Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bi-Rite Salted Caramel Ice Cream

My birthday was two weeks ago, and, as is expected around one's birthday, a lot is on my mind about this little life of mine.  I am trying to devote attention to slowing down.  I have had starts and fits and successes and setbacks as I think about this concept.  Oddly, the recent head cold has been both conducive to (I have had to spend a lot of time in bed this past week) and counter to (I find that the work piles up when you spend most of your evenings asleep on the couch) this idea of slowness.

Further, such slowness often goes against what I think I want to do in the moment, but such slowness seems to be what I discover I really wanted upon those sweet, slow moments of reflection.

How to slow down?  How to breathe more?  How to be not attached to an outcome?  Such good questions.

The answer?  Ice cream.

Okay, that was a little facile.  However, I do mean it (wait for it--I will make the connection).

The husband gave me a new cookbook for my birthday.  This little number is the sweet brain child of the fine folks at Bi-Rite Creamery, a wonderful stop for ice cream, right here in the City.  (Although you do need to devote some time to the standing-in-line portion of your ice cream stop.)  This cookbook is lovely.  The photography both in the book and at their website clearly has been attended to; someone (more specifically, Paige Green) takes some sweet time to think about how to make the same product--in varying shades and textures--fresh, appealing, and... well... mouth-watering.  Additionally, Bi-Rite is committed to using the products from the Straus Family Creamery--an organic (and local) dairy that truly makes the some of the best dairy products around.*  

*I am not kidding.  Their plain, non-fat yogurt is so rich, so creamy, so tangy.  I stand by this yogurt and go out of my way to buy it.

The beginning of the caramel process.

Waiting for the caramel to get toasty brown.

This ice cream--the Salted Caramel*--is well known around these here parts.  People not only come far and wide for the super soft,** frozen concoction, some even dress up as its likeness for Halloween.  People are serious about this ice cream.  As they should be.

The process of making the whole ice cream is step intensive, and what goes into the ice cream maker is almost a custard, but the results are salty, smoky, a little bit bitter, sweet, decadent.  In a word--transcendent. 

 *This flavor is not on page 210 (see here if you are not sure why that matters), but it is the one we wanted to try the most.  Another post will have to follow to see what we find on page 210.

**This ice cream is a little on the soft side--there is a super-high sugar to milk fat ratio, so it is never going to be a hard ice cream.  We couldn't resist eating it straight from the ice cream machine when it was quite soft.  I am looking forward to tomorrow night's dinner after the ice cream has been in the freezer for 24 hours.  And yes.  I am eating ice cream for dinner.  Don't judge.

So how does this ice cream connect to my thoughts on slowness?  Well, what I love about cooking in general, but about this ice cream in specific, is that you cannot rush it.  Yes, there are times when you need to work fast or be precise, but more importantly, there is a kind of soft, focused attention that must be paid in the home kitchen.*  Soft because there is a slowness in the gathering of ingredients, the reading through a recipe a couple of times to get the sense of it, the fudging around the edges of the same recipe to make it truly yours in the moment, the waiting for things to heat or temper or chill.  Focused in the measuring, the timing, the attention to detail.

*In what appears to be a post devoted to the footnote, the aside, the taking the time to jump out of a paragraph, I will also admit that this is most certainly not the case in a commercial kitchen.  And more often than not, such slowness has to be pushed aside in the domestic kitchen as well when the dinner hour is pressing and there are cranky, hungry mouths stridently calling for food.  

Look, it's autumn!  I am beginning to buy apples.

The ice bath.

And this ice cream is not a fast recipe.  Many slow steps, including:
  1. The dry caramel (oh, that smell of toasting sugar!) Generally, caramel can be a bone of contention for some, as you can truly vary the flavor of it by adding a few more minutes to cooking time.  Bi-Rite calls for a dry caramel method, wherein you make the caramel without a water-base; you do need to be vigilant to not burn your sugar, but your attention to how dark you make your own caramel allows you to determine just how smoky or even slightly bitter you want your caramel to be.
  2. The tempering of the eggs (which by definition--the mixing of a hot liquid into eggs for a custard or sauce--is about taking things in slow steps)
  3. The ice bath.  (Turns out, you cannot rush ice.)
  4. The initial cooling in the refrigerator.
  5. The time in the ice cream maker.  (Even if you keep peeking in to see if it is done.)

