Thursday, December 29, 2011

Basil Lemon Drop Martini

Two lemon drop martinis
I don't like the martinis that taste like Windex. I like "candy in a cup" martinis. Needless to say, I love this drink. It has all of my favorite ingredients except chocolate. It is even served in a martini glass with a sugared rim (rub a piece of lemon and rub it along the rim of the glass and then dip in sugar). If I have a lemon drop, I throw that in the glass too. If you love lemons, this is your drink. There are two versions to this drink, one with basil and one with rosemary. You need fresh herbs for this; please do not substitute dried herbs. Yuck! Also fresh lemon juice is required as well-- not that stuff from a plastic lemon. I use homemade  limoncello for my drinks; I dislike all of the zesting but I love the results. If you don't want to make your own, most liquor stores carry limoncello. Making the rosemary and basil syrups take a little more time but I think it's worth it. If you don't have the time or the obsessive desire to make the perfect drink, you can use simple syrup and put either bruised basil leaves or a sprig of rosemary in the martini shaker.
Speaking of obsessive desires to create the perfect drink, this is the latest greatest version of the lemon drop. If I e-mailed you earlier versions, try this one. I like it more than the earlier versions.

Basil Lemon Drop Martini

1 1/2 oz. (3 Tbsp, 45 ml) of Vodka
1 oz. (2 Tbsp, 30 ml)  of Limoncello
1 oz. (2 Tbsp, 30 ml) of Lemon Juice
1 oz. (2 Tbsp, 30 ml) of Basil Syrup

Combine the ingredients in a martini shaker filled with ice. Shake, pour into a martini glass with a sugared rim, and garnish with basil. 

Basil Syrup
Basil Syrup
1/2 Cup of Basil
1 Cup of Simple Syrup
Lemon Zest or Peel from One Lemon (make sure there is no pith)

Combine hot simple syrup with the basil and zest. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Strain.

Pouring the martini into the sugar rimmed glass
Rosemary Lemon Drop Martini
1 1/2 oz. (3 Tbsp, 45 ml) of Vodka
1 oz. (2 Tbsp, 30 ml)  of Limoncello
1 oz. (2 Tbsp, 30 ml) of Lemon Juice
1 oz. (2 Tbsp, 30 ml) of Rosemary Syrup

Combine the ingredients in a martini shaker filled with ice. Shake, pour into a martini glass with a sugared rim.
Everything is ready for making martinis
Rosemary Syrup
1 Cup (240 ml) Simple Syrup
1 Sprig of Rosemary
Zest or Peel from One Lemon (Make sure there is no pith)

Combine hot simple syrup with the rosemary and zest. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Strain.
Rosemary syrup
Simple Syrup
1 Cup (200 g) of Sugar
1 Cup (240 ml) of Water

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves.
Enjoying a sunset and a lemon drop martini
Will I make this again? Yes. Lovely. Amazing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Italian Wedding Soup (Lightened)

Yummy yummy soup
 One of Katie's favorite soups is Italian wedding soup. I think it is the perfect soup for a cold winter's day. It is not quite winter but it is cold outside. Not just cold but it is a damp cold. The kind of cold that goes right through you. The cure for this kind of weather is a nice hearty soup. Italian wedding soup is just that and it is a meal in a bowl.
The Italian name for this soup is Minestra Maritata. It means "married soup." It is not a soup for wedding but the marriage of greens and meat. And what a marriage it is!
My mom has been making this soup since I was little. I love her recipe and soup, but I was in the mood for something a bit different. So, I decided to shake things up and change the traditional soup. Here is a more traditional recipe. My favorite part is the meatballs. I do not want a bland meatball so I decided to use beef and pork. Yum!  

