Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Whiskey Sour

You'd think a basic cocktail recipe like this could be stated in as little as a sentence, but I believe this one actually deserves a little discussion.

I wanted to make my own sweet-and-sour mix rather than buy a pre-made concoction. The first Google hit was a recipe by Emeril Lagasse. I decided to look no further. How could I go wrong by starting out trying a recipe with such a fine pedigree?

Emeril's recipe for the sweet-and-sour mix was very simple: 1 oz. lemon juice, 1 oz. sugar, 2 oz. water. But wait... is that one ounce of sugar by weight? Should I interpret it as "one fluid ounce of sugar"? So, confusion right from the get-go. I decided to use weight measurements for all the ingredients. Using a kitchen scale, I measured out 8 ounces of water. To this I added 4 ounces of sugar and brought the mixture to a boil in the microwave. I let the simple syrup cool and then I added 4 ounces by weight of bottled lemon juice.

Emeril's mix gave me a very nice whiskey sour, but I've since nosed around for different sweet-and-sour mix recipes. Turns out these pretty much go all over the map. Proportions of sugar and water vary widely, and many recipes call for freshly juiced lemons, limes, and/or oranges. My kitchen lacks a juicing machine so I hopped onto Amazon and ordered a Hamilton Beach 67650 Big Mouth Pro Juice Extractor. It will arrive tomorrow, so I'll be able to experiment with different recipes this weekend.

So, here's my current recipe, subject to improvement.

Sweet-and-Sour Mix

  • 8 ounces (by weight) water
  • 4 ounces (by weight) sugar
  • 4 ounces (by weight) lemon juice
  1. Combine water and sugar. Stir, and heat in a microwave on high for 5 minutes.
  2. Stir heated mixture well to completely dissolve the sugar. Let cool.
  3. Add lemon juice and store in the refrigerator in a sealed jar.
Note: Be sure to stir the mixture immediately after removing it from the microwave. I've been guilty of becoming distracted and letting the mixture cool without stirring. The sugar hardens into lumps and you have to re-boil it.

    Whiskey Sour

    • 1-1/2 oz. moderately-priced bourbon (such as Rebel Yell)
    • 2 oz. sweet-and-sour mix
    • 3 ice cubes, crushed
    • 1 maraschino cherry
    1. Combine bourbon, sweet-and-sour mix, and crushed ice in an Old Fashion glass.
    2. Garnish with a maraschino cherry
    Note: I'm not a fan of using expensive whiskey in mixed drinks, but I draw the line at cheap Canadian or other blended whiskeys. 

      Oven-Barbecued Spare Ribs

      This recipe takes a while to cook, but it's extremely easy and delicious. Plan ahead to make sure you allow yourself enough time!

      • Spare ribs
      • Salt
      • Freshly ground black pepper
      • Barbecue sauce
      1. Pre-heat oven to 350F.
      2. Place ribs on a double layer of aluminum foil. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
      3. Wrap tightly in foil, place in an oven-proof pan, and bake for 2 hours.
      4. Remove ribs from the oven and unwrap the foil.
      5. Baste both side liberally with barbecue sauce.
      6. Leaving the foil open, return ribs to oven, reduce heat to 325F, and bake for 45 more minutes.
      7. Remove ribs, slice, and serve.

      Friday, May 27, 2011

      Quick Dal

      Here's an easy dinner for one you can prepare on a weeknight when your refrigerator is looking pretty bare. If you don't have all these vegetables and spices on hand, you can improvise with whatever is available.

      • 1/3 c. rice
      • 2/3 c. water (for rice)
      • 1/2 c. lentils
      • 2 c. water (for lentils)
      • 2 T. safflower oil
      • 1/2 onion, diced
      • 3 stalks celery, chopped
      • 2 carrots, sliced
      • 1/4 t. ground cumin
      • 1/2 t. turmeric
      • 1/4 t. cayenne
      • 1/4 t. garlic powder
      • a pinch of ground cloves
      • a pinch of ground cardamom
      • a pinch of ground coriander
      • a pinch of salt
      1. Place rice and 2/3 cup water in a rice cooker and press "Start".
      2. Rinse and sort lentils.
      3. Put lentils in a medium saucepan with all spices except salt and add 2 cups water.
      4. Boil the lentils for 3 minutes, then reduce heat to low and cover.
      5. Heat safflower oil at medium in a skillet until it shimmers.
      6. Add onion, celery, and carrots to the skillet, stir well, then cover and cook until vegetables are soft (about 8 minutes).
      7. Remove cover, increase heat to medium-high, and brown the vegetables slightly, stirring occasionally.
      8. Add cooked vegetables to the lentils. Cook covered for 45 additional minutes.
      9. When lentils are done, add a pinch of salt and stir to mix.
      10. Serve lentils over rice.
      Yield: 1 serving

