Lemon Vanilla Ice Cream

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Woke up to the first dusting of snowy waves on the green grass the other morning, and thought, “Today would be a great day for ice cream!”

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A friend and I have fallen into the habit of giving each other cooking-related birthday presents every year. I don’t think it was a conscious decision, but it’s always fantastic. This year she gave me Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home. It’s a dangerous book — I have been known to read it like a novel, crying with happiness at how romantic the story of ‘Gorgonzola Dolce and Candied Walnuts’ was. Hello my name is Heidi, and I am a food geek.

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I think I overdid it with the fall flavors this year. When perusing, I passed over all the November lovelies: sweet potato, pear, maple, and zeroed in on lemon, which I don’t generally start craving until January. I think it might be a sentimental thing, because I can’t have lemon anything without thinking of my grandmother.

She always had a tea in her house called ‘I Love Lemon’, but with a little heart for the “love”. When I was a kid, she and I would be the only ones awake early in the morning. She’d make a pot of lemon tea, with lemon juice and honey (out of her honey bear, of course) and we’d sit outside on her porch swing and sip tea, watching the dew and the soft morning sun, until the rest of the house would slowly shuffle into the kitchen to start breakfast. I don’t have many specific memories, but her blue terrycloth bathrobe, the way her Mary Kay hand cream smelled, and how special it felt to be the only one she was sharing tea with, will always stay with me. Last year at this time she was visiting through the holidays (and I do mean all of them — Halloween through after New Year’s!), but this year decided to stay home with my aunt and cousins. Fair is fair — I guess I’ll just have to supplement the peppermint creams and cinnamon cookies with a few extra lemon meringue pies this year.

IMG_4465Now on to my confession. I did not read the recipe all the way through before starting. It doesn’t seem to be necessary at the time — I mean, hey, I read all the ingredients, right? Just throw them in the pot, no big deal. Well, as I was boiling the milk (and panicking slightly), I noticed small chunks rising in the bubbles. More panic. I whisked frantically, took it off the heat and put it back on, pretty much everything except reading the directions closely. After I added the cornstarch, it dawned on my that I had added the cream cheese into the boiling mixture, and I felt a small amount of relief. It hadn’t curdled! So I poured it into a bowl and took out my secret weapon: the Immersion Blender, AKA duct tape of the kitchen. This little darling has helped me out of many scrapes before, including cooking the eggs into a custard (so very, very unpretty). A few zaps with the blender, stirred in 3 tablespoons of chèvre because I was out of cream cheese and boom! “Yeah, I just thought the goat cheese would up the tang factor and add a little earthiness. You know what a genius I am in the kitchen…”

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Jeni’s Splendid Lemon Cream Ice Cream
(very slightly adapted)

Lemon Syrup:
2 or 3 lemons
2 tablespoons sugar

Ice Cream:
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons cream cheese (or chevre; even though it was a mistake it worked out with pretty yum results)
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
zest of 2 lemons (reserved from above)
1 vanilla bean (optional, I’m just in love)

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So for the syrup you’ll want to zest the lemons in large strips. Squeeze 1/2 a cup of juice (two lemons, in my case) and bring that to a simmer with the sugar, stirring until it’s dissolved. Set aside in the refrigerator until chilled.

Mix 2 tablespoons of milk with the cornstarch until smooth and set aside. Stir the cream cheese (or chèvre) and salt together until smooth and set that aside too.

Combine remaining milk, cream, sugar, corn syrup, the inside of one vanilla bean and the lemon zest in a large saucepan. If you do, like me, end up adding the cream cheese in this step, don’t worry. We’ll fix it. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat and boil for 4 minutes. Boiling milk makes me antsy, but I trust Jeni entirely so I did it. Remove from heat and whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring the mixture back to a boil and cook while stirring until it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat.

Slowly whisk the cream cheese mixture into the hot milk until it’s smooth. This was when my immersion blender came to the rescue, but the chèvre I used was not bad at all. I’m almost glad I don’t pay much attention to what I’m doing generally!

