"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Movie Cocktails - Wakandan Aviator

This post is by Matt, the Beer Baron. He loves to make cocktails based on superhero movies. Find him on Twitter and Instagram @geekcanuck

Black Panther cocktail

Special movies call for special cocktails. Just as we did for Wonder Woman with Themyscira Wonder Punch, now it is time for Black Panther with our newly created Wakandan Aviator -- although I made the process of putting it together more difficult due to my stubbornness.

How do you create a cocktail to celebrate Black Panther? For me, I immediately thought of creating a purple cocktail to acknowledge his regal status as King. The fact that the Black Panther premiere in Los Angeles was on a purple carpet and that the character’s suit glows purple in the movie sealed the deal.

A purple cocktail is easy, right? They are a dime a dozen if you Google them. Alas, that is where my stubbornness played its part. I didn’t want to use food colouring, digitally alter the photos or use Blue Curaçao (which I haven’t had since I was a teenager). That meant our starting point was a classic cocktail called an Aviation, which uses Creme de Violette to imbue a purple tint.  

Aviation cocktail

We made a standard Aviation (2 oz gin, ½ oz lemon juice, ¼ oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur, ¼ oz Creme De Violette) first, using a recipe I found here. It was nicely aromatic but fairly weak and hardly worthy of a King.

Aviation cocktail

Thankfully, we had help in the form of both an awesome book (Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail by Dave Arnold) and an awesome friend (who happens to certified cicerone and experienced mixologist). The variation above used ¼ oz more lemon juice balanced out by a ¼ oz more maraschino liqueur to bring the total to 2 oz gin, ¾ oz lemon juice, ½ oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur and ¼ oz Creme de Violette. We also swapped out the pretty neutral London dry gin we used in the first version for The Botanist, which is a more herbaceous and flowery gin.

pineapple aviation

Things were getting better. There was more body and complexity but we weren’t just there to make a good Aviation. To start creating our own variation worthy of the name Wakandan Aviator, we started with the Liquid Intelligence recipe, but this time added pineapple simple syrup and Ms. Better’s Pineapple Star Anise Bitters and used an egg white to soften the edges and give it a pleasingly smooth mouth feel. Alas, the end result was too sweet.

cassis aviation

I tried a version with crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) for added vibrancy but then tried to balance out the added sweetness with even more lemon juice and the whole thing was a train wreck. (Not a train wreck I didn’t happily drink, but a train wreck nonetheless.)

blueberry gin fizz

This is when panic (and possibly drunkenness) started to set in. My go-to booze is bourbon but I was thankfully overruled before we went down that particular rabbit hole. Instead, we ditched the entire concept of the Aviation and decided to try muddling blueberries to make a purple Gin Fizz. As you can see above, it was certainly pretty and verging on purple, but not something any of us would seek out, let alone serve to a King.

Wakandan Aviatior

In the end, the Gin Fizz did give us an element we all liked in the muddled blueberries. Now, we just needed to combine it with the other things we liked best from our previous attempts to come up with our Wakandan Aviator, which turned out alluringly aromatic, nicely balanced between sweet and sour, pleasingly smooth, and more-or-less purple:

2 ounces gin (in this case, The Botanist)
¾ ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
¼ ounce Creme De Violette
Handful of muddled blueberries
1 egg white

Shaken over ice
Poured into a martini glass and garnished with a frozen red star

Why garnished with a frozen red star (made with cranberry and pineapple juice), you ask? Well, that is because I am a super geek. At the end of Captain America: Civil War, Bucky (aka The Winter Soldier) is taken to Wakanda and placed into cryostasis until Wakandan scientists can figure out how to reverse his brainwashing. The frozen red star represents Bucky and how technologically advanced Wakanda is. Duh.

Winter Soldier

So, what did we learn through the process of making our Wakandan Aviator?

  • Use good gin
  • Egg whites in cocktails (as in bourbon sours) are wonderful
  • It’s always good to have friends that kick ass
  • Never set out to make a vibrant purple cocktail unless you are willing to be vaguely disappointed in the colour or just break down and cheat
  • Buy lots of lemons

spent lemons

Obviously, many lemons were hurt in the making of this cocktail.

Cheers and have fun at Black Panther. Wakanda Forever!
Black Panther cocktail

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Banana Pudding

Banana Pudding

A few years ago we took a trip to Nashville and tried Banana Pudding for the first time.  It's an iconic Southern dessert that's simple to make and very comforting!

