Sunday, December 30, 2012

Way Past the Last Minute Gift in a Jar

Shall we do bullet points again?
  • I am late for everything always, and am a bit lackadaisical when it comes to holiday obligations.  (I mean, there's something unfit about that phrase, 'holiday obligations', in the first place, don't you think?)
  • Hipsters love jam jars.  (A friend once said to me, without irony, "I kind of have a jar fetish."  Judge me if you want, but I kind of do, too.)
  • Everyone loves booze. (Unless you don't.  If so, sorry to exclude you.)
  • Hey, remember that gift in a jar thing we used to do around here in the early days?

With that, let's talk about Kentucky Egg Nog Spike.

This year, I was actually not at all lackadaisical about holiday gifts (just about sharing them here).  In fact, despite not having religious ties to the season, I felt the urge to seriously Christmas it up.   I put up the most adorable felt mistletoe, lit a tiny spruce-scented candle, and set off to buy a carton of egg nog.  Reading labels at the store, everything from Broguiere's with its hipster-magnet oldy-timey glass bottle, to the organic stuff, had weird ingredients.  Artificial flavors in one, unpronounceable mysteries in another.  Bummer.  This didn't stop me from picking up a carton anyway, but when I got home, I started researching recipes.  

What I learned: I will never make egg nog.  Doing so would put me eye-to-eye with the frightening mass of egg yolks, heavy cream, sugar, and other incredibly unhealthy things that go into this sugary omelet-disguised-as-beverage, and I just don't have the courage for that.

However, amidst the nog search, I came across a recipe for something called Egg Nog Spike.  A combination of spirits infused with delicious warm spices, designed to add a little liquory life your groggy nog.  Mix together some brandy, bourbon, and dark rum, then throw in some vanilla beans, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and cracked nutmeg.  Jar it up and let it sit for at least a week, up to months.  I put this together with a little arts and crafts project (the labels came together from an old brown bag, a black sharpie, and a pencil for drawing circles and lines), and thus came to be my very pretty 2012 holiday gifts.

 I know Hanukkah and Christmas are past, but this would be a lovely thing for a New Year's Eve host.  And it doesn't have to be relegated to nog:  I think it'd be great on the rocks with a little milk or cream white Russian style, or pour some in your coffee for a little bit of spiced Christmas magic to last into the new year. It's a great addition to some hot cider, too.

You can find the recipe here on Epicurious.  I made 4 batches, to fill 8 16-ounce jars.  And if you pour a tiny bit extra of each liquor, you'll have some left over at the bottom of the bowl to save for yourself, which I absolutely did do.  

I hope you all are having a cozy, warm holiday season, and I wish you guys a spirited and lovely 2013!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

correspondence and cauliflower

Back before technology took over our lives, if you wanted to convey a message, you had only a few choices: You could either talk to a person on the phone, handwrite a letter, or actually converse face-to-face.  And that was pretty much it.  But, the options we have when it comes to communication have exploded in the last couple decades.  And though I'm sometimes at odds with the fast-paced correspondence of today, I recognize that each of these options has a distinct value.  

First came email.  I still live for long, meaty emails where I can unload paragraph after verbose, emotive paragraph -- ahh, sweet indulgence.  I love IM for covering the essentials of the day, cracking up in real time with far-away friends, sharing a quick link or dishing the latest gossip.  And then there's text, which I'll never fully embrace.  The world seems to enjoy its choppy shorthand, but for me, it's a little too impersonal, and often leaves me feeling estranged.  So, obviously Twitter is of little use to me either.  And there are all the new options that come from Facebook:  you can announce to the world that you're now In A Relationship, present your political stance, or share your favorite falling penguin video.  And let's not forget the fine art of the Facebook comment:  keep it light, get your point across quickly, and above all, be clever -- the world is reading!  (Not to mention its old offshoot, the Evite comment:  same deal, but for some reason, with added pressure.)  Across online media, there's the simple gesture of the 'like':  quickly give your acknowledgement, without committing so much as a single word -- it's like the digital equivalent of a nonchalant chin-nod.  

