She works with willing hands.

Sorbet and Watermelon Spritzers

I whipped up these slightly sweet and totally refreshing spritzers during a recent BBQ at our dear friends’ house.

watermelon spritzers

With eighteen adults and eighteen children (aged seven and under) in attendance, it was a sweet afternoon full of swinging, sliding, climbing, chasing, soccer,

girls soccer

fireworks,

 

fireworks

and tables full of good eats and drinks.  My kind of shindig.

The party hostess is an unbored housewife who grows her own garden, including fresh herbs, and these spritzers were a perfect use of her abundant mint.  I plucked the fragrant mint leaves straight from the plant and rinsed them just before adding them to the drinks.

To make the spritzers you’ll need a seedless watermelon, lime (or mojito) sorbet, fresh mint and seltzer water.  It’s easy stuff.

Start by using a melon baller and scooping out a bunch of pretty watermelon balls.  I don’t have a melon baller so I used a small ice cream scoop, which resulted in less than perfect melon balls – but I’m okay with imperfection.  I’m learning to embrace it.

Now put those watermelon balls into the freezer and let them freeze for several hours, or overnight.

When you’re ready to assemble the drinks, grab your sorbet.

sorbet

I was initially planning to use lime sorbet but I ran across this Mojito Sorbet and couldn’t resist.

Now place a few scoops in the bottom of a cup.  The more sorbet you use, the sweeter your spritzer will be.  Next grab your frozen watermelon balls and add three or four to the cup.

mint for sprtizers

Then take those lovely mint leaves, and roll them around in your hand just a bit.  Or you can slap the mint.

That’s right.  I said slap the mint.

You can slap it with a spoon, a stick, or your hands.  Don’t feel bad.  It doesn’t mind.

The goal is to gently bruise it, thereby releasing its pleasurable minty oils.  You just don’t want to crush it.  Roughly crushing mint releases a “grassy” flavor, which leads to a bitter spritzer.  Not so refreshing.

Now throw the bruised leaves in with the sorbet and watermelon, and pour in the seltzer water.

pour seltzer

Finally, take a big spoon, give it a nice stir, and pass it to your friend.  Now make one for yourself.

They’re a perfect summer drink.  Make some at your Fourth of July BBQ this weekend!

Trader Joe’s Highs and Lows

Happy Monday, ya’ll.  I hope you enjoyed celebrating the beloved daddies in your life yesterday!  I made my meat-and-potatoes-loving Jersey Boy a Father’s Day dinner of grilled steak, potatoes with dill butter, corn on the cob, and chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream with chocolate chip cookies for dessert.  Mmmmmmm – my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

But back to the matter at hand…

Today’s Trader Joe’s Highs and Lows is all about hand soap.

I confess – I have a hand soap obsession.  I buy new hand soaps often and hoard them in the cabinet under my kitchen sink.  I consider hand soap a tiny luxury – a moment of aromatherapeutic indulgence in the midst of the mundane daily task of washing tiny hands.  My current favorite is Meyer’s Clean Day Peony Hand Soap (because peonies are my favorite flower and they were just in season here in Pennsylvania).

Trader Joe’s carries a number of nice hand soaps, and one of them is today’s Trader Joe’s high – Trader Joe’s Herbal Blend Lemongrass & Clary Sage Liquid Soap.

tj's hand soap high

I like this soap a whole lot.  I keep it in Jersey Boy’s manly basement bathroom because it has a fresh, gender-neutral scent.  And a little goes a long way – you don’t need a huge pump, so the twelve ounce bottle lasts a good long time.  Plus, it is sulfate and paraben free, so you don’t have to worry about putting nasty chemicals on your little ones’ hands.

This next soap, however, earns the title of today’s Trader Joe’s low – Trader Joe’s Botanical Bounty Foaming Hand Soap.

tj's hand soap low

Yes, the eight ounce bottle is adorbs (it looks precious in my powder room) and the scent is pleasant, but the consistency of the soap drives me nuts.  It is watery and foams very little, making me feel like I need two pumps rather than one.  Me no likey that.

What is your favorite hand soap?

