Monday, August 10, 2009

Cinnamon Roasted Walnut Ice Cream

Edit: as of this post, this blog is on indefinite hiatus. I may do a post hear and there (?), and may revive it on a weekly basis at some future time, but for now, there's just too much to do, with too little time. This blog doesn't presently fit my time budget.

We ate this homemade ice cream about an hour and a half ago, and I'm still thinking about it. My thoughts don't get so easily hung up on foods, and when they do, it's a sign of it being something really special. Last week I made grilled pizza, and that hung in my thoughts for some time too, but more on that in a post soon to come.
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The base of this homemade ice cream is creme anglaise, which, ironically, is French for English cream. It removes the need for using heavy cream, which has a higher saturate fat content and is more expensive. Yet, creme anglaise as an ice cream base makes a rich and full flavored ice cream. Richer than cream based recipes. Which one is better is up to individual taste.

Searching the web for a recipe will usually yield one calling for cream, but it's not necessary, as using milk is a-okay. The recipe I used is from Michel Roux's Eggs. A remarkable book, one I highly recommend, and I'll be reviewing it at a later time. This master french chef uses regular ole milk. He doesn't specify, but I used whole.

2 cups milk
1/2 cup plus 2 T sugar
1 vanilla bean (or one to one and a half tsp. extract)
6 egg yolks

To see how to put it all together, a how to make creme anglais video can be found here.

Chilling the Creme Anglais
Two methods: After cooking, transfer the creme into a bowl, and chill over a bowl of ice. Immediately begin churning it in your ice cream freezer (as Michel Roux does). Or, if multiple sources are correct, a better flavor and ice cream creaminess may be achieved by chilling the creme in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 hours. This is what I did.

Cinnamon Roasted Walnuts
I found a recipe at Up My Kilt (recipes from a kilted kitchen), which I adapted for the ice cream. My adaptation is as follows, and is roughly 1/4 of the recipe provided at UMK:

4 or 5 ounces walnuts, chopped into quarters and halves
egg white, enough to wet the walnuts
1 tsp water
1 1/2 T sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon (approx.)

I spooned in egg white from the whites I didn't use in the creme anglais (it calls for only the yolks), using enough to wet the walnuts.

Note that while my adapted recipe is approximately 1/4 of the original recipe, my sugar content is less than 1/4 of the original recipe, which would have called for 3 T (12 T = 3/4 cup). Considering the sweetness of the ice cream, I cut the walnut sugar down to 1 1/2 T.

I mixed all the walnut ingredients in a heavy pan, and instead of roasting in the oven, I cooked them over the stovetop with the burner on medium high for about 10 minutes, moving the walnuts into a clean pan a few minutes into it to prevent excessive burning of the eggs and sugar that was sticking to the pan. Stir frequently. A slight burning will occur, but this is part of the flavor, and isn't strong.

Mix Walnuts Into Ice Cream, and Harden
After the ice cream has been churned in your ice cream freezer, scoop into a freezer proof container, and mix in the cinnamon roasted walnuts. Place in your freezer for 3 or 4 hours and eat.

if the sources I found on the web are right, for those using an ice and rock salt machine, crushed ice produces creamier ice cream than cubes.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Soup of the Day: First Harvest Dill

An improvised soup of mid summer vegetables that began as a means of incorporating some of those first harvested from our garden. I used two other recipes for inspiration, a pumpkin soup and a carrot soup. It was looking uncertain halfway through, but I kept at it, and it came out nicely. For the recipe to my potato, zucchini, banana squash, pumpkin, dill soup, click through.

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The first day we had this soup it tasted good, even thought the dill was unexpectedly strong. I used the stem of the dill plant, and it seemed more potent than the leaves. However, the next day, after the flavors had a chance to mix it up in the refrigerator, and after my expecting a strong dill flavor, we thought this soup tasted even better.

3 zucchini, about six inches each
8 potatoes, small
1 banana squash, about six inches
1 c. previously cooked pumpkin
1/2 to 3/4 c. sour cream
Approx. 1/4 c. cottage cheese
Approx. 1 c. potato flakes (to desired consistency)

3 cubes chicken bouillon
Approx. 1 T. fresh dill (or to taste)
pepper and salt to taste

Substitution Suggestions:
Chicken or vegetable stock (instead of chicken bouillon)
Plain yogurt (instead of the sour cream and/or cottage cheese)
More fresh potatoes (instead of the potato flakes)

The approximating in the above recipe is due to adjustments as I went along, not keeping precise note of amounts used. No worries, though, just add a lower amount and adjust upward to taste. Easy.

