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Tuesday, May 28, 2013


As a kid growing up on my grandparent's Western Kentucky farm, my favorite summer days always involved homemade ice cream.   We didn't have it all the time, so it was a treat when my dad hauled the rickety old wooden hand-cranked ice cream maker from the dank cellar. Without fanfare, he'd prepare the ice cream base, flavor it with whatever was in season, and load the canister before covering it with rock salt and crushed ice. He'd crank the handle until the cream-filled canister glided smoothly through the melting ice before turning the wheel over to me. Churning ice cream was important work. While I loved the messy fun, he'd take over and finish the job when it got too hard for me to crank the cream. After wiping away the salty ice, we'd slide open the lid and sneak the first few bites of our homemade ice cream. Churner's treats. Secrets.

One year, out of the blue, my dad used an old hand drill, duct tape, and a long industrial extension cord to rig a very primitive hands-off electric ice cream maker.  It was a revelation. Although it was loud and absurd looking, his zany contraption did the trick. We were modernized.

When Michael and I bought our old Victorian house several summers ago, we jumped through hoops to make the old house feel like home. After filling the house, yard, garage, and deck with all the familiar trappings, we shopped around for an ice cream maker.  We looked at several fancy models before bowing to nostalgia and buying a clunky up-dated electric version of the ancient cranker. While it served us well throughout that long hot summer, we carelessly forgot about it and left it exposed on the back deck, letting it succumb to the elements. It's now a recycled retro-fitted tomato planter. Win.

Last summer, in lieu of anniversary gifts, we picked up a spiffy counter-top ice cream maker. The sleek modern box didn't scream nostalgia. It still doesn't,  but it cranks out damn tasty ice cream.

I'm not much of a baker or dessert maker, but I do love making ice cream. With so many variations and methods, ice cream has no boundaries. The possibilities are endless.

The first summer berries.
Strawberry Ice Cream.

Basic custard. I warmed 2 cups of Chaney's milk and heavy cream over a medium low flame. After whisking 4 large egg yolks, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 cups sugar until everything was well blended, I tempered the sugary yolks with a few ladles of the simmering cream before pouring the mix back into the pot with the remaining warmed cream. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, I cooked the custard until it thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon.  I pulled the custard from the heat, stirred in 2 teaspoons of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Paste, cooled it down over an ice bath, covered it with plastic wrap, and slid it into the refrigerator to chill.

There are debates about whether strawberries should be cooked, pureed, or strained before making ice cream. Cooking the strawberries takes out excess water, pureeing them gives a more intense flavor, and straining them gets rid of the seeds. Every method is valid. I totally get it. Really.  I wanted a few frozen bits, so I simple mashed them.  Rule breaker.

I hulled and sliced 1 1/2 pints of gorgeous Cain's Strawberries. After tumbling the crimson jewels into a glass bowl, I splashed them with lemon juice, tossed them with 1/4 cup sugar, and slid them into the refrigerator to macerate.

 When the custard and strawberries were well chilled, I pulled them from the refrigerator. After smashing half of the strawberries into a rough pulp, I stirred them into the chilled custard, poured the mix into our 2 quart ice cream maker, and let it  rip for 25 minutes, adding the reserved sliced strawberries during the last 5 minutes.

Before stashing the strawberry-swirled ice cream into the freezer, Michael and I slurped several creamy spoonfuls straight from the frozen canister.

Just like I did as a kid.

Pure nostalgia.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Green garlic ( also know as spring garlic, wet garlic, or new garlic) has a very short season. Fleeting. The feathery stemmed stalks are only available at farmers' markets and farm stands from late spring into early summer, depending on varying climates. Blink and you might miss them, so grab a bunch while you can.

Harvested from short season garlic plants, the stalks are plucked from the ground before the bulbs have matured into the papery white bulbs we're accustomed to seeing. While they look like a cross between baby leeks and fat green onions, green garlic stalks have a mildly assertive garlic flavor. Thin-skinned and delicate, green garlic might be the most versatile vegetable found at the farmers' market this early in the season. They  can be used at any stage of their growth. With subtle garlic undertones, they can be eaten raw (like scallions)  or cooked.

Right now, green garlic seems to be the Belle of the ball at our farmers' market. The tightly bound bunches are stacked alongside green onions, baby fennel and spring greens.

Truth be told, I've never really understood or appreciated the nuances of green garlic. I've always purchased it and used it instead of mature garlic as a simple flavoring ingredient. That was my green garlic sphere. This year, I woke up. Inspired by the garlicky wonders of Blue Moon Farm, I bagged a few bunches of their gorgeous baby green garlic for a simple spring soup.

Green Garlic Soup.
Although the entire plant is edible, I did a little trimming. I peeled the outer layers from 10 tender stalks of the green garlic. After snipping the tentacled roots from the bulb ends, I sliced the white and pale green parts into rings before tossing them into a soup pot with 1/2 cup chopped onions and 6 quartered white-skinned new potatoes. I drizzled them olive oil and sauteed them over a medium flame for 5 minutes.  When the onions and garlic rings turned translucent, I added fresh thyme, salt, and pepper. Before the onions caramelized, I plopped 2 1/2 cups of my homemade brown chicken stock into the pot.

The moment the rich gelatinous stock hit the heat, it melted into a luscious shimmering wet puddle.  I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, covered the pot, and let it go for 45 minutes. When the potatoes were fork tender, I ladled the soup into a blender with 1 tablespoon of lemon zest and pureed it for a few minutes before pouring the soup back into the pot and warming it over a low flame. I was tempted to add cream. Nope. I kept it simple and pure. When tiny bubbles started to pop and spit, I pulled the soup off of the heat and tossed in a handful of baby market arugula.

