Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Bridal Cocktail

Bridal Cocktail in cocktail glass with orange peel garnish, flowers in background

A great apéritif for wedding season

Now that Memorial Day has come and gone, summer is officially here in the US.  And with it comes our Summer Sippin’ Series:  We’ll feature a different summer-appropriate drink every week from now through Labor Day.  (But we haven’t lost interest in edibles!  We’ll still feature at least one food post a week.)

June marks the high season for weddings in the US.  So what drink could be more appropriate to launch our series than the Bridal Cocktail? 

This drink is actually a take on the original, 19th century Martini, which was much sweeter than today’s version (more about that in the Notes).  The modern Dry Martini (a mix of gin and dry vermouth) puts some people off, but the Bridal will appeal to a wider audience. It has as much booze as the Martini, but it contains sweet vermouth, which tames the gin and makes for a smoother drink.

Still, this cocktail is dry enough to serve as an apéritif — its crisp flavor stimulates the appetite and won’t overwhelm the food that follows. So it’s perfect for pre-dinner drinking at engagement parties, rehearsal dinners, or wedding receptions.

Even if you don’t happen to be attending one of those events, this drink is well worth your attention. Its softer flavor is better suited to warm weather than better-known drinks like the modern Martini or Manhattan Cocktail, and it’s a nice change of pace from traditional summer drinks, such as the Classic Daiquiri or the Gin and Tonic.

Best of all, it has a seductive flavor that will make you glad to embrace summer — now that it’s finally here again.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tangy KC-Style Barbecue Sauce

Tangy KC-Style Barbecue Sauce in white ramkein, overhead view

A spicier, less sweet blend than most bottled sauces

Walk into any supermarket in the US, and you can find Kansas City-style barbecue sauce.  It’s usually tomato-based and tasty, but definitely on the sweet side.  It obviously has appeal — it’s one of the most popular styles of barbecue sauce sold commercially.  What shoppers may not know, however, is that KC-style sauce has a long tradition — and a flavor range that goes way beyond sweet.

Back in our early married years, Mrs. Kitchen Riffs and I lived in Kansas City and ate barbecue quite often.  But the sauce served at our favorite spots was quite different from the bottled stuff you buy in supermarkets today.  It had a hint of sweetness, but was never cloying.  Instead, it tended to have a peppery, spicy flavor with a hint of vinegar — and a texture that could be almost gritty. 

The sauce I’m making today is a compromise — sweeter than the sauce of my youth, but less sweet than most commercial versions.  The sugar nicely tames the spicy flavor in my sauce (which isn’t fiery — though it will get your attention).

Speaking of attention, that’s what you’ll attract when you serve this sauce with your favorite barbecue meat.  Your guests will love it!  And you, for making it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Spare Ribs

Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Spare Ribs, overhead view

Low heat is the secret to tender, succulent barbecued ribs

The best barbecue gets its melt-in-your-mouth tenderness from long, slow cooking over very low heat — and its smoky flavor from burning wood, such as hickory or apple.  It’s a challenge for backyard grillers like me (and probably you).

“Traditional” Q requires specialized equipment (ideally a smoker) and some fragrant hardwood.  Not to mention a live fire, and lots of time.  Oh, and with that “live fire” thing, don’t even think about leaving the premises.  Accidents happen, and it would be a bummer if one happened to you.

Luckily, however, we can produce excellent barbecue without all that muss and fuss.  Cooking meat (we’re doing ribs today) in a slow oven for several hours achieves a luscious tenderness that rivals the best live-fire barbecue.  And using a smoky-flavored barbecue rub (a mix of spices and sugar that you literally rub on the meat to help flavor it) produces ribs with that hint of hardwood.  Of course, nothing replaces the flavor of real smoke, but you’ll be pretty happy with what you can achieve by using an aromatic rub.

With Memorial Day coming up soon in the US, many of us are thinking of summer grilling and barbecue.  These oven-cooked spareribs will fit right into the festivities.  They’re easy to make, and they pack flavor that will have your guests begging for seconds.  Who knew your kitchen was the next great barbecue joint?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Jalapeño Coleslaw with Pimentón

Jalapeño Coleslaw with Pimentón in ramekin, overhead view

Smoked Spanish paprika adds depth to this spicy slaw

Warm weather has seriously arrived in my part of the world, and I’m looking forward to picnics and barbecue.  Here in the US, we’ll be celebrating Memorial Day on May 27th — the beginning of cookout season.

That means our thoughts are turning towards coleslaw.  Many people favor a mayonnaise-based version, like my Creamy Cole Slaw. Some prefer a vinaigrette (oil and vinegar) slaw — like my Garlic Coleslaw.

But how about another version of slaw, one that’s a bit out of the ordinary?  Allow me to introduce jalapeño coleslaw.  It has great flavor, and you can make it as spicy as you want.

To add more depth, you can also include some pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika) in the dressing.  The smoky flavor adds an exotic touch, and it blends perfectly with barbecue.

Nothing says summer like coleslaw and barbecue.  So why not greet the season in style — with a big batch of Jalapeño Coleslaw with Pimentón?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Southern Green Beans with Bacon

Southern Green Beans with Bacon, Overhead view with red onion and bacon garnish

This slow-cooked dish will make even the most finicky want to eat their veggies

When we serve green (string) beans these days, most of us cook them quickly (and minimally).  The idea is to preserve their fresh flavor — and let the beans retain a brilliant green hue.  Some people cook them so little that the beans still retain a bit of crunch.

