Sunday, August 26, 2007

Figuring it out

Not having power for 67 hours gave me time to do some thinking.

Actually, I'll be honest. That had very little to do with the thinking. I was walking home from the store this morning with aseptically-packaged milk and some figs, and instead of paying attention to where I was going, I was thinking about, well, a lot of stuff.

One being, why do I have a blog?
I suppose that Just My Dinner is the only thing I do that can not be classified as a chore or schoolwork, no matter how hard you try. Cooking, well, everyone has to eat, and that is just about my only other hobby.
This also serves as an organizational tool. Without it, if I lost the scratch piece of paper I scrawled random ingredient measurements without any details on it for the almond-cherry cheesecake ice cream I made last week, I wouldn't be able to make it again, which I will probably be doing since my dad's friend called to tell me I should. Make it again that is, not lose my papers. He also told me it was runny and he had to freeze it, so I'm sure how much of it he'd had when he said that. We gave it to him since it had been slowly melting in our freezer over the 29 hours before we gave it to him. It seemed like a better plan than throwing it out.

The other reason being that this is my creative outlet. It allows me to, for however small of an audience, display my "work". Mostly, I just like looking back at it, especially when wanting to make something familiar, and it gives me a chance to flex my finger muscles. No, seriously. I quit playing the piano when I was ten; this really is my finger workout. I don't write much, or at least very little for myself anymore, like I used to when I was in fourth or fifth grade. In seventh grade, when I started my first blog, I wrote little. And it was a recount of my day, almost like a diary lacking those details a person would want to remember looking back at it, because I feared a crazy stalker.

When I went to Iran last summer, I temporarily abandoned my blog in favor a newer one just for that purpose. I felt less restricted, it had no history to tie it down and I was freer. Mom said my history teacher had rubbed off on me and I was writing better. I still think I ramble like I'm trying to cover the state in roads, but maybe it has gotten better.

Now, this is the only blog I tend to, and when I'm pressed for time or ideas, or just sleepy, it is evident. The posts are short and dull. Usually those are ones that I've meant to be so rich, writing them in my head as I walk home from the store or school or take far too long in the shower because I forget to wash my hair because I'm so enraptured by the post I'm mentally writing in my head. Of course, by the time I make it to a computer, I've long forgotten it. Much like this post. I wrote it this morning around nine o'clock, but I'm not quite sure what I meant to say.

This is longer than I've meant it to be. And is missing half of what I wanted to say. But we now have our power back. And lots of thawed meat. Not to mention that school is back in session and back pain is once again upon me. Enjoy these days of summer, and if you want something cool to eat, I really do recommend the almond-cherry cheesecake ice cream. Even though I only had a scoop of it before we lost power in the nasty storm on Thursday.

And no, those figs have no recipe attached to them. I was just excited to see some semi-affordable ones and my hopes were dashed by the blandness. But what did I expect. This is the midwest.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

First Day of School With A Cherry On Top

Recipe updated and notes added 1 Sept. 2007 and 2 Sept. 2007
Before I put the batch of ice cream in the ice cream machine this evening, I did homework for three hours. Yes, did, not completed.
And it is only the first day of school. A shortened day of school.

Maybe I should be worried. But it's hard to worry when a cold, creamy dessert is awaiting, with a hint of a pale pink swirl and dots of graham crackers amid tawny specks of toasted almonds (though maybe that's just the pink playing with me.)

The only drawback is this ice cream with a twang, I mean tang, is just a tad bit too sweet for my liking. But mom thinks it is just right. (I ran out of sugar while making it.)

Also, I'm currently in a stage where weights are the nicest measures because they allow for laziness and no scooping or leveling with sugar and flours, so I've embraced them, though I'm trying to be nice and use measures too, but really, I'm lazy.
Mallets really do come in handing for chopping nuts too.

Almond Cherry Cheesecake Ice Cream

loosely adapted from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book by Bruce Weinstein
makes about a quart

3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon (14 g) brown sugar
4 ounces (115 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 graham cracker sheets (45 g)†
1/2 cup (85 g) whole almonds, toasted and chopped (or hit with a does the job)
1/2 cup (120 g) sour cherry preserves* OR 1 cup (200 g) pitted tart/sour cherries, drained**

additional almonds and sour cherry preserves (optional), to serve

Beat the sugar and the cream cheese together until smooth and creamy. Beat in the egg and almond extract. Set aside.

Meanwhile bring the milk to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Slowly beat the hot milk into the cheese mixture and pour entire mixture back into pan. Place over low heat and whisk constantly until thickens slightly, about 10 minutes, making sure not to let the mixture come to a boil. (For those who are ready to probe it with a thermometer, the temperature to cook custards to is 170F or 77C. Just don't let it go over 180F or 79C.) Remove from heat and pour through a strainer into a large, clean bowl. Let cool slightly and stir in heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours or overnight.

Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. About 5 minutes before done freezing, add almonds and broken bits of graham crackers. Add half of cherry preserves. When ice cream is done, stir in remaining cherry preserves. Place in freezer for at least an hour to harden.

