Reduced-Guilt Vanilla Ice Cream

I’ve been trying to “lean in” to some positive lifestyle changes, to better care for my body after the less-than-ideal results of my recent bloodwork. What I have realized is that I have no problem adjusting my cooking to suit the health and dietary concerns of others, so I have the knowledge and ability to do it for myself. But taking care of me is something I have never been as good at, so this has been an important exercise for many reasons. The biggest bummer about this recent “watch what you eat” recommendation is, well, the timing.

The doctor meant no harm, I know, but his admonition to “cut back on fat intake” is not exactly what I want to be thinking about on the first day of National Ice Cream Month! As much I’d like to put my fingers in my ears and sing, “la-la-la-la-la,” I realize that doing so will only come back to bite me. If I put off getting healthier until August, I would only find an excuse to put it off until September, and so on. I gained a little more than 15 pounds since the COVID pandemic began, and that is not OK. My cholesterol numbers are “mildly elevated” for the first time ever, and to get a handle on that quickly, I am taking a new approach wherever I can, starting right here with my favorite summer treat.

My goal with this ice cream was to whittle back the fat content without losing all the creamy, indulgent texture that makes ice cream so enjoyable. I remember back in the day, my grandmother occasionally had something called “ice milk” in her freezer, and it was boring at best. A treat is only a treat if it satisfies—what I wanted was the best of both worlds, and friends, I think I have cracked the code.

Serve this luscious ice cream by itself, or as a creamy pairing to cobbler, pie or cake!

I’m not going to claim that this ice cream is health food—it isn’t. But it does have lower overall fat than my usual sweetened condensed milk base and it was so easy to make, with only a few ingredients and an ice cream machine. This condensed milk style of ice cream was already on the fast track to becoming my go-to base recipe—it requires no eggs or cooking, after all—but now that I know that it can be lightened up and still be this delicious? Game over, and everyone wins!

A few easy swaps from my usual no-egg ice cream base, and it turned out terrific!

The first swap I made was the condensed milk itself—I opted for the fat-free version of this shortcut ingredient, figuring that the thick, syrupy texture would hold its own in the absence of the milkfat, and I was right. For extra body, I blended in a small container of Greek yogurt, which only added 3 grams of fat. Half and half was swapped in for the usual cup of heavy cream, which saved more than 50 grams of fat in the whole batch. And a half-cup of light whipping cream, which is decadent but still lighter than heavy cream, contributed a bit of silky richness. Here’s how easy it was to make:


In case you’re wondering—no, your eyes are not fooling you; the condensed milk was more beige than cream-colored. I did a little research into this, and it turns out that canned milk can change to a tan color if it has been stored in warmer temperatures, but it isn’t a problem unless the can is bulging, or the milk has visible signs of spoilage (I checked the Eagle brand website to be sure). Mine was fine, and I actually appreciated the color, which lent a visual richness to my reduced-guilt ice cream. It was almost the same color as if I had used a high-fat custard base recipe. Were the substitutions enough to make a measurable difference in the fat content? I wasn’t sure yet, and frankly didn’t want to know the impact of my choices until after I tasted it.  


A generous tablespoon of real vanilla paste gave my ice cream the deep homemade flavor I crave. When my base was all mixed together (which only took FOUR minutes!), I covered it and sent it to the fridge to be completely chilled. No matter what ingredients you put into an ice cream, you want it to be really cold before you add it to an ice cream machine, churning it up into a frosty treat.


The recipe finished as easily as it started. I poured it into my ice cream machine and churned for 25 minutes, then transferred it to an insulated container and held my breath, hoping that my substitutions would not sabotage my desire for a rich, creamy treat.

According to my calculations, and based on the actual product nutrition labels, this version of ice cream is almost exactly 50% lower in fat than the other, with less than 7 fat grams per serving!


Friends, it’s going to be a great summer! I’ll have more fun ice cream recipes to share during National Ice Cream Month.

Happy 4th! 🙂

Reduced Guilt Vanilla Ice Cream

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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A few simple ingredient swaps resulted in this creamy, indulgent ice cream that just happens to be half the fat of a regular condensed milk ice cream recipe.

Ingredients

  • 14 oz. can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
  • 5 oz. container Greek yogurt (2% works great)
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup light whipping cream
  • 1 Tbsp. real vanilla paste (or 2 tsp. real vanilla extract)

Directions

  1. In a large pitcher bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk and Greek yogurt until evenly combined.
  2. Stir in heavy cream and half and half, whisking to blend after each addition.
  3. Stir in vanilla paste. Cover and chill the mixture for at least two hours.
  4. Whisk mixture just before freezing, to reincorporate any ingredients that have settled. Freeze in ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  5. Transfer to insulated container and place in freezer to firm up.

Because this ice cream is lower in fat than most, it’s best to consume it within 4 to 5 days. Longer storage results in a slightly icy texture.



Smoky Jalapeño Baked Beans

One of the down sides to being a creative home cook is, well, the pressure to be creative all the time. It’s a self-imposed expectation, I know. But more than a few times in the recent couple of months, I’ve hit a brick wall on getting new ideas on the table. We have eaten well, but I have mostly pulled out familiar, favorite recipes because we’ve had too much going on. And a good many of our meals have been takeout, which is far more exception than rule at our house. This is not easy for me.

Last month, I had an epiphany—OK, it was more a reluctant acceptance of something my husband has been trying to tell me, and I finally gave in—and what a relief: I don’t have to make a rock star meal every night, and I don’t have to make everything from scratch. Sometimes it’s OK to take it easy. And that’s what I did with this baked bean recipe, which is begging to be part of someone’s July 4th table.


Sure, it’s special, with the salty bacon, slices of fiery jalapeno and a shot of charred oak barrel-rested whiskey, but here’s a secret I’m eager to share— I cheated! I dressed up a can of store-bought baked beans. And they were awesome.

Whew. It feels good to let that go, and I’m not going to pretend that I discovered the can of beans in the back of the cabinet and just whipped up a fun spin on them. Nope, I had every intention of taking a shortcut when I made my grocery list, and let me tell ya, it was just as much fun jazzing up a pre-made can of baked beans as it would have been if I’d made them from scratch. I chose the most basic variety of beans I could find, without too much embellishment. They only had a touch of brown sugar, and this made it easy to spin the beans in the savory direction my palate was craving.

Elevating a store-bought product can be just as rewarding as making a dish from scratch!

Dressing up the store-bought beans was easy, and they got a big flavor boost from two very thick slices of savory bacon, cooked up to just-shy-of-crispy with half of a sweet onion (I reserved the other half for the top). I didn’t want the beans to dry out in the oven, so I enhanced the sauce with a few tablespoons of ketchup, a splash of vinegar, some smoked paprika and a few shakes of cumin. Then, just for fun, I stirred in a shot of whiskey, the same one I used in the Kickass Whiskey-Braised Collards that we enjoyed a few months ago.


After dumping the beans into the same skillet, I stirred in the smoky sauce and topped the baked beans with the remaining onion slivers and jalapeno slices and slid it into the oven. Baking the smoky beans in the same skillet meant that I also saved time and energy on cleanup, which was a welcome relief. And, there’s just something cool about taking the skillet right to the table.


This dinner was easy all around, as we served the smoky jalapeno baked beans with an All-American favorite—grilled, all-beef hot dogs with (gasp!) store-bought buns. Don’t worry, there is no danger of me permanently trading in my “do-it-yourself” personality in the kitchen, but occasionally, I could get used to this.


