Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Aperol Edition

Want to add a bit of punch to your summer cocktail repertoire? Look no further than Aperol: an Italian aperitif that was first made in Padua in 1919. Its simply gorgeous, in both color and flavor, is low in alcohol yet high in taste, and plays beautifully with a number of spirits.

Personally, I've been captivated by Aperol ever since I first spied bottles and bottles of it decoratively lining the walls of a downtown Italian bistro many months ago. I was instantly charmed by its bright, nearly day-glow, color - and the chic retro design of the bottle didn't hurt either. I ooohed and ahhhed over it just enough to actually plant a seed in the husband's mind and shortly thereafter, he brought a bottle home.

I knew enough to know that it was vaguely orange and medicinal in flavor, not dissimilar to Campari, and that it was made from a proprietary blend of bitter orange and botanicals that's been kept secret through the years. What I didn't know was what to do with it. Naturally, I googled.

My brief search turned up probably hundreds of uses for it ... and one in particular cried out to me ... mostly because I had almost all of the ingredients on hand. First developed at the Pegu Club in New York city, the Intro to Aperol cocktail is a simple yet sophisticated little sipper that hits all the right notes for me. Its refreshing, slightly astringent, and just addictive enough to make you want to take another sip ... and another, and another and another. Below, my version.

Intro to Aperol - Diva Style:
  • 2 ounces Aperol
  • 1 ounce gin (we use Hendrick's)
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 ounce agave nectar
  • dash of Angostura Bitters
  • slice of lemon peel for garnish
Into a martini shaker, pour the Aperol, gin, lemon juice, agave nectar and bitters. Fill the shaker with ice, close and shake well until the outside of the shaker frosts. Pour into a rocks glass and twist a slice of lemon peel over the drink. Garnish the drink with the lemon peel. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

This recipe first appeared in the Washington Post back in November of 2009, as part of an article on classic cocktails. I gather that the original drink, as made at the Pegu Club, calls for an orange peel to be flamed over the drink. Alas, I had no oranges on hand and, to be honest, I rather like the contrast of the lemon peel I used with the already orangey Aperol.

My version also substitutes some agave nectar for simple syrup and that is a personal choice. I almost never mix with simple syrup these days, as prefer to eschew sugar where possible. For me, the agave works just as well and, frankly, I can't taste the difference. Do as you see fit.

Though generally billed as an aperitif, Aperol works just as well as a digestif. The herby botanicals, astringent orange flavor and light body, can either serve to whet your appetite or calm the storms of a too-indulgent meal, depending on your needs. It pairs beautifully with gin, vodka and works especially well with champagne or sparkling wines. Indeed, Aperol can also be enjoyed on its own - over the rocks, with a twist, or with a splash of soda perhaps. If you're of a mind, you can add a dash or two of lemon or grapefruit bitters to shake things up a bit.

My point? Mixing it up with Aperol is good fun. Which ever path you choose, you'll be rewarded with a colorful, flavorful cocktail who's festive orange glow is exactly right for summer sipping.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Blackberry Bundt Cake with Xagave Nectar

Sometimes, when email meets regular mail, its a match made in heaven. Let me explain: this luscious, summery cake is the direct result of a recent email and a packaged delivered to my door.

Like many of you, I subscribe to TastingTable. Some weeks back, their recipe of the day was a scrumptious looking blackberry buttermilk bundt cake with an orange glaze, offered by White House pastry Chef, Bill Yosses. I filed it away for later use.

Later that week, I received a package from the good folks at Xagave Nectar. They reached out to me an offered me a sample of their agave nectar and a copy of their wonderful cookbook: "Delicious Meets Nutritious." I ran a quick search on the company, determined that their product was indeed all natural and certified USDA organic - and I, happily, accepted. Still later, I paired the two of them together and the results were magnificent!

Xagave is a premium blend of the nectar derived from both blue and white agave plants. According to their data, it has the highest concentration of calcium and inulin, and is the only product on the market with a standardized inulin content. Inulin is prebiotic fiber that has been shown to benefit both the digestive and immune systems, increase calcium absorption, and increase bone density.

