Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gooey Goodness

On four or five occasions I came out of the library door at exactly the moment that a student passed by wheeling an upright bass along the cobbled street, like someone guiding an overgrown child. Sometimes he had just passed the instant before, and other times he was about to pass. But once I exited the library doors at the exact moment he was passing them, and our eyes locked in one of those looks that sometimes happen between strangers, when both wordlessly agree that reality contains sinkholes whose depths neither can ever hope to fathom.
-Nicole Krauss (Great House)

All week I've been longing to bake. There were fantasies of biscotti (fantasies that will come to fruition soon), fantasies of buttermilk bread (long-held and absolutely imperative...then again, it took me months to get around to the granola), fantasies of muffins...I don't know what was wrong with me. Then again, when you consider that I basically came back to life this week and again could not only breathe freely, but feel hungry and appreciate the taste of things, it only makes sense that sugary goodness would have been at the top of my list of most desired foods.

But there never seemed to be enough time. Monday and Tuesday were slow days since I was still becoming reacquainted with reality and happily spending my days sitting at a desk in Bancroft...It's amazing to think about how different life was--at least materially-- a little more than 100 years ago, but yet how, on some level, the life of the mind was basically the same, seeking answers to the same questions, voicing similar cultural concerns...I kid you not; if I had a dollar for every time I've read about the threat of China and the East (in both the modern press and that of a century ago and beyond), I would be a wealthy woman by now. At the very least, wealthier than the average grad student.

Then, on Wednesday, I went to the city to tutor and, afterwards, had time to go and read and have coffee and a delicious pastry at a fairly new and amazingly cute Mission cafe, The Blue Fig. This was probably a little silly and decadent since I was meeting the Greek at Garçon! for a three-course prix fixe meal courtesy of San Francisco's Dine about Town before going to the Symphony, for what was essentially a night of Prokofiev. Yeah, I guess you might say that, for every meal and calorie I lost last week, I'm now eating twice the amount: Lobster bisque, Seven Layer Bars, Soy Lattes, Pomegranate Sorbet....I don't even care because this, my friends, is what good health looks like! And definitely what it tastes like...

Thursday and Friday also passed in a blur; I was still making up for lost time, going to appointments that had to be rescheduled for this week, having dinners with friends that had formerly been impossible...There was also some necessary pop-cultural hazing that had to take place during this time period: the Greek and I had dinner with friends on Friday night--dinner and a movie, in fact--and I am happy to report that he has now seen Zoolander, and thought it was hilarious. *deep sigh of relief*

In the midst of all of this madness, I also decided to do something nice for myself, to give myself a little "welcome back to good health" present. This gift came in the form of a renewal to Bon Appetit; frankly, it just makes me happy to know that once a month, I will get a magazine with pretty pictures, lots of recipes and also one that will give me tips on how to pick out the best oranges at the grocery store...or what kind of knife is best for cutting pineapple. Consider it one of my small and slightly guilty pleasures in life. While perusing the website after making my order, I realized that the front cover had the most delicious looking brownies on it. And still recovering from the deprivation of the week before, I knew I would make these brownies before the week was over....

And, come Saturday, I did! The ironic thing about this whole experience is that I've never really been a brownie person. There have been moments in my life when I've connected with them, thinking that they were the best thing ever, as when my old college roommate sent me a box of brownies with peanut butter chips before my Master's Exam, or even sometimes when I've made them from a good old box of Betty Crocker Brownie Mix and they've been properly gooey and good. In fact, I've long held the belief that brownies from a box are better than what you can produce from scratch and believe me when I say that I've even tried Katharine Hepburn's brownie recipe, which has received a fair amount of acclaim. When all was said and done, they were good, but I wasn't impressed. Brownies remained somewhere in the middle of my "dessert totem pole", something I could easily take or leave.

