Gnudi, the new day after Valentine’s Day tradition

Let’s say you’ve got a yearly tradition of making ravioli with your sweetheart every Valentine’s Day. And let’s say that tradition usually involves making more ravioli than any couple could eat in one night as well as even more of an excess of the filling. And, finally let’s just say that while always delicious, you’re looking for a change of pace from the baked pasta with leftover ricotta filling. Well, if all of this applies to you, I’ve got a new alternative for you. Gnudi.

Huh?, you say? In Italian, it’s a derivative of naked. In reality, it’s basically a ricotta-based gnocchi. It’s pretty simple if you’ve already got the leftovers from filling ravioli or a lasagne.

This year’s Valentine’s Day ravioli featured a filling of broccoli rabe, ricotta, eggs, and lemon zest (served with an arugula pesto, alongside a tiny wild boar roast.) The day after, I simply added a little flour to the mixture (about 1/2 c. flour to the 1 c. of filling,) let that sit for a couple of hours, then rolled out little dumplings and boiled them gently for about 6 minutes.

The result was light, fluffy, almost matzo ball-like, but tasting very much of the main ingredients of the filling. I served this with a simple tomato sauce and penne. It was so good and easy, this is likely to become a new tradition in its own right.

Broccoli Rabe and lemon Gnudi

Broccoli Rabe and lemon Gnudi

Slow Cooker Pork Belly Confit

Some people’s holiday wishes are about fancy new cars or expensive vacations or ipods or video games. Mine tend to be far simpler. They usually involve pork, and it’s usually cooked for a long time.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when I opened a Hanukkah gift — a crock pot. It pretty quickly conjured up one image. Confit. Confit of something. Anything. Then I started thinking about pork belly. Pork Belly anything. And thus, the vision was complete. I turned to my seemingly most often referred to cookbook, Ruhlman’s Charcuterie, and sure enough, there’s a recipe for pork belly confit which is actually borrowed from Jim Drohman.

The prep work started Wednesday afternoon when I placed an order at my local butcher, Let’s Meat on the Ave, here in Del Ray, for a crazy amount of locally raised pork belly. Half would go in the crock pot for confit, the other half in the freezer for bacon futures.

On Thursday afternoon, I picked up the belly, threw together the simple cure (which included such sweet and spicy ingredients as clove, cinnamon, and allspice,) and put the belly and cure in the refrigerator to cure for the next day.

all the cure ingredients

all the cure ingredients

And Friday night is when I deviated from the original recipe. Drohman’s and Ruhlman’s  version has you putting this in a 250° oven with rendered pork fat. Lacking sufficient lard and wanting to put my slow cooker to the test, I put my pork pieces in the slow cooker and topped it off with olive oil. 2 hours on the high setting, 2 hours on low setting. (Or, you could do 6-8 hours on low, if you wanted to leave it unattended.) Then I let this cool overnight. And, finally Saturday night, pulled out two portions and crisped them up in a saute pan.

cured belly ready for the slow cooker

cured belly ready for the slow cooker

More than a week had passed since the first inception, and preparation and anticipation lasted 4 days. But here I was with a crisped up confitted pork belly which I served with a reduction of apple cider, cider vinegar, and the last of the New Year’s Eve champagne from the night before. And, boy, was the wait worth it. Tender, but still meaty, and not greasy in the least. The remaining pork fat that didn’t render off was soft and pillowy, and the meat itself was deliciously spicy  from the cure. Six more portions left to sit in the fat/oil in the fridge for another day. Now, I’m thinking cassoulet for at least a couple of them…

crispy pork belly at last (with glazed carrots, parsnips, and turnips)

crispy pork belly at last (with glazed carrots, parsnips, and turnips)

Slow Cooker Pork Belly Confit

(from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book, and slightly adapted for a smaller yield and available ingredients)

