Thursday, May 29, 2008
The thought of cream cheese, with its slightly tangy flavor and buttery texture playing off strawberries and rhubarb just seemed perfect. One night a few years ago, I experimented with cream cheese ice cream and it worked! I wasn't sure it would freeze properly but it was fantastic. I had some frozen bluberries and threw them in the mixture and Wow - I was on to something!
This ice cream is very easy to make but you do have to cook and chill the rhubarb in advance. Since many ice cream machines require that you store the canister in the freezer for at least 8 hours, you can do that at the same time. The recipe calls for fresh strawberries, but you can certainly use frozen.
STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB ICE CREAM
1/2 pound rhubarb, sliced into 1" pieces (fresh or frozen)
2-1/4 cups superfine sugar, divided
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2-1/2 cups half-and-half
1 cup whole milk
1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and mashed*
Pinch non-iodized salt
Put the rhubarb in a medium saucepan with 1-1/4 cups of the sugar and pour in just enough water to cover the rhubarb a little more than halfway. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat until the fruit is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir to break up the chunks and cool to room temperature. Chill in a covered bowl in the refrigerator until very cold.
In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the half-and-half and milk and beat until smooth. Measure out 1-1/2 cups of the chilled rhubarb and add it to the milk-cream cheese mixture along with the strawberries and the salt and stir well. Chill the mixture until very cold - at least 2 hours. Pour into an ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturers instructions. Makes a generous quart (you may not be able to get all of the mixture into the canister). Store in a covered container in the freezer no more than 3 days.
Note: You can puree the rhubarb mixture in a food processor before combining it with the other ingredients. This is especially desirable if the rhubarb is stringy. I prefer the texture slightly chunky, however. Leftover rhubarb can be served over the ice cream, spooned into yogurt, or eaten as is. It's also good with roast or grilled pork. Coarsely mash the strawberries with a potato masher, pastry cutter, or fork and include their juice.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
There's a spot on my little deck for a grill and acquiring one is easy enough - that's not the point. My track record with grilling isn't stellar. It started out pleasantly enough but culminated with setting the Peony bush on fire. I should mention that I really wasn't all that unhappy to lose the bush. The flowers, of course, were gorgeous but the ants loved their sticky nectar. The bush was right outside my daughter's bedroom window, where the ants would congregate on the sill and make their way inside. Of course we couldn't bring the blossoms in the house because of the ants, so we had to enjoy the pink blooms while sitting in the yard.
Right before Memorial Day in '89, we bought a charcoal grill. It was a red "kettle" and it cost $69. We bought a well-known national brand of charcoal and lighter fluid and went about completing the picture of the quintessential suburban family (we already had the dog and the station wagon). The grill sat in front of the Peony bush. We grilled all summer - burgers, fish, chicken, pork chops, New York strips, bratwurst, you name it - we grilled it. I made up foil packets of summer veggies and grilled fresh pineapple before it was fashionable. I marinated, planked, skewered and basted. Having planted nasturtiums that spring, we had the flowers in our salad. We drank quite a bit of Molson Golden that year, too. It all seemed pretty good.
Then one day toward the end of the summer, my former husband came home with a cheap brand of charcoal and lighter fluid (he had a very hard time resisting a "bargain"). We fired up the grill and threw on the burgers. We tried to eat the ones that hadn't morphed into hockey pucks but they tasted like kerosene. Then suddenly, the grill and the Peony bush were consumed in flames. Houston, we have a problem. The back yard smelled like the tarmac at O'Hare International on a hot day. The southbound neighbors started yelling over their tall fence (they had recently installed a pool). The northbound neighbors - an elderly couple - came running out if the house in a panic with a kitchen-sized extinguisher. The dog barked incessantly: "Get the Sheriff! Get the Sheriff!" My spouse donned a mitt and from a relatively safe distance, threw the cover over the kettle (that was quite a toss), while our neighbor shot foam at the Peony bush. The launch-pad temperature blaze, deprived of oxygen, died. The paint on the grill had peeled and fallen off in big chunks and the kettle itself was twisted nearly beyond recognition. It was over. Hands on her hips, my daughter said, "Well, I think I've had enough of this!", and stomped into the house where she proceeded to eat three bowls of cereal for dinner. Too embarrassed to put the grill out for the garbage collectors, we stored it in the basement - a grim reminder of the "incident". It was very, very sad.
