Killer Shrimp – A Love Story

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dinner, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Pop Culture, Recipes, Savories

Original Killer Shrimp menu.

Shrimp and bread, shrimp and rice, shrimp and pasta. Along with sweet potato pecan pie, those were the only items on the menu at Killer Shrimp, a restaurant that opened over 20 years ago in Marina del Rey, CA. The shrimp was thrown, to order, into a spicy sauce that the restaurant says is simmered for 10 hours, and comes with fresh French bread to dip into the magical elixir. To say this dish is thrilling is no exaggeration.

I lived in the San Fernando Valley and would often make the hour-long drive to eat at this punk rock homage to shrimp. The restaurant in the Marina was on the 2nd floor of an ugly 1980’s mini mall, but inside it was dark and cool and they played rad music—the kind you played in your room on vinyl after riffing through the import section at Moby Disc. No one played music like this in restaurants back in those days. Then again, no restaurant had only three things on the menu either. Killer Shrimp was more like a club than a restaurant. We even waited in line to get in. It felt a little dangerous, but exciting. Kind of like the way it felt to go to Melrose Ave. in the early ’80s when it really WAS wild to see someone with pink hair and a nose ring.

The original Killer Shrimp in Marina del Rey, CA.

Then, as if my dreams became real, they opened a Killer Shrimp in the Valley. The Valley restaurant was also very dark, but much bigger, and all the servers could have been in fashion spreads for The Face. They all wore black and, according to my friend Christy who worked there, the girls were required to wear Viva Glam red lipstick from MAC (the very first Viva Glam). It was a microcosm of cool in the Valley that hadn’t existed before or since. What all self-consciously cool restaurants these days aspire to be, Killer Shrimp simply was.

Even though there were three items on the menu, the ONLY acceptable order was shrimp and bread. Seeing the oversized bowl before you—hot, scented with rosemary and cayenne, and swimming with colossal-sized shrimp—was, in a word, exquisite. The bread that accompanied the shrimp was fresh and chewy and perfectly soaked up the sauce without becoming soggy, but we have to talk about this sauce for a minute.

The flavor was so complex, with layers of richness and spiciness and herbiness…you would have to resist the bowl-licking urge with all of your might. There are many ingredients in the sauce, including butter (a lot of butter—just deal with it), Worcestershire, lemon juice, and beer, but even though the restaurant simmers their sauce for 10 hours, you can whip this recipe up in about 15 minutes with the same glorious results. I truly cannot overstate the majesty of this dish. It makes every annoyance in life tolerable. It makes me believe in a Higher Power. It proves, without a doubt, that food is more than fuel. It is the meaning of life in a bowl.

Killer Shrimp eventually closed all of its restaurants. There was a hole in my heart the size of a giant crustacean. I searched many times online for the recipe to no avail. Several years ago, they opened a new Killer Shrimp back in Marina Del Rey, but it is not the same. It’s more of a sports bar with a huge menu and no MAC red lipstick in sight. I can’t go there. Then, one day, my sister-in-law Stacey invited my husband and me over for dinner. She had found a recipe online claiming to be as good as Killer Shrimp and was going to make it for us. I was excited, but I didn’t have much hope that it would come close to the singular deliciousness of the original. Luckily, I was wrong. It tasted, well, KILLER.

And now, for those of you that have missed Killer Shrimp for all of these years, the recipe is now yours. And for those who have never tried it, I wish I could be with each and every one of you as you taste your first bite. Maybe when your mouth explodes with fireworks of pure umami and your brain recognizes the profoundness of the moment, you will think of me.

I may just have a tube of the original Viva Glam lipstick still in my makeup bag. I’m going to turn off all the lights, blast The Clash (on import vinyl) and and serve my husband some shrimp—dressed all in black, of course—and pretend that all is right with the world.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

KILLER SHRIMP

Adapted from a recipe found on the Internet many years ago
Serves 2 (can be doubled)

¼ lb. plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1½ tsp. finely chopped garlic
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper (can be doubled if you like it really spicy)
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. dried rosemary
1/8 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 lb. colossal shrimp in the shell (known as Original), or peeled and deveined
½ cup shrimp, chicken, or vegetable stock
¼ cup beer at room temperature
French baguette

Combine ¼ lb. butter, garlic, Worcestershire, lemon juice, and dried herbs in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook for about 4-5 minutes to soften garlic, but be very careful not to brown or burn garlic and butter. Add shrimp and cook about two minutes (it is important not to overcook the shrimp in this dish). Add the last 2 Tbsp. butter and stock. Shake pan back and forth for two minutes. DO NOT STIR, only shake skillet, which breaks down the butter and liquid and emulsifies the sauce. Add beer and cook for one minute more, until shrimp are just cooked through.

