Sunday, January 30, 2011

arabic coffee ice cream

This ice-cream recipe is based on the traditional Middle-Eastern drink that combines ground coffee beans with whole cardamom pods. Cardamom is one of my all-time favorite spices. It's related to ginger, but instead of tasting spicy or bitter it has a smooth, subtle flavor and an overwhelming fragrance that carries you away to another time and place. Together with coffee and sugar, it creates a blissful bittersweet balance.

Certain Arabic coffee recipes incorporate other spices, including ginger, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, and saffron, so feel free to experiment with the recipe below by adding whatever spices you fancy.

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
11/4 cup coffee beans
20 to 25 whole cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

You will also need:
cheesecloth (to strain)
ice cream maker

Place coffee beans, whole coriander pods, and any other spices you wish to include in a plastic bag. Seal the bag and place on a firm surface. Beat the contents of the bag into submission using a wooden spoon or other solid, forceful device. This is not only an effective method of quickly breaking the ingredients down into tiny pieces - it's also a wonderful way to relieve any aggression you might be experiencing.

Next, we want to infuse the milk with the coffee and spices. To do this, combine all ingredients in a medium pot over high heat. The beans and cardamom will create an intricate mosaic in the milk. Bring the milk to a simmer and then immediately remove the pot from heat.

Let the pot sit, covered, for an hour. During this time, the milk will absorb the aroma and flavor of the coffee and spices.

After an hour, carefully strain the mixture through cheesecloth into a medium-sized bowl, separating the cardamom and coffee bits from the now-infused milk.

Cover the bowl with saran wrap and refrigerate the mixture for 2 hours.

Freeze according to your ice cream maker's directions and serve to your sure-to-be grateful guests. My sister said the final taste reminded her of a macaron from Paris' exquisite sweet shop Ladurée, so prepare to be delighted!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

mint and avocado smoothie

While experimenting with green smoothie recipes, I read that as long as you maintain a proportion of 60 percent fruit to 40 percent vegetables, the fruity flavors will conceal those of the vegetables. Since I often forget to incorporate a healthy dose of greens in my daily diet, I've started adding a handful of greens to all my smoothies. I've found that the 60-to-40 proportion holds true for the most part, especially if you are using more neutral greens like spinach (more potent greens like alfalfa and broccoli sprouts have proved a little trickier).

This recipe combines the detoxifying properties of spinach, avocado, and apple in a beautiful, electrifyingly green smoothie. My approach was to mask the bitterness of the spinach behind the acidity of lemon juice, the richness of avocado, and the freshness of mint, turning it into a smooth, restorative, and healthful shake.

1 cup spinach
1 apple, cored and chopped
1/2 cup of frozen mango
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 an avocado
a handful of mint leaves
1 tsp flax (optional)
1/4 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a blender. If necessary, turn off the blender occasionally and use a spoon to push down the ingredients into the bottom of the blender. If you are having trouble getting a smooth consistency, feel free to add a splash of water or your favorite juice.

(serves 2)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

harissa paste

I started eating large quantities of harissa around the time I first tried Heidi Swanson's recipe for harissa spaghettini, a simple but oh-so-delicious spicy pasta dish with kale and olives that has since become a weekly staple in my diet. As a result, I keep bulk amounts of harissa spice mix in the cupboards at all times so that I'm always prepared for an impromptu feast. Initially however, I ran into the problem of finding harissa paste, so I started making my own simple version out of spices, a little olive oil, lemon, and garlic.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

spaghetti al nìvuro di sìccia / spaghetti with squid ink sauce

The first time I had the pleasure of eating squid ink sauce was at 40 Ladroni, a sensationally delicious restaurant tucked away in the San Marco district of Venice. I fell so madly in love with this mysterious black dish that a friend of mine proposed marriage on my behalf to our unsuspecting waiter and benevolent bearer of squid ink. The amiable Venetian decided to play along, announcing the engagement to the restaurant of friendly Italians enjoying their Sunday lunch. Prenuptial toasts and complementary shots of limoncello ensued.

Ever since this wonderful day combined marital bliss with the even more vital promise of eternal squid ink sauce and limoncello, I have craved this dish. After lucklessly scouring a host of American cities in hopes of finding a restaurant or market that serves it, I decided to try my hand at it myself. To my delight, I discovered that it’s not as difficult or expensive as it looks, as long as you can get your hands on some of that mythical squid ink (which also makes a fetching moustache).

Squid ink can be hard to find, so whenever I see it I buy as much as I can afford and store it in my freezer. Don't worry if you're not planning on using it anytime soon - squid ink has quite the shelf life. Concerned about the expiration status of some squid ink I bought last summer in Boston's North End, I did some research and came across an article that showed how squid ink can last over 155 million years!

