Friday, August 23, 2013

Homemade Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream and Cones

I have to admit that of all the sweet treats available in this world, ice cream is kind of at the bottom of my list of favorites...

I know.  Everyone else is madly in love with ice cream. Everyone everywhere.  It's like the universal sweet treat.

But, not for me.  I'm more of a cake/cookies/pie/brownies kinda guy.  For me, ice cream has just always been ok.

I mean, there's nothing wrong with it--it tastes great and all that but if I'm going to have it I'd rather it be alongside a piece of cake or hot apple pie or on top of a brownie smothered in hot fudge.

Alone, or just in a cone, never really made my mouth water.

The funny thing is that I own an ice cream maker.  I personally asked for it for Christmas one year.  And I even use it from time to time.  But I like making ice cream more for the novelty and fun of just the process that is involved. And then just the fact that I can say, "Hey look!  I just made ice cream!"

It's not because I love ice cream. I've never really loved it and didn't think I ever would.

But, I was wrong.  I was crazy wrong.  And it's all due to one flavor, one magnificent salted caramel butter flavored ice cream.

This ice cream is so caramely and sweet and it has these little bits of caramel praline embedded throughout that turn into a gooey caramel surprise that beautifully contrasts the smooth creamy caramel mixture.  

It's just a giant caramel overload.  

But not like a bad overload.  

No. A wonderful heavenly overload. What's more, I just may have kindled a new found love for ice cream...

Many thanks to my partner Andres for holding the
cone in various locations of our apartment while I fussed
over the best lighting.

A couple of things:  

I used David Lebovitz's Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream recipe which can be found here.  It's very detailed and he has great pictures.  

For the cones I used his recipe as well which is here.  They were extremely easy to make as far as working with the batter.  Once you have the batter made, you spread it out on a piece of parchment paper with an offset spatula (this is all assuming you don't have an ice cream cone waffle maker) into a 6" circle.  I think that next time I would draw a circle of the back of the parchment paper as an easy guide.   

As far as rolling them out into their cone shape I didn't have an ice cream cone roller so I went to Michaels and bought a couple options--a styrofoam and a paper cone. I opted for the paper cone and just wrapped it in aluminum foil.  It worked well.  But the whole rolling process has to go fast because the minute you take them off the hot baking sheet you have to roll them before they stiffen up.  The problem is that they are also really hot so I had to use a tea towel to roll them.  Most of the time it worked fine but I could never pinch the bottom of the cone to close off the hole completely.  So...I ended up melting some chocolate and pouring about a tablespoon into the bottom of each cone to close off the hole--which worked great.  And I love chocolate so I had no problem with this solution...

All in all the cones are very easy to make and kinda fun too.  Oh, and as you can see I dipped the rims in chocolate as well and then half of them in crushed peanuts and the other half in mini chocolate chips.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Mom's Zucchini Bread (that I messed up)

I have been having trouble with taking food photography.  I use my iPhone 5's camera for them and in general--for what it is--I think that the pictures come out fairly well.  But I keep submitting them to and  Tastespotting has been accepting them but foodgawker keeps rejecting them!  So I did some reading online and--because it is very frustrating--and people recommend using a lot of camera apps to edit the pictures.

Therefore I spent a good amount of time yesterday searching some apps, downloading them and messing around with some of their editing features on pictures I've already taken.  They seem pretty cool and they will have to do until I can afford to purchase a nicer camera because it's also become an obsessive goal to get at least one of my pictures posted on foodgawker, the apparent end all be all of food photography judges... 

Now, how does this semi-rant fit into this post?  Well, on a whim yesterday I bought some zucchini at the farmers market and decided that I couldn't end this summer without making something my mom always makes--and that I love--which is of course zucchini bread.

So after work and dinner last night I decided to use my mom's recipe that I wrote down a few years ago and make the bread.  And since it was dark outside by the time I started baking and the lighting on food looks horrible at night in my apartment, I decided it would be an ideal time to make use of some of those camera apps.

Generally I try to bake during the day so I can get good natural light in my apartment but this was a last minute after work project and that just wasn't possible.  So I actually just used Instagram--which I use often anyway--to give some effect to the pictures in the hope that they would look "cool" and edible at the same time. 

Like I mentioned before, I wrote this recipe down from my mom over the phone and I must have missed something because when I mixed everything together, it was more like cookie dough batter so I ended up adding some liquid in there to get the right consistency for the batter.  When I cut into it, it was more spongy than it was supposed to be (not like my mother's bread) and there were areas that looked as though the batter hadn't formed any small air bubbles--it was too dense.

But, the flavor was great--it was just the texture that was off.  If it weren't too late I would have made a quick call to mom to ask her but it was way past her bedtime so I decided to improvise by adding 1 c of milk and just see what happens.  Nevertheless, I'll have to give her a call later and ask her to re-read the recipe to me.  When that happens, I 'll re-post it because I have to say it is one damn good zucchini bread.

