Archive | February, 2011

Read OffBeat Home

28 Feb
I’m super excited about the virtual grand opening of Offbeat Home, a blog dedicated to helping you create a comfortable space for yourself in this world.
Not only can I not wait to start following what promises to be an awesome blog, I’m pleased to tell you that a post of mine about creating fun mantle displays is featured on the blog!  Hopefully I’ll be doing more contributing to Offbeat Home in the future.

All About Mantles

More about the blog, straight from the blogger’s mouth:
Founded by Ariel Meadow Stallings, the evil schemer who brought you Offbeat Bride and Offbeat Mama, Offbeat Home is coming to break down your door and fill your home, apartment, trailer, or yurt with awesomeness.
When I think of Offbeat Home, I’m inspired by all the different kinds of living spaces I’ve experienced: 

• Funky, hand-crafted spaces
• Truly alternative shelters like buses, yurts, sheds
• Rentals and dorms, that with just a few key tweaks, managed to feel like home
• Small urban spaces

I want to celebrate things like:
• People making temporary spaces that feel like home, whether it’s a soulless 1980s Los Angeles rental apartment with vertical blinds or a Columbia University dorm room.
• Making the most of the space you’ve got (like turning a walk-in closet into a nursery!)
• Getting a new feel for your home without buying more shit (I’m thinking here of decorators like SpaceTransform who specialize not in helping you buy furniture, but in rearranging what you’ve already got.)
• Getting truly freaky with your decor

Offbeat Home would NOT be about:
• Ogling expensive furniture (I don’t need a couch that costs more than my car!)
• Propagating the American dream of home ownership (it takes way more creativity to work with a rental! That said, of course home ownership will be included.)

I’m beyond excited about Offbeat Home because unlike Offbeat Bride and Offbeat Mama, Offbeat Home is both un-gendered AND non-relationship-based. That second one is a kicker: on a certain level the Offbeat Empire is all about women in relationships with others, whether it be a partner or their families. Offbeat Home is just about YOU and YOUR SPACE. Not other people … although I do envision a category dedicated to Offbeat Entertaining, full of fabulous dinner parties and brunch potlucks and girls nights in.

Make a Moogarita

28 Feb

When my dear friend Lila sent me a link to Kitchen Play’s super beefy February recipes sponsored by Canadian Beef, I knew immediately I was going to have to make the Moogarita. A cocktail made with beef stock and garnished with a piece of beef jerky? Um, yes please.

The Moogarita is made with beef stock, tequila (we used Patron), homemade ginger lime syrup, thinned tamarind paste (tamarind is a sweet, date-like fruit used in Asian and Latin American cooking) and homemade beef jerky.  It does take some effort– making the syrup, thinning the tamarind paste, marinating the jerky and then drying it out in the oven.  Here’s the thing, though- it’s totally worth it.  I know the thought of a cocktail made with beef stock is enough to make many of your stomachs turn, but hear me out for a moment.

Several classic cocktails combine stock or bouillon cubes with liquor, and while I’ve seen recipes for these cocktails before, I’ve never really felt the desire to make one.  What drew me to the Moogarita was the combination of sweet and meaty.  Reading the recipe, I could actually picture it tasting good.  And you know what?  It was delicious.  The beef stock was barely detectable, but added a slight meatiness under the tangyness of the lime, the spiciness of the pepper and the sweetness of the tamarind.  And the beef jerky made the perfect garnish the cut the sweetness of the drink.

If you’re not a vegetarian, listen to me now: make a Moogarita.  Impress your friends.

The Moogarita (makes 1 drink) via Communal Table

1 oz tequila
1 oz good quality beef stock (unsalted and as pure as possible)
½ oz ginger-lime simple syrup (see recipe below)
½ oz thinned tamarind paste
Ice cubes

To thin tamarind paste, put about a tablespoon of it into a bowl and whisk in about a tablespoon of warm water, a little bit at a time until you get a smooth, thin, syrupy consistency. Set aside.

Put 3 or 4 ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Add tequila, beef stock, ginger-lime simple syrup and tamarind. Shake well. Pour into a highball or margarita glass and garnish with jalapeno-lime beef jerky and a slice of fresh lime.

Ginger-Lime Simple Syrup:

½ cup fresh lime juice
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger

Bring lime juice to a boil in a small saucepan. Add sugar and ginger, and lower heat. Simmer and stir for 5 minutes, or until sugar dissolves and ginger infuses syrup. Let cool and strain.

Jalapeno & Lime Beef Jerky

3/4 lb flank steak
1 jalapeno, half of seeds discarded, chopped
1/3 C fresh lime juice
1/2 C tequila
¼ C tamari soy sauce (or regular soy)
4 Tbs brown sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper

Slice beef against the grain, into long, thin strips. 

