Homemade: Watermelon Granita

Summer = watermelon.

But sometimes I get a little over-excited about watermelon season and start to buy watermelons before they’re really at their peak. This happened a couple weeks ago when I bought a seedless (seedless was my first mistake) watermelon. It was definitely not juicy enough to warrant summer watermelon excitement. So what do you do with an entire non-juicy watermelon that no one is going to eat? I first considered just tossing it…until I found a recipe for watermelon granita.

Watermelon granita is like watermelon sno cone but way better. It’s a good way to get rid of a watermelon but it’s a little time consuming for my taste. That’s why I got my husband to make it. πŸ™‚

Here’s what he did:

Chop up the watermelon.

Then blend it.

Then strain it.

Then add the zests and juice of two limes. After you use them up the limes look like this.

You also add a sugar syrup mixture. Stir it all together and stick it in the freezer. After two hours the granita will start to get slushy. After that point, you need to stir it every half hour or so. If you don’t stir, it will just turn into a rock of watermelon ice, so stirring is essential.

I forgot to get a picture of the final product so here’s one I found on teh intarweb.

Feed to little children and they will eat it like this…

…and scream very, very loudly if you take it away from them.

Watermelon Granita (from Grow Organic, Cook Organic)

  • 1 whole watermelon
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • finely grated rind and juice of 2 limes

Cut the watermelon into quarters. Discard most of the seeds, scoop the flesh into a blender and process the watermelon quarters in small batches.

Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small pan, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the syrup into a bowl. Allow the syrup to cool, then chill until needed.

Strain the watermelon puree through a sieve into a large plastic container. Discard the melon seeds. Pour in the chilled syrup, lime rind, and juice and mix well.

Cover and freeze for 2 hours until the granita mixture around the sides of the container is mushy. Mash the ice finely with a fork and return to the freezer.

Freeze for a further 2 hours, mashing the mixture every 30 minutes until the granita has a slushy consistency.

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Homemade: Guacamole

Avocados are one non-local food that I find myself craving every once in awhile: a few times to use for sandwiches or omelets but usually to make my famous guacamole. I’m pretty sure that my recipe is based on something I found on All Recipes but I can’t seem to find the original right now. Anyway, I’m pretty sure I changed it up a bit anyway.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Start with the avocados. You’ll want to use avocados that have a black skin, and when you lightly squeeze them, they should feel a little bit soft. A green skin means that the avocado is not ripe yet, and if the avocado is very soft, the green meat inside will be turning black and not taste as fresh. If you aren’t going to be using the avocados the day or day after you buy them, get ones with green skin and wait for them to ripen.

Cut the avocado the long way around. Hopefully you can see what I mean from the picture.

Then you will need to remove the pit. This little trick I picked up from Alton Brown. Good Eats = best. cooking. show. ever.

Anyway. First you want to hold the avocado half with the skin down in the palm of your hand. Then carefully but firmly swing your knife blade into the center of the avocado pit. The knife should stick in the pit.

Carefully twist the knife from side to side to remove the pit. Now you have a pit stuck to your knife. DON’T grab the pit with your palm facing the blade! Instead put your hand over the top of the knife and use your fingers to push the pit off the knife, like so:

Now you will need your handy dandy food processor. A good friend gave us this as a wedding shower gift. I hadn’t even thought to add it to my registry. And honestly I only use it to make guacamole and maybe once or twice for other things throughout the year. But it’s worth it for the guacamole alone!

So, into the food processor goes the scooped-out meat from two avocados (that’s four avocado halves), mayonnaise, minced garlic, onion powder, lime juice, salsa, and lots and lots of cilantro. The cilantro is what makes it so don’t hold back.

Whir it all together – is whir even really a word? Well, I’m going to use it. Go ahead and whir like crazy. Alton Brown recommends that you leave it a bit chunky, but I like my guacamole nice and smooth.

Spoon that beautiful goodness into a dish and enjoy with chips. Here’s another guacamole caveat. I heard that if you place a pit in the guacamole it keeps it from browning sooner, but the dear husband says that it’s just “urban legend” or whatever. I still think it works, and it makes the dish looks pretty so I do it.

The BEST Guacamole

  • 2 avocados
  • 3 T. mayonnaise
  • 2 t. minced garlic
  • 1 t. onion powder
  • 1 t. lime juice (or lemon if you really must)
  • 2 T. salsa
  • 2-3 T. of cilantro (or more if you’re awesome! I don’t really think you can put in too much)

Mix together ingredients in a food processor. Store in the fridge.

Homemade: Mozzarella Cheese

The past month or so I have been trying my hand at homemade cheese. I first heard about making cheese from Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – which is a fantastic, five-star read. Before that I never would have thought of making cheese. I always thought about cheese as a base product, like milk or salt, you can’t make it. You just have to buy it. But, oh buddy, I was wrong.