Minestra Maritata "Wedding Soup"


1 lb (.45 kg) of Ground Beef
1 lb (.45 kg) of Ground Pork
2 Slices of White Bread with Crust Soaked in 1/4 Cup (60 ml) of Milk
1 Large Egg, Beaten
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
1 Tsp of Kosher Salt
1/2 Tsp of Black Pepper
1/4 Cup (30 g) Parmesan Cheese, Grated
1/4 Cup  (20 g) Flat Leaf Parsley, Chopped

Mix all of the ingredients together and shape into meatballs (use about 1 1/2 teaspoons- it should be about the size of a small pecan).
All of the ingredients in a bowl
Some people bake their meatballs before adding them to the soup so that they brown. I don't but you certainly can.  I use about half of the recipe in the soup and the remainder I bake at 400F/204C/Gas Mark 6 for 20 minutes turning once and use in other recipes or freeze.
All kinds of meatballs
The Soup

3 Quarts (3 liters) of Broth (Turkey or Chicken)
1 lb (.45 kg) of Meatballs
1/2 lb (.22 kg) of Small Noodles
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
2 Handfuls of Spinach
1 Handful of Arugula
1 Handful of Swiss Chard

Heat up the broth over medium high heat.
Turkey broth
Bring broth to a boil and lower to a simmer. Carefully drop the meatballs into the broth and add the garlic. Do not stir or the meatballs will break up. Cook until the meatballs are done about 20 minutes.  Add the noodles and cook until done. Add the spinach, arugula, and Swiss chard. Cook until tender.
Greens and meatballs
The bottom line: will I make this again? I love this and I will make this again. The fresh greens add a lot to this soup.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Easy Baked Ham

Glazed ham
The days are no longer getting shorter, but the weather is so dreary. Every time I look out the window I think of the song, Long December by the Counting Crows. By the end of the day (it seems like it starts getting dark at 4:00), I want a quick easy dinner. One of the easiest is baked ham steak. I used to fry them but it dried them out too much. The best side for this is mac n cheese. If you have any leftovers you can mix the  mac n cheese and ham and serve them the next day. This also good with any kind of potatoes- scalloped, tater tots, baked, or hash browns.

Baked Ham Slice

Topping (See Below)
1 Fully Cooked Ham Steak (About 2 lbs/.9 kg)

Preheat oven to 350F/176 C/Gas Mark 4. Place ham steak in a baking pan and cover with the topping.
Ready to bake
Bake for 20-30 minutes until heated through. Serve.
Baked ham
Really it is that easy.


Pineapple Ginger: Mix together: 1/4 cup (75 g) of pineapple marmalade or preserves, 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger, and 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard.
Brown Sugar: Mix together: 1/4 cup (55 g) of brown sugar, 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard, and enough orange or pineapple juice to make it spreadable (a couple of teaspoons).
Mustard: Mix together: 1/4  cup (55 g) of brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of yellow mustard, and 1tablespoon of honey.
The bottom line: will I make this again? Yes. Many many times this winter. My husband has already requested another ham slice.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Pepper Cheese Coins

Baked coins
These are my new favorite appetizer. I made them for a party and ate them all before the party started. (Opps!) I make these and freeze them in logs uncooked. They will keep for 3 months in the freezer not that they last that long. When I am ready to eat them, I just preheat the oven, slice the logs into coins, and bake. Yum! The only bad part of this recipe is reducing the white wine - it smells-- a lot. Any hard white cheese will work in this recipe, like Parmesan, asiago, Grana Padano, or Romano. My favorite is asiago cheese. I use a mix of black, white, and red peppercorns for the ground pepper.

1/2 Cup (120 ml) of White Wine
2 1/4 Cups (270 g) of Unbleached Flour
1 3/4 Cups (315 g) of Hard White Cheese Finely Grated, Divided
2 Tsp of Kosher Salt
1 Cup (226 g) of Butter, Softened
2 Tbsp of Sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp of Pepper, Coarsely Ground

In a microwave-safe bowl heat the white wine on high until it is reduced to one tablespoon (it takes about 6 minutes). Alternatively, heat the white wine in a saucepan and simmer until reduced to one tablespoon. Cool in the refrigerator.
Combine 1 cup (180 g) of the grated cheese, flour, and salt. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar.
The butter and sugar have been creamed and the rest of the ingredients are ready to be added
Mix in the wine until well blended. Gradually mix in the flour and beat until blended.

