50 Shots of America–Georgia

Even though I live about a half-hour’s drive from the Florida-Georgia border and even worked in that state (however briefly), I had absolutely no idea that Georgia was one of the original 13 Colonies much less the 4th official state, having ratified the Constitution on January 2, 1788.

(Seriously, we’re getting close to concurrent dates, here–will it happen? I suppose I could peek ahead and see but I like to be surprised. Actually, I don’t, but I’ll make an exception in this instance!)

You know, I bet the Union must have taken it very hard when Georgia seceded is 1861; one of their own betraying them and all. But the Union got their revenge: many battles fought on Georgia clay, General Sherman setting fire to a good portion of the state during his March to the Sea and then it spent the longest time of any of the other Confederate states in Reconstruction. They were the last of the CSA to be readmitted into the Union in 1870. Gee, hold a grudge much?

At any rate, I did know that Georgia was the Peach State and that it also grows a lot of cotton (I’ve passed the fields on my way through that state more times than I can count) and is known for peanut production as well (it’s the state crop). What I didn’t know is that they are #1 in the world for pecan production (though I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me) and are home to the Granite (Ellerton), Poultry (Gainesville) and Carpet (Dalton) Capitals of the World. Pretty impressive stuff.

While many know that Girl Scouts began in Savannah in 1912 and the unfortunate fact that high muckety-mucks in Georgia were responsible for the Trail of Tears in 1838, another thing started in Georgia that might just surprise you: the US Gold Rush! It was not out in California that the first gold was found, but in Dahlonega, Georgia in 1829. You can tour one of those early mines and even pan for gold and gemstones while you’re there!

Golden Peach
1 oz Peach nectar
2 tsp Goldschlager cinnamon liqueur

Combine the nectar and liqueur over ice in a small cocktail shaker and shake it like a miner down to his last pan. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Peach was the obvious choice for a Georgia drink and even though the Goldschlager was, at first, a novely decision based on the bits of gold floating around the bottom of the bottle it made sense the more I thought about it. Peach pie seasoned with cinnamon, anyone? Exactly!

This drink is also deceptively simple. It actually took 3 tries before we found the right balance between cinnamon and peach. I think this would scale up very easily with the addition of vanilla vodka and a brown sugar-graham cracker rim to make a very nice dessert martini.

The Best Burger

This weekend I was craving a nice, juicy hamburger and while I would have settled for take-out, Todd was nice enough to make a trip to the store (while I slept off another dose of cold meds) for the necessary ingredients to make them at home.

It’s not enough to just form some ground chuck into a disk and toss it on a grill or in a frying pan.

First of all, you have to have the right mix of meat to get good results! Too much fat, like in straight ground chuck, and your burgers shrink to half their size or bunch up in the middle and don’t cook evenly. Too little fat and you wind up with a dry, mealy burger that falls apart on the grill. A 50/50 mix of chuck and lean seems to work best and results in a juicy burger that still fills out the bun.

Secondly, salt enhances flavor, as do other seasonings; don’t be afraid to use them! Salt, pepper, garlic and onion all go into our burger mix. This time we also dashed in a bit of paprika for fun. One thing I do tend to go back and forth on is whether to go powdered or fresh with the onion and garlic. On the one hand, fresh is generally best but it can be tough to finely mince the onions enough that the flavor is evenly distributed. Onion and garlic powders allow, I think, for a greater distribution throughout the meat. We also add a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce, too.

Finally, help the meat stick together by adding some binding agents. Just like you do with meatloaf, an egg and some breadcrumbs certainly won’t hurt the burger and can help a too-lean mix hold up to being flipped over flames. I’ve used oatmeal in the past, instead of breadcrumbs, and Todd’s used crushed potato chips and even rice cereal! As long as it’s fairly finely crushed (a rolling pin and a plastic bag will do if the food processor’s too much of a hassle) it’ll work!

Stove versus Grill

There’s just something about a grilled burger than one done in a frying pan or skillet can’t match. If you have a gas grill, like we do, firing it up (even in January) is no sweat. Charcoal takes, I think, a little more commitment but the flavor is often worth it (though I think having a second item–like some chicken quarters or a pork roast–to cook while the coals are still live is the most efficient use of a charcoal grill). An indoor grill is somewhat superior to a skillet but if you really have a hankering and a frying pan is all you’ve got, then go for it!

What are your qualifications for a really good burger?