In a large bowl, whisk together lime juice, tequila, tamari soy, brown sugar, salt and pepper until the sugar dissolves. Stir in jalapeno.

Place beef strips in a glass baking dish (or other non-reactive receptacle) and pour marinade overtop. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours (overnight is best).

Preheat oven to 175 C. Remove marinated beef from the fridge, and place slices on paper towel. Remove any jalapeno seeds stuck to the beef if you want a milder beef jerky. Using more paper towel, pat the pieces dry to remove excess liquid.

Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Arrange beef slices flat on sheet without overlapping. For a more stylish-looking jerky, twist the slices of beef before placing them on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt and place in oven.

After 1.5 hours, remove the baking sheet and flip each piece of meat over. Put back in the oven for another hour.

After another hour, check to see how dry the beef is, flip slices again, and put back in the oven for an additional half an hour if needed. The goal is for the jerky to be as firm and dry as possible, without getting too brittle.

When sufficiently dried, remove jerky from oven and let cool. The beef will dry further as it cools so make sure not to overcook/over-dry in the oven.


photos by Shawn Poynter

Host a Bourbon Tasting

26 Feb
A few weeks ago we decided to do yet another tasting, this time with everyone’s favorite amber liquor… bourbon!
Bourbon, to be sure, is an acquired taste, a taste that I myself did not acquire until moving to Whitesburg, Kentucky, where as a Chicagoan in the middle of Eastern Kentucky I felt I needed all of the street cred I could get.  I started with bourbon and coke, graduated to bourbon and ginger ale and now love bourbon in virtually any way it might be served.
We bought a few of our favorite bourbons and asked guests to bring their own.  We then did a blind tasting in we which we sipped the bourbons straight, decided which were our favorites (and least favorites) and tried to identify which was which.
We tried: Bulleit, Woodford Reserve, Eagle Rare, Rowan Creek, Maker’s Mark, Maker’s 46  and George Dickel (not actually a bourbon, but rather a Tennessee whisky).  Bulleit and Dickel (surprisingly) seemed to be the favorites.  Rowan Creek was one of the less popular entries.
Our winner Nikki identified three of the five bourbons correctly and won some miniature bottles of spirits, homemade (though not by me) preserves and the sinfully delicious Benton’s Bacon.  Not only was it great fun,our lovely guests left us with five bottles of almost-full bourbon.
Why not host your own bourbon (or other spirit of choice) tasting?  Grab a few bottles of one kind of liquor, ask over a few friends and have them bring a bottle of their favorite.  Whether you feel like just sipping them, making them into cocktails or doing a blind taste test, it’s bound to be a good time.
photos by Shawn Poynter

Make Your Own Microwave Popcorn

25 Feb

I rarely watch a movie without a snack and in the movie-watching-while-eating arena, I’m pretty traditional.  If you ask me, there’s nothing like sitting on the couch with a big old bowl of popcorn and Netflix instant streaming.

It struck me as silly that I continually buy bags of microwave popcorn that cost five times what a giant bag of popcorn kernels that will surely last me until I die when I can just suck it up and make it on the stove.  But at my core I’m a lazy person and the last thing I want to do before plopping on the couch and vegging out is hauling out a big old pot that I’ll later have to wash and waiting at the stove for my popcorn to pop.

And then it occurred to me- surely there’s nothing magical about prepackaged bags of microwave popcorn.  Why couldn’t I just put some kernels in a paper lunch bag, tie it up and stick it in the microwave?  Answer: there’s no reason I couldn’t.  And you know what?  It worked beautifully.  Not only is it cheaper than microwave popcorn, it’s lighter and isn’t loaded down with fake butter granules.  It’s an open pallet to which you can salt and butter to your taste or get wild and add different toppings (sugar, cayenne pepper, lime juice, hot sauce, white pepper, cinnamon…)  This popcorn is your oyster!

I usually pour about 1/3 cup of kernels into a lunch bag, add maybe a teaspoon of oil and a few shakes of salt, shake the bag up to incorporate the salt and oil and stick the bag in the microwave for 2-3 minutes.  I left it in too long the first time and was faced the worst burnt popcorn I’ve ever smelled (my microwave still has a slight burnt popcorn aroma), so make sure you don’t wander too far while it’s popping  and don’t push your luck.  You may have a bunch of unpopped kernels left over, but trust me, it beats the alternative.  Lately I’ve been adding truffle oil and smoked salt to the finished popcorn and I must say it’s more delicious than any microwave popcorn I’ve tasted.

