Monday, July 8, 2013

A Penchant for Punch Perchance?

When my Mother announced that it was time for another Punch Bowl Excavation Mission, we knew a party was underway! Better yet, I knew I would be entrusted to hunt down the veritable, centric party beast in the depths of the crawlspace underneath the stairs, in the deep, dark spaces under our family home. This mission involved warding off creepy crawlers, spider webs, scary thoughts, whilst crawling about on all fours amongst jam jars, rarely used cookware and my Father’s wartime radio equipment. To this day, I’m not sure why I delighted in being the triumphant bearer of the party-punch vessel. Perhaps my enchantment with this activity derived from my Mother’s innate ability to turn the most mundane task into a prize-seeking source of amusement… to be competed vigorously for amongst an army of siblings and captured heroically as YOUR specialty. 

Alas, this same punch bowl, ladle and matching cups have migrated from my parents’ home to my home in the original box. It endures the same ceremonious resurrections for gatherings and holiday parties and for most months of the year perches happily beside the applesauce maker, apple corer, pressure cooker, giant slow cooker, skates and Christmas cookie tins on my basement shelf behind the furnace.

The truth is, punch is an easy way to serve a uniform drink to a multitude of guests—without having to customize every drink order! Now, if your lack of a punch bowl and matching cups is throwing you off punch making, fret no more. Matchy-matchy dishware is not so fashionable now so any large glass bowl or jug, with any kind of ladle will suffice to serve your party concoction. Glassware too, from mismatched tumblers, small mason jars or old-fashioned orange juice cups serve as cute little stand-ins for party cups. Why even those precious china teacups Aunt Martha bequeathed to you would make fine whimsical vehicles for punch imbibing!

Whatever your fancy, enjoy these summer punches to kick up some party fun at your next soiree.

Punch pointers:

  • Make sure ice cube trays and molds are thoroughly clean before filling.

  • Add fizzy liquids, just before serving and pour them in VERY slowly or your bowl or pitcher may overflow with bubbles. Soda water, ginger ale, sparkling water, champagne, sparkling wines make lovely last minute additions.

  • Fruit garnishes left to float in the punch will soak up any alcohol so don’t get too carried with hoovering down the leftover sliced lemons and limes!

  •  Check your grocery store for edible pesticide-free petals like marigolds, nasturtiums, roses and pansies to add to your punch.

  • A fancy way to spruce up a punch bowl is to add a ring of ice with petals or herb leaves frozen within the mold. Simply fill the very clean mold halfway with water and add petals or leaves attractively on top of the ice. Freeze for about 30 minutes or until it has set. Remove the mold from the freezer and fill it to the top with water. Allow to freeze until solid, about 3 hours.  When completely frozen and you are ready to serve, run the mold under warm water and tap gently on the outside of the mold to remove the ice in one whole piece. Add to the punch right away! You may also try this same technique for making cute little ice cubes!

  • Try making punches with no-caffeine flavoured teas like chai, summer berries, mandarin, mint…whatever you like.

  •  Mint and other herb leaves like lemon basil add interesting flavour twists when added to punches and iced teas.

  •  Punch garnishes can be: berries like strawberries, raspberries, frozen cranberries, blueberries and fruit slices like oranges, lemons, peaches, grapefruits, petals…just remember the more colorful the better!

A basic syrup to make ahead, cool and use in punches and drinks goes like this:
Combine 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Stir it constantly for about 5 minutes until the sugar dissolves and the liquid is clear. Watch carefully.
Remove from heat and let cool.  Will keep for about1 week in the fridge.

For a mint flavoured syrup: Make recipe as above. When removed from heat, stir in 1 cup loosely packed mint leaves. Let stand 15 min or more. Strain the syrup with a sieve and discard mint leaves.

Mint and Strawberry Lemonade
You will need:
A BIG Punch Bowl or a large pitcher

Make ahead and let cool, this syrup recipe: combine 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir it constantly for about 5 minutes until the sugar dissolves and the liquid is clear. Watch carefully. Remove from Heat and let cool.  Will keep for about1 week in the fridge.