Mixed dough
On a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper combine the remaining grated cheese and pepper.
Cheese and pepper
Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces and roll each piece into a log. Roll each log in the cheese and pepper mixture.
Rolling the log in cheese
Wrap each log and freeze until dough is firm enough to slice (about 30 minutes).
Cheese and pepper log ready to be frozen

When ready to bake the coins, preheat the oven to 350F/176C/ Gas Mark 4. Line a cookie sheet with parchment parchment paper. Slice the logs into coins (about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm wide) and place on the cookie sheet.
The coins are ready to bake
Bake until the coins are golden brown about 12-18 minutes. Remove from the cookie sheet and cool completely.

the bottom line: will I make these again? Yes. I love them. We had them on Christmas Eve and I will be bringing them to parties in the New Year. Oh! They are round like coins so they count as lucky foods! We will be eating these on New Year's Day.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Limoncello Part Three

Beautiful bottles of limoncello
My dad is the most difficult person to get a Christmas gift for. Each year we all brainstorm and try to figure out what to get dad. This year I may actually have a great gift. My dad loves lemons. He also loves limoncello. Actually, he likes any Italian liqueur. So this year I am making him homemade limoncello.  He liked my last two batches and I think he will really like this one. I am applying the lessons I learned from the last two batches to make this the best batch yet. I used organic lemons and oranges. You don't want to make a pesticide limoncello. I washed and scrubbed them (several times). This is important because you are using the zest.  I also opted for vodka instead of Everclear. I think vodka makes a smoother limoncello. Also I just don't want that much alcohol. The downside of using vodka instead of pure grain alcohol is not as much lemony flavor is extracted from the zest. I decided to add lemon juice to the simple syrup to add more lemony flavor.

So it is time to zest the lemons.......

The beginnings of limoncello


12-14 Lemons
1 Orange
1 Bottle (750 ml) of Vodka

Carefully zest the lemons and orange.

 Place the zest in a one quart mason jar.

Lots of zest

Pour the vodka into the mason jar (and over the zester to get the last bits of zest). Store in a dark cool place for 2-3 weeks shaking the jar every couple of days.
Vodka plus zest
Lessons learned- a quart mason jar works great. I sterilized it before I used it. Small lemons equals hand cramps (ouch!). It is much more difficult to zest a small lemon than a large one. Next time I will look for larger lemons.
The vodka after two weeks 
Lemony Simple Syrup 

Did I mention my dad loves lemons? One of the comments to a previous limoncello recommended adding lemon juice to the simple syrup (thanks for the idea)! I thought that was a great idea so here it goes.

5 Cups (1.18 L) of Water
4 Cups (800 g) of Sugar
1 Cup (240 ml) of Lemon Juice, Strained

In a medium saucepan heat the water and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Let the simple syrup cool completely. Add the lemon juice.
Adding the strained lemon juice
Making the Limoncello

Strain the vodka (discard the zest) and add the lemon simple syrup. Pour into sterilized bottles.

The bottom line: will I make this again? Yes. It was fantastic; it had a wonderful lemony flavor. It had more lemon flavor than most limoncellos. It still has a bit of the limoncello bite but not as much as one made with Everclear. It is so drinkable like a cold lemonade on a hot summer day.  Did dad like it? Yes he did. Guess what he will be getting for Christmas next year?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Lemony Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Brussel sprouts
I used to hate brussel sprouts as a child. Actually, hate is probably putting it lightly. I despised them. I even hated the smell of them cooking. Katie hates brussel sprouts with a passion. Steven loves them as much as Katie hates them. I am quite fond of them. However, I only like them roasted; I think roasting makes them sweet. Brussel sprouts are also fun to grow. They grow on a stalk and are truly spectacular. I will have a couple stalks growing in my garden this summer. I can hardly wait.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts
1 lb (.45 kg) of Brussel Sprouts, Cut in Half
2 Tbsp of Olive Oil
1 Tsp of Kosher Salt
3/4 Tsp of Freshly Ground Pepper
Juice of One Lemon

Preheat the oven to 400F/204C/Gas Mark 6. Mix together all of the ingredients and spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet.
Roasted brussel sprouts
Roast for 30 minutes, turn the brussel sprouts halfway through roasting.
Yummy a bowlful of roasted brussel sprouts
The bottom line: will I make these again. Yes. Love them!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pineapple Salsa

Fresh pineapple
It may be a bit nontraditional but I decided to have pineapple salsa with our Christmas ham. Ham and pineapple go so well together and I am particularly fond of pineapple salsa. What's not to like? It is a lovely taste of summer during a dreary winter. I will be be using one of my all time favorite lemon peppers but any hot pepper will work. I usually serve this with Thai food but it went well with the ham.

