churning up a challenge

I think I’m going to toss out all my perfume bottles and start walking around wielding a stalk of lemongrass instead. It really smells that incredible. As I sit here trying to think of how to bring its scent to life for you, two words jump to mind: lemony and grassy—creative, huh? But true to its name, this reed-like herb has a bright, citrusy fragrance mellowed out by an earthy undertone. Not only does it smell good, it’s quite eye-catching as well. It has a sturdy, pale green exterior that slices into beautiful rings of purple and white. In the spirit of exploring this ingredient to its fullest, I bit into a raw piece, and its texture—a bit fibrous and a bit watery—was reminiscent of sugar cane. It was even a tad sweet. Suffice it to say, this humble little stalk is quite a complex ingredient, and one that Kate and I both embraced with fervor for our first ingredient challenge.

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Lemongrass is perhaps best known for its incorporation into many Asian dishes. Although I’m no expert in Asian cooking, I’d venture to guess that its lemongrass rearing its citrusy fresh bite behind many rich curries and spicy soups. But for this challenge, and to celebrate the warm weather and equipment-laden kitchen I’m frolicking in at home, I decided to take a more unconventional route.

I bring you Lemongrass Basil Sherbet.

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Sherbet is a lighter version of ice cream, made with a greater milk to cream ratio. To play up the Thai-inspired flavors of lemongrass and basil, I used two cups of coconut milk in place of whole milk. While the tang of the lemongrass and punch of the basil could have potentially been overpowering, the flavors of this ice cream turned out to be quite subtle and wholly refreshing. I feel a bit guilty for saying this, as I know many of you are reading this wrapped in blankets and parkas, but I enjoyed this as a poolside snack on a warm and breezy Saturday afternoon.

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Whether you go sweet, savory, or somewhere in between, I hope that our premiere ingredient challenge has inspired you try your hand at cooking with lemongrass.

Lemongrass and Basil Coconut Milk Sherbet

Adapted from Bon Appetit

2 cups coconut milk

1 cup milk

1 cup chopped lemongrass (from about 2 stalks)

1 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat coconut milk, milk, lemongrass, and cream in a large saucepan over medium heat until mixture almost comes to a boil. Remove from heat and let steep for 20 minutes.

Fill a medium bowl with ice water. Blanch basil leaves in a small pot of boiling water until just wilted, about 10 seconds; immediately transfer to ice water; let cool. Squeeze basil to release excess water.

Place milk/cream/lemongrass mixture into a blenderr. Add basil, sugar, corn syrup, and salt to blender. Purée on high speed until well blended, about 1 minute. Transfer to a medium bowl. Cover and chill until cold, about 4 hours. (Base for sherbet can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

Strain chilled cream mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the bowl of an ice cream maker. Process sherbet in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container, cover, and freeze. (Sherbet can be made 1 week ahead. Keep frozen.)

Scoop into bowls or glasses and serve.

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happy birthday noura!

