I have decided to strike the following phrase from my vocabulary: How hard can it be?
It gets me into trouble.
For example: Hey, honey, I need a new stove. Why don't we just knock down a wall and add an eat-in kitchen while we're at it....
Looks can be deceiving. Plain old vanilla ice cream?
No. Guess again.
It's actually lemon. With some orange thrown in.
I based this ice cream on my father's favourite lemon meringue pie recipe, which calls for condensed milk. With a bowl of oranges threatening to dissolve into a green powdery heap before my eyes, I salvaged the best looking one and added it to the mix. The results? An exceptionally creamy Philadelphia style ice cream with a light citrus flavour. No eggs. No firing up the stovetop. Just a few minutes with the microplane -- important factors in this relentless summer heat.
Sometimes simple is best. No gooey sauces. No sugary sprinkles. No toasted flakes of anything. Sometimes all you need is a tiny pinch of salt.
Last week, over Watermelon Agua Fresca, Andrew told me that as a child one of his favourite memories was eating big slices of watermelon sprinkled with salt. As a kid, we too slurped our way through the oppressive summer heat with watermelon. Only all we did was spit the seeds at each other and hope no adult noticed.
Within days of our conversation, I came across a recipe for watermelon sorbet that called for a dash of fleur de sel. Taking my cue from the agua fresca, I swapped lime for the original lemon juice and added a hint of vodka to keep the sorbet nice and smooth. But I kept the salt just as is.
A while ago I solicited recipes for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. A lot of suggestions rolled in. Conflicting opinions on walnuts, oatmeal and chefs flew through cyberspace. Some people loved Alton Brown's recipe. Others called it "cakey" and touted the ever-popular David Lebovitz. Thomas Keller's name cropped up frequently, while a small but vocal group swore on their grandmother's baking pans that Cook's Illustrated's browned butter version was the best. Make that The Very Best. Ever.
So I did some research into the various options. Some recipes called for chopped chocolate. But with chips readily available that just seemed like extra work. Other recipes used bread flour, which I don't stock. So I nixed them. Many demanded an extra yolk. Needless to say, I was a little put off by this requirement since I hate wasting food and never know what to do with an extra white. Two or three? Make meringues. But one?
However, I adore browned butter and hunted down the Cook's Illustrated recipe. Even though it called for that pesky extra yolk, it used ordinary flour and included my beloved walnuts. So I was willing to sacrifice some albumin for the cause. Then I read the instructions.
I am quickly cementing my reputation as the neighbourhood nut. Yesterday I sat on the grass plucking dandelion heads and tossing them into a brown paper lawn bag before they could go to seed. Today? I was out there again, only this time nibbling on the leaves. Living on the windward side of a park in a no-spray municipality means we have a carpet of dandelions where our front yard used to be. When I complained about this on Facebook, in amongst all the weeding advice, my cousin Judith suggested I seek my revenge via a dandelion salad.
So today, I went out and sampled the lawn.
Here's what I learned.
So much for my vegetable-a-week promise. I look back at recent posts and see a carb-heavy, fat-laden series of desserts. Yes, I've been eating my greens, but not in a way that will make you beg for the recipe. I've been very plebeian about my vegetables, choosing instead to concentrate my creativity on cake.
So, it's steamed broccoli, boiled beans and plain old salad while my time in the kitchen is spent searching for the perfect orange cake for my sister's wedding -- light, airy, easy to stack and and with a bright orange flavour. I've created some really tasty desserts, but so far they only hint at orange. Despite adding generous portions of rind and opting for frozen concentrate instead of juice, the cakes end up tasting as if they merely chatted to a bowl of clementines on their way to the oven.
Me: How much broccoli should I cook?
Andrew: How much Cheez Whiz do we have?
Me: How long to you want to remain married?
Okay, moving onto safer territory -- carrots.
I got the idea for these after dining in a restaurant when the accompanying vegetables outshone the forgettable duck confit. While the poultry disappointed, I was so impressed with the sweet yet savory carrots I had to recreate them at home. I usually find cooked carrots a source of frustration. Plain are boring but when I jazz them up with ginger, certain extended family members complain they're too spicy.
But these? They should make everyone happy -- even without Cheez Whiz.
Late on Sunday afternoon I did the unthinkable. I made chocolate mousse without high-end chocolate.
Company was coming. The oven was occupied with Apple Roasted Chicken. And I had very little time to devote to dessert. So, I opened the baking cupboard and grabbed the first thing I saw -- a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips.
What can you do with chocolate chips, a stove top and half an hour kitchen time? Make mousse.
And dang, if it didn't turn out more than a little okay.
Sneaking in under the wire. It's still Groundhog Day. And all I can think of is Bill Murray sitting in a Punxsatawney diner, stuffing his face full of donuts with impunity.
According to the groundhog, we have six more weeks of winter coming, which makes me want to stuff my face with donuts, too. Only I know that if I do, I won't start the next day as if nothing happened. Impunity for gluttonous digressions is not part of my Groundhog Day reality.
Wanting something decadent, but reasonably healthy, I decided to make some chocolate cookies. Looking in my cupboards I found what I needed. Cocoa is always low-fat, dried cherries are full of antioxidants and nuts are good for you. Add a glass of milk and it's practically a whole meal.
There are two problems with refried beans. One: They tend to be very fattening. Two: They look like something that came out the back end of a flatulent donkey.
This slow-cooker recipe solves the high-fat issue. The lovely dish my sister's boyfriend gave me for Christmas solves the other. Look at the sensual, distracting curves. See the bright red tortilla chips? Isn't it festive! Ole! You hardly notice the brown glob in the centre.
The resulting "refried" beans have the depth of flavour you get from the authentic version but without the frying or the fat. Make them as spicy or mild. Use Pinto or Romano beans. Toss in some black beans if you like.
Serve this dip with some sour cream, guacamole, salsa and chips. Or slather some on a burrito. It's up to you.
No matter how you eat them, just serve them in a very distracting bowl.