Sunday, November 24, 2013

marx grass-fed strip streaks

You're used to me reviewing or playing around with ingredients from Marx Foods before, but this is new: they sent me two grass-fed strip steaks (Silver Fern brand, from New Zealand) to try.

Most of the grass-fed steaks I've had were bought at farmers markets from the folks who raised the cattle - mainly in Indiana, where Mennonite-raised beef was easy to come by and not particularly more expensive than supermarket prices. I'm not sure how strictly grass-fed that beef was, however - the cattle were pastured, certainly, and grazed, but their diet may have been supplemented with grain. Grass-fed cattle are cattle raised pretty much the way you picture cattle being raised after a lifetime of westerns, Little House on the Prairie, etc - they forage their food from a pasture in which they're allowed to roam around, as opposed to being fed a diet of fortified, high-starch, high-energy foods like corn and especially grain. Grain-feeding or -finishing cattle fattens them up quickly, so as a result, grass-fed beef is leaner. It also has higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, both of which are good for you - the popularity of omega-3 fatty acids as dietary supplements are the basis for the marketing of flaxseed oil, sea buckthorn products, and fish oil, though their benefits are best reaped from natural sources rather than in supplements.

So. There are a few reasons to prefer grass-fed beef. Grass-fed cattle is generally raised in better and safer conditions than ordinary grain-fed supermarket beef. It is more environmentally conscious, since there are serious environmental (and economic) repercussions to the cottage industry of raising grain for livestock feed. It is possibly healthier. It is definitely leaner, which can be good or bad. It can be hard to make a really great burger with grass-fed beef, for instance, because you need the fat of a good 80-85% lean blend to make a good burger, and grass-fed ground beef is often hard to find in formulations any less than 93% lean, at least in my shopping experience.

A steak needn't have fat to be good, per se, although the definitions of meat grades like Prime and Choice are based almost entirely on marbling -- striations of fat found within the muscle tissue. Marbling helps the meat cook evenly, contributes much of the flavor, and prevents the meat from drying out. So when you cook leaner beef, you need to be more careful about keeping it from drying out - and here, what we mean by "lean" really refers to the degree of marbling more than to total fat, because that strip of fat along the edge that every strip steak has, that's not going to help moisturize the rest of the steak.

Grass-Fed Strip

That said: although there is not a lot of marbling here, I have certainly seen much leaner grass-fed strip steaks than this. I've seen and cooked less-marbled grain-fed strips than this, for that matter.

Grass-Fed Strip

This is an awful photo, but:

I am not a food photographer and have never been interested in blogs that are mainly focused on photos. Food photography is mainly for people who only want to look, not touch. That's why they call it food porn.

The light in my kitchen is very very yellow and there's no natural light, which is why normally I take my photos elsewhere. And why you usually don't get photos of things actually cooking. But anyway, here's how I cooked the steaks: seared simply, with salt (never neglect salt with steak, never) and butter.

Grass-Fed Strip

Brined green peppercorns on top and green beans alongside.

Grass-Fed Strip

I think there's basically two things to talk about in reviewing a steak, because everything else is going to reflect the prep and presentation more than the steak itself: taste and texture.

Caitlin found the steak less tender than I did, giving it a 2.5 out of 5, while I went with 4 out of 5. Strip steak's not filet mignon - it's going to have more chew. The last thing you want is steak that just falls apart, in my view.

We agree on the taste, though, each giving it a 3 out of 5. This is the real problem as far as I'm concerned. You see the fat along the edge there in the first photo. On the one hand, it's just the right amount of fat in my opinion, for fat along the edge. On the other, because this is a strip steak, some of the fat is segregated from the meat by a piece of gristle, so even if you eat fat, you won't eat that bit. The bites of fat I did get were very good - that's tasty beef fat. So the marbling may be an issue here, because the meat itself is very bland, I'm afraid. Even with the butter, the salt, the green peppercorns, there just wasn't much flavor here - were I not writing a review, I would have reached for a steak sauce. There was no objectionable flavor - grass-fed beef has a flavor that can sometimes be more organy (or liver-like) or gamy than grain-fed beef, but that's not the issue here. It was just that it didn't taste like much at all.

All in all, 6.5/10 for texture, 6/10 for taste. Whether or not to recommend this depends on what you look for in steak, and how important the benefits of grass feeding are to you.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

kazakh family loaf

I've had plenty of success with bread over the years, but this might be a good bread for anyone who's had trouble. It seems to be foolproof so far, and has survived any flavor modifications I've made to it, like adding a cup of shredded cheese and cilantro. It's my favorite everyday bread - goes with anything, and lasts a surprisingly long time (I'm honestly not sure how long it takes to go stale, because it hasn't happened to us yet).

I've mentioned it before - when I first started making it, we had it with broiled tomatoes and eggplant confit:

Broiled tomatoes, bread, eggplant confit

The interior is like a good sandwich bread. The exterior looks crusty, but after the first day, it softens up:

Kazakh family loaf

The recipe is from the excellent Beyond the Great Wall, an exploration of the cuisines of the non-Han ethnic groups in China, by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford.

Kazakh Family Loaf

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 teaspoon yeast
4-5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup full-fat yogurt. It's important not to use low- or zero-fat yogurt, because the fat is what keeps the bread soft. I use Cabot's Greek-style yogurt, which is 10% fat. The yogurt is the key to the whole thing here.
2 teaspoons salt

Knead the bread and let it rest - I use my bread machine to do the kneading, and then let it rise in the cast-iron pot in which it cooks.

The other key is the cooking method:

Preheat your oven to 385. Lightly dust a large cast-iron pot (you may want to halve the recipe if you don't have a Dutch oven) with cornmeal (I also dust the top of the rising loaf with cornmeal, but that's not necessary). Let the bread rise in the Dutch oven until doubled, and then cover and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for half an hour.

Like I said, you can have this with any meal - it's great with tomato sauces, you can sop up stews, you can have it with salad, whatever - and we wind up snacking on it a lot with a little butter or jam or what have you. I had some with pepper jelly the other night, alongside roasted delicata squash and scrambled eggs. Yeah, I know it's a weird combination! It was a good dinner.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

eggplant confit

99 times out of 100, Caitlin and I are on the same page when it comes to food - we both love uni, oxtail, pig tails, broccoli raab, sour cream and onion flavored anything, and fennel, for instance. The other one percent of the time, there are a handful of things one of us likes and the other doesn't. I tend to like things more bitter and especially more tart. She's not crazy about the combination of sweet and savory, like honey on cheese, and doesn't like Buffalo wings. I'm very picky about two of her favorite vegetables, eggplant and summer squash.