Pour into two large bowls and serve sliced baguette on the side.

Cue The Clash and shove your face in that bowl.

You’re welcome.

 

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And the Oscar for Best Snack Goes To…

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertainment, Food, Food & Drink, Movies, Pop Culture, Recipes, Snacks, Television

Oscar night is my favorite night of television. For as long as I can remember, Kirsten has come over and we settle in on the couch for a long night of eating, drinking, and yelling at the television.

I love seeing all the beautiful dresses on the red carpet while I’m in comfy clothes on the couch with my dog in my lap. I was lucky enough to go to the Oscars once and, while it was a spectacular evening (Faye Dunaway cut in front of me in the bathroom line), it was super stressful.

As much as I love watching the show, (The monologue! The winners! The montage!) I look forward to our snacking tradition just as much. Every year it is the same: champagne (natch) and popcorn. And not just ANY popcorn…Oscar-worthy popcorn! Yes, friends, this snack should be on every table at the Governor’s Ball. Heck, if they gave out this popcorn in a gold-plated bowl instead of the Oscar, I think there would be zero no-shows.

So, set your DVR for Live from the Red Carpet, chill your champagne, and make yourself a big bowl of this game-changing snack that will make your microwave* variety popcorn as boring as the Price Waterhouse portion of the Oscars ceremony.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

TABASCO PARMESAN POPCORN

½ cup unpopped popcorn kernels
2 Tbsp. canola oil
½ stick salted butter, melted
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp. (or to taste) Tabasco sauce
salt
pepper

Get out your big pasta pot and heat canola oil on high heat until shimmering. Swirl it around so it coats the bottom of the pan. Add popcorn and put the lid on the pan. Once you hear the popcorn start to pop (this will take a few minutes), turn heat down to medium high and shake the pan a few times. When there are several seconds between pops, remove from heat. There are usually some kernels that don’t pop. That is O.K.

While popcorn is popping, melt the butter and mix in the Tabasco.

Put the popcorn in a big bowl and toss with the butter/Tabasco mixture. Add the parmesan cheese and salt & pepper to taste, then toss again until mixed well.

Immediately start the second batch of popcorn, because the first bowl will be gone before Giuliana Rancic asks Greta Gerwig who designed her dress.

 

*Note from Kirsten: Kirsti has always insisted on making stovetop popcorn, which takes a little more time and effort than using the microwave, but which makes a HUGE difference. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried popcorn popped in hot oil on the stove. Don’t take shortcuts with pre-Oscars popcorn!

Second note from Kirsten: for those who don’t like spicy foods or want to put a different spin on this recipe, replace the Tabasco with 5-10 drops of liquid smoke.

 

Na Nanaimo, Na Nanaimo, Hey Hey Hey, Good Bar

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Pop Culture, Recipes, Sweets

For the past two weeks, I have vicariously skated, skied, and slid across the ice and snow in PyeongChang from the comfort of my couch. Over the years, my Olympic training has given me the ability to get through a 5-hour telecast in 1-2 hours (I could medal in speed watching), and I like to reward myself for this feat with a sweet treat. In the spirit of the games, I decided to go for the gold and seek inspiration among the top medalists, but while the Norwegians may have set the bar, the Canadians have perfected it.

There is much debate about exactly when the Nanaimo bar made its debut (likely sometime in the early 1950s), but in the years since, this no-bake dessert has achieved cult status in Canada. Named for the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia, there are many variations on the recipe, but all involve three basic things: a brownie-like crumb base, creamy custard filling, and chocolate icing. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

I first heard of these bars from my boss, who makes them each Christmas. When she was a showgirl in the ’70s, one of her fellow dancers shared the handwritten recipe, which she labeled “Nanimo Bars,” and which my dyslexic boss calls Namino bars(!). Despite the confusion, I was able to find various recipes and information about Nanaimo bars online, but since I’ve only tasted my boss’s version, hers has qualified for this post.

In her recipe, vanilla pudding powder is used in place of the traditional custard powder, which can be more difficult to find,* but they can be used interchangeably. If I’m to be the judge, the custard is what sets these bars apart, but the combination of chewy base, creamy filling, and rich topping makes them a 1-2-3 sweep.

