Sunday, December 30, 2012

Smoky Salmon and Cream Cheese Dip

Salmon Dip and Chip in White Ramekin, Overhead View

A Fun and Easy Snack for Parties and Picnics

New Year’s Eve is almost here.  And in a few weeks there will be that big Super Bowl bash.  So the quest for party food is on.  Snacks, spreads, and dips rule this time of year.   And one of the best I know is Smoky Salmon and Cream Cheese Dip.

Salmon and cream cheese make a classic combo.  Think lox and bagels with a schmear.  Take the salmon and cream cheese, add some smoky notes and a bit of onion or scallion, and you’ve got the makings of a delicious dip.  It’s great with your chip of choice — I tend to prefer ridged potato chips (which stand up better to dipping) or tortilla chips.  You can also spread it on crackers, or on pieces of that little party rye that supermarkets feature so prominently this time of the year (they always have it in stock, but you see more of it during the holidays).

Once your guests taste this dip, it will disappear quickly.  But if by chance you have some left over?  Spread it on your morning bagel.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Pimento Cheese

Pimento Cheese in Ramekin and on Party Rye

This Southern Spread is Perfect for Parties

Need an idea for a party appetizer?  Something you can spread on crackers, or maybe make into bite-size sandwiches using those miniature loaves of party rye? 

How about Pimento Cheese?  This great tasting combination of cheddar cheese and pimentos is a much-loved indulgence in the southern United States. And it’s becoming popular throughout the rest of the country, especially at New Years’ Eve and Superbowl parties.

You can buy commercially prepared Pimento Cheese at many grocery stores these days, but it’s nothing like homemade. And when you make it yourself, you can spice it up (or not) to suit your own taste. Best of all, it takes literally minutes to make. It’s so simple, an eight year old (or even a non-cooking spouse!) can make it.

If Pimento Cheese is new to you, you’ve got a treat in store. But you might want to make a double batch. Once you taste it, you’ll be eating lots of it — just to make up for all that lost time.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Crunch Drop Cookies

Crunch Drop Cookies on Cooling Rack

Coconut is the Secret Ingredient in These Crispy Delights

When I was a child, December was baking season around our house.  My mother would bake cookies almost every day, so we’d wind up with a dozen or more varieties at least.  Between Christmas and New Year’s, she’d serve up a big platter of them every night after dinner. 

I’d always beeline these Crunch Drop Cookies, made festive with a garnish of brightly colored sugar or sprinkles. 

They’re a great tasting cookie, and easy to make.  Almost every kid will like them.  And you?  Well, you may experience your second childhood.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Stinger Cocktail

Stinger Cocktail in Rock Glass with Mint Garnish on Black Acrylic

Crème de Menthe Puts the Tingle in This 1920s Society Favorite

You don’t hear much buzz about The Stinger these days. But a few decades back, it was all the rage. Indeed, in 1920s New York, the Stinger was the “it” drink. It was a particular favorite of the limousine set — and Reginald Vanderbilt’s preferred drink.

Vanderbilt — known as “Reggie” to his friends — was then a society heavyweight and heir to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune. Today he’s largely forgotten, but you may have heard of his daughter, Gloria, who once designed a mean pair of jeans.

Anyway, legend has it that during the daily cocktail hour — liberally defined chez Vanderbilt as 4 to 7 PM — Reggie would stand behind his ornate home bar and dispense Stingers to all. Though the cocktail originated as a sweet after-dinner drink, by the time Reggie was mixing ‘em up, the Stinger had lowered its sugar quotient, and thus seemed appropriate for pre-dinner sipping.

Alas, Reggie is no longer here to mix cocktails for us (he died at age 45 from cirrhosis).  But you’ll find the Stinger easy to make.  And with its minty flavor, it’s a natural for the winter holidays.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Anise Drop Cookies

Anise Drop Cookies with Holly in Background

Spice Up Your Holiday Cookie Platter with this Traditional German Recipe

When I was growing up, December was always cookie month. My mother baked a batch of cookies almost every day to prepare for the Christmas festivities. Although she always changed the mix of cookies that went into the rotation — adding some, dropping others — one always appeared without fail: these great Anise Drop Cookies. Her recipe was handed down from her grandmother, and in turn handed down to me. And I gave it to Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, who is the cookie baker in our household.

The anise flavor is pronounced in these cookies, but not overwhelming. Anise is somewhat reminiscent of licorice — though even people who don’t like licorice (or black jelly beans) will probably like these cookies. (I hated black jelly beans when I was a kid, and they’re still the last jelly bean standing at Easter; but I always liked this cookie.) And of course, anyone who does like licorice will adore this cookie.

Anise is used in some Italian cookies and biscotti, and features in several of Germany’s best known holiday cookies, including Pfeffernüsse and Springerle. In fact, these cookies taste somewhat like Springerle, but are less labor intensive to make.

If you have an electric stand mixer, making Anise Drop Cookies is fairly simple. But it does take a bit of time — for the best results, you want to let them sit out overnight before baking.

If you insist on baking them right after mixing, you’ll still get a good cookie. But waiting overnight may be a good thing around Christmastime. After all, it lets you practice resisting the temptation to sneak a peek at all those gifts that have your name on them. You haven’t been peeking already, have you?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Grasshopper Cocktail

Grasshopper Cocktail with Candy Cane Garnish in Cocktail Glass


If You’d Like to Drink Your After-Dinner Chocolate Mint

Some people like to drink dessert.  Last week we discussed the Brandy Alexander, a delightful mix of cognac (or brandy), crème de cacao, and heavy cream. Switch out the cognac for green crème de menthe and you have the Grasshopper Cocktail, which may be the ultimate dessert drink.

Chocolaty crème de cacao and minty crème de menthe are both sweet. Add cream, and you have a rich drink that tastes an awful lot like one of those dinner mints you sometimes see — such as Andes Chocolate Mints. And although both crème ingredients contain enough alcohol to provide some grown-up pleasure, the total amount is perhaps half of what you’d get in a regular drink. So after a big dinner with lots of wine, you’re not adding too much more to your total intake.

