Monthly Archives: March 2008

>We all scream

>I promise to take a picture tonight to add to this blog. I realized today that I’ve been really lax about illustrating my writing. And blogs about food without photographs are boring.

These days I’m making a batch of ice cream about once a week. I usually end up taking it to a party at some point, or inviting friends over in a desperate attempt to get rid of the stuff so that I can make another batch. Last week I had a scare with my ice cream machine- I thought it was broken and I was totally freaked out! I want a better machine, but not like this.

As it turns out all is okay in the world of ice screams and we can continue with the endless experiment.

The past few weeks I have been interested in taking a pre-produced well-known regional foodstuff and turning it directly into ice cream. 2 weeks ago was Nutella Ice Cream (see previous entry) and it was amazing. This week is Dulce du Leche Ice Cream that I studded with David Leibovitz’s spiced nuts recipe (mostly pecans, a few sliced almonds when I ran out of pecans).

Dulce de Leche is a latin (of various origin) creme caramel. It’s made by taking a can of condensed milk which you then traditionally throw in the fire until the milk caramelizes. Or, if you’re in your home kitchen you can put it in a pan of boiling water or the oven. But, since these cans sometimes explode when they’re cooking…. I buy mine at the international market. I cannot imagine the mess/burning pain of boiling hot caramelized milk everywhere. No siree.

I used goat milk in this ice cream because when doing a little research pre-cooking I read that dulce de leche is traditionally made with goat milk. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but since my local organic co-op carries goat milk and I enjoy the flavor (not on my cereal) I thought why not?

I read about the pecans in someone else’s dulce de leche ice cream recipe. I didn’t follow the rest of the recipe, but it seemed like a good idea.

Dulce de Leche Ice Cream
– 2 cans dulce de leche
– 2 cups skim goat milk (or regular milk)
– 2 cups heavy cream
– 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
– 4 egg yolks

1) Place milk, cream, salt, cinnamon in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

2) In a seperate mixing bowl whisk egg yolks until they lighten.

3) Open both cans of dulce de leche and scrape the contents of one can into a heatproof container (in my case- a pyrex 2c measuring cup).

4) When the dairy is hot ladle 1/2 cup over your dulce de leche and whisk slowly to combine. Continue adding 1/2 cup of dairy at a time until the caramel has been sufficiently thinned and then scrape the dairy/caramel mixture back into the main pot.

5) Repeat step 4 with the second can.

6) Remove pot from heat. Slowly stream 1/2 cup of hot dairy at a time into the whipped egg yolks WHILE YOU WHISK LIKE A MOTHERF*****R!!. Repeat 2 more times and then scrape the egg yolk mixture back into the main pot.

7) Return the main pot to the stove and reheat carefully. The second the mixture starts to thicken and coats the back of a spoon remove the pot from heat (or your eggs will curdle).

8) Place the mixing bowl (that held your egg yolks) into an ice bath (in a larger bowl). Place a fine mesh sieve over the empty bowl and pour the dairy mixture through the sieve. Whisk the mixture while it sits in the ice bath to cool it quickly. Stir in vanilla.

9) Chill the dulce de leche cream base in your fridge for at least 4hrs until throughly chilled (I always leave mine overnight). Run in your machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add a mix in if you so choose.

While making both the Nutella Ice Cream and the Dulce de Leche Ice Cream I’ve finally discovered the true use for the flat whisk that Frisky gave me for my birthday a few years ago. It’s perfect for incorporating the dairy and the sticky spreads. Traditional balloon whisks tend to collect balls of goo in the middle that you can’t get out in order to dissolve them. The flat whisk works PERFECTLY.

I’m still trying to think of some other regional pre-made dessert items that I’d like to try in this fashion. I know there’s an Italian chestnut puree that I think would be nice (but probably not till fall). I was thinking about Marzipan or perhaps an Indian dessert called Barfi (don’t laugh- that’s really what it’s called). I’m not in love with any of those ideas so I’ll keep thinking.

In reality the next ice cream will probably be Lavender-Honey. In honor of Spring.

>How pesto works.

>Pesto, the much lauded very expensive ingredient that everyone forks out the nose for in restaurants is NOT hard.

You do need a food processor to make it. I don’t know how or why anyone bothered with it when all they had was a mortar and pestle.

And I’m not going to give an exact recipe for it, cause proportions need to vary according to your ingredients. And for gosh sakes, no proper Italian person ever used a recipe for pesto.

