Archive | May, 2012

Outdoor Dining: Campari Cocktail

29 May

Campari Cocktail

When I was ten, my mom and I took a mother-daughter trip to Switzerland.  We each had one carry-on suitcase for a ten day trip.  This meant we pretty much wore the same thing every day (minus clean underwear and socks) and I still have nightmares about our matching neon windbreaker jogging suits.  Weren’t the 90s a riot?  Clothing choices aside, it was an amazing trip where we visited some of the prettiest cities in Europe – Lugano, Lucerne, Grindelwald, and Zermatt, to name a few. We also ate a TON of cheese, nutella and muesli.  On this trip I was also introduced to Campari.  At dinner some nights, my mom would have a Campari on the rocks with a twist at the start of dinner.  One meal, she let me try a sip, which upon tasting, I promptly spit it out all over our table.  For being such a bright red drink, I was expecting a taste akin to Kool-Aid.  I was wrong.  Campari (read about it here or here) is VERY bitter.  My mom called the drink an “acquired taste” and I was content sticking with milk and Perrier for the rest of the trip.  Now, almost two decades after my first experience with Campari, I have “acquired” a taste for it and it’s actually one of my favorite summer drinks.  For a more potent pre-dinner apertif, I recommend drinking it exactly as my mom did on our trip – on the rocks in a lowball glass with a twist of lemon or orange.  For a more cocktail-type drink, check out the drink I’ve created below.  It’s very simple and goes great with appetizers or a meal like this one.  Drink outside for maximum refreshment!

Campari Cocktail
Serves 1

Ingredients
2 oz. Campari
1 Can of Club Soda
Splash Fresh Lemon Juice
Lemon Peel, for garnish
Ice

Directions
1. Put ice cubes in a highball glass.  (Note: In picture above, we used a lowball glass and one giant ice cube.  This made for a more potent cocktail.)
2. Add Campari to glass.
3. Fill glass with club soda and top with a splash of lemon juice.  If the cocktail is too bitter, add another splash of lemon juice.
4. Stir then add a piece of lemon peel for garnish.  (You can use a vegetable peeler or a paring knife to do this.)

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Outdoor Dining: Crab Cakes with Citrus Avocado Cream, Spicy-Sweet Corn and Watermelon Salad

21 May

Crab Cakes with Citrus Avocado Cream and Spicy-Sweet Corn

Once spring/summer arrives bringing with them warm weather and sun, New Yorkers really embrace outdoor dining.  For the next four months or so, sidewalks outside restaurants become cramped with tables and diners enjoying an al fresco dinner in the warm summer air.  I love walking through the West Village on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, people watching (and puppy-watching – outdoor dining is pet-friendly after all!) at all of the brunch spots in the neighborhood.  D and I are no different in this respect – as soon as it becomes nice out, we try to eat any dinner we prepare on our roof deck.  This gave me this idea to write a series of posts this summer on Outdoor Dining.  These posts will be grill-friendly and/or refreshing meals for when you’re eating outside (read: no heavy pastas or super hot meals).  They will also be focused on ingredients that are freshest in the summer months (think corn, watermelon, tomatoes, etc.).  For my first post in this series, I wanted to make crab cakes with two refreshing summer sides: spicy-sweet corn and a watermelon salad.  Two recent blog posts inspired me in coming up with my recipes and also meal combination.  (You can see their posts here and here.)  These are “healthy” crab cakes because they use less breading, light mayo and are not deep fried.  I pan fried mine in a skillet, but you could also bake them in the oven if you wanted to be even healthier.  For those watching their sodium intake, crab meat IS high in sodium so this is something to be mindful of.)  In addition to the spicy-sweet corn and watermelon salad, we also served this meal with a refreshing campari cocktail (recipe here).  This was one of my favorite meals I’ve made recently and D agreed – he told me this meal was in my “top five” if not the best and has requested that I make this meal on a weekly basis.  Fortunately, the crab cakes and the corn both taste great cold so it won’t be that difficult to make extra and then have a second helping later in the week.  That is, if there are any leftover from your original batch – there weren’t when I made them! 🙂

