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RECIPE: Blueberry Cheesecake Bars For National Cheesecake Day

Whip up cheesecake bars for National Cheesecake Day, July 30th.

These were developed for the U.S. High bush Blueberry Council by Emily Hobbs of Ozark, Missouri. There are many more great blueberry recipes on the website.

A layer of crunchy crust, followed by fluffy whipped cheesecake topped with toasted almonds and blueberries? Say no more – I’m yours! These Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars are so good you’ll be licking your fingers for every last bit. Because you cut them into squares, Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars are great to pack for a picnic, dinner at a friend’s, or a family road trip.

 
RECIPE: BLUEBERRY CHEESECAKE BARS

Ingredients For 24 Bars

  • ½ cup plus 6 tablespoons butter
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2¾ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounces cream cheese (1½ packages), softened
  • 2½ teaspoons lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup sliced blanched almonds
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  •  

    Blueberry Cheesecake Bars Recipe

    Highbush Blueberries

    [1] A stack of cheesecake bars. [2] Fresh-picked blueberries (photox courtesy U.S Highbush Blueberry Council).

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Grease a 13-by 9-inch baking pan.

    2. SOFTEN ½ cup of the butter and combine it with ½ cup granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until fluffy. Add 2 cups of flour, the baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt. Beat until crumbly.

    3. TRANSFER the crumbs to the baking pan and pat to make an even layer. Bake for 10 minutes until the surface is dry but not browned. Meanwhile, in the same mixer bowl…

    4. BEAT the cream cheese, the remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar, lemon zest and juice, and almond extract until fluffy. Beat in the eggs until combined. When the crust has baked…

    5. SPREAD spread the cheesecake mixture evenly over the top and bake 20 minutes until the cheesecake has set.

    6. STIR together the brown sugar, remaining ¾ cup flour, cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Cut the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter into ½-inch pieces and add to the brown sugar mixture. Work the butter into the mixture with a pastry blender or your fingers until uniform crumbs have formed. Stir in the almonds.

    When the cheesecake layer has baked…

    7. SPRINKLE the blueberries and crumb mixture over it and bake 20 minutes until the crumbs have browned. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate at least 2 hours until the cheesecake is firm, before cutting into 24 bars.
     
    THE TWO TYPES OF BLUEBERRIES

  • Highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) grow on tall bushes; some cultivars reach a height of 6 to 8 feet. The berries are larger and more abundant than lowbush blueberries, although their flavor may be somewhat less intense and sweet.
  • Lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium), also referred to as wild blueberries, grow in Maine and the colder regions of eastern North America. The shrubs grow no taller than two feet and may be smaller, depending on soil and climate, and produce small, exceptionally sweet bluish-black berries. If you want to plant a bush or two, these are hardy plants that do well in all soils, even poor, rocky types, providing the drainage is good.
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    TIP OF THE DAY: Throw A National S’mores Day Party

    Classic S'mores

    Fancy S'mores

    S'mores Pie Recipe

    [1] Classic S’mores (photo courtesy Dandies vegan marshmallows [they’re great]. [2] Gourmet S’mores made with a Petit Écolier chocolate-topped biscuit and a chocolate chocolate chip marshmallow (photo courtesy Plush Puffs gourmet marshmallows). [3] No-Bake S’mores Pie (photo courtesy Brown Eyed Baker; here’s the recipe).

     

    National S’mores Day, August 10th. We all know the recipe for s’mores, but just in case:

    To make these sandwich cookies, you need one or two marshmallows, two graham crackers and a piece of chocolate bar to fit the grahams for each. The marshmallow is toasted and placed on top of the chocolate and the bottom graham, followed by the top graham. The heat of the toasted marshmallow melts the chocolate into a gooey delight. Don’t forget the napkins.

    We’ve got lots of favorite s’mores recipes (the list is below), but this year we’re having a S’mores party with a twist.
     
    SUBTITUTES FOR THE CHOCOLATE BARS

  • Chocolate mints (e.g. Andes Mints)
  • Flavored chocolate bars (e.g. Lindt’s Crunchy Caramel with Sea Salt Bar; chile, coconut, orange, raspberry, toffee, etc.)
  • M&M’s
  • Nutella
  • Peanut butter cups
  • White chocolate
  •  
    SUBTITUTES FOR THE GRAHAM CRACKERS

  • Brownies or blondies (slice the squares in half)
  • Chocolate chocolate chip cookies With White Chips (or butterscotch chips, PB chips, etc.)
  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Chocolate chocolate chunk cookies
  • Gourmet graham crackers (or homemade)
  • Pavlovas (meringue cups)
  • Peanut butter cookies or other favorite
  •  
    SUBTITUTES FOR THE MARSHMALLOWS

  • Gourmet marshmallows
  • Marshmallow cream (e.g. Fluff)
  •  
    ADD-ONS

  • Bananas, blackberries, blood oranges, strawberries, raspberries or other fresh fruit
  • Bacon
  • Cherry cheesecake spread (mix cream cheese with cherry preserves)
  • Dulce de leche
  • Nuts
  • Toasted coconut
  •  
     
    THERE ARE RECIPES BELOW, BUT FIRST…

     
    THE HISTORY OF GRAHAM CRACKERS, MARSHMALLOWS & CHOCOLATE BARS

    We don’t know who invented S’mores, but the Girl Scouts certainly popularized them: The first published recipe is in their 1927 handbook.

