Sunday, January 31, 2016

#MasterpieceCocktail Week 5

#MasterpieceCocktail is brought to you by my husband, Rob.

Tonight, I am going a little older than the Downton Abbey era for my choice: the Ward 8.  The Ward 8 is a cocktail that was created in Boston in the late 1890s in honor of the election victory of a major player in the Boston political scene at the time.  The drink is named after the election district that historical clinched the election for him.
The Ward 8 calls for bourbon or rye whiskey (a first for me and cocktails), I used Maker's Mark bourbon as opposed to my higher quality Bowman's bourbon (see Week 4 Part 1 post) as I prefer to drink my good whiskey neat.  The rest of the cocktail in fruit juice and grenadine.   A number of garnishes may be called for depending on the recipe, traditionally it includes a maraschino cherry and a mini Massachusetts state flag (sounds kinda silly but I get the idea), I just used a lemon twist.  The Ward 8 overall is very similar to the traditional Whiskey Sour.
Interestingly, many whiskey based cocktails call for some other kind of liquor (often Brandy), whats great about the Ward 8 other Whiskey Sour derived cocktails, is that you don't need any other liquor or uncommon ingredients.
Ward 8
2 oz Bourbon Whiskey
1 oz fresh Lemon Juice
1 oz fresh Orange Juice
1 tbs Grenadine
Grarnish of Juice
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass with garnish.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

#MasterpieceCocktail Week 4 Double Feature Pt 2

#MasterpieceCocktail is brought to you by my husband, Rob.


It's time for Part 2 of today's #MasterpieceCocktail double feature!  Tonight's Downton Abbey companion drink is my take on the "Love Potion" cocktail.  Unfortunately this drink doesn't have a really great story to go with it, in fact its hard to nail down what exactly the drink is supposed to contain.  In doing my research in preparation for this post i found at least 5 different recipes including the one that I used as the basis for my version (found it in my cocktail recipe book).  That being said the variations range from a frozen style with strawberries, to one with amaretto and peach schnapps, and one with rum. 

My take is fairly basic but it has a few varieties that can be made based on personal preference and what style drink you are going for.  I have made mine as a cocktail and a highball.  My personal take combines the basic ingredients from the recipe of Citron Vodka, Cranberry Juice and Chambord but adds a little something else: Pomegranate Liquor!!  The result is a sweet easy to drink cocktail.  To make the highball version I just add some club soda. 

Hope you enjoy!!


2 oz Absolut Citron
1/2 oz Chambord
3/4 oz Pomegranate Liquor (Pama is what i have)
2 oz Cranberry juice

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass.
Same as above but pour into an ice filled highball glass and top with club soda.

#MasterpieceCocktail Week 4 Double Feature Pt 1

#MasterpieceCocktail is brought to you by my husband, Rob.

Today brings you a #MasterpieceCocktail double feature in honor of a new show we started watching, Mercy Street on PBS (pilot was last week).  If you are not familiar with the show, it takes place toward the end of the Civil War and follows the staff of a Union military hospital in Alexandria, VA (just down the road from us!).  A show set local got me thinking about something that I am passionate about: eating/drinking local products.
I feel very strongly about supporting local farms, business, wineries, breweries, and distilleries.  While often a little more expensive, local products are often higher quality and have an interesting story.  It concerns me that recently many of my favorite "bottle shops" have closed down as they cannot compete with the large grocery stores, where the people who stock the beer and wine often can't tell you anything about the products or make an educated recommendation.  My primary concern with this is that people with a genuine passion about wine and beer cannot express that passion and pass it on to their customers (similarly when was the last time you saw a legitimate butcher shop).  I personally believe that supporting local businesses, both bottle shops and producers, is the best way to keep these markets going and help to keep people with a true passion in business.  Further, growth and support for local businesses signals to our lawmakers that antiquated liquor production and distribution laws need to change (and in many places they are!) to allow these local businesses to thrive.  While Virginia has not seen the microbrewery and microdistillery market growth as some other states (small wineries are extremely strong though), many of the more antiquated laws have been changed to make starting up and distributing easier and support is strong, from both the 3rd party groups and the government, for the growing industry.

The craft beer industry has grown massively thanks to a number of changes in state laws, local advocacy, and a rapidly growing demand for alternatives to flavorless macrobrewed options that have dominated the market for so long.  Hardywood Park brewery in Richmond, VA (my hometown) is one of my favorites, they make a wide variety of styles and experimental options.  One of my favorites from Hardywood is the RVA IPA, which uses hops grown by local volunteers (the brewery sends hops to people who grow them and send them back for use in the beer) making it a truly local collaborative effort!  Hardywood has grown in the last few years since they started from being solely local to having distribution at least as far away as Philly. 