Glazed ham with pineapple

Recently for Matt's birthday dinner his wish was to have an old school glazed ham with pineapple and cherries. I served it with scalloped potatoes and black-eyed peas, and banana pudding for dessert. 

scalloped potatoes

It was a great meal.  The banana pudding should be made in advance, so it's a great dessert for a dinner party.  The wafers soften in the custard and make a lovely-textured treat.  You can assemble it the day before for the best texture. 

banana pudding

I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen as inspiration, but I didn't make my own vanilla wafers, I used store-bought Nilla Wafers

Making the custard is the most challenging part, but it's pretty simple.

Definitely try this simple, fun dessert! 

Here's how to make it:

6  egg yolks
3⁄4 cup granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup cornstarch
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
3 1⁄2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon bourbon
4 ripe bananas
1⁄2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon

Equipment:  8 6-oz ramekins or jelly jars for serving

To make the custard, place the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium pot. Whisk them together, then whisk in the milk in a slow stream until combined.  Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer while stirring.  I like to use a rubber spatula for this.  Keep stirring as it simmers for about 5 minutes until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Once thick, remove from heat and whisk in butter, vanilla and bourbon. Place plastic wrap on the surface of the custard and chill for 4 hours or overnight.  

Nilla wafers

To assemble, place wafers in a layer in the bottom of each ramekin.  You can also make this in one big dish if you don't have individual serving dishes.  You may need to break some cookies to make a full layer, that's ok! 

On top of the wafers, dollop a layer of custard, then a layer of sliced bananas.  Repeat with a layer of wafers, custard and bananas until all the bananas and custard are used up.  Cover the dishes and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but even better overnight.  

banana pudding

When ready to serve, whip cream with sugar and bourbon until soft peaks form.  Dollop whipped cream on top of puddings and place a Nilla wafer on top.  

Creamy, rich and not too sweet. This is a perfect dessert! Enjoy. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Instant Pot Chicken Phở

Instant Pot Chicken Pho

This is one of the best recipes I've made in a long time! It is quick and easy enough for a weeknight, and makes fantastic leftovers. 

Instant Pot Chicken Pho

Usually when I make or order phở it is made with a rich, spicy beef broth, but Phở Gà or Chicken Pho is also very common. The gingery broth is an amazing complement to the chicken.

Instant Pot

Using the Instant Pot makes this dish so quick and easy.  I also love the way the pressure cooker makes such a lovely, clear broth.  The most time-consuming part was gathering the spices. 

ginger, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, coriander, cardamom

This recipe is adapted from Epicurious. It will serve 6 as a meal.  Leftovers are even better the next day and the broth freezes beautifully. 

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, halved
2-inch piece of ginger, sliced, skin on
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
5 cloves
1 cinnamon stick 
3 cardamom pods, smashed
7 bone-in chicken thighs (about 2-3 pounds)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
8 cups water
salt and pepper

red and/or green chilis, sliced
green onions, sliced
1 lime, sliced into wedges

lime, chilis, cilantro, scallions

Push the "Saute" button on the Instant Pot. When the pot is hot, add the oil.  Place the onions, cut side down in the pot and add the ginger.  Cook without stirring for 4-5 minutes until charred. 

Add the corriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon and cloves.  Stir for 1 minute. Add the chicken, fish sauce, sugar and water.  Place the lid on the Instant Pot and lock it. 

Press the "Manual" button and set the time for 17 minutes at high pressure.  It will take about 30 minutes in total for the soup to come to pressure and cook.  Once done, let the pressure naturally release for 10 minutes, then turn the vent to release remaining pressure.  While pressure is releasing, cook the rice noodles according to package directions. 

Once the pressure is released, remove the chicken to a large bowl. Strain the broth into a large bowl or measuring cup, discarding solids. Skim fat from the top of the broth. Season the broth with salt and pepper to taste. 

Carefully remove the chicken from the bones and discard the skin and bones.  Shred the chicken.  

Instant Pot Chicken Pho

Place noodles and chicken into individual bowls.  Top with hot broth.  Each person can add their own herbs, chilis, lime and green onions to their bowl to their own taste. 

This soup tastes amazing.  You will love it! 

Instant Pot Chicken Pho

Instant Pot Chicken Pho

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Instant Pot Black-Eyed Peas

Instant Pot Black-Eyed Peas

Black-eyed peas are traditionally served on New Years Day to bring luck in the coming year. 

