We Cook: Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume – Eggplant Stacks with Pomegranate, Mint and Yogurt Sauce

Last year we were overrun by cucumbers and this year we’re drowning in eggplant. There’s an x-rated joke in there somewhere (a garden-variety one, at that. HA HA HA!).

To make a dent in the nine pounds of eggplant I harvested in one day, I chose a recipe for eggplant stacks from Silvena Rowe’s Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume. Made of chopped sweet potatoes with feta cheese between layers of eggplant, mint, pomegranate, and yogurt are also main components in the finished dish.

Served with the eggplant stacks is a yogurt sauce that uses suzme as its base. According to Rowe, suzme is drained yogurt, or labne. I followed a separate recipe in the book for the suzme by draining whole milk yogurt in the refrigerator overnight.

I chopped fresh mint

and then got out my favorite unitasker for the garlic

and measured out the pomegranate molasses.

If you can’t find pomegranate molasses in your grocery store there is a simple recipe in the book on how to make it at home using pomegranate juice. I can almost always find pomegranate juice at the grocery store but have to go out of my way for the molasses so, in ten years, when I run out of the molasses, I’ll have a recipe I can use.
The yogurt sauce also called for the seeds of one pomegranate. I looked in every store close by and found no pomegranates. I shut my eyes and left them out of the sauce completely. I did not substitute anything for them because I felt that would be doing a disservice to the tart, juicy little things.

Obviously, the sauce would taste like it needed something and the texture wouldn’t be the same, but since I didn’t follow the recipe, any fault in the yogurt sauce this time around would be my own.

The finished sauce went into the refrigerator

and I started after the sweet potatoes.

I had a touch more than the recipe called for but by the time I removed the skanky ends of the sweet potatoes (I got the last few in the bin at the store) I had just enough.

Rowe calls for boiling the sweet potatoes until tender but with no central AC in our house I am selective about when I create a sauna in my kitchen. I microwaved the sweet potatoes exactly like baked potatoes and let them cool before removing their skins.

The instructions only call for the sweet potatoes to be ‘coarsely chopped.’ I would’ve liked a more exact measurement (surprised?) but bearing in mind the pieces would be in between slices of eggplant, I kept the pieces on the smaller side for easy cutting and chewing.

Too big.

Just right.

Had I cut the potatoes before boiling I think 3/4″ dice would’ve been a good size for the pieces to allow for a little breakdown while cooking.

I put all the sweet potatoes aside and got out two eggplants.

Rowe calls for two small eggplants in the ingredient list but specifies that you only need sixteen 1/4″ thick rounds for the recipe. Specifying a 4″ eggplant or something in a similar size-range would’ve been a little more helpful (or even two 2″ eggplants. Although, that is an odd size unless she’s calling for something other than the standard globe eggplant. The ingredient list just says ‘two small eggplants’).
I took a tape measure to the eggplant to make sure I was cutting at an proper thickness

starting after the metal tab on the tape measure since that thing is just annoying.

I switched over to a mandoline after my first slice looked like this.

The mandoline sliced most of them a hair under 1/4″, but the difference in size was negligible.
When building the eggplant stacks a few steps later in the recipe, Purple Citrus instructs you to stack the eggplant slices in ascending size.
Since I had extras thanks to my one big eggplant, I cherry-picked the pieces that were most equal in diameter instead of making eggplant pyramids

I salted, peppered, and floured the chosen

then fried them in a bit of olive oil.

I refried two in this batch as they didn’t look like they absorbed enough oil.
After each batch finished frying I drained them on a naked plate.

I generally forego paper towels when draining fried food because I’ve found the towel causes the food to lose crispness. My bacon has been much crisper using this method but my arteries are probably crispier, too.
While batches of eggplant fried and drained, I made the filling for the stacks.

I broke the feta cheese apart into pieces roughly the same size as the sweet potatoes

and added mint to the mix.

The eggplant was done by the time I had crumbled and chopped things for the filling, so I did a quick wipe of the pan, melted a tablespoon of butter

and then dumped in the mixture.

Immediately after stirring it looked like this

but got less crazy after gentle mixing.

The cheese, potatoes, and mint only needed a brief time on the stove and after they were combined I started making the eggplant stacks.

They came together quickly and when I was done I had four very pretty vegetable towers:

As instructed, I placed everything in the oven to warm through before serving and when they came out they were ready to eat.

I served the eggplant as entrees with two per person but they’d work as a substantial side just fine.

I would’ve liked the recipe to be more specific about eggplant size and cut-size for the sweet potatoes. On a positive note, I was happy that I did not end up with a mountain of filling leftovers. When a recipe is for filled or stuffed foods, I often end up with excess filling or not enough. Happily, this recipe left me with only a small amount in the bowl after putting together the specified yield (four stacks). Since I had eggplant rounds left over from my big eggplant I was easily able to make two more stacks. Based on the amount of filling leftovers and typical eggplant size I would change the recipe yield from four to six stacks.

I’m not saying that a bigger yield of these vegetable towers is a bad thing at all. They certainly were as nice to eat as they were to look at.

We Cook: Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe

I’ve had Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe for a year and have yet to cook out of it.

Published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, with 256 pages and over 130 recipes, it came in the same package of books as Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams but didn’t get the same attention as the others in the lot.
There was no good reason to ignore the book, I simply had other books that I kept reaching for. After a year of waiting I think it’s time to use this book. The need to use Purple Citrus is directly tied to the fact that I have a glut of eggplants in the garden and the book has a long list recipes for them.

I’ve never been to the Mediterranean, much less the Eastern Mediterranean, but I am continuously drawn to its food. I think much of it has to do with the area’s amount of negative news coverage. Exposing violence is necessary but culture and beauty always seem to get lost in the avalanche of dark news stories. I want to see the good, the beloved, the comforting. I want to know what quiet moments hold for a person when the focus is on creating something lovely.

