28 January 2007

Gin in the Morning

I swear I do not have a drinking problem.
Just because this cocktail was made at 10:30 in the morning, does not mean that I am an alcoholic. The only reason this drink was made so early is because there is good lighting at 10 in the morning.
You might say, well, why don’t you wait until three o’clock in the afternoon? The lighting is still good then, and at least it’s the afternoon, a more reasonable time of the day to start drinking.
My answer to that sensible question is that at 3 o’clock today, I am going to be in my car driving. Would you rather that I drink this cocktail while I am driving?
No, I didn’t think so.

So. Then we have established that drinking at home in the morning is better than drinking on the road in the afternoon. Now that you are convinced that it’s okay to make a drink at 10:30 in the morning, let’s talk about the drink itself, instead of my drinking problem (which doesn’t exist, I swear).
In my mind, this cocktail was going to be ruby red, shimmering in the candlelight as I handed glasses to my guests as they walked in the door last night. In real life, however, the drink turned out light brown and shimmering in florescent light, because when my guests arrived, I was still cooking the soup and we ended up chatting under the stove light instead of by candlelight.
Big whoop. The drink might not have looked the way I hoped it would, but it tasted better than I ever imagined! Besides, pomegranates are so trendy these days- everyone expects a pomegranate drink to be red. So predictable! When a drink is supposed to be red, but it turns out brown, it keeps people thinking. But not thinking hard enough that they won’t sip it delightfully and exclaim how deliciously sweet and and tangy and bubbly it is.

Now, the question is, am I going to drink this cocktail when I am finished taking photos of it?
You bet I am. There’s actually not any gin in this one. I finished the bottle last night. Oops. Maybe I do have a problem.

Bubbly Pomegranate and Gin Cocktail - Delicious!
-adapted from various recipes on the internets

You can adjust the proportions to your taste. I ended up squeezing the lime garnish into the drink to make it a little less sweet.
2 parts jin*
1 part lime juice
1 part simple syrup
1/2 part pomegranate molasses (I found this in the baking aisle at Whole Foods...cheaper than pomegranate juice, and a little goes a long way)
2 sprigs of mint (bruised or torn into small pieces)
Club soda or seltzer water

In a shaker or with a stirrer, mix the first five ingredients with ice.
Pour into a glass that is filled with ice. Top with club soda.
Garnish with lime and mint.

*I misspelled gin on purpose so you would think I already had a few this morning. Gotcha.


24 January 2007

Using Macaroni to Cultivate Awesomeness in Your Children

When I have children, I am going to make this macaroni and cheese for them. But I’m going to make it real spicy so they can’t eat alot of it, and then there will be more for me and my husband.
Just to be nice, though, sometimes I’ll make it less spicy, and the kids will love it and crave it and beg me to make it, and then I will easily be able to get them to do things, like chores, homework, and my taxes. No macaroni and cheese for you until you do this and this and this.

The constant and obsessive hope for a nibble of this macaroni and cheese will hold the ultimate power over my children’s behavior. If they do their homework, it won’t be because they want to be smart, it will be because they know that if they get A’s, I will make this macaroni and cheese for them. If they practice the piano, it won’t be because of the inherent joy they find in making music, it will be because they know that for every Ligeti etude they master, there will be a plate of macaroni and cheese waiting for them when they get home from the recital. And if they turn out awesome all around, it won’t be because of awesome genes, or deluxe parenting skills, it will only because they want to be awesome for the sake of the macaroni.

Now, I know that you are not supposed to give children rewards for every little thing they do. It’s better to cultivate a healthy sense of intrinsic motivation, so your kids will do well for the sake of doing well, and not so they get stuff when they do well. Well, I used to agree with that perspective until I had this macaroni and cheese. Now it is clear to me that there is nothing wrong with extrinsic motivation, and I plan to use it accordingly to manipulate my children into turning out awesome.

I will say to my kids, “Hey kids, if you suck at anything, you don’t get any Bon Appétit macaroni. You just get Annie’s macaroni.” Annie’s is great, don’t get me wrong, but there are a lot of ‘great’ kids out there that don’t turn out to be anything special when they grow up. So don’t feed your kids Annie’s, unless you want them to turn out boring. Feed them Bon Appétit macaroni and cheese, and they will try harder to be awesome in general.

Macaroni and Cheese with Buffalo Chicken
~Bon Appétit Magazine, February 2007

For the Chicken:
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs, beaten to blend
4 cups cornflakes, ground to crumbs in processor
1 pound chicken cutlets, cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide strips

Canola oil (for deep-frying)

1 pound small elbow macaroni
2 cups chopped green onions (about 8 large)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, divided
3 cups chopped onions
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup all purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
8 ounces provolone cheese, coarsely grated (I used monterey jack)
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup hot pepper sauce (be careful with this; I only used 1/4 cup and it was still very spicy)

For chicken:
Whisk first 6 ingredients in deep medium bowl to blend. Place milk in second bowl, eggs in third bowl, and ground cornflakes in fourth bowl. Working with 4 chicken strips at a time, place in flour mixture and toss to coat. Dip same chicken strips into milk, then eggs, then cornflake crumbs, coating with each; arrange on sheet of foil.

