Monday, July 30, 2007

Strawberry Heaven

As we head into week seven of the summer '07 ice cream challenge, allow me to get nostalgic for a moment. Harken back to the week of July 16. Where were you? What were you doing? I know where I was, and what I was doing: happily holed up in my kitchen, making Sour Cream Ice Cream with Brown Sugar Strawberry Swirl.

A longtime lover of strawberries, I spotted this recipe in the New York Times on July 4 and knew I had to try it. Apparently for author Melissa Clark, strawberry ice cream is surprisingly tricky to make. "I’ve always ended up with something riddled with alarmingly icy chunks of berry that give me a headache when I bite down," she writes in the article accompanying the recipe. So Clark developed a technique that yields a soft serve ice cream with bits of (unfrozen) berries. The crux of this technique is that the ice cream does not go into the freezer after the berries are added at the end--that keeps them from turning into frozen fruit pebbles and also keeps the custard’s texture supple and soft.

In addition to sugar, cream, milk, egg yolks, vanilla and strawberries, this recipe includes sour cream and brown sugar. You add the sour cream to the custard base, and the brown sugar to the berries. You heat the berries and brown sugar just enough to bring out the berries’ juiciness and flavor, and melt the sugar into a molasses-tinged, brandy-spiked syrup. Then you fold it into the ice cream just before serving.

This ice cream is delicious. It is best freshly made, since the dreaded freezer never has a chance to turn the fruit into killer ice chunks. But even after spending a few days in the freezer, this ice cream holds up. There's a nice tang from the sour cream, and folding the strawberries in by hand produces a very pretty ice cream, with pink swirls throughout. It went over well with my book club yesterday; they declared it delicious. We enjoyed it with slices of peach pie, made from peaches I bought at the greenmarket. Summer desserts make for happy memories.--S

Friday, July 27, 2007

Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit

This morning at the market, I picked up two varieties of snap beans I'd never tried before: Purple King and Dragon's Tongue. How could I resist such names? Not to mention their gorgeous colors?

The Purple King beans are essentially deep-purple colored string beans, but their insides are green. The contrast is striking and beautiful. And the Dragon Tongue beans are creamy white with bright purple streaks on the pods--apparently resembling giant lizards' tongues. The pods are as long as a typical green bean yet wider and flatter. Their insides are white.

I showcased these colorful gems in a Shredded Green Beans dish from Heidi Swanson's lovely Super Natural Cooking. I altered the recipe somewhat, substituting basil--from my personal supplier--for chives, and plugging in those awesomely-named beans for green beans. Sadly, the purple color of both beans faded somewhat in cooking, even though they were only on the heat for two minutes, but they still tasted fantastic: fresh, snappy, and I think the Dragon's Tongues even had a tiny little kick to them. I love this recipe because it's so simple, yet seems innovative because you slice the beans thinly, on an angle. They look so chic and un-bean-like.

I also threw together SJR's uncooked tomato sauce (from her comment on the Eat Local post), boiled some penne, and enjoyed a light summer meal that was heavy on flavor--and color.--S

Shredded Green Beans

3/4 lb green and/or yellow beans [or whatever varieties you'd like], tops and tails trimmed
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T water
Grated zest of 1 large lemon
Grated zest of 1 lime
1/4 c chopped fresh chives [or other herb]
Fine-grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Slice the beans on a diagonal into roughly 1/8-in. pieces. If you are using a food processor, do them a handful at a time. Either way, the result should be tiny, angular zeroes.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beans and stir until coated with oil, then add the water. Cover and cook 2 or 3 minutes, until the beans are brightly colored and tender; give the pan a good shake midway through to ensure even cooking.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the zests and half of the chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve garnished with the remaining chives.

Serves 4

Recipe courtesy of Super Natural Cooking

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Summer Clambake

Boy, I woke up with a big one today. A craving that, is. By the time I had my morning coffee I'd decided I wanted scallops for dinner. I went to the fish store at lunchtime, and i knew i was in businesss when the fishmonger smiled at my order. "These are the best scallops I've had all year," he said. I'll say, they were were lovely. The littlenecks caught my eye too, so I picked up a dozen and a summer clambake was born.

