Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Coconut, Lemon, and Strawberry Semifreddo

The first thing I will say in this post is that this does not require an ice cream maker. I say this first because I despise seeing a recipe I really want to make, getting really excited (and hungry!), then getting 2/3 of the way through the recipe only to discover it requires an ice cream maker, or a vitamix, or a Yonanas machine (Yes, that is seriously a machine you can buy for your kitchen). This recipe requires none of those crazy gadgets, just a regular blender or food processor.

In all fairness, S and I do own an ice cream maker. I've just never been able to convince it to churn out anything but thin milkshake consistency ice cream that never hardens up properly in the freezer. I'm not sure if I should blame the ice cream maker or the freezer, but it's a disappointment all around. 

Strawberry season is here, in all of its juicy, plump, short-lived deliciousness. Last weekend was my very favorite farmers market- New Amsterdam Market, and every stand selling produce had lovely little baskets of tiny red strawberries, sweet and juicy and warmed by the Manhattan sun. Even some non-produce peddling stands, like the quince jam folks were selling the berries. It was just impossible to resist buying a box. 

My parents grew a strawberry patch in backyard when I was a kid, and a fresh sun-warmed, perfectly ripened strawberry picked from the plant and popped directly into my mouth was just about my favorite summertime treat. Going out with a little bowl and returning with it half full and the rest in my belly was my idea of a good summer morning. 

We rarely made anything with the berries that grew in the yard, they were so spectacular on their own they rarely needed any kind of accompaniment, but this week I knew I wanted to turn my little berry basket into something delightful, something summery, something refreshing, something frozen.

Summers in NYC are hot. I'm lucky to live by the East River, so we get a nice little breeze through our part of Chinatown, but as soon as you turn inland and head uptown into the Manhattan thoroughfare the little breeze dies out and is replaced by heat rising from baking sidewalks, central air conditioning exhaust vents, and of course, the engines of the tens of thousands of vehicles surrounding you at all times. Every summer I've seen in NYC has been hot. Supposedly it was especially, record-breakingly hot last summer but I could've sworn everyone said that the year before, too. 

We manage to air condition every room in our apartment except the kitchen. Air conditioning the kitchen would require installing the window unit into the only window in the kitchen, the same window we use to access the fire escape we use as a makeshift patio/garden, and the window that provides all of the light in these photographs. So that is not happening, which means the kitchen, already the hottest room in most homes, is especially hot in ours. So I wanted to make a frozen dessert that didn't take too long to put together so I didn't have to spend too long in the sweatlodge we call a kitchen.

This semifreddo is about as close to perfection as a dessert can come. While it does need to freeze overnight, the part of the recipe that requires you to actually do anything is super short and simple. If you nix the topping it doesn't even require any cooking! The topping is delicious though, crunchy, honey flavored, and healthy!

This whole dessert is pretty healthy actually. It's vegan, and sweetened only with honey. If you replace the oats in the topping with glutenfree oats it'll be glutenfree too. However, upon tasting this, even the most tried and true dairy and sugar lover would be satisfied. Not because it tastes like milk, but because it is incredible. The cashew-coconut cream is so rich and creamy and delectable, the crunchy topping is so satisfying, and the chunks of frozen strawberry are sweet and wonderful. The texture is great, a bit firmer than ice cream cake, it melts into a thick milkshake consistency on your tongue. This may be my new favorite summer dessert. 

I imagine this semifreddo being served at a garden party, under a very starry sky, on a lovely stone patio beneath trees strung with fairy lights, surrounded by lots of lush plants like ferns or tall grass. I can see it now, being placed in the middle of a glass topped, rough wooden legged, diy dinner table strewn with tea lights and half empty wine glasses. This is pretty much how I imagine everyone who doesn't live in the city lives, having large extravagant garden parties in their beautifully landscaped backyards. I, on the other hand, ate a slice of this out on the fire escape I treat as a porch, beneath the glaring fluorescent lights of the Manhattan bridge, but safely above the smell of hot garbage down on the street, and it was lovely. It would be lovely anywhere.

Coconut Lemon and Strawberry Semifreddo

2 cups cashews
14 oz coconut milk
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 C honey
8oz sliced strawberries
pinch of salt

Topping (optional):
2 tbsp chia seeds
1/4 C roughly chopped almonds
1/4 C shredded coconut
1/2 C oats
1/4 C quinoa
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp coconut oil

In the bowl of a food processor, or a high speed blender, place the cashews, coconut milk, lemon juice, honey, and salt, blend until very smooth, about 3-4 minutes. Mine still had a slight grain and I just didn't worry about that at all. If you have a fancy-shmancy high speed blender, it'll probably be totally smooth. 

