This has been a week of celebrations, from Cinco de Mayo and ending this weekend on what is known as two-minute sporting spectacle, the Kentucky Derby. Both celebrations feature great food as well as a signature cocktail. Margarita’s tequila and triple sec and mint julep’s bourbon base combine with simple syrup to make easy-to-down cocktails. Most people are familiar with making (and drinking!) margaritas, but the bourbon-based mint julep is just as easy.
The mint julep is associated with the American South, where a whiskey/bourbon and mint combination that is savored during the long hot months makes this cocktail a perennial favorite. At the Kentucky Derby, the drink is served in a special silver Julep cup. Using a metal container in the heat is practical as the frosted cup insulates the cocktail. A mint julep is easy to make: Use the best bourbon that you have available, fresh mint leaves for both aroma and aromatics, and simple syrup.
Bourbon Whiskey – 2 oz
Simple Syrup (see below) – ½ –1 oz
Mint Sprigs – 5-6
Crushed ice – enough to fill the serving Julep glass
Mix 4 tsp of sugar and 4 tsp of water. Bring to a boil.
Remove from heat. Add 3-4 mint leaves. Keep aside until the simple syrup is cool.
When ready to serve, add the remaining mint leaves to the serving cup. Crush the leaves lightly (muddle) with a wooden spoon.
Fill the cup with crushed ice. Pour in the whiskey and simple syrup.
Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Cheers to the winner!
Note: If you don’t own a metal cup or silver julep, chill a standard highball glass.
I was admiring the beauty of the season’s first snowstorm from my window, as the sunset’s orange glow reflected dramatically against the crisp white flakes. Whether it was the cold or the the medley of winter colors, my dinner of roast vegetables managed to both counter and mirror winter on my plate.
Root vegetables are nutritious and earthy, fueling the body with starchy fiber. With minimum fuss of peeling and dicing, roasting these vegetables brings out undertones of caramelized flavors. Rosemary, with its woody stem, is the best herb to pair with root vegetables; the herb can withstand the heat while perfuming the dish long after it comes out of the oven. The creamy hues of turnip and parsnips, set against orange and purple rainbow carrots, are not just attractive, but create a hardy meal to face the cold.
Roasted Winter Vegetables
Carrots (purple and orange) – 8, peeled
Turnip – 1, peeled
Parsnips – 4, peeled
Olive oil – 2-3 tbsp
Salt and pepper – to taste
Garlic – 2-3 cloves
Rosemary – 4 sprigs
Heat the oven to 425ºF
Cut the vegetables into 1 ½ –inch pieces and put them into a large bowl.
Add the oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary to a separate bowl.
Pour the oil mixture over the vegetables, tossing well.
Spread the vegetables in a single layer in an oven-proof dish and roast them for 30- 40 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your vegetables.
Two of my friends recently shared memories of a dessert that both their mothers had made – a combination of Jell-O, Cool Whip, marshmallows, and canned fruit. They both acknowledged that they wouldn’t make the dessert because of the many processed ingredients, but they still savored the memory. Like most comfort food, the ingredients are a combination of all that is no longer popular, yet together comprise textures and flavors that stay with us forever. My friends’ conversation reminded me of another delicious dessert that had some of the aforementioned unfashionable ingredients.
As October 1 is designated as start of dessert season, it was the time to start with a classic. Trifle is my husband’s favorite pudding from the many years he spent in the U.K.. Without the traditional English ladyfingers and Bird’s Eye custard that are not readily available in the US, I had to tinker with the ingredients. Dessert, after all, should always take us to a happy place. Have an indulgent month!
Pound cake – ½ loaf, cut to fit the base and sides of a bowl
Port (or sherry) – 4-5 tbsp. (enough to soak the cake)
Mixed fruit cocktail – 15 oz. can
Strawberries, Raspberries, grapes – 1 cup
Strawberry Jell-O – 6oz packet
Whole Milk – 1 pint
Egg yolks – 4
Sugar – 2 tbsp
Vanilla essence – ½ tsp
Whipping Cream – ½ pt, whipped until it forms firm peaks
Use the fruit syrup replacing some of the water needed to prepare the Jell-O according to the instructions on the packet.
