Thursday, January 29, 2015

Apéritif Friday - Vittles for the Big Game

It's almost here! Superbowl Sunday - an American holiday that unites us all regardless of race, demographics, sex, age or even football knowledge. Is there any better communal reason to gather together and eat and drink and gawk at ridiculous amounts of money spent on advertising spots? I think not.

We don't really have a tradition on Superbowl Sunday that we follow. We've hosted parties, attended neighborhood bashes, and sometimes we kick back as a party of four in PJs. The constant though, regardless of where or how we watch the annual event, consists of fantastic food and a couple of beverages. Mr. Musky and I usually begin tossing foodie ideas around a week or two before the big game, then pull the trigger and create three or four of our favorites.

So if you're staying in with your own tribe or heading out to a hundred person fete, here are some suggestions to liven up the food table and drink options at your venue of choice.

Even though they aren't in season, Tomato Bread is still a delicious baked option.
It's not horse racing, but who says Mint Juleps and Derby Food can't substitute for Football Fare?
Calling all Quad Citians. You know you love 'em. Whip up a bunch of Maid Rites in advance, and pop them in the oven at halftime.
Pizza Wheels are simple, and I love simple when it comes to tailgating.
Another make ahead wonder, so good and so classic. Deviled Eggs. Pair it up with a lighter version of the Pina Colada for the rum lovers at your party.
Fancy things up with some Limoncello Basil Martinis and Greek Cups. The mixture can be made ahead, but fill the cups just before serving to ensure they retain their crispy texture.
For a spicier option, loaded with a little funk thanks to goat cheese and ground bison, give Proscuitto Poppers a go. Chill the spice with a Frozen Minty Cucumber Mojito.
Guac. Enough said.
Add some Skillet Nachos. A one pot wonder that pairs perfectly with chips and Guacamole.
Enjoy the game, my friends! We are at the University of Wisconsin - Madison today for our first official college visit...follow along with us on Twitter or Instagram.

XOXO,
Jen



Friday, January 23, 2015

Apéritif Friday - Birthday Mac and Cheese, Marinated Tomato Salad, and Santa's Little Helper

I'm delving into the archives today - stretching back about a month ago when we celebrated my not-so-little-boy's birthday. He's fifteen now. Which is an all together delightful age. Not little boydom anymore, but not fully morphed into manhood yet. No longer throwing tantrums...
...or angrily punching desk chairs resulting in broken bones. But not quite ready to do his own laundry and cook his own meals, either.

Decades ago, when I was my son's age, I saw a guy friend of mine embrace his mom in the stands after the Rockridge Rocket football team defeated the Aledo Green Dragons. He kissed his mom square on the lips, hugged her, and declared for all to hear: "I love you, Mom."

My future mom heart melted on the spot. I vowed right then and there to raise a kid who would someday tell me he loves me in front of all of his friends. The image of that boy and his mama stuck with me through the years, and I drilled it into my own sweet boy when he was just beginning to speak.

"Jakey, I love you!"

"I love you," he'd parrot-repeat in a high-pitched baby voice.

"Will you love me when you're sixteen?"

"Yes, Mommy."

"Tell me."

"I will love you when you're sixteen, Mommy."

"Will you tell me you love me in front of your friends when you're sixteen?"

"Yes, Mommy. I will tell you I love you in front of your friends when you're sixteen."

Neurotic Mommy, much? Sheesh. Despite his confusion on pronoun usage and the fact that no, I don't age backwards, we'd have this same conversation almost daily. I naively smirked and patted myself on the back for a job well done. But what I failed to understand is that I could not preordain future dialogue with my child. Even if I had the best intentions, it might just not be right. Not the right time, not the right place, not the right presence of mind, not the right kind of expression for the right kind of kid.

