Friday, August 21, 2009

Opa! Opa! Opa!

Hello to all! At the moment I am on board a Greek ferry between the island of Naxos and Piraeus (the port near Athens). Aaahhhh! The power of the Internet! I am tapping this post oit on my iPhone so it promises to be relatively short.
This has been a wonderful journey thus far, though not without it's complications. We've been forced to abandon our trip to the island of Milos due to ferry cancellations and have basically lost a day to travel. Just the same, the islands we have seen are gorgeous with their sugar cube houses and dramatic coastlines. We've spent time lounging on a black sand beach, riding donkeys up the side of a mountain, and exploring beautiful, winding towns carved into the sides of steep cliffs. And now, Athens awaits us! But enough about that! On to the food!
The best thing we've eaten so far, hands down, is stuffed grape leaves. Grape leaves are tightly wrapped around bundles of soft rice mixed with a little cheese and herbs. The neat little packages can be eaten in two tidy bites either on their own or dunked in tyziki sauce (my favorite!). We've eaten them twice -- once drenched in olive oil and served with kalamata olives and the other time served dry with fresh slices of tomato. When I return home I'm going to do everything in my power to recreate these tasty little bites. Yum! I could go for a plate of them right now!
We've also eaten some amazing cheeses -- soft, salty feta and Saganaki (a new one for me). The feta is unlike anything I've eaten in the USA. It's so fresh and soft. We cut it into pretty little pieces and popped them into our mouths using just our fingers. Wonderful! The Saganaki was a local cheese that was very lightly fried (almost like tempura) in a thin block. We cut it into pieces and were surprised by it's complex, buttery taste. It was rather hard and had a nice flavor from being fried. Also, it wasn't greasy at all. When I return home I'm going to look it up and find out for certain how it was prepared. It really was extraordinary.
We've eaten many other delicious foods and had wonderful local wines, but this will have to suffice for now. I have pictures galore (Paige has been very sweet to wait until I've photographed all the food before diving in) and will post a number of them upon my return. We have two and a half more days in Greece, during which I plan on stuffing myself silly, then we move on to Italy for a week. I'm sure well find a thing or two there that's worth writing home about! Cheers!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cookies & Cream with Homemade Oreos

My original plan to post five or six ice cream recipes may have to fall by the wayside.  Per usual, the last few days have gone faster than I planned.  Instead I'll focus on the best of the best and get as far as I can before I leave on my trip.
When I asked Charlie what type of ice cream he wanted for the ice cream party we had a couple of weeks ago his immediate response was Cookies & Cream.  This is an easy enough ice cream to make.  You just crunch up Oreo cookies and mix them up with softened vanilla ice cream.  Of course, I needed cookies and vanilla ice cream to do that so I set about finding recipes.  I've made vanilla ice cream a couple of times this summer, and I've used fresh vanilla beans for a super fresh flavor and the little black specks that I like so much.  This time I opted to go another route and use vanilla extract because it's cheaper, and I believe the subtleties of the vanilla bean ice cream would be lost with the addition of the cookies.  I made a basic Philadelphia-style Vanilla Ice Cream.
Philadelphia-style ice cream (also called New York Style) is super quick and easy.  Unlike custard-based ice creams (also known as French-style), it doesn't contain eggs and requires no cooking.  Milk, cream, and sugar are combined, then churned, and that's it!  This recipe makes a great base for a variety of ice creams.  Try adding fresh fruit, various extracts, nuts, chocolate chunks, or crunched up cookies.
Philadelphia-Style Vanilla Ice Cream
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
In a bowl, stir together the cream and milk.  Add the sugar and whisk until the sugar is dissolved, 3 - 4 minutes.  Test for graininess by tasting a small amount of the liquid; it should feel smooth on the tongue and there should be no sugar visible on the bottom of the bowl when it is stirred or spooned out.  Stir in the vanilla extract.
Fill a large mixing bowl halfway with ice cubes and enough water to cover them.  Place the bowl with the ice cream mixture into the larger bowl and let cool for 30 - 45 minutes.  Remove the bowl with the ice cream mixture and place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface and on top of the bowl.  This prevents the formation of a skin on top of the liquid and will keep the ice cream smooth when churned.  Refrigerate until mixture is very cold, about 3 hours.
Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.  Place the churned ice cream in a plastic storage container, cover with plastic wrap (again, pressing the plastic wrap against the surface of the ice cream), and freeze until ready to serve.  The ice cream will keep for up to a week but is best eaten within two days of churning.  
This is a good, easy ice cream recipe.  I really like it as a base for Cookies & Cream, but if I were going to make a vanilla ice cream to serve on its own I would go with a custard-based recipe that uses real vanilla beans.
And now for the glamourous part -- homemade Oreos.  These were so much easier to make than I anticipated.  In fact, these were some of the easiest cookies I've made in a while, and I think the results are pretty impressive.  They would be really great with a simple glass of cold milk and would be just lovely for a picnic.  
The recipe originates from Retro Desserts by Wayne Brachman.
Homemade Oreos
Makes 25 to 30 sandwich cookies
For the chocolate wafers:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg
For the filling:
1/4 cup room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Set two racks in the middle of the oven.  Preheat to 375 degrees F.  In the bowl of an electric mixer thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar.  On low speed add the butter and then the egg.  Continue mixing until dough comes together in a mass.
Take rounded teaspoons of batter (it won't look like enough but will spread when baked) and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart.  With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough.  
Bake for 9 minutes, rotating once for even baking.  Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.
To make the cream, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla.  Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.
To assemble the cookies, spread teaspoon-size blobs of cream into the center of one cookie.  Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream.  Lightly press, to work the filling evenly to the outsides of the cookie.  Continue this process until all the cookies have been sandwiched with cream.  Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
I really wish I'd taken more pictures as they were very pretty.  Unfortunately, I crunched up half the cookies for the ice cream, served a number of them, and gobbled down all but the two pictured before photographing them.  The two I had left were a little wobbly and uneven, so expect yours to be prettier than those pictured.  
And now, for Cookies & Cream!  Crush up about 10 cookies and gently fold them into softened Philadelphia-style vanilla ice cream.  Serve with a whole cookie.  

