Monday, October 22, 2012

Oh Snap! Roasted Pumpkin 5-Spice Ice Cream with a Gingersnap Swirl

The Setting: An unexpectedly gorgeous day.

The Soundtrack: Oia, flipping through the pages of one of my cheap paperbacks and babbling as though she were reading it aloud.

Sizzling on the Griddle: Pumpkin Pancakes with Honey Cardamom Butter and pure Michigan maple syrup.

The Scenario: Fall has fallen, and the pages of Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream at Home have re-opened to welcome the season of root vegetables and warming spices.

If you missed our summer frolic with the queen of artisan ice cream, here's a re-cap. But for the present, let me say, "It's pumpkin time!"

I always look forward to the time of the year when pumpkin lattes dominate cafe menus and ginger becomes much more than the movie star on Gilligan's Island.

I'm one of those weirdos who can't stand pumpkin pie (it's some combination of the texture and two great voices who should never do a duet), so I always have to find other ways to express my love of fall's favorite flavor: pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin muffins, and, thanks to Jeni, pumpkin ice cream.

Since this is Roasted Pumpkin 5-Spice Ice Cream, and I happened to have a bunch of 5-Spice Gingersnaps in the freezer, I couldn't resist throwing a few cookie crumbles in for added texture and flavor.

If you like a little textural variation in your ice cream, you can't go wrong with this addition.

To create the gingersnap "swirl," coarsely crush/crumble six or so medium-sized 5-Spice Gingersnaps to make about two cups of gingersnap crumbles. After freezing the ice cream in the machine, pack the ice cream into a container, alternating layers of ice cream and cookies so that you begin and end with layers of ice cream. You should aim for at least five layers in all--three layers of ice cream and two layers of cookie crumbles. If using a tall, skinny container, aim for at least seven layers in all.

If you prefer uninterrupted, velvety smoothness in every spoonful, by all means, leave the cookies out.

This recipe calls for an actual pumpkin, cut in half, roasted, scooped out of the skin, pureed, and measured out.

I typically reach right for the can o'puree when the need for pumpkin knocks, so going whole-gourd was a first for me. I admit I had to enlist Hoosband to cut it in half (I am very short, my counters are sized for a normal person, that equals poor leverage, and, oh yeah, I am weak), but the remaining work was a cinch.

An ice-cream scoop is the perfect tool for both scooping out and discarding seeds and membranes and scooping roasted pumpkin into your food processor.

After measuring out the pumpkin for the ice cream, I had about 2 cups leftover to store in the fridge for this morning's pancakes and future baked goods or sauces.

The following recipe is excerpted with permission from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer. My notes are in blue.

Jeni's Roasted Pumpkin 5-Spice Ice Cream
"A modern classic--rich pumpkin blended with exotic spices, which give the ice cream a light finish and a pleasant tingle." --Jeni Britton Bauer

1 small pie pumpkin or Kabocha, Buttercup, or butternut squash (2-3 lbs)
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup honey
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cups packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon Chinese 5-spice powder

PREP Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the pumpkin in half and remove the seeds and membranes. An ice-cream scoop works perfectly for this. Place Cut side down on a baking sheet and roast for 30-40 minutes, until soft when pierced with a fork. Be sure to use a rimmed baking sheet or jellyroll pan, as the pumpkin will release some liquid. Let cool slightly.

Scoop the flesh into a food processor and puree until completely smooth. The ice-cream scoop works perfectly for this part as well.

Measure out 3/4 cup for the ice cream; reserve the rest of the puree for another use.

Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.

Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. If you have trouble whisking the cream cheese, microwave it for about 10 seconds to soften it a bit more. Add the pumpkin puree and the honey and whisk until smooth.

Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

COOK Combine the remaining milk, the cream, sugar, corn syrup, and 5-spice powder in a 4-quart saucepan, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry.

Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

CHILL Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Gradually is the key word--if you add it all at once, it will be very difficult to get out all the lumps. Speaking of lumps, I like to strain my mixture into a clean bowl at this point, just to make sure the ice cream will be silky-smooth. Use a spatula to help work the mixture through the strainer.

Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes. I generally make the mixture the day before I want to freeze the ice cream so it can chill thoroughly in the fridge overnight.