This is what I did for better or for worse:

Makes two loaves

3 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 c sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 tsp cinnamon

3 eggs at room temp.
1 c vegetable oil
2 tsp of vanilla extract (my mom actually calls for 3 tsp of vanilla but I made one minor adaptation)
1 tsp of lemon extract

3 c of shredded zucchini

Sift and whisk all of the dry ingredients together
Whisk the wet together

Pour the wet into the dry and mix together lightly--or fold the wet into the dry

Fold in the shredded zucchini

Then....this was where it looked like cookie dough so I added in 1 c of milk.

Divide the batter evenly between two greased loaf pans

Bake at 350 for 1 hour

After 20 minutes remove each loaf from the pan and allow to cool completely before slicing up.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Heirloom Tomato Tart

I've been looking forward to making a tomato tart this summer so I was quite pleased when I saw some great looking heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market this past weekend.

When I was a kid I never really liked the taste of tomatoes unless they were cooked but heirloom tomatoes are different.  They're sweeter and I can eat them raw and actually really enjoy them.

I've made this tart every summer (more than once during each summer) since I saw it on David Lebovitz's food blog a few years ago when he featured a french tomato tart.

Look at this guy with his little rhino horn

It's super easy to adapt to your own tastes and I think if you pick out funky and colorful looking tomatoes it can just look beautiful.  I also used heirloom cherry tomatoes a couple of times and that turned out superb as well--and looked awesome.

I made the same crust that I used for my Stone Fruit Pie in my previous post and it turned out great--really flaky and buttery.

The only adaptations I made were the crust for one:  he uses a completely different recipe and I can't remember if I ever tried but I'm sure it's worth it.  It looks amazing.  Aaaaand you can make any type of tart you want--round, rectangular, square or free form it.  It's going to taste fabu no matter what shape it is.

Other than that I picked out about 5 different types of tomatoes and used about half of each for the tart.  You may need more or less--it just depends on the size of your tomatoes and your tart.  I don't mind having leftover because they're so good.  I have no issue either eating them raw or using them in something else.

I spread about 2-3 tablespoons of mustard on the bottom of the uncooked tart dough, laid the tomatoes on top of that and then salted the tomatoes to taste and then spread 4 oz of goat cheese on top of that (David Lebobvitz calls for 8 oz but I think half of that is plenty but that's the simplicity of this recipe, it's all according to your own preference).  Lastly, I spread 2 tablespoons of fresh basil (again, use any herbs you deem worthy) over the tart and put it in the oven for about 30 minutes at 425 until the goat cheese was nice and browned.

I hope you guys get a chance to try it and enjoy it...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Stone Fruit Pie

Let's talk about farmers markets and pie crusts.  First the farmers market.

This is my favorite time of the summer to go to the farmers market because some of the things I look forward to most are finally available--which are mostly the fruits.  All of the stone fruits like peaches, saturn peaches (which do really kinda resemble the planet Saturn) plums, apricots, cherries and nectarines are all over the place.


 And then there are tons of plump berries on display that are not easy to pass up.

But one of the true highlights are the tomatoes.  They are just starting to show up everywhere.

I never used to like tomatoes like I do now but I suppose that happens a lot as you get older--you just start liking different things (except scrambled eggs--I still hate scrambled eggs--I mean they are yellow, they smell bad and they have a certain texture that makes me want to gag).  Nevertheless, all of these things make me run around the market frantically making sure I get at least one of everything lest I miss out and never see them again....ever.  It's called being neurotic.  I am a tad neurotic.

Aside from all of the amazing produce, there's just an overall good vibe at the farmers market.



There are a lot of people out and about and the amount of vendors is at the peak.

I mean....crepes and fresh smoothies practically go hand in hand

Along with giant bacon cookies...

Also, there are musical performers there.  There is a man who plays the saxophone and another that plays the flute.  The flute player is this gangly looking fellow that sits indian-style on the grass between two vendors' stands and plays while his eyes sort of roll to the back of his head.  It's kinda funny looking but he's quite good.  There's also this one man who plays the drums and wears these crazy headdresses with feathers and jewels attached to them.  I think he's a bit of a strange bird the but the kids seem to like him.  They sit or dance around him while he plays in a grassy area not far off from the market.  It actually kind of reminds me of some weird hippie commune but like I said, the kids seem to like him so whatever...

Another reason that I like seeing all of the fruits is because then I can buy them and then I can make a pie.  And this brings me to my next topic:  pie crusts.

Pie crusts are hard.  They are frustrating.   But they are also buttery and flaky (should be flaky).  The first time I ever made one I was like, "Well, that wasn't so bad!"  Well...that was before I knew how they were supposed to come out.  You know? With a flaky buttery crust.  I mean everything has to be really cold, especially your butter, and you need to cut the butter into the flour just until it's the size of "peas" and then the dough can't be too crumbly because you'll never be able to roll it out or too soft because that probably means your butter has melted into the dough and you are screwed in getting a flaky crust.  It's just not so easy.

