Slideshow: Cooking challenge, watermelon

July 23, 2014 12:00 am

The hunt for the next cooking columnist is on at The Billings Gazette. Every week, we'll present our columnists with one item. From there, each columnist will be asked to write a column based on that food item. Vote for your favorite at http://billingsgazette.com/cookingcolumn.

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  • Watermelon, let me count the ways. It has long been the preferred fruit for the classic summer picnic, chilled on ice, cut into wedges, and eaten by hand with joy, causing ear-to-ear stickiness.

    Back in the '60s, my Aunt Grace made watermelon pickles from the rind, which were enjoyed by her nieces and nephews and referred to with disdain by her brother, our father. We thought it was pretty fancy that Aunt Grace cut the rind off the melon before we ate it. Now that I think about it she was probably trying to keep our little teeth marks off her “pickle-making rinds.”

    When I was an apprentice cook in Houston, I learned to enjoy watermelon with feta cheese, not a far cry from my grandfather putting salt on his slice years ago. You can enjoy your melon this way simply by crumbling some feta cheese over some sliced or diced fruit.

    Thinking that I should give some technical information about watermelon, I checked the Washington State University agriculture website that has all you would ever want to know about watermelon, including days to maturity.

    Around here gardeners have a tight window to work in; somewhere from 84 to 103 days. There are three main varieties of watermelon: Personal or Mini, Icebox and Picnic. Besides size variations, they range in sweetness and color, and there are seedless varieties. And there’s another whole discussion about whether seedless varieties are a genetically modified product.

    This is getting way too technical for me. I am no botanist. I don’t mind seeds, how could you have a seed-spitting contest without them? Although, seedless is the way to go for convenience in the many recipes for drinks, salads and sorbets.

    The following is a recipe for Watermelon Sorbet. Remember those Donvier ice cream makers? I have a collection of them that I have picked up at thrift stores. They work really well. Keep the cylinder in the freezer so you can use it at a moment’s notice.

    Watermelon Sorbet

    Makes 8 servings

    1 cup white sugar

    1/2 cup water

    1/4 cup lemon juice

    3 cups cubed seeded watermelon (or seedless)

    Directions

    Combine sugar, water and lemon juice in a saucepan over medium heat; cook and stir until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and chill.

    Blend watermelon in a blender or food processor until pureed. Stir pureed watermelon into sugar mixture. Transfer watermelon mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.

    Story is a North Dakota farm girl who worked as a chef in metropolitan areas. After settling in Montana, where there are more cattle than people, I’ve transitioned from catering and working in hotels to a new career in secondary education.

  • July is National Watermelon Month, so let’s enjoy this wonderful fruit to its fullest.

    Watermelon is that sure sign of summer we love. Its naturally delicious sweet taste makes it a popular choice for any summer barbeque or picnic. Besides its great flavor, watermelon has some wonderful health benefits. One benefit is the low calorie content and the fact that it is fat free.

    Since watermelon is made up of 92 percent water and electrolytes, it can be counted on to help hydrate the body on a hot summer day. Along with that, it provides the body with a good supply of potassium, vitamins C and A, and also vitamin B6. It also provides a good dose of lycopene to help protect you from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and add to your heart health.

    Watermelon is very versatile and can be used in many ways. For a cooling sorbet, put the cubes in a blender or food processor to make a puree. Add cooked syrup made with sugar, water and lemon juice and freeze. At the MSUB Wine and Food Festival this spring, Nick Steen, executive chef at the Lone Mountan Guest Ranch, made several versions of watermelon for his students to sample. Among them were carbonated watermelon with basil, pickled watermelon rind with goat cheese and the sorbet.

    Watermelon can be used in a variety of ways to make a refreshing summer salad.

    A delicious salad I like to serve with Mexican food is made by combining equal parts of cubed seedless watermelon and jicama, cut into matchstick-thin pieces. Add a little fresh lime juice for a dressing, and stir in some chopped mint leaves for a salad your guests will love.

    Watermelon is also a great choice to serve as a salsa.