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games will come to an end this weekend, but you can whip up these bars in record time, so take a break from sofa spectating and go all “oot” to celebrate the world’s greatest athletes—and sweets!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Illustration by Melissa Elliott

NANAIMO BARS

Base:
1 cup butter
½ cup sugar
10 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
4 cups graham crackers, crumbled
2 cups coconut, chopped fine
1 cup chopped nuts

Place butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and eggs in a bowl that is set in boiling water (i.e. double boiler). Stir until mixture resembles custard. Blend in graham crackers, coconut, and nuts. Press evenly into a greased 8×8” or 9×9” pan.

Filling:
½ cup butter
6 Tbsp. milk
4 Tbsp. custard powder or vanilla pudding powder
4 cups sifted powdered sugar

In a small bowl, combine milk and custard (or vanilla pudding) powder until powder is dissolved. In a larger bowl, cream butter, milk/custard mixture, and powdered sugar. Spread filling on top of base and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Icing:
8 baking squares of semi-sweet chocolate, OR
1¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. butter

In a medium sauce pan, melt chocolate and butter together over a low flame. Pour the warm mixture evenly over the filling and return bars to fridge. Once the icing has hardened, cut into squares. Makes 1-2 dozen, depending on size of squares.

 

*Custard powder can be found at World Market and many high-end markets and specialty foods stores.

Variation: replace semi-sweet chocolate chips with milk chocolate chips for the icing, as in the top right picture above.

 

Note: Kirsti went to see Bananarama in concert this week, and I couldn’t resist riffing on the chorus from one of their hits for the title of this post. 😊

 

Castile Yourself

Author: Kirsten K., Drinks, Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Recipes

Here in Southern California, fall pretty much passed us by this year, and it was starting to look like winter might also be a no-show. I’ve been wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt on my nightly walk for the past couple of months, and the closest I’ve come to snow was getting caught in the fabricated flurries at Disneyland. While those being bomb-ed with frigid temps and icy conditions in the east might be envious of this mild weather, I look forward to our brief cold season each year with excited anticipation and have been impatiently waiting for months to sit wrapped in a fleecy blanket while sipping (and reading) something steamy.

Well, steel yourself, because winter has finally arrived! This week brought cooler temperatures to SoCal and the first big rainstorm of the season. To celebrate, I made a beeline for a book, a blanket, and a batch of my favorite cold weather treat: Castillian* hot chocolate.

Several years ago, Kirsti and I went to Barcelona, where we enjoyed a traditional Spanish breakfast of chocolate caliente con churros as we sat at an outdoor cafe on La Rambla. ¡Delicioso! This ain’t your mama’s hot cocoa, unless your mamá can trace her ancestors back to the historic Castile region of central Spain. The secret is the addition of cornstarch, which thickens the mixture to an almost pudding-like consistency, giving it a decadent richness and a smooth, glossy sheen.

I have been making Castillian hot chocolate for years and it is foolproof. I don’t remember where I found the simple recipe, but it seems to have come from The Vegetarian Epicure (Book Two), so I must give credit where credit is due. Pop a handful of frozen churros in the oven when you get started and they’ll be ready for dunking by the time your hot chocolate has simmered to perfection.

It appears that this cold snap will be gone in a flash, so before Mother Nature takes the starch out of winter, put some starch in the water and you’ll be on your way to a cup of hot chocolate that is sure to steal—and warm—your heart.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

CASTILLIAN HOT CHOCOLATE

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. cornstarch
½ cup water
1 quart (4 cups) milk
1 tsp. cinnamon, vanilla, or espresso powder (optional)

Sift the cocoa and sugar together into a medium-sized saucepan. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water, and stir into the cocoa and sugar until it is a smooth paste. Begin heating the mixture, stirring it with a whisk, and gradually pour in the milk. Add cinnamon, vanilla, or espresso powder, if using. Continue stirring with the whisk as you bring the liquid to a simmer. Allow the chocolate to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until it is thick, glossy, and completely smooth. Pour steaming hot into coffee mugs. Serves six.

 

*The alternate spelling of Castilian is also common.

You can veganize this recipe by using non-dairy milk, such as soy, almond, or coconut (if using canned coconut milk, dilute first with double the amount of water—i.e. 1⅓ cups of canned coconut milk + 2⅔ cups water = 4 cups of milk).

 

A Rose-Flavored Holiday Story

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Sweets

I did a crazy thing this year. I entered the Los Angeles Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off. I never enter contests. I hate competition. I remember being in school and getting chosen last for sports teams. I hated sports. I still do. To this day, the only sport I can play with any kind of confidence is ping pong. But I always hated competition, because there has to be a loser. I know what it feels like to be chosen last, or not at all, and I don’t want anyone to feel that lonely feeling, so I have avoided competition my whole life.

