Thursday, December 31, 2009


  • 1 bottle of good quality vodka, chilled in freezer for at least a few hours
  • 1/2 bottle of triple sec
  • 1 1/2 bottles of clear cranberry juice
  • 1 bag cranberries

Combine the vodka, triple sec and cranberry juice in a large container; shake to mix. Pour the bag of cranberries into mixture; they will float on the top. Serve in low ball glasses and garnish with lime and fresh mint if desired.

The dish: Retailers often get a bad rap around Christmas for their role in commercializing the Holiday. While this is most certainly true, the good news is that every year, like clockwork, they're there to remind us to spend some time with our family and friends. I'm not always good with routines, and the reinforcement of seeing trees and hearing carols in every store I walk into is all I need to get in the spirit. The non-commercial side of the season is up to each of us. This year, Kim and I decided to throw a last minute Christmas party for our friends. The shindig was only a conversation 48 hours prior to it being in full swing, but that didn't stop it from it being a success. All told we had about 45 or so people in our place, and everybody seemed to have a blast. We had plenty of good food and drink, including this cheerful cocktail. The cool dispenser was found in Kmart for about $7, but just a plain old pitcher would work fine. I think we started an annual tradition, not only for the party itself, but also for this cool drink. Next year please try to take a break from stomping other folks for tomorrow's obsolete electronics or standing in line to buy the hottest fashions with slavery stitched into them, and have a drink with those who matter to you. The stores will take of the carols and the decor, the heavy lifting is up to us. Whenever you're reading this, I hope your next Christmas is joyful and filled with moments that will become happy memories.

Bloody Mary shrimp cocktail

  • frozen cooked shrimp, peeled with tails on
  • prepared cocktail sauce
  • tomato juice
  • vodka (I used Bakon)
  • celery stalks
  • green olives
  • fresh parsley, chopped fine

Let shrimp thaw in the refrigerator. Boil equal parts tomato juice and vodka for 5 minutes. Pour juice over the shrimp and stir in parsley, marinate for no more than 20 minutes. Drain and discard the marinade. Best served in a large Martini glass with the shrimp built on the sauce. Garnish with celery and skewered olives.

The dish: There's an old saying that says "there's and ass for every seat". No matter how outlandish a product may seem, somebody somewhere will buy it. When I first heard of Bakon vodka I wondered what type of person would buy such a product, and yet knew that I was whatever type it was. I bought it not to drink, but rather to cook with. As part of a Bloody Mary type marinade it works great without being overpowering. This is a great way to dress up an ordinary shrimp cocktail and turn it into something of a show piece. Don't be afraid to try this recipe using regular vodka, I'm sure it will work just as well. The large martini glass isn't necessary either, but it really adds to the presentation. The glass can be bought at most craft stores for under $10.

Holiday cheeseball

  • 1 block of cream cheese
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
  • 2 cups shredded Monterrey jack
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup crumbled bleu cheese
  • poppy seeds
  • fresh parsley, chopped fine
  • chopped green onions
  • 4 strips good quality bacon

Cook the bacon over a medium flame until done. Pat the grease out using a paper towel and chop into fine pieces. In a large bowl whip together the 4 cheeses and milk. Once blended, stir in the green onions and half the parsley and bacon. When complete, form mix into two large bowls and refrigerate on a plate for at least 1/2 hour. Combine remaining parsley and bacon with poppy seeds and roll ball in mix to evenly coat.

The dish: One of my favorite things about the Holiday season is watching all the available retail space vanish from our otherwise dying mall. Among the "as seen on TV" stores and people peddling skin moisturizers from the Dead Sea is usually a young lady wearing a Santa hat standing behind a tray of cut up processed meats speared with toothpicks. I'm not one to offend by denying those hardworking Hickory Farms folks their gracious generosity, so I've eaten my fair share of pork butt (and leaner turkey pork butt???). It's difficult for me to get that close to edible treats without making a purchase, and I sampled pretty much all the offerings from the farms of hickory. Among my favorite things were the cheeseballs, covered in nuts and colored a slightly disturbing shade of pink. It was a few years ago that I offered to bring an appetizer to my mom's Thanksgiving dinner. I found a recipe for the cheeseball, but was a little nervous to try making it because I was such a fan of the ones that showed up at the mall. I took a chance and decided to give it a go. I was having one of those mornings where I felt I could do anything and the ball-o-cheese I created cemented my resolve that I would never buy another nutty, pink cheese sphere. The ball in the picture above was hurriedly made during a party where we crammed 45 or so folks into our tiny condo. Of the cheeseballs I've made this one is undoubtedly the ugliest, but still tastes way better the one you'd pick up after dodging the guy selling talking fish plaques.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

celery root remoulade

  • celery root
  • prepared horseradish sauce

Peel the skin from the celery root and wipe away any dirt or remains on white flesh. Grate into a large bowl and add horseradish sauce to taste (how clear do you like your sinuses?). I supplemented my store bought sauce with some packets of horsey sauce I had leftover from the last time we got Arby's. This can sit up to a week in the fridge and makes a great topping for a roast beef sandwiches.

