On the Road: Thanksgiving Weekend in New York

Going back to work after a holiday weekend is pretty much the worst thing ever. Okay, I’m sure there are worse things, which I just can’t seem to think of right now.  But, I’m glad to have this day over with.

Anyway.

Chester and I avoided Black Friday shopping and spent the day getting the house all festive for Christmas and went to see the Muppets (if you grew up watching the show, it’s a must see. I’m pretty sure I was grinning from ear to ear for most of it). Then, on Saturday, Bridget and I headed up to New York to shop, eat and most importantly, to see Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway. The weather has unseasonably warm around here lately, and while it doesn’t exactly feel like Christmas yet, it made for a great day of walking around the city.

After dropping our bags at our hotel, we headed over to Craftbar, for lunch/belated birthday celebration for me. Craftbar located on Broad is one of Tom Colicchio’s restaurants and is located on Broadway, near Union Square.

When we arrived around two, the restaurant was still serving their brunch menu, in addition to the regular menu of snacks, salads, pastas, and entrees. We both ordered from the latter. The server was really knowledgeable about the menu, including recommendations for cocktails and wine. He suggested a red wine for Bridget and helped me decide between the two cocktail options I was considering. I ended up with something that was similar to a Tom Collins, but had earl grey infused gin in it. Refreshing. I can’t remember the name of either. Sorry.

We split an order of pecorino risotto balls, which were served piping hot with a spicy tomato sauce. They reminded us of the rice croquettes that Bridget’s grandmother makes, but the gooey cheese was a nice touch.

For an entrée, Bridget chose the pork belly, which was served with brussel sprouts, poached egg, and sweet potato puree. It was really tender and pulled apart easily with a fork. I had the veal ricotta meatballs, which were served over house made spagehetti. The meatballs were light and delicate and the tomato sauce was slightly sweet. The only drawback for me was that the pasta may have needed to be cooked a bit more, as it was slight chewy.

They must have known I was coming, because the dessert list included a peanut butter and jelly sundae. The peanut butter ice cream, which was creamy and rich, but not overly sweet, was topped with grape jelly syrup (tasted exactly like my favorite Welch’s variety) and a generous handful of caramel corn, which added a bit of texture and saltiness.

Photo stolen from Bridget

For the rest of the afternoon, we burned off a few calories shopping, and then it was time to make our way over to the Broadhurst Theater for the show.

It goes without saying that Hugh Jackman is pretty adorable. And, also, really talented. He’s not just Wolverine, folks. He can sing. He can dance. He flirts with everyone in the audience and embarrasses late-comers as they take their seats. During the two hour show he performs some of his favorite songs from the likes of Cole Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein and Peter Allen (whom he won the Tony Award for portraying in The Boy From Oz back in 2003), interspersed with antidotes about his life, family and career.

At the end of the show, he auctioned off two of his sweaty undershirts for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. He invited the winners backstage after the show to meet him, and Bridget and I almost took out our credit cards, but figured it would be difficult to explain the charge to our respective husbands (one shirt fetched $10,000 and the other $6,000).

On the way to the theater, we noticed that there was a Shake Shack right near our hotel, so we stopped there on the way back for burgers, fries, and shakes to bring back to our room. I’ve heard that Shake Shack was the inspiration for Stephen Starr’s Square Burger. This may be the case, but the Shack is a million times better.

The burgers were cooked to a medium rare, so they were juicy and flavorful. The fries were pretty standard—crispy and salty—but they were crinkle cut, so they get extra points in my book for the novelty factor. The vanilla shake has earned a place (along with Nifty Fifty’s, of course) on my list of best milkshakes ever. It was thick and creamy and I was so sad when it was all gone. I will be first in line when the Philadelphia location opens in Center City next year.

Amazingly, we woke up hungry the next morning and headed to Trattoria dell’Arte, right across from Carnegie Hall. This is one of our go-to places when we come up for a show. They have an excellent antipasto bar with just about anything you could ever want, from mozzarella, to Italian meats, to grilled vegetables. We opted just for brunch—light and sweet Panettone French toast for me, and rich spaghetti carbonara for Bridget (with the egg, bacon, and carbs, it does make a good breakfast dish if you think about it!)

And, with that, it was time for me to catch the train back to Philly and for Bridget to make the long drive back up to Boston. But, we’re already planning our next trip to see another show in the winter and/or spring (Book of Mormon and the upcoming revival of Evita are on our list).

