This week's ice cream was a winner. Oh yes, the ice cream trials have been ongoing. That bowl of burnt caramel ice cream dusted with black sea salt was simply the last effort worthy of a public airing.
I can't say as much for the stuff my ice cream maker has churned out in recent weeks. One batch, it turned out, was suited better for breakfast. Following the gushing praise of a certain Haverchuck (who, for many weeks, conducted his own ice cream project), I poured a batch of sweet oatmeal into my Cuisinart compressor, and hoped for the best. And, really it wasn't bad. Who doesn't like the idea of warm oatmeal-raisin cookies topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dash of cinnamon? This was, though, a hefty ice cream: oatmeal, cream, and--let's not forget--several egg yolks. Oatmeal ice cream, it turns out, is not really meant to follow food. Only after a fast of, say, 8-10 hours is it a sane option, and that is why it is best eaten with a cup of joe and a side order of bacon. Never opposed to breakfast sweets, Patrick tried it scooped on a pancake and topped with maple syrup. Then he moaned and climbed back into bed.
Ice cream mishap #2 soon followed. I was excited about this one: mint chocolate chip. This was the most popular flavor, after chocolate and vanilla, that I scooped during my time as a North Carolina ice cream counter girl in the mid-nineties. Armed with nostalgia, I read Orangette's recent praise of David Lebovitz's mint ice cream recipe; but there was also a practical factor. At this very moment, a mint patch is creeping across my back yard. This being the first spring we've lived in this house, I didn't even know we had a mint patch. Then, one day, it was there, and it was big. Dreaming of a sustainable ice cream, I waded into my sea of mint, steeped my harvest in cream, poured it in my ice cream maker, tossed in a few handfuls of chopped dark chocolate, and waited. The result was yucky. To put it more precisely, it tasted like dirty grass (with chocolate chips). My guess is that my variety of mint is not the best for imparting flavor to food and drink (the mint juleps turned out yucky, too). No, mine is an ornamental sort of mint, which is spreading like wildfire in my backyard while my basil and rosemary are barely hanging on.
Well, after wasting all of those yolks, this egg-less mango ice cream seemed the way to go. Relatively new to the homemade ice cream scene, I had fallen under the impression that all good ice creams start with custard bases. I was wrong. This mango ice cream, made with a no-cook base of pureed mangoes and cream, is the silkiest, creamiest ice cream I've had in a long time. Far from being heavy, though, it's, well, refreshing. Pale orange and flecked with lime zest, this is a pretty dessert, perfect for hot summer nights. Needless to say, the mango ice cream is long gone, while the oatmeal and dirt flavors are still lingering, sprouting freezer burn.
Caramelized Mango Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart. Adapted from Roy Finamore's Tasty: Get Great Food on the Table Every Day. Recipe appeared on Chow.com.
For tips on how to dice a mango, go here.
For the caramelized mango:
1/3 cup sugar
1 mango, peeled, pitted and cut into large dice
For the mango ice cream:
2 large (or 3 medium) ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted, and coarsely chopped
grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
pinch of coarse salt
2 cups heavy cream
1. For the caramelized mango: Pour the sugar into a heavy medium skillet. Cook over medium heat, swirling the sugar around in the pan often, until it is dark amber. Add the diced mango. The caramel will sputter and seize up. Cook, stirring, just until the caramel dissolves. Scrape the caramelized mango into a bowl, cover, and chill thoroughly.
2. For the mango ice cream: Process the mangoes in a food processor until you’ve made a smooth puree. Add the lime zest and juice, sugar, molasses, and salt. Process for a minute or so to dissolve the sugar. Scrape the puree out a bowl, whisk in the cream, cover, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
3. Freeze the ice cream base according to the instructions for your ice cream maker. When it’s just about frozen, add the caramelized mango. Continue to freeze until ice cream is firm. Transfer to a container with a lid, and let the ice cream cure in the freezer for at least 2 hours before serving.
Monday, May 21, 2007
This week's ice cream was a winner. Oh yes, the ice cream trials have been ongoing. That bowl of burnt caramel ice cream dusted with black sea salt was simply the last effort worthy of a public airing.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
I recently had the opportunity to wine and dine a friend whom I met through Food and Paper. This gastronomic twist, combined with the fact that I had once witnessed said friend happily munch a handful of dried and sugared anchovies we had hunted down in the Strip District, told me an extra-special menu was in order...one that would suggest all my online talk of cooking is more than internet smoke and mirrors, and one that would be memorable in that anchovy-candy sort of way.
