Another great Easter appetizer: Cheese Carrots. They are a mix of cheeses shaped into “carrots” and topped with parsley. Serve them with crackers and people will get the idea.
Here’s a cute Easter appetizer: Colorful Deviled Eggs. The trick is to soak the whites of the hard-boiled eggs in food coloring.
It’s tax day. Boo! No one has ever liked that, even back in the 1920s when they made up The Income Tax Cocktail. This variation on the Bronx Cocktail uses gin, two kinds of vermouth, and fresh-squeezed orange juice to help ease the pain of dealing with all those tax forms.
Did you know that income tax was established in the United States because of prohibition? When alcohol was banned, politicians didn’t want to lose the money they made by taxing liquor, so they instituted the income tax to make up for it. So not only were people in the 1920s denied alcohol, they were taxed on their income for the very first time. And of course a few years later, alcohol was re-legalized and now we are taxed on both our incomes and alcohol.
No one said Uncle Sam is fair, I guess. Anyway, whether you want to celebrate a refund or drink away the sorrow of having to pay, The Income Tax Cocktail should do just fine.
This recipe is inspired by the classic Savoy Cocktail Book. Here it is:
The Income Tax
(makes one cocktail)
1 1/2 oz gin
1/4 oz dry vermouth
1/4 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz fresh-squeezed orange juice
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters
Orange twist for garnish
Pour all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice. Shake thoroughly and drain into a glass. Garnish with the orange peel. Enjoy!
I was trying to take a good picture of this duck, but my battery died, so this is the best I got. Nevertheless, it was perfectly cooked with crispy skin on the outside and moist meat on the inside.
Some people are intimidated by cooking duck, if for no other reason than people are no longer exposed to meats that used to be common in the U.S. (rabbit, lamb, etc.), and so they seem exotic and difficult. But have no fear, duck is extremely easy to cook. It is a lot like roasting a chicken. And, like a chicken, all the parts of a duck are useful. You can use the bones, giblets, and neck to make broth and you can use the fat to make duck confit.
The main difference between a duck and a chicken is that duck has a layer of fat around its body that a chicken doesn’t have. That means you have to take more time to cook the duck–in this case, 4 hours–and you have to get the duck to release the fat while cooking. I did this by pricking the duck so that as it slowly roasted at a low temperature, the fat released from the bird and the skin became crispy. I also cooked the duck upside down so that as the pan filled with fat, the skin cooked in it, adding to the crispiness. At the end, I turned the duck over so that the skin on the breast could finish browning in the oven.
Here’s the recipe:
How To Roast A Duck
1 5-7 lbs duck
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Wash the raw duck and pat dry. Remove the neck and giblets from the duck and freeze for broth. (Sometimes you will have to cut the neck off the duck–get a cleaver and chop it off, then freeze as normal.)
Rub the inside and outside of the duck with salt.
With a knife or skewer, prick the duck all over so that it will release fat while cooking. Hold the knife parallel to the duck and shallowly insert into the fat, being careful not to go all the way through to the meat.
Place the duck breast-side down in a large pan. Put in the oven and roast for about 3 hours, checking periodically to make sure it is releasing the fat. If not, prick a few more times.
After 3 hours, turn the duck over so that it is breast-side-up and increase the heat in the oven to 350 degrees. Cook for another 45 minutes or until the skin is nice and crispy and the internal temperature is 170-180 degrees.
Remove from the oven and let rest for about 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
I love this simple, elegant appetizer. It’s a radish stuffed with butter and sprinkled with chives–perfect for an early spring get-together. Check out the recipe at Martha Stewart.
My husband decided he wanted to make bacon. We had been eating a lot of it lately, and well, what meat-eater doesn’t like bacon?
It turns out that making bacon is easy. It takes a little bit of time, but it’s not hard at all, and well worth the effort.
On top of that, making your own bacon is fairly frugal. Good bacon–the thick-cut, apple- or hickory-smoked, lower-fat bacon–costs about $6-$8 a pound. Our bacon ended up being around $3 a pound, and I would say it is as good as most of the fancy stuff from the grocery story.
Of course, if you are content with the stringy $1/pound bacon, then you are not going to come out ahead on price here. However, you will come out ahead on quality.
Bacon is made from the belly of the pig.
We bought the belly from our local grocery store. We asked at the butcher counter and it turned out they had an 8 pound belly in the back that they were willing to sell us for $2/pound. That sounded okay to us, so we ended up with a long thick slab of belly with the pork skin still on it.
Aside from that, it was just a matter of time–9 days to be exact–plus seasoning, heat, and smoke until we had bacon.
A couple of notes before I give the recipe. we adapted the recipe from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. I really can’t say enough about how awesome this book is. If you are interested at all in curing meats, go out and buy it.
