Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Life Long Love Affair

I love ice cream. I mean, I love it. I was snacking on a box of mint chocolate chip the other day and that thought popped in to my head. I LOVE ice cream. I love ice cream so much I would marry it. If I were on death row I’d want 5 boxes of it for my last meal. Really, it’s probably why I don’t really care for other desserts; how could you when it kind of feels like cheating? Seriously, why go on a date with David Duchovny when you’ve got Dave Grohl at home?

Strawberry and mint chocolate chip have a tie for first place, followed by peach, pistachio, peppermint stick, Cherry Garcia, banana, vanilla and lemon. In spite of my unconditional love I do have rules for ice cream. Ice cream cannot be the flavor chocolate; any flavor chocolate. Ice cream cannot contain any candy unless it is the aforementioned peppermint stick or chocolate chips. Ice cream cannot contain cookies, cakes, pies, fudge, carmel, marshmallow, jelly or any synthetic ooze. It cannot have a name that sounds like something unappetizing you might find accidentally stuck to the bottom of your shoe, Moose Tracks, for instance. The only thing that shall adorn my ice cream shall be jimmies (or the truly shameful, please don’t tell anyone, Magic Shell). And while I’m airing my dirty secrets, really there isn’t anything more decadent (and fun!) than pouring the Magic Shell directly into the box of ice cream and eating your way through layer after layer.

I can list the ice cream stores in different states I’ve been to and which flavor I ate. If you come to my house and I actually serve you a dessert that isn’t a glass of wine there’s an 85% chance that dessert will involve ice cream. If I could keep my yap shut on childhood trips Ocean City minimizing the “Are we there yet?”s, I was treated to the ever elusive peppermint stick ice cream at the HoJo. I used to race home from the bus stop to sit on the heater vent in the middle of winter and eat ice cream everyday after middle school. My preferred brand was Bryer’s. My first job was scooping ice cream, of course. I was so devoted I managed to move up from conehead to fountain girl quickly. My sister and I have the same birthday. My step-mom always got us the same exact cake for our birthdays - Baskin Robbins ice cream cake with white cake with chocolate chip ice cream. We had this up until birthdays 30 & 25. I could tell thousands of ice cream stories.

Oddly, I’ve never made my own ice cream. The kids took it upon themselves to rectify that situation and bestowed on me an ice cream maker for my birthday.

Blueberry Lime Zest Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups cream

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 cup sugar

1 pint blueberries

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 large egg yolks

zest of 3 limes

1 cup water

Combine the water and 1/4 cup sugar in a pot bring to a boil, add lime zest and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Strain and reserve the zest. Combine the milk, cream and 1/2 cup sugar and heat on the stove to 175 degrees strain through a fine mesh sieve. Combine egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar, whisk until thickened. Add milk and cream slowly to the eggs, whisking the entire time. Add the vanilla and return the mixture to the stove and heat to 180 degrees. Strain again. Cool to room temperature then fully cool in refrigerator. When cool add the custard and blueberries to a blender and blend until combined. Finely mince the lime zest. Place the custard in the ice cream maker and run as directed, 3 minutes prior to completion, add in 1.5 teaspoons of the lime zest. Pour in a container and freeze overnight.

Notes: The ice cream recipe comes from I added the lime zest based on a recipe for blueberries with lime zest confit and creme fraiche from the Les Halles cookbook.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Long before Jim and I were romantically involved we worked together at very straight-laced firm chock full of rules and regulations as large, successful firms are wont to have. They even had a large book of rules, although they referred to it as the Employee Handbook. One of the rules or standards was that everyone was addressed by their initials. If someone in the long history of this firm previously had your initials well, quite simply, they assigned you new ones. Your parents have no say in this matter. Sometimes one managing partner would not even call me by my name; I was just simply TMG and he’d address me as such to my face. Your initials served as the backbone for locating you, on the office map, your email address and really almost anything related to your employment there; more so than your social security number. But mainly your initials served as a way to receive all sorts of imperative inter-office garbage: magazines articles, specifications for review, new rules, your mail. Jim and I still have fun with this, occasionally depositing funny stories, a horrifying $450 electric bill, or whatever quietly placed on each other’s office chair with one set of initials and an arrow pointing at the other set of initials. We may even address a Christmas gift this way. We giggle like kids with this game. I know it doesn’t sound very funny, but we’re childish.

