Ramp Pesto

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Few seasonal foods make a locavore’s heart go pitter-patter as quickly as ramps. Ramps — the word is spoken in hushed, reverential tones — are a foraged food that hits the markets in early spring. Their appearance marks the definitive end of winter and the beginning of the growing season.

IMHO, ramps also win the award for World’s CUTEST Vegetable as its soft, tender leaves always remind me of floppy bunny ears. Added bonus? Its stems are often tipped the prettiest shade of oxidized pink.

In terms of flavor, ramps taste garlicky and green onion-y at the same time. They taste young, new, and freshly-sprouted: the essence of spring.

It’s the very end of ramp season here in the Mid-Atlantic, but if you’re lucky enough to still be able to get your hands on a few bunches for pesto, buy as many as you can and freeze the sauce for later! Ramp pesto is lovely tossed with warm pasta or used to dunk hunks of crusty bread. You can also drizzle it on steak, or anything really.

This post also marks the end of a looooooooooong hiatus! For those readers who are still with me, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

For anyone new who stumbles on this blog: Welcome!

To both old friends and new acquaintances, it feels good to be back.

Ingredients:

2 bunches of ramps, roots trimmed and cut into 1.5/2-inch pieces

1 knob of butter

1/4 cup of pine nuts

The zest and juice of one lemon

1/3 cup of grated Parmesan

Olive oil

Salt

How to prepare:

1. Heat the butter in a large frying pan set over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the ramps and sauté them until the leaves are just beginning to wilt and turn a shade darker. Season them gently and transfer them to a small bowl.

2. When the ramps have cooled, process them with the pine nuts, the lemon zest, the parmesan, and a pinch of salt. With the machine running, add the lemon juice and slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the consistency is nice and creamy. You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice. Adjust the seasoning for a final time and transfer the pesto to another container.

You should plan on using the pesto in about three days, but it will also keep frozen for about a month.

Esquites (Mexican Corn on the Cob in a Cup)

It's elote for people who don't like to eat with their hands!

Who doesn’t love elote, that roasted Mexican corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise, chili powder, and cheese, spritzed with lime juice, and served on a stick? I’ve come to associate it with summertime, when sweet corn is in season and I have my pick of local food trucks to sit in front of, snacking away.

As much as I love it, I have to admit that the fastidious Virgo in me doesn’t always love how sloppy elote is to eat. I get annoyed with how the grated cheese smears all over my chin, how the corn inevitably sticks in my teeth, and how glops of mayo always end up on my dry clean-only shirts. It’s the kind of annoyance that makes me hang my head in foodie shame as I go back to the truck to ask politely for a steak knife to cut off the kernels so that I can eat them with spoon.

That is why I really love esquites, which are essentially elote in a cup (or, as I prefer, a large bowl or a trough). Here, the messy work is done ahead of time and all you have to do is eat it, calmly and neatly.

Both elote and esquites are essentially street food and like most street food, there isn’t really an official recipe per se. The general consensus seems to be that there must be corn, it can be boiled but it is better roasted, there should be some kind of fat like soft butter, crema Mexicana,  or — even better — mayonnaise (I like my street food a little on the trashy side so it’s mayo for me). There should be some heat, some lime juice, and some salty, crumbly cheese like Cotija, but grated Parmesan or aged feta does the trick too.

Unlike eloteesquites often includes some chopped epazote, a traditional Mexican herb whose flavor is hard to describe. If pressed, I would say it kind of tastes like what would happen if cilantro and tarragon romped in a dusty field and had a herb baby. Epazote is worth seeking out; a little is all you need to add a wonderful earthy dimension to the corn. If you can’t find it, chopped cilantro is a good substitute.

Ingredients:

2 ears of corn

1 serrano chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped

Olive oil

Butter

Salt

1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, crema Mexicana, or sour cream

The juice of half a lime

Cayenne pepper to taste

1 tablespoon of epazote, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of grates Cotija, Parmesan, or crumbled feta

Tajín Clásico Mexican chili seasoning (or you can experiment with a combination of Ancho chili powder, more lime juice, and salt)

How to prepare:

1. Remove the corn kernels from the cob. To do this with minimal mess, stand each ear of corn in a large shallow dish and slice down the length of each ear with a sharp knife. Keep the knife as close to the cob as possible. Rotate the ear and continue to slice down each exposed side until all the kernels are removed.

2. Sauté the kernels and the chopped serrano chili in a large skillet or cast iron pan with about 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

3. Once the kernels have started to brown, transfer them to a bowl and add the mayonnaise, lime juice, and enough cayenne pepper to suit your taste. Stir in the epazote and the grated cheese. Adjust the seasoning, dust with Tajín, and serve.

Homemade Basil Limeade

Tastes like a summer.

Like many people who love cooking, I loathe throwing food away. This is partly the reason why I have never been a member of a summer vegetable CSA: it’s just too much food for one person, maybe even too much for two or three. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t love to be a part of one and when T. asked if I could pick up her Roxbury Farm share in her place, I jumped at the chance.

