A SUMMER BOOK CLUB BRUNCH

Let’s talk about some of my favorite things: food, drink, and books.

strawberry basil ginger punch | Blue Jean Gourmet

I wanted to share a few of the recipes that were a big hit at the book club meeting I hosted last weekend.  Unfortunately, Jill was out of town, so the photographs are mine and thus not really up to par; you’ll have to take my word for it all tasted much better than it looks!

The hits of the day were a carrot-avocado salad, pickled shrimp, & strawberry-ginger punch.  I also served my trusty deviled eggs and tried this yogurt panna cotta (it tasted great, but I think I badly measured my gelatin, as the texture was off.)  Since a few of our book club members are gluten-free, so I ordered a dozen GF cupcakes from a local baker and put together a cheese plate with GF crackers & olives; had I not ordered the cupcakes, I would have made these almond orange tea cakes—my friend and blog reader Christie shared with me that they easily adapt to be GF.

Now onto books—there are few things I love more than an overly ambitious summer reading list!  I just put together mine for this year, and I can’t wait to get started.  Side note: almost all of these were recommended by friends or students.  I’ve divided them into categories and linked to their Amazon listings.  For more book ideas, I recently updated my Reading Lists for adults & young adults!

Classics I Ought To Have Read By Now:

A Separate Peace (John Knowles)
A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth)
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (James Agee)

Historical Fiction:

The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)
Under the Volcano (Malcolm Lowry)

Just for Fun:

One Writer’s Beginnings (Eudora Welty)
The Dud Avocado (Elaine Dundy)
The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe)
The Woman Upstairs (Claire Messud)

Non-Fiction:

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo)
Mornings on Horseback (David McCullough)
Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil (John Berendt)
Mountains Beyond Mountains (Tracy Kidder)

Poetry/Plays:

Red Doc> (Anne Carson)
Time Stands Still (Donald Marguilles)

Professional Development (as teacher & mom):

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (Paul Tough)
The Art of Description: Word Into World (Mark Doty)

Young Adult Novels:

Beautiful Creatures (Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl)
The Future of Us (Jay Asher & Caroline Mackler)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente)
Winger (Andrew Smith)
Zoe’s Tale (John Scalzi)

What’s on your reading list this summer?  Please share in the comments!

roasted carrots & citrus salad | Blue Jean Gourmet

CARROT-AVOCADO SALAD
via Food52

I’d had my eye on this recipe for a while, because the ingredients are mostly ones we keep on hand, but with a very different method than I usually use.  Also, we have recently become converted to cooking carrots on the grill, so I figured that roasting them would also be delicious—and it was.

In an attempt to keep this fairly simple (as opposed to running out for lots of extra ingredients), I made a few adjustment to the original recipe: swapping the citrus, using grapefruit & lime instead of orange & lemon, and leaving out the crème fraîche.  The resulting salad got raves anyway, but I can see how including the crème fraîche would add a restaurant-level lushness to the dish.

oven: 450°

ingredients:

2 lb carrots (if small, just peel, but if large, peel, quarter, & cut into 3-inch pieces)
1 grapefruit
1 lime
2 cloves garlic
1 T fresh thyme
1 T sugar
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup sprouts
¼ cup cilantro, torn
1 avocado, cut into wedges
2 T toasted sunflower seeds
2 tsp. sesame seeds

While the oven is preheating, place the carrots in a saucepan and cover them with cold water.  Salt the water, turn the stove to high heat, and bring to a simmer.  Reduce to medium and continue to simmer until carrots are tender, 5-8 minutes.

As the carrots cook, cut the grapefruit & lime in half, juicing one half of each and reserving the other halves.  Reserve half of the fresh juice for later, and combine the other half with the garlic, cumin, thyme, red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, and 2 T olive oil; process in the blender until smooth.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once the carrots have cooked, drain them and toss them in the marinade.  Spread the carrots and unjuiced citrus halves on a baking sheet and roast until the carrots are reduced in size and with a few brown spots, approximately 20 minutes.  Allow the carrots to cool to room temperature.

While the carrots are cool, make the salad dressing.  Squeeze the juice from the roasted citrus halves and combine that juice with the reserved fresh juice.  Whisk together with sugar, remaining olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Combine the carrots and avocado slices on a platter.  Top with the sprouts, and sprinkle with the seeds.  Drizzle the dressing over the whole thing and serve immediately.

