Sichuan “Fish Fragrant” Eggplant with Bacon

Sichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Eggplant is a fickle fruit. It is technically a fruit and not a vegetable, despite its savory leanings. Its flavor can be unpleasantly bitter. Its texture can be too chewy or too mushy if it is over or under cooked. It can act like a sponge when it’s in a pan with oil, becoming heavy and sodden.

Sichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

And yet its popularity persists.

Probably because when eggplant is done well, like in this Sichuan dish, it can be tremendously good.

Sichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

In general, I like to cook with the long skinny Chinese and Japanese varieties of eggplants rather than the fat and round Italian varieties. In my experience, they tend not to be bitter and have a firmer, denser texture. (But you can still use Italian eggplants here if you have them.)

Sichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Despite its name, fish fragrant eggplant contains no fish or fish sauce. Instead, it uses the same pungent mix of hot, sour, salty, and sweet flavors that are traditionally used for cooking fish and seafood in Sichuan cuisine.

Sichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

This dish is traditionally deep fried, and I have little doubt that it is delicious when prepared that way, but I don’t deep fry anything on a weeknight, and this dish is too good to save for the rare occasions I’m willing to deal with disposing of a vat of hot oil. Instead, I soak the eggplant in water for about 20 minutes and then rub it with cornstarch before sautéing it in a small amount of oil in a hot wok until it’s browned on the outsides and tender in the middle (a technique I learned from Maggie at Omnivore’s Cookbook).

Sichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

This recipe is adapted from Fuchsia Donlop’s Every Grain of Rice, a great book for anyone looking to get started with approachable Chinese home cooking. I’ve made vegetarian versions of this dish, sans bacon and with water subbed in for the chicken broth, and it’s pretty great that way. But it turns out I like it even better when it’s got some smoky bacon added.

And Dan emphatically concurs.

Sichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Bacon, as far as I can tell, is not a traditional Sichuanese ingredient, but pork certainly is, and I’ve seen many versions of this dish that use ground pork for meaty oomph. One day I had some extra strips of smoky, thick-cut Nueske’s bacon in the refrigerator that I didn’t want to go to waste and decided to cut it into little pieces and toss it in the wok and then cook the eggplant in the bacon fat. After that, I haven’t made it any other way.

Sichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

This is some of the best Chinese food that I’ve ever produced at home. It’s become one of my favorite things to make during eggplant season. Somehow, the combination of Sichuan chili bean paste, Chinkiang (black rice) vinegar, ginger, garlic, and scallions (oh, yeah, and bacon) turn the humble, fickle eggplant into something deeply savory and addictive.

Sichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSichuan "Fish Fragrant" Eggplant with Bacon from Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Sichuan “Fish Fragrant” Eggplant with Bacon

Adapted from Fuchsia Donlop’s Every Grain of Rice

Despite its name, this dish contains no fish or seafood products (hence the scare quotes). The name refers to the preparation, which is typically used for fish in Sichuan cooking. I prefer to use long skinny Chinese or Japanese eggplants here, but it will work with Italian varieties if that’s what you have. Dunlop recommends deep frying the eggplant, but in my version I lightly sauté it, which I find easier. The Sichuan chili bean paste can be tricky to track down. The most widely available brand of chili bean paste, Lee Kum Kee, is Cantonese rather than Sichuanese and not quite right for this. If you can’t find any of the Sichuan stuff locally, it’s available onlineThe other ingredient that’s probably less familiar to western cooks is Chinkiang vinegar, which is also called black vinegar or black rice vinegar. I found mine at Golden Pacific, a Thai grocery store in Chicago, but of course it’s also available online. If you want to make this vegetarian, you can omit the bacon and substitute water for the chicken stock. I like to serve this with jasmine rice.

1 1/4 pounds (600 grams) eggplant, cut into large bite-sized pieces (about 2-inch cubes or slices)
3 thick-cut slices of applewood smoked bacon, cut into 1/2-inch bits
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated on a microplane
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 tablespoons Sichuanese chili bean paste
2/3 cup chicken stock (or water)
2 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
2 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar
4 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
neutral oil (such as peanut, canola, or grapeseed)

Place the chopped eggplant in a saucepan or bowl and cover with water. Place a tight fitting lid or plate over the saucepan or bowl to keep the eggplant submerged (the eggplant tend to float up to the top, so do this over the sink to avoid spills). Let sit for 20 minutes. Drain the eggplant in a strainer and toss with 2 teaspoons of cornstarch, rub in to coat. In a small bowl mix the remaining teaspoon of cornstarch with one tablespoon of cold water to make a slurry and set aside.

Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the bacon in a single layer and cook until crisp at the edges, this should only take a few minutes. Remove the bacon from the wok with a slotted spoon or spider and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the fat in the wok (if you’re skipping the bacon, add some oil to the pan). Return the wok to the stove over high heat and add the eggplant. Sauté until the eggplant is browned on all sides and softened in the middle. Remove the eggplant from the wok and set aside on a plate.

Return the wok to the stove over high heat. Add a few tablespoons of oil and the chili bean paste and stir-fry until the paste is fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry until they are fragrant, another 30 seconds to a minute or so. Add the chicken stock (or water) and sugar and give everything a stir. Add the eggplant and bacon and bring the sauce to a simmer. Stir in the cornstarch slurry and simmer for another minute or two to thicken the sauce. Stir in the Chinkiang vinegar and scallions. Serve.