FREEZE Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy. For best results, always freeze the canister for AT LEAST 24 hours before using.

Pack the ice cream into a storage container (if adding gingersnaps, layer them in now as you pack the ice cream into the container), press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface, and seal with an airtight lid. The parchment is awesome at helping to prevent freezer burn. Every time you scoop out ice-cream, be sure to press the parchment back down over the remaining ice cream to help keep it tasty. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.

Makes 1 generous quart.

Excerpted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer (Artisan Books). Copyright 2011.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Homemade Oreos

The Setting: On again, off again blue skies and rain.

The Soundtrack: The Wire.

Steaming up the Oven: Nothing yet...but I'm hungry.

The Scenario: What's black and white and delicious all over?

Grocery shopping a few weeks ago, I came scarily close to plopping a package of Double Stuf Oreos in my cart--a very strange occurrance in my typical "only if it's all-natural" world. But the end-cap display was so appealing, the doubly-stuffed cream between the dark, chocolaty wafers was practically reaching through the plastic packaging and gripping my hand, chanting, "You know you want me."

My hand was set free only by the memory of my last junk-food-induced stomach ache and sugar crash--much in the same way a crippling hangover one weekend will curb a college student's drinking the next. Oreos in my cart today would mean an empty package of Oreos by the morning.

No, I thought. If I'm going to binge on Oreos, I'm going to work for it.

I made a mental note to move Homemade Oreos up a few spots on the recipes-to-develop queue and went about my shopping.

A few days later I was following through with a long-awaited plan to make another addictive childhood treat: Oatmeal Creme Pies.

I was delighted with the way they came out, but I ended up with far more filling than I needed for one batch of cookies.

As I fashioned the remaining filling into a log and wrapped it in plastic wrap for safe-keeping, a light went off. This filling would be perfect for Oreos!

The next day I set to work on a chocolate wafer recipe.

The requirements were these:
  1. The dough must be dark--like, black.
  2. The dough must be easy to roll out.
  3. The cookies must not spread during baking.
  4. The cookies must be crisp--not cakey, not chewy--but also not too brittle or rock-like.
  5. (In summation) The cookies must look as much like, taste as much like, and have as similar a texture to Oreos as possible.
I figured a combination of baking chocolate and cocoa would deliver the best chocolate flavor, color, and texture.

Generally, I prefer natural cocoa to Dutch-process cocoa, which has been treated with alkali to soften the acidity. The thing is, natural cocoa is a lighter, rosier shade of brown, while "Dutched" cocoa is the deep, dark color of devil's-food-cake mix. And I needed dark. Also, I had a feeling the flavor of the alkali-softened cocoa would better approximate the packaged, processed cookies.

To get the best of both worlds, I used Hershey's Special Dark cocoa, which is a blend of natural and Dutched cocoa powders.

To make sure my dough would roll out well and resist spreading in the oven (and that the baked cookies would have the proper crunch), I took a cue from my Homemade Graham Crackers and the Golden Cookies from my Homemade MoonPies. In both these recipes, a large proportion of flour and minimal leaveners help keep spread in check so that the small, flat disks you put in the oven are equally small and flat when you take them out.

Homemade Oreos
While the filling for the Oreos is the same as the filling for the Oatmeal Creme Pies in the last post, here the filling is shaped into a log and sliced into rounds instead of piped onto the cookies.

~for the cookies~
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (preferably a blend of Dutched and natural cocoas such as Hershey's Special Dark)
1/2 tsp fine-grain salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 T corn syrup
2 oz semisweet baking chocolate (I used Baker's), finely chopped, melted, and cooled (but still pourable)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

~for the filling~
1 stick (1/2 cup, or 8 T) unsalted butter
pinch salt
3 T refined coconut oil, cool room temperature (solid but soft)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup white "chocolate" chips, melted and cooled but still pourable (I used Nestle)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the corn syrup, chocolate, and vanilla until smooth. Add the flour mixture, beating on low speed until fully incorporated. The dough should be firm, black and malleable.

Turn the dough out onto parchment paper and divide in half.