  • 10 grams ground black pepper
  • 3 grams ground cinnamon
  • 1 gram ground cloves
  • 1/2 gram ground allspice
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 25 grams kosher salt
  • 3 grams pink salt (curing salt that includes sodium nitrite)
  • 3 lbs. fresh pork belly, cut into eight 6oz. portions (about 1″x2″)
  • white wine (I used a gewurztraminer I had on hand)
  • olive oil or rendered pork or duck fat
  1. Mix the first 8 ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Toss the belly pieces in the bowl with the cure.
  3. Place all of the belly pieces in an airtight container, cover with white wine. Let sit for a day, day and a half.
  4. After the pork has cured, remove the pieces and wipe off any excess cure.
  5. Place in your slow cooker and cover completely with oil or rendered fat.
  6. You can set your slow cooker to low and cook for 6-8 hours. Or run it on high for 2 hours, and then low for 2 more hours.
  7. After the all of the total cooking time, remove the pork and rendered fat or oil to cool. Place in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight.
  8. When ready to serve, crisp each piece in a hot pan. You shouldn’t need to add an oil to the pan.
  9. The remaining pieces should keep in the oil in the refrigerator for several months.

over and over again

Perhaps this is the post you expected all along.

In the past, oh, four years or so, I’ve developed a pattern of suddenly discovering I’ve outgrown my entire wardrobe, then spending a month or two losing enough weight to get down to a healthier weight, and then spending the next 10-11 months stuffing my face until I can no longer fit in my pants again. The first time this happened was fairly extreme. I had managed to reach a weight and pant size that it took 2 months to lose about 30 pounds and 3 inches off my waist.  Subsequent years have not been so extreme, but are usually around 10-15 pounds in about a month. So, here I am in the middle of the cycle, trying to drop a few just so I don’t have to break out the fat pants.

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on losing weight —  otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be stuck in this never-ending cycle, and I would just remain at my ideal weight — but I have developed a decent program that works for me. I’m not going to say it’ll work for you, but it should. The basic idea isn’t a new one, really. Eat less. Seriously, this is one of those tried and true methods that just works. Ok, I’ll add a little nuance to this.

You should eat less or fewer of the following:
  • calories
  • refined carbohydrates (i.e. flours and sugars and beer)
  • fat
  • meat and cheese (because they can be both high in calories and fat)

Also, not quite so obvious is that you should actually eat more often. When I was younger, I was a skinny little kid with the appetite of a prospective sumo wrestler. And yet, I continued to weigh the same throughout high school and most of college. The big difference between then and now (besides the long bike rides) is my metabolism. This is a key component to losing weight. If you’ve got a speedy metabolism, your body can whip through those calories in no time. One way to get your metabolism back up is to never be hungry. Your metabolism will eventually realize that it constantly needs to work to process all of that intake. If, on the other hand, you endure long periods of hunger, your metabolism becomes dormant, since there’s nothing for it to do. Important note though. Don’t just stuff yourself at every possibility. Rather, ration out your caloric allotment across several meals and snacks. Portion size is important here. Two other little tricks that have helped are that cayenne pepper and green tea can also help to increase your metabolism. Not sure of the science behind this, but that doesn’t keep me from putting cayenne pepper or hot sauce on just about everything.  Soups are also another great way to fill you up without a lot of calories.

So, to summarize, you should eat or drink more of the following:
  • often
  • fruits and vegetables
  • beans
  • nuts
  • soup
  • water (sometimes your hunger is really thirst)
  • cayenne pepper
  • green tea

One thing I’ve found really helpful is actually keeping a log of what you eat during the day. It really keeps you conscious of the effect that any given food can have on your weight loss goals. I use an app called Lose It which also has a web interface. They’ve got a huge and growing database of everything you could possibly imagine and allows you to enter in your own, as well as recipes that you can then portion out throughout the week without having to enter in each ingredient every single day. It also helps you determine the right number of calories you should consume to achieve your goals.

Lastly, it should go without saying that exercise is key, but since this is a food blog, and I’m no exercise guru, I’ll leave that to others.

Over the years, I’ve developed some decent recipes that abide by the above rules that I go to all of the time whether I’m trying to lose weight or not. And, actually, before I mention any of those, I’ll reveal a dirty little secret about what I have for breakfast when I’m trying to lose weight. About 10 baby carrots and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. It ain’t pretty, but damn effective, and honestly, the carrots are merely a necessary delivery mechanism for the peanut butter. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to ever start their day off this way. But it honestly satisfies me, and is often the meal I look forward to the most, since it’s just short of just using a spoon. Now, some worthwhile recipes to help you achieve those New Year’s resolutions that are bound to appear come January the first.

chickpea or White Bean salad

makes 2 servings, about 300 calories each

  • 1 15 oz. can of chick peas or white beans
  • 1/4 c. onion, diced
  • 10 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 c. radishes or bell pepper, diced
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • chopped herbs
  • salt to taste
  1. Put everything in a bowl.

pea soup

makes 4 servings, about 100 calories each

  • 1/2 c. onion, diced
  • 1 16 oz. bag of frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • chopped mint
  • 3 c. water
  • salt to taste
  1. Put the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Put in the onions and let them soften. Takes about 5-8 minutes.
  3. Pour in the water,  add the peas, and turn the heat to high.
  4. Simmer away for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the mint. Then blend with an immersion or regular blender.

