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Once a year the families on my block host a progressive dinner party, which is when you have at least 3 courses and each course is served at a different person’s house. It’s a lot of fun because we all travel as a group up and down the block and get to hang out with our neighbors for an evening. Each year we do this there’s a theme. We’ve done Italian, Mexican… we even did a Super Bowl theme last year. This year’s theme was barbecue and I was the appetizer.

I was at a loss. What kind of appetizer can you make that’s barbecued? I couldn’t think of anything. So, I did what I always do when I need food inspiration. I scoured the internet. Then, thanks to Home Made Interest, I found the perfect barbecue appetizer. It’s called a Barbecue Sausage and Cheese Plate. It’s kind of like a crudité plate but instead of veggies and dip, it’s covered in barbecued meats and cheeses. It’s delicious and perfect for the Super Bowl this weekend.

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Whether you’re hosting a party or attending one, this little platter is guaranteed to be a hit. Sure, you could still make chicken wings or a 7-layer dip, but those take some effort and planning. This platter is super easy, takes literally no time and can be as homemade or as store-bought as you like. It’s made up of all things perfect for a football party: cheese, pickles, pepperoncinis, grilled sausages and of course barbecue sauce. While I made the pickles and barbecue sauce from scratch, you don’t have to. You can buy everything and simply slice and grill. It’s seriously that easy.

What makes this platter stand out from other appetizers and game food is the barbecued sausages. You can take any pre-cooked smoked sausage or kielbasa and grill it up on your favorite grill. And because these sausages are already fully cooked, all you need to do is heat the sausage through while slathering on your favorite barbecue sauce. Just make sure it caramelizes and gets a nice, healthy char on it. Then slice it up, pile it high on a platter along with the cheese cubes and pickles, add a bowl of that tangy barbecue sauce and watch as the masses line up for a taste. Of course if you’re anything like me, that line’s gonna have to start behind you.

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Barbecue Sausage and Cheese Platter

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of smoked sausage or kielbasa
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce, divided
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, cubed
  • 8 ounces jack cheese, cubed
  • 1 jar dill pickle spears
  • 1 jar pepperoncinis

Directions:

  1. Preheat your grill to 350°F.
  2. Place the sausage on the grill and baste it with 1/4 cup of barbecue sauce. Let it cook for about 5 minutes, flip and baste the other side, continuing to cook until heated through, about 5 more minutes. The sausage is done when the skin is ready to split or actually splits. Remove from the grill and slice into 1/2-inch slices.
  3. Place the sausage slices on a platter with the pepperoncinis, cheese, pickles, and remaining barbecue sauce for dipping. Serve immediately.

New York Sour

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labeled Sour

It poured here last week. I mean, poured. We broke rain fall records all over Southern California. But it didn’t just rain; it was really, really cold. I know temperatures in the 40’s aren’t cold in some parts of the country, but here in Los Angeles, low to mid 40’s is friggin’ cold! So, when sweaters and jackets are all I’m wearing, the only thing I’m interested in drinking is whiskey, bourbon or brandy.  I’m not sure why I associate brown liquor with winter, but I do. That’s why today I’m making you a New York Sour.

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If you think I’m making up a cocktail or putting my own twist on the classic Whiskey Sour, I’m absolutely not. This classic dates all the way back to the late 1800s when a bartender in Chicago decided to add claret to the original whiskey sour. Claret is what they used to call red wine back in the day. But don’t think that this is simply a whiskey sour with red wine added. It’s actually a whiskey sour with a red wine float.

So, how did a cocktail that was created in Chicago, become a New York Sour? It wasn’t originally called a New York Sour. Originally it was called a Continental Sour or a Southern Whiskey Sour and sometimes it was even called a Claret Snap because of the red wine float. See, before the turn of the century (and even today) cocktails would go through at least one if not several name changes before a name stuck. That was the case with this drink. Although it’s unclear why the New York Sour is the name that finally stuck, one can assume that since the big apple has always been a hot spot for cocktail creativity, it was only natural it took the city’s moniker once it became popular.

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Like most sours, this one definitely has some tang, but the dry red wine adds some nice flavor while at the same time adding a beautiful pop of color. Although I followed the original recipe and used sugar, if you like your sours a little sweeter (and I do), I would recommend substituting simple syrup for the sugar as it mixes better than the fine granules do. But no matter which way you choose to shake up the cocktail, the New York Sour will definitely warm your cockles during these chilly winter months.

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New York Sour

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. rye whiskey
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (or 3/4 oz. simple syrup)
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. dry red wine (like a cabernet or merlot)

Directions:

  1. Pour all the ingredients except the wine into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled, at least 10 seconds.
  2. Strain into a rocks glass and add ice. Carefully pour the wine over a spoon into the glass so you have a nice float of wine and definite separation of color. Serve immediately then stir to combine the flavors.

BLT Bites

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One of my favorite sandwiches growing up was the BLT. Actually it was the BT because I couldn’t stand lettuce. I loved them and ate them every chance I could. I think one of the reasons I was such a fan was because of the bacon. I love bacon. But then again, who doesn’t?

That love of BLTs hasn’t changed over the years (though now lettuce is actually in the sandwich). So, you can understand how excited I was when I discovered that Rachel Hollis loved them too. She loves them so much, she decided to share. But instead of making the standard sandwich for one, she chose to make it for several. She turned that classic lunch dish into an appetizer that could serve an army, and what better army to serve than party guests at a Super Bowl party.

