Pork Pozole

I hope everyone had a grand Valentine’s Day filled with every kind of love. I know I should have posted more about treats to gift your favorite people, but I was busy, and I’m sure you all made do without me.

Last year one of the best meals I had was at The Vanderbilt in Brooklyn. The food is always great there, tucked away on a little street in a neighborhood that was buzzy for a little while a while back. The cocktails are even better – my favorite is the Tupelo Julep. A concoction of bourbon, honey, & mint poured over a towering dome of shaved ice, it’s an adult version of a sno-cone. But I digress.

The meal that I am referring to was a Cinco de Mayo tasting menu with tequila and cerveza pairings. The meal was fantastic & the company was fun. It was everything a night of celebration should be. And the dish that sticks out most was the pozole. It consisted of chewy hominy, pork so tender it practically melts in your mouth, a mountain of cabbage, radish, & white onion all floating in a clear, light broth. The menu was served in May, but somehow the dish was hearty enough to be filling and warming without being overwhelmingly so.

With the crazy warm weather we’ve been having up in the Northeast, it seemed like the perfect thing to post. This meal is shockingly easy, and looks so impressive. It’s also crazy cheap and makes a lot – so invite some friends over. The only thing worse than keeping a big ol’ pot of pozole to yourself is… Well shoot, I’m actually stumped. I’m not sure there is anything worse than hogging the pozole.

Pork Pozole
adapted from Rick Bayless’s Classic White Pozole

serves approximately 10

1 lb dried pozole
5 cloves garlic, peeled & halved
3 lbs pork shanks
2 lbs pork shoulder
1 small white onion, diced
¼ cup coarsely ground spicy dried red chile
2 limes, cut into wedges
1 bunch of radishes, thinly slices
½ head of cabbage, shredded
1 bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp dried oregano
1 dozen tostadas

To cook the corn, put the pozole and garlic in a pot or slow-cooker and cover with water to submerge 3 inches. For a slow-cooker, set on low, cover with the lid, leaving it cracked. Let cook for 6 hours. If in a pot, bring to a boil, partially cover the pot and simmer gently over medium-low heat until corn is tender, about 5 hours. Add water as needed so the water level is constant.

To cook the meat, place all the pork in a large pot and cover with water. Add 3 tablespoons salt and bring to a boil. Skim off the grayish foam that rises to the top during the next few minutes. Add half of the chopped onion and set aside the rest in the refrigerator. Partially cover the pot and simmer over medium-low heat until the meat is thoroughly tender, about 3 hours. Remove the pork from the broth and pull the meat from the shanks and shoulder. Return the meat to the broth.

Add the corn to the pork, along with 2 teaspoons salt & oregano. Partially cover and continue to simmer until ready to serve.

To serve the pozole, set out the tostadas, along with bowls of cabbage, radish, onion, lime wedges, & cilantro. Spoon portions of meat into bowls & ladle the corn and broth over it. Add condiments to taste.

Tingle’s Greek Chicken

Friends, I don’t know about you, but 2011 is in no danger of being fondly remembered over laughter and glasses of champagne. There were some big changes in my life and they proved a little difficult to deal with. I rang in the New Year with the flu, and maybe even a few tears. I woke up the following day with a resolve to pick myself up by my bootstraps and get back to the things that bring me joy, or as a friend would say, get back in touch with my roots.

The biggest challenge I have faced during the past few months has been the complete and utter lack of passion in the kitchen. This is not to say that I didn’t want to cook – I did. I tried. I made a hot mess or five. I even made cookies that (gasp!) did not come out like the picture. I was ashamed to bring them into work. At some point I decided that I would stick to sandwiches, fruit, and handfuls of nuts – on really tough days it was Maruchan (oriental flavor). Recently I ventured into soups, which has proved successful in terms of edibility. It’s a word. Look it up. I’ll wait.

Finally, after a commiseration session over morning coffee, one friend voiced that he thought I might be ready to make the next big leap. He suggested that I keep it simple and not follow a recipe. This intimidated me. I needed to mull it over.

The first post I ever made on this blog was a recipe from a family I treasure, so it seems only logical that I re-enter the adventure with the same sentiment. This recipe comes from a very dear friend, and I can’t remember if it was her mom, or her who first cooked it for me, but it was always served with new potatoes from a can, a lemon wedge, and a side of Greek salad (mesclun or spring mix, feta, kalamata olives, olive oil and balsamic vinegar).

Make no mistake, internet. This is supper. Not dinner. There is a difference, nebulous though it might be. The lemon and herbs make your taste buds burst into song and dance. The potatoes barely crunch beneath the pressure of your molars. If you decide to make a salad, it will satisfy your fatuous need to eat healthy in January. And, should you or a friend be needing a nice, firm tug on your own bootstraps, this will surely do the trick. You can also use it to impress someone who, to say the least, makes you want to start shaving your legs again. That’s what I’m doing – it’s called multitasking.

