Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Butt Kicking Aztec "Hot" Chocolate Ice Cream


David Lebovitz has done it again. I am swooning over yet another delicious ice cream creation. And I foresee this being Very Bad for the width of my hips.

Really -- if you can take a little heat -- this ice cream has a little bit of something for just about everyone.

, you'll love the deep dark smoothness and the not-too-sweet homage to the cocoa bean. Chile-heads, you'll adore the slow, smoky burn of the chipotle powder on your tongue. Spice fiends, if you like what a bit of nutmeg does for alfredo sauce, you'll agree that the cinnamon in here ROCKS. Overall ice cream fanatics, you'll appreciate the ultra smooth texture of this ice cream. And no, there are no fussy egg yolks involved.

Of course, it never hurts to start with some good quality ingredients -- like milk from the Sassy Cow Creamery. And bittersweet chocolate from the Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company.

The recipe is really quite simple. You start with a bit of cream and some good quality cocoa powder.
Place it on the stove and whisk it together until it comes to a nice rolling boil.
Be sure you've got the rest of your ingredients ready -- cuz you'll want to add them just as soon as you take this off the heat. If you're not fond of heat, you can downsize on the chile powder. Or use ancho chile powder -- which imparts a nice smoky flavor without so much bite.
Whisk everything (especially the chocolate) until smooth.

Add some whole milk. Then pour it into the blender and whizz it around for a while -- just to make sure it's REALLY smooth.
While you'll be tempted to drink the stuff right then and there (and you could... really), you should just put it in a bowl and place it in the fridge until it's really cold. Trust me, it's worth the wait.
When it's all nice and cold, you can put it in your ice cream maker. If you're lucky, you'll hit the jackpot in about 25 minutes or so. I'd advise tasting it right away -- but you can definitely put it in the freezer for a bit if you like your ice cream a bit more firm.

This stuff is zippy. Like a little bitofa buzz for your tongue. And your throat. And your stomach. But you don't care. Cuz it's smooth. And chocolatey. And you can't help but think that this would make seriously kick *ss fudgecicles. If only you had some popsicle trays... Oh, well.

Yeah -- it's really that good.
You won't even want to share.

Aztec "Hot" Chocolate Ice Cream
adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop

2 1/4 cups heavy cream
6 T unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2-3 tsp chipotle powder
2 T cognac

Whisk together the cream, cocoa powder, and sugar in a large saucepan. Whisk frequently until the cream comes to a full, rolling boil.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the chocolate, stirring until it is completely melted. Add the milk, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, chipotle, and cognac, stirring to combine. Pour the mixture into a blender and blend for 30 seconds, until very smoooth.

Chill mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mastering the Art of One French Dish

What do YOU think of when you see this book?
It's natural to think of Julia Child.
It's perfectly reasonable to feel a bit of silent awe -- way down deep where you keep your excited cooking butterfly feelings.
And these days, it's probably not far fetched to think of Meryl Streep.

But, right now, when I see the book lying there on the coffee table, all I can think is: "How the heck am I going to bone that duck?? In front of a photographer??!!"

It's true. We've been asked to participate in a recipe challenge to promote the new Julie/Julia movie. And we'll be making Pate De Canard En Croute.

I'll admit to a bit of trepidation. After all, a classic French gallantine is certainly not a dish we've ever tackled before. But, I'm also incredibly -- and almost inexplicably -- excited.

Countless thoughts are rushing through my brain.
Will my knife be sharp enough?
The store is going to remember to fill my order for veal and pork fat, right??
Is it crazy to think I can actually make French pastry?
Am I going to look fat in the photos?

It's all a bit much.
Of course, I can't say too much more about it at this point. But, I will urge you to stay tuned. We'll be posting about all of our triumphs (and mishaps) during the first week in August. Just in time for the movie to come out...

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

More Figgy Delights: Fresh Fig Ice Cream

Everybody loves icecream, right?

That's what I thought when I entered to win David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop over at Warm Olives and Cool Cocktails. Kate is short on space and sick of clutter, so she's giving away all but her very favorite cookbooks... to the benefit of her readers. But, there is a catch. The winner of each cookbook needs to make one recipe from the book and blog about it within 30 days of receipt. Little did I know, when I entered, that I would actually win the book (yay for me!).

I received The Perfect Scoop last week. I'll admit that it was pretty difficult to pick the first recipe to try. The malted milk icecream was calling my name. The Guinness Milk Chocolate icecream looked truly intriguing. The Aztec "Hot" Chocolate icecream sounded right up my alley. And the Salted Butter Caramel sauce looked absolutely divine.

