lemon buttermilk sorbet & raspberry coulis

With the warm season officially upon us, I no longer have to justify using an ice cream maker in the wintertime.  Not that I care, but I did get some peanut gallery style comments about making iced desserts when it’s 37 degrees out.  Let’s just shout “Welcome, Summer!,” shall we?

The inspiration for this sorbet came from a friend who gave me the rough ingredients and measurements.  I combined that information with a  seasoned sweet tooth, and the end result was just the right amount of sweet, tart, creamy and refreshing.  Take note– this sorbet is excellent alone, but a spoonful or two of raspberry coulis doesn’t hurt.

 

Materials (makes approximately 1.5 quarts)

For the sorbet:
4 cups full-fat buttermilk
1.5 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice
zest of 2 lemons
1 tsp vanilla extract, optional
1 Tbsp vodka (I used vanilla Stoli), optional

 

For the raspberry coulis: (makes about 1 cup)
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp water
8 oz. frozen raspberries, thawed (fresh fruit can be used, but the amount would be different)

 

 

Protocol

Sorbet
1. In a food processor, pulse sugar and lemon zest a few times to release the oils from the rind.

2. Transfer lemon sugar to a medium bowl, and add buttermilk, lemon juice, and vanilla, if using.  Whisk until sugar dissolves.

3. Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.  About 5 minutes before the end of the cycle, add vodka.  It lowers the freezing point of the mixture and allows for a super creamy sorbet that won’t turn into a rock.

 

Raspberry coulis
1. In a small saucepan, make a simple syrup by heating sugar and water until sugar dissolves completely.

2. Place raspberries and syrup into a small food processor or blender, and pulse a few times to purée.  If you don’t like seeds, strain coulis through a fine mesh strainer.

 

Happy Summer to you!

roasted garlic guacamole

I may or may not have mentioned that when I like something, I tend to overdo it.  Sometimes, my obsession is a food; other times, it’s a special type of pen.  And all the time, it’s laundry detergent and homemade cleaning supplies.  For several consecutive weeks in college, I couldn’t get enough heavily buttered sourdough bread.  A few months ago, I managed to acquire 19 fancy notebooks (writing in only the first one now, yet still collecting).  And these days, I’m crazy about roasted garlic.

 

It’s buttery smooth, and I like to think of it as the evening gown dressed-up version of its raw sibling.  You just can’t go wrong.  Because it takes the longest, get the roasting step going first.  While it bakes and cools, start the rest.  And somewhere in the middle of the process, whip up a margarita.  Might as well, you already have the salt and the limes out.

 

Perfectly ripe avocados (a must-have for great guacamole) meet lime juice.  The acid helps avocados retain their vibrant green color.  Science in action.  Add fresh garlic, and mash a bit, but don’t be too rough.  Chunks are good.  Add roasted garlic, cilantro and salt.  Inhale deeply.  Steal a few buttery roasted cloves.

 

Stir, and then find the best vehicle for guacamole delivery.

Materials
3 large ripe avocados
juice of two limes
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
2 whole heads roasted garlic
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
a healthy dose of Kosher salt

 

Protocol

1. Scoop avocados out into a bowl, add lime juice, fresh garlic and mash.
2. Add cooled roasted garlic, cilantro and salt.
3. Stir, and enjoy!

This is a mild guacamole version, so if you prefer a little heat, add your favorite diced chilies to taste.  If any guacamole remains, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on it (less air = less oxidation = less browning), and store in the refrigerator.

kitchen lab 101: freezing egg yolks

I recently learned that egg yolks can be frozen for later use.  It’s true, but they must be treated, and there’s science behind the reasoning.  Egg yolks contain water, which crystallizes when freezing.  This causes the proteins to cluster and congeal, creating tiny gelatinous clusters that don’t redissolve.  Adding a substance to lower the freezing point of the water (think anti-freeze) prevents crystal and, therefore, gelatinous protein blob formation.