Strawberry Basil Ice Cream

Last week the littles and I went strawberry picking.  Strawberry season is short here in Pennsylvania, so we have to carpe diem if we want fresh local berries.  And these pretty little strawberries are really, really sweet…so much better than what we buy at the grocery store.

strawberries

I wanted to do something fun with my fresh berries, and while watering my garden I noticed how well my basil was growing.  Then it came to me…Strawberry Basil Ice Cream!  Two in-season local ingredients and one deliciously sweet result.

So I called my girl Lindsey.  That chick makes homemade ice cream all the time.  She’s sort of a guru.  She also has a sweet ice cream maker.

ice cream maker

I’ve got friends in high places.

I gathered my ingredients, loaded my offspring into the SUV, and hightailed it over to Lindsey’s casa.

Her youngest babe admired my freshly picked basil.  Just look at that sweet little chin.

strawberry basil ice cream

While our littles jumped on the trampoline with the sprinkler underneath it (resulting in a wet and wild and mildly dangerous trampoline experience) and I did my best to allow them to enjoy the thrill of it and not freak out at the thought of head collisions and broken bones – Lindsey and I concocted a recipe for our ice cream.

We used a few of the recipes in this cookbook as inspiration:

ice cream book

Game plan in hand, we gathered some small helpers to hull the strawberries.  Hulling strawberries simply means removing the green stem and leaves from the top of each berry.

b hulling

Yes, our small children were permitted to use miniature dull-ish knives to hull the strawberries.  Learn by doing, I say.  It’s the old-fashioned way.

Baby Girl was exceptionally enthusiastic about the process.

baby girl strawberries

strawberries in colander

Strawberries hulled, we cut the larger berries in half and then made a strawberry sauce.  We put the strawberries into a square baking dish with one-third of a cup of sugar, and stirred to combine.

strawberries and sugar

Then we popped the dish of berries into a 375 degree oven for eight minutes.  After eight minutes, we removed the berries from the oven and let them cool slightly.  Then we juiced three tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and added the juice to the strawberries.  Next we threw it all into the blender, pureeing it into some fantastically delicious strawberry sauce.

puree strawberries

We could have just stopped there and slurped down the sauce with a straw – it was INSANELY YUMMY.

But onward we went, next starting the ice cream base.  To make the base we used cornstarch, whole milk, heavy cream, sugar, light syrup and softened cream cheese.

First we created a slurry in a small bowl by combining one tablespoon plus one teaspoon of cornstarch with two tablespoons of whole milk and stirring well.

Then we combined the remainder of the two cups of whole milk, one and one-quarter cups of heavy cream, two-thirds of a cup of sugar and two tablespoons of light syrup in a medium saucepan, bringing it all to a low rolling boil on medium-high heat.  We left it at a low rolling boil for about four minutes, and then removed it from the heat and gradually stirred in the slurry.  Then we returned the saucepan to the heat and while stirring, allowed the mixture to boil for one additional minute.  Then we removed it from the heat.

Next we creamed three tablespoons of softened cream cheese in a large mixing bowl and then poured the hot liquid mixture into the bowl with the cream cheese.

pouring cream

We whisked until the cream cheese was well combined and the mixture was smooth.

Then we grabbed an even larger mixing bowl (or a small tub would do) and created an ice bath by filling it with cold water and ice.

After creating the ice bath, we poured the hot ice cream base mixture into a gallon-sized plastic storage bag.  Then we tore the basil leaves into small-ish pieces and threw them into the bag along with the ice cream base.  We sealed the bag well and submerged it in the ice bath, allowing the ice cream base to cool and the basil to steep for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, we strained out the basil leaves, turned on the ice cream maker, and poured the ice cream base into the machine.

Then we poured half of the strawberry syrup in with the ice cream base.

pour strawberry sauce

I want to lick my screen right now.

lick screen

After the ice cream churned for 20 minutes, it was ready to go into jars.

final ice cream

Lindsey swirled some of the remaining strawberry sauce on top of the ice cream, and popped the jars into the freezer for a few hours.

Later that afternoon, our kids’ beloved preschool teacher stopped by so that we could celebrate her birthday with some freshly made Strawberry Basil Ice Cream.

mrs. v

Friends, sprinklers, trampolines, freshly picked strawberries and basil, tiny bare feet, handmade birthday cards, a visit from our favorite teacher and homemade ice cream…it’s the stuff that perfect summer days are made of.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE STRAWBERRY SAUCE:

1 pint strawberries

1/3 cup sugar

3 tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice

FOR THE ICE CREAM BASE:

1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch

2 cups whole milk

1 and 1/4 cups heavy cream

2/3 cup sugar

2 tbsp. light syrup

3 tbsp. softened cream cheese

handful fresh basil leaves

Strawberry Picking

The littles and I picked small, sweet, juicy strawberries last week.

