Sunday, June 30, 2013

Blueberry Buckle

Blueberry Buckle

Garnish with ice cream and berries for a red, white & blue July 4th dessert

This coming Thursday is July 4th.  It’s Independence Day in the US — and a big cookout opportunity for many of us.  What’s more, July 1 is Canada Day.  So there are lots of reasons to celebrate here in North America!

The arrival of July also means that blueberries are at their best.  Although blueberry bushes produce fruit from May to September in this part of the world, the peak crop always arrives toward the middle of the season.  So starting about now, the year’s most flavorful blueberries are showing up in markets.  And since the blueberry is a North American original, what could be more fitting for July 4th, that most American of holidays? 

If you’re making a blueberry dessert for a cookout, you’d probably welcome an easy-to-make dish that can be whipped up ahead of time — and transported easily.

Blueberry Buckle, at your service. 

This traditional dish is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.  It’s great served neat, or you can fancy it up to create an appropriately patriotic plate:  Just add a bit of vanilla ice cream and some raspberries or strawberries for garnish.  Voilà!  A glorious red, white, and blue dessert.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Bacardi Cocktail

The Bacardi Cocktail

This cool, refreshing drink screams summer

Hot summer weather is visiting most of the US, so we’re all searching for cool, refreshing beverages. 

One of the best (and prettiest) is a drink that was extremely popular in the 1930s and 40s:  The Bacardi Cocktail.  It combines white rum with freshly squeezed lime juice to create a tangy elixir that’s sweetened with grenadine. 

This drink is essentially a Classic Daiquiri, with grenadine replacing sugar or simple syrup. But there’s one big difference: For a daiquiri, you can use any brand of white rum. For a Bacardi Cocktail, you must use the Bacardi brand. Not because Bacardi has any special flavor characteristics that are essential to this drink, but because it’s illegal to use anything else.

At least, that’s what the New York Supreme Court decided in 1936.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Horseradish Potato Salad

Horseradish Potato Salad

This tangy, dill-accented side dish is perfect for summer cookouts

Looking for a new take on an old summer favorite (namely, potato salad)?  Well, you’ve come to the right post!  A touch of horseradish can add ping — without overwhelming anyone’s tastebuds (or nasal passages). 

Admittedly, some horseradish sauces can be so strong they bring tears to your eyes.  But you don’t need to use those! The versions you’re likely to find in your local grocery store are far milder.  Perfect, in fact, for adding interest to potato salad.  Include some fresh dill as a flavor note, and sour cream as a base, and you can whip up a dish that will intrigue adults, but won’t be too overpowering for kids.

This dish makes a terrific sidekick for the wild salmon that’s now fresh in US markets.  But it also pairs well with hot dogs, hamburgers, and grilled or barbecued chicken, pork, and beef.  With July 4th coming up soon, it would make an outstanding addition to your cookout repertoire.

If you’ve had Horseradish Potato Salad before, you know how intoxicatingly good it is.  If this dish is new to you, you’re in for a treat.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Caipirinha Cocktail

Caipirinha Cocktail

Fresh lime adds zing to Brazil’s national cocktail

The Caipirinha (pronounced kai-pee-REE-nyah) has been popular in Brazil for a century. But the rest of the world has only heard about it in the past decade or two.

Why the time lag? Mostly because the main ingredient in the drink — a rum-like spirit called cachaça (pronounced ka-SHAH-suh) — was only rarely sold outside Brazil. That’s changed now, so the Caipirinha (and cachaça) are becoming better known.

What does it taste like? Well, imagine a cross between a Mojito and a Classic Daiquiri, though with a bit more presence. If you like either of those drinks, you’ll probably like the Caipirinha.

In fact, you might like it even better.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sautéed Cucumbers

Sautéed Cucumbers

This easy, dill-enhanced side dish captures the taste of summer

Cucumbers are available year-round in the supermarket, but they come into their glory during the hot summer months.  That’s when we can get them fresh from our backyard gardens or farmers’ markets.  So here in the US, that means we’ll soon be seeing the best-tasting cukes of the year.

