Autumn at the Beach Sangria

In my book, the only thing better than autumn is a trip to the beach during autumn. My husband, Les, and I turned fantasy to reality last week, with a long overdue getaway to the North Carolina coast. Our trip was a make-good of sorts, given that our plans to go last year were totally thwarted by a snarky storm named Hurricane Dorian, which showed up just in time to force evacuation.

Being at the beach in October is the best of everything—clear skies, warm water, small crowds—and our weather was spectacular for the five days we spent there. One of the first things we did, of course, was map out a plan for snacks and drinks. I knew that Les would enjoy fruity, tropical drinks, and I planned to make autumn-spiced sangria for myself. What I didn’t expect was discovering a way to merge the two. Lo and behold, with some creative blending that’s exactly what happened with this sangria, and we both loved it.

The tropical notes came from fruit juices (pineapple and mango), plus this dandy summer edition Captain Morgan rum, which tastes like a creamsicle dipped in rum. And I had made a simple syrup using autumn spice herbal tea bags, which infused the whole blend with aromatic cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and vanilla. The resulting sangria was all at once fruity, spicy, tropical, sweet and totally refreshing. We were dipping our toes into the waters of the cooler season, but hanging onto summer for dear life!

Yes, it really was this perfect.

I’m sneaking this sangria into my series of Halloween-inspired cocktails, even though it technically doesn’t have a darn thing to do with the occasion. But it scared away all of our stress and exhaustion, so there’s that. Maybe you could think of it as the drink version of that one trick-or-treater who always shows up on your doorstep without a costume. Just go with it. 😀


Ingredients

We liked this sangria so much, I made another batch when we got home from the beach!

1/2 bottle fruity Spanish red wine (I used a tempranillo blend)

4 oz. Captain Morgan Caribbean rum (orange and vanilla twist flavor)

4 oz. autumn spice simple syrup* (1:1 sugar-water blend, steeped with 4 tea bags)

4 oz. pineapple juice

4 oz. mango juice

1/2 navel orange, cleaned and thinly sliced

1/2 Meyer lemon, cleaned and thinly sliced

1/2 lime, cleaned and thinly sliced

Club soda or flavored seltzer (optional, poured on top at serving)

*Notes

I made a batch of the spiced simple syrup ahead of our trip. We also used it to add pizazz to a bourbon old fashioned, which was pretty awesome, too. Heat 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan to the boiling point. Turn off heat and steep the “Fireside Vanilla Spice” herbal tea bags for about 15 minutes. Remove the tea bags, heat to low boil again and add 1/2 cup sugar. Stir until dissolved, then cool completely and store in a covered jar in the fridge up to one month.


Instructions

Add fruit slices to a pitcher or large bottle, then add wine, rum, syrup and juices. Stir to combine. Steep several hours or overnight to blend. Serve over ice. Top with additional rum float if desired. Enjoy it with someone you love, preferably while watching the ocean.


The Cool Jerk

Just before Christmas last year, my husband and I took a trip to the Washington D.C. area for a concert and a weekend away from home—just a getaway kind of thing. My, how things have changed. During our visit there, we stumbled upon a bourbon cocktail that used a special kind of chocolate bitters, and we couldn’t stop thinking about how to re-create that drink at home (if only we could figure out where in the world to get chocolate bitters). Thanks to our high-speed internet connection and a quick scan of the credit card, I placed an order and our fab cocktail experiment was about to begin. A funny thing happened, though.

Along the way to finding the chocolate bitters, I inadvertently uncovered an entire world of cocktail ingredients that I barely imagined existed. I’m always 100% in favor of trying something new—especially in my glass—and lately my cocktail game is like a game of roulette. With a steady schedule of FaceTime happy hours with friends and family around the globe, we have plenty of opportunities to play with drink recipes. And, to be honest, there’s a bit of vanity in me when it comes to choosing our drink du jour. After the obligatory back-and-forth of “can you guys hear us?” and “how do we make this full-screen?” I live for the moment when we clink glasses at the screen. And in that moment, my Leo nature wants to be asked, “Whoa—whatcha drinkin’?” No, this lioness will not be caught dead with a boring drink.

I’m having my own personal cocktail awakening and finding it crazy fun to tinker with new spirits and mixers—especially infused simple syrups and so many unusual cocktail bitters. Thankfully, my husband, Les, is a willing participant for this journey (well, unless it’s gin). Buckle up for a crash course on what I’ve learned so far.

What are bitters?

