Sure, you could buy that grilling fanatic on your holiday gift list a new smoker or cutting-edge grill accessory. (For some suggestions, check out our barbecuers’ gift guide.) But sometimes, the most meaningful gifts are the ones you make yourself. Homemade gifts help you stretch your holiday shopping dollars, and in inclement weather, they’re a great way to channel your inner pit master without having to don your parka or fight for a parking spot.
Which brings us to one of my favorite homemade holiday gifts: made-from-scratch barbecue rubs. Simply defined, a rub is a mixture of salt, spices, and herbs used to flavor grilled or smoked meats, seafood, and even vegetables and tofu.
There are two ways to use a barbecue rub. The first is to apply it right before grilling or smoking, in which case it acts as a sort of seasoned salt. The second is to rub it into the meat a few hours or even a day before you plan to cook it, in which case the seasonings partially cure the meat, resulting in a richer, more complex flavor.
I am in Cape Cod today, on vacation with my husband’s extended family. Yesterday it was my turn to make dinner, and I envisioned a gorgeous piece of broiled bluefish. I made the fatal mistake of sharing this vision with my in-laws.
“Bluefish? Really?” said my brother-in-law Scott, as if I’d announced I was braising a hedgehog. He begged for an alternative. My sister-in-law Julie chimed in: “But please, no salmon. Too fishy. Or tilapia. It tastes like dust.”
When I suggested shrimp or scallops, my niece Katy made a barfing sound. Cousin Noah let it be known that hates halibut and Suzie is sick of sole. Bette said flounder was too boring, and octopus was a non-starter since Uncle Johnny won’t eat things with more than four legs. Aunt Sue won’t eat squid, having been traumatized by “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” as a child.
I tried to appeal on the basis of geography. “What about cod?” I said. “In honor of our current location?” I was greeted with blank stares. “Okay, well, catfish?”
“Ew. Bottom-feeders,” said my daughter Nora.
The mint growing in my garden is prolific. I'm really bad about getting out there and thinning it so it pretty much takes over. I don't mind though, I love sprinkling it over summer fruit and mixing it into iced tea and water in the summertime. As far as I'm concerned I could never really have enough mint, I find it's uses endless.
Between the prolific mint and a recent trip to Mexico, (where Mojito's were flowing) and a slight suggestion for a mojito party, when we returned to the states...the Best Mojito Recipe was born.
Up until now, I was a mojito drinker, not maker. I'm not sure why, but it's something I left to the bartender. So I did a lot of research and read a lot of comments about certain recipes. Mojito's are a finicky drink and can quickly go from refreshing to medicinal tasting, when the ingredients are not balanced. As a winemaker I'm always concerned with balance in wine, in food and cocktails. I found that specific ingredients make a difference for varying reasons.
I hope you give my version a try.
A long time ago, I made the choice to remain single. I really did not want to deal with relationships and I was genuinely happy to take life’s journey on my own. Little did I know that the Universe had a completely different plan for me. I met my (now) husband on September 12, 2012 at a wine tasting in Beverly Hills. Fast forward a year, and he proposed on September 12, 2013. Keep going… we got married April 12, 2014. Why does this matter? Well, it leads me into this restaurant… Boragó.
My husband and I have always had South America on top of our lists for travel. So when we planned our wedding, we planned it specifically to coincide with the wine harvest in South America. (If you’re a wine-o and you know it, clap your hands!) So April was an easy choice. Before we went on our honeymoon, we did our research and made sure we hit up the top restaurants. So begins the story of Boragó… a progressive restaurant in Santiago, Chile that collects its ingredients only from a 150 km radius of the restaurant.
Boston's City Landing is across from Marriott Long Wharf and down the block from ferries that will zip you to P-Town. Outside, miss not a minute of tourist central with concierges, ferry blasts, street vendors, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, Aquarium sharks and views of other people's boats. Inside, according to Worth.com last year, the aptly named City Landing is a power lunch stop. It's Sunday, there don't seem to be any deals in the making but if you want to show me the money, I'm in.