Yes, I know - I should get over it and invest in a little gas grill - but I'm afraid of propane. I'm considering, however, attending space camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Alabama where I can learn to become a "Mission Specialist" in only eight days. T-minus 10, 9, 8, 7...
TAKE-ALONG FIVE BEAN SALAD
This salad has a long list of ingredients but comes together quickly. Feel free to add or subtract whatever beans, vegetables or fresh herbs you wish. It's a large salad, so I like to divide it into two portions and put the crumbled feta in one half (not everyone is fond of feta). You can substitute 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro for the basil and add a teaspoon or two of ground chipotle or ancho chili pepper and a teaspoon or two of ground cumin. If you use fresh corn kernels, blanch them in boiling water for one minute and drain. If you don't want the salad too garlicky, just rub an exposed clove around the bowl and discard.
3/4 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut diagonally into
1 15 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 ounce can yellow wax beans, drained
1-1/2 cups corn kernels (fresh, canned, or frozen)
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
1 medium red onion, diced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 large cucumber, seeded and diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 medium jicama, cut into matchstick pieces (optional)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 cups chopped tomato or 1/2 pound cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 large bunch (about 16 leaves) roughly chopped fresh basil
1/2 pound feta cheese crumbled (optional)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or vegetable oil)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice or red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Mrs. Dash Original Blend
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 strips thick bacon, drained and crumbled (optional)
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add the green beans. Cook for 3 minutes and drain. Allow to cool.
In a very large bowl, combine the beans, corn, red and green bell pepper, green and red onions, garlic, cucumber, celery, jicama and sugar and toss to mix. Add the basil, tomatoes and optional feta and toss gently. Add the olive oil, lime juice, and seasonings and toss well once more. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Chill at least 3 hours (but not more than 8 hours or the beans get soggy) before serving so the flavors can meld. Add the optional bacon and toss again just before serving. Serves 12.
Friday, May 23, 2008
You may, of course, use whatever mangoes are available at the market. The Ataulfo or "Champagne" mango grown in Mexico is less fibrous than other varities and is widely available. Combined with a buttery texture, it makes especially smooth drinks and frozen treats. Kents (from southern Florida) and Keitts (from California) are also very good. As far as I'm concerned, mangoes from Central and South America such as the "Tommy Atkins" look better than they taste (color is not a reliable indicator of quality so it's best to go by scent). Although they tolerate rough handling and transportation without bruising and have a long shelf life, their pallid flavor cannot compare to that of Indian mangoes. In her book "A Feast of Fruits", Elizabeth Riely states that in India "a gift of mangoes is considered a warm gesture of friendship".
For tips on how to cut up a mango and a great recipe for fresh Mango Salsa, go to my fellow blogger Elise's website (Simply Recipes) at:
For those of you cooking out this Memorial Day weekend, grilled mangoes and pineapple marry well with chicken, fish, and pork. According to my grilling experts, place 1/2" thick slices of the fruit on a well oiled grill with medium-high heat. Grill until just heated through, about a minute per side. Finish with a very light dusting of cayenne or chili powder and a squirt of fresh lime juice.
MANGO PINA COLADA
2 medium mangoes, cut into 1/4" dice
2/3 cup cream of coconut, such as Coco Lopez, chilled*
6 tablespoons frozen pineapple juice concentrate
1/2 cup light rum, chilled*
1-1/2 cups crushed ice
Combine the first 4 ingredients in a blender and process for 15 seconds. Add the ice and process until smooth and frothy. Makes about 4 servings.
