Thursday, July 29, 2010

We All Scream

With summer in full force, many of us are turning to our icy weakness-ice cream. My husband is particularly fond of vanilla bean ice cream, so I buy it quite often and serve it with caramel sauce and nectarines that have been dipped in cinnamon and sugar and fried in butter (I know-a healthy dessert). Last year, I decided to make homemade ice cream. When I asked my husband which flavor he would like, he immediately responded "Strawberry". What? I thought for sure he would have asked for vanilla. So I made about five quarts of strawberry. It was amazing. I mean really amazing. Really, really amazing. I can't believe how much it tastes like strawberries. I had purchased a flat of them from one of those corner-of-the-street vendors and used them the next day. It is a bit tedious making strawberry ice cream, because you have to hull, clean, puree and strain away all the seeds before you even make your ice cream base, but it was well worth it. We ate that ice cream for about three months and enjoyed every minute of it. I actually just found a quart of it down in the bottom of my chest freezer and we enjoyed it for Max's birthday. And, a year later, it was still amazing.
 This year, I had determined to make vanilla. And I did. It is AWESOME. It is very rich, so you don't have to eat as much, which, I am sure, makes it good for you. AWESOME and HEALTHY. Just kidding, I wouldn't classify it as healthy. But, it is so good, you should decide right now, you are going to do it. First, whenever you drop the homemade ice cream bomb, people automatically label you as a domestic goddess. Second, it is NOT very difficult, and if you have ever made custard, it is a snap to make ice cream. Which, a little side note here, I would definitely recommend the egg version, as frozen custard is so much richer and creamier than the egg less version (and rich is what we are going for, right?)
Third, when you pull out a tub of your own homemade ice cream to give your children, husband, parents, and guests, you feel a sense of pride in offering something very fresh, containing nothing artificial or un-pronounceable.
And while I am sure I could give you four through ten, I will leave it at that.
Use the vanilla base, and with a few minor alterations, you can add chocolate and coffee to your ice cream repertoire. I would recommend buying a big container of heavy cream from Costco. Make two batches of vanilla, one coffee and one chocolate, and all your dreams will come true.
Well, all my dreams came true.

Ice cream (3 ways)

Makes about 1 1/2 pints
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 vanilla beans (split lengthwise)
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cups sugar
2 eggs

Combine cream, milk, sugar, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla beans with tip of a knife into cream mixture, then drop in pods. Heat cream mixture just to a boil.

Whisk eggs in a large bowl, then add hot cream mixture one ladle at a time. Once you have added two or three ladles, pour mixture into saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened and registers 170°F on thermometer (do not let boil). ( I never use a thermometer)

Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean metal bowl, then cool, stirring occasionally. Chill, covered, until cold, at least 3 hours, up to 24.
Freeze custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturers directions. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer.

So, vanilla-you can use three vanilla beans for each recipe, or half vanilla beans and half vanilla extract. Vanilla beans can be obtained very inexpensively on the Internet here, or a few more here, or here. You can also hop in your car and go here, where they can be purchased for 2.99 for two. This is significantly less than your grocery store, where one can run you twelve to fifteen dollars.
I make a double batch, use three vanilla beans, and about a tablespoon and a half of vanilla extract.
For coffee flavored ice cream, use a tablespoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of espresso powder. Add the espresso powder after the cream is hot. This is the brand I use.
For chocolate, add two tablespoons, cocoa powder, one tablespoon of vanilla, and 1/4 c. semi-sweet chips or pieces. Add the chips or pieces after you return the cream to the stove.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Take in-Lettuce Wraps

