POTATO SALAD

le potato salad side angle

Big week coming up, right? The birth of our nation, stars, stripes, fireworks, cold beer, fired-up grills, pools full of kids, etc. We Americans celebrate in style.

My parents came to this country in the late 1960s from India. Like most immigrants, they have always been fiercely patriotic. “Only in America” was a reverential phrase, oft-repeated in the course of my growing up. Someone has done something marvelous, risen above circumstances, innovated, liberated, volunteered, changed careers in middle age, made something out of nothing.

Only in America.

Of course, it isn’t exactly true that America is the ONLY place one can do such things, but when you’ve entered this place with fresh eyes, as my parents did, the freedoms, opportunities, and equalities we celebrate every year on the Fourth of July occur like realities and not just abstractions.

I am fiercely proud to call myself first-generation; the first of my family to be born here. I’m fiercely grateful to my parents for the courage and sacrifice it took to come to this country (the first plane trip of my mother’s life took her to JFK International Airport: she was twenty-one years old and dressed in a sari).

To honor them, and this place, I’m going to try to remind myself that my freedom is real, as real & palpable as the slices of cool watermelon I plan to consume this weekend, and that many millions in the world thirst after the freedom I am able to take for granted every day.

As a matter of tradition, I’ll make this potato salad, which my Mom loves (her birthday is Thursday, as a matter of fact. Happy birthday, Mom! You are a badass & I love you!) We’ll drink imported beer, listen to Hindi music, & celebrate some dead-and-gone Patriots with crazy ideas and a lot of gumption, who built this thing we call democracy.

Only in America.  And thank goodness for that.

SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: POTATO SALAD
serves 4-6

There are infinite variations on this, of course, whereby you could include a couple of chopped, hard-boiled eggs or crumble in some cooked bacon, but I like to keep my potato salad nice & simple. ‘Cause I’m old school like that.*

2-3 lb. red potatoes, scrubbed

½ of a red onion, diced

2-3 stalks celery, diced

4-5 tiny or 1-2 big dill pickles, diced

¾ cup mayonnaise (not the fake stuff! puh-lease not the fake stuff!)

½ cup Dijon mustard (not the yellow stuff! puh-lease not the yellow stuff!)

a big handful of fresh dill, chopped

salt & pepper, to taste

shiny new potatoes 3

Place the potatoes in a large pot & cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil & cook potatoes until fork-tender, between 15-20 minutes depending on potato size. Drain & cool potatoes before chopping them into fork-friendly cubes.

This really couldn’t be easier. Place all of the ingredients (except s&p) in a bowl—mix carefully until everything’s evenly distributed. I like to use a spatula for this part so as not to upset the taters too much.

Taste-teste and add salt, pepper, maybe more dill if necessary. Be sure to refrigerate if you’re not serving right away.

*Remember those little old men at the end of The Incredibles? “No school like the old school!”

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HOMEMADE DOG TREATS

***GIVEAWAY UPDATE***  Thanks to all who entered; we love hearing about everyone’s doggies, and were tempted to just send you all treats!  However, the random number generator did not suffer from such emotional entanglements & chose commenters 10 & 11, Cheryl & Christy, as our lucky recipients.  They’ll be receiving their treats later this week.  We promise to do this again soon, and in the meantime, urge you to give the recipe a try yourselves.  xx, BJG

Allow me to introduce you to the Blue Jean Puppy.

LD anticipating a biscuit

Pup-pay!  I know, she’s freaking cute, right?  Calling her a puppy, though, is a total misnomer as our L.D. (which stands for Lucky Dawg—we didn’t name her, okay??) is fourteen-plus years old, which for a yellow lab means she’s approximately 107.

I did not grow up with dogs.  In fact, I didn’t have pets of any kind until I met Jill.  At the risk of vast cultural generalization, I’m like most Indian kids I know this way.  Our parents came from a context where it’s tough enough to feed your kids, let alone an extra, alien mouth.  In India, as in many parts of the world, wild dogs run in packs on the street, largely ignored or dodged by citizens.  Having a pet in India is, for most, a status symbol of opulent, extreme wealth.

My parents also fended off any potential begging-for-pets by making it very clear that my mother was allergic to dog & cat hair, so it wasn’t going to happen.  Given this, I made do with vicarious enjoyment of my neighbors’ and friends’ animals; it was never a serious “upset” for me that I didn’t have pets.  As it turns out, the “your mother is allergic” bit was all a ruse!  Oh the lies we tell our children.

