Tag Archives: summer

SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: FRUIT SALAD

I grew up with a strange sense of family—if you ask me about them, I’ll say, “They’re all in India.  But my real family…” My parents have always been the only people I am related to by blood on the entire North American continent.  Actually, in the entire Western hemisphere.  There are relatives in India whom I feel close to, but they have always been a long plane ride or static-y phone call away.

fruit salad from the side

So my immediate sense of family has never been about blood or marriage, never about people to whom I was “actually” related. In fact, I’ve grown to kind of resent the implication that blood is somehow thicker than water, since all of my blood relatives lived two oceans away and didn’t know me.  Why do I need to be related to someone for them to be my family—and just because I am related to someone, what does that mean?  Why should I care about someone just because we share the same DNA?

My real family is the one my parents, then I, now Jill and I together, have chosen and created for ourselves.  I use the terms “sister,” “brother-in-law, “nephew,” freely, even though they don’t technically hold water.  Jill and I might not have a legal certificate that affirms such, but I have a mother-in-law who makes the best fried okra in the whole world, and a father-in-law who loves my chocolate cake.  These are the people who know me, who see me roundly and regularly, who have the authority and intimacy to nickname me and tease me.

In my book, adopted family is family, and so I proudly present this fruit salad, inspired by my best friend’s father, Bill, (also the father of our Blue Jean Sommelier), who in the last few years has become a kind of father to me and I am so grateful to him for it.  He’s generous and kind and loves food, so it’s truly as if we are related.

His is really a stellar, unusual take on fruit salad—tastes fresh, keeps well, and works with pretty much any combination of fruit (excepting bananas).  It’s a no-brainer in the summer, when the options are endless, but what I especially love about this recipe is that you can adapt it for the winter, using citrus, apples, even jicama for crunch.

BILL’S FRUIT SALAD

Bill says the key is to cut the fruit into smaller pieces, approximately half-inch cubes or slices.  I know halving the grapes may seem like a pain, but it makes a difference in the overall taste, I promise.  If you’re wary about the flavor of the crystallized ginger, feel free to cut back a bit.

Feel free to use any combination of fruit (adding mango, kiwi, orange segments) and keep in mind that this recipe double easily.

½ pineapple, cubed fruit salad from above

1 bunch green grapes, halved lengthwise

1 pint strawberries, hulled & quartered

1 pint of blackberries, whole

juice of 1 lime

2 T crystallized ginger, minced very finely*

½ cup sliced, NOT slivered almonds (Bill toasts his before adding them)

To start the salad, place the ginger in a big bowl with the lime juice—this will help distribute the ginger flavor throughout the salad.  Toss in all of the fruit and leave, covered, in the refrigerator for as long as you like.  Mix in the sliced almonds close to serving so they’ll keep their snap.

* I recently made my own crystallized ginger following this recipe and wow is it about 100 times more delicious than the storebought stuff (not to mention cheaper!)

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: HOMEMADE GRENADINE

As you may already know, teaching is my day job.  Eighth grade English, to be precise.  And in-service started this week.  Hence this post involves cocktails.

back to school cocktails

I know; I’m very lucky to have a summer vacation at all.  My job is truly fabulous because I love my students and I’m able to have a big chunk of time off to do all kinds of other things I may be interested in doing.  But a big part of why my job works so well for me is that I was. not. made. to sit behind a desk and/or in meetings all day.  And in-service is pretty much one big meeting.

So.

Doubtless you’re familiar with grenadine—if you’re like me, from the Shirley Temples of your youth?—but it’s also used to add color and sweetness to “grownup” drinks.  Originally, grenadine was made from pomegranates, hence the signature fuschia color, but as you can see, the bottled pre-made no longer has such wholesome origins:

storebought grenadine

Therefore I suggest to you the simple, even meditative act of making your own grenadine and storing it handily in the fridge where it will be waiting for you when you come home from a long day of meetings.

Even though the summer is technically “over” now that school has started, it’s still hot as blazes and so we’re going to keep the Summer Classics Series going through Labor Day–be on the lookout for a lovely Farmer’s Market Pasta & a killer fresh-fig dessert.

HOMEMADE GRENADINE (pomegranate syrup) grenadine ingredients
adapted from Alton Brown

ingredients:

4 cups pomegranate juice
juice from half a lemon
½ -1 cup sugar (adjust according to the amount of sugar in your brand of pomegranate juice)

Combine all of the ingredients in a deep saucepan over medium heat, stirring while it heats until the sugar has dissolved.  Turn the heat down and allow the mixture to simmer until the syrup has reduced by at least half.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool at room temperature before transferring to a jar in the fridge.  This will yield between 1 ½ – 2 cups of homemade grenadine, which should keep in the fridge for up to six months.