1. Chunk up the vegetables and cook in a large pot of water. Cut the potatoes especially small to reduce their cooking time. I used enough water to cover everything twice, but could have used less water. Cook until softened (i.e. until the zucchini becomes semi-transparent)

2. While the vegetables are cooking, add the bouillon, finely cut up dill, salt, pepper.

3. Once the vegetables are cooked, add the already cooked pumpkin. With the flame still on, use a hand blender to puree everything in the pot.

4. Blend in the sour cream and cottage cheese. If desired, add more salt, pepper, and dill to taste.

Notes: My initial struggle with getting the flavor right with this was mainly due to not having enough bouillon. I added a second, and then a third cube. Additionally, adding enough salt was key as well. In making this again, I would reduce the dill by 1/4 to 1/3. Although, dill will vary somewhat in its strength of flavor, so next time I will simply start with about half a tablespoon of dill and adjust upward to taste.



Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies and Fresh Whipped Cream

What? You have never had hot out of the oven chocolate chip cookies smothered in fresh whipped cream? It is, without question, one of the finest of desserts. Perhaps it isn't especially elegant, although, if you wish to add a touch of sophistication you may eat it with a fork. Which is actually a rather practical way to eat a cookie straight from the oven, being hot and soft and crumbly. Or load up a plateful, stick a bowl of fresh whipped cream in the middle of the table, and have the family gather around dipping and eating a bit of chocolate chip heaven.

Two notes on this: Use semi-sweet chocolate chips, as the cookie has enough sweet to make up for the chocolate. And make the whipped cream lightly sweet, enough to taste, but light enough that cream is tasted and not just sweetness. Again, the cookie is sweet enough, with the whipped cream simply providing it's own rich flavor. It's a wonderful experience to taste the ingredients that make up the dessert and not just tasting over the top sweetness. Oh, and one more tip. Place the bowl and beater in the freezer for several minutes prior to whipping, and you'll get better, faster results.



Monday, July 20, 2009


Presentation is everything. No? Okay, I've made beautiful food that lacked its match in flavor, and I'd much rather have it the other way around. But, I've been to a nice restaurant, not a fancy pants place, but a nice one, and the presentation was kinda unsightly. Well-presented food, or at least not very poorly presented food, is part of the expected experience at a nicer restaurant. When striving to create first class food, an effort at first class presentation can easily be sought for too. Just a moment of added effort to give it that extra touch. It needn't be a work of art, simply arrange it in an orderly way, add a garnish just to give it the color it lacks naturally, quickly swirl or drip some sauce on an empty portion of the plate. Just a nice little touch to add to the visual flavor of the food. This dessert here is a small example. It isn't perfect, but it has a nice added touch that makes it a bit more appetizing. Even though it came out of a plastic bag.



Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer Beets in Orange Sauce - Cooking Outside the Kitchen

Pulled up the first batch of beets from our garden the other day, and I wanted to do something fun with them. But with the summer heat, it's best to keep oven use to early morning or in the evening, both times allowing for the cooler outside air to come in through open windows. During the day we try to do without the oven.

Since I didn't want beets for breakfast, and didn't want to wait till dinner, I cooked the beets outside over an open fire. I even cooked up the orange sauce over the coals. If you like beets, click on through to see what the bunch of scraggly roots above turned into.
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Orange Sauce:
1/8 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Dash pepper
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon potato flakes

Mix the dry ingredients, whisk in the orange juice, and stir over heat until thickened. This, too, may be done on the outside grill.

The original recipe can be found at by clicking here. I did, however, reduce the sugar by half, and added a tablespoon of potato flakes to assist with thickening. No worries, as it doesn't leave a potato taste. The above ingredients indicate my changes to the original recipe.

Pre-cooking Beet prep:

Cut off the tops, leaving about an inch of stems. Washed dirt off with water. Wrapped them together (not individually) in two layers of foil for cooking.

Cooking the beets:
A barbecue would be more a more conventional method for outdoor cooking, but instead I went out to the fire ring in the backyard and built a fire. When the coals were ready, I spread them out and placed a grill so it was about five inches above the coals. Cooked them for 15 minutes on each side. (Placing the foil wrapped beets on the coals is asking for charred beets).

Rub and Cube or Slice:

The beet skins rub off after cooking. Using a paper towel makes it easier than rubbing bare handed. The beets do stain, but if you wash a few times during cutting, your hands won't retain much if any of the red color. Photo at left shows skinless beets.

Cut up the beets into slices or cubes, and pour the orange sauce over them and serve.



