Happy Hour: Grape Focaccia and a Bramble

Welcome to Happy Hour my darlings!  Kick off those shoes and get yourself into something comfy. Personally I’ve chosen a pair of pajama pants that are old enough that the black fabric has a distinct greenish look to it.  The color doesn’t bother me when hanging out at home, but taking them out of the drawer I noticed a small hole on the leg.  It is tiny still, but it means a replacement is needed soon. I’ll have to look into that this weekend.  But for now, the comfy pajama pants remain.

The Bramble has made an appearance before and as I very much enjoy it will probably make many returns.  As a recipe refresher my version of a Bramble is:

Bramble

Ingredients:

1 ½ oz Gin

½ oz Chambord

1 oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

You put everything into a cocktail shaker add a bit of ice and shake for all you are worth before pouring it into the glass of your choice.  I went with a coupe glass.  I think this one might have actually come as a promotional glass with a bottle of Bombay Sapphire at some point. It is a nice shape and holds enough liquid inside that one glass is plenty.

I felt the raspberry and lemon notes would pair well with the grape focaccia today.  I thought about picking up a wine to go with it, but the grapes were very sweet tart on their own and I kind of didn’t want anything competing with them.  I think if I had chosen mellower grapes I would have gone with a wine.  As it is the Bramble seemed to have enough of a fruitiness to pair well without really being competition, flavor wise.

I know some of you saw the title and were lifting some eyebrows at the sound of grape focaccia. That’s okay, my baby doll did as well, but then it baked up so sweet and salty that he decided it was okay in the end.  And while I had the Bramble listed above, he ended up having a beer with it because he wanted something earthy to go with it while I wanted something to pair with the fruitiness of the grapes.

There is a lot of wait time, but overall this focaccia recipe is really simple.  It just takes time.  You will need a stand mixer for this.  I’ve written out the recipe for those with stand mixers.  If you don’t have one can always knead the dough by hand.  If you are making this, check your times! While not a lot of this is active time, there is a lot of resting and rising so I generally make this when I know I’m going to be in the house for a while.  It does actually provide some nice breaks to the day if you are working from home.

Grape Focaccia

Ingredients:

6 tsp dry yeast

Pinch of sugar

2 cups warm water

¼ cup (or so) olive oil

5 cups of flour, plus more for dusting

2 tsp kosher salt (more for sprinkling)

12 ounces red seedless grapes (make sure they are seedless)

Parchment paper

It is large but it does freeze well.
  • Put the yeast, water and sugar in a bowl.  Stir to mix and then let sit to get foamy (5 min)
  • Into the bowl of a stand mixer place the flour, salt and foamy yeast mix. Mix with a dough hook until a sticky dough forms and pulls away from the sides (3-5 min)
  • Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • Liberally flour your counter top and transfer the dough to it.  It will be stiff to work with but try to form it into a rectangle (ish) shape that is about twice the size as you start it with. 
  • Fold the dough in threes like a letter so that your dough forms a rectangle.  Brush the top with olive oil and transfer it to the center of your parchment covered cookie sheet oiled side down onto the parchment.
  • Brush olive oil onto the top of the dough Cover loosely with cling film and let it sit 1 hour.
  • (don’t worry if your rectangle is a little wonky.
  • After one hour come back to the dough and push it out until it fills the cookie sheet in a flat even surface.  Once flattened. Lightly press the grapes into the top of the dough. 
  • Leave to sit uncovered 1 hour.
  • Preheat oven to 500.
  • After the dough has rested for an hour, brush olive oil over the dough and grapes and sprinkle with salt.
  • Just before you put the dough into the oven, turn the temperature down to 450 degrees. 
  • Bake for 10 minutes, turn the pan in the oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the dough is a light golden brown.
  • Cool 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

While we used grapes in this one for a sweet and savory play, this is my standard focaccia recipe. I forget where I picked it up, but I have adjusted it with rosemary and garlic to go along with roast lamb, mixed it with a variety of peppers and served it with chili, and used it plain as a base for all sorts of toppings.  It is a good basic recipe that really takes well to whatever flavors you want to throw at it.  Just remember not to be stingy with the olive oil.  It may look like a lot, but this bread needs it. It is the only fat this bread has in it. Once you have the basics down, go crazy with the flavors and make it your own.

So that my darlings is our happy hour.  Personally, I like how it turned out.  It also suits the weather this week.  It is surprisingly cool tonight, but I didn’t want anything very heavy.  This has the weight of bread that I like in cooler temperatures, but it is lifted by the roasted grapes into feeling like early spring rather than the middle of winter. And I have to confess, I really do like baking bread.

I hope you enjoy whatever it is you have planned for your Friday night and the weekend beyond.


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Happy Hour: Hummus and Truly Hard Seltzer

Hummus served with cucumber slices

Welcome to the end of the week my darlings. We finally made it. Shuck those work clothes, put on something comfy and prop your feet up.

Today I was feeling the need for something light and summery. Both in food and drink. So I went with a homemade hummus and cucumber slices and a Strawberry lemonade Hard Seltzer from Truly Hard Seltzer.

Now I have a confession. This was my first hard seltzer. I know the shockwaves are felt around the world. The truth is that when I look for alcoholic drinks I go for wine, gin or tequila. It never even occurs to me to look at the hard seltzer. There was something about the strawberry lemonade that just appealed to me so I decided to try it.