      It's a Mad Rush For the Exit

      Saturday, May 21, 2011

      Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri

      • 8 frozen strawberries
      • 9 ice cubes
      • 2 oz. lemon juice
      • 1 oz. lemon-lime soft drink
      • 2 T. sugar
      • 2 oz. light rum
      1. Place all ingredients in a blender.
      2. Blend until smooth.
      Yield: 1 very large or 2 modest-sized frozen daiquiris

        If you prefer to use fresh strawberries, trim and core them and freeze them. Otherwise the drink may not be "frozen" enough.

        Friday, May 20, 2011

        Grasshoppers: Pickup Number 2

        This week's bounty was as follows:
        • A bag of mixed salad greens
        • About 8 radishes (red and white)
        • 2 small bunches of Romaine lettuce
        • 2 bunches of bok choy
        • About 3/4 pint strawberries
        • Several good-sized green onions
        • 2 pork chops
        • A small section of baby back ribs
        I'd call that a pretty good haul! For supper last night I had salad greens with radishes and a carrot I had on hand. There are enough greens for a couple more such salads. I think the strawberries are headed for the blender--Friday is Daiquiri Night! (Party hearty before the Rapture!)

        Bok choy and green onions suggest a stir fry. Maybe that's what I'll do for Saturday supper. I could unthaw one of the pork chops (the meat comes frozen) as the meat for the stir fry. I'll want some other colors, so maybe I'll pick up a yellow and/or red pepper at the grocery tomorrow.

        I'm not an outdoor griller. I guess this is my opportunity to learn how to barbecue ribs in the oven! I'll have to research the process. I'll also need to obtain some barbecue sauce. I'll probably go with Mark's Feed Store or Moonlite brand.

        By the way, I did use last week's chicken to make fried chicken. I served it with green beans and I substituted pease porridge for the usual mashed potatoes. I lightened the porridge with a pureed head of cauliflower.

        Monday, May 16, 2011

        A Kitten Ate My Radio

        I just got a snazzy new Boston Acoustics clock radio for my bedroom. It has a digital tuner. That will eliminate my biggest gripe with the cheap units I've had in the past: station drift. It is so annoying to tune in a station only to have the signal be lousy with static the next time you turn on the radio.

        This unit has an internal AM antenna. It has a connector for an external FM antenna and comes with a basic "dangling wire" type antenna. Some radios embed the FM antenna in the power cord, but this gives me the option of hooking it up to a super-duper antenna should I wish to pull in weak, distant signals.

        I knew the moment I saw that wire antenna that I was in for trouble. My previous clock radio, a Sony, had just such an antenna. Gypsy chewed it off as soon as she noticed it.

        I tried using the new radio without the antenna attached, but there was no reception at all. I tried pushing the radio against the wall to make the antenna as inconspicuous as possible. That didn't work. When Gypsy saw the new unit, she sniffed at it, then spotted and started fishing for the antenna, which I removed and closed up in a drawer.

        The challenge now is to make the antenna cat-proof. My first thought was to encase the antenna in some kind of tubing. When I went grocery shopping at Meier I took a swing through the hardware section looking for some kind of tubing I could re-purpose. Everything I saw that I might be able to use was too expensive. I finally decided to buy a 50-foot length of 3/16-inch nylon rope. My plan is to tape together 3 pieces of rope to enclose and protect the antenna wire. I'll use Scotch tape to keep the ropes in place then wrap the whole thing in duct tape. I'm hoping that, even if Gypsy decides to chew on it, the rope will provide enough padding that she won't be able to bite through the antenna wire.

