APPLE-PEAR CROSTADA

It’s well past midnight as I’m typing this and a Brazoria County Sheriff is standing in my living room, cross-referencing witness statements from the bizarre car crash that happened outside my house tonight.  Our dear, dear friends Courtney and John came over to deliver an embarrassment of riches on behalf of our amazing community of loved ones: soup, kugel, chicken, pasta, pot roast, carrot cake, a taco “kit,” grocery gift cards, cash for hospital parking, and on and on.  Jill starts chemotherapy tomorrow; we are being very well cared for.


As we were sitting down to dessert, a giant crash—poor Courtney’s car, which had been parked in the street in front of our house—had been completely smashed and shoved into the neighbors’ driveway.  A big, red truck was weaving down the street; its driver parked in someone else’s driveway and stumbled to his house.  Turns out we have a very unsavory neighbor.

Life’s craziness is relative and I’ve never found that “My life is crappier than yours” game some people play to be very compelling or gratifying.  There’s no prize for shittiest circumstances, and there’s very little good that comes from bemoaning them.  Sometimes there’s just what is and what we need to do next, and the little moments of humor or hilarity or camaraderie that inevitably manifest even in the worst of times.

In a couple of weeks, we might be laughing, looking back at the bizarreness of the evening, not because there’s anything actually funny about my dear friend’s car being smashed by a drunk driver, but because sometimes you just have to shake your head, ask “What next?,” change your mind about asking “What next?,” put on a pot of coffee and deal with it.

APPLE-PEAR CROSTADA
barely adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Café

If you cope by baking (like me!), this would be a fun one to do this time of year, when very good apples and very good pears are available.  Hearty enough to work as a breakfast item but elegant enough to serve as dessert (especially if served with ice cream), we all enjoyed the texture of the cornmeal crust as well as the crunch that the not-separately-cooked fruit offered.

If you’re used to/fond of a more traditional “smooshy” fruit pie (yes that’s a technical term), I’d recommend softening the apples and pears for a few minutes beforehand in a saucepan with the rest of the filling ingredients, over low heat.

for the pastry:

1 ½ cups cornmeal (fine or medium)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 egg
~1/3 cup cream or half & half

pan: 10 or 9” tart or pie pan
oven: 375°

Pulse the cornmeal, flour, sugar, & salt in a food processor (fitted with the regular blade) before adding the butter and processing until the mixture forms a coarse meal.

Add the egg, pulsing briefly, then add enough cream for the mixture to just come together.  You might have to take it out of the food processor and hand-mix it a bit before rolling it out.

Divide the dough in half and roll each piece out on a very well floured surface (it will be sticky!)  Place one dough round into the bottom of the greased pan, trimming the edges where they spill over the top.  Cut the other half of the dough into strips and reserve.

for the filling:

2 ½ pounds mixed apples and pears
3 T sugar (maybe a little more, if you like)
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 T flour
1 T vanilla
pinch salt

Peel, core, & slice the fruit.  Toss gently with the remaining ingredients.

Spread the fruit into the crust, then arrange the remaining dough strips to form a lattice on top.  Transfer the pan to a baking sheet and bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden on top.  Cool 10-15 minutes before serving warm.

(option: Before baking, brush the crust with a little extra cream & then sprinkle with some Demerara sugar.  Makes it sparkle pretty and adds extra crunch).

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FRUIT-INFUSED TEQUILA

No time to waste on paragraphs.  Here’s a list of reasons you should make this:

1)    Tequila drinks are delicious.
2)    This tequila drink is delicious even when you use relatively cheap tequila (like I did).
3)    It’s amazingly simple to make.
4)    You can easily make it for a crowd.
5)    If you prep it today, it will be ready to drink on Monday.

Convinced?  Okay then.  Labor Day weekend–go!

FRUIT-INFUSED TEQUILA
adapted from Bon Appetit

The original recipe calls for the use of watermelon, which I don’t find I enjoy in cocktail form, so I substituted pineapple.  I also used crystallized ginger instead of regular, because that’s what I had on hand, but I will repeat that choice when I make this in the future.  Without the added sugar, I think the straight tequila would be a bit much.

ingredients:

1 small to medium bottle tequila (approximately 4-4 ½  cups)
half a ripe pineapple
2 mangoes
3 peaches or other stone fruit
4 limes
¼ cup crystallized ginger

optional: homemade grenadine

Peel & dice the pineapple, then place it into the bottom of a pitcher fitted with a lid.  Squeeze any juice from the pineapple rind into the pitcher as well.  Peel & dice the mangoes, discarding the pit.  Add to the pitcher.

