Monday, November 16, 2009

Apple-Apple Martini

It's fall in New Jersey, which means apples are in season. While some people like to make apple pies, apple crisps, or even baked apples, but I prefer to drink my apples. No, not apple cider; gimme some apple-cinnamon infused vodka.

Infused vodka drinks were all the rage a few years ago, a trend started by the Capital Grille and their Stoli Doli. I make a few different infusions throughout the year, depending on what Jersey Fresh fruit the farmer's market sells, but I prefer apple to the rest.

Since I am a martini drinker, I like it shaken over ice and served up, but on the rocks tastes great also. The cinnamon can be a little bitter so I add apple pucker to sweeten the martini and add some color. Garnishes are optional, but a cinnamon stick or floated slice of a Granny Smith Apple look awesome. Also, rimming the glass with cinnamon sugar also adds a nice touch.

  • Vodka
  • Red delicious apples
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Apple Pucker

  • Jar for infusing vodka
  • Apple slicer
  • Martini shaker

Making the Infusion

The first thing necessary in making the infusion is a container to make it in. Any vessel will do, but sells some fancy glass for making and serving flavored vodka. I own two, a 100oz verona and a 204oz verona. The recipe amounts below are for the 204 oz container, which makes about a gallon of vodka. Quality ingredients are always important when cooking and are just as important in flavoring the vodka. The better the apple, the better tasting the infusion. Red delicious apples are my favorite to eat, so I get the best ones I can. Cut them with an apple slicer and fill your infusion jar with them. My infusion jar takes about five pounds of apples to fill. Like all spices, cinnamon loses flavor over time, so make sure it is fresh. After some testing, I settled on three cinnamon sticks. More than three, and the infusion was very bitter, less than three and the infusion didn't have enough flavor. The vodka, however, doesn't need to be the highest quality. The apples filter the vodka during the infusion time, so there is no need for the best stuff. I'm not recommending Popov, but there is no need for Grey Goose. I typically buy Smirnoff, and use almost two 1.75L bottles to fill my infusion jar. The infusion process takes a week for the flavors to be fully extracted from the fruit, and you'll notice the vodka turns reddish brown, and the apples will lose their color. The apples on top will react with the air at the top of the container and will turn brown, but it doesn't impact the taste. Also after the first day, the apples will absorb some of the vodka, so you have to add some more to re-fill the jar.

Making the Martini

After the week wait, you can serve directly from the infusion jar, or empty the jar into a bottle for serving. I make my apple-apple martinis with much more apple cinnamon vodka than apple pucker. Since I don't measure the amounts, I estimate the ratio to be about nine parts apple-cinnamon to one part pucker. It's really about cutting any bitterness from the cinammon, without masking the taste. Shake over ice, pour into a martini glass, and enjoy.

Feel free to experiment with different apples, different amounts of cinnamon, and different mixers. Let us know about the results in the comments.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stephie's Macaroni Salad

My number one, sure fire, guaranteed method of finding great recipes to cook is to ask my mom for her recipe. I know the recipe is extra special when she tells me she doesn't have it written down.

Mom's macaroni salad is legendary in the family. She brings it to almost every BBQ/get together we have all summer long and never there's never leftover to be found. Often, she makes a double or triple batch so Dad can have some for lunch.  Making the salad is fairly simple, but there are a couple tricks to making the salad truly excel. The first and most important tip is the salad needs to be made at least the day before you need it.

  • 1 lb Creamette Elbow Macaroni
  • 3 ribs of celery - diced
  • 5 - 6 scallions - diced
  • 1/2 pound cooked baby shrimp
  • 2 cans crabmeat
  • 1/2 can solid white tuna
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1/4 tsp celery seed
  • Hellmann's Mayonnaise

  • Pot for cooking pasta
  • Colander
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Mixing Spoon

Cook the pasta until just done and rinse. Al dente pasta doesn't add here. Add the celery, scallions, shrimp, crabmeat, tuna and seasonings to the bowl. The second trick for the recipe is to add about a half can of crab juice.  Mix the ingredients in the bowl.

The last ingredient is the most important: mayonnaise.  Throw the Miracle Whip away and get the real stuff: Hellmanns.  Add in a couple large spoonfulls of mayo and mix.  You want to add just enough mayo so all the pasta is coated.  Put the salad in the refrigerator and come back tomorrow.

