Cocktail Hour: Plantations

22 Jul

Unless you live on the South Pole, you are probably talking about how hot it is right now. Guys, it is HOT out there. The heat index in DC today was 121 degrees. I was wearing a suit. And traveling to an offsite event around noon. WHAT WAS I THINKING. I literally starting melting. Literally. I couldn’t think of anything other than “I want to be in a tub of ice cubes right now SO BAD.”

I kept getting asked what my weekend plans are. I was going to volunteer with this group that is building a raised garden in my neighborhood, but it got postponed due to excessive heat. So, really, my plans are to move as little as possible, drink as many cold beverages as I can, and not get heat stroke.

If there is one thing that can make summers in DC bearable, it’s refreshing, ice-cold cocktails. So I’m going to put on a summery dress, crank up the AC, and sip one of these to celebrate the end of the week. I suggest you do the same. Unless you are under 21. Then don’t. Have a Coke instead.

There is also one good thing about excessive heat. Basil loves it. My basil is just having a party out there. So, in honor of that, this cocktail involves basil simple syrup. The original recipe just called for muddled basil, but I really liked the flavor I got from steeping the leaves in the simple syrup. The combination of grapefruit, gin, and basil is just really fantastic. It’s a very complex tasting cocktail, so your guests will be very impressed. And as a disclaimer, I’m not a huge gin fan, but the basil and the grapefruit make the gin flavor barely noticeable (which makes these a little dangerous…drink responsibly!)

So to start things off, let’s talk simple syrup. I just recently started getting into simple syrups, but they are so…well…simple! And making flavored syrups is so fun!  Everyone will think you are super skillful when you mention you used homemade basil simple syrup. I know I was really impressed last year when one of my friends brought ginger simple syrup to a party I hosted.

Basil Simple Syrup

Makes 3/4 cup syrup

½ cup water

½ cup granulated sugar

10-15 fresh basil leaves

Stir together sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to just the point of boiling, remove from heat and add basil leaves. Let leaves steep while syrup cools. Strain out basil before using.

Plantations

Adapted from Cocktail Remedy

Serves 6-8

Print this recipe!

3/4 cup basil simple syrup

3 limes, quartered

2 1/4 cup gin

3/4 cup triple sec

2 1/4 cup grapefruit juice

3/4 cup club soda

Muddle the limes with the simple syrup in a large pitcher. Add gin, triple sec, grapefruit juice and ice. Stir well, and top with club soda. Remark that it is powerful hot outside, good sir. Lordy. Sip. Feel refreshed. Repeat.

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Sweet Corn Polenta

12 Jul

I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July! I know it’s a little late…but this polenta is a great Fourth of July appetizer. I made it for my family and it was a hit. We took part in the traditional Towanda Fourth of July festivities, I woke up early  on the 4th to bake the cake that would become Pioneer Woman’s Strawberry Shortcake Cake. Then it was time to gather and prepare for the flea market and parade.

We headed down to Towanda in two waves: the first wave (my dad, my grandma and I) set up chairs along the parade route in the shade so we’d be sure to have a good spot. Grandma protected the location while I did an initial flea market scouting mission. The bartering started early when the very first tent I hit had two plates I wanted, marked $2 a piece. The seller immediately offered me 3 plates for $3. This was going to be a good day. I ended up taking 2 of the plates for a dollar a piece. My next find was a yellow glass vintage cake stand. The $12 price tag was reasonable, but it’s more fun when you haggle, so I offered her $10. We settled on $11.

I headed back to drop off my finds and wait for the second wave. Wave two: my mom, my other grandma, my sister and my uncle showed up right on schedule. My sister and I did another quick lap through the park, and I bought two more plates, before taking our seats for the parade. It was a good one: you have your antique tractors, your antique cars, your local sheriff, the septic tank cleaner, the town fire truck, and one float…we’ll still debating whether the people with the sign “TEA” were a local Tea Party branch…or the Towanda Education Assocation. It’s a mystery that may never be solved.

After the parade, those who couldn’t handle the heat headed into town for some last minute groceries, and the remaining four did our last round of shopping. We headed over to the south park to see what they had to offer. My sister picked out a wooden necklace, only to discover the seller was our neighbor, who gave it to her for free. I found two more plates at various other tents around the park, so that I ended up with a nice set of 6 mis-matched vintage plates. Hopefully they will soon be making an appearance on the blog…once I get them shipped here (sadly six plates and a cake stand wouldn’t fit in my carry-on).

Unfortunately, the corn was behind this year in IL due to a very wet spring, so I didn’t get any local sweet corn while I was home, but it has made an appearance here in the mid-Atlantic at the farmers markets. Because it was so yummy the first time, I decided to make the polenta again this past weekend for my apartment-warming party. Except I got impatient, and my electric stove caused it to thicken pretty quickly. I was worried I was going to over-do it, so I didn’t let it go the whole 30 min. Don’t be like me. Instead of pretty polenta triangles, I had…gooey polenta mounds. It doesn’t really work very well as finger food…

This picture is what happens when you’re watching a parade full of tractors and your mom says “act excited about the parade!” We did our best.