A few weeks ago, I saw the ad for the Los Angeles Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off and thought, “I CAN DO THAT!” I have some recipes that are twists on classics! I have some skills! I can bring something unexpected, yet nostalgic, to the holiday table! So I entered. I entered with a cookie I have been making for many years: rose petal shortbread. I tweaked the decorations to add holiday-colored sugar and red rose petals so the cookies would have Christmas flair, and I entered with pride.

After hitting “submit,” I realized I would have to ask my friends to vote for me. The only thing worse than competition is asking everyone I know to do me a HUGE favor. I hemmed and hawed, I sweated, I wrung my hands, I whined to my husband Aaron, but I asked. And people responded. Not only did they vote for me—some every day—they shared my post on their own pages and sent me encouraging notes of support. I was blown away by the collective kindness.

Well, I did not win, but I’m totally OK with that. The fact is, the contest was more of a popularity vote than how good your cookie is. I still feel great about my recipe, which I think reflects the zeitgeist of what is happening in baking and is really delicious and easy to make. But most of all, I felt the holiday spirit in all of my friends who voted and reposted and encouraged me. I felt humbled by the friends of friends who voted and said they thought my recipe sounded amazing and they couldn’t wait to try it.

Of course, it would have been a fancy brag to have won (there wasn’t even a prize, just bragging rights), but I got what I needed out of the contest—I felt loved and supported by so many people, even people who don’t know me. I probably won’t be entering any more contests, but I’ll keep baking and I’ll keep sharing and I’ll keep appreciating my friends and family and my new friends of friends who believed in me enough to vote for a cookie they haven’t tasted, made by a gal some of them didn’t even know. You picked me first. And that means more to me than any bragging right.

Happy Holidays, Wonderful Friends!!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

HOLIDAY ROSE PETAL SHORTBREAD
Makes about 24 cookies

Cookies:
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
⅔ cup confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon rose extract*
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon crushed dried rose petals (optional)
2 cups all purpose flour

Icing:
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
sparkling holiday sugar and fresh (organic, non-pesticide) torn rose petals for garnish (chopping makes them dark around the edges)

Combine butter and confectioners’ sugar in a stand mixer fitted with paddle and mix until combined with no lumps, 2-3 minutes. Add the rose and vanilla extracts and the crushed rose petals (if using) and mix until incorporated. Add flour in two stages until just combined.

Transfer the dough to a gallon-size Ziploc bag, leaving a small hole at the top so air can escape, and roll out with a rolling pin until dough has fully and evenly filled the shape of the bag. Refrigerate on a flat surface at least two hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325°F and line two large baking sheets with parchment. Cut the sides of the Ziploc bag and peel back the top layer. Use a ruler and nick each side of the dough at 2-inch intervals with a pizza cutter or knife. Gently cut out your squares and transfer to parchment-lined cookie sheets. Use a fork to make traditional tine marks in the dough.

Put one cookie sheet in the refrigerator while the first batch bakes, 18-20 minutes. Watch carefully toward the end. You want the cookies very slightly browned at the edges only. Cool cookies completely on wire racks.

To make icing, combine confectioners’ sugar with milk and mix with a small whisk until smooth. To decorate, drizzle icing over cookies with a fork and, while icing is still wet, sprinkle with sparkling sugar and rose petals.

 

*Rose extract is available at many grocery stores and at Amazon.

Organic dried rose petals are available at Amazon or World Market (in the spice section).

 

Green Fairy Tale

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Drinks, Entertainment, Food & Drink, History, Movies, Recipes, Spirits

Twenty-five years ago today, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was released in theaters. Being a fangirl (emphasis on “fang”), I flew out to see it, but amidst the gore and gothic romance, one scene sank its teeth into me:

Count Dracula fills a glass with green liquid, then pours water from a carafe over a sugar cube, which rests on an intricate silver spoon suspended atop the glass. He tells Mina, “Absinthe is the aphrodisiac of the self. The green fairy who lives in the absinthe wants your soul, but you are safe with me.” Mina takes the sugar cube and sucks on it with a look of ecstasy on her face.

Needless to say, I swooned.

For the past decade, absinthe has been enjoying a revival, but back in 1992, I hadn’t heard of it. The public Internet was in its infancy, so I had to do some old-fashioned library research in order to learn more about this mysterious drink. I discovered that it was a popular libation in Gilded Age Paris that was purported to have psychedelic properties and had been credited with inspiring great works of impressionist art, literature, and music. It had also been illegal in the United States since 1915.

