Sunday, July 29, 2012

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

No matter how you do it, ice cream takes all afternoon.

My counterpart started with the basic vanilla ice cream recipe that came with the Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment but soon noticed several flaws. Declaring it a product of the Marketing Department, he quickly improvised his own.

The original

The finished product

For a Very Chefy ice cream, you will need:
1 cup water
1 cup castor sugar
8 egg yolks
4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla
Seeds from 2 vanilla pods

Mis en place

Our ice cream started with a simple syrup of castor sugar, water, and vanilla. Castor sugar is really just regular sugar run through a coffee grinder to create a super fine sugar. It dissolves quickly into the syrup and prevents any chance of graininess in the finished product.

Making castor sugar

Seeds from two vanilla pods

Simple syrup

Once the syrup is finished cooking, transfer it to a heavy glass container and gradually add in half a cup of cream and egg yolks.  Here's how to separate your eggs:

Break all the eggs into one bowl

Using very clean hands, gently worry the yolk form the white

Drop the yolks into a separate bowl

The heat of the simple syrup will ensure that the egg yolk cooks. Use an immersion blender to mix everything together. This will prevent the yolk from curdling and will homogenize the mix. Gradually add the rest of the cream and blend until smooth.

Adding the egg yolks

Adding the cream

This method is preferable to the method in the recipe as it gradually brings the mixture down to room temperature. The original recipe called for moving the mixture from the stovetop to the freezer in a covered container. This is a risky move that can create the perfect environment for botulism bacteria. We also felt that by cooling the mixture before freezing, we would cut down the initial curing time. The recipe called for 8 hours. Our ice cream cured in 90 minutes.

The first set

Then began the churn. We did follow the instructions and allowed the ice cream mixing bowl to freeze for at least 24 hours. This is important as the churn will take some time. The ice cream bowl is really just a very thick insulated bowl that keeps everything cold while you churn. 

The longest 40 minutes of my life

According to the recipe, the churn should take about 20 minute, and you end up with ready-to-eat ice cream. Our churn took about 40 minutes and we ended up with a milkshake. 

Undeterred, the mixture was transferred back to our heavy glass container and went back in the freezer for a second curing. Four hours later, we had ice cream.

After the second cure

But not just ice cream. We also had a home made caramel sauce.

This is a work of genius. This sauce is buttery, sweet, salty, and boozy all at the same time. for this sauce, you need:

A splash of grape seed oil
Brandy, although we started with Benedictine - they are not interchangeable
Vanilla bean
Heavy cream

Melt the butter, sugar, and grape seed oil on the stovetop. 

Adding castor sugar to butter and grape seed oil

When it reaches a boil, add the brandy and let it simmer long enough to cook the alcohol out.

A little brandy goes a long way

 Then, add the salt, vanilla bean, and cream and let boil a few minutes longer.

Salty caramel is good

Add the cream last

 Transfer to a glass container and blend with the immersion blender.

Everything should be homogenized

Drizzle over ice cream.

At the end of the day - and I do mean at the end - I'm not sure we saved much time, but I am sure we ended up with a superior ice cream than that recipe would have produced.

At the end of the weekend, this is what we have to show for ourselves

Monday, July 23, 2012

30-Minute Lamb for a Monday Night

It's Monday. And, oh, what a Monday! You get home late from work. You want dinner in 30 minutes or less. The only thing defrosted is a leg of lamb. What do you do?

You do this:

1.  Cut the lamb off the bone in large hunks. Season the hunks of meat with ground red pepper, salt, a little cumin, and cognac. (And, here I have to add what my counterpart pointed out: people who do not cook lamb miss a great opportunity to season the hell out of meat. Lamb is robust. It can take it.)

2. Cook the lamb in a nice oil over medium heat, making sure to at least sear the outside. We are partial to grape seed oil, but tonight my counterpart tried the newly-purchased pumpkin seed oil. (It just smells happy - more on this to come.)

3. Saute a little vegetable medley to go on the side and serve with crusty bread.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

So Now I'm Drinking Mud: blk beverage

I often get the feeling that many of our modern ailments are directly related to our modern diet and the mass-production of food. Even whole, non-processed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables lose nutritional value from our modern agri-business farming methods. We are left feeling sluggish so we drink more coffee. We have trouble sleeping so we pop Ambien. We feel under-nourished, even with all we eat, so we eat more. But mostly what is missing is really what is missing - all the nutrients we used to get from the small farming practices of healthy land, seasonal growing, and local food suppliers.

I am one of many in the First World that is seeking the Silver Bullet, the magical missing ingredient from my daily routine that will enable me to feel truly healthy.

I have inherited my mother's thyroid (under-active) and my father's kidneys (polycystic). These two pre-existing conditions impact my metabolism, how my body absorbs and processes the food I eat, and leave me prone to fatigue, both physical and mental, a constant source of frustration for me. The physical fatigue can usually be alleviated with a short nap. The mental fatigue is much trickier. My concentration breaks, I lose focus, my ability to make decisions is impaired, and then nothing works out right.

Over the years, I have tried any number of things to increase the effectiveness of the thyroid medication (there is no medication for the kidneys. Yet.) to clear the brain fog. These have included:

  • Coral calcium
  • Colloidal silver
  • Maca
  • HGH
  • Bikram yoga
  • Energy work
  • Regular cleanses
  • Liquid oxygen
  • Ginseng
  • Iron supplements
  • D-3 supplements
  • B-12 supplements
  • Trace minerals
Some of these (like coral calcium) had no noticeable effect. Some of these had no noticeable positive impact but had definite negative impacts. (Maca made my feet swell up a whole size and HGH gave me a lovely lady mustache). Many of these brought immediate improvement that was frustratingly short-lived. (Both liquid oxygen and colloidal silver made me feel great. For the first week. Then, everything went back to its previous state, no matter how much I adjusted the dosage.)

The B-12 has been a bit of a godsend, and I actually do have trouble absorbing this nutrient. When I started taking it in liquid form, my appetite changed, my metabolism shot up, and I dropped two sizes so quickly and effortlessly people thought I might be sick. Then I thought I could eat anything and proceeded to do just that and regained the weight.

My latest find appears to be in the same category as B-12 supplements - something that can provide real and permanent good to counterbalance my hampered endocrine system. It's BLK, the black fulvic acid-spiked water that is gaining a cult-like following. I am among them. 

I first found it about 6 weeks ago on our road trip to Wisconsin. We stopped in Breezewood PA to fuel up before hitting the Turnpike, and there it was at the Sheetz gas station. I was curious, so I grabbed a bottle. I would soon regret not grabbing more. 

I felt an immediate lift when I drank it - not the adrenaline boost you get from coffee, but a kind of clarity of thought that I do not typically experience. I felt alert, calm, refreshed. I spent the rest of the trip actively looking for more. 

When we got back home, I quickly found it at the Whole Foods near my office. And, with a two-bottle-a-day habit, I quickly sold them out. Every week in June.

So what is it about this stuff? Fulvic acid is a close relative of humic acid and is full of trace minerals, most of which occur naturally in topsoil but are missing in the produce grown in greenhouses and through hydroponic means. But just taking a standard trace mineral supplement does not provide the same results, so there is definitely something more. What exactly remains unknown to me. 

Health claims about the stuff tout it as a wonder food. It fosters a healthy pH balance in the body and provides essential nutrients missing from our modern diet, it boosts the immune system to speed healing and prevent disease. Personally, it just makes me feel.......better. Healthier. Well. Unimpaired.

I've been drinking the water almost daily for over a month. On the days when I don't have at least one bottle of the stuff, I feel......different. A little tired, a little cranky, a little slow. My peripheral vision seems fuzzy and decisions are difficult. 