Pre-machine custard

Mid-machine check in.

So today, in the midst of grading and prepping and thinking and reading and writing, I made ice cream.  The husband did laundry, watered the grass, and pruned some bushes in the backyard.  Then we had this for dinner--and given the caloric impact (try not to look at the amount of cream) and the incredibly rich base (ignore those egg yolks), that seemed to be just enough.

It has been a needed and slow day.

One Year Ago: Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Two Years Ago: Catfish with Black Bean Salsa

Bi-Rite Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Adapted from  Bi-Rite Creamery's Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones

1 Quart

1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
3/4 cup 1% or 2% milk 
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
5 large egg yolks

For the Caramel: 

1.  Set the measured cream by the stove so it's at hand when you need it. Measure out 1/2 cup of the sugar and keep near the stove; you'll use this for the caramel (the rest will go in with the yolks). From the 1/2 cup, measure out 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Put 2 tablespoons in a heavy stainless steel pan over medium-high heat. When the sugar is melted around the edges and starts to turn amber in places (about 2 minutes), stir the mixture gently and add another 2 tablespoons sugar to the pan.

2.  Continue to add the rest of the 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, stirring frequently and allowing most of the sugar to melt before you add more. Watch carefully as the sugar darkens, stirring gently to help it melt evenly.

3.  When the caramel becomes a dark mahogany color (for a rich, smoky flavor--you might want a lighter flavor), remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour the cream slowly into the pan. (It will steam and bubble up, so wear oven mitts and be very careful to avoid splatters and steam burns.) When the bubbling subsides, gently stir to blend the cream completely into the caramel. If you have lumps of hardened caramel in your pan, simply put the pan over low heat and stir until the caramel is melted.  
For the Base: 

4.  Once the caramel is completely smooth, stir in the milk along with the salt and put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to medium.

5.  In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Set aside.

6.  Tempering:  Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with the yolks. Returning to the pan of cream on the stove, use a heatproof spatula to stir the cream as you slowly pour the egg and cream mixture from the bowl back into the pan.

7.  Continue to cook the mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened, coats the back of a spatula, and leaves a clear mark when you run your finger across it, 1 to 2 minutes longer.

8.  Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer and into a clean container. Set the container into an ice bath, wash your spatula, and use it to stir the base occasionally until it is cool. Then cover base with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. 
Freeze the Ice Cream: 

9.  When the base is completely chilled, freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. While the ice cream is churning, put the container you'll use to store the ice cream into the freezer. Enjoy right away, or for a firmer ice cream, freeze for at least 4 hours.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ariadne Explains Why She's Mixed Up with a Boy like Theseus


This poem from Poetry Daily by Anne Babson delights me.  It marries bull riding to Greek mythology.  Can it be better?

Ariadne Explains Why She's Mixed Up with a Boy like Theseus

Some say it weren't nothin' but a ranch hand in
A wrestling mask, but I know better. Daddy made
Me sweep up its patties, and I'll tell you what: that
Weren't no wrestler. He sure was a monster bull. 

I ain't told no one this before, it's nasty, but
I'd take my knittin' down there some days just to watch
It flex and gore the college boys they sent us up
From Athens. Any country fool knows college boys

Caint bull ride, but some promoter sent them to die,
And it was, well, I caint say what it was and be
A lady, but I'll just say this much—I liked it.
The sweet peachy-golden on their frat boy arms,

The quiver of their pouty little lips until
The horn sounded and the gate broke open, the jeans,
Tight jeans, stuffed with muscle and the untouchable,
And then that Minotaur would buck, one time, two times,

Maybe even three—and Joe College would eat dirt.
I knit a whole lot of booties for my Mee-Maw,
I'll tell you what. Nobody made it eight seconds.
Then Theseus—everybody calls him Scooter—

Daddy sent him down there while I was fixin' to
Start a new row, and I gasped and dropped my needles.
The simplest way I can say it—I saw a star,
A college boy who ought to be a rodeo

Hero, and before he mounted, I slipped him
My best ball of camelhair angora.
Scooter can sure tie a fast knot, I'll tell you what.
The Minotaur bucked, and bucked, and bucked, and bucked.

