Friday, July 29, 2011

Watermelon Bonanza

I haven't posted for a bit, but I've been busy in the kitchen. Couple weeks ago, this was my three day weekend:

Chocolate chip-banana cookies, Watermelon Margarita Sorbet, Apple Crisp, Honey-Cinnamon Ice Cream, Cherry Pie, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Oatmeal-Toffee Cookies. Yep, one weekend.

So yeah, I've been busy in the kitchen. And because it's summer, my biggest experimentation has been with the king of summer - King Watermelon.

I won't launch into a treatise on why watermelon is the king of summer. You get it or you don't. And if you do, I have some recipes for you to help make the most of summer's lord. Without further ado, it's Evan's Watermelon Bonanza!

Four recipes included in this post:

Perfect Watermelon Lemonade
Perfect Watermelon Sorbet
Watermelon Margarita Sorbet
Watermelon Mojito Sorbet

Perfect Watermelon Lemonade:

4 cups watermelon, cubed small (about 1/4 of a medium seedless)
1 cup sugar
1 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water

Put the water and sugar in a sauce pan and heat, stirring. Continue until sugar is fully melted, and voila, simple syrup. This is important. Sugar WILL NOT dissolve in cold water. If you make this without turning the sugar into simple syrup, the sugar will sink to the bottom. (This is the truth for all beverages, and why you should just make simple syrup and keep it around if you like to sweeten cold beverages.)

Once you've got your simple syrup, blend the watermelon until it's fully liquified. It should come to about 3 cups once blended. Add the lemon juice and simple syrup, and pour them all into a one-gallon pitcher. Fill the rest of the way with water. Stir. Drink.

OK, so you've got some watermelon lemonade. But you've also got 3/4 of a watermelon (or more!) remaining. OK, you probably have 1/2 remaining, because you've been snacking along the way. So it's on to recipe #2...

Perfect Watermelon Sorbet:

4 cups watermelon, cubed small
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup vodka (NOT optional)

Again, make your simple syrup. Blend watermelon until fully liquified. Add lemon juice, syrup, vodka, and chill until cold. Drop this puppy into your ice cream machine and freeze until it looks good. When transfering to a container, mix it well. Depending on how close to the edge it's spent its time, your sorbet will range from very frozen to kind of soft. If you don't mix it before freezing, then you'll get lumpy, irregular sorbet with drastically different flavor pockets. Once it's all nice and uniform, drop it in the freezer for a few hours to mature. After about two hours, open it up. Use a spatula or spoon to mix and incorporate so it's nice and even. Put it back in until you're ready to eat it.

A few key points:

-The lemon juice balances the watermelon and really adds depth to the sorbet. Otherwise, it's kind of flat

-The vodka is not optional. The alcohol will prevent the sorbet from hardening into a rock, which it otherwise will. Commercial sorbets use a variety of stabilizers to keep them soft, but you don't use those. You use vodka. And it's delicious. Without the vodka, it'll be a watermelon ice cube. Not only does this mean 15 minutes on the counter before you can scoop it, it also ruins the flavor. So use vodka, people. The vodka has no flavor, you won't get any alcohol taste in this concentration, and it's diluted to a level where you'd have to eat the entire 1.5 quarts by yourself to feel anything, and even then only a true lightweight would feel anything.

-If you want to add more depth and give it a slightly different profile, add 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt before blending the watermelon. It's a nice touch, but not for everyone.

OK, so you've got watermelon lemonade, and watermelon sorbet, but you still have 1/4 watermelon. What will you do with it? I'll tell you, but first, a quick vaudeville interlude.

OK, and now it's time to tell you about a little something I call...

Watermelon Margarita Sorbet:

4 cups watermelon, cubed small
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup tequila (doesn't have to be fancy, but please, 100% agave, not Cuervo)

Again, make your syrup. Blend your watermelon. Add everything together, chill until cold. Put in machine.

This recipe may look a bit odd. "Wait, where's the lime?" you ask. "Hold on, shouldn't that have triple sec or grand marnier?" If this was margarita ice cream, the answers would be yes to both. But I've played with this. And the answer is no. Lime creates a weird profile with the watermelon that's just a little off. The orange liqueur is just unnecessary, and complicates the flavors unnecessarily.

