Chocolate Chip, Cornflake, Marshmallow Cookie Madness

I have a major crush on Momofuku Milk Bar.  It all started the summer of 2010, when Bon Appetit released an issue featuring Christina Tosi’s mind-blowingly decadent chocolate malt cake with burnt marshmallows.  Although a flavor combination that is impossible to disappoint, this cake caught my eye for a different reason: the layers.  Tosi will not frost the sides of her cakes, and for good reason.  She puts so much thought into each filling that it would be a shame to do so, and the result is a textural feast for the eyes.  This is the sort of innovation she uses in all her creations, and it is what continually draws me to Milk Bar.

Not that I’ve been there yet.  I mean, I’d love to go to NYC for many reasons, but if I had to choose one, it would be to sink my mouth into Milk Bar’s famous cereal milk soft serve.  Yes, and if I had to choose one thing to eat before I die, it might be that too, because I have already considered a bowl of cereal as a potential candidate for the “last meal” question that is often thrown at food lovers.  But, you can’t say “I’d have a heaping bowl of Grape Nuts Flakes, heavy on the milk” when you are a foodie.  You’re expected to say something exotic, something like: “Why, I’d have cervelles au buerre noirper and a glass of chardonnay.”  Hell, no!  You are lying if you say that….unless you’re French.  I may be a pretentious foodie at times, but I’m deeply aware of the fact that I will want nothing more than pure, unadulterated comfort food in my last moments.  And, if I am to make my choice of cereal more foodie-friendly, I might just choose cereal milk ice cream, because it’s totally ingenious.  

Luckily, if I never cross eating at Milk Bar off my imaginary bucket list, I have the cookbook.  Next best thing, right? It’s a beautifully designed book with awesome photography that will make you want to lick each glossy page, and I won’t judge, but it might just be easier to whip out your baking equipment and start mixing. I’ve had the cookbook for about two years, and I’ve only recently attempted my hands at one of the desserts, which I will share in a minute.  Be warned, though.  Each of Tosi’s recipes contain sub-recipes, meaning that you will have to bake a lot of the ingredients before you begin to bake the actual recipe you set out to make in the first place.  I love this because it means that Tosi is giving us the real deal, not some watered-down, home baker-friendly versions of her desserts.  I was initially reluctant to try one of her recipes, not so much because of the amount time and work it takes, but because I was afraid to mess up.  I didn’t want my first Milk Bar experience to be disappointing.  And it was almost that, but only almost.

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Introducing the chocolate chip, cornflake, marshmallow cookie.  This is only one of a few of these cookies I baked that actually turned out visually appealing.

The rest:

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While this may look burnt (and I thought it was), it is really a fantastic cross between drop cookie and lace cookie.

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It may be misshapen and homely, but I’ll be darned if that isn’t caramel formed at the edges of my cookie.

Simply put, the flavor is amazing.  Probably one of the best cookies I’ve ever eaten.  Sweet, salty, gooey, crunchy, and chewy.  They have every texture and real depth in flavor.  It is one of the less time consuming recipes in Tosi’s cookbook, but I still had to make one of the ingredients myself.

Cornflake Crunch:

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This is the ingredient that sets these cookies apart.  See, my rant about cereal was not too digressive 🙂  Basically a mixture of crushed cornflakes, melted butter, milk powder, minimal sugar, and plenty of salt; this is like crunchy MSG.  I wanted to eat all of the cornflake crunch and never make the cookies, it was so good.  That would have been a major stomach ache, though.  There is A LOT of butter.  I almost considered pouring the extra cornflake crunch into a bowl the next morning and eating it like cereal, but I knew better.

Especially after eating too many of these babies:

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The butter was a major/lovely issue.  Major because I could not get the cookies to stop overspreading in the oven for the life of me.  Lovely because they tasted damn good.  After reading posts from other bloggers who made these cookies, I realized that everyone was having issues with Tosi’s prescribed baking time and temperature.  Of course, I thought I would be the one to defy the issue by putting my pre-dropped dough balls in the fridge for an entire day before baking them, but I was wrong.  Each batch was an experiment as I lowered the oven temp, tried putting the dough in the freezer, and baked them for shorter amounts of time.  It wasn’t until my last batch that I just started to come upon the right method, but if I made these again (and I probably will), I think that there’s a lot I’d do differently.

For instance, Tosi describes the “correct” method of creaming butter and sugar as being a much longer process than most amateur bakers think.  She devotes an entire page to her explanation, so there has to be some truth behind it. She recommends creaming the butter and sugar for about 3 minutes, and after the egg goes in, creaming it for another 7-8 minutes.  That’s longer than I’ve ever mixed at that stage, but I followed her instructions to a T.  I’m wondering now if the dough doesn’t need that much time to cream when you are making a single batch.  Remember, Tosi has to make enough cookies to feed the  hundreds of customers that come  into Milk Bar each day.  I can’t help but feel that, perhaps, it was too much mixing for my amount of dough.  Next time I will experiment with mixing for a shorter amount of time.

I will also change the way I shape the dough balls before putting them in the fridge.  In the cookbook, Tosi recommends using a 1/3 cup to measure out the dough, which is a  perfect amount.  I like to have bakery-sized cookies in my kitchen.  She then instructs you to flatten the top of each dough ball.  While I did this, my cookies still baked unevenly, with the edges melting outward while the tops puffed upwards.   Next time I’m going to try shaping them similarly to the way hamburger meat is shaped: flatting the tops out, then pressing a small divot into the center. This should counteract the uneven baking time, I hope.

Despite these changes, the cookies are amazing, even if they overspread and darken too much at the edges.  Still, I cannot help but aim for near aesthetic perfection.  In case I’ve scared you away from braving this cookie madness, let me direct back up to the last photograph.  And here’s another like it:

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Heck yes.  A web of gooey marshmallow strung between each cookie half.  Now, imagine little pockets of melted chocolate in between crunchy cornflake MSG.  The ultimate sweet and salty wrapped up in an over-sized cookie.  The biggest thing to fear is eating three or four of these in one sitting.  Which is entirely possible.  Trust me.

Chocolate Chip, Cornflake, Marshmallow Cookies

* Here’s a small list of my suggested adaptations.  That means, don’t take them too seriously.  Experiment for yourself because it could just as well be the oven, room temp, and/or quality of ingredients that make one person’s batch turn out differently than another’s:

-Try mixing cookie dough for 4-5 minutes after adding egg instead of 7-8.

-Flat cookie dough balls with a little divot or thumbprint in the center before putting in fridge.  This way, they have a better chance of baking evenly.

-Refrigerate cookie dough overnight.

-Bake one or two cookies before doing the whole batch to see if they turn out all right.  Then, make adjustments as needed.

-Try lowering oven temp to 350 deg. if 375 is too much.  Try reducing baking time from 18 min. to 12.  Keep playing around and baking small batches.

Have fun playing around with this cookie dough!  It may be a big pain in the butt the first time, but if you carefully record your findings down, you won’t have the same issues in the future 🙂

Here’s a link to the recipe.  The recipe for cornflake crunch recipe is included:

http://www.marthastewart.com/865379/cornflake-chocolate-chip-marshmallow-cookies

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Lemon Greek Yogurt Pancakes

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Ahh, breakfast for dinner.  Like curling up with a good book or giving a loved one a big, warm hug.  It’s comforting, familiar, and even indulgent.

But most of all, it’s a lot of work.  Unless, I suppose, you’re idea of brinner is a bowl of cereal, and trust me, those nights happen.  On a side note, I kind of hate the word brinner.  I dunno, it just sounds ugly. 