Absinthe is a potent alcoholic drink featuring a mixture of botanicals, including sweet anise, fennel, lemon balm, star anise, and peppermint. One primary ingredient is grande wormwood, an herb containing high levels of thujone, long thought to be responsible for absinthe’s mind-altering effects. Due to its transformational nature and the vivid green color of the liquid, drinking absinthe became known as “romancing the green fairy.” It was believed to be highly addictive and, in the lead-up to Prohibition, took the blame for many of the social problems of the day.

The forbidden always seems more exotic, so I plotted to get my hands on a bottle, but years passed without success. I traveled to New Orleans in the spring of 2000 and visited the site of the Old Absinthe Bar where, ironically, there was not a drop of absinthe to be had due to the continued ban on its importation, but I was not the only one who’d caught absinthe fever. That same year, a product called Absente was released in America. Marketed as the first legal absinthe in the U.S. since the ban, it was made using a process similar to the original 19th-century versions, replacing the wormwood with southernwood and adding sugar.

I immediately purchased a bottle, along with their matching absinthe-style glasses and spoons. Still infatuated with the ritual that I’d seen at the cinema and read about in my research, I reverently set up my glass and spoon, placing the sugar cube just so, then carefully poured ice-cold water over the sugar and into the glass of Absente. I watched, captivated, as they combined to create la louche—the magical alchemy that transforms clear, emerald-hued absinthe into the opaline shade of green milk glass. This was finally happening! I brought the glass to my lips and took a sip.

In the build-up to this moment, I’d never entertained the thought that anticipation of a thing is often greater than the thing itself. I had also failed to consider that absinthe contains two types of anise—a flavor I don’t favor. Further, I’d never been a fan of hard liquor. Even watered down and sweetened up, this brew was robust, to say the least. I could only choke down about half of the liquid.

Disappointed, but unbowed, I wasn’t quite ready to abandon my quest for true absinthe. Despite discovering that I didn’t dig the drink, I still yearned to experience the heady effects that had inspired artists like Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec and authors such as Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway, so the search carried on and I continued to accrue absinthe accoutrements.

Helping to keep the dream alive, absinthe was featured in two movies released in 2001. The first was Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!, in which several characters savor the spirit and subsequently hallucinate a green fairy in the form of Kylie Minogue. A few months later, I found myself once again in the theater staring up at a stunning bottle of absinthe in From Hell, where Johnny Depp’s character is at once chasing the dragon and romancing the green fairy.

Eventually, Kirsti—who’d caught the absinthe bug from me—convinced a friend who was traveling to the Czech Republic to smuggle a bottle of genuine absinthe back to the U.S. for us. Bottle finally in hand, we set out our paraphernalia and prepared to imbibe. This was it.

Antique silver absinthe spoons are highly collectible, but these stainless steel versions are beautiful and affordable.

I didn’t feel the same thrill I’d experienced when preparing to drink Absente for the first time, but we performed the revered ritual and drank up. I finished my entire glass and even had another, but as the evening progressed, I never felt more than a slight buzz from the alcohol—no symphonies heard, stanzas conceived, or scenes envisioned, and not a single flash of fairy wings.

The romance was officially over.

My absinthe-related supplies and books were relegated to a dusty shelf, while the bottle of contraband liquor languished in a cabinet. This would have been the end of the story if not for our friend Mika, who, in addition to being a trained opera singer and pastry chef, is a talented mixologist with a knack for dreaming up delicious drinks. She likes to rinse a glass with absinthe before constructing a cocktail, or incorporate a small measure in the mixture itself, imparting an almost floral note that I find enchanting. Like many a skilled composer, she doesn’t always transcribe her technique, but BuzzFeed compiled a convenient list of absinthe cocktails for those who don’t take their liquor neat—or too seriously.

Hidden within this vintage-inspired artwork by Robert Rodriguez are the names of Tempus Fugit’s absinthes.

If you have the heart of a true absintheur, you’re in luck! Absinthe was officially legalized in the United States in 2007, leading to a flood of options for enthusiasts. Absente was reformulated to contain actual wormwood, and even Marilyn Manson got in on the game with his acclaimed version, Mansinthe. Many are of high quality, but beware of imitations. I tried one that looked more like mouthwash than absinthe and did not form a louche when water and sugar were added. We at The Swoon Society are partial to Vieux Pontarlier, a pre-ban absinthe from Tempus Fugit Spirits, purveyors of luscious liqueurs in beautiful bottles.

