Hi, I have a balsamic addiction.

(pictures forthcoming – as soon as I can get my camera to let go of them)

It’s a recent addiction, really. I never put much thought into balsamic vinegar beyond ‘balsamic vinaigrette,’ which I never liked much anyway. But there was an influx of balsamic on the foodweb one day, and I became intrigued. What was so special about this stuff? How could it overtake so many people’s appetites at once? It had to be something in it. I bought a midrange bottle one day, storing it away, waiting for the urge to use it – for the ‘magic moment.’

I used it, really, for the first time in a salad. A throw-together, need something to eat salad. Spinach, avocado, bacon, green grapes, shredded Parmesan. I have Caesar and Greek dressing in my pantry, but I wasn’t feeling it. I splashed some olive oil, a little lemon juice, the tiniest bit of soy and a generous drop or two of balsamic. It was magic. Twangy, tangy, sweet and savory. It was an experience to be had – and that was with storebought grocery store balsamic. The possibilities of balsamic, better-made (and higher-priced), laid themselves out in my head, stretching farther even than my own inner eye could see.

I grilled today for lunch. I had to, because I had planned on doing it tonight, but turns out that it’s a friend’s birthday and she’s having a party. Ergo, no cooking for me tonight. But I’d already put the flank steak in the marinade and it was tenderizing happily in the fridge. I couldn’t set it up for failure and spoils, so it had to be cooked. Luckily, it being Monday, I didn’t have to go in to my desk job today (yay!), and I only had a few errands to run this morning. I normally only grill at night, so thinking of grilling at lunch was almost like breaking an unspoken taboo. It was a little thrilling, in and of itself. What can I say? I’m a rebel.

I used the marinade recipe from use real butter. Jen not only cooks beautiful stuff, but she takes some gorgeous photos from 8500 feet above sea level. She’s very opinionated, a little coarse at times, and she is the human of a black Lab, Kaweah. What’s not to like? She posted a grilled flank steak marinade a little while back and I decided to try it out on the lovely little flank I had sitting in the fridge. A friend of mine from my desk job had given me some large-ish zucchini on Thursday, and it needed to be used, so I figured I’d slap some of that on the grill, too. And while I was at Publix earlier today, spending money on Naked smoothies (so much daggum ♥ for that stuff!), I saw some quartered slices of pineapple. Already on a grill kick, I thought to myself: ‘Self – why heat up the grill for not quite everything? Grill you some pineapple!’ So I bought some and brought it home with me.

I also bought two nice-looking little basil plants, too, because my seeds haven’t sprouted yet and I love basil so much that it almost hurts. Especially when I don’t have any fresh and readily available. End sidenote.

Though the marinade didn’t have any balsamic in it, the zucchini and pineapple had plenty. I quartered my zucchini and slicked them up with olive oil, then added a little balsamic as an afterthought. I settled them on the grill first and let them alone while I mixed up some balsamic, a little lemon juice and about two tablespoons of light brown sugar for my pineapple. I let the pineapple soak, turned the zucchini and flipped the pineapple once.

When the zucchini came off the rack, every piece had these nice char marks. They still felt firm, but were juicy inside. When the zucchini came off, the steak went on. It took a bit to get warmed up, but it turned out beautifully.

When the steak came off, the pineapple went on. I left it on long enough to get char marks, and that was that. By the time the pineapple was off, the steak had rested and I couldn’t help but slice into it. It smelled delightful, but the look was even better. Browned, crusted over, a hint of pink in the middle. I love a good medium rare filet, but this was something magical. I plated up slices of steak, a little pan sauce from the marinade, zucchini and a piece of pineapple. I sat down, got comfortable and got a little piece of meat.

If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin': it was one of the best things I have put in my mouth. Jen was dead on with that marinade. It mellows out on the grill and tenderizes beautifully, but as a pan sauce, it’s spicy and citrusy and absolutely grand. I might’ve tweaked it a bit, but not by that much. The zucchini was firm on the outside, soft on the inside and juicy all around. The pineapple was sweet, tangy, warm and had a little bit of a crunchy glaze on the outside, thanks to the ‘marinade’ for it.

Maybe I should break the rules more often, if it’s gonna be this tasty. I always knew there was something to be said for being a rebel.

Fresh coffee icecream!

I told you that coffee icecream was next on my list because I had coffee at the ready – I didn’t lie. I made coffee icecream, but it wasn’t Miche Mâche’s recipe for Vietnamese coffee icecream, because I didn’t have a can of Carnation in my pantry.

Instead, I went searching for a fresh coffee icecream, and after much research, finally found Fresh Coffee Premium Icecream over at Not Eating Out in New York. Much rejoicing was had, custard was made, and icecream was created – a lovely creation that was like eating a cup of coffee straight out of my grandfather’s hand. And when you add Starbucks chocolate-covered coffee beans as a bonus? Oh my.

