Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cocktail of the Day: Tequila Sunburn

Okay, this'll be quick: Yesterday my friends at Pharyngula were talking booze, and the subject of the Tequila Sunrise came up. I'm not a huge fan of orange juice — too thick and too sweet for my tastes — but then I got to thinking about the habanero-infused tequila I used in the Spicy Ginger Basil Margarita I wrote about last week.

Now, man does not live by Margaritas alone, and I've been trying to think of other cocktails that would benefit from the fiery tequila. Suddenly it dawned on me that the habanero, which adds not only heat but a smoky richness to the tequila, might well cut the sweetness of the orange juice in a Tequila Sunrise quite nicely. And so, it turns out, it does! Thus was born the...

Tequila Sunburn
  • 4-5 oz orange juice

  • 2 oz habanero-infused tequila (or mix with straight tequila to moderate heat, to a total of 2 oz)

  • 3/4 oz grenadine syrup

Stir together orange juice and tequila with ice cubes in rocks glass. Pour grenadine into drink without stirring and allow to settle. Enjoy!

Monday, June 13, 2011

TV Quick Take: Food Network Star

It's late, and I only have time for a few quick reactions to tonight's (well, Sunday's... technically it's Monday as I write this) supersized, double-jeopardy episode of Food Network Star:
  • First, am I the only one who thinks Mary Beth looks like Nora Dunn? Would that make her prospective show seem like an SNL skit?

  • I guess getting actual food on the plate is a step forward for Vic, but how many more bullets can he dodge? His name's not Neo, after all!

  • How can so many people go so completely blank just because they're on camera? Surely they knew what show they were going on, and at least tried to practice?

  • Calamari steak? Who knew such a beast existed? Who knows where I can get some?

  • You don't need to taste Pernod to know it's nothing like dry vermouth; just opening the bottle will tell you it's an anise-flavored liqueur, unless your nose was shot off in the war!

  • Anybody know why Alicia wore a prom dress to eliminations?

  • Pee Wee Herman meets Elvis Costello meets Alton Brown? Now that's a show I'd watch in a heartbeat!

  • I'm a little nervous to see so many of my early faves — Justin B. and Jeff in particular — struggle so badly so soon. Of course, Orchid's struggles were not entirely of her own making.

And on that last point... I'm the first one to say that (for example) Survivor is a game, and any sort of scheming and manipulation is all fair, so I surprised myself by thinking Penny's transparent attempt to kneecap her strongest competition was out of bounds. I think I've figured out the difference: Unlike Survivor, Amazing Race, etc., Food Network Star is both a game and a serious audition: I'm part of the audience not only for the current show, but potentially for the show it will produce, so the knock-out-the-best-player tactics that work on other reality competition shows actually work against my interests as a viewer in this case.

And I hope Jeff gets his act together, because I really do want to see his show about sandwiches.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cocktail(s) of the Day: Spicy Ginger Basil Margarita

My garden is in for the year (3 varieties of hot peppers, 3 varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, mixed salad greens, and, if I'm lucky, watermelons) and my deck is bedecked with containers full of herbs. My gardening skills are rudimentary at best, but I love growing things. The problem is that even my black-thumbed efforts produce more than I can actually use, especially the herbs, and I'm always on the lookout for delightful ways to use 'em up.

Enter the Ginger Basil Margarita my buddy Andy posted as the Margarita of the Month for September last year at his Disney-themed food blog, Eating (and Drinking) Around the World. I had made the necessary ginger syrup over Memorial Day weekend (along with a bunch of other cooking I still need to blog about), and the warm, sunny spring so far means my basil crop is ahead of schedule.

I made two drinks, the first strictly according to the original recipe (which I won't repeat; click through to Andy's place to check it out), using Thai basil from my deck. It's very tasty, with the ginger and basil notes blending with the citrus rather than standing out as distinct flavors. As written, it's not a terribly strong drink (just 1.5 oz of spirits), so I was able to make myself a second, for the sake of experiment, while staying within my recommended daily allowance of ethanol. For this second iteration, I used habanero-infused tequila for heat, and replaced the Triple Sec with Cointreau:

  • 5 fresh Thai basil leaves
  • 1 oz habanero-infused silver tequila (or mix with plain tequila to control heat, to a total of 1 oz)
  • 1 oz ginger syrup (see directions at link above)
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau
  • 1/2 oz orange juice
  • 1/2 oz lime juice

Muddle the basil leaves thoroughly in a cocktail shaker with a little ice, then add more ice and all the other ingredients and shake vigorously. Strain to serve. Now, I like a big ol' grownup Icee as well as the next person, and I usually order "house" margaritas frozen with salt... but this drink I poured old-school, up in a chilled cocktail glass, with a sprig of fresh Thai basil for garnish. The heat of the habs and the tang of the ginger cut the sweetness perfectly well, so that a salted rim would be redundant (at best).