According to the label it has 5% alcohol by volume, 100 calories, 1 g of sugar and 3 g of carbs. As almost every muscle in my body is sore from the new workout regime this week, low cal, and low sugar sounded kind of ideal. And I do love strawberry lemonade. I make big pitchers of the non alcoholic variety to keep in my fridge all summer long. while I make the lemonade in the regular way, I leave out the sugar and then make a strawberry simple syrup to sweeten it. Using the simple syrup gets the pulp and seeds out while keeping the flavor and sweetness. You can always choose to add alcohol later if you want but in a tall glass filled with ice it is fabulous on it;s own.

But how did this Truly hard seltzer version taste?

Not bad. It is like a flavored water, the scent being stronger than the taste. In fact if there was no alcohol in it I would consider it a really nicely flavored seltzer water. There is however alcohol in it. Which you need to remember and not drink it like water. For me, putting it in the nice glass helped because I sipped it. I tend to drink liquids fast when i drink them in the can. (sodas, water, V8, if I drink from the can I just drink faster so glasses slow me down). I think it would be a really bad idea to drink this fast.

I don’t know how many of you are new to Hard seltzer, but I recommend sipping. It is easy to forget it isn’t flavored water.

The one issue I had with this is that it made my tongue feel dry. I know that sounds a little strange, but it is true. My tongue could feel the alcohol more than taste it and so my tongue felt dry. It wasn’t a bad thing, just a strange one that I wasn’t expecting.

Luckily, I had something on hand to make me feel a little less dry. And that was tonight’s happy hour snack, homemade hummus served with freshly sliced cucumbers. It is one of the easiest things to make. The trick is to make it the night before and let it sit in the fridge overnight so the flavors can mellow. I made mine a little more lemon forward because I like the lemon flavor with the cucumber slices. If serving with crackers I tend to take out a Tablespoon of the lemon juice. When you first make this you will be tempted to try it right away and then you might feel like adjusting the seasoning. Let it sit overnight and then the next day adjust if you feel it needs more salt. To make this, you will need a food processor. if you have one, it is super easy. Ready?

Ingredients

1 can chickpeas, drained

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 and a half Tablespoons tahini

2 garlic cloves peeled

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp black pepper.

  • Put everything into the food processor.
  • blend until a smooth paste forms
  • Spoon into a bowl.
  • Cover bowl and refrigerate over night
  • taste and adjust seasonings and serve with cucumber slices or pita chips.

Seriously, that’s it. It is light and summery. The lemon pairs well with the cucumber slices and with the Strawberry Lemonade Hard Seltzer chosen as tonight’s beverage. My favorite thing about this dip is that i almost always have all of the ingredients in the pantry and fridge so i can easily make this in a hurry without adding a lot to the grocery list. It also works as a great base. You can play around with spices to give it some heat. You can blend roasted red peppers into it. It is excellent on it’s own but it is also easy to play around with. I actually like to use it in sandwiches actually. I’ll spread a layer on my bread and then layer cucumbers radish slices and mung beans on it for an excellent lunch time treat. the veggies give you a nice crisp bite to the sandwich. Sometimes I’ll even quick pickle the cucumbers. I’ll put the cucumber slices in a bowl with a Tablespoon of grated ginger, and then add equal parts mirin and rice wine vinegar. shake them up a bit so the slices are covered. leave them in the fridge for half an hour and then add them to your sandwich. It is fabulously fresh and delicious. It will probably also be tomorrow’s sandwich at my house, providing any of the hummus lasts through the evening. No matter how big a bach I make, it always disappears fast.



Happy Hour: Mushroom Tarts and a Belmont Cocktail

Happy Hour: Mushroom tarts and a Belmont Cocktail

Welcome my darlings to the Friday Night happy Hour.  Tonight the cocktail I decided to make is called a Belmont and it comes from my Savoy Cocktail book.  I have to admit it is one of the cocktails I have been hesitant to try.  There is no real reason except that I always think it’s a little strange when gin is paired with cream.  I’ve had several pleasant cocktails with cream but when I saw this recipe I just wanted to skim over it.  I think it is because there are so few ingredients in it that the cream stood out to me.  Still tonight was it’s night for testing.  And so test I did.  The recipe is quite simple.

I part grenadine

2 parts gin

1 teaspoon cream

Put them all together in a shaker and shake the dickens out of it until it is foamy. Serve in a lovely glass.

It comes out a lovely and festive pink color.  To be honest it comes out tasting a bit like a cherry creamsicle that has been dipped in gin.  The gin comes through loud and clear.  It is a little odd to taste in that first sip.  I tasted the cherry dreamsicle part first and then the gin arrived on my tastebuds. It took a few sips to get used to it.  It was one of those cocktails I don’t mind having once but probably wouldn’t make again.  Nice, but not fabulous. It won’t be making the household repitoire.

But as there are thousands, if not millions of cocktail and mocktail (for the days when I don’t feel like having alcohol) recipes to try out there, I’m sure the list of ones I don’t mind having more than once will continue to grow.

