Tag Archives: Dairy

On being an adult

When I was younger, a good friend of mine once told me that she had heard it said that the best part of adulthood was the ability to buy one’s own groceries. I tended to agree.

Of course, I was much younger.

I still remembered going to the grocery store with my mother and begging her for sugared cereals. Her response was always the same. It’ll be a hot day in December before I buy you that. It should be noted here that I am a child of the eighties, and, as such, grew up well before the phrase global warming entered the national lexicon (I’m fairly certain that synergy hadn’t caught on either, but that’s another matter altogether). It should also be noted that my parents always sent me and my sister off to camp with pallets of pop tarts, so I suspect that sugar wasn’t the problem; our resulting hyperactivity was.

At some point, as I got older, buying my own groceries was no longer so exciting. In fact, it could be downright stressful—a game of Supermarket Sweep in reverse where I’d be doing mental math down the aisles, trying to determine if I really needed that soda (if it was Diet Coke, the answer was yes) or those cleaning supplies (I’ll let you guess here).

Being underpaid and in your twenties in New York has its own rites of passage. There are the big ones that hopefully you learn from—your first promotion or professional reprimand, first huge break-up, first time hunting for an apartment on your own—they’re universal.

Then there are the small ones—in my first office, most of the assistants brought in a loaf of bread during the second week of our pay cycle, using the peanut butter that the company supplied to subsidize our lunches. If you asked any of us, we could have rattled off all of the happy hour specials within a ten block radius in minutes, taking care to mention all of the bars that provided snacks or whole full meals (I’m looking at you Crocodile Lounge). We were, quite literally, living paycheck to paycheck in the hopes that one day things would improve and we’d make it.

And, we did.

Getting our very own offices with doors any everything. Putting some money aside for a fancy vacation. Or, a home we owned ourselves. Or, in some cases, to start a college fund for our children. I realized around Halloween last year that my Facebook feed was clogged with photos of the children of my friends dressed up for the holiday rather than of my friends engaged in stupid activities. It had finally happened—I was a grown-up. I was buying orange juice not for screwdrivers but to ward off a head cold.

Something needed to be done. And, so, because I’m an adult and can buy my own groceries and make my own dinner, the answer was clear—a dinner date with my friend James, consisting of hot fudge spiked with red wine and salted caramel ice cream. Thankfully no one was there to tell us to eat our vegetables first.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
6 TBS unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp fleur de sel (Diamond Crystal would work in a pinch, too)

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed dutch oven. Stir in the sugar and cook until the mixture turns golden brown and starts to smoke slightly.

Remove from the heat and mix in 1/2 cup heavy cream, whisking completely to help the caramel soften. Be careful as the mixture is hot and will splatter. Once the first 1/2 cup of heavy cream has been fully incorporated, add in the rest, whisking continuously. Then add in the salt and vanilla extract and mix well.

Place in the refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes, then add the rest of the milk, whisking well. This is your ice cream base. Once it is cool, process it with your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serve with hot fudge sauce (recipe follows).

Hot Fudge Sauce

12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Combine the chocolate, sugar, heavy cream, corn syrup, and cinnamon in the top bowl of a double boiler and place on medium heat. Heat until the chocolate has nearly melted, then whisk in the red wine, until it has been completely incorporated. Serve immediately.

Lasts one week, refrigerated. Heat over a double boiler prior to serving.

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So we beat on, boats against the current

There’s new scaffolding up by the New York Life building. This time it’s far more imposing and permanent.  Walking home late the other night, I noticed it and that it half obstructs the old “Interboro Subway Line” sign. A relic of the past, certainly, but a personal anchor, nonetheless.

At the very least, I liked seeing it.

Thankfully the neon glasses on 27th street are still there, bright as ever, reminding me at of Dr.T. J. Eckleburg.

Even so, there’s no doubt about it—the neighborhood is changing, again. If you can even call it a neighborhood, which I don’t suppose you can, since it’s mostly hotels and office buildings, but it suits me. And, it’s home.

You can’t stop progress.

I’ve been meaning to tell you about this cake and the story behind it for more than a month now.

Time gets away from me.

And, so, to go back to December 2011—each year, I cook my mother an elaborate birthday dinner. I’ve talked about it here before. It’s an all day affair. Think: cosmopolitans with freshly squeezed key lime juice, risotto, any manner of dessert, well, you get the idea. This year, however, owing to a new job with a different vacation policy, I only had a few days off around the end of the year which, among other things, meant less time visiting my family and by extension, less time to cook.

I suppose, then, my mother can be forgiven for suggesting that I make her birthday cake from boxed mix. Yes, boxed mix. I was incredulous—definitely not a good way to start a birthday meal. I couldn’t help it, for a birthday it seemed to defeat the whole purpose.

For me, cooking, opening up my table, is an act of respect and affection. The whole point is taking the time out, of telling someone that they’re worth the extra time and steps it takes to make something from scratch. So, a boxed mix simply wouldn’t do. Not for the occasion and certainly for my mother. After all, she was the woman who taught that baking was a meditation of sorts. To this day, when things get stressful, she takes out her measuring cups.

It’s getting cold here and the work shows no signs of abating. I’ve taken to leaving my own measuring cups on the counter, rather than putting them away.

Make of that what you will.

Chocolate Fudge Cake
Adapted from here

For the Cake
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
3 cups sugar
3 eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract, divided
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
3 cups flour
3 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/3 cup boiling water

For the ganache
18 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp butter, cut up
1 tsp vanilla

To Make the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans. Dust with flour, tap out excess.

In a large bowl, beat together 3/4 cup butter and sugar with electric mixer or medium speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla and beat until well blended. Add melted chocolate and beat 1-2 minutes; set aside.

Mix together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to chocolate mixture in two additions alternately with buttermilk. Beat until well blended. With mixer on low speed, add boiling water and beat until smooth (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans 10 minutes, then unmold onto racks and let cool completely.

To Make the Chocolate Ganache:
In a 2 quart glass measure, combine chocolate chips and heavy cream. Heat in a microwave oven on HIGH 3 minutes or until melted and smooth when stirred. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour, or until ganache holds its shape and is thick enough to spread on cake.

To Assemble the Cake:
Cover a cake layer with a little more than 1/3 of chocolate ganache. Set second layer on top. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining ganache. Refrigerate cake 3-4 hours, or until ganache is firm, before serving.

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I was ready

Forgive me, this was a post I meant to write a week ago back when this announcement was made. No matter. The story begins well before then anyway.

Almost a year ago, I started a new job.

I was ready.

It was a race to the finish, as leaving a job always is. For me, it culminated in a farewell party where I was still making blues corrections—consider yourself lucky if you’re not sure what that means—to promptly coming down with the worst cold ever. Instead of having lots and lots of drinks to celebrate the transition, my last day of work ended in a trip to the local drug store where I tried to spend the rest of my FSA on anything that would make my eyes stop tearing and my nose stop running.

Still, I was ready.

Mostly.

Even though I had four and a half jobs (it’s a long story, best told over many drinks), at my previous employer, each time I changed, I had to learn the job. That’s it. I had the systems down, I knew who to follow-up with and for what. This time, not so much.

Each little thing I learned was a small victory—I could get coffee! I remembered everyone’s names! Small things, to be sure, but I found myself taking count. It had been a long time since I had gone through this, and simply put, my brain was on overload.

I was ready.

Sure, but ready for what?

I’d say things finally started to click. And, they did, but I’m not sure that really tells you anything. The gist is this: a few weeks in, I was asked to help pull together marketing for a major proposal—collaborating and not having to take any budgets into consideration. And, nary an internal system in sight. So, I was ready. And invested. This was the professional change that I was looking for.

Then, I waited for this announcement.

And, so, now that the cat’s out of the bag, I think it’s only appropriate to share a Rachael Ray recipe. This one is for Feta and Sun-Dried tomato dip. The first time I tried it, a friend made it for me. I tried it to be polite—truth be told, feta is another one of those foods, along with olives that I just can’t bring myself to like and, much to my chagrin in the latter as it means that I’ll never have a dirty Martini and, really, who doesn’t want to order one of those?

Wait. Sorry, what was I saying?

And, just like that, I wasn’t going to be eating dinner since I had eaten half the bowl of dip. It’s not the prettiest thing (and, let’s be honest, my snapped in haste photos aren’t helping any), but it makes up for that in taste. I’d suggest serving it with plenty of vegetables so at least you have the pretense of eating healthfully.

Sun-Dried Tomato and Feta Dip
Recipe adapted from Rachael Ray

3/4 pound feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 TBS olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon black pepper

Combine feta, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, herbs, milk, black pepper in food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl.

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Well, that seems about right.

Remember my kinda sorta planning?

About that.

It began in earnest around midnight that night. File this under: it seemed like a good idea at the time. If you’ve been following along, this should come as no surprise.

In my defense, it was all in the service of a good idea: namely, cinnamon ice cream.

Since I was making a Thanksgiving themed dinner, I wanted to hit all of the traditional notes—to me, that means some sort of variation on pumpkin pie and vanilla ice cream. Mind you, my family has spent more Thanksgivings than most in restaurants, so my conception of traditional Thanksgiving may be a little skewed. And that seemed boring.

Cinnamon ice cream seemed to encapsulate exactly what I was trying to achieve—the traditional flavor in a slightly different format. In other words, it was perfect.

But, if I was going to include it, I needed to get started right away. And, so, there I was tempering eggs at 1 in the morning. I’m nothing if not dedicated.

You could certainly make ice cream over in several hours, but I tend to think it’s one of those things that’s better made over the course of two days, in order to ensure that your custard base has enough time to cool. However you do it, don’t leave out the straining step—it ensures that, if you haven’t tempered the eggs properly, your ice cream will still be creamy.

And, isn’t that the whole point?

Well, that and the indulgence of it, anyway.

Cinnamon Ice Cream
Method courtesy of The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
4 egg yolks
pinch of kosher salt

Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, setting the them aside and reserve the outside.

In a medium saucepan, warm one cup of the heavy cream, the milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla seeds, allowing everything to come to simmer. Be careful not to bring the mixture to a boil. After the mixture comes to a simmer, remove it from the heat, cover it and let it steep at room temperature for 30 minutes.

While the infused cream is cooling, pour the remaining cup of heavy cream into a large bowl, and put fine mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together.

Once the infused cream has finished cooling, slowly pour it into the egg yolks, stirring constantly. Then, whisk the warmed egg yolks and cream back into the saucepan. Stirring the mixture constantly using a heatproof spatula, heat over a medium flame. Take care to scrape the bottom of the saucepan as you stir. Once the mixture thickens and coats the spatula the custard is ready. Pour it through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Add in the vanilla bean and stir, until cooled.

Chill the mixture in your refrigerator until you are ready to churn. When ready to churn, remove the vanilla bean, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructors.

Makes One Quart

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So, that happened

Right. So, this week.

I think it’s safe to say it was in danger of ending almost as inauspiciously as it as it began which is to say, sucking greatly.

I got to work early on Friday, hoping to tacking some of my looming deadlines and, once again, prepared for battle with yet another bank. Instead: coffee all over my desk, including my phone. And, I was due to head to Philadelphia for the night (more on that later) in just under 8 hours. Which meant going straight to the closest Verizon store to replace said phone. Except that on Friday, the Verizon wasn’t open until 11:11 because of some ridiculous Droid promotion. Actually, none of them were, a fact which I discovered only after taking a cab to a second location.

And, so, walking down 6th Avenue, back to my office where I was going to have to tell my boss that I needed to leave again, I had finally had enough. The frustrations of fighting to get credit cards replaced and being locked out of an account when the cards finally came, all thanks to a miscommunication from the bank, of dealing with the D.A., of not having identification to carry around with me, of the constant and very real concern that the next thing to be stolen could very well be my identity—the exhaustion of it all—it had all gotten to me.

That’s the thing. When your defenses are down, each little obstacle seems completely insurmountable.

One thing was clear: I needed a good friend.

Thankfully, I was on my way to Philadelphia to visit my friend Peggy. I’ve mentioned her here before. If there was anyone who could understand my complete frustration, Peggy was it. The story of how her brand new computer got stolen out of her own apartment is legendary at this point—because it was a horrible thing to go through, yes, but really because Peggy has a way of making the whole thing completely hilarious.

On my bus ride down to visit her, I was channeling her sensibilities, and reformulating the morning, thinking about how it would retell it. And, in fact, it was all pretty amusing in that comedy of errors sort of way. I still had my health, my job, and in a few short weeks, I’d have the contents of my wallet fully replaced. This was all survivable, even if it was unpleasant.

And, by the time I arrived at 30th Street, the morning was a distant memory. There’s nothing quite like seeing an old friend after too long, especially one who greets you with a home cooked meal and some hot toddies to celebrate fall.

The next morning, when, immediately after waking up, Peggy started pouring through cookbooks to find the perfect recipe for biscuits to accompany the spoils she brought home from the farm stand where she worked, I knew things would be fine. It was a relaxed day, cooking and talking and lots and lots of walking.

By the time I got on my bus to head home—with a bag of snacks, including those very biscuits—I was tuckered out in the best possible of ways, and ready to tackle the week.

Often recipes enter my repertoire because of the stories behind them. I daresay that, after baking this particular biscuit with Peggy, I no longer need to try out other versions.

Buttermilk Biscuits
Adapted, just slightly from In the Green Kitchen by Alice Waters

2 cups all purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
10 TBS butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
2 cups cold buttermilk
1 TBS plus 1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1 TBS kosher salt

Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine the flours, baking powder and salt in a bowl and blend. Add the butter and lightly rub it and the flour mixture together until about half of the butter is well incorporated and the other half remains in large pieces about 1/2 inch in diameter.

Make a well in the flour and pour in the buttermilk. Give it a quick stir, just until the buttermilk is combined and the dough forms a mass. It should be soft and sticky and all of the flour should be combined. If necessary, add more buttermilk.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and knead about 8 times, until everything is well combined. Then, flatten the dough and roll it out until it is 1/2 inch thick. Pierce the dough with a floured fork.

Lightly flour a 2 1/2″ biscuit cutter (a floured pint glass will work, too), and begin cutting the biscuits. You should try to cut them as closely together as possible for maximum yield. Place the biscuits on a parchment lined baking sheet. You should bake the scraps, too.

Bake the biscuits on the top rack of your oven for 8-12 minutes until they are crusty and golden brown.

Serve the biscuits hot. If necessary, you can warm them in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven prior to serving.

Makes approximately 15 biscuits

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Wherein I disregard a popular maxim

I’m planning on making the baked macaroni and cheese I’m about to tell you about next week. Originally, I thought about waiting to get some better photos before sharing the recipe with you. But, to do so seemed cruel.

It’s that good.

I admit, I had my doubts. Midway through preparing it, that maxim about testing out recipes before making them for company came to mind. The texture of the sauce suggested that the egg had not been tempered properly. The liquids weren’t thickening. I mixed in the pasta and it was a soupy mess.

Andrea, who was helping me cook, suggested that we taste it. The flavor was good. We comforted ourselves with that. And, baked the first batch of it since, really, there were twenty people coming and although the bean salad was good, that wasn’t going to be enough for the vegetarians.

Once it finished baking, I realized the genius of the dish. The sauce is just soupy enough to ensure that the final baked product is perfectly creamy while the pasta remains perfectly cooked. And, the topping? Seriously, the best part. Crunchy and golden and I couldn’t make a second batch fast enough for all of my guests. Many were waiting by the kitchen for the second batch to be ready.

The macaroni and cheese recipe doubles easily, so it’s the perfect hearty dish to serve to a crowd as the weather gets cold.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Recipe courtesy of Alton Brown

1/2 pound elbow macaroni
6 TBS butter, divided
3 TBS flour
1 tablespoon powdered mustard
3 cups milk
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 large egg
12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes. Make sure it’s free of lumps. Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for ten minutes and remove the bay leaf.

Temper in the egg. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.

Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

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Waste Not, Want Not

As it turns out, I find myself often lacking the motivation to cook the thing I originally intended. Naturally, this tends to happen well after I’ve already purchased all of my ingredients.

All of this is a long way of saying, that I won’t be sharing a recipe for salted caramels with you today. Trust me, I’m as upset as you are about this. They sounded amazing—chewy, flecked with vanilla and finished with a crunch of salt. And, I still have high hopes that I’ll make them one day.

I could tell you about how this chai vanilla ice cream is perfect for this time of year, despite the snow on the ground and intense cold because the spices are both warming and comforting. But, we’d both know that I was lying, or more accurately, being just the slightest bit self serving. Make no mistake, the ice cream has warming spices and will make your house smell wonderful—like somewhere you should stay put—as you cook, but that’s not why I made it.

In all honesty: I had heavy cream that was about to go bad, and I couldn’t bear to let it go to waste.

The ice cream comes together fairly easily, thanks to the use of a blender, which makes tempering the egg yolks a snap. And, the almond milk isn’t necessary. Regular would work well, I just didn’t have any. But, I think it lends the desert a mellowing layer. Work with whatever you have on hand.

Or, at risk of being presumptious, go out and buy it. Who knows what wonderful food you’ll come up with as the ingredients are about to go to waste.

Vanilla Chai Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream, divided into 2 1-cup portions
1 cup almond milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla pod, with seeds scraped out and pod reserved
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Heat 1 cup of heavy cream, one cup of almond milk, vanilla pods and seeds and the rest of the spices over a low flame until it comes to a simmer. Once it is simmering, add the sugar and allow the mixture to continue heating until the sugar is dissolved and the spices have infused, about 10-15 minutes. Take care that your mixture does not boil.

Remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean.

Place the egg yolks in a blender and mix, streaming in infused cream slowly until both are well incorporated.

Add the rest of the heavy cream to the blender and mix.

Chill your ice cream base until is has completely cooled, then churn according to your ice cream maker instructions.

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