Yesterday was my wonderful roommate Noura’s birthday. As you may have noticed, no birthday around these sugar cured parts goes without the creation of a cake, and Noura’s birthday was of course no exception. Kate and I had every intention of making a rich chocolately creation, but Noura’s parents beat us to the punch by bringing her a gorgeous giant chocolate cake. While I’d like to think a girl can never have too much chocolate on her birthday, I figured a change of cake plans might make things a bit more interesting. I wracked my brain for Noura’s favorite desserts and one of the first things that came to mind were milkshakes. A liquid cake seemed a bit messy, but what if that milkshake were frozen, sandwiched between brownies, covered in ganache, and topped with whipped cream? A birthday ice cream cake was born.
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I won’t be winning any awards for my melted chocolate penmanship anytime soon, but what this cake lacked in decor it made up for in flavor. I used my all-time favorite Ghirardelli double chocolate brownie mix and Breyer’s cookies and cream ice cream, which made for a winning combination. While a bit of assembly time was required, this creation came together in less than two hours from start to finish. As for the taste, imagine a brownie sundae compacted into a six layer slice of decadence. The only thing that could have made it better would have been warm hot fudge sauce to pour on top… but that’s what next year’s birthday (or next week’s finals period?) is for!
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Happy Birthday, Noura! Here’s to a sweet, happy, and fulfilling year!
Double Decker Brownie Ice Cream Cake
1 box Ghirardelli double chocolate brownie mix
1 egg
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup water
1 cup chocolate chips
8 oz. heavy cream
1/2 gallon ice cream (any flavor of your choice)
1 tbsp powdered sugar
Brownie: Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 9” springform pan and grease and line with parchment a round cake pan of similar size. Combine brownie mix, oil, water, and egg and divide evenly into the two pans. Bake for 22 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans on a rack for about 10 minutes. Transfer to the freezer to cool for another 30 minutes.
Chocolate ganache: Meanwhile, in the microwave melt 1 cup of chocolate chips with 1 tbsp heavy cream for 1 minute on power level 6. Stir until melted (if needed, microwave in 30 second increments at low power level until completely melted). Set aside to cool down.
Whipped cream: Using a handheld electric or stand mixer, beat remaining heavy cream with 1 tbsp powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Cover and strore in refrigerator.
To assemble: Take out ice cream from freezer and allow to soften. Remove springform pan brownie layer from freezer and spread a layer of chocolate ganache on it (use 1/3-1/2 of ganache). Return pan to freezer for 10-15 minutes, until ganache has hardened. Once ice cream has softened to a point where it can be spreadable but isn’t liquidy, take out both brownie layers from the freezer. Place entire 1/2 gallon of ice cream in springform pan on top of brownie+ganache layers. Spread to edges and smooth out the top. Remove second brownie round from pan and place on top of ice cream layer. Place remaining ganache on top of brownie layer. Return pan to freezer for another 10 minutes so that ganache hardens. Finally, add whipped cream on top and decorate as desired. Cover entire pan in plastic wrap and foil and place in the freezer for at least 2 hours before serving.
To serve: Remove from freezer 15 minutes before serving. Remove sides of springform pan. Cake cuts easiest with a knife dipped in hot water.

putting the sugar in sugar cured

“I found an old measuring cup from Grandma Nette’s house while I was cleaning out the kitchen today. Can you guess what size it is?” my mom asked me on the phone last night

I didn’t miss a beat. It had to be a third of a cup. Yes, I am becoming more like my mom every day, but we have yet to reach that level of mind-melding. Grandma Nette left us a well-loved recipe for vanilla cream pie in which she clearly doctored the original measurements, increasing everything by one third.  Grandma Nette was of the precision school of baking and she would tsk-tsk at my tendency to eschew measuring spoons for ‘a pinch of sugar, 2 glugs of olive oil, and enough salt to make it taste good.’ But whenever I make Grandma’s vanilla cream pie, I dutifully measure out the one and one third tablespoon of flour and one and two thirds teaspoon of vanilla, imagining her calculating the adapted measurements on the back of an envelope.

Grandma Nette and her vanilla cream pie were on my mind as I searched for recipes to make for the bridal shower I hosted tonight; you see, the lady knew how to throw a classy party. She was hostess supreme for the United Methodist Women’s Circle, keeping the church women in constant supply of her famous cinnamon rolls. So proper and charming was Antoinette, I harbored suspicions as a child that she must be the long lost sister of the Queen of England. In reality, she was born poor, never finished high school, and worked herself silly running a small-town grocery store with my Grandpa Jim while raising two boys and making pies and grinning all the way.  She passed away 5 years ago this summer at the age of 100, and that I got to spend 18 Thanksgivings in her dining room and celebrate 19 birthdays on her front porch are some of the greatest blessings of my entire life.

