Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lemony-Herb Ice Cream

I read a recipe for lemongrass ice cream in my Vietnamese cookbook, and it reminded me of my favorite lemon verbena ice cream (from The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld). I had some lemongrass in the fridge and a couple small lemon verbena plants in the garden, so I thought I would try out a combination of these herbs in ice cream. To round it out with even more citrusy herbs, I added some lime basil in as well.

Instead of a custard base, I used sour cream (which thickens the ice cream base and adds a pleasant tartness) and cornstarch (which thickens and smooths the ice cream). I prefer to keep the ice cream a little lighter by using milk instead of cream--2% or whole milk both work fine.

Start making the base at least 6 hours before you plan to serve, because it needs to be chilled, frozen in an ice cream machine, and then frozen in the freezer for a few more hours to set. It is delicious served in a brand snap basket, as shown in the picture. I will get that recipe up soon too! Also, I think the lemon flavor would be a fantastic complement to fresh berries or all sorts of fruit desserts.

Lemony-Herb Ice Cream
3 cups milk, whole or 2%
2 or 3 stalks lemongrass, coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 to 1 cup mixed soft leafed lemony or citrusy herb leaves, such as lemon verbena, lime basil, lemon basil, or lemon balm (I used about half and half lemon verbena and lime basil and it was delicious)
1 cup sour cream

In a small saucepan, heat 2 1/2 cups of the milk to almost boiling. Stir in the lemongrass, cover, and remove from the heat. Let this steep for 30 minutes, then strain out the lemongrass and chill the infused milk.

Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and herbs in a food processor. Process for 15 to 30 seconds, or until the herbs are finely ground and the sugar is green. Scrape the sugar into a large mixing bowl with the sour cream and the remaining 1/2 cup milk. Stir the mixture together, and then add the chilled infused milk. Refrigerate the mixture until it is thoroughly chilled.

Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to a covered container and place in the freezer. Five or ten minutes before serving, remove the ice cream from the freezer to soften it slightly.

Vietnamese Sizzling Rice Crepe with Pork, Shrimp, and Mushrooms

I've been very into Vietnamese food lately, with the help of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors by Andrea Nguyen. I love the abundance of fresh herbs and the delicate balancing of sweet, tart, spicy, and salty flavors. I first tasted banh xeo, or sizzling rice crepes, at Long Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant in Seattle, and I immediately fell in love with it. The outside is crispy and the inside is soft and chewy, with some crunch from the bean sprouts. I like it best filled with shrimp and pork. As is traditional, I serve it with nuoc cham and a plate of fresh lettuce and herbs.

This dish should be started ahead of time to allow the batter enough time to soak, but it doesn't take  much time at all once you begin cooking. It looks more complicated than it is, since the batter and dipping sauce can be made ahead, and the garnishes need nothing more than to be placed on a plate.

Banh Xeo, or Vietnamese Sizzling Rice Crepe with Pork, Shrimp, and Mushrooms

1 cup raw jasmine rice (or other long grain white rice)
2 tablespoons leftover cooked rice or 2 tablespoons rice flour (you can omit this if you don't have it)
1/4 cup packed steamed mung beans (steam dried mung beans, preferably peeled, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until soft)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup coconut milk
1 1/4 cup water
2 scallions, thinly sliced 
     Filling and Cooking:
3/4 pound pork shoulder, sliced into matchsticks
1/2 pound small shrimp (leave the shell on for an authentic crunch, or if that weirds you out, peel them)
1 cup thinly sliced shitake mushrooms (or substitute 1 can straw mushrooms, drained and cut in half lengthwise--this is more authentic, but I love the flavor of shitakes)
1 small onion, thinly sliced from root to tip
3/4 cup ground steamed mung bean (see above)
4 cups bean sprouts
vegetable oil, for pan-frying 
Herb and Vegetable Garnish Plate, see below
Nuoc Cham, see below

For the batter: Soak the rice in cold water for 3 to 5 hours. Drain the rice, transfer it to a blender, and add all the rest of the batter ingredients except the scallions. Blend for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the batter is very smooth. Stir in the scallions. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour at room temperature or up to 3 days in the refrigerator (ideally bring it back to room temperature before cooking)

Filling and cooking the crepes: Mix together all the filling ingredients except the bean sprouts and the oil. Divide the mixture into 8 even portions (this will make frying the crepes simpler).