I wonder how someone could not want to know more when Rowe writes in her introduction that her recipes combine “the sweet and the sour, the fresh and the dried, honey and cinnamon, saffron and sumac, scented rose and orange flower waters with the most magical of spices.”

Hot dang, I’m ready to cook.

Rowe explains in one of her videos that the “purple citrus” part of the book’s title comes from the qualities of sumac. Sumac is indeed a deep purple spice with a citrusy, floral taste. It can be difficult to source in-person if you’re not in a metropolitan area. The fact that Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume calls for some hard-to-find ingredients is a popular ‘con’ in recent reviews.

Complaints or raves over books are a tiny factor in my buying habits. I am disgustingly frustrated when someone reviews a cookbook without cooking from it. Unfortunately, when you start digging through cookbook reviews this is what you find the most.

Could you imagine someone reviewing a novel the same way? “Well, this paragraph sounded good and there are some nice looking illustrations and photographs, too. What I didn’t like was that there were some big words and I had to get out a dictionary or use surrounding context to figure them out.” Read the book, cook a handful of recipes as written, then make your assessment (YA JACKASS).

While there is no good substitute for sumac, there is a helpful section in Purple Citrus called The Eastern Mediterranean Pantry. It offers substitutes or recipes for many ingredients and information on other common pantry items.

Like sumac, there are a few ingredients used in the book that have no substitutes. Many of them are fresh ingredients like passion fruit, pomegranates, nettles, and purslane. However, I’m not going to cook out of the book every day and I can make the recipes when the ingredients are in season or show up in stores. I don’t live in the Eastern Mediterranean and don’t expect to find everything at my grocery store down the street, especially when I’m cooking from a book that deals exclusively with food from completely different countries.

Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume is divided into several main recipe sections: Mezze (a series of small shared plates); Starters; Boreks (filled pastries), Pilafs and Salads; Meat and Poultry; Fish; Vegetables; and Sweets. Paging through the book, the meat section seems to lean heavily on lamb (unsurprisingly) and the sweets section has several of recipes calling for roses, which is charming to me.

There are a few folktales, poems, and anecdotes throughout the book, breaking up the stream of recipes.

When headnotes are included with a recipe Rowe gives substitution advice, where she got the recipe, or a story setting up the dish’s origins. The headnotes are mostly utilitarian although there are some touching insights here and there.

The book’s photography is by Jonathan Lovekin, the same person who photographed Nigel Slater’s Tender and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, among other titles getting a lot of attention lately. I couldn’t find any information on the food stylist, but the photographs in Purple Citrus have a jewel-like quality.

Perhaps it has to do with all of the pomegranate seeds on plates, jade pistachios, and olive oil.


There is an official Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume flickr stream for a look at more photos.

Like Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Sweet Citrus lays flat

making cooking from the book easy.

My edition came with a dust jacket and let me tell you, I’m almost off of the fence about dust jackets on cookbooks.

I’d rather ribbons for place markers and a surface that is easy to wipe off should I lay the book down in a puddle of broth.

The actual book cover is QUITE PINK. It has a glossy surface, making broth puddles a little less threatening if the book is naked.

Along with the presence of a dust jacket, the other niggling thing I can’t shake is that the page numbers are close to the spine instead of on the outside edge of the pages.

To consult the index and then go to the listed page you have to open up the book up all the way to see your page number instead of be able to quickly flip through the edge of the pages.

A small thing, like I said.

Page numbers and dust jackets aside, Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume is an impressive book to pursue but let’s allow the recipes do their thing and see what the book is made of.

I’ve not been compensated or asked to write about this book in any way. I couldn’t find a lot of information about it online so I decided to write about it in depth for others who may be interested in what the book holds.

Maple Butter (or Maple Cream, If You’re Fancy)

I’ve had maple butter bouncing around in my head for a while, a new fun something to make after being told that I must try it.

I had no idea what maple butter was, but research explained that by heating maple syrup to 233 °F, cooling to 40 °F, then warming it back up to 60 °F, the syrup morphed into maple butter (or maple cream, if you’re fancy). The promise of a spreadable maple syrup stuck with me since I discovered its existence, but I wanted a yard full of snow before I tried to make something that required rapid cooling.

Cold, wet, or messy on their own are fine, but they make up the Trifecta of Horrible when combined. As such, I do everything I can to avoid making an ice bath.

A heavy snow on Friday night and Saturday morning took care of the ice bath problem so I got out the trusty candy thermometer to make maple butter. I confess that my research on maple butter was minimal and that I stirred when I ought not to (during the cooling phase), but everything still turned out, and how.

I kept eating the maple butter off of the spoon and finally had to pack it up so I would leave it alone. The next morning I had my doubts about why I was swooning over this stuff (OH THIS IS NEW SO IT MUST BE AWESOME AND BETTER THAN ANYTHING ELSE), so I compared a drizzle of maple syrup to a bit of the maple butter in oatmeal to see if I was simply infatuated by something bright and shiny.

No, it was love. Straight maple syrup tasted tinny and one-dimensional but the maple butter was full, toasty, and strikingly buttery. I figured the name ‘maple butter’ referred to the consistency (it is spreadable like peanut butter), but it tasted so buttery that, had I not made it, I would have guessed butter had been added. I went ahead and added butter to the bowl in this photo, just to push it over the top.

What also surprised me was the texture of the maple butter. The maple butter appears to be a dilatant. Like a cornstarch and water mixture, it is solid if you touch it but if you begin to push it around or stir it, it has fluid-like qualities. Dilatants have “a dense mixture of granules and liquids” which makes perfect sense as to why the maple butter acts as it does.