Friday, July 10, 2009

Homemade Tortilla Chips

To go along with the earlier pico de gallo post, here's a quick post about makin' up a batch of your own restaurant style tortilla chips. It's easy, and only takes about 10-15 minutes total, including cutting up the tortillas, and heating the oil.
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It's easy, really. Buy some corn tortillas, cut them up into wedges, and cook them up in a pan or pot of hot oil. I like to have the oil be fairly shallow, maybe only half an inch deep, and cook up to eight wedges (two tortillas) at a time.

Canola, vegetable, soybean, or even olive oil can all work.
Set the burner to medium high (at 7 or 8 if yours is numbered up to 9). Make sure the oil is hot enough by dipping an edge of tortilla in. If it bubbles, it's ready. Keep an eye on the oil, though, as it smokes if too hot.

The wedges can overlap each other in the pan. When they've browned up a bit, they're done. Or, if the bubbling dies down a lot, that's another sign of being done. Pulling them out too early tastes good too, but they won't be crispy, but soft and kind of chewy.

You can salt them if you like, but if you're eating them with salsa or pico de gallo, there isn't much point. Heck, I think a fried tortilla tastes great unsalted even without salsa. And if you'll notice, the Mexican restaurants don't salt their fresh chips.



Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Food Photography

I'm an avid reader of strobist, written by David Hobby. If you want to kick your photography up a notch, it's a good blog to read. Lately, he's been sending his readers through boot camp, and this weeks assignment was to photograph food. "Perfect," I thought.

This post isn't about how to make the food, but how to photograph it, if you're into that kind of thing. The first part is novice friendly. I'll then add more for the intermediate shooter, then add more for the bit more advanced shooter.

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I took the above photograph for the Strobist Boot Camp II assignment. I can't imagine it winning (there's already better ones in the running), but it was fun, I learned, and to date, it's holding it's own in the submission pool. It just isn't the best. For some very basic simple pointers on shooting food, read on.

For The Novice
This photo of choux buns was taken with a camera on a tripod. The main light source is coming from above and behind the choux buns. In a nutshell, that's it.

Some tips:

Use a window as a light source, just place your food so the window is above and behind it. The light should be either straight behind, behind and to the side, or maybe even directly to the side in some cases, but not in front. The back and/or side light helps show texture. The food will be between the camera and the window. Raising or lowering the food in relation to the window will give different results. Experiment a little.

Set your camera to shoot on timer mode. Even with the tripod, pushing the button will give a little camera shake, which the timer mode will prevent from affecting the photo.

No tripod? No biggie. Handheld can produce fair enough results (albeit almost always a little blurry). Or you can set you camera down. Put it in a bean bag to allow you to angle it downward toward your food. If your food is on a table, set the camera on a higher table, or stack books up so you can set the camera to look down on the food.

Don't use the on-camera flash. Turn it off. Let the window do the lighting work. Because it's bigger than your flash, and comes above and behind your food, it is a better quality of light for your food.

If you're a full auto shooter, this ought to get you decent results. If it turns out too dark, or too light, and you know how to tell your camera to make a brighter or darker photo, make the adjustment to your camera, and shoot again.

For The Intermediate Shooter
Set your camera to full manual if you can. Second option is to set it to Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority. Each of these should be able to allow you to adjust your camera settings to make a darker or brighter photo. Consult your camera's instructions on how to use these camera modes.

Full manual isn't so scary. It's simple once you give it a shot, and it gives you greater control of your results. If you're not familiar with how to use your camera's manual setting, consult your camera's instructions. For a beginning setting, set the camera to f/5.6 and your shutter speed to 1/30. If the photo is too dark, do one of two things. Slow down the shutter speed (e.g. 1/15) and/or open up your aperture (e.g. f/4). If it's too light, do the opposite: speed up your shutter (e.g. 1/100) and/or close down your aperture (e.g. f/8). Note that changing your aperture will also change your depth of field, so that more or less of your food is in focus. Keep that in mind as you shoot. You may also change your ISO. A higher ISO will make the photo brighter, but will also introduce more noise the higher you increase the ISO.

For The Advanced Shooter
For the settings aficionado, this was shot at f/6.3, 1/15, 100 ISO, at 200mm. A speedlight fired into a silver umbrella was above and behind the food. The food setup was on the floor. Two windows in the kitchen provided daylight for the fill. (I could have gotten similar lighting without the speedlight and umbrella if I placed the food close to a window so that the window light came from above and behind.)

I toyed with the aperture, and at 200mm I liked the depth of f/6.3. The 1/15 shutter speed allowed for the ambient window light to create a shadow brightness to my liking, but I could have gone a little slower/brighter, or even placed something reflective in front to bounce back the strobe light.

I also stood up a piece of paper between the flash and the mug, to knock down the light hitting the milk, as it was too bright otherwise.

And that, as they say, is that.