By the way, are you already doing this with your hot dogs? It only takes a few seconds, and you end up with so many crispy crevices to support your favorite toppings. 🙂


Smoky Jalapeño Baked Beans

  • Servings: 6 to 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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This recipe builds on the flavors of store-bought canned baked beans (or pork and beans). For best flavor results, purchase a simple flavor, such as Bush’s “original” baked beans with bacon and brown sugar, or Bush’s vegetarian baked beans. You can kick up this recipe in multiple ways—for big, bold flavor, keep some of the jalapeno seeds and use the whiskey. For milder flavor, substitute green bell pepper and skip the whiskey.

Ingredients

  • 2 slices thick smoked bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces (omit for a vegetarian version)
  • 1 medium sweet or yellow onion, half chopped, and half slivered into crescents
  • 1 medium fresh jalapeno, half diced, and half sliced into thin rings
  • 3 Tbsp. tomato ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. smoked sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 oz. smoky whiskey (optional, but heck yeah!)
  • 28 oz. can Bush’s “original” or “vegetarian” baked beans, or equivalent substitute
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F, with rack in center position.
  2. Place a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium flame. Add bacon and onion, and season it a bit with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, to soften onions and render some of the fat off the bacon. If a great deal of fat results, drain off as much as you wish.
  3. Combine the ketchup, vinegar, paprika and cumin in a small bowl. Stir in the whiskey (if using) and set the mixture aside.
  4. When bacon is slightly crisp, add the canned beans to the skillet, including all the sauce. Stir in the diced jalapenos and the sauce mixture. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Top the baked beans with the remaining onion slivers and slices of jalapeno. Twist some freshly ground black pepper all over the top. Bake for 40 minutes, until sauce is bubbly all around.



My Favorite Vinaigrette Potato Salad

Is there a more ubiquitous summer side than potato salad? But just because it’s always there hardly means it’s the best thing on the table. One of my most cringe-worthy food memories of childhood was played out on repeat at summer gatherings with family, friends and neighbors, and seeing what happened to the potato salad—which, many times, was little more than sticky, cooked potatoes with some hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise. I know you’ve seen this, too, when it gets a little bit warm and separates into a greasy, gloppy mess with that thin filmy crust on the surface. Is it any wonder everyone passes over it in favor of potato chips? Nothing ruins a picnic faster than bland potato salad, slick with broken mayonnaise. Bleh.

It’s a shame to not give the versatile potato a greater chance to shine! If you are bored with potato salad or stuck in a rut with a recipe that gets left behind on the picnic table, maybe you just need a different approach—one that doesn’t depend on a heavy, mayonnaise-y coating to give it flavor because, honestly, mayo doesn’t have much flavor to begin with. Here’s something a little different and for me, it’s a winner every time.


This potato salad does not disappoint, and it could never be accused of being bland because it is doubly dressed—first, with a tangy, heart-healthy vinaigrette that soaks flavor all the way through the potatoes, and then with the slightest amount of mayonnaise-based dressing for a creamy, picnic-ready finish that isn’t greasy and doesn’t clump or break.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that potatoes are one of my very favorite foods, and I have shared a few fun twists on potato salad here on Comfort du Jour, but of all the versions I like to make, this one is my favorite (especially in summer), and for a few fun reasons.

Any kind of potato works

You can use starchy russets, baby reds or Yukon golds (my favorite, and my choice for this post). Peel the skins or keep ‘em—your call. The only thing to consider with the waxy style of potatoes is that they will absorb slightly less of the dressing, so you would want to proceed in stages to be sure it’s to your liking. But flavor-wise? Whatever you like is going to work.

This salad is adaptable

My main goal for any kind of salad is variety of texture, and you can adjust this one many ways by changing up the mix-ins. My go-to combination of mix-ins usually includes hard-boiled eggs, chopped pickles, crunchy bits of celery or radish (or both), fresh onions and any kind of fresh herbs. But that leaves it open for interpretation—I could swap out the chopped pickles for chopped olives and skip the onions but add some minced bell pepper. Dill has a completely different flavor than basil or parsley, so that’s another layer of options you can customize to your liking. As long as your ingredients are not overly wet (like tomatoes), the options are nearly endless.


It is not drenched in mayonnaise

We go through a lot of mayo at our house (mostly for my husband’s beloved tuna sandwiches), but it is not my favorite ingredient for dressing potato or pasta salads. Mayonnaise, which is essentially an emulsion of egg yolks and oil, is just plain heavy. And if you add mayo to cooked potatoes, you might notice that it takes a lot of it to keep them coated so the potatoes don’t seem dry, especially if your potatoes lean more starchy than waxy. Too much mayo is never appealing and it definitely is not healthful. Almost all its calories are from fat, and though recent reports have debunked the idea that warm mayonnaise is solely responsible for post-picnic foodborne illnesses (the culprit is usually the meat or fish that is dressed in the mayo), there’s no disputing that it looks completely unappetizing.

It’s actually delicious!

Unlike the typical mayonnaise-only potato salads, this one is mostly flavored with a tasty vinaigrette-style dressing that you can customize to your own palate. You can use a fancy French vinaigrette, a balsamic vinaigrette, a zesty, Italian-style vinaigrette or even a store-bought vinaigrette. There are only two types that I would not recommend, and for different reasons. An entirely fat-free vinaigrette is not ideal, because the extreme water content will turn your cooked potatoes soggy. The dressing should have some amount of oil in it, and you can choose one with heart-healthy fats, such as extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil. I also would not recommend a sweet, fruit-flavored vinaigrette, such as raspberry. It would be tough to choose mix-ins that would work with those flavors. It’s best to stick with a savory one.


The vinaigrette is added to the cooked potatoes while they are hot—immediately from the pot after draining is best—and it only takes a few minutes for it to be absorbed. After the potatoes cool, you simply add your favorite mix-ins and a very small amount of mayonnaise, blended with equal amount of sour cream (or Greek yogurt) and a touch of Dijon mustard for extra flavor. I like to add celery seed as well, but this is optional.


Our little secret…

Here’s one more nugget about this potato salad, and it is good news for anyone who can’t have (or doesn’t want) mayonnaise. This salad technically does not need mayo at all! The vinaigrette soaks so much flavor into the hot potatoes that you could skip the mayonnaise altogether and send it straight to the fridge for serving, just as it is—almost like a German potato salad, but chilled and delicious for summer!


