Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ginger vodka

I am in love with this stuff, made by Skyy. I saw it advertised in Rolling Stone and knew this was the drink for me. Unfortunately, my local state store doesn't carry it. I guess Erie isn't included in the initial release. Fortunately, I have a connection in NYC. The way I figure it, if it's anywhere, it's in New York and LA. Darling Husband's uncle is an actor in New York and just happened to be coming this way for family frolicking on the fourth of July. He and his fabulous better half were kind enough to pick me up a bottle.

Now I wish I had asked for a case. It's currently in the freezer so I can ration myself ice cold indulgences. I like it straight and on the rocks, both. I imagine it would be amazing blended with some watermelon or strawberry.

The best, though, was a very grown-up slushie/snow cone we made while on vacation. Using a margarita machine to shave the ice (a great appliance that would gather dust 358 days of the year), my adventuresome brother-in-law and I developed this drink to beat the heat. A ton of ice, a couple shots of the ginger vodka, a splash of Fresca and a bit more ice to replenish what melted and voila! An amazing summer drink reminiscent of childhood but very adult.

I found it funny that the 21 year olds I gave this drink to sputtered and said, "Whoah! That's strong!!" Really? It seemed remarkably smooth to me. Although, come to think of it, beyond shots, how many 21 year olds drink much neat alcohol? Drinks popular in that age group tend to be aimed at masking the taste of any spirits. Martinis are not exactly in high demand. Or, if they are, they're the kind of "martini" that has fruit juice and other nonsense and is only a martini and not a mixed drink because someone thought it would be kicky to serve it in a martini glass.

Personally I like martinis with gin, not vodka, and rather dry. Ginger vodka, no vermouth, would be most pleasant, too. I don't know what the vermouth would do to the taste.

My father's drink is a martini. He has recently begun experimenting, not only with different gins and different garnishes (olives, twist of lemon, caper berries), but with different recipes in general. I tried one that he made which reproduced James Bond's original martini, and that was quite nice. He also collects martini glasses and takes artsy pictures of his cocktails. Hey, he's retired. :o)

Those of us out of our twenties who tried the ginger slush were quite pleased. Someone suggested the "kids" maybe were reacting to the taste of ginger and not the alcohol. Others mused about lemongrass and cucumber flavors.

Skyy, please release your Ginger Infusion vodka across the nation, so that people in rural Alaska can enjoy it as much as those in Manhattan. And if not Alaska, at least Pennsylvania. We butt against New York state; it's hardly any trouble, I'm sure. And do it quick--I'm down to a quarter of a bottle. My self control can't hold out much longer.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Crock pot queen

With the weather being hot, nieces and nephews playing softball, Darling Husband rehearsing for a play and other forms of craziness, I've been a crock pot queen lately for dinner. First I made meatballs in sauce. I bought the meatballs frozen from Gordon's Meat, my favorite little butcher shop from when I was a kid. It's at the plaza at the intersection of Peach and Gore and it's so cute there. They also make killer home made andouille and chorizo. The meatballs were fantastic and so convenient. Baby Girl gobbled 2 in one sitting! Plus bread, which she used to mop up the sauce like the little Italian/French girl that she is. :o) The grown-ups had meatball subs with provolone.

Next came gumbo, which was also the first thing I've made using the crock pot bag liners. I HIGHLY recommend these! They sounded like a scary fire hazard at first, but a friend of mine swears by them so I gave it a try. I'm a convert for sure! They make clean up a breeze-- you literally just throw out the dirty bag. Maybe swipe off a little bit that dripped. It's perfect for dishes that might stain or be a pain to scrub, or just if you plan to turn around and use it again the next morning. The gumbo was good but a little... broken down. I'd partially browned the andouille, made the roux and sauteed the onions and peppers in a sauce pan, then put it into the crock with frozen okra, chicken that was picked from a rotisserie bird, stock and spices. Good gumbo often looks a bit swampy, but this time the okra just melted. Perhaps fresh would have held its shape better.