It's not that I don't like either of them at all, but eggplant is a flavor I usually get tired of quickly or find distracting, while squash and zucchini are often too watery for me. I've talked about squash and zucchini in that context before - my solution is to put them in the dehydrator before cooking them, so get the excess water out. I'm perfectly happy with it in soups or on pasta at that point.

This summer we found a way that I love eggplant. We've gone through quarts of this stuff: eggplant confit.

It started with a recipe in ... Food and Wine? Epicurious? I forget, but it was for fairy tale eggplant covered in olive oil and garlic and slow-cooked until it shrivels up. My mother grows regular and Japanese eggplant, but not fairy tale eggplant, so I cut the eggplant into pieces and went from there. Most of the time we also add tomato - that's key for me, I've found, I need the acidity of tomato with eggplant.

The technique is simple: cut your eggplant into wedges or chunks (we've done both), salt, let sit for thirty minutes, pat dry, put in an oven dish and cover or mostly cover with olive oil, throw some garlic cloves or herbs in, and bake at a low temperature like 275 for at least two hours, and maybe four or five, until the eggplant is noticeably shrunken. There have been times when we've put tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes in with the eggplant too, sort of like a variation on ratatouille (the other way I like eggplant). But the first few times, we cooked the eggplant by itself, and served it with tomatoes put under the broiler with cheese and tarragon, and fresh-baked bread dipped in the oil the eggplant had cooked in. We had this exact same meal like five times during tomato season.

Broiled tomatoes, bread, eggplant confit

The eggplant also works well as a pasta sauce, again preferably with the addition of tomato. We used up some of the squid ink spaghetti (which tastes disappointingly like plain spaghetti, but looks striking) with eggplant confit, fresh fava beans, some roasted tomato, Pecorino Romano, and a barely-fried egg:

Squid ink pasta with favas, tomato, eggplant, fried egg

Thursday, October 10, 2013

mushroom and pistachio stew with mint and fried onions

Marx Foods' latest cook-off challenge is Shrooms For Soup, for which they sent me one-ounce samples of dried mushrooms: matsutake, porcini, and black trumpet. I used matsutake and porcini because they're two of my favorite mushrooms - and I think the matsutake work especially well here - but this recipe would work with any dried mushrooms you enjoy.

Obviously I have fall flavors on the brain, and mushrooms work perfectly there, so my first thoughts were of parsnips, carrots, celery and celery root, and grains. I wound up avoiding all of that except the grains. This is a stew more than a soup, and is loosely based on Persian soups/stews called khoreshes. I say loosely because although I've read several Persian cookbooks, I've only had Persian dishes I either made myself or had at some pan-Middle-Eastern restaurant - I don't really trust my judgment as to what does or doesn't taste authentically Persian. The mint, for one thing, is dialed way down from what you'd find in a Persian recipe, but my American palate isn't used to large quantities of mint in savory dishes, and I didn't want to drown everything else out.

The pistachio butter is nothing but ground pistachios, from Fastachi, which I recommend highly. If you have access to some other brand of unsweetened pistachio butter or paste, it'll do fine. Blending up some roasted salted pistachios would probably work too. I know it's inconvenient calling for an obscure ingredient in a small quantity, but it's a very different dish without it. (Pistachio is a frequent ingredient in Persian food, but not in this form, so far as I know. This is my touch.)

A khoresh often has a little bit of a acidity from something like lemon juice or pomegranate. I used tomato because we've been lucky enough to avoid a frost and still have fresh ripe tomatoes available.

1/4 cup diced onion plus additional thin onion slices for frying
butter for sauteing
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 oz dried matsutake mushrooms
2-3 cups water blended with 1 tablespoon pistachio butter or paste
dash cumin, dash salt
1 cup chopped parsley leaves
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1 medium very ripe tomato, chopped

Pour boiling water over the dried mushrooms and let sit for just a minute or two while stirring - this knocks any dirt off, and makes it easier to cut them up. Discard washing water and chop partially reconstituted mushrooms.

Cook diced onion in a little butter until translucent; reserve thin slices of onion for later. Add partially reconstituted mushrooms, water, pistachio butter, cumin, and salt to cooked onion and simmer on a low heat for about an hour. It will depend on your mushrooms - you want them fully reconstituted. Add a little more water if needed to maintain a stew-like consistency.

Cook your chosen grain separately.  I served it over a scoop of cooked wild rice, much as gumbo is served over white rice. Any other grain would do, really. Wild rice and other whole grains are especially good with mushrooms - this would be a good time for farro, wheatberries, rye berries, et cetera.

When almost ready to serve, add parsley, mint, and tomato, and continue simmering while frying onion slices in butter in a separate pan. You want the onion slightly browned - butter is important here because it develops a nutty taste as it browns, from the milk solids. (We also grilled some fresh bread in the butter left in the pan after frying the onions.)

Serve over grains, with fried onions added at the last minute.

Mushroom and pistachio stew

Thursday, September 26, 2013

duck and parsnips with vanilla and fennel

Can you believe it's autumn already? Seriously. I've still got tomatoes to pick at my mother's, but more than twice as many leaves are orange or red this week than last, the mornings are cool, the grape harvest has ended except for the Concords, and the good apples are here - I've got Crimson Crisp, Zabergaw Reinette, Golden Russett, Empire, and Spencer apples sitting right here with me, along with Wickson crabapples. That's some serious apple business, you know?

So for Marx Foods' "Sweet to Savory" challenge, I wanted to do something autumnal. Marx sent me, and the other participants, vanilla beans, fennel flower crystals, coconut sugar, and granulated honey, with the proviso that we have to use at least 2 of the 4 ingredients in a savory recipe.

One of the things that made this tricky at first glance is that three of the four ingredients aren't just flavors we associate with sweets, they're ingredients with sugar in them. I wanted to avoid a sweet and sour recipe. Nothing against them, and the ingredients might lend themselves that way - it's just not what I wanted to do here.

So instead, I thought about the vanilla, and which of the other ingredients I could include with it. I could use honey, but its flavor would get drowned out by a lot of savory ingredients - though I was thinking about some kind of roasted eggplant for a while. I could use coconut sugar, especially if I went towards some kind of curry.