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These pancakes sure aren’t ugly.  I can’t describe how difficult it was to snap pictures while inhaling the thin stream of warm, buttery steam coming off these bad boys.  Tangy, lemony, buttery steam.  Yes, yes, and yes.  There’s something about short stacks that makes me insanely happy.  The towering, perfectly misshapen rounds of fried dough, a pat of butter melting ever so gently and glossy maple syrup dripping down the sides, making an amber pool on the bottom of the plate. 

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when I loathed pancakes.  Oh yes, it’s true.  I was the rare kid who didn’t like pancakes and couldn’t stand syrup.  The former I found to be boringly bland; the latter, cloyingly sweet.  It seemed as if pancakes served nothing more than a fluffy vessel for high fructose corn syrup.  To be honest, most pancakes do.

And then, I discovered Banana pancakes.  No, not the song.  The real thing.  With lots of butter and a ton of love.  I made them as a morning surprise for my mom on Mother’s Day when I was thirteen.  Those cinnamon and nutmeg flecked cakes were studded with fresh bananas.  They were the star of the show.  I learned that real pancakes don’t need a lot of syrup because they are good all on their own.

Tonight, I made tangy lemon Greek yogurt pancakes all for my sweet self.  I’ve been sort of obsessed with Greek yogurt lately, and was intrigued by the idea of using it as the main fat in a pancake mix.  Not only is this a healthier choice, but it also lends a slight sourness that pairs wonderfully with sweet syrup.  Lemon is always refreshing and welcome in my book.  The flavor was not too strong, but just enough that I couldn’t wait to take the next bite.  The yogurt gave these pancakes an unbelievable texture.  Very light, but almost creamy.  I’d say they’re even better than buttermilk pancakes, and that’s saying a lot. 

Though they’re both time consuming and mess inducing, these pancakes were a breeze to make.  The batter is very forgiving, so don’t let fear get in the way of deliciousness!

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Here’s the cast of characters for this recipe.  A little refresher: this is called mis en place.  Everything in its place.  This step is vital if you don’t want to get flour all over the handles of your kitchen cupboards.  If you bake, I’m sure you know what I mean. 

The dry ingredients get mixed in one bowl and the wet in another. 

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Make sure that both are mixed well, but don’t over mix when you put the two together!  The dry goes into the wet.  A few turns of the whisk later, and it should look like this:

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Lumpy.  Yes, lumpy.  This is vital in order for the pancakes to be light and fluffy.  Little pockets of unmixed flour is ok, even desireable.  They will dissolve as the pancakes cook, leaving airy holes in their wake.  This also helps the cakes to rise better. 

Since I currently don’t own a non-stick pan, I had to resort to my cast-iron skillet.  I’ve been using that baby like crazy these days, and I love the charred edges it gives to both vegetables and meat.  But pancakes?  I was afraid that they’d burn immediately.  This was not the case.  The pancakes turned out lovely.  Crispy-crunchy around the edges and pillowy soft in the centers.  It has become my all-around favorite kitchen tool, and I really recommend trying it with pancakes.  After the skillet got smoking hot, I turned the burner down to medium-low for the duration of the cooking process.  The heat stayed surprisingly consistent and my well-seasoned skillet imparted beautiful color to the cakes. 

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A pile of pretty pancakes, all for me.  Was it worth the mess?  Yes.  The calories?  You betcha!  Absolutely delightful with each bite, and I love treating myself.  Please do this for yourself too.  The upside is that you can eat as many as you want.  The downside is that you can eat as many as you want.  But, heck, life’s full of ups and downs.  I suppose we have to choose one or the other.  I’m sure glad I chose to enjoy every single bite of these pancakes.  They’re made with love, lemons, and yogurt, after all.

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Lemon Greek Yogurt Pancakes
Recipe by Baking Bites
http://bakingbites.com/2013/01/fluffy-lemon-yogurt-pancakes/

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 tbsp sugar

1 large egg

2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt (I actually used Greek Gods lemon honey Greek yogurt.  It was wonderful.)

1/3 cup milk

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp lemon zest

1 tbsp butter, melted and cooled 

Method:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar.  In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, yogurt, milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, and butter.  Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and whisk until just combined (remember, lumps are good!).  The batter will be fairly thick. 

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water will skitter over the pan.  Grease lightly with oil or butter and spoon batter into pan according to the size of your choice.  When the cakes begin to bubble, flip them over and cook until golden on the other side.  Transfer cakes to a plate and keep in an oven that has been warmed and turned off until the rest of the pancakes are done.  Serve with syrup, fruit, yogurt, honey, or any other condiment of your choosing.

Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

 My mom only ever makes hard-boiled eggs during Easter.  That way, they’ve been preserved as a holiday treat.  The other reason is that my family never finishes eating them all.  Perhaps this is because my brother and I each color a dozen eggs?  Probably so.  Twenty-four eggs and only four people = a lot to eat.  My mom mistakes this, thinking that we don’t really like them, which is totally not true.

Confession:  I was the kid who actually like those gray, chalky yolks so iconic of overboiled eggs.

Even more so than the whites?  Yes.  My brother wouldn’t even try the yolks, so he’d plop them onto my plate.  A little salt and I was sky-rocketed to heaven.  Nowadays, I still love the yolks best, but I’m no longer content with powdery egg ash. 

Perfectly boiled eggs are golden and almost jelly-like in the middle.  The yolk should not run, but it should be moist.  One year my mom was determined to execute the hard-boiled egg.  Who did she go to?  Martha Stewart, of course.  There was a time when our magazine rack was filled with Martha Stewart Living, and I confess, I loved flipping through those glossy, too-perfect pages.  But, the woman knows her stuff…or at least her contributers do.  Her method is fool-proof, and lets be honest, Martha’s recipes are always good.

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The key to hard-boiled eggs is to remove the pot from the burner once it comes to a rolling boil.  This allows the eggs to slowly cook as the water slowly cools down.  Twelve minutes is enough time, and I don’t believe that that changes with the amount of eggs that are being cooked.

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Now that summer’s almost here (June 21st!), I’m craving salads and lighter foods.  Hard-boiled eggs are delicious on a bed of lettuce topped with all the fixings: cucumber, tomatos, onion, ham, provolone, and a creamy balsamic vinagrette.  No worries that it’s not Easter.  When they are cooked perfectly, they are delicious any time of year. 

Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

Recipe by Martha Stewart

12 large eggs at room temperature

Method:

Place eggs in a large saucepan and cover with water by one inch.  Slowly bring the water to boil over medium heat.  When the water reaches a boil, cover pot and remove from heat.  Let sit for 12 minutes. 

Transfer eggs to a large bowl filled with cold water to stop the cooking.  Once cool, eggs are ready to peel and serve (or color!).  Any remaining eggs can be stored in the refridgerator for up to three days. 

Anthony Bourdain and a Quadruple Chocolate Cake: What more could a girl ask for?

This post is way long overdue.  Ok, overdue by a few weeks.  That’s a lot of time when I’ve been itching to write about something so stupendously exciting to me. 

Look here:

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Holy Marcona almonds!

Is this the illegible signature of THE Anthony Bourdain on my brand new copy of Kitchen Confidential?

Heck yah!

I can hardly believe it myself.  Not only is this book a hilarious account of Bourdain’s ventures through the chaotic, cutthroat maze that is the New York restaurant industry, but it’s adorned with the markings of a pen that was held by the man himself.  Oh yes, I’m proud of this thing and not afraid to flaunt it. 

