Thursday, August 23, 2012

on jalapeno tequila and finding the one

sparkling roasted jalapeno cooler
lately, i've noticed myself starting
sentences with the phrase,
i wish i were the kind of girl who...

the endings vary:
...loved watching football.
...would choose whisky over wine.
...was the life of the party.
...takes life as it comes.
...loves action and science fiction movies.
...drank cocktails.

yes, i know, i know. 
you should accept who you are
and embrace your individuality.
you should never wish to be 
someone else.
you should

but, my goodness, how much easier
would my life be every september
if i looked forward to football as 
much as larry, if i belonged to two
or three fantasy leagues, myself, and for just 
once, i would understand what everyone
else was yelling about when someone
didn't make it past the 10 yard line?

there are some things that you can't make happen.
i often take a sip of larry's scotch,
thinking that maybe this one -
because he calls it peaty or some other
word that sounds like nonsense to me -
will be the one who makes me realize i can hang
at a whisky bar. 
it doesn't work.

but, then there are other things that i think
i can influence. like cocktails.
over the years, i've meandered back and forth
from sticking with my one glass of pinot noir,
to trying to love those trendy drinks that
come in highballs or martini glasses:
rum and cokes.
occasionally, i've enjoyed 
a bellini
a gin gimlet that's heavy on the lime.
i'm strangely envious of people who have
"a drink." i want to be someone who
owns her cocktail. usually, though,
i'm just someone who owns her bottle
of red. and as someone who has never been
a big drinker anyway, it's hard to readjust.
jalapeno tequila gimlet
i think that's why i was so drawn
to the recipe for the jalapeno tequila gimlet,
in the july issue of bon appetit.
two years ago, when we were out with
colleen and christian, at a restaurant in
asbury park, larry ordered a jalapeno margarita.
i had a sip, which burned my whole mouth.
i was glad i didn't order it. a few minutes later, i
reached in for another sip. my mouth was on fire.
but, after a few minutes, i went back in, ignoring
the looks that larry was giving me for hijacking
his drink. when i saw this recipe,
i had spicy flashbacks.

larry was surprised when i asked him if we had
tequila. (for a home of people who generally drink 
two things - wine and bourbon - we house
a surprisingly large collection of bottles.)
we had two. and luckily, one happened to be blanco,
which was what this recipe called for.
two jalapenos
broiled jalapenos
one day, on a friday that i was home,
i blistered two jalapenos under the broiler 
until they were
tender through and through,
but brown and crispy on the top.
after careful consideration, i seeded
the hot peppers, chopped them up and
tossed them into a glass bowl filled
with tequila. and then, even though
i had seriously thought it out beforehand,
scolded myself for being a chicken.
the recipe called for the jalapenos with 
their seeds and if i opted to remove them
and then drank a spice-less drink later,
it would be on me. but, what if it was
so spicy that i was miserable?
i compromised with the seeds
of the larger pepper.
tequila and jalapenos
fresh lime juice
i juiced six limes,
shocked that i ended up
with exactly one cup.
diluting jalapeno tequila
that night, i pulled the strained tequila
and the lime juice from the fridge, 
plus a bit of agave.
i stirred them altogether,
with some ice cubes and waited.
i waited more for the ice cubes to
dissolve as instructed in the recipe.
larry came home from work,
changed, went down into the basement
and came back up with a bottle of bourbon.
what. are. you. doing?
bourbon was in one hand,
the recipe for that night's dinner
in the other - i don't think he knew how
to answer the question, or
more specifically, where he went wrong.

i've been making this cocktail for you all day,
i countered.
he looked unconvinced: i think you 
were making this for you. but, ok,
i'm ready.

i sighed.
your cocktail is not, i told him.
the ice cubes still have to melt.
he sighed, but he put the bourbon
back in the basement and started making dinner.
when it was finally time,
i poured the tequila gimlet - 
the drink i was so excited about because
it combined several things:
the drink i can sometimes stomach (a gimlet),
lime juice
and roasted jalapenos -
into a glass,
garnished it with lime and took a sip.
it was a margarita.
i had made a spicy margarita.
jalapeno tequila gimlet with lime
how had i not realized this before?
had i been too blinded by the
fancy word gimlet 
and the roasted jalapenos?

