Monday, October 31, 2011

Cocktail of the Week" Bloody Eyeball Martini

Happy Halloween!

You're going to need a cocktail after all those trick-or-treaters. Here's a festive one.  Mix your favorite  martini....although if you're like me and partial to dirty ones, you're going to want to skip the olive juice just this once to make sure that you get the full effect.

The holiday trimming is the garnish.  Take a couple of pimiento-stuffed olives and spear them up.  Embed a peppercorn in each to make an eye.  Place in your cocktail glass and pour the martini in.  Take a couple of dashes Peychaud's bitters and drop in for the full bloodshot effect.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

No Guilt Trick or Treating....

It's coming up in a couple of days.  The holiday where kids get candy and us adults sneak a piece or two from their plastic jack-o-lanterns after the young ones have gone to bed.

But don't can do it without feeling guilty.  (Except for the fact that you'

As to the calories though, don't worry too much about it.  A recent LSU study found that adults who ate about an ounce of candy a day on average tended to have smaller waists, a lower body mass index, and a lower risk of high blood pressure.

Would someone please pass me a Reese's?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fall Veggies

You already know this...but fruits and vegetables are seasonal.  They are best-tasting and best nutritionally when they are harvested at the right time in your region.  So, here in Texas, it's no longer time for tomatoes, yellow squash and peaches.  It's time for these four fall superstars (all of which I LOVE)...
  • Butternut squash:  This one packs a lot of fiber, potassium and beta-carotene into its distinctive shape.  Mash it together with potatoes.  Or roast it and toss with whole wheat pasta, sage and olive oil.
  • Brussels sprouts: Good ones are great steamed whole, but try shredding them and sauteeing with a little bacon.
  • Pears: It's not all about apples.  And pear's aren't just for eating out of hand.  Poach them for an elegant dessert.  Toss into a salad with blue cheese and walnuts.  Or slice onto a sandwich with a spread of almond butter.
  • Beets: They're red thanks to beta-cyanin...thought to fight cancer.  Other good stuff in these root veggies improve blood flow to your brain to keep it sharp.  Throw these guys into a fall salad...shredded with apples or roasted with carrots. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Halloween Hunting Guide.... Halloween is upon us.  That holiday where we (ok...our kids or neighbors' kids as surrogates) go out with roomy containers to collect sugar-laced, fat-filled nuggets of goodness.

But, wait, everyone is on a health kick these days, so what to do....

Cooking Light comes to the rescue with a New York magazine-style quadrant map "Halloween Treat Picker."  The bad corner maxes out on saturated fat and sugar while the opposite (what we should aspire to) section offers "healthier" options. 

The results?

Of course, my favorites are in the bad corner.  Reese's.  Twix.  M&M's.

Only a little better...3 Musketeers.  And Hershey's Miniatures.

But here are the ones you need to have your tykes set on "search"...  Laffy Taffy.  Smarties.  Tootsie Roll. Starburst.

I agree...ignore this post.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cooking Tips from The Food Network

The good shows on The Food Network--and there are quite a few of them--are educational.  Not just recipe how-to's, but peppered (pun intended) with great cooking tips.  A recent issue of Food Network Magazine collected a hundred of them from its stable of chefs.  Over the next several weeks, I'll share some of the ones I found most helpful.  Some are tried and true in my repertoire...others were real eye-openers.

  • When you make stock, make it in large quantities and freeze it in two cup portions in plastic bags or containers.  You can use it to add extra flavor to rice, sauces, and stir fries.
  • If you have a stainless steel sink, use it to get rid of the smell of garlic on your hands.  Rub your hands on the sink vigorously for 30 seconds and then wash them.  No odor.
  • Use a microplane grated to shave veggies into a vinaigrette.  Kick the flavor up with grated fennel and orange zest.  Or lemon zest and carrot.  Or...well, you get the idea.
  • Yes, you want your spices close to you as you're cooking.  But, no, you don't want them over the stove....nothing will kill their flavor faster.  Store in a cool dark place NOT above the hot zone of your kitchen.
  • If you need to add more oil to your pan while sauteing, add it in a stream along the edges of the pan.  That way, by the time it reaches whatever you're cooking, it will be heated.
  • Healthy up your creamy dressing by subbing Greek-style yogurt for half of the mayonnaise.
Stay tuned for more....