Pretty Spicy chili

makes 6 servings, about 500 calories each

  • 1 lb. ground pork, beef, chicken, or turkey (or just omit)
  • 2 15 oz. cans of kidney, pinto, or black beans (in any combination)
  • 1 c. onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 1  sweet bell pepper, diced
  • 1-2 poblano peppers
  • 1-2 chipotle peppers, diced (optional)
  • 3 15oz. cans of diced tomatoes (Muir Glen has a lot of interesting varieties, some with green chiles, for instance)
  • 1/4 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. cayenne (to taste)
  • salt to taste
  1. Roast the poblano peppers either over gas burners or under the broiler. Once completely charred, put in a covered bowl and set aside to cool. Once cooled, peel away the charred skin and dice, discarding the seeds.
  2. In a large pot or dutch oven, brown the meat if you’re using it over medium high heat. Once browned, set the meat aside and discard most or all of the grease.
  3. Turn the heat to medium and add the onions, bell pepper, chipotles, and jalapeno to soften. After a few minutes add the spices.
  4. Add the remaining ingedients, as well as the meat and poblanos, and simmer away for 20 minutes until the mixture is fairly thick.

huevos rancheros with “Refried” Beans

“refried” beans

makes 3 servings, about 150 calories each

  • 1/4 c. onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • 1/2 jalapeno (optional)
  • 1 15 oz. can pinto or black beans
  • 1/4 t. cayenne, pimenton (smoked paprika), or any other spicy spices (optional)
  • water
  • salt to taste
  1. In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the diced onion and jalapeno. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the spices.
  2. Drain the can of beans and add to the pan.
  3. Add water to cover the beans, and turn heat to high. Boil vigourously until the beans soften, about 5 minutes.
  4. With a potato masher or the back of a spoon, mash the beans until you get something that looks, well, like refried beans. They should have some chunks, but also be fairly smooth.
Huevos Rancheros

makes 3 servings, about 300 calories each

  • 1/2 c. onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • 1 jalapeno (optional)
  • 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 t. cayenne, pimenton (smoked paprika), or any other spicy spices (optional)
  • 6 eggs
  1. In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the sliced onion and jalapeno. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the spices.
  2. Add the can of tomatoes and simmer for 10-15 minutes until a lot of the liquid is evaporated.
  3. Transfer the sauce to a large saute pan with a cover over medium heat.
  4. Crack the eggs and add them one-by-one into the sauce. You’ll be poaching the eggs in the sauce, so just crack them onto the surface. Don’t stir them in.
  5. Cover the pan and cook for about 7 minutes or until your eggs are cooked to your liking. Serve with the refried beans.

with tiny pickled green tomatoes

There will likely be no more ripe tomatoes this year. At least not any from around here. The days are shorter, the nights are colder, and it’s only a matter of time before the squirrels or other local rodents devour what remains of a patio garden past its prime.

We’ve established I love pickles. When I think of preserving, it’s the first preparation I turn to instead of just simple canning or jamming. I’ve covered what to do with the remaining herbs and peppers. The last thing are the little cherry tomatoes that didn’t make to full ripeness in time.

Tiny unripe green cherry tomatoes

Tiny unripe green cherry tomatoes

I pulled of the remaining couple of handfuls of tiny green tomatoes, mixed up a simple brine of half water, half white vinegar, a teaspoon of sugar, a tablespoon of salt, and a teaspoon of some pickling spice from the Ruhlman Charcuterie book (that I used earlier in the year to make corned beef.) And that’s it.