    S’mores around the campfire has been a happy tradition: a stick, a fire, two toasted marshmallows, a square of chocolate and two graham crackers get you a delicious chocolate marshmallow sandwich. The combined flavors of toasted marshmallow, melty chocolate and crunchy grahams is oh-so-much tastier than the individual ingredients (or, to quote Aristotle, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts).

    The name of the sandwich cookie comes from its addictive quality: You have no choice but to ask for “some more.”

    But you don’t need a campfire, or even all of the classic ingredients, to celebrate with S’mores, as you’ll see below. Don’t have a heat source to melt marshmallows? Use Fluff or other marshmallow cream.

  • Graham Cracker History
  • Marshmallow History
  •  

    MORE S’MORES RECIPES

  • S’mores Baked Alaska
  • Cinnamon S’mores and a cappuccino cocktail
  • Creative S’mores Recipes
  • Fancy S’mores (banana split, peach, peanut brittle etc.)
  • Grilled Banana S’mores
  • Gourmet Marshmallow S’mores
  • Ice Cream S’mores
  • S’mores With Other Types Of Cookies
  • S’mores Ice Cream Cake, Ice Cream Pie and Cupcakes
  • S’mores In A Cup Or Mason Jar
  • S’mores Cookie Bars
  • S’mores Ice Cream Cake
  • S’mores On A Stick
  • Smores On The Grill
  • Triscuit S’mores
  •  
    NOT ENOUGH?

    Check out these 25 different S’mores combinations.

     

    S'mores With Homemade Graham Crackers

    Ice Cream S'mores

    [1] S’mores with artisan graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate (photo courtesy Burdick Chocolate). [2] Ice cream sandwich S’mores with S’mores ice cream—chocolate ice cream with pieces of marshmallows and graham crackers (photo courtesy Babble.com).

     

      

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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Choctál’s Singe Origin Ice Cream

    When we first reviewed Choctál ice cream in 2007, it was a unique experience. It still is.

    The California company pioneered single origin ice cream in the two most popular flavors, chocolate and vanilla. The line—four single origin chocolate ice creams and four single origin vanillas—demonstrate how the flavor varies, based on the origin of the cacao and vanilla beans.

    This means you can have one heck of an ice cream tasting for National Ice Cream Month (July).

    It’s a memorable experience, especially for people who enjoy discerning the different flavor profiles between one origin and another in chocolate bars, olive oils, sea salts, wine grapes and so forth. The flavors of these agricultural products and others are greatly affected by their growing environment (terroir).
     
    A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE

    In the beginning—some 4,000 years ago—there was ice cream. Here’s the history of ice cream.

    Fast-forward ahead a few thousand years—beyond the labor-intensive ice cream made by servants of the wealthy in pre-electricity Renaissance days, beyond the invention of the ice cream churn in 1851, beyond the soda fountains at neighborhood drug scores, which engendered the ice cream soda along with scooped ice cream to eat at the fountain or to take home.

    Along with home refrigerators, supermarket brands arrived in the 1950s. Many used cheaper ingredients and whipped more air into then ice cream (known as overrun) to keep gallon prices low. This engendered a USDA classification system. “Economy,” “regular” and “premium” ice creams were defined by butterfat content and overrun.

    Häagen-Daz arrived in the 1970s with even higher butterfat and lower overrun than premium ice cream, inaugurating the superpremium category. With butterfat greater than 14% (some brands have 18% and more), overrun as low as 20% and complex flavors in addition to the basic ones), there’s no rung higher to go on the classification scale—by government standards, at least.

    Some companies—including Choctál—have labeled their ice cream “ultrapremium,” but this is marketing rather than an official government standard.

    And now, there’s single origin ice cream.
     
    WHAT IS “SINGLE-ORIGIN?”

    The term is not currently regulated in the U.S., but single origin can refer either to a single region or at the micro level, to a single farm or estate within that region.
     
    It is based on the agricultural concept of terroir (tur-WAH), a French term that is the basis for its the A.O.C. system (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or controlled designation of origin), created in the 1950s.

