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.

Healthy Wheat Berry Salad

This probably should have been one of the first recipes I shared on Comfort du Jour. It’s been in my rotation of favorite simple sides for years, ever since I first discovered wheat berries in the bulk section at Whole Foods. If you’ve never had wheat berries (or maybe never even heard of them), let me introduce you to these versatile little gems.

What are wheat berries?

First of all, they aren’t really berries—at least not the way you’d think of fruit. Wheat berries are the individual dried grains of whole wheat. In their dried state, each grain is about the size of a fat grain of rice. When cooked, they plump up to triple in size.

Clockwise, from top right: hard red winter wheat, spelt, rye and farro.

Where can you buy wheat berries?

Most natural foods stores and larger supermarkets with a bulk section are likely to stock varieties of whole grains, including wheat berries, oat groats, barley, and sometimes even rye, spelt or farro. You can also generally find them online from Bob’s Red Mill, though they’ve been in short supply during the pandemic. For this recipe, I’ve used Kamut, which is considered an ancient variety of wheat grain. I prefer it because it’s organically grown and hasn’t been hybridized and modified as conventional wheat has; it’s pretty much the same as it was thousands of years ago. Kamut is technically a brand name for the wheat variety Khorasan, native to Egypt and grown in abundance today in Montana and western parts of Canada. My aunt lives in Montana, and she sent the Kamut berries to me from her favorite natural foods market.

Kamut is a longer grain because it has not been hybridized for quicker harvest.

How do you cook wheat berries?

It’s a similar process to cooking beans from dried. Wheat berries are a natural product, so they need to be sorted and rinsed before cooking, in case of random small stones or other debris. After rinsing, combine them with water (at least 2:1 ratio) in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the wheat berries are tender (about an hour), then drain and proceed with your favorite recipe. To use them in a cold dish, cool and refrigerate first.

What can you do with wheat berries?

Pretty much anything you can do with rice, you can do with wheat berries. They have a pleasant chewy texture, like al dente pasta, so they work really well in a main dish such as chili, soup or salad. If you’re into making homemade bread, knead about 1/2 cup of cooked wheat berries into the final dough to add more whole grain goodness. Of course, because they are wheat in whole grain state, you can also mill dried wheat berries into flour, if you happen to have the right equipment to do so. I’ve read recently that Kamut flour makes exceptional pasta, so I’m putting that on my culinary bucket list.

What do wheat berries taste like?

Wheat berries have a mild, almost nutty flavor that is similar to brown rice. Because they are neither sweet nor savory, you can take them in either direction, depending on what you add to them. Besides the chilies, soups and salads I’ve already mentioned, you could also easily toss them on top of Greek yogurt with fresh berries and cinnamon and just call it breakfast.

Now that you’re well acquainted with wheat berries, let’s talk about this salad!

How can something so good be so simple?

We’ve been eating entirely too many rich, heavy foods at our house lately. It’s interesting to me that most of the foods we think of as “comfort foods” are completely on the wrong side of healthy. Foods with simple starches, sugars and fats in abundance are usually what we reach for when we are under stress or facing uncertainty, so it’s not surprising, and maybe you’ve experienced the same.

Allow this salad to bring you back to a healthy place of comfort, with crunch, chew and fresh flavors, dressed in a light, Greek-inspired vinaigrette that’s easy to make from stuff you probably already have in the spice rack and the door of the fridge. Seriously, learn to make your own dressings and you’ll never buy it in the stores again.

We served this on a bed of baby spinach as a fresh, cool side to the meatless moussaka we had for a recent family dinner. If you can’t get your hands on wheat berries right away, any small size whole grain pasta would make an excellent stand in.