For the only time, I heard the second horn.
Eight seconds flat—and with scorin' the bull and all,
He beat, well, he beat every cowboy for all time.
My daddy gave him the trophy. It tore him up

But good, I'll tell you what, and Scooter—that is the
Boy y'all call Theseus—he's run off with me to
Naxos County for the statewide competition.
And y'all can save your breath, just like I told Daddy.

I know he ain't gonna stay with me. College boys
Get over girls like me, but there are just dangers
A girl has got to brave—straddle them, see how long
She can grab them with her thighs and float above them. 

Anne Babson

The Iowa Review
Fall 2012

Budin de Elote (Corn Pudding)

 It is officially fall.  Somewhere out there, the leaves are turning, the temperatures are dropping, pumpkins are plumping, and it feels like fall.  For me, on the other hand, I have been laid up in bed for two days--and I foresee another two--with a cold I spent all of last week avoiding.  What is it with my once-a-trimester cold?  It's as if my student germs lay in wait and then ambush me after long vacations.  I can almost guarantee I will get a cold just after winter break and another after spring break.

However, having a cold means countless hours wrapped in a comforter dragged from the bed.  It means lounging on the couch with a box of Kleenex nestled beside you while you watch Sex and the City, House Hunters International, and Chopped.  It means finally feeling well enough to read, so you read Animal Farm, something you haven't read since seventh grade in Mrs. Foley's Literature class.  It means napping at least three times a day and permitting yourself Chicken Noodle-O's and grapefruit juice with club soda.  There are certain comforts in being sick, but they are hard to appreciate.

One sacrifice I had to make with this cold is that I could not attend last night's family dinner, a monthly gathering for really good food with really good people.  I watched Amistad on demand and then Love it or List it (they listed it), while I had toast.  The husband, however, had paella and poached pears.  Sigh.

However, I can report on a dish we served at our last family dinner: the husband and I are big fans of this budin.  A late summer dish, it overflows with fresh corn and zucchini.  You can also adjust it to be full of zucchini and scallions or asparagus and green onion or even zucchini and garlic.  It is chock full of cream, and as such, we do not eat it often.

Budin is traditionally a Puerto Rican bread pudding; however, this number skips the bread altogether and flirts with the souffle as its inspiration.  It is light and fluffy, and one could serve it for any meal.  Imagine it beside mouth watering bacon for a decadent breakfast.  Or beside a light salad of arugula and beets for a scrumptious brunch.  Or serve it as we did as part of a parade of foods (including steak tacos and grilled baby artichokes).

Now I return to my regularly scheduled lounging in bed beside my new kitten.  Yes, we broke down and got two new kitties (the last year has seen the reduction of our cat numbers by two).  Adorable and rambunctious, one of them deigns to crawl into bed with me, but only after waking me at 6 a.m.  Lucky for her, I have three naps planned for today.

One Year Ago: Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Two Years Ago: Masala Dosa with Spicy Potatoes and Spinach

Budin de Elote
Adapted from  Dona Tomas by Dona Savitsky and Thomas Schnetz

6-8 Servings

3 cups fresh white corn kernels (from 3 ears of corn)*
1-2 zucchinis, diced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
3 cups heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons kosher salt

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Toss the corn and zucchini with flour to even coat.

3.  In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks.  Then add cream and salt and whisk until fully incorporated.

4.  Butter a 9-inch shallow casserole dish.  Spread the corn and zucchini in the pan to about 1-inch thick.  Pour the batter over the vegetables and bake, uncovered, for about an hour.  It should be lightly browned on top and should feel like a firm pillow to the touch.

5.  Allow to cool 15 minutes before serving.

*Don't use canned corn, as it is too wet and will alter the texture of the pudding.  If you don't have any fresh corn, up the zucchini to 3 cups and add a cup of scallions.  Or toss out the idea of zucchini and corn altogether and use 2 large roasted poblano chiles with 1/4 cup minced green garlic or alternatively go with a spring pudding of 3 cups thinly sliced asparagus with 1 cup sliced green onion.