     

    Choctal Single Origin Chocolate Ice Cream

    Choctal Single Origin Ice Cream

    Choctal Single Origin Vanilla Ice Cream

    [1] A pint of Kalimantan chocolate, with beans from Borneo. [2] The four origins of chocolate and vanilla may look the same, but the tastes are noticeably different. [3] A pint of vanilla made with beans from Madagascar, the classic raised to the heights by Choctál (photos courtesy Choctál).

     
    These environmental characteristics gives agricultural products their character. A.O.C. and related terms like Italy’s P.D.O. (Denominazione di Origine Protetta, or Protected Designation of Origin.) recognize that different plots of land produce different flavors from the same rootstock. In the 1990s, the European Union created a new system to provide a uniform labeling protocol: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).
     
    What IS “TERROIR?”

    Terroir, pronounced tur-WAH is a French agricultural term that is the basis of the French A.O.C. (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) system. It refers to the unique components of the place (environment) where an agricultural product is grown.

    Each specific habitat (plot of land) has unique set of environmental factors that affect a crop’s qualities, down to nuances of aroma, flavor and texture. They include the climate and microclimate, weather (the season’s growing conditions), elevation height and slant of the land), proximity to a body of water, slant of the land, soil type and amount of direct sunlight.

    This means that the same rootstock that is grown in different locations produces different flavors.

    Not only will the product taste and smell somewhat different (Sauvignon Blanc can have grass or grapefruit aroma and flavor notes—or neither—depending on their terroir), but intermediate products also create a difference.

    For example, grass with more clover, wild herbs, and so forth produces a delicate difference in an animal’s milk, and thus in artisan cheese.

    Note that processing will also affect the flavor. Neighboring wine makers, for example, can use different techniques to create wines that highlight their personal flavor preferences.

     

    Choctal Single Origin  Ice Cream

    Choctal Single Origin  Ice Cream Cones

    Choctàl pints and cones (photos courtesy Choctàl).

     

    THE CHOCTÀL SINGLE ORIGIN ICE CREAMS

    Choctàl Single Origin Chocolate Ice Cream

  • Costa Rican cacao is distinguished by sweet notes of coffee and a hint of butterscotch.
  • Ghana cacao, from the coast of West Africa, has a fudge, milk chocolate character.
  • Kalimantan cacao, from the island of Borneo in the South China Sea, produces intense cacao beans with a slight hint of caramel.
  • Dominican cacao, from the Dominican Republic on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, has a natural dark chocolate flavor profile with notes of clove and nutmeg.
  •  
    Choctàl Single Origin Vanilla Ice Cream

  • Indonesian vanilla is full-bodied, blending the creamy sweetness of classic bourbon (Madagascan) vanilla with a woody floral note.
  • Madagascar vanilla, from the island off the eastern coast of Africa, has been the world standard in vanilla for centuries, smooth and buttery. In the hands of Choctal, it may be the best vanilla ice cream you’ll ever taste.
  • Mexican vanilla has a natural touch of cinnamon. Choctàl adds more cinnamon. It obscures the single origin flavor, but makes a delicious cinnamon-vanilla ice cream.
  • Papua New Guinea vanilla has fruity, floral notes of cherry that linger on the palate during a long, lush finish.
  •  
    The line is certified kosher by OU.

    While the main experience is to taste and compared the different origins to each other, they are also splendid in everything from à la mode to floats.

     
    WHERE TO FIND CHOCTÁL ICE CREAM

    Here’s a store locator to find the nearest pint of Choctàl.

    You can also order pints and gift cards on the Choctàl website.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Meet The Wineshakes~Wine Milkshakes

    July 17th is National Ice Cream Day.

    Of course, it’s easy to head to the freezer, store or scoop shop to celebrate. But we thought you might like something special.

    Like a wineshake, a wine milkshake. Wine + ice cream = wineshake.

    Does it sound unusual? Well: The first printed reference to a milkshake dates to 1885, and referred to an alcoholic drink, a “sturdy, healthful eggnog type of drink, with eggs, whiskey, etc., served as a tonic as well as a treat.”

    By 1900, the whiskey and eggs were gone, and the term “milkshake” referred to “wholesome drinks made with chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla syrups.”

    Yet, the milkshake still contained no ice cream until 1922. Here’s more history of the milkshake.
     
    THE DAWN OF THE WINESHAKE

    The folks at California-based Winc winery have whipped up delicious ice cream and wine milkshake recipes, combining their wines with Van Leeuwen ice cream. But you can use what you have on hand or other substitutes.

    Winc has an online store where you can purchase the wines and send gift cards. We want them just to display the names and label designs: a work of art in wine bottles, so to speak. The wines are well-priced, so this is art we can afford!

