Perfect Summer Fruit Salad (Hello 4th of July BBQ!)

n my junior year of high school, my French class when to the Alliance Francaise in Chicago. My teacher had been coy about the whole trip, only saying that it would be a “cultural experience”, which is really such a French thing to say.

The Alliance Francaise is an organization focused on the promotion of the French language and culture. They regularly screen French films, host coffee clubs, offer Adult French language classes, and connect native and foreign French speakers with one another.

On this high school field trip, however, our focus was on seeing a French movie (In French, naturally), and participating in a French cooking class. Now, because I was super nerdy (still am, let’s be honest), I was totally into the whole idea of a French cooking class. The class was conducted in French, the ingredients and directions were listed in French, and the food was French.  I was prepared to make some classic French dish like beef bourguignon, a la Julia Child, but the instructor thought otherwise.

Looking back, the simple fruit salad the instructor chose was definitely appropriate for a group of high schoolers who regularly depended on EasyMac and Ramen for their afternoon snacks. I, of course, thought otherwise: I had been cooking with my dad and baking with my mom in the kitchen since I could walk. Fruit salad in my mind was not deserving of its own lesson. I mean, you essentially cut up fruit and put it in a bowl. How was a French fruit salad any different?

But I was wrong.

Our French cooking instructor told us that the secret to making a delicious fruit salad was not only cutting fruit in somewhat uniform pieces, but adding vanilla extract. Yes, vanilla. My mind was blown then, just as is continues to be now. The vanilla, essentially make a sweet syrup, coating all the fruit and drawing out all their natural flavors. Delicious. 



Ever since that class, when I have needed to take an easy to prepare dish to a party or a gathering, I take this. Every time, someone always comes up to me and asks: “what on Earth is in this? It is the best fruit salad I have ever had.” 

Ahhh, see. The French. Their cooking. They just know.

Some cook’s notes:

  • Your fruit can be cut in advance in stored in individual airtight containers to save on prep time the day of serving, however, many types of fruit will start to brown. Adding the lemon juice will delay the oxidation process and thus delay browning, but it will still happen with time.
  • I have made this fruit salad with many different types of fruit, depending on what is in season. Feel free to swap in an out what you find at the grocery store and what you have on hand- it will always end up fantastic!
  • Softer fruits like peaches, bananas, and kiwis will become very soft at a much faster rate. Be mindful of this while you choose your fruit to use. 
  • Be careful on how much vanilla extracts you add: too much can cause an overwhelming, somewhat bitter vanilla flavor. If you want a stronger vanilla flavor, add a tiny amount at a time, tasting along the way.
  • Make sure your slices of fruit are small enough to spear with a fork; trying to shove half an apple in your mouth with a fork is embarrassing at any party. (But alone is a-ok!)
  • Please make note of the serving size. If you are making this just for yourself, or even 2 people, halve or quarter the recipe. 

Perfect Summer Fruit Salad

Serves 6-8, as a side

  • 1 tbsp. Lemon Juice
  • 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. high quality vanilla extract
  • 3 Apples
  • 16 oz. Strawberries
  • 4 oz. Blackberries
  • 2 Bananas
  • 1 Grapefruit
  • 2 Valencia Oranges
  • 2 Small Blood Oranges
  • 3 peaches
  • 4 Kiwis
  1. Cut all fruit into somewhat-uniform pieces.
  2. Place into a large bowl.
  3. Add vanilla, and thoroughly mix. Add more, to taste, but see note above.
  4. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container.










Back to Basics

I’m really hot.

And dehydrated. Which really doesn’t help things.

My now former job, which you can read about here, for many reasons, was incredibly stressful and hectic. Some days were so busy that I would leave my apartment at 8am and get home at 7pm, accumulate 5 miles of walking during the day, wouldn’t have time to eat more than a few bites of lunch, and would only be able to sneak sips of water here and there. I would drink a couple glasses of water after work, but be so exhausted that I wouldn’t have much time before going to bed to adequately hydrate myself. I would wake up the next morning, have coffee, not drink enough water, and then continue this cycle day after day. It got so bad that at one point I had to make an ER visit due to dehydration that started to affect my kidneys. Holy kidney beans, batman.