This is great warm, but leftovers hold up well, either cold or reheated.

Yield: About 4 servings

 

Peach-Apricot Brown Butter Buttermilk Buckle

Peach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

In the summer, I love rustic fruit-filled baked goods. I’ve eaten my share of crisps and crumbles and cobblers, but until recently, I was unfamiliar with the buckle.

Buckles are crisps’ and crumbles’ cakier cousin. A buckle is similar to a torte or a coffee cake that’s been loaded up with fresh seasonal fruit. The center is so dense with fruit that it stays moist almost like a bread pudding while the edges get crisp and golden.

Peach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPeach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

I wanted to make a dessert to take to one last dinner with our dear friends Maria and Tracy before they packed up and moved across the country to Seattle. If the world is divided into cake people and pie people, they are definitely pie people. But while a buckle is a cake, I think it’s a cake for pie people.

Peach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPeach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

I had some apricots and peaches from the farmers market. I find fresh apricots to be inconsistent, and in their raw form these were only average, but when baked, even mediocre apricots become something special, sweet-tart and perfumey. I also had a couple of spectacular peaches that had gone a little too soft to eat out of hand. I didn’t want them to go to waste. I knew they would be just the thing to toss into a buckle.

Peach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPeach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPeach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

I like to peel peaches before baking with them, but apricot skins are delicate enough that they practically disappear in the buckle so I don’t bother peeling them. In this buckle, the apricots and peeled peaches get sliced and go into a thick batter enriched with brown butter and tenderized with tangy buttermilk.

Peach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPeach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPeach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

The whole thing goes into a parchment lined springform pan and is sprinkled with a cinnamon scented pecan streusel before it goes into the oven and makes the kitchen smell wonderful.

Peach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPeach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPeach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

This buckle is incredibly flexible. You could use all apricots or all peaches or combine them with other fruit. It would work with just about any stone fruit or berries. I think it would be lovely with the plums that have been coming into season.

Peach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPeach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

You could use walnuts or almonds or hazelnuts in the streusel or omit the nuts altogether if you prefer. You could skip browning the butter if you’re pressed for time. And while I haven’t tested it, I’m pretty sure it would work with a any standard all-purpose blend of gluten-free flour. But whatever you do, add this buckle to your homey summer baking repertoire. It’s becoming a staple in mine.

Peach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPeach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPeach-Apricot Buttermilk Buckle. A homey comforting dessert perfect for low key gatherings. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Peach-Apricot Brown Butter Buttermilk Buckle

Adapted from The Joy of Cooking website

This buckle is a rustic fruit-laden cake. It would work with just about any combination of stone fruit or berries. The buttermilk helps to tenderized the crumb and adds a tangy note to balance the sweetness of the cake. You can skip browning the butter if you’re in a hurry, but if you do have the time, I suggest giving it a try. It adds some nice depth of flavor. Peaches should be peeled before going into this–the easiest way to peel very ripe peaches is to blanch them in boiling water for about a minute and then run them under cold water–the skins should just slip off. The skins of most other stone fruits are thin and tender enough that they don’t need peeling. I like to use turbinado (raw) sugar in the streusel topping, but any granulated sugar is fine.

For the streusel topping:

1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

For the cake:

3 cups total of a combination of sliced peaches and apricots (or any berries or stone fruit)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, browned
1 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray.

Make the streusel topping. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, flour and butter. With a fork or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the cinnamon and pecans.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate mixing bowl, mix the brown butter and sugar until combined. Add the egg and mix until combined. Stir in the buttermilk and vanilla extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in the fruit.

Spread the batter evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan with a spatula. Sprinkle the streusel over the top.

Bake for about 55-60 minutes, or until the buckle is a deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: One 9-inch round buckle. About 8 servings.

Cocoa Nib Semifreddo #frozenfridays

Cocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

For the month of August, it’s been #frozenfridays here on the blog. Every Friday I’ve been posting about a frozen treat. So far, I’ve featured Thai iced tea popsicleslime popsiclespassion fruit-pineapple popsicles, and mint chocolate sorbet. For the final Friday of August: cocoa nib semifreddo! 

This cocoa nib semifreddo might be the easiest fancy dessert I’ve ever made. It has three ingredients (well, four if you count the pinch of salt), it requires about 10 minutes of active work, and it doesn’t require any special equipment like an ice cream maker–you just need some kind of mixing apparatus (anything from a stand mixer to a hand held mixer to a whisk) and a standard loaf pan.

Cocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netCocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

You also need a little bit of patience. This is incredibly easy (if you’ve ever whipped cream you can definitely handle this), but it isn’t quick. It needs to chill in the refrigerator overnight and then freeze for another five or six hours at least. I’ve discovered there are many recipes including no-knead bread and 36-hour chocolate chip cookies that let time do the heavy lifting for you. These slow and easy recipes are some of my favorites. They require a little bit of planning ahead, but the payoff for the work involved is tremendous.

Cocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netCocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Semifreddo comes from the Italian for “partially frozen” (I am reminded of ordering many a cappucino freddo at the snack bar on campus when I was studying abroad in Italy and Rinaldo, the owner, chiding me for my American pronunciation…”Ah, ah, ah, Maria. Non e ‘fray-doe.’ Fred-do.”) It’s a rich, creamy dessert that’s similar to ice cream but with a softer and lighter texture. It’s tough to admit this, but I might even like it better than ice cream.

Cocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netCocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

This semifreddo uses cream infused with cocoa nibs (also called cacao nibs), which are bits of dried and roasted cocoa beans, and is sweetened and stiffened with white chocolate. The resulting flavor is a delicate whisper of chocolate that reminds me a little bit of a classed-up frosty.

Cocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netCocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

White chocolate gets chopped up and placed in a heat safe bowl. The cocoa nibs and a pinch of salt get added to the cream in a sauce pan and brought just to a boil. Then the saucepan is removed from the heat, and the bowl of white chocolate is set over it to melt the chocolate while the cocoa nibs steep in the cream for about 20 minutes.

Cocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netCocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Then the cocoa nibs are strained out and the warm infused cream is poured over the melted white chocolate. The whole thing is whisked together until it’s smooth, and then it goes into the refrigerator to chill overnight. The next day, the mixture gets whipped into a fluffy mass and poured into a wax paper lined loaf pan which goes into the freezer until it’s firm enough to slice without losing its shape (which takes at least five hours and it’s probably safer to allow for at least eight hours or overnight).

Cocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netCocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Then just before serving, the whole thing comes out of the loaf pan and is ready to be sliced and plated. This is the sort of dessert that would be perfect for a dinner party, because it can be made ahead of time and hang out in the freezer until you’re ready for it. If you want to make it extra fancy, you could add some raspberries or a drizzle of chocolate sauce to the plate, but I don’t think it needs any of that.

Cocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netCocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

This is one of those desserts that’s pretty much perfect as it is.

Cocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netCocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netCocoa Nib Semifreddo. An easy and elegant dessert. Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Cocoa Nib Semifreddo

This semifreddo is made from just three ingredients: cocoa nibs, white chocolate, and heavy cream (plus a pinch of salt). I think of the combination of the cocoa nibs and the white chocolate and cream as a sort of deconstructed-reconstructed milk chocolate. This semifreddo is my own creation, but I credit Alice Medrich’s excellent chocolate book Bittersweet with inspiring me to play around with ingredients like cocoa nibs in the first place. Medrich got me thinking about using the nibs to infuse whipped cream and got me thinking about a new approach to chocolate in general. (Medrich is my chocolate guru, and I’d recommend any of her books, including Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts for anyone looking for new dessert ideas.) Cocoa nibs, sometimes called cacao nibs, are available at higher end grocery stores like Whole Foods. They’re also available online. Semifreddo is a sort of frozen mousse, like ice cream with a lighter texture. Unlike ice cream, it’s whipped before it is frozen, and it doesn’t require any churning in an ice cream maker. I used a stand mixer to make this, but a hand mixer will definitely work here. You could even whip it by hand with a whisk for a little upper body work out. Just be sure to transfer it into a large bowl before whipping to allow for the increase in volume.

12 ounces (340 grams) white chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (2 ounces, 55 grams) cocoa nibs
3 cups (700 grams) heavy cream
pinch of salt

Place the chopped chocolate in a medium heat safe bowl. Place the cocoa nibs, heavy cream, and salt in a sauce pan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil and remove from heat. Place the bowl of white chocolate over the sauce pan (it should rest about the cream, like a double boiler–if you don’t have a bowl the right size to sit on your sauce pan, you can cover the sauce pan with a lid, and melt the white chocolate in 30 second bursts in the microwave). Let the cream and cocoa nibs steep for 20 minutes while the white chocolate melts. Pour the cream mixture through a fine strainer over the white chocolate. Discard the cocoa nibs and whisk the white chocolate and cream together until smooth. Let cool, then cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, remove the mixture from the refrigerator. Transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or to a large bowl and use a hand mixer). Mix on medium speed until it holds soft peaks. Line a standard loaf pan with wax paper and pour the whipped mixture into it, smoothing out the top with a spatula.

Freeze until firm enough to slice. At least five hours, preferably eight or more.

When ready to serve, remove the semifreddo, wax paper and all, from the loaf pan and place on a cutting board. Slice with a sharp knife. Serve.

Yield: One 9″x5″ loaf pan. About 12 servings, depending on how you slice it.

 

 

Mint Chocolate Sorbet #frozenfridays

Mint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

For the month of August, it’s #frozenfridays here on the blog. Every Friday I’ll be posting about a frozen treat. So far, I’ve featured Thai iced tea popsicleslime popsicles, and passion fruit-pineapple popsicles. This week: mint chocolate sorbet!

I have a confession to make. I’m not really into the whole mint and chocolate combination. I’ve never disliked it, exactly, but it’s never been one of those things I crave. Mint chocolate chip has always been my father’s favorite flavor of ice cream, but ever since I was a kid, I could take it or leave it. I’m lukewarm on York Peppermint Patties, too. And while, I, like just about everyone else I know can inhale a sleeve of Thin Mints, I was always more likely to break into a box of Tagalongs or Samoas or even the less popular but addictively salty Do-Si-Dos.

I feel like that makes me sound incredibly unfun.

Mint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

But wait! Don’t give up on me yet.

I’ve found a place where I don’t just tolerate the combination, but where I actively seek it out. In fact, it’s one of my favorite sorbets ever.