Similarly, small wineries are popping up in areas like Virginia and Pennsylvania where the climate is similar to old world Europe and some truly excellent wines are being produced.  Two favorites are Barboursville in Virginia and Grace Winery in Philly.  Barboursville is probably one of the best known Virginia wineries and make some truly excellent wine.  Octagon is their flagship red blend, which we are saving for a special occasion.  They also make an excellent Sauvignon Blanc.  Grace Winery is a small winery in the Philly suburbs loved by Amy's parents (see picture below), who are regulars and well known by the owners.  They make a number of varieties with an excellent Chardonnay Reserve.  Unfortunately due to more restrictive distribution laws in Pennsylvania finding small winery products usually means a trip to said winery to pick up the wine but that is a lot of the fun: visiting the winery, taking in the atmosphere, talking to the owners, and having a drink or two!
Finally, Virginia has changed some laws over the last few years to allow for microdistilleries to thrive and the VA ABC organization actively advocates for these local distilleries.  I am on my second bottle of John J. Bowman Single Barrel Virginia Bourbon Whiskey, which is excellent and my current go to sipping bourbon.  Now I know your thinking "It's not from Kentucky, how can it be Bourbon?"  Well okay, its technically not true Kentucky Bourbon, but it does start off at Buffalo Trace in Kentucky for the first distillation but then comes to Fredericksburg, VA where it is distilled two more times and oaked.  A. Smith Bowman Distillary also makes two other Bourbons, a small batch and limited edition, a vodka, a rum, and a gin.  Also, I recently bought a bottle of Green Hat Gin from Washington, DC.  The distillery got the name from a prohibition era gin distiller known for his green hat who provided illegal gin to a majority of the members of Congress and later wrote a tell-all about it.
I know that this is a fairly long post, but this is something I feel passionately about.  Next time you are out looking for beer, wine, or liquor give a consideration to your local products to keep these passionate people in business producing high quality products with great stories.  Take the time to learn a little about these awesome business and while it may be an extra trip try to support your local bottle shops try to get to one and see the difference passion makes. #DrinkLocal

Balsamic Pot Roast

If you cannot tell by now, I love comfort food!  I especially love slow roasting a large piece of red meat in my dutch oven, and that pretty much defines cooking a Pot Roast.  I had previously posted a pot roast recipe on this blog but this is another take on the classic dish; instead of wine, I substituted balsamic vinegar and added two different kinds of mustard.  You can use just Dijon or grainy mustard but I had both on my fridge so I figured I'd use them both.   Making a pot roast might seem intimidating but the majority of the time this dish takes to cook is in the oven.  The hardest part about making this dish is resisting the urge to take it out of the oven too early because it smells absolutely amazing!  Slow cooking fills the house (or apartment) with smells and aromas that are just so warm and inviting they can warm up the coldest of days, even a snowed in day.
The cut of meat most associated with a pot roast is a chuck roast which is usually a tough piece of meat from the shoulder.  It is great because it is a relatively cheap cut of meat but when slow roasted, it becomes so tender and literally falls apart when you lift it out of the pot.

I dredge my meat to reduce the risk of my kitchen smoking up.  Every so often I have had issues with red meat smoking up my kitchen and one time I tried a recipe for braised short ribs that called for dredging the ribs... guess what! no smoke!  From then on, I have always dredged large cuts of red meat I have to sear.
Searing the meat is one of the most important steps in making a pot roast. The point of searing is not to cook the meat through. By browning the sides of the meat you are able to lock in all the juices as well as impart a lot of flavor to the dish with the brown bits left on the bottom of the pot which come up so easily after pouring in the vinegar.  

After adding the vinegar, scrape the bottom of the pot for all the wonderful flavorful brown bits.
Before adding the potatoes and carrots, the meat should be almost at the point of falling apart but not quite there.
You will know your pot roast is done when the carrots and potatoes are fork tender and the meat literally falls apart when trying to remove it from the pot.

Ingredient Count: 10 (I only needed to buy 5)

Balsamic Pot Roast

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. flour
3 Lbs. Chuck Roast
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. grainy mustard
1 Tbsp. Tomato Paste
5 sprigs fresh thyme
2-3 cups beef stock
2- 3 Carrots, chopped
4 red potatoes, diced into 1 1/2 inch pieces
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 300 F .

