Guest post: Citrus Spritzers from D

Citrus Spritzers*

D here, guest writing. I have a longstanding love of cocktails and think that home bartending is just a fun hobby to have, so when the “citrus spritzers” recipe came up here, G asked me to collaborate. The recipe isn’t available online, so here’s it is (if you’ve got a set of The Stripes at home, this is p. 74 of No. 45, though the picture is on p. 72):

Cheers!

Cheers!

*Adapted from Everyday Food, September 2007

-2 cups fresh orange juice (from 6 oranges), strained
-1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons), strained
-1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 2 limes), strained
-2/3 cup superfine sugar
-4 cups seltzer or club soda
-1 ounce vodka per serving (optional)
– Orange, lemon or lime slices, for garnish (optional)

When G and I looked at this recipe we knew were going to make this a boozy version, but vodka seemed like a total copout. I’ve actually had good luck with Martha Stewart’s cocktail recipes in general and the Everyday Food “Happy Hour” section in particular. The Happy Hour is where I first discovered the way to make a proper Lemon Shandy which is kind of a curse, because once you’ve had it you’ll never be able to drink any pre-made “shandy” type beer again. The “Happy Hour” is also where I was introduced to miracle that is Tequila & Tonic. It’s 5,000% better than you’d think it is – trust Martha on this one.  Throwing vodka in this just seemed uninspired, so we decided to have our own tasting to audition the best spirit to add in here.

G made up the mixture and then I set up a flight-style tasting, using the stated proportions to make little tiny cocktails in sake cups for G and I to audition. I was glad we were so methodical, because pairing a spirit with the spritzer base turned out to be much harder than anticipated. Here’s the contenders:

It's a tough job...

It’s a tough job…

The first that we tried is white rum – we used Flor de Cana 4 year old, because that’s what I had on hand. It was serviceable, but the flavor of the rum didn’t really come through, and the whole thing just kind of ended up tasting like a wan beach drink from a TGI Fridays. Since we jettisoned the suggested vodka in search of something more flavorful, this wasn’t what we were hoping for.

Next we tried it with a silver tequila, in this case Leyenda del Milagro (at about $20 a bottle a phenomenal value if you can find it). This was decent, but something was missing. The tequila/lime/orange flavors made it very similar to a classic margarita, but the addition of the lemon and the effervescence of the club soda made the whole thing kind of odd: it ended up tasting like someone had poured 7Up into your margarita. Surprisingly, the white rum was actually better.

Two other things to note before declaring the winner. I drug the bottle of Tanqueray out of the freezer mostly as a lark: huge mistake. Imagine a band doing a cover of the Snoop classic “Gin and Juice” in Spanish, and then imagine resulting song as a cocktail. Horrible. Also falling into the “bad idea” category was mescal (far right). If you know what mescal is and like it, don’t waste your time here – the spritzer base is  too sweet and clashes with the smokiness of the mescal. If you don’t know what mescal is, now is not the time to learn. Move along.

So the winner was a reposado tequila. Tequilas generally fall into three rough categories: 1) silver or “blanco” which are not aged or have been aged only slightly, 2) reposado tequilas, which have been aged between 2 months and a year in oak barrels, and 3) anejo tequilas, those aged over a year.  Like aged whiskies, tequilas take on a woody, smoky character from the wood in the barrels, and the bite of the alcohol tends to mellow.  Anejo tequilas run to the pricey side, and generally should be sipped on their own. But there are excellent reposados available at reasonable prices if you know what you’re looking for, and they can be just what a cocktail calls for. Reposados tend to be much less smoky than a mescal, so they can be easier to mix and more crowd pleasing than a mescal cocktail, which is often an acquired taste (G has yet to acquire this taste for the most part).

Espolon is fairly widely available and their reposado tequila is an inexplicably good value at about $23 a bottle.  I think they just break into other distilleries and steal this stuff or something. Go track it down and mix it into your spritzer (and your margarita the next time you make one). The aged character comes through just enough to give the drink some character, but it doesn’t overwhelm the base: the fresh sweetness and the acidity of the juices still comes nicely into balance. The seltzer gives the whole thing an effervescence that makes these dangerously easy to drink. Even G, whose tolerance for smoky alcohol is about 1/1000th of mine, declared this one the clear winner.

So go get yourself some Espolon Reposado and have a couple of these. We still need a name for this magic elixir, so get drunk and suggest one in the comments.

(Alright, Bear: I contributed. The ball is in your court to write something, or you’re going to look like a slacker!)