I also made an awesome dried cherry chicken dish with carrots. This was out of a recipe, although of course I had to alter it a bit. Chicken breasts, baby carrots (they wanted me to use whole carrots, chopped), honey, dried cherries, balsamic, chicken stock, 5 spice (although I couldn't find it so I used allspice) and grated fresh ginger. It was zesty, thanks to the ginger, and had a nice fruitiness without being too cloying. Definitely it was sweet, but it worked. We served it with mashed potatoes. My only complaint about this was the chicken was a little dry. Perhaps I should have used chicken thighs? But then again, I don't like chicken thighs. Could've used a bit of sambol olek for spice, too.

Tonight I made an Indian dish with spinach, peas and tofu. It's my version of saag paneer, with the dry farmer cheese and spinach, but I made mine with tofu. I filled the crock on my lunch hour with fresh baby spinach, which I had chopped, then grated in about 6 cloves of garlic, tossed on some frozen peas, dolloped some curry paste and glugged some chicken stock. When I came home from work, all was wilted to an inch of green at the bottom... it wasn't unexpected but still somehow shocking. I added in diced tofu (of which Baby Girl had a bite and pronounced it YUM) and some more curry paste, since it tasted bland. When Darling Husband came home, it was time to stir in some plain yogurt that I had let sit in a coffee filter-lined chinoise, bring back to temperature and serve. Despite my dubious recipe research, this came out pretty close to how saag paneer is supposed to taste! I was pleased. The yogurt kept it creamy and fluffy, not dense, and the tofu picked up all the curry flavor just like it should. I might've liked some more peas, but outside of that, I didn't have any suggestions for myself. And I'm maybe a bit proud of myself, too. Also, despite my surprise at the amount of wilted spinach, it made plenty for three hearty servings (one of us gets lunch). If I'd made rice, it would have stretched much further.

I'm not out of crock pot recipes yet! Tune in for another installment!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day and My mom's brats

bratwurst, that is!

(You thought I meant me and my sister, didn't you?)

In honor of Father's Day, my mom had a picnic. It was great fun, even though Darling Husband was out of town for the weekend and couldn't attend. Baby Girl and I did send a breakfast in bed package along with him, though. Brown sugar and cinnamon pop tarts for "french toast," a citrus flavored vitamin shot for "orange juice," and beef jerky for "bacon." Also, packets of peach mango water flavoring that have caffeine in them. A meal fit for a king! Well... not exactly, but good travel food, anyway.

The best part about the picnic was having cocktails out back while all the kids occupied themselves out front, looking at turtles and playing with bubbles. Ahhhhhh. How relaxing!

For food, my mom kept it pretty simple for once, which was nice. Burgers and bratwurst, a spinach/rice/cheese casserole, cucumbers and then berries and pound cake for desert. It was so pleasant, especially since each element was exceptionally well done. The burgers were the best she's ever made, hands down. My sister and brother in law agreed, and so I decree it to be true. She claims she didn't do anything special, but they were moist and flavorful and wonderful. She had guacamole as an available condiment, which was awesome, but it was the meat itself that carried the burger. The bratwurst had that great snap when you bite into them, and were juicy and meaty. She said she cooked them in water first, then finished them on the grill. Baby Girl ate half of one by herself, and probably would've finished it had it not been for her cousins running around and playing. Then there was the casserole, which is my sister's recipe but (as my sister said tonight) it never tastes as good as when mom makes it (that is the mystery of my mother).

Happy Father's Day to all, whether that's a steakhouse meal or pop tarts in bed. :o) I'm thankful for the daddies in my life.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wild strawberries

My 9 year old nephew found these wild strawberries around my grandmother's house. He brought me one (brought his sister one, too).
Ironically, I was reading an article in the paper about strawberries. This berry was different, though. It was bright, grassy, tart and amazing; it reminded me of wild raspberries. Nothing like the cardboardy strawberries you get in stores, or even like the horticultured local strawberries (which are huge and sweet). Baby Girl loves them--we picked some more today. Nature has some good ideas, people.