Spoon added a loaf of french bread, some corn from the market and a bottle of Pinot Grigio and hit the kitchen to whip up a quick and glorious feast of grilled sea scallops with steamed little neck clams (clam juice on the side, with a dash of fresh mint, great for the french bread). On the side we had a crisp salad of romaine hearts, red onion, fresh corn and bleu cheese and some leftover quinoa. Quinoa is a grain not unlike coucous. Spoon makes a deicious cold quinoa salad with black beans, tomato, green onion and lime juice. For dessert, homemade ice cream: let me hand it over to Spoon...--F

For this week's ice cream installment, I wanted to make some sort of raspberry chocolate ice cream, but by the time I got to the market this evening, every stand was out of raspberries. One stand was selling gooseberries, and after tasting one, I figured I'd try them, not as a substitute, per se, but as an alternate in the Chocolate-Raspberry Ice Cream recipe from The Perfect Scoop.

I'd noticed gooseberries around the market over the past few weeks; they seem to be this year's it fruit. The ones I bought are red, although gooseberries also come in green. They resemble grapes, with little pinstripes running across each one vertically, and taste sweet and tangy. They have prickly tips, which were a little annoying to remove, but I tried to get into the Zen of the activity, which helped.

This Philadelphia-style ice cream calls for cooking heavy cream, sugar and dutch-process cocoa powder on the stove, and then steeping the berries in that mixture, lid on, for 10 minutes. You then puree the concoction, chill it and churn it. The finished product is a rather elegant frozen dessert. Like the blueberry ice cream, this ice cream is best eaten sparingly--one scoop at a time. Take it easy, and, in the words of the ice cream vendor my mom used to buy ice cream from as a kid, "take your tongue for a sleighride!"--S

Monday, July 23, 2007

Cheese Fondue

Tonight I saw No Reservations, the corny, culinary-themed romantic comedy you knew Hollywood would inevitably make, now that Rachael Ray has home cooks across the country throwing around terms like "evoo" and "eyeball it." The movie, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart and Little Miss Sunshine cutie Abigail Breslin, is a fondue of a film. It is very cheesy. Fun, in theory. And family friendly. But kind of stomachache-inducing.

I'll spare you the plot details; suffice it to say that Zeta-Jones and Eckhart flirt their brains out in the kitchen, her as a workaholic perfectionist chef and him as a lovable goofball who blares Puccini. They bicker in the walk-in freezer and finally make up, thanks in large part to adorable Breslin, who naturally brings them together over their love of pizza and pancakes. Cliche-ridden formula aside, No Reservations did have some bright spots: its food footage is excellent and the close-up of Zeta-Jones blow-torching a creme brulee did make me nostalgic for my days as a dessert prep cook at a French restaurant in college. The frequent kitchen montages are fun--if anything, they'll make your stomach growl.

But I'm sure I won't be the only one with some quibbles. Breslin struts around the kitchen with her long hair flying in the breeze. Bet the Health Dept. would love that! Zeta-Jones's signature dish is scallops in a saffron sauce? Hardly groundbreaking. On the movie's web site, director Scott Hicks says "I always strive for realism." But he still filmed the early morning fish market scenes at the Fulton Fish Market (you can see the Brooklyn Bridge in the background), when the market relocated to the Bronx two years ago. And is it realistic for a Manhattan chef to drive around in a pickup truck, as Eckhart's character does?

No Reservations is a remake of the 2001 German film Mostly Martha. I have a feeling the original is far superior. I'll Netflix it and watch it while noshing on some fondue, as a reminder that cheese is better eaten than viewed on the big screen.--S

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Eat Local!

It's basil season, and it's been a bumper crop so far this year! Already our colleague Diane, who grows it on her roof, apparently on an industrial scale, has brought in two huge bags full of some of the finest basil you'd ever want. And we'll take all we can get. It sure is awesome to have an herb dealer right at work!

Tonight, we had a lovely Caprese salad, with some delicious, marble-size cherry tomatoes, also courtesy of Diane's green thumb. It's always great to eat fresh-picked herbs right away and this simple, classic dish of fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, is a perfect showcase for great, fresh basil. Last night it was pesto with fresh fettucine, one of Fork's favorite comfort meals. Thanks, Diane!--S&F

Basic Pesto

2 loosely packed cups fresh basil leaves, big stems discarded, rinsed, and dried
Salt to taste
1/2 to 2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 T pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil, or more
1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan or other hard cheese (optional)

1. Combine the basil, salt, garlic, nuts, and about half the oil in a food processor or blender.
2. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container occasionally, and adding the rest of the oil gradually. Add additional oil if you prefer a thinner mixture. Store in the refrigerator for a week or two, or in the freezer for several months. Stir in the Parmesan by hand just before serving.