As expected, the haul was huge: two giant heads of lettuce, bagfuls of tender leaves, a big bunch of lacinato kale, an arrowhead cabbagepurple kohlrabi, zucchini, yellow squash, garlic scapes, green onions, Italian parsley, cilantro, and basil.  That wasn’t even the entire share; I had to leave some of it at the pick-up site because I couldn’t carry it all.

Back at home, it was food prep triage as I decided what needed to be eaten right away and what could be stored longer and consumed later. Of the most perishable, the basil was at the top of the list.

It is tough to keep basil fresh. If not used quickly, the leaves rapidly and easily oxidize; what starts off as vibrant and green can quickly turn grayish and sad. I’ve found that the best way to keep basil in prime condition is to treat it as you might fresh-cut flowers: stems trimmed, in water, in a vase, and covered with a loose plastic bag. It looks a little awkward on the countertop, but it does the trick. However, even with this nifty storage method, basil doesn’t stay fresh indefinitely.

A giant bunch of basil is a lot to work through unless you are planning on making pesto. As I am frantically trying to empty my fridge and freezer in time for the Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown, I wasn’t looking to make an excess of something to store. Instead, I was trying to think of a way to use up all the basil and consume it in the same day. That’s when the thought came to me: don’t eat it, drink it. Should it be lemonade? No, limeade.

Basil and limes are a lovely pairing. Pungent, herbaceous basil finds its perfect counterpoint in aromatic, tart and juicy limes. There is something that feels a little Thai, a little Vietnamese, a little Mexican in the pairing too — something reminiscent of a tropical beach vacation. Toss in a splash of gin and you’ve got yourself a pretty nice gimlet-esque summer sipper as well.

A word on one of the ingredients in the recipe that is to follow: who would ever have guessed that innocuous-looking agave syrup (nectar, Wikipedia informs me, is a marketing term) was worse for you than high-fructose corn syrup? Whereas high-fructose corn syrup, the bête noire of conscious eaters everywhere, is around 50% fructose, agave syrup can clock in at a whopping 90% fructose.

Consider for a moment how much processing has to occur for that to happen. Nope, it’s not pretty. Furthermore, your liver apparently turns all that almost-pure fructose straight into fat. Joy.

But like that poor pair in Brokeback MountainI wish I knew how to quit you, Evil Agave Nectar. You and your clean, bright-tasting sweetness. You and how easily you dissolve in cold liquids.

*shakes fist at sky*

The only defenses that I have is that I use it rarely: only when I make lemonade and, I guess now, limeade. Either of which only happens once or twice a year. Plus I hardly eat any processed foods (so abstemious of me, I know!), so my yearly fructose intake is likely low enough that I don’t need to worry about turning my liver into foie gras every summer.

However, if what I just wrote about agave syrup gives you pause, I would recommend making your own simple syrup with cane sugar to use instead. It’s a 1:1 ratio, which means that there are equal parts sugar and hot water. Simply stir the sugar into hot water until it dissolves, and then wait for the syrup to cool completely before using.

Alternatively, you could sweeten your limeade with honey or maple syrup, but I don’t really know what that would taste like as both have strong and distinctive flavors. It might be interesting . . . or it might be gross.

If you have a relatively low-in-fructose diet like myself or just want to throw caution to the wind, by all means reach for the agave!

Ingredients:

The leaves from 1 bunch of fresh basil

1 cup of cold water

1 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 6-8 limes)

Simple syrup or agave syrup to taste (I used about 2/3 cup of agave syrup)

A scant pinch of salt

Special equipment:

A blender or a stick immersion blender

A fine-mesh sieve

How to prepare:

1. Using either a blender or an immersion blender, blend the basil leaves with one cup of cold water until you have a uniform slurry.

2. To this, add the lime juice, the simple syrup or agave syrup, and the scant pinch of salt. Stir everything together and let sit for about 5-7 minutes.

3. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and add enough cold water to make one liter of basil-limeade.

4. To serve, pour over ice. As fresh basil oxidizes quickly, try to drink the basil-limeade the same day it is made.

Shredded brisket and pappardelle

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Now this, I thought to myself as I dined at Rosette with a friend, is what you should eat in the summertime. I wasn’t referring to the glorious mess of shredded brisket and pappardelle that you see above. No, I was thinking about the crunchy, raw asparagus spears that I was dipping into dukkah-dusted walnut tahini.

I made that giant batch of shredded brisket back in February, when the weather was arctic and I continued to hope that I would finally ween myself off Seamless and cook for myself.  How little I cook during the academic year has become a common lament on this blog. This past semester, it was really close to zero unless you count putting slices of steak (leftovers from a dinner with my mother at BLT Steak) on top of stale Ritz crackers and eating them over the sink as cooking. From that same steak house dinner, there were also leftover hen-of-the-woods mushrooms that I scrambled with eggs and piled on top of of pasta because I had run out of bread.

