Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tangy FroYo

When we lived in Hawaii my friends and I used to hang out at Kahala Mall, where we spent countless hours after school or on the weekends, browsing through the stores, munching on McDonald french fries or cooling down in the dark movie theater. Of course, no trip to the mall was complete without a cup of frozen, tangy goodness from Yami Yogurt. In addition to exotic, fruit flavors such as guava, coconut and passion fruit, good, old-fashioned plain frozen yogurt was also a favorite stand-by - sprinkled with crumbled cookies, naturally.

It wasn't until we moved back to the mainland that I realized not all froyo was Yami. Most frozen yogurt tries too hard to be something it isn't - ice cream. Creamy and sweet, yet lacking true flavor. It was enough to make me swear off frozen yogurt for good. Or at least until I can make it back to the Islands for vacation. Although my old middle school hangout has since closed, there is still one remaining Yami Yogurt left on Oahu - a tiny cube tucked into the dark, lower level of Ala Moana mall. Tart and refreshing, a cup of Yami is the perfect shopping snack.

But now, with the rising popularity of chains like Red Mango and Pinkberry, tangy frozen yogurt is suddenly trendy. An Asian-style froyo shop that serves the tangy treat with cubes of mochi - a sticky, sweet Japanese rice candy - opened near my home not long ago. Last summer when I was 7 months pregnant I'd waddle over and scarf down a large plain yogurt topped with the mochi of the day. At $5 a cup, it wasn't a cheap treat.

Ever since I got the ice cream maker, I'd been wanting to experiment with frozen yogurt, and after last night's rich, espresso-laced dessert, I was craving something clean and bright with bit of a bite. So at 3 a.m. I dug up a container of organic, plain yogurt from Trader Joe's and got to work. Here's what I did:

Frozen Yogurt
32 oz. tub of plain, whole milk yogurt
3/4 cup sugar

In a bowl, combine the yogurt and sugar, and mix until sugar is dissolved. Freeze in ice cream maker, according to manufacturer's instructions.

Simple ingredients and super easy to make! You can vary it up a bit by pureeing some fruit and adding it to the mix for different flavors, and I know it sounds weird but try crumbled biscotti as a topping.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Birthday Burgers & Espresso Ice Cream

My parents celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary a few weeks ago by going to Chili's, of all places, for dinner. "I had a hamburger," Mom said defensively. "Sometimes all I want is a really good burger."

So for her birthday, I grilled thick, juicy burgers served with fries and her favorite - onion rings.

Since it was my mom's birthday, I bypassed lean ground beef and went for two pounds of 85/15 ground chuck. My initial instinct was to try and fancy things up a bit with bits of cooked bacon or blue cheese, but Brandon convinced me to stick to the basics. "Burgers are real simple," he said.

Kimi's Burgers
2 lbs. ground chuck
5 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 onion, finely minced
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and mix thoroughly using clean hands. Divide into six balls, roughly 3 inches in height, and gently flatten into patties. Season both sides with more kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, then refrigerate until ready to cook.

I like to grill my burgers, whether its indoors on a grill pan or on out outdoor bbq. Either way, make sure the cooking surface is nice and hot before you put the meat on. Be careful not to press down on the patties because it squeezes out the juices and you want to keep all that yummy goodness in the meat. Cook until the burgers are firm to the touch. Remove from grill and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Once the burger patties were in the fridge, I got started on Ina Garten's Cornmeal-Fried Onion Rings. This was the first recipe of Ina's that I had a little trouble with. I couldn't find buttermilk at my neighborhood market, and I didn't feel like schlepping to another store just for one ingredient, so I mixed whole milk with half & half cream. I don't know if having buttermilk makes a big difference or not, but the batter slid off the first batch of rings I tried to fry.

So I whisked an egg and dredged the milk-soaked rings in the egg before tossing it in the dry ingredients. That seemed to do the trick. My onion rings didn't look as nice as Ina's, but they sure tasted good! I've never been a big fan of onion rings, but I think I've been converted.

As far as I'm concerned, you can't have hamburgers without fries. So I quickly sliced five small russet potatoes, skins and all, into thin wedges, which I fried in oil while the onion rings were soaking in the milk. Be sure to season the fries with salt as soon as you take them out of the oil. Same goes for the onion rings.

My mom loves good, strong coffee, so for dessert I decided to serve Ina's Espresso Ice Cream. It was my first attempt at a French-style ice cream, which involved tempering eggs and cream, so I was a little nervous. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until I had to reheat the egg and cream mixture over the stove. I may have cooked it too long because once I went to pour it through the sieve, it was pretty lumpy. Then again, maybe it's supposed to be and that's why you have to use a sieve.

I had to use a spatula to push the mixture through the sieve, and I ended up tossing some of the lumpier parts, but it turned out in the end and that's all that matters. My Espresso Ice Cream was so good, I couldn't resist licking the big, rotating spatula from the ice cream maker, and even then I was scraping every bit I could out of the bowl.