Despite some conflict along the way, this green fairy tale has a happy ending, so raise a glass in cheers to a journey of 25 years, but opt for emerald and skip the silver…unless there are vampires about.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Absinthe

 

Have you caught the bug? For detailed information about the history, ingredients, and ritual of absinthe, visit Absinthe Fever.

 

You Say Tomato, I Say Yum!

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Starters

It’s easy to get in an appetizer rut. I think I have done a hundred different variations on a cheese plate and, while always a crowd pleaser, it’s…well…boring. I have a few other appies on regular rotation (some have even appeared in this blog), but it’s not easy to find one that is delicious, pretty AND easy to prepare. When you’re having a dinner party, the last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time on the appetizer (I prefer to spend the bulk of my time on dessert!).

Our dear friends Cindy and Ric recently moved nearby and invited us over to see their new house and have some cocktails. Cindy is a Class A party thrower and has been both my inspiration and a mentor in the fine art of “entertaining”—a word I honestly hate and never use, but sounds fancier than “having people over.” She taught me that planning ahead is key, that a signature cocktail instantly makes the night more special, and that flowers—and lots of them—make all the difference.

As we sat out in their backyard sipping cocktails in the glorious Los Angeles twilight, I thought the evening couldn’t get better. And then Ric brought out the appetizer. We collectively gasped in delight! In a rustic paella pan, whole cloves of roasted garlic shimmered in a pool of warm olive oil, fragrant and golden. Sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and goat cheese snuggled together with the garlic, creating a colorful tableau. Served with a freshly toasted baguette, it was a sight to behold. All conversation stopped as we stuffed our faces, not caring that olive oil was dripping down our chins and we were licking our fingers with reckless abandon. We were like kids devouring their very first birthday cake. And when we were done, we could have done it again.

Cindy and Ric graciously shared the recipe with me, and I’ve made that appetizer for everyone who has come to dinner since. Every guest has had the same reaction we did that night at Cindy and Ric’s: full-on swoon. I even considered creating a spreadsheet that showed the people I had made it for so I wouldn’t repeat it, although I don’t think anyone would have minded. When one of my best girlfriends, Erika, was coming to visit with her daughter, Viva, making this appetizer was a no-brainer.

Erika is not your typical dinner guest. Having Erika for dinner is like having Ina Garten, or a nicer, prettier, and better-smelling Tony Bourdain, over. She is a well-known food and travel writer and cookbook author who publishes her own glorious magazine, GFF (Gluten Free Forever – I recommend you get a subscription* immediately, even if you are not gluten-free. It’s fabulous!). The first time I met Erika, she offered to cook all the food for my wedding (I did not let her). Shortly after that, I was invited to her birthday party in which she made a croquembouche (Google it – your jaw will drop). This is just how she rolls. She blew my mind and continues to do so to this day. She is also down-to-earth and so lovely that I never feel I have to impress her, but it is also fun to cook for people who love food, so I do spend time thinking about what to make.

I don’t even remember what else I made that night, but the garlic and tomato appetizer was a home run. Even Viva loved it. When Erika asked if she could put the recipe in the holiday edition of GFF, I was thrilled! Thrilled that I could make something that dazzled her, thrilled that Cindy and Ric’s wonderful recipe will live on in print, and thrilled that so many others will be able to enjoy it too. I may not like the word “entertaining,” but feeding my friends delicious food is pretty dang entertaining.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

OLIVE OIL-POACHED TOMATO AND GARLIC APPETIZER
Adapted from the Holiday 2017 issue (no. 13) of GFF Magazine

2 cups good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 bulbs of garlic, cloves separated and peeled or 1 package of pre-peeled garlic (from the refrigerated section of the grocery store)
½ pint cherry tomatoes
1 8-oz. jar julienned sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
3 Tbsp. capers, drained
11 oz. goat cheese
½ tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
1 small handful of basil, leaves sliced into thin strips
Fresh ground pepper
1 French baguette, sliced and lightly toasted (if you are gluten-free, Erika recommends the brand Against the Grain Gourmet)

Preheat oven to 400º F. In a pan over very low heat, add the oil and garlic and cook gently until garlic is very soft, but still light in color (overcooking garlic will ruin the flavor of the garlic and the oil), 30-40 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes longer, stirring occasionally so they don’t burn. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, bake the sliced baguette for 8-10 minutes until just toasted.