Although I didn't become aware of it until the dinner day had arrived, a certain something--not really worthy to be called a dinner party "theme"--seemed to connect the courses I had planned to serve. I haven't quite come up with a way to name this theme, but something along the lines of "Sarah's preoccupation with bones, raw meat, medieval medicine, and instruments of torture" is the closest approximation I've found thus far.
In full personal-oddity disclosure, I realize that this theme does not sound particularly culinary. But it does represent the sort of stuff I spend my days thinking and writing about when I'm not thinking and writing about food. Can a girl help it if her dissertation interferes with her dinner plates? I should say that I didn't bring up medieval gynecology, Christ's wounds, or saints' relics--not even once--during dinner, and it wasn't entirely easy considering what was on the table: marrow bones, followed by a spinach and pea potage worthy of a medieval apothecary's repertoire, followed by a bright pink mound of raw fish flesh, all topped off with a creme brulee I had scorched with a blow torch. My table-mates didn't even know they were dining on a theme; but, then again, when I brought out the ankle bones, they probably had an inkling that something weird was afoot. So, I suppose the menu was special, but in that self-referential academic sort of way. Fortunately, arcane scholarship about crucifixion and resurrected bodies tastes pretty good when translated into something edible.
Beef Marrow Bones with Sea Salt and Parsley-Caper Salad
from Bones by Jennifer McLagan
I've made no secret of my love of bones. I like to gnaw meat from bones (mmmm, short ribs). I like to gaze at bones, especially when they're displayed in precious metals and revered as the the index finger of doubting Thomas. And, as a child, I liked to carry them around as good luck charms.
I am thrilled to have acquired a copy of Bones, by Jennifer McLagan. I had to try the roasted marrow bones first, pictured as they were on the cover of her book. This recipe, Ms. McLagan says, was what got her thinking seriously about bones in the first place. I love the idea of eating what's inside as well as what's outside the bone. In the case of these bones, though, I didn't eat what was outside, but bought them naked and packed to the brim with pink marrow. Bones, by the way, are cheap. Marrow is sometimes called the poor man's foie gras.
I'm not giving a recipe for this dish because I think my technique still needs some work. I overcooked the bones a bit...a good portion of marrow melted out of them, and what was left inside, though rich and enjoyable, had a burnt flavor about it. There are many bones in my future...I plan to work my way through as many of Ms. McLagan's recipes as the ostiary will allow.
Tuna Tartare with Wasabi Ice Cream and Infused Oils
I tasted my first tartare, which happened to be beef, in Paris, 2002. Though I ordered it with a bit of trepidation, I just couldn't pass up that mixture of local gastronomic tradition and personal gastronomic novelty. I admit, I didn't finish all of it (we're talking a mound of raw beef that covered the expanse of my entire dinner plate), but I've looked for tartare on menus since then...In the States, for better or worse, it's almost exclusively tuna.
There are some good tuna tartares out there, and there are some bad ones too. The bad ones are not bad because the fish is old or fishy; they're bad because they're either "overcooked" with citrus juices or simply not flavorful enough. I've taken to making my own, using ruby-red tuna from Whole Foods, lots of ginger, chives, scallions, jalapeno, cilantro, lime zest, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, and a bit of honey. This time, I made some oils infused with chives and dried chilis to drizzle along the plate. I served the tartare with crackers made from spring roll wrappers and a little scoop of wasabi ice cream. This was my first attempt at this particular ice cream flavor, and it was an almost-success. The flavor was good and strong, but the texture was sort of mushy, and the ice cream didn't want to form a proper little scoop. Because I wanted something light, more like a sorbet than an ice cream, I made the base out of milk. Next time, I'll add some cream, and perhaps one egg yolk.
Chilled Spinach and Pea Soup with Parmesan Baskets
adapted from Martha Stewart's Living, serves 4.
