Tag Archives: fruit

SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: KEY LIME PIE

Please forgive me if this post is a bit lacking in wit and zest (get it?  zest?  key lime pie?  ha! I crack myself up)—school is out for summer, my grading is all done, and I’ve been busy celebrating the start of vacation with Arianne, my BFFFL (that’s Best Friend Forever for Life to those of you unfamiliar with 6th grade girl lingo).

So I’m afraid I don’t have a super-clever story to tie in here, just the fact that Arianne really loves my key lime pie.  And key lime pie is a summer classic, so it’s therefore being included in our Summer Classics Series (see how that works?)

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Well, I lied.  I actually do have kind of a cool story to tell you.  As you probably know, sweetened condensed milk is a traditional ingredient in key lime pie.  But what you may not know is how condensed milk came to be.

In 1856, Gail Borden (of Borden’s Eagle Brand) developed the process by which milk could be condensed, and thereby safely stored, in cans for long periods of time.  Until that point, cow’s milk was basically only safe to store for a few hours without cooling or refrigeration.

Mr. Borden was inspired to create a long-term storage method for milk after traveling to the United States on a ship from England; due to the poor quality of milk onboard, several children lost their lives.  The introduction of condensed milk is credited with being an important factor in reducing the infant mortality rate in the United States.

Not too shabby, right?  Three cheers for Mr. Borden!  He (and this story) are the reason I am doggedly brand-loyal when it comes to my sweetened condensed milk (and no, they’re not paying me to say that.)

Whatever brand you buy, I recommend you get yourself some sweetened condensed milk and make a key lime pie.  It tastes exactly the way summer should.

KEY LIME PIE
Serves 8-10, or just me & Arianne

I promise that going through the effort of juicing your own limes (and key limes, at that) is so very worth it for this pie.  This time of year, little mesh bags of key limes (also sometimes called Persian limes) are available pretty cheaply, and their fragrance & taste are just on a whole different level.

To get maximum juice out of each lime, I recommend microwaving the limes in a bowl for about thirty seconds and then rolling them on the counter before slicing them open.  If you have leftover lime juice, might I suggest you make some margaritas?

For the crust: 545719496_dsc_0285

1 ½ cup graham cracker crumbs
(store bought works, but the homemade kind tends not to resemble sawdust as much)

6 T butter, melted

¼ cup sugar (double if you want a sweet crust)

pan: 9-inch pie pan
oven: 350

Combine above ingredients—if making your own graham cracker crumbs, you can mix everything in the food processor.  Otherwise, a bowl & spoon should work!  Press mixture into the pan, being sure to move up the sides.  Bake crust for 5-8 minutes, until you smell its graham crackery-goodness all over your kitchen.  Be sure not to over bake as the crust can easily turn dark.

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For the filling:

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

3 egg yolks

2/3 cup key lime juice

zest of 2-3 limes (2 T), finely chopped

Beat the yolks and zest in the bowl of a stand mixer for a few minutes on high speed until the yolks lighten in color and texture.  Pour in condensed milk slowly and continue mixing at high speed—the mixture should thicken quickly.  Lower the speed to add the lime juice, mixing slowly until just combined.

Pour filling into the crust, lick the spatula (optional), and bake the pie for 8-10 minutes.  You want the filling to set—that means no jiggling in the middle when you give the pan a shake.  Cool completely on a wire rack, then refrigerate.

I like to throw my key lime pie in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes before I plan to serve it.  Yummy!  Like so many desserts, this one is especially good with homemade whipped cream.

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BANANA-COCONUT MUFFINS

Perhaps you can hear the sound of me yawning incessantly as I write this? Oh, long weekend recovery, I think I will make another cup of tea to speed you along. If only I had one of these in my desk drawer, too.

bright muffin

Behold, the muffin which garnered me a marriage proposal! Well, it was an unintended side effect—I baked them for my service consultant, Lance, as a thank-you, and he was so effusive in his praise that I know I’ll be getting extra-fine service car maintenance from Baker-Jakson Nissan for a nice long while.

I’ve always had a tenuous relationship with bananas; so if I’m endorsing this recipe, you’d better believe these bad boys are exceptionally good. When I was a kid, I mirrored my mother’s “yuck” reaction to the fruit. My dad, on the other hand, loved them. Our “banana divide” even became the source of a family joke—as Hindus, trips to temple mean being presented with prashad when you depart.

