Building a quality gingerbread dwelling is only a slightly less time-consuming and frustratingï¿½ project than taking on an life-size West Philly fixer-upper.ï¿½ Bob Vila, master of home improvement, takes the cursing out of the cheeriest season with his diagrammed instructions for building a gingerbread house.
The BobVila.com team provides free, downloadable .pdf plans for A-frame, colonial, saltbox and side gable houses, then shows you how to put it all together with handy illustrations, royal icing and a glass full of eggnog as a strut.ï¿½ Strap on your toolbelt and have at it.
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Face it, summer is gone. The college students are back reveling in each others' company after a long sexless summer and Sundays are owned by football games and their associated mass consumption.ï¿½ That makes it time for a totally trashy, yet super-seasonal treat: Jell-O shots.
You had them in college out of tiny Dixie cups and loved it, admit it. Since nowadays it's declassï¿½ to show up at any intimate gathering of friends empty-handed, mix up a batch of these wiggly, boozy gems to make a guaranteed unforgettable impression.ï¿½ Someone else will pick up the cheese and pinto grigio, trust me.
I wanted to forgo the traditional sleeve of non-recyclable plastic cups that typically contain the Jell-O shots, so I made mine in mini muffin tins.ï¿½ You can also easily use ordinary ice-cube trays; unmold the Jell-O shots right before you intend to consume them by dipping the underside of the trays in warm water for just five seconds.ï¿½ The warm water will melt the outer layer of Jell-O and the shots will slip right out.
With more than 20 Jell-O flavors available, the pairing possibilities are endless. I had a few inches of Old Overholt rye sloshing around in the bottom of the bottle, so that got matched with peach gelatin.ï¿½ A cup out of a bottle of Stoli Oranj met with cranberry Jell-O.ï¿½ Others I'd like to try: Malibu coconut rum with pineapple Jell-O, bourbon with apricot, tequila with Eagles green lime gelatin or vanilla vodka with lemon.
After the jump, a so-easy-a-college-sophomore-can-do-it method for Jell-O shots, made sans wasteful plastic cups.ï¿½ Click here for a 50-cents-off coupon.
Basic Jell-O Shot Method
adapted from the back of the Jell-O box
recipe yields approximately 48 shots
Go Get This:
2 boxes your favorite Jell-O flavors
2 liquid cups of your favorite booze
Mini muffin tins, ice-cube trays or shot glasses
Now Do This:
Since variety is the spice of life, use two different flavors of Jell-O.ï¿½ This recipe is for making one packet at a time.ï¿½ Repeat all steps with second packet and clean tools so as not to contaminate your flavors.
Assemble all your tools before beginning:ï¿½ a liquid measuring cup, your bottles of booze, packets of Jell-O, mini muffin tins or ice cube trays, a fork or whisk and bowl.ï¿½ Clear a space in your refrigerator for the filled trays.
Fill a small pot with water and place on the stove to boil.
Dump the packet of Jell-O powder into a bowl.
When the water is boiling, measure out one cup of boiling water.ï¿½ Pour this into the bowl with the Jell-O powder and stir with a fork or whisk at least one minute, until Jell-O is totally dissolved and mixture has thickened somewhat.
Measure out one cup of booze and pour that into Jell-O mixture. Stir with fork until mixture is blended thoroughly.
Transfer Jell-O mixture to a container with a spout (I used my large glass measuring cup).ï¿½ Pour the mixture into the mini muffin tin or ice cube trays.ï¿½ Do not overfill.
Refrigerate at least four hours until firm.
Unmold Jell-O shots just before serving by dipping the underside of the trays in warm water for just five seconds.ï¿½ Jell-O shots will slip out easily.
|Summer in a jar|
I have posted my dear, genius friend Janina Larenas' recipes and techniques on Meal Ticket before.ï¿½ Her slow-cooked seitan and veggie stew and resourceful method for vegetable stock are the products of her lifelong vegetarian status and insatiable culinary curiosity.ï¿½ Sadly for us in Philly, Janina has returned to her native Santa Cruz, California -- but she is still sharing her experiments with us through her blog, Bramblings.
The week's feature is an exhaustively detailed foray into canning tomatoes.ï¿½ Janina is in her third year of canning 40 lbs. of the rosy beauties to have on hand all winter long, and has finally worked out the bugs in the canning process.ï¿½ If you have ever been interested in canning, but were afraid of explosions, botulism or scalding water, check out Janina's photo essay and video, along with step-by-step instructions for canning summer's bounty.
You can do it.
|Ideas in Food|
Dried pasta is cheap, filling and rather easy to cook. Fill a pot with salted water, wait until the whole thing is at a rolling boil, and dump the penne in. Twelve minutes later, dinner.