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cocktail of the Week: The Presbyterian

I'm not exactly why this drink has a religious name, but it's appropriate for a Sunday, no?

It's also a perfect autumn sipper...several of the ingredients make it the color of fall leaves.

The Presbyterian
Makes one cocktail.

2 ounces Bourbon
2 ounces club soda
2 ounces ginger ale
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled highball glass and stir.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Butternut Squash Spoon Bread

This is what you get when cornbread and butternut squash souffle have a love child.  It will be a perfect side for your more gourmet Turkey Day dinner spread, but why wait?  It was a delicious side to a perfectly cooked sage and bread crumb breaded pork chop....

(Dang....wish my camera wasn't at work so I could have taken a picture.)

Butternut Squash Spoon Bread
From Southern Living.
Makes 8-10 servings.

2 cups buttermilk
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups thawed, frozen unseasoned, pureed butternut squash (or use frozen or fresh squash that you cook and puree yourself)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup stone-ground white cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, melted
(Next time I make it I might add a little spice as well.  A teaspoon of hot pepper sauce?  Generous pinch of crushed red pepper?  Maybe even a diced jalapeno pepper.....)

Preheat oven to 350°. Cook buttermilk in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring often, 4 to 6 minutes or until bubbles appear around edges (do not boil); remove from heat. (Mixture may curdle.)

Lightly beat egg yolks in a large bowl; stir in squash and cheese. Combine cornmeal and next 4 ingredients in a small bowl. Stir cornmeal mixture into squash mixture. Pour warm buttermilk over squash mixture; whisk until smooth. Let stand 15 minutes or until lukewarm.

Brush a 2 1/2- to 3-qt. baking dish or 12-inch cast-iron skillet with 1 tablespoon melted butter; stir remaining melted butter into squash mixture.

Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold into squash mixture. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish.

Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes or until top is golden and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pumpkin Panache...

Sure, we've talked apples and pears this month.  But we can't forget the pumpkin.  It's not just for jack-o-lanterns anymore.

Here are a few more creative ideas...

  • Kick your oatmeal up a notch...stir in a spoonful of pumkin puree and top with pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds).
  • Blend that pumpkin pie into a shake.  Combine a slice of pie, 1/2 cup milk and a cup of vanilla ice cream in the blender.  Slurp up with a straw.
  • Substitute pumpkin for your next batch of fries.  Roast sticks of pumpkin that you've tossed with olive oil and salt (and any other herbs/spices that sound good) at 450° for 20 minutes. 
  • Trick (or treat) out your bagels.  Blend 4 ounces cream cheese, 1/4 cup pumpkin puree and a pinch of cinnamon. Then spread the October love...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's Still Apple Month....

...and there are lots to enjoy in your grocery store produce section.  And we all have our favorites.  (I'm partial to Honeycrisps and Pink Lady's.)  But what if you're picking based on antioxidants.  It turns out that the common "lowly" Red Delicious has 500% more antioxidants than and Empire apple.  But, if you're peeling for a pie, use Northern Spies.  Their flesh has more antioxidants than others.

Source: Real Simple magazine

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vintage Menus on the Web

Seems that if you were on the Pennsylvania Railroad's Pullman car in 1900, you could choose between stuffed mangos or boiled red snapper with shrimp sauce.

In 1969, if you were staying at the Holiday Inn in San Marcos, Texas, you might start your meal with a chiffonade salad or one of several "Appeteasers" like Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail or Split Pea Soup.

And in 1954, at the Plaza, a tequila would set you back $1.15.

How do I know these things?  From a fascinating wesbite launched by the New York Public Library. At, you can peruse hundreds of menus from more than a century ago to today.  You can even help them transcribe menus to make them searchable.

