MoM June ‘08 Food & Wine: Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Last week, I shared one of Jeni Britton’s frozen yogurts that was featured in the June 2008 Food & Wine Magazine. The article contains recipes of two ice creams, two frozen yogurts, and two sorbets – and these are actually basic recipes you can change to accommodate many other flavors. The Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt was so delicious that I absolutely had to try one of her ice creams, so this weekend I stepped back into the kitchen for her Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

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Photo courtesy of Food & Wine

Unlike most ice creams, this one is exceptionally creamy, as it does not call for egg yolks. Britton doesn’t like the way the taste of yolks interfere with cream. I wasn’t really sure what she meant, as I had always made ice cream with egg yolks, and this dessert opened my eyes. It’s rich and delicious, and unlike any other ice cream I’ve made before.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened (3 tablespoons)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Fill a large bowl with ice water. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch. In another large bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth.

In a large saucepan, combine the remaining milk with the heavy cream, sugar, corn syrup and vanilla bean and seeds.

For some reason I was nervous about the vanilla beans, and I don’t know why. I’ve split open a vanilla bean before, but it’s not something I’ve often done. In case you’re new at this or feeling a little awkward about it, a vanilla bean looks like a gnarled little twig. Take your knife and cut it in half, lengthwise. Then scrape out the insides with your knife point. I tried taking pictures, but my camera isn’t so great for close-ups. Instead, I had to search around to see if I could get some decent pictures.

This photograph was borrowed from Carobe’s flikr page.

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The photostream actually reflects them making a Guinness Ice Cream – it’s a little hard to see inside of the vanilla bean, but once you get it split open, you’ll see some dark fuzzy stuff. That’s the vanilla bean part to scrape out. In the photo above, the inside is actually goopy because that person keeps their vanilla beans in vanilla extract. I don’t know why anyone would want to do that, and I don’t want to give anyone the misconception that they should be squeezing out some goo, so below is one of my blurry photos where I’m scraping out the inside of a vanilla bean with the tip of my knife.

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You can see on the tip of my knife where I have gathered a clump of slightly moist vanilla beans. Add that to your pot of milk.

Bring the milk mixture to a boil and cook over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves and the vanilla flavors the milk, about 4 minutes. Off the heat, gradually whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil and cook over moderately high heat until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

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Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Now, I hadn’t whisked my cream cheese beforehand, so I had to do some extra whisking in order to get the lumps out. Next time I will whisk to avoid the extra work.

Whisk in the salt. Set the bowl in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cold, about 20 minutes.

Strain the ice cream base into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Pack the ice cream into a plastic container. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the ice cream and close with an airtight lid. Freeze the vanilla ice cream until firm, about 4 hours.

Pig out.

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The Next Food Network Star, Week 4

I have never felt so uncomfortable watching a reality show a la food competition as I did when I watched Episode 4 of The Next Food Network Star.

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Before I get into the details, let me say that there will be spoilers. This show runs on Sunday nights on the Food Channel, so most food blogs post their reviews first thing Monday morning, with spoilers either in the comments or after the jump. Here at Amateurs with Knives, we are considerate enough to be slackers, watching late and reviewing late. This way, we aren’t really spoiling anything for you since by now you’ve probably already seen the show! Think of it as part of the service we provide. No need to thank us.

I haven’t reviewed the last couple of weeks because of two things:

1. I haven’t watched the episodes
2. From what I was reading on the other food blogs, I wasn’t missing anything other than crying, crying, more crying, Martha Stewart, and crying

Armed with this knowledge, I sat down for week 4. Right off the bat, I’m painfully reminded that I am not watching a cadre of talented professional chefs. Instead, we’re watching a group of regular joes who want a show on the Food Network. I had to wonder what the criteria was for finding a “network star” and what panel selected these people? Do they still have jobs?

The first challenge is presented by Tyler Florence, who I really like. His shows are mostly instructional, showing people how to cook using different techniques and he really knows his stuff. Immediately the contestants are nervous because they realize they’re about to be put through a technique challenge.

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And they are. Each person is to give a 60-second presentation on a technique: shucking an oyster, Frenching a rib, coring a pineapple, etc. To say there were a few awkward videos would be an understatement. The winner of the challenge was Kelsey. This was a pleasant surprise for me because when I first watched the show, her cheerful personality was overbearing to the point of annoyance. However, her presentation was excellent. She listened to what the judges have been telling her over the past few weeks and came off professional and pleasant and really did do a good job. I’d watch her show if she continued to present this way.

The loser was Nipa, known for her attitude and for walking out on the judges a couple of weeks ago. Her challenge: Clean a small squid. Before the camera turned on, she looked up with her usual sour expression and said, “I don’t know how to do this.” The cameras rolled anyway and she went forth, making a mockery of the challenge, giggling and making faces. In the end, she didn’t impress anyone, and I think even the normally good-natured Tyler Florence seemed a little ticked.

With the good and bad news over, the show becomes even more uncomfortable when the newest Iron Chef, Michael Symon, shows up.

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The contestants are freaking out because they are so excited, and I’m never so aware of how ordinary these people look next to an actual chef. To make things even more confusing, they bring in the Executive Chef of Red Lobster.