H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa of Ideas In Food took a look at this process and asked how it could be made more efficient. The answer?ï¿½ Hydrating pasta in a Ziploc bag filled with water, the same way cooks hydrate beans before cooking. When their tests were successful ï¿½ pasta hydrated for 12 hours cooked up in one minute, just tossed into a pan of simmering sauce ï¿½ the pair shared their method with fellow chef/friend Shola Olunloyo, who experimented with hydrating pasta in mozzarella water (the water drained from making mozzarella at home) to infuse flavor.
Speaking of flavor, now they are roasting and smoking pasta to add even more nuances.
We caught up with these thinkers for the implications behind debunking of one cooking's greatest wives' tales, to cook greener, faster and smarter.
Does pre-hydrating pasta have a time- and energy-saving application in the commercial restaurant kitchen?
H. Alexander Talbot: Aki and I had been bouncing the idea of cooking pasta more efficiently, we have a young daughter so we try to cook things faster ... we were wondering what we could do with pasta. We did different tests, and Shola being a good friend of ours, we called him up on it.
We do private workshops with chefs, and we shoot them our ideas/informations. Shola had mozzarella water on hand from making cheese, so he had it on hand and gave it a shot with hydration. He was thrilled with the results.
Shola Olunloyo: YES Yes and yes. Certainly "fresh" pastas cook very rapidly but dry pastas can be dramatically reduced in cooking times by this process, and there is no reason why it would take longer that 4 minutes tops to make any dry pasta dish. It speeds up service in a restaurant and certainly saves energy in terms of boiling water forever, using gas or electricity. It's completely greener than the old school method. Seems the Italian rule is an old wives tale. This has huge implications. I could not taste any difference between unhydrated or hydrated pasta except one took 3 minutes and the other took 12.
Can home cooks make flavored hydrating liquids like mozzarella water without special equipment?
Shola Olunloyo: You don't need any special equipment to make mozzarella water, it's essentially the identical process to making mozzarella cheese. Stainless steel bowls, double boiler, pots, skimmers and cheesecloth. That being said I doubt any home cook short of the most avid have the time or interest. There are, however, other, simpler flavoring agents, it just has to be strong flavors.
H. Alexander Talbot: Water and linguine in a ziploc bag. After that, surely we can do flavors, thinned tomato sauce on hand with rigatoni. Ideally you finish pasta in sauce and we are just reversing things. Hydrate pasta in flavored liquid, then finish it in the sauce itself without putting a pot of water on to boil.ï¿½ We're building in efficiency.
In restaurant with dried pasta, you blanch it ahead of time and cool it, then you reheat it again to finish cooking for service. This is a soak, pat it dry and it's ready.
On a hot summer day, you don't have to have stoves going all the time. Linguine soaked for hour and half, rigatoni soaks for 2 hours, overnight ... a 2 hour soak took 3 minutes to cook. An overnight soaked pasta cooked in about a minute. Funnily enough, we did a rehearsal dinner and made a vegan lasagna and shrimp lasagna, and didn't blanch the lasagna noodles. Just added more sauce to our pan ... it cooks and hydrates at the same time. You don't have to blanch or buy no-boil lasagna noodles.
We ask why ... what is possible, just because we've done it the same way for so long doesn't mean you have to keep doing it that way.
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Everyone's been mourning this year's sad-sack tomato pickings. June's drippy days fostered a bad crop of late blight, a fungus that attacks heirlooms and beefsteaks alike with the sort of gusto a fat kid applies to birthday cake. If the love apples you're eating are disappointing, try substituting them with something new.
Pictured above, Caprese salad (mozzarella, basil, olive oil, salt) with sliced roasted red peppers in the tomato role. The same roasted reds add sweetness and freshness to BL, minus the T. Red onions, quickly pickled in vinegar, sugar and spices add crunch and ruddy tones to green salads.
If you took the leap of faith at a good farmer's market, or grew your own backyard tomatoes, there is no shortage of recipes that make use of your good luck. Mark Bittman's tomato jam is tempting, flecked with ginger and jalapeno; CHOW has a great thread on what to do with a bevy of cherry tomatoes.
|Urban edibles by Grace Wicks|
If you enjoy summer's diversity of fresh, locally grown produce, now is the time to consider putting in your own cole crops. These members of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family will supply your autumn and winter kitchen with cold-tolerant edibles like broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, beets, brussel sprouts, spinach, arugula and red lettuce.
Cole crops do well when seeded directly into the soil, and most are as happy in containers as in the ground.ï¿½ Greensgrow Farm is selling mixed six-packs of edible fall plants if you can't be bothered to start from seed; make sure these tender little babies get some shade during the last hot weeks of summer.
Novice gardeners can hire professional coaching from Grace Wicks of Graceful Gardens, who teaches green thumb technique in addition to providing full landscaping services for urban dwellers.ï¿½ Her specialty is organic, edible ornamentals -- rainbow chard (pictured) isï¿½ used to add height and drama to a window box, but also offers a healthy snack.
You know the lady gardener has taste; she grew up during the heyday of mom Judy Wick's landmark restaurant, The White Dog Cafï¿½.
