Saturday, June 25, 2011

Things That Are Not Pretty, Including Tiramisu Ice Cream

Not so good-looking, but mighty tasty.
Well, folks, I have been hit with the plague. Okay, so not the real plague, but this virus definitely wiped me out. This has been one of those week-long, no work, pass out on the couch every couple of hours illnesses. I have spent many hours talking to myself in funny accents, singing songs more out of tune than normal, and cuddling with my pets whether they want me to or not. I have also watched more movies in the past week than I probably did in all of 2010. You better believe I sang along with every musical, even if it did send me into a fit of coughing. Funny thing, my terrible singing seems to attract my cat to my lap rather than repel him...

Yes, it has been ugly in my apartment. I've let my kitchen go to s*** and I haven't looked so great either. You know what else didn't look so good? My tiramisù ice cream. Yeah, before the plague hit me hard, I had prepared a base for tiramisù ice cream. I froze it on the first day of the major part of my illness. It was very easy to make- you prepare the base in a food processor, make the mocha ripple ahead of time, then freeze and combine. Easy peasy. Only thing is, because there is alcohol in the ice cream, it does not get hard in the freezer (not even close), and the ripple is very runny, so it makes for a bit of a mess after dishing out the first scoop.

Sometimes, however, things that are ugly taste really good. Tiramisù is my favorite dessert, and I must say, this ice cream is right up there. You can taste the booze (mostly Kahlúa and a little Brandy), but it isn't overpowering. I was lucky enough to taste this ice cream before my sense of taste was diluted, and let me tell you, it is simply delicious. Just like tiramisù.

Tiramisù Ice Cream
from The Perfect Scoop

2 cups mascarpone
1 cup half-and-half
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup Kahlúa
3 tbsp brandy
Mocha Ripple (see below)

Combine ingredients (mascarpone through brandy) in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly combined. Chill the mixture in the fridge thoroughly (preferably overnight).

Freeze the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Alternating layers, pour some mocha ripple in the bottom of a plastic container, then pour a layer f ice cream. Repeat until all of your ice cream is in the plastic container- you want the top layer to be ice cream. Enjoy!

Mocha Ripple
from the Perfect Scoop

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
6 tbsp unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp instant espresso granules

Combine sugar, corn syrup, water, and cocoa powder in a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly until bubbles start to form at the edges. When the mixture reaches a low boil, cook for another minute, whisking frequently. Remove from the heat, and stir in the vanilla and espresso granules. Cool completely, then chill overnight.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Limoncello and Lemonade

Step one: soak lemon peel in grain alcohol
Limoncello. It's funny how one word can bring on a wave of nostalgia. For me, limoncello transports me back to Positano, Italy, aka the most magical place on earth.

I visited Positano for a couple of days with a good friend of mine in the Spring of 2007. We were doing a trip through Switzerland and Italy together, and Positano was toward the end of what started off as a very unlucky trip. The ride to Positano was a bit of a hair-raiser; we had to stand on the ginormous bus that twisted and turned along the cliffside. With every sharp turn, I was sure I would fly out of the window and land in the water far below. Luckily for us, we made it safely to the beautiful Positano.

Lemons are so beautiful and cheery!
We stayed in a hostel that was 700 steps from the beach (that is, stairs downhill), with a wonderful view of the azure sea. It was such a dream. That first night, we went up to a restaurant overlooking the sea (okay, so pretty much everywhere in Positano overlooks the sea), and when we left the restaurant, the moon was full and bright, dancing on the water in such a way that only ever happens in cartoons. Pairing the moonlight with the soft lights of the town on the water made it seem like I had entered a fairyland. This place was too good to be true.

Our second day in Positano was a wash, quite literally. It rained all day and my friend and I bought ponchos to protect us from the weather. I also bought some limoncello and two little shot glasses to enjoy it in.

Our third day in Postiano, we were supposed to go to Capri. Sadly, the weather was not so great that morning, so we called off the trip and went for a hike up to Montepertuso. We followed a road up hill and as we walked along a little dog joined us. The dog took us all the way up to the town, where it seemed none of the men had anything better do do than to call out to us, "amoré, tresoro!"