Mint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netMint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

I used to think sorbets should stick to fruit flavors and that flavors like chocolate were merely pale imitations of ice cream intended to appease the low-fat crowd. But this mint chocolate sorbet, which is my spin on David Lebovitz’s chocolate sorbet from his excellent ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop, feels every bit as satisfying as a chocolate ice cream. In fact, it feels deeper and more intensely chocolatey, because there’s no dairy to blunt the chocolate flavor.

Mint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netMint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

It gets its intensity from both cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate and, I think this is key, it gets its mint flavor from real fresh mint leaves. There’s no artificial mint extract to be found here. The flavor is natural and light and refreshing.

Mint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netMint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

The mint leaves go into a pot with some water and sugar and glucose syrup (optional, but helps the texture) which is brought to a boil to dissolve the sugar and then covered and removed from the heat to steep for 20 minutes.

Mint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netMint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Then the mint gets strained out, the cocoa powder gets whisked in, and it goes back to a boil to bloom the cocoa powder to bring out it’s flavor. Then that all gets poured over chopped bittersweet chocolate, which gets all melty and then gets stirred in.

Mint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netMint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Then the whole thing goes into the refrigerator to chill down overnight. The next day it gets processed in an ice cream maker. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you could pour the chilled mixture over ice for a fantastic cold chocolate drink (like hot chocolate, but for the summertime).

Mint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netMint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

After it’s processed, the sorbet gets packed into containers and goes into the freezer. And then, well, then, it gets eaten.

Mint Chocolate Sorbet. An intensely rich and chocolatey sorbet with a refreshing hint of garden mint. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netmintchocolatesorbet20

Mint Chocolate Sorbet

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop (one of my all-time favorite ice cream books)

This mint chocolate sorbet made me come around on the mint chocolate flavor pairing. It’s dark and intensely chocolatey. The fresh mint keeps the flavor natural. You can use either semisweet or bittersweet chocolate. I usually use bittersweet, which is the darker of the two. If you like things on the sweeter side, go with semisweet chocolate here. I like to use glucose syrup in my sorbets to help keep them a bit softer and more scoopable. You can substitute corn syrup (I don’t think it’s evil when used in moderation in the occasional homemade dessert) or you can replace it with the same amount of sugar. Be sure to chill the mixture down until it’s very cold (it won’t freeze properly in the ice cream maker if it isn’t at or below 40ºF). If you don’t want to wait till the next day to have your sorbet, you can speed up the chilling process by pouring the mixture into a zip top bag and submerging it in an ice bath. It should be cold enough to process after about 30 minutes.

2 1/4 cups (555 ml) water
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
1/4 cup (80 g) glucose syrup or corn syrup
1 cup packed mint leaves (approximate)
3/4 cup (75 g) unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch process), sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (170 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped in small pieces
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan add the sugar and the mint leaves. Gently press the mint leaves into the sugar to help extract the oils. Add 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) of the water and all of the glucose or corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for about 20 minutes. Strain out the mint leaves and discard.

Return the mint syrup mixture to the saucepan, add the cocoa powder, and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Once it reaches a boil, keep it boiling for about 1 minute, stirring all the while. Remove from heat.

Place the chocolate pieces in a heat proof bowl. Pour the mint and cocoa mixture over the chocolate and let sit for a few minutes to melt the chocolate, then whisk until the chocolate is thoroughly melted and mixed in.

Stir in the remaining 3/4 cup (180 ml) water and the vanilla extract. Chill the mixture overnight (or pour the mixture into a zip top bag and submerge in an ice bath for 30 minutes), until it reaches 40°F or below. Sometimes the mixture develops a thick layer on the top as it chills overnight–just whisk it in before you add it to the ice cream maker. Process in an ice cream maker.

Eat.

Yield: About 1 quart

Bacon Cheddar Scones

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Bacon. Cheddar. Scones. Those three little words tell you all you really need to know about this savory breakfast pastry.

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

During my many years as a vegetarian, I heard many many meat-eaters wax on about the wonders of bacon and claim that they could never endure life without it. To be honest, it was one of those refrains that was so common it became tedious.

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

But, there’s a reason that sentiment is so oft repeated. Bacon is delicious. I could endure (and indeed have endured) plenty of years without it, but now that it’s back in my life I realize it brings just the right hit of salt, smoke, fat, and umami to certain dishes that nothing else can quite replace.

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

In these scones, bacon, along with cheddar cheese and chives, get added to a rich buttery batter that’s tenderized with buttermilk.

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

They get patted into a square, wrapped up tightly, and go into the refrigerator for a rest for a couple of hours. Then they get cut into rectangles, placed on a Silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheet, rewrapped, and go into the freezer for an overnight slumber.

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

These resting periods allow the flour to hydrate and the flavors to develop. They also make the scones much easier to shape. If you’ve ever fought with a soft sticky scone batter and ended up with more of it on your hands than in the pan (ahem) the chilling and freezing technique is revelatory. Yes, it takes some planning ahead, but it’s not actually extra work and it saves plenty of frustration.

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

They come from Thomas Keller and Sebastian Rouxel’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook, which is a book that often reads more like a pastry instruction manual than a book for home bakers, which is probably a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing. It has precise, detailed instructions along with tips for professionals sprinkled throughout. It’s a great book for home bakers looking to further develop their technique, but may not be the best book for someone who’s just starting out.

