Monday, June 11, 2007

It's that time of year again...

Some cold beverages need to be sweetened, like iced tea. But we are loath to spend hours trying to dissolve a spoonful of sugar into a cold beverage. What is the point? And it would only drive us to seek solace in a sympathetic gin and tonic.

How to sweeten the bev in an elegant and efficient way? So simple: simple syrup.

The ratio is 1 part granulated sugar to one part water, bring the water to a boil until the sugar has dissolved. Keep refrigerated in a sterilized, airtight glass jar.

We do like to fancy this up a bit, though. To one cup of water and one cup of sugar, we add the zest of two large lemons - a vegetable peeler works quite well at just removing the yellow part. We let this cool off, strain it into the aforementioned glass jar. We throw in a couple of the strips of zest to make it look good.

Now you have some lemon simple syrup to sweeten and flavor your summer iced tea.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The King of All Cookies!

When we - at Martini Central - find ourselves when we need to provide something for a gathering, and that thing does not involve liquor (yes: "gasp!!"), we usually whip up a batch of sour cream chocolate chip cookies.

The King of all Cookies, as it were.

Sour Cream Chocolate Chip Cookies
"An old-fashioned treat!"

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable shortening

1 egg, room temperature
1 cup low-fat sour cream

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cream the sugar and shortening until fluffy. Add the egg and mix until fluffy, add sour cream, mix thouroughly.

Combine all dry ingredients in a separate bowl and mix to incorporate everything - no lumps of baking powder is the goal. Add the flour mixture to the wet items and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop rounded teaspoonsfull onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes.

Makes about 3 dozen.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Like Faith, Like Love - Full of Contradictions?

We're nothing if not fancy here at Martini Central. You've guessed that already, haven't you, dear reader? And yet: we are full of apparent contradictions. A current issue of The Star next to this week's New Yorker? Beer in cans offered with the same enthusiasm as a Bombay Sapphire martini? We mix the high with the low. We love it. Love. It. When you, dear reader stop by and want some distraction, some cocktails, we're here for you.

You see: we have saffron in our cupboard.

You only need a few threads to add to a rice. Does it really do anything? It's like faith, or love: it colors the whole dish - and, like faith, or love, it perfumes but has an unusual, faint metallic edge - like blood from a bit cheek.

We digress.

We don't serve brown rice to our guests, but we like to make some at the beginning of the week to accompany our lunches. Brown rice is a whole grain and that, along with fresh veg and lean meats - in addition to daily constitutionals, are what keep us trim and fit. After a while, we have come to enjoy it: it's nutty and firm and filling. Brown rice also spoils easily. We keep ours in the freezer.

The saffron makes things special - when we take the lid off the rice and look down at it, it has a warm orangy glow. It smells wonderful. Eating brown rice shouldn't make one feel dreary, like an unshaven follower of some macrobiotic cult. It should be just as rewarding as opening up a fresh issue of a gossip magazine and getting updated on news that counts.

We've done well keeping to the directions on the package - brown rice takes a long time to cook. About 45 minutes to the 20 minutes that white rice takes. We've also noticed the domestic long-grain brown rice we get from the supermarket takes less water - we're assuming this is because it is fresher.

Our method? We saute the rice in butter, add salt and the saffron, then the water. Sauteing covers each grain with enough fat to keep the rice separate - it also removes the chill from the freezer and gives it a nice, toasted flavor.

Another thing we've learned? Using boiling water from our electric kettle makes the whole process go a little quicker.

Brown Rice with Saffron

1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 or 4 threads saffron

1 cup brown rice

1 3/4 cups water

In a 1 1/2 -quart saucepan, melt a pat of butter over high heat. When the butter stops bubbling, add 1 cup of brown rice and saute until it loses its chill and becomes translucent. Add the salt and saffron, stir well.

Add the water. If your water is boiling hot, give it a stir, reduce the heat to low, and clamp on a tight-fitting lid. If not, wait until the water comes to a boil before the stir and lid.

