How do you consume cucumbers? And how many? The numbers can be surprising for Suzen and I both eat and drink them year round. Lot of them. I think, but I’m not sure, that drinking is the bigger portion. My newest love, an intense cucumber agua fresca, is featured here. And tomorrow, if you prefer to eat your cucumbers — or sip them — then look for a grand Green Gazpacho.
I was searching for cucumber agua fresca recipes and encountered this one from Epicurious. It’s different from others because it contains a lot of sugar and a lot of lime juice, too. You can adjust the sugar content if you want to make it a tad less sweet. I’ve done that and also substituted lemon for lime juice — the result in that case was less tangy and just pure cucumber flavor. Is one version better than the other? I vacillate and I’m making them both.
A tall, cold glass of cucumber agua fresca has become as necessary as my garden gloves and trowel when I’m gardening away.
Oh, yes, I’m planting cucumbers.
Cucumber Agua Fresca with Lime Juice
Yield: 8 servings
4 ½ cups coarsely chopped seeded peeled cucumbers (about 4 medium)
4 cups cold water
2 cups ice cubes
1 cup sugar
⅔ cup fresh lime juice
2 large pinches of salt
If your blender is large enough, place all the ingredients in the container and process until beyond slushy but not smooth. You want the ice to remain somewhat fragmented. If you need to, process in two or three batches that’s fine.
Serve in tall glasses filled with additional ice cubes.
Photo Information [bottom]: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/4 for1/30th second at ISO‑800
Clodagh McKenna is an Irish food maven. She has studied under Darina Allen, written five books, appears regularly on TV in Europe and the United States, and, to boot, has two restaurants in Ireland. She is a busy culinary expert with a passion for food, both the traditional and the new.
And not just Irish food. While the recipes here often have an Irish base, there are international extensions everywhere. Simple Potato Dumplings are accelerated with a Spicy Cashel Blue Sauce. The standard Irish Breakfast is given a Tortilla lift. The Whole Poached Salmon is served with Pistachio Yogurt.
Ireland is gaining fame for its continuing culinary explosion. In Dublin, over 1250 new restaurants appeared in 2013-2014. The number of farmers markets in the country has nearly doubled in the past decade. With its fish-filled rivers and the seacoast always just a stone’s throw away, seafood is a staple. With rich soil and very abundant rain, produce abounds. Clodagh seizes the advantage with the bounty of shore and field.
In a break with other books, Clodagh divides her chapters between weekend and weekday, between midweek suppers and Sunday lunch. Here are the key chapters and the recipe ideas that await you in Clodagh’s Irish Kitchen.
Weekend Baking presents ideas that take just a little time but offer sweet power for Saturday and Sunday:
Thyme Herbed Soda Bread
Irish Coffee Cookies
Oat, Apple and Blackberry Muffins
Honey and Ginger Flapjacks
Good Morning Ireland proves that just because it is morning, we can still enjoy something very personal, very special before dashing off to work and school:
Honeyed Coconut and Cinnamon Granola
Apple, Pecan and Cinnamon Porridge
Irish Breakfast Tortilla [I told you this was coming; it’s Mexico City in Dublin!]
Cinnamon Baked Beans [yes, for breakfast; this is Ireland]
Midweek Suppers is devoted to those nights where we have deep food desires and less time and energy than we think we have to pull off a dining spectacular:
Smoked Bacon and Cabbage Soup
Smoked Haddock Chowder
Roasted Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Salad with Orange Dressing
Mussels Cooked with Cream, Chorizo, Garlic and Flat-leaf Parsley
Rabbit and Cider Stew
An Irish Dinner Party is a mélange of recipes that promise sophistication along with flavor. Try these for your next dinner party and you will be rewarded with acclaim:
Blue Cheese and Caramelized Pear Bruschetta
Artichoke and Knockalara Cheese Soufflé
Wild Mushroom and Chicken Liver Pâté
Wild Nettle Gnocchi with Cashel Blue Sauce
Crispy Chicken with a Creamy Irish Whisky and Wild Mushroom Sauce
Sunday Lunch is something that once was a tradition here in America, the meal of the week for immigrant families. In Ireland, the tradition is unbroken with specialties like:
Poached Whole Salmon with Pistachio Yogurt
Tarragon and Mustard Chicken with Potato Stuffing
Free-Range Pork with Apple, Cherry, and Sage Stuffing and Apple Crisps
Slow-Roasted Lamb Shanks with Creamy Ginger Potatoes
The Sweetest Thing is devoted to the most important part of our meals: the ending known as dessert. Here you will find:
Irish Honey, Orange, and Pistachio Florentines
Salted Caramel Whiskey Bread and Butter Pudding with Golden Raisins
Baileys Irish Soda Bread Ice Cream
About that last recipe. Irish kitchens often have leftover soda bread. Make the bread into crumbs, mix with brown sugar, and bake. Take those brown gems and add to a vanilla ice cream base, complete with a healthy dose of Baileys Irish Cream. It is doable and surely delicious.
Clodagh’s experience shines in this book. The hardest job in the world is staring a restaurant, and then having it succeed. It takes hours and hours of work to ensure there is quality in the food and service. And the food must compete with all those new restaurants popping up, some just down your street. That pressure, that sense of competition, can bring out the best in someone. It has in Clodagh whose recipes reflect her passion to combine tradition with a touch of the avant garde. In Clodagh’s Irish Kitchen you will find true Irish food, but food that often has a leading edge and is destined to become the new traditions.
Suzen and I wish you happy Memorial Day. This is a day to trigger memories for many of us, to reflect for even a brief time on the sacrifices made by so many for us. And this is the day that for most of us trumpets, "Summer is here." Forget June 20 and the the calendar and the equinox thing. Summer is here, now, finally.
And, for this holiday weekend, and surely for all the summer weekends to follow, sometimes you want a little treat. Just a mouthful of complex surprise. Gale Gand's Just a Bite is devoted to mini-desserts, but Suzen and I serve this as both dessert and appetizer. Here you have the coolness of seedless grapes, the "heat" of blue cheese, and the raspy, lingering flavor of nuts. This is a simple dish to prepare in quantity if you are having a party. Or just a dozen for yourself on a day when you want to sit back and sip bourbon.
The technique here affords you ample room for experimentation. Not a fan of blue cheese? Substitute away. If you prefer walnuts, which Gale suggests, than do as you wish. Or mix and match. Or use some cashews. There is room for diversity, and you will experience pleasure in every little bite. Just as Gale intended.
Maytag Blue Grapes
Yield: 20 pieces, enough for 5-6 people
2 ounces Maytag blue cheese
20 large seedless grapes: green, white, or red
20 small walnut pieces [or pecan halves if you prefer]
Freshly ground black pepper
Use your hands to roll the cheese into very small balls.
Use a very sharp knife to cut a thin slice off the bottom of each grape to give it a flat bottom to stand on. Cut off the top third of each grape. Use the tip of a knife or small spoon to make a little hollow in each grape (to hold the cheese ball). Press a ball of cheese into each hollow and dot with a nut pieces. Sprinkle with pepper.
Serve immediately or chill for up to 12 hours. The grapes can be served chilled or at room temperature, but do not leave out for more than 4 hours.
Sources: Gale Gand’s Just a Bite
Photo Information Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/5.6 for 1/60th second at ISO-1600