Fine dining, it ain’t, but the contestants are excited anyway. They are given a panel of fish which represent some of Red Lobster’s “Fresh Fish” menu, and are asked to make a dish that would appeal to the restaurant’s diverse customer base. The winning dish will do just that, and be featured on the Red Lobster menu for a limited time.

If creating a meal for Red Lobster wasn’t awkward enough, Michael Symon gives them the part 2 of the challenge: They must make the fish two ways; the first way being geared toward the Red Lobster client, and the second with a twist. A second table is pointed out and the contestants are asked to choose an “Iron Chef ingredient,” which is really weird because I can’t remember the last time Fruit Loops and Marshmallow Creme were the secret ingredients of Iron Chef.

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Quick! Someone plate the Fruit Loop sushi before the time is up!

There were some decent ingredients like coffee and white chocolate, but then there was the aforementioned marshmallow creme and Fruit Loops, also caramel, grape jelly and some unspecified cola brand. And our regular joes were expected to fix a fish dish with one of these ingredients. What a train wreck.

On top of these ridiculous dishes, each chef was expected to do a short presentation to a group of Coast Guard folks who they were serving the dishes to. One dude, Adam, came out of the kitchen and chose to trip and fall and make a fool of himself. Now, since we don’t have Gordon Ramsay on this show to put people in their places, I will now do this for you.

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So then Nipa comes out and gives everyone a free Bollywood dance lesson that really freaked some people out. I was one of them.

In the end, Kelsey won the challenge and Nipa was sent packing. Nipa’s dish wasn’t as bad as the others, but she had really offended Michael Symon with the way she handled her fish during the preparation: Each contestant was asked to fillet one fish, and then they were given the rest of their fillets already ready. Nipa, who doesn’t like to touch fish, cut out a tiny little piece about the size of her thumb, and threw the rest of the fish away. That, her earlier technique presentation, and her overall behavior throughout the competition made the decision. If you want to read more about why their decision was made, you can read Bob Tuschman’s blog on the Food Network website.

MoM June ‘08 Food & Wine: DIY Kebab Party

I do a lot of grilling in the summer. For small parties, I don’t mind going “all out” with elaborate dishes and desserts. When it comes to a larger group with diverse dietary requests, sometimes it’s better to simplify. June 2008 Food & Wine Magazine has a great idea that I tried out this weekend with tasty success: A DIY Kebab Party.

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Photo courtesy of Food & Wine Magazine

The article provides you with three different tastes for kebabs: Mediterranean, Mexican and Asian. Each flavor has an accompanying basting sauce and dipping sauce. For my party, I chose the Mexican flavors for a little spicy excitement.

In putting together the actual kebobs, I provided a variety of items placed like an assembly line. If you’re short on ideas, the magazine provides some creative combinations:

Shrimp + Chorizo + Zucchini
Pork + Pineapple + Pickled Jalapeños
Chicken + Yellow Squash + Poblanos
Tuna + Okra + Cherry Tomatoes
Beef + Red Onions + Red Peppers
Scallops + Okra + Tomatoes

My kebab party was a little simpler and included: Beef, Tofu (very firm), chicken, shrimp, zucchini, baby corn, pineapple, grape tomatoes, red pepper, green pepper, mushrooms – and a couple of others that I can’t think of off the top of my head. Let your guests load up their kebobs with any combination they choose. When they get to the grilling station, baste the kebobs with Cumin-Adobo Oil:

Cumin-Adobo Oil
Ingredients
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh oregano, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles)
Salt

Directions
Combine the olive oil with the ground cumin, oregano, garlic clove and adobo sauce. Season the oil with salt.

That’s really all there is to it — take your ingredients, put them in a bowl, stir them around. That’s it. Nothing more. When the kebab goes down on the grill, baste it with a bit of the oil. The result is absolutely delicious: the basting oil gives the kebabs a very delicious flavor with a slight spicy kick. For the spice-wimps out there (like me), it is not overpowering at all. I was actually really surprised at how good the basting oil tasted.

The article also provides a dipping sauce, but to be honest, it wasn’t really used. The basting oil tasted so wonderful, no one really wanted the dipping sauce to muck it up. If you do like dipping sauces, it’s a very spicy mayo dip that did have a good flavor to it, but because the Cumin-Adobo Oil was so good, the Chipotle-Citrus Mayonnaise was barely touched.

Chipotle-Citrus Mayonnaise
Ingredients
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 chipotles in adobo, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
1 tablespoon minced red onion
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
Salt

Directions
In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix well. Season the sauce with salt.

Overall, this was a huge success. It was the fastest prep I ever had for a large BBQ and, from a clean-up point of view, the basting oil and kebobs did not make a huge, disgusting mess inside my grill. (Admittedly, the ease of clean up was probably one of my most favorite things about the experience.) I’ve made a few kebabs before, but this DIY has to be one of my favorites to date. Independence Day and Canada Day are coming up fast – this would be a great idea for any event. Everyone at our BBQ who had the kebobs appreciated the fact that they could pick what ingredients they liked. The hardest part, of course, was remembering who had which kebab.

