pickled Jalapenos with Red Onions and Garlic.

Back where I used to work, they pickled everything. Well, at least it seemed like it to me. Partly because most of the pickling was for the Pantry station, so, when I would come home, my fingers would pretty much be pickled.

This turned into a problem. An annoyance. A turn off. And ultimately turned me off of the idea of pickled anything.

So, today, after a not-so-great start to my day, I decided to try it for myself. To see if I could do it better. Often times when I go out to eat, I end up disappointed, critiquing the dish, thinking “I could do this better”.

That may not always be the case, but, it’s what I think.

PICKLED JALAPENOS WITH RED ONIONS AND GARLIC

Ingredients: Jalapenos, Red Onions, Garlic, Limes (for lime juice), Rice Vinegar, Salt, Dried Chives, Sugar, Water

THE SHMECIPE:

As always, begin by gathering your ingredients.

Cut your jalapenos and be careful not to touch your eyes afterwards. This is not a fun thing to forget.

Chop your onions, quarter your lime, dice your garlic, and get your hands on that Ball Jar.

I used about 7 jalapenos,  half of a medium sized red onion and 4 cloves of garlic.

In your jar add salt, sugar, dried chives, about a quarter cup of water and one cup of vinegar.

This is the lovely thing about this shmecipe. Because you’re using a Ball jar, I see no reason to heat all these things together in a pan, and then transfer them to the jar… just heat them in the jar, making sure its only about half full. Put jar in microwave for a minute and a half, or until it’s hot enough for the salt and sugar to dissolve completely.

Add your pickling items. A couple jalapenos, some onions, some garlic, a squeeze of lime… you want to make sure that all the flavors are talking to one another.

The liquid will be hot, so please be careful. Seal your jar tightly and leave it on the counter to rest until it is room temperature, then refrigerate.

Your tasty (I think) pickled friends will be ready to eat/use in roughly 24 hours. But, if I were to do this (ummm, hello, I just did), I would wait at least a week before I open this jar of awesome. Plus, truth be told, I’ve never made this before. So, that means… follow up! Yes, there will be a follow up to how this stuff actually turns out.

Horray for cooking adventures! Bon voyage!

Thumbprint Smore Cookies.

AKA The Devil.

Why? You ask.

Because. They are delicious and it’s hard to have just one. Even though they’re kinda giant. And they’re nothing less than horrible for you.

But heck! How else are we supposed to keep warm with these freezing Winter temperatures?!?!

THUMBPRINT SMORE COOKIES

Ingredients: Your favorite brownie mix (yes, brownie) or your favorite brownie recipe; Marshmallow Fluff, Whipped Cream Cheese, Graham Crackers, eggs, butter, cooking spray

By now you’ve realized this is kind of a gross idea. I mean, seriously, that list of ingredients nearly gives me a heart attack just reading it. But alas, sometimes ya just gotta do whatchya gotta do. Plus, I wont eat any, so, no guilt here! Ha. Awesome.

THE SHMECIPE:

Begin by gathering all your sticky, sweet, sugary, fattening, delicious ingredients together on the counter.

I cheated. I totes cheated. I used BOXED brownie mix.

I know, I know…it’s a horrible horrible thing to do… but, it’s Trader Joe’s, so it’s alright…right?!?!

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees!

Get your brownie concoction together. If you do decided to use a  boxed brownie mix, just use one less egg, and it should make the consistence thick enough to roll into little balls.

If you fail at mixing your batter together by hand, resort to your handy dandy friend, your mixer. After all, that’s what they’re there for.

FAIL.

GREAT SUCCESS.

Now, roll your cookie brownie batter into balls a little smaller than golf balls and place in greased cupcake tray. If you don’t have one, use a baking sheet, it’ll be fine.

Place the tray in the oven and begin on your Marshmallow Fluff and Cream Cheese mixture (insert heart attack here).

Using your mixer again (clean it yo), combine a little over half of your fluff container (about a cup and a half), and about a cup of your whipped cream cheese. Mix until well blended and put into piping bag and refrigerate.

Your brownie cookies should take about 20 minutes in the oven, but, everyone’s oven are different, so, to check, insert a toothpick into the center of one of the middle cookies, and if the toothpick comes out clean, take ’em out! If not, check them again in a couple minutes and repeat the process.

Once they are done, remove them, and let them cool. As soon as you can take them out of the tray, do so and let them rest on the counter. This way the bottoms don’t keep cooking and don’t get all gross and crusty. If they are cool enough to touch but not break, use the back of a spoon and create your “thumbprint”, or, use your thumb!

