Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Kitchen Reader: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

August's pick for The Kitchen Reader was "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver, chosen by Karen at Shortbread South.

I'll admit I was a little worried when I started this book that it would be overly preachy, following so closely on the heels of Michael Pollan's book. What I liked about Barbara Kingsolver's book is that her family put their money where their mouths are and put the local eating philosophy into practice, though this did take the local movement to quite the extreme. I found the family's perspective on their year-long experiment (only eating food that they could raise themselves or purchase locally) to be entertaining, and for some reason I found the section describing the Amish farmers' interest in the hybrid car technology to be extremely funny.

I was probably the most surprised by the maturity level of the two daughters and their willingness to embrace this lifestyle, since oddly enough, I had a similar experience growing up. My parents decided in the early 80's to eschew processed and industrially farmed foods (vegetables and meat). Because there was barely any interest in environmentally conscious practices at the time (may have to do with the fact that I lived in Canada, the land of the few and far between), this decision forced us to move to the countryside where we proceeded to grow all the vegetables and fruit that was necessary to feed a family of 5 on a 4-acre piece of land in a rural subdivision. Luckily we didn't raise animals - there were farmers within the region who followed free-range practices, so I got used to seeing a full cow and 50 chickens in our freezers.

I did become a speedy sheller of peas, and quite proficient at blanching or canning to preserve the produce for the year, but I certainly didn't embrace those skills as a teenager (my parents made the full switch when I was 10). In fact, every opportunity I had as a teenager was one to eat junk food, and when I left for college it got worse to the point where I was almost solely existing on processed foods if not outright fast food. In retrospect, it's funny how I've come full circle - now I cook all my food from scratch, and while I will never attempt what my family still does and what the Kingsolver family did, I have started to seek out local products as much as possible. I credit my husband for the gradual reversal in my habits and preferences, which is in itself strange since he grew up eating vegetables out of a can.

That's where I'm not sure if I fully believe Camille's parts in the book (the older daughter) since she sure doesn't sound like a typical teenager. However, the most meaningful quote to me from the book was written by her, which was "Most of us agree to put away our sandals and bikinis when the leaves start to turn, even if they're our favorite clothes. We can learn to apply similar practicality to our foods." Figures it took a fashion reference to bring the point home for me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Can't type, eating

I don't know where the time has gone.  Part of it is due to my schedule picking up at work - my brain is now more occupied during most of the day, so I have less brainpower leftover to devote to blogging. It's also peak allergy season for me and I spend most of the day in a fog, despite taking anti-histamines that don't deliver on the promise of mental clarity (Claritin clear! stupid commercial...).

I've also been making more ice cream.

The Kitchen Aid mixer attachment arrived last week, and promptly went into the freezer. The attachment is a very heavy bowl with some sort of ice pack-type liquid inside that needs to be frozen solid before you attempt to use it. In the reviews online, the unanimous suggestion was to freeze the bowl for longer than the recommend 15 hours or so - a number of people indicated they just left their bowl in the freezer in order to be ready to make ice cream at a moment's notice. You'll be prepared in the event you're overcome by a sudden, overwhelming urge to make ice cream.

This time I tried a double ginger recipe as written by David Lebovitz for Fine Cooking magazine. I cut back on the sugar again since we don't like desserts that are overly sweet, and infused the warmed milk with fresh ginger slices for a good two hours. Despite the long infusion time, I didn't find it to be gingery enough - I wanted a sharper, snappier taste. I was hoping to find ginger extract at Whole Foods but no luck. The crystallized ginger chunks helped, but it wasn't quite the flavour I was looking for. The next time I will probably try grating the ginger or extracting the juice, if I feel ambitious, but for now my first attempt with the rocky road recipe wins.

There will probably be another experiment since the mixer attachment works like a dream. The other tip that I read online was to pour your custard into the special mixing bowl using a container with a spout, or else you would have a gloppy mess on your hands (and counter). The measuring cup worked just fine, and within 20 mins we had ice cream the consistency of soft serve. It melts fast, as I found out when I was transferring the soft mixture into a container - the next time I'll freeze it in the special bowl for a while first, to firm it up and to make the transfer easier.

So even though we have a container (mostly) full of double ginger ice cream in the freezer, I'm already thinking about the next batch. Any requests for the next ice cream flavour?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Technically it's frozen custard...