Of course, now that I live with this sweet thang (& two very sweet cats in addition), I can’t imagine my life without animals in it.

in the backyard with the dog

We’re probably not going to have our LD for too much longer.  I don’t like thinking about it, not one bit.  Since she’s my first pet, she will also be my first pet death, and I’m not looking forward to that.

I try to stay focused on the fact that our old dog is happy, healthy, and aside from having to wear a diaper these days, enjoys an excellent quality of side-angle dog biscuitslife in her twilight years.  Including these homemade dog treats.

These treats are incredibly easy to make, and they’ve never met a dog they didn’t like (LD, Tillie, Kathleen, Digby, Doodle, Penny, Dillon, Gunny, Murphy, & Buster can all attest!)  And, you don’t have to feel guilty giving these out, because they’re full of only good stuff.

To share the love with some canine friends of Blue Jean Gourmet, we’re having our first giveaway! I’ll be baking up a fresh batch of dog treats this weekend and mailing them out to a few lucky dawgs (c/o their BJG reader-owners).

If you’d like to enter, simply leave a comment on this post telling us about the dog(s) in your life by the end of the day Monday (June 29).  We’ll draw a couple of winners on Tuesday (June 30) morning & notify them via email.

In the meantime, I’m going to go ahead and post the recipe for these treats here, because should you win, your dog may well become addicted.  I’m just sayin’.

PEANUT BUTTER DOG TREATS
adapted from a recipe generously shared by Denise Duncan (who makes them for Molly, Max, & Sophie!)

2 eggs

dog biscuit makings sideways

½ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup water

¼ cup peanut butter

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup old-fashioned oats

optional: We keep wheat germ in the freezer to add to smoothies & breads, so I always throw a dash in for puppy health benefits.

preheat oven: 400 degrees F

Combine flour & oats in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients; add wet ingredients and mix thoroughly, using a large spoon or your hands.

At this point, you may need to add extra water or extra flour depending upon the texture of the mix.  If you plan to roll out the treats, you’ll want the dough to be pretty stiff and so add more flour.  If you plan to make drop treats, a wetter mixture will do.

(option 1) Roll out the dough in two batches, using more whole wheat flour for the counter.  Somewhere between ¼ – ½ inch thickness is best to insure that the treats stay crunchy but don’t burn.

Use cookie cutters or just a knife to make desired shapes.  Place on a well-greased sheet pan and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes.  Check for browning on the bottom of the treats; cool on wire racks until they’re a safe temperature for your puppy to sample.

(option 2) If you’re thinking, heck, my dog couldn’t care less what shape these things come in, he/she just wants to eat. them. all. now!  then you can either roll the mixture into tablespoon-sized balls or just scoop out about a tablespoon’s worth at a time onto well-greased cookie sheets, placing them about an inch apart.

Flatten the treats out with a floured palm and bake for 20-25 minutes (because they’re a little thicker than the rolled-out version, they’ll take a bit longer).  Cool on wire racks; let the dog or dogs in the house taste-test for you to assure quality control.

LD crunching on a biscuit

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COLESLAW

You know those recipes you would beg, borrow, or steal for? Yeah, this is definitely one of them.

coleslaw

Take this coleslaw to a potluck, grill-out, or summer picnic, and I guarantee you’ll have people clambering not only to lick the bowl clean, but also to ask you for the recipe.

I actually didn’t have to beg terribly hard to get this recipe myself—lucky for me, my friend Kathy is a generous recipe-sharer. She’s also responsible for broadening my culinary horizons and know-how when I was just wee college student some half-a-dozen years ago!

This crunchy, spicy slaw goes well with just about any grilled meat or burger. Feel free to adjust the proportions in the dressing to suit your tastes. Coleslaw definitely qualifies as a summer classic, and I’ll eat it in pretty much any incarnation. How do you like yours?