I decided on the fennel flower crystals, partly because I love fennel, and partly because the textural contrast came in handy in this dish. These crystals are the ingredient you're least likely to be familiar with. They're just very small fennel blossoms that have been candied, so you get the fennel flavor along with the crunch of sugar - and not so much sugar that it'll overwhelm a dish and make it too sweet. They're very cool.

With vanilla and fennel, I had to think about what other ingredients would work to sort of connect them, and wound up with a duck dish that also uses parsnip (for earthiness, as well as creamy textural contrast so that you have three main textures in every bite - the creamy parsnip puree, the duck meat, and the crunch of the garnish), tarragon (which has an anise note like fennel), and Calvados. You could substitute brandy, apple jack, or even white wine for the Calvados, but apple cider would be too sweet.

Duck, parsnip puree, vanilla/Calvados sauce

Duck and parsnip with vanilla, fennel, and Calvados

For two:
Two duck breasts
Duck skin
Fennel flower crystals
Fennel pollen
A little butter
1/2 cup duck stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup Calvados (French apple brandy; substitute good applejack like Laird's bonded, or brandy or white wine)
Vanilla bean
Pinch of tarragon

This recipe uses duck breast, duck cracklings made from duck skin, and duck stock. To start from scratch with a whole duck, butcher the duck into pieces: two boneless breasts (skin on), wings and leg quarters, carcass, and trim the large pieces of skin from the carcass. Reserve the leg quarters and wings for some other recipe (I made duck confit, for instance).

Duck stock:

Roast duck carcass until well browned (any temperature and time that gets you there will work, so feel free to piggyback on some other usage of the oven in order to conserve energy). Cover it with water in a stockpot and simmer overnight. Add vegetable trimmings - such as fennel fronds and onion skin - for the last hour of cooking. Strain through a mesh strainer and reduce if necessary.

Duck cracklings:

Cut duck skin into pieces, cover in lightly salted water, and simmer slowly until the water has evaporated and the cracklings are frying in their own fat. At this point you may want to transfer them to the oven where they can cook evenly - 400 for half an hour usually does it.

You can precook the cracklings whenever you want up to this point, and heat them long enough to make them hot and crispy when ready to serve.

Just before plating, chop cracklings up into smaller pieces and toss with salt, fennel pollen, and fennel flower crystals.

Parsnip puree:

Peel and chop two to three parsnips, depending on size (mine were small). Simmer in salted water until very soft. Puree with a pat of butter until very smooth and creamy. Check for seasoning and add salt if necessary.

Duck breast and sauce:

Let duck breasts come up to room temperature before cooking if possible. Cook on a cast-iron or copper-bottomed surface if possible, for even heat.

Salt both sides of each duck breast, lightly score the skin, pat dry, and cook skin-side down for about six minutes, flip, and cook for another three minutes. Most of the fat should render out. These directions assume a domestic duck - wild duck is usually leaner and has smaller breasts.

Slit a vanilla bean in half and scrape the vanilla seeds out. Chop a few leaves of tarragon - just a pinch.

Let the breasts rest for at least five minutes. Meanwhile, pour the fat out of the pan and immediately add about 1/2 cup duck stock, 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/8 cup Calvados, a pinch of salt, the vanilla seeds, and the tarragon.

Simmer the sauce until it thickens and taste for seasoning.

Slice each duck breast, plate alongside the parsnip puree, drizzle with sauce, and garnish with fennel cracklings.

This was very good, autumnal, and rich without being overwhelming or sweet, and without being too heavy - we had it for lunch after the gym. Vanilla, parsnip, and fennel all bring flavors which are subtle in a way that worked especially well together.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

blowin through the jasmine in my mind

Well, I've been busy, still am busy. I had a large project to finish which started late, I had a month of illness, and Caitlin moved in, which is the good kind of busy, but still means I haven't been blogging much. Right now I am halfway through combining our kitchens, and I realize I better update or the whole summer will have gone by!

I've neglected for instance the opportunity offered by the season to talk about melons - the glut of supermarket melons from California and overseas has ended, and with it the period of time when I seem to have a little bit of Crenshaw melon or cantaloupe every day. But if your growing season is at all comparable to New England's - and I hope it isn't, but if - then your local melons are coming ripe about now and through the next month, and you should get on that. Picking out a melon can be tricky, especially if it's grown by someone who grows a lot of different things - because in my experience they may not know when to pick them themselves. If there's that one woman at your farmer's market who only ever has melons, maybe currants for a couple weeks in July and some herbs or something? She's the one to buy your melons from. She will know what she's doing. A farm stand that sells eighty kinds of produce, it's more of a gamble.

But when it's good, freshly grown melon that didn't spend a week on a truck or in a warehouse is awesome. It's much more flavorful, it's much more complex, and I'm told that's even more true if the melon is never refrigerated - just goes from dirt to pickup truck to farm stand to your car to your table. I'm not convinced it's true of every variety, but it's what I've been told by badass melon farmers.

Personally, I think cantaloupe and its many muskmelon cousins are the best bet, the most summery, the most interesting, the deepest in flavor, the best for juicing should you want to juice them - but that's me. Smell the stem end of the melon, see if it's fragrant, see if you like it, spend your four dollars.

I don't have any photos of melon. What have I got photos of.


Indigo Rose tomatoes
These are Indigo Rose tomatoes, which I've only ever seen this year and only at Kimballs in Pepperell. It's the height of tomato season right now, and thank God for it. We've been having tomato sandwiches, ratatouille, tomatoes and okra, scalloped tomatoes, BLTs, you name it. These Indigo Rose fellas, you can see the outside in the top left corner there - dark and eggplanty. The inside varies from green (though still ripe-tasting) to pinkish.

Lobster roll, ratatouille
The key to ratatouille for me is long, slow cooking, so that the wateriness of the ingredients is all cooked out. This is not a very good photo, but next to the lobster roll is a wedge of the ratatouille I'm talking about: thin slices of squash, eggplant, and tomato, seasoned with salt (or Old Bay or Tony Chachere's or what have you), often with some celery leaves or garlic thrown in, covered and cooked at 300 for a couple hours until very tender, then uncovered and cooked for several more hours until everything cooks down and the liquid reduces.

It's better the next day, when the remaining liquid is reabsorbed into the spongy tissues of the vegetables.

