Wednesday, May 23, 2007

frozen yogurt

edible bliss

I first heard about it on the Ellen show – she was raving about this frozen yogurt from a company called Pinkberry – it was amazing, she said, and best of all, fat free. I had to roll my eyes at the television screen – another celebrity endorsement, another fat-free treat – it’s probably not even yogurt! But Ellen went on and on and on about it, how good it was, and how tangy and fresh the yogurt tasted and oh, what fresh toppings they had; and before you know it, the name had tattooed itself inside my brain. At the time, this was only an LA sensation and I felt well-insulated from yet another overhyped franchise, especially one that reminded me of Tasti D-Lite – a company whose product I loathe almost as much as I loathe high-fructose corn syrup. But that’s for another time.

Then one day, while visiting KS’s father’s apartment his little sister brought up Pinkberry – and how good it was. “Did you try it while in LA,” I inquired. “No,” she said, her eyes glowing, “they have it in Chelsea!” And so one lazy morning, en route to work in a cab (okay, so it wasn’t lazy, just freakishly cold!) I spotted it on 8th Avenue. The cute pink and green letters, the toy-like design, and made a mental note. A few cold, seemingly interminable months later, we finally found ourselves taking a stroll in Chelsea and passed by the location. And I, of course, had to go in! Even KS, normally abstaining from dairy desserts (oh lactose intolerance, how cruel you are!) made an exception and sampled the frozen yogurt treat. The moment the frozen yogurt hit my palate, I became obsessed. It was so good, I could not get spoons fast enough in my mouth, where the yogurt disappeared quickly, leaving me with a stupid happy grin on my face.

sugar. yogurt. vanilla.

It was as if my taste buds had woken up from some sugar-laden nightmare and unanimously agreed – this is what frozen yogurt SHOULD taste like. There was a reason I couldn’t stomach the overly sweet frozen yogurts out there. And right then and there, I decided – an ice cream maker this summer is a must. And then, Heidi had to go and write about how good and easy making frozen yogurt was at home, and referenced David’s book. And I found an ice cream maker on sale for $30 (that’s, like, free!) and while I cannot exactly remember hitting submit on my book order (something about selective amnesia is kicking in), Amazon.com did deliver The Perfect Scoop as well as my next favorite cookbook. And I’ve been flipping though the books nightly salivating over each page.

So last night, after my ingenious salad creation – who knew leftovers could be so delectable – and some planting-in-the-dark (oh, that’s a story in and of itself) – I was all but finished with the kitchen. And so I gave this basic frozen yogurt recipe a whirl. Now, some people follow the recipe first time to a tee, but I, on the other hand, always like to tweak them my own way. Not so this time, aside from decreasing the original amount of sugar by a half, and mixing two parts of strained yogurt with one part regular plain yogurt, I followed this quite meticulously. I even was able to assemble and start the ice cream machine without it freezing the paddle to itself – an accomplishment I was extremely proud of!! Forty long and arduous minutes later, KS and I both had heaping bowls of frozen yogurt on our laps.

all hail david lebovitz!

And man. Was. It. Good. So good in fact that I licked the bowl! Pinkberry who??

And now I just can’t get over how incredibly delicious it was. I’ve been thinking about having more since yesterday morning and couldn’t leave the house without shoving a few spoonfuls in my mouth – breakfast of champions I know – and then at night, on my conference call, I was being so loud with my spoon knocking against the dish, I woke KS up.

I just have this feeling that by the end of summer, David’s book will have been loved well and used backwards and forwards – and the pages might just get stuck together from my sticky fingers, and I might have to get myself another copy! There will be a lot of frozen dessert consumption in this household in the next few months.

pinkberry, eat your heart out!

Perhaps putting in an elastic waist in all my pants might be a good idea for this summer. That and attaching my name tag on a treadmill at the local gym.

Continue reading frozen yogurt.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

homemade croutons

for soup, salad, or snacking alone

One of my grandmothers lived through the siege of St. Petersburg
during the WWII. She watched her mother, among others, starve to death
and was lucky to make it out alive. I have few stories of her
experience during the war, as she doesn’t like to talk about it. And
while she doesn’t try to forget it, she is certainly not eager to dig
up and unearth those painful memories. I used to want to find out, but
I figured she’s earned her right to silence – she’s 93 years old,
after all.

Living through the war, when the daily rations of bread, bread that
was mixed with woodchips to increase its density and decrease the
flour content, were sparse; and after the war, when food supplies were
still limited; taught my grandmother not to throw out even food that’s
gone spoiled. She always tried to rescue it and always insisted that I
cleared my plate during a meal. She wasn’t the greatest cook, but
having experienced hunger unlike anything most of us have ever felt,
she just couldn’t bring herself to throw food in the garbage.