    Fruit Salsa

    From “Living Well – More Than a Cookbook”

    1 cup chopped cantaloupe

    1 cup chopped watermelon

    3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped

    ½ cup chopped red onion

    1 jalapeno chili, minced

    2 small limes

    1 teaspoon salt

    ¼ teaspoon pepper

    Combine the cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, onion and jalapeno chili in a medium bowl. Add the lime juice along with the salt and pepper. Toss lightly to mix together. Serve with tortilla chips.

    All parts of the watermelon can be eaten. Try saving the rind to be made into watermelon pickles. The sweet pickles can be processed or made into a fresh refrigerated version. Rather than pickling the rind, the hollowed-out watermelon shell can be shaped into a great bowl for serving a salad. Carve it into a whale-shaped bowl for an extra flair.

    When you see the large container of watermelon in the store, think of all the wonderful options and benefits it provides.

    After nearly 25 years as the MSU/Yellowstone County Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, Bernie Mason has recently retired. Now she is busy being a “Nana” to her two grandchildren and spending time as a volunteer in activities supporting children and families. She enjoys trying out new recipes and sharing the results with others.

  • The world according to foodie heaven puts watermelon at the top of the list.

    Mark Twain said, “When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the angels eat.”

    Watermelon.

    You can feel the sticky essence run down your chin, you can savor the sweet flavor of summertime, you can drink in the cold, wet nectar, and you can feel your toes teeter back and forth as you spit seeds into the next galaxy. It’s truly watermelon love. And what better way to honor the green globe than turning it into a cocktail keg?

    Watermelon Cocktail Keg

    Cut off about ½ inch of the bottom of the watermelon so that it will sit on a flat surface, being careful that you cut it evenly, so it won’t wobble.

    Next, cut off about 2 inches of the top of the melon so you can get at the flesh. Use a metal spoon and scoop out the red flesh (save it for the mojitos). Leave about 3 inches in the bottom of the melon.

    Now, you’ll need a spigot. I took mine off an old ice tea jar. Decide where you want the spigot (somewhere at the bottom, above the 3 inch mark) and press the spigot into the green flesh, just to make an imprint. Using a small pointed knife, cut a circular opening, just inside the spigot indentation. Press the spigot gently into the hole. On the inside of the melon, scrape away the watermelon flesh so the spigot won’t plug up. Fill with watermelon mojitos.

    Watermelon mojitos

    Serves 4, depending on the size of your glass

    Watermelon chunks from a whole melon

    ½ cup fresh lime juice

    ¼ cup packed mint leaves

    ¼ cup agave syrup or honey

    2 ½ cups white rum (more or less, to taste)

    In batches, place the watermelon chunks in a blender, add the lime juice, mint, agave syrup and puree until it’s smooth.

    Hold a strainer over the hollow watermelon and strain the mixture into the “keg”. Save the pulp for a morning smoothie (just add yogurt)!

    Stir in the rum and serve in chilled glasses over ice.

    Dorothy Bonk is a dedicated foodie, culinary specialist and cheese hunter. One of her favorite foods, aside from watermelon and cheese, is gravy. In fact, she was 18 before she knew gravy wasn’t a beverage. Dorothy eats well, travels often and seeks out local cheeses and wines. The only destination she has ventured to and found no cheese was China. She emptied out an entire train car when she opened a jar o’ Cheese Whiz, which she considers to be a “non-food”, but when one is hungry… Dorothy’s favorite indoor sport is eating. Cheers.

  • Local seasonal ingredients can be enjoyed by anyone willing to practice some basic skills and overcome fear of failure. Just dive in! Your pals will love the results. No garden? Hit the farmers’ markets or plant pots of herbs on the deck.

    Take advantage of your neighbor’s excess. Make apple, tomato and grape juice from local orchards—far superior to commercial brands and you know exactly what’s in it. Make jams from surplus cherries and plums. Much is available just for the asking. Stay tuned as we move into fall.

    This week’s ingredient, watermelon.

    Eating slices of ripe watermelon on a hot summer day with juice running down my chin is a cherished memory.

    Let’s expand the taste to a salad.

    Watermelon and Cucumber Salad with Mint

    4 cups inch-cubed watermelon

    1 cup peeled, sliced fresh cucumber

    Plenty of fresh mint leaves, torn in half if large

    A small minced sweet onion

    ½ cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)

    Black olives garnish (optional)

    Hint: Prepare melon and cucumber ahead and chill in separate containers. Combine with dressing at the picnic table.

