Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In celebration of summer: coffee ice cream

We spent memorial day weekend at the beach (with everyone else in Manhattan). Luckily, the weather was glorious and we were staying within walking distance of a town and didn't need to get in a car and sit in traffic much.

Our dog enjoyed long walks on the beach and we explored the local restaurants and shops. I stumbled upon a wonderful little antique store full of treasures for the food stylist at heart and ended up with a treasure trove of random flatware pieces, bowls and odds and ends and along with them, some new photo ideas.

My one major desire for the weekend was to indulge in some local ice cream. Believe-it-or-not, the "best" ice cream parlor in town (according to the locals) was constantly packed and it wasn't until Monday evening that the line died down to a tolerable wait. I guess I wasn't the only person who had ice cream on the brain. I was reminded of an amazing ice cream recipe that I took straight from Martha last fall and have been saving sharing for a more appropriate season. In celebration of the coming of summer, here it is: coffee ice cream.

Coffee is my favorite flavor (with mint chocolate chip and cookie dough close runners up). I used to think making your own ice cream was a bit over the top but it turns out (I guess as with most other things) that fresh, homemade ice cream is so sublimely superior to store-bought that short of going to a local dairy, it's pretty hard to beat.

What was particularly wonderful about the ice cream I made, is that I got the brewed espresso from my favorite artisanal coffee shop. The gave me a slightly puzzled look when I asked for the espresso to be measured in a measuring cup I brought and then put into a ziploc storage container - but they obliged and it served as the critical flavoring component of the ice cream. If you don't know how to make a good cup of espresso (or don't have the beans / equipment on hand) don't take a shortcut with instant - the real thing makes all the difference.

Coffee ice cream (from Martha Stewart Living)
(Makes 6 cups)

2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brewed espresso
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
8 large egg yolks

Prepare an ice-water bath. Combine milk, cream, 1/2 cup sugar, the espresso, and vanilla in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Meanwhile, whisk together egg yolks and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl.

Gradually whisk half the hot milk mixture into the egg-yolk mixture. Pour egg-yolk mixture into saucepan, and whisk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Pour through a fine sieve into a heatproof bowl set in ice-water bath. Let cool, stirring occasionally. Place plastic wrap on surface of custard to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate 2 hours.

Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to an airtight container, and freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Very berry health muffins

I’ve been fiddling around trying to get a good “healthy” muffin recipe going. Usually I don’t really worry about making things that aren’t inherently healthy, healthy. I just indulge and enjoy in moderation. But it’s appealing to have a way to kick off the day with something that’s relatively guilt-free and sets you on the right track. Healthy muffins are often dry and dense – I wanted something light and moist but I wanted to cut out the butter, oil and sugar and use a whole wheat flour. A few batches later I think I have one I’m happy with: very berry health muffins. It starts with mashed banana, an idea I borrowed from a recipe I posted last year, but pushes the health factor further with agave nectar instead of sugar, whole wheat pastry flour instead of white flour, and apple sauce and sour cream for moisture. Add to that a heap of mixed berries and you have a moist and flavorful muffin. You can get away with the pastry flour and use regular whole wheat if you can’t find it (I’d subtract a couple of tablespoons from the quantity below) but it won’t be as light and delicate as the pastry flour version. It’s important here to not over-bake so they stay moist: cook until a cake tester barely comes out clean. I like to bake them in pastry rings lined with parchment paper and tie them with a string afterwards (adds to the rustic appeal) but baking them in a regular muffin tin with cupcake liners will do too.

Very berry health muffins (makes 6 extra large or 12 standard-sized muffins)

In a medium-sized bowl combine:

2 over-ripe bananas, well mashed
½ cup applesauce
½ cup sour cream
½ cup plus 1 tbs agave nectar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

In another bowl, sift:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Also needed: 1 heaping cup berries
Sanding sugar for dusting the top, if desired

Combine wet and dry until just mixed. Gently stir in 1 heaping cup fresh berries (blueberry and raspberry make a nice combination). Spoon into baking cups until 2/3-3/4 full. If desired, brush the tops lightly with water and dust on sanding sugar. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean (watch carefully at the end so as to not over bake - this timing is for fewer larger muffins, standard-sized muffins might cook more quickly). Cool on wire rack (take muffins out of tin or rings as soon as possible so that they do not continue to cook, see below).

