Strawberry Basil Cooler

Cooler 1

I just returned from the Food Blogger Forum in Asheville, North Carolina. The organizers did a fantastic job of putting together a memorable program in what has got to be one of the most food-focused areas of the United States. In addition to the informative seminars and the opportunity to network with many of my fellow food bloggers, we were treated to an all-day Foodtopia tour, which included the Highland Brewing Company, where we were treated to their selection of beers and an array of food from the local food scene. Beer We also visited the Looking Glass Creamery and even had an opportunity to meet some of the goats that produced the milk for their wonderful cheeses. Goat The day finished up with a restaurant tour that evening. All I can say is, “Wow.” The food and company were fantastic, with a focus on fresh, local ingredients that also happens to be a big part of Jeannine’s Cuisine. Pour I was so inspired by the trip to Asheville that I’ve decided to concentrate the next few blog posts on some of the experiences we had during the Foodtopia tour. This post features a refreshing cocktail with basil that was a result of a stop at Strada Italiano, a lovely restaurant in the heart of downtown Asheville. We were given a choice of appetizers, and I just had to try the signature figs, stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto. Hmm, maybe I’ll have to try and recreate that one as well. It was a little humid that night and the refreshing pineapple cocktail with basil that was waiting at the table when we arrived was a welcome addition to the evening. I decided to try my hand at my own version of a basil cocktail and this was the result. Summer may be fading, but, at least if you are in the DC area or points further South, you’ve still got some time to try this.

 Cooler Closeup

Strawberry Basil Cooler

1 Serving

The recipe includes ingredients to make enough strawberry syrup for 4-6 drinks. You will want to plan far enough ahead to give the syrup time to cool before preparing the drinks. 1 pint strawberries 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup water Fresh basil, two leaves per drink 2 ounces Absolute Citron vodka per drink 1 small bottle soda water To make the strawberry syrup, hull and quarter the strawberries until you have 2 cups. Set aside the remaining strawberries for the drinks. Place the strawberries and sugar in a saucepan and set aside allowing them to macerate for 15-30 minutes. The longer you can let them sit, the more pronounced the strawberry flavor will be. Place the pan on the stove over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat when the sugar is dissolved and the strawberries have turned to mush. This should be very shortly after the mixture comes to a boil. Strain the mixture, setting aside the syrup and discarding the strawberries. Chill thoroughly. To prepare the drink, muddle one strawberry and two basil leaves in a glass. Add 2 ounces of the vodka and 3 tablespoons of the syrup and stir. Fill the glass with ice and top with soda water. Stir again and serve garnished with a fresh strawberry.  

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad with Pistou

Tom Mozz

It could have been worse. I could have broken my right arm in three places (I’m right handed), rather than the left. I could have knocked my teeth out or broken my jaw when I landed face down in the street, yet somehow I managed to keep my badly scraped up face intact. I was very lucky that my shoulder stayed in place and will not require surgery and that I should regain full use of my arm, even though it will take at least 6 months. There have been some important lessons learned during this ordeal.

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I am one of those people who are busy, busy, busy, no matter what. When I am not trying to juggle doing several things at once, I’m preoccupied with what’s next. I never seem to be able to “stop and smell the roses” and quite honestly, I think I’m beginning to understand that is no way to live my life. A month ago when I fell while walking the dog, I was totally preoccupied with worrying about something I shouldn’t have been concerned about and wondering how I was going to be able to squeeze one more “to do” into an already packed schedule.

My accident has forced me to finally slow down. It’s a little difficult to rush through life with only one functioning arm, and it’s given me the opportunity to really think about what I want out of life. I still don’t have all the answers, but I’ve been able to narrow it down a bit. It’s time to ease back on the throttle and focus on the things I really enjoy, like this blog, and accept that other things might have to fall by the wayside.

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Speaking of this blog, I was just dying to pick up my camera again and get back to it; hence this post. But, I had to question my sanity as I was crawling around on the dining room floor trying to get the perfect shot while using my tripod as a second arm. Maybe I should continue slowing down, i.e., resting and healing a little longer?

Slowing down while healing also meant turning over the kitchen duties to my husband, who has done a wonderful job of keeping food on the table. I’m back in the kitchen now, albeit one-handed, and the food I’m able to cook is limited, which might not be a bad thing. Simple dishes that let the ingredients speak for themselves sound really good to me right now.

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During the summer I am always more inclined to simplify my cooking anyway. There is so much great produce out there. This year we joined a CSA for the first time. The season just started, and the jury is still out – garlic scapes and kohlrabi anyone? But this week we did receive a huge bundle of basil in our weekly selection. I was originally just going to make a Caprese salad but decided to go one step further by making a Pistou to drizzle over sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Provençal Pistou is very similar to its Italian cousin, Pesto, with the difference that Pistou does not contain pine nuts. I was looking for a more pure basil flavor for this sauce. Pistou is one of those sauces that have so much versatility. Try it stirred into vegetable or legume soups or over any kind of grilled meat or fish.

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Tomato and Mozzarella Salad with Pistou

4 Servings

The number of servings for this salad can vary depending on how many tomatoes and how much mozzarella you have on hand. The recipe makes enough Pistou to double the amount of servings. I used two really large heirloom tomatoes for four servings, which would also equate to two nice lunch servings.

 Pistou

1 clove garlic

2 cups packed basil leaves

1/3 cup grated Parmesan

7 tablespoons olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Salad

4 medium or 2 very large tomatoes

1/2 pound fresh mozzarella

Make the Pistou. Peel and halve the garlic clove length wise and remove the germ in the center of the clove. Note: This isn’t so important when you are cooking garlic, but the germ can be somewhat bitter when garlic is not cooked. Place the garlic, basil, and Parmesan in the mini-bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are finely chopped. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a steady stream. Add salt and pepper to taste and pulse to blend.

Assemble the salad. Slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella. I like slices that are a little under half an inch, but not as thin as a quarter of an inch. Arrange the tomato slices on individual plates or a serving platter. Top each tomato slice with a slice of mozzarella. Drizzle with the Pistou and serve.