Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving Punch Recipe

The past few years I’ve been making a welcoming cocktail for Thanksgiving. This year I was offered a bottle of Templeton rye and a stipend for ingredients to create a punch for the holiday. It sounded like a slam dunk, but I am not terribly gifted when it comes to developing cocktails. I can follow a recipe, I can swap out a few ingredients but creating new cocktails is not really my strong suit.
So I cheated. Meet my secret weapon, one of my favorite bartenders, Jen Ackrill. She was a fixture at Rye in San Francisco before moving to live the dream in Hawaii. Today she is the Director of Mixology at Top of Waikiki and SKY Waikiki. I got a chance to try her revamped cocktails when I visited Oahu last year. Jen makes really, really good drinks. She crafts sophisticated cocktails, even her fruity tropical ones and she is particularly skilled with brown spirits. Her cocktails are always balanced and inviting. Next time you are in Waikiki, stop by and say hello! Seeing the sunset at Top of Waikiki, a revolving bar with incredible views of the beach and the city really can’t be beat. 

This punch contains my all-time favorite vermouth, Carpano Antica. I started drinking vermouth in Italy and France and it’s long been my go to aperitif. Carpano Antica is nothing short of spectacular. It’s bitter and sweet with vanilla, warm spices, orange, cocoa and toffee. 

Templeton rye was made during prohibition and was fabled to be a favorite of Al Capone. The current version has notes of toffee and caramel. It’s sweet, lush and has characteristic rye spice and a woodsy character. 

I asked Jen to come up with something with Templeton rye and apple cider that a home bartender could make and this is it! A Fall punch just right for Thanksgiving that has a lot in common with the classic Manhattan. My sincere thanks, not just for the holiday but to Jen for saving the day. 

Thanksgiving Punch by Jen Ackrill
Makes about 10 servings

3 cups Templeton rye
1 cup Carpano Antica
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup simple syrup (I use equal parts water and sugar)
11/2 cup apple cider
Top with a spicy ginger beer like Cock and Bull

Garnish with orange and lemon slices, star anise and cinnamon sticks and a thoughtful block of ice—use a fun cake pan: turkey or leaf shaped to make your ice. 


Disclaimer: I received the Templeton rye to make this cocktail as well as a stipend for ingredients. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post. Many thanks to Jen Ackrill for her recipe. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Nordic Cookbook

Photo Erik Olssen
The Nordic Cookbook covers the cuisines of Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, each of which reflects diverse cultures, histories and populations. One of the most celebrated contemporary chefs from Sweden, Magnus Nilsson, the chef of Fäviken was tasked with compiling this impressive book. He started with a poll, then embarked on a series of culinary adventures for three years through the region to gather recipes and more. The result is a book with a staggering 700 recipes.You might be wondering, does it even make sense to try and include all the Nordic countries in one book? That was the very question the author struggled with answering, but eventually he approached the project with gusto. I asked Nilsson what surprised him most in writing the book and this is what he told me, "I thought I knew the food culture of the Nordics rather well and it turned out I didn't. There was just so much more diversity than I ever expected."

Indeed, one of the reasons the book is so useful is that introduces readers to a much broader range of recipes than ever before. So do the Nordic countries have much in common? This is what Nilsson told me,  "The one thing which all parts of the Nordic region have in common is that there are four distinctive seasons of which one, Winter, is one when you can't harvest plant based foods. Meaning that historically people had to preserve summers surplus and keep it for winter. Even though we can have fresh foods all year around these days this is still very visible in the way we eat." Not surprisingly there are recipes for pickles, jellies and jams.

You'll find lots of classic recipes for things like meatballs and gravlax and Danish pastries, but also some clues as to what makes these recipes so special. I was surprised by some of the more modern recipes, like Chilli Creamed Chicken and Banana Casserole, apparently a classic 1980's recipe from Sweden and Boiled Danish Meatballs in Curry Sauce. The number of recipes for potatoes could have filled an entire cookbook. Mostly the ingredients are accessible with lots of pancakes, braised meats, soups and cake,  however I doubt many folks will attempt the recipe for Icelandic rotten shark, Puffin Stuffed with Cake or Boiled Pilot Whale with Blubber and Potatoes. Regardless, it's good to know those recipes have been preserved for future generations to learn about, complemented by documentary style photography throughout. 