Now, before I get carried away, I didn’t actually meet Anthony Bourdain, but I did see him live.  On May 10th, my mom and I went down to Milwaukee’s Riverside Theatre to see “Good vs. Evil: An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert”.  Two hours of witty, sarcastic, oftimes vulgar conversation between two men.  Well, two chefs.  Which makes all the difference. 

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As the name suggests, one of the chefs played the good guy persona, and the other played the evil guy.  Can you guess who’s who?  Without a doubt, Bourdain is the bad-ass, probably one of the most bad-ass (but actually nice) guys in the TV chef world.  I’d say that “evil” is a little harsh, more apt for someone like Gordon Ramsey.  But hey, you can’t blame the marketers for trying to appeal to our fascination with good vs. evil.  Bourdain is only evil to a few select groups and individuals.  Vegans, vegetarians, Paula Dean, Guy Fieri, and most vehemently, Sandra Lee.  It was such a guilty pleasure to clap and shout in agreement as Bourdain raved, “So you won’t eat meat…fine.  You have the right to eat or not eat whatever you want…but when you’re at grandma’s and grandma puts out her famous Thanksgiving Butterball turkey with Stovetop stuffing, you damn well better eat that turkey.  It’s grandma after all.”  Bourdain’s not being intolerant.  He points that statement at vegetarians and food snobs alike. 

Half of the show was spent watching Bourdain and Ripert question each other on their philosophies only to turn around and drill each other on their hypocrises.  One of the funniest moments is when Ripert asks Bourdain if it is true that he criticized Food Network game shows and reality food shows in his earlier books.  Bourdain nods his head yes with a knowing smile as Ripert shrugs his shoulders and non-chalantly replies, “So you’re a prostitute then.”  Bourdain’s smile ripples into laughter as he shakes his head, “I guess I am.” 

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Anthony Bourdain is an ex-chef who has written various books on the restaurant business, his culinary travels around the world, and his philosophies about the present food industry.  He is the TV host and personality of Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” and more recently, ABC’s “The Taste”.  Does the the prostitute joke make sense now?  The thing about Bourdain is that he acknowledges his hypocrisy but also admits to a strict line he’ll never cross.  You won’t see Anthony Bourdain endorsed cookware in a Kohls near you any time soon. 

Eric Ripert

Eric Ripert is executive chef and owner of Le Bernardin in NYC.  Le Bernardin is one of the most renowned seafood restaurants in the world.  For a glimpse into their tantalizingly fancy menu, go here: http://le-bernardin.com/menus/#fish-is-the-star.  The webpage states that “Fish is the star of the plate.”  Bourdain thought it would be fun to poke fun at Ripert, asking him, “So, Leonardo di Caprio comes into your restaurant and decides, ‘Hmmm, I think I’m actually in the mood for a hamburger?’, would you, Mr. Ripert, lower your standards and serve a nice boeuf en brioche to dear Leo?”  Ripert blushes, gives a coy smile, and shakes his head yes. He is certainly more subdued than Bourdain and isn’t quite as comfortable in the spotlight. Each time Bourdain cracked a vulgar joke, Ripert’s cheeks got all red. Slowly he opened up to the humor and joked right along with Bourdain. The only problem: his French accent. It’s heavy. As much as I enjoyed his personality in the show, it was annoying to strain my ears trying to make out his words. Luckily, Bourdain did most of the talking.

As a whole, the show was great, the audience was great, Bourdain was super duper great, and I felt dang great coming home with a signed copy of Kitchen Confidential.

…..about that.  That was totally an accident, a stroke of luck, a silver lining to what could’ve otherwise been a minor annoyance.  See, the ticket says 7:00 doors open, but my mom and I thought that meant that the show starts at 7:00 (shows how much we attend any sort of live performance).  The show actually started at 8:00. Because of this, we arrived at a prompt 6:30, the very first people in the door.  We were so early that we had to wait for the doors to open!  The waiting room slowly filled up with others who mistook the tickets, but we were the first in line to enter the theatre lounge, where I could see employees setting up stacks of colorful, crisp new books written by Bourdain and Ripert. 

My mom told me she’d treat me to a book, and suddenly, I could not wait for that door to be open.  Practically bouncing in my heels, I annoyed her, “Oh my goodness!  We are going to see Anthony Bourdain for reals in a little more than an hour.  I…cannot…believe…this.  What if I meet him and get his signature?!?!  I would love to chat with him one on one about the virtues of animal guts and stinky cheese.  Ahhhhhh!”  My mother was starting to get embarrassed.  Just as I was reminding her that we are in a room full of foodies who feel similarily exciteable, the doors opened and we were the first to the book table. 

Turns out, it takes about $80 more to meet Bourdain and Ripert after the show, but if you get to the theatre early enough, you have the chance to purchase one of the few book copies the chefs signed earlier.  My night was made even before the show began. 

So, I think I’ve talked my head off about Anthony Bourdain.  How about some quadruple chocolate loaf cake?

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I’m talking super chocolately.

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The sort of sweet that begs to be topped with ice cream.

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Eat with a spoon.  You’ll lose less cake crumbs this way.  Yeah, it’s that serious.

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I’m not sure I need to say anything more.  Attached is the recipe, and here’s a YouTube video of Nigella Lawson making her decadent cake: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9p9bAENBoc

Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake

from Feast by Nigella Lawson

For the Cake:

1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ cup unsweetened cocoa

1 ⅓ cups superfine sugar

1 ½ sticks soft unsalted butter

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

⅓ cup sour cream

½ cup boiling water

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (unless you prefer milk)

For the Syrup:

1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa

½ cup water

½ cup superfine sugar

1oz bittersweet chocolate (from a thick bar)

Method:

Take whatever you need out of the fridge so that all ingredients can come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 325ºF, putting in a baking sheet as you do so, and line a 9 x 5 loaf tin with greased foil – making sure there are no tears – and leave an overhang all round. Or use a silicon tin (in which case there is no need for the foil).

Put the flour, baking soda, cocoa, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and sour cream into the processor and blitz till a smooth, satiny brown batter. Scrape down with a rubber spatula and process again while pouring the boiling water down the funnel. Switch it off then remove the lid and the well-scraped double-bladed knife and, still using your rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips or morsels.

Scrape and pour this beautiful batter into the prepared loaf tin and slide into the oven, cooking for about 1 hour. When it’s ready, the loaf will be risen and split down the middle and a cake-tester, or a fine skewer, will pretty well come out clean. But this is a damp cake so don’t be alarmed at a bit of stickiness in evidence; rather, greet it.

Not long before the cake is due out of the oven – say when it’s had about 45-50 minutes – put the syrup ingredients of cocoa, water and sugar into a small saucepan and boil for 5 minutes. You may find it needs a little longer: what you want is a reduced liquid, that’s to say a syrup, though I often take it a little further, so that the sugar caramelizes and the syrup has a really dark, smokey chocolate intensity.

Take the cake out of the oven and sit it on a cooling rack and, still in its tin, pierce here and there with a cake tester. Then pour the syrup as evenly as possible, which is not very, over the surface of the cake. It will run to the sides of the tin, but some will have been absorbed in the middle.

Let the cake become completely cold and then slip out of its tin, removing the foil as you do so. Sit on an oblong or other plate. Now take your bar of chocolate, wrapped in foil if you haven’t got much of its wrapper left, and cut with a heavy sharp knife, so that it splinters and flakes and falls in slices of varying thickness and thinness.

I’ve specified a weight, but really go by eye: when you think you’ve got enough to scatter over the top of the loafcake, stop slicing. Sprinkle these chocolate splinters over the top of the sticky surface of the cake.

