Melon Soup

By Lisa

Over the weekend I went on a juicing binge brought on by an unexpected CSA delivery, which brought us an extra melon,which brought our household total to 3 ripe melons. Usually its no chore to eat one in a day, but all three of these beauties weren’t going to wait. So I brought out my Breville juicer, which is the only thing in my life I’ve ever won, and which is a pretty great machine. It’s lightning fast and powerful, and we do use it all during citrus season.  But because it takes an awful lot of (often expensive) produce to make juice, and I don’t love cleaning the pulp, I don’t use it regularly.   Most days, I’d much rather hand an apple (or plum or carrot) to the kids and just say, “Eat.”  But when I met my husband, he drank all sorts of juice and smoothies, and this was long before Kris Carr (who, for the record, I think is pretty terrific. I contributed to her site here.)   So in the spirit of economy and nostalgia, I broadened my juicing repertoire.

First, I chopped up the watermelon and passed it to Ella, who had a great time feeding it to the maw of the machine. It happened so fast I didn’t get a picture of the juicing or the juice, but believe me when I say there is nothing more refreshing on a 90 degree day than ice cold watermelon juice.

Then, we went to work on the melon, which I chilled and served after dinner with a spoonful of vanilla yogurt and a strawberry garnish.  Kory and I thought it was great. The kids, not so much.. But I saved their portions and the melon soup made a great, drinkable breakfast for me the next morning as I made the kids pancakes.  I think the soup would work nicely as an appetizer, too, served in  little shot glasses with a  garnish of creme fraiche (or greek yogurt) and some cubed, fried pancetta. I will get back to you on that.

For now, if you have any quickly ripening produce, I suggest the juicer.  I am going to get to work on those tomatoes soon.

Also: I’d love to know: what do you juice?

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

by Caroline

A friend of mine reviews reviews for websites; you read that right: if you write a product review of an item you buy online, chances are she or one of her colleagues will vet your review before it is published, checking for inappropriate language, slander, and other no-no’s. But even acceptable reviews are often riddled with punctuation and grammar errors, and I often think of my friend, waging a lonely, one-woman battle against misplaced modifiers and comma splices. The excerpts she posts on Facebook every day — especially the ones with grammatical errors that introduce unintentionally hilarious meanings (think, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”) — make my day.

But it’s got me thinking about recipe-writing and reviewing. I use recipe websites all the time, and often use the reviews to guide my choices, but I’m always amazed (and kind of amused) at the reviews that say something like “This cake was terrible!! I cut the sugar by 50%, replaced the butter with pureed prunes, and used wheat germ and ground flax instead of white flour; it was so dry! it wasn’t nearly sweet enough! I won’t ever make this again!!” (Online reviewers always use multiple exclamation points). Yes, well, serves you right, I think.

I adapt recipes, and I do often cut sugar or replace shortening with ground flaxseed meal, but usually not until the second time around. It doesn’t seem right to tinker until I really understand what the recipe’s doing. And when I tinker, I’ll let you know so that you can make your own decisions about the changes.

The chocolate zucchini cake recipe I made this week from Epicurious has a raft of reviews and for some reason this time they really drew me in. As usual, a number of reviewers simply praised the recipe; others (helpfully) explained changes they made and their result; others criticized the recipe after make unsuccessful changes; and then — my favorite — others told off the critics who had made ill-advised substitutions:

“Yep, if you start making substitutions, don’t blame the recipe.”

And even better:
“Did anybody actually make THIS cake???? By the time you make all the substitutions and revisions, it’s not the same cake. Who gives a rat’s behind about what everyone did to alter the cake, just RATE THE DAMN THING! Whooo, now that i got that off my chest, yes, I do feel better. Incidentally, the cake I made using THIS recipe, was fabulous.”

I have to agree. I made this cake and it is good.

Panna Cotta Ice Cream

by Lisa

Most summers we go a little nuts for ice cream. I have two ice creams makers (traditional and soft serve) and it’s not been unheard of for me to whip up a batch of ice cream at least once a week.  Caroline makes more than her share of  ice cream in the summer, too.

But this year, we were gone most of the summer. We did come back with some great food memories and at least one amazing recipe, but we didn’t do a whole lot of summer cooking. In fact, I missed the farmers market this summer more times than I’ve missed it in the past ten years combined.   Thankfully, it’s warmer than ever here (which is usually the case every September where we live) and summer produce is still at its height. This has meant a lot of grilling, a lot of tomatoes, a lot of dinners outside, and, finally, finally, ice cream.

This recipe is my new addiction, and one of the best ice creams I’ve ever made. Come spring, we can’t get enough panna cotta, and this recipe is its high summer equivalent. I came to it because I had some leftover buttermilk and a lot of strawberries.   Technically, of course, panna cotta is not a flavor, but a method of cooking (it means “cooked cream”). But this ice cream is the cold, summer version of our our favorite buttermilk panna  cotta, and you do cook the cream, so panna cotta ice cream it will remain.  But it doesn’t matter what you call it as long as you make it.  This is a nearly perfect ice cream: not too sweet, perfectly creamy, and it won’t completely exhaust your egg supply.