Recipe courtesy of How to Cook Everything

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Farewell Cocktail Party

Last night, I sent my friend Darren off with a food-centric cocktail party. Judging by the guests' raves, I'd say the fete was a smashing success.

When planning the menu earlier in the week, I wanted a mix of meat, fish and vegetarian summery snacks. I didn't want to turn on the oven at all during the party, and I wanted to make everything ahead of time.

Here's what I came up with:

Mini-Meatballs in Marinara Sauce
Walnut-Cheese Bites
Watermelon Balls with Parmesan and Mint
Indian Pulled-Chicken Wraps
Shrimp Deviled Eggs
Tuna Salad with Fennel, Cucumber and Tarragon
Chilled Minted Cucumber Honeydew Soup
Goat Cheese-Garlic Toasts
Mini Cupcakes
Chocolate-Espresso Sorbet

The meatballs were my mom's idea: prepared a la our usual family recipe, but bite-sized. The walnut-cheese bites were adorable; my mom spotted them in the Deen brothers' new book. Each one is a half a walnut topped with bleu cheese and half a red grape.

The watermelon balls were a riff on an appetizer I began making last summer. But instead of serving wedges to eat by hand, I served balls people could pick up with toothpicks. The combination of melon with shaved parmeggiano-reggiano cheese, mint, salt and black pepper is unusual but delicious.

I found the recipes for the pulled-chicken, tuna salad and goat cheese toasts in the August issue of Food & Wine. All were terrific.

The shrimp deviled eggs were thanks to the Minimalist. The soup has been one of my summer standbys for years now, and the mini cupcakes were made by Mom, from More From Magnolia. Finally, the sorbet was last week's flavor: not entirely my cup of tea (I think I prefer my sorbets fruity), but a respectable offering from Peggy Fallon's Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts.

Pretty much every platter was wiped clean by the end of the evening. But among the standouts were the deviled eggs; the tuna, which I served in mini hors d'oeuvres cups; and the mini-meatballs, which I kept warm in an electric frying pan--a very handy appliance for such affairs. Incidentally, my mom deserves major props for her indispensable prep work Friday night. Thanks, Mom!

With Darren handling the bar, I was able to devote all my energy to the food, and it paid off. It made me so happy to see people enjoying themselves and enjoying my food. Some of them even told me they felt inspired. Wow!

Darren left today for San Francisco, but I'm eagerly awaiting his return (he promises it will be in three years). I can't wait to throw his welcome back party.--S

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Urban Revival

This week, New York City was slammed with its first awful Summer heat wave. The air felt like syrup. I couldn't walk a block without breaking a sweat. And I had a close encounter with a huge, scary bug on the sidewalk outside my office building. Luckily, I had noticed a number of interesting articles recently about infused iced teas and herbed lemonades. So, when my beloved New York gave me some hot, smelly lemons, I took the high road. I made lemonade. Tarragon Lemonade, actually. And I drank every last drop. Over ice. In front of the A/C. It was heaven.

In all honesty, the lemonade wasn't very tarragon-y. The recipe, from the August issue of Food & Wine, called for infusing a simple syrup with sprigs of fresh tarragon, and then mixing that with fresh-squeezed lemon juice and water. Although I halved the recipe, I probably could've used more tarragon, because I could barely detect the herb's sweet, licorice flavor. Nevertheless, the lemonade was delicious. As the recipe promised, the drink's tartness was at a "face-puckering level," and the near-immediate shot of vitamin c was an immediate pick-me-up.

I made Rhubarb Lemonade in the spring, and it wasn't sweet enough for my taste. But I'd happily try Rosemary Limeade, Lavender Coolers, Raspberry Lemonade or Blackberry Iced Tea. For the next heat wave.--S

UPDATE: (7/14/07)
Orangette has a terrific post on lemonade with a recipe for basil lemonade.

