Monday, March 8, 2010

Now what?

  1. A friend sent me a recipe for Chai Ice Cream last summer, but I never got around to making it.
  2. Another friend, Megan, made lemon ice cream for book club last week, and went on and on about how easy it was, how she just threw it together after work, blah, blah, blah.

1 + 2 = unwarranted confidence.

I don't do caffeine (I know, I'm a freak) so I grabbed a box of Tazo decaf chai concentrate from the store and some heavy cream. I figured I'd follow the directions for a chai latte, equal parts milk and concentrate, but substitute heavy cream for the milk. Toss it all in the machine, plug it in and go have a glass of wine, a la Megan. So I did that, but that's where my experience and hers part ways. It did freeze, and did resemble ice cream, in a way. But it really tasted like I'd mixed shave ice with hard butter. Chai flavored ice crystals with small bits of butter suspended in them.

1+2= inedible

Round two

When all else fails, turn to a recipe. I found a recipe on line and followed it. Almost exactly. It wanted 2 cups of heavy cream and I only had 1.5, so I topped it off with half and half. It is a custard-based recipe, and there's always that difficult moment when making custard. The moment after you have mixed the eggs and warm cream together, when you are trying to get it warm enough to thicken but not so warm that it scrambles. That has historically not been a good moment for me and yesterday was not an exception.

After I strained out the tiny bits of scrambled egg with 2 layers of cheesecloth and a fine mesh strainer, I set the whole thing to chill. Later on, as we prepared dinner, I tumbled the mix into the bowl and turned on the machine. It set up beautifully, smooth and creamy. I knew the flavor was good from the requisite sampling earlier. Scooped out 2 bowls and settled in, ready to be delighted.

1+2+ a recipe = only marginally edible

Same thing, only the lumps of butter where smaller. I left it on the counter over night and threw it away this morning.

2 days, 2 quarts of cream, 1 liter of chai concentrate, 1 c of milk and 2/3 cup of sugar = down the drain.

So what went wrong? And what do I do now?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

reconsidering pork

Maybe I don't like pork. I think I do, and at some point I did, so I still have that emotional flashback when I think about pork. Pork chops in the windowless yellow breakfast nook in the Newtown house. I've never been able to recreate those pork chops, I've never recaptured that particular porky, fatty, crispy flavor and I blame the new lean pork, this other white meat crap. We already have chicken, I don't want a pork chop that tastes like an especially bland chicken. Chicken is bland enough.
When I was vegetarian, the first meat I ate, when I decided to stop being vegetarian, was bacon. I fell off the wagon for bacon. The second time I lost my virginity, it was to bacon.
But the pork shoulder, that I keep slow braising, keeps letting me down. There was the stew with milk and tomatoes. And then there were the carnitas.
My sister had a sort of fajita taco meal that she told me about, but hers was with chicken, the less bland white meat. And, having an emotional pork flashback, I thought, that would be really good with pork. So I found a recipe for carnitas. It was from cooks illustrated and as I read it over, I recalled that I had made it once a few years ago and not especially liked it. But my emotional flashback was overwhelming and I disregarded that memory and thought, NO, it sounds delicious, caramelized and crispy with orange and cumin and a freshening squeeze of lime. How could I possibly not like that?
So I made it, braise the pork, (the thing I like about pork, is that no one ever wants you to brown it ahead of time and I appreciate that). Then remove the pork and shred it, cook the liquid down to a syrup, fold this syrup back into the shredded meat then stick it all under the broiler. And it was just OK. Not enough flavor, or enough crisp, but the biggest problem is a greasy, sort of coagulated, mouth feel. It is as if pork fat has a particularly high melt point and the temperature of my mouth doesn't quite reach that, so there is always some congealing pork fat. It is really not good. Maybe it should be saved for very hot summer days and only eaten outside. My house is heated to 66 which seems perfectly warm enough, especially if you wear three layers, and who doesn't wear at least three layers this time of year? But maybe pork wants you sitting around in a wifebeater, swigging cold beer as sweat runs down your back. Actually, that doesn't sound that appetizing either.
I have a new culprit, really, the old culprit. The new pork. I get it from Whole Foods, so it is natural and at least somewhat humanely raised, but now I am thinking it might not be enough. It might still be a genetically modified anxious and skittish pig, just in a slightly larger pen. And, if you believe your Humane Society mailings, the ones where they say the pigs drop dead from fright if they ever see the outdoors, because to make them so lean they have bred them to be particularly twitchy and tense, that larger pen would only be a torment to this porcine bundle of nerves.
So I have a new plan. Back on the hunt for a local pig farmer. One raising a heritage breed, a pig that is stuporous, languid, and sanguine. And until I find that indolent pig, I'll stick to bacon.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rrrrribolita Rrrrrrrocks!

More tales from the farmers market.

Searching the cupboards for inspiration last weekend, I found a small package of white beans I bought from a farmer last fall. After the antique lentil experience over New Year's I thought I'd better use them up. So I set them to soak overnight and asked my sister what to make. Once we'd discussed the usual white beans, escarole and sausage stew (which is totally amazing but somewhat boring right now) she suggested Ribolita, using the recipe from the Junior League cookbook from San Francisco.

I followed the recipe closely, but not exactly because that would be silly. You make a vegetable swamp with onions, garlic, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, kale, spinach and fennel in chicken broth. Cook the white beans and puree about half of them with more chicken broth. Put the swamp and the bean mash together, add more chicken broth and let it sit over night. Not essential, just the way my life was working that day.

When you are ready to finish it, you put half of the soup in a casserole, layer slices of crusty bread on top, grate a mess of parmesian on it, then top with the remaining soup and another slug of parmesian. The recipe wants you to top it with thinly sliced onions but I thought they might get dried out, so skipped that part. Bake for an hour or so.

Holy catfish, Robin, this is amazing. You will not believe how silky smooth the bread gets, and how rich and flavorful the vegetables are. How can vegetables taste this good?

Photos are in the camera, not the computer so will try to edit later to include them.

PS I miss the Olympics…