In an 10 inch nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of oil over medium-high to high heat. When the oil is hot, add one portion of the filling. Stir-fry for about 1 minute, or until the meat is seared. Spread the filling out evenly in the pan, leaving one line down the middle of the pan empty (this will be where you fold the crepe over--you want this part empty to make the folding easier).

Stir the batter to reincorporate anything that has settled to the bottom. Ladle in about 1/3 cup of batter to the pan, and swirl it around until the batter covers the bottom of the skillet. After about 1 minute, add a handful of bean sprouts to one side of the crepe. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook for 3 minutes, or until the sprouts have softened.

Remove the lid from the skillet and drizzle a bit of oil around the edges of the crepe to add crispiness. Continue to cook until the edges pull away from the pan and reach a golden brown. The bottom should also be crispy. Using a spatula, fold the crepe over on itself and slide it out of the pan. Cover and place in a warm oven until serving time. Repeat with the remaining crepes, using two pans at once if you can to make it quicker.

To serve and eat: Serve the warm crepes with the herb and vegetable garnish plate and the nuoc cham. Cut a piece of crepe, wrap it and some herbs in lettuce, and then dip it in the sauce before eating.

Herb and Vegetable Garnish Plate:
1 small pickling cucumber or 1/2 an English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded if necessary, and thinly sliced
1 small head butter lettuce
1 bunch mint
1 bunch Thai basil
1 bunch cilantro
other herbs, such as lemon balm, shiso, cinnamon basil, lime basil, Vietnamese coriander, sorrel, etc.

Arrange all these ingredients on a platter, tearing up the herbs into smaller pieces and separating the lettuce leaves.

Nuoc Cham (basic Vietnamese dipping sauce):
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar (or use more lime juice)
3 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup warm water
5 tablespoons fish sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 3 Thai peppers, to taste (keep in mind these tiny peppers are incredibly spicy)

Stir together all the ingredients until the sugar dissolves. Taste the sauce, and adjust the flavor balance as you like.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What's Coming Soon

I'm off to Seneca Lake in New York for Memorial Day weekend, so I won't be able to post again until next week. But just to keep you interested, here are some of the posts that may be coming up:
  • Roasted corn and brioche bread pudding with pancetta and caramelized leeks
  • Chilled spring pea soup
  • Lemony-herb ice cream (lemongrass, lemon verbena, and lime basil)
  • Grilled red curry lamb skewers with peanut sauce
  • Brandy snap baskets (good for serving with ice cream)
  • Vietnamese sizzling rice crepe with pork, shrimp, and mushrooms
  • Roasted chicken with herbs and vegetables
  • Cucumber, radish, and arugula salad with cumin yogurt dressing
  • Brandy snap baskets with rose-scented pastry cream and grenadine-poached rhubarb
If one of these sounds particularly good to you, comment and let me know! I'll make it my next post.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese Balls, served with Sliced Asian Pears

I recently came up with this elegant yet simple hors d'ouevre, and I've already made it a few times. It's perfect party food--it comes in individual servings, is easy to pick up, doesn't need to be hot, and is dangerously addictive. Even better, it's very easy to prepare.

Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese Balls

equal parts chevre and mascarpone cheeses
pistachios, crushed in a mortar and pestle or food processor (you want some bigger pieces for texture)

Mix together the two cheeses. Spread the pistachios out on a plate. Take a spoonful of the cheese, and form into balls about 3/4 inch in diameter. Roll in the pistachios to coat thoroughly. Repeat with the rest of the cheese.

I like to serve these with sliced Asian pears. Their sweetness and crunch provides an ideal contrast to the savory softness of the goat cheese.

Fried Soft Shell Crab with and Creole Rice and Remoulade

Late spring and early summer mark the season for soft shell crabs, a treat I don't know if I had ever tried until I went East for college. But they are available here in St. Louis (from Bob's Seafood), and so I brought a few home one day for dinner. I don't love them sauteed, because I think they get a little mushy. Fried is really the way to go for soft shell crabs, though I do hear that grilled is also good. Dip the crabs in milk, then dredge them in flour (preferably Wondra), cornstarch, salt and pepper. Fry in a layer of olive oil, serve with Creole rice and remoulade. I served the crabs on a bed of baby sorrel and mustard greens, which provide a nice tart and spicy contrast to the richness of the crab. You will want to make the rice and remoulade before starting the crabs.

