Dry Martini

June 19: National Dry Martini Day

James Bond was very specific about how he wants a mixologist to make his martini. The fictitious but famous spy, 007, in Casino Royale (movie and book), instructed:

 “A dry martini. One. In a deep champagne goblet. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.”

What he described is a recipe for the Vesper martini, named in memory of Vesper Lynd, the woman he loved who was killed by the bad guys in the franchise. But for our blog, we are posting a recipe for a classic dry martini, which is stirred, not shaken. Also, unlike Bond’s beverage, the classic dry martini includes vermouth instead of vodka. As an ingredient he mentioned, Kina Lillet no longer exists but mixologists recommend Lillet Blanc while other bartenders add a splash of bitters.

Whether shaken or stirred, and whatever variation of ingredients are mixed for a dry martini, enjoy this classic cocktail on National Dry Martini Day. Cheers!

Recipe

 Ingredients

  • Ice
  • 3-4 ounces dry gin
  • ½ – 1 ounce dry vermouth OR vodka
  • splash of Lillet Blanc OR orange or Angostura bitters (optional)
  • lemon peel twist OR olive

Directions

Fill a shaker with ice. Add the gin and vermouth OR vodka. Stir briskly OR shake. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon peel twist OR olive.

 Notes

 

Cucumber-Lemon Cake

with Cucumber Vodka Icing

June 14: National Cucumber Day

With the summer season a few days away, we have been feeling the heat already in the Gulf Coast of Texas. To stay “Cool as a Cucumber,” this month’s theme of Islander’s local culinary book club, members were asked to share recipes using the vegetable as an ingredient. Some brought in cucumber tea sandwiches, many salads and even cucumber-infused drinks. Islander brought in a dessert—a cucumber-lemon cake with cucumber vodka icing (the original recipe used gin but she wanted to maximize the cucumber theme). The cake concept was a refreshing idea—a subtle taste of summer’s quintessential vegetable with a hint of sunny citrus iced with a sweet buttercream made with cucumber vodka to balance all the flavors. Cucumber-lemon cake with cucumber vodka icing is a delicate dessert that is perfect for National Cucumber Day.

Recipe

(Adapted from Veggie Desserts)

For the cucumber-lemon cake

  • Half a cucumber (about ¾ cups), pureed (see Notes)
  • Half a lemon, juiced and zested
  • 2/3 cup butter, softened
  • ¾ cup sugar, granulated white
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ¾ cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Directions

Wash and dry the cucumber, leaving the clean skin on. Slice into thin cubes and puree in a blender.

Zest half a lemon and set aside the zest for the batter. Squeeze half the lemon juice into the pureed cucumber. In a mixing bowl, combine the zest with the butter and sugar.

Add the vanilla and the eggs. Beat until smooth. In a separate bowl, mix the flour with baking powder. Gradually add half of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, alternating with half of the pureed cucumbers, and blend all ingredients until the batter is smooth.

Place in a lightly greased 8-inch round pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees F for 35-40 minutes or until done. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Prepare the cucumber vodka icing.

For the cucumber vodka icing and decorations

  • 2/3 cup butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cucumber vodka
  • 1 lemon
  • cucumber slices

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually add the powdered sugar. Thin to a spreadable consistency with cucumber vodka. Smear a little frosting on a cake board or plate to “glue” the cake on it.

Use a spatula to frost the top and sides of the cake. Use a star tip to add a shell border around the cake. Use a large round tip to pipe a dollop of icing in the middle of the cake.

Use a sharp paring knife to peel the rind of a lemon—start from one end of the fruit and, in a continuous but careful motion, pare in one direction until reaching the end of the fruit. Immediately roll up tightly the peel, fanning out the edges a little to form a rosette. Place the lemon rose on the center of the dollop of icing.

With the reserved cucumber from the cake recipe above, cut a portion of the vegetable in half lengthwise. Slice the first cut thinly but do not go all the way through the cucumber. The second slice should detach from the vegetable. Fan it out like a fishtail. Slice 8 of these cucumber decorations, dry with a paper towel and arrange on the cake, attaching the non-cut tip to the dollop of icing. Refrigerate the cake but bring it to room temperature before serving.