The tiniest pickled green tomatoes you'll ever see

The tiniest pickled green tomatoes you'll ever see

with applesauce

Allow me to paraphrase slightly — when life gives you apple “seconds”, make applesauce. Such was the case at my neighborhood farmer’s market, the Saturday morning Del Ray market. Toigo Orchards — a favorite producer for their bloody mary mix and fruit — had a crate of “second” apples priced to move. In most cases, these apples just had a couple soft spots each, but were otherwise just fine. I picked a number of larger ones, assuming the soft-spot-to-not-soft-spot ratio would be in my favor the larger I chose and ended up with about 5 pounds. (I also picked up a few pounds of “perfect” pears and apples.)

5 lbs. of spotted honey crisps

5 lbs. of spotted honey crisps

As soon as I saw those cheap apples, I knew exactly what to do with them. Applesauce. If you’ve never taken the time to make your own applesauce, do it. It’s probably just about the easiest recipe you’ll ever see on here. Two ingredients and one of them is water. (You could add cinnamon or clove at the end if you wanted.) And there’s barely any prep work either. If you’ve got a food mill, just cut the apples in half and throw them in a pot. No need to peel or core them; the food mill will handle this for you later. If you don’t have a food mill, you at least need to core the apples, and you’ll probably want to peel them, too, before putting them in the pot.

halved apples in a pot

halved apples in a pot

Put the covered pot over medium heat with just a little bit of water, maybe 1/2 cup at most, just to help the simmering process. Simmer away for 30-40 minutes until all of the apples are soft. You may need to stir this around a couple of times to make sure they all soften evenly. If it’s a little wet still, you can remove the lid and simmer for a couple of minutes more to let some of the water evaporate. When you’ve got a good looking mush, run it through your food mill, if you’ve got one. And you’re done.

through the food mill

through the food mill

The results are going to be superior to just about any jarred version you’re going to buy at the store. They’ve probably at least added sugar, but trust me, you won’t need it. And yours will undoubtedly be fresher. And probably a lot cheaper, too. And a heck of a lot more satisfying.

the end result

the end result

if I could save thyme in a bottle – a few things to do with leftover herbs

As the outdoor growing season comes to a glorious, but certain end — at least for our humble outdoor garden — thoughts turn to how to keep the summer alive throughout the rest of the year. In our garden, we grew hot peppers that weren’t hot, green zebra tomatoes that never materialized, lettuce that provided just a couple of small salads, and collection of herbs that’s been picking up the slack. All summer and still we’ve been treated with loads of chives, basil, mint, thyme, parsley, dill, and tarragon. Here’re a few ways to make the most of these as the summer slips away. And consider these applications for any fresh herbs you’ve got, whether you grew them or not.

 

The season closes on the patio garden

The season closes on the patio garden

 

Drying Fresh Herbs

This is by far the easiest way to save and store any leftover herbs. It’s always the truest way to retain the true flavor of the herbs. I’ve tried and seen a number of techniques for drying fresh herbs — hanging bunches upside down, using a fan, a dehydrator, or even the microwave. By far the simplest and least messy is using egg cartons. I always seem to have a spare laying around for recycling. Just throw your herbs inside, close the top, and leave out for about a week. Once the leaves are dry, I remove the herbs from their stems over a flexible cutting board. Then put the dried leaves into a jar for storage.

 

Thyme drying in an egg carton

Thyme drying in an egg carton

 

Herb Salt

I got this idea from a unbelievably epic meal I had at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. One of the many seasonal and local courses that came out of the kitchen that night was a simple basket of bread with butter and two small ramekins of tomato and mushroom salts. They had dehydrated the tomatoes and mushrooms and pulverized them into powders which they mixed in with salt. The result was a flavorful addition to the breads, tasting unmistakably of mushroom and tomato. In an attempt to recreate this, I took some dried thyme (using the technique above) and combined with kosher salt, using one part herb, two parts salt, and ran this mixture through a mini-chopper. I also plan on using this same technique with mint and sugar.

 

If I could save thyme in a bottle

If I could save thyme salt in a bottle

 

Herbed Vinegar

You don’t have to dry your herbs for this one. And the variations are pretty endless. Given I’ve got an abundance of tarragon (an herb I’ve not usually had much luck cultivating) and an inclination to use tarragon in a variety of salads, I opted to make an tarragon-infused vinegar. Stick with a light vinegar in order to appreciate the herbal flavor you’ll infuse — rice, white, champagne vinegars are all good choices. Stronger flavored vinegars like balsamic and sherry will overpower any subtlety the herbs might impart. Dead simple. Heat your vinegar (enough to fill whatever vessel you’re going to store the vinegar in,) stuff the herbs in said vessel, and pour the warmed vinegar into the bottle. Let the liquid cool down before screwing on the lid. After a week you  can fish out the herbs, or you can just leave them in. Use your vinegar as a dressing by itself or as part of a vinaigrette. Or use to brine pickles. A tarragon vinegar would make a great basis for a cornichon recipe.

