Saturday, February 27, 2010

Kabocha Squash Ice Cream with 5-Spice and Crystallized Ginger

I made ice cream for a gathering last weekend, and I hated it. Mostly I hated that I was in a hurry, and had too many things planned, and was scrambling, which led to scrambled eggs, which led to starting over, which led to less time and more scrambling. I also just didn't particularly like the recipe--it had 10 (gasp, 10!) egg yolks per quart, and I didn't like the egginess. But I didn't like my execution, either, and all and all, I felt I had thrown down a self-to-self gauntlet over ice cream. I went home and started the week by challenging myself to a duel. I and I won.

This is the result. I was well pleased.

I took some flavors and ingredients that intrigue me, and riffed a bit off of David Lebovitz' fine pumpkin ice cream recipe. Here's the link to an online version of his recipe, so you can see what I changed:

1 1/2 c. whole milk
1 c. heavy cream
1/3 fine sugar (I use caster sugar)
1 t. ground ginger
1 rounded T. 5-spice powder (make sure it has Sichuan pepper in it)
1/2 t. kosher salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 cup kabocha squash puree (seed and roast, then puree)
3 T. minced crystallized ginger

Mix the milk, cream, caster sugar, spices, and salt in a saucepan. Warm until starting to bubble, stirring occasionally, being careful not to scorch.

Whisk the egg yolks briskly in a medium bowl until smooth and thick. To temper the eggs, add 1 cup of the warm milk mixture (in a slow, steady drizzle) to the yolks, whisking constantly.
Return the egg/milk mixture back to the saucepan and stir to combine with the remaining milk and cream. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture starts to thicken and coat the spoon, but avoid letting bubbles develop. Bubbles lead to scrambled eggs--not an appetizing ice cream confection.

Pour the mixture into an icy bowl (see below), whisk in the brown sugar, and stir until cool. Chill for several hours. When completely cold, stir in squash puree and vanilla, and pour through a fine mesh strainer into an ice cream maker. You should be able to scrape almost all of the mixture through the strainer, but it will smooth out the texture nicely. Process until you have a soft ice cream and then add the ginger. Process a couple of minutes more and remove to a freezer-appropriate container. Freeze overnight.Makes +/- one quart.

*Icy bowl: rather than make a conventional ice bath by nesting a bowl in a larger bowl of ice, I put one bowl inside another one and pour water around it. I put a bag of beans or weights into the bowl to force the water up the sides, and then I freeze the whole thing. I find it easier to deal with, since the bowls are essentially fused together by the frozen, solid ice.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nanny, Zula, and the Cataract Surgery

Nanny was my great-grandmother. She was the sweetest woman who ever lived, and one of the sassiest. She made all my clothes, all of them, with matching outfits for my Barbie dolls. She and I quilted together. We cooked. I learned how to make pies from her, chocolate and lemon meringue. She always had stewed apricots in the refrigerator and she kept her long hair in a bun. She could break into tears-streaming-laughter at the slightest provocation, and she kept a snuff can behind her platform rocker.

She also lived to be a million (OK, close to 100), and her elder sister, Zula, lived to be even older. She was sassier--if possible--than Nanny, and lived on top of Petit Jean Mountain, way out in the country. When she was already in her 90s, it was determined that Aunt Zula's quality of life (which was still considerable) could be enhanced with the removal of her cataracts.

This would require a trip to the big city, Little Rock, and she would recover at the apartment Nanny was sharing with her daughter (my grandmother, Mommo).

So Aint (this is how it's pronounced, not "Aunt" at all) Zula showed up, went under the knife, and then prepared to spend her first night at Mommo and Nanny's widow apartment (they had lived together with their husbands, my Papaw and Daddy Gene, in a house across the river previously).

