Friday, June 23, 2006

I Hate Being Sick

I've had some wicked bug for the last five or six days. I thought it was done for, then it came back for Round 2 after a hellish evening at work. But that's more than you need to know. The thing I hate about being sick is that it COMPLETELY throws off any Chowhoundish nature I have. Gimme a ton of Gatorade and a box of Ritz crackers when I have the flu, and I couldn't be happier. Tonight, for some reason I was craving mashed potatoes, and WOW they came out absolutely perfect. I took a pound of potatoes in their skins, brought them to a boil, and then let them simmer until I could poke one with a paring knife and it slid right back into the water. I drained off the potatoes, and put them through a ricer (easily the fastest way to do mashers- just cut them in half, put one half in the ricer cut side down, and press through. The skin stays in the ricer hopper) back into the hot pan. Then, in went 4 tablespoons of very well softened butter and then 1/2 cup of warm milk (I would have used half and half or maybe some heavy cream, but the half and half I found in the back of the fridge was close to collecting Social Security). That last bit is very important, the butter, THEN the milk. If you mix them in at the same time or mix in the milk first, the starch in the potatoes will soak up the water content in the milk and make something resembling glue; mixing in the butter first coats the starch with fat so that it won't soak up all that moisture. Then in go the seasonings (about 3/4 teaspoon of salt and some ground black pepper are mandatory, I also added some Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle from Penzey's), and it's done. They're wonderfully fluffy, silky smooth, and just oh so wonderful.

Monday, June 05, 2006


I just recently tried the lemonade recipe from the current issue of Cook's Country, and dayum, that's some great lemonade! It's certainly easy enough- cut one lemon into thin slices, and muddle it with 1-1/2 cups of sugar, using a potato masher or similar large blunt object, until the sugar starts to dissolve. Add 7 cups of water and 2 cups fresh lemon juice, strain out the lemon slices, stir well, chill, and serve. If you like, you can add 2 cups of strawberries (or other berries, or even go crazy and try peaches or mangoes, the possibilities are endless!), 1 cup of fresh mint leaves, or 1/4 cup of grated fresh ginger to the lemon slices and sugar before muddling.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Cooking: Grill Madness

I live in the Phoenix area. It gets hot around here. No, wait, I take that back. It gets really damn hot around here. Today the high was somewhere over 110 degrees. Needless to say, I spent as much of the day as possible indoors. Eventually, dinner sounded like a good idea, and cooking anything indoors did most certainly NOT sound like a good idea. So, I decided to fire up the grill and put together a feast. I knew that the main course was going to be some kind of grilled chicken breast (a freezer staple item around here), and then started to scavenge around for other possible items to throw on the grill. I almost did a cold rice salad since we have some leftover rice on the fridge, but my love of baking prevailed and I made grilled garlic flatbread. Also on the side were grilled green beans, and grilled fruit for dessert.

The chicken itself was simple enough. I wasn't in the mood for a BBQ or sweet and sour glaze (both of which I had in the fridge), so I put together one made out of hoisin sauce, soy sauce to loosen up the mixture and provide savoriness, honey for an additional sweet note, orange muscat champagne vinegar to brighten the mix (I would have used rice vinegar but I was out... shhhhh don't tell), and some red chile flakes for spice, and took a taste. I could tell it needed something, but wasn't sure what. Off to the overflowing spice rack I went to see what I could do. Eventually, the jerk spice blend caught my eye. I added a very generous sprinkle, and was most pleased with the result. A dash of black pepper rounded things out. The chicken was an easy preparation- brush the glaze on one side, grill glazed side down, brush more glaze on, flip, and cook until done.

Grilled flatbread technically was a very simple grilled pizza topped with nothing more than extra-virgin olive oil and kosher salt. I started out by sauteing garlic and thyme (I should have used the fresh rosemary on the back porch, but alas I forgot about it) in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then blending that into 4 cups of flour, a packet of rapid-rise yeast, and 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt in the food processor. Then, I pulsed in 1-1/2 cups of warm (110 F/43C) water, kept pulsing until the dough came together, then let the processor run for 30 seconds. After a couple of kneads on the counter, I let it rest until doubled, split it into 8 pieces, pulled each one into a nice little ball, and let them rest under a damp towel for a few minutes so I wouldn't have to fight the gluten. I then squished each one out into 1/4 inch thick rounds, placed them on floured cookie sheets (you think I'm letting my wood pizza peel anywhere near the griddle? Yeah right!), and took them out to the grill. Once there, I brushed extra-virgin olive oil on each piece of dough, gave it a good sprinkle of kosher salt, and placed it oil side down on the grill. I let it cook for a couple of minutes until it was set and had grill lines on one side, then brushed on more oil (the flare-ups from drips were thrilling to say the least!), gave them a flip, and cooked them for a few minutes on the other side before pulling them off the grill. These came out absolutely fantastic. I can see myself putting this together every time we're planning on doing grilled meat for dinner.

Making Jamaica

I tried out the recipe over on for jamaica, a Mexican agua fresca (the name translates literally to "fresh water"; aguas frescas are a blend of fruit, sugar, and water) made from hibiscus blossoms. I used 3 ounces of the hibiscus flowers, 1 cup of sugar, and a gallon of water. To start, I got the water to a boil, then added the hibiscus and sugar. Once it returned to a boil, I let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes, then strained out the hibiscus flowers and let it chill. It turned out pretty good, but I think it could be stronger on hibiscus and definitely sweeter too; it had a light, pleasant sweetness, but didn't have the right sweetness level to taste like every other agua fresca that I've had. I know that next time it would greatly help to have a lid on the pot, I lost almost a quart of water to the combination of evaporation and the hibiscus absorbing liquid. Speaking of which, one of these times I'll try squishing down the hibiscus to get some good concentrated flavor back into the pitcher where it belongs.

I'd like to try fixing the sweetness and strength levels at the same time, but I would prefer to fix one variable at a time in the recipe. The first will be adjusting sweetness, then seeing if pressing the hibiscus will make for a stronger end product, then finally adjusting the amount of hibiscus leaves. In Cook's Country, they just published a recipe for some positively delicious lemonade, and it uses 1/2 cup of sugar for every 3 cups of liquid; I think I'll do 2 cups of sugar next time, and go from there.