So here Jeni recommends that you pour the mixture into a Ziploc bag and immerse it into an ice bath. I have…not had luck with this technique. As much as I hate waiting overnight to churn ice cream, I’d rather not lose half the batch out of stupid gosh-darn pin holes.

Remember that lemon syrup from before? Pour the milk mixture into your ice cream maker, and while it’s churning, drizzle the syrup into it.

Freeze in your selected container, and enjoy! I actually topped mine with some citrus caramel — let me tell you, wouldn’t have thought it but lemon and caramel are beautiful together. The sweet accentuates the tart in just the right way. Caramel sauce is relatively easy — water, sugar and butter cooked together, and a bit of cream added towards the end. I also spiked mine with a splash of triple sec. Perfection!

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Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows

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You know how they say, if you look in a mirror and say ‘pumpkin spice latte’ three times, a white girl in yoga pants and Uggs will appear and tell you all her favorite things about fall? Totally true fact. I might be wearing sweatpants, but I am more than happy to talk about how excited I am for Halloween decorations, Beetlejuice and Hocus Pocus, sweater weather, Honeycrisp apples (!) and some of the bluest skies you’ll see all year — and now I can also add these marshmallows to the list.

I’ve wanted to try marshmallows for years, but I had visions of myself and every surface in the kitchen just coated in sticky sugar, and the Exxon-Valdez-sized mess I’d be cleaning for days to come (yeah, you like my oh-so-current references). Well, I’m tempted to take a picture of my kitchen just to show you how dirty it isn’t. I haven’t suddenly become a Martha-worthy cook; if you spray your utensils down with cooking spray, this recipe is a breeze.

Do they really taste like marshmallows, you ask? NO. No. They taste how store-bought mallows should taste, but never do. So light and soft, and surprisingly not too sweet, considering the ingredients (although my current sugar high might beg to differ). If I had kids, I’d be Cool Mom of the Year for these…or at least the week. Also CMotY would have tiny fun cookie cutters that would take these marshmallows over the top.

Note: I recently ordered twelve vanilla beans from Amazon. Vanilla beans make everything taste like angels made it, and I’m having trouble not adding some of their caviar to everything from my morning coffee to zucchini bread to savory tomato sauces. I added some to this recipe, and while the flavor is divine, its hardly necessary. I’m just somewhat bewitched by these beans.

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PUMPKIN-SPICE MARSHMALLOWS

Serious Eats find,  Miss Amanda Clark’s recipe
serves about 80 or 90 1-inch square marshmallows

  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • ½ cup cold water
  • ¼ cup powdered gelatin*
  • ½ cup cold water
  • 1 ¼ cups corn syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar (I used half brown sugar, really on purpose, not because I ran out of granulated, nope. What kind of cooking blog would run out of sugar?)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons cornstarch

*This is little more than 1 ¼ standard boxes of Knox gelatin, so be sure to purchase enough.

