We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cocktails To Go-Go and Linda's Strawberry Lemon Drop Cocktail

by Linda

"I don't know what to do!" cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laoco├Ân of himself with his stockings. "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!"~ Charles Dickens
   Truly...  more than once even, I have slaved for hours preparing food for groups of people who haven't had much to say afterward. I have to admit, it is a very disheartening experience. Through the years I have discovered that there is a sure fire way to get maximum recognition with the output of minimal effort. My secret? Pack up a bag of your favorite cocktail ingredients for your next outing with friends and play bartender. This tactic also works well with family members, especially sisters. They do a happy dance when I show up with the Bar Car.
   Wishing you all, both far and near, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Linda's Strawberry-Lemon Drop Cocktail

   My recipe is a revision of Ina Garten's basic Lemon Drop Cocktail. I prefer the lemon infused vodka with lemon juice because I think that the cocktail picks up an added depth of flavor. The strawberry vodka adds brightness to the mix and is a fun twist. It also lends the drink a festive pink hue. This cocktail is the big sister to our Hard Strawberry Lemonade. Be advised... the Drop packs a wallop. Use caution!

1 cup strawberry infused vodka (not sweetened)
1 cup Absolut citron vodka
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup superfine sugar or 1/2 cup agave syrup (agave syrup will cause a slight change of color)

1. Mix all of the ingredients together in a pitcher. Whisk well, the sugar will take a minute to dissolve.
For each cocktail, pour 3/4 cup of the mix into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and pour into a cocktail glass. Garnish as desired.

   Sugared rims are just too sweet for me, but they sure are pretty, and would be appropriate for this cocktail. Strawberries, lemon slices or twists are also perfect choices for garnishing, as well as small orchids.

Other Items Needed by a Traveling Bartender:
Small cutting board
Cocktail shaker
Sharp paring knife
Citrus juicer
Measuring cup/ shot glass
Salt or sugar

Linda's Raspberry Lemon Drop

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Southern Art and Banana Cream Pie

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

   Similar to my sister, Linda, I am especially fond of coincidence (aka synchronicity). You know... those times when the intersection of one's collective experience is connected in a surprising or unexpected way. My sister, Juliette, likes to call this type of occurrence a "coinky-dink". Such was the case this past October, when I connected Chef Art Smith with my dear friend Stephanie; two people that have not yet had the pleasure of meeting each other.
   I arrived in Atlanta on a rainy evening. The taxi ride to the InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead was slow due to numerous accidents on the freeway. The taxi driver grumbled that the rain was the first significant downpour of the transitioning seasons, and he said, with exasperation, that "nobody" knows how to drive in the rain. I think the same complaint is bemoaned by professional driver's (and everyone else, for that matter) around the world.

    Checking-in to the hotel was a breeze, the bell captain whisked my bags to the front desk, and the manager granted my wish for a quiet room with a view. The room was adorned in colors of black, red and gold, and the huge windows framed a view of downtown and the brightly lit water color of the streets below streaming with traffic. From the water streaks on my window, I knew I would not be venturing outside of the hotel. I would also be dining alone. My colleagues were not due to arrive until after my self-imposed bedtime.

Self-portrait with camera in the hotel room window.
   I rode the elevator to the lobby, and located the lounge. I ordered a Cosmopolitan and took in my surroundings. Across the main room I spied a gorgeous buffet of desserts: cakes, pies, cobblers, chocolate delicacies and candies. Beyond the sweets table stood a hostess stand near the draped entrance to the restaurant, Southern Art. Eureka! I had found the source for my evening's dinner. I also admired the multi-colored chandeliers.

The sweets table at Southern Art in the InterContinental Hotel Buckhead.
   Before long, I was comfortably seated in a wing chair at a table for two on the upper tier reached by climbing a few steps. The hostess amiably informed me that the restaurant was not officially open to the public. By serving hotel guests, the staff was preparing for the media blitz and the forthcoming Grand Opening later in the week. Seated at the table nearby were three gentlemen, one dressed in black chef's attire. They had several dessert plates on the table and they were talking intently.
   My waiter, a kindly gentleman, brought me fresh biscuits and pickled vegetables to savor while I contemplated the menu. I was pleasantly surprised that my waiter knew the menu intimately. Every entree that I inquired about he would describe to me in detail, and even knew the cooking techniques. When I complimented him on his knowledge, he said that he had tried everything on the menu. Not just him, but the entire staff. Good going, Chef! My pet peeve when dining out is when the staff is unacquainted with the menu. I loathe the response from a waiter, "I've never tried the ________, but it is a very popular item."