Cocktail bitters are a blend of various roots and herbs, usually preserved in a high-proof neutral grain alcohol and sometimes spiked with fruit and spice flavors. They are used in very small amount—a “dash” of bitters is only a quick couple of shakes or drops from the bottle, which has a special top to prevent overpouring. These blends are extremely concentrated, so a little goes a long way. To compare it with something familiar, bitters are kind of like vanilla extract—but with more than one flavor because of all the components in them.

Do bitters make your drink taste bitter?

Not really, but they do bring depth and character to an otherwise predictable drink. Most bitters tend to have an underlying “key” flavor, such as orange or anise, but others may be highly complex—for example, Angostura’s brand of “aromatic” bitters carries notes of juniper berry, cinnamon, orange zest, clove and even cocoa. But you don’t taste all of those things individually. The combination just makes your drink taste more interesting, without losing the character of the spirit ingredient. Kind of like the horn section in a really great song.

What is a simple syrup?

A simple syrup is generally a blend of equal parts sugar and water, boiled just enough to dissolve the sugar and perhaps steeped with other ingredients to add flavors. It’s the easiest way to add a splash of sweet to a cocktail, or even to sweeten up a glass of iced tea because sugar on its own doesn’t blend well in cold liquids. I’ve found it easy to infuse a syrup with just about anything—fresh herbs, hot peppers, citrus peel and even tea bags. It gives me a vehicle to add all kinds of flavor to a cocktail without watering it down. A thin simple syrup would have higher ratio of water to sugar, and a rich simple syrup would be the opposite—more sugar and less water. Don’t feel limited to plain sugar, either—you can make simple syrup from brown or coconut sugar, honey or even maple syrup. Go wild with it!

Are bitters the same as mixers?

No, but some mixers have bitters blended in them. I recently purchased a product called “Proof Syrup,” in a maple bacon flavor (it sounds more incredible than it was), and one of the key components in the syrup was bacon-infused bitters. Mixers are generally used in greater proportion, equal to or slightly less than the spirit ingredient. With bitters alone, easy does it or they overpower the drink.

Where do you buy bitters?

This is the million-dollar question I keep asking myself, and these days, I skip the brick-and-mortar and go directly to online retailers. The garden varieties—aromatic and orange bitters—are widely available in supermarkets in the cocktail mixers section. But if you want to find something exotic or out of the ordinary, such as rhubarb, celery or black walnut bitters, online is the way to go. I’d recommend starting here at AwesomeDrinks.com because they have a good selection from a variety of brands. This is the same site where I bought my Nick and Nora cocktail glasses for the Sassy Comeback cocktail that still visits my dreams.

How many flavors of bitters are there?

Heaven only knows! I spent a good hour narrowing my choices from the online store mentioned above, and I am quite sure I’ll go back for more. Here’s what I purchased most recently:

Fee Brothers’ Cherry Bitters, because Les is wild about cherries. It’s great in bourbon drinks, which is also his new favorite.

I went a little crazy for the selection of Scrappy’s Bitters, purchasing both the cardamom and lavender bitters. The cardamom is intense, but delicious in a most exotic way. I like it with a small batch pear-infused rye produced by one of our local distillers. The lavender? Well, let’s just say I’m still trying to figure out how to further reduce the amount I use because even one drop in a gin drink makes me feel like I just licked a bar of Grandma’s fancy soap. I’m open to suggestions.

Aromaticus bitteris. Now, that’s funny.

Finally, there’s these Bitter End Jamaican Jerk Bitters, because the idea of spices and heat in my drink is pretty much sending me head over heels. Honestly, everything Jamaican jerk is dialing my number right now (perhaps you’ve noticed with these pizzas and this stuffed pepper recipe), so I’ve been working on new ways to get this flavor into my life.

And that brings us full circle to this cocktail, which I’ve named the “Cool Jerk.”

Back in another decade, when I wore pinstriped jeans and big permed hair, it was “cool” to have a fuzzy navel, Alabama slammer or some sweet frothy rum drink with an umbrella, basically the only drinks I knew how to order. But I’m all grown up now and so is this drink. It’s still fruity and tropical, but there’s complex spice instead of just sweet. Rather, it leans toward the sophisticated side of things, especially in a crystal cut, double rocks glass.

There was never a doubt which spirit I’d use—it had to be Jamaican-born Appleton Estate rum, smooth and lightly sweet, with hints of warm spice. I was fortunate enough to visit Jamaica in the late ‘90s, and a full bottle of this rum smuggled itself into my bag for the plane ride home (remember when we could put more than 4 oz. of liquid in our carry-on)?