1. Lightly spray a standard baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray, then rub gently with a paper towel to distribute the spray and leave just the merest sheen of oil on the sheet. Similarly, lightly spray a large offset spatula and set beside the prepared tray.
2. Combine the first three ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until well blended and smooth. Set aside.IMG_4040
3. Combine second quantity of water, corn syrup, vanilla bean, salt and sugar in a 4-quart saucepan and place over medium heat. When mixture boils, cover the pot with a lid for two minutes to allow the condensation to dissolve any lingering crystals.
4. Place a candy or instant read thermometer into the syrup and continue to cook, without stirring, until syrup reaches 255F (hard ball). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can do what I do, and periodically drop a small spoonful of syrup into a cup of ice water. When it creates a drizzle that you can reach in and pick up with your fingers, but is still malleable, you’re there! Some directions say it will actually form a firm ball, but I’ve never had that miracle occur. The texture is really all we’re looking for here.
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Is there anything more gorgeous than fresh orchid pods?
5. Remove pan from heat and carefully stir in pumpkin-gelatin mixture.  Remove pan from heat and carefully stir in pumpkin-gelatin mixture. Don’t be silly like me and be totally surprised that your pumpkin is all jelly-like now.  Pour this mixture into the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Quickly cover bowl with loosely draped plastic wrap in order to avoid splatters, and gradually increase the mixer speed to high.
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Be safe kids, wrap it up.
6. Whip mixture for 10 minutes. At the beginning of the final minute of whipping, sprinkle in ginger, cinnamon and cloves and continue to whip.
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7. Scrape mixture into prepared pan and spread out smooth with oiled spatula. Set marshmallow aside, uncovered, at room temperature for at least 4 hours to overnight before cutting.
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8.  Before cutting the marshmallow, sift the cornstarch into a medium mixing bowl. Cut marshmallows with a lightly oiled knife or pizza cutter and break into individual pieces. Toss with cornstarch mixture to completely coat, shaking off excess as much as possible. Store in an airtight container with the lid slightly ajar for up to three days.

Banana Cream Pie

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Plenty of things make me nervous:  meetings at work,  calculating when to acknowledge an acquaintance I see walking down the street, my driver’s license test (for ten years, actually), the prospect of getting a real job, using the supermarket line that has a real person to check me out, boys, figuring out when to stop eating ice cream, girls, dear God Heidi, just stop, they get the idea. Point being, experimenting in the kitchen has never wigged me out, mostly because I am perfect and never mess up anything when I cook.

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This definitely never happened. I didn’t swear loud enough that my mother came running to see which finger I had chopped off. I also did not defeatedly eat all of the poached pears I had prepared for the pear tart I had in mind. I did stick the pastry cream in the fridge and call it a day.

But! This was not the end of the tart story. I had the cream filling, and an recipe for a seriously delicious crust dancing in my head. Add two lovely bananas to that equation, and you’ve got yourself a banana cream pie!  Given the season, I gussied up the crust with freshly grated nutmeg and a generous pinch of cloves. I’m no fan of plain flour-and-butter crusts; I think every part of a pie should be able to hold its own.

2444Ooooh you sexy chunk of butter, you!

Another thing that I have never liked is fake flavorings. Why bother? Why have something just taste like peppermint, if you could infuse mint leaves into it? Or lemon flavoring when there is perfectly decent zest to be had? I will however, immediately contradict that statement with admission of a certain tenderness for rum extract, especially coupled with butter flavoring. That sounds terrible! you might exclaim in surprise, and I would understand completely. Fake BUTTER flavoring? How can you call yourself a baker? Wait, just hear me out. Witchcraft occurs when you mix butter, rum and milk. It tastes sweet and cozy, exactly the way you hope Butterbeer would taste (you know precisely what I mean, don’t even bother denying it. Nerd). I suppose I could have used real rum and melted a dab of butter into the pastry cream, but trust me, the flavorings really add a punch.

Oh, and in case you didn’t know, if you sneak a spoonful of delicious pastry cream before you put it in its final resting place, (ie., in the crust) it basically becomes a runny mess. I did know this, and proceeded to taste anyway, because I have no self-control. Pie will now never win a beauty contest, but still tastes like a warm, early autumn afternoon.

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The last piece to the puzzle is found in the whipped cream. No one doesn’t like whipped cream — even the lactose intolerant will overlook their dairy bigotry to sneak a little dollop of freshly-whisked heaven ( I have witnessed this phenomenon in person). It’s perfect as it is … but being the person I am, I can’t just leave well enough alone. I sweetened it with a bit of toasty brown sugar, then folded in a large dollop of greek yogurt. It adds an addictively tangy quality, pretty much the exact same taste that had everyone going so nuts over the”tangy frozen yogurt” that was all the rage last season. Yogurt whipped cream, along with the bananas, and this pretty much qualifies as breakfast. You better believe I’m going to treat it as such.

