Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Thanksgiving 2020 in the Time of Covid - Making Pickles

My mother loved Thanksgiving.

For her, Thanksgiving brought together friends and family in a celebration of life and food.  I came to share that love as my own family grew. 

The happy ritual for my wife and myself is everyone gathers early at 3PM so we can enjoy the light at the end of the day. Our small house fills with the musical rhythm of the front door opening and familiar voices greeting us as they add their dishes to the feast or flowers to brighten the dining room. 

While my wife keeps the group refreshed with beverages and appetizers, I am focused in the kitchen. Putting dishes in and out of the Wolf stove's large oven. Prepping salads and putting the finishing touches on the desserts. 

The main event is, of course, the turkey. Usually twenty-four pounds so I can send our sons to their homes with several days' worth of left-overs. 


All too often, I would have visitors in our closet-sized kitchen. I appreciated their desire to keep me company, but in such a small space and such a large menu, I'm best left to myself so I can pull baking trays from the hot oven without burning them or myself, sauté string beans with almonds in a giant carbon steel pan and stir the shiitake mushroom/pan drippings gravy. 


We loved how our home was filled with a friendly clamor as people caught up on the latest personal news, laughed and clinked glasses to celebrate what is best about our lives. That was what my mother loved and we did too.

But, as they say, that was then. This is 2020 and Thanksgiving will still be a good time to be thankful for all that we have but it will certainly be different.

We will keep COVID-distant and respect the need to have a smaller group. Instead of twenty we will have five. At the beginning of the meal, we will place a Zoom call and gather with my wife's mother in New Jersey and our sons who are our of town having a holiday together.  We will stay connected, even though we are apart.

With our friends, we will have our meal outside on the patio. I will finally have the kitchen to myself. But I look forward to next year when COVID is behind us and we can gather again as my mother would want, in a house full of family and friends, sharing stories about the year and being thankful for what is best in life.

In the meantime, in this and several posts, I will reprise favorite recipes. 

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a safe New Year. 

Homemade Pickles

Pickles are delicious anytime of the year. For Thanksgiving they are especially good. Their crunch and acidity counterbalances the deliciousness of gravy, mashed potatoes and roast turkey. 


For Thanksgiving I always make two kinds of pickles. Kosher dill pickles and Moroccan-style pickled vegetables. Kosher dills should be made a few days before served. Moroccan-style pickled vegetables should be made two weeks ahead. They will keep, sealed in a jar, refrigerated for as long as a year.


No doubt the people who made the first pickles thought they had made a mistake. Somebody accidentally forgot about some raw vegetables in a pot with an acid and salt. Surprise, surprise. A week later, the vegetables weren’t moldy, no bugs had eaten them and, deliciously, they had a nice crunch and tang. Thus was born, the pickle!

In the 1920s, my great-grandfather made pickles on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Grandmother Caroline used to tell stories about working in their little grocery store as a child. When customers would want pickles, she would hop off the counter and go out front to the pickle barrels and fish out the ones they wanted.

I never knew her parents. I never ate their pickles, but I must have brine in my veins because wherever I travel, I am always on the look out for pickles.


Moroccan pickled veggies

In Morocco at a cooking class in Marrakech at La Maison Arabe, Amaggie Wafa and Ayada Benijei taught us to make Berber bread, couscous with chicken and vegetables, chicken tagine with preserved lemons and clarified butter, tomato marmalade, eggplant-tomato salad and preserved vegetables.
The cooking class lasted four hours. The time it took to show us how to make preserved or pickled vegetables: five minutes.
To Wafa and Benijei, the process was so easy, there were no pickle recipes. A little of this, a little of that, throw the vegetables into a jar, shake it up, put it in a cupboard and in a week, voila, you have pickles.

