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
Adapted from Canal House Cooks Every Day

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.

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. 

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. 

Woodberry Kitchen and a Moscow Mule

One of the best questions anyone has ever asked me was, “What was your favorite restaurant experience?” I thought it would be a simple answer but as I sorted through my memories trying to pick out the perfect one, I realized it wouldn’t be as easy of a task as I thought. I began to see just how many factors are at play in determining a truly memorable and life-changing moment at a restaurant. It becomes so much more than just the food, though that it important as well. It involves the people with whom it was shared, or not shared at all, the circumstance in which it occurred, the service, the ambiance, etc. A best restaurant experience is a time where for the two hours or so in which it takes place, the rest of the world seems to disappear an all that matters is that moment, a moment that can never quite be matched. Really, with that said, only a handful of my experiences can be truly deemed as great.

I did have one of those memorable moments recently at a restaurant I’ve been dying to visit for a while now, Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore. I took my mom for Mother’s Day brunch. It’s a place where it is not difficult to relax, where people make great food with even better ingredients. A place where the utmost care seems to go into every little detail yet at the same time you get a sense that everyone seems to be rather care-free. A place where conversation flows easily, drifting out of the mouth and up across the high beamed ceilings and around the locally handmade glass light fixtures. Where the kitchen has nothing to hide but rather makes itself known with a roaring wood-fired oven and things like coffee and cocktails are treated as an art rather than an afterthought. Dishes are simple and need no fancy plating, further prompting sharing and appreciation of the fine ingredients. It was everything I wanted it to be and more.

I wish I could have tried so many more items on the menu but I feel like we did well with our selections. I started with a Moscow Mule, made with ginger beer, lime syrup, and organic vodka, and served in its traditional copper mug with lots of ice. Now normally I’m not a big cocktail fan and generally stick to beer but this is certainly an exception to that rule. It’s cold, it’s refreshing, it’s pleasantly spicy and packs an nice punch. My mom and I also started the meal with a simple bowl of fresh cut spring strawberries, soaked in bitters and doused with a generous spoonful of tarragon scented Chantilly cream.

My entrée was a wood-fired oven breakfast pizza with maple sausage, potatoes, cheddar cheese, pickled chiles, and two eggs, just barely set, so that the yolk oozed over the pizza like a nice rich sauce to offset the heat from the chiles. The crust was blackened and blistered perfectly and chewy and light inside. My mom got the asparagus and potato frittata, served in an individual cast-iron skillet. We ended by sharing a beautifully delicate pecan scone, served warm, and maple lattes made by their nationally acclaimed baristas. Seriously, best cup of coffee I’ve had in my life.

The meal really stayed with me a good while after the experience was all over. I craved pizza even more so than normal and dreamt of that Moscow Mule. The warmer days are approaching and I realized I needed to get a recipe figured out in preparation for the sweltering summer evenings. I’m currently at the beginning of what I think is going to be a big home-brewed soda kick (just bottled up some grapefruit-hibiscus soda yesterday) so naturally I started with a batch of ginger beer. You can find the recipe here. Once it was ready, the rest was easy – a bottle of grey goose, some limes, a batch of simple syrup. Hopefully my own concoction will tide me over until I can get over to Woodberry again. My birthday is coming up…in two months…

Moscow Mule
makes one drink

½ cup ginger beer (homemade is certainly not necessary. My favorite brand is Fentimans. It’s a little hard to find so Gosling's will do in a pinch)
1 oz good vodka
1-2 tsp. simple syrup (recipe here)
Lime juice

Fill a rocks glass (or a cupper mug, if you have one) with ice and pour over the vodka. Add the ginger beer, 1 tsp. of the simple syrup, and a small dash of lime juice. Stir to combine. Give it a taste and add the other tsp of simple syrup, if desired. Some ginger beers are sweeter than others so you may or may not need the extra sugar. Kick back and enjoy.