Fried Soft Shell Crabs (serves 2)
4 soft shell crabs, cleaned just prior to cooking
1 cup whole milk
1 cup flour (preferably Wondra)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 inch of olive oil for frying

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil to 360 degrees F (use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature). While the oil is heating, pour the milk in shallow bowl. Mix the flour, cornstarch, salt, and pepper on a plate. Dip each crab in the milk and then dredge thoroughly in the flour mixture, making sure all surfaces are covered.

When the oil is hot, place in the pan as many crabs as will comfortably fit without crowding. Fry for about 3 minutes per side, or until the crabs are nicely browned and cooked through. Transfer with tongs or a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate while you cook the remaining crabs. Serve on a bed of greens with Remoulade and Creole Rice, if you like.

Creole Rice (serves 2)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup white long grain rice, such as jasmine
Cajun seasoning, to taste (different brands or homemade blends vary greatly--I use MarketSpice Cajun Seasoning and I quite like it)
2 cups water

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When it is hot but not smoking, add the onion, bell pepper, and celery. Cook until the vegetables have softened, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and some Cajun seasoning (you can always add more later) to the pan. Stir to coat the rice in the oil and cook without water for 1 minute. Add the water to the pan, cover, and increase the heat to high. When the water is boiling vigorously, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes. Reduce to low for 5 minutes more. Stir the rice, being careful not to break the grains much, taste, and season with additional Cajun seasoning as needed.

2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Cajun seasoning, to taste
3/4 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients except the oil in a food processor or blender. Process for 15 seconds. With the food processor running, add the oil in a slow steady stream. Once all the oil has been added, process for an additional 5 seconds to incorporate everything. The remoulade should be thick and creamy. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until serving time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Two Versions of Mango, Jicama, Red Onion, and Cucumber: Salad and Gazpacho-style Chilled Soup

 It was a beautiful Sunday--sunny, just hot enough, and not too humid--so we had some people over for brewing (not my thing) and grilling (my thing). And though there always seems to be enough meat and chips to go around at a barbeque, there is not always enough salad. So I decided to make a fresh and light tasting salad with flavors strong enough to go with grilled food. A favorite salad of mine that fit the bill exactly is Jicama, Mango, Red Onion, and Cucumber Salad. I like to dress it with a typical Southeast Asian combination of lime, sugar, fish sauce, and hot chilis, and then toss in some fresh chopped mint and cilantro. It makes a great summer salad (or spring salad, for climates like I live in now, where spring is hot too). It only benefits from sitting out for a few hours, which makes it perfect for a grilling party.

Eating the salad made me think of how else this recipe could be adapted for a formal dinner, and I came up with the idea of Chilled Mango Lime Gazpacho with Jicama, Red Onion, and Cucumber. A cold soup like this would make an excellent start to a summer dinner. The tartness of the lime balances the sweetness of the mango, and the crunch of the jicama, red onion, and cucumber add texture to the smooth soup. The first stage of the soup can be prepared basically like the salad, with the only change being to cut the mangoes in larger, and everything else in a smaller dice. That way you can easily remove the mango pieces to a blender with whatever juices have been extracted, blend those up, and top with the diced salsa.

Jicama, Mango, Red Onion, and Cucumber Salad (serves 10)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons warm water
1 small Thai pepper, finely chopped, or 1 jalapeno, finely chopped (add more if you love spice)
1 red onion
1 small jicama bulb
3 medium sized mangoes
1 English cucumber
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup mint, coarsely chopped

In a large salad bowl, stir together the first five ingredients. 

Peel the red onion, and thinly slice it from the root to the tip. Add it to the salad bowl and toss it to cover with the dressing. 

Peel the jicama bulb with a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler. Slice it into 1/4 inch slices. Pile those on top of each other, and slice the other way to create pieces roughly the size of one of the onion slices. Add to the salad bowl.