Even though the semester has been over for about a month, there still hasn’t been much cooking. It hasn’t felt like much of a vacation either. First, my mother decided that the final exam period would be the perfect time to come to visit (it’s not; it never is). After she left, I was practically comatose for about a week from the visit and the end of the semester. Then, my almost 91-year old grandfather took a tumble in the garden and hit the back of his head (the sun’s fault, he claims). I had to stay with him for a couple of nights per the doctor’s (unnecessary, in Grandpa’s opinion) orders.

My dad: “How is Grandpa doing?”

Me: “Um, a little unstable on his feet.”

Dad: “Maybe be had a mini-stroke. Is he favoring one side more than the other?”

Me: “No. Doesn’t seem like it.”

Dad: “What is he doing now?”

Me: “He is using a pair of kitchen shears to pry open a key ring that he says is too small.”

Fall or no fall, Grandpa’s fine motor skills seem more or less intact. However, that does not mean that he has completely recovered. This summer, he seems frailer and more fragile. His legs get weak — which scares me. He forgets more things more often and is sometimes confused. It is to be expected at his age, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for him and emotionally draining for us.

Doctors’ appointments and follow-up appointments have been frequent, sometimes unexpected, and long. Thankfully, my friends have been wonderful at keeping me out of my apartment in the evenings so that I get to eat something decent and think about something else. I did desperately want to get away to Europe this summer, but unfortunately failed to get organized early enough to afford airfare. And although Grandpa continues to live on his own and be very independent, his health has put some restraint on any vacation plans. Still, it would be nice to get away somewhere like . . . Gourmandistan 😉

(Dearest Michelle and Steve, I promise you a visit! The summer isn’t over yet!)

Does this shredded brisket with pappardelle look good? It is damn good, but I would hold off on making a dish like this until the fall unless you have a very powerful air-conditioner and money is no object in terms of electric bills. For those dear readers south of the equator, this is the perfect late fall and wintertime warmer.

This recipe has been heavily adapted from one on Epicurious. You can find the original here.

Ingredients:

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 ribs of celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 red onion, roughly chopped

1 beef brisket (about 1.5 pounds), trimmed of excess fat and silver skin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, finely minced

2 cups of veal or beef stock

1 16-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

2/3 of a cup of red wine

2 bay leaves

Pappardelle

Special equipment:

A large Dutch oven or another oven-safe casserole with a lid

How to prepare:

1. Preheat your oven to 325°. You may need to lower or adjust your oven racks so that you can fit your Dutch oven or casserole in it easily.

2. Using a food processor, pulse the carrots, celery, and onion together until they are finely chopped.

3.  Pat the brisket dry with paper towels and generously season it on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a large Dutch oven or casserole over medium-high heat until it begins to just smoke. Sear the brisket on all sides. If your brisket is too large to sear at once, you may need to cut your brisket in half and sear each half individually.

4. Remove the brisket to a plate. Lower the heat to medium and in the same Dutch oven or casserole, sauté the chopped vegetables and finely minced garlic until they give up their liquid and just begin to brown. Add the stock, the chopped tomatoes, the red wine, and the bay leaves. Stir to combine before adding the seared brisket back to the liquid. Make sure that the brisket is completely covered by the liquid before covering the Dutch oven with its lid and transferring it to the oven. Let the covered brisket cook slowly for about 3 hours. After 3 hours, the brisket should be fork-tender. Remove the pot from the oven and carefully skim off any fat from the top of the sauce.

5. Remove the brisket from the sauce and use two forks to gently shred it. Add the shredded brisket back to the sauce and stir to re-incorporate it. Adjust the seasoning.

6. In a large pot of salted water, cook the pappardelle to package directions. When the pasta is al dente, drain it but reserve some of the pasta cooking water. Add the pappardelle to the shredded brisket sauce along with some of the pasta cooking water if needed. Toss to combine, adjust the seasoning, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.

Scotch Eggs

Go ahead. Eat like a Welsh rugby player.The first really, truly mind-blowing Scotch egg that I ever had was at The Breslin. The breading was shatteringly crisp, the sausage was moist and savory, and the yolk . . . oh the yolk! Just liquid enough, it oozed and spread over the plate like runny gold. I may have moaned. I most certainly peppered the server with questions: “But HOW???? How do they get the egg so PERFECT????? How do they possibly PEEL it so that the egg stays so intact????? The whites must be barely set! DO THEY HAVE THE DELICATE FINGERS OF ANGELS BACK THERE????” In response, I only got a coy smile.

Sous vide!” my friend Jason hissed, “It must be sous vide!

Possible, but doubtful. It was hard to imagine anyone going through the trouble of sous-videing the quantity of eggs that a restaurant would require every night. As we pondered and chewed, and pondered another round of Scotch eggs because anything good should always be ordered twice, I thought that this would be my deep-frying project. I will make this at home, I thought, and all the Scotch eggs will be mine!

As I must be the world’s worst egg peeler, I let the eggs boil until the yolks were firmer — about 5 minutes. Next time, I’ll let them be a little runnier as I found out that a layer of sausage hides a multitude of fingernail gouges and fingertip-sized divots.  The most important thing is that the oil remains hot — between 350-375° F — and the layer of sausage must remain reasonably thin.