Notes

  • We used a seedless English cucumber for this recipe. If using regular cucumbers, cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds.
  • For non-alcoholic icing, use cucumber water or lemon juice to thin out the buttercream frosting to a spreadable consistency.
  • Search our blog for other cucumber recipes.

Homemade Rocky Road

Candy Bars

June 2: National Rocky Road Day

We have made homemade candy bars before. So we tried another popular one, Rocky Road, with a different chocolate mold. In the United States, Rocky Road is a combination of marshmallows and crunchy nuts and chocolate. In the United Kingdom, it is a combination of marshmallows, crushed cookies/biscuits and chocolate with a light dusting of powdered sugar on top. In Australia, Rocky Road is a combination of marshmallows, glace cherries, crunch nuts, dessicated coconut and chocolate. Whatever combination of ingredients used, Rocky Road is easy to make for a delicious dessert. So indulge on homemade Rocky Road candy bars on National Rocky Road Day!

Recipe

Ingredients

  • Chocolate chips or wafers (we used Ghirardelli dark chocolate melting wafers)
  • Nuts, dry roasted and unsalted, chopped (we used cashews, following the original Annabelle Candy Company’s recipe)
  • Mini marshmallows (see Notes)

Directions

Melt the chocolate in a bowl (in a microwave or over a double boiler), according to the directions on the package. Chop the cashews, reserving the nut pieces and discarding the “dust”. Set aside.

Spoon melted chocolate halfway in the mold, making sure to coat the sides with a thin layer. Let cool slightly so the chocolate will not melt the marshmallows. Sprinkle the chopped cashews and mini marshmallows over the slightly cooled chocolate. Fill the mold with chocolate. Refrigerate until the chocolate has set and is firm. Unmold onto paper towels. Serve at room temperature but still slightly cooled.

Notes

  • If mini marshmallows are not available, cut jumbo marshmallows into small pieces.
  • This blog post is dedicated to Father Tim E. who loves anything “Rocky Road”.
  • Check out more chocolate recipes on our blog from the Theme Menus.

 

Teriyaki Steak

teriyakisteak

June: National Steak Month

Islander’s Daddy served in Japan while he was in the U.S. Navy and liked to cook like the locals. As a chef on the ship, he cooked teriyaki steak and chicken for his fellow sailors. Likewise, while on shore duty, Daddy would occasionally grill teriyaki steak on his outdoor mini hibachi for the family’s Sunday supper. If there were any leftover meat, we would pack them for the next day’s lunch with a little rice for our very own bento boxes.

Teriyaki steak is terrific, especially during National Steak Month in June.

Recipe

(Adapted from Simply Recipes)

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ – 2 pound steak (flank or skirt; we used ribeye), around ½ inch thick
  • 1/3 cup mirin (sweet rice cooking wine)
  • 1/3 cup sake
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, granulated white or brown
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, freshly grated
  • olive or canola oil
  • sesame seeds or chopped green onions (optional garnish)

Directions

In a large, shallow bowl, combine the mirin, sake, soy sauce and sugar.

teriyakisteaksteps1

Mix in the grated ginger. Marinate the steak in this mixture for at least an hour (overnight is better) in the refrigerator. Remove the steak from the marinade, letting the sauce drip back to the bowl. Set aside. Use the marinade to make the teriyaki sauce by placing it in a small pot. Boil it down until it is reduced by half and becomes a thin glaze. Strain out any ginger pieces (optional).

teriyakisteaksteps2

While heating up the grill, rub a little oil on the steak to prevent sticking to the grates. Sear on one side until browned (3-5 minutes) then turn it over and brown for another few minutes to desired doneness (medium rare to well done). Baste with a little teriyaki sauce. When cooked, transfer the steak to a plate, cover it with foil to steam-lock the flavor while it is resting for 10 minutes. Uncover and slice the steak across the grain, slightly diagonal, in ¼-inch pieces. Arrange the slices on a serving platter or plate. Drizzle teriyaki sauce on top and sprinkle some sesame seeds or chopped green onions on top (optional).