Ingredients

2 to 3 cups cooked wheat berries (or other whole grain)

1 can garbanzo beans (drained)

1/2 medium red onion, chopped

1 Persian cucumber*, trimmed and sliced

About 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, rough chopped

1/4 cup pepperoncini, chopped (optional)

chopped fresh parsley or dill for serving (optional)

Dressing

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 Tbsp. Sicilian lemon white balsamic vinegar*

1 tsp. garlic pepper seasoning* (see notes)

1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil*

1 Tbsp. cold water

*Notes

Any kind of cucumber works here; I like the Persians for their compact size and minimal seeds. You want about 1 cup of cucumber slices or chunks. I’ve used my handy garnishing tool to strip part of the peel away, leaving a little bit for texture and the little bit of bitterness it adds to the salad. You could do the same with a small, sharp paring knife—or just peel the whole thing.

The lemon balsamic vinegar is a specialty item, purchased from one of the gourmet oil and vinegar shops that seem to have popped up everywhere. If you can’t find it, no problem—substitute a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a pinch of sugar.

Check your garlic pepper ingredients (or taste it) to see how much salt is in it. If you have a salt-free version such as Mrs. Dash, you’ll also want to add a couple pinches of salt to the dressing. We have McCormick brand, and the salt level is just about right. Lemon pepper seasoning would also be terrific.

There are so many choices for olive oil at most markets. This is a good recipe to bring out the “good stuff.” I generally use a more neutral flavor of olive oil (but still extra virgin) for everyday cooking and sautéing, but for a fresh dressing, I reach for the more pungent “grassy” varieties. If it has a little bit of bite or bitterness on the back end, it means it’s high in polyphenols—the stuff that makes it so good for you!

There’s no substitute for a good quality, REAL extra virgin olive oil.

The salad will come together on its own—you don’t need my help combining these simple, fresh ingredients. But if you’ve never made your own vinaigrette, it’s time you learn this simple and valuable trick. It takes less than a minute, and you don’t need any special tools or bottles. I usually make a vinaigrette in my glass measuring cup, just before I assemble my salad. For this one, work ahead a little bit so the dried oregano has time to soften and rehydrate.

Combine the vinegar and lemon white balsamic (or lemon juice and sugar), garlic pepper and dried oregano. Then drizzle the olive oil into the mixture in a slow, steady stream, while whisking constantly. This will help the oil and vinegar come together without separation. If you prefer, combine all the ingredients together in a covered jar and shake the dickens out of it. Allow the dressing to rest in the refrigerator for about an hour, then whisk or shake again and pour over the salad mixture and toss gently to combine.

The salad can be made ahead and it keeps in the fridge for several days. Fold it gently to redistribute the dressing just before serving, and sprinkle with fresh parsley or dill for an extra pop of color and flavor.

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Cole Slaw Two Ways

There’s no good reason to depend on bottled cole slaw dressing, made up mostly of ingredients we’d never find in our own pantry cabinets. Not when it’s so quick and easy to make our own dressing from the fresh things we do have in our cabinets or refrigerators.

Whether you like the slightly tangy-sweet creaminess of a mayonnaise-based cole slaw (KFC-style) or an elegant, vinaigrette-type dressing that stands up better to extended time on a picnic table, you can handle it yourself in only a few minutes. The one thing for sure is it’ll taste infinitely better than the soybean oil-xanthan gum concoction you’d otherwise pick up in the dressing aisle.

Begin with a basic combination of 4 to 5 cups shredded or chopped cabbage (red, green or both—you decide) and carrots. Use a food processor to save time or chop by hand for a more rustic texture. Then, choose your style and dress it up!

Creamy Slaw Dressing

The creamy-style dressing is on the sweet side, with a distinctive white pepper flavor that is reminiscent of the “colonel’s” cole slaw.

Ingredients

About 1 Tbsp. finely grated onion* (see notes on this)

1/4 cup mayonnaise (I used canola mayo)

2 Tbsp. whole milk

2 Tbsp. buttermilk*

1 Tbsp. white vinegar or white balsamic vinegar*

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice*

2 Tbsp. cane sugar*

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

A couple pinches white pepper

*Notes

Grate the onion and use a paper towel to absorb as much excess juice as possible before proceeding with the recipe.