Cut the fresh fruits into small chunks and mix in with the mixed fruit cocktail.
Layer the bottom and sides of the glass bowl with pieces of cake.
Pour the port over the cake, making sure all of the pieces are soaked through.
Add the fruits on top of the cake.
Pour the Jell-O over the fruits and cake. Once cool, refrigerate until the Jell-O is set.
Meanwhile, mix the eggs, sugar, and essence together in a bowl.
Heat the milk in a pan the milk to just before it starts to boil. Remove from heat.
Take a tablespoon of the hot milk and add it to the egg and sugar mixture. Mix. Keep adding a few tablespoons of milk at a time, until the egg-sugar mixture is warm (this is to avoid curdling). Add the egg and milk mixture back into the pan containing milk. On low heat, continue to cook (about 15-18 minutes). The custard is ready when it is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Cool.
I was thrilled that this Sunday (August 9th) coincided with Rice Pudding Day, an easy way to indulge my sweet tooth. More importantly, the day fitted with my summer Sunday philosophy, which consists of putting as little effort as possible into cooking and as much effort as possible into enjoying the day. Salads and grilled food are easy to put together. Dessert from an untouched box of rice from a takeout Chinese leftover was sweeter.
Rice pudding is made with uncooked rice that is simmered in whole milk and sugar. The cooked rice has a porridge-like consistency and is rich and comforting. On the other hand, sticky cooked rice needs a summery infusion to freshen flavor. Lemon verbena, a new herb that I bought from a friend’s stall at the farmer’s market, has the crisp aroma of freshly cut lime or lemon. The leaves of lemon verbena also has warmth and richness of deeper spices like cardamom, which normally perfumes rice pudding. Nothing says summer like the scent of crushed herbs on the fingertips, and lemon verbena didn’t fail.
The coconut milk infusion made with lemon verbena countered the day-old rice’s taste, and injected the rice with fresh flavors of lemon and the creamy taste of coconut milk. Instead of garnishing with raisins and cashews, fresh raspberries and blueberries completed this lazy Sunday dessert.
Long grain rice – ¼ cup, washed and drained through a colander
Whole milk – 4 cups
Whole cardamom – 6
Sugar – 4 tbsp
Butter – 1tbsp
Raisins – ¼ cup
Cashew nuts – ¼ cup
Bring the milk to a boil.
Add the sugar and cardamom and stir until sugar dissolves.
Lower the heat to medium, and add the rice.
Cover the pan, and cook until rice is soft, about 20-25 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, heat the butter in a pan.
Add the raisins and cashew nut and stir-fry, until the raisins swell and the cashew nuts have a golden color. Use as garnish on the top of individual bowls of rice pudding.
Serve rice pudding warm or cold.
Rice Pudding (with cooked rice)
Leftover rice – 3/4 of carton
Organic coconut milk – 1 can
Sugar – 4 tbsp
Lemon verbena – 8-10 leaves, torn roughly
Fresh berries – a handful
Bring the coconut milk to a simmer.
Add the sugar and lemon verbena leaves. Mix until sugar dissolves.
Remove the pan from heat and let the coconut milk with the leaves sit undisturbed for 20 minutes to an hour.
Bring it back to a gentle heat. Add rice. Stir until all the clumps of rice are broken up and incorporated into the coconut milk infusion.
The week ending April 18th holds two perennial favorite comfort food days – April 12th, National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day and April 16th, Eggs Benedict Day. I could cover both food events with one delicious savory dish, Welsh rabbit or Welsh rarebit.
I used to picture Welsh rabbit as a dish with a small animal in a creamy sauce, and so using its other name, Welsh rarebit, sits better with me. The dish includes many of the food creations from the British Isles – tangy Guinness stout, tart Cheddar cheese, vinegary Worcestershire sauce, and pungent English mustard powder (in that familiar yellow tin). All of the ingredients are mixed with egg yolk, liberally slathered on a hunk of country bread, and broiled. The resulting creamy and substantial dish is a cinch to prepare, while combining in one swoop all of the major comfort foods: bread, cheese, butter, and eggs.