With hopes of finding out more about sugars in maple syrup, I opened McGee’s On Food and Cooking and read how the process of making maple butter is very similar to making maple sugar (his temperatures are a little different from Wikipedia, if you’re fact checking). The difference between making maple sugar and maple butter is the step of cooling and stirring in maple butter. Maple sugar is made by heating maple syrup to above boiling, then allowing it to cool and form sugar crystals. Maple butter is heated, rapidly cooled, then rewarmed and stirred vigorously– instead of ending up with big crystals of maple sugar in syrup, the sugar crystals are very fine and densely distributed in the reduced maple syrup. Maple butter, the great dilatant confection.

Maple Butter (Maple Cream)

Full-flavored, buttery, and spreadable, I have to keep this out of my sight or I eat it straight off of the spoon. I put a pat on a waffle and added it to oatmeal, but maple butter would be great in a milk-based drink, added to BBQ sauce, in a sweet-savory sandwich, between two cookies….
You must use 100% pure maple syrup for this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pure maple syrup

Instructions

  1. Prepare an ice-bath (or wait until you have snow drifts deep enough to put a small pot, your call) for a small pot.
  2. Fit a small, deep pot with a candy thermometer.
  3. Over medium-high heat, bring the syrup up to 233 °F (112 °C), stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, about 3-4 minutes.
  4. Immediately remove the pot from the stove and set in the ice bath. Stir occasionally until the syrup cools to 40 °F (4 °C), about 5-8 minutes.
  5. Back on the stove over medium-low heat, warm the syrup to 60 °F (15 °C), stirring frequently.
  6. Once the maple syrup reaches 60 °F, remove from heat again and stir vigorously for 2-3 minutes.
  7. Set the pot aside and let stand for 10 minutes. The syrup will begin to cloud and turn a light tan color.
  8. Stir until the maple butter is smooth and easily spreadable.
  9. Use at once or store covered in the refrigerator.

Quick notes

This is exactly how I made the maple butter, goof-ups and all. Keep an eye on the syrup since as it reaches 233 °F it boils up considerably. If you’d like to experiment, try leaving the maple syrup undisturbed as it cools, then beat it with a wooden spoon while bringing it back up to 60 °F until it is tan in color and smooth.

A Kitchen Gift Guide – Part Three: Media and Classes

This is the final part of a kitchen gift-guide designed to help with giving something meaningful to the cooks and bakers on your list. Most of these can be purchased at the last minute which is handy as we are down to the wire now.

Like the guides before, this is not a comprehensive list of books or subscriptions that I recommend for people. These are things that I like and think would make fun gifts. I’ve not been paid, compensated, or asked to feature any of the following items.

Subscriptions

The best gifts are ones that give a little bit of happy every time the receiver thinks about them. Subscriptions are my favorite things to gift to people because the giftee gets the present anew all year long.

Canal House Cooking – $49.95 for a one-year subscription, published three times a year.

Strongly reminiscent of the River Cottage cookbooks, Canal House Cooking is my favorite subscription-based food publication. I’m hesitant to call it a magazine as the issues are small, hard-bound books with no ads. It is more akin to getting three cookbooks a year in the mail. Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton self-publish Canal House with a focus on what is local and in season. One of the issues last year was titled “Farm Markets and Gardens” and we used every fantastic tomato recipe in the book. Hirsheimer and Hamilton always manage to keep from sounding as if they’re looking down their noses as they write, though; they devoted a following volume to “The Grocery Store.” It is balanced writing with understated photography in a pretty package.

Gastronomica – $50.00 or $28 for student/retirees for a one-year subscription, published quarterly.

Gastronomica is not a cooking magazine. It is a journal (meaning it is a peer-reviewed publication) with book reviews, poetry, articles on food in culture, art, history and writing. There are no recipes in Gastronomica save for ones used to drive home a point in a story, and even those types are few. The stories are varied– from Gastronomica I’ve read articles about an art exhibition using breast milk and the subsequent controversy, another about a town’s devotion to Fluff, a fiction piece on working in a prison kitchen, a non-fiction article detailing a family kitchen aging through generations, a poem connecting food and grief… The journal is about food in every aspect of life, not just confined to a restaurant or home kitchen.

Digital Media

Eat Your Books – $25.00 for a one-year subscription

This could fall under the above category, but it is online instead of the mailbox so I’ve put it here.

The best way to describe Eat Your Books is as a master index of your cookbooks. After adding cookbook titles to a virtual personal library, searching for an ingredient or technique in all of the recipes in your books takes a moment instead of an entire morning. The idea behind EYB is that if you can easily search your cookbooks, you’ll use them. It works: I use the site several times a week and books that I would’ve never thought to look in for a certain recipe get pulled off of the shelf and used.

There are some drawbacks to the site. While they have lots of books and are constantly indexing more, they don’t have every book under the sun in their database. They also don’t provide page numbers for the recipe. I assume this is so they don’t have to index multiple releases of essentially the same book, but it would be nice to eliminate the step of looking up the recipe again in the cookbook after I’ve looked it up on EYB. Minor irritations aside, the gift of a year’s subscription to the website would make a homerun gift for someone with a sizable cookbook collection.

Ratio App by Michael Ruhlman – $4.99

Available for the handheld iThings and Droids, Ruhlman’s Ratio app takes the meat of his book, Ratio, and puts it in its most simple form for the app. Ratio outlines 32 ingredient ratios for cooking and baking (doughs, batters, sauces, sausages, etc.) with the idea that if you know a basic ratio you don’t need a recipe. The application cuts through the chatty writing of the book by featuring an easily read pie chart and ingredient calculator for each ratio, along with pertinent instructions. Put on an iTunes giftcard, this is another great gift for someone with a big cookbook collection. The Ratio app is also a wonderful idea for someone who is just beginning to cook as it gives them freedom to play around with flavors while learning the basics of what has to be in a recipe to make it work.