My Favorite Vinaigrette Potato Salad

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: average
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What I love about this potato salad is that it is double-dressed. First, it’s flavored with vinaigrette, from the inside-out, while the potatoes are still steaming hot. The vinaigrette absorbs into the chunks for great flavor in every forkful. Then, when it’s cool, add your favorite salad mix-ins (aim for variety of textures) and a creamy dressing that has very little mayonnaise for such a large batch of salad. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup prepared vinaigrette dressing (see below for my favorite blend)
  • 1 1/2 pounds small Yukon gold potatoes, cleaned and cut-up (peeled or skin-on)
  • 1/2 cup each finely chopped onions and celery
  • 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (reduced-fat versions are fine)
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • favorite mix-ins (I like hard-boiled eggs, chopped pickles or capers, radish slices, minced fresh herbs; avoid high-moisture ingredients such as fresh cucumbers)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Prep and simmer potatoes until they can easily be pierced with a knife tip, about 25 minutes.
  2. Add finely chopped onions and celery to a bowl large enough to mix the potato salad. When potatoes are tender, drain them and immediately add them to the bowl. Fold with a spatula to distribute the onions and celery throughout. Season with a couple pinches of salt.
  3. Pour the vinaigrette over the hot potatoes. Gently fold with a spatula to mix the vinaigrette evenly with the potatoes. It will take a few minutes for the vinaigrette to be absorbed. Allow them to cool at room temperature. If you wish, you can refrigerate the potatoes before adding the creamy dressing.
  4. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, Dijon, celery seed, salt and pepper. Add your favorite salad mix-ins to the vinaigrette-drenched potatoes. Pour dressing over the bowl contents and fold gently to combine and coat the potatoes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Refrigerate the potato salad until completely cold. Serve alongside your favorite summer cookout fare.

Any savory vinaigrette dressing is suitable for this potato salad, but I do not recommend using an “oil-free” version. The excess moisture may make the potatoes too mushy. Here’s my easy, go-to vinaigrette dressing recipe, but between you and me, at least half the time I make this salad, I use Good Seasons Italian. 🙂

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • A few shakes of garlic-pepper seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or another heart-healthy oil, such as avocado)

Directions

  1. Combine vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon, seasoning, sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl or glass measuring cup.
  2. Gradually drizzle olive oil into the mixture while whisking vigorously. The Dijon mustard will help emulsify the mixture.


Green Curry Shrimp

It has been an interesting week at our house, between the saga of our bathroom remodel, which included some high drama that nearly wrecked me (more on that another day), and an unfortunate, middle-of-the-night accident that occurred in the rear corner of our raised bed garden. It’s been going gangbusters, thanks to the vigilant security provided by this little fella:

The Yard Defender!!!

The “Yard Defender” has restored my hope for a vegetable garden, after several (literally) fruitless years of battle against the herd of deer that resides in the woods behind our cul-de-sac. We’ve tried all the home remedy stuff—Irish Spring soap, garlic hung on strings that spanned the tomato cages, human hair, commercial potions with a nasty rotten egg odor, ALL of it—and last year, well, I didn’t even bother. But with grocery prices soaring, I wanted to try again and so I splurged on this motion sensor device, advertised with the slogan, “don’t hurt ‘em, just squirt ‘em!”

The thing has peripheral vision to spot deer (or other critters, or unsuspecting neighbors) when they approach the garden, and launches a hearty spray of water to chase them off. My garden looks better than ever! Yesterday morning, though, our neighbor texted to tell me that “something had happened” to one of my zucchini plants, and when I went out to investigate, I discovered what appears to be a hit-and-run.

YIKES!

First of all, this trellis is heavy duty, so this was a serious accident. I was trying to train my zucchini to grow upward on both sides of it, to make more space in the garden and encourage more fruit. It was looking so healthy and I’ve just begun to see blossoms forming. My assumption is that a good-sized deer was already standing in the garden when the sensor detected its movement, and the precious thing got so spooked by the abrupt noise and spray, it panicked and fell onto the trellis. I have since moved the Yard Defender to the rear of the garden, where the tomatoes grow (it’s what they are after anyway), and hopefully we can avoid another dangerous incident. For sure, at least one of my zucchini plants is doomed (it was crushed, along with the trellis), but I hope that the other three endure so I can join the chorus of those who are sick to death of zucchini recipes, come August. Until then, I will continue to harvest what is growing out of control on the inside of my house, in the Aerogarden.

Here we go again, with the Thai basil!


I’ve been scrambling to come up with interesting ways to work this herb into “the rotation,” which is an inside joke for me and my husband, who swears we have not eaten the same thing twice since 2016. This is his fault, I say, for marrying a woman who loves to experiment in the kitchen. But using what is local and plentiful is part of what I do, and it doesn’t get more “local” than the dining room. I have in mind to substitute it for mint in a Mojito this weekend, and I’ll let you know how that goes. For now, let’s talk about what went into this bowlful of goodness.


Some of the vegetables in this recipe were the same as in the Thai Basil Chicken I shared last week, but there were plenty of swaps that make this dish different. I used carrots and red bell pepper again, swapped in scallions for regular onions, and cut up the first fruit of my 2022 garden, a wonky eggplant!


Shrimp was my protein and I shifted the sauce to a green curry-coconut vibe. Green curry is a vibrant blend of warm spices mixed with lemongrass, kaffir lime, green Thai chile and galangal, a rhizome that looks like ginger but tastes more herbal. It would be quite complex to make green curry from scratch, but a store-bought paste makes this recipe very simple. The aroma of the paste is pleasantly intoxicating, especially when it first hits the oil in your pan. Coconut milk is a natural companion for the flavor of any curry, and for this recipe, I used a “light” version to reduce the overall fat, but a full-fat coconut milk is fine and would lend more of the coconut flavor.


My first taste of green curry (circa 2005) was a pleasant surprise, and I was introduced to it by an unexpected culinary expert—my then-quite-young stepdaughter. She became a foodie at an early age, in part by my influence, but also that of her mother, who introduced her to Thai food when she was still in elementary school. Yes, when other kiddos were clamoring for fried chicken fingers at chain restaurants, our global flavor-savvy girl was scouting out the nearest sushi joint or Indian restaurant. When I had mentioned to her on a family dinner out in a Thai restaurant that I didn’t care for curry, she asked, incredulously, “not even green curry?” She offered me a taste of her favorite green curry chicken, and I was hooked. I’ve made it at home a few times in recent years, but this was my first time with shrimp. Delicious!


There is a bit of heat in my rendition of this dish, not only from the green curry paste, which leans spicier than red and yellow curries, but amped up by a few shakes of another fun ingredient in my pantry—Asian Reds hot chile blend, available online from the Flatiron Pepper Co. website. To be clear, I don’t get paid to brag about them, but I probably should, given that we own a bottle of darn-near every variety they make. What sets this company apart from others is that it offers region-specific blends of peppers that are otherwise hard to find. The Asian Reds includes Thai chile and ghost pepper, both of which are damn hot. I heartily recommend it for adding heat to any Asian-inspired dish, but a quick shake of the red pepper flakes you probably already have will work in a pinch for this recipe, or you could mince up half of a red jalapeno into the veggie mix for similar heat effect.

You won’t find these varieties of peppers just anywhere. Use it sparingly because it is HOT.

My advice for making this dish is the same as most every Asian-inspired recipe, and that is to get all your ingredients lined up and ready before you begin because things move quickly once the oil hits the pan. That means chop up your vegetables, clean and de-vein your shrimp and get your rice cooking (you’ll want that, for soaking up every last drop of the flavorful green curry sauce). Place a heavy bottomed pan over medium-high heat and add a couple of tablespoons of high-heat oil, such as canola, peanut or coconut. Give a quick stir-fry to the carrots and peppers first, because they take longer to cook. Then, add the scallions and garlic and toss long enough for the initial steam to dissipate. Move the vegetables to the outer edges the pan, drop another tablespoon of oil to the center and plop the green curry paste onto it. Prepare to be entranced by the aroma!