In short, nothing could have prepared me for these brownies. Maybe it was the browned butter that made them so fudge-like and just right in texture? Or maybe it was the walnuts? Maybe they weren't too sweet and had just the right amount of chocolate? Maybe the flu has forever changed my tastes (such things can, I think, happen)? None of that matters, however, because the point is that these brownies, as the February cover of Bon Appetit claims, are the best. I would almost say that, should the baking bug bite me again this week, maybe I wouldn't even mind another batch of these very brownies. And, supposedly, I'm a muffin person. Not to mention somebody who, before these brownies, was desperately craving biscotti. I guess the point is that life never fails to surprise, which in and of itself can often be nothing short of miraculous...especially when in the shape of gooey chocolate squares. Truly, I am a woman smitten.

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts

From the February 2011 issue of Bon Appetit; I basically followed Alice Medrich's recipe to the letter (the few slight modifications I made are explained below) and the results were well worth it

Yields from 16-20 brownies, depending on how you cut them

For the brownies:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup walnut pieces

-Preheat to 325°F.
- Line 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. (NB: I used a 9x13x1 pan and so I modified it with tin foil, cutting off the mixture at a certain point so that the brownies would still be properly sized. This is always an option, considering that the batter is very thick and heavy.)
-Coat foil with nonstick spray.
-Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat.
-Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes.
-Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
-Stir to blend.
-Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot).
-Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition.
-When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended.
- Beat vigorously 60 strokes. (NB: I did, in fact, do this, maybe even 61 instead of 60 times and all with a plastic spoon. I'm not sure what would happen if this step were to be avoided by those of us who seek an easy out, but trust me when I say that the texture of these brownies was everything you would hope it would be...and more.)
- Stir in nuts.
-Transfer batter to prepared pan.
-Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 20-25 minutes.
-Cool in pan on rack.
-Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan.
-Cut into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 brownies (or however large or small you prefer).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Makeshift Mondays

Art is not a pleasure, a solace, or an amusement; art is a great matter.
Leo Tolstoy (What is Art?)

Ok, ok, I know what you're thinking: anybody can make a sandwich. That is in fact a true statement. In fact, its very truth is probably the reason that I'm telling you about it. It's not all about risottos, gnocchi and fancy side dishes of stewed vegetables or gratin. You too can have this amazingly delicious, yet oh so simple dinner! In my mind, those two phrases are nothing short of a winning combination. But even if you don't want to eat this sandwich and are personally affronted that I would put a mere sandwich on a food blog, that's ok too. We're all entitled to our opinions. It made for a few lovely pictures, which, ultimately, has given me a newfound appreciation for the genre of the sandwich. My word choice alone should be telling you that any potential snobbery on your behalf is sorely misplaced.

Plus, although my health has improved immensely, I'm still slightly congested and, after returning from a long, yet happy day of reading about different definitions of art in the Rare Books Library and contemplating lofty matters like how nationalism can be a mask that certain authors and other artists often (mistakenly) wear, I had no desire to make anything fancy or elaborate. Or crack open a cookbook. More importantly, it just so happens that I like sandwiches. A lot. :)

Especially when it's toasted on the old George Foreman and is filled with a tangy, garlicky and slightly spicy home-made tuna salad, Pepper Jack Cheese and slices of tomatoes. What inspired this? Besides the slight fatigue I was happily feeling after again becoming a productive and participating member of society, I had read about foods that will help fight the flu; number one on that list: garlic! Yep, it's not just for repelling vampires anymore...and, considering I like feeling healthy and functional, I'm willing to do--and eat--almost anything in my power to stay that way. The key word being almost.

And for those of you wondering why I'm setting little bowls of tuna salad on beautifully written National Book Award Finalists, I'll let you in on two secrets: 1) the best lighting in my otherwise fabulous apartment stems from the lamp on my nightstand, which is where any reasonable individual keeps his or her bedtime reading material; 2) The snippet of the book's title that is visible to you is a message about this sandwich that you are supposed to take to heart. Subtle? Not at all. Genuine? Absolutely!

The best thing you can do for yourself is to pair this fabulous sandwich with some mixed greens and a dressing that will equally pack a little garlicky and mustardy balsamic punch. From the ingredients used to the dishes you choose to eat on, even an ultimately simple dinner on a Monday evening can be gussied up. Whoever said eating alone couldn't be fun?

