THE COMPLICIT CONSPIRACY OF ALCOHOL

What do these cartoons have in common?

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They all send a message that drinking is fun, actually not just fun, needed to cope with today’s world. The message is so prevalent, so strongly shared in social media, on TV, in movies and in our social lives that we barely take notice.  We barely stop to think that something might be wrong with it.

This is not an easy post to write, as it feels like swimming against a strong current. Let me start with my own experience on the subject. My college years were all alcohol-free and the friends I hung out at the time with were not interested in drinking. Then I started dating the man who became my first husband. He absolutely loved wine and other libations. I tried my first glass of wine around age 24; I could take it or leave it as far as taste was concerned, but I embraced the practice for the fun aspects that came with it. Drinking became a part of my social life and I never worried about it.  Except for having to deal with the eventual drunk friend or relative, but they ended up more as harmless annoyances, nothing I was overly concerned with.  Plus, “they” were not “me”, so all was fine in my own Private Idaho.

In the past few years, I noticed that my tolerance for alcohol started to sharply decrease. Whereas in the past I could indulge in a mixed drink before dinner, then a glass or two of wine with my meal, and still have a normal morning next day, as I got older doing the same caused a hangover that pretty much ruined my next day.  Two glasses of wine with dinner became the maximum I can drink, but sometimes even that makes me a bit unwell. You might say “… so what? Stick with one glass and don’t worry about it.”  But, the realization of how harmful just a little more might be for my body got me thinking. Could drinking – even at a moderate level – be doing me more harm than good?  How could I be sure? Shouldn’t I listen to the signs my body kept sending me?  I also started to question my reasons for drinking. I decided to go on a personal experiment and quit drinking for a couple of months. While doing so it became evident the power of the alcohol industry. I read a lot on the subject, from the benefits of drinking (heavily shared around in social media) to its negative side-effects (barely mentioned in those venues), and about the advertising strategies and profits of the alcohol industry.  And now here I am to share my thoughts.

I don’t intend to turn myself or anyone else into a teetotaler. Or to be judgmental about those who drink a little or a lot. I simply hope that we can all be more attentive to – and perhaps take a stance against –  the constant bombardment of alcohol advertising, which, by the way, now heavily targets women.  It portrays alcohol as a harmless substance, supposed to make your life fun and sophisticated. It is supposed to make you tolerate the stresses of your day, and  surf more smoothly through social interactions, especially if they feel awkward to start with.  The alcohol industry clearly prefers to place the burden of any negative effect of drinking on the shoulders of the “bad drinkers.” They, the pitiful alcoholics. We all subscribe to this view, by the way. That is neither fair nor accurate. In reality, the problems reside on the substance itself.  Alcohol is a toxin that your body immediately needs to  degrade once you ingest it. No matter how little you drink, your liver works extra to deal with it. Alcohol is addictive (not just for alcoholics), and as far as its danger ranking for society, it is worse than heroine and other illicit drugs (on a scale of 100, alcohol ranks 72, whereas heroine ranks  55 and crack 54, see this article).  In reality, moderate drinking, the kind that advocates portray as having positive effects on the cardiovascular system, is not what many drinkers are doing, particularly us women. Keep in mind that for women, moderate drinking is considered a maximum of 5 ounces of wine per day and even such low-level is a matter of debate. Anything more and the risks outweigh the benefits. Women metabolize alcohol less efficiently than men, and that is not simply an effect of body mass.  Often couples (yours truly included) will happily share  a bottle of wine with their dinner in the name of pleasure and supposed health benefits. We keep doing it, while  mentally assembling all the arguments that make it sound like a risk-free thing.  And the arguments seem to make sense. Come to think of it, the cartoons and funny jokes finally place women as equals with men on the drinking stage. Wow, that is some sociological victory! 😉