    RECIPE #1: COOKIES & CREAM WINESHAKE

    Ingredients Per Shake

  • 1/2 cup cookies and cream ice cream
  • 2 ounces Alchymist Noir Red Blend (Syrah, Barbera and Valdiguié) or other “big red”
  • Giant drizzle chocolate syrup
  • Garnish: more chocolate syrup for drizzling
  • Garnish: Oreo cookies, mix of crushed and whole
  • Optional garnish: whipped cream
  •  
    Preparation

    1. BLEND the ice cream, wine, and big drizzle of chocolate syrup until you reach the desired consistency of your shake. We mixed ours in the blender, but you can use an immersion blender, cocktail shaker or whatever you have at hand.

    2. POUR the shake into a glass. Top with more chocolate syrup and add the Oreos. Drizzle the top with more chocolate syrup and top with whipped cream as desired.

       

    Cookies & Cream Wine Shake

    Chocolate Wine Shake

    Strawberry Rose Wine Shake

    Vanilla Sparkling Wine Shake

    Shake it shake it baby: Wineshakes from Winc winery (photos courtesy Winc).

     

    RECIPE #2: DARK CHOCOLATE PINOT NOIR WINESHAKE

    Ingredients Per Shake

  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate ice cream
  • 2 ounces Porter & Plot Pinot Noir or other Pinot
  • Chocolate syrup, for drizzling
  • Garnish: chocolate chips, fresh cherries with stems
  •  
    Preparation

    2. BLEND the ice cream and wine until you reach your desired consistency.

    2. POUR into a glass, drizzle with chocolate syrup and top with chocolate chips, then the cherries.

     

    Alchymist Pinot Noir

    Au-Dela Dolcetto

    [1] Winc’s Alchymist Noir Red Blend. [2] Au-Delà Sparkling Dolcetto*, a dry sparkling red wine. Au-delà means “beyond” in French (photos courtesy Winc).

     

    RECIPE #3: STRAWBERRY ROSE SHAKÉ

    Ingredients Per Shake

  • 1/2 cup strawberry ice cream
  • 2 ounces Ruza White Zinfandel or other White Zin
  • Fresh strawberries
  • Garnish: more strawberries, for garnish
  • Optional: whipped cream
  •  
    Preparation

    1. BLEND the ice cream, wine, and a handful of strawberries to taste, until you reach the desired berry flavor and shake consistency.

    2. POUR into a glass. Top with whipped cream and garnish with more strawberries.
     
    RECIPE #4: VANILLA SPARKLING SHAKE

    Ingredients Per Shake

  • 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream
  • 2 ounces Au-Delà Sparkling Dolcetto* or other sparkling red wine
  • Fresh mixed berries
  • Garnish: whipped cream, more berries
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    Preparation

    1. BLEND the ice cream, wine, a big handful berries to taste, until you reach desired berry flavor and shake consistency.

    2. POUR into glass. Top with whipped cream, and garnish with more mixed berries.

     
    FLOAT, MALTED MILK, MILKSHAKE: THE DIFFERENCE

  • A float is a carbonated soft drink—cola, root beer, etc.—with a scoop of ice cream “floating” in it.
  • A milkshake blends together ice cream, milk and flavoring.
  • A malted milk, malt for short, is a milkshake with added malted milk powder†.
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    MORE FOOD HOLIDAYS

    National Vanilla Milkshake Day is June 20th; National Chocolate Milkshake Day is September 12th.

    See all the food holidays.
     
    ALSO SEE FROSÉ: ROSÉ & SORBET
     
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    *Dolcetto is a red wine grape from the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. It is now planted in Australia and the U.S. as well. Other sparkling red wines include Brachetto d’Acqui, Lambrusco and Sparkling Shiraz, among others.

    †Malted milk is a powdered gruel made from a mixture of malted barley, wheat flour, and evaporated whole milk. It was originally developed by a pharmacist, James Horlick, as a nutritional supplement for infants. Soon enough, parents discovered how tasty it was…and the rest is history.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Piña Colada Jell-O Shots

    Jell-O Shots

    Pina Colada

    [1] You can make Piña Colada shots with rum, or with add more pineapple juice for a cocktail (photo courtesy BreadBoozeBacon.com). [2] The inspiration: a Piña Colada (photo courtesy Tommy Bahama).

     

    July 10th is National Piña Colada Day, which reminded us that we’d saved a recipe for Piña Colada Jell-O Shots.

    So today’s tip is: Return to youthful fun with Jell-O Shots. You can find recipes online for everything from Margarita to Whiskey Sour Jell-O Shots.

    We first tried another recipe but preferred this one from by Julie Kotzbach of BreadBoozeBacon.com. We also like that she made them in a pan and sliced them, instead of using paper or plastic cups.

    Note #1: Look at the pans or baking dishes you have. Julie used a 6×9″ pan. We used the 8″ square Pyrex baking dish we have.