Spicy Tuna Salad Sandwich

The perfect meal for one, although the salad itself makes 2 servings

For the salad:

1 can of tuna
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup freshly chopped dill
4-5 cornichons, slice into tiny pieces
2 tsps. mayonnaise
1 tsp. whole grain Dijon mustard
A few sprinkles of salt and pepper for seasoning

-Add all the ingredients to a small bowl and mix well. Adjust to taste.

-Take your choice of bread (I prefer wheat), top them several thick slices of cheese (preferably something with some flavor like Pepper Jack), tomato slices and the tuna mixture. Press them together, put them on the Foreman and give it about 5-7 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the bread oh so lovely, toasty-looking and golden.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Farmer's Market Fare

While she stands alone among the dripping vines she cannot make a connection that she knows is there. There is a blankness in her thoughts, a density that feels like muddle also, until she realizes: the Annunciation was painted after rain. Its distant landscape, glimpsed through arches, has the temporary look that she is seeing now. It was after rain that the angel came: those first cool moments were a chosen time.
-William Trevor ("After Rain")

I wish I could say that this was new material, that I was blogging about something that I had miraculously manifested the energy out of nowhere to prepare, but, alas, it is not so. That's not to say, however, that after 5 solid days of being at home, I'm not finally feeling a little better because I am (yay, right?!). But, before you and I both get too excited, let me state the facts: I still cough, I find it hard to breath without the aid of decongestants and my energy levels are low. I watched a cute Italian movie, Bread and Tulips, a few days ago on Netflix and immediately had to take a a nap. Then, today, in my continued attempt to "Be Human and Get a Few Things Done", I wrote a recommendation for a student. Again, the need for a nap ensued. Reading is also tiring, even if you've got the likes of William Trevor and Nicole Krauss' Great House to help you through the pseudo-solitary confinement you and your germs have been locked into (really, I value and appreciate my own company, but it's reaching the point of enough is enough already! No (wo)man is an island!)....So, to make what could be a long and boring story short, I, like most happy people and nations in times of trouble, am relying on the surplus of happier and healthier times to get me through the tedium.

And last Sunday was a truly lovely day. There was a trip to the Temescal Farmers Market; there were tulips; there was even, despite the fact that it's January, sunshine, not to mention a cool breeze. There was also a ridiculous amount of good food....and a more than ridiculous amount of time spent in the kitchen preparing it. But I've always believed that you get what you pay for--both literally and figuratively. :) It was enough of a fresh and healthy food festival to make me consider this past week, while perhaps wrongly under the influence of the earlier-mentioned decongestants, that I should be a vegan....Yeah, I'm small and vulnerable, especially when ill and especially to crazy ideas. Perhaps I'll just incorporate more vegan cooking into my diet...? That might not be such a bad thing. At the very least, I could invest in a vegan cookbook...?

But back to the Farmer's Market. First of all, I bought some beets. In hindsight, perhaps not as many as I could have, but enough to be tasty and to act as a hearty side dish. With Martha's help, they were then roasted in tin foil, drizzled in olive oil (this also helps the skin removing process). They were ultimately served just as simply, sprinkled with salt and pepper and with more olive oil and some vinegar.

There was also tilapia (not purchased at the farmer's market, however!). In my humble opinion, with fish, it's generally easy, no recipe required. Just drizzle it with olive oil, add the spices you have on hand--in this case, a mix of oregano, thyme, dill and even some mint--and, most importantly, crush some garlic on top. Because I also had some extra spinach, I sprinkled that into the mix as well. Then, all that's left is baking or broiling it, which means your attention can be focused on more important things.

