Sunday, December 29, 2013

Crab Rangoon Dip

Crab Rangoon dip in red bowl with chip, overhead view on black

A lighter, party-perfect version of a Pupu classic

Need a tasty nibble for New Year’s Eve? You’ve come to the right blog.

Crab Rangoon Dip channels the flavor of a classic deep-fried appetizer—but lets you skip the frying part. So it’s much easier to make, and far less caloric.

At your next party, just set out a bowl of this with some chips. Then watch the hungry hordes descend.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Airmail Cocktail

Airmail Cocktail with lime garnish

A “champagne daiquiri” from the golden age of flight  

Airmail? When I heard the term, I pictured special delivery at Hogwarts. Then I remembered: Airmail used to be a big deal, back in the day.

A few decades ago (when this cocktail was invented), airmail was the most reliable way to deliver important documents quickly. Fed-X didn’t exist. Long-distance telephone did, but it was pricey (and many people didn’t have phones). Email, IM, Skype? Sorry, no interwebs then.

The Airmail Cocktail recalls an era when planes were at the technological cutting edge. Fortunately, however, no advanced technology is needed to shake up this refreshing mix of rum and champagne. And like the airmail of yore, it delivers.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Rum-Frosted Pecan Shortbread Cookies

Rum-Frosted Pecan Shortbread Cookies on table, with plate of cookies in background

Double rum makes these flavorful cookies doubly irresistible 

Shortbread with pecans and rum. How did that happen?

Well, Mrs. Kitchen Riffs set out to make some plain shortbread cookies. But she was feeling nut-crazed—and happened to have some nice pecans on hand. So she couldn’t resist grinding them up and adding them to the dough. The result was delish, but it cried out for holiday flavoring. And what could be more festive than rum? In went a couple teaspoons.

The cookies that emerged from the oven were wonderful, with a subtle rum note. Then Mrs K R said, “Oh, hey, it’s holiday time. Let’s get down and decadent!”

So she doubled the fun by adding a rum-flavored frosting. Which made these cookies epic, IMHO.  I bet you’ll agree.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Kir Royale Cocktail

Kir Royale Cocktails with lemon twist garnish

Crème de cassis livens up this festive champagne cocktail

Looking for a drink that screams celebration? Then you should meet the Kir Royale—a gorgeous mix of champagne (or sparkling wine) and crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur).

This classy concoction makes the perfect pre-dinner drink for a big holiday meal. Or serve it as a sipper when you’re getting together for drinks and snacks with the gang.

Even better: Serve it to your sweetie—when it’s just the two of you. What a way to toast the holidays!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lemon-Almond Glazed Cookies

Lemon-Almond Glazed Cookies on table, with plate of cookies in background

Double lemon satisfies your inner citrus freak

Love lemon? Then these soft, scrumptious cookies have your number. They pack a double dose of lemon (zest in the almondy cookie base, plus juice in the glorious glaze).

These cookies are great any time of year, but they’re particularly nice around the winter holidays, when many of us are looking for new recipes.

But be warned: These cookies are addictive. So stash some in a safe place if you want to have any left for Santa.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The French 75 Cocktail

French 75 Cocktails with lemon twist garnishes, in champagne flute and tall glass

This gin, champagne, and lemon juice combo packs firepower

There aren’t many cocktails named after an artillery piece. In fact, the French 75 is the only one I know of.

More on its history later. But all you really need to know is this: The French 75 Cocktail is a delightfully perky combo of gin and fresh lemon juice, topped off with bubbly. Its cool flavor is fragrant, fresh, and fizzy—making it a perfect choice before dinner. I particularly like to drink the French 75 around the winter holidays, when I’m looking for something festive.

So for your next holiday dinner party, pop a bottle of bubbly and mix a round of these high-caliber beauties. And start the evening with a bang.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

PB&J Thumbprint (Thimble) Cookies

PB&J Thumbprint Cookies on black acrylic

Peanut butter and jelly—the classic combo

When I was a kid, my mother would bake batch after batch of cookies during the weeks leading up to Christmas. A dozen varieties at least, usually more.

The assortment varied from year to year. But she always included these PB&J Thumbprint Cookies. How could she not? Everyone in the family clamored for them.

Try them and you’ll understand why.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Seelbach Cocktail

Seelbach Cocktails with Lemon Garnishes in Champagne Flutes

This bourbon-based champagne cocktail brightens up the holidays

Like bourbon? And champagne? Then we’ve got just the drink for you.

The Seelbach was invented around 1917 as the signature cocktail of the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Rumor has it that F. Scott Fitzgerald hung out at the hotel bar while writing The Great Gatsby (remember, Daisy Buchanan hailed from Louisville). And that Gatsby character? He may have been inspired by a gangster Fitzgerald met there—presumably while enjoying this flavorful elixir.

True story? Who knows? What we do know is that sometime during Prohibition (when the hotel was forced to close its bar), the recipe for this drink was lost. Then a hotel manager rediscovered it in 1995.