Here's the follow-through on my hair-brained idea - homemade Rocky Road ice cream. Though in reading Wikipedia, it's technically a frozen custard since home-based versions of ice cream have more egg yolks, less air whipped into it, and no commercial binders to get the ice cream consistency we're used to from the store. Hell, whatever you call it, it was good.

I followed David Lebovitz's recipe from one of last year's Fine Cooking magazine issues which involved purchasing the following:

  • Whole milk from Crescent Ridge Dairy at Dave's Fresh Pasta in Davis Square
  • Heavy cream and eggs from Formaggio Kitchen (I forget which farms those came frome)
  • Taza 60% dark chocolate from Taza directly at the Somerville/Union Square Farmer's Market
  • Green & Black's organic cocoa (leftover in our cupboard from some earlier experiment)
  • Mini marshmallows and cashews from Whole Foods
It's been a very long time since I made a custard, so I'm glad I didn't screw that up. The melted chocolate wasn't quite as successful - I added it to the custard in the ice bath, which caused it to initially harden but was eventually broken down into micro-pieces distributed throughout the mix. It gave the ice cream a slightly gritty feel since the bits were far too small to chew individually, but it wasn't a big deal to me since it was appropriately chocolatey. I think next time I'll add the melted chocolate to the custard mix in the pan to avoid the unusual texture. As I sampled through the process, I also decided the next time to cut back on the sugar - we don't like things overly sweet, and I had cut back a little on the recipe but not enough to compensate for the sweetness from the chocolate.

The freezing part was surpisingly easy. I first tried using the hand held stick blender (the kind I associate with soup-making) but that ended up being a bit messy and it was far easier to put a little elbow grease behind it and give my arm a workout. The marshmallows and nuts went in to the mix right before it froze solid overnight. Apparently our freezer is set to deep freeze since the next day it had frozen into a block - we couldn't scoop nice mounds of ice cream so instead we made do with the blobs seen below. It's probably more aptly named "concrete". We are definitely not food stylists and neither one of us had the patience to try and take a pretty picture before diving into the bowl.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the results, despite the labor-intensiveness of the process. However, when I was describing my ice-cream making adventure to a friend, I realized the KitchenAid mixer paddle is fairly similar to an ice cream maker paddle so I thought I would try the freezing part using the big stand mixer. On a whim, I googled to see if anyone had tried using the KitchenAid mixer for ice cream and lo and behold, this came up:

KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment

Of course I promptly bought it. I don't want a separate machine to make ice cream, but a special bowl and paddle suits me just fine. The next flavours that I want to try are David Lebovitz's double ginger and salted butter caramel ice creams, but I'll wait until the new gadget arrives. I also think we need to invite some people over since this will be far too much ice cream for the two of us to eat...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I'm scaring myself...

And the husband.

I'm actually considering making my own ice cream.

Yup, that was the sound of hell freezing over. Or maybe the husband keeling over. One of the two. Or maybe both.

It all started earlier this week when my friend Jennifer over at Cooking for Comfort made a milk chocolate ganache ice cream for Tuesdays with Dorie. I assumed she used an ice cream maker but she pointed out that she followed David Lebovitz's technique of making ice cream by hand (instructions found here). That planted the idea in my head, but only enough for me to mull over the possibility without actually following through on it.

Then I went to Formaggio. I ignored the case of Jeni's Ice Creams (new flavour: backyard mint!) and instead picked up a pint of Batch Salty Caramel Ice cream.

Batch Ice Creams from JP
It was a relative bargain for $8.75 a pint and it has no crap in it - no fillers, no preservatives, just organic milk and cream from a local dairy made by two women in Jamaica Plain who started up their business in spring of this year.

I love salty desserts, and I've been eyeing this ice cream for a while, so I brought a pint home with high expectations. I was sadly disappointed though - while the ice cream is rich, creamy, and technically delicious, it wasn't salty enough for me. That or else my taste buds really are dying as I age.

