Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ginger Grapefruit Sorbet

The process of making ice cream and sorbet is not really that challenging once you get the hang of a few basic techniques. Master those, and the fun of experimenting with flavor combinations begins. This recipe for Ginger Grapefruit Sorbet is one of my first forays into flavor freestyling.

Generally speaking, sorbet is fruit juice based and contains no dairy. (Add a dairy component and you have sherbet.) It is typically flavored with fruit purees or juices but may also be made with chocolate, coffee, liqueur, or nuts.

Sorbet's closest cousins are the Italian ice (also known as the water ice) and granita, which differs mainly in the texture of the end product, granitas having larger ice crystals. If you have a sweet tooth but are lactose intolerant, sorbets, ices, and granitas can be your best friends.

This recipe requires knowledge of two basic cooking techniques: making a simple syrup and preparing an ice bath.

Ginger Grapefruit Sorbet

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 cup water

  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

  • 3 cups freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice, chilled

  • Natural red food dye, if desired

Combine sugar, water, and ginger in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar. Let boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator or an ice water bath.

Using a slotted spoon, remove ginger slices from syrup and discard. If desired, pour grapefruit juice through a strainer to remove pulp. Add grapefruit juice to ginger syrup and stir to combine. If desired, add red food dye, a drop at a time, to make the mixture a deep pink color -- it will lighten considerably when it freezes. Process in ice-cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. Freeze for at least 4 hours to ripen before serving.

This dessert post has been submitted to this month's citrus-themed Sugar High Friday event, created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess and hosted by Tartelette.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cherry-Walnut Crisp with Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

One of our favorite family desserts is ice cream, and we eat it year-round, in all kinds of weather. Although I love experimenting with flavor combinations and do keep my two ice-cream machines busy with "research," sometimes plain old, down-to-earth vanilla is the only flavor that will satisfy.

This version is a Philly-style vanilla; that is, made without eggs. It works up in minutes, and you can eat it plain or add whatever mix-ins your heart desires.

Of course, showcasing a few snowy curls melting atop a mound of buttery Cherry-Walnut Crisp is awfully nice too.

Easy Philly-Style Vanilla Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups half-and-half
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
Dash salt

Combine all ingredients in a chilled stainless-steel mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until thoroughly combined. Pour vanilla base into ice-cream machine and process according to manufacturer's instructions. When the ice-cream is set, spoon into a freezer-safe container with a lid and let ripen in the freezer for at least 3 hours before serving.

Cherry-Walnut Crisp

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup quick oats (not instant)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temperature (no substitutes)
1 can (21 ounces) cherry pie filling (do not use "lite")
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and spray the bottom and sides of a 2-quart casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine flours, sugar, oats, and cinnamon in a medium mixing bowl and cut butter in until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in chopped walnuts.

Distribute half of the crumb mixture over the bottom of the casserole and lightly pat down to smooth. Spoon the cherry pie filling over this base. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the pie filling.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until the crumbs turn golden brown and the cherry filling bubbles up around the edges of the crumb topping. Let cool fifteen minutes before serving. Serve warm with homemade Philly-Style Vanilla Ice Cream or whipped cream.

Makes about 8 servings.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Roasted Carrots with Cumin and Lime

As a child, I loved the sweet raw carrots we would eat straight from my oma's garden. She would scrub them clean, and we would eat them wet, the green tops dangling, still fragrant with earth. Cooked carrots were not a thing I experienced much in my youth, outside of stews or soups or pot pies. We ate our carrots crunchy. Maybe this is why I never developed a taste for the sugar-glazed carrots that so often appear on holiday tables in the United States. It just seems inappropriate to drench carrots, so sweet in their natural state, with sugar. Gilding the lily, as it were.

But as with so many vegetables, roasting has a transformative effect on the carrot. Sweeter yet, but not sugary. More tender, but not mushy. The flavors and natural sugars refined and concentrated, not leached out by cooking water or hidden in syrup. To me, roasting is the only cooking method that actually improves upon the carrot itself.

Not that the carrot actually needs improving. It's done pretty well on its own. A humble lunchbox staple today, the carrot has a long history, originating probably from wild cultivars in Afghanistan.

