3 Great Summer Crostini — Serious Eats

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Photographs: Lauren Rothman

Photographs: Lauren Rothman

When the weather's warm and the cold drinks are flowing, there's no accompaniment quite like perfectly crisp crostini topped with ripe summer vegetables. Eminently snackable, but not too heavy, they provide a taste of the best produce of the season—and a big platter of is darn impressive-looking, too.

As common as they are, crostini aren't always done right. In addition to the bread sometimes being under- or over-toasted, it's often not seasoned at all, which does a real disservice to the flavorful ingredients set on top. Luckily, all these mistakes are as easy to fix as properly making toast.

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In the accompanying recipes, seasonal summer ingredients grace just-right pieces of toast. In one, a light, Mexican-inspired topping features grilled corn, diced avocado, salty queso fresco, and plenty of lime juice and cilantro.

Soft braised leeks, meanwhile, are accented with basil and rounded out with ricotta cheese.

And lastly, wine-red summer cherries are intensified by roasting the fruit and spiking it with balsamic vinegar along with some tangy goat cheese.

Make 'em now, while all this produce is still at its peak.

Click here for recipes: Grilled Corn, Avocado and Queso Fresco Crostini; Ricotta and Braised Leek Crostini; Goat Cheese and Balsamic-Roasted Cherry Crostini

This Pocket-Sized Sensor Will Tell You When Fruit Is Ripe — Modern Farmer

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Photo courtesy of SCiO

Photo courtesy of SCiO

At this time of year, the farmers market can get a little handsy, as shoppers pick up, put down, poke at and sniff the season’s fruits and vegetables to try to determine what can sometimes seem inscrutable: the produce’s ripeness and overall quality. But someday soon, we'll no longer have to rely on our senses — the scent of a peach, the weightiness of a melon — to pick out a stellar piece of fruit. Instead, technology will tell us what to buy.

Developers in Israel have created a pocket-sized sensor that uses infrared technology to determine the ripeness and nutritional information of fruits and vegetables. Use SCiO, as it’s called, to scan an apple or an avocado, and the device will send your smartphone a detailed report on what to expect from it: calories and fat grams, as well as sugar and water levels.

SCiO hasn’t hit the market yet, but the stunning success of the Kickstarter campaign run by Consumer Physics, the company that developed the device, is one indication that the finished product will be in high demand. Within 20 hours of the campaign’s May launch, it $200,000 goal was fully funded; the company quickly announced a new $2 million goal that was met well in advance of its mid-June deadline.

Dror Sharon, CEO and co-founder of Consumer Physics, attributes the campaign’s popularity to the web site’s community feel: On the page, more than 11,000 backers — many of them scientists or techies or both — debate SCiO’s uses and limitations on a comment thread that numbers over 800 entries.

“Kickstarter backers are excited because they know that they will have a real role in bringing this technology to life,” Sharon said. “Without them, the database will not grow and the technology won’t succeed.”

Picking out a juicy plum the old-fashioned way seems simple in comparison to understanding just how SCiO works. The car clicker-sized machine relies on spectroscopy, the same kind of light-based technology that astronomers use to determine the composition of stars. When performing a scan, SCiO’s tiny optical sensor captures the item’s molecular footprint, then measures how those molecules interact with light, creating a barcode-like readout that SCiO’s in-house app converts into the data it sends to your phone.

Because SCiO measures molecules and molecules make up all physical objects, the device has the potential to assess much more than just fruit ripeness. Dror foresees the tool becoming indispensable to farmers and home gardeners, who will be able to use it to assess soil quality and plant health.

“SCiO will measure the plant’s water and macronutrient content,” he said. “This information will optimize growing by helping farmers use accurate amounts of water and fertilizers. Farmers will conserve resources and maximize plant yield, and they’ll also reduce their impact on the environment.”

The device will also help farmers figure out the ideal time for harvesting crops, Dror said, by assessing a fruit or vegetable’s firmness, acid composition and level of sweetness.

Consumer Physics will use SCiO’s Kickstarter campaign funds to ramp up production, and expects to begin distribution early next year. The device will cost $299, and users will likely have to pay a fee to sign up for one of the many apps that developers are creating to be used in conjunction with SCiO: over 600 developers have backed the campaign, Dror said.

It’s hard to imagine needing a machine to complete the familiar errand of going to the store and buying a bag of apples. But though a device like SCiO might seem foreign now, Dror insists that such sensors are the way of the future.

“Long term, when these sensors are ubiquitous, some of our daily habits and routines will change due to the instant information available to us, just as small, low-cost phones equipped with GPS, cameras, and microphones have already changed our lives.”

D.I.Y. White Russian: How To Make Homemade Kahlua — Food Republic

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Photograph: Lauren Rothman

Photograph: Lauren Rothman

I was 12 years old when The Big Lebowski, the Coen brothers’ now-classic caper, hit theaters, and probably only about 15 or 16 when I watched it for the first time. I was a hair too young to be hip to The Dude’s prodigious use of weed, and definitely wholly unfamiliar with his drink of choice: the White Russian. Still, even at that tender age, I recognized that Lebowski’s vodka-Kahlua-cream tipple was pretty appealing, like dessert in a glass. Somewhere in my mind, I stashed away the drink’s name, resolving to try it a few years down the line.

In college, I did, in the context that most younger imbibers likely first experience a White Russian: watching The Big Lebowski and playing the never-a-good-idea game of drinking and smoking along with The Dude. My memories of that night are hazy, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed the (numerous) cocktails, like chocolate milk for grown-ups.

Now I’m older, wiser and have a passion for home-infusing liquors, bitter and syrups. And because I have an even bigger passion for saving money by making things at home that cost more at the store, I enjoy, from time to time, mixing up a homemade coffee– and vanilla-infused vodka — i.e., Kahlua — for use in the occasional White Russian.

The method couldn’t be simpler and, frankly, tastes better than the brand due to its stronger coffee notes and its subtle, natural vanilla flavor. Take any good vodka, steep ground coffee and a split vanilla bean in it for three weeks, strain, dilute and sweeten. Then mix up a simple but tasty White Russian and raise a glass to The Dude. 

Servings: 2 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

1 375-ounce bottle good-quality vodka

2 tablespoons dark roast coffee, coarsely ground

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

Directions: 

  1. Combine vodka, coffee and vanilla bean in a glass jar.
  2. Allow to infuse for three weeks out of direct sunlight, swirling the jar occasionally.
  3. After three weeks, strain flavored liquor into a three-cup capacity glass jar and discard solids.
  4. Add water and sugar and stir well to combine.

To make a White Russian: 

  • 1 ½ ounces good-quality vodka
  • ¾ ounce homemade Kahlua
  • ¾ ounce heavy cream or half-and-half
  1. Add three ice cubes to a cocktail shaker and add vodka, Kahlua and cream.
  2. Shake well to combine, then strain into a highball glass.
  3. Add one fresh ice cube and serve.