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Whole Shebang!

Tonight I fully intended to write about ice cream, but instead I'm going with squid and fried oysters.  That's what I cooked for dinner tonight, along with a summery little tomato salad, and it was all fabulous.  Squid has been on my to-cook list for quite some time.  I've enjoyed it prepared a number of ways in restaurants, but I was a little intimidated when it came to cooking it myself. Now I wonder why.  It's so simple!  The most difficult part of the entire process was acquiring the squid.
After work I decided to drop by Whole Foods, pick up the squid and other needed ingredients, then go home and cook dinner.  This sounds simple enough, but I ran into trouble when the fish monger at Whole Foods informed me that they don't carry squid. (What?! I still think he's wrong.)  Whole Foods was also out of tonic water (disappointing!) so I left in a huff, muttering a few ugly words under my breath.  I headed to my trusty Publix but was delayed by a fire truck and some serious traffic.  Finally, I made it to Publix only to discover that, much to the surprise of the very helpful fish monger there, the calamari was frozen in a block of ice.  I meandered around the store and read labels while it thawed, then picked it up, and headed home.  Finally.  I left work at 5:00 and walked through my front door at 7:00.  Ugh.  
It was all shortly made okay because dinner was such fun to prepare and so tasty!  Also, Charlie is so wonderfully enthusiastic about food experiments.  I love that about him.  
This whole dinner was planned on a whim.  I found the winning recipe for the calamari on Epicurious after sorting through a few dozen others.  I really wanted something to showcase the calamari, which means no tomato-based sauces to muddy up the flavors.  A simple Italian preparation featuring linguini, anchovies, garlic, and basil won -- so fresh and summery.  It allows the calamari to really shine and focuses on fresh ingredients with crisp, clean flavors.  It proved to be the perfect choice for tonight as it was also quick to prepare.  While wandering around Publix with time to kill I decided to add fried oysters to the menu and a mixed tomato salad (after finding beautiful yellow tomatoes).  The salty, fried goodness of the oysters and the cool bite of the salad gently complimented the calamari dish.  I would serve these dishes together again in a second.  If you decide to try any of these dishes at home I strongly suggest trying all three.  None are difficult, and it makes for an impressive spread.
I made a few modifications to this recipe.   Calamari should be cooked gently, much like a scallop or shrimp.  The rubbery texture that is sometimes encountered is generally the result of overcooking.  The original recipe suggested cooking the sliced squid for a total of 6 minutes which I believed to be too long.  In order to avoid the rubber band texture I switched the order in which several ingredients are cooked.  Let me pause to say that I am a sushi eater -- the raw stuff -- and a  believer in erring on the side of undercooked when it comes to seafood.  It was easy for me to risk undercooking the calamari because I don't really care if it's fully cooked and would rather risk that than an unpleasant texture.  Just the same, it turned out well -- neither rubbery nor too raw.  If you are made uneasy by the possibility of undercooked seafood, then by all means cook it a little longer, but expect it to be chewy.

Linguini with Calamari and Garlic
serves 2

1/2 lb linguini (look for a brand that is imported from Italy and lists only durum semolina flour and water as ingredients)
4 rolled anchovies with capers, from a 2-oz tin; anchovies crushed, oil reserved
1/2 lb cleaned calamari (squid), thinly sliced crosswise)
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 tsp dried crushed red pepper
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

Check out the calamari before I sliced it. Cool, huh?

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water (it should be as salty as the ocean) until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally.  Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, heat reserved oil from anchovies in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add garlic, crushed red pepper, and crushed anchovies with capers and stir 1 minute.  Add calamari and toss until just opaque, about 1 minute.  

Add white wine; boil until sauce is slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.  Mix in basil.


Add pasta to mixture in skillet.  Toss until heated through and sauce coats pasta, adding reserved cooking liquid by Tablespoonfuls if pasta seems dry, about 2 minutes.  Divide pasta and calamari between two plates and serve.