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I know that many people will read my post and react against it, claiming “I don’t have/see a problem.” True, probably you don’t.  But, our society does. Under age drinking is another serious problem made harder to deal with due to the influence of social media that enables advertisement by peers without any regulation (reviewed here). So, yes, maybe you are not affected directly by it. But someone you love might be. Maybe a son or a daughter, who at some point will be exposed to the Siren’s Song of the alcohol industry, that actually relies on the very existence of alcoholics for most of their profit.  Kids will go to college, turn 21, and in the US they will encounter the tradition of binge drinking. Maybe your own kids won’t partake, but they may suffer the consequences of being around those who do. No matter our own personal experience, our control and confidence in our own judgement, we should not close our eyes to the careless and irresponsible advertisement of drinking that happens today.  Not only direct, but also indirect advertisements.  I suggest you pay close attention to sitcoms, TV shows in general, and once you do, you will be shocked by the widespread underlying message of drinking as equal to living the good life. Today’s alcohol industry is exactly like the cigarette industry decades ago. We fought against them to stop false advertising, to stop selling the association of smoking with a great time. Why do we grant the alcohol industry a free pass to lie to us? Why do we help their cause by sharing cute jokes and spreading articles that reinforce the fun but look away when scientific data offer a different perspective?

The “responsible drinking” lie. Did you know that alcoholics account for 47% of the profits of alcohol sales? Just think about that for a second. The consequence of this fact is that the industry has no interest in moderate drinking, or in articles that warn about the dangers of drinking. Instead, their goal is to make sure that the proportion of heavy drinkers stays at the current level or even grows to protect their profits.  Like everything else, it’s all about the money.  They completely disregard a few annoying facts like: alcohol has been linked to about 200 illnesses  (World Health Organization, 2014); alcohol is associated with increased risk for cancers of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx (organs that alcohol directly contacts), liver, and breast  (National Cancer Institute). Some individuals become addicted to alcohol from the first taste, for reasons not well understood, probably genetics is involved (I could not find precise statistics about it). That’ should be enough to give us all a pause. What if that person is someone you deeply care about? A nephew, a niece, a sibling. Drinking does not make problems go away or life easier. It does not make us happier or more fun and interesting in conversations.  However, most people believe that it does (I am not excluding myself, it is a very ingrained belief), and the alcohol industry is more than willing to feed those beliefs. Why wouldn’t they? It keeps their sales up.

quoteSo, what’s my point? My main message is that alcohol demands more attention and respect for what it really is:  a toxin with addictive properties.  Approach it with the caution it deserves. Consider real instead of pseudo-moderation. Talk to your kids about it in those terms. Be aware of the false aura behind it,  even if you think you are totally immune to it.  You may want to look into the role that drinking has in your own life.  Does it help you deal with stress …  is that the way you’d like your kids to face stress too?  Do you need it to have fun socially … is that the way you’d like your kids to approach it too?  We must acknowledge and deal with the darker side of drinking in honest terms.  I’ve had my share of encounters with people I admire, respect and love, but noticed with some sadness that they turn into different versions of themselves when drinking.  Sometimes they become overly argumentative, aggressive or depressed, only because they drank over a certain threshold.  Alcohol-induced happiness can be fleeting. And what comes after ranges from mildly annoying to sad, to ugly, all the way up to dangerous. Drinking and driving is one example, as are arguments, fights, black outs, the list is long, you get the picture. I once said things I regretted, because wine made me lose some self-control. It involved politics and interactions with a conservative couple. Even today, 15 years later, I don’t like to remember that evening. But still, that episode made me feel the dark side beneath my own skin.

Now back to my personal experiment. For starters, t shocked me how much better I felt once I stopped having alcohol with dinner, particularly considering that I didn’t drink that much and not even every evening.  Gone was a persistent, low-level headache that forced me to take a couple of aspirins a few times a week.  Gone was waking up in the morning with bags and puffiness under my eyes, and a sort of pale complexion. Lastly, I have renewed energy late at night, and sleep better too. Those are nice, unexpected bonuses.  Because I get  up early, I thought that being exhausted by 10 pm was normal.  Feeling overall quite a bit better makes it trickier to justify going back to drinking. For the time being I am surfing through these new waters, with a “naked” mind.  Honestly, I don’t know what I will do in the long run. I believe in moderation for everything, so quitting alcohol forever seems too drastic and not at all what I had in mind when I started my “experiment.”  The bottom line is, I am conflicted and struggling to find my own balance. That’s all I can say for now. So, if you wanted all the answers, I am sorry to disappoint you, I don’t have them. Not yet, that is…

But I am not at all conflicted about my views on the alcohol industry and the need to fight against it. All alcohol bottles should come with better warning labels, just as cigarettes now do, more than “Alcohol…may cause health problems.”  The health warnings should be as bold and restrictive as they are for cigarettes. The more aware we become, the less alcohol will harm us as a society.

