Wednesday, August 31, 2011

cheesecake ice cream

So pretty much all my ice cream recipes come David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop, which I received pretty much exactly a year ago from Tenli and Marie. I can't believe that this time last year I was still days away from getting my jaw unwired after five weeks of total misery. Compared to that, this summer was an absolute dream. A brand new job, plenty of sailing, a two week vacation in California and general good times in the city. I feel very blessed.

I made this ice cream as a housewarming gift for Jess and Kristen, who I have basically known my whole life, and their new roommate Janet, who is totally fun and awesome. Sadly, Kristen just moved out this past weekend, but revisiting this ice cream brings back plenty of good memories. I wish I had taken photos of the spectacular pizzas that Kristen made us with all these fancy Italian ingredients that Janet brought back from her job at a food importing company. A thing of beauty, and so delicious.

This ice cream wasn't QUITE as successful, but through no fault of the recipe. My container of kosher salt is mostly empty at this point, so I have to tip it pretty far over to get any out. Unfortunately, I tipped it a little too far and a little too fast, and wound up with MORE than a little too much salt. Whoops. I added some extra sugar to compensate, but it didn't really do the trick. I made Janet toss in some fresh cut strawberries to try and disguise the saltiness, and that actually helped a lot.

All the same, I'm going to have to have a do-over on this one. This ice cream is cinch to make, and it tastes incredibly rich and creamy, just like cheesecake. It deserves better than a salty slip of the hand.

Cheesecake Ice Cream, Philadelphia Style
(from David Lebovitz's One Perfect Scoop, published 2007)

8 ounces cream cheese
1 lemon
1 cup sour cream
½ cup half-and-half*
⅔ cup suar
pinch of salt

Cut the cream cheese into small pieces. Zest the lemon directly into a blender or food processor, then add the cream cheese, sour cream, half-and-half, sugar and salt, and purée until smooth.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator according to the manufacturer's instructions.

* I actually had some almond milk on hand, and that worked as a perfectly serviceable substitute. Of course, using a dairy free milk is almost laughable when the other primary ingredients in the dish are sour cream and cream cheese, but I suppose it would work in other ice cream recipes if you wanted to make them vegan.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

dal nirvana and chicken vindaloo

So I've tried making Indian food a one or two times in the past, but I didn't really do it up right. There are a lot of different spices common in Indian cuisine that I don't normally have around, and even though a little goes a long way for spices, they are always so expensive! As a result, my previous attempts always fell a little bit short. They were tasty, but not quite as flavorful as the genuine article.

This might have continued indefinitely had it not been for my lovely roommate Laura, who emailed me one day to say that she was making some spicy chicken vindaloo for our friend Matt, and would I like to join them? Well, I had a recipe for some lentil "dal nirvana" that I had been meaning to try, so I offered to make that to go with it.

Both of these dishes are pretty common examples of Indian cuisine, at least from what I've experienced of it. The chicken is cooked with potatoes and a spicy tomato and onion sauce. The lentils are boiled with tomatoes and Indian spices. This particular recipe appealed to me because it was finished with some cream and butter for added richness, and cilantro, which I pretty much love in anything. We decided to serve them both with white basmati rice.

Laura went all out for this dinner, which meant we had a new set of Indian spices to play with: coriander, cardamom, turmeric... we even ground up our own garem masala with cloves and pepper and stuff. It was pretty exciting. I particularly liked the smell of the coriander, which I had never smelt on its own before. It was really fragrant in a way I can't quite describe. A very clean, fresh scent, it was almost citrusy.

Laura and Matt tackled the chicken while I made the lentils. I was a little bit worried while they were making the sauce. The spicy pungent mixture was so pungent that I was literally crying when they threw the garlic, onions, tomatoes, fresh ginger and spices in the blender. Luckily, it mellowed on the stove, with all the thick paste cooking wayyyyy down so it was just coating the chicken and potatoes rather than drowning it. A little patience made it all possible.

Similarly, my lentils looked like soup in all the water and canned tomato juice, but after an hour on the stove it was nice and thick, infused with some extra garam masala which I took the liberty of adding.

I don't know if I'd say that the dal lived up to its nirvana name, but it was very, very tasty, and both dishes actually tasted like real deal Indian food. I was proud of us for making such an ethnic meal. Laura gets major kudos for springing for the exotic spices. And now we've got them on hand for any future Indian endeavors!

