Sunday, July 31, 2005

The ice cream project: gingersnap ice cream

To non-cooks, the idea of making ice cream might sound borderline psychotic. You can get excellent ice cream in stores and at ice cream parlors. Making the stuff requires time, a bit of know-how, and special equipment. To anyone who sees cooking as a chore, the pleasure of ice cream is not worth an milligram of sweat or a moment of frustration. That's a shame, because homemade ice cream is a pure delight.

I can think of at least five reasons to make your own ice cream.

1. It's fun to make things.

2. It's much cheaper to make good ice cream than to buy good ice cream in the store.

3. There are ingredients in storebought ice cream, like stabilizers, that I would rather not eat.

4. There are flavors of ice cream that you can only make--or dream up--yourself.

5. Homemade ice cream, like all home cooking, has the potential to be better than anything you would eat outside the home because you made it your way, with the care and attention you give things you do for yourself and your friends and family. A huge part of food is the experience surrounding its consumption. The french fries in a French bistro may actually taste no different from those in an American greasy spoon, but the experience of the french fries makes them distinctive in each place. When you feed yourself, this experiential component is intensely personal.

The goal of my ice cream project is to be able to create new flavors without constantly looking up recipes in books. I want to be able to do the same thing with ice cream that I can do with Chinese stirfry or pizza or grilled chicken. Vary, substitute, experiment, discover. (For this recipe I admit I'm still using training wheels. This is just vanilla with stuff mixed into it.)

This technique is for "French vanilla," the kind of ice cream made with eggs. Basically, you cook a vanilla custard, you chill the mixture, and you freeze it. A few handfuls of gingersnaps broken up between your fingers get folded in halfway through the freezing process.

The egg yolks, a whole lot of them, are whisked with sugar to the "ribbon stage," which is when a ribbon of egg falls from the whisk. The eggs thicken and pale in color.

This batch claimed my favorite whisk, which snapped in two.

I mixed some heavy cream and half-and-half and heated it gently. I tempered the eggs into the warm cream below, mixing with whisk #2. Tempering eggs heats them up gently without letting their proteins coagulate as they do when you fry them in a pan.

This custard mixture cooked over medium heat until it reached 170 degrees Fahrenheit, well short of the boil. Note the thermometer affixed to the pan by a binder clip. Yes, I have seen every episode of Good Eats.

Once we're up to temperature, the custard goes into a bowl and chills overnight.

The next day you add vanilla extract and pour this soupy mixture into an ice cream machine. It churns away while you wash dishes or check to see how many people logged onto your blog.

When it's done churning you could eat your ice cream but it will melt fast and its texture will be softer than is ideal. Ice cream should be firm but scoopable. At this just-frozen temperature, however, it's the perfect texture for having tasty bits--crumbled up gingersnaps, in our case--folded into it. Then it goes into the coldest spot of the freezer for at least a couple of hours, better yet half a day. If it's too hard to scoop, 10-20 seconds in the microwave will soften any ice cream without turning it into a sauce.

And here is the final product, my fingers around a sugar cone of homemade gingersnap ice cream. I took care to crumble some of the cookies finely and to leave others in large chunks. This gave the whole scoop a gingery flavor, with a few bites that were mostly cookie. I wouldn't change this ice cream one iota. Reader, I ate it.

My other ice creams:

  • Egg ice cream

  • Black sesame ice cream

  • Green chile mint ice cream

  • Rice ice cream

  • Cardamom ice cream

  • Sour cream anise ice cream

  • Caramel ice cream

  • Apples and honey ice cream

  • Watermelon sour cream sherbet

  • Mojito cream cheese ice cream

  • Peach frozen yogurt

  • Oatmeal raisin ice cream

  • Mango cream cheese ice cream

  • Mocha ice cream

  • Berry buttermilk sherbet
  • Saturday, July 30, 2005

    First haircut

    Orthodox Jews jam, rock, and rap

    Matisyahu is "the world's first Hasidic Jewish reggae star." An interview and performance on World Cafe.

    Reva L'Sheva is apparently the orthodox answer to the Grateful Dead. Follow the "hear music" link to listen to recordings.

    Both come from a culture of messianic "hippie orthodox Judaism" (Matisyahu's phrase). Cool, huh?

