Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Swoon Song

As promised, I made a Watermelon Cucumber Sorbet with Basil. And, I think I swooned. Even my daughter was impressed, although I withheld the ingredient list from her until after she took her first bite. She's used to my penchant for combining unusual ingredients, but I never know when I've pushed it too far. It builds character, as my mom would say. Life won't be so shocking for her, since there are a lot of unusual combinations out there. Or, she'll yearn for a "vanilla" existence, trying to get over all the twists and turns of my cooking. I personally think it's pretty cool to have a mom who makes sweets for a living and says it's okay to have cookies or brownies for breakfast.

Watermelon Cucumber Sorbet with Basil
3 cups Watermelon Juice (see last entry)
1 Cucumber, medium to large
2 tbsp Lime Juice
3/4 - 1 cup Sugar
2 tsp chopped fresh Basil

Peel the cucumber, chop into chunks and either run through a juicer or puree in a food processor (then strain through a mesh sieve). This should equal around 1/3 to 1/2 cup of juice. Add to watermelon juice, then add lime juice, sugar and basil.

Put this combination in a jar with a lid and give it a really good shake to blend in the sugar. If you don't have a big enough jar, put part of the mixture in a smaller jar and shake, adding it back to the rest of the liquid. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Process in an ice cream maker according to directions. Freeze the sorbet in a separate container for an hour or two before serving. Allow to thaw slightly before serving. Seems counter-intuitive to freeze then thaw, but I promise, this brings out more flavor. And, the basil will have had a chance to infuse a little more.

If you don't have an ice cream maker, run, don't walk to the store and get one! No, just kidding. You can survive without one. You'll just have to do a few more steps. Pour the mixture into a shallow pan with sides, cover, and put into the freezer. Every 20 minutes, scrape the mixture with a fork to loosen. Do this until you've reached the consistency of a sorbet, although it will be more like a granita with icy pieces. It will still be just as refreshing and delicious.

As for a "vanilla" existence, I can say that particular ingredient isn't your mother's vanilla anymore. There's Tahitian vanilla, Mexican vanilla, Jamaican vanilla, Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, Small-Batch Infused vanilla...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Watermelon Blues

I guess, these days, I'm taking the whatever-is-on-hand approach to sweets in my kitchen. I'd love to say it's because I'm being economical and all that. But, it's because when I see fruit at this time of year, I can't seem to control how much I buy. Then, I'm left with trying to figure out how to use (read: eat) it all before it goes bad.

I bought 4 pints of blueberries from Heath Glen Organic Farm at the Mill City Farmers Market this past Saturday (actually, 5 pints - I ate one whole pint while selling shortbread at my booth). Fresh blueberries are quite the super-food, filled with anti-oxidants and vitamin C, so eating handfuls is good for you. They can also be frozen (freeze them individually by putting them on a pan in a single layer and freezing, then store them in a ziploc) and added to many treats throughout the year: smoothies, crumbles, pies, floating in champagne, you name it. Most of the blueberries were gobbled up by my family, but I had some left over in the fridge this morning. I also had half a seedless watermelon that was on its last legs, um, I mean, rind. So, to push my sorbet obsession-of-the-moment a little further, I decided to make Watermelon Blueberry Sorbet.

Watermelon Blueberry Sorbet
1/2 of a watermelon
1 cup blueberries
1/2 - 3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp lemon or lime juice

Scrape the red flesh from the watermelon (don't lose any of the juice inside the watermelon) and put into a food processor. Pulse until smooth. You may have to do this in a few batches, since food processors have a low capacity for liquid.

Into a bowl, pour the processed watermelon through a sieve to get rid of any of the white seeds. Add the juice left behind from the scraped watermelon. Waste not; want not, right?

Puree blueberries, 1/2 cup of sugar and lemon juice until smooth and the sugar is well incorporated. Pour into a large measuring cup - I love my 8 cup measuring container.

Pour in enough watermelon juice to make 4 cups of liquid. Taste the mixture for sweetness, remembering that the freezing process mutes the sweetness. Add more sugar, if desired. Chill for at least an hour (or, if you just can't wait, put in the freezer until nice and cold). See my last blog posting (Coconut Lime Ice Cream) on how to process the sorbet in an ice cream maker.

I still have about 3 cups of watermelon juice in my fridge. And, there's a cucumber in there, too. Seems like that might be an interesting, and extremely refreshing, combination. Maybe I'll even throw in a handful of mint or basil. I'll have to see what's in my fridge, just waiting on the edge of despair.

More uses for fruit near the point of extinction in your fridge:

Last week, I had some Rainier cherries, black cap raspberries (culled from my over-grown brambles in the backyard), frozen rhubarb and one nectarine near the end of it's sweet life. So, I made jam. If you have about 1 1/2 pounds of fruit, you have the makings for jam.

