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Make This: Earl Grey Sorbet with Lemon Granita

20 Aug

Did I tell you guys I got an ice cream maker this summer? Well, I did. And it’s been in constant use since I brought it home. I’ve done mostly “safe” things so far: lemongrass-coconut, mango, orange sherbet, blueberry sorbet. Feeling that I’d conquered the basic techniques and skills I need to move on to flavor experiments, I turned to something I’ve been dreaming of for a long, long time – Earl Grey sorbet.

This could well be the simplest dessert you ever make.

Sorbet Recipe
4 cups Earl Grey tea, brewed at double strength (so, 8 tea bags for 4 cups water)
Zest of one lemon
4 thin lemon slices
Sugar to taste
2 cups whole milk, approximately

Here is your one instruction: Make a big pot of super strength tea, and then flavor according to taste. I brewed my tea with the zest, and floated the lemon slices on top for the cool down period. A quarter to half cup of sugar brought the mixture to the sweetness I prefer in a dessert, and then I added milk until the tea was as light as I would drink (being careful not to go past the capacity of my ice cream maker).

Remove the lemon slices once the mixture is cool enough to go into your ice cream maker (I usually chill overnight), and follow the instructions for your particular machine to create the sorbet.

Lemon Granita Recipe
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp sugar
Water, enough to bring the acidity down to a level you like

Mix it all together, pop it in the freezer, and after about 45 minutes, check on it. Use a fork to scrape the top and stir the slush around, then let it freeze the rest of the way. When you are ready to use it, scrape a fork across the top until you get those lovely little ice crumbles.

What is especially wonderful about the granita is that it melts faster than the sorbet, creating the most wonderful rivulets of lemon down the sides. Divine.

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Doggie Duo – Of Medication

29 Jul

That old hide-the-pill-in-cream-cheese trick is so old school. Peanut butter is passé. Goopy, stinky wet dog food? Pfft.

What a recovering dog needs is something luxurious. Something tempting. Something Michelin-star worthy.

Like this:

Okay, maybe not Michelin. But let’s be frank: when is the next time your dog is going to waltz into Joel Robuchon’s latest establishment?

Draya (my little pit) is recovering from a tooth extraction and lipoma removal. She’s getting a little sick of plain old wet food and rice. So we decided to get creative with a few of her favorite things.

What we have here is a Medication Duo: Tramadol-banana and Amoxicillin-strawberry quenelles atop apple fans, with peanut butter-honey kisses and Beneful dust.

(My quenelles could use a bit of work – but in my defense, banana is hard to quenelle!)

My Mother’s Mixer

18 Jul

I love my  mom, but she was a terrible cook. It’s not really her fault – she grew up in a tiny town in New Hampshire, rather poor and practically in charge of parenting four siblings. That’s on top of going to school and working. She grew up on Salmon P. Wiggle (canned fish on top of saltines with a white sauce). Oatmeal. Maple “syrup” (water and sugar with maple extract). Canned peas, for cripes sake!

So it’s not surprising that this carried over into our home, where she was dealing with two kids and a very time-consuming teaching job. Creativity didn’t factor into her meals at all – though she did make sure we never, ever had to eat a canned vegetable (unless you count cream of mushroom soup). So, just about every week we had cube steak and mashed potatoes, tuna casserole (not too far from her mother’s Salmon P. Wiggle), some kind of oven-baked chicken and pork chops smothered in cream of something-or-other soup. On Sunday we might have London broil and broccoli with Velveeta. She only baked on birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I’m still not terribly certain she enjoyed it.

And then, in 1993, like Moses coming down the mountain, so came the Food Network.

She.Loved.It.

She never quite got into Giada, but she did love Ina Garten. I’m not sure what it was that enraptured her so completely, but there it is. She had been pretty tentative about trying new recipes, and then she met these scones. I’m not sure what she loved more – the scones themselves, or the fact that we all loved them so much. When my dad gifted her a Kitchenaid one Christmas, it was on.

A few weeks ago I emailed my dad to see if he still had the mixer. He did have it, and he shipped it to me – along with every single attachment he could find (including things I still haven’t identified).

It’s beautiful.

I am so in love. I’ve been coveting one of these for at least a decade, while making do with weak little hand mixers.

I cleaned it all off and set it up, and then got started on my first dish: Ina Garten’s cranberry-orange scones.

