Friday, March 30, 2012

Day 188.5 Lemon Elderflower Martini

Every once in a while, recipe ingredients come along that awaken the senses to such a degree that mere mortal words do not begin to describe the experience. Everyone's heard of "foodgasms" - the oft-used hybrid word that describes the sublime pleasure one gets when eating something, well, sublimely sublime. But yesterday's discovery of St. Germain elderflower liquor caused a full-on sensorygasm. That's the equivalent of the big "O", not to be confused with Oprah or the run-of-the-mill "o", ergo, sensorygasm in a bottle. Made from the blossoms of elderflowers that are harvested by hand in the foothills of the Alps, St. Germain is one of the most interesting and intense liqueurs I know of. Vraiment.
Image Courtesy of Crave

Here's how the sensory thing went down:  First, the beautiful light golden color of the liqueur is a feast for the eyes and the bottle design is one of the coolest I've ever seen. Next, the smell (with my eyes closed), was floral, Meyer-lemony, passion-fruit-sweet, pear-clean, and vanilla-warm. I am not a sophisticated connoisseur of liqueur (in fact, I'm a total libation plebeian and admit to choosing booze based mostly on groovy label design), but this is one of the most unique and romantic liqueurs I've ever tasted: sweet, but not cloying, floral on the tongue at first, then simultaneously citrusy and pearish (yes, that's a word). All the while the scent imparts the taste of flowers to the olfactory senses, sending the brain crazy-sensual perfume signals. This is not an uber thick glycerin liqueur, and I love that it didn't coat my tongue and mouth with thick syrup - it had just the right feel from sip to swallow. Finally, the sound - that would be me, sighing in pleasure and surprise with my first taste, then exclaiming out loud (to myself) Holy Sh*t, that's amazing" whilst going back for a second sip.

Making this cocktail took less than 30 minutes from start to finish. The end product is a complex blend of florals, exotic citrus and juniper berries (from the Bombay gin), and the lemon garnish adds just that little bit of bite to off-set the sweetness of the liqueur. One is plenty, and a salty dish of roasted peanuts is a perfect accompaniment. A BIG shout-out to Andrea at The Depot Package Store for her expert consultation!

Juniper berries give Bombay Gin a distinctive flavor
Peel lemons with a zester, then slice thin
 Add sugar and water to lemons to make simple syrup
 Bring to a boil, then take off heat to cool
 Strain simple syrup, discard lemons
Pour gin over ice in a pitcher
 Add St. Germain
 Add lemon simple syrup
 Stir until icy cold, strain, pour and...
Serve, garnished with lemon

Lemon Elderflower Martinis (Adapted from foodnetwork)

1 lemon
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups gin
3/4 cup elderflower liqueur, such as St. Germain
1 1/2 cups ice

1. Remove 8 thin strips of zest from the lemon using a vegetable peeler and set aside. Thinly slice the lemon and place in a small pot with the sugar and 1/3 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar dissolves. Let cool and strain the syrup.

2. For each of 8 martini glasses, rub a strip of zest around the rim and then drop in the bottom of the glass for garnish. Combine the gin, elderflower liqueur, lemon syrup and ice in a measuring cup or pitcher and stir until very cold. Remove any unmelted ice or strain into the prepared glasses. Serve icy cold.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Day 188! United States of America ~ Pan Seared Scallops with Cider Brown Butter and Field Greens - Up Next, Uruguay

Finally! Nearly two years since first starting this journey, I have reached my beloved homeland, the United States of America. But what to cook to represent this vast country? I thought about cheese burgers, chocolate shakes and apple pie, but that felt too, dare I say, American? Since the United States is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse countries in the world, it's impossible to capture all of the culinary traditions Americans eat today with one meal or dish.

Map Courtesy of Lonely Planet
So... I got to thinking about who was here first. That led me to the indigenous people who inhabited this land some 10,000 to 35,000 years prior to America's discovery by European explorers and settlers. Although there are hundreds of Native American and Indian tribes, bands, clans and groups in this country, all with distinct cultures, customs and beliefs, I turned to the Wampanoag Tribe on the island of Martha's Vineyard for inspiration, because four generations of my family have summered and lived on the island since the 1930's. That seems like a long time, but in comparison, the Wampanoag have lived on this beautiful island  for more than 10,000 years. Despite unimaginable injustices, death due to foreign diseases, and dislocation from their land in the 1700's, the Wompanoag Tribe are a strong, thriving community in Aquinnah (Gay Head). Today, their customs, traditions and culture live on, including their ancient language, nearly lost after 150 years of dormancy, which is currently being reclaimed by the Wopanaak Reclamation Project.

