Saturday, August 25, 2012

Chilled Basil Mint Soup

On a hot summer day, starting the meal with a chilled soup is very refreshing.  In fact, having an entire dinner that is chilled or served at room temperature is a great idea.

You may recall having read my prior post on Cena Fredda, the traditional cold Italian supper usually served outdoors.  I made a delicious cold salmon as the main dish on that post, and it would go quite well if you start off with the below recipe for chilled basil mint soup.  Thankfully, you can prepare all of the meal in the early morning hours before it gets too hot.  Then when supper comes, you can quickly move it outside into the shade and enjoy a feast fit for a Roman emporer.

Of course, the most famous cold soup is probably Gazpacho, which has ancient roots. It likely arrived in Spain and Portugal with the Moors or was brought in by the Romans, nobody is quite sure.  But once in Spain it became a part of Andalusian cuisine.  There are many modern variations of gazpacho, often in different colors and omitting the tomatoes which we think of in the classic Gazpacho soup, and replacing them with avocados, cucumbers, parsley, watermelon, grapes, meat stock, seafood, and other ingredients.   So this basil mint soup could be thought of as just a variation on the Gazpacho theme.

The below recipe is one that I adapted from one published in Martha Stewart Living.  The recipe is largely the same, but I substituted Greek yogurt for the sour cream and reduced the water just a bit to complensate.  The hot sauce is optional, but do try to use at least a drop or two in the soup, which will give it just a bit of flavor yet still be very mild.  For those that like their summer chilled soup to make them sweat, use the full 1/2 teaspoon! 


1 cup Greek yogurt
 1/2 cup fresh basil
 1/2 cup fresh mint
 1/4 cup sliced scallion
 1/2 cup water
 1 English cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, and chopped
 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco

1. Puree yogurt, basil, mint, scallion, and water in a blender. Add cucumber. Pulse until just combined but still slightly chunky.
2. Stir in lemon juice and hot sauce, and season with salt.
3. Chill soup at least 3 hours (soup is best served the same day).

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Grilled Sea Scallops and Hasselback Potatoes

If you read the blog regularly, you know my fondness for 'one grill meals' and with friends coming to dinner on the patio, I wanted to make something simple yet elegant that didn't require me to run in and out.  With the appetizers premade and the cocktails ready to pour, it was a simple matter to get dinner cooking on the grill so I could spend time with my guests.

My meal started with the roasting of the Hasselback potatoes, then was followed by placing my previously prepared skewered scallops wrapped in bacon right alongside.  During the final eight minutes of cooking, I tossed on the oiled asparagus and dinner was complete!

Bacon Wrapped Scallops
Sea scallops grill quickly and as such can use some protection during cooking over a hot grill.  While they are delicious on their own, I do enjoy them wrapped in good quality bacon.  When purchasing your scallops there are a few important tips you need to consider and I discussed those in a prior post which you can read here.  To wrap the scallops in bacon, precut it to the size you need to wrap around the scallop.  Some bacon is very wide and you will do well to cut it in half lengthwise so it is approximately the same height as the scallop edge.  Each scallop will only take about half of a length of bacon and you don't want to make it a double thickness, so also cut the bacon to the appropriate length allowing just enough for a small overlap. 

With Peppered Bacon Ready for Grilling
Place the cut pieces of bacon on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350F oven for 3-5 minutes, until the bacon is partially cooked but not crisp.  Remove and let cool and then wrap each piece around the perimeter of the scallop.  Run the skewer through the scallop where the bacon overlaps and out the other side, and then add another.  I usually place four to six sea scallops per skewer (and per person), which is quite sufficient because the richness of this dish.  Mist the raw scallops with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with a little sugar, salt and pepper.  The sugar will aid in browning.  Grill over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes per side, turning once.  While the scallops are cooking, in a small metal pan, heat some butter with chopped garlic.  Dot cooked scallops with the garlic butter when ready to serve.

Hasselback Potatoes
Hasselback Potatoes, also known as Accordion Potatoes, were originally a Swedish dish named after Hasselbacken, a Stockholm restaurant which first served the preparation in the 1700s.  After becoming a favorite of the people in Stockholm and Sweden, the popularity of the dish spread around the world and remained popular into the 1980's among Swedish immigrants.  The dish has rather died out and I never see it on restaurant menus anymore, but perhaps is enjoying a come back with cooking enthusiasts.

Julian's Hasselback Potato on the Grill
The basic traditional Hasselback Potatoes recipe calls for potatoes with garlic powder, red pepper flakes, olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper.  Additional herbs were also used depending on preference and availability.