I savored every last second, from the measuring of ingredients to just watching the paddle spin to the feeling of the dough in my hands, reliving all those moments with my mom in the kitchen, even after she had to do it from her zippy power chair.

The dough is so lovely and sticky – and we will all just ignore the fact that it contains 3/4 of a pound of butter (after all, there is fruit).

Aren’t they gorgeous? (I just said that to you in my Ina Garten voice.) They are so flaky, and buttery, and they have the tiniest crust of sugar on top. You should make them. My mom would love to compare notes someday.

Crystallized Ginger in 4 Steps

10 Jul

This is not a cooking blog.

But! I do love to cook, and I love to take photos and I definitely consider the food world art. So, it all fits, right?

One of my very most favorite things in the world is crystallized ginger. I love the texture of the sugar crystals scratching my tongue, the chewy-gummy-but-sometimes-crisp texture and that delicious, delicious heat. It’s like eating a hot pepper, except… good.

I use it in the frosting on my carrot cakes, in truffles for gifts and sometimes in granola. But, I rarely have it on hand, because it is so expensive to buy.

Then I thought, “Why is it so expensive? It’s just sugar and ginger!” You can’t even justify any kind of labor costs with this stuff. It takes about two hours start to finish – more if you soak your ginger longer. And for most of that time, you aren’t even doing anything!

I took pictures the last time I made a batch, so you could see how it’s done:

Step 1: Slice your ginger into thin pieces – 1/8″ or less is my preference, and I always use my cheap little mandolin to do it, because cutting all that with a knife takes forever. Special Hint: Hit up your local Asian market for your ginger. You can get 2-3 pounds of ginger for the cost of one big knot at the grocery store.

Step 2: All your ginger slices are going to go in a small saucepan with a simple syrup. The simple syrup is super… simple. Use a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water, dissolve it over medium-high heat. Let it come to a slight simmer before you put the ginger in, and then keep it at the barely simmering point for the rest of the time. If you want to add a little vanilla or lime zest, this is a good time to do so. You can mostly just leave this alone, uncovered – just peep at it every now and then and give it a good stir to distribute the ginger. Most recipes say you only have to simmer for 20 minutes – and that’s fine – but the longer you simmer, the more delicious it will be. I usually go for 2 hours or so. When you are ready, take it off the heat and let everything cool down before you mess with it.

Step 3: The next step is to dry out the slices. You’ll need at least one decent sized cooking rack. Don’t even think about trying to dry these things on foil or parchment – they will stick and you will have a total ginger disaster. Strain the mixture over a bowl – do not let all that gorgeous ginger-infused syrup go to waste! Then just pluck out the pieces of ginger and lay them on your rack. I usually let mine dry for a few hours, and sometimes even overnight. You’ll know they are ready when they are just slightly sticky and bendy.

Step 4: Once everything is dry, toss the ginger with some sugar. I usually just dump some sugar in the bowl, and toss everything around until well coated. Then I leave it in the bowl for further drying, for a day or two. All that’s left to do is package your ginger in an airtight container (I store mine in the freezer). It will keep almost indefinitely. And there’s nothing like slipping your hand into the freezer for what feels like a completely decadent treat.

Of Birthday Cake and Sunflowers

28 Jun

Today is the one-week-aversary of my birthday, so I figure I’ve procrastinated long enough in getting these up.

We keep birthdays pretty low key around here – no drunken debauchery, no huge parties and definitely no surprises. All of that energy gets funneled into one thing: the cake.

I love cake. I especially love birthday cake. I have a folder full of potential birthday cakes, and I looooove scouring food sites for the next cake. And never, not ever, do I bake the same cake twice.

This year I picked a lemon-blueberry cake with Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, based on a recipe over at Plant Food Fabulous. Sounds like the perfect summer cake, right? And it included two special challenges: lemon curd from scratch and the frosting. Lemon curd has always intimidated me, and I’d never attempted a buttercream, let alone a meringue buttercream.

And mostly, it really *is* the pefect summer cake and I would recommend it to anyone. I pulled off the lemon curd and the frosting came together really well.

However, no one warned me about what happens to meringue buttercream when you live in Las Vegas in the summer.

This is what happens when you try to make this cake in the summer in Las Vegas – a place where the A/C can never keep up. And you guys, this is the good photo.

Lesson learned: If it’s 80+ degrees in your kitchen, your frosting will go from lovingly whipped and chilled to oil slick in about two seconds. Piping was impossible – the top of the cake looked like a kid made a ring of dribble sandcastles. The sides were all kinds of messy, and I couldn’t even coat the very bottom layer, because the frosting kept melting and falling off. And, it took about 6 times in and out of the freezer to even get this.