While your cookies are cooling take some of your graham crackers (I used about three) and break them into little pieces and put them into your mini food processor. If you don’t have one, just crunch them up really well 🙂

In your “thumbprint” sprinkle a little bit of your crumbs into each cookie.

By this time, your cookies should be completely cool.

Take your piping bag and fill each void with Fluff Stuff generously then sprinkle with graham cracker crumble.

It’s ridiculously good and VERY, VERY sticky. You will want a glass of milk and some napkins with this tasty treat!

THIS is how you keep warm when it’s 30 degrees and you can’t go outside and make the real thing.

Enjoy!

Butternut Squash and Bacon Pizza.

I’ve had a Butternut Squash hanging out in my pantry for about 2 months. Last night, I finally decided to do something with it.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND BACON PIZZA

Ingredients: Puff pastry, fresh basil, butternut squash, bacon, Parmesan, fennel, orange oil, corn (off the cob), salt and pepper, olive oil

This isn’t one of those ideas I got in my head, went to the grocery store, got the ingredients, and made. It’s more like, “I’ve got this stuff, lets see what I can do with it”.

THE SHMECIPE:

The first thing to do it to prep all your ingredients…

Two hours (at least) before you’re ready for dinner you have to start on your Butternut Squash. You go about this by chopping it in half long-ways, brushing it with olive oil, sprinkling it with salt and pepper, and popping it in the oven at 375 degrees for about and hour and a half…or until you can stick a fork in it and it seems a bit mushy. Yum. Once you have mushy squash, take it out, let it cool, scoop out the innards into a container and set aside to let it cool a bit.

Next up is to make sure your Puff pastry will be at room temperature when you’re ready to use it. While you’re prepping everything, keep it in the ‘fridge, and about five minutes before you’re going to use it, take it out. If it’s hanging out on the counter the whole time, it’s going to be impossible to deal with when the time comes.

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Thinly slice your fennel, toss lightly with salt and orange oil and sautee.

Once your fennel is soft, remove from heat and set aside in a small dish, this way you can reuse the same pan.

Gather your corn and in the same pan you used to do the fennel, pan roast your corn with a bit of olive oil for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Chop your bacon. I did larger chunks to ensure I was getting maximum bacon flavor when I ate the pizza. You don’t want it to get lost in the Butternut Squash.

Once you have achieved desired crispiness with your bacon chunks, turn off the heat and let it rest. Keep in mind when you are cooking it that you are going to be putting the bacon on the pizza in the oven, so it will get crispier than you think. Maybe cook it a bit less crispy then you like so it has a bit of cookin’ room once it’s in the oven.

So, your Butternut Squash mush is sitting on the counter waiting for you to deal with it. Chop up fresh basil and add it in with your puree. Salt and pepper as you please, mix thoroughly, and ta da! You’re done with it!

Remove your Puff Pastry. You only need one sheet for this, about 14in. by 14in.. Cut it in half, and in a large, greased lasagna pan (it’s what I had, but a cookie sheet would work too), place your two halves about an inch apart.

Spread an even amount of your Butternut Squash mixture onto both pizzas.

Add your corn, fennel, and bacon.

Then add Shredded Parmesan cheese and pop in your oven at 350 degrees for about twenty minutes or until the corners of the pastry are golden brown and your cheese is perfectly melted and delicious looking.

Remove from oven and pan and let rest for about 3-5 minutes (you don’t want to burn your mouth on scorching Butternut squash). Add fresh chopped Basil if desired.

This is one of those dishes that I will most likely repeat. It was insanely good and relatively easy once you got your squash roasted. I put it in the oven and cleaned for a couple hours, which made it easy.

Super delicious and fun to make. Enjoy!

Tequila Lime Party Favors.

Whelp, there’s a big birthday coming up, this weekend in fact.

My Mom’s Husband, Aaron, is turning 50. Now, he’s one of these people that NEEDS to celebrate his birthday ON his birthday. If ya don’t, it doesn’t count, isn’t the same, yada yada.

So, all of his closest friends will be gathered at their house in Carmel Valley for the celebration, and who is there to help, handy-dandy me!

Party favors were needed, and Mom wasn’t coming up with anything, and really, neither was I. But, when I stepped outside last weekend and it was 70+ degrees in January on the beach, I got inspired wanting a Margarita.

TEQUILA LIME PARTY FAVORS

Ingredients/necessary items: Lots of limes (twice as many as how many favors you’re doing, Half-pint Ball jars, Tequila, ribbon or twine, or whatever you want to wrap it with, tags (or whatever you want), water and pot for boiling

THE SHMECIPE:

Begin with your jars. Follow instructions on the package they come in…usually it says to boil the jars and let them cool or something like that; that’s what I did.