In this recipe, the two-step mixing process is critical. Because there's more booze, it will separate more from the non-booze. So the softer parts will be very boozy, and the outer parts will be icy and booze-less. Mix it gently but thoroughly in the container before putting into freezer, and again after two hours. Voila, delicious Watermelon Margarita Sorbet.

OK, now we're really cooking. You've eaten 1/4 of a watermelon as you worked. You've got a gallon of Watermelon Lemonade (rough cost, about $2). You've got 1.5 quarts each of Watermelon Sorbet and Watermelon Margarita Sorbet. What else could you want?

But then, you step onto the back porch to enjoy some of your hard-won gains, and smell the alluring smell of mint! That's when you remember that there's an ocean of mint growing in your yard, and you need to do something with it. Well, never fear, it's time to make...

Watermelon Mojito Sorbet!

3 cups watermelon lemonade
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white rum
1/8 cup lemon juice
1 large bunch mint leaves (give or take 2 cups leaves, but use both leaves and stems)

Make your simple syrup, and add mint leaves to hot liquid. Use a potato masher to gently mash mint. Don't crush, smash, or shred the mint. The best flavor comes from the oils, which are best released by bruising the leaves then letting them simmer a few minutes in the syrup. So do that.

Meanwhile, add the rum and lemon juice to the watermelon lemonade. Strain the syrup into the mixture (to remove mint leaves and stems). Chill until cold. Once cold, put in your machine until ready. Again, it's critical that you mix the sorbet once in the container, and again after about 2 hours in the freezer, to ensure the booze is incorporated and the flavors are evenly distributed. A few notes here:

- DO NOT use anything other than white rum. Not spiced. Not dark. Not pineapple or coconut. Those have no place in a mojito. Seriously. No place.

-Again, you're using lemon as the citrus instead of lime. The end result is quite different if you use lime, and, in the opinions of about 18 people at home and work who are my unwitting (and very happy) test subjects, the lemon is much better.

-It probably seems weird that I'm basing this recipe on 3 cups of the lemonade. "Why doesn't this dufus just write a new recipe?" you're probably asking. The answer is, the very best batch of this I've made was done with the recipe above. I haven't been able to get the proportions just right in any other batch. This was, by unanimous decree of my entire office, the best sorbet I've made yet. So just go with it, 'K?

And there you have it. One medium watermelon can yield one gallon (minus three cups) of Watermelon Lemonade, 1.5 quarts each Watermelon Sorbet, Watermelon Margarita Sorbet, and Watermelon Mojito Sorbet.

If prices are similar where you are, you'll spend about $10 total for all of this, and that's using organic sugar and lemon juice. Can't beat that with a stick, fools. And here's my happiest constituency. Amy, obviously very pregnant, is quite happy for the cooling watermelon treats in our unrelenting DC summer of pain. The kids are less bothered by the heat, but no less appreciative of the goodies.

Monday, May 23, 2011

WTF dessert?!?!

I'm calling this one WTF dessert, because that's what I would have said if you tried to get me to eat it. I imagine that's what about half of you will say when you get down to the part where I tell you what it is.

So how did this mystery dessert come about? One of my coworkers, Anthea Watson, just left NOI to go run a very cool shop on the re-elect. For those who aren't organizers, there is a veritable sea of online interfaces that field organizers have to use. There's VAN (the voter file, used for voter contact and volunteer management), there's (which I'm told is no longer called MyBo? Anyway, it's used for setting up online events and profiles around campaign activity), there's National Field (reporting software where organizers submit their nightly numbers and tidbits from the day). God only knows what else. And for each of these, organizers have a unique login, a different place they have to go, and a growing headache. So Anthea is in charge of a team that will be working to streamline all the different platforms that organizers of all sorts will be using, to save time, hassle, and make shit more efficient.

It seems like a monster job, and it is, but compared to what Anthea got done here in the last 18 months or so, I'm not sure it really stacks up. Anthea was the project manager on the Voting Information Project, a ridiculously bold effort to create a free, accurate, 50 state polling place lookup tool. Such a thing has never existed. One vendor has a database (which is not so accurate from what I hear), and charges huge sums for polling place information. Organizations spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars either buying from that vendor or sourcing the info themselves.

And the reason this is such a challenge, is that voting is regulated differently in every state. Some 25 states worked with us (after meeting and being wooed by Anthea and others on her team, in and of itself a Herculean task), and created digital feeds. But 25 other states didn't. And for those states, Anthea oversaw the process of collecting, standardizing, and digitizing every polling place in America. One of our partners on the project, an internet titan who shall remain nameless, told us they could code all the polling places if we collected them. So Anthea's team spent months collecting the lists.