Best of all, the festive green color of the Grasshopper is seasonally appropriate. Add a candy cane garnish, and this drink just screams Christmas.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Almond Sugar Cookies

Almond Sugar Cookies cooling on wire rack, overhead view

Kicking Up the Flavor of a Holiday Favorite

If you believe in Santa Claus — and deep down, we all want to believe — you believe in cookies.  After all, you have to leave out a big plateful on Christmas Eve to reward Saint Nick for showing up.  Especially when you know that you’ve been more naughty than nice.

And it’s the rare holiday assortment that doesn’t include a sugar cookie of some description.  They’re easy to make and extremely versatile.  You can adapt the recipe to feature your preferred flavors.  You can serve them plain, or coat them with decorating sugar or sprinkles, or even slather them with icing.  It’s all good.

Best yet, you can make a double batch of dough and freeze some of it.  That way you can bake some fresh cookies whenever the moods strikes you.

Just make sure you have plenty available on Christmas Eve.  I have it on good authority that they’re Santa’s favorite.  Ho, ho, ho!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Brandy Alexander Cocktail

Brandy Alexander Cocktail in Cocktail Glass with Nugmeg Garnish

A Chocolate Lover’s Delight

The Brandy Alexander is a celestial mix of cognac (or brandy), crème de cacao, and heavy cream. The crème de cacao gives the drink its distinct chocolate flavoring — one that’s not overwhelmingly strong, but definitely noticeable. The cream adds richness, and the cognac provides some grownup interest. This is a very smooth and mellow drink that barely seems alcoholic at all.

With its rich creaminess, the Brandy Alexander is perfect for the winter holiday season — a time of year when many of us are looking for decadent, festive cocktails that we might not consider drinking at other times of the year.

You can have a Brandy Alexander before dinner, although you might find it a bit heavy in that role.  But the drink is perfect after dinner — it’s almost a dessert in a glass!  It also works well as a weekend mid-afternoon tipple, best sipped while munching holiday goodies.

I know there are people in this world who don’t like chocolate.  If you happen to be one of them, stop reading right here:  You won’t like this cocktail.  But for the other 99% of us?  Yes, please.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Coconut Kisses (Macaroons)

Coconut Kisses on Black Acrylic

Richer — and Simpler —  Than Traditional Macaroons

OK, technically these cookies aren’t macaroons (they don’t contain egg white).  But they look like coconut macaroons, and their flavor is remarkably similar.  So whatever you call them, your taste buds will get an exceedingly sweet treat.

Last year when I posted about Pfeffernüsse Cookies, I mentioned that for Christmas my mom would bake at least a dozen different types of cookies. The selection varied a bit from year to year, but there was always a nucleus of family favorites. One of these was Coconut Kisses, which she always baked on Christmas Eve. To make them even more festive, she’d divide the cookie dough and dye half of it red, the other half green.

These days, Mrs. Kitchen Riffs (the cookie baker in our household) skips the dye. Although I sometimes get nostalgic for the seasonal look of the red and green cookies, I must admit I prefer the way they look au naturel. Besides, that way you can serve them all year round, not just at Christmas.

A good thing too, because once you see the way kids — and adults — gobble these up, you’ll want to bake them often.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Aviation Cocktail

Aviation Cocktail with Maraschino Cherry Garnish, Black Background

Celebrating Flight’s Romantic Past

Traveled by air lately?  Not really an inspirational experience, eh?  After spending what seems like forever going through security (where you have to remove your shoes, and maybe have security people poke you with a handheld scanner), you finally get to board an overcrowded plane.  Assuming your flight hasn’t been cancelled, of course.  If you get hungry, good luck.  Maybe they’ll sell you some stale peanuts.

Harried travelers may find it hard to believe, but flying once seemed daring and romantic.  When the Wright brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk in December 1903, they unleashed the imaginations of would-be adventurers everywhere. 

The Aviation Cocktail was invented not too long after that — perhaps to celebrate humanity’s conquest of the skies.

The drink has a clean, sophisticated flavor that evokes a glorious past. And unlike air travel, it still seems fresh and exciting. Not to mention civilized.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Chocolate Pepper Cookies

Chocolate Pepper Cookies with Milk on Black Acrylic

These Spicy Chocolate Beauties Are Perfect for the Holidays — or Anytime    

These cookies originated in Austria, where they are called Wienerstube.  But we find it easier to pronounce their Anglicized name:  Chocolate Pepper Cookies.  One taste, and you may decide to just call them “My New Favorite Cookie.”

These are a bit less sweet than some other cookies, and their spicy, complex undertones make them perfect for grownup occasions (though kids like them too).  Their sophisticated combination of chocolate and pepper isn’t spicy hot, but you definitely notice a bit of a tingle on your tongue.  And they’re equally at home with a glass of milk, a cup of tea, a cocktail, or a glass of wine.

We often make these as a Christmas cookie.  But they’re great anytime you’re craving something chocolate with a bit of oomph.  Best of all, you can freeze the dough, and then just cut off a bit and bake a few cookies at a time.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Roast Brussels Sprouts

Roast Brussels Sprouts in Oblong Ramekin, Overhead View on Black

For People Who Think They Don’t Like Brussels Sprouts 

You probably know how to eat Brussels sprouts, right?  Just politely push those little cabbage cubs around your plate.  Then pretend to forget them.  

Well, good news:  You can stop playing with your food now.  Because Roast Brussels Sprouts are actually edible.  Delicious, even. 

I know you may find that hard to believe.  But that’s probably because the only Brussels sprouts you’ve encountered have been overcooked.  As in, boiled to death.  And the truth is, if you cook Brussels sprouts too long, they turn into a stinky mess.  Nobody wants to eat a vegetable that’s been so badly mistreated.

Unlike lengthy boiling, roasting brings out the best in Brussels sprouts.  Roasting deepens and concentrates flavor, highlighting an inner sweetness that boiling obscures.  And roasting reveals hidden depths of flavor that most people find irresistible.

It’s a good thing Brussels sprouts are plentiful and inexpensive in the fall and winter, so you can indulge in your new favorite vegetable.  And with Thanksgiving later this week, they’re a great green veggie choice for your festive dinner.