The favorite dish of the evening was this emerald-colored soup topped with Parmesan baskets filled with baby greens from my own tiny garden and sliced radishes. This is a nice choice for a dinner party because you can make both the soup and the baskets a full day in advance. The soup is so (so!) much more than the sum of its humble parts. I was completely impressed with its velvety texture and rich flavor. And, with all that spinach, I felt my muscles growing with every slurp. Yep, it's health food.
I am now enamored of Parmesan baskets. These little numbers transformed a good-looking soup into something striking. They're like jewelry for blended soups...and they're versatile accessories at that. You could fill a basket like this with any number of things, as long as they're light-weight. Imagine a basket filled with a cucumber salsa and a little spoonful of crab meat floating on a tomato gazpacho. Floated on a hot soup, any structure made of Parmesan will melt after a minute or so, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups good quality chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 pound fresh peas, shelled (about 1 cup)
10 ounces fresh spinach, tough stems removed (about 6 cups packed leaves)
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, divided
1 cup micro greens or mache
2 small radishes, thinly sliced
4 Parmesan baskets (recipe below)
1. Heat 4 teaspoons oil in a medium or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a couple grinds of black pepper. Cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Add stock, and bring to a boil.
2. Add peas, and return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until peas are tender and bright green, 2-3 minutes. Stir in spinach. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach wilts, 2-3 minutes.
3. Using an immersion blender, puree soup. Alternatively, blend in batches in a standing blender. Add a few tablespoons of water to achieve desired consistency. Stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer soup to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until chilled, at least 3 hours. Soup can be kept covered and refrigerated for a day or so before serving.
4. Divide soup among 4 bowls. Toss greens and radish slices with remaining teaspoon of oil and 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice. Season greens with salt and pepper. Divide salad among Parmesan baskets, and float one on top of each bowl of soup.
3 ounces Parmesan cheese (about 3/4 cup), grated on the medium holes of a box grater
Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle about 3 tablespoons Parmesan on the skillet to form a 4-inch round. Cook until cheese is somewhat melted and starting to firm, 3-4 minutes. Using a thin spatula, carefully flip Parmesan and cook until firm but not browned, 20-30 seconds longer. Transfer round to a small bowl (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter) and press around the edges of the bowl. Continue to press lightly, shaping as needed, until Parmesan cools, 10-15 seconds. Repeat with remaining cheese, and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
The next time I make these baskets, I think I'll try heating the Parmesan in the oven on a Silpat mat. I found the flipping part of Ms. Stewart's protocol a bit difficult. If anyone has had any experience with this technique, please let me know what you think.
Parmesan baskets can be made in advance and stored in a covered container for a day or two.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
From the beginning, let me just say, pizza is personal. And more than just topping combinations and crust dimensions can make or break the perfect slice. Just consider: Pizza bones...do you eat them? Do you dip them in garlicky butter or ranch dressing? Eating strategy...do you fold your slice in half and eat it like a taco? Cut it up with a knife and fork? Sprinkle on dried red pepper flakes or parmesan cheese? Well, the recipe I'm sharing is a boneless one that can be eaten by hand or with fork and knife (but not folded like a taco), and can be tricked out with the toppings of your choice, within certain parameters (see point C below). It is my own personal, best as of yet, homemade pizza recipe.
As the daughter of a woman who grew her own tomatoes, milked her own goats, and made her own girls' Easter dresses by hand, I was reared on homemade pizza: a pale-golden and slightly sweet crusted pie, most often topped with sausage and mushrooms. Friday night was pizza night in the Rogers' household, and I was thrilled when, a few weeks into my first year at college, I discovered that virtually any night was a potential pizza night. Papa John's pizza + garlic butter dipping sauce + Golden Girls reruns = Bliss.
I experienced several pizza revelations as a newly-wed studying Latin in Rome the summer of 2002. The most significant of these revelations, which took the form of a certain pizza melanzane, returned me to my homemade roots. It was nothing more and nothing less than a crackly-thin crust topped with slices of roasted eggplant, fresh mozzarella, garlic, a few sloshes of olive oil, and it promptly erased the hankerings for Papa John's and Domino's that had animated the pizza cravings of my adult years. Patrick and I dragged a table and two chairs onto the minuscule deck of our sixth-floor apartment, downed glasses of red wine, and nibbled slices as we looked out onto the mammoth facade of Santa Maria Maggiore. My life in pizza has since been divided into two chapters: pre- and post-Italy.