Berry Rhubarb Jam
1# Berries (raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, etc.) and/or Cherries
1/3 cup water
1/2# rhubarb, chopped
1/2 - 3/4 cup sugar

Bring berries and water to a boil. Simmer until very tender. Strain into a bowl through a sieve to remove seeds, then return to pot (rinse pot to remove any leftover seeds). Add rhubarb, and any other non-berry fruit (like a nectarine), and simmer until broken down. Add sugar and cook until thick and bubbly. To test, hold spoon with jam on it at an angle - it shouldn't drip off. Also, taste for sweetness at this point. You can add a little more sugar, if you'd like. For thicker jam, use pectin as directed. Or, add 1/2 a peeled chopped apple (which contains some natural pectin) to the rhubarb berry mixture and cook until it all breaks down. Mash for a smoother jam. I pour the jam into a few small covered bowls and store in the fridge, since I know I'll eat it all within a couple of weeks. And, I haven't learned how to can, yet. That's the next lesson I'll be working on.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Refresher Course

In the midst of the heatwave that seems to be taking over much of the country (it is the middle of summer, after all), a light, refreshing dessert is exactly what we all need. Ice cream, made with heavy cream or even whole milk, can even be a little heavy. Here is a recipe for a simple ice cream using coconut milk (perfect, if you're avoiding dairy). I hesitate to even call it "ice cream," since it doesn't contain any cream at all. It's nearly a sorbet or ice milk. No matter what you call it, it's the perfect follow-up to Thai food, BBQ, or burgers.

This is best prepared with an ice cream maker (I have a Krups ice cream maker, but Cuisinart's ice cream maker has a good reputation, too). I store the canister in my freezer at all time, just in case I get a craving for ice cream. Double check the manufacturer's recommendation for maximum liquid amount, since it will expand during the freezing process. The mixture should also be a little on the sweeter side, since freezing subdues the sweetness. One more thing. This ice cream really develops the best flavor if frozen further after being processed in the ice cream maker. So, this could be a 3 day process, although each step may take only a few moments.

Coconut Lime Ice Cream
2 cans (3 cups) Coconut Milk (Thai Kitchen makes an all natural one)
3-4 long Lime Zest Strips
3/4 cup Sugar
Lime Juice (for less tang, only 1-2 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp Rose or Orange Flower Water, if desired

The day before making the ice cream, prepare the liquid. In a saucepan, warm the coconut milk, lime zest and sugar, until the sugar is dissolved. Taste for sweetness and add a little more sugar, if necessary. Remove from heat. In a one-cup measuring cup, add the lime juice and enough water to make one cup of liquid. The more lime juice added, the tangier the ice cream. Add lime juice and water. Strain mixture into a container, cover, and chill for at least 2-3 hours. The freezer canister should freeze for a minimum of 10 hours, or according to the manufacturer's directions.

To make the ice cream, remove the prepared liquid from the refrigerator and add the rose or orange flower water, if desired. Assemble the ice cream maker, turn it on, and pour in the liquid. Leave the machine on until the mixture reaches the desired consistency (20-40 minutes). It will be a little on the soft side. For best results, pour the ice cream into a freezable container and freeze until hard.

To serve, allow to thaw a little, stir until smooth, and spoon into serving bowls.

I brought some of this to my neighbors, and of course, we came up with a way to use this for a cocktail. In a blender, pour one shot of rum, a few scoops of Coconut Lime Ice Cream, and some ice. Blend and serve with a wedge of lime. A perfect Limon Colada.

It would be easy to come up with a handful of variations on this ice cream, too. Toasted pistachios and lime zest. Make the base recipe without the lime zest and juice, and add orange zest and juice or pineapple juice (there's your Pina Colada!). Add 1/4 cup grated coconut. Roughly chopped dark chocolate. Give me some time, I'll come up with more. I'm sure I'll be working on ideas for the next few days, while I eat a few bowls of Coconut Lime Ice Cream. I'm not even going to wait to have this after a nice meal. It just might BE the meal.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

As American As....A Berry Tart?

I know nothing is more American than apple pie, but local apples just aren't in season here in Minnesota for the 4th of July. And, they aren't even the right colors - red, white and blue. Maybe the red and the white, but I've never seen a blue apple. And, Americans like their food to match their patriotism and red and black raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries fit the right color palette for the holiday. Besides, they are just now in season here.

I ran into the first pints of blueberries today at the Mill City Farmers Market, in Minneapolis by the Guthrie Theater and the Mill City Museum. I also bought a quart of strawberries, with a scent so strong, I could smell them across the plaza while I set up my booth, where I sell shortbread, scones and caramels based on family recipes. It also helps to have generous neighbors for friends - I raided their large raspberry and black cap raspberry bushes to fill out the tart. Then, using some of the lemon zest shortbread for the crust, I made a perfectly patriotic tart to share with family and friends. Or, to eat for breakfast before any festivities even start. I'll have to sweep the crumbs up to hide the evidence.

Fresh Berry Tart with Lemon Shortbread Crust

8 Bramblewood Lemon Shortbread Cookies, crushed
3-4 c. Berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc.), washed, picked over and stemmed if necessary
½ c. Sugar
¼ c. Cornstarch
½ tsp. Fresh Thyme or minced Basil, if desired

Set oven to 350 degrees. Finely crush shortbread cookies and, with cling wrap to keep crumbs from sticking to your hands, firmly press into a lightly buttered 8-9” tart pan. Chill until needed.

Combine sugar and cornstarch, then toss with all but one cup of the berries. Add fresh thyme or basil, if desired. Pour into prepared crust, then place the remaining berries on top.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the berries are bubbly. Cool, then serve at room temperature or warmed, with fresh whipped cream or ice cream. You may also chill and serve.

If you don't have access to Bramblewood's Lemon Zest Shortbread (in which case, email me to place an order,, you can certainly use crushed shortbread cookies from another, unnamed company, mixed with 2 tbsp. melted butter and 1 tbsp fresh lemon zest, or make your own tart crust, such as the Rich Tart Crust from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" (Macmillan, 1998) or the Easy Tart Crust from Bon Appetit, as seen on

No matter what, this tart is sure to get plenty of "ooh"s and "ah"s, which is always good to practice before the rocket's red glare lights up the night.