Monday, August 29, 2011

mac and cheese centerfold

So as I've mentioned in the past, Nathan really, really likes my mac and cheese. Honestly, I think he'd be perfectly happy if I made it for him once a week. Of course, between it being supremely unhealthy, particularly labor intensive and fairly expensive, I only make it a couple of times a year, most recently being April 19th, according to the time stamp on the photos.

It was a particularly good batch, rich and gooey, studded with some nice pork sausage. No where that I eat out seems to make mac and cheese quite the way I do, so I always enjoy my homemade rendition.

Of course, my fondness for Sarah-Cascone-brand macaroni and cheese pales in comparison to Nathan's obsession with it. In the interim between my semiannual renditions of the dish, he starts to get reaaaaaally antsy. And sure enough he's been starting to whine about how I never make him mac and cheese, accusing me of taking some sort of sick pleasure from withholding it. Needless to say, he's crazy!

However, that doesn't mean I'm necessarily going to make some more in the immediate future, so Nathan, and you, will have to make do with these photos for now. I know I can't hope to compare to the hard core food porn of some other blogs, but I think these certainly capture the gooey crunchy melty wonder that is Sarah Cascone's macaroni and cheese. Maybe, if you're lucky, you'll get to try it some day.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

hurricane bbq

Hey everyone. While I was holed up surviving Hurricane Irene, I was thinking about this blog and all the delicious yummy things that I've cooked this year that have yet to make an appearance here. This blog is supposed to function as a way for me to remember all my culinary experiences, so that I might look back for ideas, inspiration and to learn from less successful endeavors. And if other people like what I'm writing and cooking, all the better! Obviously, at my current blogging pace, I am not doing a very good job of any of that, but I still hope that can change.

The other thing I've been thinking about this weekend, is how much I am going to miss the summer, and how much I wish that we hadn't wasted the last weekend in August on a big fat hurricane. So unfortunate.

But that doesn't mean Nathan and I didn't try to make the best of it. This afternoon, as the rain came to an end and the sun even made a fleeting but welcome appearance, we cooked up a little barbeque:

Of course, when I say BBQ, I fully realize that any Southerner worth his salt would shoot us on sight for daring to call a hot dog cooked on the stove barbeque, but let's be real, I grew up on Long Island. A barbeque means hot dogs and hamburgers cooked on the grill, maybe some baked beans, coleslaw, corn on the cob, pasta and/or potato salad. So for me, a little tomato salad, deviled eggs, corn and a hot dog on a toasted bun is just what I think of when someone invites me over to a barbeque, and was the perfect way to fight cabin fever and the end of summer/hurricane blues.

Hope everyone has survived the rough weather, and that there are only sunny blue skies in store for our Labor Day Weekend!



Saturday, August 6, 2011

a tale of two carbonaras

I think if my first year of blogging taught me anything, it is that I really, really, REALLY like carbonara. I wrote about no less than FOUR different versions of the dish last year. Clearly we are talking about some serious carbonara love here.

There was my father's go-to recipe passed down from my Nona, a fancy version inspired by Joel Robouchon, one with basil and sweet corn and one with Japanese flair. These were all delicious in their own way, which only served to strengthen my appetite for carbonaras of all shapes and sizes, so to speak. As we had made my family's version, Nathan insisted we make his mom's recipe, which I believe she had gotten from a professor while she was in graduate school in Berkeley. I was, of course, more than happy to give it a try, provided I got a second chance to make mine.

Here we have the two dishes side by side. Nathan's is on the left, and if you look closely you can see it is just chock full of bacon, using about twice as much as I usually do. Mine is on the right, and the addition of non-traditional cream renders it noticeably creamier. Nathan's has onions, and mine has garlic, but they are still pretty similar to one another. I'd be happy to eat either version any day of the week, but I have to admit that I'm still slightly partial to the one I grew up with, and I'm sure Nathan feels the same.

I also have the recipes as written by my dad, Carl, and Nathan's mom, Tenli. I thought it would be fun to do a side by side of the recipes in their own words.