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Finding balance

Apricot and Cheddar Chicken Melt with Apple, Grape, and Celery Salad

apricot and cheddar melt with side of apple, celery, and grape salad

yin and yang and cheese

This, my friends, is why I lov(ed) Everyday Food.  A chicken apricot cheddar melt.  That’s not a recipe you see everyday (pardon the indirect pun).  Everyday Food was a great magazine for interesting and creative recipes that didn’t require liquid nitrogen.  This recipe takes a chicken sandwich and makes it a wonderfully balanced, sweet-and-salty treat.  You take a baguette, spread it with apricot preserves, add a marinated and broiled piece of chicken and some deli ham and some white cheddar, then broil again to melt the cheese.  That’s the basics, but I really need to break this recipe down to showcase its genius.

(If you’re really especially interested in this recipe, you may also want to check out the video that Sarah Carey did.)

First, the baguette.  The recipe calls for you to cut up one long baguette, but I came up with a fun substitute.  I bought a couple of rolls from the Vietnamese bakery in my neighborhood (sometime, when I’m thinking of abandoning ship and moving to the suburbs, I need to reread that sentence…”I bought a couple of rolls from the Vietnamese bakery in my neighborhood”).  This place sells banh mi and the rolls of french bread they go on.  The rolls are $1 for a roughly 8-10 inch roll.  Such a deal.  It’s about the size of the roll your sandwich comes on at Jimmy John’s, if that helps.  A base of tasty french bread helps ground the sandwich.  It’s just crunchy enough to hold on to chicken and gooey cheese, but with just enough softness to keep the aforementioned goo from rocketing off of the bread the second you bit into it.

Second, the apricot preserves.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that just about any sweet and sour jam, preserves, or jelly would be good here.  I’m thinking peach, pineapple (aka sundae topping masquerading as jam), and maybe cherry or blackberry, depending on how sweet they are.  Traditional strawberry or grape would be far too sweet.  I could definitely see hot pepper jelly on this one for a hot and sweet variation.  Either way, the sweet and sour jam balances the salt in the cheese and the savory chicken.  It also adheres the chicken to that lovely baguette.  Sarah Carey makes her own apricot jam in the video.  Good for her…

Third, the marinated chicken and the deli ham.  In a lesser recipe, this would have been just any old cooked piece of chicken.  The marinade elevates this piece of meat.  It is made from white-wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic cloves, and salt and pepper.  The marinade adds some tang from the mustard and keeps the chicken from being bland. I can’t remember how long I marinated the meat.  The recipe says you can marinate up to 24 hours in the fridge.  The recipe calls you to split four chicken breasts in half horizontally to make two big, flat pieces of chicken.  It’s somewhat frightening to drag a knife a mere inch underneath the flesh of your palm.  Sarah shows this in the video.  She either has a way sharper knife than me or no fear.  The ham adds a certain hamness that only ham can provide.  If you love ham, you’ll understand that last sentence.  If not, think of it as adding salt.

Finally, the cheese.  B lives in the land of white cheddar.  I do not.  Also, as long as I’m on the subject of things I can’t find at the store that Everyday Food calls for, can some other cooks from outside of New England please back me up when I say that those chocolate wafer cookies do not exist?  How many recipes call for those things?  So so so many.  Have I ever seen them at the store?  No.  I’m starting to think they are an East Coast thing or a prank.  Back to the sandwich.  You take those well-balanced ingredients and broil them all to hot, tasty, crunchy, yet gooey perfection.  What a sandwich!

For as much as this is a balanced sandwich, it’s balanced richness.  In steps the salad.  This salad is fresh and bright.  It cuts through the richness of the sandwich.  It is a Waldorf salad without the mayo. D actually recognized it as a Waldorf salad without being prompted.  It is nicely balanced on its own between the bitter, crunchy celery and the sweet, softer grapes and apples.  Plus pecans. Pecans for the sake of…pecan-ness.  (I’ve used the word “hamness” and “pecan-ness” in this post.  This project is highlighting the gaps in my vocabulary)  Is there a word for that nut texture just shy of crunchy?  Whatever the word is, that’s what it adds.  Then you balance the sweet fruit and bitter veggie with a sour dressing and it all comes together.  I could see bringing this recipe to a picnic in the summer.  It doesn’t have any mayonnaise, so you (read: me) wouldn’t have to stress out about leaving it out.