Note: At this point you can refrigerate one or both of the halves for up to 5 days if desired. If refrigerating, flatten the dough into a disk approximately 2 inches thick (this will make it much easier to roll out when you are ready to use it). Wrap the flattened disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Remove the dough from the fridge 20 minutes before you are ready to roll it out.

Working with one half (or disk) of the dough at a time, sandwich the dough between two baking-sheet-sized sheets of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/4 inch between the sheets. Remove the top sheet of parchment and use the cardboard cylinder from a roll of paper towels to cut out perfect, Oreo-sized cookies.

Carefully lift up the excess dough, leaving the circles on the parchment.

If desired, use a toothpick or the tip of a paring knife to create designs (such as family initials) on the cookies.

Transfer the parchment with the dough rounds to a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 12 minutes. Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for 3-5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Re-roll dough scraps and repeat, using fresh sheets of parchment as needed. Repeat whole process with remaining half of dough.

To prepare the filling, beat the cold butter along with a pinch of salt until smooth. Add the coconut oil and vanilla, beating just to combine. Add the powdered sugar and beat till well-mixed. Beat in the melted white chocolate. The mixture should be thick, white, and almost dough-like.

Turn the filling out onto a sheet of parchment paper and shape into a log.

Roll the filling into a log the thickness of the cardboard paper-towel roll.

Place a long string of unflavored dental floss under the log, about 1/4-inch back. Crisscross the floss over the top of the log and pull, slicing a 1/4-inch thick round of filling.

Place the filling round on a cooled cookie, top with another cookie, and press very gently to adhere.

Repeat with remaining cookies and filling.

Makes about 40 sandwich cookies.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Oatmeal Creme Pies

The Setting: Hoosband's much-anticipated fall break!

The Soundtrack: The League.

Steaming up the Oven: Cookies.

The Scenario: An homage to a childhood favorite.

When I was growing up, I loved to spend time at my grandparents' place. Many of my earliest and fondest food memories took place when I was in their care.

My grandmother always said of my grandfather and herself, "He likes the meats, and I like the sweets."

She was known for her love of dessert, and the sweet tooth didn't fall far from the tree.

One of our all-time-favorite treats to share was the Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie.

Though my grandmother was an excellent cook and always made an array of homemade desserts for holidays, she'd inevitably have a box of Little Debbies stashed in the pantry for picnics, trips to the farm, or the occasional (okay, frequent) snack.

She was a very proper woman and never would have admitted it, but between the two of us we could easily have taken out an entire box of these moist, chewy treats in one sitting--I know one of us has done it all on her own at least once or twice.

Somewhere along the line I gave up prepackaged convenience foods with complicated, scientific-sounding ingredients and became obsessed with making everything from scratch.

Creating an Oatmeal Creme Pie recipe was at the top of my list from the very beginning. And yet, somehow, it's taken me more than a decade to attack it. I guess I've been intimidated.

I've seen pictures of and eaten other homemade versions of this classic that just didn't measure up to my childhood memories.

Some were made of cookies that were too fat or too dry; some had cream that was too...well...creamy.

(Some had raisins, which was just wrong.)

The challenge was to create a thin, but not too thin, oatmeal cookie that would be soft, moist, and chewy, and a "cream" that would be stable enough to be stored at room temperature and firm enough not to all squish out after the first bite.

Brown sugar, honey, oil, and yogurt in the cookies help create moistness and the right balance of texture and flavor.

A mixture of coconut oil and butter are used in the filling because butter has a higher melting point (it's less likely to melt at a warm room temperature), and coconut oil softens the flavor of the butter so it's not too rich. The melted white chocolate and the powdered sugar also aid with firmness and stability. 

The goal was to be as true in taste, texture, and appearance to the original as could be, while remaining as all-from-scratch as possible. I'd call this a win-win.

Oatmeal Creme Pies
It is important to slightly under-bake the cookies so that they create that familiar, soft, chewy Little Debbie sensation when paired with the filling.

~for the cookies~
3 T butter, room temperature
3 T vegetable oil
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
6oz plain nonfat Greek yogurt (I use Fage)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
2 cups oats
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp fine-grain salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

~for the filling~
4 T unsalted butter
1/4 fine-grain salt
1 1/2 T refined coconut oil, cool room temperature (solid but soft)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup white "chocolate" chips, melted and cooled but still pourable (I used Nestle)

Thoroughly beat together the butter, oil, brown sugar, and honey, scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in the yogurt, egg, and vanilla.