To close this post, I will share two links. One takes you to a book that is sure to help people struggling with alcoholism or who have a hard time moderating their consumption.  It is called, This Naked Mind, by Annie Grace.  Even if you drink in moderation, the book is worth reading. The second link takes you to an article in The Washington Post, that I read when I was about 75% done writing this post. I was pleasantly surprised to see my views confirmed by others much more qualified than me to talk about the subject. I suggest you at least watch the short video included in the article, pretty interesting, she is quite articulate.

And just to end on a happier note, here is a pretty festive drink. It has a negligible amount of alcohol with the drops of bitters, but they add a nice kick to the taste. Do not omit them.

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CRANBERRY BLISS: Place a few glass cubes inside a tall glass. Add 1/4 of pure cranberry juice, 5 drops of bitters (any kind you like, Angostura for instance), fill the glass with 3/4 sparkling water. Drink and enjoy!

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ONE YEAR AGO: Candy Cane Cookies

TWO YEARS AGO: Macarons: Much better with a friend

THREE YEARS AGO: Our Mexican Holiday Dinner 

FOUR YEARS AGO: The Ultimate Cranberry Sauce

FIVE YEARS AGO: Edamame Dip

SIX YEARS AGO: Gougeres

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Beef Wellington on a Special Night

 

 

FESTIVE GLAZED CRANBERRY LEMON CAKE

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Time to celebrate! And what could be better than a cake topped with bright red cranberries?  At this time of the year, I go through two phases of culinary fever. First the pumpkin. Then these tasty ruby-red babies. In my mind, both are mandatory part of the end of the year festivities. Typing that gives me a sense of nostalgia. 2016 went by way too fast.  Oh, well. Back to food. Cranberries are perfect in sweets, because they are tart. Yin and yang. In this cake, drizzled with a little powdered sugar icing, they shine. Make this festive cake and take it for holiday potlucks or simply share with your co-workers, neighbors, family, friends. A little coffee or tea will go well great with a slice. Or two. All credit goes to Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, the moment I saw her blog post about it, I could not stop thinking about it.

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GLAZED CRANBERRY LEMON CAKE
(from Mel’s Kitchen)
.
for the cake:

1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces), room temperature
1/3 cup (2.5 ounces) packed light brown sugar
3 cups (12 ounces) fresh cranberries
2 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (11.25 ounces) granulated sugar
Zest of 2 lemons (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
.
for the glaze:

1 cup (4 ounces) powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
 .
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 10 or 12-inch bundt cake pan with butter – making sure to grease all the nooks and crannies really well. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the bottom of the pan, then layer the cranberries evenly over the sugar.
 .
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the granulated sugar together with the zest from the lemons. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers until the sugar is infused with the lemon fragrance. Add the butter to the bowl with the lemon sugar and, using the paddle attachment on the stand mixer, beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time, mixing and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
 .
Combine the buttermilk with the 2 tablespoons lemon juice in a measuring glass. To a large bowl, add one-third of the dry ingredients (eyeballing is fine). Mix until just combined and a few dry streaks remain. Add half of the buttermilk/lemon mixture. Mix again until just combined. Add another third of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined, followed by the remaining half buttermilk/lemon juice mixture. Mix. Add the final third of the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Spread the batter carefully into the prepared pan over the cranberries.
 .
Bake for 45-55 minutes or until lightly golden on top and just set. Transfer the bundt pan to a  wire rack and let cool about 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto a serving platter, tapping lightly so the cake falls out. Let the cake cool completely.
 .
For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar with the 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice and whisk until smooth. Add additional lemon juice or milk for a thinner consistency, if needed. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake and let set, 5-10 minutes, before slicing and serving.
.
ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: Can you believe that I had zero issues with this cake? I know, how can it be possible? It is shocking. I loved the smell as it baked, and the way it un-molded so perfectly, maybe one or two cranberries stayed stuck at the bottom of the pan, but they were carefully picked up and placed on the correct spot. Plus, the icing takes care of eventual boo-boos. Very forgiving. My kind of cake. The crumb was moist and tender, the tartness of the cranberries  in perfect balance with the sweetness of the cake and icing. And, it looked pretty good too.

