Hi Food Friends. It’s been a while since I last posted, I know, but it’s been B-U-S-Y! So I thought I would catch you up on a mish-mosh of my summer culinary adventures. And for some reason, I’m going backwards, from today back to July 11. Ready? Come on!
So my cooking club, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pans, met on July 8 and the theme was “summer time.” While all the food was fantastic, my friend Tina made THE MOST AMAZING WATERMELON PICKLES!
First you think, “wait, WHAT? Tough, flavorless, watery watermelon rind – pickled?” And I’m here to tell you,YES! They are delicious. Crisp, a little crunchy and sooo flavorful, kind of sweet-savory all at one time, steeped for three days in rice wine vinegar, honey, yuzu juice (more on yuzu juice later), juniper berries and salt. So good as a snack or a little side to any meal. And I was just dying to make them, so I did! You do, too, trust me.
1/4 C. plus 2 Tbl rice wine vinegar (not the seasoned kind, the plain kind)
1/2 C. plus 1 Tbl yuzu juice. NOTE: I could not find yuzu juice anywhere in Chicago and princess here needed immediate gratification so ordering online was out of the question. So I Googled substitutes and lime juice came up. So I used the juice of four limes, which equaled 1/2 C. and 1 Tbl. (Tina used yuzu juice, so I’ll be eager to see how mine taste with the lime juice.) Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit many describe as a sour mandarin orange, so I can see why lime juice might be a good sub.
1/4 C. plus 1 Tbl honey
1 Tbl juniper berries (found them at Whole Foods)
1 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
18 ounces diced watermelon rind
What You Do
1) First you buy what I call a “big-ass watermelon.” I wanted a regular one that I knew would have thick rind, unlike some of those weird “personal watermelons.”
2) Now, with a sharp knife and a lot of caution (I have to play violin on-stage next week and a Hello Kitty Bandaid is not that cool with a group of cool musicians), trim off the green skin so you have little squares of just white and a little pink. Pile them into a scale until you have 18 ounces (it took about half of my big-ass watermelon).
3) Now, mix up the brine ingredients in a 16-ounce jar and put your diced rind in. Put the lid on tightly and give it a few turns to coat everything.
I’ve never used juniper berries before, but oooh, the aroma. Juniper is used to make gin, and it has a green, herbaceous, slightly citrus-y scent. Love. Now, Your brine won’t completely cover the rinds, but I’m guessing the rind will release some juices over its three-day vacation in the fridge. But you’ll want to give it a few turns each day, I think, to be sure the flavors get soaked in evenly.
4) After three days, stick a fork in and try them! Note: This is not “professional canning” where you boil jars and all that, so eat these within about a week.
Yacht Party with Rick Bayless
Back in April, I ponied up some bucks with a group of friends from Lookingglass Theatre (I’ve been associated with the board for many, many years) so we could bid on a summer yacht party with Rick Bayless – and we won! So on a beautiful Chicago summer evening, we set out on Lake Michigan and Rick was on-board cooking up some amazing bites and shaking up some mighty fine margaritas. And here are a few shots of that fun night with amazing food and friends. And Rick Bayless is about as nice as can be. And yes, the guy (who won Top Chef Masters, after all) – can cook.
Rick and his fabulous sous chef Zach and server Juan served up his famous guacamole with bacon, two kinds of ceviche, oysters with chicharrones (I think – that’s fried pork skin), grilled shrimp with chipotle sauce – and the bite you see above – grilled foie gras with Rick’s famous mole — ooooh, shut up, it was so good. So yeah, that was a really fun night – with an amazing boatload of fabulous friends.
Well, I finally did it. Ate at Alinea. I’m not sure what took me so long. But when my friend Kate came to town, and I just happened to be on Facebook the very minute Alinea released its first tickets for August (yes, Alinea is now just like its sister, Next, selling tickets instead of reservations), I clicked “purchase” on a Sunday night table! Yes, it is expensive (nearly $500 a person). But for a person who is endlessly curious about food and wine, it is SO worth it.
Here’s a little photo montage below. The “Black Truffle Explosion” – a ravioli-like pasta pocket filled with truffle broth – was just that – the happiest, most memorable explosion of flavor in your mouth. The summer tomato salad was beautiful and delicious and I wanted to drink the liquid at the bottom. (But I didn’t.) And there was a helium apple balloon! I stuck a pin in it and a whoosh of helium went into my mouth, which made Kate die laughing when I said, “It’s delicious” in a munchkin-like voice! I might do a separate post on it, because this one’s getting long and I can’t do it all justice. Suffice it to say: WE LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT! The staff was a delight – professional and formal – but also friendly and funny. And the wine pairings? Perfect.
So there you have it: a month in my food life. Yes, there was a baked-Dijon-mustard dressing that I found in Food & Wine magazine that was divine on warm new potatoes and there have been untold BLTs and other summer veg delights, but these are the high spots. I’ll be back soon… with a new blog name and hopefully look, too. In the meantime, keep cooking and eating!