Prashad is any food which is offered to and then blessed by God. (Hey, it’s no coincidence, says I, that food factors into so many of the world’s religious rituals!) Devotees tend to bring large bags of fruit to temple for convenience’s sake, though I once had the particular joy of receiving M&Ms after a temple puja. Of course, given its very nature, prashad is considered holy, and once it has been handed to you, you are obligated to eat it. I have so many memories of standing barefoot, hands extended, inside the temple sanctuary with my parents, watching the priest making his way down the line, handing out fruit one by one. Hoped though I might, my father would always end up with the “good fruit”–apples, pears, oranges, even the occasional mango. But Mom and I?

Bananas, of course. Every time, without fail.

I suppose all of those temple bananas eventually grew on me, because I’ll throw one in my workout bag from time to time or eat one for breakfast with peanut butter. And I could eat a whole batch of these muffins by myself.

muffin trio!

This recipe has become part of my “go-to” baking arsenal because it’s easy and no-fail. First, no special equipment required. Just a fork and a couple of bowls. Second, is it just me or are there always two over-ripe bananas leftover? You know, you buy a big green bunch but never somehow manage to eat them all fast enough? Peeling and freezing them for smoothies has been our default; now there is another option, and it makes the whole house smell heavenly.

If you’re a little coconut-shy, don’t worry. The flavor is not at all predominant here. Mostly I think the coconut allows for moistness and contributes to a toothsome mouth feel. I threw toasted pecans into the original recipe because I love nuts in baked goods, but you could easily leave them out. Once cooled, the muffins will keep four to five days on room temperature in a Ziploc bag or other airtight container, even longer in the fridge.

You know what Lance would say—the way to a man’s (or woman’s) heart is through his/her stomach. So bake away, my friends! Who knows what a little ole batch of muffins may bring in return?

BANANA COCONUT MUFFINS shiny banana-coconu
adapted from Gourmet’s “Everyday Meals: Edition 2”

1 ¼ cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
2 very ripe bananas, peeled & mashed with the back of a fork
1 stick (½cup) unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
½ tsp. vanilla
½ cup sweetened, flaked coconut*
½ cup pecans, toasted & chopped

topping: ¼ cup coconut

pan: muffin tin with paper liners

oven: 375°F

Whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, & salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine bananas, butter, sugar, egg, & vanilla. Smush (yes, that’s a technical term) the mixture with a fork or spatula until well-combined. Stir in coconut & pecans.

Fold flour mixture into banana mixture until just combined. Fill muffin cups to about ¾ full (I find an ice-cream scoop is very handy for this step). Sprinkle the muffin tops with coconut and bake until golden, about 20-25 minutes. Cool on racks, but eat warm if possible!

* I had unsweetened coconut at home, so I used it & bumped up the sugar to 1 whole cup. I also included some extra sugar when I sprinkled coconut on top of the muffins.

banana-coconut muffins (pre-bake)

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STRAWBERRY-BASIL MARGARITAS

STRAWBERRY-BASIL MARGARITAS straw-basil rita

To continue our ode to the summer strawberry season, and in celebration of the upcoming long weekend, we present you with a cocktail. Naturally!

There’s a fun neighborhood bar here in Houston called The Volcano, and in addition to its rockin’ patio and we’re-not-sure-if-it’s-ironic-or-not-Polynesian décor, The Volcano features delicious cocktails like frozen screwdrivers, Mt. Lychees, and strawberry-basil margaritas.

Strawberry-basil margaritas?  Oh yes oh yes oh yes.

Perhaps you think the strawberry-basil combination sounds like a strange one for a cocktail.  Believe me, I was a skeptic at first myself.  Normally I am not a fan of super-fruity drinks, and I really didn’t know how I felt about a strong herb like basil in my cocktail.  But now, I am a convert.  The grassy, clean flavor of the basil cuts right through what could be an overly-sweet strawberry drink.  Throw in some fresh lime juice & Cointreau, then welcome to happy hour!

My interpretation of The Volcano’s drink involves a strawberry simple-syrup, which infuses strong strawberry flavor and a gorgeous pink color.  You can easily make the syrup ahead of time and store it in the fridge until you’re ready for cocktails; this is also pitcher-friendly, so it’s great for a crowd.

If you’re not crazy about tequila, go ahead and swap in vodka–viola, a strawberry-basil martini!

straw-basil rita up close

No matter what you decide to drink this Memorial Day weekend, I would like to propose a two-part toast:

One = We are headed to Dallas on Sunday for the wedding of my friend Shining.  He and I were classmates at Rice, now he’s about to be a doctor, and his future wife Tricia is an amazing pianist/engineer/foodie.  I’m so excited about their wedding not only because it’s going to be a mini-reunion with some of my favorite people, but also because the happy couple really are a happy couple.  They are so great together, bring out the best in each other, & their love is infectious.  Congratulations in advance, you two!  A toast in your honor–I’m certain there will be many more come Sunday.

shiningtricia
Two = I’ve been doing my best to remind my students and myself just *why* we are off school on Monday.  Grateful as we all are for the three-day weekend, I know it’s much more important to be grateful to the men and women whose service we memorialize and to those whose service continues still.  It’s a reminder which really resonates this year with our school community, as our beloved Middle School Dean Tony is training in D.C. for his upcoming deployment to Iraq.  We honor you, Tony, and look forward to having you back with us in the spring.  Cheers & Godspeed!

