Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ginger Ale

(Yet another recipe from hubby. This one reminds me of a good ginger drink sold in India.)

I was inspired to make home-made Ginger Ale after I saw a recipe on the New York Times website that fit my culinary capabilities - in other words, it was easy. The original recipe called for fresh ginger juice and sugar. Let me first start with their recipe (below).

Ingredients (makes 1 serving):
  • 4 teaspoons fresh ginger juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice plus lime wedge, for garnish
  • 1 1/4 cups cold club soda.
Directions:
  1. Stir ginger juice, sugar and lime juice in 16-ounce glass until sugar isdissolved. Add ice and the club soda. Garnish with lime wedge.
Now let tell you my short-cut version. (Yes, I can even shortcut the easy stuff.):
  • Personally, I've found that trying to dissolve sugar in cold water is a royal pain. My wife actually suggested that instead of messing around with making ginger juice and stirring the concoction endlessly till the sugar dissolved, I use the honey ginger crystals I already had at home. They're called Honey Ginger Crystals (http://popus.com/health.html - scroll down to the bottom of the page) and they're available at the local Asian grocery store. Even if they do not stock this exact brand, you should be able to find a very similar product.
  • Dissolve the ginger honey crystals in a bit of warm water, and then add the club soda and lime juice. I also used much less lime juice than the recipe. The end result was refreshingly delicious!

Honey Green Tea

(The recipe and post below is from my hubby. He loves making different drinks. This is one that is usually finished when we have guests over.)

I love honey green tea. But what I don't love is paying $1 for a bottle of it or $4 for a gallon. Moreover, much of the store-bought green tea has more corn syrup in it than honey. Ugh. So, I decided to try making it at home. You only need three ingredients (water, green tea, honey). There are a lot of different types of green tea out there, and you will have to find one that you like. Personally, I use the Trader Joe's Green Tea. I like the flavor and it's damn cheap (48 bags of tea for $1.99).

Ingredients (makes 7 servings):
  • 7 bags of green tea
  • 7 cups of water
  • Honey (to taste)
Directions:
  1. Bring the water to a boil and then let it cool down for 5-7 minutes. Add the green tea and let it sit for 1-2 minutes. (Be careful - green tea can become bitter if it sits in the water too long.)
  2. Add honey and stir to dissolve. For an extra twist, use flavored honey. When the green tea has cooled, move it to a pitcher and place it in the fridge. Serve chilled and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mexican Food

Growing up in New Mexico it is hard not to love New Mexican/Mexican food. The Mexican food in NM has a blend of Mexican, Spanish and Native American influences. The most famous items are the green/red chili sauces. We love the Hatch enchilada sauce so much that my parents have to bring some from New Mexico at every visit. Below are some recipes that go well with making enchiladas, wet burritos, tostadas, quesadillas…you get the picture.

Guacamole
Ingredients
  • 2 Haas med-large avocadoes
  • ¼ red onion finely diced
  • 1 small tomato finely chopped, seeds removed
  • 1 small jalepeno, finely diced, seeds removed (optional)
  • 1-2 teaspoons cilantro finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped (can add more)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • Salt to taste
Directions:
  1. Place onion in cold water for 5-10 minutes. Drain and place in bowl.
  2. Add tomatoes, jalapeño, garlic and cilantro.
  3. Add avocadoes then lime juice and salt. Mash and enjoy!
Red Chili Sauce
With this recipe, the milder the dry red chile used, the milder the sauce. If you leave the seeds in, it will make for a spicier sauce. The sauce can be used for enchiladas, eggs, wet burritos, and just about anything else.
Ingredients:
  • 4 dry New Mexico Red Chiles
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregno
  • Salt to taste (at least ½ teaspoon)
Directions:
  1. Remove seeds and stem from chilies. Pour boiling water over chillies and let soften for 30 minutes or more. Remove chillies but do not discard the water.
  2. Place chillies in blender, add garlic, oregno and 2 cups of soaking water to the blender. Blend until smooth. Add more water if needed. Salt before using.
Beans
Ingredients:
  • 2 cups dry pinto beans
  • 1 medium sized onion, cut in quarters
  • 1 jalepeno (optional)
  • 4 cloves of garlic (can use less, but the taste of the garlic is muted as it cooks)
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cumin
Directions:
  1. Wash and soak beans for 4-6 hours.
  2. After soaking, rinse off and place in pressure cooker with 4 cups of water, onion, jalepeno, garlic, salt and cumin. Bring to a boil and lower heat. Cook for 20 minutes until beans soften.
  3. If you want whole beans, do nothing more. If you want “refried” beans, drain some of the water out and mash with spoon or potato masher.