Tarragon Lemonade

10 c water
2 1/4 c sugar
17 tarragon sprigs
6 c fresh lemon juice, strained (from about 40 lemons), plus 12 thin lemon slices for garnish

1. In a medium saucepan, combine 4 cups of water with the sugar and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer over moderately high heat until reduced to 3 1/4 cups, about 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and add 5 of the tarragon sprigs [I'd use more; maybe 7.]. Let stand, stirring often, until cooled to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Discard the tarragon sprigs.
2. In a large glass pitcher, combine the remaining 6 cups of water with the tarragon syrup and fresh lemon juice. Add a pinch of salt, stirring until it dissolves. Serve the tarragon lemonade over ice, garnished with the lemon slices and the remaining 12 tarragon sprigs.

Serves 12

Recipe courtesy of Food & Wine

Monday, July 09, 2007

Nothing Like a Cold Scotch

According to David Lebovitz--former pastry chef at Chez Panisse and author of my new favorite ice cream cookbook, The Perfect Scoop--there is some argument surrounding the origin of the word "butterscotch." Some say the name comes from "butter-scorched," which makes some sense, since making butterscotch does involve cooking butter. Others say the word derives from the phrase "butter scoring," as in "cutting"--not as in, "Dude, I scored some awesome Butterscotch Pecan Ice Cream!" Lebovitz offers his own theory: buttery butterscotch tastes better with a shot of scotch in it. And who am I to argue with that?

And so it is that Fork and I are currently noshing on the Butterscotch Pecan Ice Cream from Lebovitz's book, and it is a home run. The French-style ice cream includes a whopping six egg yolks, five tablespoons of butter, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and all the other usual suspects: heavy cream, whole milk, vanilla extract. Oh, and a tablespoon of Dewar's.

Tantamount to this delectable concoction is the addition of "mix-ins," as many ice cream recipes call the bits of nuts, candy, cake, cookies or fruit that sometimes punctuate ice cream. In this case, the mix-ins are chopped buttered pecans, which lend a terrific textural counterpoint to the creamy and, well, very buttery ice cream. Yes, this is indeed a decadent frozen dessert. So I'm setting my alarm for 6AM for an 8-mile run tomorrow. Who said you could eat this stuff and get off, uh, scotch-free?--S

Buttered Pecan Ice Cream

5 T butter
3/4 c packed dark brown sugar
1/2 t coarse salt
2 c heavy cream
3/4 c whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 T scotch whisky
Buttered Pecans (recipe below)

1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, then stir in the brown sugar and salt until well moistened. Whisk in 1 cup of the cream and the milk.
2. Warm the brown sugar and cream mixture. Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.
3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm brown sugar mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
4. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Add the vanilla and scotch, then stir until cool over an ice bath.
5. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the Buttered Pecans.

Buttered Pecans

1 1/2 T butter
1 1/2 c pecan halves
1/4 t coarse salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Melt the butter in a skillet. Remove from the heat and toss the pecans with the melted butter until well coated, then sprinkle with the salt.
3. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once during baking.
4. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Recipes courtesy of The Perfect Scoop

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Warm and Clammy--In a Good Way

I'll admit that dinner last night came more from my being in love with the idea of clam chowder than an actual craving for the stuff. Jasper White's kitschy-looking Summer Shack Cookbook has been sitting on my desk for weeks now, and I've idly thumbed through its pages too many times to count. Kind of like the J. Crew catalog, this book sells a concept--buy these clothes/cook this food and you will be on a tropical beach sporting a gauzy turquoise dress, wading into the ocean, who cares if it gets wet/wearing a damp bathing suit with sand between your toes, digging in to an alfresco seafood summer feast, pass the butter, please. So you can see why I was into the idea of making something from this book, namely the Creamy Cape Cod Clam Chowder.

Turns out, though, that once I got going, I actually started getting excited about eating clam chowder, too. Lugging nearly 10 pounds of Long Island cherrystone clams from the fishmonger back to my apartment, scrubbing them in my kitchen sink, watching them steam open in my biggest pot (I peeked under the lid and caught some just as they popped--it was so sudden and happy!)... it all made me really hungry.

