Archive for the ‘Summer Food’ Category

Pinkies Up!

Citrus Cooler Cookies

Citrus Cooler Cookies

Here’s a debate that has gone on for many years: Curly or Shemp? I speak of course of “The Three Stooges.” Some folks insist that they were never the same after Curly’s early demise. Others, like me, guffaw at the antics of both gentlemen.

Interestingly enough, “The Three Stooges” were responsible for some of the funniest food-related moments on screen. Yes, there was their famous pie throwing, but you can’t watch them cooking a turkey or inflating a fallen cake with gas without laughing out loud. Well, I can’t. When I have an extended wait for dinner, the quote, “Sorry folks, dinner’s postponed on account of rain” rings in my ears. I won’t go into detail about the latter, but trust me the Stooges were responsible for the delay.

The “Curly versus Shemp” debate is really one of style. It is really a lot like cookies. (Really? Yes, really.) Some years back when fresh-baked cookies became a specialty business, there were two major players: Mrs. Field’s and Famous Amos. Both sold chocolate chip cookies, but for all intents and purposes that’s all they had in common.

Mrs. Field’s Cookies were big, squishy, soft cookies. To me they always tasted like you needed to take them home and finish baking them. I found them a bit heavy and about as subtle as a sledgehammer. (Yes, you read that correctly, I was expecting subtlety in a chocolate chip cookie.)

Famous Amos Cookies were sold straight from the oven at Bloomingdales’. They were small, crunchy, slightly over-baked, and their heavy brown sugar infusion gave them an irresistible aroma as they baked. Those were my cup of tea.

Naturally I don’t expect everyone to agree with my opinion of cookies, even though I am right. But just like anything else, when you bake or cook you are bound to have a style. If there is a hallmark of my style, then thin, crunchy cookies would be it. Again, I admit this isn’t for everyone.

I’d venture to say that the principal reason why people enjoy soft baked cookies is “mouth feel.” They like that smooth, smooshy, mouth-coating blob. Hey, I get it. That’s how I like my ice cream: just north of melted.

A fact perhaps unacknowledged is that baking thin and crunchy cookies requires a bit of extra work. Drop cookies, i.e., those that you drop from a spoon onto a cookie sheet before baking are easy, yes, but tend to be cakey or chewy. To bake a thin cookie requires rolling and cutting, which requires a bit of patience, and a bit of practice, or a few simple changes in ingredients, or both.

Yes, you can slice and bake thin cookies from a log, but you are limited to some basic shapes, the cookies’ uniformity is tied to the sharpness of your knife, and there’s no guarantee that the cookies will be crispy.

Earth shattering problems, eh? But they’ve been on my mind of late because my friend, the artist Laura Loving, recently paid me a huge compliment: she asked me to make some cookies for an upcoming Bastille Day party. She even designated which shapes she wanted, the Eiffel Tower, and the Statue of Liberty. These icons, especially Lady Liberty, appear frequently in her work, and I had baked some cookies in those shapes for a previous party.

The previous party was held during the cold weeks that led up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The flavor of the cookies was dictated by the time of year and veered heavily toward spices and ginger. For Bastille Day, July 14th, a more summery touch seems called for. My little Eiffel Towers were and will remain chocolate, but the Lady Liberty cookies will celebrate summer with a twist of citrus. I had baked a Martha Stewart Lime Cookie recipe some years ago, and decided to adapt it slightly for Lady Liberty.

No drastic change here. I simply added lemon and extra vanilla to the recipe to give these tart cookies a slightly “rounder” flavor.

Here’s the other question: How thin is thin? I usually roll cookies to 1/8 inch, which makes them fairly delicate. It took some practice to learn how to handle dough that is that thin, and I have developed a recipe or two that seems to help. The Martha Stewart Lime Cookie recipe doesn’t really lend itself to being rolled that thin, but I think with a bit of patience all will be well.

In the meantime, you can see from the picture above that I have already had a practice run. Instead of Lady Liberty cookies I made little flowers. Very delicate. Very “afternoon tea.”

The real keys to this recipe are an abundance of lime and lemon zest, and mixing the zest with the sugar, which, like sand, acts as an abrasive to extract the citrus oils. Each cookie has a very juicy taste, yet they remain light and delicate.