After this, I really had to step back and reflect as to why I wasn’t hydrating enough. Yes, I was crazy busy at work, but I have been insanely busy since my senior year of high school, and I never, ever neglected to drink water.  That’s when I realized that I was simply just bored of drinking water. I was bored of the taste, I was bored of feeling restricted; After all, I cut out all fruit juices, sweet teas, and sodas from my diet. Looking back, I probably should have predicted that this would happen. People who follow a Paleo diet have a lot of things that they can’t consume, but now that the primal movement is gaining more steam, there are many new sunstitutes for grains, refined sugar, and even dairy. But drinks? Nope. Nada. Water, coffee, tea, coconut water, and kombucha is all there pretty much is, my friends. So that’s when I made a conscious effort to flavor my water, and change it up every couple of days.

But then I moved to the desert.

And in the desert I need to up my water intake even more because 15 minutes in the sun now feels like 2 hours in the sun..

So let’s get back to the basics here. We all need water. And now that I’m making a conscious effort to drink even more water, I’ve decided to share some fun flavored water recipes. They are incredibly easy, tasty, and make drinking water much more enjoyable. Plus, they’re gorgeous to look at and make for great accents to the table during meals and entertaining. Here are some of my favorite combinations, but the possibilities are really endless here.


Infused Water, 9 Ways

Each recipes makes approximately 4 liters of flavored water

Citrus mint

  • 2 lemons, sliced into wedges
  • 1 lime, sliced into wedges
  • ¼-½ grapefruit, sliced into wedges
  • 1 bunch of mint sprigs  

Basil

  • 1 bunch of basil

Chocolate Mint

  • 1 bunch of chocolate mint

Lemon-lime

  • 2 lemons, sliced into wedges
  • 1 lime, sliced into wedges

Orange-Raspberry

  • ¼ cup raspberries, washed
  • ½ orange, sliced into wedges

Berry

  • ½ cup strawberries, washed and sliced with stem removed
  • ¼ cup raspberries
  • ¼ cup blueberries

Pineapple-Watermelon

  • ¼ cup sliced pineapple
  • ¼ cup sliced watermelon

Lemon-Lavender

  • 1 rind from a lemon
  • 2 sprigs whole lavender

Rosemary Lavender

  • 2 large sprigs whole rosemary
  • ½ rind from a lemon
  • ½ rind from an orange
  1. Take 1 liter of water and add chosen herbs or fruit.
  2. Chill in refirdgerator and let infuse for at least 2 hours.
  3. Serve over ice.
  4. Fruit can be reused up to 4 times (Approximately 4 cumulative liters) before water starts to lose flavor. 







That's One Nice Booch

Its March 1st! Does that mean it can be spring yet? Apparently, not in the U.S, as the temperatures are 15-20 degrees below their typical averages for this time of year in most places. Excellent. I'm not sure about you guys, but I'm getting some serious winter blues. BUT spending a lot of time inside means that I've done a lot of recipe experiments lately, so hopefully I'll get those up on here soon. But in the meantime….

 

Mushroom Tea, Fungus Tea, Champagne of Life.  In France they call is the Champignon Miracle, or Miracle Mushroom, in Germany, its named Zaubersaft, or literally “magic juice”.

You’ve heard of it too: Kombucha! Kombucha is definitely the trendy drink these days, and its quickly pushing those juicers aside and sliding right into a permanent place in the kitchens of foodies and health nuts alike. Thanks to the fermentation process required to make Kombucha, the drink is filled with gut flora boosting probiotics, and acts as a natural energizer. Kombucha is said to clear up skin, enhance liver function, boost immunity, increase metabolism, decrease inflammation….and the list goes on and on and on. (For even more health benefits, do a quick Google search- you’re be amazed.)

