Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cantaloupe Ice Cream with Agave

I've never been much of a melon fan. Oh, I enjoy watermelon during a hot day at the beach (or a watermelon-flavored Jolly Rancher any time!), but that's about it. If you think about it, melon is really the second class citizen of the fruit world --be it the honeydew filler in a fruit salad, or the straggly slices of cantaloupe that pass for a fruit plate at some restaurants. Granted, some people enjoy melon wrapped in prosciutto, but when it comes to sweet vs. savory, there is one way to make melon shine: in ice cream. Growing up, there was a local ice cream shop that made all sorts of flavors, including seasonal favorites like pumpkin (fall) and cantaloupe (summer). Despite being a melon-hating kid, I really dug the cantaloupe flavor. Sadly, the shop kind of went down hill, and the flavor is really hard to find elsewhere. And it's even more of a challenge to find cantaloupe ice cream recipes online. In fact, the one I came across time and time again was credited to Ben & Jerry's! The basic recipe calls for making a standard French-style custard base and combining with a bit of cantaloupe juice then freezing almost completely before mixing in well-drained cantaloupe puree at the very end. I followed the basic premise, but tweaked the base, going Philadelphia-style (e.g., no eggs, no cooking) by combining cream, a dash of vanilla and agave syrup since I was out of white sugar. I've been reading a lot about agave, and while it has about the same calorie count as sugar, is supposed to have a lower glycemic index. I've used in in place of simple syrup in drink recipes, but this was my first attempt "cooking" with it. And it worked fine. I have to admit I tasted the ice cream both before and after adding the puree and think I liked it better before adding. Although the melon taste was less prominent (since I only used a half cup of juice), the texture was a lot silkier. Next time, I may experiment with reducing and concentrating the cantaloupe juice rather than adding both juice and puree. Because even with a chunkier texture, the taste (and memories it brought back) made the ice cream good enough to make again!
Cantaloupe Ice Cream
Although I made this batch with agave syrup, you could also substitute white sugar.
1 Cantaloupe, peeled and cubed
1 Lemon, juiced
2 c. Heavy cream
6 T. Agave syrup
Dash of vanilla
Puree cantaloupe cubes and lemon juice in blender or food processor; place puree in a sieve over a large bowl.
Combine .5 cup of the juice from the puree with the cream, agave syrup and vanilla, blend well and chill completely.
Add cream mixture to your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.
Approximately five minutes before the ice cream is totally frozen, add the well-drained puree to the machine, discarding the extra juice.
Once the puree is well-incorporated, your ice cream is ready!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Salads: Hot Weather Cooking

Summer has finally hit NYC with temperatures in the mid-80s and high humidity. So it was rather serendipitous that this week's New York Times dining section had an article with 101 Salad suggestions. Based on my farmers market haul this week ($16.40 worth of produce -- pretty restrained for me!), I've already made riffs on three of the salads. Number 30 called for red skinned potatoes, but I used a small handful of Russian Banana fingerling potatoes, sliced into half moon shape and tossed with a Dijon-shallot-lemon-olive oil dressing, capers and chopped parsley. It turned out a little too acidic for my taste, so I added a tablespoon of Miracle Whip to tone it down a bit.
I "slaved" over the stove the longest for Number 27. Without a grill, I had to soften the eggplant in a small stir fry pan on the stove. Despite the size of the eggplant, it took 20 minutes over a medium low flame until it was ready.
But at least I had time to make a pesto sauce and use some of the basil growing rampant on my fire escape. I blitzed about four cups of basil leaves with the zest and juice of half a lemon, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of toasted pine nuts, one clove of garlic and lots of Romano cheese. It made a ton, so I reserved about 1/4 cup for later and tossed the rest with the chopped eggplant, grape tomatoes and half a can of cannellini beans. Stuffed INSIDE a small pita with some baby spinach, it was a light and refreshing lunch.
I love quinoa, and made note of Number 94, but was fresh out of mint (sacrificed earlier in the week for a pitcher of mojitos!). So instead, I decided to make a kitchen-sink style tabouli, combining quinoa and bulgar with a ton of chopped vegetables, parsley, crumbled feta and a Greek-style dressing.

Yes, it was a lot of chopping, and yes, I did a lot of dishes, but the end result was worth it. Now I have salads for a week's worth of lunches. Three salad recipes down and only 98 more to go...

Kitchen Sink Tabouli

Be sure to rinse your quinoa very well before cooking. The outer layer contains saponins, which tastes really bitter and is not always completely removed during commercial processing (as I discovered the hard way the first time I made quinoa!).