Be forewarned, however. If you use regular espresso (I bought 1/4 lb. for under $3 at my corner cafe), serve dessert early because you get quite a buzz and will be up for hours.

One of my biggest culinary pet peeves is a wasteful recipe. In other words, recipes that call for only the zest of two lemons, or only the yolks of six eggs. I mean, what the heck are you supposed to do with six egg whites?

Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that most ice cream recipes, including espresso ice cream, call for a lot of egg yolks.

"Looks like we're having scrambled egg whites for breakfast tomorrow," I lamented to Brandon as I separated runny eggs through my fingers.

But by the time I'd tempered the cream and eggs, heated the custard and sifted it through a fine sieve, I had a new plan. Fried rice!

It was perfect since I still hadn't figured out what to have for dinner that night. Fried rice is the ideal lazy, go-to meal - just throw in whatever's in your fridge. I diced some leftover bbq jerk chicken, Chinese picked mustard green and bacon lardons for added flavor. We didn't have any green onions in the house, or I would've used those, too.

Kimi's Fried Rice
2 cups white long-grain rice
2 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. shrimp paste (optional)
2 tbs. pickled Chinese mustard green (optional)
4 strips bacon, diced
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. sesame oil
soy sauce to taste

Wash and cook rice in a rice steamer or on the stovetop. While the rice is cooking, fry the bacon pieces on medium heat until crispy. Add shrimp paste and garlic, then stir in the green onions and mustard green. If you have other veggies, such as diced cabbage, bean sprouts or green beans, stir those in along with any other diced meats. Lower heat.

When the rice has finished steaming, add to frying pan and turn up heat. Stir well, making sure to combine with other ingredients and rendered bacon fat. (I know, so bad and yet soooo good!) Sprinkle in soy sauce and stir until the rice becomes a nice, golden, caramel color.

Pour beaten eggs over the rice mixture and stir until the eggs are thoroughly cooked.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Purple Pleasure

I saw some beautiful, deep purple Japanese eggplant at the Farmers' Market and couldn't resist buying them. I love eggplant whether its Trader Joe's eggplant hummus or eggplant parmigiana. I particularly love the delicate flavor of Japanese eggplant, which is often used in tempura, but I've never done anything with it myself.

When I got home I tried an recipe for Eggplant Salad with Miso Ginger Dressing. My first batch was a disappointment - the dressing was too oily and a little heavy on the sweet miso paste. It was also desperately crying out for some salt. So here's what I did instead:

Miso Eggplant
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp miso
1 tsp fresh basil, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced

3 Japanese or Asian eggplants, sliced lengthwise in 1/2-inch strips
olive oil

To make the dressing, combine vinegar, peanut oil, soy sauce, miso, basil, ginger and garlic in a bowl and whisk until emulsified.

Heat grill pan. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil then place on grill, cooking about 3 minutes on each side. Remove from grill and cut at an angle into pieces about two inches wide, then lightly toss in a bowl with dressing.

I ate the eggplant with basmati rice, but it could easily be served as a cold salad over Asian rice noodles.

Monday, July 6, 2009

You Scream, Ice Cream

We visited Brandon's parents this week, and my mother-in-law gave me her ice cream maker! Hours after returning home I was at the local bookstore buying David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop. For two days I poured over each luscious recipe - from Zabaglione Gelato to Olive Oil Ice Cream - before finally settling on Tiramisu Ice Cream as my first frozen foray.

Forget plain, ordinary vanilla!

Auntie Sharon and my cousin Liana were planning a visit, and I wanted to wow them with something rich and sophisticated. I decided to up the ante even more by making an ice cream tiramisu cake using ladyfingers soaked in espresso.

The ice cream itself was incredibly easy to make - just a matter of mixing all the ingredients in a blender, chilling the mixture and then pouring it into the ice cream maker. I particularly liked this recipe because unlike many of the other French-style ice cream recipes in the book, it didn't require six egg yolks or any tricky tempering.

While my mixture was chilling in the fridge, I tackled the Mocha Ripple, an espresso-laced fudge sauce that only took five minutes to whisk together on the stove top. In fact, the only hard turned out to be using the ice cream maker. I carefully followed all the manufacturer's instructions from freezing the canister for 24 hours in a plastic bag, to turning the machine on before pouring in the creamy mixture. But even after letting it churn for more than 30 minutes the consistency was still too soupy.

I finally turned the machine off and dished my icy soup into a plastic container, hoping it would harden in the freezer. There wasn't any significant improvement by evening, and when I spooned a sample into Brandon's mouth, his response was lukewarm. It was time to switch gears. We'd just gone to the Farmers' Market and had plenty of ripe, organic peaches - perfect for peach ice cream.

I started by prepping the peaches, cutting x's into the bottoms and blanching them in boiling water for a few seconds before shocking them in a bowl of ice water. After that, it was a cinch to peel and pit the fruit before pureeing with the rest of the ingredients. (I won't post the exact recipe I used, but this one by the Neelys is pretty close.)