I'm neither a scientist nor a nutritionist, so I can't speak to such claims ... but I am a baker and I can tell you that I really enjoyed baking with this product. Xagave has a neutral, sweet taste, a fantastic pourable texture and is easy to blend with both hot and cold ingredients. The finished cake had a moist, tender crumb, and the flavor was just sweet enough, without being cloying.

In preparing this cake, I substituted 3/4 cup of Xagave for the 1 3/4 cups of sugar called for in the recipe. I also chose to use a combination of whole wheat flour and whole wheat pastry flour, rather than white flour. This recipe is based on Chef Yosses' Blackberry Buttermilk Bundt cake, featured on Should you prefer to go the traditional route with sugar and white flour, by all means, have a go at that link.

Please note that when baking with any agave nectar, it is necessary to reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Blackberry Bundt Cake with Xagave Nectar:
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup Xagave nectar
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup of low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 pints fresh blackberries, rinsed and drained
For the glaze:
  • 1/2 cup of fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup Xagave nectar (or 1/2 cup confectioners sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
1. Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees F. Great a 2 quart non-stick bundt pan with butter and dust with a light coating of flour, shaking out the excess.

2. In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat pastry flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Whisk well with a wire whisk to combine and reserve.

3. Cream the butter in the bowl of your electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Turn the mixer to low and slowly pour in the agave nectar. Beat well on high until well combined. (The mixture will have a pudding like consistency.) Beat in the eggs, one at a time until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla and beat until combined.

4. Turn the mixer to low and beat in the flour mixture by thirds, alternating with the buttermilk, until all of the flour and buttermilk have been added. Beat until just combined. Remove bowl from mixture and add in the fresh blackberries, folding them in by hand with a spatula to distribute evenly.

5. Pour batter into prepared bundt pan and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 325 degree oven for 50 minutes (or up to an hour) or until golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle of the cake come out clean. Remove from oven when baked and allow cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a serving platter.

6. To form the glaze: combine the fresh orange juice, agave nectar (or confectioners sugar, if using) and lemon zest and whisk well to incorporate fully. Using a skewer or long thin knife, poke deep holes all over the cake and while the cake is still warm, slowly spoon 1/2 of the glaze all over cake, allowing it to seep in. Let the cake rest for 20 minutes, then spoon the remaining glaze over cake and allow it to set for at least 10 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Like most agave nectar products, Xagave is low on the glycemic index and is far sweeter than sugar - so you can use less and save some calories in the process. Both their site and the "Delicious Meets Nutritious" cookbook have a fantastic conversion chart that will help you substitute agave for sugar in any recipe. This is an invaluable resource!

The cookbook is filled with hundreds of recipes: everything from condiments (like sugar-free, agave sweetened ketchup!), to sauces, baked goods, main courses and even cocktails. Naturally, I was thrilled to find the cocktail section. I've been substituting agave nectar for simple syrup in all of my cocktails for some time now and the results have been magnificent.

You can order both the cookbook and the Xagave nectar from the website and I gather that it can also be found in some natural food markets across the country as well.

So, do you enjoy baking with agave nectar? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: June Challenge - Jalapenos!

As you may recall, The Duo Dishes won the May TT Challenge and they have selected jalapeno as this month's featured ingredient. A most excellent choice!

I've long been a fan of the spicy cocktail and jalapeno plays well with so many flavors and spirits. Of course, the most obvious use for jalapeno is a spicy margarita ... and I have gone that route in the drink I'm featuring today.

That said, I am going to encourage you to think outside the box, should you choose to enter this month's challenge. Jalapeno pairs well with: lemon, lime, orange (or any kind of citrus), pomegranate, mint, cilantro, tomato, cinnamon, and salt, to name but a few.

