Time to Vote!

Some really great entries came in for the Italian Rainbow Cookies contest! I wish I could have posted them all, but I had to pick five and here they are. Most of the entrants included a little background info with their excerpts, so I posted a bit of that too for context. Read over the entries, decide on your favorite, and then enter your vote. The excerpt that receives the most votes by the end of the week wins and the person who sent it in will win a batch of cookies. A second winner will be chosen randomly from all who entered the contest.



So tell me...which is your favorite?

1.) Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary

Background: “One of my favorite scenes is when Ramona brings a hard-boiled egg to school because it is the fad to bring them to lunch and crack the shell on your head before peeling. Unfortunately, Ramona's mom forgot to hard boil the egg and she literally ends up with egg on her face. In this passage, Ramona discusses the importance of the lunchtime food fad.”

The excerpt:

“This week hard-boiled eggs were popular with third-graders, a fad started by Yard Ape, who sometimes brought his lunch. Last week the fad had been individual bags of corn chips. Ramona had been left out of that fad because her mother objected to spending money on junk food. Surely her mother would not object to a nutritious hard-boiled egg. {...} Ramona did not feel it necessary to explain to her mother that she still did not like hard-boiled eggs, not even when they had been dyed for Easter. Neither did she like soft-boiled eggs, because she did not like slippery-slithery food. Ramona liked devilled eggs but devilled eggs were not the fad, at least not this week."

2.) Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Background: “I had never tasted udon prior to reading the book. I started reading the book on a trip to Eastern Europe I took last year. The book really made me want to try it. By a stroke of luck a Frankfurt airport restaurant served udon, and I enjoyed some during my 18 hour layover (!!!). The associational memories are very strong.”

The excerpt:

“At the station I pop into the first little diner that catches my eye, and eat my fill of udon. Born and raised in Tokyo, I haven't had much udon in my life. But now I'm in Udon Central - Shikoku - and confronted with noodles like nothing I've ever seen. They're chewy and fresh, and the soup smells great, really fragrant. And talk about cheap. It all tastes so good I order seconds, and for the first time in who knows how long, I'm happily stuffed. Afterward I plop myself down on a bench in the plaza next to the station and gaze up at the sunny sky. I'm free, I remind myself. Like the clouds floating across the sky, I'm all by myself, totally free.”

3.) A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter

Background: A children’s book from 1909.

The excerpt:

“She lifted the cover and perfumes from the land of spices rolled up. In one end of the basket lay ten enormous sugar cakes the tops of which had been liberally dotted with circles cut from stick candy. The candy had melted in baking and made small transparent wells of waxy sweetness and in the centre of each cake was a fat turtle made from a raisin with cloves for head and feet. The remainder of the basket was filled with big spiced pears that could be held by their stems while they were eaten. The girls shrieked and attacked the cookies, and of all the treats Elnora offered perhaps none was quite so long remembered as that.”

4.) Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Background: “Here is my entry…it's one that has managed to make me hungry since the first time I read it, back in American Literature my junior year of high school. Without further ado, the chowder scene from Moby Dick…”

The excerpt:

“Upon making known our desires for a supper and a bed, Mrs. Hussey, postponing further scolding for the present, ushered us into a little room, and seating us at a table spread with the relics of a recently concluded repast, turned round to us and said-- Clam or Cod? What's that about Cods, ma'am? said I, with much politeness. Clam or Cod? she repeated. A clam for supper? a cold clam; is that what you mean, Mrs. Hussey? says I; but that's a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter time, ain't it, Mrs Hussey? [...] Queequeg, said I, do you think that we can make out a supper for us both on one clam? However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favorite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched it with great expedition: when leaning back a moment and bethinking me of Mrs. Hussey's clam and cod announcement, I thought I would try a little experiment.

Stepping to the kitchen door, I uttered the word cod with great emphasis, and resumed my seat. In a few moments the savory steam came forth again, but with a different flavor, and in good time a fine cod-chowder was placed before us. We resumed business; and while plying our spoons in the bowl, thinks I to myself, I wonder now if this here has any effect on the head? What's that stultifying saying about chowder-headed people?”

5.) A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Background: “a little Parisian Earnest...”