Weeknight Cooking: Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Cherry Sauce

While typing up yesterday’s post about adventures in food, I did a quick internet search on Ellie Krieger so I could properly link her and her cookbook. During my search, I came across her listing of recipes on the Food Network website. Since I had not yet made any of her recipes, I was curious about her recipe ratings and did a quick scan down the page to see how she fared. My attention was drawn, not only to her many 5 star reviews, but to her Pork Medallions with Balsamic Cherry Sauce.

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Photo courtesy of Food Network

I’ve never cooked pork before and I don’t like cherries, so I don’t know why I suddenly wanted to make this dish. Maybe I was just so caught up in my speech about a culinary adventure that I decided to do it. Who knows? I ran to the store after work and picked up a few ingredients, and started cooking as soon as I got home.

A mere 15 minutes later (that includes prep time), I had Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Cherry Sauce. Because I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, I also made some garlic smashed potatoes on the side. Looking back, that was very heavy and I should have paired the pork with a risotto instead.

The pork was delicious.

Pork Medallions with Cherry Sauce

1 1/4 pounds pork tenderloin, sliced into 1/2-inch thick medallions
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup dried tart cherries

This main course took me all of 15 minutes to put together – and that includes the prep time. No, I am not exaggerating.

I’ve never cooked pork before so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to the store. Would I have to cut it into a pretty shape to get the medallions? Stupid city slicker that I am, I really didn’t even know what I was buying. According to my vast research (wikipedia):

Pork tenderloin refers to the Psoas major muscle along the central spine portion, which more or less hangs between the shoulder blade and hip socket. This muscle tissue does very little work, so it is the most tender part of the animal.

Sounds good! Sign me up for some of that.

Okay. Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Take your tenderloin out of the package and cut it into 1/2 inch thick medallions. Season the meat with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper. Place them in the frying pan and cook the meat “until there is just a slight blush in the center about 3 minutes per side.” Because I had never cooked with pork before, I set my timer and cooked 3 minutes on each side and it came out beautifully.

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Remove them from the frying pan and set on a plate. Tent the plate with foil.

Now for the cherry balsamic sauce. I am not a big cherry fan and, although the recipe calls for “dried tart cherries” all I could find were bags of dried sweet. In my mind, they’re tart regardless of what the package says, hence why they aren’t my favorite. However, in my mind I figured balsamic and cherries were probably a great combo, so I was willing to give it a go.

Add the remaining teaspoon of oil and shallots to the frying pan and saute until the shallots begin to soften, about 1 minute. Add the chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the cherries and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 4 minutes.

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Becomes…

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The recipe says to season with salt and pepper to taste, but I honestly thought it had enough flavor. Add the sauce to the pork medallions and serve.

You’ll have to forgive my (yet another) blurry picture and ignore that blob of smashed potatoes that really doesn’t belong on the plate. The pork was delicious and, even though I’m not a fan of cherries, the sauce delivers.

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I am in love with this dish! It has everything I could ask for: Fast, not messy to cook, nutritious, and absolutely delicious. I just wish I had a nice glass of wine to go with it. Next time I will probably put some risotto on the side — hey, if we get lucky, maybe Citizen Chef will review his amazing risotto for us…

Eating Evolution

I’m probably the last person who should give eating advice: An amateur cook who dislikes sushi. However, the other day I had an interesting thought and I wanted to share it with the hope that it might actually help someone.

For my birthday, I received a copy of Ellie Krieger’s cookbook, The Food You Crave. (Thanks, Mom!)

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In case you’ve not heard of her, Ellie Krieger is a dietitian who specializes in nutrition and has a successful show on the Food Network called Healthy Appetite. Her recipes are all about healthier living without forcing you into a rabbit hole with a leaf of lettuce and a tablespoon of low-fat vinaigrette.

I, for one, would starve.

In the first ten minutes of having the book, I was so excited that I immediately set to work on writing down the recipes I wanted to make and the list of ingredients I’d need. While I was flipping through the book, a strange thought came to me: Five years ago I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near a “healthy eating” recipe book. “Healthy” food wasn’t what my body wanted.

Five years ago I ate heavy food. If I wanted to make a meal, which wasn’t often, I would turn to Americanized Italian dishes with a lot of meat topped with heavy sauces and a lot of cheese. If I ate lighter foods I was still hungry or, in some cases, actually felt sick. I never resorted to boxed or frozen foods, but what I did eat was heavy.

When I got engaged, I decided I should find some meals to cook but had no idea where to start. My repertoire consisted entirely of cookbooks for fancy desserts or Americanized Italian, and a two years’ supply of Bon Appetit magazines whose recipes really intimidated me. Even if I could cook Bon Appetit caliber, I wouldn’t have eaten most of it anyway.

At Christmas, my future mother-in-law gave me a subscription to Taste of Home, a magazine that publishes “down home” recipes from its readers. The skill level of these recipes starts at about a Sandra Lee and goes up to about a Giada DeLaurentiis and, for most of them, the nutritional value is around a Paula Deen. Even Citizen Chef has taken a few cheap shots at the magazine for its lack of culinary savoir faire.

But this was where I was as a new cook, and it was what my body was used to eating. I cooked these meals, quite happily, for a couple of years. Eventually I became slightly more adventurous and curious about other food, and ventured (timidly) into other ingredients, styles, and flavors. One day I was ready for the next step: RecipeZaar.