This recipe, for a white chowder, called for salt pork, but my butcher didn't have any, so I substituted diced bacon, which imparted a nice smoky flavor. After steaming and chopping the clams, I crisped up the bacon, then sautéed it with butter, onions, garlic, celery, thyme and a bay leaf. Next, I added diced potatoes and the reserved clam juice, and cooked this until the potatoes were soft on the outside but still firm inside. The addition of the clams and heavy cream completed the dish.

And then I pretended I was wearing that bathing suit and feeling that sand on my feet, and dug in. Tasty chowder! Creamy and fresh and perfectly beachy. Anybody want to go watch the sun set over the bay?--S

Creamy Cape Cod Clam Chowder

10 lbs small quahogs or large cherrystone clams
2 c water
4 oz. meaty salt pork, rind removed and cut into small (1/3-in.) dice
2 T unsalted butter
2 med. yellow onions, cut into 1/2-in. dice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/3-in. dice
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped (1T)
1 lg dried bay leaf
2 lbs Yukon Gold or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2- to 3/4-in. dice
2 c heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher or sea salt if needed
1/4 c shopped fresh Italian parsley

1. Scrub the clams and rinse well. Place them in a large pot, add the water, cover, and turn the heat to high. Once you see a little steam escape from the pot, let the clams cook for about 5 minutes. Removed the lid and quickly move the clams around in the pot, so they will cook evenly, then cover and cook for 5 minutes more, or until the clams open.

2. Pour off the broth and reserve. After it has settled a bit, strain the broth, leaving the bottom 1/2 inch of broth (and sediment) in the container. You should have about 4 cups. Remove the clams from the shells, place in a bowl, and refrigerate until cold.

3. Dice the clams into small (1/3- to 1/2-inch pieces. Cover and refrigerate.

4. Rinse and dry the pot and heat over low heat. Add the salt pork and cook until crispy and brown. Add the butter, onions, garlic, celery, thyme, and bay leaf and sauté, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 10 minutes, until the onions are softened by not browned.

5. Add the potatoes and 4 cups reserved clam broth. The broth should just barely cover the potatoes; if it doesn't, add more broth or water. Turn the heat to high, cover the pot, and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are soft on the outside but still firm in the center. Smash a few potatoes against the side of the pot and stir them into the chowder to lightly thicken it.

6. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cream and diced clams. Season with black pepper; you may not need salt (the clams usually add enough of their own). If you are serving the chowder within the hour, just let it sit and "cure." Otherwise, let cool to room temperature and refrigerate it; cover it after it has chilled.

7. When ready to serve, reheat the chowder slowly over medium heat; do not let it boil. Ladle into cups or bowls and sprinkle with parsley.

Makes 3 quarts; serves 12 as an appetizer or 6 to 8 as a main course.

Recipe courtesy of The Summer Shack Cookbook

Monday, July 02, 2007

I Did Not Find My Thrill on Blueberry Hill

Week two of the summer '07 ice cream challenge found me going the fruit route, with Blueberry Ice Cream from Ice Creams & Sorbets by Lou Seibert Pappas. Unlike last week's Mint Chip recipe, this was an egg-free version, a straightforward blend of berries, lemon, sugar, milk, heavy cream and vanilla extract.

Perhaps now's a good time for me to explain that there are two basic kinds of ice cream: with eggs and without. The former, sometimes called French-style, is made by cooking egg yolks and cream on the stovetop until a custard forms. Then you cool the custard, mix it with the other ingredients (i.e., strawberries, chocolate chips, etc.) and churn it in an ice cream maker. Conversely, the eggless version, known as Philadelphia-style, comes together much more quickly, because you usually just mix up milk, cream, sugar and your other ingredients and churn them in the machine. French-style ice cream is usually creamy and decadent. Philly-style is a tiny bit lighter and fresh tasting.

So this Blueberry Ice Cream was Philly-style, and involved cooking the berries on the stove with a touch of water until they became tender, and then pureeing them in a blender. Then I mashed some lemon zest with a little sugar to release the oils, heated milk and some more sugar in a saucepan, and stirred in the blueberry puree, cream, sugared zest, lemon juice and vanilla. I put this in the fridge to chill for about three hours, had a yummy lunch at Markt with Fork, and then churned the ice cream.

I give this ice cream points for uniqueness. It has a delicate flavor that almost doesn't taste like blueberry, even a little aromatic and perfumy. I can't say I'm thrilled with it, but what does thrill me is its color: very Violet Beauregard.--S