The excerpt:

"The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drove the rain against the big green autobus at the terminal and the Cafe' des Amateurs was crowded and the windows misted over from the heat and the smoke inside. It was a sad evilly run cafe' where the drunkards of the quarter crowded together and I kept away from it because of the smell of drunkenness. The men and women who frequented the Amateurs stayed drunk all the time, or all of the time they could afford it, mostly on wine which they bought by the half-liter or liter. Many strangely named apertifs were advertised, but few people could afford them except as a foundation to build their wine drunks on. The women drunkards were called powrottes which meant female rummies.

The Cafe' des Amateurs was the cesspool of the rue Mouffetard, that wonderful narrow crowded market street which led into the Place Contrescarpe."

P.S.


If you shop at my Whole Foods, I owe you an apology. I cleaned them out of Meyer lemons today. I took all but three, I think.

The basket kept getting smaller and I was scared there wouldn't be any left next time I shopped so I just kept filling my bag. "Just one more," I would say. "One more." Six pounds later I finally stopped. A woman near the bananas looked at me funny. The cashier raised her eyebrow. I just smiled, visions of tarts, curds, and preserves dancing in my head.

Oh! And do you like my beautiful new bowl? Look out for it in my blog posts over the next few days. There is a story behind it...

Pink is the New Orange


My fingers are sticky.

I've spent the past hour eating oranges. Two oranges, to be exact. And perhaps indulging would be more accurate.

The first one I devoured in a matter of seconds, just moments after coming home from the store. My bags of groceries still mostly unpacked on the floor, I tore into the bottom of one and pulled them out: oranges. Cara Cara navel oranges, to be exact. From Venezuela.

I'd heard rumors and wanted to see for myself, so, with a quick swipe of the knife I revealed what the sign at the store had promised: pink flesh. Pink! Glossy, tiny little sacs straining with sweet citrus.

I took my first bite.

Forget blood oranges and mandarins and Clementines and plain old orange-oranges. THIS is an orange. My teeth pressed into the rosy flesh, bursting through the skin. Sweet juice squirted into the air hitting me on my nose, running down my lips around my chin and along my neck. The whole fruit disappeared in seconds and I instantly wanted more.

I took my time with the second one. Cutting it in half, then slicing it into perfect pink rounds. The juice was all over by this point. I licked my thumb and was surprised by the taste. Grapefruit? I sniffed a slice. Orange. Then I licked the rind. Grapefruit! I bit. Orange again. Incredible! Even the thick pith coating the inside of the rind is sweet--chewy, juicy, and pleasant with hints of something earthy. Like a mushroom, almost. A sweet mushroom.

I have one orange left and I'm my mouth is already watering for more. I lick my lips and roll the heavy fruit around in my hand. I'll wait until tomorrow, I think, as I place it back in the bowl. I make a mental note to buy more.

A Little More Time

I've extended the deadline for my Italian Rainbow Cookie contest to next week to allow more people to get their entries in. Here are the rules:

1. Pick out a great food scene that you've read and loved. It can be from a novel, poem, play, memoir, short story--whatever! Only requirement is that it have been in print (no movie scenes or song lyrics). The scene could be as short as a couple lines or as long as an entire chapter--no limits.

2. E-mail me your scene and the reference (i.e. "Like Water for Chocolate," chapter one, page 2-4)

3. Come back on the 31st to vote for your favorite.

Easy, huh? Also remember that I'm going to randomly pick a second winner from ALL who enter. If you're not that literarily inclined, you can also gain entry by posting about the contest on your blog and sending me the link.

I'm accepting entries until next Friday, the 28th. I'll post the top five that following monday for voting.

Each winner gets a full batch of Italian Rainbow cookies in a lovely ribboned gift box.

Sound good?

To inspire you, here is a scene I read just the other day in a book called Trail of Crumbs. It's by Kim Sunee and it's wonderful:


"He popped open the Champagne and poured two glasses. He dipped his forefinger into my glass, touched the back of each of my ears with a drop of the cold liquid, and offered a toast. Olivier winked, and I could feel everything melting, the space between my legs. I leaned back and closed my eyes, ready for him to kiss me, but he filled my mouth with a sweetness I had never known before, deeper than honey. I opened my eyes to a handful of fresh fat figs dripping with their own milk. He whispered that we would roast them with red wine, taste them with acacia blossoms he would fry and powder with fine sugar.

...I pushed the hair off my face, and the sweetness from the wild figs stuck to my fingers and lips. I licked them again, willing myself to memorize that full-mouth flavor."


