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: Pesto

Saturday night, Brad offered to make dinner, and I’m never one to turn down that offer! He’s actually a much better cook than I am because he’s more meticulous and pays more attention. I already had the meal planned out, so that was a bonus.

I had been reading about homemade pesto from lots of online friends, and since I got a basil plant at the farmers market a few weeks ago I wanted to try it out. Though my basil plant is flourishing the most out of all my plants, I still didn’t have enough fresh basil leaves. I pulled the largest leaves off the plant but wanted to leave the little ones and let them grow. My goodness! Fresh basil smells and tastes delicious! I added a bit of dried basil leaves.

The basil goes in the food processor – I guess I am using that a lot more than I used to – along with olive oil, pine nuts (or walnuts, but I prefer pine nuts), garlic, Parmesan cheese (please, not from the green can), and salt and pepper. Then…whir.

And…ta da! Pesto goodness. So much better than the jarred stuff. Fresh and light and tasting of summer. Pour the pesto on any kind of pasta and enjoy. You can also spread a little bit of pesto some bread, add cheese and make the most delicious grilled cheese sandwich.

Basil is actually my favorite herb because it is so good on everything, from pasta to sandwiches to breads…I’m very glad that I can grow my own and enjoy it all summer long. I’m hoping to make a lot of this pesto-y good stuff and can it for the winter months when I’m craving summer flavors. That’s the goal any way. I actually have a list of things that I want to stock up for winter, and I’m hoping with the move and everything that I will find time to get the canner out.

Pesto (recipe from allrecipes.com)

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pine nuts
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, blend together basil leaves, nuts, garlic, and cheese. Pour in oil slowly while still mixing. Stir in salt and pepper

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.

Handmade: Veggie Garden

For the past few months I have been debating whether or not I want to start a vegetable garden. Last year I literally spent months mulching a large area in our backyard (and I might add the area farthest away from the driveway where the mulch had been dumped – over one hundred wheelbarrow loads, I kid you not!). I started some seeds, which would have been successful in any other house. But starting seeds is very difficult when you have a cat who loves to eat plants and will climb any height to get at the tasty green morsels mommy for some reason likes to put on top of dirt, which is not so tasty but good for tracking all over the house. Yes. That is my cat Zoe.

Anyway, with the house on the market I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through all the effort to buy plants and take care of them, especially the weeding part, when someone else would most likely get the harvest. But I kept looking at the plot and the weeds growing up,

and it felt like the land was telling me it wanted a purpose in life. Boy, do I know how that is, so I couldn’t deny it a purpose. So I picked up a few plants at the farmers market last Saturday: two different varieties of tomatoes, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, and cucumber. And planted them.

These are the peppers.

But the five little plants only took up about 1/6 of the space. Now I know they will get bigger, but I left them plenty of room to grow, and now I keep envisioning more plants as I lie in bed in the mornings. I want to grow beans and strawberries, lettuce, and carrots.

Last year with all the weeding a mulching, I think I didn’t experience the joy of gardening, just the hard sweat and unending toil of gardening. Plus, I only grew three types of plants. And summer squash gets old after about 3 days. This year I am striving for much more diversity. Part of me is hoping to be around for the harvest but if the people who buy our house get to also enjoy lots of veggies, I will have to be satisfied with it. I will be in Chicago after all. And that is better by far.

Homemade: Mushroom Quesadillas

I have a friend from Mexico. Let me just tell you one thing about having a friend from Mexico: it’s awesome. For many, many reasons, but one of them is that every time I go to her house she literally “whips up” something fantastic. Oh, and also she has a never-ending supply of seltzer water but that is a different story.

A few weeks ago I was helping her run a garage sale and she made me brunch: mushroom quesadillas.Β  This recipe, in fact, that I am about to share with you.

First you need to prepare the mushrooms. Saute some diced onions in canola oil. Add a bit of minced garlic at the end and then add sliced mushrooms. I tried this with shiitake mushrooms the first time because I love shiitakes but the flavor was a bit over powering. It’s best to use cremini mushrooms. And make sure they are fresh. Then you will need a small can of these:

You want to pull out one or two of the chipotle peppers and dice them up nice and small because, let me tell you, these suckers are spicy! Add those to the mushrooms along with a teaspoon of epazote (which is a Mexican herb you may have to hunt for. I found it at Wal-Mart but I live in an area with a large population of latinos).

Once the mushrooms are nice and soft, heat up a frying pan to medium. Place one tortilla in the pan and add your mushrooms. Then top with cheese. My friend used queso blanco, but yesterday I used grated mozzarella and cheddar.

That’s it! A fantastic and very, very flavorful meal for lunch or dinner. Also please take notice, because I like to brag, that I made the tortillas also. I found flour tortilla mix at Wal-Mart, and the tortillas were pretty simple to make (much better than our previous attempts at making them from scratch – sometimes making from scratch is just not possible no matter how hard I try).

Mushroom Quesadillas (courtesy of my friend Karin)

  • 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 t. garlic, minced
  • 1 T. canola oil
  • 2 La Costena chipotle peppers, diced
  • 1 t. epazote
  • 1 c. shredded cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, queso blanco)
  • 8 small flour tortillas

Heat up the oil in a medium sized pot over medium low heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute more. Add the mushrooms, peppers, and epazote. Cook until mushrooms are soft.

Heat a frying pan on medium-high heat. Place a tortilla on the pan and then add the mushroom mixture on top of the tortilla. Top with cheese and another tortilla. Let the quesadilla heat up until the cheese is melted, turning once. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

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.

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.