My son will not kiss me in front of his friends. But he'll hug me. And he won't say he loves me in front of his friends. But he'll whisper it in my ear. And the best part of all? When he hugs me, he allows me to kiss the hollow of his neck, just above his collarbone, when he pulls me in for that hug to say he loves me. I wouldn't trade those moments for five thousand hugs, kisses and "I love yous" in front of his friends.
My son will never be my little boy again. But I sure am thrilled with the man he's becoming, and I'm loving every minute of this bizarre in-between stage as he grows up, including the sporadic shaving.
His humor, quick wit, quiet and sometimes introverted tendencies make him HIM. Even his unwillingness to give me a quick kiss in the drop off line is good with me. Because he's not that kid in the football stands. He's him, and he's mine.
His birthday meal choice proved a winner for everyone in the house, even if it's not exactly Paleo or the most nutritious option. Inspired by an episode of "Heartland Table" a few days earlier, Mr. Musky ran upstairs and told Jake what he might like as a birthday dinner. I'm thinking that someone wanted another decadent meal after his own birthday meal, the Daddy Paddy Melt.
Inspired by the original meal here, I created my own versions of Stovetop Mac and Cheese and Marinated Tomatoes with Arugula. And naturally, I whipped up a wintertime apéritif that ended up as gifts in the hands of several family members on Christmas Eve. It was that good.

Santa's Little Helper.
Although I haven't heard anything from said family members, so maybe it wasn't their cup of tea liquor? That's OK. Because I was able to get Mr. Musky to sample it, and even he declared it a keeper.
Thanks for listening...the recipes follow. Go hug a fifteen-year-old, if he'll let you. Best hugs on the face of the earth.

XOXO,
Jen

Birthday Mac and Cheese
1 lb bacon, diced
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, microplaned
1 lb Gluten Free Fusilli Pasta (I prefer rice flour pasta)
4 T butter
4 T whole milk or half & half
4 oz cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz gouda cheese, grated
2 oz fontina cheese, grated
1/4 cup chopped chives
Salt and Pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil for the pasta. While the water heats up, fry the bacon until crispy and reserve about 2T of the bacon fat. Add the chopped onions and jalapeño to the bacon grease and sauté over medium-low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for an additional two minutes, stirring to incorporate. Turn the heat to low.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions for al dente. Drain the pasta but BE SURE to set aside about a cup of the starchy, salty pasta water. Pour the drained pasta into the skillet with the onions and garlic. Add the butter, milk and cheeses and stir to incorporate, slowly adding the reserved pasta water to help the ingredients come together - you'll likely use anywhere from 1/4 to 3/4 of a cup. Add the chopped bacon and chives, taste and add additional salt and pepper to your liking.
Serve alongside the Marinated Tomato Salad.

Marinated Tomato Salad
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 T honey
1 T Lemon Juice
1 T Champagne Vinegar
3 T Avocado Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 handfuls Arugula
2 handfuls Baby Spinach
Shaved Parmesan Cheese

Combine the tomatoes, 1/4 t salt, 1/4 t pepper, honey, lemon juice, vinegar and oil in a glass bowl. Toss to combine, and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to a few hours. Sip on a cocktail.
When ready to serve, toss the tomatoes with the arugula, spinach and shaved parmesan. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. The marinated tomatoes create their own "juice" that becomes the dressing for the salad. It's the perfect accompaniment to a hearty dish.
Santa's Little Helper
1.5 oz Sapphire Gin
1 oz Cointreau
1.5 oz Cranberry Juice
dash ginger syrup (or simple syrup)
a squeeze of fresh lime juice

Shake ingredients vigorously in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a lime zest.



Friday, January 16, 2015

Apéritif Friday - Backtracking to Smoked Duck Cakes and a Twist on the Aristocrat

I've neglected my little cyber corner of the world again. Thanks for those who've asked or dropped me a line wondering what's up. I'm still here. Just juggling priorities around, trying to allocate time appropriately to all my little pet projects, particularly the behemoth that consumes me.