 *Just a note to those who do not own a food processor.  I’ve made this recipe twice now, once with a processor and once with a hand mixer.  Both times the cake has turned out lovely.  Just make sure that in both cases you scrape the batter down the sides and never overmix. 

 

Eggs in Purgatory

This is my favorite name for a dish, ever.  It’s epic.  It’s literary.  It’s got a little sass.  Only problem is, I think it would be better named Eggs in Hell.  That seems more apt for a boiling death in a bubbling brew of tasty tomato sauce, doesn’t it?

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But, alas, there are worse fates that could’ve befallen this poor egg.  Imagine being coerced into a gloppy, too-yellow hollandaise, only to be poured over some diner’s sub-par rendition of eggs benedict…quintessential, yet horribly overrated.  This dish has class, and it looks absolutely beautiful.  I love the bright white of the egg with its golden yolk just barely showing through.  I love the contrast of the charred red tomato sauce and the flecks of green parsley on top.   

My intention was to write about the history of this dish.  Where did it come from?  How in the world did it get its name?  Unfortunately, any information I found on the internet was hazy at best.  There were recipes a plenty, but histories none.  I can tell you that the dish derives from the Catholic tradition.  I can also tell you that the egg is supposed to represent the rising sun as Dante (or whoever) makes his way through purgatory. 

Perhaps, then, we should call this dish Eggs Rising From the Depths of Hell.  Although, the fact that they end up in my stomach seems to counteract the effect.

I could’ve sworn that I first spotted eggs in purgatory in Jamie Oliver’s Italy, a cookbook that captures the brilliant simplicity of traditional Italian cuisine.  The pictures are gorgeous too.  I flipped through its pages when I was home this weekend and could not find my precious eggs anywhere.  Perhaps it was Nigella?  It had to be.  I flipped through her cookbook, Feasts, and came up empty.  Where in the world did I learn about eggs in purgatory?!  I still don’t know, but I’m sure glad I’m in the know!

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This is breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  This is quick, easy, and satisfying.  I love, love, love spreading these hellish eggs on a heavenly slice of homemade parmesan bread.  Crunchy, saucy, charred, rich yolk, and the grassy contrast of parsley.  Yes, yes, yes!  And of course, the name is freakin cool. 

Eggs in purgatory is endlessly versatile.  I’ve made it with cheese on top.  During lunch I serve it with an English muffin.  I can totally imagine spooning this over creamy polenta or grits.  Heck, it could be eaten right out of the ramiken with nothing but a spoon.  If there’s company, just make a big batch of tomato sauce, pour it in a dutch oven or cast iron skillet, and crack in as many eggs as needed. 

I do recommend using a homemade tomato sauce.  Of course this isn’t necessary, but there’s so much more character to a dish made entirely by one’s own hands.  It’s such a simple recipe anyway.  I’m not sure that opening a jar of tomato sauce, pouring it in a ramekin, cracking an egg on top, and putting it in the oven is even under the category of semi-homemade.  I know, I know, we don’t all have time to make everything from scratch…but let me intervene.  It takes me fifteen minutes to make sauce.  Fifteen minutes.  I’ll include the recipe.  Try it, and see how inexpensive and quick it really is.

What’s a side dish that goes well with eggs in purgatory?

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Why, salad and a glass of wine, of course.  Pretty dang healthy, right?  Well…maybe not the wine.  But hey!  It’s good for the soul.

That’s all the convincing I need.  Make eggs in purgatory, and flaunt the name.  You’ll be the coolest cook around!

Eggs in Purgatory (for one)

1 egg

1/2 c. to 3/4 c. tomato sauce

salt and pepper

parsley to garnish

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 deg.  Measure tomato sauce according to the size of your ramiken (I used about a 1/2 c to 3/4 c).  Heat sauce in saucepan on stove.  Pour into ramiken when hot.  Crack the egg on top.  Season with salt and pepper.  Put ramiken into oven.  Check after 15 minutes.  When egg is white in color and yolk is to your desired doneness, take out of oven.  Garnish with parsely.  Serve hot with parmesan bread.

 

 Tomato Sauce (a method)

*This recipe is going to depend a lot on tasting as you go. Trust your sense of flavor and don’t be afraid of the ingredients. Tomato sauce is surprisingly forgiving.  Also, I should mention that this will make way more than you’ll need for a single-sized eggs in purgatory, unless you’re making enough for a crowd.  Freeze the rest if you won’t be using it right away.  Of course, you can always plan on having pasta the next day.   

1 15 oz. can plain tomato sauce

1 15 oz. can whole tomatos

olive oil

2-4 cloves garlic

1/4 a medium sized sweet onion (1/2 a small one)

palmful fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 tbls -1 tbls dried oregano

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper to taste

a spoonful of sugar (optional)

a splash of red wine

1 tbls butter

 Method:

Pour a couple tbls. of olive oil into a medium sized pot.  Set on stove on medium heat.  Meanwhile, mince the onion and the garlic.  When oil is hot, add onions first.  Let cook until translucent and soft.  Add garlic and cook for about a minute.  Watch carefully that the garlic doesn’t burn.  Pour plain tomato sauce into pot.  Drain excess juice from whole tomatos.  Chop or break tomatos apart with your hands (I prefer hands…it has more character because the pieces are all different sizes).  Bring up to medium heat.

Turn heat down to a simmer.  Add parsley, oregano, bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste.  If your sauce is too acidic, add a little sugar (up to a spoonful).  Pour in a splash of red wine.  Finish with a tbls. of butter to cut through the acidity.  Let simmer on the stove until ready to use.  The longer it is allowed to simmer, the deeper and more pronounced the flavor.  If you plan on using some of the sauce the next day, it’s going to taste really, really good.

Sauce can be used right away.  If freezing it for later use, allow sauce to cool completely.  Pour into a tupperware or ziplock container with a lid and store in freezer. 

Yup, it’s that easy.  Enjoy!

Beautiful Oranges

…or Beautiful Naga Ranga.

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…which is to say, Beautiful, though Fatal, Indigestion of Elephants. 

Ancient Malay legend holds that there was a time when humans did not exist and animals ruled the earth.  They could talk, think, and act like people.  One day, a rather edacious elephant came upon a tree brimming and bending beneath the weight of hundreds of delicious, plump, brightly colored fruits.  Greedy with lust, the elephant ate every last piece of fruit until his belly exploded with the enormity of his indulgence.  Years later, when humans were formed, a man was trekking through the wood when he came upon the skeleton of an elephant.  To his great delight, a giant, beautiful tree, speckled with thousands of exotic fruits, grew out of the elephant’s stomach.  Observing the obvious misfortune that brought about such a wonderful tree, the man called the fruit Naga Ranga.  Fatal Indigestion of Elephants.

The etymology of the orange is a strange one, indeed. 

Last week, I ate about twelve oranges within three days.  My orange lust was propelled by an oncoming cold that turned into a full-blown flu.  Hoping the vitamin C would shorten the impact, I asked my mom to buy a few oranges.  She came home with two bags full.  I chose a plump, dark colored orange from the first bag.  Popping my nail into the waxy skin, it peeled off easily.  I poked my finger into the middle where the orange segments came together and pulled them apart.  Each wedge was perfect, faintly orange and opaque.  Bad oranges pull apart like a ragged mess, juice squirting and guts falling out of the thin, delicate inner skin that holds each segment together.  These were good oranges.  Plump, juicy, and sweet.  I grabbed a second one, this time for pleasure, not vitamin C.  