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This frozen vanilla custard, inspired by her vanilla cream pie, would suit her taste: it’s classy, simple, and rich. I inherited her rolling pin, her love of poetry, and her taste for coffee, scalding hot, with something sweet after dinner. I hope inherited even a third of her grace.

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We served the custard as part of our bridal shower spread with these sugar cones dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkle covered.  Classy, no? Congratulations to Shannon and Michael: an ice cream toast to all the sweetness ahead for you two!!

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 Frozen Vanilla Custard (adapted from David Lebovitz)

1 c whole milk

2/3 c sugar

2 c heavy cream

pinch of salt

1 1/2 t good quality vanilla extract

6 large egg yolks

Warm the milk, sugar, and one cup of the cream in a medium sized saucepan. Heat until the mixture just starts to bubble.

Pour the remaining cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks well. Slowly pour the warmed milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly. Then scrape this mixture back into the saucepan.  Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the spatula. Add the vanilla. Pour the custard through the strainer and mix into the cream. Put the bowl into an ice bath and let cool completely, stirring occasionally.

Chill thoroughly in the fridge and then freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions

mangos + minnesota

Today was a very long day. I took the overnight bus home from Minneapolis and we managed to get delayed in the only 5:30 am stand-still traffic jam in the history of mankind. I was late for work because my trusty 172 bus changed to its annoying summer schedule. I planned an elaborate grocery list (pistachios! tarragon! arugala!) only to find, on my way home from work, that Hyde Park Produce was closed because of a freak power outage. But all was not lost because I came home and made a super-comforting dinner of scrambled eggs and pickles and the food currently topping the list of my favorite things on God’s green earth: homemade mango sorbet.

ImageExciting thing #1 that happened in the first week of summer: I bought an ice cream maker! I’d had my eye on it all year, and I decided to reward myself for finishing my first year with its purchase. I baptized this newest addition to my ever-growing small appliances menagerie with mango sorbet. There is not much to say about it except that it is sooooo darned good. It makes me want to go somewhere tropical (Miami friends, you must try this recipe with your famous mangos and report back). It makes me want to never buy Haagen-Dazs sorbet again (and that’s saying something). Keep reading for the recipe at the end of the post.

Exciting thing #2 that happened in the first week of summer: I went to Minneapolis. It is not exactly tropical, but it is home to a significant chunk of my heart and a good number of my favorite people in the world.

ImagePlease allow me to introduce you to the drink of the summer, Pimm’s Cup. These beauties were poured by my dear friend Anna, one ever-hip Madison-by-way-of-MN mixologist. All there is in the way of a recipe is: one part Pimm’s No. 1, 3 pars ginger ale, lots of ice, cucumber, strawberry, and lime. This way when you tire of mango sorbet, you can switch to Pimm’s Cup. In my dreams, that’s how summer goes, at least…

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In honor of Joanna’s amazing brunch post, I wanted to share the brunch that Jinai cooked for us on Sunday morning. Advice for a happy life: if you have an amateur chef friend with a rocking cappuccino machine in her kitchen, visit her often, even if it takes a miserable overnight bus ride to get home. This brunch alone was worth the sleep deprivation and smelly seatmates.

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The last meal of the weekend was noodle salad from Jasmine Deli, the best Vietnamese restaurant in Minneapolis and maybe in the world. I thought of ordering one to go (though then I would have the been the smelly seatmate). But I left it behind, up north, until next time and came home to a pretty good city that I call home and a big serving of mango sorbet left in my freezer. Not a bad trade.

Mango Sorbet

2-3 large, ripe mangos

2/3 c sugar

3/4 c water

1-2 T fresh lime or lemon juice

1-2 T rum (to taste)

Peel the mangos, remove the flesh from the pits, and chop roughly. Place mango plus all other ingredients in a blender or food processor. Squeeze the pits and skins over the bowl to get all the good juiciness out. Puree until the mixture is smooth. Taste and add more citrus or rum as desired. Chill for at least an hour in the fridge then process according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. Delicious when fresh but also keeps well in the freezer!

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