Lime is the only citrus juice to use with rum (think daiquiri or mojito), and I’ve used a combination of two simple syrups to bring it back into balance—a jalapeno syrup (which is frankly still rocking my world after the pineapple jalapeno ice cream) and the same lemon-ginger syrup I debuted with the Sassy Comeback drink.

The Jamaican jerk bitters are hitting all the right spice buttons, with nutmeg, quassia (a bitter wood native to the Caribbean and parts of South America), habanero, cinnamon, allspice and thyme. The bitters are labeled “extremely spicy” (and I’m quite sure they would be if we took a swig from the bottle), but the little bit we are putting in the drink is not going to set you ablaze. For us, it feels like a perfect balance, about a 3 on a 1-10 spicy scale.

Feeling adventurous?

To make this drink, you’ll need a cocktail mixing glass and spoon, measuring jigger and some big-as-your-face ice cubes. Garnish it with a slice of lime or, if you’re lucky enough to have some leftover from the Jerk pizzas, a wedge of grilled pineapple. This recipe will make 2 generous cocktails.

“Cheers!”

Ingredients

4 oz. Appleton Estate rum

1.5 oz. lemon-ginger simple syrup (recipe below)

.5 oz. jalapeno simple syrup (also below)

Juice of 1 lime, freshly squeezed*

8 drops Jamaican jerk bitters

*Notes

I hate fussing over the garnish for a drink, so here’s how I saved time on our second round of this one. I cut the lime in half, then stole a slice for garnish from the middle before squeezing the halves into the cocktail mixing glass. Done.

Combine the rum, syrups, lime juice and bitters. Add regular ice cubes and stir for 20 seconds, until the mixing glass looks frosty. Strain over giant cubes into double old-fashioned glasses and garnish with slices of lime.


Lemon-ginger Simple Syrup:

Bring 1 cup water to a light boil, then turn off heat. Steep 4 lemon-ginger herbal tea bags in the hot water for about 2 minutes, then remove and squeeze the tea bags (discard them). Add 1 cup sugar to the hot tea blend, and stir until dissolved (return to heat a few minutes, if necessary). Cool completely, then pour into a covered jar. It will keep in the fridge a couple of weeks. For this syrup, I use Bigelow brand lemon-ginger tea.

Jalapeno Simple Syrup:

Bring 1 cup filtered water and 1 cup sugar to a light boil over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and syrup begins to lightly boil at the edges. Add 2 small chopped jalapeno peppers and stir, cooking about 2 minutes at low heat. Turn off heat, cool completely, strain jalapenos (reserve them for another use, if desired) and keep syrup in a covered jar in the fridge up to 2 weeks.

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Seared Tuna with Forbidden Rice and Tropical Salsa

This colorful dish proves two points—that eating healthy does not have to be boring or bland, and that you don’t need to be in a restaurant to enjoy a restaurant-quality meal.

When it comes to fresh seafood, I believe in keeping the fish (or shrimp, scallops, crab, whatever) as close to its true state as possible. Trust citrus juice, salt and pepper to bring out the best in seafood and bring in other complementary flavors on the side. That’s what I’ve done with this pretty plate, featuring a fresh-caught ahi tuna steak and a tropical fruit salsa that comes together in about 7 minutes. The most time-consuming part of the dish is waiting for the rice to cook.

If you’ve never seen or cooked with forbidden rice before, here’s a quick list of facts to help you get to know this delicious, somewhat exotic ingredient.

Black rice is sometimes called “forbidden” rice.

Where does black rice come from, and why is it “forbidden?”

Black rice originated across the continent of Asia, and has long been a significant crop in China, Bangladesh, parts of the Philippines, Thailand and Northeast India. The grain is no longer considered “forbidden,” but it was given that distinction in ancient China because of its former scarcity. The cost of this rare food put it out of reach for all but the wealthiest people, and so it was forbidden to everyone else. That has changed, however, as it is now cultivated more widely and available in larger supermarkets or online.

What gives black rice its color?

The rice has a very deep color that looks nearly black in its raw state, but in bright light and after cooking, it’s easier to see that it is actually more of a deep purple. This is because of anthocyanin, a type of plant pigment that also occurs in blueberries, raspberries, purple cauliflower and “blue” corn. Although some websites suggest the anthocyanins have antioxidant properties, scientific studies have so far only shown this to be true in a lab environment—not in the human body by food consumption.