Slicing your limes… I made eighths out of mine for perfect little lime slices. Aside from looking cute, this size is good for many reasons. If you want to take one out and use it like you would an unsoaked lime after a shot of Tequila, this is rather efficient (the Tequila is already there!). Also, if you cook with these, it’s a nice squeezing size (would be great with Mexican inspired dishes such as Chicken Tacos or fish dishes).

So, your jars are ready with lids off and to the side and your limes are all sliced up.

I added about a lime and a half to each jar. You want to give them a bit more room than you think because you want each slice to be completely covered in tequila when that time comes…which is now!

I did 12 half-pint Ball jars and used just under a handle of tequila. Gently pour tequila into jars, making sure that the limes are submerged and covered completely, minimizing the air in the containers.

Now it’s time to seal these bad boys. Gently screw on each lid, making them tight but still giving them a little room for more tightening. Get your water simmering shallow enough so that the lids are not under water and can your favors. If you have not done this before, it’s simple. Just get a large pot (in size, not in depth necessarily, at least not for these squat little jars), simmer water, place your jar in the water (as many as you can comfortably fit), and let them bathe in the hot water for about 5 minutes. This will seal the jars and prevent air from getting in/out and making your limes turn brown from oxidizing. Take the jars out of the water, do the final twist on the lid to tighten completely, and let cool.

Once your jars have completely cooled and are all sealed up, wrap them up as you please. I did twine and a tag. Easy easy and very cute.

This Party Favor will be a hit. You can cook with it, or you can simple enjoy having your tequila already mingling with your lime and you can take out a slice and “shoot” it, giving yourself a green smile 🙂

Heirloom Tomato and Avocado Crostinis.

A while back I wanted to make a crostini of some sort.

Scratch that. I ALWAYS want to make a crostini of some sort.

I play with different breads, different butters (herb (that I make), REAL, salted, not salted, sweet, etc.), but most of all, and most importantly, what goes ON the Crusty Crostini.

That is what is best about this delicious little bite (or three). THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.

For example, here is one that I made a wee bit ago.

HEIRLOOM TOMATO AND AVOCADO CROSTINI

Ingredients: One ripe avocado (ready to eat/devour), one Heirloom Tomato, Cilantro, good Olive Oil, salt, your favorite baguette, butter, lemon juice

Now, the reason that this is so good, aside of course the delicious topping, is the bread (zee crostini).

I used a “Rustic” baguette from a local bakery. It’s basically fresh French bread, in baguette form, and I think it works perfectly.

THE SHMECIPE:

To begin, chop up your tomato. You may leave the seeds in  if you like. I did in order to increase the intense flavor that a perfectly ripe Heirloom tomato brings to the dish; but if you do not like them, or think the have the texture of “monkey brains” (Thank you Pops), then taking them out will not hurt a thing.

So, chop up your tomato and set it aside in a bowl big enough to mix everything together (there’s not that much stuff, so it doesn’t need to be huge). Next, set about chopping your cilantro. You don’t need a lot, but the kick that it adds is wonderful, so I encourage you do use it. Add the cilantro to your tomatoes and gather your avocado. Halve, twist, dice, and scoop out the innards of your ‘cado into the bowl with everything.

LIGHTLY dowse it with your handy-dandy olive oil and a pinch of salt. The salt is important. It not only brings out the velvety taste of the avocado, but it lends itself to improving and exaggerating the textures of the tomato.  At this point in time, take a tiny bit of lemon juice (if you have an actual lemon to squeeze it out of, that’s optimal) and cover your mixture with it. This will help prevent your avocado from turning brown. Cover the mixture tightly and place in the ‘fridge.

Getting to your crostinis. Slice your bread however you want yours to look. I did mine at and angle, but it really doesn’t matter if it’s just you and you don’t care what it looks like! Regardless, it’ll taste the same and it’ll taste delicious. Once your bread is sliced, heat a frying pan on medium heat with about 1/3 cup of butter. Do more or less depending on, well, what you want, but that’s about how much I used. Remember to always be checking it, your butter that is. Burnt butter is gross and we don’t want that happening, now do we?

All the butter is nice and melted. Place your slices in the pan… now, be patient. It takes about two minutes on each side… We are looking for a golden brown color on our bread. A beautiful, crispy, buttery crostini us what we are after.

Retrieve your perfect crostinis, take your mix out of the refrigerator, and top generously.

Brownies. Bacon. Brussle Sprouts.

Happy Food Year.

We got invited to a wonderful NYE party.

It was a Pot-Luck and these are some of the things I brought.

BROWNIES WITH LEMON CURD AND WHIPPED CREAM CHEESE FROSTING.