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I wish all my readers a wonderful holiday season! 

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ONE YEAR AGO: Have a Cran-Merry Christmas!

TWO YEARS AGO: Merry Christmas!

THREE YEARS AGO: The Avocado Mousse that Stole the Show

FOUR YEARS AGO: Sourdough Popovers

FIVE YEARS AGO: Merry Christmas!

SIX YEARS AGO:  Sourdough Focaccia, with a twist

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Merry Christmas!

STEAM-ROASTED INDIAN-SPICED CAULIFLOWER

Recently I blogged about a new way to roast veggies that stole my heart. At that time, carrots were the star of the show. Now, I share my second experiment with the method, following a recipe from the same issue in Fine Cooking, applied to cauliflower. A couple of tips are important for maximal deliciousness. First, do not cut the florets too small, keep them a bit chunky. Second, make sure to leave a flat, large side when you cut them. That will provide better browning during roasting.  The roasted cauliflower is finished with a mixture containing a lot of ginger and other Indian spices. Read my thoughts about it in the comments.

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STEAM-ROASTED INDIAN-SPICED CAULIFLOWER
(adapted from Fine Cooking magazine)

1 large head cauliflower cut into very large florets, florets halved lengthwise to make flat surfaces
5 Tbs. vegetable oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
2 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
1 tsp. ground turmeric
pinch of ground cayenne pepper
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450°F.

On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the cauliflower and garlic with 3 Tbs. of the oil, 3/4 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Arrange the florets flat side down in a single layer. Cover tightly with foil and transfer to the oven to steam for 10 minutes.

Carefully remove the foil, rotate the baking sheet, and roast until the bottom side is nicely browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Flip the cauliflower and continue roasting until just tender and deeply browned, 10 to 12 minutes more.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 Tbs. oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the coriander, turmeric, and cayenne. Swirl in the lemon juice.

Transfer the roasted cauliflower to a serving bowl. Add the spice mixture, and toss gently. Season to taste with more salt, if needed, and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: Once again I found the method wonderful to deliver perfectly roasted cauliflower florets. Now, about that spice mixture. I notice quite often these days that many recipes follow what I like to call The Ottolenghi Path:  they call for the addition of many spices and herbs to a dish, often in unexpected combinations. That is not necessarily a bad thing, he is for sure a gastronomic genius, but there is also something to be said about a simply roasted veggie, with a smidgen of olive oil, salt, pepper, and perhaps a single added spice. Of course, cookbooks, magazines, cooking shows, they all need to come up with clever, exotic ways to make food, otherwise, why would we bother paying attention to them, right?  Anyway, in this particular recipe I felt that the addition of the sautéed spices plus the lemon juice messed up slightly the texture of the roasted cauliflower, and also overpowered its flavor a bit. Granted, it made the dish feel more festive. But, if you are in the mood for a classic approach, omit it all, roast it, and serve it as it is. You won’t be disappointed. I will be steam-roasting cauliflower again and again, either in its natural state, or using this recipe with the following modifications: cut the ginger by half, keep the turmeric and coriander, add some lemon zest, and omit the lemon juice and cayenne. That might be a real winner for me.

steam-roasted-cauliflower-from-bewitching-kitchen

 

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ONE YEAR AGO: Creamy Zucchini-Mushroom Soup