Next, you will slice the mango in similar size pieces. I really should have taken pictures of this, but this is the easiest way to do it in my opinion: hold the mango on a cutting board with the stem part up. The seed is oval shaped, and runs down the middle of the wide part of the mango. You want to cut the sides of the mango off the seed, cutting as close to the seed as you can to get the most fruit off. Once you have cut these two main parts off, slice as much fruit off the seed as possible, and throw that in the bowl. Discard the seed. Place the mango pieces skin side down on a cutting board. Slice the fruit from top to bottom in 1/4 inch slices, being very careful to cut all the way through the pulp but not to cut the skin. Then make one similar cut (not cutting the skin) going perpendicular to the other cuts, to make the correct size slices. Now cut the pulp away from the skin around the edges of the mango slice. Next, turn the skin inside out, and using a sharp knife, cut the fruit away from the skin. It should be perfectly cut. Repeat with the rest of the mangoes, and throw all the pulp in the salad bowl and toss.

For the cucumber, cut it in half from end to end, then slice it in 1/4 inch slices. Add those to the bowl.

Now the salad can rest for up to an hour. Toss it with the mint and cilantro before serving, and enjoy!

Chilled Mango Lime Gazpacho with Jicama, Red Onion, and Cucumber (serves 6)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons warm water
1 small Thai pepper, finely chopped, or 1 jalapeno, finely chopped (add more if you love spice)
half a red onion
half a small jicama bulb
3 medium sized mangoes
half an English cucumber
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup mint, coarsely chopped
for garnish, sprigs of mint or cilantro

In a large bowl, stir together the first five ingredients to make the marinade. 

Peel the red onion, and cut into ¼ inch dice. Peel the jicama bulb with a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler. Slice it into ¼ inch slices. Pile those on top of each other, and slice the other way. Cut those slices again the other way to create ¼ inch dice. For the cucumber, cut it into quarters from end to end, then slice it in 1/4 inch slices. Trying to keep the mango in as large of pieces as you can, peel the mango and remove the seed. Toss all these ingredients into the bowl with the marinade. Allow this to rest at room temperature for an hour. If not much liquid has pooled at the bottom of the bowl, toss it again and let it rest for longer. 

Remove the mangos from the bowl and place them in a blender. Taking care to keep all the liquid, strain the rest of the ingredients. Add the liquid to mangos and blend for 30 seconds, or until very smooth. Taste and season with salt or sugar if necessary. If it is too thin, add additional water. Cover and refrigerate to chill thoroughly. Also chill the diced ingredients.

When you are almost ready to serve, toss the diced ingredients with the mint and cilantro to make a salsa of sorts. Distribute the mango soup between the bowls. In the middle of each bowl, add a big spoonful of salsa so that it shows above the soup. Garnish with a sprig of mint or cilantro, and serve cold.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ravioli with Asparagus Sauce, Prosciutto, and Sage

[Hey everyone, help me out to answer this curiosity of mine: This post has many times as many hits on my blog as any other single post. Is there a reason for this? Did all of you find this post from one place? Please leave your answer in a comment!]

The original idea for this dish came from a conversation with my dad. He said he had had a fabulous meal at the local pizza/pasta Italian place. I was surprised, because although that restaurant always has good food, what makes it great is the comfort of it and the wine list, rarely the food. But he described this dish of pasta with a pureed asparagus sauce, and I thought that sounded pretty good too. So I got some asparagus and started experimenting. I like to make my own ricotta ravioli, but this recipe is mostly about the sauce, so I'll leave it to you to buy or make your ravioli as you choose. Just don't go for anything too meaty--chicken, seafood, or cheese is the way to go. If want to make it vegetarian, leave out the prosciutto and it will still be delicious.

Ravioli with Asparagus Sauce, Prosciutto, and Sage

4 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
1 pound thin asparagus
3 tablespoons sage, coarsley chopped (divided)
Juice of half a lemon
3 tablespoons cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 ounces prosciutto, sliced into 2 inch strips
1 package store bought or 1 batch homemade ravioli

Remove the tough base of the asparagus and discard. This can be best done by breaking the base off as low as it will naturally break.

Cut the flowering ends off the asparagus, and set aside for later.

Begin heating a pot of salted water for the ravioli.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus stems and 1 tablespoon of sage, and saute until they are fully cooked but not mushy. (If you hold an asparagus up with a fork at one end, the other end should droop some.)

Transfer the asparagus stems from the pan to a food processor. Add the lemon juice and cream. Blend until very smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You can also add more lemon juice if you like a tarter sauce. Keep the blender cover on to keep the sauce hot while you finish cooking.