Panna Cotta Ice Cream with Warm Strawberry Sauce

For the ice cream (makes 1 quart)

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup bakers sugar*
  • 1 cup cold buttermilk

For the strawberry sauce (serve 4)

  • 1/2 pint fresh strawberries
  • 1-2 tablespoons water
  • 1 heaping tablespoon bakers sugar
  1. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until well blended.
  2. In a saucepan, gently heat the cream and sugar, whisking until the sugar is just dissolved.
  3. Transfer half of the cream to the egg yolks and whisk to lighten yolks and blend.
  4. Pour yolks and cream back into the saucepan and heat, stirring gently, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.
  5. Strain into a large bowl. Add the butter milk and stir to blend well.
  6. Chill the buttermilk cream mixture several hours–or preferably overnight.
  7. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturers directions.
  8. Just before serving make the Strawberry Sauce:
  • Hull and quarter the strawberries.
  • In a small saucepan, combine strawberries, water, and sugar.
  • Heat gently until a thin glaze develops and strawberries are slightly soft.
  • Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and serve warm over ice cream.

*Note: I’ve taken to using bakers sugar for my ice cream, which is a very fine grain sugar. It measures the same as regular sugar, but it dissolves much more easily. For ice cream, this means you need less heat, and therefore have less chance of scrambling the eggs.

Extra Easy Peach Tart

by Caroline

The last time I saw my friend Yuka, Ben was just a few months old. He’d been crying all day when she arrived, stopped for the length of her visit, and then started back up again when she left. Frankly, it made me feel like crying, too.

After the earthquake and tsunami last spring, I checked in with all my people in Japan and quickly, happily heard back that everyone was ok — except for Yuka. As a reporter for Reuters, she travels a lot, and we’ll go ages without contact, but still, it weighed on me, and I was hugely relieved when she emailed that she’d be in town this week. I wanted to make something special for dinner, but with a day full of back-to-school activities, I didn’t have a ton of time.

Enter my daily Food52 email with this peach tart recipe from Amanda Hesser. She had me at “To make it all you need is a knife, a bowl, and some kind of pan.” A tart without finicky requirements? Yes, please. This recipe is easier than pie: it’s as easy as cake. Get a bowl, gather ingredients, stir, slice, bake. It was ready to go into the oven before the oven was hot enough to bake it. And any recipe that makes it easy for the kids to help is a winner in my book, too:

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

by Caroline

Whenever members of my family get together, we eat, and if we’re going to be visiting each other for a few days, we count up the meals in advance and start planning what we’ll cook and eat together (we have already, despite having more important things to do, begun emailing a little bit about Thanksgiving).

My Dad doesn’t do too much cooking, but when we gather at my parents’ home, he plays an important role in our food conversation by telling us what’s coming from the garden or what he’s got stocked in the freezer, also letting us know when some food is producing at oppressive levels (at the moment, ripening peaches cover every flat surface in the kitchen, the wood stove, and one spare bed) or whether we need to clear out last year’s frozen whatever-vegetable to make room for this year’s crop. It’s kind of like walking into an episode of Iron Chef, the one-ingredient cooking challenge, except I get lots of ingredients, and no stop clock. It’s great.

At my parents’ last week, one of the products to use was rhubarb, and my Mom had already emailed me a recipe from the New York Times in anticipation of my visit. I am a big fan of upside-down cakes, as you might have noticed; I’ve posted recipes for ones with cherries and pears (with a terrible picture), though I think my favorite is still this apricot upside-down cake, which I picture here. They are usually pretty easy, always moist, and have that great caramelized sugar-crust edge. I have to admit, this one is a bit fussier than what I would make just for my own family, but for my Mom — who taught me how to bake — anything. And besides, it’s completely delicious.

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, more to grease pans
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, rinsed and sliced into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1/3 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons lemon juice.

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and sides of the pan. Wrap two layers of foil under the pan, and place it on a buttered baking sheet.
2. In a medium bowl, mix rhubarb, cornstarch and 1/2 cup granulated sugar.
3. Mix the brown sugar and 1/2 stick butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk until smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.
4. Whip 2 sticks butter in a mixer with a paddle attachment for 2 minutes. With your fingers, blend the remaining 1 cup sugar with lemon zest until the mixture is uniform in color. Cream together with the butter at medium-high speed until it is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl halfway through. Add the vanilla and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the sour cream, then the lemon juice. (It’s O.K. if the mixture looks curdled.) With the mixer set to low speed, add the flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, until well combined. Scrape down the mixer bowl in between the additions.
5. Pour the brown-sugar mixture into the cake pan, then spoon in the rhubarb and its juices. Spoon in the batter so it covers all of the rhubarb. Smooth out the top.
6. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the top of the cake is firm to touch and a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out without any large, moist crumbs.
7. Place the pan on a wire rack, and cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the cake, place a plate on top of the pan and turn it upside-down. Release the cake from the pan while still warm or else it will stick.
Yield: 8 servings.