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Basil: Easy to Grow, Easy to Harvest, Plus There’s Basil Ice Cream

September 4, 2015
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One of our “to grow” items this month is Basil (What to plant in August). It’s easy. It smells good. And, as our new contributor Kristen notes, it transforms into an impressive ice cream. Trust us. You won’t be disappointed.

Check it out.

(Kristin is our newest Contributor con Queso. Read more about Kristin here)

A few years ago a friend asked if I wanted to help start a school garden. At the time I knew less than nothing about gardening, but in a few short weeks, I learned all about amending the soil, fertilizing, drip irrigation, shade structures, organic pest control and on and on and on.  The best part though was working with the kids.  They always came to the garden excited to be outside and getting dirty.  As we would talk about planting this vegetable or that herb, I would ask if they liked to eat these foods.  Often we were met with blank stares or lots of heads shaking “nope.”  

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The interesting thing about kids and gardening, I came to learn, was that when they plant it, feed it and water it they are so much more likely to eat it!  So at the end of each season, we would celebrate with a harvest feast.  It was always fun coming up with our menu.  We had so many successful dishes, but none was even close to the Basil Ice Cream.

What?!!!

Yes, basil ice cream. Kid crowd pleaser.

The kids would never believe me that ice cream made with herbs could taste good.  Truthfully, I think teachers had their doubts as well.  I felt like a magician pulling that rabbit out of the hat!  Every single time, the ice cream was a huge hit.  They always asked for seconds!  Kids still stop me to ask about that ice cream.  I hope they think of it every time they see some basil, and wonder what else they think they might not like but should try anyway.

This ice cream recipe came to me via my sister from “The Sweet Life” by Kate Zuckerman.  You can make it with all kinds of good herbs- thyme, mint, lemon verbena, etc.  I have also served this ice cream with her Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp- so good!

Enjoy!

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Basil Ice Cream

1 1/2 oz basil leaves (about 30 leaves)

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

1 cup sugar

8 egg yolks

1 whole egg

pinch of salt

1/4 cup skim milk powder

special tools (fine mesh strainer, ice bath, ice cream machine)

1

Wash and dry basil leaves.  In a saucepan, heat cream, milk and 1/2 cup of sugar.  Once this mixture boils, add basil leaves and remove from heat.  Let infuse for 10 minutes.

2

In mixing bowl, combine egg yolks, egg, salt, skim milk powder and remaining sugar.  Whisk for one minute.  Use a ladle to slowly mix some of the hot cream into the yolk mixture to temper.  Gradually add egg mixture to the hot cream, whisking constantly.  Cook custard over medium heat until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon.

3

Strain the custard through the fine mesh strainer, pushing it through with a spatula or spoon.  The basil leaves and any solids will remain in the strainer. Cool the custard immediately in an ice bath, and whisk until cool.

4

Remove, and cover the custard with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard. Refrigerate for a minimum of two hours.

5

Churn the custard in your ice cream maker according to instructions until the ice cream holds the lines of the stirrer.  It will be soft.  Remove to a freezer container, and allow to freeze overnight.

And enjoy!

Oh yeah, and also, we just found this recipe for Basil Mascarpone Buttercream Frosted Chocolate Cake. What?! Are you kidding me. This would go well with basil ice cream. And if you think that’s too much basil, you should probably reconsider. Because there’s never too much basil. Never.

This post was written by Kristin Paull, your new best friend and all-around swell human. Read more about Kristin right here.  And you can read even more about Kristin right here. 

And this post is written with love for good people at Garden Collage, a new lifestyle and gardening publication, which features stories on the new role that gardening takes in our modern lifestyle.  Be sure to check them out. And share your garden shots on Instagram and Twitter with #GardenCollage. We will! Because we love them. Join us!

San Marcos Special Summer Sangria

August 18, 2015
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A few days ago I stopped in at my favorite spot in San Marcos, Root Cellar, and discovered that they just put in a bar. Oh yes they did. I’m not really an alcoholic beverage drinker…more of a sipper…but the bar is a lovely addition to the waiting area. And so I ordered a lovely white sangria. And here’s my interpretation of it.

San Marcos Summer Sangria

1  bottle white wine

2 Fredricksburg peaches, sliced

4 Poteet strawberries, thinly sliced

1 cup raspberries

3 tablespoons sugar, or more, to taste

1 bottle sparkling white wine

8 sprigs mint

In a large pitcher, whisk together the white wine,  peaches, strawberries, raspberries and sugar. Let chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.  Serve over ice with sparkling white wine, garnished with mint, because it’s nice.

