Category Archives: Dairy

in the red {les culinettes}

After a few months’ hiatus, les culinettes (a potluck dinner club of like-minded ladies) was back in full force a few weeks ago with a red-themed dinner at Emily’s beautiful Woodbridge home. Because of the length of time that passed since the last dinner (September! yoinks…), we were all extra-excited and inspired this time around. Since the green-themed dinner went over so well, Emily decided to do a similar theme but with red food. Once again, I was impressed by the variety and breadth of people’s contributions- red pepper hummus (Emily), an African curried chickpea stew (also Emily), Spanish stuffed ancho chiles (Abigail), a salad with lots of red accents (Meghan), beet ravioli with brown butter & sage (Sarah), roasted red pepper & tuna tapas (Amy), fries with homemade ketchup (Christina), a red onion vegetable tart (Molly), and even cherry-pomegranate bourbon jello shots (Molly again)! You’ll forgive my phone photos, I hope… I forgot to bring my camera, but can’t resist sharing some shots of this amazing food.

I had a bunch of pitted tart Michigan cherries in the freezer left over from some Beau Bien jam-making, so I offered to bring dessert. I made a buttermilk ice cream, and to go on top, cherries in a light syrup infused with vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. I thought it might be nice to have something to soak up all the sauce, so I also made shortcake-type biscuits, and sprinkled them with a little red sugar to get in the spirit of things. By the time we got to dessert, I was shocked anyone had room left, but then again, I always am! Luckily everyone rallied, since it would have been a difficult dish to take home for later.

Sarah had a couple visitors in town from Chicago who were couch-surfing for the weekend, so she asked if she could bring them. Of course with that much food, it was almost a relief to have extra mouths to help us eat it. I was seated next to Romain, a visitor from Berlin who is spending a few months in Chicago. We chatted about European vs. American schools, travel, and how cheap cities facilitate art and musical creativity and entrepreneurship (he’s originally from an industrial town that also has suffered from lost jobs and subsequently abandoned areas of town). It’s always interesting to see Detroit through a first-time visitor’s eyes, especially one from another country; the point of view around here can verge on myopic (tending to eternal pessimism on the one side and relentless boosterism on the other) and it’s great to get some perspective.

Dessert was served with some exciting news from one of the guests, which I won’t divulge here but which had us all toasting and cheering. Ending the evening on that high note, we bundled up and headed to our cars with the warm glow of contentment.

If you can’t wait for tart cherry season (and who could blame you), try to hunt down some frozen tart cherries for this. You could use sweet cherries, but I’ve always found them rather insipid for cooking, and the tartness of the sour cherries pairs so well with the buttermilk. I used this ice cream recipe from Smitten Kitchen via Claudia Fleming’s book The Last Course, using 6 egg yolks and adding about a half teaspoon salt, and a recipe for shortcake biscuits from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.

Tart Cherry Sauce for Ice Cream
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1 lb pitted tart cherries and their juice (fresh or frozen and thawed)
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
pinch of cinnamon

If using fresh cherries, place them in a bowl with the sugar, mash lightly with a fork, and allow to macerate 30 minutes or so, until they begin to release their juices.

Place cherries, sugar and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan. Simmer gently until the cherries begin to break down and the liquid becomes slightly syrupy, about 20 minutes. Remove vanilla bean and add a pinch of cinnamon to taste.

Serve warm over buttermilk ice cream and shortcakes.

meyer lemon pound cake with lemon cream

My in-laws are serious eaters. At all the gatherings I’ve attended, the quantities of food would make the Two Fat Ladies blush, and we always come home with several containers of leftovers. This Christmas was no exception! My mother in law hosted Christmas Eve, as is getting to be the tradition. She veered away from the usual Puerto Rican fare this year (roast pork, arroz con gandules) and went Mexican, making posole, ceviche and nopales (cactus) salad. One of his cousins brought an interesting new (to me) PR dish of chicken gizzards cooked with green bananas and a few green olives (something like this except it was served warm instead of like a salad). The dish is an unglamorous greyish color, but the flavor was great and the gizzards were much more tender than when I’ve made them. It re-inspired me to try making gizzards again after an unsuccessful attempt last summer.

With all this great food in such abundance, it’s always hard to know what to bring. My MIL never wants to assign me a dish; she always demurs, saying that there will be enough food, or to just bring “whatever I want”.  I know this is because she doesn’t want to impose, but I have somewhat mixed feelings about it… she knows I like to cook; I’m part of the family now; shouldn’t that warrant a side dish assignment? To be fair, for all I know she does the same with all the other relatives and they just bring whatever they feel like. But a small part of me would be flattered to be entrusted with something specific.

In the end, I just decided to make a dessert… you can never have too many, especially with his family’s sweet tooth! I didn’t feel like leaving the house for groceries, so I “shopped my pantry” and made a Meyer lemon pound cake with a lemon cream (lemon curd + whipped cream) to go on top. Although I’m not the biggest dessert/ cake person, I do love citrus (see these posts) and almost always have lemons in the house! I wasn’t sure if its simplicity would be appreciated, but to my delight it was almost gone by the end of the night, when richer and sweeter offerings remained.