COWBOY KICKOFF COLESLAW
adapted from the Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas (via K. Glenney)

This recipe makes a LOT of slaw, so feel free to halve it.

vegetables: yellow bell pepper

4 cups shredded cabbage
(I used both green & half red)

2 cups shredded carrots

2 bell peppers, julienned
(I used one orange & one yellow)

2 chopped jalapeños
(just 1 if you’re heat-shy)

½ bunch cilantro,
picked off the stem & rough-chopped

slaw vegetables dressing:

1 cup mayonnaise

2 T maple syrup

2 T vinegar

2 T Dijon mustard

1 T Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin powder

1 tsp. coriander powder (if you don’t have it/can’t find it, not a dealbreaker)

1 clove garlic, minced

juice of ½ a lime

salt, to taste

Combine all the raw vegetables in a bowl. Whisk the rest of the ingredients together in a separate bowl, then pour over the vegetables. Toss to coat & refrigerate until time to serve. Best if made ahead! Those are four of the sweetest words in the English language: best if made ahead.  Sigh.

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FATHER’S DAY BRUNCH: EGGS BENEDICT & BLOODY MARYS

dad

There’s a self-consciousness that comes with grief, the consciousness that the people around you:

a) have never experienced anything like what you’re going through,

b) are utterly at a loss for what to do to comfort/support you,

c) wish you would just “get better” already,

d) are terrified by the thought of death and hate you reminding them that their loved ones will die.

Sometimes I feel like “that girl who talks about her dead father all the time.”

In the filing cabinet of my brain and heart, food and my father are inextricably linked. One of the great ironies of it all is that losing my father, an unabashed epicure, sent me straight into the kitchen, where I got really good at cooking all kinds of things I wish I could make for him now.

For example, Eggs Benedict and an excellently spiced Bloody Mary—robust, made with love, fit for a king. It’s the brunch I’d make for my dad if I could.

Pray tell, what are you feeding your father (or husband, partner, uncle, grandpa, etc) on Sunday? Are you cooking at home or taking him out? Does your family have a Father’s Day culinary tradition? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Wishing all Dads a very happy Father’s Day, with lots of love from BJG.

EGGS BENEDICT (BLUE JEAN GOURMET STYLE)

EB--decorated, close-up

There are lots of variations on theme of EB; this is just how I happen to like mine.  I really don’t think you can go wrong if you stick to the basic premise of  layering toothsome pork product & gooey egg on top of crusty bread and slathering the whole thing in hollandaise.

A word about hollandaise.  It’s really not as fussy as everyone makes it out to be–at least, it has not been a culinary-pain-in-the-butt for me.  I’ve heard tell that you can make hollandaise in a blender, and if you have done so with success and think it’s way easier than my method, please do share.  I’ve made mine several times the old-fashioned way with great success, so if you’ve been afraid to try the stuff, I urge you to give it a whirl.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

spinach (either a package of frozen, chopped or a big bunch of fresh)

English muffins (traditional) or another bread product

Canadian bacon (substitute thick-cut ham or many slices of thin-cut ham)

poached eggs*

eggs, butter, water, fresh lemon juice (for the hollandaise)

salt & pepper, hot sauce (optional)

TO MAKE HOLLANDAISE:

2 egg yolks

juice from 1/2 a lemon

6 T butter, cut into cubes

salt & pepper

Combine the egg yolks with lemon juice in a small saucepan.  Whisk to combine over low heat; the yolks should thicken quickly.  Toss in the butter cubes and continue whisking until the butter has melted.

hollandaise step 2

hollandaise step 3

hollandaise fin

The mixture will become a bit lighter in color, which is a good indication that you’ve got things well-emulsified.  Add salt & pepper to taste.

TO ASSEMBLE:

The trickiest part about making this breakfast is the timing.  You basically want to save the hollandaise for last, because it does best when served very soon after it’s made–it’s a little bit diva like that (na-na-na-a-diva-is-a-female-version…okay, yeah I’m going to have that song in my head now.)

My plan of action is usually this:

1) cook spinach, season with salt & pepper, set aside

2) brown Canadian bacon in a skillet, keep warm in a low oven

3) toast English muffins, add to the low oven

4) poach eggs* & turn out into a paper-towel-lined platter in, you guessed it!, a low oven

5) make hollandaise

6) stack ’em: English muffin half on bottom, top with Canadian bacon, then spinach, then a poached egg.  repeat.  pour on the Hollandaise with a generous hand!

* The internet is full of wisdom for how best to poach one’s eggs; I’ve done them the old-fashioned way, in a pot of vinegar-spiked water and I’ve done them the lazy way, in an egg poacher.  However you get your eggs poached is fine by me!