   I eventually settled on the center cut filet mignon served with a pureed chutney sauce, sauteed spinach and whipped sweet potatoes. As I savored my meal, the chef rose from his table, and stopped by to see me on his way to the kitchen. Chef introduced himself as Art and inquired after my meal. It was at that moment that I connected the double entendre of his name and the restaurant's. "My meal is delicious", I said, and I meant it. Chef Art asked if I was planning on having dessert. Truthfully, I wasn't, even though the abundant display I had encountered earlier was very tempting. Inherent in traveling and eating in restaurants, is the danger of packing on the pounds, but I asked politely what he would recommend. After a moment's reflection he endorsed the Banana Cream Pie, listed as Banana Pudding on the menu. We exchanged a couple more pleasantries and Chef Art departed for the kitchen. 

Southern Art's Banana Pudding.
   After my sumptuous dinner was cleared, I succumbed to the Banana Cream Pie. As I savored the dessert, I realized I had forgotten just how good Banana Cream Pie can be. Midway through the dessert, Chef Art stopped by once again to ask after the pie. "Out of this world", I replied. I complimented him on the gorgeous sweets table, and he said, I wish you would try my aunt's peanut brittle. I mock groaned, and said I couldn't possibly eat another dessert. I had to draw the line somewhere. Without a moment's hesitation he called to the nearby waiter to put together a to-go box box for me. I went upstairs to my room and peaked inside. There was a mound of shiny peanut brittle and two beguiling truffles moonlighting as lollipops. I discovered the next day just how tasty the treats are. Chef Art's generous gesture toward me illustrated exactly what I have always heard about legendary Southern hospitality.

   I ate at Southern Art many times over the next few days for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything that I tried was delicious and the food was beautifully presented. Chef Art was there morning, afternoon and night. I kid you not. The man is nothing if not filled with reservoirs of strength and stamina. The restaurant and the three menus are reflections of his Southern heritage. He even has the pickle recipe stitched into the carpet leading up a set of stairs. If I heard correctly, his aunt's peanut brittle recipe is stitched into the carpet on the second set of stairs. I admire Chef Art's hands-on approach and his obvious love for the business.
   On my third night in Atlanta, I ate at Southern Art once again for dinner with my friend and colleague, Adel. He was craving dessert, and I highly recommended the Banana Cream Pie. Sad to say for my Weight Watcher's program, I ordered my second piece of Banana Cream Pie. It was just as tasty as I remembered it two nights before (hee, hee). Counting calories can commence tomorrow.

The whole pie as displayed on the sweets table at Southern Art.
   Similar to the first night, our waitress knew the menu inside and out. She gushed over Chef Art... "Well, you know, he has competed on Iron Chef and was Oprah's personal chef." I knitted my eyebrows and pursed my lips. I dove deep in to my memory banks. I watch Food Network. I own hundreds of cookbooks. I devour food magazines (figuratively, of course!). Chef Art was not on my radar. I drew a complete blank.
   Soon after my return home, I was perusing the cooking section of Bookmans, a popular second-hand book and entertainment exchange store in Tucson. I was not looking for anything in particular and my eyes quickly roamed the titles, when my brain registered "Art Smith". Stop. Go back. I located the book and pulled it off the shelf. I experienced instinctive recognition on two fronts: 1) On the cover was the chef I met in Atlanta whose Southern hospitality was at the forefront of his operation, and 2) this is a cookbook that my friend Stephanie owns.

   When I recognized the cover, I knew without looking further that the cookbook contained the recipe for an excellent Spring Lasagna. Stephanie has prepared the creamy white lasagna on several occasions by popular request. With a wry smile on my face and blurting a small laugh, I could hear the word "coinky-dink" echoing through my head. I called Stephanie, and said, "I have a story for you." When I reached the part when Chef Art introduced himself to me, Stephanie erupted in laughter; instant recognition. I laughed, too. Chef Art - Oprah's former personal chef, Iron Chef contender, cookbook author, and multiple restaurant owner - was unknown to me, a self-subscribed foodie. Now that I've connected all the dots, while standing in the middle of a book store, I think how big the world is and yet so small. It makes me love life all the more.

Banana Cream Pie

Products We Love: Isi Whip-It!