I’d had my eye on these for a few months, but I didn’t want to make them because I suspected that having a dozen of them around would be dangerous (I was right). So I brought them with me to a brunch at my friend Kelly’s place where I got to hang out with her adorable still-very-new son, Stuart, and a bunch of fun ladies.

I recommend making these when you can share them, unless you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like bacon… or cheese… or fun…

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Bacon Cheddar Scones

Adapted from Thomas Keller and Sebastian Rouxel’s Bouchon Bakery

These scones make a great savory addition to the breakfast or brunch table. They’d be great along side (or sandwiched around) some eggs. Keller and Rouxel say this is the most popular scone at Bouchon, and I’m not surprised. I like to use Nueske’s applewood-smoked bacon, which I’ve found at Urban Orchard and Gene’s Sausage Shop in Chicago, but I’m pretty sure any bacon you like will be just fine. These do need to be started a day ahead of time, but the great thing is that in the morning the only work you need to do is pull these out of the freezer and put them into the oven, which makes them perfect for brunch with company.

300 g (2 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
27 g (2 tablespoons pluse 3/4 teaspoon) sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
132 g (4.7 ounces, about 1 stick plus a generous tablespoon) cold, unsalted butter cut into 1/4 inch cubes
71 g (1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) heavy cream, plus extra for brushing the tops
89 g (1/3 cup) buttermilk
340 g (12 ounces) applewood-smoked bacon, cooked, drained and cut into 1/8-1/4 inch pieces (the weight is for the bacon before it’s cooked)
180 g (2 1/2 cups) grated white cheddar cheese, divided
10 g (1/4 cup) chives, minced
Freshly ground black pepper

The day before you want to have the scones, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on very low speed until combined, about 30 seconds (if your mixer doesn’t handle low speeds well and tends to send dry flour flying, you can whisk these together by hand, then add to the mixer). Add the butter and mix on the lowest speed to begin incorporating the butter into the flour mixture, about 30 seconds. Bump the speed up to low and mix for about 3 minutes, or until the butter is in large-crumb to small-pea sized bits and is just incorporated into the flour mixture.

With the mixer running on low speed, pour in the cream and buttermilk, and mix until the dry ingredients look moistened and the mixture starts to form a ball. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the bacon, 144 grams (2 cups) of the grated cheddar, and the chives and mix on low speed until well distributed, about 1 minute.

Line a baking sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment paper and place the dough in the center. Cover it with plastic wrap and, using your hands or a dough scraper, press it into a 7 x 9 inch square.  Wrap the baking sheet in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Remove from the refrigerator, unwrap the pan, and peel the dough away from the Silpat or parchment and place on a cutting board (return the Silpat/parchment to the baking sheet). Cut the block of dough in half lengthwise, and then cut each half into 6 rectangles. Place each rectangle on the baking sheet, leaving about an inch between them. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and freeze overnight.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the scones from the freezer and remove the plastic wrap. Brush the tops of the dough with heavy cream and sprinkle on the remaining 36 grams (1/2 cup) of cheese. Crack some black pepper over the tops. Bake until the scones are golden and the cheese on top is melted and browned, about 35 minutes.

They’re best the day they are made.

Yield: 12 scones

Passion Fruit-Pineapple Popsicles #frozenfridays

Pineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

For the month of August, it’s #frozenfridays here on the blog. Every Friday I’ll be posting about a frozen treat. So far, I’ve featured Thai iced tea popsicles and lime popsicles. This week: Pineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles.

For a long time, I didn’t know what passion fruit tasted like. I associated it vaguely with tropical juice blends and  artificial fragrances in things like air fresheners and girly shampoos.

Pineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

For some reason, I assumed it was syrupy sweet and generally unappealing.

Man was I wrong.

Real passion fruit is tart and fragrant, almost lemony, but somehow fuller and rounder, hitting more complex notes.

Pineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

There’s a reason it’s a perennial favorite of pastry chefs.

Its potent acidity makes it a great ingredient for balancing sweeter ingredients. It plays beautifully with things like white chocolate and caramel that can be tooth achingly sweet on their own.

Pineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

It’s become one of my favorite flavors to play around with. Especially when I discovered that I could buy high quality frozen puree on the cheap at my neighborhood Latin grocery store. It’s a shortcut that means I don’t have to track down fresh passion fruit and pulp them to get that intoxicating flavor.

Pineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

When I saw a recipe for passion fruit-pineapple sorbet in Claudia Fleming’s excellent (and distressingly out-of-print) dessert cookbook The Last Course, I knew that the flavor combination would be a winner.

Pineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

I love pineapple, but it can cross the line to too sweet pretty easily. Passion fruit’s tartness works here to keep that sweetness in check, while the pineapple rounds out passion fruit’s pucker.

Pineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

These are some of the best popsicles I’ve made. They are so tropical and bright and refreshing.

Pineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

I’m sure I’ll be returning to this flavor combination again.

Pineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netPineapple Passion Fruit Popsicles. Bright, tropical, delightful! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Passion Fruit-Pineapple Popsicles

Adapted from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course (out of print)

These popsicles are tropical with a great balance of sweetness and tartness. Look for unsweetened frozen passion fruit puree in Latin grocery stores. You can use pre-cut pineapple if you want to make this even easier. If you have an ice cream maker, you can chill this mixture and spin it into a sorbet like Fleming does. I went the easier route and made them into popsicles in these moldsIf your mold doesn’t have a lid to hold the popsicle stick in place, wait for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the popsicles are partially frozen to add the sticks.