Line an 8inch loaf pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper, leaving extra hanging over the edges for easy removal.  Pour in the coconut milk mixture. Fold in sliced strawberries gently. Cover and place in freezer while making the topping.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit. In a medium bowl combine the chia, quinoa, almonds, coconut, and oats. In a small bowl combine the coconut oil and honey. If your coconut oil is solid microwave it a moment to liquify. Mix honey and coconut oil well, then pour over the chia/almond/etc mixture and mix well until everything is coated and sticky. 
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper, pour topping mixture out onto parchment paper and smooth into a single layer. It will be all stuck together, don't concern yourself with this, you want it to form little clumpy bits so the chia and quinoa don't end up all loose and tiny. 
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until beginning to feel crispy and toasty. It'll firm up a bit more as it cools, so it's ok if your oats aren't totally crisp when taken out of the oven.
Allow to cool, then break up any especially large clumps. 

After semifreddo has chilled for one hour and the topping has cooled, sprinkle desired amount of topping over top of semifreddo and very lightly push down to guarantee it sticks, but is still on top. Freeze again, this time for 8 hours or overnight, until firm. It should feel like a quite firm ice-cream cake when done. 

Once frozen, use parchment paper to remove from the loaf pan, and a large sharp knife to cut off slices. If it won't come out of the pan at first, submerge the bottom of the loaf pan in warm water for 10-15 seconds, and it should lift right out. If too firm when initially removed from freezer, allow to stand at room temp for ten minutes before cutting, but I didn't have to do this, mine was ready to cut immediately.

You can serve the whole cake immediately at a party, or wrap up any leftovers in plastic wrap and store in freezer. Semifreddo will be good frozen for about one week, after that it may become too solidly frozen to cut easily.
You will have extra topping leftover, unless you really go crazy putting it on the semifreddo. It's essentially granola though, so it makes a great snack, or breakfast cereal.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Iced Earl Grey Lattes

 S and I spent last week in the Outerbanks with a group of crazy watersports fanatics, kayaking, windsurfing, stand up paddleboarding, and photographing our housemates giant kiteboarding jumps.

Not to mention harvesting wild oysters, climbing trees, riding bikes, releasing spirit lanterns, and exploring beach cemeteries and abandoned amusement parks. And of course eating more than our fair share of fried seafood. One day I had deep fried shrimp for lunch and dinner. 

Every June my father makes a pilgrimage to Cape Hatteras with a group of his closest friends, and once they arrive the beer and kiteboards come out, and they don't get put away until everyone is loaded back into their cars for the trip home. We've come along for the last two years, and had a great time. I don't kiteboard, but above is proof that I can (usually) catch a ride on a windsurfer. 

We stay in a sound-front house packed with as many extreme sports aficionados as can fit. These are the type of people who windsurf and wakeboard all summer, then ski and snowboard all winter, with mountain biking mixed in throughout. I grew up amongst my parents friends, frequently the only child on a ski trip, on the windsurfing launch beach, or at a party, listening to conversations about wind speed and sail size, the conditions in Park City vs. Steamboat, whether or not lake Chautauqua had frozen enough yet for kitepowered snowboarding. 

While these conversations were over-my-head and largely dull to a eight or ten year old, I now find myself, in my midtwenties, swapping stories of incredible ski runs and gnarly wipeouts with my roommate (an ex-lift operator at Big Sky), and exchanging email addresses with grizzled looking middleaged kayakers I meet by the East River (he said we could borrow his kayaks anytime!). 

All those hardcore sports can work up quite an appetite for food and drink. Dinner's at the rental house in Hatteras range from northern Thai Laab, to spaghetti and homemade meatballs, to homemade hot chicken wings, to appetizer and wine night. The day might begin with a mexican fritatta and a bloody mary (complete with vodka soaked olives and homemade bloody mary mix), and end with malaysian curried beef puffs and green curry chicken soup. Round it out with as many Yuenglings and homemade wine coolers as you like. 

S is such a city kid he doesn't even know how to drive a car, so the trip there and back requires my driving the whole time, which requires a bit of caffeine. I wish I'd had a couple of these Earl Grey Latte's for the ride home, but alas, I made do with many bottles of Coca Cola. 

I whipped these up Tuesday morning, S had the day off so we enjoyed them while sorting through our plethora of photos from the trip. They're delightfully creamy but the tea is still full flavored, and the lavender adds a lovely touch.

I made these with both milk and sweetened condensed milk, but you could definitely sub in almond or coconut milk. Additionally, I just recently learned about sweetened condensed coconut milk, in case you want to make these vegan. These make a lovely and refreshing summertime drink, and a great alternative to an iced latte. Enjoy!

Iced Earl Grey Latte

16 oz water
4 tea bags
8 oz desired milk (cow, coconut, almond, or soy)
4 oz sweetened condensed milk (or sweetened condensed coconut milk)
1.5 tbsp lavender (optional)
2 tsp honey

If using, place the lavender in a tea ball or tea bag. Boil water, add the earl grey teabags and the lavender, and allow to steep for 10 minutes, remove tea bags and lavender, then stir in honey.
Refrigerate tea at least 1 hour to cool.