Tingle’s Greek Chicken
serves 4 (or 2, with awesome leftovers)

Note: I used a Kosher chicken, which comes brined. If you can’t find a Kosher bird, I can’t recommend brining enough. Well worth the tiny amount of extra effort and a great way to play with the recipe and make it your own. Ignore the fact that it’s about turkey, focus on the fact that it’s poultry and check out this really nerdy thing.

1 package mixed herbs OR 4 sprigs rosemary, ½ bunch thyme, 7 sprigs oregano
4 lemons
6 cloves of garlic, unpeeled and smashed with something flat
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 fryer chicken (approx. 4 ½ lbs)
4 cans whole new potatoes, drained
salt + pepper to taste

Heat oven to 425˚, place a rack in the center of the oven. Arrange the potatoes in a 9 by 13” glass baking dish, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt & pepper.

Finely chop the herbs from 2 sprigs rosemary, 3 sprigs oregano, and 10 sprigs of thyme. Zest one of the lemons. In a small bowl, combine the chopped herbs, lemon zest, and 2 tbsp olive oil. Whisk until combined and set aside. Quarter all the lemons and set aside.

Remove the chicken from the packaging. Rinse it under cold water and pat it dry. Place the chicken on top of the potato bed breast side up. Using your hands, gently separate the breast skin from the meat on the leg end of the chicken. Scoop up some of the olive oil and herb mixture and rub on the breasts and thighs underneath the skin. Repeat until the mixture is gone.

Place the garlic cloves, lemon quarters, and remaining herbs into the cavity of the bird. If you have twine, feel free to tie the drumstick ends together. Or not. It really doesn’t make a huge difference. Gently pat the outside of the chicken dry again. Season the chicken with salt & pepper. Place on the middle oven rack. Roast until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 160˚. My bird weighed about 4.5 lbs and took about an hour and 15 minutes. Take the chicken out of the oven and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Dig in.

Old Fashioned Cherry Pie Filling

I wrote a very thoughtful, well-written piece of prose about my love of bourbon, the merits of sharing pie with friends, and the marvelous weather NYC has been experiencing. And then the internet decided to bend me over the butcher block.  Thanks interwebs. I love you too. I just wish you didn’t love me back so much. I could complain about it some more, but I would much rather tell you what pulled me back into the kitchen and prompted me to turn my oven to 350 on a 90 degree day.

soaking cherries

It was cherries. But more than just cherries, it was bourbon my longing for what I consider to be a winter cocktail. While I favor bourbon above all other liquors, like so many wool sweaters, it gets cast aside in the warmer months in favor of lighter, more sparkling fare. I have since discovered that there are, indeed ways to enjoy bourbon in the summer time that won’t have me wiping sweat glistening rose-scented dew from my brow.

painstakingly latticed crust

So when my place of business had cherries sale for the tune of 2.99/lb and I came home with way more than enough for…Well, I didn’t know – but I would figure something out. And damn, did I ever figure something out. See, this pie isn’t name after some mythical good ol’ days of yore. No. It is so much more than that. It is named after a much loved cocktail. One with a muddled cherry and orange slice at the bottom. One that warms you up after a chilly walk – and Old Fashioned.

slice of delicious heaven

I soaked my cherries in bourbon for a shamefully long time. You don’t necessarily have to wait that long. And let’s just get this out of the way. Yes. I pitted over 2 lbs of cherries. Yes it’s a pain. But no, you don’t have to shell out for a unitasker. Therefore, you should partake of this pie. It was a big hit with roommates and co-workers alike. Especially those of the bourbon loving ilk…tha’t ilk, not elk. But I would love to see a bourbon-loving elk. Also, you will have leftover cherries. Set them aside for less bountiful seasons or if you’re anxious, put them in sangria.

Old Fashioned Cherry Pie Filling

  • 2 lbs cherries, pitted and stemmed
  • 3/4 c sugar, divided
  • Bourbon
  • Angostura bitters
  • 1/4 c orange juice
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch

Place the pitted cherries and 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl. Pour bourbon of your choice over the cherries until they are covered. Yes, it will be a lot of bourbon. Buy something on the cheap side. Cover and place in refrigerator for a shamefully long time. Full disclosure, mine soaked for 6 days. 6 days! It’s shameful. One or two days will do the same trick, though.

Remove cherries from the fridge (duh). In a medium sauce pan, using a scale, measure out 22 oz. of both cherries and liquid. Liquid should measure roughly 1/2-3/4 of a cup, the rest should be cherries. Add the orange juice, cornstarch, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and 5 or 6 healthy dashed of bitters. If pressed, I would say maybe 1 tsp of bitters.

Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Let boil about 5 minutes or until thickened.

Pour into your favorite pie crust, and follow baking instructions. Or pour it over ice cream. Or eat it by the spoonful.

There is no pie crust recipe included because I don’t consider myself knowlegdable in the least about that art form.  Here’s some tips from someone who is.

On Choosing Ingredients…Spare No Expense

When I left you, you should have chosen your spirit and flavor profile.  Now we can get down to the nitty gritty and talk about how to choose ingredients and how to know how much to use.

Fruits & Veggies : Fresh fruit is relatively easy.  Just like when you’re using fruit for anything else, you should always make sure the it is perfectly ripe, or as close as possible.  Under-ripe fruit will not give up its flavor as readily, and the flavor you do get will be dull rather than bright.  Overly ripe fruit will give up a flavor that will come across as borderline rotten – earthy and dirt like, rather than sweet and fresh.  Buy it the day you intend on using it.  Don’t buy it Wednesday, planning to make your infusion on Saturday.  The very earliest purchase should be the night before.  Any earlier and the fruit will lose its freshness.

Amount to be used depends on whether you want the fruit to be the star attraction, or if you would like the spirits to be just subtly tinged with the flavor.  For my pineapple-chile tequila, since I am using a spirit that has been unaged the flavor is pretty clean and the pineapple will shine through fairly strongly.  For a 1.75 L bottle, I am using a whole, smallish pineapple, which has been peeled, cored, and cubed.  Since I want it to give up as much flavor as possible, the cubes are fairly small, an inch or smaller.  If you are using a fruit that is less juicy than your average pineapple (think apples and pears), you want a smaller dice.  For berries, since most have a skin and won’t give up juice until they’re macerated, squish them before adding your alcohol.  For soft berries, throw them in a bowl with a tablespoon or two of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice and let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes, give it a nice smush, then add it to your jar.  When using citrus, using peels only is just fine, but if you would also like to use the flesh, remove the zest, then pare the citrus down, removing as much of the bitter pith as possible.

Ultimately you want to shoot for about 2 cups of fruit or veggies.  Place the fruit in the jar and pour the spirit over it.  Seal the jar and give it a good shake.  Unless you are using a very acidic fruit you should keep it in the fridge.  Let it infuse for 2 weeks, checking it every day and giving it a good shake each time.

Ginger, Jalapenos, and other Chiles : If you are using something spicy – jalapenos, ginger – use far less of it.  Taste the chile and see how spicy it is.  Use that as your gauge.  Also, the heat of the chile is carried in its white ribs and seeds.  When I use chiles in pickling, I use 1 whole chile per two cups of liquid.  I don’t do anything to it except cut a small slit down the side.  The heat comes through without being overpowering.

When using ginger, it should be peeled as best as possible and cut into 1 inch or smaller cubes.  In the past I have used a 2 inch piece of ginger for a 1.75 L bottle.  The flavor was not overwhelmingly ginger-y, so if you’re going for a Domaine de Canton type flavor, you want to end up with about 1 cup.

Spices : Again, freshness is key. Fresh spices should not be hay-colored and should have a very strong scent.  Always use the spice of choice in its intact version.  This will allow your infusion to retain its clarity.  The only exception is nutmeg.  I have never infused with a whole nutmeg.  The flavor is so strong that a pinch will do without sacrificing clarity.  Some popular dried things to put in spirits are cinnamon sticks, dried chiles, allspice, juniper berries, and cardamom.

For smaller spices, shoot for about a tablespoon or so.  Cardamom pods are somewhere in between but 7-10 pods ought to do the trick.

Larger spices call for a lesser amount.  For 1.75 L of spirits, 2-3 cinnamon sticks or dried chiles will suffice.  The flavor will come across without being overpowering.

I used 3 dried chiles in my pineapple tequila – 2 went in with the pineapple in the jar, and 1 in the final bottle, mostly for decoration.  It has a fresh, sweet start with a slight heat at the back.

Again, letting it infuse for 2 weeks, giving the jar a good shake every now and then.

Tea & Fresh Herbs : Do I even need to say it? Use the freshest possible. You will want about 5 tablespoons total.  If using fresh herbs, you may want to bruise them slightly.  Using a spice bag, tea bag, or other style of ‘infuser’ is best, especially if you are infusing with other ingredients, though I have infused with tea and herbs first, removed, then added fruit and veggies.  The method is up to you and I haven’t noticed a difference.  Allow your tea and herbs to steep for 8-12 hours.  Do not leave longer than 12 hours – herbs will start to brown and tea flavors will start to become bitter.