by Michelle

   This is a magic whipped cream dispenser. The Isi Whip-It! spreads joy throughout the land. Think of this gadget as the Pied Piper of kitchen equipment, where it goes, the children and adults follow. Simply fill the canister with heavy cream and one shot of sugar syrup, such as Flavorganics Vanilla (my favorite). Screw on the lid, insert a N2O charger into the appropriate compartment, gently shake 4 or 5 times and instant-presto you've got whipped cream for the dispensing. An added bonus is that cream stays fresher in the Whip-It!... about 7 to 10 days under refrigeration. The Isi Whip-It! is a perfect holiday gift. Few can resist the charms of freshly made whipped cream. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Michelle's Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

by Michelle

   This is one of my favorite sides to serve during the holidays. I recall one year I made a rather large double batch for a sizeable Halloween party. I had assembled the casserole at home and had prearranged to bake the potatoes on-site. When I arrived, the oven had not been preheated. No big deal, I thought, as I placed the heavy casserole into the oven. My friend's husband turned on the oven, or so I thought, and I blithely went off in search of the Pineapple Martinis (a.k.a. Happy Juice).
   Just over an hour later, I returned to check on the progress of the potatoes. I was shocked to find the oven stone cold. Dressed as Cruella de Vil, my response to the discovery was eerily similar to the character I was protraying when Cruella discovers that the 101 Dalmations puppies have escaped. The expletives that flew from my mouth left no lingering questions as to my mental state.

   My friend's husband sheepishly admitted that the gas feed had inadvertently not been turned on at the same time the temperature had been set to bake on the oven. My ire clearly rankled, good friends that were crowded in the kitchen did their best to diffuse the situation. With their gentle coaxing, I went forward with baking the potatoes even though dinner was about to be served. The cheesy potatoes took a little longer to bake than I had anticipated, and the sausage dinner was a distant memory by the time the potatoes were ready to be served. With dismay, I placed the fragrant and bubbly potatoes on the table, thinking to myself, what a waste of great food. Much to my amazement, by the time the party was over, all the potatoes were gone, every last bite gobbled down. Just little specs of crusted remains provided evidence that a boat load of potatoes had once been there. All's well that ends well.
   For gatherings in December, these potatoes are a sheer delight served with a beautiful holiday ham and cranberry sauce or tomato gratin. Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes also are a welcome replacement for mashed potatoes, which was my choice in October when we served Steak Diane for my mother's birthday party. However you choose to serve this dish, it is destined to be a crowd pleaser that will be requested again and again.

Michelle's Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Linda's Favorite Cheesecake

by Linda

   I remember very well the day that the executive chef at the Los Olivos Grand Hotel presented me with a letter from Gourmet magazine. It seems that a customer had been to dinner at our restaurant, Remington's (now defunct), and loved the cheesecake so much that she wrote and requested the recipe.

My friend, Rebekah, begins the decorating with fresh raspberries.
   It is truly one of the best cheesecakes that I, and so I have been told on many occasions, many others have ever tasted. It is not too sweet, creamy and delicious. I love it with the fresh raspberries and homemade raspberry sauce. It is a perfect dessert to make for the holidays, not only because of the colors, but because it can be baked two days ahead of the event. At the time that Gourmet requested the recipe, I chose not to share it... silly me! I share it now as a holiday gift from the Salvation Sisters to you.

Linda's Favorite Cheesecake

For the crust:
3/4 cup coarsely ground walnuts
3/4 cup finely crushed graham crackers
3 Tbsps melted, unsalted butter

For the filling:
4 8-ounce packages cream cheese at room temperature
4 extra large eggs
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsps vanilla extract

For the topping:
2 cups sour cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Special equipment:
A 9 or 10-inch springform pan

Fresh fruit, such as raspberries or blueberries
A sauce, such as fresh raspberry
Whipped cream

1. To preheat the oven: Arrange two oven racks so one sits in the middle of the oven and the other at the highest position. Place a cookie sheet on the top rack (it will shield the cheesecake and prevent it from over browning). Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. To make the crust: combine walnuts, graham crumbs and butter. Press compactly onto bottom of springform pan. A measuring cup with a flat bottom is great for this purpose. Bake the crust for 10 minutes and allow to cool.
3. To make the filling: In a large bowl, using a mixer with paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add eggs, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Spoon the mixture over the baked crust.
4. Set the springform pan on a baking sheet to catch any butter that may seep during baking. Bake a 9-inch cake for 50 to 55 minutes and a 10-inch cake for 40 to 45 minutes. The cake will rise and crack in several areas; do not worry... it will settle again, cracks will minimize and the topping will smooth the surface.
5. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Retain oven temperature at 350°F.
6. To make the topping: combine sour cream, sugar and vanilla extract and blend with a spoon or whisk. Do not over stir! Spoon topping over the cheesecake, starting at the center and extending to within 1/2-inch of the edge (it will eventually run over the sides). Return the cheesecake to the oven and bake 5 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack, then refrigerate cheesecake for at least 24 hours or up to 3 days. Before putting in the refrigerator, press plastic wrap to the surface so that the top of the cheesecake will not dry out. When ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap and springform pan. Use a knife to lift the cheesecake from the base of the springform pan. Allow the cheesecake to come to room temperature before serving for best flavor, about one hour.
7. Delicious served with fresh fruit and a fruit sauce, especially raspberry. Decorate with whipped cream or as desired.

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