 

Tarragon vinegar

Tarragon vinegar

 

Herbed Oil

Just about the same procedure as for vinegar. I went with rosemary, chive, and basil oils. I plan on using the rosemary oil for dressing and seasoning meats for roasting or grilling, while I’ll use the chive and basil oils for seasoning vegetables. And any of these would be great on a pizza or bread dough or for popping popcorn.

 

Basil, Chive, and Rosemary oil in recycled jars

Basil, Chive, and Rosemary oil in recycled jars

 

Got any other grand ideas for that bountiful harvest of herbs? Let me know.

… with stewed romano beans

This is one of those seasonal summer recipes that I make every chance I get and wait all year long to make. Like most of my recipes, this one’s real simple, but allows for some experimentation, depending on what else is in the market.

 

Pint of romano beans

Pint of romano beans

 

If you’re not familiar with romano green beans, they’re related to the classic string bean. The pods aren’t cylindrical like a string bean, though. They are about 1/4″ to 1/2″ wide and flat. Given their size, they are a substantial vegetable. Whenever I can find these in the farmer’s market, I grab a whole bunch. You could use these like you would ordinary string beans (i.e. blanching, steaming, stir-frying.) I love them pickled with vinegar and pickling spice. But my absolute favorite preparation for these is stewed in tomatoes. And like so many things, I actually prefer these cold the next day.

It’s nearly impossible to screw this recipe up. Clean your beans, dice your tomatoes, and cook them together for longer than you think. You can’t really overcook these. You really want the beans to become soft and turn that army green that is supposed to be a bad sign. Here it’s the sign that your beans are done. I’ve provided several optional ingredients that should provide for all sorts of variations. However, all you really need are tomatoes and romano beans.

 

The last of the season's tomatoes and romano beans

The last of the season's tomatoes and romano beans

 

I’ve not tried this recipe with regular string beans. I imagine it would work, but the result would likely be slightly different. The green beans being thinner would probably fall apart a little bit, while the romano beans are hearty enough to withstand the long cooking process.

 

Beans and tomatoes stewing away

Beans and tomatoes stewing away

 

Stewed Romano Beans in Tomatoes

  • 1 pint of romano beans
  • 2-4 medium to large tomatoes, diced
  • 1 garlic clove (optional)
  • 1/2 small medium onion, diced (optional)
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2-3 sprigs of thyme or basil leaves (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  1. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil. If you’re adding onion or garlic, saute each for a few minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes and turn the heat up to medium high, so the tomatoes are simmering heavily. Cook for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the romano beans (you can cut them in pieces or leave whole.) The beans should be mostly submerged in the tomatoes.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium-low or medium, so that the pot is still simmering, but not splattering tomatoes everywhere. Cook for at least another 15 minutes with the cover off. The beans will be done when they are soft and tender and a dark army green.

… with pickled peppers

Brightly colored cherry bomb peppers

Brightly colored cherry bomb peppers

OK, I like pickles, you get it. I like just about anything pickled (though a pickled egg makes me a little nervous, admittedly.) Along with a traditional dill pickle and spicy romano beans (a recipe I promise to cover next time these big fat romano beans come around,) pickled peppers are near the top of my list. I have early memories of eating pickled hot cherry and pepperoncini peppers straight from the jar as a kid. Still today, I’m a sucker for those ubiquitous jarred bright green pepperoncinis.

A couple of years ago I grew habaneros and jalapenos on my back patio and pickled a small jar of them in vinegar and salt. After months, I was afraid to open the jar in fear of dripping any of the lethal, nuclear-hot liquid and burning a hole in whatever it touched. Nonetheless, I always had a great addition to salsas and chilis hiding out in the back corner of my refrigerator (so as not to accidentally brush up against any of the other fridge inhabitants.)

Brightly colored cherry bomb peppers

Brightly colored cherry bomb peppers

The other day, Michael Ruhlman tweeted a link to an old blog post he wrote about using Michael Symon’s recipe for pickled chilis. When I came upon a generous pint of brightly colored cherry bombs at the Crystal City farmer’s market, I already knew exactly what I was going to do with these.

