The Gin Breeze: A Coconut Water Cocktail

A drink on the deck

These unseasonably warm spring days make me crave a crisp, refreshing, icy cocktail. And as my first blog post after having a baby, I thought a cocktail would be very fitting.

Recently my husband drew my attention to coconut water, which is the liquid inside of a coconut. Unlike coconut milk, this is a thin, clear liquid. Coconut water is refreshing by itself, but I thought it would make a better back drop for a killer cocktail than a solo beverage.

Cocktail ingredients starring Coconut Water

Being a fan of gimlets, I paired the coconut water with gin and fresh lime juice. It needed a little sweetness, so I added a bit of honey, which did the trick. I initially was going to add mint, as well, but the mint overpowered the coconut flavor. With just the coconut water, gin, lime, and honey, the result is perfectly balanced. I give to you: The Gin Breeze.

THE GIN BREEZE
Servings: 1
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: n/a

Sip away a warm spring evening with this simple, mouthwatering cocktail.

Ingredients
2 ounces coconut water
1 ounce gin
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon honey

Directions
Combine the coconut water, gin, lime juice, and honey in a glass or cocktail shaker. Stir or shake until the honey is dissolved. Pour over ice. Garnish with a lime wedge and serve immediately.

The Gin Breeze


The Perfect Appetizer

Are you looking for a tasty bite for your next gathering? How about one that does all this:

  • Pairs well with a cocktail
  • Is salty, sweet and earthy all at the same time
  • Will please the crowd
  • Is easy to make
  • Also inexpensive to make
  • Uses ingredients you might already have on hand
  • Can be made days ahead
  • Doesn’t have to be kept hot or cold
  • Is vegetarian friendly
  • Yields many servings out of one batch.

I’ve created this too-good-to-be-true appetizer, and I’m letting you in on the secret: Rosemary Parmesan Crackers.

Completed Rosemary Parmesan Crackers on a platter with fig jam

The crackers end up crispy (almost crumbly) and salty with that rosemary shining through. They could certainly be served as is, but spreading them with a little bit of fig jam makes them incredibly delicious. That sweet/salty combination makes you go back for more and more.

I am featuring this recipe in my upcoming cooking class at Crate called There’s an “App” for That! on Thursday, March 31st. You’ll learn a number of different appetizer recipes that will fit different occasions, including what to serve while watching the game and as a starter for an elegant brunch.

The recipe for the Rosemary Parmesan Crackers is below. It can be boiled down to four easy steps: mixing everything in your electric mixer until a ball forms, shaping the ball into a log, slicing into rounds and baking.

A log of cracker dough, sliced into 1/4-inch slices


Rosemary Parmesan Crackers on a sheet pan ready to be baked


Golden brown Rosemary Parmesan Crackers fresh out of the oven


Golden brown Rosemary Parmesan Crackers fresh out of the oven

A simple plate of Rosemary Parmesan Crackers

You might need to go to the store to buy fresh rosemary, but everything else you should have in your pantry. Please enjoy and don’t skip the fig jam!

ROSEMARY PARMESAN CRACKERS
Makes about 50-60 crackers
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

These delicately crisp crackers are easy to whip up and one batch makes a lot. They are scrumptious by themselves, but are even better with a little spread of fig jam.

Ingredients
8 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup flour
1 cup grated parmesan
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Directions
Cream the butter in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the flour, parmesan, rosemary, black pepper, salt and sugar. Combine until a ball is formed, scraping down the sides as needed.

Shape the dough into a long skinny log and wrap in plastic wrap. Freeze for 30 minutes to make slicing easier.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Slice the log into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Lay the rounds out on a sheet pan and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers are crispy and slightly golden.

Cool the crackers on a cooling rack. Once the crackers are cool, store in an airtight container.

Completed Rosemary Parmesan Crackers on a platter with fig jam

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Ghee-licious

A jar of freshly made ghee

You’ve probably heard of clarified butter or drawn butter. But have you heard of ghee? I would like to take this moment to make a formal introduction.

Ghee (pronounced like Geek without the k) is a variety of clarified butter commonly found in India and surrounding countries and is used as an ingredient, a cooking fat, and a condiment. Both clarified butter and ghee are very similar butter derivatives with one simple, yet crucial difference.

Let’s start with a butter basic. Butter has three components: butterfat, water, and milk solids. In both clarified butter and ghee, you remove the water and milk solids to leave behind only pure butterfat. However, when making ghee, you *toast* the milk solids in the butterfat before removing them, leaving behind a roasty, toasty flavor.

Here’s how it works:

Start with unsalted butter. You can make ghee with as much butter as you like. I am using a pound. Place the butter in a sauce pan and turn the heat to medium-high.

Start with a pound of butter

The butter is ready to melt

The butter starts to melt

The butter is almost melted

The butter will melt and start to bubble as the water begins to boil off. Turn the heat down to medium and let it continue to bubble. A white foam will form on the top.