All in all, it’s a pretty decadent affair for such a simple preparation. Deep-frying is messy business, but the final result is unbelievably satisfying.

Ingredients:

6 eggs + 2 eggs, beaten

1 pound of breakfast sausage

2 cups of panko bread crumbs

Vegetable oil (for frying)

To prepare:

1. Place 6 eggs in the bottom of a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them. Over medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil. When the water begins to boil, cover the pan, remove it from the burner, and let it stand for 3.5-5 minutes, depending on how set you like to have your yolks (3.5 minutes for runny yolks, 4 minutes for just set yolks, 5 for perfectly set yolks) .

2. While the eggs are cooking, prepare an ice water bath. Carefully drain the water and gently roll the eggs around in the pan to crack the shells. Plunge the eggs into the ice water bath and let them sit there until they are cool enough to handle and peel. Once peeled, very gently pat them dry with paper towels.

3. Divide the sausage into six equal portions. Flatten and shape each portion into a thin disc about 1/4 of an inch thick.  Lay the patty in the palm of your hand and gently rest a soft-boiled egg in the center of it. Wrap and mold the sausage around the egg, pinching and sealing the seams shut as you go. Make sure that the sausage layer is no thicker than 1/4 of an inch, otherwise the sausage will not cook through before the outside of the Scotch egg begins to burn. Repeat with the remaining sausage and eggs.

4. In a large, heavy pot, pour in enough oil so that you have a depth of about 2-2.5 inches. Insert the deep-fry thermometer and bring the oil up to 375°. While the oil is heating up, whisk the remaining 2 eggs in a shallow bowl. Keep the panko crumbs another shallow bowl.

5. Right before the oil reaches the right temperature, work quickly and dip each sausage ball in the beaten egg and roll it in the panko crumbs. While keeping an eye on the temperature, carefully place each Scotch egg in the hot oil. You will need to work in batches and the temperature should never drop below 350° F.

6. Turn the Scotch eggs occasionally so that they cook evenly. When they are golden and crisp — about 5-6 minutes — use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil. Let them drain on a paper towel lined plate. Serve immediately.

Texas-Style Cottage Pie with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and A.1. Compound Butter

Flavors are bolder in Texas.
Considering the extent of my bacon advocacy, most people are surprised to find out that I used to be a vegetarian. That was not a choice based on any kind of moral imperative. Instead, it was the best way that my 14-year-old self think of to annoy my mother. Now you would think that vegetarianism would have gotten old after a couple of weeks, but I was stubborn teenager and persisted in my gastronomic rebellion for twelve long and meatless years.

I didn’t just annoy my mother, I baffled my relatives who had never heard of Tofurkys until they were forced to procure them. My friends would collectively roll their eyeballs heavenward each time that I complained about the lack of vegetarian options on a restaurant menu. I irritated significant others to no end because it frankly sucks to not share food that you are really enjoying.

So it stands to reason that on the night before my undergraduate commencement ceremony, I would have my vegetarian graduation celebration at a barbecue restaurant.

Yes, you read that correctly.

What prompted such a paradoxical decision? You see, one of the last classes that I took at my alma mater was a cultural anthropology course on food — which ended up being a prescient choice since many of the books on that syllabus found their way into the bibliography of my dissertation. I had an amazing professor who had a number of terrific guest speakers come to talk to the class, one of first of which was Chris Schlesinger who was still at the East Coast Grill (he has since sold it to the former head chef, now chef/co-owner Jason Heard).

Until that class, I had never really thought that much about food apart from how much I liked to eat it. It never occurred to me that you could craft an approach to food that could be just as thoughtful, complicated, and elegant as any in literature, or that taste — both sensory and esthetic — could be a marker of identity, a beginning of a journey, or an end to one.

In any case, Schlesinger’s passion, dedication, and approach to big, bold American flavors made quite the impression. I also remember how he wasn’t adverse to vegetables being on a barbecue menu, which is how my friends and my family ended up at his restaurant graduation eve.

I don’t remember exactly what I ate that night (probably macaroni and cheese), but I do remember that the food was good and my dad was happy that he wasn’t forced to eat another avocado burrito in a New Age-y bookstore that smelled like patchouli, incense, and beans.

This recipe is adapted from Schlesinger’s How to Cook Meat, published the same year that I graduated. I bought the book to remember that night despite not cooking nor eating meat at the time. Who would have known how useful it would turn out to be a few years later when I was no longer a vegetarian and really did want to know how to cook meat!

I must admit that the first time that I made this dish, I wasn’t impressed; I found it too sweet and the flavors a little too weird. However, after years of vegetarianism, I probably just had no idea what I was doing. Now things are different (or back to “normal,” depending how you think about it). I find the combination of flavors to be complex, rich, and deeply satisfying on cold nights like the ones that we have been having here on the East Coast.

I’ve tinkered with the recipe over the years, making it a little less sweet (tomato paste substituted for ketchup; blackstrap for plain old molasses), and deepening the flavors a little more (roasting instead of boiling the sweet potatoes). The recipe easily doubles as the one given below is the proportions of the original halved.

