Sweet Tea Slushies

Sweet Tea Slushies

Sweet tea is the stuff summer afternoons are made of–or should be, at least. Whether sweetened or unsweetened, iced tea is a time-tested way to beat the heat. But throw in some ice cubes, blend the drink into a slushie, and you’ve got a brand-new way to enjoy a summer afternoon on the porch. Cold-brewing the tea in the refrigerator overnight, much like one would make cold-brew coffee, takes hardly any work at all. Throw some tea bags in a jug of water and let it sit overnight. Once the tea concentrate is brewed, you make this drink at a moment’s notice.

You could also make the lemonade slushie from the Mixed Berry Frozen Lemonade for a half-‘n-half (aka Arnold Palmer!) slushie. These are best served with a straw and a spoon so you can get all of the icy, refreshing goodness. With the concentrate amounts given, you’ll be able to make about eight slushies. But since a blender will only make two at a time, you can keep the concentrate and syrup in the fridge for a week or so if you’d like, or simply make them in batches. A slice of lemon on top adds to the sweet tea appeal.

Natalie of Good Girl Style joins us each month to share incredible desserts with Big Girls, Small Kitchen readers–desserts that are entirely gluten-free, but not like obviously gluten-free. That means no specialty flours or hard-to-find ingredients, just stuff like sugar, tea, and lemon.  Want even more GF desserts? Check out Natalie’s recipe for Strawberries Brulée

Salsa at Home, No Excuses

Salsa at Home, No Excuses

I’m not opposed to ready-made foods, supermarket shortcuts, already cleaned shrimp, and I do not make everything from scratch. Small kitchen, busy life, etc.

But I’ve found there’s a strangely large range in the edibles we outsource to others. Some are truly difficult or time-consuming to make at home, and I’m happy to pay for a vinegar professional to turn wine into vinegar so I don’t have to (maybe one day, Sandor Ellix Katz). But others can be whipped up fresh quickly and easily. They take just a few ingredients and hardly more effort than the opening of that purchased jar. Salsa is one of them. And the payoff is big.

(See also: Hummus.)

Especially now, when ripe tomatoes and tomatillos are coming, there’s no reason to spend money on a premade jar. I find a lot of the jarred salsas taste alike, even when they claim different flavors. And, they’re always shockingly acidic and overly salty. Even in winter, you can make a better batch from a can of whole tomatoes. The flavor of homemade is simpler and more immediate.

To elucidate the condiment that’s more popular than ketchup and do justice to “the soul of [Mexican] cuisine,” I wanted to post four different ways you can make some salsa at home. The roasted version may be the simplest, as there’s almost no chopping, but there’s not a clear hierarchy among the four types.

**Four Ways to Make Salsa at Home**

Roasted Salsa
Tomatoes or Tomatillos + Fresh Chiles + Quartered Onion + Garlic Cloves + Lime
Put about two pounds of the tomatoes or tomatillos on a baking sheet, whole, with a jalapeño or two trimmed of its stem, a peeled onion cut into fourths, and a few garlic cloves still in their skin. Toss generously with oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast at a high temperature (500°F works) for about 15 minutes, until nearly black in places. Remove the garlic from the skin. Put everything in a blender and run until smooth. Add lime juice and salt to taste.

Cooked Salsa
Tomatoes or Tomatillos + Garlic + Fresh Chiles + White Onion + Cilantro + Salt
Instead of roasting the fruit, you quickly blanch them in boiling water before transferring to the blender. Instead of cooking the coarsely chopped onion, chiles, etc., you add all the rest of the ingredients to the blender raw, which balances out the mellowed tomatoes or tomatillos with a bright punch. If you prefer a chunkier salsa, use the food processor instead of the blender.

Simmered Salsa
Canned Tomatoes + Garlic + Onions +  Herbs + Dried Chiles. 
Forgive me for writing this, but making simmered salsa is a lot like making everyday spaghetti sauce, just with different herbs. Heat up some oil, add chopped garlic and onions, and cook them until just barely soft (retaining some texture is good). Add the tomatoes and herbs–you can do dried Mexican oregano or fresh cilantro, and simmer for 10 minutes or so, so the flavors meld. You can add minced jalapeño with the garlic and onion, but this is a place where I reach for my dried chile stash. Soak 1 or 2 dried chiles like guajillo or ancho in water for a few minutes, then pulse them in a food processor with some of the tomato liquid and add that to the pan with the tomatoes. Season with salt and cool to room temperature before serving.

Fresh Salsa
Diced Vegetables + Minced Onion + Minced Cilantro + Minced Fresh Chile + Lime Juice + Oil Drizzle
Pico de gallo means “rooster’s beak,” but no one seems to know why. The typical raw tomato salsa is popular in Mexico and seen at every burrito joint in the U.S. To make it, combine about 1 pound of chopped ripe tomatoes with half of a minced white onion, 1 minced jalapeño, 1/2 cup minced cilantro, 3 tablespoons of lime juice, and a solid drizzle of oil. Season with salt.

You don’t have to stick to tomato. Try fruits, from mango to peach and vegetables from radish to cucumber to corn. Mint, basil, or oregano can replace or supplement the cilantro.

How to Make the Crispiest Fish (with Tabasco Compound Butter)

Crispiest Fish with Tabasco Butter | Big GIrls Small Kitchen

How do you make the crispiest fish–the kind your order at restaurants? And what do you put on that fish to preserve its simplicity but also make it exciting?

Those are the two pressing questions we’re answering in today’s post.