So the disappointment over another store bought ice cream and the ease with which ice creams can be made at home has spurred me into trying to make my own. I guess I really shouldn't be surprised, my mother used to make ice cream at home when I was young, but we did have a sturdy sized ice cream maker. She would make macapuno ice cream, which to this day is probably still my favourite flavour. She always told us kids that macapuno is young coconut and it came out of a bottle into the custard mix before freezing. I guess I never actually read the bottle because when I found it in an Asian supermarket as an adult, the description of macapuno is "mutant coconut"! Well, mutant or not, it's still delicious. Hmmm, maybe I should try making macapuno ice cream... potentially a future adventure. I decided I'll start out with a rocky road recipe since I'm a sucker for chocolate, marshmallow and nuts, and I'll move to David Lebovitz's Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream next. I'll report back on how successful or hairbrained this idea is...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Follow-up to The Kitchen Reader - Michael Pollan's in Defense of Food

Two interesting articles that offer practical solutions on how to achieve Michael Pollan's goals set forth in Defense of Food. The first illustrates the use of Sesame Street to reach out to the "food insecure" in a fun and appealing way to encourage healthier eating in children. The second is a healthcare initiative in the Boston area that provides vouchers to low-income families for use in farmer's markets in order to improve nutrition.

My beef with Pollan's book is the access/affordability angle, so it's nice to see there are some innovative ways to tackle the problem. Definitely not the answer, but it's a start.

Sesame Street

NY Times - Boston Farmer's Market Initiative

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

David Lebovitz and Doughnuts

I think I need to follow this man around NYC - not that I'm a stalker or anything, it's just that he seems to be in the know of places to go. We have been to the Doughnut Plant, though not on the most recent trip - 80+ weather isn't really conducive to doughnut consumption. I'm horrified to see that he didn't try the creme brulee doughnut, which somehow manages to perfectly capture the creme brulee experience in doughnut form. The tres leches doughnut is a close second, though I don't know what 3 milks could be in there.

The first time we went, we stood in line and noticed the two burly men ahead of us buying 3 doughnuts each. We each bought one doughnut and went outside to eat them, where we noticed the two burly men wolfing down their first doughnut and proceeding immediately to their second. After I had my first bite of the creme brulee one, I too wolfed it down, turned around and went back inside to stand in line again. I think I bought another 6 doughnuts and ate 3 of them on the drive home. That was not the smartest thing to do and I didn't eat doughnuts for 6 months after that. They're worthwhile trekking into the depths of Lower East Side though!

David Lebovitz Blog

Monday, August 9, 2010

A whole lotta eating after all

I love NYC. The husband doesn't love my driving into and around NYC, but that's another story. At least we accomplished the two things we set out to do - we purchased an eco-friendly queen-sized mattress that fit in the backseat of our car (compressed under 1200lbs of pressure!) and we ate what looks like a stupid amount of food, interspersed with a lot of walking. All in all, a very successful trip and I can't wait to go back...