Pineapple Salsa
2/3 Cup (125 g) of Red Onions, Diced
1/4 Cup (10 g) of Cilantro, Finely Chopped
1 Cucumber, Peeled and Diced
1 Pineapple, Diced
1 Hot Pepper, Finely Chopped
1 Clove of Garlic, Minced
Juice of One Lime
The pineapple salsa all mixed together
Mix together and let stand for 30 minutes.
Pineapple salsa ready to serve
The bottom line: will I make this again? Yes, it was great with the ham. Once you get all of the chopping done, it is remarkably easy to make.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ham Baked in Beer

Baked ham
Steven loves ham. I really like ham (not as much as Steven does). I like baked ham during the holidays because it is easy. It is great for holiday dinners. I love the leftovers. We will have ham sandwiches, ham loaf, scalloped potatoes and ham, and ham fried rice for dinners and lunches the week after Christmas. And I still have enough to freeze. Not to mention, the ham bone-- I am already dreaming about navy bean soup.
I like to bake my ham with beer and then I glaze it. The beer adds a bit of spice and oomph to the ham. It also adds moisture. The ham doesn't dry out (I can't stand a dry ham). This year I used Schlafly's Christmas Ale. A brown ale would be great as well. An Oktoberfest would also pair nicely. Just make sure it is something you would drink because the beer taste will infuse into the ham. Yum! Don't like beer? Have you tried a craft beer? Still don't like it? Really? (Try baking it with a small ham steak you may like it. Try it, try it, you will see... I feel like Sam I am. Yes. I do like green eggs and ham. Who doesn't?)  If you really don't like beer, you can substitute 1/2 cup (60 ml) of water or pineapple juice for the beer.

Spiral Cut Ham

Preheat oven to 325F/162 C/Gas Mark 3. Place the ham in a baking pan, pour 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) of beer into the bottom of the pan, cover with aluminum foil.
Baked ham
Bake for 10 minutes per pound (.45 kg) or until heated through. Remove the ham from the oven. Increase heat to 425F/218C/Gas Mark 7. Glaze Ham. Return to oven and bake uncovered. Bake for 10-15 minutes until glaze is brown and bubbly.

1/4 Cup (60 ml) of Maple Syrup
1/4 Cup (60 ml) of Honey
1/2 Cup (100 g) of Brown Sugar
2 Tbsp of Dijon Mustard
The glaze is ready to heat; you can make this while the ham is baking
In a small saucepan combine maple syrup, honey. brown sugar, and mustard and heat over low heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm.

Ham glaze
The bottom line: will I make this again? Yes. Probably several times this winter.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Filet with Blue Cheese Butter

Ever had an ingredient that is so special that you don't use it? You are saving it for a special occasion. Special occasions come and go and you still don't use it. I have several of these ingredients- Israeli couscous, vanilla beans, hazelnuts, and some gorgeous filet mignon. I decided to declare a "use a special ingredient" day. That day is today. It is like an early Christmas present to myself.
Vacuumed packed steaks
I have some gorgeous filet mignon that I won in a Fine Cooking grilling contest. They are from Allen Brothers Steaks. They came frozen in a beautiful box. I felt like I was opening a present. I am so excited about grilling and eating these lovely steaks.

Allen Brothers Filet Mignon
Ready for the grill
1/4 Cup of (35 g) of Blue Cheese, Room Temperature
2 Tbsp (35 g) of Butter, Room Temperature
2 Filet Mignon (I had two 12 oz/340 g filets)
Kosher Salt

Combine butter and blue cheese and set aside.
Butter and blue cheese
Prepare grill. Lightly salt one side of each of the filets. Place the salted side of filet on the grill.
Once you turn the steak, spread the butter cheese mixture on the cooked side. Grill until done (130-140F/55-60C for medium rare).
Beautiful rare steaks
Serve with beer sautéed mushrooms.
Steaks, sautéed mushrooms, and couscous
The bottom line: were these steaks great? Yes, they were amazing. As good as a high-end steakhouse steak and the best steaks that we have ever made at home.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Beer Sautéed Mushrooms