*Our sour cherry preserves, or marabaye abaloo, are homemade. The cherries are whole and in a syrup, so cooking down cherries with lots of sugar and a bit of water will probably yield similar results. I'm not sure what is available at stores involving cherries since I've never bought any, or at least not that I remember buying.
** The second time I made this, I used cherries that had been cooked with sugar and then frozen, the juices reserved and cooked down into a syrup separately. This would probably be easier to replicate, using cherry pie filling that the cherries have been picked out of, or canned pitted cherries. Frozen cherries could work, but it would not be as sweet. Maybe one day I'll try it with one of those to see if it works, but I'm thinking if I run out of cherries I'd just make a different sort of ice cream. Though it is tasty...
If you prefer ice cream with more chunks in every bite and are a bit overwhelmed by all the almond, then use5 (75 g) graham cracker sheets, and 1/3 cup (50g) toasted almonds instead of the amounts called for. I'm still on the fence about the reduced almonds, but I definitely like the increase in graham crackers.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Cookies and (Ice) Cream, Brown and Purple

Last month, I made the plum ice cream from David Lebowitz's book, The Perfect Scoop.
A few days ago, looking for the recipe for cookie dough, I came across the recipe for Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies. He suggested them with the plum ice cream, which Mom had liked, so I decided to give them a try.

And now I've decided to praise the book, much like many others already have. Their praise may have been most of the reason I picked up the book to start with... and now I understand why.

And not only were the ice cream sandwiches easy to make (and the oatmeal cookies the perfect thin chewy cookie), they were tasty!

Plum Ice Cream Sandwiches
adapted from The Perfect Scoop
Makes about 1 quart

1 lb (450 g) plums
1/3 cup (80 ml) water
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (180 g) sugar
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon Triple Sec
18 Large Oatmeal Cookies

Cut plums, remove pits, and cut each plum into eighths. Combine plums and water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, 8 minutes, or until plums are soft. Remove from heat and stir in sugar and let cool.
Once cool, using an immersion blender, or working in batches, puree plum mixture with cream and liqueur.
Chill until thoroughly chilled, 4 hours or overnight.
Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturers directions.

Once frozen, sandwich ice cream (about 1/2 cup) between two cookies. Store in freezer until ready to serve.

Large Oatmeal Cookies
adapted from The Perfect Scoop
makes 18 cookies

2/3 cup (90 g) whole-wheat pastry flour*
1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
6 tablespoons (90 g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (150 g) rolled oats (also called old-fashioned)
1/2 cup (80 g) raisins
3 tablespoons (45 mL) whole milk
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line several baking sheets (about 3) with parchment paper or silpats.

Whisk together flour, sugars, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in large mixing bowl, breaking up lumps of brown sugar. Stir in oats and raisins.

Make a well in the center, then pout in the oil, milk, and egg. Whisk together and then stir into the batter until smooth.

Drop heaping tablespoons, about 6, evenly spaced on each baking sheet. Spread the batter with the back of a spoon, making each circle about 2 to 3 inches wide.
Bake the cookies for about 8-10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets after about midway through baking. Remove from the oven and let cool.

*I made the first batch with all-purpose, which is what the recipe originally called for.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I Hope He Screams For Ice Cream

I remember when I was eight or nine years old going with my neighbor to pick up a mint-chocolate chip ice cream cake at a local ice cream parlor. The cake was for her son's birthday party that afternoon, and I remember how happy he was with the cake since he was in the minority of kids who didn't really like icing.

His birthday is tomorrow, and while he's twice as old as he was then, there are some things that don't change (though it really hasn't been all that long): don't bother him during a Cubs game, and it is always a safe bet to offer him ice cream. While I'm not sure if mint-chocolate chip ice cream is still his favorite, it's a good bet.

Of course, though, I couldn't stop at just mint-chocolate chip ice cream. That would be too boring of a gift, and probably no tastier, or even less so, than that from the ice cream parlor nearby.
Poring through a stack of books, I was determined to find THE recipe. After placing torn pieces of paper in quite a few pages and looking over them once again, ruling out those with fresh mint (too much of a risk it could turn out bitter) or a dozen eggs (I wasn't planning on making meringues any time soon - though I guess I could have used it as an excuse to make marshmallows), I chose the mint-chip variation of a cheesecake ice cream recipe. It looked easy to make, and one I was willing to actually follow. Plus, now I can make a label with the word "cake", which makes it so much more fitting for a birthday.

Mint Chip Cheesecake Ice Cream
adapted from Cheesecake Ice Cream by Bruce Weinstein in The Ice Cream Book
makes about 3 cups

1 cup sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 graham cracker sheets, crumbled
3 1/2 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, or 1/2 cup chocolate chips (or both, for texture)

Beat the sugar and the cream cheese together until smooth and creamy. Beat in the egg and peppermint extract. Set aside.

Meanwhile bring the milk to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Slowly beat the hot milk into the cheese mixture and pour entire mixture back into pan. Place over low heat and whisk constantly until thickens slightly, about 10 minutes, making sure not to let the mixture come to a boil. (For those who are ready to probe it with a thermometer, the temperature to cook custards to is 170F or 77C. Just don't let it go over 180F or 79C.) Remove from heat and pour through a strainer into a large, clean bowl. Let cool slightly and stir in heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours or overnight.

