Cantaloupe Mint Cocktails

In case you aren’t a frequent reader of second wave feminist novels (and, let’s be honest, no one is a frequent reader of second wave feminist novels, not even me), let me tell you about them. They tend to follow a pretty standard format. A smart girl is born to a moderately well-off family in the 1940s. She reads a lot and feels out of place, but right around when she hits puberty she learns to hate her body, conform to the gender standards of the 1950s, and turns out to be pretty. She forgets about everything she read and marries young. Moves to the suburbs, helps puts her husband through school, has a kid, then another. Drinks a lot. At some point she realizes that she hates her life. Drinks some more. Some time later an event (maybe a divorce) leads her to have to really shake things up (maybe by going back to school) and that’s when she comes to understand the gender constructs that shape her life. Her consciousness is raised.

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I have varying amounts of sympathy for these characters depending on my mood. I’m reading Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room for my book group right now. It’s actually a total page turner.

Yesterday morning, however, I found myself feeling like I had gone through the main character’s entire emotional experience, which takes place over the course of the 450 pages, in under 3 hours. I woke up in the hating-my-body phase, struggling through a second day of rather painful cramps. Then I went shopping for a new pair of athletic shorts only to discover that the store near me exclusively sells athletic shorts for women with words written on the ass. Seriously, that was the only option. As I left the store, in a huff and with a pair of shorts, contemplating all the ways it can still be demeaning to be a woman, I decided I needed a drink.

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The women in French’s novel don’t drink anything this fruity. They drink wine from jugs and straight liquor at night when everyone else is asleep. Instead of either of those rather unappealing options, I made these for Noah and myself yesterday evening. They didn’t totally clear up my bad mood, but, as Noah made dinner while I read a magazine and drank my cocktail, I remembered why I often don’t relate to French’s characters at all.

 

Cantaloupe-Mint Cocktail 

(I adapted this from this Smitten Kitchen recipe)

– 1 cantaloupe

– 1 cup of water

– 3 springs of mint

– Vodka

– Seltzer

– Lime

* Cut cantaloupe in half and scoop out and discard seeds. Scoop out flesh and put in blender or bowl, if you are using an immersion blender. (I used an immersion blender, but if you are using a blender you might have to do this in a few rounds.) Once all the flesh is in bowl add one cup of water and blend until smooth.

* Place colander over large bowl and line with dish towel or layered cheese cloth. Pour cantaloupe mixture into this and refrigerate for at least an hour.

* About half-an-hour in add mint sprigs to juice that has drained into bowl.

* Remove from refrigerator. Gently squeeze out as much remaining juice as you can from the cantaloupe mixture and discard solids.

* Juice can now be refrigerated or poured into cups over ice and mixed with seltzer, vodka, and a squeeze of lime in whatever portions you like.

Note: These are not very sweet. I liked them that way, but you could stir in some simple syrup if you wanted. I drank the remaining juice this morning without alcohol (this isn’t the 1950s!) and it was quite sweet on its own so I wouldn’t add syrup to all of the juice even if you do like a sweeter cocktail.

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Coriander Tomatoes with Chimichurri Sauce

Since I stopped eating red meat a few months ago, one of the things I have missed most is the sauces–those combinations of herbs that have been developed to taste delicious with a steak. After passing up steak with Chimichurri sauce one too many times in a restaurant, I decided I needed to make some. The question was what to put it on?

Chimichurri is an Argentinan mixture of parsley, cilantro, garlic, and other spices that tastes amazing with red meat. Finding something that was hearty enough to stand up to this sauce but not so complicated as to have too many flavors going on was a bit of a challenge.

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Ultimately, I settled on quinoa, for heartiness; my favorite roasted tomatoes; and fried eggs and feta, for protein. I think you’ll find the combination of flavors is pretty awesome.

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Coriander Tomatoes with Chimichurri Sauce for Two: 

– 3 medium sized tomatoes

– Feta

– 2 eggs

– 1 cup dry quiona

– Olive oil, salt and coriander to sprinkle on tomatoes

For Sauce: (Recipe from Epicurious)

– 1 cup packed Italian parsley (fresh)

– 1/4 cup packed cilantro (fresh)

– 2 peeled garlic cloves

– 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

– 1/2 teaspoon cumin

– 1/2 teaspoon salt

– 1/2 cup olive oil

– 1/3 cup red wine vinegar

Tomatoes:

* Preheat oven to 300 degrees. (The Orangette recipe calls for cooking tomatoes for 4-6 hours at 200 degrees, but that requires you to both plan ahead and be home for 4-6 hours, which I rarely am. So I cook them at 300 degrees until I’m done cooking everything else, but for at least half-an-hour. They are still delicious.)

* Cut tomatoes in half.

* Drizzle each half with olive oil and sprinkle salt and coriander on each in a thin layer.

* Roast in oven until the rest of the meal is done and ready to be assembled.

Quiona:

* Combine rinsed quinoa and 2 cups of water in a small sauce pan and bring to boil.

* Stir in pinch of salt and turn heat down.

* Simmer for 15 minutes over very low heat.