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I’ve been thinking a lot about individual flavors, lately.  To get lost in the taste of an ingredient by itself, raw and unapologetic, is a beautiful thing.  Orange is an exotic flavor.  It is sharp and clean, resfreshing and bright, acidic and sweet.  When a food is enjoyed it its pure state, it absolutely must be of the highest quality.  There is nothing to mask the imperfection.  Winter is orange season, and the oranges right now are almost perfect.

I say almost because nothing’s perfect.  I mean, think of the elephant.  Delicious oranges were the source of his gluttonous death.  Something good is mired by something bad.  Yet, the good wins in the end.  It always does, doesn’t it?  A new, even greater orange tree blossoms from his stomach, overcoming it’s source of death.  Oranges aren’t perfect, but they are surely miraculous.  Let’s explore why that is, shall we?

Oranges are in their prime during winter.  I know I already said this, but think about it once.  What is also at it’s prime during winter?  The flu.  Oranges vs. the flu.  It’s rather convenient that a single orange gives our bodies its necessary amount of vitamin C for the day.  Since vitamin C builds the immune system, I’m pretty amazed that our best fruit for combating illness happens to taste the best during the season we are most vulnerable to a germy attack.  God is clever, isn’t he?

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Oranges zap your tastebuds with a sharp burst of acidic awesomeness.  Even bad oranges are super flavorful.  I don’t know about you, but when I have a cold, I can hardly taste anything.  But eat an orange, and you’re going to taste it.  It makes itself known.  Personally, I’m convinced that the sprightly juice of oranges gives me energy and hope when I’m under the weather.  A splash of tropical bliss.
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Oranges have magical peels.  …Really?  Like, really?  Yes, really.  Not only does the outer skin protect the lush, pulpy fruit on the inside, but it can be used for both edible and topical uses.  Orange zest adds lovely fragrance and a hint of citrus to dishes both savory and sweet.  It can be zested in longer strips, boiled in sugar water, and rolled in sugar to make candied orange peel.  It has been used through the centuries in perfumes and facial products.  It’s oil does wonders for furniture, giving wood a slick sheen. What’s more, the scent can be used to ward off pesky bugs like mosquitos. And we cannot forget that the peel is unique in its gorgeous color.

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Then, there’s the fact that oranges come pre-packaged into neat, bite-sized wedges.  How convenient, right? 

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God really is clever. 

When I was little, I’d eat a bowl of oranges while watching Nickelodean.  My mom would always peel them for me, probably hoping to save the kitchen from a massive explosion of orange guts.  When she’d hand me the bowl, I’d observe which wedges looked the juiciest.  Then I’d proceed to eat them from most pathetic looking piece to the most lovely looking one.  I’d pop a wedge in my mouth horizontally, bite down, and suck all the sticky nectar out.  It was bliss. 

I often forget how blissful fruit can be.  It’s easy to get excited about apples baked in a pie, but on their own?  With oranges, we drink a lot of orange juice, adding sugar to “enhance” the flavor.  Eventually, the raw fruit seems boring.  I gotta be honest, eating fruit has always been somewhat a chore to me.  I try to get excited, but I’m not.  The problem is intention.  Am I forcing myself to eat an orange because it’s healthy?  Cool fact:  In Italy, fruit is the dessert of choice.  Dessert.  Frankly, I’d be pissed if someone slapped a bowl of oranges in front of me after dinner.  Where’s my sugar-laden cake or fudge-drenched ice cream?  What the Italians know that I don’t is that fruit is the perfect pallet cleanser, and what’s more, it does have sugar.  Natural sugar.  Eat an orange with intention.  Eat it slow and concentrate on the flavor.  You’ll be amazed that something so good even exists.   

Now that my flu’s gone, I’m still eating lots of oranges.  I especially like to eat them with my favorite fruit.  Blueberries. 

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Oranges and blueberries.  Orange and blue.  Opposite colors on the color wheel.  Fierce and calm.  Fire and water.  Beautiful unity.  Not only in color, but in taste, too.

Where oranges are a little sour and super sticky, blueberries are cool, sweet, and somehow, rich.  Normally, I’ll pop about three or four blueberries in my mouth with each orange wedge.  This time, I tried seasoning the blueberries with orange zest.

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Flavoring fruit with fruit.

Somehow, the zest sweetened the blueberries.  At the same time, there was a deep, citrusy undertone.  It didn’t mask the berries; it brought out a side to them I didn’t know.  The berriness was enhanced, and that’s about the best description I can give. 

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Flavoring tea with scraps.

Why not use every bit of the fruit?  There’s been a recent trend to return to the primal undertaking of using every bit of meat from an animal.  Everything from the organs to the blood to the eyeballs.  It’s all good… seriously!  Many people around the world still know how to cook and enjoy the nasty bits because it means saving money, respecting the animal, and carrying on tradition.   Now, I feel a little silly calling people to respect fruits and vegetables, but I’m going to.  Using celery in a homemade soup?  Rip the leaves off the stock and throw them in a salad.  Peeling an orange?  Throw a piece of the skin in your tea and let it saturate the herbal liquid with it’s citrusy sweetness.

When we get more in touch with our ingredients and their unique flavors, our cooking and eating gets a lot tastier, a lot deeper. 

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I’m using the whole orange because I’ve just been so dang into oranges lately.  They’re delectable, healthy, fresh, and most of all, beautiful.  I love oranges.  You should too 🙂

Stir-Fry Citrus Beef

Ahh, stir fry.  The great staple of college students, working mothers, and amateur cooks.  A quick, cheap, and easy dinner that is neither life changing nor gut-wrenchingly terrible.  I’ll be generous and call it satisfactory.  Actually, I’ll be real; I hate it. 

I don’t hate it passionately, though.  I just sort of sneer at the idea of stir fry in a cynical, and ultimately, hypocritical, way.  The truth is, I stir fry a lot.  After pasta, it is my most frequented dish when I’m living in the dorm.  It’s quick.  Period.  If I have a lot of homework, I play responsible by cooking something that’s fast and doesn’t leave much of a mess. 

That’s stir fry.  Just heat your oil, throw in some meat, frozen veggies, and a bottled teriyaki sauce.  Yum.  I’m salivating as I write, for that bland, lifeless mush, suspended in a high fructose corn syrup laden goo.   I try to doctor it up, adding a little minced garlic here and a dash of ginger there.  It all gets lost in the artificiality, which is often the case when we attempt to make something semi-homemade.  Thus, we strip the life out of stir fry in the same way that tacos lose their integrity to the packaged spice mixes and glorified tortilla chip shells we cling to in the name of time and ease. 

It saddens me to see this.  Even more, it saddens me that I often do what I hate.  Let’s be real, jarred stir fry sauce isn’t cheap.  Frozen vegetables might cost less than some fresh veggies, but they’re certainly cheap in nutrients!  Making homemade stir fry isn’t that much more time consuming.  This is not totally about time and money.  It’s sort of about laziness.  Actually, it’s very much about laziness. 

Sometimes I’m lazy in the kitchen, and that just might be the root of my disgust with stir fry.  It reminds me of my laziness and the sort of food that that produces.  If you think I’m being a little too intense about this, you’re probably right.    

Still, there’s something about stir fry.  I just don’t crave it.  So, when I chose a recipe for stir-fry citrus beef in my Culinary Institute of America cookbook, I was a bit surprised. 

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Zingy citrus on top of savory beef seemed refreshing and new.  It is.  The meat is accompanied by only two vegetables: snow peas and bean sprouts.  Using such simple ingredients was mind-blowing.  Stir fry doesn’t have to be an obnoxious, color wheel medley of vegetables.  Brown, green, and flecks of orange zest.  It doesn’t sound too pretty, but it is.