teriyakisteaksteps3

Notes

  • This teriyaki steak may be pan fried with a little oil in a cast-iron or non-stick skillet. Sear on one side until browned (3-5 minutes) then turn it over and brown for another few minutes to desired doneness (medium rare to well done). Baste with a little teriyaki sauce after turning each side over.
  • Anyone concerned about using the same sauce in which the steak was marinated can rest assured that any bacteria will be killed during the boiling down process.
  • Serve teriyaki steak with a bowl or hot steamed, sticky white rice. We recommended as a side dish teppanyaki-style zucchini, onions and yellow squash.
  • Search our blog for more Japanese recipes under Theme Menus.

 

Han Solo Carbonite Cookies

May 25: Release date of the first Han Solo movie trilogy (2018)

Han Solo got a solo spin-off story in a “Star Wars” movie! The film, officially released today, features the origins of the space smuggler turned general in the Rebel Alliance/New Republic.

His character, portrayed by actor Harrison Ford, made his first appearance in 1977 in “Star Wars: A New Hope” (Episode IV) and was killed off in 2015 in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (Episode VII). In 2018, actor Alden Ehrenreich portrays the young Han Solo in “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and may reprise his role in two more forthcoming films.

Han Solo is immortalized in pop culture history, much like his iconic scene in 1981’s “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back “ (Episode V) when he was frozen in carbonite. To celebrate the release of the new Han Solo movies, we made carbonite cookies à la LU Biscuits’ Le Petit écolier (“The Little Schoolboy”) cookies. The sugar cookie base is topped with a chocolate impression of Han Solo in his classic frozen state and finished with a shiny metallic silver glaze.

Make these classic cookies for the movie’s release and for a Star Wars themed celebration.

Recipe

(Adapted from Williams-Sonoma)

For the sugar cookie base

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla

Directions

In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in the egg. Add the vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Mix until a dough is formed. Roll the dough into a large ball, divide in thirds, cover and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).

Roll out dough ¼-inch thick. Cut out rectangular shapes 1.5 inches wide by 2.75 inches tall. Place on a lightly greased baking pan. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to firm up the dough. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for five minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely and become crisp.

For the chocolate “carbonite”

  • Chocolate or confectioner’s candy (such as Ghirardelli melting wafers or Wilton dark chocolate candy melts)
  • Silver edible powder, non-toxic
  • Alcohol base (Everclear or almond/lemon/orange extract)

Directions

In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and stir until smooth. Spoon melted chocolate into the Han Solo ice cube tray no thicker than ¼ inch. Tap the tray lightly to level out the chocolate. Refrigerate until firm. Carefully unmold the chocolate onto a paper towel.

pread a little melted chocolate on a rectangular cookie and press a Han Solo chocolate piece on top. Repeat to complete the rest of the cookies. In a small dish, put a little silver powder. Put an eyedropper or two of clear alcoholic liquid to make a thin paste. Paint over the Han Solo chocolates, being careful to avoid the cookie base. Let the cookies dry. Store covered in single layer.

Notes

  • Han Solo ice cube tray is available from Amazon.com.
  • For a cheaper “chocolate”, use Wilton candy melts.
  • Search our blog for other Star Wars-inspired recipes.

 

Lemon Elderflower Cake

May 19, 2018: The Royal Wedding Day of HRH Prince Harry of Wales and Meghan Markle

Congratulations to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their wedding day! Ever since Kensington Palace announced that Chef Claire Ptak would make their wedding cake, we have been curious about the recipe for lemon elderflower cake. According to the official announcement, the cake would “incorporate the bright flavors of spring…(and)…be covered with buttercream and decorated with fresh flowers.”