More on this later. I have lots of things to do today, but I thought it was worth a preview.

Icecream.

(And all things related. Whatever they may be.)

Who doesn’t like icecream? (I know several folks, actually.) I like icecream a lot. I don’t love it, or live off of it, like my dad, his wife and my little sister do. They go through a few cartons of Edy’s Double-Churn and Breyer’s Light every week. I don’t eat enough icecream to justify buying it in the grocery – if I do, I’ll only buy a little-bitty one so I don’t waste money. And I buy only certain kinds.

  • Mayfield, preferably in the old-fashioned box and never vanilla.
  • Blue Bunny, because it’s the icecream that Dad and I used to buy and he would throw such a fit over in the middle of the grocery. (It’s a comfort thing.)
  • Breyer’s Vanilla Bean. I love vanilla bean icecream.

It’s summertime – time for making icecream at home, like good hot weather-loving Southern folk ought to. And I’ve made a batch or two of my own, even without the icecream maker I’ve been promised, notably the green tea icecream a few posts down. But there are others I’ve seen, that I want to emulate or fiddle with, and if I don’t write them down, then I’ll forget to make them, and that would be a shame. So, forthwith:

Looking at the list now, that’s a whole lot of icecream and other frozen delights to be made. And tasted. And pondered. And I may not be able to make all of it before the icecream season’s over.

But that’s okay. I’ve got time. :)

Soft wheat bread.

After finding a recipe for white bread on The Barefoot Kitchen Witch, I knew it was time to try out another bread escapade. Recall that my last successful bread escapade involved VeganYumYum’s Poolish Foccacia, and it was delicious. Time-consuming and a learning experience to be sure. This time, I was going to make sure I wasn’t caught off guard (I failed at that, by the way).

I’ve been wanting to make wheat bread for a while, to be honest. I like making bread in general; I just wish I had all the time I needed for it and I often don’t lately. I don’t know why, but I’ve been waiting on the right recipe to get started again (and for my supply of storebought loaf bread to finally vanish, which it did at supper last night). I’ve got plenty of recipes, including several pages’ worth out of Country Wisdom & Know-How, but none of them really called to me. Jayne’s was apparently the recipe and I’m so glad I used it.

The first thing that drew me to it was that it read very simply. Not a bunch of sugar added, or lots of involved steps for mixing, or mixing by hand forever if one doesn’t own a stand mixer. Just mix and let the yeast bloom, then mix in dry and wet ingredients, stir it all up, knead it for a bit and then… let it rest. Let it rise.

When the yeast was blooming, I’ll admit: I didn’t like the smell, at first. It reminded me of the fridge in the last apartment, when my roommate wouldn’t clean it out and I hadn’t really been home much. Yuck. But it grew on me (no pun intended!), and I contented myself with knowing that by the time the yeast had done its job, the house would smell fantastic.

When the dough finally started coming away from the bowl and sticking together proper, I stopped mixing it. I learned my lesson from the foccacia – I didn’t want to overexcite my gluten. I slapped it out on my recently-acquired floured board and kneaded it. Knead your bread lovingly. Don’t kill it. (Although I will admit I slapped it down on the board a couple of times more. Is that dough abuse? Or tough love?) I stopped kneading when it felt right, although little needling voices in the back of my head told me ‘No! It’s too sticky! It needs more work! More flour!’ I oiled up my big bowl, ignored those voices and let my dough rest comfortably in its bed of oil, under cover of plastic. Then I went to turn out horses from the barn and do my chores. I figured the hour and a half I’d be gone would be plenty of time, and I wouldn’t feel the need to check it every ten minutes.

This is where I started to get concerned. I came back from chores, washed the feed dust and hay off my hands and punched the dough back down. I let it rise again (seen above) and it only rose three-quarters of the way as before. Maybe I let it go too far the first time? I chalked it up to the mix of bread flours – I used half white wheat and half unbleached regular to get what I wanted. Eventually, I’d decided it had gone plenty of time without rising further and was ready to get prepped for baking.

I took it out, shaped it as directed and let them rest while I got together my loaf pans and started the oven to preheating. My confidence got a little boost here – when I separated the dough by hand, having no scraper blade to my name, the dough was visibly elastic and resistant to coming apart. It was a little relief, backed up when I patted out the balls for further shaping.

The dough was remarkably springy, which made me very happy. I didn’t want to lose this batch of dough to neglect like the last time I tried for loaf bread (the time of which we do not speak, where 354’s momma tried to bake it for me and it came out like rocks). I started to oil the pans, then decided against it because they were non-stick to the touch, and I didn’t want to grease up my bread. I had to go on a little faith. I patted out my dough balls, rolled them up and sealed the edges, then flipped them into their respective pans. I covered them with a dishtowel and set the pans on the stove, sitting on a cooling rack, to rise.