The only good part about the weekend coming to an end was that I got to head back to the gym today. And, not a moment too soon.

Coffee Ice Cream. And, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Too.

It’s hot. Really hot.

We’ve been trapped under an enormous “heat dome” (where do they come up with these ridiculous terms? Sounds like the plot of a disaster movie.). The city feels dirtier than usual. People are cranky and annoying. My hair looks terrible, and my brain is fried (hence the lame title for this post. I spent awhile trying to think of a catchy one. Just can’t do it). 

It’s time for ice cream.

I’ve got a bunch of stuff that I’ve bookmarked to bake, but I don’t really feel like turning on the oven. Ice cream has been the way to go over the last couple of weeks, and I added a couple new flavors to my repertoire.

First up was coffee ice cream. Chester’s been requesting it for awhile, but it seems like all of the recipes that I was finding called for using instant coffee or steeping whole coffee beans in the custard mixture. Instant coffee doesn’t really seem like it belongs in homemade ice cream, and I didn’t want to buy whole beans just for this recipe.  Then, I came across this version from “Not Eating Out In New York,” which called for “the strongest [fresh] coffee that you’ve ever made in your life.”

We make a pot of coffee every morning, so I just reserved some of that. It isn’t strong, so I added more than what the recipe calls for (probably about 1 ½ cups total) until the base didn’t taste like straight up half-and-half anymore. It did turn out a tad on the icy side, though—I’m not sure if the extra coffee threw of the ratios in the recipe or maybe the mixture was still a bit warm when I put in the ice cream maker. Next time, I might try to adjust the measurements for the cream and milk accordingly, and hopefully that will help it retain some of it’s custardiness (not a word, I know). Although I’m not a big fan of coffee ice cream, I enjoyed this one as it was reminiscent of the Starbucks Java Chip flavor (minus the chips), which used to love. Chester likes his ice cream plain, but next time, I’m making a batch for me that has the dark chocolate chips, and then it will be just like it!

Fresh Coffee Ice Cream

From Not Eating Out in New York

 

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 whole eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup of the strongest coffee you’ve ever made in your life
  • Dark chocolate chunks (optional)

What to do

  1. Blend yolks, whole eggs and sugar in a bowl with a whisk.
  2. Heat milk, cream, and coffee in a saucepan until it’s near boiling. Remove from heat.
  3. Slowly, pour a cup of the hot milk/cream mixture into the egg mixture and beat rapidly with a whisk (this helps keep the eggs from completely scrambling when you pour them into the mix in the next step).
  4. Pour egg mixture back into saucepan with the milk/cream mixture. Heat at medium low, and stir constantly until the mixture becomes thick enough to coast the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
  5. Pour mixture into a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap (place the wrap right on the surface of the ice cream to keep the mixture from getting a skin on it). Chill in the refrigerator overnight (or at least a few hours, until completely cool).
  6. Pour into ice cream maker and freeze for 30 minutes (or whatever your ice cream maker instructions tell you to do). If using the dark chocolate chunks, add to mixture about five minutes before it’s done freezing.
  7. Transfer to a container (you’ll get about a quart out of this) and put in freezer. Let freeze a few hours before serving.

Next time around, I made my favorite—chocolate peanut butter. This is the second David Lebovitz recipe that I tried (I also made his vanilla ice cream to go with these cookies). I have decided that he’s an ice cream genius. This was the best chocolate peanut butter ice cream I’ve had ever. Period. End of story.

It’s not a custard-based recipe—no eggs—but the peanut butter more than makes up for that. Although some of the recipes that I read said not to use natural peanut butter, I did without any problems. I used my favorite brand of course—Jif—and that doesn’t have as much oil in it as some of the other natural varieties do, so the mix still held together well.

About five minutes before the ice cream was done mixing, I added the peanut butter patties to the mix. You can never have too much PB, and the ice cold chunks of it are my favorite part of this ice cream flavor. I can’t even describe how rich this is. You should make it ASAP.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

From the Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

Ingredients

  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • ¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup smooth peanut butter

Peanut Butter Patties

  • 6 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

What to do: Ice Cream

  1. Whisk half-and-half, cocoa, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Heat the mixture, stirring often, to a full boil.
  2. Remove from heat, whisk in peanut butter until well blended.
  3. Chill mixture in the refrigerator overnight (or at least until fully cool) and freeze in ice cream maker. If you are using the peanut butter patties (or any mix-ins for that matter), add them to the mixture about five minutes before it’s done churning.
  4. Transfer to container (makes about a quart) and put in freezer.

