Saturday, July 30, 2011

Splendid Vanilla Ice Cream and Meeting Jeni

Ice cream week on my blog continues:

I first learned of Jeni's ice cream from Tim Gaddis, the cheesemonger at the specialty market Star Provisions. Tim tweets as @Timthecheeseman, and his dairy cases hold many wondrous products, including ice cream from Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream, based in Columbus, Ohio.

Soon after, my bloggy buddy Di, who lives in Austin, Texas, began singing the praises of Jeni's ice cream, which she sampled on a family vacation to Ohio, and of Jeni's recipes. (At last count Di has made 9 or 10 flavors!)

So when I saw this tweet from Tim on Tuesday:
ICE CREAM TASTING!!!!! and book signing today at Star Provisions 4-6pm w/ @jenisicecreams
I mentally re-arranged my plans for the day so that I could stop by. It wasn't too hard; luckily Star Provisions is just a couple of miles from my house. I came in a few minutes after 4 to find that Jeni was doing a demonstration. She was in the darkest corner of a large room not known for being light, so photography was difficult. Additionally my good camera had gone to Yosemite with my brother, so I was left with a point and shoot. All to say "excuse the quality of these photos."

A woman standing near me already had the book and was very enthusiastic about Jeni's method. "The base is very versatile. Very neutral in flavor," she enthused.

Jeni did a wonderful job of introducing her operation, her ice cream, and her book. She has devised an unusual formula for her ice cream base. As she spoke, it became clear that every part of the recipe has a specific job and reason for being there, often related to texture or stability.

Jeni's story is interesting. Originally an art major, Jeni went from selling ice cream solo at a market in Columbus to today's operation with several shops, numerous other places that carry her ice cream (including Anthropologie stores) and 250+ employees. Even though the company has grown, everything - production, packing, labels - is still done by hand.

I loved the way Jeni described her relationship with local fruit growers and dairy. She uses milk from grass fed cows - raw milk that can be traced back to particular cows. She pasteurizes the milk one time, at very low temperatures. You and I might like the nutritional benefits from her methods, but from Jeni's perspective, everything she does contributes to one goal: flavor.

After hearing Jeni speak, sampling some of her ice cream (delicious!), and buying some of her books (she signed them in hot pink Sharpie!), I was so excited that I came home and immediately started making a double batch of vanilla ice cream.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Jeni's ice cream is different, in that it is not custard-based. No eggs. Nor is it a plain Philadelphia-style either. Jeni makes her base by heating milk, cream, sugar and a bit of corn syrup, then thickening with cornstarch (similar to how a pudding is made) before whisking the hot thickened liquid into some cream cheese. The whole mixture is chilled; Jeni instructs us to put the ice cream base in a zippered plastic bag placed in an ice bath. Once cooled, the base can be churned in an ice cream maker. Jeni demonstrated by making vanilla ice cream in a small 1 quart Cuisinart ice cream maker (which was raffled off to an audience member!)

- You can find the vanilla ice cream recipe here.

- Jeni uses Ugandan vanilla beans, but I used some beautiful ones that I'd ordered online recently. I usually rub the vanilla seeds into the sugar to keep them from clumping together but this time I forgot. As it turned out, with all of the whisking in this recipe, the seeds separated and were dispersed nicely.

- Instead of corn starch you can use tapioca starch, and instead of corn syrup you can use tapioca syrup.

- I really made a serious mistake in preparing this ice cream. I started out fine, mixing up and setting aside the slurry, whisking and setting aside the cream cheese, and then heating the rest of the ingredients. But things went off the rails when I forgot to add the slurry to thicken the base. By the time I realized it, I had already added the cream cheese and put it all in a zipper bag in an ice bath. Then I remembered the corn starch slurry. What followed was a frantic session of dumping the liquid back into the pan and reheating it with the slurry to try to thicken it. That wasn't particularly successful; the cream cheese and some of the cornstarch preferred to stick to the bottom of the pan.

- Another, more minor problem, was the zipper bag. When I first put the ice cream base in the bag, it sprang a leak and I had to quickly put it all into another bag. I then emptied the bags in an effort to fix my ice cream base, and when it came time for the ice bath (again) I skipped the plastic bag method. I chilled the base in my usual manner: poured it into a metal bowl set into a bigger bowl of ice water, cooled for a bit then placed into the fridge to cool further. When the base was below 50 degrees I churned it.

yes, I realize this is the third post in a row where ice cream is pictured in a square plastic container!

