Night In: IronFest 2013 – Night 4

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Oh, man.  Tomorrow is May.  The fifth month of 2013 is upon us.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to May.  A lot of cool things are coming up in May: Bloomsday, Seattle Beer Week, Eugene Beer Week, a slew of college graduations, and, of course, the grand finale of IronFest 2013.

Last week, Amy and I celebrated the last IronFest get-together before the big finish (that being our trip to actually see Iron Man 3 in all its iron-tastic glory), and what a party it was.  Complete with fresh pizza, cold beer, and wonderful company, it was everything one would hope a small weeknight party would be.

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This time around, it was Amy’s turn to host IronFest.  All week, I’d been curious what she was planning for our party-time cuisine, and her request that I bring bean sprouts and scallions had me scratching my head.  Enthusiastic about the creation, she soon let slip that our main dish would be… Thai pizza made from scratch!  Whoo!  This newly acquired information served as my inspiration for what would become that evening’s accompanying beverage, the Tropic-ale Breeze.

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By the time I arrive at Amy’s, pizza prep was well underway: the bread was rising, vegetables had been shredded, and the makings of a top-notch homemade peanut sauce were being combined on the stove top.  Needless to say, I was highly impressed by the prospect of scratch-made peanut sauce; it had never occurred to me to attempt such a creation, and I was eager to try Amy’s rendition.  While Amy stirred the sauce, I began squeezing oranges to have with our cocktails.  Hard at work on our respective tasks, we chatted away about the week that was: happenings at work, weekend plans, and one intriguing question regarding whose voices we’d steal if given the opportunity (I imagined a transaction along the lines of Ursula stealing Ariel’s voice in The Little Mermaid, but with far less dire consequences).

Once the pizza was in the oven, we had just enough time to clean up and run over our plan for next week’s theatrical outing before the pizza was ready to eat.  After allowing it a moment to cool, we dove right in.  I don’t think either of us realized how hungry we were, for in a matter of minutes, most of the pizza was gone.  Stomachs full and drinks in hand, we fired up the night’s feature film, The Avengers.  As usual, having seen the movie before meant that we were free to chat away and add unnecessary commentary to the film.  Did you notice that no one is actually wearing an earpiece in this scene?  Why didn’t Loki run away when left alone on the mountaintop?  Cap’s uniform doesn’t seem all that tactically advantageous; it’s very flashy.  This went on for some time.

With IronFest 4 all wrapped up, that leaves only one IronFest meeting left!  Next, we’ll be off to see the new film, an adventure which will likely be preceded by festive cocktails, coordinating crimson outfits, and some fantastic people-watching.  I trust that this won’t be the only such adventure that the month of May has in store for me, but it looks like it will be off to a good start!

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Apricot-Ginger Granola

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Oh, granola, you are like the free-form jazz of the baking world.

There aren’t a lot of rules when it comes to granola.  To make it, all you really need are oats, some oil, a bit of sugar, and whatever fruit or nuts your heart desires.  It’s easy to make, full of fiber, and a healthful addition to your morning yogurt.

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I cannot wait until fresh apricots start showing up at the farmers markets.  I know I’ve got a while to wait for them, still, but I’d like to get in the spirit anyway.  Some dried apricots sound like a fine addition to any granola, if I do say so.

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Ginger?  Yes, please!  I used to hate having crystallized ginger in my granola.  I started leaving it out, but once it was gone, I really missed it.  I’m tempted to quote “Big Yellow Taxi” here, but I will resist.  Just a little bit of ginger is going in, too.

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What else, what else…  Coconut?  Why not?!  Packed with healthy fats, unsweetened coconut shavings add a bit of sweetness and texture to an otherwise grain-heavy combo.  We’ll use a bit of coconut oil, too, to help keep everything together.

That’s about it.  This granola is going to be grrrrreat!

Apricot-Ginger Granola

Adapted from The Best Life Diet by Bob Greene

Makes about 10 1/2 cup servings

Ingredients:

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/4 cup flax meal

1/4 cup wheat bran

1/4 cup wheat germ

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut

1/4 cup coconut oil

1/3 cup maple syrup

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. almond extract

2 Tbs. light brown sugar

1 egg white

3/4 cup dried apricots, chopped

2 Tbs. crystallized ginger, chopped

To Make the Granola:

Preheat the oven to 325F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, wheat bran, wheat germ, flax meal, coconut, and almonds.  Gently mix to combine.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the coconut oil.  Once the coconut oil has melted, add the maple syrup and both extracts.  Allow all of the ingredients to heat for two minutes, then add the brown sugar.  Mix in the brown sugar until it has dissolved into the oil mixture.

Once the brown sugar had dissolved, drizzle the oil mixture over the oats mixture.  Gently stir with a spatula, then add the egg white.  Thoroughly mix the mixture until all of the oats are coated in the oil mixture.

Transfer the oat and oil mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Evenly spread the mixture on the baking sheet.  Bake the granola for 25-30 minutes or until golden-brown.  Mix the granola every 5-10 minutes to ensure even browning.