Check it out...and post links to your favorites in the comments section.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


For most of us, it's time to get out there and see the leaves.  They are's not yet clear what kind of color show we'll get here in Texas, but I am hoping there are a few still on the branches when I head to North Carolina in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, I'm taking every opportunity to wander around the neighborhood and local parks to take a look.  Did you know there are more than 750 tree species native to North America?  If you can't figure out what you're looking at, snap a photo of a leaf with your iPhone and use the Leafsnap app to identify it.  You'll know your Shumards from your water oaks in no time at all.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pear-Chile Salsa

When I found it in a Central Market Hatch chile cookbook, I set this recipe aside to try a month or so ago when I was gifted with a bag of end-of-season New Mexico chiles, figuring it was a good way to use them raw rather than roasted.  You have no excuse to save it until next year's Hatch chile season though.  As I mentioned yesterday, pears are in high season, so it's a perfect time to mix up a batch.

Not sure exactly how I'll use it, but it strikes me as an excellent candidate for roast pork, taco garnish, or cracker and cream cheese topper.

Pear-Chile Salsa
Makes about 5 pints.

1/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon garlic pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cumin
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 cups chopped chiles (chop by hand for a chunky salsa or in the processor as I did for a saucy salsa)
1 medium red onion, minced
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
8 cups pears, coarsely chopped (again...I cheated and used the Cuisinart)

Combine all ingredients in a large stockpot.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes.

Ladle hot salsa into clean canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Process in a hot water canner for 15 minutes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Let's Not Forget About Pears....

Yes, it's a wonderful time for apples.  But it's also the peak of pear season as well.

Here's a list of varieties for you to investigate:

  • Anjou:  This one can be either red or green and is ubiquitous and available year-round.  It's also quite adaptable, good both raw and cooked.
  • Bartlett:  This one also comes in red and green varieties.  It is slightly more floral, and is also good both raw and cooked.
  • Bosc: This is the most autumnal-looking pear with its rusty brown skin.  It has a firm texture so it's good for preserves or poaching.
  • Comice: Creamy, juicy and sweet, these are the ones to eat out-of-hand.  
  • Concorde: This variety is firm and resists browning, making it perfect for a cheese plate.  It aso cooks well.
  • Seckel:  These cuties are great as garnish or for snacking.
  • Starcrimson: Bright red skin contrasts with creamy white flesh...perfect for a fruit salad.
What's your favorite?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fun with Ice Cube Trays

Ice cube trays are favorite objects for people who come up with kitchen tips.   A couple of ideas that come up often are freezing pesto or chicken broth in trays, freezing and then and then storing in zip loc bags.  You'll have little cubes of goodness to add to soups, sauces, salad dressings, you name it...

But here are a few more ideas I recently ran across.  For all, simply freeze in the trays and use as needed.

  •  Chopped onions.  (I'd add other veggies like peppers as well.  Perfect to add to an omelet of scrambled eggs.)
  • Chipotle peppers in adobe sauce.  (Great idea!  Who ever needs a whole can?  And who likes to throw the wasted stuff away when you're cleaning out the fridge?)
  • Tea.  Now you're iced tea won't get diluted as the "ice" cubes melt.  Apply the same idea to lemonade, sangria, and the like.
  • Tomato paste.  A great way to add a burst of flavor to veggie sautes or pan sauces without having to use the whole can.
  • Chopped herbs.  This is the perfect way to preserve all those great summer flavors.
  • Wine.  Don't throw those last splashes of wine away.  Freeze and add to sauces.
  • Tomato juice.  Yeah, you could add to stews or chili, but wouldn't they be perfect in a Bloody Mary?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More October Is Apple Month Ideas...

Here are a few more great tips to utilize the apples fresh off the harvest...

Make some apple slaw by shredding carrots and cored apples in a food processor. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and a dash of cumin.

Spike up your iced tea as it brews with some diced apples and then sweeten with honey.

Swap melon for apple and wrap thin wedges of Golden Delicious with prosciutto for a different kind of nibble.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Heirloom Apples

It's Apple Month, and I've given you some tips already...with more to come.  But faced with the plethora of apple varieties that you can find at even the most pedestrian of grocery stores, one can be overwhelmed very quickly.

And I'm about to make it worse.

Thanks to Cooking Light, here are four heirloom varieties to look for...they're definitely on MY list.