What does black rice taste like?

If you were to close your eyes while tasting black rice, you might think you were enjoying smaller grains of brown rice because of the similar mild, slightly nutty flavor.

What do you make with black rice?

You can use black rice the same way you’d use any rice—in side dishes, pilafs, soups and salads. Also, because of its unusual color, it is commonly used in Asian countries in special dessert dishes, especially rice pudding made with coconut milk.

Ingredients

1 cup cooked black rice

2 portions fresh tuna steak

1 cup fresh pineapple, cut into bite-sized pieces* (see notes)

1 fresh honey mango, cut into chunks*

1/4 red bell pepper, diced (or 1 Tbsp. jarred pimentos, drained)

1/4 cup red onion, diced

1/2 fresh jalapeno, seeded and finely diced (optional to taste)

4 fresh mint leaves, cut into thin strips* (see slides for tips)

1 Tbsp. peach white balsamic vinegar*

1 Tbsp. neutral extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and fresh black pepper

Juice of 1/2 lime

*Notes

Save some time on the pineapple and pick it up pre-cut from your produce department. I don’t recommend canned pineapple for this, but you could probably use frozen (thawed) in a pinch.

There are hundreds of varieties of mango, but usually two at my market—“regular” mango, which is kind of round-oval and darkish green with blushing orange areas, and the one they call “honey” mango, which is usually smaller, deep yellow all over, and (my reason for choosing it) easier to cut up. Use whatever variety is your favorite, or whatever is available. If you’ve never cut a mango, check out the slideshow below for some easy tips.

The peach white balsamic is a specialty product I purchased at a gourmet olive oil and vinegar store. I chose it because it’s soft and fruity, but feel free to substitute any light vinegar you like, especially one that plays well with the fresh tropical flavors in this salsa—think fruity, citrus or mint.

Here’s a visual walk-through of how I put this together, and written instructions appear below.

Instructions

  1. Season tuna steaks with only sea salt and black pepper, and set aside, covered, at room temperature.
  2. Cook black rice according to package instructions. Try not to stir it too much to avoid additional “stickiness.”
  3. While rice is cooking, prepare salsa—combine pineapple and mango pieces, add jalapeno, red onion and red bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Use a mini whisk to combine peach balsamic and extra virgin olive oil, stirring briskly until a thick emulsion results. (If your vinegar is not a balsamic, it may be thinner consistency)
  5. Stack mint leaves, then roll them lengthwise into a tube shape and cut across into slices. When unfurled, these will be thin strips.
  6. Pour dressing over fruit salsa blend and toss to coat evenly. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle mint leaves into blend, gently toss again and set aside.
  7. When rice is ready, sear tuna steak on a medium-hot griddle, grill or skillet, turning to sear other side to desired doneness. Ideally, good quality fresh tuna should be cooked rare, but if you’re squeamish about that, push it to medium-rare.

Plate by spooning about 1/2 cup black rice, then lay tuna steak halfway over the pile. Spoon salsa over the top, squeeze lime over both plates and serve!

It’s light, fresh and pretty!

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Grilled Pineapple-Jalapeno Ice Cream

Inspiration for nearly every original recipe I’ve made comes from my experience with the same combination of ingredients in a different type of dish. For example, I love the balance of flavors in pineapple salsa, especially served up alongside fresh grilled foods in the summertime. So why not take the two key elements of the salsa—pineapple and hot pepper—and cross them over into new territory as a dessert? That’s precisely what I’ve done with this unusual ice cream. Holy. Moly. The distinct jalapeno flavor is subtle throughout, thanks to an infused simple syrup, but it’s definitely the sweetness of the pureed pineapple taking the lead. The creamy ice cream is accentuated even further with pieces of sweet grilled pineapple and the tiny bits of candied jalapeno, left over from the syrup creation.

I love the smooth and creamy texture of a custard-based ice cream, so that’s where this recipe begins. Proper tempering of the egg yolks is key to the outcome, so be patient and watch it closely. If you’re not quite ready for the jalapeno flavor, I’m quite certain the ice cream would be good without it. But if you’re game for a tropical flavor adventure, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

This recipe is part of a series for National Ice Cream Month. Each year in July, my community celebrates with a fundraiser called “The Big Chill,” an entry-by-donation event offering tastings of exquisitely crafted homemade ice creams, live music by local artists and “cold-calling,” during which various community leaders quite literally freeze their buns off while sitting on blocks of ice in quest of a fundraising goal. This year, because of our city’s commitment to safety during the coronavirus, the live event has been sidelined and all activities will be virtual instead.