- Although I'm pretty sure that the majority of the cornstarch thickener and the cream cheese was left on the bottom of my saucepan because of my mistakes in following directions, the ice cream churned up surprisingly well.

- The double batch of ice cream base filled my 2 qt ice cream maker pretty completely, and as it churned, the ice cream expanded over the brim. There would have been even more volume had I not left some of the base by the wayside as I transferred and re-transferred it from pan to bag and back again and then lost some in the bottom of the saucepan. Next time I'll make no more than 1.5 recipe.

the verdict:

To begin with, I couldn't believe how white this vanilla ice cream was. I suppose this was from the lack of egg yolks. All of the ingredients I used were white (and no vanilla extract) although Jeni told us that the milk she uses is from grass-fed cows and it's yellow.

As for taste, the ice cream has a fresh, clear flavor. The corn syrup and cream cheese keep it from being thin or icy, in fact the texture is actually a bit fluffy. It's quite different from the muddled, rich, taste of a custard-based vanilla ice cream. My vanilla-ice-cream-loving husband really enjoyed the ice cream, which is a good thing, seeing as we have 2 quarts of it!

Now I can't wait to try some of the other flavors in the cookbook!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Peach Frozen Yogurt

Ice cream week on my blog continues:

Living in the Peach State, we are inundated with delicious peaches in July. I have made a lot of peach frozen treats; in fact I previously posted 2 different peach ice creams and a peach sorbet in one peach marathon post! But there's always room for more frozen peachy goodness, so I tried this peach frozen yogurt.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I've included the recipe, from David Lebovitz' book The Perfect Scoop, is below. If you have any plans to make homemade ice cream, this book is a must-own.

- Don't try using lowfat yogurt for frozen yogurt; it will turn out icy.

- I used some perfectly ripe peaches from my farm box.

- You can peel peaches quickly by dipping them in boiling water for a minute or so, then submerging in cold water. The skins rub off easily.

- An immersion blender is perfect for the job of pureeing the peach mixture.

the verdict:

This is a fantastic choice for using perfect peaches which are perfectly ripe. The peach flavor comes through beautifully. While the mouthfeel isn't as creamy as with ice cream, the fresh fruit flavor more than makes up for it.

the recipe:

Peach Frozen Yogurt
from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

1 1/2 pound ripe peaches (about 5 large)
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
a few drops freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Peel the peaches, slice them in half and remove the pits. Cut peaches into chunks and cook them in water in a medium nonreactive saucepan over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until soft and cooked through, about ten minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar and chill in the refrigerator.

2. When peaches are cool, puree them in a food processor or blender with the yogurt until almost smooth. Mix in a few drops of lemon juice.

3. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Yield: about 3 cups

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

{TWD} Creamy Dark Chocolate Sorbet

This week's recipe for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group, Creamy Dark Chocolate Sorbet, is perfect for several reasons:

1. Much (but not all - I know the Pacific Northwest has been blissfully cool) of the US has suffered through a record-breaking heat wave for the past week or so. It hasn't been as hot here in Atlanta as in other places, such as Minneapolis, or Manhattan, but it's been plenty hot enough, thank you. Any time the mercury is over 90 degrees, ice cream becomes a valid coping strategy.

2. July is National Ice Cream Month.

3. I'm having Ice Cream Week on my blog, kicked off by Sunday's blueberry ice cream post for Sundae Sunday.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon chose the sorbet for us to make this week. She will have the recipe on her post this week, so head over there if you want to make this (and it's so easy that you should!)

- This recipe couldn't be simpler to make. You combine solid chocolate (chopped) with water, milk and some sugar in a pan on the stove. Boil for 5 minutes then cool in the fridge until time to churn in an ice cream maker.