Pickle recipes tip from Grandma

From my grandmother I learned that making kosher dill pickles was a little more complicated. In retrospect, I think that’s because pickling cukes are more prone to decay than are the carrots, parsnip, fennel and green beans used in Morocco.
Every Thanksgiving I make both.
Pickles are very personal. What one person loves might be too salty or vinegary to another. It may take you several tries before you settle on the mix of salt, vinegar and spices that suits your palate.

Garlic is usually added to brine. My grandmother didn't put garlic in hers and I don't put any in mine so I indicated garlic as optional.

Lower East Side Kosher Dill Pickles

When making kosher dill pickles keep in mind four very important steps:
1. Select pickling cukes, not salad cucumbers, and pick ones without blemishes or soft spots.
2. Taste the brine to confirm you like the balance of salt-to-vinegar. The flavor of the brine will approximate the flavor of the pickles.
3. Once the cukes are in the brine, they must be kept submerged in an open container.
4. When the pickles have achieved the degree of pickling you like, which could take three days to a week, store the pickles in the brine, seal and keep in a refrigerator where they will last for several weeks.
Ingredients
8 cups water
¼ cup kosher salt
1 cup white wine vinegar or yellow Iranian vinegar (my preference)
4 garlic cloves, skin removed, root end trimmed off, cut into thin strips (optional)
5 dried bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
10 whole mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or 1 dried Sichuan pepper, split open
5 sprigs of fresh dill
5 pounds small pickling cucumbers, washed, stems removed, dried
Directions
1. In a non-reactive pot, heat the water and vinegar on a medium flame. When the water gently simmers, add the salt and stir to dissolve. Do not allow the water to boil.
2. Dip your finger in the brine, taste and adjust the flavor with a bit more salt, water or vinegar.
3. Place the garlic and spices in the bottom of a gallon glass or plastic container. Arrange the cucumbers inside.
4. Pour in the hot brine being careful to cover the cucumbers. Reserve 1 cup of brine.
5. To keep the cucumbers submerged in the brine, find a plastic cup that is not as wide as the mouth of the container. Place the reserved cup of brine into the plastic cup and put into the container to press down on the cucumbers.
6. Place the container in a dark, cool corner of the kitchen. Check daily to make sure the cucumbers are submerged. If the brine evaporates, use the reserved brine in the plastic cup, replenishing the liquid in the cup with water to weigh down the cukes.
7. After three days, remove one cucumber and sample. If you like your pickles crisp, that may be enough time. If they aren’t pickled enough for you, let them stay on the counter another few days.
8. When you like how they taste, remove the cup and seal the top. Refrigerate the container.

Moroccan Style Preserved Vegetables

In Morocco, virtually any vegetable can be preserved. In the class, we were shown green beans, fennel, parsnips and carrots. Experiment and see what you like, including asparagus, zucchini, beets, daikon, eggplant, daikon and broccoli.



For myself, over the years I have settled on onions, carrots, cauliflower florets and green cabbage. Recently I have been making celery hearts because every morning my wife juices a celery stalk to begin her day with a glass of healthy celery juice. That  makes me the beneficiary of a great many celery hearts, which I am making into delicious pickles. 
Whatever you try, prepare the vegetable by washing, peeling and cutting them into pieces similar in size, about a 1/4" except with the celery hearts. I leave the bottom of the hearts so they pickle as a stalk.
The fun thing about pickling is you can personalize your pickles, making them any way you like.

Save the pickling brine. It is delicious poured over warm Japanese rice or mixed with olive oil to make a salad dressing.
Ingredients
2 whole carrots, ends trimmed, washed, peeled, cut into rounds, ¼-inch thick

2 celery hearts, root end trimmed

1 medium yellow onion, washed, root and stem ends removed, peeled, sliced lengthwise (root to stem) 1/4" slices
1 small whole green cabbage, washed, any brown outer leaves removed and discarded, cut in half, cut out core and reserve for soup, cut into 1/4" squares

1 small white cauliflower, washed, leaves removed (instructions below)
4 bay leaves
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or 1 dried Sichuan pepper, split open, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 garlic clove, skin removed, root end trimmed off, cut into thin strips (optional)
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1½ cups white wine or yellow Iranian vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Directions
1. Sterilize two quart-sized glass or plastic containers.