I bought Ricki Carroll’s book, Home Cheese Making, and flagged some of the first cheeses I wanted to make. Things I learned first: (1) Softer cheeses, like ricotta, cream cheese, sour cream, and mozzarella, are the easiest to make. (2) You must use milk that has not been ultra-pasteurized. Other than that, any kind of milk is okay. (3) Make sure you have all the necessary ingredients first. You can get the oddball ingredients like calcium chloride, citric acid, and rennet from Leener’s ( I – HEART – LEENER’S).

The only recipe I’ve mastered (or tried, for that matter) so far is 30-minute mozzarella. And really, I did make mozzarella in thirty minutes today. Yay! Once I got it down (took about three tries because I didn’t add salt to the first two batches) it’s very simple. Start with a large pot and one gallon of milk. You will need a thermometer as well:

Heat the milk slowly to 55 degrees Farenheit. Then add the citric acid (dissolved in cool water). Heat to 90 degrees Farenheit and add the rennet (dissolved in cool water). Then stir every once in awhile and keep heating to 105 -110 degrees. At that point, turn the heat off but keep stirring every once in awhile until the mixture looks like this:

Curds separated from the whey. The whey should be yellowy and translucent. Scoop out the curds into a bowl.

Then press down the curds and pour off the whey. Microwave the curds for 20 seconds and then knead them like dough (in the bowl). Also, at this time add about 1 tsp. or salt (sea salt or kosher salt, not iodized salt).

Once the cheese/curds cool off a bit while you are kneading them, microwave again for 20 seconds. The cheese gets pretty hot so be careful. Knead again and microwave again until the cheese can stretch out like taffy and not break. Then roll into balls and place in ice water for 30 minutes or so.

You can store this in the refrigerator for several weeks. It is a bit softer and more difficult to slice and great than store-bought mozzarella, but dare I say, more tasty than the store-bought. Plus, you can tell friends you made it and they will revere you as a great domestic queen (or king). Oh yeah. πŸ™‚ Something like that.

Homemade: Butter

Sorry for my blogging absence, folks. I’ve been sidetracked by our hopefully-soon-move to Chicago. No offers on the house yet, even though we’ve had lots of lookers in the past few days. Everyone seems to like the house, but no bites yet. I’ll be up in Chicago looking for an apartment next week, so I’ve been spending most of my free time scouring Craigslist for apartments in our price range. We have an application in on another great one that my parents visited this past Monday. It would be absolutely wonderful if the accepted us! I’ve also been searching for a new home for one of the dogs, as we can’t have all three in an apartment. I have several possibilities there as well, so things are looking better, even though I’m still anxious for something to happen (hopefully that something would be the selling of our house).

This past week I discovered a new food love: making butter. This all started as a joke, with one of my friend’s stating that he just churned the butter he brought to our small group meeting. Then everyone commented, “That sounds like something Kristen would do.” Oh yes, friends, I am the hippie of the bunch. Well, when I saw a butter making kit on Leeners (man, do I love Leeners), I knew I had to have it. Now, as much as I love Leeners, the butter making kit was a bit of a disappointment because basically all you need to make butter is a jar. Here’s how to do it:

Fill said jar about 1/2 to 3/4 full of heavy whipping cream, and then shake. That’s it. Shake. And shake some more. It works best if the cream is room temperature first, and you don’t have shake fast. After about 20-30 minutes the cream will start to thicken and turn into whipped cream (go figure). The jar will feel really light at that point but a few more shakes and you will feel the cream thicken even further. After about a minute, the butter will separate itself from the rest of the cream. The liquid is now “buttermilk” and the solid is “butter.” Dump out the buttermilk into a separate container (save this and make buttermilk pancakes…YUM!) and then add some ice water to the butter and shake for another minute.

Fill a bowl with ice water and put the butter in the water. Use a spatula or small spoon to push down the butter. This part is necessary to remove the buttermilk from the butter. Leftover buttermilk will make the butter go rancid very quickly. Dump the ice water when it gets cloudly and add more ice water. Repeat until the water remains clear.

Now you can store your butter in a butter keeper. This container allows you to keep butter (go figure) without refrigeration. You fill the top portion with butter and the bottom portion with ice water. Then you tip the top over into the bottom. Some of the water will be displaced, but this is what creates a water-tight seal between the two parts of the container. Now your butter will stay soft and fresh for 30 days.

This Saturday I found a handmade butter keeper at our local farmer’s market. It is beautiful (sorry for no picture – I am lazy). I almost kissed the potter for making it! Yeah, I get a little excited about food-related items.

Kitchen Necessities

I am currently in MY city, Chicago (that’s right, I decided that it is now mine), so I haven’t been cooking too much but since it was my birthday yesterday I have had fantastic meals since we arrived: dinner from my favorite Chinese restaurant (plus birthday canoli) on Saturday and grilled burgers and dogs (plus birthday ice cream cake and an enjoyable time watching Juno) last night.

Today I wanted to share with you my most beloved tools of the kitchen, things that my kitchen runs on that I absolutely couldn’t live without.