And now it's your turn...

Ina Garten Likes My Cookies

Or rather, I'm pretty sure she would like them, given the chance to taste them. A chance we would have both had, if only I'd known that she was going to be making an appearance in my building today. My briefly-entertained fantasies of impressing Ina into friendship with my cookies were dashed when I realized that I did not have any cookies with me. Gone were the daydreams of being invited out to her fancy Hamptons tea parties with the charming local gourmands.

And what was Ina doing here in the first place, you wonder? Well, every so often, the upper-ups at the massive corporation that I work for (and which shall continue to go unnamed) bring in a celebrity guest chef to stand in our cafeteria shaking hands and signing autographs. Some of you might remember the tizzy I was in over our last (sexy) guest: Rocco (sexy) Dispirito. Ina didn't inspire quite the same sexually-charged frenzy, but there was most definitely a bit of excitement in the air. All the cafeteria was abuzz with hushed words about Ina, Jeffrey, and their lovely Hamptons home. I admit that, like Rocco before her, I've never been a huge fan in terms of her culinary abilities, but I do occasionally watch her show because it's on and because I like how much she talks about her husband Jeffrey who is perpetually out of town on "business."

(Side note: I'm not quite sure what Jeffrey is always doing away on business. Fortunately, Ina has lots of friends to keep her company in his absence. These friends all seem to be stunning gay men who own gourmet cheese shops and wineries in the Hamptons, and are always more than happy to show up hostess gift in hand to her nifty themed dinner parties ("make your own pizza!" "retro comfort food!" "grown-up sundaes!").)

Though my encounter with Ina was much more eloquent than the giggly mumbling I managed before Rocco, it took all my will power to resist asking about Jeffrey and what he's eating now that *she* is the one out of town. I imagine she left a roast in the oven and some homemade ice cream in the freezer. Perhaps even a few freshly baked scones and home-churned butter for breakfast. I spent much of my time in line debating the question that has plagued me for ages regarding the contessa; is it eee-nah or ayy-nah? Fortunately she answered the question for me when she introduced herself and shook my hand with her own chubby warm hand. I promptly forgot the correct pronunciation, so taken was I with the Contessa's warm presence. She was gracious enough to pose for a photo, which I promise to post soon despite the fact that I came out looking much less than fabulous. Awkward and hunched over would be more accurate actually; she's short and I'm not. Also, I was subtly trying to hide my chicken Ceasar club lettuce wrap behind her back to keep it out of the picture. Not the easiest thing when one is in the presence of celeb chef glory.

As for my cookies, well, as threatened: a springtime twist on the classic Italian rainbow cookies! (Yes. I'm obsessed).

I played around with the colors and flavors and came up with this yummy white chocolate, raspberry, and lemon curd version that might actually be even BETTER than the original! Ina didn't get a chance to taste them, but I did bring in some tiny samples for my coworkers.

"It's like crack," I said as I handed out the bite-sized pieces. "The first one is free; just let me know if you want any more."

I've already sold three batches of them so I'm thinking the business model works. And yes, I was entirely influenced by the American Gangster DVD that arrived from NetFlix this past weekend.

xoxo

Alejandra

P.S. She wasn't actually barefoot. I'm not really sure what that whole thing is about in the first place.

P.P.S. Doesn't "Ina Garten" sound like "In a Garden"? Which is just perfect since most of her parties are actually thrown in her garden...

P.P.P.S. Buy your own batch of my springtime version and regular italian rainbow cookies here.

My Cake in a Box


I'm delivering my first custom cake order tomorrow afternoon and am beyond excited. I just finished packaging it all up and it looked so pretty that i had to share. The request was a bit different--the customer wanted a naked Italian rainbow cake. Yes, I said naked. Meaning three layers of cake plus filling, but sans ganache. I tried talking her into the chocolate as it really does make the cake, but she refused. I can only hope that she's planning to frost it herself.

It came out beautifully, though (for a naked cake). Round and with three beautiful layers in pastel pink, yellow, and green. Green on top for St. Paddy's of course. She said she didn't care about the colors or the shape so I took that as license to play around a bit. It smells incredible with a rich almond scent, and just looks moist and wonderful. I had to bat my parents away from the cakes when they came by for dinner tonight. I think my dad just wanted to curl up and take a nap in the almond goodness that is now my apartment.