Some were in nice, tidy spreadsheets. Others were in PDFs or Word docs. Still others were just in some local registrar's head. And once they had collected thousands and thousands of records, at the end of September (just about 5 weeks before the election) our partner told us, "Oh, we actually can't standardize this. Sorry." And so Anthea and her team (which grew a bit to accomodate the need) spent the better part of a month working 16 or 18 hours a day, pouring over records and matching whatever strange codes they were given to determine polling places.

I'll spare you the remaining details. But the upshot is that they came through. And 7.2 million people we can track used that data and the tools that were created with it to look up their polling place. The primary tool was a Google Gadget that could easily be embedded in any website, and found more than 320 homes. Facebook, Foursquare, Rock the Vote and others built their own tools using the file we provided. Probably north of 10 million people used the data somehow.

If you ask Anthea, she'll probably say that she couldn't have done "anuhthing" without the whole staff (she's from Wisconsin and at least one of her parents is a Limey, so she says some words kinda funny). But what she fails to acknowledge in her humility is that she was the person who kept that shit moving.

Anyway, when I found out she was leaving us for the re-elect, I asked her what kind of special ice cream she wanted for her going away party. And she said, "rosemary."

Well, it was her party, so I said, "ew" in my mind, and, "OK" with my mouth.

Now I couldn't imagine a dessert in which the primary flavor was rosemary. And I couldn't imagine an ice cream that was just rosemary either. Rosemary is a wonderful flavor. And in my experience, one that is grotesquely overused. You order rosemary chicken in a restaurant, and it comes out with pieces sticking out and tasting like you're chewing on a bush. You get a loaf of rosemary bread at the fancy bakery, and feel like you're munching on a stick. Apparently, rosemary is the one herb that chefs have no problem slathering on anything that bears its name.

So I was a) confused, and b) determined to make something awesome. I did a little thinking, a little searching, and found this recipe on Straight from the Farm blog for dark chocolate and rosemary ice cream. It looked pretty bomb. But I had a few reservations (seemed like an awful lot of rosemary, among other things), and made a few changes. Then it was just a matter of choosing something to pair it with. And I thought, WTF, this is already fucking weird. So let's go even weirder. Rosemary? That goes with white cheddar and bacon. Chocolate too. So let's do it.

I found a recipe from Emeril for white cheddar and bacon scones, and whipped 'em up. They came out pretty tasty, but a bit dry. I'd probably add another 1/2 cup of butter and 1/2 cup of cream if I make them again, but it's up to you.

Partway into the making, I had to get my helper involved. OK, she's not really my helper, but she refused to hang out in her playpen thingy, and when I let her crawl she kept pulling shit off the shelves. She's pretty happy in this backpack, as you can see, so I strapped her in and periodically passed her crackers. We listened to my "Grungeville" Pandora station. She likes '90's rock, especially Pearl Jam.

And good jeebus, that shit is amazing. The ice cream is like some sort of mysteriously delicious chocolate concoction. If I didn't know there was rosemary in it, it would probably take me a minute to figure it out. As an undertone, it makes a warm, earthy, herbal flavor that just accentuates the chocolate. And the combination with the scone is bizarre and delicious. So without further ado, here's the recipe I settled on (I've made it again, just as good the second time). Amy thinks it's the best I've made yet, and she was beyond skeptical at the outset. Hopefully you'll enjoy, too, if you whip it up.

Dark Chocolate and Rosemary Ice Cream

1 cup whole milk
2 cups whipping cream
2/3 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
2 sprigs (about 4" each) fresh rosemary (I wouldn't try this with dried rosemary)
3 Tbl cocoa powder (unsweetened. I use natural, but I imagine dutch process is just fine too)
8 dark chocolate truffles*
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

Put the milk, sugar, rosemary, vanilla, salt and 1/2 cup cream in a saucepan, and heat on medium-low until steamy, but not boiling. Put the remaining 1.5 cups of cream on an ice bath. Reduce to low, and allow to simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the rosemary, and add the cocoa powder, stirring constantly. Chop your chocolate up small, add, stir slowly until fully melted. Use about 1/2 cup of the liquid and temper your eggs, then add to the mix, whisking quickly until fully incorporated (I've determined that real tempering actually takes less effort that my "lazy" system). Switch to a flat-bottom rubber spatula, turn heat up a notch or two, stir slowly until the mixture thickens to where it doesn't run off the spatula. Strain the hot liquid into your cold cream, then whisk aggressively (both to mix and to cool). Chill the mixture until cold, drop in your machine.

