Friday, September 12, 2014

Toast With This!: Watermelon Agua Fresca

Holding onto Summer until the very end (and possibly beyond) means I'm making the most of the late-season ingredients I have on hand, like luscious, sweet watermelon.  I never need a recipe to indulge (straight from the rind will do just fine), but on a recent occasion I decided to turn it into something extra special--and supremely delicious.  A refreshing, summer-y, mocktail of sorts: Watermelon Agua Fresca.  Because that's what you do with leftover melon, right?

Anyway, it couldn't be simpler--or more perfect--to toast the final week or so of the official season.  So here's to late summer indulgence in all its glory and to...

Happy Sipping!

Watermelon Agua Fresca

Halved watermelon, cubed and seeds removed
Mint simple syrup (recipe follows)
Juice of 1 1/2 to 2 limes

Add watermelon to a blender and puree until smooth.  Add in 3 tablespoons to 1/4 cup simple syrup and lime juice and blend to combine.  Check mixture for flavor and add more syrup or lime juice, to taste.

Strain mixture through a sieve and chill.  Serve over ice and enjoy!

Mint Simple Syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Fresh mint leaves

Add sugar and water to a small saucepan over medium heat.  Allow sugar to fully dissolve and remove from the heat.  Add mint leaves to the syrup and steep for at least 15 minutes.  Strain syrup into a container and discard mint.   

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

{Savor the Season}: Summer Fruit Crostata

Summer Fruit Crostata
Now that Labor Day has passed, the official wind-down of Summer has begun.  But before bidding it a formal farewell, I plan to savor it a bit longer.  After all, the tastes of Summer are some of the brightest and most refreshing--and deserve to linger for as long as absolutely possible.

Stone fruits and berries happen to be some of my favorite summer indulgences.  Known to frequently devour them on their very own, I had no qualms recently in taking things up a notch by bringing them together with homemade, buttery pastry to yield one scrumptious dessert (and next day breakfast).  Summer Fruit Crostata, to be exact.

Perfectly ripened and sweet peaches and plums, along with sweet-tart blackberries, were my fruits of choice for this scrumptious, yet amazingly simple and rustic, treat.  I love crostatas and this time around decided to substitute my go-to apple version with what's freshest and in season now.  Summer. Fruit. Pastry.  Three little words that yielded delight with each bite--and made this Summer one that I'll always savor.

Happy Eating!

Summer Fruit Crostata

For the pastry (makes 2 crostatas):
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated or superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) ice water
For the filling (makes 1 crostata):
1 pound firm ripe peaches, peeled
1/2 pound firm ripe black plums, unpeeled
1/2 pint fresh blackberries
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

For the pastry:

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and toss quickly (and carefully!) with your fingers to coat each cube of butter with the flour. Pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board, roll it into a ball, cut in half, and form into 2 flat disks. Wrap the disks in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. If you only need 1 disk of dough, the other disk of dough can be frozen.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the pastry into an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer it to the baking sheet.
For the filling:

Cut the peaches and plums in wedges and place them in a bowl with the blackberries. Toss them with the tablespoon of flour, tablespoon of sugar, the orange zest, and the orange juice. Place the mixed fruit on the dough circle, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border.  Gently fold the border of the pastry over the fruit, pleating it to make an edge.

Bake the crostata for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit is tender. Let the crostata cool for 5 minutes, then use 2 large spatulas to transfer it to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. 
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Oven-Roasted Mussels savory tarts--just a few of the ways I enjoy preparing (and feasting on) mussels.  For a slight twist, I added oven-roasting to the list this past weekend. Filling my favorite cast-iron skillet with the mussels and their accompanying marinade (aka bread-sopping goodness) of tomatoes, garlic, white wine, olive oil, chili flakes, parsley, salt and pepper, and returning minutes later to perfectly scrumptious fare, cemented this as a definite keeper in my repertoire. 

Easy to prepare, elegant, and worth the savor, mussels remain one of my favorite seafood gems.

Happy Eating!