No need to peel the stone fruit; just slice & toss it in.  Chop the crystallized ginger roughly, then add it to the pitcher as well.  Squeeze in the lime juice, then pour in the tequila.  Use the back of a large spoon or potato masher (it works!) to press down on the fruit, extracting all juices.

Store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.  When ready to serve, strain the tequila and discard the fruit (or serve it to the brave).  Pour over crushed ice, drizzle with grenadine (if using), & serve with lime.

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PEACHES, THREE WAYS

I’ll take the brutal South Texas heat if it means that I get to buy a flat of these every weekend at the Farmers Market:

The smell of ripe peaches, the fuzz of their skin, the feel of peach juice running down my arm—all scream “summer” to my senses.  Peaches arrived a few weeks ago down here, just a few weeks shy of strawberries, bringing with them black & blue berries, soon to be followed by garden-ripe tomatoes and sweet, sweet corn.

Yesterday I watched my eighth graders graduate from middle school; I called their names as they walked across the stage to accept their certificates of achievement, and I got all teary as they and their parents came up in the reception to say goodbye.

While the advent of summer vacation is thrilling (and almost feels like cheating as I sheepishly silence my celebrations in the presence of friends who work, you know, all year round), I know I’m going to miss my kids.  In fact, I already do.

I had the pleasure of teaching these students twice—in their sixth grade AND their eighth grade year–and they have become part of my daily life, their mood swings, our inside jokes, and a whole bunch of good conversation.  I have witnessed them coming into themselves, becoming these funny, brave, uncertain, kind, perceptive, and hard-working people before my very eyes.

Teenagers don’t get very good publicity, and I know that parenting one is different from teaching sixty-five, but I’m here to tell you; the kids are alright.  They are better than alright, in fact, they are awesome.

That being said, I’m still pretty psyched about summer.  I’ll miss those punks, but at least I have peaches.

PEACH MARGARITAS

ingredients:

1 ½ cups fresh peach puree*
juice of 1 orange
juice of 2 lemons
½ cup tequila
shot of Cointreau or other orange liquor

Fill your blender with ice, pour in the remaining ingredients.  Blend until frothy, serve.

* Peel 3-4 ripe peaches.  Remove the pits & slice, then process in the blender until smooth, adding a wee bit of water if necessary.  Strain if you’re feeling fussy.

PEACH TART



Gingersnap crust, marscapone filling–need I say more?  A favorite make-ahead dessert from last summer.

PEACH ICE CREAM
barely adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, which you should buy immediately

ingredients:

4-5 ripe peaches
½ cup water
¾ cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup sour cream
½ tsp. vanilla
squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Cook peaches, water, & sugar in a saucepan on medium heat, stirring occasionally until soft–about 10 minutes.  Allow the mixture to cool before processing it in the blender with the rest of the ingredients–I like to leave a few chunks of peaches for texture’s sake.

Chill the mixture in the refrigerator before churning in your ice cream maker.  Like most homemade ice cream, this one is best served fresh.  If you store it in your freezer for more than an hour or two, it will need significant time at room temperature to thaw to a scoop-able state.

Of course, if Dolly is any indication, it won’t be hard for you to finish the batch straightaway.

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POACHED PEARS WITH POMEGRANATE

We’re reaching the end of pomegranate season here, which makes me a little sad.

There’s something downright seductive about the jewel-bright and difficult seeds of the fruit that tempted Persephone in the Underworld, the same fruit from which grenadine was originally made, its fuschia infamously staining to fingers, lips, pants, and shirt-fronts.

For years my father peeled me pomegranates. It was the only time I saw him wear an apron, seemingly wine-stained and spattered, tied delicately around his waist. He would buy the fruit by the case and shuck them, like pearl-laden oysters, by the half-dozen. Every fall a Tupperware container full of seeds kept constant in my family’s refrigerator, rid of their pith and ready for my consumption.

So now, the seemingly pain-in-the-ass task of undoing a pomegranate, exploring its honeycombed chambers and gently prying out the fruit (which is much easier to do when the pomegranate is submerged in a bowl of water, by the way)—it has become a kind of enactment for me, something deliberate and meaningful, connected to him and memory.

Also, you know, pomegranates are just plain delicious. You can use them in desserts or salads but I just like to throw back giant handfuls and chomp away. A few weeks ago, for a book club brunch, I wanted to make a fruit salad with some pomegranate seeds I had stored up in the fridge. The only other fruit I had in the house, though, were some Bosc pears, my go-to morning “It’s 10:00 and I am HUNGRY but it’s too early to each lunch, isn’t it?” snack.