So, pinkies up! As Moe said to Curly, “Hey! Where’s your Emily Post?” (Woo woo woo…)


Click here for my recipe for Citrus Cooler Cookies


For details about Laura Loving’s Bastille Day open studio, check out the July Promotions Calendar at Vogue Magazine’s website.


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American (as Apple Pie)

Berry Cobblers

Cobbler...slump...or grunt?

Politicians love to speculate what our nation’s forefathers would have thought of whatever policy they are advocating.

This thinking is usually lost on me. I’d rather know what they would choose from the dessert menu. I’d rather speculate whether or not Thomas Jefferson would have liked Jell-o.

I can’t help but wonder what Messrs. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were eating during the hot, muggy Philadelphia days that led up to July 4th. I can say with some confidence that during the long hours it took for him to write the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wasn’t eating Domino’s.

John Adams was a Harvard grad and a lawyer, but he was also a farmer. Abigail (Mrs. Adams to you) likely served what was fresh and in season, straight from their own fields. There was no choice: the only place she would have found an Israeli tomato was in Jerusalem. While championing the use of locally grown farm ingredients may have made Alice Waters seem like a revolutionary in the 1980s, what she really was doing was recapturing a time before fruits and vegetables were flown in from elsewhere. Folks lived off the land and bought what was grown locally; this also shaped their menu. It is only in our time that the new-fangled jet airplane has made food from around the world available in your neighborhood supermarket.

Some popular desserts in revolutionary times were cobblers, pan dowdies, and stewed fruit desserts called grunts or slumps. Supposedly the latter were called grunts because of the noise they made while cooking. Hmmm. Doesn’t sound promising, but these desserts were likely borne from a combination of the available technology (the kitchen stove = the hearth) and the available ingredients.

Just what you wanted: a history of the Revolutionary War as told through the dessert menu. My high school history teacher would be so proud. I finally got something right.

I know that the thought of a hot dessert on a hot summer night seems out of place. I won’t apologize. Fresh berries are bouncing off the shelves right now, and yes, they’re wonderful in a bowl with a little sugar and a dollop of cream. But there’s a problem with cold desserts: there’s no aroma to make your home smell like, well, home.

It’s not by accident that one of the oldest tricks up the sleeve of any Real Estate agent worth her salt is to bake apples and cinnamon in the oven when they’re having an open house. They’re not after a low-fat dessert, they’re after a sale. They can “stage” a house with fancy furniture and knick-knacks, but if the place smells like poopie it’s “No Sale.”

That tasty concept aside, I was also thinking that summer is the season when people take time to entertain friends. Perhaps they have a house near the beach which is the target of many a weekend trek by friends and family. For folks who live the other nine months of the year in their little New York City apartments, this may often be the only time during the year when they get to eat “at home” with their chums at a real dining room table as opposed to having everyone perched on the sofa.

The desserts in the picture above are like a colonial cobbler or a slump. I lightened them up a bit by substituting a very light cake batter for the usual biscuit dough topping. The cake batter makes the dessert lighter for summer, and is easier to prepare. I used my Kitchen Aid, but a bowl and wooden spoon will do you fine. You can bake these for varying lengths of time depending on how “puddingy” you want them. The longer you bake them the cakier the top becomes.

Wouldn’t it be nice to present your visiting chums with four different versions of the same dessert? Sounds ambitious, yes? Is it ambitious? No.

I’m still kicking myself. In my shopping haste I grabbed only blueberries and raspberries. My repeat performance will show me grabbing the blueberries and raspberries, but also the blackberries, strawberries, and maybe a summer stone fruit like a peach or nectarine. Each item will get its own little dessert.

The dishes are little 4 ¾’’porcelain crème brulee dishes; at about four bucks a pop they’ll hardly break the bank, and I can also use them for nuts and other snacks. (Ummmm, and crème brulee too.)

Assembling the dessert is easy: tumble the berries or cut fruit into the dishes, top with the batter. Bake. A touch of ice cream and some serving spoons are all you need. You don’t have to wait for the beach or the backyard barbecue for this: it also makes a great “coffee table” dessert. (Be careful though. Blueberries and rugs don’t mix well.)

While this isn’t strictly a cobbler or a grunt / slump, I’m calling it a slump. It’s a dessert name you don’t hear anymore, and has a free history lesson attached.

If you prefer, stick a feather in your hat and call it macaroni.


Click here for my recipe for Berry Slump


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Mr. Wizard?