There are a million cocktail recipes out there that involve grenadine, but here’s one classic & one that I just made up:

TEQUILA SUNRISE

These things go down like a vacation in a glass.  Ahhh…..

you will need: tequila sunrises

tequila
orange juice (freshly squeezed is extra delicious!)
homemade grenadine

The method is simple: fill a glass with ice.  Pour in some tequila, as much or as little as you’d like.  Pour in orange juice nearly to the top of the glass, leaving just enough room to drizzle a few tablespoons of grenadine over the whole thing.  Because it’s a syrup, it will ease down slowly to make a lovely pattern—like a sunrise—so don’t stir!  Just drink.

BACK-TO-SCHOOL TONIC

Because I just threw this one together, feel free to adapt it in any way you see fit.  Basically this is like a cosmopolitan, just with pomegranate flavor instead of cranberry.  And it was delicious.  Cheers!

you will need:

1 lemon
orange liquor (I used Cointreau)
vodka
homemade grenadine

If you’d like a fancy lemon garnish, I recommend peeling a curlique with a paring knife before you juice the lemon; much easier.

For two drinks, fill a cocktail strainer with ice.  Squeeze in the whole lemon, add a generous glug of orange liquor & two shots of vodka.  Pour in between ½ – ¾ cup grenadine.

Shake it all up, strain, and pour.  Garnish with lemon twists or orange slices, etc.

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: ICE CREAM PIE

This is totally one of those blog posts I would read & think “Come on!  Does she really think this counts as a recipe?  Who are we kidding here?”

I know.  It isn’t a recipe, more like a great idea.  Everyone loves ice cream, but scooping sundaes for a crowd can be kind-of a pain.  Instead, take good-quality ice cream (perhaps some you just made yourself?), soften it a bit, mix in nuts or chocolate or fruit or candy, spread that into the cookie shell you just made, and freeze the whole thing up.

ice cream pie

An hour later, you’ve got a simple, satisfying, & adaptable dessert, perfect for this hot, hot August.

Since this is sort of a slacker blog post, I’m going to throw in a little something extra here: our first Blue Jean Gourmet Mix.  Hope you enjoy these summer kitchen tunes as much as we do.

ICE CREAM PIE

The possibilities are really quite endless here; you can tailor to a sophisticated, adult palate, a gooier, kid-friendly palate, or somewhere in-between:

a)    chocolate cookie crust, chocolate ice cream, peppermint candies
b)    gingersnap crust, vanilla ice cream, fresh fruit
c)    vanilla wafer crust, banana ice cream, peanut butter cups
d)    graham cracker crust, Neapolitan ice cream, mini marshmallows

For this pie, I made an Oreo crust, coffee ice cream, & mixed in toasted almonds & chunks of semi-sweet chocolate.  To top it all off, homemade whipped cream & a few chocolate-covered espresso beans.  There were several “Whoah, I don’t know if I can finish this” remarks followed by clean plates.

To make the crust, I used a food processor to make crumbs of the Oreos & a few tablespoons of butter, then pressed the crumbs into a pie pan.  The whole thing went into the freezer for a while before I added in the ice cream filling.

Once you’ve filled the pie, be sure to cover it well to prevent freezer burn.  Take out at least 5 minutes before you’re planning to serve, so it can thaw a little, making your life easier when it comes time to cut wedges.

LATE SUMMER KITCHEN MIX (turntable links to iTunes)

1_turntable

We Used to Be Friends – The Dandy Warhols
Spiralling – Keane
We’re an American Band – Grand Funk Railroad
Rosanna – Toto
Believe in Me – Emily White
Woodstock – Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
Girls in Their Summer Clothes – Bruce Springsteen
Manhattan – Kings of Leon
Mr. Brownstone – Guns N’ Roses
Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin
No You Girls – Franz Ferdinand
Freeway of Love – Aretha Franklin
Wouldn’t It Be Nice – The Beach Boys
Miss Ferguson – Cory Branan
Abigail – Courtney Robbins
Cheated Hearts – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Overweight – Blue October
14th Street – Rufus Wainwright

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: SNAP PEA SALAD

Ya’ll.  I am so tired and so full.  My in-laws are in town.