Instant Pot

They are SO easy to make in the Instant Pot, or any electric or non-electric pressure cooker, you don't need a special occasion to make these beans!  

Black-Eyed Peas

Enjoy them on New Years Day along with some Collard Greens for good luck! 

Here's the recipe:

1 pound (454 g) dried black-eyed peas
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
6.5 cups water
2 tablespoons Better Than Bouillon vegetable or chicken base

Better Than Bouillon is amazing stuff, but if you don't have it, you can use chicken stock in place of the water, or use stock cubes mixed into the water.

Place all ingredients in the Instant Pot.  Set it to Manual at High Pressure for 25 minutes. 
Once cooking is complete, let the pressure release naturally.
Serve the black-eyed peas with some of the delicious cooking liquid, and use the rest of the liquid to make Collard Greens, or save it for soup!

Instant Pot Black-Eyed Peas

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Bourbon Vanilla Marshmallows

 Bourbon Vanilla Marshmallows

My husband loves homemade marshmallows.  He has a nut allergy, so he's usually pretty wary of holiday cookies, but our dear friend made marshmallows one year and he loved them so much!  I had to try making them too. 

Bourbon Vanilla Marshmallows

Marshmallows are not difficult to make, but they require some things you may not normally use in your holiday baking.  A candy thermometer is one.  A stand mixer also makes things much easier. You'll also need corn syrup and gelatin, which not everyone has on hand. But the ingredients are inexpensive and easy to find.  Once you have them you can make marshmallows in any flavour you desire. 

Vanilla Bean

I made bourbon vanilla marshmallows, but the bourbon flavour doesn't really come through.  I would try using more bourbon next time. 


It is so neat to watch the clear liquid transform into white ribbons as you mix the marshmallows. 

Bourbon Vanilla Marshmallows

Marshmallows keep really well at room temperature for up to 6 weeks.  They're great in hot chocolate or on a cookie tray (and gluten free too!), or you can give them as gifts. 

Homemade Marshmallows

Adapted from this Epicurious recipe

2 vanilla beans
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon
vegetable oil or cooking spray
3 packets (7 grams each) unflavoured gelatin
1.5 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt

Split the vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a sharp knife. Place 1/3 of the vanilla bean seeds in a small bowl with the bourbon.  Place the rest of the seeds in a medium bowl with the powdered sugar.  Mix well, crushing the vanilla seeds with the back of a spoon to incorporate.  Let sit one hour.

Brush or spray a 9-inch square baking pan with vegetable oil.  Sprinkle with vanilla sugar and tap out the excess that doesn't stick to the sides. 

Place 1/2 cup water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the gelatin and stir to combine.  

Combine 1/2 cup of water, granulated sugar and corn syrup in a small pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add the empty vanilla bean pods to the sugar syrup and place the thermometer in the pot, not touching the bottom.  Boil until the syrup reaches 240 degrees F (this took about 7 minutes for me).  Remove from heat and use tongs to remove the vanilla beans. 

Use the mixer's whisk attachment and whisk the gelatin mixture at low speed.  Carefully pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the mixer bowl with the mixer running. Increase the mixer speed to high and whisk for about 5 minutes until the mixture is very thick and looks like ribbons when you raise the whisk attachment. Add the bourbon and vanilla seed mixture and whisk until incorporated. 

Using a rubber spatula, pour the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan.  Let stand, uncovered, at room temperature, at least 4 hours or overnight, until marshmallow is dry.

When you're ready to cut the marshmallows, cover a cutting board with vanilla powdered sugar and invert the pan onto the cutting board. Use a spatula to pull the marshmallow away from the sides if you need to.  Dust the top with vanilla powdered sugar.

Cut the marshmallows into 36 squares (or 64 smaller squares). Place each individual marshmallow in a bowl of vanilla powdered sugar and shake to cover.  

Store in a covered container separated by parchment paper.  

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Instant Pot Pork Ribs

Instant Pot Pork Ribs

I love to cook ribs low and slow, then grill them with BBQ sauce to make them crisp and flavourful.  But slow roasting the ribs in the oven takes hours.  You can get the same tender results in the Instant Pot in minutes! 

Instant Pot Pork Ribs

I normally make at least two racks of ribs in the oven, since it takes so much time and effort, but with this method, I can justify making just one rack for a weeknight dinner.  I never thought I'd have homemade ribs on a weeknight!