Once the granola is golden-brown, remove from the oven and allow to cool on a baking sheet.  Once out of the oven, mix in the chopped apricots and crystallized ginger.  Allow the granola to cool completely before transferring to an airtight container.  Granola will keep for about a month.  Enjoy!

Tropic-ale Breeze

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“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

This statement almost exclusively serves as a disclaimer for an activity that almost certainly turned out to be a bad idea.  The present case is a happy exception.  This cocktail seemed like a good idea at the time, and, to my delighted dismay, it actually was good.  Really good.

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As an admitted beer geek, I had distinct feelings of trepidation and doubt when I first heard the premise of a beer cocktail.  Why would one want to mix beer with anything else?  I understand the allure of a celebratory Irish Car Bomb on St. Patty’s day, but beyond that, it seems like a waste of a good beer to mix it with liquor.  Well, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

The good people of Spokane recently enjoyed the thrill of having a Total Wine & More store added to their growing retail base.  It’s about the closest thing to a grown-up toy store (save the naughty type) that there is.  There are so many choices, and where to begin?!  As part of the “& More” of its name, the store features all manner of peculiar spirits and exotic beers, so the mixing and matching possibilities are endless.  During a recent visit, my curiosity was piqued when I came across  Northwest Brewing Company‘s Mango Weizen.  Color me intrigued!  I had to have it.  That said, I purchased it, and it’s been sitting in my refrigerator ever since.  I didn’t feel right drinking a tropically themed beer while it was still lingering in the 40s outside.  However, the temperature has now warmed, and Mango Weizen’s time to shine has finally come.

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It’s time to get in the spirit of pre-summer.  As I later had plans to watch a film in which a variety of players come together to create one super team on the day I dreamt up this concoction, it was only appropriate that the evening’s selected beverage do that same, albeit with a fruity twist. (If you guessed that I was describing The Avengers, you were all-the-way right.  Well done.)  Mango Weizen will serve as the fearless leader (Captain America), a bit of orange juice will add a bold bit of flash and pizzazz (Iron Man), and a shot of peach schnapps will add some extra power (Thor).  To top things off, let’s garnish it wish a slice of fresh lime (I didn’t forget about you, Hulk).  Done and done.

Tropic-ale Breeze

1.5 oz peach schnapps

8 oz. Mango Weizen

3 oz. orange juice (fresh-squeezed or from concentrate)

1 slice of fresh lime (optional)

To Make the Cocktail:

In a pint glass, combine the orange juice and peach schnapps.  With the glass slightly tilted, gently pour in the beer.  Add a few ice cubes until the glass is full.  Garnish with slice of fresh lime.  Enjoy!

Night In: IronFest 2013 – Night 3

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I feel very excited and a little bit sad that IronFest is now halfway over.  It’s like the feeling you have when you’re looking forward to Christmas: you’re eager for it to be here so that you can celebrate and enjoy it, but you know that its arrival also means that it’ll soon be over, so you’ll have to wait what will feel like an eternity until it comes again.  Only, in this case, the event in question is a superhero movie and there won’t be any presents.  There will probably be cake, though.

Night 3 of IronFest 2013 was, perhaps, the least Iron-tastic of them all, at least in terms of film.  As we had four weeks to fill and only three movies featuring Iron Man (neither of us had any desire to watch the entirety of The Incredible Hulk just to see a 30 second cameo), we had to pick another film from the Marvel line-up.  In retrospect, I guess we could have just chosen another Robert Downey, Jr. film and been just as happy (if not happier) with our choice, but, I suppose, everything’s clearer in hindsight.  Anyhow, we tuned in to Captain America: The First Avenger last Thursday evening, thus commencing the night’s festivities.

This time, it was my turn to play hostess, and I couldn’t have been more glad to do so.  I’d been tossing ideas about what to make around in my head all week, and I had finally come to a satisfying conclusion: crepes!  Not just any crepes, but Supreme BLT Crepes.  Oh, yeah, now we’re talkin’.  The prep work went surprisingly swiftly, so by the time my good friend, Amy, arrived with the last of the ingredients (some crumbled goat cheese and exactly four pieces of bacon), it took only a short while to throw everything together and enjoy our feast.

I have neither plans nor an occasion to wear lederhosen anytime soon, but I applaud RDJ for sporting some. Sir, please, keep bein’ awesome.

After the treat that was an arugula BLT atop a crepe, we were about ready to wind down.  Each armed with a Spokane Sour, we claimed our spots around the TV for movie time.  As we’d both seen Captain America before, neither of us was all that concerned about interrupting the film to discuss more pressing issues… like what we plan to wear to the finale of IronFest.  Red and gold, obviously.  Discussing this, we realized that this is far from the first time that we’ve sported coordinating outfits for an outing.  Far from the first, in fact.  Just a few examples: last October, we both sported knitted Jack o’ Lantern vests with pumpkin headbands.  To see the stage show Rock of Ages, we wore shiny gold bottoms with ’80s band t-shirts.  Last time we went to Manito Tap House, we both purposefully wore brightly colored maxi dresses.  You see the trend, here?  We like have a good time, and that usually involves some foresight as to what we’ll be wearing.

