Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rosewater and Pistachio Ice Cream

Still on my Middle Eastern kick--which, apparently, I've passed onto my daughter, Bryn. The rosewater ice cream caught her eye in that Persian grocery store (see my entry on groceries)...we came home with the rosewater that day. We were back at that same store this weekend, and when she asked about buying the ice cream? I said we had to make it. Of course, when we got home, I realized the rosewater was about the only thing we had in the cupboard that we needed. I didn't have enough eggs, whole milk, cream or pistachios. So yesterday, I bought the rest of the ingredients, hauled out the trusty Cuisinart Ice Cream maker I bought at Costco last year and created today's indulgence.

This is the real deal. If you look closely at the photo, you can see the flecks of saffron and the pieces of pistachio....

I had to make a custard with 6 yolks mixed with sugar and cream heated with saffron threads--cook it til thickened (and I made sure it heated to at least 160 degrees, which makes raw egg safe). I cooled it in an "ice bath." (Here's a professional culinary clue: have the ice bath ready BEFORE you need it. Otherwise, you might be calling your daughter to haul out the entire bin of ice from the the freezer and so you can place the bowl on top of all that ice. Not that I would know anything about that or anything..) I had to shell a ton of pistachios, because the only unsalted ones I was able to find came shell-on. Chop the pistachios, mix into cooled, strained custard. Freeze and eat.

Rosewater ice cream may be a little odd to Americans...I don't think our taste buds equate foods with the floral, perfume-y scent and flavor of this ice cream, but it's lovely. I like mine better than some I've tasted in the past, although I'm not sure why--I do think maybe the richness of the yolks complements the heady rose flavors better than those others (I've also seen a place that carries rose sorbet. I might have to try that, too..).

Here's my recipe adapted a bit from several recipes I found on the web...

1 cup cream
1/2 cup half and half
1 heaping teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
6 yolks
1 cup superfine sugar
1/3 cup rosewater
1 cup pistachios, crushed to small pieces

Before starting, ready and ice bath by placing ice and water into a container large enough to hold the bowl you will be using to make the custard in...

1. Heat cream, half and half, saffron and vanilla to boiling. While that is coming to the boil, whisk yolks with sugar in a metal bowl.
2. Pour hot cream mixture into yolks in a slow, steady stream, whisking all the while. Don't stop whisking. Let it cool a bit by whisking for another 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Bring pot of water to simmer. Place bowl with custard over the simmering water and cook until thickened while continuing to whisk NON STOP (you don't want the yolks to curdle). Cook until thickened and a thermometer registers at least 160 degrees. Remove from heat and place bowl in waiting ice bath. Whisk until the custard is no longer warm.
4. Cool custard in refrigerator (overnight is best; I cooled it for about an hour because we wanted to eat the ice cream NOW.) When you are ready to make the ice cream, Strain the custard, stir in the pistachios and pour all into ice cream maker; freeze according to manufacturer's directions.

Note: The easiest way to crush the pistachios is to place them in a re-sealable plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. No chopping required.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Squash Soup (and root canals...)

Maybe a food blog doesn't involve root canals where YOU live, but when I go through something like that (and I did. This morning.), I think: okay, what can I still eat and not have to chew? I decided, in spite of the 82 degree high today, to have one of my favorites, baked squash soup: bake a butternut squash, an acorn squash, carrots and onions (or the leeks you've been wanting to use. The ones that have been in the vegetable bin too long.) with some stock until everything is buttery soft.

Scrape into pot, add more stock, blend with one of the world's best kitchen gadgets, the Kitchenaid Stick Blender (a.k.a. immersion blender--and no, I do not work for Kitchenaid, but these things are good. No, they are one of the best tools you can have in your kitchen...), until all is smooth. Ladle into bowl, top with a bit of sour cream, a sprinkle of chipotle powder (my twist on the original, which came from the Silver Palate) and enjoy a bowl. Two bowls. Three bowls. (look, I didn't get to eat anything else for most of the day. I get three bowls of squash soup!)