Well anyway, I received the America's Test Kitchen cookbook for Christmas this past year--which is an awesome book by the by--and it gives the low-down on tips and tricks for making a pie crust using vodka.  So a few months back I gave it a go and I was pretty successful.  I tried it again making some hand pies about a month ago and again I was awarded high praise from some co-workers on the crust.  Thus I figured I had a winner.  However, I tried it again on this stone fruit pie and I was only semi-successful.  It wasn't very flaky as it was more crumbly and the bottom was soggy.  I think I can pin-point some of the problems which were that my apartment was hotter than normal--even with the a/c on--that caused the butter to get soft and thus my dough was essentially soft.  Also, this recipe calls for vegetable shortening in addition to butter which I am fine with but you know how the fat you use needs to be super cold before cutting it into the flour?  Well, I just couldn't get the shortening that cold and it was very soft and not very workable for this effort.  Lastly, my bottom crust was sorta soggy.  And I think that was because I didn't blind bake first.  The America's Test Kitchen book gives another tip to prevent a soggy bottom crust which is to pre-heat a cookie sheet in the oven and then set your pie plate on the cookie sheet and then place the pie on the cookie sheet in the oven--as opposed to just placing the pie plate directly on the oven rack.

Anyway, overall I think that this pie crust recipe is a winner and that I was just having a bad day--which is what happens from time to time especially with pie crusts.  They can just be a real pain in the butt sometimes.  But, practice makes perfect....  Right?

The filling--on the other hand--with all of my super fresh farmers market produce was fantastic.

 And even though the crust didn't turn out superb, it still produced some good looking slices

Just plop some vanilla ice cream on top and you've got one amazing slice of pie.

For the filling:  Adapted from Smitten Kitchen's Peach Pie

3 1/2 pounds of stone fruit (I used a random mixture of peaches, plums and apricots) cut into 1/4" wedges (pits removed)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
a few gratings of fresh nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
3 tbsp corn starch

Mix everything together at once in a large bowl.  Let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Then pour the mixture into prepared pie dough.

For the pie crust:  Adapted from Cooks Illustrated: The Science of Good Cooking

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour divided
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
12 tbsp butter - cut into small 1/4" cubes and very cold
8 tbsp vegetable shortening - cut into pieces ( I cut each tablespoon into 4 separate pieces) and cold
1/4 c cold vodka
1/4 c ice water

The book states that this recipe only works with a food processor--or rather it won't work if you do it by hand.  Thus, I used my food processor.  I'm not entirely sure what the difference would be and they don't really explain it.  That said...

Process 1 1/2 c of the flour, the salt and sugar for about 30 seconds in your food processor.  Then add in the butter and vegetable shortening all at once.  Process this mixture until clumps start to form -- about 15 seconds.  Throw in the rest of the flour and process until it forms smaller clumps or pea-sized clumps.  This shouldn't take long--for me it took about 5 pulses on my processor.  Next, dump the mixture from your food processor into a large bowl.  Add the cold water and cold vodka and use a rubber spatula to press and stir the dough together until it starts sticking together.  Once this occurs, divide the dough into two equal pieces and form two round discs.  Wrap them individually in plastic wrap tightly and chill them in the fridge for at least an hour.  I've left them in the fridge for up to three days if need be.  The book says it can be left in the fridge for up to two days and frozen for up to a month.

So when you are ready to roll out the dough and you remove it from the refrigerator and it's too hard, let it sit out for about 5-10 minutes before you start to roll so you won't be straining your arms while rolling.  Like I said earlier, my apartment was quite warm so this was not necessary.  I needed to work as quickly as possible to roll out the dough so the butter wouldn't melt.  Nevertheless, roll out the dough on a floured surface until its about 1" greater in diameter than your pie dish.  Place the first rolled out disc of dough into the dish and lightly press it in there -- on the bottom and the sides.  Trim the 1" overhang to 1/2" and continue to let it overhang over the lip of the pie dish.  Place the dough lined dish in a big plastic bag and let it set in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Now let's move onto the other disc which you are going to roll out in the same way.  Once the second disc is rolled out, place it between two pieces of parchment paper and onto a large baking sheet.  Put it in the fridge for 30 minutes as well or until firm.

After both rolled out doughs have chilled (the one flat between two pieces of parchment paper and the one sitting in the dish), take the dough lined dish out of the fridge and pour the fruit filling into it (recipe above).  Take your other rolled out disc and gently place it atop the filling.  Trim the edges, press and crimp them together (bottom lined dough and top)  Cut some small slits with a knife into the top dough for ventilation (I made about 5 slits).  Place the uncooked pie into the fridge to chill while you pre-heat your oven to 400.  Also at this point, the book recommends placing a baking sheet in the oven and pre-heating that as well.

Once the oven is pre-heated place the pie onto the pre-heated baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes.  After 25 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 and bake the pie for another  30 minutes.

Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool completely.


Note:  This is the first time I have ever written out a recipe like this so if it doesn't make sense or you have suggestions/comments, please do so.