August 24, 2010

Meyer Lemon and Blackberry Ice

Filed under: Desserts — by Carla


Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer just keep on rolling on here in Ohio where it has been hot, hot, hot. So much for summer’s open windows with the sounds of locust,  chirping birds and children playing. We’ve reluctantly spent most of our summer nights sealed in our sterile airconditioned homes instead of sitting on the porch breathing in summer’s heady aroma of freshly watered plants, our neighbors fire pit and the few hosta lilies that the deer left for us to enjoy.  I can’t help noticing, though, that it hasn’t been so hot in Paris. Every morning I check the weather there (because that is where I’d really like to be) and see that the Parisian summer of 2010 has been cool and dry…in the 70’s and 80’s most days. Zut alors! What I wouldn’t give for a few weeks to ramble those city streets in relative seasonal comfort. This was definitely the summer for a trip to Paris.


So, for the time being I will not peruse the cool wonders of the Musée d’Orsay or the not so sizzling Rive Gauche and must make the best of being stuck in hot and humid Northeast Ohio. And though we don’t have lemon trees here from which to make lemonade, the heat here has resulted in a bumper crop of very fine berries.  Last week I figured why not tame some of that heat with a delicious fruit ice?


As luck would have it,  my grocer recently featured an abundance of locally grown, juicy blackberries. I grabbed two quarts and moved on to pick up a few other items when a basket of orangey yellow Meyer lemons came into view. We don’t usually see them here in Cleveland, so I dropped five or six into my bag, the better to make a deliciously contrasting Meyer lemon ice as well. The colors would be dramatic with the purply berry and pale lemon ices nestled in a glass and the flavors would offset each other with the lighter, breezier, not so sharp lemon and the dense, dark sweet berry.


One of the most attractive features of a summer ice is that you don’t need an ice cream freezer to make them. Just blend the ingredients together, pour the mixture into a 9x 13-inch metal pan and pop it in the freezer for 1 hour. After an hour’s freeze, just give it a scrape with the tines of a fork, freeze for another hour, repeat the process and let it firm up for another hour or overnight. The mix is sweet enough that it usually doesn’t harden into an unscoopable mass, but if it is too hard to scoop, just scrape it again with the fork to loosen it up. I usually make fruit ice a day ahead just to be sure it’s  firm, but even slushy, these fruit ices are heaven.


With a beautiful, cool dessert in the freezer I have the feeling that a shady evening on the patio might be in order. To set the mood, I’ll put on my Francophile’s music mix of Edith Piaf, Rendevous à Paris and Pink Martini. To keep things cool we’ll open a bottle of chilled Sancerre, toss together a pizza on the grill, maybe add a tomato salad and follow it up with this fruity, iced duo. It won’t be Paris, but it will be cool and delicious and we can all pretend.  


Kitchen Counter Point: Charming Meyer lemons aren’t as puckery as a regular lemon. They are thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange and taste as if that might be true. If you can’t find them go ahead and use regular lemons, but up the sugar to 1 cup. Blueberries can stand in for the blackberries with no changes to the recipe. Another nice way to serve these ices is to pour a shot of vodka or tequila over them and serve as a cocktail of sorts. Or a boozy dessert. Both work for me.


Meyer Lemon Ice

2 cups water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice (about 5 lemons)

Bring water, sugar and salt to a simmer and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from heat and add the lemon juice. Pour the mixture into a 9x 13-inch pan and let it cool to room temperature. Place it in the freezer for 1 hour. Remove the pan from the freezer and scrape the frozen edges into the center of the pan with a fork. Return it to the freezer for another hour. Scrape the ice crystals again to the center and return to the freezer for at least another hour or overnight. Scoop the ice  into small chilled bowls and serve immediately. Can be made a day ahead. If the mixture becomes too firm to scoop, just scrape it again with the tines of a fork to loosen the crystals.