Most of us don’t give much thought to how we prepare cucumbers.  We tend to slice them and serve them raw, or toss them in a salad.  Sometimes we pickle them.  But cooking them?  Not so much.

Well, let me introduce sautéed cucumbers.  Cooking brings out flavor nuances that you might miss when eating cukes raw.  Combine with dill, and you have a dish that screams summer. It also pairs exceptionally well with some of our favorite summer treats — like grilled or poached fresh, wild salmon. And it’s a dish that takes only minutes to make!

Easy, seasonal, flavorful.  What’s not to like?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Dark and Stormy Cocktail

Dark and Stormy Cocktail

Perfect for the hot and thirsty

The Dark and Stormy is a refreshing mix of dark rum and ginger beer (the latter is a nonalcoholic carbonated soft drink similar to root beer — but spicier and more grown up, IMO). This cocktail originated in Bermuda, created by the makers of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum (more about that in the Notes.)

In the US, the Dark and Stormy is primarily a summer cocktail. It’s a tall cool one with terrific flavor. Carbonation gives it the refreshing and easy-to-drink quality of beer, while dark rum adds just the right amount of oomph. Add a squeeze or two of (optional) lime, and you’ve got a perfect picnic cooler.

With Father’s Day coming up this weekend in the US, lots of people are planning cookouts and barbecues. Why not add the Dark and Stormy to your menu? Despite the name, it’s a fun drink that will make your guests feel bright and sunny. Guaranteed!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Poached Salmon

Poached Salmon

A foolproof way to cook America’s favorite fresh fish

Summer is here in North America — and that means we have wild-caught fresh Alaska salmon in our markets.  It’s the best-tasting salmon we’ll be able to buy all year. 

This seasonal delight turns any meal into a feast.  And it never fails to impress, because most people think cooking fish is difficult. 

Almost everyone has a fish-cooking horror story.  Fish fillets and steaks tend to be thin, so they cook fairly fast.  That means there’s a fine line between almost raw, overcooked, and falling-apart flaky.  And even if we cook the fish perfectly, the surface can sometimes get a bit too dry, particularly if we crank up the outdoor grill.

Enter poaching.  When you cook fish in liquid, it remains moist and luscious.  And because poaching provides gentle heat, you have a bit more leeway than with other cooking methods.  So if the fish is finished a few minutes before the rest of dinner, no problem.  A fatty fish like salmon can stay on hold (off heat) in its cooking liquid for a good 10 minutes.

And poaching is easy.  If you can boil water, you can poach salmon.  Really.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Mimosa Cocktail

Mimosa Cocktail

Perfect for a festive brunch

In the US, the Mimosa is one of the two most popular alcoholic beverages for brunch (the Bloody Mary is the other). It’s a great-tasting mix of OJ and bubbly that goes down smooth, with a flavor that invites you to have a second. Maybe a third. Fortunately, the orange juice dilutes the sparkling wine. So you can drink several without getting blotto before you’ve had that last bite of toast.

And because the drink contains champagne, it’s particularly appropriate for special occasions.  It’s a natural at brunches that celebrate weddings, graduations, or other special events (Father’s Day, anyone?)  But it’s also perfect for a lazy Sunday morning when it’s just you, your sweetie, that thick Sunday paper — and plenty of time to enjoy each other’s company.

So if you have a festive brunch coming up, this is your drink.  And if you don’t have a special occasion on the horizon, no worries:  Pouring yourself one of these makes any day special.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wedding Cookies

Wedding Cookies

AKA Russian Tea Cakes — these are addictive no matter what you call them

These tender almond cookies smothered in powdered sugar go by a lot of different names:  Mexican Wedding Cookies (or Polvorones); Russian Tea Cakes; Snowball Cookies; or Butterballs.  And there are probably more monikers.  But all essentially refer to the same cookie.

And all the names basically mean, “These are so good I want another, then another, and oh my gosh, I need another!”  Seriously — these things are worse than potato chips.  You can’t have just one.

And even though these are called “wedding” cookies, there’s no need to limit their consumption to June (the height of wedding season in the US).  They’d make a great Christmas cookie.  Perfect for baby showers too. 

In fact, once you try these, you’ll be thinking up your own excuses occasions to make them.