We then headed back down to Positano and had lunch at a nice little café. The weather had started to clear up quite nicely, so we decided to spend some time at the beach. We rented chairs from a man named Guido, who seemed to be having some sort of party on his deck. My friend and I were the only people at the beach that afternoon. After I tested out the cold water, Guido called out to me when I returned to my chair. "Ladies!" I looked at my friend and said something like, "uh, he's calling for us." Guido waved for us to come up to the deck and join his party. It turned out it was Guido's birthday, and he wanted us to join the lunch party since we were the only ones on the beach.

As soon as we sat down, Guido gave us each a plateful of pasta, which we enjoyed (despite having eaten 2 hours earlier). Guido introduced us to his friends and family, all of whom were incredibly tan (according to my diary, I saw the tannest lady I've ever seen). As we ate the pasta, a man who looked like an Italian Gaston (from Beauty and the Beast) showed up with a boombox and began singing opera to Guido. I could not believe what was going on around me, and that I was invited to be a part of it. After the pasta (along with red wine made by one of the attendants), Guido brought out short fat sausages for everyone to eat. My friend and I were getting full, but the rest of the party insisted that we eat the sausage. The old man who liked singing Happy Birthday even made a joke to my friend about "molte salsicce" (lots of sausage), as they somehow forced her to take two sausages.

Now, we all know that no birthday party is complete without dessert, and Guido did not let us down here. There were not one, not two, but three birthday cakes: one limoncello, one mokka, and one chocolate. There was also prosecco, to toast Guido. I'm pretty sure they convinced me to have two glasses of prosecco... And then there were brandied apricots. More food than I have ever eaten in my life, and it was painful. Luckily, the trek up the 700 stairs to our hostel would work some of it off.

So refreshing!
So this is what I think of when I think of limoncello. I think of the limoncello cake at that little party, and the people there who told us we should move to Positano. Who could resist living in such a beautiful place? I also think of the Naples airport, where my little bottle of limoncello was confiscated by the Italian version of the TSA. For a second I contemplated downing the bottle right there in the airport, but I thought better of it. I'm still a little bitter about it. I also think of the old man who stopped my friend and I on our way to the bus stop as we left Positano. "Why you leave?" he asked. "We have to," we replied. "Where you go?" he asked. "Napoli," we replied. He kind of nodded his head and walked on, but we too could not help but ask ourselves why we had to leave.

Where am I going with this? Well, I am making homemade limoncello. Let me tell you now: peeling 15 lemons is no easy task. Granted, I had help for about 5 of them, but I have a blister as proof of what a troubling toil it is.

When making limoncello, however, one must not let the 15 lemons go to waste once they are peeled. I squeezed some of the juice into an ice cube tray to use later, and the rest went into a very tart lemonade. I found that lemonade spiked with Chambord is delicious, and tastes just like raspberry lemonade. My dad, on the other hand, spiked his with whiskey for what he called Lynchberg Lemonade. My SIL, who is with child, added some fresh strawberry jam to hers to make a strawberry lemonade. I think everyone was satisfied with that result.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

You Win Some, You Lose Some and the Easy Cheesecake Ice Cream

Pie a la mode!
My belly dance class has been challenging a bit lately, to say the least. We are learning a new zill pattern (this is the little cymbal-like instrument we play on our fingers), and it is a doozy. We are learning the 2nd and 3rd taweels and they are making me crazy. I don't want to bore you with details, but to put it simply, there is a part where we are supposed to play 7 but some students play 9 so my teacher begins to think that the 9s are 7s and then when I play 7 she thinks it's 5 and that I'm doing it wrong. But I'm not!

*Huff, puff, stomp.*

I can usually keep my cool when I am frustrated. Usually. Last week I actually became so frustrated with putting the new rhythm with my dancing and my face turned so red I had to go outside to cool down. I was embarrassed that my frustration was so apparent, as I prefer to give off the air of being strong and unaffected. So much for that...