Pat chuck roast dry so that the meat can sear.  Season with salt and pepper and dredge in flour.  Heat oil in a dutch oven, or other heavy pan with a lid, over medium high heat (or high heat if you have a powerful vent hood, which I unfortunately do not have.).  Add the roast to the pan and brown on sides, a few minutes on each side (only turn when the meat comes up easy and no longer sticks to the bottom).  Remove the roast and set aside on a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and saute until soft and translucent, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the balsamic vinegar, bring to a boil.  Reduce for about 5 minutes.  Once the vinegar reaches a syrupy consistency.  Stir in the mustards and tomato paste.

Place the roast back into the pan and add the stock and thyme.  Bring to a boil and cover the pot and place in the oven for about 2 hours.

Stir in the carrot and potatoes and make sure they are coated in the cooking liquids.  Return the pot to the oven to cook for about 1 hour or until the potatoes are fork tender.

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Inspired by Ina Garten

Nothing beats a classic comfort food on a cold snowy day and there is nothing more classic than grilled cheese with tomato soup.  One of my favorite things about cooking is the ability to customize a recipe to your own individual tastes An Ina Garten recipe inspired me to make this dish on a snowy day.  Although Ina is a cooking icon, I did make some slight changes to this dish.  My husband likes really creamy tomato soup, so I added 1/4 cup more cream than she does.  I also added some tomato paste that I had on hand to really thicken up the tomatoes and boost the tomato flavor.  Ina adds orzo to her soup and I would like to say I cut this for a very important culinary reason but I have to say it was simply because I was lazy and did not want to clean an additional pot.  Ina cuts her grilled cheese into croutons to serve over the soup, I didn't do that this time but that doesn't mean I will not do this in the future.  This recipe is too good not to make again.  

I like to call this grilled cheese Actual Grilled Cheese.  When I was a kid, it always confused you why it was called grilled cheese was it was made in a frying pan and not on a grill so I broke out my grill pan to make my grilled cheese.  Yes, I was a weird kid but I asked the important questions in life.

Ingredient Count: 9 (I only needed to buy 5)
Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

Tomato Soup

3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Yellow Onion, Chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups Chicken Broth
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
Pinch of saffron threads
3/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste

(Actual) Grilled Cheese

Good sourdough bread, cut into 1/2 in. slices
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
4 Oz. Gruyere Cheese, grated

In a large pot (I use my dutch oven), heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute.  Pour in the broth, tomatoes, paste and saffron.  Salt and pepper.  Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Stir in the cream and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, heat a grill pan.  Place the four slices of bread on a cutting board and brush lightly with the melted butter, being sure to butter the corners. Turn the slices over and pile Gruyere on two of the slices. Place the remaining two slices of bread on top of the Gruyere, buttered sides up. Once the grill is hot, add the sandwiched to the grill pan, cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until the bread is nicely browned and the cheese is melty.

Cut the sandwiches on the diagonal to dip in the soup and enjoy a nice comfort food meal on this snowed in day... Thanks winter storm Jonas

Sunday, January 17, 2016

#MasterpieceCocktail Week 3

#MasterpieceCocktail is brought to you by my husband, Rob.

Tonight for #MasterpieceCocktail I decided to go with a special on a  true classic: the Martini.  The Martini is the quintessential classic cocktail composed of Gin and Dry Vermouth, about as simple as a cocktail can get.  The Martini can be traced back to the late 19th century.  The exact origin and name are unknown with several theories existing.  The Martini became one of the most predominant cocktails during Prohibition due to Gin being available illegally.  The Martini went by the wayside following Prohibition but has seen a recent resurgence.

To highlight how much the Martini has influenced the cocktail world, I also decided to try various Martini-based cocktails: the "Perfect" Martini (add Sweet Vermouth), the "Yale" (add Blue Curacao, I also added orange juice and Cointreau to give it more sweetness), and the "Bronx" (add orange juice).  The basic Martini and the "Perfect" version is a bit of an acquired taste due to the dryness and prevalence of the Gin in the flavor profile.  The Yale and Bronx are classic variations, with the Bronx being similar to the classic Orange Blossom (also called Adirondack No. 1) and similarly tracing its origins to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

The key to all Martinis is keeping the ingredients cold minimize the ice melting and diluting the flavor.  Its best to chill your mixing glass, serving glasses, and Gin.  Also a key is to Stir not shake the Martini to present chipping of the ice and easier melting.  James Bond did prefer a shaken Vodka Martini but, according to Martin Sheen's character on the West Wing (Jed Bartlett), "James is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it."