TWO YEARS AGO: Ken Forkish’s Pain au Bacon

THREE YEARS AGO: Carrot and Cumin Hamburger Buns

FOUR YEARS AGO: Potato Galettes a l’Alsacienne & Book Review

FIVE YEARS AGO: Caramelized Carrot Soup

SIX YEARS AGO: Miso-Grilled Shrimp

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pain Poilane

SHRUBS: A FUN ALTERNATIVE TO ALCOHOLIC DRINKS

Have you heard about shrubs? They are quite fashionable these days, which could turn me off, a bit of a rebel that sometimes I am, but then again I was too curious to completely ignore them. Plus, I am quite fond of vinegar and acidic goodies in general. I first heard about shrubs through Fer’s blog Chucrute com Salsicha. Her style of cooking  is quite similar to ours, so when she started raving about shrubs, I paid attention. But it took me more than a year to finally try one. I am a beginner still, trying flavor combinations, levels of acidity and sweetness, but it is so much fun, I hope you consider playing with this type of drink. Plus, if you or someone you entertain prefers to stick to non-alcoholic beverages, shrubs are perfect. Say goodbye to boring sodas, or the same old same old sparkling water with a twist of lemon, and embrace the amazing variety of the world of shrubs.

Shrubs are a mixture of fruit or vegetables with alcohol and/or vinegar. They originated in England in the 15th century, in versions used for medicinal purposes and generally containing some type of alcohol. A couple of hundred years later, the practice of using vinegar to preserve fruits arrived in the Americas, and by the 19th century, shrubs were quite widespread. Fruits such as berries were mixed with vinegar, left to infuse for days or even weeks. The liquid was then strained, sweetened and used as a syrup to make drinks, both alcoholic or not. Nowadays, you can find countless recipes around, even whole books written on the subject, such as this one, which I own.  I share first my all-time favorite, which happens to be the simplest one to prepare. Then I offer two more with a totally different flavor profile.  Shrubs last for a long time in the fridge, they are festive, fresh, and contrary to alcoholic beverages, there’s absolutely nothing to fear. No need for designated drivers, no risk of hangovers, no inconvenient behavior, such as dancing naked over the table while guests are trying to concentrate on dessert. Unless you really feel like it, of course. But keep in mind you won’t be able to blame the drink!

cucumber-shrub-drink

CUCUMBER-MINT SHRUB
(adapted from Michael Dietsch’s Shrubs)

2 large cucumbers
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves
1/3  cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Add cucumbers and mint leaves to blender. Blend until pureed.

Press puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl. Add cucumber juice, both vinegars, sugar, and kosher salt to a jar or bottle. Shake very well to combine and refrigerate.

To drink, pour some over ice cubes, and complete tall glass with carbonated water. Mix and enjoy. If needed, add a little more sugar (I did not).

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: This is my favorite shrub so far. Love it, love it, love it!  I have a hard time sticking with only two glasses with my dinner, because it goes well with all sorts of main dishes. I know, the color is a bit odd, although I was pleased by how it matched my manicure of that particular week… As you know, I am easily amused. Next time I will add lemon zest and a touch of lemon juice in place of the mint. Just for fun.

Moving on, this second shrub is a very fruity and floral option, with a shockingly gorgeous color…

strawberry-shrub

RASPBERRY STRAWBERRY & ROSE SHRUB
(inspired by The Kitchen McCabe)

1 + 1/2  cups raspberries
1/2 cup water
1 + 1/2  cups strawberries, quartered
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup raw honey
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon rose-water (see comments)

Place the strawberries and sugar in a saucepan, along with ½ cup of water. Bring to a simmer, stirring to completely dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and let cool completely. Pour mixture into a blender, along with the raspberries, honey, rose-water and vinegar. Blend until smooth. Run the mixture through a fine mesh sieve and discard solids. Place the syrup in a container and refrigerate for several days, up to a week.  The syrup can also be used right away.