In this case, the more important thing was yet another side dish, but, before you get the wrong idea, not just any old side dish. Though it may sound simple and look even simpler, it is anything but in terms of flavor. Of what glory am I speaking? Oh, only Vefa's Chickpeas with Spinach from my new Greek cookbook. What drew me to this recipe was the winning combination of two things I like a lot and try to eat almost on a regular basis, though not always together. And, truth be told, this was an easy recipe to make, a fragrant joy to have simmering away on the stovetop (the smell of dill is an eternal favorite); the most difficult thing about it was washing the 2 lbs. of fresh spinach that I insisted on having, despite the Greek's claim that frozen spinach is just as good and not even half the nuisance. But, as we were cooking with almost only fresh ingredients that day, I won. But I will admit that, on other occasions, I have lost this particular debate....and perhaps rightly so.

When I asked what made this dish particularly Greek (a girl can't help but be curious), I was told that the combination of olive oil, tomato juice and legumes was what did it. It really was a wonderful flavor combination, simultaneously rich and subtle.

Any meal, even one based on seasonal availability and fresh ingredients, wouldn't be complete without dessert. Don't you worry your little hearts out, a pumpkin was purchased for that particular purpose, to be roasted and eaten with nuts and honey. Or, as your enterprising chef suggested to her sous-chef, maybe with the spiced honey ice cream that had been as if fatefully made for this very purpose...? :)

So, yes, it was a very nice day. And then the coughing began. But there will be nice days again, coughing free days, of that I have no doubt. Fortunately, probably sooner rather than later.

Chickpeas with Spinach (Revithia me spanaki)

Yields 4 servings and a lot of juice for bread dipping, so have a good loaf handy

Slightly adapted from Vefa's Kitchen

1 heaping cup chickpeas (**the original calls for dried chickpeas, i.e. garbanzo beans, which would have to soak for at least 12 hours; instead, I
used a can of Cadia Organic Garbanzo beans, which worked just as well and were not at all mushy in the final product
2/3 cup olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 cup tomato juice
Around 2 lbs. spinach, stalks removed and torn into pieces
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill (** about 2-3 handfuls if you, like some, are averse to chopping)
Salt and pepper for seasoning
The juice from 1/2 of a freshly squeezed lemon

-Drain the chickpeas and rinse well.
-Heat half the oil in a pan.
-Add the onions and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent (**This should take around 5 minutes).
-Add the chickpeas and tomato juice and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
-Mix the spinach with the dill and put half in the base of a large and hopefully deep pan.
-Spoon the garbanzo beans on top, cover with the remaining spinach, season with salt and pepper and pour in the remaining 1/3 cup of oil.
-Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30-35 minutes. The chickpeas should be tender, but not mushy. **Here, Vefa also notes that the sauce should have reduced; in my experience, it's key for you to remove or tilt the lid for the last 15-20 minutes of cooking in order for this to happen. In any case, extra sauce is hardly a tragedy.
-Serve sprinkled with the lemon juice and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Black and Blue Breakfast

Living is an inherently emotional business.
-David Brooks ("Social Animal")

I'm home sick with the flu and, even though I realize that whenever you and your body are in pain, you can't help but feel like this is the worst you've ever felt in your life, I really do feel like this is the worst I've ever felt in my life. That is, until the next time, I'm sure. Unless there's not a next time since I'm pretty sure I'll be religiously getting a flu shot for the rest of my life...

I don't have much of an appetite, but the three things I can't seem to get enough of in my general sense of ickiness are 1) Orange juice (and I'm not even a juice person), 2) Tea with honey and 3) Yogurt with granola. Don't worry; I'm also tossing in the occasional piece of fruit into my "Fight the flu" diet, but, let me assure you, it currently seems like it requires an obscene amount of energy to peel an orange or eat an apple.

Don't even get me started on how difficult it is to focus on scholarly books...Sometimes it's best to cut your losses and accept the need for stress-free relaxation.

So, my attention span currently being what it is, instead of trying to ponder the East and the significance of masks, I've decided instead to tell you about granola. I know what you're thinking: "Haven't we been down this road before?" And the answer is yes, but no. Not this granola, in all of its chocolate-y and slightly tart goodness.