Healthy Oatmeal Cookies

www.marthastewart.com/315977/healthy-oatmeal-cookies

September 2007, pg. 58

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I have to admit that once again, I went rogue on this recipe.  The first major issue was that the recipe did not call for cinnamon.  I mean, who ever heard of an oatmeal cookie that didn’t have cinnamon?  I had to remedy that.  I added a teaspoon.  Second, I added craisins instead of raisins or dried currants.  Third, I used coconut oil instead of vegetable oil.  And finally, I used the quick-cooking oats.  Mostly because I was half way through the recipe before realizing I had the wrong oats.

I noticed that my dough yielded far fewer cookies than the recipe claims.  It says it makes 18 – 20 and I got 13.  I would also say that I was a little conservative on the two tablespoon size cookie balls. If I hadn’t been I might have gotten 10?  Maybe this is all an issue because I used the wrong oats but it is hard to say.  

Once they were out of the oven, I did enjoy them.  I had mine with a nice cup of ginger tea.  I wouldn’t say they are better than standard butter filled oatmeal cookies, but they were pretty tasty for being “healthy”.

Help me get rid of these noodles

Thai beef salad

thai beef salad with rice noodles

I am desperately jealous of anyone whose box lunch looks like this.

This illustrates something that I have an issue with (some pun intended) in Everyday Food magazine.  I don’t know who has the time to make these wonderful lunches and breakfasts.  The lunch column is called “lunchbox,” which, to me, connotes that you make this ahead of time and pack as a lunch.  This recipe probably legitimately does take only 15 minutes, but that still seems like a lot for a boxed lunch.  I don’t typically “prepare” a lunch so much as I throw leftovers into a container or maybe make a sandwich and toss in a piece of fruit.  All that having been said, this is a tasty meal.

Using deli roast beef really does save a lot of time and impart a lovely flavor.  The dressing: lime juice, veggie oil, sugar, and Thai red curry paste, is wonderful.  Plus, any chance I get to eat rice noodles makes me feel like I’m getting a take-out treat.

Here’s a question for our readers (we know you’re out there!):  What can I do with all of these leftover rice noodles?  This recipe uses a whopping two ounces of noodles.  This is the second time D and I have made this recipe.  The last time, the leftover noodles sat in our pantry for years before we threw them out.  I don’t want this to happen again.  I also don’t really want to make pad thai.  I like for pad thai to be a special meal that I only get as takeout.  Like crab rangoons.  Could I make them at home?  I guess.  But, why?  So what can I make to use up these rice noodles?

Un-split shift and the best “fried” shrimp ever

“Split Shift”: recipes that were supposed to be made part in the morning and part in the evening…

  • Steak with peanut sauce and broccoli
  • Crispy shrimp with tartar sauce and red-cabbage slaw
  • Black-bean tostadas with corn relish

Steak with peanut sauce and broccoli

Steak with peanut sauce and broccoli

Steak? Money’s too tight for steak. Steak?

Ok, this one I actually did part the day before and part the evening of.  The trouble with these “split shift” recipes is that they assume you have more time in the morning than in the evening.  I’m not sure for whom this is true.  People who work the late shift or odd hours, I guess. People without children.  People with excellent time-management skills.  None of these things describe me.  I do think they could be split over a couple days.  This recipe, for example, is a good one to split over a couple days.  I marinated the steak and prepped the broccoli on day one, then broiled the steak and steamed the broccoli on day two.  The recipe only takes 30 minutes…total.  So that’s an easy maybe 15-20 minutes one evening then finish it up the next.  Not bad.

How does it taste?  Do you like peanut sauce?  Me too!!!  The one thing I will say is that flank steak can be a little tough.  This was no exception.  A nicer cut of steak would have made this less of a chore to cut and eat.

Ah, but I came up with an awesome thing to do with the leftovers.

cut up steak with broccoli and peanut sauce in small tortillas

This must be blurred because I was too excited to eat it.

I also had small tortillas on hand for the tostadas, so I heated up the steak and broccoli, piled it into tortillas, drizzled it with a little leftover sauce, and had asian steak tacos.  These were so good.  Plus, once you’re eating it with your hands and teeth, the difficulty cutting it with a knife isn’t an issue any more.

Crispy shrimp with tartar sauce and red-cabbage slaw

shrimp, lemon wedges, red cabbage slaw, tartar sauce and a beer

Is your mouth watering? Mine is.

Get ready to hear me gush.  D and I keep an index card of all of our favorite Everyday Food recipes.  It acts as a sort of index, but not every recipe makes it on there.  Only the best.  Let me put it this way: There are 98 issues, and we have maybe 20 recipes on that index card.  This recipe is index card worthy.