Nuts : I have never used nuts before, but have seen recipes around.  I would recommend toasting them first, to make them release their delicious, nutty oils, and perhaps seasoning them, if you like.  Allow them to cool before adding the liquor.  Steeping time seems to be about a week or two, depending on the recipe.

I think that covers every type of infusion ingredient.  If you can think of something I haven’t covered, leave a comment and I will address it promptly.  If you are looking some ideas, a good source is Post Prohibition.  They also have some nifty bitters recipes and some good flavored simple syrups and grenadines I’d like to try out.

Next post: Sweetening the Deal – adding sugar to your infusion.

A Spirited Return – On Doldrums, Infusing, and Revivals

Friends and family, humblest apologies for lack of posts.  I have been in the doldrums, which here means a time in my life with calms, sudden storms, and unpredictable winds.  But that could be said about anyone’s life at any given moment.  I suppose that’s just life.  During this time I kept thinking about this project of mine, and baking in general and desperately wanted to bake but simply couldn’t find the time, funds, or energy to do so.  Now I have time, energy, and mini funds, but have embarked on a healthy-eating challenge for my day job.  Alas….c’est la vie.  But then it occurred to me, as I was finishing up a birthday gift for a relative, that it doesn’t necessarily have to be baking that I post about.  It is, after all, my blog.  No boss lady here except me.

So I’m going to start a mini-series on making your own infusions.  Sounds science-y, right?  Well it’s not, although it may make your kitchen look a bit like a laboratory for a month or so.  I’m not sure why people are so impressed with infusing – it makes bars seem fancier and you look like a liquored up genius – but it is so easy.  So don’t be afraid.  I’ll hold your hand.

science lab

Here it is, broken down: Alcohol + Ingredients + Time + Simple Syrup (or not, but this turns your infusion into a bottle of insta-cocktail)

SUPPLIES

  • Large jar – if you’re using a liter of alcohol, get a jar that will fit 1.75.
  • Swing-top Bottle – again, size appropriate please, though you probably won’t find one over 1.75.  If it’s for personal use, go ahead and re-use the liquor bottle, assuming you used all of the contents.  In some gift-giving this is appropriate too, but remove the labels and make sure it’s an attractive bottle.
  • Sieve

Start out by picking a flavor.  Please don’t pick something you would not want to drink.  I have made cranberry + lemon verbena, chile + carrot (you haven’t lived until you’ve had this in a bloody mary), chocolate, grapefruit, apple pie, green tea + lemon (like a spiked Arnold Palmer, amazing), chocolate + orange, and maybe one or two I’m forgetting.  Mostly I have used vodka, but have also used 151 (yikes!) and spiced rum to great results.  Once you have your flavor in mind you will be able to make a booze selection.

Things to consider in selecting your booze – will it fit your flavor profile?  For example, cranberry alone might work well with a spiced rum, but cranberry and lemon verbena probably won’t.  Use common sense.  Do you want something clean and crisp?  Go with vodka or everclear.  Warm and nuanced? Spiced rum is probably the way to go.  Will you be using it in a margarita?  Use tequila, for god’s sake!  Because it is almost margarita season and I’m a big fan of spicy cocktails, for this series I will be doing a pineapple + chile infused tequila.  Try not to drool on your keyboard.

Another thing – there are camps that say go high-end, and camps that say spend as little as possible because the alcohol flavor will be masked.  I say, don’t infuse any liquor you wouldn’t normally drink.  Because guess what?  If you infuse an alcohol you don’t like with ingredients you do, that yucky alcohol is still the main ingredient and you won’t drink your infusion.

I usually get a big handle, but I like to keep a well-stocked liquor cabinet.  Consider how much of your infusion you want – if it’s for personal use and you’re playing around, go small, about 2 cups of liquor should do it.  For a gift, definitely get the liter and a cute, swing-top re-usable bottle.

Full disclosure purposes only – I don’t usually like giving brand names, but people have asked.  For vodka infusions I like Tito’s.  It’s cheap and clean, and definitely the most bang for your buck, but if you’re a Smirnoff kinda drinker, get Smirnoff.  If Skyy is your poison, use Skyy.  If it’s Popov….you probably should expand your horizons.  For rum I like Sailor Jerry.  For tequila I like Espolon – it’s 100% agave and not aged, so the tequila flavor is very smooth and clean.

Round up these things and join me next time when I will be talking about selecting and using ingredients!  Don’t be scared!

Maple Gingerbread Cake with Salted Maple Caramel Sauce

This recipe has no backstory.  I saw it in Bon Apetit’s October issue and it had to be made.  Period.  And not in cupcake form.  Once I decided to make it in layer cake format, as per the recipe, I thought back on all the layer cakes I had made over the years…None.  I had never made a layer cake before this one!  Crazy, I know.