Oh, and one of the toys I picked up at MOMA's gift shop was "The last peeler You'll ever buy!" by Kyocera. Hmm. For $22 it had better be. So I used it to peel the carrots I added to the soup (they get baked along with the squash). So far, the jury is out on this...Not blown away by The Last Peeler I Will Ever Buy. It was okay as a peeler, but it says the ceramic blade will never rust, will stay sharper longer and won't give food any metallic taste...I will keep using it and let you know.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Catching up..

Have barely had time to catch my breath since school got back in session--haven't cooked much, but I have managed to eat out a lot, not the least because I'm in the middle of spending about five days visiting my favorite (only!) sister, Pat, in Connecticut. We have done some great things: visited Chinatown in Flushing for soup dumplings and dim sum with a stop at the Patel Brothers grocery on our way into Manhattan to check out Mood Fabrics--since we are Project Runway junkies--and visit the gruesome but terribly entertaining to kids Ripley's museum...which meant Bryn also got to see Times Square...Then brunch today with two of my favorite people in the world, Karen and Joan, at a wonderful place in lovely Tarrytown--Chiboust Bistro and Bakery--I will manage to write a bit about that later, but for now, if you are in the vicinity? Go for a visit. Great spot.
...So what else? Oh, first day here, we checked out The Modern at Museum of Modern Art--owned by Union Square Cafe. That was a wonderful lunch and museum visit, but for the record, if any of you should run into Bryn and inquire about the gnocchi with sweetbreads, make sure you know that SWEETBREADS ARE A TYPE OF SAUSAGE. (And please don't let her know I lie to her...) Really, I had to come up with something and at least she thought about eating the gnocchi. If I'd really let her know what sweetbreads are (and trust me, I've been in her shoes: what sounds better to a carb lover: It's bread AND sweet? SCORE!), I think I'd have lost her then--we wouldn't have been able to go through the museum...

So I will blog and post photos of a lot of our visits when I get back to Florida (did I mention it's subzero with the windchill here right now? I had to borrow clothes--I own nothing that works up here any longer...)...right now I have to stir the cauliflower my BIL Sushil is cooking up--it's an Indian feast here tonight. Don't worry. I will blog that too.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Fun with Groceries

A few weeks back I decided I had to make a carrot salad that used something called za'atar. Padma Lakshmi, she of Top Chef Fame, has just released a lovely new cookbook called Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet.

I immediately made the salad with black plums and yuzu dressing for a dinner I was going to. That was a big hit. But the carrot salad was looking particularly tempting. And for that, I needed za'atar. Za'atar is a blend of spices that includes sesame, thyme, oregano, sumac...and other stuff.

A friend had introduced me to a cool little Persian grocery store about 15 minutes from our home, so one Sunday afternoon, I bribed Bryn into being my company (I bribed her by promising a stop for new ballet slippers first...oh, and a stop at the vegetarian Indian buffet at Udipi Cafe, where they serve complimentary dosas...Mmmm. I digress.)...After browsing a bit, and plucking a tin of wonderful French feta from the refrigerated section, I was getting nowhere in my search for za'atar...when I asked the clerk, all I could remember was azatar, but that didn't ring a bell for her. I made a quick phone call, had my husband pull the cookbook from the shelf and he found it: za'atar (me? I'm thinking the clerk would have made that connection, but that is neither here nor there...) Of course, she recognized the correct spelling instantly. Of course, they were out of the blend.

I left with a nice stash anyway: feta cheese, pomegranate molasses (so sweet! so tart!), rosewater (yes, I plan on rosewater and pistachio ice cream, because I've eaten that at Saffron's Persian Restaurant in Louisville, KY, a restaurant owned by one of the nicest restaurateurs I have ever met: If you go to Louisville, visit Saffron. I digress. Again.), whole cinnamon sticks and saffron sugar cubes (which I had to hide from the family before they treated themselves to every last cube)...