Soon after moving to Pittsburgh, we were pointed in the direction of Mineo's Pizza in Squirrel Hill--the best pizza this side of the Mississippi, so Pittsburghers say; but post-Italy, I just couldn't appreciate the qualities for which Mineo's pizza is praised: tons of gooey cheese, and plenty of sweet tomato sauce. I am counting my lucky stars, however, that I found my way to Il Piccolo Forno in Lawrenceville. Their pizza rivals Rome's ... Really. Pittsburgh reader, go there. Get the pizza. Black blistered crust, super-fresh stuff on top, the right crust-to-topping ratio. And, at least for the moment, I won't complain about Pittsburgh liquor laws. Il Piccolo Forno is BYOB, and it's easy to find a good wine for washing down pizza, even at your local Wine and Spirits.
I've been crafting my own pizza recipe for a while now. It's still a work in progress, but this last round proved successful enough to share. Here are some of the ingredients I've thus far identified for good homemade pizza:
A. A thin crust. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing inherently objectionable to a deep-dish pizza. It's just not the sort of pizza I'm currently after. When I want thick slabs of bread, and I often do, I prefer to reach for, well, bread.
B. Heat. If you have any hopes of achieving the crisp, thin crust served in Roman pizzerias, you need heat, the burn-your-eyebrows-off heat of a wood-fired, brick-lined pizza oven. Most household kitchens are not equipped with such things. For those of us with rather cheap, run-of-the-mill electric ovens, this means cranking your oven as high as it will go. For me, that means heating my oven at 500 degrees F. for a good half hour before I slide in the pizza. I've read some online advice about running your oven on the self-cleaning mode, but since this technique brings images of combustion and incineration to mind, I have not tried it. Do so at your own risk (but, if you do, write to me about what happens once your burns have sufficiently healed). To economize on oven heat, pizza stones, oven tiles, and pre-heated cast iron skillets are routinely suggested. My (expensive) pizza stone recently cracked in half (because it overheated, I think), and so I have given up on these shenanigans. This recipe requires nothing more than a baking sheet and some parchment paper.
C. Spare toppings. This really has more to do with the crust than the toppings. If you've worked hard to get that perfectly crisp crust, then loading it down with 10 toppings is only going to transform it into a flabby disappointment. Don't get me wrong, I love a pizza with everything, especially if that everything includes anchovies, but there really is no better pizza than a simple, classic pizza margherita.
Makes 2 pizzas. Serves 2-4.
There are tons of pizza dough recipes out there. Most of them will make a fine pizza. But, I've taken to using a Martha Stewart recipe for flat bread dough. This recipe produces a very thin, almost cracker-like crust. You can also make a fine pizza using a pre-packaged dough...not the kind that is par-baked or comes from a can, but the kind that is simply bagged and sold in the refrigerator or freezer sections of grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. The pizza pictured here was made with Trader Joe's dough, which is not quite as good as the stuff sold by Whole Foods, which is not quite as good as Ms. Stewart's flat bread dough.
I've included a step for squeezing the excess moisture out of the mozzarella and tomato slices. This step insures that the crispness of your crust will not be compromised.
1 bag prepared Pizza Dough, or 1 recipe for Ms. Stewart's flat bread dough, below
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 for parchment paper and 2 for dough
coarse salt and fresh-ground pepper
2 large tomatoes, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
1 medium ball fresh mozzarella, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
10 basil leaves, thinly sliced
extra virgin olive oil, coarse salt, and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven for at least 30 minutes on highest setting (500-550 degrees F.) Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Rub 1 tablespoon olive oil onto each sheet of parchment paper.
2. If dough has been refrigerated, allow it to sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes. Divide dough into two pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll one piece of dough as thin as you can manage with a floured rolling pin, no more than 1/4-inch thick. Or, hold the pizza dough in the air and stretch it by hand. Transfer dough to prepared baking sheet. Repeat with other piece of dough. Allow the dough to rest for about 10 minutes.
3. While dough is resting, wrap mozzarella slices in a few layers of paper towels and press to squeeze out excess moisture. Wrap tomato slices in paper towels and press them firmly enough to remove some of their moisture without tearing the flesh.
4. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil onto each pizza. Sprinkle with minced garlic, salt and pepper. Par-bake crusts until they are browned and bubbled, 8-10 minutes, rotating baking sheets once during cooking. Open and close the oven door as quickly as possible to maintain heat.
5. Remove baking sheets and turn oven to broil. Carefully slide parchment paper out from beneath the pizzas (it will burn under the broiler). Divide tomatoes and mozzarella between pizzas. Season with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.
6. Broil pizzas, one at a time if both won't fit under the broiler at once, until mozzarella is melted and the crust is blackened in spots. Remove pizzas from oven and top each one with half of the sliced basil.
Ms. Stewart's Flat Bread Dough
This recipe works better if you make 4 smaller pizzas rather than 2 large ones.
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1 1/2 cup warm water
pinch of sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
coarse salt and fresh-ground pepper
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling bowl
Stir together yeast, water, and sugar in a large bowl, and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, and the oil until combined. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead with floured hands until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer dough to a large, oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in warm spot for about 30 minutes.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
I'm not one to keep secrets about the amount of bread eaten in my house. For many years now, every dinner that promised any sort of sop-able liquid required a baguette, usually bought from Whole Foods, or Weaver Street Market when I lived in Carrboro, or even the local Giant Eagle, once I learned it sold fresh loaves from a local Pittsburgh bakery. Under these circumstances, Patrick and I probably worked through a loaf or two a week ... not a worrisome amount, but not the sort of habit that would win us any nutritional clout in the low-carb crowd. I've read the advice of dietitians that sometimes shows up in popular magazines: step away from the white bread.
Well, I admit it. I've been on a bread bender. The No-Knead Bread Phenomenon has transformed a habit into an addiction. I have become a slave to the flour bag, a bread glutton, a carbo-fiend spiraling out of control. All meals are now potentially no-kneed bread meals. Pasta for dinner? How about a loaf of bread with that? Soup? Sounds like the perfect occasion for bread. Why not dip a few hunks of bread into that bowl of meat and lentils ? A salad? Sounds better piled on a thick slice of bread. Why bother with anything else? How about a big fat loaf of bread for dinner? With a dish of olive oil and a glass of wine, you have a balanced meal, right? Just make sure you leave a few slices for tomorrow's breakfast of toast slathered with butter and raspberry jam. Under the bread spell, I didn't even care that my overpriced cereal was going stale, or that my grapefruit was turning spotty. I had given up on fiber and vitamin C.
When I hit the four-loaves-a-week point, I knew I needed an intervention. Woman may be able to live on bread alone, but, really, should she? Waist lines aside, I've fancied myself a sometimes adventurous cook. Dinner plates piled high with white bread fail to substantiate such fantasies.
I knew I had to come up with some addictive recipes to take my mind off of bubbly dough and crackly crust. I needed something fresh, packed with flavor, and free of bread-friendly sauces. Grilled fish and salsa seemed likely to do the trick. Tucking into a heap of mango and avocado topped with a bright slab of salmon, I felt Mr. Sullivan's bread loosen its grip on my dinner plate. I just wish I had a few slices stashed away for breakfast tomorrow. Left-over salmon does not pair well with morning coffee.
Grilled Salmon with Mango-Avocado Salsa
Serves 2 quite hungry people. For 4, add two additional salmon fillets, and divide the salsa among four plates.
2 salmon fillets with skin, 6 oz. each, 1-1 1/2 inches thick
2 tablespoons olive oil
coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
1 large, or 2 smaller Haas avocados, diced
1 large, or 2 smaller mangoes, diced
1/2 medium-sized white onion, diced
15 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 medium jalapeno, minced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime zest
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped; a few leaves reserves for garnish, if you like
coarse salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1. Prepare salsa: mix all salsa ingredients in medium bowl. Allow flavors to mingle as grill heats.
2. Heat grill to high. Brush both sides of salmon with olive oil, season generously with salt and pepper. Grill skin side down (with grill lid closed if using gas grill) until skin is crispy, about 3 minutes. Flip fillets over and transfer to a cooler part of the grill. Cook for a minute or two more, until salmon is nearly opaque, but still pink in the very center. Remove from grill.
3. Divide salsa between two plates and place a salmon fillet on top of the salsa. Garnish with a few cilantro leaves, and serve.