Sweetness, Then Light

Sunday morning, Teacherman and I drove out of the city to have brunch with one of our friends, who, among other things, is a chef.  That is, I think he’s actually employed to do something with computers, but a few years ago he went to culinary school and has, as Teacherman would say, Mad Skillz. 

Not only did we go see him because we like his company (and that of his lovely wife, who I only just met), but because he will be the one helping me cook for my wedding in two months.  (Yes, that is correct: I will be making all of the food for my own wedding.  This is not as crazy as it sounds; after all, there will only be about 34 people there, and I will, as just mentioned, have the help of a professional). 

Our convivial brunch was a testing session for several of the dishes for the reception, including the wedding cake itself, along with a few extras, not part of the future wedding feast, to round out a weekend morning (which is to say, we’re all carnivores, so we threw some steak into the mix).  Teacherman and I knew that the coming meal would be large and protein-heavy, so our breakfast was very light, in preparation therefore.  (It was also the end of the week, and there was very little in the fridge with which to make said breakfast).

After a little contemplation of the paltry ingredients inside and the sultry weather outside, I took a half-finished bag of strawberries from the freezer, an almost-on-the-verge blood orange from the fridge (the frigidity of which was the only thing keeping it from plunging straight over the verge), and a bottle of simple syrup from the cupboard.  I dumped the strawberries into the food processor, zested the orange over the lot, then removed the rest of the peel and threw in the duskily maroon-colored sections. 

After blitzing the mixture for a minute to break down the orange membranes and pulverize the frozen fruit, I added a couple of glugs of the simple syrup and whizzed everything up again until smooth.  A food processor may not add much air, but frozen desserts made therein can be lovely, if one likes extreme density of flavor.  The texture of the sorbet was on a par with store-bought, but the depth of strawberry flavor was much greater.  I couldn’t say how much sweetener was added, but it was just enough to counter the slightly bitter aftertaste of the orange pith; the two opposites balanced each other well.  Since we were, as usual, running late, we snarfed down the sorbet, refreshing in the unexpected early-morning heat, and headed out the door.

Six and a half hours later we returned, stuffed beyond belief and toting a cake-keeper containing a half-eaten, delectable wedding cake prototype.  We didn’t really think that we’d ever eat food again, especially not after sharing the remaining cake with our upstairs-best-friends-and-their-visiting-relatives, but at around 8 pm we looked at each other (trying not to look at the desolate and crumb-covered cake plate) and knew that we needed at least a little something to last us until the next morning.

Once again, there was contemplation of the fridge and cupboards.  This time the fridge yielded up a bag of romaine hearts and a lime, and the depths of the cupboard a can of white beans.  The lettuce was chopped, the beans lightly drained, the lime juiced, and they were all tossed together with a little olive oil and dried oregano.   It sounds odd and undefinable, but the flavors worked surprisingly well together and the whole was very satisfying.  The crispness of the lettuce and the lightness of the lime revivified our palates and settled our too-full stomachs.  We certainly didn’t want to eat any more dinner, but we knew that we would eat again.

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Published in: on April 30, 2007 at 2:18 pm  Comments (1)  

Sine Qua Non

Really, there isn’t anything in the world better than a roasted whole chicken.  I don’t have anything exciting and pithy to say about it, no scintillating adjectives to fling around–roast chicken is simply the best. 

Every Sunday, I tend to make enough of something to feed myself for an entire week.  I prize my evenings hours too much to spend them making a new and different lunch every night, but (though I do nearly always insist on a homemade lunch) I don’t want to eat unending tuna salad (or some analog) out of a tiny tupperware.  Thus, I make a big meal of “real” food on Sunday night, then portion it out to last me the rest of the week. 

Most Sundays I make a stew or a casserole and eat it, unaltered, for both Sunday dinner and my week’s worth of lunches.  This weekend, though, fooled by the piercingly sunny weather into believing that spring was truly, finally here, I developed a craving for a multi-colored, multi-vegetabled salad with ancillary protein of some kind.  After cataloging the contents of my produce drawer (too many carrots! an enormous cucumber! some of those utterly cool Easter egg radishes!), I decided that chicken would be the best match.  My inner glutton immediately siezed upon the idea and hissed “Roast chicken for dinner.”