2. Finalize the prep on the cauliflower by using a sharp pairing knife to create 1" long florets about 1/4" thick. Use the remaining stems for a stir fry or soup.


3. Toss the vegetables together to mix well in a large bowl.

4. Place the mixed vegetables into the two jars.

5. Add equal amounts of the aromatics to each jar.
6. Combine the kosher salt, water and vinegar. Mix well. Taste. If you find the mixture too acidic, slowly add water until you like the flavor. If not salty enough, add a small amount of kosher salt
7. Pour the water-vinegar mixture into the jars, making sure the liquid covers the vegetables. If more liquid is needed, make more brine and reserve any left over.

8. Top off each jar with equal amounts of olive oil.
9. Seal the jars and shake well to dissolve the salt and mix the aromatics.
10. Refrigerate. Wait one week and taste. Wait longer if they aren’t pickled enough. They will keep in the refrigerator for months.

     

Monday, October 26, 2020

To Make a Sweeter Balsamic Vinegar, Heat and Reduce

Transform ordinary balsamic vinegar into thicker, slightly sweet reduced balsamic to make a best-ever salad dressing. 

Reduction is a simple and effective way to increase flavor by reducing the water content of a liquid using heat or evaporation.



Reduction transforms inexpensive balsamic vinegar into an extraordinary sauce. At a restaurant supply store like Smart and Final, 5 liters of Italian balsamic vinegar sells for under $20.00. 5 liters will make 40 ounces of reduced balsamic, enough for a hundred servings.

Reduced Balsamic Vinegar

Like vinegar in general, reduced balsamic does not need refrigeration and will last indefinitely.

To make an oil and vinegar salad dressing, combine 1 teaspoon of reduced balsamic with 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Mix well and drizzle over tossed lettuce, tomatoes and burrata or chopped Italian parsley and feta.

Time to prepare: 10-15 minutes or 10-15 hours depending on the amount of vinegar being reduced

Ingredients:

1/4 cup Italian balsamic vinegar to make a single serving or 1 large 5 liter bottle to make 40 ounces


Directions:

For an individual serving, pour 1/4 cup of vinegar into a small saucepan and heat over a slow flame. That will take 10-15 minutes and make about a tablespoon. Let cool and mix with olive oil to use as a salad dressing to serve 4. 

To make a larger quantity, pour the 5 liters of balsamic vinegar into a large pot. Open the kitchen windows and heat the vinegar. Be careful to keep the flame on low.  A gentle simmer is good.

As the volume of vinegar reduces, adjust the flame to avoid boiling, which creates an unpleasant flavor.

5 liters of vinegar will take 8-10 hours to reduce to 20% of the original volume.  Use a small spoon to taste the vinegar. When thickened, the balsamic has a slightly sweet flavor. Roughly speaking, 5 liters will make 40 ounces of reduced balsamic.

If the balsamic reduces too much and is too syrupy, add a cup of water, stir well and heat. Add more water until you have the consistency you enjoy.

Use a funnel to fill plastic squeeze bottles. I prefer a 4 ounce bottle for easy handling. 5 liters of balsamic vinegar will make nine to ten 4 ounce bottles.

As the balsamic reduces, sometimes, a film or solids might develop. If so, wet a piece of cheese cloth and put it inside a funnel placed into a squeeze bottle. Pour the reduced balsamic through the cheese cloth and fill the squeeze bottles. When all the bottles are filled, squeeze the cheese cloth so you capture all of the balsamic. Rinse clean and dry the cheese cloth.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Shrimp 101: Easy to Prepare and Delicious

Shrimp are easy to prepare, nutritious and low in fat. Adaptable with many sauces and preparations, their versatility makes them an ideal ingredient in appetizers, soups and main courses. 