Classes

Like subscriptions, I enjoy giving classes as gifts because they give the receiver something to look forward to after the initial present opening.

Wilton Decorating Classes – Prices Vary, but about $30.00

I took the first course of Wilton Decorating Classes and it was fantastic. I ditched their frosting recipe (shortening and powdered sugar? Eugh.), but I use the piping techniques every time I make a cake. Usually offered at hobby stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby over several weeks, the instructors are good and coursework well-explained. In the first course, they teach basic piping (how to frost a cake, shells, Swiss dots, writing, flowers, and roses) and there are subsequent courses with more advanced techniques. Invaluable for anyone interested in cakes, it would also make for fun parent-child outings as I can see a 12-year old having a blast learning how to make a cake look fancy.

Sur La Table classes – $59.00 and up

Sur La Table offers classes ranging from fundamental (knife skills) to focused (Thai restaurant favorites). Each class is a single class that runs for a few hours. I am particularly drawn to the knife skills class as a gift since knowing how to properly hold and use a knife makes the difference between a sloppy dish and an impressive one. Currently they are offering a “4-Hour Fearless Baking Workshop” and I can think of more than a few people who would love to go to that.

Books

I could never have enough books. I see cookbooks as something nearly magical: put this, this, and that in a pot and POOF, something new altogether. I’ve found cookbook collectors have varying reasons as to why they collect books, but if you know a little about what they like to cook and eat then it’s easier to pick out a book for them.

For The Baker:

Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum – $26.37

If you know a serious baker (and I mean serious), chances are they have Beranbaum’s Cake Bible. It’s probably falling apart, covered in egg whites and chocolate, too. Heavenly Cakes is Beranbaum’s follow-up to the hallowed Cake Bible, 20 years later. It is a big, fat book (just how I like ‘em) with a cache of varied recipes and photos that I’ve had to wipe drool off of. The food styling is so lovely. Heavenly Cakes has a few recipe repeats from The Cake Bible, but the fact that she simplified some of the steps from the old recipes earns a big HALLELUJAH from me instead of a squinty glare that recipe-repeaters normally get (I’M SQUINTING AT YOU, COOK’S ILLUSTRATED).

Please listen to me when I recommend this book for bakers with experience under their belt. I wrote about making one of the cakes here and it was a multi-day undertaking. Many of the recipes have several components and are complicated, so this is not a book for someone who just graduated from a boxed mix. If you give Heavenly Cakes to a novice baker, it (and some frosting) probably will come flying back at your head at a later date.

If you’re looking for a book to give to a beginner baker, give them Cook’s Illustrated’s Baking Illustrated.

For the Time-Pressed:

Radically Simple by Rozanne Gold – $23.06

I bought this book on impulse, looking for something to rely on when the baby had frazzled the last whatever it is that gets frazzled. I had never heard of Gold and had not seen any reviews for the book, but I made a few shallow digs and turned up four James Beard awards to her name (I later found that she had a staggering history in the food industry as well) and that was good enough for me. I ordered the book with high expectations but did not think that I would love it so much. There are a few niggling things that bother me about Radically Simple (I would’ve liked to see different photos rather than the same photos repeated multiple times on a page, and swirly text over photos goes against my grain) but it was, by far, my favorite book of 2010.

Gold writes that the recipes in this book are regarded as “a three dimensional creation, with time, technique, and the number of ingredients making up the axes on which they are plotted.” Some of the recipes have a long list of ingredients but are simple to prepare, others require foresight and not much else, and with others you need to focus on technique to make everything come together. The book is incredibly well-organized with an impressive recipe range. I joke that this book is for people who don’t have a lot of time but still have STANDARDS, DAMMIT.

For those with Warm or Ambiguous Feelings on Salads:



Mediterranean Fresh
by Joyce Goldstein – $12.00

You could probably convert a salad-hater into a salad-okeyer with this book (I’ve found most salad-haters are firmly stuck in their position and take great pains to not be moved from it), but the only reason I wouldn’t recommend this for salad-haters is because I don’t want to incite a fight on the holiday of your choice. Mediterranean Fresh is the book I lend out most frequently and border on being rude about having it returned. When I first read the book I shelved it quickly because Goldstein has a lot to say about lettuce and I wasn’t ready for that level of commitment. I was well-rewarded when I got my gumption up. Her fattoush is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten (it’s nice when you can make those “best things I’ve ever eaten” at home) and one time I ate an entire recipe’s worth of another salad in a sitting because it was so good (one time. It had an entire head of cauliflower in it and, while delicious, was not the best decision I’ve ever made.).

The book is more than leafy salads: there are grain salads, vegetable salads, salads with meat and seafood, and a giant section of the book is devoted to salad dressings. It is not a light or ‘healthy’ cookbook, although there are light and healthy dishes within.

So they like Weird Recipes?:



The Essential New York Times Cookbook
by Amanda Hesser – $20.82

‘Weird’ is stretching it, but this book is dear to my heart because the recipes are not standard fare. Unusual techniques and interesting food combinations are packed in and Hesser’s headnotes assure you a magnificent outcome if you give the recipe a chance. I never have all of the ingredients called for and I like that. I’m getting out of my normal cooking routine and that encourages growth and learning.

The Essential New York Times isn’t an overarching “best of” The New York Times, but is a collection of NYT recipes recommended by readers to Hesser. Hesser then made them all and put her favorites in the book, giving some recipes a moderate makeover but leaving others in their original form, instructions and all (the ones from the early 1900s are worth checking out). Her headnotes are entertaining and encouraging; this is certainly sit-down-and-read book.

If part three didn’t help you with your gifts, check out part one and part two for more ideas.

Buttermilk and Date Ice Cream with Orange Blossom Water and a Goode Company Giveaway

The contest is now closed. Scroll down for the winner!