    Dressing: Shake well in a small glass jar. Adjust seasonings to taste. Toss with fruit at service.

    ½ cup olive oil

    Juice of a lime or two — about 3 tablespoons

    Generous inch of fresh ginger, grated.

    2 tablespoons honey

    Salt and ground pepper

    Variations

    Asian: Add 1 tablespoon sesame oil and ¼ tsp wasabi powder or paste to dressing.

    Southwest: Omit ginger and add ¼ tsp chipotle powder or any smoky chili you have on hand. (more= hotter)

    Or try “Salad in a Glass.” This is a novelty if you want something different for your next BBQ. No utensils required—just pour from a chilled pitcher and drink with your favorite nibbles.

    What to do: Using above salad recipe, place ingredients in food processor or blender. Pulse until just pourable. Serve in chilled glasses garnished with mint or parsley.

    Variation: Add 1 or 2 seeded and peeled tomatoes to the processor. Pulse for more juice and color. Try different melons for variety. Create your own specialty.

    Melon safety tip:

    Melons ripen on the soil. Thorough washing and handling are advised. Baddies including salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus can be present on rind surfaces. To be safe, scrub melons with a clean vegetable brush and a drop or two of liquid soap under cool running water. Thoroughly rinse and dry on paper towels. Rinse cutting knife frequently.

    Green extensively gardens and has studied cooking in France and California. She is working on a cookbook that emphasizes simple fundamentals for the “home gamer” who wants delicious results with modest effort.

  • I grew up on a farm in Northwest Iowa, the oldest of six kids, where leisurely sitting was not an option. Every year in early spring Dad would till our garden, making it bigger as our family grew.

    Watermelon was always a garden staple.

    As a child, I learned the ancient art of ‘thumping’ a watermelon to ensure that a good watermelon was picked. The secret to ‘thumping’ is to listen to a hollow sound when rapping your knuckles in the middle of the melon. I also learned that this is not necessarily a guaranteed test, many an overripe watermelon was thrown to our pigs.

    So, how do you pick a good watermelon?

    First look for a firm, symmetrical watermelon free from bruises, cuts or dents. Second, lift it up. It should be heavy for its size. Third, the underside should have a creamy yellow spot. Once picked, watermelons will not continue to ripen.

    This recipe is from years gone by. These pickles have also been called “candy” due to their sweetness. Here is a recipe passed down through generations.

    Watermelon Rind Pickles

    From Grandma Tiefenthaler

    INGREDIENTS:

    3 quarts watermelon rind, unpared

    3 quarts cold water

    ¾ cup salt

    2 quarts ice cubes

    Pare rind and all pink edges from the watermelon. Cut into desired sizes. Cover with brine made by mixing the salt with water. Add ice cubes and let stand 4 hours. Drain; rinse in water. Cover with cold water and cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes (do not overcook). Drain.

    9 cups sugar

    3 cups vinegar, white or cider

    3 cups water

    ½ cup “Red Hot” cinnamon candies

    1 Tbsp. whole cloves

    1 lemon, thinly sliced without seeds

    Combine sugar, vinegar, water, cinnamon candies, and cloves (tied in a clean, white cloth). Boil 5 minutes and pour over drained watermelon; add lemon slices. Let stand overnight.

    Heat watermelon in syrup to boiling and cook slowly 1 hour. Pack hot pickles loosely into clean, hot pint jars. Cover with boiling syrup to ½-inch from top. Wipe jar rims. Top with lids. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Makes 4/5 pints.

    This is a fantastic recipe, sometime I add other colored bell peppers and/or peaches, mango, or pineapple.

    Watermelon Fire and Ice Salsa

    From allrecipes.com

    INGREDIENTS:

    3 cups chopped watermelon

    1 Tbsp. chopped green onion

    ½ cup chopped green bell pepper

    1 Tbsp. chopped jalapeno pepper

    2 Tbsp. lime juice

    ½ Tsp. garlic salt

    2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

    DIRECTIONS:

    In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, mix well and enjoy.

    Sandy Alley has enough canned from her garden to feed the whole subdivision for several years. She previously wrote the very popular Cooks Corner column for the Stillwater County newspaper in Columbus.

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