Real cultured buttermilk works best, but you could have similar results with the same amount of plain yogurt or Greek yogurt.

I am a big fan of flavored balsamic vinegars and olive oils, and whenever I have it on hand, I substitute the “Sicilian Lemon” white balsamic for the combined amounts of vinegar and lemon juice in this recipe. If you have access to this product from a specialty store in your area, it’s worth the expense.

Reduce the sugar by half with the white balsamic substitution.

Instructions

Empty the grated onion into a glass measuring cup. Add remaining dressing ingredients and use a mini-whisk or small spoon to blend into a smooth, even mixture.

Use less dressing than you think is correct. Trust me, you won’t mind eating the extra dressing with a spoon!

Pour half of the dressing over the shredded cabbage and carrots and toss to coat, then add more dressing as desired. As the creamy dressing settles in, the cabbage will soften and shrink a good bit. It’s easier to add dressing than to take it away. Cover salad and refrigerate a couple of hours until ready to serve.

Poppy Seed and Lime Vinaigrette Slaw Dressing

The vinaigrette-style dressing is tangy and onion-y, an elegant change of pace for your backyard cookout. The poppy seeds can be left out if you aren’t a fan.

Ingredients

1/2 small onion (sweet, yellow or red—whatever you like)

2 tsp. poppy seeds*

2 Tbsp. sugar

Juice of 1/2 fresh lime

1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. dry mustard powder

3/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup canola oil (or other neutral-flavored oil)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil*

*Notes

Poppy seeds are sold by the bottle in the spice section of most grocery markets. Celery seed would be a good substitute here, or if seeds cause you trouble, you could easily skip them altogether, but you still want to begin the recipe on the stove.

Extra virgin olive oils provide the most health benefits, but some of them have a very “green” or pungent flavor. For this recipe, use the most neutral-flavored olive oil you can find, such as arbequina. Specialty oil and vinegar shops offer free tastings to help you find your favorites.

Instructions

Grate the onion into a bowl, keeping the juice. Combine sugar, lime juice, vinegar, mustard powder, salt and pepper in a glass measuring cup.

Place a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat and add the poppy seeds. Swirl the pan constantly and toast the seeds for 2 to 3 minutes, until lightly fragrant. All at once, add the onion (with juice) and the lime juice mixture and stir until sugar is dissolved and mixture begins to simmer at the edges of the pan. Remove from heat and transfer to the small bowl of a food processor. Turn on processor and slowly stream canola oil into the mixture, then repeat with olive oil.

When mixture is fully emulsified, pour about 1/3 cup of it over cabbage mixture. Toss to coat, add more dressing if desired, and refrigerate slaw until ready to serve. Save leftover dressing for use on other salads–perhaps a spinach salad with fresh strawberries.

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Spanish Onion Sauce

For just about everyone, the term “comfort food” applies specifically to the foods we learned to love during childhood. For me, that’s the made-from-scratch foods I learned in my grandma’s kitchen, including applesauce, soft molasses cookies and bread pudding. For my husband, Les, it’s pretty much all the foods you can only find in a Jewish deli and on the streets of New York. I’ve grown to love many of these foods myself—the bagels, the knishes, the in-house pastrami from Katz’s deli and of course, the pizza (am I the only one hearing angels sing right now?).

Any true New Yorker will admonish you for assuming you could just pick up a bag of Lender’s and call it “close enough.” The best bagels are apparently made with NYC water, but we are thankful to have a very good option for them in our home city. Then there’s the matter of pizza, but let’s not even start on that, though I’m proud to report we’ve finally perfected our at-home pies to nearly the level of Les’s high standards. And although hot dogs (even the Kosher, all-beef kind) are readily available in every corner of these United States, there’s no match for a good, old-fashioned New York hot dog. And for one main reason. The Spanish onion sauce.

