Monthly Archives: April 2012

Making Mondays Meatless

Bryce and I have attempted to make Mondays meatless since Bryce watched the episode of Oprah where she explained the movement and showed how she and her staff participated by, well, you can imagine. Unlike Oprah and her staff, our success has thus far been rather limited. And that’s wording things kindly. For every Monday we achieved our meatless goal, we failed miserably on five others. We turned whatever excuses we could into justification for meatful Mondays, whether it be work, family, travel, dining out, etc. We lacked the courage of our conviction and proper level of commitment. Plus, no one held us accountable. This morning, as I pondered what topic should fill my next blog post, I almost instantly thought of Meatless Mondays. What better medium than my new blog to better commit to the movement but also share our experiences and meatless recipes while possibly encouraging others to join in?

Now, I’m a self-professed lover of meat. (Insert dirty joke here.) Serve me perfectly grilled steak, tasty tacos de carnitas, mouth-watering roasted rack of lamb, blackened sea scallops, or anything bacon-wrapped and I’m happy as a kid on Christmas morning. I relish in a great meat-centric dish. That does not mean, though, I don’t love me some fruits and vegetables. Very few dishes, regardless of complexity, truly surpass the sublime taste of fresh heirloom tomatoes, hand-picked apples, or sun-ripened peaches. Shopping at the local farmers market to find such fresh produce always brings me a sense of excitement and sometimes inspiration. For Meatless Monday to be successful, we must rely on those unparalleled pearls of nature as well as other nutrient-rich grains, proteins, and dairy products. If planned and executed well, I doubt either Bryce or I will notice the absence of meat from our Monday menus.

I suppose your question now is why go meatless on Mondays? These days, so many organizations, movements, and individuals bombard us with ways to improve our way of life, making us more health- and environmentally-conscience members of society. Why choose this one? Meatless Monday’s core principle suggests that reducing our weekly intake of meat by one day produces a positive impact on both the human body and the planet. As Ina Garten might say, how bad could that be? They are not suggesting we overhaul our lifestyles completely, merely that we challenge ourselves to change eating habits one day a week – something easily manageable.  For more information about Meatless Mondays, please visit the campaign’s website: http://www.meatlessmonday.com/.

At the end of the day, I realize Meatless Mondays may not be for everyone. I do not intend for this blog to be a pulpit for preaching the completely meatless lifestyle (not that I find fault with that). I mean, seriously, did you read the bit about me being a meat lover? I do think, however, change is good, especially when the benefits to both my own health and that of the environment outweigh the costs. Besides which, I’m positive committing to one day a week without meat will also save money. Having an outlet with which to share my experiences may very well be the motivation Bryce and I need to finally make Mondays meatless.

And we get to eat food like classic Grilled Monterey Jack Cheese & Tomato on Rye with deliciously rich homemade Lentil Soup:

Grilled Monterey Jack Cheese & Tomato on Rye
Lentil Soup

For the lentil soup, Bryce has successfully prepared two recipes he found online – Ina Garten’s and Epicurious.com’s – with slight variations to both (which unfortunately neither of us remember). Both recipes make plenty for eating and freezing. Our dinner tonight came from the frozen excess and tasted just as good as, if not better than, the first time around. To garnish Bryce’s deliciousness, I topped his lentil soup with croutons, sliced tomatoes, parmesan cheese shreds, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Yum.

CJC

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The Ice Cream Blogs Are Made Of

In my very first post, I alluded to the homemade ice cream that transformed me from a wanna-be blogger to an actual one. And though my culinary adventures began much longer ago than I like to admit, this recent experiment produced the best ice cream I have created to date. I knew sharing my success must happen. Thus my blog was born.

The path to making this ice cream truly sprouted a couple years ago when a good friend of mine invited me over for dinner. Having developed a number of food allergies over the years, she was forced to create an arsenal of homemade goodies free of the offensive allergens. Armed with a CuisinArt ice cream maker, she once again could enjoy the tasty treat. On that fateful evening a couple summers ago, I tasted my first homemade Mocha Chocolate Chip ice cream. I instantly established a new obsession for homemade ice cream. Imagine the possibilities! I waited – patiently, I might add – until Christmas 2010 for my very own CuisinArt ice cream maker. Thank you, Santa!

From that point onward my experiments with ice cream began. At first I strictly stuck to the easy recipes provided in the ice cream maker’s instruction manual. You cannot get much simpler than equal parts whole milk and cream, a little sugar, and a scant teaspoon of vanilla extract. Stir the ingredients together and freeze in the CuisinArt. Voila – you have homemade ice cream! I ended up making simple versions of  vanilla, banana, chocolate, and coffee flavors during the first few months of ice cream making. I even made a great salted caramel ice cream (a mouth-watering recipe I intend to share in the future).