To document a meal I made for dinner, I posted a video of shrimps charring on a stove top grill. A friend followed my visual directions but was disappointed with the result. The shrimp were not tasty in the way she expected.

She asked for suggestions. I had a few.

Where to buy shrimp and which shrimp to buy

First off, finding good shrimp isn’t easy. After years of hit or miss sources (sometimes even the most expensive fish market/upscale grocery store would have shrimp that were fresh and sometimes not so fresh), I found a good shrimp in Los Angeles at Ralph’s Market/owned by Krogers.

You probably already know this but always buy shrimp in the shell. If you can find “Ez-Peel” shrimp, that’s good because the back of the shrimp’s shell has already been cut and the back vein already (mostly) removed.

As to size, I prefer medium (31/35 per lb.) sized shrimp. The shrimp at Ralph's are farm raised. Their texture and flavor are very good. Wild shrimp will cost more. When buying from a new-to-you vendor, try different sizes, farmed and fresh shrimp to find what you like. 

When you get the shrimp home, you can peel them or not but rinse them in clean water and refrigerate in an air-tight container.  Use them within 1-2 days. 

When you’re ready to cook them, rinse again. if the shrimp are Ez-Peel, remove the shells with your fingers. If not, run a sharp pairing knife down the back of each shrimp to remove the shells. 

My mother, who lived in Costa Rica and ate a lot of rice there, taught me to put the shells into a small saucepan, cover with water, simmer and strain and save the broth to use in soups and sauces. Very tasty.

Wash the peeled shrimp and remove the black vein that runs along the back.


Rinse again. Now they are ready to cook. Cooking shrimp is very easy. The trick is they cook very quickly.

Salt boiling shrimp

If you want shrimp for a shrimp cocktail or in a salad, heat water in a small saucepan. Use enough water to cover by 1” the amount of shrimp. 

Boil the water. Add a pinch of kosher salt (only kosher salt made by Diamond Crystal because they don’t use additives) or sea salt. 

Add the shrimp. They will cook quickly. Within 20-30 SECONDS. 

Drain and cool by putting ice cubes with the shrimp. Drain. Serve cold or at room temperature or refrigerate in an airtight container.

Grilling or sautéing shrimp

Toss the peeled and deveined shrimp in a bowl with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Using a grill or sautéed pan (cast iron or carbon steel is preferred), place the shrimp individually onto the hot surface. Using tongs, turn them within 5-10 seconds. Cook briefly on each side and remove. 


The grill I use is a stove-top grill that does a great job with easy clean up. And, it is very inexpensive. Here’s a link to the grill on Amazon. 

Grilled shrimp can be served with a chopped vegetable salad (as in the video) or as an appetizer with a cocktail or remoulade sauce.

Shrimp with sauce

Shrimp can be served with any number of cold or heated sauces. My favorite cocktail sauce is a classic. Catsup, lemon juice, capers, grated horseradish and Worcester sauce on the side and Saltine crackers. 

When adding shrimp to curry or a Mexican garlic sauce, add the shrimp just before serving remembering to cook them for only a minute or two to keep them juicy.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Preparing for Cold Weather with a Gathering of Summer Tomatoes

Time to post my suggestions about taking advantage of summer's bounty. 
Difficult to believe, summer is winding down. Even as the heat of the sun makes us wonder if summer will ever end, as the saying goes, "Winter is coming."

Walking through the farmers markets, I see a great abundance of tomatoes. With that abundance comes lower prices. Find a farmer who has too much of a good thing and the price comes down even more.


"Reduced to sell." "Soft ready to eat." Those are the tomatoes I look for. I'll buy them by the bagful. Five or ten pounds at a time. My plan is to prepare for a time when fresh tomatoes are a thing of the past.


