Organic Meats, Easy Entertaining, Soul Food Desserts

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Many, many years ago I co-wrote a book that still seems to be in rotation on many kitchen shelves. Cucina Fresca is still an inspiration in my work and when thinking about what to make for the July 4th holiday I turned to one of my favorites.

Mediterranean Potato Salad
Get some great potatoes from the Farmers Market. Weiser Farms always has a great assortment this time of year.

Boil the potatoes, I don't bother peeling them, preferring the slightly nutty taste the skins add to the salad. After they are just tender, drain them and set aside to cool, then cut into a rough one inch dice and toss with some diced tomatoes. (Maybe cut some of the super sweet and crunchy little ones I've seen the past couple of weeks at Florabellas.) Then add a bit of minced red onion, a scant handful of chopped pitted olives, either red or black, a minced clove of garlic, some capers and toss it all with olive oil and vinegar to taste. Lately I've been using a lot of aged sherry vinegar. Of course don't forget some good salt and pepper to taste. Holds up well to a picnic and you don't have to worry about the mayonnaise turning.

A great accompaniment to any July 4th feast is a Mediterranean potato salad made with small red or yellow potatoes. Boil them until tender. Slice them up then add, capers, pitted Kalamata olives, a good handful of chopped Italian parsley, olive oil and vinegar to taste. Add some chopped tomatoes if you want.

Aicha's Corn Salad
Every time I prepare for one of my Thursday night dinners, I spend at least a good part of a day engrossed in one of my favorite activities, skimming through cookbooks and my notes on recipes. Last week the theme was Morocco, and I found a salad so unique and perfect for summer that I thought I would share it with you. The recipe is adapted from my friend Kitty Morse's book on North African Vegetarian Cuisine, a book I turn to a lot for catering jobs. She calls the recipe "Aicha's Corn Salad." The combination of veggies is truly unique.

First, cut the niblets off the cob of some good fresh sweet corn. Chop some cilantro, some green onions, radishes, and red peppers so that they are thin or finely chopped. Set the veggies aside and prepare the secret ingredient -- grapefruit. Prepare what are called "supremes" of grapefruit by cutting the fruit sections completely free of any white pith or membrane. As you do this, place the supremes in a bowl so that it will catch any juice they give off.

Several hours before serving, saute the corn in olive oil or butter just until it's barely cooked and still crisp. Mix the corn together with the cilantro, green onions, red peppers and grapefruit with all its juice. Add the touch of Moroccan spices, some ground cumin, a pinch of cinnamon, salt and either black pepper or harissa, (Moroccan hot sauce) to taste. You have a refreshing and unusual way to use corn all summer long.

Leonard Schwartz is one of the owners of Zeke's Smokehouse BBQ, 2209 Honolulu Ave, Montrose, CA 91020, 818-957-7045 .

Baked Beans

  • 1 lb small white (Navy) beans, soaked overnight
  • 1 1/2 quarts water
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 6 slices bacon, diced small
  • 1 small to medium brown onion, diced fine
  • 1 small to medium red bell pepper, diced 1/4 inch in size
  • 1/2 tsp garlic, minced fine
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 Tablespoon mustard
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup BBQ sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon liquid smoke
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Drain beans after soaking overnight. Combine beans and water, bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 2 hours. Do not add salt until beans are tender.

While beans are cooking, brown the bacon in a saute pan. When brown, add the onion, red bell pepper and garlic. Sweat until soft on medium heat.

In a deep braising pan, combine the cooked vegetables with the beans and their cooking liquid. Add all other ingredients and stir well.

Bake uncovered in oven for about 2 hours or until thickened to desired consistency.

* You can add a dash of apple cider, cider vinegar, sugar, honey, brown sugar and a jalapeno or pasilla pepper if you like.

These recipes are from Joyce White's Brown Sugar: Soul Food Desserts from Family and Friends.

Watermelon Ice Cream
Makes about 3 quarts.

  • 1/2 of a whole real ripe watermelon, 5 to 6 lbs
  • 2 cups granulated sugar, less if the watermelon is sugar sweet
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup black currant-flavored liqueur, such as Creme de Cassis, or sweet Ruby Port or Sherry
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract
  • 3 cups heavy cream, well chilled
Cut the watermelon flesh into small pieces. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and discard. Measure 6 cups of the watermelon, making sure that the cups are firmly packed with the fruit, and place in a large mixing bowl. (After you finish this recipe, cool out and eat the leftover watermelon; it is good for you.)