But no za'atar. As luck would have it, though, I had locked the keys in the car. That necessitated a call to Gary to bring the spare key and a trip to the nail salon nearby to pass the time waiting for him to reach us. No hardship there...but the luck comes in because as we turned the corner, what should we find but another Middle Eastern grocery store (as well as about three Middle Eastern restaurants that will have to be tried in the near future)...and THEY had the za'atar.

I haven't made the carrot salad yet...but I will. In the meantime, here's a nice photo of my wonderful groceries:

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Brrr. The only night all year for Hot Chocolate

Bryn has been requesting hot chocolate for a few weeks now because it just seeeeeems so Christmas-y.

Yeah, well, all right and good, but really? In South Florida? You don't drink hot chocolate because it is SO. DANG. HOT. ALL. YEAR. LONG.

Yes, I've told friends, and now I will share with you. I am the curmudgeon walking out of my house on January 15, when blizzards are socking in much of the north, when gray hangs over the great mass of states...you know, up there (picture me vaguely waving my hand...), I am that person who squints into the hot sun and mutters through clenched teeth, "I cannot believe that it is 84 degrees and sunny. AGAIN." Then I turn the A/C cooler, run to my air-conditioned car and try not to sweat.

But today? Today I am all smiles. Two nights ago, the temperature plunged 20 degrees in hours. Last night, the temperatures got into the upper 30s. I got to wear flannel PJs. I got to wear my fleece slippers. I got to wear a sweatshirt to the gym, and I got to wear my suede jacket (I look really nice in it, you know).

So when Bryn asked about hot chocolate as we made a Publix stop after the gym, she in a workout cami, me in a t-shirt (I lost the sweat shirt because I was sweating), as we passed Floridians bundled up against this "frost-bite weather," when she asked? I said yes.

And you didn't think I was going to let packets of powdered milk and fake chocolate grace the one cup of hot cocoa I might consume the entire year, did you? No, I didn't think so. I bought good bittersweet chocolate, heated up milk enriched with a little heavy cream I happen to have left over from the baking...stirred in the broken up chocolate until I had real cocoa. Then I put my feet up in those fleece slippers and enjoyed. (Yes, the title is long, I know, but I can't help myself.)

Real Hot Cocoa for the Only Day in S. Florida You Get to Drink Cocoa

2 cups milk
1/4 cup cream
2-3 ounces good quality hot chocolate broken into pieces.

In a heavy-bottomed pan, start to heat the milk. As it starts to steam, stir in the chocolate, and continue stirring over the heat until chocolate is completely melted. Pour. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Falafel a la Abu-Jaber

(Catching up: I wrote this on January 1.)

So my soaking chick peas never got used yesterday...and today felt like falafel...

I followed the falafel recipe in Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber, which has made me crave all foods mentioned in the book. Grind the chick peas with cumin, coriander, cayenne, oregano, baking powder, salt and pepper. Fry. Eat and enjoy.

Okay, not quite so simple. I had to learn to reaaaallly mush the chick pea stuff together. My first one simply fell apart in the oil...then I cooked a few, got cocky and had another one fall apart...but they were worth the effort of frying, something I do so rarely. I used to have a favorite, Mamoun's Falafel in NYC.

Hey, Mamoun, there's a new girl in town. Me.

I now love homemade falafel. This is definitely going on my list as an indulgent treat...hmm. Maybe falafel is my new New Year's Day treat...for good luck. My good luck.

I also loved the yogurt sauce I improvised. Regular, plain Greek-style yogurt (regular as in not no-fat, not low-fat) mixed with some chopped parsley, chopped mint, salt, pepper, a sprinkle of cumin, coriander and cardamom...It might not be authentic (it has to be close), but it was perfect. There was something completely decadent about the rich yogurt. I have another container of it..wonder what I should do with it...I think I could make this and just eat it on its own...

Improvised Yogurt Sauce

1 cup plain, Greek-style yogurt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped mint
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 cup chopped cucumber (peeled and seeded)

Mix all ingredients together. Eat as is or with freshly fried falafel.