Lucky for us. Because on Kitchen Riffs this year, we’ll be doing nothing but cookies and cocktails from now until Christmas. As a bonus, all the cocktails will be made with champagne (or sparkling wine, to be more precise).

So stock up on bubbly and grab your party hat. As Gatsby might say, “Time to enjoy some holiday cheer, old sport.”

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Double Orange Dark Chocolate Cookies

Double Orange Dark Chocolate Cookies on plate, with milk and napkin in background

This classic flavor combo is great for Christmas—or anytime

Back when having fresh fruit during winter was a luxury, good children often found an orange in their Christmas stockings. And if they were very good, a bar of chocolate.

So if you’re looking for a cookie that evokes holiday traditions, what could be more appropriate than one that highlights these two retro-favorite flavors? Like this Double Orange Dark Chocolate Cookie.

Fortunately, these days oranges and chocolate are both abundant all the time. Which is a good thing, because the flavor of this cookie is so rich and intense, you’ll want to make it year round.

It’s a great treat when you’ve been good. And maybe even better when you’ve been bad.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Frittata with Brussels Sprouts

Frittata with Brussels Sprouts and sriracha garnish on plate, overhead view on black

A tasty fate for leftover veggies

What’s the best thing about big holiday meals (like Thanksgiving, for instance)? Leftovers, I’d say.

One of the best ways to use leftover veggies is to mix them into a frittata. If you don’t know frittatas, you should—they’re a baked egg mixture that you start on the stovetop (in a heatproof skillet), then finish in the oven. They resemble omelets, but are much easier to make for most people. They’re also exceptionally versatile—tasty when eaten hot, cold, or in between.

If you serve Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving, chances are you’ll have some left over—because who loads up on veggies when the table is groaning with turkey and dressing? You probably wouldn’t think of eating those little cabbagettes for breakfast. But bake them into a frittata, and you could. Or just wait until lunch or dinner, because frittatas are perfect anytime.

In fact, this dish is so good, you may find yourself cooking Brussels sprouts more often. Just so you’ll have some on hand for your next frittata.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Spicy Roast Chickpeas

Spicy Roast Chickpeas in small ramekin with cocktail in background

A healthy vegan snack that’s tasty enough for meat lovers

With party season around the corner, it’s time to start searching for snacks and nibbles to serve. If you’re in the US, the first big holiday happens this Thursday: Thanksgiving.

So here’s a handy appetizer idea. These Spicy Roast Chickpeas (a/k/a garbanzo beans) make the perfect starter. Their zing helps stimulate appetites, but their low-fat profile keeps things light and healthy. 

They’re also easy to make. Which leaves you more time to wrestle with that turkey.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sweet Potato Pie with Walnut Crust

Sweet Potato Pie with whipped cream garnish, on plate with serving dish in background

Better than pumpkin—really

What’s for dessert this Thanksgiving? Pie, of course—why even bother to ask? And pumpkin will be the pie of choice for most households throughout the US.

But how about an alternative that’s even tastier? That would be Sweet Potato Pie, a favorite in the American South. Sweet potatoes have deeper, richer flavor than pumpkin. And our gluten-free walnut crust is both tastier and easier to make than the traditional pastry shell.

So welcome to the best Thanksgiving dessert. Ever.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sweet Potato and Rosemary Casserole

Sweet Potato and Rosemary Casserole on plate, with fork and napkin in background

Parmesan and cayenne ramp up this savory side

Sweet potato casseroles rule at Thanksgiving. Which is no surprise—they’re festive looking and tasty. But when topped with marshmallows (as they so often are), they’re sweet enough to serve as dessert.

So how about a savory alternative? This casserole highlights the deep, rich flavor of sweet potatoes—while rosemary adds a herbal note, Parmesan cheese provides richness, and cayenne pepper gives it just a bit of a kick.

You can do most of the prep and assembly work for this dish ahead of time (even the night before), and then just pop it into the oven when ready to serve.

Which makes it one less thing to worry about on the big day. Works for me!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hashed Brussels Sprouts

Hashed Brussels Sprouts on plate, with skillet serving dish in background

A make-ahead side dish that you can warm up and serve in minutes

Throughout much of the US, markets are loaded with Brussels sprouts right now. That’s because these little buds reach their peak when the weather turns chilly. Once they’ve been kissed by frost, their flavor seems brighter and their texture even crisper.

What to do with all this bounty? Make a hash of it, we say.

Hashed Brussels sprouts are easy to make, and their flavor can entice even the most cabbage-avoidant. Plus, you can do most of the prep work ahead of time, then quickly finish them right before serving. Perfect for a big, multi-dish dinner (like Thanksgiving, just to mention one example).

Still worried that some guests will balk at eating this much-maligned vegetable? Just tell them you’re serving a great new French veggie called choux de Bruxelles. They’ll eat it up.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Quick Corn Relish

Quick Corn Relish in ramekin with serving bowl, fork, and napkin in background

Jalapeño adds zip to this tangy side dish

Have a hankering for some old-fashioned corn relish? But forgot to preserve any fresh corn when it was in season? No problem. We’ve got you covered with this easy refrigerator corn relish.