While I have yet to find out what exactly is in  the fulvic trace mineral complex in BLK, I am suspending my "know what you eat" stance. I am beginning to believe the health claims and am quite happily hooked.

To purchase BLK, please note that their website may contain inaccurate information. At least it did for my area. Wegman's does not appear to carry it, but Whole Foods does. For those in Harford County, both Bel Air locations of Klein's / ShopRite also carry it. You can also order it online from Amazon.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Perfect Pork Ribs

The best part of summer holidays - aside form the sunshine and hot weather - is the prominent role of the grill. In the days beforehand, you can find some really excellent deals on meat. For Memorial Day, we were back in Wisconsin and returned with some brats. For Father's Day, we scored some serious duck breast. As Independence Day approached, we picked up an amazing load of ribs.

A small sampling of  our recent rib purchase, pre-seasoned and ready to grill

Just in time for your Independence Day cook out, here is the best pork barbecue sauce ever, followed by some basic grill instructions.

For the Sauce, you will need:

White Wine Vinegar
Apple Juice
1 Lemon, Juiced
2 Jalapenos, Coarsely Chopped
Golden Raisins

All you need for perfect sauce

You will also need a blender. My counterpart is partial to the immersion blender.

In your blender cup, add several handfuls of raisins and the jalapenos and blend until thick and coarse. 

Raisins and jalapeno make a sweet-spicy pork glaze

Proceed to add in small quantities the remaining ingredients, blending and tasting until you have a smooth sauce that is spicy and tangy and sweet.

Blend well

Prepare the Grill

My counterpart is also partial to the charcoal grill, and the small ones work out well for us.

First, line the grill and the lid with heavy duty aluminum foil. This will help conduct the heat and will make clean up much easier.

Line the grill with foil and crease it

Also line the lid

Using more foil, create a small shallow pan for water. This will create a water bath that will help control heat levels and prevent the meat form drying out. You can also purchase these in the store in packages of 3 for about $2.50, but it is also pretty easy to make your own.

Fold in the edges of your foil to create a rim

Fold up the edges again making a wider fold. These are your sides.

Pinch the corners together

Here is your water bin

Place it inside the grill on the lower grate and add water.

It really holds water

To protect the flavor of the meat, start the charcoal in a separate fire-safe container, like a charcoal chimney pictured below. 

To prevent the lighter fluid from tainting your meat, start the charcoal outside the grill

Let the lighter fluid burn off and the fire die down and then add the smoldering coals to the grill.

Hot coals but no flame

To get a nice smoke, ad some wood chips. If you have trees in your yard, select some green branches as they will create a highly desirable smoke that will add to the flavor of the meat without burning too hot and charring the exterior. Wood smoke contains some trace minerals, like chromium and iron, which are transferred to the meat while it smokes. Smoking the wood also releases the naturally-occurring sugars, called cellulose, which mingle with the rendering fat and help form the meat glaze.

Remove leaves

Add the top grate and cover until some smoke has built up inside the grill.

Mmmmmmm smoke

Grilling the Meat

Place your meat in the cool end of the grill, away from the direct heat of the charcoal and over the water bath. 

Have a spray bottle of apple juice on hand. This will keep the meat moist and will also help a nice grill glaze form on the meat. Place the cover on the grill and relax.

The best grill results come from slowly cooking the meat over low heat. Periodically, you will want to check on things to add more wood chips, moisten the meat with apple juice, and to make sure that there are no flames.

While cats are very good at detecting when meat is ready to eat,
we still recommend the meat thermometer

As the meat is smoking, you will also want to introduce the sauce. My counterpart gets good results from using a squeeze bottle he picked up at the green Bay Restaurant Supply store, but you can also use an old ketchup or mustard bottle that has been well cleaned.

Smoke the meat until it is heated through. The most reliable method of determining this is still the meat thermometer.

If you are grilling vegetables, use a separate grill. The grills we used can be found at Wal-Mart and run about $10.

Cut the ribs apart and serve with more sauce.