I tucked it into a box wrapped with wax paper and nestled in a bed made out of my new gorgeous tissue paper. I am also including personal thank you or gift notes with my cake on this fantastic cream and chocolate brown Crane stationary I bought ages ago, but never quite got around to using.

Interested in getting your own cake in a box? Well, you know what to do!

(And yes, I apologize for using that tired old joke, but really. How could I possibly resist?!)

P.S. Why haven't you entered my contest to win your own box of little cakes yet? Get on it; only a few days left to get your entries in! And as a reminder, there are TWO ways to win. Either send in an entry or just post about the the contest on your blog and send me the link. It's easy and the prize is oh-so-worth it!

My First Week

My first week in business is officially complete and I could not be happier! I got eight orders in--five through the site plus three outside--and the results have all been wonderful. The first few orders were delivered yesterday and I'm shipping out a second batch on Monday. The Italian Rainbows have the been the crowd favorite, but I've also sold two orders of ginger financier madeleines and got my first local commission for a custom Italian Rainbow cake to be delivered on Monday afternoon.

Even more exciting (well, to me at least): my custom boxes and special tissue paper arrived this morning! They actually arrived at some point yesterday afternoon, but my super was holding them hostage while I was out spending way too much money at Club Monaco (latest store obsession). For the packaging, I picked out a beautiful, high-quality shoe box-style box covered in glossy white paper and two beautiful reams of waxed food-grade tissue in chocolate brown and hot pink.

The cookies will fit nicely nestled into the perfectly-sized box and it's sturdy enough to help keep them from getting crushed in transit. I'm toying with the idea of ribbons or some kind of bow situation. More about that later...

I also had a set of shop labels custom-made with my store name and website in pink, brown, and white lettering and damask from another fabulous Etsy seller. I am (impatiently) looking forward to receiving those on Monday so that I can include them with the next batch of orders. The designer sent me a proof last week and I'm delighted with the results. I think they'll look perfect with the boxes and tissue paper colors. See for yourself... Positively edible, right?!

Business cards courtesy of Moo.com are next on the agenda as are a few more marketing ideas. I've been telling everybody about the store and am looking forward to some promised orders for next week. Even my father, who (like me) is a Harry & David addict, decided to use my little shop to send some spring gifts to some of his bosses and colleagues over at 30 Rock. We're talking corporate bigwigs here, and if there is one thing that I've learned from growing up with a news anchor dad is that NY isn't Hollywood. TV people *love* to eat. So fingers crossed on that!

The treats are the most important part, of course. I'm still tweaking the menu selections, but have recently added my flourless tortes into the mix and am working out a Springtime version, just perfect for Easter, of my rainbow cookies made with lemon curd between the pastel-colored almond sponge layers and all topped off with rich white chocolate frosting. Yum! I'm offering special rush availability on these so that you can get them in time by Easter as long as you order by 6 PM on Tuesday so head on over to the store to get your order in now!

As a reminder, this is the LAST week to get your entries in to win a FREE batch of these incredible cookies, now available in my beautiful custom gift boxes. You can read the detailed rules here, but the short version is: send me your absolute favorite food scene from a novel, story, or poem, along with the reference and you'll be entered to win. Mention the contest on your blog, website, or MySpace/Facebook profile and you'll get extra chances. No purchase necessary; all I want is your yummy food scenes. E-mail me at alwaysorderdessert (at) gmail (dot) com with "Contest Submission" in the subject line.

As for what else I've been up to... Well, I've got some overdue recipes that I need to post. Look for them over the coming days. I'll be back-dating them to save room for new stuff, but will add the links here so you can find easily.

Coconut Meatballs with Coconut Rum Dipping Sauce

As a little girl I had a weird hatred of meat in any form other than ground or buried in sauce. I was terrified of tasting or seeing anything even slightly pink or grisly or otherwise indicative that what I was chewing had once belonged to a living, breathing creature. So I had my mom bury my meat in thick sauces or grind it until it was barely recognizable.

One of my favorites during this (thankfully) brief period of questionable edible judgment, was meatballs. I'm not talking about the big, tender Italian-mama meatballs the size of a fist that simmer all (Sun)day in a giant vat of marinara sauce. No, these were Puerto Rican-mama meatballs--small (about an inch in diameter) and almost crispy on the outside, salty and sweet with mushy raisins and strong hints of peppers and onions. My mom would make them and serve them with rice or vegetables and then leave a plate of them on the counter top for my dad to munch on when he got in late from the 11pm broadcast. If I didn't eat them all before he got home, that is.