While the garlic oil/tomato mixture is still warm, pour it into a rimmed platter, add the sun-dried tomatoes, capers, red pepper (if using), and ground pepper to taste and give it a stir. Crumble the goat cheese on top, sprinkle the basil, and…ENTERTAIN!

 

*SPECIAL OFFER FOR SWOONERS: Use code Fall25 for 25% off the Holiday 2017 issue, or Fall17 for 35% off subscriptions, including shipping.

GFF Magazine is also available at Barnes & Noble, Whole Foods and many other places where magazines are sold.

 

Floral Dose

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Cold Drinks, Drinks, Entertaining, Food & Drink, Recipes, Spirits, Wellness

This post is guaranteed to raise your spirits, because we’ve found the cure for the common cocktail. Readers of this blog know that Kirsti and I swoon over floral flavorings, so we almost slipped into a coma when we discovered this bouquet of botanical drink mixers from Floral Elixir Company. With flavors ranging from Orchid and Orange Blossom to Lemon Verbena and Lavender, these sweet syrups will breathe new life into your libations.

Floral Elixir Company handcrafts its line of 13 drink mixers using only natural herbs and flowers. This includes its rainbow of vibrant colors, which is created from a blend of botanicals. The syrups can be mixed with sparkling water to make singular sodas, or used to sweeten lemonade and iced tea. Behind the bar, these elixirs transform mixed drinks into magical potions with palliative properties.

Years ago, Kirsti hosted a cocktail party with a self-serve bar where guests could mix floral and herbal liqueurs (like St. Germain, Crème de Violette, and Canton) with sparkling wine. It was a huge hit, but these botanical syrups from Floral Elixir Company offer even more variety and control for amateur and master mixologists alike. Get started with these recipes and grow your repertoire.

Floral elixirs are the Rx for refreshment, so we prescribe an oral dose several times per day, or as needed, to restore well-being.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Floral Elixir Company Botanical Drink Mixers

 

In their online shop, Floral Elixir Company offers a Mini Elixir Master Set , which includes sample sizes of all their flavors, as well as cocktail kits for Champagne Lovers, Tea Lovers, and everything in between.

 

Trial by Fire Tongs Punch

Author: Kirsten K., Drinks, Entertaining, Food & Drink, Holidays, Hot Drinks, Recipes, Spirits, Wine

Christmas has forced me to face my fears on more than one occasion. When my father was no longer able to hang lights on the outside of the house, I had to conquer my fear of heights to get on the roof and do it myself. Ditto for climbing to the top step of the ladder in order to place the angel atop our 13-foot tree.

feuerzangenbowle-1As the granddaughter of German immigrants, I enjoy many German Christmas traditions, so when I read about Feuerzangenbowle (FOY-er-TSAHNG-en-bowl-uh)—literally, “fire tongs punch”—I knew I had to try it…but I am scared of working with fire.

I have always had an anxious relationship with fire. One year at a family dinner, tissue paper from a gift bag fell into a candle flame on the table and caught fire. I panicked and dumped an entire pitcher of water on it, dousing my sister in the process, which led to yelling (and slapping). Fearful of starting a fire in my own fireplace and burning the house down, I prefer to enjoy one at Kirsti’s, where her husband Aaron is master of the hearth and assumer of the risk.

But I really wanted to try this punch.

The practice of setting fire to a rum-soaked sugar cone suspended by a set of specialized “tongs” over a bowl of mulled wine has a long history in Germany, but gained in popularity after the release of the 1944 film Die Feuerzangenbowle, which has become a cult classic. The sugar cone caramelizes as it burns, dripping into the punch bowl to sweeten a blend of red wine, citrus, cinnamon, and spices.

It’s a showstopper at parties with a large cone set aflame, but I wanted to start small, so I purchased mini sugar cones and tongs for experimentation. My first couple of attempts were failures, since the rum I’d acquired did not have a high enough proof to catch fire, but I was assured by subsequent research that Bacardi 151* would satisfy all my flaming needs.

feuerzangenbowle-2With tools and ingredients on hand, I set to brewing. I began with just a cup of wine, adapting the recipe (below) for one person. Once the tongs and sugar cone were in place, I poured the rum over the sugar. Then, with the longest match I could find in one hand and a fire extinguisher in the other, I lit the cone.

The flame started small, but quickly shot up higher than I’d expected, giving me a moment of panic, but it subsided as the sugar began dripping into the pot. In less than a minute, the punch was ready to drink—and it was delicious! Of course, you have to like mulled wine, which I do, but the addition of caramelized sugar makes this a sweet holiday treat.

