Cocktail Friday: Felix Felicis

I’m writing this post Wednesday night, when I should be finishing up some things around the house, not the least of which is packing.

Because I’m on vacation, you see. For the first time in over ten damn years.

Some time last year I got it into my head that I wanted to go on vacation to celebrate my 40th birthday, and with a stroke of good fortune (not to mention the fact that I’ve been working my ass off at two jobs for the past three years), I was able to book a long weekend with a couple of friends in Orlando, Florida. We won’t have time to do much, since it is just a three day trip, but with regards to Orlando, the only thing that’s on the agenda is the same thing that’s been on my mind for the past…oh, say four years or so?

hp

YES.

Because I’m a GIGANTIC DAMN NERD I’ve been dreaming about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida since it opened. After the expansion last year, I figured my 40th would be the perfect opportunity to indulge my inner child/nerd and finally experience the magic for myself.

We booked the trip before the summer even started and now that it’s here it seems like a dream. I’ll talk all about it when I get back, but for now we have a drink to make.

I wanted to make a cocktail inspired by Harry Potter, but I really didn’t want to do yet another version of butterbeer. Been there, done that, made the cupcakes. Besides, I wanted to go to the park and experience the original first before attempting my own bourbon-ized version. Oh yes, there will be bourbon.

While consulting Pinterest I found this Buzzfeed article highlighting a few different Harry Potter-inspired cocktails. And since the “Felix Felicis” scene in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is probably my favorite scene in all eight movies, I decided to make this simple version of Professor Slughorn’s “Liquid Luck”.

Comedy gold, that is. And a delicious cocktail to boot. The spicy ginger gets mellowed out just a touch by the sparkling wine and simple syrup, combining for a delightfully crisp flavor that bubbles over your tongue.

Felix Felicis (“Liquid Luck”)

  • 1/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup
  • 2 oz ginger beer
  • 4 oz champagne, Prosecco, or other sparkling wine

Combine the lemon juice, simple syrup and ginger beer in a champagne flute. Add champagne to fill and serve whenever you need a little…luck.

See you when I get back!

Italian Cream Cake

It’s my birrrrthday, my buh-buh-buh-birrrrthday!

I know I’m 40 now and everything, but I still can’t help but get a little giddy when September 15th rolls around. Probably has something to do with being an only child and my parents spoiling me (somewhat) rotten as a child, but who likes to speculate?

Yesterday I talked about my birthday game night celebration complete with mini Italian feast, and this cake was the sweetest ending. Normally I bake up a red velvet cake for my birthday because it’s hands down my favorite kind of cake, but I wanted to keep with the “theme” of the evening so I dug up this recipe that I got from an old coworker a few years back. It’s a creamy white cake that’s moist and dense, with the lightest whipped cream frosting.

Absolute heaven. 

Start with your dry ingredients: sift them together in a large bowl and set aside.

Note: for most other cakes you can skip the cake flour and just use all-purpose, but I’d definitely use cake flour here. 

Then onto the “cream” part of the Italian cream cake. Heavy whipping cream. A lot of it. Whip it in a mixer on high until it reaches a stiff peak. Add eggs one at a time and mix until just combined, taking care to not “deflate” the cream too much.

Switch out the the whisk attachment of your mixer for the beater attachment at this point. Add vanilla and almond extracts to the whipped cream mixture, then the dry ingredients, just a scoopful at a time, blending once or twice between each addition. Once all the flour is added to the whipped cream remove the bowl from the mixture and stir until just combined.

Your batter will be very dense.

Scoop batter into prepared cake pans and spread out evenly. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool in pans for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

At this point you can frost the cakes as they are or you can go all out like me and cut each layer in half, to create four layers. Why I do these things to myself I’ll never understand.

For the frosting, whip the softened mascarpone cheese (really softened, keep it out on the counter for a good hour and a half before you use it) in your mixer with some more heavy cream (Cholesterol! It’s what’s for dessert!) and powdered sugar until everything comes to a stiff peak. Frost the cake as you prefer. (Just an aside: I don’t have pictures of any of the frosting process because…well, let’s just say I had “issues” with it the night I made the cake and had to make a new batch right before my company showed up Friday evening. You don’t even want to know the words that were flying in my kitchen Thursday night, let me tell you.)

I actually made a batch and a half of frosting, to ensure there was enough between the four layers and for piping on the fancy rosettes.

You don’t have to do that, it just makes it pretty. Decorate the cake with slivered almonds, or some fresh fruit, or however you prefer.

Happy Birthday to me. 

Also I’m still totally making a red velvet cake tonight, because it’s a celebration, damn it.