Recipezaar is the same principle behind Taste of Home, except online and free. A community of cooks share their recipes that run the same skill level as ToH does and, with the recipe sifter tool, it’s possible to get specific lists of the kind of food you’re looking for. A nutritional calculator is a big perk for the site, as this way I know what I’m putting into my body before I make it. I have noticed that, just like Taste of Home, the highest rated meals are very Paula Deen. In fact, the highest rated chicken one-dish meal calls for an entire block of cream cheese.

Although I snubbed the cream cheese chicken, there were plenty of other dishes I made that were just as bad. I moved into stir fry dishes with chicken and steamed veggies — and the sauces called for 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1/4 cup of brown sugar.

That’s a whole lotta salt and sugar, folks.

But back then, it was a staple that I made about once a week, and it was indicative of the type of food we ate for quite a while. Eventually, we moved away from it and migrated to healthier territory — not necessarily because we were aiming to eat healthier, but because the cooking adventure I had started caused my palette and my body to change. It wasn’t an overnight change where suddenly I wanted to eat nothing but tofu and salad while wearing Birkenstocks, because I didn’t. For the record, I’ve never owned a pair of Birkenstocks despite growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I can’t stand tofu, and I’m still not a salad person.

The other day I came across that sugary soy teriyaki chicken sitting in my recipe box, and looking at the ingredients almost made me laugh. Today, I wouldn’t consider making it, but back then it was gold. It’s funny how we can change over time.

The point is, the road to better cooking, whether it’s healthier eating or finer dining, doesn’t happen overnight. If where you’re at right now is chicken breasts with a block of cream cheese or a teriyaki recipe that calls for a lot of sugar and soy — that’s OK. Remember when I said I use minced garlic from a jar? I don’t do that anymore. My palette has changed and I don’t like what pre-minced garlic does to a dish containing fresh ingredients. Everybody has to start somewhere and, if you aren’t in a medical position where your eating habits need to change overnight, I would encourage you to start now. Who knows what things you’ll love to eat in a year? Two years? Five? Ten?

Start your journey today.

MoM June ’08 Food & Wine: Ginger-Garlic Shrimp

Last time I mentioned that we might be open to friendly offers from magazine editors to facilitate a favorable AwK review of your product. Since we had no takers, I can only blame myself for not communicating our intentions clearly: WE CAN BE BOUGHT.

Ok, on to another (regrettably) payola-free review of one of the recipes in the latest issue of Food & Wine:

Ginger-Garlic Shrimp with Tangy Tomato Sauce

ginger-garlic shrimp

Ingredients: Shrimp

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped basil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 1/2 pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined

Ingredients: Dipping Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 3 stalks of fresh lemongrass, tender inner bulb only, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds tomatoes—peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • Kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Marinate the shrimp: In a large bowl, mix the vegetable oil with the parsley, garlic, basil, ginger, lemon juice, salt and crushed red pepper. Add the shrimp and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, make the sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat the vegetable oil. Stir in the ginger, garlic and lemongrass and cook over moderate heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then stir in the lime juice and cilantro. Season with salt. Transfer the sauce to ramekins.
  3. Light a grill. Loosely thread the shrimp onto 10 skewers. Grill over moderately high heat, turning once, until lightly charred and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to plates and serve with the tomato sauce.

Again with the no pictures of the cooking. Yes I will stop sucking soon, I promise. This is a pretty standard marinated shrimp dish, but while the grill did nothing for the clams, they did a ton for the shrimp. Oh man, this was amazing. I had forgotten what a potent combination ginger and shrimp were. I don’t need to comment too much on the mechanics of the dish, it’s pretty straightforward. But, man, THIS I will make again.

The part I was a lot less impressed with was the tomato sauce. I think the main problem here was I couldn’t find lemongrass so I had to use powdered. I know, normally lemongrass is pretty easy to find, a lot easier than finding powdered lemongrass, that’s for sure. But this particular day, no soap. Add to that some fairly flavorless tomatoes and this sauce didnt even make it on the plates. Luckily it didn’t need to since the shrimp were so good. And I am willing to call this part user error. Most of the time the “Citizen” in “Citizen Chef” stands for “Normal Guy Who Really Screws Up Simple Dishes And Should Shut Up And Watch The Food Channel Instead Of Writing Things For People To Read”

So make these shrimp, grill some bread and put the horseradish butter from the Pop Open Clams with Horseradish-Tabasco Sauce on it, and enjoy!

~Citizen Chef

Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagna

The epicurious website has a listing of their favorite lasagnas. We’ve already been through the Turkey Sausage Spinach Lasagna with Spicy Tomato Sauce, and have declared it amazing. But what about a vegetarian option? I am a huge fan of butternut squash and pasta, especially after having it served to me in a homemade ravioli version. So when I saw the listing for the “Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagna“, I had to try it.

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The recipe is fairly straightforward, but there are some things that get a little confusing while making it. Also, keep in mind this is a good lasagna so it will take a little bit of time to put together.

For squash filling
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 cup hazelnuts (4 oz), toasted, loose skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel, and coarsely chopped

For sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups milk
1 bay leaf (not California)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

For assembling lasagne
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated (2 cups)
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3 oz)
12 (7- by 3 1/2-inch) sheets no-boil lasagne (1/2 lb )

I was surprised at the comments section where so many people complained that they enjoy spending time in the kitchen but this recipe was too much. It didn’t feel that way to me at all. Looking back, I think I spent maybe 45 minutes? Maybe 60? I really don’t know – there was a lot to do, but not to the point of being overwhelming. Everything that I had going on was a really fun process so I lost track of the time. Whatever it was, I am sure it wasn’t the 90 minutes that’s estimated on the epicurious website.

What people complained about taking the most time was the squash. Step one: Peel, seed, and cut your squash into 1/2-inch squares. I pulled a Rachel Ray and bought some pre-peeled, cleaned and cut squash at the store, and it saved me all the time and mess that commenters were complaining about. If you can go with this option, totally do it. The pre-packaged stuff is still too big, so take a few minutes and cut them down to 1/2-inch pieces.

A note about the toasted hazelnuts. I went to the store and found blanched hazelnuts in the bulk food section. When I got them home, I put a layer of foil on my toaster tray, and toasted them for a few minutes on 250-degrees F. After that, I was able to take a damp paper towel and easily get the rest of the skins off. To chop them, I gave them a few rounds in my food processor. Half of the mixture did get ground up finely, but that was fine for me because I think the crunchiness of the nuts threw me off. The taste in the dish was still there, and next time I will probably make the nuts a little finer. If you like the crunch of the nuts, then be careful.

Make filling:
Cook onion in butter in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add squash, garlic, salt, and white pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes. Don’t cook this thinking your squash will become mush. It will still be a little hard on the inside – remember, this is going to be baking in a cream sauce for about 45 minutes, and will get soft during the baking process, so don’t
cook the crap out of it on the stove. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, sage, and nuts. Cool filling.

Make sauce while squash cooks:
Cook garlic in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add milk in a stream, whisking. Add bay leaf and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes. Whisk in salt and white pepper and remove from heat. Discard bay leaf. (Cover surface of sauce with wax paper if not using immediately.)

This step confused me, because for some reason I thought this was going to get really really thick. Mine didn’t, and that could be because I made a goof. After I made the roux, I didn’t let it cook for 3 minutes. Instead, I combined the roux, then started pouring my milk in right away. I turned the burner back up to medium and whisked constantly, but the sauce never thickened the way I thought it would. Taste and consistency-wise, after the dish came out of the oven, the sauce didn’t affect anything as the lasagna came out fine.

Assemble lasagne:
Preheat oven to 425°F.

Toss cheeses together. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in a buttered 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish (or other shallow 3-quart baking dish) and cover with 3 pasta sheets, leaving spaces between sheets. Spread with 2/3 cup sauce and one third of filling, then sprinkle with a heaping 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat layering 2 more times, beginning with pasta sheets and ending with cheese. Top with remaining 3 pasta sheets, remaining sauce, and remaining cheese.

Tightly cover baking dish with buttered foil and bake lasagne in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let lasagne stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

After I removed the foil, I was a little worried because there was still a ton of liquid in the lasagna, but it ended up all right. After cooking it with the foil off, the consistency of the dish was what it needed to be. I served this with some bread and butter. Our site admin thought this was better than regular lasagna, and he hates everything.

MoM June ‘08 Food & Wine: Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt

As Citizen Chef pointed out in the Magazine of the Month debut post, every month, AwK will pick out one culinary magazine to feature and show you some highlights. This month, we’ve chosen the June 2008 edition of Food and Wine.

This magazine is a new one for me. I started receiving it a few months ago as a complimentary gift for something I purchased. When I told Citizen Chef about it, he was interested to know how good the magazine was. Every month when a new publication was released, we would find ourselves discussing whether or not it was worth buying.

That’s basically how the idea for this recurring article came to be. There are plenty of websites that feature books, but that can be a very expensive venture and, if you’re anything like me, you already have two shelves’ worth of cookbooks that have barely been touched. Magazines are a much cheaper option and can contain lots of good advice.

Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt
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Making frozen yogurt was another first for me. I would have shied away from this one as well, had not the creator, Jeni Britton, been quoted as saying, “I never make frozen yogurt as a low-fat replacement for ice cream.” I was sold. The outcome was a very rich and delicious dessert. You may feel compelled to not include the blueberry sauce but I must warn you: the blueberry sauce is what makes it amazing! If you don’t include the sauce, you’ll get this overly rich and tart frozen yogurt that is lacking a balance. The sweetness of the blueberry gives this what it needs. You’ll notice there isn’t a lot of blueberry sauce being made and that’s fine – it’s so sweet that the amount that comes out is perfect. If you double the sauce it will be way too sweet and you’ll lose the tartness of the lemon.

Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt
Courtesy of Jeni Briton, Food & Wine Magazine

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, plus 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
One 1/4-ounce package unflavored powdered gelatin
2/3 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup blueberries
2 teaspoons water

There are a couple of different steps to this dessert and, unfortunately, it’s not one that you can just toss into your ice cream maker and forget about. However, don’t let that stop you. It’s relatively quick and simple, and you can end up with a delicious and beautiful dessert.

Step 1: Fill a large bowl about half way with ice water. Pour 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice into a small bowl. (Note: I used about three lemons and, unlike Citizen Chef, I remembered that I needed zest before tossing it into my garbage bowl – ha!) Sprinkle the gelatin over the lemon juice and let stand for 5 minutes.