STRAWBERRY-BASIL MARGARITAS
makes 2 generous drinks
tequila macerating basil
2 oz. tequila (1 oz = a shot)

1/2 cup strawberry simple syrup*

juice of 2 limes

splash of Cointreau (substitute any other orange-flavored liquor)

2 T fresh basil, chopped roughly

extra strawberries & basil for garnish

To mix the drinks, place the basil in the bottom of a cocktail shaker (or large cup).  Pour in tequila.  Use the back of a spoon (or a fancy muddler, if you have one) to mash the basil leaves into the tequila, so as to release the flavor.  Fill the shaker with ice, then add strawberry syrup, lime juice, Cointreau.  Cover and shake, then strain out into glasses.  Garnish with sliced strawberries and a chiffonade of basil.

To make the strawberry simple syrup:

strawberry simple syrup one 1 cup sugar
1 cup water
4-5 strawberries, sliced

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the strawberries look exhausted.  Cool the syrup, then strain the liquid through a sieve, pressing the strawberries firmly to extract all liquid.  Store in a bottle or jar in the fridge–will keep for up to 2 months.

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LEAH’S STRAWBERRY SALAD

strawberry salad

I was so nervous to meet Leah. She was the “best friend who came before” of my closest graduate school friend, Arianne. You’ve been there, right? There’s a new awesome person in your life and now, someone from their “old life” is coming into town to visit? They’ve got more history with your new awesome person than you do—a decade’s worth or more of memories, incriminating stories, photographs of old haircuts, mix tapes, the works. Not to mention, I had heard a million stories about Leah—she was confident, fearless, a foodie, a talented seamstress, and a firefighter to boot. Like, the kind that flies around in helicopters fighting forest fires.

You could say I was a little intimidated.

Of course, I shouldn’t have been worried. Although Leah’s list of dazzling attributes only grew after meeting her in person, among those attributes is “totally approachable.” The three of us had a blast together laughing, cooking, dancing, talking–plenty of friendship & good feeling to go around. And I learned another important thing about Leah: if she were a character in a Homeric epic, “maker of beautiful salads” would be her epithet:

(I'm afraid it's not a fancy Sonya picture; I took this one myself!)

(I'm afraid it's not a fancy Sonya picture; I took this one myself!)

While I’m good at making things yummy, I’m not always good at making them look pretty. Leah is one of those people who seems to do both effortlessly, and I strive to be like her someday. That’s why this salad is dedicated to her, to Arianne, and to those lovely occasions where your new friends and old friends get along swell.

LEAH’S STRAWBERRY SALAD strawberry salad 2
adapted from Food to Live By: The Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook
serves 4

This salad is elegant and lovely, even if you can’t make it into a work of art! A great choice for summer, as it pairs perfectly with grilled meat. In the winter, I swap cranberries & Bosc pairs for the strawberries and use a store-bought, fig-flavored balsamic for the dressing.

In the summer, the “trick” is that you infuse your own balsamic using a few strawberries to impart flavor. Do this step as far ahead of time as you can and throw the rest of the salad together just before serving.

Now, blue cheese may make some of you nervous; I know it’s not for everyone. If you absolutely can’t stomach it, substitute crumbled feta or small cubes of a really sharp cheddar. You really want a strong cheese to stand up to the sweetness of the berries & the tartness of the balsamic.

for the salad:

1 bunch spinach or lettuce, washed, dried, & torn into small pieces
1 pint strawberries (approx. 12-15), sliced
½ cup blue cheese, crumbled (less or more if you like)
½ cup candied pecans, chopped (substitute plain or toasted pecans)

Prepare the vinaigrette before assembling salad:

4 T balsamic vinegar (good quality)
2-3 strawberries
¼- ½ cup olive oil, depending on how oily you like your dressing
salt & pepper
macerating strawberries
Remove green tops from the strawberries and chop them roughly. Place into a small bowl along with the balsamic. Press down with a fork or the back of the spoon to help release the strawberry flavor. Let the mixture sit, on room temperature, for at least an hour.

