Monday, September 19, 2016

A Primer on making French Custard-style Ice Cream...and a Recipe for Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream

Recently I had an interesting conversation via the comments section on an old post that featured Fresh Peach Ice Cream.  Someone had made the ice cream and as a newcomer to ice cream making had experienced a few difficulties.  She wanted to understand what had happened.  As we conversed I realized that a lot of the questions could have been answered via a "basics" post on ice cream....which I have never done.  Since I love ice cream...and have posted several recipes...this seems like a bit of an oversight.  It occurred to me that I should remedy this as soon as possible (any excuse to make ice cream...). 




Ice cream, in its most basic form, is just a frozen mixture of sugar, cream and/or milk and optional flavorings.  Ice cream recipes have also traditionally included egg yolks.  The properties of the egg yolk produce an ice cream with smaller ice crystals and a smoother, richer texture.  Egg yolks also add fat—which in turn makes for a richer, more decadent result.  It may seem very strange to us—in our era of a salmonella-tainted egg supply—but it was not uncommon at one time to just add raw eggs to the sweetened dairy and then proceed with freezing the whole mixture.  The eggs would never have been cooked.  This isn't something most of us would be comfortable doing today. 

Fortunately, eggs can be incorporated into ice cream in a cooked form—giving all of the benefits, without any of the risks, associated with raw eggs.  To do this, the egg yolks, sugar and dairy are simply made into a stirred custard—also known as crème anglaise—before being frozen.  These kinds of ice creams are often called French ice creams...or custard-style ice creams.  And I think they are fantastic.  To me, they are pretty much the only kind of ice cream. With the exception of my Banana Chocolate Flake Ice Cream, all of the ice creams on my blog are made with a custard base. 

Not only will cooked egg yolks add all of the advantages of eggs as described above in their role as an emulsifier, cooking the egg yolks harnesses the coagulating property of the egg proteins.  Thus, a cooked base is typically thicker and creamier than an uncooked base.  



Even if you have never made a stirred custard, you are probably familiar with baked custards.  For a baked custard, a mixture of eggs and milk/cream (plus sugar for dessert custards) is combined, poured into an oven proof container and then baked at a low temperature until it is "set"—i.e. firm enough to slice or scoop.  Examples of baked custards include crème brulée, pot de crème, and quiche.  As the egg/dairy mixture begins to bake, the protein molecules in the eggs start to unwind.  As the temperature of the custard increases, these unwound proteins begin to grab onto one another and form a mesh of egg protein that holds the liquids in suspension...creating a soft solid.

The process is the same for a stirred custard except that instead of subjecting the egg proteins to the heat of the oven, they are cooked on the stove top.  Instead of sitting undisturbed as the temperature of the custard increases, the mixture is kept constantly moving.  In the finished custard the liquid is still held in suspension in an egg protein mesh...but the stirring action doesn't allow the mixture to set into a solid.  Instead, the result is a thickened liquid.

The only difficulty with making a custard has to do with the fact that the range in which eggs coagulate is fairly narrow.  Eggs begin to set at 160° and are fully coagulated at 180°.  If a custard is heated beyond 180°, the proteins which are tightening their hold on one another as the temperature increases, will harden and release (squeeze out) the liquid you are trying to thicken.  The result is a thin liquid with firm bits of cooked egg floating in it.  In other words, the custard will curdle...or "break". 

The process of making a stirred custard intended for ice cream is very straight forward, but it is designed to help you avoid a curdled or broken custard.  To begin, place half of the dairy into a saucepan.  Sometimes half of the sugar is added to the pan too.  The remaining dairy is put in a bowl that is large enough to hold the finished custard.  This bowl is placed in the refrigerator or in a bowl of ice water so that it will be thoroughly chilled.  The egg yolks are placed in another bowl and whisked until smooth.  At least half...sometimes all...of the sugar is whisked into the yolks. 



The saucepan of milk/cream is brought to a simmer.  Then, while whisking the egg-sugar mixture constantly, some (about a third) of the hot milk/cream is added in a thin stream.  Since the liquid is boiling (212°) it has the capacity to curdle the egg yolks on contact.  Adding the hot liquid in a thin stream while whisking constantly allows the temperature of the yolks to gradually increase.  This step is called "tempering" the egg yolks.  The presence of the sugar in the yolks also helps protect the yolks since it increases the temperature at which the yolks are fully coagulated by a small amount. 