We understand you're sightseeing at Faneuil Hall but eschew fast food and come over for real lunch. This is summer in the city fine dining even in sneakers. We're at the window with an eye on street drama of which there is plenty and though we cannot hear, we can read lips. We're having lunch: Roseanna's crab salad is topped with avocado, egg, fennel, bacon and tomato. It's easy being green here. She's clever, ordering a side of sweet potato fries. It turns out fries are the best and there are almost enough of them.
When I don't know what to have, which actually happens a lot, you can always get my attention with soft shell crabs. We had them as kids and then it was a short season, just August. Now they're served all the time and since I'm never going to make them at home again ever, what I want is a crab sandwich from someone else's kitchen. I remember them as being lunch but they're a snack. Yes, the crab is fine and yet I'm still hungry.
RivaBella Ristorante is in West Hollywood on the border of Beverly Hills and within sight of the Sunset Strip. From the outside, RivaBella has the look of an expensive fine dining restaurant. Walk inside and the friendly bar men will offer you a cocktail or a glass of premium wine, then you'll enter a dining room with rustic wooden tables, brick walls and a massive hearth. The spacious restaurant has the feel of an upscale country inn.
RivaBella balances elegance with casual dining. On the evening we had dinner, some diners were dressed in business suits while others wore shorts and colorful sport shirts. A retractable ceiling opens to the sky. Natural light floods into the room through floor to ceiling windows. At night, candles on the tables and strings of white lights give the room a romantic, festive aura. You'll experience the restaurant's theatrical side when you enter the dining room and pass the DJ who is working through a play list of pop songs. Order the mushroom risotto and the waiter brings a cart to the table heavily laden with a Parmigiano Reggiano wheel large enough to fit on a Mini-Cooper.
Now, I generally steer clear of plastic cooking tools that look like the crap sold on tv at 3:00 am. It dices! It slices! Hey, guess what? I do too! But a client of mine had ripped a page from her Williams Sonoma catalog with a picture of a vegetable extruder and I was intrigued. I did some investigating and found one a little cheaper on Amazon made by Bitoni with the magic words… lifetime replacement warranty. Now we’re talkin’.
It’s important to say that I was, at that time, thinking only of my clients. I had no intention of actually enjoying this product myself. I like my pasta, dammit. You’re not going to convince me this is an acceptable substitute.
It’s also important to say that I don’t work for Bitoni. I’m not a Bitoni stockholder. I’m not trying to get you to buy one.
When it arrived, I had three challenges for the machine:
The classic triumvirate of tomato, basil and mozzarella is nothing short of divine. I can just imagine Michelangelo snacking on this delicacy whilst carving the David statue. The salad is such a quintessential, Italian dish yet it has become a major part of the American summer menu – especially with the resurgence of heirloom tomato growing!
My Georgia Caprese Salad has a fun origin and pays homage to the old adage “necessity is the mother of invention.” The necessity of mention was supper. A light summer supper for yours truly alone. I was hot. I was tired. I did not want to cook – the thought of being around more heat was as tempting as repeatedly running into the back porch screen – head first mind you – like the bumble bee was doing. My family was scattered with other activities, travel or who knows what and Ol’ Jimmy was home alone – and hungry!
Not only was the thought of cooking with heat unappealing, the thought of eating something hot was equally unappetizing. Enter the “necessity… invention” moment. I rummaged through the fridge and saw I had a block of Pepper Jack cheese from M&T. I said to myself, “Self, you can at least have cheese and crackers.” Then I got to thinking – a dangerous pastime.
Moms and grandmas love blueberries. Think about it. Doesn't your family have cherished recipes for blueberry pie and blueberry muffins? What about blueberry cobbler and frosted blueberry sweet rolls?
Why are blueberries so beloved? It could be their association with lazy summer days, Fourth of July cookouts, or time spent baking in grandma's cozy kitchen. Whatever it is, blueberries are sweet and easy-going, like the girl next door.
But like the proverbial librarian who lets down her hair, blueberries can also be sexy. That's right. Sprinkle plump, juicy summertime blueberries on peppery wild arugula or watercress for a stylish salad.