As luck would have it, a little searching led me to the Wampanoag Tribe website, complete with recipes from their cookbook. I chose an amazing scallop dish because it uses local New England ingredients - plus, who in her right mind passes up an opportunity to eat scallops? To compliment these sea-jewels, I found locally-grown sunflower greens and a super-micro mix  (seriously, the tiniest greens I've EVER seen), of watercress, mizuna, red giant mustard and crimson mustard. So, while this meal represents only a fraction of the culinary traditions in America, it's a place to start that both honors and celebrates the United States of America, it's first inhabitants and the many immigrants who followed.

Map Courtesy o f Lonely Planet
The United States of America is federal constitutional republic made up of 50 states and the federal Disctrict of Columbia. Situtated mostly in North America, the U.S. is bordered by Canada and Mexico, with the state of Alaska to the Northwest and the state of Hawaii in the mid-Pacific. The U.S's maritime borders are the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. First inhabited by indigenous people who migrated from Asia, the population was greatly diminished due to displacement, war and disease that was introduced by European explorers who created the first 13 British Colonies along the Atlantic Seaboard. On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was created following the defeat of the British Empire during the American Revolution. In 1778, the U.S. Constitution that we know today was adopted, and in 1791, the Bill of Rights with 10 Constitutional Amendments was ratified, proclaiming the fundamental civil rights of all people regardless of race or creed. In 1860, the Civil War between the South and North over the institution of slavery and states rights, with the North prevailing to end the legal enslavement of African American people, a shameful practice that existed for more than a century before the founding of the United States. Since there's no way I can do justice to U.S. history, past or recent, in this little blog, please refer to U.S.A History for a more in-depth discussion.

One of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, the U.S. landscape includes the coastal planes of the Atlantic Seaboard, the forests of the Pacific west, mountains, lakes, rivers and the deserts of the Midwest and western states and active volcanoes in Alaska and Hawaii. Rich in animal and plant life, the U.S. agricultural landscape produces corn, wheat, soybeans, sorghum, rice, hay and virtually every kind of fruit, berry and vegetable imaginable. As you can imagine, it's difficult to pin-point any one culinary influence, since  aside from regional cooking, America is home to thousands different ethnic groups, each with their own influences and traditions.

Cider, a Granny Smith apple, sage and butter for the sauce

 Reduce cider to 3 Tbsp., and julienne apple - fresh lemon juice add zest and keeps colors fresh
 Lovely sea scallops 
 Season with salt and pepper, then sear in a heavy, hot skillet - in butter - never forget the butter
 Do not overcook - about 2 minutes on each side will do it
 Melt remaining butter, add cider, lemon juice and sage - simmer until slightly thickened
 Serve- I used sunflower sprouts and super-mini-macro greens - but wild rice would be great too!

Seared Scallops with Cider Brown Butter  (Adapted from Wampanoag Tribe Cookbook)

1 cup apple cider
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound sea scallops, patted dry with paper towels (see note)
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and julienned
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
16 small fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
In a large skillet, bring the cider to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 6 to 8 minutes, or until reduced to about 3 tablespoons. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
In another large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Season the scallops with the salt and pepper. Cook the scallops until lightly browned on the outside and opaque throughout, about 2 minutes on each side (do not overcook). Remove from the pan and keep warm.
Add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter to the skillet. Brown the butter over medium heat, being careful not to burn. Stir in the reduced cider, half of the julienned apple, the sage, and lemon juice. Simmer until the apple is tender and the sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
To serve, put the scallops on a bed of wild rice or field greens on a plate, and spoon on the sauce. Garnish with the remaining julienned apple.
Yield: 4 servings

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Day 187! UK~Bubble and Squeak - Up Next, USA

Shout-out to our family friend, Kevin who inspired me to make Bubble and Squeak to represent the UK. Kevin recently traveled to England and regularly saw this dish on restaurant menus. As we got talking about his recommendations of what meal would best capture the culture of this beautiful country, he produced his phone with lightning speed, did a few seconds of research for me, and instantly sealed the deal - Bubble and Squeak it would be. I mean, the name alone is reason enough, right?! And just so you know that I only use the most reliable sources, Kevin is a pre-med student at Harvard, so who am I to question his advice?! Way to be Dr. to-be!
Map Courtesy of Lonely Planet
The United Kingdom is a sovereign state on the North Western coast of the continent of Europe. The UK is comprised of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and is surrounded by the Atlantic, North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea. The earliest record of human inhabitants dates back 30,000 years ago. In 1707 the kingdoms of England and Scotland were created and by the 18th century, the parliamentary system was developed. One of the most significant events that helped grow the British Empire was the Industrial Revolution. The textile industry along with shipbuilding, coal mining and steel making positioned the UK as a major international trade force, as it continues today. Finally, by 1801, the Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland united to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Of course the country has much richer, more complex history which cannot be captured in this little blog.