I mentioned that some of the sugar is sometimes added to the saucepan with the milk/cream.  This is the classic method.  Since a small amount of sugar is enough to protect the egg yolks during the tempering process and since adding a large quantity of sugar to the yolks can make them very stiff (and thus make it difficult to smoothly and quickly incorporate the hot milk/cream), adding some of the sugar to the milk/cream where it will dissolve simply makes the mixing process easier.


   
Once the egg yolks have been tempered, the saucepan of remaining milk/cream is returned to the heat and brought back to the boil.  The temperature under the saucepan is reduced to medium and the tempered yolks are whisked into the hot milk/cream.  Since a substantial amount of your sweetener and thickener are in your bowl of yolks, make sure you scrape the bowl well.  If you have an electric stove (and the heat under your burner doesn't immediately drop to medium) remove the pan from the heat while you whisk in the tempered yolks.  When all the yolk-sugar mixture is in the pan, return the pan to medium heat.


You are now at the stirring point of your stirred custard.  You must constantly and evenly stir in a figure eight—or other motion that efficiently and regularly moves all of the liquid around in the pan (stirring in a circle for  example would leave a possible "hot spot" in the center of the pan).  As you stir, watch the custard for visible signs that it is thickening.  At first, the custard will be very thin and will slosh around as you stir.  There will also be lots of foamy bubbles on the surface.  As the custard thickens, the sloshing will decrease and the foam will dissipate almost entirely...only a few, more substantial bubbles, will remain on the surface.  The classic method for testing the custard is to check to see if it coats (or "naps") the back of a spoon.  I don't use this method because I like to stir with a heatproof spatula which seems to discourage the custard from adhering.  But if you are using a wooden implement, this method works well.  Simply lift the spoon out of the pan and draw your finger across the custard that is adhering to the spoon.  If the custard is finished, the path will remain. 


The fool proof way to monitor your custard when you are still learning the visual cues is to use an instant read thermometer.  Stir with one hand and hold the thermometer with the other (or clamp it to the side of the pan---whatever you do, don't stop stirring).  The final temperature of the custard should be around 170° to 175°—well in excess of the instant kill temperature of salmonella (160°) and under the threshold at which the custard will curdle/break (180°). 

At this point, if you simply pull the pan off of the stove and stop stirring, the residual heat in the pan and the custard will continue to cause the temperature of the custard to go up and the custard will curdle.  This is the reason that part of the dairy was reserved in a chilled bowl.  If, when you are finished cooking the custard, you pour it into the bowl of chilled cream, you will bring down the temperature fast enough and far enough so that the custard will no longer be in any danger of curdling.  (I should mention that I always have a fine sieve resting on top of the bowl of cold cream so that any stray bits of over cooked egg can be strained out as I add the hot mixture to the cold.)



If my bowl of cold cream was not set in a large bowl of ice water (an ice bath) before, I set it in one now so that I can (for food safety reasons) get the temperature of the finished custard down below 70° as soon as possible.  I usually leave it in the ice bath until the temperature is below 50°.  I then transfer it to the refrigerator.  At this point, you want to allow the custard to get as cold as your refrigerator will get it (hopefully below 40°).  I usually let mine chill for 6 to 12 hours.  During this time the flavor of the base will bloom and develop.  Also, the custard will continue to thicken a bit.  Furthermore, if you are using a chilled canister-style of ice cream freezer, you want your base to be as cold as possible before pouring it into the canister.  This will make it so that all the freezing capacity of the canister (acquired from its time spent in the freezer) will go towards freezing the ice cream...not cooling the custard base.


I can't overemphasize this last point.  The pre-chilled canister styles of ice cream freezers make wonderful ice cream...but only if the canister is very cold.  I chill mine in a second freezer in my basement that holds a consistent temperature between -10° and -20°.  On one occasion recently I had trouble getting my ice cream to set and I noticed that my freezer had cycled and the temperature was hovering just above 0°....which is still very cold, but apparently not cold enough.   I actually store my canister in the freezer (so I can make ice cream any time I want)...but if you don't store yours in the freezer you will need to chill it for a full 24 hours before trying to use it.  When we first purchased our ice cream freezer we kept it in our everyday freezer which, because we are in and out of it constantly, maintains a temperature between 0° and 10°.  We were able to make ice cream...but it never got as hard as we thought it should during the churning process.