A few changes I made... I added an extra egg yolk, because I thought this recipe would really want to be thick and creamy. I also cut the sugar from 3/4C to 2/3C, figuring that the chocolate would add some sweetness, and I didn't want it that sweet anyway. I cut the second round of rosemary out, because I didn't want it to overwhelm the ice cream. I reduced the cocoa powder to let the dark chocolate shine a little more. And I swapped out the vanilla bean for extract, because vanilla beans are fucking expensive. And everything worked out just dandy.

*The recipe called for 2 oz of semi-sweet chocolate. But someone gave us this box of Trader Joe's dark chocolate truffles a while back, and they've been slow to the stomach. So I thought, "fuck it, I'll use some for this." It seemed like a good idea at the time, and boy was it ever. So I recommend grabbing this stuff and using it.

And so, this is the weirdest dessert I've ever made, and also the weirdest I've ever eaten. But delicious weird, anyway.

What's your "WTF dessert?!?!" story?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hoist up the John B Sail...

It's not that today's been bad. It's not that I'm in a foul mood, although I am a bit tired and a bit worn thin.

Mostly, I just don't want to be around humanity.

Except one. Right about now, I just wish I could go home to my daughter. I know at some point she'll have more multifaceted phases. The "annoying" phase. Then the "ohmygodwhatiswrongwithyou?" phase. And plenty of other stressful phases in between.

But right now, there is only one thing, even when she's screaming bloody murder at 3:15am for no apparent reason. Right now there is only "light up my life."

And after a day of running to someone else's beat, of trying to please 3 bosses and 2 coworkers and 4 external partners, of riding the metro with a bunch of grumpy office workers, of drinking too much coffee and getting overheated, there's finally a true, clear escape. When she rests her little head on my shoulder and lets me sing her to sleep, there is nothing in the world but peace. And I know that I only have so long until she's too big. Only so long until she's yelling, "I hate you" or "You're ruining my life," at me. Only so long until she's out in the world, living her own life.

I wish I wasn't going on this work retreat. Tonight, I really wish I could go home to see my Lila Rose. Even more than usual.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Apple Bread Pudding from Leftovers

I hate wasting food. I'll eat leftovers of pretty much anything, even things I didn't like much in the first place. I'll eat things whose expired status is in serious question. I store celery butts, onion peels and other such in the freezer for soup stock.

So it especially upsets me when I see good, usable food thrown away for nothing better than a lack of imagination.

Case in point. We host a lot of training at my job. And we provide food. How much food varies between trainings, but at the bare minimum breakfast and snacks. And there are always leftovers. If I'm not around, the leftovers get tossed.

Thankfully, I was in charge of a recent training. And we had some odd leftovers. A pint of heavy cream (coffee leftovers). Five or so uneaten croissants. A bunch of apple halves. Half a veggie tray.

The veggie tray was an easy one - straight into the stock bag in the freezer. But the other stuff? Well hell, that's 2/3 of what you need for some wicked bread pudding. More than one person looked at me like I was nuts when I was packing things up, even after I explained what I was doing. A few gave me appreciative looks, but mostly nuts. Because even on a floor filled with progressives we're slaves to the disposable landscape syndrome.

These apples look all brown and icky. People looked at me askance when I packed them up

Anyway, back to my point: the recipe. As usual, I looked over five or six recipes to get ideas, and used none of them. Here's what I did, and how I did it.

4-5 cups of cubed croissants
Just slice off the brown part!
3ish cups of cubed apples (every recipe told me the red delicious apples I had were not good baking apples. They worked wonderfully. I say use whatever apples you have/want)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup (1/2 stick) butter
Some raisins (didn't measure, probably 1/2 cup or so?)
2 eggs
2 T bourbon
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ginger

Melt the butter in a pan with a large bottom. Add apples and let them sizzle for a minute. Add sugar, stirring, and let it caramelize slightly on apples. Add cream, spices, vanilla, and heat till steamy but not boiling. Add raisins, turn to low, leave to simmer for 10 minutes or so.