Simply pour a small amount on a tall glass over ice cubes, and top with carbonated water.  Adjust sweetness if needed, add a sprig of mint if you’d like.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

compositestrawb

Comments: My only issue with this shrub is the amount of rose-water. I did not even use the full tablespoon and found it to be overpowering. I suggest one teaspoon max, see how you feel about it, if you like a more perfumed drink, add 1/2 teaspoon more to the bottle. Or you could conceivably omit it altogether, and make it exclusively fruit and vinegar. This is a much sweeter shrub than the cucumber, and the flavor of the berries comes through nicely, contrasting with the acidic vinegar.  I also added less sugar than the original recipe called for, but would probably add even less next time.

Finally, my third shrub for this initial collection, a nice blast of spice, ginger in all its glory!

gingershrubcomp

 

GINGER SHRUB
(from Chucrute com Salsicha)

1/2 cup minced ginger
1 cup apple cider vinegar, unfiltered
1/2 cup granulated sugar

In a small saucepan place the ginger and the vinegar. Heat to boiling, turn the heat off and transfer the mixture to a Pyrex type container. Let it cool to room temperature for 24 hours.

Strain the mixture through a very fine sieve over a bowl, allowing it to drain for 5 to 10 minutes, without pressing on the solids. The strained volume should be around 3/4 cup. If you have less, complete that amount with vinegar.  Discard de ginger, and add the liquid to a small saucepan. Add the sugar and boil, stirring occasionally. When the sugar dissolves, simmer for a couple more minutes, then allow it to cool, and transfer to a clean bottle. Refrigerate until needed.

To drink, add a small amount to ice cubes on a tall glass, and complete with sparkling water, a 1:4 volume syrup to sparkling water is a good starting point.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This last shrub is for serious ginger lovers only, a very strong and potent ginger hit with each sip. I love ginger in all kinds of recipes savory and sweet, but I had to use about 1/8 of the volume of syrup to sparkling water, otherwise it was a bit too strong.  Another great use for this particular shrub is as a component of salad dressings, just add it as if you were using vinegar, whisk a bit of olive or grapeseed oil, and a touch of salt. Very nice option over simple greens or roasted beets. Shrubs (in their undiluted form) can also be poured over ice cream or sorbets, but I haven’t tried that yet.

cucumber-shrub-from-bewitching-kitchen1


I hope you enjoyed this small sampling of shrubs and consider giving them a try.
I have a big list of flavors to try, so stay tuned for more…

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ONE YEAR AGO: Date Truffles 

TWO YEARS AGO: Mascarpone Mousse from Baking Chez Moi

THREE YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Brigadeiros

FOUR YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Espresso Loaf

FIVE YEARS AGO: Caramelized Carrot Soup

SIX YEARS AGO: Miso-Grilled Shrimp

SEVEN YEARS AGO: A Special Holiday Fruitcake

 

HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN

I like to think I’m in control of my life. Efficient could very well be my middle name.

Or so I thought. 

We traveled to Portland for a few days this week, and I had a blog post more or less ready to wrap up and publish during our trip.  Efficient, remember? We left very early on Monday. I woke up with a serious case of bad hair day which should  have been the first indication of trouble. It was so bad that I wore a hat to meet Phil downstairs for our cappuccino, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Of course, a nice shower solved the important issue, and by the time we left to go to the airport I felt I could be seen in public. It was cold. Very cold. Cold as in hat and glove and scarf, and heavy coat cold. Very heavy coat. You should take note of that, it will be important. There might be a quiz.

We did not have printed boarding passes. We went full-blown techie and got mobile passes only. Looking back, that was a mistake. When boarding started, we noticed the seat info was not there, so both Phil and I were messing with our phones while walking the line to board, trying to retrieve the darn email with the full trip info.  It was a bit hectic. I do not recommend you try it.