Roasting is one of the easiest ways to cook this healthy and nutritious vegetable.  And they taste so great, even your most finicky eater will be asking for seconds.  Maybe thirds.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Homemade Cranberry Sauce with Mint Garnish in White Ramekin, Overhead View on Black

Ditch the Canned and Discover Real Flavor

Cranberry sauce is a staple of Thanksgiving tables.  And why not?  Cranberries in their natural state may be too tart to take, but adding sugar mellows their flavor into something seductively good. 

Plus, cranberry sauce combines so well with those other Thanksgiving standbys:  turkey, gravy, and stuffing.  And for many people, it’s an obligatory ingredient in (or at least, accompaniment to) day-after turkey sandwiches. 

But when was the last time you made your own cranberry sauce?  Maybe never, if you’re like most of us.  It’s so easy to buy the commercial canned stuff.  And because cranberry sauce is often a supermarket loss leader at this time of the year, the cans may actually be a pretty good deal — at least from a financial standpoint. 

How about from a flavor standpoint?  Well, let’s not even go there.  Instead, I’ll just tell you how quick and easy it is to make your own cranberry sauce at home.  (Hint:  15 minutes, tops.  Plus time to chill in the fridge.)

The only drawback is, you won’t have those little groove marks from the can. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Microwave Popcorn

Microwave Popcorn on Black Acrylic

Quick, Easy, Healthy, and Tasty — the Best Way to Make Homemade Popcorn

Look in the “snack aisle” of your local supermarket and you’ll see package after package of microwave popcorn.  You know, boxes filled with sealed paper bags designed to be nuked at home.  Most stores stock several brands, and they usually offer a wide variety of flavorings.  It’s convenient, and microwave popcorn really is good stuff.  But look closely at the list of ingredients on the box, and you may wonder whether those are things you really want to ingest.  If you’re like me, you’ve probably had your fill of weird-sounding additives whose names you can’t pronounce.

Way down on the bottom shelf, you’ll generally find popcorn in bulk — the kind that’s meant to be cooked the old-fashioned way.  It’s not as convenient as the packaged microwave popcorn, but it has no added ingredients.  And it’s much cheaper than the “convenience” brands.

And guess what?  You can pop that bulk popcorn in your microwave.  You don’t need to buy the specially packaged “microwave” varieties.  Just find an appropriate container — I use a brown paper sack — and you’re in business.  And you can flavor the popcorn with your own tasty (and natural) ingredients.  No mystery chemicals needed.  The result is much better flavor.  Plus you’re saving money! 

Try this method of making popcorn and you’ll never look back.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Ward Eight Cocktail

Ward Eight Cocktail in Cocktail Glass with Orange Slice and Maraschino Cherry Garnish

The Perfect Drink to Celebrate (or Mourn) an Election

Here in the US, we have a big election coming up Tuesday, November 6th.  We’ll be voting for President, not to mention other federal, state, and local offices.  Many people are heartily sick of the whole process by this time (turn on the TV in “swing” states and it’s wall-to-wall political commercials).  But we’re all curious to learn the outcome, so many of us will tune in to see the election results.  And some people may even make a party of it.

Mrs. Kitchen Riffs and I certainly will be watching — and may elect to enjoy an adult beverage while consuming the political news. 

Well, why not?  Elections and booze have a long, cozy history.  Politicians used to routinely ply treat voters with intoxicating liquid refreshment in order to buy win their votes.  And remember those smoke-filled rooms?  It’s not lemonade they were quaffing in there.

So let me introduce you to the Ward Eight, a cocktail devised to celebrate a 19th century election.  It’s a smooth drink with nice tart undertones, perfect to celebrate your candidate’s win (or mourn his loss).


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Grape Flaugnarde (Flan)

Grape Flaugnarde (Flan) in Baking Dish, Overhead View

An Elegant (But Light and Easy) French Dessert That’s Perfect for Entertaining

Grape flaugnarde is a pie-shaped French dessert that’s nothing more than grapes covered with a flavorful custard, and baked until it achieves a flan-like consistency. (Some people might call this dessert a clafoutis, though that’s technically incorrect, as we discuss below.)

Outside of fancy restaurants, most people in the US would probably just call this a flan because it looks and tastes like, well, flan. With grapes baked into it.

Whatever you call it, this is a great dessert to serve with an elaborate meal — the type of festive fare you might make for company. After a rich dinner, the last thing I want is a heavy dessert. Which is why this dish fits in so perfectly:  It’s fairly light, and not overly sweet.

Although not a heavy dish, it packs tremendous flavor into each slice. And it’s so good that your guests might forget about that big meal they’ve just had, and request a second slice of flaugnarde.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Easy No-Knead Homemade Bread

Easy No-Knead Homemade Bread, Slices on Black Acrylic

Shape this Versatile Dough into a Sandwich Loaf or a Boule

Do you shy away from making homemade bread?  Afraid it will take too much time and effort?  A lot of people feel the same way.

Well, fear no more.  Because with surprisingly little effort, you can make a loaf of bread that’s better than any of the commercial packaged stuff you buy at the grocery store.  One that even rivals the pricey artisan bread sold at specialty bakeries. 

When I say a “little effort,” I mean it.  This recipe will take you about 10 minutes of active time.  No proofing the yeast, no kneading (though you do have to let the dough rise for a few hours). 

The result is a yeast-forward white bread with superlative flavor.  You can use it to make sandwiches, yet it’s crusty enough to serve at your fanciest dinner party. And the same dough works equally well as a loaf or as a rustic boule.

Once you taste it, you may never bother with store bought bread again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Easy and Quick Roast Chicken

Roast Chicken on Platter with Broccoli and Roast Potatoes

The High-Heat Method Produces Succulent Chicken with a Crispy Skin

Few dishes are better than a perfectly roasted chicken.  With its crisp, browned skin and juicy, succulent flesh, it’s so simple — yet irresistible.

But some cooks find the idea of roasting a chicken daunting.  Should you truss it or not?  Baste it?  And if so, how often?  How will you know when it’s done?  Decisions, decisions, decisions!