This recipe uses frozen corn, which is generally high quality. It’s also available year round, so you can make this relish whenever the mood strikes. The entire process takes only a few minutes. And the flavor improves over time as the ingredients mingle, so you can mix it up days (or even weeks) before you plan to serve it.

The perfect make-ahead recipe for a big dinner, wouldn’t you say? It’s especially good when you have lots of other last-minute dishes to juggle. Like Thanksgiving, for instance.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Jack Rose Cocktail

Jack Rose Cocktail with lime slice garnish

Drinks authority David Embury called this one of his “six basic cocktails”

So who is this David Embury? And what is a “basic cocktail,” anyway?

Patience—all will be revealed in time. But first, we need to introduce this tasty delight.

The Jack Rose is made with applejack, a variety of apple brandy. Applejack goes back a long way—it was extremely popular in North America during colonial times, and was the first spirit to be licensed for commercial production in the United States.

This drink is simplicity itself to make. Pour a slug of applejack, add freshly squeezed lime juice (or lemon—your choice), splash in some grenadine (the real stuff, please), and mix with ice. The result? An appealingly tart drink with just the right balance of sweetness. Not to mention gorgeous color.

The Jack Rose is perfect for sharpening appetites before an autumn dinner. Especially that big dinner you may be planning for the 4th Thursday of November (you know, the one they call Thanksgiving).

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Hot Bacon Dressing

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Hot Bacon Dressing on plate, overhead view on black

Served raw, this classic fall vegetable makes a mean salad

Planning to serve Brussels sprouts? Then you’re probably already headed for the stove, right?

But wait. These little choux taste great raw. Just slice them thinly (it brings out their natural flavor) and toss them in something tasty. Like hearty hot bacon dressing, we would suggest. It’s particularly nice if you’re experiencing cool fall weather, as many of us are now in the US.

And if you’re having trouble selling some diners in your household on the whole idea of Brussels sprouts—well, just wait until they taste them in this robust dressing. You may make some cabbage converts.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Winter Squash, Corn, and Bacon Chowder

Winter Squash, Corn, and Bacon Chowder in ramekin, with spoon and napkin in background

Perfect for those who think they don’t like winter squash

Chowder? Isn’t that about seafood?

Well, yes, often it is. But “chowder” is really just a generic name for a type of hearty stew—usually one that’s cream- or milk-based, and typically thickened with potatoes or crackers.

So why not a chowder built around winter squash? Squash has great flavor and is abundant in grocery stores throughout the US this time of year. Mix in some corn and bacon, and you’ve got a dish with magical flavor.

Dished up in quantity, this chowder makes a great main course for weekday dining. Ladled out by the cupful, it’s a starter you’d be proud to serve to company. No clams needed.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Winter Squash Gratin

Winter Squash Gratin in gratin dish, overhead view on black

A hearty dish for fall and winter

When autumn arrives, grocers start to feature colorful, thick-skinned winter squash. Their variety seems endless:  hubbard, acorn, kabocha, butternut, turban. And of course pumpkin (a name many people use generically for winter squash, though here in the US, “pumpkin” refers specifically to the big orange-hued squash that we use to make Jack-o’-lanterns—and pie).

You can often use the various types of winter squash interchangeably. Although their flavors and textures may differ somewhat, they all bear a close family resemblance. Certainly all of them work in a dish like this savory gratin, where the deep flavor of squash combines well with sharp Gruyère cheese.

This dish is almost a meal in itself, but it also makes a terrific side for roast fowl or baked ham. So it’s a handy recipe to have on hand when you start planning Thanksgiving and Christmas menus.

But you might want to prepare this dish right away—just to test it out, you know. You’ll be glad you did, because the flavor is wonderful. And you can pat yourself on the back for planning ahead.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kale, Quinoa, and White Bean Soup

Kale, Quinoa, and White Bean Soup in white ramekin, overhead view on black

This vegan main-course soup is a meal in a bowl

Kale is wonderful any time of year, but it always seems best when there’s a chill in the air (as there is in much of the US about now). That’s because cold weather sweetens the flavor of kale, making an already great-tasting vegetable even better.

Cold temps also make many of us crave warm, hearty dishes—especially homemade soup.

You can see where we’re going with this: Just mix some of that delicious kale with quinoa (a nutritional powerhouse) and white beans for a tasty dish that is dinner all by itself. Of course, you could add a salad and some bread too, if you insist.

Easy, tasty, hearty. Who misses summer?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Penne alla Vodka

Penne alla Vodka in white ramekin, overhead view on black

A spicy pasta dish from the 1980s

Back in the day, Penne alla Vodka was the “It” dish at the sort of Italian restaurant where they helped you with your napkin. You know the kind I mean—just a little bit snootier than necessary.

Penne (or Pasta) alla Vodka became so popular that it soon moved to the more down-market trattoria, where it was a menu staple for years. Then it seemed to disappear.

Well, good news! Lately I’ve spotted it again on some restaurant menus. And I even ordered it (for the first time in probably 20 years). I had forgotten how great this dish could be—so of course I’ve been inspired to make it at home again.