We hitched a ride with the farmer,

farmer

and got to pickin’.

pickin

Baby Girl ate more than she picked,

baby girl

diligently pinching off each green stem before she enjoyed the berries’ sweetness.

picking off stems

We picked some gorgeous cherries too, and this was our haul:

cherries too

And I used those sweet little strawberries to make Strawberry Basil Ice Cream, which was ah-maz-ing.  I’ll share that recipe with you later this week.

River Road Recipes

river road recipes

I grew up staring at this cookbook.  River Roads Recipes I, along with the second book, River Road Recipes II, were permanent fixtures in my mom’s (Mimi’s) kitchen.  She referred to them frequently, and her copies are well-loved and tattered.  And although she has since committed most of her favorite recipes from the books to memory, she still pulls them out when she’s preparing special holidays meals.

River Road Recipes I was first published in 1959 by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, and remains in print today.  Originally created as a community cookbook with recipes from the kitchens of Louisiana’s unbored housewives, it has since sold over 1.3 million copies, and the New York Times said of the book: “If there were community cookbook awards, the Oscar for best performance would go hands down to River Road Recipes.”

During my recent visit to Louisiana, I came across a copy of the book in my grandma’s kitchen, and spent my kids’ naptime hours reading it on Grandma’s front porch, sweet tea in hand.

river road recipes porch

Mimi prepared these recipes my entire life – it’s the food that I grew up loving – food that tastes like home.  My favorite recipes from the book include: Peanut Brittle, Snickerdoodles, Chess Pie, Fluffy Dumplings, and my all-time favorite – Yam Pecan Pie – best served at Thanksgiving.

If you have any desire to learn to cook the old-fashioned Louisiana way, River Road Recipes is the holy book of traditional Louisiana home cooking.  You can pick up a copy from the Junior League of Baton Rouge here.

(And please note that I have no personal affiliation with the Junior League of Baton Rouge.  They just make some darn good cookbooks.)

Guess Where I’ve Been…

For the past nine days, I unplugged and (but for a handful of short exceptions) had nothing but real world, face-to-face interactions…and it felt so good.  I love blogging and I’m thankful for the technology at my fingertips, but I also believe that periodic technology breaks are refreshing, and possibly even vital, for our minds and relationships.

During my tech break, I braved flying alone with my five-year-old, three-year-old and one-year-old (which should certainly garner me some sort of major award) and did the following:

1.  Ate mountains of fried catfish, spicy boiled shrimp and crawfish, and a biscuit or ten.

2.  Admired incredibly old oaks trees, with their gorgeous twisting branches, dripping with Spanish moss.

3.  Watched my kids get to know their great-grandmothers and discover with glee that they have a whole mess of cousins.

4.  Drank enough sweet tea and Community Coffee to keep me wired for weeks.

5.  Visited Mike the Tiger.

6.  Gained a pound or eight.

So, dear ones, can you guess where I’ve been?

Breakfast Dirty Rice

Dirty rice is a Louisiana dish that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  It’s called “dirty” not because it is tawdry and naughty, but because the white rice gets “dirty” when it is cooked with the browned meat.  I call this version “Breakfast Dirty Rice” because sausage is the only meat that I use in it.  Serve this up on a Saturday morning with a side of scrambled eggs and a biscuit for a proper Southern-style breakfast.

Here are the ingredients:

breakfast dirty rice ingredients

It’s simple stuff.  Those are little sweet peppers.  You can also use one red or one orange bell pepper.  The pretty canister contains plain white rice, and those are poultry sausage patties that I had on hand.  I crumbled them up as they browned, but I often use this sausage in my dirty rice:

pork sausage

Any ground breakfast-style sausage will do.

Plus this:

turkey broth

That’s two cups of frozen Homemade Turkey Stock.  I removed it from the freezer bag and plopped it into this bowl to defrost just a bit.  At the end I’ll throw the frozen chunks right into my pot where they’ll quickly melt.

You can also use store bought chicken or turkey broth, but choose something low sodium like this:

swanson

A low-sodium broth allows you to more easily control the salt content of your dirty rice.