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That’s right the Super Bowl is less than two weeks away and if you’re anything like me, you’ve got big plans for game day. Big plans mean lots of guests and that of course means lots of food. There are plenty of things you could serve: chicken wings, pretzels, chips and dip, burgers, the list goes on and on. But instead of the same old Buffalo wing why not serve your guests one of their favorite sandwiches… in bite-sized form?

These baby BLTs from Hollis’s new cookbook Upscale Downhome are so easy to make, you could even whip up a batch for yourself before the party starts. Seriously, all you need is a loaf of bread, some cherry tomatoes, a few pieces of lettuce and a pound of bacon. It’s really that easy. And they’re so delicious, your guests will keep coming back for more. They may come back so often in fact, those little bites could disappear before the end of the first quarter. Now that’s a score no matter which team you’re rooting for.

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BLT Bites

Ingredients:

  • 1 loaf of white bread, unsliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons pesto
  • 8 lettuce leaves, chopped into chunks
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1 pound bacon, cooked until crispy

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Cut the bread into slices, about a 1/2 inch thick. Then cut each slice into squares. Place the squares on a baking sheet in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool.
  3. Whisk together the mayonnaise and pesto in a small bowl until combined.
  4. Spread some of the pesto mixture onto each square of toast. Stack the bacon, lettuce and tomato on top of each square and skewer with a long toothpick to hold in place. Serve at room temperature.

Braised Short Ribs and Celery

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One of my favorite winter meals is short ribs. They’re hearty, filling and rich and I absolutely love them.

I’ve made them a few different ways including the slow cooker and a pot on the stove. While one cooks for a few hours longer than the other, the cooking techniques are quite similar. Both require covering the short ribs in liquid, and then cooking them for hours. No matter which technique you use or what kind of sauce you cook the meat in, ideally you get the same result: tender meat that falls off the bone and melts in your mouth.

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This recipe comes from Fine Cooking and uses celery as part of its liquid. The benefit with using celery is that it’s pretty much available year round. I use celery all the time: as bases for stocks and stews, as well as adding it to salads and tuna for crunch. Sometimes I’ll even eat a stalk for a snack. But I’ve never used it as the main flavoring in a braise before. See, as the celery cooks, it flavors the beef and the sauce while at the same time absorbing some of the beefy flavor of the meat. The whole meal makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

Yes, it’s a braise so it needs to be cooked on the stove which means you really can’t leave your house for a few hours. But the end result is so delicious, and the smells that fill your house are so amazing, you won’t mind being stuck inside. Besides if there’s a storm brewing outside (it is winter after all), you really don’t want to leave your house anyway.

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Braised Short Ribs and Celery

Ingredients:

  • 5 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoons celery seeds
  • 1 head celery, ribs peeled and cut on the diagonal into 3-inch pieces
  • 8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Generously season the ribs with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add half of the ribs, and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate, and repeat with the remaining ribs, adding more oil if needed.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium, add the shallots and butter, and cook, stirring, until the shallots begin to brown, 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the lemon juice, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Stir in the broth, wine, mustard, and celery seeds.  Return the ribs to the pot, cover, transfer to the oven, and braise for 2 hours.
  4. Stir in the celery, mushrooms, thyme, and lemon zest. Re-cover and continue to braise in the oven for another 40-50 minutes, or until the beef is very tender.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ribs, celery and mushrooms to a serving platter.
  6. Transfer the pot to the stove. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk together a 1/4 cup of the braising liquid with the cornstarch. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the liquid in the pot until thickened to your liking for a sauce (you may not need it all). Return the ribs, celery, and mushrooms to the sauce. Serve immediately with rice or polenta.

Brandy Fix

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When I first got started in the cocktail game all I knew about brandy was that it usually hung around the necks of St. Bernards in barrels and that people drank it from snifters after dinner. Since then I’ve learned a lot about the liquor.

Did you know the reason it was supposedly strung around the necks of St. Bernards was because of the brandy’s warming properties? The alcohol content of a good brandy ranges between 35 and 80 percent and that much liquor won’t just warm your throat. You’ll feel that tingle all the way down to your toes. So, you can see why it’s considered the liquor of choice when it comes to sore throats and frost bite and why it’s the ideal liquor during these chilly winter months. I mean, why just warm ourselves on the outside with sweaters and roaring fires? Why not warm ourselves on the inside too?

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There are several ways to enjoy the liquor. You could have it in a snifter, add it to some hot water for a brandy version of a hot toddy or stir up a Fix which is really just a cold toddy. Created in the 19th century, the Fix disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared. Yes, this little cocktail was only popular for 30-odd years and then it was gone. Over its short life though, the Fix went from simple to complicated with the addition of flavored syrups and liqueurs. While I prefer the simple version, the more complex can be quite delicious. As with most drinks, it all depends on which syrup or liqueur is used.

No matter which rendition you choose, this drink can be imbibed before, with or even after dinner. But however or whenever you decide to enjoy it, the Brandy Fix is the perfect choice for a cold evening  in front of a roaring fire.

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Brandy Fix

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 oz. water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1-1/2 oz. brandy
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Stir the water and sugar together in a rocks glass until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Add the brandy and lemon juice and give a quick stir to combine the flavors.
  3. Add crushed ice and a twist of lemon for garnish and serve.