I’ve been searching for a couple years for a consistent way to make the best simple fish. I love a good fish stew, a pot of steamed mussels, a skillet of salmon roasted on greens. But to get crispy skin and a perfectly cooked interior on today’s fresh catch from Mermaid’s Garden without leaving delish detritus in the pan: that’s harder. I’ve tried cornmeal. I’ve tried dusting with Wondra flour. At last, I’ve settled on nothing but high heat, thanks to a tiny tip from one of this winter’s editions of Bon Appetit.

The kind of heat you need will probably make you uncomfortable. The pan will grow dark and brownish before you start. The oil will smoke. The fish will crackle loudly. You’ll have to open your windows and close your bedroom door. You’ll want to turn your fan around so it faces out, not in. But the cooking takes all of 5 minutes, after which the smoke will clear and the scent will diffuse, and you’ll sit down to perfectly cooked fish filets that have remarkably crispy skin and very juicy flesh.

And then what? You don’t want to sauce your fish with anything goopy, out of fear of softening that hard-earned crispy crust and diminishing the subtle flavor.

A compound butter is answer. Compound butter is just butter that’s been mixed with flavorings. You don’t need much of it to do a lot of seasoning work, so serve with a dollop. (But if you keep the bowl on the table, like we did, you’ll probably end up garnishing every bite with a new smear of butter, especially once your palate acclimates to the heat.)

Tabasco sauce–the original flavor–adds that heat, as well as the acidity that seafood craves. You use a big quantity of the hot sauce here: 3 tablespoons for the 1/2 cup of butter. Put in another tablespoon if you’re serious about heat. At first, when you sample the butter, you’ll think even 3 tablespoons was too much. But next to the crispy hot sear of the fish, you’ll find that hot butter is just what you want. The butter starts off solid but soon melts to become a balanced sauce, just the pairing your perfect filets were looking for.

If you’re wondering what’s below the fish, that’s the kind of hodgepodge I cook up on weeknights based on what’s in the fridge and pantry. For this one, I simmered about a cup of farro in salty water and sautéed sweet potatoes, onions, and kale in a skillet. I combined the two together and seasoned with some leftover shallot vinaigrette.

This post is sponsored by Tabasco as part of TABASCO® Tastemakers program. If you missed the first of the four Tabasco/BGSK recipes–Chipotle Pecans–get at it now. All opinions, as always, are my own. Thanks for supporting the sponsors who keep BGSK delicious!

How to Make a DIY Always Ready Picnic “Basket”

How to Make a DIY Picnic Basket | Big Girls Small Kitchen

You want to go to the park for a picnic or the beach for an early sandwich dinner. Eating outside is irresistible, so this desire is probably on repeat right now. But planning the meal takes more effort than daydreaming about how to source tomatoes for patafla. You need stuff: utensils, cups, drinks, bug spray.

That’s why I’ve always been tempted to own one of those fully loaded picnic baskets, the kind with patterned plastic plates and a built-in strap for your wine bottle. But given the changing seasons of the northeast, I know that such a possession would burden the clutter-free kitchen for three-quarters of the year. It’s easy to say no when there’s no space for storage and the snow is falling. It’s harder to say no when the sun is shining, even when you don’t want to overcrowd your closets.

Four Aperitifs to Drink Instead of Cocktails

Aperitifs | Big Girls Small Kitchen

If you want to mix me a Manhattan or stir me a Moscow Mule, I will never say no. But though I know I might be able to build a small kitchen-style minimalist liquor cabinet that yielded an impressively varied array of mixed drinks, I haven’t yet. Normally, I’m content to open a beer and then go make a mess in the kitchen instead of at the bar. Sometimes you just have to go with what obsesses you.

But I do love the premise of a drink before dinner, the sipping of something cold and a little bit sweet to put the day behind you and get your appetite ready for a meal. That thing just doesn’t have to be a cocktail.

So I thought I’d tell you about four aperitifs that you can pour straight from the bottle this summer. Each of these herb-infused liquors, most based off of wine, seem more special than wine or beer, yet they’re a whole lot less work than any cocktail. (All are great cocktail mixers, though, if we ever change our minds about mixing.) You can pour them right over ice. Or, if you want to do a little work, you can pour a half-inch of seltzer or champagne to make fizzes, and/or garnish with orange or lemon slices or rinds.

Strawberries Brulée

Brulee Strawberries

Strawberries are at the height of perfection, a sure sign of summer days. Add in a bonfire with s’mores, and there is nothing better. But since graham crackers are a no-no for those with gluten sensitivity, these bruléed berries are a delicious alternative. Whether dipped in chocolate first or not, dipped in crushed cookies or not, the combination of fruit and melty marshmallow topping is heaven at first bite. If you don’t have a little kitchen torch, try broiling these for just a second or two.

If you’ve made the Cappuccino Marshmallows, you already know the procedure to make marshmallow fluff. Beating this for a slightly shorter time keeps it soft and creamy, and, of course, there is no cappuccino component (though that may be a tasty addition!). The berries must be absolutely dry for the chocolate and marshmallow to stick, so be sure to pat them well with paper towels. Eat these right away for the best taste and texture.

Natalie of Good Girl Style joins us each month to share incredible desserts with Big Girls, Small Kitchen readers–desserts that are entirely gluten-free, but not like obviously gluten-free. That means no specialty flours or hard-to-find ingredients, just berries, chocolate, and homemade marshmallow.  Want even more GF desserts? Check out Natalie’s Chocolate-Covered Banana Pudding Pops.