Finished mushrooms
Want to make an impressive side dish that is incredibly easy? This is the dish. These are the most amazing mushrooms ever. The mushrooms soak up the butter and the beer and the result is delicious mushrooms. They are the best mushrooms I have ever had. I use baby bellas but any fresh mushroom will work. I use a high end craft beer for these. You want to too. The beers I use for these tend to be pricey but they are so worth it. You only use 1/2 cup so you have the rest to enjoy. I use a Dubbel Trappist ale or doppelbock. These are full bodied beers with tons of flavor. A stout would also work.  I don't think I have tried a Trappsit ale, doppelbock, stout or porter that I haven't liked. Here are some examples of beers that would work well with this dish: Trapppist ales (Chimay, La Trappe Dubbel, Westmalle Dubbel, Orval Trappist Ale, Trappistes Rochefort, and Trappist Achel); doppelbock (Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel,
Weihenstephaner Korbinian , Samuel Adams Double Bock, and
Weltenburger Kloster Asam-Bock ); and stouts (Guinness, Murphy's, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, and Sierra Nevada Stout). I would not use a flavored stout like chocolate or coffee.

Beautiful mushrooms
Beer Sautéed Mushrooms
8 oz. (227 g) of Baby Bellas, Sliced
2 Tbsp of  Butter
1/2 Cup (120 ml) of Beer
A Dash of Salt
A Couple of Turns of the Pepper Grinder
1 Tbsp of Fresh Parsley, Finely Chopped (Optional)
In a medium saucepan, melt butter and add mushrooms.
Poaching the mushrooms
Add the beer to the mushrooms and cook (you are really poaching) over medium low heat. Add the salt and pepper. Poach until the mushrooms are tender and have absorbed the liquid. This takes about 30 minutes. It should not be rushed. Remove from heat. Top with parsley. Serve.
The bottom line: will I make this again? Yes, these are incredible. They were gone almost immediately.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Peppermint Bark

Star shaped peppermint bark
I used to buy peppermint bark and then I figured out how easy it is to make it. I felt kinda foolish for not making it sooner. Then I began experimenting with all kinds of bark. My favorite is still peppermint. Now I mix dark (or milk) and white chocolate and top with crushed peppermints. Lovely. Yummy. Joy.

The hardest part is melting the chocolates and making sure that you don't get any water mixed in with the chocolate. I decided to try making peppermint bark different ways this year. We bought a plastic candy molds and silicon molds and I am going to use them to make shaped bark.

Peppermint Bark
Milk Chocolate Chips
White Chocolate Bark
Peppermint Candy, Crushed

Melt the chocolate chips and white chocolate. I used the microwave by heating the chocolate at 15 second intervals, stirring during each interval, until melted. The chocolate can also be melted in a double boiler. Be very care with the white chocolate because it scorches easily.
Melted chocolate and crushed peppermint
For regular peppermint bark, spread the milk chocolate and white chocolate on a piece of parchment paper and run a knife through the chocolate to swirl.
Swirling chocolate 
Top with crushed peppermint.
Chocolate topped with crushed peppermint
Refrigerate for 45 minutes and then break into pieces.
It is easy to break the bark into pieces
The silicon mold was easy to use and created pretty star shaped chocolates. I place crushed peppermint in first and then topped with white chocolate.
Putting the crushed peppermint in first
I refrigerated it for 45 minutes and then topped with milk chocolate.
I made a couple of chocolate stars with  a layer of white chocolate (refrigerate for 45 minutes), a layer of peppermint, and then milk chocolate.
Topping with crushed peppermint
Finally I had a layer of white chocolate (refrigerate for 45 minutes), a layer of milk chocolate, and a layer of peppermint. Finally I had a layer of peppermint, a layer of milk chocolate, and then I swirled a layer of white chocolate (no refrigeration needed between layers). To swirl place a bit of white chocolate on top of the milk chocolate and take a tooth pick and swirl.
Swirling chocolate
To remove the chocolate just turn over and press down on the back of the mold and then pull the mold away from the chocolate while pressing on the back.

The plastic mold was also easy to use. I layered white chocolate into the mold.
A layer of white chocolate
After 45 minutes in the refrigerator, I added a layer of milk chocolate and then topped with crushed peppermint. To remove turn over and press lightly. The chocolate pops out.

Chocolate Christmas trees
The bottom line: I enjoyed using the molds but my favorite is still the free-form bark.