Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Drinks for Everyone!

During the winter I drink tea. I love sipping on a nice, hot cup of herb tea. Come summer, I usually just go for water, but this summer I have had fun experimenting with some refreshing—and pink—drinks.

I started out trying to make a smoothie that I could pass off as “fun” and possibly even “ice cream” to my daughter. Out of my mouth came “Yogi Bear Milkshake.” Out of the blender came a mixture of fresh-frozen raspberries, vanilla coconut milk (like the beverage in a box, not the canned stuff for cooking) frozen bananas, and a touch of honey. It was bright pink, and delicious in it's simplicity. The kids loved them (please ignore the corn dogs:)

In Mexico, the agua frescas are addictive. Light, refreshing and full of natural fruit flavor-mango, pineapple, even cactus. I love watermelon, and after hearing about cold watermelon soup on Splendid Table, I decided to make a soup/agua fresca combo drink. Lynne Rossetto Kasper mentioned that she always adds citrus, some spice, a bit of fish sauce (!) and the sweet fruit to a cold fruit soup. I blended about 2 cups of watermelon with a squeeze of lime, a tbsp of sugar, a dash (¼ tsp) fish sauce and grated ginger (1 tsp). I then added a bit of mint as a garnish. It was so delicious—and pink!

Hibiscus juice is another beverage that I have had in the tropics, Mexico as well as Africa (in Mali they call it “dableni” or red mouth.) I decided that I needed an adult beverage (after all it is hump day!). I made sweetened hibiscus tea mixed with a ginger simple syrup. Then I poured some over ice, added a squeeze of lime, a splash ( a large one) of tequila and garnish with mint. Also pinkish.

I love summer, and am trying to make the most of it. What are you drinking this summer?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sweet Potato and Kale Gratin

I didn't have much faith in my ability to garden as I scattered seeds into barely thawed soil early this spring. My parents were avid, successful gardeners, and I have gardened most of my life (or tried). Every year however, I feel like my harvest is sheer luck. Some years the squash are prolific, some years they don't even flower. Some years the tomatoes ripen in mass, some years they succumb to blight. (The strawberries never, ever even set fruit. I think I'm gonna give up, but that's another story). This year my garlic bulbs are small, whereas last year they were quite beefy. It's not the size, though...right?

I've had great luck with kale this year. The seeds for the Russian blue kale that my mom sent gave rise to sturdy, beautiful leaves (perhaps because it's a gift from my mom?). I have watched them all spring with excitement--and actually some trepidation. Kale? Why did the kale have to do so well? Why not the melons (fail), or the strawberries (I'm having trouble letting go)? Who likes kale in this family but me?

Apparently, mixed with the right ingredients (read 'butter'), my entire family likes kale. Except the 3-year old--she only likes bagels with cream cheese and jelly. I headed to Smitten Kitchen's blog for ideas, and found a Chard and Sweet Potato Gratin. I substituted kale for the chard, and it turned out beautifully! The creamy sweetness of the heavy cream, butter and cheese perfectly complemented the hearty sweet potatoes and the tender kale. Yep, butter, cream and cheese. It's good. Here's the recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen. Happy harvest!

Serves 12

3 tbsp butter
1 large bowlful of kale, stems removed, leaves cut into 1-inch pieces
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups heavy cream or whole milk
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons flour
2 medium red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, ancho chili powder
1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) coarsely grated Gruyére cheese

Prep greens: Heat 2 tablespoons butter in skillet over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Add kale, pinch of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook, stirring, until vegetables are tender but not browned, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper then transfer greens to a colander to drain well and press out liquid with back of a large spoon.

Make sauce: Combine cream or milk and garlic in small saucepan; bring to simmer; keep warm. Melt two tablespoons butter in a medium heavy skillet over moderate heat and stir in flour. Cook roux, whisking, one minute, then slowly whisk in warm cream/milk and boil, whisking, one minute. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Assemble gratin: Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter deep 9×13 baking dish. Put a bit of bechamel on bottom of dish. Spread half of sweet potatoes in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, a quarter of the herbs and a kale. Top with remaining bechamel sauce, herbs, half the cheese, then remaining sweet potato pieces. Sprinkle with the last bit of cheese and ancho chili powder if desired.

Bake gratin for about 40 minutes (I cooked covered about 30, uncovered last 10)until golden and bubbly, and most of the liquid is absorbed. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.