Enjoy.

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You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream

August 13, 2015
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Texans love ice cream. That should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever visited our state in the summer when the temperature is in the triple digits, the armadillos are sweaty, and all anyone wants to do is shove their face into a big bowl of Rocky Road until the chilly 90-degree temps of November roll in. Ahhhhh.

Alas, there was no comfort to be found in Texan ice cream this summer. Or, I should say, not in the state’s #1 Go-To because tragically, the Blue Bell factory that’s been churning out tubs since 1907 was shut down in June due to a Listeria contamination. (Not to be confused with a Listerine contamination, which is actually a good thing if you want super fresh breath.)

But while Texans wept, gallons and tubs and pints of Blue Bell joy were mercilessly yanked from every grocery stores and ice cream shops in the state. We were left bereft, overheated and well, a few pounds thinner because we weren’t gorging on ice cream every damn night. But honestly, is there anything sadder than a child who now has no choice but to snack on (gag) vegetables?

Photo via Mary Caroline Cruse Shreves

Photo via Mary Caroline Cruse Shreves

That’s why I decided to make it my mission to find new ice cream. Better ice cream. Ice cream that would cool me down on these scorching hot days while also keeping my waist in the peak muffin top shape that is both my money maker and my calling card. Yes, people, you can always count on me to do the heavy lifting when it comes to frozen treats. I am the Mother Teresa of the Freezer Section. My mantle is ready for the Nobel.

Here are a few of the new ice cream brands I sampled this summer. Please note that the pictures aren’t perfect because I took them when it was 2,000 degrees outside, I was under a red umbrella, and both my eyeballs and the ice cream were rapidly melting. I know, the ways I suffer for my art.
1. HEB CREAMY CREATIONS

hebNot only is HEB like, the best grocery store in Texas, but their store brand is consistently as good if not better than national brands. Their Creamy Creations ice cream is no exception. It’s flavorful, satisfying, and priced very reasonably. Plus it comes in a ton of delicious flavors, including Texas-centric ones like Houston Texans: Texans Tackle Crunch, Texas Vanilla Seguin Pecan, and Poteet Strawberry. Oh, and there’s also one named after me: Intense White Chocolate.

2. DREYER’S FROZEN CUSTARD

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What’s the difference between ice cream and custard? Same as the difference between roosters and chickens: EGGS. But what these eggs do is make the custard extra creamy and stay cold longer. Don’t ask me why. I’m not an Ice Cream Scientist. But my entire family thought the two Dreyer’s Custard flavors we tried—Vanilla and Snickerdoodle—were delicious, and now we plan on hunting down their Chocolate Malt Frozen Custard and making it our new bestie.

3. McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams

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Shhhhhhhhhhh. Don’t tell anyone in my family that we had this in our freezer. And don’t tell anyone in my family that I ate the pint of CHURROS CON LECHE by myself. And the pint of DOUBLE PEANUT BUTTER CHIP. And the pint of, well, you’re picking up what I’m laying down, friends. And whatever you do, DON’T TELL TEXANS THAT THIS GIFT FROM THE ICE CREAM GODS IS MADE IN SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA AND YOU CAN GET IT SHIPPED TO YOUR HOUSE BECAUSE I WANT IT ALLLLLLLL FOR MYSELF.

4. Tillamook Ice Cream

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Did you know that Tillamook, the Oregon makers of best cheese ever, also makes ice cream? I didn’t, but apparently they’ve been doing so since 1947, and it’s now available in certain Texas cities. The Horchata ice cream is based on the Mexican drink made from rice and milk, with added Vietnamese cinnamon. I’m sure many people would love the Horchata, but alas, none of them live in my house*. We much preferred the Marionberry Pie and Tillamook mudslide. And the Tillamook cheese we went out to buy after the word “Tillamook” gave us cravings for some sharp cheddar.

*They all live in Laura’s house. Or, actually, Laura loves it enough for about six people.

5. Adams Premium Ice Cream

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I love Adams Vanilla Extract. I use it every time I bake something, which is roughly once every nine years. But it’s the best, and it’s also made by one of the oldest continuously operated companies in Texas, and one of oldest spice and extract companies in the United States. Adams just celebrated their 125th birthday, and did so by launching this amazingly good ice cream exclusively sold at HEB. Flavors include Vanilla and Cookie Dough, but listen up: if you don’t scoop up every container of the Pecan Pie flavor that you can get your sweaty little hands on, then go buy a deep freezer for your garage, then store a lifetime supply of this ice cream in said deep freezer, then you sir, are a moron. It is THAT good.