* Cream of coconut, which is usually found in the liquor section, should not be confused with coconut milk, which is unsweetened. Feel free to use a flavored rum such as Coconut, Pineapple, or Mango.
2 cups very cold buttermilk
1 medium mango, cubed
4 tablespoons superfine sugar or mild honey
Pinch of non-iodized salt
1 cup crushed ice
Ground cardamom, to taste
Finely chopped pistachios (optional)
Put the buttermilk, mango, sugar, salt, and ice in a blender and process until smooth. Pour into glasses and sprinkle with the cardamom and pistachios. I like to chill the mixture in the blender container in the freezer for 5-10 minutes and then process again before serving. Serves 2.
EASY MANGO ICE CREAM
This is a "Philadelphia" style ice cream, as no eggs are used.
3 cups diced mango (about 3 medium mangoes)
1-1/2 cups superfine sugar, divided
1 cup chilled mango or peach nectar
2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)*
Pinch non-iodized salt
In a food processor, combine the mango with half the sugar, the salt and the optional cardamom and process until smooth. In a medium bowl, combine the mango nectar, the half-and-half, the cream and the rest of the sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves and add the mango mixture. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Pour into an ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturers instructions (this usually means storing the ice cream machine's canister in the freezer for at least 8 hours before making the ice cream). Adding the cardamom will remind you of Indian Kulfi, a kind of ice cream. Store in a tightly covered container in the freezer no more than 3 days. Makes about 1 quart.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
One of the tips I recently picked up on Rose's blog is how to make the top of a cake baked in a fluted tube pan look as perfect and without air pockets as much as possible. I love the variety of decorative Bundt® pans, such as Nordic Ware's "Cathedral Pan", "Fleur de Lis", and "Bavaria Bundt Pan", but sometimes it's difficult to achieve the intended definition of these beautiful pans. It seems that the more complicated the design of the pan, the more chance there is for the batter to stick in the nooks and crannies.
According to Rose: "Fill the pans about one inch full with batter and then using the back of a spoon with a side to side motion, press the batter into the grooves of the pan before adding the remainder of the batter."
The Nordic Ware company also has a list of helpful tips to ensure fail-safe results for "The Perfect Bundt Cake". Complete instructions are available on their website http://www.nordicware.com/ but here are the highlights:
(1) Spray the pan with a non-stick spray such as Baker's Joy, which contains flour or better still, brush the pan with solid vegetable shortening and dust with flour (Nordic Ware recommends Wondra flour for superior results). Nordic Ware cautions against using a non-stick spray that contains lecithin (a natural and otherwise harmless ingredient derived from soy) as a gummy residue can build up over time, which is difficult to remove. My recently purchased can of Baker's Joy lists lecithin among the ingredients, however. For my part, I'd rather stick to shortening or clarified butter applied with a pastry brush.
(2) Avoid bubbles in the batter by slowing pouring the batter in one corner of the pan and allowing it to slowly flow in and around the Bundt design. When the pan is filled, tap the pan on the counter a few times to release air bubbles;
(3) Fill the pan no more than 3/4 full to avoid overflow. With a spatula, push the batter to the outside of the pan pushing slightly up the walls. This will ensure that the cake will climb up the sides of the pan, giving you greater detail on the outside of the cake.
(4) Black or dark colored pans require a 25° heat reduction.
(5) After the cake is baked, cool the cake for 10 minutes (no more, no less) before inverting on a plate or cooling rack. Using hot pads, pick up the cake and gently shake the pan from side to side. A thumping sound indicates the cake is loose and ready to invert. Apply a glaze or simply dust with powdered sugar.
The photo of the "Bavaria" Bundt® pan and instructions for "The Perfect Bundt Cake" are provided with the permission of Nordic Ware.
