As I write this, it’s 10am and temperatures are already in the mid-80s. I’m sitting outside and there’s a pleasant breeze, but I know I only have about an hour (if I’m lucky) before things become unbearable and I have to take shelter. It’s expected to hit 95° today, and we haven’t yet put our lone window A/C unit in, so I may be spending the remainder of the day in the basement. If things get really bad, I might have to resort to turning into one of those people who write in coffee shops for the day.
These unusual-for-Michigan high temperatures have thrown everything off kilter for produce. Most notably, the fruit trees all blossomed prematurely and the blossoms then got killed off by a frost. For a state with a major fruit-growing industry, things are not looking good: we’ll see little if any apples, cherries, peaches, pears, plums or anything else that grows on a tree.
Despite this setback- one that affects me personally as a small business owner trying to use local produce- there are still several fruits that should still thrive this year, like raspberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries and of course, strawberries. Strawberry season, which usually starts around this time, has already been going strong for a few weeks, and probably won’t be around much longer. As soon as we were able, in late May, my partner Molly and I went to a U-Pick farm on a beautiful spring morning and picked 60 pounds of the most gorgeous berries I’ve seen in years (see below). Last year’s strawberries were somewhat watery due to a lot of rain, but these were deep red with concentrated, complex flavor.
In addition to making jam for our business, we each took a few pints for our own personal use. While not much can beat the simplicity of a bowl of sliced berries with a small sprinkling of sugar and maybe a touch of lemon, my favorite thing to do with them other than that is to make ice cream. I had recently checked out Jeni Britton Bauer’s book Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home from the library, and as someone who makes lots of ice cream, was intrigued by her no-egg method. Rather than make a custard base, she uses a combination of cornstarch, cream cheese and corn syrup to give the proper consistency and scoopability to her creations. I was a bit skeptical at first- I’m trying to limit consumption of GMO corn products- but decided to go ahead with a couple substitutions, using tapioca for the starch and an organic corn syrup. Incidentally, Jeni’s is a cool regional (Columbus, OH) company who generously sent several pints for us to sample at the first annual Gourmet Underground Detroit potluck picnic, which is happening again this Saturday! Everyone loved the Bangkok Peanut, Wild Berry Lavender and other creative flavors. Continue reading
After a few months’ hiatus, les culinettes (a potluck dinner club of like-minded ladies) was back in full force a few weeks ago with a red-themed dinner at Emily’s beautiful Woodbridge home. Because of the length of time that passed since the last dinner (September! yoinks…), we were all extra-excited and inspired this time around. Since the green-themed dinner went over so well, Emily decided to do a similar theme but with red food. Once again, I was impressed by the variety and breadth of people’s contributions- red pepper hummus (Emily), an African curried chickpea stew (also Emily), Spanish stuffed ancho chiles (Abigail), a salad with lots of red accents (Meghan), beet ravioli with brown butter & sage (Sarah), roasted red pepper & tuna tapas (Amy), fries with homemade ketchup (Christina), a red onion vegetable tart (Molly), and even cherry-pomegranate bourbon jello shots (Molly again)! You’ll forgive my phone photos, I hope… I forgot to bring my camera, but can’t resist sharing some shots of this amazing food.
I had a bunch of pitted tart Michigan cherries in the freezer left over from some Beau Bien jam-making, so I offered to bring dessert. I made a buttermilk ice cream, and to go on top, cherries in a light syrup infused with vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. I thought it might be nice to have something to soak up all the sauce, so I also made shortcake-type biscuits, and sprinkled them with a little red sugar to get in the spirit of things. By the time we got to dessert, I was shocked anyone had room left, but then again, I always am! Luckily everyone rallied, since it would have been a difficult dish to take home for later. Continue reading
For someone without much of a sweet tooth, I make a fair amount of ice cream. I’ve been thinking about why that is, and I think it’s the fact that there are so many possibilities (endless, really) when it comes to flavor. Unlike baking, which requires a bit more precision, ice cream making has a lot of wiggle room when it comes to proportions. Recipes vary wildly in the amount of eggs, dairy and sugar called for, and somehow all end up yielding a fairly similar end product. As long as you understand the basics of making a custard (and many versions don’t even require that!), you can vary the other elements a great deal and still get a good result. Add to that the fact that making ice cream doesn’t require turning on the oven, and usually only dirties one bowl and one pot, and you have some pretty strong motivation for turning your creative energies in that direction.