Tonight I chose mushroom tarts to go along with the cocktail.  I’ve made the recipe many times before in both the large and small tartlets size.  Since the cocktail was bright and cherry I thought something earthy would pair well.  And the tart did work well with the drink.  Usually I serve these with a crisp chardonnay or even an Arnold Palmer if going non-alcoholic.  What I love about these little tarts is that they do freeze really well so you can make a bunch and then cool and freeze the ones you don’t eat.  My baby and I each had one and left the other four to cool for later freezing. (I made six). While I made them in small tartlet pans tonight you can make one big tart to serve as a dinner. We tend to eat this as a summer meal with a fresh salad. All of the measurements are the same, you just put them in one container rather than six.

Ingredients

1 pie crust

1 small yellow onion, diced

½ lb mushrooms, diced

Three sage leaves chopped

1 T butter

1 clove garlic, minced

½ cup cream

1 egg yolk

1 whole egg

¼ cup sour cream

Pie weights (I use dried beans)

Tart pan or tartlet pans

  • Cut the pie dough into rounds and press into the pan. 
  • Dock the dough with a fork.
  • Place the tarts on a baking sheet, cover each with foil and put pie weights on the foil.
  • Bake at 375 for 20 minutes
  • Take out of oven, remove foil and pie weights and put back into the oven for another 15 minutes.  They should be golden brown.
  • Set to the side and allow to cool completely.
  • In a sauté pan, melt the butter and add in the onions, mushrooms and sage. 
  • Cook until all of the liquid evaporates (about 10 minutes).  Then take it from the stove and let cool to room temperature.
  • In a bowl mix together the cream, sour cream, egg yolk and egg.
  • Put mushroom mix into the tart shells, pour the custard mix over them and bake in a 325 degree oven until just set and slightly poufy.  (about 45 minutes)
  • Let tarts cool for 20 minutes and serve at room temperature.

This is one of those recipes that seems like it is more complicated than it is because you prepare three things separately and then just bring them together at the end.  It really is very easy and it is something you can make well ahead of time.  You can even make them the day before.  Just let them cool completely then move to the fridge.  When you want to serve them bring them out and let them come up to room temperature. And like I said it makes a really good meal as well as a happy hour treat.




Happy Hour: Choriqueso

Happy Hour: Choriqueso

Good evening my darlings and welcome once again to the Friday night Happy Hour.  While last week I dealt with the ramifications of having the second vaccine shot, this week it was my babydoll’s turn.  While mine was a condensed 24 hours of misery, his was less intense but spread out over a couple of days.  As a result, he spent the week with little appetite.  Now he is feeling better and quite hungry.

For us happy hour is about taking some time together to sit and unwind from the week.  Even before 2020 we tended towards quiet Friday nights and went out on Saturday instead.  That way we could always recoup from the week.  Usually, we take the opportunity to experiment with a new cocktail recipe and try out a delectable little treat. 

This week we are giving the alcohol a pass. It doesn’t mean that I am not having a pretty little drink though. This week I poured seltzer water into a stemless champagne flute and added a dash of grenadine.  We just got new tanks in for our Soda Stream so there are plenty of festive looking bubbles and the color is fun.  It may not be a traditional cocktail, but it is a fun drink to sip nonetheless and quite frankly I can drink almost anything out of these glasses and it feels special.

My babydoll won’t touch them  because he is worried that he will knock them over.  So he has taken one of my Blackberry Hint waters (the sparkling kind) and poured it into a very chunky looking goblet.  I have no idea how or when the goblet got into out cabinets but there it was when he reached for it, and he seems happy with his beverage choice.

We also tweaked the happy hour treat.  Technically speaking I believe this is meant to be a shared appetizer, at least when we had a version of this at a restaurant, that is how it was labeled. As an appetizer you need about six people to eat it and after that I would still suggest a light meal.

When I make this Choriqueso I make the full batch and we tend to use it as both happy hour delight and the main meal of the evening.  We certainly aren’t eating anything after this. When we do this we typically only eat about half, let it cool and put the other half away.  It reheats well in the oven and it does freeze well.  It is one of those dishes that I find easier to make in the full batch because of the size of the pan I am cooking it in and the measurements.  Plus it is something I know won’t go to waste even if we do end up freezing half.  It was also what my babydoll requested for his post pseudo flu hunger pangs.  How much will be left over is anyone’s guess. I suspect some might make it to the fridge overnight, but I doubt we will be freezing anything.

Although it seems like a bit much once you get everything together it comes together in a snap.  The only thing to remember is that you need to rehydrate your ancho chiles about half an hour or so before you begin cooking.  The only extra equipment other than a stove and oven with a broiler that you will need is a blender.  It really is the best tool for the job. If you don’t have one, you could try chopping the ancho pepper really finely and then whisking it and the other ingredients in a bowl but you won’t get the same smooth paste. It will still taste fantastic but it won’t be as smooth a paste. A food processor helps for quick cheese shredding, but it is optional.

To rehydrate the dried anchos put the chillies in a glass bowl. Pour boiling water over them and leave them to soak until they are plumped and soft. Drain, remove any seeds and use the chilies as directed. 