When tomato season was gearing up, we had a lot of burgers with tomato on them, sandwiches with tomato on them, etc. This nice little fella is one of the dark tomatoes - dark tomatoes like Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, and Carbon have been my favorite farmstand tomatoes this year - which is blushiest in the center.

Lamb sandwich

I also need to give a shoutout to Glazed in Amherst, Mass. We took a day trip out there - I was a Hampshire student 20 years ago and wanted to show Caitlin around - and man, almost everything was closed on Mondays or closed for lunch. But most of the stuff I'd grown up with in the area was gone anyway - Pioneer Valley Coffee is long gone, the Jamaican meat patty place by the Black Sheep is gone, the little diner where I got burgers or breakfast near Henion Bakery is gone, the calzone places are mostly gone, it even looked like Pinocchio's is gone. And obviously the record stores are all gone, because this is 2013 and that was 1993.

But there was this doughnut joint, Glazed. Caitlin yanked me back when she saw there was a menu in the window, and after seeing peanut butter doughnuts on said menu, we had to go in. So good!

Doughnuts from Glazed

The peanut butter chocolate doughnut is in fact not in this photo because I ate it, but beyond the lacuna you can see the caramel-toffee doughnut. In the back, we each got a coffee cream doughnut - like a lot of New-Style doughnut joints, they slice their doughnuts in half in order to fill them. The coffee cream was good but I've been spoiled by coffee-flavored things lately - my own coffee ice cream and the Ritter espresso bar chief among them - and so the somewhat weak coffee flavor was a disappointment in comparison. However, in the other row there, you've got Caitlin's chai-glazed coconut doughnut and the French toast doughnut, which I thought was actually the best of the bunch. I don't even know how to explain what "it tastes like French toast" means, but you'd know it when you taste it.

We're going back to Amherst in October, and I'll have to try the apple fritter.

More coming soon! I finished making the homemade ramp jack cheese, so there's that to talk about.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Umeboshi are salted dried ume fruit, which you may be familiar with from sushi joints - I first had them in the form of umeboshi puree in the center of a ball of rice, which is a pretty common offering. They're very tart and very salty.

Ume are a member of the Prunus family, like plums, apricots, peaches, cherries, and almonds. They're often translated as plums or apricots, which is misleading. An ume is no more a plum than a peach is a plum. It's just that there's no word in English for ume because, hey, they aren't from English-speaking lands.

I had a bunch of leftover actual plums, though, your standard supermarket black plums, which weren't going to last the weekend, so I pitted and juiced them, added a couple pitted umeboshi, the syrup leftover from macerating strawberries and apricots (more prunus!) together, sugar, and a bit of Campari.

Boom, Campari-umeboshi sorbet. Ignore the Jeni's logo - I reuse ice cream containers!

Campari-Umeboshi sorbet

But why Campari-umeboshi sorbet? Why those two things?

Two reasons. First, a little alcohol helps prevent iciness in your sorbet or ice cream - and sorbet is especially prone to iciness.

Second, umeboshi is salty and Campari is bitter. These two things don't exactly cancel each other out, but they rub the raw edges off. Coffee with a pinch of salty is still bitter, but the bitter becomes more palatable. Bitterness isn't something I have a problem with, but still, it made for a nice complementary pair.

As for the recent past. Once again my mother took me to Wegmans for my birthday (followed by a lunch of fried clams and a frappe). Pretty pretty great - I got a handful of things previously unfamiliar to me, some excellent fish and produce, and was able to make soft-shell crab for my birthday for the second year in a row.

My birthday weekend, we had Eton mess (strawberries, meringues, matcha meringues, chunks of dragonfruit, whipped cream) in dragonfruit shells. So good!

Eton mess, dragonfruit

I used fresh wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon from Wegmans to make homemade gravlax, which is pretty easy: mix two parts salt to one part sugar, add seasonings (in this case: spruce tips, fennel, dill), cover salmon on both sides, wrap in Saran wrap, and refrigerate (in a container) for a day or two. You may need to drain the fish after a few hours.

We had the gravlax on these awesome bagels - "black Russian" bagels, pumpernickel with caraway and sesame seeds. Perfect. Accompanying: pierogi, knish, and cheeses, all from Wegmans.
Homemade gravlax, knish, pierogi, cheese
The cheeses, from left to right, are Moses Sleeper, a very good camembert-like cheese; La Tur, a strong and deliciously flavored mixed-milk cheese with a sort of fluffy texture; and five-year Gouda.

The Last Word is one of my two or three favorite cocktails and the one that best goes with strawberries, thanks to the Chartreuse - and most years, as this year, my birthday intersects with strawberry season:

Last Word with strawberries

Caitlin has previously gotten me burgers from Pat La Frieda for my birthday or other holidays, but this year got me burgers AND Pat La Frieda hot dogs - a natural casing all-beef hot dog. It's also a coarsely-ground hot dog, which you hardly ever seen anymore, at least around here, and I'm just old enough to remember when they were more common. The result is a great-tasting hot dog with serious texture. We had more on the Fourth of July, but this is a shot of Caitlin's plate from my birthday weekend, with toasted breadcheese on the side:

Pat La Frieda hot dogs, bread cheese

Surprisingly, I was also able to get more fresh fava beans, and the night before leaving for the lake for the Fourth, we had fava beans quickly boiled (like five minutes) and served with ground lamb cooked with onions, garlic, cumin, chile, and soy sauce.

Fava beans and cumin lamb

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

strawberry season 2013

I don't think I have the patience to make Campari-stuffed strawberries this year, but it's finally local strawberry season and I had to have Eton mess:

Eton mess with matcha meringues

Matcha meringues (egg whites, superfine sugar, cream of tartar, and matcha powder whipped until stiff, baked at 200 for 2 hours, left in the closed oven overnight) broken into pieces;
whipped local cream;
halved strawberries macerated with a little sugar and Chartreuse;
a few extra drops of Chartreuse on top.

I say it every year, but if you haven't had strawberries and Chartreuse together in some way, you're missing out.

Monday, June 10, 2013

fish market sushi bar

No photos in this entry, but I've been meaning to mention Fish Market Sushi Bar in Boston. This place served us not only the best sushi I've had (in the broad sense of "food from a sushi restaurant"), but sushi of a quality I associate with prices two, three, four times as high.