50 Shots of America–New Jersey

Of all the things that come to mind when I think New Jersey (Miss Congeniality, The Sopranos, the Turnpike and my aunt who lives there to name just a few), light bulbs are not one of them. Seriously, I don’t know where I thought Thomas Edison lived when he was inventing up a storm, but never did I imagine it was New Jersey.

But so it was that the 3rd state of the Union (as of December 18, 1787) was, indeed, the home of the light bulb, the transistor, FM radio, the drive-in movie, the zipper, saltwater taffy and dirigibles. (The list goes on and on, I’m just hitting some highlights, here.) It also seems somewhat… ironic? that the place whose State Dance is the Square Dance is also home to the 2nd largest gambling town, Atlantic City (and, apparently, the city where the board game Monopoly got it’s property names!). Go figure!

When trying to decide on a drink for New Jersey I did my best to steer away from some of the more negative connotations (landfills, various refineries, hints of organized crime…) and, instead, focus on some fun bits. While the presence of the oldest operating nuclear power plant in the US does put one in the mind of a Flaming Moe (from The Simpsons, for those who don’t watch much television)–and the cough syrup ingredient is rather appropriate as I’m a bit under the weather as of this writing–I decided to go with the zipper and another New Jersey creation: cranberry sauce.

Okay, not the sauce, the juice of the same ilk. Let’s not go overboard, right?

So… zipper. Zippy. Zingy. Zesty. What flavor best equates to zippy for me? Horseradish! No, not quite there. Pepper, suggested Todd. Which led to Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces. Not the right direction, I thought. Then it came to me: ginger!

Again, I’m already on cold meds so alcohol isn’t going to be a good mix. So this week’s shot (or little sipper as I prefer to think of them–after all, if they’re so nasty you have to shoot them down just to make them bearable, why bother?) in non-alcoholic.

The Zipper Berry

1/4-inch coin of fresh Ginger, chopped up a bit
1/4 oz Simple Syrup
1 1/2 oz Cranberry Juice (100% juice blend if possible, no extra sweeteners or substitutes)

Muddle the ginger and syrup together in the bottom of a small cocktail shaker. Add juice and top with ice. Shake like you’re breezing through traffic on the turnpike (a fantasy, sure, but it’s all good!) and strain into a cordial glass.

The chilled concoction is, to me, the very definition of zippy. You get a bit of the sweetened juice and then the ginger zaps the back of your palate like an electrical current. It’s a pretty drink, too, as the muddled ginger clouds the juice ever so slightly as a few of the smaller bits drift down to the bottom of the glass. This would make an excellent brunch beverage or, if made on a larger scale and cut with some ginger ale, a lovely sipper for hot Summer afternoons.

Like it So Much I’m Leaving it Up!

Well, that’s partially it. Basically, I’ve got 2 more strips out of this storyline and rather than do 3 this week and 1 next, I figured it’d be best to do 2 and 2. Kinda weaning us all down to the one-a-week posts that will start in February. Those, though, will be full pages, hence the difference. At least to me.

Also, I happen to have come down with sinus/cough/cold ick and it’s tough to do anything but whimper and choke right now. Bother. So 2 updates this week and 2 next (Tuesday and Wednesday). I should still have a Sips posted for Friday, though. I can generally type with my eyes closed (the coughing… you know what I’m talking about, right?).

Going to dig out my humidifier, now…

A Superbowl Party for the Non-Fans

It’s no secret that I like to plan parties. (Sometimes the planning is even more fun than the execution, but only rarely.) Unfortunately, my imagination and notebooks sometimes contain more ideas than I can always accommodate on the calendar. Such is the case with this most recent party idea. Rather than hoard the idea for a year, I’ve decided to share it and hope that if someone uses this idea, they let me know how it goes!

The Commercial Bowl

Not everyone is a football fan but it seems a shame to waste a perfectly good opportunity to party. In order to make the most of the day, why not concentrate on the other fun to be had: the incredible (and sometimes deplorable) commercials that run in multi-million dollar spots throughout the show.

For this to work best, you obviously need a way to view the broadcast plus a DVR to watch and record live television simultaneously. Start the party an hour or so into the game, giving ample time for commercials to accumulate before you begin viewing them. It’s also not a bad idea to track down previous year’s commercials (some commercial collections are available on DVD or you can watch the cable networks for the best- and worst-of shows that air leading up to the big day) for some additional viewing.