Oven-Roasted Mussels
Recipe courtesy of the New York Times

3 1/2 pounds black mussels
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 to 4 garlic cloves (to taste), minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 pound roma tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Clean the mussels. Inspect each one carefully and discard any that have opened (if some are partly open, tap them with your finger, and if they close back up they are O.K.) or have cracked shells. Place in a large bowl, fill the bowl with cold water and rinse several times, swishing the mussels around in the water, pouring out the water and refilling. Clean the shells, if necessary, with a brush or the end of one of the mussels, and pull out the beards – the hairy attachments emerging from the shells. Do not do this until just before cooking, or the mussels will die and spoil. 

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and toss with the mussels. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Arrange the mussels, pointed ends up, in a single layer in a cast iron skillet and/or a heavy baking dish. Spoon the marinade left in the bowl over the mussels and place in the preheated oven. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, until most of the mussels have opened.  Remove from the heat and discard any mussels that have not opened.  Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Toast With This!: Sangria Mocktails

Summer soirees and festive sips go together like few things do.  And when the occasion (or non-occasion) calls for it, you'll want to have a refreshing, bright, delicious and thirst-quenching sip in your arsenal.  

And I just happen to have the drink that's all that--sangria mocktails.  Fruity, light, and bursting with the essence of Summer, sangria is the perfect sip for toasting the longer, more relaxed days of the season.  With its roots in Spanish and Portuguese cultures, it’s loved the world round—and for good reason!  Sans the alcohol, this mocktail version is a festive alternative that captures all the deliciousness that this drink is known for and delivers a tropical flair that's ever so good and toast-worthy.

This recipe was a hit at my Pop-Up Cooking School earlier this Summer, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it, too.  So here's to the remaining days of Summer and...

Happy Sipping!

Sangria Mocktails

1 cup papaya nectar
1 cup tropical Italian soda
1 cup lime Italian soda
1 cup sparkling grape juice
Fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
Fresh or frozen fruit

Roughly tear mint leaves and place in the bottom of a pitcher.  Sprinkle with sugar and muddle together to release the mint oils.  Pour in nectar, soda, and juice and stir to combine.  Add in fruit to finish.  Chill before serving or serve over ice.  Enjoy!
(Cook's Note: If unable to locate tropical flavored soda, substitute with an alternate flavor, like lemon or orange.)


Sunday, August 10, 2014

{Cool Down}: Cantaloupe-Basil Granita

I love being a Southern girl, there's no disputing that--and with the exception of two unforgettable stints away (one in Spain and another in Washington, D.C.), I've always called the South home.  So after a literal lifetime of hot, humid summers, one might think that adjusting is no big deal.  To that, I'd have to say think again.  With each passing summer, I'm no more adjusted and always seeking ways to chill out--literally!

Besides beaches, pools, and all the air-conditioning that I can amass, my favorite way to bring the chill factor to my summer days and nights is through the world of cold treats.  And icy, refreshing granita perfectly fits the bill.  Wonderfully versatile, granita can take on practically any flavor profile and serves well as a casual treat, or as an elegant dessert finish to a meal.  

I recently indulged with a Cantaloupe-Basil granita from Williams-Sonoma.  The luscious melon and fragrant basil, accented with a hint of lime, served up just the sweet cool down I was craving.  Now it's your turn to grab a spoon and indulge!

Happy Eating!

Cantaloupe-Basil Granita
From Williams-Sonoma

30 fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) fresh lime juice
2/3 cup (5 oz./155 g) sugar
1 ripe cantaloupe (about 4 lb./2 kg)
Coarsely chop 20 basil leaves; set the remaining 10 leaves aside. In a small nonreactive saucepan, combine the lime juice, sugar and 2 Tbs. water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer, swirling occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the chopped basil, cover and let steep for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, halve the cantaloupe and scoop out and discard the seeds. Cut  off the rind and then cut the flesh into 1-inch (2.5-cm) cubes.

Strain the basil mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a blender. Add half  of the melon cubes and pulse a few times, then puree until smooth. Add the remaining melon cubes and pulse a few times, then add the reserved whole basil leaves and puree until the mixture is smooth. Pour the mixture into a 13-by-9-by-2-inch (33-by-23-by-5-cm) glass baking dish. Cover with plastic  wrap, place on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the freezer.

After 1 to 1 1/2 hours, check the granita. When the mixture starts to freeze around the edges of the dish, stir it with a fork, then return the dish to the freezer.  Stir the granita with the fork every 45 minutes or so, until the mixture is completely frozen into icy grains and the texture is fluffy, 2 to 3 hours longer.