Healthy Crab Cakes
Serves 6

Ingredients
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup skim milk
3 tbsp. light mayonnaise
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. fresh dill, chopped
1/2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1/4 tsp. dried tarragon
1/4 tsp. chili pepper flakes
Zest and Juice from 1 lemon (do the zesting first!)
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I used panko)
3 tbsp butter, divided
1 pound cooked crab meat OR 3 cans (6 oz. each) of white crab meat (Note: I used canned because Whole Foods was out of fresh and rinsed the crab meat with water to try and remove some of the sodium brine)
Arugula (for crab cake bed/garnish)

Directions
1. In a large bowl, whisk together all ingredients except for last four (bread crumbs, butter, crab meat, arugula).
2. Fold crab meat into mixture.
3. Place bread crumbs in a shallow dish.
4. Gather approximately 1/6 of the crab meat mixture and form into a ball in your hands.  Roll in bread crumbs until covered.  Then press/form into a 3/4″ to 1″ thick patty.

Crab Cakes Pre-Skillet

This is what your crab cakes should look like before you put them in the skillet.

5. Repeat with remaining crab mixture.  You should have six crab cake patties when you are finished.
6. In a large skillet, melt 2 tbsp. butter over medium-high heat.  Place all six patties in skillet and cook for 3 minutes.  Don’t touch them once you put them in the pan!
7. Flip crab cakes over and cook on other side for three minutes.  If the pan is starting to burn, add remaining 1 tbsp. of butter.

Crab Cakes Cooking

Crab cakes cooking in the skillet

8. While the crab cakes are cooking, rinse some arugula and place a small amount on six dinner places.  When the crab cakes are finished, place each crab cake on top of a bed of arugula.  Serve immediately with citrus avocado cream (recipe below).

Citrus Avocado Cream
Adapted from Texana’s Kitchen
Serves 6+
Note: I would recommend making fish tacos  later in the week and using this as a garnish instead of guacamole.  It would taste great with mahi mahi!

Ingredients
1 ripe avocado
Juice of 2 Naval oranges (a little more than 1/2 cup)
Juice of 2 limes (about 1/4 cup)
2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 jalapeno
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp. agave syrup
1/2 tsp. salt

Directions
1. Mix all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
2. Set aside.  If preparing in advance, chill in refrigerator.  Take out 30 minutes before serving so the garnish can reach room temperature consistency.
3. Drizzle on crab cakes or on side of plate before serving.  Try with fish tacos!

Spicy-Sweet Fried Corn

Spicy-Sweet Fried Corn
Adapted from Texana’s Kitchen
Serves 2

Ingredients
2 tbsp. butter, divided
4 ears fresh corn, cut from the cobs
1 jalapeno, finely diced
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 tsp. sugar

Directions
1. Heat 1 tbsp. butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add corn, jalapeno, green onions, salt & pepper.
3. Saute for about 10 minutes.  If corn begins to burn, add an additional tbsp. of butter.
4. Add sugar and stir well.  Continue to cook until the corn begins to caramelize (about two minutes).
5.  Reduce heat to simmer and keep warm until ready to serve.  Note: I would consider adding diced red peppers and/or tomatoes to this dish next time around.

Feta Watermelon Salad

Feta Watermelon Tomato Salad
Serves 1

Ingredients
About 10 watermelon cubes or balls
About 10 cherry tomatoes or 1/2 large tomato, roughly chopped
Feta cheese, crumbled
Fresh basil, chopped
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Directions
1. Combine watermelon and tomato in individual serving bowls.
2. Immediately before serving, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Then top with crumbled feta.
3. Serve immediately.

Lone Star Chili Cook-off

13 May
Beekman Beer Garden Beach Club

Lone Star Chili Cook-Off – beautiful day for chili, beer and the “beach”!

Yesterday, D and I went with some friends to the Lone Star Chili Cook-Off at the Beekman Beer Garden Beach Club at the South Street Seaport.  This annual event is sponsored by the NYC Texas Exes (UT Alumni Association) and the NYC A&M Club (Texas A&M Alumni Association).  Thirty-six amateur teams compete against each other for bragging rights of “best chili” and “best team presentation.”  Alongside the amateur chefs is a restaurant category with all of the usual suspects in NYC that have chili on their menu: Hill Country, Southern Hospitality (aka Justin Timberlake’s BBQ joint), Manhattan Chili Co., Sidebar (seemed extremely random they were there), etc.  You can bet your hat that I am going to sign up to cook in this event next year!  The idea of making five gallons of chili all the while coming up with a clever team name and fun presentation may seem daunting but at least I’ve got a year to prepare myself to meet the challenge!

