Monday, August 31, 2009

Watermelon, Part 5

I'm always intrigued when comments to a recipe vary wildly from "loved it" to "hated it." So I was instantly curious to try Epicurious' Watermelon Pudding. Plus, you know, I have all this watermelon to eat up.

I read all the reviews and printed them with the recipe, and then promptly forgot to read them again while I was making it. So I sweated a bit over whether or not to add lemon, since one reviewer claimed it would prevent the pudding from jelling (though another refuted that claim).

After making it, I understand some of the agita. The mixture can behave a little oddly while boiling, appearing to separate. The cornstarch can clump up into a rock-hard lump and seem impossible to break through. The mixture can jell early on—so much so that it's hard to get it through the sieve at the end (which is a crucial step)—but then appear more liquidy later. It's one of those recipes where you have to calmly proceed as if you know what you're doing and hope that it all works out in the end (a good philosophy for any kind of cooking).

A few tips to help ensure your chance of success:

  • It is important to make sure the mixture comes to a rollicking boil and continues to boil for a few minutes.
  • The cornstarch MUST be completely dissolved before adding; even if it is stubborn at first it will mix in if you keep at it.
  • At first I was tempted to skip the final sieving step because the mixture was so thick that I literally had to beat it through the sieve with surprising force, but I was glad I didn't: not only did it strain out the anise seeds, but there were strange gelatinous clumps that would have been most unappetizing in the finished product.
  • I served these in shallow 4-ounce crème brûlée dishes, which I think is a portion size more appropriate for this texture—any bigger and it might just be a big ol' cup of goo.
All the clamor, I’ve decided, is based on the name. You hear "pudding" and think silky, smooth, and creamy—a texture impossible to create without eggs and cream. The ingredients in this recipe are simple—cornstarch is only going to make it so thick (the upside is that you could eat it every day and not gain a million pounds—the same can't be said for pudding). It's more of a gelée, and I think it's better in smaller portions. With a different name and a smaller portion, some of those reviewers might change their tune—because the flavor was divine and it's such a healthy dessert: no fat! (Especially because I subbed out the whipped cream for yogurt—the yogurt added a nice tang which complemented the watermelon perfectly, as did the garnish of homemade Watermelon Pickles.)

Watermelon Gelée
Adapted from

4 cups cubed watermelon
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
1 stalk of rosemary
Pinch of kosher salt
Squeeze of lemon juice

Garnish: plain yogurt, Watermelon Pickles, and mini dark-chocolate chunks or chocolate shavings

Puree watermelon in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a saucepan, pressing on pulp to extract all juice. Discard pulp.

Mix roughly 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of watermelon juice with cornstarch in a separate bowl until cornstarch is fully dissolved.

Add sugar, anise seeds, and rosemary stalk to pan and bring to a boil. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Whisk cornstarch mixture again and add to pan. Boil for at least 2 minutes, whisking occasionally (don't worry if mixture starts to separate—whisk again to combine). Remove from heat and add pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Pour gelée through a clean sieve—whisk if necessary to help it pass through sieve—into a glass measuring cup with a spout (you should have about 1 2/3 cup liquid). Pour evenly into 4-ounce crème brûlée dishes or shallow ramekins.

Chill, uncovered, until cold, at least 30 minutes. Cover loosely and chill until set, at least 3 hours.

Makes four 4-ounce servings.

More watermelon recipes:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Watermelon, Part 4

I remember seeing jars and jars labeled "Watermelon Pickles" stacked against my grandmother's canning wall, but after making them for the first time myself, I'm not sure I ever tasted hers. I certainly don't remember ever seeing such beautiful chartreuse pickles tinged with pink.

I don't know the history here, but surely this is a dish born out of the Depression—a way to make food out of something normally thrown away: the rind of a watermelon. The resulting food is a nice surprise: beautiful to look at and a piquant taste on the tongue. They're wonderful chopped up in salads, or served as a side dish to meats, or with cheese and crackers.

These are refrigerator pickles that last about a month, so there's no need for sterilized jars and paraffin and whatever other equipment you need to put up pickles for the long haul (although you certainly could). I adapted the recipe based on what I had on hand, so I didn't buy pickling spice and subbed three kinds of vinegars for most of the cider vinegar. According to what I've read since, it may be the white vinegar that preserves the color so well.

The flavor is sharp and the texture was wonderfully crisp—the trick there is not not overcook the rind in the initial boil. If I make these again I will likely play with the balance of vinegar to make them a little less strong; or I might just make smaller pickles.

