Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Summer Cocktail

I have been making a Watermelon-Basil Granita for years now, and it just now occurred to me to combine the same flavors into a cocktail. The spirit? Cathead Vodka's new Honeysuckle Vodka, the only booze I can say that reminds me of my childhood summers at my grandparents' homes in southeastern Virginia. When I found a bush redolent with the dulcet blossoms, I would carefully pluck the stamen through the flower, and touch the stamen, bowed with the drop of nectar, to my tongue. The subtle floral note in Cathead's Honeysuckle Vodka brings back those moments of childish innocence, when my only frustration was not catching enough fireflies to fill a mason jar.

Basil simple syrup is something I don't think enough bars use in their cocktails. Its slight bite lends a deeper flavor to the often sickly-sweet simple syrup. Watermelon juice, a neutral, refreshing foundation,  provides a foil to the stronger herbal flavor of the basil. Altogether, the cocktail is a little sweet, a little tart, and absolutely perfect for steamy summer evenings here in the Deep South.

Honeywater Basil Cooler
Makes 1 drink

1 cup of watermelon chunks, pureed and strained
3 tablespoons basil simple syrup (See Watermelon Basil Granita recipe)
1 shot Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka
juice of 1 lime
lime wedges
sprig of basil

In a highball glass full of ice, pour vodka. Add watermelon juice, syrup, and lime juice. Garnish with lime wedges and sprig of basil. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Pimenah" Cheese

Makes about 2 cups

A staple here in the South, pimento cheese is a favorite for appetizers or just a midday snack, sandwiched between two slices of Wonderbread (crusts off, of course). This is a simple recipe, takes only fifteen minutes to prepare, and blows the socks off the nasty processed glump by the same name at the grocery store.

one block of the sharpest cheddar cheese you can find, grated by hand
1 small jar diced pimientos
2 tablespoons pickle juice
2 tablespoons - 1/3 cup mayonnaise, depending on how creamy you like it
a dash of  cayenne pepper
salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, wet cheese with the liquid from the pimientos and the pickle juice. Stir in the mayonnaise. The cheese should almost melt into a paste. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer on a Plate

I love food magazines. I am the first to admit it; I'm slightly obsessed. In my kitchen stands a bookshelf crammed with back issues (some seven years old) of Gourmet, Southern LivingFine Cooking, and Bon Appétit. I particularly look forward to the winter holiday and summer issues. Staring at photos of a glistening, crispy Thanksgiving bird or a basil-flecked, farm fresh corn salad does wonders for my psyche.

This month I was particularly inspired by Southern Living's July recipes. I, along with hundreds of thousands of other readers, discovered the perfect appetizer among those glossy pages. The recipe combines my favorite flavors of our sultry, so-hot-you-peel-off-your-clothing Alabama summers: okra, tomatoes, corn, basil, and a personal staple, pimento cheese. Don't you dare use storebought pimento cheese. I will know. My sister, Emily, took one bite and said, "this is summer on a plate." I couldn't have said it better myself.

Okra and Tomato Corncakes
Recipe adapted from Southern Living, July 2012
Original recipe can be found here.

Although I pretty much stuck to the original recipe (you can't mess much with perfection), I did add a few handfuls of cooked, fresh corn kernels, cut straight off the cob, to the corncake batter. We also added more basil, because as far as I'm concerned, you can never have too much basil. I omitted the arugula because we didn't have any.

2 cups cornmeal
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups water
1 egg
2 cups okra, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
4 small heirloom tomatoes, sliced into rounds
16 basil leaves
1/4 cup canola oil
salt and pepper

Homemade Pimento cheese (recipe here)

Mix the first four ingredients in a small bowl. Beat in water and egg and mix until batter is thick and wet. Add in okra, jalapeno, corn and stir. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet until hot but not smoking. Pour batter in tablespoonfuls and cook each cake until bubbles appear on the surface and edges look dry. Flip cakes and press down with spatula. Cook 2-3 minutes and transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Salt and pepper. Repeat with all of the batter and oil.

To assemble cakes, place eight corn cakes on a plate. Top each cake with a tablespoon of pimiento cheese. Top with a basil leaf and then a tomato round, pressing down slightly. Garnish with basil and season with salt and pepper. Summer on a plate. I promise.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hello, Old Friend.

The title of this particular blog entry has two significances. The first one is that I am ashamed it has been a good portion of a year since my last blog post. In August, I found out we are expecting. Not that being pregnant is any excuse to let a blog go, but needless to say, I haven't been "mixing" much of anything noteworthy for the past eight months, and since I got put on bedrest on January, I've been banned from the kitchen (the horror!). The second significance is that today, I said hello to an old friend I've been missing since we moved away from Montana: rhubarb.

In our spacious backyard in Montana, we had a six square foot patch of rhubarb. The gorgeous, fig-shaped leaves were as big as elephant ears. At first, I had no idea what to do with all of those funny-looking red celery stalks, but with a little help from our friends in town, I quickly made use of the delightfully tart fruit/vegetable.

I recently picked up a flat of gorgeous strawberries from Sam's Club. I quickly tired of slicing them into bowls of cereal, and I just had too many to eat out of hand. Now that I'm allowed to be up and moderately active, I knew I had to acquire some rhubarb for a pie. I had seen some at Fresh Market, but when I got there they had baked them all into (you guessed it) strawberry-rhubarb pies. I thought my pie dreams were foiled until my dear friend, Elizabeth, found some at Publix for me. Thanks, Libbo!

I adapted the recipe from a one that first appeared in Bon Appétit Magazine in 1989 called Deep-Dish Rhubarb Pie with Crumb Topping. I made a few changes. I decided to use a (gasp) prepared pie crust because it's just easier. I don't have any other excuse. I also decided to omit the spices, cinnamon and nutmeg, from the original recipe because I wasn't going for a spicy, warm flavor. I wanted something tart-sweet and summery, which is exactly what I love about the combination of strawberry-rhubarb.

The crumble topping is so simple. I prefer a crumble topping on a fruit pie because of the added sweetness and texture. As far as I'm concerned, there's only one way to mix a crumble, and that's with your hands. Rub the butter between your fingers, making sure to mix it with the flour, sugar, and oats.

My favorite part about this recipe is that it makes a little extra fruit compote. Rhubarb is such a gorgeous, blush pink color when cooked. Spooned warm over vanilla ice cream, it is a feast for the eyes as well as the tongue.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble Pie
recipe adapted from Bon Appétit June 1989

2/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 pound rhubarb, sliced into ½ inch pieces
1 basket of strawberries, hulled and sliced into uniform pieces
juice of half of a lemon
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 pie crust, baked at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until golden

Preheat oven temperature to 375°F. Combine oats, flour, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl. Add butter and squish with hands until butter is fully incorporated and mixture is uniformly crumbly. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.
Mix rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice in heavy large saucepan. Let stand 30 minutes. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer until juices thicken, about 3 minutes.

Pour filling into prepared crust. Cover with topping. Bake 35 minutes. Cool on rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.