I would like to make note that at this point, it was around 2300 (11:00 pm for you non-military timers). I was sleepy and kind of hurting, but I was not going to leave the bread for tomorrow. No sir.

Finally, around ten ’til midnight, they were risen as much as they were going to rise. I could’ve baked the one on the right first and let the left pan rise a little more over the right front burner, but I was sleepy and the loaves were risen. So I popped them in the oven, pushed the button on my timer and got back on the computer to wait not-so-patiently.

Twenty-one minutes later, this is what I was rewarded with:

The prettiest little squatty wheat loaves I’ve ever seen! Like the second rising, the dough came up a little short, but that’s okay. When I up-ended my pans, the loaves slipped right out, steam coming out from under the bottoms. I tapped the bottoms dutifully, pleased with my hollow thumps. To keep the crust soft, I rubbed butter over the tops, covered the loaves with plastic and a dishtowel. Then I went to bed, happy with the smell of wheat bread in my house.

When I woke up this morning, I uncovered the bread and was rewarded with this lovely sight:

The tops were pleasantly soft and wrinkly. I started to cut into a loaf for breakfast toast, but I had one bowl of cereal to get rid of. I made myself wait for lunch. And as I sit here, happily eating my turkey and provolone sandwich on homemade wheat, I am beyond pleased. It’s thick and soft, unbelievably fragrant, and it has a real taste! Nothing like storebought wheat bread, which at this point is going to just be something to hold my sandwich innards together. I don’t know that I can ever go back to storebought now – why would I, when I have the means to make my own, with a loaf to eat and a loaf to freeze for later? I haven’t bothered to do the cost ratio between the two – a side experiment in decreasing my food costs and increasing my self-sustainability – but hopefully making my own bread is cheaper in the long run. Even with grain prices at record highs, I can’t see how it wouldn’t be.

Jayne’s recipe for Soft White Bread is listed here, with gobs of clear, instructional (and lovely!) photos. To make Soft Wheat Bread, substitute 2-3 cups wheat bread flour for all-purpose or unbleached bread flour. I did 3 cups of wheat to 3 cups of unbleached (half and half), but next time I might try 2 cups of wheat flour and 4 cups of unbleached, just to see what happens with respect to the rising ‘issue.’ I will also try my best to make bread on the weekends, when I’m not running willy-nilly all over the place from job to job to house to karate to wherever!

Thank you, Jayne, for posting this recipe! :)

Now go forth and bake bread. You will not regret it.

Ziploc green tea icecream!

Honestly, I probably should’ve waited to start cooking when I got up this morning. But I went to Wal-Mart for rock salt and Ziplocs after karate last night, just like I said I would. I didn’t do the ice cream last night. I didn’t want to – I was too focused on getting this damn computer working (I failed at that last night, too). Finally, at around 0100, I decided to go to bed. I slept ’til 0800 this morning, fed the dog, fooled around and decided that I was gonna make icecream. So I went looking for recipes in cookbooks, until I found one I wanted in Cooking: A Commonsense Guide that would be reasonable and easily modified. There was a gelato recipe in my BHG, but I didn’t have the heart to split 12 yolks and whites, or split the recipe. Another time, perhaps. Besides, I wanted this recipe to go off without too much trouble, which meant I wanted the fat ratio of cream in there. I think the gelato called for milk… anyway.

After seeing the trend of homemade flavored icecreams, and wanting something different than vanilla or chocolate, I decided on green tea. I left my matcha at work, but I had bags. Bringing milk and cream to a boil was my first mistake – I was splitting yolks and whites and I let it boil over in a split-second. Agh! I took it off the heat, of course, hoping I hadn’t let it boil for too long and scalded anything. I cleaned the drip pan before doing any more cooking – I hate the smell of scalded dairy, don’t you? I let it sit to get to room temperature, per the recipe, which I figured would do fine to steep my tea bags in the meantime.

I whipped up the egg yolks and sugar by hand, since I don’t quite know where my beaters are at the moment. To keep me occupied while doing that, I was thinking of things to do with the egg whites. Six ‘wasted’ whites? I couldn’t. Something would have to be done with them. I was thinking an egg white omelet, or something of that nature; I guess I could’ve made meringue with them, of course. But I hadn’t eaten breakfast, so omelets were a little closer on the brain. I shoved that all out of mind, squeezed all that green milky goodness out of my tea bags and whipped up the egg yolks and milk mix, now that the latter was cooled. It all went back onto the burner in a saucepan to thicken up, which was supposed to take 5-10 minutes but took me more like 15-20 because my relationship with my new stove is still a little iffy as of yet. We haven’t really learned each others’ quirks and peculiarities, which means I don’t know exactly where the dial goes for a proper temperature and the stove can’t be particular enough to piss me off. Anyway, once it was a nice thick custard, I set it back in the bowl, nested in ice water, to cool down while I mixed up the ice bag.

I had some trouble with the bag, because I was new to the whole Ziploc icecream maker idea. I’m sure someone else out there has tried it – there has to be someone. My mother can’t have come up with this on her own. It’s not possible. But I finally figured out that it needed to be

(four cups ice + half-cup salt) + custard bag + (four cups ice + half-cup salt)

to be proper for freezing without copious amounts of rolling a gallon bag of ice and green tea custard around on the floor for the dog to tear open. (He loves ice cubes.) I seated the quart bag over the half-gallon of ice and carefully poured in the custard. Luckily my mixing bowls, though they don’t match the rest of my kitchenware because they’re red, have spouts. I covered the bag with the last of the ice and salt, jiggled it around a minute, and stuck in the freezer.

Green Tea Icecream

adapted from Cooking: A Commonsense Guide

cooking time: 15-20 minutes (+ a couple hours for freezing)

ingredients:

1 c milk

1 c cream

1 tsp vanilla*

6 egg yolks

½ c sugar

2-3 green tea bags

7-8 c ice**

1 c rock salt**

Combine the milk and cream in a pan and add the vanilla and tea bags. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and set aside for 10 minutes.

Using a wire whisk, beat the yolks and sugar together in a bowl for 2-3 minutes, until thick, creamy and pale. Drain the tea bags, discard, and whisk the warm milk into the egg.

Wash the pan, and pour the mixture into it. Stir over very low heat until thickened. This will take about 5-10 minutes. To test, run a finger across the back of the wooden spoon—if it leaves a clear line, the custard is ready.

**Put 4 cups of ice and a half-cup of rock salt into a gallon storage bag and nest a quart bag on top of the ice. Carefully pour the custard into the quart bag, being careful not to spill outside the quart bag. Press the air out of and seal the quart bag, then top with the remaining 3-4 cups of ice and half-cup of salt. Leave in the freezer for 20-30 minutes, take out and shake vigorously. Return to the freezer and repeat every 15-20 minutes until custard has frozen to desired consistency. Serves 3-4.

* The original calls for 1 vanilla pod. I don’t have vanilla bean readily available to me, so I used extract. I didn’t measure, just used a couple dashes, so I’m estimating somewhere between ½-1 teaspoon. Use your discretion, however much vanilla taste you like.

** Obviously, you need ice and rock salt for this version. The original has a different way of mixing. Check the original recipe at the end of this entry.

I’m going to try the original’s version of mixing up ice cream – in a metal bowl with an electric mixer – someone later, when I can find my beaters, but the Ziploc way works awesome. It doesn’t take up a lot of room, you can make several batches, you don’t have to worry about buying a mixer for lots of $$$ and easy cleanup. The drawback is the serving limitation – you can only make as much icecream as you have bag size – but you’ll run into that with anything. Besides, the smaller quantity freezes faster, so you have icecream sooner!

The icecream came out dense, creamy and delicious. The color wasn’t great, but I hadn’t really expected the vibrant green that matcha would’ve given me. And so what if it wasn’t ‘pretty’? It was absolutely delicious! In the future, I’ll probably use two teabags inside of three, but if you want the taste to be strong, use three! (Four might be a little much.) Hurrah for green tea iceam in a bag!

While the icecream was firming up, I took my spare egg whites and decided on a frittata. I had some Mexican chorizo in the fridge and some onion – I’m a sucker for egg and caramelized onion. I mixed up the egg whites with salt, pepper, a little milk and let it sit while I browned the onion. Then I browned up the chorizo, which was a little new. The last chorizo I bought was from the UGA meat lab and it was singularly wonderful. I cooked it in the casing in pieces and made a carbonara from it. No so with this chorizo. It crumbled, much like ground beef. The flavor was powerful and the smell of all the spices and meat cooking in my apartment was lovely, but the consistency wasn’t what I was looking for.

In keeping with a frittata, I baked it in the same pan. When I took it out and went to taste for research purposes, I burned the crap out of the pad of my thumb. It was good, don’t get me wrong – spicy, layered with flavors, sweet and hot and garlicky and good. But it wasn’t what I was looking for. It was flat, of course, being an egg white frittata, which I for some reason didn’t fully anticipate. (I mixed in an extra egg to try and get a little fluffiness from the yolk, but alas.) I discovered, instead, that with a little mayo and some bread, it makes a very good sandwich. Tomorrow morning I may try it with toast and some kind of sauce. We’ll see. Experiments are the sauce of life!

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