Anyhow, I knew I had to have this cake, and throw a party for it.  Which is exactly what I did.  Because cake is a reason to have a party – not the other way around.

And it was a big hit.  I did the unveiling, cut a few pieces, the lovely Shelby Moore snapped a few photos, we walked away, came back, and it was gone.  The cake, the cake sauce (which was what my friends were calling the caramel), the whole shebang and not a single crumb less.

If your family is not pie friendly, this would be a great alternative fall dessert.  It involves a decent amount of effort and planning so it is just as impressive, if not more so, than a pie.  Most of the steps can be done ahead of time.  The way I did it (because believe it or not I have a life outside of my kitchen…sort of) was to make the caramel sauce a week or less ahead, then the maple pecans a few days before, then the frosting a day or so before, then the day you make the cake that is all you have to do.  This helps with dishes too, if you’re dishwasher-less, like me.  Having said that, I also think the caramel sauce and the pecans are both worth making on their own and would make great gifts.  If you plan to make either as a gift, I recommend doubling the recipes to fill a pint mason jar.

Salted Maple Caramel Sauce
makes about 1 cup, takes about 15 minutes

Ingredients
1/4 c (1/2 stick) butter, preferably unsalted
1/2 c maple sugar – if you can’t find this at your grocery store, Whole Foods carries it, and so does Amazon
3/4 c heavy cream
1/8 tsp kosher salt
5 to 6 drops, or 1 tsp maple extract

Method

  • Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Add sugar and whisk until sugar melts and mixture is boiling, about 3 minutes.  If you think it’s taking your sugar longer than normal to melt, don’t freak out.  It just takes a while.
  • Gradually whisk in cream.  Really.  Gradually.
  • Whisk constantly while bringing mixture to a boil until it is thick enough to coat a spoon.
  • Remove from heat and whisk in the salt and maple extract.
  • Cool, cover and chill.

Maple-coated Pecans

Ingredients
3/4 c pecan halves, toasted
1/4 c pure grade B maple syrup
coarse salt

Method

  • Place a large piece of foil on a counter.
  • Combine nuts and syrup in a heavy skillet – do not use nonstick.
  • Over medium high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, tossing to coat.
  • Cook until syrup is dark amber, almost cooked away, and thickly coats nuts.  This will take about 3 minutes or so.
  • Scrape onto foil and separate nuts with a fork.
  • Sprinkle with salt and let cool one hour.
  • Store airtight at room temperature.

Frosting

Ingredients
1 1/3 c chilled creme fraiche
1 1/3 c chilled heavy cream
1/2 c maple sugar
6 tbsp powdered sugar

Method

  • Combine creme fraiche, cream, and sugars in a large bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer until thick and stiff.
  • Cover and store in fridge until cake is ready for assembly.

Cake

Ingredients
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder – if you don’t already have this in your pantry, buy some.  It’s a mixture of anise, Chinese cinnamon, cloves, fennel and sichuan pepper.  Every time you make a stir fry, fried rice, or other Asian-style dish, add a dash or two.
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp coarse salt
1/3 c finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 c maple sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 c hot water
2/3 c light molasses

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350.  Generously butter and flour 2 nine inch cake pans – these babies are sticky and non-stick spray won’t do the trick, trust me.
  • If you have a food processor, put the crystallized ginger in the bowl with some of the flour and spin until the ginger is finely ground.  If not, chop the ginger as finely as you can.
  • Combine the dry ingredients, including the ginger, in a large bowl and whisk together.
  • Using a mixer, beat the maple sugar and butter until light and fluffy.
  • Add one egg and beat to combine.  Add the second egg and beat to combine.
  • Combine molasses and hot water in a small bowl.
  • Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, add dry mixture  in 4 additions alternating with the molasses and water in 3 additions.  I.e. add a little flour and beat; add a little wet mixture and beat.  Repeat.  The largest addition of dry ingredients should be at the end to prevent over developing the gluten in the flour.
  • Divide batter between the 2 prepared pans, about 2 1/2 cups each.
  • Bake about 30-32 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool cakes in pans on racks.
  • Once cool, cut around pan sides to loosen cakes and turn them out onto the racks.

Assemble

  • If you made the caramel in advance, you will need to warm it up before assembly, making sure it is not so warm as to melt the frosting.
  • Place one cake layer on a platter or cake round.  Spread with 1 1/3 c frosting.
  • Drizzle 3 tbsp of caramel sauce over the frosting and top with second layer.
  • Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.  Press the pecans into the sides of the cake and drizzle the top with 3 tbsp of caramel sauce.
  • Cut cake into wedges and spoon extra sauce over each slice.