You can too—and get a taste of the 80s.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lemon Cheesecake with Walnut Crust

Lemon Cheesecake with Walnut Crust, on plate with whole cheesecake in background

Mascarpone amps up this gluten-free delight

Looking for a dessert that’s a BFD—you know, a big fancy deal? One you can serve to your boss or your fussiest relatives?

Well, your search is over. This mascarpone-driven Lemon Cheesecake with Walnut Crust delivers “Wow!” factor.

It’s the perfect dessert for an important dinner party. That’s because you can (and should) make this dish ahead of time, preferably the day before you intend to serve it. When you’re planning a big dinner, that “make ahead” thing isn’t a bug, it’s a feature: You get dessert out of the way early, so you can obsess over the main course on the day of.

Plus, it will give you plenty of time to anticipate the standing O you’ll receive from your guests when they take their first bite of this tongue pleaser.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pulled Pork Green Chile Chili

Pulled Pork Green Chile Chili, overhead view on black

Flavorful and mild

Most chili recipes call for dried chilies—especially red ones in the form of powder. But chili made with fresh, whole green chilies has tremendous flavor. 

Green chilies are just juvenile red chilies. Red chilies are fully ripe, and often are dried before using (which concentrates their flavor and spiciness). You can also find spicy green chilies, but it’s more common to see mildly flavored ones—perfect for those who like a bowl of chili, but don’t want serious heat.

In this recipe, we pair tasty green chilies with “pulled” pork. The meat we’re using is really just Mexican-style shredded pork (similar to that which is often found in tacos, burritos, and enchiladas), but it has virtually the same texture and appearance as the traditional wood-smoked pulled pork used for barbeque dishes. And it has great flavor.

So taste buds, prepare to tingle.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Skillet Jalapeño Cornbread

Skillet Jalapeño Cornbread on plates, with skillet in background

Great with chili or soup—or all by itself

Cornbread is a New World original. Long before Europeans landed in the Americas, corn (maize) was a food staple here. Native Americans prepared corn in many different ways—including grinding it into a coarse meal and baking it.

Nowadays, we usually make cornbread as a “quick” bread (i.e., one that’s leavened with baking powder). The modern version is also richer, often including milk and/or eggs.

Cornbread is pretty tasty stuff as is, but it’s even better when you add some zesty jalapeño peppers to the mix. Jalapeño cornbread pairs perfectly with spicy chili or hearty soup. And it makes a terrific snack all by itself.

Best yet, it bakes in 30 minutes or less. So you can whip up a batch and let it bake while you finish the rest of your dinner preparations.

Fresh hot bread for dinner? You’ll be a hero!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Chunky Pork and Sweet Potato Chili

Chunky Pork and Sweet Potato Chili in bowl, overhead view on black

Black beans add rich goodness to this spicy blend

Fall means the beginning of chili season—at least here at Kitchen Riffs central. When the weather turns cooler (as it’s finally beginning to in most of the US), nothing is more satisfying than a hearty bowl of chili.

We like chili season even better when we can try some new variations. Like this succulent recipe. Pork adds a deep flavor that’s irresistible. It also combines beautifully with traditional chili ingredients—as well as some not-so-traditional ingredients, like sweet potatoes.

Chili takes a while to prepare. But you can make it when you have some cooking time, then stash it in the freezer. Because, as good as it tastes when freshly made, it’s even better reheated. So you can use it for quick weeknight dinners or as tailgate fare for watching the big game. It’s even special enough to serve to good friends at a casual weekend dinner party.

And once they taste your Chunky Pork and Sweet Potato Chili, they’ll become even better friends.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pisco Sour Cocktail

Pisco Sour Cocktail in cocktail glass

This tart, smooth drink may be the tastiest product of South America

Both Chile and Peru claim to have invented pisco, a clear, fragrant grape brandy. They also both claim the Pisco Sour as their national drink.

We can’t settle the origin dispute, but we can tell you this: The Pisco Sour—in which brandy essence combines perfectly with citrus juice and a touch of sugar—is the best drink we’ve had in ages.

Once you taste it, you may want to declare independence—just so you can name the Pisco Sour as your own national drink.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Curried Green Tomatoes

Curried Green Tomatoes in red ramekin, overhead view

A spicy way to use end-of-season tomatoes

Throughout much of the US, we backyard veggie gardeners are mourning the end of growing season—and remembering the fresh, ripe tomatoes of summer.

We’re also faced with a culinary dilemma: What to do with all those green tomatoes that are still on the vines? They won’t have time to ripen, but we need to pick them before the first frost.

Green tomatoes may not be as alluring as their ripe alter egos, but they have tart, bright flavor. Which makes them exquisite when combined with spicy curry.

And cooking them takes just a few minutes. So you can have curry in a hurry.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies

Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies on black acrylic

Intense and irresistible

Hey, chocolate obsessives (you know who you are). Looking for your next cacao-laden fix?

Well, welcome to the deep, dark flavor of these cookies. Their richness will remind you of everything you l-o-v-e about chocolate.