In our backyard patio garden, among the tomatoes and copious herbs, we’ve got two little pots that have been producing pepperoncini and jalapenos at a modest rate. There is one major issue with these peppers, however; they are not hot at all. Would make for a great parlor trick — bite into a bright red jalapeno and eat it whole, amaze your friends with your tolerance for the blazing heat, knowing all along it’s as mild as a bell pepper. With a handful of these still on the branches, I figured I’d throw these into the batch and hope the cherry bombs bring enough heat to spread around. While I was at it, I threw in some backyard thyme, too.

Handful of homegrown jalapenos and pepperoncini

Handful of homegrown jalapenos and pepperoncini

The recipe is real simple and took about 10-15 minutes from beginning to end. Put your peppers in a jar. Heat your brine. Pour brine over peppers. Michael Symon’s recipe called for specific herbs and spices, but I just used what I had on hand. I’d recommend the same. I’ve provided what I used, but feel free to improvise and vary the flavors. Try a different vinegar or herbs.

Jarred pickled peppers

Jarred pickled peppers

Pickled peppers

  • 32 oz. canning jar
  • generous pint of hot peppers
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 10 black peppercorns
  1. Clean and place your peppers in a clean jar. (I cut little holes in the peppers so the brine could permeate and the peppers wouldn’t just float to the top.)
  2. Mix the water, vinegar, salt, sugar, herbs, garlic, and peppercorns in a small saucepan and simmer until sugar and salt are dissolved.
  3. Let the brine cool, then pour over the peppers in the jar, making sure to cover the peppers entirely and refrigerate.

Eat these right out of the jar and slice and use for garnish or anywhere you’d use a hot pepper.

Since I just put these up, it’ll be a few weeks until they hit their full potential, so I’m holding on trying them for at least a couple of weeks.

… with ice creamy ice cream

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Chocolate & Salted Caramel Ice Creams

If you know me, you know there are few things I like more than ice cream. I have a saying that, “there’s always room for ice cream.” And it’s pretty much true. Over the last 10 years of so, I’ve owned a couple of different ice cream makers — an old school wooden bucket model with a motor on top, requiring constant supervision and rock salt and ice that could make a gallon; and a newer, simpler Krups cannister model that requires only a little bit of planning and makes a generous quart. Since getting the new fangled machine (and reluctantly donating the old one to Goodwill on a recent move,) I’ve been honing my recipes. The past few years have almost exclusively been dedicated to chocolate with a few variations.

I opt to go with the simplest and fewest ingredients as necessary. My habit had been to buy a quart of half and half, and end up using only 3 c. of it, and then figure out what to do with the extra cup. Recently, I had the revelation that I could just buy another pint for not much more and make 2 batches, resulting in a freezer that is almost constantly stocked with homemade ice cream. I tend to make a chocolate, and then go with some sort of wild card. In summer, when herbs, particularly mint, are abundant, I like to make a vanilla and fresh mint that would change the way you think about vanilla. This time around, though, my wild card was revisiting a Gourmet magazine recipe for Salted Caramel Ice Cream, one I made last summer that was real good. And this time around, it’s easily one of the best non-chocolate ice creams I’ve made.

I have found the trick to getting a great ice cream is attaining a smooth, creamy texture. And the trick to that is achieving the shortest freezing time possible. My method involves stashing your mixture in the freezer for 1-3 hours until it’s real good and cold, and then freezing in the ice maker, trying to target the 15-25 minute range for freezing time in the ice cream maker. For those that have never made ice cream in an ice cream maker, the machine should tell you when your ice cream is frozen. The motor will whir to a halt, go in reverse, or turn off completely when the texture has reached the optimal level. It’ll be obvious. Just read your manual.

Another technique I’ve been working on in regards to texture is to approximate something closer to gelato. A little lighter, a little less fat, but still creamy and delicious. In addition, in keeping with my simplicity tenet, I’m trying to keep the number of ingredients down. So, I’ve mostly eliminated eggs or egg yolks from my recipes. Likewise, I’ve eliminated the need to combine milk and cream in varying amounts. I just buy half-and-half and call it done. But how can I still get a great creamy texture? The secret ingredient is corn starch. I typically use 1-2 tablespoons, though have used more when appropriate (like when using something like fruit puree that might make the mixture thinner.) When mixing this into your boiling milk, the result is pudding-like, that is to say, smooth, thick and creamy.

