Friday, July 30, 2010

Tiger, tiger, burning bright/In the forests of the night

Tiger tail ice cream is my very favorite.

It's a very creamy orange ice cream base, with a black licorice ripple. It is an unusual flavour combination, but it works way more harmoniously than it sounds like it ought to. Baskin Robbin, conveniently located 3 blocks away from my parent's house in Montreal, used to make a delicious one, but doesn't seem to offer it anymore, and most commercial brands available in my neck of the woods pale in comparison.

I'm told that President's Choice released the flavour this summer as part of a 'nostalgia' collection (including pink bubble gum.... is it weird that the choking hazards of my youth are now retro, or nostalgic? Am I right to feel old?) In any event, I don't have access to PC products at the grocery store in my 'hood. So I made my own.

I made an ice cream base that tasted like orange creamsicle, rather than super citrusy orange- I wanted more of a muted sherbet flavour, and less of a bright and citrusy one. To keep it light, I made it 'Philadelphia' style, rather than with a custard base, I used both orange juice and zest for a nice, full flavour, only 18% table cream, rather than 35% heavy cream for a lighter mouth-feel, and some sour cream, to keep it zippy. The resulting ice cream was delightful; it had a really natural orange flavour, and would be amazing on its own.

The licorice ripple was a little more challenging for me, and I ate a lot of different kinds of black licorice to find the one I wanted to work with (poor me, right?). I settled on 'Panda' brand soft licorice candies, as the flavour was strong and true, and not that sweet. I melted them on my stovetop, and used a heavy simple syrup (1:1 water to sugar) to let it out, which is why I had been looking for a less-sweet candy. I couldn't melt it smooth enough, so I put it through my food processor.

This was unfortunate for two reasons: while the resulting texture was perfectly smooth and thick and sticky, it changed the colour from black to brown, which I wasn't hoping for, and by some food processor magic, it really emphazised the molasses flavour in the candy, also unintended. If I had had the resources at my fingertips, I would have rebalanced the flavour with some aniseed oil or licorice powder.

Once the orange ice cream was churned, I alternated scooping it into a container with drizzles of the licorice ripple. I let it set in the freezer, and then sampled it. It was delicious, almost 100% what I wanted, but it would have been better if the ripple was a stronger licorice flavour- the molasses notes that came out during the food processing of the licorice were not enough of a contrast to the orange.

Another thing, and I'm almost ashamed to admit it, is that the colour of the orange ice cream tasted off. I'm so used to bright, artificially coloured orange ice cream in a Tiger Tail, so conditioned by industrial food production to expect that anything orange flavoured from a popsicle to a soda should be Orange with a capital 'O'. My pale yellow, naturally coloured and flavoured orange ice cream tasted like the wrong colour.
First of all, colours don't have flavour, and second of all, maybe next time, in addition to boosting the licorice ripple, I will add some food colouring to the orange ice cream. How stupid is that?

PS: This is the best time of year to live in southeastern Ontario. There are peaches, flowers from right outside that look like they come from the tropics, corn, blueberries, and in short order, tomatoes. Have a nice long weekend.

Friday, July 16, 2010

If you can't stand the heat...

Last night, I cooked dinner at home for the first time in what seemed like forever. Sure, Mike and I eat here regularly, but it had been some time since I'd made any kind of effort. Blessed with a sunny day off, and only laundry on the 'must do today' list (everything else got shuffled off to a mythical day off in the future), I had time to visit the market, the butcher, the italian grocery, the cheese shop, and prepare a nice dinner to enjoy at home.

This is what we had:

*A salad of Patchwork Gardens Asian greens with strawberries and an aged balsamic-maple-curry dressing. In years past, Patchwork's Asian salad mix (mizuna, tatsoi, mustard greens, etc) have been really spicy, so I wanted a sweet dressing to tone it down, plus strawberries and aged, syrupy balsamic vinegar love each other. As it turns out, the greens I got were pretty mild, so on the whole, the salad was pretty sweet, and very refreshing.

The dressing is the easiest: combine 3 parts e.v.o.o., 1 part aged balsamic vinegar (this stuff is way more mellow, and less brassy than regular balsamic. It's thicker, too. And it's very costly, so I try to save it for drizzling on salads, meats and fruit. I use the cheaper stuff for any kind of preparation that involves the application of heat, like making sauces and grilling vegetables), salt, pepper, a sprig or two's worth of fresh thyme, a glug of maple syrup, and enough curry powder to add some heat and depth of flavour, but not so much that the flavour of cuurry is immediately identifiable. I like the mystery. This is one of my go-to vinaigrettes, and a good one for intensely-flavoured greens.