Jill’s parents are what you might call “good country people,” Louisiana folk who grow big gardens, hunt deer, & wear me out even though they are fifty and sixty years older than me, respectively.  I think it’s because they work so hard and all of the time that they can eat the way they do; which is to say that if I ate what they eat all of the time, I’d be six months out from a triple-bypass surgery and forty extra pounds.

snap pea salad

Our running joke when we come home from their house or when they leave ours is “I need something green, please!”  Most of what we eat with them is fried—for example, tonight’s meal consisted of onion rings, fried shrimp, this coleslaw, squash casserole (with cheese!), and double-chocolate brownies.  With whipped cream.

So, I think I’m going to make this salad tomorrow and eat it all myself.  Let’s hear it for vegetables.

SNAP PEA SALAD

The following is not a prescriptive recipe; please feel free to tinker.  And it tastes even better if you can make it an hour or two before serving.

ingredients: snap peas

2 cups snap peas, washed & trimmed*
3 carrots, grated (yielding about 1 cup)
1 ½ T fresh ginger, minced
¼ cup cilantro, picked
toasted sesame seeds for garnish

dressing:

¼ cup bottled garlic dressing (I used Annie’s Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette because I am obsessed)
1 T toasted sesame oil
1 T rice wine vinegar or the juice of ½ a lime
soy sauce or salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Toss with dressing & adjust salt, etc. to taste.  Serve immediately or refrigerate until you’re ready.

*To trim, just snap off the ends & remove the middle “string.”

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: COLD-BREW ICED COFFEE

People! This is so unbelievably easy and delicious, you must make it NOW. No, seriously, because when you do, you will take one sip and promptly kick yourself for not trying it sooner.

homemade iced coffee goodness

Cold-brew iced coffee is a world of difference from throwing some ice cubes into formerly hot, regularly-brewed coffee. The long “brewing” process extracts all the levels of flavor from your coffee but leaves out a good deal of bitterness. I recommend springing for a pound of “nice” coffee beans when making cold-brew, as the complexity will really shine through.

Plus—added broken economy bonus!—it is so much cheaper to make iced coffee at home than to buy it at your friendly neighborhood coffee-pusher. Even if you spend $10-12 on your pound of beans, that pound will generate at least 2 dozen servings of iced coffee before you’re through. Fifty cents a cup?  So save some money and liven up your morning…I’m telling you, there is nothing better for the Friday morning commute than a tall travel-mug full of cold, caffeinated deliciousness.

COLD-BREW ICED COFFEE coffee beans

This recipe produces a concentrate, meaning that the finished product is designed to be diluted with water and/or ice before milk, cream, sweetener, are added. I, for example, like mine mixed with creamy vanilla soy milk & a little sweetener.

That being said, if you are a caffeine junkie like, ahem, someone I live with, dilution may not be necessary.

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups water (use bottled or filtered if you want extra-good stuff)

2/3 cup ground coffee

(don’t buy pre-ground; either grind at home to a medium/coarse grind or request a barista to do the same)

Combine the two ingredients—I like to use a large liquid measuring cup or something similar, with a spout, to make pouring the next day easier. You’ll want to use a spoon or spatula to stir in the grounds; it’s a little messy, but don’t worry, this is not an exact science.

Cover the mixture with a plate or plastic wrap and let sit on room temperature overnight (or for a good long while). If you have a French press, use it as you would for hot coffee. If not, line the opening of a wide-mouth jar with a coffee filter and pour through. You may need to repeat once or twice to remove all of the grounds.

Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Keeps for…well, I don’t know how long, because in my house, it’s always gone in a week!

morning coffee to-go

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES–BERRY-CHAMPAGNE GRANITA

***[DISCLAIMER--I think I'm breaking my poor photographer Sonya's heart by posting today; the images below are sadly but dull replicas of the original, glorious shots for this post.  Has anyone else had a problem with images looking bright in i-photo but then looking dull when uploaded to WordPress?  We are researching the problem & hope to be able to fix it soon.  In the meantime, if any of you can help, please let us know!  And I promise the recipe will still taste good even if the pictures don't do Sonya (or the granita) justice.]***

I know “granita” sounds like a type of dog that widowed Italian heiresses carry around in their Prada handbags, but it’s actually just flavored, shaved ice—think a subtler version of those snow cones you grew up loving in the summer.

And when you throw in some champagne, like I did, granita becomes a very grownup snow cone.

granita

What’s so great about granita is that

a) there are about a million different flavor combinations you can make
b) it’s almost impossible to mess up
c) you can make granita ahead of time
d) no fancy equipment require; just a baking pan & a fork.

The basic formula is to combine fruit with other flavors and freeze the whole mixture in a flat pan, popping in the freezer every hour or so to scrape it the granita with a fork every thirty minutes or so, creating fluffy crystals of goodness.

scraping granita

While the recipe below is pretty tasty, feel free to use it as a baseline for your own inspired granita ideas—Smitten Kitchen recently posted a lemon granita, for example, and John over at The Alphabet Cook has a recipe for traditional espresso granita.