This week we worked on the 2nd taweel some more and the teacher had us each, one at a time, play the pattern and put moves to it. When I took the floor, I was very focused on playing and putting accents where appropriate. My teacher felt the need to point out that I was "gearing in" and therefore not entertaining. Only my belly dance teacher can say something that would normally be offensive and totally not offend me. I was not trying to entertain, I was trying to get it right! It was good for a laugh, but still... This is also coming from the woman who said to me a few weeks ago, "you look so beautiful I didn't recognize you!" She's such a sweet lady though, and I know better than to take offense at these things.

Do you want to know what is easy? Cheesecake ice cream. Easiest ice cream I have ever made. Tasty, too! You see, my original plan for this past weekend was to make cheesecake ice cream and a rhubarb compote to go over it. But then strawberry-rhubarb pielets happened. I still wanted cheesecake, though, and this was easy to pull off. It also pairs quite nicely with the pies, especially when they are heated up a little.

Cheesecake Ice Cream
from The Perfect Scoop

8 oz cream cheese
1 lemon
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup half-and-half
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt

Zest the lemon directly into the bowl of a food processor. Cut the cream cheese into chunks and add all remaining ingredients to the food processor. Pulse to combine, until the mixture is smooth.

Chill the mixture in the fridge overnight and then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Pielets

Sweet, tangy filling.
Let me preface this by saying that I did not begin my weekend by thinking that I would make pie. I knew I would make ice cream this weekend, but not pie. I had absolutely no intention of making pie. The Universe, however, had other ideas.

You see, Saturday morning began with a trip to the PSU farmer's market. When we (mom, Frakah, and I) entered the market, we saw some lovely fresh strawberries that just had to be bought. Then I got coffee from Cafe Velo and an egg and cheese biscuit from Pine State Biscuits. Next, Frakah and I picked out some lemon verbena plants to start our herb garden. The real intention of going to the market was to pick out herbs for our garden, so that we could grow, harvest, and dry them for tea. Then came some peonies (because I am obsessed with them). We picked out more herbs (Roman chamomile and some kind of blue mint). And my mom bought more rhubarb. Uh oh.




In truth, I had never had a strawberry rhubarb pie before (at least, not to my recollection). But I know I love rhubarb pie, and I love strawberries. And believe you me, these strawberries were kickass. I couldn't resist nibbling on a few when I was done with my biscuit. Perfect for pie.

For some reason, though, I did not want to make a big pie. I wanted small pies. My mom had some mini pie pans and they just looked so cute sitting on her kitchen counter. I had to use them to make my pie.

I see faces in each pie...
To make a long story short, turning a recipe for a normal-size pie into mini pies is not easy. It really involves some geometry and algebra, but I was in no mood for that. A morning at the market takes a lot out of a girl. That and working in a garden playing with dirt and getting splinters every five seconds. I basically made 1 1/2 the amount for normal pie and wound up with 7 mini pies. I guesstimated the weights for my disks of pie dough and was off by a bit, but it turns out that this dough tastes pretty fantastic even after being handled more than I would have liked.

As for the pies themselves, they were very delicious. Lick the plate delicious. Re-lick the plate and fork just in case I missed a spot delicious. I've never been much of a pie person, but I may have just converted myself.

I believe this pie is mocking me...
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pielets
adapted from The Grand Central Baking Book

To make 7 small pies:
3 disks All-Butter Flaky Pie Dough
1.5 lbs rhubarb stalks
3 cups fresh strawberries
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp four
1.5 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut the rhubarb crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Hull the strawberries and cut them in half. Combine the rhubarb, strawberries and sugars and toss gently until evenly mixed. Combine the cornstarch, flour, and lemon juice to make a paste (it will look nasty, but that's okay). Pour the sludge over the fruit and toss to combine.

Divide your pie dough into 14 even pieces and roll out until each disk has 1-inch extra dough past the edge of the pie dish. Put the bottom crusts in the 7 pie plates, then fill each one with fruit filling until full. Top with another crust and crimp the edges however you like, then cut steam vents in the top.

Place the pies on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan and turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for another 25 minutes. I baked the pies in 2 batches.
Oh, the agony!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Midnight Margaritas and a Sister Slumber Party

Time for a drink!
My sister, Frakah, was feeling a little lonely on Friday, so we decided to have a slumber party with midnight margaritas. We've been wanting to do midnight margaritas since the last time we watched Practical Magic, but I never had the tequila. This time, I had the tequila.