  1. Go Burger: the husband's been following this food truck for a while now, and finally dragged me to their new location at the Seaport. These burgers are based on the BLT burgers ( from chef Laurent Tourondel's former restaurants). It was decent, and the Kobe hot dog was tasty but I had structural integrity issues (who serves a hot dog on a ciabatta roll that's been completely sliced through and topped it with coleslaw?). The Seaport was also an unpleasant area to be in, with hoardes of tourists hopping on and off of tour buses, so we high-tailed it out of there as fast as we could.
  2. Wafels & Dinges: We stuck around the Seaport district long enough to eat a liege wafel topped with spekuloos spread and whipped cream. This is the "Throwdown with Bobby Flay" waffle, as the kid serving us pointed out. It was as good as it was the first time I tried it last May, but I didn't enjoy it quite as much since waffles don't go down as well in the blazing sun as it did on a cool spring evening.
  3. Van Leeuwen Artisanal Ice Cream Truck: Conveniently located in SoHo, the husband steered me to the truck so we could try a scoop of ginger ice cream. It was good - it tasted like it was made from hormone-free milk and cream from cows that spend most of the year grazing in pastures in the foot hills of the Adirondack Mountains as advertised, but it wasn't particularly remarkable.
  4. Stumptown coffee: I think it's a toss-up between Stumptown and Intelligentsia in having the biggest coffee cult following. We've enjoyed Intelligentsia in Chicago and can buy the beans at Bloc 11 in Union Square (Somerville) without paying a fortune for shipping, but we wanted to see what all the fuss was behind Stumptown. The cold brew we tried wasn't our thing, but the Americano we tried the next morning was excellent and a bag of Indonesian beans came home for us to experiment. At least if we become addicted we've got a source for our fix - Formaggio carries Stumptown coffee.
  5. Maialino: This is chef Danny Meyer's newest restaurant and ode to all things pig. It's still a hot spot in NYC so we weren't sure we could get in but we got seats at the bar (the restaurant was relatively calm for 7pm). The only thing we missed out on was the roast suckling pig for two for $70 that is only served in the main dining room. We were ok without the pig since we were planning to eat again later at Momofuku, but we did try the crispy fried pig's foot with beans and celery that was a revelation to me - I hadn't realized pig's feet could be so tasty, but this one was. Fried squash blossoms and arancini were also delicious. We shared an appetizer portion of spaghetti carbonara that featured guanciale and helped me realize the error of my ways - the guanciale in this professional version was very thinly sliced and it was just an accent in the dish. I'll try to remember to scale back the next time I make carbonara at home.
  6. Momofuku Ssam Bar: This is an old staple and a solid fave, but now that the sake lemonade is off the menu, we've discussed taking a break from the pork buns the next time we're in town. We did have an amazing play on pho, with thin slices of dry-aged sirloin cooked oh so slightly in a fragrant broth.
  7. Momofuku Milk Bar: Didn't have a compost cookie, but sampled the cereal milk soft serve (ick), avoided the BBQ sauce soft serve (another ick), and ate the candybar pie (a fancy reese pieces with some caramel thrown in) plus the oddly addictive corn cookie that David Lebovitz tweeted about and convinced the husband to try. Imagine a really rich butter cookie with a little more grit than your typical shortbread, with the occasional corn kernel thrown in. It was much tastier than it sounds.
  1. Locanda Verde: Following a very positive Serious Eats review of their brunch, we tried Locanda Verde in Tribeca on our last visit and was so happy with what we had that we came back this trip. In fact, I think it will be added into our standard rotation of NYC spots. The reason to come here for brunch is their sheep's milk ricotta - light and delicate, with truffle, thyme and honey and served with burnt orange toast. It's breakfast crack. The rest of the brunch menu is just as good - hazelnut french toast and blueberry ricotta pancakes are delicious (even I eat the pancakes, and I hate pancakes), and their egg dishes are super tasty too.
  2. il laboratorio del gelato: we've been frequenting this Lower East Side venue for so many years (well, maybe 5) that I can't remember how we discovered this little slice of gelato heaven. Chocolate thai chili was the first flavour we ever tried and remains my favourite, tho it's not often available as a single scoop.
  3. Taim: A falafel and smoothie bar in West Village. We've been here a number of times - we first learned about it through a Throwdown with Bobby Flay episode. Falafels are something that we'd never undertake on our own, so we're quite happy to pop in for our vegetarian fix. We brought the falafel platter home with us to Boston - travelled well, but we were annoyed for not picking up more hummus since the the hummus from Taim is the best we've ever had.
  4. Shake Shack - UES: this was my unexpected favourite. I've heard plenty about the Shake Shack's cult following, and I've seen the 1 hour lineups, but it took the husband's interest in all things burger to get me in to one. We went to the new Upper East Side location at 3:30pm on a Sunday afternoon, where the lineup was only ~20 min, though I think it was longer because I had time to try on a few things and buy a sweater at the Gap nearby while the husband stood in line. I'd spent the day sweating profusely (was much hotter than the weather people had forecast) so I didn't think I was hungry, but decided at the last minute that I wanted a cheeseburger since they didn't have the concrete flavour that I wanted. (Concrete is a dense frozen custard - the flavour I wanted is only available in the Madison Park location and called the Hopscotch, consisting of vanilla frozen custard, hot caramel sauce, chocolate toffee and Valhrona chocolate chunks). I'm glad I ordered a cheeseburger and I could have easily eaten a second one - it was far better than the Go Burger with the freshness and quality of ingredients. I guess with Danny Meyer behind the Shake Shack, I wasn't going to get a sub-par burger.  Shake Shack is now on the rotation list for the next visit and I'll dream about burgers until then...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Not just a weekend of eating

We're off to NYC tomorrow for a very quick 2-day trip - we don't mind the ~3.5 hour drive to spend just one night in the city. Normally the primary reason for our trips to NYC is to eat, which we will do as per usual (I like to maximize the number of meals we can have in as many different places in a short amount of time - I'm aiming for 10 in 2 days). However, this time we're making the trip to buy a mattress. The husband found Keetsa, a brand of eco-friendly mattresses that are reasonably priced, unlike the organic mattresses that I found in the Boston-area for $3000+ for a queen-size! Of course Keetsa doesn't have a retail location in Boston and I refuse to buy one without trying it out, so off we go. Here's hoping we come back on Sunday night with full bellies and a heavenly mattress!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The week so far in food

It feels like a slow week - maybe because I had an awesome weekend so anything else is a letdown.