Since my trial by fire tongs punch, I have made these seasonal spirits several more times, both on the stove and in a special mug with attached tongs. I no longer fear the flame and feel ready to tackle the larger version at a future holiday gathering. Until then, you can find me sitting by my (virtual) fire in front of the tree getting punch drunk on Christmas cheer. Fröhliche Weihnachten!

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

FEUERZANGENBOWLE (adapted from German Deli)

feuerzangenbowle-32 bottles of red wine (Burgundy or Merlot works best)
4 thin slices of orange
4 thin slices of lemon
juice of 2 fresh oranges
juice of 2 fresh lemons
½ tsp. fresh orange rind
½ tsp. fresh lemon rind
4 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp. cloves (optional)
1 large sugar cone
1 cup of rum (at least 151 proof)*

Equipment:
1 heat and flame-proof glass punch bowl, and
1 stainless steel bridge (tongs), or
Hot Pot Feuerzangenbowle Set
Long match or lighter

feuerzangenbowle-4Directions:
In a large pot, add both bottles of wine and all ingredients except the sugar cone and the rum. Simmer the wine, fruit, and spices over low heat for about 15 minutes. Don’t boil the wine—it should be hot, but not scalding. Carefully add the hot wine (including fruit slices and whole spices) to the punch bowl. For dramatic flare, place the punch bowl in a dimly-lit room. If you have a Hot Pot set, light the candle below the punch bowl to help keep the wine warm. Place the stainless steel bridge across the top of the punch bowl. Unwrap the sugar cone and place it on the bridge. Slowly pour the 151-proof rum onto the cone, rotating the cone until it is soaked with the rum. When guests have gathered around, light the sugar cone with the match or lighter.* The sugar cone will dissolve as the burning rum heats up the cone. The caramelized sugar will drip into the punch to sweeten it and the rum will enhance the flavor.

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*Use extreme caution with alcohol at this proof, as it is highly flammable. When you light the sugar cone, do so from a distance with a long match or lighter and make sure there is sufficient space for the cone to flame upwards (i.e. away from hanging light fixtures or decorations). Do not put your face near the cone or look down on it from above as you light it. Bacardi 151 comes with a stainless steel flame arrester over the opening to prevent the rum from igniting inside the bottle. It can be found in select liquor stores and is available for purchase online.

 

Our Gift to You – Swoon Saucers

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Sweets

swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-1Whenever I’m at a bakery and see the case of beautiful cookies, my knees go a little weak. All the different sprinkles and pretty shapes and the intoxicating singular smell of their collective sugary deliciousness make me swoon with delight! There is almost nothing more delightful than a pink bakery box filled with cookies.

swoon-stamp-christmas-tree-ornamentWith the holidays in full swing and Christmas and Hanukkah almost here, it can seem daunting to squeeze in baking time. Rolling out and decorating those cut-out cookies is a full weekend affair, and wouldn’t you just, for once, like to nap on the couch with the tree lights on and Nat or Andy or Burl or Frank crooning you into a happy holiday snooze?

Here is a recipe that is easy, super festive, and looks just like those fancy bakery cookies. Make the dough on Friday night, bake them Saturday morning, and enjoy the rest of your weekend.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM THE SWOON SOCIETY!

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

SWOON SAUCERS
(adapted from Piece Of Cake: Home Baking Made Simple by David Muniz, David Lesniak and Rachel Allen)

swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-2Makes about 50 cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. salt
1½ cups unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 large eggs
swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-34 tsp. vanilla extract*
Different sprinkles, nonpareils, colored sugars for decorating

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter on medium for about a minute. Turn mixer to low and add the oil in a slow stream and then add the two sugars, the eggs (one at a time) and the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the flour mixture in 4 additions, scraping down the sides after each addition. Dough will be very soft. Refrigerate in bowl covered with plastic wrap for at least an hour (and up to 3 days).

swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-4Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment.

Put sprinkles into small bowls. I like to use a variety of different holiday-themed decorations.

Using a tablespoon-sized cookie scoop or a spoon, make balls from the dough. Roll in your hands and then into the sprinkles. Place them on the baking sheets in rows of 3. Slightly flatten each ball with the palm of your hand.

swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-5Bake for about 14 minutes, just until the edges start to turn golden. Cool on baking sheet for a few minutes and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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*To really get that “bakery” flavor, you can substitute a teaspoon of Fiori di Sicilia for one of the teaspoons of vanilla. Available from King Arthur Flour.

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This recipe is great for any holiday – just switch out the sprinkles for Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, etc.!