Now Mommo had the larger bedroom, with a king-sized bed. Nanny's room was smaller. So they figured that the "sick room" would be Mommo's, since both Nanny and Zula could fit in that bed, and since Nanny was going to be the caregiver, and all preparations were made. Zula, with her bandaged eyes, was helped to the bathroom, helped out of her clothes and into her nightgown, and helped into the side of the bed closest to the bathroom right there in the large master bedroom. Mommo relocated to the small bedroom and retired for the evening, and Nanny went to the foreign sleeping berth she would occupy for the night--the far side of the king-sized bed.

In their 90s, but still sisters, they giggled and told stories, and finally drifted off.

All was well.

Until Nanny woke up in the night and decided she needed to "tinkle"--in the language of my people. She carefully got up and teetered to the bathroom. However, she had never really paid attention to the layout in her daughter's bathroom, and so when she, um, sat down where she thought she was supposed to (it was the middle of the night, friends, she was groggy), it was the negative space of the bathtub and not the welcoming seat of the toilet.

She hollered for Mommo. Mommo was OUT or wearing earplugs or who knows? But she didn't wake up. Zula did. And Zula, being the sturdy Mountain Girl she was, wasn't about to be hampered by bandaged eyes. Not when her beloved sister was braying in the bathroom. She got up, staggered, arms outward for balance and to avoid walls, blind as a bat, to the bathroom. Her searching arms were too high to detect that Nanny, having fallen backwards into the tub, had stick legs protruding into her way, and so Zula promptly tripped over them and joined her sister in the tub.

Pause here for the visual.

Eventually Mommo did wake up and help the hapless girls back into bed, but not before they had peed themselves laughing and shrieking.

I miss them all. Whatever else I have gotten from the women in my family--a love of cooking, an appreciation for music, a metaphor-laden vocabulary--the thing I appreciate the very most is the embodied and spontaneous ability to pee myself laughing, even when I'm blind and tangled up in the bathtub.

Nanny is on the left. Zula is on the right. They are both laughing and wearing red, bless their hearts.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Stinging Nettle Tart with Bacon and Parmesan

It's been a crazy mild winter in Seattle. According to my friends who know such things and can school us transplants (roughly 99% of Seattle residents, from what I gather), it is a consequently crazy early stinging nettle season.

Now I'd had nettles before, in soup, mostly, and a delicious risotto, just last night, made by my friend Marc. But I'd never actually held one in my hand until last week. Let me pause and let you reflect on that: Turns out the "stinging" part of "stinging nettles" is not just a poetic embellishment--those improbably green and inviting critters STING. I bought a bag from Foraged and Found at the farmers market, and the bag split. I was just trying to close the bag somehow, and my poor hands suffered for hours. All of this is to say USE GLOVES to prepare them. I'm not kidding. I just used TWO PAIRS of latex gloves and still got a couple of stings, but it's worth it! It's green and spring and hope and delicious! Now the green blade riseth!!! [I apologize to my non-choral/hymn friends for that reference.]

As I tasted a fried nettle leaf while Marc was preparing the risotto, I had one of those evocative taste moments. It reminded me of poke sallet, which we had gathered in the Ozark woods and fields back in Arkansas in my childhood. Poke, like nettles, has a warning attached. It evidently contains some sort of unsavory component, so it has to be boiled twice: the first time one throws away the water and then starts over (conventional wisdom is that it's "poison"--but I grew up in a family of Wide-Eyed, Arm-Waving Storytellers, so I don't know if it's really true). [see below for an anecdote from my mother about poke sallet] At any rate, both poke and nettles make you work for them, and so I thought I might try to honor my bag of nettles by making a tart--riffing off a quiche my Aunt Dena used to make with Poke Sallet back during the High Quiche Years, the 70s.

I did. It was tasty. I wanted you to know.

