Friday, July 28, 2006

Sour Cherry Frozen Custard

Ever since I spotted this post from Shuna Fish-Lydon on her fascinating food blog Eggbeater a few weeks ago, I have been DYING for some Sour Cherry Frozen Custard. The craving did not leave me when I dined at Cafe Chloe a week ago and had the fresh housemade cherry ice cream that just happened to be on their menu that night. It was good, but it was not what I was looking for. I knew exactly what I wanted, and it had to be creamy, sour, and rich with that eggy-custardy flavor. (Frozen Lemon Custard is a favorite of mine - and I can't wait to try and make some using the flavor of the lemon ice cream I made a few weeks ago.)

After some poking around on Epicurious and on the internet, I found recipes for sour cherry ice cream and frozen custard and cobbled them together to come up with this formula. If you have a Trader Joes nearby, I found that the syrup from the Morello cherries they sell in a jar worked ok, but the recipe I used recommended sour cherry syrup from a Middle-Eastern market. If you can find it I would use it. I also used dried cherries - but I suspect thawed and drained frozen sour cherries would work just as well if not better.

Sour Cherry Frozen Custard
Adapted from Epicurious and Random Internet Sources

2 1/4 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup cherry juice or syrup from a can or jar (I used the syrup from a jar of Trader Joes Morello Cherries)
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2/3 cup unsweetened dried bing cherries, roughly chopped (could also use fresh or thawed and drained frozen sour cherries)
1 cup half and half

Heat the milk and pinch of salt in a 2 qt saucepan over medium-high heat until scalded (bubbles will begin to form at the edge and it will smell "cooked")

In a separate bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks together until thick and smooth.
Whisk a little of the hot milk into the sugar and yolk mixture, and then very slowly add the rest, whisking continuously. Pour the egg, milk and sugar mixture back into the pan, and cook over medium- high heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon (about 6-8 minutes).

Pour the custard mixture into a shallow metal bowl. Set in an ice water bath and stir to cool - or simply allow to cool at room temperature for a few minutes and place in the refrigerator (use a towel if you have glass shelves).

Place the cherry syrup and lemon juice in a glass measuring cup and add the dried cherries. Heat in the microwave for 20-30 seconds to soften the cherries and help them absorb the juice (or heat the juice and cherries on the stove in a small saucepan). Let the mixture cool and place in the refrigerator to chill with the custard mixture.

When the custard is thoroughly chilled, stir in the half and half and the cherry juice, reserving the cherries.

Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Add the cherries when the ice cream is frozen to a soft consistency. Transfer to a container and ripen in the freezer for 3-4 hours before serving.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Harissa-Marinated Grilled Chicken

Yesterday, another Be Wise CSA box arrived - brimming with summer produce. (I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I missed the last delivery because I was busy with work and completely forgot to pick it up! Hopefully they gave it away to someone who got some use out of it!)

This week's box was filled with beefsteak tomatoes, a box of grape tomatoes, oranges, red cherries, romaine lettuce, bok choy, turnips, golden beets, carrots, deep purple green beans (that turned green when cooked!) radishes and jalapenos. We received so much that I gave some away because I knew we wouldn't be able to eat it all. I wonder if we are getting more in the deliveries now that they have closed their farmstand. I think this was our last trial delivery, and I am thinking of switching to a "small share" instead of large. I hate to waste food, and there are only two of us.

Brandon joined us for dinner, and I made a green bean salad with the purple/green beans and some of the grape tomatoes, and Harissa-Marinated Grilled Chicken. The recipe calls for toasting a number of spices and grinding them with a mortar and pestle - but I had already ground spices on hand, so I threw everything into the chopper attachment to my hand blender and it worked fine - though if you have the time or inclination, I am sure the original recipe is excellent. You can find it on Epicurious as "Grilled Moroccan Chicken with Curried Couscous." It has to marinate overnight, so requires a bit of advance planning, but then your work is half done. Here is the recipe I followed. Keep in mind that it's very flexible - if you like more or less of a certain spice, feel free to add it. You can also use more or less garlic, oil or lemon as your taste dictates. It's hard to go wrong.

Harissa-Marinated Grilled Chicken
adapted from Epicurious

1 whole organic chicken, cut into quarters, skin removed or 5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

Harissa:
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves
2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil (you might need more to get the emulsion to blend)
3 Tablespoons of Sweet Hungarian Paprika
1/4 tsp of salt
a few grinds of pepper

Marinade:
3 Tablespoons of Harissa
2 Tablespoons of Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

Place all of the harissa ingredients up through and including the olive oil in a small chopper or food processor and whir until blended. If you have a spice grinder or coffee grinder dedicated to spices, you can also grind the dry ingredients together and then stir in the oil and garlic. Stir in the paprika, salt and pepper.