3 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced up (Save a few whole berries to garnish)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves, plus a few mint sprigs to flower up the finished punch
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup syrup (cooled) See recipe above.
4 cups chilled sparkling water, or Soda water
6 cups ice cubes (or make a ring of ice by freezing water in a round pan like a jelly pan or bundt cake pan)
Combine the strawberries and mint leaves in a food processor or blender and puree away. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve. Transfer to a punch bowl. Add the lemon juice and syrup and mix it up. Just before serving, SLOWLY pour the bubbly water into the punch bowl. Add the ice cubes and garnish the mixture with a few whole berries and mint sprigs.

If you like an alcoholic punch, put a bottle of gin or vodka nearby and serve guests whatever they fancy!

Rose Hip and Hibiscus Tea Punch
12 cups water
9-12 rose hip hibiscus tea bags (sold at the Bulk Barn)
¼ cup sugar or honey
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup orange juice or tangerine juice
8 cups ice cubes
Orange and lemon slices

In a large pot, bring the water to a boil then remove from the heat and add the tea bags. Let steep about 20 minutes. Remove the tea bags and stir in sugar until dissolved. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.
When ready to serve, pour the tea into a punch bowl and add the lemon and orange juice and mix well. Add the ice cubes, fruit slices and serve. 

Cranberry-Zinfadel Punch
Make 24 ice cubes with cooled Rose Hip Hibiscus Tea. Fill each cube halfway and place a mint leaf on top. Freeze for 30 minutes or until set then add more water to fill the tray and freeze for another 3 hours.

Two bottles (750 ml) chilled Zinfadel wine or your favourite rosé!
2 cups cranberry
1 cup orange juice
Combine ingredients in a punch bowl. Add ice cubes. Serve.

Meloncholy No More!
You will need one large punch bowl.

Mix together in the punch bowl:
4 cups banana orange strawberry blend juice OR pineapple juice
2 cups vodka
¾ cup Midori melon liqueur
½ cup cream of coconut (at the liquor store-this is NOT unsweetened coconut milk as is sold for cooking in the grocery store)
½ cup lime juice

Using a melon baller (the small end) to make melon balls from:
½ cantaloupe, chilled
¼ honeydew melon, chilled
2 thick slices of seedless watermelon
Thread these onto cocktails picks or skewers. Place on trays and put in the freezer.

Add 4 cups crushed ice to the crushed ice to the punch. Garnish each glass with melon sticks, and ladle punch into glasses and serve.

Pimm’s Anyone?
One large punch bowl and glasses
Make ahead: 24 ice cubes with maraschino cherries and mint leaves. (Fill ice cube trays halfway with ice, add a cherry and mint leaf to each cube. Freeze tray for 30 minutes or until set, then top up with more water and freeze solid, about 3 hrs)

3 cups Pimm’s (a gin-based British drink available at the liquor store)
3 cups ginger ale
3 cups lemon-lime soda or sparkling water
4 cups extra ice cubes or 1 large ice ring made from ice mold
Lemon and orange slices for garnishing

Combine Pimm’s, ginger ale, lemon-lime soda in the punch bowl. Mix well. Add cherry ice cubes and plain cubes. Garnish with lemon slices and serve.

Ola to the Mojito
One large punch bowl
4 cups light rum
1 cup mint-flavoured syrup (see recipe above)
½ cup fresh lime juice – key limes are the best choice for this
8 cups crushed ice
2 cups chilled sparkling water
1 cup mint leaf sprigs, plus a few extra for garnishing
3 limes, thinly sliced
Combine the rum, syrup and lime juice in the punch bowl. Mix well. When ready to serve, add the crushed ice, then slowly pour in the sparkling water. Place lime slices in glasses and garnish with mint sprig. Add the leftover mint sprigs and lime slices to the punch and serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Perfect Pairs--Who Knew? Strawberry&Cilantro, Tomatoe&Black Tea and Banana&Cloves