* Turn heat off and let stand for 5 more minutes with lid on.

Chimichurri Sauce:

* Puree all ingredients in blender.

Assembly:

* Divide the quinoa between two bowls.

* Arrange tomatoes on top of quinoa.

* Spread small amount of feta on each tomato.

* At this point, I would fry two eggs however you like your eggs fried and flip them one on top of each bowl of tomatoes.

* Drizzle each bowl with chimichurri sauce and serve the rest of the sauce on the side. (We had leftover sauce…I still haven’t decided what to do with it.)

Cognac Raisin Ice Cream

Before I got distracted by the horrible heat and strawberry cake, I meant to tell you that we went to Italy. Noah, his family, and I spent three days in Rome where we contemplated Catholicism, empire, and the Swiss Guard and then decamped for a week in Tuscany where we ran by sheep everyday, relaxed by a pool, and visited many a walled town. Oh, and we ate and drank a lot.

As you can see, the produce was amazing (look at those tiny tomatoes!), but right now I want to talk about drinking.

In Tuscany, we went on a number of wine tours and tastings. My favorite tour was of the  Avignonesi Vineyard an organic vineyard near our farm house.

On the tour, we saw their circular vineyard where they test the best density to plant vines; their ancient cellars (above) where I learned that each kind of grape gets aged separately and is only mixed together at the end of the wine-making process; and we heard a lot about their Vin Santo desert wine. After the tour, we were all offered a taste of five wines, including two of the best white wines I have ever had, but no Vin Santo.

If you wanted to taste the Vineyard’s Vin Santo desert wine you had to pay an eye-popping extra 25 Euros. Noah and I decided to splurge.

Vin Santo, I learned, is a desert wine made by pressing dried grapes (or really fancy rasins) instead of your usual fresh grape. As a result, it is sweeter and more syrupy than most wine. Avignonesi’s Vin Santo was unbelievably delicious. It tasted like creamy figs and raisins, which explains why, once I realized that a half bottle of it cost 21o Euros, and once Noah explained to me that, no, piling all of our books on top of a lot of raisins would not yield the same results, I turned to him and said, “Well, I guess we’ll have to make really good rum raisin ice cream when we get home.”

Once home,  I discovered that Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream’s at Home   has a recipe for cognac ice cream. Since cognac is made from grapes instead of sugar it seemed like a cognac raisin ice cream might get me closer to the flavor of Vin Santo.

In the end, this ice cream didn’t quite capture the flavor I was going for. It’s actually too boozy, which should tell you how creamy and the wine tasted. That said, it’s pretty tasty ice cream. Moreover, it holds its texture better than any ice cream I’ve ever made so I thought I would share.

Cognac Raisin Ice Cream

Ingredients:

– 2 cups 1 % milk (Jeni calls for whole milk, but I never have it around and 1% always tastes fine)

– 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch

– 3 tablespoons cream cheese.

– 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

– 1 1/4 cups heavy cream

– 1/2 cup sugar

– 2 tablespoons light corn syrup

– 1/4 cup cognac + more for plumping raisins

– 3/4 cup raisins

  • The night (or at least a few hours) before place raisins in a small saucepan and cover with cognac. Bring to boil and let simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover.
  • Mix 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl until smooth.
  • Whisk the cream cheese and salt together in a medium bowl.
  • Combine remaining milk, cream, sugar, and corn syrup in a saucepan, bring to boil and boil for 4 more minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in cornstarch/milk mixture.
  • Bring mixture back to boil and cook about 1 minute until slightly thickened. (I am terrible at telling when a mixture is slightly thickened, but for this I would say cooking a minute or two after it boils usually does the trick).
  • Slowly whisk hot milk mixture into cream cheese until smooth.
  • Drain raisins and save cognac.
  • Add 1/4 cup of cognac (I would use the cognac from raisins and add more as needed to get to 1/4 cup).
  • Chill mixture. (You can use an ice bath and be ready to make your ice cream in 30 minutes, but I usually just stick it in the refrigerator for a few hours.)
  • Pour mixture into ice cream maker and follow maker instructions.
  • I found that this ice cream was best after a day in the freezer. It was more liquid-y than most ice cream when I removed it from the maker, but unlike most ice creams I make at home its texture only improved with time. So I would pack it in a container and freeze for a day.

Strawberry Lemon Polenta Cake

The heat wave that everyone has been worrying about hit this morning, and it is brutal outside. I suppose the smart  way to prepare for the heat would have been making popsicles, or doing my laundry, but instead I decided to bake a cake.

It’s my friend’s birthday tonight, and I decided that last night was likely one of the last moments that I would be willing to even contemplate turning on my oven this summer. So, to mark both occasions, I turned to my favorite gluten-free cake.

I discovered this lemon polenta cake when baking for my own birthday in December. It confirms my general belief that the best gluten-free baked goods are those that lack gluten because they never needed it in the first place. It doesn’t call for any wacky ingredients like Xantham gum. It’s a totally simple combination of polenta, almond meal, and eggs doused in a citrus syrup.