The funds raised at The Big Chill are directed to an amazing non-profit organization called The Shalom Project. If you find any of my ice cream recipes interesting, creative, unexpected, intriguing or just plain pretty, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to this life-giving project. Link (here) for more information or (here) to donate, and thank you!

*Note that the link to donate connects to my Key Lime Pie Ice Cream recipe on the Big Chill page, but your donation helps the same great cause.


Ingredients

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2/3 cup sugar, divided

3 egg yolks

Pinch kosher salt

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1/8 tsp. Fiori di Sicilia* (optional, but yum)

2 oz. jalapeno simple syrup (recipe below)

1 cup pureed fresh pineapple*

1/2 cup grilled pineapple pieces*

2 Tbsp. candied jalapeno pieces

1 Tbsp. neutral alcohol, such as vodka or light rum* (optional, but improves ice cream texture)

*Notes

Fiori di Sicilia is a unique Italian extract, featuring very concentrated citrus and vanilla flavors. It’s optional in this recipe, but adds a special flair. Look for it in specialty stores or online from King Arthur Flour.

It may be best to puree the pineapple just before freezing the ice cream, to preserve the beautiful fresh color.

Earlier in the week, I had grilled pineapple for our Jamaican Jerk pizzas, and I reserved enough pieces to use for this ice cream. If you like pineapple with bold spicy flavors, you’ll want to circle back and check out those pies!

Grilling the pineapple really elevates its sweetness in a lovely way, but don’t let this be a deal-breaker. If you’re pressed for time, skip the grilling and use fresh pineapple bits or even canned tidbits (but drain them first).

The addition of alcohol is optional, but it helps to improve the texture of the ice cream. I used 1800 coconut-flavored tequila, another nod to the tropical flavors.

Instructions

  1. Stir together milk, heavy cream and about half the sugar over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, and mixture comes to a very slight boil. Reduce heat to lowest setting or turn off burner.
  2. While milk mixture is heating, whisk egg yolks, the remaining sugar and kosher salt until light, fluffy and lemon colored. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed, to ensure all sugar gets incorporated.
  3. Prepare an ice bath to be used for cooling the custard. Place a heat-proof glass bowl over another bowl filled with ice cubes and water. It will be helpful to have this ready when the custard has finished cooking.
  4. Ladle out 1 cup of hot milk mixture into a measuring cup with a pour spout. Temper eggs by slowly drizzling hot milk into the mixing bowl, whisking the entire time. Then, return the egg mixture back to the pot with the remaining hot milk and cream. Simmer on medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until custard retains shape on the back of a spoon.
  5. Remove from heat and pour through a mesh strainer into a bowl over ice water to cool custard. I’ll confess here that I often skip this step when making a custard-based ice cream, but the flame seemed a little hot under my pan this time and I wanted to cool it down quickly before the eggs got any ideas about curdling. Stir in vanilla, Fiori di Sicilia and jalapeno simple syrup. Lay heavy plastic wrap directly onto surface of custard, then cover entire bowl with another layer of plastic or tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate overnight.

Here’s a slideshow to help you visualize the process:

The next day, add pineapple puree to chilled custard just before freezing according to manufacturer’s instructions. After 20 minutes, add grilled pineapple pieces and candied jalapeno pieces for final few minutes of churning, adding vodka or rum in final minute. Transfer ice cream to insulated freezer container and freeze at least four hours to ripen. I know it’s tempting to dive right in for a scoop, but this ice cream will be at its best after an overnight freeze.

Oh my, is that a perfect looking scoop? 🙂

Jalapeno simple syrup

1 cup pure cane sugar

3/4 cup filtered water

2 smallish jalapenos, seeded and diced

Heat sugar and water over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and syrup begins to lightly boil at the edges. Add jalapeno pieces and stir, cooking about 2 minutes at low heat. Turn off heat, cool completely, strain jalapenos (reserve them) and keep syrup in a covered jar in the fridge up to 2 weeks.

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FYI, you will only use 2 oz. of the jalapeno syrup in the ice cream recipe. Save the rest for elevating your tropical flavored cocktails—maybe this Watermelon Jalapeno Mule!

A refreshing taste of summer, perfect for sipping in the backyard.