I am anticipating a time when storm clouds are outside and I'm staring into the refrigerator looking for inspiration. I yearn for the produce of summer: leafy greens, corn and full-bodied tomatoes. But there is a way to enjoy the sweet-acidic deliciousness of tomatoes even in the darkest days of winter. Just look in your freezer.
With abundant tomatoes in the farmers markets, buy ripe tomatoes, roast and freeze them to be used in braises, soups and sauces in the fall and winter. Once blasted with heat in the oven, the tomatoes happily take to the freezer if they are covered in liquid.
Enjoy frozen roasted tomatoes whole or puree into sauce, and as rain beats against your windows and snow accumulates on your lawn, you will remember those heady summer flavors.

Oven-roasted tomatoes to use as a side dish or in sauces

Use ripe and over-ripe tomatoes. If you can find only unripe, hard tomatoes, leave them in a sunny spot on the kitchen counter until they ripen. Bruised tomatoes are OK as long as you use a sharp paring knife to remove the damaged parts. Avoid tomatoes with broken skin because of the risk of mold.
Any kind of tomato can be used: heirloom, Roma, cherry, large or small salad tomatoes.
A food mill is helpful when making the sauce. If one is not available, a fine meshed wire strainer will do almost as well.


When roasting the tomatoes, it is important to use parchment paper or a nonstick Silpat mat to prevent the tomatoes from sticking to the baking sheet. With a Silpat mat, none of the good bits and sweetly-delicious liquids that caramelize on the bottom are wasted.

Roasted Tomatoes

Tomatoes love the sun’s heat when they’re growing. And they love the oven’s heat that coaxes a rich umami sweetness out of their naturally acidic souls.
That sweetness is at the heart of the roasted tomatoes that will be in your freezer.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Roasting time: 60 minutes
Yield: 1 to 2 quarts
Ingredients
5 pounds tomatoes, washed, patted dry
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Directions 
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment paper cut to size. Use a baking sheet with a 1-inch lip to capture any liquids created during roasting.
3. Use a sharp paring knife to cut a “V” shape around the stem, remove and discard. With cherry tomatoes, any stems can be brushed off the surface without making a cut.
4. Place the de-stemmed tomatoes on the lined baking sheet, stem side up.
5. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper.
6. Place in oven and roast 60 minutes.
7. Remove and let cool.

Freezing Whole Roasted Tomatoes

When you remove the baking sheet from the oven, you’ll notice a clear liquid has accumulated on the bottom. Some of that is olive oil. But most of the liquid is a clear tomato essence prized by chefs for its clean flavor.
If you are freezing some of the roasted tomatoes whole, use the clear liquid to cover the tomatoes in the deli containers.
Use airtight containers that are about the same width as the tomatoes so you will need a small amount of liquid to cover them.

Defrosting Whole Roasted Tomatoes

When you want to use the tomatoes, take them out of the freezer in the evening and let them defrost overnight. If any ice crystals have accumulated on top of the tomatoes, rinse off the ice before defrosting.
If you want to serve them whole, the tomatoes can be warmed in the oven or microwave. They are delicate, so handle them carefully.

Whole Roasted Tomato, Easy-to-Make Pasta Sauce

A deliciously simple pasta sauce to make any time of the year, not just in winter. Serve the pasta with steamed vegetables, a charred steak or a grilled chicken breast and you will have a perfect cold weather meal that warms body and soul.
The flavorful tomato sauce can become a vegan dish by simply omitting the butter and cheese.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Sauté time: 5 minutes
Pasta cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 pound fresh or packaged pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed, roughly chopped (optional)
1 garlic clove, peeled, finely chopped
2 to 3 whole, large roasted tomatoes, skins removed
1 teaspoon sweet butter (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Directions
1. Place a large pot of water on high heat. Add 1 tablespoon sea salt to the water. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta. Stir well every 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Place a heat-proof cup in the sink next to a large strainer. When the pasta is al dente to your taste, about 10 minutes, pour the pasta into the strainer, capturing one cup of the salted pasta water. Reserve.
3. Toss the cooked pasta to prevent clumping.
4. At the same time the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan on a medium-high flame. Heat the olive oil.
5. Add the parsley and garlic. Lightly brown.
6. Holding the roasted tomatoes over the sauté pan, use your hands to tear them apart so you capture all the liquid. Add any liquid from the deli container.
7. Stir well and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.
8. Taste and salt, if needed; add a tablespoon or more of the pasta water.
9. Stir well and add butter. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding sea salt and black pepper.
10. When ready to serve, add the cooked pasta to the sauté pan. Over a medium flame, toss the pasta in the sauce to coat.
11. Serve hot with a bowl of Romano or Parmesan cheese.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