When the oil sizzles around the green curry paste, use a utensil to break it up and toss it with all the vegetable ingredients, so that everything is covered in a light film of the curry paste. The eggplant should go in last, given its tendency to instantly absorb oil. Toss everything just enough to coat the pieces, then add the entire can of coconut milk and stir to blend. Sprinkle in hot pepper flakes (if you want the extra heat), reduce the heat to low and cover the pan to simmer for 3 minutes. This gives the vegetables time to soften, and allows the green curry flavor to permeate everything.


Add the shrimp to the pan and stir to submerge them beneath the simmering liquid. Depending on the size of your shrimp, it should only take 3 to 5 minutes for them to lose their pink color, so watch them closely. Add a handful of Thai basil and stir to wilt it into the dish. Serve immediately with a portion of jasmine rice.

Garnish with a pretty Thai basil leaf if you want to be fancy. 😉


Green Curry Shrimp

  • Servings: 2, plus leftovers for one lunch
  • Difficulty: average
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This recipe comes together quickly and with ease, thanks to a store-bought paste that captures all the important flavors of Thai green curry. Substitute chicken or tofu if you wish. If you don’t have Thai basil, you could substitute regular basil or omit it altogether.

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp. high-heat cooking oil, such as canola, peanut or coconut (you will divide this for cooking the vegetables and blooming the curry paste)
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced and halved
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut on a bias
  • 3 scallions, cut on bias (white and green parts)
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium Japanese eggplant, cut into bite sized chunks
  • 2 Tbsp. prepared green curry paste
  • 1 can light coconut milk (this is the culinary variety, not cartons for drinking)
  • a few shakes hot red pepper flakes, for extra heat
  • 1/2 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • a handful of fresh Thai basil leaves (optional but delicious); substitute regular basil if desired
  • hot cooked jasmine rice, for serving (I used brown jasmine rice for extra flavor and nutrition)

Directions

  1. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and stir-fry the carrots and red peppers for about two minutes to give them a head start. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add scallions and garlic and toss to coat and wilt the scallions.
  2. Move the vegetables to the outer edge of the pot. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the center and spoon the green curry paste onto the oil. This will “bloom” all the flavors of the paste. Break it up a bit with your cooking utensil, then stir it together with the cooked vegetables. Add the eggplant and toss to coat.
  3. Pour the entire can of light coconut milk into the pot and gently stir to blend. Sprinkle on hot pepper flakes (if using) and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and cover the pot, simmering for about three minutes, or until the mixture reaches a slight boil.
  4. Add the shrimp pieces. tossing lightly to submerge them beneath the simmering liquid. Keep a close eye on them, as they will cook in as few as 3 minutes, depending on their size and original temperature.
  5. Stir in Thai basil leaves until wilted. Serve immediately with hot cooked jasmine rice.



Watermelon-Hibiscus Sorbet

There’s a big celebration happening across America this weekend, and I don’t just mean Father’s Day. Sunday is Juneteenth, and Black American families will gather to recognize the anniversary of the day many of their ancestors actually became free. I wrote about this last year when I created a cocktail that I called “Long Time Coming,” and I believe the message bears repeating. As a person who values diversity and inclusion, I feel humbled by the fact that Juneteenth and its meaning was not on my radar until only a few short years ago. I won’t go into all the feelings I have about the blatant omission of this important occasion in my public-school education because I’ve already said it and, well, it isn’t about me. The point is, Juneteenth is significant, and well worth celebrating! Last year, it finally became recognized as a U.S. holiday.

What is Juneteenth?

The word itself is a portmanteau, that is, a mashup of two words—in this case, June and nineteenth. And the occasion of Juneteenth is a big deal, especially to families with African-American ancestors. It was on June 19, 1865 that Union solders rode into Galveston, Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Abraham Lincoln had issued more than two years earlier. Though slavery had been abolished throughout the land, approximately a quarter-million people had remained enslaved in Texas. One year after the enforcement, the freed people organized a celebration called “Jubilee,” which evolved over the years into Juneteenth, as we know it today.

How do people celebrate Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a joyous occasion, and many people celebrate with family reunions, picnics and church activities. Because this holiday happens in summer, most typical celebrations are held outdoors, and though there are many cookout-type foods you might find on the table, a few dishes are considered “traditional,” including pulled-pork barbecue, spicy sausages (known as “hot links”), collard greens, fried chicken and red velvet cake.

Why are red drinks served for Juneteenth?

The color red, in general, is significant for this holiday, which is why you’ll see watermelon on every table, and red drinks are considered traditional—most notably, strawberry soda. Around my part of the South, there’s a soft drink called Cheerwine that is bright red in color, and I expect it also is a typical offering at Juneteenth celebrations. The brilliant red color signifies two distinct themes—the blood shed by enslaved ancestors, as well as the courage and resiliency they exhibited in moving forward as freed people. Hibiscus tea, which has a tart-bitter flavor, is also a popular beverage for Juneteenth, and I have infused it into a simple syrup to give it prominence in this watermelon-hibiscus sorbet.

This sorbet is so refreshing!

Ready to make this gorgeous, refreshing Juneteenth dessert? The ingredients list is short, thanks to the intensely complex flavor of the hibiscus ginger beer I discovered last year. This product will likely be found in the cocktail mixers section of your supermarket, rather than the soda aisle, as its founder created a full line of mixers to replace the sticky-sweet ingredients that had been standard for cocktail-making. What I like about the Q mixers is that they are not cloyingly sweet, and this hibiscus ginger beer has infusion of interesting spices, including chili pepper, coriander and cardamom. On its own, it is very intense (almost takes my breath away, frankly), but it is not designed to be consumed straight. It makes excellent cocktails, which I learned last year with my Juneteenth drink. And, it adds a lovely, zesty zing to this sorbet. If you can’t find the hibiscus ginger beer, substitute a regular ginger beer. My favorite is Reed’s brand, which is sweetened with honey and a touch of pineapple. Don’t let the “spicy” notes of ginger beer scare you away; by the time it’s blended with the watermelon, the kick is quite subtle. You could also substitute milder ginger ale, but I would recommend adjusting down the additional sugar if you do so.


Because the hibiscus ginger beer is not super-sweet, I needed to add some sugar to the mix and I did so by creating a simple syrup, which I infused with hibiscus tea for more of the sharp, tart flavor it offers. It is pretty easy to find hibiscus tea bags—most of the larger supermarkets in my area carry some brand of it—but if you can’t find it, a perfectly good substitute for this sorbet would be the Red Zinger tea by Celestial Brand. The flavor is different, but it’s red, and made from the flowers of African rooibos, which fits right in with the occasion of Juneteenth. The ideal ratio of sugar to water in the simple syrup will vary, depending on the ripeness of your watermelon and the sweetness of your ginger beer.  


Finally, the star of the show is fresh summer watermelon. My husband reached way down into the display crate at the supermarket to grab the last personal size watermelon they had. When cut up into chunks, I had almost exactly 8 cups of this hydrating fruit. I couldn’t help nibbling on a few of the chunks and, of course, sharing with my favorite good dog.

There isn’t much our girl doesn’t love!

When I was ready to make the watermelon-hibiscus sorbet, I fitted my new food processor with a large blade and added all of the watermelon to the processor bowl. Pulse a few times, then run it continuously until no pieces remain and it is very liquid. Add a pinch of salt to bring out the best in all the other flavors that are about to happen. Strain it into a large pitcher bowl, through a strainer with a fairly open mesh. You want to retain most of the pulp, but limit how many bits of seed make it into your sorbet. Yes, even the so-called “seedless” watermelons do actually have seeds; they are just smaller and more tender than the black seeds of yesteryear melons.


