Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Weekend BBQ -- and Kick-Ass Sangria

Had a great BBQ on Saturday with the gang.  Started out with hummus and chips, steamed artichokes with aioli (dang, they were VERY good!), olives and peppadews, and softened goat cheese with zatar on crackers.

Pasta with asparagus -- a spring favorite, even if it did feel like August outside.

Grilled skirt steak, grilled chicken thighs, with chimichurri to go alongside.  (Chimichurri is an Argentine condiment -- think parsley pesto -- parsley, garlic, olive oil, a bit of hot chili, and a squirt of vinegar, too, but no nuts or cheese as the Italians do with basil pesto.)

Potato salad, veggie slaw, baked beans, and deviled eggs as side dishes.

Desserts were banana pudding, pound cake with blueberry-cherry sauce and whipped cream, ice cream, coffee.

I made a kick-ass sangria, too.  Good sangria goes down like soda pop, but packs a wallop.  A tall glass over ice is the perfect outdoor drink.  The trick to great sangria is to make it sweet, and to make it potent.  Wine + fruit isn't sufficient, so you need to add a few things to bolster it.  See recipe below. 

Then of course there's always iced tea and mint iced tea.

 Patio all set up for the BBQ.  With the tree gone, it's a bit sunnier than we liked.

 Dewey and Munro.  

Carmen and your host.

Kick-Ass Sangria

1.5-L bottle of cheap red wine (use that bottle you got for Christmas last year that you'll otherwise never drink)
12-oz can of frozen concentrated apple juice
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup liquor -- I do 50/50 Grand Marnier and brandy (You can also use Cointreau, triple sec, or similar potent, fruit-flavored liquor.)
Assorted sweet fruits, cut up -- sweet oranges, apples, pears, dark sweet cherries or maraschino cherries, ripe peaches or nectarines.  (Don't use lemons or limes -- they're too sour for this.)

Pour the wine into a 1-gallon jug.  Add concentrated apple juice, orange juice, and liquor.  Add cut-up fruit.  Let it sit and macerate and hour or so.  Serve over ice.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Spring supper for the cousins

Hosting dinner tonite for my cousins Matt Pacello and Kate Pacello Dunn and her hubby Eric. 

Dinner starts with antipasti -- a few different cheeses, toasts and bread, olives, roasted peppers, and some garlic-infused oil for dipping.

Then penne al pomodoro.  Simple and perfect.  I made the sauce already, and used a lot of sweet, red bell pepper, and a couple anchovy fillets -- my secret ingredient.

Roast pork shoulder, with oven-roasted potatoes, and a green salad with Caesar dressing  . 

The Dunns are bringing dessert. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Springtime herbs

I've put my herb garden in.   So far: 
  • 4 basil plants
  • 3 parsley plants
  • thyme
  • oregano

Basil and parsley are annuals, and the thyme and oregano, perennials.  I had both thyme and oregano from previous years, but neither seem to have weathered our harsh winter. 

The chives are well up and blooming.  The mint is more out of control this year than last, and the sage seems to have recovered from a lackluster 2010.

I planted two parsley plants in the sun, and put one in the shade.  A bit of an experiment to see how well they thrive in each environment.   Parsley typically likes sun, but too much sun and heat make it bolt.  A bit of shade, or shaded sun might favor a more gradual growth. 

I'm looking forward to a summer of abundant herbs. 

The chives in bloom. 

Beautiful sage.  This plant is about 18 years old --
I planted it shortly after moving into my home.

Basil plants.  A bit anemic, but it's not even Memorial Day.

Thyme in the foreground, oregano in the background.

Parsley -- curly up front, flat-leaf in the back. 
I think both have great flavor. 

Mystery herb.  I planted this last summer in one of the
patio pots, but I don't remember what it is!  I think it's
lemon mint, or catmint, or maybe even catnip.  Regardless,
like any mint, it's coming back strong!

 And of course, mint -- peppermint, in this case.  Out of
control, and spreading all over.  But at least I use it!  This shows
just a small part of an 8-foot patch of mint.  That started with one
plant a few years ago. 

Vintage Magnalite® roaster

My friend Chris Z. and his sister Jeanne were cleaning out their mother's house in Northeast Philadelphia.  Mrs. Z. passed away earlier this year.

Chris and Jeanne, knowing that I enjoy cooking, invited me to the house to go through the kitchenware and take away what I wanted.  Well, I made out like a bandit:  a big, square Corningware® casserole, an almost-unused tube cake pan, a couple 9-inch round cake pans, a stainless roasting pan, and probably best of all, a magnificent Magnalite® covered roaster.

My grandmother had several pieces of Magnalite, which is cast aluminum cookware.  It's sturdy, durable, even-heating, shiny, ovenproof, and beautiful.  I always loved my grandmother's pots and roaster, but my aunt still uses them.  Now I have my own.  And I am eternally grateful to Chris and Jeanne. 

I washed it up tonite, and will use it this weekend.  A nice pot roast, perhaps?

I look forward to preparing a wonderful meal and inviting Chris and Jeanne for dinner.