Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pink Lemonade Granita

Being a summer baby, the hot humid weather of northern Virginia is something that I’ve always loved. But when this busy summer turned my Saturday into an extravaganza of 2 outdoor birthday parties and 2 winery outings, it was hard to not shake my fist at the blazing sun, cursing it for my sunburn and blaming it for my dehydration... Because I’m sure the wine had nothing to do with that…

It really does feel like we are at the peak of this summer’s heat wave though. And after a long weekend spent mostly outdoors, I needed a bit of a refresher. So, as I generally do, I turned to frozen desserts to provide that. However, this time I did not settle on my go-to ice cream. I wanted something even simpler that did not require time spent at the stove and I found my answer at the end of the August chapter of the Canal House CooksEvery Day Cookbook.

Their recipe for pink lemonade granita sounded like the exact thing I was looking for. It takes only 5 ingredients and hardly 10 minutes of actual effort and in a few hours you’re left with something like the best sno-cone imaginable. The action of using a fork to flake apart the semi-frozen lemonade makes ice crystals that are super light and fluffy, providing a satisfying texture that I find to be lacking in popsicles. This particular version is intensely lemony which is almost too tart on its own, but when paired with softly whipped cream, the tanginess mellows out and the dessert becomes incredibly refreshing and addicting, just what this heat-wave calls for.

Pink Lemonade Granita

The recipe recommends using a blood orange to provide the “pink” element of the lemonade, but suggested a red grapefruit as a substitute if blood oranges are not to be found. I went with the grapefruit route and really liked that flavor addition, but next time I would probably add 2 more Tbs. of sugar since it was a pretty sour grapefruit. That adjustment is reflected in the recipe below.

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 6-8 lemons)
The juice of a red grapefruit
½ cup + 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
¼ cup water
Softly whipped cream

Combine the zest, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, water and sugar in a mixing bowl and mix until the sugar has completely dissolved. Pour the juice into a large, shallow, freezer-safe dish (I used a 13x9 inch pyrex with a lid) and place in the freezer. 

After 1-2 hours when the liquid is in a semi-frozen state (like a slushy) take a fork and use the tines to scrape across the surface of the ice, creating loose crystals. Return the dish to the freezer until it is finished freezing, another 1-2 hours. Once frozen, scrape the ice with a fork again until there are no large chunks of ice remaining. Softly whip the cream and serve the granita in a chilled glass with the whipped cream dolloped on top. The granita will keep in the freezer, covered, for a week.

Monday, August 17, 2015

An Evening at Culinaria Cooking School

For my recent birthday, I received a giftcard to take a cooking class at Culinaria Cooking School in Vienna, VA. The school teaches both demonstration and participation classes that range in variety from basic knife skills, to barbeque and smoking, to preparing a Downton Abbey style feast. Last week I signed up for the Australian food and wine pairing class. Though I went in without knowing exactly what to expect, I can now say that the evening I spent meeting new people, learning recipes and eating and drinking fantastic food and wine was an excellent one indeed.

My class was demonstration style so I got a front row seat to watch the talented chefs Stephen and Pete cook our 4-course evening meal. Alongside preparing the food throughout the night they gave us insight into food preparation tips and tricks like rolling pasta, quickly peeling and deseeding tomatoes, and cutting and deboning a lamb loin. Since the class had a wine pairing as well, our guest sommelier Steve Saiget brought 4 Australian wines and we learned why each made a natural pair with the food we ate. From start to finish, I enjoyed every moment of my class. Between the ever-changing sights and smells, the friendly banter between the chefs, and the excellent company, the was never a dull moment. I can’t wait to return!

Here’s a look at what we had:

Egg Pasta with Smoked Trout and Tomato Butter Sauce with 2014 Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc

Crab Salad over Spicy Sesame Linguine with 2009 Wolf Blass Chardonnay

Crisp Skin Salmon Moroccan Style with 2014 Lindeman’s Bin 99 Pinot Noir

Lamb Loin with Chickpea Curry and Harissa with 2013 Layer Cake Shiraz

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Muffins

Living this suburban, just-outside-the-city-but-still-metro-accessible sort of life is pretty great but summer has a tendency to call me home. Home in the summer is a sigh of relief. It reminds me that there is a place in the world where I don’t have to put on appearances, where simple pleasures always exist. I can close my eyes and everything I hear, smell, and feel floods me with waves of nostalgia. A symphony of cicadas, a dozen or so mosquito bites on the ankles, the humid and hot air mingling with the smell of sunbaked grass and acrid tomato plants. If I could spend the rest of my life standing barefoot under the sun, a glass of iced tea in hand, watching that garden grow, it would certainly be a happy life.