The dish: Every now and again we all need a change of scenery to re-charge our batteries. Kim and I recently felt in need of some re-charging and decided to take a night away from home and stay in New Jersey with the intent of watching the sun rise over New York. We stayed at the Jersey City Hyatt which without a doubt is the hotel with the best view of the city. The staff at the hotel couldn't do enough to make us feel welcome and their restaurant, Vu, was outstanding, and not just for its namesake. As supporters of a local farm, we were happy to see that Vu also supports agriculture and features several local items on their menu. Among them was mashed potatoes with celeriac, also known as celery root. Celery root has a distinctive flavor that worked well with the potatoes (but also rocks when raw) and paired well with the veal I enjoyed. It made an already distinctive dish even more so. The texture when grated raw is perfect for the sharp horseradish and turns a plain roast beef sandwich into an occasion. Don't be afraid by its funky appearance, celery root is easy to prepare and tastes like nothing else you've ever had. Oh, so how was that sunrise? We may have gone for some re-charging, but after seeing the sun creep up behind the skyline on that chilly autumn morning, it felt like we were brought back to life.

Swiss chard with golden beets

  • rainbow Swiss chard, rinsed and dried
  • golden beets, greens removed
  • fresh garlic, chopped fine
  • olive oil
  • nutmeg
  • coarse salt
  • fresh pepper

Rinse outside of beets with cold water to remove any surface dirt. Place on baking tray or oven safe dish and drizzle with olive oil, bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until tender. Allow to cool and simply remove the skin on them by peeling back and gently pulling it off. Cut into bite sized pieces and put aside until you make the chard (they'll keep for about a week in the fridge). Separate the leaves of the chard from the stem. Roughly rip the chard leaves and dice the stem into small pieces. In a large skillet over medium high heat cook garlic in a swirl of oil until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add a little more oil and cook the chard stems with the garlic until both are just tender, about 3-5 minutes. Begin adding the chard leaves in batches, tossing in the pan to wilt down, adding a little more olive oil when necessary. Add the beets right before the final batch. Once all the chard has wilted remove from heat and season with a pinch of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

The dish: An interesting side effect of keeping this blog is whenever I cook I find myself thinking about what I'll write for what I'm preparing. As I made this dish I was thinking back to a post about Ikea and how efficient they are at packaging items. This came to mind because Swiss chard is actually two veggies in one; a leafy green like kale or spinach and a stem like celery. Both have a distinctive taste and unless you want ultra soggy leaves or too crunchy stem they should really be prepared separately. Of course, the Swiss are so good at fitting things in that even their vegetables are double packed. It seemed like a great idea until a few days later when I remembered that Ikea is Swedish and not Swiss (a common mistake?). It didn't really matter though, because the chard and beets tasted great and Kim and I enjoyed all of it. I let our favorite farmers know how well the flavors worked together and they reminded me that I made this dish with more ingredients than necessary, as I could have just cooked the beet greens and had a very similar taste and texture to the chard. It seemed fitting as I had already goofed the blog entry, so why not discard the greens and add some nearly identical greens in their place? In spite of my best efforts to seemingly screw up everything about this dish, it worked out great and the colors of the chard played nicely with the hue of the beets.

spaghetti squash with parsley

  • 1 medium sized spaghetti squash
  • fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • butter
  • coarse salt
  • fresh pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut squash in half lenghtwise and remove pulp and seeds. Fill up a casserole dish with about 1/4 inch of water, place squash face down in it and bake for 30-45 minutes or until tender. Let squash cool for a few minutes and remove the flesh (is there a better word for it?) using a fork and pulling it lenghtwise to form long strands. in a large bowl add parsley to squash and season to taste with butter, salt and pepper.

The dish: If you're a long time reader of this blog, then you know that I'm not afraid of carbs and didn't buy into the whole Atkins craze. That being said, spaghetti squash is great as it has the feel of pasta, but with a nuttier flavor that stands on its own better and has no fat and virtually no calories. If cutting a raw squash the size of a toddler scares you, then you can cook it whole and scoop out the funk once cooked. I typically will cut it when raw to avoid excessive handling when hot and I find that it tends to dry out a little when cooked whole. If you don't already own one, now is a great time to buy a knife sharpener (I have a Chef Choice 110 and love it) as all of these delicious fall and winter root veggies are thick skinned and tend to be difficult to cut.

nutty bar milkshakes

Soften ice cream by leaving at room temperature for 10 minutes. Crush the nutty bars with your hands while they are still in their wrapper. Once softened, combine ice cream and milk in blender until a good milkshake consistency is achieved. Mix in crushed nutty bars and serve immediately.

The dish: Nutty Bars are the greatest things ever, period.