First of all, the sushi itself was terrific and comes in a nice variety. Sometimes, the more unusual pieces of sushi, either I find places are constantly sold out of them, or because they aren't ordered very often, you may get something that's been sitting around a while. But I had confidence in Fish Market's sell-through, so I went with giant clam, salt water eel (anago - the more common eel is unagi, fresh water eel), and foie gras with truffle. There's nothing especially unusual about the foie except for the novelty of having it on the sushi rice - but you know what, there is something terrific about being able to get foie for five bucks. That's all you need, really, or all I need - an occasional bite of foie gras. I don't need a twenty-four dollar app, and I appreciate having a bite small enough that you don't need the acidity of some sweet accompaniment in order to balance the richness.

The giant clam and the salt water eel were very fresh and very very good - the salt water eel was one of the single best pieces of sushi I've had anywhere.

I can't remember which roll Caitlin got, but I got the softshell crab, which was wrapped in a thin sheet of daikon radish - very nice and a nice contrast to the nicely crispy deep-fried crab. A lot of times I avoid rolls with flying fish roe, because it's my least favorite roe, but there wasn't too much here so it wasn't overwhelming.

The stars, oh man - two cold appetizers, listed under the "new cold appetizer" section of the online menu. This is where a lot of the more inventive stuff falls, stuff that makes sense for a sushi bar to sell but doesn't fall into the rather strict categories of sushi/sashimi/maki.

I got scallop and sea urchin, because how could I not? When it's fresh, sea urchin is one of my four or five favorite flavors. At Fish Market it was fresh. The portion is small - a blob of uni on a slice of scallop, two such slices per order, with a little basil-yuzu dressing - but like with the foie, what I like here is just getting a hit of that strong, rich flavor. Goddamn it was good. It's also a good way to try sea urchin for the first time, rather than having a bite full of it in the form of sushi.

Caitlin got the truffling tuna - slices of raw tuna "swimming in truffle butter," and they really aren't exaggerating about that. You could mop it up with bread if you had any. Again, terrific stuff - truffle goes better with tuna than with most meats.

Now I'm thinking about that scallop and sea urchin. Geez.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

sloppy joes

A quick update just because I've been so remiss.

Two things made me think of sloppy joes yesterday: Eataku's post about a sloppy joe mac and cheese sandwich, and buying a Crenshaw melon.

It's earlier than I'm used to seeing Crenshaw melons, but the one I got, though a little underripe, is delicious, especially for four bucks. And it made me realize, I don't give Indiana enough credit when I talk about the arc of my learning to cook.

I started cooking as a little kid, throwing random ingredients into boxed cake mixes, and cooked actual meals as a teenager, before spending some of my college years taking care of and cooking for three young children, and then moving to New Orleans where I learned to really cook - because everyone pretty much does, and people generally know more about food, and I lived in places conducive to figuring out what I was doing. (I was adjacent to Little Vietnam for a couple years, which meant access to a lot of new ingredients and foods, and then lived in an odd corner of Gentilly, in a predominantly black formerly German neighborhood with Hispanic markets.)

But before moving back to New England I lived in Indiana.

And it's in Indiana that I first had ramps, for instance, and sour cherries, and Mitchum peppermint, and duck eggs, and fresh currants and elderberries, and fresh fava beans, all at the Bloomington Farmers Market. In Indiana I first cooked pork belly, goat, venison, tongue, and cuts of buffalo other than ground or steaks. This is even aside from the pig head I bought at Jungle Jim's in Cincinnati, or the rattlesnake I didn't buy because it was $25 a pound (I've seen it for three times as much since then). I had Middle Eastern markets where I could buy labneh and pomegranate molasses, a Filipino market where I bought balut and calamansi and pig's blood, a butcher that sold me three quarters of a goat because they knew I'd be into that, a Chinese restaurant where I ordered fried intestine, a Korean joint where I had raw crab still in the shell.

Indiana grew the best apples I'd had before moving back to New England (where either orchards have made more interesting apples available or I've become a better apple customer), unbelievably great cherries, pawpaws and American persimmons. And Indiana grew melons.

Man, the melons at the farmer's market were so good. The appeal at first was the watermelons, big bright watermelons with seeds, which might be a pain in the ass but mean much better flavor than the seedless melons. But I tried everything. Santa Claus melons, Crenshaw melons, all the various muskmelon varieties. Crenshaw is one of the best - like a cantaloupe with more character.

Anyway, that's Indiana. And one of the things I made a lot in Indiana was sloppy joes, partly because of that goat - I had a lot of ground goat to use up - and partly because I was into Cuban food, which may be the origin of sloppy joes (I'm skeptical of most food origin stories, so I have no idea if that's really where sloppy joes come from or not).

These sloppy joes capitalized on my having just bought some Tony Chachere's seasoning, and are stuffed into red bell pepper halves.

Sloppy joes:
1 pound ground beef, browned, most of the fat drained
a couple spoonfuls diced onion
5 diced ramp bulbs
1 14 oz can tomatoes, pureed
a few dashes Worcestershire sauce
Tony Chachere's to taste

Cook onion and ramps in a spoonful or two of fat from the ground beef. Combine remaining ingredients and cook until thickened; refrigerate overnight.

Pimento cheese:
combine pimiento peppers, Duke's mayonnaise, sharp cheddar, a dash of mustard, a pat of butter, and a dash of hot sauce in Cuisinart.

Cook a little diced onion, diced ramp, and diced radish in chicken fat leftover from Sunday's roast chicken. Add Tony Chachere's until noticeably salty. Chill.

Fill pepper halves with sloppy joes, top with pimento cheese, and bake at 350 for an hour. Serve with schmaltz on bread.

Pepper stuffed with sloppy joes; bread with radish-and-ramp schmaltz

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

make of that what you will

I've been making vinegar chicken for over ten years now. Feels like longer. Today - starting last night, actually - I remixed it, went about it a different way.

I had some drumsticks, see, because there was a sale on chicken leg quarters.  And drumsticks kind of suck.  They're not great for fried chicken because those tendons running along the bone can be so tough.  Roasted works a little better, especially when roasted as part of a whole bird.  Braising is perfect - there's a lot of collagen there.

I've made plenty of vinegar chicken with drumsticks, the usual way - chop through the bone, cook them on the stove with vinegar and crushed red peppers until the vinegar cooks off.  But this time I wanted the benefits of braising.

I covered the drumsticks in chicken stock and pepper vinegar in the crockpot, and added a few bay leaves, some pickled ramps, and some salt. Brought it up to temp until it was steaming, and then turned it to warm and left it all night.

Took the drumsticks out to cool in the fridge to firm up, and while they did, I reduced the cooking liquid down until it was glossy.  Like I said - there's a lot of collagen there, which becomes gelatin.

Vinegar chicken and ramps

When it was time for lunch, I deep-fried the drumsticks - no breading or flour, just hot oil - until they were dark and crispy, tossed them in the sauce, and had them with rice and some of the cooked pickled ramps.

It's a similar effect - rich, tart and vinegary, spicy - but the meat itself is so much better, and is permeated with the flavor of the pepper vinegar.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

springtime for fritters, and morel cheese

I can't actually use that title, much as I like it, since these are baked, not fried.

Homemade Morel-Ramp-Nettle Cheese Baked in Puff Pastry

1 gallon raw whole milk
1 packet fromage blanc culture
2 drops animal rennet
2 oz dried morels, crushed
2 tablespoons minced blanched nettles
4 ramp bulbs, minced
1 egg yolk
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed

For Marx Foods' annual dried morel cook-off, this year all entries had to use baking as their primary cooking method, and they sent along a bag of dried morels to use. I thought about pastas, I thought about a hot dish centered around a homemade morel version of cream of mushroom soup, and I wound up deciding this was a good time to make homemade cheese for the first time.

Okay, it's not quite the first time. I've made ricotta before, which just involves adding vinegar or lemon juice to warm milk in order to curdle it, and then straining the whey off. I've made labneh, which is yogurt strained to the consistency of cream cheese. But I haven't made a cultured or rennet-thickened cheese.

Now, in a sense, cultured cheeses are not a world apart from ricotta. Both are curdled by acidity. In the case of a cultured cheese, the various strains of lactobacillus bacteria eat lactose and convert it to lactic acid, which is a more gradual process of acidification than adding lemon juice. Because you're changing something in the milk, though, rather than just adding something, the flavor is much more complex, and obviously there's a great deal more variety in the types of cheeses you can make.

I'm far from a cheesemaking expert. I've done it twice now. I'm not even really a cheese-eating expert, not by foodie standards (I don't like blue cheeses, and have mixed luck with washed-rind cheeses). The fromage blanc culture and liquid animal rennet I used to make this cheese both come from New England Cheesemaking, who I highly recommend - not only do they sell the ingredients you need, they have a lot of helpful how-to's.

This fromage blanc is very simple: you heat a gallon of raw milk (use pasteurized milk if it's all you can get or you have health concerns about the raw milk, but I'm able to get raw locally now) to 86 degrees, which is just below body temperature and thus "feels neither cool nor warm" to the touch, dissolve a packet of culture in it and 2 drops of animal rennet (which help thicken it) and stir, and let it sit overnight.

What you see in the photos is half a batch, for the record. I was protecting this blog entry from the possibility of my screwing it up the first time!

My cheesecloth didn't arrive in time, so I used a clean towel to drain the whey off of the cheese:

Fresh cheese, straining

At this stage, you can see that it's mostly drained -- all the initial whey which was separate from the thick layer of curd has passed through the towel -- but still a very wet cheese. This is where the morels come in. I ground up dried morels and added them to the still-draining cheese, so that they would be reconstituted by whey rather than water. This both softened the morel bits and thickened the cheese.

After the morels were reconstituted and the cheese had about the consistency of chevre (in general, this cheese - which is very tangy - reminds me of a cow's milk chevre, if you see what I mean), I added finely minced blanched nettles and ramp bulbs:

Morel-ramp-nettle cheese

That's all your flavors of wild spring right there, a forager's cheese: the rich umami flavor of the morels is the strongest, followed by the sweet garlickiness of the ramps, with the nettles adding a little of their spinach-like minerality. I added salt at the same time - cheese like this tastes a little flat to me without salt, and it adds to the shelf life anyway.

I let the cheese sit overnight in the fridge for the flavors to mingle, though honestly I'm not sure I needed to - maybe because of reconstituting the morels in the draining cheese, it was very flavorful as soon as I removed the mixing spoon from the bowl.

Mix an egg yolk into the cheese you're going to use for the puff pastry.

Unfold the sheets of puff pastry and cut into squares the size of your liking. Add a spoonful of cheese slightly off-center in each square, fold over, and press edges together to seal. Bake at 400 until golden-brown - about 12 minutes in my oven, but in my experience this sort of thing varies a lot from oven to oven.

Cheese pastry

The pastries are rich and mushroomy, with a lot of tanginess from the cheese and a great spring flavor.

Monday, April 22, 2013

I have neglected the blog this year!  I know that.  I have some long-term projects coming up -

- a master post on coffee, putting everything I know in one place;

- peanut miso;

- black-eyed pea miso (okay, probably several kinds of miso);

- ramp nukazuke;

- ramp jack cheese, my first homemade hard cheese;

- but of course that does nothing to update the blog in the short-term.

Let me catch us up.

Lent: I ended Lent early, albeit bit by bit. Not to be one of those internet people who makes a big deal out of going to the gym, but ... I joined the gym.  During Lent.  Now, I know there are vegetarians who have no trouble working out on a regular basis, of course, but I'm not a vegetarian - I'm a meat-eater who was avoiding meat.  My protein cravings after the gym were just too great, and no amount of fish was doing the trick.

Easter: So Easter wasn't the "welcome back to me, meat!" celebration it usually is, but it was still pretty great. We made pulled ham muffulettas. The "pulled ham" was a pork roast that I cured for a week before smoking it until it fell apart.  We piled that on muffuletta bread with olive salad, blanched chopped greens, sharp provolone, salami, and mortadella:


More recently, Caitlin and I spent a week at the lake to celebrate her birthday. It's still cold up there - we watched the ice melt on the lake over the first couple days - and everything is pretty empty.

Weirs Beach

But it also meant there weren't crowds anywhere. We thought about going back to Sandwich Creamery, but it was muddy in enough places that I didn't trust the car on those winding dirt hills. We did make a pretty amazing find at the supermarket - locally foraged blue oyster mushrooms.

Blue oyster mushrooms

These were delicious, and kept their texture during cooking - I browned some chicken thighs with fennel seed, added a handful of cloves of garlic, the mushrooms, and most of a bottle of white wine, and popped it in the oven until the wine had reduced down to a glaze.