Well, relax.  There’s a way to eliminate most of those worries:  Just use the high-heat method.  It’s the easiest, fastest way to roast a chicken, and it’s practically foolproof. 

The result?  Superb flavor and nicely browned skin.  And a chicken that tastes way better than those supermarket rotisserie birds.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Roast Potatoes

Roast Potatoes on Plate with Parsley Garnish

So Good You’ll Wish They Were the Main Course

Roasting is one of my favorite ways to prepare vegetables.  The hot oven evaporates moisture, making the vegetables tender and caramelizing their natural sugars.  Roasted veggies are great on their own, and they’re a natural alongside a dish like chicken or pork roast.

Here at Kitchen Riffs, we’re no stranger to their deliciousness. In recent months we’ve made Roast Sweet Potatoes, Roast Cauliflower, Roast Belgian Endive, Roast Asparagus, and Roast Eggplant. Heck, we’ve even done a Roast Strawberry Salad.

But nothing is better than Roast Potatoes. And with the cooler weather we’ve been having, we’re now enjoying the kind of hearty meals at which roast potatoes are particularly welcome. So it’s time to discuss how easy, fast, and off-the-charts-flavorful this dish can be.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Boeuf Bourguignon


a/k/a Beef Burgundy, This Classic French Dish Is Perfect for Fall Entertaining

Julia Child introduced the US to Boeuf Bourguignon in the 1960s. Until then, the few Americans who knew about the dish had encountered it in a French restaurant or on travels abroad.

Then we saw Julia cook it on her PBS television show, The French Chef — and we were smitten! It was so exotic and delicious. And once you got past the fancy French name, it was really nothing more than beef stew. Boeuf Bourguignon instantly became the entertaining dish in the 60s — and for a decade or two beyond.

It seems to have fallen out of fashion in recent years, which is too bad. Because you can prepare most of it a day or two ahead, and then finish it when you’re ready to serve — perfect for entertaining.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chopped Kale Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing

Chopped Kale Salad with Crouton Garnish

This Caesar-Style Salad Is Perfect for Fall and Winter

Kale tastes better after it’s been exposed to frost — which is why we see so much of it in our markets starting in October and extending into winter.  Its peak flavor and growing season arrive just when other locally grown greens become scarce. 

Though kale is typically cooked, it can also make a terrific raw salad.  The trick is to finely chop or “shave” the fresh kale. 

Because kale has big, bold flavor, you need to use a dressing that is equally rambunctious.  What could be better than a riff on the classic Caesar dressing?  Here I use extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice to mellow sharp Dijon mustard and pungent anchovies.  This combo creates a dressing that, when tossed with kale, creates a lively flavor combo that dances on your tongue.  Add some sharp cheese and you’ll be blissed out, guaranteed.

This salad is easy to make.  And it’s equally at home served with soup and bread, or as the first course of an elegant meal.  With fall and winter entertaining season here, this is a timely dish you’ll soon learn to love.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma with Garlic Bread and Basil Garnish

Tomato and Eggplant Flavor This Classic Sicilian Dish

Pasta alla Norma showcases the deep flavor of eggplant, combining it in a spicy tomato sauce with basil and ricotta salata to create one of Sicily’s most famous pasta dishes.

But actually, it’s enjoyed all over Italy. Indeed, it’s almost a cultural institution, having been named (reportedly, at least) in honor of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma. Bellini was a native of Sicily and is considered one of its finest composers — and Norma is his best-loved opera. So naming a pasta dish after it was high praise indeed.

Unfortunately, Pasta alla Norma isn’t well known in the US. I sometimes see it on restaurant menus, but not often. Which is too bad, because it’s an exceptionally tasty dish. Fortunately, it’s also simple to prepare, and once you taste it, you’ll want to make it often.

Pasta alla Norma combines all its ingredients to create a beautiful harmony — just like Bellini’s opera.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Roast Eggplant

Roast Eggplant in Dish with Grape Tomatoes and Basil, Overhead View

A Quick, Healthy Way to Enjoy Eggplant’s Peak Season

Chances are you can find some nice-looking eggplant in your market right now — at the best prices of the year. That’s because eggplant’s peak season is from August through October (in the Northern hemisphere, at least). So now is the time to enjoy the rich flavor of this purple-hued veggie.

It’s a favorite around the world. Yet despite its beauty and great nutritional value, eggplant (also called aubergine) isn’t a major player in US kitchens.

Why? Two main reasons, it seems. First, eggplant can be bitter, so you need to spend some time dehydrating it (usually by salting) before cooking to draw out the juices that cause the bitter taste. Second, because eggplant has a spongy texture, if you sauté or fry it (as is common in the US) it absorbs loads of oil — resulting in a sodden, heavy dish.

Well, good news: Roasting eggplant takes care of both concerns! Modern eggplant isn’t that bitter to begin with, but the high heat of an oven evaporates whatever bitter juices may be present — essentially duplicating the end result of salting without all the trouble. And because eggplant cooks beautifully at high heat with minimal oil, roasting yields in a much lighter, healthier dish (one that goes well with roast chicken, beef, or pork).

Best yet? Once your oven is preheated, you can have eggplant on the table in under half an hour. Season it with fresh thyme or basil, and you have a taste sensation that even the most finicky eaters in your household will devour. Then they’ll demand seconds.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Old-Fashioned Cocktail

Old-Fashioned Cocktail in Crystal Rocks Glass on Black Acrylic

What to Drink if You're a Whiskey Lover

The Old-Fashioned (often spelled without the hyphen) is one of the oldest cocktails around. Indeed, it’s a pretty good example of how the original cocktails were made way back in the early 1800s (more about that later). In its day, it was the king of cocktails.

Today? Not many people drink it, or have even tasted it. In fact, the only thing many people know about it is that it’s the elixir of choice of Don Draper, of Mad Men fame.

Too bad. If you crave whiskey, no other mixed drink better showcases the deep, rich flavor of good old American bourbon or rye. And few drinks are easier to make: You need only whiskey, bitters, and sugar.