So there you go, Texas. Plenty of ice cream choices to get you through our Blue Bell drought and through our endless summer heat. My muffin top is now in prime shape. And while rumor has it that BB will be back in business soon, try some of these brands in the meantime and keep your fingers crossed.

I’d cross mine, but they’re currently busy doing more “research.”

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This post was written by Wendi Aarons, extended-dance-mix writer and all-around swell human. Read more about Wendi right here. 

 

Paletas de Sandia + Watermelon Ice Cream

August 4, 2015
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Summer tastes like paletas. Or paletas taste like summer. It depends upon where you grew up and how you look at things. As the world works, I’m sure they are available across the country, but walk outside any door and onto a street in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona or California, and if you stand there long enough (without passing out from the heat), someone will ask you if you’d like a paleta. And the correct answer is yes.

Paletas are extremely frozen popsicles made from fresh fruit and water…sometimes with sugar…but not much more. They are basically frozen agua frescas on a stick, a staple in southern states, and almost always pure and simple magic.

sandia-paleta

When I was younger, I would bribe my dad to take me to the Sac N Pac at the end of the street where they had a small freezer full of Michoacana paletas. At the time, I imagined the Michoacana company to be the most impressive company in all the land, headquartered in a castle-like Willy Wonka mansion full of magical frozen popsicles and love.

In actuality, it’s a bunch of mom and pop shops, which is of course even better.

Michoacana is a toponym, meaning someone or something from the state of Michoacán in western Mexico. But the name is used in virtually every state of the country, and it is not because it’s a national chain. In one very small town in the Huasteca region of Veracruz, I counted six paleterías named La Michoacana within a three-square-block area.

Read more about this on The Austin Chronicle. It’s a great article.

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As an adult, I now bribe myself to go up the street to the Market 150, where they have a small freezer full of my current favorites from Austin-based La Super Michoacana.  This is one of the delights of the summer. Walking through a glass door, from epic heat into a boxed room of AC cold that smells like bubble gum, rubber tires and cooler contents. And inside, across the tiled isles, a freezer full of frozen bits of watermelon juice.

As I’ve mentioned, I don’t think that watermelon can be improved upon or even should be attempted to, but considering Michoacana paletas, I was willing to look into Salted Watermelon ice cream.

watermelon-ice-cream

Lick ice cream in Austin has featured a version of this. And I found this great no-churn recipe, but I want to make some in my ice cream maker that only includes the following ingredients: watermelon, cream/milk, sugar, mint and salt. I attempted some before I left for the beach, but I wasn’t able to execute it in a way that I’m happy about…let’s just say a little mint goes a long way. Ironically, an attempt to use the fewest and simplest ingredients sometimes becomes the most challenging, until you get it right. In the meantime, this watermelon ice cream recipe is pretty good. If I can create what I have in mind, and get the consistency and flavor right, I’ll share it here. In the meantime, here are a few hacks.

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Enter Topo Chico. Make your favorite version of watermelon ice cream, add Topo Chico with Lime and some fresh mint…

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…And you have an Agua Fresca Salted Watermelon Ice Cream float. Whoa. Good. Or, look what I found here…

watermelon-slice-soda

This watermelon soda tastes like the 70s. This is possibly because it’s made up of very seventiesesque ingredients… no high-fructose anything… just carbonated water, pure cane sugar, a preservative, natural and artificial flavors and the dreaded Red 40. That’s really it, and if you can handle some artificial, I highly recommend picking these up.

If you’re in Texas, any H.E.B. grocery store has them right now. If you live elsewhere, you can probably find something similar in a spot near you. These old school bad boys taste like the 1980s watermelon Jolly Rancher sticks we used to hide under our pillows at summer camp, only in a fizzy water format. Add some vanilla ice cream, some mint, and a little rum for the adults, and you’ve got yourself a sample of frozen summer in a glass.

watermelon-float

You won’t be disappointed.

The end of summer typically brings a heat wave of slight nostalgia for me. An attempt to recreate childhood summer vacations, flavors of August and lazy summer days. As is often the case, the less we try the easier it comes. The less ingredients the better.  Paletas de sandia and watermelon frozen treats do the trick for me.