A Couple of Jerks (pizzas, that is)

Summer has a way of flipping mealtime upside-down at our house. My husband, Les, does a lot more of our cooking during the summer because the weather and extra daylight make it easier to use the grill or smoker, and the simple fact that he’s handling a larger part of our meals gives me more time to expand our library of recipes. With him in charge of cooking outside, it also means that I have a wider array of flavorful meats, cooked and ready to use in whatever dishes capture my imagination.

Something about the summer heat also makes me crave spicy foods in particular. It could be that my body is trying to calibrate to the external temperature or perhaps there’s simply a greater tendency toward adventure and new-ness while the sun is blazing. In either case, it’s hot in our neck of the woods and I’m cooking up some spice today in the form of pizza—not one, but two pies with all the flavors and vibrant colors of the Caribbean!

These pizzas put a spotlight on colorful bell peppers once again, wrapping up a short series of recipes that started with these veggie skewers and these stuffed peppers.

If you’ve ever grown a successful garden (meaning you actually harvested vegetables rather than merely feeding the neighborhood deer, as I have), you likely know that peppers love hot, sunny weather. Even if pepper plants seem to lag behind tomatoes and zucchini at the start of summer, they always catch up when the temperatures rise. That said, these brilliant bell peppers—which I picked from the produce department, not my pitiful garden—have earned a spot on my pizzas, just by being heat lovers themselves.

Onions are a no-brainer for pizza, and for these Caribbean-inspired versions, I’ve put a little caramelization on sliced red onions to heighten their sweetness and balance the jerk-fired flavors of the sauce and other toppings.

And of course, I couldn’t label these pizzas “Jamaican jerk” without the signature notes of allspice, hot peppers, ginger, thyme and scallion. I’ve incorporated all of the above, either in whole ingredient form or in sauce and seasoning, but gave each pie its own personality. The first is decidedly spicy and savory, featuring smoked pork shoulder, jerk rub, sweet and hot peppers and two kinds of onions. The other leans to the sweet-fruity-spicy side, with plump, juicy shrimp cooked in garlic butter, lime and cilantro—plus sweet and hot peppers, onions and a generous smattering of tropical grilled pineapple.



Put on some steel drum music, pour yourself a Red Stripe and join me for a taste of the Caribbean, Comfort du Jour style!


Ingredients – Jerk Pork Pizza

1 ball of my NY Pizza Dough, or dough of your choice*

About 10 oz. smoked pulled pork (cook it yourself or get some good take-out)

Extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. Jamaican jerk wet rub seasoning*

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped in chunks

1/2 red onion, sliced into crescent moon shape

1/2 jalapeño, diced

3 scallions, cleaned and sliced

1/2 brick pepper jack cheese, shredded*

Hot BBQ sauce for brushing pizza dough*


Ingredients – Jerk Shrimp Pizza

1 ball of my NY Pizza Dough, or dough of your choice*

8 oz. fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. salted butter

Squeeze of fresh lime

Sprinkle of fresh or dried cilantro leaves* (optional)

1 red bell pepper, cut into lengthwise slices

1/2 yellow bell pepper, cut into lengthwise slices

1 small red onion, sliced into rings

1 large jalapeno pepper (seeded), some diced and the rest sliced into rings

3/4 cup grilled pineapple chunks*

1/2 brick pepper jack cheese, freshly shredded*

Hot BBQ sauce for brushing pizza dough*


*Notes

Dough of your choice – I recommend fresh dough rather than one of the pre-baked crusts. Some pizza restaurants will even sell you some of their pizza dough, so it’s worth asking!

Jerk seasoning – My go-to jerk seasoning is technically a wet rub that seasons the meat but also moistens it. If you have a dry or powdered seasoning, use less of it and mix it with a bit of canola or coconut oil before applying it to the meat.

Pepper jack cheese – For these pies, I used an 8 oz. brick of pepper jack, divided between the two pizzas, and I shredded it myself (not the bagged stuff). If you’re already having hot flashes over the other ingredients, you could cut out the pepper and use Monterey jack instead. You could also omit the cheese entirely, but I like the way it holds together the other toppings.

Cilantro – If you’re among the roughly 20% of people born with the “I can’t stand cilantro” gene, simply leave it out or substitute thyme or parsley. Here’s why you hate it, by the way.

Grilled pineapple – I grilled a whole cut-up pineapple because I had plans for multiple dishes. If you’re only making this pizza, I’d recommend getting a small container of pre-sliced fruit from the prepped-for-you section of the supermarket. 2 or 3 slices is all you’ll need. Used canned as a last resort.