Like any recipe that you have made your own, its evolution is indicative of where you come from and where you are going. In essence, that is the wonderful thing about recipes in general: they all tell a story and this is one of mine.

Ingredients:

For the compound butter:

1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature

1 tablespoon of A.1. Steak Sauce

1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, finely chopped

Flaky salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the cottage pie:

2 large sweet potatoes

1/2-2/3 of a cup of half-and-half

1 tablespoon of butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 large red onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced small

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

1/2 a tablespoon of ground cumin

1/2 a tablespoon of ground coriander

A scant pinch of ground cinnamon

1 pound of ground beef

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°.

2. To make the A.1. compound butter, combine the room temperature butter, the steak sauce, and the chopped parsley in a small bowl. Season the butter with flaky salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Spoon the butter onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper, roll it into a cylinder, and refrigerate it until firm.

3. Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Place them directly on the wire racks of your oven and roast them until they can be easily pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes.

4. While the sweet potatoes are roasting, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan or Dutch oven set over medium heat. Sauté the onions and diced bell pepper until the onions begin to turn golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, the minced jalapeño, and the spices. Let them sizzle them for about 1 minute before adding the ground beef. Cook the ground beef until it is browned, crumbly, and no longer pink. Pour off any excess fat in the pan before stirring in the tomato paste and the blackstrap molasses. Adjust the seasoning.

5. When the sweet potatoes are cooked through, remove them from the oven and let them rest. Lower the temperature of the oven to 350°.

6. When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and discard the skins. Mash them with a tablespoon of butter and 2/3 of a cup of half-and-half. As the mixture should be on the loose side, add more half-and-half if needed. Season with salt and pepper.

7. Spread an even layer of the ground beef mixture over the bottom of a casserole or baking dish. Gently top the ground beef mixture with the mashed sweet potatoes. Bake until the filling is bubbly, about 40 minutes.

8. Remove the casserole dish from the oven and let it rest for about 5-10 minutes. To serve, you can either dot the top of the casserole with the compound butter before dividing it into portions, or you can top each individual serving with a slice of the compound butter.

The Classic BLT and Where Has Daisy Been?

Bacon makes everything better.
No new post in ages! Where has Daisy been?!

This post was inspired by a recent one by the Perfumed Dandy in which he addressed his own hiatus/absence from the blogosphere.

Never fear, dear Readers! Like the Dandy, I am still here 🙂

However, I did have to put some things on the back burner for a bit. You see, after sweatily fretting that I would have no employment this fall, I seem to have found myself in a situation where I have more teaching than I can shake a stick it. And I can shake a stick at a lot of teaching 🙂

I have classes scheduled every night of the week, except for Monday. Instead of being on one campus, I am divided between two this semester. This means that after teaching one class, I have to run and hop on the train to get to my other one at the other school. Most of my classes finish after 8pm and two finish at 10pm. One of those 10pm classes is on a Friday night 😦

As you can imagine, when I get home, the last thing I feel like doing is cooking. One of the perks of living in Manhattan is that I have an embarrassment of places that will deliver just about anything I want, whenever I want, and at a relatively reasonable price. Pizza Napoletana? Tibetan tsampa? Spicy Szechuan lamb with cumin? Georgian khinkali and lobio? Korean tofu stew? Lobster rolls and shoestring fries? Cuban sandwiches? Isreali hummus? Shio ramen? Coconut curry chicken? Souvlaki? Indian dosas with mango chutney? Yes, please!

Best of all? I can order everything online to be delivered ASAP to Ms. Spoiled-New-Yorker on the fourth floor 😉

But how about the weekend, Daisy? You must have time to cook on the weekend!

In theory, yes. In practice? Well, let’s be honest. On the weekends, most of my meals have been liquid alcoholic insubstantial, augmented by the latest nibble at the next it-restaurant.

All of this might sound exciting, but it gets old really fast. After a few weeks, it’s probably the least satisfying way that I can imagine eating. When things get busy, it’s not that I don’t cook at all. It’s rather that my meals become simpler and generally not anything interesting enough to blog about.

This is where the classic BLT comes in. When I get busy, I look for meals that I can put together quickly with stuff that is already in the fridge. In this case, beautiful bacon from my CSA that I cooked ahead of time, a loaf of bread, some nice lettuce, a good tomato (take advantage of them while you still can), and some mayonnaise. If the bacon and tomato are good, the lettuce is crisp, the bread nicely toasted, and the mayo (it must be Hellman’s) is slathered thickly, you really can’t go wrong.

The BLT is such a standby that sometimes I forget about it in my repertoire of meals. When I went up to visit my CSA farm back in July, I was reminded how good they are. I won’t even tell you how many of these I have had since then because a lady never reveals how much bacon she actually eats. I will say that it beats ordering in any day 🙂

Fresh Apricot and Amaretto Sorbet

Tart and refreshing!
The first time that I ever had the combination of almonds and apricots was at a brunch in Paris. It was in the form of pitted fresh apricot halves stuffed with crushed amaretti biscuits, dotted with butter, sprinkled with sugar, broiled until tender, and finally drizzled with heavy cream. The dear friend who served them to me has gone on to open a wildly successful barbecue restaurant in London, leaving small indulgences such as those apricots behind.