Instant Pot Pork Ribs

I use a homemade spice rub when I make ribs, but you can season them any way you like.  Montreal Chicken seasoning is great for ribs.  

Instant Pot Pork Ribs

In the Instant Pot you need to use the rack to cook ribs.  You also need some liquid for pressure cooking.  I used chicken stock this time, but apple juice, cider or beer would be great!

Instant Pot Pork Ribs

For tender ribs, cook on Manual for 21 minutes.  It will take about 40 minutes when you include time to build up and release the pressure.  Still reasonable for a weeknight dinner!

You can spread the ribs with your favourite BBQ sauce and serve when they come out of the Instant Pot, but I like to crisp them up on the grill.  

Instant Pot Pork Ribs

Here's the recipe:

1 rack spare ribs
2 tablespoons spice rub (see recipe below, or make/buy your own)
1 cup chicken stock, apple juice, beer or cider
BBQ sauce

Rub ribs all over with spice rub
Place rack in Instant Pot
Add stock, juice or beer to pot
Place ribs on rack in pot
Seal Instant Pot lid
Set Instant Pot to 21 minutes on Manual setting
Once done, let pressure release naturally
Grill or broil ribs, brushing with BBQ sauce until crisp

BBQ Spice Rub
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all spices together and store in a sealed container. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Homemade Limoncello

Homemade Limoncello

I love making homemade liqueurs. It's not always cheaper than buying them in the liquor store, but it is lots of fun, and you can make them to your own taste, in the amounts you need. 

This homemade Limoncello is bracingly strong and tart, and not too sweet.   

lemon in cheesecloth

I used this method to make Limoncello by suspending a whole lemon wrapped in cheesecloth over vodka to vaporize the lemon oils without muddying the flavour. 

homemade limoncello

I used a high-proof vodka, but you can use any clean-flavoured vodka you enjoy.  I don't believe there's a lot of taste difference between top-shelf and lower-end vodkas, so use what you like. 

I'm not usually terribly picky about using organic produce, but for this I highly recommend finding organic lemons. Everything in the lemon skin will go into the liqueur, including any pesticides lingering there.  If you can't get organic, scrub them very well before using. 

Bundle the lemon into cheesecloth and tie it with a length of twine, leaving a long string to suspend the lemon over the vodka.

homemade limoncello

I used only a cup of vodka to make about 375mL of liqueur, but you can easily double the recipe using two lemons if you have a large enough jar to suspend them without touching the vodka.  

Pour the vodka into a wide-mouth jar, suspend the lemon above and wrap the string around the mouth of the jar until it holds on its own.  Then put a lid on the jar. 

homemade limoncello

Label it! Then put it in a cool cupboard for a month.  

When a month has passed, you'll see condensation on the jar.  That's the alcohol drawing out the flavour from the lemon peel.

homemade limoncello

Remove the lemon in cheesecloth and discard it.  Make a simple syrup by heating water and sugar.  Once the sugar is dissolved, add the zest of one new, fresh organic lemon and let it steep for 15 minutes.

homemade limoncello

Mix the syrup and lemon peel with the vodka and let it sit for another 30 minutes.

homemade limoncello

Strain the liqueur into a bottle and discard the lemon peels. I used an old gin bottle and my awesome husband made this cute label for the bottle.

Homemade Limoncello is great to give as a gift, and there's still enough time to make a batch before Christmas! 

It is great served over ice, mixed with prosecco, or in a cocktail. 

Here's the recipe.  Cheers!

2 organic lemons
1 cup (250mL) vodka
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

large wide-mouth jar with lid
peeler or paring knife to peel lemon

Place vodka in a large, wide-mouth jar.
Wrap 1 lemon in cheesecloth and tie string around the top to secure it. Wrap the string around the mouth of the bottle to suspend the lemon over the vodka.  Make sure the lemon doesn't touch the vodka. 
Put the lid on the jar and store it in a cool, dark place for 4 weeks.
Heat the water and sugar in a saucepan. Peel the second lemon, avoiding the white pith.  Once the sugar has dissolved in the water, add the lemon peel to the syrup and let cool for 15 minutes. 
Mix the lemon syrup with the vodka and let sit for 30 minutes.
Strain the Limoncello and keep, refrigerated in a pretty bottle or give as a gift.