Corn for the Gold

It’s amazing to consider the epic change that occurs amongst the world’s inhabitants every two years. Suddenly people like me, who don’t outwardly show much pride in their country on a normal daily basis, are standing in front of their television, pumping their fists, and shouting Go! Go! GO! USA! USA! Suddenly I don’t mind watching sports in the least bit; I actually enjoy it and take the time to really appreciate and admire the skills and extraordinary physical fitness of the athletes, our real-life action superheroes. And suddenly, fun stories like these arrive on the Internet.

I’ve been slightly bitter about the Olympics this time around, however. The incessant and ever-constant images of London, my second home, on the TV screen bring out this intense yearning that pulls at my very heartstrings. I’m unnecessarily jealous of all of the American tourists that are there while I am not. Though I know it is currently a very different London right now than I probably remember, I’d do anything to be there all the same. Yet despite my affections for the host country, I am still automatically rooting hard-core for the American athletes and getting slightly emotional whenever they play our national anthem at a medals ceremony. What can I say; the Olympics bring out different sides of people.

For example, they make me want to do things like work out more (though I think that applies to everyone) or take up hobbies like archery or skeet shooting. Also, counterproductive to the previously mentioned urges, they really make me want American food, as if summer didn’t already create that craving. So to embrace these few weeks of hyper-Americanism, I am cooking and eating in the fashion of the US of A. It’s BLT’s for lunch, burgers for dinner, and a craving for all things barbeque. And of course you can’t have American cuisine with out the summer favorite, those golden ears of milky and juicy sweet corn.

Just last week I had grilled corn for the first time ever. I placed the ear or corn on my plate, not thinking twice about the blistered and blackened kernels, freckling the cob with a gap-toothed grin. The remaining kernels, on second thought, looked different too. Were they deeper yellow than I remembered, a glistening golden hue almost shimmering like the light of sunset?  One bite was enough to inform me that this corn was on a totally different playing field than its boiled or steamed alternative. Grilling corn somehow intensifies the flavor by a tenfold. It’s sweeter, but not overwhelming; it’s a sophisticated sweet. It’s like caramel that has been cooked to the point right before it begins to burn where it becomes concentrated and smoky. The individual kernels swell with steam and boiling juices so that this caramelized liquid bursts the moment it hits the impact of the teeth. I unashamedly sucked the juices from the empty cobs to savor every bit of the new and mind-blowing flavor. From now on, it’s so long to boiled corn. Grilling is my method of choice now.

Its amazing how roasting and grilling, that high heat and that little bit of fire and smoke, can turn what may be a perfectly delicious vegetable or fruit into something that just simply goes above and beyond. It creates the Olympic athletes of food, with flavor that, like the athlete’s skills, seem almost beyond possibility. And it may just me my own opinion, but I think that grilled corn gets the gold every time.

Grilled Corn (and an optional salad preparation)
3 ears of corn with husks attached

for roasted corn and goat cheese salad
(serves two)
corn cut from the 3 ears
2 Tbs. softened butter
salt and pepper
¼-½ tsp of cumin
zest of half a lime
½ cup cherry or pear tomatoes, halved
¼ cup goat cheese
½ cup dry spelt or other grain of choice, cooked according to package instructions
a handful of arugula
juice of half a lime

Soak the corn in water for about 15 minutes. Then after taking them out and shaking them dry, carefully peel back the husk of the corn down to the bottom so that they remain intact and pull off the inner silks. Brush the corn with a little olive oil and pull the husks back up. Place the corn onto a preheated grill with a medium flame. Cook for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally. While the corn cooks combine the butter, salt, pepper, desired amount of cumin, and lime zest in a bowl and mash into a paste.

Once the corn is cooked, remove from the grill and place onto a platter. Carefully peel back the husks and brush the butter mixture onto the hot corn. You can also place the naked corn back onto the grill for a few more minutes if you want more caramelization. Remove the husks completely and then cut off the kernels of the corn into a bowl. Add the tomatoes, goat cheese, grains, arugula, and lime juice to the bowl and toss to combine. Add any additional salt and pepper to taste.