What to do: Peanut Butter Patties

  1. Mix peanut butter and sugar together in a small bowl.
  2. Line a plate with plastic wrap. Drop ½ tablespoons of peanut butter on to the plastic.
  3. Freeze the patties.

It looks like we’re going to be trapped “under the dome” (Okay, now I remember that there there was definitely a Steven King book with that title not to long ago. It’s being made into a movie. Plot idea taken) through this weekend at least. What to make next? Suggestions?

Stay cool, friends. Make yourself some ice cream. Or, invite yourself to your neighbor’s pool. Or, just stay home with your head in the freezer. Whatever floats your boat. Oh, and remember, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity (Side note: I have never understood this expression. That, and “at least it’s a dry heat.” But, people seem to say them frequently when it’s hot. Some kind of weird coping mechanism, I guess).

Gadgetry: Ice Cream Storage

In spite of my questionable culinary skills, I absolutely adore kitchen gadgets. I could peruse the floor-to-ceiling displays of gadgetry at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for hours. The myriad of options to choose from for can openers, garlic presses, and spatulas makes me giddy. It’s too bad that I don’t like shrimp, because now I have no excuse for buying a shrimp cleaner. And, unfortunately, I avoid doing dishes at all costs, or else I would have purchased one of those soap squirting dish wands long ago.

In my last post about my amazing lemon ice cream, I forgot to tell you about one of my most important gadgets—the Zak Designs Ice Cream Tub. Chester got these for me as a Christmas gift this past year, and I love them.

What’s so special about this container, you ask? Why don’t I just use one of the 50 Rubbermaid or Chinese take-out containers that always fall on my head, every time I open the cabinet near the microwave? (I swear that containers are like rabbits. Every time I throw one out, 20 more take its place).

No, I can’t.

I went that route when I first started making ice cream, but they didn’t really do the job. They don’t have an airtight enough seal—the ice cream either never froze all the way and/or ice crystals would form on top of it, even when I covered the top of the ice cream with plastic wrap. Plus, they just didn’t look pretty when I took them out of the freezer to serve guests.

The Zak containers seem to be solution to both of these issues. I have three of these pint-size ice cream tubs, and two of them are sufficient for storing the amount of ice cream produced by my Cusinart. The containers have a foam insulated core and a freezable gel lid that acts like an ice pack to keep ice cream cold for over an hour out of the freezer.

The Pros:

  • They have a pretty airtight seal, which keeps the ice cream from getting those gross crystals and helps it stay fresh longer.
  • They are multipurpose. A few of the reviews on Amazon.com suggest that you can freeze the gel lid in advance of a supermarket trip and use the container to transport pints of ice cream home. Or, you can fill it with other food items that need to be kept cold (like potato salad) during transport.
  • The ice cream is easy to scoop out. Just let the container sit out at room temperature for about 10 minutes or so.
  • They come in fun colors. I also have a blue one, in addition to the orange and green ones in my photo above.
  • They are dishwasher safe.
  • They are reusable. Yay for environmental sustainability!

The Cons:

  • Because they are so well insulated, the ice cream takes awhile to become completely frozen. So, you may want to make your ice cream a day in advance, to give it time to set.
  • They have a pretty airtight seal. I know, I said that was a pro, right? But, the lid is extremely difficult to remove, once frozen. There’s this little indented spoon thing at the top that seems like it should be a handle, but doesn’t really work for opening the darn thing. My solution: don’t fill it to the brim and don’t put the lid on super tight. I still cover the top of the ice cream with plastic wrap to safeguard against ice crystals forming—this is probably not necessary, but makes me feel better about it. If you forget this part, you end up trying to get pry the thing off with a knife or running it under hot water, cursing the entire time.

Here's another photo of the container, so you can see the useless spoon thing on the top. In theory, your thumb should be able to fit right in the spoon to help twist the lid off. Doesn't really work that way. Also, would be so fun if an actual spoon could be popped out of the lid so you could eat the contents of the container.

The containers sell for about $12 or so, but I think they are worth the investment, especially if you plan to become a homemade ice cream making queen or king. Which, we all know, I am.

Last week, I made my baby brother a batch of strawberry ice cream for his birthday. He actually sent me a two line text message telling me how delicious it was.  He hardly ever texts me, and when he does, I’m lucky if I get a two syllable word. So, I should probably put this recipe in the definitely make again category, as a result of that rousing endorsement.