Honestly, no other condiments are needed.

This stuff is simple enough, just sliced onions cooked in a thin, lightly spiced tomato sauce. But like any food that’s part of the very fabric of your life, it’s the memory of it that means something. You want it to taste the way you remember it. When I finished this batch of onion sauce, I cautiously asked Les to give it a taste and tell me what it needed. Last time, it was “pretty close,” so imagine my relief (and utter joy) when he licked the spoon and said, “Yep, that’s it!” Pardon me while I do the h-a-p-p-y dance. And though I’m only from “upstate” (not the same as New York, he reminds me, ad nauseum), and I don’t have my own early memories of this onion sauce, I have to say, it’s pretty darn tasty, and super easy to make. If this is all it takes to elevate his happy, I’m golden.

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 medium Spanish onion (about the size of a tennis ball)

3 Tbsp. tomato ketchup (preferably one made with real sugar)

2 pinches chili powder* (see notes)

Pinch of dried, crushed red pepper*

Pinch of ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 cup water

*Chili powder is an ingredient that is wildly inconsistent, because different brands have different formulas and sometimes high amounts of salt. Use the most “neutral” chili powder you have, or substitute whatever makes you happy. For my most recent batch of onion sauce, I swapped out both noted spices for about 1 tsp. of the oil poured off a jar of Trader Joe’s “Chili Onion Crunch.” This earned an enthusiastic thumbs up from my New York-born taste tester. Don’t be shy about experimenting with the stuff in your cabinet—it’s how I’ve found all my best recipes.

Instructions

Cut the onion in half lengthwise. With flat side down, slice the onion into 1/4” crescent-shaped slices. For this recipe, I find it better to have similar-sized pieces of onion, rather than ring slices.

Heat a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil, then add onion slices and saute for about 8 minutes until softened and slightly translucent. Mix together the ketchup, spices, salt and water, and add to the onions. Stir to combine and bring to a slight boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Much of the liquid will evaporate, and you’ll be left with silky onions glistening in a light, tomato-y glaze.

Quite simply—it’s real Nu Yawk daawg sauce.

We served our Spanish onion sauce on uncured all-beef dogs and homemade potato buns. Delish!

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Chili for Hot Dogs

As I was jotting down the ingredients I used in this chili, I almost felt that I should put an asterisk next to every spice ingredient. Taste is subjective, and it seems no culinary divide is greater than the one created by spicy heat. Some people love it (hear, hear), some can’t tolerate it at all and others want a little kick as long as they don’t feel too much burn.

If you make some version of this chili, use the level of heat that makes sense for you and whomever else you’re feeding. My husband and I are so much on the same page when it comes to heat, and we are quick to admit, we want a little burn. We might pay a price for it tomorrow, but that’s a consequence we will be willing to accept. Every. Single. Time. If you’re shaking your head “no,” you might find some of the spice notes helpful for adjusting the amounts to your personal taste, while still enjoying plenty of flavor.

There’s no need to spend extra for packaged “chili powder.” Mix and match spices you already have and come up with a winner.

Chipotle

Made of dried and smoked jalapeno chiles, this is a smoky-style, medium heat spice. I usually don’t even think of this spice as being “hot,” because I’m mainly captivated by the smoke. But it does bring some heat, so if you’re squeamish, skip this one and look at ancho or cumin instead.

Cumin

This spice is made from seeds, not chile peppers, and it’s common to various Latin cuisines as well as some Indian and Northern African cooking. The flavor is warm and gently smoky. “Comforting” is a good word for this spice. I adore it in fried breakfast potatoes, and it finds its way into every kind of chili I make. Cumin doesn’t have heat, but it plays so nicely with hot spices, it’s never far off in recipes with chile spices.