*A pan-roasted, double-cut veal rib chop, with teeny-weeny roasted new potatoes, yellow beans, heirloom carrots and a pomegranate sauce. Pretty simple, straightforward food, but really satisfying.

The meat was a real find- it was what I had woken up craving, and randomly found at the butcher (where I had never seen it before). A really thick veal chop is an incredible treat- it stays moist and tender, even if you cook it too long. It is pretty lean and has a really fine grain.

The sauce was not a winner. Last weekend, one of my co-workers made a truly remarkable pomegranate sauce for duck breasts, and after quizzing her on her preparation, I tried to recreate it at home. The magic just wasn't there. As we sat down to eat, I realized where I had gone wrong- I think the trick is to cook all the sauce ingredients into an initial simple syrup (2:1 sugar to water, heated to dissolve the sugar), so that the shallots, garlic, orange zest and pomegranate seeds get candied together. I sweated the shallots and garlic in butter, added the pomegranate, cooked it for a bit, then tried to sweeten it at the end. The flavours got muddied, and the fruit lost its jewel-like brilliance. No matter. Mike thought it was tasty, I left my share aside.

*Finally, strawberry-sour cream-amaretto ice cream for dessert. I had wanted to make popsicles, but could not find popsicle molds downtown (and I truly had no interest in improvising, when making ice cream is such an appealing alternative). This is the easiest sort of ice cream- a bit time-consuming (it requires several hour-long rest periods), but no fussing around with custard. Plus, with only 3/4 cup of sugar in the whole batch, and made with both heavy cream AND sour cream, the strawberry flavour is very clear, and not at all too sweet. Which justifies it as a breakfast food, as far as I can tell!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cookies and Cream, Italian style

I really like cookies and cream ice cream.
I like how the cookie bits get soft, like they've been dunked in milk, without being unbaked (I find cookie dough-flavoured ice cream repulsive. Furthermore, I am not an eater of raw dough of any description. Nor do I drink milk, for that matter, so the appreciation for dunking cookies in it is largely theoretical. Give me biscotti to drown in espresso or marsala any day.)

I had a hankering for cookies and cream when I arrived at work to devise some desserts to see us through the weekend. I work at an Italian restaurant, though, so I wanted to put a Mediterranean spin on the classic. I made the ice creamy background lemony, though not overly so- I used only lemon zest, no juice, and steeped it in the cream, then strained it out. The lemon flavour was very soft and muted, not the clear, bright lemon flavour I generally go for.

Cookie-wise, I crumbled some Amaretti, and swirled them into the just-churned ice cream. Amaretti, served in the restaurant alongside espresso, are little bitter almond-flavoured cookies, with a texture like a cross between a meringue and a macaroon. They are crisp and light, and melt in your mouth. The flavour is similar to that of Amaretto liqueur.

As a cookie, they are obviously a sweet treat, but they also have a natural affinity for butternut and acorn squash, and to my way of thinking, they are always a welcome accompaniment to simply roasted squash, or squash ravioli with parmesan and a sage and brown butter sauce. The sweetness of the cookie matches the squash, and the bitter almond flavour and crunch adds complexity and textural intrigue.

Still no home cooking to speak of. Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, July 12, 2010

All work and no play....

....makes for dull home cooking.

I have been working a zillion hours a week, in a kitchen that feels like the surface of the sun. Which has been amazing- I'm learning tons, but I have been somewhat less than inspired to cook when I get home. I'm still really feeling frozen treats, and until I can come up with something interesting and blog-worthy to prepare at home, please see the following list of delicious ice creams, gelatos and granitas I have been working on, by way of proof that I'm still trying:

Zabaglione gelato (lemon and marsala flavoured, inspired by the traditional Italian egg white froth)

Fresh strawberry ice cream (spiked with cherry brandy)

Strawberry-rhubarb granita

Mascarpone gelato (served with fresh strawberries in lemon syrup)

Fresh mint-stracciatella ice cream (mint-chocolate ice cream is totally different when the mint flavour is real, and the colour is not neon green)

Cantaloupe granita (this one was a winner. Waiting until the cantaloup was a shade past ripe gave it a really full and bloomy mouth-feel)

My goal for the week: cook something at home that I can write to y'all about.