So naturally, when our bread would go stale, we wouldn’t dare throw it
out. We’d cut it into tiny cubes and toast them in the oven with salt,
until they got hard and crunchy. These were tiny Russian croutons –
“suhariki” as we called them – made primarily out of Russian rye
bread, the same kind you can now buy in most Russian stores. They look
like big, fat bricks and when fresh, smell like heaven. When our white
bread would go stale, we would sprinkle the cubes with milk, and shake
a mixture of sugar and cinnamon over them before sending them off to
the oven. I can’t even begin to tell you how good these sweet croutons
tasted!

things to do with stale, old bread

You’d think that this easy, practical tradition would stick with me,
but I cannot remember my mother or me making these croutons since we
arrived in the United States. In fact, I think I pretty much blanked
out on this treat until last week, when we had some sourdough bread
and I was lamenting that it was past its prime. KS, the practical boy
that he is, suggested I toast them in the oven to make homemade
croutons! And I jumped on the idea because it was so simple, so
practical and so tasty. So, credit him for the ingenuity!

I am on a cayenne kick lately, and KS loves the spice so much, he’ll
never complain about its presence in practically anything, so why not
give my croutons a little personality? I gave the bread cubes, also, a
generous sprinkling of extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and rosemary,
before sending them to a dry-heat sauna.

I suppose it’s fitting then, that around Russia’s V-Day, perhaps as a
tribute, I post about not wasting foods that are too easily put in the
garbage, even though it’s very easy to save them and create something
altogether. And what is more fitting to salvage than bread – the
staple of so many diets?

Continue reading homemade croutons.

Friday, May 4, 2007

lemon ricotta pancakes

lemony clouds

In every relationship there is stuff you agree on, and there’s stuff you work out. If your values and fundamental beliefs are in agreement, provided you share the same goals about your future, things have a much better way of working themselves out. Of course, there’ll be little thing here and there to tweak. Right side of the bed or left? Squeeze the toothpaste from the middle or bottom? Fold clothes neatly and put them away, or throw them on a chair in hopes that they will magically hang themselves?

To all that above, I say, these are the passing, fleeing moments, that while might cause a slight bit of friction for some (though not for all), aren’t indicative of much, or all that weighty. They’re topical, superfluous, and they do not a relationship make. Or break.

There is of course the issue of breakfast. I’m convinced that everyone, and I mean everyone, loves breakfast. Even if you think you don’t love breakfast, you really do, you just don’t know it yet. Brunch, is even a more glorious event combining the growling of a hungry breakfast stomach with a weekend leisure a weekday cannot simply afford. At least for those of us who have to be at work before 8 am.

colors pleasing to the eye

Lucky for me, both KS and I are breakfast people. Hardly a weekend goes by without our morning sit-down meal, which typically, is eggs and toast, sometimes accompanied by bacon, always doused in hot sauce, often served with coffee, but sometimes tea. And jam – jam is key for me, people. And were it not SO economically pointless for me to make it, this site would be full of jam recipes.

But when you dig deeper into the breakfast preference, two camps firmly emerge: the eggs camp and the pancake/French toast camp. I, proudly, place myself in the latter camp, but with a caveat. The pancakes have to be lighter than air, melting in your mouth almost instantly, leaving you with a full, but not a heavy feeling. And that is hard to find. KS, on the other hand is an eggs-for-breakfast devoté, usually preferring them over-easy, sitting atop a toasted bread.

butter, melted - exalt!
And since you can’t really just make pancakes for yourself, seeing as the smallest batch of batter feeds at least 2-3 people, we rarely, if ever make them at home. But a few months ago (yes, months, I am this backlogged), I convinced KS that we had to have lemon ricotta pancakes for breakfast. This was right after our trip to the Bowery Kitchen Supplies, housed in the Chelsea Market building, where we stopped at an Italian grocery store and I went crazy with glee, picking up creamy ricotta among other items. The ricotta was begging to be cooked, and who was I to refuse it?

And so I did some research online and approximated which recipe out there (as there are many) would produce the lightest, fluffiest, most delicious pancakes. And the winner was Bobby Flay, who has yet to fail me with his amazing take on recipes – the man is a genius, really! And while I tweaked the recipe a bit, I have to credit him with the inspiration and the base. These were truly the most incredible pancakes I’ve ever had. I won’t tell you how many I had, but it was a bit embarrassing, as I had more than a few.

plentitude

I took out the lemon curd altogether. I don’t know if it’s just me, but anything that has a name “curd” attached to it, is an automatic turnoff. Maybe because it rhymes with “turd”? Who knows, really? I also used buttermilk instead of milk, because I find that the tingly sour taste of buttermilk makes the pancakes softer, lighter, full of air. Milk tends to bring out the heaviness in pancakes.

And since it was a gloomy, sunless, cold winter day, anything lemon flavored was akin to letting a little bit of warmth, sun and the promise of spring into our winter existence. And for me, it was the next best thing.

Continue reading lemon ricotta pancakes.