    Note #2: While most shot recipes use Jell-O (hence the term Jell-O shots), there is none in this recipe. Unflavored gelatin is used instead.
     
    RECIPE: PIÑA COLADA JELL-O SHOTS

    Ingredients For 15 Shots

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin powder
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup pineapple juice
  • 2 tablespoons cream of coconut (Coco Lopez, Coco Reàl*, etc.)
  • ¼ cup white rum or coconut rum (the different types of rum—substitute pineapple juice for a no-alcohol recipe)
  • 15 maraschino cherries, rinsed and dried (we used Tillen Farms’ with stems and just patted them dry)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREPARE the maraschino cherries: Pat dry, first rinsing as needed. Set aside on a paper towel.

    2. SPRINKLE the gelatin over the cold water in a small mixing bowl. Let the powder to soak in for 2 minutes.

    3. POUR the boiling water into the bowl and whisk constantly until the gelatin is dissolved. Then add the sugar, and whisk until dissolved.

    4. ADD the pineapple juice, cream of coconut and rum. Whisk to combine. Pour into a small baking pan (you can also use paper or plastic cups or mini jello molds).

    5. REFRIGERATE for 1 hour until the gelatin has thickened. Place the cherries evenly in 3 lines across the top. Refrigerate until completely set, at least 4 more hours or overnight.

     
    6. PLATE: Dip the bottom of the pan into warm water for 10 to 15 seconds. Run a sharp knife through the gelatin, parallel to the cherry lines, creating 3 strips. Cut each strip into squares. Use a small offset spatula to lift from the pan onto a serving dish. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
     
    CUTTING DOWN ON THE SUGAR

  • Coco Reàl makes a version of its cream of coconut using low-glycemic agave instead of sugar.
  • Smirnoff makes a light pineapple-coconut vodka. Drink it straight or mix it with a splash of coconut water or milk. It’s not a Jell-O Shot, but it is lower in calories. You also can experiment with your own “light” shot recipe.
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    WHO INVENTED THE JELL-O SHOT?

    The American singer-songwriter Tom Lehrer wrote about Jell-O shots in the 1950s, making them as a way to consume alcohol undetected on the Army base where he was stationed (no alcohol allowed).

    Jell-O shots seem like a modern concept, but Jell-O itself (flavored, sweetened gelatin) was invented in 1897. Beginning in the 1400s, gelatin (protein produced from collagen extracted from boiled animal bones and connective tissues) had been used to make desserts—a laborious undertaking.

    In 1862, the first modern cocktail recipe book was published in the U.S.: Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide.

    Jerry Thomas advised: “The strength of the punch is so artfully concealed by its admixture with the gelatine, that many persons, particularly of the softer sex, have been tempted to partake so plentifully of it as to render them somewhat unfit for waltzing or quadrilling after supper.” That sounds so much more charming than “falling-down drunk.”
     
    DON’T WANT TO MAKE JELL-O SHOTS?

    How about a Piña Colada dessert pizza?

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Ice Cream Cake Sundae

    We love this idea from Little Park restaurant in the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York City.

    The chef created Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream: cinnamon ice cream topped with cinnamon toast croutons. Building on that idea, we say:

    Celebrate July, National Ice Cream Month, with an Ice Cream Cake Sundae.
     
    Make the easiest ice cream cake ever, with ice cream and loaf cake layers in sundae dishes, and toasted cake croutons for the topping.

    We served it over July 4th weekend, and guests are clamoring for more. Perhaps it’s time for us to start a tradition of ice cream socials.

  • If you don’t have sundae dishes or other glass bowls, consider wine goblets or other glassware.
  • In addition to croutons made from toasted loaf cake, we cut thin layers from the untoasted loaf to layer in the sundae dishes.
  • We set out the toppings on a lazy susan. We scooped the ice cream and layered the cake, and everyone “dressed their own.”
  • Our recipe follows. You can do it more simply with just one flavor of ice cream and cake, and no toppings.
  •  
    RECIPE: ICE CREAM CAKE SUNDAE

    Ingredients

  • Ice cream flavor(s) of choice
  • Loaf cake(s) of choice
  •  
    Optional Toppings

  • Chocolate sauce (we used Somebody’s Mother’s*)
  • Caramel sauce (we used King’s Cupboard*)
  • Raspberry sauce (a quick purée with a bit of sugar)
  • Fresh berries
  • Whipped cream (we used both chocolate and original flavors of Reddi-Wip)
  •  
    _____________________
    *Both dessert sauce lines are NIBBLE Top Picks Of The Week. Here’s the Somebody’s Mother’s review and the Kings Cupboard review.
     