After filling small pasta bowls with the silken soup, I garnished it with tiny toasted sourdough croutons, fresh red bell pepper slivers, fresh arugula, and subtle swirls of creme fraiche.

Tarted up with bits of crisp croutons, sweet peppers, and bitter arugula, the soup was surprisingly light. The blended flavors of the young garlic steeped in the deeply bodied stock tasted like an airy puree of garlic-roasted chicken.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Stock Boy

Stocks can be either white (neutral) or brown. While they're both made with a combination of bones, vegetables, and seasonings, different methods  produce different results. Whether using veal, chicken, or beef bones, the more familiar white stock (proteins, mireproix, and seasonings simmered in water) should be clear with a high gelatin content. Brown stock changes it up a bit because the bones and mirepoix are roasted  before they're simmered in water. The caramelization adds a darker color and more intense flavor. Brown stock should have a rich color, body, and high gelatin content.

The stock mantra.
Bring it to a boil.
Reduce it to a simmer.
Skim the scum.
Don't stir.

We made a lot of stock in school. On any given day, huge steam kettles bubbled away with chicken, veal, and beef stock. As Basic Lab minions, we were the keepers of the stock. We had to roast, blanch, watch, simmer, skim, chill, and store all the stocks while juggling other tasks in the kitchen. Although it all seemed fairly straightforward and basic, I managed to utterly botch my first attempt at making brown chicken stock. I knew that I supposed to roast the chicken bones separately from the mirepoix, but I got caught up in the hectic pace of the kitchen and roasted them together.  Bad move.  By the time the bones were deeply browned, the vegetables were incinerated. Do over. It wasn't a good day. Lesson learned.

Nowadays, I love making stock. Whenever I have the time and the scraps stashed away, I'll throw together a batch. Last weekend, I had an entire day to putz around the kitchen and play stock boy.

The Stock Market.
Typically, my freezer would have been filled with bags of chicken parts. I buy them whole, cut them up, and toss the parts in the freezer. Nope. I had one chicken back and a few wing tips. Market tip. Elmwood Stock Farm sells organic chicken stock packs at the farmers market. Who knew?  Brilliant.  I made a quick early morning run to the market and picked up 4 pounds of bony chicken backs. Back in business.

Brown Chicken Stock.
The chicken backs were huge. Fleshy carcasses, really. Perfect for stock. After using a cleaver to hack the chicken backs into manageable pieces, I tumbled the bones into a  roasting pan and slid them into a 400 degree oven to roast for an hour.  While the chicken sizzled away , I chopped the mirepoix ( 3
unpeeled carrots, 2 large onions, and 3 celery stalks) into large pieces and set them aside.

When the chicken bones were deeply caramelized, I pulled them out and dropped them into a large stock pot. I poured the residual fat from the pan into a small bowl and deglazed the pan with 1 cup of water before ladling the fond-flavored water into the pot with the browned bones.

I tossed the vegetables with 1/4 cup of the reserved chicken fat, scattered them into the cleaned pan, and roasted them for an hour.  During the last 10 minutes, I slathered the vegetables with 4 tablespoon of tomato paste. When the tomato paste browned and the vegetables caramelized, I scooped them into the  pot with the chicken.

After filling the stock pot with 14 cups of cold water, I added 2 bay leaves, 5 peppercorns, 10 parsley stems, and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and let it rip for 4 1/2 hours, occasionally skimming the accumulated scum. Low maintenance.

8 hours for stock? Yep. Because  the simmering process extended well into our designated parlor wine hour, I let it go a wee bit longer.

I strained the stock through a cheesecloth-lined colander, cooled it completely  in an ice bath, and tossed it into the refrigerator to set.

After the stock chilled, I used a spoon to crack open and remove the thin layer of fat covering the top.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Chasing Asparagus

I've been chasing down  fresh spring asparagus for weeks. Granted, I probably jumped the gun hoping that I might catch an early crop at the indoor market. Nope. Vendors hoped to have fresh asparagus for opening day of the outdoor farmers' market, but our late spring frosts nipped those dreams in the bud. Apparently, it's going to be a short asparagus season.

I got lucky. Over brunch cocktails, Michael and I  watched the farmers' market vendors break down their booths for the day. Before they packed everything away, I dashed over and snagged the last bundle of purple-tipped asparagus from Elmwood Stock Farm. They weren't the dainty perfectly uniform pencil-thin variety of asparagus. Rubber-banded, with a few nubby stragglers, they were rough looking. Hardy. Strong. The dirt covered spears looked as if they had survived, clipped from the soil to save them from the next frost. That's what I found beautiful about them. Thick. Dirty. Gnarled. Gorgeous.

I didn't want to get heavy handed and muck up the freshness of the asparagus, so I took a very simple approach with the first frost survivors of the season.

Very simple.

Most of the asparagus spears were snipped into short nubs, so I took that cue and sliced the tips on a severe bias into 2 1/2 inch batons. I julienned  a red bell pepper, slivered a medium sized shallot, and tossed them into a bowl with the asparagus tips. After liberally seasoning the vegetables with kosher salt and cracked black pepper, I drizzled them with  olive oil before scattering them into a heavy cast iron skillet. I tucked a few thinly sliced lemons into the asparagus spears and slid them into a 400 degree oven to roast for 12 minutes.

I pulled the asparagus tips from the oven, splashed them with fresh lemon juice
and served them straight from the hot skillet.

The achingly fresh asparagus tips were crisp, tender, and deceivingly delicate. While the caramelized shallots and softened red peppers added subtle sweetness, the lemons  provided balance with soft bright acidity.