Whisk the marinade ingredients together, cover the remaining harissa with olive oil and store in the fridge in a sealed container - it keeps indefinitely, and you'll have enough to make the recipe three or four times.

Prepare the chicken for marinating - place a few tablespoons of the marinade in a plastic bag add your chicken parts, and massage the marinade into the meat. Place the bag in a bowl in the fridge, and marinate overnight in the fridge. Turn the bag over in the morning.

When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the marinade and prepare the grill. If you are grilling outdoors, you might want to leave the chicken bone-in. I cooked mine on a grill pan, so I de-boned it and cut it into smaller pieces.

The instructions for the original recipe specify to heat the bbq grill to medium/low heat, and grill the bone-in quartered chicken for about 45 minutes, turning occasionally. A grill pan on very high heat will also produce a nicely grilled flavor - just make sure you turn on the exhaust fan, lest your kitchen fill with spicy smoke.

I would also serve this over rice (Trader Joe's microwave brown rice is fantastically easy) with a Thai-style cucumber relish, and I think it would also be nice with yogurt and pita, or chopped up in a salad.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Don't Beat the Heat - Join It!

This is in the SHADE.


Suffice it to say, it's HOT, especially here in the East County. One benefit of this weather in San Diego though, is it makes it more fun to be outside at night. My husband and I were struck by the urge a few weeks ago to go to an outdoor movie. Unfortunately Garden Cabaret was sold out, but our quest inspired me to put the information for this post together. Here are some options for enjoying this hot summer weather after the sun goes down:

For the seventh year in a row, the San Diego Museum of Art is hosting it's free outdoor summer film festival on four Thursday nights in August - starting August 3. The movies start at 8 PM on the East Lawn of the museum. They are showing some cool vintage flicks, like Some Like it Hot and The Searchers.

If that doesn't work for you, the Garden Cabaret Theater in Mission Hills offers outdoor movies throughout the summer. They have heaters, comfortable seating and snacks. Don't be like us though - make your reservations ahead of time. They don't allow outside food, but Phil's BBQ is just outside the gate.

There are several good outdoor venues around for live theater around town as well. In the North County, you have the Moonlight Theater, which is putting on Sound of Music right now, and has Thoroughly Modern Millie and Dreamgirls in the wings. We saw Into the Woods there a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I think this is the only venue where you can actually picnic during the show. Make sure you bring low folding chairs, they don't allow full-size ones.

East County's own Christian Youth Theater puts on two shows during the summer at the top of Mount Helix. They are currently performing the Sound of Music, and Godspell is coming up in August.

Starlight Theatre in Balboa Park is putting on the Wizard of Oz and Urinetown this summer.

Several communities around the San Diego County area also host free summer concert series. Check the schedule, it's likely there's one near you. Most of these are on weeknights.

Speaking of free concerts, one of my favorite hot weather memories is traveling to Boston on July 5, 1995 - just in time for the second round of the famous 4th of July Boston Pops concert. Apparently they don't still do it on the 5th, but back then, they put on the whole show, including fireworks, a second time around. Schindler's List was a recent hit, and I had chills when the first violin stood up and played the solo. They also had the best fireworks I have ever seen.

Before the concert, my friend Diana and I went to "Bread and Circus" - which is the old East Coast name for Whole Foods, to pick up picnic supplies. I'm not much of a scrapbooker, generally, but I still have the receipt from that picnic. Even back then we were food snobs. We bought half a pound of malted milk balls (still a favorite), organic red grapes, samosas, garlic hummus, some crackers and some terra chips, and a bottle of Poland Spring sparkling water with lime. This was also the summer that Starbucks Frappuccinos were invented, and since my friend's husband worked there we drank a lot of them during that trip. I also ate a lot of Steve's ice cream - "mix-in" ice cream was a new thing back then.

If you don't have a Bread and Circus (or Whole Foods) handy, great places to pick up picnic supplies for your summer outing include the new Bristol Farms Market (where Albertson's used to be in the UTC area) and Saffron chicken. For great picnic sandwiches and baked goods, try Bread & Cie in Hillcrest, Con Pane in Point Loma, or Bread and Market downtown.

If you're up for something a little more exotic, check out the new Mexican grocery store in Southcrest, Northgate Gonzalez. They have an in-store taqueria, panaderia, and butcher shop carrying Mexican cuts of meat. As a bonus, they also sell Coca Cola sweetened with cane sugar instead of corn syrup - rare outside Latin America.