This recipe is from The Gourmet Cookbook, one I turn to often when I’m looking for a recipe that’s traditional yet updated. The method is simple, and you can certainly serve the cake as-is with the lemon glaze rather than making the lemon cream (although you need to zest all those lemons anyway, so you may as well use them). I did an easy curd where you mix everything and cook it together rather than tempering the eggs; it seemed to work about the same. You’ll want to strain it for textural reasons, but that’s about the fussiest part of the recipe. And I know a heavy cake recipe is probably the last thing you’re looking for right now, but you never know when you might decide to have people over for tea, or when you might need an easy recipe for your next get-together with your in-laws.

(Meyer) lemon pound cake (adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl)
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I made this cake with fragrant Meyer lemons, but regular lemons will do just fine. However, you will likely need more lemons for the curd if you don’t use Meyers, which tend to be much juicier.

for the cake:
2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
zest of 5 lemons (about ¼ cup)
2 sticks (½ lb) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup whole milk

for the glaze:
1 cup plus 1 Tbs powdered sugar
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

Lightly grease and flour a 2-quart kugelhopf pan or bundt pan (a neutral-flavored cooking spray works well to get in the nooks & crannies). Knock out excess flour. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 325°.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and zest. Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer or with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; then add vanilla. Reduce mix speed to low and beat in ⅓ of the flour, the milk, another ⅓ of the flour, the lemon juice, and the remaining flour, beating until just combined and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Pour the batter into the prepared pan (place on a baking sheet for easier transport in and out of the oven) and bake until top is browned and a skewer or knife inserted into the center comes out clean (original recipe specified 45-55 minutes but mine took about an hour and 10 minutes). Meanwhile, make glaze by combining powdered sugar and lemon juice until sugar is fully dissolved.

Cool cake in the pan for 15 minutes (see photo- a wine bottle works well for this). Invert on a rack and allow to cool completely before glazing. Put cake on a serving plate and pour glaze over top, allowing it to drip down the sides. If storing for later use, allow glaze to set before covering. This cake keeps well for several days if wrapped and refrigerated; allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Lemon Curd/ Lemon Cream (adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
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Note: in Dorie’s book, she uses the term “lemon cream” to refer to a variation on lemon curd containing a higher ratio of butter.

1 ¼ cups sugar
1 egg
6 egg yolks
6 Tbs butter, cut into 6 pieces
freshly squeezed juice of 4 lemons (use 5 or even 6 if lemons are dry)
optional: 1 pint heavy whipping cream

Whisk together all ingredients in a medium heavy saucepan. Place over medium low heat and cook, stirring vigorously and constantly, until butter melts and mixture starts to thicken (original recipe says 4-6 minutes but I’ve never had mine cook that fast). The curd is done when you can make a track with your finger on a spoon or spatula and the curd doesn’t run into the track. It will look thin, but thicken as it cools. If desired, for a smoother texture, strain curd while still warm through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Press plastic wrap over the top so a skin doesn’t form, and cool in the refrigerator.

To make lemon cream, whip cream with beaters or a stand mixer until it has body, but before it becomes firm. When curd has fully cooled, stir in whipped cream to taste- less for a more pronounced lemon flavor and more for a milder, creamier flavor.

first ice creams of the season: honey pistachio & rhubarb ripple

For someone without much of a sweet tooth, I make a fair amount of ice cream. I’ve been thinking about why that is, and I think it’s the fact that there are so many possibilities (endless, really) when it comes to flavor. Unlike baking, which requires a bit more precision, ice cream making has a lot of wiggle room when it comes to proportions. Recipes vary wildly in the amount of eggs, dairy and sugar called for, and somehow all end up yielding a fairly similar end product. As long as you understand the basics of making a custard (and many versions don’t even require that!), you can vary the other elements a great deal and still get a good result. Add to that the fact that making ice cream doesn’t require turning on the oven, and usually only dirties one bowl and one pot, and you have some pretty strong motivation for turning your creative energies in that direction.

The first ice cream I made this year was inspired by sweets of the Middle East and North Africa. Honey and pistachios play a starring role, with orange flower water as supporting cast. But unlike some pastries in which the honey can be cloyingly sweet or the overuse of rosewater brings to mind your grandmother’s perfumed soap, this ice cream strikes a delicate and, if I may say so, delightful balance. Rosewater is perhaps more commonly used in the region, but I’ve never loved the scent or taste of roses so I opt for orange flower. Orange blossom honey would be a natural partner, although any flavorful honey will work. Swirl in a generous amount of toasted pistachios, and you have a dessert worthy of an Arabian prince. In fact, according to Wikipedia’s entry on ice cream,

“As early as the 10th century, ice cream was widespread amongst many of the Arab world’s major cities, such as Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. Their version of ice cream was produced from milk or cream and often some yoghurt similar to Ancient Greek recipes, flavoured with rosewater as well as dried fruits and nuts.”

This experiment turned out better than I could have even hoped for. Despite my non-proclivities for sweets, I found myself sneaking spoonfuls of this a bit more often than I should for someone trying to fit in a wedding dress in 3 months. Those pistachios! (I’m on a bit of a pistachio kick right now, by the way.)

The second ice cream I made, a few days after the first, was designed to use up some rhubarb I’d over-enthusiastically purchased at the farmers’ market. I made a rhubarb sorbet with St. Germaine (an elderflower liqueur) that turned out so-so, but still had a fair quantity left over. I made a basic vanilla custard, a rhubarb purée, and combined the two into an ice cream that tastes like rhubarb pie à la mode. I made the custard slightly sweeter than I normally would, to balance out the pucker-tart rhubarb, and it turned out just right. After making the ice cream, I thought of a better way to get the “ripple” effect (detailed in the recipe), but I suppose there’s always next time for that.

Meanwhile, I offer you these recipes, two of my best to date. The other half of my household, who happens to get very uncomfortable if our ice cream supply ever threatens depletion, is in full agreement.

Honey, Pistachio & Orange Flower Water Ice Cream
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2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup milk (doesn’t matter whether it’s skim, whole or whatever)
4 egg yolks
½ cup flavorful honey
¾ teaspoon orange flower water (available in most Middle Eastern groceries; rosewater may be substituted if that’s all you can find)
¾ cup pistachios

Heat the milk and 1 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan until steam begins to form on the surface. In a bowl, stir the egg yolks with the honey. When the milk is hot, stir it into the eggs about ¼ cup at a time; return entire mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the custard coats the back of a spoon (a swipe with your finger should leave a clean trail). Add the orange flower water and remaining 1 cup cream. If you like, strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any eggy bits. Put in the refrigerator to chill.

When completely chilled through, freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Meanwhile, toast the pistachios either in a dry skillet on the stove over low heat, shaking frequently, or spread on a tray in a low (250°) oven or toaster oven until warmed through. Either way, watch them closely, as nuts burn easily. Allow enough time for the nuts to cool before adding them to the ice cream. When the ice cream is the consistency of soft serve, stir in the pistachios. Pack into a container and place in the freezer for about 2  hours to set. Makes about 1 quart.

Rhubarb Ripple Ice Cream
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For the custard:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
4 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or half a vanilla bean

For the rhubarb purée:
½ pound rhubarb, washed and cut into chunks
½ cup sugar

Heat the milk and cream in a medium saucepan until steam begins to form on the surface. In a bowl, stir the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla. When the milk/cream is hot, stir it into the eggs about ¼ cup at a time; return entire mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the custard coats the back of a spoon (a swipe with your finger should leave a clean trail). If you like, strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any eggy bits. Put in the refrigerator until completely chilled through.

To make the rhubarb purée, combine the rhubarb and sugar in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until the rhubarb is falling apart. You’ll need to stir at the beginning so the sugar doesn’t burn, but the rhubarb will quickly begin to render its juices. If you have an immersion/ wand blender, use that to purée the rhubarb; otherwise, you can use a regular blender, but don’t over-mix as it adds too much air to the purée. Transfer to a zip-loc bag and chill thoroughly.

When completely chilled through, freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Snip the tip off one corner of the bag containing the rhubarb. Layer the ice cream in your chosen container,  squiggling the rhubarb over it as you go. Place in the freezer for about 2 hours to set. Makes about 1 quart.

asparagus salad with pistachios & ricotta salata

Although I like to do my share of experimenting in the kitchen, you’ll never hear me claim to be on the cutting edge of cooking or food trends. Even still, I suffer a bit of pique when I finally get around to making something that many others have already blogged about, and it’s so good, and seems like the most obvious thing in the world that I wonder why the heck it took me so long to try it. I hesitated a bit to write about this salad since it’s kind of reaching a saturation point in the foodblogosphere. But then I figured if it’s new to me, it’s likely there are those among you who still haven’t had it, and it really is so worth trying, bandwagon be damned.

Although a current trend, shaved asparagus salad is far from cutting edge- I found a recipe for it in a Chez Panisse cookbook (I believe it was this one), so it dates at least from the ’90s if not before. But it certainly seems to be enjoying a bit of a moment right now. I think my initial pause, if you could call it that, was in the fact that I assumed (wrongly) that raw asparagus would have more of the slightly stinky, bitter edge than cooked asparagus does. I say this as an asparagus lover, mind you, and a fan of most all green vegetables. But I never felt a particular urge to try asparagus uncooked as a salad, any more so than I would, say, cauliflower or okra or green beans.

Until recently, that is, when we were on our third or fourth bunch of asparagus in just about as many days (I went a little nuts when the Michigan asparagus finally arrived, later than usual after the weeks of unseasonably chill weather). We’d had it roasted, steamed, stir fried and grilled, and it was time for something new. I got out my vegetable peeler and got to work.

When I had a bowl piled high with pale green tangles, I dressed it lightly with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I crumbled ricotta salata on top, along with toasted, chopped pistachios whose hue echoed that of the asparagus ribbons. I am only slightly embarrassed to say that I hoovered the entire dish down in minutes, it was so good. The salad had a sweetness to it that I hadn’t expected, and none of the “raw-tasting” quality I’d subconsciously feared- at least not in a bad way. It tasted raw in the sense of fresh, light and healthy; just what you’d crave on a warm day.  I made it again the next day and ate nothing besides that for my supper, polishing off the fat bunch of spears all by myself in what amounted to two oversize servings.

I’m looking forward to playing around with asparagus salad as long as it’s in season- I figure I have a couple more weeks at least. I already have a sesame-ginger dressing in mind, and I’d like to try the Caesar treatment as well à la Sassy Radish (although I think for that, I’d slice it very thinly on the bias, since my peeler produces very thin slices that wouldn’t stand up to a heavier dressing). Have any of you made asparagus salad? What’s your favorite preparation? And if you haven’t made it yet, you must- now that I’m on the bandwagon, I’m recruiting passengers.

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Pistachios and Ricotta Salata
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It would be bold of me to call this a recipe, so I won’t; just think of it as a starting point for your own slurp-worthy creations. The quantities are all approximate and as always, you should rely on your taste buds.  This salad will quickly become droopy as it loses its liquid when salted, so it is best only to make a quantity you think you’ll consume in one sitting (but trust me, that’s not hard to do).

1 bunch asparagus (fat spears work best)
¼ cup toasted and roughly chopped pistachios
about 2-3 ounces crumbled ricotta salata (feta could be substituted)
olive oil
half a lemon
salt & pepper

Rinse the asparagus and trim away or snap off the tough ends. Hold a spear flat against a cutting board with the tip in your left hand, and using a vegetable peeler, peel from left to right, leaving the tip intact, to create long ribbons of asparagus (reverse for left-handers). I found the easiest way to do this is to place the cutting board so that it slightly overhangs the counter, so you can get the peeler horizontal with the asparagus and get the proper leverage. Discard the first and last strips of each spear, which will be mostly peel. Repeat with all of the asparagus, reserving the tips for a risotto or omelette.

Dress the ribboned asparagus lightly with olive oil and a generous squeeze of lemon; add salt and pepper to taste, tossing to distribute. Sprinkle the cheese and nuts on top and eat immediately, sharing only if necessary.

of bacon & bloodies & scheezeballs

I’m absolutely not fronting when I say that, in all that pertains to food and drink, I have the most amazing bunch of friends EVER.  In a mere 6 months, we’ve gone from small, loosely organized gatherings, to  cider and Bordeaux tastings, to full-on day-long bacon-and-bloody mary smorgasbords that get mentioned in the New York Times.  Holla!



The inspiration for Bacon & Bloodies came when I received a package from the generous folks at Nueske’s which included, among other goodies, 3 different types of their bacon!  I suggested to the gang that this might be a good excuse to throw a bacon-tasting, and because bacon is sort of a breakfasty morning item, why not throw some bloody marys in the mix?  My friend and business partner Molly gamely agreed to host at her lovely Lafayette Park condo.



We sampled several varieties of bacon, including the aforementioned Nueske’s (regular, “uncured”*, and pepper bacon), Niman Ranch (2 kinds, I believe), Benton’s, Link 40, J&M (a local bacon), our friend Kim’s homemade bacon, and probably a couple more that I’m forgetting.  Each had their own qualities to recommend them- some smokier, some meatier, some nutty and mild.  We didn’t do anything as scientific as to take notes; the bacon was just passed around like hors d’oeuvres as it came off the grill (courtesy of Jarred the grill-meister, who had a couple cast-iron skillets going for a few solid hours).

*Megan, the lovely PR person from Nueske’s, explained to me that although the USDA requires them to label the naturally cured bacon as “uncured”, it actually is a cured product.

Because the party started at 1pm, it ended up being more of a grazing/potluck type thing rather than a brunch.  I had little trouble deciding what to bring, based on a Twitter conversation with Todd in which he made fun of Molly and I for our nostalgic enjoyment of Win Schulers’ Bar-Scheeze.  I remember loving the stuff as a kid, bright orange and fake as it was; while it certainly pales in comparison to real cheese, it tasted absolutely complex when Velveeta was your benchmark.  I decided, naturally, to make a homemade cheese ball in homage to the Scheezeballs of my youth.  The funniest thing was that although I used top notch, all natural ingredients, people at the party admitted that they had initially avoided it thinking it was fake cheese!  Hehe, more for me.



How to sum up a gorgeous October day in a few words? I’ll let the photos do most of the talking, but some of the highlights were the homemade pickles several people brought for bloody mary garnish, Todd’s pan-fried Cajun chicken livers, a wonderful Georgian cheese tart made by our friend Megan, and the steaks Molly and Jarred busted out around hour 6 of the party, with a phenomenal chimichurri sauce Molly made (she lived in Argentina and I will definitely be getting that recipe to share with you all!).  I also made a cinnamon-honey ice cream which I hope to post about soon.  Meanwhile, scroll past the remaining photos for a cheese ball that will please even the scheeze-haters.





Win Schuler’s-inspired Scheeze Ball

1 lb good-quality sharp cheddar, shredded
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
2 Tbs prepared horseradish, or more to taste
few dashes hot sauce such as Cholula or Tabasco
few dashes Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chopped pecans (other nuts may be substituted as desired), or a bit more if needed
5 strips bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbled (optional)
milk, as needed

Notes: This recipe is very loosely based on a Paula Deen recipe, but I modified it to taste more like Win Schuler’s. Paula calls for 1/2 cup milk; I didn’t find it necessary to achieve the texture I wanted, but if you feel the mixture is too firm, you can add milk a tablespoon or two at a time as you mix the cheeses.  If not using the bacon, you may need more nuts to completely cover the cheese ball.  The recipe yields a fairly large cheese ball, but can be halved if necessary.
Directions: Place all ingredients except the nuts and bacon into the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until completely smooth.  Place the mixture onto a large piece of plastic wrap and form it into a ball.  Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

About 15-20 minutes before you want to finish the cheese ball, prepare the coating: in a dry skillet, warm the nuts and bacon (if using) over low heat to gently toast the nuts and re-crisp the bacon.  Transfer to a paper towel and let cool.  Put the nuts and bacon in a bowl or pie plate and roll the cheese ball in the mixture, pressing it into the cheese until the ball is fully coated.  If not serving immediately, wrap again in a clean piece of plastic wrap and chill up to 24 hours.

how to make chlodnik in 9 days

My start-to-finish process for making a recipe often goes a little something like this…

Day 1 (Friday): Think about what recipes to make over the weekend.  Decide to attempt chlodnik, a chilled Polish soup with buttermilk and beets.  Look at recipes online.  Make a shopping list.