Tearing myself from my shaded spot on the back patio, I reconnoitered the grocery store and returned with two three-pound frying chickens.  Note: I said frying chickens.  I far prefer to roast two smaller birds than one large ‘roasting’ chicken, with its oversized breast (which always overcooks) and undersized everything-else.  Two small chickens cook in less time than one large one, and give the cook a much greater proportion of thighs, drumsticks, oysters and crispy skin.

My mother has roasted large chickens (or, more often, at least in my memory, capons) for my entire life, but the first time I ever made one myself I was living alone, almost one thousand miles away.  I scrounged around online, and almost immediately found a recipe by Julia Child for ‘Perfect’ Roast Chicken that called for a three to three and a half pound bird.  Accordingly, I went out and bought just such a one, and as instructed, roasted it for 15 minutes at 425, then turned it down to 350 for one hour.  

I was thrilled with the result–bronzed, shatteringly crisp skin, breast meat that was moist and thigh meat that was completely cooked through.  Faced with such a triumph in spite of my inexperience, I have almost never deviated from this roasting method, and when I do, I am inevitably disappointed: the breast meat dries out, the juices run bloody, the skin stays limp and palid. 

It is a fact, though, that every meat-eating cook I know is almost evangelical about their own personal chicken-roasting method.  My mother, for instance, does not cotton to the short blast of 425-degree heat at the beginning of roasting, saying that it makes the fat spatter all over the inside of her oven.  She prefers to roast her (usually larger) chickens at 350 for the entirety of their sojourn; she gets good results, but I cannot replicate them.

For these specific chickens, I did nothing unusual.  I plunked them in a cooking-sprayed jelly roll pan, deployed my crisp-skin insurance policy (that is, I scrunched my fingers under the skin on the breasts and thighs, separating it from the flesh and letting a little air inside), sprinkled it with salt and various dried citrus peels, and put it in the oven.  I spent fifteen minutes preparing the side dish for dinner that night, turned down the oven, and returned to the back patio and my book.

Teacherman got back from Cleveland just as I took the pan out of the oven and was torn between attacking it as it stood, or taking a quick shower while it cooled slightly.  He opted for the shower, poor thing.  By the time he got out, only five minutes later, the chickens were entirely denuded of skin.  I have no defense against the charge of eating two chickens-worth of skin.  Luckily, he loves me anyway.

Published in: on April 23, 2007 at 7:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

When the Cat’s Away

When Teacherman is out of town, I eat shrimp.  This is not to say that I do it stealthily, or on the sly, hiding my illicit shellfish hedonism, but I do only eat it alone.  Teacherman, alas, is allergic to shrimp.  He certainly doesn’t object to me eating shrimp, or to having it in the house when he’s there, but somehow, even though I occsionally eat meals alone when he is in town, I only make shrimp when he’s away.

In any case, he is off on a weekend teaching jaunt to Cleveland, leaving me with several meal to insert shrimp into, should I desire.  Given my current budget, I decided that two crustaceany splurges were in order, and tonight was the first of them.

My meal was relatively simple and entirely gleaned from other resources–Friday night after a full work week and an ill-starred concert the previous evening is no time to get elaborate, and any ‘creative’ excursions made in such an exhausted state can only end badly.  To that end I took up a recipe I’d been saving for just such an occasion, one from March’s issue of Bon Appetit: Shrimp and Scallop Posole.  I was immediately attracted to the recipe, since not only did it include both shrimp and scallops, which I love (and which, for the record, Teacherman is not allergic to), but also salsa verde, one of my absolute favorite things.  I have happy memories of childhood visits to my father’s parents in Albuquerque, and, though I’m sure I scorned it at the time, in past years my love for southwestern green chile salsa has become rather boundless.