1 cup (about 210 g) pineapple, peeled and cut into cubes
1 1/3 cups (about 200 g) frozen passion fruit puree
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup water

Add the pineapple and 1/4 cup of sugar into the bowl of a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Let rest for one hour.

While the pineapple mixture is resting, add the remaining sugar, water, and frozen passion fruit puree to a small heavy bottomed sauce pan and heat over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, and stir until the passion fruit puree is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

Strain the pineapple mixture through a strainer (really pressing on the solids to get as much smooth puree as possible) and whisk it together with the cooled passion fruit syrup in a mixing bowl (ideally one with a spout).

Pour into popsicle molds and freeze until solid, about 4-5 hours depending on your molds.

Yield: varies depending on your molds, but I get 6 with these molds.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas

Squash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

When I see baskets of squash blossoms at the farmers market I am instantly entranced. They are so lovely and delicate. I want to make a bouquet of them and use it as a centerpiece for some elegant but relaxed outdoor summer dinner party.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSquash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSquash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Except I’ve never actually hosted a dinner party like that. And I don’t have much need for vegetables that are strictly decorative.

And when I think about what to actually cook with squash blossoms I tend to run out of ideas quickly. Most preparations I’ve seen involve stuffing them and dipping them in batter and deep frying them.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSquash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

And as much as I love taking on insane cooking projects, I have my limits. I’m just not going to deep fry anything for a weeknight meal.

Usually when I bring home a basket of squash blossoms, I have good intentions about figuring out some other way of using them, and a week later, I find them shriveled and sad and toss them out.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSquash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

But this time I had a plan. I had seen these quesadillas from Kimberley Hasselbrink’s Vibrant Food featured on Leite’s Culinaria and I had a squash blossom epiphany.

Here was a way to get a squash blossom with all the wonderful melty gooey cheese wrapped in a crisp outer layer without needing a vat of hot oil or hours of assembly.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSquash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Half of a petite corn tortilla gets sprinkled with some shredded cheese and bits of jalapeño and a pair of squash blossoms are placed on top. Then the whole thing goes into a hot skillet with a little oil, the unadorned half of tortilla gets folded over and pressed against the melty cheese while the tortilla gets wonderfully crisp and browned in spots. Topped with a bit of salsa and avocado, these are an incredibly easy little dish with a great balance of textures and flavors, and some pretty squash blossoms peaking out of the top.

I’m pretty sure squash blossoms were born to be in quesadillas. Or at least that’s what’s happening with them in my kitchen.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSquash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Squash Blossom Quesadillas

Adapted from Kimberley Hasselbrink’s Vibrant Food (via Leite’s Culinaria)

For anyone asking for an easy way to use squash blossoms, here’s your answer. I usually make quesadillas with flour tortillas, but the small corn tortillas are just great here. The corn flavor pairs well with the delicate squash blossoms and the diameter is perfect for encasing the blossoms without swallowing them whole. I wouldn’t make these with large tortillas. Hasselbrink uses pepper jack cheese in these, but I used a blend of pre-shredded jack, cheddar, queso quesadilla and queso asadero because I had a bag of that on hand and added my own jalapeño pepper for little pops of heat. You can use any mild melting cheese you like and as much jalapeño as you like. I think these need salsa for some acid and I like them with avocado or guacamole, but I’d view that as an optional topping.

12 squash blossoms
6 small corn tortillas (6-inch is ideal)
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese (or your preferred Mexican melting cheese)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced

For topping: salsa
avocado or guacamole (optional)

Carefully examine your squash blossoms and brush away any dirt or insects, but don’t rinse them (they’re delicate!).

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Warm the tortillas in the dry skillet for about 30 seconds or until they are a bit pliable. Remove from skillet.

Sprinkle half of each tortilla with a few tablespoons of shredded cheese and divide the jalapeño pepper between the tortillas and sprinkle it over the cheese. Arrange two squash blossoms over the cheese so that the edge of the flower is peaking out over the edge of the tortilla.

Add about a tablespoon of neutral oil to the skillet. Carefully transfer one of the prepared tortillas to the skillet, fold the tortilla in half and press with a spatula so that the cheese can hold the whole thing together. Cook for about a minute on each side, until crisp. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Top with salsa and avocado (if using). Eat while warm.

Yield: 6 quesadillas, which serve 2-3 depending on what else you’re having.

Lime Popsicles #frozenfridays

Lime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

For the month of August, it’s #frozenfridays here on the blog. Every Friday I’ll be posting about a frozen treat. Last week, I featured Thai iced tea popsicles. This week: lime popsicles.

I have this theory that people tend to dress for yesterday’s weather. The day after a 90°F day, I see so many people in tank tops and shorts and sandals and sun dresses, even if it’s a high of 70°F  and raining. The day after a cold snap, I see so many people carrying around jackets and sweaters even when temperatures have rebounded and the extra clothing is no longer necessary.

Lime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netLime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

In Chicago, where the temperatures tend to bounce around from one day to the next, that can leave us woefully under or over dressed when we get it wrong. Especially for any of us who live or work or have reason to visit a building with overly exuberant climate control.