Day 2 (Saturday): Oversleep, miss the farmers’ market.  Instead of cooking, go out to eat later with friends who are in town playing a show.

Day 3 (Sunday): Go to the grocery store in the late afternoon; pick up beets, buttermilk, cucumber, dill, scallions, radishes.  Get home from the store late and too hungry to “cook”.  Make a veggie “taco salad” with romaine, tomatoes, avocado and cut up pieces of a Dr. Praeger’s Tex-Mex veggie burger and call it a night.

Day 4 (Monday): Work late, get home starving, make frozen potstickers and salad for dinner.  Finish too late to really have time or motivation to be in the kitchen.  Try to make some headway on your book club book.

Day 5 (Tuesday): Plan on at least prepping some ingredients tonight, but get an invitation to go to a friend‘s for dinner, and accept. At this point, decide that maybe instead of making the soup for weekday lunches/dinners, you’ll just bring it to a potluck picnic on Saturday.

Day 6 (Wednesday): Go to the gym after work because it’s been, like, over a month. Have another salad for dinner.  Actually get around to doing some prep work- peel and cut up the beets and cook them; set aside in the fridge.

Day 7 (Thursday): Fully intend to do the remaining prep after work, but instead get caught up cleaning kitchen for three hours because of discovery of an invasion of tiny bugs that have entered your home via a bag of cat food.

Day 8 (the following Friday- yes, a full week after the plan has been put in motion): Get down to business.  Cut up cucumbers, radish, scallions, dill; combine with beets and buttermilk, a little sugar & salt, and some sauerkraut for good measure.  Taste.  Beam with pleasure that it tastes as good as how you remember it when you used to work at that deli that makes it.  Refrigerate overnight to blend the flavors.

Day 9 (Saturday): Serve chlodnik with marble rye on the side to friends in an idyllic setting.  Bask in the compliments (hey, it’s no small feat to impress these hardcore gourmands, let alone expose them to something they’ve never tried before!).  Decide that this is going to be your go-to chilled summer soup for the next little while.

NB: I am not making any claims of “authenticity” for this version of chlodnik, other than to say it closely resembles the one I used to eat at Russell St. Deli when I worked there.  In looking at recipes online, it seems there is a great deal of variation.  One of the things I ran across a few times was that this recipe is supposed to be made with baby beets, about the size of radishes, and that you’re supposed to use the whole plant, stems, greens and all.  I couldn’t find any baby beets (see above re: sleeping in & missing the farmers’ market!) but I’d like to try it that way in the future just for comparison’s sake. Other variations include the addition of grated raw turnip, chopped pickles, and quartered hard-boiled eggs.  My only departure from the Russell St. version was the sauerkraut, but I didn’t add so much as to overwhelm the other flavors.

Chlodnik (Chilled Buttermilk-Beet Soup)
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6 cups buttermilk (if you’re in MI, the Calder brand is good)
1 lb beets + 1 cup beet cooking liquid (see recipe)
1 cup seeded & diced cucumber (½ a large English cucumber will yield this)
1 cup very thinly sliced radishes (3-5 radishes depending on size)
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Tbs finely chopped fresh dill
1½ tsp sugar
1½ tsp salt
½ cup sauerkraut + ¼ cup sauerkraut juice
optional: ½ cup sour cream
optional: hard-boiled egg quarters for garnish

Notes:
Many of the recipes I found called for some sour cream, which made for a thicker soup than what I had remembered.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you have a good quality thick buttermilk, you may not need it.  If you’re using sauerkraut, use a salt-fermented sauerkraut (the Bubbies brand is awesome) rather than one in vinegar.

This recipe makes a fairly large amount of soup (about 10 cups). If you want to make a smaller batch, just use 1 quart buttermilk (4 cups), and reduce the quantities of the remaining ingredients by about 1/3.  As with many soups, precision is not of the essence.

Directions:
Peel the beets with a vegetable peeler and cut into matchsticks. Raw beets don’t stain much, so you don’t really need to worry about wearing gloves for this.  Place the beets in a small saucepan and add water just to cover.  Cover and cook at a very low simmer until tender (do not allow to boil or they will lose their bright color).  Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.

If using the sour cream, place it in a large bowl.  Whisk in buttermilk a little at a time until the mixture is liquid and no lumps remain.  Add all remaining ingredients and stir well.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.  Refrigerate until well-chilled.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with a little sprig of dill and a couple hard-boiled egg quarters, if desired.  Pumpernickel or rye bread is good on the side.

buttermilk-sweet corn ice cream with berry coulis

What to do when faced with two ice cream recipes that sound equally fabulous, and a bout of indecision?  Combine them, of course!

I was recently invited to a weeknight dinner party and volunteered to bring ice cream, as I could make it ahead and just grab it after work on my way to the party.  I love an excuse to make ice cream, because the flavor possibilities are pretty endless (if you don’t believe me, check out this article in the NY Times… scoop of Government Cheese, anyone?).  I found out another guest was bringing a blackberry pie, so that helped narrow it down.  I thought of a buttermilk ice cream I’d made last summer from Smitten Kitchen, but I also had in mind a sweet corn ice cream I’d had years ago at Tapawingo* in Ellsworth, MI. The restaurant served the ice cream with a berry cobbler and the combination was perfect.  I was torn- which one to make?