In any case, the meal is easily made.  I have never had “real” posole, so I don’t know how this compares thereto, but it is quite good, nonetheless.  It starts as most soup recipes do, sauteing onions and garlic until soft, a procedure that always seems to take me much longer than recipes indicate, no matter how high or low I turn the heat.  After 5 (or 15 minutes) of softening, one adds a little lime peel, a diced sun-dried tomato or two, salsa verde, and enough clam juice to make it soup-like. 

At this point one is also supposed to add a can of hominy.  Hmm.  The recipe calls for one can of hominy for six servings, and I was reducing quantities of everything to feed one.  Did I really want to open a 15-oz can just for a few tablespoons?  Instead, I dumped in a handful of frozen corn; not quite the same, but the flavors are similar enough that I don’t think the recipe was ruined.   After that has simmered away for a few minutes, one adds in the shrimp and scallops, along with a handful of cilantro, and lets the shellfish cook until done (something which always takes me much less time than recipes indicate, no matter how large my shrimp are.  This time the recipe called for simmering the shrimp for 5 minutes, and my extremely jumbo specimens were done in about 2).

The finished soup was surprisingly molten, so I let it cool for a few minutes, while I quickly sauteed another serving of shrimp for a cold Thai salad tomorrow.  When the posole was cool enough to eat without lasting oral damage, I dove in.  It was exactly what I had been hoping for.  One might think that the shellfish, corn and sun-dried tomatoes, each with their own particular sweetness, would compete against each other and end up cloying, but the spicy acidity of the salsa verde cut neatly through each one and somehow tied them all together into a balanced whole.  The salsa also thickened the posole to a much more substantial consistency than the brothy soup in the recipe’s accompanying picture.  As someone who prefers soups so reduced that they might as well be a kind of medieval pottage, this thickness was quite welcome. 

The soup may not be fancy or difficult to prepare, but it’s not unattractive, either, with its bright pink shrimp, off-white scallops and red and green flecked depths.  I can easily see it making regular appearances at my solitary shrimp feasts.  Who knows: some day I might even make it with nothing but scallops, and serve Teacherman a meal he would otherwise never know he was missing.

Published in: on April 20, 2007 at 6:58 pm  Comments (1)  

Alien Vegetables

My best friend still remembers the last time she took me to the Madison, Wisconsin farmer’s market (the best I have ever been to). After two hours of swirling round and round the capitol building, buying cheese and fruit and all manner of exotic Vietnamese greens, I exclaimed, as we reached a new stall piled with leafy vegetables: “LOOK at that kohlrabi! It’s GORgeous!”

“You keep SAYING that!” she said. “What are you, obsessed?”

What can I say: it looks like an alien space station. And it tastes like jicama. No, a radish! Wait–turnips? At its best it is crisp without being woody, with an elusive flavor that combines the sweetness of turnips and the spiciness of radishes. And that’s just when it’s raw; cooked it softens, mellows, and reminds one that it is considered (though it isn’t truly), a root vegetable.

I had only just discovered kohlrabi before my overly enthusiastic market tour, and I’ve been an active proselytizer ever since.

Unlike the usual roots–turnips, rutabagas, etc, which are usually associated with fall and winter cookery–kohlrabi makes me think of spring. Maybe it’s how green they are, or the enormous floppy leaves on the myriad octopus-leg stems; no matter. Come spring, I want to eat kohlrabi. I developed the year’s first craving last week, when, though the temperatures were still sub-arctic, the blinding sunlight reminded me that it really was April. I put the vegetable prominently at the top of my shopping list and dreamed up recipe ideas when I ought to have been working.

When the weekend came, I bounced into the grocery store, my eyes peeled for the familiar alien tentacles. But wait: what’s this? The only kohlrabi for sale was purple, and not only that, but so outlandishly priced as to be comparable to imported truffles. I love kohlrabi, but not enough to forgo a day’s worth of groceries in favor of two servings of it. Sadly, I crossed the kohlrabi off of my list.