- The chocolate flavor is front and center in this recipe, so use the best quality chocolate you have. I used El Rey bittersweet the first time I made this and Trader Joe's Swiss Chocolate the second time. I had to make the sorbet twice because after 3 years of weekly TWD participation, I finally forgot to photograph a recipe before consuming it, or, in this case, giving it to my book group hostess. The second time I was out of the best chocolate and felt kind of bad about the Trader Joe's stuff (which is actually quite good) when I gave the sorbet to my neighbor. Of course, she was thrilled to have homemade sorbet, no matter the kind of chocolate it contained!

the verdict:

This sorbet made a big impact at our summer book group dinner, although there were some pretty amazing desserts on hand that evening. Some folks requested the recipe, and I had no trouble convincing the hostess that her freezer needed to keep the leftover sorbet. I thought the sorbet was surprisingly rich and creamy, but then again it contains a hefty hit of solid chocolate! In fact the sorbet tasted to me like a chocolate candy bar in ice cream form, which it essentially is.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Blueberry Ice Cream

Happy Sundae Sunday!

My friend Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook had the fun idea to celebrate July, National Ice Cream Month, with a virtual ice cream social. She invited bloggers to post ice cream - or related recipes such as syrups or toppings - today. By month's end Di will gather all of the ice cream treats into one big round-up post on her blog. Click over there in a few days to see some fabulous frozen treats and accompaniments.

For Sundae Sunday I wanted to try an ice cream flavor that I've never made, which, among other things, rules out yet another vanilla or coffee ice cream post on this blog! My farm box has been including some wonderfully flavorful blueberries this month, so I set out to find a good blueberry ice cream recipe. [edit to add: after I wrote this I realized that I had actually posted a blueberry frozen yogurt two years ago]

When I'm ready to make ice cream, I usually turn to one of two volumes on my cookbook shelf, The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, or Murphy's Ice Cream Book of Sweet Things. But I also love exploring ice cream recipes that I find online or in one of my other cookbooks.

Recently I signed up for an online service called Eat Your Books. The way it works is that you input the cookbooks that you own (which is simple because they have tons of cookbooks - about 2000 - already in the database) and then you can search for recipes by ingredient or by type of dish. The search results will give you the recipe name, the cookbook name, and a list of the ingredients. I happily paid the $25 fee - about the cost of a new cookbook these days - and I use the service several times a week. As a result, I have ended up using my own cookbooks more than ever before. (I need to mention I have no connection with Eat Your Books. I have received no compensation from the site, nor have I been asked to mention it on my blog. I just want to share with you a service that I have found to be very useful.)

My search on Eat Your Books pointed me to several promising blueberry ice cream recipes, and I zeroed in on the Blueberry Ice Cream from Amanda Hesser's Essential New York Times Cookbook. Here's what Hesser says about this recipe:
"I love that when you taste this ice cream it's not immediately clear that it contains blueberries. The lemon gives the ice cream a sharp, high pitch and a soft, buttery texture."
I couldn't wait to try this ice cream and see what we thought!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I've included the recipe for this ice cream, below.

- My blueberries were smallish, with a tart flavor, closer to wild than to typical cultivated berries, which I find to be sweet but often bland.

- I went strictly by the book for this recipe.

the verdict:

This flavor of this ice cream was rich and fruity, intense and bright. The cream supported and gave body to the ice cream but didn't weaken the impact of the blueberries and the lemon. I'm glad I added kirsch; it sharpened the flavors and lent a wonderfully smooth texture.

I objected to the bits of blueberry skins in the ice cream and I regretted that I hadn't strained the ice cream base before churning it, but my husband disagreed. He thought the little pieces of skin lent a nice textural contrast.

Stay tuned for more ice cream posts, as I finish out National Ice Cream Month with a week of ice cream on my blog!

the recipe:

Blueberry Ice Cream
Adapted slightly from The Essential New York Times Cookbook (Amanda Hesser, p. 726)

1 pint blueberries
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup water
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream

2 tsp kirsch (I added this ingredient to help keep the ice cream from freezing too hard)

Heat blueberries in a heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally, until they break down and yield their juices, 10 to 15 minutes.

In the meantime, dissolve the sugar in the water over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until you have a thin syrup. Let cool.

Puree the blueberries in a food processor, then transfer to a bowl and add the lemon juice. Mix in the cooled syrup and the cream, and mix well. Chill overnight

Once chilled, pour the blueberry mixture into an ice cream maker, straining if desired, and freeze according to your machine’s instructions. Pack the ice cream in an airtight container, and freeze until ready to serve.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Steakhouse Tomatoes

Since becoming a food blogger three years ago (my blogiversary was a few days ago, and I totally forgot about it!) I've done a lot of reading about food, visited a lot of cooking sites, and clicked on tons of recipe links. One of my favorite online food resources is the James Beard Foundation website. The Foundation keeps very busy hosting guest chefs at the Beard House, and, of course, it also bestows the annual James Beard Awards for cookbooks and chefs. The site is a veritable font of recipes, by Beard and others.