If you would like to use pastry rings, I like ateco’s 3 inch diameter by nearly 2 inch high ones. I cut parchment strips that when folded in half length-wise, are 2 1/2 - 2 ¾ inches tall by ~10 inches long. Those will poke up from the rings a little bit and overlap slightly when fit into the rings. I lightly brush the bottom of the inside of the rings with oil, place them on a heavy-bottomed baking sheet lined with a silpat liner (or parchment paper), position the parchment liner on the inside, folded edge up, and carefully fill them. When cooked, I remove them from the baking sheet and let cool for a minute or two on a wire rack until I can un-mold them from the rings and allow them to cool completely. Once cool, tie them with a string for a decorative flourish.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A simple taste of Keller: garlic chips

I saw an interview with Thomas Keller in which he said that he believes most of the people who buy his cookbooks do so more for the desire to feel like they have experienced one of his restaurants in some way than because they actually intend to use the recipes. I am sure that’s true because as much as I love to cook and am often up for a “project” – the recipes in the The French Laundry Cookbook in particular are a little too intimidating. I do love gazing longingly at the beautiful photographs, however, and as I was doing so recently, I discovered that there are quite a few quick recipes for garnishes, powders and chips that, although really just a footnote to the main recipes, are nevertheless interesting and quite doable.

One such recipe that piqued my curiosity is for garlic chips. In the cookbook, it is served as a garnish to a parsley salad served on top of fish. The recipe calls for boiling thin slices of garlic in milk several times to mellow out their flavor, and then frying them to a light golden brown. I’ve made them a couple times, intending to use them as a garnish on top of soup, but neither time did they made it that long without getting eaten! They are really wonderful sprinkled with salt and eaten just like that. It’s a clever and unexpected idea. I still hope to get them on top of soup soon. Luckily they are quick to make and can be created in ~20 minutes when needed. Photographing the chips put me in a black and gray frame of mind. I’ll share with you a few recent photos in that spirit.

Garlic chips (adapted from the The French Laundry Cookbook)

Garlic cloves, peeled
Cold milk
Canola oil for deep frying

Slice the garlic cloves thinly on a mandoline (1/8 inch or thinner). Place the slices in a small saucepan and cover with cold milk. Bring the milk to a boil, then drain the garlic slices in a strainer, discarding the milk. Rinse them under cold water. Return the slices to the pan and repeat the process three times, using fresh milk each time. Pat the garlic slices dry on paper towels.

Heat the oil in a saucepan to 300˚F (an inch or so of oil is sufficient). Fry for 12 to 15 minutes or until chips are a light golden brown (keep in mind they will continue to cook once out of the pan – don’t allow them to get too brown). Drain the garlic chips on paper towels. Can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 to 2 days. Use as a garnish or sprinkle with sea salt and snack!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bright beet and potato fritters and a little photography news

I fell in love with Donna Hay’s beet, sweet potato and potato fritters in Issue 38 because of the beautiful color and unusual texture of the fritters (enhanced, of course, by the wonderful way they were photographed). The fritters are formed by (according to Donna’s method) running a zester over the length of the potatoes and beets to cut them into thin strands. A rather laborious process to say the least, but I found an easy shortcut that I am so in love with I’m thinking about new dishes solely for an excuse to apply it: the Benriner turning slicer.

This low-tech but amazing gadget slices vegetables into a single long strand (or other shapes) in seconds. I sound like a commercial, but really, it’s quite nifty. I opted to leave out the sweet potato, as I am not a huge fan of them, and instead used half beet and half potato. I had all 300 grams dissected in a minute, and beautiful deep red and pink (the beet colors the potato) fritters not long thereafter. This is such a beautiful and clever approach that it gives me all sorts of inspiration: a breakfast version with a poached egg on top. A rendition with onion. A version with celery root and potato.

The fritters are seasoned with sumac salt, a mix of sea salt and ground sumac. Sumac is a middle eastern spice that I was not previously familiar with. It has a pleasant lemony taste that is a nice counterpoint to the beet and potato. It’s really not necessary, though, simple sea salt and pepper would work well too, and perhaps a sprinkling of chive on the top.

(excerpt from Joshi Camera Magazine)

On a completely different topic, I want to share some exciting news: this month, I am featured in Joshi Camera magazine, a Japanese photography magazine for girls. The article is about 25 female photographers. I am very proud to be one of the four Americans selected for this edition. I received my copy late last week and was so pleased to see how beautiful the magazine is and what wonderful company I am in. I have a two page spread right at the beginning of the article. The other Americans are Amy Sandoval, whose child photography I enjoy, Paula Swift, and Brenda Acuncius.

(excerpt from Joshi Camera Magazine)

I’m posting the cover and my two pages here, but if you live near a Japanese bookstore have a look at the others. The photography is really wonderful. (p.s. if anyone speaks Japanese and can let me know what they wrote here, I would love to know! I assume it's a translation of the questionnaire I responded to but I would never know!).