Step 2: Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, whisk the remaining 6 tablespoons of lemon juice with 2/3 cup of the sugar and the corn syrup. Bring to a boil and cook over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon gelatin mixture you made in step 1.

Step 3: In a medium bowl, mix the yogurt with the zest. Stir in the lemon juice mixture, then whisk in the cream. Set the yogurt base in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cold, 20 minutes.

Note: This is why I said in step 1 to only fill the bowl half way up with ice water – if you fill it up all the way, once you put your frozen yogurt bowl into the ice water bath, the water will overflow all over the counter and you will get it all over your cats who are sitting at your feet in the hopes of you spilling some of the sweet, dairy creation onto the floor, only you don’t and instead they get an ice water bath and are quite unhappy with you and go running across the house, splashing and spreading more water. If that ever happened, and I’m not saying it did, that would be unfortunate for both you and your cats.

Step 4: Meanwhile, in a saucepan, mix the blueberries with the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar and the water. Simmer over moderate heat, until saucy, 4 minutes. Let cool.

Note: Remember what I said above about the blueberry sauce! It is a must have for this yogurt! I actually let this cook for a long time because I was confused about how the consistency was supposed to be. For some reason I thought the blueberries would totally break down and I would end up with a very smooth sauce. I didn’t. There was a lot of smoothness to it, but the blueberries don’t completely dissolve.

Step 5: Pour the lemon yogurt into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Basically, I tossed this into my ice cream maker and forgot about it for a couple of hours. When the consistency looked good to me (like a soft-serve ice cream) I took it out.

Step 6: Scoop alternating spoonfuls of the yogurt and blueberry sauce into a plastic container. This is where I got a little nervous. I was looking at the photo and looking at my plastic container, and I couldn’t figure out how to layer this so that it came out looking just as beautiful as the picture. In the end, I just went for it. Using small spoonfuls, I just made little swipes and stripes over the frozen yogurt and made about three layers.

For further illustration, here is a little something I put together to show off my stunning paint skills:

lemon-blueberry-frozen-yogurt-diagram.jpg

Now that’s definitely something you won’t see on a Fark photoshop contest, lemme tell ya.

Anyway, when you’re done with the layering process, press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface and close with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.

When scooping this with a rounded ice cream scooper, I was really pleased that the little ribbons of blueberry came out looking just like the photograph. This dessert was taken to a BBQ and devoured in the first 20 minutes.

So yeah, pick up a copy of Food & Wine’s June 2008 – there are plenty of other good reasons to buy one, and we’ll be talking more about it all month.

MoM June ’08: Food & Wine Magazine

We’re kicking off a new series here called “Magazine of the Month”, reviewing issues of food magazines, both the name brands and the more obscure, and choosing the best of the month to let the masses know (that’s you guys) if they are worth buying or not. (Note to magazine editors out there, yes we CAN be bought, and at reasonable rates to you, I might add.)

But until that happens, here is a completely unbiased review of one of the recipes in the latest issue of Food & Wine:

Pop-Open Clams with Horseradish-Tabasco Sauce

pop-open clams

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons drained horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon Tabasco
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet pimentón de la Vera (Spanish smoked paprika)
  • Salt
  • 2 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
  • Grilled slices of crusty white bread, for serving

Directions

  1. Light a grill. In a small bowl, blend the butter with the horseradish, Tabasco, lemon zest, lemon juice and pimentón de la Vera. Season with salt.
  2. Arrange the clams over high heat and grill until they pop open, about 25 seconds. Using tongs, carefully turn the clams over so the meat side is down. Grill for about 20 seconds longer, until the clam juices start simmering. Transfer the clams to a serving bowl. Top each clam with about 1/2 teaspoon of the horseradish-Tabasco sauce and serve with the grilled bread.

Now, what drew me to this one was that it was quick and I had never cooked clams before, especially not on the grill. I would love to have cool pictures of each step in the cooking process but I didn’t take any, so we’ll have to use the Theatre of the Mind. Imagine me mixing the butter, horseradish, Tabasco, and paprika together. Imagine that I tried to find smoked paprika at the store but they didn’t have it so I used regular paprika. Imagine that I forgot I needed lemon zest until I had squeezed the lemon and threw it away and then had to get it again to get the lemon zest. Imagine that again, but not as gross as the first time you imagined it.

Actually the sauce for this was really more of a flavored-butter than a sauce. So while it was great on the grilled bread, on the clams itself it was just ok. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The clams went on the grill, and they opened up just like the recipe it says, although it did take a bit longer than 25 seconds. As I was turning them over and the clam juice was spilling out and hissing all over the grill, I thought to myself, “Don’t we need that stuff in the clams?”

Verdict: These were not bad at all. Not great, but good. I think the main problem here was the cooking method. Some things need the grill, some things don’t. This particular recipe, I don’t think the grill helped much. Next time I would just do what I do with mussels, steam them in some white wine and garlic and plate ’em up.

Next up: Ginger-Garlic Shrimp with Tangy Tomato Sauce. One of those two things sucked, the other one freakin’ rocked. Find out which is which next time!!