Be aware that jalapenos can vary in their intensity from pepper to pepper. Some peppers are rather mild, while others are extremely hot. Always taste your pepper to determine heat level before you mix your drink. If it is extremely hot, reduce the amount of jalapeno you are using, especially if you're going to muddle the pepper. If the pepper is extremely hot, remove the stems and seeds prior to mixing.

In terms of spirits, I'd say almost anything goes. I wouldn't hesitate to pair it with: vodka, gin, tequila, mezcal or beer. But, really, you're limited only by your imagination! As far as extracting the flavor goes, you have two choices: you can muddle the pepper, or infuse your spirit with the jalapeno. If you go the infusion route, wash, dry and slice your pepper, then add it to a quantity of your chosen spirit and allow it to sit for at least 4 hours, or overnight, depending on how hot you'd like your drink.

I've taken today's recipe from Navan's site. I liked this unusual twist on the margarita, especially for the lovely vanilla notes that the Navan brings to the party. The original recipe calls for silver (or white) tequila, but I only had gold on hand. Do as you see fit.

The Madagascar Margarita:
  • 3 ounces tequila
  • 1 ounce Navan
  • 1 - 2 teaspoons agave nectar, depending on your taste
  • 3 rings of fresh jalapeno, or less, depending on heat level
  • wheel of lemon or lime for garnish
Place the fresh jalapeno rings into a cocktail shaker and over them pour the tequila. Muddle the peppers, crushing slightly to extract their juice. Add the Navan and the agave nectar and fill the shaker with ice. Cover and shake well until the outside of the shaker frosts. Strain into an ice filled rocks glass and garnish with a wheel of lemon or lime and a slice of fresh jalapeno. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

To enter this month's challenge:

1. Create a cocktail using jalapeno as an ingredient and write a blog entry about it. Post your entry sometime before midnight on Friday, July 2nd, and include a link back to Beach Eats:

2. Send an email entitled Thirsty Thursdays June Challenge to: ttchallenge[at]gmail[dot]com

The email must include the following information:
  • Your name
  • The name of your blog
  • The name of your cocktail
  • The link to your blog entry and a photograph of your drink
  • Entries must be received by midnight on Friday, July 2nd
3. You can still participate, even if you don't have a blog. Simply send an email with the above information, minus the blog stuff, and I will include you in the round-up.

The round-up will be posted on Thursday, July 8th and a winner will be declared at that time.

Good luck and get mixing ... I'm looking forward to your spicy creations!


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Dining and Drinking in Brooklyn Edition

Some scenes from our day spent dining and drinking our way through Brooklyn over Memorial Day weekend:

Chorizo and Eggs skillet from El Almacen.

El Almacen's Baja Fish Tacos.

Bacon wrapped, blue cheese stuffed dates at Traif.

Traif's Watermelon Gazpacho amuse bouche ... with a hint of bacon!

Traif's signature Bacon Doughnuts with Dulce de Leche and Coffee Ice Cream

Traif's Spritz Cocktail: a delightful mix of Aperol, Cava, and Blood Orange Juice.

Finally, I cannot recall the name or ingredients of this drink (I didn't have it, my sister in law did) but I know it had some combination of whiskey, smokey tea ... and a bacon dusted rim ... because almost everything at Traif comes with bacon!

Have a delicious day!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Diva Cooks: Astra Libris Edition

So, at long last, those whole wheat biscuits - and I promise they're worth the wait.

Part of the reason for the delay, was that I wanted to do this recipe and its creator justice. Back in February, I began an new feature: Diva Cooks - a series of posts wherein I cook and write about the food of other bloggers. The series began with Tangled Noodle's incredible Honeyed Apple Turkey Pot Pie and it continues today with Food for Laughter's whole wheat biscuits.

Written by Astra Libris, Food for Laughter is one of my most favorite blogs. Astra Libris is a gifted writer with a warm, generous spirit and a heart as big as the great outdoors. Her love of family, friends and food shines through in every post and you cannot help but smile when you read her words ... and droll when you read her recipes.

