Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cucumber-Lime Margaritas

So where have I been?  Well, that's a bit of a tricky question.  I've kind of been everywhere, actually.  I finished a very challenging school year, got a new job in my school district, went house hunting, started grad school, planned a couple of social events for my Sunday school class, bought a house, and went on two vacations.  It's been a pretty stellar summer.  

I haven't completely stopped cooking.  But with the help of wonderful friends, I've been able to put it on the back burner (and still eat well!) while focusing on all the other exciting changes and blessings I've been working on this summer.  I'd like to say I'll be back to regular blogging again in no time, but with grad school this year, I'm not sure I can make that promise.  My realistic(ish?) goal is once a week, with hopes of posting more often.

So I come to you today with a celebration and concession offering all in one.  Because if a really stellar margarita can't bridge that gap, what can?

These cucumber-lime margaritas, the brain child of one of my all-time favorite chefs and culinary bucket list member, Rick Bayless, are made for sipping all summer long.  They're cool, smooth, refreshing, and just the perfect amount of tart.  I saw them on my sweet friend Josie's blog and immediately knew I'd make them.  In fact, they were already on the menu the day I got my new job, a happy coincidence that made them even better.  Just a warning, though, just like summer, this pitcher of goodness will go so, so quickly.  You've been warned.   


Cucumber-Lime Margaritas
originally from Rick Bayless, Fiesta at Rick's
adapted by Pink Parsley

Ingredients:
up to 1 c. simple syrup (from 1 c. water and 1 c. granulated sugar)
2 English (hothouse) cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced (for 3 c. slices)
1 1/2 c. silver tequila
1 1/4 c. fresh lime juice
lime wedge for moistening glass rims
coarse Kosher salt for glass rims
ice cubes
cucumber slices, for garnish, optional

Directions:
1.  To make the simple syrup, combine water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Warm together, stirring frequently, until mixture is clear.  Cool completely, preferably overnight in the refrigerator, before using.

2.  In a blender, combine cucumber, tequila, lime juice, and 3/4 c. simple syrup.  Purée until mixture is smooth.  Strain into a pitcher.  Taste and add more simple syrup, if desired.  Cover and refrigerate until fully chilled, about 1 hour.

3.  To serve, moisten glass rims with the lime wedge and salt by dipping into a shallow plate of salt, if desired.  Fill each glass halfway with ice, pour in margarita, and garnish with a cucumber slice.  Enjoy!

Yield: 6 (6-oz.) margaritas

Friday, May 23, 2014

Blackberry-Bourbon Sorbet

No matter what the calendar says, Memorial Day weekend will always be the official kick off to summer in my world.  It's always plenty warm by then and that extra day off gives us all time to be with friends and family--often outside with the music and the grill going.  Hamburgers, hot dogs, fruit, chips, and potato salad are standard fare for many people, with ice cream often coming in for dessert.

I've got lots of great recipes for homemade ice cream, all of which I'd gladly make over and over again.  Instead of an old favorite, though, I've got a new favorite for you today.  In their April issue, Fine Cooking did a truly fabulous feature on homemade sorbets.  It shared a base recipe with countless combinations and endless adaptations.  They must know summer starts now, as well!  

Along with the recipe, the magazine showed a trick I'd never heard of before.  By gently placing the egg in a tall vessel filled with the sorbet base, you can check to see if you've got the correct ratio of sugar to fruit puree.  If it sinks, you need more sugar.  If it floats, your ratio is correct.  How cool is that?  My best friend's mom and I had so much fun with this new trick.  In fact, we made two kinds of sorbet so we could keep playing with the egg!  The teacher in me kept thinking what fun this would be to do with students as they learn about buoyancy and density.  With summer break fast approaching (happy dance!), you could certainly make this an entertaining way to get your kids in the kitchen!