I stuck the peach mixture in the freezer for about 30 minutes to thoroughly chill. While I was trying to make room in my overpacked freezer, I discovered an old, forgotten box of puffed pastry that probably dated back to Christmas. Although the used by date had long since past, I decided to make heart-shaped cookies and turn a bowl of ice cream into a frozen take on peach pie.

So while the mixture was chilling, I rolled out the puffed pastry on a floured surface and cut out nine hearts using a cookie cutter. I placed the cookies on a Silpat lined cookie sheet and brushed each of them with milk so they would turn a nice golden brown, then baked them at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

By then it was time to make ice cream. To my relief, the mixture thickened noticeably within about 20 minutes, and this time Brandon's reaction to a spooned sample was instant pleasure.

I served my peach ice cream with puff pastry cookies dusted in powdered sugar rakishly arranged along with sprigs of mint for color.

Back at home later that night, I had cold, tiramisu soup garnished with Mocha Ripple.

Update: Auntie Sharon, Mom & Liana came over for lunch so I served my now-frozen Tiramisu Ice Cream drizzled with Mocha Ripple for dessert. I have another winner folks!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Cloning Clafouti

I'm reading David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris, (yes Noriko, I hijacked your copy from Mom's), and every page transports me back to the tree-lined, cobblestone streets, where Brandon and I wandered two summers ago, during what I've come to think of as our second honeymoon.

Lebovitz, a blogger and former San Francisco pastry chef, described the beauty of Paris as being "magnified in the darkness", and it reminded me of our last night in that marvelous city, when we glided along the Seine past a glittering Eiffel Tower. Light from the tower illuminated the hazy drizzle that had begun to fall, making it look like delicate snow flurries, and it was as if all of Paris was glowing.

I was still reminiscing when I spotted fresh, organic figs at the Farmers' Market and immediately decided to make clafouti, a classic French dessert similar to a cobbler and traditionally made with cherries.

On our last night in Paris, after what can only be described as the perfect dinner at Bistrot Les Sans Culottes on Rue de Lappe in the Bastille neighborhood, I ordered the only dessert on the menu I'd never heard of. I was feeling adventurous and reasoned I could have creme brulee or a sorbet assortment anywhere. The only thing I did know about the dish I'd ordered was that it had figues, or figs, according to my handy-dandy, little French dictionary.

My dessert was served in a warm, shallow bowl. Pieces of a quartered fig were arranged like a flower and covered with something that was a cross between a custard and a cake, then dusted with powdered sugar and topped with an oval quenelle of peach sorbet.

It was the best dessert I'd ever had - and I didn't even know what it was!

"I want to lick my plate," I told Brandon.

Back at home, I searched in vain for some kind of French dessert recipe with figs. Months later while leafing through a French cookbook, I stumbled upon something that sounded familiar - pear clafouti.

That is how I found my favorite French dessert and discovered Ina Garten - all while standing in line at Costco.

I've made pear clafouti several times since then, to rave reviews, but never with figs. Driving home from the Farmers' Market I realized I'd also bought organic peaches for Emi's babyfood, and I decided to "borrow" a few to make my own sorbet. It was the perfect dish to bring to my in-laws' when we visited in a couple of days.

I started on the sorbet as soon as we got back from the market. I chose to puree uncooked peaches, but I think next time I might try baking them first because I think it will bring out their sweetness more and intensify the peach flavor. (Later, I read online that a tablespoon of peach liqueur also adds more flavor and smooths out the sorbet so it's more creamy than icy.) Since I'm not working, I couldn't run out and buy an ice cream maker. Instead, I searched online and found an easy technique that worked pretty well (see recipe below).

My in-laws live a couple hours away, so we planned to visit for three days. It would be our first overnight trip with Emi, and it took me most of Monday to organize and pack everything we'd need. I almost forgot to make the clafouti until I happened to notice the bag of figs sitting in my refrigerator later that evening. Luckily, Ina's clafouti recipe is super easy. I used about six figs, which I quartered and arranged on their sides in a floral pattern.

Ina's recipe makes more batter than I need for my shallow Emile Henry tart dish, so I decided to make two small clafoutis using a couple of creme brulee dishes. I gave one to my parents when we dropped off the "granddog", and kept the other one for quality control.

In other words - I ate it.

The figs were sweet and bright, perfectly complementing the brandy in the custard, while the tartness of the peach sorbet balanced the rich dessert.

It was just like Paris, only better because this time I could lick the plate!

Peach Sorbet
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 lbs. to 2 lbs. fresh, ripe peaches
1/2 cup lemon juice

Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar with 1 cup of water in a saucepan and stirring over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool.

Peel the peaches and cut in half, removing the pits. Place the peach pieces in a food processor or blender and add lemon juice before pureeing.

Combine with the cooled simple syrup. If you have an ice cream maker, follow the manufacturer's instructions for freezing. If your kitchen is lacking this pricey gadget like mine is, than pour the puree into a container such as a metal bowl and freeze for one hour. Remove from the freezer and beat using an electric mixer before returning it to the freezer. Repeat every hour, 3 or 4 times.