A white foam forms on the top of the melted butter

The melted butter starts to bubble

You will notice the color of the ghee will begin to turn from a golden yellow to a darker yellow. You will also notice the milk solids (they look like flecks) settling on the bottom or clinging to the sides of the pan. These milk solids will turn from white to dark brown as they toast. After about 15 minutes, the foam on top will subside, the bubbling will slow, the color of the ghee will be dark yellow, and all the milk solids will be dark brown.

The white foam starts to subside

The white foam is complete gone

Milk solids begin to cling to the side of the pan and turn brown

The milk solids are fully toasted and the ghee is ready to strain

At this point, turn off the heat. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and let the ghee rest for a minute to allow the milk solids to completely settle out. Strain through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer into a glass jar with a tightfitting lid. Straining the ghee will catch all of the toasted milk solids. Screw the lid on right away to trap the heat inside; this is the traditional method and it creates a more desired texture. Right now the ghee will be a hot liquid (to me it looks like a nice dark beer), but after about 4-6 hours, it will cool to an opaque, semi-solid consistency.

Getting ready to strain the ghee

A jar of freshly made ghee

Ghee turns opaque after cooling completely

Ghee can be stored indefinitely at room temperature, as long as you don’t expose it to too much light or heat, and if you’re mindful about scooping out the ghee from the jar with a clean spoon.

So now you have a jar of ghee, what are you going to do with it? Here is the good news. Since ghee is pure fat, it won’t burn. The milk solids in butter are what burns, and those and been removed. Therefore, ghee can not only be used as a garnish, but in high-heat cooking applications, too! Here are some ideas:

  • Use it for sauteing, stir frying, pan frying, or searing meat, poultry or fish
  • Spread it on breads, flat breads or tortillas
  • Warm it up and drizzle it over popcorn
  • Brush it on when working with phyllo dough
  • Use it instead of butter when scrambling eggs, making omelets or when making French toast
  • Dress up simple steamed vegetables
  • Stir it into rice or toss with noodles
  • Melt a dollop on top of pureed soups or braised dishes
  • Spoon it directly into your mouth

Spooning out ghee from the jar

Spooning out ghee from the jar

Spooning ghee over a hot bowl of lentils and rice

Bowl of lentils and rice with ghee melted on top

You’ll always find a jar of ghee in my kitchen. Ghee’s versatility and long shelf life make it convenient to keep around. And nothing can quite describe the comforting flavor and aroma of this beautiful ingredient. It’s buttery, it’s warm, it’s toasty, it’s ghee.

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Chocolate & Avocado

Chocolate & Avocado

After an experiment at a wedding with a disassembled California Roll and a chocolate fountain, my friend Sam had an epiphany: chocolate covered avocado treats!   After all, avocados are one of his favorite foods.  It’s a good fat, you know.  This is all my way of saying that this was NOT my idea.  What started off sounding a little odd and gross, really turned into a fun and borderline-delicious time.

We began our project by gathering the ingredients: fresh avocados, Ghirardellli milk, bittersweet, and white chocolate bars, complementary toppings, and tiny sticks for dipping.

Can you guess the toppings?

Starting at the top of the photo below and going clockwise we have crushed smoked almonds, graham cracker crumbs, pepitas (salted, shelled pumpkin seeds), turbinado sugar (raw sugar), and fleur de sel (fancy sea salt).

We melted the chocolate in the microwave and found the perfect avocado! But..!

Before any dipping could commence, Sam and I had much discussion about HOW to cut and dip the avocado in the melted chocolate.  We tried chunks, spears, half-moons, and other indescribable formations.  Deciding the shape was the trickiest part because of the avocado’s natural round, oblong form with the hollow center left by removing the pit.  We ended up with a variety, as each shape has its merits.  The triangular chunks were easier to stab with the small sticks and made for a nice bite-sized confection.  The spears and flatter half-moons turned out much prettier when dipped and topped and actually seemed to hold the chocolate better.  For an elegant platter, the latter would be the choice.

Various shapes represented

More decisions to make: Sam wanted to mix the particulates into the chocolate making a chunky coating and I wanted to roll the dipped items into the toppings so you could actually SEE them on the outside.  I won – since I’m the chef and it was my kitchen – but after all, this was Sam’s idea so I let him play a little with his chunky chocolate coating idea.  I have to admit, it wasn’t terrible.

Then the real fun began!

After much dipping, dissecting, examining and eating, we came up with the following important tasting notes!

  • Out of the three chocolates – milk, bittersweet, and white – milk was the best.  The bittersweet overpowered the avocado entirely and the white chocolate just slid off the avocado slopes like a Rocky Mountain avalanche!  I couldn’t bear to post a picture.  It was gruesome.
  • Freezing the completed ones made the chocolate stick better and actually caused them taste more like avocado and less like chocolate (which was a very good thing because in general, the avocado flavor tended to be masked).  Along the same thinking, any shape that had a higher avocado to chocolate ratio was a good one.
  • Our favorite combination by far: Milk Chocolate Dipped Avocado with Pepitas and Sea Salt!  Other stand-outs included Milk Chocolate Dipped Avocado with Graham Cracker Crumbs and Dark Chocolate Dipped Avocado with Sea Salt, but nothing compared to the clear winner.