She first posted her whole wheat biscuit recipe back in June of 2009 and I've been making them ever since. They have become my go-to biscuit and I am pleased to share them with you today. In this case, I used them as a vehicle for using up some of the garlic scapes, and that ingredient is optional. Feel free to leave them out. Alternately, you could choose to add some chopped scallions, and or a bit of grated cheddar ... the options are limitless.

As you'll see when you click over, Astra serves these biscuits with her lighter version of white gravy - a Southern staple that she's made-over by using turkey sausage (or soy crumbles) and 1% milk. I have yet to try her white gravy, but I'm certain its every bit as delicious as these biscuits!

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large garlic scapes, minced (optional)
  • 1 cup non-fat milk (or 1% milk)
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees F.

1. In a large bowl, combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk well with a wire whisk to combine. Add in the garlic scapes, if using and whisk again to combine. Add the milk and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Add the melted butter and stir again until just combined. At this point, the dough will be formed, give it a gentle knead or two, in the bowl, just to bring it together.

2. To form the biscuits: use a 1/4 cup measuring cup and scoop by 1/4 cup fulls onto a baking sheet. The dough will yield approximately 10 biscuits. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes, until light golden brown and cooked throughout.

Serve and enjoy!

You'll note also that Astra's original recipe gives options for a vegan version, and that it uses a bit of white flour. I've used all whole wheat based flours in this recipe, though feel free to do either. I've also reduced the amount of sugar by half and, again, that's a personal choice.

These are my absolute favorite whole wheat biscuits and I hope you'll try them! I also hope you'll stop by Food for Laughter and get to know Astra and her wonderful family. I know you'll love her as much as I do!

Bon appetite!

Friday, June 11, 2010

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming ...

I hate to be a tease, but those whole wheat biscuits are going to have to wait until next week.

I seized an opportunity to purge my painfully groaning bookshelves and the logistics of the endeavor have taken up the better part of these last two days. A local church is having a book drive to raise money for a new roof and I jumped at the opportunity to engage in some much needed literary pruning.

As you can see, Diva cats Lucy (left) and Zelda (right) wasted no time in "helping". They were especially excited about the ball of twine I was using to tie up the books. All in all, I donated 110 books to the church; donated 30 books to the community bookshelf in my building's laundry room; and fed another 20 to the recycling bin. What you see above doesn't even begin to cover it!

Sadly, this purge, though substantial, didn't even result in one full empty shelf. 90% of the books were mine and the vast majority of them were "book club-reads". I'm seriously considering going the eBook route, though reluctantly. Its either that or a 12-step program for voracious readers.

So, I've been packing and hauling for the past two days ... and not writing. And now I'm packing again ... my suitcase, as we're heading out of town for the husband's high school reunion.

Whole wheat biscuits will appear next week, I promise.

So, do you have an eBook reader? If so, do you love it? And what brand? If not, what's holding you back? Curious and exhausted Diva wants to know!

Have a great weekend, all!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fun With Garlic Scapes

Fear not, our regular Thirsty Thursdays feature will resume next week. I simply haven't had a chance to mix up any magic in the cocktail area this week. Sad, huh?

But I have had time to get busy with some garlic scapes. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm long, very long on garlic scapes - thanks to bro's garden. For those not in the know, garlic scapes are the flower stems that garlic plants produce before the bulbs mature. They're long, green shoots, with a pale portion near the top, from which will grown the eventual bulbs. Gardeners often harvest the young, tender shoots to encourage larger bulbs to form ... which is good news for adventurous cooks!

I added them to the couscous dish on Tuesday. I turned them into an onion/garlic dip on Wednesday. (as seen below) And I'm planning on making this white bean garlic scape dip later on in the week, thanks to the recommendation of Diva Sis in Law, K. who emailed me the recipe.