While I was browsing the site Beard's recipe for Beefsteak Tomato and Onion Salad caught me attention. Here's how Beard introduced this recipe:
"A pleasant, simple salad or first course typical of steakhouses throughout the East and to a lesser degree in the West. It consists of thickish slices of ripe beefsteak tomatoes and good sweet onions, usually eaten with salt and freshly ground pepper and sometimes with oil and vinegar, served in cruets. Excellent with broiled foods."
-James Beard, James Beard's American Cookery (1972)
I've been in New York steak houses, but, truth be told, it's been at least 20 years since I stepped foot in one. And although I have warm recollections of the steaks we enjoyed, sliced tomatoes don't really stand out in my memory. I do love tomatoes, and Georgia is known for its sweet onions, so this recipe is a fantastic way to use our local fresh produce. As a bonus, it's a snap to put together.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe on the James Beard Foundation website, here.

- I used sweet Vidalia onions from Georgia.

- Just before serving, I sprinkled some chopped fresh thyme over the salad.

the verdict:

This very simple dish is classic for a good reason: it's delicious! Using summer's best tomatoes and sweet onions, this is a perfect complement to a grilled main course.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

{TWD} Chestnut Scones

In the early days of the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group, I was paging through the book, and the Chestnut Scones caught my eye. I'd never heard of chestnut flour, and I was intrigued. Searching around, I located chestnut flour online, ordered it, then waited for the recipe to get chosen. It sounds like a great fall/winter recipe to me, but a few years of cold weather passed and I began to wonder if my flour would go bad before the recipe's turn would come.

Meanwhile I was finding other recipes that specified chestnut flour, so December 2010/January 2011 became the official Chestnut Flour Baked Goods Season in my kitchen. I baked Dorie's Chestnut Scones and two recipes from Alice Medrich: Chestnut Pound Cake and Chestnut Meringues. All of these yummy chestnut baked goods have been in my "Drafts" folder, waiting for the appropriate cool weather opportunity for me to post them.

We're getting down to the last 6 months of TWD - just a couple of dozen recipes remaining in Dorie Greenspan's book. Even so, I was a bit surprised that something chestnut was chosen for July. Then I saw that this week's hostess, Andrea, is from Australia, and it's winter down under, so she got to pick something seasonally appropriate, rather than her usual fate of (graciously) suffering through out of season selections made by the majority of the group members who live in the Northern Hemisphere. Although upon closer investigation I see that Andrea lives in tropical Darwin, Australia, so I'm thinking it isn't super cold where she is right now.

But, all considerations of seasonal appropriateness aside, I have to say, just looking back over my pictures and notes from 6 months ago, I wish I had a batch of chestnut scones cooling on my kitchen counter right now! Delicious scones know no season.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The scones were selected by Andrea of Andrea in the Kitchen, and you can click over to her post to find the recipe.

- The recipe is quick and very straightforward to put together.

- When it came time to serve these scones, I put them with double devon cream (store-bought from a jar) and my daughter Allison's homemade muscadine jelly.

the verdict:

These scones were an immense hit with my book group. I had brought chocolate cookies also, and the cookies were pretty much were ignored while the scones were devoured!

The most common comment from the group members: "These aren't dry like scones so often are. how did you get them to stay moist?" Scones after scone quickly disappeared. The chestnut flour added a slightly sweet richness to the scones. They were quite tasty plain, and also good with any combination of the cream and the jelly.

If you ever find yourself with a supply of chestnut flour, I recommend these scones.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Coffee Ice Cream

July is National Ice Cream month (as well as being National Hot Dog month, and National Baked Beans month) and I thought I'd celebrate by sharing with you a wonderful version of my very favorite flavor: Coffee Ice Cream.

I've posted several different coffee ice creams on this blog in the past (a recipe from Baked Explorations made with instant espresso powder here; an America's Test Kitchen recipe made with instant espresso powder - I added toffee bits - here; a James Beard recipe made with instant coffee and cognac here) but this recipe, from ice cream guru David Lebovitz, intrigued me because it calls for steeping whole coffee beans in hot milk to extract the coffee flavor. I love infusing flavors, so I couldn't wait to try the method.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I was on the verge of using old generic coffee beans from the freezer but my husband gave me the following advice, "use great beans, preferably Italian roast. How bout that stuff in the can from Trader Joe's?" This seemed to be sound advice, so that's what I used. The bonus was that my husband got to use the rest of the can for his morning coffee.