One thing I definitely recommend - save your receipt! Eleven years from now it may bring back some good memories.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Summer in Provence, er... I mean La Jolla!

Tuesday was supper club night again, and I just managed to make it back from LA in time (literally - I drove straight there!) I knew I didn't want to miss this one, because my friend Lisa was hosting and she always pulls out all the stops. This month's theme was Summer in Provence. As usual, Lisa came through with the goods. She made not one but TWO main courses, a grilled chicken with ratatouille and a massive nicoise salad with shrimp and all of the traditional accompaniments including eggs, green beans, olives, peppers and a terrific garlicky green dressing. The recipe is in the July, 2006 issue of Cooking Light.
She also put out the makings for a Cassis cocktail -along with Pernod, champagne and rose wine. Lisa and her husband are terrific wine connoisseurs and she had emailed earlier saying they would be cracking a couple of bottles from their collection - I had been looking forward to that all day.

I wasn't able to bring anything, but I had planned to make a homemade pate from the Cooking Light website. It has a 5 star rating - which means it must be pretty good. I have never tried making pate, but the recipe sounds fairly easy and calls for accessible ingredients. I will definitely attempt it sometime soon.
We ate and drank like gluttons, as usual, and topped off the meal with a delicious strawberry tart made by Isabel.
Here is the recipe for the cassis aperitif (I think it sounds like a terrific brunch cocktail):

Sparkling Cassis Aperitif
Cooking Light Magazine, July, 2006.
4 cups currant juice (might be hard to find, but I bet pomegranate would also work)
3/4 cup crème de cassis (black currant-flavored liqueur)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups chilled sparkling water
1 (750-milliliter) bottle chilled Champagne
1 cup fresh blackberries

Combine first 3 ingredients in a large pitcher. Chill until ready to serve.
Before serving, add sparkling water and Champagne to currant mixture; stir well. Divide blackberries evenly among 9 glasses. Top each serving with about 1 cup Champagne mixture. Serve immediately.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Four Days in L.A.

I have to apologize to anyone who is still reading this blog, because the last few posts have been so darned BORING. I have been swamped with work lately, and the blog has definitely taken a back seat. I also have to admit that I am also struggling a bit with what exactly to write about. Having run across Pete Wells' somewhat famous article in Food and Wine slamming "cheese sandwich" food blogs, I am feeling a bit flummoxed. A certain amount of the "dear diary" approach necessarily bleeds into any food blog - because after all, you write about what you know - but I never intended for this to become a recitation of what I had for lunch (or dinner) each day. I want to inject some personality into it, but I don't want to come across as a self-centered navel-gazer. I want to showcase local products and businesses, but I also want to appeal to people who live outside of San Diego. I want to talk about restaurants, but I don't want to alienate people who can't afford to (or simply don't care to) eat out. It's hard to please everyone.

Anyway, I am not sure if this is much of an improvement, but I thought I'd talk a bit about where I've been for the past several days. Essentially I and my co-counsel were held hostage (in a good way) in Department 39 of the Los Angeles Superior Court. I had a case that was set for trial next week, and the Judge took it upon himself to beat us and the other side into a settlement. We finally reached an agreement yesterday, after four long days of negotiations and driving back and forth from San Diego (except for the one day when we took the train, which didn't work out so well.) During this ordeal, we were pretty much restricted to what we could find to eat within walking distance of the courthouse.

The downtown courthouse sits on a block between Hill Street and N. Grand Avenue. The backside of the building fronts directly onto the Music Center and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I had actually been to the cafe within the Concert Hall before, but I assumed that it was probably open only when performances were scheduled. Happily, I was wrong. Given the stale popcorn and hot dogs available at the courthouse cafeteria (why oh why don't they just lease those to a worthy vendor?) the gourmet deli fare of the Concert Hall Cafe was a welcome diversion. The Cafe is a venture of the Patina Group, which owns Patina Restaurant, the Pinot chain, Nick & Stef's steakhouse, and the concessions at numerous area museums and cultural venues, such as the Hollywood Bowl and the Opera house. They also run several restaurants at Downtown Disney (must be some connection there.) I have long been a fan of their "Pentolino" cafe at 333 S. Hope Street - which carries pretty much the same fast-gourmet fare as the Concert Hall Cafe and also has a sit-down cafe.