More mushroom stuff coming later this week, plus ramps and nettles!  It's sorta kinda spring!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

lenten brunch

My mother took me out to lunch yesterday, and asked that I update the blog so a fish head isn't at the top anymore. Fair enough. I should write about My Sister's Kitchen soon, but will probably wait until I've had another meal there. For now - so much fish lately!

I had a package of Dover Sole filets from Trader Joe's, extremely thin and quick cooking - they take 3-4 minutes to pan-fry. Most of them I had with sides of pasta, and I'm going to blog about pasta soon, but they also made good sandwiches. This is two filets on a roll with baby kale, a little mayo, and Major Grey's chutney:

Fish sandwich

The thing about fish sandwiches is that you can use damn near anything you like as condiments and it'll work, which is a good way to keep things from getting repetitive. (Though as I write this, I am a little tired of fish and am glad to have made a batch of boiled peanut chili. Tomorrow is my weekly meat day, which will break up the monotony.)

Today I had a Lenten brunch of belly lox, eggs, and cream cheese. The eggs were soft scrambled. To me, there are two distinct schools of scrambled eggs. If you want your eggs to mainly be a vehicle for ketchup or the like, hard-scrambled with onions and maybe some cheese is the way to go. You whisk them with a little milk, you add them to the pan, stir enough to keep them from being an omelette, and cook till they're getting dry.

But soft scrambled eggs are a whole nother thing, one many people would say is the only right way to make scrambled eggs - but like I said, for me, they're just two different dishes. These are very good soft scrambled eggs, but not perfect soft scrambled eggs - the curds are too large and too firm:

Eggs, belly lox, cream cheese

To make perfect soft scrambled eggs, after gently whisking the eggs together with a spoonful of cream cheese, a couple spoons of cream, a little coriander seed, and a little dill, you add them to melted butter in a pan that's warm but not hot, and you cook them slowly, while constantly stirring.

Don't think of soft scrambled eggs as undercooked eggs, which hard-scrambled fiends seem to. Think of them as a custard without sugar and very little cream. You constantly stir. You want soft, fluffy, smooth. At one extreme you have something almost like a hollandaise, almost more of a sauce. I like curds a little more developed than that, and not so soft that it looks like yellow Cream of Wheat.

But like I said, the eggs here, the curds are larger than I intended - the pan was hotter than I wanted it to be, and once they were in the pan, there wasn't much I could do - they cooked a little too fast even though I removed the pan from the heat.

Some chopped belly lox was added right at the end. Alongside, pumpernickel toast with cream cheese and another slice of belly lox. Over everything, fresh-ground long pepper.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

salmon head; oyster stew

Lent's off to a pretty good start so far.

At Battambang in Little Cambodia, salmon is $5.99 a pound. Salmon heads are $1.99 a pound. Granted: there's less meat on a salmon head. But what you get is pretty great, and certainly worth the price.

Salmon head

This is the salmon head picked apart, after simmering and cooling enough to handle. Clockwise:

Right at the top is a bit of salmon marrow - nice and clean and rich.

Next, salmon meat - mostly cheek (the nuggets that look like chicken oysters) and jaw.

Salmon eyes - I'm going to save them in the freezer until I have an appreciable amount later in the month.

Salmon skin with tons of fat.

Salmon bones and cartilage.

The bones and cartilage went back in the simmering pot for an hour with a couple cloves of garlic, and became a salmon stock gelatinous enough to turn solid in the fridge.

The meat, marrow, and skin I crisped up in a pan for dinner last night, in a roll with some sliced Vidalia onion, Tony Chachere's, and melted cheddar cheese - sort of a salmon melt.

That salmon stock? That was the backbone for oyster stew:

Oyster stew

Sure, it's not pretty. There's black sesame paste in there as a thickener. But it's tasty stuff.

I sliced up more Vidalia onion and cooked that in a little sesame oil (the sesame oil floating on top of the jar of black sesame paste, in fact) until it started to turn golden, during which time I blended a few spoonfuls of sesame paste with the salmon stock. Added the sesame-stock combo to the pan, heated it up, added fish sauce and soy sauce until it tasted salty enough, and then added chopped blanched collard greens and half a pound of raw shucked oysters.

From that point, you just need to heat it through.  Three or four minutes until it comes back up to a simmer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Some housekeeping!

First, my reconstructed Watergate salad is in the Marx Foods contest previously mentioned. If you like voting for me, this is pretty much the only way to do so. Conduct yourself accordingly.

Second, this whole fucking Maker's Mark thing.

I've mentioned the whiskey shortage before, and even written about it in my day job. The upshot is this:

* For a long time people drank less whiskey because of vodka and shit like that.

* They started drinking a bit more whiskey.

* Whiskey takes a long time to make. There was no way of knowing whether the increased demand would hold up, or if it was just a fluke.

* Distilleries reacted in various ways: new American microdistilleries sold a lot of white whiskey (unaged) and in general aged their whiskeys a lot less than the larger distilleries, which not only brought their product to market faster but made them more flexible with respect to reacting to demand fluctuations; Scottish distilleries like Macallan removed the age statements from some of their whiskeys, no longer guaranteeing, for instance, that the whiskeys in Macallan 12 would be a minimum of 12 years old, freeing them up to increase supply by using younger whiskeys; many, many distilleries have simply raised their prices; and Maker's Mark has done more or less the same thing, reducing the proof of their whiskey -- which means adding more water, so that a given barrel of whiskey will fill more bottles than before.

It's not too weird a way to respond to supply and demand problems - it's like grinding up meat and adding bread crumbs to it so you can have six servings of meat loaf instead of five servings of whatever meat you started with. It's the done thing.

But you know, when you make meatloaf instead of meat, you're changing the product. And the difference in proof isn't great here, but it's real.

In theory, this shouldn't affect me much - Bulleit and Knob Creek are close enough to Maker's price point that I buy them more often. On the other hand, perhaps because it's a flagship brand, Maker's goes on sale often enough that it's remained in the heavy rotation of my purchases for years, because I can so often get a great deal on it.

If you love Maker's, you should be a little insulted by the change, but it's not going to ruin things for you: add less ice or drink it faster, and it's the same juice.

Third, yesterday was Mardi Gras, so today is Lent!  My usual Lent fasting is in effect:

- Meat only once a week (traditionally Sunday) plus corned beef on Saint Patrick's Day.