There are many recipe versions of lemon elderflower cake but we tried the one published in People magazine. Their version is heavy and dense, unlike the light and fluffy cakes that we are used to. It is both rich and refreshing, which is befitting for a royal dessert. We also thinned down the basic buttercream recipe with elderflower liqueur but the floral flavor is faint.  We could not find fresh elderflowers to decorate the cake, so we used silk spring flowers with yellow centers instead to indicate the lemon flavor with this color. Lastly we topped our simple, rustic-style cake with a tiara to add some “Markle sparkle”.

Make a mini lemon elderflower wedding cake to celebrate the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan. Best wishes to them and to all the other couples getting married today!

Recipe

(Adapted from People magazine)

For the lemon cake

  • 4 cups flour (all purpose)
  • 3 teapoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 cups sour cream, room temperature
  • ¼ cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed (about 3 lemons)

Directions

Line two 6- and 8-inch round cake pans with waxed paper. Mist the bottom and sides with cooking spray. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. In a mixer, beat the butter until creamy.

Gradually add the sugar and lemon zest. Add the eggs one at a time. Stir in 1/3 of the flour mixture, then add half of the sour cream. Continue to alternate the flour and sour cream mixture until well combined and the cake batter is smooth.

Mix in the lemon juice. Divide the batter into the prepared pans, filling them halfway. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes, testing for doneness with a toothpick. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Brush away any crumbs.

For the elderflower buttercream frosting

  • 8 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 (1 pound) boxes powdered sugar
  • ½ cup (+/-) elderflower liqueur

Directions

In a mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar.  Thin to a spreadable consistency with elderflower liqueur. Spread a little frosting onto a cake board to act as a “glue” for the bottom layer of the cake.

 

 For the lemon elderflower liquid

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh squeezed
  • ¼ cup elderflower liqueur

Directions

In a small bowl, dissolved the sugar in lemon juice and elderflower liqueur. Stir well. Brush this liquid onto the cut layers of the cooled cakes before icing them with elderflower buttercream frosting.

Continue with each cake layer, brushing with lemon elderflower liquid and then frosting it with the elderflower buttercream. Frost the top and sides of the cake.

Decorate as desired. Top with a tiara and add spring flowers. Place on a cake pedestal. Serve and celebrate!

Notes

  • We used two 10-inch round pans for this recipe and sliced the layers in half. The People magazine recipe uses 6- and 8-inch rounds. For our final food photo above, the latter are cake dummies with the bottom 10-inch cake being the real one. Many couples use cake dummies to add height to their wedding cake, cut a real one for photos and serve sheet cakes from the back kitchen to save money.
  • Fruitcake is traditionally served at British weddings. This lemon elderflower cake is a contemporary confection honoring American bride Meghan Markle.
  • Search our blog for more royal-inspired recipes.

 

Hummus

May 13/21: International Hummus Day

We like to snack on chips and dips, such as tortillas y salsa or potato crisps and creamy cheese spreads. But lately we have been eating baked pita chips with hummus as it is heartier and healthier.

Made with mashed chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) and flavored with a few other simple ingredients, this Middle Eastern staple can be found pre-packaged at many grocery stores. But it is very easy to make at home and tastes much better and fresher than store-bought brands. Some creative cooks even make hummus with other ingredients, such as pinto beans, zucchini and roasted red pepper.

We stuck to the classic recipe for our blog post today in observance of Hummus Day, which can be celebrated either on May 13 or May 21.

Recipe

(Adapted from Food Network)

Ingredients

  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) chickpeas/garbanzo beans
  • ¼ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • ¼ cup tahini/sesame paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • paprika (optional)

Directions

Drain the cans of chickpeas, reserving some of the liquid. Remove and discard any of the remaining skins on the chickpeas.

Place the chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, cumin and garlic in a blender or food process. Pulse until smooth. While running the motor, slowly pour in the olive oil. Puree until smooth. Season with salt. Add 2 tablespoons at a time of the chickpea liquid and blend to the desired consistency. Transfer to a small bowl. Sprinkle paprika, a little olive oil and a few whole chickpeas on top for garnish. Serve with pita bread or chips.

Notes