~Citizen Chef

Top Chef Season 4, Episode 13: The Final Four

Editor’s Note: I know! We’re on time!

MM: You want me to do a countdown?
CC: Hit it!
MM: 3… 2… 1… Go! And welcome to Puerto Rico, everyone except Lisa.
CC: Ah… K-Fed Twin-Free Puerto Rico.

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MM: Holy crap, Lisa’s gone butch — Either that or she took a cue from her pan fires.
CC: I dont understand going butch; I really don’t.
MM: At least Padma’s looking great.
CC: Yeah, and if she wants to be a lesbian, well from my lips to God’s ears.
MM: So for this episode we have guest judge Wilo Benet, a famed Puerto Rican chef. He’s been on the Food Network a few times. Before opening his restaurants he was Chef de Cuisine at the Governors Mansion in Puerto Rico, Pattisier at Le Bernadin, Poissonier at the Water Club in New York and James Beard Foundation Guest Chef.
CC: So you’ve heard of this guy before, then?
MM: I wish I could say yes so I can sound impressive, but I’m looking him up on Wikipedia.
CC: Cheater. So the Quickfire Challenge is to make Padma and Wilo Benet two different plantain fritters.
MM: Lisa looks so smug when she hears the challenge… and it begins – three of the chefs hit the table and Lisa runs back to the kitchen to grab all of the choice protein. Smart.
CC: Are these all going to be fried? The way the challenge is being portrayed it’s hard to see what each chef is doing at their station.
MM: Looks like it. There is some interesting plating going on.
CC: Nice looking tuna on Stephanie’s plate.

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MM: Did Antonia make a mistake by giving the plantain a back seat? Padma and Chef Benet don’t seem happy.
CC: Oh, no plantain in the one dish – but her plantain jam counts.
MM: How much time has elapsed between these episodes?
CC: A few weeks, I think – So, enough time to bone up on Puerto Rican cooking. Here comes Richard! GO RICHARD YOU CAN DO IT!!! His dish looks pretty damn good, and interesting too.
MM: Really? His dish didn’t wow me, but I love how he totally thinks about his dish. The concepts he puts behind them are amazing to me. I hope Stephanie rocked it. She’s my pick to win.
CC: Stephanie wins and Richard is in the bottom two? This man (Chef Benet) has no vision!!
MM: (laughing)
CC: You want Stephanie to win the whole thing?
MM: Yeah. I’m pretty sure that I said a while back that I thought she’d go to the end.
CC: I’m rooting for Richard obviously, but Stephanie would be a close second.
MM: There’s just something about her style that I think will win over Richard – they are definitely the best two in the competition.
CC: Stephanie just keeps winning stuff.
MM: That’s because she’s good! What scares me about Stephanie is that when she goes down, she goes down hard. That said, it’s between those two. If either one of those chefs won, I wouldn’t be unhappy. They both deserve it.
CC: And now for the Elimination Challenge… PIG ROAST!!
MM: Each chef will receive help… that can only mean previous contestants. Enter the scrubs.

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Padma announces Stephanie will be assigning which previous contestant works with which finalist.

MM & CC (together): Oh my God.
CC: At least Stephanie isn’t a jerk who would try to screw this up like Spike.
The pairs are: Dale and Stephanie, Andrew (K-Fed #1) and Lisa, Spike (K-Fed #2) and Richard, Pasta Chick and Antonia.
MM: I think Andrew really is sincere about doing well… it’s just that he’s a doofus.
CC: I would have assigned Lisa and Dale together, but I guess Stephanie wanted Dale.
MM: From those choices I would have probably taken Dale, too. There’s really nowhere good to put the K-Feds.
CC: Put them in that pit that the Spartans have.

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CC: Sous chefs do the shopping, that is bad news.
MM: Andrew trying to communicate and realizing he looks like a moron.
CC: You’d think they would get an interpreter though. I mean, come on. Spike could at least do the butchering though, we found that out.
MM: Spike is not smart enough to understand basic directions! Well, it’s a good thing he still has his legs so he can do Richard’s grunt work.
CC: Yeah see – I held back on my true prophetic powers because I didn’t want to mess Richard up with a legless sous chef.

Before the commercial break, the discussion and single-chef “diary clips” are all about the necessity of being really organized. The camera pans down to a tray of pork left out on a shelf, forgotten.

MM: Oh no, was that Steph’s stuff that was left out?
CC: Did someone forget something there?
MM: Oh my God. Dale forgot to put that away.
CC: Wow that sucks, because you know he didn’t do it on purpose. Why are we just finding out now that they have known each other for 10 years?
MM: I have no idea, but you can tell he feels like a complete jerk. Now that we’re back from the commercial break, tell me this: How come no one can cook a decent batch of rice?
CC: Oh please, not more rice issues.
MM: Lots of pork belly going on. Aren’t they worried they aren’t being diverse enough?
CC: Yeah, pretty pedestrian menus across the board I’d say. Why is Lisa, known for her Asian food, trying to go with Spanish?
MM: Because it can’t be worse than her Asian dishes? Beats me. I’m not feeling confident about anyone’s menus. This episode doesn’t feel fun at all. I’m really nervous about this challenge for everyone – not just Stephanie and her botched dish that was left out. What did she say she was going to substitute the pork belly for?
CC: A pork satay. Using sugar cane as skewers is a little hack I think.