1/4 C. Quinoa, rinsed

1/4 C. Bulgar

1/2 Lemon, juiced

2 T. Red wine vinegar

2 T. Olive oil

1 Persian cucumber, diced

1/4 C. Grape tomatoes, quartered

1 Large radish, small dice

2 Scallions, chopped

1/4 C. Grated carrots

4 C. Flat leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

1/4 C. Feta cheese, crumbled


In a large bowl, combine bulgar with 3/4 C. of boiling water; cover and let sit for 30 minutes; drain any excess water.

In the meantime, cook quinoa in approximately 1 C. of water over low heat until the quinoa "unfurls"; drain, combine with bulgar.

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil and Greek seasoning (a combination of salt, oregano, garlic, lemon peel, black pepper and marjoram).

Add all vegetables, the parsley and dressing to the grain mixture and mix to combine; add feta and toss well before serving.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thursday, Friday and Saturday: Playing Catch Up

Yes, it's Sunday night, so I am a bit behind. But I have a good reason -- I was away this weekend. But I did manage some simple meals both before I left and while I was away.
Thursday morning, I used the leftover egg whites from my ice cream making endeavour and scrambled with a little early summer corn, green onion and cilantro from the greenmarket. Tucked in a tortilla with some cheese and salsa, it made a great weekday hot breakfast.
On Friday morning, before I headed out for the weekend, I attempted to recreate a favorite side dish from Houston's -- the couscous salad. However, I tried to shake things up by using half quinoa and half coucous, which made the dish a little too soggy. In fact, I ended up tossing most of it versus packing it for the roadtrip.
On Saturday, I visited the small market in my parents' town, and scored some more local corn along with just-picked-that morning raspberries.
The corn got tossed into a lunchtime chopped salad and the raspberries made a sweet ending to Market Week (especially since I ate them over takeout vanilla softserve).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wednesday: Black Raspberry Ice Cream

I had a long day at work yesterday and by the time I got home, was in no mood to prepare anything. Luckily, I had planned ahead and there was a vanilla custard ice cream base in the fridge. My one indulgence buy at the greenmarket on Saturday (ok, other than the chocolate chip coconut scone I snagged at Our Daily Bread) was a $6 pint of organic black raspberries from Norwich Meadows. Placed strategically by the "check out," they were gorgeous (and apparently, a super fruit too), so of course I succumbed to the impulse buy. David Lebovitz has a recipe for Raspberry Swirl Ice Cream in The Perfect Scoop, where macerated berries are mixed with a vanilla ice cream (versus a puree of berries incorporated into the base directly). Since a pint is not a lot of berries, I thought this method would be the best way to stretch what I had. In fact, I attempted to stretch the fruit further by adding a few blueberries and strawberries I had lingering in the fridge. The end result was creamy and icy, a sorbet meets ice cream, and black raspberry flavor really shined through. If I had to do it again, I would strain the fruit mixture to get rid of the seeds. But yesterday, seeds were the last thing on my mind, and a bowl of ice cream for dinner was just the comfort food I needed.
Triple Berry Ice Cream
Inspired by the The Perfect Scoop
Ingredients 1/2 C. Milk (I used 1%)
12 C. White sugar
Pinch of salt
5 Egg yolks 2 C. Heavy cream ½ t. Vanilla extract
1 Pint berries
1 T. Vodka
1 T. White sugar (optional)


Whisk together milk, salt, sugar in a small pot and warm through.

In the meantime, beat egg yolks in a small bowl; add a small amount of the warmed dairy mixture, whisking gently.

Add the egg mixture to the pot and heat until custard thickens.

Strain mixture into medium size bowl (strainer will catch any scrambled egg bits) and add cream and vanilla; chill completely.

About 30 minutes before you're ready to turn on your ice cream maker, combine berries, vodka and sugar (if using) in a small bowl.

Toss with fork or bliz with an immersion blender until combined; strain seeds if desired.

Add vanilla custard to your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacture’s directions.
Swirl finished ice cream with berry mixture.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tuesday: Philharmonic Picnic in Central Park

One of my favorite New York City traditions is going to Central Park to hear the philharmonic perform. It's the one night of the year you feel safe in the park after dark since tens of thousands of people are crowded on the Great Lawn (and nearby areas) to eat, drink, relax...and, in some cases, actually listen to the music! While there are those that go low key -- a bottle of wine, perhaps a take out pizza -- others stage quite elaborate picnics, complete with tables, candles and an assortment of food and drink. My friends fall into the later camp.

This year, we schlepped blankets and mini coolers, along with citronella candles and a battery-powered lantern, and food...lots of food. From the standard cheese and crudités (gussied up in a Pampered Chef Chillzanne) to soppressata and tabbouleh. My contributions included mini cans of Sofia Blanc de Blanc (so cute) as well as a tuna niçoise pasta salad.

The beauty of this salad is that it's mayo-free, but still chock full of interesting flavors and textures. And although the recipe calls for some fresh ingredients, the others are easy to keep in your cupboard to have on hand when inspiration strikes...or when an impromptu picnic is on the agenda!