Dessert?  Did someone mention dessert?  I did.  I’d given considerable thought to what a good springtime dessert would be.  How about a strawberry rhubarb galette?  Yes, please!  Strawberries are starting to pop up at the grocers, and I’m lucky enough to have plenty of rhubarb growing in my back yard, so everything fell into place to make this most excellent vernal delight.  Served with homemade whipped cream, this sweet and tart lazy pie was an ideal way to end what had been a terrific evening of cooking and conversation, with a bit of movie-viewing to boot.

Supreme BLT Crepes

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I know that this is terrible, but here it goes: I really don’t much care for bacon.  There, I said it.  It’s out in the open.

I enjoy bacon in sporadic doses: the mandatory maple bacon bar from Voodoo Doughnuts during each visit to Portland, the occasional novelty pint of Rogue’s Maple Bacon Ale, and, every once in a while, a BLT sounds really good.  A BLT sounded good today.

What we have here is a BLT at heart, though its clever disguise includes goat cheese and a crepe.  Oui, une crêpe et la chèvre!  There’s also some arugula and an avocado in there.  And an egg.  And maybe a little bit of black pepper.  That’s it.

Let’s start out with the crepe(s).  If you’ve ever had one or if you’ve seen Talladega Nights, you know that a crepe is essentially a “really thin pancake”.  They are incredibly versatile, can be sweet or savory, and may be served at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and/or dessert.  Anytime is crepe time.

Next up: our crepe stuffing.  We’ll be ditching the conventional iceberg lettuce and trading up for some peppery arugula.  In keeping with tradition, though, we will be including tomatoes.  And who doesn’t love avocado?  Avocado’s goin’ in there, too.  As if these three amigos together weren’t good enough, they all get tossed with a little bit of white wine vinegarette.  So nice!

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Alright, toppings… Bacon.  Goat cheese.  Egg.  Do you know the secret to making a perfect fried egg.  I do.  (You can know the secret, too, if you want.)  Generously sprinkle the goat cheese and bacon, then top it with an egg with a pinch of black pepper.  Easy-peezy.

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I usually like to roll up crepes so as to trap all of the fillings inside, but this time around, I’m feeling crazy.  Let’s just leave that crepe laying wide open.  It’s like a beach towel, if the plate were like beach and the fillings were a sand-averse beach-goer.  Sounds great!  Let’s make it so!

Supreme BLT Crepes

Crepe batter adapted from Crepes: Sweet and Savory Recipes for the Home Cook

Serves 6

Crepe Batter Ingredients

2/3 cup whole wheat all-purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour

1/3 cup almond flour

1 cup milk

1/3 cup water, room temperature

2 eggs

2 Tbs. melted butter

1/4 tsp. salt

10 oz grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise

White Wine Vinegarette Ingredients

2 Tbs. olive oil

1 Tbs. white wine vinegar

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

Crepe Fillings

5 oz arugula

10 oz. grape tomatoes, halved

1 large avocado, diced

6 eggs

8 strips of bacon, fried and sliced into 1″ pieces

4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

To Make the Crepes:

In a blender, combine the eggs, milk, water, and salt.  Blend for 5-10 seconds, until well-combined.  Add the melted butter and 1/3 cup whole wheat flour.  Blend until smooth.  Repeat with remaining flours, adding each 1/3 cup at a time.  Pour the batter into an airtight container, and allow it to chill for at least an hour.  (If you use the batter right away, it won’t be as smooth.)

Heat a large flat-bottomed pan or crepe pan on medium-low heat.  Melt 1-2 teaspoons of butter in the pan.  Pour 1/2 – 3/4 cup of the crepe batter into the center of the pan, then swirl the pan around to spread the batter over the entire surface of the bottom of the pan.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, until it appears that the surface of the crepe is no longer liquidy.  Flip the crepe over, and allow it to cook for another 30 seconds or so.  Remove the crepe from the pan, then repeat the process with the remainder of the batter.  Serve immediately, or allow them to cool before wrapping them and storing them in the refrigerator for later.

If you’re making the crepes ahead of time, they can be reheated in the oven.  Wrap them in tinfoil (make sure the edges are closed so that your crepes don’t dry out), and allow them to sit in the oven at 200F for 15 minutes or so.

To Make the White Wine Vinegarette:

In a small bowl, add the olive oil, vinegar, salt, and black pepper.  Whisk together until well-combined.  Drizzle the vinegarette over the halved grape tomatoes and toss for even coating.  Cover, and allow the tomatoes to marinate in the refrigerator for an hour.

To Assemble the Crepes:

In a large mixing bowl, combine and toss the arugula, avocado, and marinated tomatoes.  On an open crepe, add about 1-1/2 cups of the arugula mixture.  Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of goat cheese and 2 tablespoons of bacon over the arugula mixture.  Top with a fried egg.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!