Pour oil into heavy medium saucepan to depth of 2 inches. Attach deep-fry thermometer to side of pan; heat oil to 335°F to 350°F. Working in batches, add coated chicken strips to hot oil and fry until golden and cooked through, turning occasionally, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken strips to paper towels to drain. Cut strips into 1-inch-long pieces.

For macaroni:
Cook macaroni in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain; transfer to very large bowl. Mix in green onions and oregano.

Melt 6 tablespoons butter in same large pot over medium heat. Add 3 cups chopped onions and garlic. Cover; sauté until onions are soft but not brown, stirring often, about 6 minutes. Add flour; stir 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk. Bring to boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat and simmer sauce 2 minutes. Add all cheeses, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Whisk until cheeses melt and sauce is smooth, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if desired. Mix cheese sauce into macaroni. Mix in chicken pieces. Mound mixture in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish (I have used a baking dish for family style, and ramekins for single servings).

Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir hot pepper sauce and remaining 2 tablespoons butter in small saucepan over medium heat until butter melts; spoon 4 tablespoons over macaroni in dish. Bake macaroni uncovered until heated through, about 30 minutes, or 45 minutes if made ahead. Serve, passing remaining butter and hot-sauce mixture separately.

Makes 12 servings.

15 January 2007

One-Handed Dump Cake

Undoubtedly, there will be times when the trammels of everyday life prevent you from having enough time to make dessert. The leisure time in your day becomes lamentably overwhelmed by mundane, necessary activities that simply cannot be avoided, such as going to to work, doing actual work while you are at work, cleaning the bathroom, and practicing Journey covers on the viola (the last is a highly enjoyable activity, but it nevertheless detracts from my weekly allotted dessert-making time).

Despite these time-consuming tasks that manage to take up most of the day, dessert is occasionally a necessity that cannot be neglected. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t even have four minutes with which to make a dessert, no matter how much your heart aches to be in the kitchen, cracking eggs, spilling flour, and gazing adoringly at your whirring KitchenAid.

To the ubiquitous human plight of not having enough time to make dessert, I present a solution to you: Dump Cake. The essence of dump cake lies in the efficient act of the Dumping of pantry ingredients that have an indefinite shelf life and can be ready for use at a moment’s notice. No shopping required, and as an added bonus, no stirring required! Whether you are in the midst of preparing a last-minute dinner party for friends you love, or slapping a dessert together for a potluck that you don’t really want to go to anyway, the process is the same. You simply dump the ingredients into a pan, spread them around, and stick the pan in the oven. Then you are done!

Dump cake fits busy schedules perfectly; its low-maintenance preparation allows you the convenience of doing two things at once, because you only need one hand to make dump cake. One hand does the dumping, while the other is left completely free to complete other necessary daily tasks that only require the use of one arm, such as:

feeding a fish
dribbling a basketball
holding a baby on your hip
doing shots of tequila
doing shots of tequila while holding a baby on your hip
playing “Iron Man” on the recorder (as long as you don’t start lower than ‘A’)
participating in a fencing tournament
picking your nose
picking your friend’s nose
signaling a right turn
playing tennis (only forehand strokes)
acting out Hamlet with finger puppets
practicing jazz hand
making a second dump cake

Admittedly, dump cake is not a a dessert of high caliber. It is not the sort of dessert that lends a feeling of accomplishment upon pulling it out of the oven and setting it down on the table at an elegant dinner party. There are other desserts that are more impressive, and there are other desserts that are more delicious. But- there are not many other desserts that taste this good that can be prepared in under four minutes. This cake really does taste good. The first time I read about it on the internet, I thought it was a joke. No stirring? Upon more googling, however, I found that dump cake is a guilty pleasure that many Americans take comfort in. So if you need a tasty dessert within the next hour, and you’re not trying to impress anyone, make dump cake. Your guests will love it, and if they don’t love it, they’ll at least like it, and they'll certainly be entertained when you tell them how it is made.

No stirring necessary; the cake mix absorbs the fruit juices
and transforms into a cobbler-like consistency.

