Cheers

It has been 363 days since my last blog post, and I’ve decided, at this nearing-one-year mark, that I will continue this investment in sharing the recipes and random thoughts I deem internet-ready. There have been several reasons for my absence, all more or less justifiable and unjustifiable, like being too busy or having only rare recipes worth sharing. In evidence of my excuses, it is true that I’ve since searched for and bought a house, moved in a specifically wonderful roommate, endeavored into the endlessly demanding world of DIY projects, began growing a garden (which has just nearly failed but not entirely and not yet), spent every dollar I’ve made at Home Depot (approximately), did enjoy several small to medium-sized vacations, and cooked almost everyday… things that didn’t seem especially notable.

But when I first started this blog, its intention was to share all of those recipes that I made everyday. I preferred posting about recipes that utilized prevalent pantry items, or involved maybe only 2-3 “new” ingredients, or featured a skill that was actually much simpler than it sounded. After all, this was supposed to be about dinner for Brian, and he’s barely 21. So! With that all in mind, here I come, ready to share on a probably-inconsistent-but-hopefully-relevant basis some things I find delicious and easy and interesting and filling. I even have a taste-tester with whom I share at least 60% of my meals, so in consideration of his sign-off, I have twice the sample size to substantiate my confidence.

This recipe I’m sharing not because it’s astoundingly amazing or challenging (in fact, like most drink recipes, it’s more of a recommendation), but because it makes use of my first-grown vegetable from my garden, the jalapeno! I’m taking this hobby as a point of learning and interest rather than successful product yield, because I am as expected not overwhelmingly talented at gardening. These jalapenos and the (possible) 2 tomatoes I hope to harvest may very well be the only products of my once-was 12-vegetable planter bed. But I’ve researched garden tactics and read almost every pertinent page of the farmer’s almanac, so I’m already feeling excited for the fall growing season. I can’t wait until I’m the most expert elderly woman tending to the community garden following my 50+ years of eventual experience with raised planter beds.

Below is the simplest drink ever, that’s so surprisingly spicy it mandates very small frothy sips, followed by the coolly cleansing taste of fresh watermelon. On Monday, Brian’s 21st birthday, I’ll allow him to try (as he has never had alcohol ever. Of course).

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Watermelon Jalapeno Cooler

Makes 1 glass

1 cup watermelon, cubed, frozen

2 oz jalapeno vodka

  • 1 whole jalapeno, sliced
  • 1 cup vodka (I used Tito’s)

Add the watermelon and jalapeno vodka to a blender and blend until frothy and smooth. Drink and enjoy!

Apple Spice Bundt Cake with Bourbon Glaze and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

It’s not peak season, but the leaves are changing. The yellows are overtaking previously verdant branches, and maples everywhere have the audacity to already be shouting in bright red hues. Outside of windows you can catch glimpses of autumn, and you can almost breathe the crisp air you know is surrounding the building in which you’re settled, begrudgingly, for the next 8 hours. There is truly nothing more joyful than an afternoon walk, especially when flanked by two peculiar and curious dachshunds, while leaves fall around you as the wind persistently brings in cooler and cooler air. Mornings are darker and definitely chilled, and the afternoons gather sunshine and tempt their way towards 70 degrees. It is, without a doubt, perfect. I don’t mind rain in autumn. I don’t mind wind. I don’t mind darker evenings. I don’t mind fallen leaves. Fall is the perfect sort of melancholy that contributes a wholeness unachievable by other seasons. Sure, summer may have happier moments, drenched in sunshine and warm water. But autumn understands you, fills you up, and makes you calm again. It’s the energy you’ve needed after four long busy months, and it cools you off just pleasantly enough that even winter starts to sound acceptable. I may not be ready for Christmas (even though Target is), but I’ll take the holiday changes if it means the leaves transition also.

So, to celebrate, I offer to you hear a cake synonymous with the fall transition: apple, cinnamon, spice, and… bourbon. This cake was made for my mom on her 51st birthday (in September, actually), and it floored me. Bundt cakes can be dry, crumbly, and under-flavored. But this cake is moist, dense, aptly-spiced, and wonderfully coordinated with glazes and frostings. I know that almost every one is apple picking these past and next few weekends (I wish I will join), so this cake should certainly be added to your list. I may even prefer to it apple pie (and would really hate to offend America).

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Ahh, zucchini and tomatoes: vestiges from the passing summer

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Apple Spice Bundt Cake with Bourbon Glaze and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Serves 16-20

Apple Spice Bundt Cake

3 sticks of butter, softened

1 cup of white granulated sugar

1 cup of brown sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

3 cups and 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. ground rosemary

1/8 tsp. garam masala

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced into 1/4 inch pieces

Bourbon Glaze

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

4 tsp. bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark)

1-2 tbsp. water

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

2 tbsp. butter, softened

4 oz. cream cheese, softened (half a block)

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. cinnamon

 

To prepare the cake:

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a stand mixer (or using a large bowl and hand mixer), cream the butter and sugars until lightened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs individually, mixing for about 30 seconds after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the all-purpose flour, baking soda, and spices. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the stand mixer and mix together on low until just starting to combine. Add the next 1/3, and repeat with the next 1/3, until there is just trace evidence of dry flour. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Add the diced apples and fold into the batter. The batter will be quite thick.