However, I never forgot them.

I thought of them again as I contemplated what to do with a container full of apricots that I picked up at the store. I had initially intended to make something Moroccan with them, but then they got too squishy to eat and I earmarked them for sorbet. After waiting too long to do even that, they got downgraded (or upgraded, depending on how you see it) to jam. Finally, life interfered with the cooking once again and the poor things had to be tossed. So I got myself another container of apricots, resolving to not let them go to waste like I had the others (I hate throwing food out).

This recipe is adapted from David Lebovitz‘s Fresh Apricot Ice Cream recipe. Although fairly faithful versions of it can be easily found via any internet search, I would highly recommend purchasing his book The Perfect Scoop. It is a must for anyone wanting to tinker around more with homemade ice creams and sorbets.

The original recipe calls for almond extract, but as amaretto — that sweet, almond-flavored Italian liqueur — is often made from crushed apricot pits, it seems even more fitting to use it instead of the extract. The addition of heavy cream makes this sorbet feel rich and indulgent, yet it is still tart and refreshing to eat. I have also kept Susan‘s suggestion to use an invert sugar; I agree that it really does improve the texture and mouthfeel of homemade sorbet. For a better and more convincing argument than I could ever write, I refer you to Susan’s amazing blog post here.

Ingredients:

1-1.25 pounds of fresh, ripe apricots (approximately 10-15 of them)

1/2 cup of water

1/2 cup of sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons of glucose or another invert sugar such as golden syrup or honey

1 cup of heavy cream

2 tablespoons of amaretto

The juice of one lemon

How to prepare:

1. Split the apricots into halves and remove the pits. Cut each half into quarters.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine the apricot quarters with the water and the sugar. Cook over medium heat until the apricots just begin to soften. This should take between 6-8 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in the glucose, and let everything cool to room temperature.

3. Once the apricots have cooled, purée them in a food processor. Press the purée through a fine-mesh sieve with a silicon or flexible plastic spatula. Discard the solids. Chill the strained purée overnight in the fridge.

4. Once the purée is properly chilled, add the heavy cream, the amaretto, and the lemon juice.

5. Churn the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When the mixture is smooth, return it to the freezer to harden.

The sorbet should keep for about two weeks in the freezer.

Backwoods Blueberry Buttermilk Sherbet

The final product!
Have you ever made a claim and promptly regretted its utterance? I often jinx myself with these kinds of pronouncements, also known as “famous last words.” Usually, when I begin a sentence with “I won’t” followed by “get lost,” “be late,” “cut myself,” “fall off this box,” “regret this tattoo,” or “take an unreasonable amount of time to finish graduate school,” I basically ensure that I will.

If you google the phrase “famous last words,” you’ll find the following Urban Dictionary explanation: to say “famous last words” out loud is to invoke “a warning that following the course of action just mentioned will result in impending doom.”

But this is not a story about doom. No, wait. I take that back. It is a story about doom! It is also a story about setbacks, humility, learning, redemption, and WINNING TWO FREAKIN’ ICE CREAM MAKERS BECAUSE I’M FREAKIN’ AWESOME YA’LL!

I offer you Daisy’s long overdue Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown Diary:

Thursday, June 27: I return to NYC after visiting my parents for 10 days and spend the next 4 days drinking heavily decompressing.

Monday, July 1: I finally get around to buying an ice cream maker for the Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown on July 7th. Having the choice between a $59.99 machine, an $89.99 machine, and a $400 machine, I go for the least expensive model. “Frozen Treats in 20 Minutes or Less!” is prominently advertised on the box.  Feeling buoyant and unstressed, I am unconcerned by having never used an ice cream maker before (prior to this experience, I had only made ice cream the old school way by dumping the ice cream mixture into a metal pan, putting the metal pan in the freezer, and stirring it every 30-45 minutes to break up the ice crystals). I am certain that the ice cream maker will make this Takedown a cinch. I leave it unopened on the floor of my apartment.

Tuesday, July 2: I confidently “chat” with Eryn at Ugly Food Tastes Better. She is in the competition too and is fretting about her freezer on the fritz. I mention that I am excited for the Takedown, especially given that the ice cream only takes 20 minutes to churn. I stretch and envision this being a walk in the park, a mere breeze after the HOURS spent baking 250 cookies for the Cookie Takedown or wrapping 250 little bacon candies until my fingers were aching and sore. True, I have to make two gallons of ice cream and the machine only churns 1.5 quarts at a time, but at 20 minutes a batch, I am confident I can knock out all 8 quarts on Saturday afternoon, the day before the competition.

In comparison, this will be so much easier, I say. Then I add the cursed phrase: “Famous last words, right?”

“Hahaha yeah!” Eryn laughs. Then she drops the bomb that shatters my smug peace and calm: “This one is time consuming because you have to refreeze the bowl 24 hours between batches.”

