Friday, June 19, 2009

A Tamarita From Modern Spice

When Monica Bhide asked this margarita lover to participate in her Virtual Bloggers Dinner to celebrate her new cookbook, Modern Spice, the first recipe that caught my eye was the Tamarind Margarita or Tamarita. A long-time fan of Mexican food, I frequently enjoy margaritas with this spicy fare. A year ago I also fell for an unusual twist on this classic when I tasted my first avocado margarita at a Texas restaurant, and later recreated one at home.

Then Monica introduced me to the tamarita - an Indian-inspired margarita with plenty of its own spice. Sour mix, tequila, and triple sec were already familiar ingredients, but I had never heard of tamarind date chutney and had no idea what a tamarind tasted like - or even what it was. So I hit the Internet, where I learned it is a fruit from a tropical tree. In chutney, it was accompanied by vinegar, sugar, and spices.

Monica assured me I could find a bottle of the chutney at any Indian grocery store, which I did, and the experiment began. About five minutes after I'd assembled my ingredients, I was hooked on a third version of margarita and made the tamarita again on the following night. Simultaneously sweet, spicy, and refreshing, it was a perfect drink to sip on a hot and steamy Kansas night and one that I plan to make many, many more times. *Here's the recipe:

Serves 1

Ice as needed

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) tequila (such as Cuervo Gold)

1 ounce (2 tablespoons) triple sec

1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) store-bought tamarind-date chutney (see note)

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) sour mix

Lemon wedge for garnish

Fill a large glass with ice. Add the tequila, triple sec, chutney, and sour mix. Stir well. Serve garnished with a lemon wedge.

Note: Please do not use tamarind extract, tamarind paste or fresh tamarind juice in this recipe; it will not give you the right taste. The tamarind-date chutney has just the right mix of surgar and spice to really play up the taste of the tamarind.

*VOE - The tamarita pictured is the basic recipe, doubled. I also used Cuervo Silver because I had some on hand.

Where Veterans Day Began: Emporia, Kansas

Emporia, Kansas' population hovers around 30,000 - a fairly large place when compared with many Kansas towns, though not exactly huge. But a very big idea came out of Emporia during the 1950s.

After World War I ended, November 11, 1919 was set aside as 'Armistice Day' - a time to remember the sacrifices of American soldiers who had fought in the great war, and give thanks for the peace that had been achieved. But peace was short-lived when World War II began, in 1927.

In 1953, residents of Emporia re-christened November 11 as 'Veterans Day' in gratitude to all veterans from the city. Soon afterwards, a Kansas congressman suggested that Armistice Day be renamed Veterans Day across the nation. By the next year President Eisenhower had signed a bill renaming the federal holiday Veterans Day. Finally, President Nixon declared the second Monday in November a federal holiday called Veterans Day, in 1971.

But Emporia residents didn't stop there. On May 26, 1991 this city was the first in the United States to dedicate an All Veterans Memorial that recognized the sacrifices of all soldiers who fought in conflicts from the Civil War through the Gulf War. Today, Soden's Grove All Veterans Memorial features a World War II M-4A6 Sherman army tank, a Military Order of the Purple Heart Monument for the State of Kansas, and a Huey helicopter from the Vietnam War, as well as numerous other monuments.

In this quiet and peaceful place, soldiers are still honored and remembered daily and with reverence.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pink Lemonade Cupcakes

Without cupcake suggestions from readers, I decided I'd take things into my own hands yesterday and create a new one that appealed to my tastebuds. The forecast calls for 90-ish temperatures several times in the next few days and I often think of lemonade when summer heat comes along. But there's something especially appealing to me about pink lemonade, which I decided to make the focus of this latest recipe.

Since pink lemons aren't easy to come by and are rarely used to make lemonade (see related story,, it seemed like my best option was lemonade concentrate. So, after allowing a large can to thaw for several hours I went to work creating my latest summer-worthy cupcake - and loved the results. A friend who's a caterer also liked them and my husband ate two within minutes. See if you agree with us:

Pink Lemonade Cupcakes
Makes about 18 cupcakes

1/2 cup oatmeal
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup pink lemonade concentrate, thawed
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grind oatmeal to flour consistency in food processor. Add all other ingredients and blend thoroughly.

Fill 18 cupcake papers, 2/3s full of batter. Bake for 28-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely and ice with:

2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 3/4 - 2 cups confectioner's sugar
5 tablespoons pink lemonade concentrate
2 drops red food coloring

Combine cream cheese and butter and then add concentrate, stirring well. Slowly add confectioner's sugar and blend thoroughly. Add food coloring and stir in until icing is just the right shade of pink. ENJOY!

VOE - Refrigerate leftover cupcakes due to cream cheese and lemonade concentrate.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Afternoon Tasting at Pedernales Cellars

On a wonderfully warm April afternoon, we arrive for a wine tasting at Pedernales Cellars, one of many wineries that operate in the Texas Hill Country near Fredericksburg. Despite the spelling of its name, locals and savvy visitors know there's another way to say it in these parts. Just like the nearby river of the same name, both are called 'Per-du-nal-is' in Hill Country. The business opened in 1995 amidst the fertile Pedernales River Valley, which offers the perfect climate for growing hot-weather-loving grapes such as tempranillo, cabernet, merlot and viognier varieties.

We're sitting on a spacious deck behind the visitor's center, where white linen, long lines of sparkling goblets and light snacks await us, with skewers of strawberries and blackberries, huge grapes, crusty bread and lahvosh crackers, robust and creamy cheeses, and a plethora of marinated vegetables including fresh asparagus and peppers. There's something about looking out over the quiet sun-drenched countryside while sampling wine and food with friends that makes the afternoon special.

While we sip each of several different whites and reds we learn that Pedernales Cellars crafts 4,000 cases of wine annually, making it the fifth largest volume wine producer in the United States. All of its red wines age in white oak barrels made with wood from America - mostly from Lebanon, Missouri - France, particularly for merlots, or Eastern Europe. The winery stops using each barrel after about four years, because much of the oak-y character of the wood dissipates within three years.

As our tasting draws to a satisfying close, the porch swing attached to a nearby tree beckons. But we have another appointment this afternoon, so swinging will have to wait for a future visit.