Tuna Niçoise Pasta Salad For this recipe, I used shallot, tomato and basil from the farmers market. The other ingredients were from, you guessed it, Trader Joes.

8 oz. Dried pasta (I used farfalle)
1 Can Tuna in water
1 T. Capers
3 T. Olives, quartered (if you cannot find niçoise olives, use Kalamata)
1 Med. Tomato, roughly chopped
1 C. Haricot vert, roughly chopped
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 Lemon, juiced
3 T. Olive oil
1 Shallot, minced
1/4 C. Feta cheese, crumbled
3 T. basil, Chiffonade
Fresh ground black pepper
Cook pasta to package directions; rinse drain and cool.
Add drained tuna with next four ingredients (capers to haricot vert).
In a small bowl, combine mustard, lemon juice, shallot and olive oil; blitz with immersion blender until all ingredients are well incorporated.
Toss dressing with tuna pasta mixture; add feta and basil.
Season with a little salt to taste (remember that capers, olives and feta are salty!) and ground pepper.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monday: A New Twist on the Boiled Dinner

Technically, New York is not in New England. But that doesn't mean we don't enjoy the boiled dinner every now and again. Particularly when it's too hot to turn on the oven, but just cool enough to stand in front of the stove for 12 minutes or so. And particularly when you're boiling pasta, shrimp and fava beans instead of meat and potatoes. I've apparently led a sheltered life since the first time I had fresh fava beans was a few months ago while on vacation. Ever since then, I've been looking for them in the market. Fava beans are supposed to be spring vegetables, and given the cool and wet summer we've been having, I guess it's no surprise that I just found them. Some people complain that prepping the beans is a lot of work. It is a multi-step process: 1. First, split the velvety pods to unearth the beans 2. Then, sort the beans by size (small, medium, large) to help facilitate even cooking 3. Next, throw the beans in boiling water (first the large ones, then, after about 30 seconds, the medium beans, and then the little guys) 4. Drain the beans and shock them in some ice water to stop the cooking process 5. Finally, pinch off the outer membrane using your thumb nail to uncover the bright green prize inside Unless you're cooking for a crowd and have a mound of beans to get through, it actually doesn't take too long. Especially if you fish the beans out using a skimmer/strainer, and bring the water back up to a boil to cook your pasta, and then repeat the process to cook the shrimp. Finished with some olive oil (or in the case of last night, sundried tomato bruschetta), a little crumbled goat cheese and mint and voila, dinner is served in far less time than it would take for pizza delivery.
Fava and Shrimp Pasta for One
I used Lemon Pepper Pappardelle from Trader Joes, but if you want to use plain pappardelle or another pasta, consider adding a bit of lemon zest to the recipe. The shrimp, goat cheese and bruschetta were from TJs as well, but the fava beans and mint were direct from the greenmarket.
2 oz. Uncooked pasta
8 oz. Fava bean pods (or 3/4 c. of beans)
8 large raw shrimp, defrosted
1 t. Olive oil or 1 T. tomato bruschetta
1 T. Goat cheese crumbles
1 t. Spearmint, chiffonade
Bring a small pot of water to a boil.
Separate fava beans from pods, sorting by size.
Add large beans to boiling water, followed by medium and small beans. Cook for a minute or so before removing from pot with a skimmer and shocking in ice water.
Bring the water back to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.
While pasta is cooking, remove outer membrane from fava beans and place bright green beans into a medium sized bowl.
Using tongs, remove cooked pasta from water, drain well and toss with fava beans, oil or bruschetta and goat cheese.
Bring the water back to a boil and cook shrimp for two minutes.
Toss warm cooked shrimp with pasta/fava mixture, sprinkle mint on top before serving.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sunday: Stuffed Round Zuchini

I'm a sucker for cute packaging. I judge a book by its cover, a store by its window display and a vegetable by its shape. So when I saw round zucchini in the market on Saturday, I had to have some, especially since the last time I came across them was in Bologna. In my mind, a round zucchini is a zucchini made for stuffing. And so when I spied some early sweet corn, inspiration struck: I would make a riff on the corn gratin featured in the New York Times a few weeks ago and use it to fill the squash. So despite the semi-heat (hey - it hit 80 yesterday), I cranked the oven to 375 while merrily sauteing veggies on the stove top. Since each squash only held about 4 tablespoons of gratin mixture, I baked the leftovers in a small dish.

Although I wished I used more cheese in the mixture, the end result was tasty: an eggy custard studded with corn and red pepper. But perhaps because of the cheese I used (or maybe the extra egg white, or the fact I used 1% milk), the custard did have a bit of a gray tinge.

However, the gray was barely noticeable in the gratin I baked in the squash. In fact, it looked very impressive, and would make a great brunch dish (but only for those who will appreciate the cute factor!).