    Friday, July 29, 2005

    Chico's Cincinnati Chili

    The chili I most want to taste is in the movie Touch of Evil. Orson Welles's character, a cop, waddles across the Mexican border into a whorehouse, and there is Marlene Dietrich smoking a cigarillo. The characters are acquainted from long ago. "I must say, I wish it was your chili I was gettin' fat on," Welles says. A little later he tells her that after his case is over he wants to come back for some of her chili. "It may be too hot for you," Marlene says, oozing sex. May it?

    Until I get my Purple Rose of Cairo moment, I will gladly settle for my buddy Chico's Cincinnati chili, a sublime, eccentric dish. Chico is known in cyberspace as the guy who made like weird Al Yankovic and lost on Jeopardy! Sadly for me, he is leaving the Midwest in a few days, and he agreed to make his chili for a farewell dinner last evening in Madison.

    Cincinnati chili is American regional cuisine, an ingenious variation on the tex-mex classic. It is made with unusual seasonings and garnished five ways. Although I have made and eaten a variety of chilis, from lentil chili with sweet white corn to hold-the-beans-cowboy Texas chili with habaneros, I am singularly impressed by Chico's Cinci-chili. It kicks their collective ass.

    Chico, JF, and I assembled in JF"s kitchen (which JF built with his own two hands, really nice work too). We began prepping ingredients.

    Chico had some stew meat he bought at a farmer's market. From playing "Know Your Cuts of Meat" I can say it looked to me like round.

    He cut it into smaller cubes while JF and I assembled things you measure in teaspoons and tablespoons. In addition to unsweetened chocolate grated with one of those nifty microplanes,

    his recipe calls for an astonishing assortment of herbs and spices. In alphabetical order: allspice, bay, black pepper, cardamom, chili powder (itself an assortment), cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, mace, marjoram, nutmeg, paprika, and turmeric. We ground some of them ourselves.

    In the finished dish these blend into a complete, complex flavor. It tastes like chili but it doesn't. In some ways it's like a curry but it doesn't taste exotic, and the chocolate gives it the same bitter backbone you find in some moles. (On an episode of America's Test Kitchen the other day I saw them put unsweetened chocolate in Mulligatawny soup, so there's another South Asian connection.) We also readied the rest of the ingredients: onions, garlic, tomatoes, honey, ketchup, red wine vinegar, and some water.

    This all basically got tossed in the pot. It would be a good dish to do in a slow cooker. Contrary to chefy protocols, we didn't sear the meat first or sweat onions and garlic in oil, and I think the dish was better than it would have been if we had done these things. This settled for me a dispute (in my mind) between Bittman and Batali in favor of the former: you don't have to get good color on meat to get great flavor in a braise.

    We covered the chili and went to hang out in the living room and discuss DVD storage and other vexing problems. After half an hour we put a pot of water on the stove to boil. When it did we dropped in a pound of spaghetti.

    One of the delights of this dish is the way it's served: five ways, with five garnishes. Four of them go in little condiment cups: red kidney beans, oyster crackers, onions, and cheese. I was puzzled by the beans being on top of rather than mixed in with the chili, but it works. The whole dish just works, and it would be wrong to screw with it.

    The fifth, spaghetti, goes under the chili. We cooked the spaghetti, drained it, and tossed it in the pasta pot with some butter. Here's the chili when it was ready to serve.

    And here's what it looks like when you eat it.

    JF managed just one bowl, Chico and I each polished off two. Guess which of us is the thinnest. This is a chili Orson Welles would have loved, and I'm grateful to Chico for making it before leaving on his great adventures. Take care, buddy.

    Shopping list: garam masala, onion powder, oregano, thyme, Madagascar vanilla beans

    Take me with you!

    Amateur Gourmet, can I tag along the next time you and your family trek off to Europe? Please?

    You paid what?

    An online restaurant reviewer in Portland, Maine, complains that his bill for two at a restaurant full of well-heeled tourists came to $178, including drinks and tip. In the comments that follow, the restaurant's general manager accuses him of being dishonest, noting that the bill included three Stolis and three glasses of wine. Other commenters pile on the GM for disclosing the contents of the bill to the whole world. And the Chowhounds pile on the reviewer/blogger and his supporters. (I am with the Chowhounds.)

    Thursday, July 28, 2005

    Close but no

    Harry Potter is like a good TV show,...

    ...comments John Powers on Fresh Air. (Not available for listening until later today.)

    "The bran muffin of fish"

    Salmon is passé! Salmon is delicious! Salmon farming is bad! Salmon is good for you!
    All that and more, at Slate.