Say hello to your new besties.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lentil and Tomato Soup

Lentil and Tomato Soup with rosemary garnish in red ramekin, overhead view

Hearty, rich—and perfect for cooler weather

Today is autumnal equinox, the first day of fall in the US. For many of us, that means cooler weather is on its way (if it hasn’t arrived already).

So goodbye summer—it’s time for heartier fare. And if you need to warm up on a chilly day, there’s nothing better than soup. I particularly like ones that feature dried legumes or pulses.

Like this great Lentil and Tomato Soup. You could serve this in small portions as a starter, but it cries out to be a meal in a bowl. Maybe pair it with some of that wonderful Beer Bread we posted about last week. Add small salad if you’re particularly hungry. And of course include a nice glass of wine (or a bottle of beer).

Bliss.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Beer Bread

Beer Bread loaf and slices with jam

Perfect when you need a tasty loaf in a hurry

Baking bread doesn’t get much easier (or more fun) than this. No messing with yeast, no kneading, no rising time. 

And you get to use beer in it! So this bread smells delightful when baking—and tastes deeply delicious when you bite into it.

Even people who don’t like beer love Beer Bread. Best of all, this bread is equally tasty for breakfast toast or a mid-day sandwich.

Really, can life get any better?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Zucchini Pancakes

Zucchini Pancakes with sour cream garnish

Top with a poached egg or dollop of sour cream for a light dinner entrée

Are you part of the “breakfast for dinner” movement? Me too. So how about some pancakes? But maybe not the kind smothered in maple syrup.

Instead, I propose a savory variation. These Zucchini Pancakes give you all the breakfasty fun—without the sugar.

Add a poached or fried egg, or a dollop of sour cream, and you’ve got a complete meal. Or slather some butter on the cakes and serve them as a side dish, sharing the plate with a piece of meat or fish.

Dinner is served.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lentil, Quinoa, and Zucchini Salad

Lentil, Quinoa, and Zucchini Salad in ramekin with mint garnish

This healthy, protein-rich vegan dish can be a main or a side

In much of the world, September brings in-between weather. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re anticipating cooler temps, but we’re still seeing many warm (as in hot!) days. In the Southern Hemisphere, people are looking forward to warm weather, though the cold may still linger a while.

So planning meals can be a bit of a challenge, wherever you are. Warm temperatures call for something light. But that hint of chill makes you crave something with a bit of substance.

For weather like this, my go-to is a main course salad—particularly one with dried pulses or legumes. Vegetables keep it light, but pulses/legumes add a bit of oomph (not to mention protein). Mix in some quinoa, and you have a nutritional powerhouse.

Best of all, main-course salads can make a perfect “Meatless Monday” option for those who want to eat vegan or vegetarian at least one night a week. Add some bread and maybe a nice glass of wine, and you’re set—no matter what the weather gods throw at you.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Chocolate Mascarpone Brownies

Chocolate Mascarpone Brownies on plate with vanilla ice cream

So addictive they need a warning label 

Some food speaks to me. Like these little charmers, for instance. When I took my first bite, I heard, “Hello. My name is Chocolate Mascarpone Brownie. Prepare to die.”

OK, maybe not literally. But you’ll wonder if you’re hearing things when you sample these. “Just one more,” they will whisper. “What harm could there be in eating one more little bite?” 

And before you know it, you’re under the table, covered in crumbs.

So be warned: Make these only when you have companions to help consume them. Or be prepared for the consequences.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Alaska Cocktail

Alaska Cocktail with ice cube 'glacier'

Icy flavor that’s bracing as a glacier 

When you think of Alaska, you might picture whales or ice floes. But cocktails? Not so much.

Let’s change that. Because the Alaska Cocktail is perfect for transitioning into the cooler weather we’ll be seeing soon in the Northern Hemisphere.

Drink it before dinner, and it lightens up heavier autumn fare. Sip it at the last summer cookout, and it will console as you put the Weber away for winter.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Grilled Bratwurst

Grilled Bratwurst in bun with mustard

Labor Day and football mean peak brat-fry season

Bratwurst tastes great anytime. But in the US, peak brat-fry season starts on Labor Day.

That’s partly because brats make such a great entrée for holiday cookouts. But Labor Day also marks the beginning of football season in the US. Which means tailgating season, where bratwurst is often the star attraction.

What about that “fry” thing in the subtitle, though? Well, no worries. There’s actually no frying involved here, just grilling. (And maybe some pre-simmering).

The term “brat fry” originated in Wisconsin, BTW—where bratwurst is one of the major food groups.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Blue Hawaii Cocktail

Blue Hawaii Cocktail with Elvis bobblehead

Elvis lives!

Hawaii was on fire in the early 1960s. And not just from volcanoes. It had become a state in 1959, the 50th to join the US. Then Elvis Presley made a hit movie called “Blue Hawaii” in 1961 — just as a cocktail of the same name was gaining popularity.