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Another aspect of this dish that caught my eyes were the editions of fresh ginger and sherry.  Ginger is definitely Asian.  Sherry?  I’m not so sure, but it added a sharp hit against such fresh ingredients. 

Fresh ginger is spicy with a floral undertone.  The fragrance just blossoms as the root is sliced, shaved, shredded, or minced.  It is heady and strong in the most delicate way, like an exotic candy.  Using ginger for the first time is a flavor shock, a sudden realization that there are ingredients we are definitely missing out on when we stick to the familiar.  I love ginger, and even more, I love it with citrus. 

Orange and ginger create a sticky-sweet, spicy flavor.  Oranges blossom with fragrance, too.  Watch carefully while peeling an orange.  Fruity oils release into the air like mist.  Nature’s perfume.  The best thing about citrus are the jeweled tones of these juicy fruits.  From lemon yellow to deep blood red, they are beautiful.  Oranges are at there peak season during the winter.  Yet another reason I was drawn to a dish that has so many negative connotations in my mind. 

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Prepping took a little time.  Cooking went fast.  Really fast.  The general idea of stir frying is to get each ingrediant in and out of the pan as quickly as possible with as little oil as possible.  In that way, it’s pretty dang healthy.  The method evolved as a sort of poor man’s dinner in early China.  Using less oil was less expensive.  With fresh ingredients, stir frying did not have to mean less flavor.  In fact, the colors and nutrients in the vegetables stay better intact because of their short time in the hot pan. 

And the pan must be hot.   Exceptionally hot.  I had mine on high.  If you have a wok, use it.  Have every ingrediant prepped beforehand because you’ll have to be watching and tossing your meat and vegetables quite frequently so that they don’t burn.  And please, please start the rice before stir frying.  It will be quite the disappointment having to wait an extra twenty minutes to eat while smelling the delicious scent of orange-ginger sauce coming from your wok.

I topped each dish with a nutty drizzle of sesame oil and a sprightly tangle of cilantro.  It contrasts well with the sticky-sweetness of the sauce, an astringent prick to the tongue.   

This stir fry was delightful, a total stranger to the boring concoctions I’ve made in the past.  So, I’m a little food snobbish when it comes to stir fry.  Whatevs.  It was so easy to make the sauce, and even if I resort to frozen vegetables on a particularily busy night, I’ll be sure to make the rest from scratch.  A few oranges, a splash of sherry, a little soy sauce, and a sprinkling of sugar.  Simple, delicious, and healthy.  It brings the life back to stir fry in the freshest way. 

Stir-Fry Citrus Beef
adapted from The Culinary Institute of America Cookbook

2 lbs oranges

6 tbls dry sherry

6 tbls soy suace

1 tbls vegetable oil

2 lb sirloin, timmed of fat and cut across the grain into 1/4 inch thick slices

1/4 cup ginger, minced

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

3 cups bean sprouts

3 cups snow peas with ends removed

steamed rice

2 tsp sesame oil

handful fresh cilantro

Method:

Zest half the oranges.  Juice all of them.  Put the juice in a measuring cup and fill the rest with water until it reaches two cups.  Add to a bowl with the zest, sherry, and soy sauce.  Stir well.  Keep to the side until ready for use.

Heat a work over high heat until hot.  Add the oil.  When it begins to shimmer, add the beef, ginger, and pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occassionally.  When the beef is browned and cooked through, transfer to a bowl using a slotted spoon.  This will take about three to four minutes.  Drain the oil from the wok.

Our orange juice mixture into the wok and let come to a high simmer.  Add bean sprouts and snow peas.  Let them cook, stirring occasionally, until the peas turn a brighter green  This will take one to three minutes. 

Lower the heat and return the beef to the wok.  Cook just until the beef is heated through again.  Serve over jasmine rice.  Finish each bowl with a light drizzle of sesame oil and garnish with cilantro.

An Italian dinner for one.

If there is one ingredient I love to cook with, it’s wine.  If not only because of the taste, then also because it feels so sophisticated.

Am I sophisticated?  Heck no!  But of course, that does not mean we can’t pretend 🙂

The other night, I had the house to myself.  As always, it is wonderful opportunity to make whatever I want for dinner.  This is usually accompanied by a theme of some sort.  So I strapped on my patchwork skirt, donned an apron, and cooked an Italian grape picker’s dinner.  Random, yes?  But, of course, it meant the wine was flowing. 

Ok, I had two glasses, but the meal itself was resonant with the jammy robustness of fermented grapes.  Sausages roasted with fresh grapes, butter, and wine.  Simple perfection.  I served the whole lot over creamy polenta.  Wedges of homemade foccacia soaked up the sticky-sweet liquid beautifully.  And of course, all is finished off with a lovely glass of sangiovese. 

I felt like a queen.

Pretence at it’s very best.  Do I actually know anything about grapepicking?  No, but I do know that this is the sort of thing people who do might eat.  Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa says so.  I spotted this rather odd recipe on her show the other day and had to try it.  And if I’m going to try it, I’m going to go all the way.

Homemade bread. 

Making bread at home has an air of peasantry….of simpler, though maybe not better times.  Yet, it is easy to long for those times while hypnotically thrusting the heel of your hand in elastic dough and pulling it back over itself for ten minutes straight.  It has been said that kneading has heeling qualities likened to the effects of meditation and yoga.  I think that this is true once a person becomes comfortable with the very core process of bread making.  Not only is it easy to become lost in the movements, but it is even easier to focus the entire day on that growing lump of dough.  I know my mind was consumed.  Half fascinated and half scared that all would not go well, I forceabley kept myself from trying to watch the yeast do its thing.  Like waiting for a very large pot of water to boil.

Foccacia is an Italian bread derived from the same recipe as a pizza dough.  I used one from the Joy of Cooking.  This recipe is for pizza crust, but the difference is that the dough rises a second time in 9-inch cake pans.  Before baking, I pressed my fingertips lightly over both rounds and topped them with olive oil, herbs, and parmesan.  This made for a most enticing smell coming from the oven.

My bread was good, but I cannot pretend it is anywhere near as good as a loaf baked by a skilled artisan who has years of practice under his belt.  Mine is nothing compared to that.  But for the moment, it tastes better than anything in the world, if only because I made it with my own two hands.

As good as fresh bread is, the very best part of this meal was the sauce.  It sort of blows my mind how simplicity can be so flavorful in an interesting way.  This sauce is sweet and sour.  Sweet because of the fresh grapes, which release sugary juice as they roast away.  Sour because of the wine and a splash of balsamic vinager at the very end.  Butter cuts through the acidic liquid and adds a touch of richness. Even Italian sausage does not steal the show when it comes to this dish.  Like a reversal of roles.  The meat accompanies the sauce.

Being a carbaholic, I could not resist the urge to serve the meal over something…though the bread could’ve stood in for that.  I had never made polenta before, and it seemed just the sort of thing to go with sausages and grapes. 

It was the bubbling pot from hell.  As I poured the polenta into the boiling water, globs of the cooked mush began to spurt out the sides of the pot.  Yet, I kept stirring away, ignoring the pain each time a little bit hit my arm.  All of a sudden, the entire mass sucks in on itself, like quicksand.  Staring in utter horror, I watched as a gigantic glob of poleta popped up and back into the pot.  I quickly pushed the pot off the burner.  Something went terribly wrong…and I think I know what it was.

Instead of pouring the polenta into the pot for the entire duration of the 3 minutes in which it was to cook….I poured it slowly, but within the first minute.  Minor detail, yes.  However, it cooks SO quickly, that it will become violently hot if done too fast.  I’m lucky I didn’t get burns on my face.  I guess I’ll know better next time.