Set a timer for 50 minutes and amuse yourself. After the time is up, remove the pot from the heat, and let things rest for another 10 minutes. Now you can remove the lid and - gently - fluff with a fork.

All done! Now...we did mention a martini, didn't we?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Caramelized Onions

We were inspired this weekend by a conversation with our Mother, who had made caramelized onions and gussied up the whole thing to dress some pasta. Let it be known that, while Martini Central is awash with cocktails, ales, and assorted wines, the Ancestral Home was - for all practical purposes - a teetotaler's haven. Which is to say: do not blame the upbringing or the environment for your host's intoxicated state.

Back to the onions.

A dish of simplicity that only requires patience. But the wait - what there is - is worth it. It is a simple, cheap thing to make, leftovers keep well in the fridge, and it can give a magic touch to most dishes. If one is lucky, everything can be found in a moderately well-stocked pantry - although the onions may require a special stop by the supermarket. After the onions are sliced up, pop them in a pan over medium-high heat and wait. There will be some fussing with this over the course of an hour, but most of the time can be spent doing other things - as long as they don't take you too far from the kitchen, or distract you to the point of forgetting you have something cooking.

For this project, in consideration of the time from start to finish (about an hour) we suggest something of a lower octane, like a nice red wine or a cold beer.

There are a couple of ingredients that aren't necessary for caramelized onions, but we like them and so included them in the recipe: dried thyme and cognac. If one or either are missing from your pantry, fuss not. A dusting of cayenne pepper finds itself over most savory dishes in the test kitchens of Martini Central. We do not consider this an optional ingredient because it adds an element of interest that ought not to be passed by. For the this dish, please, a conservative hand should be used.

We used three onions for our recipe - but this can be adjusted as you see fit. The raw onions that filled the pan made about one cup when cooked down.

How did our Sainted Mother serve this? With pasta: she thinned out the onions with some of the pasta water, added some crumbled feta cheese, toasted walnuts, and a little chopped flat-leaf parsley.

And, it should go without saying: the wine should come out only after the onions have been sliced.

Caramelized Onions

3 yellow onions
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh-cracked pepper
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 ounce cognac
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

- Slice the onions in half, and slice the halves crosswise into pieces about 1/4-inch thick.
- Heat olive oil in a 14-16 inch nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, add the sliced onions.

One may have to mound the onions up to fit them all in: do not fret, they will cook down. They can't be moved much, at this point, without getting onions all over the stove. Pour that glass of wine. If the anxiety of burning the onions is getting too great, turn down the heat a little.

- Season the onions with salt, pepper, sugar, and thyme. Toss, occasionally to help them cook evenly. Once the onions begin to decrease in volume by half, turn down the heat to medium-low.
- When onions start to get a caramel brown and are completely soft, add the cognac and cayenne pepper. Cook for 5-10 more minutes, or until one can't smell the alcohol on the onions' breath.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Sauce? A Soup? Shroomy!

We found sliced sliced button mushrooms on sale at the supermarket: $1.99 for a half-pound package. We thought it would make for a great opportunity to make mushroom sauce over the weekend. A little something to dress pasta with. We even used some leftovers on top of an omelet.

The taste? Mad about Mushrooms. Even though it is creamy, it is a lean dish - we make it with 1% milk (it's in
the fridge - and yes, despite our boozy, Devil-may-care way, we do try to eat healthy).

For that flavorful punch, we start out with some Jimmy Dean sausage. Every so often, when we are cruising the aisles of the supermarket late at night, we'll swing by the refrigerated section with the meats and check out the Jimmy Dean. If we need a little comfort, we'll add some to the shopping basket. When we get home, we chill it, then slice it in 1-oz coins that get put in Ziploc bags and stored in the freezer. Jimmy Dean sausage is a good thing to have in the freezer.

Is this a cream gravy with mushrooms? A deliriously thick cream of mushroom soup? We will leave that up to you, dear reader.