What I didn't have, however, was a blender. Or a cocktail shaker. So these 'ritas were stirred. I took the inspiration for the recipe from a basic margarita recipe and my spiked lemonade. The end result was rather sweet, but tasty. It contains 4 shots of alcohol, but it really didn't taste like it to me...

As for the slumber party, we had wanted to watch an original lineup of TGIF from when we were little (which I recall to be Mr. Belvedere, Full House, Family Matters, and Perfect Strangers). Unfortunately, I do not have any of those shows on DVD and they're not on Hulu, so we watched Never Been Kissed. It was one of my favorite movies when I was in high school, and I still enjoy it now. My sister liked pointing out all of the crop tops (her new obsession).

Unfortunately, we were both rather tired, so the midnight margaritas (which actually happened at about 8:15pm) did not spark any moments of hilarity. I'm holding out hope, though. Next time I make these suckers, hilarity will definitely ensue.

Midnight Margaritas
serves 2

2 lemons
2 limes
4 shots tequila of your choosing
2 shots limoncello
2 shots triple sec
2 shots simple syrup
salt for rimming

Rub a lime on the rim of a tall glass and dip it in the salt. Fill glass with ice.

Squeeze the juice of one lemon into one glass, then squeeze in the juice of one lime. Follow with 2 shots of tequila, 1 shot of limoncello, 1 shot of triple sec, and 1 shot simple syrup. Repeat with the other glass and remaining ingredients. Stir and serve. Bottoms up!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My First Double-Crust Pie: Rhubarb Pie

A yummy slice of pie.
I've actually never made a fruit pie before. Granted, rhubarb might not actually be a fruit, but this was still a first for me. It's funny because I have certainly thought about making fruit pies many times in the past, particularly after watching Waitress and Pushing Daisies. What has held me back from making pies has been the crust. Crust-making seems so intimidating to me. You have to have the temperature just right, not handle the dough too much, and a whole bunch of other things to ensure that you don't screw it up. I tend to avoid anything where there is a good chance I might screw up (perfectionist much?).

Well, I was silly. It's quite interesting when I think about it. I tend to build things up and create a lot of anxiety within myself surrounding various activities, basically scaring the crap out of myself, and then when the time comes, it turns out that I really had nothing to be afraid of. Kind of like how I was terrified to dance to disco music Friday night. And so it was with pie crust.

Granted, I did have the best baking book ever coaxing me along (thank you The Grand Central Baking Book). But I like to think that my baking skills are good enough to handle any well-written crust recipe. I am lucky enough to be gifted in the kitchen, and I am delighted to know that that skill extends to crusts.

The key to this crust recipe is chilling the dough pretty much every step of the way. Never let the butter get warm, don't handle it too much, and don't add too much liquid. The end result is amazing- a very buttery, crispy, flaky crust.

Before the oven. Cute, no?
As for the rhubarb filling, I'm not sure how to describe it. Maybe "good god, this is good." The kind of pie where you have to take it to a private corner of the kitchen and have a moment alone with it. I picked up some beautiful big, red stalks of rhubarb at the farmer's market yesterday, and let me tell you, it was some good rhubarb. The original recipe for the pie calls for all white sugar, but I substituted one-third of brown sugar because I love me some brown sugar (cue Rolling Stones).

As I was eating this pie, it made me think how I would like to be the kind of person people visit for a slice of pie and a chat. Does anyone visit anybody for dessert and a chat these days? If not, people need to start. Seriously, you should come visit me for a chat and some pie. I think I'm a decent listener and a good pie-maker (unless this was a fluke), so I don't see what the hold-up is. What do you think?

Rhubarb Pie
from The Grand Central Baking Book

All-Butter Flaky Pie Dough
makes two 10-12 oz disks

12.5oz all-purpose flour
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp salt
2 sticks good-quality butter
1/3 cup ice water (no ice)
1 tbsp lemon juice

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Cut the cold butter into 1/2 inch cubes and toss with the flour mixture. Combine the ice water and lemon juice in a measuring cup. Pour the dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the texture becomes mealy, with butter pieces ranging in size from lentils to lima beans. Make sure the temperature of the mixture is still cold- if not, chill in the fridge. Next, add 3/4 of the liquid while running the food processor. Stop and squeeze a handful of dough; if the dough holds together, you are done. If the dough is crumbly or dry, add a tablespoon at a time of remaining liquid until the dough just comes together when squeezed.