Decorate the party room(s) with all sorts of branded items. Raid the party store for party supplies with major labels on them. This is also an excellent opportunity to put those empty boxes leftover from Christmas to work, with their logos readily apparent. Or you could take a page from an old Sabrina, The Teenage Witch episode and make up your own parodies of brand named items to emblazon the walls (I recall Popsi and Butterthumb with particular amusement). Think maximum product placement and then ratchet it up another notch or two.

Serve a variety of finger foods, just like any other Superbowl gathering. Chicken wings, sub sandwiches, chips and dip, etc. Feel free to spruce up each item, depending on your guest list, with your own twists on old favorites or make it easy on yourself and pick up deli platters with absolutely zero guilt.

Because watching commercials isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, make a game out of it by having guests vote on who they think will have the most ostentatious offering before-hand and then take votes on the winner after. Give guests personal whiteboards (purchased or easily created with special paint) and dry-erase markers to be the judges of each commercial. Add in some other games, like the Adverteasing Board Game to round out the fun. With the right group of people this party will be a lot of fun!

50 Shots of America–Pennsylvania

You’d think (or at least I would) that Pennsylvania would have been the first to ratify the Constitution, seeing as how much time our forefathers spent doing big things in Philadelphia and all during those early colony days. Instead, they signed on a full 5 days after Delaware, on December 12, 1787,* becoming the second official state of the Union.

The site of the first commercially drilled oil well in 1859, oil is not what most think of as being the prime business in the woods (Pennsylvania means Penn’s Wood after the founder, William Penn, and the Latin silva for forest). Some consider Pennsylvania to be the “snack food capital of the world” and with good reason. Not only are the Hershey chocolate factories located in the heart of the state, so are Mars, Wilbur Chocolate Company, Wise Snack Foods and Just Born (the company behind, among other things, Peeps!).

Even though I’ve actually been to Pennsylvania (well, Philadelphia, and only for one partial day–I did some comics about it) and, therefore, actually _can_ find it on the map, I did not get a chance while there to visit that mecca of many: Hershey, PA. No, no pictures with a kiss-shaped street light for me. Not yet at least. I’ve got two sets of people I can stay with should I get a chance to head that far north again and it WILL be on the agenda when that day comes. I did recently read an excellent history of Mr Hershey and his town, though, which makes getting to concoct this next drink extra fun!

(Interesting side note: did you know Hershey found early success not with chocolate but with caramels? It was the success of his caramel business, the recipe for which he learned in Denver, that gave him the opportunity and backing to experiment with making eating chocolate like they did in Europe. I was also fascinated to learn that Hershey’s distinct flavor can be attributed to the slight souring of the milk as it’s processed–apparently the European chocolatiers used milk powder instead of liquid milk in their recipes. But I digress…)

The Sweet Tooth

1/2 oz Vanilla Vodka
1/2 oz Godiva** liqueur, divided
1/4 oz Amaretto liqueur
1/4 oz White Chocolate Irish Cream
1/4 oz Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup

Combine all ingredients except 1/4 oz Godiva in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake it like you’re making a milkshake. Strain into a shot glass and float the remaining Godiva over the top by pouring over the back of a bar spoon.

Now, I’ve read that all-alcohol bevvies aren’t supposed to be shaken. Whatever. If you keep all of your alcohol chilled (I know I don’t have the fridge-space for that!), I suppose you could skip the shaking and just stir it up in a small bar glass before transferring to a shot but I wanted it really cold and, with this many ingredients (probably another no-no for a shot), well mixed so my petite shaker it is!

Incidentally, the state beverage of Pennsylvania is Milk, so if you wanted to mix up a double batch of the Sweet Tooth and stir it into a nice cold glass of milk, I think that’d be just fine, too.

*You know, if the blog-stars align to where I’m writing about a state on the day it became a state, I might just have to play the lottery or something!

**Don’t worry, Godiva’s totally valid here--the North American debut of Godiva chocolates was at Wannamaker’s Department Store in Philadelphia in 1966!

PS–The state tree is Hemlock. Insert classics geek joke here. (Q.What were Socrates’ last words? A. I drank what?)

PPS–From Todd at dinner: “Life is like a shot of chocolate.” To which I, being of a philosophical bent today, added: “Exactly, if you make it yourself you know exactly what you’re gonna get!”

Creating Recipes

You know how it is: you’re in the kitchen trying to come up with something for dinner so you just start tossing things together. Or, maybe, you’re doing a little improv on an otherwise basic recipe. Either way, dinner turns out very yummy and you’re left wondering: now, how did I do that?