Secondly, we used our smoker to make the bacon. According to Charcuterie, if you don’t have a smoker, you can use the oven, although of course then the bacon won’t be smoked. Check out the book for more information if you’re interested.
Okay enough talking.
How To Make Your Own Smoked Bacon
(in this case, it is more accurate to weigh the ingredients, so get out the kitchen scale)
- 1 8 pound pork belly
75 grams (approx. 3 oz) kosher salt
18 grams (approx. 3 tsp) pink salt
75 grams (approx. 3/8 cup) packed dark brown sugar
90 milliliters (approx. 2 1/10 cup) maple syrup
1-2 3-gallon ziploc plastic bags
A good sharp knife
First, trim excess meat from either end of the pork belly so it is a rectangle. I froze the excess as pork belly is wonderful to cook with.
Create the cure. Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl. Rub the cure over the meat side of the belly. (There’s no point in rubbing it on the skin since you are just going to cut it off.) Put the whole thing in a big ziploc bag and put it in the fridge.
Now, you wait. It takes about a week (we waited 8 days) for the cure to penetrate the meat. Every day, flip the bag over so that the cure is redistributed. During this time, you will notice liquid leeching out of the belly. This means the salt is doing its job.
After a week, remove the belly from the fridge. Congratulations, you have just made fresh bacon. If you want, you can slice a little off and fry it up–it’s good. It tastes like pork belly.
But we want to make smoked bacon, so onward! Next, rinse the cure off the pork belly:
And then set it on a wire rack. Put the belly, uncovered and meat-side-up, in the fridge overnight. During this time, a pellicle will form over the meat, which is a gooey film that comes from the salt cure pulling water out of the meat. This is an important step because the pellicle helps the smoke penetrate the meat.
The next day, you finally get to smoke the bacon. We used almond wood instead of traditional apple or hickory wood because that is what we had lying around. My husband smoked the whole pork belly at around 185-190F for about 2 hours, until the thickest part of the belly registered 150F on the meat thermometer.
After it cools, remove the skin off the belly. This is the hardest part because it requires you to cut along the line where the skin meets the fat of the belly. Using a knife, carefully slice the skin off, trying not to remove the fat in the process. Discard the skin.
What you have left is a nice slab of freshly smoked bacon!
We ended up with 5 pounds of bacon after the skin was removed. It is much leaner than the stuff in the store–I ended up needing a bit of oil to cook it, which is a first for bacon. It is neither too sweet nor too salty, just the right amount of crispy, and very delicious:
My husband says that the only thing he would do differently next time is to divide the pork belly in half because that would have been easier to work with. Otherwise, I would say our bacon adventure is a success.
This weekend, I made my own sausage for the first time. It was easy and cheaper than buying sausage in the store. It took about 20 minutes and I ended up with 2 pounds of sausage, which I froze in half-pound sections for easy use.
2 lbs of pork shoulder
1 Tbs salt
1 1/2 Tbs paprika
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp pepper
1/3 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 Tbs parsley
A couple of months ago, I bought several pork shoulder steaks for cheap at my local market. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, since the steaks are tough and have a lot of fat. Since someone gave me a sausage attachment for my KitchenAid Mixer, I decided to try making my own sausage with the meat.
First, I cut the pork into cubes and combined all the herbs in a bowl. I mixed thoroughly to combine the herbs and meat.
Next, I simply ran the meat through the attachment. I used the smaller of the two blades I had, put the meat in the top, and watched it come out of the blade. I did a little bit and then fried a piece up to make sure it tasted good. It did–it tasted like a mild, properly seasoned sausage. Satisfied, I ran the rest of the meat through and ended up with this:
To store, I separated the meat into half-pound sections, wrapped them in wax paper and plastic bags and put them in the freezer. Well, all except the bit I fried up and put on homemade pizza.
Now that I have had a taste (no pun intended) of making sausage, my mind is open with possibilities. Chicken-and-apple sausage. My own Chorizo. Lamb sausage with Mediterranean spices… Hmmm….
Cost: 2 lbs pork shoulder: $1.69; Spices: $.40-ish.
Total Cost: $2.05 for 2 lbs, $1.05 a pound.
In the stores: In my grocery store, country sausage–i.e. Italian-ish sausage outside the casing–goes for $1.99 a pound. Sausage in the casing seems to be much higher, 4-5 sausage for about $5.99. However, for the sake of comparing apples to apples, we’ll go with the $1.99 a pound price.
Total Savings: $.94 a pound
I like this soup because it is thick and creamy, flavorful, but also chock full of vegetables and protein. It’s a very satisfying soup, especially if you are a vegetarian.