Classic Béchamel…Healthier

The classic béchamel is a versatile sauce that is rich and creamy. It is known as one of the 'mother' sauces in French cooking (not sure why its called a 'mother' sauce). Although I love this sauce, it is too heavy to eat on a regular basis. The recipe below is a healthier version but still has all of the yummy taste. I substituted light butter (butter with canola oil) for the whole fat butter and fat-free milk for whole milk. You can use low-fat milk and full fat butter to increase the creaminess. The addition of parmesan cheese adds salt and makes the sauce creamier. The basic recipe below makes enough for 8 oz of pasta or one pizza pie.

Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup fat free milk
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic, minced (add more for more garlic flavor)
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese (from the refrigerator asile, not the canned dry stuff)
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
Directions:
  1. Melt butter in heavy bottom pan (use stainless steel if possible) over medium heat. When butter starts foaming (don’t brown!), whisk flour in slowly. Continue whisking until flour is incorporated. Cook for about two minutes while stirring. Make sure not to brown the flour/butter.
  2. While the butter/flour is cooking, warm milk in microwave for ~one minute (it should be warm, not hot).
  3. Slowly add in warm milk in; add small amounts and whisk into to prevent clumps. Once all the milk has been added in, continue to warm on medium for about five minutes until the sauce thickens.
  4. Once sauce has thickened, add garlic, parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper and black pepper to taste. Taste the sauce before adding salt. Cook for a minute/two more.
  5. Toss with pasta and enjoy!
Notes/Variations:
  • Spinach Sauce: add either a cup of thawed frozen spinach (water removed) or 1 cup of fresh chopped spinach to step 4.
  • Macaroni and cheese: Add 1 cup cheddar cheese at the end instead of parmesan cheese. Add some salsa for an extra kick.
  • Pink pasta sauce, add marinara to the finished sauce and toss with a pound of pasta.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cookies

I am not a baker. This is probably due to my love of salty foods over sweet ones. However, there are a few sweet things I love. Mexican wedding cookies are a favorite that melt in the mouth. They bring back fond memories of growing up in a small town…going to the bakery near the library and treating myself to these cookies. When I started work, I found the cookies at the Culinary School , however, I had to find a recipe to make them myself once I moved. The recipe below is adapted from Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen. The original recipe called for walnuts and pecans. Since I only have walnuts on most days, I use them and it is delicious. I’ve learned from others that you can use almonds as well. If you love chocolate, you can put a piece of chocolate in the middle of the snowball to make a yummy treat.

Mexican Wedding Cookies (aka Russian Tea Cookies)

Ingredients:
  • 2 sticks room temp butter
  • 1/3 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups super fine chopped walnuts
  • ½ teaspoon salt
Directions:
  1. Cream together 2 sticks of butter and sugar for 1 ½ min; get divet on bottom; add 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla. Mix together.
  2. Slowly add 2 cups of flour, chopped nuts and salt. Do not overmix but thoroughly mix. Soon as it starts to clump, its done.
  3. Shape into small balls and cook at 325* until the bottom is browned.
  4. Cool in baking sheet for 2 min. Put cookies in a bowl of powdered sugar to coat and remove. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pizza Pizza…



I love pizza! I began making them as a kid and am working to perfect the crust. I started out with the help of Ragu pizza crust mix; it was so easy, just add oil and water and poof, you had a decent pizza crust. Those were the good old days when my family was easily pleased. Once Ragu stopped making the mix, I moved onto buying ready-made crust from an Italian bakery. That came to a halt when I moved and did not have access to an Italian bakery. Then I began a quest to find a recipe that would make a tasty crust. After much experimentation, the recipe below is the one that tasted the best thus far.
What I changed from the original recipe: decreased the amount of salt (the original had 1 teaspoon of salt); decreased the amount of sugar (the original had 1 tablespoon). The more oil you add to the dough, the flakier the crust.