Add the hibiscus ginger beer and hibiscus-infused simple syrup. Squeeze both halves of a fresh lime and add that juice to the mixture. Freeze in an ice cream machine until it is nice and frosty.


Unlike ice cream, there is no risk of “over-churning” a sorbet. The main thing is that you want to be able to easily transfer the soft, frozen mixture to a freezer container, so it may be easier to stop churning when it is still somewhat “wet,” rather than completely frozen. Give it four hours in the freezer to firm up completely, and scoop to serve.

If you want to add a bit of booze (I think a bit of Jamaican rum or blanco tequila would be nice in this), limit it to no more than 1/4 cup, or it won’t freeze well. And if you’re serving kiddos, obviously, skip the booze.


No ice cream machine?

You can still make homemade sorbet—just give yourself a little bit of extra time. Consider adding a small amount of light corn syrup to the puree base—3 tablespoons ought to do it—to help keep the sorbet stable and avoid too many icy crystals. Pour the base directly into a freezer-safe container with a lid and freeze it for a couple of hours. Remove it, slush up the mixture with a fork and freeze two more hours, then repeat until it is fully frozen. If the consistency is too chunky, don’t worry. You can let it freeze as solid as you want and whirr up the chunks in a food processor or high-power blender just before serving.

Watermelon-Hibiscus Sorbet

  • Servings: about 8
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

Here’s a fresh and vibrant “red drink” dessert, made with watermelon, hibiscus and ginger beer—it’s perfect for Juneteenth or any summer celebration, and very easy to whip up, with or without an ice cream machine.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups fresh watermelon chunks
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 hibiscus tea bags
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup fair trade sugar (adjust amount to suit sweetness of watermelon and ginger beer)
  • 1 can Q brand hibiscus ginger beer (or 1 cup of another ginger beer)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • a pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Fit the bowl of a food processor with a large blade. Add watermelon chunks (in batches, if necessary) and pulse a few times, then puree until liquid. Stir in a pinch of salt. Strain the puree into a pitcher bowl through a large-mesh strainer to filter out lingering seed bits. Chill until ready to proceed.
  2. Heat water over medium heat until boiling. Turn off heat and add hibiscus tea bags. Steep five minutes and discard tea bags. Stir in sugar until dissolved. Cool completely.
  3. Add ginger beer and hibiscus-infused simple syrup to the watermelon puree. Give it a taste to check sweetness. If it needs additional sugar, make a small amount of rich simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water) and add to the puree. Alternatively, stir in a few tablespoons of light corn syrup. Squeeze lime juice into the puree. If the mixture is not completely cold, chill it down in the fridge for an hour or so.
  4. Freeze in an ice cream machine until slushy. Transfer to an insulated freezer container and freeze several hours until firm.

If you don’t have an ice cream machine, pour the puree directly into a freezer safe container with a lid and freeze for a couple of hours. Remove it, slush up the mixture with a fork and freeze two more hours, then repeat as many times as needed until it’s fully frozen. If the resulting consistency is too chunky, you can whirr them up in a food processor or high-power blender just before serving.

Want to make a boozy sorbet? Add no more than 1/4 cup of light or Jamaican rum, vodka or blanco tequila before freezing.




Thai Basil Chicken

To say that I’ve been under stress lately would be a gross understatement. I know that many of you feel the same angst related to the stories that plague our newsfeeds, and that alone is enough to make anyone shaky. On top of the stressors of life, things at home have been a little, um, hectic.

Besides the uncharacteristically high pressure of late in my day job (which is usually quiet in June), and beyond the fact that we are now past the 90-day mark since the start of our master bath remodel (with issues still happening every day), I had an unwelcome bit of news this week at my first primary care visit in nearly a decade. It’s nothing serious—at least, not yet—but I am considering the results of my blood workup to be an important wake-up call.

At the risk of TMI, I’ll summarize to say that several key markers are out of whack, and I need to get my act together quickly as it relates to my diet and my overall health. As luck would have it, going through menopause, starting a food blog, and signing up for not one, but two major home renovations during a world pandemic did not have positive effect on my body. I should have seen it coming.

For the first time in my life, a doctor told me that I must make changes, and that was a little scary. There’s plenty of time to turn things around, and I am truly thankful for that, but it means healthier options will be my first choice and decadence is on the bench for a while. I need to embrace regular exercise, too, but that’s another post entirely. Today, I’m focusing on healthier eating. It does not mean that we can’t have pizza or ice cream or some of the other fun things my husband and I love; rather, it only means that I must be more mindful of what goes into those dishes in the first place. Luckily, I do love experimenting!

For me, what makes a meal truly satisfying is variety of texture, big flavor and interesting spices. I’m not suddenly turning vegan or entirely giving up any food groups—I have never been one for a total elimination diet. I can move toward better health with a few lightened-up favorites, more meatless dishes and plenty of vegetables, and that’s what I intend to do. Truth be told, part of the reason I’m telling y’all this is that it builds in an extra level of accountability. Now that you know, I’ve painted myself into a bit of a corner. So here comes the first of several fresh and healthy meals served up at our house recently.

It smells even more delicious than it looks!

Thai basil chicken meets all the criteria I mentioned for a satisfying meal. The texture is amazing and packed with crunchy vegetables, including carrots, broccoli and red bell pepper. The flavor is phenomenal, with a complex blend of spicy ingredients in the Thai-inspired sauce that gently coats the vegetables and lean ground chicken. The signature flavor that gives this dish a little extra “zhuzh” is Thai basil, a fresh herb in the mint family that is similar to the Genovese basil you’d recognize in Italian food, but with a spicy undernote and a hint of anise or licorice. I’ve had an abundance of this ingredient lately, since my husband and I reinstated the Aerogarden that he gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago. This gorgeous herb has taken over the whole dining room, even visible from outside the window because it’s growing through the blinds (which, I suspect, is causing the neighbors to whisper). I prune the plants every couple of days, which only makes them grow faster, and so I needed a dish that uses a lot of Thai basil at once. This recipe is perfect for it!


The prep for Thai basil chicken is easy; it’s just a bit of chopping and slicing of fresh vegetables that have plenty of texture, color and nutrition. The other essential prep is making the sauce. My recipe includes chili-garlic paste for heat, soy sauce and coconut aminos for an umami burst, oyster and fish sauces for a little funky depth, rice vinegar for a slight acidity and a touch of coconut sugar to round it all out. There’s also a bit of corn starch in the mix to keep it silky. If you like Asian flavors even a little bit, you won’t regret having these ingredients in the door of your fridge, and in no time at all, you’ll be mixing and matching them to come up with your own amazing recipes. One final note on the point of these Asian sauces, and this is not a joke. There is an imminent shortage of both sriracha sauce and chili-garlic paste, so you may want to grab a jar of each now to avoid the drought that’s coming on these ingredients. Now, let’s get cooking on this dish!


I used carrots, red bell pepper, onions and broccoli in my recipe, but there are other veggies that would feel right at home here, including scallions, cauliflower, celery, crunchy green beans or snow peas. Sliced fennel would also be terrific, and if you can only find Genovese basil, having fresh fennel in the mix would help fill the gap of the licorice flavor that Thai basil offers. Basically, aim for lots of color and texture and you’ll have a winning dish. The only vegetable I wouldn’t recommend is tomato, which is too soft, and hardly ever used in Asian cuisine.

