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Ideas, advice, and what to make now from the Chowhound community and CHOW editors.

Say Aloha at the Bar

When you want Hawaiian-style cocktails, but aren’t in the mood for sweet slushy fruit-based drinks, try out these libations.

The original Trader Vic’s Mai Tai recipe is wonderfully balanced, says JK Grence the Cosmic Jester:

1 oz. each gold and dark rum
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. orange curacao
1/4 oz. simple syrup
1/4 oz. orgeat (almond) syrup
2 cups crushed ice

Shake everything together in a shaker, pour into a double rocks glass, garnish with a sprig of mint and a speared pineapple piece and maraschino cherry.

The Royal Hawaiian was the signature drink of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel back in the 1950s. Here’s the recipe:

1 1/2 oz. gin
1 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz. orgeat syrup

Shake well with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

sku recommends Sam Choy’s Li Hing Mui Margarita. Li Hing Mui powder is a popular seasoning in the Islands that’s sweet, salty, and sour all at once and is usually sprinkled on fruit. If you can’t find it locally, you can order it online.

1 1/2 oz. tequila

3/4 oz. Cointreau
2 Lemons
1 Lime
1/2 tsp. Li Hing Mui Powder

Squeeze citrus juices into a blender, add tequila, Cointreau, and Li Hing Mui powder, and blend. Rub the rim of a glass with lime juice, and rim with more Li Hing Mui powder.

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Hawaiian-style Cocktail

When Life Gives You Sour Grapes…

If you’re faced with a bunch of grapes that turn out to be too sour for eating out of hand, here are some ideas for using them:

Freeze them and eat frozen for a tart snack.

Add them to a green salad, or to a fruit salad tossed with orange juice to sweeten it up.

Toss them with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast them to bring out their sugar; drizzle with balsamic vinegar before serving.

Saute them with onions or shallots, add a little rosemary, and serve with sausages on soft polenta.

Add them to an Indian curry.

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Sour Grapes

Keys to Great French Onion Soup

The most important step in making an excellent French onion soup is to thoroughly, patiently caramelize your onions. Keep the heat medium-low and keep stirring them until they become a deep golden color; this can easily take 30 minutes or more. Don’t be tempted to crank up the heat; slow caramelization brings out the onions’ sweetness and their ultimate oniony essence, the very basis of French onion soup. If your recipe has you slicing what looks to be a mountain of onions, you’re on the right track: they’ll cook down as their water is released and they caramelize.

Use the best quality stock you can get your hands on (preferably homemade). Many hounds like some fresh thyme leaves in their French onion soup, and some add wine–red or white–to deglaze the onions before adding stock. It’s classic to finish the soup with a dash or two of cognac, but sherry and port also add wonderful nuance to the flavor. Gruyere is the preferred cheese for topping a crouton of toasted bread and browning in the oven until it’s molten and bubbly, though MMRuth likes to add a little fontina for its meltability.

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What makes a good french onion soup?

Guinness Stout Brownies

The malt in Guinness Stout is said to intensify the flavor of the chocolate in these brownies. luv2bake finds them quite wonderful–very rich, moist, thick, and a bit chewy, with just a hint of stout flavor. Here’s her version:

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) Guinness Extra Stout beer, room temperature, without foam
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
confectioners sugar for dusting, if desired

Preheat oven to 375F. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan or line with with nonstick foil. Whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt until evenly combined, and set aside. Melt butter, bittersweet chocolate, and white chocolate chips in a double boiler over very low heat, stirring constantly until melted; remove from heat. With an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add melted chocolate mixture and beat until combined. Beat flour mixture into batter, then whisk in Guinness and 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips. The batter will be somewhat thin. Pour batter into prepared pan, and sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips evenly over top. Bake 25-30 minutees, until a tester comes out almost clean. Cool to room temperature uncovered before serving. Dust with confectioners sugar, if desired.

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ISO Guinness Brownies Recipe

Creamed Spinach

There are two views on creamed spinach: some make it with a flour-thickened cream sauce, and some insist straight cream is the only way to go. Some add nothing but salt and pepper, some add onion, garlic, or shallots. Many add a little pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.

morebubbles makes creamed spinach by sauteing finely chopped onions in butter until soft, adding fresh spinach and cooking until it’s just wilted, then adding a bit of cream, salt and pepper, and a small amount of freshly grated nutmeg.

NYchowcook’s technique is to heat cream with a smashed clove of garlic in a small saucepan, and steam spinach in a covered pot with a little water and a pinch of salt; when it’s cooked, drain it. Melt butter in a skillet and saute the spinach until the pan is dry, then strain the cream into the pan, and add salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

onefineleo loves this straightforward recipe, which uses a white sauce. The recipe makes two servings, but she’s multiplied to serve up to 10.

Several hounds offer raves for a Ina Garten’s spinach gratin, a baked, cheesy version of the dish.

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Creamed spinach

Crusty-Outside, Fluffy-Inside Roasted Red Potatoes

Will Owen parboils and roasts red potatoes so they come out crusty on the outside and almost fluffy inside. This is a great recipe to make when you’re roasting a bird or beast or doing anything else with your oven. You can cook ‘em at pretty much any temperature, as long as you adjust the cooking time.

