Saturday, October 8, 2011

Orchard Cooler

This is a drink which is an invention born of Mother Necessity. Last weekend, our family met up with my best friend's family and my brother in-law's family for an afternoon of fun at the local apple orchard. One thing led to another, and we decided to all make the trek back to our place for pizza and beer. Alas, our beer supply was pitifully low... so I went about trying to find a drink to fill in if necessary. The Orchard Cooler was born. First try. Yes, I'm impressed too. There are precious few ingredients in this drink, so they NEED to be top quality. The pear brandy I used was a souvenir from our vacation to Portland, two summers ago. It was distilled here. (On a side note, Edgefield is pretty much the most amazing destination we've ever been to... our 9 year old is still talking about it weekly, over a year later.) The cider is pressed at a local MN orchard. You do NOT want the completely clear, tasteless cider that you will find on the store shelves. This time of year, you should be able to find good cider in the produce or refrigerated section at your grocery store. Better yet, if you're able -- buy directly from the orchard that presses the cider.

1.5 oz high quality pear brandy
3 dashes cinnamon
small pinch nutmeg
about 8 oz. fresh apple cider

In a coctail shaker, combine all ingredients. Shake well until well mixed and foamy. Pour into pub glass filled with ice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick, if desired/available.
We just drank these straight up, but I bet they would be amazing with homemade pretzels, or buttered popcorn.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thai Rice Pudding

This is a very loosely adapted (so loosely that I don't even need to reference it) recipe from an old cookbook of mine. It was one of those "bargain" cookbooks from the cheap section at Barnes and Noble, and I soon discovered why... major misprints and omissions. Such as omitting the temperature at which their version of coconut rice pudding should be cooked. But it got me thinking -- what about making it in the slow cooker? The original recipe was finicky in that you had to watch it bake in the oven for 3+ hrs, stirring every once in a while and making sure it wouldn't burn. The slow cooker method takes that out of the equation. I played with the ingredients and switched a bunch of things around, and this is what I got... it's a combination of three of my favorite things: rice, coconut, and lime; all wrapped up into one happy bowl of comfort food.


1 cup arborio rice

2 cans coconut milk (not reduced fat)

2 cups milk*

1/2 cup brown sugar*

zest of 1/2 lime

1/4 tsp salt

toasted coconut

lime wedges (optional)

In a slow cooker, mix the following: rice, coconut milk, milk, brown sugar, and lime zest. Cook on medium for about 2 hrs, or until the rice has fully plumped up and the sauce has thickened considerably.

Serve warm with a generous heap of toasted coconut on top, and garnish with lime wedge if desired.

*for my vegan friends: substitute soy or almond milk for dairy, and you could use any vegan sweetener of your choice (turbinado sugar, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, etc.).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Creme Brulee

A dessert usually seen on restaurant menus, and less often on the home cook's kitchen table... creme brulee is an unjustifiably feared dish to prepare. This recipe makes an intimidating dessert very easy. Not only that, but it is also one of the best version of creme brulee I've had. Often, creme brulee is too firm, eggy, sweet, and/or runny. This recipe makes a rich, velvety custard. The recipe I use is adapted from the one found in "Coffee: The Essential Guide to the Essential Bean". It can be found on Amazon at


9 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

pinch of salt

1 tsp real vanilla extract

1 cup of half and half

3 cups of cream

sugar for caramelizing

Oven: 325 F

In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks along with sugar, salt and vanilla until slightly lightened in color and sugar is well incorporated. At the same time: in a large saucepan, heat cream and half and half over medium heat until a skin forms on top. Remove from heat. Add about 1/3 of the hot cream to the egg yolk mixture, whisking continually. Once well incorporated, add yolk/cream mixture back into hot cream -- again, whisking the whole time. Once well blended, pour mixture through a wire mesh strainer back into the original bowl. Place 6 Pyrex custard cups in a 9x13 cake pan. Fill custard cups with the creme brulee mixture, nearly to the top but leave enough room to move the pan without spilling the custard. Place on oven rack of preheated oven. Pour hot or boiling water into the pan around the custard cups until it comes about 1/2 of the way up the sides of the cups. Cook for 40-60 minutes until edges look set but the center (size of a quarter to half dollar) is still wobbly. Remove from oven. Take custard cups out of water bath and place on a rack to cool to room temperature. Cover each cup with a square of plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.
For serving: sprinkle a teaspoon or so of sugar on the top of each custard. Using either a dessert torch or small propane torch, gently melt the sugar on the tops of the custard until is is a deep brown and no sugar crystals remain. This part takes a bit of practice, but the mistakes are tasty. I use a standard handyman's propane torch... it cost me all of $12 at the hardware store. I find it works better than the small butane culinary torches and costs about 1/4 of the price. Not to mention the propane torch is useful for other things than just melting sugar. Let the desserts sit for about a minute to let the sugar harden, then serve immediately with a cup of freshly made strong coffee, or perhaps a dark porter or stout beer to cut the richness.