An hour or two later, my errands almost done, I stopped into a supremely crunchy independant market, the only place nearby that carries my favored brand of multivitamin. Idly glancing through the produce section, hoping for one of their unpredictable fruit sales, I caught a passing glimpse of something greenish, round and nobbly. I whirled: perfect baseball-sized kohlrabi, the leaves a little wilted, but still Easter-grass green and tender. I carried off three specimens, the stems so long as to have to hoist them like sheaves of wheat, and drove off home to consider preparation.

Given my thoughts of spring, I immediately quashed all other ideas but that of a salad. I dressed mache and the torn kohlrabi leaves (perked up in the chill of the refrigerator) with a lemon-mustard vinaigrette and arranged the greens on two plates. The kohlrabi bulbs I peeled and thinly sliced, then tossed them around in the dregs of the vinaigrette and arranged them on top of the greens. Lastly, a handful of green peas (defrosted from a frozen bag, it’s true) were sprinkled over all, along with salt and coarse pepper.

It was a lovely salad. The leaves were yielding, the kohlrabi crisp and the peas sweet; the lemon vinaigrette tied all the ingredients together without calling undue attention to itself. It must be admitted that in my enthusiasm, I failed to consider how difficult it would be to get everything onto the fork at once, so in the future I would chop the kohlrabi rather than slice it, but this is a minor quibble. With both sunshine and above-freezing temperatures in the forecast, this kohlrabi just might be a harbinger of spring.

Published in: on April 18, 2007 at 9:10 am  Leave a Comment  

From Jam to Ice Cream

How to soothe a party-ravaged breast? Ice cream, of course. Sunday night, after a long day of staring at leftovers and wishing I had more space in my fridge, I opted for supreme comfort food: grilled flank steak, an enormous vegtabular salad, and the creamiest of ice creams.

The flank steak recipe used Meyer lemons in the marinade, and when, at the store, my faulty memory recalled needing far more than was actually the case, I bought five. This, given that one of them was enormous and gave up the entirety of the juice necessary for the marinade (and more), left me with four expensive specimins of citrus crossbreeding, and, coincidentally, with no dessert planned.

Usually, when I have leftover citrus fruits, I make the marmalade-curd that I mentioned in an earlier post. I love this curd enough that jars usually don’t last for more than a few days, but this time I wanted something more substantial (and that was an actual part of a meal, as opposed to something to sneak off of a spoon while propping the refrigerator open with one foot).

A week earlier, when contemplating future ice cream experiments, Teacherman had suggested making a lemon ice cream, a lemon custard cream in particular. I had a pint of our favorite cream (from a comparatively local dairy that just barely pasteurizes their dairy products. The whole milk is comparable to other brands’ half-and-half, and the heavy cream so rich that it goes ‘thunk’ when you pour it [if, in fact, you can get it to pour out of the jug at all. On more than one occasion I have been forced to use a knife to coax it out of the solidly cream-plugged opening]), but no eggs.

My mind had only just turned from the contemplation of marmalade-curd, and I remembered how thick that curd gets in the refrigerator, because of the setting power of the included peel and pith: when made with regular lemons, the curd is so stiff that it could probably be used to caulk siding. Meyer lemons produce a looser, more silky product, but the thickening is still very much in evidence. What would happen, I wondered, if instead of blending in oil to emulsify the curd, I blended in heavy cream (which, after all, is just another kind of fat)? And what if I used a lot more cream?

Working, of course, purely in a state of scientific inquiry, I cut up and pulverized the Meyer lemons in the food processor, sweetening them as I saw fit, and then, with the processor running, poured in the cream. The mixture emulsified just as easily and quickly as with oil, even though the amount of cream added was more than three times as great. The cream whipped up just a tiny bit (food processors rarely beat much air into a product) and the lemon bits distributed themselves perfectly and evenly throughout.