I’m so glad I found Leeks. I love them. They are wonderful.

Especially when thrown in Bacon grease, with the Bacon.

FRIED BRUSSLE SPROUTS WITH CRISPY BACON, CORN, LEEKS AND GOAT CHEESE

“Beef Wellington”

Alright kids. We’re back on track. The Holidays are over and the New Year has begun. Now… where to start…

I made Beef Wellington for Christmas Dinner. I did not use a recipe (obviously) and it turned out fantastic, although the pictures we took did not (thank you Mimosas).

BEEF WELLINGTON WITH GLAZED CARROTS, BUTTERED ASPARAGUS, AND BABY SQUASH WITH GRAVY (yes, gravy)

I’m well aware that this is not the traditional way to cook this dish, but, I felt the need to put my own twist on things. Maybe I can’t even call it “Beef Wellington”, maybe I need to call it something else… Regardless of all that shinanigans, I believe I will be toying with this dish again sometime soon considering there are about a million things I believe I would do differently; but, when it’s Christmas, and it’s late, and you’ve had it in your head that this is what you’re making, you do it, so, I did.

Ingredients (for individual Beef dish): One cut of Filet Mignon, Puff Pastry, Carrots, Asparagus, gravy fixin’s (flour, butter, stock, seasonings), Black Truffle Oil, Baby Squash, Salt and Pepper, Fresh Rosemary and Italian Parsley, more butter, Brown Sugar

THE SHMECIPE:

Obtain your Filet Mignon and one for your buddy maybe. Roughly 3-4 hours before the meal, dowse LIGHTLY with Black Truffle Oil. DO NOT USE A LOT. This stuff is potent and if there is too much it will taste, well,  gross (my opinion). So, lightly cover and rub-in your oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cover in an air-tight container in the ‘fridge.

At the same time, or maybe before (depends on your ‘fridge), be sure to take out your Puff Pastry and allow it to defrost. You can throw it on the counter, just don’t let it get too warm or it’ll be impossible to work with.

Take a break and relax. Nothing for you to do at this point in time.

(Insert Jeopardy theme song).

Ok! Time to eat (almost).

Roll out your Pastry nice and even…not too thick, not too thin. Remember, you want to be able to fold it around your Filet and not break, but not so thick the middle wont cook all the way through. So, your Pastry is rolled out into a nice circle (or square) (doesn’t matter too much, as long as it’s big enough to cover your Filet… you can cut some away if it’s too much) and your Filet is in hand. Place the Filet in the middle of your dough and wrap it up like a present. Once your meat is completely wrapped up in it’s nice wrapping paper, you may brush it with egg if you like, but the Puff Pastry I used didn’t need it (insane amount of butter).

Place wrapped Filets in the ‘fridge for about ten minutes, covered, crease-side down. Pre-heat your oven to about 375 degrees.

Make your gravy! Some of us have favorite ways to do such a thing, but, if you don’t it’s super duper easy. Melt butter in a pan, keeping your heat low. You are going to add flour and you don’t want it to burn and taste nasty. Add your flour until the combination forms a silky roux. Slowly whisking, add stock and seasonings. I added fresh Rosemary, salt and pepper, and chopped Italian Parsley. Continuously whisk until desired consistency is reached, turn on very low heat, and let your gravy reduce a bit.

Take out your Beef. Brush with melted butter, cut small notches in the top of the dough to allow steam to escape, place in a greased oven-safe pan, and put ’em in the oven!

Halve Baby Squash, clean Carrots, and prep Asparagus. In a small frying pan, melt a small amount of butter. Once the butter is completely melted, add Carrots (see the photo above of the Carrots I chose to use). Create a nice coating on them, and sprinkle in a bit of brown sugar. Cover and keep the heat low,  allow to slow-cook for the next 5 minutes or so, maybe longer depending on the Carrots you choose.

Check your Beef Wellington.

Steam your Asparagus, toss gently with Salted Butter, and set aside. Check your Carrots, and, if ready, turn off the heat. They should be glossy and beautiful.

At this point in time, your Puff Pastry should be golden brown and looking just about perfect (takes about 15-20 minutes). Take it out and let it rest! Once your perfect-looking meat is resting, place your Baby Squash in with the gravy. I like my squash with a little crunch still left in them, but if you don’t just add them sooner into the gravy and they will be soft and mushier. After about 5 minutes, turn off gravy, double check all of your other burners are off, including the oven, and get your plates!

Squash and gravy on the bottom, Beef Wellington on top of that, Glazed Carrots on top of that, and Asparagus on the side (Paul put it on top in the picture…silly guy).