In order to fancy things up a bit, I poached the pears before serving them with the pomegranate seeds, pouring a bit of the reduced poaching liquid over the whole dish.  My lovely book club ladies raved, and so I had to pass the idea along. This little dish would make a wonderful addition to a weekend brunch and could also serve as a light, elegant dinner party dessert.

POACHED PEARS WITH POMEGRANATE

Even when pomegranates are not available as an accompaniment, poached pears can be an elegant dessert. You can serve them warm, with ice cream, atop a tart or cake, alongside butter cookies, or with some cinnamon-spiked whipped cream.

When choosing a wine for poaching, go with something you know and like. Of course, a sweeter white will work well, as will a white with fruit or spice notes.

ingredients:

1 bottle white wine (I used this Viognier)

3-4 Bosc or Anjou pears

¼ cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1 whole vanilla bean

5-6 cardamom pods, lightly smashed

3-4 whole cloves

seeds from one pomegranate half

Pour the wine into a heavy saucepan, tossing in the spices. Add the sugar & stir until it dissolves. Heat the poaching liquid over medium heat until small bubbles form and wisps of heat rise from the top of the pan.

While waiting for the liquid to simmer, peel & core the pears. You may wish to poach them in halves, for a dramatic presentation, or in quarters or even slices—it’s up to you. Depending on how you slice them, you may have to poach in batches.

Once the liquid’s ready, cook the pears until they are tender, approximately 15-20 minutes. Adjust the heat so that the liquid does not come up past a gentle boil. When the pears are done, remove them and set aside, either to cool or to serve.

Strain the spices out of the saucepan and crank up the heat, bringing the liquid up to a boil. Reduce as much or as little as you like—there’s no wrong way to do this! Serve the pears warm or cold, on a bed of pomegranate seeds & doused with some of the syrupy liquid.

(Chances are, you’ll have at least a cup or two of poaching liquid/syrup leftover. Don’t throw it out! You can use it to moisten a pound or layer cake, combine it with powdered sugar for a flavorful icing, or play around using it as a cocktail mixer.)

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APPLE-SOUR CREAM MUFFINS

Sharing is good.  Despite what people always claim about only children, my mother contends that I was always eager to share.  Perhaps because I was so accustomed to playing alone, except when I conscripted one of my parents to take part in my favorite game—restaurant.  Prescient, no?

apple muffins on plate
In any case, I fancy myself a sharer.  I like to share books and music and hugs (but not half-hugs) and food and information, of which I sometimes share too much.  I’m going to grow up to become one of those old women who sidle up to you with a Southern accent and over-share treacherous details about their medical problems, aren’t I?  And then proceeds to the buffet, where she shoves rolls into her giant handbag for later?

In the meantime, allow me to share with you two new websites I’m mildly obsessed with slash grateful for the existence of:

1001 Rules for my Unborn Son

Spot-on, modern gentlemanly voice offering advice that my fourteen-year-old male students (who are a tough crowd to please) respect.  Author Walker Lamond has recently published a book of all one thousand and one rules, but the website counts up from #1 and is currently at #406.

unborn son
Some of my favorite rules include:

402. If you aren’t hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not hungry.
383. Framing a poster does not make it valuable.
318. Don’t gloat. A good friend will do it for you.
241. Keep a well-stocked bar. (This last one works for daughters, too!)

The unborn son to whom the title refers is actually no longer unborn, as he came into the world shortly after the completion of the book.  Go spend your lunch break perusing this site; you’ll be touched and amused, I think.

And the Pursuit of Happiness

Artist and journalist Maira Kalman is proving that the internet can, in fact, be used tell beautiful stories.  Using mixed media for each entry, she narrates her personal exploration of an issue that, by the end, becomes magically relevant to us all.

Kalman manages to strike just the right tone, making herself into an Everyman, even though her talent clearly says otherwise.  Each time I experience her work, I learn something and I come away more hopeful than I arrived.

kalman blog

Of course, I’d like to share a recipe with you, too.  I tweeted about these muffins a few weeks ago and one of my followers (angeltread) requested that I post the recipe.  Since I was winging it the first time, I did a second run, got Sonya to take some pictures, and actually wrote down what went in them.  It helps, I know.

Given the deliciousness of apples at this time, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to make these.  They give your kitchen that warm, fuzzy, happy autumn smell, too.  And have a streusel topping—did I mention that?

I know ya’ll have good stuff to share, too.  Other great website recommendations?  Exciting news?  Book suggestions?  Celebrity gossip?  Dancing baby videos?