The first ice cream I made this year was inspired by sweets of the Middle East and North Africa. Honey and pistachios play a starring role, with orange flower water as supporting cast. But unlike some pastries in which the honey can be cloyingly sweet or the overuse of rosewater brings to mind your grandmother’s perfumed soap, this ice cream strikes a delicate and, if I may say so, delightful balance. Rosewater is perhaps more commonly used in the region, but I’ve never loved the scent or taste of roses so I opt for orange flower. Orange blossom honey would be a natural partner, although any flavorful honey will work. Swirl in a generous amount of toasted pistachios, and you have a dessert worthy of an Arabian prince. In fact, according to Wikipedia’s entry on ice cream,
“As early as the 10th century, ice cream was widespread amongst many of the Arab world’s major cities, such as Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. Their version of ice cream was produced from milk or cream and often some yoghurt similar to Ancient Greek recipes, flavoured with rosewater as well as dried fruits and nuts.” Continue reading
What to do when faced with two ice cream recipes that sound equally fabulous, and a bout of indecision? Combine them, of course!
I was recently invited to a weeknight dinner party and volunteered to bring ice cream, as I could make it ahead and just grab it after work on my way to the party. I love an excuse to make ice cream, because the flavor possibilities are pretty endless (if you don’t believe me, check out this article in the NY Times… scoop of Government Cheese, anyone?). I found out another guest was bringing a blackberry pie, so that helped narrow it down. I thought of a buttermilk ice cream I’d made last summer from Smitten Kitchen, but I also had in mind a sweet corn ice cream I’d had years ago at Tapawingo* in Ellsworth, MI. The restaurant served the ice cream with a berry cobbler and the combination was perfect. I was torn- which one to make?
I decided to throw caution to the wind and combine the two flavors (yes, I am being facetious, as I realize this won’t win any awards for all-time most daring ice cream flavor). Both recipes were originally from Claudia Fleming (author of well-loved dessert book The Last Course) and had similar proportions, so it was pretty easy to adapt the two by simply substituting buttermilk for the regular milk called for in the sweet corn recipe. I added half a vanilla bean for good measure, and crossed my fingers. The results were pretty spectacular if I do say so myself. The slightly tart buttermilk was a welcome counterpoint to the corn’s milky sweetness. In fact, I liked the pairing so much that I was thinking of trying to adapt this flavor combination into some sort of chilled summer soup- like a Midwestern chlodnik of sorts.
If you’re not serving this ice cream with a berry cobbler or pie, I highly recommend drizzling it with a berry coulis- the flavors are highly complimentary, and while the ice cream is great on its own, the berries take it to another level. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making a coulis (although it’s quite easy), you could of course just scatter some berries alongside.
A couple of ice cream-making notes: Fleming’s recipes call for 9 yolks and 12 yolks, but I cut it down to 8 and it was just fine. You could even go with 6 if you wanted. The buttermilk is richer than the milk it replaces, so your result will still be plenty indulgent. As for making the custard base- there seems to be this great fear, perpetuated by many a cookbook, that custard-making is fraught with danger; that it might betray you at any moment, turning hopelessly into scrambled eggs. For years, I cooked my custards at much-too-low temperatures, sweating over them for eons, waiting in vain for them to magically thicken. Don’t be afraid to heat the mixture until you can see steam coming off it; otherwise you’ll be at it forEVER. As long as you keep up the stirring and don’t let it boil, you’ll be OK. Also, because of the high liquid ratio this particular custard doesn’t get very thick, so don’t worry if it seems wimpy; when it freezes it’ll be just fine.