Finally, we got to our seats and took a deep breath of relief. I wondered what to do in the reasonably short flight to Dallas, a little over one hour-long. Should I get my iPad and read a little? Nah, let me tackle a Sudoku instead. Grabbed the American Airlines magazine, hoping the Sudoku page would be untouched by previous travelers (you never know…), and there it was, waiting for me, a clean, pristine page. Big inner smile, I went straight for the most difficult one, of course. How could I not? The darn thing was hard indeed. Super challenging. I got so involved with it that I refused club soda, coffee, and even those spice cookies I love so very much. I could not peel my eyes off the page. I managed to finish it just as the plane was landing, how about THAT for efficiency?  I was on top of the world, particularly because Phil was still struggling with it. Disclosure: he always beats me in Sudoku. I wanted to do a victory lap dance as soon as we left the tight plane, but my world was about to be violently shaken. I grabbed my coat, my handbag, and then… went to get my laptop from underneath the seat, but it was NOT THERE. Did it slip away to the seat in front? No, nothing there. Big huge shiver up and down my spine. Could I, could I possibly….. have left it behind at the airport? I knew it went through security screening…

By that time I was already in full hyperventilation mode, hands shaking, could barely put two logical thoughts together. I had never done anything quite like that in my life. Could I be losing it? (no need to answer, thank you very much).  Phil found the number for the airport, I called, first they said they found nothing, which made me hyperventilate even more.  But, they promised to call back. Very long 10 minutes passed, then I got the news that they found my laptop resting next to a seat at the gate. There is only one gate in the little airport of our town, that definitely helped my case. I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I was.

We should always try to learn from our mistakes. Get to the root of our problems to overcome them. So, after a lot of inner thought, I saw the light: it is all this miserable weather’s fault. Cold temperatures that forced me to carry around a very heavy coat. It was so heavy that it tricked my mind into thinking I had the computer bag with me. Simple as that. Case closed. Page turned. Absolutely nothing wrong with me.  HA!

Spring, I am ready for you!

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A new, food related post should be coming soon to a food blog near you… I promise!  

PISTACHIO CREME BRULLEE

ÉA couple of months ago I invited you for a tour of our kitchen, and talked about a very special ingredient: pistachio paste. Pause for swoon. At the time I promised to share my first experiment with it, one that involved macarons, but I’m not quite ready to reveal that. Instead, I must tell you about my second adventure because I am feeling on top of the world about it. Pistachio Crème Brûllée.  It resulted in a heartfelt O.M.G., with a Happy Dance to boot!

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PISTACHIO CRÈME BRûLLÉE
(from The Bewitching Kitchen)

2 cups heavy cream (about 460 g)
2 tsp pistachio paste
pinch of salt
5 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar (65 g)
1 tsp vanilla extract
turbinado sugar for the surface

Heat the cream in a saucepan until bubbles start to form at the edge. Add the pistachio paste, whisk to fully dissolve it. Heat in low heat for a couple of minutes, then remove from the heat and cover the pan. Allow it to steep for 20 minutes.

Transfer the infused cream to a bowl, add the salt, egg yolks, and vanilla. Whisk to combine all ingredients. Add the sugar and mix until fully dissolved.  Pass the mixture through a fine sieve into a large measuring glass, preferably with a spout.

Divide the mixture into four ramekins, 6-ounce size.

Pour 1 cup of water inside a crock pot. Place the ramekins inside, and turn it on low.  Cook for 2  to 3 hours, checking the temperature after 2 hours with an instant thermometer. It should read 185 F for perfect texture. If you don’t have a thermometer, stop cooking when the custard is still a bit jiggly in the very center.

Remove the ramekins to a drying rack. When fully cooled, transfer to the refrigerator, covered with aluminum foil. Before serving, sprinkle turbinado sugar over the surface and burn it with a torch.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: Cooking the custard in the crock pot is simply brilliant. Granted, it takes longer than in a regular oven, but the texture turns out perfect. The instant thermometer is a must to get it exactly right, though. Your cooking time may vary a little. Mine hit 185 F after 2 hours and 20 minutes. Overcooked crème brûllée would be a shame, but the crock pot considerably reduces that risk.