The Concert Hall Cafe has a small hot food selection - sort of cafeteria style - serving chicken parmesan, pasta, steak, etc. as well as a fresh salad bar. The pre-packaged selections include cobb salads, club sandwiches, crudite, fruit, olives and cheeses, and desserts - oh, the desserts. They make wonderful brownies, cookies and scones. This time I discovered the "rustic" cherry tart - Essentially a small buttery tart shell filled with sour cherries and topped with a streusel-like crumble. The prices are a bit outlandish - especially on the low end for some reason. Three dollars for a small bag of chips? I also thought $2.75 was high for a cup of coffee (not an espresso mind you) but it is good quality food. They also have bottled beer and a decent selection of half bottles of wine.

On the first day, before we discovered that the Concert Hall Cafe was open, we walked across the street to Kendall's Brasserie in the Music Center complex. This is also owned by the Patina Group, and serves mainly French bistro stand-bys, such as mussels with frites, steak frites, fruits de mer, sandwiches and salads. The menu and theme were quite similar to the Pinot restaurants - possibly a bit more casual. Where the Pinot "theme" is Provencal, this place screams Parisian bistro. I've only eaten in one Pinot restaurant, the one near South Coast Plaza, and I thought it was very good. This was also fine, but very standard. The trap of offering a simple menu, is that it is utterly worthless unless it is perfect. Why serve Mussels with soggy frites? I also hated the iced tea. They called it cranberry iced tea but it looked and tasted like unsweetened red Kool-Aid. I did see some fish that looked good, and the burger and croque monsieur looked satisfying. If you were also being held hostage across the street it is perfectly adequate, say for a business lunch, but I wouldn't go out of my way


On the day we took the train, we found ourselves with three hours to spare as a result of a really annoying Amtrack fuck-up. The 5 PM train was late getting into the station, and they sent it out without bothering to post the track number. Sneaky bastards. Given the long delay until the next train, my co-counsel Greg suggested we walk a couple of blocks over to Philippes, a LA institution that claims to have invented the french dip sandwich. I'd never been, but I love those retro"institution" type places. There aren't very many left in San Diego anymore. Philippes is an order-at-the-counter place, with sawdust on the floors and fluffy diner-style pies in a glass case. The menu is extensive, but everybody gets the same thing - the french dip sandwich with a choice of beef, pork, ham, lamb or turkey. I ordered the beef sandwich and a side of cole slaw, and Greg ordered one of each of the lamb and beef and the potato salad, which he wisely hid behind a napkin holder to protect it from my wandering fork (I still snuck a bite while he wasn't looking). On the tables are jars of their signature mustard - feisty and sweet with a healthy dose of horseradish. I dolloped it on my plate and used it as a dip.
The prices were refreshingly retro as well - the sandwiches are only about 4 bucks a piece and the pies were about 3 bucks a slice. I was too full to try any, but they looked promising. The place has been in existence since 1908, but relocated in the 50s to make way for the 101 Freeway. I don't think the menu has changed much since. Philippes is located on Alameda, just East of the train station, south of Chinatown close to Olvera Street.

Disney Concert Hall Cafe
141 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles
(213) 972-3550

Kendall's Brasserie
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles
(213) 972-7322 (reservations recommended)

Philippes
1001 N. Alameda Street
Los Angeles, 90012
(213) 628-3781

photo credits: citysearch.com, webshots.com (brigsnla), philippes.com.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Sandwiches

At last! I have been wanting to make this for a while now (as evidenced by the fact that it has been on the "coming soon" list for weeks!) and I finally had the opportunity yesterday. This dessert was inspired by a recipe in Suzanne Goin's cookbook "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" for a "Coupe Hemingway" - vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and chopped toasted almonds sandwiched between two meringues. When I saw that, I immediately thought of a recipe for lemon ice cream that I had saved on Epicurious and it just seemed natural to put the two together.

I loved the lemon ice cream - it tastes like creamy frozen lemon curd. It is incredibly easy to make and has a nice fresh flavor. I modified the recipe to add more lemon zest and fresh juice before freezing because I like my lemon tart and strong - but if you just like a delicate flavor you might want to leave that out.

You could also make this with storebought Lemon Sorbet instead of the homemade ice cream, and I suspect it would be almost as good. Trader Joes is carrying a really good line of sorbets right now called Sharon's, and the lemon is probably the best I've ever had. I like that it doesn't have that fake sour taste.