On top of that, it’s insanely cheap to make–$2.30 for an entire batch of soup! (That is considering you make your own vegetable broth.) Here’s the recipe:
Spicy Carrot Peanut Soup
- 2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 Tbs parsley
1 spicy pepper–jalapeño works fine.
2 garlic cloves
4 c vegetable broth
2 c water
3.5 Tbs peanut butter
3 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs fresh lime juice
1 Tbs salt
Prepare all the vegetables. In a soup pot, warm the oil and add one at a time the garlic, onions, carrots, celery, parsley, and chili. Sauté on high heat for 10 minutes until the vegetables start to soften. Add the water and broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the carrots are soft, about 25 minutes.
Next, stir in the peanut butter, soy sauce, lime juice, salt, and pepper. In a blender, puree the soup in batches. Taste and adjust seasoning. If you want it spicier, add a little dried red pepper. Enjoy.
This makes a large batch of soup. I usually separate soup into single-serving containers and freeze for an easy lunch.
Cost of Dish: Oil: $.05; Carrots: $.99, Onion: $.20; Celery: $.02; Parsley, garlic, lime, and chili pepper: free from the garden; Vegetable broth: free; Water: free; Peanut butter: $.84; Soy sauce: $.20; Salt and Pepper: practically free.
Total Cost Of Dish: $2.30 for the batch, or $.23 per serving.
Yesterday I finally got around to using up that half box of falafel. I made the falafel and some fresh hummus, then grilled up some bell peppers and onions to serve with them. But I needed something to serve the falafel in, so I made some pita bread too.
I had never made pita pockets before. I had tried naan several times, and it has never come out exactly how I wanted. Luckily, it turns out that pita bread is easier than naan. Homemade pita is softer and tenderer than the store stuff. Here’s the recipe courtesy of the Joy of Cooking:
- 3 c flour
1 1/2 Tbs sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp yeast
2 Tbs melted butter
1 1/4 c warmish water
1. Mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the water and butter. Mix to combine.
2. Knead for 10 minutes by hand, or on medium speed in the mixer using a dough hook. (I did the latter.) The dough tends to get sticky. You want it to be a little tacky, but not incredibly sticky. I added extra flour to get it to the right consistency.
3. Spray a bowl with pam, roll the dough around to cover in the oil. Put plastic wrap on top and let the dough sit for about 2 hours.
4. Punch the dough down. Divide it into 8 small balls. Cover with a dish towel and let them rest for 20 minutes.
5. Now it’s time to cook the pita. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. I used a pizza stone, although the book says you can also turn a baking sheet upside down as a cooking surface. With a floured rolling pin, roll out each of the 8 balls until they are about 8 inches in diameter and 1/8 of an inch thick.
6. When the oven is hot, spray some water on the pizza stone. Wait 30 seconds. Now put the dough on the pizza stone. I had to work in batches, cooking three pitas at the time.
7. The pitas cook very quickly. What you want is them to inflate into a little balloon, like the pita in the picture above. When they get like that, wait 30 seconds and take them out. When they come out of the oven, they deflate and become pita pockets. It you wait too long, they will not deflate and you will have a pita balloon. Total cooking time is about 2-3 minutes per pocket.
Voila! Homemade pita!
Can’t choose between lemon bars and lemon meringue pie? The solution is to combine them, of course. Lemon meringue pie bars are shortbread crust, a creamy lemon filling, and a layer of meringue on top. They are fantastic. The meringue is so fluffy, it makes the lemon bar seem light and delicate. I highly recommend you try them.
Lemon Meringue Pie Bars
- 1 c butter
1/2 c powdered sugar
2 c flour
1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/3 c sugar
1/2 c cornstarch
1 3/4 c water
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs lemon zest
1/2 c lemon juice
Dash of salt
- 4 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
1/2 c sugar
To make the crust, blend the butter, powdered sugar, flour, and salt together and press into an oiled 13X9 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes until it starts to get golden.
While that cooks, make the lemon filling. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Gradually add the water and stir until smooth. Cook over medium heat until mixture boils, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
In another bowl, beat the egg yolks. Stir about half of the mixture into the egg yolks to temper them. When it is all mixed together, pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the filling. Stir over low heat until the mixture bubbles.
Remove from heat. Stir in butter, zest, and lemon juice. When the crust comes out of the oven, pour the lemon filling over crust.
Now make the meringue. In a mixer, beat the egg whites, cream of tarter, and sugar until peaks form. You want it to be stiff.
Spread the meringue over the filling, being careful not to burst the bubbles. Bake at 350 degrees until meringue is light golden brown, roughly 25 minutes. Make sure to watch that they don’t burn.
Refrigerate 1 hour before serving. Enjoy!