Omg. WHAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTTT????????????

I open up ice cream maker and swear that the i’s in “Cuisinart” are middle fingers.

The ice cream maker now sits in pieces on floor. There is the machine element, the freezer bowl, and the plastic dome that covers it all. I only have this one freezer bowl and it is not frozen. I also have a freezer so full of meat that I cannot even fit that one bowl in it. I officially freak out. I am in full panic mode.

At 4:30 am, I cave and order two more freezer bowls from Amazon. Overnight delivery. I pray that Amazon’s overnight delivery is really overnight delivery. When my neighbor across the hall wakes up later in the morning, I transfer the entire contents of my freezer to her freezer, shove the insulated bowl in it and wait.

Wednesday, July 3: The extra freezer bowls arrive in the morning and after a whole day in the freezer, only one of the three seems to be frozen. I hear no sloshing when I pick it up and shake it. I attempt my first test batch around midnight, figuring that I can only do two, maybe three tests before having to pick a final recipe. Sadly, there is no time for tinkering, no time for research, no more time for consulting fellow bloggers and friends.

I decide on a custard based ice cream and my inaugural flavor will be Peach Bourbon Jalapeño.

After much stirring, scorching, sieving, and saving, I come to the horrible realization that custard takes FOREVER to make! Worse, when I finally pour the ice cream mixture into the machine and turn it on, it churns for 20 minutes and produces no ice cream, only soup. It is not even the consistency of a smoothie.

Worst of all? The taste. My Peach Bourbon Jalapeño ice cream tastes like peanut butter-covered pepper jack cheese.

There is no peanut butter or pepper jack cheese in the recipe.

I start crying.

Thursday, July 4: I decide to start fresh in the morning with a different custard base. Test batch #2 is to be a fresh strawberry, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper ice cream. The custard tastes good. I pour it into the machine and turn it on. It churns for 20 minutes. I have soup. Again.

At least it’s delicious soup 😦

Three hours before needing to leave to meet up with Tomoko for fireworks on her rooftop, I decide it’s triage time. I don’t have any time left to set up two gallons worth of custard base. I basically don’t have time for anything cooked. My downstairs neighbor Niki lends me a copy of Martha Stewart Living with a special section on ice cream — the last resort. I thumb despondently through it and my eyes fall on a recipe for Blueberry Buttermilk Sherbet that requires no cooking. The buttermilk catches my attention because being so lean (buttermilk is mostly water), I know it will freeze hard and fast. Blueberries are in the market too, which is fantastic since there are so few elements in a sherbet that you want the best fruit you can find. Best of all? No cooking required.

I do a quick test batch. It sets up better than the custard based ice creams since there is hardly any fat (things that inhibit freezing are gelatin, alcohol, stabilizers such as invert sugars, fat, and sugar). Unfortunately, it is still way too slushy.

As for the taste? The sherbet is a pretty color, but there are too many seeds (blueberries have tons). It’s also too sweet. The lemon zest has clumped unattractively around the ice cream paddle and looks like something found in a drain.

I throw the test sherbet in the freezer and cry all the way to the Upper West Side. At Tomoko’s, we troubleshoot and decide that given the time constraints, a sherbet is still the way to go. We also conclude that the freezer bowls are not getting cold enough to freeze the mixture properly. It does not help that my apartment is too warm and the bowls are loosing chill faster than the ice cream can churn. I go home, throw out everything that can be tossed from my fridge, turn the temperature setting as low as it can go, and hope for the best.

Friday, July 5: After staying up doing research and reading about how to achieve a good, smooth texture, I do the following:

1. I get myself a freezer thermometer. It costs a whopping $2 and tells me exactly what I suspected it would tell me: my freezer doesn’t get cold enough to completely chill the ice cream maker’s insulated bowls 😦

2. I figure that since the ice cream maker can only make slush, the best way to break up the giant ice crystals produced is to churn it as best as I can, let it sit in the freezer for about an hour, stick an immersion blender in the half-set ice cream, whizz it to get a smoother consistency, and let the freezer freeze it the rest of the way. I think I got the idea from Southern Living, but I frankly don’t remember anymore.

3. Contrary to Martha’s recipe, I decide to sieve the blueberry purée twice. If I had the time and patience, I probably would have done it once more on top of that.

4. I add booze. Specifically moonshine. I briefly consider vodka but think moonshine is more interesting. Besides, nothing beats a hillbilly-themed table!

5. I add more lemon juice. The forecast for the Takedown is sunny and hot, and I want something tart and refreshing.

6. I follow Susan’s recommendation and add a stabilizer to enhance mouthfeel and improve texture. She recommends glucose and thankfully, Niki’s candy business has her swimming in glucose. I cadge a couple of cups off my neighbor and hope that the combination of alcohol and invert sugar will prevent crystallization and keep my ice cream stable in the heat.

I put together my boozy blueberry buttermilk mixture, pour it into the machine, and lo and behold . . .

Houston, we have sherbet 🙂

I crank out 4 quarts and put the bowls back in the freezer to refreeze.