When I made this, Chester was sleeping, and I was too lazy to take any photos of the process or the finished product, but here’s the recipe I used anyway. It’s kind of a hybrid of a recipe from Epicurious and the booklet that came with my ice cream maker. There are a few recipes that I came across that simply called for tossing sliced strawberries into the ice cream maker about five minutes before it was done freezing, and I almost went with one of these because I was kind of pressed for time the day I made the ice cream. But I think taking the extra two hours to let them macerate in lemon juice and sugar before using them was worth it—it gave the ice cream a more concentrated flavor and a pleasingly pink color.

Baby Brother’s Strawberry Ice Cream

Ingredients:

  • 3 ½ cups heavy cream
  • Fresh lemon zest (I use a heaping teaspoon)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup of sugar
  • 1 lb strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation:

  • Combine cream, zest, vanilla, and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat.
  • Whisk eggs with 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl, then add hot cream in a slow stream, whisking. Pour back into saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened.
  • Immediately pour custard through a fine sieve into a bowl, then cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Chill, covered, at least until cold, about 2 hours.
  • Cut the strawberries into quarters. In a small bowl, combine the strawberries with the lemon juice and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Allow strawberries to macerate in the juices for 2 hours (I covered the bowl in plastic wrap and had them chill out in the fridge). Strain the berries, reserving juices. Mash half the berries with fork (you could also puree in a blender, but this just makes extra dishes). Keep the other half as is, for later.
  • When custard is chilled, pour reserved strawberry juice and mashed berries into the custard. Stir. Pour into freezer bowl of ice cream maker and allow to chill for about 30 minutes. Five minutes before the end of the cycle, add the other half of the (non-mashed) berries and let mix in completely.
  • Transfer ice cream to containers, and allow to set in freezer for at least two hours.

So, this concludes my second consecutive post about ice cream. The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy and I’m hoping to squeeze in some more posts about real food and restaurants soon. Ice cream has been about all I’ve been able to manage lately.

Lemon Ice Cream and Madeleine Cookies

It seems like Easter was ages ago, but I haven’t gotten around to writing a post about the fabulous dessert that I made. So, here it is.

By now, you should know that I love ice cream. My favorite kitchen appliance is my Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker, which was a housewarming gift from my fabulous co-workers at DU (If we had a freezer in the office that could hold more than four Lean Cuisines, I would be happy to bring you all samples). Anytime an occasion calls for a dessert, I make Chester haul it up from the basement and I keep the bowl in the freezer at all times so I can be ready to whip up a batch of ice cream at a moment’s notice.

We decided on a slightly heavy menu for Easter dinner—pork roast, cheesy potatoes, asparagus, sautéed mushrooms and onions, and my aunt’s French bread. So, we wanted to keep dessert light and decided to make a lemon ice cream. I was skeptical at first—how can lemon and cream go together? But, my aunt had mentioned that she had the flavor at the Amish stand in the Reading Terminal Market; the Amish have never steered me wrong when it comes to dessert, so I reasoned that it must be amazing. To go with it, I decided to make Madeleine cookies, thinking that their pretty shell shape, delicate flavor (with a hint of lemon), and light, cakey texture would pair well with the ice cream. Plus, it gave me an excuse to go out and buy a new baking gadget.

My new madeleine pan. Thanks for the coupon, Bed, Bath & Beyond.

About the Ice Cream

There are any number of ice cream recipes out there, but those with a custard style base, like I used for the lemon ice cream are generally the best. This style contains sugar, eggs, and milk and/or cream. The finished product is rich and creamy and tends not to form ice crystals when it sits in the freezer. The eggs can be a bit tricky at first because you need to make sure that you cook them at a high enough heat to reduce the chance of food-bourne illness, but not high enough to curdle the mixture. In addition, you need to whisk the mixture continuously so that the eggs don’t scramble (the first time I made ice cream, I fished quite a few pieces of scrambled eggs out of the custard before freezing it). But, once you know a basic recipe for a custard style base, you can make it in about five minutes and add anything you like to it (fruit, chocolate chips, candy, etc.) to make an infinite number of flavors.

Lemon Ice Cream

Makes About One Quart

Ingredients:


  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation:

  1. Zest and juice lemons.

Lest you think I don't know how to work basic kitchen gadgets, here are few shots of me in action. I even have an apron, so you know I'm serious.