Cooking the dish is simple, beginning with a little bit of oil in a large, fairly deep skillet or wok. Because this recipe is cooked over medium-high heat, you need an oil with a high smoke point, such as peanut, coconut or canola oil, but you won’t need more than a few tablespoons. Extra-virgin olive oil is not best for this kind of cooking because it overheats easily and turns bitter.


You’ll cook the veggies first, only a few minutes until they begin to soften, then move them to the outside edges of the pan and cook the ground chicken, half at a time. You could use cut-up pieces of chicken breast, also, but I find that ground chicken cooks more quickly and evenly. I normally use a wok when I make this dish, but that is one of the few tools that didn’t earn prime kitchen real estate after our remodel, and the overflow of stuff in the garage is a bit of a nightmare right now. If you have a wok, of course it would be the best vessel for cooking, but any large, sturdy skillet or pan with deep sides will work fine.


After the chicken has lost its pink color, whisk the sauce to mix it up again, and pour it all at once over the pan ingredients. Toss a few times to coat, and you should see the sauce thicken quickly, thanks to the cornstarch in the mix. Add the Thai basil at the very end, and when it wilts down and turns darker green (which takes no more than 30 seconds), this meal is ready to serve!

I’ll be looking for other fun ways to use my Thai basil, and I’m already planning to do something with the shrimp we have in the freezer—maybe a drunken noodle kind of thing? Oh, aaand, I don’t think I have mentioned that I planted a vegetable garden this year, and we have found a new weapon against deer invasion. More on that next time. 🙂

Fingers crossed, we will have fresh zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant soon. Stay tuned!


Thai Basil Chicken

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

This recipe moves quickly, so it’s best to have your fresh ingredients and sauce ready before you begin. If you have a favorite store-bought, spicy Thai sauce, you could substitute that, using about 2/3 cup. If you cannot find fresh Thai basil, a regular Italian basil can be substituted but the flavor will not be quite as authentic. As long as we are talking substitutions, the chicken could also be swapped out for shrimp or even extra firm tofu cubes. Go on, make it yours!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 small onion, halved and cut into slivers
  • 1 large broccoli crown, trimmed and cut into florets
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 3 small carrots, peeled and cut on bias into thin slices
  • a fat handful fresh Thai basil leaves
  • 3-4 Tbsp. high-heat oil, such as coconut, peanut or canola (you will divide this to cook the vegetables and the chicken)
  • Spicy Thai basil sauce (ingredients listed below)
  • Cooked jasmine rice, for serving

Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a glass measuring cup or other bowl that is suitable for pouring. Have it ready before you begin cooking.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. garlic chili paste
  • 1 Tbsp. oyster sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut aminos
  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar (not seasoned)
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. corn starch
  • 2 Tbsp. COLD water

Directions

  1. Place a large, high-side pan over medium-high heat. Add half of the oil, and when it shimmers, add all vegetables to the pan. Sprinkle with a slight pinch of salt (not too much, because the sauce has plenty), and toss in the pan until they begin to soften, or about 7 minutes.
  2. Push the vegetables toward the outside edge of the pan. Add half of the remaining oil in the center of the pan, and add half the ground chicken, tossing to cook just until it’s no longer pink. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
  3. Whisk the sauce to reincorporate ingredients that have settled. Pour the sauce all over the pan mixture and stir or toss to coat. The sauce should begin to thicken very quickly.
  4. Add the Thai basil to the skillet all at once and toss to wilt it into the recipe. This will happen very quickly.
  5. Spoon the Thai basil chicken over portions of hot cooked rice, and enjoy it while it’s hot!



Strawberry-Rhubarb Lemonade

Ah, fresh lemonade. Is there anything more refreshing on a scorching hot summer day? If you have never made homemade lemonade, I promise you that it’s very simple and totally worth the effort. All you need is a simple syrup (which is literally only a warmed mixture of water and sugar), a tiny pinch of salt (which is basically an exclamation point on the other flavors) and a whole bunch of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

And if you want to elevate homemade lemonade with other flavors, it’s a simple twist of ingredients. For my strawberry-rhubarb version, I made two simple syrups, one infused with the bright citrus flavor of organic lemon peel, and the other with two stalks of cut up rhubarb. Then, I pureed fresh organic strawberries with water, strained out the seeds and combined the whole thing in a pitcher with the juice of six lemons.

This recipe makes a delicious base. Mix it in equal parts with still or sparkling water for the ultimate refresher!

The result is this beautifully hued summer beverage with tart, sweet and tangy flavors that taste all at once like spring, summer and sunshine. The formula is slightly concentrated, leaving me with options for how to serve it. It’s delicious mixed 1:1 with cold water over ice, or 1:1 with chilled sparkling water, and I haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine it would make a great cocktail if shaken with ice and a shot of vodka or blanco tequila. My husband even suggested we blend it with crushed ice for an even more refreshing summer cooler—a slushie.

Here’s how it came together, and I’ll admit that it could have been easier if I had made only one simple syrup rather than two, but there’s a reason it happened that way. I’ll explain in a moment.





Bring the heat, summer!

So, why two syrups for this recipe? It wasn’t necessary, and next time, I’d make them together in one batch. Truthfully, I made my rhubarb syrup first, and it was intended for some other recipes, but a story in my news feed last week caught my eye and I took a detour toward this pretty, pink lemonade. The story was about the upcoming “Strawberry Moon,” the full moon tomorrow night that has the distinction of also being a supermoon.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Big Moon Summer

Supermoon occurs when the moon is full at the same time it is closet to Earth in its orbit. Nothing is different about the moon itself, of course, but the combination of its full phase and proximity to our planet give it the appearance of being larger and brighter than a typical full moon.  

I am fascinated by the moon, which has tremendous influence over all life—from the ocean tides and reproductive cycles of animals to its effects on the human body and even (or, perhaps, especially) our emotions. Nobody understood these things more than the Native Americans, who are responsible for the names given to the full moons each month. They named the moons based on what was in season, or what was happening in nature at the time of each full moon cycle. Various tribes held this moon-naming practice, but the names that are still used today are mostly attributed to the Algonquin tribe, which made its home in the stretch from New England to the Great Lakes.

Strawberry Moon is the first of three supermoons this year. Next will be July’s Buck Moon (named for the time when male deers’ antlers will be in full growth mode, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac). And some sources say that August’s full moon also qualifies for supermoon status. That will be the Sturgeon moon, so named for the abundance of sturgeon fish that historically filled the Great Lakes during late summer. That’s three consecutive supermoons, and I think that’s a natural phenomenon worth celebrating.

Want to see the Strawberry Supermoon? This site will help you find the best time for viewing in your area—Moonrise and Moonset Calculator (timeanddate.com)—but if you don’t want to try to interpret the scientific chart for an exact time, just pour yourself a tall glass of strawberry rhubarb lemonade and head outside for a sky check any time after sunset on Tuesday.

Cheers!