Ingredients

2 ancho chilies, seeded and rehydrated (see above note for rehydration)

2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

¼ cup water

Half of a medium sized yellow onion, diced

1 clove garlic, chopped

½ tsp kosher salt

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp Mexican oregano (if you can’t find Mexican regular oregano will do)

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cayenne

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

½ lbs ground pork

1 lbs Monterey jack cheese shredded

Warm tortillas for serving

  • Do all of your prep work first.  This is one of those recipes that comes together quickly so dice, shred and measure ahead of time to save yourself some stress. As all the spices go in at once you can just put them all in the same bowl as you measure.
  • Put the anchos, vinegar and water into a blender. Blend until smooth then add the onion garlic, salt, and all of your spices (cumin, paprika, oregano, cinnamon and cayenne).
  • Again blend to a smooth paste.  If it is too thick then add a little water a tablespoon at a time. Don’t make it too liquid though.  You want it just loose enough so that everything blends into a homogeneous mix with no straggling chunky bits (think heavy romesco).
  • Place a large, broiler safe skillet  on the stove.
  • Add the vegetable oil to the skillet and turn on medium heat. When  it is warm pour the chili mix from the blender into the skillet.  Heat for about 1 minute to wake up the spices. 
  • Then add the ground pork to the skillet. Mix it in with the sauce until the meat is covered.
  • Cook the pork (medium heat) about 10 minutes or until no pink is showing, stirring occasionally.
  • While the pork cooks, move the oven rack about six inches below the broiler and let the broiler come up to temperature. 
  • Once the pork is cooked, check the seasonings and adjust the spice level if desired, then layer the shredded Monterey jack cheese over the meat mixture covering it completely. 
  • Shift the skillet from the stove top to place it under the broiler.  Keep it there until the cheese is melted and lightly browned (approximately 2-3 minutes)
  • Serve it hot in the pan with the tortillas (we just spoon it onto the tortillas and eat that way, you can, eat it with tortilla chips if you wanted to make it more of a dip than a meal)
adding the cheese to the top

A couple helpful hints.  If you want to shred cheese in a hurry with your food processor you can put the block of Monterrey jack in the freezer for about five minutes (no longer).  It will firm up enough for the machine to shred, but not do any damage to the blades or the cheese. 

My Hamilton Beach Food Processor has the plate that allowed for easy shredding (and makes me love the machine so very very much), just make sure your cheese is cut into pieces that can fit into the feeder tube on the machine before you freeze it.  My block needed to be divided into three sections.

I personally like glass carafe blenders as they don’t stain and don’t retain any odors from previous blending, but that is a personal choice.

With the ancho spice mix, the dish tastes like it took hours to prepare even though it took almost no time at all.  We occasionally like to use this mix on pasta in place of traditional red sauce or just as something to smear on a baguette.  It is a great and super easy burst of flavor.  Just don’t forget your minute on the heat with it because that is what really wakes up and melds the flavors. 

It is a great sauce to have in your flavor arsenal. And until you add the pork to the skillet and top with cheese, the ancho spice mix is actually vegan. When we have vegan, vegetarian or even just lactose intolerant friends over, the spice mix comes in really handy used in ways without the pork or cheese of course.

The one thing we have to watch is the spice level.  There are several places to control it.  You can leave in or take out the ancho seeds.  You can also adjust the cayenne.  In our house, since we grow paprika peppers and dry and grind our own paprika each fall, our paprika is what we have to watch.  It is really hot in the fall but towards the spring it mellows out a bit. It still has more of a kick than most store bought paprika though.  I used the spring paprika measurements for this dish, you might find you want a little more heat depending on what paprika you are using so don’t forget to taste and adjust.

So tonight our happy hour is rolling into dinner and out cocktails are non-alcoholic just to be on the vaccine reactions safe side. Still with a pretty glass filled with cheery bubbling liquid and an absolutely delicious choriqueso on hand, it is in no way a hardship. In fact, it feels quite luxurious and like the perfect way to unwind after a rough week. Happy Friday my darlings and I hope you have a fantastic weekend.



Happy Hour: Pinot Noir and Honey Goat Cheese

Welcome once again to Happy Hour. This week was long and there was much grease filled carnage earlier in the week so we decided to tone down happy hour to wine and cheese.  In this my babydoll decided to help me out. 

In his way.

My plan was to do a goat cheese and honey melt.  To put it quite simply you put goat cheese in an oven proof ramekin, drape honey over it and put it under the broiler just long enough for the honey to bubble a little and the goat cheese to soften.  Then you take it out and try not to burn your fingers as you greedily spoon it over crackers.  It is delicious.  I usually pair it with a chardonnay (or any wine with citrusy notes) it is one of those dishes perfect for that evening that has a bit of a chill but followed a warm day.

However before I could go out, my babydoll stopped at the store and picked up a honey goat cheese and a bottle of Pinot Noir. (I mentioned I needed to pick up wine and cheese for the Friday Happy Hour so he helped me out by picking them up for me.)  The goat cheese has honey in it so there was no need to add anything.  This particular one is from the Public’s Deli. I’m guessing that is the brand.

Because the honey was already added and I hadn’t tried this before, we went with the standard unwrap and serve method rather than actually heating anything up.  As a bonus it let me use my Boska Cheese knife.  We picked up a set a while back and I have to say they are really nice cheese knives.  The handle and blade are all one piece so you don’t have to worry about the blade coming loose and they are just so elegantly shaped.

The cheese itself was interesting.  The honey made it lightly sweet but was mixed well enough that the honey did not become cloying. The sweet tamed the kind of goat-y funk that goat cheese can have but it was still in that tangy goat cheese realm. 

Over all it was actually a really good cheese, even if if wasn’t what I was expecting (or what i would serve with this wine). To be honest if I were to get this cheese again (which I would ) I think I would crumble it into a small oven proof dish and sprinkle finely diced jalapenos on it and then heat it up until the jalapenos were fragrant and sinking into the softened goat cheese.  I think a little vegetal heat would go well with this cheese and I think heating it slightly would prove to be beneficial to the melding process flavor-wise even though goat cheese isn’t a great melting cheese.

