Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Honeydew Melon Basil Sorbet

This weekend I had company over for dinner. I wanted to serve something for dessert that had herbs in it. I came up with the perfect thing for this HOT Vegas weather. It is light and refreshing. The color is even inviting. The best part is that it was so simple to make! Here is my recipe for honeydew melon basil sorbet.
Honeydew Mellon Basil Sorbet

1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 honeydew melon
5 large basil leaves, finely minced
2 T lime juice

First make a simple syrup by combining water, sugar and basil. Bring to a boil for one minute and then simmer for about 3 minutes. Let the syrup cool completely. Cut up honeydew melon. Puree the melon in a food processor. Add the lime juice and combine with the simple syrup. Chill the mixture for about an hour. Put mixture into an electric ice cream maker. Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Stevia, The Real Thing

As I was waltzing down the aisles of the local Whole Foods store in my area, I came across the fresh herb section. I am always looking for a little something new for my garden, and boy did I find it! There it was, hidden behind a stack of chocolate mint plants. It was Stevia or the Sweet Leaf Plant. I was so curious that I did the unthinkable. I picked a leaf of the plant and ate it...right there in the store...without paying first. My curiosity overcame me. I was not sure what to feel, guilt or satisfaction. With the first bite, a release of sickly sweet flavor raced across my tongue. It was not like sugar, but more like the sweetest of sweet artificial sweetener. But it did not have the strange after taste. After eating my leaf I plopped the plant in my basket, and then prayed that there would not be an adverse reaction for foolishly eating an herb without doing my research first. Doing research on an herb before you eat it is very important. Some herbs do not mix with modern medicines or even just one's own body makeup. Like sage, for instance, drying up mother's milk. I wondered what adverse effect stevia could have on me. It could not be too bad, after all they make powder out of it and sell it almost in every grocery store.

So, here is the scoop. Why have we not seen stevia for sale in the U.S.A. until the last few years? It was banned by the FDA until 2006. It still can not be used in products as a sweetener; like in a soft drink. But, it can be sold as a powder form to put into coffee, tea, etc. Research in 1999 found that stevia carries some form of carcinogens, and therefore is deemed unsafe in large quantities.

It has been used in tropical areas in South America for decades or even centuries. In Peru stevia was used to sweeten the local Yerba Mata drink. The plant is best used in modern day for the diabetic. It is sweeter than sucrose, but has no effect on blood glucose.

All in all, I found nothing that would compromise my health if I chose to use stevia as a sweetener. I think, however, I will just use it for a great looking herb that has a fun story behind it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Basil Bliss

One of my favorite Summer herbs is basil. The broad fragrant leaves smell of pepper and lemon. I like to keep a plant in my kitchen just to brush the tips of my fingers across top. Like many other odoriferous herbs, it calms my spirits. It not only smells good, but it is beautiful. Just having a plant around congers up delicious dishes and delightful memories.

I had always had an interest in herbs, but had never really thought about or probably had never been properly introduced to basil. When I graduated from collage with a B.A. in Art History I was so surprised I could not find a job. Why nobody ever told me Art History would be the most useless degree to obtain I shall never know. I had grand ideas of curating a museum, developing education programs, writing some important literature or at least hanging a picture. What I got though was a job as a receptionist for a newspaper near the Washington beltway.

It was there that I would meet and have a long affair with "basil". My boss at the newspaper lived in Lovettsville, VA. It is a tiny town about one and a half hours outside of D.C. She commuted in everyday so that she could live in a refurbished log home from the 1700's, raise horses and grow a beautiful garden. When I realized that I had better go get a M.A. degree to top of my brilliant B.A. in Art History my boss gave me a little party. The one and only item at the party I remember was a small crock full of basil butter. It was like summer sunshine. Every bit tasted of smooth butter and peppery basil.

Fifteen years, a M.A. degree and a wonderful family later, I still make my basil bliss butter. You have to start by using a good butter. I like the kind from France! Then you chop the sweet green basil and mix it in. It is great on hot bread or just sandwiches. Enjoy! Oh, and always, always, always rethink a degree in Art History.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

London Is The New Paris

While some might disagree, I must admit that I think London IS the new Paris. Cool and charming, London stands apart from the cold metropolis of Paris. Maybe it is because I speak English and my mother's family came from England. Perhaps it is the familiarity of American history intertwined with the British narrative. But it may just be that London is a beautiful city; historic architecture, witty and kind citizens, cute taxi cabs, double decker red buses, lovely parks, wonderful shopping & food....well, NOT the food. I give that one to Paris.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Recently my sweet husband took me to both London and Paris for our tenth anniversary. There were many similarities in both places. Much of what I had found so charming in Paris was equally if not more wonderful in London. Westminster Abbey for instance is London's Notre Dame (without the flying buttresses). There was a beautiful choir in Notre Dame singing medieval music when we were there that seemed to transport you back to when Joan of Arch walked the aisles of the nave. Westminster on the other hand, had the most adorable old men dressed in robes to act as your guide; ever so eager to assist with any questions, and ever so personable and proud to introduce an American to their culture.

Westminster Abbey's facade

Paris has chewing, gooey, mouthwatering macaroons filled with soft cream; only really and truly tasty if you can get them fresh and in Paris. They are given to you carefully in a little bag neatly tied for you to take home and eat later with your coffee. It is only the rude foreigners who break the seal and sneak the pastry in a nearby alley so the French will not spy their unfavorable and barbaric actions.

London has their equivalent of the French macaroon. They look similar with their round tops and bottoms painted in vibrant colors; middles that ooze fresh whipped cream. These are the English whoopee pies. Harrods department store sells hundreds a day. After being in line forever people can not even wait to eat them. With hand in bag not two seconds after paying, their mouths are stuffed with the pastry. Off into the street they boldly go brushing their mouths and licking their lips.

Even though London is now MY new Paris, I still love both cities. And I still plan to visit both hopefully more often!