To preserve yolks for a savory dish, lightly whisk 1/8 teaspoon of salt with ~4 yolks; for a sweet dish, lightly whisk 1.5 teaspoons of sugar or simple/corn syrup into ~4 yolks, and store in an airtight container.  Label container with the date, number of yolks and whether they contain salt or sugar.  To use, thaw yolks in the refrigerator overnight, and move to room temperature about 45 minutes prior to cooking.  Egg sizes vary, but 1 tablespoon is approximately equal to one yolk.

quinoa with mint & roasted pistachios

Some time ago, I didn’t know to pronounce quinoa or what it was.  Now I love it, and often correct others when they don’t say something that even remotely sounds like “keen-wah.”  I can be annoying, I know.

Quinoa is a grain-like seed, but isn’t considered a true grain (e.g. wheat) because it doesn’t come from a grass.  And, because it provides all nine essential amino acids, it’s a complete protein.  In case you’re a dork like me and might appreciate the information, those amino acids are Leucine, Isoleucine, Lysine, Valine, Methionine, Tryptophan, Phenylalanine, Threonine and Histidine.  They’re essential because our bodies don’t produce them, so they must be consumed.  Lesson over.  There may be a pop quiz next week.

The combination of fresh mint and parsley (don’t even think about dried!), nutty quinoa, and crunchy pistachios is nothing short of glorious.  This dish is full of flavor, and every time I eat it, I feel as though I’m treating my body to a dose of vibrance.  I first tried a variation of this recipe about a month ago, and have been making it weekly since.  A little obsessive, yes, but it’s easy to make, full of protein and antioxidants, and is that good.  And when I like something, I like it until I don’t anymore.  I’ve yet to tire of this protein-packed bowl of awesomeness.

 

Materials (makes 4 cups, adapted from the 2013 Food Lover’s Cleanse)

1 cup quinoa (regular or red)
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth (you can use water, but may need to add salt to taste)
4 Tbsp. fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2-3 Tbsp. fresh mint, finely chopped
1/4 cup roasted, shelled pistachios, roughly chopped

 

 

Protocol

1. Place quinoa into a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, and toast for 4-5 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning.  The beads will begin to pop and brown.

2. When the quinoa starts to smell nutty (about 5 minutes), add broth and bring to a boil.

3. Lower heat to a simmer, cover partially, and cook until quinoa is tender, about 30 minutes.

4. Remove from heat, let sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.

5. Add chopped parsley, mint and pistachios, and stir gently.

So easy.  Bon appétit!

vanilla bean custard ice cream

Yes, I’m aware that Summer is over, but since moving to Portland, I’ve learned not to wait for the sun’s permission to do anything, especially eat ice cream.  When a craving strikes, I go into black-bear-approaching-hibernation mode.  Though my stores are plentiful, I reason the gluttony by reminding myself (and those who try to judge) that a bowl of ice cream is really just a glass of milk.  And it is almost Winter…

This ice cream begins with best custard I’ve ever had.  Ever.  Not just because it’s my mom’s unscripted, going-off-memory, over-the-phone recipe, but because it’s rich, creamy and dispels the myth that vanilla is “plain.”  Only five ingredients, a little swirling of the whisk and patience will take you far.  No restaurant or dessert shop I’ve visited makes it better.  Sorry, fancy school-trained pastry chefs, my mom– despite her antipathy of my dark hair and wardrobe– is, indeed, better than you.

DSC_0230

 

Materials  (makes about a quart and a half)
1 cup half & half
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup flour (omit in ice cream)
3/4 – 1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped or 1 Tbsp vanilla extract or paste (or all of it!)
6 egg yolks
1/4 tsp coarse salt

 

Protocol

1. In a medium mixing bowl, beat yolks until light and fluffy, and set aside.

2. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat half & half, cream, sugar, salt, flour (if making custard), vanilla bean and scraped “caviar” on medium heat.  Stir until sugar has dissolved and mixture is hot, but not boiling (about 5 minutes).  If making custard, the mixture will get thick because of the flour.