All in all, a fun project with big payoff, especially since it's using food you would ordinarily discard—no small matter in this economy.

Watermelon Pickles
Adapted from Epicurious

4 cups watermelon rind, sliced into 1 x 1/2 pieces and skinned
8 cups water
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup white vinegar
8 whole cloves
8 whole black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 teaspoon each black mustard seeds, fennel seeds, whole coriander
2 bay leaves
1 star anise
Pinch red pepper flakes

Cut watermelon pulp from rind, leaving thin layer of pink on rind. Cut green outer skin from rind; discard. Cut enough rind into 1 x 1/2-inch pieces to measure 4 cups. Combine
8 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt in large pot; bring to boil. Add rind pieces and boil until tender, about 5 minutes. Strain. Transfer rinds to large metal bowl.

Combine remaining 2 teaspoons salt, sugar, vinegars and spices in a heavy, large saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Pour over watermelon rinds in bowl. Place plate atop rinds to keep rinds submerged in pickling liquid. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

Strain liquid from rinds into saucepan; bring to boil. Pour over rinds. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Repeat straining and boiling of liquid and pour over rinds 1 more time. (Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Chill in covered glass containers or jars.)

More watermelon recipes:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Watermelon, Part 3; Summer Soup, Part 3

Sometimes you read a recipe and what you see in your head bears no relation to what the final product is. As in this "Watermelon Soup;" I had visions of a creamy, sweet, juicy, and smooth pink liquid—almost a dessert soup—punctuated by the tang of heirloom tomatoes. Instead, I got another gazpacho. Which is fine—quite delicious, in fact—just not what I was expecting. This is a nice gazpacho for the spice-averse since there is no heat; I added a few sautéed scallops in for a protein treat; without them this is an easy vegetarian meal. Using heirloom tomatoes really makes a difference.

Tomato-Watermelon Soup
Adapted from Epicurious

2 cups watermelon, cubed
1/2 pound heirloom tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 shallot, chopped
1/2 cup sliced fennel bulb and frond
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Garnish with sliced green onions. Add sautéed scallops or cooked shrimp for added protein.

Serves 6.

More watermelon recipes:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fudgy Goodness

I love Fudgsicles, but I seem to recall that they have corn syrup, so I thought I'd try making my own unprocessed version. It wasn't until I was well along the way that I remembered one of the thing I love about Fudgsicles: they're fat free. This version is decidedly not. But if you use good chocolate they are divine—and much more suited to adults than the sugar and cocoa version at mass retailers everywhere. I added cinnamon and a touch of cayenne—two of my favorite ingredients to add complexity to sweets—and the taste was to-die for. The texture, however, was ever-so-slightly grainy. Not enough to keep me from slurping them down, but not exactly what I was going for. I don't know if adding the spices made it grainy, or if I just didn't incorporate the cocoa enough.

This made a lot more than would fit in my six popsicle molds—I got three ramekin portions, too, which were fantastic with a little raspberry wine poured over. It was a little difficult to get them out of the ramekins—hence the soupiness—but who's gonna complain about liquid chocolate?

Adult Fudgsicles
Adapted from Alton Brown

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) heavy cream
8 ounces (1 cup) 1% or 2% milk
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch cayenne pepper

Place chopped chocolate into a medium glass mixing bowl. Set aside.
Combine heavy cream, milk, and cocoa powder in a medium saucepan over
medium heat. Whisk constantly until cocoa is dissolved and mixture comes to a
simmer. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand for 2 to
3 minutes and then whisk gently until all chocolate is melted. Whisk in the
vanilla extract, cinnamon, and cayenne.

Divide the mixture evenly among the molds (or ramekins) and place in the freezer. Freeze for at least 4 hours or until solid. For adult versions, serve with raspberry wine or kaluha, either as a popsicle resting in a shot glass or as a sauce poured over a molded-ramekin version.

Serves 6 to 8.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Watermelon, Part 2

I'm not usually one for fancy drinks. Pour me a whiskey over ice and I'm good to go. But since I had all this watermelon to use up I figured I'd give it a go. And Martha Stewart's Watermelon-Basil Margaritas sounded so elegant and refined and just right for a hot summer night. Or, you know, Tuesday.

Now right off the bat I have to warn you that I am not a tequila aficionado. Her recipe calls for silver tequila and all I had was gold, so that's what I used. I know there are some people who would rather sashay naked down the street in rush hour than make that swap, but it tasted just fine to me. What I'm not sure that I tasted was the basil (or maybe the gold tequila just burned my more discerning taste buds). Maybe my basil wasn't flavorful enough or maybe it just didn't add anything, but I feel confident in saying you could easily leave it out if that step is just one too many.