But time is fleeting and just as I start to settle into the simpler ways of life at home, it’s time to head back to suburbia. But at least I’m usually laden with bags of fresh green beans, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini. Always so much zucchini.

And when there’s an excess of zucchini, quick breads are not far away.

I tried out a new recipe from Tara O’Brady’s book Seven Spoons. I haven’t yet had the chance to explore the book in too much depth but from the looks of it, the book is a treasure trove of delightful recipes that I can’t wait to try. But I can say that the chocolate olive oil zucchini muffin recipe is a definite win. These muffins have quite the flavor profile. The chocolate flavor is definitely there, but not in a way that makes you think you are simply eating a chocolate cupcake. It more so brings about this deep and earthy cocoa taste that pairs up nicely with the grassy component of the olive oil and the zucchini. Chocolate chunks and toasted walnuts bulk up the muffins providing a good crunch and chew to juxtapose the ultra moist aspect of the muffin itself.

I made 2-dozen muffins a few days in advance for an upcoming family reunion (they were a hit!) and I found that they froze really well too so you can stash several of them away for a day where a little taste of home is just what you need.

Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Muffins
Makes 24-28 small muffins

1½ lbs zucchini
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole wheat four
½ cup cocoa powder
1½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. salt
1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts
8 oz. chocolate chunks
½ cup olive oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place muffin liners in two muffin tins. Using the large holes of a grater, grate the zucchini onto a clean kitchen towel. Once grated, place another towel overtop and press down to squeeze out some of the moisture. Let sit for 15 minutes and then transfer the zucchini to a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, walnuts, and chocolate chunks together. In a different bowl, whisk together the olive oil and the buttermilk. Whisk in the eggs, sugars, and vanilla and finally stir in the zucchini. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and gently stir until just combined. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter between the muffin tins. I filled each so there was about a half inch of space between the batter and the top of the tins. Place in the oven and bake for 17-19 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the muffin. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Grilled Corn Carbonara

Following tradition, I made my once yearly trek to Boston and spent a fabulous 4th of July weekend with my sister. At the airport I stocked up on all of my in-flight essentials (mentos, popcorn, sparkling water, food magazines) and during the whole 55 minutes of the flight, I flipped through the most recent issue of Food and Wine Magazine, the America’s Greatest Chefs Issue. The bio and recipes from Tim Maslow caught my eye immediately, not only because his restaurant Ribelle is located in Boston but also because he included a recipe for a corn carbonara pasta dish. “How intriguing!”  I thought as the pilot announced our final descent and I stowed the magazine away in my carryon bag.

Now this is the part of the story where you would expect me to go and dine at Ribelle and try the restaurant’s renowned food for myself, and maybe even meet the chef in person where I would tell him how I just read his bio earlier that day. But that’s not what happened. We instead went to Giulia (again) for one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten (again). But I digress. So, although a trip to Ribelle was pushed to the “next time” agenda, that corn carbonara recipe kept nagging at me somewhere in the back on my mind saying, “make this NOW!”

So I did.

This carbonara goes against all rules that define carbonara. It has no dairy and it has no egg but instead gets an ethereally smooth and creamy texture from a sauce made of straight-up corn puree. I added an extra step as well and grilled the corn first to add a bit of a smoky and caramelized flavor. The combination of the sweet corn sauce with salty bacon, shallot and garlic and a specialty cracked pepper fettuccine that I found at the farmers market made for a flavor that is the essence of summer in one comforting and indulgent bite. Maslow pairs his version with jumbo lump crabmeat, but I left it out. However that or grilled scallops or some roasted shrimp would all be welcome additions. Pair with a simple salad or some steamed asparagus and you’ll be living the good life for sure!

Grilled Corn Carbonara
Serves 4-6
Adapted Tim Maslow via Food and Wine Magazine

8 ears of corn, shucked
1 lb spaghetti, fettuccine, or linguine
2 Tbs. olive oil or butter 
¼ lb bacon, cut into a small dice
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 Tbs. lemon juice plus the zest for serving
salt and pepper
olive oil, smoked paprika and parmesan, for serving

Lightly brush the corn with olive oil and grill over medium hear either on an indoor grill pan or an outdoor grill. Rotate frequently until lightly charred on all sides. Remove and set aside to cool slightly.

Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the corncobs making sure to scrape all of the juice and pulp from the cobs. Transfer the kernels and corn juice to a blender and blend on high speed until you have a smooth puree. Thoroughly strain through a fine mesh sieve and set the puree aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Once ready, reserve 2 cups of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Set this aside as well.

In the same pot used for the pasta, heat the olive oil or butter over medium. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, about 7 minutes. At this point you can discard a bit of the grease by mopping up with a paper towel, if desired. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until soft, about 3 more minutes.

Add in the pasta, the corn puree, 1¼ cups of the reserved water, and the lemon juice. Cook over a medium heat, while tossing with tongs, until the sauce is thick, 3-5 minutes, adding more of the pasta water if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls with a drizzle of olive oil, freshly grated parmesan, and a dash of smoked paprika. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Quick Pickled Vegetables

People always told me that time will start to go faster the older you get.

They were right.

Maybe it’s my quarter-century crisis coming 1 month early but lately I have felt more than ever how fleeting time can be, and it has maybe put me in a bit of a funk. I’m lucky to say that the last 12 months of my life have been some of my best. I experienced a lot of “firsts”, went through some really strong emotional states, both wonderful and terrible, welcomed new people into my life, and then lost some. 

So much happened, including a lot of growth, and it’s terrifying how it all feels condensed into this brief flicker. How is it that a period of such importance passed in what feels like a snap of my fingers? If I had been more present, could I have prolonged that feeling of time? Would I still be where I am right now?

Like I said, quarter-life crisis is real.

With all of that in mind though, I have felt more than ever how important it is to be living in the moment. I want to savor life for all that it is worth and be more mindful and aware about how I am growing and feeling during each new experience. Whether I’m learning a new skill, or doing something that scares me, or simply taking time to be introspective, I hope for each day to end having been lived well and with purpose and a positive mind and spirit.

Food, in the way it initiates the awareness of all senses and inspires learning through creation, somehow tends to expand that feeling of time. Which brings me to these pickles. Lately, I’ve been more and more craving the tangy, briny taste of pickled anything. I’ve been putting capers on my omelets, cornichons on my sandwiches, olives on just about everything else. When I came across the recipe for quick pickled vegetables in Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food, it seemed like just the right thing for my current frame of mind.

It’s a pickle that can be created and eaten in the same day, providing a fun daytime diy project with almost instant and delicious gratification after a brief cooling period in the fridge. You can pickle just about any vegetable but I decided to try cucumbers, carrots, green beans, red onions, and cauliflower. The pickled carrots were a clear winner, straddling that fine line between sweet and sour. They all go wonderfully alongside a selection of meats, cheeses, crackers and maybe some hard-boiled eggs. I also discovered that warm boiled potatoes lightly mashed with some crème fraiche, dill, and thyme, and topped with flakes of hot smoked salmon, loads of pickled red onions, and a nice dose of salt and cracked black pepper, make for a fantastic dinner on a relaxing summer evening. I have a feeling that these pickles will make a number of appearances throughout my summer, whether enjoyed on my own or with family and friends, and hopefully they make it just that much more memorable and meaningful.

Quick-Pickled Vegetables
From Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food
Makes enough pickling brine for about 4 jars of vegetables

1½ cups white wine vinegar
1¾ cups water
2½ Tbs. sugar
½ bay leaf
4 thyme sprigs
pinch of dried chili flakes
½ tsp. coriander seeds
2 whole cloves
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
a big pinch of salt

fresh vegetables, cleaned, cut and prepped for pickling

To make the pickling brine, combine all of the ingredients (except the vegetables) in a pot and bring it to a boil. Add each type of vegetable to the brine separately (except the onions and cucumbers**) and cook until softer, but definitely still crisp. Use tongs to remove the vegetables and set them aside on a plate until cool. Continue cooking each type of vegetable until finished. Let the brine and vegetables cool to room temperature. Once cool, pack the vegetables into mason jars, cover with the brine, and place the lid on the jar. They will keep in the refrigerator for a week.

**Since the onions and cucumbers are so soft already, no need to pre-cook them. Just place them raw in the jars (I added some dill sprigs to the jar with the cucumbers) and add the hot pickling brine directly to the jars. Cover the jar with the lid and leave out until it cools to room temperature. Then store in the fridge with the rest.