Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The best recipes I reviewed this summer

While I dare not suggest that summer is over, as even here in Saskatchewan, Canada, we've got at least three more weeks of nice warm weather, I did want to write about the best recipes I reviewed over the past three months. It may give you some ideas on what to make for any Labor Day celebrations this weekend.
   Here the recipes I've written about since the beginning of June that will knock everyone's socks, or tastebuds, off:

American-Style Ice Cream: Even I was a little dumbfounded by how well this recipe worked. Using a few simple ingredients and an ice cream maker, this recipe yielded creamy, flavorful ice cream that was better than store-bought anyday. I made the blackberry-sage variety, but there are other varieties to make too.

Grilled Romaine and Halloumi Cheese with Mint Vinaigrette: The first recipe where we tried grilling halloumi, and romaine lettuce, for that matter, and we were amazed at the resulting flavor. This is a weeknight-easy recipe that could also be served at a casual dinner party.

Grilled Halloumi with Watermelon and Basil-Mint Oil: Halloumi hit a home run again. This time, its salty, gooey goodness is paired with refreshing watermelon.

Pink Lady Milkshakes: These strawberry milkshakes spiked with dark rum are a really fun way to serve dessert at a backyard barbecue. I served these to my in-laws and sister-in-law while on summer vacation, and they loved it. Skip the rum for children or those who would prefer it non-alcoholic.

Ice Cream Soda with Lime, Mint and Ginger: Another fun dessert to serve for a backyard barbecue, these retro-but-modern sodas are definite refreshers.

Sage and Garlic Grilled Tomatoes: Grilling tomatoes releases an even deeper flavor, and fresh sage is a winning crown. Serve these with steaks and people will be overjoyed.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Grilling tomatoes and topping them
with sage releases warm, earthy flavor

One of life’s great pleasures, I believe, is eating a ripe tomato sprinkled with coarse salt during the tomato heaven months of August and September.
   But grill those same seasonal tomatoes and you’ve got an even greater delicacy on your hands, I discovered recently upon making Sage and Garlic Grilled Tomatoes (click for the recipe) with my husband.
   These tomatoes were extremely delicious.
   The grilling warmed the tomato, loosening its skin and amplifying and deepening its wonderful taste.
   The olive oil (make sure to use a good one if you can), coarse salt and garlic worked their flavor magic, but the fresh sage sprinkled on top is the masterful crowning gesture of this terrific recipe.
   The sage lent an extra earthiness, marrying perfectly with the deep tomato taste. The recipe says other types of herbs can be used, but I highly recommend going with the sage.
   These tomatoes would be a wonderful side to a luscious grilled steak.
   The recipe says to use plum tomatoes, but I used medium-sized tomatoes-on-the-vine instead. I cut off the bottoms and tops of each tomato so they could stand upright on an even base, then proceeded to cover them with olive oil, salt, garlic and sage.
   The recipe includes a ton of information on how to grill the tomatoes on different types of grills, including indoor grills.
   We used the very top section of grilling information for contact grills, where the tomatoes are left upright with the sage on top and cooked for four to six minutes.
    After the tomatoes are grilled, they are served immediately.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Four drinks to cool off your summer

During the summer, I love to make cold drinks.
   I make it a priority on weekends to mix up at least one pitcher of something refreshing, be it alcoholic or non-alcoholic.
   Recently I’ve tried four new drink recipes that my husband and I really enjoyed.

Minted Vodka Lemonade (click for the recipe) from Bon Appetit magazine is wonderfully boozy and tart libation that will cut through the summer heat like a knife. It makes a terrific pre-meal cocktail while the steaks are grilling.
   And it’s so easy to make.
   Chopped mint leaves, sugar (I used Splenda instead), fresh lemon juice and vodka are combined in a large bowl and left to refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to two hours. The mixture is strained into a pitcher.
   Glasses are filled with crushed ice and the lemonade is poured over. I used a small electric chopper to make the crushed ice.