The original recipe is from Nigella Lawson. Since my birthday I’ve made it a number of different ways depending on the season. All winter, I made it with an orange syrup and candied orange peel, but for summer I thought it needed an update. The birthday girl requested strawberries, and so this strawberry-lemon polenta cake was born.

I baked it last night and then I turned off the oven, probably for a good long while.

Strawberry Lemon Polenta Cake: 

Ingredients:

– 1 3/4 sticks softened butter (14 tablespoons)

– 1 cup sugar

– 2 cups almond meal/flour

– 3/4 cup polenta (or cornmeal)

– 3 eggs

– 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

– 5 or 6 strawberries thinly sliced

For Syrup: 

– 2 lemons

– 1 cup powdered sugar

*** You’ll want to cook this in a 9-inch springform pan and  you really do want a springform pan as this is hard to get out of a regular pan.

  •  Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  •  Butter pan and set aside
  •  Mix together polenta, almond meal and baking powder
  •  In a big mixing bowl (or using a stand mixer) cream butter and sugar together until smooth.
  •  Add about a quarter of the polenta-almond meal mixture to the butter and mix until fully blended.
  •  Add an egg and another cup of the polenta-almond meal mixture to the batter and mix until fully blended.
  • Repeat, adding each egg and the polenta-almond meal mixture until it is all mixed together.
  • Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes.
  • While cake bakes combine the juice of 2 lemons and the cup of powdered sugar in a small pot and bring to a boil. When the powdered sugar dissolves set aside.
  • At 30 minutes, remove cake and arrange strawberries on top of the cake.
  • Return cake to oven and bake for 10 more minutes until the sides brown and begin to pull away from the pan. The center may still look a little undone when you remove it but it will set.
  • Remove from oven and poke small holes all over cake with toothpick. Pour syrup over cake and allow to cool before taking it out of  pan.
  • I think this cake is best if it is allowed to cool overnight.

Chocolate Chip Cookies (and Dietary Restrictions)

This is probably a good time to say something about what I eat, what kinds of recipes you’ll find on this blog (if there is ever anyone reading this blog).

I’m gluten intolerant. I don’t keep a perfectly gluten-free kitchen, but I avoid eating wheat. I figured out pretty quickly that I hate most “gluten-free” foods. In particular, I think the gluten-free flour mixes that contain potato flours, which are the ones most people use, make everything taste like potato kugel.

So, for the most part, I eat foods that never had gluten in them to begin with. Lots of rice, rice noodles, corn (tortillas, arepas, corn on the cob), potatoes, quinoa. My boyfriend calls this “gluten freedom” instead of just “gluten-free” eating because we aren’t even trying to eat things that usually have gluten in them.

I do, however, really like baking. More often than not, this means I bake cakes and cookies for other people since I can’t eat them.

While we are on dietary restrictions, you’ll also mostly find vegetarian recipes on this site. I have gone through all sorts of different vegetarian phases in my life, mostly for environmental reasons. Right now, I don’t eat mammals and I only eat poultry from the local farmers market. This keeps my meat consumption pretty low.

But, enough with restrictions. Yesterday it was raining and after a morning in the archives, I really just wanted to bake something comforting.That’s when I remembered the bag of mesquite flour sitting my cabinet and a recipe for mesquite chocolate chip cookies I had seen.


Mesquite flour is made from the dried, ground pods of the Mesquite tree. Most recipes that use it also call for regular flour as well. Because it’s fairly strong and nutty I find that it overpowers–and, in my opinion, therefore works well with–gluten-free flours. I have also made cornbread and pancakes with it. (In case you’re interested, when I do the very occasional gluten free baking I do, I use this gluten free pancake mix because there is no potato flour in it. Whenever possible though, I use almond meal which I think is delicious.)

Anyway, I decided to give the mesquite flour cookies a gluten-free spin. I think they turned out better than any other gluten-free cookie I’ve had.

Gluten Free Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies (Adapted from David Lebovitz, who adapted it from Heidi Swanson)

Ingredients:

– 2 cups gluten-free flour

– 1 cup mesquite flour

– ½ cup almond meal

– ½ teaspoon baking soda**

– ½ teaspoon baking powder**

– 8 ounces butter, room temperature

– 2 cups sugar

– 3 large eggs

– 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

– 2 cups rolled oat

– 2 cups chocolate chips

** My gluten-free flour mix has some baking soda and baking powder in it, but I never know how much so I halved the baking soda and baking powder amounts. If your mix doesn’t have baking soda and powder, you’ll want to double those amounts.

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Mix flours, almond meal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  • With an electric mixer cream butter, then add sugar slowly, and eggs one at a time. Add vanilla and mix until smooth.
  • Add the flour mixture one cup at a time.
  • Mix in oats chocolate chips. I quit using an electric mixer at this point and did it with a combination of a wooden spoon and my hands. The dough gets very thick.
  • Drop 2 tablespoon rounds of batter onto baking sheet.
  • Bake 12-15 minutes until just beginning to brown. They will look quite wobbly when you take them out.
  • Cool and eat.