You see, I had been planning to make a new batch of granola since late October (!!), when I discovered a recipe for Maple-Almond Granola with Dried Berries in Bon Appetit. But somehow, life being busy, I never quite got around to it, which is nothing short of absurd because, while making this recipe, I was again reminded how ridiculously easy making granola is...not to mention infinitely worth the effort. And La Tartine Gourmande inspired me to abandon my dream of Maple-Almond granola and embrace something a little more like a breakfast fantasy, aka Chocolate Granola. But with the addition of the beloved cardamom pods, dried blueberries and coconut, I even got to be creative. Granola is, after all, entirely a matter of taste.

A little chopped dark chocolate, some almonds, dried blueberries and a mix of pumpkin seeds and oats can go a long way. It's got the appropriate level of crunch and savory/sweet balance. And should you find yourselves as sick as I am, it makes an amazingly healthy and nourishing snack. You may in fact find that it's one of the only things you can tolerate.

Chocolate and Blueberry Granola

Yields 8-10 servings

3 cups oats
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup water
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 cardamom pods
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla

1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup chopped chocolate (I used Ghiradelli's 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips)

-Mix first four ingredients in a large bowl.
-In a small saucepan, bring wet ingredients, brown sugar, salt, butter and cardamom to a simmer.
-After simmering, let the cardamom steep for about 5 minutes.
-Pour into the dry ingredients and mix well.
-At this point, feeling nostalgic for my old granola recipe, I decided to sprinkle
in some unsweetened coconut, probably about 1/4 cup.
-Put granola mixture on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper
-Bake for 45 minutes, checking and stirring every 10-15 minutes, so as to make sure that the granola browns evenly.
-Mix in chocolate and blueberries once completely cool.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Butter Me Happy

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/
Her infinite variety.
-Shakespeare (Antony and Cleopatra)

So, I'm currently kind of obsessed with at least 5 things. A girl's got to have hobbies, after all.

1) My bike. I love riding it, going places on it and finding pretty, scenic streets to ride on. I keep asking myself, "why didn't you do this sooner?!"

2) Cleopatra: Ever since I read that article about the latest wave of Cleopatra studies and biographies, my lifelong dream of going to Egypt to see the pyramids has again risen to the surface of my consciousness.

3) Going to the Bancroft Library to read old, overpriced and pleasantly smelling journals, so as to try to figure out how to construct the first chapter of my dissertation. Let me just say, those pages are huge, the Cyrillic font pre-revolutionary and, because I don't want to miss anything that could be important, my goal is to comb through them carefully. Needless to say, it's a time consuming and laborious job! But one that's also fun.

4) Cooking, but we all already knew that, didn't we?

5) Perhaps this seamlessly blends in with number 4, but, more specifically, cooking from my new cookbooks, of which I'm ashamed to say there are 4. Actually, if you count the one my grandma just mailed to me, which isn't old per se, but is simply new to my kitchen, 5. It's almost shameful, really. But then when you consider that I do use them and, even though January is only half over, I've already made recipes from all but 2 of them, it is rather amazing.

Just call me prolific. Or a procrastinator. It's all a matter of perspective.

Plus, when a girl's invited to a "Winter break is basically over, so let's celebrate the advent of the spring semester" party, she can't go empty-handed (bad manners are a serious no no). And cookies happen to travel well. Very well, in fact.

And so, armed with the Gourmet Cookie Book, I looked for something relatively easy looking, as well as not overly sweet (to appeal to the taste buds of our fine hostess). What my eye landed on was Gourmet's Cookie of the Month in April 1974: Kourambiedes, aka Greek Butter Cookies.

One trip to the grocery store later and in possession of Grand Marnier, two pounds (yes, two!) of butter and blanched almonds, I began the recipe....only to discover that what ultimately sounded easy on paper was difficult in practice. Despite the fact that I was recently gifted with a pomegranate candle holder, which is a symbol of good luck, luck didn't actually seem to be on my side. Funny how that works....

I ran out of flour and substituted a cup and half of Better for Bread flour for good old regular white. A few of cookies fell apart (maybe even due to the flour substitution) when I attempted to dredge them in powdered sugar almost immediately post-baking. Note to potential bakers: either roll them in powdered sugar before they go in the oven or sprinkle it on. Unless, of course, your flour/butter/almond mixture ends up sturdier than mine. It was also suggested to me by a native of Greece that clarified butter might have helped the flavor. Clearly, some recipes were not made to be followed, which is a lesson well learned.

