Vanilla Old Fashioned

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This Vanilla Old Fashioned is my new favorite cocktail. I’ve had three this week. And in these late summer days, I expect to sip a few more. The orange makes it feel summery, but that vanilla bean fast forwards me to fall, and I expect I’ll drink a few more as we move closer to my favorite month, November.

A typical Old Fashioned starts with muddling sugar or simple syrup into bitters before topping it off with whiskey and a piece of citrus zest. I often see a maraschino cherry thrown in there, too. But the one you see here feels fresh and completely luxurious with that vanilla bean floating in the bourbon.

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If you drink bourbon, you’ll love this one for intensifying everything you love about it. At the same time, I think it’s a good cocktail for those new to bourbon because it’s very smooth and shows off the spirit without hiding behind other flavors.
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Muddling a piece of the vanilla bean pod with a slice of orange zest and Angostura bitters sends off dozens of black specks into the drink. The orange’s essential oils release into the drink along with the vanilla and bitters, enhancing the toasty vanilla flavor that oak barrels infuse into bourbon.
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Vanilla beans are expensive, for sure. I bought these for $4 each and saw some others at double the price. One way to stretch them is to cut a piece off that vanilla bean garnish to make your second drink. Trust me. You can’t stop at one.

Since this is my drink of choice for the next few months, I’m glad I remembered this post from Alexandra. She mentions IndriVanilla, a company selling fair trade bourbon vanilla beans starting at 50 cents. Their premium beans are $1.50 each. I ordered just a little over a dozen and was told they shipped the same day. I can’t wait for them to arrive, and I’ll let you know how they turn out. Will you let me know what bourbon you stir into your Vanilla Old Fashioned?

Update: The vanilla beans shipped Tuesday night and were in my mailbox by Friday. Awesome!

vanilla old fashioned

The vanilla, bitters, and orange are here to enhance the bourbon. Cut off a piece from the vanilla bean used for garnish to make a second drink. You’ll definitely want a second.

1-inch piece of a vanilla bean, halved
1-inch piece of orange peel
1/4 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
2 ounces bourbon
ice
orange slice

Muddle the vanilla bean, orange peel, simple syrup, and bitters in a glass. Stir in bourbon and a few ice cubes. Garnish with the orange slice (with a slit through the radius to place on the glass) and the rest of the vanilla bean pod.

Serves 1. Adapted from Food & Wine

Brown Butter Tomatoes

Here’s a simple idea: brown some butter and spoon it over sliced tomatoes. Season with coarse salt and pepper. I wanted to try it as soon as I finished reading Amanda Hesser’s post on Food52.

Brown butter adds a nutty, toasty flavor that makes baked goods like brownies and pancakes irresistibly good. Try it in a batch of blueberry muffins. Try really hard not to eat four muffins within the hour.

With thick slices of fresh tomato, the nutty butter makes for a seemingly new combination. It’s interesting. Definitely worth trying. I liked it best on a slice of toast and topped off with cheese. Fresh herbs like rosemary, basil or thyme would really turn things up. Maybe try it in a BLT? I’m adding brown butter to my next dinner of pasta with cherry tomatoes and plenty of fresh vegetables.

To brown butter: Place the butter (about 6 or so tablespoons) in a small pan set over medium heat. It will melt and begin to foam up and make crackling sounds. After it quiets down, it won’t be long until it’s done. Stir it a bit and watch it turn a light brown color with little brown bits floating in the liquid. Pull it off the heat. Be careful not to burn it.

Spanish Chicken with Lemon, Olives and Onions

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A friend brought us a tin of smoked paprika all the way from Spain, and this sort-of Spanish, sort-of braised chicken seemed like a good recipe to start off with.

Underneath a crispy skin full of flavor from smoked paprika and pecorino cheese, the chicken is tender. Its sauce is rich with tomatoes cooked with wine, sherry, cinnamon, and more pimentón. Those thin slices of onion, fennel, and garlic stewed in the reddish sauce need white rice to mix with. Plenty of lemon juice and zest (and olives) perk everything up.