Preheat your oven to 350. Meanwhile, separate the eggs. Use the whites for something like angel food cake. Beat the yolks so they're smooth. Slowly add to hot creamy/apple-y/sugary/spicey goodness, whisking aggressively. This is where real chefs would temper the eggs, but again, I'm too lazy so I take this route. Whatever. Get the eggs incorporated without scrambling them. Switch to a flat bottom spatula and stir slowly, scraping the bottom. Add the bourbon, continue stirring. When it's thickened to where it doesn't run off the spatula, remove from heat.

Now add your croissants. Mix gently, so that the good stuff all gets soaked up nicely, but don't abuse the bready stuff. Pour it all into a 9x13" pan (or a smaller if you want a thicker bread pudding), stick it in the oven. Leave it in there 40 minutes or so, until it seems done (if you use a smaller pan/thicker pudding system, probably more like 50-60 min).

I got more feedback on this than anything else I've brought to NOI. And I've brought 3 different angel food cakes, a frozen peanut butter banana chocolate pie, and more cookies and ice cream than I can name. People came back for thirds. People ask me to bring it again. Actually, it looks like there will be about enough croissants left from the training I'm in now to make it tonight!

What do you do with leftovers? Any creative solutions to prevent wasting food?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Pina Colada and Ancient History

Ostensibly, this post is about the quart of (delicious) Pina Colada ice cream that I just made. But the Pina Colada and I have a lot of history, so I'm also using it as an excuse for that.

Captain Morgan released Parrot Bay Rum late in my junior year of high school. And we loved the shit. It was delicious, it was easy to drink, but it was also made by Captain Morgan so it wasn't sissy stuff. This was, of course, before there were 16 fruit flavors of every alcohol, at least stateside. It was pretty exotic stuff. We'd drink it just about any way you can, straight or mixed, whatever.

So after high school, at my parents urging, I took a year off. They hooked me up with the Center for Interim Programs, thinking I'd go to some state with a good university system, work for Habitat or some other service group, get residency, and go to school. On my first visit with the guy who ran the place, he said, "where do you want to go?" and waved at the world map behind him. And the only answer was Australia.

But Australia's a story for another time. This story is about Pina Colada. The reason I bring it up is that my 19th birthday was a few days before I left for Oz. I was living in a shithole apartment, aptly named The Cesspool, with 4 friends. (random fact, it was the first place of 4 where I lived with Alex Malloy, and I still have lived with Alex longer than anyone else to whom I am not related by blood).

The Cesspool was a total crash pad, and earned it's moniker the hard way. We were among the very few people from our high school who were a) still living near our home town and b) had a place of our own. So everyone who was either still at LHS or living at home ended up on our floor at some point or another.

For my birthday that year, we got several (2? 3? 4?) handles of Parrot Bay, a ton of Pina Colada mix, and ice. And we got trashed. Somewhere in the evening, my buddy Matt Hicks decided he'd call into the local classic rock station (WZLX, baby!). What ensued was somewhere in the neighborhood of completely ludicrous. But you can judge for yourself, as I have set the recording together with a bunch of pictures from that night, The Cesspool generally, and just plain old high school.

A few things about this recording. I've been carrying it around on a cassette tape for 13+ years, so the condition is not great. I digitized it by playing the tape next to the computer mic, making it even worse. But you can hear that I once had something bordering on a Boston accent. You can also hear that I'm a pretty cocky little bastard. I was very proud of what I was doing. And you can't hear it, but there was some hefty editing to our conversation. But whatever. The main point is, I was totally sloshed on Pina Coladas.

Those were pretty good Pina Coladas that night, especially considering the low grade. Maybe the quantity or the company influenced it. Probably both. The best Pina Colada I've ever had was in Playa del Carmen, in 2004. Yes, this is probably somewhat influenced by the setting, but we found this little joint where they clearly made their own mix. And it was delicious. Just a little chunky, totally fresh, just the right rum content. Mmmm. Delicious.

So as I was thinking about cocktail/ice cream combinations to make, naturally the Pina Colada came to mind. And I got to thinking about a recipe. Most of the recipes I saw online called for only coconut milk, which didn't seem quite right to me.