Classic Pesto Ingredients
– basil
– grated parmesan cheese
– garlic
– salt
– pine nuts (pinola)
– olive oil

Right here let me say for THE RECORD that Thai basil is MUCH more awesome than classic Italian or sweet basil. There are a lot of other varieties, some of them are great, but Thai basil rules the world. Also, if you buy Thai basil at your local Asian grocery you will save many 10s of dollars. Many.

Here’s the thing about pesto. Basil is nice, heck basil is great. But basil is seasonal, expensive, and overused. It doesn’t matter what herb or leafy green you use- experiment at will! Aaaaand…. you can even COMBINE herbs. So there.

Same thing goes for the pine nuts- they’re VERY expensive. They go rancid easily, they burn easily.

As for the cheese- any kind of hard grateable cheese will do.

I used to date a guy whose sister and brother-in-law own a very fancy restaurant in Philadelphia. They use some olive oil in their pesto, but they mostly thin it out with veggie broth. Because, super oily pesto actually isn’t very good, or very healthy, and it can be super-hard to work with when cooking. And it’s expensive.

So here’s a list of all sorts of things you can try in your pesto. Just blend away and add liquid until you’ve made a thin smooth paste and it tastes good.

Pesto Options
– basil
– cilantro
– oregano
– parsley
– scallions
– rosemary (kinda dry- must mix with something else)
– spinach (not my favorite)
– arugala
– tarragon
– etc. ad nauseum

– pine nuts
– macademia nuts (my favorite- they’re so buttery)
– walnuts (cheap)
– sunflower seeds (my mom’s cheap favorite)
– brazil nuts (tried this last week- awesome)

And some other things you might try to liven up your pesto varieties:

– lemon juice and lemon zest (for lemony pesto- with the added benefit of preventing oxidation)
– black pepper
– crushed red pepper
– a little creamy cheese (goat, brie, cream cheese, puck cream)or just a touch of heavy cream, or even a pat of butter
– sundried tomatoes
– roasted garlic instead of raw

I haven’t done this, but I bet you could do an Asian pesto with peanuts or cashews, sesame oil, cilantro, scallions.

Again, thin it out with broth- not a lot of oil.

2 Final Pesto tips:
1) When your batch is done freeze the pesto in an ice cube tray and then save the cubes in a plastic bag. It’ll keep forever and you can just throw a cube into a soup or a sauce now and again.
2) If you keep your pesto fresh in a tupperware put a piece of saran wrap over the top and press it onto the pesto to create an air-tight seal. This will keep your pesto from oxidizing and turning brown. Or you could just add lemon juice and zest (as recommended above).

I like to make a huge batch of pesto once in awhile and just use it until it’s gone. Especially when my friends grow too much basil in the summers. I use my big food processor for this. But often I find myself at the last minute making just enough for 2 people in my little food processor- maybe the best tool I have in my kitchen. They cost $30 and make about 1 1/2 cups of puree.

>Soy curd or The Fearful Tofu.

>A friend got me thinking about tofu lately. Tofu’s got a bad rap in the Midwest- everyone’s scared of it because it’s “foreign” or maybe it’s just “ethnic”. In any case it’s not meat which is enough to have some shakin’ in their booties.

I have no idea why.

The thing is- tofu is boring. I mean BORING.

It has no flavor. It has no texture. It’s only really distinguishing quality is that it makes some people fart. It’s even white. How boring is that?

But if you’re a vegetarian and you’re making sure that you get enough protein (and us discerning vegetarians actually do think and plan to get enough) you end up eating a lot of tofu and then you discover that it can do so much more than meat can do.

2 chemical things to remember about tofu:
1) It is basically a waterlogged sponge.
2) It is basically cheese made out of soymilk (soymilk is mixed with acid creating curds and then extra liquid is removed- just like cheese. In fact I dare you to do a taste test of Indian paneer cheese and firm tofu and tell the difference).

Tofu comes in a variety of textures that are basically a spectrum from silken (very soft) to firm (um… firm. duh.). They’re used for different things.

Silken tofu is usually used to imitate a creamy dairy substance. It can be blended into smoothies, used instead of eggs in a quiche, made into a (actually not so notable) imitation of Ceaser salad dressing (yes I know I spelled that wrong).

My favorite way to use silken tofu? Alton Brown’s astonishing Mooless Chocolate Pie. I promise that if you make this dish and don’t tell anyone they won’t have ANY idea that it’s vegan. If you mix 1 cup of soy milk into the final product in the blender you can run it in the ice cream maker and no one will know that’s vegan either. But be careful about that tofu foolery- some people are extremely allergic to soy (pour souls).