I've always liked the combination of chile heat and cold liquid; adding the acid notes of the citrus, the aromatic basil and ginger, and the earthiness of tequila makes for a truly splendid blend of sensations. Try it out... and enjoy!

TV Quick Take: MasterChef (Take 2)

MasterChef wrapped up its two-part season premiere last night, although the audition phase continues into the next episode. Interesting stories from the second hour:
  • Dustin, the cheesily winking pool boy who impressed Ramsay with his poshed-up sausage roll. He joins bubbly Scot (aren't they supposed to be dour?) Pauline from the first hour in sucking up to Ramsay with comfort food from the auld sod.

  • Christine, the stressed-looking "recent" single mother who takes culinary advice from her varmint-cooking dad. She got her apron on a split decision, on the strength of her soft-shelled crab and slaw (and apparently in spite of her polenta); expect her to vie with Albert (gator three ways) for redneck fan favorite.

  • Esther, the former attorney who argued her way onto the show despite the judges' lukewarm response to her Korean spicy braised cod with daikon (which looked and sounded damn tasty to me). What is it with young Asian female lawyers quitting their careers to go on cooking shows, anyway? That was also Stephenie's story on America's Next Great Restaurant, and I seem to recall a similar case from last season of MasterChef.

  • Not only is Alvin from my childhood home towngreater metropolitan area of Houston, he also busted out a homemade immersion circulator, which made me squeal with geeky joy. I wonder if he used the plans from Cooking for Geeks that first enthralled me? His Hawaiian beef braised short rib with sticky rice and sous vide egg looked really yummy, too. I know I'll be rooting for this potential geek fan favorite... but will the challenges allow hit to show all his geeky chops?

  • And joining Christian (Shipwreck Stew) from the first hour as early favorites to actually win the whole shebang are Derrick, the stay-at-home dad from Gloucester, MA, who wowed all three judges with his sopa with homemade chorizo and fire-roasted salsa, and unemployed architect Alejandra (another former professional woman!) who bravely stood behind the spice level of her shrimp and saffron rice dish.

Of course, it's impossible to know the stories they've glossed over in apron-giving montages, nor who awaits us in the final auditions episode, but it's already shaping up as quite an interesting season!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

TV Quick Take: MasterChef

I'm not a Gordon Ramsay fan. Some folks have tried to tell me he's not quite the nonstop screaming hell the promos for his various shows make him seem, but those promos so put me off that I've never been motivated to find out.

That said, somehow I ended up watching the inaugural season of the U.S. version of MasterChef, and found it unexpectedly compelling. Ramsay was, for the most part, on his best behavior (perhaps moderated by his cohosts Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot), I like the concept of taking accomplished home cooks (i.e., as opposed to The Worst Cooks in America) and teaching them to be restaurant-quality chefs, and MasterChef is the only cooking competition show I can think of that offers the audition/casting phase common to other reality talent competitions such as So You Think You Can Dance, America's Got Talent, and American Idol. I don't much enjoy seeing the occasional humiliation of self-deluded aspirants, but I do like seeing all the weird, wacky, and often wonderful things people do to try to get cast.

So it was with pleasure that I watched tonight's premiere (actually, I guess it was just the first half of the premiere) of MasterChef Season 2. Just a few quick thoughts:

  • Calling cooking shows "food porn" is a commonplace, but... [NSFW] body sushi? SRSLY?

  • Nobody loves a toothless, gator-cookin', self-described redneck more than me, but I wonder how he'll do with a souffle challenge... or, really, with any dish whose main ingredient doesn't come from a swamp. It'll likely be fun to find out, though.

  • I want me a bowl of "Shipwreck Stew"! Jus' sayin'!

  • I almost want me some of that salmon and haggis, and that's saying something.

  • Am I the only one who was seriously disturbed by the sight of a middle-aged black woman on her literal knees begging Ramsay to "give it to me right now!"? Yu-u-u-u-uck!

  • It took me a while, but I finally realized who Ramsay reminds me of, with his overdramatic, pregnant-pause-punctuated, gesticulational speech patterns: He's the Scottish James Effin' Tiberius Kirk, in a kitchen instead of a starship!

That is all....

Monday, June 6, 2011

Actual Cooking: Spring Salt Seasoned Salmon with Forbidden Rice

Yesterday was opening day for the Coventry Regional Farmers' Market, and also my first-ever day at a summer, outdoor farmers' market (I made it to CRFM's winter market a couple times last season). Mostly I was there to soak up the ambiance on a beautiful early summer Sunday, but I also had a mission to buy ingredients for dinner.