 

PICKLED SHRIMP
slightly adapted from Saveur

If you’ve never had pickled shrimp before, you are in for a treat!  These were so easy and so good that I’m planning to make them again this weekend as a pre-dinner appetizer (re-using some of the original brining liquid).  I’ll admit, 12 bay leaves seemed a little excessive to me, but they did not at all dominate the flavor, so don’t be frightened by the quantity!

pickled shrimp | Blue Jean Gourmet

ingredients:

~1 lb. medium shrimp (26-30 count), peeled & deveined
2 T Old Bay
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (more if needed)
12 dried bay leaves
half of a yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 T kosher salt
½ tsp. crushed red chile flakes
½ tsp. celery seeds
¼ tsp. ground allspice

First, prepare a bowl of ice water and place a colander in the sink.  Bring eight cups of water to a boil along with the Old Bay.  Add the shrimp, turn heat to low, and cook until the shrimp are pink, just about two minutes.  Drain the shrimp and cool in the ice water, then drain again.

In a 1-quart glass jar, layer the shrimp, onions, and bay leaves.  Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl with a pour spout or Pyrex measuring cup, and pour into the jar, adding more oil if necessary to submerge the shrimp.  Cover with the lid, and chill at least overnight before serving.  Will keep for up to a week as long as the shrimp are completely covered with oil.

 

STRAWBERRY-GINGER PUNCH
slightly adapted from Bon Appetit

The original recipe called for brandy, which I did not have on hand, so I subbed in vodka; I also think this recipe would work nicely with gin and/or St. Germain in a kind of a play on a Pimm’s Cup.

I recommend making the simple syrup ahead of time (up to a week) for easy assembly on the day you are planning to serve the punch.

strawberry ginger punch | Blue Jean Gourmet

for the simple syrup:

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
½ cup hulled & quartered strawberries
¼ cup peeled & sliced fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Reduce heat and simmer until the berries have softened.  Remove from heat and let cool before straining into a jar.

for the punch:

24-oz. club soda (keep cold)
2 ½ cups strawberries, hulled & quartered, divided
1 ½ cups vodka or other spirit of your choice
½ cup basil leaves, divided
¼ cup peeled & sliced fresh ginger
¼ cup fresh lime juice

At least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours before you plan to serve the punch, muddle 2 cups strawberries, ¼ cup basil, and ginger in a large jar or pitcher. Add vodka, lime juice, & simple syrup, and stir.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Strain the muddled mixture into a punch bowl or glass jar, pressing down on the fruit & herbs to release all the flavor.  Add the club soda and reserved strawberries and basil—I also threw in a few wheels of fresh lime so it would look even prettier.

Pour and enjoy!

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MANGO-COCONUT MUFFINS

Despite my best efforts, some blog posts just end up becoming lists.  This is one of them.

mango coconut muffins | Blue Jean Gourmet

1.    Summer vacation is 21 days away BUT WHO’S COUNTING?  In all seriousness, I am more than a little sad at the thought of leaving behind this group of kids.  They will always have a special place in my heart, as they were the ones who have absorbed and witnessed my sometimes-very-fraught adjustment to motherhood.  I was very touched and honored when they voted me to give the faculty speech at their Eighth Grade Promotion.  Fingers crossed I manage to avoid being overly cheesy and actually say something meaningful.

2.    I can’t recommend this Psychology Today article about the modern phenomenon of a “wholly sanitized childhood” highly enough.

3.    There’s been a baby boom of late in my group of friends: 3 new little lives since the start of May, and more to come in June, July, & August!  So tremendous how those who are so small can change so much, and such a joy to support and cheer friends at the start of such adventures.

4.    I made this ice cream last week and seriously, if I hadn’t known that it was dairy-free, I never would have guessed.  Incredibly creamy and simple to make; I’m planning another batch, but with blackberries next time.

5.    Being thirty is starting to feel as awesome as I had hoped it would.  I am comfortable in my own skin, both physically and metaphorically, and have a much easier time deciding what matters to me and what doesn’t; though I still lead myself into temptation sometimes, I have much better access to that still, small voice that affirms “Yes, this way,” or detracts, “Girl, you know better than that!”  I am not as afraid to own up to my mistakes, and I am acutely aware of my own shortcomings.  I’m not busy trying (in vain) to plan out every detail of my life.  I am able to say Take me or leave me, but without the anger.  I’m not so damn defensive all the time.  I don’t feel like I have so much to prove.

6.    I made these muffins for Mother’s Day, or as is the case in our house, Mothers’ Day, and they were a big hit.  The day was very special for many reasons, but it was especially fun to be able to surprise Jill with this video.