    Preparation

     

    Cinnamon Ice Cream

    Blueberry Banana Bread

    Reddi-Wip Flavors

    [1] The Ice Cream Cake Sundae (photo courtesy Little Park | NYC). [2] Buy or bake a loaf cake (photo courtesy Driscoll’s Berries). [3] Reddi-Wip flavors (photo courtesy ConAgraFoods).

     
    1. SELECT your ice cream flavors and loaf cakes. We chose the basics—chocolate, coffee and vanilla ice cream. For the loaf cakes: carrot cake, chocolate cake and pound cake loaf cakes (we couldn’t find a good banana loaf).

    2. SLICE some of the loaf cake(s) into 1/4″ to 3/4 inch slices. These are the cake layers, and the number you’ll need depends on the number of guests and how many slices fit in each serving dish. Wrap them in airtight plastic and set aside.

    3. CUT the remaining loaf(s) in as many 3/4″ to 1″ slices as you’ll need. Lightly toast the slices and let cool completely. Then cut them into the crouton size you like (we cut 3/4″ squares), and store them in an airtight container until you’re ready to serve.

    4. SERVE: Per the order of each participant, we scooped ice cream on top of pound cake layers. Don’t worry about exact size: You can push the layers into the sundae dish.

    5. TELL participants to go forth and garnish!

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Off-Season Coconut Macaroons

    Chocolate Dipped Macaroons Recipe

    Coconut Macaroons

    Coconut Macaroon Inside

    Top: Chocolate-dipped macaroons (photo courtesy McCormick). Center: Plain coconut macaroons (photo courtesy Recchiuti Confections). Bottom: Up close (photo by Georgie Grd | Wikipedia).

     

    If you like coconut, don’t wait until Passover* to make coconut macaroons. They’re a great treat year-round, and gluten-free. Bring them as house gifts: They travel well without breaking.

    We adapted this recipe from one by Serena Rain of VanillaQueen.com, purveyor of top-quality vanilla beans, extracts, pastes, powders, sugars and salts.
     
    RECIPE: COCONUT MACAROONS

    You don’t need to add chocolate to macaroons; but if you want to, there are two options:

  • Dip the macaroons in a chocolate glaze.
  • Mix chocolate chips into the dough. This is an especially good option for warm-weather months.
  •  
    Ingredients For About 24 Cookies

  • 3 cups unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 cup almond meal†
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional: 4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (for the dough)
  • Optional: 4 ounces quality chocolate bar (for a glaze)
  • Option: 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
  •  
    Preparation

    You can incorporate the orange peel into the dough or the glaze. We like the “lift” it gives to the recipe.

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Line baking pans with parchment paper.

    2. COMBINE the ingredients in a medium bowl and stir until well incorporated. Use a spoon to scoop tablespoon-sized mounds of the coconut “dough.” Shape into round balls and place on the parchment paper. Alternative: You can drop the dough as unshaped mounds. See the difference between the top photo (dropped) and the bottom photo (shaped).

    3. BAKE for about 20 minutes or until golden brown (aim for the color in the center photo). Let cool.

    4. MAKE the glaze. Place the chocolate in a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir, and if necessary, heat for 30 more seconds until fully melted. Dip the bottoms of the cooled macaroons into the chocolate. Alternatively, place the cookies on a tray lined with parchment paper and drizzle the tops with chocolate; let cool until set. Some people prefer the glaze on top: a chocolate dome. Take your pick.

     
    THE HISTORY OF MACAROONS

    Macaroons appeared in the late 15th or early 16th century in Italy. The historical record isn’t clear, but they are believed to have been created by monks. There were thousands of monasteries in medieval Europe, and monks created different types of beers, brandies and liqueurs, cheeses, pretzels, sweets, wines and spirits.

    The first macaroons were almond meringue cookies similar to today’s amaretti cookies, with a crisp crust and a soft interior. They were made from egg whites and almond paste.

    Italian Jews adopted the cookie because it had no flour or leavening‡, so could be enjoyed during the eight-day observation of Passover. It was introduced to other European Jews and became popular as a year-round sweet. Over time, coconut was added to the ground almonds and, in some recipes, replaced them. Today in the U.S., coconut macaroons are the norm.

    Macaroons came to France in 1533 with the pastry chefs of Catherine de Medici, wife of France’s King Henri II. In France they evolved into delicate meringue cookie sandwiches filled with ganache or jam.

    Here’s more about the different types of macaroons.
     
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    *During the week of Passover, in April, celebrants eat no leavened grains. Macaroons (all varieties) are grain free.

    †Almond meal, or almond flour, is ground from whole, blanched sweet almonds. The nuts are very low in carbohydrates and very nutritious.

    ‡Leavening is the agent that raises and lightens a baked good. Examples include yeast, baking powder and baking soda. Instead of these, macaroons (all types) are leavened with egg whites.
     