Assemble the salad. When ready to serve, carefully discard strawberries from balsamic mixture (if you’re willing to invest in a bit more effort, you can blend the berries and balsamic together). Drizzle olive oil in slowly while whisking (or blending) constantly. Add salt & pepper to taste; whisk to combine. Dress the salad and enjoy!

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FRESH FRUIT PIZZA

strawberries on cutting board

I hope it’s not just me. I hope that all of you, no matter where you might be, are seeing strawberries this gorgeous in your grocery store or farmer’s’ market. They are so lovely and flavorful, I can’t resist buying them! But that’s okay, because at least down here, they’ve been remarkably affordable, even the organic variety (strawberries are one of those recommended “best to buy organic” items). So, given the availability and seasonality of this particular item, we’ll be featuring a little four-part ode to strawberries here at Blue Jean Gourmet. Starting with dessert, of course!

One caveat, though: making this fruit pizza may leave you feeling a bit like a charlatan. Why? Because, not to toot my own horn too much, but this looks hella impressive, right?

easy to make AND impressive

Right. So imagine, if you will, taking this impressive fruit pizza to a summer potluck or dinner at your mother-in-law’s house and the “ooohs” and “ahhhs” and “wows” you will invariably receive. Are you imagining? Are you? Because here’s the secret about this dessert: it is dead simple to make.

I know the concept of fruit pizza has been floating around for some time, and you may have had the misfortune of encountering a sketchy version made with big tubes of refrigerated dough & canned fruit or drowned in chocolate & marshmallow fluff. But don’t be alarmed! This one is elegant and not too sweet, perfect for summer months. You can even make the crust & filling ahead of time, adding the fruit and (optional) glaze just before serving.

Fresh fruit is obviously the star of the show, so make sure that you buy good-quality stuff. I recommend erring on the side of firm when making your selections, so that the fruit will hold its own. Buy whatever is seasonal and looks scrumptious—I’ve made this with nectarines, peaches, kiwi, apple, mango, & all kinds of berries.

almost any kind of fruit will work

blackberries are very photogenic, don't you think?

This is also the perfect dessert to make with and serve to kids. Little hands can help press the dough, spread the filling, and arrange the fruit. Having a slumber party? Get the kids going in the kitchen; divide up the dough and let each child make his or her own mini-pizza. Hey, it’s healthier than most midnight snacks!

Last but not least, I recommend this dessert as a great choice for diabetics or anyone cooking for a diabetic. You can easily substitute Splenda for the sugar in the crust & filling, and use sugar-free fruit preserves for the glaze. I did this for my friend Aisha’s dad at his birthday party, and he loved it.

Coming next in our Strawberry Parade–a fresh, easy strawberry salad, strawberry-basil margaritas, & homemade granola with fresh strawberries.

Tell us, how do you like your strawberries this time of year?

FRUIT PIZZA

oven: Preheat to 375°.

pan: Round or rectangular baking sheet

crust: 1 ½ cups flour
2 T. sugar
2 T. milk
½ cup oil (canola is fine, I’ve also used safflower)
zest of 1 lemon & 1 orange, finely chopped (use the fruits’ juice for the glaze)
½ tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients by hand and press out onto a baking sheet, about 1/4 inch thick—you can do a traditional circle shape, a free-form oval, or a rectangle. Part of the appeal is the rustic look, so don’t worry about it being perfect. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown around the edges. Cool completely before topping.

Filling: 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream

You can easily do this by hand, but use a stand mixer if you have it. Whip cream cheese until fluffy (if employing elbow grease, use a spoon for this part). Add sugar and mix until well blended. Finally, pour in the cream and whip until thick (at this point, switch to a whisk). It may take a minute or two for the mixture to set up, but it will thicken very quickly, all at once! Spread mixture evenly over cooled crust.

Topping: Any sliced, fresh fruit

Have fun with this part! The whole idea of this dessert is that the fruit speaks for itself, so let it show off a little. You can go for concentric circles, like I have here, but you can also just chop up the fruit and sprinkle on top; it’s going to taste just as delicious. If you have a tiny sous chef helping you, arranging the fruit to form a face or a flower or a star can be a lot of fun. Heck, that could be fun even if there aren’t any kids in the picture!

Glaze (optional): ½ cup apricot preserves or orange marmalade
juice from the lemon & orange you zested

Heat all ingredients a small saucepan, stirring well. Simmer for 2-3 minutes until the mixture has thinned. Spoon over fruit.

the glaze adds a nice sweetness & gooey-ness

the glaze adds a nice sweetness & gooey-ness

you'll wow 'em with the finished product!

you'll wow 'em with the finished product!

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