First on the list: olive oil. Our house practically runs on olive oil (hopefully, someday we will have a car that runs on veggie oil but that is another story for a different time). I don’t have a favorite brand or anything, as long as it is extra-virgin and organic. Once we move up to Chicago, I know there are folks from Canaan Fair Trade who sell Palestinian olive oil here, so I would love to try out that stuff. For now I use olive oil to cook almost everything (just not for frying): Brad’s famous hash brown potatoes, sauteed portobello mushrooms, sauteed onions and garlic for soup. You name it; it’s better with olive oil.

Secondly, I might get a lot of flack for this, but I love pre-diced garlic in the jar, organic of course. I know I’m Ms. Make-Everything-From-Scratch, but dicing garlic just seems like such a tedious and annoying job to me. It’s not so much the dicing part but the peeling-off-the-skin part. It takes me like 10-15 minutes just for the garlic. Now, when searching for a photo I came across a blogger who pre-diced all her garlic from the garden/farmer’s market and canned them in small jars at the end of the summer. I could probably go for that. We’ll see if it happens at the end of this summer. For now, I love being able to scoop out a tablespoon of garlic whenever I want, and that happens to be almost every meal, and at least every dinner.

And third would have to be my beloved spice “rack.” I have tried three or four different ways of storing spices over the years: one of those little spinny things with slots for the jars, a bar with a hanging basket, little jars stacked in the cupboard, and finally these magnetic metal tins. You can buy these jars from Bed Bath and Beyond for $2 a piece. Then fill with a spice or herb, label that back with a silver Sharpie, and stick to your fridge. It’s absolutely amazing! I have lots more space in my cabinets and I can see all my spices without them taking up precious counter space. The best thing about the tins is that there is a hole in the side of the tin and then two sets of holes on the side of the lid. So if you twist the lid, you can line up on the holes and shake out some curry or cumin or onion powder without having to open up the tin. That might not make sense to you, but, trust me, it’s pure genius.

In which I am ready for sleepytime tea and my blankie…

It’s been a whirlwind of a day. I feel like I’m in overdrive – going from one thing to another without breaks in between. But one more jam-packed day and then we are on our way to Cali. Hopefully that will give me some kind of a break.

Brad found this unique artist the other day: Chris Jordan. He uses his artwork to portray statistics. Here is one of the most amazing ones I think. Of course I find it very interesting because I’m all for a national health care plan.

Depicts nine million wooden ABC blocks, equal to the number of American children with no health insurance coverage in 2007:

Close-up on one block:

The Justice of Food Part One

Who knew that what you eat has a huge impact on the lives of others? This topic has numerous issues associated with it, but today I just want to talk about corn.

“The government spent $41.9 billion on corn subsidies from 1995 to 2004” (New York Times). Billions of dollars more are being promised for the next five years (Washington Post). So what does that mean?

Well, it means several things :

1. American corn is unnaturally cheap.

Sounds like a good thing until you realize that this means that we push out other products because of this cheap corn. How could a corn-grower in Mexico compete with corn from America which farmers can afford to set at a low price because they get extra money from the government? This means that the corn-grower in Mexico cannot sell corn in Mexico (because American corn is exported to Mexico) or in America (where American corn abounds). American consumers might think, “This is wonderful that corn is so cheap because I can feed my family with it” but that consumer is really paying for the corn twice: once at the grocery store and again when she pays taxes.

2. Corn is in everything.

“Of 10,000 items in a typical grocery store, at least 2,500 use corn in some form during production or processing.”

“We’re producing way too much corn. So, we make corn sweeteners. High-fructose corn sweeteners are everywhere. They’ve completely replaced sugar in sodas and soft drinks. They make sweet things cheaper. We also give it to animals. Corn explains everything about the cattle industry. It explains why we have to give [cattle] antibiotics, because corn doesn’t agree with their digestive system. It explains why we have this E.coli 0157 problem, because the corn acidifies their digestive system in such a way that these bacteria can survive.” (Matthew MacLean, Christian Science Monitor).

These are only a few of the problems caused when corn products are used in everything. On a personal note, I try to only drink Mexican Coke if I’m having a soda because it is made with real sugar, which is so much better tasting than high fructose corn syrup!

3. Farmers are limited in what they can grow.

This New York Times article put out on Saturday relates the frustrations of one farmer who wanted to grow fruits and vegetables for his consumers at the local farmers market. He rented land from corn farms to grow even more fresh fruits and veggies. But because farm land that has received subsidies for corn must be used to grow corn, these corn farmers may be penalized financially and this vegetable farmer also lost a lot of money.

On a personal note, my hubby told me that there is a shortage of hops (used to make beer) because hops farmers realized they could make more money growing corn with subsidies. My home-brewing husband is saddened by this turn of events.

Diversity and competition have always been hailed as important aspects in our economy, but it seems that their importance is in name only. Go ahead and call me a libertarian, but why can’t the government simply let consumers drive the market?

So what can we do?

Really, I’m not sure. What I do know is that as a Christian, it’s important that every decision I make benefit (or at least, not harm) other people. So farm subsidies are an important issue. They impact the farmers, not only in our country but in much poorer countries who could benefit from selling their products in our country. They impact consumers who pay taxes for these subsidies. They impact our children who eat products loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. So, corn makes a difference. Who knew?