Were they worth it? I think so. They're crumbly, melt in your mouth and have a soft spicy flavor-- clearly Greece's version of Mexican Wedding Cookies, Russian Tea Cakes and any other country's little cookies covered in powdered sugar. And they go superbly well with a cup of tea...almost like a buttermilk scone. That's enough of a reason to bake them right there.

Kourambiedes (Greek Butter Cookies)

Adapted ever so slightly (in practice, at least) from the Gourmet Cookie Book
Yields about 4 dozen

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. Orange-flavored liqueur
4 ½ cup flour
½ cup finely ground blanched almonds

-Preheat oven to 350.

-Cream butter at low speed for 1 hour (**as that's kind of ludicrous, it's best to use a standing mixer, which, according to the recipe's directions, as well as my experience, takes only 8-10 minutes) until it is almost white.

-Add ¼ cup confectioner's sugar, sifted, 1 tablespoon at a time, 1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon orange-flavored liqueur.

-Then, blend in 4 ½ cups flour and ½ cup finely ground blanched almonds, ½ cup at a time, to form a soft dough.

-If the dough seems sticky, chill it, wrapped in wax paper, for 1 hour.

-Form the un-sticky dough into 1 ½ inch balls and stud each ball with 1 clove.

-Put the balls on baking sheets and bake them for 15 minutes, or until they are pale golden.

-Transfer the cookies to a rack, let them cool for 2 minutes and dredge them in sifted confectioner's sugar. **My note: Or, depending on the consistency of your cookie, sprinkle it generously with the waiting sugar. Or, so as make sure that the sugar is distributed evenly, roll them in sugar before baking.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Great Scoops of Delight

Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place. But there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around.
-E.L. Konigsburg

I've never been one of those people for whom the sun must be shining in order to eat ice cream. In fact, I could (and sometimes do) happily eat it everyday; in my mind, it falls into the same category as books: too many books...too many flavors...too little time. Over the years, I've slowly been working my way through some of the more extreme ice cream flavors (olive oil gelato, basil ice cream, corn and candied bacon...Yes, I have indeed tried all of these flavors) and with varying degrees of adoration. But, alas, even one lifetime could never be enough to sample them all. Though it's a fact that I'll probably die trying. :)

This is why on a rainy Tuesday this past week, despite the fact that I ought to (like every other food blogger out there) be eating lots of vegetables and participating in some kind of yearly cleanse (but this is the year of saying "to hell with shoulds!" So I will happily march to the beat of my own drum), I decided to pull out the ice cream maker's instruction booklet and get down to business. After all, this is something I had been dying to own for months, maybe even years. It was only my recent development of frugality (something that probably comes with age and maturity), as well as my deep-seated belief that making ice cream was still a tricky enterprise, that had probably kept me from achieving ice-cream making glory sooner. As I've discovered with many things, however, it's never too late to make up for lost time.

The most difficult question facing me was, which flavor should be my first? I was eagerly eyeing a recipe for Cinnamon Ice Cream in The Perfect Scoop, but then, given my time constraints, I decided that a French-style ice cream, made with a custard base, would take too long. Perhaps this was partly due to laziness on my part, but rainy days have a way of making you take shortcuts...In any case, I recalled an article that Melissa Clark had written back in August and decided that egg-free, American-style ice cream was the way to go. After all, given the predominance of eggs in ice cream, I can't remember the last time I would have had this kind of ice cream...if I ever even did. Based on the flavors she suggested and what I had in the cabinet, I felt that Maple Spice was the way to go. But then, when I went to the grocery store in the rain with the intention of buying maple syrup and somehow it slipped my mind (old age is cruel), upon arriving home I determined that honey could easily replace maple syrup and the idea for Spiced Honey Ice Cream was born!