Rosemary-Infused Cucumber Lemonade (click for the recipe) isn’t as crowd-friendly as the Minted Vodka Lemonade above. It’s refreshing and delicious, but I could see some people finding it a bit on the weird side. Save this drink for foodie or vegetarian friends.
   The version I linked to above is non-alcoholic. However, you can add gin to the mixture and make the alcoholic version, called Cucumber-Lemonade Chiller (click for the recipe). The gin, I’m predicting, would be a wonderful addition to the drink.
   Cucumber is peeled and chopped and puréed in a food processor with fresh rosemary. The purée is strained into a bowl or pitcher, and water, fresh lemon juice and agave syrup are added and stirred in. Refrigerate until cold, and serve over ice. I skipped the cucumber and rosemary garnish on the drinks.

For those of you who like a subtle-tasting iced tea that doesn’t attack you with sweetness, I recommend Garden Green Iced Tea (click for the recipe). It’s got a nice, easygoing herbal thing going on.
   As the title suggests, this iced tea is a combination of green tea and fresh garden herbs.
   Water, mint, basil, sage and honey are combined in a saucepan and brought to a boil. Green tea bags are added and left to steep.
   The recipe doesn’t say to do this, but I took the green tea bags out before pouring the tea into a pitcher. Once the tea is in the pitcher (don’t strain the herbs out), water is added. The tea is refrigerated and served over ice.

Orange-Earl Grey Iced Tea (click for the recipe) is sweeter than Garden Green Iced Tea, making it more of a general crowd-pleaser. The orange flavor is a wonderful addition to traditional iced tea.
   Earl Grey tea bags or loose Earl Grey tea and orange peel are steeped in boiling water for three to five minutes.
   The tea is strained, or the orange peel and tea bags removed. The tea is poured into a pitcher, and fresh orange juice, sugar (I used Splenda instead), and cold water are added and stirred in.
   Refrigerate until cold, and serve over ice.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Two salad recipes to put tomatoes,
corn and cucumbers to delicious work

With backyard gardens and farmers markets about to burst forth with summer vegetables, it’s a good time to have some salad recipes at the ready to use them up nicely.
   I recently tried a couple of recipes that will give tomatoes, corn, and cucumbers the delicious honor they deserve.

The first is Tomato and Corn Salad with Marjoram (click for the recipe), a fresh and reliable salad that goes wonderfully with all types of grilled meat.
   Marjoram is a type of herb not commonly found in supermarkets, but luckily we grew it in our herb garden this year and were able to use it. I can offer a substitution, however: Fresh oregano. I’m sure that herb, easier to find in supermarkets, will do just as well in the salad.
   Four ears of fresh corn, husked, are cooked in a large pot of boiling salted water, about five minutes. This cooking time at a high boil leaves the kernels perfectly tender.
   After the corn is cooled, the kernels are cut from the cobs. A good way to do this is to stand a cooked cob, smaller end down, into the tube of an angel food cake pan, then strip the kernels away with a knife.
   Olive oil and red wine vinegar are whisked together, and the corn, chopped tomatoes, feta cheese and marjoram are added. The mixture is tossed until the oil coats the tomatoes and corn.
   I skipped serving the salad on lettuce leaves.

The second recipe is Cucumber, Basil and Peanut Salad (click for the recipe).
   This refreshing salad is a wonderful combination of cool, with the cucumber and herbs, and salty tastes thanks to fish sauce, rice vinegar and salted peanuts.
   The recipe says to preferably use Thai basil, but said Italian basil or mint could be used instead. I didn’t have Thai basil, so I decided on a substitute combination of Italian basil and mint, about 1/8 cup of each. It worked wonderfully.
   This salad is amazingly easy to make.
   Rice vinegar, sesame oil, lime juice and fish sauce are whisked together. Cucumbers that have been cut into crescent-shaped pieces, basil and/or mint, and coarsely-chopped salted peanuts are added to the dressing and are tossed to coat.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Stone-Fruit Bars: Not something that the Flintstones would serve, but a dessert using cherries, peaches, nectarines or plums