Infuse Your Own Oil

24 Feb
I’m a big fan of olive oil.  Not only do I use it for most of my cooking, it’s my favorite condiment aside from salt and pepper (what can I say?  I’m a traditionalist).  I love tossing pasta in olive oil, dipping bread in olive oil and drizzling olive oil over vegetables.  I can’t get enough.  I recently bought a little sprayer that allows me to spray olive oil on cookie sheets, into pans, and onto my popcorn in a thin, even layer.
It didn’t occur to me until I was visiting a friend’s house a few months ago just how easy it is to create your own flavored oils.  Here’s what you do:
1) Take something delicious like sun-dried tomatoes, rosemary, garlic, lemon rind, chiles, basil and basically anything else you can think of.
2) Stick in in a jar of olive oil and leave it there.
That’s it!  You can let it sit for a few days and then strain it, but why not just let it float around in there, making your olive oil beautiful and exotic looking (though if you’re not going to use it within a week or two, pressure can it).
I put some purple basil and a clove of garlic in a jar of olive oil a few months ago and forgot about it until I pulled it out from behind a bunch of other jars as I was tidying up the kitchen this week.  I cut up a baguette and used the oil for dipping. It was delicious– spiciness from the garlic and the green-ness of the basil was the perfect combination.

Cocktail of the Week: The Azteca

23 Feb
The Azteca cocktail is a little labor intensive in that it requires you to make two separate “elixers” as well as combine coconut and salt in a food processor for a coconut salt rim (which, if I do say so myself, is well worth it). You can make it sans alcohol or add your favorite spirit.  We chose cachaca rum.
It’s a really interesting drink- spicy and sweet and salty all at the same time and is, according to the recipe, laden with aphrodisiacs (which is what made it perfect for Valentine’s Day, when we first tried it out).  I’d personally modify the recipe from epicurious from 2 tablespoons of cocoa to one tablespoon because it turned out a little too thick for my taste.  Otherwise, it’s a really interesting drink.  Give it a shot.
For the coconut sea salt:

  • 2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/3 cup fine sea salt

For the chile elixir:

  • 5 small hot chiles, such as red jalapeños, cut into long, thin strips
  • 16 ounces distilled or tap water

For the vanilla elixir:

  • 8 ounces pure vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces distilled or tap water

For the Azteca:

  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup coconut sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons sweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 ounces chile elixir, or more to taste
  • 2 ounces vanilla elixir
  • 2 ounces simple syrup
  • Ice
  • 9 ounces soda water

Make the coconut sea salt:
In a food processor, process the coconut flakes and salt until fully combined, about 1 minute—the mixture will be light and fluffy. DO AHEAD: Coconut sea salt can be prepared in advance and stored, in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 2 weeks.

Make the chile elixir:
In a small saucepan, bring the chiles and distilled or tap water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to moderate and simmer, uncovered, until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. DO AHEAD: Chile elixir can be prepared in advance and refrigerated up to 2 weeks.

Make the vanilla elixir:
In a small saucepan, bring the vanilla and distilled or tap water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer, uncovered, until reduced by half—note that this reduces very quickly, in about 5 minutes. DO AHEAD: Vanilla elixir can be prepared in advance and refrigerated up to 2 weeks.

Make the Azteca:
Pour the lime juice onto a small plate and spread the coconut sea salt on a second small plate. Dip the rim of a 12-ounce glass into the lime juice, then dip it into the coconut sea salt to lightly coat.

In a cocktail shaker, combine the cocoa powder, chile elixir, vanilla elixir, and simple syrup. Shake vigorously until well combined. Add ice to the prepared glasses, then strain the Azteca into each glass. Add enough soda water to fill each glass, then stir to incorporate.

Make Chocolate Mustaches

22 Feb
To enhance our Valentine’s Day photo booth and give our guests a little sweet treat, we also decided to make some chocolate mustache lollipops.
I ordered this mustache mold and was thrilled when I got the package and saw I’d received a bonus gift– police-theme chocolate molds!  In addition to our mustache lollipops, we also had chocolate walkie-talkies, batons, badges and handcuffs, which I somehow managed to squeeze my hand through.
Molding chocolate is so easy!  All you have to do is buy some chocolate chips (either the kind you get at the grocery store or chocolate made specifically for molds that you can find at craft or party stores will work), melt them in a double boiler, pour the melted chocolate into the mold (inserting a stick in the case of a lollipop) and letting the molds cool (we put them in the fridge) before popping the chocolate out of the mold mold and enjoying it in all its newly-shaped glory!
photos by Shawn Poynter
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