When dinner was ready, I set the table beautifully, turned on romantic Italian dinner music, thanked God for the food before me…and for saving me from being incinerated in a burning hailstorm of polenta….  and enjoyed dinner by myself. 

Was it lonely?  No way!  I like my own company…a lot 🙂  Of course it’s nice to dine with the people I love, but sometimes a girl needs alone time.  I made the food I wanted that night.  You know what?  It felt and tasted dang good.  Like I was a queen. 

This may be pretence, but at times that can be the very best 🙂

***For this particular dinner, I cut a recipe for 6 – 8 people down to 1.  Needless to say, there was much “eyeballing” of ingredients as opposed to measuring.  For this reason, I don’t feel right giving you my own directions, but instead the link to Ina’s recipe.  As a rule of thumb, too much wine and butter is never a bad thing, so don’t skimp on those two things no matter how much you make.  Also, the grapes are lovely, so I encourage you to cook a rather large portion of them in proportion to the sausages.  Kapeesh?  This really is the simplest of recipes, so it is difficult to get wrong.  Enjoy!

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/roasted-sausages-and-grapes-recipe/index.html

Foccacia

adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Makes two 9 inch round loaves.

1 1/3 cups warm water (about 105 degrees

2 1/4 tsp (1 package) active dry yeast

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tbls olive oil

2 tsp salt

1 tbls sugar

Method:

Combine water and yeast in a large bowl.  Mix and let dissolve for roughly 5 minutes.  Add flour, olive oil, salt and sugar.  Mix by hand for a minute, then knead dough for 10 minutes by hand.  Dough will be smooth and elastic when ready.  Transfer the dough to a clean bowl coated lightly with olive oil and turn dough to coat with oil as well.  Cover with a clean cloth and set in a warm place for 1- 1 1/2 hours so the dough can rise.  I like to heat an oven on warm, turn off, and set the bowl on the stove top so the residual heat can help it along. 

After the first rising, grease two 9 inch cake pans with olive oil.  Divide the dough in half and roll each piece to 9 inch rounds.  Set in pans and let rise in warm place for another 1 1/2 hours.  Ten minutes before dough is done rising, preheat oven to 400 and prep the ingredients to top your foccacia. 

For each round:

2-3 tbls olive oil

1-2 tbls parmesan

1 teaspoon dried herbs like rosemary, dill, basil, oregano, thyme, or more (I used a combo of thyme and basil)

1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Press dough, lightly, all over with fingertips to give the foccacia it’s signature dimpled look.  Drizzle each round with olive oil, sprinke on cheease, and lastly the herbs and salt. 

Bake bread for about 25 minutes or until golden brown on top.  Remove pans and place on cooling racks.  Bread can be eaten warm or at room temp.  It is great cut into long slices or cut horizontally as sandwich bread.

 

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

If I could only eat one flavor of ice cream for the rest of my life, it would be vanilla.  Although, this is said with great reluctance.  Chocolate, my first love, is being thrown in the dust.  But vanilla…real vanilla…is a revelation.  It has a delicately floral tone that sings the moment it hits your tongue.  Vanilla can be the most elegant flavor, nevermind how common it is.

This is coming from the girl who, at one time, wouldn’t touch vanilla ice cream with a ten foot spoon.  It was usually white and flavorless.  Chocolate has always been temptingly dark and rich in flavor.  Yet, every other kid seemed to love vanilla, which alluded me.  Unless it was folded with mix-ins, drizzled with topping, or nestled next ot a slice of (chocolate) cake, I never craved it.

Then, one day, I was introduced to the vanilla bean.  This was more than a few years before I started my ice cream making escapades.  It is a hazy memory, but I remember my mother taking out a tub of fancy ice cream from the freezer to go with a celebration cake.  There were little black specks sprinkled throughout the ice cream.  To my young mind, it looked as if someone accidently added pepper.  When my mom told me what it really was, I’m sure I was in awe.  Vanilla always seemed mysterious…where did it come from?  Yet here it was, a bunch of black specks in my ice cream. 

Vanilla is much more romantic than that.  Its seeds (those tiny specks) come naturally packaged inside the vanilla pod (aka bean).  The vanilla pod is the fruit of a certain variety of hibiscus…the only variety that produces fruit.  Cool, right?!  So that’s why vanilla has a floral scent and taste.  That’s also part of the reas0n it is so expensive.  The brand I bought for my ice cream cost $5 for two beans.  I have seen some brands that charge $10 for one bean!  It is easy to understand why there are a lot of crappy vanilla imitations out there.

I guess I shouldn’t be so harsh, but once you’ve had the real thing, it is hard to appreciate anything else.  Real vanilla tastes like vanilla.  My perception of it as a food was changed by the food itself.  Sort of like the first time I tasted real mango as opposed to flavoring.  So, I make my own ice cream.  Not always, but when I get the chance, it is a real treat.  Especially vanilla.  This is some good stuff. 

Cutting open the vanilla bean is a cool experience.  When I was little, I used to pop open the bottle of vanilla extract in the cupboard and inhale the deep scent.  A vanilla bean packs that intense punch without the alcohalic undertone.  It is pure.  The frangrance blossoms as the knife is dragged through its woody skin.  Then the fun part comes…scraping out the seeds.

As the milk and cream is heating, the seeds are dropped into the mixture.  At first, they clump up in big chunks.  This can be worrisome, but take a deep breath.  They will spread evenly.  The emptied bean is also added to the mixture and allowed to steep off of heat for 30 minutes.  This extra time really makes the magic happen. 

Vanilla ice cream never has much of a scent.  Take a lick, though, and your taste buds will dance.  Flowery, woody, and fruity at the same time.  Vanilla is both a complex and simple flavor.  It can blow the mind and be comfortingly reassuring at the same time.  For these reasons, it is worth the higher price and the extra work. 

This is why I have made vanilla ice cream more than any other flavor…. and I always thought it would be chocolate 🙂

Though I love it on its own, I will always be a fan of ice cream accompanying another dessert.  Apple pie a la mode is a classic.  It never disappoints. 

I have to admit, I wanted to make individual plum tarts with vanilla sugar dusted around the crust.  I dunno, plums and vanilla seem to get along well.  Unfortunately, the plums at the store were either hard rocks or mush.  Not knowing which was better, I headed straight for the granny smith apples.  They are usually consistent, and apples are pretty forgiving when baked.

Yes, apple tarts seem more fall than summer, but they taste good all the same.  The vanilla steals the show anyway.  My family ate up both the tarts and the ice cream lickity-split. 

A short tip before I finish writing.  Vanilla sugar is super expensive in stores.  It is also super easy to make.  Save your used vanilla pod after making ice cream.  Wash it off and add it to a small container of sugar.  After a few days, the sugar will be fragrant with vanilla.  Sprinkle it on cookies, pie crust, fruit, or whatever floats your fancy to give your desserts an added burst of flavor.  How delicious does that sound?! 🙂

Vanilla Ice Cream

adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

1 cup whole milk

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups heavy cream

pinch of salt

1 vanilla bean

6 large egg yolks

3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

Warm milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream, and the salt in a saucepan.  Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds.  Add directly to the warm milk.  Then add the emptied bean. Cover, remove saucepan from heat and let the mixture steep at room temperature for 30 minutes. 

Return the saucepan to a burner and slowly bring up the temperature on medium low heat.  Meanwhile, pour the rest of the cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer over it.  In a smaller bowl, whisk the egg yolks thoroughly.  When the vanilla mixture in the saucepan is warm, slowly pour ladlefulls into the egg yolks until half the mixture is added.  This brings up the temperature of the egg yolks so that they do not cook when poured into the saucepan.