3. Remove from heat, and temper the yolks by slowly adding about a 1/2 cup of the cream mixture to the beaten yolks and whisking to combine.  Do this twice, and then pour the tempered eggs into the remainder of the cream mixture.

4. Return the saucepan to medium heat, and cook for another 7-10 minutes or until custard coats the back of a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, stirring often to prevent custard sticking to the bottom of the saucepan.  Again, do not let boil.

If you have a thermometer, make sure the temperature of the custard reaches and remains between 175 and 180 degrees F.  Custard is fully cooked at about 176 degrees, and too much extra heat will curdle and cause separation of components.  A few seconds won’t hurt, but a minute will.  If you don’t have a thermometer, remove custard from heat as soon as it’s thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon (this is the 7-10 minutes, but it may be only 5).

5. When done cooking, dip the pot into a bowl of ice water to quickly stop cooking; then transfer to a bowl.  Remove vanilla bean, and allow custard to cool at room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator.  Cover with a piece of plastic wrap (to prevent a “skin” from forming).

6. To make it into ice cream, simply pour chilled custard into a pre-frozen ice cream maker bowl, and process according to manufacturer’s instructions.

The toughest part of this process is not eating the whole tub on your own.  My best advice: tell someone you’re making it, so that you’re forced to share.  Or not.  Your secret’s safe with me.

panzanella

Earlier this week, a woman at work brought in a box of what looked like 800 tomatoes.  Her vegetable garden is very giving, and, evidently, so is she.  The day this bounty came in, I didn’t want to be greedy so I took only three tomatoes, which is just what I’d need for a Margherita pizza or a Caprese salad.  But as the week continued, even though fewer and fewer tomatoes remained, there were still a lot left.  That’s when I took more.  Like, six more.  Don’t tell anyone.

Let’s make a salad.  A salad with bread!

Materials (serves four, or two famished souls, adapted from Ina Garten)

Salad
about 6 cups of peasant bread (or a baguette if you like crust), cut into 1-inch cubes
3 Tbsp olive oil
3-4 cups tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 English cucumber, diced
1/2 red onion, sliced into
20 sprigs of fresh basil, coarsely chopped

 

Vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp ground mustard, or Dijon mustard
1 large garlic clove, finely diced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

 

Protocol

1. In a large saucepan, heat oil on medium, add bread pieces and stir to coat.  Cook until browned, stirring as necessary to prevent burning (took me ~10 minutes).  Set aside.

2. To make the vinaigrette, add all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

Notice how the oil and vinegar don’t separate as they usually do?  The addition of mustard (a bonding agent due to its physical properties, which I could go into, but you might cry of boredom) creates an emulsion, which is a dispersion of molecules of one substance  (oil) in another (water) in which it’s usually not soluble.  In other words, two solutions that wouldn’t usually comingle, are now close friends.  Other culinary emulsifying agents include egg yolks and honey.  In case you don’t already know, science is too cool for words.

3. Before serving, toss all vegetables in the vinaigrette, add bread and toss again.  Feta is a nice addition, but not necessary or called for.  My sous chef (read: husband) loves cheese, so I sprinkled some in last minute.  I enjoyed the scant 1/2 cup of what was left over the next day, and though the bread was a bit soggy, the salad was still wonderful.

By the way, last I looked, at least 18 more tomatoes were still looking for a new home.

kitchen lab 101: baking pan color

 

We all know that black absorbs energy, and white reflects it, but, did you know that darker baking dishes brown food faster than lighter colored dishes?  It’s absolutely true.  Darker surfaces absorb more heat, which means the food cooks faster.  I learned this recently while baking two of the same pastry in two different metal pans.  One browned, while the other needed an extra ten minutes.  To offset a darker pan’s efficiency, decrease cooking time or temperature, or just watch more closely.