MM: Do you? I think it will come across as a nice regional touch. Is it too commonly used, maybe?
CC: I think so, and I can’t believe it really adds much to the dish, but I could be wrong.

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CC (continued): I’m also surprised there isn’t more seafood there. Fish would be a nice pair with the pork – WOW!
MM: What’s with Padma and the toga?
CC: And once again: WOW
MM: (laughing) Okay, you like Padma’s toga. I get it.

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CC: That is a NICE DRESS.
MM: It’s a little out of place. It’s almost a little Animal House. She does look very lovely, though… but a little strange because it’s a toga.
CC: She looks like she should be at the Parthenon being fed grapes by, well hell, by me!
MM: First stop is Stephanie’s station. Was she able to pull off her last minute dish fix? Yes! And Chef Benet seems happy with her plantain pancake.
CC: I like the salad, it’s the most inventive of the three… Wait, and now its like 4 hours later? Why did it get dark?
MM: I was just wondering that. Maybe they were trying to psyche themselves up before hitting Lisa’s station. Not a lot of feedback on Lisa’s station – I can only hope that means she didn’t do well.
CC: Let’s hope.
MM: Wow, there really is no way to know how everyone is doing.
CC: I think Antonia’s undercooked pigeon peas might be an issue. I’m worried for Antonia.
MM: I am as well even though she isn’t one of my favorites (as I’ve made clear over and over) but she’s a much more solid chef than Lisa and I’d hate to see her get bumped out now.
CC: Here comes the announcement on the winners: Richard and Stephanie. Awesome. This top 2 is the top 2 of the entire competition.
MM: Richard’s ribs seemed to be the Judge’s favorite overall.
CC: I was interested in those, but they didn’t have a lot of time to cover the dishes as much as I would have liked.

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MM: I’m already feeling bad for Antonia.
CC: Yeah, this is going to be tough… Richard wins a new 2009 Corolla! Nice!
MM: I hope he doesn’t have to pay to get that Corolla back to the mainland. Not much of a prize then!
CC: (laughing) Yeah the shipping fees have to be murder. Ok, they’re calling in the bottom two. Let’s start the chant now: Lisa…Lisa…Lisa…
MM: And she’s already got her nasty face on.

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CC: The judges don’t like Lisa cooking Spanish over her usual Asian. It was a gamble, but she couldn’t produce quality regional food. And look at Lisa’s reaction! How can she be surprised?
MM: Maybe she thought, “Well, I’ve screwed myself every time I cook Asian, so I thought I’d go for Latin…” Her excuses are the same ones she uses every time. Colicchio looks like he doesn’t believe a word she is saying… Oh no, I don’t want it to be Lisa that goes on to the final 3 but it looks as if she might. Bad feedback for Antonia – she took it gracefully, though.
CC: Yeah, that must have been hard. Whoever is #3 is going to get smoked by Richard and Stephanie anyway.
MM: This has been a really hard episode to watch, probably one of the hardest all season.
CC: I think its a testament to the judges that 3 out of the 4 left are the top 3.
MM: What do you mean – skill wise, the 3 out of the 4 are definitely the top 3 of the entire competition? Yeah, I agree with that.
CC: It’s obviously a testament to the skill of those 3 chefs as well, but yeah, you would think someone good would get hosed along the way. Ok, your prediction before we count it down? I think it’s going to be Antonia. It shouldn’t be, but I think it will.
MM: I think it is Antonia, and I will feel crushed for her. She isn’t my favorite, but overall she’s a better chef.

Padma makes the announcement, asking Antonia to please pack her knives and go.

MM (continued): Yeah, it’s Antonia. That really sucks.
CC: Yeah, it does.
MM: This was the hardest judges’ table to watch. I – WHAT IN THE –

Antonia gracefully makes her goodbyes and exits. The cameras return to the scene in the waiting room, where Richard, Stephanie, and Lisa are sitting in stunned silence after a long competition. Lisa breaks the silence by telling Richard and Stephanie that they should be congratulating her, instead of being mad that she made it through and Antonia didn’t.

CC: Oh, lets get some more drama in there. That was really low class.
MM: It’s all about you, isn’t it, Lisa? Richard wins the quote for this episode: “You won the bronze medal. There ya go.”
CC: Put that on a t shirt and I’ll buy it right now. I do understand how Lisa feels, but you can’t expect people to be jumping for joy after someone leaves.
MM: What does she want congratulations for? That she didn’t suck quite as much as the other person? I don’t know if that’s something to be congratulated over.
CC: Well I don’t know about that. Being in the top 3 is a big accomplishment, but you have to give it more than 5 minutes to switch from Antonia leaving to you not leaving.
MM: That was a sobering challenge.
CC: Yeah, because it could have just as easily been Richard or Stephanie who undercooked some rice and then they’re done.
MM: Yeah, or what if Stephanie wasn’t able to bounce back from Dale’s mistake?
CC: Yeah, that would have been worse, if Steph got booted for a mistake Dale made. I would have called it “dry aged pork” and took my chances.
MM: Gross.

Tune in next whenever as the AwK authors finish up this season of Top Chef sometime relatively near after the episode airs!