Those were my favorite. Cold from sitting out on the slightly grease-soaked paper towel covered plate. Covered with another plate and stolen one-by-one while leaning against the counter in the darkened kitchen. What more could you want?

I still whip up a batch of these for myself those nights at the end of the week when I'm exhausted and craving meat, but have had no time to do groceries. I always have a pound or two of ground beef in the freezer and this is precisely why. I'll usually eat half for dinner and then place the rest in a Ziploc to take to work for lunch the next day.

The savory sweet combo is key, but never really having been a fan of raisins, I decided to use coconut flour (ground unsweetened dessicated coconut) instead. I put it in the mix and then coated them before frying in olive oil in a hot skillet. When you're all done, use some rum and coconut milk to deglaze the pan making for a delicious little dipping (or "pouring all over") sauce.

I served these with roasted Brussels sprouts the other night, not because of any particularly good paring between the two, but just because I love Brussels sprouts. Serve yours with whatever you want--whether it's pasta or cornflakes. It's not about creating a killer menu. It's about what tastes good to you. And that's the whole point of these single girl dinners.


Coconut Meatballs with Coconut Rum Dipping Sauce
I used pork and beef to make these because it's what I had, but you can use any combination that you'd like--experiment! Lamb and veal are both two fabulous options to try.

Ingredients

For meatballs:
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 large green bell pepper, chopped fine
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef (not lean)
1 pound ground pork (not lean)
2/3 plus 1/3 cup coconut flour (unsweetened)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup minced fresh oregano
1 large whole egg

For sauce:
1/4 cup dark rum
1 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar or equivalent
2 tablespoons butter
1 pinch red pepper flakes
salt

To make:
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy cast iron skillet (preferably well-seasoned) and add the chopped onion and bell peppers. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool.

2. In a large glass bowl, combine the ground meat with the onion and peppers, 2/3 cup of the coconut, oregano, salt, nutmeg, and parsley.

3. Use your hands to form the mixture into 1 to 1.5 inch meatballs (you'll get about 65 or so).

4. Roll each meatball in the remaining coconut flour and set aside on a separate plate.

5. In the same skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown the meatballs in batches (about 10 - 12 at a time), adding the oil as necessary.

6. Transfer meatballs with a slotted spoon as browned to a baking dish and once all are in, place in the oven for 20 minutes until completely cooked through.

For the sauce

1. While the meatballs are in the oven, bring the skillet up to medium heat again and add the rum. Use a wooden spoon to stir and scrape all the bits of coconut and other good stuff in the sauce. Once the rum has reduced by about half, add the coconut milk, sugar, and red pepper, and continue stirring. Let this reduce again to half and add the butter to thicken the mix a bit. Let this cook down about a third, stirring continuously. You'll end up with an amazing, creamy golden colored sauce. Add salt to taste and remove from heat.

Serve the meatballs over a bed of lettuce as an appetizer with the sauce on the side, or serve as a main course with the sauce drizzled over and your favorite vegetable on the side. Or just eat them one by one straight from the pan while leaning against the counter and watching Grey's Anatomy reruns. That works too...

Pepper Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream


One of the things I love about hotels--good hotels--is that, if you ask nicely, you can usually get just about anything you want. It was with this in mind that I sat crosslegged on a hotel bed about a year and a half ago, room service menu in left hand and telephone receiver in the right. We wanted ice cream, but it wasn't on the menu.

"How could they not have ice cream?!" There was chocolate cake, cheesecake, creme brulee, and some kind of fruit cup situation, but no ice cream.

I refused to accept this and dialed room service.

"Good evening, Mrs. X," the man on the other line said, referring to me by the last name of the person who was registered in the room.

"Not Mrs. And also not X," I said with a bit of a laugh. Mr. X rolled his eyes at me from the floor where he sat packing his suitcase. "Great," he muttered. "Now the hotel staff thinks I'm having an affair..."

I shushed him so I could concentrate on my mission. On the other end, Room Service man seemed a bit flustered by my correction and was apologizing profusely. "No worries," I replied. "But you can make it up to me..."

Eager to please, he asked how he could help.