  • Hidden Rose (pictured above): Cooking Light says this one has a nice floral scent and tastes of cranberry and wine.
  • Ashmead's Kernel (Great name!): Tart and crisp with notes of citrus and Champagne.
  • Winesap (probably the least exotic of this bunch): It has a sweet-tart flavor with hints of wine and spice.  This one is good for juicing and baking.  Apple pie, anyone?
  • Tompkins King: This one is a biggie with a nice balance of sweetness and tartness.
I can't wait to check them out....

Friday, October 07, 2011

Are They Insane?

Real Simple  magazine says that 53% of 16- to 22-year-olds would rather give up their sense of smell than their favorite personal technology device.  Hopefully, they can Tweet their way through the garden pictured.  Me?  I'll be stopping to smell the roses.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Compound Butters

More and more, I am becoming a fan of what I now call "finishing agents": sauces, salt mixes, salsas.  Those final touches that take a simple protein to a new level.  A category of these I need to explore more is compound butters...butter mixed with herbs or other ingredients and then used to top steak, grilled chicken, steamed veggies, whatever.

You take a stick of softened butter, combine with the additions and use parchment paper to make into a roll.  Then you can refrigerate for 2 weeks or freeze for up to 3 months.  Each recipe makes 1/2 cup.  To use, unwrap the roll and slice as needed. 

Here are a couple of interesting combos that are on the list to try that I ran across in the October Bon Appetit. 
  • A basic riff: 1/4 cup chopped herbs (parsley, tarragon, chives) and a teaspoon of grated lemon zest.  Season with salt.
  • An Indian twist to use in rice: 2 teaspoons turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon toasted brown mustard seeds, 1/2 teaspoon toasted yellow mustard seeds
  • How about this Asian one on fish...or popcorn? 2 teaspoons toasted white sesame seeds, 2 teaspoons toasted black sesame seeds, 1/2 sheet toasted nori, finely chopped, and kosher salt to taste.
  • This is going on my next ribeye.  2 tablespoons finely chopped dried porcini mushrooms and 1 tablespoon red wine.  (Oh, and kosher salt to taste.)
  • Need some richness on your chicken fajitas? 1 finely chopped canned chipotle in adobo and a teaspoon of freshly grated lime zest.
  • I have no idea what to do with this one, but I am mkaing it just in case. One slice bacon chopped and cooked, 1 tablespoon bourbon, 1 tablespoon maple syrup (NOT the cheap stuff in a plastic bottle from the grocery.  Mrs. Butter-who???) and 1 teaspoon brown sugar.  I might just eat this one by itself.   

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Cocktail of the Week: Basil Lime Daiquiri

It's happy hour!   And often as not, that means I head to the herb garden as well as the liquor cabinet.  I still have some basil hanging on after our long hot summer. So this refreshing cocktail is in order...

Basil Lime Daiquiri
Makes one cocktail.

Simmer 1/2 cup water with 1 1/2 cups basil leaves until reduced to 2 1/2 tablespoons.  Strain, then stir in 2 teaspoons light brown sugar and 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice.  In an ice-filled shaker, combine the basil-lime syrup with 2 ounces light rum and 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice.  Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with basil and lime.

Tasty, huh?  So good that I made extra syrup for a second (and third) round.

Monday, October 03, 2011

It's Apple Month!

October is Apple Month every year. So it's time to hit the grocery, farmers markets or...even better...orchards for a sweet crisp treat. And if you get tired of pies or eating them out of hand, courtesy Real Simple magazine, here are a few ideas for you.

  • Make apple chips by very thinly (think mandoline) slicing three apples. Bake the slices on a parchment-lined cookie sheet in a 200° oven for an hour. Sprinkle with salt.

Make a savory apple napoleon of sorts. Slice an apple horizontally and layer the slices with goat cheese, bacon, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Butter a whole-wheat pita and top with apple slices and cinnamon. Toast for 10 minutes at 350. Drizzle with honey before digging in.

Toss a couple of diced apples into your spinach salad, spiked with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, blue cheese and walnuts.

More to come soon...

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Words To Live By.....

"Gastronomical perfection can be reached in these combinations: one person dining alone, usually upon a couch or a hill side; two people, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good restaurant; six people, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good home."-M.F.K. Fisher, An Alphabet for Gourmets

Love this.  But it means that either we need to head out to a restaurant...or four of you need to come over NOW.