Sundried Tomatoe & Black Tea Breadsticks (see recipe below)
Last week, while driving home during rush-hour and listening to my favourite CBC-Radio Ottawa drive-home show, All in A Day, the host Alan Neal interviewed a guest about food ingredient pairings and the latest discovery-suggestions from the scientific community. His guest mentioned four unusual ingredient combinations which would be very likely to taste good together and Alan put out a challenge to listeners to come up with  creative recipes using the pairings. I recited the four pairings to myself over and over until I could find a pen and write them down;  Strawberry-Cilantro, Tomatoe-Black Tea, Banana-Cloves and Mussels and Sake. I am a Mussel fan but not so much on the Sake side so I didn't attempt anything with that combo. As for the other three? My mind was racing....I had so many ideas I could barely sleep that night. Alas, I created and finalized these three finalist recipes incorporating the foods I love most; cod/halibut (with strawberries and cilantro), bread made with organic Fife flour (with sundried tomatoes and black tea) and icebox shortbread cookies (with dried banana chips and cloves).  After two retests and a few adjustments to the ingredients and quantities, I think all three recipes turned out pretty well....but why don't you give 'em a try and tell me what you think? I'd love to hear!

I'll be a guest on the D is for Dinner segment of All in A Day this afternoon (91.5 FM in Ottawa Wed Apr 17) at 3:20 pm so tune in to hear what other listeners came up with as well! If you miss the show you can catch it later at click on Past Episodes and look for Wed Apr 17 D is for Dinner. Until next time, happy cooking adventures!

Strawberries & cilantro salsa with balsamic-marinated Cod or Halibut
Makes 4 servings:
Clean and finely chop:
·        1/2 cup cilantro, divided into two ¼ cup portions

In a small bowl mix together marinade:
·        2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
·        2 tbsp brown sugar
·        1 tbsp olive oil
·        1 clove garlic, finely chopped
·        ½ tsp pepper
·        ¼ cup of the chopped cilantro
·        400 g frozen cod or halibut fillets, thawed 

Preheat oven to 425. Line a shallow oven roasting dish (big enough to hold the fillets side by side) with tin foil. Pat dry fish with paper towel and place in the roasting dish. With a pastry brush, brush marinade onto fish. Let marinade for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours, refrigerated. Roast fish in oven for 30-40 minutes. Fish is done when it flakes apart easily when poked with a fork.

Meanwhile prepare strawberry-cilantro mixture
Tip: You can freeze the salsa for later use but leave out the chopped green onion until serving time so it doesn’t trump the mellow loveliness of the strawberry-cilantro combo.
Mix together:
·        2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, stems removed and chopped into ½ inch cubes
·        Remaining ¼ cup of chopped cilantro
·        1 tbsp olive oil

·        Reserve and set aside to add to strawberry mixture just before serving
1 green onion – chopped

When fish is ready, using a flat spatula, serve portions on dinner plates and place strawberry-cilantro mixture beside or on top of the fish. Serve with couscous and your favourite green vegetables.

Stwarberry-Cilantro Salsa with Balsamic Marinated Cod
Twisted! Breadsticks with sun-dried tomatoes and black tea
Makes 36 breadsticks

Prepare and set aside for topping breadsticks at the baking stage:
·        ¼ cup Loose orange pekoe tea leaves-crumbled-DIVIDED in half; one to add to the dough and the other to sprinkle on top when baking.
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds for topping
- 1 to 2 tbsp Coarse or Kosher salt for topping (I added the Salt to this stage to give the sticks a bit more flavour...they seemed a little flat otherwise!)

Prepare and set aside:
·        1/3 cup sundried tomatoes packed in oil, well-drained, finely chopped and patted dry on paper towel
·        Use 2 tbsp of the Loose orange pekoe tea leaves-crumbled

Place these ingredients in the breadmaker in the order given. Set on dough cycle and press start.
·        1 1/3 cups cooled or room temperature Black Tea (I made a pot of tea using 2 tea bags of good ‘ole Tetley tea)
·        3 tbsp olive oil
·        2 tsp Barley Malt (available at Bulk Barn in a glass jar near the honey and corn syrup)
·        2 tsp salt
·        3 cups organic Fife flour (available at the Bulk Barn)
·        ½ cup all-purpose flour
·        2 tsp bread machine yeast

When the breadmaker’s “Add Ingredient” signal sounds (or about 10-15 minutes into the kneading and mixing cycle), add:
·        Prepared Sundried Tomatoes and 2 tbsp of loose tea

Meanwhile, lightly oil two baking sheets or one large pizza pan and sprinkle with semolina or cornmeal and set aside.