With the weather turning chilly, now is the perfect time to enjoy this bracing piece of Americana. So why not try the drink that your great-great-great-great-great grandfather used to enjoy? Nothing is more old fashioned than that.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Walnut Apple Crisp

Walnut Apple Crisp with Ice Cream Garnish in Bowl with Napkin and Spoon

This Flavor-Enhanced Fall Classic Will Tickle Your Tongue

Here in the US, we’re now a week into autumn.  And I’ve been noticing some seasonal changes.  The weather is starting to turn cool.  Apples (many locally grown) are piling up in neighborhood produce departments.  And the abundant harvest is fueling an urge to make (and eat!) baked goods.

Mrs Kitchen Riffs has been spending lots of time in the kitchen lately — flour dotting the tip of her nose — baking up one scrumptious treat after another.  This week, she’s making good use of all the apples we’ve been buying.  And why not?  They’re fresh, tasty, and nutritious.  And there are so many things you can make with them.  Like this Walnut Apple Crisp, a jazzier version of the traditional dish we all know and love.

It makes a great dessert, one you’ll want to serve to company.  And the leftovers (as if you’ll have any) would be terrific for a weekend breakfast.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Leek and Potato Soup

Leek and Potato Soup in Bowl on Black Background, Overhead View

This Classic Is Wonderful as a First Course, Hearty Enough for a Main

Leek and Potato Soup is flavorful and easy to make, and everyone who tastes it enjoys it.  It’s also versatile.  You can prepare a simple vegan version, or fancy it up with cream or stock for vegetarian and carnivorous variations.

So why has it been so long since you’ve made it? 

It’s probably that leek thing.  Leeks often carry some dirt, so they take a few minutes to clean.  Although every supermarket stocks them, they’re usually expensive compared to onions.  And onions are almost the same thing, right?

Well, no.  Similar, but leeks have more depth of flavor, and are a bit less in-your-face than onions.  As you’ll discover when you taste this soup.  Once you do, you’ll be wondering where leeks have been all your life.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Black-Eyed Pea and Cabbage Soup

Black-Eyed Pea and Cabbage Soup in Bowl, with napking and spoons

Soup’s On!  And My First Guest Post

Autumn has officially started for us northern hemisphere dwellers.  And cooler weather makes many of us crave hearty soups.  So this is soup week on Kitchen Riffs!

I’ll be presenting two new soups this week.  Today’s is Black-Eyed Pea and Cabbage Soup.  Later this week, we’ll do Leek and Potato Soup, a classic favorite.  In today’s post I also provide a round-up of all the hearty soups I’ve written about, in case you missed them.

To see today’s soup, you’ll have to travel to Café Terra, where you’ll find the recipe in my first-ever guest post. Thanks to Terra for generously inviting me to do this. I had a lot of fun writing the post, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it. Oh, you want the direct link? Read on.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Spicy Potatoes with Ginger and Garlic

Spicy Potatoes with Ginger and Garlic in White Ramekin, Overhead View on Black Background

The Deep Flavor of this Vegan Indian Dish Will Make Your Tongue Smile

Of all the world’s cuisines, India’s may have the most numerous and flavorful recipes for potatoes.  Today’s dish is a good example:  It’s rich with ginger, garlic, and spices. 

Although these potatoes go well in a traditional Indian meal, they are equally at home when nestled up to a roast.  They have just enough spice and flavor to make you sit up and take notice, but not so much that they’ll dominate the entire meal.

They may dominate the dinnertime conversation, though, as your guests exclaim over their terrific flavor.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Easy Tandoori Chicken

Tandoori Chicken on Plate with Spicy Potatoes and Summer Squash in Tomato Curry Sauce

There’s a Quick Way to Get Restaurant Quality at Home

One of my favorite main-course Indian eats is Tandoori Chicken, a bright red dish with succulent, rich flavor. Traditionally it’s cooked in a tandoor, a cylindrical clay oven that reaches temperatures approaching 900 degrees F. This high heat sears the surface of meat to seal in tasty juices, then quickly cooks everything to tender perfection.

But who has a tandoor at home? And how can you possibly make this dish without a specialized oven?

Well, it’s actually quite easy. You can use an outdoor grill, if you have one. Otherwise, just cook the chicken under your oven’s broiler. True, these methods don’t generate the heat of a tandoor, so it will take a bit longer to cook the chicken. But the flavor of home-cooked is still remarkably good. Maybe not quite tandoor quality, but awfully close.

Best yet, if you use commercial tandoori marinade — a product used in many Indian restaurants — preparation time for this recipe is under 5 minutes. Yet the Tandoori Chicken will be so flavorful, your guests will think you slaved all day over the recipe. I won’t tell if you won’t.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Summer Squash in Tomato Curry Sauce

Summer Squash in Tomato Curry Sauce in White Ramekin on Black Background, Overhead View

This Vegan Indian Dish Showcases the Great Flavors of Zucchini and Yellow Squash

Good-quality zucchini and yellow squash are available in markets year round, but we can buy extra-flavorful locally grown varieties during the warm weather months.  I’m still seeing high-quality specimens at my markets in St Louis.  And even though I’ve used both types of squash in various recipes at least a dozen times this spring and summer, I can never get enough of them. 

But I’m ready for a new flavor twist. 

Like this easy and tasty creation.  It would make a great side dish for any Indian meal.  But because it isn’t over-spiced, you can also serve it alongside roast or grilled fish, chicken, or meat. 

It’s simple to prepare.  Or you can make it ahead and reheat when you’re ready to serve. 

What a great way to eat your vegetables!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Aromatic Yellow Rice

Aromatic Indian Yellow Rice with Cilantro Garnish in White Ramekin, Overhead View with Black Background

Turmeric, Cinnamon, and Cloves Spice Up this Vegan Indian Specialty

Indians have developed a dazzling array of rice dishes.  Like today’s recipe:  Aromatic Yellow Rice.  Simple to prepare, yet appealing to both eye and palate. It owes its vibrant color to turmeric, its tantalizing spicy aroma to cinnamon and cloves. 