This ice cream has always been about pecans.

I came up with the recipe as an accompaniment for pecans
specifically for a pecan pie.

Usually, pecans make me feel mushy and happy because I associate them with home:
my parents have pecan trees growing on their property in Texas
my grandmothers both say PEE-can, tickling me no to end
and while I don’t care for plain pecans, when holiday baking begins I end up eating a treeload’s worth in pecan pralines.

The gooey and sentimental feelings on pecans persisted until a few days ago
right up until the fifth attempt at making a pecan pie simply to photograph under the ice cream.

Five times on top of a burned Thanksgiving pie is past my threshold of Pie Failures in Ten Days.

Just the ice cream photographs, then.

Pitting dates is easy enough.

If you spray your knife blade with non-stick spray
(or wipe it with neutral-flavored oil)
the dates will spend much less time clinging desperately to your blade.

I pitted the dates
sliced them into quarters
then piled the quarters up neatly and chopped into even pieces.

After all of the dates were chopped
I put everything into a small bowl

and poured over enough Grand Marnier to soak everything.

Soaking the date pieces in alcohol helps prevent them from turning into violent, tooth-cracking bits of shrapnel.

I covered the bowl in plastic wrap and then microwaved everything for a few minutes.

I would’ve done this step in a small pot
but every single pot in my kitchen was waiting to be washed at that moment.

I set the hot fruit and alcohol aside to soak for a while
and began on the custard.

I had not used orange blossom water with heat before
so I didn’t know if heat would diminish the water’s flavor
(the same way heat can dull vanilla’s flavor)
and decided to wait until I cooled the custard to add it.

Putting the orange blossom water aside
I warmed buttermilk, sugar, and cream in a pot.

While that was heating, I separated the eggs

(freezing the whites for later use)
whisked the warm milk mixture into the yolks to temper them

then added the yolks and milk back into the pot

that was clean, despite its appearance.

It had an unfortunate experience of being empty, forgotten, and over heat for a while.

I’m not sure its finish is going to ever recover.

After a few minutes the custard was ready:

I strained it
and poured in some reserved cream to help it cool down.

I added the orange blossom water and mixed everything to a uniform color.

Then I kept licking the spatula
and I knew things were good.

The custard went into the freezer for about an hour to chill.

Once the custard was very-cold-not-frozen
I poured it into the machine and let it churn for about 25 minutes.

I added the dates
which had soaked up all of the liquor

and continued to run the ice cream maker for another five minutes.

I like firm ice cream
so I packed the ice cream into a container and popped it into the freezer overnight.

The next morning I had buttermilk date ice cream with orange blossom water
and one of my failed pie crusts for breakfast
(failure is good for something, at least)
with chopped pecans on top.

It’s pecans that really make this ice cream.

The pecans and buttermilk remind me of buttermilk pralines
the orange blossom water of oranges, flowers, and pecans at Christmas
and dates soaked in Grand Marnier… well, that’s just a good idea at any time.

While good on its own
I made this ice cream with pecans in mind
and pecans it demands.

In light of demanding ice cream and (five) pie disasters
I’m happy to be able to give away a Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie from the fine people at Goode Company.

The fact that it is a pecan pie
and that the box is emblazoned with “You might give some serious thought to thanking your lucky stars you’re in Texas”
makes me a little homesick all the way in Pennsylvania
but the sweet-sad coverts quickly to excitement when I realize I get to facilitate pie appearing on someone’s doorstep.

Here are the rules to winning a pecan pie that you don’t have to make (or try to make five times and fail):

  • The Prize: A Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie from Goode Company
  • Number of winners: 1
  • Prize Ships: Within the continental U.S..
  • To Enter to Win: Leave a comment on this post. You could tell me if you like to eat your pie à la mode or if you like it stark naked (the pie), how your day was, or if you’re going to make this ice cream I’m proud of.
  • Bonus Entry Opportunities: Pin a photo from this post to Pinterest, Tweet a link to this post, or share through Facebook. Come back here and tell me how you did it (if you share this post multiple ways, make sure to leave a separate comment for each way you shared) and you’ve got yourself another entry.
  • Giveaway Ends: Friday, December 9, 2011 at 11:59 pm Eastern time.
  • The Fine Print: The winner will be selected at random. Up to four entries per person (one comment about anything, one pin on Pinterest, one tweet, one Facebook share). Entrants must have a valid e-mail address.

Notice: I am only a pie facilitator. I was not compensated in any manner by Goode Company or anyone else to host this giveaway. Goode Company will be shipping the pie directly to the winner.

If you don’t win the pecan pie
you can console yourself by making ice cream that needs only some toasted and chopped pecans to make it sing.

Buttermilk and Date Ice Cream with Orange Blossom Water

Use a light hand with the orange blossom water. It is easy to add too much and quickly find yourself in a bouquet of flowers that you now have to eat. Don’t buy pre-chopped dates. Buy whole ones and practice your knife skills. This yields about a quart of ice cream.

Ingredients

  • 5 oz pitted dates, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons (100 ml) Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liquor
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 heaping cup of sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1-2 teaspoons orange blossom water
  • Pecan pie or toasted and chopped pecans to serve

Instructions

  1. Combine dates and Grand Marnier in a small bowl. Cover and microwave over high heat for two minutes. Set aside.
  2. Have ready a shallow casserole dish with a fine mesh strainer set over it.
  3. Mix together buttermilk, one cup of cream, and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat through until the mixture is steaming (but not boiling) and the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl, and while whisking constantly, slowly add one cup of the hot milk mixture to the yolks.
  5. While stirring the milks and sugar, gradually add the yolk and milk mixture back to the saucepan.
  6. With a cook spoon or spatula, stir the custard slowly and constantly over medium heat until it has thickened enough to coat the back of the stirring implement. Do not let the mixture boil.
  7. Strain the custard into the casserole dish and add the remaining cup of cream.
  8. Add 1-2 teaspoons of orange blossom water to the custard and stir until the custard is uniform in color.
  9. Chill the custard in a refrigerator or freezer until very cold (overnight in a refrigerator or about an hour in a freezer).
  10. Once cold, pour into an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for freezing, adding chopped dates in the last few minutes of churning.
  11. Pack ice cream into freezer safe containers and freeze overnight.
  12. Serve ice cream with chopped pecans or better yet, a pecan pie.

Quick notes

You can warm the dates and Grand Marnier together in a small sauce pan on the stove, if you’d like. Make sure your pot is small enough so that the dates are nearly covered by the alcohol.

Drumroll please…
Using the And The Winner Is… plugin, the lucky pecan pie recipient is:

lizlizliz!

Keep an eye on your email lizlizliz and thanks to everyone for participating!

If you didn’t win, give the ice cream recipe a shot.
I promise it’s delicious.

A Kitchen Gift Guide – Part Two: Edibles

This is part two of a kitchen gift-guide I’m writing as the holidays and their shopping are at full tilt. The first post covered equipment and the following guide has edible items.

Like the equipment guide, this is not a comprehensive list of things that should be in someone’s pantry. These are things that I like and have found that not everyone has them in their kitchen. I’ve not been paid, compensated, or asked to feature any of the following items.


Aleppo pepper – $6.25 for 1.9oz

From Turkey and used frequently in Eastern Mediterranean food, crushed Aleppo pepper also seems to have quite the fan club among BBQ-lovers. I am not a raving BBQ fan but I am sweet on this pepper. When eaten straight it tastes a smidge like an Ancho pepper. It is somewhat chocolatey, but the peppery flavor is certainly there along with moderate heat. I use this in a bunch of recipes from Wolfert’s The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean and The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. When I’m feeling fancy I use Aleppo pepper instead of standard crushed red pepper. In less refined matters, I am not ashamed to say that I also put it on pizza in large amounts. In short, it’s good for all occasions.


Kashmir Mogra Cream Indian Saffron – $12.55 for .5g

Saffron is expensive– if you’ve any notion of herbs and spices, you know this. You may not know that only a little saffron is needed in any given recipe and that bit goes a long way. When it is added in excess, it makes the dish taste bitter and metallic. Half of a gram of saffron doesn’t seem like much to give as a gift, but it is plenty. Saffron is called for in everything from Italian to Indian to Spanish to Iranian food and there is nothing that comes close to saffron’s flavor and the color it gives to food. If you’re set on giving someone who cooks an herb or spice but are clueless as to what they like to make, I promise saffron will not sit unused in their kitchen.


Piment d’Espelette – $14.25 for 1.4oz

Piment d’Espelette is a pepper grown in a southern French town named (wait for it) Espelette. Common in southern French cooking, lately I’ve seen it cropping up in newer cookbooks and lots of blogs. On my bookshelves it is repeatedly on ingredient lists in Ad Hoc, Around My French Table, and (obviously) The Cooking of Southwest France. Currently, it is a little hard to find but Amazon carries the brand I have in my spice drawer. Different peppers can’t really be substituted for piment d’Espelette. It has a big, tomato-like taste and substantial heat, all while being lemony and bright. It would be a nice gift for someone who appreciates spicy and their taste buds at the same time.



Smoked Spanish Paprika (Sweet)
– $10.25 for 2.64oz

Paprika and parsley share a similar history in my kitchen. Paprika never tasted like anything to me and I always omitted parsley from dishes because of the same thing. One day I replaced my paprika with fresh stock and eventually started using flat-leaf parsley instead of curly-leaf parsley. Now I shake my head at my old self and try to get everyone on my Fresh Paprika Flat Parsley bandwagon. I use hot Hungarian paprika or sweet Spanish smoked paprika depending on the recipe, but Spanish smoked paprika is my favorite. It is smokey, sultry, and REALLY DOES HAVE A FLAVOR. Paprika does (seriously!) need to be fresh to be worthwhile. Anyone who loves cooking Spanish food would love this, especially if paella is their thing.


Ras al Hanout
– $7.95 for 2oz

I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but ras al hanout is a Moroccan spice blend that I keep running into everywhere. I first saw it in Couscous and Other Good food from Morocco, then in Radically Simple, and after that it kept popping up. Most recently Ideas in Food had a very inspiring post about it. Like a BBQ rub, the composition of ras al hanout varies depending on from whom you buy it. According to Zamouri Spices’ website, their blend from is made up of over 30 spices and herbs. I generally don’t buy spice mixtures, but I am so inspired by all of the recipes I keep seeing that I’ll forego ‘generally don’t’ and happily add this to my spice drawer. Like those tart pans, receiving spices that inspire you is a two-fold gift.


Ground Sumac – $3.95 for 2.0oz

Sumac is a stunning shade of purple, contrary to what this photo shows. Like Aleppo pepper, it is used often in Eastern Mediterranean food. Sumac has a tart lime taste and I was swept off of my feet by it when I used it in Sumac Chicken with Bread Salad from Finamore’s Tasty. I’ve sprinkled it on hummus, rubbed it on kebabs and, since it is so citrusy, I think it would be right at home on fajitas or street-style tacos. My sister had an aversion to this spice (she called it “the itchy spice” in reference to poison sumac) until I made her the aforementioned sumac chicken. I received an e-mail requesting the recipe not long after. Don’t let the name turn you away from sumac. It is neither poisonous nor itchy (it’s pretty and purple! That’s more than some people have going for them!), and well-loved by everyone I’ve introduced to it.



