Thursday, August 20, 2009

sour cream ice cream

sour cream ice cream

Perhaps, I aught to file this under “how to charm me”. Perhaps I should go no further than tell you that should you whisper sweet nothings mentioning such things as sour cream into a Russian’s ear, that they just might be yours forever. Or maybe just enough for you to charm them more. In any case, you are guaranteed to get their undivided attention. Or at least my undivided attention. I stop in my tracks where sour cream is concerned. At the moment, as I write this, two whole tubs of it rest comfortably in my fridge. Judge me if you will, but sour cream, to me, is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

eight. egg. yolks. [deep breath]

Sour cream is the Russia’s answer to pretty much everything. The topping of choice to entrees like stuffed cabbage, the dressing to many a salad, the dollop you whirl in your soup. It’s tangy, irresistibly clean and fresh and, this part I find utterly seductive, it’s sensual and luscious. It’s yogurt, but with a more sophisticated, fuller body. In Russia, if you were lucky enough to get your hands on sour cream that came from a someone’s farm home, you knew what you had on your hands. Thick, cream-yellow, buttery, it was the equivalent of dairy gold. We would spread it on bread and I would eat it with my eyes closed. I know, the way I describe growing up in Russia, you wonder why we ever left. Thick, golden sour cream on thick black bread? If there’s heaven on earth, this was it.

sour cream ice creamsour cream ice cream
sour cream ice creamsour cream ice cream

So you have to understand my excitement, when I came upon a recipe that suggested I take my favorite condiment and use it to make ice cream. With eight egg yolks. Yes, my friends. Let’s take that in one more time. Eight. Egg. Yolks. I can feel my knees getting weaker as I type this. Sour cream and egg yolks married together, infused with a whole vanilla bean and cream. It’s as if Gourmet magazine read my innermost thoughts.

sour cream ice cream

And while I think this ice cream is just the bees’ knees just as it is, you could raise it up a notch and try is as a sundae. It’s almost like your traditional vanilla ice cream, except the sour cream gives it that indelible tang, which I find a great deal more refreshing than plain vanilla ice cream – in this summer heat.

sour cream ice cream

Besides, what else is there to do in this heat wave, but to make ice cream? You can see, I’ve been cooling myself off with this stunner and sometimes, even boiling water for pasta is too much. At the rate I’m going, churning batches of ice cream out with regularity, my little ice cream machine is just not cutting it. And I’ve been seriously contemplating graduating myself to a more sophisticated model. Because you know, I totally deserve it. And lest you think I am being totally selfish, I will have you know that I gladly share my ice cream with friends who drop in. Especially friends bearing cookies.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

cacio e pepe

cacio e pepe

Hello, summer! Finally, you’ve made your arrival to New York – and boy oh boy, did you let us have it. I mean, could you be any hotter? Scratch that, I’m not about to challenge you – you’re already making my air conditioning work overtime. But really, let’s talk here. First, you play coy with us and take your sweet time, and then – wham! You are here, in full bloom: heat, humidity and everything in between. May I just say that the ladies with curly hair are just a wee bit cross with you? I’m just being honest.

The other bit is that this sudden and rather intense arrival is sort of creating a rift between me and my kitchen. I want to go in there so badly, I want to chop and dice and saute and broil, but you, you are making it very difficult. Almost impossible I’d say. I’m barely mustering the energy to cook some simple pasta dishes, like this one here and the one I wrote about recently. I’ve also taken to making ice cream to cool myself off, but I’ll save that for another day. As for pasta, as I cannot live on salad alone and peanut butter sandwiches are neither exciting nor inventive, I have to keep it short and sweet.

fresh pasta

And lucky for you, dear summer, that it just so happens that my favorite pasta dish is this one. Yes, this very one. Dear readers, as you look below in search of ingredients, you find only five. I know – just five! And I bet you have most, if not all in your kitchen already. An authentic pasta dish that traces its roots back to Rome that’s as easy as making mac and cheese from a box, if not easier.

Originally labeled as cucina povera (aka humble food for the common folk who might not have the means or the time to fix themselves an elaborate meal) this is anything but a poor man’s dinner. The marriage of its ingredients, while deceptively simple, is anything but humble when it comes to taste. And yet again, it’s a step away from traditional tomato or cream sauces, which, believe me, you will not miss in this sweltering heat. The mere thought of a cream sauce is making me reach for my glass of ice water.

olive oil

I know I keep saying to you fresh pasta, and I’m sure you’re a bit annoyed because it’s not like fresh pasta is sold in every grocery store. But, just trust me when I say fresh pasta is totally worth it. Really. It’s that much better. I think it might be the egg in it, but I’m not certain. If making pasta ain’t your thang, and believe me, I don’t blame you (who has the time and kitchen space?), try finding it in your supermarket. It will make a difference – and you won’t be sorry.

cacio e pepe

When we can be barely brought to approach our stoves, this is a solution that’s a good compromise. While you heat the water, you can grate the cheese and make basil chiffonade (a fancy term for slivers). Your fresh pasta takes mere minutes to cook and after a quick drain, you place it in bowls, add heaps of grated cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle with freshly cracker pepper. You mix the ingredients, and garnish with fresh basil slivers. Then you pour yourself a glass of chilled, robust white wine and sit back while eating your dinner. You won’t even break a sweat with this meal which means you win. Score: you – one; summer – zero.

