SUMMER’S SWAN SONG

Today’s post marks the last in our Summer Classics Series.  I know summer’s not quite done yet—the temperatures alone here in Houston will attest—but it seems we are shifting into late summer, that mode in which we savor the last of the stone fruit, can and jam what we can, begin to long for a little nip in the air and think “Hmm, maybe I need that jacket even though it’s 80 degrees outside.”

When the weather cools and necessitates a long-sleeved shirt, I’ll be glad.  Of all the seasons, autumn makes me swoon the most.  But, summer’s not half bad, especially when it comes to eatin’, so for now, I’m going to hang onto tomatoes and corn, keep buying berries by the bushel and sweat it out.

farmer's market pasta

Wrapping up our series is a sweet ode to summer in the form of a meal, the kind you might be inspired to whip up after coming home from the Farmer’s Market or grocery store.  It’s one of life’s greatest pleasures, is it not, having a free swath of time in the kitchen and all possibility spread before you?

Should you be lingering over summer, or inviting summer to linger over you, consider one last key lime pie, a big bowl of vegetable-studded pasta salad, or these rather tasty lamb burgers.

We’ll be starting a new, fall-friendly series next Friday and going back to regular, miscellaneous posts on Tuesdays.  As always, if you have any requests or suggestions for us here at Blue Jean Gourmet, please leave them in the comments.  We heart comments.  We heart you, too.

figs in pan

SUMMER’S SWAN SONG DINNER

These dishes are homey and forgiving.  For the pasta, feel free to switch in whatever noodle you have handy.  Buy the veggies that look good, throw in herbs from your garden.  Serve with some wine and maybe a salad.

You may be skeptical about the idea of figs + balsamic vinegar + ice cream.  Trust me.  It’s freaking GOOD.  My dear friend Stephen, who inspired this recipe & fancily has his very own backyard fig tree (I’m jealous), often switches in Port for the balsamic, and you know what?  That’ll do.

FARMER’S MARKET PASTA

1 lb fettuccine (would be even better with fresh, but I used dried)
1 lb shrimp, peeled & deveined
large bunch of spinach, washed & chopped
2 ears corn, kernels cut off the cob
herb-flavored goat cheese, such as chevre (between 2-4 oz)
a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes
fresh herbs, like basil, chives, parsley
white wine
lemon juice
2 cloves garlic (or more or less), minced
olive oil

Start the pasta cooking in the background.

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat; add shrimp.  After just a minute or two, turn down the heat and add the garlic.  Allow another minute to pass, then pour in a glug of white wine & a squeeze of lemon.  Test your shrimp for doneness—be careful not to overcook!—and let everything simmer for just one or two minutes more.

Remove the shrimp from the pan and reserve off to the side.  Crank the heat back up on your skillet, adding a bit more olive oil if necessary.  Wilt the spinach, add the herbs, corn, & tomatoes and cook until heated through.  Toss in the goat cheese and just a few spoonfuls of pasta water to make a sauce.

Your pasta should be al dente by this point; drain it, add to the spinach mixture, and add in the shrimp.  Toss together and serve with Parmigiano-Reggiano, if you like.

BALSAMIC FIGS OVER ICE CREAMbowl of fig & ice cream

figs, halved

balsamic vinegar, preferably a fig or other fruit-infused variety

sugar

a little butter

walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped

high-quality vanilla bean ice cream

Melt a little bit of butter in a large skillet.  Place the figs, cut side down, over the bottom.  Sprinkle a few tablespoons of sugar over the whole mess, allow to cook for a few minutes so the figs get nicely caramelized.

At this point, if you’re feeling fancy, you can remove the figs before adding the balsamic, thereby freeing up your skillet to reduce down the vinegar into a syrupy glaze.  It will work just as well, though, if you drizzle a generous amount of balsamic (say, a tablespoon or two) right onto the figs, turn down the heat, and leave them alone for a few minutes.

Whatever you do, don’t forget the nuts, because crunch is a good thing here.  Over vanilla ice cream, these figs make for a very elegant, very grownup, but nonetheless satisfying sundae.

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BRIE-STUFFED APRICOTS

School started this week, and I’m afraid I can’t really hold a coherent thought in my head at this moment.  Therefore, this has become the post of miscellany.

apricots on green platter

Observe:

a)    Each year, I create a “Word Tree” with my students on the back wall of my room.  Students are asked to choose words in any language that appeal to them because of what they mean or how they sound.  In past years, I have had words in Hebrew, Hindi, Spanish, Polish, Latin, German, & Portuguese—and English words ranging from “indignant” to “giggly” to “ineluctable” to “satiate.”  My students always manage to impress me and get themselves excited about words, which is pretty cool, no?

