Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Martini for All Seasons: Pomegranate

Whether it's Christmas or the Fourth of July, pomegranate martinis flaunt the essence of perfection. The gorgeous deep ruby-magenta liquid tastes divine and makes them my choice for any occasion. But beware; the luscious smooth drink also packs a powerful punch.

Christmas Day Martini

Seems pomegranates burst on the scene about 5-10 years ago, but according to the Pomegranate Council, they've been around for 4,000 years.  The fruit bangs out walloping high levels of vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants, fiber, and is low in calories. The popular brand Pom supplies grocery stores with pomegranate juice in a variety of flavor combinations.

Party planners find the red hue ideal for themed drinks during Christmas holidays, Valentine's Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and even Veteran's Day. At Thanksgiving simply can add one jigger of cranberry juice. Sadly, these drinks don't fulfill the needs for St. Patrick's Day or Halloween, but so many other libations do. Anytime you need a reddish-purple drink accent, make pomegranate martinis the special of the day.
Memorial Day, Veteran's Day or the 4th of July Martini 

My personal martini recipe contains vodka although you can substitute gin if that is your preference. Since I live in St. Augustine, I use St. Augustine Vodka from the hometown distillery. It's made with Florida-grown sugarcane. The recipe is versatile depending on your tastes. One friend prefers orange juice in place of Grand Mariner, and I've also filled in with fresh lemon juice although that tastes a bit tarter.

To prepare: Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and then add two jiggers of vodka, one of Grand Mariner, one of Pomegranate liqueur and two jiggers of plain pomegranate juice.  Shake, strain and pour into a martini glass. 

My choice ingredients: Pama Pomegranate Liqueur, St. Augustine Vodka, Grand Mariner and Pom Juice

I prefer to float pomegranate seeds in the glass; however, an orange slice works well. Use a lemon or lime as garnish if that is all you have. For other cocktails made with pomegranate juice check out the recipes from Pom: Pom Cocktails.

An open pomegrante  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Pomegranates keep very well while in season, therefore, they add color in a fruit bowl and make lovely holiday decorations. Getting to the seeds is a bit tricky, but here's the easiest way. Cut the fruit into a few sections. Submerge each section in a bowl of water and use your fingers to ease the seeds free. Strain when done.  Forget juicing - I think it is much easier to buy the precious liquid. 

Did you know: The name "pomegranate" derives from the Middle French "pomme garnete" - literally "seeded apple." It is sometimes referred to as a Chinese apple. Many scholars believe that the forbidden - yet irresistible - fruit in which Eve indulged within the Garden of Eden was a pomegranate (and not an apple). Pomegranates have been used as symbols of prosperity, hope, and abundance in every part of the world."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Baking a Flourless Chocolate Cake with Kyra

Kyra, my ten year old granddaughter, is becoming quite the chef. She is a devoted Food Network watcher and loves to help her Mom in the kitchen.  I recently made a visit to her home in New Jersey  and while her parents we out, we got to baking. I adored spending time with her this way and we were proud of our finished product.

Our finished Flourless Chocolate Cake

Since I attempt to stay gluten free, I brought a recipe for a flourless chocolate cake which I found online from Viking River Cruises. We assembled the ingredients and got out both the mixer and the food processor.

The Batter
Other than using many bowls, the preparation was fairly simple: pulverize some of the nuts, melt the chocolate in the microwave and beat in the eggs one at a time.  The batter was firm, loaded with both ground and chopped walnuts. We baked our cake in a springform pan as directed, and had no problems with sticking.

After it cooled, we sprinkled on confectioner's sugar and topped it with fresh raspberries.  We decided the cake would taste best from the refrigerator. We also think it should be served with vanilla ice cream as it is very dense and rich in chocolate.

Licking the beater!


Flourless Chocolate Cake

from Viking River Cruises

Ingredients

6 T unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 C walnut pieces
3/4 C & 1 T walnuts, chopped
8 oz dark chocolate, chopped
3 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 C granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Garnish
Chocolate shavings
Raspberries with sauce

Baked Cake Cooling

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease an 8-inch springform pan with a small amount of butter and set aside. Place 2/3 C of walnuts in work bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Set aside. Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat on high in a microwave at 30-second intervals, stirring between intervals, until chocolate has melted and is smooth. Set aside. In a medium bowl stir together cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until mixture has turned pale and creamy, about 5 minutes. Spoon in chocolate and vanilla and beat until just blended. Fold in ground walnuts, chopped walnuts, and cocoa powder mixture. Pour into prepared springform pan and bake until cooked through, about 35 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Run a small knife around edge before releasing sides of springform pan. Serve at room temperature and garnish with chocolate shavings and raspberries in raspberry sauce. (We just used fresh raspberries.)