I decided to throw caution to the wind and combine the two flavors (yes, I am being facetious, as I realize this won’t win any awards for all-time most daring ice cream flavor).  Both recipes were originally from Claudia Fleming (author of well-loved dessert book The Last Course) and had similar proportions, so it was pretty easy to adapt the two by simply substituting buttermilk for the regular milk called for in the sweet corn recipe.  I added half a vanilla bean for good measure, and crossed my fingers.  The results were pretty spectacular if I do say so myself.  The slightly tart buttermilk was a welcome counterpoint to the corn’s milky sweetness.  In fact, I liked the pairing so much that I was thinking of trying to adapt this flavor combination into some sort of chilled summer soup- like a Midwestern chlodnik of sorts.

If you’re not serving this ice cream with a berry cobbler or pie, I highly recommend drizzling it with a berry coulis- the flavors are highly complimentary, and while the ice cream is great on its own, the berries take it to another level. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making a coulis (although it’s quite easy), you could of course just scatter some berries alongside.

A couple of ice cream-making notes:  Fleming’s recipes call for 9 yolks and 12 yolks, but I cut it down to 8 and it was just fine.  You could even go with 6 if you wanted.  The buttermilk is richer than the milk it replaces, so your result will still be plenty indulgent.  As for making the custard base- there seems to be this great fear, perpetuated by many a cookbook, that custard-making is fraught with danger; that it might betray you at any moment, turning hopelessly into scrambled eggs.  For years, I cooked my custards at much-too-low temperatures, sweating over them for eons, waiting in vain for them to magically thicken.  Don’t be afraid to heat the mixture until you can see steam coming off it; otherwise you’ll be at it forEVER.  As long as you keep up the stirring and don’t let it boil, you’ll be OK.  Also, because of the high liquid ratio this particular custard doesn’t get very thick, so don’t worry if it seems wimpy; when it freezes it’ll be just fine.

*In searching for the restaurant’s website for this post, I was saddened to learn that Tapawingo closed its doors last year.  Arguably the best restaurant in Michigan, they garnered all kinds of awards, stars and accolades.  Like many Michigan businesses, they were forced to close because of the downturn in the economy.  They will be sorely missed.  In addition to breathtaking meals with a focus on local MI products long before it was trendy, the grounds and gardens of the restaurant were gorgeous.  I can only hope someone decides to take up the reins and re-open something in that location, although they’d have big shoes to fill food-wise.

Buttermilk-Sweet Corn Ice Cream (adapted from two recipes by Claudia Fleming)
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2 cups buttermilk
2 cups heavy cream
8 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
pinch of salt
4 ears sweet corn
½ a vanilla bean (1 tsp vanilla extract may be substituted)

Note: As Ms. Fleming wisely points out, this recipe will only be as good as the sweet corn you use to make it.   For optimal results, use local corn that has been picked no more than 2 days prior.

Directions: Remove the husks and cornsilk from the corn and break each cob into thirds.  Cut the kernels from the cobs with a sharp knife,  reserving the cobs. Put the kernels in a blender with the cream and buttermilk and pulse into a rough purée.

Pour the cream mixture into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, adding the corncob pieces, vanilla bean, salt, and ½ cup of the sugar.  Bring to a boil, then cover and remove from heat.  Let steep for one hour.

Remove the corncobs and discard.  Fish out the vanilla bean and set aside.  Strain the mixture through a medium or fine mesh strainer, pressing down firmly to expel as much of the liquid as possible; discard the solids*.  Return to the saucepan and place over medium heat.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, adding them to the cream mixture (if using vanilla extract, add it now).

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining ¼ cup sugar.  Whisk in a little of the hot cream to temper the yolks, then add them to the saucepan.  Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon.  Pass through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (at least 4 hours).  Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes about 1 quart.

*I couldn’t help but think that rather than tossing it, this deliciously sweetened corn pap would be great in some sort of muffin or quick bread, but alas, I didn’t have a chance to experiment. And speaking of not wasting, you can rinse off the vanilla bean, let it dry, and blitz it with sugar to make vanilla sugar.

Mixed Berry Coulis
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1 1/2 cups raspberries, washed
1 1/2 cups blueberries, washed
1/4 cup sugar
squeeze of lemon or dash of balsamic vinegar, optional

Notes: You can, of course, substitute other types of berries; you may just need to slightly tweak the sugar quantity.   This recipe does not produce an overly sweet sauce; if you want a sweeter result you can up the sugar to 1/3 cup.

Place the blueberries and sugar in a pan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  (The residual water from washing the berries should be sufficient, but if not, you can add a small amount of water.)  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to break down; you can encourage this process by mashing them with a fork.

