Christmas time is here….

…time for joy & cocktails!

You have waited too long to find gifts for everyone on your list. You could take to the interwebs & satisfy your list in a manner completely devoid of the season’s spirit or you could turn your kitchen into an apothecary for the night & prep libations for friends–or just for yourself, after all, you’ll need them when the family shows up next week.

For Festivus gifts this year, I made a few boozed up garnishes: Maraschino Cherries & Vermouth-Spiked Cocktail Onions.

The simplest way to do this is to find some pearl onions and some sour cherries and soak them in liquor for a few days. But, if you want to get fancy, a few spices and herbs can take it to phase 3, peppering your holiday celebration with spicy, herby, warming drinks to satisfy any lush.

If you had thought really far ahead you could’ve gotten sour cherries when they were in season. But you didn’t. Shame. If you have a Trader Joe’s near-by, however, you can pick up a jar of their Morello Cherries in light syrup. If you can’t find those, I suggest getting sweet cherries & adding lemon juice the solution I’ll reveal below.

For my cherries, I toast a handful of slivered almonds with 2 t whole black peppercorns in  a dry pan. Once the almonds have taken on some color & start to waft with aroma, I pour in 2/3 cup of the jarred syrup (use the rest to make cherry limeades!) combined with 1 1/3 cup Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. If you can’t find Luxardo locally, any Maraschino Liqueur will work, or in a pinch you could use Cherry Brandy. I bring that to a good simmer and then set it aside to steep.

In the meantime, I’ve prepared some canning jars. The ones I used are Quattro Stagioni 5oz, apparently the Ball Jars of Italy. Cute & a little different than a standard American canning jar, they have a great neck with which to tie a ribbon and are available at The Container Store or online (also available in 8.5oz). After sterilizing them, I put in each a sprig of thyme, a ribbon of lemon peel and a half stick of cinnamon. Then, I divide the cherries among each and strain the concoction prepped above over the cherries. If you find that you don’t have enough solution to cover them completely, pour in a little extra liqueur straight. If you want you can then give them a second boil a la proper canning technique. These make a really delicious Manhattan, the cinnamon adding a warm holiday-infused sweetness to every sip.

For the onions, I basically followed this recipe from Saveur, tied each jar with a pretty ribbon and included a recipe for a Dirty Gibson. But after tasting them, I can tell you to make plenty & then use one jar for a quick dinner: simply sear a piece of fish in some olive oil, remove the fish, tent and then pour the contents of one jar in the pan, reduce it and serve with some roasted cauliflower, maybe a squeeze of lemon over the top. Delicious.



the road to the farmer’s market…

…is paved just the same as that other well-intentioned road.

So, yesterday I had a plan. Dinner was to be oven-fried fish n’ chips. I wasn’t entirely sure how I would go about it, but the idea had been planted and my mind was set. The night before, I placed the frozen haddock in the fridge to thaw. In so doing, I noticed the raspberries my roommate had leftover from the weekend–they’d been integral to the dog’s 10th birthday party. Knowing she’d never use them, and with memories of the market’s golden apricots floating in my mind, I knew that their powers–combined into a cobbler–was just what the heat wave ordered.

So, my mission was simple. Get to the market, get some baby potatoes, grab a few apricots & a pint of vanilla, head home and let the wonders unfold.

When I arrived, Ronnybrook Farm (dairy) was packing up; so, I grabbed my vanilla and then perused the stalls for the best apricots. It turned out, however that he best apricots were peaches. The peaches were riper (for a good cobbler you want supreme ripeness) and are the preferred stone-fruit of my roommate anyway. Once I’d scouted out the best, I noticed two other goodies at the same booth: the most beautiful okra the plumpest golden tomatoes ever. Ever. Just because I’d planned on getting only a few things, didn’t mean I couldn’t get a few more…Thus, I scooped some up & headed home.

Once home, I decided to knock the cobbler out of the way. For my two minis, I diced 2 peaches similar in size to the raspberries, a quarter pints worth, threw in a splash of bourbon, juiced half a lemon, sprinkled a wee bit of brown sugar and a pinch of salt & let it sit til it got super juicy. Then, I put 1T of butter in each serving dish & set them in the oven at 350 degrees. For the batter: 1/4 cup self-rising flour, a pinch of salt & 1/4 cup sugar, whisked with 1/4 cup milk & a splash of vanilla. Method: remove warm dishes with completely melted butter from the oven. Divide batter evenly into the dishes. Divide fruit evenly over the batter. Bake for 30 min or so. This is the best way to make cobbler. Any other way you’ve been told to make cobbler is wrong. Other methods will result in a crumble (flour & butter, crumbled on top of fruit), a betty (a crumble with oats) or a fruit pot pie (biscuits). Once it’s puffy and bubbly and a glowing golden brown, you’re ready to throw some ice cream on that pot of delicious and go to town. (Or you could set it aside and work on the rest of dinner, then throw it back in to warm up while you eat.)

Which is what I did.

First, the chips of my fish n’ chips: lovely, rosemary roasted potatoes…which I’d forgotten to buy. Damn the enchanting allure of okra and tomatoes! Fried okra would defeat the purpose of oven-frying the fish. I decided I would simply slice the tomatoes, top with a salad of mixed greens and let that suffice–after all, I had cobbler waiting for dessert. Just because I’d forgotten a key component, didn’t mean I would veer from the main event.

To tackle the fish, I wanted to stay true to its English heritage. Generally that means a beer-battered, tempura-like crust. While that wasn’t going to happen with oven frying, I wondered how to get similar flavor. Solution: for my dry/wet/dry dredging, I would make the wet component a wash of egg & porter. For my birthday, my brother had sent me a fantastic gift for any food minded (or suds minded) individual: A case of 12 select beers, local to my region. In my mind, summer is too hot for a porter, but it served as the perfect way to infuse some beeriness and malty flavor into my dish. As for the dry components, the first was a mix of self rising flour and flax meal, and the second, a mix of panko and crushed breakfast cereal (any amalgamation of chex or flake will work) plus a hit of cayenne, each station properly seasoned with salt and pepper. Set the coated fish on a rack over a sheet pan, into the oven at 425 for about 20 minutes and you’ll have a perfectly cooked piece of fish that you’ll wish had been deep-fried with beer batter. Just because something is delicious, doesn’t mean it will satisfy a craving…Sidenote: even though we’re in the middle of a heat wave, I still drank the rest of that porter. It was delicious. Thanks, bro.

Alas, with no apricots or potatoes and a half-heartedly eaten fish, I still thoroughly enjoyed the meal. And that’s because Cobbler. Is. Delicious. I also made a beet tartar sauce with home pickled beets, my own yogurt and a small squeeze of mayo–for the fish, not the cobbler.

The moral: Just because you planned for one meal doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the one you wound up with instead.