Ah, hindsight is a powerful corrective.

Lime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netLime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Which is why I recommend dressing in layers. Even if I don’t always follow my own advice.

Lime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netLime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

All of which is an incredibly circuitous way of saying, I kinda did the cooking equivalent of dressing for yesterday when I made these popsicles. They’re pretty much the food equivalent of a tank top or a sun dress. The absolute perfect thing on a hot summer day. But on any other day, you can’t fully appreciate them.

Lime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netLime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

I made these intensely puckery, refreshing, limey popsicles on a 90+°F day.

And I didn’t get around to eating one until the next day, which had a high of, maybe, 72°F. And all I could think while eating them was just how much I wanted one of these yesterday. How I couldn’t think of anything I’d want more on a really hot sticky day.

Lime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netLime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

But eating them on a mild summer day, even though they were good, felt a little bit wrong, like I was wasting their refreshing super powers.

These popsicles, which come from Fany Gerson’s Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas are not joking around. They are so tart that they almost have tingly heat. They are ice pops for true lime fiends.

Lime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netLime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

They seem ripe for cocktail popsicle adaptations. Throw in a splash of gin for a gimlet popsicle, rum for a daquiri popsicle, tequila and salt for a margarita popsicle.

But whatever you do with them, keep them in the freezer until a really hot summer day comes along. Then, enjoy.

Lime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netLime popsicles. Perfect for the hottest summer days. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Lime Popsicles

Adapted (barely) from Fany Gerson’s Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas

These popsicles are very tart and replete with lime flavor. For these to taste right, the lime juice should be freshly squeezed. In my experience, limes vary quite a bit in the amount of juice they produce. (They’re also the peskiest citrus to juice. If you want to make the task easier, I recommend using something like this.)  I got 3/4 of a cup of juice from just 3 large limes, which were what I could find at the local Latin grocery store, but I think that’s an unusually large yield per fruit. Gerson recommends using smaller limes and says it will take 10 limes to yield the desired amount of juice. If you have medium sized limes, I’m guessing you’d need 5-6 limes. I’d recommend buying an extra couple of limes beyond what you think you’ll need just to be on the safe side (now that the lime shortage is over it shouldn’t be too much of a burden). I’ve been using these molds, but you can use any molds (including household items like tall shot glasses or little paper cups) you have around. If your mold doesn’t have a lid to hold the popsicle stick in place, wait for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the popsicles are partially frozen to add the sticks.

2 cups water
2/3 cup sugar
4 (1-inch) strips of lime zest
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from anywhere from 3 large limes to 10 small ones)

In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, and lime zest, and heat over medium, stirring frequently, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer and discard the zest. Stir in the lime juice. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze until solid 4-5 hours, depending on the size of the mold.

Yield: varies depending on the size of the molds used, but I got 6 and a little extra using these molds.

Tomato Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette. My salad of the summer! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

This has become my salad of the summer. More specifically, this basil vinaigrette has become my salad dressing of the summer.

I love basil. When it’s in season at the farmers market I come home with a big bunch of it every week. I, like most people, usually use it to make pesto or sprinkle shreds of it over panzanella or caprese or a simple pasta with olive oil and tomatoes or pizza Margherita.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette. My salad of the summer! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netTomato and Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette. My salad of the summer! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

But I had never before blitzed it with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar into a light and verdant vinaigrette.

I was missing out.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette. My salad of the summer! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netTomato and Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette. My salad of the summer! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

This basil vinaigrette comes from the Rebar: Modern Food Cookbook by way of Jeannette’s charming blog. Unburdened by nuts and cheese, it’s lighter and brighter than pesto with an acidic zing.

I’ve been drizzling it over everything.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette. My salad of the summer! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netTomato and Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette. My salad of the summer! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

In addition to the basil, some of my other late summer favorites have come into season. Tomatoes are finally here along with some incredible varieties of cucumbers. I especially like the long green Japanese cucumbers, the muted orange oblong poona kheera cucumbers, and the pale yellow orb-like lemon cucumbers. These varieties are all sweeter, crisper, and juicier than the cucumbers I tend to find at the supermarket. Though they look quite different, you can treat them like you would any cucumber–just peel and slice.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette. My salad of the summer! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netTomato and Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette. My salad of the summer! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

I love the way the crunch of the cucumbers plays off the juicy tomatoes and the vibrant vinaigrette and the creaminess and tang of the crumbled feta.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette. My salad of the summer! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netTomato and Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette. My salad of the summer! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

I’ve already made this four times in the last two weeks, which might be a record for anything other than pizza. And I have another bunch of basil waiting on the counter just tempting me to make more.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette. My salad of the summer! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netTomato and Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette. My salad of the summer! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Tomato Cucumber Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Vinaigrette adapted from Rebar: Modern Food Cookbook (via Everybody Likes Sandwiches)

The basil vinaigrette is the star of the show here. This recipe makes more than you’ll need for this salad, but not so much that it will go bad before you can reasonably consume it (in my experience it keeps for about 4-5 days). I’ve used it to dress a shaved zucchini salad and a simple green salad. It would also be great on panzanella or as a spread on a tomato sandwich. I’ve used a mix of cherry tomatoes (including my favorite sun golds) here, but obviously, large tomatoes would work just as well if they’re cut into bite-sized pieces. If you can get your hands on local seasonal cucumbers, that’s probably your best bet, but use any cucumbers you like. It will be fine with any variety. The feta is optional, but it adds a nice creamy richness to the light salad. The quantities here are all approximate. I tend to eyeball ingredients when I’m making salads rather than measuring out specific amounts, so that’s reflected in the recipe. 