The tomatoes used to make the sauce are prepared and roasted in the same manner as those used to create whole roasted tomatoes.
Directions
1. Working with small batches, remove the roasted tomatoes from the baking sheet and put some of the roasted tomatoes into a food mill or fine mesh, wire strainer placed over a nonreactive bowl. Press the tomatoes through, collecting all the juice in the bowl.

2. Use a spatula to scrape off the pulp that will accumulate on the bottom of the food mill or the strainer. Add the pulp to the juice.

3. Discard the tomato skins. Or add to your compost. Or, even better, reserve in the freezer to use with other vegetable scraps to make vegetable stock.

Freezing Roasted Tomato Sauce

Put the open deli containers on a counter. Stir the tomato juice to mix with the pulp.

Fill each deli container to a half-inch below the top so that when the sauce freezes, the liquid will have room to expand and will not force open the lid.
When cooled, the filled containers can be placed in the freezer.

Defrosting Roasted Tomato Sauce

Even without defrosting, the frozen sauce can be used at the last minute, when you want to thicken a soup, add a layer of flavor to a braise or make a simple pasta sauce.
There are infinite ways to use this versatile sauce. One of my favorites is an easy-to-make pasta with sautéed vegetables.
If any ice crystals accumulate on the top of the sauce, rinse off the ice before defrosting.

Penne Pasta With Roasted Tomato Sauce and Sautéed Vegetables

Prep time: 10 minutes
Sauté time: 10 minutes
Pasta cooking time: 10 minutes
Total cooking time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 pound fresh or packaged pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, washed, stems removed, peeled, cut into rounds
1 medium yellow onion, washed, stems removed, peeled, roughly chopped
8 large shiitake mushrooms, ends of the stems removed, washed, patted dry, roughly chopped
2 cups broccolini or broccoli, washed, cut into florets, the stems cut into slabs
2 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed, finely chopped
12 ounces frozen tomato sauce, defrosted on the counter overnight
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or pinch of cayenne (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Directions
1. Place a large pot of water on high heat. Add 1 tablespoon sea salt to the water. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta. Stir well every 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Place a heat-proof cup in the sink next to a large strainer. When the pasta is al dente to your taste, pour the pasta into the strainer, capturing one cup of the salted pasta water. Reserve.
3. Toss the cooked pasta to prevent clumping.
4. At the same time the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan on a medium flame.
5. Heat the olive oil.
6. Add carrots, onion, shiitake mushrooms, broccolini and garlic. Sauté until lightly browned.
7. Add roasted tomato sauce, butter and pepper flakes. Stir well. Taste. If salt is needed, add a tablespoon or more of the pasta water.
8. Simmer on a medium flame and reduce.
9. Taste, adjust seasoning and continue simmering if you want the sauce to be thicker.
10. When the sauce is the consistency you like, add the cooked pasta, coat well.
11. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more sea salt or black pepper.
12. Serve hot with a bowl of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Vodka Cocktail Watermelon Cool

Forest fires, raging political campaigns and COVID stay-at-home all add up to stress in an end of summer-time.

How to stay cool, calm and healthy as we wait out summer's heat and prepare for the fall.