Here’s his method: Cut the potatoes into chunks of about 1 1/2-2 inches, and put them into a pot of cold water. Bring the water to a boil, add salt, and boil the potatoes for about five minutes. Drain, toss in the pot over the burner briefly to dry, and put them in a big bowl with olive oil (about 1/2 cup per pound of potatoes), salt, pepper, and dry herbs of your choice, and toss. Heat a large cast iron skillet in the oven; when it’s hot, add the potatoes and oil and roast for 25 minutes or so. Turn the potatoes over to brown the other side and finish cooking.

Leftovers are really good cut up and fried as breakfast potatoes.

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Okay to roast red potatoes?

Making Water Yummy

If trying to drink those recommended eight glasses of water a day is driving you crazy, here are some suggested additions to make water tastier and more refreshing:

Mint (try muddling it a bit)
Cucumber slices
Cucumber and mint
Citrus–lemon, lime, orange, or tangerine slices, or a combination
Cucumber and citrus
Strawberries
Strawberries and rosemary
Asian pears, sliced thin
Small splash of fruit juice
Tamarind paste
Star anise
Fresh ginger (steep in hot water, then chill)
Cider vinegar (about 1 tsp. per glass) and honey
Any interesting flavored vinegar
Angostura bitters–especially in sparkling water
A few drops of Rose’s Lime Juice–also nice in sparkling water
Red Zinger tea
Chili powder and lime juice

Cynsa adds a neat trick: If you’re trying to drink more water, sip it through a drinking straw. “It’s the straw that does the trick; eight glasses of water a day goes down effortlessly through a straw!” she declares.

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Trying to drink more water—how to make it more interesting?

Polpette alla Napoletana

“I was about 8 years old when my mother first said to me, ‘Go wash your hands, we’re going to make meatballs,’” recalls Regina Cowles, and she’s been making them the same way ever since:

1/2 cup milk
2 cups dried bread, crust removed and cubed
1 lb. 85% lean ground beef

2/3 lb. ground pork
2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 eggs, lightly beaten with 1 tsp. water
1/3 cup grated Asiago cheese

1/3 cup grated Romano cheese
2 tsp. crushed red chile peppers, or more to taste
2 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Pour the milk over the cubed bread while you gather the remaining ingredients. Pulverize the bread mixture with your hands; drain any remaining milk and discard it. Place the bread and the remainder of ingredients, except the olive oil, in a large mixing bowl. Mix all of the ingredients together with your hands until they are extremely well blended. Form into meatballs approximately 2 inches in diameter. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Place the meatballs in the pan, leaving enough room to turn each one without breaking them apart. Cook slowly on medium low heat, carefully turning each meatball, until well browned outside but still slightly rare inside. Remove the cooked meatballs to a covered bowl, keeping them warm while making your favorite tomato sauce to serve them with.

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Do you remember the first dish you ever cooked?

Cooking with Pumpkin Seeds

Add pumpkin seeds to chocolate chip cookies, grind them and mix into yogurt, toast and use to garnish pumpkin soup, use them to coat soft cheeses for a new wave cheeseball.

Pan roast pumpkin seeds in a hot cast iron skillet with a little bit of olive oil, then spread them on a plate and sprinkle with soy sauce and cumin powder; curry powder; or chipotle powder (and a bit of brown sugar if you like), and let cool. Add to salads and sandwiches, or eat out of hand.

wasabi roasts them with cubed bacon, pancetta, or guanciale and whole sage leaves and uses the mix to top pumpkin risotto; or follow wasabi’s friends’ lead and eat it by the handful–they call it “savory trail mix”!

basicfoodgroupie takes a peanut brittle recipe and substitutes pumpkin seeds for the peanuts, and sprinkles a little French sea salt on top while it’s still warm.

ballulah makes pumpkin seed-cilantro pesto using one bunch of cilantro (stems included), lots of garlic, a couple handfuls of pumpkin seeds, and a fresh chile pepper pulsed in a food processor. She uses it on pasta, sandwiches, and as a rub for chicken breasts.

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Your favorite way to use pumpkin seeds?

Lemony, Creamy, Tangy Dessert Topping (and Cannoli Filling!) with a Heart of Goat Cheese

By combining creamy goat cheese with Meyer lemon zest and heavy cream, nja came up with a delicious and silky cream with just a touch of tang and richness. With a bit of honey, it’s a great complement to cakes and pies; with more goat cheese and a pinch of nutmeg, it’s a dynamite cannoli filling.

Meyer Lemon Goat Cheese Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
2 oz. soft fresh goat cheese
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. powdered sugar, or more to taste

Place 1/4 cup cream, lemon zest, goat cheese, and honey in the top of a double boiler. Stir until cheese and honey melt. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Once cold, strain through a fine sieve and discard lemon zest. Whip the remaining cream and 1 Tbsp. powdered sugar in a separate bowl. Taste the whipped cream and lemon-cheese mixtures for sweetness; if you will want a sweeter product when it’s all combined, add more powdered sugar to the whipped cream (it’s hard to adjust the sweetness once it’s all mixed together). Stir about 1/4 the whipped cream into the cheese to lighten it up, then gently fold in the remaining cream in 3 equal additions. Serve immediately or keep well chilled for up to 3 days, stirring briefly before each use.

Cannoli Filling Variation

Follow the same procedure as above, but increase goat cheese to 4-5 oz. and leave out honey. Add a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg to the 1/4 cup cream with the goat cheese and lemon zest. After straining the cheese mixture, add 1 Tbsp. powdered sugar and beat with an electric mixer for a few minutes, until stiff and chunky. Continue as above with whipped cream and powdered sugar, and pipe into cannoli shells.

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Success: Meyer Lemon Goat Cheese Whipped Cream for pies, cakes, and cannoli