Sonya, our badass Blue Jean Gourmet photographer, is a big snow cone fan, so she deserves credit for inspiring this recipe.  As soon as I get back to Houston, I’ll be making her my latest, Peach Margarita Granita, and I bet I can convince her to take a few pictures of the process so I don’t have to keep that recipe to myself.

BERRY-CHAMPAGNE GRANITA
serves 4-6

Simple syrup, one of the ingredients called for here, is a great things to make and keep on standby in the refrigerator.  Often used to sweeten cocktails and sauces, simple syrup gets its name because it’s terribly easy to make.  Just bring equal parts sugar & water to a boil and then simmer for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup has thickened a bit.  Cool before using.

ingredients:

1 cup each:

raspberries
strawberries
champagne (if you’d like to make this non-alcoholic, use water or ginger ale)

½ – 2/3  cup simple syrup (adjust according to your palette & the sweetness of the fruit you are using)
a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice

pan: 13 x 9 metal or glass cake pan

Wash the berries, hulling & slicing the strawberries.  Blend both berries together along with the simple syrup, & lemon juice until smooth.  Strain the liquid to remove seeds—this should yield just over 2 cups of liquid.

Stir the champagne into the berry mixture and then pour into the pan.  Stash in the freezer, being careful to lay the pan flat.

After thirty minutes, check the mixture.  You should have a layer of ice crystals on top–using a fork, rake the outer edges in towards the center, then return the pan to the freezer.  Continue to check every thirty minutes for a total of 2 hours.

Once the granita has finished freezing, you can store it in a plastic container in the fridge indefinitely.  Serve it up in a pretty glass or bowl with a dollop of whipped cream, a garnish of fresh fruit, or all by itself.

granita

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: BLACK BEAN SALSA

Before I do anything else, allow me to show you a magic trick.

cilantro
Ladies and Gentlemen, right here before your very eyes—one bunch of cilantro, ends trimmed, placed upright in a glass with a bit of cold water.  Doesn’t look like much, you say?  Not very impressive, you say?

Well.  Little do you know!  Arranged this way & covered with the very plastic bag it came home in, I can keep cilantro fresh & useable for a month!  I am not exaggerating!  It IS magic—I love cooking with cilantro (obviously, I am not one of those people for whom it tastes like soap) but I hated having to throw it away after it became wilted & spoiled too quickly.

No longer, my friends!  We can all thank my dear friend Arianne’s mom Georgia (yes, she is as awesome as her name) for this tidbit.

Now, onto the recipe at hand…I love black beans.  They’re cheap.  They’re yummy.  They’re versatile.  AND, they’re good for you.  You can’t say that about everything in my pantry, I assure you.

Make this dish, please.  Make it now.  In fact, you have to make it now because the reason it tastes so darn good is when you take fresh, sweet corn, add smelling-of-sun summer tomatoes & ripe avocados, can you really go wrong?

black bean salsa

No, I didn’t think so.

This little concoction is great for a potluck/casual party, or just for dinner.  It tastes just as good the next day, with the exception of the avocadoes, which turn an unappetizing, slimy brown.  Ew.

So if you’re planning for a big crowd, make this as-is—there won’t be any left, I promise.  But if you’re making for a smaller crew / want to take some for lunch later in the week / need to mix this ahead of time, I recommend combining everything BUT the avocadoes first.

Then, reserve whatever portion you’d like to have for later & store it in the fridge until you’re ready to add avocadoes & eat up!  I like this dish a little more towards room temperature than cold, so you might want to take it out a bit before you plan to serve.

(If I may be so presumptuous as to suggest—it’s real, real good with blue corn tortilla chips.  I’m especially partial to Garden of Eatin’.)

BLACK BEAN SALSA corn off the cob

2 cans black beans (plain, no flavoring or added salt)

3 of the prettiest tomatoes you can find

3 ripe avocados

2-3 ears fresh corn

2 limes

a handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. salt

optional: half a jalapeño, seeded & minced

Drain & rinse the black beans in a colander—shake well to rid of all liquid.  Shuck the corn & cut the kernels off into a large mixing bowl.  Add the black beans to the corn, then cube the tomatoes and add them as well.

Add the juice of both limes, cumin, salt, & jalapeño, if using .  Stir everything together & sprinkle in cilantro.  If serving immediately, add cubed avocados & fold gently.  Taste & add salt if needed.

Serve with chips or as a side.  Also excellent with grilled fish or meats.

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