Oddly, and in spite of my disdain, I still use these pigeon-holing methods for organization in a serious manner. In the very back of my red book (my personal cookbook, the one I have previously referred to as the book of lists) past all the recipes, the menus, the lists of appetizers and the scraps of recipes not yet made is another list titled ‘Things JPY likes’. Beneath that title and scrawled over onto the next page is the ever evolving list of dishes I make that make Jim shout ‘Eureka!’. It is cross-referenced in the red book with fifth-grade-worthy hearts scrawled in the margins of recipes with the notation ‘JPY ‘hearts’. Jim professes to like almost everything I make, but sometimes if a dish really strikes him, he will express his extreme satisfaction with an eye roll while saying ‘Baby, this is really good.’ Now he just says ‘You can put that on the list.’ The list of things TMG makes that JPY likes.

So from the list of tasty items JPY ‘hearts’, from me, TMG, to you and your initials. Happy breakfast, enjoy.

Breakfast Polenta with Linguica - Serves 2

1 cup cream

2 cups water

1/2 cup polenta

1 tablespoon butter

salt + pepper

1 Linguica sausage

1 tablespoon rosemary chopped

4 eggs

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Combine the water and cream in a sauce pan and bring to a boil but do not let it over boil. Whisk in the polenta and two large pinches of salt. Simmer the polenta for about 25 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent lumps from forming. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a skillet and add the sausage and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the sausage and slice in to 1/4” rounds. Add the rosemary to the pan, fry until fragrant and slightly crispy, about 1-2 minutes.

Fill a wide pan with about 2” of water and add the vinegar; bring to a simmer. Crack the eggs in to small bowls or ramekins. Tip the bowl with the egg slowly in to the simmering water so the water comes in to the bowl to take the egg out to sea like the tide. Repeat with the other eggs. Using a slotted spoon, gently redirect the egg around itself in the water. Allow the water to return to a simmer and simmer 2-3 minutes. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon or pasta claw and drain on paper towels.

Remove the polenta from the heat, stir in the butter, adjust salt and add pepper. Spoon the polenta into two warm bowls, top each with the sausage slices and two poached eggs, sprinkle fried rosemary and smoked paprika on top.

Notes: Instead of sausage I have also previously used a few ounces of chopped pancetta.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cult Following (AKA the 100 hour meal)

So Jim got me the Momofuku cookbook. My sister had warned that it was un-cookable, an unfriendly and over-involved cookbook. Jim has been hot to eat at Noodle Bar for years and since he has not yet had the opportunity and with no trip to New York planned anytime soon he hopped over to the bookstore. He happened to open the cookbook to a page with recipes for refrigerator pickles and thought to himself ‘this is easy’. He brought it home, presented it to me as a gift and got excited about our new project together.

Our project began this week. I’ll start by saying David Chang makes Thomas Keller look like a complete amateur when it comes to the number of sub-recipes you must make to produce a dish. His bowl of ramen = 10 sub-recipes. Not joking. Not smiling either. And we purchased the noodles and the fish cake. So since I spent this week frantically putting in half of the work for the following items: appetizer, entree and dessert I am going to blog about it based on man labor hours. You will forgive me.

Mr. Chang and Ms. Tosi have also managed to create a ripple of emotions as well. We argued at the grocery store about ingredients while trying to translate Chinese based on bottle shape. Disappointment, frustration and good old fashioned anger when the sub-recipe for praline paste (followed to the letter!) seized the food processor. Joy, the smell of bacon, pig bones and chicken bubbling away for 6 hours. Bewilderment, the recipe for the Korean red dragon sauce brought, instead, the red dragon’s less attractive cousin, the Korean brown dragon sauce.

So, just to clarify, that’s 2 people + 5 days = 1 meal. We produced the rice cakes with red/brown dragon sauce, Chang’s legendary ramen and Tosi’s iconic cereal milk with chocolate hazelnut thing. The verdict? I feel like David Chang treated me like an over zealous intern. Was it good? Yes. Was it worth the effort? Hell no. As my friend Kasia, who has eaten at Noodle Bar, put it ‘Heck, you both could have eaten at there 3x for the same expense.’ And there you go. Some things are better left to other people.