Saturday, July 6: I crank out the remaining 4 quarts and collapse.

As for the competition results the following day? I am pleased to report it went well 🙂

Read more about it here.

* A very special thanks to Eryn for the heads-up about the machine! I would have been in serious trouble if not for you!

The next stand mixer I win is yours, Babe! 

And everyone should check out Eryn’s blog on which she has posted her recipe for Honeysuckle Tres Leches Ice Cream with Tres Harinas Cake Crumb and Red Fruit Compote. Delicious!

Special equipment:

A 1-1.5 quart ice cream maker

A fine-mesh sieve

A stick or immersion blender

Ingredients:

2 pints of fresh blueberries

1 cup of sugar

1 tablespoon of glucose or of another invert sugar such as light corn syrup (optional)

2 cups of buttermilk

2 tablespoons of moonshine or vodka

The juice of 3 lemons, strained

How to prepare:

1. In a food processor or blender, purée the blueberries with the sugar and the invert sugar if using. Press the purée through a fine-mesh sieve with a silicon or flexible plastic spatula. Discard the solids and pass the purée through the sieve a second time to get the remaining seeds. You can even choose to sieve the purée a third time if you would like an even smoother texture.

2. Combine the purée with the buttermilk, the moonshine or vodka, and the strained lemon juice.

3. Churn the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If your sherbet fails to properly set up like mine did, churn it as best as you can in the machine, transfer it to a sturdy container, and let it harden in the freezer. After 45 minutes to an hour, use an immersion blender to blend the sherbet and break up any larger ice crystals. When the mixture is smooth, return it to the freezer to harden.

The finished sherbet will keep for about two weeks in the freezer.

Our Growing Edge

This blog post is also my first contribution to the amazing Genie De Wit’s Our Growing Edge. Our Growing Edge is a monthly event that aims to connect food bloggers, broaden our horizons, and encourage us to try new things.

Anyone can be a part of the party! For more information, please go to the page Genie has set up on her blog Bunny. Eats. Design.

This month’s host is Stacey from The Veggie Mama. Thank you so much Stacey! To take a look at the participating bloggers this month, click here.

Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown Update: Blueberry Buttermilk Moonshine Sherbet Takes Home 2nd Place Twice!

They're taller than I am!
Dear Friends,

Here is the update on the Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown last Sunday! As many of you know, this was my third Takedown, the first being the Brooklyn Bacon Takedown and the second being the Brooklyn Cookie Takedown.

Needless to say, I think that I have become addicted to the adrenaline rush of coming up with a recipe and prepping massive amounts (250+ samples) of it for a day filled with old and new friends, large quantities of booze, and lots of fun!

In all honesty, the event is kind of a blur to me since the participants had a head start on the open bar before the doors opened to the public. Once people started pouring in, I was drunkenly scooping like a fiend! There were so many people coming to the table at once that I didn’t even notice that Tyra Banks was there! In my hurry to get everyone served, I just plunked a sample cup on her plate, said that it was Blueberry Buttermilk Moonshine Sherbet, and waved her on.

Only afterwards did someone say, “Daisy, you just threw sherbet at Tyra Banks!”

Whoa!

The decision to make a sherbet was a last minute one, forced by an uncooperative freezer and a look at the weekend forecast which predicted a RealFeel afternoon temperature of 107°. Full details to be revealed when I post the recipe, hopefully later this week.

Unpacking at the venue, I was certain that my entry was too simple and too plain to attract much attention — even with the moonshine.* Win or lose, I thought, I learned so much about making frozen desserts and being surrounded by so many talented and creative home cooks was gravy. That made the experience well worth it.

In the end, guess who was awarded second place by the judges AND by the people? Me 🙂

What did I win? More ice cream makers!

Just what I need 🙂

Even though I didn’t come in first place, I was the only one to win in both categories and the only one to take home two machines! However, I do have to give a shout-out to all the other incredible cooks. The team next to me actually made 275 cannoli shell ice cream cones. Isn’t that amazing? Other contestants make jam toppings and delicious drizzles in squeeze bottles. As for the two first place winners? Angie Anicgacz’s Lemon Meringue Pie Ice Cream and Russell and Karen Berger’s Butterscotch Beatdown were truly divine!

So what about those two ice cream makers? I kept one and gave one to my ice cream bitch helper and good friend, David. He earned it for coming to my apartment early and schlepping all my stuff to the event like a trooper!

Then I went home and collapsed.

The Takedowns are the brainchild of my friend, the incredibly gracious Matt Timms. He is certainly the host with the most and it has been wonderful to see him and his events get such great press. I’ve never known anyone to walk away from a Takedown unhappy and this event was no exception. Thank you, Matt!

For those of you who are interested, here are some links with much better write-ups than my own!

Wall Street Journal Metropolis Blog
Second article in the Wall Street Journal
Local Bozo
Jennifer Baker: A Baker with an Appetite for Writing
Brooklyn Exposed
Serious Eats

* Yes, there was real moonshine in the sherbet! No, I did not make it. Yes, you can absolutely buy corn whiskey. It comes in Mason jars 🙂