My onion/garlic dip was very much a fly-by-the-tips-of-my-tiara operation. No real recipe here, I used: one 6 ounce container of non-fat plain Greek yogurt, 1 teaspoon of bottled horseradish, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon of BBQ Seasoning, 3 large garlic scapes - minced, and a little dash of lemon pepper seasoning. I whisked it all up, then let it chill in the fridge for a few hours. The husband enjoyed it with chips, prior to dinner, and I enjoyed it with some strips of fresh red bell pepper. Yum!

Finally, I threw some minced scapes into this batch of outstanding whole wheat biscuits that I made late Wednesday afternoon. They were scrumptious. More on this recipe tomorrow.

Even with all of that, I haven't made a dent in my stash of scapes! I could certainly make some pesto ... but then I'd want to have it with pasta and I've been trying to cut back. So, what's a Diva to do??

Thus, I turn to you, my savy readers and ask: What would you do with a bag of fresh garlic scapes?

I need ideas ... stat!


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Israeli Couscous with Chicken, Mushrooms, Garlic Scapes and Asparagus

Will wonders never cease? I actually cooked a meal at home last night - and a tasty meal at that!

This dish is based on Bev Bennett's recipe for Couscous Pilaf with Chicken and Mushrooms that appeared recently in the New Haven Register. Mama Diva passed it on to me last weekend with her recommendation. I varied the ingredients according to what I had on hand; substituting some cooked roast chicken for the chicken breast, adding some asparagus because it seemed like a good idea, and finishing the dish with some freshly grated Parmesan, because - why not?

The somewhat whimsical addition of garlic scapes is the result of my bro's largess. He's planted an enormous quantity of garlic this year and he favored me with what seems like 5 pounds of fresh scapes! I expect they'll be making their way into just about everything I cook this week. Stay tuned.

If you're hungry and in a hurry, this is the meal for you. Its quick, nutritious, filling and altogether delightful. If you don't have any cooked chicken on hand, please consult the original recipe for instructions on using skinless, boneless chicken breasts, as the directions will vary accordingly.

Israeli Couscous with Chicken, Mushrooms, Asparagus and Garlic Scapes:
  • 3 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 cups Shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and minced
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
  • pinch of Kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup of cubed cooked chicken
  • 1 teaspoon of butter
  • 2/3 cup Israeli couscous
  • 1 1/4 cups hot chicken broth
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 fresh garlic scapes, minced (optional)
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for sprinkling
  • some chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. When it begins to shimmer, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring as needed, until mushrooms are tender and just beginning to brown. Add the shallots and garlic and saute for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the curry powder and the Herbes de Provence and saute for one minute, then season with a bit of salt and pepper.

Add the cooked chicken and continue sauteing and stirring for 2 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of butter, allow it to melt, then pour in the Israeli couscous. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, allowing the couscous to toast and brown slightly. Add the hot chicken broth and stir well to combine, scraping any browned bits up from the bottom of the pan. Add the asparagus, the garlic scapes and the leaves from 4 sprigs of fresh thyme. Stir well to combine.

Bring the mixture to the boil then immediately reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until couscous is tender and most of the broth has been absorbed. Before serving, add in 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and stir to melt and combine.

Serve immediately, garnished with some chopped fresh parsley and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Ms. Bennett's recipe suggests that this is a meal for two, but I believe my version yielded enough for four. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Should you wish to go the vegetarian route, you could certainly leave out the chicken and substitute some vegetable broth for the chicken broth. Either way, you'll be rewarded with a quick and altogether satisfying meal. Round it out with a nice big salad or some steamed veggies and call it dinner. I sure did!


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Water Torture

If you're wondering what I've been up to while I've been AFB (away from blog) lately - and, really, that does keep you up at night, doesn't it? Well, I've been out and about all over town. I feel like I've had 1001 restaurant meals over the last two weeks and, though delightful, not a single one of them included a cold glass of water. Water there was, sometimes aplenty, but rarely was it chilled and never was it iced.

So I got to wondering, is this some disturbing new trend? Or merely the latest form of water torture?

It all began with a meal at Minetta Tavern on the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend - and a scrumptious meal, it was! The food was plentiful, familiar yet inventive, and right on point. (hit up that link and drool over the menu) The service was outstanding and the setting couldn't be more agreeable. The water? It was served in a "charming" vintage bottle and could best be described as tepid. Actually, the word "warm" is more to the point. We asked for ice.

That Saturday night, we dined at The Mermaid Inn, a quaint little seafood house not far from my home. The oysters were fresh and briny, the service outstanding, the setting very New England ... and the water? Served in a "charming" vintage bottle at room temperature. Le sigh.

Sunday, now the Sunday of Memorial weekend was a banner day. Some friends and family gathered for our 3rd Annual Hipster Day - a day we set aside to roam the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, drinking and dining at will. Its a blast! This year, we began at El Almacen, a cozy little Argentinian restaurant with a lovely outdoor space. We had brunch - a luscious and creamy egg/chorizo skillet for the husband, huevos rancheros for the sister in law, Baja style fish tacos for the Snack Bee and myself. The food was exquisite, the service a-ok, the drinks menu intoxicating ... and the water? Served in "charming" vintage bottles at room temperature. I kid you not.

Following brunch we did a bit of shopping and made a brief stop at The Lodge for my favorite blueberry lemonade. It was every bit as good as I'd remember and, happily, there was no need for water.

Later on, our merry little group, high-tailed it to Traif - a fabulous new restaurant that bears the inviting tag-line: "celebrating pork, shellfish & globally inspired soul food." Translation ... everything here comes with bacon. Love it! And we did love it, so much so that really, Traif deserves a post of its own at some point. The food was magnificent, their cocktail menu was inventive and exciting, the service was beyond friendly and accommodating ... and the water? You know what I'm going to say, right? The saving grace here was that the water was marginally colder than room temperature and we didn't need to ask for refills.

Finally, last Tuesday night I found myself enjoying the Yankee Game from the front row of the Audi Club - and a fine game it was too. A lavish buffet was included with the price of the ticket and we certainly made the most of it. That evening, I dined on a succulent roast loin of pork, with olive oil mashed potatoes and a melange of roasted seasonal veggies. Salads, soups, several kinds of cheese, and two different kinds of "sliders" were offered as well. In addition, the buffet boasted sushi, 3 different types of stroganoff, hot dogs, snack items and a host of sugary, chocolaty desserts.

The food was hot, fresh and plentiful, the service adequate, the setting lovely ... and the water? I'm sure I don't need to tell you, but I will: served in "charming" vintage bottles at room temperature. Et tu, Yankee Stadium, et tu?

What in the world is going on here? Listen to me New York City restaurant people: if one more server approaches me with a vintage bottle of warm tap water I am going to flip my ever-lovin' tiara! You've been warned.

I don't need, or want, fancy bottled water, NYC tap is a-ok with me ... but would it kill you to throw a little ice into it?!


p.s. - when I finally have a night at home, I swear I'm going to cook a meal and post about it. Really, I mean it! Hang in there with me. ;)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Selecting a Grill for Outdoor Cooking: Part One

Today, I'm presenting a special guest post from the handsome and talented Papa Diva - who, incidentally, is in the market for a new grill himself. He has graciously offered to share his thoughts on the various types of outdoor grills ... for those lucky enough to have outdoor space in which to grill! This post is the first in Papa Diva's Out Door Grilling Series. Enjoy!

Papa Diva is aware that not everyone lives in NY City, some of us actually live in the provinces where cooking outside is a requirement; along with lawn mowing and mulching. I thought some thoughts selecting and using a grill might be in order as we near the official opening of the potato salad season.

First, we need a glossary of terms:

Barbecue or barbecuing: You will notice that I avoid the use of the term barbecue. That actually refers to a method of very slow cooking of inexpensive cuts of meat. Southerners wince when we Yankees refer to grilling as barbecuing.