Cayenne

No doubt, this is a speecy-spicy one! Cayenne is a long, skinny red pepper, the variety used widely in Cajun cuisine, and the main ingredient in popular bottled hot sauces, including Tabasco and Frank’s original “red hot” sauce, as well as Texas Pete, which doesn’t hail from Texas, but Winston-Salem, NC (go figure). It’s not as hot as habanero or ghost peppers (not even close on the Scoville heat scale), but it’s fair warning to say that if you can’t stand the heat, you should get the heck out of cayenne’s kitchen.

Ancho

Made of dried and smoked poblano chiles, this one has a little heat, but is mainly smoky and fruity, especially if the seeds are removed before grinding it into powder. Ancho chiles are a favorite of celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who puts it in nearly everything. It’s a very balanced chile flavor, and though it isn’t listed as an ingredient in my chili for hot dogs, you might find it a good substitute for the chipotle if you like smokiness and peppers with a little less kick.

Paprika

This is an overly general name for a spice that varies a great deal from bottle to bottle. Some paprika is smoked, some is sweet, some is hot—it’s just all over the place. If you do an online search for “what pepper is used for paprika,” you’ll find everything from red bell pepper to cayenne, so it’s clearly a bit of a gamble. The variety I used in this recipe is specifically labeled “sweet Spanish paprika,” and I appreciate that because it helps me know what to expect. It is light and kind of fruity, with the tiniest amount of smoke (probably on the red bell pepper end of the paprika spectrum), and it adds bright color and a pleasant sweet pepper flavor without bringing heat. A bottle labeled “hot Hungarian paprika” would turn this chili into something totally different, so take notice of the differences.

Wait, what about plain old “chili powder?”

Frankly, my dear, there is no such thing. “Chili powder” is a generic term used by every spice company out there, and what’s in it is anyone’s guess. Sure, you could look at the label ingredients, but they are usually suspiciously vague—a blend of “red chile powder” (okay, but which chile?), herbs and spices (again, which ones?), plus a whole lotta salt and usually some other unnecessary ingredients with long, unpronounceable names. Personally, I don’t touch the stuff because it presumes to know what my flavor and sodium levels should be. I’ll decide what goes into my chili, thank you very much, and hopefully this quick little chili tutorial will empower you to do the same.

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 lb. lean ground meat*

1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar

1/4 cup water*

8 oz. can tomato sauce

Kosher or sea salt to taste

Spices

1/2 tsp. each ground black pepper, ground chipotle, cumin, sweet paprika, garlic powder, onion powder

1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper, if you’re living on the edge

*Notes

For this batch of chili, I used 90% lean ground bison. Beef is an easy go-to, and it would also be just fine with ground turkey.

Feel free to substitute beer for the water, if you wish, as my husband does with his famous Super Bowl chili. (I hope that wasn’t a secret, Babe!)

Instructions

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil, then add ground meat, onions, vinegar and water all together. Cooking the meat in the water rather than browning it first will result in the fine texture that’s perfect for topping a hot dog. Stir the meat mixture frequently as it cooks, until the water has completely evaporated. Season with salt and pepper, then add tomato sauce and spices. Cook and stir several more minutes, until liquid reduces and chili thickens to your liking. I like this kind of chili to be on the thicker side, so it stays on the dog without making the bun soggy.

The chili is good on its own, but I throw on more onion just because.

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Kentucky Derby Sips

Kentucky Love Child

Like a cross between a Moscow mule and a mojito, but made with real Kentucky bourbon.

1.5 oz. Kentucky bourbon
0.5 oz mint simple syrup (recipe below)
Juice of half a lime
Reed’s extra spicy ginger beer

Combine bourbon, syrup and lime in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake like crazy for 20 seconds. Strain into a “mule” mug half filled with crushed ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with fresh lime.

Sassy Comeback

A Southern spin on NYC’s “witty comeback”—and doesn’t it sound like a champion?

