Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wonderful Watermelon Cooler

Watermelons, while great for snacking, also make a fantastic beverage. Especially when it contains vodka...or rum...or tequila. Because they are so very watery (they are called watermelon after all), it's extraordinarily easy to drinkify them. A simple blitz in the blender will do, though I also like to strain out any rogue seeds and pulp. Add a few extra ingredients for flavor and you've got summer in a glass (or two...or twenty). There is so much juice in a single watermelon, you can make enough of this cooler to quench the thirst of all the adults at your next barbecue or picnic. (Or in my case, I used it to bribe the ladies in the front office of the orthodontist so they forgot to charge me the missed appointment fee when I accidentally missed my son's appointment because I haven't wrapped my head around the fact that I am no longer on a 2 month vacation and I actually have a life to live and things to do and a calendar to keep. And for the record, I think my evil plan worked....).

Watermelon Cooler

Try this most refreshing beverage at your next barbecue or picnic. Leave out the alcohol to make a kid-friendly version that tastes just as good...well, almost as good.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes, plus one hour chill time
Yield: serves 12


1 large watermelon (about 8 pounds)
2 cups vodka or white rum
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup sugar (superfine is best)
10 mint leaves
Seltzer water or club soda


1. Remove rind from watermelon, cut the flesh into cubes and puree using a blender. Strain watermelon puree through a very fine mesh sieve into a large pitcher, discarding solids. You should end up with about 6 cups of watermelon juice.

2. Stir in vodka or rum, lime juice and sugar. Bruise mint leaves by squeezing them with your fingers, then add to the pitcher.

3. Refrigerate the mixture for about one hour, for the flavors to meld. Stir again then serve over ice with a splash of club soda, garnished with a slice of lime or watermelon.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tomato Time!

When we got home, not only were we greeted with a whopper of a zucchini, but also 7 tomato plants that were bursting with gorgeous tomatoes. Home-grown tomatoes are a bit like crack. One bite is simply not enough....nor is one tomato. I have a tendency to overdo it when it comes to tomatoes and often the roof of my mouth ends up raw and peeling from all the acid. But so much pleasure comes from the pain.

If there is a better way to use up fresh tomatoes than this incredibly simple salad, I haven't found it. It's kind of like a Caprese salad, but so much more. The light vinaigrette combined with the tomato juices makes it explode with flavor. And the cheese...well, the cheese is just divine. If you add in some olive oil and garlic-rubbed, grilled sourdough bread, it would be a complete meal in and of itself. We had it for dinner two nights in a row. Quiet honestly, I could probably eat this every day until the end of time....

Jamie Oliver's Awesome Tomato Salad

This recipe is so easy to make, and so easy to eat. For a lovely, rustic look use all different kinds of heirloom tomatoes, some sliced, some quartered or halved.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Yield: serves 4 (or two piggies like us)


2 pounds of mixed heirloom tomatoes
pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup best extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 clove of garlic, grated
pinch of dried oregano
1 ball or log of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
1 teaspoon of fresh spicy red or green chile (seeded and de-veined)
sea salt and pepper, to taste
handful of basil leaves, torn into smallish pieces


1. Cut the tomatoes into halves, quarters or slices, depending on the size and place in a colander over a bowl. Sprinkle with sea salt and toss with your hands. Let drain for 15 minutes to concentrate the tomato flavors.

2. Meanwhile whisk the olive oil, vinegar, garlic and oregano in a small bowl.

3. Slice the mozzarella and place on one side of a medium platter. Arrange the tomatoes next to the cheese. Drizzle the cheese and tomatoes with the dressing and sprinkle salt and pepper over the cheese. Sprinkle the minced chile and the torn basil over the top of the platter and serve immediately.

Monday, August 2, 2010

In The Blink of An Eye

Home-grown zucchini are sort of like home-grown kids. One minute they are tender and young...quite delicious, really. And the next they are pubescent pre-teens who are as tall as you, weigh (20+ pounds) more than you, and are growing hair on their upper lip. Okay, perhaps I was referring to my son and not the squash, but you get the point. In the blink of an eye, they are totally, incomprehensibly huge. Yes, you can still slice them and cook them, or even eat them raw (and just to be sure, here I'm referring to the squash and not the kid). But I think they are best shredded up and disguised in baked cake. Or bread. Or both.

Just before we departed Cape Cod, my sister-in-law and I baked this cake from Diane at Napa Farmhouse 1885. The recipe had me at the mention of chocolate and zucchini, which sounded like a smashing combination. But as I started mixing ingredients, I noticed that the fat in the cake was olive oil...and it had a splash of balsamic dressing too. It was too late to turn back, and despite my fears that this cake would taste more like zucchini salad than chocolate cake, we pressed on.

We drizzled a ganache over the top of the cake and served it to our dinner guests, who all gobbled it with enthusiasm. The vinegar gave it a bit of whang, and actually deepened the chocolate flavor. Most everyone enjoyed it thoroughly, except for my daughter who said it tastes like "your breath when you've been drinking wine..." Well, I guess it could be a lot worse. My breath that is. Despite her protests, I found the cake to be moist, with a nice, soft crumb--and very tasty too.

My California garden also has zucchini plants and our sweet house sitter left a big, fat one on the vine for us to pick when we got home. With that, I decided to make zucchini bread, loaded with walnuts and dried cranberries. Kid repellent if you must know. I'm tired of never, ever getting a bite of the goodies I bake!

Unfortunately for me, the kids liked it afterall. And so did our friends. I think you will too!

And....just thought I'd mention that I saw this recipe today. To. Die. For. It's next on the list...and yes, I have a LOT of zucchini.

Zucchini Walnut Bread with Cranberries

I am a huge, huge fan of one bowl cakes that don't require any special equipment that might be stored on a garage shelf (think stand-mixer). This one fits the bill. Not only is it pleasantly spiced, it has a nice crunch from the walnuts and a bit of tangy goodness from all the dried cranberries. I think it would also be fabulous with chocolate chips. But almost everything is, isn't it? The recipe is adapted from this one.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 2 loaves


2 extra large eggs
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup sweetened, dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 standard loaf pans and set aside.

2. Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl with a wire whisk. Whisk in sugar until thoroughly combined. Add butter and vanilla, stirring well. Whisk in zucchini and salt.

3. Sprinkle the top of the batter with the baking powder, then add half the flour and all the nutmeg and cinnamon. When combined, add the remaining flour and whisk just until barely combined.

4. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold in the walnuts and cranberries, taking care not to over-work the batter.

5. Pour the batter evenly between the two prepared loaf pans and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean.

6. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, before inverting to a cooling rack to cool completely. Top with your favorite cream cheese frosting, if desired.