So, even though this was supposed to be a beautiful fruit tart with a sturdy pastry cream, I am okay with the fact that its not. I like to think I can translate this attitude to the rest of my life. Yeah, I was supposed to be a model, married by 27 with a career and possibly even *hushed tone* babies. Single, living at home, working evenings waitressing; I am for sure the anthropomorphized version of a runny banana cream pie…but hot damn if I’m not just as delicious, too!

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October Banana Cream Pie

(Pie bears almost zero resemblance to, and yet was still inspired by Elizabeth’s pear beauty, seen here: http://www.sugarhero.com/2013/09/pear-pistachio-tart-with-rosemary-crust/)

serves 8 if you have more self control than I

For the Spiced Tart Crust:

Pinch ground cloves

1/2 of a nutmeg nut, finely grated

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat)

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/4 tsp salt

5 oz cold butter, cubed

2 large egg yolks

For the Butter Rum Pastry Cream:

2 large egg yolks

1 1/2 cups milk (preferably 2% or whole)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/8 tsp salt

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 tsp butter flavoring

1 tsp rum extract

Two bananas, sliced roughly quarter of an inch thick

For the Yogurt Whipped Cream

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup dark brown sugar, loosely packed

1/3 cup greek yogurt

To Make the Spiced Tart Crust:

Combine the clove and nutmeg, flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse briefly until everything is well-blended. Add the cold cubed butter and pulse until it is in small pea-sized pieces. Add the egg yolk and pulse in long 5-second bursts until the dough starts clumping together.

Turn the dough out of the food processor and knead it lightly several times to incorporate any extra flour. At this point, the dough can be wrapped and refrigerated for several days. If you’re ready to use it now, spray a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with nonstick cooking spray. Press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan in an even layer. Freeze the shell for 30 minutes, and while it’s the freezer, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Spray the top of the tart dough with nonstick spray, then press a sheet of foil into the shell, shiny side down, and fill the foil with dry beans, rice, or pie weights. Bake the shell for 20 minutes, until the sides start to take on a little color and the center no longer looks raw, then carefully remove the foil and weights.

Bake for an additional 14-15 minutes, until the shell is golden brown. You might want to cover the sides with foil to prevent them from getting too dark. Let the shell cool completely before filling it.

To Make the Butter Rum Pastry Cream:

Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and whisk them briefly to break them up. Combine the milk, sugar, salt, and corn starch in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk everything together, until the sugar and cornstarch dissolve, and continue to whisk while the mixture heats up. Once it starts to bubble and thicken, remove it from the heat. Whisk the bowl of egg yolks while slowly streaming in about 1 cup of the hot milk mixture—this will help heat the egg yolks gently so that they don’t cook during the process.

Now whisk the milk mixture while you pour the egg yolks into the saucepan. Return the pan to the heat and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the pastry cream thickens and has the texture of pudding. You may want to occasionally scrape the bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula to prevent any scorching (YES you truly do want to use this suggestion. Trust). Once thick, remove the pan from the heat.

Stir in the extracts. Pour it into a bowl or airtight container, press cling wrap right on top of the pastry cream, and refrigerate until thick and chilled. (To speed up the chilling process, you can spread it into a thin layer on a baking sheet and press cling wrap on top.) Pastry cream can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week, with no sampling.

For the Yogurt Whipped Cream:

Pour cream and brown sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer or a medium sized bowl if Hercules prefers to whisk by hand. Beat until medium peaks appear, then fold in greek yogurt with a spatula. This will soften the cream slightly, so if you prefer lightly whipped cream and are offended by my suggestion of “medium peaks”, this is why.

Cream Pie, Assemble! (yelled through conch shell, of course)

Make sure all parts are fully cool before making this pie pretty, otherwise you will have a melty mess on your hands. Kitchens require patience; learned this the hard way.