Italian Cream Cake

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease and flour two eight inch round baking pans.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder, set aside. In a large bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Add eggs one at a time on low speed until just blended. Add extracts. Gradually add dry ingredients by spoonfuls to the cream mixture until just blended. Divide batter equally between the prepared pans. Gently spread tops to level.

Bake cakes 30-35 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10-15 minutes in pan and turn out onto a rack to finish cooling. If not frosting immediately, wrap in plastic and store in refrigerator.

Fluffy Mascarpone Cream Frosting

  • 4 oz mascarpone cheese at room temperature for at least 90 minutes
  • 2 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar

In a large bowl on high speed, beat mascarpone cheese, cream, and powdered sugar, scraping the bowl occasionally until stiff peaks form. Ice between layers, sides, and top of cake. Decorate as desired. Store in refrigerator, and remove approximately 30 minutes before serving.

Entertaining: Birthday Game Night, Italian Style

So someone around here is celebrating a birthday this week.

Spoiler alert: It’s me.

Tomorrow I turn 40 years old. How in the crap is that even possible? It feels like just yesterday I was in middle school, high school, graduating from college, buying my house. Even though I am 40, I don’t feel like I’ve aged much. Sure, I definitely look older than I did when I moved to the Lehigh Valley, but I feel as if I’m still figuring things out. I see friends my age and people I attended high school with on Facebook talking about their kids going to middle school or high school, and most days I don’t even feel responsible enough to have two cats. Adult Level: I honestly have no idea what I’m doing.

Looking back on my life, there are many things I’ve missed the boat on: a “normal” college experience, finding my life’s true calling, a rewarding and fulfilling career, marriage, kids…you get the picture. I don’t really feel like my life is missing anything, but to know that I’m sort of at my midway point and haven’t accomplished as much as many of my peers, I feel…I suppose inadequate is one way to put it? Only sometimes. Other times I’m damn proud of the things I’ve done and who I am.

But I’m not trying to live my life in comparison to others. I’m not that insane. And when the hell did this post get so deep?

Right. Anyway, birthday! We celebrated Friday night with food, beverages, and our usual game of Cards Against Humanity.

Because we’re terrible people. 

Since a couple of my friends were scheduled to run in a marathon this weekend I figured they would want to carb-load to prepare (or whatever it is those runner types do), and I was in the mood for Italian, so pasta was the perfect choice. I made this recipe for a penne with vodka sauce that I saw on Barefoot Contessa a couple weeks back. I have my own version of penne with vodka, but the way this sauce was made intrigued me – cook the onions and garlic, add one cup of vodka (dang, Ina) and cook down, add crushed tomatoes, then roast the sauce in the oven for 90 minutes before adding the cream and pasta. It was pretty damn tasty, but I honestly don’t know if the additional roasting time made that much difference in the end.

I wouldn’t not make it again, I just don’t know if I would go to all that trouble every time I want penne with vodka sauce.

In addition to the mountain of pasta I made (because of course I doubled that recipe, because my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother would disown me if I didn’t cook for double the amount of people I was hosting), I served a simple garlic bread (roast a whole head of garlic in the oven, blend with softened butter, add parmesan cheese/salt/pepper, spread on bread, bake until crispy)…

and a caprese salad with store made pesto instead of the normal fresh basil. Seriously, if you don’t have a ton of homegrown basil at your disposal, get the pesto from the Mediterranean bar at Wegmans. It’s totally banging.

A squeeze of bottled balsamic vinegar glaze makes it perfect.

To finish off the meal I baked an Italian cream cake and I’d go into detail but this beauty totally deserves a post of its own.

Perhaps tomorrow. Look at that, it’s my birthday, and you’re getting the gifts!

Cocktail Friday: French 77

When it comes to adult beverages, I’m a fairly simple (if basic) girl. I like whiskey or bourbon with Coke or ginger ale, vodka with anything sweet, non fussy margaritas, and those drinks that most bars call “martinis” but are anything but.

I know, I’m terrible.

The past couple of years, however, I’ve been introduced to (and really enjoy) St. Germain, a sweet and slightly floral elderflower liquor that has been popping up in bars and trendy speakeasies all over the place. I’ve found the simplest yet most enjoyable way to imbibe St. G is with a French 77. It’s light and fresh, and adds just a touch of fanciness to your Friday night.

French 77

  • 2 oz St. Germain elderflower liquor
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 4 oz champagne or prosecco
  • lemon twist

Fill a martini glass with ice to chill and set aside(optional). Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add St. Germain and lemon juice and shake. Remove ice from glass and pour St. G. and lemon mixture. Pour champagne into glass and add lemon twist.