Addendum: I recently came across a cake tester just for Bundt® cakes appropriately named the Bundt® Baking Thermometer. You just insert the thermometer into the center of the cake for 15 seconds. You know the cake is done when the tip turns red. Although I have yet to try it, I imagine it works (although not with the "Tunnel of Fudge" cake which remains soft in the center). The cake tester/thermometer is available from Nordic Ware and at http://www.kitchenkrafts.com/.
Friday, May 16, 2008
My paternal great-grandfather was named Honoré and although I never knew him, I'm compelled to think of him today and wonder about him. My daughter is researching her ancestry. Perhaps she will find something fascinating! Sacrébleu!
While I have no plans to create the famous French cake this week, I'll be baking a birthday cake for my daughter, as soon as she tells me what she would like. She's usually very specific, like "Chocolate-Orange Layer Cake with Grand Mariner Ganache adorned with a trio of Kumquats", or "Raspberry Almond Layer Cake with Framboise and Candied Rose Petals". Last year it was "Pineapple Chiffon Cake". One never knows. I suggested cupcakes for ease in transport. We'll see...
May is a great cake-baking month - there's Mother's Day, graduations, first communions, weddings and wedding showers, and, of course, birthdays. Even if you don't have a special occasion for which to bake a cake, bake one anyway in honor of St. Honoré, and share the wealth of deliciousness. You'll be glad you did.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Although Heidi is twenty years my junior, it's comforting to know that certain pursuits cross generational boundries. Of course Heidi and I have other things in common. We graduated from the same college, we serve together on a not-for-profit board, we're both consultants serving the not-for-profit sector, we're both professional writers, and neither of us operates with a hidden agenda - what you see is what you get. Although Heidi is a "foodie", she also has concerns for those who are less fortunate, and especially for those who go hungry. She has been directly involved with providing nutritional lunches to low-income children. She has always said that if just one child comes back years from now to tell her that the food she helped to provide had a lasting positive effect, her efforts will have been worthwhile.
Heidi is a busy mom too, with a very active four-year old. While she enjoys baking from scratch, recipes that are streamlined have a certain appeal. This simple recipe "takes the cake". It can be made on a whim because it uses melted butter - you don't have to wait for the butter to soften - and it only requires a hand-mixer. Other fruit - blueberries, peaches, pineapple, bananas - even well-drained canned apricots - can be substituted. You can also swap lemon rind and extract for the orange or just add 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract.
CRANBERRY-ORANGE UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE
Generous tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 12-ounce bag (about 3 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries
2 cups sugar, divided
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum free
1/4 teaspoon non-iodized salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons milk
Grated rind of one large navel orange, colored part only
1 tablespoon pure orange extract
Preheat the oven to 350°. Melt the stick of butter and set aside. Generously grease a 9" cake pan with the tablespoon of butter. Spread the cranberries over the bottom and sprinkle with 1 cup of the sugar (reserve the other cup).
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the eggs with an electric hand-mixer on high-speed until foamy. Add the remaining cup of sugar, the flour, baking powder, salt, melted butter, milk, orange rind and orange extract. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute until just combined. The batter will be thick.
Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a wooden toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Place a large cake plate on top of the cake pan and flip over. The cake may be served warm or at room temperature. You can gussie it up with a scoop of ice cream, but I like it plain. It makes a nice coffeecake as well as a dessert.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Summer berries are ideal with Panna Cotta - raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, or blueberries. I like a mix - whatever berries are at their peak at the market. Be sure to rinse the berries in cool water shortly before you use them. You can use a colander, or my favorite method - in a salad spinner. Raspberries are particularly fragile. After rinsing, gently spread the raspberries on several layers of paper towels to dry them.