Fall Treats – Graham Crackers, Hot Cocoa, and Maple-Cinnamon Marshmallows

I’ve got big news.  I turned my oven on for the first time since May.  And it has been amazing.  While there are still some warm days, fall is almost in full-swing.  Ovens are being turned on around the country and houses are starting to positively reek of baked goods and root vegetables.

The only cookie-cutter shapes I have are hearts and circles I hope you're better equipped.

While I am not ready to gain all that holiday weight just yet, I have been craving a fall-type snack, and I came up with just the right barely-fall snack – cinnamon graham crackers and hot cocoa with maple cinnamon marshmallows.  Light enough to not concern yourself with holiday weight, but full of warm fall flavors.

Are you fantasizing yet?

If you’re looking for Honey-Maid, Jet Puffed, and Swiss Miss, save yourself the trouble and just stop here and go read another blog.  These recipes taste nothing like those flavored sugar store brands.  This group of recipes provide all the nostalgia of childhood fall treats, but with a much more adult flavor.

The graham crackers have a coarse texture, suitable for dunking, and a hint of bold molasses flavor.

The cocoa actually tastes like cocoa – not sugar.

And the marshmallows….Oh. My. God.  The Marshmallows.  If you don’t at least make the marshmallows you will be doing yourself a huge disservice.  They are fantastic on their own, but when added to cocoa lends a warm maple-cinnamon flavor that really revs up the cocoa.  Happy fall everybody!

Cinnamon Graham Crackers
makes about 3 dozen 3 square inch crackers

Ingredients

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour

1 cup AP flour

1 tsp coarse salt

2 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

¼ cup honey

¼ cup robust or blackstrap molasses

1/3 cup plus 4 tbsp sugar, divided

¼ cup milk

½ tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp cinnamon

Method

  • In a bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, AP flour, salt, and baking powder.  Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers, until the mixture looks like coarse wet sand.
  • Add the honey, molasses, and 1/3 cup sugar and combine.  Add the milk and vanilla, using your hands to mix it together until it forms a stiff dough.
  • Lightly oil 2 baking sheets.  Split the dough in half.  Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a work surface and shape half the dough into a rectangle.  Cover the dough with another sheet of parchment and roll it out until it’s about ¼ inch thick, and roughly 12 x 15 inches.
  • Combine 4 tbsp sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon.  Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over the rolled dough.
  • Cut the dough into whatever shape you wish.  If you have cute cookie cutters, now is the time to break them out – pumpkins, leaves, ghosts, whatever you want.  If you’re like me and don’t have any cool fall cookie cutters, break out your pizza cutter and cut into rectangles.  Or get out your Valentine cookie cutters.
  • Once your shapes are cut, prick each shape with a fork all the way down the middle.  Then, since you’re the only one in the kitchen and you’re super curious, eat one of the dough scraps.  Very carefully transfer the shapes to one of your prepared pans and place in freezer to chill for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350˚F.
  • Repeat with second half of dough, and bake for 18-22 minutes, until browned at the edges.
  • While I am a BIG fan of fresh-from-the-oven goodies, you will want to let these cool completely before digging in.

Store in an airtight container, for up to 2 weeks.

Maple Cinnamon Marshmallows
makes about 36 medium-sized mallows

Ingredients

2/3 cup water, divided

3 packets (¼ oz. each) unflavored gelatin

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

pinch of kosher salt

1 tsp maple flavoring

1 cup powdered sugar

3 tsp ground cinnamon

Method

  • Lightly oil an 8×8 inch pan and coat generously with powdered sugar.  Set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, pour 1/3 cup the water and 3 packets of gelatin.  Let stand for ten minutes or until gelatin has softened.
  • In a saucepan, off the heat, combine sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/3 cup of water.  Place the mixture over medium-high heat and clip your candy thermometer to the side of the pan, making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom.
  • Cook the mixture without stirring until it reaches 240˚F, or soft ball stage.
  • Turn your mixture on low speed and very carefull add the molten lava hot syrup to the softened gelatin.
  • Add the maple flavoring and turn the mixer to medium-high speed.  Beat for 8-13 minutes.  Set a timer – you do not want to underbeat these puppies.
  • When the mixture is white, stiff, and sticky, turn the mixer off and spread the mixture into your prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula.  Set aside for at least one hour.
  • Sift together the cinnamon and powdered sugar into a bowl or shallow dish.  Run a wet knife around the edge of the marshmallow to loosen it.  Turn the pan out onto a work surface.
  • Cut the marshmallow into squares, wetting the knife between cuts.  Toss each marshmallow in the cinnamon sugar to coat.

Store in a single layer, or in layers separated by wax or parchment paper.  They will keep for 1 month when stored airtight at room temperature.