Since I always ask my colleagues, friends, and family to contribute words to the word tree, I’d like, this year, to ask you, lovely blog readers, to throw out some of your favorite words.  Remember, any word, any language, because you love what it means or how it sounds.  Share away!  I’ll add you to the tree next week.

b)     Speaking of words, I’m obsessed with the Online Etymology Dictionary.  It’s been fun for my students and me to discover where words come from, like “miscellany,” which comes from the Latin miscere, meaning “to mix,” and “lollapalooza,” descending from lallapalootza in an unspecified American Indian language, meaning “remarkable person or thing.” (One of my students totally brought this word in; have I mentioned I love my students?)

c)    There’s a very cool jewelry artist here in Houston named Melissa Borrell who makes really lovely, unusual pendants, earrings, and other decorative works.  The thing is, she’s not going to be in Houston long and her moving means there are a bunch of fantastic pieces on sale.

d)    Next week, our super-cute-and-knowledgeable sommelier returns with a post on Wine Tasting Basics!

e)    I have three, long, hand-written letters from three fantastic friends to respond to this weekend.  Damn, I’m a lucky girl.

f)    You never thought I’d get to the food, did you?  Well, it’s a little bit miscellaneous, too.  The inspiration came from one of the many receptions/dinners/galas that we have been to in the last handful of years on account of Jill’s work.  Some are really fun, some are really boring, but since I always enjoy getting dressed up and eating free food, I’m a pretty easy spouse to drag to said events.

At some point, I filed this idea away in my brain; the original was stuffed with cream cheese, but I thought surely we could get a little bit more exciting?  I tested brie-stuffed and mascarpone-stuffed versions on a crowd a few weekends ago, and the brie was the clear favorite, though there was a minority of guests who are not stinky-cheese fans and therefore found the mascarpone more palatable.  You should know, though, that all of the little apricots disappeared in a flash; I had to pry them away so they could be photographed!

I think these would be lovely as part of an hors d’oeuvres spread, or with a cheese course or dessert assortment or just simply paired with a bottle of crisp white to start a meal.  Probably you fine people out there have further ideas for cheeses that would work, so feel free to leave suggestions along with your Word Tree Words—ooh!  We could have a whole “cheese” section of the tree!  Havarti and Jarlsberg and Chevre all hanging together in perfect harmony.

See how my brain is wired for miscellany these days?  I’m off to teach some renegade eighth graders, and in the meantime I leave you with a very elegant but simple-to-assemble canapé which I hope will serve you well.

BRIE-STUFFED APRICOTS

jumbo dried apricots (test these for springy-ness before buying; overly dry fruit will not stuff well)

small wedge Brie cheese, softened at room temp apricots up close

good-quality honey

toasted almonds, thinly sliced

Using a small, sharp paring knife, slit the apricot around its curve, working the knife into the meat of the fruit to form a pocket.  Be careful not to cut all the way around, just about a half-moon shape is enough.  Repeat with desired number of apricots—I think I did twenty-four.

Use a small spoon (my grapefruit spoon worked well) to stuff about a ½ tsp of Brie into each apricot.  Don’t worry if a little bit is showing, I think it’s nice to give diners an idea of what they’re eating and the two colors look lovely in contrast.

Drizzle the platter of apricots with a gentle rain of honey, either squeezing from the bottle or warming a bit in the microwave and then zig-zagging a spoonful over the fruit.

Dot the top of each apricot with an almond slice.  And I’ve gotta quote Julia here, ubiquitous as she may be it’s for a reason, Bon Appétit!

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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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HOMEMADE GRANOLA

The summer of 2006 was a big one for me.  It’s the pivot point in my life that I would point to, if asked, and say “That’s the summer that changed everything.”

granola spices

It was the summer between the two years I spent in Arizona for graduate school.  It was the summer I traveled to India for the first time in over a decade.  It was the summer I spent more time with my parents than I had since I lived in their house.  It was the summer my twin godsons were born, the summer I spent living with them & their parents, an extra pair of hands in the diaper-changing rotation, offering bottles and lullabies to tiny six-week-olds.  It was a magical, luminous summer that haunts and carries me because it suddenly, at the end, became the summer that my father died.

