Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When It’s 85 Degrees in February

This is my fifteenth winter in Los Angeles. You’d think that by now I’d be used to July weather in February. I’m not. But, I am trying to enjoy it. While my New York family members dig themselves out of the snow and deal with hat hair, I am skimming my pool and drawing the daffodils that have once again graced me with their presence in my backyard.

It’s not all great on the Left Coast in winter, though. From January through March or sometimes April (!), without fail, I am plagued by allergic rhinitis and rhinoconjunctivitis of the most intense caliber. I can’t breathe, have a red, raw, sore throat and it hurts to keep my eyes open. I can’t wear eye makeup, which just spreads the misery to those who have to look at me. Sometimes allergy meds alleviate the symptoms, but mostly I tear through boxes of Kleenex and count the days until April. I never had allergies growing up in New York, so there is something that blows through or grows in Los Angeles in the winter that my body summarily rejects.

When it’s 85 degrees in February and warm lemon-ginger tea no longer soothes my aching throat, I must turn to ice cream.

Oddly, last summer I didn’t use my ice cream maker once. A few weeks ago I dusted it off, literally, and put it to good use. Coffee ice cream is a popular dessert item in this house, so I decided to try my hand at it. I had some toasted almonds and dark chocolate in the cabinet, and I threw those in as well.

The result almost had me forgetting about the allergies and my dreams of moving to Portland, Oregon. Almost. I still think Portland would be a really cool place to live, and I didn’t sneeze once either time I was there.

I won’t make the mistake of neglecting my ice cream maker this summer. I plan to frolic with fresh, local blueberries, peaches and strawberries.

Even if you don’t experience summer-like temps in winter or have terrible allergies, make a date with your ice cream maker. It’ll get you in excellent practice for summer.

Espresso Almond Chunk Ice Cream
Makes about a quart

I love Medaglia D’Oro instant espresso, but feel free to use whatever floats your boat. Same goes for the chocolate: Use chocolate you really like to eat. If dark chocolate isn’t your thing, use milk chocolate, semisweet—you get the picture.

1 cup reduced-fat (2%) milk
⅔ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons instant espresso
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Generous pinch sea salt
½ cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 ounces good dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk, sugar and espresso and mix, using a whisk or hand mixer, until the sugar melts. This takes me about 5 minutes with an electric hand mixer.
2. Pour in heavy cream, vanilla and sea salt and mix until just combined. You don’t want to start whipping a ton of air into the cream.
3. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and churn until thickened, about 20 minutes. Pour in the chocolate and almonds and churn until they are well mixed in, about another 5 minutes.
4. Spoon ice cream into a container and put in the freezer for a few hours until it hardens up a bit. If it gets really hard, take it out of the freezer 15 minutes before serving to facilitate scooping.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fear and Chocolate Truffle Tartlets

In his first inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I think he was right on the money with that one.

This week I confronted one of my biggest baking fears: piecrust. And, like childbirth, I had built it up to be far more heinous than it actually was. I think I was more afraid of my fear than I was of the piecrust. I had to do the crust twice because the first batch was way too crumbly. (I did childbirth just once, and luckily Max was just the right consistency.) I think my measurements may have been a bit off on the crust. I did invest in a pastry scraper prior to attempting the second batch, and I’m glad I did.

 I made the Chocolate Truffle Tartlets for Valentine’s Day. I’m generally not too gung-ho about V Day, and I hate going out to dinner. I’d much rather stay home and cook. The tartlets were pretty good. I’m total chocolate lover, but there was something about these that just didn’t rock my world. Maybe I was tired from a long day of work, and I would have felt differently if I weren’t exhausted. I don’t know. It was probably the crust. I truly enjoyed the filling and would have been very content to consume it in its entirety with a wooden spoon while listening to Adele, who often accompanies me in the kitchen.

The recipe calls for biscotti or amaretti cookies as part of the filling. I couldn’t find biscotti that looked up to snuff and I’m not a big fan of amaretti cookies, so I used these almond thins. They are delicious, but I think the filling would have been fine without them.

 So, another baking fear conquered, and I think when I’m caught up on sleep I will feel more triumphant.  I’m looking forward to rugelach, which I’ve been wanting to make for years, on March 6. If you’ve never eaten rugelach, treat yo self and partake as soon as you possibly can.

 The recipe for Chocolate Truffle Tartlets is here, here, here and here. Or, why not buy the book?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia

Last fall, I decided that I would start to do things that scared me. Not Jackass-type or illegal things; things that at first thought really excited me, but when that annoying, loud voice would chime in with, Are you nuts? You can’t do that! I would bail on the idea. When I read that Tuesdays with Dorie, the online baking club, was starting up again and was going to bake through all the recipes in Baking with Julia, I knew it was a sign. I love and respect Baking with Julia as a book, but the thought of actually baking stuff from it terrifies me. There’s bread in that book and pies with real crust, which scares the crap out of me and which I chronicled last week. And, oh, yeah, there’s a flippin’ wedding cake in that book! Horror, horror and more horror. I joined Tuesdays with Dorie immediately.

 My first attempt at the starter recipe, White Loaves (pages 81-82), was an epic fail. The dough didn’t rise, the bread was as heavy as a brick, and the kitchen looked as though the gents of the World Wrestling Federation had stopped by for a scrimmage.

The recipe calls for a stand-up mixer, which I don’t have. Instead, I halved the recipe and used my food processor. When the bread was not the equivalent of the bread in the book, I thought, Of course, I need a KitchenAid mixer. I can’t make bread without a KitchenAid mixer. After I took a few minutes to breathe, I realized that my hearty Western European and Finnish ancestors made bread without the help of any electric devices, and if they could do it, heck, so could I.

I used bread flour of the second loaf, which was a vast improvement, but it didn’t look exactly like the bread in the book. True, I had used a larger loaf pan, but I didn’t get exactly the results pictured in the book. The bread, however, was delicious—the golden crusty outside protected the spongy, fragrant inside. Dan and I ate it, buttered, with my favorite lentil soup, and Max happily brought the remainder of the loaf back to his bachelor pad to share with his roomies.

 I was feeling a little disappointed in my bread until I saw the January 29 episode of Downton Abbey. When Mrs. Patmore, the cook, brings a loaf of bread into the kitchen during one scene, I quickly paused my DVR. Mrs. Patmore’s loaf of bread looked almost exactly like mine! She cut it into thick slices as she talked to the kitchen assistant, Daisy. I watched that scene about three times, not paying a bit of attention to the dialogue. I just wanted to see Mrs. Patmore slice that beautiful bread.

Next recipe: Chocolate Truffle Tartlets. With real piecrust. Gulp.