My week started with an unexpected perk. I'm getting ready for work on Monday morning after blowing off my alarm clock and the gym when the husband comes upstairs to tell me that he didn't check his iPhone on Sunday night but his friend had texted him something along the lines of "dude, I left you something on your front porch". Sure enough, when my husband opened the front door, there was a little box for us from Premiere Moisson! The reason why this was so exciting to us is that it's a bakery (boulangerie) in Montreal that makes phenomenal pastries that haven't been recreated by any Boston-area bakery. (Incidentally, if I were to ever start a food business in Boston, it would be to either a) make real French pastries, or b) make real gelato, but I digress.)

It's very unusual to find a box of pastries from Montreal on one's doorstep in Boston, but this came to be when this friend announced via Facebook that he was in Montreal last week. I jokingly commented that he needs to bring back pastries from Premiere Moisson, and the Danoises (danishes) were my favorite. Well sure enough, that was the dropoff on Sunday night. Funnily the box wasn't touched by animals overnight (we have coons and possums in our area) so we were able to enjoy that pastry-goodness as an unexpected surprise to the start of the week.

Dinners have otherwise been pretty low key this week since we've been painting our stair banisters. I did have time to try this new recipe from Fine Cooking - grilled shrimp salad with feta, tomato and watermelon. I didn't marinate the shrimp in the lemon juice as per the directions since I didn't want to start cooking the fish with the acid, and I didn't bother with the paprika either - just plain grilled shrimp for us. It was the watermelon, tomato, feta and basil combination that was phenomenal - it was fresh and bright and totally exemplified summer eating. Because it's such a simple recipe, it will only be as good as the produce that's available so I need to make this a few more times before summer ends.

Grilled Shrimp Salad with Feta, Tomato, and Watermelon
From Fine Cooking Magazine

1-1/2 lb. raw extra-jumbo shrimp (16 to 20 per lb.), peeled (leave tail segment intact) and deveined

1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. smoked sweet paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 tsp. honey
Vegetable oil, for the grill
1/2 medium head frisée, torn into bite-size pieces (4 cups)
3 cups small-diced seedless watermelon (about 1 lb.)
3 medium ripe red or yellow tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
2 cups yellow cherry or pear tomatoes, halved
6 oz. feta, cut into small dice (1-1/4 cups)
30 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced (1/2 cup)

Prepare a hot gas or charcoal grill fire.

In a medium bowl, toss the shrimp with 2 Tbs. of the lemon juice and the paprika; marinate at room temperature for 5 minutes. Thread the shrimp onto metal skewers or wooden skewers that have been soaked in water for at least 30 minutes. Season the shrimp on both sides with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice with the olive oil, honey, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Whisk well.

Clean and oil the grill grates. Grill the shrimp, flipping once, until firm and opaque throughout, 4 to 6 minutes total.

In a large bowl, gently toss the frisée with 3 Tbs. of the dressing. In a medium bowl, gently toss the watermelon, tomatoes, feta, basil, 2 Tbs. dressing, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper. Divide the frisée among 4 plates and spoon one-quarter of the watermelon mixture over each. Top with the shrimp skewers, drizzle with the remaining dressing, and serve.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pricey ice creams

Guess I'm not the only one to be thinking about the price of ice creams - this article from yesterday's NY Times discusses whether artisanal ice creams are worth the high price. I'm in the camp of paying top dollar for quality - I'd much rather pay a small producer who takes the care to make really good  ice cream than give my money to the mass marketed brands. Besides, I agree with the statement that artisanal ice creams are an affordable luxury - to paraphrase Cookie Monster, I think of ice cream as a "sometimes food" so it doesn't bother me to spend $4 on a small scoop when it's a once in a blue moon. It probably helps that my favorite gelato can't be found in the Boston area...

Pricey Ice Creams - NY Times

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