        All this is just further confirmation that a tirelessly destructive kitten can turn the simplest of tasks into a difficult project.

        Friday, May 13, 2011

        Rearranging My MST3K

        Currently I have my MST3K media arranged in 3 main areas:
        • Commercial DVDs on a shelf
        • DAP DVDs in a binder
        • DAP VCDs in a separate binder
        I'm considering merging them into a "Best Of All Possible Worlds" binder. It would be arranged from K00 (I wish) to 1013. Each slot would contain the best available recording of that episode. The idea of having the complete (well, in-complete) canon in one binder is very attractive. I'm slightly uneasy about depopulating my commercial packaging, though. It's not like I'd be throwing away the boxed sets, but still....

        Any thoughts you have on this project would be greatly appreciated.

        Tuesday, May 10, 2011

        Grasshoppers: Pickup Number 1

        I've signed up for shares in a community supported agriculture program called Grasshoppers Distribution. Every other week, I'll pick up a basket of produce and a meat item at Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Store a few miles from my house. My first pickup was last Thursday and here's what was in my produce basket:
        • 3 leeks
        • About 6 small bunches of arugula
        • 1/2 pint strawberries
        • A jar of salsa
        • A bottle of locally-produced soy sauce
        The truck with the meat was a bit late. I could have waited, but they said it was no problem for me to pick up my chicken the following week.

        I had the arugula as a salad with oil and vinegar dressing. It was very tender and mild--not peppery like store-bought arugula. I simmered the leeks with diced sweet onion in olive oil as a side dish. I had some of the salsa over shrimp as an appetizer last night. The tomato flavor was very deep and delicious. I'm not sure what I'll do with the strawberries. I might just eat them sliced over breakfast cereal. The soy sauce will no doubt be an ingredient in my daily savory oatmeal lunch.

        I often use chicken in spicy dishes, but I'd like to use this one in a dish that features the taste of the chicken itself. I'm thinking I'll do fried chicken--something I don't make all that often.

        Monday, May 2, 2011

        Cooking Experiment: Soy Sauce Substitute - Take 1

        As previously reported, I'm on a quest to formulate a truly low-sodium alternative to soy sauce specifically for use in my "savory oatmeal" recipe. If you've never checked the nutritional label on a bottle of soy sauce, take a look:

        My habitual lunch is oatmeal flavored with soy sauce, bacon bits, and cayenne pepper. I use at least 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, so the amount of sodium is huge. No wonder it's so delicious! I considered switching to low-sodium soy sauce, but it's not that much better:

        I did my first experiment last night to create a soy sauce substitute.

        Soy Sauce Substitute - Take 1

        • 2/3 c. chopped ginger root
        • 2 T.  salt-free chicken bouillon
        • 1/4 c.  Balsamic vinegar
        • 1 T. Blackstrap molasses
        • 1/4 t.  black pepper
        • 2 T.  chopped garlic
        • 2 c.  water
        • 1/4 t.  salt
        1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until liquified.
        2. Pour into a sauce pan and simmer very gently until reduced by 1/3. 

        After blending the ingredients, the volume was 3 cups. My ceramic-top stove isn't the greatest appliance for fine temperature control, so I was very cautious while reducing the sauce. It took about 30 minutes to reduce it to 2 cups. The resulting sauce is thick--about the consistency of steak sauce. I took a taste with a spoon. The flavor profile comes mostly from the Balsamic vinegar and the finish is peppery. I'll be trying it in some oatmeal shortly.

        I forgot to add fish sauce! That will hopefully go into my next experiment. Also, my grocery store only had salt-free chicken bouillon. I would have preferred beef.

        Doing the math, 1 T. of this sauce contains 18.5mg sodium. I'd be willing to up the salt addition a bit if it's necessary to improve the flavor.

        Post-Lunch Update

        It took 3 T. of the sauce to approximate the dosage of soy sauce that I'd normally add to my oatmeal. I added the usual bacon bits and cayenne. The taste was good but very subtle. Upon taking a bite, the taste of ginger comes through along with the flavor of the oatmeal itself. Then the cayenne kicks in and dominates. This is much different from using soy sauce, which completely masks the flavor of the oatmeal.

        Based on this test, I will give my next batch a little more punch.