Place 3 cups of watermelon in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Pour the pureed watermelon into a large stainless heavy saucepan. Stir in the sugar and mix well.

Set the pan on medium heat and cook the mixture, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the syrup begins to bubble. Reduce the heat to low, and continue cooking the syrup 10 to 12 minutes, until it deepens in color and is slightly thickened. Don't let the syrup boil.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the liqueur or wine and vanilla extract. Pour the hot syrup over the remaining watermelon in the bowl and mix well.

Cool the watermelon mixture completely. Stir in the heavy cream. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or foil, set in the refrigerator and chill 2 to 3 hours.

Pour the watermelon-cream mixture into a blender or food processor and puree or pulse until very smooth. Do this in batches and pour the pureed mixture through a sieve or strainer into a chilled ice cream canister.

Stir the melon-cream mixture again, using a long spoon. Freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.

Burnt Sugar Ice Cream
Makes about 2-1/2 quarts

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup brewed hot coffee
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1-1/2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup bourbon, dark rum or brandy
  • 3 cups heavy cream, chilled
Have ready a pastry brush, a cup of hot water to brush down sugar crystals from the sides of the pan, a candy thermometer, and a long-handled wooden spoon.

Combine the granulated sugar, cream of tartar, and 3 tablespoons water in a 6-cup heavy saucepan. Set the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with the wooden spoon, until the sugar dissolves. Cover the pan and cook the syrup for 3 minutes.

Remove the cover. Dip the pastry brush into the water and brush down the sides of the pan. Attach the candy thermometer to the inside of the pot.

Cook the syrup until it turns deep, dark brown in color, has a reddish undertone, and reaches 320 to 325 degrees on the candy thermometer, swirling the pan to stir the liquid rather than using a spoon.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool, 2 to 3 minutes. Then, pour a tablespoon of coffee at a time down the side of the pan into the syrup. The syrup will release steam and splatter, so do this carefully. Once all the coffee is added, stir the syrup and set aside.

Combine the milk and salt in the tope of a double boiler. Cook over--not in--hot water until the milk is hot and bubbly, for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Using a handheld electric mixer set a medium-high speed, beat until pale and lemony, for about 2 minutes, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice.

Add a few tablespoons of the hot milk to the egg yolk-sugar mixture and whisk briefly. Add another ladleful of hot milk to the egg yolks and whisk again. Now pour the warmed egg mixture into the double boiler and mix well.

Raise the heat a bit. Cook the custard, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon for 10 to 12 minutes, or until it thickens and coats a spoon, and reaches 170 on a candy or instant read thermometer. Don't let the custard boil as it can curdle.

Stir in the caramelized syrup and coffee mixture, the vanilla extract, and the bourbon or rum or brandy and mix well.

Remove the custard from the heat and pour immediately through a strainer into a large clean bowl. Set the bowl of custard in an ice water bath and chill completely, stirring occasionally to release steam.

Add the cream to the custard and mix well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or foil, set in the refrigerator, and chill at least three hours or overnight.

Pour the custard into a chilled ice cream freezer container, and stir to mix well. Freeze according to the manufacturer's direction.

Here's the freezing ratio: Use 1 cup coarse salt to every 8 cups (2 quarts) of crushed ice, which freezes quicker than ice cubes. Layer the salt and ice to the top of the freezer, but don't cover the lid with salt. It can seep into the canister and you end up with salty ice cream!

Churning: The delectable concoction is ready when the crank sputters and wheezes you have difficulty turning it, 15 to 25 minutes.

Packed: Remove the crank unit and carefully wipe off the lid of the freezer canister with a clean cloth. Remove the dasher. Scrape down the sides of the container and, if desired, stir in sugared berries or fruits or nuts at this time. Pack down the ice cream. Cover the top of the container with a sheet of wax paper or foil and replace the lid. The ice cream will become harder during the ripening, which requires the addition of more salt and ice, about four parts ice to one part salt.

Ripe On: Repack the freezer bucket with ice and coarse salt according to manufacturer's direction or harden the ice cream in the refrigerator freezer and set in a cool place.