Of course, in my case, I’m working on the cookbook so I have to be able to tell others the recipe. But whether you’re situation finds you wanting to write down a family recipe that’s made by memory or follow your own ad libbing, the following tips will help you get to the same destination: a recipe that can be made more than once with the same results! It all comes down to two main parts: Measurements and Records.

Measurements

A pinch of this, a dash of that, but is it your pinch or my pinch? A finger and a thumb or a full-fisted affair? While some vagaries of cooking (the inevitable ’til it’s done’ comes to mind) really are variable due to a number of conditions, if we just pause long enough to measure each thing before adding it to the pot it makes the written account so much easier to follow.

How to do it? First, keep a couple sets of measuring cups and spoons out as you create. One set of each for wet and dry ingredients and a flour sack towel or the like for wiping spoons out from one spice to the next. If you have them out, you’re more likely to use them. Then scoop or pour everything into one of these tools, first, rather than directly into your cooking vessel of choice.

For bigger items (meats, large quantities of flour, etc.) having a digital scale on the counter is a real time saver. Choose one that does both grams as well as pounds and ounces then just keep a stack of wax paper on hand to put between the food and the scale and you’re in business. You can also weigh as you go if you’ve got a tare-function on your scale (place an empty bowl or dish on the scale and then press the required button–it’ll zero-out the weight so that all you’re measuring is the contents and not the vessel); just note the weight change after each addition and you’ll be able to replicate your results even when the original was done completely by eye.

Records

Measuring is one thing, but unless you have some way to retrieve that information, it’s not going to do you much good. As a friend used to say: the weakest ink is better than the faintest memory. The obvious solution is to keep pen and paper at hand and stop between each step to write everything down.

As simple as this is, it can also wreck that creative flow you get into while playing culinary scientist on the way to a new discovery. Instead, recruit a friend or family member into taking dictation. This is a great position for kids who want to help in the kitchen but may not be quite ready to man (or woman) the range on their own. Finally, if you fly solo at the stove, try a digital voice recorder to take notes hands-free that you can transcribe after the dishes are washed. This is also good for catching any kitchen epiphanies you might have along the way.

So, go forth, create and then replicate your success again and again. Or, if it’s not so much in the success department, at least you’ll know exactly what you did and you can figure out where you went astray.

50 Shots of America–Delaware

Welcome to the 2010 series theme for Sips & Shots: 50 Shots of America! Each week I’ll look at a different state, dig up some (hopefully) interesting facts about it that then leads me to concoct a little libation in it’s honor (for these recipes I’ll be sticking to 2oz or less, so a double shot)! These are not intended to be official by any means, just a fun exercise in cocktail creation. (And, hey, if by the end of this year I can actually identify each state on the map–Bonus!*) Rather than do another alphabetical listing, this time I’m using the date of statehood as my guide so first up is…

Delaware, the first state to ratify the constitution on December 7, 1787, is a fairly tiny state (second only to Rhode Island in area) originally colonized by the Dutch. Apparently the log cabin is of Finnish ingenuity and the Finns brought over the plans with them in the mid-17th century. There’s a preserved log cabin of this sort at the Museum of Agriculture in the state capital, Dover. (Thanks to 50states.com for that bit of intel.) Even though I always will associate Georgia as the peach state, the peach blossom is the state flower of Delaware so it shares that nickname with it’s Southern buddy.

Despite wanting terribly to work the ‘no sales tax’ angle into this week’s cocktail, I decided to go with the log cabin and peaches instead. There’s already a Log Cabin cocktail in the world (actually, 3 different recipes presented themselves during a search) so, using that (those) as the base, I now present to you:

the Delaware Log Cabin

1 oz Peach nectar
1/2 oz Applejack
1/2 oz Whiskey
splash Maple Syrup

Combine all ingredients in a small cocktail shaker over ice and shake like a wave crashing on the Rehoboth Beach dunes. Strain into a double shot or cordial glass.

The whiskey seems very pioneer, log cabin-ish to me and using a corn-based whiskey makes sense as one of Delaware’s main crops is corn (it’s even on the state seal). There’s an Apple Scrapple Festival every year in Bridgeville, hence the use of Applejack and maple syrup seemed like a fitting sweetener instead of the usual sugar syrup, which helps to blunt the whiskey’s edge and let the light peach taste come through.