While the custard is chilling, if making chocolate chunks (optional, you could use chocolate chips instead), melt the chocolate and pour on waxed paper in an even layer. Let cool and break into pieces.

Stir the chilled custard and freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. If your ice cream maker allows for things to be poured in during the freezing process, add the graham crackers and chocolate during the last few minutes of freezing, or after the ice cream is semifrozen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

So Much For My Integrity

A few months ago I learned I had a skill: taking a box of Pillsbury cake mix and coming out with a nice light-textured and fluffy cake. Today I found out, I still have it.

While I've always thought of cake mixes as foolproof, they really aren't. Especially not, if like me when I was little, you followed the directions exactly as written (all the way down to the Crisco oil suggested), with the exception of using a dark cake pan. That cake pan bit me in the butt and I'd come out with dark and overbaked cakes. Though usually they were cupcakes, and slathered in icing, nobody really cared.

Things have changed since then. More accurately (and important in regards to this) is that I've changed. I've realized that muffins from a mix are not much easier than making them from scratch, and taste far too much like cake, and that time is merely a suggestion, not a law to strictly abide by. Which is why it surprises me that I had cake mix on hand. Or more accurately, 1/3 of a box of white cake mix.

There is a reason behind that. It traces back to June (when I discovered above mentioned talent) when I made a cake for my closure project for history. It had to be edible, and I am not creative at connecting things to history and could not decide what to do... so I finally decided to make a standard oil cake to represent horizontal integration. The outside was dull and monotonous and all white and dull. Until you cut into it (which I did as part of my presentation). I sliced across the length of the cake allowing a side to collapse to the side. Once I did that, there were brown, pink, and white sections hidden behind the starkness and command of the icing, showing what used to be.
And then my cake got lots of compliments, which blew me away, because I did what most high schoolers would have done: I used the cheapest cake mix I could find (lucky for me, it was on sale that week) and followed the directions to mix it together, assembled my long flat cakes and covered them with a store bought classic-white icing out of a jar. The cake wasn't even one of those gorgeous cakes with pretty decorations. It was uneven, completely white with some ivory from when I ran out of icing and the store ran out of classic white and I had to use vanilla. It was not something I was particularly proud of from a food perspective.

I saved the leftover cake mix, just because I couldn't bring myself to toss something that had garnered so many compliments even if I was against it. And on Saturday, I finally figured out what to do with it.

My dad's cousin made a cake out of doctored yellow cake mix with bananas and apples and orange blossom water. Which made me think:a tropical cake with bananas, pineapple, and flaked coconut on top. (I'm not always sure how my brain makes these connections.) And that is exactly what I did.

While I'm not sure if anyone would ever want to make this again, it is quite yummy, even if it is against my scratch-made standards and controlling every ingredient way of thinking.
Pineapple-Banana Cake
makes 1 small 9x5 cake

1/3 box (Pillsbury) white cake mix (about 6 ounces)
5 and a few drops teaspoons oil
1/3 cup water
1 egg
1 cup drained pineapple chunks (about 15)
1 small banana, halved lengthwise and sliced
1/4 cup flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9x5 loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, beat together cake mix, oil, water, and egg for about two minutes and smooth. Stir in banana and pour enough of batter into prepared pan to coat bottom. Scatter pineapple chunks over batter in pan and top with remaining batter. Smooth and sprinkle top with flaked coconut. Bake for about 28 minutes, or until cake springs back when lightly touched.

Cool in pan for 5 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely or serve warm.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

They're More Mellow in Yellow

Yesterday I was thrilled to find yellow tomatoes at the market. I don't mean heirloom tomatoes, but just your "ordinary" every day tomato in yellow, whatever that "ordinary" tomato may be. I'm not exactly a tomato aficionado. In fact, this may come as a surprise considering how often I eat them, but I am not much a tomato person. I've been slowly growing to like them, but sometimes it still depends on the day and the tomato. I'm not sure if these tomatoes were flavorless, or just milder, but I liked them. They were bright yellow and juicy, but not too juicy, which was just what I was looking for to make tomato stacks.

There's nothing original about them, they're just a more portioned way to make a caprese salad, I suppose. But it is simple and just so pretty! They aren't exactly spectacular, more of a refreshing taste, but I've been wanting to make some anyways.

Stacked Caprese
makes 4 5-tiered stacks (quite small, so serves one or two as a salad, or 4 as a light first-course)

2 medium tomatoes, such as roma
1 ball of ovoline fresh mozzarella, about two to three ounces
12 basil leaves
balsamic vinegar

Slice of top of tomatoes and slice rest of each tomato into 6 slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Slice fresh mozzarella into 8 slices.
Staring with a slice of tomato, top with a slice of cheese and a basil leaf, another slice of tomato, another slice of cheese, another slice of tomato, and top with a basil leaf. Make 3 more with remaining ingredients.
Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve.