A few years ago, I used to help coordinate a CSA in Manhattan. For those of you unfamiliar with CSA’s or farm share models, in brief, they are a way for farmers to sell directly to consumers without pesky middlemen or distributors. Standing for “Community-Supported Agriculture,” you generally agree to pay your local farmer a set fee up front for the season. This amount can vary between a couple hundred dollars to several hundred dollars. Known as a membership fee, your membership entitles you to “shares” of the harvest over the course of the season. These shares are usually picked up once a week from a designated location like a church or another community-friendly site.
If you can manage the up-front fee, a CSA is a win-win for both you and the farmer. The farmer gets more money to work with, and in exchange, you get a much better and better tasting product. The majority of CSA’s are either fruit or vegetable CSA’s, but of course my CSA was all about the meat: cows, pigs, chickens, sometimes lamb, sometimes duck. Basically anything cute with a face 😉
Running a meat CSA, you meet a lot of people: bankers, academics, writers, publishers, editors, lawyers, non-profit organization directors, retirees, beer distributors, you name them. It was also the first time that I ever encountered people on the Paleo diet, a modern diet that basically aims to mimic what our paleolithic ancestors ate.
At the time, I asked myself the same thing: is this a group of carrion-eaters that spends most of its time starving and the rest of its time fearfully living in caves?
Nope! Apparently, what “going Paleo” really means avoiding processed food, lowering the amount of carbohydrates you eat, increasing how many fresh fruits and vegetables you consume, hunting and gathering in the bulk foods section of the Park Slope Co-Op, and eating a lot meat.
A. Lot. Of. Meat.
Now in all honesty, avoiding processed foods and being more mindful of what we consume are things that we could all do. But a few of these members kind of scared me.
There was the guy who asked me multiple times on multiple occasions if it was okay to eat raw sausage — it’s not. I mean, you can. You won’t die, but I’m pretty sure that it tastes better cooked.
There was another guy who told me that he went through 8 dozen eggs a week because he had a twelve-egg-omelette-a-day habit.
There was the guy who called his personal trainer in a panic because I wasn’t sure if our CSA beef was just grass-fed, or grass-finished (it turned out that it was grass-finished).
A few outliers notwithstanding, for the most part, our Paleo members were a great bunch of super-enthusiastic home cooks who were really into being conscious about what they put in their bodies, and being strong advocates for local farming and agriculture. I loved hearing what they did with their shares and would eagerly trade tips and recipes with them at each pick-up.
Chocolate avocado pudding is one of those freaky Paleo food experiments that I was always curious about, but never tried out of skepticism. Then, one day over the summer, two things serendipitously coincided:
Joel had a surfeit of overripe avocados that had to be eaten ASAP.
Given that my inner 50’s house-wife cannot abide by wasted food, I thought that now would be the time to see if whizzing avocado and melted chocolate together in a blender would indeed be the dairy-free pudding of feverish vegan dreams.
This recipe is truly fantastic. The result is not overly sweet, and the intensity of the chocolate really shines. The avocado adds a vague fruitiness to the pudding, but it gives it a texture that is as smooth as silk. It’s great as a pudding, and even better as a pop. Be warned though: you can freeze it in a tub, but you will need to remove it a good amount of time before you serve it. Otherwise, it will be very hard to scoop.
1 can of coconut milk
A pinch of salt
1/3 of a cup of honey
3.5 ounces of dark chocolate (discs or bars broken into pieces)
2 very ripe avocados, pitted, peeled, and cut into cubes.
How to prepare:
1. In a medium-sized sauce pan, gently heat the coconut milk until it just begins to boil. Turn off the heat and add the chocolate pieces or discs. Whisk everything together. Once the chocolate is completely melted, whisk in the cocoa powder, the honey, and the pinch of salt.
2. Pour the chocolate mixture into a blender (I used a blender bullet) and add the avocado. Whizz everything together until the mixture is soft and shiny. You should not be able to see any more avocado. The mixture should be smooth and even.
3. Carefully spoon the mixture into popsicle molds and freeze.
The first time that I made hummus from scratch, I had no idea what I was doing. I was 22 and had just moved back to New York after college, living on my own for the first time. Armed with a brand new food processor that I had scrimped and saved for, I remember that the chickpeas that I used came straight from a can. Too much garlic was thrown in as whole cloves. There was no lemon juice; in its place was lots of olive oil of dubious quality.