While those recipes produced adequate results, I wanted a better quality product – one that more closely resembled the high quality treats you find in premium ice cream parlors. You know the kind – thick and creamy, frozen hard without the ice crystals that form in the quick recipes. Then, at the suggestion of my partner, I decided to give the premium recipe in the instruction booklet for vanilla bean ice cream a try. I previously avoided these recipes because they called for a larger time commitment and required more intensive steps. They included egg yolks and added the daunting task of tempering, heating, and allowing time for the ice cream base to cool. Now to be completely honest, the tempering of the yolks scared me at first. I did not want to make scrambled egg ice cream, but following the recipe closely proved to be less difficult than I had imagined. And I found what I was looking for – the resulting vanilla bean ice cream matched the desired consistency and quality I desired.

Since the discovery that the addition of egg yolks produced the premium quality ice cream I enjoyed so much, I concocted a couple great recipes and also a less-than-stellar salted caramel that failed to match the greatness of the version without egg yolks. A successful experiment in creating an amazing cinnamon ice cream convinced me future ice creams (except salted caramel) will follow the premium recipe, tempering and all. But what to make next? One of my all-time favorite flavors happens to be the Heath ice cream you can occasionally find at Grand Ole Creamery in St. Paul, Minnesota. More than just vanilla speckled with crushed Heath bars, Grand Ole Creamery’s Heath masterpiece tastes like toffee ice cream with Heath bars. I decided to attempt the replication of this favorite flavor. The results were beyond even my  recently hightened expectations. The Heath ice cream I created transported me back to Grand Ole Creamery, becoming my favorite homemade ice cream yet and the ice cream this blog is made of.

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Heath Ice Cream

  • 2 cups heavy cream*
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk*
  • 1/2 cup Heath toffee bits, without chocolate (available at Target near the chocolate chips)
  • 4 egg yolks*
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract*
  • 3 Heath candy bars, crushed

In a medium sauce pan, mix together the heavy cream, milk, and Heath toffee bits. Heat over medium heat until the mixture begins to bubble. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat.

Side note: The toffee bits will dissolve in the heated milk mixture leaving behind small chunks of almond…not to worry, though – we’ll deal with that pesky almond shrapnel later.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks and sugar with a hand mixer for 2 minutes on medium speed. The yolks will turn pale yellow. Transfer half of the heated liquid to a container which will allow you to easily (and slowly) pour the heated liquid into the egg yolks and sugar. This tempering must be done in a slow, steady stream WHILE the hand mixer is running to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Scrambled egg yolks do not a good ice cream make. Now, I know this step seems scary for egg-tempering virgins. Heck, I was nervous the first time I tried it, but believe me when I say tempering is easier than you think and adding egg yolks is essential for thick, creamy ice cream. Also, confidence is key – you can do it!

Once you’ve finished mixing the separated milk/cream/toffee to the egg yolks and sugar, add the now tempered egg cream back to the sauce pan with the remaining milk/cream/toffee mixture. Return pan to heat  (back to medium), stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. This can take 3-5 minutes. You will see and feel the liquid thickening while stirring, and when you can drag your finger across the back of the spoon, leaving a clean path with no bleeding liquid, your ice cream mix is ready. Pour into a bowl through a mesh strainer (good-bye almond shrapnel), stir in the teaspoon of vanilla, and cover with plastic wrap. (Make sure the plastic wrap is pressed down into the bowl and touching the custard to prevent a film from forming.) Place in the refrigerator overnight to get nice and cold.

The next day, pour the ice cream into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions, adding the crushed Heath bars during the last five minutes of churning. For soft-serve consistency, enjoy immediately upon finishing. If you’re like me and like your ice cream a little more, for lack of a better word, hard, store in the freezer for a few hours. Just an FYI – because of the extra sugar from the toffee, I did notice that this ice cream does not harden completely, so don’t be surprised if it retains some of its soft-serve attributes.

CJC

* In my opinion, these five ingredients form the ideal base for most ice creams…at least as of today.

Greetings and salutations!

2012 blogger newbie here. For over a year now, I contemplated starting my very own blog but hesitated each time. I struggled with the same questions I assume all aspiring, first-time bloggers ask themselves: do I have something interesting worth sharing? Will anyone want to read what I have to say? While those and various other queries remain to be answered, one will never discover the answers unless the old college try is given. So, world, here I am!

As an avid home cook and occasional traveler, I initially plan to blog about my experiences in the kitchen, restaurants, and on the road. The impetus for finally starting this adventure came, in fact, after I successfully created my best homemade ice cream yet. (Don’t worry, the recipe will be coming very soon!) Because I also harbor a great fondness for movies, music, television, reading, and my family & friends, I’m sure the blog will evolve to include an array of haphazardly related as well as completely unrelated topics. I would not even be surprised if a political commentary finds its way to cyberspace every now and then.

While most of the questions pertaining to this blog I ask myself, the only one I have for you, then, is: care to join me on this journey? I would love it if you did!

CJC