Sweet Corn Polenta

Adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 8-10 (appetizers)
3 cups water
1 cup stone ground polenta
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 ears sweet corn, kernels cut off the cob
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion, cooking for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and corn, cooking an addition 3-5 minutes until heated through. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine 1 cup water with 1 cup polenta, whisking to remove lumps. Bring the remaining 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the cornmeal/water mixture, continuing to whisk to prevent clumping. Reduce heat to medium-high, and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
When polenta is thickened, fold in corn/onion mixture.
Grease a 7×11 pan lightly with olive oil, and spread polenta into pan. Allow to cool for a few hours, or you can make it a day ahead and pop it in the fridge overnight. When you’re ready to serve, use a sharp knife to cut polenta into triangles (cut into squares, and then cut each square at a diagonal). Transfer to a greased baking sheet. Top triangles with Parmesan and place under the broiler in your oven for 5 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and browned. Enjoy!

Blackberry Lemonade

27 Jun

Wow. Things have been busy, huh? June just kind of disappeared on me there. My focus was so much on starting the new job that the first 20 days of the month just whizzed by, and then the new job started, so I’m trying to re-adjust to a 9-5 life again.

But things happened in June. I know they did. Let’s see…in June, I:

1. Finally finished unpacking at my new apartment.

2. Watched a sweet short dance film made by my sister.

3. Watched the Cardinals lose two awful games against the Nats (swept by the Nats?? Really, Cardinals?? Pull it together.)

4. Bought tickets to see the midnight showing of Harry Potter. Yeah, that is happening. I’ve never done it before, I figured I needed to fully commit to this last movie.

5. Got assaulted by a glitter-covered friend at the Pride Parade (but didn’t get punched in the face by him this year…unlike last year.)

6. Cut off all my hair. That was a big one.

7. Watched my new boss get sworn into her position. And then got sworn in myself when I started work the next Monday.

8. Got caught in a crazy rainstorm on my way to hear some Jazz in the Park, complete with a great rainbow.

9. Went tubing for the first time ever. And planned to make some amazing blackberry lemonade to take with me down the river. But then got inexplicably ill the morning of the tubing adventure and barely made it out of bed in time to catch the bus to West Virginia. So instead I made the blackberry lemonade the next day. It was still pretty great. The fruit flies in my apartment loved it.

No lemons were harmed in the making of this post. Well, okay, maybe a few lemons. Their sacrifice was worth it.

I’m still trying to figure out the best way to bake/cook/take pictures in my new apartment. There aren’t windows in my kitchen. It’s sort of a problem.

Blackberry Lemonade
Adapted from Food Network Magazine
Serves 4

Print this recipe!

Simple Syrup:
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup water

Lemonade:
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 cup simple syrup
1 cup blackberries
1 cup water
ice cubes

Stir together ¾ cup water and ¾ cup sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve all the sugar. Remove from heat and let cool. There’s a reason it’s called simple syrup, people.

In a pitcher (or bowl, if you actually don’t own a pitcher at this point in your life…) muddle together blackberries and simple syrup. I used the back of a wooden spoon. (If you want to use a little less simple syrup to start and check on the sweetness level as you go, I felt like a full cup was a little too sweet. Just depends on how you like your lemonade though.) Stir in 1 cup water and 1 cup fresh lemon juice. Add ice and serve, preferably whilst floating down a river. I won’t tell anyone if you add a little vodka to it…

Happy Father’s Day!

19 Jun

I have a lot to thank my dad for, these are just a few:

1. That nose. I have it too. Wouldn’t trade it.

2. Putting me to bed when my mom was working nights, even if I was young and a brat and sometimes cried that I wanted my mommy.

3. Teaching me to play softball, and coaching my teams. And taking me to baseball games. And helping me collect baseball cards. And flying to DC to see the Cards play the Nats and buying really awesome seats behind the dugout.

4. Being my financial advisor, retirement fund manager, tax prep helper, and teaching me to be smart with money.

5. Building me a tack trunk, a saddle tree, and  a entire course of stadium jumps. And for all the leg-ups, rein holding, and green slobber wiping even though it meant standing very very close to a horse, which was not his favorite place to be.

There’s so much more, but I just wanted to share one of my favorite pictures of me and my dad, relaxing on the porch during the summer he built us a pool. How many dads have built their daughters a pool? With their own two hands? That’s my dad. He’s awesome.

Thinking about making something special for your dad tonight? How about some Braised Short Ribs? Or make him a Berry Cobbler for dessert. Don’t forget the vanilla ice cream!

 

Raspberry Glazed Salmon

15 Jun

It’s my last week of unemployment before I start my new job next Monday. Hard to believe that it’s been six months of not working a 9-5. I imagine it’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment, I’m so used to being able to wake up when I feel like it, go to the gym during the day, do my grocery shopping while everyone else is at work, make a nice lunch at home, then go in and work evenings at the restaurant.

But I’m really excited. And my bank account is even more excited that it will soon see more deposits and fewer large credit card payments.