I poured (or rather, spooned) the mixture into a 4-cup measure and put it into the fridge to chill for several hours. By dinner time (six hours later) the mixture was so thick that I could nearly turn the measuring cup upside down with nary a wavelet on the surface of the cream. Eggs? Ha! Who needs eggs? It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine serving the lemon cream just like that–scooped out at fridge temperature, as an accompaniment to berries or summer fruit. Nevertheless, I coaxed the mixture into the bowl of the ice cream maker, and Teacherman set to work churning. In a much shorter time than usual, the ice cream was fluffy and recalcitrant with the dasher, and into frozen bowls it went to wait for dessert. We tried not to lick our fingers and ignored the drips, rigorous in our anticipation.

We made quick work of the steak and salad (which were passable, but not exciting), and then dove into the freezer for the ice cream. I do believe that it is the creamiest homemade ice cream that we have ever made; the texture can only be compared to that of a fluffy, whipped chocolate mousse, but without any of the dryness the word ‘fluffy’ might imply. The amount of fat in the cream kept it from feeling as cold on the tongue as a sorbet would, but the mild acidity of the lemons cut the richness of the cream, keeping the fat from coating our spoons and tongues (often a problem with cream-rich homemade ice cream).

This was comforting. We mentally curled up around our bowls, smiling at each other, and ate until we had licked the china clean. And no matter how lovely that moment was, there was a greater one when, mirabile dictu, we remembered that there were four more servings in the freezer.

Published in: on April 16, 2007 at 8:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mind-Searing Mayo

What if you gave a party and nobody came?  Or worse, what if everyone came, but nobody ate?

Tonight we had a party celebrating Teacherman’s belated birthday.  Many chips, many dips, many crudites.  Some bread, three kinds of cake.  Most of the platters are still close to pristine.  This is when I wail and whine about Where I Went Wrong.  Well, nowhere, really; people just weren’t hungry.  Still, it’s disappointing.  Especially since I made mayonnaise. 

I’ve made mayonnaise a couple of times in my life, but never just as a basic thing.  I’m afraid to say that I’m normally perfectly satisfied with purchased mayonnaise–though I do have fierce brand loyalty to a specific organic brand made with canola oil–but whenever I want an interesting flavor, it’s inevitably something that I have to make on my own.  Yes, one can buy garlic mayonnaise (aioli, if one wants to be fancy), but can one buy mayonnaise with 2 heads of roasted garlic in each cup? 

This time, I wanted it with jalapenos.  Teacherman requested spicy foods for this party, and I went a little overboard with the chile recipes: when Teacherman came home from the grocery store he had 23 absolutely gargantuan jalapenos.  There was the cheddar-jalapeno bread, the herb-cheese-stuffed jalapenos, and <drumroll> the jalapeno-arugula mayonnaise. 

Mayonnaise is one of those things that I’m always trying to convince people is easy to make, but I must admit that its easiness is entirely predicated upon the fact that I own a food processor.  Back before food processors, to make mayonnaise, one had to whisk all the ingredients together by hand, while also drizzling the oil in minute drop by minute drop; pour in too much oil or whisk too slowly and the emulsion breaks and you end up with a bowl of eggy oil.  Thrilling.  A food processor, though, not only takes the whisking out of your hands, but even controls the amount of oil that one can add at a time. 

I don’t know if all food processors are like this, but mine has a tiny hole in the pusher (that is, the thing that fits inside the feed tube).  To make mayonnaise, all I do is whiz all the main ingredients together with the metal blade, then, with the machine still on, I pour the nearly the entire measure of oil into the pusher.  The oil drips through the aforementioned tiny hole and emulsifies perfectly with the base ingredients, creating mayonnaise. 

This time I whizzed up a jalapeno, a couple of garlic cloves, a handful each of spinach and arugula, an egg, some Dijon mustard, lemon juice, some salt and pepper.  Into the pusher went a half-and-half mixture of canola and olive oil.  By the time I was done washing my measuring spoons, I had a vibrant green and aromatic mayonnaise.  