Agua de Sandia / Watermelon Agua Fresca

August 3, 2015
sandia-agua-fresca

Someone mentioned that it’s National Watermelon Day. Which really means nothing except that you should probably be eating watermelon as much as possible for the next month or two because, hand to heaven, it is hot outside.

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I’m not a big fan of dressing up watermelon too much. Watermelon margaritas, no. Watermelon frou-frou overdone recipes, hell no. Plain watermelon with a dash of salt on top is just about perfection. That said, I did try out a salted watermelon ice cream recipe (because it’s also national ice cream year…okay maybe not, but it should be) over the weekend, and it was pretty great concept. More about that in the next post.

But back to now. Now, the one thing I think is great to throw in the summer line up is agua fresca. Specifically agua de sandia. Watermelon water. Here’s what you’ll need.

agua-fresca-ingredients

Here’s What You’ll Need

4 cups of watermelon

3 cups of Topo Chico con Lime

(If you don’t have that, just use water.)

The juice from one lime

1 tablespoon of sugar

topo-chico-3

Here’s the deal with Topo Chico. It’s just the best. It is basically just fizzy water, it tastes great, and I hear it’s magic for hangovers. This may be just a thing you can pick up anywhere in Texas (Can you find it everywhere in other places?) Or you can get it on Amazon. This summer, I was introduced to Topo Chico with lime (Thank you, Brooks family) and it wins all the other Topo Chico contests. So look into that. I highly recommend that you drink it whenever possible.

agua-fresca-batch

Here’s What You’ll Do

All you do is mix up all four ingredients listed above in a blender. My blender is crap, so I chop up/blend the watermelon in my little food processor chopper and then put that slushed watermelon into the blender. It’s just easier for all involved.

agua-fresca-glass

And done. Agua fresca is served. It’s the easiest thing ever. And it goes great with tacos. Or sandwiches. Or anything really. Top it with some vodka or rum and you have yourself a boozy slushy agua de sandia beach party. Or just grab a watermelon and some salt. That works too.

Happy watermeloning!

 

The Easiest Watermelon Salad Ever

June 26, 2015
best watermelon salad

This has to be the easiest watermelon salad ever. Please tell me if you’ve ever heard of any easier watermelon anything (besides just salt on pieces of watermelon) because, honey, I think this it. And speaking of honey, that’s the brilliance, just three fresh, local ingredients (watermelon, mint, honey) and our favorite thing ever: queso. Well, queso fresco, but still. The best. Here’s how it happens.

 

unnamed-24Watermelon

fresh mint
Mint

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Queso fresco

unnamed-8Honey

Chop up the watermelon and mint, add crumbles of queso fresco, drizzle with honey (I love the word drizzle) and DONE.

the-easiest-watermelon-salad

You’re welcome.

Happy weekend!

Oh and okay so if you are in Texas, you should totally go to The Luling Watermelon Thump and challenge someone to a seed-spitting contest. This weekend. It’s happening all weekend.  Go.  And report back on Monday.

The Best Queso in the Entire Whole Wide World. (Bob Armstrong Dip)

June 4, 2015
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Of all the Quesos in the land, I have a hands-down affinity for this one: The Bob Armstrong Dip from Matt’s Famous El Rancho. It really is the best.  And here’s the recipe. Straight from Matt Martinez “Mex Tex” a cookbook of traditional Tex-Mex taste. If you don’t own this book, you should. (Give yourself a present and buy it right now, right here.)

It’s a three-layer dip made in three parts. But even though there are three parts, it’s super simple. Really easy. And uses few ingredients. Awesome.

Bob Armstrong Dip

4 recipes of traditional guacamole (below)

1 recipe of 20-minute Taco Meat (below)

1 recipe of Chile con Queso (below)

Warm a 9 inch X 13 in pan. (Or whatever size you have.) Spread guacamole into the pan, then add a layer of hot taco meat. Top with hot chile con queso. Serve with chips. Party.

Bottom Layer:

Traditional Guacamole

1 avocado

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice

Salt to taste

Cut the avocado in half. Discard eh pit and scoop out the avocado flesh into a bowl. Discard the skin. Mash the juice into the avocado and continue mashing until the guacamole reaches desired texture (I like it chunky. Like my men.) Adjust salt to taste.

Second Layer:

20-Minute Taco Meat

1/4 cup finely chopped bell pepper

1/4 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped white onion

1 tablespoon plus two teaspoons of Tex-Mex spice (I call this taco seasoning, keep it around always, and the recipe is here)

1 pound lean ground beef

Stir the bell pepper, celery, onion & Tex-Mex spice. Spread uncooked meat on top. Turn to medium heat. When meat starts to simmer, stir and break up meat. Simmer on low for 20 minutes. Done.