Needless to say, that batch of hummus was gritty, harsh, and unpleasant. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would possibly want to go through the trouble of making hummus at home when you could buy a tub of much better stuff at the supermarket just a few dollars.
Fast forward almost 15 years and times have certainly changed! The thought of store-bought hummus now makes me gag a little. Far superior hummus is so ridiculously easy to make that it boggles my mind why anyone would bother with the other stuff unless they were pressed for time, lacked a food processor, or were camping in the woods.
So what is so different now?
First of all, I know much more about food and cooking than I did when I was fresh out of my undergraduate university, the happy result of having read more, traveled more, eaten more, and cooked more. Secondly, I’ve had some really amazing hummus — more amazing than anything that came out of a supermarket tub. Those experiences alone have given me benchmarks against which to judge my own.
Finally, I have recently had much more practice because my hardcore punk rocker boyfriend is a vegetarian and is addicted to hummus.
You read that right: he’s a VEGETARIAN.
The universe can be very ironic 😉
For the first few months we were dating, I would always feel a little stab in my foodie heart every time I opened his fridge and saw half-empty containers of mass-manufactured hummus. That little stab soon became a nagging inner voice : “You should do something about this,” it whispered, “No one should have to eat this way.” Once the semester was over, I resolved to stock his fridge and freezer with enough dip to keep him properly fed for weeks.
Homemade hummus is not hard to make, but it does require some advanced planning. You need to soak the dried chickpeas overnight (always use dried ones for superior hummus, never canned). Once soaked and drained, you need to cook them until they are almost, but not quite mushy.
And for truly ethereal hummus, you need to remove the chickpeas’ skins before puréeing them. Ah, the chickpea skins. They don’t need to go. In fact, it’s fiddly and annoying to get rid of them. However you set out to accomplish it, the act alone will make you feel like you need to be treated for OCD.
But trust me when I say that it makes a big difference. If you want hummus the texture of velvet, get rid of those skins!
So how do you do it? You can either rinse the cooked chickpeas under cold water until they are cool enough to handle and then pop each one out of its skin with your thumb and forefinger, keeping the peas and discarding the gross membranes (sometimes I think they look like sad, used bean condoms).
Or you can try another technique that I learned from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s recipe for hummus in Jerusalem: toss the soaked and drained beans in baking soda, the grit of which loosens the skins from the peas. With this method, after you cook the chickpeas to a very tender state, the skins kind of disintegrate into a nasty slurry that you can pour off in repeated changes of water. It’s kind of like rinsing rice until the water runs clear.
I’m not sure if making your own hummus is as cost-effective as buying it already made, especially if you use nice tahini and fancy dried chickpeas to do it. I think that because of the volume that I make each time, it works out to costing about the same. That being said, the results are really incomparable.
When my boyfriend dragged a tortilla chip through that first silky, creamy batch and popped it in his mouth, his eyes went wide and he said, “I can’t go back!”
Trust me. You won’t be able to either.
* That is my boyfriend impatiently holding his bowl of hummus because, when you date a food blogger, the camera always eats first.
** You can top hummus with almost anything: harissa, chopped eggs dusted with dukkah, tofu :-(, shawarma or, as pictured, zhoug. Also known as zhug or skhug, it is a spicy Yemeni condiment made from parsley, cilantro, garlic, chili peppers, and olive oil. The recipe is also included below.
1. Place the dried chickpeas in a large bowl and cover them with about 2 inches of cold water. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let them soak overnight.
2. Before cooking, drain the chickpeas. Heat a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat and add the chickpeas and the baking soda. Cook for about three minutes, stirring constantly to loosen the skins. Add enough water to cover the chickpeas completely and bring everything to a boil. Be sure to watch the pot carefully as it can easily boil over. Reduce the heat to a simmer and as the chickpeas cook, skim off any foam and skins that rise to the top. Depending on how fresh the dried chickpeas were, it can take anywhere between 20-40 minutes to fully cook them. You will know when they are done when they are very tender and break up easily when you use a wooden spoon to press them against the side of the pot. Once fully cooked (they will be soft but not mushy), carefully pour off most of the liquid. Any remaining skins will have morphed into a sticky, unappetizing slurry that you can eliminate by very gently rinsing the chickpeas in several changes of fresh, cold water, kind of like rinsing rice until the water runs clear.
3. Once rinsed clean, drain the chickpeas and process them in your food processor with a pinch of salt until it you have a thick, stiff paste. Add the tahini, the lemon juice, and the crushed garlic and process everything together. Adjust the seasoning, including adding extra lemon juice or extra garlic if you want your hummus brighter or more garlicky. With the food processor running, add ice water, a little bit at a time, to thin the hummus out to your desired consistency. Your hummus is now complete!
4. For the zhoug, process the parsley, the cilantro, the serrano peppers, the crushed red pepper flakes, the ground cumin and coriander, the garlic, the lemon zest and juice, the sugar and a pinch of salt together. With the food processor running, add olive oil in a thin stream until you have the consistency of pesto. Add a little ice water to even out the consistency and adjust the seasoning.
5. To serve, top the hummus with the zhoug and a sprinkle of sumac.
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.
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
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.
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 elote, esquites 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.
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.
Summer is ending too soon. The weather is still warm, but college students are already filtering back into the city and the streets are starting to fill with people who have been out of town. Despite not having gotten away, this summer has been a great one. I’ve seen good friends and made a few new ones. I’ve eaten, drank, and danced. There have been rooftop parties, intimate dinners, and a lot of laughter. As a bonus, the weather has been unusually clement, so this summer has been a pleasure instead of a hot, sticky pain. All in all, it has been the best stay-cation that I could have asked for — and a sorely needed one at that.
Before work resumes and teaching takes over my life again, I want to fit in a few more blog posts, so …
– Grossly underestimate how long it takes to prepare 2 gallons of ice cream at home.
– Fail to read the directions accompanying any new equipment in advance.
– Not have enough equipment to begin with.
– Wait until the last minute to start recipe testing.
– Have no back-up plan in case my freezer doesn’t get cold enough and/or my air-conditioner stops working.
I am happy to report that I took all the lessons I learned last year and this year, I started and finished early with (almost) no tears and minimal stress! Hooray!
1. Start early. Those stupid insulated bowls — which never really work that well to begin with — need at least 24 hours to freeze hard enough to churn your ice cream satisfactorily. So make room in your freezer, lower the temperature as much as you can, and park those things in the very back of it until they are frozen rock solid.
2. Buy all of your ingredients at the same time. Don’t wait. Don’t come back later. Just get them all when you see them. And buy enough to make an extra batch. Trust me. Once I had settled on a recipe and calculated how much I needed to buy in terms of ingredients, I realized that I would need 36-38 mangoes and about 80 limes. Does anyone want to haul home that much squishy fruit all at once without a car? No. What did I do? I only bought half of what I needed.
But I know my limitations and, more importantly, the limitations of my kitchen. I would have loved to have done a crazy flavor, but making it in a kitchen the size of a shoebox would have driven me crazy.
“Maybe it’s not wacky enough?” I asked myself.
Maybe that’s fine.
4. Use a stabilizer. Unless you are playing with liquid nitrogen, you will need something to smooth out the texture and prevent your ice cream or sorbet from having an icy or chalky mouthfeel. Stabilizers are additives to frozen treats that work to inhibit the formation of bigger ice crystals. Within that category, you can use guar gum or xanthan gum. However, a stabilizer does not necessarily need to be so exotic. You can use gelatin, alcohol, fat, sugar, and invert sugars such as glucose, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, and corn syrup.
5. Ripe ripe, Baby. If you are making a fruit sorbet, you want your fruit to be very ripe — verging on overripe. How will you know if your fruit is ripe enough? It will feel like . . . well . . . let’s try to keep this forum as family-friendly as we can.
6. Strain. Evenly-textured ice cream and sorbet doesn’t just happen. Smooth base in = smoother frozen dessert out.
7. A watched ice cream maker never churns. Ari watched me swear and smack my stupid ice cream maker on the side after it failed to churn sorbet after . . . 5 minutes.
“Daisy, it says it will take ‘as little as 25 minutes’ on the box. It hasn’t been 25 minutes!”
She was right. Go, go watch an episode of 30 Rock and come back later.
8. So your ice cream maker fails to churn satisfactory frozen dessert and you have a slushie instead of a sorbet. This is what happens when your freezer bowl is not cold enough, your kitchen is too hot, or the freezer bowl is so overfilled that it loses chill faster than it can churn your ice cream or sorbet. This is when you get creative. This is when you let the ice cream set up more in the freezer, stick your handy stick immersion blender in it, and use it to break up the ice crystals before letting it freeze the rest of the way. Do this a few times as it continues to set up and you will be rewarded with some super smooth sorbet.
The worst kitchen accident that I have ever had did not involve an immersion blender (knock on wood). I had put a saucepan in a hot oven and after about an hour, I reached in, grabbed the handle and hefted it onto the stovetop. As I had been cooking all summer, I had “kitchen hands,” tough, calloused paws that didn’t register that the handle was over 350° until it was too late. I left some skin from my palm and my fingers on that handle. I spent the rest of the week with my hand in a tub of arnica cream.
In any case, when dealing with immersion blenders, TREAT THEM WITH RESPECT AND ALWAYS UNPLUG THEM WHEN THEY ARE NOT IN ACTIVE USE!
Although I realize that some of these pointers are most applicable if you are churning out a massive amount for something like an ice cream competition, I think that many of them are equally as valid for smaller batches
A word on the recipe that follows: What is that chili powder stuff on top?
Tajín is the brand name of a Mexican fruit seasoning consisting of only three ingredients, three flavors: a chili spice blend, salt, and dehydrated lime juice. As the components are few, I imagine that you could probably hack the recipe pretty easily using a basic Mexican chili spice blend, salt, and either dried, powdered lime zest or squeezing lime juice on top before serving. That being said, Tajín is so darn inexpensive (mine was $1.25) that it seems silly to hack it. I got mine at the Mexican supermarket, but I have also seen online forum posts about people seeing it at Walmart, Target, and at their neighborhood supermarket in the “Ethnic Foods” aisle. For a few bucks more, you can also score it on Amazon.
Of course, this sorbet tastes amazing without it, but the seasoning really does make a difference. It is definitely worth seeking out! You can also use it on just about any kind of fruit or vegetable (delicious on corn).
Another word on the recipe that follows: Why are there so many mangoes in the pictures?
As I have scaled the recipe down from the one that I used for the competition, you will see more fruit and more ingredients in the photos than are listed below. My competition recipe was for 2-quart batches and this scaled down recipe given will make a third of that. To make a full 2-quarts, simply triple the recipe. For example, instead of 2 mangoes, you will need 6, etc.
1. Gently peel the mangoes with a sharp paring knife and cut the flesh away from the pit. Do this in a bowl so you don’t lose any of the precious juice.
2. Purée the mangoes with 1/4 cup of water in a blender or using an stick immersion blender. Press the purée through a fine-mesh sieve with a silicon or flexible plastic spatula. Discard the solids.
3. In a large bowl, combine the mango purée with the cane sugar, agave syrup, tequila, and strained lime juice. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.
4. Churn the mango sorbet mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If your sorbet fails to set up properly, 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, use an immersion blender to blend the sorbet and break up any larger ice crystals. You can do this a few times to ensure that you have a really nice texture. When the mixture is smooth, return it to the freezer to harden completely.
5. To serve, scoop the mango sorbet into bowls and sprinkle liberally with Tajín.
This blog post is another contribution to the 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. I am so happy to see Genie’s project grow and reach a larger and larger audience of bloggers and readers!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 Lindsey from Sneaks & Sweets. Thank you so much Lindsey! To take a look at the participating bloggers this month, click here.
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 cabbage, purple 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.
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.
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!
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)
The future stepmother of my companion at the time had a chateau in the Périgord. It had been years since she had been there herself and taking advantage of our position in Paris, she asked us to take a weekend off and go down to check on the property for her. After a long drive from Paris that was made even longer by a detour forced by an errant herd of sheep, we arrived at the property famished and exhausted. The chateau itself was uninhabitable. In lieu, we stayed in the caretaker’s home — a crumbling stone house in need of many repairs, the least of which was a new roof.
Dark, dusty, and overrun with audible mice, the house was inhabited by a desperately lonely woman who not only feared the state of the only home she had known for more than 20 years, but had also become increasingly worried about her precarious life. What would happen if the owner decided to sell the property? What would happen if the owner came back and forced her out? She had nowhere to turn and no income to speak of besides her limited state pension.
Communication between her and the stepmother was so poor that she initially thought we were sent to kick her out. Once it was established that we most certainly were not, she relaxed and began to list everything that needed to be fixed. Unfortunately, there was nothing that we could really do besides listen and watch her gnarled fingers expertly reduce a pile of meager potatoes into thin slices with a dull paring knife. She continued to fret while we ate that divine gratin. In the heat of the fire (yes, the stove was a wood one) the potatoes had collapsed into a silky smooth cake; the individual layers had become indistinguishable from the whole. This was all washed down with a dozen small glasses of homemade walnut liquor made from nuts that had fallen from the trees surrounding the property.