MANGO-COCONUT MUFFINS
very slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

This is a moist, dense, not-very-sweet muffin that is a snap to make.  If you want something sweeter/more akin to cake, you can bump the sugar up a bit or make an easy frosting of powdered sugar & milk to drizzle on top.

mango coconut muffin | Blue Jean Gourmet
ingredients:

½ cup coconut oil
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat spelt or whole wheat flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt

1 cup full fat, plain yogurt—at room temperature
1 large egg—at room temperature
½ cup sugar (if using unsweetened coconut, you can cut this to 1/3 cup)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup unsweetened coconut, flaked or shredded

1 ½ cup fresh mango cubes

oven: 375°

Grease or line muffin cups-for me, this recipe yielded 1 dozen.

Heat the coconut oil in the microwave or a saucepan until it just melts.  If it gets too hot, wait for it to cool down before whisking in the room-temperature yogurt and egg, plus sugar and vanilla.

Whisk together dry ingredients.  Make a well in the center, pour in wet mixture, and stir gently to combine—don’t overmix!   Fold in half of the coconut and all of the mango.  Batter will be thick; if it seems too dry, add a splash of milk or coconut milk.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tins and top each muffin with a five-fingered pinch of coconut.  Bake 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool muffin tins on racks until the tins are cool enough to handle, then remove the muffins from tins and place back on racks to cool completely.  Enjoy, or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.

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BLOG BIRTHDAY #4

It’s May and summer’s knocking at the door.  Let’s welcome her in and offer her a drink, shall we?

Hound Dog | bourbon, peach puree, ginger syrup, lemon, & mint - Blue Jean Gourmet

This one is simple and strong—a little on the sweet side, and perfect for sipping on a warm night.  Make a Hound Dog (the awesome name is a bonus) this weekend; I think it would work equally well as a Derby Day or Cinco de Mayo accompaniment.

Me, I’ll be celebrating the four-year (!) anniversary of this blog.  Hard to believe it’s been so long, and hard to imagine my life without this little piece of the internet—and all of you—in it.

It’s fascinating and so entertaining to look back over past blog entries, kind of in the same way that it’s fascinating and so entertaining to read back over old journals.  I decided to pull some favorite posts and list them here, a kind of “Greatest Hits,” if you will, of things I’ve said and foods I’ve made:

MOJITO POPSICLES—Apparently what the people want is boozy popsicles, because this is my most popular post of all time.

DUTCH BABY—Because what’s not to love about a giant pancake?

MY LIFE IN OKRA—A fantastic guest post from Jill in which she shares her killer family recipes for fried & pickled okra.

CHEESE GRITS—They’re just so damn good, and will heal what ails you.

SHAKSHUKA—Fun to say, delicious and dead-simple to make, this has become a house favorite breakfast/brunch/lazy dinner.

STEAMED MUSSELS IN TOMATO BROTH—A dish that represents the kitchen risks I’ve learned to take and ways I’ve grown since starting this blog.

CARDAMOM SHORTBREAD COOKIES—If I were a cookie, this is the kind I would be.  Pairs well with a cup of chai.

TOMATO-CORN PIE—Still one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth.

FIVE-INGREDIENT STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM—Keep it simple, stupid.

SAAG PANEER—Everyone’s favorite Indian dish, and a post that’s about more than just food.

Thank you all for four years of encouragement, readership, and support; I look forward to many more adventures to come!  xx—Nishta

HOUND DOG
recipe courtesy Grub Street

A few weeks ago, I clicked through the fantastic slideshow “Cocktail Country: Outstanding Drinks from All 50 States,” which featured beautifully styled drinks and many, many enticing recipes.

Naturally, I was pleased to see that the featured Tennessee cocktail was from Memphis restaurant Alchemy!  I knew I had to try it, and the Hound Dog did not disappoint.

Hound Dog cocktail - recipe from Alchemy restaurant in Memphis

ingredients:

1 ½ oz. bourbon
1 oz. peach puree*
¾ oz. ginger syrup**
¼ oz. lemon juice
4 springs of mint
ice

Combine the bourbon, peach puree, ginger syrup, lemon juice, and 3 springs of mint in a shaker filled with ice.  Shake and strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice, and garnish with the remaining sprig of mint.

*I can’t wait to make this when peaches are ripe and glorious, but for now, I just used frozen peaches instead.  I thawed a few slices and pureed them with a little bit of water; leftover puree was blended with a few strawberries and plain yogurt and became a baby smoothie for Shiv.

**The original recipe’s instructions are to sleep slices of fresh ginger in warm simple syrup to create the ginger syrup.  I already had a jar of ginger syrup on hand, leftover from the process of crystallizing ginger a few months ago, so I just used that.

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