The meringues were a little more difficult to get right. I wanted a firm meringue that was crisp and dry on the outisde, but still a bit chewy in the center. I actually tried making the recipe from the Lucques cookbook, but it just didn't work for me. It calls for cooking the mixture to stabilize it, and either I am not experienced enough - or the directions weren't specific enough - for me to get it right. The meringues were too foamy and porous, and turned into a sticky mess when baked. The second time around, I used a different recipe from Epicurious and they turned out fine. I had to toast them a bit to dry them out (they had gotten sticky after baking) so they browned a bit, but they had good flavor and were crisp. This recipe called for cream of tartar to stabilize, which was much easier and does not require cooking.

Lemon Meringue Ice Cream "Sandwiches" with Blackberry Coulis and Toasted Almonds
Adapted from Epicurious and Inspired by Suzanne Goin's Meringues "Closerie du Lilas" (aka "the Hemingway Dessert")
Lemon Ice Cream:
2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice plus 2 Tablespoons, set aside
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half (I used whipping cream mixed with nonfat milk)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium non-reactive saucepan, whisk together 1 Tablespoon of the zest, the 1/2 cup of lemon juice, the sugar, and the eggs. Whisk in 1 cup of the half-and-half and the vanilla, and cook the mixture over moderately high heat, whisking constantly, until it just comes to a simmer and starts to thicken. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on the zest, and chill it, covered with plastic wrap, until cold.

Whisk in the remaining 1 cup half-and-half, Tablespoon of Lemon Zest and 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice. Freeze the mixture in an ice-cream freezer according to the manufacturer's instruction. Allow to ripen (harden) in the freezer for several hours before serving. (As you can see in the pictures, mine was still very soft and it had been in the freezer for about three hours at that time!)

Makes about 1 quart

Meringues:
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup superfine sugar (I used Baker's Sugar)
8 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Mix the sugars and set aside.
4. In a bowl of standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy. With the mixer running, add the cream of tartar and salt. Continue to beat, adding 1 tablespoon of sugar at a time. This will take about 10 minutes.
5. Beat at high speed until stiff and glossy.
6. With a spatula, scoop tennis ball sized dollops of meringue onto the baking sheet four inches apart, and swirl with two fingers to create a 3-4 inch circle about 3/4 inch thick
7. Bake about 1 hour, until cream colored and firm. Leave the meringues in the turned-off oven for several hours or overnight without opening the oven door.
8. When ready to serve, carefully peel away the paper.
Makes 12 meringues

Berry Sauce:
1/2 pint of blackberries
1 Tablespoon of sugar (or to taste)
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1 Tablespoon of water

Place the blackberries, sugar, lemon juice and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until the mixture just starts to thicken. Strain through a sieve into a bowl and chill.

Toasted Almonds:
Place raw almonds in a skillet or pan and toast in the oven at 375 until browned and fragrant - about 10 minutes. If the oven is occupied, you can also toast them in a skillet over high heat, stirring constantly. Chop roughly.

To serve - place one meringue flat side down on the plate, top with a scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of sauce and sprinkle with almonds. Place another meringue flat side down on top. I suppose you could also make these into real ice cream sandwiches if the meringues were firm enough - if I did that I'd roll the edges in chopped almonds. You could also swirl berry coulis into the ice cream after freezing. So many possibilities!

Serves 6

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Cherries and Zucchini

Our second CSA box from Be Wise Ranch came this week, with an even better selection than the first. It included zucchini, salad greens, celery, cucumbers, kale, baby red onions (like scallions), and best of all, a little bag of delicious Rainier cherries. Aren't they pretty?

For dinner that night I made an impromptu pasta loosely based on a recipe for Lemon Spaghetti from Giada di Laurentiis. I used less olive oil, and added tomatoes and zucchini - but the idea is the same because you allow the hot pasta to do the work for you instead of cooking a sauce. This also makes it perfect warm weather fare. I chose these ingredients because they were what I had on hand, but you could also use herbs, other wilty greens like arugula or spinach, or a different cheese.
Penne with Lemon, Zucchini and Tomatoes

8 oz penne pasta
5 or 6 scallions or ramps, very finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, smashed and finely chopped (garlic and onion should total about 1 tablespoon)
1-2 small to medium zucchini, grated on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 cup)
the zest of one lemon (about 1 tsp) finely chopped
a generous squeeze of lemon juice (about 1 Tbsp)
2 ripe roma tomatoes, cored and diced
1 tablespoon of good olive oil
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan

Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente.
Reserve a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Add the garlic and onions, the zucchini, lemon juice, zest, tomatoes, olive oil anda tablespoon of the cooking water (or more if necessary) and toss to coat. Cover and allow to stand for five minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper, toss again, and serve in wide bowls sprinkled with lots of Reggiano Parmesan.
Serves two generously.
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