Fleur de Sel
– $8.99 for 6.1oz

Fleur de sel is how I imagine snowflakes would taste if they were made of salt. Fleur de sel is flakes of almost impossibly crunchy salt usually used for ‘finishing’ dishes. Since it doesn’t dissolve immediately, flakes are sprinkled on food before serving for a hit of salt with a lot texture. I like it because you can use it in sweet applications (caramels!) or in savory dishes (scattered over fish or beef right before serving). If your giftee is way into salt, you could give them a set of a few different specialty salts, like this one, which has fleur de sel, Alaea salt, and black lava salt. I’ve never had those last two, but I’d really like to say “Could you pass the black lava salt, please?”


Vanilla Beans – $6.99 for .25 POUND of Tahitian vanilla beans

Years ago I found this seller on eBay when I was browsing a thread at eGullet on making your own vanilla extract. I ordered a pound of beans which came with a free quarter-pound package of beans (about 30-40 beans). They were beautiful, fat, fresh, pliable beans.

This year I finally managed to get through the quarter-pound package. That was a lot of beans.

What this means is that can possibly do all of your kitchen-related holiday gift shopping for under $10.00. If you have three or four people who love cooking, you could buy these vanilla beans, divvy them up into pretty glass bottles, tie some ribbon and bells around them and you’re done. Each jar will have a lot of beans in it and you will look amazing. Have you seen the price for two shriveled vanilla beans at the grocery store? Exactly. Bakers will especially appreciate a gift of these beans since they are called for in many frostings, custards, and glazes.



Walnut oil
– Three 16.9oz bottles for $21.97

I am an olive oil person. I’m fascinated by olive oil’s flavors; one type may taste grassy, the next like butter. Unless I’m using extreme heat, I use it whenever I cook. I have a confession, though: I love walnut oil. When I have it on hand it is my default choice for salad dressings, swirling into soups, and brushing onto sandwiches in mayonnaise’s (or olive oil’s) stead. Unlike olive oil’s loud and enthusiastic flavor, walnut oil is gentle and quiet. That is not to say the flavor is demure, it just doesn’t haul back and sock you in the face like olive oil sometimes does. Walnut oil can go rancid quickly, so it’s best to use it up in a timely manner (no problems with that here) and store it in the refrigerator between uses. If you don’t have three people to give walnut oil (since this links to a bulk package), you can find single bottles at well-stocked grocers. Make sure the oil is in an opaque bottle and that it is ‘roasted’ or ‘toasted’ walnut oil. The opaque bottle and roasted factor keep the oil from going rancid as quickly. I’d wrap this up for anyone who likes salads, sandwiches, or soups.

The last leg of this marathon will cover media. Books, magazines, journals… all of my favorite things. I’ll try not to rhapsodize too much.

A Kitchen Gift Guide – Part One: Equipment

A handful of people have asked me about what gifts to get for people who love to cook at home, so I thought a shopping guide might be helpful for those wandering the aisles of specialty kitchen stores, sifting through the offering of unitaskers upon unitaskers.

This is part one in a series of posts I’ll be writing in the upcoming week(s) as holiday shopping gets into high gear. Kitchen equipment is first, with Ingredients and Media to follow.

First and foremost, know that this is not an exhaustive list of equipment that someone should have in their home kitchen. You will notice that there are no knives, pots, or baking pans in my list. I’ve not been paid, compensated, or asked to feature any of the following items. I simply love them and, at one point or another (or now), would’ve loved to open a box containing them. I think most other cooking-inclined people would, too.

The prices displayed are from Amazon.com. Prices fluctuate on Amazon a lot, so the prices may have changed since the publishing of this post.

High-Temperature Digital Thermometer – $20.17

I am big on enabling people (in positive things, of course). A high-temperature thermometer, a/k/a a candy thermometer, opens up an entirely new realm of cooking. You can make candy, perfect chicken fried steak, fudge, fried chicken, frostings upon FROSTINGS, and many more things that are not very good for you.

The thing about making and eating things that aren’t very good for you is that when you do eat them, they better be the BEST horrible thing for you that you ever ate. A thermometer will help you get your oil hot enough for stupendous fried chicken. Get your sugar to the correct temperature and you’ll have a syrup or candy or caramel. This is the Number One kitchen gift I recommend (that’s why I put it first. ahHA!). With ONE gift you’ve given the lucky thermometer receiver a million new recipes.

Note: Amazon shows some negative reviews for this particular brand but I’ve never had a problem with mine.


Digital Food Scale
– $25.00

Another gift that falls into the Enabler group of presents is a scale. Give someone a candy thermometer and they can try a bunch of new recipes. A scale works the same way: there are lots of recipes that are only given in weights or ratios. Like the thermometer, a scale also brings a higher degree of precision to a kitchen. Measuring cups vary widely across brands, and ingredients can be packed into cups improperly. Using weight as a measurement instead of volume is much more accurate. With a scale there is a lot less playing rodeo with a bunch of different measuring implements: simply add the weight called for of one ingredient, zero out the scale, and pour in the next one. While I use mine most for baking, I also pull it out frequently when I am measuring meat or developing recipes.


Mini Tart Pans
– $15.99

Although I normally refer to tarts and pies as ‘my dearly beloathed,’ mini tart pans make me want to try pie crust ONE more time. I think it is because (most) everything is better in miniature and the idea of giving each person their own teeny tart makes me want to personalize desserts or appetizers for everyone. Of course, that leads to searching out new recipes, trying new flavor combinations, and generally being inspired. It is the gift of inspiration in bakeware. And now you’re the best gift-giver ever.


Bowl Scraper attachment for KitchenAid
– $27.45

I don’t have one of these but I would like one very much. I normally get one or two spatulas dirty when making cakes and have to stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times during mixing. Looking like a squeege that got bent out of shape, this attachment is built to eliminate scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl. Brilliant! You need to know what type of KitchenAid your giftee has, so maybe invite yourself over for dinner sometime and do a cruise by their KitchenAid. By getting rid of the need for spatulas during mixing, the attachment would save dishwasher space and time, essentially bringing about world peace.