BBQ hot sauce – Choose what you like, but consider the ingredients to complement the other stuff on the pizza. For example, there’s probably a better recipe than this one for a hickory-maple-chipotle-mustard BBQ sauce.

We found this one, which contains vinegar, onion, brown sugar and habanero (all of which are also in jerk seasoning), plus tomato paste, whiskey and ghost pepper. It echoed the topping flavors and was a perfect base for both pizzas, and another layer of wicked-good heat, which always makes Les happy.


Instructions – Jerk Pork Pizza

Preheat oven and steel to 550° F (see notes below for stone or pan baking)

Pull the pork apart into bite-size strips, and sauté them in a hot skillet with some olive oil, until edges are crispy. Then, toss them in jerk seasoning to coat thoroughly. Transfer the pork to a bowl.

Heat olive oil in the same skillet, and sauté onions and bell peppers until soft and lightly caramelized. Season with salt and pepper.

Shape pizza dough into 14-inch circle and place it on a greased pizza pan or flour and cornmeal-dusted peel, then brush on a very thin coating of BBQ hot sauce and season with more black pepper.

Sprinkle half of the pepper jack cheese over the dough, then top with pork, jalapeno, onions and peppers. Scatter the remaining cheese and sprinkle with all the scallions. Slide the pizza onto a hot steel or stone, about 8” from the top of the oven. Bake at 550° F for about 7 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and crust is nicely browned. If using a pizza stone, follow temperature instructions from the manufacturer. Some pizza stones may crack at this temperature.

If using a pizza pan, place the oven in the middle to lower third and allow more time.


Instructions – Jerk Shrimp Pizza

Preheat oven and steel to 550° F (see notes below for stone or pan baking)

Sauté the prepared shrimp in butter with the fresh garlic and cilantro, but only for about a minute, as the shrimp will cook further in the oven. Remove from heat, cut each shrimp in half if they are larger than a quarter, and squeeze a section of lime over them. Transfer to a bowl.

In the same pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté the bell peppers and onions until soft and lightly caramelized.

Shape pizza dough into 14’ circle and transfer to greased pizza pan or flour and cornmeal-dusted peel. Brush a light coating of BBQ hot sauce onto the dough, then sprinkle on half the cheese, followed by the onions and peppers, jalapeno, shrimp and pineapple bits. Scatter the remaining cheese over all toppings and slide the pizza onto a preheated steel, about 8” from the top of the oven.

Bake at 550° F for about 7 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and crust is nicely browned. If using a pizza stone, follow temperature instructions from the manufacturer. Some pizza stones may crack at this temperature.

If using a pizza pan, place the oven in the middle to lower third and allow more time.


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Even as leftovers, this jerk pork pizza rocked my world!

Key Lime Pie Ice Cream

When the pandemic eases and we finally decide travel is safe again, Key West, Florida is one of the first trips I’d like to make. I’ve only been to this magical place twice in my life, but I cannot shake the memories of the uber laid-back lifestyle, the six-toed Hemingway cats, the ease of meeting strangers, the quirky street art and performers, the incredible freshness of seafood straight off the fishing boats, and, of course, the perfectly sweet-tart flavor of key lime pie.

This southernmost U.S. treat is adaptable to so many things I love—cookies, cocktails and this delightful frozen treat. For the most authentic flavor, purchase about 3 pounds of real key limes (good luck finding them) and start squeezing. You should be finished in a day or so. Or, better yet, just get your hands on a bottle of this:

This is the stuff! If you don’t find it in the juice aisle, check in the aisle with the cocktail mixers.

It comes from Pompano Beach, just a few hours up U.S. Route 1 from its birthplace, Key West, and it’s been the standard for key lime pie pretty much since the pie was invented (allegedly by the Borden company, maker of sweetened condensed milk). I always have a bottle of this juice in the fridge, and I’ve used it in everything from pie to cocktails to ceviche. It’s fantastic.

This ice cream makes me happy on so many levels, I don’t know where to begin. The custard base makes it super creamy, the authentic key lime gives it a perfect balance of tart with sweet, and the layers of ginger cookies punctuate the whole thing with exactly the right amount of texture and spice. Oh my goodness.

