Monday, June 27, 2011


Buy at
Savoury Carrot Custard with Vegetable Sauce
Nicolas Coipeau

Custards are a mixture of milk and eggs, and are the magical ingredients mixture not only for delicious ice cream, but for quiches, puddings, and other fabulous dishes as well. Whether you use equal amounts of egg yolks and whites, or one more than the other, the general ratio is three eggs to thirty-two ounces of dairy, which makes a custard that will set up well.

You need to temper the eggs (which means to beat them while pouring the hot milk or milk and cream mixture into them) in order for the eggs not to scramble instead of custardizing. (If you end up with scrambled eggs anyway, as happens to the best of us, don't worry, you can rescue the dish--keep reading!) Most people will tell you that the milk/egg mixture needs to be heated until it coats the back of a wooden spoon, but I find that heating it to 78º C means your custard will be firmer and set up better. The mixture begins to coat the back of a wooden spoon at about 72º C.

And now, what to do when you end up with scrambled eggs, despite your best efforts at tempering? Not to worry--haul out your trusty blender, set it to the highest setting, dump the whole lumpy mess in, and let your blender do the work for the next twenty seconds. (Or, you can just start the whole thing in the blender to begin with.) I dare anyone to tell the difference--in fact, the lumpy scrambled eggs floating around in the milk will be pulverized to an amazingly smooth creaminess. And there you have it--your dish is rescued, and no-one need to be the wiser. (You can also clean your blender and have it put away in about a minute, by putting in water and a drop or two of dishwashing liquid, filling the blender container halfway, and blending for another thirty seconds. Rinse, dry, and put away. Voilà, your secret is safe!)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ice Cream (we all scream for it!)

Buy at
Ice Cream Cone with Many Colored Scoops
Shaffer & Smith
This past weekend, I had to make four gallons of ice cream for a huge pool party (to which few people showed up, so I have tons left over). I learned a lot from reading and experimenting, so here are my general observations on ice cream:

The more fat, the better and creamier. Also, the more loaded with calories it will be! As I had to make a choice between fat and sanity, (this is for four quart machines), here's my take, after a number of experiments:
  • One half gallon of half and half
  • Six eggs
  • Three cups of sugar
  • Flavoring
  • Milk to fill up to the fill line
Natural flavorings win over artificial ones, time after time! The four flavours I made were vanilla (from vanilla beans), chocolate, mint chocolate chip, and coffee. For chocolate I used cocoa powder and for coffee, a pound of coffee beans (you can reuse the coffee beans for coffee later). For the mint I used a handful of mint leaves and infused them in the cream. Then I refrigerated dark mint chocolate bars overnight and chopped them in a hachoir. Another way would have been to melt them and add as the ice cream churned to create ribbons.

One other thing I did was to splurge on organic sugar. This is not the white, refined, stuff, but golden. Brown sugar would have been better in the chocolate and coffee, but the organic sugar was perfect in the vanilla and mint chocolate chip, adding just that extra layer of flavour.

Of course I would have loved to use David Lebovitz's formula, but . . . 24 egg yolks for a gallon of ice cream? I don't think I have that many soufflés in me to use up all those whites--not to mention that unless I get a hand-cranked machine, I don't think I can afford the calories!

(Next time, what I learned about custards!)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Citrus Fruit in Olive Oil

When I lived in the Mediterranean, I used to try to improve my French by reading women's magazines, and I was often intrigued by the recipes there. One technique that I have tried and loved is preserving citrus fruit in olive oil. The oils in the skin of the fruit will leach into the olive oil, both preserving the fruits and flavouring the oil, and leaving you with a delicious-tasting result!

Enough of the preliminaries--let's get on to the techniques. This is simple and easy to do, and will make a great gift for just about anyone, too!

Wash your fruit thoroughly before beginning. Slice oranges, lemons, limes or grapefruits into small pieces (I like to use very thin crosswise cuts for everything except grapefruits). If the fruit is exceptionally bitter, you may salt it and drain for an hour, but I prefer, where possible, to leave it alone. Pack fruit tightly into wiretopped jar and fill with a high-quality olive oil. Move the jar about carefully, so that any trapped air bubbles escape to the surface (you can pound it on a towel folded on the table. Make sure that the oil is at least a half-inch above the fruit and that no air bubbles remain (the air will make it spoil).

Now for the hardest part of the recipe--you have to put the jar in a dark place, and leave it alone for at least a month--six weeks or longer is preferred for the best result. When you are finished, you can take it out, use the olive oil, and eat the fruit as you go (make sure the oil level continues to stay a half-inch above the fruit in the jar). Delicioso!

Monday, June 6, 2011

"Good Cooks are Artists"

As the daughter of an industrial food chemist, and as an artist myself, I beg to differ with this statement. I really think cooking is mostly about science, and to this end, I just finished reading this book:

Now, I really like to cook, and I really like to understand why food chemistry works as it does. I find all kinds of things about the science of cooking fascinating, and so I was thrilled to see that there is an entire chapter devoted to foams in food! (No, not the fashionable froth that chefs are serving nowadays, but traditional dishes such as soufflés.) Barham also tells us the difference between sauces and gravies, and many other useful tidbits.

While I have not yet had a chance to put his experiments to test in the kitchen (at present I am reducing an infusion of chocolate mint to make mint chocolate chip ice cream later on), I am intrigued by some of his techniques. His techniques for making soufflés differ so radically from the traditional French methods that I learned, that I can't wait for cooler weather to put some of his advice to the test in my own kitchen, if only because I can't wait to tell people, "Yes, I'm an artist, but really, it has nothing whatsoever to do with my cooking."
Buy at
Okay, that's not really true. Yes, there is a certain amount of artistry in combining flavours and colours to build a great recipe, and certainly an artistry in conveying those techniques and amounts of ingredients to other people. But what I do in the kitchen has very little to do with creativity and inspiration, and more with understanding how flavours interact, even on the molecular level. (For example, did you know that oranges and black pepper have astoundingly similar molecules, and that you can actually learn to smell how different foods are similar or different at the molecular level? More on that later!)