Tenli's Carbonara

For a pound of spaghetti or other pasta, approx 12 oz bacon or pancetta, diced fairly small.
1 medium onion, diced
1 large egg
freshly grated parmesan cheese
freshly grated pepper

Cook bacon in the bottom of a large saucepan until it starts to become crispy.
Add the onions and brown them in the bacon fat (mmm) until they are dark and caramelized. Keep an eye on things so the bacon and onions don't burn, as the grease will be very hot.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta (al dente, of course) and beat the egg lightly. When the pasta is ready, drain, and add to the saucepan with the bacon mixture, pour the egg in, and toss the whole thing well. Grate pepper over it to taste, and serve w/parmesan.

The Cascone's Carbonara

(1 or 2 servings)
– cut up bacon (¼ LB) – saute with (lots of garlic
– in bowl beat 1 egg with ~ 4 tbs milk/cream
– over cooked spaghetti – combine bacon (& some bacon oil) with egg and grated cheese and minced parsley
– [reserve some spaghetti water is too dry]

As you can see, the apple doesn't fall from the tree. I get my improvisational cooking style from my father, who probably got his from my Nona, the amazing cook behind this "recipe." With improvisation also comes the inability to describe my cooking process in any great detail. I think this recipe is written for a half pound of pasta? But I just asked my dad and he says that a half pound of bacon would be a lot for a pound of pasta, so who really knows. I think the main difference between the two recipes is really that my dad uses way way less bacon. Obviously, I freaking love bacon, but I think a little goes a long way.

Luckily, with a dish like this it is easy to get great results, even if you have to wing it a little bit. I think I've given you a number of excellent ways to make carbonara that you can really play around with. There's any number of ways to make this dish your own, and I hope you won't feel constrained by traditionalist recipes. I'd love to get my hands on some real guanciale and recreate the original Roman dish, but I'll never turn down a chance to try a new and creative variation, and I hope you won't either.

Friday, August 5, 2011

brunch for the girls

I can't believe I haven't blogged about this, one of my finest culinary moments of the year to date. Of course, I can hardly claim all the credit, as this was totally a joint effort. Back around Valentine's Day, Laura and hosted a brunch for a bunch of our girlfriends with a bunch of pink, sweet, girly food. In honor of Ms Leslie Knope, who provided the inspiration, I called it Galentine's Day. Don't you just love a cheesy portmanteau?

Now isn't that a picture perfect table? Do you like how I stuffed vases with tissue paper that I've saved rather than buying myself roses? You do? Yeah I thought it was pretty clever too.

And what do you see on that festive little table? A plethora of delicious treats! You can see that I made some chocolate covered strawberries, the Glazer girls brought those festively attired ginger muffins with the heart toothpicks, and Hannah brought a crazy good pound cake seen on the left. I think it had honey in it. The plate in the back is of cookies that DiDomenico brought, and the little green and white bag was full of coconut macaroons from Effie. Laura and I always have such generous guests.

This dish was our main course, a hearty savory breakfast dish to balance out all the sugar and sweetness to come. Eggs baked with onions, bacon, eggs, goat cheese and shredded beets, this was intentionally similar to the baked egg casserole I made for our marathon brunch. I made it with beets instead of squash partially because we always get beets from the food co-op, and they are always the last thing that we end up cooking, but also partially because I thought the pink beets would be appropriately festive.

Aside from the eggs, Laura came up with and prepared most of our menu when she found a great article about hosting a tea in the New York Times. The author's suggestion was to have a nice refined tea party in lieu of partaking in the Super Bowl festivities. Now, I'm all for tea parties and girly things, (although I actually quite dislike tea, the accoutrements are great), but I love me some organized sports as well, so we watched the game and hosted brunch/tea the next weekend.

Laura made these delightful tea sandwiches with an herb caper lemon butter, cucumber and radishes. So elegant.

We teamed up to make whole wheat crumpets with blood orange and meyer lemon marmalade and clotted cream. I bough special heart shaped cookie cutters because I am super adorable.

The "clotted cream" was a delicious and super easy mix of mascarpone and heavy cream, whipped together. Very rich, and very tasty, as were the crumpets, but the sweet and tangy marmalade was easily the best part, in large part because it's one of those things where you're just like "Wow, I can make that myself?!"

Finishing out the meal were these champagne floats with homemade strawberry ice cream. And then we watched Sleepless in Seattle. Does it get any more delightfully girly than that?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

dover sole and bok choy with rice and a citrusy sauce

Sometimes I amaze myself by throwing together a meal based solely on what's on sale at the grocery store. Growing up, my favorite television program, (note that I said favorite television program, not favorite tv show, and you'll realize how deep seated my food fixation is) was The Frugal Gourmet. Therefore, I get a little kick out of being able to make something both delicious AND affordable. DISCLAIMER: I know that Jeff Smith turned out to be a pervert, which sucks, but that doesn't diminish what a great combination "frugal" and "gourmet" are.