the drink was good.
it was spicy and limey and
everything, but it was still a
margarita. and frankly, me and margaritas
are at best casual acquaintances who,
with the exception of random nights
at an excellent mexican restaurant, 
tolerate each other.

we both drank it.
and it was nice and different and fine.
but the next day, i woke up thinking
about the other half of the 
jalapeno tequila sitting in the fridge.
i wasn't ready to give up on it.

it took me two days to stumble upon
a bottle of diet tonic water in the store
and think that maybe that was the answer.
it took me two more weeks to find a night
to mix it all together, 
half casually,
half mad scientist on a mission.

i started with a little agave,
added a little lime,
poured in the tequila, 
added ice cubes and topped the
whole glass with the tonic.
sadly, i don't think it struck
me until after that it was
similar to the original.

but when i took a sip,
i knew i had stumbled upon...
this was my drink.
ok, even now, i know that's
not true.
this may be my once a 
year drink because frankly,
i know myself well enough to
know that i am not going to
roast jalapenos toss them into
tequila very often.

but, this drink.
it was spicy - i'm thinking
extra spicy thanks to the two
weeks of sitting and probably
partially evaporating -
but it was also light and interesting
and not so serious.

this weekend,
with less than one quarter of the tequila remaining,
i set out to recreate.
it took some tinkering,
but i think it was pretty close to the drink 
that i had made a week before.
i sipped on it proudly,
trying not to second guess the amount
of lime, trying to not decide if 
as barely-a-drinker-turned-bartender,
i had added too much tequila to a drink
for one and decided to just, be.
sparkling roasted jalapeno cooler
roasted jalapeno tequila
adapted from bon appetit magazine
the one thing i really have to say about this is that, obviously, if your jalapenos aren't spicy, your tequila will not be spicy. it's the luck of the draw. but, i would taste the roasted jalapeno before adding it the tequila. if it's not spicy, i would hold off on making it.

2 jalapenos
2 cups tequila blanco

heat broiler, grill or the flame on your stove top. place jalapeno on grill, on broiler pan or on flame and cook 3-6 minutes, or until jalapenos are soft and blistered, turning often. when cool enough to handle, seed jalapenos, if desired. chop jalapenos. transfer jalapenos and seeds (if using) to a glass bowl or jar with tequila. stir to combine. let sit 1 hour. strain tequila into a sieve set over a pitcher, pressing on solids to release extra liquid. discard solids.

roasted jalapeno tequila cooler
at this point in my life, i'm using diet tonic water. if that makes you sad, go with regular tonic.

2 teaspoons agave
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus squeezed lime halves
1/3 cup roasted jalapeno tequila
handful of ice cubes
1/2-3/4 cup diet tonic water

in large glass, stir together agave, lime juice and tequila. add ice cubes and squeezed lime. top with 1/2 cup tonic water. stir gently, just to combine. taste and add up to 1/4 cup more tonic water, if desired.

jalapeno tequila gimlet
adapted from bon appetit magazine
the one change i made to this recipe was to reduce the agave from 1/2 cup to 2 tablespoons. i'm sure it would have been tastier with more, but i didn't miss the extra sweetness.

2 cups roasted jalapeno tequila
2 cups ice cubes
1 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons agave

in pitcher, stir together all ingredients. let stand until ice cubes have melted, stirring occasionally. divide gimlet among 4 to 8 glasses, depending on your crowd.

Friday, August 10, 2012

falafel-stuffed eggplant

falafel-stuffed eggplant
for the past eight months,
we've been pretty careful about
everything that we've been eating,
and in turn, everything that we're
cooking. but, here's the thing:
i'm a food person. i will not survive
on grilled chicken breast and steamed
broccoli. i cannot.

i would be bored.
i would be annoyed.
i would miss the fun that comes
with discovering a new ingredient
or the joy that comes with making
something that's really special to eat.

so that broccoli? it's roasted.
and that chicken? well, it's hardly ever
on my plate because frankly, i think it's obvious
if you read this blog that i'm not too into chicken.

i've been extremely strategic in preparing food that's
that tastes good,
that we might actually look forward to eating.
and for the most part, it's worked.

but, here's the other thing:
our dinners have started to seriously resemble each other.
most nights, we eat a salad -
usually with arugula at the base,
sometimes baby kale,
often topped with beans or lentils,
or seasonal fruit. they are good hearty salads -
the kind that i would be quick to order in
a restaurant, not because they're better for me,
but because they look most desirable on a menu:
grilled scallops with peas and feta,
lentils with roasted sweet potatoes and goat cheese,
sardines with chickpeas, tomatoes and peppadews,
grilled shrimp and fill-in-the-blank with whatever's in the fridge.