Now find a large pot.  I prefer my cherry red Le Creuset.

red le creuset

First dice one large onion and your peppers.

Next turn your heat on medium-high and pour one tablespoon of vegetable oil into the pot.  When the oil heats up, throw your sausage into the pot and brown it well.

After the sausage browns, throw the diced onion into the pot.

brown sausage

Next throw in one-half of a tablespoon of minced garlic and your diced peppers.  Cook until the peppers are soft and the onions are translucent, stirring occasionally.

peppers in sausage

Now measure one-half of a teaspoon of black pepper.

one half tsp pepper

Sprinkle it into the pot.  Then measure one teaspoon of salt and add that in, too.

Stir well and then measure one cup of white rice.

one cup white rice

Pour the rice into the pot with the other ingredients.  Then add the two cups of turkey or chicken stock.

Stir well and bring it all to a rapid boil.  When it reaches a rapid boil, stir again, turn the heat down to low and cover.  Let the rice cook for roughly 25 minutes, or until the stock is absorbed and the rice is tender.  Then plate and serve!

dirty rice

This Breakfast Dirty Rice is a yummy way to change up your weekend breakfast routine.  Make some this Saturday!

INGREDIENTS

1 large onion

4 small sweet peppers <or> 1 red or orange bell pepper

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 lb. ground sausage

1/2 tbsp. minced garlic

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. salt

1 cup white rice

2 cups turkey or chicken stock or broth (low sodium)

Trader Joe’s Highs and Lows

Today’s Trader Joe’s Highs and Lows is a quickie.

My high:

This salsa is so tasty it’s bonkers:

mango salsa

Tonight I’ll make salmon tacos and this salsa will be the perfect accompaniment.  I often make my own Simple Mango Salsa, but on days when I don’t feel like slicing and dicing, this is a more than acceptable substitute.

The lovely part is that it tastes super fresh – sweet with just a little heat – and features straightforward ingredients (with no yucky preservatives).

It pairs beautifully with fish, and is a perfect topping for basic grilled chicken.

My low:

almond butter

I really wanted to like this.  Just look at the ingredients…

almond butter ingredients

I love it when I see a single item on an ingredient list!  It’s real food (minus all the unnecessary additives).  But, the truth is that it’s super bland.  It is salt-free, and while I’m certain that some folks would enjoy the basic nature of this almond butter, it’s a tad too vanilla for my taste-loving family.

There you go.  Today’s Trader Joe’s Highs and Lows!

Happy Monday, dear ones!

Total Butter Enlightenment

Yesterday I made Italian pizzelles with one of my favorite Italians – my friend Lindsey – and during the process she thoroughly enlightened me on the subject of butter.

If you’ve spent any time on this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I heart butter.  I cook with it, schmear it on good bread, place melty dollops on biscuits and corn muffins…I even make my own compound butter – like this Rosemary Butter.

I don’t fear butter, and growing evidence suggests that real butter may not be that bad for us after all.

But yesterday when Lindsey casually mentioned that she only uses Kerrygold butter, it was like a record scratched in her kitchen.

“What?” I asked.

She looked at me quizzically.

“I only use Kerrygold,” she repeated.

Then it dawned on her that I had no idea what she was talking about.

She darted to the refrigerator and pulled out a large pack of butter in a gold foil wrapper.  Next she pulled out a standard stick of generic butter.

She headed to her cupboards, dug around for a minute, and returned with some fresh bread.

She opened both packs of butter, laying them side by side, and I immediately noticed a difference in color.  The Kerrygold butter had a rich golden hue, while the generic butter was a familiar pale yellow.

kerrygold

She snatched one piece of bread and schmeared Kerrygold on one side and generic butter on the other.  And after sampling each side of the bread, my mind = blown.

The Kerrygold is SO MUCH BETTER.  Its flavor is rich, sweet and clean-tasting.  The wrapper reads: “In Ireland, cows graze on the green pastures of small family farms.  This milk is churned to make Kerrygold butter.”  Mmmmm.

So after our pizzelle adventure, I ran straight to my local Wegmans and grabbed some Kerrygold.  They also had this:

kerrygold garlic

I gave it a try.

taste test

It is tasty, no doubt, and I look forward to using it for sautéing some yummy veggies, but I gotta say that I prefer the original salted version.  Why mess with near butter perfection?