A note on the spices: we have pimenton - Spanish smoked paprika -in the cupboard and love to use it whenever we can. This is not required. One ought to use a heavy hand with the pepper here - we learned this from our Dear Sister and her cream gravy.

Mad About the Mushroom (makes about two cups)

2 ounces Jimmy Dean Sausage, cut into wee pieces
1 small yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, run through a garlic press
1 teaspoon olive oil

8 ounces sliced mushrooms (any can be used, but white button mushrooms work quite well)

2 teaspoons pimenton
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large bay leaf

1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 ounce cognac or brandy

1 1/2 cups 1% milk

Ground black pepper and salt, to taste.

In a skillet: cook the sausage over medium-high heat, until it browns, about three minutes. Add the oil and onion and cook until onions are soft - another three to five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 15-30 seconds.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the mushrooms. Strew the seasonings on top. Now would be a good time for a glass of wine and clean up the kitchen: this is going to take a long time.

On Television, as in cookbooks, this step is handled with gentle editing, a commercial break, or a simple line like "cook the mushrooms until they give off their moisture and reduce to practically nothing." Mushrooms, like spinach, have an insane amount of moisture in them. When you, dear reader, add the mushrooms to the pan, they will do nothing. They may even - depending on the size of the pan, form a small mountain threatening fungal avalanches over the stove top. Unlike spinach, which deflates almost instantly, these mushrooms will take a good long while. It will do no good to start fussing or trying to stir them after right after they've been added to the pan.

After the dishes are on the drainboard, pour yourself another glass of wine. Stir the mushrooms around, getting the softer, deflated ones up from the bottom and giving the raw ones up top a chance. Is there a letter you need to write?

In time, the mushrooms will start to get uniformly brown. They will start to throw off their moisture. At this point, sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and raise the heat. Cook the mushrooms until the flour is no longer white. Add the cognac and, while it boils away, use your spoon to scrape up any brown bits that have started to adhere to the bottom of the skillet.

Add the milk. When everything starts to simmer, reduce the heat to medium again. Cook until everything starts to thicken. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta, or eat with a spoon. It keeps well, covered in the fridge, for about a week.

Welcome to Cooking for One, While Drunk

Cooking is a wonderful thing. Cocktails are quite nice, as well. And enjoying one's own company? Why not?

I wish I could take credit for the title of this little blog, but I can't: it's not my joke. But that has never stood in the way of me drinking and cooking.


Monday, January 1, 2007

It's a New Year - This One's for Luck

Hoppin' John is something I make to start the new year. Since I only make it once a year, the recipe has taken some time to develop - this year it turned out great. Last year it was greasy and disgusting.

I was knocking around ideas all year of how to render out the fat without getting rid of the flavor. The obvious solution finally came to me: just whittle off the rind of fat and use the rest.

The first year I decided to make Hoppin' John, the idea struck me on New Year's Eve. Brilliant. Because I was the only person in town who thinks of this, right? Since there were no ham hocks at the supermarket, I settled for some ham shank. While the hocks are traditional, the about 4 ounces of ham shank work brilliantly - since there is no fat to speak of. It does give you all the flavor, but the silky-gelatinous sauce created by the bone of the ham hock shouldn't be missed.

To start: soak 1/2 bag (8-oz) of black-eyed peas in cold water overnight. As always, it is a good idea to pick though the beans to make sure there aren't any small rocks in there.

1 small onion, minced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves

1 ham hock, trimmed of fat
About 4 cups of cold water

Ground black pepper and hot sauce to taste

- Sweat the onion in the olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic, bay leaves, and ham hock.

- Add cold water to cover the ham hock (in a 3-quart saucepan this took about 4 cups of water). Add ground pepper and about a tablespoon of hot sauce.

- Simmer the ham hock, partially covered over very low heat, until the meat falls from the bone - this will take about 2-3 hours. Skim any fat from the surface.

- Drain the beans and add to the pot, cook, over low heat, for about an hour until the beans are cooked.

- Taste for seasoning: add salt, if necessary, and more hot sauce.

Serve with rice.