Friday, August 27, 2010

Best ice cream of the summer, right here.

I have had some winners this summer, both at home and at work- personal favorite up until this point was the Damson plum ice cream, and crowd favorite was the Venetian dark chocolate and burnt sugar caramel gelato. The ice cream I made at home last night takes the cake (figuratively, although it would accompany a simple fine-crumbed chocolate cake swimmingly.) It was a stupid amount of labour, and so is unlikely to be replicated at work, where I get paid for my time. This is what I made:

Toasted coconut and vanilla bean ice cream with different nuts.

The ice cream base comes from the best ice cream book in the world, The Perfect Scoop, by the incomparable David Lebovitz. If you are new to homemade ice cream, this is the only book you need. Not only is his technique flawless, but his flavours will inspire you. His toasted coconut ice cream has toasted, unsweetened coconut and real vanilla bean steeped in milk, sugar and cream for an hour or so, then strained out, and the rich, heavily scented liquid becomes the starting point for a beautifully textured custard ice cream.

While the sweet cream and coconut were steeping, I oven-roasted the following kinds of nuts in the following ways:
1 cup of pecan halves, broken up, and spiced with salt and ground cayenne pepper, and slicked with maple syrup.
1 cup of sliced almonds with some honey that I let out with a bit of water to make more of a glaze.
1 cup of walnut halves, broken up, salted, and coated in more maple syrup.
1 cup of coarsely grated coconut (the pieces are about as wide as tagliatelle, or ribbons), coated in egg white and white sugar, which kind of candies them. Coconut is not actually a botanical nut, but the American FDA categorizes it as a tree nut, for some reason.

Each of these nuts are roasted separately at 350F until they are crisp and very sticky- you want them to dry out as they cook so they retain their sweet coating and stay crunchy in the ice cream. If the honey is wet, for example, it will dissipate into the ice cream, instead of staying on the sliced almonds. Once they are cool and dry, break up the clumps, and try not to eat them all before they make it into the ice cream.

When the ice cream is churned, you can swirl in the nuts, either by hand as you remove the ice cream from the machine, or by tossing them into the machine with the motor still running. Remove this bit of heaven and freeze in an airtight container. Treating the nuts separately was a gigantic pain, and probably unnecessary (you could just as easily douse them all with maple syrup and throw them in the oven together), but this ice cream really was the best of the summer.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Glorious, easy summer dinner.

When I mentioned the idea I had for dinner, both Mike and my parents had the same response: ""No Meat?""
Generally, when I have time on my hands, the dinners I produce at home are fairly elaborate and usually star some beautiful piece of meat, either exotic or luxurious. I'm an oxtails or prime rib kind of girl- not a lot of boneless, skinless chicken breasts here.

Allow me to digress from the glory of the vegetarian summer dinner for a second, and rant about the cost-effectiveness of carefully selected meat: A crappy rib steak from food basics costs a little more than $10 per pound, and the meat is always meh- poorly marbled, thin, not aged well. 3 blocks away, the small butcher has beautiful prime rib for about $20 per KILO, which works out to about the same. The meat is so tender, it melts when you look at it. Granted, it's hard to come by a piece of the prime rib weighing in at less than a kilo, but it's enough meat for 4, with a salad, starch and vegetable side. And you have to take a side trip, but it's so worth forgoing the convenience of one-stop shopping at basics for a dramatic improvement in quality. Same goes for ground meats, pork, and especially veal, lamb and variety meats. You just get better stuff for the same price or even cheaper, if you look to your specialty shops. And this gets magnified the further you look outside the downtown core (in Kingston, at least)- there are butchers, bakers and cheese shops offering quality that far surpasses the meager offerings at Basics, and at prices that make 'special occasion' products, like prime rib, double-cut veal chops and lamb racks, accessible for every day. You just have to get there. Support your local butchers.

I'm done now.

Anyway, for a filling, quick (almost, but not quite, half-assed) summer dinner, this is my favorite:

A sandwich (for dinner? The shame!) made on fresh focaccia from Pasta G, one piece per person (this is a hearty sandwich), spread with La Bomba, a spicy, oily eggplant condiment (again from Pasta G), nice slices of fresh, local eggplant, green and yellow zucchini that have been salted and fried until golden brown in olive oil (drain them well on paper towel- eggplant sucks up TONS of oil), whole leaves of fresh basil, sliced heirloom tomatoes (hands down, the best tasting tomato anywhere is the Brandywine, but you could go for a Black Krim, a yellow Big Rainbow, or whatever you see in the market or in your backyard), great big chunks of Mozarella di Bufala, fresh mozarella made of buffalo milk. It's crazy expensive, but if you're accustomed to having the protein in your meal cost more than everything else on the plate, you should relax and enjoy the sweet, salty creaminess that is not easy to imitate. Finish the sandwich with crisp romaine hearts. A knife and fork is in order; this is a heck of a sandwich.

This time of year, corn on the cob is the best thing to eat alongside this gigantic, messy sandwich. I feel that corn is fine to eat raw, but it's nice to cook it a bit to release some of the starch and to get it hot enough so that the butter melts. Get a pot of water boiling- make it large enough to fit the corn, (or cut the cobs in half), and add some salt and sugar to the water. Add the corn, and cook just to heat the kernels through and soften them up a bit. Drain and toss with salted butter.

For dessert? In almost no time, you can slice juicy peaches, fry them in butter, when they're almost cooked through, toss in some brown sugar and a splash of Amaretto, and eat them as is, or better yet, spooned over ice cream, and garnished with some fleur de sel or Maldon salt.

No meat, no problem!