It was kind of glorious and a lot of fun to make. After the initial part of letting the spices steep in the cream, mixing all of the dairy products together and then putting it into the fridge, you've got a lot of time on your hands. Enough time to turn to another project: organizing the many recipes you've cut out of magazines over the turn them into a handwritten cookbook. That is, once the beautiful one you found in this store on Etsy arrives.

Projects aside, another reason I had planned to make ice cream, despite the obvious one, was that a good friend was coming over to finish watching "Dollhouse," the amazing Joss Whedon show that was cancelled prematurely. TV watching requires snacks and good ones at that. Even though ice cream won't ever fall into the "healthy foods" category--and especially when you watch yourself pour a pint of heavy cream into the mixture; oh well!--it's soothing and happy and fun. The texture of this ice cream in particular is also quite light-- creamy and soft. We topped ours with a mixture of walnuts and pecans and, in honor of one of Dollhouse's more complex characters, called it "The Alpha Sundae." It's perfect for an evening that turns into a slumber party and, especially when you take the lingering taste of the cardamom and the soft flavor of the honey into account, oddly perfect for a rainy day.

Spiced Honey Ice Cream

Yields about 1 quart
Adapted from Melissa Clark's "Egg-Free Ice Cream Lets Flavors Bloom"

For the base:
1/2 cup honey, preferably of a good quality (I used Virgin Organic Multi-flower Honey)
2 cups heavy cream
6 cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
1 4-inch cinnamon stick
A few dashes of salt
1 cup whole milk

-In a small saucepan over medium heat, reduce honey, about 10 minutes. **I will say here that, while I used 1/2 cup of honey, I think that 1/3 cup would have achieved a similar, yet slightly more subtle, flavor. It all depends on how rich you like your flavors.
-Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan over medium-low heat, simmer one cup cream with cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon and salt, stirring occasionally until cream begins to simmer, about 5 minutes. Allow to stand, off heat, for 20 minutes.
-Strain into a bowl, discarding spices. Stir in reduced honey, remaining cup cream and the milk. Transfer bowl to refrigerator or set into an ice bath to chill.
-When cold, pour into bowl of an ice cream machine and churn according to manufacturer’s directions. Transfer to a container and freeze until solid, at least 2 hours. Let sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes before serving, or in refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes. **Even having done this, the ice cream was, initially, still quite soft. This may, however, just be the result of custard-less ice cream.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Russia, Californiafied

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next.
-Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)

On Saturday, it really was like I found myself in another world when I went to the Legion of Honor to see the exhibition on Japanesque (or Japonisme) before it closed on Sunday. San Francisco, particularly the northern part of it (Richmond, Lincoln Park, the Presidio, etc.) is often shrouded in fog; this day was no exception and was perhaps even worse than normal. The sun didn't even make an appearance....

It reminded me of Russia and probably not coincidentally. You see, Richmond just happens to be a Russian neighborhood and, in the few hours the Greek and I spent there, not only did we hear plenty of Russian in the street and even go into a little shop that could easily be found on a side street in St. Petersburg or Moscow, but we also found a Russian restaurant to eat at, Cafe Sadko.

The menu included the usual Russian dishes--salads, dumplings, soups--and we went about things traditionally, ordering tea with lemon, having soup "на первое" (for the first course) and then something heavier and more filling "на второе" (for the second course). It took a little time for the waiter to warm up to us and to speak Russian freely; was it when I asked him for a лимончик (lemon slice) for my tea or when he saw that my last name was vaguely Slavic? Or maybe it was even when he saw his 20% tip? Whatever the reason, by the end of the meal, he was suddenly telling us to come back, to take care, etc. And the food was lovely: rich, warm and filling. I really felt like I was back in Russia, but, fortunately, I was firmly on American soil.

