Friday, July 16, 2010

Something like Orange Julius

One of my earliest memories is of being in the Vancouver airport with my grandmother. I must have been about three years old. I don't remember who we were there to meet (or send off) but I do remember that she bought me an Orange Julius when we were there. It sure must have made an impact at the time, because it is the iconic drink of awesomeness in my addled brain. I remember trying it again about 20 years later (some wait, eh?) at a mall somewhere, but it just didn't measure up somehow. Maybe they changed the recipe or something. But you can imagine the upwelling of anticipation when I stumbeld across an "orange slush" recipe in the back of a Fine Cooking magazine (issue 51) whose ingredients looked like they would churn out a reasonable approximation of what I remembered from that airport so long ago. And churn they did -- this may not scream out "Vintage Orange Julius!" to you, but it sure does to me. It's quick and easy and utterly awesome. Give it a try and see what I mean!

You'll need a can (they aren't exactly cans anymore, but you know what I mean) of orange juice concentrate, 1 cup of milk, 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla, and some ice cubes (the recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups, but just try to measure that).

Put the milk, sugar, vanilla, and orange juice concentrate in a blender and combine it all on medium-low speed for a few seconds.

Then crank the blender up to high, open the drop tube, and drop your ice cubes in there one by one while the juice is whirring around. After the last ice cube, let it blend for a sec until the mixture is nice and smooth.

Serve up to your expectant crowd (this recipe makes about 4 glasses worth, and straws are a must) and see if you can make a memory too. Cheers!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Nutty salad

Ok, maybe you don't really need a salad recipe. I mean, it's just lettuce, dressing, and other stuff, right? But maybe you do need some inspiration to go out a make one. This is a little salad I whipped up with the spiced nuts I made the other day (ok, I didn't actually use those spiced nuts, but I could have -- these were from another batch and a different recipe that didn't achieve total awesomeness like the one I posted.)

First step: make a Key lime pie and use the leftover egg whites to make spiced nuts.

Next step: clean your lettuce. (Ugh, this is the reason I put off making salads more than I should. It's no fun. But there's no way around it, so SOLDIER ON!) It's a good idea to dry your lettuce after you wash it, othewise your salad will suck.
Back in a former life, I grew salad greens on top of a warehouse in Toronto. I had set up a little feasibility study to see if I could make a buck at it. It worked out pretty well, but I realised I was out of my league when the owner of an Italian restaurant, after sampling my arugula and declaring it the best he'd ever tasted, asked me how many crates I could get him (my scale was of the ziploc freezer bag magnitude, so that was pretty much that). ANYWAY, cleaning greens was a big part of the operation (maybe that's why I don't like doing it anymore?).  Just rinse the leaves in a big bowl with a couple changes of water. Then spin them in a salad spinner, or, if you don't have one, or if you do but are prone to theatrics, put them in a teatowel (or even better, an old onion sac -- you know, the mesh ones) and go outside and swing the package of greens around in a big circle until all the water flies away (I'm beginning to see why I don't make salad much -- this is a major production!).

I make my vinaigrettes on the fly by squeezing a lime or some lemon into a bowl. Then I pour enough olive oil in so there is a 50-50 or 3 to 1 ratio (depending on how zippy I'm feeling). Then a blob of mustard goes in (I like Meaux in those cool clay pots with the cork and the wax lid), add some salt and pepper, and I`whisk it all up.

Next step is to dump the shredded greens into the vinaigrette and mix them all around. I use my hands for this, since they are, as I've mentioned before, the best tools in the kitchen.

I put some avocado in this salad. Here's a nifty way to prepare them. First slice them in half and pop out the pit.

Then slice a grid pattern into each half (careful, your hand's under there!).

And finally, spoon it out into nice little cubes. Nice and tidy -- those dudes are slimy, messy city on a cutting board, so this is a good way to avoid that whole scene (you can makes slices the same way too).

Here's the final product. Some chopped tomato, the avocado, a bit of Reggiano, and the spiced nuts all tossed in after the greens were dressed. Well worth the effort. I've posted this so that when I feel salad laziness coming, I can come and check out the picture and remember that it's all worth it.

Buon appetito!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Go nuts!

I bet you're probably wondering what I did with all those egg whites I had left over from the Key lime pie. Ok, I'll probably lose that bet, but anyway, here's what I did with them. I made spiced nuts!
There's a local shop that sells tiny little bags of spiced pecans for about 8 bucks. I confess: I've bought more of these than I probably should have; but they are really, really good. And probably healthy, too. Right?! Anyway, in an effort to save my bank account (it adds up, seriously!), I've been looking for a suitable replacement. Nothing quite stacked up though. There was not enough flavour, or they were too sweet, or too oily, or just plain gross. I had almost given up until I came across the spiced pecan recipe in Bite Me (they have several spiced nut variations in the salad section). I changed it up a little to get the flavours I was looking for, but I followed their technique and it works great.