1.5 oz. Bulleit rye (bourbon works, too)
0.5 oz. Aperol (see notes)
0.75 oz. lemon ginger simple syrup (recipe below)
Seltzer or sparkling water (optional)

Combine rye, Aperol and syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add ice cubes and shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled “Nick and Nora” glass (or small champagne glass). Enjoy as is, or top with seltzer. Garnish with a twist of thinly stripped lemon peel.

Sparkly Britches Lemonade

Because not everyone loves bourbon (yet).

1.5 oz. Hendrick’s gin
1 oz. cucumber simple syrup (recipe below)
Juice of half a lemon
Seltzer or sparkling water (optional)

Combine gin, syrup and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice cubes and shake vigorously for 20 seconds, then strain into a chilled champagne flute. Enjoy as is, or make it really sparkle with a splash of seltzer.


What is Aperol?

It’s an Italian-made liqueur, considered to be an aperitif (fancy speak for “pre-dinner drink”), and it has a citrusy, herbal, slightly bitter flavor and a shockingly bright orange color. If you’ve ever tasted Campari (another Italian liqueur), it’s kind of similar, but less bitter and less potent. On the nose, Aperol is kind of a cross between grapefruit, rhubarb and orange lifesavers. In a cocktail, it brings a world of complexity, and is especially refreshing in the warm weather months.

What is a Nick and Nora glass?

It’s a smallish cocktail glass, sort of a cross between a champagne flute and a coupe martini glass. I found these little 4 ounce beauties online, and created the Sassy Comeback specifically for the glass! As I mentioned the glasses to various friends, it seemed nobody knew what they were, so I did a little research to find out why the glass is so named. I like this explanation best:

“It’s named for the boozy, quick-talking couple in Dashiel Hamett’s 1934 novel The Thin Man. They’re the couple we all want to be, always dressed for a night out, always with a quip at the ready, and always—always—with a drink in hand. Their namesake glass appropriately honors their art deco–era swag.”

Adam Rapoport, Bon Appetit

The novel eventually became a series of films, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, which remained popular well into the 1940s. In this clip, you’ll see the same dainty glasses used for their martinis. At the end of the scene, “Nora” embodies the sassy comeback. She’s my kinda gal!

The Simple Syrups

Simple syrups are very easy to make. A regular simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water, simmered until sugar is dissolved, then cooled and chilled. Each of the syrups below has a flavor infusion, and they offer a unique “somethin’ special” to the above mentioned cocktails. Have fun!

Mint Syrup

Simmer 1 cup sugar and 1 cup filtered water, stirring frequently, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm enough to steam. Remove from heat and add a 1 oz. package of fresh organic mint leaves (wash them first and trim the heavy stems), and allow the mint to steep in the syrup until completely cool. Strain out the mint (discard it) and pour the syrup into a covered jar. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Cucumber Syrup

Simmer 1 cup sugar and 1 cup filtered water, stirring frequently, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm enough to steam. Peel 4 Persian cucumbers, and cut them into slices. Remove syrup from the heat, add the cucumber pieces and steep until the mixture is cooled. Discard the cucumber pieces and strain syrup through a mesh strainer to remove any bits or seeds. Pour syrup into a covered jar. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Lemon-Ginger 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 used Bigelow brand Lemon Ginger herbal tea. The label lists these ingredients; lemongrass, lemon peel, cinnamon, lemon verbena, rose hips, ginger and licorice root. This is a fantastic way to get a lot of complex flavor into a syrup, and these flavors play very nicely with the rye and Aperol in my Sassy Comeback!

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Hearts of Palm Citrus “Ceviche”

In case you haven’t tried them (or maybe even heard of them), hearts of palm are exactly as the name implies—the inner core of a palm plant. For whatever reason, you don’t often see them on restaurant menus, unless you’re in a swanky place with chandeliers and linen napkins and one of those servers who is compulsively whisking the crumbs off your table. I first learned of them during my tenure as a part-time catering kitchen helper, and though I didn’t mind hearts of palm, I have largely ignored them.

Until now.