Pre-cut Parchment Rounds – $4.02

Unnecessity of unnecessities. That’s why it’s a present. Why are cut flowers so nice when you’re on the receiving end? They don’t multitask, after all. You like them because they’re pretty and they make you smile. Unless you’re allergic to them.

That’s beside the point.

Pre-cut parchment rounds are my cut flowers. With these I don’t have to do the kitchen equivalent of folding a fitted sheet just to make sure my cake sponges don’t stick to the bottom of the pan; I simply slip a round into the pan and save the paper rustling for present opening. They are a definite luxury and not something I have all the time, but I’d love getting them for a gift. Fortunately for you, they are inexpensive and, if the receiver is a baker, quite thoughtful.


Knife Sharpener
– $169.95

This is not the sexiest of gifts. It does not wink at you or slip into something more comfortable. What it does do is make knives screamingly sharp. With a sharp knife you can cut tomato slices paper-thin and you don’t have to resort to cursing silverskin off of meat. Now we’re moving towards something more attractive. Your present-receiver can do justice to the expensive-ass knife set they bought as soon as they graduated college and got their own place (because they haven’t sharpened their knives since!). Knives need sharpening through a machine (or on a whetstone, but I am not recommending that for the average home cook) about once a year and in the long run it is cheaper than taking them somewhere to be sharpened.

Plus, it’s pretty fun. My husband got me this knife sharpener for my birthday one year and I spent the whole day smiling and sharpening knives. Make of that what you will.


Microplane Grater
– $11.19

This is great for a stocking stuffer or for the present-givers who are on a budget (i.e.: everyone). I use this grater more than I use my standard graters. I consider it a kitchen essential, one that many kitchens lack. Perfect for zest without the pith and cheese of all types, it creates soft, fine shavings. Lemon zest makes a regular appearance in recipes I prepare frequently so I use and love my Microplane to death. I recently started using it on soft cheese as well as hard cheese and not much beats little poufy cheese clouds on top of everything.


Coffee Grinder for Spices
– $18.88

Every now and then, when my husband is especially trying, I contemplate using his coffee grinder to make a spice rub. There’s nothing like a bit of cumin coffee to get your morning really going. Revenge aside, a coffee grinder specifically for spices is fantastic to have in the kitchen. I put this in my gift guide because it is an item that most people will not buy because they ‘don’t really NEED it.’ Yes, they could just buy pre-ground spices, however whole spices retain their potency much longer than their ground counterparts. If someone is equipped with a grinder, they can buy spices whole with the ability to grind only as much as they need. The rest stay fresh and can be kept for longer than ground spices with more punch in the end result. Many curry recipes call for pastes made from toasted and freshly ground spices, and who doesn’t want to make a mean curry? This is another Enabler gift. This particular brand of grinder will GRIND THE SHIT out of anything, including star anise, and it has different coarseness settings. Like the knife sharpener, a coffee grinder isn’t especially snazzy, but if you were to include whole, pretty spices in the gift it would be a lovely present.


Cuisineart Ice Cream Maker
– $57.49

If ever my house was on fire and I had to save only one small appliance, it would be my ice cream maker.

These are the things I think of when I can’t sleep.

Ice creams, sorbets and granitas each have all of the spectacular elements of cooking: flavor play, transformation, texture, temperature… And then there are all the toppings that can be made to go along with the ice cream! My heart is all aflutter over frozen desserts. While hand-crank ice cream machines are fine and dandy, I’m willing to bet you a pint of Ben & Jerry’s that the ‘rustic’ fun of churning that ice cream by hand is going to wear off after the first batch. This machine is easy. Make a custard (or not. There are a lot of custardless ice creams. Like polenta ice cream or coconut ice cream with saffron or regular old vanilla), cool it, and then pour it in the machine for half an hour. Boom. Ice cream. As a giver of this gift, I can practically guarantee that the receiver will thank you by making you some ice cream. It’s a win-win situation.


Cast-Iron Pizza Pan
– $34.97

I’ve been through several pizza stones in recent years and am loathe to buy one more crack-prone stone or deal with tiles (the cheap alternative) in my oven. In lieu of a stone, I have been making pizzas in my cast-iron pan. I get the pan very hot, pile the crust and toppings in it, and put everything in the oven. I love these pizzas: the crust is amazing from the combined heat of the oven and pan and the crust even holds when lifting the pie out of the pan. Plus, the pan handle makes for easy in and out of the oven. The only thing I don’t love about the pizzas is the size. My pan is only 9″ and it makes a pizza big enough for two people. Don’t get me started on the logistics of making pizza for more than two people with only one pan. I had resigned myself to small (but delicious) pizzas until I saw this pizza pan. It even has handles! Like the bowl scraper, I don’t own it, but I’ve been dropping thinly-veiled hints (mostly “I would like this for Christmas”) for my husband. Steak is the only thing that he likes more than pizza, so in reality, we would both benefit from a big, cast-iron pizza pan (our waistlines doth protest). Besides pizza, I can only imagine how it would cook a bunch of fennel, endive, or even a bunch of cauliflower slices– think of the mass caramelization (the waistlines doth rejoice!)! If you can think of no one on your shopping list to give this to, I’ll gladly take it.

If none of these recommendations seem to fit any of the people on your list, maybe spices or cookbooks would be more fun to give. A Kitchen Gift Guide – Part Two is full of pantry items (that aren’t flavored olive oil and vinegar) and Part Three has media items stacked up on one another.

If you can’t wait for those posts, you can always opt to give some coal.

in the kitchen letting it all hang out