Blackberry Ice

5 cups blackberries
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Pinch of salt

Add the blackberries and water to a blender or bowl of a food processor. Process the berries for about 30 seconds or until well blended. Strain the berry mixture through a medium mesh strainer, pressing the liquid through with a rubber spatula in 3 or 4 batches. Stir the honey, lemon juice and pinch of salt into the strained berry puree and transfer it to a 9x 13-inch pan. Place it  in the freezer for 1 hour, Remove the pan from the freezer and scrape the frozen edges into the center of the pan with a fork. Return the pan to the freezer for another hour. Scrape the ice crystals again to the center and return to the freezer for at least another hour or overnight. Scoop the ice into small chilled bowls and serve immediately. Can be made a day ahead. If the mixture becomes too firm to scoop, just scrape it again with the tines of a fork to loosen the crystals.













August 10, 2010

Tomatoes with Feta Cheese, Basil and Reduced Balsamic

Filed under: Salads — by Carla



For the last 25 years we’ve spent a summer week in Hilton Head with our best friends from college, Tim and Jan. Playing tennis, exploring the island on bicycles, afternoon bocce games and evenings on the beach with Manhattans in hand;  it’s a yin/yang of action and inaction. Our evenings on the beach are the high point of our day (remember the Manhattans), so most nights we prepare simple meals in our scantily stocked rental kitchen. But just because we’re on vacation doesn’t mean we take a vacation from taste.

You see, I stumbled upon some of the best tasting produce I’ve had all year on Hwy. 278, right in the middle of the island. Operated by a man with gentle eyes and what appeared to be his mother, their stand was an oasis of shade and cool in the 100 plus heat of midday. As I approached the stand, the elderly lady methodically shelled beans and dumped them into a plastic bin.


The gentleman was shy but his produce teased me closer. I picked up a furry peach and smelled it. A wave of heavenly peachy aroma enveloped me and I realized in that crystalline moment that I hadn’t smelled a tree ripened peach in a very long while.

I moved on to the cantaloupe. Same kind of aroma, only cataloupy.

Trying to keep my cool, I chose a few peaches, gently nestling them into one of the recycled Bi-Lo bags I’d brought with me but then my eyes wandered to the obviously home-grown tomatoes. They literally whistled and winked at me to pick them up and give them a light squeeze. I couldn’t take the produce porn any longer and I complimented the owners about the beauty and aroma of their fruits and veggies. I guess that doesn’t happen often down there. The lady calmly said something to the effect that it’s a good thing that someone grows gardens and I agreed.

pict143111We ate the juice dripping down our chins peaches as they were meant to be eaten…out of hand. The cantaloupe was probably the best I’ve ever had. It was wonderful cold and sweet first thing in the morning before tennis and the tomatoes were perfect. It’s always sad to leave the beach at the end of a good vacation, but I was especially sad this year to say goodbye to that produce stand. Thankfully our local tomatoes are nearly as tasty and since our return I’ve had a few that were close to being as good as their distant cousins down south. I helped them out with a little balsamic reduction, fresh basil and feta cheese and share the recipe below. In the meantime, I’m still searching for the perfect Ohio tomato, peach and canataloupe to thrill me like those at that stand on Hwy. 278. Where’s your favorite local stand? Please share!

Kitchen Counter Point: If your tomatoes aren’t the best of the best (or even if they are)  try reducing balsamic vinegar for drizzling. The acids and sugars are heightened in the reduced mixture so it imparts a bit more zip than regular vinegar. The salt I call out for is fleur de sel. Translated as “flower of salt” it’s a bit pricey, but worth every penny. If you don’t happen to have any in your pantry, go ahead and use a sprinkling of kosher salt.


Tomatoes with Feta Cheese, Basil and Reduced Balsamic

1/2 cup cheap balsamic vinegar

3 ripe, local tomatoes, sliced
Fleur de sel to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
About 10 fresh basil leaves, torn
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for drizzling, plus more if you prefer

In a small saucepan, reduce the vinegar over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until it has reduced by half. It will thicken a little as it cools.

Arrange the tomato slices in a single layer on your favorite platter. Sprinkle over the fleur de sel and pepper to taste. Drizzle about half of the reduced balsamic over the tomatoes and then scatter the feta cheese over all. Top with the basil and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Eat immediately. If making the dish ahead, let it sit at room temperature for up to 1 hour. Do not refrigerate as the flavor of the tomatoes will fade.