The options are many!  And we were quite exhaustive.

After hours of eating way too much of the stuff, we both felt pretty sick, as if we just inhaled a gallon of frozen custard.  My husband who was at work this entire time (silly man!) came home to discover our many plates of every avocado/chocolate/topping combination possible.  And perhaps for the most entertaining part of the event:  We got to watch him eat all the beauties!  We secretly wanted him to feel as sick as we did.  Over-stuffed bellies aside, it turned out to be a very enlightening and exciting afternoon!

Thanks, Sam!

There is no real recipe for this.  Just take some avocados, cut ‘em up, roll them around in some melted chocolate, and sprinkle anything you want on top.  Wait for the chocolate to harden and consume in mass quantities.  Enjoy!

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Ratatouille, My Way

Ratatouille emerges out of the perfect storm of vegetables.  As least in my house.  It’s never something I plan on making, it’s a dish that makes itself evident based on the particular combination of vegetables.  When I suddenly realize that I’ve got squash, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and lastly an eggplant, I know it’s time.

One-Pot Ratatouille

Last month I had the pleasure of assisting 4 (may I say “rock star”..?) chefs at a charity dinner held at Jamison Lamb Farm.  One of the dishes on the menu was a ratatouille.  While we were chatting and cooking in the kitchen, one of the chefs asked me “How do you make your ratatouille?”  I never really thought about it before because the way I make it is the only way I make it.  Start with a big pot.  Add some olive oil.  Add onions, garlic and pepper.  Saute.  Add squash and eggplant.  Saute.  Add tomatoes.  Stew.  Add herbs and seasonings.  Enjoy.  Very easy one-pot situation.  I discovered as the conversation went on that there is certainly more than one way to look at this dish and the way I’ve been cooking it was a cheater method compared to the classic way.

Lambs at Jamison Lamb Farm

Beautiful farm with the just-right sun on the autumn trees

The evening’s menu

The way the chef made the dish that night was by sautéing the onions and peppers together and adding tomatoes to make a sauce.  (*Always* use green peppers – red peppers could be mistaken for tomatoes!  Too bad I love red peppers.)  He peeled the zukes and eggplants, salted them, let them sit for 30 minutes, rinsed them, dried them well, and sautéed them separately.  He layered the saucy tomato mixture and the sautéed items in hotel pans and baked them in the oven.  Sounds like too many dishes to wash and an unnecessary oven usage to me!

I decided to take a few tips from his version to create my own.

Start with whatever delicious veggies you have.

Peel the zucchini.  Skin = bitterness.

Chop the zucchini.

Salt the zucchini generously in a strainer.

Peel the eggplant, too.

Chop the eggplant.

Salt the eggplant, just like the zucchini.

Core and score the tomatoes before blanching.

Lovely tomatoes dance in the boiling water!

Remove tomatoes from the water when the skins begin to separate from the flesh.

Remove the skins.

Seed the tomatoes and dice into chunks.

Get a big pot and put some heat under it.

Saute the onion.

Add the peppers.

And the garlic.

After rinsing the zucchini and eggplant, add that too.

Stir well.

Add the chopped tomatoes.

Ugh!  I’m so hungry waiting for my ratatouille to stew.  Tummy rumbles means cheese time.

Herbage.

Herbage added to the pot.

And you’re done!

Here’s the recipe, though I have to say, this is the recipe that I made the other night only because those were the vegetables I had.  If you have a different combination, it’s all good.

RATATOUILLE

Ingredients:

3 medium zucchini, diced

1 large eggplant, diced

2 Tablespoons salt

6 small tomatoes

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 red pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced

1 yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced

1 Tbsp. garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

1 Tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Peel and chop zucchini and eggplant into medium chunks.  Place in a colander or strainer and generously toss with salt.  After 30 minutes, rinse to remove salt and drain well.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil.  Core each tomato and score an “X” into the bottom of each one.  Place into boiling water until peel starts to remove from flesh.  Remove and allow to cool before handling.  You may dunk in ice water to speed the process.  Remove skin and discard.  Chop tomatoes in half and remove seeds.  Dice into small chunks.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion and peppers and sauté until tender, about 5-10 minutes.  Add garlic, zucchini, eggplant, and squash and sauté until tender, about 5-10 minutes.  Add herbs and tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer and cook until flavors are incorporated, about 15 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve hot.

Note: I know that ratatouille is SO two weeks ago, but I was determined to make this my first blog post.  So, there you have it!  Enjoy this dish if you still have some eggplants and tomatoes kicking around.

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