Before everything changed, I began the quest to make exceptional granola because I was spending my days with two regular granola-eaters: my mama, and Stephen, the twins’ dad.  Both of them purchased boxed versions which seemed bland and sad.  I was convinced that I could do better.  Turns out, I can.  And you can too.

Granola is infinitely adaptable in terms of the fruits, nuts, spices, and flavorings involved; since that summer, I’ve made a dozen varieties, customizing one blend for a friend who loves dried cherries with cashews, packing others full of dried pineapple and toasted coconut.

What I’ve learned is that there are a few principles or guidelines that, when applied, insure that your homemade granola will kick store bought granola’s ass:

a)    Always pre-toast any nuts you are using.  They’ll add much more flavor and hold up better in milk, yogurt, etc.

b)    If you’re using dried fruit, add it at the very end of baking or it will dry out.  If the fruit you’re using seems extra-dry, pre-soak it in a few tablespoons of fruit juice or even water to re-constitute.

c)    Spice the granola beyond what seems like a reasonable amount.  Whenever someone asks to watch me make my granola, I illicit a “Wow, that’s a lot!” when tossing in heaps of cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom.  Of course, I get a second “Wow, this is good!” that proves my point—spice so that you can see the color of the oats change.

d)    When combining the dry ingredients with the liquid, make certain every bit of granola becomes wet before you bake it.  If you need to extend your liquid, try a fruit juice, such as apple, which adds flavor but not fat.

I suppose granola has become, for me, a relic from a wild, lightning-strike kind of summer, a connection to that strange bridge of time where two lives were starting and one was ending, a creation that feels almost like an act of faith.  One of my last memories of my dad is as he came downstairs from his traditional, epic, Saturday-afternoon baths, which always followed his traditional, epic, Saturday-afternoon naps.

Once she heard the water drain upstairs, my father singing along to old Indian music, my mother would put the teakettle on for afternoon tea.  I had just taken my first batch of granola out of the oven.  My father, who loved all things related to food (hi, genetics) but never falsely praised anything I did, especially anything I cooked, walked into the kitchen, grabbed a hot handful, chomped around and said, “Hey Nito, this is pretty good.”

granola, ready to be eaten

Indeed it is.

BASIC GRANOLA FORMULA

I’m calling it a “formula” and not a “recipe” for a reason; use what you like or what you have around.  Play with flavor combinations!  Whatever you do, I guarantee it will taste better than anything that comes in a box.  If you’d like more hard-and-fast measurements, please see my two flavor combinations below*

dry ingredients:

4 cups old-fashioned oats (do NOT use quick-cooking)

¾ cup steel-cut oats (you could easily leave these out and simply increase the amount of old-fashioned oats to 4 ½ cups)

¾ to 1 cup toasted, unsalted nuts (if you only have salted on-hand, don’t add additional salt to the granola)

¼ cup each wheat germ & flaxseed meal (you can find these in the bulk aisles of health food stores & conventional groceries have also started carrying the Bob’s Red Mill versions of these products, but again, they’re not deal breakers)

generous amounts of good-quality spices in any combination you like

1 tsp. salt

liquid ingredients:

5-6 T unsalted butter

½ cup canola or similarly mild-flavored oil (I’ve used safflower in the past)

½ cup brown sugar OR maple syrup

vanilla or other flavoring such as orange, almond, etc. (quantity will vary from 1 tsp- 2 T depending on the potency of flavoring)

oven: 325° to start

pan: two foil-lined, sprayed baking sheets (this will make your life so much easier when cleanup rolls around)

method:

Combine dry ingredients in a very large bowl.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan; remove from heat, then add the rest of the liquid ingredients and whisk together.

Using a spatula, pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and fold it all together, taking the time to ensure that each piece has been coated.

Spread the granola out in thin layers on the baking sheets.  Depending on the size of your baking sheets, you may need to bake in two batches.  Do not pile granola on the baking sheets or it won’t cook evenly!

Bake for 20 minutes at 325°, then turn the oven down to 300° and remove the baking sheets from the oven to stir the granola with a wooden spoon or spatula, just to bring the browner edge pieces into the middle and the center stuff out to the edge.

Add dried fruit at this point, if using, and place the baking sheets back in the oven on opposite racks from the first round of baking (moving the previous top sheet to the bottom and the bottom sheet to top).  Bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, until granola is light golden brown and incredibly fragrant.