Hot Cocoa Mix
makes approx. 36 cups of cocoa, or 4 ½ cups dry mix

Ingredients

2 cups powdered sugar

1 cup unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa powder – splurge on this one, otherwise it won’t be worth it.

2 ½ cups malted milk powder – if you can’t find malted milk powder, just use nonfat dry milk powder

1 tsp salt

2 tsp cornstarch

1 pinch cayenne pepper – you won’t be able to taste this; it just amps up the chocolate flavor.  If you want to be able to taste it, use about a tsp of cayenne.

Method

  • In a large, airtight container combine all ingredients.  Secure the lid and shake to combine.
  • For hot cocoa, use 2 heaping tablespoons of dry mix per (regular size) cup.

Peanut Butter Pie with a Spicy Twist

peanut butter pie, take one

I originally wasn’t going to post this recipe, but when I put the above picture on my Tumblr a friend got so excited I had to do it.  But I did it a little different.  It’s not my typical, all day long life-stopping recipe.  This recipe will take you 30 minutes to throw together, and will take even less if you use a store-bought graham cracker crust like I did, but I’ve included a graham cracker crust recipe if you want to make a smidge of extra time and effort.

it was a big hit

I came across a peanut butter pie recipe while looking for no-bake desserts and was intrigued, but I’m not super crazy about peanut buttery sweets.  So it wasn’t until a friend requested a peanut butter birthday dessert that I broke out the recipe.

peanut butter pie redux feat. cayenne, cinnamon, and banana

It was a hit at his potluck and even caused an argument or two because people didn’t want to share.  So if you’re cooking for more than 4 people, you might want to plan on making more than one pie.

peanut butter upside down pie...i say oops a lot

The mexican twist was inspired by the enchilada dinner I was gearing up for on Tuesday.  Adding spices to chocolate desserts is a very easy way to make an easy dessert slightly more exotic and intriguing – ice creams, cakes, ganaches, you name it.

this one was a big hit too

Peanut Butter Pie with a Spicy Twist

Crust Ingredients

Ten 4 3/4-by-2 1/2-inch graham crackers, broken into pieces

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling Ingredients

3 oz. milk chocolate – if you are using bar chocolate, it will need to be chopped

1 cinnamon stick

1 whole dried cayenne pepper, de-seeded (to deseed a dried pepper, hold it gently but firmly between 2 fingers, cut side down, and flick it)

1 3/4 cups heavy cream, divided

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

4 oz. (1/2 cup) cream cheese

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

1 banana, thinly sliced

Method

  • Crush up the graham crackers.  A food processor works magic, but if you don’t have one, put the crackers in a plastic bag and do some good ol’ fashion stress relief.  Transfer to a medium bowl, and add the melted butter. Stir with a fork until thoroughly combined.
  • Put crumbs in your pie pan and press them up the sides of the pan to form the edge and then evenly over the bottom of the pan. Place in the refrigerator while making the filling.
  • Put 1/2 cup cream, cinnamon stick, and chile in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Remove the cinammon and chile and pour over chocolate, and set aside for 5 minutes to yield chocolate ganache. Whisk to combine and set aside to cool, whisking occasionally.
  • Remove the crust from the refrigerator and pour ganache into the bottom of the crust, tapping gently to settle.  Top ganache with the sliced banana.
  • Meanwhile, whip 3/4 cup heavy cream to soft peaks. Set aside.
  • Whisk together the peanut butter, cream cheese, and sweetened condensed milk until smooth and fluffy, then add the whipped cream and whisk until combined.
  • Remove the almost-pie from the refridgerator and spoon the peanut butter mixture into the pan, smoothing the top.
  • Place in refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.  Before serving the pie, top with whipped cream and chocolate curls, if desired.

If you’re timid about spice, feel free to omit one or all of the spices, the pie will still be delicioso.

Green Tea Infused Vodka with Honey-Lemon Cordial

I have not been a fan of green tea for all that long. I remember the first time I drank it. I was in fourth grade (I think, maybe third or fifth), at a friend‘s house whose mother is Japanese. This was before Arizona Green Tea, which is basically green tea flavored sugar water. They had the real deal, and I was not impressed. I thought it tasted like seaweed and I didn’t touch the stuff again until I was a junior in high school, and it was Arizona Green Tea.

These days, however, I’m a class A tea snob.  I bring my own when I travel.  Even when I go to my parent’s house – I bring my own tea because they buy Celestial Seasonings.  And I don’t sweeten it very much, even when it’s iced tea.  A sugared rim is necessary, though.  This vodka is light, crisp, and only a hint sweet.  For a perfect summer cocktail, shake it with ice and add just a splash of tonic water.