A few more secrets —

  • When making chocolate ice cream, use some good high-end eating bars. They’re cheaper than baking bars, and already have sugar in them. You can experiment with different ones to find the ones you like best (my favorites are Dagoba New Moon, Green and Blacks 70%, and Endangered Species.) And stick with dark, high cacao content bars, usually around 70-75%. And use your microwave to melt it. Much easier and quicker than a double boiler.
  • For subtly flavored ice creams or sorbets (i.e. not chocolate or coffee) use vanilla sugar. If you’ve used a vanilla bean for ice cream or anything else, wash it off, let it dry, and then just stick it in a container or bag of granulated sugar. The result is an aromatic delight. Just keep feeding this container more vanilla beans and sugar, and you have a never-ending supply.
  • Alcohol can keep your ice cream from freezing solid. I often have an issue with my ice cream freezing pretty solidly. Alcohol doesn’t freeze, so it should keep your ice cream from freezing solid. Add it to your mixture before freezing. Around a couple of tablespoons should do the trick, but I’m still trying to hone in on the right amount, myself. Obviously use something that compliments your ice cream. Rum, Amaretto, or Kahlua are good choices. I’ve lately been using cherry-infused vodka I made over the summer.

Without much further ado, I give you my tried-and-true chocolate recipe and the salted caramel recipe. I’ve been working on the chocolate one for a couple of years and think this is just about as good as I can get. There is plenty of room for variations like when choosing chocolate bars, pick some flavored ones; add some other extracts like mint; or better still infuse your milk with fresh mint or other herbs; puree some fruit and strain out the seeds; add some instant coffee or espresso powder.

Chocolate Ice Cream

Ice Creamy Chocolate Ice Cream

Ice Creamy Chocolate Ice Cream

  • 6-7 oz. of good quality chocolate bars (I suggest Dagoba or Green & Black’s)
  • 3 c. half and half
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. corn starch
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tbsp. complimentary- or neutral-flavored alcohol
  • pinch of salt
  1. Break apart your chocolate bars into a microwaveable bowl and melt in the microwave. Work in 30 second intervals. You don’t have to melt it completely, as the residual heat from the bowl, chocolate, and the half-and-half you’ll pour over it will melt it the rest of the way. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the corn starch and 1/4 c. of the half-and- half and stir still smooth. Set aside.
  3. Heat half of the half-and-half with the sugar on the stove slowly, stirring often, to the boiling point.
  4. When the half-and-half has reached the boiling point, stir in the corn starch mixture and gently boil for another 2 minutes or so, while stirring. The mixture has to boil in order for the corn starch to thicken effectively.
  5. Pour the heated half-and-half over the melted chocolate and stir until thoroughly combined. (* If you want some chips in your ice cream, don’t stir until thoroughly combined. Stir until it’s mostly combined, but leave some stray streaks of unincorporated chocolate.)
  6. Stir in the rest of the half-and-half, the vanilla extract, alcohol, and pinch of salt.
  7. Let the mixture cool on the counter and place in refrigerator overnight. Place in freezer for 1-3 hours.
  8. Freeze mixture according to your ice maker’s instructions.
Chocolate ice cream mixture ready for a chill

Chocolate ice cream mixture ready for a chill

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 3 c. half and half
  • 1/2 tsp. Maldon flaky sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp. corn starch
Caramel

Caramel

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 cup of the sugar while stirring fairly constantly
  2. Once the sugar is melted, stop stirring, and cook until it becomes amber in color
  3. Add about 1 1/4 cups of half and half to the pot and stir until the caramel is dissolved.
  4. Pour the caramel and half-and-half mixture into a bowl and add the vanilla and sea salt
  5. In a small bowl, combine the corn starch and 1/4 c. of the half-and- half and stir still smooth. Set aside.
  6. In the same pot, bring about another 1 1/4 cups of the half and half and the rest of the sugar to a boil. When the half-and-half has reached the boiling point, stir in the corn starch mixture and gently boil for another 2 minutes or so, while stirring. The mixture has to boil in order for the corn starch to thicken effectively.
  7. Salted Caramel ice cream mixture ready for overnight chill

    Salted Caramel ice cream mixture ready for overnight chill

  8. Pour the half-and-half and corn starch mixture into the bowl with the caramel mixture.
  9. Pour in the remaining half-and-half and stir to combine.
  10. Let the mixture cool on the counter and place in refrigerator overnight. Place in freezer for 1-3 hours.
  11. Freeze mixture according to your ice maker’s instructions.