Dear summer, you can bring your worst, I am ready for you.

Continue reading cacio e pepe.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

sweet cherry pie

sweet cherry pie

Move over, apple pie, you’ve got serious competition as far as I’m concerned. I know I once pledged my undying love for you, but that was before cherry pie and I had made acquaintance. I really didn’t expect it to be this good, but I must say, I’m over the moon here.

sweet cherries

Granted, sour cherries is really where it’s at, but I missed the sour cherry season, because while other folks were busy making sour cherry treats, I was busy looking for an apartment, then packing, then moving, then unpacking. And by the time I pulled my baking gear out of boxes, sour cherries were gone, done for the season, and instead these sweet ones were all over the place.

this pitter is a life-saver!

Not to be deterred, I decided to give these sweet cherries a whirl in a pie. And to up the ante further, I picked the hottest, most humid of days to do so. Yes, I like an extra challenge, why do you ask?

no more pits!no more crust fear!

I’ve written about my thoughts on making a successful crust here, but I’d like to reiterate the cold factor one more time. It’s incredibly important to achieve a flaky crust, but in summer weather when you have 100% humidity and 90 degree weather, cold should be the manifesto with which you set out to make the crust. I kept my rolling pin, bowl of flour and butter in the freezer for this to make sure I kept my ingredients as chilled as possible. My one gripe is that butter, when kept in the freezer, will crumble under the knife, instead of making perfect little cubes. I’m a sucker for those perfect little cubes – even if they’re seconds way from being blended with the flour into pea sized bits.

sweet cherry pie

A few years ago, I attempted a pie crust on what turned out to be the hottest day in all of the summer season. And you know, that totally scorched me. I couldn’t come near a pie crust recipe, let alone try and measure out my ingredients. All, I want to say here is that if I conquered my fears and delivered, in this pie, my most successful, flakiest crust to date (and it was anti-crust weather), you can do it too. Just work quickly with determination. Like I said in my latest pie post, pie crust smells fear – and you are stronger than the pie crust!

sweet cherry pie

I loved the filling idea from Deb at Smitten Kitchen and so adapted it for the pie here. But I stuck with the sweeter version of my usual pie crust, which I wrote about when I made the Honey Bourbon Caramel Peach Pie – it’s the same pie crust as you might find in many books, but with two teaspoons of sugar instead of the usual one.

sweet cherry pie

So while the cherries are plentiful and inexpensive and we still have a month of summer left, find the time for this pie – if you make your crust in advance and chill it, it’s a cinch – and a delicious one at that.

cherry pie

Continue reading sweet cherry pie.

Monday, August 10, 2009

pasta with goat cheese, zucchini and summer squash

pasta with zucchini, goat cheese & lemon

I’ve been a little zucchini obsessed lately. I can’t stop buying them and they disappear as soon as they make it in the kitchen. I’ve sautéed them, I’ve gone back to my favorite feta and dill stuffed ones, and I’ve come across this recipe which I’ve made at least three times. I know, a recipe repeated? Several times at the expense of others? But there’s something soft and comforting and bright and cheery about this meal. And best of all, it lets the seasonal favorites: summer squash and zucchini shine.

pasta with zucchini, goat cheese & lemon

I’m also taking a break from the traditional tomato-based pasta sauces – I’ve been craving creamy cheeses like ricotta and goat cheese. And lemon, lots of lemon. I cannot get enough of it. Lemon is my constant water companion; I drizzle it over my salads and fish; and make sorbets out of it. I add it to fruit in pies to make the fruit stand out more. Lucky for me, the local grocer offers lemons in bulk and at the rate I’m buying them, is probably thinking I’m running my own lemonade stand.

pasta with zucchini, goat cheese & lemon

A few weeks ago, I once again, brought home my current favorite loot. But I didn’t quite have a plan, and after staring at the contents of my fridge for a few minutes my vegetables, I had a brilliant plan. I first sautéed a shallot with a garlic clove and then added sliced zucchini and summer squash. The whole thing came together quickly, beautifully and I have to say that for a week night meal, after you get home from a crazed day at the office, this is perfection at its best. I even served this to the book club ladies two nights later. Never one to hoard food, I was a little wistful that none was left over for the following night.

pasta with zucchini, goat cheese & lemon

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

watermelon, feta and arugula salad

watermelon feta salad

It took two months of summer for it to finally get humid to the point where thinking about turning on a burner on my stove makes me break out in sweat and such moments are truly rare.

what i live for during the summer

To add insult to injury, work has been unseasonably busy. Summer hours are supposed to be shorter and lighter, right? In my office apparently, no one got the memo and I’ve been pulling longer hours. In a way this is a welcome change – things are looking better than last year, so I shouldn’t complain. But it’s summer, and the season makes me work less and play more especially while we’re getting more daylight.