This was a meal that I picked up at Whole Foods, based entirely off the sale flyer at the entrance. I have to say, I often time get great deals at the fish counter there. As long as you're not wedded to any particular type of seafood, you're likely to find some sort of bargain, especially if you're only cooking for one and need less than a full pound. On the occasion, my shopping excursion went particularly well: Dover sole for $5 a pound? Dirt cheap oranges? Bok choi? It was like the world's easiest Chopped basket.

I marinated the sole filets in a mixture of ginger, garlic, lemon and orange zest and juice, seasoning with a light hand. Ginger is a great thing to keep in the freezer. Peel it before it and store in a tightly sealed plastic bag, and you can grate a little bit off any time you want that gingery zing. Super convenient.

The bok choi I washed off and then tossed in a pan over medium heat. I didn't dry it off, and just let it sautee in the leftover water, plus a little soy sauce. As it started to wilt, I tossed in my fish and then covered the pan for just a minute or two. I served it all over rice.

It was very citrusy, so I'd warn you to use a careful hand with the zest, but otherwise it was quite tasty and easy to boot.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

cumin lamb stir fry/melted leeks

Sometimes it's good to make something a little different, and when you work until 6:00, it's good if that something different is also something EASY. That's where Mark Bittman comes in, with his seemingly endless supply of fast, cheap, tasty meals from all across the globe.

Nathan picked out this particular dish from Bittman's last Bitten column, in which the writer had compiled a list of his 25 favorite recipes published over the years. It's a damn good reference and I really should look to it more when trying to decide what to make.

I don't do a lot of stir frying, so that made this Asian inspired lamb dish a bit of a departure for me from the start. When I cook meat, it's more often than not on the bone, or cut into large steaks or filets. Here, the lamb shoulder is cut into cubes, which is a great way to cut down on cooking time in the evening.

So far so good, for sure, but fairly boring I'll admit. What makes this dish exciting is the bold flavors that come from toasted cumin seeds, scallions, cilantro and red chili pepper flakes. The lamb should marinate with the cumin and red pepper, garlic and soy sauce before being cooked briefly over high heat with the scallions. It tastes great over rice and is ready in minutes.

I served it with some leeks that I tried to caramelize. They were good, but Bittman's lamb was certainly the star.

Monday, August 1, 2011

scallops with avocado, tomato, scallions and cilantro

Every time a new month rolls around, I remind myself to write a blog post. It stems from the hope that I'll be able to blog every day for a month, like I did twice last year, but I don't really have it in me these days.

Anyway, I have a great summery dish for you today: scallops, avocado, scallions, lime, tomatoes and cilantro, all served up in a giant cocktail glass. This is actually something my mother usually brings to Christmas Eve dinner as one of the compulsory fish courses, and the picture below is from last year's celebration. My brother's godmother, Julie, has this fabulous giant cocktail glass that she serves this in every year, but you could just as easily use individual margarita glasses or make due with less flashy bowls. Even though it's part of our Christmas tradition, I want to share this with you all now as the ingredients certainly lend themselves to warm weather. I definitely would love to make this with the summer tomato crop!

A cold seafood salad of sorts, this is almost akin to ceviche, although the scallops are briefly cooked before being doused in citrus. What makes it a likely choice for hot weather its ease of preparation. As long as you don't mind a fair bit of chopping, this dish is a breeze– with less than two minutes of actual cooking time, you won't even have to break a sweat. Once the scallops have been simmered, you just toss it all together for a bright, colorful and delicious dish.

Scallop-Avocado Appetizer

(from USA Weekend, Eat Smart, by Jean Carpenter, 2006)

1 pound dry-pack small bay scallops (preferably those that have not been frozen)
1 cup chopped tomato
1 cup sliced green onions
1 avocado, cubed
1 cup chopped cilantro
6 tbsp fresh lime juice (two lies)
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp hot pepper flakes, or to taste
¼ tsp salt, or two taste

In a small pan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add scallops, reduce heat and simmer 1½ minutes– do not overcook. Drain and refrigerate for 2 hours. Combine all ingredients. Serve in cocktail glasses.