But, it is a seriously delicious cake.

And then my husband brought me sunflowers, which I adore:

Aren’t they gorgeous? I’m experimenting with ways to preserve them for use in an art piece I’m working on. Of course, that kind of experimentation is very delicate and may require several more bouquets of flowers. *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*

Rustic Root Vegetable Dog Treats

8 Jun

A few months ago, in the midst of my sourdough bread flurry, I decided to try my hand at homemade dog treats. I’ve never felt great about dog biscuits, and although my dogs love rawhide, I don’t like them to have a ton of it. Also, we have lots of veggie scraps in this house, even with keeping a stock bag in the freezer. And my dogs love fruits and vegetables. Draya would shank you in the back to get a piece of banana; Bronx seems to feel the same about carrots.

I had a kitchen disaster this week, while attempting beet chips, which led to lots of raw beet scraps. And I always keep a jar of chopped carrot peels in the freezer. Then there was that lone banana, staring at me from atop the flour tin, accusing me of not eating it before those spots showed up. Whatever could be done?

Dog biscuits. (Don’t you think Rustic Root Vegetable Dog Treats sounds so much more Martha-y than Vegetable Scrap Dog Biscuits? Me, too.)

There are a billion dog treat recipes on the web (beware: many of these contain a lot of sugar and salt), but I use a super simple base that I can alter according to what veggies I’m using.

My base is just cornmeal, flour, a bit of oil or applesauce, and egg (I’ll provide measurements at the end of the post). Everything else is determined by what I have on hand, usually.


Can you believe how pretty that dough is?? This is the result of a banana, and both beets and carrots.

The hard work is done – now I just roll out the dough, cut it into rectangles (because it’s rustic, right?), and place them on a cookie sheet treated with cooking spray. This dough doesn’t spread or rise, so you can fit a ton of treats on one sheet.

Once they’ve cooled, they can go into whatever container you choose. But don’t forget: dogs deserve garnish, too.

The last step, obviously, is the taste test. You can see that Draya didn’t hesitate to chomp hers. Bronx likes to smell his treats before he accepts them. As you can see, these are dog-wag approved!

Now for the recipe!

Dog Biscuit Base

1/2 cup cornmeal
2 cups flour (can be white or whole wheat)
6 tablespoons oil (can sub applesauce, or omit completely)
2/3 cup water

Dog Biscuit Options

1/2 rolled oats
1-2 eggs (I have found that if I use 2 eggs, I can leave out the oil)
chopped parsley (fresh or dried)
chopped mint (fresh or dried)
carrots
beets
banana
apple
peanut butter

Warning: Onions and garlic are horribly poisonous for dogs, so never ever use them in your biscuits. The ASPCA has a great list of other foods to avoid.

I usually just eyeball these extras, and if the dough is too wet or dry, I adjust the amount of flour. I have also found that making a puree of the vegetables/fruits/herbs is easier to work with.

Roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch, then cut the biscuits and place them on the baking sheet. Bake at 325F for about 60 minutes. The biscuits should be dry to the touch and have little-to-no squish when you push down on the middles. Turn the oven off, and allow the biscuits to cool inside the oven. They should come out completely dry and crunchy, but if your oven is wonky (like mine) you can just stick them back in for another 15-30 minutes.

Once cooled, store them in an airtight container.

Las Vegas Farmer’s Market, Part 2

5 Jun

You may think this a bit excessive, but, oh, this melon is soooooo worth its own post.

I present to you, the Santa Claus Melon:

Not knowing a whole lot about melons, we selected this one based on the vendor’s recommendation. He described it as having a texture similar to watermelon, and a flavor like a honeydew crossed with a cantaloupe. I detest cantaloupe, but if you only fed me watermelon and honeydew for the rest of my life, I’d be a happy camper.

The melon has a firm rind, but was super easy to cut – and it turns out, the rind isn’t very thick at all. And it’s beautiful.

You can see that it is honeydew colored closer to the rind, and almost cantaloupe colored near the center. And the flavors and texture follow the same pattern!

One more picture for good measure – don’t you think those seeds look like little popcorn kernels? So cool.

Las Vegas Farmer’s Market

4 Jun

Also known as the Ten Vendor Market with No Local Produce and Some Overpriced Food and Junk.