 

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Kombucha is probably the recipe I get asked about most, and I am more than happy to share my experiences, advice, extra SCOBYs, and even give lessons if you’re in the area about making this fun, fizzy drink….but I can’t take all the credit for establishing my home brew methods.

Thanks to some ingenuity and lots of time spent researching by my boyfriend, I am happy to report that we have been home brewing our own batches of Kombucha for almost 6 months now. We’ve experimented with lots of flavors, played around with fermentation times, and saved tons of money in the process. Kombucha here in DC regularly runs from $3-$4 for a 12 oz. bottle. Now, we brew 2.5 gallon batches for about $2.50….. total.

Once you gather all the tools you need and run through making a batch just one time, you’ll be a pro, I promise. The hardest part about brewing is obtaining everything you need to start. (Oh, and waiting for your Kombucha to ferment!)

 


Here is everything you need to get started:

Nonfood items:

  • One large glass container for brewing (I use 2.5 gallons), preferably with a nonmetal spigot for easier pouring/bottling
  • Large wooden spoon
  • Cheesecloth
  • Rubber band
  • Large pot for boiling water (capable of holding 2 gallons)
  • 10, 12 Oz glass bottles with lids

Food items: (recipe based on 2.5 gallon brewing container)

  • 10 bags of organic black or green unflavored tea (Can use loose leaves if you prefer)
  • Live SCOBY culture
  • 1 cup of plain white sugar + 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 gallons of water
  • ¼ cup distilled vinegar one time only
  • Small fruit pieces, fruit juice, or other items of your choice for flavoring optional

 

Before I go any further, you may be asking yourself “What on Earth is a SCOBY??” A SCOBY, or Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, is the flat pancake-like living culture that ferments your tea, creates the vinegary flavor, and adds all the health benefits to your brew. The first SCOBY you have is called the “mother”, and as you brew more and more batches, it will reproduce more layers that will eventually separate. These are called the SCOBY babies. Once you have several, you can give them away, start brewing even more Kombucha in separate containers, or just throw them out. (I’ve heard that they’re great fertilizers for plants, but haven’t actually tried that one.)

You can obtain live SCOBY cultures from places like craigslist or online sellers (like Amazon or Cultures of Health), but the best way to get one is through someone you know. (Chances are, if you start asking around, you’ll find someone who knows someone who has some extra SCOBYs.)

SCOBYs aren't the prettiest things

SCOBYs aren't the prettiest things

 

If you like your Kombucha to be fizzy or flavored, a second fermentation step is necessary. If you don’t, your Kombucha can be enjoyed after only the first fermentation step- I’ve included both so you can choose!

 

 


Homemade Kombucha

Makes about 2 gallons of Kombucha

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First fermentation:

  1. Bring 2 gallons of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Immediately turn off the heat, and add your bags of tea. Let steep and then remove. (You can use loose-leaf tea as well, but make sure that all the tealeaves are contained.)
  2. Add sugar and stir well.
  3. Let the water cool to room temperature. If the tea is hot, or even too cold, it can hurt the SCOBY.
  4. Once at room temperature, add your sugary brewed tea to your brewing container.
  5. Add ¼ cup of vinegar and stir. You only need to add vinegar the first time you use your SCOBY! If you continue to make more batches, skip this step and do not add more vinegar.
  6. Add your SCOBY to your tea and stir a few times.
  7. Put cheesecloth over the top of your container and secure with a rubber band.  You do not want anything to fall into your tea while it is fermenting!
  8. Keep your Kombucha in a warm place out of direct sunlight and let brew for 7-30 days. The longer you let your Kombucha brew, the stronger it will taste!
  9. Once you’ve let your Kombucha brew you can enjoy right away, or move into the second fermentation process!
  10. If you would like to continually brew Kombucha, make sure to leave a little less than ¼ of the fermented Kombucha in your brewing container with your SCOBY. This jumpstarts your next batch, keeps your SCOBY alive, and eliminates the need for more vinegar in future batches.