If you're having trouble locating squid ink, I've found that sometimes you can call a local fishery a day in advance. They're often happy to get some fresh squid ink especially for you when the fishermen come the next day.

1 lb good spaghetti
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
a dash of red pepper flakes
1/2 lb squid tubes, cleaned (and tentacles if desired)
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup white wine
a handful of parsley
1 to 2 teaspoons squid ink
salt (to taste)

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes and sauté for about 3 minutes or until the onions begin to become translucent.

In the meantime, slice the squid horizontally into rings.

Once the onions and garlic begin to smell fragrant, add the squid and sauté for 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes, wine, and a handful of parsley, reserving a generous portion of the parsley for the garnish.

Simmer on medium to medium-high heat for 15 to 25 minutes, allowing the sauce to thicken.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta according to the manufacturer's instructions. Do not overcook the pasta - you want it to be al dente.

Once the sauce has thickened, add the squid ink. Remember, a little goes a long way! Add the ink slowly, watching the colors change, and tasting if you like. When you have a sauce that is as black as night, you know it's time to stop!

Simmer the black sauce for about a minute and then add the drained pasta. Garnish with the leftover parsley, and serve.

(serves 4 and a kitten)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

raspberry white hot chocolate

So here's a spin on homemade hot chocolate for those hibernal days when you don't want to leave the house and you just want to curl up next to the fire with a soporific mug of cocoa. I'm more of a dark chocolate person most of the time, but this white chocolate concoction was so comforting tasting that I think I may have been converted. The raspberries fill you with a nostalgia for summer while the white chocolate undertones carry you away into a dreamy winter wonderland.

1 cup white chocolate, chopped
4 cups whole milk
1 Tbsp vanilla
4 Tbsp raspberry syrup (recipe below)

Over medium heat, warm the milk and the chocolate, stirring so as not to burn the chocolate.

When the milk is on the verge of simmering, remove from heat and add the vanilla.

Pour the hot chocolate evenly into 4 mugs and drizzle each with a tablespoon of raspberry syrup.

(makes 4 cups)

raspberry syrup

1/2 cup raspberries (frozen or fresh)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Simmer ingredients over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring and pressing the berries against the pan. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth into a glass, pressing the liquid through the cheesecloth with the back side of a spoon. The thick raspberry mixture that will be leftover from this process can be served the next morning as fresh jam.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

spicy black bean burger with lemon aioli

I was a little skeptical before making these black bean burgers, because it can be difficult to make a veggie patty that coheres well and keeps its shape through the frying process. Fortunately this combination of mushrooms and black beans worked out wonderfully.

I used a hot-red-pepper-based blend of North African spices called harissa to give this burger a unique kick that accentuates the deep flavor of the black beans and the meaty taste of the mushrooms. The lemon aioli cuts the spice nicely and adds a refreshing finish.

You can make this recipe vegan by simply leaving out the egg, parmesan, and aioli. The consistency of the patty will be a little different, but it will still taste excellent.

spicy black bean burgers

For the patties
1 Tbsp olive oil (plus more for frying)
1 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
2 cups mushrooms, diced
1 can black beans
1 egg
 2 Tbsp parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon harissa spice blend
1 Tbsp wheat germ (optional)
1 Tbsp flax meal (optional)
¼ cup bread crumbs
salt (to taste)

For the toppings
tomato, sliced
red onion
cheddar cheese
lemon aioli (see recipe below)

6 hamburger buns

Sauté the garlic and shallot in olive oil over medium heat until translucent (about 3 minutes). Add the carrot and mushrooms and continue cooking until the mushrooms are soft.

In the meantime, start mashing the black beans with a fork. When the mushrooms are cooked, add them to the black bean mash.

In a separate bowl, beat 1 egg. Add harissa, wheat germ, flax, parmesan, and bread crumbs to the egg.

Combine the egg mixture with the bean and mushroom mash.

Heat olive oil on medium high heat in a fry pan. Spoon some of the patty mixture into the hot oil. I used a spatula to form the mixture into nice round patties by pressing down on the tops and sides of the burgers. This process is fun and addicting. Once you have a nice shape, flip the patties as you would any burger and repeat the shaping process on the other side.

Once the patties are cooked, assemble the burgers however you like. I recommend toasting the buns lightly and topping them the patties with cheddar cheese, lemon aioli, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and avocado.

lemon aioli

2 egg yolks, room temperature
2 Tbsp lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl. Add the garlic and lemon juice. Very slowly, drizzle the olive oil into the bowl while constantly whisking. This process needs to be very slow in order for the combination of egg and oil to result in a nice, thick sauce, so exercise patience as you add the oil! Season with salt and pepper to taste.