      

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    RECIPE: Sweet & Sour Cucumber Salad

    June 13th is National Cucumber Day. How about a refreshing cucumber salad? It’s a perfect accompaniment to almost everything: a great sandwich side, hot dog topping, cookout and picnic fare, and a complement to grilled foods and Asian dishes.

    This recipe is from Sunset Growers, which used their One Sweet mini cucumbers. The mini cukes are seedless or have limited seeds, and the petite slices are nice visually. But conventional cucumbers are fine.

    It’s also much lower in calories and higher in fiber than mayonnaise-based side salads.

    This cucumber salad is dressed with a yummy sesame vinaigrette. You can make the recipe a day before serving. Turn it into a first course or luncheon salad with cooked shrimp.
     
    RECIPE: ASIAN CUCUMBER SALAD

    Ingredients For 4 to 6 Side Servings (3-1/2 Cups)

  • 6 mini cucumbers or 1-1/2 large convention cucumbers
  • 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • Optional: dash of Asian chili sauce
  • 1 green onion (scallion), very thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup tiny-diced red or yellow bell peppers
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    For A Luncheon Salad Or First Course

  • 8 ounces cooked shrimp
  • Green salad for base (we use mesclun)
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    Preparation

    1. MAKE the vinaigrette. Heat the oil in a small saucepan heat over medium-high heat until hot. Add the sesame seeds and stir until toasty, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and add the vinegar, sugar and salt. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Cool to room temperature; then stir in the chili sauce. Meanwhile…

    2. THINLY SLICE the cucumbers. Combine the cucumbers, green onions and bell peppers in a bowl and add the cooled sesame dressing. Toss well and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve using a slotted spoon.

    3. ADD the greens for lunch or an appetizer, top with the cucumber salad and garnish with the shrimp.

     

    Asian Cucumber Salad Recipe

    Mini Cucumbers

    Gulf Shrimp

    Top: Cucumber is refreshing, versatile and low in calories: a win-win-win. Center: OneSweet mini cucumbers (photos courtesy Sunset Growers). Bottom: Cook some shrimp for a luncheon salad or first course (photo courtesy I Love Blue Sea.

     
    MORE FOR NATIONAL CUCUMBER DAY

    Here’s a cucumber cocktail recipe—Cucumber Lemonade made with gin—and the different types of cucumbers.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Pick The Best Live Lobster

    Live Lobster

    Steamed Lobster

    Portuguese Lobster

    Top: One sign of a good lobster: long antennae (photo courtesy I Love Blue Sea. Center: Mmm, mmm: a lobster Platter at North River Lobster Company. Bottom: Different lobster have different colors, both live and when cooked. This one is from Portugal (photo courtesy Vermillion Restaurant).

     

    Planning to buy live lobsters for National Lobster Day (June 15th) or Father’s Day (June 19th)? Here are tips from Executive Chef Cenobio Canalizo of Michael Jordan’s The Steak House N.Y.C.

    HOW TO PICK THE BEST LIVE LOBSTER

    1. FEEL THE SHELL. There are hard-shell and soft-shell (new-shell) lobsters. It’s just a function of whether the lobsters have recently molted (shed their shells), an annual process.

  • On a soft-shell (new shell) lobster, the claws will look pristine. On a hard-shell lobster, the claws will have have scrapes from banging against rocks over the course of the year.
  • The meat in soft-shells is a bit sweeter and more tender, but a lobster with a softer shell is likely to have more water weight and less meat. They’re not as hardy, so they don’t travel as well as hard-shell lobsters. Similarly, hard-shell lobsters have more meat, but they can be a bit tougher.
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    2. GIVE IT A SNIFF. A live lobster should not emit any odor.

    3. PICK A LIVELY LOBSTER. The more active the lobster, the more tender the meat. If the lobster is limp when you pick it up, it’s on its last legs. If it isn’t moving at all, it may be dead. Here’s an easy test: If you straighten out the tail, it should swiftly curve back under the body.

    4. LOOK FOR LONG ANTENNAE. The longer the antennae, the fresher the lobster. Lobsters in a holding tank will often eat each other’s antennae. If a lobster has been there for a long time, its antennae can be nibbled down—often to the base.

    5. DON’T MIND THE COLOR. The top shells are usually dark green or greenish-brown, but they can be black, blue, orange, red, white or yellow. The underbody of a live lobster, particularly the claws, are usually a vibrant red.

    6. SIZE MATTTERS. The larger the lobster, the tougher the meat. Chef Cenobio prefers lobsters under two pounds for the most tender and flavorful meat.

    7. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. There are many different species of lobster in the world’s oceans, but Chef Cenobio says the best come from Canada and Maine.

    8. GENDER DOESN’T COUNT. Most aficionados agree that there is no difference in flavor or texture between male and female lobsters. Females have a small, hard, edible roe called the coral (because of its color). These are the unfertilized eggs of the female. Both genders have the soft, greenish, edible tomalley, which serves as both the liver and pancreas.