But this recipe takes the opposite approach:  the beans slowly braise at low heat for at least 6 hours.  The result is green beans that are meltingly tender.  And the flavor?  It’s magnificent (almost haunting), enhanced by the bacon and onion that cook along with the beans all those hours.

This dish was once quite popular in the southern US states, and even outside them.  It’s an old-timey recipe that always seemed to be the specialty of a beloved grandmother or aunt.  Nowadays, it’s not seen all that much, which is too bad.  Admittedly, it’s a dish you wouldn’t want every week — most of us don’t have time to cook it that often, and the bacon does carry a caloric hit.  But it’s perfect for special occasions.

In the US, we’ll be celebrating Memorial Day on May 27 — and that’s always the unofficial start to summer eating.  This dish would be ideal for the barbecues, picnics, and cookouts that we’ll be attending or hosting.  So maybe (at least once this summer) you should release your inner grandmother and make this dish. 

It does take a while to cook, but the (delighted) response you get will be instant.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Pasta, Bean, and Tuna Salad

Pasta, Bean, and Tuna Salad on plate, overhead view

Lighten Up for Summer with this Healthy Entrée Salad

I love all dried legumes and pulses, and eat them throughout the year — though I confess I’m most drawn to them in cold weather, when I make hearty soups, stews, and dals.  But beans make great warm-weather fare too.  Enter bean salads. 

Although there are many appetizing hot bean dishes that are ideal for warm weather, cold main-course salads seem particularly appropriate.  Because they’re high in protein and other important nutrients, they can anchor an entire meal.  They also made great side dishes at a barbecue or picnic.  Today’s dish would serve admirably in either role.

Best of all, it’s a snap to make.  Although I often put it together right before serving (and serve it at room temperature), you can also make it ahead and serve it chilled.  And because it contains pasta, it appeals to a wide range of folks, kids included.  Plus it’s oil- and vinegar-based, so it’s healthier than many mayo-based pasta salads. 

And the flavor?  Well, don’t plan on having too much for dessert — you’ll want seconds of this.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Black-Walnut Sandies

Black-Walnut Sandies with Glass of Milk

Punch Up the Flavor of a Classic Cookie with this Native American Walnut

Say “sandies,” and we usually think pecans.  But you can use almost any type of nut to make these wonderful shortbread-like cookies.

Walnuts make scrumptious sandies.  They’re less sweet than pecans, but they have a more robust taste.  And when you’re making cookies, there’s always enough added sugar, so sweetness isn’t a big concern anyway.

Most supermarkets carry two varieties of walnuts:  the so-called English walnut (which actually originated in Persia) and the black walnut, which is native to eastern North America.  English walnuts tend to be more abundant (and much less expensive), in large part because they’re easier to cultivate — they are grown commercially, while black walnuts often are harvested wild (by hand).  And the shells of English walnuts are much easier to crack, making them less costly to process.  But black walnuts deliver especially good flavor — bold, rich, and earthy. 

If you don’t want to splurge on black walnuts (or have trouble finding them), you can substitute English walnuts — or use a mix of the two.  Any way you make them, these cookies are so good, you’ll want to eat more — OK, quite a few more — than you really should.  Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Walnut Roll Cake

Walnut Roll Cake on plate with mint garnish

This Gluten-Free Dessert Will Put Your Name in Lights

Need to make dessert for an important dinner?  (Hint:  Mother’s Day is just around the corner!)  One that looks great and tastes even better?

Enter this Walnut Roll Cake.  It’s a time-tested recipe (dating back at least to the 1950s) and it’s not hard to make (though it does take time).  Your guests will rave about the flavor.  And it’s gluten free! 

This drop-dead delicious recipe is so good it helped Paula Wolfert shine at one of her first big catering jobs — more about that later — and it will make you a star among your friends.  It will also become the dessert that everyone asks you to make. 

Indulge their requests if you can.  After all, we were all little people at one time, weren’t we?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Mint Julep

Mint Julep Cocktail in Crystal Glass with Mint and Straw Garnish

This Cooling Cocktail is Traditional for Kentucky Derby Day

The Kentucky Derby is among the most famous horse races in the US (and part of the Triple Crown Series that also includes the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes).  Traditionally held the first Saturday in May, it’s the first big US race of the season.  Although the horses run for only a few minutes (the course measures 1¼ miles), most of those who attend make an all-day party of the event. 

While all sorts of beverages typically are on offer, the Mint Julep is “the” drink at the Kentucky Derby.  This ice-cold cocktail traditionally is served in a silver cup — which the imbiber holds by the bottom and top edges in order not to disturb the frosty coating of condensation that develops on the outside.  I’ve never felt the need to invest in silver cups just to serve a Mint Julep, so I generally use an Old-Fashioned (rocks) glass instead.  A Collins (tall) glass also works well.

Even if you aren’t traveling to Churchill Downs this weekend to attend the Kentucky Derby, you can still relax and enjoy this cool and refreshing drink.  In the northern hemisphere, warm weather has finally arrived, so we can celebrate it with this cooler.  In the southern hemisphere, you may be enjoying the last warm days before winter arrives, so what better way to say goodbye to summer than with this refreshing drink? 

And you don’t need a silver cup.  Really.