Butter and flour a bundt pan and pour the cake batter into the pan. Spread it evenly, knocking the pan against the counter to evenly distribute the batter. Bake at 325 for 65-75 minutes, or until the cake is pulling away from the pan and a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake. Remove the pan from the oven once finished and place on a cooling rack. Cool the cake in the pan for 30 minutes. Remove the cake and cool on the cooling rack for at least 30 minutes longer.

Prepare the bourbon glaze by adding bourbon to the powdered sugar and whisking. Add 1-2 tbsp. water as needed to thin to the appropriate consistency (slightly looser than crepe batter). Pour the glaze over the cooled cake evenly.

Prepare the cream cheese cinnamon frosting by creaming in a stand mixture the butter and cream cheese. Add the vanilla and cinnamon and mix until combined. Add the powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing between intervals, until achieving the appropriate consistency. Use the frosting to decorate the cake as you wish- I piped small spirals along the bottom, but, admittedly, this used only about half of this delicious frosting.

Store the cake, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If longer storage is needed, wrap tightly, seal in a container, and freeze.

An Enchilada Dinner Party, Part 1: The Sides

In theory, it’s healthier and more satisfying to eat with people. You slow down, socialize, and relax; it becomes an experience rather than a quick means of quieting an empty stomach. But in actuality you’re often alone, or at least eating your own meal, and there’s not much more to it than spoon-mouth-swallow-repeat. And that’s fine (I hope), but in order to alleviate the redundancy of lonely eating, sometimes a dinner party is in order. Living in Chicago, it seems like it would be easy to get a group of friends together several nights a week. In every TV show I know featuring a group of friends in a big city (which is pretty much every TV show), group gatherings are a nightly occurrence. It’s almost as if these TV shows don’t accurately portray the busy schedules inherent in our actual reality (gasp!). But in real life, it’s hard to find time. Everyone works different jobs, everyone is an obnoxious amount of public transit away, and everyone has his/her own life to uphold. So the dinner party is thought of, pondered about, mentioned in passing, and usually forgotten. But with a little bit of effort, and a lot of in-advance planning, it comes to fruition: a fantastic weeknight in with friends, food, and awkwardly invasive dogs. It is so worth the preparation, the extra time, the poor sleep that night, and the slightly-more-rough-than-average day at work.

I’d highly recommend, if I can, an enchilada dinner party. Not only were several trays of these enchiladas downed by a moderate group of people in barely enough time for the dogs to lunge at the plates, but they were very conducive to prepping in advance and, consequently, quick to pull together the day of. But enough about enchiladas; we’ll get to those later. What about their classic additions, the staples of Spanish and Mexican-inspired cuisine? Every party needs its drinks and appetizers.  I’m of course talking about guacamole, the most delicious of dips, as well as sangria, the fruity-yet-classy drink of the Spanish gods. The recipes for these sides are barely recipes, more like a list of components, but they certainly become greater than the sum of their parts. With recipes this delicious, easy to prepare, and relatively hands-off when the guests arrive, we’ll certainly be doing this again.

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Red Wine and Clementine Tempranillo Sangria

1 pitcher, serves 10-12

2 bottles of Tempranillo wine

1/2 bottles sparkling clementine juice (available at Trader Joe’s)

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 lemon, diced

1 orange, diced

1 apple, diced

In a large pitcher, mix wine, sparkling clementine juice, and lemon juice. Dice the fruit and add to the pitcher. Chill to serve.

That’s it. Easiest recipe ever. But this sangria earned compliments ALL around. It’s slightly sweet, just barely effervescent, and full-bodied without the burdensome dryness red wine can at times impart. And then obviously, the fruit is the best part.

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Classic Guacamole

Makes ~ 3 cups

6 ripe avocados, pitted

3 limes, juiced

1/3 white onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeno, minced

1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

1/2 – 3/4 tsp. salt, to taste

1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

In a large bowl, mash avocados. Add the juice of 3 limes and minced accompaniments and stir. Add chopped cilantro, salt, and pepper and mix until thoroughly combined. Serve with a ton of your favorite tortilla chips.

This is another easy recipe, but, again, oh so good.  The beauty of an enchilada night is that the snacking and drinks are nearly as good as the dinner, leading to an evening that is indulgent, spicy, fresh, flavorful, and an all-around good time.

But don’t serve your guac yet; it really goes best before enchiladas, and those recipes are coming soon.