*In searching for the restaurant’s website for this post, I was saddened to learn that Tapawingo closed its doors last year. Arguably the best restaurant in Michigan, they garnered all kinds of awards, stars and accolades. Like many Michigan businesses, they were forced to close because of the downturn in the economy. They will be sorely missed. In addition to breathtaking meals with a focus on local MI products long before it was trendy, the grounds and gardens of the restaurant were gorgeous. I can only hope someone decides to take up the reins and re-open something in that location, although they’d have big shoes to fill food-wise.
Buttermilk-Sweet Corn Ice Cream (adapted from two recipes by Claudia Fleming)
Note: As Ms. Fleming wisely points out, this recipe will only be as good as the sweet corn you use to make it. For optimal results, use local corn that has been picked no more than 2 days prior.
Directions: Remove the husks and cornsilk from the corn and break each cob into thirds. Cut the kernels from the cobs with a sharp knife, reserving the cobs. Put the kernels in a blender with the cream and buttermilk and pulse into a rough purée.
Pour the cream mixture into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, adding the corncob pieces, vanilla bean, salt, and ½ cup of the sugar. Bring to a boil, then cover and remove from heat. Let steep for one hour.
Remove the corncobs and discard. Fish out the vanilla bean and set aside. Strain the mixture through a medium or fine mesh strainer, pressing down firmly to expel as much of the liquid as possible; discard the solids*. Return to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, adding them to the cream mixture (if using vanilla extract, add it now).
In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Whisk in a little of the hot cream to temper the yolks, then add them to the saucepan. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon. Pass through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (at least 4 hours). Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes about 1 quart.
*I couldn’t help but think that rather than tossing it, this deliciously sweetened corn pap would be great in some sort of muffin or quick bread, but alas, I didn’t have a chance to experiment. And speaking of not wasting, you can rinse off the vanilla bean, let it dry, and blitz it with sugar to make vanilla sugar.
Mixed Berry Coulis
1 1/2 cups raspberries, washed
1 1/2 cups blueberries, washed
1/4 cup sugar
squeeze of lemon or dash of balsamic vinegar, optional
Notes: You can, of course, substitute other types of berries; you may just need to slightly tweak the sugar quantity. This recipe does not produce an overly sweet sauce; if you want a sweeter result you can up the sugar to 1/3 cup.
Place the blueberries and sugar in a pan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. (The residual water from washing the berries should be sufficient, but if not, you can add a small amount of water.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to break down; you can encourage this process by mashing them with a fork.
When the blueberries have turned sauce-like, add the raspberries and cook for a couple minutes longer (these will break down very quickly). Taste the sauce and adjust if needed by adding a bit more sugar or a squeeze of lemon or small dash of balsamic. Strain the sauce through a chinoise or fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the solids (you may need to do this in 2 batches). You should end up with about 2 cups sauce and 1/2 cup solids to be discarded. Use as a sauce for ice cream, panna cotta or other desserts.
Although I’m a busy gal, I try my best to find time to do a little something special for my friends on their birthdays. My best friend recently turned *ahem* 23, and although I didn’t get to make her a cake or dinner, I offered to have her for brunch and then go shopping. Everything was rather last-minute, but I managed to throw together a decent little spread with what I had on hand. However, I felt like a birthday merited something a bit more special than your run-of-the-mill omelette. Rooting in the fridge, I had a burst of inspiration when I came across some Meyer lemons I’d impulse-purchased the week before- I’d make lemon curd. But what to pair it with? She was coming at 11:00 and time was of the essence. Then it hit me. Crêpes! I could throw the batter in the blender and they’d only take seconds to cook up. The lemon curd would be used to fill the crêpes.
Fabulous idea, but by the time we had eaten our omelettes (and consumed generous amounts of mimosas), we were too full to think about eating anything else. I figured maybe we’d have the crêpes as a post-shopping snack, but we ran short on time. Over the next several days I guiltily ate my way through them, feeling bad that my friend had been deprived of her rightful birthday treat. But even after finishing them off, I still had a fair amount of lemon curd left over. The wheels started churning again… lemon curd, plus the egg whites left over from making the curd, plus graham cracker dough in the freezer from this Daring Bakers challenge= lemon meringue tarts! Better yet, I was meeting up with my friend again that weekend, so I got to deliver her a tart as a belated birthday surprise. I had enough dough and curd to make three individual tarts, so one went to her, one went to another birthday friend (lots of Aries in my crowd!) and the third was eaten greedily by myself and Marvin.