You need 4 cups of pecan halves, one egg white (I ended up using almost three -- I tried to get one out of the bowl where I'd stored the leftover egg whites from the Key lime pie, but you know egg whites, they kinda gooped together and just fell in), 1 tablespoon of water, 1 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt, and (my little extra boost) 1/ 2 teaspoon of cayenne.

Heat your oven to 250 and oil a baking sheet (I just poured a blob of oil on the tray and wiped it around with some paper towel).

Whisk the egg white(s) and water until they get all foamy.

Combine the sugar and the spices.

Mix the sugar mixture into the egg white, then add the pecans and mix those around until they are well coated.

Scoop the pecans out (I used a strainer to keep them from being too goopy -- remember the extra egg whites?)...

...and place them on the oiled baking sheet.

Pop them in the oven and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes.

Let them cool and either eat up, or store them in an airtight container for snacks and salads later.

They're really, really good.

Key Lime Pie

Well, well, well! It's been a few days! I got wrapped up in a book and haven't had much time for the computer lately. Now it's done (and the sequel is a year away) so here I am.

I have been wanting to make a key lime pie for some time now, but never seemed to be able to get around to it. As you may have noticed, the Bite Me cookbook hit me with a wave of inspiration, and lo' and behold, there's a Key lime pie recipe in there. This, combined with the fact that Bloblaws had bags of Key limes in the store, led to an unstoppable momentum of pie destiny.

Key limes are smaller than the regular ones. They are also seedier and less juicy, but they apparently have a special flavour (which I don't really notice in the green ones -- maybe it comes out when they are fully ripe). They are named after the Florida Keys (where, I am told, Key lime pie is the official state pie no less). Regular limes are called Persian limes, but Key limes are originally from the Middle East too, so go figure.

ANYWAY, you'll need 2 teaspoons of lime zest for the filling, so now is a good time to get that done. I just use a sharp knife and shave thin strips of zest off of the limes.

Chop it up nice and fine, and set it aside for the filling later. You could of course just use a microplane or some other suitable implement, but I don't have one and I really, really don't like cleaning the small bumps on a box grater.

The next thing to do is juice your limes. You need 1/2 cup of juice. I needed about 30 of these puppies to get 1/2 a cup -- you could probably get that much juice from 4 regular ones.
Slicing the limes is the first job.  Hold them like this if you want to keep your fingers.

I juiced them through a seive to catch all the seeds (grow your own Key limes if you like -- the seeds will work). I didn't bother with a reamer or juicer -- I just squeezed them by hand.

Several years later, I had enough juice for the pie. If you happen to have some extra juice, you could of course use if for a margarita (just so you know).
Next step is to make the crust. It's a graham crust. Mmmmm.... You need 1 1/4 cups of graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 6 tablespoons of melted butter (plus a bit extra to grease your pie plate).
Just mix all that stuff together and then...

...start working it into the pie plate. Just pat it in with your hands. Take care to press firmly into the corners, otherwise you get big chunky edges (which are yummy, sure, but hard to cut through when the pie is done).

Tidy up the top edge.

And then pop it in the oven for 8 minutes. When it's done, take it out and set it aside on a wire rack to cool. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees.

The filling is next. You'll need that 1/2 cup of lime juice you spend forever on, 3 egg yolks. 1 3/4 cups of sweetened condensed milk, and the 2 teaspoons of lime zest.

Pull out your bad boy mixer to do this job right.

Put the egg yolks in the mixer bowl and whip them on medium for 3 minutes. Then gradually add the condensed milk and beat for another 4 minutes. Finally, pour in the lime juice and the zest and mix that around for another minute.

Pour the mixture into the crust, and put it in the 300 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Cool the pie, and then refrigerate for at least 1 hour (I know, I know. How can we be expected to wait for so long?!)

Now, the recipe in the book called for a meringue to be added to the filling before baking, but I wanted to use this pie the next day, and I don't like what happens to meringue when it sits in the fridge. So...

...I had the genius idea to make some tequila whipped cream to go on top of the pie. Start with a cup or so of cold whipping cream, then add a spoonful or two of icing sugar and a spoonful or two of tequilla and whisk it up. I'll leave it up to you to decide what kind of spoonful (I'm a tablespoon kind of guy myself).

And here it is, in all it's Key limey glory! Hope you like it!