Owing to its temperate climate and ample rainfall, cool weather vegetables such as potatoes, peas, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, turnips and brussel sprouts (to name but a few) are most commonly grown. Dairy products like eggs, cheese, butter and cream are plentiful as well. Traditionally British food is based on beef, lamb, pork, chicken and fish.. The most common and typical foods eaten in Britain include the sandwich, fish and chips, pies like the cornish pasty, trifle and roasts dinners...and let's not forget tea and beer, both of which are hallmarks of the UK's cuisine and culture.

Bubble and Squeak is a traditional British fried dish of left-over vegetables. The name comes from the popping and squeaking sound the densely packed vegetables make as they cook under pressure. Traditionally it was eaten on a Monday for lunch or dinner with a fried egg, bacon, or meat leftovers. From what I can tell, there isn't a specific recipe for Bubble and Squeak, since other than the mandatory base of mashed potatoes that binds all the vegetables, any leftover vegetables from the night before can be used. Most of the recipes I found included cabbage, but other than that, any combination of carrots, parsnips, turnips, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and peas be used. Interestingly, in Ireland, the same meal is called colcannon, but uses kale and onions, and in Scotland, it's called rumbledethum. Lastly, according to traditional recipes, animal fat, like lard, should be used to achieve a perfect golden brown exterior. I couldn't bring myself to use lard,...but, I most certailny could use bacon as mighty and righteous substitute.

Last night's leftovers - Roasted carrots, turnips, parsnips and boiled cabbage

Left over vegetables, mashed potatoes and frozen peas (added frozen, not pre-cooked)
 Mmmmmm....bacon - nothing more need be said
 Chop vegetables
Fry bacon - reserve grease for cooking patties
 Combine vegetables with mashed potatoes, shape into patties and fry in bacon fat and onions
Served up for breakfast with a fried egg - Bubble and Squeak rules!

Bubble and Squeak (adapted from about 20 different recipes)

4 tbsp. bacon fat
½ cup onion, finely chopped
Leftover mashed potato
Any leftover vegetables, cabbage, carrots, peas, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, turniips etc...finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fried bacon pieces (optional)

In a large frying pan, fry bacon. When bacon is crisp, remove and reserve.
To the bacon fat in the pan, add the chopped onion and fry gently for 3 mins or until soft.
Combine mashed potatoes and vegetables, form into patties (about the size of a hamburger).
Turn the heat up slightly and add the mashed potato and vegetable patties. Fry for 5-7 mins turning over in the bacon fat,  two or three times ensuring the potato and vegetables are thoroughly reheated.
Press the potato mixture patties on to the base of the pan with a spatula and leave to cook for 1 min. Flip over and repeat.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Day 186! United Arab Emirates-Garlic, Thyme and Lemon Pita Bread - Up Next, United Kingdom

If I had any resolve at all, I'd be finishing our taxes. But let's face it, when it comes to doing taxes, it takes very little to distract me from the pain. So, it's a good thing I happened on this A-mazing recipe for garlic, thyme and lemon pita bread from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), because one more minute of number crunching and sifting through piles of paper (hello, husband? thanks so much for the wad of gas receipts), would have done me in.  I will NEVER buy pita bread again. This was super easy - the whole process took about 45 minutes from start to finish. And, if I could only describe the combination of lemon, garlic, olive oil and thyme, you'd high-tail it to your kitchen to try. But I can't. Words fail me - it's that sublime. I had it for lunch with a dish of humus, topped with parsley, pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil. And tomorrow morning, I'll toast it for breakfast. What taxes?

Map Courtesy of Lonely Planet
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), is a country in the South East part of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia on the Persian Gulf. The country shares its borders with Oman and Saudi Arabia and its maritime borders with Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Iran. The UAE constitutes a federation of seven emirates, which are each governed by a hereditary emir and a single national president. The earliest human evidence dates back to 550 BC. Trade in this beautiful country mainly consisted of copper, then later camels, pearls and wares brought by seafaring merchants. Until gaining independence and a constitution in 1971, the country was ruled by the Portuguese, followed by Europeans until the UK formed the Trucial States in the 19 century.  Now, a powerful and oil rich country, the UAE is home to a strong economy and plentiful natural resources, as well as resurgence of nearly extinct animals like the Arabian oryx, leopards, coastal fish and mammals. Islam is the country's official religion and Arabic the language.