BTU: Stands for British Thermal Unit. One BTU equals the energy required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one (1) degree Fahrenheit. Many gas fired grills are rated in BTU's/hr. It is usually best to buy a grill with the highest BTU rating your budget allows. We will tell you why that's important when we talk about grilling steaks.

Fuel: You can buy a grill that burns charcoal, charcoal briquets, natural gas or propane gas. There are also electric grills.

Natural Gas: Natural gas is a utility delivered to your home through pipes in the street. It does not burn as hot as propane. The purchased grill must be set up for burning natural gas. It requires a different nozzle than a grill specified for use with propane gas.

Propane Gas: This is the most common grill in the Northeast. Grillmiesters in the South and Southwest think we are barbarians for cooking with gas.

Charcoal: This is the stuff for real grillmiesters. Real charcoal (often called lump charcoal) provides the hottest fire of all fuels. This is very important for searing steaks and such. If you are the Diva Hubby, who likes his steaks black on the outside and red on the inside, searing is important. The Diva Hubby is actually a certified grillmiester. A temperature of at least 600 degrees Fahrenheit is needed for searing. A charcoal fire will yield a temperature from 850 to 1,000 degrees. Real charcoal also imparts a smoky flavor to the food that can't be duplicated by any other fuel.

Charcoal Briquets: Made with charcoal, some fillers and some chemicals to facilitate faster lighting. Less expensive than real charcoal. Will not add the same flavor as real charcoal. Some Southerners thing it adds a chemical flavor.

At least one company, Brinkmann, makes a duel fuel grill that has a charcoal grill on one side and a propane grill on the other.

Brinkmann also makes a model with a separate sear burner. You sear the steak on the sear burner and then move it to the regular grill surface to complete cooking. Unless you are the Diva Hubby, in which case you are through cooking when the sear is complete!

What to buy? It all depends on what you're looking for; ease of use, availability of fuel, cost, etc., are all important factors. A grill set up to burn propane gas will be the easiest to find, and the easiest to use. Once ignited, you will be cooking in ten minutes, or less. A charcoal grill will not be ready to cook on for approximately 30 minutes after lighting. Weber makes a grill that uses a small propane tank to light the charcoal (or briquets) so can begin cooking in 10 to 15 minutes with a model such as this.

Many gas grills now include a side burner, usually rated at 12,000 BTU's. The side burner is useful for boiling water for the ears of corn that go well with seared steaks.

Stay tuned for Part Two in our series, as we have not exhausted this complex subject!

So, what sort of grill do you fancy? Hungry Diva family wants to know! And, if you have any questions for Papa Diva, shout them out in the comments.

Happy Grilling!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: May Challenge Round-Up

The Cucumburt, by The Daily Spud

Today, I'm thrilled to present the entries into May's Thirsty Thursdays Challenge. As you may recall, participants had a choice of either cucumbers or bourbon this month and the entries are spectacular! Let's get to it, shall we? I will present them in the order in which they arrived in my mailbox.

First up, we have The Cucumburt (pictured above), created by The Daily Spud. This refreshing shake "marries cucumber, yoghurt, ginger, mint and coriander along with a measure of gin and tonic." Well said and well done, Spud! I'd say that's a marriage made in heaven! What with all of those lovely herbs and the cucumber, it might even qualify as a health drink ... best to have two servings so as to reap the full benefits! ;)

Lynnylu, from Cafe Lynnylu, decided to go the bourbon route and has offered the Bourbon Mango Sensation for your sipping pleasure - a "fruity melange of mango, lemon and mint" inspired by the Milk and Honey Bar in New York City. The mango, mint and lemon are muddled together with superfine sugar to create the base for this gorgeous and summery drink. No doubt that mango plays beautifully with the bourbon and the mint is most welcome indeed. Yum!