Stone-Fruit Bars: The name made me think it was something the Flintstones would have eaten for dessert when they invited Mr. Slate over for supper.
   But the stone fruit in Stone-Fruit Bars (click for the recipe), of course, refers to the fact that any type of fruit with a pit or stone such as cherries, peaches, nectarines or plums can be used in the bars. For that matter, any combination of stone fruits can be used.
   When I made these, I used cherries when they were first coming into season in June.
   The bars were delicious, with a chewy crust made of chopped nuts or rolled oats covered by a substantial fruit filling.
   I was most impressed with the fact the bars tasted like cherry pie. I highly recommend serving them with vanilla ice cream to get the full pie-taste effect.
   While I used cherries, I’m sure any type of stone fruit will work very well. Peaches, nectarines and plums are at their glorious best right now, just begging to be used in this dessert.
   The crust is made by combining chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds or hazelnuts, or old-fashioned rolled oats, with whole-wheat flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulsing until the nuts, if using, are finely ground. Cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces, are added and pulsed until well incorporated.
   A mixture of egg, canola oil, vanilla and almond extract is whisked together, then added to the food processor with the motor running. When the mixture begins to clump, it is ready. A half cup of the crust dough is mixed with more chopped nuts and is set aside for the topping.
   Four cups of chopped fruit, orange juice, sugar and cornstarch are combined in a large saucepan and simmered until the mixture is very thick. Two more cups of chopped fruit and vanilla are stirred in.
   The crust dough is put into a 9x13” baking dish and pressed in evenly. The fruit filling is spread over the crust, and reserved topping is sprinkled over.
   The bars are baked. When serving, be sure to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the plate.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Two new recipes please
points-watching parents

On the weekend, my husband and I made a birthday dinner for my Mom and Dad.
   It was my Dad’s birthday on Sunday, and it was my Mom’s birthday the week before.
   The two of them are currently on Weight Watchers, so I wanted to make a meal they could enjoy and feel comfortable eating without worrying they were blowing their day's points out of the water.
   I relied on a few faves, including rum punch, spicy grilled shrimp, and grilled halloumi with watermelon.
   But I also tried out two new recipes, both of which worked very well.

The first was Peaches with Serrano Ham and Basil (click for the recipe), which served as the evening’s appetizer.
   They were a knockout. Fresh and delicious, each piece was like a happy little treat.
   And they were so simple to make.
   Peaches are cut into wedges and tossed with sugar (a tiny bit!), sherry vinegar and ground cumin. In the absence of sherry vinegar, I used balsamic vinegar instead.
   Serrano ham is cut into small pieces and wrapped around each wedge of peach (the recipe says to use half a slice of ham for each, but I only used a small piece and it was plenty). A basil leaf is pressed onto the ham and secured with a toothpick.

The second new recipe I tried was Cherry Sorbet (click for the recipe), which was dessert. My Mom was pleased we were had this instead of cake and ice cream.
   The sorbet was perfect: The cherry taste was highlighted nicely without it being sickeningly sweet.
   The recipe calls for confectioners’ sugar or superfine sugar.
   Normally I would use Splenda as a substitute for sugar in sorbet, but since the recipe is so specific about the kind of sugar required, I decided to use superfine sugar (sometimes labeled berry or extra-fine granulated sugar), because I wanted the recipe to work properly. Besides, only four tablespoons are needed.
   Like the peaches and serrano ham, the sorbet was easy to make.
   Pitted sweet or sour cherries, fresh or frozen, are puréed with water and sugar in a blender until smooth. The mixture is strained through a fine sieve. The mixture, now without extra solids, is processed in an ice cream maker.
   I was only able to get the sorbet to the slightly-slushy stage in the ice cream maker, which I was fully expecting.
   I transferred the sorbet to an airtight container and froze it until it was ready to serve. It takes about eight hours for the sorbet to freeze completely.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A blast from the past comes with
Ice Cream Soda with Lime, Mint and Ginger