This recipe is part of a series for National Ice Cream Month. I’ll be posting more ice cream recipes throughout July, and encouraging my followers to help support The Shalom Project, an organization in my community which benefits from an annual ice cream festival that has been moved to a virtual space this year because of the pandemic. They are facing a big challenge with fundraising, while the needs of the community they serve are greater than ever. Please learn more about this phenomenal organization at the end of the post. If your taste buds (and your huge heart) prompt you to donate, I’ll be most grateful. 🙂

Ingredients

2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 cup cane sugar, divided

4 egg yolks, room temperature (preferably free-range)

1/2 cup key lime juice* (see notes)

1/4 tsp. Fiori di Sicilia* (optional, but adds a “special something”)

Zest of 1/2 lime (optional, add at the very end)

2/3 cup crushed ginger snap cookies*

*Notes

I’ve never bothered with squeezing the fresh key limes, partly because they are so expensive, and partly because I have imagined it would take the better part of an hour to squeeze so many. Key limes are about 1/3 the size of the typical Persian limes you see in the market. The great news is you don’t have to have fresh limes to make a delicious pie—as long as you have the real deal key lime juice. Look for Nellie and Joe’s brand in the juice section of your supermarket. Or maybe even in the cocktail mixers section.

Fiori di Sicilia is the same ingredient I mentioned for the Southern Belle Lemon Bars, part of the Kentucky Derby Preview Party collection of recipes a couple of months ago. It’s a unique Italian extract, imparting flavors of bright citrus and a hint of vanilla. A little goes a long way, so use it sparingly. Find Fiori di Sicilia in specialty stores such as Sur la Table, or online from King Arthur Flour.

You guys already know that I can’t leave well enough alone when it comes to food, and this ice cream is no exception. A classic key lime pie sits on a graham cracker crust base, but Comfort du Jour is all about twisting and turning to elevate your happy, so my pie (and this ice cream) has ginger snap cookies rather than graham crackers. The zippy flavor of ginger plays so nicely with anything citrus, I just have to. We are big fans of the Trader Joe’s “triple ginger” cookie, and I used about 12 of them in this ice cream recipe.

Instructions

Heat milk and heavy cream over medium heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan until steaming but do not allow it to boil. Reduce heat to low, add about half the sugar (this doesn’t have to be exact—just eyeball it) and whisk until completely dissolved. Turn off the heat.

In a mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks together with remainder of sugar until light, fluffy and pale yellow.

Ladle out about 1 1/2 cups of the hot milk mixture into a measuring cup with a pour spout. Very slowly, stream milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly. This step is “tempering” the eggs, so that they can be incorporated into the milk mixture without turning to scrambled eggs. Take your time here.

Turn the heat back on low under the milk/cream mixture still on the stove, then pour the tempered egg mixture back into the pot. Combine with the remaining cream mixture and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to keep its shape on the back of the spoon. This should take about 7 minutes, but the simplest marker for doneness is the spoon test.

Remove from heat. Pour custard into a large bowl. Add key lime juice and Fiori di Sicilia and whisk gently to combine. Place heavy plastic wrap directly on top of custard mixture. Cover entire bowl with another layer of plastic wrap or a fitted lid and refrigerate overnight.

Set your ginger snap cookies out overnight to get “stale.” They’ll soften a bit, which will make them easier to crush tomorrow.

Next day:

Stir or gently whisk chilled mixture thoroughly to reincorporate ingredients, then freeze according to ice cream machine instructions (mine usually takes about 20 to 25 minutes).

While that’s going, prepare your lime zest (be sure to wash it first!), and gently crush the ginger snap cookies with a rolling pin. I wrapped them loosely in a piece of parchment and only pressed down on them with my rolling pin, first in one direction, then across the other. I want a few little shards of cookie mixed in with the crumbs.

In the last minute, add the lime zest and 1 Tbsp. neutral alcohol (such as vodka). The alcohol will not affect flavor but will improve the texture of the finished ice cream and make it easier to scoop for serving. Layer into an insulated ice cream container, alternating key lime custard mixture with the crushed ginger snap cookies. Try to stagger the position of the crumbs as you layer, so each scoop is perfectly marbled with the cookie flavor. Top with fine crumbs at the end. Cover and transfer container to freezer for several hours to ripen (firm).

I’ve found the texture of the ice cream best when it’s been in the freezer at least 24 hours. I like this ice cream au naturel, but feel free to top with whipped cream, as my husband does!


The funds raised at The Big Chill are directed to an amazing non-profit organization called The Shalom Project. If you find any of my ice cream recipes interesting, creative, unexpected, intriguing or just plain pretty, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to this life-giving project. Link here for more information or here to donate, and thank you!

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