Biscoff & Coffee Ice Cream

Biscoff & Coffee Ice Cream

Lately every time I share a meal with my brother he makes me roll my eyes. He is intrigued by the recently released Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet. Me? Not so much.

If you don’t know who Nathan Myhrvold is, you may find his biography daunting. I sure do. Here’s the “head of a pin” version: started college at 14, PhD in theoretical and mathematical physics by age 23, formerly Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft, oh, and by the way, a master French chef who has finished first and second in the world championship of barbecue.

Ummmm. I can bake cookies and tie my shoes—although not at the same time. Oh, and I have to double-tie my shoes, because they tend to come untied if I don’t. My lack of intrigue with Myhrvold’s book is, I think, a classic case of projecting my own self-perceived short comings onto it. That and it is 2438 pages with a list price of $625—although savvy shoppers can snag it on Amazon for $477.93. You’ll have to wait though, as it is sold out.

The book itself deals heavily with the science of cooking. I never think of myself as someone who is interested in the science of cooking. Yet, as I think back on some of the things I‘ve written in this space I realize that my self-image seems to have been heavily self-censored. Anyone have a copy of that magazine quiz, “Are you a Geek”? I think it was in Popular Science. I need to be re-tested.

In the meantime your low-rent Mr. Wizard has brought you another food science lesson. Happily it ends with a dish of ice cream.

One thing I know about myself: you do not want to go grocery shopping with me. I am not a “quick run into the market to pick up a couple of things” kind of guy. The guy with the cart who is cruising up and down every aisle with extended stops in the imported food aisle? Smile and wave as you pass me.

Anyway, on one of those extended cruises I came across Junket rennet tablets.  I think they caught my eye because I remembered my Mom feeding me Junket rennet custard as a kid. I’ve never been much of a milk drinker, and it was a way to get milk into me. (I’ve never even liked milk on my breakfast cereal.)

Rennet is an enzyme that is harvested from the stomach lining of cows, and it coagulates milk. Many cheese makers use rennet to separate milk into curds and whey. The curds are then treated in many different ways to make all the different kinds of cheese we love. The whey is used for many products from protein powder supplements to animal feed.

Truth is, these tablets have been sitting on my shelf for months. I bought them without really thinking of how I would use them. Reading through the attached pamphlet though, my eye was immediately drawn to a recipe for ice cream. Who knew? Rennet ice cream! Yes, I know: you’re just as amazed as me!

It makes sense. Ice cream needs an ingredient that will emulsify the mixture in order to prevent ice crystals from forming as it freezes. Many cooks use eggs. Commercial ice cream often has other ingredients to do this, including gelatin. But the coagulation caused by the rennet can be done without heat. No cooking means less time needed to chill the mixture, which means the ice cream will be in your dish that much faster.

Low-rent Mr. Wizard would like to remind you of one of his guiding principles: always read and re-read a new recipe before using it. I did not, so as they say on Twitter, #FAIL. This is science, so if the recipe says Whole Milk, do not use 2% Milk.

I think my other mistake was being a bit too diligent in following the cooking instructions. The recipe says to warm the milk and cream to lukewarm at 110˚F. I very carefully did so, but I think my thermometer may have been misplaced in the sauce pan. I’m guessing I may have overheated the milk because not only did the rennet not coagulate the milk and cream, the resulting mixture would not freeze, even when I stuck it in the regular freezer for a few hours.

Starting from scratch, I deduced that the reason the mixture is warmed is to dissolve the sugar in the milk and cream. What if I skipped the heating stage altogether?

On my second attempt, I decided to dissolve the sugar mechanically. I combined everything except the cream in the blender. After the sugar dissolved, the cream was added and mixed very briefly to avoid whipping it. This attempt was perfect and creamy. It is not as silky as custard-based ice cream. The flip side to that is that is not too rich or heavy either.

In the meantime, on another of those meandering trips up and down the grocery aisle I found Biscoff cookies. I was first introduced to these toasty, brown sugary, Belgian cookies when I was served one for breakfast on an airplane trip. (Yes. One cookie the size of two fingers. For breakfast. Well done, airlines! I remember thinking, “I hope they didn’t go to too much trouble.”) Printed on the side of the cookie wrapper are the words, “Europe’s Favorite Cookie With Coffee.” What could be better than coffee ice cream with Biscoff cookies crumbled in?

Uh oh. I think that was one of the questions on the “Are you a Geek?” test.