  1. In a saucepan whisk together the zest, the lemon juice, the sugar, and the eggs.

  1. Whisk in 1 cup of the half-and-half and the vanilla, and cook the mixture over moderately high heat, whisking constantly, until it just comes to a simmer.
  1. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on the zest, and chill it, covered with plastic wrap, until it is cold.

  1. Whisk in the remaining 1 cup half-and-half.
  1. Freeze the mixture in an ice-cream freezer according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

  1. Store in an airtight container and allow to ripen in freezer for a couple of hours. Random tip–If you have a rice cooker, the spoon that comes with it is an excellent tool for scraping down your ice cream maker freezer bowl and transferring the finished ice cream to a container.

About the Madeleine Cookies

From the Bon Appetit Desserts: The Cookbook for All Things Sweet and Wonderful


Ingredients:


  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, then cooled slightly
  • Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and generously butter and flour pan for large madeleines (I used Pam for Baking spray to grease the pans)
  1. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and 2/3 cup sugar in large bowl just to blend. Beat in vanilla, lemon peel and salt. Add flour; beat just until blended. Gradually add cooled melted butter in steady stream, beating just until blended.

Looks like cake batter!

  1. Spoon 1 tablespoon batter into each indentation in pan. Bake until puffed and brown, about 10-16 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Gently remove from pan. Repeat process, buttering and flouring pan before each batch.

  1. Random tip–rinse out the pan with cold water between batches. I found that this keeps the cookies from burning (probably because it cools the pan down a bit).

Just like what they have at Starbucks!

The Finished Product

My mom has had those ice cream dishes since I was maybe five? I think my dad brought them home from Sealtest, back in the day. I used to think they were beautiful and dreamed about having the same set when I grew up.

Once again, the Amish know what’s good. The ice cream tasted just like the filling inside of a lemon pie. It had the tart and refreshing qualities of a sorbet, but was so much richer and creamier. Just as I thought the Madeleine cookies were the perfect complement to it—since they don’t have a ton of flour in them, they aren’t dense and filling, but their cake-like texture meant that they soaked up the ice cream like a sponge. I was worried at first because some of the cookies in the end slots of the pan got slightly burnt, but they had a caramelized, rather than charred flavor.

I should mention here that my brother contributed to the dessert by helping to make whipped cream. By this, I mean he poured the cream into a bowl, went around two or three times with a whisk, decided he was tired, and made my mom and I finish the project. Then, he took all the credit for improving my dessert.

Whatever. I know that the lemon ice cream was the star of the show–we practically licked the containers clean. I think it’s going to be my go-to flavor for the upcoming summer months.  So. Much. Yum.

We All Scream for Ice Cream!

Me, stuffing my face. It's what I do best.

Today, Google told me that today is the 119th Anniversary of the Ice Cream Sundae. Since ice cream is my favorite food, this seemed like an auspicious day to start the food blog that I’ve been talking about doing for months now.

I will eat ice cream anytime, anyplace, anywhere. In the summer, I have been known to have ice cream for dinner. If you put a dollop or three of peanut butter (my other weakness. I’ll be entering a twelve-step program soon), you’ve got a healthy protein and calcium packed meal. My favorite kitchen appliance (not that I have many) is my Kitchen-Aid ice cream maker.

Last week, the hubby and I had a weekend getaway to New York City, and I finally had a chance to check out Serendipity 3. I’ve been going to NYC since I was a little girl, but never got around to visiting. The restaurant does take reservations for lunch and dinner, so we were able to get around the hour-plus wait that those wanting dessert only had to deal with. We both had cheeseburgers, which were surprisingly good, but let’s face it, the desserts are the main attraction here.

The dessert menu boasts the restaurant’s signature Frozen Hot Chocolates, cakes, pies, and a fruit cup (why would you even bother?) but the husband and I both decided to go for sundaes. I ordered the Forbidden Broadway Sundae, which featured chocolate blackout cake, hot fudge, whipped cream, and ice cream. He went for the “Coward’s Portion” Banana Split (if what he got was for coward’s I can’t imagine what the real deal looks like).

Ridiculousness

I died and went to ice cream heaven. The hot fudge melted the vanilla ice cream perfectly, so that it soaked right into the moist chocolate cake. The whipped cream was buttery and not too sweet. I was only able to eat approximately one-quarter of the creation. A travesty. Next time, I’ll brave the wait and have dessert-as-dinner just so I can savor all of the sweetness. Maybe I’ll even have room for a frozen hot chocolate too.