(excerpt from Joshi Camera Magazine)

Beet and potato fritters with sumac salt
(adapted from Donna Hay issue 38)
Serves 8

For the fritters
150 g beet, peeled
150 g (floury) potato, peeled
¼ cup rice flour
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Vegetable oil for shallow frying

Sumac salt (or chopped chive)
¼ cup sea salt flakes
1 tablespoon ground sumac

Combine sea salt and sumac to make sumac salt. Set aside.

Run a zester over potato and beet to create long strands, or, indulge in the Benriner turning slicer. Combine sliced beet and potatoes with egg, flour, salt and pepper (mix well).

Heat ¼ inch oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Spoon ½ cupfuls of beet and potato mixture into frying pan, flattening slightly and frying for ~1 minute on each side until golden and crispy. Remove from pan, drain on paper towel and sprinkle with sumac salt or chive and additional salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Putting out pudding (tapioca)

I've had pudding on the brain all week. I think it started with seeing this. And then searching around for puddings, I saw this and then this. I've never made Tapioca before but a simple, basic, creamy, vanilla-flavored thick pudding was just what I wanted. Did you know that tapioca is essentially pearls formed from the starch from the bitter-cassava plant? I stayed true to basics and didn't add any flavorings other than vanilla bean, although the possibilities are certainly endless, and the addition of lemon or cardamom would provide a wonderful twist. There's a lot of stirring and watching involved . . . but you can contemplate the past week, the week ahead, other dishes on the "to do list", the weather. . .

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Fresh (via Fedex) from the south: linguine with crawfish tails and andouille

My husband’s family is from the south, which means that occasionally I get requests for food I’m only barely familiar with. Creole/Cajun food is serious business. Take gumbo, for example. My husband, sister-in-law and in-laws will have long, important debates about which restaurant has the best gumbo, whether a blond or brown roux is best, which gumbo has properly de-slimed okra (or not), what the right thickness and seasoning of the soup is. I have taken a particular liking to crawfish, and whenever we go to Texas to visit we stop in for crawfish at the Rajun’ Cajun, a Louisiana chain. Everyone gets a bucketful of crawfish, red potatoes and corn on the cob, seasoned with an intense mix of spices (or washed off, if you prefer). It’s a lot of work to get through the tough shells to the tail meat, but it’s worth the effort.

You can’t get crawfish in New York. Believe me, I’ve tried. So I was very excited to discover a mail order resource for live crawfish (and all the accompaniments). With a minimum order of 15 pounds, Cajun grocer will overnight live crawfish in a Styrofoam cooler complete with a package of spices (which, of course, I supplemented). While slightly horrified when I lifted off the cover and confirmed the crawfish were in fact alive and well, I nevertheless managed to get them in a huge pot of boiling water seasoned with spices, lemon and onion, and boiled the along with the requisite potatoes and corn. We served them the traditional way, dumping them out on a table lined with newspapers and cracking them one by one. We had them with gumbo, chowder, andouille sausage and boudin (the first time I’ve had boudin). It was an enormous feast but there was surprisingly little left over. What was left, I made into a pasta the next day: whole wheat linguine with crawfish tails, andouille and peas in an olive oil and garlic sauce. The andouille lent an amazing spiciness to the dish, the peas a beautiful color, and the crawfish – well, a decadence that only lobster could beat!

You might not come by crawfish anytime soon, but swap in lobster meat or shrimp as you prefer.

On a completely different topic, I won the vote for the April, 2008 Inspiring Food Photography award run by Margot at Coffee and Vanilla. Thanks so much Margot (and voters) for nominating me and voting me in - I'm displaying my badge proudly and I'm thrilled for the honor! The May nominees are up so hop on over and have a look.

Spicy whole wheat linguine with andouille sausage and crawfish tails

1 pound whole wheat linguine
1 pound crawfish tails or shrimp, shelled and de-veined or lobster meat
½ pound andouille sausage, grilled, halved and cut into ½ inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup peas – steamed, room temperature
¼ cup white wine (approx)
Italian flat leaf parsley (3-4 Tbs, chopped roughly)
Salt and pepper

Boil a large pot of salted water for the pasta. Cook pasta according to package directions.

Heat oil in a large sauté pan, add garlic, and sauté for a couple minutes until golden (do not burn). Add crawfish tails, andouille, and white wine. Season generously with salt and pepper. Sauté for a few minutes longer. Add peas, sauté for a minute or just enough to warm. Remove from heat, stir in parsley.

Drain pasta and add to sauté pan. Toss to combine with the sauce. Pour into a large bowl. Adjust seasonings. Add additional olive oil if necessary, and serve.