Pour pastry cream into pie shell. Lightly place sliced bananas in circles, or whatever pattern you consider attractive, until they cover he whole pie. Dollop whipped cream all over the top, spreading to the sides so the cream connects with the top of the crust. Swirl cream over the top, then decorate with more sliced bananas, or sprinkle with another small pinch of clove as I did. Voila! You are ready for your cup of coffee and slice of pie, honey!

Mushroom Pierogies

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I have a problem. There’s this thing about cooking — I can’t stop. I cook when I’m bored, when I want to cry or when I’m in a great mood. I bake when I’ve decided it’s time for a jog; I start a batch of ice cream fifteen minutes before I have to leave for work. I can’t keep a manicure nice for the life of me (a fact which is beginning to get on my nerves, honestly).

I think about food the way I imagine other people might feel about celebrities. Food blogs are my reality TV, and their writers are my superstars. One of my absolute favorites is Smitten Kitchen, run by my imaginary big sister, Deb Perelman. For my initial foray into web logging, I’m beginning with an homage to Ms Smitten and her Wild Mushroom Pierogies.

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Mushroom Pirogies
(Almost entirely jacked from smittenkitchen.com)
Makes 6 main course servings
(um, yikes. My mom and I very nearly finished all of these)

For filling

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2/3 oz dried porcini mushrooms  (I used a mix of chanterelles and porcini)
  • 6 oz cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Make filling: Pour boiling water over dried mushrooms in a small bowl and soak until softened,10 to 20 minutes. Lift porcini out of water, squeezing excess liquid back into bowl, and rinse well to remove any grit. Pour soaking liquid through a paper-towel-lined sieve into a bowl and reserve. I don’t know why but this step gave me such joy. Straining is a grown-up thing! Right?

Finely chop onion and garlic in a food processor, then add mushrooms and pulse until very finely chopped.

Heat butter in a skillet over moderate heat. I began to brown the butter slightly which gave it a really super aroma, but I’m not positive it added anything to the dish. Add mushroom mixture, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are dry. Add reserved soaking liquid and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture is thick, dry, and beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper to taste; cool completely.

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For dough

Makes enough for about 48 pierogies (yeah no I got around 38)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour ( I used white whole wheat)
  • 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 2 large eggs*
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water

Stir together flours in a bowl. Make a well in flour and add eggs, salt, and water, then stir together with a fork without touching flour. Continue stirring, gradually incorporating flour into well until a soft dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead, adding only as much additional flour as needed to keep dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. (Dough will be soft.) Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature at least 30 minutes.

*Note: My dough turned out a bit on the tough side which I chalk up to my inexperience with savory doughs and a real love for kneading; I did however read somewhere that egg yolks can add to the “cartilaginous” aspect, which is a new vocab word I now intend to sneak in conversation whenever possible.

IMG_3891Simultaneous left-handed egg-cracking and picture-taking like some sort of muliti-tasking wizard

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Roll out dough and fill pierogies: Halve dough and roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface into a 15-inch round, keeping remaining dough wrapped. Cut out rounds with floured cutter. Put 1/2 teaspoon filling in center of each round. Working with 1 round at a time, moisten edges with water and fold in half to form a half-moon, pinching edges together to seal. I also used a teeny fork to crimp the edges, but as you can probably see, they ended up looking like mini-empanadas so… Crimp at your own risk.Transfer pierogies as assembled to a flour-dusted kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining rounds, then make more pierogies with remaining dough and filling.

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… Please don’t tell me you use cookie cutters and rolling pins when you have wine glasses and bottles of sesame oil? No uni-taskers folks! (Hashtag Alton Brown Jokes)

Boil pirogies in a large pot of lightly salted boiling water until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to buttered skillet and brown for another 5 minutes. I cooked these with (almost) caramelized onions and lightly sauteéd summer squash and fought the urge to dip them in soy sauce. I don’t think my palate has developed a distinction between dumplings quite yet; I should probably make some more.