I hope you enjoy the drinks as much as we did.

All recipes are stirred in a mixing glass with ice and strained into a chilled cocktail glass.

Classic Martini

2 oz Gin
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
Lemon Spiral

Perfect Martini

2 oz Gin
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
Lemon Spiral

Yale Martini

1.5 oz Gin
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
1/3 oz Blue Curacao
Splash of Cointreau
Splash of Orange Juice
Orange Spiral

Bronx Martini

1.5 oz Gin
1/4 oz Dry Vermouth
1/4 oz Sweet Vermouth

1 oz Fresh Orange Juice
Orange Spiral

#MasterpieceCocktail Weeks 1 & 2

#MasterpieceCocktail is brought to you by Amy's husband, Rob.  (If you don't get the reference here you need to go watch some PBS)

In honor of the final season of Downton Abbey, I decided to experiment with some new classic cocktails and create a running contribution to the blog beyond the photos.  As part of our getting back into blogging I wanted to help contribute and some mixology seemed to be a good (and enjoyably boozy) way to do that.  Thus #MasterpieceCocktail was born.

Amy got me a cocktail book a few years ago after we got married; however, up to this point I haven't used it much despite having a relatively well stocked bar.  During our last vacation (Disney Cruise), we took a number of liquor tasting classes and a mixology class, which helped to spur our interest in cocktails and helped to give me the idea for this series.  Many of the cocktails in the series will be from the book, but many can be found online and some are my twist on the base recipe.  Hope you enjoy the drinks, we certainly did.

Here are the first two cocktails from the series.

Week 1: French 76

The French 76 is a variation of the classic Champagne cocktail, the French 75.  The French 75 traditionally is made with Gin, while the French 76 is a Vodka variant.  The story goes that American soldiers in World War I brought this drink home after the war and the name comes from a French 75mm artillery piece.

1 oz Vodka (I used Absolut Citron)
1/2 oz Fresh lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
5 oz Chilled Champagne
Citrus Twist

Pour Vodka, Sugar, and Lemon juice into a cocktail shaker wth ice and shake.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or flute and top with the champagne.

The result is a sweet, fizzy cocktail.

Week 2: Chelsea Sidecar

The Chelsea Sidecar is a variation of the classic Cognac Sidecar drink and is s signature drink of the Chelsea Hotel in New York.  It is also known as a Gin Sidecar.  I made mine a little different than the traditional version, substituting Grand Marnier for the traditional Cointreau.  The result was a slight coloration to a traditionally effectively clear drink.

2 oz Gin (I used Hendricks which is a little different than some of the more traditional London Gins)
3/4 oz Grand Marnier
1/2 oz Fresh lemon juice
Lemon Twist

Shake the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker and strain into a chilled cocktail class, add the lemon twist.

The result of the Hendricks and Grand Marnier lead to a great, citrusy cocktail.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Parmesan Risotto with Asparagus and Lemon

I absolutely love risotto!  I cooked risotto for the first time a few weeks ago and I think I have made it at least 6 different ways already.  Risotto is a technique that involves cooking rice in broth until it reaches an amazing creamy consistency through constant stirring.  It is a bit labor intensive but DEFINITELY worth it.
You can cook risotto in most pots.  I have made it in my stainless steel sauce pan and saute pan but I have had the best results making it in my Le Crueset dutch oven.  I like the large cooking surface with the high walls so it is harder to lose the rice while stirring constantly.
Saute the shallot for a few minutes and add the garlic in at the last minute since garlic can burn a lot faster than shallot.  You can use an onion if you have that on hand, I prefer the mellower flavor of shallot so I almost always have them in my kitchen.  Make sure you salt and pepper during this step to start building flavor early.  Continue to salt and pepper at each step to continue to build the flavor in this dish.
Add the rice, cook just long enough to toast the rice.  Be sure not to burn the rice
Add 1/2 cup white wine.  Begin stirring the rice, continue to cook until the wine has been absorbed.
Add 1/2 cup of stock, stir until mostly absorbed and add another 1/2 cup of stock and continue to cook until the rice reaches a creamy consistency.  One thing I learned after I cooked this dish for the 2nd time is the difference between stock and broth and its importance to this dish.  When you slowly add broth to the rice, the rice releases starches that give the rice the creamy texture that risotto is famous for.   The risotto is not quite to the desired consistency here since it is still liquidy.