BEST BLOODY MARY MIX

bloody mary

ingredients:

1 large bottle spicy-hot V8

Juice of 2 limes

2 T. white vinegar

2 T. prepared horseradish

2 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 T. garlic powder

1 tsp. celery salt

1 tsp. Tabasco sauce

A generous glug of any of the following
olive juice, pickle juice, or juice from pickled jalapeños

Plenty of freshly-ground pepper

garnish: celery, spicy green olives, limes, celery salt

Combine all ingredients and store in a pitcher in the refrigerator. When you’re ready for drinks, first “salt” the rim of your glasses.  Rub the lip of each glass with a lime wedge; then, turn the glass upside down and onto a plate-full of celery salt.  Twist the glass to form a rim.

To mix a drink, combine 3 parts mix to 1 part vodka or gin over ice.  Garnish with a tall stalk of celery and a toothpick speared with an olive & lime wedge.

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: SANGRIA

sangria solo I can’t vouch for the “authenticity” of my sangria recipe—it seems to me that at this point there are a million different ways to make the stuff—but I can promise you that it’s delicious.  This is not that sickeningly sweet, pre-fab stuff they often serve in restaurants.  It’s refreshing, impressive, and easy to make.  Even my beer-drinking guy friends like this version!

Consider the following more of a guideline than an actual recipe.  Feel free to mess with the types of fruit you use, based on whatever you have handy.  I’ve never tried a white-wine version, but I think a substitution would be easy to do.  The real winning point of this recipe, I think, is that the wine is sweetened naturally, with fruit juice, and isn’t messed with too much.  You also don’t have to use a very expensive bottle of wine here—just something drinkable, definitely under $10.

Like any good summer recipe, this one actually tastes better if you make it ahead of time. Sangria looks beautiful in a pitcher for a party, but will also keep in the fridge for a few days—not too long, though, or the fruit will go soft.  Really, you shouldn’t have that problem because this stuff is a little bit addictive anyway.  Enjoy!

SUMMER SANGRIA

1 bottle dry red wine (cabernet sauvignon or merlot) wine bottle necks

½ pineapple*

2-3 oranges (blood oranges are particularly nice if you can find them)

2 limes

1 lemon

various sliced fruit: peaches, apples, strawberries

one of the following: a citrus liquor (Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Triple Sec), Peach schnapps or peach nectar

Pour wine into a pitcher.  Cube pineapple (if using whole) and add to wine.  Squeeze juice from pineapple rind (or pour from container) into wine mixture.  Squeeze the juices from 1 orange, limes, and lemons into the wine mix.
Make segments from remaining oranges and add, along with other sliced fruit, to the sangria.  Stir in a generous glug of liquor or fruit nectar.
Refrigerate until serving.  Be sure to portion a generous heap of wine-soaked fruit into each glass!  Enjoy.

sangria with pitcher 3
* If cutting a pineapple sounds like too much work, look in the refrigerated case of the produce section of your supermarket for pre-cubed pineapple.  Of course, buying a pineapple whole & cubing it yourself is much thriftier, but whatever you do, please don’t use canned!  Bleck!

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QUICK! QUICK! FATHER’S DAY GIFT IDEAS…

Father’s Day is one week from today, people!  So, just in case you haven’t gotten on the ball yet, here’s a no-frills smattering of gift ideas:planetearth

If you’ve got the funds, spring for a Kindle. Who doesn’t love a fancy gadget? Great for traveling Dads/husbands/etc.

The BBC’s Planet Earth series is available on DVD, visually stunning, and great for families to watch together.

homegame200 I heard this fantastic interview on NPR a few weeks ago with Michael Lewis, the author of Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood.  He happens to be married to Tabitha Soren (remember her from MTV?) and wrote a no-holds-barred account of his journey from reluctant to enthusiastic dad.  Based on the interview, the book promises to be a hilarious read.

record player

For the music aficionado, I love this combo record/CD/radio player.  Excellent retro styling.

Build-your-own shaving kit here; browse through clever t-shirts for hipster dads here.

You knew I was going to offer some foodie ideas, right?

glasses I am a big fan of these “Ottimista/Pessimista” glasses in either beer or wine size.  If Dad’s really into beer, give him a home brewing kit; is he more into wine?  There’s a starter kit to DIY that, too.  Should you have a grilling master on your hands, monogrammed grill tools may be the way to go, and I don’t think one can go wrong with a set of beautiful steak knives.

