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?

1 comment:

Mira said...

Madeleine, split into halves, nutella on both sides, crispy maple smoked Bacon in the middle. Ultimate dessert sandwich. But a little WTF.