… with smoked brisket and smoked trout

When life gives you lemons, make smoked trout, or something like that. With a forecast of just-a-chance-of-rain, I decided to risk it and plan a whole day of smoking for Sunday. Saturday, I picked up a small brisket, some trout fillets, and prepared a brine for the fish. Come morning, I’d planned on waking really early and firing up the smoker, since the brisket could take 8-12 hours.

Brisket gets a rub-down in Pork Barrel BBQ rub

Brisket gets a rub-down in Pork Barrel BBQ rub

Alas, I awoke to a light, but steady rain. Plan B, start the brisket in the oven, and wait for the rain to clear. After rubbing the brisket in my favorite rub, Alexandria-locals Pork Barrel BBQ, I wrapped it in foil and threw it in a 300° oven. Meanwhile, I set the trout fillets in the brine I made the night before according to Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie to sit for a couple of hours.

Trout fillets in their brine

Trout fillets in their brine

After a couple of hours, I figured I’d brave it and fire up the smoker even though the rain was still coming down. I followed my usual routine of dumping in some unlit charcoal and applewood into the fire ring of my Weber Bullet and starting up the chimney. When the coals in the chimney got white-hot, I dumped them on top of the unlit coals and setup the smoker. After an hour, the smoker still hadn’t come up to temperature with the wind and rain still blowing. So, continuing on with Plan B, I ended up leaving the brisket in the oven for a little over 4 hours until it hit 205°. I left it wrapped in the foil on the stove to rest. Meanwhile, I had removed the trout from the brine after a couple of hours and left them to air-dry for another 2 hours.

Mini-smoker

Mini-smoker

I still hadn’t figured out what I was going to do with the trout since the smoker was not cooperating. I was actually considering battering and frying them. Then I had the bright idea to remove the middle section of the smoker and put the fillets on a grill right over the smoldering coals. Sure enough, the temperature ended up being just right going this route. 45 minutes or so later, the fillets hit 140°, and I had two pretty tasty smoked trout fillets, pretty much just as I imagined them when I first unwrapped this smoker last Hanukah. One of these will be breakfast on a bagel for the next couple of days. The other is vacuum-sealed in the freezer, awaiting a Sunday brunch.

Brisket gets a touch up in the smoker

Brisket gets a touch up in the smoker

I reassembled the smoker just to see if the whole thing could come up to temperature, so that I might add some smoke to my already cooked brisket. Sure enough, it took just a few minutes to bring the whole thing up to the optimal smoking range. So about 5 hours later, I finally throw that brisket on. It’s time in the oven and subsequent resting produced a very moist and tender brisket, but I wanted to see if I could a add little bit of a bark on it by smoking it for a little while. Indeed, 2 hours later, the crust of the brisket crisped up quite a bit, and while the smoke flavor was not very predominant, I still ended up with a delicious, tender barbecued brisket.

Wind and rain be damned. (And wouldn’t you know it? Some 8 hours later, the rain has cleared, the sun has emerged, and I’m struggling to get the smoker temp back down!)

2 little smoked trout fillets

2 little smoked trout fillets

Smoked trout

  • 1/2 pound of trout fillets (in this case, that was 2)
  • 4 cups water
  • 56 grams kosher salt
  • 31 grams sugar
  • 2 grams pink salt (curing salt, Insta Cure #1)
  • 10 peppercorns
  1. Mix everything but the trout in a pot and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar and salt. Let cool and put in refrigerator overnight.
  2. Clean off the trout and submerge in the brine for no more than 2 hours.
  3. Remove the trout from the brine, rinse, and let air dry in the refrigerator for another 2 hours.
  4. Hot-smoke (200-225°) the fillets until they hit an internal temperature of 140°.

Barbecued Brisket

I won’t bother providing much of a recipe, since today’s go wasn’t quite the way I would normally do it. Basically, rub that brisket down in your favorite rub, and hot-smoke it for 8-12 hours until it hits an internal temp of 205°.