APPLE-SOUR CREAM MUFFINS
makes 12-16 muffins

I know, you’re thinking, sour cream, whaaaat?  Trust me, though.  Keeps things nice and moist but also prevents the muffins from being too sweet.  It’s a muffin, not a cupcake.  There should be a difference!

For the version pictured here, I used Empire apples, which I love and had on hand, but I think this recipe would work equally well with Jonagold, Cortlandt, or Golden Delicious apples.

ingredients: apples in bowl

1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground allspice
½ tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible)
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt

2 eggs
1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup sour cream
½ stick unsalted butter, melted

2 small apples, peeled & diced
1 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted & chopped

streusel topping:

2 T brown sugar
1 ½ T unsalted butter, softened a bit
1 T flour
¼ tsp. each cinnamon, allspice, & nutmeg

pan: lined or well-greased muffin tin
oven: 400°

Preheat oven.  Stir together dry ingredients and set aside.

Whisk the eggs and brown sugar together before adding the butter.  Stir in the sour cream.  Fold in the dry ingredients, then stir in apple pieces & nuts.  Be careful not to over-mix!

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups so that each cup is three-quarters full.  Combine the streusel ingredients in a small bowl, mixing with your fingers to break up the butter into small bits.

Sprinkle a generous amount of streusel on top of each muffin before baking, 18-20 minutes.  Cool on a rack before removing the muffins.  Enjoy warm or store in an airtight container (though I’d recommend refrigerating these after a day).

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CRANBERRY VANILLA COFFEECAKE

I don’t buy the theory that everything happens for a reason.

crumb cake slice cut out

After watching my father go from perfectly fine to totally incapacitated in the course of three weeks, after witnessing some of the best people I know be unable to conceive and carry a healthy baby, after being privy to the pretty hellish family backgrounds of some of my students, I’m extremely resistant to the line of thinking that asserts “there’s some good reason for this totally shitty thing that’s happening.”  In my world, shitty things just sometimes happen.

I do, however, believe that if something shitty should happen, you might as well find an angle on the situation from which you can learn something, be grateful for something, grow, and/or laugh.

So.  As you might imagine, I’m not very good at standing around and not doing things.  Not good at going to Costco with my best friend and letting her put everything in my cart and load everything into my car.  Not good at letting Jill do the cooking.  Not good at standing around at a Halloween party, unable to pour drinks.

I’m going to back to the doctor today, but I have to say the experience of the last few days has made me grateful and thoughtful.  I see now how accustomed I am to assessing my value via the things I can do: baking, helping, fixing, mailing packages, cleaning, grading, writing letters, blogging (which I’m doing anyway—shhhh!)

What I’ve been forced to realize is that, even if I never contributed another action in my life, I would still be loved.  I’d be valued and of importance.  I’d be useful simply for being myself.

And that’s a pretty big thing to get.

CRANBERRY VANILLA COFFEECAKE
ever-so-slightly adapted from Gourmet, December 2008

If your hands are in even slightly better shape than mine, MAKE THIS CAKE.  The food processor & stand mixer do most of the work, and this cake tastes like fall, nostalgia, home, & butter all rolled into one.  Fresh cranberries are readily available these days, but if you must, you can substitute thawed, frozen ones.

Because I prefer my breakfast cakes a bit tart, I’ve dialed back the sugar by a quarter cup from the original recipe and added a bit of lemon zest.  Feel free to go for a sweeter version if you’d like.

cake ingredients: crumb cake slice 2

½ a vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup cranberries
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
½ cup whole milk
zest of one lemon

oven: 375°
pan: 9-inch round cake pan (I used a spring form)

Butter the pan & line the bottom of it with a round of parchment paper.  Butter the parchment, too.  Trust me.  It’s easier this way.

Use your food processor to make vanilla sugar: scrape the insides of the vanilla bean* into the bowl of the food processor along with the sugar.  Pulse to combine.

Remove vanilla sugar from bowl & reserve ¼ cup for the topping.  Pulse the cranberries with another ¼ cup of vanilla sugar until finely chopped.

To make the cake batter, whisk together the flour, baking powder, & salt.  Beat together the butter & remaining vanilla sugar (1 cup) until pale and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Scrape down the bowl, then add the flour mixture & milk alternately.  Begin & end with the flour!

Stir in the lemon zest; be careful not to over-mix.

To assemble the cake, spread half of the batter in the pan (don’t worry if it looks a little thin).  Because the cranberries tend to give off a lot of water, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the food processor & spread them in a circle over the batter, leaving a slight border.

