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Emboldened by my success with the Pina Colada, I decided to try my hand at a strawberry daiquiri — inspired, in no small part, by the unbelievably gorgeous strawberries beckoning me from the farmer’s market. But after some unsuccessful tries I had to admit that maybe the strawberry daiquiri just wasn’t my thing. Rum and strawberries isn’t a combination that has enough wow factor to get me excited about making one.

A strawberry margarita, on the other hand? That’s a winner on a hot summer day. Strawberries and tequila, as it turns out, are a match made in a very boozy heaven.

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Strawberry Margarita
6 oz. strawberries, pureed in a blender (about 3/4 cup pureed strawberries)
10 T. white tequila
4 T. lime juice
3 T. Cointreau
2T. simple syrup

Get out your blender. Blend your strawberries first–try to get them pretty well pureed. Then add the tequila, lime juice, Cointreau, and simple syrup to the blender.  Blend some more.  Serve in an ice-filled glass with a salted rim (not shown here, but definitely recommended). Garnish with a small strawberry if desired.

Alternate serving suggestion: if you like frozen margaritas, add around 1 cup of ice to the blender, and skip the ice in the glasses.

On those blissful occasions when I find myself at a beachfront or poolside bar, my go-to cocktail is the mojito.  Others may swear by frozen drinks at the beach, but I contend that there’s nothing more refreshing than a fizzy, citrus-y, minty mojito.

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Mojito
Adapted from A Cup of Mai
~8 mint leaves
1.5 Tablespoons lime juice
1.5 Tablespoons simple syrup
2 ounces light rum
2-3 ounces club soda
Ice

Place mint leaves, lime juice, and simple syrup in the bottom of a sturdy glass.  Use a muddler (or a wooden spoon if you don’t have a muddler) to gently crush the mint into the liquid.  Add ice.  Pour white rum over the ice and top with club soda.  Stir gently before serving. Garnish with lime wedge if desired.

A couple of weeks ago, the soap door in our dishwasher decided that it would prefer not to open during the washing cycle, thanks all the same.  Since the machine was absolutely ancient (at least 20 years old) my landlord was unable to obtain replacement parts and decided to swap it out for a new one.

When we got the news about the new dishwasher, I saw a small window of opportunity to improve something about our apartment.  You see, I’ve been itching to move for over a year now, but the timing just hasn’t been right.  Consequently, I’ve been feeling a bit trapped and the things I don’t like about the apartment have really started to grate.

First and foremost?  The decor.  This apartment’s color scheme is beige and white.  Beige berber carpet (that is now very old and matted down, because berber carpet is famously difficult to clean*).  White walls (that we are not allowed to paint).  Beige Euro-style cabinets (see below) with beige countertops and a white paint “backsplash.”

This is what our kitchen cabinets look like.  No, you can't un-see it.  Image from (appropriately enough) UglyHousePhotos.com

This is what our kitchen cabinets look like. No, you can’t un-see them. Image from (appropriately enough) UglyHousePhotos.com

To say our apartment lacks personality is an insult to the personality-free.

So when my landlord said that they don’t make beige dishwashers anymore and he’d have to buy white, I screwed up my courage and said, timidly, “I think a white dishwasher might make the beige countertops and cabinets look a bit yellow?  And dingy?  What about a black dishwasher?  Or a stainless steel one, those are very popular.”

This suggestion was not appreciated.  My landlord looked at me with huge, wounded eyes and exclaimed, “But that would be UGLY!  It would be DARK and UGLY!  Everything needs to be bright and light!  No, no.  White will be best.**”  It was clear that the idea of a steel dishwasher was almost insulting to him — how dare I suggest putting something so horrible in his property?

That’s when it hit me.  This beige-on-white color scheme?  He did this on purpose!  He thinks this looks good!

Ever since, I’ve been wondering if I could renovate the apartment in a way that doesn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out, but that would satisfy our landlord’s need for “light and bright.”  To Pinterest!

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Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted here!  Well, it’s summer now and I think it’s time to start mixing some summer cocktails, don’t you?

My summer cocktail mixing got off to a slightly rocky start.  This weekend we happened to possess an excess of fresh pineapple.  So I did what any normal person would do: look up recipes for a non-mix pina colada!

I started with the recipe at Annie’s Eats and … it fell a bit flat.  All right, a lot flat.  The coconut was there, a nice hint of pineapple was there, but mostly my drink just tasted like icy rum.

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My first, unsuccessful pina colada

Puzzled, I read through the comments on the recipe.  I quickly realized where I’d gone wrong.  The original recipe called for “coconut cream,” which I found at Trader Joe’s.  Coconut cream is unsweetened. But the comments revealed that what the blogger actually uses in her pina colada is “cream of coconut,” which has been sweetened.  Yep.  Missing sugar would definitely account for the flatness of our original colada. (Hey coconut industry, why did you pick such confusingly similar names for these two products?!)

So what do you do if you want a pina colada and you’ve got coconut cream, but not cream of coconut?  Try my recipe!  False modesty aside, I think it’s pretty delicious.  I added simple syrup to compensate for my unsweetened coconut cream.  I also swapped dark rum for some of the light rum and added lime juice to give it even more oomph.