Click here for my recipe for “Biscoff & Coffee Ice Cream


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The Chill Diaries

Peach Crisp Ice Cream Sandwiches

Peach Crisp Ice Cream Sandwiches

You’ve probably seen this in old movies: someone climbs a ladder to a high shelf in a library. Pulling a book from the shelf, they blow off the dust, creating a cloud that momentarily obscures the screen.

I thought of that image the other day when I pulled the bowl of my ice cream maker from the back of my freezer. It has been there, untouched, ignored, since last summer. Instead of blowing dust off, I had to knock chunks of frost and ice off. All that was missing was some long lost ancient hiker embalmed in the ice after taking a wrong turn at Shangri-La.

Why has my ice cream maker sat untouched since last summer? Is there some kind of law against making ice cream during the fall and winter? Only in my head, and it is somehow related to the reason I watch Jimmy Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” only on the Fourth of July: because that’s when you are supposed to watch it.

I ought to know better. Boston (my home town) has always been a die-hard ice cream town. The season or the weather means nothing to Boston’s ice cream appetite. Beantown is an inaccurate nickname; it should be Icecreamtown.

In last week’s blog I mentioned—merely in passing—ice cream sandwiches. Unfortunately the idea stuck in my head and could not be dislodged. Some early season peaches at the market also helped motivate me a bit. They were not quite ripe. In fact, they were as hard as an MLB-regulation baseball. Still, the romance of Fresh Peach Ice Cream for Memorial Day beckoned.

Here’s the plain truth: I think ice cream is much harder to make than anyone will admit. When I was a kid and someone would pull out one of the old hand-cranked ice cream makers, we were so grateful to have a tiny dish of vanilla ice cream placed in our hands still sore from cranking that we barely gave the consistency or flavor a second thought. Vanilla? Wheee!

How many kids over the years have been duped into that cruel manual labor by the promise of a dish of ice cream? Add more ice! Add more salt! Keep cranking! It was right up there with raking leaves.

The modern “freezer-bowl” ice cream makers are easier on the arm, that’s for sure. But be warned: while the spotlight may be off manual labor, it is burning brightly on ingredients, flavors, and technique. I have a bit to learn. Good ice cream doesn’t happen overnight. Wait a minute. Yes it does. That’s one of the things I learned.

The ice cream I was always served from the hand crank freezer was very basic: milk, cream and sugar: basically frozen whipped cream. Not a bad thing, but really good ice cream is made from cooked custard. Hot custard placed in an ice cream freezer becomes…cool custard, but not ice cream. This I learned the hard way.

I found a recipe in my beloved old copy of The New York Times Cookbook (circa 1961) for Fresh Peach Ice Cream. “Perfect!” I thought and got to work. The recipe gives instructions for cooking custard, followed by the one word instruction: “Cool.” After doing a bit of homework (and making ice cream that never froze) I discovered that the instruction should have read, “Chill.” Even better: “Chill for four hours.”

Ice cream experts can correct me if I am wrong, but this is because of the way ice cream freezes: gently, and with constant movement that prevents ice crystals from forming. If the mixture starts off too warm, the ice cream freezer can’t do its work. So I will now and forever think, “Chill” when making ice cream. As the peaches were slightly less than ripe I diced them, as opposed to crushing them as directed in the recipe.

Usually, the cookie portion of ice cream sandwiches is a basic chocolate wafer. But my mind kept drifting to Peach Crisp, hot from the oven, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. What was called for here was a cookie that would bring the sugary crunch of the crisp to the party. This is where I got a little inventive.

As a base I used an old oatmeal cookie recipe I made up a few years ago. My Mom reminded me that ginger and peaches go well together, so I added a bit of chopped crystallized ginger. The big adjustment I made here was to freeze the dough in the shape of a brick, and then slice and bake the dough in rectangles. A generous sprinkle of demerara sugar just before baking added crunch and sparkle.

Following this concept, I also froze the ice cream in a brick. That way I could cut it into pieces that fit the cookies. No scoops here, as assembling was as simple as, um, making a sandwich.These ice cream sandwiches are a bit rich, but what a luxurious and sweet way to celebrate summer. And I just need to remember to “Chill.”

Good advice for making ice cream, and surviving a hot summer.