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When serving this delicacy, you’ll have two options: burning the top right before serving, or doing it earlier and placing the custards back in the fridge. The former allows you to show your skills with the culinary torch in front of your guests, for that wow moment… The latter lacks the awe factor, but results in a homogeneously firmer texture. When you burn the top, the custard right beneath it will be a bit soft.  Honestly, it doesn’t bother me. So I always go for the awe factor.  I realize that pistachio paste is not a common ingredient, and pretty pricey, but a little bit goes a long way, and it freezes well, in small, teaspoon size portions. Of course, you could infuse your heavy cream with other ingredients, make a maple, coconut, chocolate version. Whatever you do, try the crock pot if you have a chance. I can only fit four ramekins in mine, but I rather not have too many brûllées around anyway.  Four is a perfect number…

pistachio-creme-brullee-from-bewitching-kitchen

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NEW MEXICO PORK CHILE, CROCKPOT VERSION

Ah, the best laid plans! After being away from home for two weeks, resuming the routine can be a bit tricky. I chose simple recipes for our dinners, as we did not have much of a chance to catch our breath. We landed around noon on a Sunday, and went back to work early next day. One simple dinner would be a pork chili made in the slow-cooker. It is so convenient to arrive back from work to a dinner waiting for you. So, I set the ingredients at lunch time, and worked the whole afternoon with that feeling of accomplishment and anticipation on the back of my mind. But fate had other plans for us. It turns out that the electricity company stopped by to install a new meter in our backyard, and shut the power off for a little while. We saw them arriving just as we drove away, but did not think much about it. When I arrived home for dinner, the crock pot was off. The meat had stayed inside for 6 long hours, at room temperature. It all went to the trash, even if part of me wanted to cook the heck out of it in a pressure cooker.  I decided safe is better than sorry. We ordered pizza instead. But, undeterred, I bought another piece of meat that same evening, and made this chili next day. It was totally worth it!  I advise you to make it, and if you don’t have a slow-cooker, just use your oven low and slow.

new-mexico-pork-chili

NEW MEXICO PORK CHILE
(inspired by America’s Test Kitchen)

3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoons New Mexico chili powder
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup strong brewed coffee
2 teaspoons instant tapioca
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
2 to 3 pounds boneless country-style pork ribs
Salt and pepper to taste
fresh cilantro leaves, minced
zest and juice of half a lime

Lightly spray inside of slow cooker with vegetable oil spray. In a small saucepan, heat the tomato paste, New Mexico chili, oil, and garlic powder until fragrant. Add chicken stock, coffee, brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Warm it all together for a minute or so, transfer to slow-cooker. Sprinkle the tapioca, mix to combine.

Season the meat all over with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place in the slow cooker, the liquid does not need to cover the meat, just make sure to spoon some of it over the top. Cover and cook for 5 to 6  hours on low. Half an hour before serving, use a fork to cut the very tender meat in chunks, and mix with the sauce. Leave it for 30 minutes, then add cilantro, lime zest and juice right before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: Most recipes for this type of chili recommend using pork shoulder or butt, cuts with a lot of fat in them. You can definitely use either, but the drawback is that cutting the meat into chunks is a bit of a pain. I never think it’s going to be a big deal once I grab the huge bag and place in my grocery cart, but then, the moment I open it and realize the task ahead, a sort of sadness invades me. Followed by the Keep Calm and Carry On stance. America’s Test Kitchen hit gold when they changed the game by using boneless, country-style pork ribs. They are equally marbled with fat, and all the work involved is ripping the plastic cover of the grocery tray. I was a bit skeptical because my experience with this type of meat was less than stellar. More often than not, I ended up with meat a bit dried up and with an odd texture. Not the case. These were melt-in-your-mouth tender, very moist and flavorful. Just the right amount of heat for our taste. The quick cooking tapioca thickens the sauce ever so slightly, but I used a lot less than called for in most recipes. You could omit it, if you don’t mind a bit of a watery sauce.

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Phil enjoyed the chili over white rice and some Ranch style beans, I opted for cauli-rice and half an avocado, with the mandatory drizzle of lime juice.  The package I bought had three pieces of country-style ribs, a little over 3 pounds total. Leftovers were enough for another full dinner for both of us.

new-mexico-pork-chili-from-bewitching-kitchen

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