Back when I was trying to convert from server to bartender, I was working at Gordon Biersch. My boss was a big lug. Not a bad guy, per se, but kind of a goofus. He was quizzing me on recipes one day, and asked, "What if someone ordered a Pina Colada?"
"We don't have a blender."
"Sure, but what if they just really wanted a Pina Colada?"
"We don't have mix."
"Yeah, but it's some hot girl and she just wants something that tastes like a Pina Colada." (he generally operated under the stereotype restaurant GM mode of "anything for a hot girl," which included jobs).
"Um, I'd do Malibu, Pineapple, a splash of cream and shake the hell out of it."
"Cream?" He said it as thought it was the dumbest, grossest thing he had ever heard. I nodded and said, "Yeah, cuz otherwise it's just a Malibu-Pineapple."
"Gross," he said, and walked away.

I never challenged him further, although I knew I was right. And over the years I've certainly learned that the best Pina Colada will have a little cream. Even if you're using the richest coconut milk, a little cream adds a weight and smoothness that you just can't get otherwise. And it's fucking delicious. So anyway, here's my Pina Colada ice cream recipe (I hope you haven't really read this whole random thought train just to get here, but if you have, well done).
  • 1 cup coconut milk (full fat. I discovered at the grocery store that there's a "Light" or "Low Fat" coconut milk. I refuse to acknowledge such a thing as legitimate)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup vanilla sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup pineapple chunks and juice (see below)
  • 1/3 or 1/2 cup Captain Morgan Spiced Rum (depending on how boozey you want it)
  • Handful of shaved coconut
  • 1-2 previously used vanilla bean pods
This recipe varies pretty broadly from the standard base. Obviously coconut milk replaces regular milk. I cut the sugar to 1/2 cup from the normal 3/4 to account for the sweetness in the coconut, pineapple and rum. I cut the eggs because the coconut milk is naturally thick, so the thickening agent wasn't as necessary.

The vanilla sugar and used bean pods are key. They'll add a little extra vanilla component but not overwhelm. The vanilla sugar is not store-bought fakey stuff. Per the recommendations of many, I've taken to putting the (cleaned and dried) used bean pods into my sugar container after use. It gives the sugar a really nice vanilla essence. And the used pods still infuse some flavor when heated in liquid, but not a deep flavor.

Anyway, here's how you do.

Put the coconut milk, 1/2 cup of cream, sugar, vanilla pods and coconut shavings into a sauce pan, heat on medium heat. While it's heating up, get 1 cup of pineapple chunks. Fill the cup with juice, so the liquid fills in around the chunks. Drop it all in a blender and blend the living shit out of it until it's super pureed. Add to the stuff on the stove.

Heat it until it's all warm and steamy, stirring with a whisk, then turn down to low. Heat a few more minutes, continuing to stir from time to time. DO NOT BOIL!

Take it off the heat, let it sit there for about an hour.

After an hour, heat it back up to very warm. Add the rum, whisking aggressively (the rum can cause the cream to curdle if you just dump it in, so be careful here).

While it's heating, take the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream, put it on an ice bath.

Fish out the vanilla pods, rinse, dry, return to the sugar container. I'm too lazy to properly temper eggs, so I just very slowly add them while whisking aggressively. However you get them in there (my method or true tempering), add the eggs. Shift to a flat rubber spatula, stir slowly, scraping the bottom. Continue until it thickens to where it coats the spatula without running.

Remove from heat, whisk into chilled cream. Whisk the mixture until it's a) thoroughly mixed and b) pretty well chilled. Cover, stick it in the fridge, leave it overnight. I'm usually too impatient to wait all night, but in this case I think it's worth it. All of the flavors are ones that really absorb slowly (rum, coconut, pineapple, vanilla) and giving it the time overnight to get together and make sweet flavor love is probably worth it.

When it's gotten all conjugal and shit, bust out your ice cream maker. With my booze + cream ice creams, I always leave it in a little extra time to really get as firm as possible, so probably 40 minutes instead of 30.

Take it out of the machine, put in a container. Again, the machine doesn't freeze everything evenly, so use your spatula to mix it and get the texture consistent (this should also help keep even flavor throughout). Stick it in the freezer, let it ripen for 4+ hours.

I've discovered that the freezer ripening is a really key step in ice cream. Straight out of the machine it's really delicious and fresh, but the flavors haven't had time to settle in. Once it's been in the freezer and hardened up, the harder flavors mellow, the softer flavors find their place, and the texture of the ice cream really gets nice. So while I may eat a spoonful or two straight out of the machine, I find it's worth waiting a while, and I'm both an ice cream addict and horribly impatient.