If I were to make this again I would double the anchovies and add 2 - 3 Tablespoons capers.  Just the same, it's delightful as is.

On to the oysters!  This was my first go at frying oysters, and it was a success!  They were so delicious and will most certainly make an appearance at an upcoming dinner party.  The batter is fluffy, crisp, and light.  Anything heavier would be too much with the richness of the oysters.  Charlie and I marveled at how delectable they are and discussed making an aoili to accompany them next time just for kicks.  Tonight they were flavored with a simple squeeze of lemon, and that truly was enough.  Anything else might just be showing off.
We only fried 6 oysters (1/2 lb), but I'm including the party-sized recipe.  If you want to make fewer nothing really changes -- just make less batter.

Fried Oysters

1 1/2 cups bread flour (or other high-gluten flour)
1 1/4 cups cold water
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp baking powder
2 Tbsp peanut oil
salt, for seasoning

5 cups peanut oil
20 medium-sized fresh oysters (removed from shells, patted dry, and dusted with flour)

The oysters were quite shocking before I cooked them.  Wowzer!

And here they are dusted with flour

Combine all batter ingredients in a bowl.  Heat oil in a wok or stock pot over high heat until it reaches 375 degrees F.   Dip each oyster into the batter until well coated.  Carefully lower the oysters into oil.  Deep fry 5 at a time until light brown, about 3 minutes.  Remove oysters from the oil and drain on paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt and spritz with lemon juice.  Serve immediately.

Here's an inside shot.

Don't forget the tomato pretty with the lacy lettuce and the bright colors.  Only make this during the summer when tomatoes are at their peak.  Otherwise you're just teasing yourself.

Simple Tomato Salad 
serves 2

8 fresh cherry tomatoes
1/2 large yellow tomato
2 handfuls lacy spring mix lettuce
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper

Quarter the cherry tomatoes and thinly slice the yellow tomato.  Divide and place into two shallow bowls.  Top each with a handful of spring mix and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Serve immediately.


Altogether this was one of my favorite meals of the summer.  It was lovely in the sun room with ice cold vodka tonics and The Heartless Bastards playing in the background.  A lovely meal for a lovely night!


This one's for Ted...

I don't have any new pictures of food ready, so here's something else to look at today.  This is a Sweetie Monster I made named JoJo. 

I have been neglectful of this blog for the last couple of weeks.  It started when I just didn't post for a couple of days, and it quickly snowballed into two weeks.  I've been a little distracted.  My aim is to make up for that a little bit this weekend by posting a ridiculous number of ice cream recipes along with instructions and ruminations on several savory dishes.  And then...another dry spell will come along.  How do I know this?  I know this because I am going to Greece and Italy for two weeks with my best friend, Paige.  We leave on Monday, and I'm super duper excited, as you can probably imagine.  My plan is to eat my way through the entire trip, and  I will proudly accept any weight I may gain over the next two weeks.  (Of course, we are backpacking so I will probably drop a little as I have in the past.  The point is I don't care either way.)  I'm sure there will be plenty of food excitement to share when I return, and a Greek-themed dinner party will certainly be in order some time in September, shortly followed by a Naples-themed (pizza anyone?) gathering.  But for now, I shall focus on ice cream.  

Charlie and I had an Ice Cream Social a couple of weeks ago, and it was a smashing success.  Over the course of a week I made nine different homemade ice creams and a small accompaniment for each.  Here's the menu:
  • Olive Oil Gelato with Balsamic Strawberries
  • Salted Caramel Ice Cream in Almond Tuile Bowls
  • Mandarin Orange Ice Cream with Sesame Brittle
  • Lemon Curd-Blackberry Swirl Ice Cream with Blackberry Sauce
  • Cookies & Cream Ice Cream with Homemade Oreos
  • Basil Ice Cream with Blueberries
  • Profiteroles with Honey Lavender Ice Cream and Warmed Honey
  • Lime Sherbet
  • Root Beer Floats (with Jones Soda Root Beer and homemade vanilla ice cream)
We had our party on the last day of July (which is national ice cream month I've learned), and 13 of our nearest and dearest joined us.  For those of you who have been to my apartment you can probably imagine how snug we were, but that added to the fun.  I've always enjoyed seeing just how many people I can cram into my place and feed.  Floor pillows and a card table usually help a lot.
So, the fifteen of us embarked on a tasting menu of ice creams, and it was loads of fun!  Fortunately, I have a gazillion tiny bowls and saucers, so the ice cream was served in courses.  I used a melon baller to scoop the ice cream and placed three small scoops (along with the appropriate accompaniment) on a tiny dish and distributed.  Even with the tiny servings we were unable to make it through the whole menu.  We stopped after the basil, and it took some finagling to get people to stuff that last one in.  Three tiny scoops of nine types of ice cream (along with cookies, brittles, tuiles, and such) adds up to a lot of food!
There is much more to say about the ice cream party, and I have a serious collection of recipes to post, but right now I'm out of time.  I have two more days of work before my trip (and I must go so I can afford my trip), and I've got to go!  Starting tonight the ice cream recipes will begin pop up so be on the look out.