What makes it so special is the breading on those shrimp.  I’m the first one to be suspicious of the idea that baked things can taste just like something that’s fried.  I’m not going to go quite that far.  However, this is as close as you can get to crispy fried shrimp without busting out the oil.  I’ll stand by that.  The slaw is also lovely.  It’s just Dijon mustard, oil, and lemon juice with the red onion and cabbage.  That would be good on its own.  You could bring that to a picnic and feel like a hero.  The tartar sauce is nice.  It reminds me of the ersatz tartar sauce we used to make when I was a kid to go with fish sticks, mayonnaise and pickle relish.  This is obviously classier: chopped pickles, fresh parsley, fresh lemon juice…  The shrimp is the real star.  It’s even worth buying panko crumbs for even though you KNOW you’re never going to use that stuff again until it gets stale.

I didn’t make this 1/2 in the morning, 1/2 in the evening or over two days or anything.  It doesn’t take too long to do in one evening.

Black bean tostadas with corn relish

Topped with the corn and avocado

Topped with the corn and avocado

I can sum this one up quite quickly: lots of work for little reward.  I did this one all in one night also.  Taking care of the corn relish, veggie prep, and cheese ahead of time would have saved some effort.  I’ll grant them that.

tortilla, beans, cheese (waiting on vegetables)

tortilla, beans, cheese (waiting on vegetables)

This just isn’t a very special recipe.  It reminds me of the Jim Gaffigan routine about working at a Mexican restaurant in Iowa.  “What’s a tostada?”  “Tortilla, meat, cheese, vegetables?”  “What are tacos?” “Tortilla, meat, cheese, vegetables”  Change that to tortilla, beans, cheese, vegetables, and that’s what we have here.  It’s just nothing to write home about.

In Case You’ve Ever Wondered What 10 lbs of Tomatoes Looks Like…

Fresh Tomato Sauce

September 2007, pg. 44

So many tomatoes, surrounded by some truly massive kale leaves.

So many tomatoes, surrounded by some truly massive kale leaves.

Needless to say, this recipe was one that we struggled to get to.  Not because it wasn’t something that sounded delicious, but because it required 10 lbs of fresh ripe tomatoes.  This, of course, would be perfect if either of us had a garden and all of our tomatoes were ripening at the same moment.  However, neither G nor I have the luxury of what you could really call a yard.  And so, we were at the mercy of the supermarket or farm stands (I don’t think they have many farm stands in the city where G lives…).  The Bear I live with and I went to see his mother who has access to a truly impressive variety of farm stands and bought a bushel of sauce tomatoes for some insanely low price!  She stocked us up for next to nothing with beautiful red tomatoes.  And finally, I could take on the daunting task of making this sauce.

The other issue I encountered with this recipe is the size of my kitchen.

This kitchen is nothing to joke about.

This kitchen is nothing to joke about.

Not only do I have next to no counter space, I have nowhere near the amount of cupboard space needed to store my admittedly excessive supply of cookware and kitchen accessories.  I have had to rig out an armoire to hold my larger pots/pans and all my tupperware, and took over the coat closet to make a makeshift pantry which also holds my food processor and kitchen aid, as well as a number of baking dishes.

Ideally, I would have had a nice big island with a range so I could have set up a processing area.  The tomatoes could have gone straight from boiling water to ice bath to sheet pan to cool.  Then next to that I would have had a garbage bowl for all the skins and seeds, next to a cutting board, next to a giant bowl to hold all the tomato “meat” before it is returned to the pot with the onions and garlic.  Alas!  I don’t even want to tell you what my situation looked like but it wasn’t pretty.  I think I was just lucky that most of the tomatoes didn’t end up on the floor.

When it actually came down to the recipe the only major alteration I made was adding extra garlic.  The recipe called for 6 cloves. I did 10.  It was good.  It was actually really good.  And if not for the whole ordeal leading up to eating it, I would probably make it again.  I do think you could make a similar taste by using whole canned tomatoes.

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I served that wily sauce with thin spaghetti as recommended in the issue and I also did a quick chicken breast with some of the sauce and a couple slices of fresh mozzarella to make a fry-less chicken parmesan.  It was a really satisfying dinner.  And it felt quite healthy and wholesome.  I sort of wish the process had made more sauce than it did, because after saucing a lb of pasta and my chicken I was only left with about 2 cups so there wasn’t really enough to “put by” in the old fashioned sense.  If I do someday end up with an excess of tomatoes, I’ll know what to do with it.  And hopefully I will have a better kitchen by then!

Italian for “why am I buying these?”