And that's my Pina Colada story. In the coming weeks I'll be doing Mojito (probably try ice cream and sorbet), Old Fashioned (I'm gonna candy my own orange and lemon peel for this), and Mud Pie with Kahlua and Baileys. But what other cocktail concoctions should I get into? Help me create some wicked ice cream flavors!

Oh, and I think I'm gonna make a Pina Colada Rootbeer Float later. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Photo from Flickr user SingChan, shared under Creative Commons license

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cookies and Cream that doesn't suck

So I have to just start out by saying that I don't really like Cookies and Cream as an ice cream flavor. It's boring. "Cream" isn't a real flavor. It's something you add other things to and get flavor. And I don't really like Oreos for anything except pie crust.

But I was pretty much out of interesting ingredients to make ice cream with. And I wanted to make ice cream. OK, I wanted to make more ice cream. Yes, I have already made (more) margarita sorbet and coffee-fudge swirl (with a much improved coffee recipe, I might add) this weekend. But two quarts really isn't enough.

Yep, all this stuff's going in there
And lo and behold, as I went into the freezer, what should I spy? THIN MINTS! Yep, the one and only cookie that girl scouts shill that doesn't suck. Wait, wait, don't get all upset yet. There are lots of Girl Scout Cookie varietals that are good. Samoas, Tagalongs, a few others. But be honest. They suck. They're shit quality. We buy them because we can't say no to cute little girls, and because they taste like childhood. They all suck. Except Thin Mints, which somehow manage to not suck, but in fact rule.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. There they were. And I thought, "I know, I'll make Thin Mints ice cream." But that sounded a little too much like mint chocolate chip, which I also don't love. So I figured, "Fuck it, Cookies and Cream it is."

And you know what? I owned that shit. Seriously. Owned it in the way Josh Beckett owned the Yankees tonight (yes, it's a bad start to the season overall, but we just took 2 of 3 from the devil, and I still believe). Wanna know how I owned it? Perhaps even own it yourself? Just follow my easy to follow instructions. I make ice cream fun!

World's cutest baby says "Hi"
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick (DO NOT USE POWDERED CINNAMON!!!!!!!)
1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
4 egg yolks
1.5 sleeves Thin Mints

Mix milk, sugar, 1/2 cup cream in a pot, heat until warm. Add the cinnamon stick. Split the 1/2 vanilla bean lengthwise and add. Heat until really warm and steaming, but not boiling. Remove from heat, allow to steep for 1 hour.

Make an ice bath, put a bowl in it. Put the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream in the bowl. Put a wire strainer over the bowl. Leave.

Once your hour has passed, fish the vanilla out. Scrape the seeds out of the bean into the milk. Put the pod back in. Heat the whole thing till warm.

I'm too lazy to do the technical tempering of the eggs, so I just pour the yolks into the pan veeeeeerrrrrrrry slowly, while whisking very quickly. You can do the other way if you want. Either way, once it's all mixed in, stir gently with a flat spatula, scraping the bottom. The stuff will thicken. Once you can run your finger across the batch of the spatula without it running, remove from heat. It won't be custard thick. It should still be quite liquid-y. Just thick enough that it doesn't run off your spatula. Once that's the story, strain into cream. Whisk together. Let it sit for at least 3-4 hours in the fridge, until cold.

Put your custard in your mixer. Put your cookies in a food processor. Pulse them until they're about 1/2 powdered and 1/2 medium chunks. At least that's how I like it. You should do what you like. Regardless, once they're chopped to your liking and the mix is about 2/3 frozen, dump them in. Let the whole thing mix up until it's all frozey and mixey and yum. Move into a container. Freeze until firm.

My kitchen, three ice cream flavors and an Angel Food Cake later...
Yeah, that's right. It's fucking delicious. You can thank me later.

What flavor should I try next? I've got some cocktail ice cream recipes to make, but I'm always open to suggestions... Crowdsource ice cream, what?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Margarita Sorbet

I'm now playing with my new ice cream machine, so I'm gonna put up the recipes that I create myself. OK, I'm gonna put up the ones that work. The others, I'll probably hide from the light of day.