oh, the shrimp.
there have been a lot of shrimp.
between larry's love for steak and chicken,
and my dislike, combined with my ability to be happy eating mostly vegetables,
shrimp is a good compromise.

so, i'm always searching the grocery store aisles
for new inspiration and the magazines for new recipes.
we've had some hits,
like roasted fish with tomatoes and olives,
a (very) modified version of our favorite quesadilla
and spicy korean tofu soup,
but none felt quite as inspired as this
falafel-stuffed eggplant with tahini sauce and tomato relish
from a spring issue of
cooking light.
eggplant halves
something about the recipe made me feel
like it was a real recipe, genuinely conceptualized
and created with an end result in mind.
i didn't have to make it to know that it would work,
but with one bite, i was glad that my
suspicions were confirmed.
i won't lie - there are a lot of ingredients.
i had many in the house:
a can of chickpeas,
the tahini,
an onion,
a lemon,
the spices
but, i had to buy a few, too:
like the vegetables that i wanted to be fresh.
the eggplant,
the tomatoes,
the cucumbers and the cilantro.
scored eggplant
roasted eggplant
hollowed out
and there's a good amount of food to prepare:
you're asked to halve eggplants,
score them,
roast them,
remove their fleshy centers,
make a filling to stuff their centers,
re-stuff the cavities,
bake them again,
make a tahini sauce
and prepare a tomato salad.
onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and mint
tahini sauce in the making
somehow, all of these things can get done
in just over an hour, if you're strategic.
but, regardless of how long it takes to you,
it's foolproof pretty.
need proof? see: name of blog.
it's knife and fork good, which in my experience,
makes people feel like they're eating real food.
and, around here these days, that's important.
stuffed eggplant
falafel-stuffed eggplant
adapted from cooking light magazine
i made a couple of changes to the recipe based on both, ingredients that i had on hand and a few small mistakes that i made. i used vidalia onions instead of red in both places, because i had one sitting on my counter. i replaced the fresh breadcrumbs with whole wheat panko. i could have sworn that the recipe called for cilantro, so i bought a bunch. i used the herb to replace the parsley in the chickpea mixture. for the relish, i used mint instead of the parsley, increased the cucumber and tomato, and eliminated the olive oil. and, i replaced the honey in the tahini sauce with agave.

when i made this, i decided to deal with roasting the eggplant, then i set out in a mad dash to get everything else done. this worked for me, by the skin of my teeth, but if you're looking for more of a relaxed cooking experience, make the tahini sauce first and make sure to prep the relish ingredients before starting everything else.

lastly. while i was perfectly content eating one-fourth of the leftovers the next day for lunch, i felt like the night before at dinner, i definitely should have planned to serve it alongside something else, like a salad.

stuffed eggplants
2 eggplants, (about 12 ounces each) (mine were both slightly bigger)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 can (15 ounces) no-salt added chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 large eggs
2 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon tahini
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon fresh black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
relish recipe (below)
tahini sauce recipe (below)

heat oven to 475˚f. 

halve eggplants lengthwise; score cut sides of in crosshatch pattern. place eggplant halves, cut side down, on aluminum foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. bake 7 minutes, or until slightly tender and browned. carefully scoop out pulp, leaving a 3/4-inch shell (reserve pulp for another use). season eggplant with 1/4 teaspoon salt.

meanwhile, in bowl of food processor, combine chickpeas, eggs, garlic, onion, breadcrumbs, cilantro, tahini, olive oil, cumin, coriander, black pepper, cayenne pepper and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. process 1 minute, or until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl, if necessary.

fill each eggplant with 1/2 cup chickpea mixture, spreading smooth. bake 25 minutes, or until eggplant is tender and chickpea mixture is lightly browned and puffed.  

place eggplant on plates. top each eggplant half with a heaping 1/3 cup relish and 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini sauce.

2 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and chopped
1/2 small vidalia onion, thinly sliced vertically
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, julienned
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

in bowl, combine all ingredients.

tahini sauce
3 tablespoons warm water
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon agave
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 garlic clove, finely chopped

in bowl, whisk together all ingredients.