A few cooking notes: The graham cracker dough worked beautifully as pie crust. It was slightly challenging to roll out because of the high amount of butter, but I ended up just pressing in into the pans and it was fine. I actually preferred it as pie crust rather than eating it straight as a graham cracker because it’s so rich. The lemon curd I had made was too thin to be pie filling as-is, so I just warmed it on the stove, adding a bit of cornstarch (dissolved first in cold water) to thicken it, and it was perfect. For the crêpes I just smeared it on, throwing in some shredded coconut I had on hand. I’m not going to print a tart recipe here because I kind of pieced together three different recipes and ad-libbed things, but the graham cracker dough recipe can be found in the aforementioned Daring Bakers post. If you want a recipe for lemon meringue pie, my fellow MLFB pal Mom of Mother’s Kitchen just posted one that looks good.
A lemon tangent: I’m still not convinced Meyer lemons are so superior in cooked dishes such as lemon curd, especially given the price difference, but that’s what I had on hand. I will say, though, that they seem to yield a higher amount of juice than Eurekas so you can use less of them. Also, as another update to last year’s lemon post, my preserved lemons turned out great, I still have a supply in the fridge that I’ve been working my way through slowly. I’m glad I didn’t use Meyers for those as some recipes suggest, because the part you use is the skin, and the skin on Meyer lemons is so thin that you wouldn’t end up with much of anything to use.
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs rum, brandy, or other flavored liqueur that pairs well with your filling (optional)
2 Tbs butter, melted, plus 2-3 tsp for coating the pan
1 recipe lemon curd (see below)
sweetened shredded and/or toasted coconut, optional
Put all the crêpe ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth, about 5-10 seconds. Scrape down the sides if necessary and pulse 1-2 more times. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour (2 is preferable) or up to 24 hours. (Note: I made crêpes from the same batch of batter over the course of several days and they were fine.)
Heat a nonstick crêpe pan* or skillet over medium-high heat. Gently stir the batter (it likely will have separated). When hot, lightly butter the pan (the best method I”ve found is to quickly go over the surface with a stick of butter). Lift the pan a few inches off the burner and pour just enough batter to coat the pan, quickly tilting and rotating it to distribute the batter. The volume of batter will obviously depend on the size of your pan but try to use the least amount possible while still coating the pan. (This recipe recommends ¼ cup for a 9-10″ pan.) If there are “holes” around the edges you can dribble a little more batter in those spots with a spoon. Cook until the crêpe is just set (about 1 minute), then flip and cook until golden- this should only take another 15-30 seconds. I use my fingers to grab the edge of the crepe and flip it, I find it much easier than trying to use a spatula, but if you’re doing this just be careful not to burn yourself! Set the crêpes aside on a cookie sheet s you go, keeping them covered with a tea towel or piece of foil. When assembling, you want the crêpes to be warm but not so hot that they melt the lemon curd and make it too runny.
Spread a thin layer of lemon curd over half of each crêpe and fold it in half. Spread another layer of curd, again over half the surface, followed by a sprinkling of coconut if using. Fold in half again. Spread one last bit of curd over half the crêpe and do a final fold, this time bringing the edge of the crêpe only halfway over (see photos). Sprinkle on more coconut and finish with a light dusting of powdered sugar. (You can obviously put the curd on however you like and it will taste the same, but I like all the layers this creates.)
*I own this crêpe pan and I like it. I also use it to make omelettes; the low sides make it really easy to flip / roll the omelette.
Place all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Use a whisk to break up the eggs and moisten the sugar. Put the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens (Dorie says 4-6 minutes but mine always seem to take longer). The curd is done when you can run your finger down a spoon or spatula and the curd doesn’t run into the track you’ve created. Don’t worry if it looks thin, it will firm up as it cools. Place plastic wrap on the surface of the curd and refrigerate. The curd will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 months. Makes about 1 ½ cups.