After a cold and rainy week with weather that was WAY too cold for NYC in mid-May, we were finally in store for some beautiful weather and couldn’t wait to relax out side while tasting a bunch of homemade chili and drinking cold beers.  While we weren’t able to sample all 40+ chilis on tap, I’d say we tasted at least 25 of them, and yes, we left completely stuffed.  They ran the range of being pretty bland and basic to being so spicy that we had to take a 20 minute break before eating, drinking or even talking (I’m talking about you, Asses of Fire).  But on the whole, I was amazed that these chilis were all made by amateur chefs just like you and me!  The biggest differential among chilis was the type of beef used.  Most used ground beef but a few used brisket which was a nice touch.  When tasting a bunch of chilis side by side, you could definitely tell who had used higher quality meat in their dish.  The other thing that stood out was teams who offered sides (cornbread, desserts) and garnishes (cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, onion crunch, Fritos, etc.).  According to D, when you serve Fritos with chili, it’s called a pepperbelly.  Who knew?  Thanks hun!

Here are some pictures from the event as well as my thoughts on a few favorites that really stood out from the crowd.

Most Creative Name and Side: King County Cretaceous Chili.  These guys totally went overboard with the dinosaur theme, and I loved it!  The chili was made from “tyrannosaurus rex meat” (aka ground beef) and the side was a “pterodactyl egg” (aka a sweet potato fritter).  I’ve never had sweet potato fritters before and they reminded me a little bit of hush puppies or fried cornbread.  Very clever, guys!

Chili Samples

Team Red Hot Chili Peppers (L) and Team King County Cretaceous Chili (R)

Spiciest Chili: Asses of Fire.  I am all for a little heat and think I have pretty high spice tolerance, but I met my match here.  I’d be curious to know what kind of spices this team put in their chili because we were all dying after trying this chili!

Best First Impression: Chili Bombers.  This was the first chili we tried when we walked in the venue.  It was piping hot, had just the right amount of spice and was just a good basic chili to start the day.  The small serving of cornbread was just the right size for a chili tasting.  (Other teams overloaded you with garnishes and you could barely taste the chili!)  This goes to show that sometimes less is more.

Chili Samples

Team Asses of Fire (L) and Team Chili Bombers (R)

Best Overall: Chili Con Blarney.  These guys were hands down the best of the best.  The quality of the brisket  was top notch and  you could tell they didn’t scrimp on ingredients.  It wasn’t too spicy, but after some of the other chilis we tried, it was a nice respite.  The sour cream was homemade (yum!) and the cheese was “Irish” to go along with their theme.  They were also the only team I noticed who served dessert.  The bite-size chipotle brownies were awesome and a great way to finish off the chili.    I also gave these guys bonus points for handing out green mardis gras beads and going all out on the Irish theme in their table decoration.  Nice work guys!  This was the only team where we went back for seconds, and I wish we had gone back for thirds.  If anyone on the team is reading this, I would LOVE to get your recipe. 🙂

Chili Sample

The Winner! Team Chili Con Blarney

Team Chili Con Blarney

Team Chili Con Blarney

Runner Up and Best Use of Veggies: Chill-ayyyy Bro.  This was a meaty chili but they also used tons of fresh veggies in their chili when many chilis only contained beef.  It tasted great and made me feel like I was getting my recommended serving of veggies.

Third Place: T. Love and Special Sauce.  2nd Place in the 2011 Cook-Off.  We can’t remember why we liked this one, but clearly they are doing something right to place last year and stand out in our minds this year too!

Last year’s winner was WildER Turkey.  We didn’t see them at this years event and I hope we didn’t miss them!  We had to leave before the winner was announced but I have my fingers crossed for Chili Con Blarney and can’t wait to join in the fun next year!

One Lovely Blog Award

11 May

When I woke up this morning, I was thrilled to learn that dwittopinions (http://dwittopinions.wordpress.com/) had nominated me for a One Lovely Blog Award. Thank you!

In accordance with accepting this award ~ these are the guidelines:

* thank the person who nominated you and link back to them in your post

* share 7 things about yourself

* nominate 15 or so bloggers you admire

* contact your chosen bloggers to let them know

Here are seven things about me that you might not already know:

1. My mother taught me pretty much everything I know about cooking/food/recipe preparation.  In honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday, this blog post is for you, Mom!