Aromatic Yellow Rice naturally goes well with most Indian meals, but it’s equally at home with roast or grilled chicken, meat, or fish.  The flavor is not particularly assertive, but it doesn’t get lost on the plate. 

Easy, colorful, tasty — you’ll find a lot to like in this dish.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pink Dal with Swiss Chard

Dal with Swiss Chard and Cilantro Garnish in White Ramekin, Overhead View with Black Background

This Pleasantly Spicy Vegan Indian Dish is Healthy and Frugal

Lentils don’t get much love.  Which always surprises me, because they’re versatile, inexpensive, and highly tasty.  Especially in dal — an Indian dish that can be made from dried lentils, peas, or beans (pulses). Dal is a typical side dish at Indian meals, usually served with rice or bread. And there are scores of different dal recipes — today’s post is just one example.

Because dal is high in protein (about 25% by weight, comparable to meat), it’s an important nutritional source in India, where over a third of the population are vegetarians.  And since dried lentils and beans are relatively inexpensive and go a long way, dals are an exceptionally thrifty dish.

Bottom line?  Healthy, chock full of flavor, and budget friendly.  It’s (d)all good.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Last Word Cocktail

Last Word Cocktail with Lime Garnish, Black Background

This “Lost” Drink Is a Favorite with Aficionados

The Last Word Cocktail has had an erratic history — which is fitting, I suppose, for drink that was born (surreptitiously) during Prohibition.

It was created sometime in the 1920s at the Detroit Athletic Club — by a vaudeville performer, not a bartender — but didn’t become particularly popular (maybe because of that bathtub gin they used?) The drink was all but forgotten until 1951, when Ted Saucier described it in a book about cocktails called Bottoms Up, reintroducing this cocktail to a whole new audience. But most of his readers promptly forgot about it, and the drink was lost again.

It was rediscovered about 8 years ago, when Murray Stenson (of Seattle’s Zig Zag Café) saw the recipe while flipping through Saucier’s Bottoms Up. He put it on the cocktail menu at Zig Zag, where it became an instant hit. After its successful (re)launch in the Pacific Northwest, The Last Word made its way to New York — and then to cocktail glasses around the globe. It’s still not widely known to the general public, but it’s a drink that cocktail aficionados cherish for its pungent, rich flavor.

The Last Word is a refreshing drink with a bit of a bite — pleasant in warm weather, but with enough substance to stand up to crisp fall evenings. And because it helps sharpen the palate, it’s one of the best pre-dinner drinks I know.

Give it a try, and I promise it won’t be the last one you have — you’ll return to it again and again.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies and Glass of Milk on Black Acrylic

Great for School Lunches and Afternoon Snacks

In the US, tomorrow is Labor Day — which means the school year has arrived.  So it’s time to start planning lunches and thinking about after-school treats.

Most kids love peanut butter (although a few are allergic; see Notes for more info).  And because PB has so much flavor on its own, this is one cookie you don’t have to over-sweeten.  So, while peanut butter cookies can’t claim to be a health food, they are actually one of the more nutritious treats you can provide.  And homemade is tons better than anything you can buy in a store.

How about the adults in your household?  Well, let’s just say that peanut butter cookies bring out the kid in them.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bermuda Rum Swizzle

Bermuda Rum Swizzle with Swizzle Stick, Orange Slice, and Maraschino Cherry Garnish, Black Background

The Drink That Inspired the Swizzle Stick

We all know what a swizzle stick is — or at least think we do.  It’s one of those colorful rods made of florescent plastic that bartenders put in some drinks because . . . because why?  To stir it?

Today swizzle sticks are more decorative than functional, but originally they were an important part of drink making.  In fact, it was impossible to make a drink called a “swizzle” without a swizzle stick.  (A swizzle is an entire class of drinks, like a sour, or a fizz, or a Collins, or a punch.) 

The original swizzle sticks were cut from bushes and measured maybe a foot long.  The root end of the stick was trimmed to form little “blades.”  You would put it in a glass filled with crushed ice, booze, and mixers, and then quickly rotate the shaft of the stick between your palms so the root end would spin back and forth, churning your drink.  This propeller action would help froth and chill the cocktail — no shaking necessary!

The Bermuda Rum Swizzle is by far the best drink in the swizzle family, IMO.  It’s a tall, delightful  combination of rum and citrus.  Refreshing and thirst quenching. 

Just the summer sipper you need for Labor Day weekend.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Garlic Coleslaw

Garlic Coleslaw with Red Jalapeño Pepper Garnish on Blue Plate

A Vinegar-Based Version of a Summer Classic

When most of us think coleslaw, we picture Creamy Coleslaw — the kind made with mayonnaise. It’s exceptionally good stuff.

But have you ever tried a vinegar-based coleslaw?   It’s usually made with a classic vinaigrette dressing — you know, one made with oil, vinegar, and seasonings.

I flavor my version of this coleslaw with garlic (lots and lots of garlic).  That’s because cabbage and garlic have a natural affinity for each other, as you’ll discover when you taste this.  Combine them with vinegar and just a touch of red (fully ripe) jalapeño pepper, and you’ve got a flavor explosion happening on your tongue.

With Labor Day weekend coming up in the US, it means we’ve got another great cookout opportunity.  We’ll all want to serve coleslaw, no?  I mean, what goes better with grilled and barbecued meats?

And when your guests taste this garlic coleslaw?  Well, they’ll be urging you to open your own restaurant.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Piña Colada Cocktail

Piña Colada Cocktails with Pineapple and Maraschino Cherry Garnish, White Background

The Perfect Drink for a Weekend Escape

OK, we all know the Rupert Holmes ditty called Escape, a/k/a The Piña Colada song. You know: “If you like Piña Coladas/And getting caught in the rain.” That’s not the escape I’m talking about.

What I have in mind is the sort of weekend where you go to a nice, exotic location — preferably one with a beach — and relax with a tall, cool, refreshing drink (and forget about the rest of the world).

Or if that’s not possible, one where you stay at home and camp out in your back yard with the same tall, cool, refreshing drink (and forget about the rest of the world).