Pour half of the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Using the sides of the plastic, squeeze the dough into a ball, then flatten it to a disk. Wrap and refrigerate. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Allow to chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Roll out one disk of dough on a lightly floured, flat surface. Roll out until the dough has a diameter about an inch greater than the top of the pie dish. Fold the dough in quarters and gently slide it into the pie plate and unfold. Refrigerate.

The finished product.
Rhubarb Filling

1 1/2 lbs rhubarb stalks
7 oz combination white sugar
3.5 oz brown sugar
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut the rhubarb into 3/4-inch pieces; you will have about 6 cups. Add the sugars, flour, vanilla, and salt and toss to combine.

Add the rhubarb mixture on top of the first layer of pie crust. Refrigerate.

Meanwhile, roll out the second disk of pie dough, to about the same diameter as the other disk. Carefully lift this dough and place it on top of the filled pie crust. Tuck the top edges of dough under the bottom dough and pinch together. Flute the crust using a fork. Next, make five slits in the top dough with a knife.

Bake for 30 minutes, then rotate the dish and turn the heat down to 350 and cook for another 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the rhubarb is bubbly.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Disco, Sunshine, and Spiked Basil Lemonade

Ah, lemonade.
First things first. Disco, everyone's favorite guilty pleasure. At first, I though I was the only one who loves disco, but it turns out I was wrong. Everybody loves disco. You see, a few weeks ago I was putting together a set of belly dance music for my performance at a cafe across the river. I was not restricted to traditional belly dance music, so I knew right away that I wanted to dance to Careless Whisper by George Michael, but I didn't know what music to use for the rest of my set. Then, when I was listening to disco for fun, I realized a lot of it is belly dance-able. So I got to thinking... Disco belly dance! Yes!

Fast forward to yesterday, before the show, when I was totally nervous, convinced that I was the only one who loved disco, and if I had a non-disco-loving crowd, I was going to bomb. I had a glass of wine to calm my nerves and watched the first half of the show. Everyone was dancing to something different. The audience was being very receptive. I no longer felt terrified, though still a little nervous. Once I was dressed and veiled-up, I took a deep breath and I was ready. Cue music (I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor). With the first tinkling of the piano, I opened the curtain and made my entrance. When everyone realized what I was doing, and the crowd was excited about it, I danced harder than I think I've ever danced before. Disco was a hit. I am so glad that I stuck with my gut and danced to music I loved; nothing makes me feel more alive than putting on a show for a great crowd. See video for performance: 

I feel like I should also add a recipe to this post, so I will share my recipe for spiked basil lemonade, which I made up today. We are lucky enough here in the PNW to have a weekend of heat and sunshine, so it is the perfect time for a cold lemon drink. I have a basil plant that seems to be growing faster than Jack's beanstalk (okay, maybe not that fast), so I wanted to use some of the leaves in a cocktail. I also had a lemon in my fridge which I thought I should use, and thus spiked basil lemonade was born. Oh yes, spiked. I added some limoncello to this baby. Makes for a very refreshing beverage on a nice sunny day such as this. The basil didn't really infuse the lemonade with its flavor, so next time I will try muddling it (I must learn to muddle first, however). But when I chewed on the basil and it combined with the lemon in my mouth, it somehow reminded me of my late grandmother's house. This is a must-try, y'all. And it is ridiculously easy.

Spiked Basil Lemonade

Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup water
7 basil leaves
1 shot limoncello
1 tbsp turbinado sugar

In a measuring cup, pour 1 cup water, lemon juice, and limoncello. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar starts to dissolve. Tear up half of the basil leaves and add to the bottom of a glass. Add some ice cube, and tear up the rest of the basil leaves and throw on top of the ice cubes. Pour in the lemon juice mixture and stir. Enjoy!