Click here for my recipe for “Peach Crisp Ice Cream Sandwiches


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Brain: Out Of Office

Sweet Potato Rolls

Lobster from the icy North Atlantic...rolls from me

In an exquisite bit of time travel, my brain has flashed forward and is currently enjoying the long Memorial Day Weekend at the beach. Sadly, the rest of me has remained behind in the city, two weeks of work and worry away from such pleasures. I think I am not alone this year, as most people are recovering from a rather abusive relationship with Winter.

The reason I am convinced that my brain is elsewhere is because I have already started thinking about all the food that I associate with the fun of summer: hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream sandwiches, and my New England faves, fried clams, and Lobster Roll.

While I love all of the above, Clam Roll and Lobster Roll are my travel folder summer meals. If I had to name a favorite food, they’d certainly be on the list. “The condemned man ate a hearty last meal of Lobster Roll. And then he had a Clam Roll and an ice cream sandwich.” Read that and you’ll know I’m gone.  I can’t actually name only one favorite food, but I think I have made my point.

Fried Clams are best consumed at a reputable clam bar, preferably overlooking a body of water, while jealous Sea Gulls circle overhead. But Lobster Roll remains within reach of the home cook, albeit with a hefty price tag dangling from one of the claws. Yes, my brain is down at the beach splurging on Lobster Roll.

The thing is, I feel very protective of Lobster Roll. It is so simple and basic, which explains why it is so easy to make it wrong. Lobster by itself is so perfect straight from the steam, cracked open, dunked in a touch of melted butter. When in doubt I try to not stray too far from that.

Some folks think that the same rules that apply to making Tuna Fish salad will still hold true when making Lobster Roll, but this is simply not the case. In Lobster Roll the mayonnaise should be kept to the barest minimum; just enough to coat may be too much. Some insist that you should dispense with the mayo altogether, and stick with a drizzle of butter. Not a bad idea.

For traditionalists though, a touch of mayo, and just the sparsest tumble of diced celery will suffice. No salt, thank you, the mayo and the lobster and the obligatory Wise potato chips served on the side have plenty. (French Fries? With Lobster Roll? On what planet?)

Phew! Glad that’s settled.

Oh wait! I forgot the most important part: the bread.

The real New England-style hot dog roll is baked side-by-side and sliced on top (as opposed to the side). When the rolls are pulled apart, more bread is exposed, so we butter and grill or toast the sides of the bun too. This holds true for hot dogs, Clam Rolls, and Lobster Rolls. Lobster Roll isn’t Lobster Roll without this key element. It’s the law (lower case “L”.)

The bun itself is all about texture. This is no place for whole wheat. Fluffy bread is good because the toasting creates a contrast of textures. But that should in no way imply that boring white bread is called for.

As a little treat, I decided to make my own hot dog rolls, and this called to mind the puffiest, fluffiest bread I could think of: potato bread. No, this is not a New England specialty; actually, I think it comes from Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Hold on there, buddy (you’re thinking), with all the great hot dog buns sold, why are you making your own? Is this one of those “Martha Stewart-raise-your-own-hens-so-you-can-have-the-best-scrambled-eggs” moments?

My answer: “Yes. No.”

Translation of ambiguous answer: rolls that you buy in the store are just rolls. Mine are artisanal. Yes, that’s right, I just dropped the “A” bomb on you. At $15.99 a pound, how often will I splurge on Lobster Roll? So I think it is worth it to create something special to mark the occasion. Also, New England-style top sliced buns are hard to find in New York. (You should feel free to use whatever rolls suit your fancy. No judgment from me, I promise.)

Potato bread tends to be very soft and fluffy because of the loose, gluten-free starch in the potatoes. Deciding to up the ante a bit, instead of using a regular potato, I used a sweet potato.  Its honey-like sweetness and carroty color would add a mellow tang to the bread. My intent was not to make an icky-sweet roll, just something sweetly laid back.

I diced and boiled the potato until it was cooked through, then drained it thoroughly before mashing into a smooth paste with a fork. Then I added it with some of the flour to the dough. Some potato bread recipes use a bit of the liquid in which you boiled the potato. Instead, I used milk for a touch of richness.

The result is a roll with a gentle sweetness, and a sunny saffron color which surprisingly coordinates with the rusty, salmon pink of the lobster. I have a few left over which I will pair with some Hebrew National hot dogs, or maybe some chicken sausage.

Meanwhile, I hope my brain is wearing sunscreen.


Click here for my recipe for “Sweet Potato Hot Dog Rolls


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