Enter the Piña Colada: Tall, cool, and refreshing. With excellent flavor and super good looks. Ready to unwind?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Healthy Edamame and Bean Salad

Edamame and Bean Salad in White Ramekin, Black Background

This Three-Bean Salad Is a Great Side Dish — But Has Enough Flavor for a Main

Looking for a healthy twist on three-bean salad?  Then try this beauty.  It features edamame, which — combined with black beans and black-eyed peas — create a dish that is every bit as flavorful as it is nutritious.

Bean salads of any description are crowd pleasers around the world. Here in the US, they’re a favorite at summer picnic tables and winter pot-luck dinners alike.

This one makes a great side dish. But its flavor is so interesting that you can serve it as a main course, perhaps adding some nice bread and butter to complete the menu.

A healthy salad that’s easy to make, with flavor to spare: This one is a keeper.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Singapore Sling

Singapore Sling Cocktail with Pineapple and Maraschino Chery Garnish, Black Background

Colorful, Exotic, Legendary — Yet Most of Us Have Never Tasted It

You’ve probably heard of this classic cocktail, but have you ever tasted one?  No?  Well, you’re not alone.  It’s a drink people rarely think to order these days.  That’s a shame, because the Singapore Sling is a tall looker with an enticing flavor.  Perfect for summer sippin’.

The Singapore Sling originated in the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore (natch) sometime between 1905 and 1915.  The whiz who created the drink was one of the establishment’s bartenders, Ngiam Tong Boon.  It was an instant hit, and earned the hotel worldwide fame.  Over time, however, the cocktail — and the Raffles Hotel — fell out of favor.  The hotel even lost the recipe.

A wide variety of recipes for the drink have sprung up since then, many claiming to be “authentic.”  We may never know the precise ingredients and proportions of the original recipe.  But cocktail sleuths and historians have done yeoman’s duty researching the composition of the drink.  So today we have a good “standard” recipe.

And what a drink that recipe produces!  Once you taste it, the Singapore Sling just might become your favorite summer cooler.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Summer Pasta Salad

Pasta Salad with Dill Garnish in White Ramekin

A Riff on Bert Greene’s Famous Ziti Salad

Cold pasta salad is almost a food group of its own in the United States.  It’s a dish we can eat year round, but particularly love when the weather turns hot and sultry — as it does every July and August in my part of the US.  And there’s something about a pasta salad made with mayonnaise that’s particularly satisfying.

My favorite main course pasta/mayo salad is Tuna Pasta Salad. But when I want to use a cold pasta salad as a side dish, this dill-heavy delight is the one I often turn to, particularly when homegrown tomatoes are in season. It’s a riff on the pasta salad made famous by the late Bert Greene at his gourmet food store (appropriately called “The Store”) on Long Island in the 1960s. This single recipe put his shop on the map — people would line up to buy the stuff.

Make this dish and your family will be lining up at dinner time with happy and hungry faces. And they’ll probably bring friends.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fog Cutter Cocktail

Fog Cutter Cocktail with Orange and Maraschino Cherry Garnish, and Umbrella

A Tiki Charmer from Trader Vic

Trader Vic didn’t invent Tiki.  Credit (or blame) for that goes to Donn Beach (founder of the Don the Beachcomber restaurants), as discussed in our posts on The Zombie and Planter's Punch. But these days, Trader Vic (a/k/a Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr.) is probably better known than Beach.

Don the Beachcomber restaurants have mostly died out (the 3 that currently bear the name were revived in 2001), but Trader Vic’s moniker is still on restaurants in the US and throughout the world. And he invented perhaps the most famous Tiki drink of all time — the Mai Tai.

Trader Vic also concocted other popular (and flavorful) Tiki drinks, including today’s special: The Fog Cutter. It’s a smooth potion with delightful citrus flavor. The Fog Cutter lost some luster in the 80s (when mixed drinks in general, and Tiki specifically, fell out of favor). But its tremendous taste has been rediscovered in the past decade or so.

Take a sip of this beauty, and you’ll wonder how anyone could ever stop drinking it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hungarian Cucumber Salad

Hungarian Cucumber Salad in White Ramekin with Napkin and Fork, Black Background

Fresh Dill Adds Flavor Magic

Throughout much of the US, local cucumbers are plentiful and inexpensive in our markets.  And if you’re growing them in your garden, you may be looking for new ways to use them.

This simple cucumber salad has a cool, refreshing flavor that mates well with grilled and barbecued meats, fish, and poultry — all the staples of the summer table.  But it also works with hearty stews and casseroles, so you can keep serving it when the weather turns cooler.  It makes a tangy side dish, but it has enough eye- and taste-appeal that you can serve it as a first course.  And because the dressing contains no oil, each serving has very few calories — so eat as much as you like! 

It’s inexpensive, healthy, and takes just minutes to prepare.  Best of all, the flavor improves if you make it a few hours ahead of time.  Perfect. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Zombie

Zombie Cocktails in Minature Tiki Mugs with Cocktail Umbrellas, on Black Acrylic

The Bad Boy of Tiki Drinks

There are zombies and there are Zombies. We all know the zombie that Wikipedia calls “an animated corpse brought back to life by mystical means, such as witchcraft.” They’re a staple of horror flicks. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

We’re talking about the Zombie Cocktail. Wikipedia says it “was concocted to help a hung-over customer get through a business meeting” — but the customer returned a few days later complaining that the drink had turned him into “a zombie.”

Which wasn’t surprising. Because as originally mixed, this was one potent drink — so potent that its originator, Donn Beach (founder of the Don the Beachcomber restaurants) instituted a limit of two per customer.

Of course, that policy probably served as marketing hype, since it almost guaranteed that a fair number of customers would try to order more than their allotted quota of these bad boys. Given the popularity this drink achieved, it sounds like the marketing worked.

But what really worked was the taste. This is one outstanding cocktail — and it’s largely responsible for launching the Tiki craze.