*The only class I ever failed in High School was Geography and it’s been said more than once that I lack any sort of natural sense of direction. Maybe I just didn’t have the proper incentive, then ;-)

Operation Bierock

So, apparently in Nebraska there’s a local chain of restaurants that specialize in their namesake sandwich: the Runza–a mixture of ground beef and cabbage inside of a yeast bread package. Born and raised in Nebraska, Todd really missed them and the recipe he’d tried in the past just didn’t make the grade. While that’s enough, on it’s own, to make me want to give it a whirl, the cabbage-factor made it a perfect meal for New Year’s Day. Add some black-eyed peas on the side and our traditional food requirements are taken care of!

Looking at the recipe he’d used in the past, I noticed that the filling was fairly simple: ground beef, onions, cooked cabbage, salt and white pepper. While I’m all for the purity of ingredients standing out, the missing ingredient was obviously flavor! Because bierocks come from a German background, I flipped through some of my books from International Cuisine class to see what herbs and spices came up the most so we’d have a jumping-off point for experimentation. I automatically suggested paprika (for a warm, homey feeling), then we picked out nutmeg, ginger and caraway seed to round out the seasonings. One other addition: garlic. Whether it’s appropriate for the recipe or not, garlic is a staple in our home so I had to add some.

Digging around the Internet some more, I found several recipes for beirocks that all seemed pretty much the same. One interesting tidbit I picked up in the comments of one was to cook the shredded cabbage in beer rather than just water. Awesome idea and we had a bottle of Pumpkin Ale in the fridge that would be perfect (though any spiced ale would work–not a lot transfers to the cabbage, just enough to add another layer of flavor overall). Todd also said that the source recipe was a bit heavy on the cabbage, so we cut that down a bit.

The results were amazing! Never having been to the Midwest or tasted a Runza, according to my audience I not only replicated what he’d been missing but improved it, as well. Go me! Here’s the recipe we ended up with (aka our new New Year’s tradition):

Bierocks
makes 24

Dough:
11 c All-Purpose Flour
1 pkg (.25 oz) Active Dry Yeast
.5 c Sugar
2 tsp Salt
2.5 c Water
1 c Milk
.5 Butter
2 Eggs

Combine 4 cups of the flour with the rest of the dry ingredients (yeast, sugar and salt) in a large bowl (preferably one that fits on a stand mixer) and mix well.

In a sauce pan, combine the water, milk and butter and heat until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and let cool to between 120 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit (too cold and the yeast won’t grow, too hot and you’ll kill it).

With the mixer on low, add in liquids until just moistened, followed by eggs. Crank up the mixer to medium and beat for 3-5 minutes. Returning the mixer to low, gradually add in the rest of the flour until all is incorporated. Transfer to a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.

If you have a super-sized mixer you may be able to do this in the bowl but my 4-quart Kitchen Aid didn’t have the space to let this huge mound of dough move around and do it’s thing enough without some additional kneading by hand. Besides, it’s a good arm work-out!

Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl, turn to coat evenly, then cover with a towel and let rest until doubled (1 hour for regular yeast, only about 10 minutes for rapid-rise), punch the dough down and let it rise again for another hour.

Filling:
20 oz Cabbage, shredded, the finer the better
1 bottle Ale
1 c Water
2 T Olive Oil
2 lb Ground Beef
1 lg Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 T Salt
1 tsp ground White Pepper
1 T ground Ginger
1 T Paprika
1/2 t Caraway Seeds, bashed in a mortar and pestle for a bit
1 T ground Nutmeg

Cook the cabbage with the ale and water in a covered saucepan until tender, stirring occasionally. Drain off the remaining liquid.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and cook the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add the ground beef and brown, adding the seasonings towards the end of the process. Drain off any liquid (if you used lean ground beef there shouldn’t be much) and add the cabbage to the ground beef.

Divide the dough into 24 even pieces. Stretch, roll and pull a piece into a 5-inch square (or as close as you can get–dough doesn’t like making corners on it’s own). Moisten the edges of the dough with a little bit of water and add 1/3 cup of filling to the center of the dough. Pull up the four “corners” of dough to meet in the center, pinch together and then pinch the x-like seams that form. Repeat with the other pieces of dough. Place, seam down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

I had to ask Todd how we were supposed to eat them (with knife and fork or just in hand) and the verdict was definitely hands-on. Since this makes a LOT of bierocks, wrap each leftover one individually in foil and then place them in a large freezer bag and store in the freezer until you a craving hits. Place a frozen bierock, still in it’s foil packet, into a 375-degree oven and bake 20 minutes or until completely heated through (165 degrees in the center).