In another bowl, whisk together the remaining cookie ingredients. Add the oat mixture to the butter mixture, mixing on low speed to begin, and finishing on medium speed.

Cover the dough bowl with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Using a medium-sized cookie scoop, place cookies at least 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake one sheet at a time on the center rack of the oven at 350 degrees F for 9 minutes. Cookies should look a little underdone. Allow to cool for 3-5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Repeat with remaining cookies.

To prepare the filling, beat the cold butter along with a very small pinch of salt until smooth. Add the coconut oil and vanilla, beating just to combine. Add the powdered sugar and beat till well-mixed. Beat in the melted white chocolate. The mixture should be thick, white, and almost dough-like.

Transfer the filling to a pastry bag fitted with just a coupler or to a disposable pastry bag with a 3/4-inch hole cut at the bottom. Squeeze out 4-6 disks-blobs (yes, that's a technical term) on half of the cookies, using your fingers to flatten the blobs out slightly if necessary. Gently press one of the remaining cookies on each topped cookie. Resist the urge to press too hard, or the cookie might tear.

I like to wrap each creme pie separately in plastic wrap and then store them all in a couple of zip-top gallon bags at room temperature. Stored this way, they'll last up to a week...that is, if the chef everyone in your house doesn't eat them all first!

Makes about 12 sandwich cookies.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Tisket, a Tasket, A Bread-and-Butter Basket

The Setting: Cloudless blue leaves clinging steadfastly to their branches.... It looks like spring. If only it felt like it.

The Soundtrack: The dishwasher--did I mention we finally got one? It may be one of the greatest things on Earth.

Steaming up the Oven: Bread, glorious bread!

The Scenario: A restaurant-worthy breadbasket awaits your next dinner party or holiday spread....because bread goes with everything, and butter makes everything better.

I adore dining at truly splurge-worthy restaurants, where everything that arrives on the table, from pre-dinner cocktails through post-dessert coffee, is so spectacular I don't care the cost.

The problem is I am a stay-at-home mom married to a graduate student, and neither Hoosband nor I can claim a trust dinners like that are rare.

Even trying to re-create the experience at home can be a bit over-indulgent (and a bit of a headache) for the day-to-day.

Fortunately, one of my favorite parts of a pricey restaurant meal, the upscale take on the breadbasket, is a DIY that's both easy and economical.

Go to almost any restaurant and you're bound to be greeted with a basket of bread. But a few things set the best apart from the rest:

1. The bread: There is bread that you eat because you are starving (or bored), waiting for your meal to come. It tastes like nothing, might be stale, and was most likely mass-produced in a factory somewhere, but hey, it keeps you from twiddling your thumbs.

Then there is bread that you eat because it looks and smells so good it lures you in. You eat more than you mean to and almost ruin your appetite for your appetizer because it tastes so good you simply cannot stop.

My favorite breadbaskets contain a variety of tantalizing, baked-in-house breads.

Of course you don't have to spend all day baking homemade bread. Make what you want, buy what you want, but aim for an assortment of three or so different styles of bread.

I like an eclectic assortment: something quick, something yeasted, something whole wheat, something in muffin form, and something with either dried fruit and nuts or cheese.

This basket contains whole-wheat Cuban bread (whole wheat and yeasted), Pistachio-Apricot Soda Bread (quick and containing dried fruit and nuts), and Parmesan and Pine-Nut Corn Muffins (quick and containing nuts and cheese).

Note: Depending on the needs of those you'll be serving, consider including at least one gluten-free option.

2. The butter: I love just about any place that serves real butter. Forget the part-dairy "spreads" that we've come to expect from the local roadside waffle hut and pancake emporium. If I'm fine-dining, it better be butter.

If you can get your hands on (and feel like dishing out seven-to-eight dollars for) some Cultured Butter with Sea Salt from Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery (VBC), by all means, use this and do absolutely nothing to it. It is perfect.

Salted Kerrygold Irish butter is another good choice (and about half the price).