If you really want to win points for originality, allow me to point you in the direction of the Jerky-of-the-Month Club.  A new flavor, every month for six months.  The internet is a wonderful thing, no?

Last but certainly not least, consider giving a Kiva credit, not just for Father’s Day but for any gifting occasion.  The recepient uses the credit you gave to loan out various amounts to entrepreneurs all over the world.  Each invidual’s picture and story are featured on the website, and Kiva notifies you when the money has been paid back so you can loan it out again and again.  An extremely empowering thing for individuals on both sides of the bargain.

sangria with pitcher (big)Of course, you may be planning to cook for your Dad on Sunday; don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.  Friday we’ll feature an excellent brunch menu of Eggs Benedict & The Best Bloody Marys.  In the meantime, the Summer Classics Series will continue on Tuesday with a big pitcher of Sangria.  Ole!

MAKE-YOUR-OWN HUMMUS

Hummus has become almost ubiquitous on the American food scene in the last few years—and I think this is a good thing. I love hummus; it’s delicious, good for you, and pretty much everybody likes it. It can even motivate finicky kids to voluntarily eat carrot and celery spears (as vehicles for dipping, of course). Unfortunately, ubiquity often leads to mediocrity and such, I find, is the case for poor hummus.

Too many pre-made versions are slimy and unappetizingly pasty; even the stuff that comes out of some restaurant kitchens is seasoned with such a tame hand as to induce yawning. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Now, great people of the internet, is the time for change.

chickpea goodness

If you own a food processor or a blender, out-of-this-world hummus is within your grasp. All it takes is a few (cheap) ingredients and the willingness to taste-test until you get the seasonings the way you like. Hummus is the perfect dinner-party staple because you can make it wayyyyyy ahead of time and, should you make it from scratch, you will impress the heck out of all of your guests.  I like to make a big batch and take it to work on Monday and eat my way through it all week.

A note about fussiness: you can (and should) make this recipe with canned chickpeas—it will still taste MUCH better than the store-bought variety and can literally be done in minutes. However, this is one place where high-maintenance-foodery does prevail. Starting with dried chickpeas instead of canned will take you to a new level of hummus enjoyment. If you’re up for giving dried chickpeas a whirl (added broken economy bonus = they’re even cheaper than the canned stuff!), please do; I promise it will be worth it.

HUMMUS…MAKE THAT REALLY, REALLY GOOD HUMMUS

special equipment: Cuisinart or other food processor, blender (only the heavy-duty kind)

ingredients:

partial components

partial components

1 16 oz. can (approx. 2 cups) chickpeas, a.k.a. garbanzo beans /ceci beans*

2 T tahini a.k.a tahina/tahine**

2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tsp. salt (if you soak your own chickpeas, you may need to add more)

½ tsp. ground cumin

juice of 1 lemon

½ cup water (reserve the cooking liquid if using dried beans), more if needed

¼ cup olive oil

optional garnishes—oregano, paprika, or za’tar spice blend
pine nuts (toasted or untoasted)
drizzle of olive oil

Place all ingredients except olive oil in food processor or blender. Process until smooth, adding water as needed until desired texture is reached. Check the hummus’ taste and add extra garlic, salt, or cumin accordingly. Finally, with the processor or blender running, pour in olive oil.
Transfer to bowl and garnish with any of the options listed above. Goes excellently well with pita chips (storebought or homemade), crackers, and any kind of cut vegetable.

hummus with veggies

*If using dried, you’ll need to soak your beans overnight and then cook them for an hour before making your hummus. The chickpeas will double in amount, so if you want to end up with 2 cups, you only need to soak 1 cup of beans. Cover them with room temperature water and allow to soak overnight. You can stash them in the fridge at this point if you’re not planning to use them right away. Drain off the soaking liquid and transfer to a medium saucepan, covering with fresh water. Bring the mixture to a boil and allow the beans to simmer for an hour or until soft. Drain the beans but RESERVE THE COOKING LIQUID! Save it to thin your hummus; it will add more flavor than plain water.

**Tahini is a sesame seed paste most often used in Middle Eastern food. You may need to go to an ethnic grocery store for this, but it’s actually become readily available—check the “International Foods” aisle of your regular grocery store or call around to more foodie-inclined locations. Once you’ve opened it, keep your jar in the fridge for months. Like natural peanut butter, you’ll need to stir it when using again.