Reheat the skillet with the rest of the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the asparagus tops, the sage, and the prosciutto. Saute until the asparagus is cooked how you like it.

Meanwhile, cook the ravioli in the boiling water. Before straining, reserve 1/2 cup of the boiling water. Add as much of this as is needed to the asparagus sauce to thin it to your desired consistency.

Serve the ravioli immediately with a generous amount of sauce and topped with the asparagus and prosciutto mixture.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Shells with Many Cheeses

Sometimes good old macaroni and cheese just hits the spot. Now I seem to have mostly grown out of liking the stuff with orange powder, and I have never particularly liked the baked version. Somehow it seems the pasta is always overcooked, and there is always too much sauce for my liking. (As Maria Batali says, though most assuredly not referring to macaroni and cheese, pasta should not swim in sauce, rather it should be dressed the way a salad is dressed--sparingly. In my opinion, same goes for mac 'n cheese.) So when I get that craving, I pull out all the remnants of cheese in my fridge and begin to think it through. It's great to have some strong cheese mixed in--any blue, goat, or feta works well. Parmagiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, or Pecorino add a good depth of flavor as well. And cheddar, or course, is always good. This time I had aged Gouda, Roquefert, pepper jack, and a tad of cheddar. But really this is not a dish for which you make a grocery list, this is a dish for which you pull out any bits of cheese hiding in your fridge. Grate up all the cheese, whip up a bechamel sauce with some thyme, melt the cheese in it, and toss the cooked shells with the sauce. It's that simple (I promise, bechamel actually is simple).

Mini Shells with Many Cheeses
1/2 pound mini shells
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
about 1 cup grated cheeses (vary this quantity depending on what cheese you have, how cheesy you want it, etc.)
freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste

Heat a pot of boiling water for the pasta, and cook according to package directions.

While the water is heating and the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a small saucepan. When it is melted and hot, whisk in the flour. Cook the flour for 30 seconds, before pouring in the cold milk all at once. Whisk to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about 5 minutes or until thickened. Toss in the cheese and stir to melt. Season as needed with salt and pepper. Keep hot until the pasta is done, and then toss the pasta with the cheese sauce and serve.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mussels in Lemongrass Coconut Broth

A good steaming bowl of mussels in flavorful broth served with some crusty Ciabatta bread is enough to make me happy any night. And this particular recipe may be the best version of such a dish I have had. It starts with a broth made from shrimp shells (just buy some large shrimp, peel them, and freeze the shrimp for later while reserving the shells for broth). After the broth has absorbed all the flavors, you saute the mussels briefly, pour in the broth and coconut milk, and toss with cilantro. The flavors are southeast Asian, but the preparation is mostly French. For a lighter variation, leave out the coconut milk.

Mussels in Lemongrass Coconut Broth
The Broth:
3 tablespoons olive oil
shells from 1 pound of shrimp
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups homemade chicken broth (or substitute 3 cups storebought chicken broth and 3 cups water)
1 small onion,  roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, in half inch slices
half a carrot, in half inch slices
1 lime (zest the lime, then cut it in half. You will use both parts, but to maximize flavor they should be separate)
5 Kaffir lime leaves (if you can find them)
stems from 1 bunch of cilantro
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a knife
1 small nob of ginger, sliced
2 stalks lemongrass, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon peppercorns
2 small thai peppers, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

In a large skillet or saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, toss in the shrimp shells. Saute for almost 5 minutes, or until the shells begin to brown. Pour in the white wine, and stir the bottom of the pan to release any browned bit. Continue to cook until the wine has almost entirely boiled off. Add the chicken broth or water, followed by the rest of the ingredients. Add additional water to cover the shells and vegetables. Return to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Strain the broth, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Set aside

The Mussels:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 Thai chili, thinly sliced, optional
5 green onions, white and light green part only, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press or finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated or finely chopped ginger
2 pounds very fresh mussels, rinsed in cold water
3 or 4 cups of the reserved broth
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and sesame oil. When the oils are hot, add the garlic, ginger, green onions, and Thai chili. Stir for 1 minute. Add the mussels, and stir fry until the first mussels open. Pour in the broth and the coconut milk, and cover the pan. When all the mussels are open, toss with the cilantro and continue to cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Serve in bowls with crusty bread on the side to soak up the extra broth.