Spoon the granita into bowls and serve right away. (The granita is best when eaten within 2 days. If it becomes very hard and dry in the freezer, let it stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.) Serves 8.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer Corn Salad

Each season brings its bounty of good eats, and Summer is filled with more than its share of my favorites.  From stone fruits, to cool treats, to luscious tomatoes, sweet corn and more, there's just so much to relish.  And speaking of sweet corn, I finally slowed down long enough to make proper use of the fresh ears that had been hanging out in my refrigerator for the last week or so.  

Since I believe in letting stellar ingredients speak for themselves, I took a minimalist approach in bringing together an easy, yet vibrant, corn salad, complemented with juicy tomatoes, roasted okra, and fresh basil leaves for garnish.  Corn, tomatoes, okra and basil.  Sounds like a garden party in a bowl, no?  And, it tastes even better!  

So if you're like me and looking for a delicious way to get your Summer corn fix, then this salad is one you'll want to make, likely again and again.  Make it your own and use as much of the ingredients as you like--then enjoy! 

Happy Eating!

Summer Corn Salad

printable recipe

Fresh ears of corn
Fresh okra
Plum tomatoes, chopped
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh basil 
Olive oil
Sherry Vinegar (optional, for finishing)

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Place okra on a baking sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.  Roast okra for 20-25 minutes in preheated oven.  Remove and set aside.

While okra is roasting, prepare the corn by removing the husks and silk, and then by carving off the kernels. (Cook's Tip: cut off one end of the corn ear to stabilize it and then stand it upright over a large kitchen towel or bowl to capture the kernels as you carve down the ear.)

In a large skillet, melt butter over a medium heat, toss in corn and saute until corn is softened slightly (about 8-10 minutes).  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add corn and okra to a serving bowl and toss to combine.  Add in tomatoes and garnish with fresh basil leaves.  Finish with additional seasoning to taste and a drizzle of sherry vinegar, if using.  Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

{Homemade}: Summer Pickling

Last weekend I finally got around to doing something that I had been wanting to do for what seems like forever: make my own homemade pickles.  With it came the nostalgia of remembering my truly amazing grandmother whom I used to watch as a little girl.  Upon reflection, it dawned on me that she could do it all, literally.  From preserving to canning to pickling to baking to cooking, her culinary prowess was as broad and as effortless as they come--and her pantry was always stocked with the abundant fruits of her labor for the taking and relishing.

So back to me and my kitchen, here I was, finally about to embark on my first pickling expedition.  Inspired by the abundant pickling ideas floating around, I decided to start with a simple method that didn't require the heavier lifting and technicalities of sterilizing jars, etc., etc., but only required the coming together of my homemade pickling brine (scrumptious) and my vegetable of choice, crisp carrots.  Within a matter of minutes, I was pouring my brine over the carrots and garlic cloves in my jar and salivating with the anticipation of what the next 24 hours would bring. 

Waiting period over, I couldn't wait to retrieve the treasure from my refrigerator and finally have a taste.  I loved the slightly sweet under note and briny goodness from the apple cider vinegar, along with the bright, sharp flavors that carried through from the mustard seed, fennel seed, red chili flakes, and more.  Light, healthy and refreshing, my pickled carrots are my new favorite snack for Summer.  

Not one to let a good thing go to waste, I plan on increasing my pickling repertoire in the days ahead.  In fact, I'm already eyeing fresh jalapenos for what's next.  Give it a try in your kitchen and let me know how you like it and what combinations you come up with.  From the brine variations to the ingredient profiles, there's a world of briny deliciousness just waiting to be discovered and savored!

Happy Eating!

Carrot Fridge Pickles
 Adapted from FOOD52


1 lb. carrots
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 teaspoon whole coriander
2 teaspoons fennel seed
2 teaspoons mustard seed
½ teaspoon chili flakes

2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 ¼ cup water
2 ½ cups apple cider vinegar
¼ cup sugar

Cut the carrots into spears that fit the height of the jars you are using.  Set carrots aside. In a saucepan combine the remaining ingredients.  Bring to a simmer, and then turn off heat.  

Place the cut carrots in a clean jar(s).  Carefully pour the hot brine over until they are submerged. Cover and refrigerate for at least one day. Well sealed refrigerator pickles will keep for 1 month. Enjoy!