In a large jar, or medium sized pitcher, combine tea, sweetened condensed milk, and regular milk, stir vigorously, or use an immersion blender to mix until totally combined. 

Pour over ice and serve. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Balsamic Salted Caramels

I know what you're thinking- last week I wrote that we were on a juice cleanse, and this week I'm suggesting you make caramels with heavy cream, sugar, and corn syrup (pretty much the opposite of a cleanse). But I have a good reason. Kind of.

A friend made a batch of caramels which turned out with a lovely soft consistency, but which had to be stored in the refrigerator to prevent them from becoming unmanageably soft and goopy. She asked me if I could improve the consistency and make them a bit more shelf stable, and while I had never made caramel candies, I couldn't resist giving it a go.

It took me some two attempts and some tweaking to get this recipe right, but the end result is a lovely firm caramel that melts into a chewy delightful texture in your mouth. They're firm enough to be stored outside the fridge but soft enough to become lovely and chewy in your mouth. 

I also added balsamic vinegar and smoked sea salt because I can never resist the urge to take a straightforward recipe and make it more complex. Luckily the addition of vinegar just takes an extra moment of prep work at the beginning, and it is so, so worth it.

All of my taste test subjects loved the addition of balsamic, though some of them couldn't identify what the flavor they were enjoying was, exactly. 2/3C of Balsamic may sound like a ton of vinegar to add to candy, but after reducing it's only 1/4C, and some of that is inevitably lost to the sides of your reducing pan, the flavor is very mild. In the end, the flavor is a bit of tart or tanginess that cuts the sweetness of the caramel just the right amount.

I didn't own a candy thermometer prior to making these caramels. In the past, when making candies, I had always used the water test to determine when I had reached hard crack stage, but after reading that David Lebovitz reccomends just buying a grocery store brand cheapo candy thermometer, I picked one up at my grocery store to give it a go.

It turns out the cheap thermometers at Mr. Lebovitz's Parisian grocery store must be a sight better than mine because my Key-Foods-purchased candy thermometer was about 30 degrees off, resulting in a first batch of caramels that never quite solidified or held shape, the exact opposite of what I was going for.

So I melted down that first batch with some extra cream, and now we have a pint of the most ludicrously rich and delicious caramel sauce I have ever tried. The next day I headed to Sur La Table in the morning and bought the cheapest candy thermometer they had. While it was three times the price of my Key Foods thermometer, it was still only $15 and is blissfully accurate. This batch of caramels reached the exact texture I was hoping for. They're initially firm, but when placed in your mouth they soften to a lovely, chewy consistency. I would call that $15 well spent. Enjoy!

Balsamic Salted Caramels
Makes approx. 60 1/2" caramels

2/3 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
2/3 C Heavy Cream
Heaping 1/2 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1/2 C corn syrup
1 Cup Sugar
4 tbsp butter
Cooking spray

Line a 9inch loaf pan, or other small pan with parchment paper and spray parchment paper with cooking spray. Set aside. If using molds instead, spray with cooking spray and set aside.

First, reduce your vinegar. Pour vinegar into a small pan and heat over high, swirling or stirring occasionally until reduced down to approximately 1/4C. Set aside.

In a small saucepan combine cream, 1/2 tsp salt, and butter, and heat over low heat, stirring, until butter melts and the mixture begins to bubble lightly. Turn off and cover to keep warm. 

In a large saucepan, larger than you probably think you need (about 4-5qt), add the sugar and corn syrup. Heat over medium heat and stir to combine. Once all the sugar as been moistened by the corn syrup, stop stirring and clip a candy thermometer in to your pan. Make sure the syrup is covering the bulb of the thermometer, but that the bulb is not touching the bottom of the pan.

Cook sugar/corn syrup mixture until it reaches 310 degrees, or hard crack stage, turn down the heat a bit and continue to cook until the candy reaches 340 degrees. Keep an eye on it the whole time to prevent burning, and gently swirl or stir to break up any hot spots.

When candy reaches 340 degrees, turn off heat and add the balsamic vinegar, and the cream/salt/butter mixture. Stir gently until smooth and well combined.

Return to heat, and occasionally gently stir or swirl to avoid hotspots, until candy reaches 260 degrees fahrenheit, or hard ball stage. Remove from heat.

Pour caramel into prepared pan or molds, and allow to cool ten minutes, then sprinkle the 1/4tsp coarse salt over the top of the caramel.

Allow to cool fully before removing caramel from pan. Removing too soon will cause your caramels to spread and lose shape. Give it at least 2-3 hours. 

Using a sharp knife cut the caramels into small squares. I've read running the knife through the flame of a gas burner will help, but I tried this and found it just made the knife end up sticky after every cut. The caramels will be firm so use a sharp knife and a steady hand. 

Wrap cut caramels in parchment or wax paper as otherwise they will stick together. If stored in a sealed container these should be good for one month, but I guarantee you'll eat them all by then.