When the blueberries have turned sauce-like, add the raspberries and cook for a couple minutes longer (these will break down very quickly).  Taste the sauce and adjust if needed by adding a bit more sugar or a squeeze of lemon or small dash of balsamic.  Strain the sauce through a chinoise or fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the solids (you may need to do this in 2 batches).  You should end up with about 2 cups sauce and 1/2 cup solids to be discarded.  Use as a sauce for ice cream, panna cotta or other desserts.

cheese soup with caramelized onions & cumin

I’m getting to this point in my cooking career where I’ve begun to actually create my own recipes based on techniques I’ve learned from cookbooks.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great feeling to make a recipe from a cookbook and have it turn out just right (especially if it’s something you’ve never attempted), but it’s a different level of satisfaction to conceive a recipe and have it turn out perfectly the first time.  This is so exciting to me- kind of like when I first started writing songs after just playing other people’s for years.  I’ve never had much problem making up recipes for simple things like soup, pasta, salad or salad dressing.  But this past year I’ve been branching out and creating slightly more advanced recipes based on ideas I have for flavor combinations.   One of the first times I did this was for these scrambled eggs with scallops & bacon (which, incidentally, would be a fabulous Valentine’s breakfast!).  I did refer to another recipe, kind of like a musician refers to certain chord progressions to write a pop song, but the cool thing for me was that I thought up the idea independently and that it worked!  Since then, I’ve written other recipes, each time getting a little more confident and feeling less like I need to consult a cookbook.  Some are very simple, like this saffron-citrus risotto or this Chinese-style kale (probably my most popular recipe), while others, like this venison & porcini ragu, are a little more involved.

Last weekend I got together with some girlfriends for Soup Swap Mach II (you can go here to check out last year’s Soup Swap) and  after flipping through tons of cookbooks for soup recipes, decided to just make one up.  The flavors for this soup were inspired by an onion tart I made last year from the Chocolate & Zucchini cookbook which contained onions, cheese, and the somewhat unexpected element (for French cuisine, anyway) of cumin.  I really loved these flavors together and thought they’d be wonderful in a soup.  The depth and intensity of this soup was unlike any cheese soup I’ve ever had- I caramelized the onions for almost an hour until they reached a deep amber color,  toasted the cumin seeds, and used a pound of cheese.  Decadent, perhaps a bit, but this soup reaches a level of savory that makes it all worthwhile.  Don’t be put off by its somewhat drab appearance- what it lacks in looks, it more than makes up for in taste.  Serve it with a salad, some fruit (apples or pears would be good) and crusty bread or croutons.

Cheese Soup with Caramelized Onions & Cumin
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6 cups diced yellow onions
3 Tbs butter
1 cup dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc
4-5 Tbs flour
2 cups chicken stock (substitute a mild vegetable stock for a vegetarian version)
2 cups lowfat milk
1 lb shredded cheese such as Cheddar or Emmenthaler (see notes)
1 rounded tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
kosher or sea salt
optional for serving: chopped parsley and croutons

Notes: If you’d like detailed instructions on caramelizing onions, I used the techniques described in this post, using wine to deglaze the pan instead of water.  For the cheese, you can use whatever you like- Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Emmenthaler or another hard cheese like Comte… Just make sure whatever you choose is not going to have a funky flavor once melted, as some Swiss-style cheeses are prone to do.  I used a mixture of 3/4 Wisconsin white Cheddar and 1/4 Emmenthaler (because I had some in the fridge to use up)  but I think you could play with the proportions or try other cheeses.  I wouldn’t use anything too strong or too mild unless you plan to mix two cheeses.  The Emmenthaler on its own would be lovely, but it’s a bit spendy; the Cheddar is much more affordable.

Directions: Melt 2 Tbs of the butter over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven.  Whatever you choose, make sure it has a light-colored bottom so you can monitor the browning process. Most importantly, do NOT use a non-stick pan!  When the butter has melted and the pan is hot, add the onions. Sprinkle them generously with salt- this will help to draw out the water, which is the first step to getting them browned.  Stir often with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Be patient- the caramelization process will take quite a long time (45 minutes to an hour), but it’s not difficult and the flavor is so worth it!  Some cooks like to read while they stir…  The hotter you keep the heat, the faster things will go, but the more you’ll have to be vigilant with your stirring. Towards the end, you may have to reduce the heat a little to keep things from scorching.  After the water has started to cook out, the onions will become a pale brown and an amber-colored residue will gradually begin to build up on the bottom of the pan.  When you can no longer scrape the browned part up with your spoon alone, start using the wine to deglaze the pan.  To start off, you’ll want to deglaze every 45-60 seconds or so; as the onions cook, the intervals will become shorter.  Every time a “crust” accumulates, add a SMALL splash of the wine (no more than a tablespoon; less if possible) and stir and scrape the pan to incorporate the browned bits into the onions.  The sugars from the wine will assist the browning process and give you a gorgeous deep amber color.

Onions, about 3/4 of the way done. Note the brown "crust" on the bottom of the pan.

Finished onions- 6 cups reduced to about a cup and a half!

When you’ve used up all the wine and the onions have become quite dark (see photos), reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 Tbs butter to the pot.  When the butter has melted, sprinkle the flour over the onions 1 Tbs at a time, stirring to incorporate and making sure there are no lumps.  Cook the floured onions for 2-3 minutes so that the flour loses its “raw” taste.

Increase the heat back to medium high, add the chicken stock, and bring to a low simmer; the soup will thicken slightly.  Add the milk; when the soup comes back up to temperature, add the cheese.  If you like, you can reserve a little of the cheese for garnish.  Stir gently until the cheese has melted.  Cover the soup and reduce the heat to low.

Toast the cumin seeds in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat until they are fragrant, being very careful not to burn them.  (If they seem at all burned, toss them out and start over; burnt cumin is very bitter and will ruin your soup!)  When they have cooled, crush them a bit in a mortar & pestle to release their flavor.  Add the cumin to the soup along with the white pepper.  Taste for salt, but it likely won’t need any.