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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?)

545717631_dsc_0275

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.

546963985_dsc_0112

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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NO-FAIL POPOVERS

I’m feeling nostalgic for Memphis.  Always happens at about the three-and-a-half-month mark.  After that much distance, I start craving all the regulars:  pulled pork sandwiches, dry-rubbed ribs (which I attempted to make myself last week, with surprising success, whee!), fried catfish, everything my mother makes, and popovers with strawberry butter.

popovers

Hmm.  These not exactly what you think of when you think of Memphis?  Let me explain.

Growing up, there was a “default” fancy restaurant, reserved for birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations: Paulette‘s in Midtown, an oak-paneled kind of place with a live pianist and French-inspired menu of crêpes, steaks, and other old-school fare.  Just the kind of place to make young girls feel very grown-up and sophisticated; an excuse to wear your party dress.

I haven’t been to Paulette’s in many years, and really the only reason they occupy an important place in my arsenal of culinary memories is because of their popovers.  Instead of a basket of bread, Paulette’s would (and I hope they still do) offer up baskets of hot popovers with strawberry butter.

Oh yes oh yes oh yes.

Have you ever had a popover?  Or is it just a Memphis thing?

popovers 2
Conventional wisdom on popovers has long argued that they are fussy and high-maintenace, but that’s never been the case for me.  In a stroke of what I can only classify as foresight genius, I clipped the Paulette’s recipe for popovers out of the local Memphis paper while I was in high school.  I didn’t even cook then!  In fact, it was probably about four or five years until I even tried the recipe–by then, I was far from home and nostalgic for its tastes.

This recipe has never failed me.  You do have to follow the specifics (pre-heating the pan, using room temperature eggs), but it’s not necessary to use a popover pan the way some people think (a muffin tin works just fine, thankyouverymuch) and the finished product is supremely satisfying.

What does a popover taste like, you might ask?  Like a very eggy-but-not-chewy pastry, crusty on the outside and airy on the inside.  Serve them with strawberry butter, like they do in Memphis.

In just about a week, Jill and I will be driving up to my hometown for a visit.  When we cross the bridge from Arkansas to Tennessee over the big, muddy, ugly Mississippi where my father’s ashes were spread, I will cry.  I’ll weave through the streets of Memphis, which I can navigate like I can’t anywhere else.  Jill and I will eat our way through the city, and through my mother’s two (count them, two!) refrigerators, which she will have stocked for our arrival.

That’s how I’ll know I’m home.

Coming up Tuesday is the next installment of our Summer Classics Series: key lime pie.  Ohhhhhh yeah.  Until then, try these popovers for a lovely weekend brunch.

NO-FAIL POPOVERS546958620_dsc_0032
Paulette’s Restaurant, as printed in The Commercial Appeal many years ago

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 Tbsp oil
3 large eggs, AT ROOM TEMP
¾ tsp. salt
1 cup milk

pan: muffin tin, well-greased

oven: 415° F.

Place muffin tin in hot oven.  Sift together flour & salt.  In a separate bowl, whisk milk and oil together.  Slowly mix milk-oil into dry ingredients with a spoon until creamy smooth.

Add eggs one at a time; this will take some patience!  What you want to achieve are ribbons of egg in the batter.  After all the eggs have been incorporated, stir mixture for 2 additional minutes.  Remove warm muffin tin from the oven, filling each cup ½ full.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove the popovers while still hot or they will stick to the pan!  Perfect served with strawberry butter.*

buttered popover 2
*Strawberry Butter

Mix together equal parts softened butter & strawberry preserves.  It really is that easy!  Of course, with strawberries being so lovely right now you could do something more homegrown: wash & chop strawberries, pat dry.  Place them in a bowl & sprinkle sugar over them, letting the mixture sit for an hour to release the juice.  Blend the strawberries with an equal amount of softened butter.

Either version of strawberry butter will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer indefinitely.  Just make sure you soften it again before you want to use it

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ORZO PASTA SALAD

“Hot town, summer in the city…”

It’s June. My town (Houston) is hot, and it’s only going to get hotter as the weeks roll by. Luckily, along with the heat come ears of sweet corn, ripe Texas peaches, and these adorable yellow heirloom tomatoes, straight outta the Blue Jean backyard.

tiny yellow heirlooms!

