Friday, January 18, 2013

We all Scream for Homemade Cookies and Cream

The Setting: Another beautiful, blue-sky day, best enjoyed indoors with a cup of hot tea and the furnace cranked up.

The Soundtrack: Bobby Deen's new show on the Food Network. He just showed a clip of Paula making Country Fried Steak, and now I want it so badly my stomach is in knots.

On the Stovetop:
Hoosband's cabbage and white bean soup.

The Scenario: What's better than Homemade Oreos? Cookies and Cream Ice Cream made with Homemade Oreos, of course.

It's not likely you're going to make a batch of Homemade Oreos and think, "Now, what am I going to do with all these?" I mean, they're Oreos...only better.

I could easily have eaten my entire first batch within a week--and with Hoosband's help, they wouldn't have lasted half that long--but I had a mission. I imagined the cookies would make an out-of-this world addition to ice cream, and I simply had to confirm my suspicions.

The concept was straightforward enough: mix crumbled cookies into vanilla ice cream. But what ice-cream recipe to use?

My own vanilla ice-cream recipe, which begins with more of a custard or creme-anglaise-like base, served me well in my beloved Brown Bread Ice Cream, but I felt like its egg-yolk-fortified richness was somehow wrong for this particular application. Thus--and this should be no surprise to anyone who follows this blog with much regularity--I turned to Jeni.

On page 148, in the "Winter"  chapter of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, I found the answer: Ugandan Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

Jeni's egg-less, cream-cheese-fortified recipe would produce a perfectly balanced, vanilla-bean backdrop for my cookie crumbles.

Now, just to be clear, I did not source vanilla beans from Uganda to make this ice cream, even though Jeni's description of them--complex and smoky, with prominent notes of honey, jasmine, ylang-ylang, and amber (p 145)--is quite appealing . Maybe I will go on an online ordering spree at some point and snatch up all the exotic ingredients necessary to take me to the highest level of ice-cream nirvana. But for this experiment I was content using whatever beans Costco had in stock, as I was relatively certain any subtle Ugandan nuances would be obscured by the onslaught of Oreos anyway.

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

Ugandan Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out, seeds and bean reserved
For my Cookies and Cream variation you'll need 12 or so Homemade Oreos, pulsed into coarse crumbles and crumbs in the food processor or zipped in a gallon-sized bag and smashed to crumbles with a rolling pin or wooden mallet. 

PREP 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. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

COOK Combine the remaining milk, the cream, sugar, and corn syrup, and vanilla seeds and bean 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.

NOTE: For my Cookies and Cream variation, I added my Homemade Oreo crumbles right into the opening of the ice cream machine in the last moments of spinning, once the ice cream was thick and creamy, just before I turned off the machine.

Pack the ice cream into a storage 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 about 1 quart (or a generous quart of Cookies and Cream). 

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.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Beer-Battered Cheese Curds for the Big Game

The Setting: A gorgeous, blue-sky day.

The Soundtrack: HGTV's Love it or List it. Hoosband says I'm addicted. He may be right.

Steaming up the Oven: Nothing yet. I think it's gonna be a salad kind of day.

The Scenario: Bring the sports bar to your living room with the perfect bite for the big game.

Here in the Midwest, one of my favorite local indulgences is the devilishly deep-fried, beer-battered cheese curd.

For those not familiar with the curds in question, they are essentially little nuggets of would-be cheddar that are scooped out of the whey, rinsed, drained, and pretty much left as-is (instead of being pressed into blocks and allowed to mature into full-fledged cheddar).

While many establishments in my 'hood have their versions of this fabulous fried find, the curds at Brother's Bar and Grill are the gold standard in my book.

There, the crispy, puffed-up packages of molten cheese are completely irresistible, especially when dipped in  a creamy horseradish-mustard sauce and accompanied by an ice-cold brew.

To emulate Brother's immaculate creation, I modified the light and airy batter from Alford and Duguid's Deep-Fried Bananas to fit my cheesy needs. Beer stands in for the water or coconut milk, the sugar is reduced from 2 T to 1 tsp, and the salt is increased slightly. I found I needed to increase the liquid from 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup, but you'll want to start with 1/2 cup and add more only if absolutely necessary to loosen up the batter. Just keep in mind the batter should be very thick, not free-flowing.

If you are traveling to a friend's house for the big game, these curds can be fried a few hours in advance and re-heated right before kick-off. Simply spread them out in a single layer on a large baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes.

For the very best results, however, you'll want to serve them within minutes of frying. Paired with Creamy Mustard Sauce, these beer-battered golden nuggets will be sure to score a touchdown during the big game--even if your favorite team isn't so lucky.

Beer-Battered Cheese Curds
If you can't find cheese curds where you live, try using similarly sized hunks of a mild, semi-firm cheese such as a young cheddar or Monterrey jack. 

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2-2/3 cup light beer (I used Miller Lite)
Peanut oil for deep-frying
1 lb fresh cheddar curds

Whisk together the first five ingredients (flour through salt) in a medium-sized bowl. With a wooden spoon or firm spatula, stir in the beer--the batter should be smooth but thick. Let sit 10 minutes.

Line a large baking sheet with paper towels and place a cooling rack on top.

Heat the peanut oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saute pan or cast-iron skillet. When the oil is ready, a small bit of batter dropped in the oil will sizzle and float to the top of the oil but not brown immediately; if the batter sinks to the bottom and stays there, the oil is not ready yet.

When the oil is ready, drop several cheese curds into the batter, coat thoroughly, and carefully drop each one into the batter. Use a spider or metal slotted spoon to turn each one after a few seconds in the oil so that  they cook evenly. When the curds are golden and most of the bubbles have subsided, use the spider or slotted spoon to carefully transfer the fried curds to the prepared cooling rack. Repeat with remaining curds.

Serve immediately with Creamy Mustard Sauce and a cold beer.

Creamy Mustard Sauce
The perfect accompaniment to Beer-Battered Cheese Curds, this may be the easiest sauce you'll ever make. It can be whipped up at the very last minute, or up to one week ahead of time, in whatever quantity desired. Look for Chinese hot mustard in the international aisle.

Equal parts:
Chinese hot mustard
Sour cream

Combine equal parts Chinese hot mustard and sour cream. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

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