I’ve received total butter enlightenment, and I don’t think there’s any going back.

Lindsey’s Pizzelles

This is my friend Lindsey.

image

I could talk for days about how supremely cool this chick is – she is full of energy, creativity, kindness and love.  She is an unbored housewife, with four daughters to raise and a bustling household to manage, complete with mountains of laundry to fold and a mess of neighborhood kids hanging around.  But she does it all with style and a heart of service.  She works with willing hands.

She is also an amazing cook.  Because she rarely measures anything, most of her recipes are difficult to pin down and re-create.  But that’s always the way with great cooks, right?  They are led by their senses, tasting as they go, tweaking here and seasoning there.

Lindsey tells stories of watching her lovely Italian grandma prepare her real-deal, old school Italian food – lasagna, meatballs, chicken cutlets and sauce – always by memory.  Before her grandma passed away a few years ago, Lindsey was able to record some of her granny’s secret Italian recipes in this sweet little journal:

image (1)

I told you she has style.

Today I headed to Lindsey’s house, and while our little ones played on the trampoline, got wet in the sprinkler, decorated firewood with markers,

decorated log

and enjoyed hours of unstructured playtime (like your childhood – remember that?), Lindsey and I got down to the business of making pizzelles.

Pizzelles are traditional Italian cookies made by pressing a simple flavored batter in a pizzelle iron.  After cooling, the result is a crispy, golden-brown waffle-sized cookie with the pretty imprint of a snowflake.

They are delicate and charming, and I could eat them hand over fist.

Sometimes Lindsey rolls the still-warm pizzelles into the shape of mini ice cream cones (nom nom) and sometimes she leaves them flat, dusting them with powdered sugar (nom nom).  Today we did the latter.

We made the batter first.

Lindsey begins by melting one-half cup of Kerrygold butter in a small-ish bowl in the microwave.

kerrygold

[And as an aside, today I was thoroughly enlightened on the topic of butter.  Lindsey schooled me with a butter taste test, the results of which I will share with you later this week.]

After melting the butter, Lindsey grabs a medium-sized bowl and measures one and three-quarters cups of all-purpose flour.  To the flour she adds two teaspoons of baking powder.

image (2)

Then she stirs the dry ingredients.

image (3)

Then Lindsey grabs a large bowl, into which she cracks three large eggs.

Next comes the sugar.  Lindsey adds three-quarters of a cup of organic raw cane sugar to the eggs.  Then she whisks vigorously (emphasis on vigorously – she puts muscle into it) until the egg and sugar mixture thickens nicely.

Now she slowly drizzles the melted butter into the egg and sugar mixture, whisking periodically.  She then either (a) adds one tablespoon of vanilla extract, or (b) cuts open a vanilla bean and scrapes out its innards, adding them to the wet ingredients.

Then she gives the wet ingredients another good whisking.

Next Lindsey adds the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, working in batches,

image (5)

and being careful not to overmix – stir just until combined.

image (6)

We had some tiny hands to help us.

image (7)

Next we plugged in the pizzelle iron and let it heat up.  Lindsey’s pizzelle maker happens to be made by Cuisinart.

image (8)

Scoop roughly a tablespoon of the batter onto each side of the iron,

image (9)

and press down the lid.

Lindsey’s machine has a handy little light that changes from red to green when the pizzelles are done.  Easy peasy.

And there is the yumminess.

image (11)

image (10)

Those little fingers could scarcely wait for the cookies to cool.

image (12)

Aren’t they pretty?

Now for a dusting of powdered sugar…

image (13)

And as if this pizzelle situation wasn’t already pleasurable enough, next Lindsey made us some perfect cappuccinos in her fancy Nespresso machine.

image (14)

Oh ma gersh.

image (15)

Yes, please.  Don’t mind if I do.

image (4)

Can I come over every day?

And sweetly enough, those are Lindsey’s grandma’s dishes, inherited when granny passed.

Several times today Lindsey reminded me that we never know how long we have left with the people we love.  So get together, learn your elders’ recipes, sit down and share family meals.  Pass it all down to your kids.  It’s sweet stuff – just like these lovely pizzelles.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup salted butter

1 and 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

3 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 tbsp. vanilla extract OR the inside of 1 vanilla bean

powdered sugar, for dusting