These events combined to generate a burst of interest in the Hawaiian islands, at the same time that jet travel was making them accessible to mainlanders. The Elvis movie in particular highlighted the beauty and fun available in what was (for most people) still an exotic part of the world. It also didn’t hurt that Tiki restaurants — very popular at the time — were drawing attention to Polynesia, the ultimate source of Hawaiian culture. No wonder Hawaii became such a popular vacation choice (and has remained one ever since).

But even if you can’t jet off to Honolulu, you can still enjoy a taste of tropical paradise with this blue-hued drink. Mix up a round and let your imagination set the scene: pristine beaches, cloudless skies, sighing surf. Elvis bobblehead optional. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Grilled Pineapple

Grilled Pineapple wedges on plate with mint garnish

High heat intensifies the rich flavor of this tropical fruit

Fresh pineapple makes any event seem festive. But what a letdown if the pineapple is less than ripe — as are so many you find in the supermarket. It tastes OK, but lacks the full, rich flavor of truly ripe fruit.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to remedy unripeness: Just grill the pineapple. High heat evaporates water while caramelizing sugars, turning an already good-tasting fruit into a flavor sensation.

No grill? No worries. You can get good results using your oven broiler or even a stovetop grilling pan. 

Grilled pineapple is great served by itself, or dressed up with other ingredients (sweet or savory, as you wish).  So it works as appetizer or dessert. Perfect.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Hula Hula Cocktail

Hula Hula Cocktail in cocktail glass with pineapple slice and maraschino cherry garnish

A brunch-friendly Tiki drink  

Tiki drinks live large.  They tend to be high-volume cocktails perfect for slow sippin’ by the pool, or as party fuel on a summer evening.  But their outsize presence means they don’t work well as brunch beverages or pre-dinner aperitifs. 

Except for the Hula Hula.  This drink is modestly sized (tiny, in fact, by Tiki standards).  It also doesn’t have the high booze quotient of the Zombie or even the Mai Tai, so it’s morning-appropriate, with a juicy flavor that complements brunch fare. If you elect to have it as a pre-dinner drink, the Hula Hula will leave your palate in shape to appreciate the meal. And unlike many Tiki drinks, it doesn’t call for multiple liquors or exotic, hard-to-source ingredients.

Almost everyone likes the Hula Hula. Its citrus component makes it perfect for brunch, but it satisfies those who want something stronger than orange juice. Just think of it as OJ’s evil twin.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Shrimp Toast Dip

Shrimp Toast Dip in red ramekin with tortilla chips

Lighten up this deep-fried Chinese/Tiki classic by turning it into a versatile dip or spread 

The Shrimp Toast you find on dim sum carts and Tiki-themed platters is totally delicious — but also insanely caloric.  The dish features a tasty shrimp mixture spread on very thin pieces of crustless dried white bread (usually cut into triangles).  These morsels are then deep fried until crisp and irresistible. 

Luscious.  But not for the faint of heart.  If only we could capture the deliciousness of Shrimp Toast without all that deep-fried fat . . . .

Hey, wait.  We can!  Just drop the “toast” (who’s going to miss white bread anyway?) and turn the shrimpy mixture (aka “the good stuff”) into a tasty dip/spread that’s party-ready and hostess-friendly.

Set out a bowl of it as dip, accompanied by crackers, crudités, whatever.  Or stuff the shrimp spread onto cucumber boats, mushroom caps, or some other tasty base, and serve as canapés. 

More good news:  You can prepare Shrimp Toast Dip several hours ahead, since there’s no last-minute deep frying required.  You’ll have more time to chat with guests, less mess to clean up.  And your bathroom scale will still respect you in the morning.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Scorpion Cocktail

Scorpion Cocktail with orange slice garnish and cocktail umbrella

A party-perfect Tiki drink from Trader Vic

The Scorpion Cocktail is legendary.  Multi-legendary, in fact — there are so many “authentic” versions of this drink that no one really knows which was the original.

But we do know that it became one of Trader Vic’s best-selling Tiki drinks, along with the Mai Tai and Fog Cutter.

The Scorpion (aka the Scorpion Bowl) was typically mixed in quantities large enough to serve several people — and it made a memorable impact. It showed up in a communal ceramic bowl with “feet” that looked like topless Tahitian babes. A gardenia floated serenely on top. Drinkers would use long straws to sip from the bowl while admiring the botanical feature.

My Scorpion recipe is meant for one. But if you want to serve this drink in quantity, don’t fret. In the Notes, I provide a scaled-up version that’s fit for a crowd. You’ll need to source your own gardenias though.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Candied Bacon

Candied Bacon on Black Acrylic

The deep, succulent flavor of glazed bacon makes for a great party snack

“Eggs, I love you.  Honest, I do.  But I need a little space!”  So said the bacon at the back of my fridge.

OK, not really.  But sometimes we need to be reminded that bacon is more than just a breakfast side dish or a faithful flavor enhancer.  It can shine all on its own — as it does in this quick and simple recipe.

Add a bit of brown sugar to bacon, then bake until it’s crisply glazed.  Result?  A sweet-and-savory finger food that’s perfect for munching as a party appetizer or as a snack with cocktails.

Its piggy goodness would be a great addition to a Pupu Platter, that assortment of starters served in Tiki- and Polynesian-themed restaurants.  And since August is Tiki Month here on Kitchen Riffs, what could be better than an appetizer recipe that’s platter-able?

This dish is a snap to prepare, you can make it ahead of time, and it’s beyond delicious.  Magic, I’d say.  Oh, and it has one other magical property:  When your guests try it, it disappears.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Volcano Bowl Cocktail

Volcano Bowl Cocktail in traditional Tiki volcano bowl with flaming crater, and drinking straws

Long straws keep your hair away from the flaming “lava”

Tiki drinks strive to be exotic — which is why they’re often served in unique mugs and glasses.  And one of the best Tiki potions is the Volcano Bowl Cocktail (sometimes called the Flaming Volcano). 

Traditionally, this drink is served in a communal volcano-shaped bowl (usually one adorned with “South Sea” images — the tackier the better).  It tends to be prepared in hefty quantities — enough for four people (or at least two particularly enthusiastic drinkers).  Everyone sips from long straws to avoid getting singed by the flaming crater at the center of the bowl.

Unless you’ve been to a Tiki- or Polynesian-themed restaurant, you may never have sampled one of these.  After all, your local housewares shop probably doesn’t carry volcano bowls.  And unless you’re serving a crowd, the quantities that most recipes yield are a bit unrealistic for a casual before-dinner drink.

But no worries.  You can easily scale down this recipe and serve the drink in an ordinary glass. 

Or, if you’re planning a party, why not go all out?  It’s easy enough to buy volcano bowls online.  And this recipe is perfect for a crowd.

So light those Tiki torches, don a flower lei, and mix up a Volcano Bowl Cocktail.  (Just check your fire insurance first.)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Crab Rangoon

Crab Rangoon on plate with dipping sauces and Tiki Mug in background

Queen of the Pupu Platter 

This August is Tiki Month here on Kitchen Riffs!  All the food and drinks will be Tiki-themed.  First up?  Crab Rangoon — crisply fried dumplings filled with a savory mix of cream cheese and crab.  You won’t be able to eat just one!

Crab Rangoon is a staple of the Pupu Platter (the appetizer assortment that’s ubiquitous in Tiki- and Polynesian-themed restaurants around the world).  In the US, you’ll also find this dish at more than a few Chinese-American restaurants. 

And by the way, have you ever wanted to make your own Pupu Platter?  Well, you’re in luck!  All our food posts this month will feature recipes that are platter-appropriate.

So dust off your Tiki torches and flower leis, and start planning your next backyard party.  The guests will go wild over your Pupu Platter — especially its star, Crab Rangoon.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Maiden's Prayer Cocktail

Maiden's Prayer Cocktail in cocktail glass with orange slice garnish

The sunny, citrus flavor makes this a perfect pre-dinner drink for summer

On hot summer days, drinks like the Cuba Libre, the Gin Rickey, the Mojito, and the Gin and Tonic rule. They’re just right for lazy, hot hours by the pool or at the beach — where you want a nice, slow sipper that cools you down and takes a while to finish.

But when the sun goes down, most of us want something less voluminous — but still with bracing and refreshing flavor. We could try old favorites like the Martini or the Manhattan Cocktail, of course, but they seem way too heavy for a warm-weather drink. How about something lighter, preferably with a sunny citrus flavor?

Something like the Maiden’s Prayer. This delightful combination of dry gin, Cointreau, lemon juice, and orange juice delivers an authoritative flavor that sharpens your appetite for dinner, but isn’t too boozy for hot summer nights.

And it’s a drink most of your friends probably haven’t heard of.  So when you serve it, they’ll admire your vast knowledge of cocktails (and your good taste in drinks).  Go ahead and take a bow – you deserve it for introducing them to a top-flight tipple.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Plum Salsa

Plum Salsa with tortilla chip in red ramekin, overhead view on black

Great as a dip, perfect as a sauce for grilled chicken or fish

Love all the berries and stone fruit that summer brings?  If you’re anything like us, you’ve been making fruit desserts (pies, shortcakes, cobblers, buckles, fools, and more) like there’s no tomorrow. 

But fruit can do more than end a meal with something sweet — it works well in savory dishes, too.  Like today’s easy-to-make Plum Salsa.

Salsa is an excellent dip for chips and raw veggies, of course.  So it’s a natural to serve while you’re outdoors on the patio, waiting for your main course to finish grilling. But it can also dress up your dinner plate.  ”Salsa” means sauce, after all — and this one combines particularly well with chicken or fish.

When you make your own fruit salsa, you can create flavors that you’ll never find in stores.  And once you try this Plum Salsa, you’ll be adapting the recipe to all sorts of fruits.  You may even develop your own signature salsa.  And best of all, you’ll be finding new ways to include healthy fruit in your daily diet.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Cuba Libre Cocktail

Cuba Libre Cocktail with Lime Garnish, on black acrylic

AKA Rum and Coke, this highball will slake your summer thirst

“Cuba Libre!” (Free Cuba!) was the battle cry of the Cuban Liberation Army during the country’s War of Independence (which became known as the Spanish-American War when the US intervened in 1898).  This rallying cry bequeathed its name to one of the world’s most famous drinks — one that many of us just call Rum and Coke. 