I got the machine a few weeks back. I was watching Iron Chef and thought, "Damnit, I want an ice cream machine!" So I started looking at machines, and the reviews are sort of all over the place. The one thing that was consistent, though, was that people felt the machines under about $700 can't produce rich, smooth ice creams reliably. I was gonna use a chunk of tax rebate to buy a really expensive machine, and decided it was worth trying a cheap one. I found a Cuisinart ICE-20 on Craigslist for $20. Can't beat that. Better yet, it comes with a second bowl. Pretty much every maker under $300 is the "freezethisbowlfortwelvehours" type, or the really old school rock salt and ice type. So having a second bowl allows me to make two batches at a time. When you're an addict like I am, well... Anyway, so far this thing has done a great job. Rich, creamy ice cream, smooth, well developed sorbet. Glad I decided to try for the $20 before spending $700.

Quick aside. In 2000, Lukafresh and I went shopping at the Albertson's in University Village. They had a sale. $2 pints of Ben and Jerry's. Fresh is an ice cream addict. I am an ice cream addict. It was like if the guy at the corner of 2nd and Bell announced half of on rocks. We went bananas. We literally filled our shopping cart with ice cream. Our freezer wouldn't fit it all. We had to eat like 4 pints right away so they wouldn't melt. The freezer was empty in two weeks or so.

Anyway, now you probably understand my ice cream addiction somewhat. Sorbet plays a critical role in the ice cream universe. Sore throat? Sorbet. Feel bogged down by a heavy meal? Sorbet. Too hot to eat something creamy? Sorbet.

I've got a bottle of tequila that's just a little too harsh to drink naked. So I thought, "hey, I'll turn you into sorbet!" Looked up a recipe or six, and settled on one.

But the problem with these recipes is that the creators either a) have never been bartenders or b) took no pride in the margaritas they made if they were. Apparently what they wanted to create was an homage to the Jose Cuervo pre-mix margarita you buy in the grocery store. That is not what I wanted. So I took the ice cream theory from the recipes, and mixology theory from my own experience, and churned this recipe out:

2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup lime juice (I recommend key lime for this recipe)
3T lemon juice
6T tequila
8T orange juice
2T triple sec (optional, I prefer without)

Combine water and sugar, heat on medium until completely integrated. Once the sugar dissolved, raise heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add all other ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Chill until fully cold (in the fridge if you're patient, with an ice bath if you're like me). Freeze in your machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Here's a key step - when you transfer from the machine to your container, use a broad spoon or spatula to gently mix it together. It'll come out of your machine with inconsistent texture - the stuff on the outside will be very dry and frozen, some will be more soupy. If you don't mix it until it's consistent, it'll freeze unevenly. In particular, the tequila will run out and make tequila ice around the edges, while the rest will have little tequila flavor.

Once it's in your container, freeze it for 2-4 hours to ripen. Then enjoy. Amy, who eats about 1/3 the ice cream I do, ate the better part of a quart of this in 48 hours. I just had to make a second batch.

Here's the mixology breakdown (and the ingredients I didn't see in any other recipe):

In the states, most margaritas are sweet and sour, tequila and triple sec. You might get lucky and get it muddled with fresh lime. You might get even luckier and have homemade sweet and sour. You might get truly lucky and get a bartender who understands that a margarita should have a splash of OJ. The recipes all behave like you want a TGI Friday's margarita. I dunno about you, but I don't. So what's up with the ingredients I used?

Lemon juice - in my opinion, sweet and sour should be about 2/3 lime, 1/3 lemon. The lemon counters the lime nicely, and adds dimension to the flavor. You won't get lemon in most scratch margaritas in Mexico, but for the purposes of either homemade sweet and sour or this recipe, it'll give you a nice depth.

Orange juice - the sweetness of the orange is how you get a margarita smooth. Triple sec is just orange liqueur, and if you use it here you'll get the syrupy flavor of an airport bar margarita. It'll also cause the freezing to be even more uneven, making it more likely you end up with a dry, lightly flavored section and an ice cube of liquor around the edge. Use fresh orange to dull the edge a little, and because the flavor of juice is much nicer than the flavor of DeKuyper.

In Mexico, almost every scratch margarita you'll get has four ingredients: Tequila, triple sec, fresh lime, oj (plenty of sloppy margaritas to be had there, too, with garbage and sugar covering up lousy tequila and laziness). Because our palette has been destroyed by chain restaurants and sloppy bartenders, it's hard to make a margarita without a ton of unnecessary sugar and some extra stuff. This recipe is about 2/3 real margarita, 1/3 Americanized. But I think you'll enjoy it.

What cocktail or booze-based frozen treat should I attempt next?