I’m afraid, though, that inspite of all the ingredients, the taste was slightly one-dimensional.  The recipe called for the entire jalapeno, including the ribs and the seeds, resulting in an incendiary concoction that leaves the lips tingling for several minuts after eating. 

I think it might just need more mellowing time than I gave it.  I made the mayonnaise last night, when it was so hot that it set my eyebrows alight; tonight I can almost taste the peppery arugula in the background.  Given another day, the Dijon and lemon might add other notes and the heat might be further tempered.  A qualified success–now if only people had been hungry. . . . 

Published in: on April 14, 2007 at 9:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cor, Limey!

And what, one might ask, did I do with those three egg yolks so noticably left over from marshmallow making?  Prairie Oysters?  Mutant fried eggs?  Are they still sitting, forlorn, in the refrigerator?  Were they, <gasp>, Thrown Away?

Fear not, the egg yolks were destined for a much nobler fate.  After considering yet another custard-based ice cream, I decided to make citrus curd.  Not lemon, nor orange, nor even grapefruit, all variations I have made before.  Orange curd, unless made from Seville oranges, is almost always too sweet for me, and grapefruit curd, the few times I have made it, tasted of nothing but the butter.   Lemon curd is the platonic ideal, of course, but after weeks of aggressively putting lemon in almost everything, I needed a break.  There were limes going begging on the countertop, and thus: lime curd.

I scanned various lime curd recipes online and fiddled with the proportions to suit my own taste.  More lime juice, less sweetener, another whole egg instead of 5 yolks, half a stick of butter instead of all eight tablespoons. 

As usual, I criminally ignored the curd during the crucial Stir-Constantly stage, narrowly rescuing it from the brink of curdling several times.  The butter melted in with excruciating slowness (over ten minutes!), making me nearly regret the whole business. 

In the end, though, the curd was perfect: tinglingly tart, but appropriately sweet, unctuous on the tongue, but not too rich.   It was a perfect Easter dinner dessert, along with some fresh strawberries to dip therein.

Published in: on April 9, 2007 at 8:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Marshmallows and Manners

It is only 2 p.m. on Easter, and already there are no marshmallows left in the fridge. 

I have made marshmallows before; in fact, there was a time when I made them almost weekly.  Made by the method I use, they are simplicity itself to prepare, and, because I grossly disregard the advice of most recipes and do not coat them in powdered sugar, they have next to no food value.  This is helpful if one finds oneself eating an entire batch, as I have been known to do.

I don’t know if the recipe I use compares favorably to other homemade ones: I’ve never made the things any other way.  One day about five years ago I happened upon the recipe, made it with just the ingredients I had in my house, loved it, and have never been fickle enough to stray. 

The method is simple–let some (rather a lot, actually–3 whole packets) of gelatin soften for a few minutes in a small amount of water.  Bring some more water and simple syrup to a boil, then add the gelatin and dissolve it thoroughly–no floating globules, please!  Let the mixture cool until it spoons up like maple syrup, then stir in some vanilla (or whatever flavor extract you wish). 

Now the part that might be frightening: egg whites.  Put three egg whites into a bowl and whip them until they reach soft peaks (to me, this stage looks like whipped cream, but we like very floppy whipped cream in my family).  When the whites are satsifactorily mounded and thick, keep beating them, but pour in the gelatin-syrup mixture in a thin stream (not as thin as if you were making mayonnaise, but don’t just slosh it all in at once, either).  Put the empty jug down and keep beating.  In a minute or two the mixture will turn glossy and firmer than before–it will be slightly reluctant to follow the advice of gravity when you turn the bowl, for instance.  Pour the still-fluid marshmallow out onto a plastic-wrap- or parchment-lined jelly roll pan and refrigerate until solid.  Cut them into shapes (I just slice the slab into traditional rectangles, but one could easily get mimsy with cookie cutters) and voila: marshmallows. 