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By the second go with this chicken, we learned a few things and made some tweaks. Browning the chicken may not take the full five minutes, so check each side after three. We added sherry because lately we add it when we cook onions for more flavor. Use the juice and zest of the lemons instead of adding all the lemon in pieces to the pot to avoid a bitter sauce.

When adding the browned chicken back into the pot with the sauce, tuck them so that the sauce surrounds them but doesn’t cover them. Look at that crispy skin. We want it to stay crispy. It’s also important to thinly slice the onions and the fennel, which was more appealing cut into strips than in large slices. We halved the garlic cloves to better distribute their flavor.

Crush those whole tomatoes with your hands.

The only thing that keeps this recipe from being easy is cutting a whole chicken into its parts. This was a first for us. After some shouting and near-quitting and near-losing-of-fingers, we did it. Now we know. For a guide to properly cutting a whole chicken into pieces, this video from Gourmet is helpful.

And it’s a good thing we stuck with it. This chicken is worth it. Try it this weekend. The dinner table will be quieter than usual as you and your friends dig in.

spanish chicken with lemon, olives and onions

Smoked paprika, or pimentón as it’s known in Spain, adds flavor to both the crispy chicken skin and the sauce it’s cooked in. This tender, sort-of braised chicken needs to be served with warm white rice to soak up that rich sauce. Garnish with chopped cilantro for freshness in taste and color. Watch it all disappear.

1/2 cup flour, plus 1 tablespoon
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (pimentón), plus 2 teaspoons
1/4 cup olive oil
1 whole 4-pound chicken, cut into parts
salt
black pepper
3 medium lemons, zested and halved
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb, halved, thinly sliced and broken or cut into strips similar to sliced onion
12 whole garlic cloves, peeled and halved
3/4 cup pitted green olives, halved if big
1 pinch ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 cup whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
1 cup white wine
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
warm white rice

Heat oven to 425ºF. Combine 1/2 cup flour, pecorino cheese, and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika in a large bowl.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or large, heavy pot. Dry the chicken with paper towels as this will help the skin brown nicely. Season chicken generously with salt and pepper on all sides. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, and place a couple pieces of chicken in the pot. Cook until golden brown and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Cook the chicken in batches to avoid overcrowding the pot. Use tongs to flip the chicken pieces, and set the crispy chicken on a plate to wait.

Juice three lemons (over a strainer) into a large bowl with their zest. Add the onion, fennel, garlic, olives, 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika, cinnamon, and sherry. Add all the vegetables in the large bowl to the pot that was used for the chicken. Cook over medium-high heat and stir occasionally until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of flour to thicken the sauce, and stir for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and wine. Bring to a boil, and let it cook for 2 minutes.

Tuck the chicken back into the pot, skin side up. Arrange them so that the vegetables and sauce surround the chicken on the sides, but not the tops so the skin stays crispy. Place the uncovered pot into the oven and bake until the chicken is cooked through, 30 minutes.

Garnish with cilantro and serve warm with rice.

Serves 4 to 6. Adapted from Meghan Valerio via FOOD52.com

Five Things

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(1) Danny’s parents have a cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which I hope to visit sooner rather than later . Maybe next July. In the meantime, I have these treats. I’d never heard of a dewberry, but that sweet blackberryish jam won’t last long.

I was on my morning walk listening to a recent Splendid Table podcast when Jane and Michael Stern of roadfood.com mentioned a bakery called the Jampot, somewhere in the Upper Peninsula. Try the jams and great little cakes heavy with booze and flavor, they said, and although there really isn’t anywhere to sit inside, you can pull over on the side of a quiet road and dig into cake.