Top crostini with warm goat cheese, fresh blueberries, and rosemary for a sleek summertime appetizer. Add them to a martini made with blueberry vodka for a sophisticated summertime cocktail.
So while they're in season, explore the sexy side of blueberries. Just don't tell grandma. She wouldn't approve.
If anyone asks what my favorite fruit is, I always answer peaches, but not just any peach. White peaches are my absolute favorite fruit. Besides eating peaches as they are, my other favorite ways to enjoy them are in desserts. I love this peach galette, a foolproof fruit tart recipe that I rely on every summer. But I also love to make sorbets, ice creams, and sherbets. What could be a better dessert than a cooling scoop or two? This summer it's white peach sherbet all the way.
Just think of the sherbets from when you were a kid and the ones available in the supermarket. Don't you ever wonder what those fluorescent colors are actually made of? They're hardly fruit. Though as a kid I too loved eating them, but not anymore. This recipe couldn't be easier. Sherbet is unlike ice cream in that the milk or cream is not cooked. In ice cream you almost always need to make a custard from eggs and milk and simmer it until thick. Sherbet is simply puréed fruit mixed with milk and then frozen.
This is a fantastic recipe that makes great use of fresh summer peaches. Cobbler is a classic summer dessert and just about as American as Apple Pie. The clever folks at Cook’s Country have mastered a method that prevents the cobbler from sitting in too much liquid.
Traditional cobblers are usually made with a biscuit-like topping and can be made with almost any fruit, although peaches are my favorite. I usually make biscuits with buttermilk or heavy cream, but the yogurt really works well here.
Top the warm cobbler with some vanilla ice cream and enjoy.
Berries are fragile, which is why we love them so much off the bush or in a bowl But there are a couple of things to keep in mind once you decide to cook them, like in a pie.
First. Often they are less sweet than you imagine, even when they are perfectly ripe. Don’t confuse the full berry flavor with sweetness.
Second. Blueberries tend to need some acid to brighten the flavor and even blackberries can use some for balance.
Third. I believe in adding some starch to thicken fruit pies. I don’t want berry juice to run all over the plate. I want to get it into my mouth. That is the role of starch as a thickener.
I haven’t been cooking. Well, if you call defrosting some homemade marinara and boiling some water for pasta, cooking, then I guess I have cooked a little bit.
Last week was Isaac’s Bar Mitzvah. I planned the whole event, from start to finish, and in the end, the high anxiety and elevated stress level was well worth it. Isaac’s “ear to ear” smile was worth the lack of sleep and the 8 pound weight loss.
As I slowly get back into a routine, I took inventory of what I currently had on hand. A big batch of frozen cookie dough was just what I needed to kick off the first of many summer holiday weekends. With plans to go to friend’s for a BBQ, whipping up a batch of homemade ice cream sandwiches was effortless.
As the cookies baked and cooled, I made a modified version of this “magic shell“. I used all bittersweet chocolate and added a pinch of Celtic sea salt, espresso powder, and some vanilla. Delicious! And additive free!
We've got a few ice cream machines in our house. Two of them we've had for years. They're identical with their big plastic tub that holds a can with a paddle inside of it, with plenty of room between the can and the sides of the tub to pack in lots of ice and salt.
And then there is the Cuisinart machine with its ice cream can insert that needs to be frozen before you can make ice cream. I have two inserts. I store both in the freezer so they are ready to go whenever I have a sudden urge for something sweet and frozen.
I use my old machines for making ice cream, preferring the creamy consistency that results. I use the Cuisinart machine for making sorbet.
Earlier this week I plucked leaves from my lemon verbena plant out in my garden. It was the first time I was using the bright, fresh lemon-scented leaves. For the last couple of years I had searched local nurseries for lemon verbena plants and always came out empty-handed until this spring. There are so many ways I want to use lemon verbena and I am so excited to finally have a plant of my own. I'm told it is a perennial, and if it comes back each year, it becomes a nice shrub. We'll see if it can survive a cold Minnesota winter. I hope so.
Why doesn’t somebody make a hamburger bun that also fits a hot dog? It would be hinged. That way, if you had a small family, you would only have to buy one package of buns. Here’s what it would look like...
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