- To infuse the coffee, the recipe calls for the milk to be "warmed". While the milk was warming on the stove I got distracted, and proved once again that the corollary to the old adage "a watched pot never boils" is "an unwatched pot always boils." I crossed my fingers and just kept on with the recipe, using the boiled milk.

the verdict:

This ice cream is extraordinary! It is coffee ice cream perfection. If you let it soften a bit before serving, it tastes like the froth on a strong cup of cappuccino.

Stay tuned for more ice cream posts in July as Ice Cream Month continues...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

{TWD} Cream Scones

This week the Tuesdays With Dorie group were in for a real treat: we baked cream scones. The TWD bakers have tried their collective hands at Apple Cheddar Scones (before my time in the group, but I have baked and enjoyed them), Nutmeg Oatmeal Scones, and Toasted Almond Scones. It's hard to believe, but up until now we'd skipped over the classic currant-filled cream scone. I couldn't be more excited to try Dorie's recipe at long last!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the scone recipe by clicking over to Lynne's scone post on her blog Cafe Lynnylu

- To me there's nothing quite as good as a scone studded with currants, fresh from the oven, so I didn't vary one thing in this recipe.

- I made half a recipe of scones, which I patted into my 7" pie pan and cut with a bench scraper into four sections.

- I pulled the scones from the oven about a minute early, because I prefer my scones - and my biscuits too - just a tiny touch under-baked.

the verdict:

These scones were tender and rich, with bright bursts of sweetness from the currants. I liked them best with a bit of extra butter, but they were also delicious with some jam. This recipe is destined to be my go-to scone recipe.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Salmon and Tomatoes en Papillote

One by-product of habitual cooking from new recipes is a certain confidence in the ability to predict in advance, from a quick perusal, how the recipe will taste. Granted there are times when unusual ingredients are paired together and the only solution is to prepare the dish and see how it tastes. But the real fun comes when a recipe with seemingly ordinary ingredients, simply combined, produces a result that is startling in its resulting unexpected flavors. Such was the case with this week's French Fridays With Dorie selection, Salmon en Papillote.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe, from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table, has just a few ingredients - salmon, tomatoes, basil, lemons, herbs (I used rosemary), scallions. Dorie shared the recipe on her blog, here.

- "en papillote" means in paper, and packets are often made of baking parchment. But, as Dorie explains, foil works just as well, and is actually easier to use. For company, however, nothing beats cutting into a paper packet and seeing the steam rise and catching a glimpse of the savory goodness within.

- My garden produced rather anemic basil. The leaves were small and I didn't have quite enough, so I filled in with Italian parsley.

- I seared the grape tomatoes in olive oil before adding to the packets

the verdict:

We were surprised - pleasantly! - at how well this recipe turned out. The ingredients worked together inside the sealed packets to produce a rich and savory broth, the kind that you want to lick off the place when the salmon is all gone.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

{TWD} Chocolate Chunk Muffins

The bakers of the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group had an intriguing assignment this week. The chosen recipe was for Chocolate Chunk Muffins which sound - and, from the picture in the cookbook, look - a lot like cupcakes. But Dorie Greenspan calls them muffins, and placed the recipe squarely in the middle of the "breakfast" section of the book, so we got a chance to see how a recipe with a bunch of chocolate nevertheless could be considered muffins.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- This week's muffin recipe was chosen by Bridget of The Way the Cookie Crumbles, and you can click over to her muffin post to get the recipe, along with a short course on the difference between cupcakes and muffins.

- I made half a batch of these muffins in my silicone 6-muffin pan.

- The recipe is easy, and the muffins came together quickly. I used dark cocoa powder and Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate baking pieces.

the verdict:

As the saying goes, "the proof of the pudding is in the eating," and after a personal taste test, my verdict is definitely "muffin." They were fluffy, tender, and on the cakey side of the muffin spectrum, but their open crumb, minimal sweetness and unmistakeable tang from the buttermilk ensured that they did not stray into cupcake territory. The random pockets of melted chocolate pieces were welcome little rewards. The muffins were perfect for breakfast or along with a cup of afternoon tea.