When I was planning our Easter menu (and though it’s just for two people, this is definitely a planned day-long feast), I hadn’t originally thought to make marshmallows.  I was deep into fantasies of spring produce–peas and tender greens were featuring heavily, and strawberries appeared at almost every meal.  Alack for unrealized dreams–the city has plunged so deep into a regressive cold snap that even the birds have flown back south. 

While at the grocery store on Friday, though, crankily buying frozen peas and imported (but at least still tasty) strawberries, I was mildly cheered by the seasonally pastel colors used on the produce signs.  When I got home, I noticed the Easter basket Teacherman’s mother had sent him.  All those little pastel candy eggs and jelly beans.  Out of nowhere (and I speak sooth, for there was no trademarked marshmallowy poultry in that basket) the idea of pink marshmallows leapt to mind. 

And how did I make them?  I could have used raspberry juice instead of water, but I didn’t know the fruit enzymes would react with the rest of the ingredients (a food scientist I am not), and I am also very lazy.  Right in my cupboard is a bottle of raspberry-flavored (and arrestingly magenta) simple syrup, meant for flavoring coffee or Italian sodas.  I have a shameful number of these syrups hanging around–enough that I sometimes worry about the strength of the bolts holding that particular cupboard onto the wall.  I have used various flavors of coffee syrup to make marshmallows before, but never anything that has a color. 

I worked through my recipe in the usual way, using the raspberry syrup instead of the simple syrup, but still throwing in the vanilla extract to round out the flavors.  The mixture behaved as usual–better, even.  It expanded so much during whipping that it threatened to overflow the 4-quart pudding basin and climb up the beaters of my hand-mixer. 

The final color was a pale but vivid pink, exactly what I wanted.  All through the morning, Teacherman and I (though I believe I made at least three times as many passes as he did) would wander into the kitchen, swoop into the fridge, and have a marshmallow.  Or four.  At two-o-clock I paused, mid-swoop, and saw that there were only two left.  I considered being mannerly and taking one of them to Teacherman in the other room, but in the end, greed won out.

I thoroughly enjoyed those last two marshmallows.  Let’s hope he forgives me when he sees that I’ve washed the pan.

Published in: on April 8, 2007 at 2:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Because He Insists

Teacherman insists that I write this post. “Best Salad In The World!” he said, looking at me with almost stern conviction. “Best. Salad. IN THE WORLD.” Ooookay, for the sake of peace in the home. . . .

Tonight there was more fun with non-scary meat–we grilled an enormous sirloin steak, cut into four filet-mignon-sized pieces. Each piece was rubbed with chipotle powder, paprika, powdered bay leaves and cumin (and salt and pepper of course), grilled to about medium, and topped with a creamy blue cheese, roughly crumbled. This crispy, juicy, melting and oozing entree was phenomenally good, but not what Teacherman is jumping up and down telling me to write about.

I love vegetable side dishes almost more than I like anything else. The different flavor possibilities are infinitely exciting, and because of this, my portions sizes are usually gargantuan. Concerning steak, though, I’m always a little stymied. The traditional steak sides are broccoli and/or some preparation of potatoes, and due to allergies and food intolerances ranging across the two of us, neither of these things can grace our dinner table. (Don’t think we’re deprived, though: when we eat alone, Teacherman and I are wont to snarf down the very foods that the other cannot eat).

Since it’s ostensibly spring (not that one would know it from the sub-zero temperatures), my thoughts veered towards a salad of baby greens. I threw mustard, balsamic vinegar and olive oil in a bowl, forked them about a bit, then tossed in an entire bag of baby greens. (I believe that the contents of these bags are supposed to serve 4-6. Not in my house). This mixture was scooped onto two dinner plates, nearly completely covering them with the glistening leaves.

To continue the blue cheese theme, I crumbled the remaining ounce or so over the greens, added a handful of sliced, brilliantly red strawberries from the two-pound flat in the fridge, and another handful of extremely toasted pecans. In my opinion, the reason that the salad was so good was the fact that I almost ruined the last component.