As the salad sits overnight, the pasta soaks up the mayo leaving the salad rather dry. Add more mayo and mix again until you have a nice sticky but not overly wet consistency.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stuffed Long Hot Peppers

I cook a few dishes I call "stolen recipes." I didn't really steal anything per-se; I learned to replicate at home after having them in restaurants. My friend's restaurant Graziano's Ristorante in Chesilhurst, NJ makes a wonderful appetizer of cheese stuffed long hot peppers. Long hots are in season now, and available at my local farm stand, so I've been making them weekly for Wifey and I.

  • Long Hot Peppers
  • Cheese
  • Onion
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Ingretient tips
  • Long hots tend to be slightly curly, straiter ones are easier to prep
  • Any type of onion is fine: red, yellow, white, vidalia, shallots. I've used them all
  • I prefer sharp provolone - I shred it myself in a food processor

  • Oven - Preheat to 375F
  • Stovetop
  • Saute Pan
  • Cookie Sheet
  • Knives
  • Cutting board

The onions serve two purposes for the appitzer: part of the stuffing, and as a topping. For four peppers, I use about half a decent sized onion total. Slice a quarter of the onion and dice the other quarter. Saute the slices in olive oil until browned and set aside.

Long hots aren't nearly as hot as jalapeños or other peppers, so I skip the gloves when prepping the peppers. Lay the peppers on a cutting board and slice down the length of them. Slice open the top, as they lay stable on the cutting board, so they won't roll over during baking and the let the stuffing run out. Remove the seeds and the ribs (the light colored stuff the seeds are attached to). The ribs provide the heat (not the seeds), so remove more of it for milder peppers (Wifey's serving), or less for SPICY (mine). Coat the outide of the peppers in olive oil. I won't describe my process for oiling them, the photos are self expanatory (1, 2, 3).

Fill the peppers with the chopped onions first, then stuff as much cheese as you can in them. Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray and arrange the peppers on it. Bake in the middle oven rack at 375F for 25-30 minutes or until the cheese starts to brown. Remove from the oven to a plate, and top with the sautéed onions and serve. ENJOY!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Soakin' the Mugs

Saturday marks the beginning of the college football season, followed quickly by the start of the NFL season. Of course that means drunk-fests tailgating. While the Red Solo Cup is the tailgating standard, I prefer to drink out of something a little more personalized, and eco-friendly: the pewter mug. Some people don't like mugs because they taste like metal, but that's because pewter mugs used for drinking beer need to be seasoned by soaking them in beer. The soak is similar to treating cast iron pans, the beer fills in any nooks and crannies in the pewter and prevents the metallic taste. Since the beer the mugs are soaked in gets thrown away, it doesn't make any sense to use good beer for the soaking. Actually my friends and I like to brag about how bad a beer we can find for the soak. Over the years, I have used Mickey's Malt Liquor, Coors Light, and Natural Light. This year's choice was Schmidt, rolling in at a whopping $5 per 12 pack. Here's the details:

  • Cheap Beer
    • Mugs
    • Appropriate sized container

    I own multiple mugs: one for college games, one for NFL games, and wifey has one she really doesn't use, but I soak anyway, so I need a fairly large container and used a 16 quart cooler. Wash out the mugs and set them in the container and fill will beer until the mugs are completely covered. It took me an entire case of beer because the one mug I have is so tall. I let the mugs sit overnight before removing and rinsing. The next part is key: after removing the mugs, just rinse them. Do NOT use soap, it will remove the coating and render the process useless. So stop killing the environment one cup at a time, get a mug or two and get soaking.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    Changing up the blogs

    I've decided to change the organization of my blogs. I added two additional blogs, and instead of just randomly posting subjects to Light Fare, I am going to focus on two subjects I enjoy: photography and cooking. Photography related items (tips, how-to's, behind the scenes, links) will be on the blog associated with my photography business: (Shameless plug: Delaware Valley residents looking for portraits, contact me at bill [at] vividelegance [dot] com). Light Fare will become what I originally intended and will feature posts on what I cook: recipes, instructions, and tips. Finally, will be what Light Fare turned into: an extension of twitter. Expect random thoughts I can't squeeze into 140 characters.