Chin chin, darlings. Enjoy the weekend.

Cheese Steak Frittata with Chunky Tomato Sauce

I have a strange relationship with eggs. I enjoy them, but only in certain – okay, two – forms. Scrambled and omelet. No egg sandwiches. Not hard or soft boiled. Not poached. And certainly not fried. “Dippy” eggs? Really, Pennsylvania? ::full body heaves::

So, yeah. I’m weird with eggs. I have, however, recently discovered that I am a fan of the frittata. Which is basically just a big-assed omelet that’s started on top of the stove and finished off in the oven, so I guess I’m not as adventurous as I’d like to make it sound, but hey. It’s another kind of egg dish so I win.

I am also a fan of cheese steaks in any form, so much so that I previously made a cheese steak egg scramble on a (much, much) older version of this blog, so this is perhaps not such a new recipe as much as it is a “re-imagining” of an old one. But I deleted that post because the pictures didn’t show up anymore(which is just as well, because they were TERRIBLE). Besides, “frittata” is just way more fun to say.

Morning light is weird in my kitchen.

Start with the necessities: Eggs, thinly sliced steak (you can use Steak-umms or what have you, I found this thinly sliced sirloin in the freezer at the grocery store), bell pepper, onion, cheese. For the tomato sauce, just a can of diced tomatoes, some fresh onion and garlic, and a little fresh basil.

Preheat oven to 375. Slice the onion and bell peppers thinly. Saute them in a large nonstick pan over medium to medium-high heat with about two tablespoons of olive oil approximately eight to ten minutes, until they are golden brown and softened.

Add minced garlic and allow to cook until just fragrant, about 30-60 seconds, without letting the garlic get too brown/burned. Add the sliced steak to the pan and cook about another five to seven minutes until the meat is cooked all the way through (very important for frittatas or any egg dish, because you don’t want to overcook the eggs while waiting for the filling to cook). Season thoroughly with salt and pepper.

While filling is cooking, crack eggs into a large bowl, add half and half (or milk, or whatever you have on hand), and whisk, whisk, whisk until light and frothy.

Add butter to the pan with steak, onions, and peppers and allow to melt, spreading/swirling it around pan to ensure the frittata will release from the pan when you take it out of the oven. Spread the filling out around the pan and slowly add the egg mixture to the pan, swirling it around to make an even layer of egg and filling.

Top with cheese. For this I used an extra sharp provolone from the deli department (just cut up the sliced cheese a bit before adding it to the frittata), but any kind of cheese you prefer is fine.

Cook on the stove top for three to four minutes until the edges get just cooked then transfer to the oven for 8-10 minutes, until cooked through.

While the frittata is in the oven, prepare the tomato sauce. Dice the other half of the onion finely. Sautee over medium high heat in a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sized pan for a few minutes, until just translucent. Add a clove of minced garlic and stir again for about 30 seconds. Add a can of diced tomatoes, reduce to low heat and bring to a simmer. Add some fresh basil, if desired.

Turn the frittata out of the pan onto a cutting board.

I probably let my frittata bake in the oven a touch too long, but I like my eggs a little more well done than most. I’ve mentioned I’m weird about eggs, yes?

Cut into slices and serve with tomato sauce, if desired.

But plain is good, too.

I certainly have no room to judge.

Cheese Steak Frittata with Chunky Tomato Sauce

  • 8 eggs
  • 6 oz. thinly sliced steak
  • 4 oz. sliced or shredded cheese (if using sliced, cut into smaller strips)
  • 1 bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion – 1/2 thinly sliced, the other 1/2 diced fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced and separated
  • 1/2 cup milk or half and half
  • 1 14 oz can diced tomato
  • 3 TB olive oil, separated
  • 2 TB butter
  • 3 leaves fresh basil, julienned
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. In a large pan, sauté onion and bell peppers in 2 TB olive oil for approximately ten minutes over medium high heat, until softened and lightly browned. Add 1 clove minced garlic and sauté another 30 seconds until fragrant. Add sliced steak to the pan and cook thoroughly, an additional 5-7 minutes (depending on thickness of steak). Season with salt and pepper. Spread mixture around the pan in an even layer.

Whisk eggs and milk together until light and frothy. Add butter to pan with filling and allow to melt, swirling around the pan to coat it. Slowly pour egg mixture into pan and stir it around a bit, making sure the egg and filling is again in an even layer.

Add cheese to the top of the egg and filling and cook on the stove top for a couple of minutes, until the edges of the frittata are barely cooked. Transfer pan to the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes, until top of frittata is no longer “wobbly”. Remove from oven and allow to cool for five minutes. Loosen from pan and turn out onto a cutting board. Cut into wedges and serve.