Greengrow Farm's Summer Sustainability series of free workshops has taught us urban agriculture skills, from worm composting to how to get down with biodiesel.ï¿½ Tonight, Greensgrowers Patrick and Ryan share their methods for canning and pickling the season's abundant produce.ï¿½ Refrigerator pickles and fermented carrots are on the agenda; you can even buy the Ball jars for canning in the Farm Market.
RSVP to Erik if you plan to attend tonight's free workshop, firstname.lastname@example.org
Summer Sustainability Series, every Thursday night through August 27, 6:30 p.m., Greensgrow Farm, 2501 E. Cumberland St., 215- 427- 2702, greensgrow.org
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|Soak herb wood prior to smoking|
Keep your eyes peeled and your mind open in the Reading Terminal Market and you will come across all kinds of culinary inspiration.
Paul Tsakos, farmer and owner of Overbrook Herb Farm, gave us a few helpful hints on cooking with herb wood. "Soak it for about an hour in water -- you want to create smoke, not just burn it up," he said. "Then put it on the grill and put whatever you're cooking on top of it."
What would benefit from some herb smoke?ï¿½ Lamb comes immediately toï¿½ mind, or a pork roast. You could bust some of the wood up and stuff it in a beer can for Beer-Can Chicken on the grill, or fast-smoke some salmon.
Cause when you're smoking herbs, the possibilities are endless.
Overbrook Herb Farm herb wood, $2, Fair Food Farmstand, Reading Terminal Market, 12th & Arch, 215-627-2029, whitedogcafefoundation.com
If you thought oysters had nothing in common with lollipops, it's time to reconsider.ï¿½ Don Merry of Island Creek Oysters (Duxbury Bay, Mass.) supplies Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller and the White House with bivalves from his home's cold, clear waters, and the man knows from oysters.ï¿½ In a helpful YouTube instructional, Merry makes shucking look easier than falling into a cold-ass bay by using his patented "lollipop method".
Square the typical beet salad into a sunrise-colored terrine with Bistro 7 chef/owner Michael O'Halloran, who 'l bring Hong Kong street food to Northern Liberties when he opens Kong later this summer. Hit the jump for O'Halloran's detailed recipe for the beet terrine and his summer strawberry-black pepper vinaigrette.
Beet Terrine at Bistro 7
(Yield: 12 servings)
Go Get This:
8 large red beets
6 large yellow beets
2 quarts orange juice
20 sheets unflavored gelatin (available at specialty food stores)
12 tablespoons fresh goat cheese
Large handful micro-greens of your choice
Strawberry vinaigrette (recipe below)
Now Do This:
Roast the beets. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place unpeeled beets in shallow roasting pan and add one inch of water. Cover tightly with foil and roast for 1.5 hours. Beets are done when they are tender when pierced with a sharp knife.
Peel the beets. Work first with the yellow beets to avoid staining them with red beet juice. Using a dish towel, slip the skins off the beets and set each beet aside to cool.
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce the 2 quarts of orange juice by a quarter. Remove pan from heat and whisk the gelatin sheets in to the warm juice, one at a time, until completely dissolved.
Divide the orange gelatin mixture into 2 bowls--one to dip yellow beets, one to dip red beets.
Slice beets 1/8 inch thick on a mandolin (Michael got his in Chinatown for $13), starting with the yellow beets to avoid staining. Keep yellow and red beets on separate plates.
Line a square or loaf pan with saran wrap, allowing extra to hang over edges by a few inches.
Beginning with sliced red beets, dip each slice individually into orange juice and arrange in overlapping rows (shingling) in the prepared pan. Fill the pan to slightly below the halfway point with red beets. Beet slices must be dipped one a time for the terrine to set properly--no shortcuts work here.
Press down on the red beet layers with another same-sized pan to flatten them. Now dip each slice of yellow beet and shingle in the same fashion until the pan is full.
Bring edges of Saran wrap on top of beet terrine and press again with another pan to flatten and erase gaps.ï¿½ Wrap thoroughly in Saran wrap all around dish.
Refrigerate at least four hours. The setting process can be hurried in the freezer for 2 hours, but don't forget about it; once it has frozen through the dish is dead.
To unmold terrine: Unwrap Saran from terrine and dip a butter knife in hot water.ï¿½ Run knife around inner edges of dish to loosen beet terrine.ï¿½ Invert a large flat plate over pan and flip. Gently pull pan away from terrine. Remove remaining Saran wrap.
To serve: Slice terrine with a sharp knife as you would a loaf cake. Place on the center of a large plate.ï¿½ Around the terrine place a generous spoon of fresh goat cheese, a pile of micro-greens and a streak of strawberry vinaigrette.
Strawberry-Black Pepper Vinaigrette
Go Get This:
One pint local strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. sugar
Black pepper to taste
Now Do This:
Purï¿½e all ingredients together in a blender or food processor. Adjust sugar and pepper to taste. Keep refrigerated and use immediately.
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