Second fermentation:

  1. This step adds flavor or more fizz due to the build-up of gases!
  2. Add fruit pieces or add a small amount of juice into your glass bottles. Below, I’ve made a list of flavors I’ve used in the past, but you can add almost anything to Kombucha.
  3. Add your fermented Kombucha to your bottles, but do not fill all the way to the top. Leave a few inches of air in each bottle.
  4. Add ½ tsp. sugar to each bottle.
  5. Cap the bottles, shake gently, and then store in a warm place. Let the bottles ferment with their lids on for another 3-5 days.
  6. Once you’re ready to enjoy your flavored Kombucha, be careful when opening the bottles! They could become very fizzy and overflow. After a maximum of 5 days, put the finished Kombucha in the fridge. This stops the fermentation and prevents too much build-up of gases. (You don’t want them to explode. J)
  7. You may eat the fruit you used to flavor your Kombucha if you like….or you can strain anything out for a smooth texture.

 

That’s it- you’re done! (Wasn’t it easier than you thought?) Cheers!

 

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Here are some helpful Kombucha tips:

  • Brown stringy things hanging down from your SCOBY are totally normal. This is just yeast, and is actually the sign of a healthy culture.
  • Bubbles are also normal. Don’t worry, this is the Kombucha magic.
  • Your SCOBY may float up to the top of your container or may move around from time to time. This is nothing to worry about.
  • Your SCOBY may have light brown or tan spots, which is normal. Black, green, or fuzzy spots on your SCOBY are NOT normal and means that your batch is contaminated. This means that you need to throw out everything (Including your SCOBY) and sterilize your brewing container before trying another batch.
  • Foul smelling Kombucha is never normal. Vinegary smelling Kombucha is normal.
  • If you choose to sanitize your brewing equipment, do not use harsh chemical. These can leave residue on your brewing equipment and can hurt the SCOBY.
  • Keeping your Kombucha in a warm place speeds the fermentation process, just like keeping the Kombucha in a cooler environment will slow down the fermentation process. Never put your SCOBY in the refrigerator. If you would like to stop your Kombucha from fermenting, you can put the Kombucha in the fridge, but take the SCOBY out beforehand.
  • If you prefer a stronger Kombucha taste, let it ferment for longer, but no more than 30 days. You can also make the tea stronger by using more tea bags when first preparing your tea.
  • If you prefer your Kombucha sweeter, add more sugar during the first fermentation. However, if you do this, you will have residual sugar left over when you drink it, which means that you will be consuming refined sugar. (And calories.)
  • Do not let metal come in contact with your Kombucha. Most sources I’ve seen say that metal can be dangerous in brewing, though I haven’t been able to determine the exact reason as to why.
  • Always use glass when brewing or bottling. Since Kombucha is acidic, it can break down plastic and cause harmful chemicals to leach into your tea. Ceramic may also contain lead. Not good.
  • Your SCOBY can only live when it is given the food it needs, which is sugar.
  • Your Kombucha might start forming jelly-like blobs or substances at any time during the process. These are normal, and actually safe to ingest, but just remove them if they gross you out.
  • A resource I love for Kombucha (and anything else fermented) is the book “Fermented” by Jill Ciciarelli. She has great Kombucha tips, an extensive list of references and resources, and has a way to ferment just about anything. 

 

One more note (last thing, I promise!), here’s a list of Kombucha flavors I liked:

  • Blackberry
  • Blueberry
  • Apple
  • Berry blend: raspberry + strawberry + blueberry
  • Strawberry
  • Ginger lemon
  • Raspberry ginger
  • Grape
  • Mango
  • Grape strawberry
  • Pomegranate
  • Parsley Jalapeno
  • Pineapple
  • Pineapple- Strawberry
  • Pina Colada: unsweetened coconut flakes +pineapple 

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