Cool on racks before storing in an airtight container for up to several weeks.  It’s delicious with fresh fruit, milk or soymilk, on top of yogurt or ice cream!

*These are the variations I made most recently; I actually measured what I did so I could share with you here!  Both versions turned out lovely, though the first is definitely more traditional, the latter more exotic.

CRANBERRY-ALMOND-VANILLA GRANOLA

1 cup toasted, chopped almonds
1 cup dried cranberries
½ cup brown sugar
2 T vanilla extract (doubling the amount make the flavor more pronounced)
2 T cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cloves

CHERRY-PECAN-COCONUT GRANOLA

1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
1 cup dried cherries, chopped
1 cup dried coconut, dry-toasted in a skillet (if you use sweetened, cut the maple syrup in half)
½ cup maple syrup
1 T orange flower water, also called orange blossom water*
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. nutmeg

*This is a potentially tricky ingredient; I had it in my pantry from a recent trip to a Middle Eastern grocery.  If you don’t want to go out and get it, but still want the orange flavor, you could use 1 tsp of orange extract or a squeeze half an orange into the liquid ingredients.

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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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MEXICAN-STYLE PORK TENDERLOIN SANDWICH

This may be my favorite sandwich of all time.

torta al pastor

I mean, come on.  Chipotle-and-honey-marinated pork tenderloin with spicy mayonnaise, melted cheese, pineapple, avocado, & cilantro clearly equals heaven.

Of course, I’m biased in favor of all things Mexican and Tex-Mex.  It’s in my blood.  My mother perfected the Blue Jean Gourmet margarita recipe while bartending in a Mexican restaurant in the seventies.  My father, who worked for that chain of Mexican restaurants, took the three of us on a Texas road-trip for research purposes when I was a pre-teen; we ate our way through Dallas, Houston, & San Antonio, consuming tortilla after tortilla, trying salsa after salsa, and the night we arrived home in Memphis, decided to make—you guessed it!—Mexican food for dinner.

Now I live in Houston, where I’m lucky to have the chance to taste-test all kinds of Mexican and Tex-Mex food, from high-end, award-winning places to less-fancy-but-still-delicious taco trucks that line the city.  And it was here in Houston, during college, that I fell in love with the cheap-but-filling tortas served up at this restaurant.

The torta is a Mexican-style sandwich, typically made on a crusty, baguette-type roll called a bolillo, with myriad possible fillings, including al pastor, or pork, which I did my best to recreate at home a few weeks ago.

Personally, I think this would make an excellent weekend sandwich, because it’s incredibly satisfying but not very fussy. Marinate the pork tenderloin ahead of time, grill it up outside and you won’t even have to heat up your house (bonus!)

sliced pork tenderloin

While it’s cooking, prep your accoutrement and lay it all out so everyone can make his/her own sandwich.  For an authentic accompaniment, try making elote with the last of sweet-summer corn.  Mexico City without the plane ticket, my friends!  Enjoy.

MEXICAN-STYLE PORK TENDERLOIN SANDWICH avocado cilantro pineapple
serves 4

components:

bread (bolillo roll or baguette)

pork tenderloin (1 lb- 1 ½ lb)*

chipotle mayonnaise*

sliced cheese (Mexican-style cheeses with a sharp flavor that will melt well include queso quesadilla, asadero, or chihuahua.  Substitute mild cheddar if you can’t find any of these)

sliced avocado

cubed pineapple

quick-pickled onions*

To assemble, lay the split rolls on a baking sheet and place cheese on one side of each.  Place under a low broiler or on the grill you just used to cook the pork until the cheese melts.

Slice up tenderloin to desired thickness & let everyone “have at” the sandwich making!

*PORK TENDERLOIN

If you’ve never used chipotle peppers in adobo sauce before, PLEASE go out and buy a jar now (they’re cheap!)  Chipotle peppers are simply smoked jalapeños but their flavor is amazing.
chipotle in adobo
marinade:

1 cup chipotle-flavored barbecue sauce
2 T honey
1 T chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

optional: I had an over-ripe peach which I peeled, pureed, & added to the marinade.

If you don’t have one on hand, throwing in some apricot preserves might make a nice counterpoint to the spice.

Grilling the tenderloin is easiest, searing it first on all sides over a medium-high flame, then moving it off the heat and letting it cook, grill cover down, for about 15 minutes.  Bring the tenderloin inside and let it rest, covered in foil, before cutting into it.