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book and this post includes an affiliate link. I was not paid to write this or any other post. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

I heart Instacart!

Since August I have ordered groceries from the online delivery service Instacart more than 10 times. Crazy, right? Not at all. I am absolutely thrilled with their service and here’s why:

I can choose from among several stores. Not just big box stores like Costco and Target and supermarkets like Safeway and Whole Foods, but also smaller local stores like Rainbow Grocery that offer lots of bulk ingredients. 

For most of the stores, the prices are exactly the same as they are in the store! 

The service is amazing. You can not only track your order, but chat in real time with the shopper who is shopping for you. If they can’t find the item you want, they get in touch immediately with suggestions for replacements that you can approve. Also if you decide you want more or less of something or if you forgot an item or can’t find it in the database you can communicate that too. 

They get my orders right, which not something I experienced when I tried ordering directly from a supermarket unfortunately. 

It’s a huge time saver for me to be able to skip going to the store. Of course, I do still go to the farmers market and shop for some things like fresh produce, but there are many items I really don’t need to personally pick out such as eggs, dairy products and cleaning supplies.

I love being able to not just shop, but comparison shop at multiple stores to see who has the best prices on items I want to purchase. In the time it takes me to make a list, I can place an order online. The detailed receipts are also extremely helpful when I’m creating recipes for clients and need to keep track of my expenses. Last but not least, no looking for parking, no waiting in line to check out and no schlepping heavy bags of groceries.The groceries come right to my front door (up two flights of stairs).
The Instacart website, iPhone app and iPad app are super easy to use and after just a few deliveries I was sold. I gladly paid $99 for an Instacart Express membership and now get free delivery within 2 hours for any purchase over $35 (good for one year). Want to try it? Use this link and get $10 and free delivery to try the service.

Do they deliver near you? So far they are operating in California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington. But you can check with your zip code.

Disclaimer: I was not paid to write this post although I do get a tiny credit towards my account if someone signs up using the link provided. 

Monday, November 02, 2015

Bison Black Bean Chili Recipe

A few years ago I heard Ted Turner speak about bison at the Sustainable Food Institute at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. He slipped in, spoke was very opinionated and went over his allotted time, but he certainly was engaging.Attendees learned he is one of the largest landowners in North America, a proponent of conservation and a big believer in bison. He talked about bison as a means to both economic viability and environmental sustainability. Turner has a staggering 51,000 bison on his land, which is over 10% of the entire population in North America. He also runs Ted's Montana Grill where he serves bison. 

Bison are an integral part of the prairie ecosystem, grazing in herds and fertilizing plant cover. The natural behavior of bison is still very much intact because unlike cows, they are not domesticated. Bison meat is naturally lean and is a good source of protein, iron, zinc and selenium.

If you've never cooked bison before and can find it in ground form, try using it in chili. The bison itself tastes very similar to beef but is a bit richer and less fatty. This chili is mostly beans, but flavored with chiles, chile powder and spices, onion, garlic and fire roasted canned tomatoes. I generally prefer buying whole tomatoes rather than diced ones, they break up and cook down more easily than diced. Chili is one of those dishes that just gets better over time as the beans soften and the flavors meld together. I serve it with plenty of toppings--grated jack cheese, chopped green onions and cilantro and sometimes a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.

Note: I don't recommend soaking the beans

Black Bean & Bison Chili 
Serves 6-8 

1 pound dry black beans
1 pound ground bison meat
1 onion (white or yellow) diced
3 cloved garlic, minced 
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
2 roasted peeled Hatch chiles (mild, medium or hot), optional 
2 Tablespoons chili powder (mild, medium or hot)
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
28 ounce can whole fire roasted tomatoes and their juice
1 Tablespoon tomato paste

Place the sorted black beans in a large Dutch oven and cover with about 10 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until tender. 

In a large pot combine the bison, onion, garlic and peppers. Cook, crumbling the meat until the meat browns and vegetables soften. Add the spices and cook for another 2 minutes then crush the tomatoes with your hands and add them and the juices to the mixture. 

Add the cooked beans and 2 cups of the bean cooking water and the tomato paste to the meat mixture, partially cover the pot and simmer gently for 30 minutes or until thick. Season to taste with salt.