    I want

    Wednesday, July 27, 2005

    Franklin files

    In my fantasy The New Yorker hires a new television critic, someone like Ken Tucker or Amy Amatangelo who is passionate about the medium and appreciates its appeals. In a recent issue, for example, the magazine's current critic, Nancy Franklin, devoted several columns of text to a forgettable stinker, The Inside, and then in a single paragraph breezily failed to describe what makes The Closer so much fun, though not before expressing her desire for "a long, gleaming line of gin-and-tonics stretching to the horizon." She wants the show to go beyond Brenda's food cravings to reveal more character--missing how much these little bits of business matter--and she totally missells the show by emphasizing its sensational gore and catty attitude instead of its strong writing and acting.

    Here is her latest review, of the war drama Over There. She ends with some punditry (perhaps she coveted one of the slots as Maureen Dowd's pinch hitter):
    There’s an overall pointlessness to the show that’s rather shocking, considering the outrageous lies and arrogance that got us into the war. But pointlessness may be inevitable in a country where, at the moment, to risk telling the truth—beyond the truth that soldiers die in war and things are tough on the home front, too—is to be condemned as unpatriotic.
    Is this to be taken seriously? Steven Bochco is making shockingly pointless television because he can't afford to risk criticizing the war? People are afraid to tell the truth about, say, the Iraqi insurgency, Osama at large, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the WMD, Rove/Plame, global warming, evolution, etc.? People are talking about this stuff every day in the mainstream media. Indeed, on television.

    Observed at the playground

    Kudos, geeks

    The av club section of The Onion has a new look and a blog to go with it. I'll drink to anything that makes my path to Savage Love more inviting.

    Why I like Public Brewery

    1. For supporting the new kid in town.

    2. For dissing the paper of record and the non-New Yorkers who prefer it to their local news (I saw myself in that description and it made me a bit ashamed that I so rarely read the MJS).

    3. For thinking local. PB makes me proud to live in Milwaukee. For example see this post on the Charlie Sykes libel case.

    Help Steve Guttenberg, he's out of control!

    Here he is at zap2it.

    Tuesday, July 26, 2005

    The Tuna Casserole

    I don't know if I have ever had the standard American tuna casserole made with chunk tuna, canned cream of mushroom soup, and a topping of corn flakes. It's probably declicious. I don't knock it. But this is better.

    We begin with mushrooms. These were in the fridge for at least three weeks. Some say when in doubt, throw it out. I say when in doubt, taste and count to ten. If you're still standing, keep eating. But seriously, Jacques Pépin said on his TV show that old button mushrooms turn into cremini mushrooms when they get really brown and those sell for twice as much or more. Take that freshness police!

    I sauted them in smoking hot oil, added minced garlic and thyme, deglazed with Shaoxing wine and reduced that to nothing. Then the shrooms waited in a bowl.

    Meanwhile, these Manischewitz noodles boiled a minute short of the package directions. Manischewitz used to have fantastic radio commercials, which (if I recall correctly) are part of the Yiddish Radio Project.

    I drained and rinsed these. At this point I took a break to color with crayons and watch a bit of Noggin.

    When I made it back to the kitchen I fired my big pan up and made a roux of butter, flour and onions.

    After a few minutes I started adding liquid: lowfat milk and chicken stock. Stirring, whisking, getting out the lumps. When it was smooth I tossed the cooked mushrooms in and seasoned it well with salt and white pepper.

    By now you're saying: you can't make a tuna casserole--THE tuna casserole--without tuna! Indeed the tuna is the best part, but the stuff you put in your tuna salad sandwich won't cut it. You don't need the premium tuna that fetches upwards of $10 a jar. I use Genova Tonno, actually an imprint of Chicken of the Sea, which my local fancy-pants grocery store sells for $1.99 a can. I bet the tuna tastes better in Genova, mind you. But Genova Tonno is packed in olive oil and it's delicious stuff. I also recommend it in salade Niçoise (French) or in tuna and white bean salad (Italian). Perhaps if this Haverchuk thing keeps going I'll make some of that stuff and share it with you.

    Before dumping the tuna in, though, I remembered that a casserole needs a topping. I melted some butter by floating it in a stainless steel bowl in my roux-thickened sauce. I was pleased with this innovation.

    And I got out some panko. These little pellets of Japanese crunch are killer.

    I tossed the panko with the butter to coat it and mixed that with grated sharp cheddar. If you're ever really stuck for a snack, you could do worse than this little crust concoction microwaved for about 30 seconds.