There’s nothing terribly exciting about hearts of palm on their own—they’re neither strong in flavor nor impressive to look at. They’re just slender, creamy white-colored stalks which you might occasionally find playing a background role in a salad. But ever since I spotted a faux crab cake recipe on Pinterest, where hearts of palm stood in for crab, I’ve had it in my mind to give them a starring role in a vegan version of ceviche, and you know what? It works!

Ceviche is traditionally a tropical appetizer type of dish, centered on raw fish cured with citrus juices, and it is usually flavored up with some combination of onions, hot peppers, cilantro and avocado. But this is a Kentucky Derby party, so we are putting a classy twist on those ingredients, serving it up salad style, and swapping out the tropical notes for fresh spring flavors—cucumber and mint. Along the way, I’ll show you some of the easy tricks I learned from my catering mentors for making a dish prettier—which, obviously, also makes it tastier. Enjoy!

Ingredients

1/2 large pink or ruby red grapefruit, cut into sections, reserve juice
Juice of 1 fresh lime, divided
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. sugar* (see catering tips)
1/4 cup (4 Tbsp.) extra virgin olive oil (mild flavor)
2 Persian cucumbers, peeled* and cut lengthwise, then sliced into half moons
1 can (14 oz.) hearts of palm, chilled in fridge
2 Tbsp. finely chopped red onion
1/2 small, firm avocado
Mixed baby greens or leaf lettuce
Chopped parsley and mint leaves for garnish

Instructions

Section your grapefruit by cutting in half crosswise, then running a knife first around the outside edge of one half, then up close to each side of the section membranes. Spoon out the sections into a medium bowl and strain the remaining grapefruit peel over a measuring cup to save all the juice. Wrap the remaining grapefruit half and save it for another use.

Juice 1/2 of the lime, and add about 1 Tbsp. of the reserved grapefruit juice. Whisk in Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Add olive oil in a stream, whisking constantly, until dressing is thick and emulsified. If your olive oil is very robust, substitute something neutral—avocado or canola oil would be good.

Cut the avocado in half, carefully split the halves apart and use a paring knife to cut a crosshatch design into the flesh, then spoon around the edges to release the avocado pieces into the bowl with the grapefruit pieces. Immediately squeeze the remaining half of lime over the avocado to prevent browning. Squeeze any remaining lime juice into the dressing.

Drain hearts of palm. Blot dry on paper towels, cut lengthwise into quarters, then slice into 1/2” pieces and empty into a medium bowl with red onions, grapefruit sections, cucumbers and avocado pieces.

Pour dressing over hearts of palm mixture and gently fold with a rubber spatula to coat the salad with the dressing. Don’t stir the mixture, lest you reduce the avocado and hearts of palm to a mushy mess. Refrigerate up to an hour before serving a generous spoonful of “ceviche” atop a mound of mixed greens, and garnish with the chopped parsley and mint. If you happen to have some of my grandmother’s beautiful Depression glass fruit bowls, use those!

On a bed of baby greens and spinach, this is so pretty.

*Catering Tips

If you’re making the cucumber or mint simple syrups for the Kentucky Derby Sips recipes, substitute a couple teaspoons of that for the sugar here. When you repeat a flavor across different elements of your meal, it’s called “echoing,” and it helps tie things together in your senses. You don’t want to go overboard, of course, or everything will taste the same. But here, it will be cool and refreshing, a contrast to the rich hot browns, and in harmony with your Sparkly Britches or Kentucky Love Child (you can’t imagine how goofy it feels to write that sentence).

This weird looking little thing is one of my favorite tools for creating a prettier presentation. You should get one of these.

A garnish zester can be used in a couple of ways—a quick scrape of a lemon with the five tiny holes produces tiny shreds of zest, and in this recipe, I’ve used the channel blade to strip away part (but not all) of the cucumber peel. It’s also fine to peel the whole thing, but I think this elevates the look of the pieces. In hindsight, I could have also prepped some of the grapefruit zest for the top of the salad. Next time!