 

science of cake flour

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always have cake flour on hand, especially when I need it.  And sometimes, all purpose just isn’t.  Or is it?  Of course it is.  It’s too much!  It’s too much gluten!  But unless you’re making bread, you don’t want that.  All purpose flour contains about 11% protein; cake flour has about 7%.  Doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but certain recipes (say, angel food cake), demand cake flour because the lower protein content produces the absolutely necessary light and airy result.  Other recipes are more lenient, and can accept a substitution.  For those recipes, read on and make your own cake flour.

For every one cup of cake flour that a recipe requires, a mix of all purpose flour and cornstarch can be combined to make a substitute.  Cornstarch contains no gluten, and serves to cut down on the total protein in the mixture.  It’s certainly not a perfect swap, but will work in most recipes, and if you have no other option, it’ll do.  If you have time, however, run out to the market and buy some cake flour.

 

Materials (for 1 cup flour)

1 cup minus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 Tbsp cornstarch

 

Protocol (the easiest method)

Place two tablespoons of cornstarch into a measuring cup, and add all purpose flour to the 1 cup mark.  Sift three times to fully incorporate the two components into one another.  You can also scoop out a full cup of all purpose flour, remove 2 tablespoons, and then replace them with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, but that’s way too much math.  Add, subtract, then add again…  No thanks.  I’m not a mathematician, and I hope you don’t have a parabolem with that.

 

cake & whipped cream: two hard {science} lessons

The first time I made a tres leches cake, it was fantastic.  And not just because I’d never made it before, either.  Or perhaps, it was beginner’s luck…  The cake was light, airy and drenched in just the right amount of unmeasured three-milks solution.  The whipped cream topping was perfect, too.  Unlike what I’m required to do in the lab at work, I didn’t take notes on my experiment.  The raw data was perfect, but other than memory, I had no way of recreating it.  Well, memory didn’t serve me today.  It was on vacation.

Lesson #1:  When adding the dry ingredients to your creamed eggs and sugar mixture, be gentle.  Beat on low, or fold in the flour/baking powder/etc., especially if you’re using all-purpose flour.  The batter isn’t your ex, and it’s not the mean girl who wouldn’t let you sit next to her on the school bus.  It’s cake, for Peet’s sake!

Oh… where was I?…

Moving on.

Over beating the batter develops the gluten (a protein) and makes the cake dense and tough.  It’ll still taste great, but the structure will be different.  Unless you’re going for a dense, flourless cake– a totally different topic– cake should be light and fluffy.  Cake and pastry flours contain less protein content, so you might get away with slight overbeating, but why risk it?  As the played out sign reads:  Stay calm and… uuummm… don’t carry on for too long!  Or use other than all-purpose flour.

Lesson #2:  One of the most delightful things in life is whipped cream.  It really is.  And I’m not referring to the toxic, canned aerosol stuff your teenage neighbor uses to get high off of.  I’m talkin’ about simple, fresh, three-ingredient, homemade whipped cream.  Once again, the last time I made it, coincidentally to accompany the perfect, pilot tres leches cake episode, I knew when to stop.  Beating, that is.  I stopped at the first sign of a stiff peak.  Not a minute later like today, when I practically churned the cream into  butter.  You see, whipping cream contains fat, and when whisked or beaten, it allows air molecules to get involved.  In case you care, air contains cool stuff like Oxygen and Nitrogen, amongst others.  The air molecules enter the cream and create soft, fluffy peaks.  If the mixing stops, the soft peaks eventually lose their structure and the cream becomes liquid again.  However, if you keep beating the whipping cream, the fat molecules lose their protective outer membranes and join forces to envelop the air bubbles, trapping and stabilizing them.  Hence, stiffer peaks that stick together.  Once this happens, there’s no going back.  The stiff whipped cream is 1)  harder to spread, 2) like myself, cracks under pressure and 3) not what the doctor ordered.  So, take it easy and stop when you see a soft, fluffy cloud.

Class adjourned.

just when i thought science couldn’t get any more awesome

Meet the flask

Thank you chemist Erlenmeyer!

 

Meet the beaker

 

And now introducing, the fleaker!

So cute!!!

It’s the little things…