    We return to our sauce, bubbling away on the stove. I dumped the tuna into it, which by now was thickened nicely, and gave it a stir.

    After that I folded in the noodles. Then I turned the mixture into a well-greased 9x9 pan.
    I topped this with my crust mixture and this is how it looked before baking.

    Into a 375-degree oven for about half an hour. And here's my dinner.

    Now I shall compliment myself: this food was really great. I wish I could feed it to you through the internet. The noodles are still a bit firm though hardly al dente, which would be all wrong in this kind of dish. The sauce coats the noodles to the point that it doesn't seem like a sauce at all. The mushroom flavor is subtle, the tuna assertive, and the crust is a balance of bright and crunchy against the soft lusciousness of the noodles. I ate more of this stuff than I should have.

    Props to Fluffy Dollars

    For this flattering endorsement. Now go check out their celebrity pets and Marxist country music criticism.


    There is no evidence that John Roberts is gay. Althouse suggests that the NY Times intentionally created an impression that he might be gay by their choice and layout of photos of JR in his younger days. This is not a strong claim and I don'’t buy it. As Wonkette reports, however, this dubious idea is everywhere.

    I get a different impression from looking at the same pictures. I see a product of patriarchal privilege. The absence of women from the pictures is evidence not of homosexuality but of the old boys club. They speak to Roberts' status as an affluent white male like Bush, a fortunate son. If the Times editors were trying to convey a point that isn't made explicit in the accompanying text, this is a far better candidate than "Roberts might be gay."

    On a radio program Althouse said that jokes on the late night comedy shows about Roberts' gender and ethnicity were offensive. Huh? Since when is it offensive to joke about the privileges enjoyed by the elite? And are we to believe that the Bushies ignored their candidates' gender and ethnicity in making their choice? That if the same résumé came attached to a minority candidate, his or her minority status would not have been a point in the pro column?

    Bush could have opted for a nominee whose social privilege did not grease his or her path to power as much as Roberts' did. Advocates for social justice may rightly be disappointed that Bush missed an opportunity to advance the cause of diversity in employment (as he has done in making his administrations as diverse as they have been).

    Monday, July 25, 2005

    From the stacks

    In the campus library today on my way to the books about physiognomy this caught my attention. I think I know the answer to the question posed by the title: men barbecue because it gets them out of the house. But upon closer inspection I found that it's not really what I was expecting. As this review makes clear, the author spends way more time defending female genital mutilation (in Africa) than on explicating masculinity or discussing pan-cultural universals of cookery.

    As for the face books, they were sandwiched between volumes on graphology, phrenology, and other old pseudosciences. But physiognomy, unlike those things, is making a comeback. See for example this fascinating book.

    Along came Bill

    This is Bill Haverchuck, the geekiest of the Freaks and Geeks .

    Not to be confused with Haverchuk, sans c.

    Sunday, July 24, 2005

    A chicken with three legs

    Beer can chicken seemed like a good idea. It was only supposed to be 96 degrees today, not too hot to stand over a grill billowing smoke all around the porch.

    To begin, the bird got a bath. A brine, actually.

    After that, a rub. Mine is not secret. It's my mother's friday night chicken application, the Jewish quatre epices of paprika, garlic, salt, and pepper. To make it more barbequey I went for some brown sugar and cayenne too.

    The chicken was impaled on a half-full can of High Life. The other half--where else?--in my belly. The grill had a nice fire going on one side, the chicken went on the other. The beer can and its two legs function as a tripod to hold it upright.

    I tossed some hickory chips on the charcoal, lidded the grill up, and dangled a probe thermometer through the air vent. Smoke everywhere at first. My eyes got in the way. The temp rose to around 350, perfect. I went inside to cool off and chase a toddler around.

    An hour and twenty minutes later it looked like this.

    At the table I served it with some grilled fennel. The smoke flavor was subtle. The meat was juicy. Crispy, spicy skin. The beer's not for flavor really, but to generate steam so that the chicken cooks from the outside in at the same time as from the inside out. Faster cooking, less moisture lost, better flavor and texture. Also for support to stand the bird upright on the grate. I was thrilled with the visuals. Brought to my mind the delectable birds hanging in Chinatown windows.

    This was fun, but the best part was the process. Which reminds me of the bizarre recipe for salmon in the dishwasher. You wrap the fish in foil and run a cycle (without detergent or dirty dishes).