Note that I'm not a fan of overly sweet drinks; you can add more sugar as desired. So go ahead. Have a little tipple. The sun is over the yardarm somewhere, right?

Watermelon-Basil Margaritas
Adapted from Martha Stewart

2 to 3 cups cubed fresh watermelon
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup tequila
2 teaspoons confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup triple sec
Juice of 1 lime (or more to taste)

Cut out 12 ice-cube sized cubes of watermelon and freeze for at least an hour.

Crush basil leaves with your hands and put in the bottom of a pitcher. Pour tequila over and muddle (bash leaves with a pestle or spoon). Let sit at least a half-hour for flavors to mingle.

Mix remainder of cubed watermelon and confectioners' sugar in a food processor. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve; you should have 2 cups of watermelon juice. Add to tequila in pitcher. Stir in triple sec and lime juice; taste, adding more lime juice or sugar as needed.

Put 2 watermelon ice cubes in a glass. Shake watermelon margarita with ice in a cocktail shaker and strain into glass. Garnish with fresh basil.

Serves 6.

More watermelon recipes:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Watermelon, Part 1

Watermelon is another one of those foods I have to have in the summer. Unfortunately I usually see them at the highway-robbery flat-price of $3.99 and up for a melon smaller than a soccer ball. So I was thrilled to find a normal-sized fruit—round, not oblong—not too big, not too small—for the bargain price of 19 cents a pound. "Score!" I thought as I happily searched for the darkest-green variety with a large yellow spot (which means it actually ripened on the vine, on the ground instead of in storage) that sounded full-bodied but hollow when I thumped it. I didn't realize until the clerk checked me out that my little "baby" was 20 pounds of fleshy, watermelon goodness—quite a feat for two people to polish off when they're leaving for vacation in a week!

But we will do it. Eating it by the slice and chunk, plain and on top of cottage cheese. And when I started slicing heirloom tomatoes and pairing it with fresh mozzarella rounds, I thought, "Why not watermelon, too?"

So here's a fresh take on Caprese salad that's as beautiful as it is delicious, though if your watermelon isn't tasty, sweet, and succulent to begin with, this isn't going to help much. More on that in a later post.

Watermelon Caprese Salad
© 2009 Mallory McCreary/

2 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced
1 round slice of watermelon, approximately 1/2-inch thick and 7- to 10-inches in diameter
Fresh mozzarella, sliced
Fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Choose a biscuit cutter (or empty metal can) that is roughly the same diameter as your tomato slices. Cut out watermelon circles. If they are too thick, slice depth in half with a knife.

Place a round watermelon slice, tomato slice, mozzarella slice, and a basil leaf on the edge of a round plate so that their edges overlap each other. Repeat with remaining slices in the same order: watermelon, tomato, mozzarella, basil, until plate is full. Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle a few torn basil leaves across the plate.

Serves 2 to 4 as a first course. Need more? Add more slices!

More watermelon recipes:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Summer Soup, Part 2

Despite the pepper cobbler fiasco, those 99-cent peppers still needed to be cooked.

Roasted Tomato and Pepper Soup sounded like the perfect summer refresher that would taste good and use my peppers; I liked the idea of roasted tomato flavor paired with mild heat and the refreshing zing of mint.

Alas, despite the fact that it's summer and my tomatoes looked perfect, they weren't the most flavorful of specimens. Adding brown sugar and cinnamon helped coax out a little more flavor, but add brown sugar with a light hand—what tastes good in the first bite can turn cloying after the flavors mingle a littl emore. Roasting the peppers and other veggies delivers an intense flavor, that, like the beet soup, is best in smaller amuse bouche portions lest you wear out your palate.

Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup
Adapted from

1 1/4 pounds tomatoes, halved and cored
4 medium red chile peppers, quartered and seeded
1 small onion, sliced
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint (optional)

Preheat broiler.

Toss tomatoes, red peppers, onion, and garlic with oil and coriander in a large roasting pan and broil about 4 inches from heat until edges of vegetables are charred, about 7 minutes. Stir vegetables, then broil until vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes more.

Purée vegetables with any juices from pan in a food processor until smooth. Mix in remaining ingredients except mint. Taste and add more brown sugar if necessary, 1/4 teaspoon at a time.

Cool soup, uncovered, 30 minutes, then chill, covered, until cold, at least 2 hours. Just before serving, garnish with chopped mint.

Serves 4.