Whisk together:
·        1 egg white
·        2 tbsp water

Prepare mixture to sprinkle on breadsticks. Mix together and set aside:
Use the remaining 2 tbsp loose orange pekoe tea-crumbled
2 tbsp sesame seeds

When dough is ready, punch down. Relying on your early math skills, divide dough into 36 equal pieces. I use this method:
·        divide the lump of dough into 4 even pieces,
·        then divide each ¼ into 3 pieces.  You now have 12 pieces,
·        now, divide each of these 12 pieces into 3 pieces.
·        You now have 36 pieces and each piece will be formed into a breadstick.

Roll each piece between your palms or on a breadboard to form a long, skinny rope about 8-10 inches long. Twist slightly and pinch ends to hold the twist, or leave untwisted depending on how you feel. Place strips on the prepared baking sheets. Brush lightly with oil. Cover loosely with saran wrap and a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

Another way to make breadsticks is:
This makes 40 breadsticks. Shape the dough into a rectangle 12 inches x 8 inches, about ¼ of an inch thick. Cover with a tea towel and let rest for 10 minutes. Cut the dough lengthwise into 4 equal pieces, then cut each piece lengthwise into 10 pieces.  Stretch each strip until it is 10 inches long. Place the strips about ½ an inch apart on the baking sheets. Brush lightly with oil. Cover loosely with saran wrap and a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F. Brush egg wash lightly on breadsticks. Sprinkle with tea, sesame seed and coarse salt mixture. Press the topping lightly into each breadstick with fingertips.  Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Serving suggestion: Place breadsticks in a square glass vase and serve with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. They are lovely plain as they are too!

Banana Clove Icebox Cookies
June Cleaver Banana-Clove Ice Box Cookies
You’ll need a food processor or your own brute strength to whip these up. Get your motors running…
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup white sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp banana extract
2 1/4 cups white all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped dried banana pieces
1 tsp dried cloves (I used just one tsp but 1 1/2 tsp could probably work too. I didn't want to overpower the banana flavour...)
1 tsp coarse salt

In a food processor, mix together butter and sugar on low speed until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and banana extract then pulse on low speed until mixed in. Add flour, ½ cup banana pieces, cloves and salt and mix on low speed until combined and mixed. TIP: If the mixture is not completely blending together in the food processor, place the mixture in a large mixing bowl and knead together with your hands.
Remove dough from machine and divide in half. Tear off two pieces of parchment paper to roll dough logs in. You may also use wax paper instead of parchment paper. On one of the sheets of parchment paper, shape a 12-inch log (about 1 1/2 inches in diameter) from one of the pieces of dough. Smooth out log and roll fairly tightly in the parchment paper, twisting the ends to seal. Repeat with second piece of dough. Freeze both logs until quite firm. 1 hr or overnight.
Meanwhile, prepare this mixture to roll the logs in before slicing and baking:
Mix together and set aside:
¼ cup chopped dried banana pieces, ½ cup white sugar, 1/4 tsp cloves

Beat and set aside:
1 egg white

Heat oven to 375F. Oven racks should be on the middle shelves of the oven.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove logs from freezer and let them warm up a little to room temperature to make them easier to slice. TIP: They should be firm but fairly easy to slice with a super-duper sharp knife.
Unwrap one log and keep it on the parchment paper. Brush the log with the egg white, then roll it in the banana pieces, sugar and cloves mixture. Cut the log  into ¼ inch slices and place on one of the baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place about ½ inch apart. Repeat steps for second log.
Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 18 to 22 minutes. Remove with spatula and let them cool on a cookie rack. Store in the refrigerator or freeze. Serve with fresh cantaloupe and vanilla frozen yogurt.