But that is for another time.

To go with this cheese was the wine my baby doll picked up.  He picked up a Chateau Souverain Pinot Noir 2018.  When I asked him why he chose this wine, he said…

“There was a couple doing the polite public arguing over by the Chardonnay and a couple of people without masks breathing on the bottles in the area so I picked one I didn’t think we tried before and hadn’t been breathed on.”

Not exactly how I usually pick wines, but somedays that is just what happens.

So this is tonight’s wine.

According to the Chateau Souverain website…

Chateau Souverain Pinot Noir 2018 opens with dark red fruit aromas reminiscent of cherry and raspberry. Notes of fresh blueberries are complemented by hints of clove and vanilla. The wine finishes with cleansing acidity and a fruit-driven balance that gives the wine a polished sense of elegance.

Chateau Souverain

I love how wine descriptions and perfume descriptions share so many similarities.  All of the notes mentioned are ones I like, so lets see what actually comes out in the bottle. 

First off, this is a screw top bottle rather than a corked one.  While I generally go for corked I know there is nothing wrong with the screw tops.  I just really like the act of using the corkscrew to open the wine before pouring.  I have had several screw top bottle wines that I did enjoy.  I’ve also had several that I didn’t, although truthfully I could say the same about wines with corks. I only mention it because of the scent.

One thing that I notice happens with a lot of screw top wines is they get a scent.  When you first open them, the scent tends to be bitter and highly acidic and slightly sour. The first sniff makes you think the wine has gone off. I don’t know why, but it seems to happen to red wines with screw tops often enough to be noticeable.  I have also noticed that the initial scent doesn’t have a lot to do with the wine. Usually the wine hasn’t gone off and it is just that initial scent so you have to actually taste it to find out about the wine.  It is best to pour it into the glass and sniff then.  The bitter acidity of that first scent dissipates and then you get the scent of the wine. Perhaps it has something to do with the wine splashing against the metal cap. I don’t know. But this wine had it when opened and lost it once poured.

There is still a slightly acidic scent to the wine in the glass, but it is mellowed with fruit and spice notes. In drinking it, I noticed the clove and vanilla mentioned. The vanilla is a very light hint hiding behind the clove. There was a deeper hint of cherry, but it was more bitter cherry than sweet cherry. It was cherry with a bite.

In a five star rating system I would probably give it a three.  It is nice to drink, but not spectacular.  I would also use it in a beef stew.  I think the fat and heaviness of the beef would actually work well with the flavors of the wine when cooked down. And as it is nice to drink a glass with a portion of the stew would not be amiss. I think that it would actually do really well in a beef stew, especially one that leaned into the sort of warm spices you find in Moroccan type flavors. There the wine would be a distinct asset to the flavor of the stew.

In a happy hour setting, I probably wouldn’t serve this wine with goat’s cheese again, honeyed or otherwise. The goat’s cheese was a little too tangy to suit this wine, even with the sweetness the honey brings.  I would also not go with too pungent a cheese. 

I would probably serve this with a triple cream brie served on baguette rounds and topped with a cherry compote. The cheese is mild and the bread unspiced so it wouldn’t compete with the flavors of the wine.  The cherry compote would bring out the fruity flavors and dim down the acidity.

I would pick up this wine again to drink although I usually prefer something more rounded and less acidic (which is why it only receives a three on my rating system). I think pairing it with the brie and cherry compote would work to bring out the fruiter aspects of the wine and not make it so spice forward. As the store near us carries the wine it is easy to pick up and as it costs $9.99 it is not a break the bank price, so I am fairly certain it will make a return trip to our house sometime in the future. It may not be a special occasion wine, but it is a good solid affordable wine.


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Happy Hour: Bramble and Jaffa Cake

The Bramble – or at least my favorite version

This week my baby and I have an interesting Happy Hour planned.  The drink is one that I have made before and absolutely adore.  It is a take on a Bramble.  The original Bramble was created in 1984 even though it sounds like it ought to be from the 1920s.  I’m certain there is an official version of the drink, but in my house we always make it in the exact same way.

1 ½ ounces of gin

½ ounce of Chambord

1 ounce of fresh lemon juice

½ ounce simple syrup

Put all the ingredients into your shaker, add ice and shake the devil out of it.  I like to serve mine in a coupe glass but you can also serve it in a regular glass over ice.

I really like the balance of sweet and tart in this drink.  Normally, my gin of choice is Plymouth, but for this I generally find the mix of botanicals in Plymouth doesn’t work all that well.  For this I generally use Bombay gin. Its particular mix of botanicals lends itself really well to the Bramble concoction. It isn’t too juniper heavy. While Plymouth is my gin of choice it is really a gin for when I want to taste the gin. This drink is more about balance and the Bombay just balances better with these particular ingredients.

The trick is what to serve with it. To be honest I am always happy with this drink as a stand alone, however even though my babydoll was having whiskey instead of joining me in my bramble, he was looking forwards to something to nibble. even if we don’t share the same drink, we both like the appetizer.

This week I went with a homemade Jaffa Cake or at least a pseudo Jaffa Cake.  I did take a few liberties with it so I hope no purists are offended. This was just a super easy way to make it for me that matched my drink choice for this week’s happy hour.