Stinging Nettle Tart with Bacon and Parmesan

1 recipe Yeasted Tart Dough*
8 cups fresh nettles (use gloves to remove stems; wash; you should have about 6 c. of leaves)
1 T. aged Balsamic vinegar
4 thick slices bacon (I used home cured and smoked Bay and Black Pepper by my friend, Larry, and I apologize for the fact that I am not able to share it with you.)
1 shallot
3 eggs
1 c. heavy cream
1/3 c. Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt, freshly ground black pepper
a few scrapes of fresh nutmeg

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the washed nettle leaves (did I mention you should be wearing gloves??) and simmer for a few minutes. You don't want to cook them and mute that green, just deactivate the DEVIL in them. Drain. Pulse in a food processor until chopped, but not pureed. Drain well and squeeze all water from them. Sprinkle on the vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

Chop the bacon and brown in a large skillet. If there is more than 2 T. of grease, remove some of it. To the bacon and grease, add the shallot. Cook until just short of golden, stir in the nettles and toss around for a minute or two. Remove from heat and cool.

Beat eggs, dairy, cheese, salt and pepper to taste (how salty is your bacon? I can't say.), and a bit of nutmeg.

Press the tart dough into and up the sides of a tart pan with a removable bottom. Spread the cooled nettle and bacon mixture evenly over the tart shell.

Pour in the custard and jostle the pan a bit to even it out. Place on a sheet pan and bake at 375 degrees until puffy, set, and golden, about 30-35 minutes.  Let cool slightly before serving--this tart is more tasty if it's just warm, not blazing hot.

I think I would love to serve this to friends for an early-spring-please-let-me-believe-winter-is-over brunch, along with bowls of citrus, strong, fragrant coffee, and hours of conversation.

* Yeasted Tart Dough, adapted from Deborah Madison's classic The Greens Cookbook

1 t. active dry yeast (I used 1/2 T. fresh yeast)
1/4 c. warm water
pinch of sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 c. flour (I used more, since I was using whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 t. salt
3 T. soft butter

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. When bubbly, stir in the egg. Add the butter and half the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon and add flour, bit by bit, until the dough is pulled together enough to turn over with your hand. Knead in the bowl by folding the dough over onto itself and adding flour if it gets too sticky. Once it is smooth and pliable, form into a ball (all in the bowl) and cover the bowl with a towel. Set aside.

This is my mother's comment about poke sallet: Re: the poke's not really "poisonous"...but, it IS strong enough to blister a one-year-old's lips and surrounding areas! Which is precisely what happened to you, Jenifer! Not knowing about poke sallet my own self, I gave you a taste of it, and you LOVED it! Scarfed it down in record time for a toddler of your age! Long story short, when your lips swelled and every place the greens touched turned beet red...I rushed you off to the pediatrician, who healed you, but voiced his "displeasure" with me. Well, I was merely a child myself...what can I say? I've learned a few lessons since then...and still love poke sallet!!! :):)

Friday, February 12, 2010

February, I'm done with you.

I'm pretty "glass half full" on most days, but I've had it.

It's mid-February, and the darkness is wearing on me, Seattle. It's grey, it's gloomy, it's damp.

I get up in the morning and it's dark. I leave work and it's dark. I plunge around in my bedroom area (it's a loft, so I just get an "area"--not a room) at crack of dawn-of-my-discontent, and look for clothes. I find myself wearing the same thing over and over, because it's easier to wash and dry things in the brightly lit bathroom than to put them away by lantern-light (hyperbole), never to find them again until springtime (more hyperbole).

See? There's me, looking for drama. And that's the problem: this winter is monotone. Daytime highs in the 50s, grey, spitty rain to chance of rain to just rained.

Bring on a gullywasher! A frog-strangler! Or blazing sunshine! Or a wind incident!

Alternately: give me time. With time, I could plan leisurely evenings, every night, with candles and hot chocolate or wine, with my friends, with music, with conversation "um Gott und die Welt" (a German phrase that means a conversation that encompasses everything--from God to the entire world), with laughter, with food.

Seattle winters, you should come packaged with time.

My glass needs filling.