If grilling is not an option, your best bet is to sear the tenderloin on your stovetop, in either a grill pan or other heavy-bottomed pan, then transfer the whole thing to a 425° oven for about 15-20 minutes.

*CHIPOTLE MAYONNAISE

This isn’t rocket science, really.  Mayonnaise + fresh lime juice + a spoonful or two (depending on your heat tolerance) of chipotles in adobo.  Annnnnnd done!

*QUICK-PICKLED ONIONS

quick-pickled onions

I’m an onion lover.  Absolutely adore them any way they’re offered up, raw, grilled, pickled, fried.  In fact, my mom used to tell me when I was little that I’d better marry someone who loved onions and garlic as much as I do, otherwise I’d have a problem.  Thank goodness for Jill or I’d never get any kisses!

I know most people do not share my love of the onion.  However, pickling red onion is a great way to take the “edge” off of the taste but add flavor & crunch to your sandwich.  Pickled carrots, which you can also find pre-made on the same aisle as the chipotles in adobo, are a good alternative if you really just aren’t an onion fan.

Slice the desired amount of red onion thinly.  Bring between ½ cup to 1 cup of white vinegar to a boil, then add an equal amount of white sugar and a pinch of salt.  Add onions and remove from the heat.  Toss in a little cilantro & a pinch of cumin.  Let the onions sit in the liquid until ready to serve.

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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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CHEWY AMARETTI COOKIES

Sometimes, a little fuss is in order.

amaretti cookies

Though our general philosophy here at Blue Jean Gourmet is that food does not need to be fussy to be delicious, there are occasions (and recipes and people) for which a little fuss is not such a bad thing.  If you are making the fuss for a reason, it ceases to be fuss and starts to be care or love or desire or enthusiasm.  And those are all good things.

Last week, Jill met my extended family for the first time.  They’re not technically my family, as we’re not related by blood, but the aunties and uncles I grew up with in Memphis are mine, and I am theirs.  They’re all brave immigrants, like my parents, who came to this country from India and somehow figured out how to raise children (sassy, first-generation children) in a completely foreign land.

As you can imagine, the whole l-e-s-b-i-a-n thing has been sort of a hard road for all of us; hard enough, and then really just not on the radar in the Indian community at all.  But since my father died three years ago, things have shifted.  I’m older; Jill and I have been together longer.  My mother, in her generosity and determination to build a great adult relationship with me, has met me more than halfway.  And my community has followed.

We had what my friends and I jokingly called a “sip and see,” usually thrown in the South when a baby is born and everyone comes to inspect him/her and drink punch.  Instead of a baby, we had (a very nervous) Jill.  And instead of punch, we had sparkling shiraz, fruit sodas, cheese & crackers, spinach dip, fruit, homemade chocolate-covered strawberries, and these cookies.

These amaretti, unlike the also delicious but crunchy kind you may be used to, are light, airy, and almost evaporate in your mouth when served plain.  An equally good but richer option is to “glue” them together with some jam or melted chocolate.

In case you were wondering, Jill was charming and gracious, as she always is.  I think my aunties and uncles saw at least a sliver of what I see in her, and they were gracious and lovingly inquisitive back.  When I closed the door after our last guest, I found myself moved to tears because two parts of my life had finally come together, parts I long thought would always be separate.  Certainly an occasion worth making a little fuss over.

CHEWY AMARETTI COOKIES
adapted from Gourmet magazine, January 2009

ingredients:

7 oz. almond paste (not marzipan)
1 cup sugar
2 large egg whites, at room temperature for 30 minutes
¼ cup almonds, toasted

oven: 300°
pan: baking sheet
special equipment: food processor, parchment paper & a pastry bag (or just use a large Ziploc bag instead, like me)

Line the baking sheets with parchment paper; please don’t try to substitute anything else as it won’t work and you’ll regret it, I promise.

Pulse the almond paste with the sugar in your food processor until it has broken up & looks crumbly; add almonds & egg whites and process until the mixture is smooth.

Pile the mixture into your pastry bag or Ziploc bag; if the latter, cut off one corner of the bag and squeeze rounds onto the parchment.  Cookies work best if they are less than an inch round; place them just as far apart on the sheets.

amaretti on parchment

Bake until the cookies are golden & puffed, about 15 minutes.  Cool on a rack, then peel off of the parchment.

optional: Sandwich the cookies together, two at a time, using any number of fillings; melted chocolate, raspberry or strawberry jam, Nutella, etc.

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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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