2. My mother also has an uncanny knack for knowing when a recipe is meant for “show” versus for “eating”.  Case in point is a mandarin orange & cranberry side dish (recipe here) that I insisted we prepare for Christmas Dinner last year.    The dish looked stunning, but it tasted terrible – bitter, sour and unappetizing are the three adjectives that come to mind.  I guess even Bon Appetit doesn’t get it right all the time and I am still learning to distinguish what will make a tasty recipe versus a “pretty” recipe.

3. My boyfriend encouraged me to write this blog because he hopes I’ll be on The Food Network someday.  So if in ten years, I’m the next Martha Steward or Rachel Ray, you were reading my stuff here first. 🙂

4. The piece of equipment in my kitchen that I use the most is my convection oven.  It’s great when you’re cooking for one or want to warm something up quickly without waiting on a full size oven to preheat.

5. I do triathlons and run half marathons in my free time.  In my mind, this is how I reconcile cooking (and eating!) some of my less healthy dishes (See examples A, B, and C).

6. While I believe in indulging, most of the time I eat a generally healthy, low-sodium diet with lots of fruits and veggies.  Normally, the only (non-alcoholic) beverages I drink are water, skim milk and (decaffineated) tea.

7. There’s nothing I like more than relaxing on my roof deck, enjoying a glass of wine and watching the sunset, all the while hearing the noises of NYC faint and far below.

Roof Deck

View Uptown from my Roofdeck

The blogs I would like to honor/nominate* are:

The Blue House – http://www.1700louisiana.blogspot.com/

Deceptive Domestic – http://deceptivedomestic.wordpress.com/

Frugal Feeding – http://frugalfeeding.wordpress.com/

Nibbles with a Forde – http://forde-nibbles.blogspot.com/

R U Going to Eat That – http://rugoingtoeatthat.wordpress.com/

Savory Simple – http://savorysimple.net/

Snoopy Kitchen – http://snoopykitchen.blogspot.com/

Suburban Academic – http://www.suburbanacademic.com/

Talin Orfali – http://talinorfali.wordpress.com/

Unwind Cooking – http://unwindcooking.wordpress.com/

A Woman’s Paris – http://awomansparis.wordpress.com/

*This list is in NO way comprehensive of all of my favorite blogs that I follow (and also follow me!).  I was under the impression that I could only nominate blogs that had not previously been honored, so everyone above has not been (to my knowledge) honored yet.*

Chocolate Caramel Oatmeal Bars

3 May

Chocolate caramel oatmeal bars are one of my favorite desserts to make for a party or to bring when visiting friends.  They are very easy to make and are super rich, gooey and decadent.  The best part is, because they contain oatmeal, you can claim they are healthy! 🙂  You can find my recipe below.  Be careful with this dessert – they are so addictive that my friend Marc who runs a fitness company and has the best diet and self-restraint on the planet can’t even resist them!

Chocolate Caramel Oatmeal Bars

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup quick cooking oatmeal
2 cups milk chocolate candies with soft caramel centers*
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

* I prefer to go the decadent route and use Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate & Caramel Squares cut into quarters, but mini Rolos or Rolos cut in half also work.  If you are going to use full size Rolos or Ghiradelli squares, refrigerate the candy before trying to cut each piece.  This way will be significantly less messy.

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9″x13″ banking pan with parchment paper.
2. In a small size bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt.
3. In a medium size bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together butter, brown sugar and vanilla until creamy.
4.  Add flour mixture to medium size bowl.  When mixed, add oatmeal and mix until incorporated.
5. Using floured hands, press about 2/3 of the mixture evenly into the baking pan.  Bake until deep golden brown around edges, about 25 minutes.  Meanwhile, add 1/2 the chocolate-caramel candies to the bowl with the remainder of the oatmeal mixture.  Mix well with floured hands.
7. When the bottom layer is finished, remove from oven.  Evenly drizzle condensed milk over hot base.  Sprinkle chocolate chips and remaining chocolate-caramel candies over condensed milk.  Finally, add oatmeal mixture containing the chocolate-caramel over this.  Note: This top layer will not fully cover the pan.
8. Bake until topping is deep golden brown and edges are bubbling, about 25-27 minutes.
9. Cool in a pan on a wire rack.  When cooled, cut into small bars.
10. Serve warm with ice cream or alone at room temperature.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.