But, then my "eat seasonal" brain kicked in. I realized that we had fresh figs sitting right on the counter. And how glorious would fresh fig icecream be?? We didn't know. But we were eager to find out!
The fresh figs on the counter ended up going into a fabulous pizza (with bacon, caramelized onions, and bleu cheese). However, I went back to the market the next morning to procure more. The recipe calls for 2 lbs of fresh figs. Unfortunately, I could only find about a pound of the black mission figs Lebovitz suggests are best, since they give the ice cream a "lovely deep violet color." Since I didn't feel like driving around the city searching for figs, I settled for Turkish figs instead, and crossed my fingers that the final product wouldn't be TOO ugly.
I chopped up my figs, added a bit of sugar and the zest of one lemon to the pot. Easy, no?
Turns out the most difficult part of this recipe is the cooking of the figs. All told, it took me about 40 minutes to get my fig and sugar mixture cooked down to a "jam-like consistency." Fortunately, it was well worth the effort.
After adding a bit of lemon juice and a cup of cream, and whirring everything around in the blender, the ice cream base was looking pretty darned good. And I could hardly wait. Twenty minutes in the icecream maker, and we were pretty much set. I did give the ice cream a bit of time in the freezer to firm up -- but maybe not QUITE long enough, as it was still pretty soft when we ate it.
But, OH! the delight. Although this ice cream wasn't as creamy as those made with a French custard base, it was absolutely delicious. Sweet (but not too sweet), figgy, and fabulous. And not even such a bad color!

We were so impressed we've decided to continue making ice creams from the Lebovitz book for the rest of the summer (and possibly beyond). And heck, we'll even blog about them.

Which recipe should we try next??
If you have any opnions about the next recipe we choose, let us know! We'll take the suggestions in the order received (and/or give priority to the most requested flavors).

Oh -- and stay tuned for BIG news later this week.
We've been asked to participate in a recipe challenge that's going to put all our skills to the test... and we're totally stoked!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pizza with Figs, Bacon, and Blue

When one discusses the topic of nature versus nurture as it pertains to food, I'm a HUGE believer in the nurture side of things. I don't really buy into the fact that we're all hard-wired to like certain foods or food combinations; nor do I believe that genetics play a very large role in determining which foods we'll like or dislike. However, I'm utterly convinced that our experiences with food -- particularly those early on in our lives -- have a serious impact on what we eat as adults. Fortunately, I also believe that we can change our perceptions of food.

I grew up believing that fruit and meat nary should meet -- a concept frequently reinforced by my father, who felt that sweet and savory were things best kept discrete. My mother, conversely, grew up eating mincemeat pies, seared poultry with cherry sauce, and hams baked with generous slices of pineapple and clove baked on top. Despite her upbringing, she cooked to please my father. So, while we ate both fruit and meat, we seldom ate them together.

I continued with those dietary habits... until I got married. Fortunately for me, Peef was a daring little man with a penchant for "new." He brought his own set of food aversions into the marriage (asparagus, blue cheese, anchovies, and a few odd others), but he was more than willing to try anything once... or "once again," as it often happened. One preference he did NOT harbor was an aversion to the fruit-meat combo. So, we made a deal. He'd help me overcome my disinclinations, if I'd help him with his.

And so, we adventured forth together... and set out to conquer our food aversions together.
Thank goodness for that -- or this fabulous pizza would never have been possible.

It all started with a sighting of the luscious fresh black mission figs at the market. We couldn't resist. Visions of Greek Yogurt and fresh figs danced in our minds. So, we bought a bit of lamb, some pitas, and a pint of figs. Heh. Distractions ensued. Dinner got late. And our dreams of figs and yogurt were shattered.
The lonely figs sat on the countertop. Waiting for their day. Fortunately, they didn't have to wait long. Peef emailed me one afternoon with a recipe for a fig and proscuitto tart. It sounded good, but I was in the mood for pizza. And so, it happened. Figs chopped.
Onions caramelized with a bit of balsamic vinegar.
Mozzarella cheese.
Bits of delicious applewood smoked bacon. And those sugary delicious figs.
A few sprinkles of Wisconsin gorgonzola sealed the deal.
Everything went into a very hot oven for the standard amount of time.
And, when it came out, we showered it with a bit of torn arugula from the farmer's market.

Salty and sweet. Smoky and cheesy. With a bit of freshness and bite from the fresh arugula.

I'm so glad I don't listen to my dad anymore.

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Semi-Homemade Wisconsin Beer Ketchup

We're not normally Sandra Lee sort of people. In fact, most days we're pretty eager to embrace the challenge of a new dish -- even if it means delaying the dinner hour to 9pm or later. But, when you've got brats thawing in the fridge, the promise of dinner in less than an hour, and no ketchup in sight, it's time for some creative thinking.

And that, my friends, is how beer ketchup was born.

Ketchup is one of those things that I've entertained making in the past. You know -- on those hot summer days when there are scads of fresh-from-the garden tomatoes just lying there on the counter. I'm hot. And sweaty. And I can dream of nothing more sexy than sitting over a hot stove for three hours while my homemade ketchup reduces into a delicious red paste.

Yeah, it's true. Somehow, I never seemed to get around to starting the process.

The truth is, I tend to think of ketchup just before dinner when I notice that our condiment stash is running low. Not really optimum timing for starting any sort of tomato reduction project. However, on this particular occasion, I was having an unusual moment of clarity. And I happened to remember that I tend to keep a stash of "pre-reduced" tomato product sitting right inside my kitchen cupboard. And I had a sneaking suspicion that it would suffice if I wanted to throw together a quick ketchup.