VANILLA BUTTERMILK PANNA COTTA WITH BERRIES
2-1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup sugar, preferably superfine
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon non-iodized salt
3 cups berries, rinsed and dried
Coat 8 6-ounce custard cups or ramekins with cooking spray. Set the cups on a baking sheet. Combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin over the mixture and let it stand for 10 minutes. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, over low heat until the gelatin dissolves (about 7-8 minutes). Add the sugar and salt. Increase the heat to medium and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the buttermilk and vanilla. Divide the mixture among the custard cups. Cover the entire baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled - at least 6 hours or overnight.
When you are ready to serve the berries, cover each custard cup with a dessert plate and invert. Divide the berries among each serving. If the Panna Cotta doesn't slip right out, (1) run a thin knife around the edge of the custard cups and/or (2) rinse a kitchen towel in very hot water and wring. Set the cups on the warm damp towel for a few seconds.
Note: It's important not to add too much gelatin. The Panna Cotta should set up but not be as firm as a gelatin mold.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Yes, I've tried all the homespun remedies: burning a candle close to the chopping board (my sleeve nearly caught fire); holding a piece of bread between my teeth (I started to drool); freezing the onions first (I wanted to chop the onions, not hack away at them); cutting the onions under water (not practical); spritzing the cutting board with vinegar (too smelly); keeping my mouth shut and breathing through my nose (seriously, anyone who knows me is aware that I can't keep my mouth shut for any length of time); drinking sips of water from the opposite side of a glass (oh, wait - that's for hiccups); and praying (I couldn't find a patron saint of onions but I did find one for cooks. St. Lawrence was martyred by being grilled on a gridiron. Frankly, I think he should be the patron saint of the backyard barbecue, a topic for another post).
Sure, I could use the food processor but do I really need to for a couple of onions? The mini food processor is a bit too small so I'd have to quarter the onions anyway. Either way, the tears would prevail. I could buy frozen chopped onions but for most tasks, it just doesn't feel right - I want to cook, not assemble.
The key to solving this dilemma was to put on my food science hat and find out why onions make us cry. I turned to food science guru Alton Brown (sort of a contemporary "Mr. Wizard" of the kitchen). The short answer? Sulfuric acid. Nasty, eh? Onions don't contain sulfuric acid. They do, however, release a gas that forms sulfuric acid when their ruptured surfaces come in contact with tears. The best defense, according to Brown, is to use a very sharp knife. Brown, in a Food Network "Good Eats Moment" explained that when you cut an onion, cells rupture releasing enzymes which break down nearby sulfur compounds into oxides and acids. These combine to make a gas. This gas takes up residence in your eyes and then mixes with your tears to form sulphuric acid. Ouch! When you use a sharp knife to chop an onion as opposed to a dull or serrated knife (or grater, for that matter), you damage less cells, which translates to less tears. About two years ago, I started to replace all my knives. I've since acquired new and better cutlery, and it has made all the difference.
Onion Goggles can also be of help. These cool looking unisex goggles protect your eyes from noxious fumes while chopping onions. They're anti-fog, come in three colors, and fit like regular glasses (but don't fit over regular glasses). The comfortable foam padding keeps them snug and unlike swimming goggles, they won't mess up your hair. They're available at Amazon.com, The Bakers Catalogue and other outlets for about $20 (see links). The combination of a sharp knife and the goggles should make your onion chopping nearly tear free. The best part for me? I don't wind up looking like a raccoon and the neighbors will have to gossip about somebody else.
The photograph of the Onion Goggles is used with permission of the nice folks at The Baker's Catalogue (King Arthur Flour).
Thursday, May 1, 2008
It's not enough for me to be able to successfully craft a loaf of Russian Rye. I have to know WHY I was successful - or when I was first learning, why I FAILED. Through the years I've become fascinated with the science of baking. I've studied the biology of yeast; pondered the characteristics of various types of flour and the nature of gluten; ruminated over the transformation caused by the reaction of sugars and proteins, known as the Maillard Reaction - the phenomenon that gives bread its brown crust; and considered why my bread dough behaves so much differently in the summer than in winter.