Dump Cake
1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple
1 16 oz. can cherry pie filling
1 package yellow white cake mix
1 stick of butter, cut into thin slices (or just melt it if you’re really pressed for time)

Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Dump crushed pineapple and juices into a 13 x 9 inch baking pan.
Dump cherries.
Dump cake mix.
Dump butter slices (or drizzle the melted butter over top of the cake mix).
Bake for 30-50 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden-brown.
Serve as is, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Other variations include:
Omit the pineapple juice, use 2 cans of cherry pie filling, and use chocolate cake mix instead of yellow. Mmmmmm....that sounds delicious!
Or, sprinkle some sweetened, shredded coconut before you add the butter. You can also sprinkle chopped pecans before you add the butter.
Or, use apple pie filling and a mix for spice cake.
The options are endless!
Aren’t you so glad you know about dump cake now?

07 January 2007


In Guadalajara, Mexico, a man assembles a taco al pastor.

Ah, I distinctly remember my first street taco in Mexico. Already I am nostalgic for a moment that occurred only last week!

Allow me to reminisce.

Last week, my friends and my husband and I, joyous yet ravenous upon our arrival into the new country, stood in a dorky circle on a cobblestone street in Guadalajara. We smiled at each other through our tacos and joyfully proclaimed our meal’s magnificence in between sloppy bites of crispy al pastor goodness. Even though salsa was occasionally missing my mouth and splattering all over the sidewalk and my toes, I do believe that it was my favorite taco experience ever. When I am eighty years old and someone asks me to please list the top ten taco highlights of my life, there is no doubt that this one will remain my favorite taco experience for all eternity.

shaving pork from a spit for a delicious taco al pastor

When people travel abroad, they often learn things about themselves. One thing I learned about myself while I was in Mexico is that I would be perfectly happy if I could stay in Mexico for the rest of my life, but only on the condition that I could also eat eat a taco al pastor every single day of that life, and that the taco would have to be purchased from one of the many taco vendors that line Guadalajara’s streets and plazas. For my daily taco, I would like to watch the man above shave the pork off of a steaming spit, grill it into little, crispy, wonderful bits, shovel it into a soft, warm, corn tortilla, and smother it with onions, cilantro, and salsa.

garnishes for the wonderful tacos
(chopping block and various meats in the background)

I apologize for not having a picture of the glorious tacos themselves, but seriously, once you get one of those babies in your hands, there is no desire to take a pretty picture of it. There exists only the overwhelming urge to put it in your mouth. (For a picture of a similar-looking taco made at a restaurant in Chicago, see this post).

Taqueria de Los Faroles, one of our taco al pastor stops,
conveniently located across the street from the hotel.

If you ever have the chance to visit Mexico, be sure to shell out five pesos (a little less than fifty cents!) for a delightful taco al pastor, or five of them if you're hungry. It just might be your favorite meal of the entire trip.

a taco making a taco

Some other highlights of our visit, some food related and some not at all:

Metropolitan Cathedral in downtown Guadalajara

so many beautiful sights to take in while walking down the city streets!

Metropolitan Cathedral from a different angle

This is the inside of Mercado Libertad, an enormous three-story market with restaurants, produce, groceries, clothing, and many many many other items. There, I ate goat for the first time. You will not see a picture I took of the goat stew (called birria), because if you see the picture, you will probably never want to try goat meat ever. Fatty and bony, and lit by fluorescent lights, the birria did not look appetizing at all.
But it tasted wonderful!

maracas in the Mercado Libertad

piggies at the market

a pretty building I should know the name of but I don't but I don't care because it's pretty

Papel Picado (a Mexican art form of cutting paper) hanging in a courtyard in Tlaquepaque

A Huichol Indian woman selling her crafts in Tlaquepaque.

Street musician

Cobblestone streets


At the Jose Cuervo Factory in Tequila, these are piñas, the hearts of agave plants. They are waiting to be put into ovens, where their starches will be transformed into sugars. After steaming in the ovens for quite some time, the piñas are cooled, milled into small pieces, and pressed. The pressed juices are then fermented, distilled, and sometimes aged. We sampled tequila at each stage of the process, from the roasted piñas themselves to 100% tequila that had been aged in oak barrels.

an agave plant just outside of the town of Tequila

The church in the town center of Tequila (if you look closely, you can see a man on top of the church) .

Driving from Guadalajara towards the coast. What a beautiful country!

More driving. Not a bad view at all!

A beautiful morning at the Banderas Bay on the west coast of Mexico. I hope I can return
soon to this amazing country.

04 January 2007

Top 5 Food Blog Posts

I am sorry I have not been posting lately but I have been travelling in Mexico and do not have a way to upload any photos to the internet.

I do want to say quickly that a post from Fancy Toast has been nominated for Well Fed Network´s Top 5 Food Blog Awards for the Best Post Category.
You might remember a story about a disgruntled brussel sprout. Poor guy.

If you would like to see Fancy Toast win the Best Post Category, please vote!
Go to this link before January 9th and perhaps our little brussel sprout´s misery will not be in vain.

Thank you so much!