 The first time I made risotto, I used broth and it turned out fine but the 2nd time, I used stock and the consistency of the rice was so much better.  The reason: stock is made from the bony parts of the chicken which adds a richer flavor as well as provides more of a thicker, creamier consistency.
Add the asparagus in with the last 1/2 of broth.  When I last made this, I added  zest since I had a lemon on hand.  The lemon flavor really brought out the rest of the flavors I think I will  use lemon when I make this variation going forward.  

Ingredient Count: 8 (I only had to buy 3)

Parmesan Risotto with lemon and Asparagus
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 quart chicken stock
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1 in pieces
1 lemon, zested
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  add the shallot, saute for about 2 minutes.  Once the shallot is translucent, add the garlic and saute for another minute.

Add the rice to the pan and stir.  Cook until there is a slightly nutty aroma.

Add the wine and cook until the liquid is fully absorbed.  Add 1/2 cup of stock at a time to the rice until fully absorbed.

Add the asparagus, lemon zest with the last 1/2 cup of stock , stir until the stock is absorbed.  Remove from heat, stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately.


There are so many different ways to serve risotto.  I have added green beans, bell peppers, carrots, leeks, fennel, peas and list goes on and on...  You can even add chicken pieces and create a one pot meal which is even better :)

Risotto with chicken, bell peppers and green beans

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Chicken Enchiladas

I am not usually one for New Years Resolutions but I figure I'd give it a try this year.  My resolution this year is to blog more so be prepared to hear from me a lot more than 2015.  One big perk of blogging more is I need to cook more and therefore EAT more!! :)  It also means I need to keep cooking a variety of different recipes so I'd figured I'd start this year out with a recipe I had never tried before: Chicken Enchiladas.  If you have read this blog or have seen my Instagram, you can tell I love Mexican food, but I have never made enchiladas before.  And to challenge myself even more I decided to make my own enchilada sauce as well instead of buying a can.  I can tell you, although there was little effort involved, it was well worth the effort.  The sauce added just the right amount of kick to the dish and my husband absolutely loved it (even though he had another pot to clean because of it).

One thing I really enjoyed about these enchiladas as opposed to others I have had in the past is their freshness.  Although in essence it is still a meat filled tortilla covered in sauce and cheese, using chicken (instead of beef) and adding the green pepper and corn provide the dish a good balance between light and heavy foods.  That being said, I was still only able to eat one enchilada for dinner.

You might think that making enchiladas is complicated, but it really is not as long as you remain organized and set up your prep station ahead of time.

 Flour and oil mixture
 Flour, oil, chili powder, garlic powder and cayenne
 Enchilada Sauce simmering

 Green pepper, corn, sour cream and chicken mixture
 One of my husband's enchiladas... he is not a fan of green peppers

Ingredient Count: 15  (I only had to buy 7)

Enchilada Sauce
  • 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil 
  • 1 Tbsp. flour 
  • 1/8 cup chili powder 
  • 1/2 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups chicken broth 
  • 5 oz. tomato paste 
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano 
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin 
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 
In a medium saucepan heat oil, add flour. Cook for 1 minute. Add chili powder, garlic powder and cayenne pepper, cook for 30 seconds. Add stock, tomato paste, oregano, and cumin and salt. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes, or until thick.
  • 2 (6-oz) boneless skinless chicken breasts 
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil 
  • 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced crosswise 
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels 
  • 1/2 cup sour cream 
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped 
  • 2 ½ cups(s) Colby Jack cheese or taco blend cheese
  • 3 Green onions, chopped
  • 4 medium flour tortillas, microwaved on high until pliable 
  • Salt and Pepper
Heat oven to 450°F. Fill a medium saucepan with water.  Bring to a boil and salt the water. Add the chicken, reduce heat and simmer until cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool; shred.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the green pepper, and 1/4 tsp  salt and pepper; cook,until tender, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the corn and sour cream. Add the chicken, cilantro, hot sauce 1/2 cup of the cheese.

Spread 1/2 of the enchilada sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Roll the chicken mixture in the tortillas tightly and place seam side down in the dish. Continue to do this until the dish is full.  Top with the remaining sauce and cheese. Bake until beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes.  Garnish with remaining cilantro and green onions.  Serve on its own or over rice