My favorite way to use the moderately firm tofus is in a stir fry. There are two tricks to a great stir fried tofu- one is kind of REQUIRED, the 2nd just makes it better:

1) ALWAYS make sure to remove some of the liquid in the tofu. Puncture the container and remove the blocks. Place them on a plate and put another plate on top. Put something heavy on the 2nd plate (I use a glass measuring cup full of water). Leave it there for at least an hour- 2 or 3 hours is better, then pour the liquid off the bottom plate. If you don’t do this you’re pretty much just steaming a water-logged sponge in your skillet when you stir fry.

2) If you want you can marinate your tofu. Place your tofu in a shallow dish and cover as much of the block as possible with your marinade. If you can’t cover the whole block then plan to flip the tofu over at some point. The longer you leave the tofu in the marinade the better, at least an hour. Overnight if you can plan that far in advance (yeah right). I usually need at least a cup, if not 2 cups.

I tend to just throw a marinade together and make it whatever flavor I want, but I always include these things:
– soy sauce
– acid (vinegar or citrus juice)
– a little oil
– sugar of some sort

Some things I like in a marinade (mix and match as you please):
– sesame oil (LOVE)
– vegetarian Worcestershire sauce- just a few drops
– rice wine vinegar
– balsamic vinegar
– sherry vinegar
– hot sauce (cock rock sauce!)
– lime juice or orange juice
– jerk paste (be VERY careful. This is VERY Spicy).
– crushed Szchechuan peppercorns
– sherry or other sweet wine (port, vermouth, marsala)
– salt
– pomegranate juice
– liquid sweetner (maple syrup, honey, brown rice syrup, date molasses, regular molasses- I’ve got ’em all and I’m not ashamed).

At my local Asian market I can find these large flat squares of extremely firm tofu. I’ve discovered that these hold up really well for shish kebabs at summer cookouts (when everyone else is pigging out on their lamb kebabs or whatever. ick.).

I always make these the night before for the most oomf. I chop a whole bunch of vegetables into large chunks along with the tofu (also in large chunks) and I put it all in my biggest non-ice cream tupperware. I make a lot of a marinade (using the process described above)- at least two cups and I pour it all over the veggies and seal the tupperware up tight. I put it in the fridge and shake it around every hour or so until I go to bed and continue shaking it the next morning until I leave for the party.

I take my tupperware of vegetables and my skewers (soaked overnight of course to prevent burning) to the party and I spend a few minutes randomly skewering everything. And the meat eaters always come after my kebabs right away. Suckers.

I’ve discovered that the jerk sauce works especially well with the cookout kebabs. But again be CAREFUL. 1-2 tablespoons really will do it, and if you overdo it- you will know right away. And then you’ll know again later. Just sayin’.

So now do you think that tofu is mysterious and evil?

>The Littlest Oven

>I’m 90% convinced that I could live without my regular oven. As in, I do 90% of all the things oven-related in my toaster oven. The only 2 uses for the big oven are 1) roasting a giant winter squash (like the one that’s been sitting around my kitchen for 3mo) and 2) cooking pizza. I guess there’s a very occasional batch of cookies or miniature pie experiments or roasted bananas (for roasted banana ice cream), but not very often.

Heck, the toaster oven takes 2min to heat up instead of 30. It uses probably a 10th of the energy the big oven takes. I don’t feel like I’m the Sahara Dessert every time I open it. Mostly I don’t have to bend over and waggle my butt to look into it.

The things I use it for oven for are:

1) Roasting heads of garlic (wrapped in a tin foil pouch and covered with olive oil).
2) Roasting an entire diced Asian eggplant with several cloves of minced garlic and lots of salt and olive oil.
3) Roasting a package of cherry tomatoes, all cut in half (usually mixed with salt, garlic, olive oil).
4) Making mini quesadillas out of corn tortillas or those cute tiny flour tortillas that I’m fond of.
5) Upon occasion roasting fruit.
6) Melting cheese on anything
7) And of course, toasting bread.

I think if I got one of these tiny pizza stones the toaster oven would go even further:

I wonder what I’m waiting for- that’s certainly $15 well spent.

>Too small you say?

>For all of you who have told me from time to time that your kitchen is too small to cook… I bring you one of the world’s best known pastry chefs in his enormous kitchen:

Mr. David Leibovitz

Your excuse is totally dead.