Scrape the warmed egg yolks into the saucepan, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula.  Turn the heat to medium and continue to stir.  When the mixture either thickens and coats the spatula so that a trail is left when you drag your finger across it, or it reaches a temperature of at least 165 degrees, remove from heat.  Pour through strainer into the cream and add vanilla extract.  Stir until cool over an ice bath. 

Drop vanilla bean into bowl and set, covered, in refrigerator to chill for at least 8 hours.  The mixture will thicken during this time.  When it is ready to churn, prepare ice cream maker and remove vanilla bean from ice cream mixture.  Then freeze the mixture in the ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. 

Faking it?

Yesterday at work, I was handing a large soda out the drive-thru window to a man when he randomly asks me if my eyes are real. 

With voices playing in my ear from the headset and all the other obnoxious noises going on in the restaurant, I thought he had asked me for some condiments.  Not entirely sure if I’d heard right, I asked him to repeat the question.

“Are they real?”  he shouted.
“You want ketchup?!” I replied.
“No!” (he was determined to find out) “Are you wearing contacts or are your eyes real?!”
Are my eyes real?  It took a second for the question to sink in.  First thought: Who asks that?  Second: Better let him know so I can get the line moving.

“They’re real,” I answered rather stoically.
“Oh… well, they are very pretty,” he said and drove off.

I feel somewhat guilty now for my reaction.  All I could think was how strange it was for someone to ask such a question.  It was a very nice compliment and totally unexpected, but still very odd.  How many other people think I’m wearing colored contacts as I walk down the street?   

Flash back a week and a half ago:

“Is this really mint ice cream?!” my mother asked… no accused.  “I taste basil!  You really made basil ice cream, didn’t you!?” 
“It’s peppermint!  It’s really peppermint.” I tried to defend myself, but to no avail.
“I think you used basil,” my mother decided and walked off.

For the life of me, I could not convince her that I had picked the peppermint from my brother’s herb garden.  Truth be told, there was a slight basil backdrop to the ice cream.  Truth be told, I may or may not have accidently picked a few basil leaves while picking the peppermint.  In my opinion, the peppermint naturally has that earthy, basil taste to it when used directly from the ground.  Either way, I was being accused of faking the ice cream.

Now what would I possibly be trying to pull if I did something like that?!?!  It seems terribly silly to me.  Yes, I actually would like to make a basil ice cream sometime.  I imagine a dainty scoop of it floating atop a chilled, strawberry soup.  Don’t knock the idea unless you try it.  This, however, was genuine peppermint. 

There is something romantic about extracting the flavor of mint directly from its leaves.  After lightly rinsing them, I steeped the peppermint right in the whole milk and heavy cream.  This took an hour, after which I rang the leaves out, releasing all the precious oils.  Though the recipe promised the cream to turn a brilliant shade of emerald after the steeping, I was dismayed to see only a yellowish tint to mine.  The scent of mint was not prominent either, but dipping my finger in the mixture, I could definitely taste it…..and basil.

In fact, my first thought was “Woah! Basil.” 

Instantly, I knew I’d be in for it.  I knew that my mom, ever aware, would probably accuse me of purposely using another herb.  In haste, I doctored up the mixture, adding as much creme de menthe as possible (adding too much alcohal can prevent the ice cream from freezing properly) and a dollop of green food coloring, which ironically promotes the basil flavor as much as the mint.  Personally, I liked the flavor, but I didn’t want to hear it.  I didn’t want to hear that my mint ice cream was not as minty as it could be.

Over the next few days, my mint chocolate chip ice cream was the source of much frustration and pleasure.  On the one hand, my brother couldn’t get enough of the stuff, and was a committed believer that I had in fact used peppermint.  This, however, could be biased.  I had used HIS peppermint after all.  I found it to be extremely delicious and refreshing as well.  Probably my favorite flavor I have ever made…even after malted milk ice cream (gasp!).  So, in my opinion, the awkward, mysterious flavor was a blessing, not a curse.  Except for the fact that I kept being asked if I had used basil!
NO! no no no no no no no no. NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

I promise. 

At the last straw, my mom marched outside to the herb garden and picked a leaf right from the source.  Tasting it, she looked rather surprised to find that the peppermint itself did, in fact, taste like basil.  Rolling around the leaves in her fingers and releasing the oils, it started to taste more like mint. 

“Next time, you need to extract the flavor better,” she advised.

Now I was rolling my eyes. 
“Actually, I happen to like it just the way it is.” 

Oh, I love my mom very much, but I definitely need to be careful when I make ice cream in my house, lest I be accused of evilly concocting experminental flavors disguised as the familiar.  Yes, I love to try new things, but this time, I genuinely wanted to try my hand at mint, and boy was it delicious!

So, between the color of my eyes and the flavor of my ice cream, the world will never know what’s real and what’s fake.  What am I trying to pull?  Who am I trying to kid?  I don’t think I’ll tell.  It’s my little secret 😉


Before I end this post, I just want to comment on the process for making the “chips” in the mint chocolate chip ice cream.  No, you don’t just add a bag of chocolate chips.  That’s too easy.  I used a process known as stracciatella.  Often used in gelato, the Italians have created a brilliant way to make deliciously crunchy, bite-sized shards of chocolate throughout ice cream.  Simply melt semi-sweet chocolate over a double boiler and drizzle through ice cream during the final minutes of churning, being careful not to hit the paddle directly.  If all goes well, the chocolate will distribute evenly.  If it doesn’t (and it didn’t my first try), you will end up with homely, unpleasant chunks of chocolate that will have to be broken up with a spoon before eating.  This is why practice makes perfect.  Not to worry, it gives me an excuse for making more mint(basil) ice cream in the future 🙂

By the way, despite her concern, my mom loved the ice cream too.  Basil flavor and all 🙂

Fresh Mint Ice Cream

adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

Makes about 1 quart.

1 cup whole milk

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups heavy cream

pinch of salt

2 cups lightly packed mint leaves (I used peppermint)

5 large egg yolks

Method:

Warm milk, sugar, 1 cup heavy cream, and salt in a saucepan.  Add mint leaves and stir into liquid.  Cover, remove pan from heat, and let the leaves steep at room temp for about an hour. 

Straint the liquid into a medium saucepan and press the leaves to squeeze out all the extra flavor.  Discard leaves.  Pour the remaining heavy cream into a large bowl and set the strainer on top. 

Rewarm the mint-infused liquid.  In a small, separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks.  Slowly pour the warm mint liquid into the egg yolks and whisk constantly to bring up the temperature of the eggs.  This will keep them from cooking when being poured into the saucepan.  Pour egg yolks into saucepan and stir mixture constantly over medium heat.

When the mixture thickens and coats the spatula, it’s done.  You can test this by dragging your finger across the spatula.  If the line your finger makes holds, then it is ready.  If you really want to be on the safe side, test mixture with an instant thermometer.  It should read between 165-170 degrees.

Pour mixture through strainer into heavy cream and stir until cool over an ice bath.  Chill mixture thouroughly in refrigerator (preferably overnight) and freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Stracciatella 

also adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

Makes enough for 1 quart of ice cream.

5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Make a double boiler by setting a clean glass or metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.  Add chocolate and let melt, stirring until smooth.

Drizzle chocolate in a very thin stream into the ice cream mixer during the last few minutes of churning.  Do not let the chocolate hit the paddle.  If this is impossible, layer the melted chocolate into the ice cream as you layer it in the storage container.

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