The bed of baby greens is edible of course (everything you put on a plate should be, including flowers), but it also serves two other purposes—visually, it’s prettier than the salad in a bowl by itself, and the lettuce also allows excess dressing to run underneath, which keeps your salad from getting mushy.

If you’re serving a salad for a crowd (Have hope—one day we will meet again this way!), consider a platter rather than a bowl. Line it with greens, as suggested for single serving on this recipe, and spoon the mixture over the leaves. It’s an easy way to really show off the pretty dish you’ve made and gives the impression of a larger dish. (Don’t forget to use a clean damp towel to tidy up the platter!)

A professional would never leave drips on the plate. Be a professional.

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Mint Julep Sorbet

The quintessential cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep, is a mashup of bourbon, mint and sugar. A typical recipe for making one begins “muddle the mint leaves and sugar in the bottom of the glass,” but then the muddled mess never leaves the drink. I like the flavor of mint, but not the idea of mint shards floating around in my cup. And if it should get stuck on my teeth? No thanks!

We are ending our Kentucky Derby party (preview though it is) with the taste of mint julep on our lips, with an ultra-refreshing sorbet, made of nothing more than mint, thin simple syrup (sugar and water) and bourbon. Yep, just four simple ingredients, and you can make this as much as a week ahead and enjoy it on your schedule.

Note that the simple syrup is a 2:1 ratio, different from the syrup we used in the cocktails. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, don’t despair—I’ve included an alternate method that requires only a freezer-safe container and a fork.

This “dessert” is really more of a palate cleanser, just a small sweet bit of lightly boozy refreshment after the rich foods of the day. Recipe will yield about 6 servings. Enjoy!

Ingredients

Handful of organic fresh mint (about 1 oz.)
2 cups filtered water
1 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup bourbon
Up to 1 cup unflavored seltzer water (or a subtle flavor such as lemon)*
Additional fresh mint for garnish

Gently rinse the fresh mint in cool water, remove heavy stems and set aside on paper towel.

Instructions

Place a small saucepan over medium heat and add the bourbon. As you know, alcohol doesn’t freeze completely, so we are going to evaporate some of the alcohol out of the bourbon, thereby concentrating its flavor. Allow it to come to a very slight boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until it’s reduced by half. You can check this by pouring the reduced bourbon into a glass measuring cup—you should end with 1/4 cup or slightly less. Pour into a large glass jar and cool completely, then put it into the fridge.

Rinse the saucepan and combine water and sugar over medium heat. Bring it to a light boil, then turn off the heat. Add the mint leaves and steep for a couple of hours until completely cooled. Strain and discard mint, add syrup to the jar of reduced bourbon and refrigerate.

To freeze the sorbet in an ice cream machine, combine syrup and seltzer, then add the mixture all at once and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions, which is probably about 20 minutes. Transfer to a freezer-safe covered container and freeze several hours or overnight. It will still be pretty soft when you finish the blending, but the deep freeze will firm it up a bit more.

No ice cream machine? No problem—combine the syrup and seltzer in a freezer-safe container (something wide and shallow works best), cover and freeze about 2 hours. Use a fork to scrape through it and “fluff” it up, then freeze another 2 hours (repeat again as needed until it’s as slushy as you like. Or, wait until it’s fully frozen, scoop mixture into a blender or processor and blend until smooth, then re-freeze until ready to serve. This will allow you to incorporate some air into the sorbet.

*This is a very sweet sorbet recipe. If you prefer a lighter essence, combine frozen sorbet with up to a cup of very cold seltzer water in a food processor and return to the freezer. The bubbles in the seltzer will help incorporate air into the sorbet for even freezing.

To serve, scoop sorbet into a small glass dish or shallow cocktail glass, and garnish with a fresh sprig of mint. This refreshing treat is best enjoyed whilst wearing a fancy hat.

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