Blackberry-Bourbon Sorbet
from Fine Cooking, April 2014

Ingredients:
1 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. light corn syrup
1 c. water
1 lb. fresh blackberries
2 1/2 TBSP fresh lemon or lime juice
3 TBSP bourbon (optional)
1/8 tsp. guar gum (optional, but makes for a creamier texture)
1 raw egg, in its shell, washed and dried

Directions:
1.  To make the sugar syrup, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a small pot over medium heat.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until all ingredients are combined and sugar granules are thoroughly dissolved.  Set aside to cool to room temperature, then place in the refrigerator until cold, about 30 minutes.

2.  In a blender, puree the blackberries and lemon juice.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds.  Place in a covered container and refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.

3.  Put the blackberry puree, 1 c. sugar syrup, and bourbon and guar gum, if using, in a blender.  Strain mixture, once again, to remove any remaining seeds.

4.  Check the density of the sorbet base by gently lowering the egg into the container with a slotted spoon.  If it sinks, remove it and stir in and additional 2 TBSP of the sugar syrup, repeating as necessary until the egg floats just below the surface with a quarter-sized exposed area of shell.  When density is right, pour sorbet base into a covered container and refrigerate until very cold, at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.  For a visual, click here.

5.  To freeze, pour base into an ice cream maker and run according to manufacturer's directions.  Alternately, pour the base into a tightly sealed container and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.  Sorbet will keep up to two weeks.

Yield: 1 quart

Monday, May 19, 2014

Meatless Monday--Savory Cheddar Cheese Bread

I was recently in charge of bringing breakfast for my Sunday school class and, being the blogger I am, couldn't wait to peruse recipes and choose just the right ones.  I knew I wanted to bring a sweet muffin or scone and a more savory bread option.  As soon as I saw this recipe on the King Arthur Flour site, I knew my recipe search was over.

At first glance, the recipe looks a bit time and labor intensive because you actually make two separate batters and marble them together, but that couldn't be farther from the truth.  Both batters are super simple.  I made each of them in one bowl in about five minutes.  With just one simple ingredient swap, I made the recipe a bit more summery, but you could easily adapt it, just as I did, to include your most favorite dried herb or herb blend.  I'm sure I'll do just that, as well as experiment with using different cheeses.  The end result was a savory loaf of bread with an almost biscuit-like texture that was a big hit with my Sunday school class.  I think you'll like it, too.



Savory Cheddar Cheese Bread
slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:
For the herbed whole wheat batter:
1 large egg
1 c. milk
1/2 stick thoroughly softened unsalted butter
1 TBSP baking powder
1 TBSP your favorite dried herb (I used summer savory, but you could use rosemary, basil, dill, whatever!)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. white whole wheat flour or King Arthur stone-ground whole wheat flour
1 c. (4 oz. by weight) grated cheese (cheddar, swiss, whatever you'd like)

For the cheese batter:
1 large egg
1 c. milk
1/2 stick thoroughly softened unsalted butter
1 TBSP baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp. black pepper, plus more to taste
2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

Directions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Grease two 9" loaf pans.

2.  To make the herbed whole wheat batter, beat the egg, milk, and softened butter in a bowl until combined.  The butter should be in very small pieces, which will contribute to the bread's texture.

3.  In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the baking powder, herbs, salt, and flour.  Form a well in the center of the flour mixture, pour in egg mixture, and stir to combine.  Set aside.

4.  To make the cheese bread batter, beat the egg, milk, and softened butter in a bowl until combined.  Again, the butter should be in very small pieces.

5.  In a separate medium bowl, mix the baking powder, salt, cayenne, black pepper, and flour.  Stir in the cheese and toss to coat.  Form a well in the center of the flour mixture, pour in egg mixture, and stir to combine. 

6.  Put half the herb batter in each of the prepared pans.  Add half the cheddar batter to pan, filling in spaces around and on top of the rosemary batter.  Put a butter knife, point down, into the batter in each of the pans.  With the tip gently touching the bottom of the pan, drag the knife through the batter in curving motions to marble the batters.