I love summer, unabashedly. Cutoff shorts, tank tops, sunscreen, fluffy beach towels, oversized shades, sweat—bring it on, I say! To honor the sultry season, here at Blue Jean Gourmet we’ll be featuring favorite summer dishes every Tuesday from now until Labor Day. Everything from potluck-friendly dishes (like the one below) to pitcher-friendly beverages and crowd-pleasing desserts…Blue Jean Gourmet will be celebrating summer right, and we hope you will celebrate with us!

Some recipes will be familiar (Southern-style potato salad, anyone?), while others will offer a twist on old favorites (a colorful, Southwestern-style coleslaw with a kick!) As always, I promise to provide straightforward, delicious food which is well-worth making, and worth making again and again. If you have any suggestions or requests for summer food favorites as we move forward, please leave a comment or send a note to bluejeangourmet (at) gmail (dot) com.

Let the Summer Classics Series begin!

orzo up-close

This pasta salad recipe is a lighter twist on the mayonnaise-heavy classic, and it’s perfect for summer because a) you can make it ahead of time, b) you can feed a crowd with it, c) the method is very straightforward, and d) the dish highlights all that’s lovely about summer produce. I like to call this recipe “farmers market friendly,” because you can easily adapt this salad to whatever vegetables looked the best at your local vendor.

If you’re not familiar with orzo, now is the time. Generally described as a rice-shaped pasta (personally, I think it looks more like little teardrops, but whatever), you can find orzo in little bags next to all of the other boxed noodles on the pasta aisle. Orzo’s one of the things I always keep in my pantry because it’s so versatile. The bag may be small, but be warned—it cooks up to fairly large amount!

My friend Lee originally introduced me to this recipe (hey you!), and she suggests making this dish more carnivore-friendly by adding chopped prosciutto at the end. Frankly, I’ve never done this, because the dish is so darn tasty as it is…but then again, so is prosciutto.

In tribute to Lee (who works at my high school and in whose office I spent a great deal of time reading Dostoevksy), I’d like to connect classic food with classic literature. A few of my fellow book-nerds and I have decided to take on a “big” book for the summer, a classic we haven’t gotten around to reading yet. Mine? Joyce’s masterwork, Ulysses. I’m a little nervous but a lot excited (book-nerd, remember?) and curious if any of you out there are taking on a substantial summer read. Check out the “100 Greatest” lists at The Guardian, Random House, or Time Magazine for inspiration, and let us know what your suggested favorites are! I know we’ve got a bunch of fellow book-nerds (and teachers and librarians) reading this blog.

So, to sum up:

1) Tuesdays will be Summer Classics Days here at Blue Jean Gourmet from now until Labor Day. Send us suggestions for dishes to feature/adapt!
2) We like classic literature, along with classic food, here at BJG. What are your favorites among the great books? Taking on any big ones this summer?
3) This pasta salad is really, really good and easy to make. Try it!

Sautéed Vegetable Orzo
adapted from Lee Avant

You can use whatever veggies you want—I’ve just listed my favorites. Do your best to chop uniformly so the vegetables will cook evenly.  This salad will taste even better the next day, if there’s any left!

1 package orzo (rice-shaped) pasta orzo ingredients

1 red onion or 2 shallots (the latter has a milder flavor), chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 portabello mushrooms, cubed

1 zucchini, cubed

3-4 fresh tomatoes, cubed

grated parmesan, cubed feta, or bocconcini (tiny mozzarella balls)

olive oil

1-2 T butter (adds flavor)

optional: chopped fresh basil, fresh lemon juice, chopped prosciutto (find with the specialty cheese & deli meats)

Cook orzo in boiling, salted water until toothsome (6-8 minutes). Drain and set aside in a large bowl or serving dish.

Heat olive oil & butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion & garlic and sauté until fragrant. Toss in mushrooms and zucchini, cooking until desired tenderness is achieved (5-8 minutes).

Mix cooked veggies in with the pasta, adding the uncooked tomatoes. Blend in cheese and prosciutto (if using), adding more olive oil if needed to keep the pasta coated. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and garnish with basil.

Serve immediately or cover with foil & keep warm in a low oven. Enjoy!

finished orzo

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