I wondered if it was anywhere near the cabin. I called Kathy and found out that the bakery was in driving distance of their cabin, and she’d actually just visited it for the first time and bought a few jams, jalapeño caramels, and a walnut ginger cake to send our way. The serendipity of this got my morning off to a good start, and made me even more excited for when I do make it up north.
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(2) Treats brought all the way from Spain. Thank you, Kat! The smoked paprika made its debut last night in a sort of Spanish braised chicken with lemon, olives, onions, and garlic. We were in the mood for a cooking project probably more appropriate for a Sunday, which meant dinner wasn’t served until 10, but it was worth it. I’ll share that one soon.
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(3) My mom sent a set of pots and pans a while ago, helping to round out the equipment in this kitchen. Last month she sent a set of birthday knives with a matching frying pan and flat griddle pan. She knew to buy me all things orange during high school when it was my Official Favorite Color, and I guess lately she’s just noticed I lean toward things in a shade of deep red. Anyway, that big sharp knife on the top is a new favorite.
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(4) I’m hoping for a cooler, dry afternoon soon. We’ll be out there on a blanket with a baguette, cheese, olives, prosciutto, and of course, wine. Spilling won’t be an issue with these picnic glass holders, thanks to this gift from my friend, Kay.

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(5) These flowers with their tiger stripes have been sitting pretty for two weeks. Two weeks!

Olive Oil Granola with Coconut and Cherries

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Last month’s batch of overcooked granola is forgotten. Here is a sweet olive oil granola with slivered almonds, cashews, and coconut chips, all toasted and coated in honey and cinnamon. Dried cherries, figs, and dates finish it off.

The burnt granola was definitely extra toasty, and I wouldn’t have served it to you, but I could tell it had potential. I just needed to get it right.
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A couple of you gave me some smart suggestions, so thank you Noelle and Erin. Megan Gordon, of Marge granola, guided me with some expert tips. Megan is right to tell you that baking granola should remind you of baking cookies because both should be pulled a couple of minutes before they look done. Both will keep cooking and crisp up after being pulled from the oven.

I brought the oven temperature down to 300°F and shortened the cooking time. Coconut joined the cooking granola a little more than halfway through the cooking time so it wouldn’t burn.

A few little changes, and it was a totally different story.

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You see that? Clusters. Honey and oil keep the oats together at the bottom of the granola when allowed to cool completely. Seriously. Just pull it from the oven and forget about it for a while to let it cool and crisp up. Clusters were so big — too big — that I had to break some of them down to fit into jars. Maybe using those thick-cut rolled oats from Bob’s Red Mill helped, too.

A good cluster is the reason to buy granola from the store, right? That was true for me before I knew this little trick.

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Now I’ve got granola for days, and a recipe I’ll hold on to even longer. I had mine with blueberries and vanilla soymilk today, and tomorrow I’ll serve it with yogurt. There are so many flavors here  — tart cherry, fruity olive oil, warm cinnamon, and toasted coconut are especially noticeable — and they all come together amicably in a granola I can’t get enough of.

I can’t wait for breakfast.
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olive oil granola with coconut and cherries

Salt heightens everything in this just-sweet-enough granola. Olive oil and honey give it some fruitiness, and cinnamon is in here, of course, because I love it in anything baked. Let it cool completely before serving, and you’ll enjoy some serious granola clusters. The dried fruit may soften the granola, so add it just as you’re serving up a bowl and keep the granola and fruit separately in airtight containers. Serve with fresh fruit and milk or yogurt.

4 cups thick-cut rolled oats
2 cups raw slivered almonds
1 cup raw cashews
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup honey
2 cups unsweetened coconut chips
2 cups of dried fruit (I used 1 cup cherries and a 1/2 cup each of dates and figs), chopped

Heat oven to 300°F.

Use your hands to toss together the oats, almonds, cashews, cinnamon, salt, oil, and honey in a large bowl. Spread out onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper, pressing oat mixture down into the pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden, stirring in the coconut after 15 minutes. Check on the granola every few minutes after adding the coconut, and it’s done when golden but looks a little underdone. It will continue to cook while cooling on the counter.

Let the granola cool completely on the baking sheet so that clusters can form. Add in the dried fruit and serve.

Makes 10 cups. Adapted from Symon’s Suppers