My first farmers' market newbie lesson learned is this: When you see something you want, buy it right then! I foolishly wandered around taking pictures and scoping out what was on offer, before grabbing some lunch, schlepping the camera back to the car, and getting down to serious shopping... at which point I found that almost everything I'd planned to buy — fresh whole duck, fingerling potatoes, fresh chevre, strawberries... — was already sold out. This may have been due to unique circumstances — huge opening-day crowds combined with fairly meager early-season pickin's — but still and all, I figure I'll grab it when I see it from now on.

I did manage to get the Lovely Bride™ some artisanal coffee beans from Bean & Leaf along with a gluten-free peanut butter filled Ring Ding from Shayna B's Gluten-Free Bakery, and I got myself some rye bread, a wedge of cheese from Woodbridge Farm, some pork loin chops for the freezer, and the new Connecticut Farmer & Feast cookbook.

A good day's shopping, despite my missteps... but none of it added up to Sunday dinner. For that, I turned to The Fish Market of Willimantic, onhand featuring Connecticut-caught fresh fish, for two beautiful salmon filets. Looking for a side-dish, I wandered by the Boxed Goodes stall and picked out their Forbidden Blend rice. While I was there, I also selected their Spring Season Salt spice blend to crust the fish.

Then home to cook! Actually, the cooking itself doesn't bear much description: You don't have to exactly be Eric Ripert to dredge a piece of fish in seasonings and put it under the broiler, nor to cook rice (even exotic looking black rice). Even I could manage it without any incident worth narrating. Add a small salad of mixed lettuce from my garden, though, dressed with a simple scratch-made vinaigrette, and it ended up being a pretty, tasty plate of all locally sourced/grown goodness.

In a day or two, I'll hop in my time machine and tell you about all the cooking I did over the Memorial Day weekend. 'Til then, bon appetite!

TV Reaction: Food Network Star (Spoilers)

I know I've been silent here for almost a month, but I have a backlog of things to post about that'll go up in the next couple days. In the meantime, I've just finished watching the Season 7 premiere of Food Network Star (apparently they've dropped the Next). This has always been a few rungs down on my ladder of favorite cooking competition shows, but it's been growing on me over the last couple seasons, and tonight's 2-hour opener was satisfying.

For one thing, it appears that most of the finalists can actually cook: The judges were at least reasonably pleased with almost all of the dishes in both challenges, and actively liked an unusually high percentage of them. Even Vic's two unplated dishes looked like they would've been good if he'd gotten them to the judges.

For another thing, it looks like there are really some stars there, unlike some previous seasons when it seemed the FN team had to work hard to fluff someone up enough to be a plausible winner:
  • Orchid is obviously off to a hot start, though I wonder if she'll suffer for being too similar to Season 6 winner Aarti Sequeria. None of it should matter, of course, and I'm sure their culinary POVs are entirely distinct, but TV is a visual medium, and I wonder if FN wants to take on the challenge of promoting a second consecutive short, plump, cheery Asian woman cooking Americanized ethnic food? Then again, perhaps my instant sense of deja vu will dissipate as the season goes on and I get to know Orchid better.

  • With her friendly face and luminous smile, Whitney could be the next Rachael Ray... and she has a culinary resume Ray doesn't pretend to have.

  • Even though she seemed like a bit of a hot mess in the opener, Alicia turned out great food (Penny's snark notwithstanding). Given that she's a former model and an instructor, it's hard to imagine her initial fragility will prevail: Both professions should've prepared her to deal with rejection, criticism, and media exposure.

  • Among the guys, I like Jeff, probably just because a show devoted to sandwiches — "... make any meal a sandwich, and make any sandwich into a meal...." — sounds like one I'd watch. He's not off to a stellar start, but I'm rooting for him to step it up in the coming weeks.

  • Finally, I agree with the judges that Justin B. has great potential: An intriguing look, a thoughtful approach, and clearly strong culinary chops.

The last thing that pleased me about the premiere is that they got the elimination right, when there was dire risk that they would not: Vic's failure to plate a complete dish in either challenge (or anything at all in the elimination challenge) put an obvious target on him, and Jyll's (why am I thinking that's not the name — or at least not the spelling — her mother gave her?) explanation of why her individual dish didn't get plated sounded like a weak excuse. But weak or not, Jyll was right: Howie's constant need for assistance (caused, IMHO, by his lack of basic kitchen competencies) really did screw up Jyll's game, and that, in turn, caused the collision that put Vic's calamari on the floor. Howie's failure to step up and admit what really happened was bad enough; his attempt to (falsely) discredit Jyll and minimize her credit for the group dish was disingenuous and despicable. I always wonder on these shows whether the judges get to see any of the kitchen footage before making their decisions. Normally I assume they do not, and in this case I was afraid their lack of awareness would lead them to the wrong decision.

Thankfully, it did not. Now if the truly frightening cougar-in-leopard-print Penny goes home next week (and really, I think the judges are ready to pull the ripcord on her if she says "sexy" even one more time), I'll be a happy viewer indeed. But enough about me; what do y'all think?