BTW when my nephew saw me photographing my strawberry, he looked at me all puzzled. I asked him if he minded if I put a picture on my blog. "Uh, it's just a strawberry. I really don't care." Which is doubly funny because he's not at all a snotty kid, just really happy go lucky and a little in his own world. But I think he thinks his aunt is a bit batty.
This is his berry stained hand just before he ran out to pick more. And contemplate my lunacy.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Beautiful fruit

Thank you to my wonderful sister, who (in addition to nannying my precious daughter for half the work week) is a fantastic friend. She gave me a basket of the most juicy, sweet, luscious strawberries I've ever seen! We're all enjoying plowing through them. I'm thinking of making Baby Girl a strawberry yogurt smoothie tomorrow. Now if I could just find a way to sneak some veggies into it... She's quite the fruititarian (fruitivore?) so it's especially exciting when I'm able to get her to eat spinach, like I did tonight! Putting it on pizza helped.

I can hardly fault Baby Girl's fruit obsession, though. In or about our fridge currently:

Golden raspberries
Red grapes (I like green, but Baby Girl prefers the red)

Also, half of a pear that should probably get thrown away and some blueberries in the freezer from Darling Husband's grandmother from last summer, which we drop into pancakes here and there.

Mmmmmh, makes me hungry already! Personally, I like fruit raw and alone, or thrown into savory dishes, but rarely in deserts. Strange, huh? Darling Husband's grandmother makes a pretty awesome strawberry rhubarb jam, though.

I think, for the grown ups, I might have to make some sort of strawberry daiquiri with fresh strawberries. I just heard about ginger infused vodka (made by Skyy, I believe) and that would be great blended with strawberries, maybe thinned with Sprite. Yummmm... I might have to take a trip to the wine & spirit store tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Quick formatting note

Dear gentle readers,

Due to the large number of Asian porn spam comments, I'm sorry to say I'm now going to review all comments before allowing them to be posted.

Please do not let this deter you from leaving valid comments (aka not porn spam-- I don't care how hot your barely legal girls are).

I intend to censor nothing but spam. All comments, good or bad, are welcome. Compliment my ingredients, shower me with praise, lavish me with well wishes if you must. If you want to tell me you think my blog is pithy, or that my use of cheese is wanton, or that I should be vegan on Mondays, I'll still put it up.

I truly apologize for the inconvenience. I will try to get comments vetted as quickly as possible. Believe it or not, I check this blog more than I post to it.

Your comments continue to be tied into my sense of self worth, so please be assured of the value I place on them!

love and kisses, mary francine

Saturday, June 5, 2010


On Memorial Day, my mom made ribs. She also made burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, corn, and a bunch of other yummies. It's the ribs that stole the show, though. They were flavorful, tender, falling off the bone, but not fatty. They had a great caramelized crust and paired wonderfully with the bbq sauce she served. We all raved.

She told Darling Husband that she made them "just like Emeril"--except with a different rub, of course. And different sauce. And a different cut of rib, because she likes them better, and...

...and you can see why I have trouble following a recipe.

Last night we went to the rib festival in town. It was full of big vendors who traveled from all over the country; pit masters, as such, who proudly displayed their awards. Bands were playing, whole pigs turned on spits, giant inflatable slides and bounce houses enthralled kids, roasted corn on the cobsmelled divine. It was a rib fest with the whole nine yards. I got a pulled pork sandwich to share with Baby Girl, Darling Husband got a brisket sandwich, and we had a couple of ribs to share, too. My pork was so tender and so tasty, I didn't even need sauce. (I had some anyway.) The brisket was also, in Darling Husband's opinion, wonderful. Baby Girl was particularly partial to the corn bread.

The ribs?


They were good...

...but a disappointment, compared to mom's. Great job, Mom. :o)