The recipes claims it makes 8-10 servings, but you could get at least 12 servings. This is a rich cake!
Store it in the refrigerator- it keeps well.

I suspect the perfect location to eat it is on a Viking River Cruise, but that wasn't an option!
Kyra puts on the finishing touches

Monday, April 6, 2015

Fruitland Augusta Peach Vodka: A Masterful History Lesson

It's Master's Week in Augusta!
Fruitland Augusta Peach Vodka and Peach Tea


Celebrate with Fruitland Augusta Peach Vodka:


Please click on the above link to read my story about this fantastic spirit.



Sunday, April 5, 2015

Louisiana Food Fantasy

A traveler in Louisiana will find a fantasy of food choices among Cajun and Creole cuisine , including casual or elegant.  The southern state receives a bounty of seafood from the Gulf and numerous dishes feature fish or shellfish, but watch out - many are fried. Don't leave Louisiana without tasting beignets, boudin, Bananas Foster, cafe au lait, cracklins, crawfish, etouffee, gumbo, Hoppin John, Hurricanes, King Cake, Oysters Rockefeller, Po Boys, pralines and of course, Tabasco sauce.






























Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tequila Time


While a margarita is one of my favorite cocktails, I learned during a trip to Riviera Maya, Mexico that good tequila is sipped plain - without the other ingredients like Cointreau, lemon and lime juice.  I attended a few tequila tastings and naturally found the most expensive brands tasted best.

Tequila is a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 40 miles northwest of Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. 

The red volcanic soil in the surrounding region is particularly well suited to the growing of the blue agave, and more than 300 million of the plants are harvested there each year. Agave tequila grows differently depending on the region, just like grapes used for wine. Blue agaves grown in the highlands region are larger in size and sweeter in aroma and taste. Agaves harvested in the lowlands, on the other hand, have a more herbaceous fragrance and flavor.
Blue Agave Plant


Mexican laws state that tequila can be produced only in the state of Jalisco and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. The United States officially recognizes that spirits called "tequila" can only be produced in Mexico, although by agreement bulk amounts can be shipped to be bottled in the U.S.

Tequila is strong stuff: most often made at a 38–40% alcohol content (76–80 U.S. proof), but can be produced between 31 and 55% alcohol content (62 and 110 U.S. proof).

Various Tequilas in Mexico

There are also different types of tequila depending on the aging. Tequila Silver or Blanco is the blue agave spirit in its purest form. It is clear and typically un-aged.

A Reposado Tequila is the first stage of "rested and aged". This type is aged in wood barrels or storage tanks between 2 months and 11 months. The spirit takes on a golden hue and the taste becomes a good balance between the agave and wood flavors.

Tequila Añejo (extra aged) must be aged for at least one year before it can be classified as an "Añejo". The distillers are required to age Añejo Tequila in barrels that do not exceed 600 liters. This aging process darkens the Tequila to an amber color, and the flavor can become smoother, richer, and more complex.

Tequila Extra Añejo (ultra aged)
A new classification added in the summer of 2006, labeling any Tequila aged more than 3 years, an "Extra Añejo". Following the same rule as an "Añejo", the distillers must age the spirit in barrels or containers with a maximum capacity of 600 liters. With this extended aging, the Tequila becomes much darker; more of a mahogany color, and is so rich that it becomes difficult to distinguish it from other quality aged spirits. After the aging process, the alcohol content must be diluted by adding distilled water. These Extra Añejo’s are extremely smooth and complex.
Tequila is sold in all shapes and sizes

I was sent a small bottle of Damascus Process Tequila to taste and really found it quite wonderful and smooth for sipping. It was only afterward that I read that the Damascus Process uses the cheapest and most impure tequilas on the market and washes and filters the liquor five times.  Amazing.

A team of chemists at Capjem, a culinary science research and development organization, developed a technique to purify alcohol by washing it with fat. The end result is a high quality liquor like top shelf brands. Capjem is the only company in history to successfully develop a process to clean alcohol, by pulling impurities from the liquor, yet maintaining the integrity. Imagine taking poor quality anything and transforming it into top of the line. That's magic!
I also tried the Damascus Process Vodka which had to be washed and filtered ten times. I am not usually a vodka drinker, so I can't compare it to other brands, but I was able to drink it straight without a burning feeling in my mouth or throat.