If you want to leave your soup as-is, you’re done.  If you want a smooth soup, transfer to a blender in 2 batches and puree until very smooth.  Alternately (and I think I’d do this next time), puree half the soup and stir it back in- this will give you some body, but you’ll retain the texture of some of the onions.

Ladle into bowls and top with croutons, a little chopped parsley, and a pinch of grated cheese if desired.

pumpkin-pecan and turkish delight cannoli (daring bakers)

I actually made my Daring Bakers challenge early this month, woot! Marvin informed me that we were going to a dinner party a couple weeks ago and volunteered me to bring a dessert, so I figured it was as good an excuse as any to roll up my sleeves and get frying.

I was a little skeptical about frying anything in my tiny kitchen without the aid of a deep fryer, but it turned out pretty much ok. I used my Le Creuset Dutch oven, which was deep enough to avoid any splattering.  The only collateral damage was a lingering fast-food grease smell that permeated the house for several days after!  I used pasta tubes for the cannoli forms, which was a little challenging but not impossible.

The cannoli were not difficult to make, but they were time-consuming.  Thankfully I had a pasta rolling machine, which greatly helped in rolling the dough to the proper thickness- I can’t imagine if I’d had to roll it out by hand, yikes.  The dough actually behaved very similarly to pasta dough and the machine worked very well at getting it to a workable consistency.  I hit a little bit of a speed bump when I went to make the dough- it was Sunday morning, I didn’t have any wine in the house, and you can’t buy alcohol until noon.  I didn’t have time to wait, so I poked around the pantry until I came across some Chinese cooking wine.  I sniffed it… it smelled close enough to Marsala, so into the dough it went.

For filling my cannoli, I bought ricotta but also bought some whipping cream which I whipped and folded into the ricotta.  It wasn’t traditional, of course, but it gave a wonderful light texture to the filling.  I divided my filling into two bowls and flavored one batch with about ¼ cup pumpkin butter from Trader Joe’s.  The other half of the filling was inspired by Turkish flavors; I used sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, and a little orange flower water.  The pumpkin-filled cannoli got pecans on the ends, and the “Turkish delight” cannoli got pistachios and apricots.

I doubt that cannoli would be something I’d attempt again at home, not just because of the frying but because they ended up being a little on the expensive side after you factor in the whole bottle of oil I had to use, and the manicotti shells I bought to use as molds.  But it was a fun experience, and after the last challenge, it was nice to make something I had success with on the first try!  (For recipe, please visit our hostess Lisa Michele’s blog at the link below.)

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

book review: “the cheese chronicles” by liz thorpe

Cheese ChroniclesAs someone who has many interests but never a clear idea of what I wanted to be when I “grew up”, it’s a little hard not to envy Liz Thorpe.  In 2002, she quit a corporate job to work behind the counter at Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York for minimum wage, because she decided on a romantic whim that she wanted to work in cheese (in her paraphrased words, the reason was something like “I thought it would sound cool at cocktail parties”).  In seven short years her new career has skyrocketed: she is now Vice President of Murray’s, has traveled all over the U.S.,  advises chefs as reknowned as Thomas Keller on their cheese menus, and just recently appeared on Martha Stewart. Oh, and did I mention she wrote a book?

The Cheese Chronicles is Liz’s self-proclaimed attempt to trace and document the origins and history of cheesemaking in America.  The chapters loosely group together various artisanal cheesemakers into somewhat arbitrary categories such as “Pastured”, “Farmers’ Markets” and “Restaurants”.  Within each chapter, Liz describes her visits and experiences with the cheesemakers, their back stories, and of course their products.  The cheese operations she features run the gamut from tiny creameries who only sell their cheese locally, to larger, nationally distributed companies such as Cypress Grove, and everything in between.  Each chapter has several sidebars that are interesting and informative but tend to interrupt the book’s “flow”, requiring the reader to hop around a lot.

If the book’s organization is its biggest flaw (and it’s a minor one at that), its most shining quality is Liz’s ebullient prose.  You can tell that, dammit, this is a woman who loves cheese!  While her descriptors sometimes verge on wanky (think snooty wine critic), I can forgive her that because a) let’s face it, there are a limited amount of adjectives one can use when describing cheese flavors, and b) her willingness to go out on a limb just goes to show her enthusiasm.  Rather than come across as pretentious or stuffy, Liz’s tasting notes convey the depth of her infatuation and continued excitement for her subject.

With its narrow subject matter, you may think The Cheese Chronicles would only be of interest to a very small minority of food-snob cheese fanatic types, but I think anyone who loves good food and who cares about artisanal production will find something of interest in this book.  There are lots of “people stories” here too, so it’s a good balance of factual information and storytelling and never gets dull.  Cheesemakers, as it turns out, are a colorful bunch.

I picked up The Cheese Chronicles in part because my burgeoning food curiosity has led me to want to explore whether there might be any feasible careers in food.  Having worked in restaurants, I know the life of a chef is not for me, but what about producing and selling a food product?  One of the great things about this book is that Liz goes into detail of how each and every producer got started.  It’s reassuring and inspiring to know that there are success stories from those who had never had a whit of experience as well as from those who had dairy farming in their blood.  I did attend a cheesemaking class at a goat farm recently and am investigating the possibilities of home cheesemaking, so who knows?  Meanwhile, I’ve got a new list of must-try cheeses to get my hands on.  Expensive, yes, but hey, it could end up being “market research”!

Follow Liz on Twitter: twitter/LizCheese