Pasta with turkey meatballs and bocconcini

The best pasta is shiny pasta

The best pasta is shiny pasta

This recipe is delicious.  It is such a great comfort food choice.  It has the turkey meatballs that are tasty without being so rich and heavy as meatballs made with pork.  It has grape tomatoes, which really do take on a nice flavor when you heat them.  It has pasta.  It has butter.  It has cheese.  Sold.

Let’s talk about the cheese.  This recipe is a “have you tried” recipe.  So I felt compelled to follow the instructions and use bocconcini.  Well, I think for this one I used one of the other sizes of tiny mozzarella balls.  I think maybe it started with “C.”  Like I said in my last post about the mini pizzas, I just can’t see why you couldn’t cut fresh mozzarella into cubes to use in these recipes.  Even the introductory information in the magazine says that these are just small pieces of fresh mozzarella.  Yeah, they’re cute, but so what?

Another substitution note:  The recipe calls for orecchiette or other short pasta.  They had pipe rigate at Aldi (or at least I think I remember that’s what it was.  This website seems to confirm it.  How much fun is a pasta shapes dictionary, by the way?).  B called them “little snails.”  They were very good with the recipe.  The one drawback was really my fault.  I like to test pasta by taking pieces out of the boiling water and eating them.  Well, these little guys, like a lot of tubular pastas, hold a fair amount of water.  I scalded my tongue a couple times.  Oops.  I think shells would have been fine too.  I’d be hesitant to go much smaller with the pieces of pasta, like macaroni or something, because I think you’d wind up chasing a lot of little pieces around the plate.  This pipe rigate or the orecchiette snuggle in nicely with the meatballs and tomatoes.  Nothing beats a nice snuggly pasta.

No, YOU make the lame pizzas!

Mini spinach and cheese pizzas

I'm no food critic, but I know what I hate.  And I don't hate this.

I’m no food critic, but I know what I hate. And I don’t hate this.

B and I fought over this one and not in a good way.  We both strongly believed that it was the least inspiring recipe in the entire issue.  I thought it looked like the kind of junk meal that I come up with when I’m feeling lazy and I need to use up a bunch of ingredients.  B theorized that it was in the issue because this is Lucinda Scala Quinn’s “feeling lazy” recipe.  I fell on my sword and made it, reluctantly.  It’s worse than that.  D made it for me.

But.  But!  We were wrong about these pizzas.  They aren’t mind-blowing, but they aren’t bad either.  I think D came up with the secret.  He added way more garlic.  The recipe calls for 1 clove of garlic crushed through a press.  That is combined with ricotta and oregano and spread on the split pitas before you top them with spinach and the mozzarella balls.  D probably added 3 cloves of garlic.  I knew I married that guy for a reason.  It made all the difference.  It took it from a bland pizza-like mass, to a garlicky pizza-like mass.  Will I make it again?  Probably not, but it wasn’t anything to dread.

This recipe, like pretty much all of the bocconcini recipes begs an important question, “Why do I need to buy these fussy little cheese balls?”  They are more expensive than buying a ball of fresh mozzarella, and they taste the same.  If you want to try one of these recipes, just buy a big ball of fresh mozzarella and cut it into cubes.  It’s not as picturesque, but neither is this recipe, if we’re being honest.

A Note on Baby Broccoli

When I saw the recipe for Lemony Baby Broccoli I was pretty excited! I serve broccoli with lemon often and I was looking forward to kicking that up a notch with this recipe.  Garlic only makes things better right?!

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And yes, it was good.  Very good. But I don’t think it gained anything from the fact that it was baby broccoli. And it actually only increased my expectations because that darn baby broccoli was $3 for a tiny little bunch! I could have bought a lovely head of standard broccoli for less than that and had basically the same outcome.

I think I probably will make this again but I won’t go to the trouble of finding the baby broccoli, the standard stuff will do just fine! 

 

Healthy Start for dinner

Dill feta scramble

Opa!

Opa!

This is a “healthy start” breakfast recipe, but I don’t generally have time to make much of a breakfast nor do I typically have enough time to make much of a dinner, really.  So this was a breakfast for dinner at our house.  But, really, who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner.

It’s a very tasty and simple recipe.  Pretty much the entire recipe can be found in the name: dill, feta, scramble (eggs).  The recipe has you adding more egg whites than eggs, but D and I decided against that.  Why?  Gluttony and not wanting to try and figure out what to do with an egg yolk besides throw it away or make custard.  I don’t typically make custard on a Thursday…

If you’re looking for a nice, Greek-ish recipe for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and you happen to have dill in the house, this is a good one to try.  One another note, this would be a good recipe to shop for the same week that you plan to make the salmon with mustard dill sauce in this same issue.