And my last unemployed week is shaping up to be really great. Last night I went with a group of friends to see the Cardinals play the Nats (they managed to blow a five run lead and then walk home the winning run. It wasn’t pretty). We’ve got some gorgeous weather for a softball game tonight, always a highlight of the week, even if I haven’t been hitting very well this season. Tomorrow night is Ladies Night at Nationals Park, so a big group of girls are heading over for free drinks, food, manicures, and massages before watching the Cards win (hopefully). And then Friday is my new boss’ swearing-in ceremony and reception, after which I’m hoping to make it over to Jazz in the Park with some friends.

And while I’m a little nervous that starting a new job will mean I’ll have a hard time finding time to cook and bake, I realize that I’m actually more productive when I’m busy than when I have a lot of free time. It’s so easy to think that because I have free time, all this stuff will obviously get done, but then it never does. Whereas when I’m busy, I just get on a roll and knock a billion projects out in a week. But I will miss being able to cook lunch at home. I made this salmon for lunch twice last week because a) it is delicious and b) I had an absurd amount of raspberries I needed to use.

Luckily, it’s a really quick and easy dish, so I’m sure I’ll make it many more times for dinner this summer. Plus, hardly any dishes to wash: just one bowl for the glaze, and a baking sheet for the salmon (which I line with aluminum foil, so that shortens cleanup time even more).

I actually stopped eating salmon for quite a while because I got bored with it, but then I remembered how awesome the raspberry/salmon flavor combination is, and it’s back in my cooking rotation. Sometimes you just have to completely ditch the recipes you make too often and start doing something new.

Raspberry Glazed Salmon
Serves 2

Print this recipe!

½ cup fresh raspberries (about 15)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
pinch of salt
2 small salmon fillets

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl, mash raspberries with a fork. Add balsamic vinegar, honey and salt. Stir/mash it all together. It’ll be about the consistency of jam.

Grease baking sheet with a little bit of oil. Place salmon fillets on baking sheet, skin side down, and put a big spoonful of raspberry glaze on top of each. Spread glaze around to cover the top and sides of the fillets. Set aside the extra glaze for later. (NOTE: Be sure that you don’t touch the salmon with the spoon you are using for the glaze. You don’t want to contaminate the bowl of extra glaze with raw salmon, because you are using it later and it won’t be cooked to kill those germs.)

Bake salmon in oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and top with the rest of the glaze. For an extra touch, you can garnish with a few more whole fresh raspberries.

Roasted Asparagus and Fontina Risotto

6 Jun

This right here is probably my favorite time of the year. It’s a confluence of all my favorite things at once:

1. Berries berries berries everywhere

2. The end of a long winter of lame imported produce, the farmers’ markets are back!

3. BASEBALL (going to two games next week when my Cardinals are in town playing the Nats)

4. SOFTBALL (even better, because I get to play every week. My team crushed last week. I like winning.)

5. Rooftop pools.

6. Rooftop bars.

7. Just one month until the best holiday of the year, 4th of July.

8. Tank tops. I love them. I just do.

9. It’s the perfect time for a new haircut…

10. Did I mention berries? Holy cow I can’t stop eating them.

One thing I’ve been buying a lot of at the farmers’ market is asparagus. I really like the skinny asparagus spears. I think the fat ones intimidate me. I don’t think I ever bought asparagus before this spring. But now I’m all about it. Me + Asapargus = Love.

I actually couldn’t decide which picture of the asparagus I liked better…thoughts?

On almost a daily basis I chop up some asparagus, roast it, and top it with balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese. It’s easy, it’s delicious, you can’t go wrong. But every once in a while you need to get a little fancier. A little less healthy.

Not gonna lie, I was sweating like crazy by the time this risotto was done. Risotto is not a great dish to make when it’s 95 degrees and humid and your AC isn’t on. Combine that with your oven being on at 400 degrees to roast the asparagus, and it is just not a great life choice.

But hey, all those calories I burned off while stirring and sweating and stirring and stirring and sweating meant that I could eat an extra large portion…

Roasted Asparagus Risotto with Fontina
Serves 3

Print this recipe!

½ pound fresh asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
salt
½ cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 medium shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cups arborio rice
Fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 cup fontina cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread asparagus on a baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 5-10 minutes, until bright green.

Heat chicken broth in a medium pan and keep warm.

In large, heavy pot add ½ tablespoon of butter, olive oil and diced shallots. Cook until nearly translucent over medium high heat. Add rice, stirring. Cook for 2-3 minutes.

Reduce heat to low and add wine. Stir until wine is mostly absorbed. Add 1 cup warm chicken broth, stirring until liquid is mostly absorbed. Continue to add warm chicken broth by the ½ cup, stirring and allowing it to be mostly absorbed before adding more. Add broth until risotto is cooked. Rice should be creamy but still have a slight al dente bite to it.

Stir in grated fontina cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Fold in roasted asparagus spears.

Moving

31 May

I’ve spent the last 4 days moving all my stuff to my new apartment. I only moved a block and a half to the east, but with the 90+ degree DC heat and humidity, it was a long weekend with a lot of sweating.

I’m only about one third unpacked at this point, so I don’t have a food post for ya, but hopefully I can get this mess under control by the end of the week.