Whatever ingredients you use, the technique of slicing the potato thinly but not quite all teh way through (so the potato holds together in cooking) is the same.  Here I sliced the potatoes and placed finely chopped fresh garlic between some of the slices, sprinkled with olive oil, fresh ground black pepper and sea salt.  I roasted the on the grill for about 45 minutes with the cover closed and an internal temperature of approximately 400F.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Julia Child Remixed

Well I rarely release a mid-week post on the blog, but something BIG  has happened. It is the 100th birthday of famous kitchen diva, Julia Child. If you haven't seen the "Julia Child Remix" on YouTube, you really must.  It is wonderful and heart warming.  Have a look and you'll be watching and singing along with Julia (yes, they make her appear like she's singing a modern song) time and again!

Happy Birthday Julia Child!
We miss you.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dog Days Refreshing Cocktails

With August in full swing and it being one of the hottest, driest summers here in the U.S. Midwest, I've been serving up a number of new cocktails.  Nothing is quite so refreshing in the sultry dog days of summer than a chilled cocktail along side a savory appetizer.  So if you are in need of a little summer refreshment, consider the following.

Blackberry Mojitos
If you are like me, you have a cupboard full of different alcohols that were purchased for a specific recipe.  Blackberry brandy is one of those in my cupboard.  So with some leftover blackberries from a dessert recipe and some inspiration from a fellow food blogger, I created this recipe.  Simply muddle (crush) the blackberries with some sugar, a few mint leaves and a bit of lemon juice to combine the flavors and dissolve the sugar.  Add equal parts blackberry brandy and rum (I used one shot of each per person) and stir.  Separate into rock glasses add ice and fill with tonic water.  Give it a quick stir and garnish.  For those that don't like solids in their cocktail, strain the muddled mixture when pouring into your glass.

Pimm's No. 1 Cup

With the Olympics in London this summer, and as Kevin and I had visited England for 10 days just prior to Queen's Jubilee, we have very much enjoyed this famous British cocktail, evening bringing a commemorative bottle home with us.  It's a very simple quick cocktail to prepare if you have some fresh fruit and the Pimm's on hand.  Pimm's is a gin-based drink containing quinine and a secret mixture of herbs.  This was originally sold as an aid to digestion but now has become part of the local culture.  We first enjoyed a Pimm's fruit cup while strolling the beautiful lawns of the Glyndebourne Opera Festival.  Pimm's No. 1 is usually mixed with "English-style" (clear and carbonated) lemonade, as well as various chopped fresh ingredients, particularly apples, cucumber, oranges, lemons, strawberry, and mint. Ginger ale is a common substitute for lemonade but you can also use any lemon-lime soda.  While you can use any proportion of ingredients, keep in mind that Pimm's is 25 percent alcohol by volume, so a little goes a long way.  Nothing tastes better on a hot summer day!


The national cocktail of Brazil, we picked up this little gem while vacationing in Rio.  There are many varieties of this cocktail, although the classic is made with made cachaça (sugar cane rum), sugar (preferably raw sugar) and lime.  Place the cut (and seeded) limes in your glass with the sugar and muddle (crush) to release juices and dissolve the sugar.  Fill the glass with ice and pour the cachaça over the ice.  Stir and serve.

As I find it difficult to get a good quality cachaça, I instead typically make the variation on the drink called a Caipiríssima.  It is a caipirinha made with rum instead of cachaça, and for this I often use a dark rum, Cruzan being my favorite.  The technique is the same but I do add some tonic water which makes the cocktail more refreshing.  If you can get a piece of sugar cane to use as the stir, so much the better!

Melon Rumballa

I came across the Melon Rumballa on Pinterest and I've been enjoying variations on a theme all summer long.  The original recipe by Lauren Fister is quite good.  But for my cocktail schedule, the process is too long and complex for most afternoons.  So below I give you my favorite two quick recipes for this great summer drink. 
Prepare ahead note:  Make melon balls (using the small side of the melon ball tool) in advance using multiple melon varieties.  Place the balls in a zippered freezer bag and freeze them in a single layer.  Then you can take them out and drop them into the drinks quickly as you need them.