Not that you need words to communicate anymore:  you can post a photo to show how cool you are (or how adorable your kids are, or how amazing your morning smoothie looks).  Then apply a filter to make your yellow fluorescent-lit living room look retro-sexy, and add some blur to fuzz out those embarrassing magazines on the counter.  You can combine five photos together to pack even more information into a single image.  And then there's the amazing world of animated gifs.  Seems like hardly a coincidence that it sounds so much like 'gift', when it grants us gems like this:  

My medium of choice?  Bullet points.  I employ them at work, whenever I'm faced with the delicious task of technical communication*, and they're so effective there that of course they bleed into my regular life.

So, on with it.  Let's discuss last night's dinner.  It was too good not to share.  This recipe was inspired by:

  • This amazing-looking recipe for cauliflower and feta fritters.  I always feel an affinity for Smitten Kitchen's vegetably main course recipes (not that the margarita cookies are anything to scoff at).  Boiling, then mashing, then adding then egg, then frying seemed like way too many steps for me, but the combination of cauliflower and feta sounded awesome. 
  • The insanely delicious fried cauliflower at Sunnin Lebanese restaurant in Westwood.  We used to go here in college back when it was a tiny and brightly lit hole-in-the-wall.  Now they've got a big fancy dining room.  Not the same, but the cauliflower, deep fried until it's totally browned on the outside and served with tahini, is a revelation.  Who knew you could crave cauliflower?
  • The fact that I had a half a cauliflower in my fridge that was nearing its last days.  (the start of most recipes in my kitchen...just living the Everlasting Meal dream...)
  • The miracle of modern technology that is the 10-minute farro at Trader Joe's.  Have you had farro?  It's awesome.  It's a slightly sweet, flavorful grain with a bit of satisfying chewiness to it.  It makes great grain-based salads, both hot and cold.  Sadly, it takes about 45 minutes to cook, but the other day I discovered small bags of par-boiled farro at Trader Joe's that cook up in 10 minutes.  Tremendous.  

So, I put all these inspirations together, added in some other scroungy things from my kitchen -- fresh chives, dried mint that was once fresh, and some toasted slivered almonds from the freezer, and came up with a warm, filling, and balanced dinner salad.  As always with these saladbook guys, variations driven by what is in your kitchen and what is your flavor preference, are wildly encouraged.  Please share your findings!

* My friend Jon had a t-shirt that said "I know I'm efficient, tell me I'm beautiful."  In nerdy moments like these, that sentiment resonates like no other.

Warm Farro Salad with Cauliflower and Feta

This would be just as good cold (though I'd add an extra squeeze of lemon juice right before serving).

1/2 cup 10-minute farro
Olive oil
1/2 a head of cauliflower, split into florets (smaller florets are better, because you get more browny bits and it cooks faster, but whatev)
2 Tbs slivered almonds
Dried mint (or fresh)
2 Tbs crumbled feta
Chives, chopped
Lemon juice

Make the farro according to the package's 'simmer' instructions.  While it's simmering, heat a large pan over medium-high heat.  Add cauliflower and a tablespoon or two of olive oil.  Sautee for about 10 minutes, turning pieces occasionally so all sides have a chance to brown.  In the last minute or so, add the cumin, slivered almonds, and mint, and toss to combine.  (Note:  if your slivered almonds are raw or blanched, throw them in a couple minutes early so they have a chance to toast.)  Turn off heat under cauliflower.  Add farro, leaving any liquid in the pot.  Add feta, chives, and lemon juice, and toss to combine thoroughly.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Variations I want to try:

  • something sweet:  pomegranate, dried cranberries, raisins?
  • maybe broccoli instead of cauliflower, maybe roasted instead of fried (we like roasted broccoli around here.)
  • tahini in the dressing (that's what the amazing fried business at Sunnin is served with)
  • honey in the dressing
  • sunflower seeds or pine nuts instead of the almonds