Ingredients

For the cakes:

2 eggs

¼ cup granulated sugar

¼ tsp vanilla extract

the cakes

A few drops of Cointreau

½ cup AP flour

Pinch of salt

Pinch of baking powder

For the gel:

One package of instant Orange jello

my jello would not lift up in rounds so I just mounded it up on the cakes.

Zest of one orange

Topping

Bitersweet chocolate chips

For the Gel: Mix the jello according to the pkg directions and add in the zest.  Por onto a flat pan with a lip and put in the fridge to set.

For the cakes: Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.  Don’t use a stand mixer as there isn’t enough batter for it to work properly.  Use a hand mixer or a whisk. When smooth, divide the batter evenly into a twelve muffin tin.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8—10 minutes. Let cool

the chocolate

When cool: cut out the jello and place on top of the cakes.

For the topping: put the chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl.  Put in microwave for 10 seconds, stir and then heat for another ten seconds.  Repeat until the chocolate is melted.

Give your chocolate a moment to cool down (without setting) because if you pour it when it is too hot it will melt the jello.  Spoon it over the jello covered cakes encapsulating the jello if you can.  Leave to set and then enjoy.  I tend to store the extras in the fridge so the jello doesn’t melt into a liquid.

As you can see in my finished cakes, the chocolate was still a bit too warm when I poured it over the cakes do there are a few small holes where the jello is poking through. Because I heaped it up instead of using small disks of gel (mostly because my disks kept breaking because I made them too thin by using too large a sheet pan to set them in) there was more jello than usual on the cakes which meant they weren’t as neat as possible.

I have to say that while I would like them a little neater, I didn’t mind the extra jello. This particular cake recipe makes twelve very small and sturdy little cakes but they can be a bit dry. The jello adds much needed moisture and made them taste better than usual. I really liked that I bumped up the range flavor with both the zest in the jello and the Cointreau in the batter. the big pitfall is adding too much alcohol into the cake batter.

You really only need a few drops to get the flavor you want. Don’t go overboard with it. while not exactly the traditional Jaffa Cakes, the dark bittersweet chocolate and the orange really worked well as an accompaniment to my Bramble this week. My babydoll said it worked well with his whisky as well. I’m not entirely sure that is an accurate pairing or if his love of orange and chocolate trumped any taste issues. I was enjoying my Bramble too much to do taste test with his whisky so I have to take his word for it.

As for the Bramble, the cakes went really well with it.  The dark chocolate gave the cakes a bitter note to offset the sweet and tangy of the jello and cake as well as the drink.  Personally, I think this is a pretty good combo. And I think it is a fabulous kick off to the weekend. I hope you enjoy unwinding from your work week, however you choose to do so.


The Whisky Exchange

Happy Hour: Cream Ale and Fried Mushrooms

Cream Ale

Welcome my darlings, once again we have made it through the week.  Hopefully yours had more good in it than bad. Either way, it is over and we are well on our way to the weekend.  No matter how stressful the week or how packed with chores and other tasks the weekend gets I like to take Friday evening as the week’s pause button. 

Sometimes my baby doll and I go out at the end of the week, have a drink and an appetizer at a local place, but often, even before things shut down. We started taking our happy hour at home.  While I appreciate getting dressed up a bit and going out, there is great pleasure to be found in getting comfortable pulling together a concoction and making something to nibble that suits us both completely.

This week is interesting as it is not a cocktail week.  Oh no.  Tonight we are celebrating the first of my baby’s new batch of Cream Ale. He let me know it would be ready to drink this week and so I prepared something appropriate to go with it.

My babydoll has brewed a lot of things.  Normally I just taste it and then decide what to have with it.  This Cream Ale I have had before.  He uses a kit that he orders from the Midwest Brewing Company for this particular one and he really likes it. I can’t argue with the results as it is a nice cream ale.   The kit is 19.99 and produces four and a half gallons of Cream Ale at the end of it. He likes to make it, and stash it away and then move on to making more stouts and lagers so that in the end the beer cupboard in our converted garage has an assortment. 

Then, while we can enjoy a bottle or two here and there, when family and friends descend we have an assortment. Our stash of his beers is usually empty after Easter visitations and so he starts brewing  again.  This year we didn’t have any visitors so we whittled the stash down throughout the year.  This is the first time he has wanted to brew in a while so I take it as a sign of hopefulness for the future.  Sort of like the groundhog not seeing his shadow.

So I had very little to do with the drinks.  That means this week I concentrated on the food for happy hour.  I went with fried mushrooms.  I made a beer batter, using his beer.  If you want to do a version with no alcohol you can substitute soda water or seltzer, just make certain it is unflavored.  I tend to use my Soda Stream as my water supply for carbonated water when not using beer.

The basic batter recipe is super easy and very versatile.  I use this basic recipe for most things I fry, although truthfully I don’t dry a lot. I think the last thing I fried was fish for homemade fish and chips. This worked really well with fish.

Basic batter

1 and ½ cups of flour divided

1 cup beer (or seltzer water)

Pinch of salt pinch of pepper

Seasonings of choice.