Alternatively, the cheapest, store-brand, sweet-cream butter can be turned into something spectacular  with a little creativity. See the recipe for Honey Cardamom Butter below.

Note: Whatever butter you select, let it sit out at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before serving. Not only will it be easier to spread, it'll taste better, too.

3. The presentation: This is the part that ties it all together. Arrange your assortment on a wooden cutting board, heirloom platter, or pizza peel if desired--whatever brings cohesion to your table. I like to use a wooden produce basket lined with parchment paper.

For a little extra flair, I like to make a Parmesan basket or cone for my butter to sit in.

Here's how:

Sprinkle a thin, even layer of shredded Parmesan into a 4-5-inch circle in a nonstick skillet over med-high heat.

Cover and cook 2 minutes or until melted and very light golden on the bottom. Use a spatula to flip the Parmesan circle and cook another minute or two.

Working quickly, carefully transfer the circle to a kitchen towel and place an ice-cream-cone mold on the cheese. Use the towel to roll the cheese into a cone shape around the mold and press gently on the seam, holding here for a few seconds to help it seal as the cheese cools.

Alternatively, gently press the circle into one of the cups in a standard muffin tin so that it forms a cup-shape. Allow to cool completely before removing from the tin.

A medium-sized cookie scoop makes a perfect ball of butter for whatever vessel you choose.

Honey-Cardamom Compound Butter
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup honey
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
pinch salt

Beat all ingredients together until smooth. Use immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to two weeks. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Bread recipes coming soon!

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sauteed Leeks

The Setting: A pretty gloomy Sunday outside, a pretty messy apartment in here.

The Soundtrack: Hoosband playing "daddy's got your foot" with Oia, and the resulting toddler giggles.

Steaming up the Oven: Toast.

The Scenario: The side dish you never saw coming....

I first experienced leeks as a side dish at the incredibly enchanting Ballyvolane House in North Cork, Ireland.

Sliced into oblong sections instead of the familiar rings, they were not immediately recognizable as the onion-cousin commonly found in Vichyssiose or cream of mushroom soup.

I had seen them fried, crowning green-bean casseroles; raw, shaved upon salads; and caramelized, atop gourmet burgers.

But never had I seen them stand alone as a side.

It didn't take many bites, however, to realize what I had been missing.

With their gentle onion flavor and inherent subtle sweetness, leeks were an undervalued culinary treasure!

I left the Ballyvolane House a freak for leeks, and my love has only grown since then.

Serve them alongside meat and potatoes, pair them with creamy polenta, or dish them up with a cheesy omelet.

Whatever you do, be sure to give them a try.

Sauteed Leeks
Leeks are notorious for concealing a good bit of dirt and grit within their rings and therefore must be soaked and rinsed before cooking. The absolute best set up I have found for cleaning and drying leeks is my OXO salad spinner, which conveniently contains a bowl for soaking, a strainer for rinsing, and a spinning mechanism for removing excess water.

4 large leeks
3 T unsalted butter
kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper

Slice off and discard the fibrous, dark green ends of the leeks.

Slice each leek in half lengthwise.

Cut each half on the bias into 3/4-inch slices.

Place the leeks in the salad spinner.

Place the spinner in the sink, and fill the bowl with enough cool water to cover all the leeks, leaving at least an inch of space at the top of the bowl. Use your hands to break up any larger sections of leeks and remove any visible dirt or grit so that it sinks to the bottom of the bowl. Let the leeks soak for 5 minutes.

Lift the strainer-portion of the spinner out of the bowl and rinse with cool water. Gently shake the strainer once or twice to remove excess moisture. Set aside.

Poor the soaking water out of the plastic bowl and rinse out any remaining dirt or grit (aren't you glad you got rid of all that?). Place the strainer back in the plastic bowl and attach the lid.

Press the spinning mechanism to dry the leeks as much as possible.
Melt the butter in a large saute pan over med-high heat. Add the leeks and 1/2 tsp black pepper.

Cover and cook 5 minutes. Stir in 1 tsp kosher salt, scraping up and incorporating any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, re-cover, and cook an additional 5 minutes. Stir the leeks, again scraping up and incorporating any browned bits. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

Serves 4.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.