It was a delicious meal, albeit a very sad one.
I never knew what happened to the woman. The stepmother tossed away the caretaker’s worries with nothing more than a soupçon of concern and my relationship didn’t survive the move back to New York. Consequently, I never followed up on the story.
However, ever since that meal, I have tried literally hundreds of recipes for gratin dauphinois in the hopes of recreating that recipe-less dish that was probably as natural for that woman to make as it was for her to breathe. I have made gratins with liters of heavy cream and piles of Alpine cheeses. I have added truffles and more butter. I have tried different varieties of potatoes soaked in milk, not soaked in milk, and even parboiled in milk and cream. I have tried slicing the potatoes paper thin with mandolines. I’ve tried Julia Child’s recipe.
After all that experimentation, nothing has come close. However, this recipe comes the closest.
Like all dishes born out of need and necessity, gratin dauphinois is best simple — not gussied up with an excess of cream, butter, and cheese. Although the urge to be decadent is strong when it comes to French farmhouse dishes, the best ones are made with only whole milk, some stock, and the gentlest kiss of cheese. The allure of excess is not rewarded as richly as the alchemical reaction of humble ingredients and time.
1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1-2 sprigs of savory
2 bay leaves
3 smashed garlic cloves, plus one more
5-6 black peppercorns
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup of chicken stock
1 cup of whole milk (or light cream if you must)
4 smallish waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
2. In a medium-sized saucepan, cover the herbs, the black peppercorns, and three of the smashed garlic cloves with the milk and the stock. Season with salt and freshly grated nutmeg to taste. Over a medium-low flame, gently heat the mixture until it just comes to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let the herbs and garlic steep.
3. While waiting for the milk mixture to cool, rub an oven-proof dish with the remaining smashed clove of garlic. Generously butter the dish.
4. Strain the milk mixture. I like to do this into a measuring cup with a spout as it makes it easier to build the gratin later.
5. In the bottom of the gratin pan, make an even, single layer of potato slices. Pour just enough of the milk mixture to cover the slices and then add another layer on top. Top that layer with just enough of the milk mixture to cover the slices. Scatter a little bit of the grated cheese on top. Continue to build the gratin with a little bit of grated cheese in-between every other layer, and with each layer covered with the milk mixture. Reserve just enough cheese to scatter on top near the end of baking. The final layer at this point should be just potatoes. Use your hand and press down on top of the gratin. Add more milk mixture if needed, but leave about 1/2-inch of clearance from the top of the gratin dish.
6. Dot the top of the gratin with butter and cover it with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit.
7. Bake the gratin for about 30 minutes before removing the parchment paper. Continue to bake the gratin uncovered for about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and continue baking for 15-20 minutes until the top of the gratin is golden and the potatoes are soft. This is very important: let the gratin rest for about 10 minutes before serving.
This blog post is my second 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.
The month is just starting and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
A note from Daisy: For many of you, Lucas needs no introduction. For those who don’t know him yet, he is the wonderful Polish blogger and outstanding cosmetic chemistry student behind Chemist in the Bottle. Although he writes primarily about perfume, he is also a hardcore foodie. It has been meltingly hot and humid lately and to help beat the heat, I have asked him to share his refreshing recipe for mint tea. It is a bit different from how I prepare it here in the States (i.e., brew something potent, pour it over ice, add more ice), but I love learning about how people elsewhere keep cool via what they eat and what they drink.
As my parents are still visiting, I am very happy to hand the blog over to Lucas this week! I hope that you enjoy his post as much as I do.
Summer is an amazing season. Once the school year is over and children begin enjoying their vacation, people become more relaxed and everyone seems to be much happier than just a few months ago. Clear skies and sunshine are what give us endorphins, the hormones of happiness. However, when the temperature rises to dangerous levels, summer is no longer so much fun. The constant heat is hard to enjoy — especially when you have to sit in an office building or you don’t have air conditioning (or even a fan).
To counter the heat, I’d like to share a couple variations on my recipe for fresh summer mint tea. It’s a really refreshing drink that is very easy and fast to make.