I shouldn’t have had such high hopes for the farmer’s market – I live in the desert, for cripes’ sake. But that little piece of me who grew up on the North Carolina State Farmer’s Market held out hope.

Alas, only two out of the ten vendors were selling produce. One guy was clearly selling stuff he got off the wholesale grocery truck. There was a farm from California there, selling their own stuff. But, California? They had some really amazing and unusual melons – along with strawberries, and the usual suspects. We couldn’t possibly pass up the chance at just-picked berries. And, after getting a thorough melon rundown, we picked out a Santa Claus melon. Neither of us have any idea why it’s called that – but it is deeeeelicious.

And, as if to make up for the lack of amazing veg, the whole park was nearly filled with peacocks. From the action we saw, I’d say it’s mating season. I got some pictures – circumstances prevented perfect technique, but I think you’ll get the idea.



The birds were amazing. We also found this beauty, who wasn’t terribly happy about the camera (but at least I wasn’t chasing her, like the kids were).

But the produce is supposed to be the star, right?


I have some really beautiful shots of the inside of the melon to share, but that will have to wait for another day. I’ve got to pull out my paints and try to capture those birds on paper!

 

 

The Gardenless Summer

31 May

This will be my second summer in Las Vegas (not by choice), and my second summer without a garden. Heartwrenching. I am keeping a small herb garden…. maybe trying to keep would be more accurate. My dill bit the dust the day I brought it home. The cilantro sprouts have remained sprouts for over a month, never able to quite make their way into adulthood (who doesn’t identify with that struggle?). The parsley and thyme are trying so very hard, but despite frequent misting, they are getting a bit crunchy. The basil and oregano might make it, if I stick to their preferred misting schedule (every few hours).

All this makes me hate on Vegas so much more than I really should. I am being absolutely petulant about this. But I cannot imagine another year without some kind of homegrown freshness.

Perhaps some photography will help? If I take the right pictures, of the right things, and look at them a few times a day, maybe I can trick my brain a little. After all, it’s not like there isn’t gorgeous produce available to me – it’s only that I didn’t get to grow it.

We had radishes and beets this week (the beets were for beet chips, which were an absolute disaster). Before I sauteed the beet greens (soooo good with a bit of lemon and garlic), I took a few photos. And the radishes were just begging to be shot, with their brilliant pink outsides and translucent centers:

The depth of field on this shot is a little wonky, but I think that’s precisely why I like it so much. It zooms right in on that beautiful red of the stem, and the textures are so great.

I just love these. They make me long for a true macro lens!

Of Weddings… and Cake Pops!

27 Sep

If you’ve read my scintillating bio, you know that I’m already married.

So why am I writing about weddings?

Here’s the thing. I am married. And our wedding was, in its own way, wonderful – all the important people were there, and of course, I was marrying my husband.

But, it was a rush-to-the-courthouse wedding, to be sure. The Boy got orders to PCS to Okinawa (for those of you who don’ t know, PCS=Permanent Change of Station) — for three years. The only way for me to go with him was for us to get married like, yesterday. So that’s what we did.

But we agreed that we really wanted to have a “real” wedding later, one with our entire families and perhaps a bit more style. And about the same budget.

Which is why I’m planning planning planning. (Translation: collecting zillions of ideas and hoping to some day sort it all into an actual wedding.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the cake…. or not-cake, that I want.

Lately, I’m thinking of cake pops. And maybe a sweets table? Kind of like this:

Sandy a la Mode

via Sandy a la Mode

It was the color that originally caught my eye, but I’ve also been loving the current trend of uber-colorful candy bars at weddings.

Crafty Ginger Cake Pops

via Crafty Ginger

I think I am in love with the color on these Crafty Ginger pops more than anything!

Treatbox

via Treatbox

And these hearts from Treatbox are just plain cute. They also seem immensely do-able, which is appealing, since we are doing almost everything ourselves.

Bakerella

via Bakerella

And finally, of course Bakerella would be included! I cannot even begin to express the degree to which I am smitten with these pops. AND, because she is ridiculously generous, she shared instructions for making them over on her blog.

I love these as is, but I think I want to do something much more graphic with the color. Our wedding theme is (tentatively) Hardcore for the Heartcore, which was kind of the theme of our courtship. We bonded over music, hardcore and punk especially, and we really want to bring that into the wedding.

What do you think? Are pops + sweets a suitable replacement for a giant cake?

What kind of pops would you make?