I still have one taste test to go: Damascus Process Artisanal Amaretto. It starts with their purified vodka and adds a special Sicilian family combination of spices and flavors.  I suspect I will love it as well. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Urthbox: Delivered to your Door



Like all good holiday packages, the Urthbox is delivered directly to your house. It's full of healthy and tasty surprises.  An Urthbox subscription for one or more months would make a terrific giftant time of  the year; a gift that is sure to be used.
Gluten Free Samples from Urthbox

I was sent a sample of gluten-free foods and found two of each of the following:

Gourmet Popcorn: Rouge Blue Cheese
Laiki Black Rice Crackers - a 100 calorie pack
Snap Infusion Supercandy New York Date Cashew Bar (love the ingredients: Dates, cashews)
Smarty Pants Gummies
Super Fruit Chews
Blueberry Pomegranate Clusters
Goldbaum's Barbeque Quinoa Crisps
Hana Raspberry Shortbread Cookies
GURU Natural Energy Drink- 1 can

Since tomorrow is a travel day, I am set to stay gluten free while I fly cross country. Plus, I really enjoy trying new products and Urthbox is a fun way to do just that.

The company is focusing on Non-GMO, Organic and All Natural products. Every month they surprise you with fantastic full size products that must pass strict ingredient, sourcing, calorie, nutrition and manufacturing standards. The box has a retail value of up to $100.

Full Size Products come in an Urthbox

Select a box size and choose from one month, three month, six month, or twelve month subscriptions. Select from Classic, Gluten-Free, Vegan or Diet box options, which ever is right for you. Plus, you can purchase more of what you love at member discounts. Earn big loyalty points for every purchase, redeemable at the UrthBox Shop.

Right now Urthbox is offering a discount code for $10 off!
Just use: CRUNCHWEEK. 

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Disclosure: Many thanks to  Urthbox for sending the samples.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Autumn Tian of Beets, Potatoes and Tomatoes



From Martha Stewart's Living Magazine, October 2014

First of all, I needed to know what a “tian” was.  Definition: a dish of finely chopped vegetables cooked in olive oil and then baked au gratin or a large oval earthenware cooking pot traditionally used in Provence.

MY ROASTED AUTUMN TIAN

While flipping through ta copy of Living Magazine, I saw a gorgeous photo of this recipe and decided I had to try it.  I love beets and thought it looked like an impressive dish to take to a party or serve guests. I think it would look lovely on a Thanksgiving table or Christmas buffet.

THOUGHTS FROM MY KITCHEN AFTER MAKING THE DISH: 

The preparation takes a bit of time, but THAT was expected to get the photo worthy result.

While I truly enjoyed the taste, I think I would leave out the tomatoes and add more onions next time. I would also cut down on the amount of olive oil.

When I reheated the dish the following day, I believe it tasted even more delicious.  This side dish keeps well.

Thumbs up: With modifications, I will make it again. 

I cut the portions down slightly, so my stacks are not overlapped like the original photo.

Autumn Tian

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours (takes a while for the beets to roast and then cool.)
Serves 6-8

INGREDIENTS:

1-pound beets (about 3 medium), preferably a mix of red and golden, trimmed and scrubbed. (I couldn’t find any golden.)

1 medium onion, thinly sliced (Next time two!)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil  (cut down to 4)

1-tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (about 2 medium) peeled and cut into ¼ inch slices

1-pound plum tomatoes (about 3) cut crosswise into ¼ inch slices


 
My dish before roasting it in the oven. 

DIRECTIONS:

1.    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap beets in parchment-lined foil. Roast on a baking sheet until tender about 1 hour, 20 minutes.  Let cool completely. Peel and cut crosswise into ¼ inch slices. (I did this early in the day- in my toaster oven.)

2.    Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss onion with 1-tablespoon oil and half the thyme. Season with salt and pepper and arrange on the bottom of a 3-quart round or oval gratin dish. 

3.    On a cutting board, stack 1 slice each potato, beet and tomato. Season with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining vegetables, keeping each stack separate.  Transfer stacks to baking dish and overlap slightly.  Sprinkle with remaining thyme and drizzle 2 tablespoons oil.  Cover tightly with parchment-lined foil.


4.    Bake 30 minutes.  Uncover; drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons oil (use less.)  Bake, uncovered until vegetables are tender and tomatoes are caramelized, about 35 minutes more. Let cool slightly before serving.