While Mr. Chang won’t be figuratively bending me over any surfaces again anytime soon I would make an exception for Ms. Tosi and her cereal milk panna cotta. I found it to be a very special dish, really tasty, certainly something I have never had before and something I want to eat again. It took me two tries to make this thing successfully and I ended up having better success with recipe for dummies on the NYTimes website rather than the one in the cookbook. Now, I realize offering changes for such a thing is heresy but I am simply offering my opinion. Here it is: I would reduce the salt in the panna cotta, offer the addition of a little vanilla and please, don’t try to press the avocado puree through a sieve, it’s like putting a square peg in a round hole.

Cereal Milk Panna Cotta with Chocolate Hazelnut Thing and Avocado Puree - Serves 6

Cereal Milk Panna Cotta

6 cups corn flakes

3 cups milk

2 cups cream

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 packets gelatin powder

Pre-heat the oven to 300. Put the corn flakes on a baking sheet. Toast corn flakes in the oven for 15 minutes or until slightly golden. Combine the milk and cream in a large bowl, add the warm corn flakes and let steep for 45 minutes. Strain the corn flakes by pouring the mixture through a sieve and pressing on the corn flakes to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the corn flakes (or as Chang suggests, eat them). Add the vanilla, salt and sugar, microwave (yes, microwave) on half power for 1 1/2 minutes until the sugar has dissolved, stir to combine. Remove 1/4 cup of the custard batter and place in a bowl, sprinkle the gelatin on top and let it rest for 5 minutes. Once it has bloomed return it to the bowl and whisk it in until it has dissolved as well, this takes a while. Pour the custard into the 6 bowls (making sure the gelatin gets n to every ramekin or bowl) and allow it to set in the refrigerator over night. To serve top with avocado puree and a chunk of the chocolate hazelnut thing.

Chocolate Hazelnut Thing

1/4 cup praline paste

1/3 cup Nutella

1 tablespoon semi-sweet chocolate

1/2 teaspoon corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon neutral oil (they say grape seed, I used vegetable)

2 tablespoons caramelized cornflakes

Place everything in a bowl and microwave on 10 second intervals, stirring until completely melted and combined. Spread baking sheet with a silpat or waxed paper press the corn flakes in to the warm chocolate and place in the freezer to set. Once set break up into random chunks and store in the refrigerator. If making the caramelized corn flakes is the one step that takes you over the edge then I say skip it and just press in some regular old corn flakes.

Praline Paste

Chang and Tosi say you can purchase this, I have never seen it, but I would advocate buying it, not making it. If you must make it, do not follow the instructions in the cookbook.

1/2 cup hazelnuts toasted

1/2 cup sugar

1 pinch kosher salt

Toast the hazelnuts then put them in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Remove and place in a bowl. Heat the sugar over medium-low heat. Once it starts to caramelize stir it to combine until it has fully turned to carmel. Combine with the hazelnuts, work quickly!

Caramelized Corn Flakes

3/4 cup corn flakes

3 tablespoons non-fat dry milk powder

1 tablespoon sugar

3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Place the corn flakes in a bowl and break up with your hands, crushing them about 8 times. Pre-heat the oven to 300. Toss the corn flakes with the remaining ingredients. Spread on a baking sheet lined with either a silpat or parchment paper. Place in the oven and bake for about 35 minutes or until golden brown. Store at room temperature.

Avocado Puree

1 ripe avocado, chilled for an hour

1 pinch sugar

1 pinch salt

Juice of 1/2 a small lemon

Combine the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Place in the refrigerator with plastic wrap covering and touching the puree until ready to use.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Perfect Couple

Pie and ice cream, a grilled cheese and tomato soup, steamed crabs and beer, ice cold milk and an Oreo cookie, some things were meant to be and their marriage truly endures the test of time. Maybe we forget to celebrate the simplicity? Which brings me to this question? When was the last time you had prosciutto and melon? Been awhile? It’s a perfect combination. It is silly to print a recipe for such a thing, it’s ham and cantaloupe. But if you must know, I usually cut ours away from the rind, sprinkle it with a tiny bit of sea salt, drape it with two pieces of prosciutto and then I drizzle it with about a half a teaspoon of the very Italian agave nectar and half a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil.

I remember my first prosciutto e melone. When I was 8 my Dad was involved with an Italian woman with the mutually exclusive large Italian family. She always hosted the family Christmas Eve dinner and the menu was always the same. We had antipasto, prosciutto and melon prosciutto and melon, French onion soup in copper pots topped with muenster cheese, ravioli, some sort of meat that obviously I was not interested in, a salad, dessert with coffee and anisette and After Eight mints. She was perennially teased about the salad, due to the number of guests she would run the lettuce through the rinse and spin cycles of the washing machine. Maybe the ham and melon seemed exotic, but mainly the appeal is that it is salty AND sweet, no different than the deliciousness that is a chocolate covered pretzel.