Strawberry-Rhubarb Lemonade

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

I’ve combined juicy strawberries, spring rhubarb and fresh lemon juice, making a beautifully hued beverage with tart, sweet and tangy flavors that taste all at once like spring, summer and sunshine. This is slightly concentrated, leaving me with options for how to serve it. It’s delicious mixed 1:1 with cold water over ice, or 1:1 with chilled sparkling water, and I can’t wait to try it as a cocktail, shaken with a shot of vodka or blanco tequila.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar (more or less to taste)
  • 2 or 3 stalks rhubarb, chopped
  • Strips of lemon peel from two organic lemons
  • Juice of 6 lemons (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • About 1 cup fresh organic strawberries, trimmed and hulled
  • 1 cup water (for pureeing the strawberries)

Directions

  1. Combine filtered water and cane sugar in a large saucepot. Add rhubarb pieces and strips of lemon peel. Heat over medium heat until water comes to a gentle boil, then turn off heat. Stir until sugar fully dissolves. Stir in salt. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature.
  2. Add strawberries and 1 cup water in the pitcher of a blender or bowl of a food processor. Puree until no visible bits of berry remain. Strain through a mesh strainer over a large pitcher or bowl.
  3. Add simple syrup and lemon juice to strawberry puree. Stir to blend. Chill overnight.
  4. To serve, combine equal parts lemonade base and cold (or sparkling) water and pour over ice.



No Time to Be Young.

When I first sat down to write this post, the world had just been stunned by the mass murder of schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas. I was still personally reeling from the shooting in a Buffalo supermarket, a horror scene that happened a mere hour from where I grew up. Since that time, there have been more mass shootings—at a nightclub in Chattanooga, a busy downtown section of Philadelphia, a graduation party in South Carolina—wait, am I missing one?

The good old U.S. of A. has seen 246 mass shootings so far in 2022. And it isn’t even the Fourth of July.

We may still have time

we might still get by

Every time I think about it, I want to cry

With the bombs and the devils

and the kids keep coming

Nowhere to breathe easy. . . no time to be young

Ann & Nancy Wilson

The truth is, I’m starting to feel numb about it, and I hate that. As much as it hurts to learn of yet another senseless slaughtering of innocent lives, I don’t want it to become normalized. I don’t want to dismiss it as just another headline and then scroll down my news feed to see who wore what at the MTV Movie and TV Awards or what adorable thing the British royal grandchildren did this weekend or 12 fun cocktails to usher in summer. It feels wrong and entitled to look the other way, and is it even safe to do so, when it very well might be you or me that is gunned down next at the grocery store?

The stress takes a toll on all of us. For me, stress has stalled my creativity, almost as if my brain is stuck on idle. I feel like my every attempt to move is just revving the engine but going nowhere. Ask my husband how many times in the past couple of weeks I’ve texted him at the day’s end, asking him to pick up takeout on his way home from work.

This is not normal because—c’mon, say it with me— nothing is normal anymore.

It isn’t that I’m not trying, or that I don’t have time to make food for us. It’s more that I’m distracted and frantic inside, and my creative efforts in the kitchen have been equal to those of an artist who randomly flings paint every which way in hope that a beautiful portrait will appear. Without focus, the outcomes of my experiments have been, well, “meh.”

Studies show that when people are under heavy stress, they gravitate toward the familiar rather than the new. We need comfort and soothing in times like these, and at mealtime that might mean grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, baked beans or ice cream. I have made all of the above recently and I look forward to sharing some of them with you, as soon as I figure out how to calm the hell down. The yearning for familiarity has also brought to mind favorite music from my younger years, and one song in particular has been on auto-repeat in my subconscious.

“Crazy on You,” by Heart, is a classic rock standard, and though it is mostly a raucous love song that has endured for its from-the-gut vocals and that astonishing acoustic guitar intro, there is one lyric that stands out most to me—“Nowhere to breathe easy, no time to be young.”

I recently watched a YouTube interview with Ann Wilson, frontwoman of Heart, and she recounted the story of co-writing that song with her sister, Nancy, way back in 1975, when I was the same age as many of the Uvalde shooting victims. It was on the heels of the Vietnam War and amid gas shortages and civil unrest and so many other uncertainties, and it seemed to her that the world was ending.

“It’s very stressful when you’re in your 20s and you don’t see a good future,” Ann said. The only thing that kept her going during that time, she explained, was the fact that she was in love, and could pour all of her energy into her relationship and her music. And so she did.

Please bear with me, dear readers, as I hope to find a way to do that in the kitchen. Soon.



Creamy, Crunchy Dijon Cole Slaw

My intention for this post and recipe was to introduce you to my new food processor; I’m excited about my choice of machines and still learning how to use some of the features that are new to me. But I’ll save that for another day, because what this post is really about is a new trick I’ve learned in the kitchen—one that has very little to do with my food processor and everything to do with trying something new with an old tried-and-true: cole slaw.

There are so many ways one can make cole slaw, and it’s usually the dressing that makes each version special, whether it’s sweet and creamy like a KFC-style slaw or refined and elegant with a lime and poppy seed vinaigrette. I shared those when Comfort du Jour was brand new, and they are delicious, just like the tangy apple cole slaw from last summer.

This time, I’ve changed the dressing again (and I think you’ll love its delicate Dijon flavor), but I’ve also dabbled in a new technique that I read about from one of my newest kitchen idols, J. Kenji López-Alt. I love the way this guy approaches food, always with a “what if” attitude, and after his exhaustive experiments in what he calls “The Food Lab,” Kenji is great about sharing his culinary discoveries with home cooks like you and me. You will find a ton of his recipes on the Serious Eats website, but also on his own YouTube channel, which a basically a rabbit hole of exciting kitchen experiments.

His method for making cole slaw produces a perfectly textured salad that is soft, yet pleasantly crunchy. It has all the right flavor but doesn’t get soggy in the bowl. That has always been the bummer, hasn’t it—to load up your plate with all your summer favorites, only to have everything turn milky and soggy because the cole slaw dressing runs everywhere? Well, friends, Kenji has fixed that! And this game changer is so darn simple. Rather than just adding dressing to freshly shredded cabbage and carrots, there’s an intermediate step of extracting most of the moisture from the vegetables first. Under Kenji’s guidance, I tossed the cabbage and carrots with a very generous scoop each of kosher salt and cane sugar, then rinsed it under cold water (which seemed counterproductive with the intention of removing excess water, but stay with me), and then I dried it before proceeding with the dressing. The results were outstanding, and the fine strands of cabbage held exactly enough dressing for flavor, but not so much to drown it.

The extraction of extra moisture results in a cole slaw that feels almost like sauerkraut, with a squeezed-dry texture, but with all the familiar crunch and flavor you expect.

The dressing is a departure from other cole slaw recipes I’ve made, as it has only a slight hint of sugar (a lovely balance to the apple cider vinegar in the recipe). Dijon mustard lends a little sass to the creamy mayo, and I mixed in a dash of celery seed along with drained, finely shredded sweet onion and about two dozen twists of freshly cracked black pepper. Here’s how it goes, beginning with about 8 cups of shredded cabbage and carrots in a very large bowl:


At the point that I noticed all that liquid resting in the bowl after the salt-and-sugar bath, it occurred to me that Kenji’s technique for cole slaw is basically the same one I use for making homemade giardiniera, and the outcome is similar, too—crunchy and firm, despite being soaked in a pickling liquid.