The Cuba Libre is often the first mixed drink that people sample in their youth.  Problem is, those college dorm bartenders tend to just pour glasses of rum and top them up with Coke — none of that fancy measuring!  And they generally leave out a key ingredient:  lime juice.  Which is a shame, because citrus takes the Cuba Libre to a whole ‘nother — and better — level. 

Lime adds a tingle of tropical delight that makes the Cuba Libre an excellent choice for long, slow sipping.  The drink is a tasty way to battle the hot afternoons we’re experiencing now in the US.  You can even skip the booze (but keep the lime) for a wonderfully tasty mocktail — perfect for youngsters, not to mention designated drivers.

So mix up a Cuba Libre — and free yourself from the summer heat.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Peachy Cream Shortcake

Peach Shortcake on plate with fork and napkin in background

Why should strawberries have all the fun?

When we think shortcake, we usually picture strawberries.  But shortcakes can friend any fruit.  So with fresh local peaches hitting the stores now in the US, the time is right to use them in one of America’s favorite desserts.

That explains the Peachy part of the title, but what about the Cream?  Well, this recipe is heavy on cream.  In addition to using whipped cream as a topping (natch!), it also features cream-biscuit shortcakes.  For double the flavor, you know. 

But be warned:  This dish is so tasty that once you serve it, all conversation at the table will probably cease — until the plates are licked clean.  The next words you hear will be, “Could I have seconds, please?”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Harvey Wallbanger Cocktail

Harvey Wallbanger Cocktail with cocktail umbrella and garnish of orange slice and maraschino cherry

It’s like liquid sunshine, dude

The Harvey Wallbanger is a refreshing mix of vodka, orange juice, and Galliano liqueur. Its sunny flavor is perfect for poolside sipping, and it makes an ideal brunch drink if you’re looking for an alternative to the Bloody Mary Cocktail or the Mimosa.

The Harvey Wallbanger was among the most popular cocktails of the 1970s.  There’s confusion about how the drink originated (more on that later).  One thing is certain, though.  Its rise to prominence was fueled by a successful advertising campaign that featured a cartoon surfer in sandals.  His slogan?  “Harvey Wallbanger is the name and I can be made.”  (Yeah, I know.)

Fortunately, this drink is tasty enough to live down those 70s associations.  It’s also exceptionally easy to mix, and you can even lower the alcohol content if you choose.  Which means you can enjoy two or three of these over a lazy afternoon, and still be alert and ready to party that night.  Or be in shape to catch the big wave when it rolls in.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer White Bean and Quinoa Salad

White Bean and Quinoa Salad in white ramekin, overhead view

Fresh tomatoes and cucumbers flavor this protein-rich vegan main course dish

By the time midsummer heat rolls around, I’m craving light and fresh dishes.  And I’m in luck, because right now in the US we’re enjoying an abundance of locally grown vegetables (including some from our own backyards).  Tomatoes and cucumbers are my favorites — for a few short weeks in summer, their flavors are at a peak.  With the hot weather we typically face at this time of the year, they’re about all I want to eat.

But of course we need a bit more than that, so it’s time for main-course bean and/or grain salads loaded up with ripe summer veggies.  Today’s salad is really a meal in itself, although you may want to add some bread — and if you’re feeling indulgent, a nice glass of wine. 

You’ll probably have some leftovers, which will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days.  Pack them in small containers, and you can brown bag them in lunches for the next day.

So this recipe gives you a terrific-tasting, exceptionally healthy main-course salad.  And you can enjoy it again for lunch the next day.  Totally keen — or is that quin?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail with lime garnish

More refreshing than a tropical sea breeze

The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club began “under a calabash tree” in 1844, founded by British army officers and Bermudian sailing enthusiasts (“royal” was added to the name in 1846, after Prince Albert became a patron of the private club). In the 1940s, Trader Vic popularized its namesake cocktail.

The club co-hosts the Bermuda Race, a biennial yachting competition that is the world’s oldest regularly scheduled ocean race.  It begins in Newport, Rhode Island and ends (where else?) in Bermuda.

Of course, Newport has hosted a lot of yachting races, including the most famous of them all, the America’s Cup (from 1930 to 1983).  Speaking of which, this September will see the 34th sailing of that fabled race.  And earlier this week, the Louis Vuitton Cup races (to determine which team will challenge the current holder of the America’s Cup) started in San Francisco.

All of this has put us in a seafaring mood here at Kitchen Riffs central — and made us ponder what beverage we should enjoy while following the racing events.  Well, what could be more appropriate than the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail?

This refreshing mix of Barbados rum, lime, Cointreau, and falernum has a tangy tropical taste that goes down easy.  It’s perfect for beating the summer heat we’re now experiencing in most of the US.

Best of all?  You don’t need to wear one of those silly little yachting caps to enjoy it.