Yes, I'm talking about "the book." I'm on an epic journey of self awareness with that sucker. What I very naively thought would take mere months to complete is chalking up to equal a multiyear project allowing me to fine-tune the art of dalliance. I lollygag around, then work like a nut job. Dilly-dally some more, feel guilty for lack of focus, then pound out more material. Procrastinate again, convince myself I don't have what it takes, re-read something I wrote six months ago, realize it is half decent and vow again to focus daily.

I'm considering psychiatric evaluation.

I'm whining. I realize that. And I know it sounds pathetic, because I can't complain about the position I'm in. These are not third world problems I'm dealing with here. But I'll genuinely speak to whoever's interested: writing a book is the singularly hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It makes childbirth, toddlerdom and Moming to teenagers look like a leisurely stroll through the park on a sunny, 70 degree day in May. So thanks for hanging in there with me, and for all of the support.

I'll have you know that despite my month-long blog hiatus, I spent 80% of that break in pajamas with woolen socks on my tootsies. Because negative degrees, obviously. So while I may need a shrink to help me find discipline and consistency skills, at least I'm comfortable and toasty.

So here I am, well into the new, promising year...the year I've dubbed as THE YEAR that the book will be completed. At least a first draft. I've never looked more forward to editing something in my entire life.

*****

I can't write this post without acknowledging some high school classmates who are going through the hardest test of their lives. Please pray for the DeKeyrel family from my first high school, Rockridge. On Christmas Eve the worst fear for any parent came true for them when their fourteen year-old son died. Like so many others, I literally think about this family and pray for them every single day. My heart continues to break for them, and I know they are pulling strength from God, their friends, family and the tight-knit community that surrounds them with love. Even if you don't know them, please say a quick prayer for them today for continued strength as they battle through their grief.

*****

Before the madness called "holidays" ensued, Mr. Musky and I snuck off to The American Club in Kohler, WI for our 20th anniversary. We lived in sumptuous doeskin robes for the weekend, relaxed under artful, full body massages, lounged in glorious, humid spa conditions and rarely saw the outside world, with the exception of a fancy dinner on night one. We bellied up to the bar and sipped some craft cocktails, then retreated to their five star restaurant, The Immigrant Room, for a memorable, multi-course meal. He already knew that he wanted the 30 day aged prime tenderloin to grace his entree plate, but left the rest of the ordering up to me.

I ordered us a salad before the main course, something that he's not normally up for when we dine out. We have salad o' plenty at home, and he'd rather try soup or a savory appetizer versus "bird food." But the salad at The Immigrant Room took "bird" to a whole new level.

We dined on a smoked pheasant salad. I can't tell you what all was in it, but it was absolutely divine, and the smoked foul starred as the main ingredient. We savored every last bite, longing for more to magically appear on the plate.

Within 24 hours, Nueske's had our business. We pulled our purchase out on a rare December Friday when both kids preferred our company to that of their peers (translation: all friends were busy, leaving them with boring old Ma and Pa).
While cranking some Springsteen Christmas Radio, I set some folks to work while we sipped on a variation of The Aristocrat. Rather than use ginger syrup, I subbed Domaine de Canton - a ginger liqueur. Loved it. Two shots of Hennessey, one shot of Domaine de Canton, one shot of Lillet, shake vigorously and top off with club soda. Garnish with a lemon twist. Even Mr. "I only drink boring Sapphire with water" Musky enjoyed this beverage for a change of pace. Winning...

My man's assignment for the evening involved pulling smoked duck off the bone. We opted for the bigger bird for our cakes and saved the pheasant for a later date. See that little critter down there with the horns?
It's a wine cork gift, complements of my friend Carrie. Do you spy the little white nobby thing coming out of the side? 

Don't ask. I live in a house of perverts.