crumbled fetawatermelon feta salad

There’ve been times when I’d get home from work, knowing full well that if I didn’t cook something in ten minutes or less, I’d be making myself yet another peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And there is something about fixing my own dinner and not reaching for the take-out menu that gives comfort. I can have a horrible day at work, I could be in sour mood, but something about being in my kitchen, picking up a knife and chopping a few things gives me a sense of order in what sometimes feels like an overwhelming and disorderly world.

watermelon feta salad

So faced with a dilemma of wanting to cook something and yet being absolutely ravenous, I’ve come across this gem of a salad. Okay, so you’ll have to make your balsamic reduction a little bit ahead of time so it’s nice and chilled, but you could do it days before and have it just lounging in your refrigerator for when you want to make the salad. And since watermelon is the thing to eat this time of year, this salad takes, like, five minutes to assemble, and the whole production doesn’t require the use of a stove, you now have no excuse not cooking. In the time it takes to put together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you can make this salad. Problem solved!

watermelon feta salad

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

black pepper ice cream

black pepper vanilla ice cream

I remember the first time I had vanilla ice cream infused with peppercorns. I was in France for the first time, backpacking for nearly four weeks as a prelude to moving to New York to start work for a big investment bank. My friend and I have been making our way down from Paris all the way down to the French riviera and were spending a few days in Nice. My first impressions of Nice were less than favorable. I found the city disagreeable especially after traipsing around Nantes, La Rochelle, the Bordeaux region (St. Emilion, be still my heart), Avignon and many others in between. Nice was chalk full of tourists, like a tightly packed can of sardines, and I suddenly felt as if we were no longer in France. I was also a little on the tense side, nearing the end of my traveling funds, every franc carefully considered and measured.

crushing the peppercornsinfusing the custard

A combination of heat, poverty and an overabundance of Russian tourists made me slightly cranky towards Nice. Also, it was hot, humid, our hotel room didn’t have any air conditioning and when we inquired about a fan, the hotel proprietor yawned and recommended we take frequent showers and sleep au naturel. Yes, he actually said that. So, poor and sweaty, I was in quite a state. Nothing helped – not even the salade Niçoise which was sheer perfection, but it was going to take more to draw me out of my misery. (Even as I write this, I can’t help but roll eyes at myself. My goodness, miserable while on vacation in France? What a spoiled brat I must sound like!) My poor traveling companion had to make do with my grumpy mood and put up with my sulking.

yolks!whisking the yolks

On the third day of skulking about, I decided enough is enough and ventured to check out Vieux Nice, a beautiful, older part of the city with brightly colored buildings and tiny weaving streets. It was there that I discovered this ice cream cafe in the middle of the plaza – now realizing it was the famous Fennochio’s ice cream parlor, which apparently makes over 200 different flavors. If memory serves me right, and I hope I’m not making this up, but the proprietor of the store told me they made around 70 different ice cream flavors on that day alone. I had choice overload. I was smitten with all the flavors available. There is that moment when too much choice makes your decision-making difficult. My travel buddy selected a boule of pistachio and a boule of orange flower. I went with lavender, and also pink-peppercorn vanilla. I know it’s a bit cliche to use Julia Child’s sole meuniere experience as an example here, what with the movie opening in a few days, but that’s sort of the closest I can come to in giving an example that mirrored my own experience. The flavors were magnificent; it was like nothing I expected. I still remember swirling that first spoonful in my mouth, my eyes closed as I tried to take everything in. And in a few moments, and a few spoonfuls later, I was happy, smiling, completely blissful and my misery evaporated instantly.

press the pepper down to extract flavor

I realize that the recipe below is for black peppercorn ice cream and what I had in Nice was pink peppercorn, which are totally different flavors. But the point is that the infusions of peppercorns in my vanilla ice cream, woke up my palate. At 22, I hadn’t thought of combining flavors like pepper with a sweet one of ice cream. Even after sampling chili-infused dark chocolate, I hadn’t made the link. That afternoon at the plaza made me reconsider the whole flavor palete and how unexpected notes combine to create something lovely and elegant. While plain vanilla ice cream, done well, is nothing short of spectacular, vanilla ice cream with infused with pepper (black or pink or white) takes vanilla to a whole new level. Think of it as vanilla in fourth dimension. Notes and depth comes out that otherwise you might not have been aware of before. And the nice warm sensation in the back of your throat is an added bonus.

smooth and creamy

I had filed that experience into the archives of my mind and hadn’t given it much thought until I spied the recipe in David Lebovitz’ ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop. And just like that, the memory came rushing back, and the flavors I remembered tasting returned. Luckily, I managed to find the missing part to my ice cream maker, and felt it my duty to relive the experience that so many years ago changed the way I taste. I prefer the black pepper to the pink pepper flavor, personally, as the latter gives a more flowery aspect to vanilla, whereas the former has an earthier, spicier note.

And I assure you, if you have a case of the grumpies, try this rather holistic remedy. I guarantee smiles and bliss within minutes of consumption, and to save you the trouble of learning the hard way, you might want to make a double batch, in case your guests don’t understand your unwillingness to share.

Continue reading black pepper ice cream.