In a rocks glass, place six small melon balls.  Add the fresh squeezed juice of one quarter lime (not more).  Add one shot coconut rum or one shot watermelon vodka, plus a half shot of plain unflavored white rum.  Add a sprig of fresh mint, two ice cubes and top up the glass with tonic water.  Use a sturdy cocktail pick to stir.  Guests will use the pick to spear and eat the melon balls as they thaw.  Refreshing!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Salade Niçoise: A Mission to the French Riviera

With the heat of summer upon us, I'm taken back to my summer visits to France's south coast.  While it's a lovely region it can be quite hot in the summer and a cold but hearty Salade Niçoise is always welcome midday or as the sun sets into the glorious Mediterranean sea.  It is the specialty salad of the Côte d'Azur and named for the city of Nice.

Kevin shopping in Nice's Old Quarter
Some history buffs suggest choreographer George Balanchine was instrumental in its development while staying in Monte Carlo, while others credit the housewives of the Nice area. I'm doubtful of the Balanchine connection, otherwise we'd call it a "salade Balanchine" much as we have named the Cobb Salad after its inventor.

Julian in Monte Carlo
Salade Niçoise, made famous in the USA by Julia Child, has the salty robustness of the Mediterranean coast.  Like the colors of the region, a well made Salade Niçoise is characterized by the area's bold flavors; the sort of meal you enjoy sitting seaside in Nice, with a big sun hat and big, dark sunglasses, a cold glass of wine, a piece of crusty bread and the smell of sea air.

To be true to its origins there should be garlic in the dressing, although Julia doesn't include it. Heyraud, author of La Cuisine à Nice, wrote in 1903 that the true Salade Niçoise should contain quartered artichoke hearts, raw peppers and tomatoes, black olives and anchovy fillets. The dressing should be olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard and chopped 'fines herbes'. You'll note the lack of lettuce, which Julia and many others include, and most alarming, no tuna, which seems to be a signature of this salad when made in America.

My Ingredients for Tonight's Salade Niçoise
Now you might think Julia "Americanized" this salad to please our palate, but in fact in my experience no matter where you go in Nice or the surrounding area, you'll get a different version of Salade Niçoise not just in each town, but in fact in each restaurant in the same town.  The same is true of Paris, where I had a wonderful Salade Niçoise that had some of the most delicious canned tuna I've ever had.  However, if you are trying to find that Niçoise you had on your last trip to the region, that you recall as the best you've ever had, give up.  No two Salade Niçoise seem to be the same! But don't despair; they are all good!

While Julia Child was in France she too came to love this dish saying "Of all main-course salads, the Niçoise is my all-time favorite, with its fresh butter-lettuce foundation; its carefully cooked, beautifully green green beans; its colorful contrast of halved hard-boiled eggs, ripe red tomatoes, and black olives; all fortified by chunks of tunafish and freshly opened anchovies."

A Single, Dinner-sized Portion of my Salade Niçoise
So below I provide you Julia Child's original recipe (from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One), but do change it to meet your own tastes.  Go big and add some garlic to the dressing, if you like.  Throw in some raw bell peppers, and chop some fresh basil or other good herbs from your garden to add to the dressing.  And if you do use the tuna as Julia suggests, consider a premium brand like American Tuna.  I purchase this at Whole Foods and one 6 ounce can is good for two dinner salads.  It is by far the best tasting canned tuna available and in a salad like this where it is simply chunked and served without other preparation, having a good quality tuna is very important.  I prefer to use just a small amount of Boston lettuce placing it on the bottom of the salad bowls and arranging the ingredients on top.  She calls for French Potato Salad, but I made up a dill dressing, which  I prefer.  So improvise to your tastes.  Do make sure you follow her advice and dress the lettuce, green beans and tomatoes separately before assembling. 

Ingredients  (For 6 to 8 people)
3 cups cold, blanched, green beans
3-4 quartered tomatoes
1 cup vinaigrette dressing
1 head Boston lettuce, separated, washed and dried
3 cups cold French potato salad
1 cup (2 six ounce cans, after draining) tuna chunks, drained
1/2 cup pitted black olives, preferably the dry Mediterranean type
2 or 3 hard-boiled eggs, cold, peeled and quartered
6 to 12 canned anchovy filets, drained
2 to 3 Tb minced, fresh green herbs

Just before serving, season the beans and tomatoes with several spoonfuls of vinaigrette.  Toss the lettuce leaves in a salad bowl with 1/4 cup vinaigrette, and place the leaves around the edge of the bowl.  Arrange the potatoes in the bottom of the bowl.  Decorate with the beans and tomatoes, interspering them with a design of tuna chunks, olives, eggs, and anchovies.  Pour the remaining dressing over the salad, sprinkle with herbs, and serve.