Green and Yellow Squash Stuffed with Corn Custard

Although you can cook the squash in a baking dish or cookie sheet, I was paranoid about them collapsing and used large ramekins. Remember to season the inside of the squash before filling.
1 t. olive oil, plus extra for rubbing on squash
1 Cippolini onion, diced
1/2 Red pepper, chopped
1 Clove of garlic, roughly chopped
2 Ears of corn, de-kerneled
1/4 c. Milk
1 Egg
1 Egg white
1/4 c. Grated or shredded cheese (I used a combination of Romano and Swiss, because that's what I had)
Spices (the original recipe called for cumin seed, I used some ground cumin and chili powder)
Prepare the squash for stuffing by slicing off the top third, reserving the stem end. Using a pairing knife, carefully hollow out a first chunk of squash, taking care not to puncture the sides of the vegetable. Then, with a teaspoon, continue scooping out the squash flesh until all sides are smooth and even; chop the flesh and set aside.
Rub the interior and exterior of the squash cups with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Rub the reserved stem ends with olive oil and set on a piece of foil.
Prepare the vegetable filling by sauteing the onion, garlic and red pepper in olive oil until soft. Add the chopped squash flesh to the pan; season with salt, pepper and any additional spices and pepper; and saute until most of the water from the squash has evaporated. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the kernels from one of the ears of corn.
Prepare the custard base by combining the remaining corn kernels, the milk and egg and blitzing in a traditional or immersion blender until smooth.
Add the sauteed vegetables and cheese to the custard base along with extra salt and pepper. Spoon approximately 4 tablespoons of the filling into each squash cup; bake the remaining filling in an oiled dish.
Put the filled squash cups, stem ends and extra gratin in a 375 degree oven. Check the stem ends after approximately 20 minutes and the extra gratin after about 35 minutes. The stuffed squash will take the longest to cook, but should only require a total of 40 minutes.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Market Week (Or a Plan for My Farmers Market Haul)

After I transplanted the tomato plants I bought upstate, I started worrying about their future -- they were so small, was that normal? What kind of life would they have on my fire escape? Would they ever bear fruit?!
Needless to say, I spent a lot of time Googling for tips. And that's when I found the blog eat make read.
The more I read, the more I realized that eat make read was my kind of blog (and not just because some of the pictures used an Orla Kiely for Target tea towel as a backdrop!).
So when I saw the author, Kelly, was encouraging the food blogosphere to commit to a solid week of cooking based on seasonal farmers market finds, I knew I had to join in.

So I dropped $40 at the Union Square Greenmarket, loading up on staples like red onions (cipollini this time) and shallots and radishes, but also walked away with some prizes, including fava beans, round zucchini and black raspberries.

My plan is to use the produce in combination with what's in my cupboard and freezer, as well as the small order I got from Trader Joes this morning. Yes, I am cheating slightly.

Partially because of availability (no red peppers spotted yet), partially because of cost (while the $5 pint of Ronnybrook cream is likely far superior to the $1.99 half pint carton I purchased, a half pint is all I need) and partially because I just love TJ's stuff! But I am committed to featuring the "bounty of summer" upfront in each dish.

Right now, I have a corn gratin bubbling away in the oven for Sunday night supper. How will it turn out? Will I truly find ways to use all the produce? Stay tuned for the next installment!

P.S. Had a "foodie celeb" sighting at the greenmarket on Saturday. Food Network personality and chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli was buying a flat of cherry tomatoes from Stokes Farm, the place I get my tomatoes and persian cucumbers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Study in Green and Red

I was upstate for the 4th of July and hit the local farmers market. For a smaller market in a small town, there really was a lot of variety. I counted at least 10 tents lining the library parking lot, selling everything from granola to gladiolas, scones to stone fruit. Compared to Union Square Greenmarket, it was quite nice and peaceful, except for the crowds at opening time. All I can say is good luck jockeying for space in front of the organic lettuce lady's table. Despite the selection, everything I ended up with was green or red: red romaine (green and red!), sugar snap peas, zucchini, totsoi (which looks more like bok choy than any of the images on totsoi I've seen online), grape tomatoes and cherries.

I actually used most of the stuff raw (in salads). I still have to cook the totsoi (which I purchased solely because I had never seen it before). And the cherries? A sad tale.

They looked so good, but upon closer inspection at home, they were a tad over ripe, and several had "skin splitting issues." Frankly, they did not taste that great. Undaunted, I decided to pit them for use in some to be determine recipe. I got as far as removing the pits (with a drinking straw - a genius idea I picked up online, but still slightly messy. Be careful where the other end of that straw is pointing!) before I ran out of steam and ideas. So the fresh pitted cherries are now hibernating in my parents' freezer, waiting for their moment. Now to find a cherry recipe...