I called in reserves for cheese grating. How thrilling. Er, chilling, I should say. His demonic look raises the hairs on the back of my neck.
Meanwhile, the fourth wheel opted out of food preparation under the masquerade of playing Santa's elf.
She dolled up a Starbucks cup as a Christmas gift for her college bound girlfriend. 

Naturally, I hunkered down and food prepped myself. If you've never had wild rice, give it a go. I buy mine in the Northwoods, and while we shy away from most grains, we do indulge occasionally on rice. We've found that it doesn't bother our tummies, and sometimes it is a nice way to bind things together or to add that oomph we all love in Asian food. 

Wild rice simmering away, I stood back to enjoy an aaaahhhhh moment. You know - one of the few that actually happen while you hear "Baby It's Cold Oustide" for the eight hundredth time in December. Despite the rat race from November to January, these moments make it all worthwhile. The two of them giggled over her phone. 

What's so funny? An "elf yourself" video Kahley made of Grandma Kahling. Take a look. I'm sorry, Mom.


For the record...my mother is the best sport on the face of the earth. She cannot say a single thing, utter a fleeting thought or sway her hips ever so slightly without someone in my family recording it for posterity. She feigns protest, but secretly I think she's flattered. She knows her hillbilly upbringing, prudent (yet oftentimes inappropriate) advice and off color remarks will live on for generations, thanks to always on video and servers the size of China.

A revelation occurred on Smoked Duck Cake night: Miller is extraordinarily fond of smoked poultry. He panted and whined and pranced around more than usual. The smells emanating from the counter nearly drove him to mouth-watering madness.
After our cocktails we hemmed and hawed over a wine selection to pair with our cakes. Photo bombers never stray far on Apéritif Friday. While Paraduxx would have been fitting, we opted for the Stag's Leap Merlot.

Finally, we dug into some crispy, flavorful, savory goodness.
The cakes were crunchy with a perfectly crisp texture, the smoked duck taking center stage as the star on the plate. I placed each cake over a bed of arugula tossed in a simple lemon vinaigrette. I urge you to try these, even though it means finding smoked duck in your local specialty store or ordering it online. I promise - it really is worth the fuss and is a super special treat. We will definitely order from Nueske's again.

Smoked Duck Cakes
2 cups wild rice
Salt and Pepper
Butter
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano Cheese
6 eggs
Smoked Duck pieces, about 2 cups
Additional butter, ghee, or bacon fat for frying
Arugula with Simple Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Cook the wild rice according to package directions; however, I recommend subbing chicken broth or stock for the water. Add salt and pepper to taste - make sure it is seasoned to your liking. Cool the rice. This step can be completed in advance, and you can keep the cooked rice in the refrigerator.

Melt 2-3 T of butter in a pan and sauté the onion over medium-low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and add the cheese. Add the cooked rice, duck meat, and onion mixture. Gently stir to combine.

Melt your frying grease (I used bacon fat for extra flavor) in a pan over medium-high heat. Once the fat is hot, drop 1/3 cupfuls of the rice cake mixture into the pan, being careful to not crowd the pan too much (I got five cakes in the pan at once). Flatten the rice mounds into the shape of a disk with the backside of a spatula. Cook undisturbed for 3-4 minutes, then flip when the underside is golden brown. Cook on the other side for another 3-4 minutes, then remove to a plate lined with paper towels.

This made A LOT of cakes (15-20?) and could easily be halved. But...they were soooooo good as leftovers. I recommend making them all.

Serve over arugula tossed with a simple lemon vinaigrette.

Simple Lemon Vinaigrette
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice (any flavored vinegar will work as well)
1 t creamy dijon mustard
1/4 t salt
1/4 t cracked pepper
6 T good quality extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together the first four ingredients. Continue whisking, and add the oil in a very thin stream. Toss desired amount of dressing with the arugula and top with the Smoked Duck Cakes. Refrigerate any leftover dressing for up to four days.

Give these a try, and Happy 2015 my friends!

XOXO,
Jen