The first carrots were found in a range of colors including purple, red, yellow, and white -- but not orange. (These colors -- and shades in between, from deep eggplant to maroon to pale lemon -- are making a comeback today. Look for them in your local farmstand markets.)

Ancient Greeks and Romans developed an appreciation for carrots, believing they contained properties beneficial to health and romantic, er, enthusiasm. By the thirteenth century, carrots were being cultivated in China, Japan, and India.

The orange carrot we know today didn't come along until sometime during the 1500s, and we can thank the Dutch for that incarnation. Conceived as something of a novelty to venerate the Dutch royal family, that is, the House of Orange, Dutch farmers cross-bred yellow and red carrots and the rest is history.

Loaded with carotenoids, carrots are also an excellent source of vitamin A. Plus, they contain fiber; vitamins C, K, and B6; manganese; folate; iron; copper; and potassium. They contain no fat or cholesterol and are considered low in sodium.

Sweet, savory, and tangy with citrus -- this is one of my favorite ways to prepare carrots as a side dish, and, not coincidentally, it's also one of the easiest!

Try these roasted carrots alongside any kind of grilled meat or poultry, and if you have any left over, dice them up and add them to a batch of couscous or rice for color and flavor.

Roasted Carrots with Cumin and Lime

  • 8 carrots, washed and peeled

  • 1/2 lime, cut into wedges

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Lime wedges to garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Cut carrots in half and quarter each half lengthwise. Place carrot pieces in a large mixing bowl and squeeze lime juice over. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with cumin, minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well to coat evenly. Pour carrots out onto baking sheet in a single layer and roast at 425 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Using a broad spatula, turn carrots over halfway through roasting

Serve with lime wedges, if desired.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

This recipe is submitted for the Vegetables, Beautiful Vegetables 2008 event. Interested in submitting a recipe of your own or viewing the round-up? Check it out!

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Bed"-Time Stories: Chapter 1 ~ The Greening of My Thumb

I spent the afternoon of Mother's Day, appropriately enough, with my mother and my children, breaking ground for a garden. "Breaking ground" here is used euphemistically to mean hacking away at a patch of wildly overgrown ground cover, turning formerly grass-girded earth into hospitable soil, and forming two petite but reasonably nice-sized beds in which to plant a few (hopefully) food-bearing plants.

I'm not sure what got into me. Perhaps it is the simple fact that prices rise every time I cross the threshold of the grocery store, and the more I know about eating locally, the more I like it (and you can't get more local than your own backyard, I always say).

At any rate, I happened to conversationally mention to my mom that I was thinking of "putting in a small garden" this summer. My mom is in possession of two green thumbs and a full complement of matching viridian digits, so when she showed up at my door with a flat of seedlings, garbed in her gardening clothes, I wasn't surprised.

I can't say that I'm much of a gardener. I enjoy my berry bushes, and my potted herbs, and my pretty little Meyer lemon tree, which lives on a sunny windowsill in my dining room. But as far as operations in the wild that call for sod busting, full-on contact with insects and their larvae, and a little something called "back-breaking physical labor" go, I'm ill-equipped. But game. So, armed with my brand-spanking-new washable suede garden gloves (no touching those grubs that live in the soil, thank you very much), my shovel, and my mom, I commenced to turn an ugly and overgrown patch of straggly pachysandra into an optimistic-looking little garden plot.

So far, I've put in Early Girl tomatoes, green bell peppers, eggplants, and bush beans. I'm taking a trip to the nursery tomorrow for some herb plants and anything else that strikes my fancy and can be successfully cultivated by your average 6-year-old. I'll keep you posted.

If I'm not mistaken, I think my thumb might actually be taking on a slightly greenish tinge. Of course, it could just be a spider bite.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Apple Walnut Muffins

As I bake these Apple Walnut Muffins, the apple trees in my backyard are in full bloom, perfuming the air with the promise of the fruit they'll bear several months from now. Of course, the fact that the apple blossoms are yet decorating the tree branches in my yard suggests that the apples currently nestled in the cinnamon-scented batter gently rising in my oven have traveled long and far to get there. And yes, that would be true. The apples I purchased for these muffins came all the way from Chile. But I have to confess, for these muffins, I'll purchase apples out of season.