If you’re a plan ahead-type of gift giver, this makes for a great surprise, especially when paired with some nice stemware.  If you’re a last-minute gifter, you could also gather up all the non-perishable ingredients and throw them in a bag with the recipe.  They both go over equally well.

Green Tea Infused Vodka with Honey Lemon Cordial

Ingredients

1 L of vodka of your choice*
5 green tea bags, or 5 tbsp loose leaf tea, preferably in a bag, if not strain it out
1 Lemon, sliced
½ c honey
½ c water

You will need a jar big enough to hold the entire liter of vodka, plus one cup.

Method

  • Empty vodka into a clean jar and place tea bags inside and cover the jar. If your tea bags have strings, make sure you cut them off. Allow to steep for no more than 12 hours, shaking periodically. Any longer and you will end up with a bitter infusion.
  • Remove tea bags and place sliced lemon in the vodka, capping the jar. Place in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, shaking perdiodically.
  • At the end of the 2 weeks, remove the lemons with a slotted spoon.
  • In a saucepan, combine the honey and water and heat gently over medium heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  • Once the honey mixture is cool, pour into the vodka, recap and shake vigorously.
  • Uncap and strain infusion into a swing-top bottle. At this point, it can be imbibed immediately, or allowed to infuse longer. The longer it sits, the sweeter it will be.

To serve, rub the rim of a glass with a lemon slice. Gently place the rim of the glass in a dish of sugar. I used matcha sugar, made using 1 tsp of matcha powder & 1 tbsp of sugar. Shake infusion with ice and strain into glass.

*A note about the quality of vodka you should use. Some insist that cheap vodka is appropriate because the sugar in the cordial negates the bad taste. I respectfully disagree. I have used everything from $55 bottles to $10 bottles, and I have landed smack in the middle with Tito’s, priced about $25 per liter bottle, though it is most likely cheaper in places that are not in NYC. It tastes better than most $55 bottles, and is only slightly more than Smirnoff, which tastes terrible.

To be enjoyed outdoors, in the shade, on a day that (hopefully) is not too hot.

Also, I’m on tumblr now.  Bakingforneighbors.tumblr.com will be a shorter microblog – more photos, less text.  Recipes will be linked here, but you will also get to see things I make that I don’t post.

Earl Grey Ice Cream

i present to you another breakfast appropriate ice cream ©Tim Romero

Because we need more refined ice cream.  Because it is damn hot outside and it’s only going to get hotter.  And because I love you.  Meet Earl Grey.

©Tim Romero

Charming, subtly seductive, and easier than a drunk teen on prom night.  At first I couldn’t decide what kind of tea to use for this recipe, then I tasted the earl grey ice cream by Van Leeuwen and sugar, was I sold hard.

©Tim Romero

And yet, this creamy cup of delicious falls just short of perfection.  Because perfection has music…bluesy, sultry music.  And alcohol…shaken with ice, poured into a chilled glass, and rimmed with flavored sugar.  Plus, let’s face it, I can’t just make ice cream for the rest of that summer.  Where would my love handles be come Halloween?

So I’m doing a giveaway.  One happy little lamb will receive enough of next week’s recipe for 2 and a CD by the lovely, sexy, sultry, Audra Mae.  If you’re in the New York area, your prize might just be hand delivered by yours truly.  Provided you don’t mind sharing – if you’re extra nice maybe I’ll bring a little extra.

this CD makes me a very happy lamb

To enter, leave a comment telling me your favorite happy hour music and I will randomly select one.  And now back to ice cream.

Earl Grey Tea Ice Cream
makes about 1 quart

Ingredients
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup honey
5-6 Earl Grey tea bags, or tea bags of your choice
- if you are using loose tea, it’s about 4 tbsp.
5 egg yolks

  • Warm the milk and honey in a saucepan. Remove from heat, place tea bags in the pan, cover and steep for roughly an hour. Remove tea bags or strain out the tea leaves.
  • Place tea-infused milk over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk egg yolk until lighter yellow and frothy.  To temper the yolks, pour in a tablespoon of milk at a time.  Feel the bowl for warmth.  When the egg yolks are warmed, slowly pour the milk and egg mixture into the saucepan, whisking constantly.
  • Heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  • Chill the mixture in the refridgerator for at least 8 hours, then freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can use plastic zip top bags.  Fill a gallon-size bag with ice and a tsp of salt.  Put the milk mixture in another, smaller zip top bag and place inside the ice.  Churn it by moving the bag around with your hands.  Takes about 30 minutes. Or you can do this.

**UPDATE**  The winner of the CD and taste of tomorrow’s recipe is Sarah – Girl, get your ass over here and drink with me!

The runners up, who will receive enough of tomorrow’s recipe for 2 (because it’s happy hour) are Sam  and Anna- Give me your address ladies.  Hit me up with a facebook message.

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