Now, for those of you wondering how to divide flour, it is simple.  In this case you put ½ cup in a bowl and set it off to the side.  In another , larger bowl you put the 1 cup that remains.  Voilà! Divided Flour. To the one cup of flour add the salt and pepper, your seasonings (I chose garlic powder and dill for this one) and then add you beer.  Mix until it is a thick batter.  Don’t try and make it too thin or it won’t stick very well.  In this instance gloppy is kind of good.

The beer will foam when you pour it into the flour so make sure your bowl is big enough to contain it.

So you have your ½ cup flour for dredging and your batter, the rest is pretty simple.

You need something for the batter to go on. While I use this batter for a whole bunch of things, tonight we are going for mushrooms.

So I picked up one carton of unsliced mushrooms.  I like leaving the mushrooms big for this as it feels more substantial.  Since we planned a really light dinner, I wanted a more substantial Happy Hour food. The whole mushrooms feel substantial, plus I find when I don’t cut them smaller I use less batter.  And the batter and the oil is where you are getting the bulk of the calories.

For the oil, put canola oil about three inches deep in a deep pan.  I know you will be tempted to use a really wide pan so you can have maximum visibility.  If you what to that is fine, just make sure it has high sides. I use a smaller pan so that it doesn’t take as much oil to reach the three inch depth.  I also like that the smaller pan forces me to cook one at a time. It lets me set up my system. 

The process is simple.  You dredge the cleaned mushroom in flour, then put it in the batter.  Once coated you put the mushroom in the 350 degree oil. It will turn a golden brown quickly.  Use a slotted spoon to flip it in the oil (try not to splash) so that both sides get cooked.  When they are both golden brown put it on a rack with a pan or a paper towel under it to cool and hit it with a pinch of salt. I like to set up a relay system.

I dredge one mushroom in flour and put it in the batter then place another in the dredging flour.  Then as soon as the batter covered one goes into the oil the flour one moves to the batter and another mushroom moves to the flour.  By then it is time to flip the cooking mushroom. It goes fairly quickly once you get into a rhythm and the results are delicious. 

And because I used my baby’s cream ale in the batter, it is the perfect accompaniment to his home brewed concoction. It is a little heavier than I normally make my Home Happy Hours, but we decided to have a salad dinner so in the end it balances out.

As my baby has an aversion to eating anything like this without a dipping sauce, we ended up simply using Russian Dressing as the dipping sauce.  Well he did, I skipped the dipping sauce.  I tried it and while it went well, the sauce overpowered the garlic and dill in the batter.  If I had thought about it I probably would have made a tzatziki sauce for dipping as I think it would go really well and not be as heavy as the Russian dressing. But I was not thinking about sauce and he likes the dressing.  I’m fine without, so it works.

So now we are going to settle in and celebrate the first new batch of the year with a bowl of fried mushrooms and a cold Cream Ale. I hope however you are winding down your week you take a moment to just hit the pause button and take a little while down to just enjoy yourself.


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Happy Hour: The Grand Royal Fizz & Popcorn

Welcome to Happy Hour my darlings!  You have made it through the week and now it is time to relax. Your favorite snazzy cocktail lounge may not be open, but your kitchen is. And there is something to be said for kicking off your shoes and getting comfortable at home after a long week.

Tonight my babydoll and I are settling in with a Fizz.  I know some of you saw the name and immediately thought champagne.

Not tonight though.  Tonight we will be imbibing a drink called a Fizz that has nothing to do with champagne. It is called a fizz because of the added carbonated water.  The fizz isn’t around much these days but was apparently all the rage in the US between 1900 and 1940. Which is quite a long time for a drink to remain on the to be ordered list and so fashionable or not, it deserves respect.

I actually had my first Gin Fizz in New Orleans where it was once massively popular.  There are still places that serve it, but I don’t think they are as popular anymore. Which is a shame as I recall it being delicious. Like fashion, drinks fall in and out of favor.  It is one of the reasons I like old cocktail manuals.  You can see what was popular when and get a taste of a different era as well as branching out from your own personal tried and true drink of choice.

It’s always nice to have options.

Tonight’s fizz is still gin based. And unlike my martini it will have the dickens shaken out of it.  While you can still taste the components of the gin, it is a background note to the other ingredients. So…To the recipe.

To a martini shaker add:

The juice of half a lemon (about a tablespoon)

½ Tablespoon of powdered (icing) sugar

1 shot of gin (I use the large side of the jigger since mine is double sided. The big side can contain two ounces, the small 1 oz)

1-2 tablespoons of maraschino cherry juice to taste (I prefer mine closer to 1 than 2, but that is a taste call)

The juice of half a lime (about half a tablespoon)

I tablespoon of cream

Once everything is inside the shaker add the top and shake it until it is thoroughly mixed.  Strain it into a glass and top off with soda water (I use the water from my Soda Stream rather than getting any separate soda water).  Be very careful when adding the water and go slow.

Actually that wasn’t warning enough.

GO SLOW when adding the water.

The foam rises quickly on this drink

It’s like adding root beer to ice cream to make a float.  The cream in the drink meets the bubbles in the water and creates a foam.  You can very easily shoot up past the top of your glass and make a mess. To garnish I just dropped a maraschino cherry into the glass.  It sinks to the bottom of course, but then at the end of the drink you get a gin soaked maraschino cherry, so that’s not a bad thing.

The glass is of course your call. I love the shape of this glass. I have no idea where I picked it up but it fits comfortably in the hand and I really find the shape of it pleasing. For those looking at measurements This is exactly an eight ounce glass. Clearly the foam takes you a little past the rim but if you fill the glass with water and stop pouring before you risk sloshing over the sides it fits exactly 8 oz.