Tea and bread (Lipton, but of course!):

Delicious borshch (beet soup) with dill and a big dollop of sour cream:

Vareniki, thick Ukrainian dumplings stuffed with potatoes and cheese; naturally, topped with caramelized onions and served with sour cream (a staple in the Russian diet):

As you can see, since I've returned, I've had little time to cook; I've been so busy cleaning, organizing, buying a bike (a cute red one with a 14" frame; it was advertised as being perfect for somebody cute, so I had no choice but to buy it! I even successfully biked home today--all 4 miles! As one friend joked, "Cycling with Sologub" should be my next blog venture!), getting books for my work and meeting up with friends I haven't seen in ages, but new recipes will soon be on the way!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Holy Cocktail!

From a little spark may burst a flame.
-Dante Alighieri

This afternoon I'll be getting on a plane and, poof, just like that, part one of my Christmas vacation will be over. To prepare for this trip, I've been running around madly, considering several important things: how will I fit the ice cream maker into my carry-on bag? Why in the world does stupid BayPorter stop running at 10 p.m. from Oakland Airport? Where are the keys to my apartment? And the list goes on....

I've also had some family business to attend to: setting up online banking for my mother, who, for some reason that escapes me, continues living in the Stone Age and receives only paper bills, going to dinner with my dad, stepmother and brother, then shopping and eating out with my grandparents...But I suppose a vacation wouldn't be a vacation if it weren't jam-packed with pleasant activities. And believe me when I say that I'm not even being ironic.

To top it all off, while preparing a wonderful breakfast casserole that a dear friend who blogs here made for me a few summers ago when I was visiting her and her husband in Maine, the blade of the very sharp knife met my formerly-considered-to-be-useless left thumb and, well, the only word that comes to mind is ouch. Another thought that crossed my mind in the aftermath was that the mini-chopper is now my best friend forever; we will be inseparable.

Given all this, you might start to understand why I decided to make a cocktail--a Holy Nun-- for myself, my mom and my brother last night. It's everything a lover of hot drinks, hot toddies in particular, could ask for. It's hard to believe that, before yesterday, I didn't even know that this cocktail existed, but google really is a beautiful thing. :)

It all started when I opened the fridge and saw the distinctive shape of the bottle of Frangelico (in case you never noticed, to pay homage to the monks that used to distill the hazelnuts in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, the bottle is cleverly--and perhaps creepily-- shaped like a monk's habit), which my mother really loves. While it wouldn't have been my first choice in terms of alcohol, I started to wonder what I could make with it because, here in good old Pennsylvania, a Quaker state, it's not like you can just get in your car and run to the local grocery store or BevMo! to get a bottle of whatever your little heart desires. In PA, you can buy beer only at beer distributors and select supermarkets (and when I say select, I mean deluxe), wines and other liquors at certified wine stores (these are usually close to shopping centers) and, in all other cases, at the State Store. For those of you living in civilization and have no clue what I'm talking about, the State Store is otherwise known as the bane of every Pennsylvanian's existence and, according to the governor at the time that Prohibition was repealed, its very purpose was "to "discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible." To this day, this statement remains true. Talk about the Stone Age....

My options being limited, Frangelico it was. And then I added a few cloves and a tablespoon of honey. After that, a few tiny wedges of lemon peel (because using a knife is now traumatic, they were tiny). Finally, I added hot water.

It was just what I needed after an oh so long day. I also must confess that, due to my status as a lapsed Catholic, I really loved that this drink was called the Hot Nun (I'm not sure why, given the liquor's history, it's nun and not monk, but perhaps I'm asking too many unnecessary questions). Even without such a perplexing, yet fun name, it would still be a pretty amazing cocktail, a nice companion when the weather is frightfully cold; after all, it's basically a hazelnut hot toddy! Once I return to civilization, Frangelico is clearly going to have to become a permanent member of my liquor cabinet because this, my friends, is a keeper!

Hot Nun

Yields 1 piping hot snifter

Recipe courtesy of and slightly adapted from Drinksmixer

1 1/2 - 2 oz. Frangelico
1 Tbsp. honey
3 cloves
Several wedges of lemon peel (adjust to taste)
Hot water

-Put water on to boil.
-In the meantime, pour the Frangelico into a snifter.
-Add the honey, cloves and lemon wedges.
-Add the hot water, nearly filling the glass.
-Stir slightly and then enjoy!


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