Owing to the country's dry climate, vegetables are grown, but are not a significant part of the diet, which is a blend of Middle Eastern and Asian traditions. Meat, grains, dairy, sea food, chicken, goat, mutton and lamb are all enjoyed, usually in the form of stews or grilled meats and kebabs. Saffron, cardamom, turmeric, thyme are the primary spices that flavor the food. Delicious yeast breads, rice, cheese, dates and date syrup, eggs and sesame seeds as well as kabsa, falafel, shawarma, kebobs and tea are just a sampling of the rich and interesting culinary variety this country offers.


Garlic, Thyme and Lemon Pita Bread (Recipe Adapted from Celtnet)

Ingredients: 6 garlic cloves, very finely sliced
2 tsp dried thyme, ground to a powder
2 tbsp finely-grated lemon zest
4-4-1/4 cup white flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
4 tsp. dried, active, yeast
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 -1/2 warm water (about)

Fry the garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil until just browned then transfer the garlic and oil into your mixing bowl and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 425 F and place your baking tray in there to keep warm.
Mix all the dry ingredients together (including the yeast) and add to the bowl containing the fried garlic, along with the thyme and lemon zest.
Add the oil and half the water and mix together.
Now add just enough water so that the ingredients come together as a soft, pliable, dough.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.
Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside to rest for half an hour. Once the time is up, divide the dough into 5 balls. Use a rolling pin to roll each one of these into flat ovals about 1/8-inch thick (ie pitta bread shapes).
Wrap any remaining dough in plastic wrap so they don't dry out.
Take the hot baking tray out of the oven, lie your two pita breads on the tray and immediately replace in the oven. Bake for about 4–5 minutes, or until risen and only just colored.
Immediately remove from the tray and leave to cool under a cloth (this prevents them from drying).
You can either freeze until later or re-heat that day to eat. Continue cooking the remaining pita breads until all 6 are done.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 9, 2012

Day 185! Ukraine - Borsch (Vegetarian) - Up Next, United Arab Emirates

Whoa! I had no idea there were so many different kinds of borsch. I'd always assumed that borsch was, well, borsch - basic beet soup. But, in fact, the word borsch simply means any soup made with a variety of vegetables, and in Eastern Europe, there are hundreds of varieties, each one considered authentic. Some have beef, some have sausage, some have bacon and still others have a whole range of vegetables. Since I often cook with meat, I decided to go the vegetarian route, opting instead to made a simple soup where the beautiful earthy beet flavor would be the star. Pure in flavor, spectacular in color and loaded with vitamins, borsch is now officially on my "this is surprisingly awesome" list of foods. Oh, and don't forget to serve it with hearty pumpernickel, slathered with sweet butter. Epic.

Map Courtesy of Lonely Planet
Located in southeastern central Europe, Ukraine borders Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Turkey the Black Sea and the Sea of Azor. The second largest contiguous country on the European continent after Russia, this beautiful country is extremely bio-diverse, and is home to thousands of plants, mushrooms, berries and animals. Established in the 9th century by the Varangiansin, the country was a powerful nation in the Middle Ages. By the 14th century, Ukraine was under the rule of the Golden Horde, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland and by the 19 century, the largest part of Ukraine was integrated into the Russian Empire. From 1917-1921, the country fought for independence, following WWI and the Russian Civil War. Finally, when the Soviet Union disolved in 1991, Ukraine declared independence. Today, Ukraine is a globably important country and is the 3rd largest grain exporter in the world.

Cuisine in Ukraine is influenced by Russian, Polish, German and Turkish traditions. Meat, mushrooms, vegetables, berries, fruits and herbs are abundant in Ukranian cooking. Called the "breadbasket" of Europe, bread in many forms and cooking methods is integral to the countries culinary identity. Pickled vegetables, dumplings, cabbage, beets, cheese, pork, fish, lamb, potatoes, tortes, nuts poppy seed pastry and cakes are all typical of the country's cuisine.

Chop onions, beets and carrots
 Chop cabbage

 Add vegetable broth, vinegar and butter and simmer
 Grated cucumber makes a lovely garnish
 Sour cream and dill top it all off
 Warm or cold, borsch is delicious 

Borsch (Beet Soup) - Adapted from the Joy of Cooking

1/2 cup peeled carrots, finely chopped
1 cup peeled onions, finely chopped
2 cups peeled beets, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. butter
2 cups vegetable broth or stock
1 cup finely shredded cabbage
1 Tbsp. vinegar
Sour Cream
Grated cucumber

Chop carrot, onions and beets. Add to pot and barely cover with boiling water. Simmer gently, covered for about 20 minutes.
Add butter, stock, shredded cabbage and vinegar and simmer for another 15 minutes.
When cooked, blend or run soup through a food mill until desired consistency.
Ladle into bowls, top with a dollop of sour cream, a spoonful of cucumber and sprinkling of dill.
Serve with good pumpernickel bread and butter.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved