Sunday, December 25, 2011

Eggnog & Brandy Balls

Holiday Brandy-stravagansa

I don't know about you, but for me holidays can be stressful times. Traveling to be with your loved ones, being with your loved ones, having to talk to your loved ones — all of these things are leading stressors that, when combined with the general blahs of a season without the sun, can really depress people.

Nothing cures depression like a depressant! If we have to spend our time in unpleasant familial obligations, we might as well get smashed.

Eggnog? More like Yay-gnog!

Because what are the holdiays if not an excuse to drink?

Okay, I'm playing up the booze angle here a bit but let me be frank: I effing love eggnog. No lie. Every year the delicious reappearance of eggnog has always been the high point of the holiday season. I even love the non-alcoholic kind you can buy in stores. For years this was my favorite seasonal drink.

Homemade eggnog blows that processed stuff out of the water.

Putting the Egg in Eggnog

We used four eggs in our nog, beating 1/3 cup of sugar into the yolks and putting the whites aside. The base was two cups of whole milk and a cup of half-and-half (though you can use anything up to heavy cream) seasoned with a teaspoon of nutmeg. Some people don't bother cooking their eggnog, but it's a general good practice whenever you're doing anything with eggs — Rocky Balboa notwithstanding.

We brought the milk mixture to a quick boil and combined it with the yolk-sugar. The trick is to to pour the hot milk into the yolks (not the other way around!) slowly enough to avoid accidentally cooking the yolks — something that would be pretty unpleasant. After you've combined the milk and eggs you'll want to slowly raise the temperature back to 160 F.

We used half a cup of brandy, but you could easily substitute rum. Not adding booze is an affront to Saint Nick. Set the whole thing into the fridge to just chill for a bit — a few hours will do the trick.

While the milk/yolk/booze is chilling you're going to want to whip the egg whites with an electric beater until they form soft peaks. Gradually add another tablespoon of sugar and keep beating until stiff peaks have formed. Once the milk/yolk/booze is cold, whisk the meringue into the milk mixture.

Chill With the Eggnog Already

Don't make the same mistake we did. After the whisking your eggnog will still be separated. If you drink it now, you'll have this weird head on top of watery nog that is still okay, but not great. We let the rest of it sit overnight, and discovered that it settled into an amazing drink if you just leave it alone for awhile. It was fresh, creamy, thick, and best of all, delicious.

Wrap Your Lips Around These Brandy Balls

Fun Fact: You can raise your blood alcohol level without drinking. Many recipes call for various amounts of potent alcohol, and not all of them burn off the "get you drunk" bits when cooking. For good reason, many of these sorts of recipes are used and consumed during the holidays.

Chocolate brandy balls are really good, and really strong.

Kill the Wabbit

This is another recipe that you can substitute rum for the brandy — if you're a complete philistine. The chocolate part of our brandy balls comes from crushed chocolate wafers. You're free to use vanilla wafers instead — if you're a total racist. We couldn't find the exact sort we wanted at the store, so we actually used some chocolate graham-cracker rabbit things, and it worked out just fine.

Anyway, you need chocolate crumbs, so we basically threw two-and-a-half cups of the rabbits into a ziplock bag and I wailed on them with the bottom of the measuring cup until they were all smashed up good. I'm good at the smashing.

Gently Roll Them In Your Hands

We also nuked a cup of chocolate chips until they were melted as a base, and into that we mixed the rabbit crumbs, 3 tablespoons of maple syrup, 1/2 cup of sugar, a cup of chopped nuts, and 1/2 cup of brandy. After chilling this stuff for about an hour, we hand rolled teaspoon-sized portions of this mixture into balls, then rolled the balls through a bowl of sugar to coat them.

Chill With the Balls Already

Now, maybe you have more patience than I do. Maybe you're a goddamn perfectionist saint. Maybe you can resist the allure of these delicious and potent chocolate morsels — if you can, you're a better man than I. Ideally you want to put the balls in an airtight container and chill them for from a few days to a few weeks to let them age — apparently, they only get better and better. I can't say, because Kat and I ate them all the next day, and they were pretty damn good.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Indian Tomato Lentil Stew

Improvisational Meal Planning

While you can certainly make it a point to decide what you're going to be eating for every meal every week, most people are fairly casual in their meal planning. A mood grips them, or fails to grip them, and they decide that to make dinner on an impulse out of whatever they happen to have around the home. Certain foods lend themselves well to that sort of improvisational meal planning, and Indian Tomato Lentil Stew is one of them.

Indian Tomato Lentil Stew

Stews in general make great improvisational meals. You can vary the ingredients depending on what vegetables are on hand, and switch up the quantity based on what you feel like eating. As such, please see the following as more of a guideline than a rule - stews are very personal meals.

We started by sauteing an onion, a spicy pepper, and three minced cloves of garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil. We added this saute into three cups of water, along with a cup of chopped tomato and a cup of dried red lentils. The mixture was brought to a boil and then simmered until the lentils grew tender, which took us about an hour.

The Spice WILL Flow

After we were done simmering we added spices. Again, these can be adjusted to taste, but we used 3/4 teaspoon of turmeric, 3/4 teaspoon of ground cumin, and a half teaspoon of ground ginger. For color we added a cup of peas, and let the spices permeate and blend for another five minutes.

We served the stew over a bed of brown rice. The result was delicious and spicy, though if you wanted a bit more you are free to season with salt and fresh ground black pepper, though for the most part that's unnecessary.