Ingredients:
(Makes one 14-16" pizza crust or 3-4 individual pizza crusts for grilled pizza)
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon salt (I go with 3/4 b/c 1 teaspoon is too much)
  • 1-2 teaspoons of sugar (I've stopped measuring. it was 1 tablespoon in the original recipe, but I've found you can use less)
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 packet of rapid rise yeast
Directions:
  1. Mix all of the dry ingredients (flour, salt, sugar). Add oil and mix. Add water (a little at time) to form soft dough.
  2. Place dough in oiled bowl and put a small amount of oil on the dough to prevent it from drying out. Cover bowl and place in warm place (usually I put in the oven) and leave alone for at least one hour or more. ( If you're pressed for time, you can bake in as little as one hour or wait longer if you have time.)
  3. For grilled pizzas: Divide into four equal parts. On a baking sheet, add some cornmeal and pat out dough into thin round discs. Grill one side for ~2 minutes (watch the dough to ensure it does not burn) and take off grill. Add sauce and toppings to grilled side and return to grill the other side until done. If you want the cheese browned, place under broiler. Cool for a minute or two and enjoy!
  4. For oven made pizza: Pat out into a circle onto lightly oiled pizza stone (or lightly oiled pan) and bake without any toppings at 400F for a pizza stone and at 375F for about 10 minutes. Pull out of the oven and then top with your favorite sauce (recipes included) and toppings and cheese. Put back into the oven to finish baking. Pizza is done when bottom is golden. Optional, turn on broiler for a few minutes to brown cheese. Let cool for 5 minutes before enjoying the results.
Notes/Variations:
  • Prep for the yeast varies on the type you buy. The rapid rise does not require you to “soak” the yeast; you can add it directly to the flour. Check the yeast.
  • Almost any type of oil can be used. The taste changes slightly based on the oil.
  • You can use wheat flour, however, this makes the crust more dense. Check out this recipe for a wheat crust: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/25/health/nutrition/25recipehealth.html
  • Extra ingredients can be added for additional flavor. Add any of the following to the mix in the first step: ground flax seed, rosemary, garlic, black pepper.
  • Sprinkle cornmeal on the pizza stone or pizza pan to give the crust an extra crunch.
  • You can use 1 packet of yeast for doubling the recipe; it works just as well.

Sangria Blanca

Although I’m not a huge fan of wine, I came across a recipe that almost made me change my mind. A friend brought this sangria to an event at the Hollywood Bowl and wowed everyone. After tasting her yummy sangria, I attempted to make it non-alcoholic. A few tries later, I came up with a recipe that resulted in a sangria that is a summer favorite.

Non-alcoholic wine can be found at your local grocery store or Trader Joes. The proportions are slightly eyeballed and you can substitute real white wine/sweet wine and add rum, brandy or gin for an extra kick. You can change this recipe up by using different fruits and proportions of some of the ingredients, creating your own personal sangria.

Ingredients:

  • 2 bottles non-alcoholic white/rose wine (can use Riesling or any sweet wine)
  • 1 can pineapple chunks packed in pineapple juice (make sure no sugar added)
  • 2-3 cans ginger ale (add more if you want it sweeter)
  • 2-3 tablespoons lime juice (adjust to your taste)
  • 1 peach (washed, cut in bite size pieces)
  • 1 nectarine (washed, cut in bite size pieces)
  • Handful strawberries (optional)

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients in pitcher or container the night before the event. Refrigerate.
  2. Taste the next day, if it does not taste right, adjust flavors (add sugar, more ginger ale, lime juice, etc).