    9. PAY ATTENTION TO PRICE. Live lobster costs between $9 to $11 dollars per pound. If the price is lower, often the quality is lower as well.
     
     
    LOBSTER RECIPE IDEAS and LOBSTER TRIVIA: Check ‘em out.

     
    ABOUT MICHAEL JORDAN’S THE STEAK HOUSE N.Y.C.

    Michael Jordan’s is uniquely situated, on the balcony overlooking the Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal. In addition to fine food, you can enjoy the beautiful Concourse architecture and the elaborate ceiling, picturing the constellations. The Terminal, which opened in 1913, is an example of “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.”

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Sweet Or Savory French Toast

    French Toast Recipe

    French Toast Casserole

    Savory French Toast

    Top: French Toast smothered in sautéed apples (photo courtesy Peapod). Center: French Toast Casserole: even easier than regular French Toast (photo courtesy Driscoll’s). Bottom: Savory French Toast (photo courtesy Castello Cheese).

     

    Making perfectly round pancakes is not among our cooking skills. Long before we discovered the gadget known as a pancake batter dispenser, we’d switched to the easier and foolproof French Toast: eggs, milk, white bread or challah, and a pinch of cinnamon.

    Even easier is Baked French Toast (center photo), also known as French Toast Casserole and French Toast Soufflé. Place slices of bread in a baking dish, pour the egg-milk mixture on top, and bake. The benefits: it’s neater (no soaking the bread by hand), all servings are ready at once, and it looks elegant when brought to the table.

    Here’s a recipe that elevates French Toast, substituting brioche for regular bead and sweetened condensed and evaporated milks for whole milk. You can fry it in a pan or bake it in a casserole dish. Yummers!

    Today we recommend two special recipes for Father’s Day: a sweet French Toast with sautéed apples (“Apple Pie French Toast”—top photo) and French Toast with a variety of savory toppings (bottom photo).

    THE HISTORY OF FRENCH TOAST

    The dish known in the U.S. as French Toast has roots at least as far back as ancient Rome, where it was a sweet dish. Pain perdu (lost bread), the modern French name for the dish, was once called pain à la romaine, Roman bread.

    You may read elsewhere that that French Toast was a food of the poor, a way to scrape together a meal from stale bread*. However, recipes from ancient and medieval times denote that it was fare for wealthy people.

    Those recipes used white bread, a luxury, with the crusts cut off (even more of a luxury). Costly ingredients such as spices (cinnamon, cloves, mace and nutmeg), sugar and almond milk are found in numerous recipes. The cooked bread was topped with costly honey or sugar. And cookbooks themselves were the province of the privileged: Only wealthy people and clergy learned to read.

    Poor people ate brown bread, much cheaper because the wheat endosperm did not have to be milled and painstakingly hand-sifted through screens to create refined white flour. (Ironically, this whole wheat bread was more nutritious.)
     
    RECIPE #1: COOKED FRUIT TOPPING FOR FRENCH TOAST

    It’s easy to toss fresh berries onto French Toast. We also like diced mango.

    But for an Apple-Pie-Meets-French-Toast effect, make a quick cooked fruit topping. You can make the topping a day in advance, set it on the counter to warm to room temperature as you make the French Toast, and give it a quick zap in the microwave.

    You can substitute two cups of bananas, blueberries, cherries, peaches, pineapple, etc. for the apples.

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 1 tablespoon butter (more as needed)
  • 3 large apples (Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, etc.), peeled and diced into ½-inch cubes (yields 2 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
  • Preparation

    1. MELT the butter in a medium sauté pan over medium heat; add the apples, cinnamon and salt. Cook for 5-6 minutes until tender, then stir in the maple syrup. If you prefer very soft apples, cook them for 10-12 minutes before adding the maple syrup.

    2. COOK for 1 minute more. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.
     
    SAVORY FRENCH TOAST

    Ditch the maple syrup or other sweet condiments. Even if you like sweet French Toast, you’ll like it savory, too.

    Here’s the basic recipe, topped with sautéed cherry tomatoes and shaved Parmesan. Our favorite variations:

  • Blue cheese and sautéed apple slices with a pinch of thyme to garnish
  • Feta and Kalamata olives with an oregano garnish
  • Ham and cheese French Toast sandwich
  • Sautéed onions and chicken livers with a pinch of sage (Dad’s favorite)
  • Smoked salmon, caviar and crème fraîche with a pinch of dill (Mom’s favorite)
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    *The poor used stale bread for crostini (toast) or topped it with soup (the dish was originally called “sops,” referring to the bread or toast used to sop up the hot food), stew or melted cheese (a “Welsh Rabbit”) to soften the bread and make a meal.

     
      

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