In all seriousness, I’m not just going to give you a recipe for prosciutto and melon, I’ve added a couple more items. This salad came from one of those stone soup moments that really many awesome dishes arise from. We had a delicious cantaloupe, the kind that you consume over the sink because you can’t wait to get it on a plate and it just tastes better when the juice runs down your chin. Also, we didn’t have enough ham for full blown prosciutto and melon and we had a heart of romaine that needed to be consumed and some goat cheese floating around in the meat drawer. I’ll admit goat cheese is cheating. Much like bacon or truffle oil, you could put any of them on a cardboard square and have a tasty, eco-friendly canape. But that’s what we had and mid-bite Jim said ‘Ummm, write this down on the list of things I like.’ So I did before I forgot what went in, which is what usually happens.

Prosciutto and Melon Salad with Goat Cheese and Agave Nectar - Serves 2

1 heart of romaine chopped thinly equal to about 2 cups

1 oz. prosciutto - chopped

1.5 oz. goat cheese - crumbled

1/2 cup chopped cantaloupe

1 teaspoon agave nectar

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Chop the lettuce and dress with oil, vinegar and agave nectar, toss with remaining ingredients.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Watermelon Pickle

It’s amazing how things you have totally forgotten can come back instantly when someone puts the right words together. I immediately was transported straight to the 7th grade today when someone on a food website asked ‘Can you pickle watermelon?’ Yes, you can, and there is a wonderful poem by John Tobias that goes with it and you can’t do one without reading the other. I very much remember the first time I had watermelon pickle.

Miss Seidel was our 7th grade English teacher and she was from the South, Alabama I think, which was foreign enough to us. She was everything cool about the 80s. Our 7th grade class was her first year at our very strict private school. She was in her early twenties, she had an asymmetric haircut, she wore funky clothes and made jewelry. She was confident, educated and too hip for the burgh of Baltimore. She was everything my stodgy all girls school was not. Who hired her? The other teachers shopped from the LL Bean catalog and clearly only refreshed their wardrobes every decade. They looked like line backers in skirts. They had been there for 40 years and would be there for another 40. They lived and socialized in the same snobby, blue-blooded, wood paneled station wagon neighborhood that the school was and is located in.

Miss Seidel was like a beautiful bird in a burned out forest. She was friendly. She was one of those teachers. The ones that inspire you and make you want to work beyond what is required of you. We idolized her, even stalked her to her apartment one day for a surprise visit. She didn’t flinch; she buzzed us in and served us iced tea. Of course her apartment was cool, filled with awesome vintage finds that someone her age should not have had the time to collect just yet. She was like Molly Ringwald and Madonna, combined, only cooler and real.

One day Miss Seidel brought in a jar of watermelon pickle a family member had sent her. She said she had not had any in a while, maybe since she was a kid and was curious about it herself. None of us has ever seen a watermelon pickle before, let alone had any relatives that canned things. She explained its southern provenance, that It is the rind pickled, sour and sweet. She then read us John Tobias’ poem Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle from a Friend Called Felicity. I remember this clearly. Then she passed out chunks of the watermelon pickle on toothpicks. And instantly, John Tobias’ poem became my memory of watermelon pickle. Why hadn’t I had watermelon pickle for this beautiful memory? Well, I did now, and I was not going to let it go. To this day I’ll talk like I’ve been eating watermelon pickle my whole life.

Miss Seidel only lasted 1 year at our school. The bird had to fly. Every time I hear the words watermelon pickle I think of her. The poem she read us sums up how I feel about watermelon, summer and the childhood memories associated with both. Now, after all that, I have to admit, I do not have a watermelon pickle recipe to amaze you with, but, David Chang does. I can offer a you a watermelon salad recipe. But read the poem and pretend you’ve been eating watermelon pickle your whole life.

Watermelon Salad (serves 12 as a side dish)

1/2 small watermelon, cubed

1 Kirby cucumber, chopped

1/2 a jicama, cubed

2 jalapenos, minced

2 limes


3/4 cup herbs (I use basil, mint, cilantro and chives)

Combine the first four ingredients, squeeze lime juice on top and toss with herbs abd salt. Serve cold.