"I want ice cream, but it's not on your menu. Are you sure you don't have ice cream anywhere in this hotel?"

"Well..." he hesitated. "Let me see what I can find. I'll call you in a moment."

A few minutes later the phone rang. "Hello Mrs...er...Miss. I found some ice cream in the restaurant. They are not really available for room service, but we are happy to make an exception. Would you like to hear the flavors?"

I agreed excitedly and told him to go ahead. He listed them slowly, giving me time to repeat them for Mr. X. "Vanilla, Coffee, Chocolate, Pink Peppercorn, and Strawberry." He gave me a moment to decide and I looked up at Mr. X excitedly.

"No," he said, even before I had the chance to voice my request. "We're not getting Pink Peppercorn."

"Please?" I begged, doing my best attempt at a pout.

"No. No weird flavors."

I ordered the coffee and vanilla, relenting only because I knew it was his last night in town. The dessert arrived quickly, elegant quenelles arranged with a sprinking of berries and fresh whipped cream. I remember enjoying the coffee, which was creamy and seemed to melt quickly on the plate, but in the back of my mind I still longed to try the pepper flavor. That night I vowed to do so as soon as possible.
_______

As soon as possible turned out to be couple week ago when I found myself with a gallon of milk that absolutely had to be used, but not much in the way of flavorings. I considered an old-fashioned milk ice cream but then my eyes fell on a bottle of peppermint extract that had somehow disappeared among the spices. My brain instantly popped into action, remembering the bundle of soon-to-be-wilted mint leftover in the fridge after the previous weekend's mojitos. I pushed aside the extract and instead pulled down a bottle of whole black peppercorns.

"Pepper Mint!" I shouted to my empty kithcen as I quickly set to work, crushing and simmering and stirring and straining. I started with a custard base that quickly took on a lovely creamy beige hue. Once the mixture was cool and ready to freeze, I went to pull out the ice cream maker base when I noticed the long narrow box of Michel Cluizel single origin chocolate squares I'd recently received as a gift from the aforementioned Mr. X.

"Full circle!" I shouted once again, pulling out four or five of the little squares. I crushed these into rough chips and tossed them into the ice cream maker about five minutes before the end.

The result was breathtaking. The coolness of the fresh mint hits first, followed quickly by the creamy sweetness. It's not until a second or two later that the flavor truly blooms with a spicy tickly that seems to flow all the way down the throat.

I served this for friends who were actually quite surprised by it. One friend literally changed her opinion of the ice cream from one second to the next as it transformed in her mouth. It's absolutely an acquired taste; I think it's delicious, but one of my friends could not hide the look of horror on her face. "I like the first part," she said. An observation that I actually found quite fantastic as it gives evidence to the fact that this ice cream really does feel like 2 or 3 different kinds in one.



Pepper Mint Chocolate Chip Ice CreamThis pairs quite nicely with a light chocolate cake as you'll probably want something to tame the flavors. It's a strong ice cream and can stand up quite well to rich winter meals.


Ingredients
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2.5 tablespoons whole black or pink peppercorns, crushed with a mortar or bottom of a heavy skillet
2 cups fresh mint, roughly ripped apart
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips or 1 chopped dark chocolate bar (the best you can find--don't even *think* about using Hershey's)

1. Heat the cream, milk, sugar, mint, and roughly crushed peppercorns over medium heat. Simmer gently, taking care not to let boil for about 20 minutes.

2.Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks in a medium bowl and set aside.

3. Temper the hot mixture into the eggs by slowly pouring about 1/2 cup of the cream at a time in a delicate stream while whisking constantly into the eggs. Once the egg mixture has been brought up in temperature, strain back into the saucepan and return to medium-low heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens.

4. Let the custard cool, and then chill in the fridge four about 2 hours until completely cold. (You can speed this up by placing the custard in a bowl over an ice bath and stirring constantly.)

5. Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s directions. About five minutes before the end, toss in the chocolate and finish processing.

6. Place the finished ice cream in an air-tight container and freeze for at least a couple hours to harden.

Infusions

My recent bursts of voracious citrus shopping have left me with far more blood oranges and Meyer lemons than I can possibly consume. In the past couple months I've worked my way through a bevy of citrus concoctions: marinades, salad dressings, flavored mayonnaise, court bouillons, and citrus ice creams.