You will need:
Fresh mint leaves
Let’s make a cold mint tea first! There are two methods to make it:
METHOD 1 – hot brew – cold drink
Take two fresh mint leaves if you’re making a single cup, or 5-6 leaves if you want to prepare a liter’s worth of tea. Put the mint leaves into your cup or pot. Boil some water. When the water is hot, pour in just enough to drown the leaves. You only want to cover the bottom of your cup or pot. Let it sit until the water is cool. During this time, the leaves will transfer their flavor and a little bit of their color to the water. Next, add enough cold water to fill your cup or pot and put it in the fridge to chill. After about 2-3 hours, your icy mint tea should be almost ready. Now you can add a slice of lemon and lime to add a citrus taste to your drink. Voilà! The tea is ready!
METHOD 2 – cold brew – cold drink
Take the same amount of fresh mint leaves and crush them with a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle in your kitchen, simply chop the leaves roughly with a knife or use scissors to cut them into smaller pieces. Fill the pot with the water and leave it in the fridge overnight. The next day, your water will have a light green tinge. The color will be more intense than if you had used the hot brew method, as cutting the leaves helps the pigment and flavor to transfer more easily to the water. Pouring hot water over cut or crushed leaves will cause your tea to taste more intense and be darker. This is called infusion. Add a slice of lemon and/or lime for an even more refreshing twist. For this cold beverage, ice cubes are optional. Please be aware that if you add a lot of them, the tea will be more diluted. I rarely add ice to my cup but when I do, it’s usually only 2 ice cubes. Neither of these methods (infusion or hot brew) make a very strong tea so you don’t want to lose the charming flavor of fresh mint by adding more frozen water to it.
METHOD 3 – hot brew – hot drink
Both of the methods above produce a cold drink. However, you must believe me when I say that it’s sometimes good to drink something hot when it’s hot outside. This might sound ridiculous and ridiculously unappealing (I mean, who wants to have a hot drink when it’s scorching outside?) but I have found that when it’s 35°C (that’s 95°F) outside, you can feel refreshed and less tired of the heat after you treat yourself to a hot liquid.
Once again, take 2 fresh mint leaves, 5 for a pot’s worth, and cover them with hot, but not boiling water. Wait about 10 to 15 minutes for the tea to be properly infused. Toss in a slice of lemon, lime, or both and enjoy your hot beverage. Did you notice that the heat isn’t so tiring now? 🙂
As a matter of taste, I have to mention something about lemons and limes: if you prefer your tea to be less bitter, cut off the rind of your slice before you add it into your mint tea. The limonene present in citrus fruits is at its highest concentration in the yellow, orange or green rinds. If you have nothing against tasting a refreshing bitterness, feel free to include the rind. Its limonene and tannins are responsible for the sensation that you are enjoying.
One more thing: did you notice sodium chloride, or salt in the ingredients? On super hot days, you should always add a tiny bit into your tea. We sweat more when it’s hot out and our bodies lose their necessary minerals faster. Just a few crystals of salt will help to keep the balance of chloride anions and sodium cations in your body. Cl- are especially important in our body cells. For just a cup of tea, a pinch is enough (that should be just a couple of grains, no more!) For a liter, add about a ¼ teaspoon salt. Regardless of how you brew your tea, the salt should be added at the end, either with lemon or lime, or right afterwards. Don’t forget to stir your tea to ensure that all the crystals are properly dissolved.
In Poland, mint is a pretty seasonal garden plant so when I get some leafy sprigs of mint, I like to keep some fresh and dry the rest on my balcony in the sun. If you have fresh mint, you can do this too and enjoy your mint tea made from fresh leaves even after the summer months are over. If you dry your own leaves, remember that you should use a hot brew preparation for them. A cold method will take ages for the dried leaves to infuse the water.
If you can’t get fresh mint, you can use regular mint tea packed in bags or sachets. Use one sachet for one cup and two for the pot. If using tea bags or sachets, the hot water method of making iced tea is better. The cold infusion method works well too, but it will take longer — around 24 hours — and will give a very light brew with gentle flavor. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it is ideal for summer evenings when you want something calming before going to sleep.
I hope you enjoyed this post and will enjoy your homemade fresh summer mint tea, which is delicious and all natural. Let me know in the comments if you decide to prepare it. I would also love to hear what you think after you drank a cup or two!
One last note from Daisy: All these photos are courtesy of Lucas! I’m sure you’ll agree with me that if he ever decides to drop out of school, he could be one heck of a great photographer and/or food stylist 🙂 Thank you so much, Lucas!