Pina Colada with Unsweetened Coconut Cream (makes 2)

1/4 C. coconut cream
5 Tablespoons simple syrup
1 T. milk
2 tsp. lime juice
1/2 C. fresh chopped pineapple
3/4 C. frozen chopped pineapple
2 oz. light rum
1 oz. dark rum
1 C. ice, crushed if cubes are large

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Enjoy!

I found it!  I’ve finally found it!

See, after trying and loving Smitten Kitchen’s blood orange margarita, I was craving a vodka-martini version that would really show off the blood orange’s subtle flavor (and look amazing in a martini glass).  I tried a bunch of different recipes from the Internet but nothing quite scratched my itch.  (Also, once again, Internet, I need to remind you that “buy blood orange martini mix and combine with vodka” is not a cocktail recipe.)

The unsatisfactory recipes all had one problem in common: too much Cointreau. “Is too much Cointreau even possible?!” you cry.  I know, I know, I was surprised too.  But Cointreau is powerful stuff, guys.  Add too much and it completely overwhelms every other flavor in your cocktail — especially if you’re starting with a base that’s already orange-flavored.

So I tinkered on my own and finally discovered what I think is the right formula. Ignore all of those recipes that have equal amounts of vodka and Cointreau.  If what you want is a drink that tastes like a boozy blood orange — instead of a Cointreau-flavored drink that uses the blood orange for color and not much else — this is the recipe for you.

Petite Chablis Blood Orange Martini

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2 oz blood orange juice, fresh-squeezed
1.5 oz vodka
0.25 oz (1/2 Tablespoon) fresh lime juice
1 tsp simple syrup
1 tsp Cointreau or triple sec

Shake all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and strain into a martini glass.  For a smoother texture, strain the blood orange juice through a mesh strainer before adding it to the cocktail shaker (the strainer on the lid of the cocktail shaker will filter out most of the pulp, but not all of it).

Note: these were particularly dark blood oranges, so don’t worry if your cocktail isn’t quite this color.  The flavor will still be amazing.

If my home bar could only contain one item, I would choose bourbon without a second thought — which is probably why I’m so damned picky when it comes to my bourbon cocktails.  More often than not, I’ll try out a promising recipe for a bourbon cocktail and end up wishing I were just drinking Bulleit straight.

I know, my life is hard.

But this cocktail?  This heavenly mixture of fresh ginger, lemon, bourbon and sparkling water?  This is going into my regular rotation.  It’s easy, it’s inexpensive, and it’s delicious.

Sparkling Whiskey Gingerade

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Recipe at the Bonjon Gourmet

I didn’t have any agave, so I substituted 1.5 ounces of simple syrup and was very happy with the result.  If you do make this with agave, let me know how it turns out!

And, as long as I’m shamelessly taking advantage of other peoples’ cocktail genius, I tried Smitten Kitchen’s Blood Orange Margarita last week. (No photos — what can I say, the drinks looked too yummy to wait!)  Deb’s recipe is really good, but I liked the drink even better when I used 3 tablespoons of lime juice and 2 tablespoons of Cointreau.  I thought the taste of the blood orange came through better with less sweetness and more acidity — but remember, I’m a sour-mouth, so if you like your cocktails sweet try Deb’s version first.

Finale time, folks.  Would Kristen become the first LCK winner to take the title?  (Because if so, uh, that didn’t take long.)  Or would super-dominant Brooke continue her streak of awesome food and become Top Chef?

Specific notes on the courses and on the winner in the comments!

1.  What is this X-Factor crap?

I knew this was going to be a weird finale as soon as I saw Padma standing in that dark, awkwardly lit stadium.  When I saw that the judges would be eating at a table that looks EXACTLY like the damned table on American Idol/The X-Factor/every other crappy reality contest ever, I cringed.  I watch Top Chef because it’s so tonally different from those shows, Bravo, not despite that.

So.  Production-wise not my favorite Top Chef finale ever.  I’d rather see the finalists cooking in a restaurant.  I was extra-unhappy that they apparently didn’t tell Brooke and Kristen about this twist.  I also wasn’t sure how to feel about the head-to-head, first-to-three-points-wins approach.  I wanted my five courses of food porn, dammit.

2.  How were the teams chosen?

If you’d told me one team would contain Josh, Lizzie, and Sheldon, and the other would consist of CJ, Kuniko, and Stefan, I would have bet real money that the first team was Brooke’s and the second team was Kristen’s.  I would have lost that money.  The contestants hinted at why they chose these teams in a voiceover but I would have liked to learn more about how the two teams got assembled.  It would have been more interesting than the awkwardly edited retrospectives on Kristen and Brooke.  (Do they really expect that people who didn’t watch the season are going to tune in for the finale and need a recap?)

3.  Stephanie Izard still rules.

When Gail asked that annoying “share your tiara” question about whether Stephanie was ready for the show’s second female winner, she didn’t miss a beat before saying it was about time.  She also showed an appropriate hint of contempt for the question.  Love you, Stephanie!

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