Now, it's true that I didn't have to make apple muffins -- not when there are plenty of other muffin recipes out there to choose from. But this is Teacher Appreciation Week at our school, and everyone knows that apples are the time-honored expression of teacher appreciation, so apples it had to be.

Be advised that this batter is odd; it doesn't really come together like typical muffin batter does. It is relatively dry and crumbly, and very stiff. Just heap it into the prepared muffin cups -- it will coalesce while baking.

The interior of these unique muffins is sweet and dense; the crumb is chewy and studded with tender apple chunks and walnuts. The exterior of this muffin forms a nicely crisp crust over the crown and a firm, substantial base. The combination of textures is what makes this particular muffin so unique and, in my opinion, so delicious.

Muffins are one of my favorite things to bake, and if I had to narrow down my muffin repertoire to only one recipe, this would probably be it. (Yes, they really are that good!) Give them a try, and if you have kids in school, be sure to send some in for their teachers.

Apple Walnut Muffins

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 cups granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup oil

  • 2 eggs

  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 2 large baking apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (I like Cortland, Empire, and Golden Delicious for these)

  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients except for sugar (flour through salt) and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, stir together oil and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, chopped apples, and walnuts; stir by hand until combined.

Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir until all the dry ingredients are moistened. The batter will be dry and crumbly but no flour should still be visible.

Spoon heaps of batter into prepared muffin cups, filling two-thirds full. (These muffins do not rise much.)

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean and muffins are golden brown and look dry.

Let sit in pan for 5 minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely. Store leftover muffins in the refrigerator, or wrap in waxed paper and plastic or foil and freeze.

Makes 12 jumbo muffins or 24 regular muffins

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Empanadas Smith-Style

Empanadas, or hand-held meat pies, are common to many South American and Hispanic cuisines. Close cousins to the British meat pasties, the Australian meat pies, and the Indian samosas, their widespread popularity is no doubt due to their portability and their versatility.

Easily customized to cultural flavor preferences, the empanada is a perfect way to incorporate whatever bits of leftovers you've got sitting around in the fridge. Roast beef? Dice it and toss it in. Steamed veggies? Ditto. Chili? Mmm-hmm!

When I make empanadas, I tend to stick more closely to the traditional Argentinean recipe, which features hard-boiled eggs and green olives, mixed into a base of seasoned cooked ground beef. This owes more to the fact that I learned to make empanadas from my father, a professional chef born and raised in Argentina, than to actual family preference, as my kids claim that the oven does unkind things to hard-boiled eggs, and can usually be found fishing out egg-white pieces and accusing them of being gristle.

For these empanadas, which I have dubbed "Smith-Style," I omitted the eggs and the olives, because I didn't have time to boil eggs and I had no green olives in the fridge. I added cheese because we are a cheese-loving clan, and I threw in some diced roasted veggies (carrots with cumin and lime, because that's what we'd had with dinner the previous night). I added cream cheese and sour cream to bind them together, some seasonings, and voila, empanadas that not only got rid of some leftovers, but were eaten with much gusto and not a single complaint.

Empanadas Smith-Style

For Pastry:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 5 to 6 tablespoons ice water

For Filling:

  • 11/2 cups cooked ground beef
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup diced cooked vegetables
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Chili powder for dusting

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut shortening into flour until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle ice water over, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing crumbs with a fork. When the mixture forms large clumps and no fine crumbs remain, use hands to form dough into a disk on a well-floured surface.

Roll to about 1/8 thickness. Using a saucer or small bowl with about a 5-inch diameter as a template, cut dough into rounds. Place dough rounds on baking sheet.

Combine all filling ingredients except beaten egg, mixing well. Place 1/4 cup of filling on one half of each dough round. Using your fingertip or a pastry brush, moisten the edge of each dough circle with cold water. Fold over, press edges together, and crimp with a fork to seal. Poke each empanada with the tines of a fork to allow steam to escape.

Brush beaten egg over each empanada, sprinkle with chili powder, and bake for approximately 20 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve with salsa and sour cream for dipping. Can be eaten hot or cold.

Makes 10 empanadas.



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