When I sipped the Ice Cream Soda with Lime, Mint and Ginger (click for the recipe), I had a quick flash of what it might have been like to enjoy an ice cream soda at a soda fountain or drugstore counter.
   I’m too young to have been to an actual soda fountain, but the delicious drink/dessert I was drinking helped me understand why such establishments were so popular for so long.
   The ice cream soda was cool, refreshing and creamy. Each sip was a treat.
   With the lime, mint and ginger syrup as the base flavor, the ice cream soda received a terrific update while still maintaining its old-fashioned appeal.
   Serve these ice cream sodas as a dessert after a backyard barbecue, and I guarantee you will have a hit on your hands.
   I highly recommend using high-quality vanilla ice cream in the sodas, such as Haagen-Dazs. It will make a difference in its level of deliciousness.
   The recipe says it makes six servings, but I beg to differ – I think the syrup comfortably makes only enough for four sodas.
   The recipe also calls for sparkling water, but I used club soda.
   The sodas are very easy to make.
   Lime juice, sugar (I used Splenda instead), fresh mint and fresh ginger are combined in a saucepan and stirred over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a simmer. It’s simmered for two minutes, then removed from the heat and cooled completely on the counter. The syrup is strained into a small bowl or airtight container, and then covered and refrigerated until ready to use.
   Syrup and club soda are poured into glasses and stirred to blend, and then a scoop of vanilla ice cream is placed in each.
   Serve the sodas with straws for sipping. I skipped the lime slice and mint sprig garnishes.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Snickers Ice Box Pie: A exercise
in excellent mimicry

Although I’m not a big fan of the Snickers chocolate bar, the idea of a Snickers Icebox Pie (click for the recipe) sounded incredible to me.
   I was immediately drawn in when I saw the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, partly because no actual Snickers bars are involved. Rather, in true ATK form, the pie’s layers mimic the taste of a Snickers bar with its ingredients of marshmallow crème, cream cheese, heavy cream, peanut butter and soft caramels.
   The recipe promised to be a cold, chocolately, peanut butter treat to amaze on a summer day.
   Well, it is. It tastes like a Snickers bar, but with a homemade freshness that makes the flavors more vivid.
   The recipe I linked to above is on a blog, but it is nearly identical to the one I used from America’s Test Kitchen.
   The blogger makes a very good observation: The crust can be tough to cut through. My husband found it challenging cutting and getting out the first couple of pieces.
   Thus, in turn, it’s actually a bit difficult to put a fork through the crust when eating it.
   My suggestion: Serve the pie in small wedges, and tell people to pick it up with their hands to eat it.
   It won’t seem crazy, and people will enjoy the idea of enjoying the terrific treat out of hand.
   The crust is made by putting Oreo cookies in a food processor and grinding them until the resulting crumbs are fine. Melted butter is poured over the cookies and pulsed to incorporate. The crumbs are pressed into a nine-inch pie plate to create a crust, which is baked for 10 to 15 minutes.
   Chocolate chips are spread over the hot pie crust and left to sit until they are softened but not melted, about five minutes. They’re smoothed into an even layer, and the crust is refrigerated until the chocolate is set, 20 to 25 minutes.
   Marshmallow crème (I used Kraft Jet-Puffed), cream cheese, heavy cream (I used whipping cream), creamy peanut butter, and butter are beaten together until the mixture is light and fluffy, about two minutes.
   Soft caramels and water are cooked together in a small saucepan until the caramels are melted and smooth, about 8 to 10 minutes. One tablespoon of the hot caramel is stirred into the marshmallow crème mixture.
   The remaining hot caramel is spread evenly over the pie’s chocolate layer. The pie is sprinkled with chopped roasted unsalted peanuts, and is refrigerated until the caramel is just set, about 10 minutes.
   The marshmallow crème mixture is dolloped on top of the caramel and spread into an even layer.
   The pie is refrigerated, uncovered, until set, about two hours. Store unserved portions of pie in the refrigerator.