My inspiration for both the technique and dressing on this cole slaw comes directly from Kenji, and if you want to get geeked about the science behind it (as I already have), you may do so by linking to this article:

How To Make the Best Creamy Coleslaw | The Food Lab

Otherwise, just get straight to making it. 🙂


Creamy, Crunchy Dijon Cole Slaw

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

If you’ve never had cole slaw that didn’t water down your entire plate, then this recipe is for you! The intermediate step of “purging” the moisture from the shredded cabbage is changing the game on this favorite summer salad.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups total, shredded green and red cabbage (fresh is best)
  • 3 average sized carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt (for purging)
  • 1/3 cup cane sugar (for purging)

Ingredients

  • scant 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. prepared Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. cane sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • 1 heaping teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 medium yellow or sweet onion, finely shredded and drained


To make this cole slaw, you will need a large colander for draining the cabbage, and a salad spinner or clean, unscented towels for eliminating the excess moisture.

Directions

  1. Combine the shredded cabbage and carrots in a large bowl, with extra room for tossing. Pour the kosher salt and cane sugar all over the shreds and toss with salad forks or your clean hands to distribute throughout the cabbage mixture. Allow it to rest at least 5 minutes, or up to 15 minutes. The salt-sugar blend will coax the excess moisture from the cabbage.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a colander placed in the sink. You should notice a significant volume of liquid in the bottom of the bowl. Rinse the mixture really well under cold, running water. Toss it thoroughly as you rinse, and continue for about two minutes to get all the excess salt removed. Taste a piece or two. If they are too salty, rinse another couple of minutes.
  3. To dry the cabbage, use a salad spinner (in batches) or line a baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel or layers of paper towels. Place the cabbage on the towels, cover with another towel (or more layers of paper towels) and press heartily to soak up the moisture. I used kitchen towels and gently rolled up the cabbage to squeeze out the excess water. Transfer the cabbage to a large bowl for dressing.
  4. Combine the dressing ingredients, stirring in the drained, shredded onion after mixing. Pour over the cabbage blend and toss to coat.


Have a safe Memorial Day weekend! And if you’re wondering what happened to my tie-dyed towels, never fear:



Sweet Tea-brined Pork Chops & Peach-Mint Chutney

There were a few big things I had to get used to when I moved to North Carolina from my childhood home in upstate New York. The weather, of course, was wildly different—we have at least eight months of warmth and sunshine each year, compared to seven months of snow and slush and gray that were my normal. People in the South tend to be friendlier (there are exceptions, naturally) and there is a sense of hospitality that I had not experienced before I moved here. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the place.

Folks ‘round here invite you to drop by anytime, “sit a spell” and enjoy some tea. The first time someone welcomed me this way, I thought it odd that they would serve tea on a hot August afternoon. But that’s because, where I grew up, tea was a beverage served hot, with the paper tab of a teabag draped over the edge of a dainty cup, and a lemon wedge or tiny cup of milk served on the side.

Not so in the South, where “tea” is sweetened with sugar (white or brown, depending on the whims of the hostess), freshly brewed and poured over ice in a tall glass, best enjoyed on the front porch while listening to the hum of cicadas (which we have every summer in North Carolina). Lemon is optional, gossip is welcomed. Sweet tea is, as Dolly Parton’s character declared in Steel Magnolias, “the house wine of the South.”

Though my Yankee-born taste buds do not appreciate the level of sweetness in southern sweet tea, I respect its place in the culture and I enjoy giving it a starring role in my kitchen. The polyphenols in tea are said to provide a wide range of health benefits, and beyond that, I knew that black pekoe tea would be acidic enough to help tenderize the beautiful pork chops I picked up at our local butcher shop. The flavor of these chops after brining and grilling was, how shall I say? Freaking awesome, that’s what. They were tender and juicy, flavorful with a subtle sweetness.

Lord, yes, this sweet tea brine was delicious!

Any recipe involving a brine requires some advance prep, so if you decide to make these, start in the morning. One of the critical rules of brining is to never pour a warm brine over raw meat. I brewed the tea late that morning, following a typical “southern” ratio of tea-to-water and sugar, then I flavored it up with kosher salt (necessary for any brine), white peppercorns and a very generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice. After a three-hour cooldown, I poured the brine over my chops and refrigerated them for several hours before grilling.


Chops this flavorful needed a strong accompaniment, and I paired them with a sweet-meets-savory chutney, giving two more southern specialties—peaches and Vidalia onions—supporting roles on our plates. As with any chutney, I sauteed the onions first with a handful of sweet red bell pepper, then I added peaches (frozen was my best option this time of year), a bit of brown sugar and fresh lemon juice, a tiny bit of zippy horseradish and a few leaves of fresh mint at the end to brighten it all up.


My husband is the grill master at our house, and he did his usual outdoor magic with these sweet tea-brined pork chops. After searing both sides on high heat, he let them hang out at a lower temperature for about 8 minutes on each side, until the meat was beautifully browned, and the chops were done to medium (150° internally). A quick rest on the counter while I plated up some sauteed spinach and the peach-mint chutney, and this was one tasty dinner.  


Sweet Tea-brined Pork Chops

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: average
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Well, bless my heart! I’ve fancied up a pitcher of southern sweet tea and made it a brine for the most tender, flavorful pork chops our grill has ever seen! This recipe requires some down time, for cooling the sweet tea brine, as well as brining the pork chops before grilling, so plan accordingly.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 family size black pekoe tea bag, or 3 regular tea bags
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. cracked white peppercorns
  • Juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • 2 thick, bone-in pork loin chops, weighing almost a pound total

Directions

  1. Boil water and pour it over the tea bag to brew the tea. Add brown sugar and kosher salt, stirring until both have fully dissolved. Add white peppercorns and lemon juice. Allow the brine to cool at room temperature for several minutes, then transfer the brine to the refrigerator for about three hours to chill.
  2. Pat the pork chops with paper towels to remove any residue from the butcher wrap. Place chops in a dish large enough to hold the full amount of brine. Pour chilled brine over the chops and refrigerate for 3 hours before grilling. If needed, weigh the chops down with a plate to keep them fully immersed in the brine.
  3. Remove chops from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling. Preheat grill to 500 F for searing the chops.
  4. Place chops on grill over high heat, just long enough to sear each side. This should only take about one minute, but trust your instincts on your own grill. Once seared, reduce the heat to medium (about 350 F) and cook on each side for about 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chops. Optimal internal temperature is 145-150 F, and the chops will continue to cook a bit after you remove them from the heat.
  5. Rest the chops on a plate for about 3 minutes, then plate and serve with peach-mint chutney.

Peach-Mint Chutney

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: average
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This quick and easy condiment is a perfect complement to my “Sweet Tea-brined Pork Chops,” and it would also be delicious with fish or chicken. You can make this chutney ahead and refrigerate until ready to serve. It can either be warmed or served cold or room temperature.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup diced Vidalia onion
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peaches, cut into cubes
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. prepared horseradish
  • Juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • Kosher salt and ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp. fresh mint leaves, cut into chiffonade or chopped

Directions

  1. Heat canola oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When it shimmers, add onions and peppers and a pinch of salt. Saute until slightly softened, about five minutes.
  2. Add peaches, brown sugar and horseradish, tossing to combine. Season with a slight pinch of salt and white pepper. When the mixture is hot throughout, squeeze in lemon juice and simmer until it reduces and thickens slightly.
  3. Remove from heat and fold in chopped mint leaves.


Y’all come back, and see what I did with the rest of those peaches! 😉