7.  Bake the loaves 50-60 minutes, or until nicely browned and a cake tester inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean.

Yield: 2 loaves

Friday, May 9, 2014

Recipe Redo--Classic Brownies

Just this week, I got together with two new friends I've been so blessed to meet through my new job.  The school year's been taxing on all of us because we're all in new positions.  But we've almost made it all the way through the year, one of the girls is newly engaged, and well, we just want to have some wine, plenty of laughs, and a bunch of fun!

The bride-to-be is a huge fan of brownies, so naturally, I volunteered to bring some.  I jumped on the blog to find my favorite recipe and YIKES!  That picture!  I immediately knew it wouldn't do a single day longer.  A recipe this great with such a terrible picture?  No, no, no.  

But now, I've taken a better picture and reminded y'all of one of my classic go-to recipes.  Oh yeah...and eaten brownies with new friends.  Life is good.


Classic Brownies
from Cook's Illustrated

Ingredients:
1 c. (4 oz.) pecans or walnuts, chopped
1 1/4 c. (5 oz.) cake flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking powder
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
12 TBSP (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-in. pieces
2 1/4 c. (15 3/4 oz.) sugar
4 large eggs
1 TBSP vanilla extract

Directions:
1.  Adjust oven rack to the middle and preheat to 325° F.  Cut two lengths of foil and fold to neatly line pan with edges overhanging.  Spray foil with baking spray.  For a picture, click to my original post.

2.  If using nuts, spread them evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 5-8 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

3.  In a double boiler, melt chocolate and butter until smooth.  When completely smooth, remove bowl from double boiler and gradually whisk in sugar.  Add eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition until smooth and thoroughly combined.  Whisk in vanilla.

4.  Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.  Set aside.

5.  Add flour mixture in three additions, folding in with a rubber spatula until batter is smooth and even in color.  Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread into the corners of the pan.  If using nuts, sprinkle them over the batter.

6.  Bake brownies until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 30-35 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack in the pan, up to two hours.  Remove brownies by lifting foil overhang at the corners.  Cut brownies into 2-in. squares.  Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 3 days.

Yield: 24 brownies

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Crispy Salt and Vinegar Potatoes

I'm not a huge potato chip fan, but every once in a while I find myself craving the salty, sour bite that only salt and vinegar chips can provide.  It's a strange thing, I know, but what can I say?  When you get a craving, you get a craving.  

But now, thanks to the current issue of Bon Appétit magazine, I have a new way to take care of my craving.  As I flipped through the issue, I saw plenty of recipes that looked interesting, but this one caused me to stop, read through, tab the page, and put the recipe on the following week's menu.  And whoa.  The recipe did not disappoint.  Just like the method described, boiling the potatoes not only made them soft and buttery, it also completely infused them with the vinegary bite I was hoping for.  With a quick toss in a buttery skillet and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt, I had found myself a fun new way to jazz up roasted potatoes.  Served alongside a perfectly flaky salmon filet, these potatoes made for one fabulously fancified version of fish and chips.  A new favorite, for sure.


Crispy Salt and Vinegar Potatoes
from Bon Appétit, May 2014

Ingredients:
2 lbs. baby Yukon Gold potatoes, halved or quartered, if large
1 c. plus 2 TBSP distilled white vinegar
1 TBSP Kosher salt, plus more
2 TBSP unsalted butter
freshly ground black pepper
2 TBSP chopped fresh chives
flaky sea salt, to taste

Directions:
1.  In a medium sauce pot, combine potatoes, 1 c. vinegar, and 1 TBSP Kosher salt.  Add water to cover by 1 inch.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender, 20-25 minutes.  Drain and pat dry.

2.  Heat butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add potatoes and season with kosher salt and pepper.  Cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, 8-10 minutes.  

3.  To serve, drizzle with remaining vinegar and top with chives and sea salt.

Yield: 4 servings