I threw the handful of nuts into the toaster oven at 350, set the timer, then forgot about them. In a real oven, toasting nuts takes about 10 minutes. In a toaster oven, one never really knows–sometimes it takes 15 minutes, sometimes it takes 3 or 4. This time it took 3, maybe. I slid the the tray into the toaster oven, ran outside to turn on the grill, and by the time I got back inside the pecans were almost black. They were not, luckily, burnt, and I frantically tipped them onto a room-temperature plate to stop the cooking. In spite of the fact that they were simply raw pecans when I took them out of the bag, the over-toasting transformed them into something almost spiced; the oils in the nut had bubbled to the surface and caramelized, lending them the same moreish quality as buttered popcorn.

There are innumerable recipes for mesclun salads with strawberries, various cheeses and various nuts. I thought the salad I made would be a simple, tasty, non-extraordinary accompaniment to the excellent, Teacherman-grilled steak. Instead, the confluence of flavors made the salad what we lingered over, finishing the entree first, to savor the salad without distraction.

Published in: on April 6, 2007 at 7:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Spice House

On Monday night I used a whole nutmeg, 4 cardamom pods, 4 cinnamon sticks, 5 bay leaves, 2 Tbsp of peppercorns, and an entire hand of ginger in a meal for four people.  Except for the bay leaves and 1 Tbsp of peppercorns, all of those items were used in the dessert.

I have a weakness for winter spices, and though I love them all individually and in varied combinations, ginger is the spice I rely on most, for both savories and sweets.  I sprinkle ginger into muffin, pancake and waffle batter, onto baked fruit, onto fresh berries, slice it into stir-fries, soups, and sometimes even salads. 

Some people might have chosen a more soothing and comfortable dessert to follow highly spiced braised short ribs, and for a while I contemplated a single-flavor sabayon, but on Sunday I discovered a recipe for what was called ‘Gingersnap Ice Cream.’  I was immediatley riveted. 

Gingersnaps have always been my favorite kind of cookie, and any recipe that promised to deliver the same taste in an ice cream was almost magnetic in its pull.  I was desperate to make it, but I was short a few of the ingredients.  I didn’t have the called-for heavy cream or milk, but I did have two cans of coconut milk.  I didn’t have twelve (twelve!) eggs to divest of their whites for sole use of the yolks, but I did have three very large whole eggs.  I dove in.

I peeled and sliced the ginger as thinly as possible, put all the spices into a large tea ball and moved them both to a large skillet.  Over all went the coconut milk and sweetener, which I then brought up to almost a boil.  Off went the heat, on went a lid, and the mixture sat, infusing, for 20 minutes.  At this point I was supposed to fish out the spices and discard them, but I could hardly think that it would hurt to leave all that ginger to infuse for the full 24 hours of chilling before it was churned. 

So it was.  I ladled out about half of the liquid, mercilessly whisked it together with the eggs, and added it back to the pan.  This I cooked over low heat until it was thick, then poured into a supersized tupperware container and stashed in the fridge overnight.   Just before my guests were due to arrive, I swept a sieve through the custard, pressed on the captured ginger slices to extract every last bit of their juice, and then decanted the mixture into the ice cream freezer and left Teacherman to churn away.

The color of the finished product was a bit pallid (coconut milk, I must admit, is _grey_ and no other color), but the taste was sublime.  The ginger was the main presence, but the other spices were noticably there, backing up the lead.  Surprisingly, the ginger wasn’t firey, but merely (if one can use such a seeming negative) intense; the mouth did not burn, but it tingled.  I wouldn’t characterize it as tasting like a gingersnap, but neither could one call it simply a _ginger_ ice cream.  Gingersnap will have to do; it may not recall the cookie, but snappy it most certainly is.

Teacherman quickly scooped out all four servings and put the bowls into the freezer, then hesitated.  I silently got out two spoons, handed him one, and then vultured over the frozen cylinder, each of us meticulously scraping up all the remaining rock-hard bits of frozen delight.

Published in: on April 5, 2007 at 4:22 pm  Leave a Comment