Ok, so I know this is another Asian food recipe, but I really need help in this area. Asian food always presents a far more difficult puzzle to me than does any other style of food that I have experimented with. When I taste something with those influences, I taste only the final result, none of the comprising flavors. When I came upon this recipe, in a food magazine, I wanted to try it. It is a recipe for PF Chang's chicken lettuce wraps. It's really good. Soon on the horizon, I will offer you Chili's Honey Chipotle Sauce (my husband's faaaavorite), but for now, more Chinese.
Back to the lettuce wraps. The first time I made the recipe, I followed the directions as closely as possible. You saute some cellophane noodles in peanut oil, to throw into the wraps, and I definitely would do it if I was making a meal for friends, but on a family night I would just skip the noodles. They are a little fickle, time consuming, and don't come apart very easily.
So, second time around, skipped the noodles. And the lettuce. I also skipped the 1-hour marinade and just drizzled a little teriyaki on and added cornstarch, salt and pepper about ten minutes before stir frying. I skipped the mushrooms (didn't have 'em) and the water chestnuts (I don't really like them) I put the whole thing on top of rice and used beef instead of chicken. It was still a hit. As a matter of fact, my husband, who absolutely does not eat leftovers, heated up the leftovers for himself the next day! Its a bit spicy, but I don't de-seed the jalapeno. My hubby likes spicy stuff. I also threw in a sliced summer squash and a sliced zucchini during the last two minutes of the stir fry and it was really good! I cut them into 1/2-inch thick half-moons.
I'm going to include the original directions for you, and you can make my changes if you want. Be sure the chicken or beef is pretty finely cut up, or it can be a bit tough with this high heat.
Sorry for the lack of photos, my camera had a four-year-old happen to it.
P.F. Chang's Chicken Lettuce Wraps

1 large egg white
1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, diced

2 tablespoons oyster sauce (I only found oyster flavored sauce)
1 tablespoon hoisen sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoons cornstarch

2 bundles cellophane noodles (only called bean thread noodles at my grocery store)
Peanut oil, for frying

4 tablespoons peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon peeled ginger (or minced ginger-found in the refrigerated produce section)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
4 scallions; 2 minced, 2 cut into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound shitake mushrooms, stemmed and diced (I used whatever mushrooms I could find-probably white button)
3/4 cup diced water chestnuts
small lettuce leaves, for serving (butter leaves are nice)
soy sauce, chili paste and/or hot mustard, for serving

1. Prepare the chicken: Whisk the egg white, cornstarch and rice wine vinegar in a bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. In the mean time, prepare all other ingredients. I would recommend reading ahead in the recipe and combining all the items that will be added at the same time. The stir-fry comes together very quickly.
2. Make the stir-fry sauce: Whisk 1/3 cup water, the oyster, hoisin and soy sauces, and the sesame oil in a bowl, then whisk in the cornstarch  until dissolved.
3. Fry the noodles: Pull the noodles apart into sections. Heat 3/4 inch peanut oil in a medium saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer registers 380 F. Working in batches, press the noodles into the oil with a spatula until they puff, 5 to 10 seconds. Drain on paper towels. (This is a bit of an acquired skill)
4. Make the stir-fry: Heat 2 tablespoons peanut oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons peanut oil to the skillet; when almost smoking, stir in the garlic, ginger, jalapeno and minced scallions, then add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the sugar and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, water chestnuts and scallion pieces and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add the stir-fry sauce and chicken and cook 1 minute.
5. Make a bed of noodles on a platter and top with the chicken mixture. Serve the noodles and stir-fry with lettuce leaves and soy sauce for dipping.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Eat Here-Picazzo's

On our recent trip to Sedona, Arizona, we ate at a lovely little restaurant called Picazzo's. The full name is actually Picazzo's Organic Italian Kitchen. The main thrust of the restaurant is, obviously, organic, but you also have gluten free options.
We had a late lunch so we just planned to have some dessert, but the aroma of freshly baked pizza overwhelmed us and we decided to split a small one. We had the classic, it was topped with organic pesto, ricotta, mozzarella and Italian sausage.
After just a few minutes our pizza arrived. The crust was thick and chewy, reminiscent of fresh baked french bread. The pesto was absolutely delicious, and we made short work of the pizza. The service was very good, although they were a bit busy, especially for a Tuesday night, so we did not see our waitress as much as I would have liked.
I was really in the mood for chocolate (weird, huh) so we ordered a gluten-free brownie, topped with organic vanilla bean ice cream. It was alright, but it really reminded me of diet food and I am not a big fan of diet food. Don't get me wrong, I would eat there again and I probably will the next time we travel out here. I give the place four stars out of four. The food was good, it was not expensive, the pizza we split was fifteen dollars and for about twenty-five we had a decent meal. That is comparable to Chilis, who is not organic, gluten free or local. By a long shot.
I say, bravo, Picazzo's!

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