 For the basil vinaigrette:

1 big handful basil leaves (about 1 to 1 1/2 cups)
1 clove of garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:

2 medium cucumbers, peeled, halved, and sliced
about 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered (or halved if extra small)
about 1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
a generous pinch of your favorite salt

Make the vinaigrette. In the bowl of a food processor (or in a blender) add the garlic, Dijon mustard, honey, red wine vinegar and salt. Pulse until the garlic is finely minced and everything is well blended. Add the basil and pulse until combined. (If the basil isn’t cooperating, add some of the extra virgin olive oil to help things along.) With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil, and blend until the mixture is emulsified. (If you’ve overdone it with the basil and the mixture looks too thick to dress a salad, add a little more olive oil to thin it out.) Set aside (can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days).

Make the salad. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sliced cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. Season with a pinch of salt. Add a few tablespoons of vinaigrette and toss until the tomatoes and cucumbers are well coated. Add more vinaigrette, a little at a time, until it’s dressed to your liking. Add the crumbled feta, and stir until well distributed. Taste to see if it needs more salt (this will depend on your feta). Serve immediately.

Yield: A big bowl of salad that makes a nice lunch for two or a starter or side for probably 4-8 depending on appetites and what else is on the menu.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles #frozenfridays

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

For the month of August it’s going to be #frozenfridays around here. Every Friday, I’ll be posting a new recipe for a frozen treat. Today I’m kicking things off with Thai Iced Tea Popsicles.

If you like Thai iced tea and you like ice cream pops, you should make these right now. I don’t always get cooking experiments right on the first try, but this time, I’m proud to say I nailed it.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridaysThai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

I had plenty of extra Thai black tea leftover from that Thai tea parfait tart I made a while back, and I also had some extra sweetened condensed milk in the refrigerator that I didn’t have a plan for but didn’t want to go to waste.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridaysThai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

I also have these popsicle molds that make frozen treats incredibly easy to make.

All of which meant that Thai iced tea popsicles were an easy leap to make.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

Popsicle making isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t require precision and complicated math to work. You can freeze plain old fruit juice and get something refreshing. I had plenty of orange juice popsicles in my youth that were just that.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridaysThai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

But there are a few principles to keep in mind when approaching popsicle experiments. The first is that cold suppresses flavor. That’s why we don’t chill good red wine, and why some people argue that we shouldn’t be drinking our white wine straight from the fridge either. When we freeze things, we need to dial up the intensity of the flavors to combat that dullness. If something tastes perfect at room temperature, it’s probably going to be a little flat when it’s frozen. Ideally, the mixture you plan to freeze should taste a little bit sweeter and a little bit stronger than where you want it to end up.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridaysThai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

The second thing to keep in mind is that certain things, including sugar and alcohol, inhibit freezing. You want some of that in frozen treats, even in a solid popsicle, because otherwise you’d end up with something as hard as an ice cube, but if you go too far and add too much, you end up with a slushy. That’s not the end of the world, but it’s not a popsicle.

thaiteapopsicles12Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

These popsicles find good balance in both the flavor and texture fronts. They have an incredible creaminess from the sweetened condensed milk, which also, unsurprisingly, lends them their sweetness. They have a tannic edge and some vanilla notes from the Thai tea leaves, and the vanilla gets dialed up with a splash of extract and the whole thing gets rounded out with a sprinkle of spices.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridaysThai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

When we tried these, Dan said, so this isn’t ice cream? They’re creamier and slightly softer than many popsicles, but they’re sturdy enough to be eaten on a stick. And they don’t require any churning or special equipment beyond some kind of mold (which can be shot glasses or disposable cups or even ice cube trays) and some popsicle sticks.

These are treats I can’t wait to have again.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridaysThai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles

These, like most popsicles, are quite simple to make. The most complicated part is probably tracking down the Thai tea. I found mine at Golden Pacific, a local Thai grocery store. If you have trouble finding it locally, you can, of course, order it online. You could also substitute any plain black tea and double the vanilla extract. You wouldn’t get the brilliant orange color, and the flavor would be a little different, but it would still be good. If you freeze these in non-traditional popsicle molds such as shot glasses or dixie cups, make sure to let them partially freeze, about 1-2 hours (depending on the size of the molds and your freezer) before adding the sticks. You want the mixture to be frozen enough to keep the sticks in place.

1/3 cup (25 g) Thai tea leaves
2 1/2 cups water
2 star anise pods
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 cup (250 g) sweetened condensed milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

 In a small saucepan, add the tea leaves and spices to the water and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheese cloth (you could also use a coffee filter) and discard the solids. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla extract. Refrigerate mixture until no longer warm to the touch, about 1 hour (up to a day is fine). Pour into popsicle molds, add lids and popsicle sticks (see above if using unconventional molds on when to add sticks) and freeze until solid, 4-5 hours depending on the size of the mold.

If you have extra, freeze it in an airtight container and blitz it in the blender for a little Thai iced tea milk shake.

Yield: 6 popsicles, plus a little extra, depending on the size of your molds.