Top the cake layers with the remaining half of the batter (again, don’t worry if it looks thin!)  Top with the crumble—see below—and bake for 45-55 minutes.  The cake will pull away from the pan & become light brown.  If using a regular cake pan, cool at least 25 minutes before turning out the cake.  With a spring form pan, wait 15-20.

*Don’t throw away that vanilla bean half!  Save it for flavoring purposes, the simplest of which is to store it in a jam jar with some extra sugar, which you can then add to your coffee, tea, baked goods, etc.

crumble topping:

¼ cup vanilla sugar (see above)
1 T flour
1 T unsalted butter, softened

Blend the ingredients with your fingers & scatter over the top of the cake.

Cake will keep, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator for a week.

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A FAREWELL TOAST

The food world has been loudly buzzing since Monday’s shocking announcement of the Gourmet magazine shut-down. All day yesterday and into today, foodies, bloggers, industry professionals, and (former) Gourmet employees have vented, ranted, mourned, and waxed nostalgic on Twitter and other forums. (I’m no exception.)

Really, I’m not qualified to say much about the closing of the magazine except that I’m surprised and will miss it terribly. Gourmet helped shape me (and many a budding foodie, I’m sure), shaping my aesthetic, building my culinary vocabulary, and offering me exposure to various cuisines and the cultures behind them. I’ve never been much of a magazine subscriber, since there seems to be much more fluff than substance out there, but Gourmet was one I have been happy to pay for. So, even though I had originally scheduled this simple fig salad for today’s post, I just had to tack on a little farewell toast to Gourmet, featuring a cocktail from—of course—last October’s issue. Here’s to you, Gourmet, with many thanks.

champagne toast

FRENCH 75 COCKTAIL

serves 6-8

As you may already know, my honey is rather fond of sparkling drinks; I am rather fond of gin. This drink is the marriage of our alcoholic worldviews in a glass!

I think this would make an excellent substitution for mimosas at a brunch, or pair nicely with a birthday cake/celebratory dessert. They’re also pretty tasty just on their own.

ingredients:

a third of a cup (1/3) sugar

a third of a cup (1/3 ) water

½ cup gin (I used Hendrick’s)

3 T fresh lemon juice

1 bottle well-chilled Champagne

Make a simple syrup by heating the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Let the syrup cool, then add the gin & lemon juice. Chill the syrup until cold.*

To assemble the cocktails, pour 2 T of gin mixture into each glass. Slowly top off with Champagne.

[I rimmed my Champagne glass with some coarse sanding sugar, but the original recipe recommends you garnish with lemon zest—a candied version would be nice, too!]

*Gin syrup can be made ahead & chilled.

FALL FIG SALAD

More of an idea than a recipe, I owe the inspiration for this salad from my Shaila Aunty, who grows beautiful green figs in her Memphis backyard. She’s not actually my aunt; she’s one of the many men and women from our close-knit Indian community who raised me as one of their own.

I can’t adequately express how much or how many ways I admire my Aunty—she’s a passionate philanthropist, wife, parent, & friend, possesses an incredible talent for painting, reads prolifically, and is an excellent cook. She has loved and supported me since before I was born, and she taught me to put figs in my salad.

Figs are almost assaultingly sensual and luscious; I love how they look atop a bed of mixed greens. Since several varieties are still in season, fig salad can be a great counterpoint to roast chicken or other fall dish. If you decide to add prosciutto, though, you could serve large bowls of the salad alongside a vegetable soup with some crusty bread.  Leftover figs?  Serve them for dessert over vanilla ice cream.

ingredients: zoomed in fig salad

mixed greens

figs, quartered

Parmesan or Pecorino Romano

chopped pecans (I used candied, but you could use plain)

optional: prosciutto

dressing: balsamic vinaigrette–you could use pre-made or make your own, like I did.  Any chance to use my fig-infused balsamic!  But you could also try this method for quickly infusing your own (just substitute “fig” for “strawberry” in the recipe).

Set the quartered figs atop a salad bowl full of greens. Scatter generous handfuls of pecans over the bowl, then top with fat shavings of cheese. If using prosciutto, snake the strips through the salad before dressing it.

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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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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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BERRY-CHAMPAGNE GRANITA

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

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

granita

What’s so great about granita is that

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

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

scraping granita

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

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

BERRY-CHAMPAGNE GRANITA
serves 4-6

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

ingredients:

1 cup each:

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

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

pan: 13 x 9 metal or glass cake pan

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

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

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

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

granita

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