And, why not throw some beer into the mix while I was at it? After all, we were having some classic Wisconsin bratwurst for dinner. So, I gathered up my supplies. A bit of vinegar, some agave nectar, tomato paste, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, cayenne, garlic, and salt.
And I began to whisk them together in a medium bowl... Not every part of the process really screamed "photo op"... but I thought I'd share with you anyhow.
... because the final product was really quite attractive.
This ketchup was "ripe" with tomato flavor. Just enough of a vinegar tang to keep things interesting. And all the right background flavors. Of course the subtle notes imparted by the beer wasn't bad either. It was GREAT with the bratwurst we ate for dinner -- and was also fantastic in the pot of "baked" beans I threw in the crockpot the next night. I might be tempted to try this with a darker brew next time... or maybe I'll just shake things up completely and use a bit of bourbon. Who knows??

Semi-Homemade Wisconsin Beer Ketchup

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Classic Wisconsin Bratwurst

What could be better on a long, holiday weekend than grilling up some of Wisconsin's finest bratwurst? Not much -- unless, of course, the bratwurst came from your very own Wisconsin-grown pig!

That's right. Peef's parents gave us one of those Christmas gifts that food geeks dream about -- a portion of our very own pig. He was processed into a variety of cuts -- pork steaks, ham, chops, bacon... and since this was a Wisconsin-bred piglet, you can't forget the most important part. The bratwurst.

We've been on freezer clean-out duty lately. So, when we found a package of these babies in the deep freeze, we knew they were the perfect thing to thaw out for dinner.
Now, a bratwurst afficionado will be the first to tell you that the bun you use to cradle your bratwurst is almost as important as the sausage itself. And we didn't really have anything appropriate laying around at home. So, we ran right out to pick up some delicious brat buns from our local bakery. These buns are bigger than your average hotdog bun, a little bit crusty on the outside, and perfectly soft and tender on the inside. Just perfect for a good Wisconsin brat fry.
Then we got to work setting up the grill. A good amount of charcoal is key to delicious, evenly cooked brats. And before you put those babies on the grill, you want to make sure that the coals are grey and glowing. Some people like to precook their brats in beer before they grill them -- but we're not big fans. The beer doesn't impart a ton of flavor during the precook, and it tends to dry the poor little sausages out. We prefer the indirect grilling method for our brats. You can approach it in a variety of ways, but we place those gorgeous hot coals right in the middle of the grill, and line up the brats all around the edges.
When the brats are browned nicely on one side, you'll wand to flip them over to brown the other side. Take care to note hot spots around the grill. If you sense that one of the brats is cooking too quickly, move him to a cooler spot. The sausages will start to smell amazing in pretty short order -- but you want to avoid rushing the cooking process. Your patience will be rewarded.
The key to great bratwurst is low, slow cooking. You don't want to cook the sausages too quickly or they'll split open and dry out. Instead, you want to give them a chance to really caramelize on all sides. Your brats will take 20-30 minutes to cook through.
When the brats are cooked, you can bring them in on a plate tented with a bit of aluminum foil. At that point, you'll want to immediately begin dressing your brat bun. First, take a bit of mustard and spread it on one side of the bun. Traditionalist might want a nice, old fashioned grainy German mustard; but, we like a simple, spicy Dijon.
Then, you want to quickly drain the juice from a handful of good sauerkraut. If you're the type who thinks ahead, you can drain the 'kraut while you're grilling the brats; but, you can also do it right before serving. We like to get a bit of lacto-fermented food into our diet whenever we can, so we buy delicious jars of fresh sauerkraut from Spirit Creek Farms in northeastern Wisconsin.
Pile some of the sauerkraut on the bun -- and then spread the other side with a bit of ketchup. This ketchup just so happens to be some of our (quick) homemade "beer ketchup" -- which is the perfect accompaniment for bratwurst. I'll be sure to share the recipe in a future post.
Tuck one of the hot bratwurst into the bun and cover him with a few freshly sliced onions. We opt for raw onions when Vidalias and Walla Wallas are in season, but fried onions are equally good on a bratwurst.
Brats served in this traditional fashion can be a bit messy to eat. You can think of them along the same lines as a chili dog or a nice loaded sloppy joes sammich. But, we like to think that's part of their charm. Tie that napkin around your neck, and bite right on in. I'm going to bet that little beer ketchup stain you get on the left leg of your bermuda shorts will be completely worth the effort it takes to get it out. Cuz once you've tasted a truly great bratwurst, you're never going back to eating those overly processed weiner-like imposters.
For those of you interested in more information about Wisconsin's favorite holiday weekend grilling treat, you don't want to miss The Bratwurst Pages, which describe bratwurst as "Wisconsin's Soul Food." The Web site includes hints and tips for proper bratwurst preparation as well as detailed instructions for eating the bratwurst themselves (don't forget the "bratwash"... AKA, beer). Oh, yeah -- and there's plenty of good humor thrown in there too.

Real Food for Real People!
Check out more posts about Real Food at the Real Food Wednesdays blog carnival!
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