By the way, you don’t have to worry about becoming a zombie when you drink a Zombie. There’s a less potent version that still retains the great taste of the original.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Ultimate Chocolate Brownie

Ultimate Chocolate Brownies on Napkin with Milk, Black Background


Moist, Luscious, and Irresistible

If you like chocolate, you like brownies.  There’s no better vehicle for bundling maximum chocolate flavor into an easy-to-eat package.  Brownies combine chocolate with fat and sugar in a delicate balance that seems to make chocolate even more chocolaty.  And this recipe does it better than any other.

OK, so I haven’t sampled every brownie recipe known to mankind (there are thousands!), but I’ve had more than my share.  And if there’s a better recipe out there — one that delivers deeper, richer chocolate flavor — I’d like to know about it.  Until someone demonstrates otherwise, I can confidently say that this recipe is the champion.

How appropriate!  With the Olympics going on right now, you can bake a batch — and win your own gold medal.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Planter's Punch

Planter's Punch Cocktails with Pineapple Garnish and Umbrellas, White Background

The Great Grandaddy of Tiki Drinks 

Let’s begin by acknowledging that Planter’s Punch originally had nothing to do with Tiki.  How could it?  It started out in Jamaica about 200 years ago, while Tiki is an American invention that was born in the 1930s.

Still, if Planter’s Punch had not existed, Tiki might not either.  I’ll explain that later.

But first we need to introduce today’s drink:  It’s tall, cool, rum-laden, and delectable.

Anything this refreshing has got my number, especially with the miserably hot summer we’re having.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

BLT Salad

BLT Salad on Black Acrylic

Perfect for When Tomatoes Are Ripe — and It’s Too Hot to Cook

I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but in St. Louis (where I live), we’re having a hot, hot, hot summer.  So when it’s time for dinner, I want something light — and something that won’t require me to spend much time standing over a hot stove.

Enter the BLT Salad. 

When we think about the classic combination of bacon, lettuce, and tomato, we usually think sandwich.  But these ingredients are also prime salad fare.  And if you microwave the bacon (a great way to cook it, if you’re careful), you won’t heat up your kitchen at all. 

As a bonus, tomatoes are in season right now throughout much of the US.  You can probably find some ripe red ones at your local farmers’ market — or in your own backyard garden.  Tomatoes are at their most flavorful this time of year.  And this salad is a great showcase for them.

Terrific flavor, prime seasonal ingredients, easy to prepare — not to mention light and cool.  Sounds too good to be true. 

So what’s the catch?  Well, sometimes there isn’t one.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Tequila Sunrise Cocktail

Tequila Sunrise Cocktail in Tall Glass with Orange Slice and Umbrella

A 70s Drink with Far Out Flavor

Remember John-boy?  Ever yelled “shazam” or “right on”?  Ever shake your booty at the disco? 

If so, you probably remember the Tequila Sunrise, that trippy combo of tequila, orange juice, and grenadine that became the rage early in the 1970s.  It was the drink that introduced lots of people to tequila.

I’ll bet you haven’t had one in ages — even if you’re old enough to remember it.  So with National Tequila Day coming up on July 24th, what better time to get reacquainted with this drink? 

Rediscover what you once knew:  The Tequila Sunrise is outta sight.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Homemade Grenadine

Grenadine and Vanilla Ice Cream on Black Acrylic

Superb on Ice Cream — or in Cocktails

Grenadine is a bright red, pomegranate-flavored syrup.  You’ve probably heard of it, though it’s not a regular item on most grocery shopping lists. 

Which is probably a good thing.  Because, well . . . have you tried buying grenadine lately?  Every grocery store has something they call “grenadine” that they’ll be happy to sell you.  But take a look at the list of ingredients:  no pomegranate to be found.  Instead, you see high-fructose sugar syrup and “flavorings.”  And when you taste the store-bought stuff?  You encounter a sickeningly sweet liquid with a flavor that’s (very) vaguely reminiscent of cherries.  These supermarket concoctions bear almost no resemblance to real grenadine. 

Oh, there are quality commercial grenadines out there, but you have to hunt them down.  And when you find them, they’re expensive.  But the good news is, you don’t have to pay big bucks or troll the internet for obscure suppliers.  You can make excellent grenadine at home in just a few minutes — and begin enjoying the awesome flavor of the real thing. 

Grenadine is a traditional ingredient in several cocktails and “mocktails” (it’s a prime component of that kiddie favorite, the Shirley Temple, for example).  It’s also a great topping for ice cream and a wonderful flavoring agent for nonalchoholic summer coolers.

Bottom line:  Homemade Grenadine is flavorful, easy to make, and all natural.  And it’s so good, you’ll find dozens of uses for it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Champs Élysées Cocktail

Champs Elysées Cocktail with Lemon Garnish, Black Background

Perfect for Celebrating Bastille Day & the Tour de France

July means big doings in France.  On the 14th — le quatorze juillet (Bastille Day) — France celebrates her “national day” with festive eating, drinking, and fireworks. There will be a military parade along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, a broad, beautiful boulevard that runs through the heart of swanky northwestern Paris.

And throughout the first 3 weeks of July, France hosts the most famous bicycle race in the world, Le Tour de France. This 2000+ mile race takes cyclists through some of the planet’s most gorgeous scenery — and up some of its toughest mountain climbs. On the last day of le tour (July 22 this year), the cyclists ride triumphantly to Paris, where they finish with a sprint around the Champs-Élysées (usually riding 8 circuits of the avenue, about 19 miles total) at speeds exceeding 40 miles an hour.

Those of us who aren’t lucky enough to be in Paris this July can create our own celebration — with The Champs Élysées Cocktail.

C'est magnifique.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Soupe au Pistou

Soupe au Pistou with Pistou Sauce in Mortar, White Background

Pesto Is the Classic Garnish for this French Provençal Vegetable Soup 

Pistou is the French version of Pesto sauce. It is most often associated with the Provençal dish, Soupe au Pistou.

Although you can serve Soupe au Pistou almost anytime, it’s best from late spring through early fall (which is basil-growing weather). So it’s in season right now. And it’s versatile — the best versions contain whatever vegetables are in season and fresh.

So all that zucchini and summer squash that’s coming online in your garden, or overflowing the bins at your farmers’ market? This soup is their fate.