The science of cooking is captivating, too. Why does an egg yolk facilitate the emulsion of oil and water in mayonnaise? Why do apples and artichokes darken when they're exposed to air? Why are blueberries blue? Why do microwaves cook some foods well and others poorly? Why does salt enhance sweetness? Why does a copper bowl produce more volume in egg whites? Why do we cry when chopping onions? Why does melted chocolate seize into a grainy solid unworkable mass when a mere drop of water is added - and can it be revived? When it comes to the culinary experience, I'm like an investigative reporter, never satisfied until I get the whole story.
When I was growing up, there was a man by the name of Don Herbert who hosted a show called "Watch Mr. Wizard", for which he won the Peabody Award. Mr. Wizard conducted all sorts of science experiments, many of which were simple and safe enough to be replicated by his young viewers at home. In 1983, Herbert created "Mr. Wizard's World", a jazzed up version of the original show. (Today we have "Beakman's World" and for food science, Alton Brown). Kids absolutely loved Mr. Wizard and he was undoubtedly responsible for helping thousands of young people develop more than a passing interest in science. I was one of those kids. Although I don't have a degree in the hard sciences, I've never wavered in my curiosity. I'm especially taken with particle physics and cosmology. I don't understand most of it (neither do the physicists) but that never discourages me from the pursuit. A classmate commented that I had "wildly diverse interests from physics to cooking". I replied that they're not diverse at all, but directly related. You can't create a loaf of homemade bread without being indisputably involved in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics.
The photo above is a variety of Broccoli called Romanesque Broccoli. It's characterized by a fractal appearance - it's most important feature being self-similarity. Fractal geometry was coined by Benoit Mandelbrot in the 1970s, (which is why I never heard of it in grammar school when I was studying the basics of Euclidean geometry). Romanesque Broccoli is a classic "fractal food". It's beauty is in its self-repeating motif that repeats indefinitely, each time smaller. If you were to place one tiny bit of the broccoli (actually a variant form of cauliflower) under a microscope you would see that it looked like the whole. Food science at its most compelling! Strange and beautiful and certainly worthy of exploration. Other examples of fractals in nature include crystals, snowflakes, and ferns.
The well-known computer programmer John Walker said that Romanesque Broccoli is, "so visually stunning an object that on first encounter it's hard to imagine you're looking at a garden vegetable rather than an alien artifact created with molecular nanotechnology. But of course, then you realise that vegetables are created with molecular nanotechnology, albeit the product of earthly evolution, not extraterrestrial engineering."
Hervé This, a physical chemist on the staff of the Institute National de la Recherche Agronomique in Paris, together with physicist Nicholas Kurti, originated the term "molecular gastronomy". Molecular gastronomy describes the scientific discipline concerning the study of physical and chemical processes that occur in cooking and baking. This has written two books on the subject, both designed for the general public and quite readable. His American friend, Harold McGee, has written on essentially the same topic (see my book list). These volumes are highly recommended, as they do indeed make for fun and intriguing reading.
Molecular gastronomy isn't a fad like low-carb diets, beer can chicken, nouvelle cuisine, or the pretentious food foams which are currently in fashion. It is, perhaps, a more academic term than "food science" which, as any culinary student can tell you, is a required part of their training. One thing for certain, Molecular Gastronomy is here to stay.
Why is it so important to know the how and why of the science of baking and cooking? Aside from enriching our brains and making us popular at cocktail parties, it makes us keenly aware of WHAT we're eating. Genetically modified tomatoes? Organic produce? Processed food laden with artificial ingredients? Fish contaminated with mercury? Blueberries loaded with healthful antioxidants? Understanding the science of food helps us to prepare better meals, reduce waste, debunk old wives' tales, make food more pleasurable, invent new and better ways to cook, devise new recipes, appreciate the thousands of tastes and nuances that fall upon our tongues, develop a healthy relationship with our food, and be truly conscious of our entire eating experience.