For the tomato sauce, sauté the diced half of the oven in a medium sauce pan over medium high heat for five minutes until translucent. Add remaining clove of diced garlic and sauté an additional 30 seconds. Add canned diced tomatoes and lower heat. Bring sauce to a simmer. Stir in basil and serve over frittata, with additional basil for garnish.

Cocktail Friday: Raspberry Lime Colada

This one is perfect for these last steamy summer days we’ve been experiencing.

Tart, bright, and refreshing. I put a slight twist on the traditional pina colada and hoped for the best. I was quite pleased with my results, indeed.

It’s stupid easy to make, too. Start with ice, frozen raspberries, and lime juice. Add rum and cream of coconut and blend into submission. Pour and serve.

Raspberry Lime Pina Colada

  • 1 cup ice
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 1 TB lime juice
  • 3 oz white rum
  • 2 oz cream of coconut
  • lime zest and sugar for garnish, if desired

For the garnish: Zest the lime into a bowl, and 1 tsp of granulated sugar and mix together. Run a lime wedge around the rim of a glass, dip glass into zest and sugar mixture and set aside.

Add remaining ingredients to blender and blend until smooth. Pour into glass and serve.

If you have little paper umbrellas lying around, here’s where you’d use one. Enjoy!

Kufta Style Lamb Burgers with Garlic Tzaziki

This post has been a few months in the making. It was one of those things that had been in the back of my mind to do but took a while for me to actually get around to cooking.

Back in February I threw my annual Oscar Party and served these Middle Eastern Kufta style sliders:

Hat tip to The ElVee for the photo. 

One taste of these and I knew I wanted to recreate them in a regular sized burger. The different spices gave the meat such an interesting depth of flavor that was only highlighted by its accompaniments – fresh plum tomatoes, caramelized onions, cool creamy garlic tzaziki, spicy store-bought harissa, and a savory dakkous. I didn’t have that many toppings this time around, but as far as I’m concerned, (nearly) anything goes.

Start by measuring out all your spices and set aside. Grate one half of a medium sized onion (white or yellow) into one pound of ground lamb. Add a clove (or two!) of grated garlic, and 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley. Add spices and mix thoroughly to combine.

Form into 4 oz patties and allow to rest 20-30 minutes so the flavors combine and meat comes to room temperature. Press a small dent into the middle of the burgers when forming to prevent them from “puffing up” in the center while cooking.

While my burgers rested I made my tzaziki sauce. Greek yogurt, lemon zest, lemon juice, grated garlic, chopped dill, grated english cucumber, salt, pepper. Stir.

Set aside.

To serve with the burgers, I made Ina Garten’s Meditteranean Vegetable Salad, minus the chickpeas. It’s not a true fattoush, but many of the flavors are the same – cucumbers, tomatoes, lots of parsley, lemon juice and olive oil. So fresh and delicious. There’s a reason why Ina’s the queen, you know.

We also had dakkous, or a savory tomato sauce, for topping the burgers. It’s tasty and so easy to make. One can of diced tomatoes, one garlic clove minced, a bunch of cilantro, chopped fine. Bring to a low simmer in a pan with some olive oil, mash it up (I used my immersion blender), and serve.

So much better than ketchup. (Shout out to my friend Sara who made this in exchange for dinner.)

Onto grilling the burgers on my sad excuse for a grill.

Seriously, that thing’s getting replaced before next spring. That poor burner is hanging on for dear life.

Grill the burgers on medium high heat for about 4-5 minutes per side. Remove from heat and allow to rest for a few minutes.
I served the burgers in large, thin pita I found at a local market (Elias Market on Linden in Bethlehem. A little dumpy but some great finds.), but you can use any type you prefer — or just on a regular bun. I wrapped the pita in foil and placed them in a 250 degree oven for about 10 minutes before I was ready to serve. The pita were so big I was able to cut one in half for my burger.

Top burger with preferred toppings and serve. I went for it here – tzaziki, crumbled feta, tomatoes, the harissa, and dakkous.

It was messy but so worth it.

Lamb Kufta Burgers 

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 Grated onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon

Combine spices and set aside. Grate onion and garlic into a bowl with the ground lamb. Add chopped parsley and spices and mix thoroughly. Make four 4 oz patties, forming them with a slight dent in the middle of the patties. Allow to rest for at least 20 minutes. Grill over medium to medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes per side. Remove from grill, allow to rest, and serve.

Garlic Tzaziki

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup grated English cucumber
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt
  • pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste. Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes and serve.