Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Clementine Margarita Mix

Confession time: I love store-bought margarita mix. Margaritas are possibly my favorite drink. So tangy and sweet, with a hint of salt, all at once. But let's face it, juicing all those limes takes more time than I care to spend when all I want is a refreshing drink. The store-bought mix makes it so easy. Yet, I feel guilty whenever I buy the stuff. Not that I'm a drink snob, but margarita mix has always seemed to me to be the absolute bottom of the shelf, aside from maybe box wine. So, lately, I've started making up my own mix when I have the time. That way, it's ready to just pour over some ice. It tastes so much better than store-bought, and mixing it ahead of time makes parties really easy. I am set for Cinco de Mayo.

Sadly, there is a shortage on limes this year, so they are a bit pricey. If you can find good ones, Mexican limes (key limes) are best. Of the limes at my local store, the larger Persian ones looked better (and were a bit cheaper), so I went with them. I supplemented my mix with some clementines, which happen to be nearing the end of peak season right now, so they are really ripe and on sale everywhere. They also make the finished drink a pretty orange color.

Clementine Margarita Mix
(Print Recipe)

1 1/4 cup lime juice (17-25 limes, depending on the type and size of lime)
1 1/4 cup clementine juice (15-20 clementines, or mandarin oranges)
2 1/4 cups water
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 - 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
2 cups tequila
3/4 cup triple sec

Combine water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Stir and heat for several minutes, until sugar and salt dissolve. Turn off heat and allow the mixture to cool. It may look cloudy even after the sugar dissolves, but it will clear up once it cools and all those fine bubbles have a chance to work themselves out.

Meanwhile, juice the limes and mandarin oranges with a citrus juicer. Pour through a strainer to remove the pulp and any stray seeds.

Pour the sugar water, juice, tequila, and triple sec into a container and mix it all together.

Makes about 1/2 gallon.

If you prefer your magaritas virgin, then replace the tequila and triple sec with some extra simple syrup. If you just leave out the alcohol, it ends up a little too tart. I recommend you add 2 cups additional water and 1 cup of sugar.

Chill and stir or shake before serving. Best served with ice. If you want to be really fancy, go ahead and salt the rim of your glass and serve it with a lime and/or clementine wedge.

This drink is so good, I actually bought a dwarf Mexican lime tree so I can make it more often. It will probably be another couple of years before I get any good quantity crop from it, but I'm excited for it nonetheless.

Have a safe and enjoyable Cinco de Mayo! 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sweet Raisin Buns (with Optional Raisins)

My in-laws have a special fondness for raisin buns. Apparently, they used to buy them from a local Dutch bakery, until it closed years ago. Once my father-in-law found out I like to cook, it's been an ongoing topic of interest to re-create these raisin buns.

I'll be honest, I've never been big on raisins. However, I have dutifully tried several recipes for Dutch raisin bread that I found on various corners of the internet. Sadly, all of them failed, being too dense or or too dry. Good for toast, but not for a dinner roll. From what I gather, these buns are supposed to be soft and sweet.

This time around, I decided to start with a basic Hawaiian sweet bread, as this is the softest, sweetest bread I can think of. I know... Hawaiian bread? Not very Dutch. But I made a couple of my own adjustments and ended up with a super-soft, incredibly moist dinner roll. Just in time for Easter! And no one seems to be complaining about the pineapple juice.

Sweet Raisin Buns
(Print Recipe)

2 cups pineapple juice
4 packages dry active yeast
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter
4 eggs
8-9 cups all purpose flour
2 cups raisins (optional)

Warm up the pineapple juice in the microwave for about 30 seconds (longer if refrigerated). Pour the warm juice into the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle in the yeast and allow it to soak for several minutes, until foamy.

Add sugar, salt, butter, and eggs, mixing on low until combined. Gradually add the first 8 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Add as much of the remaining flour as you can. Dough will seem stiff, but don't overdo it or they will turn out dry. Knead the dough in the stand mixer for 3 minutes.

Place dough in a greased bowl and cover the top with plastic wrap (spray the plastic wrap to prevent sticking). Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

If you are using raisins, bring them to a boil them in 2 cups of water to make them nice and soft. (If you have any leftover pineapple juice, replace some of the water with it.) Turn off the heat and allow them to soak until dough is ready.

Punch down dough and knead in raisins on a lightly floured surface (I did half with raisins).

Divide dough into golf ball-sized rolls. You should end up with about 48. (Definitely cut the recipe in half, or even quarter it if you are making these for a smaller group.) Place them close together in a greased baking pan. Any pan or combination of pans you have will work. I used a combination of pie plates and casserole dishes in order to fit them all. Tip: 24 rolls (half the dough) fit perfectly in a 10" x 15" baking pan; 8 rolls fit perfectly in a 9-inch pie plate. Allow rolls to rise again for 1 hour.

Before baking, brush the tops with a mixture of egg and a tablespoon of water whisked together.

Bake at 350° F for 20-30 minutes.

These rolls are, by far, the softest rolls I have ever made. They are the best with leftover Easter ham. Slice open one of these puppies, lay on a slice or two of honey glazed ham, maybe a slice of cheese or some butter on top. Tough to beat. Just for kicks, here's a short video to show just how soft these things are.