Top Layer:

Chile con Queso

1 1/2 cups green chilies

1/2 cup diced fresh tomato

1/2 cup diced onion

1/2 cup diced celery

2 teaspoons Tex-Mex Spice (same spice as above…recipe here)

1 cup chicken broth

1 pound American cheese, cubed

Combine all ingredients except cheese. Bring to a simmer and gently cook for about 5 minutes. Turn heat down and add the cheese. Simmer until cheese is melted. Add water if  it’s too think or more cheese if it’s too thin.

So there you go.

Make it tonight.

It’s awesome.

You’re welcome.

And Happy Cheese Day.

Loquats Are Not Kumquats

May 21, 2015
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Regarding our first printed correction of the New Queso, please note for the record it took no time at all for me to make a mistake. Because my kumquats are actually loquats and loquats are definitely not kumquats. Despite what a number of very confident people told me, this beautiful tree that my great grandmother planted is not of the kumquat variety but rather a very normal loquat tree, and now I love it even more. I am not going to change the name of the Kumquat May martini however, because that name is just awesome. I will buy some kumquats though and attempt to make it and follow up with that there. In the meantime, let’s talk about loquats.

A native of China, a loquat tree fruits in mid- to late spring here in Central Texas. They’re big in southern California…and that makes sense because they look sort of 1960s SoCal to me…they’ve very Donna Parker in Hollywood.  And the fruit is really good…mild, sort of understated sweet. They don’t taste like honey, but they remind me of mild honey for some reason, with a dash of tang. And I was thinking, they’d be really good in salsa.

Because when life hands you loquats, make salsa.

So I did. Check it.unnamed-1

 

Laura’s Loquat Salsa

– 8 Loquats, chopped

– 2 large tomatoes, chopped

– 2 green onions, chopped

– 1 jalapeño, chopped (I take out the seeds to make it milder. Leave in the seeds to make it HOT!)

– 1 bell pepper, chopped

– A handful of chopped cilantro

– Juice from one (or two) limes. (I use two because I like lime juice a lot)

– Salt and pepper

Mix it all up together in the bowl. Serve with chips. Or, I served it on salmon and it was awesome.

And that’s just the beginning … I feel like you can do so many cool things with loquats…

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Photo credit: Loquat Lemon Mint Sorbet from Cafe Liz. I love Cafe Liz. Check her out. 

You could also do loquat strawberry pie.  Loquat lemon mint sorbet. (What?! I am all over this.) Loquat cobbler. (No, THIS!) And of course, Loquat wine & Loquat liqueur. (Loquat wine & loquat liqueur need to age at least one year. Therefore, it would be best to plan in advance. No last-minute drinky here, my friends.) I’ve now given most of mine away, but now that I know what I’m dealing with here… next year, watch out.

Get Started! Plant a loquat tree. 

 

Padrino Ken’s Famous Margarita Recipe: Happy Cinco de Mayo!

May 5, 2015
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Photo by Karen Walrond

This is the margarita recipe you’ve been looking for. The Padrino Ken has perfected it through the years…and he even published it in the very famous book Kirtsy Takes A Bow. Which I edited. (And it’s totally cute. And you can totally still buy it! Crazy.)  But here is The Famous Marg Recipe. For you. Today.

Happy Cinco de Mayo from Texas. And Washington DC.

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Kalorama Ken’s Famous Marg Recipe

I’ve had so many people ask me for the marg recipe that I’ll just put it out there. It’s actually my mom Lisa’s recipe, but we are generous folk.

  • 1 can Minute Maid Limeade
  • 1 can Montezuma or Sauza silver tequila (don’t waste the good tequila)
  • 1/2 can good Triple Sec, or if the girl’s real purdy, use Grand Mariner
  • 1 can water
  • Juice of 1 lime

Mix all ingredients in a pitcher. Done.

Actually, this recipe is the concentrate for frozen margs in a blender with ice. If you drink them on the rocks…like any decent person should…you are supposed to add 1 or 2 more cans of water. You can garnish with lime wedges and salt if you want, but I prefer mine unfancy-like, served in a plastic SOLO cup. Do not, and I mean it, insult this sacred marg recipe by serving them in those cactus-shaped margarita glasses. My stepmom, Lisa, did this when she still had all that Wisconsin in ‘er, but now that she is a blended Texan, she knows better.

Cheers.