Sunday, January 13, 2013

Orange and Mint Spa Water

I first made this yummy spa water to accompany my Christmas dinner (orange + mint seems to me to be very Christmas-y, for some reason). It was inspired by the quick, fresh fruit juice and herb sodas Jamie Oliver is so fond of making. I used the juice of four large oranges, plus an entire pint of club soda, but if you want your spa water to taste more aggressively of oranges, you should consider adding the juice of an additional orange or two. This refreshing drink is great on its own, but it can also be mixed with vodka, gin or tequila. For a really yummy treat with either vodka or gin, try making lemon and fresh ginger spa water.

Orange and Mint Spa Water

4 large oranges
1 liter of club soda
1 cup of cubed ice
1 heaping Tablespoon fresh mint leaves
Optional: 1 Tablespoon sweetener (I recommend trying it without sweetener first)

1. Cut the oranges in half and squeeze the juice into the pitcher through your fingers, to catch any seeds. When cleaning the mint and pulling the leaves off of the stems, set aside a few nice looking buds for garnish.
2. Add ice, then mint.
3. Using the handle of a clean, long-handled spoon, crush the ice and mint together.
4. Once you've gently shredded the mint into the ice (muddled the mint), top up with club soda.
5. Turn your spoon around and mix together all ingredients. Taste and add sweetener if desired.
6. Serve alone, or with spirits, garnished with the mint buds.

I hope you enjoy this recipe, and I welcome your feedback!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

German Style Pork and Beer Stew

I've been meaning to get back to blogging, truly I have. Finally the holidays have passed, so my life isn't as hectic. Between studying for a G.R.E. subject test (lit) and housebreaking a puppy, I barely had enough time to cook a Christmas Eve dinner for loved ones. I believe Christmas dinner should be a special meal, offering up dishes decadent enough to only be eaten once a year. Everyone loved my cauliflower au gratin and my trio of fingerlings roasted then tossed with butter and parsley, but to me the real star of the dinner was the inspiration for today's blog post: a three and a half hour traditional French wine-rich beef stew. This German-style stew recipe subs out the beef for pork and the wine for beer. Rendered pork fat melds nicely with dark, trappist-style ale and a thickener of rye bread crumbs gives the stew an interesting little twist. I've based it on the traditional recipe, but added a few tweaks of my own, like a teaspoon of wildflower honey (same flavor profile as buckwheat honey, only a less forward molasses note) and a few whole peppercorns. I also roasted the mushrooms before adding them and left the carrots out. Next time I make the dish I will add carrots, so I'll be including them in the ingredients list. A couple of notes on what worked and what didn't: because I could only find pork loin and it got kind of dry over the stewing time (which is, of course, the opposite of what should have happened*), I'll be recommending using pork shoulder (also called pork butt) for this stew. Also, don't try to get all fancy with the rye bread. Plain old dark rye will work perfectly. I tried to use sprouted wheat rye bread to give it a little extra nutrition, and it didn't really lend anything to the stew's consistency. Adding the honey and roasting the veggies, only to add them at the end also added some depth of flavor that complimented the stew really well. This recipe is perfect to chase away the winter gloom, and with about 6 generous servings, you'll likely be enjoying it the next day. I served this dish with a toasted piece of rye bread and some roast fingerling potatoes, but the internets tell me it is also yummy with a dollop of light sour cream and accompanied by some homemade (or fresh made) spaetzle and steamed cabbage dressed in sweet cream butter.

German Style Pork and Beer Stew

1.5 to 2 lbs. pork butt/shoulder, cut into large cubes
3 small cloves of garlic
1 med-large yellow onion, sliced
500 mLs dark beer, such as trappist style ale**
1 bay leaf
1 small stick of cinnamon
1 whole clove
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teasp. wildflower or buckwheat honey
.75 to 1.5 cup(s) low sodium chicken broth or veal stock (if you can get your hands on some veal stock, that would be an even tastier addition)
12 ounces crimini mushroom caps, cleaned
3 medium carrots, cut into 1 to 1.5" slices
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 Tablespoon or less unsalted organic butter
1 plus Tablespoons olive oil (for roasting the veggies)
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
6 whole black peppercorns
4 slices dark rye bread, with the crusts cut off, pulsed in the food processor or blender until it is reduced to very fine crumbs

1. Add 1 Tablespoon canola oil to the pan plus the butter. Brown the cubed pork in the oil and butter, then remove from the pan and set aside.
2. Add the onions to the pan and caramelize (saute on medium-high heat until the sugars start to brown).
3. Once the onions are soft, reduce heat and add the garlic. Cook for a couple minutes to incorporate the garlic flavor, but be careful of burning the garlic.
4. Reintroduce the meat, then add all of the spices (bay leaf, cinnamon, thyme, allspice, peppercorns, and cloves), the beer and stir in the rye bread.
5. Bring to a lazy boil, then add veal stock until the liquid in the pan covers the meat. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low (the stew should only bubble occasionally), and cook for an additional hour, or until the pork is falling apart at the touch of a fork.
6. While the stew is stewing, (after you've covered it and left it to simmer on a very slow boil) preheat the oven to 400 degrees C and toss veggies in olive oil over a greased cookie sheet and add salt and pepper to taste. Roast the veg for 20 to 25 minutes.
7. In the last five minutes of the stew's cook time, stir in veggies and let simmer for those last minutes to incorporate.
8. Serve with your chosen sides and enjoy.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

*I mention this because sharp eyed readers will notice that it is not pork shoulder in the picture, but a different cut of meat.

**you can find something like this at T.J.s, but if you have trouble finding a suitable beer, let me know in the comments and I can try to help you find something suitable in your area