One final point about the freezing process:  When you churn your ice cream, most ice cream freezers will produce a finished ice cream that is the consistency of "soft serve" ice cream.  This "finished" ice cream should ideally be transferred to a chilled container (I put the container that will receive the ice cream into the freezer when I start to churn the ice cream) and placed in the freezer for a few hours to firm up.  Often the ice cream will become too hard to scoop easily during this time.  If this happens, just set the ice cream in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes before scooping and serving it. 





If you look around at ice cream recipes, you will soon notice that each cook/chef is usually working from a favorite standard recipe that they flavor in various ways to achieve all kinds of different ice creams.  Certainly this is what I do.  My basic recipe follows (more or less) the following formula:  For every cup of dairy (milk/cream) I use 2 egg yolks and 1/4 cup of sugar.  I usually make three or four times this recipe.  Three times will yield almost exactly a quart of ice cream.

I almost always use half milk and half cream.  You might think that an ice cream would be better and more authentic when made with all cream.  But this is actually not the case.  Ice creams with too much cream have an unpleasant tongue-coating texture (comparable to frozen butter...).  Too much butterfat at that temperature will actually mute the flavor of your ice cream too.  Occasionally I will use 2/3 cream...but this is almost always because I have replaced some of the volume of liquid with a purée of some kind (strawberry or peach....or pumpkin...for example).  These kinds of purées contribute no fat, so they can essentially be thought of as part of the milk component. 

As for the eggs, 2 yolks per cup of dairy might seem high...and I admit that the amount I use is higher than most...but a high proportion of yolks yields an ice cream with smaller ice crystals and a smoother, richer mouth feel.   In practice, this means I use 6 yolks for a quart of ice cream.  You can of course reduce this if you like...but I would not go lower than 3 yolks (or 1 yolk per cup of liquid).

You can obviously increase or decrease the amount of sugar to suit your palate as long as you are aware that sugar alters the freezing point of the ice cream.  Less sugar will mean an ice cream that is much harder/firmer.  More sugar will make a softer ice cream.  If you use too much sugar, your ice cream may never really set up beyond "soft serve" consistency.  It is worth pointing out that alcohol is basically sugar...and therefore adding even a small amount can make for a softer ice cream.



While on the subject of sugar, I want to mention that I almost always replace some of the granulated sugar in a recipe with a liquid sugar of some kind—most often honey...sometimes maple syrup.  These liquid sugars (also called invert sugars) contribute to a finer crystalline structure in the ice cream...and therefore a smoother, creamier result.  I also like the flavor that they add.  Be aware though that neither of these can be substituted in a cup for cup manner.  A cup of honey contains almost 40% more sucrose than a cup of granulated sugar.  If you replaced your 3/4 cup of sugar in a quart of ice cream with 3/4 cup of honey the ice cream would be pretty soft...and possibly sweeter than you intend.  (A substitution of 1/3 cup honey for every 1/2 cup of sugar would be closer to the mark.)  Maple syrup on the other hand is slightly less sweet than granulated sugar.  (If you are interested, a handy and informative chart comparing the various forms of sugar can be found here.)

I should also point out that brown sugar is delicious in ice cream....but it should never be added to the portion of milk that is brought to the boil.  The acidity in the brown sugar (from the molasses) will curdle the milk when heated to the boil.  I use brown sugar in my Butter Pecan Ice Cream and learned this lesson the hard way....

Ice creams can of course be flavored in a myriad of ways.  The easiest way is via steeping or infusion.  Simply drop a vanilla bean...  or mint leaves...   or espresso beans...   or citrus zest... etc....  into the milk in the saucepan and bring it to a simmer.  Then, instead of immediately tempering the egg yolks, remove it from the heat, cover it, and let it sit (or steep) for 20 minutes to an hour (or more...depending on the flavor).  After steeping, proceed with making the custard as usual.  Other flavors—as mentioned above—can be made by replacing some of the milk with a purée of some kind.  Crunchy things—like nuts, chocolate bits, toffee, etc.—can be added simply by folding them into the finished softly set ice cream.  Truly the sky is the limit when it comes to making interesting and delicious flavors of ice cream. 

As is almost always the case when I write a basics post, this one has been quite long.  Even so, there is no way I could have covered everything...  But I think this one should go a long way towards answering some of the more common questions about making a custard style ice cream. 

And since I wouldn't want to write such a long post without including a recipe, I am including one.  As I thought about what flavor I wanted to make, it occurred to me that pumpkin season was almost upon us.  So if you have never made ice cream before...and you're in love with all things pumpkin spice, this ice cream will make a great place for you to start.





Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream

3/4 c. pumpkin purée (180 to 190 grams)—see note
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 c. whole milk
1 1/2 c. cold heavy cream, divided
6 egg yolks
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. real maple syrup (107 grams)
1 t. vanilla extract



In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin with the spices.  Chill.

Place the milk and 1/2 cup of the cream in a medium-sized, non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil.  While the milk mixture is heating, pour the cold cream into a medium-sized chilled bowl.  Place a bowl sieve/strainer over the bowl, set aside and keep cold.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until smooth.  When the milk boils, temper the egg yolks by gradually whisking in a third to a half of the hot milk mixture.  Bring the milk/cream mixture back to a boil, remove from the heat and stir the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan.  Place the pan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly (in a figure-eight motion), until the custard begins to thicken and most of the foamy bubbles on the surface have dissipated.  Other indicators that the custard is done:  a path will form when you draw your finger across the custard-coated back side of the spoon—and an instant-read thermometer will read about 175°.  Immediately strain the custard into the bowl of cold cream. Stir in the pumpkin-spice mixture, the maple syrup and vanilla. Chill the mixture until very cold.  (It works best to set the bowl of custard in a large bowl of ice water.  This brings the temperature of the custard down quickly.)  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Freeze the ice cream in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Transfer to a freezer container and freeze until firm before serving.  Makes a quart of ice cream.

Note:  I made my ice cream with freshly roasted and dried pumpkin purée...but you can of course use canned solid pack pumpkin.  If you use canned pumpkin you should strain the finished custard (after adding the pumpkin) through a fine sieve.  Canned pumpkin can be quite fibrous and the texture would be unpleasant in the finished ice cream. 



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Quinoa Salad with Black Beans, Sweet Potatoes & Corn

The market is in the process of turning the corner from summer into fall.  I can still get local eggplant, tomatoes, peppers...even sweet corn, but the presence of the winter squashes this past weekend could no longer be brushed off as an anomaly. And the truth is, I love this moment in the year...for two or three weeks (sometimes longer), I get to cook with the produce of two seasons.  It makes for some interesting and delicious combinations.  Today's post...a grain salad featuring summer's corn and autumn's sweet potatoes...is a good example of the good food of this moment. 



Corn with sweet potatoes is one of the happiest combinations I know...sweet, reinforced with sweet.  I freeze corn every summer just so I can make a favorite corn and sweet potato chowder as a sunny pick me up during the winter months. When black beans are added to the mix, corn and sweet potatoes become an amazingly satisfying combination.  A few years ago I posted a quick ragout of corn, sweet potatoes and black beans...served with a sweet potato and cornmeal pancake

So when it was time to put together a slate of recipes for a new class dubbed "Simple Suppers for Early Autumn", a dish featuring these two together was high on my list of things to include.  I can't remember now how I came upon the idea of combining them in a quinoa salad with black beans (possibly the memory of the aforementioned ragout...), but I'm glad I did.   It is satisfying...and interesting (with lots of different textures and contrasting flavors)...and delicious.  (It would be a great way to introduce the uninitiated to quinoa...)

First sweet potatoes of the season...
tossed with smoked paprika and ready for the oven....
If, as you look at the recipe, you are feeling a bit daunted by the length of the ingredient list, you shouldn't.  Many of the components can be made ahead.  Certainly the quinoa, roasted corn, vinaigrette and honey glazed pepitas can.  Even the sweet potatoes could be.  In fact, thinking about this salad in terms of its finished components—rather than its individual ingredients—is the best way to look at it.  It is actually a pretty simple salad.


I think this salad makes a fine supper.  But for people who want meat for dinner, it would not be a great option.  Fortunately it makes a fantastic work or school lunch since it is an excellent keeper.  For those who are wondering how the greens hold up, I think they hold up just fine...particularly if you choose kale as your green (in which case the salad probably tastes better after sitting for a while).  Other, less substantial greens can be left out and simply piled on top of the salad in your container. 

Greens on top...ready to be folded in...
At lunch, you can just fold them in right before you dig in.  I also think the keeping qualities of this dish would make it an ideal contribution to an early fall picnic or pot luck. 

We had this salad for dinner just last night.  The day started cool...but turned out to be unusually warm for this time of year.  A room temperature/cool salad was just the thing for dinner.  But beyond that, it turned out to be the perfect introduction to the flavors of fall.  I'm not quite ready to let go of summer's foods...and I wasn't really sure I was in the mood for sweet potatoes.  But when I sat down to dinner...  and sampled the first bite of sweet potato that I have had in several months...I couldn't believe how good they tasted.



 Quinoa Salad with Black Beans, Sweet Potatoes & Corn

1 c. quinoa (preferably white), well rinsed
1 1/4 c. water
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks (1/2- by 1- by 1-inch)
2 T. olive oil
1 1/2 t. smoked Spanish paprika (sweet paprika is fine if Pimentón de la Vera is not available)
generous pinch cayenne
2 to 3 ears corn (to make 1 1/2 to 2 c. kernels)
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 fat clove of garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1 t. cumin
6 T. olive oil
1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed
1/2 small red onion, finely diced, rinsed and thoroughly drained on paper towels (to make 1/3 to 1/2 c.)
2 oz. hearty greens (arugula, spinach, baby kale...or any favorite blend)—very coarsely chopped
1 recipe honey glazed pepitas (below) or 1/2 c. plain toasted pepitas


Preheat the oven to 400°.

Place the water and quinoa, along with a generous pinch of salt in a medium sauce pan.  Bring the water to a full rolling boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the quinoa reaches your preferred tenderness and the white coiled germ is visible—anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes. Let rest, covered and off of the heat, for 5 minutes. Taste to check for salt, then spread the quinoa on a sheet pan to cool.

Toss the sweet potatoes with the olive oil, spices and salt and pepper.  Spread on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven.  Roast until tender and lightly caramelized, stirring once—about 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside.


Place the corn, in the husk, in the oven along with the sweet potatoes (on a different rack).  Remove after 20 minutes.  When the corn is cool enough to handle, remove the husks and silks.  Slice the kernels away from the cobs.  Use the back of the knife, or a spoon, to scrape the cobs.  Add the scrapings to the kernels.  Set aside.

While the vegetables and quinoa cook make the vinaigrette:  Place the lime juice and garlic in a small bowl.  Let sit for five to ten minutes.  Add the cumin and salt & pepper to taste.  Add the olive oil in a thin stream while whisking constantly.  Taste for salt.  Set aside.


To make the salad, place the quinoa, sweet potatoes, corn, black beans and red onions in a very large bowl.  Add the vinaigrette.  Carefully toss (to avoid breaking up or smashing the sweet potatoes) until everything is well coated in the vinaigrette.  


Add the greens and toss again.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and lime juice.  If the salad seems dry, add more olive oil.  The salad may be served at room temperature or chilled.  (If you are not serving right away, wait to add the greens until just prior to serving.)

To serve, transfer to a large platter or individual plates and scatter the pepitas over all.  Serves 4 very generously as an entrée.

Honey Glazed Pepitas:

Warm a scant 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a medium sauté pan set over medium heat.  Add 1/2 c. raw pumpkin seeds and toss to coat.  


Cook, stirring and tossing until the pumpkin seeds are popping and lightly colored.  


Remove the pan from the heat and drizzle a teaspoon of honey over and toss to coat. 


Spread the nuts on a plate to cool.  



Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Suzanne Goin's Cornmeal Shortcakes with Fresh Peaches, Mint & Soured Cream



For regular readers, it is probably clear that I enjoy the fruits of the earth during each and every season of the year.  I love the apples and pears of autumn....   I truly look forward to Brussels sprouts, root vegetables and winter squash during the fall and winter months.  And the first asparagus (and peas...and lettuces...and new potatoes...) of spring are always a source of great delight.  But one of the reasons I look forward to each of these things is that I am always growing a bit tired of what the current season has to offer.  It sometimes feels like I've been eating a lot of asparagus by the time it disappears from the market.  But this is part of the beauty of eating seasonally:  Right about the time you're tired of something, it goes away for the year. 

Having said all that, I admit that the end of summer is a bit different.  The season of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, summer squash, sweet corn and peaches never seems to be quite long enough.  I was reminded of all of this over this past Labor day weekend as I filled my basket at the market with all of these favorites...purchasing what will probably be too much.  I guess I want to milk the season for all it's worth.  



Peaches are a particular treasure.  A few years ago I wrote about how I didn't really like them as a child—probably because I had never had a local one during the peak of the season.  I'm not sure why this would be since I grew up in Missouri....a state that produces them in abundance.  In any case, I love them now.  I eat them for breakfast every day until the very end of the season...and tuck them into baked goods of all kinds for as long as they're available.  Consequently, when I saw a recipe in Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques for peach shortcake...featuring a cornmeal scone for the shortcake (I love cornmeal cakes with summer stone fruits and berries...)...I knew it would only be a matter of time before I made it.  And I have been making it—and teaching it—for several years now.

I haven't really changed her recipe.  I have just  made a few tweaks:  I reduced the cream and leavener in the shortcakes since this produces a better result for me (it's possible this is because Goin's cup of flour is heavier than mine...).  And I add the simple syrup to the peaches while it is still hot and let the peaches chill along with the syrup...producing a syrup that is infused with peach flavor and gorgeous peach color. 

The main thing I have altered is the recipe for "soured cream".  Goin uses mascarpone that she "sours" right before serving with a little lemon juice.  I make a cream that is "soured" overnight.  I learned to make it while I was at The American Restaurant.  It is made in much the same way as crème fraiche (inoculating the cream with a sour culture and then letting it sit at room temperature until thickened), but it isn't really the same.  

It's actually a bit of a cheater method for making crème fraiche.  Since you add lemon juice at the start, the cream starts coagulating—and therefore thickening—almost immediately.  The thickening in crème fraiche comes from the culture in the soured dairy product (not acidity).  Typically this culture comes from buttermilk or yogurt.  It is supplied by the sour cream in this recipe.  But the rather large quantity of sour cream adds more than just culture...it adds body and thickness too.  I think the soured cream is delicious with the peaches and cornmeal cakes...but if you don't have time for it you could serve these shortcakes with plain, lightly sweetened whipped cream (or purchased crème fraiche or mascarpone)...or simply a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 



I realize as I write this that there are only a couple more weeks of peach season left for the year.  But for most of us, there are also a few weeks of warm summer-like weather left, too.  So, on one of the warm evenings that remain, plan on making this...or some other favorite peach dessert.  Then you will be able to say that you squeezed every last drop of pleasure out of peach season this year.  And if you don't have the time...or an occasion...  Or if peaches are already a thing of the past in your part of the world...  I am happy to say that as long as the earth and the seasons persist, there will always be another crop of peaches to look forward to.














Cornmeal Shortcakes with Peaches, Mint & Soured Cream

1 recipe soured cream
1 recipe peaches & mint
6 Cornmeal shortcakes

Place the soured cream in a bowl with the reserved 1/3 cup of the syrup from the peaches.  Whisk until the cream begins to mound in the bowl.  Taste.  Add some sugar (anywhere from 1/2 to 2 T.) if the cream is not sweet enough for your liking.  Briefly whisk to obtain soft peaks.  Don't over whip.  Chill until ready to use.  If stored for more than an hour, it will probably need to be rewhisked to restore soft peaks.

Cut 6 of the shortcakes in half horizontally and place the bottom halves on individual plates.  Spoon some of the peach purée over each.  Spoon a large dollop of the soured cream over this and then ladle some of the peaches, along with some of their juices, over the cream, letting some of the fruit fall onto the plates.  Drizzle some more of the purée over the peaches if you like.  Place the shortcake tops back on and serve.  Serves 6.

Soured Cream:
1/4 c. Sour Cream
1 c. Heavy Cream
1 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice

At least a day before you plan to serve the shortcakes, combine the sour cream, heavy cream and lemon juice in a small bowl.  Whisk until smooth.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until thickened slightly--anywhere from 12 to 24 hours depending on the warmth of the room.  

Chill the soured cream until ready to use.  (It will become very firm when chilled.)


Cornmeal Shortcakes:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. stone-ground cornmeal
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. sugar
4 T. cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
3/4 to 1 c. heavy cream, plus more for brushing
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling



Combine the flour, cornmeal baking powder, salt and sugar in a bowl.  Whisk to blend well.  Add the butter and rub it in to the dry ingredients using your hands or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. 


Stir the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula while pouring in the cream.  Continue to stir and pour, using just enough cream to form a soft dough.   



Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly just to bring the dough together.  Pat the dough into a circle 1-inch thick.  


Transfer the disk to a parchment lined sheet and chill until firm—at least half an hour.   Using a sharp knife, cut the circle into 8 wedges.  Place the wedges an inch or so apart on an un-greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.  Brush each wedge with some cream and sprinkle generously with the raw sugar.

Bake at 425° until golden brown and springy to the touch—about 12 to 15 minutes.

Note:  The shortcakes may be made, formed and topped with cream and sugar the night before.  Keep them in the refrigerator overnight.  It is not necessary to bring them to room temperature before baking—they may be place directly in a preheated oven from the refrigerator.  They may also be frozen raw and baked from frozen—reduce the oven temperature to 375° and increase cooking time to 20 to 25 minutes.

Peaches & Mint:
1 1/2 lb. ripe peaches (see notes)
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
18 small mint leaves

Peel the peaches.  Halve, pit and slice the peaches about 1/4-inch thick and place in a heatproof bowl. 

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, swirling the pan to dissolve the sugar completely.  Pour the hot syrup over the peaches and stir a few times to make sure the peaches are completely coated by the sugar syrup.  Chill the peaches until ready to serve...up to an hour or two.



When ready to serve, spoon out 1/3 cup of the syrup from the peaches and set aside to use for sweetening the soured cream.  (See notes.)

Lift out a quarter of the peaches and purée—in the food processor or blender...or, use an immersion blender.  Set aside.

Finally, tear the mint leaves with your hands and add to the peaches.  Let stand for a few minutes before using.

Notes:  

  • If your peaches are not quite ripe, you may want to simmer them for a minute or two in the simple syrup.  To do so, use a wide, shallow pan to make the syrup.  Then, add the peaches and return to a simmer.  Let the peaches simmer gently for a minute...maybe two...and then transfer to a bowl and chill.
  • If you don't want your soured cream to have a pale pink cast to it, then hold back 1/3 cup of the simple syrup when you pour it over the fruit.  Use this plain simple syrup (chilled) to sweeten the cream.




Monday, August 29, 2016

Summer Cobb Salad

August got away from me.  I had plans for more...not fewer...posts this month.  But it was not to be.  Now that I think about it, the whole summer has flown by.  Perhaps yours has too.  And here we are, approaching Labor Day weekend...the official last blast of summer fun.  

Cooking an elaborate meal is probably not what you had in mind for this last relaxing weekend of summer.  Maybe you have plans for a quiet weekend with your family—or maybe a not so quiet weekend with friends—at a cabin....or a lake house.  Or maybe you're plans are to just hang out at home....maybe finishing up your summer project....  Whatever your plans, my recipe today is just the thing for your relaxed weekend.  It requires little cooking...can be expanded or contracted to accommodate any size group....and will make salad lovers and meat lovers alike happy.  It is a summer variation on the classic Cobb Salad.


I first made this salad a few summers ago when I was visiting my best friend.  We love to cook together...  but we also love to talk.  Sometimes our days get away from us and before we know it, it's time for dinner.  I whipped this up on just such an evening.  We enjoyed it by her pool as the sun slipped down over the horizon.  The salad was so pretty and colorful, bathed in the late evening light reflected off the pool, that I took a quick picture.  I was reminded of that easy and delicious meal when that picture showed up in my Facebook memories earlier this month.  It looked so good to me that I wanted to make it again.  

Classically, a Cobb Salad is a composed salad (all of the ingredients are arranged individually on the platter...rather than tossing them all together as for the appropriately named "tossed" salad) that includes cubed/shredded roast chicken (or turkey), crisp bacon, chunks of avocado and tomato, wedges of hard cooked egg and blue cheese. These items are arranged in neat rows on a bed of crunchy greens (most often romaine or iceberg).  The greens and several of the individual components are dressed in a tangy vinaigrette.  It is almost an anti-salad it is so rich and substantial.  I don't think I know anyone who doesn’t like a good Cobb Salad.

My friend is not fond of eggs or blue cheese, so these items didn't make the cut for our summer variation on the Cobb.  But we both love roasted corn.  And roasted corn just happens to be delicious with bacon, tomatoes, and avocados.  I think I may even like this version better than the original.  I have not yet added blue cheese...but I'm pretty certain it would be a fine addition.


I am giving instructions for cooking the chicken the way I like it when I'm having it in a salad...but you may cook it however you please.  Roast it, grill it, sauté it, poach it...  Use white meat or dark...  You can even use a purchased rotisserie chicken if you like. 

The only other cooking required is frying up the bacon...and roasting the corn.  If you prefer to not turn on your oven, the corn can be thrown on the grill...or shucked and boiled on the cob.  Everything else is a matter of slicing and dicing...a little mixing...and then arranging it all.  

To complete the meal, add a loaf of crusty bread....a nice bottle of Rosé...and a simple dessert (ice cream...cookies or brownies...maybe pound cake with fresh fruit....).   Then, sit down...  relax....  and soak up the last rays of the summertime sun as it slips out of sight.



Summer Cobb Salad

I am giving the ingredients and the quantities for the salad I made recently for two.  These quantities were perfect for us...but they might not be perfect for you.  Multiply and alter the quantities and relative ratios of each of the ingredients as you prefer and choose a platter that is shallow and wide.   Start out with a base—spread over the whole patter—of well dressed greens.  As is evident from the pictures, I like to create a symmetrical platter of items...but classically, each ingredient only appears in one strip.  If you have equal quantities of each ingredient, this approach works well...but if you have a lot more of one or two ingredients, laying them out in two places at opposite sides of the platter is very attractive.

1 split chicken breast—about 10 to 12 oz.

1 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. sherry vinegar
1 small shallot, finely diced (about 1 T.)
1/3 c. olive oil
Salt & pepper

1 to 2 T. minced flat leaf parsley (optional)
3 oz. trimmed Romaine hearts, cut cross-wise in 1/2-inch ribbons
1/2 of a large avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
1 large or 2 small vine ripened tomatoes (about 7 oz.), diced or cut into wedges
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups (about 7 oz) roasted corn kernels (see note)
3 oz. bacon, sliced cross-wise and cooked until crisp (or simply cook the strips and crumble when cool)

Rub the chicken with a light coating of olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in a baking dish and roast in a 450° to 475° oven until the skin is crisp and golden and an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest portion reads 150° to 155°--about 25 to 30 minutes. (The chicken will easily reach the safe temperature of 160° as it rests.)  As the chicken roasts, regulate the oven temperature to maintain an active sizzle. Remove the chicken from the oven and let sit until cool enough to handle. If desired, deglaze the baking pan with water. Degrease and reserve the resulting jus. When the chicken has cooled, remove the skin and bones and discard.  Dice or shred the meat into bite-sized chunks.  Toss with jus if you deglazed the pan.  Set aside or chill if not using right away.

While the chicken cools, make the vinaigrette and gather/prepare the remaining ingredients.  To make the vinaigrette, place the shallot, vinegars, and a couple of good pinches of salt and some pepper in a bowl and let sit 5 minutes.  Whisk in the olive oil.  Taste for balance and seasoning.  Correct as necessary.  Rewhisk before using.

Season and dress the greens with the vinaigrette and a scattering of parsley.  Spread the greens over the platter.  



Similarly season and dress separately the chicken, corn, tomatoes and avocado.  As you dress them, arrange them in strips on top of the greens.  



Place the bacon in a strip that runs perpendicular to all of the other strips.  


Serve, passing more dressing on the side.


Note: To roast corn, place the corn (in the husk) in a preheated 375­° oven.  Roast for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and remove the husks as soon as you are able to handle the corn.  Cool and cut the kernels away from the cob.  A large ear of corn will produce 1 to 1 1/2 cups of kernels.