All delicious, but as the season is really starting to wind down the time has come to preserve these lovely winter flavors. I've got orange and lemon juice cubes in the freezer and am fully intending on getting myself over to Zabar's this week to pick up a few canning jars for Moroccan preserved lemons and blood orange marmalade. Candied rinds are a given, but I really want to try and capture the flavors in as many different ways as possible. And what better way of capturing these pure, brilliant flavors than with infusions!?

I'm experimenting with three different kinds right now: blood orange vodka, Meyer lemon olive oil, and (just because) a blackberry-spice vodka with cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom.

These are my first attempts so I'm really looking forward to seeing how they turn out. I should start to get results in about a week--just in time for BFF Matt to help me sample when he arrives from Vegas for our two-day mini-visit. In the meantime, I'm quite taken with the little mad scientist lab I have building in my kitchen. Few things more exciting than multi-colored elixirs brewing in glass jars of varying shapes and sizes. Once I get my canning projects started it's going to look even more intriguing!

Hmmm... Now all I need now is a handsome male assistant to rinse my beakers and light my Bunsen burners... Any volunteers?

Thank God for the Corner Bodega

I turn into something of a hedonist the moment I enter a grocery store. I can even feel the change as I get closer and closer. The store I frequent most is the Whole Foods located in the basement of a fancy complex near my office. I always start out with a clear purpose, walking quickly while bracing against the wind, mentally telling myself that "I'm only picking up a couple things--some chicken breasts, a few vegetables, perhaps a bit of ham." I plan out sensible meals, well-budgeted meals that will keep me fed and happy for the duration of the week.

And then I step onto the escalator.

Something happens to me in those 40 seconds as I descend into the bustling store. All sense of reason and propriety seem to drift out of me, only to be replaced by some kind of epicurean insanity. Once in the store, I pull off my big fur hat and shove my gloves in my giant purse. These are deposited in the cart (never a basket) and off I go!

Darting through the aisles in no particular order. Sea scallops! Do I get 5 or 6? Enough for a meal...oh no...I need an entire pound. And I'll take a bag of mussels too... Thick slabs of cured bacon from the butcher. Fresh Italian sausage (spicy and sweet). A few veal shanks. Some tenderloin. And a bit of prosciutto while we're at it (imported; never domestic).

Blood oranges (get them while I can...) And Meyer lemons! As many as possible (they won't be around for long, after all...) Olive oil! I could just go with the perfectly decent Whole Foods brand, but why when there are so many other gorgeous (expensive) options. And why not grab a bottle of white truffle oil while I'm at it? And perhaps some walnut oil, too? The spices are next: a few vanilla beans, some saffron, smoked paprika, pink peppercorns, fleur de sel... You know! The basics...

I'm a sucker for preserved fish: smoked salmon fillets, peppered herring, cans of sardines, and a jar or two of imported tuna--ventresca cut, of course. Those buttery chunks straight from the belly of the tuna packed in rich olive oil. Mmmm... (Oh...never mind the mercury!).

On to the refrigerator case where I stock up on pates, freshly marinated artichokes, creamy logs of goat cheese, and--my favorite--half-sours. Oh yes...those glorious green quasi-cucumbers bobbing around in the briny water. God! They even *look* crisp!

On to the cheeses--a tiny wheel of brie, of course. Some English cheddar. A wedge of parmeggiano for grating. Maybe some pecorino or manchego (don't forget the quince paste and marcona almonds!).

And somehow I'm back in produce--I grab some red pepper, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Then the herbs: cilantro, some parsley, a few sprigs of rosemary, some fresh bay leaves, and my current favorite herb: lemon-thyme. Try it! It's citrus-scented thyme (and it's completely natural). Really---I think it's quite possibly the only reason why chicken even exists: mash into butter and stuff it under the skin of a well-washed roaster. Some kosher salt. A few generous cracks of pepper. You'll thank me...

By now I'm guessing you see the trend? I subsist off one gigantic antipasto platter! I lug these spoils home in those ugly but wonderfully convenient recycled bags with the long handle that fits perfectly over my arm. My shoulders usually feel like they're going to fall off by the time I get off my train, but nothing--NOTHING--beats that fantastic feeling after I put all the food away and realize that I have everything I need to make several incredible meals.

Um...everything but eggs. And milk. Butter. Trash bags... Damn! Where did I put the keys again?

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