But it is happy hour and it isn’t all about the drinks, there is food to consider as well.

When deciding what to serve with this, my baby doll and I tossed around ideas.  It sounded sweet and so we thought something salty would do well with it.  I was all up for a kitchen creation, but he suggested popcorn and I have to say it sounded just about perfect. So with our cold sweet drink, we went with hot, salty popcorn.

The botanical bite of the gin kept the drink from being overly sweet.  It was however a sweet drink and to be honest, I don’t think I’d want more than one. It seems like a drink where one is delightful and two is a bit too much sugar. I am however not an overly sweet person. I tend to lean more savory. A friend of mine who normally leans into sweet cocktails said that she could easily have several. She also said she would probably regret having several later on, but that they are easy to drink.

Since the point is to have one drink at the end of the week with my baby, I’m perfectly fine with the fact that I can only have one without wanting another. This is about a slight indulgence, not over indulgence after all.

I would make it again and I would still make certain to serve it with something salty.  The popcorn worked perfectly and was super simple since we went with a microwaved bag. Our weekly home happy hour is more about a delightful treat for us at the end of a week than it is about needing to be over the top.  Don’t get me wrong, some weeks, I do go a bit over the top.  This week, there was no need.  The cocktail was the star and it just needed a backup singer rather than someone to sing a duet.

My budby popcorn was happy to in the role of supporting cast to the diva drink. And really with fast moving foam like that, you know the drink is a diva.

I don’t know what you have planned tonight, but I hope you take some time out to slow down, and take a moment for a few simple pleasures at the end of the work week. The week is done and happy hour is the brief pause at the end. Like a period at the end of a sentence.  This week the punctuation was the Grand Royal Fizz, or at least this version of it. Hopefully next week’s will be just as fun, even if it isn’t cherry flavored.

No Fine Print Wine

Daily Bread

our current loaf

I know I mentioned a while ago that because my darling dearest needed to reduce his sodium intake, I started baking bread. It is amazing how much sodium is in a loaf of store bought bread. Anyway, in our part of the world store bought bread has become a rare commodity with entire store shelves being barren, so even if we wanted to buy bread, we can’t. Also I find baking therapeutic.

So on the off chance you find yourself in a similar situation, I am posting one of my favorite recipes. It came from my Aunt. I have no idea where she got it, but it makes one loaf and is what we have been using. So on the off chance you want to try your hand at this, I’m posting the recipe below. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook the hardest part is waiting. even without, it isn’t that hard. So here we go,

Ingredients:

3 cups/384 g Bread flour (you can use all purpose, but it tends not to get as good a rise), keep a little extra flour for dusting the surface and in case you need to add more to counteract humidity.

1/2 cup milk

3/4 cup water (warmed to 120 degrees)

2 tsp honey

2 T butter (unsalted)

1 T sugar

2 tsp yeast

1 tsp salt

Directions:

  • place yeast pinch of flour, and sugar and warm water in a bowl. Set aside until foamy (10-15 minutes)
  • put milk and butter into a bowl and put in the microwave for 30 seconds on high, stir and then do another 30 seconds to melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, you can take it out of the microwave. If you don’t have a microwave, put them in a pan on the stove top on medium to heat. If both are taken from the fridge, then when the butter melts, the milk will be warm enough.
  • If using a stand mixer with a dough hook: add three cups/384 g of bread flour to the mixer. Add honey, salt, warmed milk and melted butter and the contents of the foamy yeast bowl (essentially everything goes in). Start the mixer on low so things don’t go flying (abt 1 minute) when they are mixed up a bit set it between two and three on your speed settings and let it go for anywhere from 8-10 minutes or until it forms a ball. It doesn’t need to be a smooth ball just a cohesive dough. If it looks like it is too wet, add a little more flour (by Tablespoons) and continue with the hook until incorporated and it is a still somewhat sticky mass.
  • Then stop the mixer, turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and give it a few final kneads until it is a smooth ball of dough.
  • If not using a stand mixer. Put all of the above ingredients into a bowl, blend with a silicone spatula until it is a dough, then turn out onto a flowered work surface and knead until it is a smooth ball of dough.
  • Once smooth, put into a greased bowl, turning once to oil all sides of your dough ball, then cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm spot for 45 minutes.
  • Once the dough has doubled in size, grease a regular sized loaf pan, make sure to get the corners. place the pan next to the bowl and remove the plastic wrap from the bowl (don’t throw away).
  • Lift the risen dough out of the bowl and place it into the greased loaf pan. Shape it so it fills the pan but try not to touch it too much.
  • Cover the loaf pan and dough with the plastic wrap and let sit for another 45 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Once dough has its second rise, take the plastic wrap off of the loaf pan and put the loaf pan with dough in the center rack of the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until you hear a hollow sound when you tap the loaf with a knife.
  • turn it out on a rack, making sure it’s right side up, let cool and slice as you want.

I like this recipe because it is super easy and you really don’t have to do much to the dough. You mostly just have to leave it alone. The bread has a good crumb and is substantial enough to support most ingredients. It toasts well and it freezes well. If you freeze it, let it cool completely, then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap then insert it into a freezer bag for extra security.

I know this post is a little out of the ordinary for me, but hopefully you will find it useful.