You love summer but not when it is uncomfortably hot. For relief, you could go for a swim. Or, you could cut a thick slice of watermelon and let the sweet juices cool you down. Even better, you could fill a tall glass with a watermelon cocktail made with watermelon ice cubes and straight-from-the-freezer vodka and settle into the chaise lounge.
You stir the ice cubes. Bits of watermelon juice break free. The crystal clear vodka turns pink. You sip, stir and eat a watermelon ice cube and suddenly you are not overheated any longer.  Now, you are cool and happy.

The non-alcoholic version is as delicious. Fill a tall glass with watermelon ice cubes and pour in freshly made lemonade. Stir, sip and enjoy.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

Summer is good for watermelon. They grow quickly in the heat of the sun, producing fat, heavy fruit loaded with sweetness.
At the farmers market I was always told to use a hand to thump on the melon. When the sound was deep and resonant, the melon was ripe, ready to eat. If there is a farmer you frequent at your neighborhood market, ask for advice about a good melon that’s ready to eat.
Prices for watermelon vary greatly. At Asian and Latin markets, watermelon can sell for as little as 25 cents a pound. At upscale supermarkets and farmers markets, the prices can be significantly higher.
A melon is delicious at room temperature or ice cold. I like to chill the melon overnight in the refrigerator. Of course, the easiest way to eat watermelon is to use a sharp knife to cut out a thick slice.
When I was in Zurich I met Olivier Rais, a talented chef who runs the bistro Rive Gauche in the iconic hotel Baur au Lac across the street from Lake Geneva. He had just returned from working with Tal Ronnen, the celebrated chef who created Crossroads Kitchen, an upscale Los Angeles restaurant devoted to vegan cuisine.
Rais made several vegan dishes for me to taste, one of which was a watermelon-gazpacho served in a glass.
I love watermelon but had never thought of extracting the juice. When I replicated his gazpacho at home, I had watermelon juice left over. Deciding to experiment, I reduced the juice in a sauce pan over a low flame. Once the juice cooled, I poured it into a mini-ice cube tray.
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
That night I added the ice cubes to vodka that we keep in the freezer. I dropped in an espresso spoon, settled into a chair and stirred my drink. After a few sips, I realized that I had stumbled onto an easy-to-make, deliciously refreshing cocktail. Summer’s perfect drink.
Serve the cocktail with an espresso or small spoon. One of the pleasures of the drink is stirring the ice cubes. As the ice cubes melt, the watermelon juice infuses the vodka. The mellow sweetness takes the edge off the vodka.
As you stir, the ice cubes crater and reduce by half. Use the spoon to scoop up the icy bits. In an effervescent moment, the softened ice cubes dissolve like pop rocks in your mouth.

Watermelon Surprise

Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Use any size plastic ice cube tray. The mini-trays that make 1” square ice cubes work well because the ice cubes melt easily. Use only unflavored premium vodka, and for non-alcoholic drinks, add the ice cubes to glasses of carbonated water or lemonade.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Freezer time: 1 hour or overnight depending on the temperature of the freezer
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes or overnight and 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 (3-pound) watermelon, washed
8 ounces unflavored premium vodka
Directions
1. Place the vodka bottle in the freezer the night before serving.
2. Using a sharp knife, remove the rind from the watermelon. Discard.
3. Cut the melon into chunks, removing any seeds.
4. Place a food mill or a fine mesh strainer over a non-reactive bowl.
5. Press the watermelon chunks through the food mill or strainer, capturing all the juice in the bowl. Discard any pulp and seeds.
6. Pour the juice into a sauce pan over low heat. Reduce volume by 50%. Remove from stove. Allow to cool.
7. Pour the reduced juice into the ice cube tray.
8. Place into freezer.
9. Just before serving, pour 1½ ounces ice cold vodka into each glass. Place 5 to 6 ice cubes into each glass.
10. Serve with an espresso or small spoon.
Main photo: Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2020 David Latt
    

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