Bluegrass Iced Tea, by Team Noodle

In an amusing twist, "Team Noodle", of Tangled Noodle, opted to work with bourbon for this challenge ... even though their suggestion for the month was the cucumber! How delightful! Mr. and Mrs. put their respective "noodles" together to create a cocktail sure to please them both. Their Bluegrass Iced Tea boasts a dangerously delicious combination of rosemary and mint infused bourbon, lemon, sugar and a bit of tonic for topping up. Inspired by both the classic Mint Julep and the flavor of iced tea, this is a refreshing cocktail just "perfect for sipping as you sit on the porch on a hot, humid summer night - or just imagining you're sitting on a porch on a hot, humid summer night!"

Suzy, from Suzy's Goodies opted to go with the bourbon as well, offering her Summer Bourbon Slush cocktail. This unique recipe combines orange juice and lemonade concentrate, pineapple juice, strong black tea and bourbon - all of which are mixed together and placed in the freezer over night to form a slush. The slushy goodness is then topped up with a bit of 7-Up before serving. What fun! I love the use of the black tea here and, as Suzy says, its "perfect for a summer afternoon!"

Bourbon Banana Colada, by Shirley of GFE

My pal Shirley (whom I met at BlogHer Food last September), from Gluten Free Easily rounds out the bourbon entries with her luscious looking Bourbon Banana Colada. This summery treat was inspired by the BBC cocktail (Bailey's Banana Colada) Shirley had while traveling through Virgin Gorda. Her version omits the Bailey's and blends up a lovely tropical mix of bourbon, dark rum, frozen banana, fresh pineapple, coconut milk, shredded coconut and ice to create a drink sure to put you in mind of warm soft sands and cool blue waters. I particularly like the use of the rum and shredded coconut ... I hope you saved me some, Shirley!

Pineapple Sage Cocktail, by The Duo Dishes

Happily, our final entry is of the cucumber variety. The Duo Dishes, who by all accounts throw one mean party, threw their hat into the ring with the Pineapple Sage Cocktail. Inspired by a drink they had during a visit to New York, this gorgeously green sipper features a mix of raspberry vodka, Midori liqueur, pineapple juice, muddled cucumber and fresh sage. Wow, its a party in a glass! Keep mixing it up like that, Duo, and you might just find me crashing your next bash!

Goodness, what a stunning, inventive and beautiful array of cocktails! I am thoroughly impressed with each and every entry ... and completely at a loss for choosing a winner. As such, I've decided to put the husband on the hot seat this month. There's no way I can choose among such dear blogging friends - so I've shown him all the entries and descriptions and asked him a simple question: "if you could have only one of these drinks right this minute, which would you choose?"

His answer: The Pineapple Sage Cocktail! While the husband was clearly impressed with all the offerings, and said he would try any one of them, the combination of sage, pineapple and cucumber won him over.

Congrats to The Duo Dishes! You now have the honor of choosing an ingredient or spirit for this month's challenge. Please announce your choice in the comments ... so we can all get mixing!

Finally, my undying thanks to all who participated this month. I truly appreciate your willingness to play along and especially your willingness to share your creativity with my readers. I'm delighted with your efforts and thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I hope you'll play along next month too. :)

Be sure to stop by and visit all of our featured bloggers for these scrumptious recipes. Tell 'em Diva sent you ... and I'm sure they'll buy the next round.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Happy Blog-o-versary!

Look, I've baked you a virtual cake! And, really, virtual baking is the only kind I've had time for these last several days. Things have been more than a little busy, Chez Diva, of late and cooking has, sadly, not been on the agenda. That will change, but likely not until next week.

Today is my 2nd Anniversary of blogging. I began Beach Eats on June 2nd, 2008 - my, how time flies! I've enjoyed every minute of this adventure, and particularly enjoyed "meeting" all of you both in your comments here and on your own blogs as well. I'm looking forward to our 3rd year together!

Be sure to tune in tomorrow for my Thirsty Thursdays Challenge round-up ... I've got a host of bourbon and cucumber themed drinks for your sipping pleasure! And on Friday, we'll have a special guest post from Papa Diva that I know you'll enjoy.

Have a wonderful day!