- Seafood doesn't count as meat.

- Meat-derived products like homemade stock and lard are okay as long as I'm not buying meat expressly for that purpose. In other words, I think it's silly to let things in the fridge and freezer go to waste for the sake of Lenten fasting.

Sadly, my Lent this year won't include Maine shrimp. The season has been abbreviated and beset by problems from the weather: even before Winter Storm Nemo, shrimpers were having problems with the texture of the shrimp they caught, because conditions at sea were so cold that the shrimp were freezing on deck.

It will include salmon heads ...
Salmon head
... and the collars I remove from those heads ...
Salmon collar
... and smelts.
Pan-fried smelts with lemon juice

My last meat meal before Lent?

Pig tails covered in a mountain of salt, curing salt, sugar, and chiles, for a few days; rinsed off and let to air dry in the fridge for a week; simmered until the skin softened; and smoked. Amazingly good country ham tails.

Pig tails

Friday, January 25, 2013

reconstructed watergate salad

Like I said, I just got an ice cream maker for Christmas, so when Marx Foods announced its latest recipe contest -- It's Easy Being Green, making anything you like using any two of the green ingredients provided -- I naturally started thinking of ice creams.

I'd had congealed salads and other southern salads on my mind - they're in that middle ground, old school enough that your grandmother made them, but her grandmother probably didn't, since they depend on convenience food ingredients developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of them date back that far, and some are much more recent - like Watergate Salad from the early 1970s, which for some reason picked up the name of the political scandal.

Watergate Salad combines pistachio pudding and Cool Whip or whipped cream, studded with orange and pineapple.


I could find another way to do that.

And I could make it ice cream!
Watergate salad ice cream
Two of the ingredients lent themselves very well to this profile: bamboo rice, which is a light green color from the bamboo juice with which it's infused, and green cardamom, an extremely fragrant spice that goes well with both fruit and nuts.

But here's this. I wasn't going to use Jello pistachio instant pudding for a cooking contest, nor was I going to spend $20 and shipping for nut butter, especially since a less than perfectly smooth nut butter would make for a very different texture here.

So I brought the nut element in another way.

Creme de noyaux is an old school liqueur made with the kernels of members of the prunus family - the stone fruits: apricots, almonds, peaches, plums, cherries. It's a little like amaretto - real amaretto - with a complex flavor that's sort of floral, sort of nutty, sort of like maraschino liqueur, sort of like New Orleans nectar soda. You're not likely going to find it on the shelf, and if you do, it's probably Hiram Walker or Bols, both of which are probably artificially flavored and dyed red (because of the Pink Squirrel cocktail).

It's easy to make yourself, though. Any time you have a peach, a cherry, a plum, anything in that family, take a hammer and break the pit open. The kernel is inside. Drop it in a jar of vodka, or put it in the freezer until you have enough of them. Let them steep in the vodka for a few weeks, and then add sugar syrup. ("Creme" in French and "cream of" in English both refer to heavily sweetened liqueurs, too sweet to drink on their own.)

A little goes a long way, just like with vanilla extract. So it's a lot of work, sure, but you don't have to do it very often.

Now, if you want to go about this recipe and don't want to take the time to make creme de noyaux, you could also use the kernels themselves - just steep them in the cream with the cardamom, below.

If you don't want to do ANY of that, I would recommend maraschino liqueur rather than amaretto, unless you know of some really excellent amaretto that's escaped my attention.

Onward. For a pint or so of ice cream:

1/4 cup bamboo rice
2 cups half and half
2 teaspoons creme de noyaux, divided
1/4 cup heavy cream
8 cardamom pods
1/2 cup sugar or so
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup diced pineapple (or crushed pineapple)
1 orange's worth of orange segments, supremed (remove all pith, skin, etc)

First infuse the cream with cardamom: bring 8 cardamom pods, 2 cups half and half, and 1/4 cup cream to a simmer, turn off the heat, and let cool. It ought to be good and infused by the time it cools down to room temp. Remove cardamom pods.

Now make a rice pudding: simmer bamboo rice in the infused cream, with a dash of salt and 1 teaspoon creme de noyaux, until rice is very very plump and soft. Add the 1/2 cup sugar and taste for sweetnesss - it should be sweeter than ice cream.

Beat the two egg yolks, add a little hot rice-cream mixture to them to temper them, and add the egg mixture to the pan, stirring constantly over low heat until thickened (a couple minutes, usually).

Remove from heat, stir in the remaining teaspoon of creme de noyaux and the orange and pineapple, and chill in the fridge.

When churning ice cream, it's important to make sure your mixture is fully chilled, not just room temp.

Churn according to manufacturer's directions, and freeze to harden it up if necessary.

The final result is complexly spiced from the creme de noyaux and the cardamom, with nice plump grains of bamboo rice and bits of tart fruit.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Catching up, now that I have my camera back!

The smoker, in the rain, at a barbecue joint in Georgia (we got barbecue beef - shoulder clod, maybe? - and Brunswick stew):

Barbecue stand

So much soda! Also in Georgia. Not all mine.

So much soda

My beloved Frisco melt, at Steak and Shake:

Frisco melt

The Pat La Frieda lamb burger I had mentioned earlier, with melted cheese and Dijon mustard:

Pat La Frieda lamb burger
One of my Christmas presents was an ice cream maker from my mother. While I'd used a previous version of the Cuisinart ice cream maker, either I had an old freezer that couldn't get the canister cold enough, or they've made some improvements, because the new one is so much better. You do have to be sure to cool down your mix in the fridge rather than using it at room temp, but that's just mathematical sense - room temperature is 30, 40 degrees warmer than the fridge, which is going to bring up the temperature of the freezing canister too quickly.

One of the nice things about an ice cream maker is how easy it is to make small amounts of ice cream to test out ideas. Since Christmas, I've made pineapple lime longpepper sorbet, carrot-lemon sorbet, carrot-pineapple sherbet, coffee cranberry Campari ice cream, maple pecan ice cream, and the star of the show, huckleberry spruce ice cream:

Huckleberry-spruce ice cream

The basics of making the custard for ice cream are simple - heat milk, cream, and sugar, add to beaten egg yolks to temper them, add back to the pan and stir until thickened. I infused the cream with spruce tips ahead of time, and while it was churning, added a simple huckleberry jam (huckleberries, sugar, citric acid).

So good. Spruce and huckleberry were meant to be together.